We upload out of my bedroom and into Eva’s backyard. Correction: onto the pool deck of the large swimming pool set in the middle of what can only be described as a miniature rolling meadow. There’s a trampoline, a Slip ’N Slide, a small clubhouse toward the back. The neighbors’ houses share casual borders denoted by lines of shrubbery and potted plants. Loincloths abound; nobody’s social distancing or maintaining their sheens. Dad and the other parents are sipping soda and beer while observing us from a respectful distance. Needless to say, everyone’s fit and fresh (models, athletes, or both—I can’t tell). Well, Dad, while definitely not fat, is a very well-padded average. All the other dads are ripped as heck. And the moms…whoa, the moms. The Fundoshi Mandate definitely agrees with the moms.
And then there’s Ernie and myself, the proverbial sore thumbs.
“This is Eva’s backyard?” Ernie murmurs. “Her family’s even more loaded than yours!”
I’ve only ever been inside her bedroom. From out here, it’s obvious: even in a dosequisvirus economy, the Taylors are indeed well-off. Enough that their neighborhood uses the honor system when it comes to property lines. That’s how you can gauge a family’s wealth—whether or not their neighborhood uses traditional fencing.
Some random gymnast girl goes bounding by, yelling at everyone to “watch this!” as she layouts into the deep end of the pool.
From a Bluetooth speaker set on the deck railing, Asia Afrodesia wails on about summer boys being the best kind of boys.
“Jesus,” Ernie grunts. “It’s a fitness festival.”
Dad waves at me. He’s got a spatula in his hand, and is wearing an apron with, “Keep calm and grill on” printed on the front. He’s manning the Taylors’ grill (I forget sometimes that even though nowadays he’s a vegetarian like me and Mom, he was raised as a traditional meat-eater).
Pretending not to see him, I take a step toward the snack table, pretend there’s a chance in Shannara I might be interested in the various gluten and sugar-based products wilting under the sun. Beta and I once had a conversation about how he passes the time during awkward social situations. He told me he creates mental star-rating lists of his favorite bands’ albums.
“For example, using a five-star rating system,” he’d said, “Rush’s list would go like this: Rush, Fly By Night, and Caress of Steel, three stars. 2112, five stars. A Farewell to Kings, four. Hemispheres, Permanent Waves, and Moving Pictures, five. Signals, Grace Under Pressure, Power Windows, and Hold Your Fire, three. Presto and Roll the Bones, four. Counterparts, five. Test for Echo, three. Vapor Trails, two. Feedback doesn’t count. Snakes & Arrows, three. Clockwork Angels, four.”
So, I do my own Rush star-rating list in my head. It’s almost identical to Beta’s, except for the post-Moving Pictures eighties albums, which I find more appealing than Beta would ever admit possible. Yes, the synth-heavy Signals, Grace Under Pressure, Power Windows, and Hold Your Fire pretty much demote Alex Lifeson from lead guitarist to mere accompanist, but Power Windows is definitely a solid four-star album. And Hold Your Fire, while still a three, at best, paradoxically opens with one of my four all-time favorite Rush songs: “Force Ten” (the other three being “Tom Sawyer,” “Subdivisions,” and the woefully underrated “BU2B”). Beta hates when I talk about “Force Ten.” He’s a die-hard fan of the seventies heavy metal Rush, while I actually prefer their work during the decade and a half from Moving Pictures to Test for Echo. He says the band should’ve stuck with heavy metal instead of trading in their power trio abilities for synthesizers and hair spray. I tell him if he wants post-seventies Rush heaviness, look no further than “Stick It Out,” “Driven” (or several tracks from Test for Echo, actually), “Headlong Flight,” and the aforementioned awesomeness that is “BU2B”—because while post-seventies Rush may no longer be heavy metal, it’s definitely still hard rock, and, on occasion since Counterparts, a kind of metal. Soft metal, I’d joked once, to which Beta had responded with, “Pewter.”