For You, The Stars
Chapter One: Eyes Like a Cat
Simone and I hit it off right away. Dave less so with her friend Sharon, but the four of us planned a double date in Berkeley a week later. I think we went for ice cream. Simone was also from New York, except Queens, not Manhattan, and she was writing her Ph.D. thesis on Toni Morrison at SF State, so she and Dave had the English department there in common.
I liked her right away. She was smart and pretty and had a cocky attitude. She cussed and she was opinionated. I even kind of liked her semi-thick Queens accent. It may have been that touch of home I was sick for. She was also kind of awkward. It may have been her alliterative name: Simone Shroop. I’d probably feel awkward with a name like that. I guess she was kind of dorky, but I was definitely into her. She seemed to have pretty nice breasts but it was hard to tell.
A month or so later we were lying on my futon and already reminiscinng about our first impressions. We were very frank with each other and we were talking about what we’d thought when we first took off our clothes and lay down together. I admitted that while I still was great admirer of her breasts, that they were not as large as I had imagined from the clothes she wore at the party and on that first double-date (Dave and Sharon didn’t hit it off and drifted apart quickly.)
She admitted that she hadn’t noticed my gut the first few times. I’ve always carried around some extra pounds, at least since puberty, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot.
In fact, a little while later she also told me that there were three things I hadn’t told her up front when we first met: that I was unemployed, that I was a Dead head, and that I smoked a lot of pot. Can you blame me?
We fell into a routine suprisingly quickly. I’d only had one serious girlfriend in college and I was sort of amazed at how easily this had worked out. The same friend of Dave’s and Simone’s who had hosted the party where we met also set me up in a somewhat pointless job at an architecture studio, a kind of assistant/slave job. It had been his job at the time but he was leaving to go to architecture grad school. It made less sense for me since I wasn’t planning to be an architect, but a job was a job, and the legal summarizing was getting old.
I may have been deliberately doing jobs in career paths I wasn’t interested in. I wasn’t going to be a lawyer or an architect, so being a paralegal or a studio assistant didn’t represent any kind of threat of settling into a career. Instead I could practice not writing or make up songs on the guitar and dream big dreams.
But something inside of must have been craving a domestic routine, because pretty soon I was on a regular cycle. I still wasn’t making much money, around $7/hour, so I would walk the 20 blocks or so from my commune to the place near Lyon and Baker and Page where Simone lived with her two roommates. I’d listen to my walkman sometimes on the way over and other times I’d just spend the whole time lost in thought.
Sometimes I’d come out of it and notice I was chanting soundlessly: Lyon and Baker and Page, oh my!
One of my other roommates in the group house, Belinda, asked me why I did a big bonghit before I walked over to Simone’s. It was a good question. Part of it was just that “one for the road” idea, or to bring on the reverie for the next 25 minutes. But in retrospect it was probably about social anxiety or maybe a sense that I was going down the wrong road.
Many nights I would sleep over at Simone’s. She was into Genesis, Phil Collins Genesis, so I would kind of mock her for that. She’d of course mock me for being into the Dead. We’d compromise by falling asleep on her tiny little bed listening to the new age ambient station, which reminded me a lot of drums and space.
We actually took a long time to get sexually intimate, which was sort of a good thing. I was still pretty inexperienced and she considered herself to be a virgin although technically she had had one drunken experience.
“He put it in but he wasn’t hard,” she told me. “Does that count?”
We did a lot of kissing. I always liked making out. It took me back to my earliest experiences, around 7th grade, playing spin the bottle and kissing for hours. I liked the play of tongues and the softness of our mouths pressed together. I also liked feeling her up. Her breasts were pretty nice after all. I wasn’t really in any hurry to go much further, and we’d usually bring each other off with our hands.
She told me she wanted to be drunk when she lost her virginity again, and I was really against that. I wanted her to be present. She was obviously scared. When we finally got around to it, she cried, and I didn’t yet know that that was really not unusual. I kept trying to get her to tell me why she was crying and she kept saying she didn’t know.
She did have a bit of psychological problem, which you could delicately refer to as “clenching up.” Or maybe it was physical. Believe me, it wasn’t like I was presenting a challenge from the size point of view. She talked to her doctor and got a tube of lubricant and that actually worked pretty well. Eventually she got very enthusiastic about fucking.
Not so much with the blowjobs, though. She was kind of afraid to even try, and I admitted to her that I found that frustrating. “You don’t have to be a blowjob queen or a pornstar,” I told her. “Just give it the old college try.”
I also thought it was unfair that she was totally willing for me to go down on her. I mean, really: tit for tat, right? One time, as a kind of joke, I told her that if we ever broke up it would probably be because of the no blowjob policy. She got really mad at me and how could I even joke about that? So of course I told her I was sorry, but in a way I was just telling her the truth. Sexual compatability matters, doesn’t it?
It’s not like we were just about sex all the time. We were both in our low 20s, so it’s understandable - I think - that we were fooling around every day, or just about, but we did a lot of things together. We went to concerts: Neil Young, Santana, the Dead. But never Genesis! She admitted that she and her younger brother once cried at a Barry Manilow concert. She later regretted telling me that. Actually, I think she regretted telling me that immediately.
We also talked about books and writing a lot. Under her tutelage, I read all of Toni Morrisons, starting with the Bluest Eye. She taught me a lot about contemporary lit-crit. Education had actually turned me off to reading. All through my childhood I’d read voraciously, but starting with book reports and then term papers and then later in college the truly insane reading schedules all conspired together to make me want to read as little as possible, outside of science fiction novels and the Remo Williams series.
After I graduated I went through a kind of no-read-at-all detox period and then tentatively I dipped back into reading novels and started remembering how much I loved them. Every day at my lunch break at the architecture firm I’d walk out reading my book. I had mastered the art growing up in New York of reading and walking around in a city without bumping into hydrants and poles and other people most of the time.
I had gotten kind of friendly, in a perfunctory way, with the gay reception desk guy in the office building and one day he asked me, “Hey, are you taking a ‘great books’ class?” That puzzled me, but I guess I was reading highbrow stuff, Pale Fire one week and Hopscotch the next. I was kind of burning through the books after a while once I got my appetite back.
So Simone and I had a lot in common, a lot to talk about, and a pretty lusty time in the sack. I liked her just fine but I was pretty careful not to accidentally say “I love you.” I’d been in love in college and that was okay but I was in no hurry to jump right back into something that all-consuming.
Unfortunately, Simone was definitely moving up that mountain, well past infatuated and heading for love. After a while she started talking about loving me and I was really dreading that “I love you but I’m not in love with you” speech. Still, I made a point of being honest and even when it would have made things easier I refused to string her along or pretend I felt stronger than I did. And I never, ever, ever talked about the future or anything crazy like marriage.