An hour after load-out, Biggie pulls the Econoline into the parking lot of the Raleigh Fairfield Inn. I’m riding shotgun, a half-finished Budweiser sweating in my crotch. The rest of the band—Watershed, we’re called—sits hip to hip on the back benches, pulling beer bottles out of the cooler, laughing and re-hashing the show, which was the best by far of this four-day swing. We played for about thirty people, made $200 in door money and swag sales. Just enough to cover the hotel room we’re sharing tonight and the gas we’ll put in the tank tomorrow.

Biggie, the tour manager, eases the van into a well-lit spot. “Room 308,” he says, jerking the shifter into park. He climbs out, opens the back doors, and starts dropping our bags to the blacktop.

I hop down and breathe-in the dewy Carolina summer. Smells like slash pine and paper mill, a scent that’s both antiseptic and sulfuric—in a pleasant way. A native Ohioan, I’ve long associated this piney-rot smell with driving south for spring break, and although this string of shows isn’t quite a vacation, it is a break from our responsibilities as husbands and fathers, as job-holding, mortgage-paying citizens. As my bandmates clown-car their way out the side doors, I drain the rest of my beer, and it occurs to me that this moment right now—the post-gig camaraderie—is largely why Watershed has stuck together through twenty-five years of sparse crowds and no profits.

The Budweiser, the bonhomie, and the smell of the night have combined to make me feel ten pounds lighter and two inches taller, so when I look across the parking lot at the dumpster that’s sitting in the back corner, I know, just know, I’ll be able to throw my empty beer all the way there from here. I take the bottle by the neck and measure its weight, upside down and satisfyingly top-heavy, built to catapult end over end. I can already envision it propelling through the air, clearing the lip of the dumpster and landing in a bed of trash bags stuffed with breakfast buffet Styrofoam. I can see the whole flight, from takeoff to touchdown, just like twenty-five years ago when my bandmates and I were dropping out of college and into our first van. Back then I could visualize our whole career trajectory: from dues-paying fledglings to platinum-selling rock stars.

There’s no fanfare. No smack talk. I don’t announce my intentions or wager five bucks on them. I just rear back and fire. And as soon as I do, it’s obvious that I didn’t give the bottle enough muscle. Not even close. Five yards shy of the dumpster, the glass shatters on the asphalt. My bandmates stop talking. Biggie stops unloading the luggage. “What the hell?” he says, the sober one, the designated cat herder.

Maybe it’s the way he’s looking at me—not with disgust but with resignation. Maybe it was the sound of the bottle breaking. Or maybe it was the pitiable distance by which the reality fell short of the vision. But I suddenly hear the unspoken second half of Biggie’s question: . . . are you doing? What the hell am I doing? I’m forty-five years old. A college professor. Father of a young son and daughter. First-rate diaper changer and renowned singer of lullabies. Hunter of stray Cheerios from under car seats and couch cushions. Look at me now: drunken bottle chucker. Throwing rocks at the moon. It’s 3:00 a.m. Do you know where your parents are?

Grabbing a fresh beer from the cooler, I’m struck by another vision: sunrise. And a man in Dickies work pants, armed with a broom and dustpan—a father himself, perhaps—being summonsed via walkie-talkie out to the lot to sweep up the shards of my misplaced entitlement.

The broken glass has sucked the air out of the evening, making space for everyone’s tiredness. Biggie locks the van and walks toward the back entrance of the building. My bandmates grab their bags and form a slouching line behind him. I pick up my duffle and fall in at the rear. But before I follow the guys inside, I chug about a third of my beer and look back at the dumpster. So close. So wide open. My hand slides up the neck of the bottle.

If I just give it a little more arc. If I just put some leg into it.

Author: Joe Oestreich