For You, The Stars
Chapter Thirteen: Installment 4
I got two tickets to see a band called American Music Club at a tiny old nightclub called the Great American music Hall that used to be some kind of a dancehall or brothel back in the ’20s. Kim had turned me on to AMC, making a tape for me with their first two records, one each side, United Kingdom and California. I loved the lyrics of the songs and the singer’s way of pissing and moaning. Apparently he was something of an alcoholic, so seeing them was a bit like seeing Van Morrison. You never knew what kind of mood he’d be in. He might harangue the audience or he might put on the performance of his life.
In fact, several years later, just before AMC broke up I saw them open for Bob Dylan at the Berkeley Community Theatre and I was amazed at how the audience just about completely ignored them. I guess this is the usual fate of all opening acts, but I also felt like the graying hippies seeing Dylan for the umpteenth time had become so complacent in their desire to hear familiar comfortable music - something ironically Dylan would just as soon himself rather not serve up - that they didn’t know a good new-ish band fronted by a brilliant singer-songwriter when it bit them on the ass.
I also really liked the lead guitarist in the band, a porkpie-hat wearing enigma named Vudi. I remember seeing him staplegunning flyers for their show to telephone polls down Geary Street and thinking I guess that’s the punk life. You drive your own van, you unload your own amps, and you staple your own xeroxed handbills to the fake trees. D.I.Y., man. D.I.Y.
But I didn’t invite Kim to the show, I invited Giselle. It wasn’t necessarily her type of music. She told me she was more into Irma Thomas and other soul singers. I had to admit I wasn’t familiar with Irma Thomas and she told me that “Time Is On My Side” was her song before the Stones covered it. “That must have made her rich,” I said but Giselle told me, “No, someone else wrote it, so Irma didn’t get a penny when the Stones made it into a hit.” Apparently, Irma Thomas ended up opening a restaurant or nightclub in New Orleans, her home town. I thought I have to get myself to New Orleans one of these days.
Giselle said she’d be happy to come out with me. Our copyediting class had ended but we were still getting together for coffee or a drink every now and then. Things were pretty uneventful at her little publishing house and she liked hearing about how we cranked out six or seven new books a month in Emeryville. We got the club early and found a table near the stage. There was an opening act, with a name like Red House Train, or something - faux bluesy. It was like five guys, all of whom seemed younger than me, and rail thin. The singer was a moaner. All the songs were ballads. I could see why they were picked to open for AMC, but I wasn’t that impressed.
The show really picked up when Mark Eitzel and his band took the stage. They did most of the songs from the two albums I knew and the ones I didn’t know sounded great too. They encored with “Bad Liquor” which was a punky single they had put out before their first LP. It was bit like Television playing “Little Johnny Jewel” - kind of a nod to their true or oldest fans. I wasn’t really in that category but I was sucking up everything Kim was tipping me off too. She had stuck the single as filler on the end of the tape she’d made me, so I clued Giselle in to the significance of the encore so I’d look like someone in the know.
After the show, as we were filing out, I saw the singer standing around with I guess some friends of his at the bar. I went up to him to thank him for doing such a great job. Eitzel was a skinny guy with a shaved head. He grabbed my hand and pumped it enthusiastically, saying “Let me shake your friendly hand.” It was kind of the perfect moment to end on.
Giselle and I got into my little blue Mercedes and I asked her where she’d like to go next, out for a drink or back to her place. “Let’s go to my place,” she said, making it sound like maybe I’d be invited upstairs. She knew I was involved with somebody but then again she had that boyfriend on the east coast so she wasn’t really one to talk. I parked down the street from her apartment and we sat in the car just talking for a while.
I had an easier time talking to Giselle than to most people, men or women. I felt like I could say just about anything. I would flirt, a little but I didn’t feel like I had to put on an act to make her like me. We talked about sex sometimes and it wasn’t prurient. More matter-of-fact really. She would tell me about some of her lesbian affairs and how she felt that she leaned that way a little more than straight, but that it really depended on the person. I’d met people who claimed to be bisexual before but I had never really had the chance to talk about it much.
We also argued a bit, about stupid stuff. kind of like siblings. She would point out an annoying habit of mine, or a verbal tic, like my way of saying “fair enough” when I wasn’t convinced by one of her arguments. Usually I’d then point out that she had the exact same habit or tic, which would really piss her off. She’d claim I was just trying to turn everything back on her but really I wasn’t. That’s what made it feel like a sibling argument to me. My brother used to accuse me of just noting everything he ever complained about and then later accusing him of the same exact thing. Maybe there was some truth to it.
Eventually Giselle invited me up for a nightcap. She had a fairly large apartment with a living room separate from her bedroom, and no roommate. I surmised that she must come from some money because I didn’t know anyone my age who lived by themselves in anything bigger than a tiny studio. She poured me a couple of fingers of Johnny Walker Red over ice in a tumbler and admitted that she had always wanted to invite someone up for a nightcap. I pretended to be offended but couldn’t keep it up when she pushed my thrift-store tweed jacket off my shoulder and rested her lips on the crook of my neck.
She told me that the first time she noticed me in our extension class was when I was wearing this jacket and had stood up to take it off. Something about my back or shoulders, apparently, had caught her attention. I was tickled to think of being observed in that way, of being seen as sexy by a total stranger. I liked the idea that she had noticed me and made a point of meeting me.
It wasn’t that strange, really. Most of the other people in the class were much older or were notably unattractive or not very bright or otherwise disqualified as lust objects. I thought about how often people are thrown together, on a camping trip, in a freshman R.A. group, at a job, and it doesn’t take a novelist to figure out which ones are going to hook up. Sometimes it’s just obvious that there is one other person in a group who is there for you. It’s still up to you to go and get them, but the logic of attraction draws a straight line between you.
It was kind of like that with Giselle and me in that class. I thought I was chatting her up when she had already singled me out as someone she at least wanted to get to know, and now we were up in her apartment kissing. She had really nice furnishings. Brocade curtains, real furniture. All kinds of touches that you’d never see at the Gomer house with our venetian blinds and the couch we found out on the street one day. When she steered me too her bedroom I noticed her lace bedspread and her luxurious-feeling cotton sheets with no doubt some incredibly high thread count.
She was almost entirely uninhibited as far as I could tell. For a moment, when she went down on me, I flashed back to Maura doing the same thing the week before, but I thrust that out of my mind. Inwardly, I felt kind of evil, like I had had to cross Maura off of my list, finally make her come to me and submit to my patient years of seduction, and that now I wasn’t interested anymore. The mystery was gone and if anything I wanted a kind of petty revenge, as if to say “there, now you know what it feels like to be rejected,” but why was I still thinking about her? I put my hands in Giselle’s hair and brought myself back to the present.
Her body was delectable. She had a little babyfat, small-ish but plump breasts, and womanly hips. She wasn’t athletic but then neither was I. She wore expensive-looking sheer lingerie and I wasn’t sure if that was for our date or if she always dressed herself so sumptuously. Had she had been wearing these sexy underthings every time I’d seen her, in class, over coffee? Probably. I got the feeling she dressed to please herself and not me. She clearly paid attention to detail, with her creamy silk blouses, long wool skirts, and tasteful earrings. She favored green stones in her jewelry.
We fell asleep together after making love. I woke her in the middle of the night for another go, and then once more in the morning. She came back from the bathroom as I lay still lounging in her bed and said she wasn’t sure how she felt about me waking her up that way. She wanted this to be about more than sex. I said I agreed but I wasn’t sure I did.