“Dude you’re going.” James said.
I sat there on the green carpet packing my bag. The ceiling fan whirred slowly above, rocking slightly with a soft clinking chain as it stirred up the morning air that came in through the living room windows. The breeze from the kitchen came in too, carrying a draft from the skillets we used to make eggs and bacon. I was surrounded by the crew, all sitting on chairs or standing.
“Dude, I know I need to go. But I can’t man,” I said half-laughing with a sigh.
“But why not?” James demanded sternly. “You just graduated. It’s summer time. You don’t have a job. How can you possibly not go?”
That was a question I did not have a good answer to.
“My mom is gonna freak out. She thinks I’m heading home this morning and we’ve got this cruise in a few days. If I had told her about it earlier maybe it would be different, but now?”
“You’ll be back in four days. Alpharetta is two nights,” James and Ray yelled. “Just call her.”
“Guy’s it’s not gonna work,” I said.
But it was no use. I walked outside and called mom.
“Bud absolutely, absolutely not.”
“You just told me you were coming home in an hour and now you’re jumping in the car and heading to Atlanta? That’s crazy. How are you going to pay for that?”
“I have like eight hundred dollars.”
“That’s your graduation money. That’s your nest egg.”
“Mom I need to go have some fun I just got out of school and I’ll still have plenty left.”
“What about a job? Have you found a job yet? That’s what this week is for. And then we are going on the cruise. You are not missing that god damn cruise.” She was talking in her deep, no-nonsense voice. She sounds like Meryl Streep when she does that.
“Mom I’m gonna be back for the cruise and I got a job at Taco Mac.”
“Oh Jeb come on. And how are you going to get home?”
“I can borrow the Honda. We’ll swing by and get it before we go down. I won’t do any drinking.”
“Nope. Ellen is using that car for her dogs this week. No way.”
“Can’t she use the bug?”
“Bud that’s my car. Just come home.”
At this point my friends had come outside and caught up on the conversation. They could hear her on the other end of the phone.
“Put her on speaker,” they all whisper yelled.
“No guys, shut up for a sec,” I said, waving them away.
“Who’s that?” mom asked.
“Put her on speaker,” they said louder.
“Here mom, the guys want to say hey,” I said. I knew they were about to apply the pressure. I hadn’t pulled the speaker-phone move since 6th grade. I must have been still drunk.
“Hiiii Ms. Noonan,” they all chimed.
“Hi guys,” she said in the friendly, chatty tone. Meryl Streep was gone.
“Hey Ms. Noonan, this is Gabe. We just want to let you know that we all had a nice time together last night and we’re gonna be extremely safe in Alpharetta. It’s just two nights and then he’s gonna come straight home. We feel bad about changing the plans last minute but we need Jeb there with us though, he’s a really good guy. He was the responsible one last night.” He said in his most eloquent, level-headed tone.
“Ahh hi Tannen,” she said, laughing like she didn’t believe we were actually being serious. “That sounds fun and all but he’s gotta come home this week and look for a job. And we have a vacation.”
“We promise we’ll have him home in time for the cruise,” James said.
“We’ll get him back to ya in one piece Ms. Noonan,” Ray said.
“How is he gonna get home? He’s not using my car,” she said, beginning to level with them. Nobody was being cute about this any longer.
“He can ride back with Ray,” James said.
“I’m not driving, Gabe’s driving,” Ray reminded us in a whisper.
“Shut the fuck up Ray,” James whispered back through clenched teeth.
“Bud, if you go to Atlanta you are not coming on the cruise.”
“Mom, come on. What?”
“Go to Atlanta if you want, but you’re not coming on the cruise. Ellen and I will sail without you.”
“Hey Ms. Noonan, I’m not going to Atlanta,” said Ross. “Can I come on the cruise?” Even my mom laughed at that one.
“Put Jeb back on the phone,” she said.
She yelled at me for putting her on the spot and I apologized. I called her bluff on banning me from the cruise and told her that I was going to Atlanta. She was pissed and hung up. We got her on speaker again in the car and she finally caved and made me promise that I would get home in time.
I rolled down 85 in the wind that day with Umphrey’s blasting, no tickets and no plan, and felt more freedom than I had in years on that trip. We hit Kings Dominion on the way down and all of us blacked out on the same curve of the Nascar roller coaster, and James swore off roller coasters for the rest of his life. We stayed at James’s house in Charlotte that night and then head South the next morning. We weren’t on the Alpharetta lot 5 minutes when some girl in a sun dress flashed James. “Full frontal, boys.”
I caught a cold, as I do every summer, and felt like shit the first night. I wandered around the venue and waited for the show to end. I snored so loud in the hotel that everyone hated me in the morning.
There was such a downpour on the next night that the lawn was evacuated. I was standing next to this girl on the lawn and we ran down to the seats together. I tried to talk to her and start a storm-time romance with her, but she wasn’t feeling it. By the time she scurried off I had lost the group and I found myself entirely alone.
A few minutes ago the sky was orange and I was gently grooving to some tunes with the homies, sipping on a bud heavy and enjoying the awesome light show. Now all of the house lights were on, the music had stopped and water was cascading down the stairs of the amphitheater. Everyone was running everywhere, and I stood there dumbfounded looking at my water-logged brand new iPhone that no longer worked. I eventually found them, but then lost them again when they all ran into the pit. Here’s one thing about me that I’ve learned to accept—I suck at sneaking into shows and/or better seats within the show. I had to sneak through the box seats and jump over the wall down into the pit to get back with the crew. It was unfortunate that I knocked over one party’s bottle of champagne on the way down, but luckily they never found me after the show.
We got back to Charlotte the next afternoon and stayed at James’s house that night. Exhausted and content, I calmly licked my wounds from the road as we told our stories around the pool drinking beer. All the boys were going to see Phish in Charlotte the next night but I had to catch a bus back up to D.C. I guess we must have wanted to keep story time going because everyone ened up on air beds in James’s room. I eventually started to fall asleep but everyone kept yelling at me for snoring
“I’m still awake I’m not snoring!” I yelled.
“You were snoring,” Ray said.
“Shut the fuck up Noon,” Tannen said.
“Fine. That’s it. This is bullshit.” I stood up and grabbed my air mattress and they all started laughing as I stomped out of the room. You can’t be taken seriously when you are holding a twin-size air mattress, no matter how dire the situation. I slept down the hall in the zebra room and by the next morning I was good to go.
I got home hung over but unscathed that Thursday night to a much relieved mother. A few days earlier she told me that the ship was leaving on Friday, come to find out it was really leaving Saturday. This is the only time she has ever lied to me as far as I know.
The sordid tales from that Charlotte show are so out of control that it still stings to hear them. Phish played the best they have ever played in Charlotte. Everyone got their faces melted. The boys had to rescue the Body from the clutches of the police that night after the show, only to end up flying down a major road towards the city crammed into a cherry picker together. But the cruise was epic as well, so I haven’t ever been mad about that un-truth. Who knows if I would have caught that Friday morning bus.
Anyhow, if my little Alpharetta stunt got my mom’s feathers ruffled, I can only guess how she felt about me moving back to North Carolina to work behind a deep fryer so I could stay in a band that had never performed in front of her.