The Great Dust Bowl

This story was written to this tune, Counting Crows’ ‘Sullivan Street’

It was October 1994 and I was walking down that dusty little hill in my high school. I usually walked to the beat of whatever I managed to cram on those TDK 90 audio cassettes, but I was running out of money paying for batteries, so the walkman stayed at home. No worries, my memory is quite good and remembering the lyrics while walking to the tune in my head is always a good exercise in memory.

In some weird moment, I thought: I will always remember this overcast day. And I still do, 16 years later. Nothing strange or memorable happened that day, but it’s the way memory works.

94 was a strange year. Seriously. Quite the emotional rollercoaster. I spent part of my summer in the United Kingdom, in a trip with my parents that took me to England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland. I can’t remember any time in my life I was the happiest and somewhere in that summer I decided I eventually wanted to live in England. It was in a slow-as-James-May trip in a boat near the Thames floodgates.

Heck, a detour. Expect more of those soon.

Anyways, October 1994 and it’s been about a year and a half that I started to actually listen to music. If you’d asked me any time before March 1993 what I thought about music in general and I’d probably spat in your face. Long story. But on March 1993, my dad got us satellite tv (some company called Multivision). We already had cable, but Multivision had other channels, specifically, it had channels with NFL games and my dad and my bro were fans.

It also had MTV Latino and since there was music virtually all day long, I got a crash course in music. I worked out that there weren’t enough programs and videos, so all video blocks were repeated every six hours. So if I saw, let’s say, a Stone Temple Pilots video at 1:15 pm, it would be again at 7:15.

So, after 18 months of daily music, I became quite the fan, even if it got me a bit ostracised from my friends, as they had no fucking idea of what I was talking about. Aggravating with guys, frustrating with women.

That October, I befriended a girl called Gisella in a physics class. Actually, she was the one who approached me. A little dodgy, as it was after the first exams and I got a good grade and she got less than stellar results. So she used to hang with me from time to time to go over the stuff taught in class.

I knew what it was and I didn’t mind. She was very pretty and some of my friends made fun of me. I let it slide after one of them told me he was jealous she spoke to me. He mentioned that I was being used. I didn’t care: a girl was speaking to me and I thought I might as well learn from the experience.

You see, my grade school and junior high were Catholic and nun-controlled, so, it was either only boys or only girls. So when I arrived to high school, my understanding of the female mind was 0% (it’s -76% right now).

My friends were wrong about Gisella. She might hung around with me for help with physics, but she was also a good friend and sometimes we talked about music. She also gave me rides in her car, even if we lived quite far from each other.

As the commute was a long one, we used to talk about music. Funny enough, she knew what I was talking about. She had very similar tastes to me. Counting Crows, Crash Test Dummies, R.E.M., Pearl Jam, Tripping Daisy. I thought about making her a mixtape, but I thought it would complicate things or send the wrong message. I still relished every conversation we had, no matter how superfluous it was.

She also was in my Literature Analysis class. In fall semesters, the high school required that all Lit classes had to adapt a theatre play and show it by mid November. Students had to procure costume, lightning, props and sort out acting. It could go either great or horrible and my previous experience in 93 was not really good.

This time around, it was a real ball. I was in props (again) but stayed for all rehearsals, just because I was having such a great time. Gisella was in costumes, so from time to time she was there, but the rest of the times she had to go with the rest of her team and work out stuff.

There was a general rehearsal on a Saturday before the week all shows were going to be put out. I remember the cool atmosphere of that day, with people sneaking a drink here and there (and puff near the toilets). I was sorting out some props out when Gisella came in with her boyfriend. She introduced us to each other and I was ok, but during the rest of the day, I was a bit distant. I wasn’t jealous, I just didn’t know that if the way she and I used to talk would cause her any sort of trouble with her guy.

Nothing bad happened and we still hung out until next year, when she wasn’t at school. I never knew where she went (I assumed she graduated early, she did mention she had few classes to attend) and I really didn’t know anyone else who knew her. I realised that I was the only one who hung out with her and I asked my physics teacher about her performance in the exams.

He said she always got good grades and made a slight joke about me and her. I told her we were just friends and he just snidely said “yes, you were”.

I pondered about it for a while, then my good pal Rafa offered me a ride home. It was a rainy January afternoon and we eventually got stuck in traffic. I asked if it was okay to put a cassette on his tape player, he nodded and I randomly took one out from my backpack. I inserted the clunky thing and then this came out of the speakers:

“I’m almost drowning in her sea / She’s nearly crawling on her knees / It’s almost everything I need /I’m down on my knees”

Words: —Sam

Photo: Orestes Xistos

Listen to Counting CrowsAugust and Everything After @ Spotify.

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