It’s 9 am and I’m all slept in. When I walk into the kitchen Mom’s sitting at the table sipping coffee. Upon noticing me, she startles at my appearance of pajamas and sets her mug down. “Are you sick? Why didn’t you tell me you were sick? I thought you’d left for school a couple of hours ago.” I hold up a hand of reassurance.
“Day off from school–remember? End of the quarter?”
“Oh,” is all she says. “I can’t keep track of what’s on and what’s off at your school. Did you put it on the refrigerator cal-“ She glances over to the fridge and sees the circled note “No School.”
“My fault.” She salutes me with her mug. “I’m out of sorts. You know how I get when your dad leaves town for an assignment.”
I take down my favorite cereal bowl. It’s large and white with a blue band running around the edge. It looks like something Alice from Alice in Wonderland might have used in her time. Or maybe Little Miss Muffet ate her spider-poem meal out of it. I would have not run from the spider. They don’t bug me. No pun intended. One quick flick of the wrist and a rolled whatever is handy and they are history. Garfield and I agree on the matter of ridding the world of spiders.
Pouring my cereal into the bowl I grab the milk from the fridge and slide open the drawer for my cereal-eating spoon. It’s leftover from my childhood. It’s kid-size with a bunny on the end of it. Mom smiles at my cereal ritual. I splash the milk over the golden orbs of crunchiness and hurriedly eat them. Soggy cereal is gross. Dad lets his cereal sit until its mush. So disgusting.
“Sorry Dad’s gone. You know it’s not the first time he’s headed out unexpectedly on an assignment.”
“I know,” Mom replies. “I’m feeling sorry for myself. We were going to go to a concert tonight. I got the tickets a couple of months ago. I should know better than to try to have a normal life being married to a free-lance writer.” She continues to sip her coffee and exude melancholy. I decide it’s time to retreat into my room. There is no telling where Mom’s mood is going to take her. I rinse my bowl and set it in the dishwasher and ease my way out of the kitchen.
“Hey, do you have plans for tonight?” Mom asks. I tell her no, wondering if I shouldn’t have been so quick to answer. “How about going to the concert with me?”
Now most teens would probably run from the room if a parent asked them to attend a concert. My parents actually listen to decent tunes, even if it is considered moldy oldies by some teens. At any given time there’s Beethoven to Beach Boys to Bob Marley drifting from the speakers. There is also some odd stuff that I remain tolerant of. After all, they have to listen to my music as well. Maybe it’s a group I would actually like to see. One kid in my math class bragged about how he and his dad went to a Paul Simon concert together. I could go for that.
“What’s the group?” I ask with a little bit of hesitancy.
“Know of the Tangerine Trees?” She winces, anticipating my reaction.
“Never heard of them. That a real group?”
“Truly is. I went to school with the drummer and at our last high school reunion we started Facebooking. I bet you didn’t know I used to sing in a band when I was in high school. The Eclairs. We even took third at the school’s Battle of the Bands.”
You can know someone for fifteen years and never really know them. I’m amazed. “Really?”
“Absolutely. Pete, the drummer, said if he ever played in our area he would send me tickets. They are playing in Cascadia and Dad and I were set to go. Backstage passes and all.”
“Backstage? That would be cool. What kind of music do they play?”
“Well currently, Pete says Ska. Not my absolute favorite, but I thought it would be fun to see an old friend and do the backstage thing. You up for it?”
“Ska? I think I know what Ska is.”
“Really? You might go?“
Oh, oh. I think I’ve encouraged her. Mom sets down her coffee mug and gets a silly happy hopeful look going. “This could be fun–think about it. A regular girl’s night out. Let’s pop into Dingo’s, grab some burgers and head out to the concert. You can practice your driving. You still have about twenty hours left to go, you know.”
Oh yeah. Drive time. Having taken driver’s ed this summer I have moved onto my graduated driving. Our state recognizes it’s fairly foolish to let teens barely responsible enough to remember to turn in English reports on time to drive something worth thousands of dollars that could create potential havoc on the road, and so we have mandated drive hours to complete before actually being allowed to drive solo My parent’s erratic schedule doesn’t allow for any regular designated driving days. I get myself to school by either walking, if I get up earlier enough, or suffering the cheesewagon when it’s too miserable weather wise.
In order to fulfill driving time I became Mom and Dad’s chauffeur which amounts to ten or twenty minutes stops around town if they are doing errands. It’s taking a long time to build up my driving hours. I might be able to get my driver’s license by the time I enter college.
I briefly consider Mom’s offer: let’s see, I would get burgers at the town’s best take out, get to drive my mom’s sweet little Alero, and attend a concert complete with backstage tour. Not a bad Friday night. Then again, I rethought the music agenda.
“Ska is dead, Mom. That was a nineties thing.”
“That might have been said of Beethoven and a couple of hundreds of years later people are still listening to him. Good music truly does not die. It kind of fades away, but it doesn’t die.”
“That means it has to be good music to begin with,” I counter.
Mom holds up her hands, “Okay, I don’t know much about Ska. Maybe it is terrible. It’s not a lifelong commitment, mind you. Only a hour or so of listening to some music.”
I could sense her slipping into her cranky pout mode if I didn’t rescue the situation. It would be a very long night, and weekend if she got all grouchy and mopey. Dad is so much better than me at heading her moods off. “I’m up for an adventure. Let’s go get some burgers.”
Mom’s facial storm clouds erase into a sunshine smile. “What should we wear?“ She got kind of giggly. I try not to cringe from the awkward moment and instead flow with it. I’m also battling the guilt of wishing it was Dad I would be hanging out with. As penance I’m making the best of the situation. We go into her bedroom and pulls out several outfits, asking me what looks good. I’m just going to wear jeans and a t-shirt. Mom keeps flipping clothes on the bed. It‘s actually kind of funny to see her go through outfit anxiety.
“I don’t want to look like I’m trying to act younger than I am,” she explains as she checks out her reflection. “That’s so annoying to see middle-aged women wearing tight jeans and little shirts when their bodies are saying, “Excuse me, I don’t think this is working for you.” I laugh at that statement.
Do older women really feel as self-conscious as my age crowd does? I thought over thirty women didn’t really get into that self-conscious mode. Isn’t that when women hit their peak and everything flows perfectly in their life? Maybe I should stop reading the magazine covers at the checkout stand. Mom ends up wearing her cargo khakis, a turquoise t-shirt and a jean jacket. Concert cas, she called it.
The day slips by. Mom works on some catalog copy, I think about doing more work on my “novel” and we each take quick naps figuring we will be up late. Then around four o’clock Mom hands me the keys and I nervously, I repeat nervously, back out her Alero and negotiate the car onto the road.
Mom and Dad have different styles when it comes to coaching me when I drive. Mom tends to make these little “mmm” sounds when I’m driving, like she wants to say something but doesn’t. Which makes me even more nervous than Dad’s blurts of, “That was a rolling stop. You can turn on red, after you stop. Too close. Watch your speed.” I guess it comes from his short stint as a soccer coach when I was in third grade. I do a bit better with Dad’s driving instructions, although I am drained afterwards, like I’ve put in a mile run. Driving with Mom keeps me edgy and tense. I’m waiting for those little “mmms” to develop into “Ommmigosh, you passed that car way too close. Or “mmmmygoodness you turned that corner sharply.” Instead she “mmms” on her side of the car and I grip the wheel.
Cascadia is about an hour’s drive from our little burb. I get a driving workout. Navigating through town traffic I have to merge onto the FREEWAY. Freeway driving freaks me out, especially merging with the flow of traffic. It doesn’t help when mom says “Be very sure what you do. Lives depend on your decision.” Oh yeah, a little more pressure should do it, Mom.
Somehow we arrive safely at the Northland Community College. The parking lot in front of the auditorium is not even half full. “Not expecting a huge crowd, I take it?”
Mom shrugs, “The auditorium seats about 750. Who knows what the audience will be. I imagine their music appeals to a lot of college students.”
We spin around the parking lot. I take a spot that is way off by itself. Parking is not my favorite part of driving. I don’t why I can’t line up a car between two yellow lines. I tend to pull too close to one side, barely allowing one or the other to get out easily. At least with no cars on either side we won’t be pinned in and trapped like the last time I tried lot parking. I hold my breath and swing in. Tonight I nailed it. Textbook perfect. Mr. Sanders my driving instruction would have been proud.
“Nicely done,” my mom congratulates me. “Ready?”
“Ready,” I nod.
“Ready to Ska, whatever Ska might be?”
“Let’s go Ska, Mom.”
Actually, I am a little familiar with Ska. At our school’s battle of the bands last year we suffered, or experienced, ten different groups, with the Leopolds Franklin saying their sound was Ska. The thing I know about Ska is that after the Leopolds I decided I would not be buying any Ska sounds any time soon. Their group did not win or even place at Battle of the Bands and it made me a bit leery of Ska style music. At this point I am committed to hearing the evening’s venue only for my mother’s sake. Any hopes of hearing any good music would be a bonus. The burgers had been tasty at least, and I now have a bit more drive time logged in. I am remaining positive. I think I am trying to convince myself.
Stepping up to the auditorium entrance we stop at the band’s poster.
A Celebration of Ska
Benefit Concert for the Wells of Life Project
The poster, a splashy graphic of greens and oranges, injects a bit of promise. I like the idea that the evening will be a benefit. I don’t do much in the way of volunteering like some kids do at school. I don’t pick up trash on Saturdays with organized groups, or read to preschoolers at Headstart, or even ladle soup at the various soup kitchens around town, but I like the general idea. Lame excuse, I know.
Mom hands over her tickets and the guy look at her, “Your last name, please?”
“Wallace” Is there a problem with my ticket?” Mom asks.
“None at all. You’re on the list to go back stage after the show. Pete said a friend might come tonight. Your ticket stands out from the general admit tickets that were sold.” He stamps our hands and says to sit wherever we want to, and comes up to the stage after the show.
“Did you expect that?” I ask.
“Kind of, but not really. I thought knowing Pete might get me backstage, but I wasn’t really sure it would happen. I’m up for it. Part of our adventure. This could be really neat.” She uncharacteristically puts an arm around my shoulder and squeezes. I allow it.
We are not a real demonstrative family. It’s always a little uncomfortable when the call for expressives comes around. You know, the hugs hello when not having seen each other for a time, like when Dad goes out of town and returns. That odd little moment of connecting doesn’t come easily in our family for some reason.
I laugh inwardly at my mom’s use of “neat.” She pulls out these outdated expressions now and then. She somehow pulls them off. She points out two aisle seats towards the middle. “In case we want a quick escape,” she whispers. I sit down next to her, she lets me take the aisle seat. I look around and notice there are more people than I expected and there is still a half hour before the show starts. Our family is always early going anywhere.
Dad for all his cool, calm and collected ways is almost OCD about getting somewhere on time. He says, “There is anticipating road conditions, parking the car, finding seats, really, any number of things can slow you down. Being on time is a sign of being prepared.” That’s my Dad’s response when I expressed my concern at how early we arrived at a wedding one time. Personally, I think it makes us look a little anxious and like we have nothing better to do with our lives. Everyone knows it’s a well-known fact the world runs about ten minutes behind the stated, expected time.
Some upbeat background music fills the auditorium, a bit of saxophone and brass, a nice bouncy beat that reminds me of sunshiney days at the beach. I glance at the program flyer the guy handed us.
Tangerine Tree, five guys who had nothing better to do and nothing in common except a need to play music. They never expected to hit the “big time” and are glad they all have daytime jobs that allow them to get together now and then to blow some tunes together for a good time and a good cause.
Tonight’s purpose is to celebrate the lively style of Ska in all its Jamaican wonder. Feel free to dance in the aisles, clap your hands, and give to the good cause of Wells of Life.
“It’s not a sell-out by any means, but it’s enough to show that some like the band. I wonder what Pete is like now? I really didn’t talk much to him at the last reunion.”
I glance at Mom and wonder if maybe she and Pete had something going in high school. It’s weird thinking she might have known any guys besides Dad. My mind kind of switches quickly to another subject. If I don’t or won’t ask she won’t have to tell. I don’t really have an insatiable curiosity about my parents. Maybe someday. Not at fifteen.
“Look the band is coming on. I think that’s Pete.” Mom points to a tallish looking guy with bushy brown hair and long side burns. Most of the band sports the look of tie dye and seventies one-time hippie. Not the hippie style some kids wear at the high school with their tie dye shirts, loose jeans and flip flops or Converse. Most of the tie-dye kids I see at school are skaters or stoners or both. Some are offspring of real hippies, and a few are searching for their own style. Most anything goes for style at our school. These guys make me think they a)never got past their adolescent push at the world or b)are in a serious need of a fashion update, or c)they could be having fun. They’re probably owners of coffee shops or even skate shops. They could really have us fooled and be bank presidents.
The lights go down. The stage lighting flashes crimson, gold, and purple and a blast of saxophone, trombone, guitar, and drum fill the auditorium. The music suddenly crescendos off the stage and fills up the auditorium and is nothing like the punk Ska sound from Battle of the Bands. This has Bob Marley bounce and feel good all through it. I look over at Mom. Her face brightens and I think I glimpse the teen she might have been.
The group blasts three songs one right out one after another. The third song being some kind of anthem for Ska. Everyone jumps up on that one and bounces up to the stage front. Arms waving and chanting the words of the song the crowd bursts into whistles and appreciative yells when the band ends the set.
“We are Tangerine Tree and we are here to have a good time. How about you all? Anyone having a good time yet?” More cheers, whistles, and clapping. Cell phone picture flashes light up and the band launches into another set. This time a plus-size woman rips out a tune on the microphone. Dressed in a black tank dress that hugs her ample top, and then swirls out from her generous hips she mesmerizes the crowd in both looks and how she sings. Bracelet bangles play on her wrists as she sways out the song. Mom stands, prodding me to stand with her in the aisle. We clap and rock in our place, being not quite ready to dance with the others at the stage front yet.
The song ends, applause and whistles immediately sound, and the band bows. The lead guitar points to the singer, “Wasn’t she something? Give another round for the Lovely Lydia Leigh.” She coyly sashays her hips and sets up a sassy wave to the crowd. The lead guitarist introduces each member of the group and Mom shouts out “Yeah, Petey!” when his name came up. He waves a drumstick salute to everyone. “I’m gonna let the guys get their breath here for a couple of minutes before we continue tonight. There is a rumor Ska is dead. Is Ska dead?” The stagefront crew erupts with “Ska! Ska! Ska!” The guitarist starts laughing. “Yeah, thought it was just a rumor. Hey, we want to thank you for being such a great crowd and coming out. Check out our tunes on YouTube. We never did get around to getting the big package sign up,“ he shrugs. “Playing for fun has it benefits, right guys?” He points to the band members. They all nod, blasting a harmonious note on their instruments.
“Speaking of benefits, we are here tonight to help out a cause called Wells of Life.” The guitarist swigs from his water bottle and then holds it up. “I learned to appreciate a good drink of water after I went over to Africa. Water is a big deal in that country. I know you all have heard the plights of third world countries. I won’t lecture you, bore you, or ask to give to the cause. The need is there and I won’t give you a guilt trip about your need to give back to the world because we have it so good here. The whole concert tonight is a benefit. The college generously donated the auditorium to us. Yeah, it helps that one of the players up here is son of the college president.“ He laughs and points to one of the saxophone players. “We all really work for a living, and play for the fun of it. Tonight is not a money pitch. All I really want you to do out there is to do something. When you leave tonight you can drop a donation in the Wells of Life buckets, but more than that I’m hoping you all will leave with the promise of giving yourselves to something that’s out there. There’s a lot of need, even in our fine country. Give back. Do something. Hey, are you ready for some more music?”
The band immediately cranks up another tune and Mom grabs me and we rush up front and jump and clap with everyone else. Too soon the band announces its last song of the night. One encore song and the lights come up. The crowd slowly, reluctantly makes it way up the aisles and people with bright blue Waters of Life buckets stationed at the doors hold them up. The plinks of change and the flash of green sweep into the buckets. Mom pulls out a ten dollar bill. I don’t have any money on me, not thinking I would need any tonight. I feel bad about that. Instead I decide to do as the guitarist said and will do something. I don’t know what, but I will do something.
Mom leans over to me. The crowd is so wired it’s hard to hear her. “It’s already 11 o’clock. It’s an hour drive home. Do you want to stay and go backstage? We don’t have too.”
“Don’t you want to go?”
Mom shrugs. “I don’t know. It’s kind of weird. It would be different if your Dad were with me.” I again wonder if she and Pete were more than “just friends.”
“Hey, you ready to go back? The band won’t be around too long. They’re probably packing up. Come on, I’ll take you back.” Before Mom can answer the ticket guy from earlier in the evening takes her by the elbow and propels her through the lobby crowd, towards a side door. Opening it he points down the hallway, “Just follow the hallway down and it goes backstage. I got to tie things off out front. Thanks for coming. See ya.”
Mom gives me a look like, “Well, should we?” I shrug my shoulders. She shrugs with a “ Why not?” I follow her down the hallway and we hear muffled sounds that reveal a hive of activity when we push open the grey metal double doors. Several people are packing up instruments, rolling speakers through back doors, and there is laughter and shouts of directions flashing around. A few women stand behind a table with cans of soda and boxes of pizza on it.
“Hi, looking for someone?” I recognize the woman as the lead singer. She stands next to us. She is so exotic and fascinating to me with her latte skin and dreadlocks.
“Umm, yeah. I’m a friend of Pete’s,” Mom stammers. “He said to come back here after the concert. Doesn’t look like this is a good time. Everyone is so busy.”
The woman laughs. “It’s always crazy like this after a show. I’m Lydia.” She shakes Mom’s hand. “Any friend of Pete’s is a friend of the band’s. This your daughter? You two look alike. Go on over to the table. Help yourself to something. I’ll find Pete.”
The woman disappears and Mom stands there undecided for a second and then moves over to the refreshment table. “Hi, you want a soda and a slice of pizza?” a long blonde-haired woman asks.
“Just two Pepsis is fine.” Mom takes them from her and hands me one. We pop them open and try to stay out of everyone’s way. Five minutes later a man steps up to mom and hugs her, almost lifting her off the ground. “Sylvie! You came! This is so cool! Hey, this your daughter? Man, she looks like you did when you were in high school.” This is obviously Pete. He looks so much larger than life even though he had been only ten feet away from us on the stage.
“Yeah. Maybe she does. I don’t remember what I looked liked back then. Too long ago,” Mom laughs.
“What did you think? Did you like the concert?” Pete asks, grabbing a slice of hawaiian and pineapple.
“It was fun. I’d never really listened to Ska before. It’s bouncy and upbeat. You guys really only play for fun?”
“Couldn’t make a living at music if we tried. We mainly play because it beats out a lot of other things we could do with our time and energy. We all have jobs, families, but we still have that crazy need to play music. College crowds seem to like us. Most of us have flexible enough schedules, or have connections that get us gigs within easy traveling distance on the weekend. If we can get a building donated so we don’t have to pay out fees, we donate the gate to Wells of Life. That’s the cause that Ryan our lead guitarist, decided to take on.” Pete steps over to the table and gets a woman’s attention. “Diana, this is Sylvie—I told you about her, we went to high school together. She was the singer for my first band.” Pete addresses the pretty long-haired woman who gave us the sodas.
“Oh, hi. Pete told me he hoped you would come. It’s cool you still kept in contact. I don’t keep in touch with anyone. I’m not sure I want to, you know, somethings or people are best not revisited, she shrugs.”
I tune out on their conversation and watch all the activity going on around us. I hadn’t any idea it took so much equipment to pull a show together. A couple of guys drag and coil thick black cables, while another couple of guys wheel bulky speakers around the obstacles of people and more cables. It didn’t look so complicated from the stage front point of view. I feel a poke in my arm and turn.
“Are you tired or lost in thought?” I shrugged, offering Mom a smile. “Maybe both. I’ve never been backstage before. It’s really busy.”
Pete laughs. “Yeah, it is. I better get back to work. We’re such an underfunded band we are our own roadie crew. Did you like our Ska tonight?”
Realizing he was addressing me I shrug and then not wanting to offend him I quickly added, “It’s not what I thought it would be. The Ska style I heard at our school’s Battle of the Bands last year was more punk. This reminds me a lot of Bob Marley.”
“That punk band sounds like third generation Ska. We are straight up original ‘50s Jamaican Ska sound. Check out some of the YouTube videos some time. We have other music styles. Tonight happened to be Ska. Hey, I’m getting the eye from the guys. I better go. He envelopes Mom in a big hug. A bit too long of one if you ask me, and then lopes off, waving a good-bye.
Mom bites her bottom lip and returns his wave. “If I don’t ask, she won’t be obligated to tell,” I remind myself.
“Well, I guess we’re done here. Do you know it’s after midnight? I guess you aren’t up to driving home, are you?”
Was she kidding? I wouldn’t even think of trying to negotiate nighttime freeway traffic. Mom laughs at the expression on my face. “I didn’t think so. I have an idea, but first let’s eat something. I think I burned off enough calories jumping around tonight to get something gooey and decadent. What do you think?”
I agree and we leave the college in search of a late night eatery and a dessert menu.
- Day Eight: Novel Idea, Anyone? (veranano.wordpress.com)
- Ratatat: Old School Ska Punk by UK’s The Skints (lostateminor.com)