That’s all I’ve slept when I am awakened by voices.
I turn to see if it is Kimm, still awake, talking on his phone.
Or perhaps mumbling through a nightmare, the one where he fights off the night demon torching his balls with a blowtorch.
But he is snoring gently into his pillow in the bed next to mine.
Then another volley of conversation comes from the wall, from the room next door.
3:58 am, that’s what the clock says.
I get up to take a leak, navigating the anvil cases and 4 x 12 cabinets blocking my way.
On my return, I put my head up to the wall and listen, trying to decipher the late night conversation next door.
I can only make out the mumbling pattern of consonant and vowel, the muted trombone speak of grown ups talking to a Peanuts character.
I hear a clearing of throat, then the laughter of a woman-no, two women-and a man.
There is the flick of a Bic lighter, silence, then a cough.
Gah! I pull my head back from the wall with grim diagnosis:
The night earlier was grand, the first night up North in a good goddamn while with the lads from Field Day.
It’s been years since we’ve taken this familiar route, but soon we are lulled into the old rhythms of Interstate 5.
The trip up the dustbowl spine of the state once more, the blasted landscape punctuated by the occasional signs accusing the governor of dumping almond grove water into the ocean.
Nothing much changes along the 5, save the startling appearance of another block of Amazon warehouses among the condemned cattle.
But soon the bay comes into view, and we roll down the windows to take in the salt perfumed breeze.
Ivy Room in Albany tonight, this side of the bay, saving us the humiliation of trying to cross that goddamned bridge on a Friday evening.
It’s out first meeting with the Field Day crew, though Doug and I have been email tagging for months to plan out these gigs. We hug it up, one of those virtual friendships borne of social media that somehow become real.
And though I am still confused by the Wikipedia entries of the comings and goings of Dag Nasty I recognize Peter as the chap perusing the menu of the Himalayan restaurant next door.
I approach, say hello, then we compare notes on the indignities of air travel and the departed Daghouse forum.
We get up and roll out the Fear of Life set out once again.
On the intro to Catholic Boy I try to match the muted downstrokes of the recording, but I simply cannot play that fast any more.
I surrender to a lazy up and down strumming, as if fanning a cowboy hat over a glowing ember, willing it into flame.
Field Day get up then, Peter and Doug joined by a couple of ferocious musicians in Shay and Kevin on guitar and drums.
They blast through the Dag hits, barely stopping to acknowledge breath or thirst, the earth’s very gravity.
It is fierce and tuneful, the crowd responds in kind, the show is over in a blink.
We are all talking and laughing then, jazzed on being out playing once again.
The bar lights are suddenly switched on , shooing us all into the night.
But now the town is shut up tight, not even a 7-11 to grab some regret laden treats.
We pull into the third rate motel off the 580, one of those Expedia picks that are succinctly reviewed with triple exclamation points (Nope!!!) and it all comes back to me.
We accept that this is no place to leave stuff in the truck, and grimly start the last bonus load in of the night, stacking the gear into our cramped rooms.
As we pass the lit and darkened windows, their curtains part slightly, inmates checking out the fresh fish.
At one open door an old gent sits on an office chair, plucking at a worn acoustic between drags off the sativa packed corncob pipe lodged between his gums.
I dare a peek over his shoulder and look into his room, and see he is in for the long haul: the room is piled with WalMart groceries, stacks of black garbage bags bulging with the detritus of a previous life either failed or escaped.
A grey tabby rests upon the garbage bags shamelessly licking at her crotch, a goddess upon her throne of cumulonimbus clouds.
We load in, finally, then meet at a bank of vending machines for a late night snack.
There is microwave popcorn and honey buns, cup noodles and Doritos.
After briefly considering making a county jail style spread, we come to our senses and grab a sensible Kit Kat, head to our racks for a night of sleep.
For 55 minutes.
4:30 am now, and returning to sleep is impossible.
For now I have become attuned to the rhythms of their drug addled conversation next door.
I have come to believe the two women are newly acquainted, the man older than either of them.
The ladies’ rapid fire dialogue is only occasionally interrupted by the basso profondo interjection of the man.
Then a beat of silence, then a coughing fit of laughter.
I fall into a trance, then, and it is not the talking but the rare lulls in their conversations that kill me.
It is the torture of waiting for the next whoo! to break the silence.
Around 5 am I surrender and switch on the TV.
The local PBS is rolling out old cooking shows, those late 80’s gems before the Food Network turned chefs into fucking Country music stars.
Good old Jacques Pepin demonstrates how to debone and entire chicken through its asshole.
Yan Can Cook comes on next.
Yan smiles and mugs for the cameras, shows the rotting insides of the Durian fruit before returning to the studio kitchen to slice up some stuff.
This is what we are here for, and he knows it.
Fuck the chef knife, Yan wields his trusty cleaver, and decimates all that he surveys.
He chops with ferocious downstrokes, smiling up at the camera, mugging at us-it’s so easy, dummy!-his hand a blur.
Old Yan, he juliennes everything before him save his calloused fingers.
As Yan chops away, I become aware of another sound, a matching beat to his chopping.
I mute the sound on the TV.
It is next door I am hearing, but not the rumbling dialogue that has haunted me thus far.
The drug fueled discourse has been replaced with a more urgent human expression.
There is a grunt, a singing hum, a single expression clear as a bell through the drywall: oh!
Then it is a rhythmic pulse, the tick of bedspring and and tock headboard, the panting exhalations: the unmistakable sound of fucking.
On the screen, Yan now flattens a clove of garlic with the flat of his blade.
From next door comes the answer:
Aye papi, papi! Now…now!
The fellas finally rouse me at checkout time, shaking me out of a fitful sleep that came only after daylight.
Twisted dreams where Yan had chopped down a forest of broccoli, only after the people next door ingested the last of their treasures and spent the last of their bodily fluids.
The day out there is spectacular, though, and the bay breeze is delicious after the insane So Ca heat we’ve been sucking down for 2 weeks.
We load all the gear back out to the truck, and after my final sweep of the room I purposely linger outside the room next door.
I wonder if they might open the door then, if their faces can possibly match the hideous and wonderful features I have spent the night projecting upon those distant voices.
I put an ear to the door but hear nothing, and I console myself that it is better this way.
What is it they say? We should never really meet our heroes.
It is a straight shot to Sacramento for the next show, but we cannot resist the urge to visit the city.
I mean, it’s right there!
Of course, there is the pesky thing called the Bay Bridge to navigate first, and the quick jaunt into the city takes most of the day.
But really, who cares? What are we going to do with the day anyway- Sleep?
Debone a chicken? Reproduce with diseased strangers?
Lunch is at our old beloved Parkside, being the only place we figure we can grab a bite and still keep an eye on the gear.
Our pal James meets up with us and we are soon stuffing our mouths with those famous tater tots.
We drive through North Beach then, and look longingly up at the top story of Vesuvios.
There’s no way we can leave the gear out here on the streets of San Francisco though, so we drive on.
We pass City Lights and I make a small discrete sign of the cross over my chest.
After dropping gear at the Colonial in Sacramento, we check into a Motel 6.
Cheap but corporate, a couple steps up from last night’s circus.
This one has a gate around it, parking passes to be displayed on the dash, not two but three warnings not to hang around outside the rooms late night smoking: The cops will be called,
The room is sparse but clean and we have the luxury of an hour and a half before doors.
I try to nap, but now I am maddened once again, for the room is too quiet.
On the TV England is saying farewell to the Queen on every station, but I can find no one destroying vegetables.
I put my head to the drywall and listen.
I hear only the hum of water coursing through plumbing and suddenly I’ve never felt so alone.
I cup my hands to my mouth and whisper into the wall then, hoping someone-anyone– will hear:
It’s a jolly crew at the Colonial Cafe tonight, and we are humbled to run into old and new fans.
These people who have waited out these last few insane years to come on back out to the clubs.
Third song up is You Make Me Feel Cheap, and our old mate Chris Shary jumps up on stage to sing it with me.
He does his wild Saint Vitus dance then, stomping the stage with raised knees , reaching wildly above his head as if gathering the last fireflies of the summer.
It is Saturday night, and I get to stand on a stage with a guitar in hand once again.
We play Catholic Boy, and I urge my wrist down upon the strings, harder and faster, conjuring the carefree downstrokes of my past.
My wrist blurs, as if holding an 8 inch cleaver and making it sing upon the cutting board.
And when I turn to the microphone, it is not verse or chorus that comes from my mouth, but a more primal sound.
Ugh, I sing. Aye.
Wordlessly pleading, as if urging an amphetemined lover to climax, at last, so we can finally go to sleep.