Read an Excerpt
Are You Ready to Rock?
And so it was that, by the time I was on the doorstep of thirty, I was in a job I’d grown to hate and had been married for four steady, if plodding, years to my college boyfriend Andrew. Sweet, predictable Andrew. While he had once been a wildly hilarious partier up for any crazy scheme at a moment’s notice, now he loved nothing more than a night spent at home reading quietly and turning in early. I tried my best to be equally content with his vision of a cozy and homely pas de deux, but inevitably, at least once a year, I would wind up running into the night to kick up my heels. Andrew thought these outbursts of mine were amusing and they barely registered with him as he flicked through the latest Grisham novel before turning in for the night.
The job I’d grown to detest was a high-level position at a dot-com that, like so many others of its ilk, had managed to burn through close to one hundred million dollars in just over two years without actually producing anything. The New York Silicon Alley era had been fun while it lasted, but it was drawing to an obvious close and I was burned-out, unmotivated to figure out what my next move would be, and feeling dull as dirt. Gone were the days of three-hour steak lunches at Les Halles, the weeklong sales meetings in Vegas, and exorbitant expense accounts. Knowing that our days were numbered, everyone had basically just stopped working; instead of the hustle and bustle we had all experienced in the early days, going to work now consisted of sitting at your desk and waiting for the phone to ring. That ring had become the inevitable death knell from human resources announcing that the gravy train had dried up.
I occasionally considered going back to work as a lawyer, but I had hated law school, it took several tries to pass the bar, I had worked for sadists, and the day I left that world was one of the happiest of my life. I detested the legal profession and it seemed the feeling was mutual. So there I sat, sliding into thirty, with an unused law degree, soon to be unemployed, and in a mildly geriatric marriage that had become as predictable as my morning oatmeal.
I shared an office at beenz.com with an old friend, the very person who had roped me into this job in the first place. Brynne was the head of Web development and I was the director of business development, and we shared an office mostly because nobody else liked playing Jerky Boys tapes at top volume as much as we did. Brynne was also struggling with what her next steps in life would be and like me marveled daily that she’d made it to thirty and hadn’t yet figured out who or what she wanted to be when she grew up. We were both young but feeling old in our newfound adulthood and filled to the brim with the tedium being heaped upon us daily at the office.
On a lazy Thursday in January filled with Web surfing and vending machine abuse, we were both killing time by reading Salon.com to each other from our laptops, nestled deep inside the beanbags our company had thoughtfully scattered around the office. Why were these oversized bean-filled hacky sacks the only available seating other than our desk chairs? Because our company was called beenz.com.
“I can’t take this anymore. We have to do something so we don’t go insane. What should we do?” Brynne asked from the depths of her vinyl cocoon.
I had no idea what to do. The rigors of killing time had robbed me of my ability to make plans. Was my inertia the warning sign of an oncoming clinical depression? At that point even a descent into madness would have been an interesting change of pace.
“Go for a drink?”
That had become my answer to just about everything. Brynne was unimpressed. “No, I don’t mean that. I mean, we don’t have anything to do. Let’s take up a hobby. Some activity that we would never do under normal circumstances. Let’s just go nuts!”
Going nuts seemed like a fine idea, but I had long ago lost any sense of what that really meant. During my college years, that might have meant spending almost every summer night staying out until dawn, going to drag clubs, and doing ecstasy. Now, except for the very occasional party, “going nuts” meant buying the deluxe edition of Scrabble for a rousing weekend at home.
“Sure, let’s do it. But how?” I rolled out of my beanbag and onto the floor, which still smelled slightly of stale beer from last week’s intraoffice beer-pong tournament. Staring up at the acoustic tile, I said, “Well, I always thought it might be fun to learn how to play mah-jongg.”
Brynne gagged on a mouthful of Skittles. “What are you? Ninety?! Next stop orthopedic shoes! Vomit.”
“Jesus, okay, fine. Remain calm! Just pretend I didn’t say anything. What do you think we should do?”
Brynne remained silent as she carefully arranged the Beanie Babies on her desk into lewd positions. “I think that we need to get our groove on.”
I dug deep and really tried to conjure up an image of what getting my groove on would look like. Try as I might, all I had to work with was a blank wall of fuzzy white static glowing like a broken TV set in my mind’s eye. Shit. I had no clue. My life was so fucking lame.
Brynne lowered the boom. She had already cooked up the perfect plan. Brynnie explained that there was a guitar store across the street from her place in Chelsea and that the guys who sold guitars there also gave lessons. She had popped in a few days earlier, sussed the scene out, and was happy to report that lessons were affordable and readily available. The store had enough guys working there to make it possible to basically call up anytime for next-day service. Before I could fully process what she was talking about, Brynne snatched up her phone and called right then and there from our office. She booked lessons for both of us from the same guy. Hers would be the following Wednesday and mine would be the day after that. I didn’t want to rain on her parade, but the speed with which Brynne was changing our routine was making me uneasy. It wasn’t much, but the little foxhole of ennui that I had dug for myself was, well, mine. I didn’t like it, but I knew its parameters and how to operate in it. I had grown to rely on my discomfort zone to steer me through my days, and losing it seemed just as scary as staying put.
From that moment on, all Brynne could talk about was our guitar lessons. I was still trying to wrap my head around the idea of doing something new; was I really ready and willing to change up my familiar if stultifying routine? While Brynne prattled on, I concentrated on embracing the unknown. Slowly, my anxiety loosened its grip and excitement about our project, as well as possibly rediscovering some of my old audacity, crept in. I had to admit that Brynne was onto something. We hadn’t even learned how to play a C chord yet but the spell of boredom and lassitude that had held us in its grip for the previous year was breaking down. We were suddenly as sure as we had ever been about anything that we were going to take the East Village rock scene by storm with our searing riffs and bad attitudes. We discussed the pros and cons of dyeing our hair.
Wednesday night rolled around and Brynne headed off to her lesson, while I hurried home to have one of my Martha Stewart OCD meltdowns of after work bread baking. I baked bread for two reasons: the manual labor helped to keep me calm and focused, and it allowed me to indulge my need to always go the extra mile, be perfect, and do everything right all the time. I couldn’t get close to being comfortable unless the apartment was immaculate, I was a great cook but still as thin as possible, and my job was prestigious. In the grand scope of things, baking bread was one of my healthier obsessions.
I was halfway through the second kneading and my dear, sweet, patient husband was watching Celebrity Deathmatch on MTV in the other room. A few words about my husband, Andrew. He was an absolute saint. Since our freshman year of college he had been my biggest cheerleader and best friend. No one was funnier, smarter, or more understanding of all the weird neurotic bullshit that I could manufacture than him. Back in college we’d been partners in lunacy (like entering a dance contest in Columbus, Ohio, at a drag bar and winning) but that part of Andrew and our relationship had died down to almost nothing. I missed that part of him. Now, despite the angel on my shoulder telling me to be nice and behave myself, the devil on my other shoulder would tempt me to do something bananas just to get a rise out of him. I’d fantasize about making him go dancing with me and then ripping my top off while standing on the bar. Or, if public nudity wasn’t appealing to me at that moment, I’d picture myself just starting a plain old bar fight that he’d have to leap into. Anything to mix things up. I never actually did any of this stuff but even if during one of my nights out I had one drink too many and acted like an idiot, Andrew was always so very good and so very kind and so very understanding. Which could be so very boring.
Just as I was checking to see if my dough was doing well with its second rise, the phone rang. It had to be Brynne! I wiped my hands off on my apron and grabbed the phone off the counter. Without even confirming it was her, I started questioning whoever it was on the other end of the call. “How was it? Was it awesome? Did you have the most fun ever? Can you rock? More to the point, do you think I’ll be able to?”
There was a pause on the line. Which was weird. I was expecting a torrent of crazed excitement to flow through the receiver and knock me back against the wall of the kitchen. But no. There was a big, hanging, flabby pause. Oh God, maybe it wasn’t her. Maybe I had just verbally accosted a telemarketer from Bangalor. But then Brynne cleared her throat and I knew it was her. And then she said the one thing I didn’t expect her to say in a zillion years.
“I think you should cancel your lesson tomorrow.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
“No, seriously, dude, I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to take lessons from this guy.”
I was immediately worried for Brynne. All of my worst, and most frequently obsessed over, paranoid fantasies rose up to choke me. What could have happened? Had the teacher done something untoward? Was he weirdly pervy? Did he try to steal from her? Had he insulted her? Was he unkempt, or even worse, unwashed? Did he try to teach her Air Supply? What could possibly have gone wrong?
I replied slowly, trying not to sound hysterical. “Why? Are you okay? Did he do something to you? What happened?”
“Oh please, no, nothing like that. I liked him and he can definitely teach. It’s just that, well, I don’t think he’s right for you. I think we should just call someone else from the store to teach us.”
Her obfuscation was driving me off the deep end. “Brynnie, cut the shit. What’s the deal?”
She finally blurted it out. “Dude. He’s totally cute. He’s an obvious sex machine and potential lothario. Complete with winking, tight pants, shooting finger guns, big blue eyes, the whole nine yards. You’re going to think he’s totally insanely delicious. He’ll probably think you’re cute too, or at least flirt shamelessly. I just don’t think it’s a good idea.”
Let me interject here to say that there had been an episode a few years earlier when I had enjoyed an unconsummated but still notably hot and heavy flirtation with a friend of a friend who had recently moved to the city. Nothing irreparable had happened but my attraction to the guy had been unmistakable. Even so, I’d been pleased that all zippers had remained zipped and everyone had remained unschtupped. So I was amazed at Brynne’s reaction. I had lived through temptation before; why on earth would she think it would be a problem now?
“Okay, Brynne, I appreciate your concern, but I don’t think there’s any danger here. He’s just some guy who’s going to remind me what the circle of fifths is and teach me how to bang out three chords and the truth. No problemo here.”
“It’s the banging I’m worried about.” She snickered on the other end of the line.
I was getting irritated. This was clearly all about her fantasy life and not about me in the slightest. “Dude. Stop it. I’m not banging anyone. Is it possible that you’re attracted to him? Maybe? Feeling unsatisfied at home? Stirring up a little trouble, my love?”
“No. Not one bit. All is well in my world. I’m telling you, dude, be prepared for major trouble.”
There was no question in my mind that Brynnie was hot for the guitar guy. No woman on the face of the earth calls her friend to warn her of an imminent boning if she is not secretly hoping to be on the receiving end of that boning herself. That is a fact. It didn’t help Brynne’s case that she was dating a lawyer at the time who, at the age of thirty-two, was still wearing braces. I secretly believed that he had Star Wars sheets lurking in the back of his linen closet. So now, despite Brynne’s best efforts, I was completely desperate to meet Guitar Boy because I had to know what would make her have this bizarre sexual meltdown.
The next day passed with the usual insanity of firings and recriminations at work. I got in a little before noon and Brynnie was already there, working on her résumé and chatting with a bunch of her programming minions. When I walked into our office she gave me the hairy eyeball and dismissed her coterie of flunkies so we could pull our beanbags together and gossip. Brynne refreshed her Cassandra-like warnings, but they continued to fall on deaf ears. Realizing there was nothing she could do to reverse the wheels she had set in motion, Brynne switched gears and turned on the Jerky Boys for a while so we could listen to the ranting of the Egyptian Magician and forget about our bizarre standoff. We made feeble attempts at doing our jobs and by four thirty I was on my way downtown to prepare for my guitar lesson.
“Preparing” meant getting home in time to change into jeans and a T-shirt, picking up some beer, calling Andrew at the office to say hi before one of his rare nights out with the other attorneys on his team, and relaxing for just a few minutes before the big event. None of that happened. I was running late as usual. My upstairs neighbor, an old friend from law school, had waylaid me in the grocery store. Halfway through chatting, I realized I had ten minutes to get home and get myself squared away before the teacher showed up. I grabbed a six-pack of Stella and bolted. The second I got into the apartment, the doorman buzzed to say that Gideon was on his way up. Gideon? Oddly, I hadn’t even thought of the teacher having a name until that moment. Brynne and I had referred to him exclusively as Guitar Boy. In a panicked rush, I threw my coat on the bed; tossed the beer in the fridge; and still wearing the semicorporate heels, skirt, and blouse combo I had worn to work, reached for the doorknob just as the doorbell gave its halfhearted little cough of a ring.
I opened the door.
For some reason, probably because of all the buildup and drama that Brynne had concocted for what I had assumed was her own entertainment, I became instantly flustered when I swung the door open. I felt disoriented and anxious. I couldn’t look the guy in the face. I was totally derailed, which never ever happens to me. I’m an extrovert. I’m the one who usually can’t stop talking. But there I was, mute and shuffling in my own doorway. I dropped my eyes to the floor. An internal monologue of totally unhinged dementia began:
Oh my God, what’s wrong with me? I have poise and aplomb to spare! I had etiquette lessons, for Christ’s sake! Pull it together and greet this guy so he doesn’t think he’s arrived at some adult day-care facility! Do it, Jones. Now!