Daggers and Contacts
by Ivan Nahem
Oscar had wack theories. His Theory of Trends stated that they are evidence of seriality, and seriality is the essence of Time. He put his bass to the floor like a standup and grinned. "The only coherence to be found in this lifetime is in the seriality of items. Item on item. Item after item after item after item!"
"You mean how much pussy you get in a row?" Our drummer Lee Kicker was also a philosopher but of a coarser perspective.
Oscar ignored him, instead returning to his lecture on "Halo of Flies": "Here's the reason I chose this song. It phases through all kinds of events but winds up in a showdown crescendo to end all crescendos --"
"Let's play the fucking song. Start it."
"Wait." Georgia stubbed out a cigarette in a tin can on her amp.
"I don't know the fucking song yet."
Lee scowled . "You've heard it. Come on, let's play."
"Just that once! It's kinda before my time, you know!"
"Follow us, then, for chrissakes. Muddle through."
"It's in A, right?" Oscar said. Lee began bashing cymbals, Oscar joined in cautiously and Georgia struggled along, adding a jangly edge that nearly worked. I came in just right, "I got the answers to all of your questions..." Well I'd been applying myself. At least I liked most of the lyrics. "Daggers and contacts and bright shiny limos, I got a watch that turns into a lifeboat..."
It fell apart entirely on the third turn into the straightaway and collapsed in a heap of twisted chords. Simultaneously Craig, the studio manager, came in to remind us of the time and that was it.
I offered to walk Georgia to her place. She was pissed off at first, all wound up in a conspiracy theory regarding the song. Undeniably the rest of us had been talking about it for more than a month. But she didn't come out drinking with us, so the fact she was a latecomer wasn't our fault entirely, now was it? I told her Lee didn't treat her with due respect but there wasn't any objective to make her feel excluded. And besides Lee knew the song because he happened to have always been a big Alice Cooper fan, which Oscar knew.
She calmed down by the time we got to Prince, and then we just chatted on, about the upcoming Scorpion Club gig, about the horror her folks had expressed about her interest in magick and music, about Laura and me.
She stood a step up on her stoop to come face to face with me. I got the feeling she wanted me look at her differently than usual. I liked her faintly hoarse laugh, it had grown on me.
I found Laura at the Scorpion Bar on a stool next to Lee, very next to him in fact. I put my hand on her shoulder. She jolted. "God you piss head!"
She laughed loudly, inexplicably, and smashed her lips against mine.
"I'm ready!" Lee pumped his fist. "Hey, I didn't know Laura's initials are same as mine!"
"Isn't that just unbelievable?" I nodded.
"Where's Oscar?" Laura asked.
I took a push on the shoulder from behind -- Tod, in all his leather glory. "Boiling Over! Boiling Over is ready to cook tonight!"
"Yeah, well, we're here, anyway."
"Ray, you have to loosen up, man. You have to let it go, man!"
Tod wasn't my favorite person. He was lead singer in the classic sense and relatively okay for that, but always looking to stick it to your ribs. We were really just another downtown connection for him, which was why he hooked us up to open for his band at this fancy club, so he could play veteran. Of course all of us except maybe Georgia had far more stage time logged than he did. During the day he was Lee's manager at the Cericella boutique.
We did two encore songs to substantial applause. I passed Laura as I got backstage, squeezed her arm. But I happened to look back as I was passing and saw Lee squeeze her butt.
I'd first met Laura at the Mudd Club years before when she worked the bar there. I was bitching to her about some trauma as I waited on a stool for a friend. She kept coming back my way to hear more. It turned out she knew who I was, knew I had been the singer with Bad Alibi and now Boiling and that helped.
I knew she was a scenemaker from the first night on so I didn't think we'd ever get serious. But you can't help it when your heart gets fucked up on someone, no matter what your divine inner voice may be counseling you. She wore her hair in a bun with chopsticks poked through it. She wasn't exactly my physical type but she moved with a feline lightness I found beautiful.
So what did I expect now, loyalty? I took Lee by his lapel -- he wore a slick sheeny suit, even though he sweated under the pits -- and brought him over against a puke green wall, near a trash sofa. "You got something with Laura? Because it's okay but if that's the case she's just not my girl anymore."
"Hey, fuck, man..." He was wasted.
"What? Fuck what, man?"
"What're you talkin' about, man? Hey you sang good tonight."
"I saw the squeeze you gave her when we came offstage."
"Shit man. You know, we've, like, yeah, flirted."
"Yeah? Oh, okay. Look, it's all right, the kids are all right and all that shit, but I'm not getting cheated on behind my back, okay?"
"But, well, but it's Laura we're talking about here." He giggled.
"Oh. Okay. I see."
"We did fuck, like, as a matter of fact."
"Oh. Really? When?"
"I dunno. Sunday, maybe."
"Okay." I nodded. "Okay."
Before we paid the check we decided to head to Oscar's to collect rent for the studio. Intimidation was in order, he was three months behind and I was tired of fronting. If Georgia and I caught him at home he'd be nailed, he couldn't tell us that he'd forgotten to go to the bank.
Oscar was not exactly destitute, either. He'd upgraded a lot of the band equipment, which was wildly appreciated. But then he played this torture game with the rent. It was rumored he had a fund. Definitely dough was one more way Oscar was weird.
I knocked and knocked, then Georgia brilliantly tried the knob.
By East Village standards the place rocked. There was space, used well, objects ingeniously arranged, innumerable shelves, stacked milk crates. I'd already been treated to the grand tour of the collections: Hot Wheels, timepieces, dental supplies, hats, sea urchins, even Barbies. About a hundred thousand records.
But no Oscar. Georgia sat on the bed. "Might as well wait awhile." She took off her black army boots and socks. Turned out she had delicate feet and ankles under all the gear, slender, shapely. She picked up a Hot Wheel miniature, one of the original Sprectraflames, an olive Python.
"Oscar told me about that one. It's rare..." Unfortunately I decided the moment was ripe. "...just like you."
"No, Ray. Definitely not."
"I'm not interested. Fuck off."
"I've seen you with at least three chicks the half year we've known each other."
"Yeah, but I'm a good guy. I just like women!"
"You're a pussy hound and I can hear the barking. That's not what I'm looking for. No, you're not some fucking gold-chain wearing drooling slob, but your goal is the same."
"Go sit over there. Now! Please."
I obeyed. What could I do?
Oscar arrived about ten minutes later, eyes rimmed red, alarmed. "What the hell are you guys doing in here?"
"The door wasn't locked."
"Oh my God! I've never left my door open, ever! My mom died this morning!"
Georgia put her hand to her mouth and made a concerned noise.
"My brother called. She died of a heart attack. I couldn't deal with it, I had to go for a walk! I have to go to Connecticut now. Oh man. This is really weird!"
Georgia put the bass down, stood up and hugged him. He flinched. Then he sobbed. She stepped back and put her hands in her pockets. "You're a wreck, man. You want me to go with you?"
He looked at her with a kind of awe and nodded.
We were all on the way to some obscure gig, friends of Lee's, in Park Slope. I was amusing myself watching Lee watch Laura, who seemed to be trying to keep him at more than arm's distance. In all her jewelry, tartan skirt and ripped tights, she looked like she had tumbled down a hill, but it was studied anarchy. Georgia hung from a metal strap next to Oscar, but his gloom only dissipated when Laura sat next to him, asking how he was holding up. "I'm a collector too," I overheard her say around the Smith Street stop. And later on the street she walked next to him and locked arms. Lee and I walked behind, and Georgia trailed behind us humming to herself.
The gig sucked.
Oscar had had a bit too much of the bong. His hysteria was not contagious. We were midway through "Halo of Flies," the ludicrous bit about the "middle Asian lady." Oscar bungled it badly then couldn't stop busting up, gasping "sex" over and over.
"Oh fuck off," Georgia said.
"No really! God! This song is about sex! It's about fucking!"
"There's a huge revelation." I couldn't help smirking.
Georgia was punching Oscar in the shoulder. "That's because you're finally getting some."
"What?" Lee squawked, standing, pointing drumsticks like pistols. "Oscar, Oscar's getting some? So who's the lucky lady?"
"None other than the Snow White of the Lower East Side."
"Who?" Lee turned to her.
"Who do you think?"
"No!" Lee's face fell.
"You didn't know?!" Georgia was rubbing it in.
Oscar beamed. "We've been like animals! Layer after layer of fucking! A continuum of constant fucking moments and moments of fucking!"
Lee shook his head in stoned perplexity. "All right, stop with the fucking bullshit! Fucking freak!"
"What's your problem, man? Polysyllables upset you?"
"My problem is that that cunt would fuck with a loser freak like you!"
"So what if she's a cunt, which she is but only in the most exquisite sense! If she's supposed to be anyone's girlfriend it's down to Ray and she said he cut her loose. You don't mind I'm fucking her, Ray?"
"Be my guest, Oscar. Can we get back to the song now?"
"I can't believe that fucking whore fucked you!" He looked heavenward, mumbling "Oscar" rhetorically, disbelievingly.
"Hey, you're a pathetic arrogant asshole!" Oscar's fighting words surprised even himself.
But this did it. "Fuck you!" Lee yelled. He threw down the sticks, danced around his set, grabbed Oscar by the shoulders and attempted to throw him to the floor but tumbled down with him. They scuffled on the floor like angry dogs until Georgia's screaming reached a certain pitch of intensity.
When she had their attention she sighed. "For godsakes! Even I slept with her! That's what she does! That's her thing! That's her mission! She sleeps with bands! Whole bands! We've all slept with her! Get over it!"
On the street Georgia clarified this situation. "I'm not a lesbian, okay?"
"Well that's sure a relief."
"And that's not why I rejected you so don't go getting grumpy. She seduced me more with her ideas than anything else."
"She's got ideas? "
"Be nice. It's performance art to her, Mr. Smarty Pants. She's slept with Ducks on the Wall, Ick Bin, Metal Fatigue. I was a big challenge since I'm a straight chick and so is she. But we had fun, she's a fun girl."
"She's a slut."
"Yeah, but one with a mission, which is admirable."
"So you had fun sleeping with her, now don't you think you'd have fun sleeping with me? I mean, if you're really so straight?"
"Ray, you're just the type of guy I need to avoid."
"But I'm so right for you!"
Oscar claimed to be excessively circumspect about locking up. But he came home from a show to find his Hot Wheels pummeled, the timepieces crushed, the Barbies violated. No sign of break-in.
Boiling Over was also smashed to bits in the bargain. Lee came drunk to rehearsal, with a hammer in his back pocket. He said he finally understood what Oscar meant about the joys of repetition, hammering things over and over.
Oscar just grinned like a fool in shock, packed up his bass and walked out.
I called and dropped by but he was never around. I saw him about a year later, with Laura. I couldn't help it, I thought this was weird, like she was slumming. That changed when I heard, maybe a year after that, they'd moved to Connecticut together.
One night an Alice Cooper song came on a Web station my son was listening to. Later that night I did one of my occasional Web searches for Oscar Fruge, this time I found a number and the next morning I reached him. We chatted for a half hour. On a Saturday night two weeks later I pulled up past a stand of birch under the canopy in front of the doors. The exterior was huge, a dated, two story affair. Oscar came to the door. He'd gotten rounder, eyes sunk deeper, but the smile still appeared unrelentingly insane. Laura Fruge, housewife, mother (and online student, I learned), was busy preparing a Mexican dinner, her specialty according to her husband. She hugged me warily, and throughout the night maintained the distance. Maybe it was her mission that night to remain aloof.
Oscar introduced me to the children, two boys and a girl, Garrett, Jack and Betsy. They were watching TV with their nanny Hillary and squabbling over the remote. He then steered me toward his collections -- bass guitars, photo art, four vintage autos -- and then we repaired to the basement entertainment den. There was one more collection there, the best by far (well, not counting the kids, perhaps), in a large glass showcase: the hammered Hot Wheels and the cracked timepieces. The violated dolls were not in evidence. He opened the case and immediately I picked up the battered olive Python. "I remember you were so proud of this one."
"And now it's truly special, all smashed up! Take it, man! It's yours, buddy!"
"No, I'm not! Man, I'm so glad we did the band! I look around the trading desk and say to myself, these schmucks were never rock stars like me! Like you and me, buddy!" Slaps on the back. "Hey, how long did you and Georgia last together, altogether?"
"What, the usual three months, I guess. She had issues. Guess I did too. I wonder where she is now. She just disappeared. She was trippy, though. Guess what her last words to me were?"
He nailed her inflection perfectly: "'Fuck off!'" He sighed. "You know, there's lots of people who'd say I sold out and became normal. Maybe it's true. But I'm happy! I've followed an ancient template: grow up and build a family and provide for them. And I'm happy. I'm a righteously happy fucker. So you know what I'd say to those people? I'd say, 'fuck off'!"
Dinner was a culinary success. A nice spicy steak burrito, fine by me. Hillary herded the kids off somewhere to have their tacos.
We three adults dined in a spacious room next door to the indoor pool. Oscar had told me on the phone he and Laura still used it for skinny-dipping, "after the kids are down, of course," but no invitations were forthcoming.
Laura was still the big-boned blowsy woman with the inflated voice to match her figure. But there was a gravity to her now that wasn't one bit matronly. Despite her self-effacements I felt like she saw right through me -- and her husband as well.
At one point she asked about Lee.
"Last I heard he became a kind of bum. He picked up the violin, he used to busk on street corners. I think that was after you guys left. Apparently Tod, you remember Tod the rock star, he was great, he tried to help him out, but it was no use. I passed him on the street corner a few times. I felt like throwing him some coins but it felt too weird."
We small-talked our way through the rest of the evening, mostly about Bush's suicidal war-drumming and the state of the music industry. Oscar behaved with a mildly distressing maturity, although during the dessert of flan and espresso he leapt to his feet and began dragging Laura and me around the room in a futile attempt to "enact the Now Moment." "You were here -- " tugging her by the arm -- " and now you're here! " It wasn't funny but we made a game stab at amusement.
Not long after Hillary brought the kids upstairs I started stretching. Ten minutes later they hovered near as I pulled on my overcoat. Standing by the door Laura suddenly said, "I wonder where Lee is now." She said it with so much feeling that we all paused.
Then Oscar said, "Poor unhappy fucker!" And we all laughed.
Driving back to the city afterward I realized I'd forgotten to ask Oscar for his theory on how Lee got into his apartment that afternoon so long ago. Maybe he stole a key and had it made? Maybe Oscar had already given Laura a key and Lee got hold of it?
Damn, I thought. Well, I'll just call him sometime and ask him. Or should I just let sleeping hounds lie, nestled deeply in the warm folds of the Now Moment? What did it matter, really?
I began to feel an awful sadness by the time I was leaving Connecticut. I hadn't cried in a long time. I didn't even know which of us poor fuckers I was crying for, but I do know that as the tears welled up I found myself fiddling with the smashed olive Python car in my pocket, squeezing it really tight.
About the author:
Ivan Nahem played drums for The Situations and Swans, and sang lead for Ritual Tension. (This story does not directly reflect those experiences.) He's self-published a book of poems and has had work in Reflex, Rolling Stone, Asymptote, Long Shot. He served as Writing Conference host on Echo and edited the webzine Heartbalm Jelly. His website is www.splutter.net.