All Ages

By Conor Broughan

Featured Art: Canal Street, Chicago by Harold Allen

The Statistics played three shows in four days and Chris McCann—all of sixteen and the founding member, lead singer, guitarist and de facto manager of the band—wasn’t ready for the tour to end. All summer, Chris had only wanted to get out of his Springfield, Virginia house and on the road. Unsolicited, Chris’s father had told him that his mother’s erratic behavior over the past six months hadn’t been his fault. Until his father brought it up the night before the tour, Chris had never considered the possibility. Stray raindrops cried across the windshield when he drove over the Turnpike and into Asbury Park, New Jersey for the final show of the tour. The Bowery Club on Ocean Avenue.

Kyle—rhythm guitar—was the first to step out of Chris’s father’s 1989 Dodge Caravan. At the beginning of the tour, he announced that he’d grow out his beard. Deemed a failure on all fronts, Kyle still considered it a work in progress.

Taylor—drums and backup vocals—followed Kyle into the Bowery Club with the cymbal stands. More loping than walking, Taylor stood six-foot-three and brought to mind a second-rate henchman in a terrible action movie. His suspenders had twisted during the drive and no one, not even Chris, had the heart to tell him that they looked more retirement-home-mixer than hardcore show.

At least Taylor tried to play the part with his shaved head and black combat boots. Brendan—bass—stayed in the back seat of the van, pretending to sleep. At the Lancaster show, he’d worn his father’s hand-me-down Ray-Ban sunglasses on stage just to piss Chris off. Together, they’d written an album’s worth of songs, but that didn’t mean Chris had to like him. They’d stopped talking after the first show when Brendan, for the fourth time, mentioned the offseason lacrosse workout on Sunday that he couldn’t miss.

“There’s a stage,” Kyle said.

Taylor grabbed the bass drum. “A real stage. Three, maybe four feet off the ground.”

“Really?” Brendan looked at Chris.

“I’ll see when sound check starts.”

“Sound check.” Kyle said it as if he were talking about a once-a-century eclipse. He had pothead aspirations when he could afford it.

Not only did the Bowery Club have a stage, but it had stage lights, monitors, and a fully stocked bar.

“Too late for sound check,” the booking agent, Tom, told Chris before he even asked. Tom looked like the kind of man who would wear sunglasses indoors. Chris wished he had; one of his eyes was so bloodshot he had difficulty finding the pupil. “You or your management didn’t call ahead.”

“Management?”

“Sound guy breaks at five for dinner and show starts at seven. You’re on at seven.”

Tom knocked his clipboard against the bar top. Chris saw The Statistics scrawled in black marker at the bottom of the page, under five or six other band names. The more check marks next to a band’s name, the better the pay-out. Brendan and Taylor struggled to hoist the bass amp onto the stage, unaware of the stairs on the far side.

“How old are you guys?” Tom had a smoker’s cough that sounded like it originated in a foundry. He scratched his shoulder and Chris saw the tattoos, blotted letters scratched deep in his bicep—homemade.

“We go to Rutgers,” Chris said a little too fast.

“You have IDs?”

Chris shook his head.

“You’re off the bill. We don’t do talent shows.”

Chris didn’t move. The Bowery Club wasn’t a New York venue or a show that would lead to signing at a label, but it was close. After his father told him about the medications his mother had been taking for a decade and her recent imbalance, Chris stayed at home like his father asked. He monitored her behavior when he wasn’t printing cassette album covers or making copies on his dual cassette deck. She needed her space and he had the time to mix tracks and silkscreen T-shirts and send demos to venues up and down the eastern seaboard. That changed at the end of June when he came home late from band practice and found his father banging on their bedroom door in tears, yelling for Chris to call 911.

“Wait,” Chris said and pointed to Tom’s clipboard. “What about our friends? Fifteen, maybe twenty people coming from Rutgers.”

“Twenty?”

“At least.”

“They’ve got IDs?”

Chris nodded.

“You bring in ten, we call it even. Under ten and you’re paying the difference. Give me your hands.”

This is what it feels like to get hustled, Chris thought, but he didn’t care. Ten people meant a hundred dollars, almost the entire stash they’d collected in the mint tin Chris kept in the glove compartment. Tom drew a black X on the back of his hands.

The sign on Ocean Avenue said that the all-ages hardcore show would start at seven. The Statistics had plugged in and were ready to start five minutes early, no sound check, and Tom didn’t even turn down the house lights. All of five people stood at the bar for dollar-off domestics.

With his drumsticks, Taylor knocked the four-four beat of “Silence and Terror” and Chris came in late. He’d been calculating how much the band would owe the club and how much money they had in the glove compartment. The rest of the band played fast and loose, clueless about the deal Chris made with Tom. A girl with short red hair approached the lonely stage, a beer bottle in hand. Hooded sweatshirt, jeans covered in canvas band patches, and a steel rivet through her septum: she’d been to a show or two. Chris tightened up, searching for the chords on his fret board, always a beat too late.

The band ethos, or at least the ethos Chris had created for the band, was to convert just one member of each audience, to make them forget they were watching the opening band, high school kids. They’d practiced their eight-song set all summer, but Chris couldn’t catch up. During the last song—“Justifications”—Chris knocked his guitar into Brendan’s bass speaker and broke the E string, but he kept playing, jumping across the stage and eventually tumbling into Taylor’s crash and hi-hat cymbals. He should have been singing, screaming the chorus, but he’d already kicked over the mic stand. He thought of his mother, her arms crossed in his doorway, listening to him practice “Justifications” on his acoustic guitar. It was her favorite song, she’d told him, but only when he played it soft and sang it quietly—he hadn’t wanted to disturb her.

Taylor kept the beat with the snare. Usually they would build the song back up to a monster wall of sound, but Chris’s guitar was out of tune and the drum set a mess. Chris didn’t thank the crowd at the end of the set; there was no crowd to thank, only the girl with red hair walking back to the bar. After he unplugged his guitar, he pulled Brendan’s amp to the stairs but the bass was still plugged into the jack and he ended up dragging it halfway across the stage.

“Chill, Chris,” Brendan said.

“Let’s load up now and drive to the city. Pick up a show at CBGBs or the Continental.”

“Give it up, Chris,” Brendan said. “You didn’t book a New York show.”

The next band ordered a round of shots and Chris watched Tom stamping hands at the bar. The loading door next to the stage was propped open and it wasn’t quite dusk out. A thin band of setting sun sliced into the dark venue. Before they could slide the bass amp onto the stairs, the sound guy told them to push it to the back of the stage. There were six bands on the bill, no time to unload.

The bill was a showcase for northern Jersey and Staten Island hardcore bands, headlined by The Dropouts. They’d been on the cover of a zine Chris ordered once a month with five bucks and a self-addressed stamped envelope to a guy in a Fordham dorm room. Desperate to see if The Dropouts’ live show lived up to their seven-inch, Chris didn’t know how to stay for their set and avoid Tom at the same time.

Taylor and Kyle had disappeared, probably searching for a dime bag on the boardwalk, about to spend money the band technically didn’t have. Brendan had pushed his way into the crowd near the stage. Chris had a theory: Brendan always joined the circle at shows not because he loved the music or slamming, but because he was training for lacrosse—full-contact conditioning. Chris walked down a dark hallway searching for a bathroom. Old show flyers and ancient theater bills had been glued to the wall—Asbury Park in its prime, before the casinos shut down and the storefronts had been boarded up.

He pushed the first door he found and a girl yelled to hold on.

“Sorry,” Chris said and he walked to the end of the hall. Smoke poured out of a curtained room and through a gap he saw a table covered in Budweiser cans and plastic cups, twenty or so people sitting on top of one another on duct-taped leather couches.

“What’s up?” A guy on the couch nodded to Chris. His head was shaved to the bone and it gleamed under the bare bulb of the greenroom. Ari, the lead singer of The Dropouts.

“The Statistics, right? Rough around the edges, but in a good way.” He held up a gold pipe, a one-hitter similar to the one Kyle had stuffed into an empty peanut butter jar in the back of the van.

“I was looking for the bathroom.”

“Back the way you came. On the right,” he said, packing the bowl.

Chris let go of the curtain and backed into the girl with red hair.

“You again?”

“Sorry, just looking for the bathroom.”

“It’s unisex. No lock so you might want to get in the habit of knocking.” She wore a thick headband, and a small red widow’s peak pointed to her milky green eyes.

“I liked your set.”

“Really? That means a lot.” Chris scratched his head even though it didn’t itch.

“Does it?” She walked through the curtain into the greenroom. Someone yelled and the entire room laughed. In the gap between the curtain and the door frame, Chris saw Ari pass her the pipe when she sat down on his lap, putting her arm behind his bald head.

1996. His senior year and Chris’s father had promised him it would be the best year of his life. The end of high school, and college was on the horizon. He also assured Chris that his mother’s psychiatrist would find the right balance of meds by the beginning of the summer, but it confused Chris when his father took the locks off the interior doors of the house. By the time school ended, Chris had become something of a stay-at-home nurse, making sure his mother ate and took her pills and went for walks. He considered a major in psychology. By July, she’d recovered enough that his father left her at home for an hour at a time so he could give Chris driving lessons. For the first time in months, Chris thought about the east coast tour. One afternoon he received a call from the Bowery Club. The Statistics could open a showcase at the end of August. Chris immediately booked the show.

The next morning, Chris came home to an empty house after he dropped his father at the Metro station. The front door was open and his father’s Volvo missing. When Chris couldn’t find his mother, he called the police. When they couldn’t find her, he waited, sitting at the kitchen table and pressing the redial button, praying in his own agnostic way that his father would answer his office phone. Hours later they found the Volvo at the bottom of a steep ravine. No other cars had been involved in the accident and his mother hadn’t been severely injured, just a broken nose, some stitches and deep bruising from the airbag. The police never found any tire marks on the asphalt or signs of panic, nothing to suggest that she hadn’t willfully launched herself off the road.

A few feet from the stage, Chris joined Brendan, slamming in the middle of the circle. Through two bands Chris held his own, moving in unison with the pit, but it was only a matter of time before someone slammed him from behind and he fell face first into the stage. He worked his way to the bar, hoping he hadn’t chipped his front teeth. After he ordered a cup of ice from the bartender, he wiped his lip, checking for blood.

“The fuck you do that for? Pay good money to beat the shit out of each other.” Tom put one of his oversized paws on Chris’s shoulder and motioned to the bartender with his empty glass. Chris made a makeshift compress with a handful of ice and a bar napkin. It fell apart as soon as it touched his chin.

“Those friends from Rutgers get in a car accident or something?”

“They flaked. Sorry.”

“Twenty best friends all forgetting to show up. What a coincidence?”

“I get it.” Chris held a single cube to his lower lip.

“I’m off at twelve-thirty,” Tom said, taking his drink and a shot glass from the bartender. He pointed to his stool at the end of the bar and patted Chris on the cheek. “You find me by twelve twenty-nine, not a second later.” He pushed the shot glass in front of Chris, who drank the shot in one gulp. It was tequila. Saliva seeped out of his swelled lip.

“That-a-boy,” Tom said and Chris stuffed ice cubes into his mouth on his way to the bathroom.

Clouds of smoke pulsed around the greenroom curtain. The fifth band took the stage, which meant it had to be after eleven. Chris swallowed the tequila spit suspended in the back of his throat and leaned against the pay phone. Two quarters in his pocket. It was a simple formula: by twelve-thirty they’d be stuck in Asbury Park with no cash, so he needed to call his father and ask for a money wire. Chris lifted the receiver when Ari from The Dropouts stepped out of the bathroom.

“The Statistic,” he said. “Having fun?”

“Not exactly.”

“Follow me.” Beyond the curtain, the crowd of people in the greenroom had shrunk. Ari fell into the leather couch and put his head on the red-haired girl’s lap. “You straight edge?”

“No, I’m sixteen.”

“So?”

“You have to be nice to Tom. Sweet-talk him and he’ll let you drink,” the girl said, a beer bottle in one hand and her boyfriend’s bald head in the other.

“That ship sailed for me.” Chris hated himself, using one his father’s hokey expressions in a greenroom with people he’d read about in hardcore zines. Ari reached into a cooler and tossed Chris a can of beer.

“Ship has sailed? That’s a messed-up outlook for a sixteen-year-old.”

“Don’t be a dick, Ari.” Underneath the sweatshirt, his girlfriend didn’t wear a T-shirt, only a bright pink bra over her pale skin.

He watched Ari lean over to kiss her, a long slow kiss that felt too private to watch. There were other people in the room—more couples with their heads together, and two guys playing unplugged guitars under a framed photograph of Springsteen holding his Telecaster above his head. Had he played the Bowery Club? Chris wanted to ask the room. If he could tell his father that he’d shared a stage with Springsteen, Chris might convince him that The Statistics weren’t a complete waste of time and money. But asking about Springsteen at a hardcore show would be like asking about Bill Clinton at a Young Republicans Club meeting. Everyone was drunk or working on it, so Chris opened the beer and drank as much as he could. He hated the taste but loved the effect.

“I’m Ally,” the girl said after she pushed Ari off her.

“Chris.”

“Where are you from?”

“D.C. Northern Virginia, actually.”

“We played shows down there at the start of the tour,” Ari said. “The Black Cat, the Metro. What was that place in Virginia?”

“An abandoned church,” Ally said. “In Arlington maybe? Or Annandale?”

“The Unitarian.” Chris knew that The Dropouts had played in Annandale because he’d ripped their tour schedule from the zine and pinned it to the corkboard above his desk. He’d planned to go to the show, but his father worked late that night. Chris listened to his seven-inch records instead. His mother baked bread until midnight even though she wasn’t supposed to turn on the oven. He’d pretended it was normal even though it was the first time she’d baked bread.

“It was pretty cool for a suburban church.”

“Decent acoustics,” Chris said, as if The Statistics had played there. Ari and Ally talked about where they’d stayed in D.C., the after party in a Foggy Bottom row house and Chris nodded his head like he was an old pro in the D.C. scene. He wished that the band heard this: Ari and Ally discussing The Dropouts east coast tour and the parties and the stripped-down set at a record store. Ari couldn’t have been older than twenty but he talked about past tours the way Chris and Brendan talked about seventh grade gym class, ancient history. Was it too much to ask to be in a band that lived on the road, played from city to city, figuring out where to sleep after each set, a band that didn’t need to worry about being home in case one of their mothers forgot to take her meds?

Ari checked his watch. “Ten minutes,” he announced, opening a messenger bag and passing a small bottle of whiskey around.

“Where are you guys playing tomorrow?” Ally asked.

“Nowhere,” Chris said. “This is the end of the tour.”

“But this is Asbury Park. Why come all this way if you’re not playing New York?”

A legitimate question, but Chris hadn’t booked a show in New York. It wasn’t for a lack of trying; nobody responded to the demo.

“School starts on Monday.” Chris took a sip of whiskey. It didn’t play nice with the tequila.

“We’re playing a showcase at the Continental tomorrow. You guys should check it out.” Ari passed Chris a show flyer. “If you’re not too busy back-to-school shopping. A slot might open—a slot always opens.”

The Dropouts, Inaction, Wasted Motion, and The Deconstructed: the flyer could have been the table of contents for the New York zines Chris obsessed over. If his homemade press packet included a show at the Continental with a line-up like that, The Statistics could book a show anywhere they wanted.

Ari crossed the room and wrote out a set list with the two guys strumming their guitars.

“Would we really have a chance to play?” Chris asked Ally.

“Depends if another band bails or not.” Ari and the rest of The Dropouts passed the whiskey bottle in a circle and put their heads together for some sort of pre-show ceremony. The Statistics needed a ceremony.

Ally followed the band out of the greenroom. “Find me in the crowd,” she told Chris.

He didn’t dare try to process what she meant. One minute she’s making fun of their set and rubbing her boyfriend’s bald head. The next minute she’s asking him to find her. He gripped his beer and told himself to remember what it felt like to sit in a greenroom, drink free beer and fall in love with someone else’s girlfriend.

“Dad, it’s me, Chris.” He tried not to yell. The Dropouts were setting up on stage but the crowd noise echoed down the hallway. “What are you doing?”

“What do you mean what am I doing? I’m trying to sleep. What are you doing?”

“I’m in New Jersey. We booked another show for tomorrow, so we’ll be home on Sunday night or Monday afternoon at the latest.”

“Monday? School starts on Monday.”

“We can’t skip the show, Dad. We booked it so we need to honor that commitment.” It was a trick Chris learned years ago, volley back one of his father’s stock phrases.

“I don’t give a damn what you did. I took time off from work this week so you could play with your friends. I’ll see you tomorrow afternoon as we discussed.”

Chris heard the snap and buzz of a guitar being plugged into a live amp and he almost hung up. It wasn’t as if his father would drive to the East Village and drag him home.

“Your mother finally went to bed, Christopher. I’m going to hang up now and we will see you when we get home from her appointment tomorrow.”

“I won’t be there, Dad. I’m sorry, this show is too important.”

“More important than your mother?”

Chris hung up.

The Dropouts tore into their first song and Chris walked out the emergency exit. He needed to pay Tom. Streetlamps buzzed over the boardwalk and neon signs flickered up and down Ocean Avenue: hot-dog stands and dimly lit bars and a blinking movie theater marquee.

He couldn’t find the van, but he heard Kyle yelling. On the beach, where the sand became wet and stiff, silhouettes darted in and out of the water. Two forty bottles teetered in the sand. Kyle threw a plastic football into the water and Taylor, stripped to his boxers, dove in after it. He stood waist deep in the tumbling Atlantic.

“Are you drunk?” Chris yelled.

“Are you?”

“Sort of.”

“Good,” Kyle said. “We’re celebrating the end of the tour.”

Chris held the forty bottle to the moon before he drank. “To the shittiest tour in the history of tours.”

“It wasn’t so bad, was it?” Taylor knelt in the foamy wake.

“It just got better,” Chris said. “A slot will open at the Continental showcase tomorrow.”

Kyle and Taylor sipped from their forties. Newspaper broadsheets and paper cups blew across the kelp bands stretched across the beach.

“A showcase at the Continental—New York City.”

“We get it, Chris,” Taylor said. “But tomorrow’s Sunday.”

“What’s the difference between getting home on Sunday or Monday? A showcase could change everything. We could build our next tour around a New York show.”

“School starts on Monday,” Kyle said. “My mom would kill me.”

Chris passed the lukewarm forty back to Kyle and fell into the sand, milking the awkward silence. There must have been some unspoken rule between the three of them to never say the word mom around Chris. Behind the blinking lights of Newark-bound airplanes, Chris made out three, maybe four stars.

“I guess she’d get over it. Ground me for a week or two,” Kyle said.

“What about Brendan’s lacrosse practice?” Taylor asked.

Chris asked for the keys to the van and told them not to worry about Brendan.

He emptied the mint tin of twenties and tens, but he felt better now that they had a plan—drive into the East Village in the morning and wait for the Continental to open. They just needed to find out which slot they’d fill. The Bowery Club was packed for The Dropouts. Ari, his chest and shoulders covered in black and gray tattoos, wrapped the microphone cord around his fist and paced the stage. The guitarist strummed a three-chord progression for a few bars before the whole band dropped into devastating four-four breakdown and Ari launched himself off the stage, into the arms of the crowd.

Chris searched for Ally’s red hair, but he couldn’t find her in the mass of bodies. Someone grabbed his arm at the bar. Brendan held a crimson bar towel against the side of his face, blood dripped from the gash above his eyebrow and onto the floor.

“Holy shit. You need stitches.”

Brendan shook his head. “I’m good. These guys are brutal.”

“We’re playing with them tomorrow. I booked a showcase at the Continental.”

“What?” Brendan yelled as the song ended. He pulled the towel from his forehead and the gash looked deep. Blood seeped into his eyebrow. “We need to go home.”

“It’s an all-ages show and we need the money to get home.”

“What?”

“I need to pay-out the booking agent.”

“Chris, I can’t miss the workout. I’m a captain this year.” He pressed two fingers against the gash and blood trickled into his eye. “You need to go home, too. I’m sorry, as much as you want to, you can’t stay on tour forever.”

Chris tore away from Brendan’s grip. He’d heard what he said but thought only of Ally’s red hair as he stepped through the crowd and into the greenroom.
It was empty, except for Ally curled up in the corner of the couch.

“Why aren’t you watching the show?”

“I needed a break,” she said.

He sat in the middle of the couch and picked at the duct tape holding it together. “We’re playing the Continental tomorrow. You’ll need to show us around because we’ve never played New York.” Too terrified to look at her, Chris didn’t notice the tears until she wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her sweatshirt.

“I’m sorry,” Ally said. She was close enough that Chris could have taken her hand or rubbed her shoulder, but that didn’t seem right, not with Ari on stage. The thump of the bass drum sent a ripple through a puddle of beer on the table.

“He’s an asshole.”

“Who?”

“A minute before they went on stage he told me they’re going on tour in two weeks. A four-month tour—the west coast, Canada. He said it like they just decided tonight, like the label hasn’t been planning it forever.”

“Isn’t that good news? A big tour?”

“I need more than two weeks’ notice. I’m not his boss. He tells me he’ll stick around Asbury Park for me, but the whole time he’s planning this tour. They’ll be playing in Seattle or L.A. and I’ll be in Biology class or something. I’ll be stuck in this shithole town.”

“I know what you mean.”

“At least you’re from D.C.”

“Northern Virginia,” Chris said. “And it doesn’t really matter because I’m on a leash between my house and school. It’s my mom. She’s crazy.”

Ally tucked her legs beneath her and rested her elbow against the back of the couch. The pink lace of her bra was set in relief against the black of her sweatshirt.

“So’s my mom, Chris. So is everybody’s mom.”

This was when he was supposed to say that she didn’t know anything about his mother, but he’d never see Ally again. She didn’t need to know about that July morning when he came home to an empty house or how hours later the cops found the Volvo at the bottom of a steep ravine. A story like that would only complicate things and at the moment everything between him and Ally felt remarkably uncomplicated: her pale skin and pink bra, her cozy body tucked beneath her, and tear-stained eyes.

Later, he would convince himself that she had leaned into him before he grabbed the back of her neck and kissed her. He aimed too low and found her satiny but surprised lower lip. It wasn’t a long kiss, but it lasted long enough for her upper lip to find its way between his and he made a mental note to remember everything: the stale beer smell, her short red hair between his fingers, that sound she made when their lips touched as if she were about to go underwater. He documented all of this in his mind, but failed to notice that the music on stage had stopped.

“What the fuck?”

Before Chris could stand, before he could make up an excuse or an apology, Ari tackled him and they spilled over the back of the couch. Chris didn’t feel the punches to his neck or chest; he only remembered the milky slosh in his skull when his head connected with the concrete floor. Ally screamed at Ari, pleading with him to stop. The drummer from The Dropouts pulled Ari off his chest and Ally begged Chris to leave, to get the hell out of there. He heard everything and he wanted to be gone, but he couldn’t stand up. A crowd had followed the sound of the fight and Chris felt Ally’s hands under his arms.

“Please go, Chris. Please.”

“I’ll kill you, you little piece of shit.” The drummer struggled to keep Ari pinned against the wall. People parted for Chris at the greenroom curtain and he stumbled out the emergency exit.

“He’s a kid,” he heard Ally say when the door closed behind him. “He’s just a kid.”

On Ocean Avenue, the crowd smoked cigarettes in front of the club. Chris staggered in the opposite direction, down a narrow alley of overstuffed dumpsters and chain-link fences until he reached a convenience store parking lot. A thin film of insects covered the floodlight over the door. Chris stood beneath the weathered convex security mirror hanging above the front door. His reflection looked tiny, as if he were standing at a great distance from himself. No blood, but his head reverberated like a bass string.

Chris slipped a quarter into the pay-phone slot. It took six rings before the answering machine picked up; he knew what he had to say. Recite the payphone number and ask his father to wire money.

“It’s me, Dad. I’m sorry.”

“Hello? Christopher?”

The machine clicked off when his mother picked up the phone.

“Mom? What are you doing up?”

“I’m always up, honey. Are you having fun?”

“Yeah,” Chris said, running his finger across his chin, checking for blood.

“You’re not just eating fast food, are you?”

“We’re at the beach, Mom. Asbury Park.”

“The concert you were so excited about, right? How did it go?”

He pressed the volume button on the pay phone and listened to the ebb and flow of her breath echo through the receiver. She would be in her nightshirt— one of his father’s old T-shirts—sitting cross-legged at the kitchen table like a teenager in what he considered her I-don’t-know-what-else-to-do-with-my-day pose.

“Great, Mom. It went great.” He pictured Tom at the end of the bar, minutes away from checking his watch for the last time. “People really responded to us. To me.”

“I’m sure they did, Christopher. You’ve worked so hard. I miss hearing you practice your songs.” Her voice sounded distant, as if she were already lowering the phone receiver into the cradle. “It’s awfully quiet around here without you but I’m tired now and I think I’ll go to bed.” She didn’t wait for him to respond before she hung up the phone.

The neon lights of Asbury Park were dark and Chris walked along the silent expanse of Ocean Avenue. A sign on a lamppost asked that visitors not litter and “Keep the Jersey Shore Perfect.” Chris crossed the avenue a block from the Bowery Club.

Twelve forty-five and the crowd had cleared out. The lonely cherry of a single cigarette died against the sidewalk in front of the club. Tom slipped a thick chain through the front door handles and locked it with a padlock.

“Gave up on you,” he said, lighting another cigarette as he turned around.

“Sorry I’m late.”

“Gave up on all of you a long time ago with that shit you’re playing. Turn off the distortion from time to time and play some real music.”

“Why book these shows if you hate the music?”

He slid his thumb across his index and middle fingers. “Because kids like you keep coming back, drinking too much and knocking the crap out of each other in front of the stage. Case in point,” he said, pointing to the growing bruise on Chris’s forehead. “Maybe the situation at home is shit for them, I don’t know.”

“Or maybe they just need someplace where people understand them,” Chris said, “where people don’t think they’re crazy because they don’t live in a cookie-cutter, mail-order-catalog world.”

“Maybe,” Tom said. “Who cares as long as they keep paying a cover and drinking themselves sick.”

Chris waited to feel Tom’s hand on his shoulder again, so he could call him son and let him off the hook for the hundred dollars. While he was at it, Tom would sit him down on the curb and give him crucial advice about money and girls and how to defend himself in a fight—hit the other guy first, he might tell him. But that was a moment reserved for the television sitcom version of his life, a version that Chris had never wanted before it had become clear that he would never have it.

Tom looked as tired as he was drunk, exhausted from another night of being the old man in a room full of young people. Chris watched him pocket the money without comment and walk across Ocean Avenue to his car.

Chris’s head throbbed and he felt like puking; he felt robbed. Not because of Tom or the money or Ally calling him a kid, but because by rights he should have stood under the dark marquee of the Bowery Club, staring into the moon’s reflection on the choppy Atlantic Ocean and come to some sort of profound truth on that beer-stained sidewalk. Something about life and music and how to not drive the people around you crazy. But in the end, Tom wanted the money, Brendan wanted lacrosse practice, Ally wanted to stay with a guy that would never make her happy and his mother wanted to hang up before he had the chance to say goodbye.

Down the street, his father’s van’s dome light was on and Taylor slept on the middle bench of the van, drums and amps and guitars packed around him.

“Are you okay?” Brendan asked.

“We only have eight dollars left,” Chris said and closed the door behind him.

“We found two in change on the floor,” Kyle said.

“Will that get us home?” Chris asked.

No one said a thing.


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