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Authors: Josh Farrar

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BOOK: Rules to Rock By
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“I didn’t know you guys ever traveled as a pack,” said Don Daddio as we walked into the store. Three or four guys were hunched over guitars, playing loudly and not very well. It was always like this at Don’s, a mini-orchestra of mediocre guitar players competing for attention.

“What’s up, Don?” I said.

“I might not be thrivin’, but I’m survivin’,” Don said. He held his hand out for X, who ran up and smacked out the hardest low five he could.

“Whoa, this guy is building his strength,” Don said.

“Belle, hang out with me,” X said, tugging on my hand.

“I will, bud. In a sec. Why don’t you go to the drum room”—it was his favorite room in the shop—“and I’ll meet you there in a little bit.”

“Okay, in a
little
little bit,” X said, running off.

“Phew,” my dad said. “He is off the rails today.”

“So, what brings you here, Nick?” asked Don. “You break another D string?”

“No, I’m good, string-wise. We’re just having a—a family day.” My dad couldn’t even spit out this simple sentence without stuttering.

When we first arrived in Providence two months ago and my parents were building the studio, we took countless trips to Don’s. Mom and Dad had also said we could hang out at the shop while they were recording, so we’d already spent tons of time there.

The first thing anyone noticed about Don Daddio was The Hair. Although the
top
of Don’s head was well on the road to Bald Mountain, he still had a thick mane of dark corkscrew curls that reached all the way down his back. Sometimes he wore The Hair in a ponytail, but today he had on his Don Daddio’s baseball hat and the corkscrews puffed out the sides of the cap like fat angel wings. His big belly pushed up against a T-shirt that read “Born a Rocker, Die a Rocker.” Don was a chubbed-out metal guy who didn’t seem at all bummed that he was several years past his prime.

“And what can I do
you
for, Belle?” Don asked.

A squeal of feedback screamed out of a nearby amplifier. Don winced.


Ay ay ay.
Excuse me one sec, hon,” he said, waddling swiftly toward the offender, an impossibly skinny white boy with long, spindly legs and a T-shirt that read “One Day I’ll Be Your Boss.” Don put his hand on the fret board of the screaming guitar, and the kid looked up, surprised.

“Dylan, buddy, you’re killing me here. The Daddios are hard of hearing as it is. You wanna make me deaf before I hit forty-five?”

The kid looked at Don like he was speaking Swahili. I heard some noise in the back of the shop. X was making a real racket in the percussion room.

“If you want to turn it up to eleven, you gotta do that at home, okay, kid?”

The boy nodded sleepily, and Don returned to his perch behind the counter, rolling his eyes.

“You tell him, Don,” Mom said.

“Thank ya much, Leah,” said Don. “Belle, I’m guessing you’d like a few minutes alone with that Beatle bass, eh? The Hofner?”

“Sure,” I said. Duh. I love that bass. That’s the bass Paul McCartney plays! The bass Satomi Matsuzaki from Deerhoof plays! That bass is my dream bass.

Don walked to the vintage wall, where his most precious instruments were displayed behind glass, and pulled it out.

“Excellent. The prodigious young Cabrera girl indulges her sixties obsession yet again.”

There was a loud crash from the percussion room.

“What in God’s name is that kid doing back there?” Don headed in that direction and my mom gave me a nervous smile.

With a silent apology to Satomi (my poor bass was sitting at home, and here I was, cheating in public), I plugged the Hofner into an old Ampeg amp. I figured that anything could happen with the mood X was in, so I’d better get my licks in now. That Beatle bass was so sweet! I played some riffs I’d been working on lately, originals, and each note sounded so rich and smooth. It was glorious.

“Dad, what do you think of this one?” I asked, playing a White Stripes–ish bass line that I thought could make a cool song. “Dad?” It was torture even trying to get him to listen. He wasn’t even looking at guitars; he was just spacing.

“Oh yeah, Belle. That’s nice. Sounds good.”

“Thanks.” Was he listening or not? This was the problem with Dad. He was pretty good at pretending to clue in—he could put a smile on and nod at all the right moments—but I had the feeling he barely heard a word I said.

Suddenly, another loud crash from the percussion room. “Oh boy, here we go,” said my dad, going to investigate. I couldn’t hear what was said after that, but he really looked like he was about to lose it when he entered the room. X had probably knocked some drums over or something, and Dad seemed like he was about to cry. My mom and I just stood there nervously. And before we knew it, there was another crash, followed by my dad letting out a truly pained sounding
“Owwww!”
Then X flew out of the room, zipped by me, and took refuge behind a Marshall stack.

“He threw a cymbal at my shin.” My dad race-limped out, rolling up his pant leg to inspect the damage. I could see a welt was already forming. “This is family time? What did
I
do?”

Yep, that just about summed it up. Together time. Love and kisses. A family outing, Cabrera-style, complete with two kids who were angry beyond words and two parents who didn’t seem to understand why. The only difference between X and me was that he had the courage to actually show how mad he was while I escaped into Beatles songs. I couldn’t wait to get home and play my bass.

Rock stars just don’t do family outings.

HAIKU CITY

I went straight to my “room,” pulled out my cell phone, and dialed Abuela’s number. What would she have to say about the cold, high-ceilinged apartment, the mic stands left in the shower, my parents staying up all night, forgetting to tuck in X, forgetting even to make dinner most nights?

By the fourth ring, I knew she wasn’t going to pick up. This was the hard thing about trying to call Abuela. She was
always
home, but she could never get to the phone before the old-school answering machine picked up. It was only six p.m., so I figured she was either doing the dishes, asleep in front of the TV, or blasting an old merengue CD on the boom box in her bedroom. Sure enough, the outgoing message started to play, the same one Abuela had kept on the machine my whole life. Abuela spoke loudly and at a slow pace that always used to drive me crazy when I’d call home. Tonight, though, I didn’t mind. The thought of Abuela recording this years ago, probably reading and rereading the simple message a dozen times to get it right, made me smile.

“Joo have reach home of Marielis Eliana Cabrera … and her family also …” She sounded like she was yelling at a deaf person. “Please, now, you leave message for us. And … we will call you back … when we are no busy. Please speak slowly, and do not to leave a message too long. Good-bye.”


Hola
, Abuela, it’s me, Annabelle … are you there?” I yelled it, but I knew from experience how unlikely it was that Abuela would hear the message, now or ever. She rarely remembered to check the machine, and my parents and I would sometimes have to go through dozens of messages, one by one, when the tape filled up and the machine stopped working.

“Abuela, I hope you are doing good. X and I are okay. We both started school a couple weeks ago. There’re only a few middle schools in Providence, so my school’s way bigger than
44
3. Mom and Dad are busy with recording all the time. X is okay, I guess. Today he threw a cymbal at Dad. I would really love to talk to you right now. Do you have my cell?
71
8-
21
5-
133
3. Call me if you can, okay? Love you, Abuela. Call me …”

EggMtnRckr:
Wait, WHY exactly did X throw a cymbal?
Did he draw blood?

Bassinyrface:
No, no … I mean, I’m sure it hurt, but my dad didnt go to the hospital or anything.

EggMtnRckr:
What is goin on up there anyway? X is not exactly the cymbal thrower type.

Bassinyrface:
well, he is since he moved HERE.

EggMtnRckr:
sux that bad, eh?

Bassinyrface:
Worse. I mean, my parents are never here. Remember how Abuela was always cooking like a crazy woman in my old house?

EggMtnRckr:
yup, I do. it always smelled like onions frying in butter. And tomato sauce.

Bassinyrface:
Well, my parents cant cook! And they dont clean, or anything. Abuela did EVERYTHING, and now she’s not here to help us.

EggMtnRckr:
Ugh, that blows. But maybe things will get better? Maybe your mom n dad can do that stuff? Or maybe you and X can.

Bassinyrface:
My parents never do anything except record and tour. You know that.

EggMtnRckr:
So Belle, how about YR band stuff? Any progress on the rules?

Bassinyrface:
mmm, not really. But I did find out there’s another band at school.

EggMtnRckr:
Yeah? Any good?

Bassinyrface:
Well they’re just a cover band like us, at least I think. But I hear they rule.

EggMtnRckr:
Cover bands never rule. Original songs do.

Bassinyrface:
Yeah, but I’ve heard like three people at school say they totally rock your face off.

EggMtnRckr:
Well, listen, dont let em scare you. Whatever they have in tightness, u can make up for with good ORIGINAL songs.

Bassinyrface:
I know, Professor Duffy, that’s what u always say.

EggMtnRckr:
It’s true, though! How’s rule #3 coming?

Bassinyrface:
My songwriting? Nothing to share … yet. But I’ll keep you posted.

EggMtnRckr:
you should. U R gonna be a genius, I can tell.

Bassinyrface:
thanks, R. You always know what to say. But … does it always take this long to form a band? This is getting super annoying.

EggMtnRckr:
Belle, you’ve just started. It can take months to find just the right people.

Bassinyrface:
But it didnt with Egg Mountain. Right after I joined, we were totally dominating the city. We had fans, we had gigs.

EggMtnRckr:
Ha, so U think yr the secret to my success, eh? You do realize we were a band for almost a year before you graced us with your presence?

Bassinyrface:
uhh, yeah, I do. And no, I dont think I’m the reason we were popular.

EggMtnRckr:
You were PART of it. But another part of it was all the work we did for the year before that. Cant tell you how many times we played to four people in a lame café.

Bassinyrface:
really?

EggMtnRckr:
So, try to be patient. It’ll happen. Promise!!!

After chatting with Ronaldo, I pulled out my homework. I had picked an especially ridiculous writing assignment out of the blue bowl this week: “Which of your personal traits would you most like to pass on to your children?”

I would have liked to write an essay on all the reasons that assignment was just plain wrong. After the incident at Don’s, the last thing on my mind was my future family. Not
everybody
is going to have a million children anyway. And what if some girl in my class
does
want children in the future but can’t have them for some medical reason? She’ll remember the time in sixth grade when she was forced to describe the traits she wanted to pass on to her kids in some dumb essay, and she’ll feel terrible. I wanted to protest this assignment for ethical reasons.

Luckily, Mr. V told us we could always write about something else if we didn’t feel “inspired” by the one from the blue bowl. I tried some haikus:

Forced Family Fun

Drove us all bonkers today

Ice cream, salty tears

My dad loves music

My mom just follows my dad

Where do we fit in?

It seems clear to me

X chucked a cymbal at Dad!

He just needs some love

I need this rock band

To keep from going crazy

When will it happen?

Moments after I finished, my phone started to sing out The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby.” That was my customized Abuela ring!

I opened the flip cover. “Abuela?” I answered.

“Hola, mi Annabella,”
Abuela said. “How you, my baby? Tell Abuela.”

I surprised myself by choking up with tears and almost not being able to talk.

“Annabella, is you all right?” Abuela asked.

I got it together. “Yeah, yeah, I’m good,” I said, trying to keep my voice from sounding shaky. “I was just drinking something, and it went down the wrong pipe.”

“Oh, I am sorry, angel. But you doing okay? Tell me. Why your brother throw a thimble at your papa?”

“A cymbal, Abuela—you know, like part of a drum set?”

“He what? Why he throw that? Why he hurt your papa?”

“Well, maybe because he’s tired of being ignored.”

“Your father ignore Chabito? Your mother?”

“Well, yeah. We’re not exactly getting tons of attention right now.”

“You want me talk to him? Talk to you father?”

“Well, maybe, but I don’t know what good it’ll do.”

“What you mean? You mama and papa always be good for you, Annabella. Maybe lots of things happening for they music now, so they don’t see. Maybe—Annabelle, what is wrong, baby? You crying?”

I totally was
not
crying when she asked. I was just sniffling for a half second. But the second she said the word “crying,” I completely broke down, snorting and sniffing and choking on my own tears.

“Oh, baby, I’m so sorry. You cry with Abuela now, is okay. You feel better. You will.”

Abuela had always been big on getting tears out of your system. She said you needed to cry to put out the fires in your life, and that when you stopped you could take a look at what had burned down, and what hadn’t. So I just cried for a minute or two. Abuela was probably the only person in the world who I’d let see me like that. I knew it wouldn’t change the way she looked at me, so it didn’t matter. I just cried it out.

“You feel a little better,
angelita
?” Abuela asked.

“Yeah, a little,” I said. “But I’m not really even that sad. I’m just … mad.”

“At you fathers?” This was the word Abuela always said for
parents
, but I always smiled when I heard it, as if X and I were being raised by Charlie Sheen and his brother on
Two and a Half Men
.

“Yeah, mostly at them. But even at you a little, Abuela. This family doesn’t work without you. Don’t you get that?”

Now it was her turn to pretend not to cry. But I heard her breathe in sharply, and when she exhaled she sounded shaky.

“I’m sorry, baby,” she managed to say. “I knew it would no be easy, but I no like to hear you like this.”

I could tell I had gotten to her. “Are you still sure you’d never come up here and live with us?”

“Oh, baby, you know how much it hurt me not to have my babies with me in Brooklyn no more. But maybe you understand me more when you old. I move around so much in my life, Annabella, and lot of times, no so happy thing for me to move. Like when I come to
this
country, not easy. When I marry you
gran papi
and live with
him
, not so easy. I have all my
friends
here, all my old lady friends and my family.”

“What do you mean?
We’re
your family.”

BOOK: Rules to Rock By
2.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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