We didn’t have much time. Soon she was sprinting through the spitshined backstreets of Wayne toward the mouth of the movie theater, pretending she had been there all along. Her next text winked in triumph, but as her mother drove her dotingly home, it was Natalie who had been fooled — by the quiet surveil of neighborly spies.1

A night or two later, she invited me to her house. Much of the subsequent daylight was spent alike, then much of the subsequent week. I would park my car most days with the emergency brake pulled against her sleepy street’s friendly incline, meet her just beyond the stone steps of her front yard and before the glass pane of her outer door, then follow her through the foyer and into the backroom. I made this trip many times without ever having seen her mother, who would sometimes summon Natalie upstairs with a shout. “Don’t worry, she’s not avoiding you or anything,” she’d return.

At first and then intermittently seated side by side, we soon got used to lying down, most of her thin 5’7” frame sprawled weightlessly upon mine. With her TV, she subjected me mostly to child’s play like SpongeBob SquarePants (which, as one of those “Disney girls,”2 she probably did like), maybe to help ensure my mind never wandered far from getting to know her little arms and lips. I didn’t get to know much more of her than that (and the things she said (because I was then so shy I had so far managed to blow all of even my easiest opportunities to get so much as a girl’s shirt off (only ever realizing as much in long hindsight))). Instead, I learned that in addition to Italian she was Irish by blood, looking more like the former and more beautiful than she had in any moonlight real, staged or projected. I learned she had a couple things in common with me, also being a recent ex-athlete (for her it had all ended with a pole vaulting incident, and her decision to run laps immediately afterward; her determination had done for her hips what mine had done for my lungs) and having divorced parents (hers had split just a year or two prior, much more recently than mine — but she lived mostly with her mom, like I always had). I learned of her many blossoming talents, and learned more about her modeling career, which I had first discovered the night we met, she being the type of model to use pictures of her primped and posing self for her Facebook defaults. I couldn’t blame her, having just become the type of aspiring rockstar to use pictures of myself aspiring to rockstar. Besides, one of hers — the one that appeared that night with her friend request — looked almost impossibly hot. When my former crewmates and other protein-drinking friends found out I was seeing someone, they each in turn demanded photos, and that was what I sent. Not one didn’t try calling bullshit.

She was as shocked as they had been, for the inverse reason, when she first learned of my inexperience. For a time she didn’t believe, either.

“When I met you you just seemed like, the, y’know…’I-fuck-who-I-wanna’ kind-of-guy.”

I ventured a guess. “A rapist?”

“No!” she shouted, the syllable distending with giggles. “Just, like…a player.”

“Well.” I used the V-word.

“That’s crazy,” she beamed again. I had already told her this fun factoid a few times before, but it was like a peek-a-boo trick for a child not yet wearied of repetition.

At this time, Natalie considered it a civil service to teach me things; to warn me of a teenage sybil’s vision of the adult world, the one I was about to enter at summer’s end.

“You know, in college, a lot of the older sorority girls band together to round up a list of all the virgin freshman boys, and basically attack them,” she once said.

“I don’t think that’s true. I don’t think that’s true where I’m going.”

“Well, maybe not there,” she conceded. She paused. “Still.”

She tried a more hands-on approach, too. One day, bodies casually entwined again, her little head lifted suddenly from the cloth of my chest, full of strange grammar-speak.

“Hey: do you wanna see something cool about my bra.”

My mind felt like it was thinking but probably went blank. Maybe I smiled.

She leaned upright and set to work. Off went her tanktop, then that dense matrix of plastic latches I hadn’t yet learned or tried.

She held it for me in her palms, inside up.

“See? Hearts!”

I looked at the fabric glyph before me, sewn with secret patterns only its owner and her intimates would ever see. If a thought crossed my mental green screen about the wit implicit in this bra’s design, it was brief enough to register within the legal drinking limits of subliminality. Instead, I stole the glance that had been clearly given to me on an embroidery of pearls, trying to process this new test and what it meant, like being asked to kiss in a movie theater by a stranger. It took just a couple moments to fail; I was too stumped to respond physically, too self-unsure to take what asked to be taken.

Deterred but not defeated, Natalie resheathed herself. We kissed some more. Her beauty continued.

 •

Even having spent time almost exclusively with very forward girls, I still had never felt as good as I did around her. And I was then, not coincidentally, the type of boy who might actually say that to someone not long after meeting them. Some modesty of days into having her lie so comfortably atop me, I looked at her as the sun was setting through her blinds and the television’s enduring hum grew incandescent.

“I’ve never felt so good around a girl before,” I said.

She cradled her head toward mine, her eyes lighting with the same vivid width I had seen once before. I noticed now that the first time’s opaque hazel depth was in fact flecked with subtle faults, like the improbable piece of amber I once prized on a childhood shelf. I was surprised that someone on top of you could find a way to come closer.

My band, meanwhile, fell apart. Lupin had been a fine frontman at the show,3 but his Floridian truancy and some dozen other liabilities made him more trouble than he seemed worth.4 We had decided shortly after the gig that he would have to go, and it didn’t take long for word to get back to him. “I quit,” he jilt-texted me one preemptive afternoon, and that was all it took. Jack and I quickly set about seeking a replacement as we approached midsummer, still aiming to play another show before the leaves turned. Something bigger, better, meaningful.5

We figured getting a new singer would be simple. But a more substantial setback was soon to come, by way of Milkboy, the smallish local venue we had just given their highest-grossing night in business.

Shortly before the gig, they offered to produce a multi-track recording of our performance and mix it down for a $500 fee. With this Faustian email they included a link to an Original MySpace profile, which featured examples of previous live recordings they had done for their performers. The production sounded incredible. Eyes set on the longview, Jack and I figured posterity beat a paycheck.

Because we wound up selling that space to the brim, we did still make a little money, but the disc-shaped service Milkboy had rendered us soon proved a swindle. If they did any mixing of the raw stems as they were imported into ProTools, it had been an act of grinning, nihilist graffiti. My bass was thinner than a rubber band after necking with a watermelon raised by growth hormones. Summer’s voice sounded like she was being photoshopped into a class day picture. The Bawls energy drink bottle Lupin had gripped and rattled for moment-spur percussion was somehow louder than Dilan’s multi-miked drums. All fan-uploaded YouTube videos of the set sounded so much better that they were probably trying to prove a point.

Everyone in the band was irate, and all eyes turned to me for retributive guidance. Even Dilan, having long ago achieved a zen state of existential boredom, reacted with something resembling urgency. “Email Milkboy,” he said every time I saw him. I said I would. “Word, email them.”

What exactly I’d say, we hadn’t discussed. Left to my own devices, I wrote them an abstract art house documentary of my folie des grandeurs at that time. I sent it to Jack, for his take, live from his backroom, on AOL Instant Messenger, 2:05am 27 July 2007.

soyrev: tell me what you think
soyrev: i get pretty hostile with it
soyrev: i’m thinking of possible repercussions, but i can imagine none. i think it has to be done

{nine minute interlude}

jack: it’s a really sick and badass email
jack: all justified
jack: other than the threat of vandalism
jack: that could get us in trouble.
soyrev: vandalism?
jack: oh, nevermind. i thought you said
jack: flyering
jack: YOUR place
jack: on how you robbed a few high school bands
soyrev: haha, nahhh
jack: yeah
jack: no, it’s all good man
jack: i think the last paragraph gives it some balance too
soyrev: yeah
jack: mixing some reason with that vengeance.
soyrev: yeah
jack: the perfect concoction
jack: actually
jack: in retrospect
jack: its the FUCKIN shit
jack: save that fuckin email
jack: i want someone important to see it someday
soyrev: hahahaha
jack: “sincerely & severely”
jack: classic as hell.

Sent.

For our follow-up, we wanted to end the summer with a show on our own turf and terms. The obvious (unwieldy) idea was to organize an inaugural Swainiafest, a multi-band bill primed for the palatial grounds of the Dilan family province. In an ambitious teenager’s mind, it made a dangerous amount of sense: Dilan’s four-door garage would be the perfect homegrown stage, the adjunct lounge and shower was a professional-class backstage, and the wide and ample driveway would make a great standing room that could circumvent any wear or tear to Swainia’s neverending lawn. Plus the nearby trampoline, chlorine oasis, sloping vista and tennis court plateau would again make for a dream scene after-party. It was, I knew, the kind of thing we would remember lifelong in our high school reminiscences, an eternal “now that was awesome” for all.

The trick was to convince Dilan’s parents, which seemed a task surmountable. After the idea had been given a week or so to float buoyed in our collective imaginings, Jack one sunny afternoon texted Dilan, asking if now would be a good time.

“yeah”

Perched on the beanbag in our backroom headquarters, Jack stared into this lone word in his cell-phone. A moment later, his thumbs set to work.

“word…are you asking now?”

“yeah i’ll ask now”

Barely a minute passed. It was a casual maybe-minute in the backroom, probably spent joking over one incidental insight or another. Dilan replied.

“she said we can’t do the festival, we can’t practice in my garage anymore, and i can’t be in the band anymore”

There was a long pause in the air after Jack read those words aloud, tempered by a slow-settling comedy. After we had finished laughing at the comical terribleness and emotional monotone of Dilan’s summary, a thought occurred to me.

“Well, I guess he’ll have time now to fulfill his Life’s Ambition.” One of the last things Dilan had mentioned to me was his new Life’s Ambition: to watch the movie 300 at least three hundred times.

Apparently, Dilan’s mom had read the fiery missive I gifted Milkboy for viciously scamming us. Dilan had set up the show, and once the corporate vampires behind the counter had finished downing the bitter coldbrew of my emailed ire, they looked up the famous travel agency Dilan’s parents owned, and forwarded them my refund demand. Dilan’s mom didn’t want her son musicking with any Mainline drama magnet band, let alone to host them for practices, a festival, or tea.6 So went the events that led to the greatest-worst text I had ever known.

So, Dilan was out. With Lupin, that made three: Pete had evacuated the greater Philadelphia area to get an early start on college the very morning after our first show, not even having thought of packing by the time his hand socked its last tambourine.7 Short a practice space as well, our hopes of playing another show that summer fell thuddingly into question. But we had to — already our futures were all tied up in this funny, wondrous, aspirational thing.

It sure felt nice, finally, to have someone with whom I could think about all these wild and difficult things. Between either of the backrooms I spent all my days and nights that summer, in fact, it sure felt nice having two.

  1. Or maybe hers was simply a mother who liked to stake her daughter’s every move, sometimes pseudonymously “the neighbors.” []
  2. A Disney girl is one for whom, even in her adolescent/adult lives, Disney never stops being the best thing fathomable. Sometime later I would theorize there were certain traits common to all among this subset, standard phenotypes that could be inferred for anyone proud of an endless Disney affinity. []
  3. DJ’s improbably hot girlfriend thought he was great; DJ didn’t. This meant something good, I figured. []
  4. Perhaps worst of all was his pidgin-toed adaptation of Jack and my burgeoning slangua franca, which we felt undermined our slack lexicon and the way of life it casually described. []
  5. Shortly after the show, Jack disappeared to our nation’s capital, where he pursued filmmaking experience and the most desirable girl around at a two-week arts camp. She saw pictures of me from our show when they surfaced, and said she wouldn’t mind meeting me; I later saw pictures of her with this knowledge, and felt good about it. Jack, on his last night in DC, successfully cross-dressed his way into her dorm room and made out with her in a closet. Shortly thereafter a few basement idea exchanges occurred back at Jack’s in Pennsylvania, with third man Ace usually present to adlib commentate. I remember him getting very excited about a way I’d devised to “live cut” a favorite Spoon riff of ours with a favorite Nikka Costa lick of mine. I didn’t know what 6/4 meter was, but here it sounded surprisingly pop. []
  6. I’m not sure if they had tea. I’m fairly sure they had Capri Sun. []
  7. “Haven’t seen my parents all week either,” he said backstage before the gig. “Definitely fuckin’ hate me right now.” (“It’s alright, shit’s worth it,” he added.) []

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