Monday, July 13, 2009

Sado-Masochistic Violinist

So: To set the scene, I need to explain that I'd just gotten out of graduate school and had a crummy, hateful job that involved talking to demanding people on the phone all day for very little money. But I lived in a fashionably dumpy cheap apartment house with some good female friends for neighbors. We liked to make the scene in halter tops with short skirts and combat boots and drink malt liquor. We lived on the free cheese, crackers, and wine offered up at art openings.

Sometimes I saw one of our rednecky-looking (overalls and a mullet) male neighbors out in the yard playing with his young son. Both seemed kind of shy and I imagined that Mr. Mullet/Overalls was trying to live under the radar because he had kidnapped the son from his alcoholic ex wife, who had been awarded custody because she got a good lawyer. And that was cool with me.

One Sunday morning I got up feeling like I had a knife stuck in my head. I hadn't yet given up on Olde English 800 as a good cheap way to enjoy Saturday night and was suffering as a result. I took a shower thinking that would help, but it didn't. I was so knackered I couldn't even get dressed. So I reclined on the love seat in a towel with the back of my hand on my forehead like somebody in a swoon.

Then I heard footsteps on the porch and saw a shadow cross the window. There was a knock on the door and I thought, Thank God, Cosima's bringing me some coffee, and I said come in. The door opened and I heard more shuffling footsteps, then silence. Usually Cosima makes her entrances with a lot of noise. So I looked up, to see an Asian man, a stranger, standing in my living room. He wore a huge black suit that hot summer morn and there was so much gel in his hair you could still see the furrows his comb had left in it. He had what looked like a huge hickey on the front of his neck. There followed an awkward silence.

"Is this one-two-one McNever Street?" He asked when I sat up. "Yes, it is," I said. He didn't seem freaked out about my outfit, so I pretended I wasn't freaked out that he was seeing me in it. "Does Frederico DuVall live here?" he asked. "No," I said. Then followed several minutes of dead-end conversation - he'd repeat "Is this one-two-one McNever Street?" and I'd go "Yes" and he'd go "Are you sure Frederico DuVall doesn't live here?" and I'd go "I don't think so." When I finally learned that this Frederico character was a famous classical musician, I said "There's no way somebody like that lives here. Do you have a number for him? Why don't you call him? The phone's right behind you."

So this guy, who introduced himself as Robin, edges over to the phone and picks up the reciever. I guess it looked a little grungy because I'd spilled some coffee on it the day before and hadn't cleaned it off. "I don't use other people's phones," he said as he put it down. Okay well fine, nerdy germophobe. I told him it was time for me to get dressed and it was nice to meet him and I hope he found his friend. At the same time I was removing a towel from my head, and when my hair fell down in lank, tangled strands, Robin's eyes went wide and he sighed "Oh, your hair is beautiful." I laughed uncomfortably, wished him a good day, and locked the door behind him. Then I went back to bed.

When I got up again I wasn't so sure the whole scene hadn't been a dream. I told the neighborgirls about it and they acted like it was too wierd to be true. So I was almost shocked when I started seeing him walking down the sidewalk on my drive to work every morning. I can't remember how it started, but pretty soon it was like I had a boyfriend. A short, effeminate, overdressed, stalking and platonic boyfriend. Thirty seconds after I got home from work, I'd hear mincing footsteps on the porch and a knock on the door. We'd make some dinner, eat it, and he'd play violin while I read on the couch. He'd stick around until I told him I was going to bed.

I was fascintated with him because he was so old fashionedly polite, gracious, and weird. He wore oversized suits every day. One was black, and one was red. Later he got a purple one. I'd never had live classical music performed in my living room before. One day Robin brought me a classical CD. I was shocked to see Mr. Mullet/Overalls from upstairs wearing a tuxedo on the cover. He and the famous Frederico DuVall were one in the same. All of this was so novel I couldn't bring myself to put a stop to it, even after Robin started showing up in the lobby at work and getting the secretary call me to say he was downstairs waiting for a ride. He needed a ride to a performance. He needed a ride to the dry cleaners. He needed to go to the all-you-can-eat buffet at Kentucky Fried Chicken. Let me tell you, Robin could lay waste to a buffet. He had to sit at a table all by himself to make room for the wreckage of mashed potatoes, green beans, and cherry cobbler samplings he created. He made people stare.

Let me put this in perspective. While my friends and I often complained about how strapped for cash we were, Robin always gloated that he'd made a lot of money working on Wall Street in the past and that he was currently making a lot of money working for a bank. He sneered at my shopping trips to TJ Maxx because as a store, "it's just not that hot," he said. So why the fuck did he need me to give him rides?

Over time, Robin started to wear out his welcome in other ways. He became overpoweringly smitten with my neighbor Delta Dawn, and while she was a tolerant sort, he really freaked her out. Robin hovered around her, positively hungry to squeeze her hands and stroke her arms. Though he appeared to be the biggest and most delicate virgin in the world, somebody she could beat down with no effort, it was still creepy. She told me not to bring him around her place anymore.

At about the same time, he started making curious offhand comments. Once he was bragging about how much money he was making and Cosima said "Let's take him out and beat him," and he answered with "But if you do that, I might really enjoy it." Another time we were looking at furniture through a shop window. There was a wrought-iron four-poster bed in there that appeared to be crafted in the Gothic Dungeon style, and Cosima started singing some lines from a song popular at the time: "S and M! Bring your Mamma and her friends!" Robin, who had been watching traffic, whipped around at the mention of S&M and said "Really? Where?" And the ever-present hickey on his neck came from the way he handled his violin. One night as I watched him playing, it occured to me that he was at once making tender love to the instrument and trying to decapitate himself with it. I was starting to realize that there was some wierd, dark stuff going on in Robin.

One evening I decided I needed a break from him and I went to see a movie at Fergus'. It was a great Hong Kong historical action flick called "Peking Opera House Blues." One of the heroines was costumed in a black suit the whole time, even though her contemporaries were dressed in the traditional frou-frou outfits of the age. At one point in the plot she's tied up and tortured. The way the scene is shot eroticizes the violence - it's done in slow motion and soft focus, with close ups of her face as she's getting whipped bloody and afterwards as the torturer takes a handful of sand and rubs it into her wounds. That's when an epiphany hit me: "This is the kind of thing Robin thinks about all the time." The words arrived unbidden in my consciousness as if they'd beamed in from the planet GetAClue. But I dismissed the thought.

Afterwards, as I walked back to my house in the dark, I could hear violin music drift down the street on the cool fall air. Robin stopped playing and stood when I came up the steps. We exchanged pleasantries and he asked what I'd been doing. "I went to watch a movie called 'Peking Opera House Blues,'" I said. "Is there a scene in it where a lady gets whipped?" he asked eagerly.

Our friendship ended when he asked me for $150 so he could take a bus to Winston-Salem and get his bow re-haired. First off, I was still getting my ass chewed out all day for a meager living, and it hadn't been too long since he'd been bragging about how well-off he was. Second, he laid out the reasons he needed the money so meticulously that it sounded like he'd been up all night making up bullshit reasons so he could soak me for $150. So it was awkward, but I said no. Instead I gave him a buckeye for good luck. He didn't seem to appreciate the gesture.

From then on, whenever I ran into Robin he'd show me the back of his head. He turned mean in a big way and started being obnoxious to people in general - everybody who worked at businesses in the neighborhood hated to see him walk in the door. The change was so abrupt, I thought maybe he'd stopped taking Prozac or Lithium or something. But maybe it was just sudden poverty that made him cranky.

I think he probably came from a really bad situation. One time when I was cheauffering for him, I explained that it was unreasonable to expect to be driven to a dry cleaners a half hour away and still make it to the performance that was to start in 20 minutes. I added that he seemed to have a poor idea in general of how time works and how much activity you can fit in allotments of it. That's when he explained how when he was growing up, he was punished for things like wearing clothes and being on time.

That was such a ridiculous idea to me, I assumed I misunderstood what he was saying. "What? Punished for being on time? I'm confused," I said. "You're confused," he answered ironically, with an emphasis on the you're. I guess Robin had a lot of trouble living in the mainstream world because it wasn't as weird and crazy as what he was used to.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great story.