The Suburbs of Babylon Chapter 7 Part 2

It’s Friday in Thailand. Seven’s first Friday in Thailand since the beginning of March. Sure, I’m spending it in a quarantine hotel room that feels smaller by the day, but at least I’m here. I’m home. Home sweet home. And to celebrate, I offer another installment of my tedious tome “The Suburbs of Babylon.” Specifically, the 2nd installment of Chapter 7, titled Distraction…

“Last night at 2 a.m. Liza took me to see Beth dance in a show at a nouveau speakeasy on Sunset.  When we got there, I was shocked; the place was virtually gangrenous with atmosphere.  Every woman in the joint was breathtaking.  They were all dressed in various retro leather garments with fur attachments.  Every guy looked like Brad Pitt and kissed every girl hello.  Picture the cast of 90210 as vampires, or take Ken and Barbie to Aaardvark’s and you’ll have a good picture of the crowd.  They lounged in dark booths drinking what looked like absinthe chilled in tin buckets, insisting that the waitress pour for them, trying so hard to be important, and the waitress not seeming to mind.  I sat staring at these tantalizing clones, occasionally glancing at the TV over the bar.  Liza chain-smoked (tobacco laws are blatantly ignored in many L.A. bars) and chatted with the regulars.  The white band was warming up with a funk groove for the white patrons, anticipating the arrival of the night’s entertainer, a black jazz singer named Baltimore.  Half an hour later he made his entrance.

Baltimore slipped into the club with a cigarillo between his teeth.  He wore a black pin-striped suit, a polka-dot handkerchief in the pocket, black and white spats, a gray fedora with a black band, and a tiny pair of horn-rimmed sunglasses.  One hand had a gold pinkie ring.  Beneath his hat, his hair was konked and shining.  He strode to the microphone as his white drummer, bassist, sax players, and guitar player slowed the tempo, and commenced to hypnotize the white onlookers with his gravel-voiced, jive-talking, Cab Calloway-style recitations.  Every song involved the lost love of a good sleazy woman, cigarettes, gin, and cool cool men who had nothing to lose.  The crowd did it’s best to go with the vibe, though even their head-nodding was off rhythm.  As Baltimore croaked his sad, sultry soliloquy, Beth and two other girls clad in black fishnets, bras, and stilettos, moved seductively on various tables around the room.

I was rapt by what I was seeing.  Beth splayed out on a table, her knees wide, her back arched as if her swelling breasts were lifting her into the air, head thrown back as though she were making love to an invisible god while Baltimore hissed about leaving his sweat on some woman’s back as a goodbye gift through the winding smoke of his cigarillo.  A back-up singer began to moan into her mic, her tongue piercing glinting under the stage lights.  She looked at me as she sang, “You give me such pain, still my love remains,” her curly blond hair swinging about her shoulders.  The mood created by this pseudo-jazz-blues package was almost as inspiring as the response of the crowd, and slightly less nauseating.  These mindless plastic puppets absorbed Baltimore’s act with a bug-eyed fervor, almost as if they could feel somehow that they had discovered something which had not been media-marketed to them; that they were enjoying a thing purely by their own volition.  Which made them all pompous in the light of independent thought and of realizing something was hip before Mtv could tell them so.  Baltimore was a genius for taking this act here.  The mushy, history-vacant brains of Gen-Xers is like Silly Putty waiting to be pressed against some colorful drivel, leaving the imprint on their foreheads as they wander back out to Sunset Boulevard.  Needless to say, the pretentiousness of the place began to weigh on me.

After the set, Beth came to sit with us.  I didn’t quite know what to say to her.  She gave me a hug, and I put my arm around her tiny waist, pushing my fingers into the crease of her spine.  She smelled like vanilla.  Her hair was soft against my cheek.  I felt compelled to say something, something like, “to taste your kiss would be to drown in a sea of rose petals,” but instead I gushed, “You were so. . .hot!”  And standing there in her embrace, I felt myself cringe at my idiocy, my ears getting warm, wishing I could crawl into my shoes, when she said, “Oh, hey, thanks.  Did you really think so?”  “Yeah,” I replied, realizing that “hot” was exactly what she was trying to achieve.  Thank God for women whose low self-esteem makes them flattered by low-brow come-ons!  She then told me she was really glad I came and that she wanted to get together some time soon.  When we left, I determined to coerce Liza into helping me seduce Beth.

Upon grilling Liza I came to find out a lot of interesting things about Beth.  Like that she’s a nymphomaniac, for one.  And that she’s bisexual, for another.  Knowing sex addicts are unable to love, or to make love, a part of me is eager to use Beth as a safe mode of hedonism—safe in the sense that love is the most dangerous thing in the world—and I could get quite away from myself by indulging.  Beth would be an excellent guide into this world, and seemed all too willing to show me the grand tour, but I am hesitant.  Liza says that Beth coaxed her into the abyss once, by seducing her, no less.  My mind tried to digest this information, the implications of which were dizzying.  I took the image of the two of them in carnal embrace, and went home.  But by the time I got to my side of the hill, my head was again consumed with Jane, the thought of never seeing her again, my confidence shaken to the ground, my mind engulfed in loneliness.

It is now five a.m.  I have not gone to sleep because I prefer the sight of the ceiling fan above me to the one of Jane, which I am too weak to bear, that appears when I close my eyes.  Outside the sky is graying with the coming sunrise, and I am hopelessly at a loss for how to face it.

*    *    *

            I have been spending a good deal of time on Hollywood Boulevard, mainly the stretch between the Chinese Theater and the Wax Museum.  It is where Jane and I spent a lot of our days and nights, both good and bad, and I always end up walking that street in an attempt to pacify my longing.  At any rate, it’s caused me to become familiar with a few of the local bums.

One guy, who’s name I still don’t know because his speech is so unintelligible, seems to derive great throes of pleasure from conversing with me.  The first time we spoke, he accosted me from the shadows with an approach like something between Santa Claus and an acting agent, both fatherly and diabolical.  He was decked out in a “Buttweiser” t-shirt (three ladies in thong bikinis) and what must have at one time been a sharp gray blazer, which appeared to have been through a war.  His hands were spotted black, with long black nails.  He had large, soft eyes that were blood-read and looked as though they might fall out of his skull at any moment.  So profuse was his odor that it transcended foul and actually seemed to approach sweetness, or perhaps it was the Thunderbird or Night Train that hung on him like cologne.  He had one black tooth.

He told me a woeful story about his early days going to college.  His wife, who evidently escaped him long ago, worked to put him through.  He talked about owning a hotel in San Diego, and eventually losing all understanding in Vietnam.  The story got muddy after that as his words grew more slurred, but I got something about waking up in Griffith Park with a skunk on his chest and him saying “Nice kitty, kitty, kitty,” his days playing guitar in a jazz band and acting the all around man about town, and all the while he gripped my arm tighter and tighter, as if her were trying in some way to either pass some unseen thing on to me or rob me of something.  He left me with a poem that night.  I don’t remember much of it except that it had to do with the long road home and how if you listened to his tale you’d get there somehow.  Now whenever I see him, he regards me with caution.  Perhaps it was me who robbed him, though of what I cannot say.

There is a group of bums who hang out behind the Adler Theater, which is where I sometimes go to write, and every so often some of the actors bring them left-over food from whatever dinner show they’re putting on.  They are always appreciative, the bums are, but what is equally important to them is the conversation that comes with the presence of new people.  One guy felt compelled to tell me right away that he doesn’t go around with the other bums anymore, that he’s just visiting, that he’s got a job and a place south of Wilshire now (he showed me his card).  And inevitably they always let you know out of left field that they’re drunk.  It goes something like, “Hey man, where’d you get the food?  Sure, I’ll have some, you know, it’s hard out on the street, I mean, you know, I’m drunk.  I’m drunk right now, but man these guys, these other guys, they don’t know how hard it is, but man I know. . .” and so on from there.  It’s almost as if they seek absolution, as if I represent someone who both causes and removes their shame.  I’m lost for how to react.

*    *    *

I’ve just met a girl—a fragile, delectable creature who seduced me with the angle of her chin—in West Hollywood.  I’m in the Kiss-Kiss Café, which is only fitting.  It just so happened that she was in line behind me and we ordered the same thing (a large no-whip mocha) and then sat alone across from one another.  I had a sketchpad and charcoals, and she asked if she could look at my drawings.

Our conversation is harmless enough, but I feel compelled to read into it a bit more than I should.  She has stayed to talk even though she has a cold (her soft, child-like sniffles and the pungently sexual hoarseness of her voice combine to send me reeling).  I am trying not to see what isn’t there.  I’m reminded of the bebe fiasco again, an event which, for all it’s seeming insignificance at the time, finds ways to creep back and tickle my pessimism during weaker moments.

She is delightful.  Sitting before me in the Kiss-Kiss.  She is using my heart as if it were a top that she could spin on the table between us.  She keeps tilting her head back, giving me the time to be dazzled, beguiled.  Decimated by the artwork that is her neck, the shoulder blade is maddening, soft inhaling breast so precious I am dizzy.  She is enigmatic.  The generalization is not so much an avoidance as it is a perfect description.  She is categorical, she is eccentric in her plainness.  And it is enough.  The way in which she tugs effortlessly on my heartstrings, and the formula of chemicals she sends coursing through my veins, though simple as pabulum, has reduced me to a gushing child, the loss of my manhood complete in the glow of her smile.

Lips that curve at excruciating angles, dimples and lines which could alone drive me insane.  A collarbone then, a sloping breast, a tense stomach muscle, a curving hip.  Legs fluid as silk, could be strewn around a chair or angling toward the floor from the softly beckoning, reclining seat of a sofa.  She has shoulders like alabaster demigods, her hands like powder, softly moving over a sleeve as she scratches an arm.  There is a throat to speak of but I do not know if I can without losing my mind.  Its texture and delicacy seduce by their mere existence.  The symmetry of her sinews and tendons inspire hysteria.  I ache slowly, rhythmically, like blood pulsing through a skull of ice.  Rapture is a song that lives its own story in the truth of my heart, a truth that is as real as any reality brought about by drugs or fever or ecstasy of nature.  Suddenly she realizes she must leave, and with a wave skips away, never to be seen again.  I am happy to see her go, happy to be out of the spell, to have power over myself again.”

This tripe was written at a time in my life when women were as unattainable as they were beguiling. Now, of course, I live in Thailand, where the women of my dreams  are low-hanging fruit. Thank God for that fulfillment. For satiation. For satisfaction—a thing I could get none of while in the West.