Juliana tried to cut a line between her actual Ivy League self and all those girls she had been watching on MTV. In short, she was trying not to look like a complete fool, but maybe a partial one. Denim seemed a good starting point, so she went to a thrift store and rescued a pair of beat-up Levi’s that dangled on her hips in the latest style. She added a metallic purple blouse that she cut off to show off her (thankfully trim) midriff. She gambled that a pair of Timberline hiking boots would make do for the requisite Doc Martens, then made a trip to the Hallis Bead Shop for a pair of rough silver hoops with blood-red African trade beads. She was pleased to find that her recently grown-out hair, straight and parted in the middle, was exactly what a lot of 18-year-old females were wearing.
The car was a lost cause – a Volvo sedan would never be hip, anywhere – but perhaps she could park it in the back. She arrived a minute after sunset and found Sandy, one of the lesbian proprietors, crouched at the front door, digging through a stack of yellow flyers. From her vantage point, Juliana could see a bull’s-eye ring of fire-white blonde hair and, beneath Sandy’s loose-hanging sweater, a small circular nipple ring (the latter was a sight she could have done without). When Sandy noticed Juliana’s shadow, she looked up with surprisingly perky green eyes and smiled, revealing a set of perfect white teeth and a three-inch bar through her tongue.
“Hi!” she said. “You must be the virgin.” She clicked the tongue bar against the roof of her mouth, which distracted Juliana.
“Oh, uh... yes! But how’d you know?”
Sandy stuck the bar between her lips and twirled it in a small circle. “The way-early arrival, the shy-cow look, the greatest-hits collection of last year’s alt-rock fashions. At least you’re not wearing Doc Martens, I’ve seen enough of those to choke a... well, don’t worry, honey, the styles change every week and some of them are so stupid! Like this hella-seventies platform shoe thing. Don’t they remember what those fucking things did to our feet last time?”
This outburst took place in a very brief span of time, leaving Juliana a little lost as to how to respond, and to what.
“Juliana’s a nice name. Where’d you get it?”
“A painting by Da Vinci. Juliana Severocetti. She was an Italian noblewoman.”
“Aw, now that’s nice! My parents wanted to name me Ephegenaia – you know, the Egyptian princess? In the Bible and stuff? But my family was very Irish Catholic, so I ended up with Mary Francis. You ever hear of a lesbian nightclub owner named Mary Francis?”
Juliana had no opinion on the matter, but did manage to come up with, “So why did you choose Sandy?”
Sandy beat her tongue bar against the palate and grinned. “I like the beach.”
Juliana was wondering what other grand avenues of discourse they would travel when the pirate and poet appeared on the staircase. Scootie spotted her and grinned. “Juli!”
“Hi,” she replied, a little shy in her bohemian togs. “I was just talking to Sandy.”
“Listening, more likely,” said Geoffrey.
“Well fuck you very much,” said Sandy, in the same tone one would say, “Would you like another slice of pie?”
Scootie, meanwhile, was preoccupied with Juliana. “Gad, Juli, you look like... jailbait!”
Juliana gave him a kiss and said, “That’s the sweetest thing you’ve ever said to me.”
“Get used to it, bebby.”
“Gawd,” said Sandy to Geoffrey. “Do you have to listen to this shit all the time?”
“Every day a Broadway musical,” answered Geoffrey. “Come on, love couple. Let’s head upstairs.”
They climbed to the Beacon Room and gathered at the big window, looking out to the ocean. Geoffrey fetched some microbrews and two gift-wrapped packages.
“Presents?” said Juliana. “I love presents!”
“Well, you’re gonna getsum,” said Geoffrey. “This one first.”
Juliana unwrapped a small rectangular box holding a pair of sunglasses, Christmas-ornament green with a trio of downsizing portholes on either side.
“Very cool, Geoffrey. But whatever will I need them for?”
Geoffrey turned to the bar and said, “Charles?” Scootie and Geoffrey donned sunglasses of red and silver as Charles flipped on the beacon. The flash came around like a sheet of canned lightning.
“That,” said Geoffrey, “will be going on all night. And it’s not even Zachary Taylor’s birthday.”
Geoffrey said nothing but handed her the next box, smaller and more cubic. “Unwrap this,” he said. But don’t open it. My assistant and I will take care of that.”
She slipped the box from its gold foil, then handed it to Geoffrey. “Now,” he said. “Please stand and close your eyes.”
“I’ve heard that one before.”
“Has it ever brought anything unpleasant?”
She unleashed her slow-motion smile. “No.”
She rose and felt something cold and slick across her tummy. “That tickles! Geoffrey! Stop that.”
“I swear, I’m being as well-mannered as the Pope.”
“Okay. Scootie! Stop that.”
“Never.” Scootie knelt and kissed Juliana’s navel.
She was invited to open her eyes, and found a thick chain of silver in an Aztec pattern, a convention of faceless snakes, capped by a clasp of rope–like orbits and gentle Babylonian esses. She swirled her hips and brought the chain lower, hugging the light brown flesh of her belly.
“Ooh. It’s delightful, Geoffrey. You shouldn’t have.”
“I didn’t. Although I did handle the procurement. A little Balinese shop in Berkeley. It’s hand-braided, very nice work.”
Scootie ran his finger along the chain, causing Juliana to shiver. “Now, my dear,” he said. “You are a rock ‘n’ roll goddess.”
The vaguely erotic alloy-metal curve of Gelatinous Bubba’s opening dirge matched the Bali-belly perfectly. Juliana pictured herself as a stripper in a post-apocalyptic biker bar and let her hips do the rest, swimming through dozens of elliptical possibilities, excited by the idea that she might be providing fodder for male teenage fantasies. Scootie spent most of his evening on small errands, chatting with rock writers, buying drinks for managers from other nightclubs, even schmoozing an indie record producer from Watsonville. He kept one ear to the sound Geoffrey’s techie friend was recording for posterity. He managed to join Juliana for a song or two, Eric motormouthing his only rap while the African underbelly stirred Juliana’s underbelly. She felt layers of her skin peeling away, sweat trickling down her back, and performed a couple of well-placed grinds against Scootie’s pelvis.
Gelatinous Bubba had planned their set as a Bolero-like buildup, designed to whip their fans to a froth. Eric slipped on an acoustic and embarked on a trio of chuggy folk-pop tunes. Scootie knew the quick-change grunges and death-metal slurves to come, and prayed that his amateur security staff – headed up by Geoffrey – would be able to contain the mosh-pit.
Off in a lost-eyed grouping of youths dancing collectively and by themselves all at once (she envied them their independence), Juliana indulged in the frantic headbob of those around her. When they wound up to speed metal, however, her 32-year-old body simply lacked the vocabulary.
She had been watching the pit out of the corner of her eye, and concluded that it was all pretty harmless, more like the playful cuffing of bear-cubs than a real cockfight. The boys wanted mostly to be manly without having to pay for it, slamming into each other but bracing themselves with forearms and shoulders, creating a whirling tangle of limbs in front of the stage.
This was new food for Juliana, and her limbs began to twitch with adrenaline. When she saw a pixie-ish blonde girl, a foot shorter than herself, tunnel out of the pit with a thrilled grin, she made her advance.
Juliana pushed through the hard crust of watchers and popped into the fray like a champagne cork, feeling the pleasant thwack of limbs across her shoulders. The danger of molestation was there, but the boys were generally busy being boys, and her height and sophistication seemed to scare them a little. She did, however, get a smile from a gawky redhead when she charged him and threw in a thrust of her ass for good measure.
A squad of football-types gathered in a ring at the foot of the stage, slamming up and together. Juliana climbed their backs to join in, the only unpleasantness a sharp shoulder blade that grazed her breast. There was even a brief breakout of stage-diving, and she pitched in, carrying the legs of a dreadlocked black kid as he floated over the crowd. She failed to notice Geoffrey in his black security T-shirt, glowering like a pissed-off Zeus.
The pit idled at the end of the song, but then Eric ripped off his T-shirt, pogoed to the mic with a Brit-lip sneer and launched into a punk tune called “Don’t Wanna Be Your Adolf, Baby.” This set the pit-boys into slamming of a more vertical nature, jumping high and landing on their mosh-mates. Juliana took this as a cue to leave, and was turning to go when a totem-pole of a kid swung his arm to avoid a charge and sent his elbow into Juliana’s face.
She found herself in a magic forest where the shoes landed and disappeared, landed and disappeared. and decided to crawl to where the shoes stayed in their places. At the borderland, four platform models covered in rhinestones were joined by hands, pulling her back to the land of faces.
“Gah-yud, I knew she shouldn’t go in there, like I owuld never go in there. Ohmygaw, she’s got a major bruise! Let’s get her to the bar.”
“Shit! That must like hella-hurt! Are you all right?”
Juliana’s angels winged her upstairs, where they were greeted by Sandy. “We’ve got a first-aid station,” she said, chewing her silver bar in thought. “But I’ve got something a little more private for you. Georgia, could you get me some ice?”
Scootie’s post-performance duties were many: grab the mic to thank the newly christened Bubbaheads, check the attendance numbers with Maggie, and get a last few words with the media types. Afterward, he slid down the hallway next to the stage, thinking through various Colonel Parker speeches for the band.
He entered the dressing room to the sound of animated laughter. The band members had pulled their folding chairs into a ring. Juliana sat in the middle, holding a bag of ice over one eye. She gave Scootie an embarrassed smile, and lifted the bag to reveal a large welt over her left eyebrow.
Scootie leaned over to kiss the wound, inspiring a round of aw-now-ain’t-that-sweet commentary. Juliana whispered into his ear.
“I’m suffering, Scootie. And it’s all your fault.”
“Good,” said Scootie. “That’s very good.”
Photo by Sonia Cuellar.