For Fiona Weller, the turning point came in the aisle of an airborne Pan Am jetliner while waiting for a toilet to become unoccupied. She didn’t really need to “go” yet, but figured the side effects of her latest Pill combo would kick in by the time she reached the front of the queue.
She was speculating how the stewardesses could bear to fly cross-country in those pantygirdled Coffee Tea or Me? outfits, when the girl ahead of her in line swiveled round and said: “Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?”
“(Who wants to know?)” Feef mutter-retorted.
“Me does,” said the swiveler. “You’re with that band, arntcha?—that all-girl group that played that gig at that disco, awhile back? Whatcha called—the Rosa Parks?”
“Yeah. That’s right. You sang. You rocked.”
They both rocked a few steps forward as the line shrank and the plane hit an aerial speedbump.
“(Um well thanks,)” went Fiona, relaxing somewhat. She hated having to interact with strangers when Robin or Vicki or Sheila or Joss weren’t nearby; but this one seemed to be a fan. “(You live in Vanderlund?)”
“Athens Grove. Rerun.”
“Call me Rerun.”
Since the swiveler was neither Linus and Lucy’s little brother nor an obese black guy in red suspenders and beret, this name seemed unmerited.
“Hadda repeat ninth grade last year.”
“(Oh. Flunked, did you?)”
“Let’s just say I had a ‘bad date’—with consequences.”
Hastily: “(Say no more. Um... I’m Fiona.)”
“Nice. Real name or stage name?”
“(Real. If I ever use a stage name, it’ll be ‘FTW.’)”
“Cool. Helluva lot better’n ‘Elly May.’”
Lurch another couple steps forward. “(Why the hell would I wanna be ‘Elly May’?)”
“You don’t. I hadda be. That’s why I don’t mind Rerun.”
If Jed Clampett had a granddaughter who rebelled against both oil tycoonery and hillbillydom, Rerun would be it. If Donna Douglas had a lookalike lovechild who let herself go from zaftig to bulbaceous, replacing blonde pigtails with a limeade spike cut, Rerun would be it. If the sow in Lord of the Flies had fought back, cut Jack’s throat, and jammed his severed head on a pointed stick as a Gift for the Darkness, Rerun would be it too.
Fruit Brute Forever read her strained-taut tanktop, above a cartoon of the breakfast-cereal werewolf.
Clearly she and Fiona (in a Station to Station T-shirt, souvenir of last year’s Bowie concert) would have heaps more to talk about, once their toilet duties were attended to. Rerun was traveling to L.A. with both parents and a kid brother (“Not my idea—we’re going to a funeral”) so Feef took her over to help cajole Moth into swapping seats. For this purpose Rerun transformed into an ever-so-polite Junior Miss—“Hi, Mrs. Weller, I’m Eleanor Pilchard, it’s so nice to finally meet you”—clasping hands as if clad in little white gloves. And Moth, though a trifle perplexed, was only too happy to yield her place on the plane and go blather at Rerun’s folks for an hour or two, so the girls could keep each other company.
“You would have to be in the non-smoking section,” Ree scoffed at Fee after Moth was out of earshot.
“(They wouldn’t let us smoke anyway. Not what I’d light up, at least.)”
“Blaze up, you mean? Got anything good?”
“(Could be. But if you nark me out, I’ll say you planted it.)”
“Nobody’d believe I planted it—I can’t grow nothing better’n ditchweed.”
“(Yeah, I hear that’s the best you can hope for in Athens Grove.)”
“There ain’t nothin’ to hope for in Athens Grove. It’s like the armpit of the planet.”
“(You’ve got it made in Athens Grove. Vanderlund’s the bowels of the earth.)”
“Only because our bowels are impacted—all clogged up with Turdminoff Park. That’s why they call us ‘Asshole Grope’—”
Ahem went a scandalized lady across the Pan Am aisle, who bent a reproving eye their way. Rerun gave her a brilliant Junior Miss smile that grew into a jagged pumpkin grin, till their neighbor unbent her browbeaten eye and returned it to the pages of The Thorn Birds.
“Hunh! Talk about your turds,” Ree remarked to Fee.
“(Okay—whaddaya wanna know about ‘em?)” Fee replied to Ree.
“Haw! Okay—just how full of it are you?”
“(Less than when I stood in line behind you.)”
“Hee! Wanna stand behind me at this funeral I gotta go to?”
“My Great-Aunt Maybelle’s. She was what they used to call a harlot-starlet, back in the Twenties.”
“Who, me? Not yet. Trying, though.”
“(How ‘bout Aunt Maybelle?)”
“Hope so—we gotta clean out her apartment, after the funeral. Wanna come help?”
“(Would I get to keep anything I can carry away?)”
“Well, not the coke stash—I call dibs on that.”
It was almost as good as B.S.-ing with Robin Neapolitan. This probably-foredoomed trip to Los Angeles took on a sheen of new hope that got slightly tarnished when they arrived at LAX and had to part, though not before exchanging contact info. (Fee writing Ree’s in the little pocket spiral she used to jot down musical notes; Ree scribbling Fee’s on the yanked-around tail of her Fruit Brute tanktop.)
Lem was waiting at the gate, looking a bit more seamed and creased than the last time the Wellers had all been together in California, five years ago. Fiona allowed him to hug and kiss and admire her, feeling an undeniable twang in her father’s embrace—yet with the indelible twinge of remembering when she’d asked “(I can come be with you summertimes, right?)” and Lem hadn’t so much as said We’ll see.
(She made sure he toted all her baggage, including the Fender bass which seemed to have weathered its journey intact if not in tune.)
Moth predictably lived up to her name, fluttering around at Lem’s elbow—leaving herself wide open for fresh scorchmarks when she ought to be stocking up on fire insurance. Even if they didn’t find some groupie-girlfriend of Lem’s waiting in his Datsun, snapping her bubblegum to Shaun Cassidy on the car stereo. Even if Lem did pop T.Rex’s Dandy in the Underworld into the cassette deck, with an over-the-shoulder See? I remember your favorites glance at Fiona in the backseat.
Then again, you couldn’t help feeling somewhat proud of a father who’d managed to rent a Spanish bungalow in Little Armenia, just off Sunset Boulevard and a stone’s throw from the new Church of Scientology.
“You know I always liked to mix it up,” Lem reminded them.
Despite the neighborhood they didn’t dine on hummus with L. Ron Hubbard, but in a laidback noshery akin to the coffeehouses that’d been their homes-away-from-home back in Portland—the Agora, the Charix, the Ninth Street Exit. Then again to Lem’s bungalow with a jug of sangria, on which Fiona was permitted to take a few pulls while they played and sang all the old tunes—Lemon Moth, Cloudland Atmosphere, Well Well Well—Fiona chiming in on re-tuned Fender, her throaty rasp blending perfectly with parental harmony.
It was like entering an episode of The Twilight Zone.
Straying into some parallel dimension or alternate universe full of ghostly specters.
This was how they might have lived—might now be living—might yet live, if Moth’s wishes came true. Look how Lem was gazing at her all loverly-doverly, as he never had during his annual two-week visits to The City.
“(Can I call Robin?)” Fiona mutter-pleaded.
“Sorry, Flow, my long-distance bill’s already a whopper,” said Lem, not taking his eyes off Moth. (“Flow” rhyming not with Flo—bad nickname for anyone with menorrhagia—but plow and frau, since it was short for “Lo! the Fairest Flower Girl.”)
“Write her a nice long letter, dear,” suggested Moth, not taking her eyes off Lem till they both leaned in for a drawn-out kiss that Fiona didn’t linger to monitor, fleeing to the bedroom she’d been assigned.
No reminders of Bucephalus the Big Blue Bus in here: beige walls, beige ceiling, beige tile floor partly cloaked by a rug whose beigeness matched the open curtains (yank them shut) and rumpled coverlet (twitch it smooth) covering a single twin bed. The only standout spots of color were your own gear—three bags and a bass case reflecting possession during the dead-and-gone Glitter Age. Other than that, unrelenting La Mancha: “an empty space, a desert, a wasteland.”
Curl up on the orphan twin, Fender in your arms.
Many a night you’ve spent like this, resting your chin on the upper bout, feeling its resonance as you finger the frets: achieving amplification without an electric outlet. (Cousin Chloe, who still slept with a stuffed panda called Bambooboo, knew better than to pass judgment.)
Calling Robin would do no good. It wasn’t like they were Vicki and Joss, who by all accounts chatted on the phone every night even after spending the whole day together. Fiona and Robin’s telephonic conversations were more on the order of Get your ass over here and What do you mean “you can’t”? Plus it had gotten late, and was two hours later still at Villa Neapolitan, where Robin’d probably hit the sack (summer-jobbing again at the Triville Acme hardware store) and wouldn’t take kindly to being awakened “from the deepest! soundest! sleep! I’ve had in weeks—”
Even an imaginary bawl-out brought Robin a few degrees closer, and made Fiona feel a shade less angst-ridden.
Probably the best that could be hoped for. She wasn’t a “phone person” under any circumstance; it smacked too much of blindfold improv—seldom knowing when to pick up her cues, or that they were hers, or even were cues. Plus of course she kept getting prompted to “Speak up, Feef!” even by her nearest-and-dearest, who ought to know her by now.
What could she say, anyway, to Robin or Vicki or Joss or Sheila-Q? My parents are trying to drag me back into the Dead End Zone. I did not get put through a Year of Sheer Hell in You Reeka just for them to kiss and make up now, half a damn decade later. One YOSH per lifetime is already too many. If they want to pretend the past never happened, let them freeze their heels till I take off for college; then they can do whatever they want wherever they choose, flush themselves away for all I care and good riddance too—
“Talk about your turds,” went a voice in her head.
Yes: there was one person in the approximate vicinity to whom she might turn. Even if it did happen to be a chance acquaintance who resembled a spiked-limeade Donna Douglas—who, lest we forget, had once been an occupant of The Twilight Zone: that plastic surgery washout who was thought to be as beastly as a pig’s-head-on-a-stick.
Except “Rerun” seemed the type to fight back and do the headjamming.
Fiona wondered if she herself could summon up enough guts to initiate contact.
Start by laying down the low end with an unplugged bass line—
—as through a beige wall percolated the sound of black-bordered Lemon Moth framing up against the sky (if the sky were a squeaky-creaky mattress). Paean to no break of day from no sweet by-and-by—
—more of a hideous threat that Fiona would not only be trapped here in Casa Beigeness, but with a brand-new baby brother or sister to boot.
Pluck harder then and accompany yourself, lifting up your voice at an angle calculated for distance:
In this age of grand illusion / you walked into my life / out of my dreams
I don’t need another change / still you forced away / into my scheme of things...
Next morning she was the first to rise (if not shine) and find no Fruit Brute in the kitchen, no FrankenBerry or Count Chocula or anything more interesting than grapeless nutfree Grape-Nuts. Fiona settled for a couple slices of rye toast and a glass of what she hoped was V-8. (It sure didn’t taste like tomato juice.)
Lem ‘n’ Moth came gliding in, their arms grossly twined around each other’s waists, as the kitchen phone rang and Lem snagged it with his free hand. “Yeah?... Who?... Oh! For you, Moonchild.”
“MOONchild?” went Rerun’s voice on the other end of the line.
“(Shut up,)” Fiona requested, hauling the phone as far from her folks as the cord would allow.
“What, were you born butt-first?”
“(Noooo—it’s ‘cause my sign happens to be Cancer.)”
“No shit? I’m a Pisces! Water signs rule—yay us! Anyhoo: you gotta come check this place out.”
“(Where, the cemetery? Is it funeral time already?)”
“Oh, that’s all done with—we shoveled Auntie under first thing today. Now we hafta ‘excavate the mummy’s tomb,’ and it’s gonna take weeks! Where you at? I’ll come pick you up, I rented a car.”
“(You rented a car?)”
“Had my license since March—and my mother’s Visa card since last night!”
Clearly there would be advantages in hanging out with such a significantly-year-older person. Also (gag! choke!) in having parents whose embarkation on a second hornymoon (heave! retch!) meant they’d act gladly eager for you to vamoose.
“It’s so nice that you want to help the Pilchards during their time of bereavement, dear,” Moth observed (while being ushered back into Lem’s—their—bedroom). “Give them all my very best wishessss...”
Fiona escaped as fast as she could from this den of iniquity and found Rerun roaring up the street in a Buick LeSabre convertible, its top down and Rerun’s top protruding over the neckline of a snug black sundress.
“(That’s what you wear to funerals?)” inquired Fiona, clad in a subdued lunar eclipse T-shirt she thought suitable for a Moonchild visiting mourners.
“When I’m in Califuckingfornia, sugar pop!” hooted Rerun, flooring the gas pedal before Feef got fully buckled in. “Oh hey I love this song! ‘No one is restricted! No one is tied down!—’”
Certainly not the rental LeSabre as it sped westward with KROQ on the dial and Sparks pouring out of the speakers—All those who are with me, let’s all raise our hands high / When they ask you, you’ll surely answer la-la-la-la-la-la / I-like-girls-I-like-girls-I-like-girls-I-like-girls—Rerun belting out the chorus while taking only token notice of stop signs, red lights, and Los Angeles traffic before screeeeeeeeeeeeeching to a halt—
“Welcome to Sunset Tower! See what I mean about ‘mummy’s tomb’? Don’t it look like an Egyptian pyramid, except for the shape?”
Fiona, running unsteady fingers through her windswept hair and wondering if all its Joan Jett dye had been blown off, gazed up at fourteen stories of monumental Streamline Moderne. “(Don’t you have to be rich to live in a place like this?”)
“Damn betcha! And she left every cent to my mother, just to spite my grampa—he was Maybelle’s brother—since he’d always ‘disapproved’ of her. More fool him! Colonel Klink lives here too, the guy who played him that is, I dunno on which floor but I sure would like to get hold of his monocle, I’d wear it over one eye and a pirate patch over the other—”
They ascended an ornate elevator (that took considerably more time than the drive from Little Armenia) and Rerun unlocked an expensive-looking door. Fiona steeled herself to enter Nefertiti’s crypt, but got admitted instead to Aladdin’s cavern. Or Aladdin’s warehouse, chockablock with every type of furniture imaginable, wedged together in serried rows and piled up from carpets to cornices. Most of the décor was in keeping with the Streamline Moderne motif, as if imported from those opulent Thirties musicals beloved by Moth and Aunt Polly—except that Fred Astaire would have to confine his dancing to the ceiling, since no space was available on the floor.
And talk about Colonel Klink’s monocle: rooted in front of an Art Deco cabinet (one of several) and inspecting its contents item by item through a jeweler’s loupe, was an older taller slimmer blonder version of Rerun in a much more decorous black dress.
“Royal Albert bone china,” she declared, flicking the edge of one item to hear it ring. “Where have you been?”
This flick was evidently intended for Rerun, who adolescently replied: “I told you where I was going.”
“Well, your father and brother couldn’t wait—they’ve left for the airport.”
“More room for us then. Here’s Fiona, she won’t take up much.”
The jeweler’s loupe was brought to bear on Feef; even after it got lowered, she felt herself being appraised as closely as the cabinet’s contents. Then an immaculate manicured hand was graciously extended over intervening fixtures:
“Ardine Pilchard—so nice to see you—I had the pleasure of your lovely mother’s company on the flight here—normally we don’t travel coach, but as you’ve no doubt heard this was an unscheduled trip—though of course we knew my dear Aunt’s days were numbered, poor thing.”
Fiona muttered some consolatory sentiments on Moth’s behalf.
“Can I go get changed now?” demanded Rerun.
“Well, I’m not preventing you—you might’ve done so the moment we got back from Valhalla.” (To Fiona:) “That’s the Memorial Park where we laid my dear Aunt to rest this morning—much favored by Hollywood society—”
“Yeah,” said Rerun. “I heard Oliver Hardy’s buried there, and the guy who did Elmer Fudd’s voice. C’mon—”
—to Fiona, who followed her through a warehouse passageway that narrowed to a tunnel and wound up in a boudoir that made the rest of the apartment seem sparsely furnished.
“(Pilchard,)” Feef mutter-mused, recalling scraps of Laurie Harrison’s gossip. “(Is your brother called ‘Salty’?)”
“Not by me—I call him ‘Dorktongue.’ Thank God he’s scrammed for yacht camp. You dunno him from there, do you?”
“(Hell no—just heard he’s going with this girl at my school.)”
“Oh, that Ditzie chick?” said Rerun, doing a simpery impersonation of Delia Shanafelt that made Fiona snortle—till it extended to Rerun’s peeling the snug black sundress up and off and onto a cluster of open suitcases atop the battleship-sized bedstead.
Recall another gossip-scrap (unusually spiteful, for Laurie) about Delia Shanafelt’s “forgetting” to close her drapes before she doffed her duds. Was that what Rerun had in mind while peeling and traipsing hither and thither (insofar as the furniture allowed) in a lowcut leopardskin bra and abbreviated yet apparently matching panties?
“Stayed at the Hyatt last night but me ‘n’ Ma’ve moved up here, the Old Man’s gone home to his maritiming insurancing and took Dorktongue with him (thank God) but not before I had ‘em flip this mattress, Ma was gonna grab this room but I said ‘Ma,’ I said, ‘Isn’t that the bed Aunt Maybelle croaked in, like five days ago?’ so she changed her mind (haw!) and made Dorktongue shift enough junk in the living room so the sofa’ll fold out. I won’t mind sleeping in somebody’s deathbed so long as the body’s not there and the mattress is flipped and the sheets are changed, I mean look how big this bed is, I bet you could set all sortsa orgy-records in it and maybe Maybelle did when she was a harlot-starlet—”
Traipse, traipse, traipse. Hither-and-thither to an open wardrobe (very tall, very wide, one of several) and start poking through it. Reminding flustered Feef of that time at Vicki’s house when Sheila Quirk stripped down uninhibitedly to try on Vicki’s sister’s left-behind clothes—except that in S-Q’s dreams (as Vicki would put it) was Sheila built like Elly May Pilchard. Who squealed “Lookit all this! I bet Maybelle saved every stitch she ever owned! The vintage stuff is priceless—I shop at thrift stores and know what’s worth what—and a lot of it is just my size!”
Fiona, though no expert on Twenties fashion, suspected full-bosomed flappers had gone to painful lengths to acquire “boyish” figures, and that the necessary bondage and compression wouldn’t be provided by lowcut leopardskin. Even so, she sat by with zipped lips as Rerun tried to don a salmon-pink beaded cocktail gown without splitting its seams.
Finally: “There! Told ya! How do I look?”
“(Like you better not breathe too deep.)”
Shallowly: “Do not... Fits great...”
“(Your face is turning blue—clashes with the dress! You’ll never be able to wear that anywhere, except a one-way trip to Valhalla.)”
“Watch me,” Rerun prophesied.
Over the next two weeks, Fiona did.
She half-volunteered and was half-conscripted to join the Pilchards in their mummy-tomb excavating. Aunt Maybelle had indeed hung onto most every possession she’d latched onto during a seventy-odd-year lifespan; and while many were finely preserved, few and far between showed any sign of orderly arrangement. Ardine and Rerun were both determined that a comprehensive inventory be done (by themselves) of the entire agglomeration; nothing should go into an estate sale that hadn’t first been picked over by the heiress and her heiress. Only then would they stop to smell the eucalyptus (or whatever might be worth smelling in La-La Land).
Fiona didn’t mind chipping in and taking part, even without a guarantee she could take part of the proceeds. It certainly beat spending more than obligatory-minimal time with the besotted Lem ‘n’ Moth. She proved to have a talent for classifying and cataloging; and with her lean physique, Feef could delve into gaps and crevices where Rerun’s T&A would’ve gotten stuck like Winnie-the-Pooh in Rabbit’s front door.
(“Call me ‘fat’ and I’ll take you to Valhalla,” warned Rerun.)
It was an exhausting endeavor, but hardly ever dull. Aunt Maybelle’s body might lie a-mouldering in the grave (none too swiftly, since she’d devoted her final decade to getting pickled) yet here she lived on in ten thousand haphazard puzzle-pieces. Assembling these into a coherent whole fascinated Fiona, and far more than the quantity or quality of any worldly goods.
Maybelle Grayling had hailed from Dardanelle, Arkansas, which Feef immediately identified as the home turf of True Grit’s Mattie Ross: homely, humorless, but able to kick the ass of every man she encountered from John Wayne on down. Fiona and Robin cheered her whenever they watched this movie with Fat Bob, whose favorite it was—though he always glared while the girls whooped at the Duke’s whining “You are a lot of trouble!”
Maybelle, unlike Mattie, got out of Dardanelle by winning a beauty pageant and its first-prize ticket to Hollywood. There she resided with a flock of fellow starlets (if not harlots) at the Mayerling Hotel, as profiled in a Dardanelle Sunday supplement:
Maybelle of the Mayerling. Our own Miss Yell County, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J. Dalton Grayling, strikes a pretty pose outside this dormitory for young actresses seeking fame and fortune in the Celluloid Capital. We can rest assured that our lovely Maybelle will soon find both and be unspoiled by either, as we applaud her artistry on the Silver Screen.
And for awhile Local Girl did Make Good: signed by Paramount, chosen as one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars. and co-starring with Clara Bow in an early talkie, Hot Pursuit. Many stills and posters and publicity shots from this thriller were strewn about Sunset Tower—framed on walls, rolled up in tubes, thrust into envelopes and shoeboxes. Out of each one Clara Bow leaped vividly at the viewer, Maybelle languishing at her side as the innocent waif whom Clara befriended and protected and took the unjust rap for.
Add a few pounds of pudge and swap the platinum bob for limeade spikes, and Our Lovely Maybelle was the spitting image of her aptly-named great-niece Rerun.
“Creepy! D’ya think I’m like her reincarnation?”
“(Not if you were born sixteen years before she died.)”
“I could still be! Like, y’know, an encore or sequel or something.”
Such as another Hot Pursuit, this one documented by bucketfuls of newspaper clippings. Maybelle Grayling, Paramount contract player, being grilled about the sudden disappearance of Joseph “Iron Man” Ardizzone, restaurateur and racketeer, who’d squired her around speakeasies. Maybelle stalwartly maintaining she had Nothing To Say—not the best qualification for a performer in talking pictures—so ta-ta to the Paramount contract. But discretion was the better part of value to the Mob; and Miss Yell County’s keeping mum apparently resulted in her being “kept” by the Dragna Family when they took over L.A.’s gambling and loansharking. No direct proof of this could be found, no imprudent diaries or love letters or canceled gangster-checks. Probably cold hard cash had been the medium of exchange—that and jewelry, which was scattered through every room at Sunset Tower.
“Now if we could just track down where she hid that coke stash,” Ree told Fee.
After two weeks the tomb was sufficiently exhumed for a Day Off to be granted, enabling the girls to haul ass from distant past to instant present. They hopped in the Buick and started cruising Hollywood Boulevard and the Sunset Strip, which even by daylight looked as decadent as advertised.
For a quarter-hour they simply eyeballed The Scene: it was enough to live in the moment, revel in liberation, bask in accessible licentiousness. Then Rerun screeched up to Granny Takes a Trip, the outré boutique on Doheny Drive, and announced she was going on a whole-hog spree.
“(Haven’t you had your fill of clothes lately?)”
“Those were vintage. These are avant-garde.”
Not that the two were mutually exclusive: some of the merchandise here could have been on consignment from Maybelle’s wardrobes. Or so thought Fiona, whose lone sojourn into wearable fashion had come three years ago, during her Glitterdämmerung phase.
“(Just don’t spend the whole-hog day here, okay?)”
“Did you just tell me ‘don’t spend’? Just for that I’m gonna dress you up in purple from head to toe!”
“’Cause I’m a Pisces.”
As was Vicki Volester, who found the Sign of the Fish an embarrassment and quickly changed the subject whenever horoscopes were mentioned. Fiona was further reminded (for whatever reason) that Vicki looked especially good in shades of purple, and had once loaned her a violet cardigan during a cold-weather sleepover at Burrow Lane.
You should really wear that color more often, Feef.
This reminder plus Rerun’s insistence on paying for everything (with Ardine’s Visa card, Ardine having appropriated Mr. Pilchard’s) led to Fiona leaving Granny Takes a Trip with a plummy vinyl jumpsuit, an eggplant suede jacket, and a pair of Deep Purple patent leather combat boots.
“(Not exactly summerwear, is it?”)
“Sugar Pop, everything is summerwear if you don’t mind sweatin’ through it,” said Rerun, loading the LeSabre trunk with her own array of spree-plunder.
Then zoom north on Doheny past a mile of billboards (just far enough and long enough to belt/rasp/harmonize “X Offender” with Blondie on KROQ) to arrive at Licorice Pizza, the records-and-tapes mecca. Before heading inside, Fiona took a catty-corner gander across the intersection at the fabled Whisky a Go Go, and its marquee:
“(We have got to go to that.)”
“No prob—a Day Off means a Night Off too. Ma’ll be all tied up, maybe for real.”
(When they’d left Sunset Tower, Ardine was on Maybelle’s antique dial phone cooing: “Johnny Spooner, please... Tell him ‘Ardykins’ is calling... Johnny dearest! Yes, I’m in town... fresh off the plane, you’re the first person I’ve called... Why of course I’m free for you, Johnny...”)
(Fiona tried to imagine Moth uttering such words, but the only way would be if Burt Bacharach set them to music first.)
At Licorice Pizza they sought out 45s, LPs, fanzines, and other paraphernalia native to the L.A. area, throwing in a few British imports Feef hadn’t found at Cobwebs & Strange. She was annoyed that the new Slash tabloid cover didn’t display the Runaways, currently on a triumphant tour of Japan—not that she wasn’t still annoyed at the Runaways, or regretted having skipped their concert last year in Prospect Heights.
But still: how were there going to be more all-girl rock bands if this all-girl rock band didn’t get better ink? Fiona wished she had a Rosa Dartles demo cassette she could take to tonight’s showcase at the Whisky, even if Britt was out of the picture and Kim Fowley had a terrible reputation and Rodney Bingenheimer’s wasn’t much more stellar. Where were the A&R women, the female producers and promoters you might turn to for non-exploitative sponsorship? And where were the Dartles going to find a new lead guitarist with chops like Britt Groningen’s?
“(Remind me again why you don’t play guitar.)”
“Same reason I don’t play piano or tuba or xylophone. Never learned how.”
“(Okay then, how fast a learner are you?)”
“Depends on the teacher. And the subject. And if there’s anybody in the class like adorable enough to distract me—”
“(Will you be serious for a second?)” Fiona scolded, launching into a spiel on behalf of all-female musical groups, citing not only the Dartles and Runaways but Fanny and Isis and the Ace of Cups back in the days of the San Francisco Sound—
“Hoff you seen Bockstage Possss?”
This interjection coming from the opposite side of the record rack: an older girl, perhaps nineteen or twenty, who looked like Natasha Fatale in a frizzy fuchsia wig and French maid’s uniform. With a deep contralto voice, so maybe not an older girl—though constructed with impressive skill, if a Hollywood tranny.
Natasha was accompanied not by Boris Badenov but Bonanza Jellybean: a petite knockout in full cowgirl panoply, complete with miniature Stetson. The face beneath it was unexpectedly Chinese in appearance; a complicated camera hung from her bandanna-knotted neck; and out of her red-rimmed mouth piped a high-pitched squeak with Dixieish overtones.
(Say boy-howdy to two Scenesters of the Sunset Strip.)
Bonanza and Natasha respectively chirped and purred about Backstage Pass, who billed themselves as “the new all-girl sensation” even though their drummer was a guy called The Perve.
“—‘cept he ain’t done enuff t’like earn that name, far’s I know—”
“—then there iss Spock, there iss Gennybody, there iss Marina del Rey—”
“—‘n’ don’t be fergettin’ ol’ Barracuda Majors—”
“—they are not bodd onstage, they played the Stahhwood losst week with the Weirdos—”
“—aw, them Weirdos! They wuz the first ‘uns t’chop their hair short, y’know, ‘n’ they never had a drummer—”
“—wott about the Screamers? No guitars—nothing bott keyboards onnd Tomata du Plenty—”
“—he’s such a bassard! Makes great tater salad, though—”
“—he iss not a bosstard, he iss occting Germonnic—”
“—naw, it’s the Germs that’re actin’ manic—”
“—true, bott Tomata hoss method in hiss moddness, the Germs hoff only messss—”
“—zackly! If they made a pot o’ tater salad, it’d jes be t’fling it atchew—”
“—it iss oll performance ott, oll about who iss the most theottrical—”
“—not fer my Zeros it ain’t! Fer them it’s all ‘bout bein’ the kewtest lil chulitos y’ever did see—”`
“—I hoff told you onnd them, if they wonnt to be known oss the ‘Mexican Ramones’ they mosst start colling themselves Los Ceros—”
“Sayyyy gruntcakes!” Bonanza told Rerun and Fiona as her camera went FLASH in their faces. (Split-Pea Erbsen could take stealthy-pounce lessons from this photographic cat burglar.)
“No fair! Do over!” objected Rerun, slinging an arm over Feef’s shoulders and striking parody glamour poses, while Feef struggled not to spill her stack of albums etc. and Bonanza went on FLASH-FLASH-FLASHing—
“Stop, you will blind them!” commanded Natasha.
“Now who’s actin’ theatrical?” responded Bonanza.
“Hey, speaking of potato salad, you gals hungry? Where’s the best spot to chow down ‘round here?” asked Rerun, sounding like a just-tumbled-off-the-turnip-truck tourist.
Did Bonanza and Natasha exchange a sinister sidelong glance? Did they catch sight of Rerun’s credit card while Fiona’s etcetera-stack was rung up at the register? Were they hatching nefarious schemes as they scrambled into the LeSabre—Natasha taking shotgun (“I will guide you, if you pleasssse”) and Bonanza the backseat with Feef, whose trepidation continued to mount: were she and stupid Rerun about to be hijacked, robbed, beaten up, sold into sex slavery—
—went Bonanza’s camera: no flash needed outdoors.
“Dontchew worry none. I jes hadda gimme a pic o’ yew bein’ worrited—yew gotta great look—but gwan, relax, everthang’s kewl.”
And five minutes later they were ensconced at Carney’s Express, a yellow railroad car converted into a Sunset Boulevard eatery. There over cheeseburgers and chili dogs, Natasha and Bonanza formally introduced themselves.
Purring: “Tawdry Meadows.”
Piping: “Shudder Bugge.”
Beaming: “Pleased to meetcha! I’m Rerun ‘n’ this here’s FTW.”
“Chommed. You two will not be insollted, I hope, if I guess you are visiting here from... the sobburbs?”
Way to leave yourself and me wide open, Elly May! groused the silent Fiona, far from feeling tranquilized as she picked at her ketchuppy fries.
“Then ollow me to offer you some oddvice,” Tawdry intoned between mouthfuls of burger. “Be very wary where you venture, especially offter dark. You will find many wonderful people here on the Strip, onnd many horrible others who prey oppon the yonng—”
“—‘n’ you’ll find ‘em both at the afterparty at our place t’night!” cheeped Shudder Bugge, dabbing chili from her red-rimmed lips.
“Ignore her,” said Tawdry, draining her shake. “We throw the best offterpotties. You two are welcome to join oss—our ‘affairs’ are (heh! heh! heh!) ‘to remember’—though people seldom doooo.”
“We’d be delighted!” Rerun (though not Fiona) enthused. “Where...? How...?”
“We will find you tonight at the Whisky. Or you conn wait by your cahh in the Licorice Pizza pocking lot, onnd we will meet you there.”
“(Are you guys in a band?)” Fiona inquired, trying to mute suspicious apprehension.
“We are by nature mistresses of ceremonies—”
“Groupies, she means,” said Bugge, chomping a frozen chocolate-dipped banana. “Way-ull, this wuz fun, but shit! we best be gittin’ back t’work. Mind givin’ us a lift?”
Where, back to your pimp? Feef didn’t ask aloud as Tawdry directed them to the Tropicana Motel, almost as fabled a landmark as the Whisky a Go Go, and of which she claimed to be assistant concierge.
“Charwoman, she means. Gwan, show ‘em yer scrubbin’ brush—”
“Occhh! Go to your hott, you Bogge.”
“Do they make her dress like a French maid?” Rerun asked as they drove on down La Cienega Boulevard.
“Tawd? Naw, she always wears that gitup,” said Shudder Bugge, tugging a blue smock out of her saddlebag and over her cowgirl outfit as they pulled up beside a Fotomat kiosk. “Whoa-kay then—thanks fer the grub ‘n’ the ride—see y’t’night—be sure ‘n’ wear yer hawtest deli cuts—‘n’ if yew run into any o’ them Zeros, hands off!—they’re all of ‘em mine!”
A moment of silence, alone in the Buick. Then:
“BeforeyousayawordIknowwhatI’mdoing,” Ree told Fee.
“(HOW? How do you know?)”
“’Cause I know these sortsa chicks—they know everybody, so if we know ‘em, we’ll know everybody. And just the sorts of everybodies you oughta know, if you wanna get ahead in the music biz.”
“(I want to do that with my music, not by groupie-ing around at some afterparty!)”
“It’s schmoozing, not smooching! You don’t hafta kiss anyone’s ass—just meet ‘em, get to know ‘em, make the first move—”
“(I am not making any ‘moves’ on anybody!”)
“Look—if you come to their afterparty, I promise I’ll maybe try to learn how to play a guitar. Deal?”
“(...will you agree to leave the minute I want to leave, no matter what?)”
“Definitely. Course, I might wanna bring someone back to Maybelle’s with us—kidding, I’m kidding! Will you trust me already? This is gonna go as smooth as a Ken doll’s crotch! But first we gotta make a run to Frederick’s.”
“Of Hollywood—so we can pick us out a platter of ‘hawt deli cuts!’”
Now it is 4 a.m. and steps must be taken. Out of the ornate elevator, over to the expensive-looking door. Best foot forward (which is best? left? right? left? right?) as you follow Rerun, who moves with the exaggerated precision of a chop-chop Kabuki artiste. “KeeeYYY keeeYYY keeeYYY” she is going, not to beckon the laggard cat you left behind but as an open-sesame incantation.
“(...put it there...)” you say, pointing to the expensive-looking lock, as you did awhile ago to the Buick LeSabre’s ignition. And as she did in the car, Rerun solemnly shakes you by the hand and keeps on shaking it till you extract yours so she can insert the key as advised, turning it with the overblown correctness of a vaudeville sneakthief.
Well, that’s what comes from too much pills and liquor, as Liza Minnelli sang in Cabaret—yet preferable in the long run (or even the short) to reckless wreckage with your blood and brains smeared over Sunset Boulevard. Providentially, the speedier Rerun’s personal engine is revved, the more carefully she maneuvers vehicles in motion.
Unless tonight is just a lucky fluke.
Door open, on into Maybelle’s Mummy Mausoleum. Dark and silent as a tomb, all right. No Ardine waiting up for you; no Ardine asleep on the not-folded-out sofa. In her place, a sheet of paper is affixed to a pillow. Ransom note? Didn’t Rerun predict her mother’d get all tied up tonight, for real? Or is it simply notification she “might be out late” with Johnny dearest Spooner?
Either way, not a problem. Nothing to compare to Rerun’s gabbly “Get-me-get-me outta this,” meaning the salmon-pink beaded cocktail gown. Whose stitches did split when she slithered it on for Whisky a Go Going; but was salvaged punk-style by a liberal application of safety pins. Which now need unfastening, if the gown’s to be removed more-or-less intact. Plaintive reprise: “Get me outta-outta-outta this,” sounding like the goose in Charlotte’s Web.
“(...hey, you got yourself into this...)”
“Well I can’t sleep in this, so help me!”
“(...you won’t be doing any sleeping for a day or two...)”
“Am so am so! Lookit, I confusticollated those red dolls/red dillies/red devils from that li’l pussy! Pussies don’t need help getting to sleep!”
“(...forget the reds. Just breathe deep in that dress, ‘n’ you’ll pass right out...)”
“Aw, you want me to stick myself and stick myself, over ‘n’ over ‘n’ over!”
“(...druther I stick you? Okay if I make a long-distance call?...)”
“How’s that gonna help me undo all these sticky-pricky pins?”
“(...I’ll ring up Siouxsie Sioux ‘n’ ask how she does it...)”
“Funny! Real funny! Oh-so-funny!” pouts Rerun, bulleting bedroomwards as she starts unpinning as Kabukily as possible: “OwwwWWW owwwWWW owwwWWW—”
Meanwhile you roam around the still-cluttered living room, hunting for the phone, cursing as you stumble across where Ardine left it on the carpet. Sinking down alongside as you hazily unlace and detach your combat boots, then twirl the old-fashioned dial digit by digit.
4 a.m. here, so 6 a.m. home. Fat Bob always rises with the sun, regardless of any biker-bar shenanigans he might’ve participated in overnight. Sure enough, he picks right up at Villa Neapolitan. Surprise/pleasure/concern at your calling at this time of dawn; turning to trepidation when you ask to speak to Robin.
Heavy whisper: “(She—isn’t—awake—yet.)”
“(...c’mon, she’ll talk to me...)”
“(Maybe so, but to say what?)” Fat Bob gulps.
“(...oh hey, that Ollie guy you look like? He’s buried near here with Elmer Fudd...)” you inform him, or would if Fat Bob didn’t lay the phone down to go rouse the she-wolf in her distant lair, from which you soon hear familiar snarls coming closer and closer—
“DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT THE HELL TIME IT IS??”
“(...fourish here, sixish there. Guess where ‘n’ what I’ve been ‘n’ done?...)”
It started out like any other covert clubbing. You alerted Moth (and Lem, for once) that you’d be spending the night at Rerun’s (instead of the usual Robin’s) while omitting to mention your preplanned attendance at a New Wave showcase and affair-to-misremember afterparty. (Lem ‘n’ Moth, far from forbidding you to go, might’ve wanted to tag along.)
Then, at the Tower, Rerun’s salmon-pink slither-squeeze/stitch-split/safety-pinup, and your own prideful put-on of Rosa Dartles T-shirt and bermudas. Adding from the Granny Takes a Trip cache only the purple patent leather boots; feeling a tad foolish (and a lot foot-sweaty) but the effect, as Vicki Volester would phrase it, was “striking, let’s say.”
On then to the Whisky, onetime home to Doors and Byrds and Buffalo Springfield. Tonight its fabled stage was taken by Weirdos and Zeros and Germs, and the dance floor by a motley mob wearing everything from spraypainted rain slickers to billowy Hefty bags. As if this were a masquerade ball—but one where everyone’s mundane secret identities got shed like so many faux snakeskins, to reveal inner authenticity.
Quit being a face in your crowd
and stop whistling against your din:
hark how the Snake of Nirvana
sheds whole centuries like a skin!
Or as Joss Murrisch would phrase it: Wonder Woman only pretended to be banal Diana Prince, till she unfurled that magic golden lasso and yanked its noose tight—
—making the cymbals crash and the tom-toms bang and the walls begin to shimmy and the floor begin to quake—
—as you realized this was the Big One, bigger than the Zeppelin concert. bigger even than the Bowie concert, and most probably the Runaways concert in Prospect Heights (if you hadn’t been too offended by Miss Feathershag’s bustier corset to go to that)—
—since this was breakneck, a plunge into the jungle, as abrupt and precipitous as the doomed plane’s to the island in Lord of the Flies—
—and here came a stormburst of shredded riffs and stompdown chords to engulf the mob and pound it with pulsing throbbing thunderbolts, galvanize it into savage tribal chants that celebrated darkness and lightning, without and within—
FEEL the Beast!! BURN your throat!! BOIL your blood!!
—so no choice but to dance and no room to do so except by jumping up and down, as if at a demented trampoline convention (pig’s head on a pogo stick!) yet space enough for you to be swept off your feet and knocked to the floor, fearing you’d be bouncily flattened—
—but a dozen hands promptly reached to haul you upright. Only one belonged to Rerun (who stuck so close by your side you could feel the metallic nibble of her safety pins) and one each to Tawdry Meadows and Shudder Bugge (who honed in on you unerringly through the Whisky crush) but the others belonged to stranger-neighbors, unknown friends; and when they too took tumbles, you in turn reached and helped with their uprighting. It might be a savage mob, yet not a brutal one; no biting, no mauling, no tearing with teeth or claws. However, as you relate to Robin:
“(...this group called the Germs, you can hardly call them a band, they ripped through an insane cover of ‘Sugar Sugar,’ y’know the Archies tune, ‘You are my candy girl’—while emptying these sacks of powdered sugar over the crowd like a gritty white hurricane, ‘n’ then they started squirting Reddi-Wip till Rodney Whatshisname threw ‘em off the stage...)”
“Are you drunk? You sound drunk! What’ve you been drinking?”
Spume from the New Wave.
Sweeping you out to sea (or at least as far as the Licorice Pizza parking lot) and washing you up to the good ship LeSabre with Rerun and Tawdry and Bugge and a swarm of other b-z-z-z-z-ing creatures, packed like hornets in a high-velocity nest. Again you felt apprehension; again you feared this might be a hijack, prelude to robbery and enslavement—
—except the mood in the car was far more cavalier, a rowdier motlier version of that cramfest in Uncle Cass’s Estate Wagon en route to the Blackstone for Joss’s birthday matinee; and before you knew it you began to sing Ninety-nine boys in the back of the Buick which the entire swarm took up, take one down and pass him around and make each unruly stanza more ribald than the last—
—till Tawdry had Rerun swing over to Yucca Street and park by a shabby-genteel Micawbrian building, all the hornets swarming toward it out of the nest and carrying you along with the crowd, Rerun seizing your arm as you reached the threshold, gesturing above it at a sign that by God was a sign:
Inside which they discovered the heart of Punkamonium on earth, or at least this particular corner of Hollywood: every surface coated with emblems, insignia, graffiti in multiple media; pumped-up volume—radio, stereo, mike and amp, a cappella—pouring from every room, commingling into a pervasive universal hullabaloo.
Tawdry and Bugge’s place was called the Vault, and had been decorated à la Edgar Allan Poe with black cats as the predominant theme. They were omnipresent in framed photographs, shelved figurines, stuffed cushion-form, plus a sleek live one grooming itself atop a vertical coffin whose lid stood open to reveal a full-size plastic (?) skeleton dressed in bellhop livery.
“(Cute,)” you told Shudder Bugge.
“WHUT?” she hollered over the swarming hornet-ruckus.
“CUTE!” you exerted, nodding at Bony Bellhop.
“Aw, this ain’t nothin’. Y’should see K.U.P.’s place ‘cross the courtyard—they got a reggler dungeon over thar!”
K.U.P. was short for Krewel & Unusual Punishment, a band whose members sported names like Stocks Pillory and Larrup Knout and Flog Gibbet, and was fronted by the aforesaid Krewel who seemed to be of no known gender or maybe all of them at once.
“ENCHANTÉ!” he/she yelled at you later that night, raking the back of your hand with his/her tongue, much as the cat on the coffintop was methodically doing to its furry self.
Fortunately by then you were anesthetized against petty liberties. Tawdry’d handed you a green glass grenade with “Mickey’s” on its label, plus a wicked-sharp pulltab lid that you opened with extreme respect after a nearby guy sliced his fingers on his lid and let out a YEEEAUGH!! that momentarily pierced the clamor.
One sip from your grenade and you understood why this was called fine malt liquor. Too many of your and Robin’s experiments with beer had been pilferage from Fat Bob’s hoard of Hamm’s, which might be brewed in the land of sky-blue waters but tasted more like cartoon bear-whiz. Mickey’s, by comparison, was widemouthed bliss, and enabled you to coast through the afterparty on a fairly even keel.
No freakout when the live black cat leaped sleekly onto your shoulder; nor when Rerun got “recognized” by a dotty crone called the Baroness, who’d lived at the Mayerling for fifty years and had known Maybelle Grayling when they both were harlot-starlets there.
“Drank herself to death, did she? What a shame!” the Baroness cackle-shrilled between slurps of Cold Duck. “Can’t say I’m surprised, though—bootleggers put their children through college on what Maybelle paid them for bathtub gin! Know why they called it that?”
“’CAUSE THEY MADE IT IN A BATHTUB?” you re-exerted, scratching the cat’s sleek black head.
“No—because she drank a bathtubful every day! Don’t you start doing that, lovey!”
Said to Rerun, who plunked down between you and the Baroness on this unpadded mourner’s bench, and started stroking Sleekie’s twitchy tail from rump to tip.
“DO I REALLY LOOK LIKE HER?”
(Slurp.) “Who, lovey?”
“MY GREAT-AUNT MAYBELLE!”
“Oh my yes. If I squint my eyes just-so, I can almost believe it’s she and I who are hosting one of our little bashes! We were famous for them, you know. They were all just exactly like this one here tonight!”
If that were true, the Dardanelle Sunday supplement had failed to describe them in accurate detail. They probably would’ve behooved a German Expressionist magazine—Metropolitan, say, or The Blue Angel Review or Pandora’s Digest—to truly cover the spread, if Maybelle and the Baroness had migrated to Berlin with Louise Brooks and Sally Bowles. Or to share four sordid rooms in Chelsea with a girlfriend known as Elsie. Or what the hell: why not right here on Yucca Street, where the Vault’s afterparty was in its fullest flow (as also, apparently, was its plumbing)?
Yes: mix a Black Mass with a kegger at some louche sorority house, and you’d have the same raucous pasticcio of song and dance and swigs and snorts and heaves and pukes and masquers making out and masquers passing out and masquers freaking out, till it wouldn’t astonish you to see Hop-Frog arrive with eight chained ourang-outangs and proceed to string them up.
(Which would’ve been fine by you, so long as they didn’t get set on fire right in front of your mourner’s bench.)
So help yourself to a fresh green glass grenade (your third? fourth? fifth?), checking to be sure it hadn’t been pre-opened or meddled with. Wave off a brandished candy dish heaped high with pills (no thanks—your life had been sufficiently fucked over by pharmaceuticals) but Rerun accepted it, sorting through the contents till she found and popped what looked like a black beauty, before grabbing a couple of Seconals from Sleekie (already a black beauty) who’d scooped them out with a discerning paw.
“Hey! Those aren’t cherry gumdrops!” you thought you heard Rerun scold the cat.
“MINE!!” you definitely heard from the literal spitting image of Overcast Max, ever-ripped keyboardist for the Cloudland Atmosphere, as his discerning paw groped for the two red devils and/or Rerun’s bazooms—
—till you stiffarmed him with the green glass grenade that sloshed fine malt liquor as it jabbed Max Jr.’s solar plexus, doubling him up and dropping him down to the Vault deck, where you and Rerun stepped over his jackknifed body (dumping the rest of your Mickey’s onto his overcast head) as you took your widemouthed leaves, with many thanks to Charlotte Pauk for all the handy self-defense training.
(Slurp.) “I don’t believe half your horseshit!” (Slurp.)
These slurps not by the Baroness on Cold Duck, but Robin Neapolitan on the cup of hot black coffee she’d had Fat Bob bring her.
“Both! And I don’t believe you woke me up to dish ‘em out long-distance!... So anyway, when’re you bringing your skinny ass home?”
“Dunno! You’ve been out there like forever!”
“(...you’re the one who’s Out There. ‘N’ it’s only been two weeks, so far...)”
“So far! You’ll be back by the first, right? You said you thought you would!”
“(...why the first?...)”
“It’s your birthday, dumbass! You were born on July 1st! You’re about to turn fifteen! Why’m I having to remind you of this? ‘Cause you’re drunk, that’s why—and I’ve heard Mickey’s gives monster hangovers, so don’t come crying to me when you get yours!”
“(...why don’t you come out here, just for a weekend?...)”
“Oh yeah? You’re buying me a plane ticket, are you? ‘Cause there’s no! damn! way! I’m taking one! thin! dime! outta my car stash—not with less’n four months before my birthday! Which’ll be my sixteenth, in case I hafta remind you of that too!”
“(...c’mon, you’ll love it out here. The drumming’s stupenderiferous...)”
“Forget it!” (Slurp.)
“(...will you at least think about it?...)”
“Not on your life!”
“(...if you don’t, I’ll call you up every morning at four-here six-there—)”
“—you try that ‘n’ I’ll put my fist right through this phone line ‘n’ punch your freaking lights out! I’ll think about it, okay?”
“And hey, Spooky?”
“You owe me three hours of sleep!”
Amo mia sorella maggiore...
On which sentimental note, let your eyes close for just a sec.
Then open them to find Ardine staring severely down at you on the rug with the phone in your hand as you block her path to the sofa. Except it can’t be Ardine, who hasn’t yet returned from her tryst with Johnny Spooner, so it must be Rerun ricocheting from the bedroom to ask what’s been keeping you from helping her unsheathe herself. Except it isn’t Rerun either, who can’t have dwindled away to such an extent in the brief time you were conversing with Robin. Might it be Bony Bellhop, bearing the gritty white cloud of powdered sugar you left behind at Yucca Street? Except it’s not a cloud but a shroud—
—as you open your eyes for real and find none of the above standing there, nobody blocking your path as you pogo-jump up and make haste to make waste in the bathroom, stepping bootlessly on every open safety pin discarded on the floor between here and there.
Bathroom’s awash with very cold water, on the tiles and in the tub and dripping out of the shower nozzle. Best-foot-forward through its soggy towels and crumpled salmon-pink cocktail gown to enter the boudoir, where Rerun sprawls sideways athwart the battleship-bedstead. Thar she blows, not just exhibiting her still-wet ample nudity, but every indication that two red devils were used to overcome one black beauty and so gain Slumberland. Unless she’s joined Great-Aunt Maybelle in harlot-starlet heaven? Nope; breathing too stertorously for that. Unless she’s playing possum? Focus on a damp bare buttcheek and give it a good pinch, followed by a better swat. Nope: no reaction, other than jello-jiggle.
So draw a shroud—no, a sheet (splotched with nothing worse than bathwater, to judge from the scent) over Elly May’s sweet globular curves, and take your own skinny ass back to the living room sofa. Better to share it with Maybelle’s ghost (if that was what that was) than a waterlogged pill-popper. No matter how pinchable or swattable.
Fiona had been born in Half Moon Bay at the stroke of midnight, and there was initial hesitation whether to record her birth on June 30th or July 1st. According to family legend, the point was settled by flipping an English coin Lem had picked up during his gypsy travels; and serious thought was allegedly given to naming her “Florin Twoshillings” before that got dismissed as an overmercenary designation.
In spite of her birthplace there was a new moon on the night of Fiona’s nativity, so “Moonchild” stemmed more from Cancerian associations than the state of the sky. This lunar phase did lend itself to the lyrics of “Lo! the Fairest Flower Girl,” which Lem ‘n’ Moth re-crooned to the terminally chagrined Fiona as the bungalow clock struck twelve—or clicked over to twelve, being digital—on June 30th:
Born unto us on an eve of New Moon
at midnight sharp as the calendar changed
to radiant July from fading June:
a blossoming-forth that the Fates arranged
—and so on, in similar vein.
Moth presented Fiona with a crystal wristwatch, befitting (she explained) a fifteenth anniversary, but Lem took the birthday cake by handing over a receipt for an Ampeg SVT: the best bass amplifier on the market and also the heaviest, one that ought to come with its own herniaproof roadie. It was being shipped to the Plexiglass Palace, which might not survive its installation; and Fiona was just about to ask if delivery couldn’t be diverted to Little Armenia—
—when Lem compounded his cake-taking with the casual bomb-dropping that one of Nora Corazon’s regular guitarists had broken an arm, and Lem’d been invited to fill in on the Australian leg of Nora’s Porque le Vas world tour. Which would begin in less than a week, so Lem sure could use Flow’s help in packing up all his stuff for storage, since she now had so much practical sift-and-sort experience with the Pilchards.
“(Um...)” went Fiona.
Inattentive as she’d been to the state of the parental union, Feef had sensed a recent ebbing of the threat that a baby brother might be getting generated. Which, needless to say, was a load off her mind; and so far as she was concerned, Lem could go back up Nora Corazon, Donna Summer, Barbra Streisand, or Cher & Gregg Allman—as long as it meant he could afford to buy and ship her that Ampeg amp.
Yet she was concerned about Moth’s reaction, especially when Moth heaved a little sigh (brittle as the new crystal wristwatch) and said: “Well then... I guess... I’d better... book our tickets home...”
Meaning for her and Fiona—who was nowhere near ready or willing to leave L.A.
But who, by great good fortune, had a Get Out Of Jail Practically Free ace in the hole.
Maybelle’s housekeeper/caretaker had quit after being left bupkis in the Grayling will, and daily maintenance of the tomb at Sunset Tower had gradually fallen to Fiona’s lot since she had less vested interest in its exhumation than its livability. Hence when Ardine’d finally returned from spooning with Johnny dearest, she’d found Feef industriously swabbing out the bathroom, after brewing the resurrected Rerun (who was limeade-y around the gills) a cup of ginger tea with a generous dash of peppermint schnapps.
“You are such a treasure,” Ardine had exclaimed then and repeated over to the phone to Moth twelve hours after Lem’s bomb-drop, while making an official free-room-and-board bid for Fiona’s services through the month of July.
Ree, murmuring to Fee: “(Do you do windows, Treasure Gal?)”
Fee, muttering to Ree: “(Push me and I’ll go crash with Tawdry and the Bugge.)”
Who, the following night, wished Fiona “monny hoppy returns” and gave her a thin brass necklace—“guaranteed t’turn yer neck green!”—with a small brass FTW pendant, and the assurance that obtaining it hadn’t cost them a cent.
Purloined or not, Feef put it on along with birthday gifts from Rerun: black tux jacket, black stretch pants, black opentoe shoes, and purple-framed purple-lensed wraparound shades. Rerun meanwhile donned a short labcoat over a brimming white lace bra and matching half-slip; Tawdry Meadows assumed her fuchsia wig and French maid’s uniform; Shudder Bugge exchanged her cowgirl outfit for a gold sequined tailcoat, top hat, and tap shoes (“Ain’t I jes the kewtest thang?”) and Krewel came vaulting over the courtyard in a bustier corset that Miss Feathershag would’ve coveted, plus a string of pearls, garter belt, fishnet stockings, stiletto heels, and satin cape lined with silver lamé.
And thus attired they piled into the Buick and roared off to Wellworth Avenue for the midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Audience participation was still in its infancy, largely limited to [a] attending in costume, [b] saluting each other with a gesture midway between gimme-five and freestyle-crawlstroke, [c] cheering each character’s first entrance, with Frank N. Furter receiving a whoopenstein accolade, and [d] shouting occasional responses to selected dialog.
The blackness might hit you; the void might be calling; madness might take its toll.
But once you passed through the Phantom Tollbooth, you were transported to that yearned-for cosmos where only “freaks” need apply—and if you be freaky, you be calling your tune. Such as Let’s do the Time Warp again!!
With an unforeseen hearkening-back to your electric koolaid childhood.
Not that there was gooble-gobble camaraderie between the freaks of old and new: punks scorned longhairs, even repudiating pot as “fit only for dirty hippies.” (Though your practiced nostrils could detect its weedy presence here at the UA Cinema Center.) So no, this wasn’t a fresh dawning of the Age of Aquarius—the moon might be in any number of houses, Jupiter might be aligned with who knew which planet, and there might be enough falsehoods and derisions to last until doomsday.
Yet you did feel the same kind of “tribal” atmosphere, here and at the Vault and in the clubs and on the streets, that you recalled from the Big Blue Bus Bucephalus days of yore. Then and now, “normals” would try to hassle you, would draw away with hostile distrust; but you’d be bidden welcome by the misfits, the oddballs, the weirdos, the zeros, the travelers-to-the-beat-of-a-diff’rent-drum—your fellow freaks. And now, just as then, you could rise together above the You-Reeka-ish murkitude, soaring up and up till you press your collective spaceface to the flashdazzly stars—
...don’t dream it: bee-ee it / don’t dream it: bee-ee it / don’t dream it: bee-ee it...
—except that now, much more than then, the bee-ee had a hornet’s sting—a wild and an untamed thing that caused your heart to thump and your blood to sing—that thrilled you chilled you fulfilled you with jagged-edgy raw energy vibes, till you wanted to wrench the Sword of Damocles off its thread and swing it three times over your head so it’d change into an El Thorro hammer you could fling at all the Steerforthy faces and so wreak revenge for all the Rosa Dartles with a rush of the intensest adrenaline experienceable—
—WHOO here it comes again—
That year Fiona didn’t celebrate Independence Day on July 4th (she preferred metaphoric fireworks anyway) but the 5th, when Moth returned to Vanderlund and Lem took off for Canberra. Moth’s hints of willingness to [a] stay in L.A. with Feef and the Pilchards, or [b] serve as a camp follower on Nora Corazon’s Australian tour, had [c] gone unheeded by the hintees.
“Well... try to be a good girl, dear,” she perturbed Fiona in parting at the airport.
“I’ll make sure she tries her best, Mrs. Weller,” said Rerun.
“Want me to send you a marsupial from down under, Flow?” Lem chaffed at the international gate.
“Send her a kookaburra—their lives must be so cheerful,” said Rerun.
“(What’re you, my press agent?)” Fee asked Ree once they were alone.
“Just call me ‘Puff Piece,’” Ree told Fee.
Having disposed of two parental units (and with the third still Spoonerly occupied) the girls could now focus on Krewel & Unusual Punishment’s fast-approaching gig at the Starwood on Santa Monica Boulevard, and their own roles in K.U.P.’s groupie auxiliary.
The Starwood, like the speakeasies Maybelle Grayling had frequented with “Iron Man” Ardizzone, was a nightclub run by honest-to-God gangsters. It was also the first major venue to be played by K.U.P., whose anticipation ranged from Stocks Pillory’s stolid impassivity to Krewel’s “I must confess, mes enfants, to being thrown into quite a fluttah!”
Starwood management encouraged lesser-known bands to invite every Scenester they knew to come fill up the joint and the bar and the pockets of onsite drug dealers. Rerun and Fiona were delegated to ferry over as many Mayerlingers as the Buick could hold, while K.U.P. brought the heftier roadier types (not all of whom were male) along with their instruments (not all of which were musical) in the band’s van, a mobile dungeon-annex known as the “Misery Machine.”
One instrument made the trek in the Buick on Feef’s entrusted lap: Shudder Bugge’s “big-ass fiddle,” which was in fact a handsome cello she could play like a pro. Feef wondered whether Bugge had “boosted” it along with the FTW necklace and, very possibly, her fancy camera and cowgirl ensemble. A cello, though, would’ve required extra-dexterous sleight of hand—the petite Bugge could hardly have smuggled it out of a music store under her gold sequined tailcoat.
At any rate this large-bottomed stringpaddle was now housed in a case that Bugge (inspired, she said, by Rerun’s tales of Sunset Tower) had begun painting to resemble a miniature Nefertiti sarcophagus.
“I’da liked t’been one o’ them EEE-gypshun chicks, back in Pharaoh-times.”
As opposed to being—or at least sounding—like an Okie from Manchuria?
Existential thoughts in the LeSabre convertible: who was Shudder Bugge, and how’d she come to be? Ditto Tawdry, ditto Krewel, ditto Stocks and Larrup Knout and Flog Gibbet? Had any of them ever lived and breathed apart from the Strip? Or were they some outlandish celestial summer stock company, that would melt away into thin air when these revels ended?
Never mind: tonight’s pageant seemed pretty damn substantial and unfaded. Well, perhaps a smidgen faded among the Starwood congregation—a mite ratty and sloppy and crusty and dingy and other Seven New Wave Dwarvesy. Fiona would’ve preferred that Robin and Vicki and Sheila and Joss were here, instead of the pervier Dwarves whose carnal scrutiny was by no means deflected by her having just turned fifteen.
Back off, asswipes! I know how to mash your noses with the heel of my hand, so keep your fingers off my butt!
A vibe the Dwarf-pervs evidently picked up on, since Feef was able to tote Bugge’s sarcopha-case through the club unmolested.
7/7/77 read the calendars that day, which everyone agreed must be exponentially beyond any old 6-6-6. Krewel & Unusual Punishment sure as hell thought so, and took the stage (including Shudder Bugge on cello) to lambast the Starwood with:
We needn’t mention the pressures of tension
Brains have to bear the brunt
Join the rehearsal of our mental reversal
Turn yourselves back to front
Brains go about-face and you’ll find that it takes
Just a jiffy to adjust
No need to write you—aloud we invite you
TO DO THE BASS-ACKWARDS WITH US!
You just squat down on your heels
And place a hand on each thigh
Like a frog you leap back
And let your knees spread wide
Between them put your head
And kiss yourself goodbye thus
YOU DO THE BASS-ACKWARDS WITH US!
No sugar sacks got emptied over the assemblage, but there was a cornucopia of monster licks by Unusual Punishment, zealous pelvic gyrations by Krewel, and a surprisingly high-volume punk cello solo by Shudder Bugge that segued grotesquely into:
Hell yes it’s been building
Up inside of me
Makes me suffer from an awful clog
Feelin’ ultra uptight
Like a strained square knot
Round the tonsils of a demagogue
Till a Drāno surprise
Opens up my eyes
That hold back a heap of repression
And when I gain release
From this chrysa-leees
I’ll make one big SMACK‘vun impression
With another extended hardcore cello solo, and K.U.P.’s partisans echoing:
DRĀĀĀ-NOOO ... DRĀĀĀ-NOOO ... DRĀĀĀ-NOOO ...
On a lyrical level, this was not the greatest shakes; but out of Krewel’s mouth and through a drooled-on microphone it became a battle cry of inflammatory innuendo, with gas hurled on the fire by vociferous Stocks-riffs punctuated by kabooms and kablooeys from Larrup’s drums and Flog’s bass till k’pow—you got catapulted parachutelessly back to the Island of Lorded-Over Flies-by-Night, where “DRĀNO” gave way as the savage tribal chant du jour to:
SQUEEZE the Beast!! POP your throat!! FROTH your blood!!
—evoking a gross (though cherishable) image of Robin Neapolitan trying furiously to assuage her strawberry complexion and not leave any pockmarks—
—but here and now it’s Rerun’s face bob-bob-bobbing (along with her boob-boob-boobies) on the invisible pogo stick immediately opposite you: an arguably plumpish face, yet Donna Douglassy as the one that came out from under Twilight Zone wraps in “Eye of the Beholder”—
—and behold her eyes staying parallel with yours as you trampoline in tandem: eyes inflated and dilated by who knew what amalgam of pills swallowed since you got here, but you can bet some of them were Quaaludes since the Starwood’s as notorious for their ready availability as Lynndha Ednalino’s Traverser orgies back home—
—and oh shit! does this mean you’ve been cast as Clara Bow to Rerun’s Maybelle in Hot Pursuit II, charged with protecting and defending this languishy luded-out waif’s bounceable T&A from the encircling horde of asswipe Dwarves, a task way beyond your unvivid unClaralike capabilities—
—with the lone gleam of hope being Sunset Tower’s close proximity, half a mile away down Santa Monica and up Flores, you’d both remarked about it beforehand and Tawdry Meadows even floated the notion of holding tonight’s afterparty within the mummy’s tomb—
—but hold that thought as you behold Rerun’s arguably lush lips bearing down on your decidedly thinner ones, giving no chance to explain that Grandma Marietta Dunlop’s the only one permitted to kiss you there, Moth and Lem have to make do with cheek or brow—
—but Elly May’s not one to make do with any cee-ment pond when there’s Frenchin’ to be done, so you mouthily bounce-bounce-bounce together in perfect synchronization (wee dawgies!) with what amounts to ironic commentary from K.U.P. on the bandstand:
Cracker Jack and Jill they got high on a hill
High to lie there side by side
Cracker Jack said: Jill, I think I’ve had my fill
’Cause there’s naught we haven’t tried
I’ll tell you the truth if you don’t wanna be duped
I’m candy-coated popcorn peanuts and pooped!
Cracker Jack (said Jill) I’ve got something to spill
I’ve got something to confide
There’s a thing to try still while we’re high on the hill
Where we’ve lain and where we’ve lied
Lie low with me now if you don’t wanna be caught
’Cause the thing left to try is more naughty than naught!
TAKE ME! OPEN ME WIDE—
TAKE ME! OPEN ME WIDE—
TAKE ME! OPEN ME WIDE—
and you’ll find a surprising prize inside—
This club has many nooks and crannies where Starwoodgoers can share a bowl of consommé (jellied or jammed) but the two of you bail out, playing the close-proximity card before Ree’s too far gone to drive even half a mile. Vaudeville sneakthief heedfulness may have sufficed till now, but can’t be counted on when the driver’s not just blitzed but “frisky.”
So skedaddle while K.U.P.’s still encoring onstage. Abandon all the Mayerlingers, none of whom know Maybelle’s apartment number therefore can’t follow you; there’ll be no entombed afterparty tonight—
—at least not en masse.
Tête-à-tête’s another matter.
As you zoop down Santa Monica and up Flores, down the deluxe Tower lobby and up the ornate Tower elevator, through the expensive-looking door and into the bawdy boudoir, Rerun inquiring all the while:
Wummee smutcheye wunyoo?
Wummee smutcheye wunyoo?
Wummee smutcheye wunyoo?
To which, each time she asks, the truth-be-untold answer is: Probably not.
It isn’t that you’re unwilling or incurious or guiltridden or repulsed by the prospect. Nor that it hasn’t crossed your naughtier-than-naught mind since administering those fat round pinch/swats the other night. (Call them the flip side of mashing a nose with the heel of your hand.)
You do feel a disquieting twang when Rerun drops her abbreviated drawers and stands before you clad in nothing but a rhinestone-studded dog collar—relic of some long-gone pooch who might’ve slept at the foot (or stern) of Maybelle’s battleship-bedstead. Yet your disquiet arises not from Ree but that dream you had of Tony Pierro in almost the exact same getup, minus the rhinestones:
Say you found a nice clean hunky-dory in a drugged stupor, and could do whatever you liked without his knowing or responding in any way you didn’t control...
Well—Rerun’s acceptably nice and relatively clean and definitely drugged, though too rarin’-to-go to qualify (yet) for a stupor.
So—the truth behind your untold Probably nots?
Eleanor Marie Pilchard isn’t your absolute first choice for your absolute first time doing this particular deed.
Nor would it be Tony Pierro or any other “puddyboy,” not even swank extraterrestrial David Bowie himself.
No. If you’re going to be utterly honest for once, at last, the best way for you to stir up the most enthusiasm and reciprocation will be to close your eyes to Rerun’s lavish pink curvatures ...
...and visualize the body of a dancer or a gymnast. Short and dark and slightly Mediterranean. With a wide mouth hanging open to display many bright white teeth. And narrow eyes like black stars shining at you through the gloom. As she makes your heart beat high and the blood rush to your face with the touch of her gentle fingertips, saying you and she are the two foxiest ladies in town, taking you in her arms for a cuddle-clinchy hug...
(Yes: let’s. Yes: let’s. Yes: let’s. Yes—)
“The thing of it is... I kinda sorta already gotta girlfriend.”
—disclosed Rerun between drags on a subsequent Marlboro, before sharing further intimate confidences. While you tried to tune out the more distressful and upsetting ones without stuffing the pillowcase into your ears; but enough filtered through to fill out a lot of melancholy background.
Behold Elly May as a boy-crazy weight-watching feather-shagged cheerleader: hostessing jockparties, blanketing bedroom walls with neatly-clipped photos from Tiger Beat, serving up ice cream at the neighborhood dairy bar when she wasn’t learning to sail the King Oscar, her family’s racing sloop—living the life of a typical all-around Blonde Babe Teenybopper.
Then came that “‘bad date’—with consequences” a couple Novembers ago, at the hands (and more) of Hayzoose the Horrible: a too-cool, too-suave footballer who proved to be all Zeus and no Jesus. The sort of Zeus, too, who’d take bull-form to abduct Europa—
(Bum bum bum bum bum BAH bum, laying down a mental bass line so I can’t hear this I can’t hear this—)
By the time you cautiously rejoined the program already in progress, a Year of Sheer Hell had passed and Elly May’d evolved into “Rerun.” Compelled to do ninth grade over again at Athens Grove Junior High (which like VW was a three-year school) while her classmates moved on to the Big Mountain as soph Olympians rather than frosh Arcadians. Not that Rerun gave a damnable shit about secondary education by then; which was one of the reasons why she had to repeat a grade in the first (or second) place.
Behold the post-YOSH Rerun: pudgy instead of diet-trim, mutinous instead of uplifting, limeade spikes instead of blonde feathershag, hangovers instead of ice cream headaches, shoplifted Goya prints instead of Tiger Beat vealcake, Fuck off loser instead of Have a nice day—
And then girls instead of boys. Thanks to Gina Conti, one of the Four Genies of the Apocalypse, about whom Fiona’d heard athletic snippets from Vicki and Sheila-Q, and some harmless gossip from Laurie Harrison (whose prattle hadn’t yet advanced to encompass all the variations on l’amour’s theme).
View-halloo from coltish foxhunting Gina, who looked like Misty of Chincoteague right down (or up) to the birthmark shaped like a map of the United States between her shoulder blades. It was Gina who talked Rerun off the homicidal/suicidal ledge; Gina who “knew some guys” capable of stealing Hayzoose’s pristine Corvette and subjecting it to outrageous indignities; Gina who lighted her way to the “L” station not operated by the City Transit Authority; Gina who could juggle discretion with intimidation to minimize their being taunted and harassed; Gina who made bearable even being in the same class as kid brother Dalton/Salty/Dorktongue.
And it was this kinda sorta girlfriend with whom Rerun had a run-in, shortly before Maybelle’s death enabled a cooling-off period. During which Rerun agreed (with herself) to see other people (if fortune smiled) meaning other girls, since even before Horrible Hayzoose she’d begun to wonder whether boy-craziness was all it was cracked up to be.
(Long slow Marlboro drag.)
“So... what’s your story, Morning Glory?”
What’s the tale, Nightingale? Which for no good reason put you in mind of that ashen-beanstalk guy who’d approached you during the Winter Concert intermission, asking you to tell Vicki Volester goodbye—
—on his behalf, that is.
“(I guess... I have to say... I kinda sorta have one too... ‘cept mine’ll never know it.”
“Who, that Robin chick?”
“NO! (That’s my sister!)”
With whom you had in fact shared a bed on many a night not spent solo with your Fender, for the very good reason that Robin had only one bed in her poky room at Villa Neapolitan. You’d even shared the same sleeping bag when you were both littler. And though Robin never failed to issue dire threats of what would happen if you disturbed her rest with elbow, knee, or broken wind, you never failed to slumber deeply and securely by her side—knowing Robin would safeguard you from any evil, or perish in the attempt.
Of course, there was a noise factor.
Your very first sleepover at the Villa, bravely shaking Robin awake:
“...what the hell do you think you’re doing that for?”
“(‘Cause you’re snoring is why.)”
“Oh yeah?” Far from denying it, Robin sounded pleased. “Like my dad! Wait’ll he goes to bed, then you’ll hear some real snoring!”
Indeed, after Fat Bob turned in an hour or so later it was night-shift-at-the-sawmill till the morrow dawned. Yet you soon grew accustomed to the crosscut buzzroar from him and Robin—unlike the irritating nocturnal noises made by cousin Chloe Rumpelmagen, in your “own” bedroom at the Plexiglass Palace.
“So,” said Rerun, grinding out her Marlboro, “this chick who’s not your sister... she prettier’n me?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“(Put it this way—you’re both a lot prettier’n me.)”
“Yeah? Than you? She’d have to be supergorgeous—”
Mutter-blush: “(Oh shut up.)”
With pursed lips: “Make me!”
“(...can we at least brush our teeth first?)”
Fooling around of every sort came to a halt a few hours later, when Ardine returned to announce she’d sublet the apartment; they had a week to complete its clean-out, and all extracurricular activities were canceled for the duration. Rerun was inclined to rebel, but Fiona coaxed her into seeing sense and thus earned another Such a Treasure commendation from Ardine. So: once more unto the disinterment salt mines.
Lest they be accused of ditching the Mayerlingers and being derelict in their chauffeur duties, Ree and Fee left messages at the Tropicana, the Fotomat hut, and with K.U.P.’s answering service. (The Vault didn’t have a phone—“We’re lettin’ the gummint pay fer their own wiretappin’.”) When these overtures bore no fruit, the girls went out on a final grocery run and detoured by Yucca Street, where the Baroness emerged from her dotty-crone den with Sleekie the black cat draped around her nape like a living fur stole.
“Oh, they’re all gone,” screeched the Baroness over the Mayerling’s never-ending hullabaloo. “Those Unusual boys were offered a tour, you know.”
“No’m, we didn’t.”
“Oh my yes. Some other musical group dropped out—do you young people still ‘drop out’?—at the very last minute, so the boys had to leave right away in that van of theirs. And my two loveys next door went with them.”
“Tawdry and the Bugge?”
“Is that what they’re called? Do you know, I never thought to ask their names? I just think of them as Tall Lovey and Short Lovey. Such sweet things, I do hope they come back someday.”
(Yawn of philosophic indifference from Sleekie the cat.)
Thus ended that chapter of the Scene; and soon thereafter the Pilchards and Fiona quitted the Strip too, having picked Sunset Tower’s bones as clean as a tooth on Maybelle’s long-gone hound. Such of her effects as weren’t shipped to Athens Grove got dispatched in an off-premises estate sale—including the battleship-bedstead, though Rerun mounted a campaign to keep it for herself.
“You already have all the bed you need,” Ardine told her.
“I have a mattress and a boxspring. This is a BED.”
But Maybelle’s next-to-last resting place was carted away to be liquidated; while her sole heiress, spitting-image great-niece, and their Sugar Pop/Treasure Gal/Morning Glory assistant relocated to the Hyatt Regency in Huntington Beach for a couple weeks of posthumous R&R.
Any hopes that Robin Neapolitan might fly out for a weekend were dashed when Fat Bob’s Sportster took a skid on loose gravel, landing him with a bad case of roadrash. Robin was determined to nurse him back to cycleworthy health in time for next month’s Sturgis Rally—even if it couldn’t be as great as last year’s, when golfball-sized hail fell (in August!) and the bikers kindled streetfires so as to drag race through the flames.
“(You sure he’s okay?)” asked Fiona, her heart still thudding in her throat.
“He will be if I have anything to say about it,” crackled Robin over the Hyatt phone.
“(Are you okay? You don’t sound okay.)”
“I’ll be if you get home in time to help me dye all this gray hair he’s given me. You swear you’ll be back before we leave?”
“(Booked on Pan Am for the 1st.)”
“Hunh! You said you’d be back by July 1st.”
“(That was before I came out here.)” So to speak, she didn’t add aloud.
“Sure sure sure, easy to say that now—oh hey! I found out something you didn’t find out! ‘Member how I never believed anyone named ‘Petula Pierro’ could be a true paisan? Well guess what—she ain’t, and that’s not her real name either!”
Downtown’s birth certificate in fact identified her as “Doris Tays,” the offspring of a mésalliance between (as she called them) the Immoral Mr. Tays and Lotta Grief. Who broke up when the I.M.T. fell for a twenty-years-younger chippie who held out for marriage and so became none other than Ms. Tays-the-Tease from VW Earth Science.
“(Are you shitting me? Ms. Tays is Downtown’s stepmother?)”
“Ex-stepmother—she dumped her daddy’s sorry ass but kept his name, along with his alimony checks.”
Lotta Grief, not to be outdone, married Tony Pierro’s half-great-uncle Beppe, who adopted Doris and redubbed her Petula and was said (by Downtown) to have wed Lotta just so he could Lolitafy her.
“(Oh my God, that is messed up! Is she okay?)”
“Hell, she’s crazy about him! She gets along fine with Ms. Tays, too. The only ones she can’t stand are her actual parents.”
“(God damn. Makes me feel a lot more normal.)”
“Well, cut that out before you come home! Can’t have you acting all normal on me—that ain’t the Dopester way.”
The Hyatt fortnight sped by far more quickly than the previous six weeks. Rerun spent much of her time immersed in the ocean, but Fiona’d only consent to skim over its surface aboard a rented speedboat—wearing a lifejacket, tie-down sunhat, and purple-framed shades. She preferred to remain ashore underneath the biggest, widest beach umbrella available, even while helping Rerun construct bizarre sand châteaux.
Predictably, Rerun’s jelly-and-jampacked bikini drew a deluge of male attention, most of which was airily (or balefully) snubbed. Some she parlayed into procurement of fake California ID’s, establishing both herself and Fiona as aged nineteen (eligible to buy beer and wine back home). Ree’s cleavage also scored them two tickets to a Ramones concert at the Golden Bear; and Fiona geared up for years of Robin’s growling, scowling, arm-punching reproach for going to this without her.
Feef might have to endure those punches, but could she still evade a Quirk-kick to her who-knew-what by composing at least one song?—an ode, say, to surfing the New Wave through a summer of Punkamonium:
Didn’t suck enough to be so young
Living through the Glitterdämmerung
But I had to starve for something ripe
That could fire up my smokin’ pipe
Then I found a haven far from home
Where the raving maniacs’ll roam
Till the sun’s been plunged into the night
And Scenester starlets go burnin’ bright
The flash of your teeth is a savagery sight
Never bite off less than you can chewwww-se
Stuck together like we’re ex-cherubs
On the Island of Beelzebub
Burst the beigeness of our mundane masques
Dance whichever way the Fruit Brute asks
Wear your wolf’s head when the moon is full
Pursue urges when you feel their pull
Show a jagged-edgy pumpkin grin
Hurlin’ gas on the adrenalin
The flash of your teeth is a savagery sight
Never bite off less than you can chewwww-se
(yaah yaah yaah)Never settle for what you can ree-fewwwwse
“As of this moment, I’m not gonna answer to ‘Rerun’ anymore. From now on, call me ‘PoonElly Scales.’”
“(...where’d you get that from?)”
The girls had watched an episode of Fawlty Towers last night, their finale at the Hyatt Regency, while bemoaning today’s flight back to The City. Neither felt up to becoming a jailbait hooker in order to stay on Sunset Strip, so they’d agreed on “bringing the Scene back home”—insofar as that might be feasible, given what a constipated City it was, and how overlaid the northern ‘burbs were with blight.
“You can be ‘F.T. Whirrld’—two R’s, no E. You said if you ever used a stage name, it’ll be ‘FTW’—‘n’ you already got the ID necklace to show for it.”
Fiona rolled this around on her mental tongue. Twirrld, Squirrld, Unfurrld: like Wonder Woman’s magic golden lasso. Yank that noose tight—
—and the intercom croaked “Ladies-and-gentlemen-as-we-start-our-descent-please-make-sure-your-seatbacks-and-traytables-are-in-their-full-upright-position...”
“(Fuck the upright,)” Eff and Ell mumble/grumbled.
If only they were about to crash-land on the Island of Beelzebub. Be more to look forward to than Fiona’s possibly damaged-on-arrival if not tampered-with-afterward new mega-amp.
Rerun (‘scuse me: PoonElly) had telephoned an olive branch to Gina Conti, who’d reacted as if an old olive loaf sandwich had tumbled out of a vending machine instead of the selected fresh tuna salad. Uncomplimentary words were bandied by both kinda-sortas, so their grand airport rapprochement got scrubbed.
“Now nobody better’n the Old Man’ll be waiting for me ‘n’ Ma,” Poon pouted. “I’da been satisfied with Suzi Quatro. Or Siouxsie ‘n’ the Banshees. Or Suzy Chapstick—”
“(Oh Kay,)” cut in Fiona, feeling her own punkified soul start its descent down the barren wasted drain of Windy Poplar Lane. “(You can help yourself to my mother. And my cousin Chloe too—I swear, if she’s done anything to screw up my new amp before I even get a chance to plug into it, I will pummel her!)”
“Ooh-wee, arntcha belligerent,” cooed Poon.
But it was Fiona, after exiting the plane and having scarcely set foot in the terminal, who staggered from a tremendous blow to the upper arm. She whirled (make that whirrld) to face her assailant, poised for fast-as-lightning kung fu fighting—
—and looked into the chocolate-colored eyes of Robin Neapolitan. Who got only halfway through “Surprise!” before her remarkably de-strawberried Campbell’s Soup Kid face registered astonishment at Fiona’s giving her a good hard sock on the shoulder.
“What the hell do you think you did that for??”
“(I missed you too.)”
Wrapping arms around her sorella maggiore for the first time in five years of Dopester Sisterhood. Which was even more dumbfounding than the retaliatory arm-punch.
But didn’t prevent Robin from hugging her back.
To Feef’s everlasting gobstopper relief, Robin and PoonElly hit it off (without resorting to shoulder-socks) right away. Bonding over their bright hair dyes, dubbing each other “Limey” and “Nilla,” sharing a rueful grimace at Fiona’s addiction to basic black.
“(It’s jet,)” she contended.
Thankful also that Poon, tutored in how to juggle discretion, behaved as though they were no more than Just Good Friends. Which might soon be the truth, depending on how reconciliatory Gina Conti could be; and would be perfectly fine with Fiona, who shrank from any kinda-sorta commitment. Nor was she eager to hear Robin’s assessment of that kinda-sorta trailblazing.
Robin’s reaction when Poon picked them up the following night was harsh enough:
“A Le Car? That’s a French car! A car for frogs!”
“It’s my ‘Le Heap,’” said PoonElly. Flawlessly new six months ago on her sixteenth birthday; now multidented, multiding’d, and missing a couple of hubcaps.
“(Was it like this before you left for L.A.?)” asked Fiona.
“Hell, I’d only begun to break it in then.”
“Well, just don’t drive us anywhere near Loopy’s lot,” griped Robin. “I don’t want my Sweet Babboo to see me with my ass inside this chunk o’ junk!”
The Babboo in question was a ’61 Plymouth Fury for sale at Volester Motors (aka “Loopy’s lot”) whose exact value was being haggled over by Fat Bob and Vicki’s father Ozzie. The two dads seemed happy to prolong their negotiations till hell needed de-icing; but Robin had fallen in love with her S.B. at first sight, and now lived in dread of its being stolen from the lot or sold by mistake to someone else.
“Robin’s egg blue,” she kept pointing out, flourishing a fistful of snapshots. “It’s meant to be mine!”
“(You hate that shade of blue. You always said the name was an insult.)”
“It’s a sign, okay? And if she can get a French ‘Heap’ that looks like it was painted with mustard for her Sweet Sixteen, I sure as hell can get a robin’s egg blue all-American Fury for mine!”
“When is it?” asked PoonElly.
“Barely six weeks to go.”
“What is that, October? You a Libra? Who’da thunk it—”
“I am not a freaking Libra! I am a premature Scorpio!” To Fiona: “Tell her!”
“(Oh, she’s unbalanced, all right—)”
“(Hey what? You’re the one who told me not to start acting all normal on you.)”
“Well, you’re the one who told me to get a blue car!”
“(Black-and-blue, I said—)”
“That’d be a pretty good punk name—‘Preemie Scorp,’” observed PoonElly.
“(‘Scorp & Scales’? Sounds like a seafood restaurant, not a pair of punks—)”
“Both of you pipe down and hang a left at the next stop, she lives on Pearlwort—”
She being the former Doris Tays and current Petula Pierro, whom they found playing horse (giddyup, not basketball) with a very tall, very thin, very swaybacked guy.
“Finally! I could’ve walked there by now!” said Downtown, climbing off her steed—“Next time I’ll wear spurs”—and using the butt of her thin French cigarette to light a new one, the latest in her nonstop chain.
Downtown had taken up the gaunt-and-spectral torch that Fiona’d let fall while getting foxified last year. Thin as a rake (and as sharply barbed, and as dissolute) with a long white singlet hanging from her Bony Bellhop frame (like the shroud on Maybelle Grayling’s ghost, if that was what that was) across which THE CLASH had been scrawled in thick-tipped Magic Marker, she ran two prickle-nailed hands into (but not through) a ‘do like a briar patch. Acquired during a summer junket to the Modern Gomorrah, where she’d hung out at CBGB and got a poppy-with-thorns tattoo and left a flaming poopbag outside Studio 54 and hitchhiked to the burnt-out South Bronx and been shot at but missed by Son of Sam—
—or some New Yorker with a .44 caliber gun, anyway.
“I believe even less of your horseshit than I do theirs!” declared Robin. “Speaking of which, d’ja pick up that pony boy there during these horseshit ‘adventures’ of yours?”
“Meet Epic Khack!” said Downtown as her pony boy slowly rose to a vast if stooped height. He wore the ratty-sloppy T-shirt and crusty-dingy jeans of a true New Wave Dwarf, with hair shorn almost to the scalp in back but hanging uncombedly down past his eyes in front; and from a pendulous lower lip flew a bona fide punk-gob to garnish Pearlwort Drive.
“Nice aim!” applauded PoonElly, beaming delightedly. “So, speaking of horseshit—is it ‘Epic’ like that horse that chews tobacco in that comic strip—y’know, Tumbleweeds?”
“Tumblebollocks!” answered Downtown. “It’s ‘Epic’ like extraordinary!”
“(Wait a minute,)” went Fiona, peering up at (but not through) Mr. Extraordinary’s tangled bangs, speaking half to him and half to Robin. “(Don’t we remember you from Dopkins?)”
“Not with that forelock we don’t,” snortled Robin.
“(Aren’t you Travis Lingerspiel, Tippi’s brother?)”
“That’s his slave name,” explained Downtown. “Now he’s Epic Khack—and your new lead guitar! Doesn’t sing, and plays with his ass to the audience ‘cause he’s bashful—”
(Another ptooey-on-Pearlwort from Epic, and “Plays with his ass?” from Poon.)
“—so you can still call yourselves an all-girl band if you wanna. You’re welcome, my pleasure, de nada—”
“(Wait a minute—)”
“Don’t mind if I drive, do you? Since I know where we’re headed? Keys please Loowheeze—”
“You drive? Since when are you not fifteen?” demanded Robin.
“Since I’ve been bogusly licensed!” crowed Downtown, deftly hooking Le Heap’s keys out of Poon’s hand. “Pile in, chickies—Epic’ll have to ride shotgun so he won’t get carsick—”
“WAIT a minute!” exerted Fiona; but surly Robin and laughing Poon were already in the backseat, so she hastened to join them—and roll up her window, as Epic (following flaccidly) spat a third wad out the shotgun’s.
“You wait till you see this new dive!” Downtown gloated as she slid behind the wheel. “Used to be a gay bar called the Anaconda Club—then the gang from Cobwebs & Strange took over, slapped an ‘RCH’ on the marquee, and now it’s the AnaRCHonda Pit! We are finally going places in This City!”
Suiting deed to word by zooping them onto the Expressway even more rapidly than Poon would’ve driven. Jabbering about new local groups like Tutu & the Pirates and Silver Abuse and how they were bound to carve out a riotous niche of their own, thrusting The City at last into the same punktastic league as England and New York—
“—and L.A.,” from the backseat.
“Yeah yeah yeah,” (waving a dismissive prickle-nailed hand). “And we are gonna be part of it, people! We got everything we need right here in this car—guitar, bass, drums, vocals—you can sing, right?” Briarpatchy head twisting around to address PoonElly; allowing Le Heap to pilot itself through the high-speed Expressway traffic—
—which seemed to tickle Poon’s fancy as she belted out the first bars of Fiona’s “Downbite” in a powerful penetrating ex-cheerleader’s voice, reasonably on-key.
“Bitchen!” went Downtown, glancing casually to the fore as The City surged toward them. “‘Can’t think of a better way to spend the night / than speeding around underneath the yellow lights / London’s burning!’” she herself sang. “And I’ll be the designer, the visionary, the one who finally molds you doily-drapers into an actual band—”
“Watch your mouth, Doris!” gnarled Robin, kicking the back of the driver’s seat. “We’ve done damn fine things with the Dartles—”
“Damn fine for junior high, maybe—”
“And ‘AnaRCHonda’? Don’t tell me Artie Rist’ll be there—”
“Him? He was born with a fake ID. I suppose you chickened out of getting one, and we’ll have to leave you in the car—”
“Like fuck you will! I hadda give Lola Charge-Your-Ass-Off a whole quarter of primo for mine, but I got it all right. You’ll just never catch me driving with it, not this close to going legit—”
“Legit? You’re a bigger sellout than Butthead Fayne—”
They continued this argument all the way south to what was already being called the New Armpit of the Planet (“Don’t tell me Mack ‘the Arm’ Pittley’ll be there too!”) while Poon laughed and Epic khacked and Fiona kept hearing We got everything we need right here and kept responding But what about Sheila? What about Joss? What about VICKI?—
What about Vicki?
Talk about your anticlimaxes. Arriving “home” at the Plexiglass Palace last night (after a lengthy sidetrack to Villa Neapolitan’s cellar, where your new amp had been safely-and-soundfully installed) to commandeer the phone from Chloe and call Burrow Lane and...
...get the first in a long series of busy signals.
Last night; this morning; this afternoon.
Wondering whether Goofus or somebody had left the receiver off the hook. Or if Ozzie and Felicia had neglected to pay their utility bill.
Feeling too shy and awkward (and footsore, after a day spent tromping through ginormous airports) to go over in person, uninvited, when the Volesters might be having some sort of family crisis—
—a thought to shudder away from—
—and into awareness of PoonElly’s soft warm smooth bare arm and softer warmer just-as-smooth just-as-bare thigh, as they pressed against yours in Le Heap’s backseat.
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Copyright © 2017 by P. S. Ehrlich
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