Heavy-Hearted Head Banger

Strung Out is a punk/metal band that’s been around since 1989. I generally try to keep up with music, but I had never heard of them until I picked up some fans after their concert at Shaka’s Live at the Oceanfront.

Sean and Carol were buzzing after the show. They were both a bit stout. Sean sported an impressively thick red beard. Carol wore a colorful sun dress and dark-rimmed glasses. Her hair was pulled up. Carol had done a good deed and wanted to talk about it.

“A guy lost his wedding ring at the concert,” Sean said.

“And I turned it in!” Carol said, enthusiastic.

“It was one of those titanium, black–”

“And I turned it in to the sound guys.”

She leaned forward eagerly between the seats.

“I said, ‘Can you please announce this? You know, so whoever can find it?’ And they didn’t announce it! And I was super angry. So after the show I was like, ‘Where’s the f–ing ring, you dirt bag?. And I grabbed him by the shirt and said, ‘That was really sh–y. Give me the f–ing ring.’

“So then there’s this guy on the floor with a flashlight, and I’m like, ‘What are you looking for?’

“And he’s like, ‘My buddy’s wedding ring. It’s black and thick-‘

“And I’m like, ‘You mean like this?’ And I hold up my finger with the ring on it, and he’s like, ‘Oh, my God! That’s his ring!’

“So we go find him and he’s talking to this girl who was, like, my best friend in fifth grade who I haven’t seen in years! I mean, how weird is that? And I’m like, ‘Is this the ring you’ve been looking for?’ And he’s like, ‘Yeah!'”

“So you were a hero tonight!” I said.

“I don’t want to be a hero. I want everybody to do what I did.”

I dropped them off at Central 111 and immediately got a ping for another pick up back at Shaka’s.

Three dudes. All dressed in standard metal concert attire–black jeans and black shirts, hoodies. Jason, who sat up front, also wore a black skater ball cap and multiple black tattoos. He was in his mid-twenties, tall and muscular. He could have passed for a college football player or a Navy Seal.

They talked about various misadventures at the show–various fights they almost got in. Then Jason said, “I can’t believe that chick found my ring.”

“Wait,” I said, “You’re the guy who lost his wedding ring? I just dropped off the chick who found it.”

“No sh–? That’s weird.”

Carol came across as somewhat less heroic in their version of the story, but it still ended up with Jason happily getting his ring back.

We dropped off Ben first–he was sitting in the back seat. He was drunk, foul-mouthed, and funny. When we got to his apartment building, it took him a while to exit. Jason reached over his head without looking to give him a farewell fist bump.

“Love you, bruh,” he said.

“Yeah, love you, too, f–er,” Ben replied.

“Get the f– out.”

“Later, dude,” said the other guy.

Ben reached around from the back to give Jason an awkward hug with the seat between them.

“Love your mom,” Jason said.

Ben leaned forward and kissed him on the neck.

“Get the f– away from me,” Jason said.

“Gotta give my bro some lovin’,” Ben explained.

“That’s beautiful, man,” I said. “It warms my heart.”

“Bring it in,” Ben said and hugged the other guy in the back seat. “I love you guys.”

“Get the f– out,” Jason said again.

Finally outside the car, Ben, said, “Goodnight, you f–ing faggots.”

The tone changed after Ben left. We still had a pretty long drive. Jason got melancholy.

He turned and said to the guy in the back, “Did you hear they dedicated a song to Donald?”

“No, really?”

“Yeah, Carl–you know that long-haired dude? He told me they dedicated a song to Donald. Somehow I missed it. Apparently, they said, ‘This one goes out to Donald.’ I wish I could’ve heard it, but–”

It was silent for a while.

“Something happen to Donald?” I asked.

“Yeah, my buddy, Donald. He died of cancer earlier this year. Strung Out’s one of his favorite bands.

“A year ago, as soon as I heard Strung Out was coming here, I bought us tickets. I used to be in a band and I used to pick him up [after he was diagnosed and fighting the cancer] and take him to our practices. F–ing cancer ate him up. He kicked the sh– out of it for like five or six years, but then it came back and kicked his ass.

“Anyway, the guys in the band found out about it and dedicated a song to him. I didn’t hear it because I was probably arguing with these meatheads in the pit who were trying to push people around.

“He was, like, my best friend. His sister asked me to speak at his funeral. And I never–like–I’m not a speaker. I don’t speak, you know, in front of people. But I was like, you know what? I owe it to him. I even had them play a Strung Out song before I spoke. A girl sang an acoustic version.

“That’s really nice,” I said.

“I stood up there. It was standing room only. It was beautiful. A packed house. People I haven’t seen in years were like, ‘I don’t know how you did that.’ I was like, ‘I don’t know either.’ It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

“I understand that.”

“His sister texted me on a Friday and said, ‘Donald is dying. If you want to say goodbye, come see him tomorrow morning. So, me and another good friend of mine went. They took him off the ventilator. And he woke up. We laughed. We had a blast.”

“Really?”

“It was like…it was the craziest thing ever. Because I expected to basically just watch him die. But he sat up and was like, “Holy sh–! What are you doing here?” And we talked and hung out. Then me and my buddy left. We were planning to come back the next day.

“But his sister texted me like an hour after we left and said, “He’s fading. He’s not breathing, blah-blah-blah. And then, she’s like, ‘He’s gone.’

“And I was like, ‘F–!’ It was the hardest thing.”

Jason then pulled out his phone and read some texts he was keeping. They were from Donald, where he talked about the pain and suffering of cancer and its treatment. It was heart-wrenching.

Then Jason stopped talking and just cleared his throat a few times.

“Cancer sucks,” was all I could think of to say.

“It’s bullsh–.”

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