Mathematics: Jonathan Diener
03. MUSIC INSPIRATION
Death Cab for Cutie:
The Sound of Settling
Mr. Gilbert’s 2nd period geometry class was always something I dreaded attending. I don’t know if it was his lack of caring about educating us—you know, literally his only job—or the fact that he was always picking favorites. Those favorites happened to be the athletes and cheerleaders, as he was a coach. Coach Gilbert, they would call him. I never called him that. I was a musician.
It was my junior year of high school and I knew I wouldn’t be moving on to college. I felt as if I knew everything an aspiring touring musician would need to know. I was picking blow-off classes, draping study guides across my lap just out of the teacher’s eyesight to cheat on tests and mostly trying to concentrate on advancing my social life. As a blossoming teenager with acne on my chin, braces on my teeth and acid reflux, I had to get a head start before the cruel world swallowed me whole. Music was my thing and I had to wear it as a shield.
Each day I would wake up as a zombie, shove cereal down my throat, brush my teeth and accidentally trigger my gag reflex when the toothbrush would get too far down the back of my tongue. I jumped in the shower and prided myself on taking very little time. I read an interview a year prior about Jennifer Anniston taking three minute showers to save the environment. I loved that idea. It lasted only a few months before I started to have ideas in my head for music or stories and I would completely forget about the time I was wasting. The water I was wasting. The world was on fire and it was all my fault. I was late for school a lot that year.
The school had block scheduling, which meant only four eighty-seven minute classes one day then four other classes the second day. I only had to attend the bland, unhelpful geometry class from Mr. Gilbert every other day. Thank God. I also was well into not praying or thinking about God at this point thanks to punk rock and my friend group. Again, I was shedding my blissfully ignorant skin quicker than I could realize. I wanted to expand my mind, but the monotonous teachings of bored, suburban teachers to a bunch of ungrateful students wasn’t doing anything for me.
My parents had a good relationship with our next door neighbors. My father rarely drank alcohol, at least in front of my brother and I (who also never drank), but he kept beer in the fridge to entertain our neighbor when he would walk over. It was what men did. Or maybe it’s what men thought they should do? The beer was in the small, lonely refrigerator in the basement as part of our underutilized bar. We had a pool, we had a Michigan State University themed paint job, we had a pool table and we should have had the best parties imaginable. I preferred to play music with my friends. I sometimes thought I could have been better at being a man.
One night I was watching a movie in my basement, not sure exactly what it was, but I had a thought: What if I drank one of those lonely beers? I wonder how it would make me feel and I knew no one would ever know I took one unless they were keeping count. I had no intention of being included in the parties of my peers as I was already frequenting house shows and parties in Flint, Michigan with an older, cooler crowd. They accepted that I didn’t drink, which is something people my age should have been experimenting with already, but I truly never cared enough to try. Less temptation and more curiosity, I figured tonight would be the night to do it.
I quietly, yet casually walked to the mini-fridge sitting under the dimly lit, forgotten bar in our basement. I counted about seven Bud Lights. I didn’t know what made it Light or Lite, but I was concentrating on the number making sure no one would notice. Would the even or odd number be a giveaway? Maybe my neighbor could have snuck over and snagged one for himself on a hot summer day? How many days or months were those lonely beers sitting in that tiny fridge in the forgotten, under-utilized bar? I stopped questioning and reached for one.
I held the cold can, sweating with condensation to match the bead of sweat falling down my brow. I wasn’t scared, but I knew this may be a line I cross from which I can’t find my way back. I pulled the tab as I’ve done with so many cans of soda (or, “Pop” as we call it in Michigan) and I smelled that strange smell I’ve inhaled from years at parties, open houses, shows and more. I never had any desire to take part, but I was about to give it a sip.
I headed to the downstairs bathroom, locked the door and sat on the toilet. It was the only place with a locking door. Worst case I could make the excuse of taking a shit. No one would question me. I finally took a sip and tried to fully understand the taste or see if there was something secret that I’ve been missing out on all of these years. It wasn’t very good, but I could understand how it would eventually grow on people or at the very least, get them drunk after a few. I got through half a can and decided I couldn’t do the rest. It wasn’t for me. I didn’t feel anymore connected to my peers after having tasted and consuming it. I poured the rest out in the sink and buried the can in the trash can upstairs to camouflage it with forgotten paper plates covered in ketchup and so on.
Once I was in bed getting ready to retire for the night, I sat and thought through every situation where and how this could somehow better my life. Did I betray my ideas of never drinking? Did I really care enough if I did?
The next day I did my routine of eating cereal, brushing my teeth, gagging, showering then heading to school where I still wouldn’t care. I was in Mr. Gilbert’s geometry class once again, sitting in the corner of the room, escaping into the music blasting through my headphones thanks to my futuristic iPod and I mindlessly did my homework. A few minutes into class I felt a rumble in my stomach. Immediately I thought about what I did the night before and even remembered a song from my friends in a band called Takeout, called, “Beer Shits.” I think I was about to have one. Was I hungover? I had no idea what was going on or how a hangover would feel. I had less than half of a beer. Maybe that could give me a hangover, I thought.
I got a hall pass to head to the bathroom, did my duty and returned to class deciding that I didn’t like what I did the night before. I felt gross and lethargic. I blamed it on the lonely half Bud Light I sipped in the downstairs bathroom while sitting on the toilet. In retrospect, I knew it was something I ate earlier in the day. The feeling matched how I felt about the teacher. I didn’t care for him much and hoped I wouldn’t have to be in his presence again, or at least for a while. Maybe he would grow on me in my later years.