THG 3 – CH 21 – Black Lipstick Pt 4

Mid-July, 1979 / Train Between Nottingham and Cambrdge, UK

Deanna fingered interlocking circles on the fogged train window, let a half smile break through. She could hear Jax saying from the driver’s seat of his stupid, precious car, “D, why do you do that to my windows?” For some attention, maybe, or just to piss you off, Mister Clean. If he was for real in the seat next to her he would lean over, squeeze her knee where it tickled and pretend to look out her window, wet kiss her nose or ear to piss her off, wipe off the circles and say, “Trains, Collings. What a concept.” Yeah, Mister half dead and lost, they are. And they go everywhere. She tried to hear what he’d say to that. “Everywhere? I don’t care about everywhere, but do they have lots of tunnels? Trains and tunnels, you know, because –” he’d do that thing poking his finger through a hole made with his thumb and forefinger. She’d have smacked his arm at the grin and ‘you know.’ She tried to hear what he’d say to Ms. Pollyanna Perfect Deanna Collings losing however many days…

She elbowed the Army jacket next to her, where Jackson should have been. “Alvy, what day is it?”

“Huh?” The olive drab jacket roused, more from boredom than sleep.

Day, Alvy. What day is it?”

“Christ, D’anna. Monday.”

“God…” She kept her gaze out the window, counted silently on her fingers. Friday night, Saturday…Sunday. Where’d that one go? Now it was Monday. Afternoon sometime. Cloudy, cool. Well, pushing 70. Hot by English standards.

“Who called you?”

“Morton.” Alvy yawned, rounded himself into a stretch in the seat.

“The beanpole with the moles? His name’s Morton? I thought it was Fish or something.”

“Fizz. Fizzy Piss. They call him that because he can pee on anything, pavement even, and it still bubbles like soapy water or –”

“Just what I needed to hear. He’s an architect. Was an architect, right? Quit to get rich screaming bullshit at skinheads? And none of them are really named Quiqley? Now that you say it, Fizzy, I heard it I think, at the party thing…”

“I wasn’t there.”

“No, you weren’t.” Did he have to wrap everything he said in mope? “What happened?”

“After the fight at the club or before?”

“Fight?”

“Go on, D’anna.”

Okay, be that way. Someone would tell her. “What was in those pills?”

Tablets. Different ones, different things.”

“The blue one?” Dumbass.

“Special blend. Some Ketamine, Ritalin, pheno.”

“Can you tell me what that means without a chemistry lesson?”

“Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic. Ritalin to keep you awake. The pheno and Ketamine react to –”

“I said no –”

“It’s a speedball with psychedelic properties, okay?”

The woman in front of them, the one who’d moved when Deanna sat by her to avoid Alvy, turned to look at them.

“Excuse him. He talks too loud. To impress people.” The woman gave them a church lady look, turned back around.

The speedball psychedelic explained Friday. The endless car ride with five girls stuffed like sardines in a small car some friend of Feeb’s was driving. They laughed for hours. Driving sideroads too trashed to be on the A1, headed for someplace outside Nottingham. They went through Peterborough, all of them making burrowed Peter jokes. They got lost in Blid something Bottoms, all got out to pee, obsessed with the thought of bottoms. Deanna discovered tripping and personal plumbing and bathroom business was hilarious and impossible. They made it to a house in Nottinghamshire somewhere. A big house. Ancient looking outside, completely modern inside. An old man, tall, creamy hair, ascot…ponytail. A butler. No, an actor who looked like a butler, but he owned the place. “Welcome,” followed by some kind of arts and enlightenment, creative and enlightened people junk. She’d laughed. He remained an overdressed mannequin, offered her a tall glass.

“A drink? Champagne?” Okay. One won’t kill me.

“What’s upstairs?” What did he say?

“The stairs, yes, by all means.” Toasted her with some sexist garbage, clinked her glass with “Stairway to Heaven vintage.” He’d smiled with one side of his mouth, the other side frozen, like the eye above it. The music was so loud, the fireplace huge, everything too much. She took the stairs two at a time, stood on the second-floor landing. It was quieter.  Through a door off the hall some people offered her a seat with them on a satin pillow the size of a living room rug. There were guitars and weird shakers and bongos scattered around. No one was playing them. The forest of incense sticks put out so many smells it was a perfume counter on fire. The satin pillow people chanted nonsense and passed a fat candle around. A strange candle that left a neon trail in its wake, the smoke curling along with the incense into morphing faces on their way to a disappearing ceiling. Neon tracer candle passing and murmuring, and they all wanted to touch her forehead.

No.

Back to the stairs. No! The fucking wooden staircase had turned into a river of chocolate, the bannister, when she grabbed it at first a feathery boa, next the real thing. Did she go all the way down the liquid fudge slide on her butt? She wasn’t covered in chocolate, but she was downstairs, the snake had turned into another glass of champagne. People were laughing, the lyrics to the too loud music running out their ears. God. Talking with your ears. Not fucking funny, people! Outside. Outside. Feeb! Thank God, Feeb! Feeb’s eyes. She was dead. Oh, shit. Dead. Outside somewhere, on a cement bench by a naked white guy built like a jock. He had curly hair, a tiny little dick surrounded by the same, and he was peeing in a jar. Get a life, dude. Really. Feeb! You’re dead! Did he do this? Blood, running from Feeb’s eyes. That was it.

She’d told that story, what had happened to Feeb, when Skinny Moles pulled her from a pile of intertwined bodies wrapped in canvas and straw. He’d said, “All the wiser we are for damage done to young Apollo pissing.” Told her not to worry, the rest would come back in a couple of days. The pile she’d come from. More dead people? The stench of the bodies. Overpowering. She’d complained, he’d snarled, said it was as much her as the rest. She shed the oversized denim jacket of unknown origin. It hadn’t helped much with reducing the smell, and it was cold, so she kept it. Wrapped herself back in a potpourri of stale cigarette smoke, incense, alcohol, urine, vomit, sex. She felt like a frat party’s worth of dirty underwear with feet. None of the stink really hers, she hoped. And woodsmoke.

Woodsmoke! Saturday had been the philosophical bonfire where everyone wanted to shag – what a fucking word, shag – they all wanted to fuck. Not make love, fuck. Nasty, careless fucking. With anyone and everyone else, regardless of gender boundaries or how dysfunctional their bodies were from drugs. She’d gone on a rampage about women protecting themselves, like a wild woman version of her mother with the condom and cucumber. The “Fiery cunt from Cambridge  preaching the sanctity of the vagina,” Fishy Piss had told her. She’d gone around unplugging, mid coitus, the ones who could figure it out until someone dragged her off to the house. She had more of the old butler man’s champagne and Sunday vanished.

On the drive to Nottingham station Morton or Fish or Fizz or whoever had called her a stagnant bit of Cambridge good girl who needed to find something to believe in besides her twat. If she had to know what happened, fine. He lit a smelly Russian cigarette, told her she’d been out, of her own and everyone else’s misery, somewhere in the woods for twenty-four hours before she was found and tossed on the pile in the barn with the rest of the passed-out party casualties. His last words to her before slowing down and opening the van door were “You go on about being a good girl with broken girl looks, pretending, with your golden twat and a pole up your arse. See what it gets you.” She was out on the sidewalk, the old van rounding a corner before she could respond.

“Alvy? Who called you?”

“Morton. I said, didn’t I? Rang me at half gone noon. Said you were a right solid pain in his arse, dumped on him as you were by me, and I had to come make you disappear from his life. I said you were none of mine, he said bollocks. Said I’d have to take the train. He said be quick about it. The train’s three bloody hours I said.He blew a sigh out his nose. “That was pissing petrol on his fire.”

“Great. He must have waited to wake me up. Twenty minutes from the barn to the sidewalk and there you were. Who bought my ticket?”

“D’anna, it’s not, it doesn’t…What is, and does, is we’ve missed Monday. My supers, the study committee, the advisors – we’ll say we caught something, ate something. I’ll think of –”

“Something? You do that.” She curled into the train wall, pulled the stinky jacket tighter. “And then explain away what the fuck you were doing with that bag of crazy pills while you’re at it.”

“That’s…It’s not that easy.”

“Sure it is. ‘Here Danna, you might like this one.’ And it’s three fucking days later and I’ve seen all kinds of crazy shit happen and, and, ohhh no!” She reached, grabbed his jacket. “Feeb’s dead. And that old man’s hair ate his head…”

The old woman turned again, scowled deep and long. They waited for her to have enough.

“Feeb’s at work. Saw her yesterday.” He stretched again. “She’s how you got out of the club alive. She’s the one left you in Nottingham wood.” He hrumphed further down in the seat. “She should be on this bloody train, not me.”

“Really? She’s not…Dead? Or anything?”

“She’s something, but not dead.”

In the window she saw Feeb’s eyes again. They ran down her face in a black river of moonlight blood, her mouth open, her teeth stained black with it. How was she alive?

“What about the old butler?”

“Fizz says Krysanthe is still with us and all, as nothing ate his head. He was well done with Fizz and Feeb and the whole lot of them for having you out to one of his expansionist happenings. Says you ought to be caged.”

“His face. That thing on his face was mocking me when we were talking. He’d say something, and I’d say something back. Then it would ‘Nyah Nyah’ me, repeat what I said. I slapped it and it went crazy. I saw it. His hair got all mad about it and ate his head. Really, I mean it. I saw it, Alvy.”

He let that sit for a long ten seconds, didn’t bother to look at her. “Some people shouldn’t do drugs.”

“If that was about me, I know a guy who said the same thing. He said I was wound too tight and a good hit of windowpane would probably cure me if it didn’t kill me, but he didn’t want to be around to co-pilot.” Jax kept all that, that part of himWhere did he keep it? She’d never seen him really out of it except a couple of times. His thing was pot, mostly. But he knew about all of it, said it was everywhere. “More bad shit around where music happens than you can imagine, D.” Her brother had said the same thing about college and pro football. Maybe that was why he and Jax got along, the two un-likelies. They’d both said, “Keep your head down, do your thing, stay out of it.” She finally hadn’t kept her head down, and they were right. Wow. How could that be? Jax and Doug. They were, were…Guys. And they got it?

She gave a couple of the window circles eyes and angry eyebrows, thinking about the concert. More like hours of horrid noise in public. Did Jax know about Punk? He’d never said. He did do that stupid egg beater thing on the piano for that stupid whore dance major. He knew about Classical, that was pretty weird, because he’d talk about it, when he talked, with the same sort of vocabulary she used for lit, but he was in music school. He knew all about Oldies and Radio Rock, made her listen to ‘Prog’ sometimes which was just too much. Poetry could be outside, but songs were supposed to be songs. Songs you could dance to. Weren’t they? And the Blues. She liked the old ones by black guys best. Jax said they were “honest,” not written for white kids and Billboard. His favorite stuff, he told her early on and she wasn’t supposed to tell, was Standards and ‘Torch Songs’. He’d hooked her with those. The dreamy sounds…

He could sit in Amanda’s office with Amanda and Alix and Amber the Lady Godiva California hippie turned lawyer and they’d talk about all kinds of music. He’d make fun of Amanda’s folky stuff, but he and Amber would play folk songs for her until they’d make a joke out of one and Amanda would say “Enough” in that way she had. There was something he’d play on the piano for Amanda, the same as he did “Summertime” for her mom. And they both got that same way about him and “their” songs that made her jealous. They’d get all wispy over them, and he’d have to say something to make them laugh. Amber said it was because he could make the colored bubbles come. Like that was some sort of magic. But Amber said it so off hand, like everybody saw the bubbles and understood. Colored bubbles was nutso, and Deanna’d said as much. What was Jax, anyway? Some kind of, of,

“What did you call that stuff? Ketta whatsit?”

“Ketamine? A dissociative anesthetic.” He saw her face, wanting to ask but not wanting to look stupid. “The pharmacologic point is you get so doodled by it you don’t know you hurt.”

She leaned back into the window, her hair obliterating most of her window art. She drew a smile on the lone remaining crooked circle. “So maybe some people, or love even, could be like that, huh? That Ketamine stuff?”

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THG3 – CH 20 – Black Lipstick Pt 3

Mid-July, 1979 / Cambridge, UK

Deanna put on a second pair of socks, stuck her feet back into Merriam’s shiny black military surplus “skinner” boots. “The last time I wore work boots I went to a tractor pull. With a nice, straight, redheaded racist from Kansas who worked on a farm, smelled like my grampa and had a pickup about two stories off the ground.”

“A what pull?”

“Tractors. Only tractors like dragsters. They tried to pull trailers full of really heavy stuff, or tug-of-war each other. They got really loud and then one or both of them blew up.”

“Lass, sometimes I don’t know if you’re high or lying.” Merriam reached over, pinched up a piece of black tight from Deanna’s thigh and stuck a fork in it. Randomly pinched and repeated on both legs.

“There are times I don’t know if you’re crazy or just fucked up in the head. What have you done to my only pair of warm tights?”

“Laddered. Can’t have you punkin’ as a night out with the Vicar’s missus. Mind you, laddered punked tights would run thirty pounds or more in a shop.”

Deanna held up a the Daisy Dukes cut-offs that moments ago had been her next to last pair of Jackson’s old Levis. “So it’s like a favor, you ruining my clothes?”

“Oh aye. Your clothes are refugees from the bin as it is. At least the ones you wear.” Merriam dug around in Deanna’s dresser, found the long-sleeved leotard Deanna lived in as her bottom layer.

“NO! Not that. You can’t. I –”

“Right. You’ll wear it under. But this…” Merriam’s pinking shears that Deanna had cut her hair with seven months ago flashed across the bottom of her brother’s orange Miami Dolphins jersey with COLLINGS across the shoulders and a foot tall 92, back and front.

“Oh…Well, it’s not like he doesn’t have any more.” Deanna held it up, checked the ragged trim running under the numbers, tightened her lips. “They’re fan jerseys, really, not game jerseys. I mean the real ones would be down to my knees. And this one covered…Used to cover my butt.”

“If arse were valuable you’d be chained to the far wall in debtor’s prison. Let’s put your face on.”

Deanna followed to the small dining table where sometimes they ate, or studied or Cat and Merriam drank Scotch and talked sex smack. Merriam screwed the bulb into the hanging flying saucer fixture until it flashed on and proceeded to finger dusty black powder around Deanna’s eyes, followed with a streak of red across the top almost to her temples, told her to close her eyes and shot her eye art with hairspray.

“Done.” Merriam squinted, kept the laugh in check. “You look like a bloody escapee from the Hammer vampire lot.”

“Are you sure you won’t come? I mean it’s Alvy and…I’ve never done this before. Punk I mean. Really.” She grabbed Merriam’s hand. “Please? What do I say? I mean I’ve been to concerts and watched Jax play back home and everything and I know my way around, but not…Well, I’m not punk. Or never have been.”

Merriam removed her hand. “I’ve been, thank you. Keep your mouth shut or they’ll take you as smarter than the whole room and you’re out with a smack or worse. If they get you on top in the pit stay tits up or you’ll take a beating. Gets too much for you kick and scream and shove and bite till you’ve managed a door.”

***

Alvy maneuvered Deanna through the gauntlet of leaflet and handbill pushers, sprinkled with a few rude, rough and glam boys that floated like litter in a sloshing edge to edge tide pool of mostly male, middle class kids in various stages of high, sporting tails out button down shirts or homemade fuck this or that emblazoned t-shirts and jeans. All in poor imitation of the Fifties James Dean or Sixties Mods. Deanna had hurried through several essays in the sociology files about the current state of punk. Too many influences, too much anger and volatility confused up with skinheads and squatters and no direction. All along the walk the leaflet snipers were spewing what Deanna’s old mentors called “two bit sloganeering” while covering the ground with their oversized confetti handouts. Alvy pushed her head down, led her through a hole in a chain link fence past a smelly guy her brother’s size who grunted recognition and on through an open steel door in the back of a building she wouldn’t have known the front of if she saw it.

“Alvy! Rotten little faggot, what have you brought us?” The skinny guy with a Three Stooges bowl haircut and a sprinkle of facial moles, who was dressed in skin tight black everything slammed a cupped hand into Deanna’s crotch, grabbed the back of her head, lifted her off the ground and stuck his tongue far enough down her throat to gag her. She fought her way loose, backed up bent over, gagging slobber on skinny mole face’s feet. He threw his head back, laughed and dropped an arm collar around Alvy’s neck.

“Can’t have us a gagger, Alvy. What else have you before she’s off home with the good girls?”

To Deanna’s wide-eyed shock Alvy produced a Zip baggie stuffed with light blue, white and yellow pills, handed it off.

“Alvy? What the fuhhh –”

The backhanded slap from a guy in slashed brown fatigues landed on Deanna’s left cheek accompanied by “Shut up, bitch. Not your game, is it? Why don’t you bugger right – ”

Deanna’s right fist landed hard on Shredded Fatigues’ nose and lip, dead center. He duck-walked backwards into a cinder block wall. Another guy in normal street clothes who could have been working behind the counter at Burger King if he wasn’t smoking and strapped into a huge electric bass, caught the guitar stumbling Fatigues knocked off a stand when he hit the wall. All the sound from outside and the front of the club disappeared from the tiny brick alcove.

Alvy broke the smokey soundproof Vaseline bubble. “Brother’s an American footballer. His jersey she’s in.” He raised an eyebrow, cocked his head. “Women’s studies?” Everyone cast eyes on Deanna, made faces of acknowlegment as if that was enough explanation for a bit too thin, pretty, pale American girl with crazy hair to have, and not be afraid to use, a solid, shoulder driven right.

“Fair done, Miss.” Street Clothes tossed the guitar up, caught it by the neck closer to the body, looked down and kicked Fatigues in the ribs. “By a Cambridge schoolgirl. You pathetic shit.” His throat rumbled, he hocked something green and brown and slimy on Fatigue’s chest, dropped the guitar in his lap and left by a narrow, doorless opening. His exit elicited a wild rise in the noise from beyond the alcove. Skinny Moles lit a cigarette.

“Scab and Freeze don’t get on so well,” Skinny Moles blew smoke sideways. “So, Miss Collings I take it…” He examined Deanna like a cake in a pastry shop window, the cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth.

Miz Collings,” she stepped up into his gaze, plucked the cigarette and flipped it aside.  “And you’ll take it nowhere,” her eyes went to his left hand. “What’s Alvy got in the bag?” She reached for the baggie, he threw up his hands in mock surrender, the bag over his head. He wanted to palm the top of her head, squeeze it, laugh, remembered her solid right and thought better of it.

“What it is, see, Alvy’s a chemist. We’re a band. A ways in we throw a few handfuls into the crowd.” He checked his watch. “Gone half-ten they’re off in as many directions as a pack of blind Bishops on holiday in Rome, we’re a third down the set. Come midnight the press interviews the puke parade in the street, says we pulled another stunner of a show. Trust you to forget all and say less?”

“It’s not right, really…” She looked into the black holes that were his eyes. “Never mind. It’s not for me to say.” Shredded Fatigues edged past her, sullen, bloody nosed, his guitar strapped on. Her eyes burned into his back. “Your fraud’s not my game, is it?”

“No…Nor yours ours.” Skinny Moles offered a vague smile. “What it’s all about, eh? Vive la différence? Where would we all be with no one to hate…” He held his hand on the opening like it was a curtain, stared off into the noise. “You’ve done us a favor, Freeze starting out bloodied.” His sigh was on the edge of imperceptible. “Scab will still have another few goes at him.” He waited a theatrical pause and followed Shredded Fatigues through the narrow hole in the wall to yet an even louder eruption of noise.

Deanna tilted her head through, hands flat on either side, in time to see an older, muscular, covered in tattoos head shaved guy wearing nothing but baggy capri length pants and dirty white high top Converses use two members of the crowd’s heads to vault himself onto the stage in a free air summersault. She blew a buried in crowd noise finger whistle in ex-cheerleader appreciation. Muscled tattoos jumped over and behind a meagre, mismatched drum set, clacked his sticks and the Quigleys overrode the crowd noise with a deafening cacophony of feedback, throbbing bass and screaming delivered with retarded string puppet prance dancing.

She turned, screamed at Alvy. “This is Punk?”

“Yeah,” he screamed back. “Like it?”

“Not yet.” She ducked under his arms for the back door, still having to scream. “Is it better from the front?”

THG3 – CH 19 – Black Lipstick Pt 2

Where were we before I got out of sync with the Christmas story? Ah, Deanna had just bought her way out of hanging with a serious study mentor/monitor pest by agreeing to attend a “Punk of Some Sort” concert in black lipstick and grunge attire. But first she needs the lipstick, and ends up with a philosophic reality check from Feeb the Boots Girl.

Smoke On The Water

Mid July, 1979 / Boots, Cambridge UK

“No black, love. Management doesn’t want the type.” The light olive, attractive mid-twenties Boots counter girl stood from her squat where she’d been stocking, smoothed the one-piece jumper over her patterned blouse. She lowered her chin, corner eyed the sewn in pocket patch that matched the blouse and tugged lightly to fluff it, just under a nametag with FEEB and a smiley face at a 45-degree angle. Her dark hair in a sensible bob pulled behind one ear exposed a not too sensible dangly earring. For a cosmetics girl she wore very little makeup. And lacked the air of disinterested superiority Deanna had expected.

“Do have some Deep Purple, if you’d fancy a look.”

“Smo-oke on the wah-terrrr…doot-doot-doooo, doot-doot-dee-doo…” Deanna got a madwoman stare before the counter girl broke out laughing.

“I’ve seen you about. The American mess in Merri and Cat’s pack. In for necessaries, never over here.”

“Makeup and I don’t get along.”

“Me and men.”

“Oh please…” Deanna smeared the offered Q-tip of Deep Purple on her lips, rubbed them together in the counter top mirror. “I don’t do well there, either. At all.”

“I do too well at times, and I’d think you would. The hair limits your choices I’m sure. Not the sweater and crest’s or businessman’s lunch lot, but…” She pulled a cream scarf from under the counter, framed Deanna’s face with it. “Show time, that is.”

Deanna yanked it off, shook her head. “That’s the point. Or not the point. What I look like has nothing to do with anything. Every guy I meet wants the wrong piece of me, and I’m sick of it. I was sick of it when I was 16 and I’m sick of it now.”

“Then why the lipstick?”

“Someone has offered me a deal I can’t refuse. If I go see something called Quigleys with him he’ll stay out of my way for a couple of weeks. All he asked for was black lipstick and raccoon eyes. I can do Alice Cooper for a few hours for the time off. It’s in public, so I’m not worried about it getting too weird. Do you know them, Quigleys?”

“The Quigs’re pigs. Locals they were before going off. Screaming about slits and gash and piss and shit and we’re all fucked but them. They play one song for an hour and a half, change up the lyric along the way. A mosh and bruises and mystery gropes evening I should think.”

“What do they sound like?”

“A motorbike or six with muffler’s all gone missing. I’m going, but I don’t fancy them. I like a bit of blues. Not the poncey Rolling Stones, but I do like some ZZ Top.”

Deanna finger drummed on the counter. “Haow haow haow…ummm hmmm.”

Feeb rolled her eyes.  “You’d know all the old songs?”

“Know a guy who does. Knew a…” she smacked the glass counter. “God dammit.” She glared at the counter girl. “Why do they do that? How do they just suck us in and –”

“Don’t drink or touch anything the ugly Quigs hand you and you won’t get sucked anywhere. Do and you’ll wake up stupid three days later with every hole in your body screaming bloody murder.”

“I got that lecture. From, from…and well I sort of ignored it and then freaked after and now I have…this hair, and I’m avoiding a guy buying black lipstick –”

“Deep purple, love.”

“So does that make love like a big bruise? All purple and…Because that’s what it feels like. I mean it.” She took a breath, looked for some composure. Goddam Jackson. She was about to lose it on somebody if he didn’t turn up. “How much?”

“One pound and ten.” She bagged the lipstick, handed it to Deanna. “We’re not through. Here.” She took the hand Deanna held out for change, slid a spongey pad under it, set it down. With her left hand still on Deanna’s she turned and with her right hand fished around in a drawer behind the counter. She turned back with something in her hand, bumped the drawer closed with a hip.

“What –” Deanna worked her fingers between the slight humps in the pad and fell in love with it.

“Nails, love.”

“But –” The pad massaged her fingers, like it was made for them. She squished her fingers around a little and the pad squished in return. Feeb set a small bottle of Deep Purple nail polish beside the pad. “Really, uh, I don’t need –”

“Can’t do proper whatever punk it is this week without matching nails.” She held up the tips of Deanna’s fingers, eyed them like a pawnbroker appraising a tarnished but salvageable bracelet. “Proper would be to chip them biting your nails. Well turned out is once a month for most of the bandy girls. A clean Cambridge lass’ll stand out like a bog pickle on the Queen’s doorstep.”

“I can’t afford the polish, or to have you…Bog pickle? Um…And he’s staring. Your boss? Over there?”

Feeb turned her head, held up the nail polish brush and flashed a version of Deanna’s Miss Popularity smile so sweet it could’ve induced immediate onset diabetes. The man flustered, waved her off and disappeared through a door.

“Now we can talk. I’m Feeb. Phoebe. But don’t.”

“Feeb is, uh…Cool.” She could hear Jackson calling any lame-o involved in anything a ‘feeb’, stopped herself from letting it fall out her mouth on the Boots girl. “Deanna. Deee – Anna.” The second and deliberate one earned her a raised eyebrow from Feeb. “Sorry. Somehow, over here, it always turns into Dina or Deena or Danna. I haven’t heard my name the right way since I got here, except the times I’ve called home…”

“Missing it you are.” She buffed back and forth, two strokes per fingernail. “What’s his name?”

“Jackson. Jax…I mean, how do you…?”

“Nobody misses their Mum with that face. What’s his take on you across the pond with us and all?”

“That’s the…” She felt it building again, realized she couldn’t smack the counter with her right hand. “He hasn’t…Won’t, maybe. I don’t know…It’s just…Shit. Really.”

“Took it hard, did he? Some do. There’s no easy way to let them go unless they think it’s their doing.” She brushed Deep Purple on Deanna’s lifted index finger, turned it slightly, tilted her head, expressionless. “I eloped with a pretty soldier. On a dare. My dare. To see how far his ‘shippin’ out tomorrow’ heavy breathing ‘proposal’ would go. On the train to Devonport I pretended sleep and he jumped with his kit the first stop after Paddington. Sent me a lovely note explaining how he wasn’t good enough for me.” She made a noise in her throat followed by “Bloody coward.” She lifted Deanna’s ring finger and brushed. “Lovely bit of man art he was. Fit, clean, a good size and hard as nails. Everywhere.” She smiled, wistfully, cocked an eyebrow. “Give us the thumb and a word about your Jackson. Was he rough when you left him?”

Deanna worked her lower lip while Feeb finished her right hand and set her left on the spongey pad. “No. Well, I mean he said I was trophy hunting. That no matter what I said about not that I was always trophy hunting. My presentations. Academics. Men.”

Feeb waved a small warm-air dryer over Deanna’s fresh polish. “Are you?”

“Maybe. I…God that feels so-o good. Like I don’t have icicle fingers for once.” Feeb let her space, briefly.

“Trophy hunting?”

“’Kay. I didn’t think so, really. I…I got into some kinds of stupid trouble being in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Feeb turned her head slightly, knitted her eyebrows together.

“Well, okay. For real I was putting myself in the wrong place and I guess it did sorta look like trophy hunting. And they never turned out how I was imagining them. But at the time you don’t see it, you know?”

“Only if you don’t want to see it or won’t like the way it will sound if you say it to yourself. Is he gone for good d’ya think?”

“I don’t know, really. I got a Valentine’s card, he sounded out of it. Mom Anne, that’s his mom, she said Amanda, that’s Ms. Morisé my…well my old mentor, she won’t talk to me either, at all. She, Amanda I mean, she told Mom Anne he’d almost died in New Mexico. How she even knew that I don’t know. And that’s all crazy because he knew about stuff. Street stuff. How to stay out of trouble or see it coming and was always so pissed at me when I blew it and got my stupid on. So how could he be almost dead?”

“You left him to where he didn’t care. Wasn’t a case of underdone suicide?”

“Jax? No way. If I’m gone it’s like so what, he knows girls I don’t even know he knows, in places I would never go.” The lip chew was back. “And he promised. To wait. And other stuff. And, well, he didn’t have to be such a fucking jerk and leave for California before I was even gone. Like he’d been thinking about it, planning it. Forever, maybe.”

“How long had you had us on your diary?”

“That doesn’t count. I mean I had a reason. I…Okay. A year? A year I was really working on it. Thinking about it for a year before. Maybe two, but it was all out of focus. I was just…”

“Unhappy?”

“Not really. I wanted to do more. About what I was writing and saying and feeling, not just running my mouth in auditoriums with Jax and Amanda polishing me like you and my nails…Fuck, you know? I really fucked all that up leaving, didn’t I?” She raised her eyes, Feeb’s were waiting.

“I don’t know, Dee-Anna. All is lot of fucked up.” A tiny smile and almost giggle passed between them. “But if he won’t call and whoever set you up to be whatever you wanted to be won’t talk but his Mum will? You didn’t explain yourself to who you should’ve and left a right shit mess. His Mum is past it and sees you as daughter by proxy with him the means.” The eye lock lasted, not forced, for a quiet minute.

“I guess I did, huh? Leave a giant shit pile.”

“I guess. You should have done like my soldier.”

“Left them sleeping? Not said anything? I couldn’t do that, I…I should’ve, huh? Shit, then I’d be here and they’d be all sorry I was gone and I could be the one sending lovely little cards about how they were too good for me…Except, well…”

“Jackson?”

“Yes. What do I do about that? About losing him. Forever, maybe?” Feeb hot aired Deanna’s left hand. Warm fingers. A task Deanna would put her unused since the pinking shears haircut hair dryer on when she got home.

“Replace him. They’re interchangeable, you know. Except the good ones. And like the lady said, they’re all taken.”

“What about love? Doesn’t that count?”

“Love is like that song.” She held up the nail polish, label out. “All smoke. On the water. Where nothing can stay lit for long.”

 

 

Goldmine

This time of year it’s easy to get cynical, get materialistic or so busy we don’t feel, put a happy face on sadness, miss people and places we loved. Miss the innocence and wonder of Santa Claus and flying reindeer and the baby Jesus. Miss the Norman Rockwell Snowman, snowball fights, being a teenager with a blush and a warm hand to hold not shopping in the mall. (Tough to hold the Amazon driver’s hand…) We might not get what we want or deserve, but if we make a friend, we might just get what we need.

Venice Beach, CA / Wednesday December 19, 1979

The girl with hair like black silk followed an oblivious Jackson all the way from their composition juries at USC and sat down to his left on the little sandy, grassy patch he’d picked on the line where South Beach and Venice blurred.

“That’s a shitty guitar.”

He picked up a gum wrapper, absently flicked it toward the steel barrel to his right. “I’m a shitty guitar player. Works out.”

“Most shitty guitar players redeem themselves with their singing.” She tried to put on a smile she hadn’t felt like lately, missed it.

“I’m a shittier singer. I’m going to try to fix that in the spring. Next year sometime, anyway.”

“Oh yeah?” A laugh managed its way into her voice. “Remedial Singing with Summerford? She’s older than oil and her breath will peel paint. Good luck.”

“That sucks, about Summerford.” He looked up, threw her a surprise smile he wasn’t sure he had, either. “Hey, you’re Honey Muffin from the Dick Baits. I’ve seen your gig. You run a cello stuffed with diapers through a wah pedal and a phase shifter, play it like a big, fretless hollow body guitar into a cranked Marshall half-stack. Most badass. That girl drummer you have stomps.” He paused a beat, lost some enthusiasm. “You, uh, might need to fire the bass player.”

“I don’t need you, of all people, to critique –”

“I said the bass player sucked the night I saw you, that’s all. Like she started yesterday. Unless that’s the way you write that shit, then it’s your fault.”

“We had a gig and she’s never played bass before. She’s another cellist. We’re all string players, the guitars are just like, ‘Oh, right, frets’. Frets are for sissies, but it makes it easy to cross over. And easy? I checked out your comp piece. What was that? Music for ‘I saw a beautiful cloud?’ It was so simple I thought they’d expel you for pretending to be a student.”

“Simple is harder than it looks.”

“That’s what he said. It was beautiful. And simple. I’d almost go elegant, but since we’re critiquing, the trumpet part would sound better on cello. More air. If you go that way, make me your first call.”

“Ring. I have to record it after the first and I’m not married to the trumpet. If you can bring that girl who played classical guitar on your jury piece, I’ll try to find some more money. You get high?”

“Thanks for calling. Yes I’ll play your puffy cloud music, yes I’ll bring Yaz and before I say yes to the last part, what have you got?”

“I’m no junkie, it’s just some NorCal weed. I’ve been mostly straight for a couple of weeks working on this damn final. The cat who gave it to me claimed it’ll melt my face like the old ‘stages of a stoner’ poster.”

“I’m a NorCal girl, I can deal.”

“Gotta tell me your real name first. Just so I’m not another Muffin groupie.”

“I followed you, lonely one. Besides, we rant on men too much. Our groupies want us to spank them for being naughty.” She rolled a little to one side and pulled a Bic lighter out of her back jeans pocket. “Malika. Heinz. Make a ketchup or a mutt joke and I’ll crack you. I’m a Ninja.”

He lit the thin joint rolled in a Stars and Stripes paper, handed it off. “Jackson. That’s all there is. Whoa, shit,” he coughed, coughed again.

She coughed, looked around. “One name Jackson. I heard. Is it a gimmick or is there a story?”

“Story. Want it?”

“If there’s a short version.”

“Done. Parental brain fart, last name on first name line. Nurse came back with it, mom said they’d get a first name when they got to know me, never got back on it. According to legend the only thing she said to anybody in the hospital after that was ‘get me the hell out of here’. The nurse put my last name on the right line when they checked her out and here I am. Jackson Jackson.”

“Damn. Your mom had other stuff on her mind, huh?”

“Always. She doesn’t like being told what to do, or when to do it. She’s a hard core womens worlder in suburban camo. High heels, pearls, and an opinion on everything she thinks she needs to share with everybody.”

“I know her. How’s your dad cope?”

“He sells paper, has a garage full of Kotex and tampon and paper towel samples, spends his days listening to grocery store buyers talk smack about women and their periods and how messed up it is they have to buy all that junk from him, comes home and listens to my mom talk smack about jerks with penises who talk smack about women and their periods. He says living with my mom beats the hell out of normal and keeping up with her keeps him from watching mind pudding on TV. Except for Porter Waggoner on Saturday at dinner.”

“That has to be about the behive blonde with the boobs, Dolly whosit. Mom let’s that slide?”

“She likes it that Dolly’s getting over on Nashville with her assetts. Dad gets a pass for handing out free emergency lady gear to her friends.”

“They’re harder to follow than your puffy cloud music. My mom is Vietnamese. Don’t say something stupid like ‘I’d never have guessed’. She’s the same way. A heart of gold as big as the sky, but on her terms. Her main thing is making sure everybody eats because we might forget. I have relatives on her side that go on for like centuries. Some of them, I have no idea who they are or how they’re related and they’re so old I don’t think anybody else knows, either. But they all come for Christmas and mom feeds them. The house smells like fish and cabbage and old people who smoke for a month. Vietnamese women run their world, so if she has forty old people no one has ever seen before in her kitchen you can’t ask her like ‘Mom, you know, why, and who are all these people?’”

“I know that ‘don’t ask questions’ mom. I used to have to iron the tablecloth, just in case. That was my mom’s wear clean underwear rule for housekeeping. What’s your dad do?”

“Dad is a white ex-surfer dude, who for real surfed all over, even Hawaii, and played surf guitar. Until he saw what happened to old surfers wasn’t the dream he wanted and became an aeronautical engineer. Mom wanted me to be a pianist, dad wanted a country singer. Cello was my compromise. Neither of them understood it and whatever I told them was little Melika’s ‘isn’t she smart’ gospel. That’s how my first wah-wah pedal came to be in my Christmas stocking when I was twelve.”

“You told them you had to have it? Like it was a mandatory orchestral accessory?”

“Fact, Jack.” She pursed her lips, shook her head, stared at the dead joint between her fingers. “So now you know I’ve been stroking big, hollow wood between my legs since I was five.” She stuck the joint in the sand beside her. “Tell me your heartbreak story before I start to like you, or I have to leave. I know you have one, it’s written all over your music, so give it up. I need to ride on someone else’s shit ticket.”

“There’s a song somewhere in Shit Ticket.” He leaned into his knees and told her about Deanna, the almost year of silence, mostly his own fault being out of it, and her unexpected letter. The phone call looking for help she wouldn’t explain. Her poetic memories, the “beautiful lies.” He rolled sideways and pulled Deanna’s folded letter out of his back pocket. “My comp piece was about us. So I kept it for luck on the jury performance.”

Malika opened the folded letter, read it slowly. “Ouch, dude. You lived together. That gets intimate. Morning breath and showers where somebody just pooped. Cheap Aunt Flo panties in the laundry basket, soapy whiskers in the sink, tampon tubes in the wastebasket and dental floss on the floor. If I was by myself it would make me cry, hearing your piece and reading this.” She folded the letter, handed it back. They sat for a while, feeling the breeze off the ocean, the people-traffic noises not so loud on a weekday so close to Christmas.

“So what’s really happening, Ms. Heinz. You didn’t follow me because I’m cute.”

“I followed you because, word up, you’re the biggest musical anomaly in the system right now. You show up from the dust bowl, nobody gets what you’re up to. Out of nowhere Doc Hartmount dropped that air freshener music of yours in a no-money, no-body chick flick and I thought you might be interesting. Someone else who knows how, but has other ideas. And you shaved. That really helped. The homeless druid look was tired.”

“Come on. Rasputin the grunting piano string scraper was all the rage in Malibu for the fall art with wine and moldy cheese season. Made me some money. Mostly it kept me occupied instead of dreading the day that letter showed up.”

They sat for a while in a world of their own, watched the sun kick grays and golds and pinks over the Pacific’s vanishing point.

“I just lost my honey.” She sounded concerned, let it hang, as if she’d crossed an invisble intimacy line. But he’d shown her his, and he hadn’t recoiled. “After almost three years. But he’d never move in. He was a real cowboy from Wyoming and said my place was ‘too fragile’ for him. Old high school bedroom NorCal hippie chick stuff from Pier One. And that’s too fragile? His place was in a frat house, so that wasn’t a happening move for me.” She spaced for a minute before she pulled what was left of a crushed pack of Kool Super Lights from her other back pocket and lit one.

“He was about your height, only beefier. Hands like sandpaper, and like born to be in the army. The way he walked, you know,” she rolled up from her butt to her knees and mocked a stiff, elbows out shoulder-swinging military walk. “He was my bassist before Zuki. His dad let him get his music degree because everyone needs a hobby, right? Now he has to earn this deforestation business degree at some bullshit Ag college back home in Bumfuck. You know what he said when he left? After almost three years he says, ‘Well, Leeka, I’m gone. You were a hell of a little number.’ His senior juries were five days ago, and when he was done he walked straight out of the hall to his loaded pick up and drove off.  ‘Hot little number’?” She turned towards Jackson, leaned back on her right hand, her eyes glowing. “I mean what hot number? Two, five, twenty-seven? Six thousand? The asshole.” She reached for the guitar. “Give me that piece of shit. I wrote him a get fucked song.”

Jackson traded the guitar for her Kool. She got through a rough verse before she started to snuffle and he saw a metaphor in trading for her ‘Kool,’ left it alone. He pulled a couple of long strands of black hair that had stuck to her cheek with tear glue back behind her ear, took the guitar back.

“You think too much.”

“It’s a girl thing.”

He snort laughed. “That’s some no shit truth right there.” He took the first line of her song and a couple of her ideas. “I hope you miss me, when you kiss her, when she moans your name. I hope you miss me when you love her ‘cause she’ll never be the same. I hope you miss me when she leaves you for calling her my name. Anything down that line, but keep it organized.” He offered her the guitar back. “That’s your hook, ‘I hope you miss me…’ You could work ‘it’s a shame’ or ‘lame’ in there somewhere. That’s what you were trying to say the whole verse. Tell your ‘how you fucked me’ story in the verse, dump your ‘godammit I hate your guts’ in the chorus. That’s a Fifties heart breaker if you’ll back off the two million chord changes. That killer tune of yours about Gozzadini I heard at Transit is the same. ‘Dress like a man’ is the chorus, not the whole story. When I heard you guys play that live it was like four minutes of a great chorus, but where’s the song.”

She wiped her eyes with the back of her wrists, snuffled again and gave him a sideways look. “At least you dress it up and don’t just come right out and say it sucks. I don’t have another verse. Let’s talk, and I’ll play guitar.”

They sat on the grass for three hours, until the December sun started to set, and wrote four songs together. She had an accident with the ice cream cone they split, dropped the top ball right in her lap. Jackson dared her to let him eat it. After a lot of laughter “Pussy Flavored Ice Cream” became song number five.

She smiled, finally, stared out at the ocean. “When you take the voice class you might be the guy to get even with Summerford for all of us. The dude with the voice to match her breath.” She stretched out her legs, leaned back into her hands “I know where we can eat real food, space cowboy, for free. But you have to let me borrow this little acoustic to finish thinking about what we did today.”

When he looked again she was staring at the sand, a million miles away. Already finishing the songs, or eating something worth eating. He stood, reached out sideways with his left hand and pulled her up.

“Deal. It might do that little guitar some good to hang out with someone who can play it.”

She shook her legs out, brushed the sand off her butt. “Ground rules, Jackson. I’m not ready, or even looking, for some guy to jump me. But I want to do this again, the songs and all, as often as we can. I still can’t believe you know who Gozzadini was.”

“Women’s history 101. Right now I’d be worse at bone jumping than I am at singing, so your love canal is safe with me.”

“There’s another one. Damn, you’re a freaking goldmine.” She dug a pen out of her purse, wrote “love canal” on her palm. “I have a bigger idea for our girl band than Honey Muffin and the Dick Baits. Skanque, with a Q, U, E. Like the biggest girl band gimmick ever. I want to shred these songs you and I wrote, and I want us to fix a couple of the others. I can hear them. All I’ve been needing is simple-minded pop with depth. You have the simple mind, I have the depth. What do you think? Classical cellist forsakes cut-throat symphonic career for fame and fortune as a cooch rocker?” She let off on the full speed ahead, thought for a few seconds, elbowed him on the arm. “Nobody can know I wrote men are just stupid and fuck us up man hate songs with a simple minded man. How would it look?”

“I know exactly how it would look. I used to prep a would-be feminist for speeches. I stayed home and did the dirty work, she got to travel and party and get awards.”

“That’s the job I want, the travel and party and awards part. You stay home, keep the kitchen clean and come up with more ideas. What do you really think about Skanque?”

“I like it better because The Dick Baits isn’t really you or what you’re about. The Skanque thing is a gimmick itself, so you might want to lean on your guitar and only stick that cello between your legs as an extra gimmick, no matter how badass I think it is.”

“Yeah? well, right now I think I like a gimmicky cello better than that phony lumberjack who offered me his undying love for this hell of a hot little number until daddy waved the checkbook.” She stared at the sandy grass between her feet and he saw her start to tear up again.

“Goddammit.” She kicked at the patch of grass, looked past the palm trees and the kids playing with a Frisbee that lit up like a flying saucer. “It was the half -Vietnamese part, I know it was. His dad is a hardcore ‘nuke the gooks’ vet so I was never going home with him. I didn’t want to see it is all. Sorry, I keep girling down on you. It just hurts, you know?” She looked down, toed the sand again. “Did you pick up that roach? ‘Cause where I’m taking you, honest to God, has the best seafood quiche in California and way awesome deserts. They only speak Vietnamese, so I’ll talk and won’t order you anything slimy or gross. They’ll call my mother up north about us being there and bring me the phone and she’ll want to know when we’re getting married. I’ll tell her you’re my pimp and you drive a nice car and we went to a wedding chapel in Nevada and not to worry, I’m still on the pill. Smile and nod at everybody.”

“She’ll know those are all lies. Us getting married, and my primer gray pimp-mobile that one side of is sitting on chunks of railroad ties.”

“No, she won’t. And since I know you’re not going anywhere else she’ll a set a place for you at Christmas dinner ‘cause you’re family. Hope you like fish. We’ll pick it up fresh in a cooler off the pier, from another relative in San Francisco.” She took his guitar, walked him to her yellow ‘75 Dart Swinger decked out with plastic flowers and decals of flowers and all kinds of beads hanging from the mirror. And a “Real Musicians Play Cello” bumper sticker. “I’m about to find out where you live, Jackson, so be sure that’s where we really go. A week from today, Christmas Eve, I’ll pick you up in the same place I drop you. You can drive and I’ll sing and we’ll write songs all the way up the Five.”

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

THG3 – Ch18 – Black Lipstick Pt 1

The original outline intent was to have Deanna and Jackson teeter-totter over the course of Cambridge Year One. He bombed himself out on the front end and works his way back over the year. She hit the ground running, defiant and strong and slips downhill into catatonic after doing a year and a half of Cambridge in 11 months. This is where she starts to spiral with more than a few foreshadowing bits. And some character head time, something unusual for me.

Mid July 1979 / Cambridge UK

Deanna looked at her feet as they moved in slow motion across the mid-summer manicured lawn of whatever college they were crossing, sighed quietly. Summer? Ha. Sixty-three degrees, light drizzly rain half the time before the sun came out. Perfect football weather. Real football, not group kickball or the crazy rugby people her brother’s size who played empty lot, full contact football. Without pads. She could space this way, her mind elsewhere, through just about whatever anyone said, a talent she’d picked up young. She’d keep a small percentage of her ears open for trigger words. ‘Bomb’,‘fire’,‘duck’. Or for a certain pitch in her mom’s voice and a small buffer of whatever the last few words said to her that hadn’t been auto filtered and purged. Now it wasn’t the talk, really, it was the walk that killed her.

Jax used to point out in music, without going on forever beating it to death, the beautiful simplicity of a dead slow groove, and how it was a lot more difficult than it sounded. Whatever. Well, he was right about difficult, but he could eat it, and all the dead slow he could stand because this walk, like the months of ones that had preceded it, was on the other side of the universe from beautiful. Dead slow, and every so often painfully reverential when Alvy slowed even more, turned toward her to be sure she’d lapped up the last drop of his irrelevant insight Oreo built from cross-contaminated history, science, economics and culture. Like really, he couldn’t keep walking if his upper body was a few degrees off axis while he slogged through the most boring quagmire of historical minutiae, desperately trying to relate it to literature, and her?

Today was worse because every couple of weeks he tried to get personal, or be personable, and he wasn’t much for either. Well no, really, nothing was worse than farm and economic growth output prior to 1700. Every time he said 1700 it made her think of the Morisé floor in Oilman’s Bank Tower, and home, and…Until he got to swine production and all the uses of pig parts and their economic impact and…Really? Who gave a flying fuck about livestock and farm employment 250 years ago? Did Dryden and Pope really care about pig parts? And who the hell was getting paid to teach and write that junk, much less read it for fun? No, she knew the answer to that one. It was the speed bump in front of her.

From an out of body upper floor window perspective she knew the two of them must appear proper, if opposite, Cambridge students. His pale lankiness, loose blonde curls that grew in a rolled-up cylinder the size of a toilet tissue tube around his head from eyebrows, bottom of his ears and across the top of his collar like a wheat stalk wreath that bounced with every step. His hands, too small for the rest of him, either escaping in animation or sucked into the white cuffs of the Oxford cloth shirt he wore every day under a sweater with the Selwyn crest. On top of gray or black slacks so tight the pockets pulled open exposing the whiteness inside. As opposed to her bulky layers on a thinner frame than she’d left home with, jeans, leg warmers and worn running shoes. Both walking so slowly they could be contemplatively discussing how ‘realism’ was too broad a term for over a century’s worth of literature. Didn’t she wish…

“They’re a wonderful band. Mates, y’know? I ran with them a bit in school. I fiddled the bass some as well. Don’t laugh.” Instead of the laugh he got no reaction, turned a little further and that brought him from dead slow to dead stop. She was miles away and attached to him only peripherally and stopped a fraction of an inch shy of running him down. “D’anna? Mates, the Quigleys? Bass?”

“Sorry, I…” Maybe he was a year older, but she already had an undergraduate degree that fucking Cambridge wouldn’t accept unless she jumped through hoops taking courses she’d already had and testing her way forward. He was boring as fuck and her name wasn’t Danna. These people could screw up pronouncing everything from taco to Mazda to vitamins. But he was also her lead Graduand study advisor for now, going on two lit class and culture combos and a friend of Merriam’s in chemistry that had shown up the second day after she landed to say “Cheers! Alvin Carrashon. Chemistry’s my game. History’s my passion.” Well, ‘Cheers! Alvin Carrashon’ had bribed or blackmailed and obviously kissed some serious ass to get the study mod’s job in almost every class she’d taken just to be around her. Obvious because he was no kind of scholar. But he knew the rules and the tests and the paperchase and played the game like a good gerbil hauling ass on a wheel going nowhere. Called the Dons and junior lecturers alike “professor” without coming across as too patronizing. Smarmy –

“D’anna?”

After she stopped walking by the lake with Jackson, which was what she’d been doing in her head, she dropped Alvin’s last spoken word on the turntable in her head. Base? Baseball? Not cricket?  He was really reaching for commonality today. “Which base?”

“Oh. Yes, of course. Excellent question. Electric, not upright.”

“I meant –”

“No, no, a legitimate question. Cleanliness in thought and word gets the point over.” He had turned enough to get thirty percent of dead slow back on track, stopped and tapped his head. “Investigate, extrapolate, postulate, articulate. The basics for strong communication and conversation.”

“I must have missed something…”

“Me. A bass player. Only a bit. It was a kick, thumpa thumpa thumpa, one note, one string stuff, but college came first at home, not some band of mechanic’s sons and an art major so I quit at 14, never learned it proper.” He smiled, it faded into somewhere lost dreams go. “Shame, that. I’ll never make a million quid here.”

“Sorry, I still don’t –”

“The Quigleys. D’anna. I was their first bass player. They’re mates and they’re in town and I was wondering if you’d like to come out and…”

“Base, like in baseball, that’s what I was asking. First? Second? Third? Which one, you know? Because you aren’t going to any of them with me.” It went all echoey off down into a cave after that. There she was, watching Jax walk out the door, off to another gig she didn’t want to see, didn’t want to be the band guy’s girlfriend, didn’t want to be alone and get hit on in some bar, didn’t want to share him. “Theater” he’d say. But he had a smile that said he was in heaven. A smile she hadn’t gotten in a long time.

“I don’t like those ‘I know the band’ things, Alvy. They get…Uncomfortable. Loud. Drunk guys and…Unless I like them, the band I mean, and that’s rare. Or I get to dance, and I dance like a cheerleader. Or so I’ve been told,” harrumph built rapidly in her voice. “By a naked, stupid, wrapped in scarves dance major whore who knew my…And he said the same thing, only…” It was her turn to stop, collect. He continued a few steps, until he stopped talking about not knowing what she was talking about, American Baseball and bases and naked scarf whores, not understanding the cross talk from her at all, noticed her missing. He turned, found her holding her books across her chest.

“Who, or what, are Quigleys?”

“Post Punk. Or p’raps Industrial Punk.” He puckered, scratched the side of his head. “Is true Punk dead?”

She snorted a laugh at his earnestness. “I know some true punks who should be.”

“Oh. Yes. Well, we all know Wilcox and Herndon need to shut it, and their lack of respect in our groups is in their CV jackets. It won’t harm them down the line, but they’ll get caught up short next two terms and have to over produce or fall behind.”

“That’s not…” How could anyone so naïve be so arrogant? So assured of his own credibility? Staring at him she thought he was the stupidest, silliest, most posturing piece of vain, vapid guy she’d met since high school. Except maybe for some of Jax’s art school friends…Seriously? Over produce? Alvy had no idea. She’d over produced with Amanda Morisé on her ass telling her to mean it, Jackson with his conductor’s wand telling her to own it. Heard more from Alix and her French infused feminist and historical European literature insight than this shithead in front of her would ever know, then they shoved her into a room with Stacey and her deep rhetorical theory and BAM words. She wanted to tell him all that, peel the skin off his face with it. But not now…Where was her fire? She’d turned into another sleep deprived ass kisser like the waste of space wheel-bound gerbil in front of her, just to get the job done.

He started going on about modernist art and how he had no stomach for the Avant Garde and it was just as well since the punks sold out to a mainstream pigeonhole doing sneaker adverts on telly.

“Alvy, stop. Please. I don’t care. About the punk guard on TV or whatever. Just. Stop.”

From deep left field he blurted “But we do see a lot of each other.” It came out loaded with incredulity and minor hurt that took her a few seconds to process.

Too much’ was the wrong answer. “We do. But it’s not –”

“And we enjoy our talks on these walks.”

You enjoy talking after inviting yourself once and forgetting to ask me if I minded or for a topic I might give a damn about.’ “There are times, okay. Maybe. But really, I mean it, Alvy. Most of the time you can be a real –”

“Then come out,” a midway game barker, arms wide in full plead mode. “They’ll find me an awful dud, the same as you, if I show up alone. I was the one, back then, y’see. All the girls fancied a one note bass player.” He air played bass and gyrated his Goldilocks head in a good imitation of a thrasher. She had to put a hand over her mouth.

I heard it was guitar players with that finger thing. Was it your index finger? Middle finger?” She wiggled hers as fast as she could over an imaginary string at crotch level.

“Well, now that…Yes, it was. Middle, I –”

“Thought so. We’re supposed to believe that’s some indication of sexuality, get us all wound up. Can you believe that garbage? It’s ridiculous because we aren’t all thinking about that near as much as you wish we were. And I don’t ‘fancy’ any of them, really, bass or guitar or any sort of electrified phallus waving…The one I…He had to stand, or sit. And smile too much.”

“Precisely! The lad in your dresser frame. Merri’s said he’s one, a musician of a sort as that’s all you’ll say, and you miss him, and that’s why –”

“What I miss about him isn’t shitty cover bands or screaming punk pub bands or his stupid piano hands tickling my ivory body. Well, okay…But no. What I miss is where the hell is he and, and what did I do that he had to, to, and…What I hate about all of that nonsense is how I, we, are supposed to fall in love with them, musicians I mean, and all they do is have fun and call it work and then just, just disappear like I don’t matter at all and –”

You don’t matter?”

“Literal, Alvy.” But she was shaking. “Look. Bar bands suck. Even when they don’t.”

“The Quigs’re all original.”

“Really, Alvy? I mean that’s worse. Unless they have a record or –”

“They do. An EP. One of the short ones?”

“I’ll bet that’s a relief.” Does no one with a penis listen?

“Then you’ll come out, won’t you? I can make it up to you. Monday and Wednesday nights off next week? I’ll give you my topics for moderation notes. You can read them or ignore them. I know you find me less than enlightening in your arena at times.”

Always…’ But…Two nights off that maybe could be bumped? “What did you say?”

“About modernism? Post Punk, by definition –”

“Right. But wrong. The other part. Four nights off, and we’ll forgo these post class walkie-talkies for two weeks. So I can get on down the road with the Italian poets without sludging your pig parts out of my brain before I can start.”

“A fortnight so…On down the road…Poets? Pig parts? I…”

“On down the road. Something the frame on the dresser used to say all the time. Deal?”

“But…”

“You won’t really be an awful dud, any more than you already are.” Oooops. “Do I need to cut some holes in a sweatshirt or something? I haven’t had time to shave in weeks. If it’s hot in the wherever it is, I’d love that. And I could go sleeveless. Not braless, I hate that. I’d almost kill someone to be really warm. Like hot, sweaty warm.”

“No, I…” He’d never considered there to be anything under her layers but more of her porcelain complexion laid over a perfectly defined, if somewhat thin, textbook female anatomy, certainly not hair and sweat. “Uh…” With his index fingers he drew circles around his eyes in pantomime.

“Eye…shadow? Eye…line – Racoon Eyes! Okay, and?”

“Black lipstick?”

THG3 – Ch 17 – Affable

Regardless of their price range hookers talk, and it spreads like wildfire. From tricks that are dangerous to what hotels are hot. Word came up from the bottom about the space case kid piano player at the Sea Wind, a place upscale girls wouldn’t work, but a few came to see him off the clock. The kid was funny, didn’t talk hooker smack or ask for favors when he found out who they were. Instead he asked for their favorite songs and sent them off to dreamland low and slow. It was apparent he wasn’t new to after midnight, or how to hang with the late night off work crowd. After they’d taken him to a few two AM breakfasts just to see who he was off the piano bench and found themselves spending too much time at the Sea Wind they went looking for a way to move him.

The tall platinum blonde wasn’t gaudy, but her presence was commanding. Marilyn Monroe as PTA mom, only five-ten without the heels. Cool, aloof, big blue eyes that missed nothing, gave nothing away under often sarcastically expressive eyebrows. Her left hip, parked on the red leather stool that matched her lipstick put her a head taller than Franklin the “bartender”, a short, stocky man with a square head, wiry salt and pepper hair, perpetual five o’clock shadow. A retired enforcer, tenacious, once upon a time dangerous, Franklin managed not-main-room talent and other aspects of a few square blocks of Vegas “entertainment”. He squinted unenthusiastically between the blonde and the polaroid on the bar, the diamonds in his cufflinks sparkled in the dark room like wrist-worn disco balls.

“Sheesh, Savannah…I dunno.” He rubbed his thick neck with a thick hand. “I got these creeps out the wazoo.”

“Billy Joel wannabes, basket case temperamental classicals can’t find work, drunk ex big band sidemen, unemployed music directors waiting on the next has-been to sell out and move to town. Frankie’s carousel of the unreliable and unwanted.” He raised his eyes to hers out of habit to see if there was any insult in what she’d said.

Affable, Savannah. Affable. I hadda look that word up. Know why? ‘Cause Johnny used it all the time to say what he wanted in no-name talent that puts face on the Lost Wages foot traffic. And they’re my unreliable, affable piano players. The shtick is affable. My people know that. Besides,” a big shrug that got a head tilt involved, “somebody misses a shift, nobody misses them, I pay myself.”

“This town is too full of invisible smiles as it is. Do something real for a change. You said yourself what you have in the stable doesn’t work everywhere. Too busy, too flirty, too drunk, too –”

Loud. Everybody is too goddam loud. In the city? Back there you could a find a place, y’know, a quiet place. Somebody there knew how to play piano or maybe some jazz guitar. Somebody understood intimacy. Nobody in this town understands intimacy, that’s what Johnny says. Now…” His big fingers drummed on the bar hard enough to rattle the hostess’ drink garnish tray. “Okay, maybe loud I can do without somewhere and I got nobody.” He looked down the bar at the half dozen top shelf women lined up in silent support of Savannah’s pitch. “Good Golly Miss Molly, I need to meet this kid.” He cocked an eyebrow. “Okay, wiseacre. Where do I put him?”

“The piano in front of the Stiletto has had a cover on it for over a year.”

He checked both ways, leaned into her space like he was letting go of a secret. “People do business in the Stiletto, woman. Johnny’s girlfriend lives in a suite at that hotel and hits all the talent. I can’t put somebody I don’t know in there, somebody that don’t know the rules.”

“Those people leave their women standing around, reading three-month-old magazines in the lobby and looking like a herd of stupid hookers to the cheapskate tourists in that restaurant. Get some plush chairs and cocktail tables out of storage, put them and a cute, affable fag waiter in the anteroom, you have our word the kid will make them happy. Men like their women happy when they’re finished with their other business.” She edged the polaroid closer with a fingernail. “Don’t they?”

Aunty-room?”

“The big dead space full of dusty palms and ratty bamboo and the leaky roof wastebasket stash between the restaurant and the lounge, Lumpo.”

“Ida broke your nose for that ten years ago.”

“Ida cut your intestines out and fed them to you right after. I have other options, I came to you first. Going once…”

“Awright.” He scowled at the picture. “Johnny’s girl’s been putting him on a bitch lately about the Aunty-room lookin’ like that in her lobby anyways.” He blew his nose on a bar napkin, tossed it over his shoulder. “Can you do something about the hair for me? You know how those guys get about hippies and niggers, no matter how good they play.”

“Ponytail?”

“Ponytail is good. Heard Johnny’s girl say she liked that Paul Revere’s Paraders show. Broad can call a bucket of shit a vase of roses and sell it to Johnny, ponytail’s no problem. Kid has any decent bullshit at all, keeps it low key and knows his place, don’t talk politics… It could work.”

“Raiders, Lumpo. Paul Revere and the Raiders.” She twirled the polaroid with her fingernail, a sly smile sneaked out. “I can just see Johnny in a George Washington get up, dancer tights, three-way hat and a powdery ponytail. High heel boots, maybe. You?”

“What Johnny gets up to with that broad ain’t any of my – an stop callin’ me –” He caught her eyebrows, eyes.  “Goddammit Savannah, I’m workin’ with you here. Put a lid on fuckin’ with me, will ya? All you damn women these days… What happened to hookers with some respect?”

“Same thing that happened to broken noses.”

“Fuck a duck…” He followed a long pause with a sigh and a deeper, arms flexed lean into the bar. “Tomorrow, four-thirty, the Stiletto. I’ll have the Aunty-room set up, dust the palms, get the piano tuned. You gotta get Johnny’s squeeze in on this, figure the decorating.” He made a few notes on a bar napkin, stuffed it in his vest pocket. “Lotta goddam work. Your little darlin’ better be right, ladies.” He peered down the bar again, eyebrows knitted together. “All I’m gonna say.”

***

Savannah and a shorter, sun freckled brunette of the same ilk snaked from a red SEL convertible they parked in front of Michael’s cold Coke box, blocking the drive. They helped themselves, gave him a ten, stated their business and waited.

Michael knocked on the window of Jackson’s car in the service bay. When the window came down he blurted “Coupla put your lights out babes…and dude I mean,” looking over his shoulder, “lights fucking out. Wanna talk to you.”

After a brief conversation with the “lights out babes” Jackson backed his car out of Michael’s garage and followed them across town to a two-bedroom apartment on the new, far west side where he was told seven working girls rotated in and out, took showers, changed clothes. Savannah handed him the key at the foot of the iron railed stairs.

“None of them live here, the smaller bedroom is yours.” She tilted her head slighty toward her friend. “Paris you know. The rest are taking you on faith. Keep the place clean, do their laundry or anything else they ask, don’t be any kind of retard with a hard on.” She opened the door of the red SEL, shifted her gum to the side. “Do us right on this, Junior. In this town friends are hard to come by and enemies are hard to lose.” He watched them drive away, sixteen again, Marcus admonishing him to do them right on a lounge piano gig full of big-time politicians as an indirect favor to Amanda Morisé. The more things changed, the more they stayed the same. ‘Don’t be that guy. Do us right’.

He took the cash Savannah had given him, followed his instructions to buy a blouse-y white shirt, a black vest and pants, run them through a one-hour dry cleaners and be at the Stiletto a couple of blocks off the strip by four-thirty. And don’t forget the black ribbon for his Paul Revere ponytail.

***

“He doesn’t play any real music. Not that I recognize.”

“You have to listen, he doesn’t run over you with it. That’s Moon River, Johnny baby. I asked him to play it just for you.”

He listened, found the melody at last, sipped his drink. “He knows me already?”

“For a friend, I said. He’s a doll. Look around.” The dead yesterday anteroom had become the pre-lounge for the Stiletto. “Businessmen” enveloped in darkness through the Stiletto’s oak door left behind women, some theirs, some rented, a lightweight movie starlet or two all talking, smoking, drinking, laughing over inside jokes, bumping desert sun-kissed bare arms, jangling bracelets, looking over their shoulders to see if they were being seen. Mixed in with a few tourists and mid-range double knit sport coat gamblers exiting the restaurant it was an oasis in the desert between the rattle of slot machines and dishes and the off-limits inner sanctum.

“Frank tells me this was all his idea, like a present to get the Tarzan and Sambo shit out of here for me.” He nodded, smiled, lifted a glass to someone. “Looks like it cost too much. Tell me what you hear.”

“Savannah brought it to him. Frankie called me last night, asked what we’d like to see in here.”

“We? You and Frank and that mouthy whore did this?”

“Careful, she’s a friend and we did it on the cheap. Frankie got the chairs I wanted out of the old Montrose, had a crew steaming them all night. Savannah and I found the cut glass vases and ashtrays in a box in the poker room and I ordered the flowers.”

“You shouldn’t be friends with or be seen running around town with that whore thinks her shit doesn’t stink. Keep it up with her and I’ll see she has to move.”

“Do that.” Her turn to smile, lift a hand off his arm in acknowledgement. “They’ll find you with a .25 caliber hole in your heart and your dick in your mouth.”

“How, in some crazy dream world, do you see that happening?”

“A man with a hardon and his pants down is the easiest target there is, Johnny. You know we’re the ones really make it all go,” she tugged on his tie, smoothed it back, stepped in so he could feel her breath, “and we’re the only ones who can get close enough.” She smiled, turned away, chirpy. “This keeps up I’ll just have to order new carpet.”