For You, The Stars
Chapter Twelve: Installment 4
I came to terms with Curtis, Giselle’s sort-of outside boyfriend, on his used Mercedes. He wanted $1900 and I wanted to pay $900. He offered to settle for $1000 and I countered with $900. It was all I had to spare and he’d been trying to sell his car for months, so he agreed. The car was a beautiful blue color and it looked, to me, like a real car, that classic boxy shape I grew up with in the ’60s. It was all squared off and not molded or teardrop shaped like the cars of the ’80s. It didn’t have much in the way of extra: no power steering, no air conditioning, no stereo. Just an AM radio, in fact.
But to me that just made it all the more classic, with its broad heavy dashboard and minimal analog dials. It fogged up inside when the weather was wet, which was often, especially on my morning commute across the Bay Bridge, but I didn’t mind. Someone told me that a car officially became a classic when it turned 25 years old. I wasn’t even 25 myself, and the car would have to last till ‘94 to hit that milestone (it didn’t) but I liked to think that the car was well on its way. It even had blue hubcaps that matched the exterior.
I took pride in my new old car and it made my commute to work a lot more fun. I started offering Bettie and Paul a lift every few days. At work, I was getting to know more people, feeling more a part of the crowd. I talked to people like Paul and Kim and Roger about the fact that we were editing and publishing what was essentially pornography but everybody seemed more or less jaded about it. We laughed about the people who bought these books to get off and we made up titles for future books (in face we referred to books as “titles” although the sales people referred to them as “paper bricks”), always trying to outdo each other in outrageousness, with the rule being that you couldn’t be literally vulgar. No cuss words.
My best title, which brought a roar from the people in the copyediting pit one day was Cheerleader Nuns of Petticoat Island. I never managed to top that one. Meanwhile, at the office, a new game was suddenly cropping up on everyone’s computer. The first version to circulate, running in DOS with simple one-color graphics, was called Nyet and it was said to have been written by Russian computer scientists. Later versions of the game, eventually with more color and decorative screens although fundamentally the same game, were called Tetris. This involved a set of shapes each made from four building blocks: a square, a t-shape, an s-shape, a backwards-s, and a line. You could rotate the shapes and the goal was to brick in the base of the game, filling it in solid across, at which point the filled row would vanish. The game moved faster over time and eventually the channel filled to the top, ending the game. But you know this already, don’t you?
Roger was proud of his skills at Nyet and I was determined to beat him, so every time he logged a high score I took over the shared computer and played till I bested him. The game was seriously addictive. After a while, when I was copyediting a manuscript my mind would start interpreting the rivers of space that naturally occur down the page as openings for dropping tetris pieces into. At night, when I closed my eyes, I’d see the shapes dropping. It was a little scary that way.
One day Kim told me that she had decided to call Roger “Cheese Breath.”
“Why?” I said. “Does his breath really smell like cheese?”
“No,” she said. “I just think it’s funny.”
So whenever she saw Roger she’d say, “Hey, Cheese Breath,” and as if I was just picking up on the nickname I’d say “Yo, Cheese Breath! What’s up?” Roger didn’t have that knack for just ignoring a nickname he didn’t like. He found it maddening that people were suddenly calling him Cheese Breath. He cornered Kim and asked her why, but she just played it coy. “Like you don’t know,” she said. I liked Roger, but I thought it was pretty funny that he was so discomfited by this.
At the time I was getting into Camper Van Beethoven, which had a cover of “O Death” on their most recent album, so I made up a parody of that song to amuse Kim:
Oh, I’m Cheese Breath and I excel I play nyet and tetris Equally well
and so on. Maybe it was my revenge for the hypercard stack that showed me aging to a skull.
The Monsters of Rock tour finally came to town and I didn’t see Cecilia for a week or so. She was spending all her time with that roadie guy and for the first time she told me flat out about fooling around with someone else. She was very matter of fact about it. She said she brought the guy back to her little basement room and she offered to let him sleep over and then she tried to tell him she didn’t want to have sex but he was having none of it. “Are you kidding?” he said. “I didn’t come all this way to not have sex with you,” or something like that.
She said it was wild. He was very uninhibited and physical with her. “He was throwing me all around. He did me in the ass.” It was weird hearing her talk that way. On the one hand it was kind of sexy, her being so plain and matter-of-fact about it. I also felt in a strange way that she got what she deserved or what she was looking for. I was never that free with her. I always had my ways of courtship and asking permission and caring a lot about her orgasm or her inability to achieve it. In some way what she wanted, what she needed, was a stereotypically macho guy, a big guy with lots of muscles who moved speakers for a living, to just come and take from her what he wanted. In some sense I couldn’t compete with that and I knew it.
At the same time, of course, I felt a strong pang of jealousy. I was trying to stay true to our whole open thing. I didn’t see this as a betrayal per se or as necessarily the end of our relationship. She sure didn’t. She fully expected me to find the story interesting and even vicariously sexy and I said, in a way I did. I was actually pretty confused. Mixed up. I didn’t know what I was feeling. It changed from one moment to the next. I also knew that he was just passing though town, and that I hadn’t been around as much lately and that Cecilia sounded like she was still available to me when I wanted her, so what was I concerned about?
Then my next letter from Maura came and she said she’d be in town in just over a week. I wasn’t expecting her till the end of the summer but she was scouting out apartments in Berkeley before the fall semester started. I found myself strangely nervous about her showing up. Was reality going to live up to the fantasies in our letters? We had exchanged a lot of tender affectionate words but they had been without real consequences. At the same time she had been my confidante through the time I was cheating on and then breaking up with Simone, into the early exhilarating period of infatuation with Cecilia and up to this current time of on-again off-again weirdness.
I couldn’t tell whether she was arriving to claim me, to consummate our affair, or to start yet another cycle of connection moving into rejection. She made it clear she wasn’t expecting to move in with me and she left it ambiguous about whether she expected us to “go out.” I found that I was looking forward to seeing her and I wondered what she would make of the little life I had constructed for myself in California. I found myself hoping she’d like my car as much as I did.
I told Cecilia that I was expected Maura for a visit and she was still caught up in her visiting roadie and said she didn’t really care one way or the other. I also knew that her stamp was all over my room, my stuff, and my clothes. Half the stuff I was wearing these days were things Cecilia had picked out for me at thrift shops and hipster stores in the Haight and the upper Fillmore. Her little girl scrawl was on notes strewn around my room: “Came by but you weren’t here Chad let me in Took a beer Catch you later Love ya Ce” and her little drawing of her cowboy boots on a post-it stuck to my bulletin board. Maybe she knew that when Maura showed up she’d be entering a domain totally defined and marked by another woman.
Or maybe she really just didn’t care. There was a time when I thought she was jealous of Maura, seeing that stack of letters in their manila folder, knowing there was a dimension to our relationship that was beyond or at least entirely different from what we had together. On the other hand, she knew - because she’d asked me - that Maura wasn’t “hot” like she was and although I often thought her shallow girly-girl routine was just that, an act, at other times I wasn’t sure.
But I’d find out one way or the other soon enough.