“Well, settle down, I won’t hesitate to hit the highway
Before you lay me to waste
Settle up and I’ll help you find
Something to drive, before you drive me insane”
-Audioslave, “Getaway Car”
“You ever seen condoms in a vending machine?” Chad asked.
A generic-looking two-pack of condoms dropped to the bottom. There was no brand, just a gray box that said “condoms.”
“Just in case,” he said, a naughty grin on his face.
“Better check to see if they’re expired,” I said, only half-joking.
“Who gives a shit. They’ll work.” Chad put them in his pocket and grabbed a pack of cigarettes from his coat. “You want a smoke?”
We went outside and lit up.
I looked again around the campus: the snow covered most of the red on the ‘Go Cardinals’ banners, and the fresh pack of white sparkled in the streetlights.
Three girls not dressed for the weather walked out of the dorm, ignoring us as we continued to smoke. One was a tall brunette decked out in a Ball State University button-down and a red and white skirt. Another was wearing a red and white beanie, a sexy, silky black blouse and jeans. The third was shorter and a little plump. She walked with less enthusiasm, her hands buried in her hoodie. The two in the front giggled excitedly as they disappeared past the dorm and out into the night. Chad could care less.
Chad and I didn’t really know what a typical Friday night was like on the Ball State campus. We didn’t go here. He was still living at home, I went to a private Christian college 40 miles north, the next exit after James Dean’s hometown of Fairmount. Ball State was my escape. It was Chad’s, too, or perhaps it was just our way of going backwards, of not propelling toward our future: a place of debauchery and bad decisions, an endless party.
We were young, free and wild, and – best of all – we were visitors.
Chad ran his cigarette-free hand over his hair, wiping the snow off. He shivered ever-so-slightly but didn’t bother zipping his beat-up coat. Maybe the zipper didn’t work.
“The first time I visited Ball State, Screech was in town doing a solo show,” I said.
“What?” Chad said. “Dustin Diamond?”
“Yeah, man, I hear he is just all about shock value now, like Bob Saget. People pay to go see Screech say ‘fuck.’”
“And State of Bliss can’t get a gig,” Chad said. “See, what’s the point?”
Chad still talked about State of Bliss like they were together.
“What do you want to play?” I asked.
“I want to play what people don’t want to hear,” he said. “I want to play what I love, and people don’t give a shit about it anymore.”
“Just be yourself,” I said.
“I wish it was that simple. I wish I knew who I was. Music was all I wanted, and now I don’t like the direction it’s going. I want to change the direction, but it’s a fucking machine that would suck me in, chew me up and spit me out. Grunge is over, and alternative is getting stale. Nirvana didn’t go to the mainstream, the mainstream came to them. The same can’t be said for Creed, Puddle of Mudd or Godsmack. They’re trying too hard and turning what we love into shit.”
“What about Audioslave?” I asked.
“They’re not a band – they’re a bunch of talented guys put together to come up with some songs. Again, it’s the machine: a media machine. When I listen to Audioslave, I don’t feel like they have an identity. Half the time Chris Cornell sounds like a dying Rod Stewart.”
Chad took a drag off his cigarette. As he exhaled, the smoke looked like an extension of his breath in the cold, frigid air. He always looked cool when he smoked. Effortlessly cool, like James Dean. There was just something about him, something that got your attention even though he wasn’t really asking for it.
And when he knew he had your attention, he often didn’t want it.
Chad chucked the cigarette on the concrete and stomped on it angrily.
“You know what really pisses me off? Pop culture defines our time, and we missed the boat. We’re Sheryl Crow’s ‘Soak Up The Sun’ and Nickelback’s ‘How You Remind Me.’”
“I can’t believe you sang that song in Tyler’s basement,” I said. “Why did that happen?”
“Yeah, well, what can I say? I got sucked into the machine. My own worst enemy. A rock impostor.”
“Well, you sounded better than Chad Kroeger, at least.”
“Who doesn’t? Ha. I don’t want to pose as someone posing to be like someone else. I’d rather live in the gutter than make it that way. I want to rock on my own terms, you know? But I’m fuckin’ stuck, man. I want to get out of Indy and get to Seattle or something. Austin, Texas. I don’t know.”
“Then do it,” I said. “Just because you don’t like where the mainstream is going doesn’t mean you have to give up on your own dream. Go for it.”
“Put another band together, start gigging around the area, market yourself. You’ve got it, man, just make it happen.”
Chad took out another cigarette and looked out at the parking lot. Two guys with Sig Ep sweatshirts were walking toward their fraternity. We could overhear them talk about their plans to get laid.
“I need money first,” Chad said. “I don’t even have a good electric.”
“Then get a job and save up, work toward it.”
“Yeah,I don’t know. I hate decisions.”
Chad took off toward the parking lot and signaled for me to follow him.
“Come on,” he said. “I’ve got something in my car.”
As we trudged through the snow, Chad started singing Audioslave’s “Getaway Car,” laughing.
“You little asshole,” he said to me. “You had to bring them up.”
Chad walked over to his car, a white Mitsubishi Eclipse parked near the dorm.
Ever so often he would slide on the sidewalk, the first big snowfall of the year bringing out the child in him.
“I’ve got some shit to figure out,” Chad continued. “I’ve got to piece a band back together and piece my relationship back together.”
“Beth?” I said. “You’re still wanting to get back together? With condoms in your pocket and a chick waiting for you upstairs?”
“Speaking of that, why don’t I just swing you by Danny’s? You guys hang out for a bit. I’ll let you know when we’re done.”
“You sure Amy will be cool with that? You bailing afterward?”
“I’m not gonna bail,” he said. “She said she wanted to have everyone over in her dorm tonight. She wants to hear us play. I’ll make it a quickie.”
“Good luck with that.”
“I need luck, but I don’t need luck when it comes to this,” he said.
Although the windshield was powdered with snow, a red and white parking ticket was still plenty visible in the corner.
“Bastards got me again,” Chad said, looking at me mischievously. It was the same look he gave me before crashing his old truck into a shopping cart last year. I can still hear Mr. Weed’s whiny voice complaining about my “company of friends.”
Chad grabbed the parking ticket and violently tore it to shreds, throwing it down on the ground and jumping on it.
Laughing maliciously, he waved his body around, pretending to be drunk, acting like Jim Morrison.
“I don’t know about you, man, but I want to have my kicks before the whole shithouse goes up in flames,” Chad joked. “Let’s smoke another bowl.”