Settling at a table, Lulu flags down a waitress and we order drinks that materialize almost disturbingly quickly, like they were poured hours ago and left to grow stale behind the bar.
Lulu studies her cocktail, charmingly titled Adios Motherfucker. With a tiny why-the-fuck-not shrug, she takes a swallow, wincing as it goes down. “Tastes like 7Up.”
I am mesmerized by the blinking neon ice cube in her glass. “I worry your drink is going to give someone a seizure.”
She takes another sip and her straw blooms with fluorescent blue alcohol. “Actually, it tastes like sparkling water.”
“See, that’s the house-made moonshine killing your taste buds.”
She ignores this and turns her brown eyes on me. “Is the cast a giant pain in the ass? I’ve never broken a bone.” She grins. “Well . . . none of my own, ifyouknowwhatImean.”
I laugh, looking down at my purple cast peeking out of the black sling. “It could be worse. The camera’s a bit unruly and I can’t fold shirts very well yet, but I mean . . . I could be dead?”
She nods at this, taking another sip of her drink—which is already half-gone.
“I mean,” I say, “let’s be honest, I only need one hand to take people’s money during intermission, so it’s not that bad.”
“I hear you’re great one-handed.” She slaps a beat on the table and makes a rim-shot noise.
“The best.” I wink. “What about you, any auditions?”
Lulu shakes her head with a little pout and then does a shoulder shimmy to the beat of the music. She might waitress to make ends meet, but she’s dreamed of being an actress since she was old enough to know it was a possibility. We met in grad school, where she was studying theater and I was writing. She’s told me on several occasions that she should become my muse, and I can write script after script for her. This should tell you a lot about our dynamic, which—despite this Jersey sidequest—is generally more entertaining than tedious.
She’s been in a few low-budget commercials (she played an accident-prone chicken in an insurance commercial, and I have several gifs of this performance I like to occasionally text her out of the blue), attended almost every acting class offered in New York, and (as a favor to me) was given a small part in one of Robert’s shows. It didn’t last long—because, as Robert put it, “Lulu is good at playing Lulu and only Lulu”—but as long as she draws breath, she will believe that her big break is just around the corner.
“No auditions this week.” She watches the stage while taking another neon pull from her drink. I gingerly sip my watered-down Diet Coke. “Crowds haven’t died down since the holidays, so we’re all taking on extra hours.” Nodding toward the musicians, she says, “I feel like I’m being visually assaulted by the crotch of that guy’s outfit, but this band? They don’t completely suck.”
I follow her gaze to where the lead singer has moved to stand under a single bright spotlight. His acid-washed jeans are so tight I can see every lump he has to offer. A few more hours in those pants and I’m confident he can kiss his child-fathering years goodbye. The band shifts from the closing notes of Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me” into a cover of Great White’s “Rock Me”—I have my older brother Thomas’s addiction to hair metal to thank for this knowledge—and a brave (or drunk) group of women gravitate to the edge of the stage, dancing to the bluesy opening chords.
And why not? I sway a little in my seat, drawn in by the way the guitar player drags out each note, like a maddening seduction, his head bent low in concentration. Loose Springsteen might be a cheesy cover band—and most of them are wearing at least one dangly earring and/or an article of clothing covered in animal print—but Lulu is right: they aren’t half bad. With a little polish I could see them playing in a bigger club somewhere, or in an eighties revival off-off-Broadway.
The singer falls back and the guitarist moves into a circle of smoky light, beginning his requisite solo. There’s a surprisingly loud reaction from the women up front . . . and there’s something familiar about the way he holds the guitar, the way his fingers glide up the neck, the way his hair falls forward . . .
Oh, holy . . .
He lifts his chin, and even with his eyes in shadow and half his face turned away, I know.
“That’s him,” I say, pointing. I sit up straighter, pulling my phone out. I’m still on enough painkillers to not entirely trust my eyes right now. I zoom in, snapping a blurry picture.
I stare down at the screen and recognize the cut of his jaw, his full mouth. “Calvin. The dude from the subway.”
“Shut up.” She squints, leaning in. “That’s him?” There’s a moment of silence where I know she’s looking him over, seeing exactly what I’ve seen almost every day for the last six months. “Damn. Okay.” She turns to me, brows pointed skyward. “He’s hot.”
“I told you!” We both look back over to him. He’s playing high on the neck, screaming out the notes on his guitar, and unlike the meditative lean of his posture at the station, here he’s completely playing to the audience. “What is he doing here?” What if he sees me? “Oh my God. Is he going to think I followed him?”
“Come on, how would you possibly know he’s the guitarist for Loose Springsteen? You’re not exactly a member of their fan club.” Lulu lets out a happy cackle. “As if they have a fan club.”