When you travel from Sacramento to Vallejo or Mare Island or into San Francisco, a lot of things can come up in the discussion between you and the colleague you’re in the car with. Most of those remain in the car. “Car tales,” so to speak. Things that you want to discuss with the person that you would never want out or allow to touch another’s ear drums. There was some of that, sure, but for the most part the colleague I drove with and I had discussions that centered around daily life, not work. We were living work, why bother stating the obvious.
This colleague lost his wife some years ago. He’s been through it all already. Not that we can say we have the same circumstances, I have four kids, he had 1. For a ton of other reasons our paths aren’t the same and they shouldn’t be, he’s not me, I’m not him. But the discussion came around to the talk of years past and I recounted a tale of when I was still a gigging musician.
I told him how, when I was happily married, in love, settled down, I couldn’t wear my wedding ring when I went to the bar and played. As a matter of fact, I would intentionally leave it at home. Let me tell you, by the way, that what you’re most likely thinking isn’t at all the reason. I couldn’t wear my ring because when I did, I got hit on by women at the bar…constantly. It was a strange and confounding situation. When I was 19, 20, 21 even, I would have killed to have the women hitting on me that were hitting on me when I was married and wearing my ring.
Another myth you’re probably thinking is the whole “Sex, drugs, rock and roll” thing. Sure, it exists. The crazy shots of Van Halen and Poison and Motley Crue wandering around with scantily clad women waiting backstage aren’t faked. However, they were flashy, almost immediate success stories, compared to what we were doing. The women and the fame were their goals. We just wanted to play. Didn’t matter where, hell many times didn’t matter what we got paid. But when I could have sewn those wild oats things weren’t near that fortuitous. The thing you have to remember is that, when the band finishes, the night’s not over. Sure, we might get an after-closing pitcher of beer. The drummer might be stoned from whatever he was smoking in the car just before the last set. (Don’t get me started) But you still have to break down all the gear. For us that wasn’t just my guitar rig, cables, pedals, all of that. It was the full PA system and loading it into the truck to haul back to the house and then load it down the stairs into the basement.
So when you finally load up the gear to leave the bar it’s, what, 2 or 3am? It’s not joke the kind of people – men and women – that are still hanging out at the bar at that time of night/morning. Add to that the fact that after loading all that gear, no matter if you drank or not, there you’ve worked off the alcohol or what have you. You’re stone cold sober. At 3am, sober, and looking around, I guarantee that most of you wouldn’t go home with any of the women you’d seen at the bars we played. There might have been the cute blonde bartender still there occasionally but she had a boyfriend that could kick all our asses with his arms tied behind his back. Add to that the fact that I didn’t drink or do drugs, particularly when I played, and it was not the dream life a young kid would go for if he just wanted to sleep around. I tried it, sure, and if I drank when I played – while I thought I sounded amazing – the night was always one of the worst gigs of my life.
So fast-forward a number of years. I’m married, gigging for fun more than for money now, and we’re scaled down. I have my own band, my brother’s in it with me, and things are looking fun. The first few nights in this really cool martini bar in Omaha I wore my wedding ring. Andrea didn’t want to find a babsitter, she wasn’t real keen on my being a gigging musician but I didn’t care and played anyway. (It’s the one refusal thing she demanded that I wouldn’t give in for. As I’ve said before, she could ask me nearly anything else and I’d do whatever she wanted. I was weak where she was involved.) The first gig I had three women want to buy me drinks. The second night a woman gave me her motel room number. The third I decided to make sure the wedding ring was obvious and had polished it hoping it would send a message. Instead, I had two women throw their addresses and phone numbers on the stage with crumpled up sheets of paper. Me. My single brother got nothing and I got propositioned through the nose.
I asked a reporter friend what the hell he thought was going on and he informed me that it was my ring.
“No commitment, my friend. No strings, no commitment, no worries. Women are worse than men sometimes, dude, they see that ring and they see the chance for some fun with no repurcussions.”
I asked him how he knew. He said he wouldn’t go out to the bars with his wedding ring. It was just as bad, and he wasn’t a musician.
He was right. The next few gigs I left my ring at home and it was fine. Just like when I was 21 and hormonally hoping to get hit on there wasn’t a soul around. Finally one night my wife got so mad she came to the next gig. She didn’t believe the story. So I wore it, much to my own consternation. You see, being happily (most of the time) married I didn’t want to have the women hitting on me. It was distracting. They wanted attention and I’m in the middle of a guitar solo. Not the way I wanted to do things. And there it was. First set, martini bar, and I’ve had 2 women hit on me already. During the break the bartender brought a drink and said the woman at the bar bought it for me. I politely sent it back pointing out my wife. When Andrea asked what the hell was happening, refusing to believe the story, my reporter friend looked at her, while his wife was on his arm, and held up his hand – vacant of a ring.
“Why aren’t you wearing yours?” was Andrea’s confounded interrogative. He just looked at Ande and said “let him take his off next set and see what happens. She did, and nothing happened. Not a single free drink, not a wink, not a smile. Except from her.
To this day the phenomenon confounds me. When I was young, stupid, and just plain hormonal, I would have killed for this. Instead it comes when I didn’t want it. It made me laugh at the irony of it all.
I finished my story on the drive to the Bay and my colleague, who’d lost his wife, looked and said “you don’t wear one now, though, right?” It wasn’t because he thought I was looking for women, he figured I was at the point where I had come to terms with the loss. The truth was, I’d either eaten too much salt or had something go wrong, but the ring won’t fit my finger. I need to lose a good 30 pounds still, and I’m working on it, and if I do, I’d still wear the ring. I’d wear the new ring with our anniversary date on it, too. I’m not ready to concede defeat or loss, I guess, and it’s the last bastion of things. I mean, I can always put it on the other hand, wearing it less as a wedding band, it’s more plain band than wedding band.
But the loss weighs like the pull of the metal on my finger still. Not a morning goes by in the last week since I got my new ring that I don’t try it on to see if I’ve lost the swelling in my knuckles.
It’s funny, it’s just a piece of silver, I know that. My colleague says that the time and day, one year after his wife passed he removed his and never wore it again.
I understand that thought as well. As much as I still feel the pull, the tug of the commitment – the speeches people give saying “she’s waiting for you up there”, I don’t really know what to do. Maybe it’s the subconscious mind stopping me from working out enough to lose the weight I need to wear it again. That way I don’t look as good, I don’t start to look again. But I don’t think it’s that. When Andrea came along I wasn’t looking. When you look for love, it tends to avoid you. When you’re not looking it almost slams you in the back of the head like a club.
A circular band of metal. It’s amazing that one little piece of silver can have such meaning and consternation at the same time. If only I could leave it in a box and forget about it for awhile, but somehow my finger still feels naked without it. I don’t know what my future brings, but I do think that, no matter what happens, I’ll find a way to wear it.
In the end, no matter what, I’ll always love her.