Three weeks, two days, four hours, and about twenty minutes. A forgotten rock star waits at home for his girlfriend, keeps vigil during another of her long absences. How un-metal is that?
Out of gin, he moves to vodka. He’ll go to rock‑n‑roll Ralphs when the vodka runs out. He’ll get some cash. He’ll buy food he probably won’t eat. Maybe a cute girl with punky hair will smile at him, recognize him from one of her mom’s album covers. He’ll order up some X and coke for the Memorial Day weekend. He’ll trip out alone on Kubrick and Lynch and the cliché of squandered promise.
He types another email to Zephyr—his third today.
* * * * *
Zephyr skims another rambling gutless chain of Paul’s pollution across her screen. She fires the cursor into the upper right box and raps the delete key. It almost clears him from her mind.
Out the window of the Paramount Hotel, New York night comes hot and noisy. Zephyr takes a long drag off a joint, holds it, and blows a cleansing stream through her nose.
She can barely recall her initial attraction to Paul’s refreshingly brazen depravity, the wicked genius that made him a rock idol. At first Paul seemed a subversive rocker offering scathing poetic critiques of societal contrivance. She’d found a rebel, so she once thought.
Zephyr snaps her head to the side as if being slapped. Paul was a stylish pervert masquerading badly as a rebel, and she fell for it. The sharper the edge of a man, the faster he is dulled from the inside out, she realizes.
Zephyr broods through her smoke, crushes the roach in the ashtray, and heads downstairs dreading another vapid night among the fabulati. Appearances, Rodney calls them, insisting that they are key to maintaining Zephyr’s in‑crowd credential.
She is forty‑five minutes in the Whiskey Bar, icily repelling forgettable men who mistake Zephyr’s exquisitely‑presented aloneness as the opening event of the Loser Invitational. The driver finally appears and pays her tab. The black stretch is curbside. She tries not to stamp her feet as she approaches the car.
Zephyr slips inside next to Rodney. She rebuffs his air kiss.
“You’re not required to love your agent, or even like him,” Rodney says.
“That’s a relief.”
* * * * *
Kris wears a white silk pirate shirt and a black wide‑rimmed fedora with a black lace veil he attached in front. Race car red lips, face powdered white, and gothic eyes shaded black. In soft light, he achieves a restrained yet glamorous androgyny. Unfiltered, he’s a middle‑aged glampire overdue for some coffin‑time or surgery.
Paul and Kris sit in matching Queen Anne chairs set close together in Paul’s studio. It is the most remote location in Paul’s house, set atop the rear first floor patio, accessible only through a hidden door in Paul’s bedroom wall. Computers and control boards litter long wooden tables where a gentlemen’s desk would be if Paul were a gentleman. An electric piano is filmed in dust and the strings of Paul’s old Telecaster are rusted red. Book shelves wall them in on three sides. An expanse of windows form the fourth wall. Distant Hollywood lights seem both remote and intimate, indifferent glimmers of recognition in a lover long over you.
“You’re dressed for a party tonight,” Paul says.
“Park Plaza, can you believe it?”
Paul recalled the balls and massives once held at the Park Plaza Hotel and the Variety Arts Center. A thousand beauties of every preference, taste and fetish thronged up and down the great staircases in those old venues. They danced and played in chambers and salons, vibed with indulged perversions. Paul’s after‑parties were legendary. Club kids adorning themselves in Paul’s costume room and dancing in his front hall. Young naked limbs twisted around each other in his day‑glo parlor, his basement dungeon, and his black satin theater. Had Walt Disney been a perv he could not have crafted a better play space.
Kris was one of few men invited to those parties because Kris supplied the party favors and always arrived with eager lovelies.
“Park Plaza,” Paul almost spits, “It’s gonna be like the pathetic reunion of a once‑cool TV show.”
“No,” Kim objects, “a whole crop of newbies still hear stories about your house and want to make it their own scene.”
Paul flips his hand and sighs.
“What if I arranged a small select group to come by afterward?”
Paul imagined Zephyr arriving at the house without warning—a selfish habit of hers. She would hate him forever if she found him going retro with a house party of pervs. A year together and Zephyr came to despise Paul’s group scenes with girls and freaks half his age giving themselves over in exchange for drugs and other good times. He asked her what was wrong and she told him: “In real life, the play is not the thing.”
He began to see himself through her eyes, and her disdain made him feel like a ridiculous old clown. So he closed the show. And yet her trips to New York grew longer. If she walked in on the renewed action, she would leave and never come back. At least that would end the torturous ambiguity of waiting around for her.
“You still have those chiseled good looks,” Kris says. “I’m sure plenty of High School girls still scroll your name on their peachee folders.”
“The only High School girls writing my name on their folders teach High School and go home to their own snotty kids.”
“Paul, sweety, I love you, but you so need to grow your balls back. No wonder your instruments are so neglected. Imagine a song about your life today. Bruce Springsteen wouldn’t even write about it.
Paul laughs. “Good one.”
“Sorry, that was a bitchy thing to say—about Springsteen anyway. But, sweety, you need to get over this shit. And maybe you will have something to say again.”
After a long silence, Paul asks: “So how select a group are you thinking?”
* * * * *
Zephyr is pinned in a booth at the Hudson between a Hilfiger boy model and a lipstick lesbian who says she’s a fashion rag editor.
“No… I think America can still read fiction…” Zephyr hears herself say… “they just need reassurance… reassurance that they’re not being frivolous.”
Hilfiger and Lipstick don’t get it. Zephyr knows she should shut‑up and drink and be fabulous, but she goes on… “You hear what Cheney said on NPR? Cheney… No, not the Vice President, his wife. She writes children’s books. Says she can’t read fiction anymore. Doesn’t seem important, she says…”
Hilfiger and Lipstick hit their drinks hard and exchange uncomfortable glances.
Zephyr adds, “You don’t understand ‘cause you both think web blogs are literature.”
Insults are exchanged. Zephyr is left alone in a big booth at a crowded party.
Then, in some amount time she will never recall, just as Zephyr is about to leave, a man approaches her table. He floats above the room on stilts of confidence. He is a scalpel surgically cutting fake flesh from the manufactured crowd.
Zephyr arches her back and smiles a smile she can’t help smiling.
* * * * *
A Clockwork Orange plays backdrop to sex acts performed in Paul’s theater. A barely‑legal porn star gives expert head to a heroically‑built acrobat from Cirque de Soleil. The Dita Von Tease wannabe straddles the face of her pop star girlfriend. Paul cuddles the naked breasts of a Betty Page dwarf who dances in a popular Los Angeles burlesque show. Kris taps a glass of champagne to his forehead and toasts Paul from across the room.
On the screen, Alex cuts holes in his victim’s orange jumper, showing her breasts as she screams, kicking her husband cowering on the floor. Singin’ in the rain, just singin’ in the – UGH—”
* * * * *
The pretty boys at the Paramount Hotel hold their eyebrows steady as Zephyr slithers through the open doors. Manhattan dawns behind her. She cannot conceal her ass‑tender limp. She almost falls into the red maw of the elevator. Intimate parts of her drum from the inside out. Zephyr strips at the window of her room. Morning breaks, trash bags are piled high along the streets, and still the city seems boundlessly inviting. She soothes her tender nipples against the cold windowpane. She still tastes him, still feels him inside her. His scent pervades her. She kisses the city through the window.
* * * * *
Through Paul’s one clear eye, the story poisons him. Zephyr will not arrive home without warning. She will not be staggered by the Dali‑esque expanse of bodies, layered and linked throughout the house after a month of parties. She will not be horrified and hurt to find Paul indulging his former life among the pervs. She will not finally feel the sting of his rejection.
A week‑old gossip rag dropped on the slate floor of Paul’s bathroom shows Zephyr tucked under the arm of a man Paul does not recognize. They are resplendent in formal wear, emerging from a limo. The caption offers a peppy and cosmologically‑suspect affirmation for the “rising west coast star among Black authors” and her “New York establishment beau, groovy new Senate Democrat, C‑‑‑ N‑‑‑.”
Paul pads unsteadily from the bathroom, past his bed toward the door to his studio. Three women in his bed rouse from slumber, they attempt to rise, but are held fast by their leather restraints and fall back giggling.
Paul enters his studio and sits at his table. He wipes his piano clean and says something.