By Reuven Glezer
Imperial Bedroom is a colorful album, from the technicolor skeletons of lyrics to the poppy graphic design meant to evoke Picasso. It’s a long anthology of love, cheaters, makeshift languages, and tired men – the opener, “Beyond Belief” sums everything up gladly. Listening to it for the first time, way back in high school when I thought I was the one kid who liked Elvis Costello (turns out there were a lot of things I wasn’t the only fan of), the dart-like swallow of words made me imagine being a tired, lovesick man in a bar. Maybe it’s a song about sleazes, or the exhaustedly loveless turned into sleazes, but hey who knows. This is the same man who’s gone from power pop to funk to album-long discussions of fascism. I’m not gonna try and say what’s in that guy’s head.
I can’t say I’ve woken up so poorly, but then again waking up poorly is usually a compliment when you’ve been sleeping at a bar. The guy behind it doesn’t mind. He kicked me out once but I guess he just got tired of it. I pay too, I pay all the time, no tab no fuss. But it’s trying times when you can’t swallow gin like you used to, so I’ve gone between beer and vodka and back to gin to some kind of mulberry stuff he keeps on the back shelf. I tried green fairies but they don’t last long— though I’m not even sure whether those were real fairies or just some underages slipping in for a “wild” night of one beer and a tonic.
Good on you, children.
Me, I’m most certainly trying to pop my own liver. I almost got there once, when she left without a note and without a word, but someone found me and the hospital cleaned me up and told me I could have died with all that raw alcohol in my system. But of course I wanted to die. Why else would I drink so much? Maybe the emphasis shouldn’t have been on the drinking but on the dying when I told off that poor nurse. Though maybe she got it.
So I take a sip of whatever he’s spilled into my glass and there. I can see her, smiling at the bartender, but she’s not quite there. Well, I mean she’s sitting there ordering what looks like a scotch but she’s off. Out of place. Like layers of a photo where the edges blur and you wonder whether that’s a toothless smile or someone in the dark room screwing up.
She’s shabby, she’s tired, her hair’s gone from that lovely gold I knew to a poisoned-yellow. I wanna keep looking but someone tugs at my shoulder.
“Hey, look at this!” He throws down a newspaper, with today’s date and a big, color photograph of Mars, pointing to the red planet with one drink-stained finger. “Canals! Fucking canals, finally!”
“What are you- ”
“Canals on Mars! They’ve finally found some!”
I look up at him and he’s got these grandpa glasses on that are about to fall off from his giddiness. His walrus hair has little droplets of what I hope is some oddly colored spirit that he might enjoy a little bit too much.
“What canals?” I try.
“On Mars! Canals, signs of an intelligent civilization! Martians, m’boy, Martians!” He raps on the newspaper again but the headline says nothing about canals. It says there’s evidence of water on the lonely red blob. Not exactly canals, but I guess leaping from water to canals to little green men looking up at two moons isn’t too much for this guy.
“Huh,” I say. “Fascinating.” I’d never say the word fascinating ever again in my life but I don’t think any other mumble will do for this guy. He seems pleased, goes back to a glass of some amber-colored warmth, and I take a sip as I look back at her.
She’s drinking too— of course she is, it’s a fucking bar, if an almost empty one— but she isn’t guzzling down the endless pours like me. She’s slow, and she’s patient, but damn does she looked endlessly tired. I go through the usual in my head, wondering if she’s fine or if she’s miserable or if maybe she misses me but instead I try to see my reflection in the glass. My eyes and skin are getting to the sickened gold of her hair, even though there’s a bit of booze blush on my cheeks.
I take another sip and looking through, yes it’s her and yes she’s still drinking. I put my drink down and I try to put my hands into the inner pocket of my coat, but they’re shaking so bad that I spill over my glass and the bartender puts it up again. He wipes off the drink and says “Careful, Ross.” He pours me something else but I’m trying to get at the damn pocket.
I finally get my hand into the smooth slit in the lining and pull out a tiny piece of paper, folded so many times I think I could dent the strain of living. It’s no note, she didn’t leave a note, cause it’s a damn letter that smells like milk thistle. Paragraph after paragraph of explanations, of apologies, of apologies taken back just as fast, and of the only thing I wanted to give back to her. I take another sip as I stare back at her again through the glass, like a telescope, and she looks gray now.
I read it over, mumbling the words to myself, practicing her speech, trying to sound like her, but it all comes out in the same drunken drawl that I used to slather through whenever she and I tried to fuck, but I was too glib to bother not drinking beforehand. I wanna crumple it into a ball and chuck it at her but I know that won’t do me any good. So I just repeat the words to myself and hope she stays long enough for me to walk over and let her hear it. Hear everything, every sting and stink, all the grief she washed over me. I try to take another sip but there isn’t anything left, and the bartender gives me a look of enough already, so I decide to do what I –
And I look back, but she’s not gray or yellow now. Her hair is back to that golden blonde I knew a week ago and her skin’s lost the sallowness that was there just a moment ago. A pal of hers comes over and they walk away together, like birds on the wing, and maybe I smile but I can’t tell if my face is numb or my brain is on autopilot.
“Damn, missed chance,” says Martian lover.
“I guess,” I say. I look down at the glass and it’s stained real bad. There’s gunk forming on the bottom that reminds me of snot.
“You know her?” he asks me.
“Yeah. Her name was Genevieve.”
“Ge- what? Geneva?”
“No, Gene – oh whatever,” I say.
I go to the bathroom and it’s this small water closet with just a mirror and a toilet under it. I don’t need the toilet, but I do need the mirror. I’m not yellowed and gaunt, but the booze blush is still there. It’ll pass. My eyes aren’t the yellow they were a week ago, and my skin isn’t the dying tone it took at the hospital. I mean, hell I should be throwing up blood at this point but all I have to show for it is some alcoholic embarrassment.
Heh. Fine, I guess.
I walk out of the bar, give the bartender enough to cover my last couple days, and I see her and her pal drive off in that baby blue junker we used to joke about. I can walk home, I think.
I can walk home.