They Play Solitaire



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[last chapter in Part One of The Solitaire Players]

Not all days can start with a clear head, but you might have a sense that there’s something, somebody, someplace that should be on the agenda. There was no work at the paper and I hadn’t been to The X in more than a week, so I got some coffee and headed over there. There was sure to be somebody there at this time in the afternoon, this late in the week.

I found Nina and Bobby together in the old outer lobby, alone, looking unusually pleased with themselves. Bob was smiling at me like some kid who — however much he deserved it and yet never presumed — just got the extravagant award he had worked so hard for. Nina smiled at him like he had solved The Big Problem, whatever that might have been.

Before stopping to think, I asked, “Where’s Jack?”

Nina nodded, as if to say, “You worked it out.” But I hadn’t, yet. Not in any detail. We just notice when something is out of place. It was that host Jack ran the show, I reminded myself. Nobody got together without his setting it up. Now it was finally, completely front-and-center for me that Nina and Bobby were hardly ever in the same place without Jack being there too. If “intimate” had always meant all three of them, I wondered now how much effort these two had been putting into it?

Instead of telling me about the missing Jack, Nina and Bobby led me out and down the hall to a window.

Nina said, “Sarah.”

It was a sort of remote, one-way introduction to a young woman sitting down below with Jack.

This was only the beginning of the tour. Nina and Bobby both looked to me, as if to ask, “Ready?”

I said, “Okay,” and we were off again, to the studio.

The light was okay at the moment. I took note of the current setup. A typical evolution of gear and staging plus — surprise — “refreshments.” This almost looked like the usual break-time: Young creative-types standing around chatting, but with more than the usual minor cups, cans and bags. The cheap food fetishes and the quick fixes of alcohol and caffeine had been replaced. This spread was art — easily recognizable as real food that somebody cared about.

There was also — way across the room — the same young woman who had been sitting with Jack, or rather couldn’t have been.

Nina said, “Sally.”

Besides looking like the same person, she was dressed exactly the same.

“Twins,” I said.

The matching clothes made them a couple of retro-cuties.

Bobby said, “Kind of a problem.”

(‘Look around. Remember this. It’s what a bunch of people look like when they are really happy about something new, yet might know they aren’t going to stay happy about it.’)

Nina told me, “When Sally showed up with this stuff again and told Jack exactly what it was about, he gave us all a big wave and walked out.” She checked with Bobby. “Maybe he just wasn’t hungry.”

Bob turned to her, “Maybe Sally has leprosy.”

“Maybe she just has a sister named Sarah,” said Nina.

“Whose sister is ‘fucked-up Sally,’ according to Jack,” Bobby suggested. Then he added, “You can kiss this band good-bye.”

Nina put an arm through one of Bobby’s and pulled him close and said what any of them would have said and always did, “We’re not a band.”

If that had never been moot enough, it was now.

(‘Find something normal to look at and concentrate until everything gets that way.’)

I asked, “So what’s the problem?”

“Nothing can be allowed to interfere,” said Nina.

“With what?” I asked.

Bobby suggested, “Success?”

“Happiness?” Nina shrugged. “You tell me…”

We picked through some of the edibles and each of us checked to see if we were going to be left to our discussion, alone. The noise level was increasing, so everybody seemed busy.

My turn. “Let’s not say, ‘…with the order of things.'”

Nina thought, “No. Let’s just say, ‘…with Jack’s place in the big picture.’ Wouldn’t want to interfere with that.”

Bobby amended that. “No… More like, ‘…where everything winds up on a scale of one to ten.'”

“Instead of where everything sits out on the table,” said Nina. “Cards-on-the-table time, actually. Jack’s cashing in his chips and going home.”

“This is how bands break up,” said Bobby.

“You’re not a band?” I reminded him.

“This is how everything breaks up,” he said.

Nina said, “Stairway to stardom,” and tried to make an image. “Decorate it any way you want Mr. Morganstern. Hollywood… Um… Haight Ashbury…” She thought for a moment. “Weimar Berlin, Greenwich Village, Luxor, Montmartre…” I knew how long she could make that list. She got to the point. “The stairway was always real narrow.”

Now there was some rough, ambient music. Maybe recorded. Maybe some discussion about it. Some of the light changed. The typical accumulating hubbub.

“Okay.” I wanted to state the obvious. “You don’t want to be stars.” I suggested, “Then just keep doing what you’re doing.”

Bobby said, “This is not going to go anywhere.”

“Why does it have to?” I thought it was there.

Nina said, “Ask Jack? No. I don’t think he could say.” Then she wondered out loud with mock wistfulness, “How does the vast sweeping history of culture go…?” Then, as a kind of mock confession, “I wanna be Picasso.”

Bob picked up the cue. “I wanna be Sinatra. Brando.”

I looked for him to strike a pose, but he didn’t, unless you count having his hands in his pockets.

Nina took over again. “No one will ever lie to us. We’ll never be lonely. We’ll never be broke and we’ll never die. We will never know fear. We’ll be shameless, if not blameless, nameless innocent and free.” And with mock sincerity, “I wonder what that will be like.” Then, in a slightly slavic voice, “Success is shame. We must starve. For art.” She put her head down and folded her arms. End of performance.

When Nina did satire, you could always trust her to be doing you a favor. All I could do is raise my hand and try to wave it all away and get back to the point. “You have to go on.”

Bobby looked at me in a way he never had before and said, “We don’t have to do shit.”

It was a cruel-to-be-kind thing. He might as well have said, “Get your own band,” and maybe, “Don’t try to send any tracks to Jack.”

Her lips weren’t moving, but I could hear Nina saying, “You don’t want to pursue this any further,” which somehow sounded about right. They had each other. Didn’t they? I figured I would settle on that. That part was right.

It was in the upper eighties outside, but I was looking around for my coat. I took in everyone and everything. It might have been somewhere I once belonged, or maybe it just had a familiar kind of appearance. Had I belonged? There were two people standing in front of me who I thought I knew from somewhere.

Did I just come out that door? I was in my car, trying to get a steady image of where I had just been. If I went back in, would there be anybody there? Now, I should have been hearing somebody say, “Get real, Morganstern,” or was it that I had already heard it? I knew someone who would gladly play the role, however unreliably.

Mrs. Alexandria Bert would know the rest of the story, so I drove right over to her house. This was a likely time to drop by for a private conversation, even though we had run out the possibilities for making further “Us” plans. There was a good chance she would have left everybody out on the corner and gone inside for dinner alone, if I was lucky. On these occasions, anybody around would be  expecting me to skip whatever was going on out front, whether they knew why I hadn’t been around lately or not. No matter if they knew anything that I didn’t. I would just be passing through on people with no more interest in discussing that with me than any interest they would have had in anything else on my mind.

Her place turned out to be a smaller problem than I expected. Where The X had only had an aura of abandonment, Sandie’s front yard was almost vacant for some reason. The only neighbor out front, up by the corner, was trying to fit some last small thing into a box. When I stepped out of my car, she smiled uneasily, probably glad to be gaining distance as she left. I said “Hi.” I don’t know if it was audible. Still, being here wasn’t any easier than the X scene, and this neighbor was our age.

When I knocked, Sandy came to the door, but didn’t open it wide.

“Can I come in?”


I tried to look past her, as discretely as possible.

“I’m alone, but you can’t come in,” she said.

I could hear my last idea about our “relationship” ringing in my head. (‘This was originally your idea.’) Her unstated disregard for that was just as loud. While I tried to settle my reverie, she walked out on the lawn and sat down at a table. That worked for me. It was as much as I had hoped for.

It was past dusk now. The streetlights were having an effect.

She looked up as I took a seat across from her. “Is this about your job?” She had noticed my not mentioning “Us” right away.

“What job? My not-a-journalist career? No, this is about the Bandies.”

Sandy said, “Jack’s got a new girlfriend. Two, kind-of. Not dealing with it very well.” She had gained the “We can still be friends” footing and was visibly more at ease, though her chair seemed to have a lot of her attention.

I asked her, “What happened?” (‘Try not to plead.’) “A week ago, I would have said the music-and-art thing would go on forever. What do these Sarah and Sally want? Seems like they could only add to what’s been going on.”

“Right. So it would seem. Now it’s a dinner-party too. Only, Jack isn’t seeing it that way.”

“I got a pretty clear idea how Jack is seeing it. I just don’t see exactly how he arrived at that position.” I told her about my visit to The X — about the new Nina and Bobby I had just met.

She stopped working on her posture and said, “What’s it to you? When are you going to get a life of your own?”

“Look, can we skip all that for the moment? I just need to know what happened.” I told her, “That’s my ‘job.'”

“Sounds like this is a bigger problem for you than it is for them,” she said.

“This — among other things — is a problem for my outlook on life, such as it is. Tell me.”

“Okay,” she said. “Not much to tell. Jack meets Sarah. They hit it off big-time. Naturally, he plans on bringing her to the next Bande à Party. But all of a sudden she’s two Sarahs, or, like, one Sarah and an identical Sally, half of whom sing and half of whom cook just as good as they want. So for two or three days, a good time was had by all, until Sally got everybody to put together a huge meal, with wine and everything. That wasn’t at the studio, but then she went on to invite herself to be the caterer for the next few gatherings. Nice way to pool resources…”

I said, “Which Jack was not happy about…”

Sandie made it blunt. “To say the least,” adding, “He’ll get over it.”

“Which means — according to Nina and Bobby — it’s all over.”

“What’s ‘all over?’

I said, “No more music, art, whatever. No more Bandapart ‘events.'”

Sandy said, “Oh, I hardly think so. Maybe everybody just goes their own way. Everybody gets a job or a slightly better one and then they just dabble on weekends.”

I tried to get back to a discussion of salvaging something better than that. “Apparently there was some resentment?”

She put a hand flat on the table toward me. “This isn’t just a gossip thing for you, is it?”

I said, “No.”

“It should be,” she said.

“I need to know what went wrong.”

She gave this a definite exhale. “Well, first Jack tried to charm Sally exactly the way he charmed Sarah. Which, by the way, you could learn a thing or two about. Natural charms are not enough. You need to at least appear to be making an effort or… you need to appear to be uninterested or something.”

I could have taken that opportunity to argue about the “or something,” but I let her go on.

“Sally found this inappropriate on several levels. Understandable, I suppose, sister-wise. So far, not so bad. Sally didn’t make a big deal out of it. Then Jack tried being playfully abusive. Sally was not a ‘good sport,’ but again, they let it pass. Then Jack insinuated that for her to add her thing to the festivity, she would need his approval and support. There was absolutely no agreement at all on that and Sally said so. Jack reacted badly. I think the end of Sally’s patience was when he gave her a bottle of wine she couldn’t have afforded.”

We could both imagine the deniable aggression Jack would have intended — a kind of “I can do more for you than you can do for me” move.

I said, “They could have worked all that out.”

Sandy was adamant. “No. There’s where you’re wrong. However unconventional the Bande à Part thing is, you know that for Jack, there is only the version of it in his head. Any alternative version — however true to the spirit — is going to run right off of Jack’s rails. That’s what doomed whatever Sally’s presence might have added, for Jack.”

“Poor Jack,” I said.

Sandie shifted in her seat and looked away, disregarding this. “Don’t worry about him. He’ll just put it all into something else.” Then she turned back to me and said, “What you need to think about is where you go from here.”

She might as well have said, “There’s the cliff. Walk.”

I didn’t take that up. Instead, I said, “So, no twin sisters,” suggesting the obvious.

“That’s the last thing Sally’d want to be.”

My final ponder: “But why would he let some pose, his attitude-strategy, make him lose what he had spent years working on?”

Sandie looked down at nothing in particular, somewhere on the edge of the table. “Don’t know. The space aliens take over his mind?”

(‘Why wouldn’t the beams be coming from right here on Earth? I always get this tingling at the base of my own skull when, say, I haven’t been watching enough TV.’)

Sandie knew this was a good spot to give me something immediate. “Did you meet the twins?”

“They were busy.”

“You didn’t talk to either of them?”

“They were busy.”

(‘Here we go… There we went…’)

“Just be yourself, John.”

“Yeah, right.”

“I like you, John.”

“Glad to hear it.”

“If you’d just go with things as they are…”

“They aren’t.” That seemed to conclude the discussion. “Thanks for filling me in. I’ll get out of here.”

The good-byes were perfunctory.

*    *    *

Two weeks later, without any kind of resolution, I was in Las Vegas, of all places, on iffy circumstances, with no expectation of ever seeing any of them again. Plenty of Alexandria Toughcookie-types in Vegas. None as bright. None with the girlish awkward grace that she always tried to hide. Trying to dress drab for the bureaucrats just made it more evident. “Love is blind.” Yeah, when it’s lucky.

(‘Vegas? Show’s over. Can’t go back… Where’s my plan? San Francisco, then. Yes.)


Written by Kenny Mann

12/27/2009 at 9:08 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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