Emma squeezed my hand tightly, moved closer, and used her free hand to wrap herself around my leg.
I know how my one-year-old daughter felt. If there was a giant, friendly man standing next to me at that moment, I probably would have wrapped my spare arm around his thigh just like Emma.
Emma and I were standing in the library waiting for story time to begin. All around us were little groups of moms and little groups of children, and neither of these groups appeared to be welcoming any new members.
All the moms were dressed casually, but meticulously, in new, top-of-the line workout gear, and they all wore yoga pants. Did this story time have a dress code? Was I supposed to wear yoga pants? Did they even make yoga pants for men? Should I have just taken Emma to the park again?
These were some of the questions I was pondering when he walked in.
He was a late-30s/early-40s dad with a toddler boy attached to his loosely dangling arm. From across the room, I saw he was wearing a Stone Temple Pilots’ T-shirt – and not just any STP tee. He was wearing an authentic tour shirt, one from an early tour the boys did with the Meat Puppets and Jawbox. This dude was a legitimate fan. If he was even a quarter as passionate about the music of Scott Weiland, Robert and Dean DeLeo, and Eric Kretz as I was, I’d knew we’d wind up being best friends.
A brief note about my obsession with the criminally underrated 90s rock band the Stone Temple Pilots (aka, STP) and my beautiful wife Liz: My intense love for STP is beyond annoying to my wife, and it’s a big part of the reason Liz hates the band, a band she probably would’ve only mildly disliked if she hadn’t met me. This comes into play later.
“I’m so glad I didn’t take Emma to the park,” I thought, as I subtly tried to get STP Dad’s attention. When our eyes eventually met, I gestured for him to come over with all the subtly of an air traffic controller inviting a commercial aircraft to enter the runway.
After the necessary info was exchanged (His name was James, his kid’s name was Jeremy, and he and his wife were new to the area), I got down to it.
“So, I gotta ask … the shirt, are you actually a fan or did you get it at a thrift store or something?”
“Are you kidding me?” James asked, incredulous. “STP is my favorite band.”
“You’re fucking with me, right?” I exclaimed, loud enough for a couple of moms nearby to stop their conversation and stare disapprovingly at me. “I’ve seen STP more than 20 times.”
“27 for me!” James said. “I actually used to date this photographer who worked with the band. She broke up with because she thought I was more in love with Scott Weiland than her. I even played bass in an STP cover band called ‘Sour Guys.’ I know, the name was supposed to be stupid.”
“I play guitar!” I practically screamed. “This is so crazy. Sometimes when I drink too much red wine, I’ll watch old YouTube videos of their Rolling Rock Town Fair show and pause it to try and find myself in the crowd so I can see what I looked like on the happiest day of my life.”
“That’s actually really sad, dude,” James said, but in a joking, good-natured kind of way.
“And this dude is funny, too! I have to get his number,” I thought.
Just then, STP Dad’s little one looked at me and waved.
I waved back. “Hey buddy, those are some cool shoes you have on,” I said to the kid.
“They’re Chuck Taylor Slip Ons,” James answered. “I was gonna get him Crocs, but I just couldn’t bring myself to actually pay for a pair of those hideous, hideous shoes. Know what I’m saying?”
I nodded while desperately trying to use my leg to shield my own daughter’s pink Crocs from James’ view. I made a mental note to take off her shoes during story time, and put them in the diaper bag.
Emma and I sat next to James and Jeremy during story time.
While the grouchy volunteer reader with the smoker’s cough rushed through the standards and fantasized about her next cigarette, I envisioned my future with James. I pictured us jamming in James’ basement on Friday evenings, or waving goodbye to our concerned wives and children as we embarked on a mini-road trip to Cincinnati to see the preeminent Stone Temple Pilots cover band of our generation, STP2, or even jamming with the DeLeos, after Rob, the sensitive brother, responded to my impassioned letter about my serendipitous meeting with James.
When story time was over, James and I continued our interrupted conversation while our kids played with the hodge-podge of toys that were spread out around the children’s section.
I was trying to think of the best way to ask for James’ number, when he broached the subject himself.
“Hey man, we should hang out some time,” he started.
What happened next took place in slow motion. Emma and Jeremy had been playing tug of war with a toy school bus when Jeremy gained the upper hand and ripped the bus right from Emma’s grasp. In a fit of rage, Emma picked up a sizeable toy fire truck to her right, launched it at Jeremy and connected squarely with his face.
Both kids immediately started screaming, and James and I rushed to tend to our inconsolable toddlers. For his part, James wasn’t pissed, but I could tell the opportunity to exchange numbers had passed. On his way out, I saw him catch a glance at Emma’s Crocs (How did I forget to take them off!) and knew James and I wouldn’t be taking any road trips to see STP2 together.
Even at such a young age, I can already see parts of my wife and parts of myself in little Emma. The part that sabotaged my shot at having a lifelong friendship with a dude who’s arguably as into STP as I am by smashing a toy truck into his son’s face, well, there’s no doubt that part came from my wife.