We’re All Gonna Die

I was sitting on our front steps Saturday morning, reading the paper and drinking my coffee, when I heard the hollow thud of bone on cement.

I looked up, but no one was there. I looked down and saw a small squirrel, immobile but alive, in the street just a few feet in front of me.

The little guy didn’t move, even as a gray Toyota Camry sped by, it’s wheels precariously close. The squirrel looked up, scared, stunned and trembling, it’s nose wet with blood. 

Just as I had with the UFO, I ran inside to grab Abbi, then to the garage for something to safely lift him off the street. By the time I’d returned, a few neighbors were gathering.

“He’s still moving,” one said.

A policeman saw us there, parked, and carefully wedged the flat base of an orange traffic cone beneath the squirrel’s tiny, broken body. And we slowly dispersed.

As long as I can remember, I’ve imagined my fiftieth birthday as a big event, part Lollapalooza, part Esalen Institute.

Every bandmate and their bandmates would be there: Jamie, Pablo and Fish from Smokey Junglefrog (1991-93), A Pop Band (1993-96), Deluxe (1996-2000), plus Downstate Darling, Jason Walsmith, Casey Shea, Bryan Dunn. 

Everyone would play their sets. Mine would be a cohesive narrative of songs and stories spanning my life so far. It would be moving and rockin’. 

But mostly, we’d all make a beautiful racket together. You know, “Driver 8” with seven guitars, three drummers, a couple of singers — and the audience belting it out alongside us.

There’d also be things to do together, like yoga and hiking, kickball and face painting. Maybe there’d be workshops, and moderated group discussion. We’d dine on local cuisine. We’d raise money for meaningful things. There’d be swag. A tent. Festoon lights. A disco ball.

Above all, people would really connect and engage with one another. We’d talk about what really matters: kids and family, anxiety and stress, our relationship with the earth, each other, and God. 

Getting older. 

Plus, we’d fuckin party. You know, beers and chips and stuff.

So, in the spring, as Covid seemed to be waning, Abbi and I made a list of 100 essential friends and family from across the globe, and chose a weekend for our first “Essential Festival.” 

I called the bands, bought out a local rock venue, and began planning a three-day event with crazy details: pirate flags, yard signs, tarot readers, ice cream trucks, mylar rainbow balloons.

And though Delta forced us to reduce our scope to just a few dozen people on just one night in a tent in our backyard, we pretty much pulled it off.

We played rock ‘n roll. We drank beer. We laughed, and danced. 

I was obsessed with detail, though, to the detriment of the event’s very “essentialness.” I spent all day building and lighting the stage, soundchecking and rehearsing with the guys, hanging banners, flags and balloons, fielding calls and texts, and generally spinning myself into a frenzy. 

By 5:53, as the cellist settled into her seat, I was still hanging the disco ball. And by the time I showered, changed and made it back downstairs, the party was like a storm-swollen river, tumbling ruthlessly forward over itself. 

There was no context setting (What the hell does he mean by “Essential,” anyway?), no scripted, dramatic reading of my life to date. It was a rock show. In my backyard.

I performed “Kid Fears” with my friend, Amie, who taught me my first chords.

I played songs with Pablo from our out-of-print 1996 LP, “Out of Your Head.”

And Chris, Tony, Ryan and I performed a blistering backyard set — including “Just Like Heaven” with our local councilman, and a three guitar version of “Driver 8”.

Tarot cards were thrown. Ice cream sandwiches were eaten. Essential trucker hats were worn. And it looked pretty much as I’d imagined it for all those years, even squinting through torrents of sweat.

In the end, it wasn’t the plumes or the fireworks (and there were fireworks, just not ours). It wasn’t the kudos, or accolades. It wasn’t even the swag, or the ice cream truck or the catering. And it certainly wasn’t the disco ball.

It was my friends free from worry. 

It was my wife dancing with abandon.

It was Maggie, Elsie, Abbi and my new band, Death Star Cupcake, performing for the very first time.

It was my dad sitting in the stage left wings, beaming.

It was Chris and Meg crouching over the laptop and dropping science.

It was watching the clouds track across the moon until 3 am with Jon and Paul.

It was taking a risk, dreaming out loud, making it up as we went along, sticking the landing — and then waking up the next morning, and starting over.

The last time I saw our little squirrel friend, he was, I dunno, let’s say, fifty feet up. His arms were trembling. His eyes were wide. And he was still hanging on, still climbing.

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