When I was in sixth grade, my attempts at making friends involved sitting next to strangers at long brown lunch tables and asking for people’s phone numbers. Don’t be surprised to learn that by the time I was in eighth grade I had changed schools and hung my head under dyed-black hair and long black dresses. I started to hate people, thinking their ways more worthy of study than communication.
In my happier moments, I referred to myself as a “Gothic hippie” because I at times liked plaid flannels and mismatched punky skirts. But by the time I finished high school I had an acid test of quickly determining the likelihood of bonding with someone.
“Do you listen to Tool?” was always a primer. I mean that in the sense of base coating a relationship. Without that connection—which, of course, meant more than simply liking the same music—the bond would probably rust; the friendship wouldn’t last.
As the ‘90s transitioned into the 2000s, the first question more often started with humor. “Have you seen TV’s Mr. Show?” If you’re the kind of person I’d connect with, you hear the inflection.
Humor, music and, most importantly, words/lyrics, created the foundation for my lifelong friendships, though I rarely connected easily. I would peel my oniony layers off fast at times. I’m sure I scared away many people, but that was the goal. It was always all or nothing with me.
As I navigated the politics of the workplace, oftentimes incredibly unsuccessfully, I started to get the hang of not acting like a complete weirdo. It made me an incredible coffee cashier, waitress and bartender, when I flew from guest to table with quick witty quips and sayings that wouldn’t register until after I ran a drink order.
I never made friends easily. I didn’t want to after the heartbreak of sixth grade.
In late 2007, I took the opportunity to sign up for guitar lessons. I wanted to date the teacher. Well, that’s a bit untrue. I had just started working at a retail music store and broken up with a dependent, loser boyfriend. I would have ended our six-month relationship faster, but I had taken pity on him and moved him into my mother’s house. That doubled the length of time we spent together.
By December of 2007 I was ready to quit. I had seriously had enough of relationships where passion wasn’t enough and a real partner seemed impossible. I would turn 30 the following October. I felt old.
So, this tall, long-haired metalhead with a leather jacket piqued my interest, but I wasn’t ready to start peeling off my layers again. I still felt burned and my skin hurt.
At our first lesson I’m sure I asked about Tool. I probably mentioned other bands, too. I know I brought up “Mr. Show.” Nearly two decades from the height of Mr. Show’s popularity on HBO and 11 years after Tool’s last release, I had much to teach my guitar instructor.
We’ve been married six years and have two kids, but on the rare occasion I try to bond with another human being, I start by asking things such as “Have you heard the new Puscifer album?”