When Rick Steff moves in with us, he’s immediately upset that we called him a keyboardist to his face. He thinks that the term “keyboardist” has negative connotations related to synthesizers and keytars and Casios, and insists that we call him Lucero’s pianist, organist and occasional accordionist. We oblige.
We offer him the couch (pretty comfy) or an air mattress, but he chooses to sleep on the floor on a dingy mat he keeps rolled up in his travel bag. I ask if sleeping on hard surfaces is good for his back or something, and he doesn’t answer.
We are a little nervous about the state of our home when Rick Steff moves in. We are concerned it’s too bourgeois for him. I quickly sift through my record collection, deciding what to hide and what to keep out. Sharon Van Etten: gone. Billy Joel: gone. Old soul music: stays. Shoot Out the Lights: stays. After much deliberation, I decide that records I’ve bought largely for their humorous album covers (Lionel Richie, Neil Diamond) can stay.
We remove some of our more trite and ridiculous middle-class decor affectations, replacing them with thrift-store finds, ironic tchotchkes or nothing at all. In truth, Steff’s arrival causes some soul-searching for us: what have we become? What has happened to the dreams of our youth? Why do we have an ashtray out on a table when no one smokes inside our house? When did we stop being “cool,” if in fact we ever were?
We also add a lot of volume to our stock of liquor, mostly whiskeys. We discard some of the quinoa in our cupboards and stock up on…on what? On chips. On blue box mac n’ cheese. On frozen pizzas. On steaks. This is mostly just guesswork. Rick is not very forthcoming about what he likes to eat.
I envision nights out with him in dive bars in my neighborhood. I imagine instant credibility. But he goes out alone, or spends his time doing Sudokus from a softcover Denver Post collection. He is rarely rude, but not exactly friendly either. We keep thinking that over time, he will lose his surly facade and become our pal. When this doesn’t happen as quickly as easily as we would like, we wonder if we have chosen a poor houseguest. We also wonder if the problem is us. He does most of his drinking after we’ve gone to bed.
We worry what he thinks about our nine-to-five, white collar office job lifestyle. He doesn’t say one way or the other. One night, he does seem to chortle to himself when I take a business call and use the term “integrated marketing.” When I ask him what he’s laughing at, he says he wasn’t laughing.
He doesn’t want to talk about Lucero, other than the odd complaint about Ben Nichols being a prima donna. He has no interest in ranking his favorite songs, or shows, or albums. Most disappointingly, he doesn’t want to tell drinking stories from the road. He mutters something about that being “a young man’s game.”
I invite him out to play pool. He beats me three consecutive games, in which I sink a combined five balls. When I try to extend the evening into a few drinks and a jukebox run, he says he’s got someplace to be.
I keep expecting to catch him drinking our rubbing alcohol or vanilla extract, like Tom Hanks in Family Ties.
Instead, he frequently clogs our toilets, though he has had the good manners to plunge for himself.
He ie neither fastidious nor sloppy, neither inconsiderately loud nor oddly quiet. He goes about his business and holds us at arm’s length but doesn’t ever treat us with outright disdain. It seems like an experiment gone wrong, but not so obviously wrong that there’s a clear way to end it.
We wonder if he will bring girls over. He never does. He goes out a lot though.
He uses cheap-looking off-brand toothpaste.