Follow by Email

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Chapter 6 of Castles Made of Sand

   Chapter 6
     My first thought when I awoke was that I was alone in the bed but at first I wasn’t sure why I should care. That is, until I opened my eyes to the mess that was Brian’s bedroom. Tee shirts, jeans, and underclothes were scattered along with records, books, and god knows what else. Reaching over to the emptiness beside of me I could tell that the bed was still warm which meant he couldn’t have gone far. Had he left me there alone after all that had happened the night before? Music coming from the front of the tiny house and the unmistakable scent of fresh coffee seemed to tell a different tale.
     When I had exhausted the search for my own clothes and came up empty handed I put on a pair of his boxer shorts and a shirt that smelled somewhat clean. Even after I was dressed, though, it seemed I couldn’t leave the room. I wasn’t sure what to say to someone I had slept with just hours before. “What are you doing, Liz?” Ok, that was easy enough for Brian to get through, I thought, smiling. Then again he had experience.
      Turning around I spotted him in the doorway wearing a pair of pajama bottoms and nothing else. God, he was gorgeous! “I was…ummm…thinking I guess.”
     “Oh, well, there’s coffee in there and I tried my hand at making you some toast but I burned it so I was afraid to try something as complex as eggs. But if you’re hungry I can make you a bowl of soup or something.” He offered, acting as nervous as I felt. At the time I thought I was imaging it. Surely Brian McVie wouldn’t be nervous over me.
     “No, thanks. I would like some coffee though. I can get it myself.”
     “Don’t move an inch. I’ll go get it for you.” He commanded. I laughed at how easy he slipped into the strict professor.
     When he returned it was with a steamy mug of black coffee, which he extended to my shaky hand before sitting down beside me. In silence I sipped it, ignoring the burning on my tongue. Now that the Jack Daniels had worn off and the full weight of what had happened sank in I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to act towards him. I mean, what did he think of me? I couldn’t imagine what my mother would say if she knew. “Are you all right? Are you already regretting what happened between us?”
     “No! It’s not that at all. I’m just…” I looked at him helplessly. “What the hell do we do now? What are we supposed to say to one another? How do we behave around one another? Are we allowed to act the same?” I questioned honestly, second-guessing everything.
     Reaching over Brian took the coffee mug out of my hand and sat it on the nightstand. Taking me in his arms he laid back on the bed against the soft pillows that had provided such comfort the night before. “So aren’t you the least bit curious about why I’m going to teach at U.C.L.A?” He asked, winding a strand of my hair around his finger.
     “What?” I asked, dumbfounded.
     “Well, you were all pissed off at me last night but you never bothered to ask me why I’m leaving.”
     “Because the dean hates you and you hate the dean and it would be easier if you left?” I asked, looking up at him.
     Laughing, he replied, “Well yeah but we’ve hated each other for some time and I stayed. This I’m doing for you.”
     “What the hell are you talking about?”
     “After Miss Smith collected her evidence against me I was called back to talk to Stuart again. He gave me an ultimatum. He told me that I could transfer to Los Angeles at the end of the year or there would be another hearing and he made it clear that this time he would drag your name and your reputation through the mud. I’m not trying to run away. I really don’t do that.”
     Sighing, I grabbed for my coffee once more. No matter how he put it, it still looked to me like he was running. In light of my strange mood, though, I wasn’t going to make mention of that. Instead I moved on to a topic that might disturb him more. “Brian, the week you left after Christmas where were you really at?”
     “Would it matter if I told you that I really do not want to talk about it?”
     Laughing, I marveled at how well he had come to know me. “Probably not.”
     “Do you remember last night when I mentioned the priest who gave me his last name?” I nodded. “The morning after Christmas I went home and as soon as I came through the door I got a call from Sister Marie telling me that he had passed away and she wanted me to come for the service. Can you imagine? ‘You were the closest thing to a son that Father McVie ever had’ she tells me. ‘You must come and say goodbye.’  The thing is, she was right. Despite everything that vile old bastard had done he was the only father I’ve ever had. If I hadn’t gone I would have never forgiven myself. I was even a pallbearer. Spitting on his grave would have given me more satisfaction really and I even stayed behind so I could but…”
     “But what?” I asked quietly.
     “I ended up in tears. There are so many things I needed answers to and I will never have them, you know? I will never know why he did it.”
     His voice had grown so heavy with sadness. Why did I always end up asking things that were better left unanswered? The silence that followed seemed to bear down on me accusing me of doing more harm than good once again. “I’m sorry. You deserved a better life.” What kind of thing was that to say, I mentally chided myself?
     “Yeah well…” He shrugged. I could almost feel him shutting out the emotions he had just given in to. “So what was your childhood like? Two loving parents, happily married, showering you with love and affection? All of the spoils that Ohio has to offer?”
     “Not quite. My parents’ marriage is one of mutual ambition. Dad wanted to be a powerful leader in the law firm he works at in Columbus and mom wanted to be a wife to someone with power and money. He hands her all the cash and household responsibilities. In return she becomes the perfect hostess and social companion for work functions. Love has shit to do with it. Now he is silently angry about his life and mom is vocally bitter. They rarely speak about anything besides the house, social events, or me. I had the spoils of a rich daddy but I have never been anything more than a trophy to them and now I’m not even that. Such are the perils of the upper middle class right?” I asked, realizing how insignificant my family problems really were.
     Leaning down, Brian kissed me. He smiled saying softly, “See, things don’t have to be difficult or strange, Lizzy. I am still the same guy I was yesterday. It’s just that now you know what I look like without my clothes on.”
     With that particular memory rushing through my head I blushed beet red. That only made him giggle like a horny teenager. What followed was five days of sex, wine, and more love than either of us had known before. Once a day I would go home to change and get lectured by Julie. She thought I was fucking up. She thought I was bound to end up heartbroken and alone. It never occurred to me that she just might be right. That Thursday Brian told me he had to go away for the weekend, that he would be back on Monday to finish out the last month of classes at Berkeley. Monday came and went. Brian never came back. By Wednesday I could take no more. I took Julie’s car and I drove to his house only to find that everything he owned, all that had made the place his, was gone.
     Before going back to the dorm I stopped at Willie’s and I bought a fifth with what was left of my monthly allowance. I needed desperately to be as numb on the outside as I felt within. I was, at that point, so shocked that all of the pain in the world couldn’t have touched me. When I got back Julie was sitting at the desk with a letter in her hand. She looked as though she had been crying. Normally that would have set off panic inside of me because Julie never cried. However, at that moment, I just sat on the bed and waited for her to say something. Hearing me open the bottle of whiskey she turned around, holding up a paper for me to see. “Lonnie has decided to enlist in the army. He’s leaving for boot camp in a month. He says something about some conflict his country is in and how his country needs him…what bullshit! He says he wants to get married before he goes. Can you fucking imagine?”
     “Slow down, Jules. What conflict is he talking about?” I asked, confused. This was so early into all of the fighting that few people outside of the military and the government knew anything about Vietnam. Julie and I were not exceptions.
     “What? Hell I don’t know! Who the fuck cares! He’s leaving me, Liz, and I will be damned if I am going to marry the selfish bastard before he does it! I cannot believe this. How could he?” Something in those words rang too true to what I had been thinking for hours. As I swigged Jack from the bottle I started to cry silent angry tears. How could he…three simple words formed into a simple sentence that, if answered, seemed right then like it could solve the greatest mystery or ease the greatest pain. “Liz? Liz? What the hell are you getting all weepy for? You hardly know Lon.”
     Smiling as if the very act didn’t take all I had, I answered her dryly with no emotion leaking through my voice, “Brian’s gone, Jules.” I knew as I spoke that it was more to myself than to her. It was like saying it would make it seem real.
     “He’s gone? How do you mean he’s gone? He didn’t…” She paused, getting it suddenly that I had been abandoned. “You mean that slimy son of a bitch left you? How do you know? Brian is…Brian. He goes off from time to time. Are you sure it’s not like that?”
     “His house is empty, Julie. He’s gone.” With everything I said there followed a gulp of whiskey. I felt I needed it now more than ever. “It’s my own fault really. Like mother would say, ‘If you act like a whore, Elizabeth, expect to be treated as one’. What the fuck was I thinking?” I asked myself aloud. How could I have been so foolish, so blind?
     In a rare moment of tenderness Julie came and sat beside of me putting her arm around me protectively. “You were thinking he was different from the boys back home that just needed notches on their bed posts. You thought he really cared. Maybe he did. Maybe he still does. But deep down inside he is just like every other man in the world. He is a scared little boy. What you did with him you did out of love. There is no shame in that, all right? You are not a whore and your mother is insane. So why don’t you pass that bottle over here so I can share in your misery?”
     That night, drunk, stoned, and angry at the world, Julie and I decided we were going to transfer to U.C.L.A. and start a new life in Los Angeles. She was thinking of running away from her heartbreak. My goal was to run towards mine. That was always our way. Whatever our motives, by the end of the week our transfers had been put through and I began searching for anything to occupy my time. Sure, booze was a nice place to turn but drinking every day has always been a bore for me. So I began dragging Julie to San Francisco on the weekends in search of something else. What I found was my first shot at writing. The opportunity came quite by accident and it changed my life. And it all happened in a head shop of all places while we were shopping for clothes and grass. Even now the thought makes me giggle.
     There I stood with Julie, my allowance in my pocket and a stack of cheap but groovy clothes on my arm when I overheard a guy talking about his newspaper. “It’s sort of an underground thing, you know? But I think I could make it work. The only thing I need…I mean, I really need this, man…is someone to write about the new music. I need someone who will go to concerts, listen to the albums, and write about it. Someone who is hip to the new scene, dig? There’s some far out tunes playing around Frisco but I’ve got cats scattered all over, well connected with musicians, and they say this summer might be big. A bunch of big shows and shit. I need someone to cover all that too.”
     Here I was listening to all of this thinking I had found a temporary calling. What could be better than spending my summer following bands around the country and listening to albums? Hell, I would have done all that for free! In a moment of rare forwardness, I went up to the guy, who was now leaning against the counter in contemplation and I tapped him on the shoulder. “Yeah, mama? What can I do you for?” His smile showed that he had the mind of a pervert but he had friendly eyes.
     “I overheard your conversation and I think I can help you out.” I replied boldly. I had gotten good at acting more confident than I felt inside since coming to California.
     “Oh really? How’s that?”
     “Well, I think I would be perfect for the job, sir.” I answered, not quite as brazen as before.
     “First off, drop that sir shit, please. This aint no suit and tie interview, sweetheart. Now what makes you think you would be perfect for this?”
     “I am a writer, first off. I have been writing all of my life. Right now I’m taking a class in journalism at Berkeley but I’m only mentioning that to show you I have some experience. Personally I don’t think a degree in journalism would be important for this.”
     “Oh? And why is that?” He asked, eyebrows raised in amusement.
     “Do you want a straight laced journalist trying to write to the young people about music or do you want someone young who loves music?” I asked, feeling more sure of myself.
     “Oh a fiery one! Fair enough.” He replied, shrugging his shoulders.
     “Which leads me to my second point. I love music. I always have. Raw, edgy, truthful music. I could sure as hell handle listening to it and giving my opinion. That’s what you want, right? So I am perfect for the job.”
     “Do you like the Beatles?” He questioned.
     “I love them.”
     “Of course you do. You are a young horny girl who is barely past puberty. All of you love the Beatles. Have you ever heard of Bob Dylan?” He looked very sure that I had not.
     “I own all of his albums.” His face changed a little bit with that.
     “Joan Baez?”
     “I don’t like her.” I said, matter-of-fact like.
      “How could you love Dylan and not like Joan?” This was a question of pure curiosity.
      “Her voice annoys me. You can’t get past her obsession with voice fluctuation long enough to hear her message.”
     In his smile there was satisfaction. “What do you think of the blues?”
     “It was some of the best music ever made. Black music is more raw and true than anything I have heard from most white singers.”
     “Elvis? How do you feel about Elvis?”
     Jesus Christ, what next? I wondered. “He reminds me of my father and my childhood. I came out here to escape all of that. I don’t listen to Elvis.”
     “What about the Stones?” He asked.
     All right, I thought, you’ve got me. “Who?”
     “The Rolling Stones? Come one, little mama! You’re telling me you don’t know who the Stones are? This will never do.”
        Assuming he meant me getting the job I turned to walk away only to have him shout louder than he needed to, “Where the fuck are you going? You want this job or not?” With Julie looking at me and laughing I turned around and found him standing with a record in his hand. “I can’t pay you shit until this works out so if you are just doing this for money, like, to live on you’ll need another job. Your first assignment is to take this home, listen to it, and write at least half a page about what you think. Bring it back by Friday, clear up your weekend next weekend, and meet me here. The office is my apartment upstairs. Maybe you can help me with the rest of the shit too. By the way, the name is Jack.” He said, taking my hand and kissing it.
     “I’m Liz.” I said, bemused.
     “Well, Liz, you just might be my lifesaver.”
     The record he gave me was The Rolling Stones…Now! released only in the U.S. just a couple of weeks before. What can I say about that album? My first taste of the Stones was certainly not disappointing. They put me in mind of The Beatles yet they had a rock ’n roll edge unlike anything the Fab Four had attempted at that time. To me they were amazing. My article had been finished for days when I took it back to Jack on Friday night. Julie had loaned me her car because Lonnie came to visit one last time before leaving for training. By the time I got there, having spent almost an hour in traffic and not bothering to leave Berkeley until eight in the evening, the shop was closing up but Jack was waiting as he promised. “Took you long enough, Miss Opportunity. So where’s this masterpiece?”
     Handing him the article and the record, I was surprised when he handed the album back to me. “I gave you that to keep. You see that little asshole over there?” He asked, pointing to the guy who owned the shop. I nodded. “He’s my little brother. I get all my music for free. Now I am passing on the privilege to my star employee. So what did you think?”
     “They are mind blowing.” I replied while I looked through a rack of shirts.
     “You’re not just saying that because you think that’s what I want to hear are you?”
     Smiling at him I answered honestly, “I’m not in the habit of telling people shit they want to hear, Jack.”
     He laughed hard. If nothing else I could be sure that I amused him. “Fan-fucking-tastic! Now let’s go and make a paper!”
     It didn’t take the whole weekend for the two of us to put together that first copy of the first issue. By three a.m. we had it complete and ready for publication (i.e. the two of us alone making about two hundred copies to sell around Frisco). Had we not spent an hour discussing every topic his articles brought up it wouldn’t have taken that long. It was Jack who first told me about America’s involvement in Vietnam. “We’re sticking our noses into a goddamned civil war, Liz! And the only people who are saying anything against it are musicians. Joan Baez, Dylan, Donovan, Lennon in particular. He’s really pissed. But none of this is really being heard stateside. They are saying it on the wrong side of the ocean if you ask me. I’m telling you, if more kids over here heard about this I don’t think they would passively tolerate it! That’s why I wrote about it and I will continue to write about it until the bullshit stops!”
     I knew then what Lonnie’s words to Julie meant. This sounded like more than a mere conflict though. It sounded like an outright war. From what I had heard it had been a conflict for a few years. What changed was Johnson’s decision to deploy troops to the jungles of Vietnam in fairly large numbers. Driving home exhausted after my excitement I wondered if I should tell Julie what I had learned. Figuring Lonnie already had, I ran out of things to occupy my mind until thoughts of Brian could no longer be denied. I had missed him horribly the last three weeks, especially at night when there was nothing to divert my attention. Walking into my psychology class had been torture since he left. For reasons I still do not understand, Dean Stuart had permanently given over Brian’s position to the dreadful Professor Smiley. This made me happy that I was transferring. The only thing I was leaving behind was Anne Marie who was heartbroken that I was going. I promised not to lose touch and I kept that promise for the most part. But between Brian’s memory and the paper and all I was about to do my plate was rather full.
     The first copies of The Full Circle were set out the following Monday and they sold for twenty-five cents a copy. By Wednesday morning Jack called the university just to tell me that all two hundred papers were sold. Since it was meant to be a monthly publication his brother graciously found someone to print up a thousand more for a few records and a leather vest. It seemed that Jack’s vision appealed to the “freaks” inhabiting the city. Because it was the middle of May and school was two weeks from break Jack immediately wanted to begin working on June’s issue. Apparently because I had been so “crucial” in putting together May’s issue he decided that I would have a lot more to do than just the music.
     The Friday after the paper came out I sat once again in Jack’s apartment when I should have been home studying for tests. There I was sitting amid piles of papers and ideas when Jack said, rather nonchalantly, “You are going to the New Port Folk Festival next month to do a music piece on the whole thing. I would also like an exclusive on Bob Dylan if you can get it. I’ve got two tickets. I also found you some more paper and two or three ribbons for your typewriter. From the festival…actually you can do this at the festival too…anyway, I want you to travel around the country and talk to kids all over. North, south, east, and back to the west. I need pieces on young people’s thoughts about the war, music, sex, contraceptives, civil rights, women’s rights, just everything, man. Whenever you finish an article you mail it back here first class.”
     By this time I was laughing hysterically. I thought he had lost his damned mind. “Why would I spend time talking to the kids when I heard you tell your brother that this summer is supposed to be big for music shows?”
     “Yeah well, turns out there’s just New Port and maybe, if you are good and you don’t back out on me, a huge Beatles concert. So far nothing has been signed, sealed, and delivered on that yet. As soon as it is you’ll know. Anyway, this road trip thing is going to be great because kids from the rest of the country don’t know what the hell they’re missing out here. You can make them aware of what’s going on and maybe you can get a larger audience for the paper.” He sounded incredibly excited. It was like he couldn’t fathom me saying no.
     “Yeah, Jack, there are only a few things wrong with this scene. Julie and I have to find a place in L.A. as soon as school ends. Then we have to move there, stay there, and pay rent there. Then there’s the fact that Julie’s car barely made it here from Ohio. Do you think it will make it all the way to the east coast? I don’t. This just isn’t going to work out. I can go and cover New Port if I get better transportation before then but I can’t stay gone all summer.” I was trying so hard to be reasonable.
     Sighing audibly, he responded with solutions to both of my problems. “How about this, Liz. I have a real good buddy in L.A. who rents out properties. He has this cute little house not far from the campus or the beach and it’s only fifty bucks a month. I’ll help you two move your shit and I can keep care of everything while you’re gone. I’ll pay the rent and stuff out of your share from the paper. I’m also getting you a goddamned telephone. As for the car, let me pull some strings and see if I can’t get my brother to trade you girls for the summer. Now, his car you would have to treat with as much care as a newborn if I can talk him into this. It’s a ‘64 Mustang. Perfect in every way. So are there any more reasons why you can’t go? If not than next weekend Julie and you can come by here and pick me up and we’ll go check out the house.”
     That night when I got back and told Julie about Jack’s plan for our summer she was thrilled. The greatest road trip, she thought. I thought the whole thing was mad, unexpected, and almost frightening. But at the same time it was also alluring. By the end of May we were the renters of our first place alone without throngs of college students or parents. Just as he promised, Jack moved all of our things from Berkeley some three hundred miles south to Los Angeles. The air was hotter, the people were more spaced out, and the whole scene was like a book or a movie in the daylight. It wasn’t like Berkeley or San Francisco. L.A. was never the same by the light of day as it was at night. All of the other cities in California that we had been to had a set scene but L.A. seemed to have more of a spontaneous energy that made you think the mood could change at any moment. Anything, it seemed, could happen.
     Julie and I couldn’t stay long enough to get to know the city yet. We had two months of journalism to complete. The only night we spent in Los Angeles before taking off I phoned my mother collect from a pay phone to tell her that Julie and I had left Berkeley and that we had moved down to L.A. I avoided questions about why we transferred schools. I only wanted her to know my new address so she knew where to send my allowance. I wasn’t nearly as sure as my boss about the fate of our little periodical and I truly didn’t think I could make it on the little bit of money I was getting from it. The next morning, June third 1965, we sat out in a borrowed ‘64 Mustang for the Newport Music Festival in New Port, Rhode Island.

2 comments:

  1. I like the improved page design. It's much easier to read!

    Not too much to say this time. I know we haven't heard the last of Brian, and I'm glad we're not "losing" Julie yet. I like the way Liz "fell into" the new writing job.

    I have an idea of what the Newport Music Festival will focus on. Looking forward to it.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I copied and pasted it all but I think the parts up to this I copied and pasted from Goodreads because that is where I started this. That might account for the difference. New Port will be a blast of course. lol

    ReplyDelete