Part four of “That Other Guy”

The last installment – here you go.

*****

            In the days and weeks that followed, we just tried to wake up from the nightmare, but had no luck.  Jim Martin awarded The Other Guy with the prize, consisting of a two-record deal with IRS and some tour dates opening for the label’s more established acts, but Gerry’s status left us in limbo.

            “We can’t go on without him,” X said, almost in a whisper one day as we made a half-hearted attempt to practice as a threesome.

            “What?  Just a couple months ago, you said – ” I began.

            “I was wrong.  You were right.  This is his band.”  Harrison thumped the bass drum twice in agreement.

            We never got the full story on Gerry’s arrest.  Some said it was just one count of possession, but others insisted there were a couple counts of distribution, too.  Phone calls to the Rittle house didn’t help, either; no one answered, and when we drove by to see if we could talk to his mom, the windows were dark and a ‘For Sale’ sign leaned up against the tattered mailbox.

            “He saved our asses, y’know?” Harrison said.  He wasn’t really looking for an answer, I could tell, but I couldn’t just sit there and be quiet about it.

            “Uh huh.”  We’d been through this several times, but talking it over wasn’t bringing Gerry back. It was graduation day, and a few weeks before, I’d finally called Jim Martin to tell him that we couldn’t accept the award.

            “What?  That’s crazy.”

            “Well, yeah,” I said, feeling a wave of exhaustion hit me.

            “Mind if I ask why?”

            “No, it’s fine.  We broke up.”  True, to a point.

            “Oh.  That’s too bad.  You guys had a great sound.  Especially that drummer of yours.”

            “Thanks, Jim.”

            And that was that.

***** 

            Now here I am, twenty-five years later, listening to music that every now and then reminds me of those fleeting days – just six short months – when we played shows and were on the verge of getting a record deal, a possibility so far beyond our original hopes that we never even spoke of it.  Of course my students have no idea that I’ve ever been in a band, though they know I love music from the strains of R.E.M., The Clash, or The Smiths emanating from my room between classes.

            It is near the end of May and school has just let out for the day.  I’m surprised to see an e-mail pop up; this is my school account, and I don’t recognize the address of the sender.  I open it, curious:

Well, I found you.  Should’ve looked there first, I guess.  It’s been awhile.

I’ve got something you’ll be interested in seeing – and hearing.  Meet me tonight after our show – I’ve got a ticket in your name at the box office. 

Harrison

            Holy crap.  I’d seen a listing in the paper that The Taser Lites were playing with a couple other bands at the 9:30 Club in downtown D.C.  They’d sold out the last three times they’d been in town, so I didn’t even try to get tickets this time and didn’t even think twice that I might see Harrison Winfield.

            I go to the show in jeans and a t-shirt, feeling like I can’t possibly fit in at a ska show as a balding redhead in his early forties.  The Taser Lites play a tight set: everyone in the crowd dances for the full hour and twenty minutes, and I feel twin emotions of jealousy and pride – jealous that I’m not up there playing, proud that my old friend has still got it.

            After the show, I wait outside under the copper-colored streetlights, playing spectator to the spectators as they wait to get CDs and t-shirts signed by band members.  Harrison taps me on the shoulder, smiles, and gives me a bear hug, looking remarkably like he had when we played the festival: shaved head, white tank top, gym shorts and running sneakers.  The wrinkles in his face are the only change.

            “C’mon,” he says, and we walk back to an empty dressing room where we sit, just looking at each other for a moment.  He takes out a tape and places it on the table in front of us.  “This is what I promised you.  Go ahead, look at it.”

            I pick it up, confused.  I see the names of songs scrawled in someone’s hasty cursive: “Mindbender,” “Blackout,” “Run Like Hell” – and then it hits me.

            “You – how did you?”

            Harrison calms me down and pops the tape into an old beat-up cassette player.  As we listen, he explains how we’d forgotten about the recording of our set after the festival, focused as we were on Gerry and breaking up the band.  Apparently, it didn’t occur to Jim Martin to send us the tape, either.

            “So how’d you get it?”

            “Well, I’ve stayed in the game, right?”  He spreads his hands out as if to indicate that this dressing room somehow sums up the music industry, or at least his experience of it.  “Jim Martin – you remember, the guy who ran our last show? – well he stayed in it, too.  He organized a festival a few months back up in Bethesda, and we played it.  He saw me and said he recognized me but couldn’t remember why.  I’d forgotten about him, but eventually we figured out that we met at the ’82 festival in Fairfax after I mentioned Gerry stagediving and Paula Paula getting the record deal.”

            “Oh yeah.”  I hadn’t heard about them in over two decades.  Thoughts of Leah Andrews flutter in my mind.

            “So anyway, Martin remembers he’s got this tape.  It’s in great condition, and he gives it to me a week later.”

            “Well, that’s cool.”  I smile, happy to see my old friend.

            “But that ain’t all.”

            “Huh?”  Now I’m confused again.

            “He’s planning on putting out a compilation CD this summer, kind of a throwback thing to commemorate some of the local scenes – ours in Fairfax, a couple up in suburban Maryland.”

            “And?”

            “Well, he wants to put some of our songs on it.  But he can’t if he doesn’t know where we are.”

            “Wow.  But you and me only makes two.  What about X?  What about . . . ?”  I don’t even say his name.

            “X and I have been trading e-mails for a week or so.  He’s in. He’ll be back from Japan in mid-June.”

            “And . . .Gerry?”

            “You won’t believe me.”

            “Try me.”

            “He’s been here.  Came back after the year he spent in juvenile hall.  Lucky for him they busted him when he was still seventeen, so they had to try him as a minor.  He got out, came back here, got an apartment, started a new life.”

            “No more drugs?”

            “I don’t know, man.”  Harrison seems as amazed to tell me the story as he’d been to hear it himself.  “He’s in Fairfax is all I know.”

            “Holy God.”  I pause, listening to my seventeen-year old voice try to sing Rudy Lewis’s vocal line on “Up on the Roof.’  “So what do we do now?”

            “I think you should call him.  He’ll take it best from you.”  As soon as he says it, I know he’s right, but I feel a profound urge to do nothing, to let Gerry Rittle live his life and not be bothered by his past.  I leave Harrison that night promising to call our old bass player, though, the tape now in my hands.

            Sure enough, Gerry’s name is in the phone book, and apparently he’s married to some lady name of Rita.  Rita Rittle, I think.  Poor woman.  I look at the address and recognize that it belongs in a neighborhood where we had played several basement shows.  I stare at the phone number and then my phone for a few minutes, unsure how I want to proceed.  Will he even want to talk to me?  What will he say after so many years?

            “Rittle residence,” I hear a voice say on the other line, a pleasant woman’s voice.

            “Um, may I speak with Gerry please?”

            “Gerald,” I hear as she cups the phone with one hand.  Gerald?

            “Speaking,” he says, and I freeze for a moment.

            “Um, Gerry?”

            “Yes?”

            “This is Danny Kramer.”  I pause, letting this name sink in.  “From high school.”  That’s all I can think of to say for an intro, and the silence that follows seems interminable.

            “Yeah, hey,” he says, and I’m immediately regretting having called him.  “Long time no see.”

            “Exactly, exactly,” I continue, hoping to swing the momentum to the matter at hand.  “Say, I just saw Harrison the other night, Harrison Winfield?”

            “Uh huh.”

            “Well, Gerry, I got some good news for you.  Really for all of us.”  I realize when I say us that it’s the first time I’ve referred to That Other Guy in over two decades.  “But I’d like to deliver the news in person, if you don’t mind.”

            “Not at all.  Meet you at the diner in an hour?”

            My heart leaps for a moment.  “Absolutely,” I say before he can change his mind and I lose whatever it is that has just come together in the last two minutes.

            We meet at the diner in Fairfax, Tastee 29, a historical landmark incidentally, and when I see him, I must admit, I’m impressed.  He looks good, trim and fit, though sad in the eyes.  But then I think back and realize he always had sad eyes.  We shake hands, order dinner and the conversation starts slowly like before.

            “So you said something about good news?” Gerry asks, and I show him the tape, recount the story Harrison told me about tracking down Jim Martin, and he listens, nodding every now and then, sipping his coke.

            “The tape, huh?” he says, and he looks at it like it’s a museum artifact, turning it over in his hands several times.  He looks at me with those eyes again.  “I haven’t thought about that day in a long time, Danny.”

            I don’t know what to say to that.  I want to ask him what happened that day, why he dived the way he did; I want to thank him, knowing as I do how that dive saved Harrison and me from almost certain bodily harm.  But I can’t get any of those words out.

            “What does this Martin guy wanna do with the songs again?”

            This topic I can talk about easily.  “He needs our permission to use the songs we played that day on the compilation he’s making.  It’s gonna be for the early ‘80s Fairfax scene.”

            Gerry sits still for a moment, contemplating this possibility.  “Compilation, huh?” he asks, sliding the tape back over to me.  I nod.  “You wanna know something?  I tried real hard to forget that day.  I tried to forget those six months.  For awhile there I told myself it was the worst time of my life, getting hooked on speed and everything, watching my mom . . .”  He waves his hand in the air for a moment, not finding the words to convey what had happened to his mother.  “Tried real hard to forget you.  And Harrison and X.  The whole band.  Tried real hard.”

            Again I feel at a loss, then find myself saying, “I’m sorry, Gerry.”

            He looks down, perhaps not wanting an apology; I don’t know.  His voice begins as a whisper as he says, “Tell Jim Martin I’m in too.  And let me know when they release that CD.”

            “Sure thing.”  We sit in silence for a moment, and the regret I felt earlier is fading slowly.

            “Y’know what?”  He lifts his eyes to meet mine.  “Rita asked who you were when I got off the phone, and I told her you were a salesman.”  He holds his gaze for a moment, then breaks into deep laughter; I join him.

            “So did I make the sale?”

            He just laughs some more, promising me he’ll have to have me over some time for dinner, maybe when that CD comes out.

            I said at the beginning that this wasn’t going to be a reunion story, and now you might say I’m just an out and out liar, but I don’t think so.  That Other Guy didn’t reunite on stage – not ever.  The four of us are in touch with each other, which is new, and the CD came out to some acclaim.  One of the D.C. radio stations, K 93, played most of it on their local music show one Sunday night, and they even mentioned the four of us by name.  Jim Martin made sure we got a fair deal on royalties, but I’ll still be keeping my day job, as will X with the foreign service, and Gerry at the hardware store he manages.  Harrison keeps playing drums and staying young, our lifeline to the music world that That Other Guy never quite reached, all because our bass player, whose life was falling apart, took a leap that saved our lives – and his.

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Published in: on September 7, 2010 at 4:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
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