Ever had that feeling of utter disappointment when finally meeting someone you had been crushing on from afar? An experience equal to an almost "instant death" because of the huge misgivings you had over that person. That's what college was like for me, an instant death. By the end of the first semester, I hadn't made a single friend. In that last week I did, however, notice a chunky effeminate guy in the photography department wearing the same white and pink t-shirt with some punk Dada motif that I had admired in the shops, one of those shirts I could never wear because I can't pull off white. I decided I would approach him after the holiday.
Neil was an eternal cynic and rebuffed anything under the sun in a chronic and illogical way. He bored me senselessly, more than anyone ever had, but I took on his Asperger personality and stumpy face and I stuck around. He introduced me to some of his friends including two feisty girls, the one a fast-talking black photographer and the other a white girl with short strawberry blond hair and glasses named Candida. Neil said he had no idea why her parents named her after a yeast infection but warned me before hand not to mention it. Even if I had wanted to I would have been hard pressed for the chance as Candida had a flaming personality and talked non-stop in an authoritative tone verging on oppressive. As part of her audience who merely agreed or begged to differ in a tame cautious way, I don't think I ever said anything at their table in the cafeteria except maybe laugh when I was supposed to or objected affably to encourage her ready explanations.
So this was it, art school, the place where bandmates met and revolutions were formed, only here nobody was cool or cute and there was no art. Hair Metal had made a comeback, but without the thrash guitar and threatening stance, Nu-Metal instead was slick, poppy and cartoony. Its victims were like surfers with dyed black hair and bright neon shoe laces. Pop music was ruled by super trashy bitches and their high energy celebration of smut blasted from cell phones on campus, on buses, and most unbearably, in my mom's car. Nu-rave was the alternative to this, still shiny but with down tempo jangly guitar and bass grooves combined with an introspective and sometimes flippant air. For all its posturing it really was the only relatable thing going on at the time.
One day I went with Neil to his dorm and got introduced to his roommate Paul on the bus. He had long shiny dark brown hair, light daring eyes, and an arrogant smile. He had a copy of Wad magazine in his hands, the huge magazine was an auspicious red balloon with the gay smiling bodybuilder on the cover in an exaggerated pose, macho but submissive.
"It's for an art project."
"Nice speedo he's wearing," I said.
“Hot pink. Not anyone can pull those off,” Paul answered smiling.
"I'm sure you would." Neil speculated in his roommate's direction.
"I'm sick of prancing around in flashy underwear."
"His b.f is always buying him," Neil explained.
"He bought me a pair of Pringle's recently. It's a nice gift but so much pressure."
Their dorm room was divided by a large wall unit and had dark wooden flooring. Neil's bed was against the same wall as the entrance door, and his bed faced the small kitchen. It was obvious who had the better half. We wondered over to Paul's side which was illuminated by a large window with a view over the grounds below. Against his wall was a rudimentary self-portrait with the following inscription at the bottom repeated over and over in a childish scroll: "How can I not be myself when I'm not being myself?"
“It reminds me of Hockney,” I lied. I had to say something.
“Hockney?” he asked.
"David Hockney," I replied, incredulous.
I sat down on his single bed and flipped through a cd wallet, reading the names scrawled in green marker pen over the blank discs inside. "I've always felt alone, listening to post-punk," I once remarked to a vinyl junky ten years my senior while looking at the selection of interesting records he had laid out by his stereo for us to play. "You don't have to feel alone," he had replied smiling. “Can I play this one? I asked holding out a record, the artwork of which looked impressively modern but retro.I slipped the record out of its sleeve and laid the packaging on top of one of the small stacks of records and with both hands, I transferred the vinyl onto the platter of the record player. That's when my acquaintance struck me on the knuckles. "Never touch the inside of a record! Your fingertips transfer oil onto the vinyl which may damage the recording." I nodded. I had played my own records on my player till a loose wire in the speaker broke off and I trashed the whole system, and later my records. I hunched awkwardly over the man's stereo and as he watched I lifted the fragile arm by its little handle and the record began to spin. I held the needle there for a second as if holding my breath, then I let it drop.
'I have to be on my way. Soccer practice.'
Paul put on some blue shorts and a clean white shirt. I had caught a glance of his stupid Sci-Fi tattoo in the middle of his chest. What a mess.
'He only goes because it's as close he's going to get to any action.'
'With a straight guy!'
' You should have majored in economics instead of art, then you'd be around those jocks all day.'
' What you guys going to be up to? '
Neil pressed his lips to the left in a faux grimace. 'We'll see if Alex is home.'
'No doubt. He's always home. Tripping.'
'Who's Alex?' I asked.
'Alex is Neil's supplier. The only thing he can't supply our friend with, unfortunately, is a bone.'
Neil made a mock howling sound.
Alex was home. The door was unlocked. He didn't get up as we entered facing him where he sat on the coach unplugging the earphones and freeing the sound from his laptop. Against the wall in front of him was a kaleidoscopic projection of unrecognizable material and entities that had been magnified by the help of microscopes, fluorescent dyes, and electromagnetic rays. We stood there a moment watching the colourful moving micro-graphics. The confusion of what we were looking at was like the momentary shock of spotting someone in the crowd with a missing arm, you shouldn't look but you're compelled to make sure. The director of this catastrophic assemblage looked back to his laptop where he made it all come together: intercepting these terrifying textured imagery and fusing it with sound. His head illuminated by his screen resembled a moon orbiting some unseen planet in space where light flickered in its myriad spectrum. We sat down. Our eyes locked to the large illuminated square where creation had been spawned and was mutating. Cell chromosomes were merging, expanding and multiplying. Red Worm-like shapes burst from their hosting capsules; swarming; attacking, enveloping. As this erratic red army obscured the screen, a humming sound escalated in a high pitch. A long shadow fell across the wall. The light flashed on and the small barren room emerged as if from a dark pool. The young man had shortly cropped ash blonde hair; pronounced cheekbones and a strong jawline descending into a pointy chin.
'Are you going somewhere?' Neil asked, drawing our attention to the tall piles of brown boxes in the corner .
'My parents are serious about not paying my final term of studies if I don't pay the last instalment for this place.”
We were in one of the bottom units, one of the few in the student resident building with a living room area and a private bathroom. He looked vaguely at the boxes then turned his back, looking for something on the kitchen counter strewn with various items. He proceeded to talk to us over his shoulder.
'They want me to prove I'm responsible. I told them its impossible. I don't have time for a job!'
'Well, you are a responsible dealer.'
'I'm not using my dealing money to pay for this place. Fuck that! They proposed I sell the stereo system. Then came back later and dropped off those boxes.'
'In case you need to pack?'
'Was there anything you guys wanted Neil? I'm heading out over to the guys now, to stock up.'
'Just a gram.' Neil got up and handed him the money.
I sat in the back seat listening involuntarily as Neil jabbered on to his friend Elliot behind the steering wheel who had his long hair tied back and wore a dark corduroy jacket. He thumped the steering wheel while miming dementedly along to the female cabaret singer over the car stereo and responded to Neil with the raising and lowering of his eyebrows. He handed Neil a CD case, upon which he cut two short stumpy white lines. Hunching over it, he snorted one of them up in a swooping movement and threw his head back. He then carefully held the case for Elliot who lunged down at it like some reptile at its prey.
'Where's the husband tonight? Taking one for the team again? Did you know Paul is only attracted to guys who play with balls outside of the bedroom?'
Neil turned around holding the tiny baggy up between his fingers and shook it at me petitely.
'No thank you,' I said.
'That's exactly what Paul said!' Elliot exclaimed, laughing.
'Neil doesn't want a boyfriend anyway,' I offered.
'No, he doesn't. But he does want to fuck his roommate!'
'He just wants a regular.'
'When it comes down to it, I regret not having the time and others, not the patience.'
' Do you play pool?' Elliot asked me.
The walls of the bar were covered with black and white stage shots of various musicians like Led Zeppelin and Queen. At the bottom left corner was plastered the logo of the beer company they now endorsed posthumously. This student joint played only rock music and touted sporadic live acoustic performances. I hadn't heard of anyone who had actually seen a live act here.
Outside on the terrace, a short enthusiastic waitress freshly out of high school took our order. We sat smoking cigarettes and eyed the loud students full of deceptive feelings of freedom and excessive energy.
'Shall we go have an enhancement?' Neil asked looking at Elliot opposite him.
'Not here,' he answered disapprovingly.'We just had one on the way over.'
'Andrew will come with me,' Neil said smiling at me.
The men's room was cramped and lurid red like the inside of some animals stomach. The only toilet stall, to the left as you entered was out of order and never in use, the closed door behind which we hid was a clear sign that we were up to no good. I had my back turned to the toilet, facing Neil and behind him the door. I took the rolled up bill in my hand, inserted it into my right nostril, closed my left one and snorted up the line from the CD case that Neil held up for me.
'Ahhhh!' I protested. 'It hurts.'
'Good sign that it's working. Here,' he handed me the case, 'my turn.'
He leapt it up and looked at me, his eyes widening.
'One more,' he said dividing the residue powder into two short thin lines.
He swooped down again, snorting, then through his head back. He handed me the bill. Someone banged against the door three times, then let the bathroom door slam shut behind them. I looked at Neil with widening eyes then laughed and snorted the last line.
'Let's go,' I said nervously, my nose stinging.
Neil put everything back inside his pockets, including the CD case in his Jean jacket, then opened the door.
I could feel his eyes on me as I sat down, could see him lowering his eyes as I looked up. His long tied back hair did nothing to obscure the roundness of his pallid face with the big solemn eyes, always watching peevishly like a cat. I picked up the cider in front of me, eyeing the yellow liquid and its bubbling traces of fermentation. Neil took up the conversation between him and his friend.
In what large droves these kids gathered I thought, looking at the group of about fifteen students occupying the corner table like a chain gang. I wondered the same thing sometimes at restaurants when someone had the honor of taking up a large table full of friends for their birthday dinner. How do they know so many people? Maybe they also sat at home, the phone in their hand for an hour at a time or longer, sending messages all to the same end to multiple people with the exact same imploring friendliness. Did they also know how it felt like to be ignored? I glanced through the window behind which a group of guys played pool. It was the couple who caught my attention. They stood there stoically, the women's hands were intercepted and her futile arms dangled against her dark skirt which hung sadly all the way to the ground. How pathetic they seemed just standing there passively by the green table which absorbed the attention of everyone in the room, like a coffin.
Neil's voice got louder and his bursting laughter, which intercepted his anecdotes took on the unmistakable pitch of a Chihuahua barking incessantly. 'Enough!' I would have liked to yell banging my hand on the table. 'Enough' I'd repeat once more; towering over them; turning to the cat leering at me, baring his teeth. 'Shoo! Shoo, cat!'
'Another round?' asked the waitress.
'His husband is waiting.' We laughed as Elliot handed her the bill.
'My husband. Hmm. I almost forgot about him.'
'Do you think he might oppose a little after party?' Elliot continued in his exaggerated tone.
'We'll have to see, won't we?'
I woke alone in Neil's bed not remembering the rest of that night. The other side of the room was bright but empty of presence. The bed was made. Not a thing out of place. I looked out through the large window over the grounds till my eyes caught the figure in the distance. Was that Paul? - by the pool, naked? The figure seemed to have a big gash in the middle of his chest. He turned around. Was it Paul? He jumped into the pool. I turned from the window, found my keys on Neil's table and closed the door behind me and ran down the stairs. I hurried up the path in the garden, past the tufts of Aspidistras pointing accusingly in all directions. The sun had not fully reached its midday position or intensity, too cold for a swim I thought. The grounds were quiet and empty. I felt a pang of guilt rising like heartburn. I should have been in class. I felt the urgency to be appeased, to have this sudden pang relieved. I stood by the pool looking through the mass of water. I looked at the naked body making its way silently towards me as the sun glistened on the surface of the swimming pool. I took a few steps back in anticipation. His head emerged triumphantly as streams of water poured over his gasping face. He brushed his dark brown hair back over his head. He looked straight through me. 'Paul' I called out. His two hands pressed down onto the deck and with his defined arms he pulled himself up out of the pool. I faced him head on as he stood in front of me naked, water dripping from his body. His sleeked back hair glinted in the sun. I wanted him to look at me. His face gleamed then radiated a blinding white light. When I opened my eyes again his head was diaphanous, like a light bulb attached to his shoulders. A glass-like shimmer spread like a stream from his neck, rendering transparent his arms; his chest; down to his stomach and spreading till all that was left was a vague outline, which when I reached for it, left only air to the touch. I turned away running, down the path that I had come from, towards the building, passing below the window where I had stared from but now found myself looking up. There I saw them waving, I heard them laughing.