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Live for that look
I’m dancing on the chair again.
My clothes are on this time. The groove has my feet moving and my spine tingling. I know Troy just called and asked me to come across town to Carmen’s house but I need this right now.
The transition from Blowing It into I Live for That Look lifts me and if I could I would float over the puke orange carpet covering the floor of my parent’s basement. My dad’s gone and my mom’s at work. I just got home from Butner and I still have $4,000 of my state retirement fund in the bank. I’ve got nothing really pressing to do so I think Troy and Carmen can wait a few minutes while I dance on this chair.
I don’t know if it’s jmasics deft touch on the frets or his melodic walk up and down the neck in the solo bits that gets me in that spot where existence pulses. There’s something bitter sweet when he cries “I don’t know a thing to say to you” just before he reaches down low, too low it seems for a normal guitar, and pulls a note and pushes it skyward. He holds it and holds it until he releases the tension and moans “Hey I live for that look!” I’m jumping off the chair and up and down on the floor screaming “I know why! I know why!” Murph is straight killing a four-four back beat and because the song can’t be perfect for more than a few bars they end it.
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I move over to the Sony stereo my dad gave me just before he disappeared. I turn the knob down from eight toward three and push stop. I’m not sure if my sister is home or if her friend who rents my brother’s old room is here and to be honest I don’t care. They know I have my moments and that the only cure is grunge as loud as it will go.
The music’s off but it rolls along in my head. I take a Camel Light from the box and open the door and step into the spring. Late March’s cool air amplifies the chill bumps on my arm and up my spine. The thin t-shirt gives little comfort now, despite being the perfect attire for my brief rock and roll frenzy. I smoke the Camel in four drags and flick it into the bucket by the door and step inside to find my black Adidas and a jacket. I grab my keys and head out the door to the driveway and get in the Prelude.
Soon I’m rolling across once open farm land that’s now formless housing developments that morph into one stream of bourgeois depravity across this part of the county. Down Robinhood Road and into the outskirts of town. Past the shopping centers of my youth where I spent days upon days with my mother and my brother and my sister going to the grocery store or the drug store or shopping for discount clothes or begging her to stop at Wendy’s for a Frosty. I’ve driven down this road so many times I don’t notice it any more. But I did exist in that parking lot on several occasions and I’ve been over there in the back of another car reading a book I just picked up at the library. Or over there getting slapped across the face with my dad’s huge right hand as he keeps his left on the steering wheel and since he’s six fucking foot seven yeah he can reach me all the way in the back seat after I said something smart or whatever. I’ve driven this road at three in the morning coming home from the bar at 90 miles an hour just daring a cop to be anywhere near the vicinity and almost killing myself more than once. Especially the time I rounded the curve and there was a car stopped to turn left. I barely had time to stomp the brake and decelerate to about 40 before the car turned off and I avoided death just like that.
Now I’m just cruising on a Tuesday across town to Carmen’s mom’s to see Troy and probably go shoot pool. I’m cruising Silas Creek to the south side. Floating in and out of traffic listening to Rollins Band. Trying to keep the Prelude under 60 miles an hour. That is the speed I drive. I just don’t slow down for much anymore. Life is moving on and I am moving with it and Henry Rollins is asking “Do you really wanna fuck with me, huh, me, yeah, me , no I really don’t think so!” I suggest you move your car over to the right like you’re supposed to when I roll up on your bumper. I mean rules are there for a reason.
I make it to South Main Street and into some older neighborhoods where Carmen is living with her mother. I see Troy’s white Honda down the street and I look for a place to park the ‘lude, wondering again what the parking rules are in these overpopulated working class areas. I remember the time we were hanging with the sophomore girl while her mom was at work and I parked in front of her neighbor’s house and when I went to get my sack of weed from the glove box the man was standing over me as I tried to get up saying “Son get your car out of my yard!” But there are no unlined street fronts here. Each house has a drive and a mailbox and, glory to heaven, a curb to park alongside.
I’m out of the car and up the concrete drive to the side door. Through the kitchen lit by the warming afternoon sun and through the small area where the kitchen, the hall and the living room come together.
Carmen’s blue eyes light up as she greets me and I feel welcomed as always to be around her.
“Hey Thomas,” she says as she gets up and gives me a hug before plopping back down on the sofa beside Troy. “What took you so long?”
I think for a moment if I should tell them the truth? That I had to have a manic moment because it’s spring and the energy is pulsating in me and my skin is alive and I can feel life moving all around me in whatever I do or say. I demure and make up something about running an errand to the bank or whatever. Carmen looks me over and smiles again as she repositions herself on the couch. I smack hands with Troy and say whattup and move to a deep brown upholstered chair next to the sofa.
“Your hair is growing back in nicely, Thomas. Why did you cut it off in the first place?”
She doesn’t know the whole story and I don’t have the heart to tell her that it was another manic moment. That when the barber came into the ward on the fourth day I was there I had been reading The Gulag Archipelago. I decided to exhort two or three other patients to shave their heads as well (it makes for quicker showers! I had told one of them) even despite the caution of the staff that the doctors might find it strange and extend our stay. So I run my fingers through the growing stubble and just say “Thanks, C! I wanted a fresh start for spring.”
“Well fresh is what you got, that is for sure. Did you get any writing done today?”
“I did, actually, thanks for asking. I worked on outlines for two chapters and made some notes for the last third of the plot,” I say. “I think it’s coming together nicely, if I can just stay focused this time.”
“And stay the fuck away from Brent,” Troy says, referring to the orderly from Baptist hospital who has set up shop at the bar on Burke Street pushing a rich strain of coke. Two footmen work the bathroom and the back pool table sliding matchbooks back and forth in exchange for twenties and fifties and Benjis.
“Ain’t that the truth,” I say and shift uncomfortably in the chair hoping we can change the subject. But Troy is my conscience, as he has been for two years now, a perfect complement of reason to my swashbuckling mentality.
“I know you’re bored and drifting bro, but if you want adventure and excitement you need to find it in something lasting, not in putting that shit up your nose like everybody else in Winston who doesn’t have anything better to do,” Troy says.
He’s lectured me several times this year and I know he means well. We’re as close as brothers but he’s got a wholeness, a sense of being that I’m searching for, a contentment in his family and his existence that escapes me.
“You’re right Troy, I know it. I’m gonna turn a new leaf and try to stay on the straight and narrow now.” I’ve said this a dozen times in four months – to my friends, my doctors, to myself- but everyone knows I can’t be contained.
“We all care about you , Thomas,” Carmen says. “It’s just that you’ve got so much to offer. We don’t want to see you go down like so many other people have in the last few years.”
She smiles at me again, her eyes glistening in the room’s soft light. Her rich lips set against the crispness of her powder white skin. I can’t see why they are not a couple. I wonder again what angst is driving her, what demons she struggles with when she is not smiling and trying to make the rest of us believe that she has her shit together.
“Let’s talk about something else guys and stop lecturing Thomas,” Carmen says. “I know, let’s listen to this compilation disc I got from my friend’s record label in Spartanburg.”
Carmen gets up and puts the disc in. As the reverb heavy bars of another R.E.M. knock off group from South Carolina begin, she hands me the case. It’s got intertwined circles and swirls on the front and some sort of animalistic figure subtly embedded across the back in a thirty percent mask underneath the list of artists. As the tracks play on we smoke and I try to feign interest in the music but it’s the same shit people have been putting out in this part of the country for 15 years now: jam band mush or twangy ballads about “she did this” or “she said that”, half rock, half pop with too many hints of country for my tastes.
About midway through the disc there is a decent song with a frenetic bass line. It grabs my attention away from looking at the shrubs in front of the house across the street. My head starts to nod and then my fingers begin to play the bass notes on my upper thigh. Before I know it I feel like dancing again but I got to keep it under wraps and so I shift in my chair and stretch out my legs.
Troy and Carmen are talking about some of their friends I have never met and who works where and who dates who and what so and so said about such and such yesterday after thus and so did something. I’m still focused on this bass line and as the song fades I feel a sense of longing. But that’s soon replaced by ecstasy as the next track begins.
This one is the total package in my book. It’s got that four-four beat, a moving chord progression in two parts – 1-2-3-4, 5 and 6-3-4-, seven and eight-3-4, all beneath a descending flurry of crisp Mixolydian riffs that stone me to my soul. The verses drop into a standard two chord movement so the lyrics become the focal point but the shift back to the chorus unleashes the muse again. I can’t even begin to care about the lyrics of this song with music this good. I’ll even give the song a pass for being about “she” doing something. There’s a few references to colors and pottery and a jeweler’s stone, but it’s still basically a “boy meets girl, loses girl and writes song” song that goes nowhere lyrically, but that’s cool this time because the arrangement is tight.
I’ll have to ask Carmen to borrow the disc.
Right after Troy says it’s time to bolt and head up South Main Street to town Carmen makes me promise on all that is holy that I will bring her the disc back in a couple of days. I swear that I will bounce it to tape tonight and keep the disc in the car so I can give it to her next time I see her.
“Bring it to me tomorrow, if you can Thomas. I don’t want you to disappear for two weeks again without giving me the disc back.” She smiles and laughs as she says this, but I know she’s motivated by a serious concern that it might just happen.
“You can bring it to West End after lunch tomorrow. How about that?”
“Definitely,” I say as she takes the disc out of the stereo and places it in the case and hands it to me.
“And most of all, Thomas, be good to yourself,” she says as she hugs me gently and I move to head back out through the kitchen and the side door and down the driveway to the street.
“I’ll meet you at the piercing shop bro,” Troy calls out as he gets into his Honda. I throw up a wave in acknowledgement and climb into my car.
As I put the car in gear I wish I had a cd player so I could listen to this disc again, but that will have to wait. I whip a three point turn and soon I am heading down Konnoak and turn over to South Main Street to go uptown. As I make my way north I pass Sprague and Waughtown and I think about my grandparents and my dad and how he grew up east of here in a neighborhood whose streets were named after battles in World War I – Argonne, Marne, Verdun, Bretton and Bellauwood.
The tiny mill worker homes packed up against each other along narrow streets barely big enough for the 1975 Delta 88 my grandfather drove in his last days to pass between the equally large cars parked along the side of the street – like a tank driver maneuvering the field between battlements and trenches. The School of the Arts floats by on my right and I move down the large hill toward where Waughtown meets South Main and head up to the stoplight in front of Old Salem. The centuries are filling me now with a sense of connectivity and purpose despite the hollowness of my current paradigm.
I pull into the lot of the piercing shop run by Troy’s friend Chris. We’re at the very bottom of Liberty Street now heading into a row of small buildings with brick fronts, a set of four shops at the edge of downtown. The shop’s called Mystic Eye Piercing or some shit like that. I quit paying attention to the neo-hippie underground set after I had a bad experience with some people I thought I knew as good souls who went all gangsta’ a few years back when The Chronic came out. They all of a sudden went from Grateful Dead patchouli smelling freaks to scowling wannabes walking around with a g-lean talking about “hell yeah” in that deep pitch Dre does so well.
But I’ll feign interest in their beanie kick sacks and their twirling sticks, their elongated earlobe jewelry and nipple rings, even their pierced tongue studs – so long as they speak clear when they ask me a question. Troy is already in the shop standing at the counter talking to Chris when I walk in.
I’ve been around Chris a few times but I don’t think he’s ever said more than whassup to me so I look at him and nod and he does the same. He and Troy continue talking about some flier they are looking at. Chris is the total package for the early 20s underground set. He’s medium height and fit. Rich skin, approaching olive, which gives him an exotic look despite his name being Jones. Stark, narrow facial features set beneath the obligatory lion’s mane dreadlocks that all the rave set is sporting these days. His girlfriend is a clear eyed blonde curled up on a couch in the corner looking at a magazine.
“So yea bro if you can just pass some of these around the crew that would help me out a lot,” Chris is saying as I make my way across the room.
“Let me check one,” I say to him and he hands me a copy – runestone letters on purplish blue paper cry out “Rave, Rave with DJ Judah!” and I remember Chris, in addition to being all things possible in underground suave, is a fucking rave DJ as well. It’s then that I recall his mom died and left him some money that he spent on this building, some piercing equipment and some proper turntables and a PA. I haven’t been to a rave since late 93 when I ran into Mary and Griggs at the club after we watched a black hard core band called Egypt that was made up of some of the dudes from 24-7 Spyz. We ran into the singer after the show and he said he wanted to check the town and we heard there was a rave across the street at the coliseum so we walked across Deacon Boulevard to check it out.
The rave scene had some appeal to me when it seemed alien and strange and contained a sense of other-worldness that was fresh and curious. Now with every kid under 24 adopting the scene’s dim stylings it comes across as another lumpen cliché. And I am the anti-cliché, wed to the dogma of freshness with a violent Jacobin reaction against anything stale. But now was not the time to make a stand. It would be uncool given that we’re standing in dude’s own shop. So I had him the flier back and say “cool.”
Two teenage girls come through the door and begin to ask Chris about getting their lips pierced, or their tongue, and I’m shaking my head on the inside and laughing but then I remember that they are looking for the same escape from the staleness of mid-90s white America that I am except that as an introvert I prefer to get spiked on the inside.
Troy is talking to Chris’ girlfriend on the couch and I’m jealous again because he knows all of these females and can bounce from house to house in an endless stream of friendship. I wonder what that’s like – to have more than one or two people who actually know you and enjoy your company – not having to wait around for the phone to ring or someone to show up at your door to break the monotony of loneliness. I wonder how it is to feel like you aren’t forcing yourself on the crowd or to feel the need to prove yourself by constantly talking. Soon I’ll learn to ask more questions and actually listen to people’s answers instead of pouring thoughts out of my mouth in an effort to fit in. But I haven’t gotten that far yet and I’m still bouncing between silence and sibilant nervousness.
I chose the silent route now because Sharon, Chris’ girl, is so attractive I couldn’t talk around her if I wanted to. I content myself by standing across the room from them flipping through a stack of CDs by the bookshelf stereo next to a display of piercing studs. I position myself so I can look over at Sharon as she talks to Troy. She has the freshest almost glowing skin tight across her dimples, angular chin and high cheekbones. She can’t hide her figure under that loose t-shirt, probably her boyfriends, and I wonder how firm her breasts are and what they would feel like in my hands. I stare too long and she catches my eyes for an instant before she looks back to Troy and I back to the underground collection of local music that Chris has on the counter.
After a moment I look back and my eyes linger across her waist and down the leg of her jeans that are curled up under her as she sits on the couch and across her exposed ankles and bare feet with one or two toes covered by silver rings. Her thin sandals lie beneath her on the wooden floor. I glance down briefly at the cd and then back to her face that is full of laughter now as she smiles at Troy. He is smiling about something and then says to me “You ready to roll dog?”
I pretend I was not paying them attention and look up and nod. Sharon stands up with Troy and gives him a hug and he wraps his arm around her waist. I’m about to head to the door but she comes across the room with Troy and sticks out her hand.
“I’m Sharon,” she says.
I stick out my hand and wish I knew her enough to get my arms around her, but I just say “Hey, I’m Thomas.”
“It’s nice to meet you Thomas. Troy has a lot of good things to say about you. Do you think you will make it to the rave?”
“It looks like it will be a blast. I’ll get some people to check it out.”
“Chris would like that. Hope to see you there,” and with that she moves to hug me and I lean into her and feel the fullness of her breasts against my body and briefly grip her waist. She raises her palm to my chest and applies a small bit of pressure to let me know it’s too much and so I let her go.
Though it was only a second at the most it makes me want to dance again.
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