Wednesday, March 13, 2013

I Love Distortion (a rock & roll novel in 12 chapters) - March

(previous installments of I Love Distortion appeared in January & February, 2013)

I Love Distortion - chapter three

"Talkin' 'bout a summertime girl and a wintertime kid
Tellin' little stories 'bout all the things they did"
- Sean Richter, 1978

Nicole initially presented herself as a total "70's kid."  "70's kids" was the derisive term my 60's friends and I had come up with to describe the rock & roll generation that came of age immediately after us; a generation that seemed really, really interested in sex, drugs and rock & roll, but hopelessly disinterested in politics or social issues.  Then again, boys who turned 18 after 1973 didn't have to particularly worry about getting drafted into dying in the Vietnam War and girls with easy access to the Pill didn't particularly have to worry about getting pregnant.  It wasn't The Sixties anymore.

By 1978 an entire "70's kids" subculture had formed.  Corporate-rock bands like Styx, Foreigner and Journey were peddling an easy-living "get high and float along" message to the pot-smoking, quaalude-gobbling rock masses and more and more kids were hanging at the disco - getting blind drunk and mindlessly dancing & fucking to that robo-beat.  Everybody had Camaros and blow-dried hair and everybody liked Pink Floyd and Kiss.  Times were hard for a revolution-minded punk rock-loving boy on the West Side of Columbus, Ohio.

Before our cafeteria songwriting and poetry conversation Nicole had struck me as just another 70's kid - an astonishingly cute 70's kid, but a 70's kid nonetheless.  The more we talked over the next couple of weeks the more I realized there really was some depth there.  I really wasn't initially worried about how numerous those conversations were becoming - or how much I had started to look forward to them - because Nicole was sporting a diamond engagement ring and I was already a married man.  There was certainly no problem there; it was a harmless physical attraction/crush, we had things under control.  

One day as I was delivering merchandise to the toy department Nicole shook her head, smiled and said to me, "Sean, you walk like there's always music playing in your head."  My answer was a sheepish grin and she asked why I wasn't in a band anymore.  I explained the lead singer-inspired break-up of my last band  (see blog entry The Dressing Room, March 27, 2012) and she said, "Yeah, even at the Bean Dinner show that guy was kind of a jerk."  She told me about a poetry contest she wanted to enter, from a literary magazine in Vermont.  She showed me the paperwork; she'd have to enter three poems, all at least 21 lines long.  There were two problems with that, she said:  1) Her fiance said poetry was stupid and a waste of everybody's time, plus Nicole's writing took her attention away from him, and 2) Her poems were all really short, she didn't have any that were 21 lines long.

I told her I'd been cobbling songs together - mixing & matching totally unrelated verses & choruses - since I was 15 years old, and that she should bring me all of her poems that Friday, I'd take a look and see what I could put together on the weekend.  "You'd do that for me?" she said, a quizzical look on her lovely face.  "Of course I would, you should enter this contest, you could totally win."

Truthfully, I didn't believe a word of what I'd told her.  As mentioned previously, I had fallen in love with Nicole the first time I saw her, I volunteered the poetry assist just to have an excuse to keep talking to her.  I considered it part of the harmless flirtation we'd been carrying on, saw no reason not to continue.  Plus I'd been reading and improving bad schoolgirl poetry since I was a pimply-faced editor on my high-school newspaper (see blog entry Linda Finneran and Scoring Heroin, January 30, 2012).  I could knock out the project in an hour on the weekend and still look like a caring-guy hero.

That Friday Nicole bundled into work all excited, she was like a little kid as she handed me seven or eight notebooks of poetry and a bunch of loose pages plus the proverbial notes on napkins.  Actually I had forgotten I had even offered to help, but I wasn't about to admit that.  She said, with a mixture of excitement and trepidation, "I've only ever shown these to two or three other people, and you're the first boy."  (She actually said "boy.")  (Much later she told me that at one point she had shown two of them to Tommy, her fiance, and he hadn't even finished the first when he tossed it aside and went back to the football game he was watching.)

That night after Melanie had gone to bed I pulled out all the notebooks I'd stashed in my backpack.  (Even at that point I wasn't stupid enough to try to explain to my wife of four years why I was helping an 18 year old girl with her poetry project.)  I settled in to complete my task and very soon couldn't believe my eyes.  The poems were amazing.  I expected 70's kid schoolgirl drivel and I got beautiful, riveting literature instead.  The poems weren't just heartfelt, they were heartbreaking.  And smart.  And genuinely well-written & well-crafted.  It was precisely like that Dylan lyric: "And every one of those words rang true and glowed like burning coals / Pouring off of every page like it was written in my soul / From me to you / Tangled up in blue."

I stayed up for hours reading, poring over the poetry.  Two or three of them were full-blown rock & roll songs just as they stood, I could hear the music to them as I read.  (One of them later became "I Love Distortion" when I added the chorus of, duh, "I love distortion.")  By the time I got sleepy enough to go to bed, around 5 am, I knew I was now well & truly fucked.  Now it wasn't just physical attraction, now I felt a soul-deep musical and writing bond with this five-foot-seven, 18 year old slip of a girl.  I was finished.

I worked on putting together the 21-line poems on Saturday while Melanie was at work.  By Sunday I had decided on a course of action: On Monday morning I would hand Nicole all the poetry material back, give her the three poems I had worked up so she could enter the contest and that was IT, everything else between us was over, we'd never talk again, except about work stuff.  I was resolved.

Each department at the store - housewares, health & beauty aids, sight & sound, toys - had its own storage section in the downstairs warehouse.  Monday morning Nicole was waiting for me in the toy section, we'd gotten pretty used to beginning our day together there.  She was smiling really shyly as I walked up, but the smile disappeared pretty quickly as I said, "Okay, here's the deal, two things; 1) Here's all the poetry back, the three poems I put together for the contest are typed on top.  2) Either one of two things are true; either you didn't really write these poems or you're not the empty-headed little suburban girl you always pretend to be.  Either way, I can't really talk to you anymore."  Her eyes were just starting to glisten with tears when I turned and walked away.  I had gotten my prepared speech out and I knew if I didn't walk away right then & there that I would never be able to.

I think my resolve lasted for all of 45 minutes.  At the morning store meeting all employees had to attend Nicole's eyes were still red and she wouldn't look at me.  When the store opened she never went to her station on the sales floor, headed straight for the warehouse loft where she could be alone.  When I walked up to her she recoiled like I was going to hit her.  I discovered later that was something Tommy did fairly regularly, something I'd obliquely picked up from the poems, but desperately hoped wasn't true.  "I'm sorry, I don't know what I did," she choked out through tears, "I don't know what I did to make you stop talking to me."  "You didn't do anything, Nicole," I answered quietly, trying to calm the situation.  "I'm falling in love with you.  I liked you before but after the poems I'm falling in love with you and I'm married and your wedding is in three months and I don't think falling in love is the best idea right now."  I almost got her to laugh at that.  She managed a weak smile and shook her head.  "I know," she said, sniffling.  "I can't do this, I've gotta go," I said, as my eyes started to get wet.  "Promise me you'll enter that contest," I said over my shoulder.  "I will," she said softly as I walked away.         

We didn't talk at all for a couple of days.  The third day Nicole walked by me in the receiving area, handed me a folded-up piece of notebook paper and kept going.  I took it up in the loft, opened it, and read;

"You got nothin' on me
I got nothin' on you
Except perhaps my freedom
I don't understand how I missed you
Where were you when I was growing up
When people thought my ideas
were dangerous and contagious
I never knew there was somebody else
Outside of me

Who is your god
Who owns your soul
Who gets all your love at night
when I'm alone
on cold lonely sheets

Promise me forever
I want a lifetime of roses
Though it doesn't matter
I won't hold you prisoner
Don't tell me lies
Just fantastic stories
If how it might've been
If we'd met years ago

Who is your god
Who owns your soul
Who gets all your love at night
When I'm alone"

- Nicole Page, 1978

I have never in my life been as conflicted as I was the moment I finished that poem.  However desperately I wanted it to be about me, I knew if it was my life as I had come to know it was now over.  And if it wasn't about me, I longingly wanted it to be.  When I next saw Nicole I tried to keep it light.  "Is this an old poem?  It wasn't in your notebooks.  It's more than 21 lines, you definitely should use it for the magazine contest."  "It's not an old poem," she said, looking down at the floor and scuffing the toe of her shoe, "I just wrote it."  She looked up at me, "And it's not for the magazine.  It's for you."  We stood looking at each other and I realized a bright light was about to be shone on the shadow world I had been existing in.  I took a deep breath, and let it out.  "Let's start a band," I said.  Nicole just smiled.

That night I pulled my guitar case out from under the bed, got out my Stratocaster, went downstairs to the basement, plugged it into my Fender Twin and played it for the first time since the previous December.  Springtime started early that year.  

© 2013 Ricki C.


  1. Ricky, I just read the last two chapters and I'm hooked! I can't wait for more!

    1. Thank you for the kind words. I must admit, sometimes late at night I wonder whether anybody outside of me finds this story interesting. This gives me the encouragement to forge ahead. Again, thanks.

      Ricki C.