The mood in Mike’s car is somewhat subdued. Maybe it’s because the sudden, scowling apparition of Mike’s dad has reminded us all of the feckless nature of today’s outing — and, by extension, of our collective interest in what some might consider less-than-serious pursuits. Or maybe it’s because that same apparition is a grim reminder of the humorless future that awaits all of us if we decide to go straight, as it were: no more art, no more music, no more movies, no more toys, no more comic books. In a word, no more fun.
Mike asks about my approach to grading. Miranda asks if we can focus on the video shoot. The GPS informs us that there’s traffic ahead and asks if we’d like to try an alternate route. It’s an existential question as much as a practical one.
In the distance, radio towers loom over Roxborough, red lights blinking a slow, steady rhythm high above the hills. Natalie lives in a decommissioned chapel at the foot of one of the towers, and by the time we arrive, the sun has begun to set, and there’s a distinct chill in the air.
My stomach knots slightly at the prospect of meeting new people, but I follow Mike and Miranda through the front door and try to blend into the cluttered background. Natalie and her housemates, it turns out, are not neatnicks. Art supplies abound, left wherever they were last used, and my eye is drawn to the various ukuleles, hand-drums, and unstrung guitars that litter the floor.
“So you’re the guy we’ve heard so much about!” Natalie says.
“I am?” I say.
In the kitchen, a man with a bushy beard is rattling pots and pans. He hasn’t said a word, and my innate paranoia tells me that his silence is a sign that he’d rather not be bothered by whatever shenanigans Miranda has planned. Or, more to the point, that I’ve instigated by writing a song about a dead prostitute.
As a matter of fact, the paranoid voices in my head start whispering, that guy definitely hates you.
I look at my feet. I look at the walls and ceiling. I look everywhere but at the man in the kitchen and see nothing but the clutter that reminds me how far I am from the tidy confines of my comfort zone.
“Hey!” the bearded guy says, suddenly standing in front of me with a chunk of bread dripping in something white and pasty. “Do you want to try my mango dip? I just made it!”
“Wow! Yes!” I say. “But I can’t eat gluten. Is there gluten in that?”
“Oh, sorry,” he says. “Yeah, there’s gluten in the bread.”
Before I can say anything else, he pops into the kitchen and returns with a plastic spoon slathered in the dip.
“What do you think?” he asks.
“Delicious!” I say before I’ve even tasted it, mainly because saying I’m just glad he doesn’t hate me might come off as slightly off-putting.
Then there’s a pause, and I fill it with one of the go-to questions from my script:
“So, what do you guys do for a living?”
And then there’s a longer pause, and suddenly I realize I’ve taken over the role of the oh-so-serious old man in the room — that, in essence, I’ve just become Mike’s dad.
“You know, whatever comes up,” Natalie says. “We were going to plow some snow today, but then Miranda asked if we could help with your video.”
“Oh,” I say. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be!” Natalie says. “This sounds like a lot more fun.”
And there’s that word again: Fun!
Apparently it comes natural to some people.