Modern Love

“Yeah, I told her I loved her. I told them all I loved them. What do you expect? Everybody wants love. Love, love love, all you need is love. At least that's what they tell you.

“Now take Mary and me. Thats M A R Y, not M A R R Y, which I'm sure Mary would have loved, or M E R R Y, which I would have been if I could have just avoided the whole issue of love.

“We got together in ninth grade and made out hot and heavy all through our senior year, but that's about it because Mary was saving herself up for the big game, and me, I was just hanging on, mainly because Mary was the most beautiful girl I had ever known. But what did I know?

“Anyway, it wasn't too long after we got to second base that Mary started telling me she loved me. If that wasn't enough she would stare at me moon eyed waiting for me to tell her I loved her too. What did I know about love? I mean I was only a kid for God sakes, and my hormones were raging. After a while I got sick of the tension. Mary was starting to get fed up with my refusal to say the magic words, and I wanted to get to the punch line, so I finally told her I loved her one night when we were parked up on lovers leap. Not that it made any difference. I still couldn't get past second base because Mary had her plans for the future. Even though I was part of her plans we still hadn't signed the contract and taken out the mortgage. I suppose she considered my I love you as the deposit on the option.

“Well, even though I'd paid the price, like I said, I still hadn't gotten much of a return on my investment other than that the kisses got hotter, and the grabbing amped up, so I did what a guy's got to do.“I was unfaithful. I mean, a guy's a guy and a few kisses, and a few grabs, aren't going to fill the hungry heart. So, like I said, I was unfaithful. There was always some skank hanging around, wanting to have a little fun. But I sure didn't put my business on the street. After all, which one would you rather have on your arm, somebody like Mary, or some skank? So me, I just kept my business to myself and let Mary have her love, love, love.

“After high school I went away to Art school and that was it with Mary and me. Art school was a whole other level of love. No more planning for the future and waiting for the big I do. It was get it on, pedal to the metal, why don't we do it in the road kind of love. It was three in a bed, drunk and disorderly, love em and leave em kind of love. Nobody took any of it seriously because all of us were destined for fame and fortune, and to be the greatest artist of all time before we died at thirty. Art, like music, was more than just the cake, it was the frosting- and the frosting had no strings attached. This wasn't just guys I'm talking about. The women were as hot for it as any guy. Maybe more because, having gotten out from under the parental thumb, and freshly discovering the pill, what difference did it make if you spread the honey around? After all, we were all going to die young, because wasn't that what happened to artists? So why wait for anything.

“Art is a lot like crime. I got a taste of that when I moved into Toad Hall. Toad Hall was a mansion across the street from the school. I rented a studio/apartment there from a guy named Artie. Artie was a hustler. He lived with a stripper named Marilyn Mansfield. Through Artie I got acquainted with the seedy side of love. The whores and the hustlers, the orgy boys and the orgy girls, the pill poppers, and the junk shooters, the siding salesmen, and the bank robbers, and just about every kind of freak, and criminal in between came around to party. There I was, all of 17, right in the middle of it. They took me under their wing, and made me a mascot, and boy were there perks. Stoned every night, the nights sometimes seemed like they would never end. It was like we were just going to float on that silver lining forever. Love was a drug, and there were plenty of drugs, so the love never stopped unless you got off the train. Finally I just got restless. I was supposed to be an artist and I wasn't getting any work done. I was flunking out of school, and my relationships lasted for an hour or so. It was time to move on.

“I ended up, God knows how, in a little nothing called Big Mesa. It was a pit stop along the road which for those of you who remember was Route 66. I was nineteen years old and living in the back of a Volkswagen van. I had a girlfriend who lived in town named Darlene who was all of 13. I'd walk her to school in the morning, and then party all day with her mother who smoked a lot of weed, and dealt drugs. I suppose you could call this my age of innocence. Darlene and I were in love in an innocent kind of way. We used to write each other poems and make love by candlelight in her room in the attic. I was a poet then and modeled myself after Arthur Rimbaud, destined to die young or die trying. But I was in love and it would have gone on forever if Darlene wouldn't have come home early one day and found me in bed with her mother. So much for my age of innocence. It lasted about six months.

“When I first got to San Francisco I lived in North Beach with a whore named Sally. Sally was the kind of girl you could bring home to introduce to your mother as long as you didn't cop to what she did for a living. Sally worked the strip clubs, and the “gentleman's clubs” that thrived on the outskirts of North Beach, where they sold high priced drinks, and the clientele got to mess with the girls. Sally was independent in that she didn't have a pimp so I took care of all the essentials for her, and she paid the bills. Now at the time we were living in a seedy apartment on the corner of Columbus and Broadway, on the second floor, over the City Lights Bookstore. Occasionally Sally would bring clients up to the apartment if they were into anything too kinky for the clubs. When she did I'd usually go out to the bar down the street where they let me drink without checking my ID . The bartender was a girl named Lois who was also Sally's girlfriend. I'd sit there while she told me her troubles and I told her mine. Hers were usually about Sally, and mine were about how hard it was to get published.

“The three of us got along pretty well. On weekends we'd sometimes go camping across the bridge, in Marin county. In the evening we'd stop at a local bar where Sally would usually find some guy that wanted a little fool around, and that paid the bills for the weekend. Lois wasn't in the life so we'd drink, and sometimes go out in the park and fool around some, while we waited for Sally to get back with the cash.

“Well, wouldn't you know it. Sally died, of a disease nobody knew about then so there I was, broken hearted over love again. But at least I was alive.

“And then there was Marlene. Marlene was an artist like me except she was a painter. Marlene would have fit in real well during the 50's. She was a beatnik kind of girl. You know; bulky black sweater, tight black pants, black boots, long black hair ironed flat like a shroud around her head. Marlene and I were in love in an abstract sort of way. We'd talk about the meaning of love, and the meaning of life, and the meaning of art until you'd think we'd have everything all figured out but there would always be just one more meaning we had to figure out so our version of love was mostly mental. We'd sit around on the balcony of her apartment and pontificate on some esoteric subject or another. Marlene lived in a wedge shaped building right on Columbus just a couple blocks up from Washington Square park. We'd hear the church bells from St. Peter and Paul's, tolling out the hours while we drank cheap red wine straight out of the jug. At night I'd read poetry in the coffee houses, and smoke my cigarette out of the corner of my mouth like James Dean, making sure to keep a good cloud of smoke hovering around my head to add to the mystery. My poetry in those days was pretty abstract, stream of consciousness stuff, but people seemed to like it. I'd see them nod their heads significantly when I read, and they'd come around afterwards, wanting to sit with us. I think that was mostly because of Marlene, because she was the kind of girl that drew a crowd, but I didn't mind. I did the talking and Marlene just sat there looking like a Marlene Dietrich madonna. We made a good couple.

“And then there was Hetty. Hetty was a heroin addict from New York that came from a rich family, and had a trust fund that was never going to stop. Now I wasn't into heroin except for a little skin popping now and then but Hetty spent most of her time nodding off which, for me, was like loving a dead person. Hetty died of an overdose.

“Love, love, love. You know it ain't easy.

“When I met Betty I thought I'd gone to heaven because she was about as normal as they come. She had a good job as a stockbroker, and lived in a condo overlooking Hollywood. Betty seemed to have a good thing going with her straight life. It certainly was less chaotic, and so I tried to go straight. I got a job as a mail boy at Capitol Records, and planned on working my way up to the top pretty quickly. Betty and I would make plans about how we were going to live when we both were rich, and in the mean time we went to the pier, and checked out the rides, and laid on the beach, and got tan, and walked out by the movie stars beach houses, and tried to guess who lived where. We'd go to the art museum, and the opera, and the ballet, and all the art movies. The rest of the time, when we weren't working, we just wandered around the city.

“Well, my job as a mail boy wasn't leading to anything special and eventually neither was my relationship with Betty. Being straight was just too much of a stretch for me. I finally just walked out one day. It was the day I met Zena

“Zena was the manager of a heavy metal band called Griffin. It was all black leather, and whips, and chains with them. They called what they did “S&M vampire rock”. We lived for the night and slept all day, and for a few months I never saw the sun. All the members of the band lived in a pseudo castle in the Hollywood hills with a wall around it, and a big iron gate with spikes on top. Zena and I lived in the tower. You had to climb a three story spiral stairs to get to our room which was painted black and had red, floor length drapes. Sometimes we stayed in that room for days at a time and had take out brought in to us. We were very mysterious and wore black. I dyed my hair black and wore white makeup, and Zena, well, she was naturally pale, and had bright red hair, and the greenest emerald eyes you've ever seen. Love was something we didn't talk about much because it just wasn't cool to let your feelings hang out. You had to do everything like you were made out of ice. We did a LOT of coke which was supplied to us by a guy who was a dealer to the stars, and had a crush on Zena.

“One day Zena dropped the load on me. She was getting married. The coke dealer had finally convinced her that he was the man for her. Mostly, I think, she married him because he was rich, lived in a big house in the hills, and she was tired of being the manager of a loser band. Zena wanted to wear Armani dresses, and go to the big parties where the stars hung out, and I just didn't fit. She changed her name back to Clarice which was what it was originally, and we said goodbye.

“For a while I was pretty aimless. Love on all levels hadn't worked out very well for me and I decided to go it alone. The only problem was I had never really been alone. There had always been one version of love or another to keep me occupied. Life without it just didn't make it so when I met Alpha I really thought my luck had changed.

Alpha was a ballet dancer with the San Francisco ballet. I met her at a party some friends of mine from Capitol records were giving for a band they'd newly signed. Alpha was in town because her folks were getting divorced. Her dad owned a box factory that supplied cereal boxes to General Mills, and was loaded. Her mother was a countess from South Africa who was once married to a count from Liechtenstein .

“Alpha had pretty much been forgotten by her folks except for a trust fund that paid her something like one hundred and twenty thousand a year, so we lived pretty good. We didn't spend much money because Alpha was always working at her dancing. Not that she had a top spot in the ballet. It was just that she was a worker and spent all her time either in the practice studio at the ballet, or in front of the mirror in the music room of our condo on Russian Hill.

“And yes, we were in love. It was an old fashioned love because Alpha was really into the 1800's. We went out to dinner, and the opera, or to openings at the museum, and charity events the social set were always putting on for one cause or another. We made quite a couple, me wearing a tux, and Alpha in her mink and jewels. Alpha was willowy and blond, and flawless except that she didn't have much of a chin, which she was very self conscious about.

“When we were at home we spent a lot of time talking about love. I think Alpha was more in love with the idea of love than in the actuality because most of our love conversations were focused on the great loves of the past. She found modern love distasteful because getting divorced and remarried was endemic.

“Now it's true that modern love wasn't perfect but it's saving grace was that both the parties were equal as opposed to the traditional man is the boss women are the property kind of love. Unfortunately, Alpha was a traditional woman who wanted me to take charge, and sometimes even to punish her when she was being a bad girl. I was forced to overlook this major flaw in what otherwise was an ideal love. If it would have been up to Alpha we would still be together, but I wanted out. Her version of love was too confining. I imagined my life continuing the way it was for ever. I became claustrophobic.

“Henry David Thoreau said he left the woods because he had other lives yet to live. That's modern love.”