How Dare She Claim The Sun As Her Own?
A woman had a birthday party on the second floor of my restaurant. I came in early to sweep the floor.
I arranged our wooden tables into three slim rows and set them with side plates and rocks glasses. I unfolded red paper napkins onto long brown plates. I placed teaspoons next to ramekins of salsas. I explained the salsas to people. I served them ceviche out of margarita glasses. No one asked me what ceviche is and I was happy because I hate explaining ceviche. I always accidentally say that lime juice cooks the fish and it doesn’t make any sense and then I develop a stutter.
The men were all crazy tall with dead blue eyes. Their hair was slicked back and curly, sandy brown turned black from the gel but when the light hit you could see the blond streaks run through the mess like a jellyfish’s veins. They had sinewy laughs and booming voices about market prices. They all wore a watch. Had it been five years ago they wouldn’t have been wearing pocket squares but now, thanks to all the reality TV shows, it’s normal for those men to be wearing pocket squares. I dropped a fork and it landed next to a guy’s shoe. It was a shiny Oxford. When I bent down to pick it up my forehead fell weirdly close to the exposed strip of skin between his pants-cuff and argyle sock and I wanted to lick it to scare the square out of him. I wanted to show him how cool life can be for us weird people who are secretly artists serving you your food you barely touch because you went to the gym that morning and don’t want to fuck it up which is really something you should talk to a therapist about.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from serving tequila to businessmen it’s that they all want to fuck me. My messy hair.
The women were having a conversation about the best salad they’d ever eaten. Even sitting still they were prancing. They all only pranced. “These are the people who read GOOP,” I realized––low ponytails, strapless black-and-white dresses, branchy collarbones, rich yoga. I thought: Rich yoga rich yoga rich yoga rich yoga rich yoga. You see them and you just think rich yoga. (“Hey girl, what do you do all day?” Well, you know. I’m rich, and I have an angular face. So… yoga.” “Naturally.”) To these women I’m adorable, a little pet. They say “You remind me of…” and in my head I say “Zooey Deschanel” but then they say “The New Girl.”
The party was a ruse. The woman, a Virgo, thought she was celebrating her birthday and she was but she wasn’t. Her boyfriend got down on one knee and they made all the staff watch.
They were all gums, those two. “Will you marry me?” he asked, and I thought “Oh my God, his gums,” and she cried and looked around the room to make sure everyone saw that she was crying and alive and I thought “Gums. Gums, right?” Someone brought out an ostentatious cake frosted all in white flowers that made me think the words “Chantilly lace” and also “blog.”
Nobody ate any cake. Before I went home I saw it sitting in the office next to a stack of printer paper and spreadsheets. An abandoned child.
In the middle of summer my friend said “Cat Power’s got a new album coming out! It’s called Sun! She cut off all hair and broke up with Giovanni Ribisi!”
“How dare she claim the sun as her own,” I thought.
“I never knew she was dating Giovanni Ribisi,” I said.
I bought Sun off iTunes because I was bored one morning. Cat Power albums always take a long time to kick in for me (except You Are Free, which never kicked in), so I wasn’t surprised when I first heard “Cherokee” and thought “Ew. This is basic music for basic bitches.” I listened harder and thought “How dare she claim the sky as her own,” the seagull chirped and I walked home from here or took the streetcar to there and ate an apple on the subway and made myself listen to “Cherokee” “Cherokee” “Cherokee” over and over again until it hit, and it did hit. I thought it was weird the way the Internet media jumped all over Sun, lionizing Cat Power for making a record that sounded so unlike Cat Power when really it just sounded like all the normal boring music played by radio stations named “lite FMs” we’re meant to hate––which is a lot worse than Cat Power, regular Cat Power. Such a big part of Sun for me is thinking about the GOOP ladies at the engagement party and how much they would have loved it.
I liked being allowed to like crap so basic. It was as if someone (God, I guess) had slapped a Grimes sticker onto the cover of an Adele album, in doing so making it acceptable for all the cool people in the world to like Adele, in this weird parallel Universe we all now live in where Coldplay is Action Bronson and Gangnam Style is Frank Ocean, etc.
I liked how little I related to Sun, how little work I had to do to understand what it meant. I liked how little it meant. I went to work and liked my job and on the train home at night I heard it and it sounded like the music a person who liked her job would listen to and like. The Cat Power who wrote and recorded Sun and the me who listened to it were strikingly similar incarnations of each of ourselves: just a coupla crazyfaces tryin’a calm the fuck down, chill the fuck out. Ours was a symbiotic relationship: Cat Power wrote “Real Life,” and I accepted mine for what it was. I worked out to “Ruin,” and Cat Power made music a person could work out to. Cat Power sang the word “Mexico” in a Mexican accent, and I worked at a Mexican restaurant. If we could have been the opening credits to a TV show about our friendship and relating to each other, we would have been. If I might have Autotuned myself, I’m confident I did.
I loved him so much and I wanted to give him the gift of watching me sweep the floor to “Nothin But Time” as a reward for being so disgustingly fucking lovable. It’s such a beautiful song and if he already thought I was beautiful, which I could tell he did, I could have been a thousand times more beautiful than I was if that song was playing behind me, as if it were a part of me, the way my perfume is. I heard it and imagined the particular beautiful I must look like to a man who thinks I’m beautiful. It’s a nice thing to think about. I imagined him stopping dead in his tracks as I swept to the song and my bangs would fall all over my face and my eyes would be big. The song would sound beautiful by itself and my eyes would be big on their own but then, both of them together––it would be a lot of information for him to take in all at once but I believed that he could handle it. One night I was carrying a green bottle of red wine across the floor while wearing red lipstick and a black-and-white striped dress and I thought, “God, I must look so FRENCH right now,” and tried boring holes into the back of his head so he could turn around and see me looking so French and think about it, but then it occurred to me that no dude who wasn’t a writer or crazy or crazy-romantic would ever connect the bottle to the dress to my lips like that. I think that maybe what I really need is a man who sees the world like bottle-dress-lips like I do but I wasn’t willing to admit that yet, so I decided to play to both of our strengths. I’m okay at sweeping and I assumed that if he walked in as Chan Marshall sang one of her They want to lives he would definitely know he wanted to live then. Really connect to it.
I wanted to be that simple easy thing so bad––no cool imagery, nothing French or non-French about it. Just a person sweeping, a person who looked good sweeping. Not even that particularly good. Only to him.
I imagined it happening many times. I imagined him asking me who sang it and I imagined myself telling him. I imagined what his bedroom might look like and what he’d look like as he sat at his computer downloading the song. I imagined his shitty computer and what shitty kind of t-shirts he must wear while sitting in front of it. I never heard him say a single word about liking any music except once he admitted he’d never heard of “Gangnam Style”––which was hot of him, obviously. I thought, this could be the first song he ever loved, and it would be me to him. And I know all about what happens when you fall in love with a song who is a person and you look at that person. Hear that song.
I finally worked up the courage to plug my iPod into the jack and the second it came on it became a really bad song. Iggy Pop’s molassesy voice was a slow dragon’s or uncle’s and the lyric about never selling your body was… a tiny bit cool, but mostly corny in the exact same cool/corny style as the Lena Dunham Barack ad. I stacked the chairs as Iggy and Chan crooned about being a superhero––I imagined the stupid superheros––and it sounded so dippy, imagining Spiderman or whatever––and I couldn’t. I couldn’t do it.
I couldn’t let him see me sweep to it. I ran to the iPod and changed the song. I scrolled through my iPod fast and landed on the Eleanor Friedberger album, the only non-insane-sounding thing that isn’t from fifty years ago on my entire iPod. I wondered why I always decide things are going to be beautiful before they’ve been. I made a mental note to stop doing that but have since failed maybe five times.
I went downstairs to go do some downstairs tasks; when I came back up I found him schlumped down in a booth listening, because he had no choice, to the one song on Last Summer I always skip, the one where she travels to Coney Island to buy a blue bike and describes the entire tedious event in arrhythmic long-winded detail.
I curtly unplugged my iPod and bid him a quiet goodbye. One part of the dream had come true. There was nothing French nor non-French about any of it.
Two mornings later I woke up in a bed that was a dumb bed for me to be waking up in. But I’m getting older and I’m getting scareder. I’ve been single for a long time and at this point pretty much any bed, with any man, seems less dumb than my own alone. Here is your late twenties. Welcome to your wild and exciting life of waking up in dumb beds sometimes.
Every ten minutes I woke up choking on air all night. I was afraid he wasn’t really there. I was worried it was a dream and he might be the last time I ever kiss a boy again.
I woke up to the ugly sound of my friend blaring Arrested Development out of her silver laptop upstairs, as we all have, and I wished I could evaporate myself out through the roof to avoid ever making eye contact with a person again. Any person. I knew that as soon as eye contact became a thing I had to do I’d fuck it up. At some point I’d have to look a person in the eye, and as soon as I was doing that, I’d have no control over what my eyes might say. I was jealous of my eyes for knowing what I was thinking because I didn’t.
My friend came into the room and bounced onto the bed with us. I didn’t think it was normal to have her in the room and I didn’t think it was normal for the boy to think it was normal to have her in the room and I hated feeling like it wasn’t normal for me to be feeling like it wasn’t normal. But I’m pretty sure it wasn’t normal.
They went to get coffee, and I got out of bed. Left alone in the house I located the master bath, where I used as many skincare products that didn’t belong to me as time and logic would allow. One of the serums had algae in it. I looked at the gook on the inside of my fingertips and wondered how it was algae, where all the algae was. I thought “Humans are such weirdos, rubbing algae all over our faces,” and then rubbed algae all over my face.
I thought about leaving while they were gone. It’s what I wanted to do, it’d have a cool and up my alley “escaping from a cult” vibe in the story my head was writing about a person named the same name as me living the seconds I was living as I was living them. I wanted to leave and drink different coffee but couldn’t because I didn’t want to be seen as a runner-awayer, and it seemed like a depressingly pessimistic thing to do.
Maybe I would love the coffee. Maybe I would love the eye contact.
I was indifferent about the coffee. I hated the eye contact. I left in an inappropriately good mood.
I put on Sun, the song “Peace and Love,” the best the album had to offer now that “Nothin But Time” was ruined forever by that stupid and embarrassing sweeping event. “Peace and Love” is pretty good, right? The guitars sound like “Kashmir” (and who doesn’t love guitars that sound like “Kashmir”??), she’s cute at “Give Peace A Chance”-y rapping, says “stoked” and “y’all” twice without stumbling, and may I add who doesn’t love guitars that sound like “Kashmir”?? My favorite’s when she sings the words “fafa,” “rara,” and “lala” in a row; it’s so weird. I imagine Fafa, Rara and Lala as being three little bunny rabbits.
Midway through the song I noticed that the sentence “Peace and love is a famous generation” is basically nonsense, or at very least grammatically incorrect unless you believe that “The Peace and Love Generation” is a thing, which nobody does. So it’s nonsense. I turned it off as I ducked into Starbucks to buy myself the coffee I’d wanted in the first place.
I never turned the song back on. I let the coffee and air be my better than a song song and smelled my last year’s perfume on the red plaid scarf I’d wrapped around the bottom half of my face so I could smell it. It was the first time I wore that scarf, my best scarf, all fall, which was thrilling in that it was the least thrilling a thing could be to still be thrilling. If it had been 0.001% less thrilling than it was, that scarf that day, it wouldn’t have thrilled me at all.