For You, The Stars
Chapter Twelve: Do You, Mr. Jones?
Several of my new coworkers at Climex had a novel in the desk drawer or a band playing on the weekends or poetry they were secretly submitting to obscure local journals. Roger was in a grungy sounding band when that just meant a kind of heavily distorted guitar sound and did not yet refer to a plaid flannel lifestyle out of Seattle. One of the copyeditors I was assisting, Paul Svoboda showed me a few chapters of a novel he was working on. He also managed to get a few short pieces called “things I learned from television” published in a literary magazine with some dadaesque title published by a Romanian refugee poet in New Orleans. He claimed to have also gotten an item published in one of those little boxes in the margins of Harper’s but I didn’t see that.
He also lived in San Francisco and he offered me a ride home from the east bay one day when I hadn’t yet managed to get myself a car. Somewhere on the bridge he asked me if I liked to smoke pot. I was kind of nervous about discussing this with someone from work. I had never talked about drugs with any of the architects. Despite the risqu&e; nature of the Climex books and the bohemian pursuits of the junior employees, the place was really very businesslike, almost buttoned down, and i didn’t want to get a reputation. Still, I took a chance and told him that yes I did occasionally partake.
“Oh, good,” he said, and produced a joint. It was a pinner, and not nearly as strong as the big bag of weed under the coffeetable in the Gomer group house, but it was a nice gesture and we smoked it down while still struck in traffic near Treasure Island. Thus began a new friendship. We argued about stupid things. I had this theory that Bob Dylan was fundamentally a bluesman, in the lineage of Bukka White and Blind Willie McTell. Svoboda, who was a huge, almost insanely worshipful Dylan fan, was more doctrinaire, insisting that he was a folk musician. I told him that that was not a real distinction, that Leadbelly had toured on the ’60s folk circuit, that there was a concept of country blues, and so on, but to him blues meant Chicago, B.B. King, and Bobby “Blue” Bland. Dylan was white and had sung songs about war, so that made it folk music. We agreed to disagree.
I showed Paul some of my experimental short stories and he nicely encouraged me to try to just tell stories and stop showing off my vocabulary and my ability to “fracture the narrative,” whatever that meant. I thought again about that writing group that Giselle said she might be starting soon. Maybe I needed a group of people to read over what I was writing and tell me if it was making any sense or if it was just pure self-referential wankery.
Speaking of Giselle, the copyediting class at the extension was winding down to a close and I was wondering if we were going to continue to hang out. There was definitely some sexual tension between us, an obvious mutual attraction. She seemed way more sophisticated than Cecilia. She was only a year or two older but she just seemed more like an adult. She even wore a choker of pearls one evening and she never bared her tummy in public. But I also knew I wasn’t done with Cecilia. We were drawing apart from each other but my stern commitment to nonpossessiveness wasn’t holding up. I was jealous of whatever had gone on with the roadie, or even both roadies, I wasn’t sure, and I also started hearing a new name, some guy Evan, a friend of Sheena’s, who’s family had a house up on Lake Berryessa and whom Cecilia seemed to be hanging around with a lot. I wanted to get a look at this guy and figure out what his deal was.
Also, Maura was going to be coming out by the end of the summer and I just wasn’t sure if I was happy about that or not. I had gotten used to the idea of having this somewhat idealized, theoretical but also unreal, no-obligation relationship conducted entirely via the U.S. mail. Maura had a fairly uncensored window into what I’d been up to, sure, so she knew that she was coming into a situation in which I was involved with someone else. She even knew about Giselle and the way I sometimes thought about ending things with Cecilia and trying to get something going with her. She was vague in her letters about whether she expected us to get together, fool around, be a couple, or turn into “just friends.” Each of those possibilities felt equally unlikely. For one thing, I just knew that if she showed up at my door she’d end up in my bed. I don’t know how I knew this but I had no doubt that it was true.
I figured I was better off discussing this with Cecilia than carrying it around in my head. I still hadn’t told her much about Giselle except to say I had met a new friend who wasn’t a Gomer and was a writer and sometimes gave me a lift from class. She really hadn’t shown much interest in her. Next time I was hanging out at her sister’s place helping her watch her niece I mentioned almost in passing that Maura was thinking of moving out to Berkeley.
“What do you think about that?”
“What should I think? Who cares?”
“Well, you know about our history—”
“Duh,” she said. “Big fucking deal.”
“And you know about the letters.”
“You keep them in a folder in plain sight in your room. I’ve read half of them when you aren’t around.”
“What? You shouldn’t read other people’s mail!” I tried to remember what I’d written about Cecilia.
“You know I’m nosy. Anyway, she’s very wordy. I’m not sure what you see in her. Didn’t you say she was cruel to you at Princeton?”
“Yeah,” I said. That was true. “She just has always had some kind of hold on my attention. I’m fascinated with her for some reason. She’s very smart.”
“You’re always telling me I’m smart. Is that just your word for girls you’re interested in?”
“No,” I said. “Well, maybe. At least, I mean, I like smart women. I don’t like dummies anyway. I wouldn’t like you if I didn’t think you were smart. I mean, I’d like you but I wouldn’t be into you.”
“Your sure it’s not just this?” she said, cocking her hips to one side and cupping her crotch.
“Oh, yeah,” I said. “It’s totally the camel toe.”
“Haw haw. Very funny. Why do you think I’m going to care if stupid Maura comes out for a visit?”
“Moves out here,” I said. “She’s thinking of moving out here.”
“Same difference. I don’t care if you fuck her or whatever. I forget if you said if she’s pretty or what.”
“Not like you,” I said. “She’s blonder than you, but she doesn’t have your body. She definitely doesn’t have your boobs.”
“Good,” she said, leaning forward and pushing up her tits from below, “because I’m using them.”
“I can think of a few uses for them myself,” I said.
“Maybe they’re not for you,” she said. “You know the roadies are coming back to SF in a few weeks.”
The Monsters of Rock tour was due for its Oakland stop in less than a month. “Oh, right,” I said. “You and Sheena owe those guys a party, don’t you?”
“Shut up,” she said. “At least those guys aren’t dorks.”