Thursday, July 18, 2019

Paradise, Sugar, summer, and X-ness

The time was gone when we'd actually sit in someone's family room and watch MTV, but Paradise City's images still made up a big part of listening to that song. We knew Axl was a jerk, but the *song* was still summertime. That was the year we cruised DMV drive.

Val had taken me to Grace Street before, and I was used to venues, dating my rock star at college, going to gig after gig with him and all our musician friends. So cruising really seemed pointless to me, just driving around a wide block, traffic at a standstill, and only one stretch of it really populated. It was usually impossible to get a spot on that stretch; so you'd crawl through the crowded, merc-lit street, and then it was half an hour around a boring circuit to get back again. If you *could* get a spot, though ... it was a fun way to blow an hour before actually going somewhere.

That year, it was Paradise City - Axl in his white jeans; the ageless avatar of Slash stripped out of black and hat, actually sexy under there - and Pour Some Sugar On Me. Every idiot with a too-large spoiler and giant speakers rigged in a hatchback serenaded the entirety of the cruising audience, and I can't remember a single other track that dominated. Those two songs were THAT. SUMMER.

Valerie died to the strains of Paradise City. And Def Leppard was her favorite band.

It is my punishment, and my poignancy, that Axl's damned white jeans will make me cry forevermore.

I miss my girl. She was my sister. Her husband, now - I guess he's my brother.

The orangey light outside the huge HQ building for the Division of Motor Vehicles. Me and Val being cute and using fake names. I was Sabrina because I'd liked that cartoon as a kid, and the name seemed exotic to me. Valerie used Penelope.

Sometimes, now, loving on my dog Penelope, it's not just her I am hugging. She's my girl too.

I never did know why she used Penelope - just, it amused her. It was so unlikely. And boys. Boys trying anything will believe anything. I mean - Sabrina? We both dared 'em to disbelieve. They never bothered to; honesty beside the point, when you are cruising.

Pour Some Sugar On Me.

Both the songs are anthemic, and impossibly catchy. Cryin' is playing at me right now - and we loved us some Aerosmith. (Val had a story about being a groupie and chewing gum.) But Sugar and Paradise, that was all anyone ever heard. When your car was inching forward, and the heated dark breeze of a Richmond summer night carried the distant strains of either of those songs back to us on the long slog through the boring 75% of the circuit - that was the promise. "You're almost there." Almost to the relevant part. The part that is lit, and full of people (boys) and music. The interesting bit.

Scent of hot asphalt hanging in the air, and not a little exhaust, including diesel. Voices, shouting, unrestrained singing. That kid on the skateboard, the first person I ever TOLD I was named Sabrina.

Valerie's laughter.

My girl.

We'd make a few turns. Or park, if we could. Then the lateral move, more parking, more crowded blocks, and The Jade Elephant, or Newgate Prison (hilariously, a dive bar unbeloved by Virginia Commonwealth University Police - now their headquarters - I guess they won). Dirt Woman sitting on his porch. "You can get the dirt off Donnie, but you can't get Donnie off the Dirt!" The Lee X theater, I think defunct already by the early 90s. Grassy scrub lots. The 7-11, maybe convenient for some, but impossibly distant and useless for those of us in heels.

That guy who made his friends drive him around in an old limo. He was cute. He'd give us rides to our cars. Every boy Val ever dated, or was thinking about it. The night I brought The Elfin One, and she laughs to this day about how I zeroed in on someone and said, "I want THAT one" and got his attention. It's all in the wrist - you just pick the one who appeals and is most likely *to* pay you some attention. He was tall. Dilliest smile you ever saw. He was ... unfortunate. Sigh.

My Val.

It's funny. Since she died, I talk to her - "Vally" I call her. I NEVER called her this in life. Some part of it is necessary now, and some part of it almost offends me for being unprecedented. Too cutesy, perhaps. But she's so dear. She was so damned small, in her hospital beds. I miss her.

Summer nights.

Right now, it's so humid in Richmond you just feel WET. Even walking the dog at 6:45 a.m., the humiture is intense. Even at ten o'clock at night, letting her out for the last time, dark - maybe even breezy - it is HOT outside.

Summer used to be what my dad called "soft" nights. Oh, it was still warm, even back then. But it didn't seem punishing. Maybe nothing does when you're half the age I am now, healthy, and ignorant of the future. Not that our future was bad. Val found the best husband she ever could have had. She had joy and SO much love. She and he knew what could come, and agreed.

No regrets.

That summer. Not regrettable. Not even a guilty-pleasure memory. I'm not ashamed we were hair-band chicks, into that kind of guy, brash, loud, laughing. As much as Val's laugh still rings, I never ever faded beside her. Neither of us ever did second-fiddle. We were the Cinderella twins from their old videos. We were catty, and open, and good in our skin, and interested and interesting. We were the 80s. We were the 90s. We were good with it all (and, no - neither of us was ever into the big-hair thing for *ourselves*).

The one time V ever faded into the background around me.

She was with me when I met Mr. X. It actually took about a year or two, that meeting.

It was the crack of the new millennium, and as an 80s throwback we went up to a bar in Springfield, to see the Bullet Boys, who sucked and had ZERO crowd. It wasn't even any fun for making fun of those who'd never gotten the memo that the 80s were over, because almost nobody was there. One other table - us two girls, maybe three guys. I don't remember most of them, because a *CLICK* happened. Mike. It wasn't sexual, but I've rarely experienced chemistry like that. He was fun to talk to, we stayed in touch on email and by phone, tried dating ever so briefly, then he met his wonderful, gorgeous, immensely generous wife.

November, 2002. I've just broken up with the "should be good on paper" guy with the SOUL PATCH (good grief, I though I was getting old at 34, and shouldn't be "picky"), and Mike's band is playing that same club, opening for - I think - Blind Guardian. The line this time wrapped around the building, and it. was. cold. Val and I get out of the car and end up in an alley around back, walking by hundreds along our way, wondering why the doors haven't opened, and hearing lots of grumbles. Only one attractive guy in the whole lot, and he's probably way too young. We take our places. And wait. And wait. I actually sent her back to the car at one point, to get my big wool coat. I hadn't wanted to wear it in the bar, but out here, waiting interminably, a little plastic jacket is not doing the job. The cold stabs from below. Val and I are shivering, miserable.

It turns out, BG's equipment was not compatible with American electrical systems. Which one might have thought could have been solved before several hundred people ended up stranded in the cold, but so-eth these things go-eth. Once we are inside, I go to touch up my face, and find the blackberry lipgloss in frozen shards, bleeding, and recalcitrant about remediation. I feel annoyed and Of Constrained Attractiveness for the rest of the night. And just as well, for the most part I can't find that hot guy anyway. We hang with Mike and the lovely (seriously - she gave me a FOOT MASSAGE, that wonderful woman) Mrs. Mike, and the night ends up being a lot of fun. Good company goes a long way.

At the end, coming out of the venue itself, there is an outer bar. Pool tables, flourescent lighting for my already not-so-flossy-feeling self, and ...Val pulls on me, "Diane, get a load" - and it's that guy. Definitely too young.

I dither and linger, Val takes a bathroom break, I'm on my own by some pool table, make eye contact, smile. He still doesn't come over. When she comes back, I grab her and make a beeline because it is late and we've got a hundred miles to go.

And, not being but so selfish, I leave the opportunities (between chicks hitting on him) open. "We just have to know. Are you single?"

"Sure!" he says.

And, Val told me, she might as well not have been there. "He lit up." "He was only looking at you."

I got his email and we booked it.

That's how I met Mr. X. Who turned out not to be 25 after all. What his age *was*, relative to my 34 at that time, we shall not discuss, because he's a coy one. But I won't say I wasn't glad he wasn't a baby.

Ahh, my Vally.

She was fun.

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