Me and Kate got caught last week being sweet in the back of this here car. Soon as we heard the footsteps near, we pulled our jackets over our bare asses, but it was too late. Mrs. Gleason was already peering at us looking shocked and shaking her head. I was confused myself. I guess knowing that someone’s out there watching can really put things back in perspective. It’s humbling a bit when you’re feeling like you’re on top.
Kate came by the store yesterday just to say hi. There was a customer in the corner picking through the beers, but that didn’t stop Kate from bringing it up. At first, I thought she was mad about it, but then she started to giggle. Sometimes I think me and Kate won’t ever stop being together.
I told her about the band I’d seen the night before. About how Ricky snuck me into the bar. I told her about everyone there: truck drivers, bikers, men off from work — Don from the tire shop was there — beautiful blonde women (when I told her that, she blushed). It was like nowhere I’d ever been. I even told her that I got scared some. I thought someone would kick me out or try to start a fight or something, but by the time the band started playing, I tell ya, no one could be bothered. We was all just having fun in the then-and-there. One man was banging his table so much that the other’s beer fell right off. He just went up and bought that man another. I tell ya, it’s something about that music.
Anyway, I hardly slept last night. I can’t get that feeling out of my head. I never heard anything like it. I can’t remember any of their songs, but, I tell ya, any time I quit talking, that rhythm goes right through me. It was like the old guitar stuff your dad listens to but much wilder and louder. I think the guy said they were called Steel Mill. That didn’t sound much like the name of a group to me, but I thought it was good for them nonetheless.
Kate said she’d like to hear them some day, and I told her I’d take her next time we knew they’d be in town. I told her me and Ricky would get her into that bar.
Ricky called again. Late last night. Said he was in trouble again, but he couldn’t explain why. Said I could help. All he needed was $20 for a parking ticket, and he needed it as soon as possible. I told him I’d lend him the money if he met me out back behind my house. I’d have to be quiet in case my parents heard things.
Rocks against my window, and it’s Ricky and he’s yelling. I come out and tell him to shut up. He seems panicked and hurried for some reason. I don’t know what parking ticket needs to be paid so late at night, but I didn’t ask any questions. With a guy like Ricky, you do better to just go along with the ride.
I asked if he wanted to stay, maybe we could sneak out a few of my dad’s beers, but he said no and that he had to get going. He did thank me for the money, but besides that, it was like he was hardly there. Ricky’s like that in a funny kind of way.
I never heard them again. Sometimes things that good only come by once in a while. Must’ve been a few weeks after that when Ricky got sent out of his house for using drugs. The night his parents kicked him out, he showed up at mine with nothing but a duffel bag and his backpack. He told me what was going on and said he needed a place to stay. “Sure, Ricky.” We talked for a while and I tried to find out more, but whenever I asked what sort of drugs he was doing, he didn’t tell me much and almost acted like there were no drugs, so I didn’t press him for it.
Anyway, that same week, a kid a little older than me died down the street. Bill never spoke much, and one night I guess he must’ve got drunk and crashed his pickup into a large oak tree. His mother was all torn up, didn’t know what to do and sold off most of his belongings. I thumbed through the box of records and found a few with pictures like some of the guys in that bar that night. One was called “Steppenwolf,” and as soon as I put it on, I told Kate, “This is it! It’s not Steel Mill, but this is what I heard!” She turned, kissed me, and said “I’d love to hear that band sometime.” I told her that I wanted her to also. Any time I play that record, I feel like I did that day. I even feel like I’m in that bar discovering Steel Mill for the first time. Kate said it helped her imagine the bar too, that it made her feel good. Funny how sometimes we share the same memories, even if we weren’t there with each other in the first place. I know that the songs on “Steppenwolf” aren’t the songs I heard then in the bar. Still, every time I put it on, I go right back there. I remember the bar. I remember discovering Kate in the back of the car, and I remember how good she was to me all the time.
These days I buy tapes if I like their cases on the general store display. None of them do what “Steppenwolf” does though. I got the new tape by Bruce Springsteen, Born In The USA. It’s not bad, but something about the way it starts in sure feels like an arrival. Bruce means business I suppose.