December 2013

Why Go on Seeing?

     It’s a punk club on Austin’s North Loop that’s a Chinese restaurant during the day. I’m forty-six, my name is Norm, and the drummer I crave, Sharon, looked maybe twenty-three.
     She leads the band. They call themselves The Woolly Woods. They make a sound heavy as a locker room full of jocks slamming metal lockers.
     Sharon’s got on a Jackson Pollock splattered t-shirt and blue jogging pants, she’s got a baseball cap, and her arms bulge thicker than mine as she beats at her drums.
     My love puts out none of the ragged terror of a punk band, but that’s not to say she doesn’t play viscous drums, smashing away on stage under the flashing lights. Between songs Sharon takes a drag on a water bottle on the floor.
     You know why I crave her? It’s her muscularity with a woman’s assurance beneath—it’s nothing like the destructive screaming anger that the male musicians attempt to project.
     I could use that energy. What man couldn’t? I want its sweat rubbing against my body, it’s juices coming around my paint brush.

     The first time I saw Sharon was at the nudist apartment complex on where I lived a year ago. I looked down from the second story balcony where I was working on a picture frame and there she was, in the rawhide, her bush hair wafting in the breeze, painting a bicycle in the sunlight by the pool.
     She had this can of highway yellow she was slapping on this rusted bike frame she’d liberated from the dumpster at the back of the building.
     “I almost got creamed by a car coming down Manor from the grocery store,” she said when I asked her why the yellow. “I need to make it safe to ride this hunk of junk at night.”
     We talked twenty minutes. I had trouble with my train of thought, so I went back inside and did my staring through the kitchen window and burned my lunch of scrambled eggs.
     Sharon had been kicked out her parent’s Dallas home. She was a big brown eyed, short haired nineteen, and hadn’t made connections yet in the Austin music scene to generate income, so she was taking care of this retired nudist guy named Wupperman in his wheel chair, fixing him food, helping him down to the pool for laps, in exchange for room in his apartment, for food and for some spending dimes.
     She started hanging out during her times off with Boland and I. I’m a painter; I do portraits and murals; Boland’s the manager of the nudist apartments, a philosopher of sorts, big into libertarianism.
     We were both in love, but Boland couldn’t see that age made a difference. I guess he didn’t look into mirrors much to see we’d turned grotesque, at best crumbling gothic cathedrals. He made a move one Sunday afternoon when she’d dropped by for a chat. She stiff-armed him back. They never spoke again and she’d walk out of my place the moment he walked in. Young women are unforgiving.
     “What was that guy thinking?” She’d say. “I thought he was my friend.”
     I’d just shrug. I didn’t say she was guilty of age prejudice. I didn’t say that some young women find older men’s interesting–at least they do in the old French underground films you can still rent on DVD.
     “I don’t know,” I’d mumble, “but don’t be hard on Boland. He’s lonely. His wife left him for another woman. He’s raising his boy alone.”
     I didn’t say, hey, babe, you’re a goddess now, but you’re perilous, you’ll be old and ugly before you know, wrinkled and defective and unloved in a wink, before you’ve lived half your dreams. Don’t generate bad karma by turning on those who like you.
     Besides, Sharon was posing free for the nudes I was doing, so I didn’t go on trying to explain the male sex thing.
     She told me she didn’t mind the paintings because none looked at all like her. “They’re too idealistic.”
     I was hurt when she said that. “I’m doing forces of nature. That’s all.”

     Ah but tonight, here in the one AM of the Chinese punk rock restaurant where the renters of the building, the owners of the restaurant, try to sleep in a room in the back and serve Chinese food for lunch and supper, I am thinking I don’t want to play daddy substitute any longer.
     What’s wrong with her making up with her real dad? So what if he didn’t want to support her because she didn’t want to go to college and wanted to be a rock and roller, sleep till two in the afternoon and eat her mother’s cooking and play loud music all night in her room?
     That’s his call. She’s a grown up. Time to get in the world and learn the beat of things.
     I am thinking how pathetic I am, and how pathetic the whole scene, these poor immigrant Chinese trying to get a leg up running a punk club weekend nights, me with my white beard and paunch moving around a crowded dark room with pimpled boys in leather who would be moshing if the space were larger.
     Even punks worry about mortality. They don’t want to crash through the picture windows at the front of the restaurant and get stabbed falling into the street by a dagger of glass.
     Tomorrow I’ll make my move and if she stiff arms, well, she stiff arms. At least I can get on with my work and start working to get her out of my head. Nudes don’t sell in a town like Austin that wishes its paintings to match the couch.
     That’s all right. I can still do great work, and my ex-wife still pushes my stuff in her gallery over on Lamar. She wants the child support for our daughter in middle school.
     They’ve got a tub here over in the corner full of long necks floating in water. I hand the Chinese guy by the register my three dollars and move to the line, then when I’m reaching in for a beer in the water, a big dude next to me growls,
     “Asshole, don’t cut me and my girlfriend?”
     The big dude holds his right hand next to his hip like he were a gunfighter. I can see there’s a leather carrying case with a knife.
     “I don’t want a fight,” I say. Sorry.”
     “You bet you don’t, grandpa.” The guy pushes close. “You’re too old–ain’t you grandpa?”
     I back away. I have no beer. I am a grandpa. I’ve a son, who dropped out of school and at eighteen married a sixteen year old he met at a pool hall. They’re already divorced; she’s in San Antonio with the baby.
     The big guy doesn’t follow as I make my way through the crowd toward the door. I stop and take a last look at my Goddess on stage.
     I’m a painting. I try not to forget that it’s dreams that rightly fill the head. Nothing you ever see in the world can be as meaningful.

—Chuck Taylor

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