He hadn’t returned our phone calls, but that sometimes happened when his computer was using the phone line so we decided to just drive over. After 40 minutes navigating the familiar hills and valleys, we turned at the old bridge and wound our way up twisting roads into Tweedville. The whole town seemed perched under a bower of ancient fir trees, just barely holding on to the sides of the raging winter river. But with the addition of colored lights on the trailers and camps, the mood was festive. Christmastime on the back roads of Vermont was the best I could imagine.
We pulled a sharp left over the culvert and parked on snow and pine needles. In a moment we were clambering through Bran’s front door. Looking down into the sunken living room we found him. The television was on and they were watching the Simpsons – Bran, his dog Pundit and 19 month old son, Poplar .
“Hey, what’s up, we tried to call you, dude,” I said. “Where’s Sasha?”
“She had to work,” he said, readjusting little Poplar in his lap.
“Don’t we have a gig?” Dirk said.
“Yeah, no problem. Have car seat, will travel.” Bran replied.
I thought about it for a minute, quickly doing the math in my head: two guitars, two fiddles, a banjo, a PA head, microphone stands, merchandise boxes, suitcases, three adults – and a baby.
As it turned out, we were to meet grandma in the parking lot in Manchester, and hand off the little guy. It was just a matter of repacking the already over-loaded car, sort of a musician’s exercise in Tangram, a case of mind over matter. I offered my help.
“Dirk can do it, “ I said. “He has a way with the gear that I will never have. We are so blessed with talent in this band.”
I scratched my head, symbolically, then pointed my index finger towards heaven.
“But I don’t suppose we can bring Ingvey, under the circumstances, can we.”
My disappointment was palpable as we all thought about a night without Ingvey, our six-slot guitar stand. He was rather an awkward addition to the standard station wagon packed to the hilt. I couldn’t deny the good sense of leaving him behind. But it was hard to let go. It really came down to Ingvey or Poplar. Bran could see me struggling but he couldn't save me - at the very least he knew his first priority was a parental one.
“It’s starting to spit snow; we should try to get on over the mountain before dark,” he said. “I’ll grab the diapers and the bottle and meet you by the car,” “Don’t forget speaker cables, just in case we need them.”
The gig went late that night like most bar gigs, as late as we wanted it to. There was a small fan club of Bran’s, including two friends named Ted. Sometime after midnight the local banjo player we’d met between sets planted himself like a tree between us and standing in a tight circle in the middle of the room, we lit into his tunes full barrel one hardly done but for the next rolling up. Finally in some amount of time no one was keeping track of and in an effort to be sensible we closed it down before dawn, hauling instrument cases into the cold night air and the car.
In the hotel room the clock on the bed stand flashed 11:30 pm, which seemed to me to be giving permission to party on. I was pleased to find that a motivated middle aged person could tap into boundless energy again with a little determination, motivation and luck - despite twenty years of responsible parenting. And it was clear that if you did manage to find that energy and you didn’t do something constructive with it, you might get yourself into some trouble.
I flopped onto the closest polyester bedspread, my heart set on getting some good stories out of someone. I poured another round. The two Teds negotiated the hotel furniture, one guiding the other, in a well-rehearsed scenario that ended up with a body crumpled on the floor, and a body upright in a chair. Bran looked a little like Santa, with a knowing twinkle lighting his songster face. An elbow propped up the prolific head of the songwriter, a good night’s work behind him as he and I tossed out memories of the evening.
“God damn three gas fireplaces in that small bar,” I said. “I thought I was going to keel over from the fumes. ”
“Didn’t notice, ” he said.
“What about that girl, what was her name … did you know her or do you think she always does that?”
“What girl?” Bran was often like this. It didn't faze me.
“Oh, and the bartender said to me the music was exactly what he wanted, he was totally digging it and said he'd like us back next month. By the way, what was that place you and your buddies used to have up on the ski mountain?”
Dirk’s ears perked up from over on the other double bed. He was no stranger to the wild times of rockers, having toured with name bands now and then himself, but it was likely Bran’s wild times had been wilder. For what it was worth - we both wanted to better understand this period of our band mate’s nefarious if not mythological past.
“We started in the basement, but eventually took over the whole building and Ted there had an amazing garden out back. He used to talk customers out of ordering hamburgers and make them eat vegan.”
That didn’t sound too wild, I thought. That sounded nice.
“That’s when we started losing money. Selling salads just wasn’t lucrative. And shit was happening in the bathrooms. Bad shit.”
Dirk sat up and moved to the edge of the bed, attentive.
“What kind of shit?” he said.
“Well, we had some great acts, I mean big names, some fantastic music and of course we did a lot of playing ourselves ... until the shit got really bad.”
“What kind of shit was really bad shit?” Dirk insisted.
The Ted in the chair stood up.
“We’ve really got to go. I’m fine to drive. I’ll take him home. I have to get up for meditation soon. It was really nice meeting you, ” he said, turning to me and holding out his hand. His eyes were a dark, earthy brown, round and gentle as a deer’s, with an added depth that spoke of intense human suffering and compassion. I was always on the alert - this time it could be the Buddha - so you could never be to lax in this regard.
Somehow during the commencing of handshakes and the leaving of the Teds, Bran had managed to wedge himself between the tightly made up polyester layers of his bed and was snoring loudly. Dirk had given up on his question and I could hear the sound of a toothbrush scrubbing away in the bathroom. I made my way to the last empty bedroom of the suite and gently closed the door. The clock was still flashing 11:30 pm but now I had to find out the real time. Flipping open my phone, I saw the display: 4:30 am. I had a good detective novel and I was almost done with it. At 5:00 am I turned out the light and fell in a vague sleep, knowing I had to get up soon. The day was still young.