Uncle Crusty leads us to his van, the same one he’s been driving forever, and pops open the back doors to reveal a drum set, amps, a microphone, and two guitars. It is at this point that my parents pull into the driveway.
“SHUT UP,” my mother says, running toward Uncle Crusty.
My dad says nothing, just stares at the equipment in the van like it’s speaking to him and it’s imperative that he pay attention.
“July 26, 1993,” Uncle Crusty says, a faraway look in his eyes.
“No way,” my father mutters, picking up a guitar.
“July 26, 1993,” Crusty repeats. “Damon’s Dungeon, Seaport Sands, 9-o-clock-peee-emmm.”
“Our last show,” my mom says dreamily.
“Twenty years ago this Friday,” Crusty continues. “And guess who’s all booked up at Damon’s for a reunion show?”
“SHUT UP,” Mom says again.
“I don’t even remember how to play!” says my father, putting the guitar strap around his neck.
“And I can’t sing. It’s been ages,” says Mom.
“We don’t even have a bass player,” says Dad.
“You think Ratbag is gonna miss this? Hell no. He’s on his way up from Virginia right now. Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
“You know someone named Ratbag?” Will asks this as if we don’t already have an “Uncle Crusty.”
“His real name is Mike,” says my mom, laughing. “And yes. He used to play with us, in our cover band. We only played a handful of shows, but man, we had fun.”
“Hell yeah we did,” Uncle Crusty says.
“You were in a band?” I look at my father, who spends his nights doing equations for fun, and then at my mother, the doctor, who plays the Enya Pandora station in the car.
“A cover band,” my father says. “Guns N’ Rosa.”
My mother’s name, I should mention, is Rosa.
“Oh my god,” Will says. “Oh my god.”
Uncle Crusty laughs. “That’s right, Billy Boy! You know where you are? You’re in the jungle, baby! You’re gonna diiiiiieeeee!”
“Of embarrassment? Yes,” says Will.
“Ah, he’s right,” my father says. “We’re too old to do this stuff now.”
“We’ve got a bunch of stuff from Lazy Larry’s if you’re hungry,” my mother offers, heading back to the car and pulling out two huge paper bags filled with fried seafood. The excitement has dropped, the spell seems to be broken. My parents look like my parents again.
“I’ll be right in,” Uncle Crusty says, locking up his van. My parents head to the house, and Uncle Crusty stops us before we can join them.
“I appreciate your concern, you know, for yourself,” he tells Will. “But this show’s going on, whether you like it or not.” He turns to me. “You got a problem with that, Princess?”
“I’ve got a problem with a lot of things,” I say. I can feel Will glaring at me.
“Good,” Uncle Crusty says, laughing. “That sounds like rock & roll to me.”
“We can’t let this happen,” says Will. He is face down on my bed, his grody shoes stinking up my room.
“I can’t believe our parents were in a cover band,” I say, not even trying to suppress my giggles. “And our MOM was Axl Rose!”
“Bailey, don’t you remember what happens every time Crusty comes around? Mom and Dad, like, forget how to be normal. If they get on stage and start playing ‘Paradise City’ to a crowd of, what, four people, they may never come back from the Crusty Zone.”
“Oh yes. It will be terrible. Mom will start wearing leather pants to surgery.”
“Uncle Crusty is a 42-year-old man who wears a ponytail and still goes by UNCLE CRUSTY,” Will insists. “He’s wacko. And he makes our parents wacko.”
“What do you care? It’s not like you’ve even said more than three words to Mom, Dad, or me, for that matter, since Annnnggggela came to town.”
“I don’t want our parents to embarrass themselves.”
“You don’t want them to embarrass you.”
“Oh, please. If I want to be embarrassed I’ll just walk around town with you.”
“Take it back.”
“Am I wrong?” He sits up on the bed.
“So I’m not cool, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I’m ugly and gross and that I bring down your status.”
“Is that why you think I’m embarrassed to hang out with you?” He looks genuinely hurt, even though he’s being the mean one.
“It’s pretty obvious.”
He flops back down on the bed and begins to throw a crumpled sock at the ceiling. “Shit,” he says. “You’re not ugly or gross, Bails. You’re not any of those things you said.”
“Yeah, well, it seems that way. Especially when Mount Rushmore appears across my chin.”
“So you have zits, big deal.”
“It’s not a big deal to you because you don’t have them.”
“It’s not a big deal to me because everyone has them. Angela gets them once in a while, the cystic ones? They hurt really bad. I feel so bad for her, not because of what they look like, but because it’s, like, super painful. She hides them under her bangs. Who cares? She’s still beautiful.”
Finally, a good Angela story.
“So why don’t we hang out anymore, then?” I ask him. “And why are you embarrassed by me?”
“I’m not embarrassed by you. That came out wrong. I’m just—you just seem so embarrassed by yourself. Like, yeah, we have different friends and stuff now, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t—ugh, don’t make me do this Full House crap, you know what I mean.”
“Not really,” I say, even though I kind of do.
“I miss you,” he says. “OK? I miss the Bailey who was loud and funny and laughed a lot and whose boobs weren’t the topic of conversation amongst certain friends of mine who need a punch in the face. I miss hanging out with you. But when we hang out, it’s like you get mad that I have a life, that I have Angela, that I have fun. And it’s like, I’m not responsible for your fun. Or for who you are or what you do—though you can NOT date Evan, he’s a scuz, I mean he’s my boy but you canNOT date him, for real.”
“Like I would,” I say. “That dude is the worst.”
“Only about girls.”
“That’s enough to qualify him, Will.”
“You’re probably right.”
“I’m the oldest. I’m always right.”
He laughs. “I just feel like you need to figure your shit out,” he says. “And maybe I thought it was hard for you to do that with your brother around all the time.”
“Yeah, but you assume that you know what I need, which is, like, dictating the person I should be, you know? I mean it’s hard to figure myself out when you’ve already put me in a box.”
“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do, man. I’m just trying to stay out of your way.”
“I think it would help if you and I just got in each other’s way a little more, that’s all.”
“I mean, you have to let me embarrass myself and not run the other way.”
“And also? I don’t want to hear about Angela. It’s so effing boring, I know you love her but please spare me.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t want to hear about Ryan Gosling, but you haven’t shut up about him in like four years.”
“Is all that stuff that Noelle Barber says about you and Angela true?”
“Noelle Barber talks so much shit that once in a while she gets something right, you know? And that makes everyone think that everything she says is true, even when it’s not. She’s totally full of garbage, so whatever to everything she says. I also turned her down once in seventh grade when she asked me to dance and she’s hated me ever since.” He smiles. “I like that one about T.G.I. Fridays, though. Angela and I laughed about that for days.”
Dammit. Another good Angela story.
A knock on the door interrupts our conversation. In walks our mother, in a black T-shirt and acid-washed jeans. All three of us start laughing.
“Oh, sweet children of mine,” she says.