My youth for sale

In the summer of 1994, I was a waiter at a place called El Chico.  I was a good–if very clumsy–waiter.  The tyrannical manager, a 40-something woman who needed desperately to get laid or take some very powerful pills, was no match for the staff there.  The guys I worked with were professional partiers who came in hungover, popped pills to get going for the lunch shift, smoked bowls in the staff bathroom to take the edge off, and drank beers out of coffee cups in the kitchen to prepare for the night out.  I, a long-haired margarita-spilling, summer waiter, was a novelty item on the staff.  I wasn’t working for cash to pay for weed or booze.  I had a plan for my summer tips.

By August, I’d put together enough cash to buy a pretty sweet 500-watt Peavey PA system.  The plan was to use it to push the sound of Springfield, Missouri’s least-recognized garage band, The Flaming Puppies (in reality, we were more of a basement band, but that is more there than here). 

FLAMING PUPPIES-small

The Flaming Puppies circa 1991

Once purchased, I lugged the PA system to the basement of the house and we went to work.  A couple of weeks later, I was summarily dismissed from the band in favor of a much better guitarist who wasn’t planning on moving back to Columbia for college.  My five-year run with the Puppies ended with the kind of hard-feelings that only kids can muster.  I packed up my system and headed off for a life of acoustic tail-chasing.

Unfortunately, my load was a lot heavier.  That PA system weighed a ton.  For the next 14 years, it followed me everywhere I went…Columbia, Jackson, Anderson, and now Greenville.  I can probably count on two hands the number of times the thing got used for its intended purpose.  It gathered more dust than good memories. 

Today, after more than a decade of looking at the thing and using it as an iPod speaker system in my garage, I walked out and looked at it for the last time.  In front of me stood a tall, blonde kid with a checkbook in his hand. 

“I play keyboard,” he said.

He was about to be a junior at a nearby high school. 

“In a band?” I asked, knowing the answer was yes, and knowing exactly what it felt like to be excited not only about music, but about the idea of making it.

“Yeah.  We play classic rock.  And blues.  And well, really, anything.”

I ran down all the specs on the thing and hit play on my iPod.  Robert Randolph’s live version of “The March” came on.  When the keys section hit, the kid’s eyes lit up.

“I’ll take it,” he said. “Is it okay if I write you a check?”

“Will it clear?” I asked, again knowing the answer before I asked the question.

“Oh yeah,” he said with excitement.  “I just put money in.”

And there I was standing right in front of myself in the garage.  The kid had busted ass all summer just to buy something for his band.

It took him two tries to write the check.  When he was done, I took it, and then grabbed one of the speakers and PA head.  The weight of the system was as familiar as playing the game of Tetris to fit it all in the trunk of the kid’s car.

I sold the system for about $600 less than I paid for it 14 years ago.  As the kid drove away, I almost felt bad about charging him anything for it.  I wasn’t using it for anything. 

Then again, I remember what it was like to buy something that big, that important, with money I’d earned completely by myself.  I remember the first time I plugged it in.  I remember the first time we played with it.  I probably got my money’s worth that day.  Everything after that was just getting older, grayer, and quieter.

It’s becoming increasingly clear I’m not going to be young again.  I tried to fight it for a long time, but the reality of this whole aging thing is finally starting to sink in.  If life weren’t so great, I might be a little depressed about it.  Instead, I’m simply nostalgic. 

Now, I gotta run to the bank and cash this check before the kid gets kicked out of the band and blows his money on booze.

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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6 Responses

  1. Dr. Chako says:

    Sellout.

    What if the band gets back together, man! Didn’t you see the Blues Brothers?!

    -DrC

  2. Astin says:

    With a name like The Flaming Puppies, you were obviously a Michael Bolton cover band.

    The best thing I ever did with my guitar and amp was give them to my brother for his 15th birthday. He’s still using them both at gigs around the city, and using the guitar (acoustic-electric) to pick up the ladies. I used it to take up space and give the dust some place to settle.

  3. Little Willie says:

    How ironic – the wife and I went to El Chico just 2 days ago for the first (and last) time since we moved back to Spfd. I don’t think the staff has changed. In fact, I don’ think anything has changed except the food, which is now disgusting.

  4. Buckeyetimmy says:

    Does he need a Peavey 2×12 that will make your ears bleed? In my house I can’t even turn it up past 1, so it does me no good.

    Now that I think about it, being a bad guitar player does me no good either. Damn it!

    Alas, the Peavey only goes to 10.

  5. joaquinochoa says:

    I really liked this post Otis. Good stuff and I would probably include this in the front of your short stories book.

  6. Dave says:

    Great Stuff

    Makes a good “Where are they now?” episode.

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