The Continuing Tales Of… is a new feature where we pay tribute to an album’s anniversary by asking writers to compose a short story inspired by each one of the songs. Last month we did The Postal Service’s Give Up. This installment is Iggy and The Stooges’ Raw Power, which turned 40 last month.
“Search and Destroy”
BY PHILLIP PANTUSO
See the sky. See the blue sky sundered by the contrail of an airplane. See the Hueys tilt toward high heaven, their blades thwacking the air, and see the yellow plumes of mustard gas festering the land. Hear the artillery whine overhead, see it arc toward some terrible end. Feel the dirt pelt the back of your neck, and think to yourself: God, doesn’t it feel good?
The reports you read back home about the war impose an order that does not exist here. Back in America, the war is a 32-point bold headline. It’s a montage of grainy footage, anonymous green men running around with god-knows-what in their hearts, but fear in their eyes. It’s set to head-splitting music, a world away from “Rock Around the Clock”. But it’s not really like that. What it’s really like is quiet, boring, repetitive, until it tries to kill you. There is no destiny, no narrative; the war takes what it can get.
You pass most of the war waiting for something to happen. The Big Fear accretes at the liminal edge of your attention, so that you are always conscious of danger, but never quite sure of where it is or when it will come. We take the edge off, with dope, with Dexedrine, with pictures of girls from back home, with jokes about how calming it would be if we just got it over with and blew ourselves up. I’ve known lurps who shove palmfuls of the Dex pills down their throats, just to cool themselves down enough to pretend to play their parts. The pills make your teeth feel hollow, your blood run too fast, and your breath smell like you’ve been chewing meat. The dope, however, slows everything down just right; it scrapes out the insides of your veins, it soothes your nerves. It brings this dimensionless thing down to size.
Our battalion had been deployed as part of a large-scale effort in Tay Ninh Province, an effort to relieve the pressure on Saigon and the surrounding area, to the Cambodian border. When we lied down to sleep the night before deployment, the Big Fear returned, like a jackal with glowing eyes on its nightly rounds. The stars pinwheeled overhead. How many of them to each one of us?
The next morning, D-Day, the battalions gathered in a great disordered mess. Someone joked, “Who’s ready to enter the great Beyond?” The Beyond is what we call the jungle. The jungle is oppressive and disorienting. It makes you feel like you’re on the verge of blacking out. You feel each of the sweltering seconds as they pass, with a low-grade, insidious terror that something is coming for you from just outside your periphery. You can never see everything. Once you’ve been in the shit, some part of you never really comes back. That’s why they call it Beyond.
A Marine on the flight muttered nonsense the whole way over. He had one of those faces I’d seen a thousand times, not a flicker of youth in his eyes, the pallor sucked from his cheeks and lips. He looked like he’d been dead for weeks and injected with some animating fluid for the purposes of this mission. His name was Williamson. This was his third tour.
“I couldn’t hack it back home,” he said, just like that.
“Can you hack it here?” I asked.
He shrugged. Last year he’d survived an ambush on his platoon; he played dead as the VC bullets whistled by. The entire platoon went down. The blood had dried in his hair before he felt safe to get up. When that tour was over, he went home, and found himself pointing his father’s hunting rifle at the house cat, tracking it across the living room, until the only feeling he was aware of was a heaviness in his pointer finger. That’s when he would’ve pulled the trigger, back in Vietnam.
“I figured I better get back in the shit,” he said. “That’s where I’m useful.”
We landed and the platoons fanned out in an arc. The next few days were spent hacking through the forest, thinning the bamboo canopy, seeding enemy trails with Claymore mines. It was impossible to measure progress. Once, the point man fell into a trap that had been covered with leaves. He lay at the bottom of a pit 10 feet deep, with his leg bent the wrong way, biting his knuckles until the skin broke so as not to scream out in pain.
“Vietnam, man. Shit!” said Williamson, shaking his head. He offered me some dope, and I took it.
On the fourth day, we began to take fire from the northeast, and soon we lost radio contact. The 2nd Platoon, having been aware of our position, moved to the northwest to cover our flank, but soon they were hit, too. Small arms fire, rifle grenades, rockets, 60-mm. mortar rounds, descending like a small weather system.
The world winked and I came to on my back, staring up at the blue sky through shadowed foliage. No one was around, and I didn’t know where I was. For some reason, my mind flashed back to Muskegon, Michigan, and the backyard of my parents’ house. I was nine or 10 years old, and I was lying in a furrow in the soft clay underneath the towering red oak tree, watching the clouds striate the sky above. It was early autumn and the leaves were twisting to the ground. Our dog had dug out the pit to keep cool in the summer. He’d run up to greet you at the backdoor with a muddy belly. We’d had to put him down a week earlier, because he had cancer. I wasn’t sure why I kept going out there, but something compelled me, and once I was there I didn’t think about it.
And then someone yelled, and the bamboo started shaking. My eyelids were hot and my muscles slow to respond. I heaved myself upward and started moving toward the sounds.
BY RANDY HARGROVE
Iggy lumbered toward the door. Punks stood by it, markers of relative distance from the entrance. He counted as he got closer. One punk deep. Two punks deep. He was at the precipice. The door was missing, and judging from the gashes in the frame, had been for a while.
Beyond the ruined entryway, a sea of black rippled. A raw scent steamed off of them collectively and gave weight to the air. He saw stars as nearby piercings and studs swiveled to face him.
The mass of black-clad flesh mostly ignored him. He penetrated its folds, his own shirtless body giving contrast to the crowd. He needed to find Matthew.
He saw the hesher in the kitchen, bent over, pumping a keg for a leggy girl with long, wavy black hair. Iggy walked up to him. “Dude.” Matt straightened up. He looked surprised, perhaps even intimidated, despite his above-average bulk.
“Hey, man. Glad you could make it. Like I said before, you’re welcome to stay here for the night,” Matt said quickly. Iggy’s shaggy head rose and lowered in succession, in approval. He was motionless for a second, merely planted there. His eyes followed a passed cup of beer, leaving Matt for the leggy girl, and relished moving up and down her. They settled on her own eyes, giant vulnerable reflecting pools just north of a deep red, slightly parted mouth.
Her veneer of innocence dropped. “Matt fucks like a 13-year-old. Will you fuck me instead?” He fell in love with her immediately.
Iggy and Matt locked eyes. Matt’s facial features floated away from each other in disgust, then contorted and thinned in rage. The big hesher looked like he was going to hit somebody, but wasn’t sure whom. Iggy’s mind was clogged with emotions. Desire, fear, and confidence all danced together. Logic wasn’t invited to the dance. The unnamed girl giggled and spilled some of her beer. After careful introspection, Iggy thrust a fist into Matt’s belly.
He slapped her again.
The corners of her eyes lifted, and her servile pupils rolled upwards. This was how he knew he was doing a good job. Her bottom lip offered itself to him, and he took it in his teeth.
Her folded legs swung around, heels digging into his back. She grabbed at his skin, nails digging in, and bit him in turn, much harder. Her eyes shot right through him, echoing around his skull. He gripped and pulled, hair and limbs, each assertion drawing from her a moan.
Finally she came, squeezing, drawing blood. Her jaw snapped open. He smiled. “You like that, whore?” he growled.
They slowed and then stopped moving, parts cooling and solidifying. Their eyes were locked to each other’s. They were warm, a feeling like fire dancing off the skin. Breaths colliding, he started to close the distance between their mouths.
“Faggot,” she said and pushed his face away. He rolled onto his back, and her head rolled down to his chest. She splayed herself over his body, steaming mass on willing, steaming mass.
They didn’t say anything for a while. Then: “they’re gonna kick your ass when they find you here.” She giggled when she said this. He considered it. He had no response. He picked up a spliff from the ashtray and lit it, inhaling. Her black hair spread over his chest, her breasts and bent leg pinning him down. Her hand played with his chest hair, absent of thought or intention. He exhaled.
“I think,” he started, giving little indication that he was doing so at the moment. “I’m gonna get a drink.”
She grabbed his chest hair in her tight fingers. Her saucer eyes pleaded. “No. You stay right here.”
He didn’t really feel like moving anyway. He took another drag and threw a thought towards his situation. Her boyfriend was probably conscious again, or would be soon. Matt wasn’t going to be happy, or sober. Iggy could leave, right now. Tell this one that he has to go to the bathroom, walk over the concussed and unconscious bodies, straight out the empty doorway.
He exhaled, tapping the spliff and missing the ashtray. His other hand rose, penetrating her black hair and slowly caressing the scalp where it met her neck. He wasn’t ready to let this one go. He tried to assign his want any reason or justification and couldn’t. There was some logic-deflecting force field around his intentions for this girl. He figured that meant he loved her.
As the spliff burned, as her warm breath feathered his chest, as he lay there thinking about these things, he heard voices outside the door. They were urgent and inquisitive. Iggy knew he couldn’t stay for much longer.
Something smashed against the bedroom door. She raised her head off his chest, her hair covering most of her bothered face. “What the FUCK.”
He stubbed out the spliff on the night table. Thinking time was over. Doing time was now. He rotated his hand around her neck, grabbing her by the throat and pinning her to the bed. He leaned in and took his kiss.
“Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell”
BY ANDY O’CONNOR
Lines of gold and red intersecting, weaving into each other, tangling and strangling each other. Jagged stripes of black and blue fighting for attention, fighting for pride. Greys fornicating with all the other colors, especially with a hunger for the pinks’ playful innocence. More drops of red, the blood of my spirit, dripping on a patch of yellow on the corner, cause hell ain’t a bad place to be. A black hole in the middle, threatening to devour everything to an ever-expanding void, but merciful enough to let the other colors lay where they may. Maybe a hint of white dotted sparingly for a little balance.
They’re not actually there. They’re what I want on this blank canvas, staring me down, on the ground of my studio, but they’re not there. I’ve seen a lot of mean looks in my time. But this canvas, I’ve never seen such a scowl in my life.
Actions may speak louder than words, but the canvas was quite the orator, too.
“Hey, Jack, where’s your inspiration? Did Janelle take it with her when she left your sorry ass?”
“Who told you that you could paint? Your mother? Your ninth grade art teacher? That professor who let you sleep with her? I don’t feel any paint on me. Give up.”
“Graffiti. That’s all your work amounts to. Fucking graffiti.”
“Cum on me, Jack. CUM ON ME.”
Time to silence the canvas. Time to give it a voice, my voice. Time to get to work.
Before the murder, I walk over to the fridge at the northeastern corner of the garage and open it, revealing an assortment of beers. Stella? Shiner? Old Rasputin? I am not a guy who needs the weight of a stout as a liquid rock in my pit. Texas was a my first love, even if we’re no longer involved. Shiner it is.
Bock to my lips, sitting on the chair thinking of how I’m gonna get about this. One bottle down, and I’ve got an idea. Going in.
Gotta shut ’em up, but can’t work in quiet, so I walk over to my stereo, flip through the CD carousel, and settle on some Coltrane. Blue Train. Keep it classic. Ascension has too much going on for this task at hand.
1:30 A.M. Boss’ll love that I showed up to work early. Can’t use extra virgin for this heat going on in my head.
Brush in my hand. In my gallery of colors, I choose black first. Black goes with everything. Black is always a nice foundation. As I stroll across the canvas – lovely day inside for a walk, isn’t it? – creeks of blacks form. Suddenly, I’m reminded of those creeks on my face in high school, crying into the mirror about her or him or the futility of life as a 16-year-old sees it.
“Do it. Do it. Do it.” You’re not helping.
Not surprisingly, there are some boot marks tampering with the creeks. Fix it in the mix, I suppose.
Switch it up with a light red. I’m not content to take a reflective walk in the park this time. Flicking my hand like Malcolm McDowell in a crucifixion fantasy, there’s my blood on the canvas. These are not paint marks. These are slashings. They cut deeper than any real wound I’ve ever had. Now, green. I’m moving my hands in a spiral motion, the brush creating portals to god knows where. Where I end up, I don’t care. This is all about the release.
“Is that the best you can do? Pretty loops? Your best days are behind you.”
Soon, I decide that brushes are no longer appropriate. I slowly dip my fist in a bucket of gray paint and engage in convulsions. Stopping briefly to wash my hands, I then locate a bucket of purple, quickly put my hand in, and begin to attack. I’m beating the shit out of this painting. Punching the canvas, I tear it in a few spots. Damage is beautiful, damage is lovely, damaged is how nature intended us to be.
“Why haven’t you done it already?”
NO. I WON’T FUCKING DO IT. I swoop up my bucket of blue paint and just thrash it at the canvas, making a river out of my fever.
“They were right about you. They said you’d falter beyond recovery. They said you’d be abandoned. They said you’ll never taste success. They were right about you.”
Well, this is done. So fuck you.
I fall to the floor. Collapse is really the only natural reaction. I forget that there’s no longer music; I’m so exhausted and absorbed by my carnage. After a couple of minutes of self-induced darkness, my eyes open and they’re looking at the work like it’s the grass. It’s a mess of battling colors, bloodlust blending together into unfathomable combinations. It’s the mess I set out to make.
And now, there’s a silence. The silence from my voice taking over.
Hail Chaos. Rather, hail myself for controlling Chaos.
BY DREW MILLARD
Iggy Pop woke up in his bed, which was actually just two full-size mattresses stacked on top of each other but whatever. He was still kind of drunk from last night, which was also whatever. He looked at his phone for the time, and it was nearly three in the afternoon, but that was even more whatever still. What was not whatever was that there was someone in his bed with him who he did not know. He looked at his penis and thought about it. The girl in his bed, not his penis. But he did think about what his penis and that girl might have done. He felt weird. He tried thinking about tulips, but ended up just thinking about his penis some more. He wondered why all of the blankets were on the floor. He didn’t even know her. What if she had AIDS. What if she was dead. What if she was going to steal his iPhone. Fuck.
The phrase “No father to his style” was impenetrably lodged in Iggy Pop’s head. He thought about the movie where James Franco’s arm was trapped under that rock and he had to cut his own arm off in order to escape. He wondered if James Franco jerked off with his free arm when his other arm was trapped under that rock. He would have. Maybe. Probably. Whatever. James Franco could suck his dick.
Later, Iggy Pop was going to put on a Kanye West song and push the little play/pause button on his MacBook keyboard and make the song sound like the song version of a strobe light. It would make him happy. Maybe he would do it to “Say You Will”. Maybe “Donald Trump Money” with Yu-Era. Kanye West Deep Cuts. Was that a thing. Fucking no.
Iggy Pop poked the girl in his bed. She murmured. Iggy Pop wondered if they did it. He had been at the party and then at the bar, then at the other bar and then at the bodega and then at the first bar again and then. Yeah. Iggy Pop had been living life in montage form for months now. He wondered how much he spent. He bet he spent a million dollars. He bet Stevie Nicks actually did that thing with the cocaine and her asshole. He bet she didn’t know his name either.
He poked her again and she finally rolled over and opened her eyes and said, “Hey.” Iggy Pop said, “Hey” back and kissed her on the cheek. She started kissing him on the mouth and she touched his penis accidentally and then he got all hard and stuff and then they did all the stuff you’re supposed to do before you have sex and then they actually started having sex and it was only okay and then he wondered what she was thinking about and then just as he was thinking about maybe wanting to go soft again he felt a finger in his ass. Her finger. His ass. Logistically, it must have been the middle one.
Iggy Pop had never had a finger in his butt before. More than he wanted anything in the entire universe he wanted to squeal and freak out and stop and go sit in a corner with his knees at his chest but he couldn’t because that would have been rude and this person very obviously did it because she thought he was going to enjoy it and to do anything other than pretend he was enjoying it would have made him a douche bag. At least it wasn’t a thumb. A thumb probably would have wiggled a bunch, which would have reminded him that there was a finger in his butt. On the other hand, middle fingers were long. As he was having sex with a middle finger up his butt, Iggy Pop reflected on how life is nothing but a very long series of trade-offs followed by death.
Iggy Pop came, and it was the most glorious orgasm of his life. It was so good that he actually said that as he came. He had no idea if his orgasm was so good because of the finger or because he was just really happy that it was over and she would take her finger out of his asshole but he guessed it didn’t really matter. As he lay on top of a girl whose name he did not know but whose finger was still in his asshole, breathing heavily and wondering if he was going to be able to hold his poop in for the rest of the day, Iggy Pop decided that he was done doing cocaine.
BY LUKE WINKIE
Rob always sped up for speed bumps. He liked the way his chain hit his chest on the way back down. A little hula girl named Lola laid flat on her back on the dash. He liked it when girls laid flat on their back. He bought this 2006 Hummer H1 in 2006. Rob wanted to feel like a man; he wanted to chew up dirt road and spit raw flames. The world was his bitch, so he painted it red. It’s been six years. He’s bigger now; the seat belt cuts into his shoulder, quarters, cigarettes, and the occasional Peso crowd the cup holder, and Dorito crumbs line the seats. But the attitude hasn’t changed. He’s don’t-fuck-with-me. He’s a badass with a badass ride to bump down the country roads of the north Midwest. Rob wanted to find a river to ford.
He had met Suzie about a month ago. They met in some wooden bar in the southern tips of Michigan. They got to talking about Deep Purple; Rob said he was a roadie in the late ‘80s, which was just true enough that he didn’t feel bad. Whatever, she’s probably more enraptured with the ride than anything else. She does look good in the passenger’s seat.
Suzie smokes a lot of cigarettes. She’s got long, oily blond hair, rubber tattoos peaking out at every flash of skin. Cracked green eyes and a cracked smile. But she’s beautiful. No really, she is. If you saw her naked you’d know. She sings when she’s happy, but most of the time she smokes cigarettes.
“I’m nervous,” she said, lifting her head of the leather headrest.
“Now why would you be nervous?” Replied Rob.
“You know how you get.”
“Baby.” He looked at her for a while.
The cabin is hard to find if you’d never been there before. It’s a place that takes tracking mile markers to find. You need to turn right at the big boulder. It’s the house at the end of the long, rocky driveway.
And it looked just the same. Still big, still inexplicably blue, this was the place. Uncle Joseph bought the spot decades ago, and it’s been in the family ever since. This was our retreat, this was our cabin, and that is what cabins are for.
The wet crunch of gravel, and the stillness of mid-afternoon wilderness. Rob and Suzie had made landfall; they had boots on the ground. The Hummer towered over the other cars. He could hear words in the air, a fainting bonfire; Rob whipped back the screen and knocked the door.
Michael opened it almost immediately.
“I thought that was you,” he said.
“You always think right,” said Rob.
Michael stepped outside, into the bleaching sunlight. He looked bigger too.
“So what are you doing here?”
Rob had spent the last couple hours thinking about that question.
“I’m family, Michael. I’m here because I’m family. This is my lady, Suzy, and I’m here to be with y’all.”
Michael took a deep breath.
“The others don’t want any trouble. And you know how it is.”
Rob did know how it was, and Rob was sorry. But Rob also knew that it wasn’t really that big of a deal. But Rob was also prepared to swallow his pride.
“I’m your brother.” Rob paused to let that declaration fill every fraction of his mind.
“I’m your brother, Michael. You can’t turn me away. I ain’t here for that.”
Michael kept his gaze, squinting through the brightness. “Do you still live around here?”
“Yeah, up north, near the border,” said Rob. “I’m managing that bait shop.”
Michael sighed, “How did you know we was…”
“It’s the third week of July,” said Rob. “Every Johnson knows where we go on the third week of July.”
There was a brief silence.
“Alright, come on in. Be a good man.”
It was close to midnight, and Rob was standing on a porch. He often found himself standing on porches. His family was mostly happy, and slightly uncomfortable. Rob was telling a story about evading taxes. Rob had drunk one too many O’Douls, as was often the case.
His mother and grandmother had been happy to see him. Through ink and beer stains, he still fit right into their arms. They ate salted peanuts and cheese curds and talked about the Packers. Little cousins and new additions were fast friends, because nobody could fire off a Roman Candle quite like Rob Johnson. The old man wasn’t around, and he hadn’t been for almost four years now. Rob went to church last Sunday. He apologized for the things he needed to apologize for.
But Rob had also drunk one too many O’Douls, and Rob was telling a story about evading taxes.
“It’s all a load of bullshit.” It was the first time he’d cursed all night. The family was stone-faced, perched like monuments around the wooden floor. A cold breeze kept the mosquitoes away. Someone laughed; it was the least they could do.
“This is what I tell ‘em, everyone in that fucking government.” Rob pulled down his pants and peed off the balcony.
A thousand times before, Michael would’ve let it slide. But not this time.
“Jesus Christ, Rob, what the hell are you doing?” Michael liked letting himself get angry.
“I’m just trying to show how those fuckers get away with that shit.”
“You’re peeing off a goddamn porch, in front of your family, in front of the children. You’re a fucking mess, as usual.” Michael paused. “You’re not funny anymore; you’re just sad.” He’d waited a long time to say those words.
His mother started crying.
“Rob, honey, we should probably go.” Suzy’s dark eyes were the hardest thing to look at right now.
Rob had escaped.
He screamed down the staircase, into the front yard, around back of the cabin, and back into his Hummer before any of those sonovabitches could track him down. He left Suzy in the house, but fuck her, and fuck you too.
He gunned the car through the forest, popping his tires over the curb and into pure wilderness. Rob was king of the jungle. He wasn’t sure where he was going.
Rob promised himself he wouldn’t ever speak to Michael again. That’ll show em. Moonlight couldn’t work its way through the trees. But Rob was okay. Rob had an idea.
The hummer plunged into the lake; he sunk with it for a while. Then he opened his eyes, opened the door, and surfaced his head.
He swam for miles and miles.
“I Need Somebody”
BY PAULA MEJIA
I am perched at the helm of my Renault 6 and praying with hands pointed toward the cab’s roof.
“Please, dios, one last job,” I murmur so Claudio can’t hear me. Claudio is annoyed by two things: pleas for help and boredom. Right now he’s tired. He may come out later; it’s still early for him, and he’s got a hankering to stay out all night. I hope he doesn’t.
Me, I’m holding out for one last job. Then I can get some Kokoriko chicken on the way back out to Zipaquira and that’s it. Claudio’s intentions are considerably murkier. Shh, Sergio. He grumbles in his sleep but doesn’t move.
I, Claudius. Yo, Sergio. I may not be suave like Claudio, but I’m not as abrasive. Humble Sergio, at your service. Here we sit on the corner (the corner, Calle 85 and la T) within strategic view from bustling rumbiaderos and bars lining the strip. This Renault’s tires rest on a bed of dead leaves. Perfect kindling, if that was one’s inclination. Claudio thinks about it sometimes, although he’s never mentioned it to me. I’ve seen the way his eyes glitter, though.
Me, I’m a curious old man who still thumbs his own belly fat, which now stretches so far out that it spills onto the base of the steering wheel. I can feel the sweat trickling down my armpits, now yellow. Claudio wears a black leather jacket. These tufts of hair and solid brown ring of fat will be my demise. Take care, Claudio always reminds me. Cuidado. We’re all being watched by someone. Claudio, still hawklike after all these years. And me, Sergio, the brute.
From this vantage point I can observe women hobbling from their disproportionately large asses. Claudio tries to woo them; I just look. If this were a film, there would be no multiple takes, just a singular shot from a handheld camcorder. None of that professional 35 mm bullshit. These are the types of things you capture raw. Claudio’s words, in my mouth again.
Now, the wait. Woozy from Aguardiente, couples tumble down curling staircases on the strip. One or several of them will certainly wobble toward me for services eventually, with the licorice stench of guaro hot on their breath.
Then suddenly a nena (flat chest, all hips) tumbles toward the nest and into the car like some disembodied angel. Backseat leather screeches underneath her ass; she’s clearly wearing a thong. I whip around; Claudio’s sure to have heard that. He doesn’t stir, which is strange. Well, vamonos.
“A donde vas?” I ask, without making eye contact. Her eyes are probably beautiful. Stay asleep, Claudio.
“Carrera 86, la sexta.”
She peers around the back and glances at the credentials. I hear the license plate imprinting itself in her mind. Today they were saying on the radio how taking unsolicited taxis was on the growing list of things considered a serious hazard in Bogota, right underneath scopolamine.
There’s a lot of money in that, you know. Manuel had been able to go to Cartagena that way.
Huevon! Shut the fuck up, Claudio. That’s horrible. Carlos’s wife’s cousin had nearly died that way.
Bogota — surrounded in every direction by peaks, but never itself peaking. Dios mio, tonight is unseasonably swampy. Like the bottom of a ballsac. I roll down the windows. I hear the nena sighing from the back of the car. Claudio stirs.
“Warm for this time of year, isn’t it?” I ask behind me.
She doesn’t say anything.
“It’s a sultry Saturday, huh? You’re young, it’s early. I used to have fun like you.”
“I’m old, so now I can only grasp the night and hold it close against my ear.”
I pause. Claudio’s eyes blink open. Fuck.
“You know, you look exactly like a woman that I knew long ago,” he butts in.
Mija, she looks terribly bored. She glances down at her phone to a phantom message, then out the window.
“She’s dead now,” he interjects again.
Will you cool it?
Now I have her attention. She shifts in her seat.
“You know how she died? From riding a bike with no pedals. How about that!” Claudio giggles and giggles.
“Let me out, right now!” she gasps, trying to thrust open the locked doors.
“I’m sorry! It’s okay. I mean no disrespect, no harm. Look here, you see? My credentials. If you call this number, you’ll see I’m registered — recommended, even.”
You’re terribly rude to our guests, I hiss to Claudio. Go back to sleep. I’ll wake you up when we’re on our way to Kokoriko.
You can’t handle this, Sergio.
She looks at me through half-narrowed eyelids, skeptical.
“Take me to my apartment, right now.”
See? I’m taking over.
“Claro, mija. That’s where we’re headed,” I guarantee, motioning outside.
“Can you put on the radio too?”
“Of course.” I reach for the dial. Claudio’s hand closes over mine. My turn now.
“Do you mind if I play you a song?” Claudio wipes his eyes, grinning. He has a story to tell.
The woman’s stare is blank ahead.
“This song, do you like it?”
“I’d-d prefer not to talk,” she stutters.
“I like this song,” I tell her. “You know why?”
“Did you hear me? I have no desire to talk to you.”
“This song is a lonely number. This guy, he says he’s got no friends. Neither do I. They’ve all run out like spare change.”
Nena starts crying hard and shaking the door with both hands. Her half-welp is in tune with the music.
“What the hell do you want from me? Money? You want to rob me?”
She tears open her purse, sobbing harder. “This is all the cash I have! Take it!”
I shake the cash away. “I just want you to listen!”
“LET ME OUT!” she shrieks.
The car rolls to a stop at a red light.
Now she’s managed to jimmy the lock and runs out. I don’t stop her, and I’m surprised Claudio doesn’t either. Her heels clack to the tune of the song. I’ve lost another. I put my head on the steering wheel, and Claudio comforts me while scooping up the cash and putting it in his shirt pocket.
Come on, Sergio. It’s time.
Off goes the clock, ticker muted. Okay Claudio. We can go home now, even though it’s lonelier in the open spaces.
BY DAN SOLOMON
He was looking for his blazer.
It was a nice one, not thrifted, though he liked it to be a little rumpled, like he couldn’t be bothered with caring how he looked. That was still part of his self-image. He knew that it wasn’t true – obviously, given the amount of time he spent looking at menswear blogs these days – but when he looked at himself in the mirror, he liked to see someone grinning back who was still too cool to really care. He hadn’t cared when he was 24 and that blazer would have been a hoodie, when the wrinkles would have been from sleeping in it on the floor of some nine-person house in New Paltz. He liked to imagine that he was someone who knew what it was like to look good, but still had enough of a fuck you to how he did things that he’d wear a wrinkled blazer with his dark denim jeans and wingtips – even on a first date.
Her name was Nancy, but he wasn’t thinking about her yet. Not really. That blazer – it wasn’t in the closet. When had he worn it last?
It had been so long since his last first date. He couldn’t help himself from compulsively checking the mirror. He tilted his chin down, tried not to second-guess his decision not to shave. He still looked young, right? His hair was still full, and he didn’t have too much around the middle. He was a grown-up, yeah, an adult, but he hadn’t gotten old. Nancy would breathe easy when she saw him at the restaurant. He’d look like the photos she’d seen of him online, at least the ones on OK Cupid. If she’d googled his name, well, she’d have seen something different, of course. But she couldn’t expect him to still be that person. That person was a long time ago. That person was a kid, and Nancy – who was only twenty-seven, who worked as a paralegal, whose six things she could never do without included a financial-planning website called Mint.com – she would have had nothing in common with that person. When that person was twenty-seven, he’d have delighted in his ability to turn someone like Nancy off. But all of that had been before Dawn, before Erick and Joseph had turned out to have taken the vow of perpetual adolescence that they’d all made when they first met way too seriously.
Dawn had bought him the blazer, and he felt weirdly guilty for wanting to wear it on this date, even though she had been the one who left him. She’d persuaded him to trade the hoodie for the blazer, to trade the floors in New Paltz and Fayetteville and Oakland for the queen-size bed in Michigan that he’d gotten to keep after they split up. Why should he feel guilty about wanting to wear that blazer on a first date with a woman named Nancy? After all that she had persuaded him to exchange, there was little left of the person that had attracted Dawn to him in the first place. He might as well work with what he had left.
But he knew that was some brutal re-writing of history, too. It’s not like he hadn’t been looking for a way out when he’d met her. They’d played a house show in Ypsilanti that night, and after the band covered “Shake Appeal”, he’d swung from the exposed beams in the basement as he sang the night’s final song, just like he’d done a dozen times earlier on that tour. Afterward, when she talked to him upstairs while everybody else was out back by the fire, he’d wanted desperately to get away. Their first date, minutes later, had been his last first date. She’d shown up in the same hoodie and faded jeans as he did. That night, they’d walked around by the train tracks in Depot Town, and they drank from bottles he would smash on the pavement as he tried to impress her. It would work, and three days later – after the tour had ended, after the homecoming show at the Mutiny, he would make the drive back from Chicago to find the Eastern Michigan University senior who was young enough to still think that he was exciting. And then he went about the business of putting her in a position where she could change him.
So this was what he was now. A changed man. Had he accidentally washed the blazer? He checked the dryer, but no luck. Maybe it was in the back of the car? If it had been warm the last time he’d worn it, he may have taken it off and tossed it back there.
When would that have been? It would have been while he and Dawn were still together. The summer had been brutal this year, and he’d favored light chambray shirts at work, simple but they looked right on him. He’d followed what Ryan Gosling had been wearing, and there weren’t many summer blazers in that dude’s wardrobe lately. He imagined someone going back in time to the night he and Dawn met. After “Shake Appeal” and smashing bottles, he imagined someone telling him that the next time he went out with someone who wasn’t her, he’d have spent an entire summer trying to dress like a movie star whose style choices he read about in GQ every month. “You’ll be with this woman for the next nine years,” he would learn, “And when she finally leaves, you’ll relate to songs about nothing from bands with names like ‘Mumford and Sons.’ You’ll work in an ad agency in Ann Arbor and you’ll drive a Fiat and you’ll insist to yourself that you’re not a yuppie, that words like that don’t even mean anything anymore anyway. In the moments when you can’t convince yourself of that, you’ll blame her for turning you into what you’ve become, because it was her idea that you move into an expensive apartment in Ann Arbor while she went to grad school, and you decided you needed to pull your weight. And then you’ll blame the fact that she turned you into that as the reason that she left, that you weren’t exciting enough anymore, that you didn’t writhe onstage and climb the rafters or smash bottles on the train tracks. But then, when you’ve taken off the menswear and looked at yourself in the mirror before bed, you’ll see the same tattoos that you’d had before any of this happened. When you were just in the middle of a three-night stand in Eastern Michigan, Detroit-to-Ypsilanti-to-Ann Arbor, and you were covering ‘Shake Appeal’ because you were so excited to be in Iggy’s home town, and pretty girls wanted to talk to you because you were intense and cool. You’ll think about calling Joseph and Erick, because wherever those guys are, they’re not spending all day on Facebook, and see if they’d be into a reunion. But the whole time you’re talking to them, your mind will be focused on the figures you’d researched on the other minor late-90’s and early-00’s punk bands who reunited: The high-dollar festivals that they got invited to play, the last runs at glory for guys with kids and computer science degrees. You’ll want to believe that playing with Joseph and Erick again would be about the joy of rock and roll, but you’ll know that there’s money in nostalgia. You’ll be an ad guy who used to play punk rock.” This is the stuff that a time-traveler could have said to him nine years ago, to shame him into staying on the road forever, into making $11,000 a year until he was well on his way to 40. He’d pull the hood on his sweatshirt down tight and run behind a bar in Depot Town, pee on the wall of what passes for a hipster bar in Ypsilanti, and spend the night in jail instead. Dawn would go off to grad school without him. Nancy, the paralegal who’d been sending him flirty messages that ended with 🙂 and 😉 would eventually find love in the arms of another.
None of that made him feel better about anything. Were these, finally, his only options? Blazers or hoodies, Mumford and Sons or The Stooges, a slow descent into yuppiedom or a pathetic perpetual adolescence? He went outside and opened the rear of the car; sure enough, there was the jacket. Rumpled, a little, but passable. It was chillier than he’d thought it would be for August.
He went back inside and looked himself over in the mirror again. What the hell? This date tonight – Nancy – she’d never known him as anything other than what he’d be when she saw him at the restaurant. She didn’t expect him to be exciting the way that he’d convinced himself that Dawn had; she didn’t care if just by being someone she was interested in meeting, he’d broken a promise he’d made to himself and his best friends when he was 19. If he were to shave his hair into a mohawk or buy a pair of lens-less glasses like an NBA player at a post-game press conference, she’d be encountering him for the first time. He didn’t owe her anything. She was new.
He grabbed the blazer, then set it down on the bed, and reached to the back of the closet. He pulled out a thin black hoodie he’d worn on a lot of nights colder than this, and slipped it on over his shirt. Then he put the blazer on on top of it.
He’d seen a picture of Ryan Gosling wearing a blazer over a hoodie, and that guy looked great in it.