I had this job in college where I brought A/V equipment to different classes. Our boss was this real easygoing guy, another student. He was like the wise-cracking, disheveled teacher from Welcome Back, Kotter. At one point I started buying pot from his roommate, and he pulled me aside at work and made me swear I’d keep all that on the down low, or whatever we called it those days. It was such a motley crew of us at that job. I guess our common skill set amounted to not having classes at night and being able to schlep around TV’s and VCR’s precariously mounted onto rolling racks over the city streets and sidewalks. We’d get to a classroom and connect everything quickly while the professor stood awkwardly and the early students glared at us absently the way you do at workers. I met P at that job. He was in grad school for acting. He always made us play this game called “Name ten major black film actors in one minute go!” and then he’d shake his head disapprovingly while we stuttered to come up with anything beyond Denzel Washington or Sydney Poitier. I liked him a lot and I wanted him to think I was cool and hip to his struggles as a black actor. He was so pissed about racism in Hollywood. I totally agreed, and was embarrassed by my own inability to come up with more than four or five names under pressure, if that many, but we all know racism’s pernicious and timed games are even more so. He went on to become famous for a while and kept showing up in those barbershop movies. I never saw them so I can’t speak to their quality but I couldn’t help but wonder if he really needed an MFA to star in them. After I left school my friend E went on a date with him and she told me he had a small dick but of course you never know what people consider normal or big so what should you picture.
One night I was walking home from work it must have been spring because I remember it was already warm. I was on the south side of the street and I saw a crowd forming outside the window at a café. Curious, I pushed my way to the front of the group and saw her inside standing in front of a small rapt crowd, just her and her guitar. It was a really special moment, like suddenly I thought ok this is the payoff for living in this neighborhood in that shithole apartment. She was so young and beautiful, with the shaved head the whole thing. God that voice, she could really stop time and air with it, that pure cord of tone that poured out of her mouth and filled the room like water. I was transfixed, as if at a museum with the storefront glass this small shield between my suspended adoration and her elfin magic.
After the impromptu mini-concert, I pushed my way into the café and waited to speak to her. Unbelievably enough, she did and I stammered and said hello and gushed of course. I had gone to a rummage shop earlier that day and bought old photographs – like a good little bohemian kid – and asked her to sign the back of one for my friend K who was still gay then. S said Oh I love these I collect them, too. She was trying to normalize the moment between us I think but I had no tools for this kind of interaction so I probably just kept sputtering nervously. I don’t know what to make of everything that’s happened to her since. I mean, sure, you could just say “Car Wreck,” but that’s the easy way out. Nobody really knows what somebody else’s crazy feels like.