Story for ya: so there I am, just moved here, from the sleepy-sunny Central Coast town where I grew up; and I set myself up in a one-bedroom apartment by the beach in Santa Monica, with my louche and lassitudinous screenwriter friend Jaz getting the tatty living room and me the tatty bedroom.
I’m poor as hell, as Jaz himself is — butterless pasta for din-din, arid toast and sucky coffee and a cigarette for wakey-wakey, couch and car scrounged for change for the petrol pump — and working just one or two harried days a week as a substitute teacher, writing songs like mad, trying to get an indie band together in order to make a record as good as “The White Album” or “Revolver.” (Not too much to shoot for, eh?! Haha! Of course it is. Ridiculous. But you’ve gotta try, don’t you? You’ve got to.) Well, then: the second swanky Hollywood party I go to is at the mansionish house of this very famous aging actress, deep in leafy Benedict Canyon, somewhere really super secluded — where it gets quite dark at night and it’s so quiet and incredible and impressively woodsy that you forget from time to time you’re in one of the most vast and frenetic and busy cities in the western part of the western world. And what happens there, happens to me, at the very famous aging actress’s gargantuan home, is simply just beyond belief, as ye shall see.
Chum Jaz knows this woman on account of he golfs with or drinks or plays Ultimate Frisbee with one of her kids, a tall blonde surf-talk slurring guy called Trevin. They’re on the same coed softball team or something, got the same weed dealer or some such thing. Trevin, Jaz reports, and without being the least bit man-catty about it, is that hackneyed Hollywood cliché, the fucked-up scion of a serious star. You know: with a prototypically rebellious past that includes drugs for breakfast (the kind you snort or pop or mainline), they slept through prep school, were on perpetual on/off status at the quotidian country club, had all but everything handed to them, Brut champagne and blue crab crab cakes for brunch, tried to play the electric bass and failed or lost interest (got dead sick of playing along to Simple Minds’ or The Cure’s early work), took up surfing for a while til they realized that “going pro” meant getting up, like, really early and training, like, you know, totally way a lot (hitting the weight room, going for long runs along the lonesome daybreak or crepuscular shoreline, mad laps in the backyard pool), never had a chore, let alone a job, in their cush/plush life, hate and resent yet greatly look up to their over-praised, solipsistic, self-absorbed, hyper-animated film-mummy or stage-daddy, said-parent never giving the poor sad kid their full attention or galvanic approval or endorsement, yet on offer instead of love and affection and attention and recognition is any car or two-month trip to Thailand or Iceland or rehab facility they fancy, blah blah blah.
So it’s a dinner party, this party, and Trevin invites Jaz, and I’ve met old Trev at the outdoor basketball courts we sometimes shoot around at, the ones near the Roman Catholic church and all, St. Monica, I think it’s called, on California and 7th, I think, and good old affable Trev says hey, man, sure — bring your roommate, that’s cool, he’s cool, fine and dandy, more the merrier, come on over at five or so on Thursday night next week, early-like, okay? Be punctual, you know?
We get there, Jaz and I. Bring obligatory bottle of red wine. There are around twelve or so archetypal people invited, with one of them (i.e., me) majorly wondering why the hell he’s there. Why has Jaz brought me along, anyway, knowing that this sort of soirée‘s mega-miles from my sort of scene? He doesn’t need to impress me. I’d be way more blown away by him if he got our blasted Hoover working again, or if he could learn to hit the wicked screwgie I chuck at him when we play indoor Nerf baseball after I’m done for the day working, and before Jaz has to go off to his nightmare nightshift job downtown. Anyway, get this: midway through the Waldorf salads and Cornish game hens with raspberry sauce and the baby broccoli and the new potatoes à la russe or whatnot, the “help” filling and refilling everybody’s comically oversized wine and water glasses every bloody seven seconds, the terribly famous aging actress turns to me and says my name like it has around thirteen syllables.
“Yes, Sharon,” I say, using her Christian name, as per her instructions when awkwardly introduced.
(Sharon not her real name, mind you. Name changed to avoid potential litigious reprisals. The personage being satirized or savaged here is not the actress formerly or currently known as “Sharon Stone,” if that’s what you were thinking, if that’s who you thought I meant here. It’s not — for the last time — Sharon Yvonne Stone of 3421 Tempest Trail Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90049.)
Then she goes: “Jaz here tells me you’re a singer. A sing-er …”
And of course the second time she says it she “sings” the word “singer.” Very Broadway. Very Merman, Ethel crossed with Swanson, Gloria. Very tongue in cheek as well but that’s of course of course.
Cue uproarious, uncontrollable, obsequious laughter from the other raucous-fawning sycophantic diners (save two). The other diners being as follows: Jaz (of course); the actress’s very bronze and handsome son, Trevin, whom you’ve heard about; her very cute daughter (a twentynothing with edgy blonde spendy haircut, astonishingly beautiful manners, bunny teeth, plump lips, genial yet somehow gelid smile, giant sparkly sparkling eyes with simply killer lashes, said to be quite the little bookworm, dropped out of Amherst after a year, who doesn’t cackle madly like the others do when her mom fairly flutes the word “singer,” but instead throws me what seems to be a quick, desperately sympathetic look — more about her later); a nice-seeming, Oxford button-downish, smiley-quiet and considerably younger guy Sharon’s quite obviously banging; a couple of Sharon’s lady friends (lesser actresses of course — you’ve never heard of them and neither had I); two madcap, leathery old queens in matching Greek fisherman’s caps and unmatching turtlenecks who positively laugh their lolling heads off at anything anyone says, and throw the red wine around like they’re fin de siècle French poets or something; a few other people, down at the far end of the table (made of dark, dark wood that fairly shines blindingly) where Jaz and I are, all very tan and smiley — e.g., golf pro types, real estate types, agent types, lawyer types, each kind of what’d in Shakespeare’s or Dr. Johnson’s day be dubbed a lickdish.
I mean, these are the kind of people who ladle treacle on their already honey-sugared words. They’re satellites to the rich and famous, ordinary courtiers, invited so that they can feast/feed while ostensibly feeding their famous host’s or hostess’s ego. Yes, okay, I know that sounds harsh. And I know that your basic actor types can have friends, real friends, sometimes. But still. This was that — the kinda sitch I’m describing. Entouragey nonentities (and they know it). Empress’s clothes and all that rot. I know I often exaggerate like mad but this time I’m kinda not. There really are those kinda people. Their name is Legion.
“I’m in a band,” says modest, mortified I. “I’m the songwriter and guitar player.”
“And he’s the singer,” Jaz chips in.
Thanks heaps, Jaz.
“And you’re the singer, Jaz says,” says she, Sharon — “ahs” she, is more like it.
“Uh-huh,” says I, a little more tentatively now, a bit more quietly now.
“Well, then. How nice for you.”
“I suppose so,” says I, smiling tightly. Adding politely deferentially: “Sharon.”
After somewhat of a beat, of course.
Then the boom’s summarily lowered: “Won’t you sing something for us, then, Johhhhhhhn. Johhhhhhhhn — Jaz’s friend, friend-of-Jaz?” Sharon intones, rising, puffing herself up, toast-tipping her wine glass my way, with vitreous, Prufrockian eyes, the eyes that “fix you in a formulated phrase”; then sits back down again. There’s no difference, really — in that she’s the same short height either way, standing or sitting. Typical, you know. You hang around Los Angeles some, you run into the thespianic famous quite a bit; and they’re always, always around seven feet shorter than you imagined. Ask anybody. Honestly now.
And adds: “I’m sure you wouldn’t mind, and we’d all, I’m sure, love to hear you sing something for us, wouldn’t we, everyone?”
Nods, mmms, clucks of mock-momentous approbation, wine-and-water glass clinks of assent like advanced echolalia go ricocheting around the humming/um-hmming table. The near-twin gaylords laugh like a funhouse laugh track and splash some more cabernet or claret or carmenere around like they’re guests on an imaginary TV show called “Action Painting With Wine Instead of Jackson Pollack” and everyone’s all abuzz and stuff, anticipating a bit of gamesome fun. The aging actress’s various golden awards gleam more brightly, it seems, on the imposing mantelpiece behind her, I notice, and have a bit of a psychedelic moment to myself. There’s tons of them, and rows of pictures of her (making a “Jazz face” with “Jazz hands”; de-choppering from a USO show helicopter in Vietnam, presumably; as a mime and shaking hands with a grimly grinning monkey in a bellboy get-up; smiling on a podium, holding up a trophy-diploma while steadying a mortarboard; wearing all-black dance gear, “doing theatre”) in well-dusted frames and things, all atwinkle.
“Clytemnestra’s [that’s the pretty daughter, that’s her I-kid-you-not name] a singer-songwriter too — aren’t you, Cly?” Sharon breathes.
“Mom,” the girl pleads.
“She plays four instruments, too. Piano, guitar, clarinet — even the drums …”
“Sharon — stop,” says Clytemnestra.
“Do you really still play the clarinet, Cly?” Trevin goes. “I haven’t, like, heard you play it for …”
Til Sharon cuts him off with: “Well, you are, honey — and that’s what a singer-songwriter does, last I checked: writes and sings songs. [mad guffaws, snorts of joy.] Be proud, now, my dear. Anyway, Johhhhhhhn: we’re all wait-ing! We want to hear one of your songs. Sing one. Go on, now. Go ahead. Sing one for us. Sing!”
Why am I even alive, I wonder. Then say: “I’m sorry but I’m, um, thank you, but no, I mean, I can’t … I couldn’t …”
“What do you mean, ‘nooooooo’?” says Sharon, her voice all nasal, brows beetling, nostrils aflare and what-you-will.
Dead silence now. Requisite explanation from me is seemingly, er, required. “I mean, I’m sorry but I just can’t, uh, do that… You’ll have to forgive me, but, um, I’m …” I offer, declining as politely as I can muster. “I … I’m sorry.”
“I ask you to sing and you’re not going to sing?! Johhhhhhhhn, that’s not very nice of you! Iasked you nicely. I am your host, after all …”
“Hostess, Sharon,” one of the helpful ‘lords says in a tone that suggests hyper-affectionate mock-remonstrance. “Host-e-e-e-ss,” he repeats, chanting it this time.
“Hos-tess, rather. Thank you, Frank. [little laughs, titters spasmodic] So kind. [big laughs, terrific peals] Johnnnnn. Johhhhhhn? I am your hostess and I would like you to sing something. If indeed you are a singer, Johhhhhhhhhhhn, well, a singer, a real singer, should be ready and able and willing to sing at the drop of a hat — don’t you agreeeeee, people? Don’t you think that’s soooooo?”
More unctuous um-hmmming, why-of-coursing, she’s-only-right-you-knows, and assorted here-heres and grunts or ahhhs of superfluous encouragement, I guess you could call them.
And then, theatrically, Frank’s fellow gets up and for some reason doffs his Greeky cap and drops it plop upon the walnut tabletop and jolly old everybody but me and Cly (I notice) busts up like Charlie Chaplin just did a terrific slide into the room and stuck out his bum and tipped his hat and waved his famous cane or something.
And I remember wishing I had (failing the manifestation of a magical-miraculous trapdoor escape hatch appearing miraculously at my tapping feet) some clever quip ready like what John Winston Lennon had when, at the first news conference in America, The Beatles were asked to “Sing something for us!” and Lennon blithely cheekily goes: “We need money first!” and the whole room just roared with mirth and admiration.
But no. No clever quips or saucebox, endearing, Liverpudlian retorts for me. No, sir or madam. Though I did, to my credit or to my further mortification, have a protest of sorts ready — one that only worked against me in one way, and, as will become apparent later, in my favor in another.
“I’m sorry not to be able to oblige you, Sharon, but you’re really kind of putting me on the spot here, it seems — I mean, if I had a guitar I might be able to, but, um … I’m just not about to, a cappella, belt out one of my ‘compositions.’” (no laughs, none, not a courtesy chuckle, zilch, zippo)
I said “compositions” in an uppish tone that was meant to suggest that I was making fun of myself being pretentious and trying my level best to a) make light of the situation and b) get out of the situation as gracefully affably as I could.
“Come now. Sing us a song, Johhhhhhhn. Do it. You can do it!” Sharon urges now.
My only recourse was to turn, I imagine, all hues of embarrassed red, and blurt out: “Gosh, Sharon, as I said, I’m sorry.”
“I really wish you wouldn’t go expostulating here …” I’d started to say; but of course several of the other guests (save the pulchritudinous daughter) precipitately picked up on the thesaurus word — the first word that’d come to my jumbled mind just then, I swear. Honestly. And they started going “Expostulating! Expostulating!” in these terribly phony-fake English accents and turning their collective mouths down like insta-butlers, and I could just feel myself almost levitating plus going, nay, getting so flushed in the face I must’ve turned not just brightest crimson red but a trifle purple; and it didn’t help in the slightest when Jaz, who loved ten-dollar words even more than I did, more than anyone, came to my so-called rescue and goes: “Come on, you guys — expostulate’s a great verb, a great verb.”
Then several of the roistering roisterers started making fun of him — til, that is, Sharon, in a much calmer, quieter voice (someone once said somewhere that if you want to get everyone’s attention in a crowded room, talk real soft sometime) said: “Well, it seems to me, Johhhhhhhhn, that as your host — hostess, that is — tonight I should be able to ask you … You’re really making quite a big deal out of this! [titters, a palpable snort] Come on, now. This is Hollywood! [hurrahs, cheers, one Bronx cheer that elicited more chuckles, one jeer, two boos] Won’t you just come on and be a big boy and …”
“He doesn’t want to, Sharon,” Clytemnestra, the fetching daughter, interposed just then and sternly — when it got quiet again, when everybody was done laughing like funny farmers at a funny farm.
“Leave the poor guy alone, okay? He just … You don’t even know him. Jesus, Sharon! I mean …”
“Mind yourself now, my darling girl,” says Sharon then to her, evenly, eyes tolerantly closed, ostentatiously apparently practicing some deep-breathing exercise she got from some Transcendental Meditationish retreat or Jane Fonda workout video. “Remember who or whom you’re talking to — I never know which one it is!”
“Whom!” goes Jaz.
“I’m getting ice cream,” says Cly and gets up and tosses her napkin, backhand, high in the air. And it lands on one of the spluttering candlesticks and catches fire. Maybe it had a fat, dropped splotch of Cornish game hen grease on it and that made it all the more flammable — I dunno.
And as she goes she adds: “You’re all a bunch of philistines!”
And: “Not you, though,” she goes and looks over her retreating shoulder, right at me.
“Whassa ‘philistine’?” Trevin inquires, an efflorescence of extra-helping Waldorf salad blooming from his mouth like it was some kind of green, leafy, mini bullhorn.
“What you are!” says Clytemnestra, appearing again at the kitchen doorway — and disappears.
“Clytemnestra!” says Sharon as Jaz reaches forward and grabs the blessed burning napkin and everybody oohs and ahhs till the other, not-Frank, dear sweet gay guy saves the day and goes: “Why d-d-don’t you sing us s-s-something, Sh-sh-sharon! As we all kn-kn-know, y-y-y-your voice is simply di-di-di-di-vine!”
“I heard her sing the other week,” Frank goes, “and her voice, her in-stru-ment, it seems to me,has never been in finer fettle!”
“Hear hear!” Sharon’s boyfriend/toy goes. And it’s the only thing he’s bloody uttered, far as I could tell, all the livelong evening. “Hear hear.”
“Very well, my friends,” Sharon goes, “if you insist.”
And launches into something from a musical or some old standard or something. The song’s indeed delivered with a sort of horrible stentorian raspy verisimilitude (songs from musicals, and indeed musicals themselves, being as we all know among the more sophisticated forms of human torture and evidence of man’s incorrigible cruelty to man); and it has, when she’s done, everyone (save one, just one now) fairly swooning and shouting for joy and clapping like they’re trying to pound or sand or brush their respective hands right off and expectorate their own thoraxes and larynxes. And me of course clapping in part just to try to save face — as well as in great, sweet relief that I’ve got out of this awful sitch relatively (only relatively, mind you) unscathed.
Later, after “afters” and excellent coffee from pristine silver coffee pots, and dazzlingly viridescent and rubescent cordials and things, brandies and Fra Angelico and Bailey’s and other liqueurs poured out, brought out via trolley, with the party dispersing about the immense house and into the great backyard, dawdling toward the lemon trees, the tennis court (it being warm at night still, late September, I remember, and the classic rectangular pool a “swimming-pool blue” you only see in your most beautiful, pellucid dreams), the Clytemnestra girl, my apologist and putative ally, reappears, comes up to me as I’m standing alone in one of the living rooms, a total pariah and persona non grata, wishing could just split or maybe wait in the car till Jaz is ready to go. I’m chuffed beyond and really quite taken aback as she smiles and says hi and asks me if I want to see her room. She has an acoustic in there, she says, and she’s wondering if I would/could play her a song, if I wouldn’t mind too terribly much. I give her a neck-half-cocked kinda mouth-turned-down look like I’m wondering if she’s taking the mickey, taking the piss, winding me up or something, and greatly to her credit she picks up on it and says “No, no, seriously. I’m curious, is all. Jaz told me you’re really, really good. Please? And sorry about my goddam mom. She gets like that sometimes when she’s had too much to drink.”
“Really?” says I, evenly, neutrally.
“Or if she hasn’t had a drink,” adds Clytemnestra, laughing a little. “Or if it’s just a regular old Thursday night and she senses there’s some competition for all the attention in the room or something.”
“I’m fine, really. You don’t have to …”
“I know, but that was just so awful of her. I can’t say that enough. She’s so superintendentish.She should have been a superintendent. In a boarding school. In Greenland or Prussia or somewhere like that. Siberia or something.”
And I laughed.
And Cly said: “I can’t believe her sometimes. To put you on the spot like that? Who does that? She’s unbelievable sometimes, believe me. Anyway, come on. Johhhhhn — right? [she winking here, adorably.] Come with me. Come on. Okay? This way.”
The way she rolled her eyes when she said “some competition” must’ve convinced me, allayed my minor fears, I reckon, and to her room we swiftly go. Sallying forth, lightly hand-in-hand, she leading me — me kicking off my Top-Siders when we get to her door ’cause “no shoes” is her bedroom-polity policy. It’s this vast romper-place adjacent to the six-car garage — at least three times, it seems, the size of Jaz and my’s apartment. Purple sparkle drum kit (!), tons of tennis gear (several hoppers, Yonex totes, stacks of rackets, stringer — stringer (?), two surfboards (one Jordan almond blue, one yellow tri-fin with pale-green piping), rows and rows of vinyl records, spent cassettes, CDs galore.
Q. What kinda chick has a massive collection of those?
A. A cool chick. A super cool cool chick.
She’s got, I see, a nice Marantz stereo (it’s glowing ghostily yellowly) with mondo Tannoys, a walk-in closet you could get lost in, with the most clothes I’ve seen outside a Brooks Brothers or J. Crew. A vintage desk and chair, a preppy pink-and-green beanbag chair (ironic objet d’art?), huge bed, obligatory antique dresser, too-cute boudoir table and chair, ornate and old-timey vanity mirror, etc. There’s an oversize, framed poster of Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited” as well as Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” behind bright glass, and an even cooler one of Jean Renoir’s “Le Regle du Jeu, plus a Van Gogh from some exhibit in London at the Tate she probably went to, flew over to check out, over a long weekend or something, in between Aspen or Ketchum ski trips or snorkeling jaunts to Cozumel, Cancun or Costa Fucking Rica. The Kubrick’s not the iconic one you’ve seen everywhere with Alex peeping through a pyramid or triangle with a wink and a shiny shiv on bright display, but the other one, the Pop Art one of a bowler hat and a sawtooth sprocket qua the main “droog’s” eye. Odds are you’ve never even seen it, it’s that rare and groovy. Unless you’re some sort of total geek film buff plus a nerd for film posters made specially for foreign showings — different images with more arty layouts, typefaces, vibes. There are some amateurish watercolors (by Clytemnestra herself, presumably), a decoupage of splendiferous butterflies, some cutout, Scotch-taped images of sultry, topless, Calvin Kleinish models of both sexes in black and white and in color; and an entire section devoted to shots of Madonna [Madonna’s cool;Madonna I can deal with; sure, I lie, I think a couple of her songs are really really good].
But the kicker’s that she’s got a small town library’s own amount of spine-cracked hardbacks and paperbacks just everywhere, so of course I’m immediately madly-wildly in love with her. I want her to marry me tout de suite, set the wedding date as soon as we can; I’m ready to brave having heinous Sharon for a mother-in-law, acquiesce to seeing her, a demon-in-law, at Easter brunch and Christmas dinner and for the after-baptism breakfasts of my and Cly’s many happy babies (they don’t cry, they do their homework on the way home from school, they’re sports stars and valedictorians, they never come home crying or ask for money or the keys to my car). For all I care right now, good old Sharon can move in with us, if she wants — come stay at Jaz and my’s tiny one bedroom a few blocks from the beach where she can kip in the kitchen, amidst the midden, be there when her darling, headstrong daughter and I wake up and make love sleepily passionately. We’ll try our best not to tread on her head as we sleepwalk toward the coffeemaker in the scintillant blue sunshine beachside mornings, bring her back the morning paper after we’ve read it at some glittering seaside café. Port her back an individual carton of from-concentrate after we have our fresh-squeezed, our specialty-pour French or Italian roast, our sugar-glazed pain au chocolat, morning-fresh baked and sent via screaming ambulance from La Brea Bakery on North La Brea. Sharon can have the mad madwoman Marie who lives downstairs for a best friend: Marie who looks like a medicine ball dressed up as a centurion who, by the looks of it, got the worst of a fight with a pike and a catapulted ball of fire. Marie who plays Wagner at full blast in the middle of the night and who talks to her flowerbeds — they could hang out, Sharon and she, shrieking and drinking plonk/paint thinner and chardonnay, reverse-respectively.
Let’s go, I’m thinking. My darling Cly, my love, my life, what are we waiting for? Pack up your stuff and just come away with me now. I’ve never been more sure of anything ever. I love you, Clytemnestra. You’ll never know how much. We’re never ever going to be apart. Can’t believe I met you, can’t believe my luck.
Got an exceptionally beautiful face — check. Funny and fun — check. Charming and benignly rebellious check-check. Tall — check. Plays tennis — check. Plays music — check. Plays chess? — need to “check” on that. Has a college education — one-fourth check. Is articulate and doesn’t say “like” or “you know” every other word — check. Has that really cute je ne sais quois about her — check. Has a really cute butt that’s hard not to “check” out when she walks by — check. Has great taste in music and books — tentative check. Ergo, she checks out well enough. Those are enough checkity-checks for me, thank you very much. Getting to know someone, like someone, having them like you, respect you, you respect them, seeing them in myriad situations, watching how they handle themselves, assessing their spirituality, morality, ability to forgive, making sure they’re a good kisser, have nice hygiene, all that Girl Scout stuff (like Thrifty, Kind, Cheerful, Brave, Sporty, Clean, Randy, Elegant, Horny, Outdoorsy, Loyal, Polyglot, Affectionate, Amiable, Witty, Bright, Fun, Sweet, Adventurous in the Bedroom, Not-Crazy, Relatives Mostly Dead or Getting There, Good with Children and Animals — plus Interested in the World Around Them, Interesting to Talk To?) Oh, pshaw! What am I talking about? What do I really care about any/all of the above? Details, details. What’s the difference? Cly’s gorgeous. She checks out okay by me. I’m ready. I’m waiting. I’m so in love.
So there I am, plotting out our fantastic future together, walking round her room, indulging scuffing my bare feet on her luxuriant carpet, having a look at all her stuff: the way you do when you’ve first been invited to see where someone sleeps, waiting around till the time comes for you to reach for her hips, to get to know her lips. On top of her dresser there’s a toy Tower Bridge and a little St George Cross flag and a gimcrack ersatz bobby hat; giant display box of Twining’s Earl Grey tea that must’ve been some sort of promotional thing at Harrods or something, Beefeater doll, Buckingham Palace guard muppet, a hand towel from early-eighties Wimbledon, humongous “family size” Toblerone box — arranged atop a Union Jack.
“Were you ‘at school’ in England, by any chance?” I ask her, liltingly.
“Yeah, I was. Why? How’d you know?”
“Oh, all the stuff on your dresser there,” I nod.
“Oh, that. I went to The American School in London for, uh, almost three years, I think.”
“I did my junior year abroad there — in the south, though. I love London.”
“Oh, cool. Me, too. Okay, now — play me a song.”
She’s got the nicest new acoustic I have ever seen — outside of McCabe’s or Guitar Center, that is. There it is: the most expensive Gibson J-45 you can buy new. Vintage Sunburst, naturally, and the neck’s buttery-incredible. Strum one chord and you’re Joni Mitchell’s little sister or Neil Young Jr., the thing sounds so good, so full, so rich and warm and pretty.
She sweetly says, “Would you mind, terribly? I don’t know why I want you to. I just do. Ha! Would you? I can’t apologize enough for my mom, you know. Play me something. Please?”
And I tune it a bit, via harmonics, and I look up and Clytemnestra nods, Go ahead, and I ask, Do you have a capo? and she looks around and finds it and hands it over and I fasten it on the third fret and play her a quiet version of a rushing, brand-new thing I’ve written called “A Mess of Yesterdays” and she sits there for a sec or two after the last chord’s rung out with a self-conscious flourish and it’s flown away into the air and she closes her eyes and goes: “John! John, that was beautiful. So good. You’re so good. I love it. Wow. Thank you. I mean it.”
And I thank her and self-deprecatingly tell her she didn’t have to say that and she goes: “No, no — really.” Then I hand her the guitar and ask her if she would be so kind and she shakes her head and I ask again and say please and I put some earnestness into it and at last she relents and takes the capo off and retunes and the song she plays is somewhat halting, has potential, her vocals strain a bit but it’s a nice voice and at least it isn’t all affected, unlike so many singer-songwriter types you meet and wanna John Belushi over the head with their own “axe.” The chord changes are predictable and bland — but it’s not positively horrid like I expected them to be and I tell her, It’s good, I like it a lot, she should keep going, keep writing and stuff, throw a bridge in there somewhere and does she have a band or anything? You should have a band, says I. And she goes, “Thanks, that’s nice of you to say that”; and then, resting the guitar against her nightstand (she’s been sitting on the edge of her giant cream bed, with me on an escritoire chair and all, across from her, facing her), well, she gets up and prances (the word’s so girly girlish, I know, but it’s definitely le mot juste here, you know) to her door and pushes in the lock button and turns around (hands behind her on the door, fingers splayed) and, leaning forward so that her full, perky’s-the-only-word-for-them breasts spill forth a bit, cocking her very terribly attractive head to one side, giving me a wanton, winking sort of look, then issuing forth a strange if not downright funny sort of laugh, says: “I was thinking …”
I smile a smile that can only be categorized as puzzled: “What?”
“I … Do you, um … Do you wanna go to — you know — bed with me?”
And I go: “I’m sorry?”
And she giggles (but not off-puttingly): “You heard me! Do you? Want to?”
And I go: “Gulp.”
And she goes: “Well, I want to.”
And I laugh sort of not-unflappably and go: “Gosh, Clytemnestra, I mean, uh …” And before I finish my astonished sentence she comes right over, kind of gliding a few long steps across the room, the Persian cat white carpet. She licks then gets her great wet lips on mine and her nice soft tongue in my mouth and then, now astraddle my legs, poof, off goes her top [bye-bye, top!], then her sensible white bra. We kiss like mad and then she pushes up and then these tight white tennis shorts she’s got on go — she does like a modern dance, wiggling out of them, and who can believe this is happening? Not me. No way. Her panties she hops out of as well and sort of trips and falls against me and she steadies herself by putting her hand on my shoulder and she’s laughing to herself and smiling at me, me going right straight out of my fucking mind by now.
Because why? Because does this kind of thing ever happen to me? To anyone whose first name isn’t James, last name not Bond? No, this does decidedly not happen. Not to almost anyone. Or anyone who’s not in a Boy Band or on the silver screen. Something, someone like Clytemnestra happens to you, guys — you look ’round for the Candid Camera or for a few of your pranky friends coming popping out of the closet ’cause they put this beautiful chick up to it and she needed the money or did it for the hell of it, just to mess with some random-anonymous someone.
But no. This is no joke or prank. It’s certainly not funny; it’s deadly-serious, rather: She’s not going to bow out; this is really happening. It seems like a dream. And it is. A dream come true. A dream where you’re just minding your own business, trying to get through the day, and Along Comes Cly and out of the blue you’re suddenly precipitately weighing her glorious ass, the nicest ass imaginable, and measuring her cup size with all eight feet of your gaping-incredulous mouth.
Up close, Cly has the craziest, dreamiest, bluish but mostly romantic gray eyes I have ever seen. They’re amazing. They’re huge. They’re that sexy, sloe-eyed thing where the heavy eyelids cover the top third of the irises. And, as I said, they’re giant, those gray-blues. They’re like what you’d expect Anna Karenina or Maggie Tulliver or Zuleika Dobson to have.
When she looks right at you, holding your gaze, it hurts, somehow, it wounds you. You want to look away. And scream or something. You want to die. Why not? This’d be an ideal time to buy the farm. You’re not winning the NBA Championship anytime this lifetime, nor is your band opening for a reunited Beatles or even CCR. You’re not going to give the commencement speech at Harvard after winning the Nobel for literature, nor does the mayor of Hawaii have you on the schedule to palm you the keys to the city. You’ve never played the California Lottery and never will.
Life, in other words, that oscillating, caprice-filled, wonderful-horrible unpredictable thing, is never going to get better than this.
So before you know it, this unbelievable Clytemnestra’s slapping away and kicking the books off her bed (there’s a bunch) and she after she strips she gets my clothes off, too, and we’re “going at it,” this way and that. After we’re done she lies back and throws her arms behind her like she’s just rounded off some kind of Olympic gymnastics event and she goes: “Thank you. That was so … uhmm. Oh my God!”
“I know,” says I.
“Fuck!” says she. “Wow.”
“I know,” says I. “Can you tell me a little bit about what just happened?”
And we laugh for what seems a long time, a real long time, but really isn’t all that long. Not thirty seconds pass, in fact, after the laughter dies down, before she turns and looks at me meaningfully and kisses me, just a little one, a sweet one, and then she sits up abruptly and says:
“Um, I’m sorry but I have to go now, actually.”
“You do? Seriously?”
“Oh, no. Really?”
And like a fool I ask where.
“Oh, I just do,” says she, all demure and stuff — or seeming so. I give her a look like “Go ahead, it’s okay, you can tell me.” A look, in other words, just like what
I shouldn’t have given, in terms of giving people looks. A little nod that says “I can take it.”
“I have to go to my boyfriend’s …”
“Yeah,” says she and does that lip-biting bit that, as all girls know, drives men mad, that leaning forward thing, tucking one hank of hair behind her ear, that look like, “Sorry — maybe I should have told you before we, well, you know” look.
I was trying (and failing, as usual) to hide my tacit disappointment, I’m sure. I mean, aside from being really pretty and sexy, the girl was a great lay. Just a great lay. It’s kind of vulgar and déclassé, I realize, to put it like that but, I mean, she was just wonderful in bed, just wow. Great kisser. Very into it. Great kisser. And confidently passionate without any histrionics or weird faces like a mad, maniacal clown-on-’shrooms might make — when she came, that is, and when I had myself in her and we were in a rhythm the like of which I …. Fuck! The girl really knew what she was doing, if you know what I mean.
The way she bent over me when we flipped around and she was on top of me, brushing me with her thick, sassily cut, silky, sun-touched hair, telling me how much she wanted me, wanted me the whole time we were at the dinner table. The way she … I don’t know. It’s pretty hard to put into words. Let’s just say I would have loved to have seen her again.
Any guy would’ve, I’m telling you. And not just for the sake of carnal knowledge and stuff. I really liked her. I actually thought she was really cool. Really cool. I’d’ve gone anywhere with her. Done anything she wanted to. She had such a uniquely beautiful face, the kind of pretty that just gets prettier the closer you get to it, and her tummy was so flat and sexy and that bum, that bum of hers at once soft and firm and not too small and not too big and she got so wet so fast when I put my fingers on her nether lips real soft and slow then slid them in her and then she had me in her as I knelt in front of her as she sort of leaned but did not lie back on the bed, kind of propped up on her extended arms, and she moved quote-unquote down there so sweetly, like she was ruminating me with it, her tasty pussy, licking and savoring my cock with it, thrusting and retracting, as we made love she was very tight and so into it and “knew what she was doing” and incrementally moaning, cooing, and it was all I could do to keep from coming too soon and I remember I stopped mid-scrog and asked her, Hey Clytemnestra, I probably should have asked you this earlier, but, um, do you happen to have a condom? and she said, No, I hate them, and I asked her, Um, is it okay? as in Do you have a million herpes outbreaks a year or tertiary chlamydia or something? and she just laughed and said, Don’t worry about it and I just kinda said to myself, What the hell — I’ve been inside her for ten minutes now already anyway and I risked it and, luckily, she didn’t have anything but listen up, you kids at home (grown-ups too) — don’t do as I did on this one, okay? There’s no way I should have slept with her without a johnny on. You don’t wanna take any chances these days, you guys. Unprotected sex — it’s just not a good idea.
Do it just once at the wrong time with the wrong person, end up with a mushroom on your dick or scabby-festering stab wounds on your poor little kitty, ladies, crying your adorable eyes out at a crushingly antiseptic clinic somewhere, you yourself replete with shame and fear and shaking with terror and dread.
It’s just not smart, that.
“It was awfully nice to meet you, though, for sure,” says she, throwing clothes back on like there was an earthquake, these so-tight jeans she plucked up from somewhere, grabbing her purse, jingling the keys to a Jaguar or one of those convertible VW Cabriolets, a sporty tan or cream-colored Karmann Ghia. She completely seemed like a chick who’d have one of those. Show cars. Beach cars. A topless Porsche or sleek black BMW. The kind girls like her have and just hop in and zip up PCH to Malibu or Zuma or the secret beaches just before you get to Oxnard — just because they’re there. “I guess it’s kind of a funny thing to say to someone you just … you know.”
“Yeah. Kinda,” I said, looking down. “Nice to have met you, too, Clytemnestra,” I laughed and wanly, looking up at her now, fully dressed as she was. “And so I guess the whole boyfriend thing means we won’t be, um …”
“No, I guess we won’t,” says she, her eyes twinkling, then a dull smile emergent as I got up and got dressed. She kept looking at my clothes on the floor is how I knew to put my shirt and trousers back n.
“Too bad,” says I.
“I know. You’re sweet. You’re a real artist too. I wish even just one of my songs was as good as the one you played me. What was it called, again?”
“Thank you,” says I. “You didn’t have to say that. ‘A Mess of Yesterdays.’ And you’re probably being overmodest about …”
“I mean it, though. Well, anyway, goodbye. Take care, okay? That was, um, kind of wild. But then …”
“You’re sort of a wild one yourself?” says I. “It’s just a guess.”
“Kind of,” laughed she.
“A wild guess,” says I.
“Ha! Funny! You might say that. I don’t know. Every once in a while I just get this … Ha! I shouldn’t say it! I’m naughty, I know.”
“Does he know?”
“Daniel? No. God, no. God, he’d be so bummed. It hasn’t happened that many times, though, since I got back from back east. I just … I don’t know.”
“Why do you have to have a boyfriend?” I said, all tortured and dramatic, laughing at myself.
“You’re sweet,” she said and took my face in her hands and kissed me.
“Well, anyway. Good night. You’re only twenty, though, right? I’m serious now, okay? You shouldn’t even have a boyfriend right now,” I expostulated. I screwed up my eyes at her a little gently mocking bit: “You’re a Virgo, aren’t you? You just had a birthday not too long ago.”
“Oh my gosh — how’d you know that?!”
“Another wild guess, I guess.”
“Huh. But what made you guess that?”
“I don’t know. But you shouldn’t, like I said, have a boyfriend, is all. I don’t think.”
“Yeah, I know,” she said. “I hate that about myself. Like, she was just this poor little poor little rich girl who couldn’t be alone — la la la la la. Yuck, right? I know. I need to figure myself out, is what I really ought to do. Need to do. And of course I know that I’m not going to be able to do that with a boyfr … I know. I get it. Hey — have Jaz tell Trev when you guys do a gig, okay? Your band, I mean. I shouldn’t have snapped at him like that. We’re really close, actually. They [she meant her mom and brother] both just piss me off so much sometimes, you know?”
I just cocked my head “okay” like I was listening to good music and pursed my mouth a bit, shrugged my assent. What did anything matter, now?
“So do you guys ‘play out’? Play gigs and stuff? I’d love to come …”
“That’s a horrible phrase!” I said.
“Is it? I don’t know. Anyway, I’ll come see you if you do. You haven’t seen my cigarettes, by any chance?”
“Sure, okay,” I said. “No, I haven’t. Jaz told me you, um, went to Amherst?”
I don’t know why I was prolonging the inevitable — she was on her way out in a girlish flurry and hurry and I should have just let her go, let her split; but I really liked her, was the thing. I did. She was just, well, likeable. A personable person. Interesting. Plus, you know, when I do meet someone actually interesting, as arrogant as that sounds, I want to know almost everything about them. I can’t help it. That’s me — Mr. Curiosity. You just don’t come across too many fascinating people these days — not if you’re me, you don’t.
“Yeah. I dropped out.”
“Sorry to hear that.”
“Oh, you know,” she said. “The funny thing is … You wanna hear something funny? I got into Harvard as well, but ultimately I chose Amherst. And the even funnier thing is I don’t even know why. I just did. Maybe I thought I was doing something radical or whatever. I really think, looking back, I should’ve gone to Harvard. Then at least — now, that is — I could say I dropped out of Hah-vard instead of just Amherst. It’d be a lot more impressive. Half the things I do sometimes I don’t even know why I do them sometimes, I swear.”
“Sure,” I said. The way she said “Hah-vard” was very East Coasty, obviously — parody of, naturally. “That’s hilarious,” I said, meaning the bit about dropping out of Harvard.
“Oh, well,” she continued, scrabbling around in this gigantic purse she had, “I’ll buy some,” said she, meaning cigarettes.
I went over and kissed her one more time and traced away from her face her gamine and blonde, not-quite shoulder-length hair; then reflexively she flipped then patted and tucked it back in place. I was sad now. Her nice big eyes were so twinkly.
The thing about being a convinced misanthrope is that you can make it selective. You can take a day off — especially when there’s a very charming woman involved. “A misanthrope I can understand — a womanthrope never” brays Aunt Augusta in Wilde’s best. The thing about misanthropy is you don’t have to make it all Hobbesian and junk and be against everyone. You can have a bit of respite from it when you stumble upon someone pretty terrific. Yet — go figure — soon as she was “in,” she was “out.”
Just like that, she was going. I was going, too — going back out to the party, is where I was going — a party I didn’t want to be going to anymore, a party I wanted to get the hell away from as fast as I could. I started hoping real hard that Jaz, too, was ready to get out of there.
Where I wanted to be going was wherever Clytemnestra was going. That’s where I would’ve liked to go. Not to her goddam boyfriend’s, obviously, but Anywhere, USA otherwise. Unless it was to go to her boyfriend’s so that we could catch him naked with a fifteen-year-old girl, some neo-Lolita; or, even better, if we were to walk in on him with a dude or maybe in the midst of an exceedingly sweaty daisy chain with three or four other dudes.
Or: we get there just in time to watch the guy choking on a chicken bone from having chugged a tub of KFC, with me trying (but not too hard) to save him, give him a half-hearted Heimlich, only to have her weep in my incomprehensibly understanding arms, then make love to me in the wake of her ineffable gratitude and incrementally diminishing sorrow over his untimely but it’s-ultimately-for-the-best demise.
And the two of us live happily ever after.
You optimistic optimists can go, “Well, at least you got to love her for half an hour or so; at least you got to be with her, have that experience.” You can say that all you want. You can rationalize having to not have a babe like Cly til the cows come home. You optimistic optimists can go fish, is what I say. While you’re, um, waiting for the cows to come home, you can. You guys don’t know what she smelled like, what she looked like naked, the darling lilt of her grew-up-by-the-ocean accent, the way she held my gaze as I pulled her hips closer, the soft sound she made as she came and how she clutched me and cupped my face. You just don’t meet girls that cool every day. You don’t if you’re me, that is.
Maybe you do, maybe you’re a lifeguard at UCSB during the hours when they only let really nice supermodels manque with PhDs in Renaissance studies into the pool area, or if you’re Sean Connery when Bond was at the very top of the very top of his game; but I only manage it around once-a-Halley’s-Comet or something, meeting girls like her. If there even are girls like her ’cause part of me thinks Clytemnestra was a sui generis kinda girl.
And you cynical cynics are gonna go: “Yeah, you got to hang with this chick for all of a half hour max. You don’t know what she’s really like.”
And you’d be right.
But that’s just it, isn’t it?
It’s a drag, is what it is. What can you do about it, you wonder? Do they have pamphlets on it at the grocery store? “How to Meet Women Like That Clytemnestra Woman You Made Incomprehensible Love to at Famous Aging Actress’s House.” Is there a post-grad course in it at the State U, or a social program you can sign up for — even if you have to live in Texas, Arizona, Western New Mexico? Sign me up, okay? Put me down for that.
And, to crown all, you prudish prudes are going to say that “trollops” like Cly are … oh who cares about you? Say what you want; I can’t be arsed over what you have to say. Go to, go to, Miss Priss, Mister Censure. Piss off, then. Fiddlesticks! is what I’ve got to say to you. Fiddlesticks!
“Good night, then,” I bade her and smiled what I imagine could’ve easily contended for World’s Saddest Smile “You’re pretty great, you know? I really wish you …”
“You know,” I said.
She blushed. Just a trifle. Just a little.
“Anyway, m’lady …” I make some arabesque-like flourish of a cavalier servente gesture, foolish, inane.
“Charmed , I’m sure,” she said, very Grace Kelly, and laughed and did a charming little curtsey.
I wished she hadn’t done that. Been so charming and adorable. So cute. I hated that I wasn’t going to get to take her out sometime somewhere, that this was obviously a one-time/probably-never-going-to-see-her-again thing. It didn’t matter that I was eight years older and a thousand light years (in terms of worlds) away from her. I would have loved to have just hung out with her some more. I had grown up well-enough-to-do, beachy and tennis-y and Anglophile and all, but nothing like this, like her kind of affluence. If only she …
And out her door I went then she went and she sheared off toward the garage door and it was years and years before I ever ran into her and her appalling mother again. They were having sushi together in Little Tokyo one night when I was there with some friends. I went up and said hey but I swear to God it took both of them around six hours to remember where they knew me from. I don’t think Jaz saw much of Trevin after that — he might’ve gone back for some Easter party at their house or something, some showboat Easter egg hunt or champagne-and-mimosa marathon or whatever.
Some people — especially rich girls — you just don’t know, you know? You had a fantastic time together, the way she kissed you was unforgettable (I can still — after all these years — kind of conjure up how nice she kissed, how delicious it was, making out with her while I was making love with her), you made your obligatory melancholy goodbyes and that was that.
It’s a very L.A. story, surely, but you needs must own that it’s the sort of thing that could happen anywhere, to anyone. And she probably just sent me, good old Cly did, on account of she had mommy issues or because I’d told her I liked her song or because I’d refused to buckle to her mother’s uncouth, borderline bullying behavior, or because she maybe thought some of my putative talent would miraculously rub off on her; or because it was a just a goddam Thursday, for Christ’s sake.
Some things — many things, in fact — you’ll never know.
But that won’t stop you wondering about them, now, will it? Not at all. Not if you’re me, it won’t.
Clytemnestra, if on the odd longshot chance you’re reading this … Hey, how are you? I hope you’re grand, you know. I really hope you are. It was great knowing you. “Knowing” you. It really, really was. You should know that. You should. I don’t know if you’re still writing music or playing it or if you’ve got thirteen kids and live on a sugarcane farm on Oahu or the Big Island; but obviously I never forgot you and that kind of spectacular, kind of atrocious, certainly unbelievable night. I never ever did.
“Clytemnestra” is an excerpt from THE KING OF GOOD INTENTIONS III: THE HOLLOW CROWN by John Andrew Fredrick.
John Andrew Fredrick, founder of indie rock band The Black Watch, is the author of four novels, including THE KING OF GOOD INTENTIONS, THE KING OF GOOD INTENTIONS, PART II and YOUR CAIUS AQUILLA (all by Rare Bird Books), and a book of criticism, FUCKING INNOCENT: The Early Films of Wes Anderson (Rare Bird Books, 2017). He lives and writes in Los Angeles.
Photo: “joey” by John Andrew Fredrick