Illustration by Mitch HandsoneOn the fourth afternoon of July, as America barbecued cows in preparation for coast-to-coast multicolored carpet-bombing of the night skies, I sprawled out on the couch at Alvin Borealis’ downtown loft and caught up on my patriotic readings — Frederick Douglass’ “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” — while Alvin wrapped up a telephone call with his favorite neighbor.
Just before the call, Alvin had been raving about this neighbor’s peerless beauty, talent, insight, humor, earthiness, all that. Today was her birthday. And tonight was her birthday party.
“Oh, God, man,” said Alvin, hanging up. “Just wait’ll you meet zhah-NAY! You’ll melt. You’ll just completely melt. And you’ll thank me for the rest of your life.”
“Wait — her name’s ‘zhah-NAY’? How do you spell it?”
“Okay,” said Alvin, an old, old friend. “You’re not gonna like how it’s spelled. But just trust me.”
He spelled it for me: J-A-N-É. (“Accent aigu.”)
“Jesus. Dare I ask her last name?”
I dared, and it got worse.
“Jané D’Eau? Come on, Alvin. She’s a Euro-hipster. I’m not gonna melt for a Euro-hipster. Jesus Christ. I ain’t goin’.”
We took the freight elevator up to the fifth floor, walked a few hallways, made a few turns until we reached a Dutch door, green on top, red on the bottom. Alvin knocked out eight or 10 bars of Rossini’s William Tell Overture, and the top of the door opened to reveal a young white man wearing a 17th-century Dutch-sentry costume. Beyond him, a long, narrow corridor led to a bright and smoky room pulsing with robotic hipster dance-o-rama. I can’t stand that shit.
“Jesus Christ, Alvin,” I said. “Listen to that shit. I ain’t goin’.”
The Dutch sentry authenticated Alvin’s invitation with a hand-held ultraviolet penlight, then nodded, opened the bottom of the door, and gestured for us to walk toward the light and the smoke.
Halfway down the hall, I realized the smoke wasn’t from tobacco or marijuana. It was . . .
“Is that . . .?”
“Yep,” said Alvin. “Barbecue.”
“Jané has a fire pit in the middle of the room. With a smokestack to the roof.”
Barbecue smell cancels out bad music. We reached the main room and . . . there she was. No need to clarify, but let me: Holy shit. A vision of brilliance, of unsurpassed unsurpassedness in all of the right ways and none of the wrong ones, clutching fresh roses to her bosom, no less, through a wispy, low-cut cotton summer dress.
Jané and Alvin hugged, and I must’ve said “Happy birthday” while little cartoon hearts danced around my head. Jané D’Eau gave me a peck on the cheek, pointed out the food and the drink, and then she and Alvin disappeared into the crowd of hipsters beyond the fire pit.
Must have food. Must have girl. Took one step toward both and was immediately cut off by the front of an enormous and frightening head.
“Häya-doin’?!” said the head, from what seemed just inches away. “I’m Jané’s good friend Tomás! Who are you?!” The head wore those patrician rectangular horn-rims favored by design paraprofessionals on all continents but Antarctica; to his he’d added hepatitis-yellow lenses to discourage people like me from detecting the cause of the dilated pupils behind them. Add to that the black turtleneck, and hair precisely moussed into a flat mess against his skull (to give the appearance of organic just-woke-up slovenliness), and you’ve got one profoundly hip portable cock-blocker, the faux-austere presence of whom instantly chainsawed my cartoon hearts into confetti.
“Hello,” said I, shaking hands. “I’m Dave.”
“Seriously?” said Tomás. “That’s your name? ‘Dave’?!”
“Is that a problem?”
“No!” said Tomás. “No problem! That’s fine! It’s just, you know . . . so ordinary.”
“Hey, it’s cool!” said Tomás. “No biggie!” Then he leaned in, very serious. “You know,” he purred, as if offering me a sly financial tip, “you don’t have to keep the name that your parents gave you.”
“Good to know, Tomás. Thank you.”
Independence Day. Beyond Tomás was barbecue and, somewhere, maybe, hopefully, a Jané D’Eau worth meeting. But this Tomás — he just wouldn’t budge. I decided to try one last overture, for the sake of courtesy. “Does everyone else here know each other? Do you all work together?”
“We’re all part of the underground scene,” Tomás replied, as if The Underground Scene were the name of a Century City investment brokerage.
I said, “I beg your pardon, but did you just say that you’re part of . . .?”
“. . . the underground scene,” Tomás repeated, with the same affect. “Pretty much all of us.”
It wasn’t often — if ever — that I’d heard someone profess membership in an abstraction without a formal news conference. I considered the recent case of the Connecticut-born millionaire son of a millionaire ex-president, who, after attending Yale and Harvard, dressed up like a cowboy, assumed a fake good-ol’-boy accent and ran for president as a quote Washington outsider unquote.
I blurted out, “How do you know?”
“How do I know what?” said Tomás.
“How can you know that you’re part of an ‘underground scene’? Is there, like, an initiation ceremony?” Not looking for a fight, here; or maybe just a small fight. With celery sticks and olive tapenade.
“I guess I don’t understand your question,” said Tomás. “We’re part of the underground scene.”
“Oh, okay,” I said, giving up. “So do you make your living in . . . The Underground Scene?”
“What do you do?”
“I buy and sell real estate, when I have time,” said Tomás. “And I run an investment brokerage.”
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“Not in Century City?” said I.
“Yes! How did you . . .?” Tomás’ eyes widened.
And I just walked past him. That’s what you have to do. Walked past him, poured myself a glass of red wine and piled a plate high with barbecued everything. A half-hour of eating and drinking passed, during which I was subjected to a half-dozen or more Tomás-like pseudo-conversations with Jané’s other good friends — J’Ed Clampette, Kenny G. Haad, Charles-Robert (Shahrl Roe-BEAR) Butterscotch, Margarét Weltschmerz, Bàrbàrà Wellbutrin, et al.
By the time Jané reappeared, bad music and posers had again triumphed over barbecue and hope; the cartoon hearts had found another head to melt. It didn’t even faze me when Jané said, “So, Dave! D-A-V-E? Is that really your name?”