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It all started with a dare, a dare made five years ago.

“We could do it today,” he said.

“You think I won’t?” I said.

He grinned at me. I dare you.

“I don’t back down. You dare me and I won’t back down.”

He kept grinning. Yeah, right.

“I will. I can do it,” I said. And to prove it, I walked across to a phone book on a shelf and opened it to the blue pages which list city services. I walked back to the table where he sat and laid it open. Then I picked up the phone and held it my right hand.

“I can do it,” I said. “I can do it right now.”

He looked away, feigning amusement.

On the outside, he looked calmer than me — less dared. On the inside, I learned a few years later, he was terrified.

“Did you think we would make it?” I asked him this morning over a bagel and lox at a restaurant called, appropriately enough, The Bagel. He was eating matzo ball soup and was breaking the softball-sized ball into smaller pieces with his spoon.

“No,” he said.

“Neither did I.”

We didn’t think we would make it. Some rational part of our brains, or at least mine, thought it would be crazy to do it like this, but there I was doing it.

On December 2, 2o02, on a day that snowed like it did today, we stood in front of a judge in the Cook County Courthouse on Dearborn Street in Chicago and said — and I still can’t believe it now — “I do.”

I was wearing a red jacket, one I used to teach in all the time, and he was wearing a brown check jacket he used to teach in. And in less than three minutes, without really knowing how or why, we said, “I do.”

The moment after we said it, we both stared at each other and instead of dread, there was a sense, for me, at least, of relief. Finally.

We got married on a dare one Thanksgiving weekend five years ago, and even now, I marvel at our guts. We got married even though we had only spent, at most, three months together at one time, and that was three years before. We were still discovering each other. Still figuring it out. And there we were standing in front of judge, who just seconds before had been leaning back in a chair with his feet on the desk reading the newspaper. His black robe hung around the back of the chair, a pair of limp black wings. His cup of coffee stood on the desk next to his feet. Brian and I had entered the empty waiting room, slightly nervous. Tacked on the wall above a row of gray plastic chairs was a garland of white plastic flowers. We sat beneath it. While we waited, I heard the receptionist behind the window speaking into the phone. “He needs to bring forty dollars, the license and his bride.”

Forty dollars, the license, and the bride.

Brian and I had split the forty dollars. Two days before, the day after Thanksgiving, we came to a near empty courthouse and applied for the marriage license. The room to purchase marriage licenses was deserted because of the holiday and we walked past the ropes to a clerk at the counter. It took ten minutes to fill out the paperwork, and when he asked for forty dollars, Brian and I each gave him twenty.

Then we had a day to think about it.

We planned to return the next morning, to appear before the judge which would seal the marriage, and that morning, Brian got sick. Nervous sick. I saw him doubled over on the edge of the bed and thought, “This ain’t happening today.”

And it didn’t. And I let it it go. We had planned on a long engagement and that was okay with me too. So we enjoyed our weekend in a city emptied of its people because of the Thanksgiving holiday. On Monday, the day Brian was to fly back to Connecticut, I watched him pack and thought about what we would do on the last day of his stay in Chicago.

“Why did you change your mind?” I asked him years later.

We were eating breakfast. Brian hovered over his cereal bowl and the newspaper. “When we didn’t get married the day we were supposed to go back, I felt sad. I felt like we should have gotten married. So, the next day, I thought we should go back and get married.”

I have a picture of him of that day, standing in front of my apartment, with the snow falling in thick flakes around him. He was slightly hunched as if the snowflakes hurt when they landed. We walked to the El station and from the train we watched the snow fall over the city.

“Isn’t it pretty?” I said.

And when we emerged from the subway tunnel onto Dearborn Street the snow had already begun to accumulate downtown and there was at least three or four inches on the sidewalks as we walked back to the courthouse. When we entered the building, we brushed snowflakes from our shoulders and our hats.

And, eventually, there we were in front of the Judge. He words seemed to float quickly above my head and I said, “I do,” in the pause of his words, and I heard Brian say, “I do,” in the second pause. I remember hearing the Judge say, “I pronounce you husband and wife,” as he bent over to sign the license.

Brian and I looked at each other, and without prompt, kissed. The whole ceremony lasted three minutes. Within another minute we were being ushered out of the office, before they could move us out, I asked the receptionist to take one picture of us in the Judge’s office. And then we were in the hallway, moving up the escalator, and out on the street.

We were married.

We had lunch at Italian Village downtown and by four o’clock that afternoon he was on a plane back to Connecticut.

That first year we didn’t think we would make it. I tell people now that eloping when you don’t know much about each other is a tough way to go. When we got married, it was all about faith. Underneath it all, I just knew that we were supposed to be married. That despite not knowing much about each other we had to be married. Somewhere, somehow, something meaningful would come of our being married. I remember a story I read once about a psychic who was about to get on a plane and as he was boarding he realized that the plane was going to crash and — this is the part that gets me — he knew he still had to get on it. If the plane was going to crash, he knew he had to take that journey. The plane did have a problem in the air, and miraculously, it landed safely. Eloping, in retrospect, felt like getting on a plane that I knew could crash. I had to do it anyway, because I still had to take that journey. In the first year and even a little bit beyond that faith was tested more than once. But, here we are, still married. Playing music, raising our three little animals, writing songs.

We did all right, considering it all started with a dare.

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Brian and I had a fight. One of those marital fights with words in it like “you always” and “why don’t you.” One of those kinds of fights. I may be wrong but it may only be married couples who can have a fight like that. Why married couples? Because married couples vowed, somewhere, sometime, whether in front of a judge or a priest, whether they meant it or not, to love and honor their spouse. When Brian and I fight I start to wonder what percentage of “love and honor” I meant. A hundred percent until he pisses me off? Fifty percent if I don’t understand what he’s doing? Twenty-five percent if he tells me he’ll be home at one time and comes home at another?

What makes this particular fight interesting is that we were fighting about music. Making music. Making our music. We don’t have children but I wonder if it’s like fighting about the kids. One parent wants to child to go to public school, the other, private. One parent wants to take them to the grandparents, the other wants to go to the zoo. Is it like that I wonder?

For us, fighting about a song is like fighting about its (our) future.

Brian’s laying on the floor, as usual, the remote on his chest. Ben sits beside him curled into the crook of his arm. We’re talking about a new song.

“I thought you were going to play brushes on that?” He asks.
“No, sticks.”
“Why?”

I shrugged my shoulders. “I changed my mind.”

“I think it sounds good with brushes.”

I’m reading a book on the couch. I shrug my shoulders.

“I like playing it with sticks.”

Brian says nothing but from the corner of my eye I see his mouth set slightly. That tensing of the jaw muscle is as good as a sentence.

“What?” I ask.

“Nothing.”

What??

“You always do that.”

“Do what?”

“You always change your mind about the song after we decided upon it.”

“Well, I’m sorry. I just wanted to play with sticks. That’s all.”

“You could have told me. That means I need to change the way I play it.”

“What are you taking about? You always change the way you play it. It’s never the same way. I figured if I changed it wouldn’t matter to you.”

Brian’s jaw tenses again. Now, he’s not going to say anything at all. At least for a minute or two. This is where he builds steam, like the little engine that could, ready to puff it’s way up the hill. Even in these tense moments, I occasionally have the urge to laugh – to laugh at us. Ha-ha, we’re fighting! I hear in my head. Isn’t it funny?

But we keep fighting.
You do this.
You do that.
I do not.
That’s not true.
It is.
Well, if that’s how you feel.
You can just go.
You go.
No, you.
I’m not going anywhere.
Neither am I.

It goes on like that for awhile until someone breaks through and we discover what the fight is really about.

I’m worried about work.
I’m worried about school.
Why didn’t you say so?
Why didn’t you?
You’ll be fine.
So will you.
I’m sorry.
Me too.
I’ll play the sticks.
No, play brushes.
No, I can play sticks.
I won’t change the song.
I like the song.
Thanks.
I’m hungry.
Me too.
What do you feel like?
Indian.
How about Thai?
That’ll work.
I’ll get the car.

 

I knew a woman once who liked surprises. She liked them so much that she started wishing for them and to her amazement she started getting them. But they weren’t quite what she thought they would be. The parking ticket was a surprise. Losing her keys was a surprise. Her boyfriend dumping her was also a surprise. She said later, “I learned to wish for nice surprises.”

I like surprises too. Nice ones. I especially like them for my birthday. After four years of mediocre dinners at Thai restaurants and gift certificates from bookstores, Brian has also learned that I prefer surprises for my birthday. Birthdays were hard to master for Brian. Just like husbands before him, he would rise unusually early the day of my birthday, tell me he was going for milk, and then spend 2 hours in the nearest mall trying to find a present. Or, if it was a weekday, he would call from work, say he would be home in an hour, and then turn up two hours later with an unwrapped present inside the plastic bag he has just bought it in. It wasn’t until our fourth year of marriage that I finally learned to tell to him a few weeks before the birthday what I wanted: 1) a cake and 2) a surprise. The cake, because I like cake and I like candles, and a birthday cake melds my two favorite things in one. The surprise, because like my friend, I like surprises – nice ones.

So, in general, I would say surprises are good things except — and this is important for Short Punks — when I’m on stage. Recently, Brian and I did a show at Quenchers, one of our favorite places to play. We had rehearsed as we always do and from inside the rehearsal room it sounded, to use a musician’s phrase, tight. Tight is something many (not all) bands strive for – a sound that says, “yeah, we know what we’re doing.” Tight shows expertise, precision, confidence. In rehearsal, that’s how it sounded, tight. I left Superior Street, happy, confident, and grateful.

Two nights later we were at Quenchers doing a show in front of 10 people, at most. It was July 4th and the Taste of Chicago was on and Cheap Trick was doing a free show, so ten people was good even if half of them were from the other band on the bill. The set sounded well enough, pretty much what we practiced and I was going through the usual jokes I tell during the set. It was as we were finishing “Hard Luck” that Brian decided to give me a surprise – not a nice one. Without warning he started playing the next song “I Wanna Live,” a rockabilly inspired tune that I play with sticks. That fact that he was going into the next song without warning or pause or notice wouldn’t normally be a problem except that “Hard Luck,” the song we were playing, is played with brushes. Two bars into it I realized what he was doing and tried to keep up using the brushes. But it was no use. Brushes don’t have the attack of sticks and there was no backbeat.

Over the noise I shouted to Brian, “I need to switch.”

“Okay,” he said.

For 2 bars he vamped while I pulled out sticks and then tried to lock into the rhythm he had started. But it was hopeless. I couldn’t find the pocket, that place in the music where the drums slide right in and sound right. For the rest of the song, and it’s a long song, we were slightly off. The drums felt, to me at least, as if they were sitting outside the music and me along with it.

We ended the song. Into the mike I said, “What the hell was that?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “I wanted to try something different.”

You wanted to try something different??

The rest of the set I was slightly irritated which actually helped my playing. On the ride home with the gear carefully stowed into our four door sedan, I asked Brian again what he was trying to do.

“I get bored. I needed something to happen. It sounded fine.”

That’s when I figured it out. Brian likes surprises, too. Unlike me, however, he doesn’t need them on his birthday. I also realized one person’s nice surprise is another person’s nightmare. For Brian, sets need surprises. Well-rehearsed is the equivalent of boring and as soon as I find a spot in the night we’re I’m comfortable, he switches songs or plays a different song or throws bars in from another song that’s in the same key. Brian doesn’t like boredom. For me, boredom means I can stop trying – I can relax. And that’s where some of the tension is when we play live. One of us wants to forge ahead into unknown territories, the other wants to stay on the couch with a book and the cat. Ironically, in real life, off-stage, it’s the other way around. I like to travel, move to new places, see new things, try exotic food. Brian likes to stay in the neighborhood, go to places he knows, and eat food he already likes. That’s when I learned something about being married and being musicians. In order for it to work in both places, we both have to compromise. I have to cope with the surprise on-stage, and he has to cope with them, off. In the end, it keeps it interesting for both of us, on-stage and off.

But aside from boredom, Brian is willing to take risks in music that I don’t feel ready to. Perhaps this is because he is a more experienced musician who’s played since he was sixteen years-old. Whatever it is, when we’re on-stage Brian will walk me to a song’s cliff-high edge, and make me look down. From high up, he’ll say, “let’s jump.”

I usually scream, “Are you out of your mind?”

“Come on,” he says, eyes winking. “Let’s go!”

Before I know it, we’ve jumped and we’re hovering somewhere inside a song that we’ve rehearsed a million times, but now it’s different. Brian’s chords are slightly different or his rhythm and I have to decide. Am I going to play along or not? Sometimes I fight him and keep trying to play what we rehearsed, but that’s usually a bad choice because he’s not playing what we rehearsed. The better choice is not to resist. Go along, and see where it takes us. “I Wanna Live,” our rockabilly-tune, goes heavy metal. “Olivia” a indie pop tune starts sounding like Bob Dylan wrote it. Once it’s over, and if I have let go, I discover that not only did it sound good, but I learned something new. Aside from anything else whether I want it or not, every show is a complete surprise.

At least, to me.

I never blogged before. I didn’t read blogs. Now I’m writing one.
So, there was a couple of things I didn’t know about blogs until I took the time to explore the program. You can change the colors and the settings….who knew?

I changed the COMMENTS sections so you don’t have to be a registered user to add a comment. So, if you’ve been reading this but couldn’t respond — well, now you can!!

We here at Short Punks know you could be reading other blogs, so we want to thank you for choosing us here at Short Punks. So, let us know if we can do anything to make this a more pleasant blog-reading experience.

SPiL

For more about the band, go to: www.shortpunksinlove.com

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