Column: Compositions

by Amy Marie Slocum

January 2017

Literature endowed me with a gift (and I intend to fully repay her), which goes like this: More often than not, when I find myself in an Uber Pool with two female strangers, we tend to converse about pop radio, or the excitement which awaits us in our respective destinations, or we trade a secret succor known only to privy frequenters of off-the-beaten-path venues – and these two, often heinously beautiful ladies, will request my company, knowing little of me save my diction (fine) and opinion (pointed).

Often I decline. Why allow the selfsame mouth to ruin the mystique which firstly beckoned me to join? One time, though, I acquiesced, and within a few hours, a fantastically educated, travelled, sophisticated woman – perhaps 24-years-old? Radiant hair, spilling around her head with the ungraspable softness of light, round cheeks and chin, a countenance bespoke to Germanic education and Southern Californian coastal residences – we’ll call her S. who within three hours would fall into my gurgling brooks of language and, knowing nothing about me, save my dreams and desires, she blurted out: “I love you!”

Hell must take pleasure in its infinitudes. Mine includes beautiful women who come to love the appearance of me, little more.

It happened something like this: this summer, after having attended a ratty but joyous local festival held in Echo Park – a neighborhood perfect for globetrotters who still stomach the sizzling grease of street vendors and perfect for first/second/third generation immigrants who restrain any deserved hostilities which might be lodged against this incumbent class of idle privilege, “stupid-genius,” and dissimulated wealth – I found myself in precisely this scenario: two ladies (the aforementioned goddess was joined by her friend – we’ll call her Alana, though her role was that of the scorned-vixen-clown – a lithe brunette college senior who, recently spited, “needed to get laid” and was determined to cozy up with an unknown suitor who at this moment might have been sipping whiskey, alone and hopeful, about to be requited – I would come to meet this man; he’s easy to imagine as a kind of Hemingway protagonist with a greasy “man-bun” – perhaps the grease symbolized the sweat of the work he would never do, but might, via heredity, impose upon a lesser man…). So, there was also me, riding shotgun, looking back periodically to glean all of this, chatting, without a hint of imposition, and then came the teaser – “What are you up to?” I replied vaguely, and then came the proposal: “You should come with us to the Bungalow!”

Now “the Bungalow” is antithetical to the festival which the three of us had attended earlier– my last memory of which was stumbling upon a band called Bleached who performed on a makeshift stage erected in the middle of an intersection which puts one in sight of two gross cardinal contradictions: east, a mysophilic Burger King and south, the back entrance to a low-key but pricey French restaurant, west, a rise leading to church of questionable relationship to “God” and, north, a downward sloping sidestreet populated by rows of tarpaulin and tents that comprise ongoing homeless encampments. The band was playing a cover of “Skulls” by the Misfits – they’d draped sallow white roses upon their amp’s stuttering array of flat surfaces.

Of a different note, the Bungalow is what happens if too much money coughs up the hysterical idea of opening a coastal bar that might be mistaken for someone’s personal residence – but a caveat: this person must want to live in a fantasy world of post-Captain Ron aesthetics: walls crowded with hanging accoutrements: gilded oars and name-placard-ed helms and the feigned gravitas found only through too-heavy oil paintings of upper crust yacht boys. One might expect a drunken trireme to come crashing into the patio replete with the surviving cast of Gilligan’s Island. The place is rambunctious, though, to the point that none of the self-important, name-brand favoring clientele might notice.

I observed these things, while getting to know S. – we drank whiskey and cozied up on a couch encircling a table that was altogether encircled by the slow ebbing rotation of increasingly drunken patrons. The Bungalow is a place to drink, and altogether S. and I put back four whiskeys, while Alana zoomed in on this man who thought to gather his slimy follicles in a knot, and they did their thing, and S. revealed her past to me. Honestly, I knew moments in that I was not ever going to date her, but for a couple hours, we kept keen rapport, and she confided a sad tale:

According to her own mythologizing, her parents were no longer married, but around the time that her mother left her father, when she was only three, her father picked up his guitar, and began to compose a song. He wrote the song on an acoustic guitar, and it was meant to win back the trust and love of his wife, S.’s mother. Evidently, S.’s father is, to this day, a type of savant, because he never fully dedicated his life to writing pop music, but, this very song, one recorded simply and then passed along to some acquaintances, was rather promptly bought, outright, and is now the song we know as “Wicked Game,” made famous by Chris Isaak.

Being a Roy Orbison aficionado, this Isaak-version of the song is perhaps one of the ‘90s most earnest, emotive, crooning moments – and the lovechild of the affair which spawned it then demanded that I take her number, so that we might continue our own affair. She tapped it in and I pocketed my phone and vanity ruined me: “Is that Gucci?” someone asked – I was wearing a red windbreaker that I purchased at Zara.

And alas, after we kissed, softly, drunkenly, on the patio of the garrulous Bungalow, a place I deign to frequent, being an outsider even to those who might prefer the pop sensibilities of the Buzzcocks, of Morrissey, of Sid Vicious, and being a washed-up foreigner in comparison to the glowing wealth of patrons who consider such cultural specificities to be an offense to efficiency, surrounded by people who get wasted on a Saturday, high on the cliffs overlooking the Santa Monica beach, alas, it was here that I had revealed my deep self to a stranger, and this stranger, S., she received it and she thought right then that she loved me.

And, of course, drunk as we were, we befriended a batch of local boys who brought us all back to their apartment mere blocks away – and they served us sausage and beer and offered other favors – and very soon I blacked out.

And when I awoke, sprawled on a couch (what’d I say? Mustn’t have been too bad, I didn’t wake up on the curb), I looked around, men everywhere, chests and backs rising and falling in a cacophony of snores. I snuck out. I was broke, so I took the Metro back to the townhouse where I was staying, during which I searched through my phone for S.’s number.

Apparently, I forgot to save her digits. A Wicked Game, indeed. Much like the algorithms that matched us up initially, our time overlapped, safely, free of consequence, and, like that, we were detached, bodies consigned to their own trajectories. A girlfriend she was not.

Written by Daniel Warren