Saturday, 14 May 2016

Concert 1995, Birmingham Road 1997

"No, but I mean, it's a skill, it's a talent. It's this cool thing to be able to suggest hidden reserves even as you're there, offering yourself up to people. Listening to them," said an old guy with spiky hair and Buddy Holly glasses. He thinks I just sit back and run the show by simply being, when in fact I'm a tabula rasa. For days that conversation made me feel prickly, overheated with a kind of oblique shame that I hadn't immediately run away, because I wanted to be polite. Because I had to spend the evening in the same venue as this guy. The fourteen year old and the forty year old, in the cinderblock corner.
Kids hanging on to the tail end of the grunge era roamed the vaguely louche El Torreon Ballroom, many of them with dilated eyes and silly grins. Girls linked arms to traverse the floor, friends of all genders embraced and kissed in greeting to show just how relaxed, how cool, how anti- they were. Jelly shoes, thrifted button-downs with the gas station ghost-attendants' names embroidered on the chest, highwater corduroys, threadbare cardigans. Shift dresses that looked cut from sofa upholstery. Eyebrows plucked to single-file hairs, Manic Panic, Dr. Pepper lip balm, baby barrettes.
I had shown up there with a small group to watch a friend's band, and other than the charitable few I'd ridden with, the crowd mostly steered clear of me. They could smell that my chemicals weren't theirs. They could smell my unease, they treated me as if I were better than them, cooler, with more singular style, which wasn't a kind of fawning but a delicate ostracizing. I was here on a Friday night because I was good, no trouble, my parents were permissive, while theirs were negligent. Except for a moment of friction when a cousin reported on my watching the film Kids, my mother promising we'd "discuss it later"--which we didn't--I was generally free to read what I wanted, watch what I wanted. Most certainly listen to what I wanted. My attempts to live a parallel life by corresponding with a much older boy in England without even bothering to sign up for a separate email account from my dad's--well, those were quashed. The internet was small in those days, a lot of fan pages of green Times New Roman on a black ground.
In two years' time I was again back at the Ballroom, waiting for another band, tangentially friend-related, to start playing, this time in my gamine phase. Short-cropped pixie, no makeup, thrifted ballet flats, cap-sleeve t shirt and no bra. No hips to speak of, no thighs, almost no breasts, untended brows. In retrospect, it's a wonder that any heterosexual boy my age ever expressed a bit of interest in me. Not that there were many. But a few, and a few is enough. I left after the show with Paul, a homeschooled musical phenom whose parents, sometime intellectuals, lived in a geodesic dome. Paul was only a few inches taller than me, wiry and lean, with thick black brows and a shock of short side parted dark hair. Perfect teeth, high pitched laugh, the most effortless indie wardrobe west of the Mississippi, east of the Rockies. Chuck Taylors, Action Slacks. Adorably dorky, quite literally too cool for (actual) school. We sat in a pitch dark country lane in his ancient bottle green Volvo, sipping a cherry icee and fishing under the seats for tapes to play in the aftermarket deck crammed awkwardly into the dash.
I sat with my legs across his lap (why was I in the driver's seat?), leaning forward to kiss during lulls in the conversation, which would resume, unbroken in continuity even after several minutes of making out. Medium format film (kiss) Harmony Korine (kiss) gruesome urban legends about the village on whose outskirts we were parked (kiss) French classes (kiss). Lazy kissing, we invented it. I never found occasion to tell him that I kissed him more in the course of that evening than I'd kissed anyone else, combined, in my short life thus far. Somehow we switched places, and I ended up in the passenger seat.
I Wanna be Adored spilled canned and soft from the car speakers, my eyelids fluttered, as I felt I couldn't look when he planted a kiss right between my thighs. Oh, I suppose this is happening now. Okay. Had to happen sometime. The windshield completely fogged over. His hand skimmed up, squeezed me at the waist. The windows fogged over. A tiny staticky interval, then My Bloody Valentine came on. Headlights flooded us momentarily, diffuse through the frosted back glass, and Paul came up--shot up--, both of us holding our breath, and the car passed. Not the sheriff.  He collapsed forward, gave me a wet kiss, leaned his sticky cheek against mine and cupped my face in his hands and giggled, which started my own giggling at his Mozart laugh, in theoretical horror and relief. I squirmed, pulled my underwear back up around my hips. "Sorry about your car seat," I said in mock apology. "Oh, it's my dad's car," Paul said, deadpan, then winked. I must have looked mortified because he quickly reassured me that it was, indeed, his own car and not his parents'. Then, abruptly, he reclined the driver's seat with a rickety clunk, and with his eyes closed and a dopey, peaceful grin, put his hands behind his head as if he weren't in a slightly-too-chilly Volvo, but in a hammock in some balmy clime. Utterly unconcerned about anything at all, totally innocent, totally unselfconscious. Saint Paul-without-Guile, floppy, squirmy little dude with the crooked smile.





I went away to France that summer, and he was absorbed into another band. My hair grew longer and I resumed wearing mostly black. I mailed him a photograph (yes, by post!) of myself in my French school uniform, on my motorcycle in front of the golden stone bricks of Carcassonne. He mailed me a couple of cassette tapes of him talking about his music, his family, about falafel, about nothing. Our relationship-which-wasn't-really-one became more nebulous, and we drifted apart, painlessly and naturally. He's married now, living in a far corner of the globe. I thought of him today, when the radio announced that the Stone Roses had come back after twenty years with a new album. Tonight I'll dance around my empty apartment, alone, to I Wanna be Adored.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

make a shrine to the wasted day

I'm gonna make myself go blind tonight.
Sometimes there are songs that you have no memory of ever hearing on an ancient ipod. I smiled and I haven't smiled alone in quite a while. Hefner keeps on singing in a sulky adenoidal whine. I'm gonna make myself go blind tonight. It's a separation and desperation of love that makes me laugh. I drove out to the middle of nowhere with only a Catholic cemetery full of German immigrants and nuns and I took my last Polaroid frame of a stone lamb, my favorite of the children's graves, its features mostly weathered away and obscured by gold lichen. The Polaroid didn't turn out. The best thing I saw all day was a horse cantering alone across a field. I thought about a horse I knew named Jibreel.

I ate a dinner that later gave me dreams of Cathars. I took a scalding hot shower that was miserable for the skin and comforting to the brain. I mourned the loss of my record player and stereo components. I rubbed almond oil into my fingernails. I thought about how good it would be to name a cat Sir. I drank a pot of tea out of sheer listlessness. The computer played "No Pussy Blues". The electronics had a theme that day which also included the oblique filth of Steely Dan. I fell asleep with the duvet pulled over my head like I do every night.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

the magic things

-whales rolling on their sides to make eye contact
-the cab driver who quotes hafiz for you when you're quiet
-the kick start that works the first time, every time, and only for you
-a scalding hot shower and sake and kate bush when you come home chilled to the bone
-a freshly-tuned bicycle late at night, coasting over dry leaves whisper-fast
-two cats who put their arms around your neck in bed
-knowing you're getting on an airplane
-coffee, coffee, coffee, beautiful, spiritual black brew
-the skipped stone that just keeps on skipping
-pizza
-Persian calligraphy
-liquor stores full of pumpkins spilling out onto the sidewalk
-massive thrifted book hauls/ imagining that all the books you chose came from the same person
-feeling like some kind of bandit queen cuz you're shaving with a straight razor

Friday, 8 April 2016

America's greatest living poet was ogling you all night.

Weeks are defined by the beverages you imbibe, the song you listen to on loop that concerns your landlady, the colors (or, in my case, textures) that you wear, and the invisible hashmarks on the wall that tally exactly how long you've been considered unfuckable. This is what passes for structure. 

The week of Turkish coffees, Stone Roses' "I Wanna be Adored", oud-scented candles, black linen towels, and car accidents

The week of linden leaf tea, "Needle in the Hay", a hoodie that reeks unfairly of a single black cigarette, The Master and Margarita, and tacking up postcards

The week of tongue-in-cheek tarot cards, Steely Dan, beer made by monks, and mismatched handmade socks

The week of the black slip dress that wasn't nearly warm enough, giallo films screened in cafes, dark chocolate fingernails, spotty skin and "21st Century Schizoid Man"

The week of Persian laments, rings that don't fit over my knuckles, jeans with a growing hole over my left love handle, sighs from my mother over unshaven armpits, rose otto candles, 312 hashmarks

The week of being an insufferable piece of trash and everyone being too kind to point it out is every week, and I'm grateful for it.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Many St. Valentines



You retrieve a half-full bottle of San Pellegrino rolling loudly across the wood floor under the bed (thank you, cat) and place it next to the night stand. You know, in case you drink a little too much that night. Polaroid camera. Outrageously expensive rose-oil French candles in the bathroom that you buy, furtively, because you like the hand-calligraphed deco label, and whose fragrance you must always defend as un-granny. You stand under the hot needles of the shower and examine the tips of your nails, crescents painted in varnish like dried blood. You shave your legs in the sink so you can hear the music. You gave up shaving your armpits years ago.

This is a holiday that easily passes unnoticed, unless you have plans. This time you're reveling in the histrionics of it, you're giggling that it's the Roman fuckfest scored by songs meant to woo, provide background to your boning, and then, inevitably, to be cried over at some future time.

Slave to Love, The Ship Song, I Wanna Be Your Dog. It's warm(-ish) where you are, send that bra to hell, where it belongs. It ruins the line of your dress (not a vintage slip, a dress, I swear). Rub some soft kohl around your eyes, there, that's enough effort. But for the love of god, move your grandmother's cut crystal wine glass away from the edge of the dresser where the cats upset your dishes of rings and necklaces. There's half an inch of garnet liquid in this glass.

On the train you're transfixed by your Lon Cheney reflection in the doors, hollow eyes and grey-green skin, grinning under the strobe of passing neon signs. Skeletons in love. This holiday is your early adolescence, every name ever scribbled into a notebook, every shoplifted shibari postcard from the sex museum on the school trip to Amsterdam, every VHS tape you watched repeatedly, about a revenant musician seeking revenge, motorcycles, ravens.

Eventually you make it to the warehouse district and dance feverishly to Peter Murphy, eventually remove those pinching shoes and let them dangle from one hand while you sway aimlessly to Nick Cave, half-lidded dopey. Some shirtless pixie runs up to you and ties a sheer blindfold over your eyes, blows you a kiss, and disappears into the crowd with his companion, who looks like maybe he's on Ecstasy, a love-soaked bearded Buddha. You have one drink, something clear with a cocktail straw in it and an anemic lime wedge. It's a party! But you ain't rich. The man you're with, he doesn't dance, per se, but he follows you and holds your hand, will shuffle pressed against you like a kid at a junior high mixer, people-watches with a small smile. You never go out, but just for tonight, you wanted to hear some music.

You walk back to the train, waylaid momentarily by a longing for hot and salty street food, your skin steaming into the night's chill, your coat hanging open. As the tracks rhythmically jostle you, you let yourself fall into him, his back against the pole, and you nestle your head against his chest and breathe in the smell of him, sweaty and clean. At some point you are wearing both your open coat, so the tatty vintage lining is showing, and his black leather motorcycle jacket over top of that, which feels protective and weighty as a centurion's cuirass.

There's really no point in turning on the lights at home. You pass the mineral water back and forth and between the two of you it's gone in an instant, partially trickled down your chin. You banter sparsely, in fragments, in murmurs, about ordering pizza, the blessing of finally taking off your shoes, endless thirst. He unzips you and you collapse backwards onto the duvet and pop back up again despite your giddy head. Your toes dangle a few inches above the floor. He's kneeling in front of you, knees slightly apart, resting back on his heels, hands clasped behind his back.

"I didn't know you had this," he says of the tiny crying Persian eye stick-and-poke halfway between pubic hair and hip hollow, barely obscured by the lace of your panties (perverse frisson between pleasure and disgust, this word, like petting a wet lizard) which he is lazily attempting to push aside with his nose. You remind him that his hands aren't bound--why would they be?--and this strikes you as hilariously absurd though you only crack a smile. You glance down at the tattoo and shrug (what he calls your Gallic IDGAF)- no need to relive the decisions of the past summer.

He's absentmindedly massaging your left foot, his eyes closed, nearly dozing. You pull him on top of you and he makes of his forearms a cradle for your neck, and you can't stop kissing this ridiculous slow kissing of the danced-out. Three a.m. "I should shave," he mutters and then immediately scoffs at the notion of such timing. Your lips smile against his. His wife knows not to expect him home tonight. He's teasing, and teasing, and dead serious.  It's ludicrous how many times he brings you close to shuddering before you're on top of him, best view in the house. His sweet, hesitant smile when his eyes are closed near the end, almost breaks your heart as you move above him.

Afterwards, you're almost asleep, still kissing. When he slips under he has you in a modified headlock and you laugh because your face is in his armpit and you know you're in for six hours of this. Blindly you feel for his cheek, stroke it above the stubble where it's soft, listen to his even breaths. Follow the angled wing of his damp eyebrow and skim his long dark lashes. Hope you don't step on his glasses in the morning, wherever he threw them. Silly pup. You try to quell this tide of affection, escape this breathtaking devotion just enough to sleep before the sun starts to come up. In this way, you drift off. What feels like moments later but is actually hours, you're roused by a spiteful cramp and remember with a soft groan that already it's that time, My Bloody Valentine, snare drum riff, but seriously, folks. You roll to face the other way and he turns too, reaches his arm around you and presses with one large unnaturally hot hand between your hipbones, very slowly presses and rubs away the stupid cramp (buthowcanhetell), never opening his eyes or needing to speak, quickly falling back asleep with his hand still caressing that fatty part of you that you'd probably try to hide in front of anybody else.
It really doesn't matter that it was Valentine's Day at all.

Thursday, 15 October 2015


I dreamt of a painted bride, Kosovo pagan-style. I wonder what it signifies. I don't tend to think of dreams as significant but I always want them to be. 

Yesterday at a long red light, a Vietnam veteran was panhandling and I gave him a dollar. "You look like that Irish singer!" he said. Very boisterous. I smiled gamely. "Sinead O'Connor?" I don't look like her, but people don't see past the lack of hair.  "Love that rebel spirit honey!" He guffawed and flashed the peace sign.