2001-10-08 - 12:57 p.m.
"I'm telling you stories. Trust me."
Jeanette Winterston, The Passion
I believe I promised you the rest of the Yo La Tenga story, which segues nicely into the ecstasy story. It's a little long, but here you go.
I was listening to Yo La Tengo constantly that late summer and fall; the music fit my mood. I was depressed, and searching for something: a reason to stay and a reason to go. Trey didn't love me, and was almost able to say it to me, to my face, even though I wasn't ready to listen. I would stay at home for weeks at a time, or so it felt, and when I did go out, I would frantically try to make up for all that lost time, drinking too much, talking too much, and embarrassing myself horribly, or so I thought. I was living alone in a one bedroom apartment in Travis Heights. I got up early every morning, while it was still dark, and the curtains were drawn so I could walk freely about the apartment naked. One early morning, around 6 am, I flipped on the college radio station, and Yo La Tengo was playing. It felt like they were playing it just for me. When the song ended, the dj came on the air, with a pleading voice: "Surely someone's listening out there," she said. "All you have to do is identify the band, not even the song, and you'll win tickets to the concert. Somebody please call." I picked up the phone, and called, and was placed on the guest list, plus one. I didn't tell her I had already bought a ticket. It was a good way to start out the morning, and I remember being happy that day.
As the show approached, it turned out that everyone I knew already had a ticket; those that didn't had no interest in going to the show. Then one night, I went out with Anne. She wanted to introduce me to Gary. "You'd like Gary," she said. She was always saying that about boys she knew, the ones she paraded in front of me at dinner parties and Scrabble games. I didn't really think much of Gary one way or another, as it turned out. We went to Waterloo; I drank water, and Gary ate cheese fries, drank beer, and smoked lots of cigarettes. Anne told her stories, but Gary was mostly quiet. He didn't have a ticket to the Yo La Tengo show, so I offered him one of mine. We traded emails prior to the show; his were cryptic and hilarious and flirtatious, and the subject lines were song lyrics I never recognized. I played coy, and told him I was unboyfriendable. The night of the show, we met beforehand at Waterloo, all the usual suspects. I remember thinking that just six months prior, I would have been at the show alone, or not have gone at all. The show was sold out, and we edged up to the front of the crowd, for the opening acts: Chris Knox and Daniel Johnston. Sometime early on, Anne and Gary went to the back of the club, and smoked cigarettes, and traded sad stories. But I couldn't leave; I was mesmerized, and there must have been a smile on my face during the whole show. They played forever, it felt like, and when it was over, I was deliriously happy. I gave Gary a ride home, and didn't stop talking the entire way. We stopped at Kerbey Lane, and I didn't even mind when the pancake I ordered came to the table cold, with a lump of butter on top in no danger of melting. When we got to Gary's house, he asked if I wanted to come in and do ecstasy with him. I almost burst out laughing. Me? Ecstasy? I could count on both hands the number of times I'd smoked pot or hash, and I'd never done anything harder. I stammered some excuse about getting up early in the morning to go running, and left in a hurry.
The next month, at the end of October, there was a cover article in the Chronicle about Ecstasy. It was the most propagandist article I've ever read. And it worked. I really wanted to do Ecstasy.
Gary and I continued to email. Sometimes I'd go over to his house to watch tv, smoke cigarettes, and drink beer. Anne had gotten back together with David, and I had too much time on my hands. My volunteering gig at the Film Society was over, and I had to stop training for the marathon when I hurt my knee. I thought it would be good to get out of town; Gary agreed to go to Houston with me the day after Thanksgiving, to go to the museums. He was sick that day, and Saturday, and Sunday, so we went the following weekend. That Saturday, we got up early and drove to Houston, listening to his new favorite band, the Lucksmiths, the whole way down. We went to the Rothko Chapel, and the Menil, and the Butterfly Garden and the Planetarium at the Natural History Museum. It was almost more fun to watch Gary than the artwork at the Menil; his eyes widen when he sees something beautiful, and sometimes he is close to tears. Few people see him like this, I like to think, when he stops talking, for once, and is completely in awe of something greater than himself. On the way home, we talked about whether we'd do Ecstasy when we got back to his place. I was hesitant, unsure...but so intrigued. By the time we got to Austin, I'd talked myself into it. We each popped a pill, and watched an episode of "West Wing" he'd taped. By the time the show was over, the outlines of my surroundings were fuzzy, and then achingly clear. We laid on our backs and stared at the ceiling, music swirling in the background. I can't remember what he played at first - something trancelike. Later, he played Baxendale, and I fell in love with that band then and there. Maybe I fell in love with Gary a little bit then too. He stood in the middle of the living room, swaying from side to side, mouthing the lyrics of the songs, a smile on his face. A beatific smile, completely without pretense. I’d never seen him look so happy.
We bundled up, and walked around the block. We crooked arms, like old people, hobbling down the street, our eyes mesmerized by the lights of oncoming cars. When we pointed out Christmas lights to each other, we were like little kids. Look at that one, over there. No, look at that one. The Ecstasy would fade in and out; Gary called it rolling, or waving, I can never remember which. Each time it left, I would panic, worried that it was gone for good. My eyes would grow wide, and I'd look around, searching out lights, waiting for them to soften and grow hazy, waiting for it to come back.
Back in the apartment, we'd lay on his bed, trying to warm up. My teeth chattered, when I wasn't clenching them. Gary put his hands in mine, rubbing them til they were warm. We huddled together under his blankets, his body large next to mine, secure and comforting. Our relationship had been completely platonic until then, but now we were cuddling, rubbing each other's arms, trying to stay warm, slowly coming down. When he kissed my neck, I panicked, and left, even though he invited me to stay the night.
Two days later (the same day I found out Trey had a new girlfriend, 31 and a physical therapist), I went over to Gary’s. We drank fruity drinks (a recipe Gary had found online called The Flaming Gary; the last line in the recipe was: Grab that Gary!), and when we were both a little tipsy, I demanded that we talk about what had happened. He dared me to kiss him, and so I did. That was how it began.