I don’t dare question the mystery of our meeting, or demean it by calling it “fate” or some like term. I was 22. We were in an English class together, a large one. I believe Gary could mainly see my back. That’s why I thought it was my back that first attracted him. It was a nice back in those days, very strong. We had a mutual friend, Robert, who reluctantly introduced us at the Cal State Long Beach bar. I was drifting then. With my best friend Kathleen Alva, I had sworn off men. We had no further use for them. We’d had enough of arrogant, self-centered, childish, disrespectful, mean, stupid, bastards. We loved each other. We loved going to Spatz and dancing till closing, then to the diner on PCH to share a huge omelet at 3 a.m.
I say I was drifting. I had no concept of future. I didn’t believe in it, actually. I only believed in each day. I played at the idea of school, taking classes that sounded good to me. I don’t even think I was an English major. Education probably, something practical. But I hated those classes. I was a loner, too. I lived in a ratty little apartment with a single room, murphy bed and roaches. It was my first place alone, with no roommate. To this day, the smell of Raid slams me back to that room. Though I was drifting, I did have a job that I clung to like a lifeboat, in a department store called Mervyn’s. I moved from sales floor to stock clerk. I was incredibly strong. I worked there for 8 years. The thought of quitting filled me with fear. I didn’t believe in the future, but I knew I needed money to pay rent and eat, and go to shows and buy beer and cigarettes.
Gary met me. He wanted to meet me. Why, well, I won’t say. It probably wasn’t my sparkling wit or intellect. Pure physical attraction, I think.
I was small, strong, and wild. I thought of myself as a poet. What a larf! I wore mostly black and dark green clothes, and stuff I got from thrift stores. I had a favorite pair of green jeans and some green Vans, a long black skirt with buckles all the way up, black ballet flats. I wore berets a lot. My hair was sometimes unruly curls and bright red, sometimes bleached blond and cropped short like a boy’s. I always wore black liner all around my eyes and dark polish on my long nails. Gary came up to me in the bar. He wore a brown wool blazer and had a large red beard. Robert said our names, and Gary grinned at me. He sat down and started talking, not just talking but asking questions. I can’t even remember if I had any thoughts then. It seems like my mind was full of useless stuff, in no particular order. I was full of energy and quite a lot of rage. Gary had a lot of friends, who much later became my friends. He was a tutor. He wrote and drew and played guitar. He listened to old music, jazz and blues, and old rock, the Beatles and Stones. I knew only the music I’d abandoned (happily, all that big hair long solo crap, all that arrogant bastard crap), and the punk music I’d embraced. Gary liked The Clash, but wasn’t really into punk. I don’t know if he’d have liked the shows at Fender’s where I always emerged hot and bruised and happy. I couldn’t explain. I didn’t know how. Later he’d start liking more of it. It took some sort of articulation, but then I was all feeling, no reason. I learned from him that I didn’t need to exclude music that was equally real and unproduced just because it was old or wasn’t punk. There were old blues guys who were raw. And the voice of Tom Waits.
Our first date, the historic date. Gary asked what I was doing this Friday or Saturday night (I forget which, but it was a regular date night). I told him with some arrogance that I was going to a poetry reading at the LaFayette Hotel, where one of my friends was on the schedule. Gary was going too. Actually, his name was on the flier, in big letters. Hah! I didn’t know. I was suddenly impressed. He didn’t talk about himself, I guess. He didn’t think it was that big a deal. Did I blush? I was hard and cool. I must have swallowed my surprise. But it was fixed. We’d meet there.
The LaFayette Hotel was a city block on, was it First Street? Fourth Street? It was downtown. It was a compound, so multiple streets. On one side was Fender’s, where I spent most Friday nights. On one side was a bar. There was a maze of ballrooms inside (Fender’s was Fender’s Ballroom), there were venues for weddings and, apparently, for poetry readings. I don’t think this was a regular spot though. I suppose people lived in that building too.
The reading was good. Gary’s poems were funny, witty. Not all angst (actually, no angst). They were observations, mainly, clear-eyed, unpretentious, real. My friend’s stuff, on the other hand, was pretty self-indulgent. I didn’t know. I was learning though.
We moved from the venue to the bar. It was jammed with people. I won’t tell the story of the woman I came with, who kept rubbing against Gary when she passed him to get a drink. I just remember thinking it was odd. Gary brought me a drink, more than one. There were yelled introductions to some of his friends. Joey in particular, I remember. I don’t recall if Robert was there. Probably. My romantic memory was this: I had to go pee. The restroom was hard to find. At least, it seemed like it. The directions were very complicated. Gary escorted me. We went down hallways, past nooks and glass walls, wending our way. I was undoubtedly a bit drunk, which might have contributed to its seeming such a maze.
He took me there, and on the way back pushed open a door to an empty, dark ballroom. It must have had chandeliers. He danced me around. Did he sing some appropriate tune? He had and has a wonderful voice, sweet, lean, lithe.
I was about to abandon my pact with Kathy. No men. But since I didn’t believe in the future, it was probably going to be only for a short time. All relationships were like that. You found out who the other person really was, a psycho, a selfish bastard, a manipulative brute, or, worst, a dullard. You left.
We went back to Gary’s apartment with a few other people. Soon I was on Gary’s lap, his guitar laid across mine, and he was playing Beatles’ songs. I stayed there for days. I remember it this way: we never left the room. But that’s impossible. I had to work, and even go to classes on occasion. Gary had to work and actually go to classes. I had to have clothes to wear. He was on a bland diet for his stomach. He cooked me poached fish, poached eggs. It was good food, and more real food than I was used to having at home. At most I’d throw some fish sticks into my disgusting oven.
Gary told me he was going to leave in about six months. He had it all planned, a year in Spain. He’d graduate and then go off to live in Barcelona with its romantic place in history and literature. He’d set money aside, a little. He was going to get a job teaching English. He’d said he was going. I learned that he meant what he said, that he made plans and followed them.
So, that was the end, I was sure. I went back to being mostly solitary. I had no phone, so it was hard to find me. It was okay, because I was stubbornly independent. I hated people doing things for me. I never asked for help (well, the occasional bit of credit at the corner market to get to the next paycheck, but that’s it). I’d walk miles and miles rather than accept the offer of a ride. I don’t know what it was. I didn’t want to owe anyone anything. Anyway, I liked my lone-wolf life. I could do what I wanted. And I could always stay with Kathy in Huntington Beach when I got stranded at work (usually by public transport: oh yeah, I had no car), and get some social interaction that way. I had a few neighborhood friends, gay couple, crazy old vet. I think I took classes less and less, then not at all.
Gary wrote letters from Spain. Many beautiful letters. They were detailed, sometimes lonely. I wasn’t a good correspondent. I didn’t know where this was going to go, if anywhere. The future wasn’t really part of my plans. Ha! I had no plans, except to keep living, working, going to shows, reading, and scribbling bad poetry.
Then he came back. And wanted to be with me. And I gave in. And our lives changed. He took me places, he made me go back to school, he made me do everything that was good for me. The years of Tony and us began, Larry the dog, the detached room over the garage, the black and white floor, Tony’s piano, movies, our historic trip through Mexico and Guatemala, happy hour martinis at The Paradise Cafe, Alison, Susan, Millie, Roy, Joey, Murray, Penny, Steve, Bob, Jim, Locklin and Zepeda and The Reno Room. But that’s another chapter.