APRÉS MOI, LE DÈLUGE
I’m a DJ. Weddings, funerals, mostly. The occasional bat or bar mizvah. The latter being way more fun. Young Jewish girls are not encouraged (are they ever?) to kick up their heels, let down their hair, and, propriety be damned, dance. Put a group of young Jewish boys in a corner together though, allow them to properly secure their yarmulkes, and loosen the vibe with some Journey, easing into Black Sabbath?
Yeah. Watch out.
Rites of passage in a Native American culture aren’t as complicated. Plus, they have cooler props. Have you ever seen Pocahontas wield a tomahawk?
The dance criteria for a DJ isn’t a disinterested crowd of music critics, it’s the number of thrashing, sweaty bodies on the dance floor, the more recklessness (wheelchair stunts; Uncle Earnest remembering tap dancing lessons from 50 years ago; MC Hammer showdowns from the mother-of-the-bride), the better.
I was single for the first two years I was a DJ. Then, she appeared, a friend of the (a) bride, at a backyard wedding. Not even a bridesmaid. Just a slightly tipsy, patently bored, former retail colleague at The Gap.
Her name was Lola. Of course. It had to be a name men scream while driving off cliffs, or slamming the controls in ecstasy during a game of Grand Theft Auto.
Sculpted, surfer bod. Long, sun-bleached, tousled hair. Why, god of language, is it impossible to describe beauty without employing pederastic, Nabokovian clichés?
Thou shalt not fall in love. Love is banned. Ixnay oushnay!
That was my ten times burned, forever shy life philosophy, before meeting Lola.
She approached me, Cosmo in hand, just as I was about to put on some Roy Orbinson after a few yawn-inducing crowd-pleasers ("Shout", "Supertramp", "YMCA").
“Van Morrison,” she said. That’s it. Not even “Please.”
“'Into the Mystic?'”
“Something that doesn’t make me want to crawl into the corner of this yard, dig a six foot hole, leap in, and die.”
We were a hot couple. Broke, and indebted, but full of energy. Smoking hot as it were! Two lions, flanking a museum of contemporary art.
She had recently moved to Baltimore after completing a Stegner fellowship at Stanford. After three months of dinners, drinks, and late night dancing, and sex, we’d discussed everything from debt, The Godfather, Gothic literature, to disturbing childhood memories and sexual fantasies (both of hers involved chocolate milk) before deciding to move in together. Out to brunch after moving day, she ate ravenously, ranting about her art-school friend Sheila’s recent marriage to a real-estate magnate, frothing at the mouth at the thought of her once-poor friend spending her weekends shopping at Soho art galleries and getting spa pedicures with her toy poodle.
“She landed him without even undergoing plastic surgery,” Lola fumed, stabbing little bites of corned beef hash with her fork.
“You’re just jealous,” I said. “She’s financially stable, and making art?”
“It’s a marriage of convenience. And no, fucking on command, and starving myself for a week in preparation for the next horse show, i.e. trophy wife display, in exchange for a loft apartment and charcuterie plate dinners is not my idea of paradise.”
“You need money to survive. And most ‘artists’ I know would kill for, and do, a state-funded sinecure, whether in a chicken coop at McDowell or paid housing in a work exchange, or stable marriage, because the one form of capital Americans don’t, and will never have, is property. You think drugs kill? Try rent in a safe neighborhood, or, worse, an overpriced mortgage. That will bury you alive faster than—”
“You’re in debt worse than me,” she countered. “I say we both learn how to ask for what we want, starting with identifying desires beyond survival. Identify rather than remember, for me, because I’ve never been in a position to make choices about how to spend my capital—my money or my time—only which loan shark to pay off first, based on rates of interest or who is most loudly threatening my life. You?”
“Are you going to finish your fruit cup?” She speared a wedge of cantaloupe and pushed it toward me.
“Reap the harvest before it spoils! Though the slave laborer will never get to even taste her product or earn a dollar from her own blood, sweat, and tears. Fact.”
Our household calamities soon were reduced to the occasional tiff or misunderstanding. We were two freaks, determined to survive, rejecting the Don’t Worry Be Happy soma of consumer culture; on our coffee table (a repurposed tree stump) was a copy of Stephen D. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt’s Freakonomics; on the wall above our bed was a picture of Elephant Man, and, in our living room, a Diane Arbus print.
A year after we moved in together, Lola walked out on her barista job after a fight with her boss over slashed hours. She needed, she said, to remember what it felt like to wake up energized, with a thought in her brain, and asked if I would be able to support our household (her and our two cats, Jupiter and Hemmingway) for a month.
A month passed. She became insecure, following me around the house when I got home from work, singing show tunes and asking for quarters for laundry. My emotions cycled from pity, to ill-humor, to anger, and were getting dangerously close to disgust. Finally, one night after she came home after midnight, and climbed into bed, sauced, I blew up, pushing her off the bed and calling her a string of epithets (useless, stupid whore, and a few others that were, I’m afraid, worse) before telling her she had two weeks to get a job, or we (or rather she, as my houseguest) were quits.
She picked herself off the floor (what pluck!), murmured something under her breath (the rosary, or a price on my head!), grabbed her (my!) pillow, and made haste for the (ok, that felt like ours) living room floor. “Run, Lola, Run! Don’t look back, you jobless leech!” I said, in the wake of her lingering perfume, Clinique’s Happy.
When not attempting to destroy each other, our domestic relations were of the Leave it to Beaver variety. We were picnicking the following Saturday, atop a quilt her grandma made after surviving Auschwitz, when she dropped the bomb.
“I’ve decided to become a professional surrogate,” she said. “10 grand for nine months of disturbing and physically uncomfortable labor, yet with easily erasable aftershocks of the oh-my-god-my-gene-pool-has been-released-into-the-world variety. A good shakeout, all in all. I’ll pay a few months rent, up front.” She picked up a piece of honeydew melon and, placing it in her mouth, made a monkey smile. “Carmen Miranda!” she exclaimed, spitting it out. “In 1945, she was the highest paid woman in the United States. She died a decade later, of a heart attack, and while unsuccessful in reversing stereotypes of the ‘Brazillian Bombshell’ chorus girl, her legacy—and ability to dance while wearing a 20 pound hat made of fruit—lives on.”
Two months later, she had changed her mind, after reading testimonials online, and was bartending. Earning roughly $300 a night, she could afford to work only three nights a week, and still pay her bills, with cash to spare. Dressing sexy, meeting new people, and thinking about going back to school, getting her proverbial shit together gave her that proverbial confidence insecure men like me fear, and, two weeks after perfecting her sloe gin fizz at The Winking Lizard, she told me we were quits.
WTF!?!?!!!! Hegel’s master-slave reversal come to bear too soon!
In a last ditch attempt to save my kahunas, I proposed a date, to a comedy club. No cover charge—my only reason for ever proposing going out.
“Have you been to there before?”
“What about these restaurants?” I said, laying out a series of take-out menus desperately, in a Phoenician-shaped fan. “Greek? Pan-Asian fusion? Tex-Mex?”
“Who cares about food when the love is gone? We’re not a good match.”
I frowned, thinking of the last two months of our relationship. We hadn’t fought much, and our last argument was prompted by her blowing up at me for refusing to show her how to use Pirate’s Bay, to download free albums.
“You’re a fucking maestro,” she said. “A Napoleonic asshole whose only musical talent is playing the electronic version of "Chopsticks". If I played the drums in your band, I’d jump out the nearest window, after smashing it on your head, then sending you the $20,000 bill, which would force you to declare bankruptcy, because your alimony payment and child support payments were already a year overdue.”
She was right. Not about the ethics or economic fallout of instrument destruction (I did it once, with a banjo: never before, never again) but the drive for control. It’s all about mastery, from opposable thumbs to toilet training to learning how not to cry when the schoolyard bully beats the snot out of you on the playground, then makes you eat your own ejected membranes in front of your future wife, age 10.
Men master. Women please, seek, and flail. It was hell mastering Lola, though, and, predictably, she refused to become my muse, (a.) because she thought it was beneath her (it was), and (b.) because I didn’t have a fine art form requiring a muse, let alone the holy grail of a doctorate or comparable specialization. Ouch.
Her bachelor’s degree was in studio art; her graduation exhibition, at the campus art gallery, featured digital reproductions of the wedding certificate between Hitler and Eva. Her artist statement: “What Warhol was attempting to ‘communicate’—the reduplication of the genuine article in commercial industry, Marilyn as a commodified product yielding to the market like a meek lamb led to slaughter—I am portraying as our complicit anxiety in how to produce, and quarantine, the real, through mass manufacturing, ghettos, and finally, concentration camps, in Jewish history.”
Lola was the kind of girl, sorry, woman (is that what this is all about?) who’d order wine in a beer garden, just to say "fuck you" to the culture, history, patronage, which she did not share, save for chocolate stouts, of beer.
Her idea of a fun weekend: visiting the insectarium, donating blood, watching documentaries on third-world sex trafficking. Her life’s wish—to die for the revolution, then be resurrected, as a union organizer or Siamese cat.
The morning of her departure, I wrote her a post-it note and, finding her box of kitchen appliances, taped it on her banged-up toaster: “Goodbye, Bonnie. Say hello, after passing the golden gates, to Clyde.
I ran into her a month later, at the park. She was sitting alone on a park bench, legs curled up beneath her, ensconced in a wooly, black, wraparound scarf, reading The Third Reich. I approached, cautiously; a foot away, she looked up.
God. I had forgotten how beautiful her eyes were. Dark, long-lashed, swimming, like a mildly retarded infant, for a focal point for a few seconds before landing on a concrete object: the world coalescing, in, and before, her face!
“Hi.” She placed her hand on her page, as a book-mark, but didn’t shut it. What are you reading didn’t seem like an appropriate segue, as the answer would have been Holocaust literature. “Want to get some java?” I said.
She held up her to-go cup of Peets.
“Still rocking the Tanzanian roast?”
“Papau New Guinea. With cream.”
“Cool.” The tree above her released, as if orchestrated, a single, red leaf. It floated downward, landing gently on her shoulder. She brushed it off.
“Stop,” she said sternly, as if speaking to Apollo. Did she believe climate change to be subject to her whim, along with fracking, fossil fuels, and freshwater ecology?
“I think a lot about your accusation,” I said, finally, shifting weight on my feet.
“The maestro one. Why wouldn’t I resolve to control the soundtrack when you’re clearly in charge of weather? That’s no small thing, Lola. Most people who haven’t studied modernism never bother to account for mood and atmosphere until that’s all social relations, restaurant culture, and music is reduced to!”
“Are reduced to.”
“Pronoun agreement? Subject-verb? Polyphony? Pluralism?”
She rolled her eyes.
“Oh right. You like ambient sound, or prefer it to tuneless howling at least.” I laughed thinking of what lyrics I would be playing right now, if life were musical theater: “Sing, my angel of music!” from Phantom of the Opera.
A week later, we were sitting in the living room of her studio apartment, making music on her eight track. I’d given her carte blanche, per my willingness to relinquish power; she wanted to layer my guitar playing with her keyboard and vocals, alongside the tracks “We All Live in a Yellow Submarine,” “Sweet Home, Alabama,” Jethro Tull, and Regina Spector. “And maybe Leonard Cohen’s ‘Suzanne',” as an outro,” she added, tucking her hair emphatically behind her ears. “If that wouldn’t be gilding the lily.”
I sat in the corner for a full minute, head cradled in my hands, like a felled David.
I played a guitar track for her I’d composed myself, a gentle rockabilly rift. After recording, she asked me to leave her apartment and return in an hour. She used me—or rather, my track—and spit me out on the other side of her harebrained genius.
“What do you think?” she asked, sporting an ear-to-ear Cheshire (or would that be “shit-eating”?) grin, after I removed my headphones and sipped my Scottish ale.
I’m not going to lie: she knew what she was doing, at least intuitively. Technical prowess was my game, and I was more than happy to lend a helping hand.
Still, she couldn’t have the Weather Channel and the conductor’s baton.
Or, maybe, she could, if making her happy meant sunshine, fresh air and water, chirping birds, the end to natural disasters (or least of the apocalyptic variety), and, after garbage, sorry, Garage, Rock, the return—remember me?—of harmony and song.
Virginia Konchan is the author of Vox Populi (Finishing Line Press) and the short story collection Anatomical Gift (forthcoming, Noctuary Press). Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Best New Poets, The Believer, and The New Republic, and her fiction in StoryQuarterly, Joyland, Hobart, PANK, and elsewhere. Co-founder of Matter, she lives in Montreal.