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Charlie and the Toy Room

image of band rehearsal room

Andy got to my place about five. My mom had let him in, so he was sitting in my room when I got home. “You ready to go?”

“I just got home, dude.”

“Yea, but we can’t play too late. Grab your guitar.”

“Doesn’t Charlie have his own place? Why can’t we jam late?”

“I don’t know. I guess it might disturb his neighbors.”

“Well, when I get a place, I’ll make sure it has a garage we can insulate.”

“Are you going to move out?”

“Well, ya, I been thinking about it, but I can’t afford it right now.”

“Well, tonight we need to get going.”

“Okay, hang on. Let me find a cord.”

“Don’t need one. Charlie said just bring your guitar. He’s got an amp you can use.”

That seemed cool. “Really?”

“Yea, he’s got some drums too. I guess he used to play drums.” This Charlie guy was starting to sound a bit flaky to me now.

“Dude, are you sure about this guy?”

“No… no I’m not, but what have we got to lose. Let’s go.”

We followed the directions up to Charlie’s place. It was nearly up in the mountains in an old section of Pasadena. From the street, the only indication the house was not abandoned, were the few lights on inside the place. It was a sizable lot and the house itself seemed like maybe four or five bedrooms on two stories. The lawn and gardens were full of overgrown weeds and shrubs. It was obvious that it had not been looked after in years. There was a staircase on the outside of the house, which looked like an afterthought. It led up to where Charlie lived.

We navigated the creaky steps to Charlie’s door, which was crudely cut into the side of the house. Charlie answered the door and we stood there getting a look at our nothing-to-lose guitar player.

He stood about six-foot tall and skinny as a rail. He had long stringy blonde hair and wore wire rim glasses. He was dressed in a cut up white T-shirt with a band logo and cut off denim shorts. It was a strange look. It was also the middle of winter, which made the shorts seem a bit bizarre. He invited us in. “Welcome to the mad house.”

He held the door with one hand and motioned with the other for us to come in. “This is the living room / bedroom / kitchen.” His bed dominated the centre of the room. There was a television and a huge stereo system on one side. The other side was a kitchenette sort of a thing. There were dishes stacked up on the sink and the counters. There were clothes, magazines, and all sorts of other crap strewn everywhere. “It’s not usually this tidy, but the maid came today.” I was sure he was joking but he looked serious. “This way to the toy room”

We followed him through the mess to the adjoining room, which had a double wide doorway without doors. It was like a huge studio apartment. I’d never seen anything like it before. The “toy room” was full of music gear. There was a sizeable drum kit set up in the middle, a couple of amplifiers, three or four guitars on stands, and more of the same mess from the other room. There was no indication of organization or normal living in sight. This was the coolest house I had ever seen in my life.

Charlie told us he rented the top section of the house from Irene whom he rarely saw. She lived in the bottom half of the house and had lived there since its glory days, many years gone by.

I stood there just trying to digest all this, so when Charlie spoke again I nearly jumped. “What’s your pleasure? Music, mood, or oral communications.” I had no idea of what he just said. I stammered a bit.

“Ah… did… did you wanna jam?”

“Music it is!” He walked over to one of the small amps and switched it on. “This is an old one. I call him Jerry. You have to wait for his tubes to warm up.” He reached down and picked up the loose end of a cord that was plugged into the amp and held it out to me. “Food for your soul?” I was standing there with my guitar case still in my hand, in a bewildered semi-catatonic state. I snapped out of it with a bit of a twitch.

“Ah, yea, thanks.” I grabbed the cord and stuck it through the handle on top of the amp. I set down my guitar case and started to set myself up. Charlie was now helping Andy get acquainted with the huge drum kit. They were talking drums and making adjustments as I tuned my guitar.

After we all got settled, we started the obligatory “What do you want to play?” After more than a few suggestions, we settled on ‘Sunshine of your Love’ by Cream. It was a simple song and everyone seemed to know how to play it. I played the riff through twice by myself and then the other two came in. It wasn’t too bad. I hadn’t played that song in years. I used to play it with Tony. Andy didn’t know it that well so it was a bit rough, but still a hell of a lot better then just two unplugged guitars in the park.

I had half-heartedly sang it without the benefit of a microphone. When we finished, I asked Charlie about a mike. He didn’t think we needed one “You’re doing fine. Helps strengthen the voice. Let’s just see how we gel musically.” This was the most normal thing I had heard him say so far. It also seemed to make sense.

Next, we played something by the Stones that we all vaguely knew. We were just jamming with it, not really playing it end to end. I wasn’t used to playing like that, but somehow we all knew were we were going. It was really cool. I thought to myself, this is really jamming. Just playing music and having some fun with it. I even tried a few little lead breaks. Usually Frank played all the leads.

I thought Andy had been playing pretty well. Apparently Charlie didn’t. He had been frowning at him a bit. He suddenly stopped mid- song. “Hey, drummer man, ya got swing. Loosen up, play drums, don’t hit them with sticks.” We were both a bit confused here. Charlie must have sensed it. He set down his guitar and walked over behind the drums. Grabbing a pair of his sticks, he held them up to Andy. “Why you playing with them tree branches, man?” He was referring to Andy’s thick drumsticks. The ones he held were a much thinner, traditional size. “Lemmy show you.”

Andy hopped off the drum stool and Charlie started to play before he had even hit the seat. Charlie was obviously a lot more experienced than Andy. His arms seemed to be flailing, but he played fluidly. There was something solid sounding about the way he played. The snare even sounded different when he hit it. What’s more, even with the substantially smaller sticks he played just as loud. “You gotta swing, man.” He emphasized this to Andy by bouncing a little on the stool, and then played a bit more.

We played a few more songs after that, and then heard a banging on the floor. It was Irene below. She had had enough. Charlie yelled down at the floor “OKAY SWEET HEART. Sorry guys, gotta stop.” Charlie knelt down on the floor, hunched over and started to pet the floorboards. “That’s it Sweet Irene. Put down the broom and go back to sleep.” Then he stood up. “Who wants a drink?” This guy was weird.

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Peacocks and Mushrooms

Men sitting around a campfire

This is the second chapter whose setting is that of Dave’s eighteenth birthday. This chapter being the later half of the evening as Dave starts to feel the celebrations are not on par with such a momentous event. When he is offered some hallucinogenic mushrooms (which he thought looked like little dried up bones) he is hesitant at first, but decides it might be a good night to give them a try. He and his friends decide to take an after hours visit to the Arboretum and have a little adventure.

The L.A. State and County Arboretum is Arcadia. It’s about twenty minutes from downtown L.A. where we all live. The place is huge – more than a hundred acres. My mom used to take us there when we were kids. It has thousands of trees from all over the world. It also boasts a Japanese rock garden with coy ponds, a bamboo forest, rock formations, a waterfall, flower gardens, a train museum, couple of historic buildings, and peacocks.

There have been dozens of movies and T.V. shows filmed there. It’s known for being the place where they filmed the opening sequence of ‘Fantasy Island’. They of course, were closed at that time of night. So it seemed like a good spot to spend the evening baking on shrooms.

We parked on a quiet side street that bordered the place. There were bushes and trees covering the ten-foot high chain link fences that surrounded the park. There we could scale the fences easily without being seen. We climbed in on the outskirts of the giant wilderness within the suburbs and found a place to kick back.

We broke open the case of beer and packed a couple of pipe-loads. Murphy and Rocky had gathered up some sticks and branches. They cleared a spot, and lit a small fire. Then we began to sift through our little bags of dried up bones.

John showed me how to divide up the caps and stems evenly so we would get an equal buzz. He also told me the best way to ‘come on’ quick was to chew them a few times then stick it between your cheek and gum, just like the cowboy in the Skoal commercials on T.V. He said after about ten minutes we should swallow them, then in another ten minutes or so we should start to feel the effects. Half an hour and the effect would be at its peak.

We divided them up and I popped my share into my mouth. Just as I did, I noticed everyone was looking at me. I gave them a couple of chews and nearly decorated the lawn with my stomach contents. I must have really screwed up my face because everyone got a good laugh out of my disgust. “Fuck this taste like shit!” I exclaimed.

Murphy casually spoke. “Well that’s mighty perceptive, Dave. The best mushrooms are grown in pure cow shit. I don’t think they wash them off much. It’s not like they’re FDA approved.”

So we all sat around looking like cowboys with little wads poking out of our cheeks. While we waited for the fun to begin, Frank played his acoustic, we smoked, we sang, we drank, and we bullshitted.

Murphy was making us all laugh with his stupid jokes. I sat there thinking to myself ‘You know Dave, Murphy isn’t usually this funny. He sure is on a roll tonight’. I also thought the little waterfall off in the distance was starting to sound very clear to me – it was as if I could hear every little drop splashing down into the pond below – and the moon must be full tonight because the clarity of everything seemed very clear. And the colours were all so vivid… vivid, that’s a funny word.

I looked up at the others and they were all right there, but I had a strange sense of detachment. Like I was in my own little crystal clear bubble. Could they hear me from in here? Rocky had a big grin on his face. “Hey Dave, you peakin’?”

Well I could hear him from inside the bubble and it did seem to be thinning. I think I should try to speak to him even though I don’t know if I can trust him. His nose did look a bit bigger than it normally was. I’ll try…

“What?”

“I said are you peakin’?”

I wasn’t sure; at least I don’t think I was sure because I said. “I don’t know, am I?” They all laughed and agreed I was.

The bubble had all but diminished now and I was with them again. I hadn’t really noticed the drug taking effect. It came on so gradually. It was nice though I thought. I felt my face deform into a Cheshire Cat grin.

“Well Dave, what do you think?” I’m not sure who spoke so I answered all of them.

“I feel gooood.” This brought incredible laughter from all around, even myself. “You know what I think?” I continued, “I think we ought to do something.” John piped up.

“You’re right! You’re exactly right. You’ve never been righter.” This brought more incredible laughter, but it wasn’t very funny. I was wondering if anyone else found this unusual, that John could say something that was kinda stupid and yet it seemed to be hysterical. So I thought I would ask them.

“Does anyone else notice John is stupid?” Again hysterical laughter.

John wasn’t offended, but had to say something back.

“Come on Einstein, let’s go do something.” We all started standing up at the same time, assuming we were Einstein, and then argued who was.

“He was talking to me.”

“I think it me he was talking to.”

“Yea right, you’re a dumb ass.”

“You know Einstein actually is my grandfather.” And so on.

We all debated as we walked down the little hill out into the freshly mowed grass and further into the reserve.

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