Life settled into a pauper’s groove. I enjoyed Record Bar but the pay was terrible, so I tried to hustle up a better job wherever I could. The guy at the end of our block ran a stained glass business out of his Victorian. I tried hanging around, pretending that my artistic ambitions involved lead and colored glass. He didn’t bite. I made friends with a guy who owned an aquarium shop, but I had to cut bait when he sold his entire inventory for cash rather than letting his soon to be ex-wife get a dime. I got a 50 gallon aquarium out of the deal for 25 bucks, so that was something.
There didn’t seem to be any way that I could break the gravitational pull of Record Bar and it’s $3.75 an hour. We did okay, though. Jody made most of our money waiting tables, and I brought home promos, concert tickets, and week-old Rolling Stones with the covers ripped off. My parents sent us their old top loader VCR, and when we had a couple of extra bucks we rented movies from a store located in the lobby of a Savannah hotel.
We saw a few big shows on Record Bar’s free tickets. I finally brought my childhood full circle and saw the mighty KISS, not so mighty now sans Ace, Peter, and their trademark makeup. The highlights of the night were a few bars of “Whole Lotta Love” and Gene getting a blowjob just off stage during the guitar solo.
The Nuge opened that gig. He was still wearing the Scream Dream loin cloth and swinging around on a rope, but he’d traded his trademark Gibson Byrdland for some solid-bodied piece of cock rocker shit.
That’s what it was all about now: hair and spandex and meedly meedly guitar solos. We saw the new kings of big hair, White Lion, open for new king of the big comb over, David Lee Roth. Jody and I were standing on the half empty arena floor before the gig and Vito, White Lion’s guitarist, stumbled next to me.
“Hey, aren’t you supposed to be hiding backstage?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I can’t find it,” he said.
“It’s that big thing down there with the lights,” I said, and I pointed to the end of the arena.
“Oh. Thanks,” Vito said, and he stumbled in that general direction.
David Lee Roth’s set was meedly meedly to the third power. In his effort to outdo his former band, Diamond Dave hired a lead guitarist, a lead bass player, and a lead drummer. Everybody took an extended solo: Steve Vai, Billy Sheehan, Greg Bissonette. Even the guy who stuffed Dave’s tights took a 10 minute solo. The effect was similar to a five course candy dinner: pretty colors, lots of energy, and no nutritional value.
The highlight of the night was Roth’s stage patter. “What do you say after the show we all go across the street and get a donut,” he deadpanned, and the audience whooped. It was such a non-rock god thing to say, and yet it was the perfect rock god thing to say. That’s what made DLR the greatest front man of his generation.
The pauper’s groove put a squeeze on art school. I envied the kids who didn’t have to support themselves. Their work was finished and beautiful; mine often looked hurried and incomplete. I only felt comfortable in the figure drawing studio, where quick drawings had value and I felt like I was progressing. The figure fascinated me: It was landscape, a bowl of fruit, and abstraction, a skyscraper, all under tension. Planes and curves and light and shadow and balance. When the right hip rises, the left shoulder drops. Knees look like faces if you stare at them long enough. My grades were fine, but I felt like a washout. Shilling records to make the my rent was more important than nailing a final project.
I was stocking the album bins one afternoon when I looked up and saw Scott, my old boss from Starship Records. “Hey man, what are you doing here?” I asked.
“Came to see you. Can you talk?”
“I have a break in a little bit. Meet me at the food court.”
“I’m good. So what’s happening?”
“Getting married,” he said.
“No shit? Congratulations,” I said.
“Thanks. I’m going to be taking a month off for the wedding and honeymoon. Not too worried about the other stores, but your old store concerns me.”
“Why? You have Robert.”
“Not anymore. We fired his ass.”
“What happened?” I asked.
“I can’t talk about it,” he said. “Wouldn’t be professional.”
“Just tell me I was right.”
“That motherfucker didn’t do shit. He wasn’t even coming in half the time.”
“I told Stan that—”
“—and he told me to shut the fuck up.”
“I know. That’s Stan.”
“So what do you want, Scott?”
“We want you back, James.”
“No way. I can’t work for Stan.”
“You won’t. I’ll keep him out of the store. You’ll only work for me.”
“You just said you’ll be gone for a month.”
I stared at him. He still looked like a baby bird, with his big eyes, spiky mullet, and big smile. “No Stan,” I repeated.
“I want to run the store my way.”
“You got it.”
“And I want to hire my own assistant manager.”
“You got it.”
“And I want a raise.”
I scrambled for a number. “I want $250 a week,” I said.
“I can do that!” Scott said, like he was selling me.
After my break I knocked on Mason’s office door. “I’m quitting,” I said.
“I can barely pay my rent. Starship is offering me $100 a week more than you are paying me.”
“I told you I can’t give you a raise,” he said.
“There are people who have been here two years that don’t make that much.”
“I’m not asking for a raise.”
“Whatever,” Mason said. “You only took this job to get a raise out of them. I’ve been expecting this.”
“That’s totally not true. I really want to work here, but I have to pay my rent,” I said.
“Whatever,” Mason repeated.
That was the end of the cool promos, free Rolling Stones and kick ass concert tickets, but at least Jody and I were finally out of the pauper’s groove. Barely.