I wrote this story in Los Angeles, many years ago, responding to the death of a friend.
He looked like a child. That is, he looked like he did when he was a child. The toxic bloat had made his face round and soft. His eyelids drooped the same way they did as when he stretched out underneath the lean-to hippies had built at the park. His hands were red and swollen. He looked like the fat lazy little boy. He looked like the fat lazy little dead boy.
The funeral was much easier than the wake. The wake began with an obvious and immediate schism between the Relatives and the Musicians. This gap grew wider and darker as the afternoon progressed. As if to provide some ghoulish climax, middle-aged men arrived late to the occasion, clad in some Edwardian burial get-ups. Long black overcoats and cravats. One dangled a cane and had painted his nails and purchased spats. Very quickly, a Relative asked This Man if he thought Gordon had deserved to die. She didn’t wait for an answer. Jim had never met This Man, but he was unsurprised by the sputtering response. “This is me.” He said, pressing his fingertips against his chest, “This is who I am.”
At Gordon’s funeral, Jim noticed that hip women aged more gracefully than hip men. The hip women had become handsome and offbeat and wealthy. Their hair had grown in slightly and was uniformly tight and well structured. They sported trim suits and weird, dark lipstick and tasteful eyeglasses. They ran three days a week. They had sons and daughters. They worked as lawyers or art dealers.
The hip men looked like adolescents or they looked like apologies. The adolescent hip men were crammed into button bursting suits that obviously didn’t belong to them. They were purchased ironically from thrift shops or begged off of more ambitious brothers. The apology hip men meticulously wrapped themselves in expensive fabric. They lifted themselves muscle bound at gyms and smelled of oils.
Jim sat in the last pew and spent most of the service trying to locate old friends. It was only during the first reading from The Book Of John that Jim wondered when Gordon’s family had converted to Catholicism.
Later, at a downtown pub, Jim met up with Brant Hill. “Downtown” was unrecognizable. The big porn shop had been ripped out and replaced with studio apartments. Cross Pens had constructed an elaborate corporate spread where once there had been a filthy vacant lot. The Galley was now part of a parking garage as were The Spot, Jerry Aremo’s Lounge and The Bad Penny. Only the Armenian American Men’s Social Club – where he had seen Neutral Nation perform with The Coffee Achievers and 76% Uncertain – remained undisturbed. As they hovered by in Brant’s VW Passat, Jim caught glimpses of defeated old Armenian American Men bent over beers.
They asked for IPAs from a stunning and muscular young woman wearing tights and a T Rex shirt. They never saw her again. Fifteen minutes later, the brew arrived, delivered by some bewildered kid with braces.
“Did you give your order to Celia?” he asked.
“Yeah. The other girl?” Brant answered.
“Fuck. Do you know where she went?”
The IPAs were tart and bitter – like spiked lemon juice, so they ordered wings and celery sticks. The Kid stalked around the place while the food was being prepared – as if hoping Celia would reappear from beneath a table or behind a curtain.
Brant had blown through the 80s playing with a four piece called The Anthem – straight ahead college rock U2 stuff. The Anthem’s shtick was their unabashedly Pro-Reagan stance. They shot off their mouths about Welfare Queens and Ayn Rand and Free To Choose and they wore Brook Brothers button down shirts and pinstripe neckties onstage. They did this without even an indication of a sense of humor. Their fans were aggressive MBA frat-boy types who liked to humiliate stoner Peace Punks. They would bend ears with tightly rehearsed raps about surface-to-air-missile ratios and the right to bear arms. If you walked around the club all night, you could overhear The Exact Same Conversation going on four or five different times. They called themselves Repunklicans.
Brant had finally finished college and gotten a job with a medical supplies distributor, presumably the one that belonged to his brother. He hadn’t touched his bass in close to twelve years. He was going to hang on to the Precision and the Rick and the SVTs so his kid could give it a whack later on.
“Do I know Mrs. Hill?” Jim asked.
“Jill Pine. She used to date Marky from…”
“Yeah. She’s still Jill Pine. Jill Hill wasn’t going to work. We moved back to Amherst so she could be closer to her Mom and Dad. Her Dad’s real sick on and off.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Yeah, it’s bad. He has MS, which can be really tough.”