The sheriff department’s officer was standing on my doorstep, still trembling with excitement. The red and blue lights from the patrol car flashed over his face, which was incredulous at the site of the person who opened the door at three in the morning – me, a middle-aged, gray-haired man in Nick & Nora PJs with horsies on them.
“We had to take your friend to jail because he was banging on someone’s door with a bottle of whiskey in one hand and a full-handled axe in the other,” he said.
He was trying hard not to let the trace of a smile materialize over his proud face. In this neighborhood, nothing interesting ever happens, so flatfoots in patrol units aren’t likely to become gun-pulling guardians of sleeping innocents.
“I almost shot him!,” he said with a kind of glee not totally appropriate for such an admission.
The “friend” in question was a member of a visiting traveling band. He’d gotten drunk while messing around with some of the big boy tools in my garage and wandered out into unwitting suburbia. He’s a sweet kid who’d never hurt anyone, but, in the dark of night he probably looked like any other crazed axe murderer. The cops found out he was just a goof later when they had to repeatedly ask him to stop breakdancing in the drunk tank.
And so it’s gone around this house for three or four years now. We’ve opened our home up to kids in traveling bands, offering them a good square and a place to catch some shuteye as they tread across the country trying to make their musical dreams come true.
My own kids are in a band. Three or four bands, actually. Journalistically, it would be bad form to tell you who they are. What’s important to know is they are active, touring musicians who spend many days a year in different cities. They’ve met a lot of people and surfed a lot of couches.
As good citizens of the do-it-yourself music community, my wife and I have always felt it’s important to reciprocate every nice gesture the kids have received. I’m happy to report, they have received many.
At least, that’s how this started, with us trying to satisfy the karma police. Little did we know that it would involve the actual police on occasion.
One Sunday morning, the familiar, heavy-handed knock of law enforcement came on the front door.
“Are you expecting company?” the officer asked, investigating a bad case of bedhead and guessing I probably was not.
I told him we were waiting on some kids from Arizona, who were supposed to arrive hours earlier.
“Well, I found them,” the officer said, barely hiding his disgust. “They’re sleeping in a van in front of someone’s house down the street. They scared your neighbors, so they called us.”
Again, all very innocent. The band had arrived in the early, early morning. Like considerate guests, they figured their hosts were asleep, so they chose to nap in their van until daylight and a more appropriate time to announce their arrival. Sadly, they’d jotted down the address incorrectly, causing the confusion.
Police interaction aside, hosting traveling bands has been mostly fun and highly educational. For example, I heard my first Boudreaux/Thibodueax jokes at my kitchen table from a bunch of Baton Rouge musicians, while sharing jalapeno poppers and cold beer. They provided the jokes, which are the Cajun versions of Aggie jokes. I provided the meal, usually something I smoke on the grill, and the beer, always a local brew, especially for bands traveling from far away.
Almost every band that’s stayed here, nearly a dozen by my count, arrives in a van that should have been scrap-heaped years ago. Any of these kids who don’t make it in music have promising auto-mechanic careers ahead of them. Once, a band showed up in a limousine — a white limousine with a cracked red-leather interior and chipped body paint, jam-packed with people and instruments.
Not one of these kids has disrespected the house or its inhabitants. They’re always grateful to have respite from the road, and express their gratitude repeatedly during their stays. They treat the house like a bed-and-breakfast with the sorts of activities they enjoy.
They’ll skate the quarter-pipe set up in our garage or talk and chain-smoke cigarettes around the fire pit on the backyard deck. I’ve never witnessed any illicit drug use from them, though I’ve seen many drink enough alcohol to put a small bar out of business for the night. (Not condoning it, just telling it like it is.)
More often, I have to wonder if I’m the one on hallucinogens. I’ve seen a grown man with a full beard wearing a muumuu playing “Just Dance,” or another wearing the kind of yellow towel made for infants shaped into a head covering. He showered, dried off, put on some clothes (thankfully) and wore the towel like a cap all day long.
Once, for two hours straight, a singer did his vocal exercises in advance of a show, 120 minutes of “oohs,” “ahs” and other monosyllabic noises that nearly drove me to Lovecraftian madness (he did sound beautiful at the show later that night). I’ve emerged from my bedroom for morning joe and stared downstairs at a floor strewn with cocooned bodies in sleeping bags.
A lodger strums a guitar in the author’s backyard.
My wife and I have been asked why we allow any of this to occur, particularly since we surely are drawing the ire of some neighbors who are only trying to watch Honey Boo Boo in the alleged peace and quiet of their suburban homes. Why go through the expense or the inconvenience?
My answer is always because of that karma thing; but, also, because my kids are part of a community and, by osmosis, so are my wife and I. We love our kids and want them to be happy, and helping their friends makes them happy. In the process, that’s made us happier, too.
Also, these kids are terrific conversationalists. They’re unafraid to pursue their passions, so it’s a blast to hear their stories and their general thoughts on the world.
Not to be forgotten is the whole reason they visit in the first place: the music. Even when no bands are crashing the place, there’s always someone plunking the piano or picking a banjo here. When visiting bands arrive, it’s like a revival of sorts. Everyone’s singing, playing, riffing off one another. There’s an air of creativity and mutual respect occurring in those moments that I’ve never seen duplicated elsewhere. It’s gratifying to know I’ve contributed to that in even the smallest of ways.
It’s created at least one moment I’ll take to the grave. My mother-in-law lived her final days with us and was weak from the cancer that had invaded her body. Wearing an oxygen tube, she stood from her chair and did a shimmy to an impromptu song that my kids and some friends were playing.
She said the fiddle, guitars and banjoes recalled the dances she’d enjoyed at her old Kentucky home. Weak as she was, she couldn’t deny the power of music.