Where to go? What to do? Do I even belong here? Do I even want to be here?
The questions of his place in this world swirled inside his head as he walked down the street. He had been here in this part of California for a week, his family moving from San Jose down the 101 to this Los Angeles suburb. His father had been transferred by his company to their Los Angeles office, and was already hard at work, while his mom was at home, putting on the finishing touches on their new home now that everything was out of the moving boxes, before she started her new job.
He walked down the street, music blasting in his ears as he walked past a school. It was summer, so he had a couple of months before school would start.
He wondered what he could do today, or any day after that? Before he moved, he contemplated getting a tattoo but his father found out and told him in a very loud tone, no tattoos whatsoever until he was twenty one.
As he passed the school, he saw a bunch of kids his own age playing basketball. He stopped and watched from behind the fence at the kids, playing a game of three on three.
There was a tap on his shoulder. “You’re gonna play?”
He pulled his headphones out and turned to see who was talking to him. The guy was a couple of years older than him, his black hair looking like it had been recovering from being spiky just some years earlier.
“Maybe,” the new kid in town replied.
“You can’t play if you’re just gonna stand there.”
Back on the court, one of the players jumped up to block a shot. He landed awkwardly and started to limp around.
“Time out!” another player called out.
“Substitution!” another called out.
He went through the opening of the gate. “Need a sub?” he asked.
Another player, an African American about his age, walked up to him. “Are you any good?”
“I’m not Magic Johnson,” he replied. “More like Chris Mullin.”
“Sub in!” he called out. He then asked him, “What’s your name?”
“Kenny. But here, I’m Magic Johnson.”
The game resumed. Eric played a pretty good game, as he alternately dished the ball off to Kenny, and made a few solid moves to the hoop for a lay in, as well as some good mid-range jumpers, just like Chris Mullin would make.
Thirty points later, the game ended.
“Sorry, guys,” Kenny said to them. “Band practice.”
“Practice?” one of the other players said. “Forget practice. When is that band of yours gonna play again?”
“Soon as we get the kinks worked out,” Kenny said back.
Eric looked at Kenny. “You’re in a band?”
Kenny replied, “That’s right. I sing and play a little guitar.”
“Excuse me for saying, but you look too young to be in a band.”
“You should see the rest of the band.”
Eric and Kenny headed for the gate, as the dark haired person came up to them. “Hey Kenny,” he said. “How’d he work out?”
“Pretty good player,” Kenny replied. “Eric, this is Ryan.”
“How do you do,” Ryan said as he shook hands with Eric. “Hey, you’re a lefty.”
“So are you.”
“We need more lefties in this world,” Ryan said.
Kenny asked, “Hey, when are you headed to Julliard?”
“A couple of more weeks,” Ryan replied. “Gloria has a big send off party planned. Just wish that Renee and Stacy were back from England.” He then said, “How’s the band working out?”
“It’s not,” Kenny replied. “We’re still looking for a drummer. Last guy had butterfingers. His sticks went flying every other beat.”
“At least he didn’t spontaneously combust like that guy in 'Spinal Tap.'”
Kenny looked at Eric. “I don’t suppose you know how to play drums?”
“Sorry, no,” Eric replied.
“Can you sing? Or play guitar?”
“A little of both.”
Kenny and Ryan looked at each other. “Maybe another problem solved,” Kenny said. He then said to Eric, “Come on. You might be able to help out.”
The three of them walked down a few blocks down the street to a theater building, complete with an overhead marquee on its façade.
Eric looked at the building in question. “So, what is this place?”
“It’s called The P*lace,” Kenny replied. “It’s where the band plays.”
Eric looked at the marquee above the main entrance. It said in red letters "Now Playing – KIDS INCORPORATED.”
Kenny, Ryan, and Eric, went inside. Eric looked around at the place, seeing the counter and the stage. Some people were on the stage, and a couple more sitting down at the tables in front.
“Nice place,” he said. “How did it get its name?”
“It was The Palace Theater,” Ryan replied. “A lot of rock stars played here back in the fifties and sixties. The ‘a’ burned out on the neon during the seventies, and it never got around to being replaced. That’s how everyone began calling it The P*lace. It evolved into a teen hangout from then on.”
“Hey guys,” an adult said from behind the counter.
“Hey, Flip,” Kenny said. He introduced Eric to Flip. “So, what’s new?”
“The band’s trying out another drummer,” Flip said. “Take a listen.”
The three of them went over to in front of the stage, where the others were watching. There was a twelve year old boy behind the drum kit on stage. He began to hit away, keeping with a deliberate rhythm. A minute later he stopped. “How was that?” he asked.
“Sounds good Tony,” one of the girls, a pony tailed brunette, said. She looked at Kenny and Ryan. “Well?”
“I’m not asking for Mario or Richie,” Ryan said.
“Sounds good though, Robin” Kenny said. “Tell him he’s hired. Just make sure he doesn’t spontaneously combust.”
They gave the drummer the thumbs up, and Tony nodded in agreement.
“It seems we’re set,” Robin said. “Tony’s on the drums, Brian is on the bass, and Charon, Jennifer, and Danielle will rotate between keyboards when they’re not the dancers.” She looked over behind Kenny and Ryan. “Who’s your friend?”
“This is Eric,” Kenny said. “Eric, this is Robin, her cousin Ana, and Haylie. We’re Kids Incorporated.”
Eric said hi to them. “So, you’re all in this band?”
“Yes we are,” Ana said. “Me and Haylie are kind of new ourselves.”
“Are you looking to join us?” Robin asked.
Eric hesitated before answering. A rock and roll band made up of…kids? Kenny was right; apparently, he was the oldest. Novel concept, he thought. Haylie, even though she was eleven, looked as if she was still in pre-school.
“I’m thinking about it,” Eric said.
“You said you know how to play guitar,” Kenny said. “Let’s hear it.” He went up on stage and picked up an electric guitar, red in color. “Give it a try.”
Eric went up on stage and took a hold of the guitar, and was about to put the strap around him when he said, “Something’s wrong.”
“What?” asked Kenny.
“I’m left handed. This is a guitar for a right handed person.”
“Uh oh,” Robin said.
“Hold on, Ryan to the rescue.” Ryan went up on stage and disappeared in the back. He returned with a black guitar, its strings shining.
“This is for lefties,” Ryan said. “It was my backup guitar when I was in the band.” He handed the guitar to Eric. “Give it a shot.”
Eric strapped on the guitar, plugged the cord into an amplifier, and plucked a few notes to start with.
“Anything of note?” Kenny asked.
Eric began with the opening chords to “Sweet Home Alabama.” Simple but the fact that he played it left handed made it extraordinary.
“That’s great,” Kenny said, “but with our audience, I don’t think we can play that song.”
“How about this one?” Eric said. With his fingers, he played a riff from The Outfield’s “Say It Isn’t So.”
“That sounds great,” Haylie said excitedly.
“But can you sing it?” Kenny said.
“Let’s find out,” Robin said. She told the musicians to assemble on stage, as Kenny picked up the other guitar.
“Ready?” Kenny asked the others. The others nodded. On the count of three, the band launched into the song, as Kenny and Eric played the guitar overlay to the song. Then, Eric began to sing the opening. He didn’t have the best of voices, but it was solid and strong enough.
When the song was over, the others looked over to Ryan. He raised his hand – his left hand – and gave a thumbs up signal.
“Well, Eric,” Kenny said to him, “do you want to join the band?”
Eric looked at the others. He realized right there he had found a place where he could be.
“I’m in!” Eric said. The others cheered and welcomed him as the newest member of Kids Incorporated.
Eric stepped down off the stage, as Ryan came up to him. “Congratulations,” he said to Eric.
“Thanks,” Eric said. “So, you were part of this band?”
“I was,” Ryan said. “I did this for four years. When I first came here, I was looking for something to do, something to be a part of. I found it here when I joined the band. It’s helped me a lot in some ways, and I know it can do the same for you.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence.”
“Besides, the band looks better with a lefty up there.”
The two shook hands – their left hands – as Kids Incorporated passed the guitar on, so to speak