I used to visit all the very gay places
those come what may places
where one relaxes on the axis of the wheel of life
to get the feel of life
from jazz and cocktails
the girls i knew had sad and sullen gray faces
with distant gay traces
that used to be there you could see where
they’d been washed away
by too many through the day
then you came along with your siren’s song
to tempt me to madness
i thought for a while that your pointed smile
was tinged with the sadness
of a great love for me
ah yes i was wrong
again i was wrong
life is lonely again
and only last year
everything seemed so assured
now life is awful again
and the thoughtful of heart
could only be a bore
a week in paris will ease the bite of it
all i care is to smile in spite of it
i’ll forget you i will
and yet you are still
burning inside my brain
romance is mush
stifling those who strive
i’ll live a lush
life in some small dive
and there i’ll be
while i rot with the rest
of those whose lives are lonely too
,,,,,,by Billy Strayhorn
Lush Life by Bill White
A bar need not be dingy to be a rat hole. There is plenty of gray vulgarity to be had in street-level establishments, behind picture windows that let the sun into the room, if not the soul. University areas specialize in such booze traps, where students start out with a quick one between classes and wind up on the slow horse after dark.
That’s when the pigs come in. After the Mastercard crowd finishes with their delicate suppers accompanied by two or three five-o-clock tails, the girls from the undergarment factory come waltzing through the doors, sizing up the guys who have already had too much to drink, even though it’s not yet 8 o’clock. Most of these delinquent students are happy to buy eight or nine beers for these sweet ladies, who will invite them home for a sloppy roll in a sweat-bag if they can hold up until closing time.
They are not the kind of girls Marshall would have chosen a mate from were he looking for romance in more savory places. But at night, after several beers, the distant gay traces in their faces took precedence over the sad grayness of their lives, and the beer sweat mixed odiferously with the taste of cigarette stained fingers as he kissed Paulette’s hands with the ardor of a dog spotting a dead seagull in the polluted tide.
Marshall had come in with the usual crowd that included like-minded students who enjoyed table-jousting with half-baked ideas picked up from philosophy classes they rarely attended. They say a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, but more often it is something hilarious, especially if you are eavesdropping in a bar on college students who think they wrote the book on subjects for which they cannot even manage a passing grade. They cannot even be excused with the explanation that it is the beer talking, because if beer could talk, it would be a lot smarter than the people who drink it.
Paulette was a sullen little bitch, who always came to the bar alone. She wasn’t pretty enough to risk competition, and found that she had pretty good luck with the boys when she had their complete attention so she could hypnotize them with her stink into thinking she was a hot number. In truth, her only advantage was that she was a sure thing, something she always made clear to whoever was paying for her beers on any given night.
Marshall was the lucky one tonight, Paulette having separated him from the herd after spotting the load in his wallet as he was buying a round of drinks for his table. When the bar closed at two, he offered her a ride home, and she asked him in, and they had another beer together before stripping off their clothes and going to bed, but somehow it wasn’t all that great. It fact, Marshall found the whole thing to be a little sickening. Paulette, with her Edith Piaf attitude and her Mickey Mouse face, was not the girl with whom he wanted to be spending the night. When he was sure she was sleeping, he quietly removed himself from her bed, put on his clothes, and got the hell out of there.
Marshall swore off the bar, and succeeded in staying away for nearly a week. He came in alone after seeing a movie, looking for someone to talk to about it, but none of his friends were there. He took a seat at the bar and was in the middle of his second beer when a college girl sat next to him. Saying she had seen him at the film, she asked him what he thought of it.
“Tarantino’s best yet. God that guy is a genius. He is the only one who could have done justice to Django. And he did it so well.”
“My God, this numbnut is an idiot,” Cynthia thought to herself, regretting that she had sat next to him and initiated a conversation. “How am I going to get out of this one?” she wondered.
“Tarantino scooped up a bunch of under-employed African-American actors who treated him like a God for giving them work, and he made them play act every fantasy he ever had about Black history, most of which came from Blaxploitation pictures and fake Italian documentaries like Goodbye Uncle Tom and Africa Addio,” she blurted, hoping to scare him off.
“Wow, he responded. “You don’t pull any punches, do you?” He began to laugh, half enchanted by the way her voice lilted when she tried to make it punctuate, and half enamored by the green of her eye seeming to spin around like a washing machine in a head full of furious opinions.
She looked him and the idiot she had initially sighted in that dull face began to recede into a the picture of someone whose intelligence had become dormant as a result of the barrage of academic stupidity that he had been contending with since graduating high school. “He must have been a pretty smart kid when he was a teenager,” she thought.
And so Marshall and Cynthia had a few beers together, and soon were dating like a normal couple. She seemed to him to be the first decent girl he had met since falling into the bar scene, and he was the first guy she had met in college who hadn’t been scared away by her nonpartisan intelligence. She didn’t love him, though. Her heart was in Paris, where she had spent the previous summer’s vacation and had gone wild over a snotty kid who liked to ridicule old school celebrities like Belmondo and Johnny Hallyday. She stuck with Marshall (who, incidentally, was madly in love with her and only her), though, through the school year, before returning to Paris to resume relations with the French kid.
Cynthia had told Marshall about Pierre-Louis, as he was called, but it wasn’t until she was back in Paris that the truth began to hurt. When she didn’t return to school in the fall, Marshall realized that his assumption that Cynthia had a great love for him was wrong, and that the greater reserve of her love had been held in account for Pierre-Louis. Hope gave way to loneliness, and loneliness led him back to the lush life from which he believed, only a year ago, love had delivered him.
“Romance is mush,” he mumbled bitterly to the pig who was sticking her fingers into the tear in his jeans that began right above his knee. “A stifling mush of things you’re gonna have to forget.’
“Aw, you don’t mean that,’ his paramour for the night replied. “We are all hopeless romantics in here.”
“Are we?” he barked, rising from his chair, turning on his heel, and making a beeline for the exit.
He wandered the streets all night, sucking on the pint of brandy he had picked up in a package store after leaving the bar. It gave him a warm feeling of invulnerability, a feeling that was completely absent when he woke in the early morning on a suburban lawn.
“Go on doggie, get out of here,” the man gently yelled after opening his front door to pick up the morning paper. “Go on now, get going.” Marshall looked around but didn’t see any dog. Then the man came off the porch and kicked him.