Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Rock-and-Roll Couple

I’m not sure if it’s a saving grace or a fault, but I often leave people off the hook who’ve done something grievously wrong to me. I clearly recall one woman at a spot I was working, a friend/consultant to my boss, routinely trying to mess with me in ways that should have had her lanced (save the “friend” relationship to the boss – it created problems, and not just with me). The last time came just as I was leaving (a few weeks after my boss had been let go), when this woman took a private email I had sent to her expressing doubt over the direction of the department, and forwarded it to one of the guys in the department, with the question, “Is this the kind of attitude we want moving forward?” Of course, I wasn’t copied on this.

Never mind that I had tendered notice and had no intentions of moving forward, which she damn well knew. This piece of shit saw her chance to create trouble for me one last time and took it. The guy she sent it to was duped, too, not recognizing that she was playing him and not intending to do anything constructive. I should have taken the whole thing to the CEO and had her removed, which would have been very easy to do and a nice parting shot, costing her tens of thousands of dollars. But I let it go, figuring I’d never have to deal with this heavily-medicated douche bag again, and I was right. (Her usual excuse for being routinely abusive to everyone on staff was she had foolishly cut back on her medications. Right.) Running into people like this is routine in New York; I’d wager it’s routine everywhere.

I can recall a similar situation, this one involving what I call The Rock-and-Roll Couple. Again, it was a woman. Women will often use subterfuge to fight because they recognize a full-on assault against a man will not work. But you better believe I’ve dealt with men being just as dishonest, especially in offices, particularly when large sums of money are involved. Usually the most shocking aspect of these instances is that you’ve done nothing wrong to this person, nothing that you can point at and say, “My doing this caused this person to blind-side me.” There are just people in the world who are devious, who surely understand the difference between right and wrong, but choose to be wrong. As for their motives, I have no idea. My motive is generally to get the fuck away from these people once they clarify that this is how they roll.

Back in college, I became great friends with C., one of my English professors. After I had made the nut at our branch campus and prepared to move on to the main campus, C. made it clear that he thought I was cool, especially for a student, and the feeling was mutual, as I recognized a kindred English-major spirit. So it came that I fell into C.’s circle of friends, various other “hip” professors at the campus, local hipsters, some musicians, other poets, etc. More often than not, either that first summer before I left for the main campus or when I was back home on a weekend, I’d drive down to C.’s place and hang out, usually having dinner and killing a bottle of wine. (Please note: I was 21 at the time and this fell into the fresh category of "hanging out with an old friend." I’d hate to get C. in trouble after all this time when the set-up was completely legit.) C. was a child of the 60s, so we had plenty to talk about in terms of music, and I was constantly learning about poets and such from him. He was like an older brother to me, and a damn good person to boot.

Through C. I came to know Rich and Anne, the Rock-and-Roll Couple, so-called because Rich was an aspiring musician, while Anne put out the vibe and look of a hip rock-star girlfriend. They were quite a pair. Both came from small towns near the branch campus. Rich was an all-star quarterback in high school, but a rocker all the while, one of those football players who had long hair coming out the back of his helmet. When the 80s came around, he veered new-wavish in his look, sporting a faux-hawk that was often multi-colored and seeming to take every fashion cue from Charlie Sexton who, at the time, had a minor 80s hit (“Beat So Lonely” … a real Bowie tribute) and was briefly real hot stuff on the music scene. (Charlie went on to carve out a nice career for himself with more acoustic-leaning/countryish solo work and a long backing stint as Bob Dylan’s lead guitarist.) Two things to note about Rich: he was charismatic, an extremely likable guy who had an athlete’s easy physicality about himself on top of that hang-loose musician vibe, and being a musician, he fucked around. A lot. I believe he and Anne had an unspoken open-door policy on this, a “don’t ask/don’t tell” understanding when he was out playing.

Anne had some crazy background, raised by a stern father in some shady governmental position, trained as a classical pianist, she became the female version of the preacher’s son, cutting way too loose from daddy’s grip as a form of self identity. She was a looker, too. Long brown hair, a thin body, and unusually large breasts for a girl that skinny – she knew what boys liked. She chain-smoked, too. I can only imagine how hot she must have been in a Catholic school girl uniform.

I can’t recall how Rich and Anne came into being as a couple. I know Rich was going to NYU. I think he met Anne there as, at the time, she was dating a NY-area based biker. Not sure if he was a Hell’s Angel or what. But it was just her kind of thing to date a biker, despite the classical piano training and higher cultural leanings. Apparently, one night she saw Rich playing in a bar, love at first sight, went back with him to his dorm room, and according to her, was woken up the next morning by her biker boyfriend tapping a knife on the base of their bed. It sounded like bullshit, but who knows. She attached this magical bad-boy aura to bikers that I know is bullshit, having known one or two in my time. (Do biker gangs even exist anymore? It seems like one of those 60s/70s things that are slowly dying out over time, unless I’m just not seeing it.)

The story goes that rather than chain-whipping Rich, the biker recognized his old lady loved another and let her go. No doubt going back to the clubhouse to play “Freebird” on repeat for days on end on the jukebox. I don’t know what Anne was doing in New York. I seem to recall a hazy story line of her working for a guy who moved pianos and thus was around the city to help him set-up and tune newly-moved pianos, which is quite an ordeal.

They became a quick, perfect couple, and I guess from the biker connection, also got into transporting pot along the NY/NJ/PA route they’d take to go home occasionally. Also being an outdoorsman, Rich was prone to having hunting knives and rifles in his car, so this was a bit dangerous whenever they’d get pulled over, as it would be a guy with eye-liner, purple hair and leather pants, his equally made-up girlfriend, and a backseat filled with weapons … with a few kilos of pot in some hidden space in the trunk. They never got caught, but had a few close calls. Rich would celebrate by going fishing. It must have been something for an old-timer in his boat, to look at the guy in the next boat and see a Billy Idol clone with no shirts and a dirty pair of leather pants and boots waving hello. But knowing Rich, after about five minutes, the two would be talking like old friends, probably about Rich’s exploits on the high-school football playing field.

By the time I knew them as part of C.’s nutty circle of friends, Rich was working in radio, mainly doing sports-casting at various high-school events for a local station. Anne was giving piano lessons. They lived in a small house in Anne’s hometown. All the while, Rich was trying to get his band together with a friend from New York, a Jewish guy I’ll call Artie who worked at CBS Records, apparently in a fairly high position, which seemed to allow him a lot of time to head out to Pennsylvania and jam with Rich and cohorts. Since he was so musically connected, it was expected that Artie would find some way for the band to cut a quick path to a record deal and some type of stardom.

I was at their first gig, at an American Legion hall in Kulpmont, Pennsylvania. Man, what a strange night that was. I think the Legion was simply throwing some type of “teen night” dance. As I was about 22 at the time, I wasn’t that far removed from the audience (which was sparse) by age and felt at home. I recall meeting Artie’s wife, who was also hot stuff, but more in a sedate, NYC Jewish way, simply an attractive woman as opposed to Anne’s tartiness. She looked good in a black party dress with black stockings, as opposed to Anne in her fishnets and cleavage baring, leopard-print tank tops. I remember liking her and Artie immediately.

The band … while it wasn’t fair to say the sucked, had a long way to go. The music was mid-80s hard rock, again, a guy like Charlie Sexton comes most to mind. Think INXS’s more rock-leaning material. Again, Billy Idol is a good comparison. Unfortunately, their lyrics really sucked. I recall one couplet: “Ooh, baby, I’m a spy/No, don’t ask why.” Shit like that. It was bad. Musically, those guys had it down, they knew what they were doing. Look-wise, they had it, too, fitting in perfectly with that cheesy mid-80s "Road Warrior" look. I’d see them a few times over the next year or two, mostly back in Pennsylvania, but twice in New York later on.

All the while I was getting to know these people, and liking them immensely, C. was getting involved with a woman I’ll call Maryann, a newscaster on a local radio station. To listen to her on the radio, you’d hear a smooth-voiced, erudite young woman intelligently reading the story lines of the day. In real life, you’d hear a tough-talking Italian broad who didn’t take shit from nobody. She came from a town near mine in the northern part of the county, i.e., our home county is separated north/south by a small mountain, and the gist is the northern is more tough/working class while the southern is more polished/upper class (although there are plenty of towns south of the mountain just as funky as in the north). C. and her got along well because they were both Italian, and I think Maryann recognized C. was a class guy with higher aspirations – the type of guy she probably wasn’t running into a lot back there.

I had no problem with the two being together: today, as then, as far as I’m concerned, people’s romantic/private lives are none of my god-damned business, and vice-versa. I was simply glad that C. had met someone he was getting along with. While I wasn’t sharp enough to see or sense it at the time, apparently Anne didn’t think much of Maryann. Or more precisely, thought she was a bad match for C. Whether this was true or not was irrelevant to me. It was true that Maryann had an edge on her and was scrappy, but I wrote that down to the Italian vibe, and my own knowledge of her hometown, which had a tough reputation. Maryann and I got along well based on geography alone, and our understanding as a pair of “north of the mountain” kids making their way in a “south of the mountain” world.

The fall after I had graduated, I landed a short stint teaching remedial English at C.’s branch campus. It wasn’t a bad gig: close to home, I knew the campus, the job itself was fun. I should have stuck with it longer than I did (six months), but at that age, I was real hot to see the world and get away from home, which I did with a short stint in Venice, California and eventually New York a year later. But during that time I was teaching at the campus, one of the legion of resume/writing samples I had sent out landed at one of my favorite music magazines, and they scored me a gig to interview a band before they played at the Ritz in New York City. Understand that I had never seen a major city at this point in my life, save Pittsburgh, which is more like a big small town. I was excited as hell to get paid doing something I wanted to do and see New York for the first time.

Since I knew nothing about New York, Rich and Anne decided it was their job to be my guide. As the day of the interview/show grew closer, Rich had to drop out due to a work assignment, but it was set that I’d drive to New York in my yellow Hornet station wagon with Anne as my guide to interview the band at The Ritz.

And I will never forget seeing the New York City skyline for the first time – I think it literally gave me an erection. Not from love or lust, just pure excitement. It looked like Mars on the horizon as I approached on the New Jersey Turnpike. Anne could sense my excitement and was getting excited herself. We drove into town through the Holland Tunnel, and I made my way over to 11th Street between 3rd and 4th Avenue, where The Ritz is, and found a parking lot on the same street (which is now an NYU dorm, like so many of the hallmarks of my early days in New York City).

This was the fall of 1986, and I can recall falling in love with the place the moment I landed one Converse black high-top on the street. It just felt right. I knew I’d live here one day. (Of course, I’ve never lived in Manhattan, and now that I’ve lived here long enough, I can see that’s not such a bad thing.) The East Village still had that punk-rock vibe to it, although it was surely waning at the time. Anne took me down and walked me around St. Marks Place, which is what every teenage/early twentysomething would do at that time as the street was a microcosm of all that was cool about that part of town. All the while, Anne was feeding off my excitement, I could tell she was having a blast.

We came back to The Ritz at the appointed interview time and were let in. The Ritz still exists, only now it’s called Webster Hall, and I’ve never been in Webster Hall. When I moved to New York a year later, I saw many shows at The Ritz, always getting there early to see their enormous sound/video system playing rock videos of the day. (It seemed like “Birth School Work Death” by The Godfathers was always playing … still a very cool song.) As it was, one of the guys who worked The Ritz’s door showed me to a back room on the second floor, and I can’t tell you how cool it felt, to be guided to this private place in a New York City rock club, with a woman at my side decked out in her rock slut finest.

The interview went incredibly well, partially because Anne was there, and the band was smitten with her. She really hit it off with the lead singer, even after he drawled, “Hey, little girl, want to get what I got,” as he smeared some lip balm on the Herpes sore on his lower lip. Apparently, the set-up with Rich didn’t extend to her side, although she later told me she’d have fucked that guy sideways if she hadn’t been so in love with Rich. And she found herself deeply impressed by how I handled myself, getting the band’s references to The Faces and The Velvet Underground. I recall the lead guitarist thinking I was a bit of an asshole, as he saw himself as a seasoned vet being interviewed by a wet-behind-the-ears college kid. But what the fuck, the lead singer was treating me like a little brother, the bassist was one of those eternally cool/goofy musicians, and the drummer just a very graceful, courteous guy. It went well.

After the show, Anne took me to a bar in the East Village, one she described as “being filled with old Pollocks until four or five, then college kids, then punkers” and delighting in the nightly shifting of crowds based on drinking times. As we were talking, she kept nailing away at C.’s relationship with Maryann, how she thought they were wrong for each other, how she wished they’d break-up, etc. I can’t recall exactly how I handled this. I probably nodded along and said, “Yeah, you have a point.” Very much a "yes, dear" vibe while I read over my notes from the interview. I probably agreed with her on some very minor level, but probably also pointed out to her that I really didn’t care what C. did and who he did it with so long as he was happy.

Afterwards, we hit the show, these guys were great live, although they played to a nearly empty house. (They’d come back a year later to a sold-out show at The Ritz.) Anne and I drove home that night, gushing. I was overwhelmed simply by seeing and feeling New York for the first time, really “getting it” in some deep sense, understanding that I’d be there again one day. The vibe lasted the whole trip home. I felt like I was talking to a very hip, slightly older sister, we really clicked that night, and all I could think was, “Man, this is really something, things just keep getting better in my life.”

That Monday at work, C. avoided me. I mean to the point of me saying, “Hey, C., how’s it going” in the hallway, and him walking right by me with downcast eyes. What the fuck, I thought, somebody die and I didn’t hear about it?

Later that day, I was passing C.’s office. He called me in and closed the door. I can’t recall the exact conversation, but it went something like this.

“Bill, I know you don’t like Maryann, but I never thought for a minute you’d stab me in the back like this.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Please, don’t act like you don’t know.”

“I really don’t know. What are you talking about?”

“Anne told me all about the horrible things you had to say about her while you two were in New York. That you think she’s not good enough of me. That you think I’m using her just for the sex. That you think I should dump her and find a new girlfriend. Don’t pretend that you didn’t say these things.”

I didn’t have to pretend.

“C., I never said those things.”

“What are you trying to say here?”

“I’m saying that whatever Anne has told you, and I have no idea exactly what she’s told you, but I never said those things. As far as I’m concerned, I have no problem with you and Maryann being together, and I really don’t think it’s any of my business. Or that my opinion on any of this shit matters at all.”


At this point, I was getting pissed off, on top of being red-faced that I’d be accused of something like this.

“Something obviously went on while you and Anne were in New York. Something was obviously spoken about regarding Maryann and me.”

“C., people say shit about each other all the time. But I can assure you, I said no such things about you and Maryann.”

I should have demanded an apology right there, but I was so young, and had my mind so blown, that I didn’t. I should have blown the roof off the joint, demanding an immediate three-way, face-to-face conversation with C., Anne and me directly after work, but I didn’t.

“Well, I guess I’ll just have to take your word for it.”

“You don’t really have to take anything. You know me. You know my word is good. I don’t know what happened here, but I don’t like it.”

“Neither do I.”

And I can see that as the point where C. and I backed off from each other as friends, although we still are friends in a sense, albeit distanced. You can see what happened here. Anne despised Maryann and wanted her out of the picture. She used that conversation in the New York bar to take all the nasty, totally lame, catty, bullshitty things she felt about Maryann and her relationship with C., attribute them to me, get C. on the phone the next day and bury me, in hopes that in doing so, his relationship with Maryann would sour along with it.

You see, I was so innocent at that point in my life that even talking about another person in confidence to someone seemed like a “bad thing” to me that you should never do. I’ve since realized that all human relationships are thorny, that we all have complaints and occasional negative gripes about each other … and that it rarely makes sense to share these complaints and gripes with the friend/lover/family member in your life at which they’re directed. Why? Because the real reason you’re griping to a third party is simply to share in some hope that you’re not the only person who sees these (usually minor) things wrong with the person. You want that affirmation. On some other level, you also want that trust with the third party, the understanding that you’re sharing a sort of secret about the person, not to be shared with anyone else, just an acknowledgment that you both know this person and you both understand these quibbly points about the person. You hope the third party understands this and isn't some piece of shit who will use this information in a pure power play to damage whatever relationship you have with that person (and hopefully bolster theirs with that person).

The thing is, I never really did say that shit about C.! Even if I had, so what. The real issue here, and what I would have been asking had I been C., was: “Anne, this sounds like a candid conversation Bill had with you and you alone, not wanting you to share this information with me. Why are you sharing this information with me?” That was the question. And C. never asked it, probably because he felt hurt as hell when he thought I was shooting my mouth off about all his personal stuff. The age I’m at now, if someone directed a broadside like that at me, my first reaction would always be, “What do you stand to gain by telling me this?” Not, “Boy, I’m really hurt that so-and-so feels that way about me.” Because unless so-and-so is telling me this directly, I have to wonder what the fuck is going on here! (And already know, in my heart, that the person sharing this confidential information is a scumbag I need to remove from my life.)

The ultimate truth was Anne had abused both my and C.’s trust, to the point where both of us should have lanced her from our lives. I know I did, and the few remaining weeks I had at that college job were a bit ragged, with C. never really getting over that episode. He and Maryann did break up months later, probably because she really was a bit of a bitch and a pain in the ass, so Anne ultimately got her wish, although I suspect it had nothing to do with her seedy machinations. I understand Maryann blew a gasket, too, over that episode, and I never got along with her again, which I frankly didn’t give a fuck about as I could see she also seemed to be on the same cunty wavelength as Anne. If she had her wits about her, too, she would have been following the wavelength noted at the end of the previous paragraph. But we were all comparatively young and not well-versed enough in these sort of sick reindeer games.

What happened after that? I moved away, eventually to New York. C. and I got along and stayed in touch, but I can say this now, to this day, I think that situation still haunts us in a sense, that our relationship was knocked down a level of trust and has never recovered to that level. C. went on to get married and have a few kids with his new wife, so he’s doing fine, still teaching. Don’t know what happened to Maryann – I assume she moved forward with her radio career, and good for her, I never had anything against her when you get right down to it. Anne and Rich got married – in Morocco or some such place, a big deal noted in the home county paper as they took pictures, Anne getting hennaed up for the traditionally African ceremony, both of them reveling in that cool sense of a foreign culture wedding. And Anne and Rich, from what I understand, eventually got divorced. I can only imagine the shit that must have went down leading to that dark day, if what I had experienced was just a snowflake on the ice berg of her shenanigans.

I did meet Anne one more time after that. About two years later. Rich’s band had a gig at The Cat Club in New York, a heavy-metal club in the East Village long since shuttered. (I never went there as I was never a metal head.) It was a bit of a reunion of sorts, as none of us from C.’s old crew had seen each other in awhile, and C. was coming along for the ride. It was great to see Rich again – I couldn’t help but like the guy, no matter what, and he’d certainly done me no wrong.

Anne saw me, and she looked great, as usual. She walked over to me, with the flashpot and strobe lights going off, some indeterminate 80s metal wailing in the background, and yelled in my ear as she took my hand, “You must really hate me.” She stepped back to get a read on me.

And what she saw was lucid young guy, who looked her in the eye, and yelled back, “No. We’re cool. What’s done is done. Let’s just be friends tonight.”

I could tell she was dumb-founded. Why did I do that? To be honest, I felt like punching her square in the face. But what was I going to do? C. was there. Rich was there. Artie and his wife were there. A few of the kids I had tutored at the campus were there. Cause a scene? It would have been bad. I had no urge to have a private conversation with the woman, based on our last one. I guess I said that because I figured that would be the last time I'd be seeing her, the damage was already done between C. and me, we were still getting along in some sense, and that’s all that really mattered to me. What could I realistically do to her that would serve as payback? What would it matter? If she was routinely pulling shit of the kind she had with me, she surely had much worse stuff to deal with her in life than me getting weird on her in a night club in New York. I let it go. Not so much forgiveness as recognition of the clearest way out.

We both watched Rich grinding his crotch into the heart-shaped ass of some mousse-haired heavy metal tart in black tights on the dance floor. Anne shrugged. I shrugged. She had bigger to fish to fry. I was relieved that I saw the way to a clean break from someone I recognized as real bad news. Sometimes you have to recognize that’s the best you can do, and leave thoughts of revenge for a few dark moments on a bad day. They, too, shall pass.

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