|Apr/May 2014 Fiction|
Image courtesy of the British Library Photostream
You don't expect to hear the voice of your idol when you are pissing, any more than you expect the person in the stall next to you would be defecating in a classy New York City bar, but that's how it happens. It's a Saturday night where you drank too much by eight o'clock, having arrived at five for the weekend happy hour. You don't even remember what you had to drink, just that everything upstairs in this stunning facility is dark, the mini quiches you and your friends ordered were good, and the headlining act, which happens to be your idol's band, is supposed to be on in a bit. You decided it was a stellar time to sneak down to the Ladies Room, where the mirror is long and skinny and the sink igloo shaped and a toiletry basket is full of hairspray and mints. And a stellar time it was indeed, and not just because you are releasing the ten pounds of piss that makes sitting and standing uncomfortable, but because you are hearing the voice of the best goddamn musician you've ever heard, with the exception of your best friend Indigo who plays in five bands and occasionally tours in Europe.
You're not afraid to talk to Indigo, though, because you were in diapers together, playing in each other's vomit, and as you got older, swapping boyfriends on occasion. You even secretly envy her for getting signed three years before you, and how concession stands after shows sell t-shirts with a picture of her face on it. You're your own version of cool against her serene expression and brown hair swept away from her face in a ponytail, with feathers woven through your wavy blonde hair, fuchsia lipstick, and token acid washed jeans with natural and manipulated tears in them. Last week at your show at Rockwood Music Hall, someone even asked for your autograph, which you giddily scribbled on a Starbucks receipt while trying to hide how bloody proud you felt that someone even recognized you at all.
But now down here you are nervously trying to empty your bladder so you can have a quick brush with Doris Alienta, who in her 50 something years to your 26, has accomplished everything you ever dreamed of, from owning her own record label to earning a Grammy and receiving acclaim from the Obamas. You can't believe she is breathing the same feces-scented air you are, or that she is on her cell phone telling someone her husband Walter, also a musician, is cheating on her. She doesn't name him as her husband; she just says Walter, who you know as Walter Dern because you read on the Internet he was wed to her at the Bluebird Café in Nashville six years back when your boyfriend broke up with you because he said you were too deep into your music and he felt like a used couch that just got sat on but never really noticed or on occasion, whisked.
You can't believe Doris, who is your God, and whose record collection you keep stored away in a special closet in your apartment so the dog can't chew on it like he did your drumsticks, has problems, too. You know if you don't free up the stall before the defecator next to you, you won't get to come face to face with her, and even worse, she'll have to use the dirty stall, so in your wrecked state you do your best to wipe yourself properly and with dignity, even though you know you are low class compared to this woman who is the reason American Rock Bands were born.
So you flush the toilet when she wraps up her phone call, the words following her assurance that she is fine blocked out by the sound, and you open the stall door ready to suavely and sympathetically greet her, regardless of your knotted intestines. But somehow all you end up doing is smiling absently in acknowledgement of her awesome presence while staring at her black buckled boots, and she sort of laughs as you walk to the sink, though you can't really blame her because as you wash your hands with pink, lily-scented soap, you want to laugh, too. Only you dry your hands, go upstairs, and rejoin your friends at the bar without telling them about your brush with fame. It occurs to you as you order a glass of wine to wash away your stark humiliation, that you hope you didn't tinkle on the seat. Later when she gets up to play her set, you forget about it because you are so lost in the music, hearing her sing reminds you why you strive so high in the first place. You know as she glances your way that while she may think you are strange, you've begun writing in your head, your next song.
You find out your label is dropping you three days later when your new record Don't Test Me doesn't meet their standards. It is not eclectic enough, they say, and your sounds are not fresh. You start crying right there in their Chelsea office and tell Bill who is the one in charge it is not your fault that every song was about the ignorant bastard who broke your heart when he said you were too ambitious and had to decide if you wanted to be his lady or another struggling artist who lives on tour busses and uses coke. In song number three on the album, you went into great detail about those stereotypes musicians face, and talked about how at least your tour bus is way more comfortable to sleep in than your bed with mattress holes and a box spring that has scraped your leg a time or two.
And Bill's green eyes glaze over as you explain all of this, including the fact you can't even afford dental floss, so why would you waste money on coke, the words sounding fumbled while you sniffle, and he sits there expectantly in his navy suit, obviously waiting for you to leave. And you do, politely saying goodbye and how it was great working with him with your imaginary tail between your legs, and it takes a few days of holing up in your apartment, overeating, drinking vodka that tastes like cake, and not showering before you realize you need to go independent yourself, and it is fine that you are never going to be Doris Alienta, even on her worst day.
Years pass, and you are barely able to believe it when your minor successes allow you to reunite with her, not in a bathroom, but because you are both scheduled to play at a benefit for Hurricane Sandy at Webster Hall two weeks after the whole bloody mess happened. Rather than act like a gawky little kid, you are obviously going to rock the whole experience with old and new songs from your record, Avocado Dreams, which has allowed you some additional tours and two good write-ups in Paste Magazine, and to give interviews where you got to chuckle about how your old label you respectfully (of course) parted ways with said they wouldn't tolerate it when you dyed your hair blue.
To get pumped for the show, you do a bunch of immature things like parade around your apartment in clothes you would never wear in public, like a silver dress made of actual foil, and flex your muscles in front of your dusty mirror while admiring your tanning salon tan that taught you Kardashian tanning lotion exists. You are glad you didn't go for the spray tan because you've been crying on and off since you returned from the salon over the news stories about people losing their lives and homes, so much that you would be streaked by now. It is already cause for concern enough that despite your bravado, you might fuck up your performance, which is being streamed online for a ridiculous amount of money people have actually paid because of Doris and some other hot acts like Vance Penn, formerly of Union Square, not the neighborhood but the successful band that went under as soon as he, the tattooed blonde who played electric guitars and whose singing was compared to Sid Vicious's, went out on his own. Other than Doug V, who is a washed up teenage heartthrob brought on the ride to draw in the younger crowd, you are the only real newbie in this and consequently are scared shitless at the way this could make or break you.
The night of the benefit comes, and you are so ready in your red dress that makes you look like a harlot, and when it is over, you can't believe how many fans you've generated on Twitter, including a creepy stalker who keeps writing tweets you'll never answer, and you have been linked to Vance romantically even though all you did was take a couple of publicity shots with him where you were laughing and having a grand old time, and suddenly everyone in America and Britain, including Doris, knows and loves you. It goes to your head a bit, and you wind up in rehab in Palm Springs for a brief stint after feeling pressured to succeed, but leave after the 30 days is through and name your next record Thirty Days.
Your life isn't exactly going anywhere after a string of broken relationships with other musicians and one weird guy who you love but suspect from his lack of interest during sex and male eyeballing that he might be homosexual, and you seriously begin contemplating suicide. You can't put the thought out of your mind and call a few hotlines but hang up on the operators the second they pick up, male and female voices that sound worse than the ones you hear on infomercials, and then the idea gets thrown away when one of your new songs becomes a Top Five hit at random and you are back in the game again, waiting for something to happen. Nothing does though. You only last one week on the charts because you are bumped down by a plethora of boy bands who squeak and dance around stages wearing tight, white leather pants and an undeveloped 12-year-old girl whom Oprah favors. You seek therapy for your failures—you are ugly and unloved—and when the therapist, a woman you resent for knowing all of your secrets, tells you it is not true, you tell her to go fuck herself and to bill you by mail because you are never coming back. You write 20 more songs about your tortured existence before you die of a heroin overdose, and posthumously magazines such as People and In Touch highlight your troubles and wonder why no one saved you.
You watch from purgatory as people you hadn't seen in years, including Indigo who left you flat once she co-wrote an album with Katy Perry, claim in person and online you were so talented and so much a part of their lives that they will miss you forever, and you wish you were still alive so you could call them out on their bullshit. When Doris Alienta speaks about you at a benefit for prostate cancer, you fondly remember that night in the Ladies Room, and if you could go back, you would open the stall door and tell her hello and that she is your hero. But when she plays one of your songs better than you ever did, you are pissed and decide you hate her. You don't actually hate her, though; you miss her and the days before life handed you lemons. It is the last image you are left with before you fade away into the light: a big, fat, juicy lemon you almost swear you can taste.