Most of the bullying I endured was in middle school. I went to a private high school about five miles away from where I lived, mostly because it was a much better school than the public school I lived near, but at least partly because I could get away from my tormentors since none of those dumbass hillbillies would be going where I was.
This “new start” strategy mostly worked, kinda like witness protection does. I was new and anonymous and allowed to reboot myself. The only problems I encountered were on the bus. There was no school-provided bus service, so I took the suburban metro bus about 4 miles down 95th Street twice every day. At least I did through the winter of my freshman year, from which point forward I rode my bike until I was old enough to drive. There were guys from my school on that bus who got on before me in the morning who made my life miserable. For whatever reason, they decided they didn’t like me. Perhaps, like dogs, they could smell my fear. I’d just survived two years of serious abuse and maybe I looked like a victim. Or, maybe it’s just that they were big and I was small (late bloomer) and that is all the reason any bully ever needs. That bus was a gauntlet of verbal abuse, my books being knocked out of my hands, my backpack being taken, etc. Not quite as bad as the violence and severe psychological abuse I suffered in junior high, but since I was post-traumatic, it was pretty hard to take. So I rode my bike as long as it wasn’t raining or snowing. It worked out fine.
All those guys were swimmers and water polo players, by the way.
* * *
When I arrived at the venue last night, I noticed that Thom had started loading his gear in through the front door, which is odd. We played in the back there. He greeted me, asked me how my Thanksgiving was. We traded the usual pleasantries that old friends do. “So, really, how are you?” he asked. Redundantly. And I said, “um, OK? What are you going to tell me to change that?” He went on to inform me that the owners of the bar had miscommunicated, and rented out the back where we usually play to a private party. So we were going to have to set up right by the front door, where his gear had started to accumulate. It was a trapezoidal space, maybe 7 feet deep and at most 12 feet wide. The plate glass window to the street would be behind us, and the edge of the bar in front of about 8 of those 12 horizontal feet. It was a 3-sided box and we would be playing into one of the closed sides, not the open one.
I handled this badly. You may have seen my post from last night. But at the same time I handled it badly, I also handled it well. With age comes the wisdom of self-awareness, and I told Thom he was going to have to negotiate this with the owners. I was too angry to see straight and had to take myself out of the conversation.
Look, I’m no prima donna. I can make the best of it in all kinds of situations and deliver. I’m a professional. But at this point in my musical career, I’m not in it for the money or the glory. I’m in it because I like to play, and there is a certain minimum set of requirements to make the performance work. I don’t need a dressing room with the brown M&M’s removed or a masseuse. I do need enough room to stand without the constant risk of an unplanned rectal exam from a cymbal stand. This simply wasn’t going to work. I’ve never walked away from a gig but I honestly thought about it.
Gary arrived shortly thereafter and could tell from my sulking posture at the bar that something was amiss. I’m easy like that. An open book. He and Thom worked out a compromise with the bar people where we would set up in the middle of the room and play to the front, with the private party (not so private now!) behind us. Acoustically this actually worked out to our advantage, and certainly we had lots more room than that front corner would have provided. But the visual lines were all wrong. And the logistics were awkward—we had people behind us who didn’t want to hear us. Worse, the rest rooms were behind us, and though there was a hallway to the side, many people didn’t know that, and so they just walked right across our “stage” on their way to go take a leak. Please don’t step on my pedalboard, chief.
Add all this on top of the stressful month I just completed, and it made for a tough night for this aging rocker. I had a sadly typical complete vocal blowout about 2/3 of the way through the night. My hands felt heavy and slow again. We hadn’t played together as a unit for a while and it showed. I had to watch this kinda hot brunette just off stage right make out with this horridly squid-like man. But we got through it without taking out too much of the guard rail. I did catch up a little with an old friend I hadn’t seen since college, which was nice. But otherwise, it was a long, late, not terribly satisfying or enriching night. We’ll do better next time, I’m sure.
Oh, and the private party behind us? It was a reunion of the water polo team from my high school.