This is a story about Carol.
She tried to molest me in the parking lot!
This was right after a show, trying to get from the stage door to the limo and she just grabbed me. But there was something about her. I mean, she was pretty. I don´t know what she said but the next thing I knew, she was sitting next to me on the back seat, stroking my knee, telling me that was the best show she´d ever seen in her life.
Later, at the hotel, we lay on the bed and she spilled good Spanish wine and jabbered about her Arizona jailbird ex-boyfriend who´d made her send him dirty, sweaty clothes because normal letters weren´t enough.
I had to cut myself for the guy, she said. Can you believe that?
I saw a snapshot of something that was half-man, half-bull. I had to cut my freakin´ arms on a cactus, wipe the blood and gore and stuff on my dress and send him it. The guy on her phone had a spider’s web on his forehead. You should see what his other tats do when he flinches!
This was during the north American leg of the Bald Head, Hairy Back tour, right before Kipling left, and we were probably at the top then. You never know but you kinda know. I kinda knew. The air was rare up there, heady. I kinda knew that from there on in it was all gonna be downhill. Maybe I´m still headed downhill. There´s no suites these days, no limos, no Carols, even, but things are picking up now. New band. New manager. But, anyway, I digress.
Back then we had a suite each, sometimes we got a whole floor. Girls like Carol were lining up in every city to come talk to us, hang with us. I was a rock star and I knew it – at last. Carol said she´d been my sister in my last life. She said she connected with me like only a sister could. We´re all brothers and sisters, she whispered, curling up next to me like a cat. It´s just that no-one´s gonna believe it til the aliens come.
We should go to the Caribbean, was my drawled reply. That´s all I said. Fly there right now, you and me. Tonight. Wake up there and spend the whole day at the beach. Spend the whole week at the beach.
It was just a drunken, stoned suggestion, nothing more, but Carol went crazy. She sat up, lifted her big, fashionista shades and stared at me.
The room was thick with smoke and I didn´t even know what day or time it was. Those days I used to pass out at midday and wake up an hour before the show. It was probably silly o´ clock in the morning. I didn´t care. There were no rules, right? There are no rules, right?
Why did you say that? she asked. Oh, why did you say that?
Say what, babe? The Caribbean?
Are you playing with me?
I took a swig of bourbon. A big one. Tasted like Christmas. My third eye rolled backwards in my head.
Why did you say the Caribbean?
Because…? I held out my hands. I was still in my stage clothes. My hat. The leather waistcoat. My chains jangled. I don´t know! Because I liked the idea that we might go to the beach or something? Swim in the water? It was just something I said! It means nothing!
You swear you didn´t know I´d been there? What happened to me there?
What happened to you there? Carol, how could I know what happened to you anywhere? I´ve only just met you, man. You´re sitting here now. This is the first time I´ve ever set eyes on you – what are you talking about?
Carol stared at me. She had black eyes. I told you. Totally black eyes. We are connected.
Finally – and I swear to God it was like the sun´s fingers poking up over the edge of the moon – she started smiling. I reached out my hand, my fingers still bent up and blistered from the concert. Jeez. Come here, baby. Come here. You freaked me out, honey. Now you gotta calm me down. You gotta really calm me down.
Later I asked her to tell me what had happened, why she´d gone crazy when I mentioned the Caribbean. I guess I kinda thought I might get a song out of it, maybe an idea for a tune. I was scared we were gonna run dry when Kipling went, although Nimrod´s chick said she had a whole double up her sleeve. I had a coupla ideas. Well, OK: riffs. Well, OK, ideas that made sense when I was lying on my back with hand on my forehead but deserted me when I got vertical.
You don´t have to tell me nothing if you don´t wanna, babe. I´m cool with cool.
But Carol talked.
In the mid-eighties, she said, she´d flown to Puerto Rico, to San Juan, on an exchange program for students. She´d stayed in this old, crappy high-rise in the city which had views of the beach, of the Caribbean Sea. And sure, it was nice, the views, the ocean. But the city back then, she said, was pretty scary. Lots of poverty. Alleyways full of electrical wires, like other people have washing wires, and a weird vibe on the street. You couldn´t be a foreigner and fit in: everyone knew who you were and where you came from. It was impossible to disappear.
But you stayed, right, babe?
Sure. I was going to school. I had, like, this tiny little room in an apartment block, near the top. Home was bad. My mom and dad were getting divorced. I wanted to be on my own, try to make a life for myself.
And your pad?
Some crappy high-rise in San Juan. The ninth floor was the strangest thing. When you walked down the corridor you could see a crane at some building site down the street through the window at the end of the hall. As you walked towards it, the crane seemed to shrink. When you started coming out of the elevator the crane seemed huge, like it was right up close, but as you walked down to my room it seemed to shrink away, go back to being a crane, on a site, with the blue sea behind it. It was like an optical illusion. I never forgot that.
Carol said she lived in a room with two other girls and they learned Spanish from a maid called Maria who the school paid to clean their rooms. Most of the time the poor girl tried to avoid the attentions of the horny American teenagers, there on exchange. Sometimes Maria or her mom brought in food for those guys, rice and beans in lard; taught them how to cook. I was in love for the first time in my life back then. I was going with a real clever math-type guy. He was Japanese. He´s an astro professor or something now. We talk sometimes but he just zoomed on ahead of me. He was cute. We´d go to class together, hang out at the beach all day. I was always kinda hung up on music.
Down in front of the apartment block, where the local boys stradled scooters and sucked their religious chains, Carol said they watched a crazy guy called Bailey do his stuff. Everyone knew Bailey.
Oh, man, Bailey was a weird dude. He used to walk right out into traffic doing this kind of crazy dance, tapping his head, spinning around, walking right out across these busy lanes of traffic, dicing with death, you know. Carol saw me nodding like a hungry dog. Ah, you like the psychos, right, baby?
I´d picked up my guitar. My eyelids were heavy but the will was there. Tell me more. Just keep talking. That guy Bailey – I mean those type of guys are a dime a dozen. Tell me something else.
I don´t know. About the biggest pychos you met there. The craziest stuff. What´s the stuff you still remember? Stuff that keeps you awake when you remember it at night?
Carol took me seriously. She shuddered, like you do when you´re cold or you can´t help it. Oh, the biggest psycho I knew there was right down the hall from me. Crazy gay guy who used to hear voices in his head. Talking all the time about Fred Flintstone.
B minor. G. B-G-A-B.
Sure. Fred Flintstone. No word of a lie. I mean, this dude was obsessed. Barney has no eyes, you know: that was one of his rants. The Flintstones is set in the future – after the apocalypse; that kinda stuff. But this dude was a real, you know: a freak. I mean, he believed this stuff. He had people giving him information, some kind of fragmented voices in his head – his own voices, but different, strands of himself – talking to him. I saw Carol´s face for the first time now, under all that make up. She was a little girl. Just a normal town girl. That guy was a total whack job, man. I don´t even know how you´d go about writing a song about him.
Man, he sounds crazy. There´s no music in crazy people.
Me and my girlfriends wouldn´t even think of going in his room if Chuck wasn´t there.
Chuck? Oh, man. Chuck was this, like, California dude. Had a guitar. I think he wanted to be in a band or something but he was, like, too messed up by religion, or religious stuff to do anything about it. Had like bibles around. Christian music. Some Lou Reed tape that was totally blank.
Man, what school did you go to? The special school?
Chuck used to hang with us. He was at the beach the day my friend Toni nearly drowned. Yeah, I remember now. He was, like, snorkelling around on his own and he came out of the water telling us the fish were chasing him. Huh. Chuck. I wonder whatever happened to him? He said he was gonna go back to Boston and start a heavy metal band or go to New Zealand and see Halley´s Comet. One of the two.
Huh. I was plucking chords. Never heard of him. Maybe he hit New Zealand.
Ha, yeah. Carol came over and sat real close to me. Oh, is someone jealous? I can feel that someone´s jealous. Is my brother jealous?
Jealous? Man, but I was. I didn´t want no other dudes in the room with us, not here where I was King. You´re kiddin´ right?
Carol came over and lay right on me. Can we talk about something else?
Sure, baby. I strummed the chords and sung a song I was working on: I just wanna be a singer like Lou Reed, you know.
I like Lou Reed, she said, sticking her tongue in my ear. As her wet, beery lips touched mine and I saw the beach and a beaten up old car, red numbers dripping blood, streaming past, which said: Isla de Encanta.
Maybe I could write a beach song? Like a cool, surfing, looking for chicks song?
None of my stories good enough for you, babe?
Your friend Toni. I sat up and lit a cigarette. She nearly drowned? Or she drowned drowned?
She nearly drowned. But it was close, you know. Her mask got full of water and she was in deep, you know.
I put up my hand. Nearly drowned isn´t a song. None of that stuff is a song. I tapped my heart. I guess that´s why you´re the groupie and I´m the star, hey, baby?
The painting at the beginning of this story is by Ben J Hartley.