It was the night of the residency party. Six months ago, it was the night Huck and I finally consummated our flirtation. I was looking forward to going, mostly because I had more friends in the program this time around. Also because it was happening at the Culver Hotel, a very old and classic hotel in the center of a modernized shopping district. As far as I am concerned, it is the only classy thing about Culver City.
I was still shaking off brunch with Huck. When we first saw each other, the morning after a public, drunk blow-out in the parking lot, I said, “Well, obviously you are in love with me. But we don’t need to speak of it.” He smiled, shaking his head. Though Huck may not be in love with me, I do believe his feelings are stronger for me than he admits. He thinks he is maintaining power. I think he is just a scared.
As we were walking back from lunch, he pulled something out of his pocket. “I have your hair in my pocket. I don’t know how it got there but it is definitely your hair.” In the moment, I was touched he was carrying it around in his pocket. Chemistry and friendship is a powerful cocktail. If I was going to honor my boyfriend, I knew I couldn’t be alone and drink with Huck anymore. I didn’t intend to sleep with him. I didn’t intend to kiss him. I just felt myself laughing, smiling, caring about my puffy eyes more than usual. I was always wondering if he would show up around the corner, humming that song … “See the way he walks down the street … watch the way he shuffles his feet …”
I would like to think of myself as a good girlfriend. I would like to think I had the best of intentions. We were playing with fire.
We texted that night. Was he coming to the party? Why did I have to care if he was coming? I was with Cat, another poet, much older and very sophisticated (someone who made me feel beautiful and funny) and a handful of others who collected in the lobby. The older poet, who we called The Silver Fox, bought my first drink. Vodka martini. It was brought to me in a shaker, and not having any experience with such a high-end presentation, I spilled it all over myself and the floor. The waitress accommodated me with another drink. I have been humiliated in public so many times, it doesn’t even phase me anymore. The burn on my lips was the first delicious welcome into the evening, and I forgot about the vodka wet on my pants and shirt.
The party was upstairs. I hadn’t been up there before, well yes, once for a photo shoot with Lana but the pictures were lost before I could ever save them. Now there were students collecting in clumps around the corners. I have socialized with all kinds of awkward people before: prisoners, prostitutes, actors, comedians. Nothing is more awkward than trying to socialize with writers. We all prefer hiding behind our computers and books because it gives us proper preparation with what to say. The hard covers give us a special shield to protect us from insult and rejection, and if it penetrates, we can just cower down and cry with no one able to see.
Huck was up there with a few other classmen who were graduating. Some were cold to me, others were decent if I was sitting next to him, and some suddenly tried to be kind. I just needed to plug in my charger and heard Huck call out a joke about my exposed ass crack . I stood up and pulled up my pants. “Well … why are you looking?” I said in a voice, other than my own.
Another vodka martini found its way to me, compliments of The Silver Fox. He had won me over one late evening at the Roosterfish when all the Queers cleared after drinking their beers. “We would have had a great love affair if we met twenty years ago and were around the same age,” he said.
I smiled. Poets always know what to say to me. “Your hair is beautiful. It frames your face perfectly. But your eyebrows are your best feature, and you play with them when you are nervous,” he said. I don’t see the face men see when I look in the mirror. I see an awkward girl with a round face that doesn’t understand make-up. Shapeless with wrinkles now forming around the mouth and eyes. Odd eyes, like quarter moon windows. Eyebrows that don’t know how to be manicured. A smile that diminishes the upper half of my face when I smile. I grew up believing I was ugly. For two years as a teenager, my acne was so grotesque I broke a hallway mirror and kicked a hole in the wall from disgust. Once, someone asked my boyfriend how he could stand to look at me. Now, I am qualified as a flirt, sometimes a slut or a deviant. Someone troubled or unfaithful. I am really just a little girl who wants to believe she is pretty too. I like myself best through other people’s eyes, that is why probably I never like being alone.
I was always aware of Huck in the room, but I made my respective circles. My comfort zone was to stick by the gays, but knowing I was already unpopular with some, especially the faculty, I tried putting myself out there, sipping on the olive juice and vodka for courage. Huck couldn’t help it, and ducked around the room, suddenly pulling up a chair across from me. I smiled under the rim of my glass.
This semester, there were a handful of women who were pregnant. We were all talking about how odd it was. I can’t think of a worse time to have a child than in the middle of a rigorous and time consuming creative writing program. New mothers were everywhere, the one in my class skipped this residency because motherhood was too demanding.
“I wonder about names,” a young woman said. Female writers brightened with all the names we store away for our favorite characters, those kept safe in books on the shelf and those who have yet to be printed.
Huck was sitting across from me. “How about Huck?” I said. Now, audience, you must know by now that Huck is an alias for the real poet. He, of course, knew his alias already having read my blogs for the last 6 months and kicked his head back with a smile. The girls were none the wiser.
“Huck . .. I like that. And it is never used,” they said.
I made my way to George, sitting by the window. He was talking about Miguel, the Hispanic teacher who I had my first interest in last residency, and how he was flirting with a new student. It irked me. Though Miguel didn’t outright reject me, he never looked me in the eyes when we spoke and wouldn’t hang out with me when I came back to LA. It is juvenile and nonsense, but that is the psychosis of a a rejection phobic. If you don’t laugh at my joke, you have rejected me.The conversation stalled and Huck found his way in the sliver of a seat between George and myself. We got on the topic of the night before, and how I got drunk in his hotel room. Everyone thought we fucked. There was more innocence at play than everyone really could understand.
I laughed at Huck. Loud. Big mouth. Hair down. He called me Julia Roberts. I thanked him. George said he didn’t think it was a compliment.
“So she is laying there, with my cock in her hand and she said, ‘I would never sleep with you … you disgust me …,” Huck said. I laughed again.
George shot up from his seat. “You two need to fuck,” and then he walked away.
“But you didn’t hear the rest of the story …,” Huck said.
I put my arm around Huck and kissed him hard on the cheek. I think that is what happened. I don’t remember the taste of his skin or any drizzle of romance. I only remember he leaned back laughing. He looked happy. His drink tipped back and all of a sudden we felt easy, like we did the first time in June. Easier than last June. There was just the case of the man I loved, walking my dogs, waiting, hoping I wouldn’t be unfaithful. I took another drink.
On the other side of the bar, champagne glasses were being filled. A good foot of the bar was covered in glass and bubbles. “Who is this for?” I asked the bartender. He was an actor, I could tell.
“They are for all of you,” he said.
I grabbed a glass in each hand, and walked away sipping the first one before starting on the second. Huck watched me over his shoulder, laughing. His smile is gorgeous. I wondered if tough guys always had pretty smiles. When I look for pictures of Jim Morrison (on lonely nights), once in awhile I stumble on a photo of his smile and it makes my fingertips cold and my ears warm. A man’s smile can paralyze me. I wonder why they keep it such a secret?
After both glasses were drained, I returned for two more, and slowed down a bit. My intention was to give Huck space at the party. To really give all conversations a chance, but he kept hanging around me. It wasn’t unwelcomed. I thought he liked me. I felt like I had a hook in him, no matter how temporary, and I enjoyed dragging him around with me for the night. Outside we had a cigarette and spoke about something mild and general. I can’t recall it now. I just liked that we were outside, sitting on a bench together alone. Buzzed but not drunk. Happy but not touching. I didn’t have to touch him, I knew we were in the same moment.
One of the upper classmates came out to talk to us. It was the first time he acknowledged me all semester, I assumed the friends in his circle had opinions about me and Huck and me. I wanted to be rude, but I never can be when someone is nice to me. It was a pleasant, casual conversation. I liked that he saw I was with Huck and that we were civil with each other. It gave the whole sordid affair a dignity.
As the party broke up, and I always feel like parties break up too soon, Cat and I jumped in the Silver Fox’s car to go sing karaoke at the Tattle Tale Room, the bar where Huck and I first met last June. Half of my favorite people were there. A female poet who read a translated poem earlier in the day that took my breath away. The non-fiction writer who lives in Paris, wears her hair short and speaks her mind with such confidence, it demands respect. Her manuscript was flawless. A few people in my class. The Silver Fox. Huck slid into the back booth where we met.
“She turned to her left, and there he was,” he said. He was referencing a line from my blog, describing the first time I met him.
“I turned to my left and there he was,” I said, jerking my head to the left, laughing. I did it two or three times. No one was in on the joke. “It is our anniversary. Six months ago, at the school party …” I said.
“That’s right,” he said. Maybe he knew, maybe he didn’t know. It was innocent. I wasn’t trying to stir things, they were already stirred. I just appreciated the synchronicity of it all. The same bar where we met. The same booth. The same night.
We took turns on karaoke, turning off the locals, as usual. I selected my Rolling Stones song for the residency: “Start Me Up”. Now, there are theories on why I obsess over which Stones songs at what moments of life. The truth is there are original videos out there I discover, and they click in my obsession, and I watch Mick … I watch Mick ... and I step inside the song. At home, I dance like him to feel it and I feel alive.
So when I had the microphone in hand, and the guitar kicked in, I felt the white pants, the purple v-neck, the improvised shoulders and arms of a British rock star who belonged to another generation.
“If you start me up”
“If you start me up,
I’ll never stop.”
I tried to climb onto a nearby table, but it rocked and the couple sitting there laughed, leveled and invited me back on their table top with their spilled drinks. I shook my hand and continued singing. In karaoke, people rarely notice how bad my singing is because I perform. I never feel better. Music gives me superpowers. It is my most loved drug.
The Parisian writer came up and wiggled next to me with her mouth open. Truckers stopped talking and stared at me. Mimicking Mick, and I assume most people don’t recognize the original dance moves from the original 1981 video, made me sexy. My father never liked Mick Jagger. “He thinks he is doing Elvis,” he said. “It looks ridiculous.”
“No, no!” I said. “It’s a broken doll kind of thing. No one else can do it. It’s new.” Well, it is new to me. I just discovered the Stones roughly 10 years ago, after my sister dragged me to see a tribute band perform. The music sunk in, deep. And swinging my hips, throwing up my awkward, long arms and tilting my head back with my off-key voice made me right for 3 minutes and 40 seconds. Mick made different sexy. Now I could be sexy, too.
We all performed songs. The Silver Fox and I did “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”. Someone in my class did “American Pie”. Huck did “Rock n Roll Suicide” by Bowie. Writers might be awkward, but they have great taste in music. I video-ed Huck on my phone.
“Oh no love! You're not alone,
You’re watching yourself but you're too unfair,
You got your head all tangled up but if I could only,
Make you care.
Oh no love! you're not alone.
No matter what or who you’ve been,
No matter when or where you’ve seen,
All the knives seem to lacerate your brain,
I’ve had my share, I'll help you with the pain,
You’re not alone.”
Huck didn’t sing last semester. I think he is too shy, or was too shy. The more we cheered him on, the more he got into the song, kicking his head back and smiling.
“Lets turn on and be not alone (wonderful),
Gimme your hands cause you're wonderful (wonderful),
Gimme your hands cause you're wonderful (wonderful),
Oh gimme your hands.”
“My hand?” I asked, reaching out my hand from behind my phone. He put his fingers through mine and sang for a line or two before letting go. We laughed. It was a good time.
Afterward, he sat down and spoke to Cat. He sat down and spoke to the Parisian writer who told him he wasn’t invited to poetry readings because she doesn’t care for misogynists. I saw them talking and laughing, hands thrown in the air and lightly dropping on the shoulder. He was making friends. Even though he was a class ahead of me, I was helping him get to know everyone. That made me happy.
My next song was “I’ve Been Down So Long” by The Doors. It was a personal joke for me, and me alone. The karaoke guy handed me the microphone, “This time, don’t scream into the microphone. It breaks the levels.”
“Of course not, that was my Mick Jagger. Now I am doing Jim Morrison. He doesn’t scream,” I said, dismissive. He handed me the microphone. “Pffft … obviously,” I said, like a drunk bitch.
“Well, I've been down so very damn long,
That it looks like up to me.
Yeah, why don't one you people,
C'mon and set me free.”
Off the LA Woman album, the song has a bluesy feel to it, and with that raspy, angry poet. I got down on my knees and rocked back and forth on my knee caps. I could feel everyone going about their business, but a few people walked up to me, looked down on me and I kept singing my blues.
“Baby, baby, baby,
Won't you get down on your knees ….
C'mon little darlin',
C'mon and give your love to me, oh yeah.”
That bar is a dump, but it sure has a fucking fantastic karaoke selection.
As midnight spun round, and beers were drained, it was time to leave. It always takes someone else to tell me when. Singing classic rock, dancing to classic rock, that is when I am most alive. That is when my spirit has a real voice. This blog … well it is clunky, rough. It doesn’t slide through me like the music. Other people’s words put to harmony can work through me like water. This blog, it is smoke, crawling through my throat on shoes made of sandpaper. Writing lights a match in my lungs I can’t release until I exhale. Music is more pleasant.
The night had to end. Everyone left and I waited to pay the bill at the bar. Female bartenders always seem more exhausted than men. I tip the same. I turned around and saw Huck had walked back into the bar. He grabbed the back of my head and kissed me hard on the lips. It almost felt like he bit my lower lip. It stung.
“Happy anniversary,” I slurred. He pecked me again on the lips, this time I leaned in a little but it was still hard and brief. Then he left.
I got into the car full of writing students. “Where is Huck?” someone asked.
“He wanted to walk back,” someone else said. It was about a mile back to his hotel.
“Why?” someone asked but the car was overtaken by more chatter. Another writing student had gotten in an argument with a local who had a knife on him. The police were called. We drove out.
Back at the Venice house, I danced in and threw myself on the first bed I saw. A beautiful, mixed race, writing student had her papers spread out. Her final presentation was in the morning.
“Do you know how beautiful your freckles are?” I said, with her papers screaming underneath me. “Each... little … one.”
She was patient with me. “I am working right now. Can you give me this time to prepare?” she asked behind tired eyes, a little smile and heavy glasses.
“You are my little flower. My precious, little flower,” I said. She smiled.
I crawled into Cat’s room, straddled her and spanked her. She screamed and laughed. “Buy me dinner first,” she said … or something like that. I steam rolled her.
The Silver Fox called me to the couch and laid me down. “Follow my breathing. Do you hear it? Just follow my breath. In and out,” he whispered. I slipped away into darkness and let go of the music.