Friday, January 13, 2017

The Departure Lounge

I want to be very clear about this. In many ways, the last thing I wish for is your passing. There have been plenty of times when I couldn’t bear you, and plenty when you couldn’t bear me, and I’m not going to pretend for a millisecond that our life together has been one long day at the beach, but I am very well aware of how likely I am to miss you. In candour, lying in your hospital bed with all those tubes coming in and out of you, drifting in and out of consciousness, you’re hardly the very good company you were when we were at our best. But you’re some company, at least, and, as noted, I’m very ambivalent about ceasing to have you in my life.

What you have to understand is that your imminent demise has me filling as though in limbo. I was hoping that in one of your moments of lucidity, you might tell me what Julie Christie or whoever it was told her husband in that movie we watched together several years ago — that there was no point in my coming to the hospital every day to visit when I could be out…living. But maybe you don’t remember the movie, and maybe, if we’re being honest with each other, you’re not that sold on my having a good time while you’re having such a rotten one. I get that. I do. The problem is that I feel myself to be in what Irene Hepworth calls the Departure Lounge. I have no doubt that I’m going to have tubes coming in and out of me too in not very long, and six feet under shortly thereafter (though of course we both opted for cremation). Are you really happy seeing me squander what little time I may have left sitting beside the bed of one who most of the time doesn’t even realise I’m there? I’m sorry, Jeannie, but I do find that selfish.

All right. All right. You know me very well, and there is something I’m not telling you. There’s a volunteer in the gift shop downstairs. I suspect she’s our age, or maybe even a year or two older. When I first saw her, I thought what I always think about gals of her vintage — that she was too old for me. But the last few years I’ve been realising more and more that such gals are probably thinking the same thing about me! (And I pause to marvel at that exclamation point, which suggests my having become a decrepit old embarrassment is some sort of scandal or surprise. As though I, and I alone, was going to stay young and pretty forever!)

There was something about the way she smiled at me that reminded me of Sally Willsher, with whom I went to high school. Sally was that rarest of things — not only fantastically pretty (in the Cheryl Tiegs mode, if you remember Cheryl, from the early ‘70s?), but also friendly and approachable. There was an irresistible twinkle in her very pale blue eyes, and you know how much I, with my nearly-black ones, have always been a sucker for blue eyes, Jean. Maybe you remember my getting you those tinted contact lenses for Christmas that one year, and how upset I was when you pronounced them uncomfortable, and stopped wearing them?

What was I doing in the hospital gift shop? Well, what is anyone doing in a hospital gift shop? I was looking for something I hoped might cheer you up.

All right. I wasn’t. When there’s eBay, am I really going to pay hospital gift shop prices for an adorable stuffed animal? You know me better than that. I went in there because this gal — and let’s give her a name: Sue — twinkled her blue eyes at me, and because I have to be practical, Jean. I have to! What’s going to become of me in 72 hours or a week or 10 days when you finally…depart? I have to think of myself a little bit! So I’m Sue’s date to her youngest granddaughter’s graduation from university on Saturday. If that causes you pain, and I can see it does, well, I’m very sorry, OK? I don’t want to be on my own.

Monday, January 9, 2017

That's Rock and Roll!

The guitarist found the singer — guess where! — in the hotel’s bar, with three lavishly made-up girls, none of whom looked over 15. One of the perks of the singer’s having attained superstardom was that he was able to take on the road with him a dedicated forger, whose job it was to create IDs for underaged girls he wished to debauch. As the singer was an implacable debaucher of underaged girls, the dedicated forger was often heard to complain that he worked harder than anyone else on the tour, a complaint roundly pooh-poohed by the tour’s stage crew, which had become noticeably more muscular between the beginning of the tour, in Stockholm, in April, and Phoenix, in July. The girls in the bar with the singer were cooing as they conducted a sort of Easter egg hunt, seeing how many necklaces they could find hidden in the singer’s bounteous chest hair. There were three cosmeticians on the tour, one of whom styled the singer’s hair. The guitarist, who’d been in the game long enough to remember a time when male pop singers were mostly androgynous, and devoid of body hair, wondered if she regularly shampooed and conditioned the singer’s chest.

But of course he had a more pressing question to pose in the limited time he knew he would get with the singer, whose expression, as the guitarist approached him and the three girls, was not one of delight. None of the three girls gave any indication of recognising him as a member of the singer’s band. “Sorry to intrude, dude,” the guitarist. “Hey, I’m a poet and I didn’t even know it!” The singer’s deeply unamused expression said, “Is this apt to take long?” He sighed and indicated to the least cleavaged of the three girls that she should surrender her stool to the guitarist. The look she gave the guitarist might have killed someone with a less hardy constitution.

The guitarist asked if the singer had been pleased with his work on the tour. In at least three reviews, critics had commended the guitarist’s playing. In one of them, the guy had said he was the best part of the show. The guitarist couldn’t imagine the singer having been very pleased with that, not that he imagined he’d even seen the review.
“Let’s cut to the chase, Nikki,” the singer said. “You want a raise, right?” The guitarist had felt he deserved a raise for acceding to the singer’s insistence that he spell his name Nikki in the tour programme.

“I think I’ve probably mentioned that Joanne’s pregnant,” Nick said. “And my dad’s in bad shape, and his insurance doesn’t begin to cover it.”

The singer rolled his eyes, and swatted the hand of one of the girls away from his chest. “Why haven’t you taken this up with Jacob?” he demanded. “There’s channels you’re supposed to go through. You know that.”
“You know how Jacob is,” Nick said, lowering his eyes in submission. “A good word from you would make him a lot more receptive to my approaching him.” 

The singer noticed how the girl whose hand he’d slapped away looked on the verge of tears, and replaced her hand on his chest. She brightened immediately, and her two friends hated her with a vengeance. “Let me think about it,” the singer said, taking the hand of one of the still-seated glowering girl and guiding it to his groin.
“I’m sorry, sir,” the bartender said, wincing, with the utmost wariness, “but can I ask you to take that up to your room, please?”

The singer didn’t look very pleased about that, and, as Nick expected, didn’t have a word with Jacob, his manager, who, in response to Nick’s telling about Joanne’s pregnancy and his father’s failing health, said, “Hey, you signed a contract, dude.” Joanne had twin girls — at least one of whom Nick later found out to be the singer’s — and his dad died in agony, but that’s rock and roll.