I am in the process of getting divorced. I will say only this: marriage to me is very much like quickly getting your head stuck between two wooden balusters to peer down at some mythical ideal. Divorce is like it taking 1000 times longer to get your head from between those spindles, and 10 people to do it. You look like an ass with your head between two balusters, turned wood laying impressions in your neck. You can’t help wondering if every person you know well, or not, is thinking in their head about either the divorce or the marriage, “what the hell did you do that for?”, especially the ones who say you are brave to want to be happy. This sentiment, somehow, makes it all immensely worse. It reminds you of your obvious selfishness and disregard for the order and rules of a society that you never got a say in designing. Because really…who the fuck am I to be happy? I am THE last girl on Earth who’d read Eat, Pray, Love. I’d arm-wrestle that woman author for Oprah, whether or not she wanted me to.
The only solace that I have, that doesn’t read denial or vice for me in these bittersweet times, is music. Beautiful music. Loud with the windows down music. Soft and low music. Hug your pillow and cry music. Get down and dance in your room music. Wishing some dreamy guy would fix your record player that just broke music. Beauties like Fleetwood Mac’s album “Mystery to Me”. That is what I was listening to today. It reminded me of an old friend who was a sound guy at the TLA, a concert venue on South St. in Philadelphia around the turn of the century. That was when he landed me employment there, as a concession stand mistress selling popcorn and candy during concerts.
This is a story about Warren Zevon and fear.
I love uniforms. But this concession job hadn’t found itself important enough to demand one. So I decided that I would create my own, having a fetish for the order of a uniform. I wore a white, short-sleeve, cotton peasant-top, as crisp as I could iron it, and black twill double button slacks that bordered between flares and bell bottoms. I was working on South St. and, because of union rules, every show ended at 11 pm. By the time I got out it was midnight. I had to trek my way back north to my apartment in Olde City. To do this I had to get through Society Hill.
If you’ve ever been to Philadelphia then you know that, night or day, it isn’t exactly clear if anybody actually lives in Society Hill. It is a strange ghost neighborhood. At midnight, it’s a little scary. I never knew who, or what, I was frightened of; maybe just the rich people who bought these places, homes that clearly had no heartbeats inside. I didn’t want to blow what dough I made in tips on a taxi, so I wore a pair of Nikes every night and ran at top speed home through that deserted neighborhood.
Working a concession stand in a concert venue is like being a bartender in the way that a pattern became clear: the lonesome would wander while the show went on. Often, I would be engaged in a conversation where I found myself asking personal questions and then saying “Oh too bad, I’m sorry, I’m certain that will pass.” Lonely people are everywhere.
I always found the main act’s rider as fascinating as the “Lonely’s” stories I’d hear. A rider is a set of requests or demands that a performer sets as criteria for performance. They are most often ridiculous. I must say that Warren Zevon had a curious rider: a steak directly after he played; and while onstage he needed four one liter Diet Mountain Dews. This is not an easy drink to find, the size being the problem. When he was presented with four 20 oz bottles he demanded they be replaced with one liter bottles. I was sent in a taxi to a gas station, on Delaware and Spring Garden, to fetch him those four Diet Mountain Dews in the one liter bottle, this being the only place that sold them. I was happy to do it, but having had to leave my popcorn machine (from which I had just cleaned flax-seed shaped mouse poop) to get this ridiculous drink impressed on me that this man had terrible beverage taste. This sort of thing, for me, was unforgivable. I didn’t care what he wrote lyrically. What sort of person would put so much of something so gross in their body? Ew…
Any time you work with any sort of important person, there is a level of stress and anxiety in pleasing them, as if the world will fall apart and explode if their stupid wish is not granted by mere mortal hands. The ones in charge at the TLA waited, hands wrung, breath held, for four one liter Diet Mountain Dews to arrive. I returned, drink in hand, saving the day.
The show began, and so did my selling of soft drinks to the AAers and lightweights. I often didn’t care for the act, so only hearing a muffled version wasn’t a big deal. If it was slow I would sit on my stool, cross-legged, back straight, pouting, slowly turning my chin to meet my rising shoulder, pretending I’m a 40′s movie star. Crushed behind the back-lit glass counter of over-priced candy, I’d work on my long list of impressions I do for the sole purpose of entertaining myself (in case you are interested, I have been working on an impression of Larry David’s gait for like ten years, this one is all about pulling my shoulders down to weigh on my hips, long arms swinging).
As I sat there pouting, a fluffy dark-haired shapeless middle-aged woman wearing a drab raincoat wandered over and started to tell me about her decades long relationship, or “deep connection”, she had with Warren Zevon who was playing “Werewolves of London” at that very moment. It became clear that she was obsessed and delusional about her feelings but seemed, in appearance anyway, harmless.
She had a letter for him she clutched to her chest. I smiled persuasively and asked to see it. She refused. I could tell she loved my interest and hated me for being invasive, all at the same time.
I told her about the one liter Diet Mountain Dews and how that fact alone should be enough to inspire her to question this man’s greatness. I went on to explain that I, myself, practiced a beverage theory which was black coffee, water and red wine only (white wine was ok for parties but should be regarded pretty much as a pussy of a drink, like coffee with sugar and cream).
She wouldn’t hear it about the drink. She was obsessed with Warren Zevon. There was no reaching her. Her reaction was identical to when I tried to talk reason to a man (my own stalker) who was calling me every morning panting, asking me what I was wearing. I would try to tell him that these morning phone calls were no way to meet people. And…please stop the heavy breathing and panting. It’s simply impolite. He would always reply with “whatever…what are you wearing?” in this sweaty breathy whisper. Before hanging up each morning, my final reply was, slightly offended, “This is about me with clothes ON?”
I thanked her for sharing with me and said I had to go now, to grab Mr. Zevon’s steak. I turned my popcorn light off, stuffed my tips in my pocket and walked out the front door turning right onto South St. By the time I returned, the show was over and the lights were on. Warren Zevon was still on the side of the stage with his manager talking while the roadies packed up. Now, I am not shy, so I just walked up on stage and handed him the aluminum swan holding his requested steak.
I was about to turn and walk off stage when I overheard them anxiously speaking about a woman who could only be the letter-clutching, deep connection, fluffy-haired Angela I had met 30 minutes prior. I quickly understood that Warren and his manager were talking about the stalker and I said “Angela?” With lightning speed, Warren’s head turned to face mine, his eyes bulging, probably hopped up on all that fluorescent yellow caffeine. He looked terrified. “You know her?” I looked into the audience which was 90% gone. I saw her fluffy shapeless form, like a huge cloud of slow-moving black gnats and pointed to her. “She’s right there.”
Warren Zevon jumped, and screamed like a girl, looking very much like a cartoon. He ran back stage. His manager all but strangled me. Also looking like a cartoon he shouted “How could you! I’ve been hiding her from him for years! You ruined everything!” Apparently, this guy’s job as Warren Zevon’s manager also included hiding the physical identity of Angela, the letter writing long-time stalker, from Warren. I assumed this was to make her no more real for him than her words did.
Then he ran after Warren. I stood there on stage, bright lights above me, waved at Angela and smiled to myself thinking “well why the hell are you both still standing on stage then, dumb-ass?”
I was too lost in thought to run home that night. I was thinking about Warren Zevon’s fear of Angela and my own fear of the neighborhood I was walking through. Were either worthy of the stress they produced? Angela seemed as harmless as this ghostly neighborhood. Maybe he should have been more worried about the chemicals in all that Diet Mountain Dew?
Walking home, I thought about the ridiculous things my dad worried about for me. He’d often holler at me before I left his house, saying “Girl, somebody’s gonna pick you up and throw you in a van!” It never mattered how many times I tried to point out that I am almost six feet tall. “Dad, nobody is going to pick me up.” Or this gem he’d warn me about, “Somebody is going to take your picture, then put your head on a picture of a naked woman in a dirty magazine in Saudi Arabia!” These words chained together and the image they provided, along with his primitive cut and paste photoshopish knowledge, made me desperate to know what information or magazine formed this fear.
Do we all worry about the wrong thing? Is this why humanity doesn’t seem to advance that positively? Fear is a very powerful motivator. It may, unfortunately, be more powerful than love.
I’ve spent a lot of time in the last year questioning my own fears, stuck in the spindles, piecing stories like these together in my crappy time-line, trying to understand how I ended up here. Should I open my eyes wide-shut, turn the TV off, demand to feel something out of life and ask myself if the fear of hurting the people I love is really an expression of love at all? Seems like that’s the other side of the “Who the fuck am I to be happy?” coin…both sides self-important. Much like a rider at a concert venue.
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