We took up the challenge and promoted the show the best we knew how. We gave a copy of the tape and a flyer to the campus radio station. We told everyone we knew. We got a big assist from Carrie and Kim, who canvassed the sorority house and helped create quite a scene, with zombies on one side of the room, Barbies on the other.
"I've never been here before," Carrie told me twenty minutes before show time.
"That does not surprise me," I replied.
"My friends think the place is kind of scary," she said. "They'd prefer not to get beaten up by the girls in black."
"You're safe," I said. "The goth chicks might resent sorority girls taking over their turf, but they're not violent."
Just then, Eliza came bounding over like an ambassador from the darkness. She was wearing a gauzy black cloak and had her hair teased at least eight inches high. I introduced her to Carrie.
"This is so exciting!" Eliza said to Carrie. "I can't wait to hear the band!" The real Eliza was a human exclamation point.
The show of good will broke the ice in the room. The two sides remained curious about each other but not hostile, and Eric and Bobby's marching-band friends helped to bridge the gap, moving easily between camps.
I lingered in the main room for another few minutes, admiring what passed for a stage. Bobby's drum kit stood on a small plywood riser while our guitars and amps sat on the floor. Neither the length nor the width of the place naturally accommodated live music, so we set up in a corner. I tried to project ten minutes into the future, with Bobby behind me and a bunch of friends and strangers in front, and for a moment, I thought I might throw up.
I walked through a doorway and into a makeshift dressing room. Bobby anxiously tapped his sticks on a table and picked at the skin around his thumbs while Eric and Hutch played one-on-one blackjack. I paced and bounced and said "aren't you guys nervous?"
"Nah," Hutch said, "I've done this lots of times. Just project your nervous energy toward the audience. They'll give good energy back to you."
As we waited, it struck me that we had not discussed how to dress. Looking at the four of us, it was clear that we weren't a goth band, and it wasn't obvious that we were a band of any sort. Bobby was in shorts and a polo shirt, Eric wore baggy chinos and basketball shoes, and Hutch sported a flannel shirt and cowboy boots while I showed up in blue jeans, weather-beaten black shoes, and a jacket over a t-shirt. We looked like four random guys.
As I pondered whether we should opt for more sartorial consistency in the future, Kyle popped his head in and said "show time." A Sisters of Mercy song played as we walked to our gear. A small cheer went up. Carrie and Eliza stood in front. Brian and Kim were back and to my left. I leaned into the microphone and said "We're XL. Be gentle with us. This is our first time."