Besides the obvious, there was one key reason that it was dumb not to invite the punk rock girl to join us on our trip to Portland: an acquaintance of Fran the Man's whom we will call "Ms. J."
During the planning stages of our trip, Fran the Man and myself were unexpectedly joined at his King of Prussia, PA residence by Ms. J.
Ms. J was a nice girl. A true tom-boy, she was an athlete, a grade school teacher, and the type of girl who seemed to associate primarily with dorky guy friends like ourselves. She wasn't particularly feminine, but I wouldn't go as far as to say that she was unattractive; she just wasn't the type who cared to expend excessive effort into her appearance, and instead tended to get by on her outgoing and accommodating nature. She interacted with people with an immediate sense of familiarity - in fact, she used to call me "Tommy-boy" whenever she saw me, which was fairly frequently now that I think about it.
In fact, Ms. J had a way of showing up at Fran the Man's house almost every time I came up from D.C. to visit him. And she'd tag along at the last minute to various road trips, too - the trip to Boston after my Morrisey-style heartbreak over my dead romance with that insane Irish vagabond girl from Oshawa, the trips to the Jersey shore, and a couple of other random parties and misadventures in between.
Naturally, I assumed that there was some latent romance waiting to burst forth between Ms. J and Fran the Man, and that the two of them were just waiting for their Harry-and-Sally moment. That seemed to be the style of the both of them.
Looking back, I might have read that one wrong....
Anyway, weeks before the trip, Fran the Man and myself were on his fancy Internet machine, trying to timeline our trip and book our motels, while Ms. J. lay on Fran the Man's empty bed, watching us, and occasionally telling us what an awesome trip was, and how jealous she was of us.
"Man, I wish I could do a trip like that," she said, perhaps four different times over the course of an hour.
Fran the Man and I failed to respond sufficiently - after all, this was a buddy trip - no girls! As a result, Ms. J continued to push the issue: She really liked the idea of our trip. And she really wanted to come with us.
I decided to finally address the situation, by foolishly saying "Well, you should meet us in Portland!"
And, of course, my bluff failed. Her response was enthusiastic and immediate.
Fran the Man's response was an uncomfortable silence.
My response was to assume that Fran the Man was simply upset that I was forcing his hand in the matters of romance with Ms. J.
(Did I mention that I misread that whole thing?)
So, in Portland, we would be a trio. I wasn't totally thrilled with myself for opening up this door, but I figured that by the time we hit Portland, maybe we could use the company. And this would be far more uncomfortable for Fran the Man that it would be for me, anyway.
At least, that's what I was thinking.
And as a result of my flawed conclusion, I teased Fran the Man mercilessly all the way up the West Coast...about how his lover Ms. J. was chasing him across the country for a little of that Fran the Man magic. And I was awful about it: I was rude, I was annoying, I was persistent, and I was generally disgusting with the details.
Fran the Man, however, managed my comments with his typical grace and good humor. I couldn't quite get under his skin, and it was bothering me. It was almost as though he knew something that I didn't know. (But the thing is, Fan the Man is a really smart guy. And I've spent so much of my life assuming that he knows a great many things that I don't know, that sometimes I don't realize when I'm in trouble).
Ironically enough, by the time we arrived in Portland, we DID need the company. Fran the Man and I were bumping heads over little things like maps and directions, and a third wheel actually helped alleviate some issues. Sure, it might have been nice if that third wheel had been a cute punk rock girl from NoCal, but whatever. Beggars and choices, you know?
In fact, Portland was kind of a blast. We had drinks at Dots, told all our stories from San Diego and LA and San Fran, and then we went out and saw the sights of a music festival taking place in town (which - I swear to god - was called the North by Northwest Music Festival).
The following day we split up. I drank a lot of coffee and bought a bunch of books and records at the many independent stores down town, and took an urgent and long over-due bowel movement in the lobby bathroom of a very fancy hotel.
In the evening, we got together for a nice dinner at Montage, then caught more bands, including a beloved-to-me Baltimore punk-pop band called LoveNut and a free outdoor show by some semi-famous funk band (no idea who).
The following day we were Seattle-bound. There was a sense of euphoria between Fran the Man and myself: We'd made it from one end of the country to the next. We'd survived all manner of screw-ups and unexpected nightmares, and made it though still friends. And so this first night in Seattle, we would celebrate.
It all started innocently enough. We had dinner at Kells, walked around the Pike Place Market and took things slow. Later that night we hit up the bars in Pioneer Square.
And this is where the wheels officially came off the wagon.
By some stroke of great luck, we wandered into the Showbox Lounge (I think it was the Showbox - hard to remember a damned thing after a certain point in the evening) on a night when the club was featuring the side-projects of members of several national acts: Buzzo from the Melvins was doing his solo thing (but not Fantomas - at least I think I would have remembered if it was). One of the guys from Tool had a band. One of the guys from the Presidents of the United States of America had a band. And I'm pretty sure there was one more.
I don't really remember exactly what happened for much of the night, but things got ugly and out of hand very suddenly. There were beers. There were shots of Jaegermeister. There were a lot more beers. There was a failed conversation in the men's room with a very indifferent (and possibly hostile) Buzzo. To the delight of a very tall and attractive older woman in a red cocktail dress, a Budweiser was accidentally spilled down my pants when I drunkenly stood up to buy cigarettes.
And then there was the memory of watching Fran the Man and Ms. J. completely shitfaced and smoking Marlboro Reds with me - a smoke that I always found harsh enough, but was undoubtedly more toxic to the palates of my two compainions, who didn't even smoke.
(...Now, I say this with as little braggadocio as possible, but I've had something of a history of excess with alcohol. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that most people who know me know a little too well that my relationship with alcohol has never been very healthy. And at that point in life I was about to really kick things into high gear. This didn't really phase Fran the Man, because Fran the Man is bigger and stronger than I am. And for a guy who lives in a state of moderation, his tolerance for alcohol is awe-inspiring.
Ms. J however, seemed to be somewhat new to this approach to self-destruction, and in the back of my drunken little horse brain, I knew that this wouldn't end well.)
((But what did I care. Right?))
Next up: the fear and the loathing. In Seattle.