1996 was a weird year for me. I can’t pinpoint how or why, but I knew a change was coming. A severe one. When I arrived to Louisville in 1995, I met this girl named Chloe and we instantly hit it off. She got me into the music scene back then, so I was all over bands like June of 44, Ruckus and Rachel’s. Plus a couple more, but those were the ones we enjoyed best. She always chastised me for not arriving earlier, when Slint were wowing a chosen few. Time would prove her right on that band.
Still, living on my own at 18. Heckuva test, but as a latchkey kid, I had some degree of expertise in home stuff. I guess Home Economics was useful after all. Too bad Home Economics never considered that one might be a little addicted to these plastic holy wafers we call CDs. I think it was somewhere between A boy named Goo and Monster that I admitted I had a CD addiction. I thought about joining one of those 12 CDs for the price of one clubs but I heard terrible stories. So I didn’t.
So, 18 and a lifetime. Or something, I dunno, I drive to school in a beat up Maverick that I got quite cheap and I’ve been making lots of friends, but I’m quite smitten by Chloe and I think she’s smitten by me. We hang out all of the time, so I might have to just man up and do some asking.
If only I had the balls to do it. I’ll figure something out, as school and my job at Mercedes Five and Dime are my priorities right now. I haven’t been to the flicks in a while because I’m really without money and no way am I calling back home and letting them know I blew it all on CDs and concert tickets. Hey, I had to see Soul Asylum and Gin Blossoms, right?
Spring Break 96, well, I end up working two jobs, one in a dive bar and the other in a record store. The dive bar proves a good one, as it helps me ease out with my people skills, especially with girls. I get a couple of kisses but that’s it. The other bar staff is a little luckier. Man, Louisvillians do love their drinks! There’s days when I’m ready to pass out and I’m a little lucky fucker for never getting into an accident after work. The record store job, ah, that’s a real good one but I don’t make much from it, as I end up 2 CDs short of being both employee and client of the month. Oh, well.
Chloe went to Tampa Bay for that Spring Break with some friends. She came a little changed (besides the cool skin tone) and it’s one Saturday morning at that Waffle House near the Expressway that she tells me she’s met someone and would like to do a semester in Florida. Alarm bells ring, but I fake a smile and try to play it cool. She can see through me, though, and she avoids me for the next few months.
Summer hits and she’s gone to do a couple of courses in Florida. This does not bode well. I want to quit my job and just gun the Maverick to Florida. Been aching for a road trip and some beach time, man. Money is one of my main deterrents, the other one, well, I have to do summer school too as the jobs have affected my performance. Dammit.
That summer, I pick up an acoustic guitar, as a friend of mine says he wants to start a band and I jump at the chance. Man, oh man, I suck at guitar so much I should be one of them talentless rappers. I have no rapping skills, though, so I’ll stick to consume music. The acoustic guitar will get me laid a couple of times, because I managed to learn a couple of songs by Hootie & The Blowfish. Also: learn Name by Goo Goo Dolls. If you don’t get at least a kiss, I can’t help you, son.
I should’ve painted my guitar in a gray tone, I thought to myself one stormy night in late August, one of those sleepless nights where too many worries take your brain by storm. I don’t know why, but I’ve thinking a lot about my time at Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrow. I really don’t want to ponder too much about those days, they are long gone, so are the nasty and mean people from that school. I’m free from that.
Fall of 96, first day of the new semester and I see everyone is back. Except Chloe. Oh, well, just my luck. I wait a whole week, sometimes sneaking into classes I’m not taking, just to see if she’s anywhere around. Julia, a good mutual friend, does tell me one day over coffee that Chloe made a last minute transfer to the University of Tampa. Julia tells me Chloe plans to major in Tourism and Management, so I reckon she’s chosen a good place to do so. But I do wonder why she didn’t bother say goodbye. Julia offers a couple of explanations, but I think she might be covering for her friend. I don’t blame her; she doesn’t really know me that well, so I don’t take it badly.
For a while.
I start to lose sleep at night. I drive aimlessly, listening to the mixtapes and mix CDs Chloe gave me and I wonder about what it could have been. I really wish I could go to Tampa and talk with her, but I guess she’s made her mind. When October peeks its face in the year of our Lord 1996, my good friend Ulises tells me that there’s a congress in Tampa in late October. It’s at the University of Tampa and our school will be sending a few students there. It’s related to marketing or some crap; I just sign up and weasel my way by pulling rank with my rather excellent grades. Ulysses manages to go to, so I’ve got a wingman for this trip.
This journey is musicalized heavily by R.E.M.’s New Adventures in Hi-Fi and Dave Matthews Band’s Under the table and dreaming. The bus journey is long as hell but Ulysses and me manage to have some fun around. When we get to Tampa Bay, the sweltering heat was ready to take us out, but we stave it off with copious amounts of cold beer, both during and after the different talks from the congress.
I seek Chloe but I have no luck finding her. I don’t have any of her details barring her email address and I realize I didn’t think this through at all. Luck had it that we serendipitously met at one of the many parties this congress had. There I met what I assumed was her boyfriend too, a tall dude with a Spartans t-shirt. Right, my nemesis is a football player, I’m done for here.
I do a little chit chat with her, catch up and leave her to her own devices, I guess I need to move on and don’t look back. Ulysses is the ladies man and he plays the wingman part to a T. We don’t spend a single night alone. Thanks, dude.
It all comes crashing down slightly when we go to Busch Gardens. You see, a couple of our conquests sort of know the other conquests so faster than you can say “angry mob”, both Ulysses and me give them the slip near Stanleyville and go for a couple of cold ones in the Timbuktu area of the park. That was a close one.
Our last day in Tampa Bay and I don’t feel really that bad about the whole Chloe thing. I gotta accept it’s one of those teenage things that happen to all of us. No way was I going to meet The One when I’m just 19, right? Just before I get on the bus, I see Chloe in the distance. I wave and yell her name, even beckon at her to come but she just mouths “no” and waves her hand in a swift “it’s over” motion. She then runs away. I’m confused. Oh, well, back to Duncan Sheik‘s music.
I’m back in Louisville and a week before the finals, Julia calls me, says she wants to talk with me. She informs me that Chloe is disappointed with my behavior and I explain to Julia that I didn’t do anything bad. She just shakes her head and says she’ll explain later. Well, thank you, then!
Exams pass and I kick their asses back to the Stone Age. Somewhere near the tail end of November I hear that the ASME chapter at school is planning a trip to Los Angeles and San Francisco. The tickets aren’t that expensive and I beg my 2 sets of parents to help me out a little to go there. Los Angeles! The moment I set foot back in my old haunt, I call all my friends, but most of them are already out on holidays. Fuck this! Still, new friends to make, new adventures to experience.
I’ve never been to San Francisco; I think the experience will be great. From what I heard from my brother Cliff that lives in Oakland, there’s quite a few things to try out. If I were in better terms with him, I’d meet him up, but maybe I should let sleeping dogs lie. The bus drives very slowly towards there, but I enjoy the sights along the highway. The mountains, showered pale gold in the winter sun are majestic, with the deep green of the pines making it almost a regal sight.
Julia is in this trip. I’ve been meaning to have a chance to talk with her, but she’s always surrounded by guys who just want to fuck her. She always knows how to deflect them towards someone with a differently calibrated moral barometer. She’s wise, very wise.
It’s our second day in San Francisco and we’ve already been to HP and General Electric. The future, agh, I’m reminded constantly that I’m gearing towards something else. My college education has to mean something and all these companies we’ve visited, ah, I guess are little previews of what to expect once a degree is obtained. Part of me wants to finally graduate and be someone and settle down. Another part of me just desires a never ending Summer.
We are let loose on the streets of San Francisco near dusk and I sort of get lost near Pier 39. I haphazardly meet Julia and this guy, Raymond, who’s obviously after her and she only is tolerating him because she is a little scared by this strange city. I offer myself to guide them back to the bus stop, but since we still have a couple of hours to kill, we saunter around.
There’s a drugstore nearby but Julia doesn’t want to go near as there’s a lot of bums around. She’s afraid of them, I have no idea why. So we take another route and when some smelly dude comes out of nowhere asking for a quarter, Julia grabs both me and Raymond and pulls us into a store. I want to tell her where we are at now, but I want to get even at her for being so secretive about Chloe. I’m going to enjoy this.
She spends a good 20 minutes looking at the clothes, while Raymond gets a tad nervous. A couple nearby is pointing at us and keeping their guffaws to themselves. Julia picks something and she says “this looks nice, but the texture is a bit rubbery.” I then inform her we are in a 4 story S&M shop and that the couple near us are made up of people who don’t identify neither as man nor woman. She freaks out and pulls out of the store, almost running over the bum outside. She identifies another shop, one that is more up her alley and drags us in.
We are at the store for a good hour and Raymond has fallen asleep by a chair. I take my chance and ask Julia what’s the deal with Chloe and she says “she expected more from you.” And I justify myself saying, “well, I’m just a guy, what can I do?” Julia then drops the bomb “she has been waiting for you to man up and tell her you love her. Since you didn’t seem to be interested in her during your trip to Tampa, she thought you were over her and now she’s got a boyfriend.”
Julia sees my reaction and excuses herself to go to the fitting room. She knows she’s dropped a clusterbomb in my head. It all hits and I’m ready to fall to my knees, regretting every single decision I’ve made regarding Chloe. How could I be such an idiot? If I had the balls to actually do something, none of this would’ve happened.
I feel a lot of anger rising inside me. The Aaron Neville song in the background fades away and a feedback overtakes the atmosphere. I can hear a frantic rock song that describes how I feel. “Well, I guess you left me with some feathers in my hand…” I know that voice! It’s Counting Crows! I run towards the TV and the video, just a well shot video of them performing the song, is mesmerizing me. That solo! Oh, my God, it’s healing my pain while still chastising me. “Waiting for you”… I write down this and make a note to get this album as soon as I can, because no matter what pain life rewards you for your fuck ups, there will always be a song that will heal you.
I wonder what the rest of the album sounds like?
The next day we travel back to Los Angeles. I’ve been replaying several moments I’ve spent with Chloe. That first hug under a surprise rainstorm. A long conversation watching the stars. Too many moments that seem impossibly Hallmark-ish but actually happened. Should’ve taken advantage of the opportunities, I wonder if I’m paying for all the sins I’ve committed in my short life? I’d love to pay them back just to get another chance with Chloe.
But no, no second chances. The trip back to Los Angeles is sure feeling eternal and every time I sleep, every time I dream, images of moments full of hints appear. Can’t believe I messed up so badly. Oh, well, experience is the name people give to my mistakes.
Last day in Los Angeles and I meet my good friends Otto and Ally at The Galleria. I buy Counting Crows‘ Recovering the Satellites, Dave Matthews Band‘s Crash and Van Halen‘s Best of, Volume I. That last one, I dunno, my older brothers were the right age in the 80s to appreciate them, maybe I could check this out and see their perspective. Right, my perspective right now is that I’ve only got 2 quarters and a shiny penny from 1979. Otto and Ally buy me food at the IHOP by Harbor Boulevard, just besides my hotel. We talk about times past. I do ask them about Becky, but haven’t heard from her since she moved to Urbana, Illinois. “Waiting, for you” jumps again in my head, like that nagging cricket from the Disney cartoon.
I hug them goodbye and they tell me to stay in touch. For all my shortcomings, that’s a promise I intend to keep. I see Julia dragging her suitcase from the lobby towards the bus that will take us to LAX and I help her. I assure her I’m ok even if she obviously can see through me. We do sit together on the way to the airport and she asks me where I was. I tell her about my music spree at The Galleria and I show her my albums. She then tells me she loves Counting Crows and somehow, the low winter Sun, in all its golden glory, offers a little apricity.
For Paola, wherever she is now.
Previously, in Tales of the Pill Generation:
Words: Sam J. Valdés López