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First Names Only

Doug’s Cottage was where people from my neighbourhood went when they needed a break from perching on over-stuffed sofas, from $12 cocktails with too many ingredients, from staring at their computer screens, from working at the chocolate factory or the local abattoir. The Portuguese and Italian Catholic priests and Greek Orthodox priest would often meet for a beer to talk things over between themselves or even to rub shoulders with their parishioners. Small groups of young women weren’t unwelcome, especially if they were secretaries or day care workers who needed a beer as badly as anyone else at the end of the day. Well, that was true as long as they wore their work clothes and kept the cleavage buttoned up.

It wasn’t a scene.

The wall coverings were paper machiér “logs” with painted chinking. A bright orange electric fire crackled in the real stone fireplace. People fed quarters into the pool table, played cribbage or euchre, checkers or dominoes and drank watery draft by the glass. As the evening grew later, the crowd got younger, but there was some overlap between generations. Fathers shared an end-of-the-day drink with their adult sons and sometimes nodded at their adult daughters who were sharing a drink with the girls from work. No one ever asked anyone where they worked or talked business or made deals.

And then, the band boys discovered Doug’s Cottage. At first, it looked like this new table of regulars would make the whole experience of having a local tavern more interesting, but mid-winter’s interesting is guaranteed to be disastrous by mid- March. They were a three-piece called First Names Only.

There was Lars Johannes, the bassist and brains behind the operation. He called himself a musicologist and dug deep into the musical anthropology of Doug’s Cabin’s regulars. He listened to folk music from the Algarve, from the Islands of Kos and of Tobago with the old men individually, each of them holding a single ear bud from the same pair of headphones connected to one of Lars’ collection of portable listening devices. They’d cackle away together at the bar and, eventually, Lars started making comments like; “Clearly Bob Marley stole that from him.” Or “It’s obvious to me now that the Beatles’ later work was just as influenced by the bouzouki as it was by the sitar.”

Julian Pierre, the lead singer and keyboardist, we found out later, was the actual talent behind the band. He didn’t say very much, but he was always politely interested in everyone.

And then, there was Ian Christopher, who played the drums and – at least from a female perspective – played that all important role of chief eye candy. He wasn’t exactly a band pretty boy, First Names Only wasn’t that kind of band. They wore the traditional uniform of faded leather jackets and jeans. They looked as if their fathers, sensing that jobs at the chocolate factory and the abattoir would not be there for their sons, had thrust instruments and dreams at them and said: “You might as well give it a go.”

I was introduced to the band by Doug himself while I waited for my best friend to join me after work.

“This is Marina, she’s an Internet girl,” Doug said. “She drinks draft slowly, never has more than two. She plays it safe, this one.”

“But I tip well, Doug,” I reminded him.

“What’s an Internet girl?” Julian Pierre asked.

“We need to talk to you about marketing, then,” Lars Johannes told me.

“This is not my office,” I told Lars. “This is my anti-office.”

“Cheers,” Ian Christopher said. “I like the way you think.”

When my best friend arrived, the band boys took their leave before I could introduce her.

“I’ll be seeing you later,” Ian Christopher said and winked as he walked to the pool table.

“Who was that?” my best friend asked. “He looked you over like a piece of meat.”

I had never been so flattered in my life.

First Names Only never played Doug’s Cottage. It wasn’t a live music venue and Doug said he’d never heard a band that wouldn’t chase at least half his customers away.

“Besides,” he said. “People come here to talk. You can’t do that if it gets too loud.”

Instead, the band boys played elsewhere. Those of us who knew them abandoned Doug’s Cottage on Friday or Saturday night for other drinking dumps around the city. They were the kind of places where, more than once, slightly drunk men would approach my best friend with the pick up line “I work for the city.”

“What are you, a garbage man?” she’d ask, and they’d slink back to their dark corners with another glass of cheap draft never to be seen again.

And, while I went to a few of their shows, I can’t say I remember the music. I never really had the chance to listen. There was always a friend to talk to, a drama to discuss, or a would-be paramour to reject.

“I saw you at our gig at the Kensington Kingsway,” Ian Christopher told me. We were playing a game of pool at Doug’s a few days after one of First Names Only’s shows.

“I was there,” I said. “I had a good time.”

“Yeah, but it’s not a great venue,” he said. “It’s not the kind of place girls like you should hang out.”

“Girls like me?”

“You know, Marina, nice ones,” he said with a smile. My heart hit the ceiling.

“You know how it is Ian,” I said. “Nice girls never get to go anywhere.”

“You can come to our next gig at the Responsible Banker Bar,” he said. “I’ll meet you there half an hour before our set.”

The Responsible Banker Bar was a new addition to the former industrial area where I worked at an Internet development studio. I dutifully told all of my colleagues about the great band I was going to check out that night.

“What are they like?” a programmer asked me.

“Cool,” I said.

“Johnny Cash cool, Leonard Cohen cool, or Otis Redding cool?”

“What am I, a musicologist?” I said because, really, I had no idea.

That night, I determined, I would actually listen to First Names Only. Surrounded by programmers, information architects, graphic designers, and Q and A testers with drinks in hand, I started keeping an eye out for Ian Christopher half an hour before the show.

“This place hurts my eyes,” one of the designers said.

It was an ugly bar that tried too hard to be trendy.

And then, I saw Ian Christopher. Our eyes met from across the room, we held eye contact over the oak panelling scavenged from an old court house and its modern chrome fittings.

I left my crowd and walked toward him. He met me half way and we stood together in the middle of the empty purple and green painted dance floor.

“Nice place, isn’t it?” he asked me.

“I hope you approve of my being here,” I said.

“I definitely, definitely approve,” he said, looking deeply into my eyes. Then, he bent forward, kissed me on the cheek sweetly and walked away.

“Who was that hot man?” the Q and A assistant asked me.

“He’s in the band,” I said.

“He’d better be a good musician and not just someone you want to sleep with,” the programmer said.

“Band boys are terrible boyfriends,” the Q and A assistant said. “You bring them home for the night and they never leave. They eat all the eggs, drink all the milk, never make coffee and use your phone for five hours a day.”

“I would never do anything like that,” the programmer told the Q and A assistant.

“I know,” she said and turned away from the programmer we worked with.

“Hey Marina,” Julian Pierre said. “Can I get you a beer?”

“Where did you come from?” I asked.

The band started to play its set, but all was not right with my world. I was too confused by my encounter with Ian Christopher to listen to the music. Was tonight all about a kiss on the cheek?

“The singer is going to make it big,” the programmer told me, “but your boyfriend is a no-talent twat.”

I felt worse the next day when Doug told me he’d hired First Names Only to play the following weekend.

“The old guys are excited,” he told me. “They’re waiting for some kind of world music break through to happen right here.”

“Really?” I said.

“Everyone of the old timers,” Doug said. “They’re all waiting for steel drum samples and bouzouki and quotes from corridinho. You’ve heard that band, Marina, tell me that they’re not going to disappoint.”

“A guy I work with knows music,” I told Doug, remembering the programmer’s words. “He says they’re good.”

It was the most reassuring thing I could say.

Feeling confused and being an Internet Girl, I naturally turned to the search engines for comfort.

I did not find it. Instead, I found a conversation thread about Ian Christopher on a discussion board about local bands.

“I am not the kind of person who attracts a lot of attention from men,” one post began, “but I got some from the drummer of this band. He acts likes he’s interested in me and we meet before or after his shows, but nothing ever happens.”

“I feel the same way about him,” another post began. “I met him at a bar my friends and I go to every Friday after work. I thought he liked me, I really feel stupid now.”

And so on, and so on. There seemed to be ten of us and I thought, among the posts, one of the women had to be Maria Giapappas, the shyest of the secretaries and Mona Lopes, one of the mousier of the nursery school teachers. And, let’s not forget, there was me too.

I found myself in the middle of a real beta babe heart break massacre.

And then, in the last post, there was something of an explanation.

“Ian and I have been boyfriend and girlfriend since we were in ninth grade,” it said. “You’re all just a bunch of desperate witches. Did it not occur to you that making themselves attractive to women is just what men in bands do?  It’s called marketing, you idiots. There is nothing personal in it at all you losers.”

I wrote one last message and arranged to meet all of the women, except the girlfriend, half an hour before the Doug’s Cottage show. We all got dressed up and waited for him. Ian Christopher walked into the room, scanning each of the tables for one pair of eyes. All of us stood up and turned toward him.

He didn’t greet us with chaste kisses on the cheek.

And then, it got worse.

First Names Only started to play.

I listened. It was garage punk with a grunge twist with some kind of brat pack crooning. Now, I don’t know much about music, but I do know this: the rhythm section needs to know how to count. This skill had obviously eluded Ian Christopher.

By the second number, it was clear there would be no steel drum or bouzouki samples and there would be no haunting melodies suggested by corridinho. One by one, the old timers, from Winston Churchill Smith to Joao Padua, from Nick Konstantino to Gian Bagavanelli, disappointment evident on their faces, walked out, leaving their drinks unfinished on the bar.

“You are a fraud,” Winston Churchill Smith spat at Lars Johannes as he left.

I saw Doug out of the corner of my eye. He was pale.

“Are you all right?” I asked him.

“I knew it,” Doug said. “I knew it would all end in tears the moment I asked them to play here.”

“It might not be as bad as you think,” I told him, but even while I was saying it, I knew I’d never sip another watery draft at Doug’s Cottage. It would never be the same kind of place for me. I was sorry to lose my local watering hole, but I never imagined the rest of the neighbourhood would feel the same way. Within three months, Doug gave up and closed the doors to his urban cottage.

I tried to tell my best friend about the Ian Christopher and the First Names Only fiasco.

“Is this going to be another one of those stories?” she asked me. “Is it going to be about one of these men you decide is your soul mate based on some really, really intense eye contact, but who – for some reason you never think about – you can’t be bothered to sleep with, or even talk to?”

 “Never mind then,” I told her. She had heard it all from me before.  My best friend was right. I hadn’t known Ian Christopher, or any of them, very well. It had been a first names only kind of thing.


Kate Baggott is a Canadian writer living in Europe. “First Names Only” is from her book Tales from Planet Wine Cooler for which she is searching for a publisher. Links to other stories can be found at


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