The XYZ formula of cool
After weeks of speculation, Chainsaw had finally settled on a venue for their debut performance. Their flyer was fixed to the window of Threads specialist vintage clothes store announcing the time and the date. Hazel and Nyla who were both dedicated psychobilly fans decided they would definitely attend. Two of the members were once in another popular local band that separated a few months ago when the drummer punched the lead singer, after an argument about his reluctance to buy the rest of the band a drink.
The lead singer left and formed Chainsaw taking the upright bassist with him but their follower’s loyalties were split between the two protagonists of the argument. Hazel was quite friendly with the hotheaded drummer but she still wanted to attend the gig, if it was being advertised at Threads then it would mean that Ethan the store owner would be present. She decided to wear the scarlet, leather jacket she’d bought there.
Despite scouring the cheaper charity stores she couldn’t find a similar sixties style jacket that she liked. The colors were too dull and the cut unshapely. It was rumored that Ethan's Aunt was doing voluntary work at a large charitable thrift store on the edge of town and this was where Ethan obtained most of his stock, which he marked up to almost three times what they charged. He had strongly denied this accusation one evening when talking to one of Nyla’s ex-boyfriends, insisting that he bought everything from a specialist vintage clothes supplier in New York. Afterwards Hazel saw him rummaging through a box of clothes at a local garage sale and he blushed. He gave her ten per cent off her next purchase.
When they arrived at the Zen Club, they recognized most of the few people that were already there. The atmosphere was stilted and the clientele shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other or fidgeted in their chairs, wondering whether they had made a mistake in coming. However, slowly some of the more discerning individuals arrived and everyone began to relax.
Troy, a DJ, manned the decks at a nearby club and was trying to set up an internet radio station. Jed, who was an A and R man for an independent record label, arrived just after Kay, a receptionist at a local recording studio whose installation art had recently been featured on a local cable news channel. A flyer stuck to the window of Threads normally ensured a larger crowd than this. Hazel guessed that people were still unsure whether it was wise to be seen here after recent events and she began to worry that she had risked angering the drummer for nothing. Perhaps this was the reason so many had decided to stay away.
The band began their sound check. The singer waved to someone standing near the bar but did not leave the small stage which was barely large enough for all their equipment. He seemed nervous, agitated even and kept his back towards the audience as he plugged leads into amps. They were due to play in half an hour and only about twenty people had arrived. Hazel decided to keep a low profile and sat in the corner at one of the round, zaffre, plastic tables. Later, if necessary, she would deny that she attended this gig.
Nyla was socializing though, talking to the friends she knew and being slowly introduced to some people that she had never met before. Her slender frame was accentuated by her skull print leggings, Mary-Jane stilettos and plunging black basque. The twisted curls of her jet black hair nuzzled against her pronounced collarbone. There was hardly any flesh on her upper arm and when she bent her elbow, it seemed dangerously fragile as if it would shatter if anything brushed against the jutting joint.
As she walked amongst the chartreuse and cerise spinning strobe lights she glided around the circumference of their beams like a cat burglar avoiding alarmed infra red lasers. She was the shortest person present and unconsciously the people she talked to smiled protectively, encouraging her to speak and laughing readily at her jokes as if her size rendered her extra vulnerable and sensitive.
Hazel watched her being cosseted and failed to spot Kay approaching her table holding a bottle of Mexican beer stuffed with a lime,
“Hazel, why are you sitting on your own?” she asked. Surprised and unable to think of an entertaining answer she muttered dully that she had a headache. Kay’s smile disappeared quickly and she took a step backwards, away from Hazel.
“Oh, uuh, shame,” and she scratched her head, “I'll catch you later then.” hurriedly she left deciding to talk to Jed instead. Hazel cursed inwardly, admonishing herself for having such poor conversational skills that she had frightened Kay away.
Ethan suddenly appeared through the double doors and the light behind him briefly changed his figure into a dark silhouette surrounded by a halo of fluorescence. The way he scanned the room suggested he was the organizer of this event and he examined the guests critically, his eyes inspecting their outfits. Instinctively a few people adjusted their clothes conscientiously.
Behind him were two men with quiffs so high that Hazel wondered if their hair was being kept in place with a pergola of wires. They marched forward like gangsters from a mafia movie, except they were far better dressed and Ethan was not checking for guns but for frumpy clothes. Hazel drank her gin and tonic with more haste, planning to indifferently bump into Ethan at the bar.
Kay was quicker than her though and prowled purposefully across the room in her double sole, leopard-skin creepers. Her contrived, surprised expression when she encountered Ethan made Hazel smile. Then Nyla suddenly came back to the table, obscuring her view and a little breathless; she was obviously enjoying herself, her pupils were dilated and her lips upturned into a contented pout.
“I’m going to the bar, same again?” she asked, pointing at Hazel’s now empty glass. She wanted to refuse her offer but it was Nyla’s turn to buy the drinks.
Biting her lip with annoyance she replied as casually as she was able,
“Yeah, thanks, I’ll have the same again.” because it was important that no one suspected that she was interested in Ethan. If people guessed then they would watch her when she spoke to him and her behavior would seem covetous and insincere and amuse the many eyebrow raising cynics that she knew.
Between Ethan and Kay there was a small gap which Nyla widened with a few swings of her sharp hips pushing Kay slightly to one side. Hazel’s consternation escalated as she watched Ethan wait and talk to Nyla even though he had received and paid for his drinks. His friends were sitting around a dimly lit table at the other end of the room. Now, she regretted that she had never spoken to them before because she could have walked over and greeted them, therefore ensuring at least a cursory chat with Ethan.
After several minutes Nyla arrived with the drinks, as she did so the band picked up their instruments, ignoring the spectators as they ran nervous, trembling fingers through their gelled hair. The upright bassist slapped some strings against the bottom of his fingerboard producing a noise like a rattlesnake shaking its tail. Abandoning their conversations, the audience turned their attention to the stage.
The lead singer’s cough was magnified into the sound of pistol fire by his microphone.
“Hi,” he mumbled; his face zombified by thick, black eyeliner that was already sweating into his chalky, white, face powder, “thanks for coming tonight.”
A few people clapped but their lackluster effort made the venue seem even emptier. Hazel began to feel sorry for them, thinking that they must be disappointed with the turnout. After the count of three they launched into their first song. Everybody listened attentively; nobody spoke as they all willed the band to be good. A daydream of Hazel’s was that she’d attended the first Cramps performance. If Chainsaw became successful and critically acclaimed then she could tell everyone that she’d been to their first concert.
Her mood began to improve as she realized that they were definitely talented. Hazel glanced at Ethan, he was smiling approvingly. When the first song finished, he clapped loudly with an air of victory, a smile almost splitting his face in two.
“They can play really well.” Hazel said to Nyla and she nodded in reply, smiling happily, cigarette smoke curling away from her mouth as she watched the stage.
In total they played eight songs, some were bland but a few were excellent. When the reverberations of their last chord faded into a distant echo they were applauded vigorously and Ethan stood up and blew a few piercing wolf whistles. Hazel stared at him, he saw her and she flushed slightly, smiled as sophisticatedly as possible then turned away carelessly even though her mouth mucus was beginning to dry up.
After the applause had died down, it was replaced by the sound of excited voices, their positive humor intensified by the band’s talents. Hazel was now pleased that only a handful of people had attended, it made the evening special and she was one of the privileged few. The bar became busier, as people replaced the drinks they had emptied during the set. Eventually the band reappeared; they smiled with relief as they received congratulations and compliments.
Hazel suddenly realized that she was queuing next to the upright bassist. She praised the show and he smiled amiably, enjoying the kudos. As their interchange ended, he mentioned that he was going to see DJ Yakuza play at the Tower Club on the following Saturday and suggested that she come along.
“Well, I planned to do something else.” she answered in an off hand manner, “but I might be able to get there later.”
He grinned revealing a row of silver teeth caps and she strolled to her table with an extra bounce to her step and two drinks in her hands.
When she sat down she noticed that Nyla was no longer smiling and she frostily thanked Hazel for her drink. She was studying the bar area where the band was still standing. Tapping her foot impatiently, she suddenly stood up, adjusting her straps and pulling up her leggings,
“I’m just going to the restroom.” she said. When Nyla came out she was rubbing her nose and sniffing and Hazel realized that she was carrying coke on her. She wondered why she hadn’t been invited to share. Then Nyla walked straight up to the lead singer and joined the conversation he was having. After a few minutes she whispered something into his ear, he nodded then followed her back into the restroom.
Ethan suddenly appeared at her table,
“So what did you think of the band?” he asked smiling confidently. Hazel was slightly startled; she paused and pretended to consider the question carefully,
“I liked them.” she answered. He flicked open his skull and crossbones engraved, flip top, silver lighter; a wide tangerine flame appeared and he lit his cigarette,
“Yeah, I heard Jed was interested.” he added casually. Hazel’s eyes widened and she swallowed, trying to hide how impressed she was,
“Is he going to sign them?” she asked.
“He’s considering it.” he replied, shrugging as if it didn’t matter anyway and then left her to talk to Troy.
The band’s instruments had been replaced with two decks and a friend of Jed’s was spinning discs on the turntables. Several people started dancing in the area next to the stage. Hazel sidled up to Ethan and asked for a cigarette light, the drink was beginning to have an effect on her and she was feeling a lot braver. Nyla had disappeared.
“Are you going to see DJ Yakuza on Saturday?” she spoke with a bored tone that hinted that everyone was going. Ethan frowned,
“Is he playing?” he asked quickly. Ethan’s answer indicated that he knew the DJ which was a promising sign.
“Yeah, the upright bassist from Chainsaw is going, he said I might like him.” she said this slowly but succinctly in a bored tone as if she often received invitations from him.
Ethan though was unimpressed,
“I went to see Yakuza last year,” he said, “but I heard he’d become more…..,” he paused as if he were struggling to find the right words, he thrust his hands into his skinny black jean pockets and finished the sentence with the word “……commercial.” Hazel decided straight away that she was not going, even if the whole band bended down on their knees and begged; she refused to attend any event that was commercial.
Nyla suddenly reappeared, sniffing; her subtle Mona Lisa smile had changed into a grinning Cheshire cat. She handed Hazel another drink and hugged her briefly around her shoulders,
“Where have you been? I’ve missed you.” she said in a voice that was slightly too loud.
Her question insinuated that she had innocently lost Hazel.
“You left me.” Hazel said staring at the red tip of Nyla’s nose.
Nyla ignored her comment and then began to talk to Ethan; he looked her up and down and smirked, agreeing with her that Chainsaw were brilliant. They shouted in order to make themselves heard, Hazel stood in the middle while they talked across her.
“Sorry Hazel,” Ethan said loudly, “I can’t hear very well.” and he moved to stand on the other side of Nyla, smiling charmingly as he did so. Hazel was now completely excluded; the back of Nyla’s head faced her. She tried to interrupt but Nyla barely acknowledged her presence. Hazel blinked rapidly and tried to appear unconcerned by pretending that she was studying the DJ spinning discs.
When Ethan started whispering in Nyla’s ear, Hazel found it difficult to breathe and then Nyla turned to her and informed her that she was leaving,
“Me and Ethan are going to share a cab, we’re both really tired.”
Hazel felt as if she had been stabbed and replied as calmly as possible,
“I’ll come with you.”
“No, no, don’t be stupid, you stay, enjoy yourself.” Nyla said.
Hazel looked around her, the place was emptying fast, soon there wouldn’t be anyone left to have fun with.
The next day when she awoke Hazel discovered that she had a serious hangover. She was still in bed when Nyla phoned her at around midday. She’d already decided that if the two of them had gone somewhere else, to the same place that she suspected everyone else had gone, then she would find it difficult to forgive Nyla.
“Hi Hazel,” Nyla said, “I feel awful.” there was a pause and Hazel heard a match being lit in the background.
“You’ll never guess what I did.” Nyla continued with a groan. The possibility that the two of them were heading for Ethan’s apartment had almost made her cry the night before but she carefully hid her tremulous envy and answered,
“Surprise me,” silently hoping that Nyla would.
Nyla groaned again and paused to create some suspense,
“Ethan only persuaded me to go back to his apartment.”
“Oh, I see.” Hazel replied carefully, hoping that her voice was appropriately sympathetic.
“I know,” Nyla wailed, “we can’t go to his store for a while.” Hazel was relieved that Nyla obviously had no intention of forming a lasting relationship with Ethan and she asked,
“Did you sleep with him?”
“Yes,” Nyla replied as if it was obvious, “and,” she paused dramatically, “he wants to see me again.” her voice suggested a terrible fate was waiting for her.
“Oh,” Hazel was at a loss for words, she didn’t want to continue talking about Ethan anymore.
“What is his apartment like?” she asked quickly and then cringed at her clumsy attempt to change the subject. Nyla’s tone returned to normal again and she began to coldly describe Ethan’s apartment,
“…..it’s sort of ironic kitsch,” she said, “he’s even got a spinning mirror ball,” and then she giggled and added as an afterthought, “on his bedroom ceiling.”
Hazel was not in the mood to laugh though; she didn’t want to picture Nyla lying on her back examining Ethan’s décor while they thrashed around in his bed. Instead she arranged to meet Nyla the following evening at X-ray, one of their favorite bars. After Hazel said goodbye she felt a little depressed. Even though Nyla was not interested in Ethan there was no way that she could consider him romantically anymore. It would be far too crass. She was relieved that she had never confessed to Nyla that she found him attractive. Placing her hands underneath her head she wrote a mental list of other people that were suitable. Now, she had to start all over again. She wondered whether Jed had a girlfriend, he would be easy to track down, he was always watching bands.