Man in the middle of a colorful surreal carnival ride

Photo by Roméo A.

When the bottom of bottles clink in the trash, the dirt on the bottom of your shoes refuses to fall off, and your head wakes up every day with throbbing pain, you know you’ve lost your innocence. But was it there in the first place? Is losing innocence a rite of adulthood?

That’s what he thought as he pried himself out of bed again. Another day, another pot of coffee. The days endlessly teetering on. It wasn’t boredom he felt. He didn’t get bored. It was tedium.

Maybe children don’t feel tedium, he thought. Maybe they get bored on rainy days like the two kids in The Cat in the Hat, but they never feel that they’re sliding into sameness. They know that a fucking cat in a hat is going to come along.

He was crass. He knew that. He knew that a cup of coffee wouldn’t help either. It would just dull the dullness and infuse his thoughts was a bit of gray lightning for the meetings he would need to endure. More Zooms and Skypes and cheerleading the team.

Aah, how the end of the day would feel very much like the beginning, and another sleepless night would only be interrupted by anxiety-ridden nightmares.

I’ve lost my innocence in some lost and found box. A giant cardboard one they keep in a back closet of a libraryBut there’s no way to get it back and certainly nothing to replace it with. What do you replace innocence with? Sin? Debauchery? Children? Homes? Debt? The grave?

The grave was not a replacement for anything. It was just the bookend at the other end of the bookshelf. Thankfully, he still read, but even that tedium was getting to him. Starting a chapter just to page through to the end of it so he knew how many pages he would need to read to feel accomplished.

Productivity had become part of the tedious nature of things, and if there was any innocence, it was in the fictitious characters created by others. People streamed on TV and in movies. Podcasts and videocasts. That was why he couldn’t stand reality shows and docuseries. There were so close to the truth that they only mirrored it, and he knew, because of his job, that none of it was real.

That was the greatest loss of all. That the most real thing in his life was fiction. How fucked was that?

A stack of books with different color covers

Photo by Kimberly Farmer

There had been a time when waking and putting on loud music was a salve to whatever wounds he had inflicted on himself the night before. There may have been someone in bed with him but they never minded when he got up, pressed play, and turned the knob to somewhere above half volume. The neighbors were already awake anyway.

I wonder what a good night’s sleep feels like? How many days haven’t I slept? I’m like Christian Bale in that movie — the one where he’s so skinny, like 100 pounds — except I have this beer belly and I’m at least a decade and a half older.

He didn’t have a beer belly but his incessant need to stay in shape meant that he needed to get to the gym before returning for meetings on video chat at home. That meant dealing with the freeway. He had grown to hate driving, especially in California.

Before the pandemic, he had driven 2,000 miles per month, now that was cut in half with people needing to “see him” in person. Needing to be seen, too, he figured. Now that he no longer was a performer he needed to survive on the artistic work of others and that meant putting in some facetime at shows.

“I’m a fucking charlatan. I hawk wares,” that’s what he said to the young bartender at the small club that had just re-opened in San Francisco. He had been swinging in to witness the performers and they all sounded like trash cans colliding with an old Atari soundtrack to him.

“So, you’re like a pimp?” she had asked with a flippant attitude.

“In the year you were born, my dear, they would have called me a product manager.” She was a clubster born in 1995. “But all I really do is create and sell merchandise. There’s no money in selling records anymore.”

“Records? You mean, like vinyl? Or like CDS?” she said with a sneer. “You still probably have CDs, don’t you?”

They had been sleeping together lately, but he knew it was short-lived. He didn’t know why he liked her because she definitely didn’t like him.

I think she finds me a sociological experiment. Something to tell her friends about. The old, washed-up, Gen X, pseudo rock star.

Martina was half Latina on her father’s side and half Japanese from her mother, usually wearing jeans and an old, reprinted, 80s rock tee-shirt. She had a bittersweet beauty. Born without the ability to see in her right eye, she had an impressively real-looking glass eye instead. When she drove them both to her home to her apartment on Bernal Heights after the club closed at 2 am, he could flip her off and imagine she didn’t see what he was doing. But she definitely saw.

“Nice. You’re such a gentleman, Jarette.”

“You know you’re only the second bartendress I’ve dated with a glass eye?”

“Oh, yeah?”

“Yeah. The other one introduced me to a bunch of Burners who built the Man in the 90s when it was still a pretty small event.”

“Of course, you did. How impressive, Grandpa Hipster. Burning Man references are so hot.”

“I got her pregnant. She aborted my kid.”

“Dashing. You’re such a catch.”

Androgynous man laying in a shadow looking depressed

Photo by Annie Spratt

He would wake up at 5 am in her bed usually only having dozed off for a couple of hours. The canopy around them made him feel safe for a few waking moments and then instant dread. Like it was a web and she was a young, strong spider.

After the drinks, the weed, and the sex, his insomnia had begun. He had tossed and turned most of the night. His sleep strung out by nightmares of being a fugitive. Sometimes he was thrown in prison. Other times, he’d just spend the night running. He’d wake up sweating, heart pounding through his temples and nearly out of his chest. Always feeling one night away from a heart attack.

The drive home would be shattering. A combination of hangover and melancholia that was only rivaled by anxiety. Driving over the Golden Gate Bridge reminded him of how many grandiose and wonderful things he no longer cared about.

Who still cared about the Bridge? All these uber-wealthy Marinites driving over this thing every day who could give a fuck about anything except for how stressed out they were to miss their morning yoga class because of traffic.

He was coarse. Vacuous. This attitude of his would kill him in the daylight before his high blood pressure would in his sleep.

Was this an existential crisis? He thought he was done with that. When he was at the end of his last tour, he had had a nihilistic and artistic crisis and ended up passing out in the aisle of an Air France flight back to San Francisco. Twice.

A aisle on an airplane with people in seats on either side looking at screens on the seats in front of them

Photo by Suhyeon Choi

He had boarded completely hungover at 9 am having not slept at all the night before. Partying all night with the tour manager just off Amsterdam’s overly touristed Red Light District. He would be leaving the rest of the group behind. It was not discussed that he was leaving the band permanently but everyone knew he was done.

He got on the plane and took his usual flight regiment: two lorazepam benzos and a trazodone sleeping pill. That had knocked him out well enough for some sleep until the flight attendant came around for his lunch order. Air France still allowed passengers to have free wine and brandy with their meals. That was a very good thing in his opinion.

He scarfed his beef bourguignon with a carton of red wine.

Who drinks red wine out of a carton? Street corner drunks. This entire plane is filled with sidewalk hobos watching Pixar movies six inches from their faces while they shove their faces full of food.

After the meal, he threw back two glasses of brandy and fell back to sleep. When he woke, his legs were asleep on the back of the chair ahead of him. His knees up in front of him like a little boy.

He wrestled them down, groggy, half-asleep, half-drunk, pills meandering around inside his skull, and needing to pee desperately. He got up and began the trek down the aisle of the other coach passengers then immediately lost sense of direction and went black.

He woke up with a passenger shaking him looking startled. “Sir? Sir, you ok?”

“Oh yeah. Yeah. I’m ok. I just need to get to the bathroom.”

He stood up and as he stumbled forward, he only made it a few feet before collapsing again. Shriveling in the aisle again.

Oh god, they’re gonna think I’m a junkie.

A disgruntled male attendant helped him to his seat and asked those he shared the row with to move. He received three seats to himself to be able to rest, along with a barf bag and a Coca-Cola.

Well, this is how you get a row to yourself on an international flight, he thought as he drifted off.

The top of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco in the fog

Photo by Chris Leipelt

He no longer played anything with anyone anymore. When asked at parties what he did, he would respond with, “I’m a digital snake oil salesman.”

Martina had been with him recently at an event and she had told people, “He’s a musician. Don’t let him fool you.”

The young party guest then asked, “Oh cool, man. What do you play?”

“Nothing. I’m the greatest air trombonist in the world.”

He was drunk and didn’t even play a horn. If he did, he imagined that he’d play a monotonous slide trombone, blowing a long joke. The sound of a clown falling out of a clown car. Another night’s performance with a big red nose, just like the previous night, tripping over his oversized shoes, in and out of the spotlight.

As he drove through the fog of morning, watching it burn off over the hills, he took a deep breath and thought of how ridiculous it was that he didn’t feel grateful. He realized his entitlement.

I know what I’ve lost. Color. Everything is black and white. Bad and good. I’m Dorothy in Kansas.

He pulled off the road, took a look at the long line of cars stretching into the City, and said to himself, If this is being an adult, I gotta get to the Lost and Found, find my innocence, and see if I can get it back.

He took the next exit and headed east, breaking out of his own self-created prison for a minute, an hour, a day. Maybe he’d start over again. Maybe he’d become some version of The Cat with the Hat, showing up on a rainy day for bored children.

No, that would be creepy. I’m just going to find some ruby slippers and learn how to play the trombone.