The room was large, but the amount of clutter and mess stuffed into the shelving units, piled high on the floor, and slumping in untidy piles against the corners and the walls encroached on the space. I’m not sure it was ever a nice room, but it had definitely seen better days. The walls were scuffed where laminate-topped tables had been carelessly thrown up against them to act as benchtops for yet more junk and odds and ends, and cigarette burns and old drink stains marked the wooden floor.
I would have liked to think that this room was an undiscovered treasure trove of some sorts, that maybe I’d find something of some value, whether it was monetary, sentimental, or just plain fun to play with, but honestly, it was hard to see how a collection of broken-down stereo and lighting gear, old promo t-shirts, and mountains of old posters that would never see the light of day would yield anything of worth.
Behind me, Griff finished the last of his beer and burped, loudly.
‘All of this shit has to be in the bins outside by the time we’re done,’ he said. ‘I’m going to go and start clearing out the other storeroom.’
The beer was an understated and understood part of the contract. In addition to working for a day wage, we also got to help ourselves to some of the lesser-selling stock from the coolroom. As long as we didn’t get falling-down drunk, and as long as the job got done, we were free to drink and smoke as much as we liked. The only real rule was that the rooms had to be empty when the fire marshals came through for their yearly inspection.
I feel I should take a second here to explain that management, who had been cheerfully directing us for months to throw anything that couldn’t be neatly binned into these back rooms, didn’t actually want a fire to break out. They really didn’t. It would have been bad for business. They were just lazy. And they felt that paying a couple of us some extra bucks once a year to go through and make sure that the proper authorities believed we were up to code for the other 364 days of a year was worth the trade-off. Especially as they weren’t the ones doing the cleaning. In their position, I would have felt just the same.
I started shifting the paper out first – aged newspapers, flyers for Two-for-One Fridays, and gig posters for bands that were never going to make it to anything beyond releasing a couple of EPs that they begged, borrowed, and stole the financing for. I wish I’d thought to bring gloves; too many spiders like to nest in old paper.
I grimaced as I realised I’d forgotten my iPod, too. I didn’t want to spend the day talking to Griff. Nice guy, but ten minutes at a time is more than enough.
No sooner had I thought of him than Griff was tapping an empty bottle on the doorframe behind me. I turned to see him popping the cap off another and holding it out to me.
Maybe he wasn’t so bad after all.
‘This is bullshit,’ Griff said. ‘Have you seen how much crap they’ve got stashed back here? You think this is bad, there’s a couple dozen busted-down chairs in the other room. I’ve got to shift that shit up two flights of stairs and out into the bin. Goddamn management.’
‘Yeah, but that’s why we get paid the big bucks,’ I said, lighting a cigarette. I offered one to Griff, who took it and lit up. We drank and smoked in companionable silence for a while.
‘Did you bang Jane yet?’ he asked.
Jane was a bartender at the club. I had been trying – and failing – to get her to come out for a drink with me for weeks. She’d always managed to find some excuse (maybe they were real reasons, at that) for not being able to make it; although she always seemed to be available if the staff were going out drinking as a group.
‘What do you think?’ I said. ‘Of course.’
No, I’m kidding, rewind. I didn’t say that. I make it a point of pride to not lie about conquests. A point of pride, and also, you never know when a story like that’s going to come back to haunt you.
‘Nope,’ I said. ‘I’m not sure she’s keen.’
‘Ah well,’ he said, and shrugged. ‘That chick’s crazy, man. I wouldn’t worry about it too much.’
‘They’re all crazy, man,’ I said. ‘So what’s the difference?’
Griff clicked his fingers in a tiny rhythm. ‘That girl’s crazy even in comparison. She makes regular crazy look normal.’
I finished my cigarette and dropped the butt on the floor, putting the sole of my shoe down on it and pressing down to kill it. I’d sweep it up later, when I was done. I also made a mental note to ask Griff why Jane was so crazy after a few more hours work and another couple of beers.
‘Hey, hang on,’ Griff said, lumbering past me and over to a shelf full of electrical junk. ‘Is there a power outlet back there?’
‘Uh, yeah, somewhere,’ I said. ‘Over here, by the door.’
‘Check it out,’ he said. ‘Old-school stereo, there on the shelf.’
It was busted up and falling apart. Some of the wires were hanging loose and I personally didn’t think that there was any way we were going to get any sound out of it, but Griff sat down on the floor and started twisting connections into place. I leaned on my knees and watched him.
‘Where’d you learn to do that?’ I asked.
‘Sound engineering degree, man,’ he said. ‘We used to play with stereos all the time.’
‘You studied?’ I asked, honestly surprised.
‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘Back home.’
Griff clipped the facepiece, which had been hanging loose, back into place. Scooting me aside, he plugged the stereo in and flicked the switch.
It sparked and Griff yelped, tumbling backwards onto the floor. I leaned over him and pulled the plug out quickly, wondering just how much it would cost us if we burned the place down.
‘Nice going, sound engineer,’ I said.
‘Yeah, tell it to Jane, you fuckin’ ladies man,’ he said back to me, shaking his hand out.
I held out my hand and pulled Griff up to his feet. He dusted himself off, and shrugged.
‘Guess we don’t get any music today after all,’ he said.