by Nate Waggoner
Just before we left the bar, Alex struck up a conversation with a thin middle-aged man in a baseball cap. The man left at the same time as us, lugging a cardboard container for a box fan. The man said, “Hey, uh, any chance you cool cats wanna give this guy a ride home? I live just down the parkway.”
We three friends made brief eye contact about it, then Evan obliged the man. The man said, “My name’s Groove. But you can call me Steve Groove.”
Evan drove, Alex took shotgun, and I sat in the back with Steve Groove. Steve Groove pulled a plastic Coke bottle out of his coat and offered me some of his homemade whiskey and Coke. I demurred.
“Hey, I can give you guys a Thematic Apperception Test if you like,” Steve Groove said. “It’s based on the work of Jung. You guys know Jung?”
“Sure, man,” said Evan. “Jung Money. Jung Jeezy.”
“The Jung and the Restless,” I said. “Jung Goodman Brown.”
“You guys are fucking with me. Do you want to take this test, though?”
The test consisted of a series of questions–What’s your favorite color? What’s your spirit animal? You’re running in the forest and suddenly you’re stopped by something– what is it, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind?– that led to vague Zodiac-style answers.
“Well what do you think, guys?” Steve Groove asked afterwards. “I’m not through hanging out, y’know? You wanna, uh, pull over somewhere and just hang? Shoot the shit?”
“Sure, man,” Evan said, and pulled into a gas station parking lot. I shuffled my keys and my phone around in my hands.
He asked us what we did, how we knew each other. When one of us mentioned having attended Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, two hours south of here, Steve Groove was incredulous. “You’re fucking with me,” he said. “I went to VCU. Studied music.” Suddenly he’s wistful. “Played on Bojangles’s piano… Yeah, that was me. You guys know GWAR?”
“You’re fucking with me.”
“No, we’ve all heard GWAR. They’re definitely still, like, a local staple, and I think pretty well-known everywhere else.”
“I was GWAR’s roommate,” said Steve Groove. “After they signed their first big contract, they got this big compound / practice space where people would hang out. They’d have these big GWAR-B-Qs. Lots of booze, lots of meat cooking. Girls would come and dress up in leopard-print bikinis and be space slaves. Yeah, there was no shortage of slave girls at those GWAR-B-Qs. Course, that was before GWAR got super-popular.”
He went on about a little more about his current life. He was living with his wife and her kids from a previous marriage. He worked for a government agency headquartered in the town next to us that researches landscapes, threats to natural resources, Earth and rocks.
He paused for a long, dramatic time, as if he was deep in thought. An emotional pause. None of us knew how to react. Finally he concluded his speech: “And you know something? I hate GWAR. They’re so terrible, and it just requires absolutely no talent to do what they do.”
We drove Steve Groove to the cul-de-sac where his modest suburban house was. He took his box fan box and opened the door and got out of the car, talking about how really, we should hang out sometime, I know you guys are just fucking with me, but really, it would be fun. He closed the car door, paused, then said to Evan through the window, “Get out of the car.”
“No!” said Evan.
“Get out of the car.”
And Evan drove us away, fast, out of the cul-de-sac and onto the parkway. He headed toward my mom’s to drop me off.
In two years, GWAR’s lead singer Dave Brockie would die of a heroin overdose. GWAR opened a gastropub called The GWAR Bar, which offers dishes like the Scumdog and the Hail Seitan. I have no idea what happened to Steve Groove. I’ve Googled him and found nothing.
According to Wikipedia, the Thematic Apperception Test was originally inspired by a chapter in Moby Dick, in which several characters analyze a gold doubloon, projecting their own personalities and obsessions onto its inscription. Where Ahab sees only himself in every aspect of the image, Starbuck sees the full spectrum of the world’s morality: “A dark valley between three mighty, heaven-abiding peaks, that almost seem the Trinity, in some faint earthly symbol.”
When we got to my mom’s place, I opened the car door and Steve Groove’s baseball hat fell out. It said, “United States Geological Survey: Science for a changing world.”
Nate Waggoner‘s writing has appeared in Electric Literature, the Columbia Journal, Barrelhouse, Paste, The Hard Times and elsewhere. He is one of the hosts of the Funny / Sexy / Sad reading series in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.