For You, The Stars
Chapter Six: The Memphis Blues Again
On the ride back to Cecilia’s sister’s place I sat in the back seat and she sat in the passenger seat up front. I carried on a falsely macho conversation with Mike, talking about Cecilia’s charms as if she weren’t there. I told him about the time she’d posed for me wearing nothing up top except for suspenders, strategically positioned to cover her areolas, mentioning that it made her look like a Hustler cover girl. He knew exactly what I meant.
I wasn’t sure what he had in mind, but when we got up to San Rafael, he let us out of the car and declined to “come in for a nightcap.” Afterward, I joked to Cecilia that we could have had a threeway and that if he had gotten on top of her he might have been in for a surprise.
A week later we went to a party together at Parnassus. It felt funny being there with my girlfriend. I was so used to flirting like a free agent, even when I had been going out to Simone. It wasn’t like being at a disco, where we’d split up and try to dance with strangers and kind of compete for who could flirt with or attract more people before - always so far - going home together. That would have been weird in front of my friends.
Otherwise the scene was the same: the loud music, the grad-school intellectuals, dancing in the livingroom, passing out on the couches. Dannie was there. She kept her distance from me and I didn’t tell Cecilia that she was the one I’d cheated on Simone with.
In the morning, when we were discussing where to grab breakfast, there as the usual contingent for bloodies at Walnut Square and Dannie was pressing for the boulangerie, where we could get “fresh croissants” (said in a thick French accent). What had seeemed charming to me on previous occasions now appeared pretentious when looked at through Cecilia’s eyes. Afterward, we could crack each other up by imitating the way Dannie pronounced croissant (cwa-son).
Most weekends I’d take the bus up to Marin. It got to be such a routine that more than once I fell asleep on the bus, only waking at the end of the line. Then I’d have to call Cecilia from the bus station pay phone and she’d have toget her sister or brother-in-law to come pick me up. It was embarassing but they were always nice about it.
I was still getting phone calls over at the big gomer house from the Scientologists, so whenever I missed the bus downtown I’d walk around, trying to avoid running into the recruiters. Sometimes I’d wander over to the nearby strip club with its peep show arcade upstairs. I caught myself wondering: why am I paying to watch dancers or buying a lap dance or spending time in a nasty booth looking at porn clips for four minutes a quarter when just an hour away is my own voluptuous little bundle of sex? I never did figure that one out.
The weekends were splendid. The weather was almost always perfect and we didn’t seem to have any qualms about getting baked when we were watching over Cecilia’s niece. We had this method of smoking pot where we’d fire up the bong and one of us would take a deep, deep hit. Then we’d kiss and exhale the smoke into each other’s lungs. We figured we were using the drug more efficiently that way - plus it was an excuse to make out.
I got into the habit of calling in sick on Mondays so I could stay an extra day. At first it happened by mistake, from oversleeping, but after a while it was just too hard to tear myself away just to make it into the office for another boring day of sorting mail, filing, and manipulating numbers in a spreadsheet.
Mondays were the best because then we had the house to ourselves. We’d often spend the whole afternoon sunbathing in the nude, with the baby in her playpen in the shade nearby. One time, I was lying on my back and Cecilia was playing with my hair. We started talking about my receding hairline.
By now my hair was long enough that I tended to wear it swept back. I had the young Jack Nicholson thing going on around my temples. sharing bong hits. “As long as you keep combing it back, never forward,” she said. “You’ll be fine.”
Somehow Cecilia always found time to meet strange people, either at clubs or through her Marin friends. One time she took me over to the house of a drug dealer she’d met. I wasn’t sure what the point was, because we weren’t buying anything. After a while I realized that she was trying to show me off as her “smart” friend. The guy, Antonio, had a strange obsession with puzzles and quizzes and he started kind of testing me. His girlfried sat there on another couch never saying a word.
Most of these things I’d heard years ago. At boarding school we’d had a Logic Club that met on Wednesday nights and was mostly an excuse to eat pizza and get out of our dorms. We had the two math and logic puzzle books by James Fixx and after a while we’d run through all the items in both books. Over the years since then whenever someone brought out one of these things I’d recognize them as coming from “Games for the Superintelligent” or its sequel. I learned eventually to pretend not to know the answers because people get uncomfortable if you appear too smart, even if it’s only because you know this one.
So I’m drinking a beer on this guy’s couch and he is getting more and more animated because I’m answering all his puzzles and quickly, in an off-hand way. Cecilia likes it. She has summoned me to do gladitorial battle and once again I’m in an awkward position on her behalf.
I end up sitting at this guy’s kitchen table while he goes and gets out a full-on IQ test and starts working his way through the questions. By now my competitive urge is engaged so I’m not dogging it but really trying to get to the answer. Even a little drunk and always a little high I still manage to get on streak, making no mistakes at all.
As I answer the questions he looks them up in the back of his booklet (and, like, who collects IQ tests anyway?) and each time seems more astonished that I’m on this roll. Suddenly, it feels weird, as if I’m revealing too much, and when Antonio wants to start a new test I start begging off. When we’ve extricated ourselves from his apartment I tell Cecilia not to put me in a position like that again.
“You were totally into it,” she said.
“No,” I said. “People don’t like you if you’re too smart.”