A little furniture and some pocket money didn’t really change anything. Every day Jody withdrew more deeply into some dark place where I wasn’t welcome. Lately I’d been finding scraps of paper around the apartment bearing hand written fragments like “zipped up the back like a funeral suit” and “I mean the game called ‘go insane’.” For months we slept 150 feet apart in the same bed, but she grew even more distant.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“What do you care? You don’t. You just want sex. Just leave me the fuck alone,” she said, and she moved another 50 feet away on the little bed.
The next morning she was all apologies. “You’re so nice to me and I treat you so bad,” she said. “I don’t why. It just pisses me off when you’re nice to me.”
Night after night the same pattern repeated until Jody finally said, “I can’t do this anymore.” My mouth dried and my stomach iced over. Five simple words, and I was eight years-old again, staring while my mother cried “Your father is leaving us.”
That day I ran to the garage to see my father. I still don’t know why. Maybe I thought he was leaving at that moment. Maybe I thought I could convince him to stay, or perhaps I just needed to cling to him. Whatever the reason, I ran and clung that day, and as I sat in my shitty Hollywood apartment 3,000 miles from home staring at Jody, those were the impulses that overwhelmed me.
Run and cling. I’d stacked all of my chips on this woman, given up everything for her both physically and emotionally. I quit school, left the south, shared with her my every fear, hope, and dream. I was all in, and the roulette wheel was rattling to a stop.
“I need to get some help,” she finally said. “I want to see a therapist.”
“Okay, let’s find you a therapist,” I said, and she let me hold her until she fell asleep.
Jody found a psychiatrist in Westwood who took Saturday appointments. I drove her over, and we parted at the door. “Good luck,” I said.
“Thanks, I’ll see you in an hour,” she said.
I put on my headphones and pressed the play button on my Walkman. Bowie’s “Space Oddity” found its way through the tape hiss, and I began roaming around Westwood, home to UCLA. The place felt like money. It smelled like money, too, but everywhere in Los Angeles reeked money to me.
Everywhere but our cruddy little corner of Hollywood, with its hypodermics in the stairwells and the constant drone of police helicopters drowning out the night; the runaways and the homeless and the drug deals at the Oki Dog; our party clown upstairs neighbor stomping and fucking, and the couple next door’s shouts bleeding through the thin walls; the guys in parking lots trying to hustle speakers that fell off trucks. I loved Hollywood.
Bowie and I wandered, killing time. Westwood felt like a strange planet: clean and mannered, no funk. I didn’t belong in these buildings. I was neither student nor teacher, nothing more than a college dropout. The people walking around me eventually would graduate, the secrets of the universe revealed to them inside those buildings, and I would work for them. I would pretend that I was a writer while I ran their errands, and I would feel proud that I was in the business.
That’s what they all wanted. They burned through Mama’s and Daddy’s retirement so that they could get into the film business. Well guess what, fuckers: While you played with your textbooks and student films I made my own path into the industry. Now it was Jody’s turn. Jody? She’s the incredibly beautiful woman I said goodbye to at that building back there. She’s an actress, and you’re all going to be kissing her ass, begging her to be in your movies — the same films I’ll be running errands for.
I wandered and I listened to Bowie. An hour passed and I met Jody at the door to the doctor’s office. “How did it go?” I asked.
“You mean what did I say about you? That’s what you want to know, isn’t it?”
“No, I just wanted to know how it went.”
“All you care about is yourself,” Jody said. We rode home in silence.
David Bowie’s entire back catalog (minus the Deram album) was being re-released by Rykodisc, a label known for its audio fidelity. This was huge news for Bowiephiles, who suffered through RCA’s muddy CD reissues. Ryko even released a beautiful box set named Sound + Vision that expanded upon RCA’s Changes hits packages.
The whole thing created quite a buzz. After Never Let Me Down, Tonight, and Tin Machine the world was ready for Bowie’s hits again, so of course he decided to retire them. Like the box set, the tour was named Sound + Vision, and Bowie swore this would be the last time he played the old songs live. Thanks to my friend, Cybil, I was in the crowd for the LA stop on the tour.
For the night, Dodger Stadium was a concert venue. We were at least 30 rows back, a sea of arms and heads stretching between us and the stage. Lenny Kravitz blasted through note for note readings of the songs from Let Love Rule and a blistering cover of John Lennon’s “Cold Turkey.” He sounded so good that I swore he was lip syncing.
I barely remember Bowie’s set — a couple of fragmentary memories of “Station to Station,” snapshots of Cybil smiling broadly, lost in the music. For 15 of my 23 years, David Bowie represented my ideal of an artist. He was Dali with good hair and Adrian Belew as a sideman. I never expected to actually see him. The experience was too overwhelming to retain as any more than a feeling.
I remember riding back to Cybil’s apartment in her Beetle, though, ears ringing and the post-show rush still running hot and fast. She parked behind my MG on the street in front of her apartment building and said, “Why don’t you come up for a glass of wine before you head home?”
“Okay, thanks,” I said.
Her apartment was nice: small, clean, well decorated. It was an adult’s apartment, not some shitty Hollywood flop. We walked straight into the kitchen. I sat on the counter, and Cybil pulled two tumblers from the cupboard.
“I don’t have wine glasses,” she said. “They’re so pretentious. Why do you have to drink wine out of a special glass?” She poured a little wine into each cup and handed one to me. “Thanks for coming. Cheers,” she said.
She pressed between my knees and kissed me. “I’m sorry I did that,” she said, but then she kissed me again. I pulled her close to me and we kissed some more.
“I have to go,” I said.
“I know you do.”
She stepped away and I slid off of the counter. Next Saturday was seven days away.
It’s an interesting thing about nice guys. We need them, we want them to be there for us to be our security blankets and make everything better. But sometimes all that placid niceness acts as a mirror that reflects to us un-nice people the ugliness of our innards.