Back in my high school days, when life was simpler and we hadn’t lost so much innocence—when we had time to burn on whatever caught our fancies and fancy we did—when the world seemed a fairer, brighter place—we—some friends and I—pulled together an alternative rock band. We weren’t really that good, actually, though we had a lot of charisma to back us up. We were four regular guys who didn’t really know the first thing about a real band or what one was supposed to be like. We just made up the rules as we went along, bluffing when we ran into a jam. We were a band of misfits who didn’t quite fit into any of the social groups. I was perhaps the most settled of all of us, firmly rooted in my stoner niche. Yep, that’s right. I was the antihero, the “bad” guy who slung a lead guitar on his shoulders, belting out bedlam with abandon.
Jody, the rhythm guitar player, was the classic wallflower, although he soon began to develop an attitude that matched his sprouting crop of hair, which had been growing for some time. We both wore our hair well past our shoulder blades, though I had been growing mine out for a little longer time than he had. He was six-foot three and dwarfed his electric guitar. Ironically, however, his fingers were never long and full and it always amused me to see his hands plucking power chords up and down the frets, his fingers too small for the body to which they were attached.
Brian, our bass player, always wore his hair short. He was very well-versed in Speech and captured the attention of the judges when he was a part of the debate team. Unfortunately, however, his natural ability to argue did not carry over as well into his dedication to practicing consistently, and he soon faded out of the scene. He did, however, return for a brief stint a year or so later before fading out for good.
Gordon, our drum player, had only been playing, well . . . let’s just say the day we
started! He was a farm boy and we good-naturedly teased him about being a redneck. He even sounded like one with the southern drawl and all, y’all. He had “long hair” too—his own term he used to describe his shoulder length locks that he kept cutting off about the time his hair threatened to truly
become long. Under his bulky farm boy frame hid a heart, it seems, too big for its own ribcage. His natural generosity and laid-back demeanor often reduced him to a human doormat. And he always struck out with the ladies. Always. (Yeah, look who’s talking. He’s now happily married and I’ve been divorced how long now? See, in the end good guys do sometimes win.)
His parents owned a convalescents home in town and to our surprise agreed to let us practice there as long as we kept our racket confined to the attic. The residents were quite proud that they had their own live band practicing in the attic, and would often come upstairs and lurk in the shadows, huge smiles on their faces. They often looked a little awe struck, though they tried to hide it from us. One resident in particular, a man by the name of Doug, became a self-appointed expert on bands and instruments. He was tall, thin, had ears that were far too big for his face, and felt a sense of importance for his knowledge and association with Hypnosis
, of all bands. (Now that is a name that surely strikes fear in a lot of hearts, huh?)
We made a lot of really good friends, friends with people that the rest of society had rejected. I remember one man in particular. His name was Dave. His face was badly disfigured: he had one glass ey—and a heart of gold. He had been in the Vietnam War and suffered from a bad case of shell shock, an artillery shell exploding in his face. He was a war hero.
Dave spent a lot of time hanging out at the local restaurant up the street and he had learned the secret of being happy even in such bleak conditions. He was always smiling and friendly, though people would laugh at him and call him “Smiley” in the most derogatory of ways, many times even to his face. He was always sure to share his cigarettes with us, and being poor high school kids, we all—except Jody who didn’t smoke—greatly appreciated this kindness.
One day I was visiting with Dave and Gordon was hovering in the background, scuffling around with his younger brother and pilfering food from the counter. Dave had kindly rolled up a cigarette for me with his trademark spittle (at times, it could be difficult to get it to stay lit!) and was in a particularly friendly mood. He looked up at me, his one good eye watering from the smoke, the back of his cigarette soaked from stuffing it so far into his mouth. He wordlessly reached around and began digging around in his back pocket. Bravely holding back the tears that threatened to spill down his face, he pulled his wallet out and clumsily fumbling its moneyless contents open, he proudly showed me a picture of his daughter—a beautiful blonde girl—and several of his other children.
When Dave returned from the war his wife had left him. Even his daughter and children had rejected him. They sent him to the convalescents home to live. But you know what? I honestly think Dave had forgiven them for it. I think the pain he felt in his heart was for them, not himself. I honestly do.
Dave and I used to talk a lot. He wasn’t particularly bright, he wasn’t particularly funny, whatever he once had in looks was now gone, never to return again in this life. But his heart: this man’s heart—tattered, wounded, broken, and bleeding—this man’s heart was the most beautiful heart you could ever find. How he found it within himself to pick himself up to face another day in this cruel world—impoverished, rejected by his friends and family, disfigured, alone except for his faith in God—how he could face the world bravely and with a smile on his face as the people jeered at him, I will never totally understand. But smile he did. And my oh my would the people laugh.
Oh, sure, he had his down times. Every so often he would get really quiet and start muttering to himself about “those damn green tomatoes, those damn green tomatoes.” Sometimes he would apologize to me or my other bandmembers, “It’s just those damn green tomatoes again, it’s just those damn green tomatoes.” I never did know what those damn green tomatoes were. I guess they were a burden he felt was too heavy to bear. Perhaps it was a mental problem, maybe resulting from the trauma to his skull? Whatever it was, we always knew when Dave was suffering from “those damn green tomatoes.”
But you know what? When all is said and done, we’re really not so different. People come in all shapes and sizes. There are fat people, there are skinny people, there are dumb people, there are smart people, there are pretty people, there are ugly people, there are big people, there are little people, there are in between people: there are all kinds of people, they are all just people. Every last one feels, every last one hurts, every last one cries, every last one knows what it is to worry and to wonder and to know and to grow and to ask the reason why. Everyone knows what it is to yearn for a friend, for a smiling face, for a comforting hand to stabilize during the storm. You see, Dave had learned a secret. Dave learned that while some laughter and smiles stay on the outside, the very best kind of laughter and smiles come from the inside.
. One band to go. Four motley members: one long-haired stoner guitar player, one long-haired wallflower guitar player, one short-haired debating bass player, one clumsy, lovable red-necked drummer. One tall, big-eared spectator with a simple sense of importance, one man named Dave with a heart of gold, one reader sobered for a time: who . . . who, I ask, will link their heart with mine?
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