“Do you know any words in Spanish?” Jesús yelled into my ear so I could hear him over the loud music playing in the cramped basement. His lips touching my ear made it warm for a moment with his breath. Nearly grazing the top of our heads above us was a large pipe with a scribbled cartoon of a goofy looking person about to chomp down on an equally detailed penis.
I don’t think Jesús knew that yelling in someone’s ear still makes everything very loud in their head. I cupped my hands around my mouth and yelled in his direction “Beinvenido a Miami!” Jesús laughed, catching the Will Smith reference, but I wonder if he was really just trying to lay the ground work to make out with me later. “I’m going to get you a birthday cake sometime this weekend!” he said. “Next chance we get to go to a store. We have to celebrate somehow!” I told Jesús yesterday that it was my birthday today, but he was the only one who knew out of our group.
Usually when a band finishes up their set, everyone would make their way up the stairs onto the steamy main floor. On an end table was what looked to be a homemade Ouija board. I imagined it had been created with all the elements homemade Ouija boards are only ever made out of: boring Sunday afternoons in the Wisconsin winter + a wooden cutting board and a carving tool. It weighed two pounds.
In the kitchen, a guy with the body of a 19 year old but with a leathery face 30 years older was cooking up a roast beef. He took a sharp knife and slivered a small cut in the loaf, eyeing its pinkness. He was oblivious to the obnoxious drunk with the dreadlocks who occasionally bumped into him while playing a drinking game with his buddies nearby, nor the 100+ people around him; instead focusing in on his craft rather than joining in on the antics of the inebriated guests. I could only guess that having a punk band from Puerto Rico play in his basement that night was his roommate’s idea.
I had broken away from Jesús, already having made my way up the narrow stairs after a local metal band finished playing. Everyone uniformly made their way upstairs, breathing in the fresh smells of beef roast a vegetarian would have preferred over the stench of body odor and sweat the basement had been producing for a couple of hours now.
I found a spot on the couch next to a couple of dudes I didn’t know, a pile of uniquely black coats on the other side. I had never been to Madison, Wisconsin before, but I could definitely see a trend, though, in tonight’s show-goers: many of them had missing teeth. I don’t know if Madison was America’s meth hometown or if it was just these punk kids in particular who had a proclivity for the drug. It was the first time I saw young people with missing teeth–pretty girls, too. They chatted amongst themselves in the living room, a haze of smoke from their cigarettes floating in the air, unaware of my observing them. They smiled and laughed with each other as if proud of their addictions.
The floor hummed and vibrated with the noise of guitars being tuned, symbols rolling and drum heads tightened in the basement. That’s the sound everyone knows that means the music is about to start. We all uniformly walk down the stairs again and make our way to the front of the basement where Tropiezo, the Puerto Rican band i’m on tour with, is about to play.
I’ve found that most music lovers in the mid-west appreciate when bands from other countries visit their towns, so when Tropiezo starts their first song, the basement explodes with dancing and singing. We don’t always know the songs, especially when they’re in a different language, but certain cues can help you figure out what’s coming up next.
I try to snap a few pictures of Jesús so I can tell my friends back home about him, but every one I take has him looking down or away. I’ve booked shows in Grand Rapids for a couple of years now, and I think the fact that my being a female still surprises dudes when someone puts them in contact with me. Of course this line of work also gives me awesome opportunities like this one, driving bands from other countries around the U.S. in a rental van since none of them have American licenses. I would have never met these guys; or La Piovra from Italy, or other bands from the Czech Republic, Germany, or Japan. This is precisely how i’d like to celebrate my birthday.
The band finishes up and it’s the end of the show. One of the other bands that played that night has offered to let us stay at their house, which is very kind. Everyone wants to hang around and talk to Tropiezo about life in Puerto Rico, so i’m left sitting around with nothing to do for a while. It happens every night, but it’s nice to see these conversations happen. These discussions aren’t happening in front of computer screens and politics aren’t involved either. We talk about jokes we’ve played on our friends and compare them to how those same jokes play out somewhere else in the world. We listen to stories of tragedy first hand instead of through the TV.
Finally we pack the equipment into the van and drive to our host’s house. On the way there, the guys suddenly start singing “Feliz Cumpleanos” to me from the back of the van, belting out the traditional birthday song in spanish. It’s very touching and one of my favorite memories to this day.
When we get to our host’s house, the party is already in full swing. It’s been a long day for us, and we’d rather sleep than party, but we stay awake long enough for politeness. When the girls with the missing teeth show up, we know it’s time to go to bed.
Our host shows us to the cold basement, where his band practices, but also where we will be sleeping. Two walls are lined with amplifiers and we push the drum kit to the side in order to make room for seven of us. The floor is cement except for the carpeted space where the drums used to be. We start unrolling our sleeping bags and soon we look like little burritos all in a row. Jesús has just come back from the bathroom and reminds us that he doesn’t have a sleeping bag or pillow. He looks over to me and smiles.
“You can share my pillow but you’re gonna have to find your own blanket.” I say. Suddenly in the room directly above us, we hear what sounds to be the introductions to an H.P. Lovecraft audiobook on full volume. If I didn’t already think it was going to be a long night, I knew it now.
Jesús finds a blanket and shares my pillow, but is courteous enough to not touch my body with his. I put my earplugs in but can still hear the reverberated sounds of The Call of Cthulu all around me. After some time I realize that no one is really sleeping, only shivering quietly. This would be a great time to cuddle up to Jesús to share body heat, but I feel like the only reason I’d want to pursue anything with him was because he was from a different country, therefore way cooler than anyone I was interested in before. He’s more than likely on the same page as me. We know this relationship would go nowhere, and even though my friends would tell me to “go for it anyway,” I’ve never been that kind of person to have little flings with practical strangers.
When the first signs of light shine through the tiny window, I deem it appropriate enough to “wake up.” I cover myself with my sleeping bag and make my way upstairs. A couple of the guys who thought sleeping on the couches were awake, watching an episode of “Cops” on TV.
Slowly everyone woke up and congregated in the living room. We talked about how little sleep each one of us got compared to the others. One of the guys who slept upstairs said “I didn’t get to bed until four a.m., when those girls with the messed up teeth finally left. I definitely walked in on some people having sex in the bathroom also.” They laughed at their lack of sleep, knowing they could make it up in the van on the way to the next destination.
One of our hosts woke up and walked into the room. I asked him about the audiobook on full volume and he said “Oh, I could hear those girls laughing and being loud so I turned it up so I could sleep.” This logic didn’t make sense to me, but there was nothing I could do about it now.
We slowly packed up our sleeping gear and drove to the next stop on our tour. Every town was like a repeat of the night before, but somehow different and refreshing to me. I got to meet people who were excited to play in their bands, passionate about the zines they wrote, or even just happy to know others who are into the same weird things they’re into and be embraced in the imperfect little world we’d created.
At the end of tour, I hugged each one of the guys I’d spent such a concentrated amount of time with. They told me that they’d come back to the states as soon as they could and I told them that maybe I’d visit in Puerto Rico, but this was more just to help with saying goodbye. I knew that I’d probably never see them again, but I still felt content with what I had. It’s better to accept the truth than never say goodbye and feel unfinished.