James and I start going to all-ages shows tucked away in sweaty holes by the University, five-band-five-dollar nights of half in-tune guitars and screamed rants distorted through a cheap sound system. The first is headlined by Husker Du, and it is terrifying. Bob Mould screams, red-faced, and grinds away at a Flying-V guitar; he has a paunch, bad skin, big black shorts and boots. Grant Hart looks like a hairy caveman bashing his drums. It sounds like a car accident I want to get killed in. The bands sweat and careen for us and we do the same in response. Our favorite player is Bob Stinson, guitarist for The Replacements, who shows up onstage wearing only an adult diaper or a thrift-store prom dress. He gets so drunk before gigs that a roadie has to help him strap on his guitar. He is equally legendary in Minneapolis for his brilliant solos and his ongoing calamity of a life. What he plays is what I hear when I can’t sleep.
James’s and my friendship expands to include nights at Embers’, the only all-night restaurant within walking distance from our houses, a tinted glass diner populated by post-bar drunks, staffed by a waitress with a wandering eye. We spread our homework on the table to look reputable, drink coffee and talk about bands. When the sky starts to glow, predawn, we sneak back home and pretend to wake up for school.
On the bus one day, James mentions heroin to me. He’s tried it with the motorcycle boys he’s gotten to know, and asks me if I want to do it, too. He says it erases all his desire and anxiety, he says it’s like the feeling after sex. Still antsy all the time, and awkward in my own skin, I’m thinking this sounds like exactly what I need, even if the idea of sticking a needle in my arm is scary, and even if I don’t know what sex feels like, though of course I nod my head. I tell him okay, but at the appointed time I chicken out. We don’t discuss it after that.