The Smoking Boy’s
I tell you this with all my good faith, dear reader, that I am the happiest man, and this story that I’m going to tell you is a triumph of good fortune, and I can see you leaving already. Forgive me! Forgive me! I’m merely in a very good mood, and perhaps a little drunk; on love and liquor, so don’t judge me too harshly; this story has death, and it has sex, and for what else could one ask?
The death, I should say up front, was the death of my father, who was my only parent; an antiquer, and a gambler, and all my inheritance was about to be lost to debtors when he died. So really, though you may hear it as “an insult”, it was the old man’s own fault that I had to skip his funeral, and spend the day moving out the antiques before the debtors arrived. And where else could I move them, considering the house was to be gone, but the alleyway? And yes, I lived in an alleyway. It was my shame then, and it’s my shame now, but really I’m so happy I don’t mind talking about it, because what does matter now? And anyway, this is the age of liberalism! I’m celebrated for my poverty and my ruthless rise to fortune; a true pity case, but no more!
So yes, this part is my tragedy. The story started out as a tragedy and ended in a comedy. And I know what you’re thinking; “Is he going to go on and on like this for the whole time?” and I assure you I won’t, it’s just me getting into things, and like I said, I’m feeling awfully gay, and perhaps I’m a little drunk; on love and on liquor, so don’t judge me too harshly! I assure you that the story is worth it. But as I was saying;
While I was surviving as a gossip monkey; buying and selling gossip for cash amongst the hags of our town, Anita Katarina, the love in my life, was finding her place as queen of kids, and she was throwing strings of parties in her father’s empty mansion; which was an old piece of real-estate by the sea that no-one ever wanted because it was feared that the place would wash completely away one day, with the rising sea-levels and global warming and all. Already the basements would flood regularly, and the lawn furniture was held by chains to the building itself, so they wouldn’t be lost on those days when it rained. Anita’s parties were always the talk of the town, and it was impossible, on both sides of the bay, not to hear the music. Really it was remarkable that they were never shut down, but as it goes, when you belong to a certain class of people, like Anita was, petty troubles like law never seem to apply; probably because her father owned so much of the town’s real estate. If I remember, I think he may have owned, in some part, the police station; the building itself, and was renting it to the town, but I was never quite sure, and who looks into such matters?
What was important was that I, being an independent youth, was never invited to these parties, and while I could’ve certainly gone; most of the attendees were tag-alongs or show-uppers, I was, well, rather timid of human contact. That is, that I never had much experience; I spent most of my childhood alone with my father’s antiques, and when he died, my only interactions were with those vicious old women who had nothing better to do then socially batter each other, and my opinion of other people was at a low point.
Anita’s party music, being carried as it was over the bay and echoing through the alley, was always foreign to me, and, though perhaps it was only out of the outsider’s spite, I always despised it.
Well, imagine my surprise when one day who but Anita Katarina stopped by my alley. She was a rather anemic youth; tall and graceful, and had dark hair that was cropped short, like would be lengthy for a boy. Her lips and face were very pale, she looked almost sickly, but I thought she was still very beautiful.
She looked around my alleyway and I was ashamed then. The setup I had at the time was somewhat haphazard. I had managed to construct a roof of sorts by tying these black umbrellas together and stringing them between the two buildings, and I lit the place with chinese lanterns; these were hung from the hooked ends of umbrellas, which, I’ll have you know, are very handy to have hanging around, for those wet coats, or lanterns, have you, and it only leaked in a couple of spots, where I had the rain water filling buckets for my own hygienic use. So it was a good system, but it must’ve looked a mess, and when I thought of her rich father and her private, for he didn’t live there with her, mansion I felt like a low thing, yet still she didn’t talk down to me, or mention the place in anyway that might’ve made me uncomfortable. Instead, she came right in and said;
“This is an original place you have here,” and she stood there respectfully with her hands clasped before her, waiting for me to invite her to sit down.
I did invite her, and she sat in the large rocker, and I took a seat in the Turk, and I was very conscious that they didn’t match, but they were the same height, and so I put them together for when I had guests; mostly clients.
“Anita Katarina, how are you?”
“I’m not here to chat. I’m here for business, smoking boy. Is it alright if I call you that? I’ve heard that’s what you’re called, and I don’t know your name.”
“That’s fine, if you’re only here for business. How can I help you?”
“Do you know Matt Marcus?”
“I think that’s something he does. Yes. I need something on him. Rather vicious of me, isn’t it? What do you know of him that’s utterly damning?”
“And how will you be paying me? Cash, I presume?”
“You wouldn’t take cards?”
“I’m afraid not.” I laughed.
“Can I pay you with gossip of my own? Can we make a trade?”
I was surprised, for surely she had money, but maybe she had motives of her own. She had me interested, at least.
“I can do that,” I said.
“Well then, I’d better go first, shouldn’t I? So you can tell if what I say is worth the trade. It’s about me, by the way.”
Now she had my complete attention, and perhaps I should’ve been harder for money, but she was beautifully attractive, and I was curious.
“Let’s hear it,” I said, trying to sound at ease. I’m sure she didn’t buy it for a second, but she laughed a little and all the tension was gone then.
“Well, it’s rather private. And I know you take gossip for its value, not it’s interest, but are you interested? You look like you are. I’ll tell you with all honesty, I swear. You’ll believe me and won’t think I’m lying, will you?”
She seemed giddy, and I was trying very hard not to think about what it would be like to kiss her.
“No,” I said.
“Good, I know with you I can be completely honest, and you’ll believe me, because that’s your profession, and I’ve heard that you’re very professional with your work. I should get to telling you, shouldn’t I? Well it’s like this: I’ve cracked. Well, I think I’ve cracked. It’s hard to know if you’ve cracked when you’re cracked.
You see, when I was a child there was a little voice in my head that has always explained that I owed it to my parents to be good and continue their genetic legacy, because, after all, they gave me life and fed me and clothed me and minimized the suffering I could’ve experienced growing up, so I owed them with my inevitable reproduction. And now I’ve forgotten it. I’ve cracked and I’ve lost my senses. And now I’ve new freedom; I’m free to make something completely original with my life. But do you wonder why? I mean you must, one doesn’t crack like this for no reason, and it’s always an interesting reason, so I think you’re interested.
I figure that since nothing can come from nothing, and everything comes from the past, then it was something supernatural that must’ve cracked me, because this all happened suddenly, and I didn’t ask for it, or maybe I did, but something must’ve freed me from the chains of my past, and now I’m original. I’m a novel. I can do anything and there are no consequences, and nothing makes me feel connected. So truly, I can do anything I want. I can kill, maim, laugh, saunter, and cry. I’ve thought about it. It’s easy. Why someone couldn’t, I don’t understand, but I used to understand, so I understand it that way; why other people can’t, and if you other people think you can kill a person on the street, you can’t. Because you didn’t and never did, and couldn’t, but I can because I’m tangential and not tied to the past and I can do anything I fancy so that even I don’t know what I’m going to do! And it doesn’t matter what I do, because I’m not holding on to anything, so the past just sort of slips away and I can forget it if I want to and it’s all only decisions, anyway, and it doesn’t matter what decisions I make, does it? Simple decisions from someone who’s cracked. So I’m telling you that I’ve gone and lost it, and I haven’t an idea why, but it’s all so funny to me now, and I don’t know why, and I feel like I should be worried about me, but I’m not, so that’s it. And that’s all there is.”
She stopped then. Her breath had been getting faster during her speech, and now she was almost frenzied with excitement; her eyes were gleaming and she panted wildly.
“So tell me smoking boy; am I honest?”
It was quite a speech. I was in love with her then. Or I thought I was. I still think I was. But she also brought forth from me a deep compassion, a concern for another human being that I hadn’t felt since, well, as far as I could remember. And looking at her wide eyed and exposed before me, her soul wide open, her secret revealed, how could I not have fallen for her? Did I mention she looked stunningly beautiful? Well, I didn’t know how to respond to all that. I sat for a moment in silence, then I reached out and took her hands, and just held them. And she laughed, and my heart beat in my throat.
“Well that’s all very touching.”
I was embarrassed then and took back my hands and said;
“I suppose you want…” but then I was angry at myself because the moment had passed and I remembered the shame of my surroundings, and she seemed so far away.
“Oh yes, Matt Marcus, the drummer. I’m glad you remembered; you really are very professional.” She crossed her legs and it was like an opportunity closed, at least in my mind, and I hit myself over it (in my mind.)
“Matt has a longstanding affair with an older woman.”
“Yes,” I said, truthfully, and I explained their relationship as I knew it, and Anita was very pleased by all this. When she was leaving, she offered me her hand and I shook it and she laughed at me again.
“Why, I half expected you to kiss it. You really are all business.”
And with that remark she left, and took my heart and feelings with her, and I noticed how very dark the alleyway can get in the evening.
It was some weeks later that I received a letter from Anita; an invitation to her eighteenth birthday party; an event like no other, as it was described in the invitation. The letter was signed with a black lipstick kiss, and her name, and so I was under the impression that she had read me completely last time we were together.
I was rather ashamed, actually, to be receiving such an invitation, not only because I couldn’t afford a gift, and had nothing to wear, and was a stranger to everyone, and had no social standings, but because I had convinced myself almost completely, in my lonely head, that she had despised me and I had made a complete fool of myself last time we had met, and I almost ripped up the paper and threw it away it my shame. I really almost did, and there’s a small tear at the top of the card to prove it, not that I think you don’t believe me.
But as I thought about, or rather worried about the event, which was some weeks away, I was taking a walk to the bakery, where they threw the old bread away, and I ran into someone already waiting there; Matt Marcus, who I suppose I should describe, since this is now the second time he’s been in this story.
Marcus wasn’t very tall, but he was wide shouldered in that way some guys are, so that he seemed intimidating. You certainly didn’t comprehend that he was a shorter guy, up until maybe the fifth time you met him, once you got over his initial presence. He kept his hair tied back in a blonde ponytail, and this he wore over a band tee-shirt, with a jacket, the kind that looks as if only twenty copies were ever printed, and it was your cousin, so you like the group, but only because of some pre-existing connection that made you interested. Anyway, at the time he was sort of aping about, just waiting, and he had a way of putting his pinky in his mouth and pulling at his cheek when he was nervous, so he was doing that and spying around to make sure no one saw him. Well I saw him;
“Matt Marcus, you look awful. There’s no meaning behind that. It was just a statement.”
“Hm, yeah, I guess I do look a mess.”
“My old lady threw me out.”
I didn’t ask more, and felt rather ashamed myself, but he continued;
“My friends won’t see me. That bitch Anita got me excommunicated. Like she’s the Pope.”
“You piss her off?”
“I did what I did. You know about all this stuff, what am I telling you for?”
So I couldn’t ask, obviously, with my professional reputation on the line, but I vowed to find out later from someone else.
“You play any music?”
I didn’t, but I didn’t say that.
“Why do you ask?”
“Eh, dunno,” he said and rubbed his neck, “just askin’.”
I then told him that yeah, I was a singer, because I thought of my social standings and of Anita, and I decided then, suddenly, that if I were to have any chance at all with this queen of youth, I’d have to have a more prominent social presence.
So I started a band with Matt, and we collected some other musicians; some of Anita’s people, and we stole her favorite DJ for a keyboardist and recruited a guitarist and bass player, and Matt expanded my behind the building scavenging by taking me dustbin shopping, and we raided all the dustbins of the fashion district, and somehow, summed up here, we started a music thing. It’s funny how things like that happen so suddenly.
When I next saw Anita it was with company. Matt had taken it into his head that what we needed was a keyboardist; a chord man, or woman, as this case was, and he brought us to this little brick house down on the west side and pounded on the door and yelled;
“Open up!” And, wouldn’t you know it, it was Anita herself who answered the door.
“I don’t usually answer other people’s doors,” was all she said.
“Yeah, well, get outta the way. This ain’t your house. I’m here to see Amy.”
“And what do you want with my favorite DJ?”
“We’re going to take her, me and him,” and he put his arm around me and grinned.
“Hello, smoking boy.”
“Hello, Anita,” I said.
“What’re you here for anyways? Look, I’m gonna see Amy, so get outta my way.”
She looked at me, as if expecting me to answer for his brutish behavior and I felt ashamed then, but then she said;
“Amy is making tea. I’m inviting you both into the foyer,” and with that she turned and disappeared inside and we followed.
I was telling myself to stick to my guns with Matt, because once you make a friend, you’ve got to stick up for them even in the face of your girl, or especially in the face of your girl, (even if she wasn’t yet mine) or you won’t have an ounce of respect, and all this while Anita beckoned us to take seats.
I sat on this wicker wooden chair and Matt pulled out the piano bench and mounted it, having apparently no respect for the other wicker. Anita leaned up against the wall and pretended to be very interested in her phone and only sat down when Amy returned with the tea tray, which she placed on the table that divided the sexes, and the two girls took seats on the black three-cushion leather, with Anita clearly calling the shots.
“Look Amy, I’m only here for business,” Matt began, right as the tall blonde came into the room, and he continued speaking in a somewhat desperate sounding outburst all while everyone sat down and got comfortable and tea was poured, and it ended with him putting his arm around me again and saying;
“See, I’m with the smoking boy, and he’s all business, so clearly I mean it.”
And now, suddenly, I was the center of attention because it became apparent to everyone in the room that nobody here knew my name, and it seemed to me that an introduction was in order. But I think it would be somewhat self-centered of me to repeat what I said there, so let me instead jump forward to a little incident in our conversation that put our band on the path to success.
Anita was petulant, I remember, by this point, and I remember because I was looking at her as much as I dared, although she didn’t say much here, but something had dislodged Amy from her influence and it had become clear that we were winning the girl over with our ambitious talk, and Anita was not happy about it.
When I say “we were winning”, I should clarify that it was mainly Matt who was driving the conversation while Amy tried to interject her own ideas, and Anita and I were rather sullen (I was because she was), and all the energy in the room was trapped between these two arguers. I suppose too, that here I should tell you a little more about Amy, so that she’s not simply the “tall blonde girl” for the rest of this story, so here was my impression of her, as we first met;
Amy Roslyn was highly opinionated; the kind of person who just had an idea of how everything ought to be, and she had no reservations about calling someone out who didn’t meet her standards. Physically she was big, mostly in the upward direction, certainly not lanky; she filled out her frame, and was pretty fit, so that I realized she could probably take me in a fight, but not Matt, and not that it ever came to it. She wore her hair down past her shoulders, and it was combed on good days, which was apparently this day (or she was looking to impress Anita), and for dress she wore beige pants with a tank top and sweater, of which she had a variety of outstanding colors, like those out of the Warhol factory. She liked to take to shooting people with her fingers, like “Pow. Dead”; sometimes just people in a crowd, but mostly to see you if you’d get nervous about whether or not she was angry with you, which would tell her whether or not she should be angry with you.
I was sitting quietly and was imitating Amy’s finger-shooting in my head, and I guess also physically, because I noticed I followed through with that motion, and said under my breath; “Pow!”, and at that I became very self-conscious that maybe she would think I was making fun of her, but then I decided that, having already gone through with it, I would have to stick to my guns, and all this I found very funny, and I laughed publically at my private joke, when Matt suddenly, and quite rowdily, slammed his tea-cup down on the table, and spun towards me, leaving the cup and tea perfectly safe and still, and leaving the handle in his hand, which was some foot below the table, and Anita said under her breath, “Mother-fucker”, and at whatever it was in that statement, Matt exploded and stood and yelled out:
“What’s she even here for? This ain’t her house and we’re discussin’ stuff that aint even about her!”
Anita then slammed her own teacup into the table, spraying tea and porcelain into the air, and she spun her wild eyes around the room with the sharp bit of the tea cup held menacingly out before her, and nobody moved. Then she took in her surroundings and collapsed into laughter and hysterics.
She was the first one to respond to her own outburst and said suddenly, between laughs; “I’m going to go,” and she stood up, still shaking with convulsions. Her eyes weren’t laughing then, and before anyone made a move she had bowed and ran off.
That week we all received handwritten invitations from Anita, which read: “You and your band are invited to play at the eighteenth birthday of Miss Anita Katarina. Financial compensation and refreshments will be provided.” She had signed each one, and Amy received money for a new tea set.
So after that little scene, and after acquiring Amy as our residential keyboardist, Matt managed to pull together a bass player and a lead guitarist for our little group, and so as not to bore you with any long stories, and because I thought they were somewhat amusing characters, I give you my impressions of them:
Defly La’Fonze was our bass player, and I’m fairly sure he’s gay, but that’s just a statement, it really isn’t relevant to our story. More to the point he was tremendous with the bass and could fit scales and up-downs over any chords the rest of us were doing, and he and Matt got very tight, and so the center, and most little recognized, part of the band worked wonderfully, which is really the make-break part of a group, like good sound to a video. Physically he was thin with dark curly hair, and he wore mascara, and dressed very neatly in a pinstripe suit, and he was not at all afraid to groove and dance on stage, and he was practicing the moonwalk for Anita’s party.
Our lead was a middle sized guy named David Dumb who sort of bobbed around everywhere with music in his head. He had hebrew looking curls that he kept shoulder length, and he wore these vintage looking coats from the seventies, which I always thought looked stuffy and uncomfortable; like he were wrapped up in a rug, but he didn’t mind, I guess. He would absolutely kill me if I didn’t describe his guitar, so I’d better tell you that it was a jade green Fibernare Erotic Flamed Maple Top with custom dinosaur frills welded on, and he never ran it through any pedals, but played it strictly clean for the true virgin sound of “The Beast Erotic”, as it was named.
Now, you may be wondering, with all these pristine musicians, how it was that I took to singing in what was only a few short weeks. Really, there are only two duties for a singer, and that’s to write poetry, and to sing. The singing itself is a technical task, and as long as one uses all of one’s air potential, and one takes care to enunciate vowels and consonants, then singing isn’t too difficult. The trick with performance is to look straight ahead and not move one’s eyes or head when singing, which apparently is the biological code for “listen to me because I’m serious and know what I’m talking about.”
The poetry is also pretty technical, one simply needs to refine one’s feelings as simply as possible, into an easy to understand phrase, then fill the rest of the song with colorful metaphors.
Anyway, I don’t want to belittle the work of a singer, or brag that I found it easy; I’m just making a point that it’s all very technical, and with proper study can be learned in such a time-frame as this, at least at an apprentice level.
The party was held on a Saturday, and I was feeling especially good at having some money for once, and had bought new clothes, and as we were setting up La’Fonze combed my hair, which I had never thought to do before, and as I really had nothing to set up, I wandered amongst the caterers and quietly rehearsed my lyrics so I wouldn’t forget them.
The party hall had a wooden dance floor and there was an elevated section with tables and chairs in the back, where the food was set up. This raised section was nested within a ring of staircases that led to another raised section; a balcony, with another set of double doors that led to the rest of the house.
At the top of these second stairs was a figure sitting glumly; it was Anita. She had her hair up and combed back, and she had dyed it; the front had a splash of bright blonde and there was a gradient to sort of a dried bloody color in the back, with black still visible underneath. Our eyes met through the railing, and I looked away in embarrassment; later when we played I would prove myself to her, I thought, and I went in the opposite direction, but I looked back occasionally and she sat there lonely for awhile. She disappeared some half hour before the guests were supposed to arrive.
By the time the place had filled with people, we were ready to play our first set. Matt counted us in and we got going, and I thought about Anita and this gave me courage, and I was rather proud of how I performed then.
From the stage I couldn’t see where she was. Certainly the kids liked it, I had a small group up and dancing, which is always a somewhat tenuous feat, and we kept going for about an hour or so, when we broke to rest our bits and grab refreshments, and someone’s iPod took over the music.
At the buffet I ran into her. She came over to me and grabbed my hand, and she didn’t say anything, but pulled me away. I had a roll in my mouth and my heart started pounding then, and wordlessly she led me up the second stairs to the balcony, where we stood over the crowded court below, just alone. She walked like she were drunk.
“Well,” she said.
“Hello,” I said, and after swallowing the bread; “We’ve got to play our second set in five.”
“You sounded good.”
“Thanks.” She looked out and down at the stage.
“I’ve got to be back,” I said. Now she looked at me, and she came in real close so that our faces almost touched, and it was like she was trying to find something out, and I didn’t know what it was, so I dodged her eyes. She seemed kind of sad, and I thought that maybe I needed to play that second set, but then she grabbed me roughly and said:
“Come,” and how does one argue with that?
“I’ve got to be playing,” was what I tried.
“I can be vicious too,” was what she said, “Do you believe me?”
She took me through the double doors, and I thought maybe I should get back to the band, but I saw her dyed bloody hair and the curve of her back as she led me, and wasn’t this what it was for?
And I told you this story had sex in it, and I’m not belittling it, but I need not describe it, and then Anita had gone to the bathroom and I was alone. Matt came up and found me and he was furious; I had been missing for over an hour, and he said I was out of the band, and that was okay with me, because it had served its purpose, and I must’ve been very happy, because I drank the bottle of scotch that was on the bedside table. And so everything worked out, and Anita was mine, wherever she was, and we were in love, and everyone had their success.