When the room started getting empty and quiet, Terry walked out of his own art show opening and came down the street to meet Megan and her friend Jen and me at The Velvet Underground club. Mark wanted to take off, so Paul was driving him and his drum kit home. Then he was supposed to come and pick us up and we would take the rest of our gear home.
"He's a good little soldier, that Paul," Terry said as he settled in at our table with pint of Labatt 50. "Doesn't mind doing the driving, extra leg-work, that kind of stuff. Shit, I feel like I'm using him half the time. Then I have to remind myself that he's using me back."
Megan and Jen sat there staring blankly at him. I introduced both girls and hoped Terry wouldn't say anything them being strippers, especially after the conversation we'd had about his ex-wife being a stripper and about how they all inevitably became dead-souled human cash registers.
I was wasting hope.
"So, you two are peelers?" he said with a dry smile.
"Yes," Megan said coolly.
"Megan's an artist," I said.
"Really?" Terry said. "Well, you can't strip forever, right? Gotta have something to fall back on. Like me, I guess. I'm like a stripper. I'm getting too old to shake my ass on stage, so now I have to find something else to pay the bills."
Megan smiled. I could imagine the little icicles leaping from her eyes to stab Terry through his. "I'm not a stripper looking for something to fall back on," she said. "I'm an artist. I have an MFA from Concordia and I sold eight thousand dollars worth of work last year. I dance to help pay the bills while my career develops, so please do not dismiss me as an airhead who likes to play with paint."
"I just dance," Jen said with a dismissive smile.
Terry looked at me and smiled. "I like these chicks," he said. "So, was your name Megan? Tell me, what did you think of my paintings?"
Megan shrugged. "I think you need to learn how to mix paint. You don't have to use it all straight out of the tube, you know. I could look at your paintings and say 'Thalo Blue,' Cadmium Red,' 'Raw Umber,' and so on. It's beginner level stuff, really. You should take some classes."
Terry laughed, apparently enjoying the smack-down. "Ha. Well, somebody liked them. Half of them sold tonight. Hopefully they all sell out before the show comes down."
"Good for you," Megan said.
"So were you like, some kind of rock star or something?" Jen asked, and the conversation moved to more neutral territory, and we got onto a chat about Canadian bands. Jen had actually seen The Clutch Dogs play at The Drake Hotel once, although she didn't remember Terry specifically. "I see a lot of bands," she said.
"And I thought I was unforgettable," Terry said with a grin. As much as I was worried about him screwing up my chances with Megan, it was nice to see him enjoying himself.
And then the thought crossed my mind that I really did have a shot with Megan, and I felt a funny twist in my stomach. In the time we'd known each other we'd mostly just taken shots at each other. Even going to see her in the club where she danced, I didn't really believe that I had a chance with her. It just seemed like a daring, if slightly obnoxious thing to do.
But thinking I might have a real shot, tonight, was unsettling. While I'd been fighting and flirting with Megan, I'd really been trying to figure out how to get back in the good graces of Carrie Anne, and subvert her ass-hat boyfriend Charlie. The idea of actually hooking up with Megan hadn't really progressed beyond a pipe dream, or a masturbation fantasy.
While Terry talked, she and I kept exchanging little smiles, little twinkling-eye glances. And suddenly I didn't know who I was really chasing anymore.
Terry got a phone call from Paul, and we decided to have the bass player take us all back to my apartment for some beers, which I had presciently bought on the way home from work that night. The four of us walked back to the little gallery, and the girls stood around while Terry, Paul and I loaded our gear out the back door into Paul's truck. Then we all jammed in for the ride, with the girls squeezing into the back on either side of me.
We invited Paul to come on up with us, but he refused, giving a simple "No thanks," or "I'm good," in response. Terry got a little steamed that Paul wouldn't give a reason, and the vibe got a little awkward. I thought maybe he didn't want to be an extra wheel on a two-girl, two-guy operation.
The girls thanked Paul effusively for the ride while Terry and I unloaded out guitars and amps, and Paul gave them tight-lipped smiles and nods in reply.
Terry was less appreciative. He gave Paul a gruff "See ya," and slammed the truck door, before turning and leading the way inside the apartment.
"What's with that guy?" asked Megan as we trudged up the stairs. "Did we do something wrong?"
"I don't know," I said. "He barely ever talks to me anyway."
"Hell with him," Terry barked. "Let him go home if he doesn't want to hang out."
Jen, Megan and I stopped at my third floor door while Terry carried his gear up to his fourth floor apartment. I opened the door and let the girls in. As I've said, my apartment isn't much, especially in the way of furniture or decoration, but in we came. I hauled my guitar and amp to the corner and set them down with my acoustic.
The girls gravitated over to the couch, and I grabbed the two chairs from the kitchen table and brought them over. "Beers? Music?" I asked.
"Both?" Megan replied. She had her little purse open and was digging around.
"And of course, the Lou Reed album." I hit the fridge first and brought out golden tall cans of a Danish beer that had been on sale at the liquor store, handing out one each to the girls, and setting one each on the chairs for Terry and me.
Megan found her joint and lighter. "Is it okay to smoke in here?"
"Yeah, I guess," I said, as I booted up my laptop, which served as the stereo (yes, I have external speakers). "Better that than a cigarette, anyway. It doesn't linger as much. Lemme grab you something to ash in."
Megan lit up, dragged, and passed to Jen. Terry came in, and I cued up the "Take No Prisoners" album. We passed the joint around and sipped the beers while Lou Reed talked his way into "Sweet Jane."
"Is the the album you were talking about?" Terry asked. "Man, you're OCD about this thing."
"So, do we have to sit and just listen, or can we, like, talk and stuff too?" Jen asked. She'd taken off her shoes and was sitting with her legs tucked up under her. Terry was eyeing her up.
"No, no," I said, "talk. I'll tell you when the good parts come."
"Nate here is a Lou Reed connoisseur," Terry said. "But we forgive him. We'll be patient. We'll show him the way out."
"As long as he doesn't play 'Lulu,'" Jen said.
"No 'Lulu,'" I said. "This is 'Take No Prisoners.' It exemplifies my ideal of rock and roll. It allows for improvisation. There's interaction with the audience. There's great riffs, but there's also story-telling. This album is like, a bizarre how-to of rock music. You know, if you wanted to write the greatest book ever about rock and roll, all you would have to do is sit and carefully transcribe this whole album, crowd shouting and all."
"Like I said, he's OCD."
"It's cute," Megan said. "It's lame, but it's cute." She passed me the joint.
"Thank you," I said, taking a drag, holding, and finally exhaling. "This is good. It's been a long time. I haven't even looked for a connection since I got back in town."
From there the conversation moved to drugs, the difficulty of scoring (apparently not that hard for strippers), and on to weird friends, run-ins with the cops, embarrassing situations, and other things that typically come up in conversation when a group of relative strangers share a joint and some beers.
"Here, listen to this," I said when the track 'I'm Waiting For The Man' came on. The song, which is a frenetic rocker in it's original recording, was slowed way down to a bluesy crawl. You can hear members of the crowd shouting, including one guy who keeps requesting 'Rock and Roll Heart' (terrible song) at the top of his lungs. "Wait for it," I said, and then we hear Lou calmly, evenly announce, "I sing when you shut up."
I sat back with a satisfied smile. "That's fucking awesome."
Terry rolled his eyes. "I guess. Can we get off Lou Reed, please? Seriously, it's enough. Play the album if you want, but don't make us listen to every bit that you think is cool, okay? It's hero worship. It's not cool, and it's not interesting for us."
"All right, all right, I'm done," I said. I sat back and smiled.
"Look at this fucking guy," Terry said with a chuckle, and he drained his beer. He shook the can back and forth, took a final sip, and set the empty can on the floor. "Perfect timing. Okay folks, that's it for me. That's for coming to the show, Nate, thanks for helping out on guitar. You've been a great audience, and it's time for me to say good night."
Jen looked at Megan. "What about us?"
"I'm going to hang out for a while," she said. "Why don't you get a cab? Here." She dug into her purse and pulled out a twenty. "Here's my share of the cab."
"What?" Jen sat up. "I don't even know where we are! Where am I supposed to get a cab from here?"
"Let me grab my jacket and I'll walk you down to Dundas," he said, getting up. "You can get a cab from there."
Jen and Megan exchanged a brief challenging stare until Jen finally broke off and got up. "Okay. I guess I'll get a cab. I don't need your twenty. I make more money than you anyway."
Megan shrugged and looked at Terry and me. "She does. She's a great dancer."
Terry went upstairs and came back down with his jacket and we said our goodnights to Jen. The girls hugged and kissed on the cheek, and Megan closed the door behind them and locked the deadbolt. "Oh," she said. "You don't mind if I hang out for a while, do you?"
My heart was already pounding. "No, no. You're welcome to stay. Hang out."
We went back and sat down on the couch. The same album was still playing. "This is cool and all, but do you mind of I put on something else?"
"Sure, play whatever you like."
She got up and started playing on the computer, going online to find what she was looking for. "No offence to Lou," she said, "but it's time for something else."
"Sure," I repeated. The pot had hit me, and my mind felt strangely wide. I was fairly sure of where things were going, but I had no idea how to proceed. It had been a while since I'd been in this situation: in close with a beautiful girl that really seemed worth something, like someone special, and I was stumbling on how to proceed. I'd been in situations like this before and watched them fall apart because I was too nervous to act, waiting for the girl to make the first move. What was she expecting me to do?
The music was The Rolling Stones. "This is old," I said. "I don't even recognize this."
"It's 'Now,'" she said, settling back onto the couch. "It's their second, or the U.S. version of their second, I guess. You know how it was back then. Mostly covers, I think. Could you imagine if bands today got to do that? Like, if record companies could let bands release like, three cover albums before there was any pressure to start writing your own material?"
"I guess pop acts are still like that," I said. "The companies don't care who writes the stuff, as long as it sells."
"I guess. Here, listen to this," she said, and she got up and skipped ahead to the next track. "I love this song. It's called 'Down Home Girl.'"
She was standing in the center of the room, and she started swaying to the rhythm of the song. It was a bluesy thing, a playful track, and she moved her hips in almost a twitch, back and forth. Her dress clung to her figure, making her all moving lines and curves of softly shining purple and swinging blonde hair.
"I never did get to see you dance," I said as she turned to face me. She started moving in a coy two-steps-forward, two-steps-back dance.
"You can watch me now," she said, and she started moving her shoulders to the rhythm as well. "I never dance to this in the club. It's too out of date. But this is the shit I like." She started to grind, swaying lower and lower, moving her hips.
I watched her silently for a moment, and then, from the pot and the nervousness, I started to talk: "You know what I kind of figured out about dancing? Like, the kind of dancing that you do in the club? It's kind of like a mating dnace, right, like not really different from peacocks, or other animals that do a mating dance, it's like, a sexy dance to attract a mate, but it's for guys that can't actually get girls to do the dances in real situations, you know? So it becomes a commodity, and the guys are paying to watch a stage-play of a mating dance."
"Shut up," she said, continuing to dance, a smile on her lips. "I dance when you shut up."
I grinned and relaxed. She picked up my beer can and handed it to me. I drank and watched her move, her body undulating beneath the tight shiny material.
As Mick Jagger sang out the last refrains, "Ohhhhhh, you're sooooooo, down home girl," Megan slid across the floor toward me and leaned in, melting on top of me to put her lips against mine.
|This is chapter 19 of 30. "I Sing When You Shut Up" is the fourth novel Nolan Whyte has written for Ultimate-Guitar.com. Receive updates about his work on twitter at @nolanwhyte, and dig into some bad meat at endcity.blogspot.ca.|