Charlotte, NC

My eyes stung because I had been up since the night before when the bus left Washington DC and headed south on 95.  We stopped at maybe three or four a.m. at the hub in Richmond.  When we got back on the bus after an hour break, the driver made a show of ejecting a man that had been caught with an open container on the bus.  The Florida-bound man was left to think about what he had done, in the middle of the night in Richmond, VA.  I tried to get some sleep but no, and by 11 a.m. I was spent.

I squinted out the window at a small southern town as we rolled slowly through the tiny streets. I was back in North Carolina.  I had no idea what to expect but I was excited because I was on my own.  “The Charlotte Adventure begins,” I said to myself.

Hours later, I saw her again for the first time in weeks, as we passed the two radio towers next to the interstate. When we rounded the turn on to I-77, I smiled as the city exploded into view.  On a clear day, a distant Charlotte looks almost computer generated to me.  She is shiny and clean and precise.  Cranes dash across the lower end of the skyline above the trees and everything is suspended, as if the city were at the bottom of a huge spotless aquarium.  As we get closer, the city becomes alive and unmistakably real.

I stretched for 15 minutes on the sidewalk in front of the Greyhound station until James rolled up in his silver Infiniti SUV and before I knew it we were cruising with the windows down.  Rock n’ Roll was blasting and the shades were being worn like armor. The air-conditioned luxury car was heaven compared to that bus.

“Alright bro, you got down here in the middle of a rumble. The family is in a huge fight,” James said grinning. Panthers stadium loomed before us.

“Oh, shit,” I said. My first thought was that they were stressed about me moving in.

“Yeah Mark and my dad got in an argument over some wings we ordered.  They went back and forth, Mark said, ‘I’m mentally and physically superior to you,’ and then they started brawling.”

“What?”

“Yeah it’s pretty funny. It was actually really funny.”

I think the family was stressed because the parents were moving to Colorado the next day and leaving me, James and his two younger brothers to ourselves. James’s mom was letting her friend move in to the house too.  Her name was Vivian and she was going through a rough divorce.  The brothers openly loathed Vivian, and that was before she was on the bill to live in the same house as them.  When James told me to move down I called his mom to double check. “Hey Ms. Cutter, are you sure it’s okay if I stay for a little while?”

“Yes Jay of course, but on one condition—you have to be nice to Vivian.”

I honestly had no problem with Viv. I thought she was pretty cool and she was always nice to me, but we rarely said more than a few words to eachother.  I never fully understood all of the animosity, but I trusted the brothers’ judgement. Still, I made it clear to the brothers from the start that I was to be no part of the Viv-fest.  I was there to chill, play music and find a real job and that’s it. The problem was that Vivian had young children and Mark had parties.

When we got to the house things had calmed down. Mark was nowhere to be seen and the parents were out back on lounge chairs with the pizza.

“Hey Jay,”  said Mr. and Mrs. Cutter.  They are my folks in the south.  “Grab a few wings.”

Everyone seemed to be back in good spirits.  They had just gotten back from their annual stay in Florida.  Vivian wasn’t moving in for another week or so.  I was haggard and went to bed on the early side.  Crashing in the exercise room on an air mattress, I was already well aware of my options.

THE CUTTER HOUSE AIR MATTRESSES

There are four massive, beautiful bedrooms on the top floor of the house. Three of them are inhabited by the brothers and the fourth is Halle’s room.  “It’s a freakin cathedral,” James told me after he first saw it.  Her room had a carpet so white that I hated to wear white socks in there.

Next to her door, there is a bedding closet with sheets, pillow cases and beyond.  On the floor there are three air mattresses rolled up and stuffed under the shelves next to their empty boxes.  I’ve gotten to know each one of them well since my Sophomore year.  One of them has blue tape and pink tape, from the night that those tape rolls were all I could find to patch up the new holes. The bright X’s are down near the bottom and one of the tears is bad.  A massive, thick-sharpie penis, compliments of Mark, can be seen pointing towards the sleeper’s face if they sleep on the left side without any sheets on the bed. This is the bed that goes to the slowest guest.

Bed number two has a small hole right behind the pillow that I have tried to patch with masking tape, glue and tissue.  This one will last for about 4 hours before deflating enough to wake you up, assuming you can sleep over the small hiss of the air leaking out from under your pillow.  Trying to stuff tissue in to plug the hole only made the tear worse so I will take responsibility for that one.  The third air mattress is brown and works perfectly.  Mrs. Cutter says she will kick someones ass if this one gets messed up.

Over the next few months I would battle Mark’s friends for these beds.  Many times, I found myself doing the pissed-off stand up in the middle of the night to hold down the inflate button and cringe as the small, incredibly loud motor would fully wake me.

But that first night at the Fox house I could have slept on a damaged inflatable pool raft and I still would have been out until the next morning.