Colin had called a cab while I was still drying off, and of course for once they came right away. So I had soaking wet hair and nearly broke my neck trying to pull a boot on and cross the living room at the same time. Turned out the insole had gotten twisted inside. I tossed the boot across the room and pulled on my high tops instead and didn’t tie them until I was in the back seat of the cab and we were on the way.
We got into traffic a few blocks from Lansdowne Street. “Ballgame traffic,” the cabby said. He was a bulk of a man with almost no hair and a neck like a whale’s belly, tattooed with something I couldn’t read. That was kind of surprising to me, given that I expected to see neck tattoos on guys like Colin and not ones twice his age.
“Let us out here. We’ll walk the rest of the way,” I said.
We took the back stairs behind the Nickelodeon Theater up to the Mass Pike overpass and were walking down Lansdowne Street probably before he even got to make a U-turn. The Red Sox game must’ve been just letting out and we were going against the flow of the tide. Colin ended up in the lead, which was fine with me. He was bigger and had put his mohawk up so people were a lot more likely to get out of his way than mine.
We made it to the door of Venus without incident. Jonathan was leaning against the wall, reading a folded up copy of the Boston Phoenix.
Maybe it was that I surprised him. Maybe it was that he was expecting me to be alone. Maybe it was that I didn’t know what to expect in public. But there was this awkward moment where he put a hand on my shoulder and tried to kiss me on the cheek and I sort of panicked and shied back. I acted for a second like a gnat had flown into my eye, and then I acted like nothing had happened.
“Hey. Jonathan, this is Colin. You guys might have met, I can’t remember…”
They shook hands and Colin said, “DC. Yeah, I remember you. The Rolling Stone guy.”
“Spin,” Jonathan corrected, but smiled. “Come on, they’ve got my name on the guest list. I’d only put plus one, but I’m sure it’s fine.”
“I’m not against paying to get in, you know,” I said.
“Yeah, but you shouldn’t have to. Buy a round of drinks instead.”
And so everything seemed totally normal, except I did catch Colin looking back at me sort of furtively as we went in.
What could I do? I just looked right back at him and shrugged, and it felt weird then that Colin was the one who looked away sheepishly.
They waved us through the door.
Inside, we passed down a hallway lined with black lights, which lit up the laces in my sneakers and the places where my denim jacket was getting threadbare. In the main room a modicum of people were dancing but most of them were just standing around. Venus de Milo was one of three clubs side-by-side all owned by the same guys–the Lyons Brothers. Citi Club was the largest, Axis was the smallest, and Venus was sort of in-between. Venus was the one that seemed to me the least usual to have a live show, and on a Saturday night light tonight the crowd was an odd mix of club kids just out to dance and the people like us, who had heard the open rumor about the band making a surprise appearance.
The main room was aggressively pink and they had recently added giant fluorescent flower petals to the walls. Or maybe they were paisleys. Something like that. I was busy trying to get the attention of a bartender.
J. pointed to someone he needed to talk to–I think he expected me to recognize the guy, which probably meant he was a show promoter or agent. I nodded and J. moved to intercept the guy.
Then Colin pressed in close, getting one elbow onto the bar, and spoke into my ear, our usual habit for places like this one, where the music was so loud you couldn’t really think. “I see some of my friends up at the upper bar. I’m going to go hang with them.”
“Okay,” I said back.
He seemed about to move away, then leaned in to say something more. “You could have told me.”
Which thing? That I was meeting someone, that I was meeting someone male, or that I was meeting a journalist who by rights I probably shouldn’t have been fucking if I wanted to be Mr. Ethical? “Told you I might not be home tonight,” I pointed out.
He laughed and punched me on the arm. “Yeah, you did. You did.” He shook his head and laughed again, waving as he made his way toward the back and his friends, real or imaginary.
I got J. a scotch and soda and then for the hell of it got one for myself, too. The bartender was a short woman with Morticia Addams hair and a lot of silver rings in her face. She was asking me a question I didn’t understand. Two syllables…
I finally got them. “Top shelf.” I waved yes and put a twenty down on the bar.
I had the drinks by the time J. came back. “Here, hold these,” I said. He took them both and I dug my earplugs out of my pocket and futzed with getting them into my ears.
I took one glass back with a “phew.”
“That’s a good idea,” he said. “I should carry those.”
“They’ll sell you a pair for a buck at the bar, I think,” I said, jerking my thumb back toward where I had just been standing. “They do at Citi, anyway.”
He nodded and half-shouted, “I usually resort to wadded T.P.” Then he pointed toward the stage, where a bouncer was shooing a would-be go-go dancer from the top of the Marshall stack.
It definitely looked like some sort of band was due to come on. We ended up over on one side, leaning on the wall. Next to us a guy had his back against the wall, his feet spread and braced, his girlfriend leaning against him like he was a big recliner, his hands clasped under her ribs and her arms on his like the arms of a chair.
If J. and I sat that way, it’d make a scene. Or maybe it wouldn’t make a scene, but there would be people who thought that it should, which was nearly the same thing. I wondered which of us would do which, though. He was the taller one. He’d have to be in the back.
I was drinking this drink way too fast.
J. went to take the empty glasses back to the bar, and returned with fluorescent green ear plugs in his ears. He leaned close. “Mark Sandman’s in back.”
“Cool.” Sandman was the front man for Treat Her Right. All I knew about him was that he often played a three-string guitar, tuned low.
We stood there another half hour or so, I would guess. It’s hard to measure time in a place like that. But after a bit, some guys climbed on stage and plugged in their instruments.
Turned out that J. was partly right, partly wrong. It was an unannounced “buzz build” show, but it wasn’t Treat Her Right, it was Sandman’s new band, Morphine. I had thought of THR as pretty much a blues band with a little rock in its DNA, but slowed down from 45 to 33, if you know what I mean. Morphine sounded to be another step toward rock. I wondered if that meant THR was breaking up, or if Sandman just wanted to do something a little different. It was some different guys. I wondered what J. thought about it and if he was going to write about it.
It was a quick set. Six or seven songs and then for an encore they did a THR song that the audience knew.
And then the lights went out and the dance music came back on even louder than before, and I could tell J. was still standing in front of me because the green earplugs glowed.
“You going to try to get an interview or something?” I shouted into his ear.
“Nah. You hungry?”
He then said what might have been “let’s blow this popsicle stand,” which I thought of as a Ziggy expression and wondered if J.’d picked it up from him or if they both got it from somewhere else. Whatever he said, it clearly meant “let’s get out of here” and we made our way back to where we’d come in.
Out on the street the baseball crowd had long since moved on and the club crowd was out in full force. That meant everything from limos and pimp suits to torn jeans and skateboards, what with all the clubs crammed together on that block. We walked back toward Kenmore Square.
“Okay, you’ve got your choice of the two pizza places, IHOP, the Deli Haus… I doubt the Indian place is open this late, but we could check–”
“Daron,” he said.
“We don’t have to stay in the neighborhood.”
“True. And we had pizza last night. Captain Nemo’s is better, Pizza Pad is about the same as Hi-Fi… you’re right, I just shouldn’t have even mentioned it.”
“And I thought you hated this IHOP.”
“Well, it’s fine except for the crawlingly slow service and incompetently cooked food. There’s Charlie’s cafeteria, too, though Carynne swears she got sick from eating there–”
“Daron,” he said, a little more seriously, and stopped walking to get my attention.
“Yeah?” I stopped walking, too.
“When I say we don’t have to stay in the neighborhood I meant we don’t have to stay in the financial neighborhood.”
“I want to take you somewhere nice.”
“Dressed like this?”
“Somewhere so nice they won’t give a crap what you’re wearing.”
“No?” He looked surprised.
“I don’t want to go somewhere I’m out of my depth and I’ll spend the whole meal worrying about whether the people at the next table think I’m supposed to be sweeping the floor, no matter how good the food is.”
“Is that how you felt in Philly?”
“Well, no.” But in Philly I hadn’t know if the meal was a seduction or just an excuse to spend a long time with me somewhere quiet. Now that I thought about it… what was the difference, then? “But seriously. I mean, if you made some kind of plans…”
“No, nothing firm,” he said with a little smile. “Just dreaming.”
“Fine. What time is it? Like eleven? The problem is figuring out what’s still open at this time of night. I know there are places, but…”
“Here.” He pulled me to one side of the sidewalk where there was a payphone on the wall outside the Gold’s Gym. He dug in his pocket for some change and dialed a number.
“Guest Services please,” he said.
“You’re calling your hotel?”
He shushed me. “Hi, yeah, this is Jonathan McCabe, room 1010, and I was just wondering, my friend and I would like to go out and get something to eat. Somewhere nice but not so fancy that we’d need to dress up. Jeans and sneakers. Yeah. Some place that is still serving, but I don’t want another boring upscale burger in a hotel bar–no offense to your bar, which is wonderful by the way. Yes. Something with local flavor would be perfect. Let me check. Are you allergic to shellfish?”
“Who, me? No.”
“Great. He says he’s not allergic. All right. Faneuil Hall? The other one, too? Yes, a reservation would be lovely. We’ll catch a cab. No no, don’t call one for us, we’re not ready to leave quite yet. Thank you. Half hour should be fine. Yes, thanks a lot.” He hung up and grinned. “Table for two at the Union Oyster House.”
“Ah, I see why you asked about shellfish.”
“The other option is Durgin Park, which is right near there, too, but if I remember right that’s the place where the rude waitresses are part of the tourist attraction.”
“I don’t mind rude waitresses.”
“Yeah, but I think they also seat you at gang tables with strangers. Wasn’t sure you’d be up to that.” He said it earnestly, not as a reference to my earlier spaz attack when he’d tried to kiss me, but I blushed a little anyway. “Union Oyster House supposedly has some nice booths. She’s going to try to reserve us one. I love big city hotel concierge desks.”
“I imagine I’ll learn to,” I said.
(Remember: If you want the “adults only” bonus chapter of what happened the night Daron spent with Jonathan, drop a contribution into the Tip Jar with a note that you are over 18, and we’ll email it to you!)