Let’s call him Keith. I knew he was a bullshit artist after our first conversation.
“You know, um, I really like your voice – very sexy. I’m making a video for a friend and you would be great as the nightclub singer. Let’s get together soon and talk about it, eh?” He claimed he was from Vancouver, Canada and had just moved to LA a few months ago.
“I’m still unpacking, you see. Not sure if I like my place. I may move to the beach – Venice is looking good right now. Lots of up and comers. I like the energy. What’s your name again?” He was of above average height and looks with an attractive crooked smile, straight white teeth, and several pieces of gold jewelry scattered about his person. Really good looking at first glance until he started talking. Red flags flew out of his mouth along with mismatched thoughts about himself and the world that revolved around him. He was like a lot of people in Los Angeles – hyper, transient, and unknowable.
I was in the process of breaking up with my husband, Gerard, a musician like me, and my partner in several bands over the past decade. Although we both realized that things between us were irreparably broken, we couldn't seem to go our separate ways. We had just moved to Los Angeles and neither of us had the money or energy to find another place, so we tried an “open marriage”, something we’d read about in Cosmo or some pulp mag. It was convenient. It was terrible. It was sad. We were not alone in this hell. We had a baby son who was enduring this latest upheaval while learning how to walk, talk, grow, and open locked front doors.
Gerard lived in disappointment. He had moved here to back up a female vocalist, someone who was making a record, and had local club gigs to pay for studio time and rent. He was her side man not her musical director “as promised.” I was not the backup singer she said she needed before we moved from Phoenix to LA. She had to scale down her band, she explained. I was sidelined, sweating the rent and utility bills and groceries.
Dopes, duped, dupes, super dupers, idiots! We had fallen into the crushing maw of the music money machine, unprepared in the land of routine broken promises. Our marriage was one of the casualties of this murky soup of malaise. Our road-rat musical partnership had ended and we wound up right where we had begun, in Hollywood shuffling along the sidewalks with the ranters, pan handlers, and aimless wanderers. The operative word was aimless. After the dream of superstardom disintegrated and reality set in, Gerard searched out a soft landing. He needed a relationship change-of-scene and found a well-employed attorney/divorcee with two young girls in a fine house in the South Bay and abandoned our sinking ship of a seven year marriage. She wanted to be a part of Gerard’s rock n roll fantasy lifestyle. I wanted out of Gerard’s real lifestyle of poverty and neglect. It worked out eventually, for all of us. Well maybe not for our baby boy who grew up without the benefit of a father’s child support both financial and psychological. That’s a story for another day.
The “open marriage” phase of killing off a marriage is always tricky. Gerard had one slim pinky in our house and the rest of himself in “the other woman’s” house. A small part of me continued to pursue music, and Gerard. The rest of me was in survival mode seeking full-time, regular paycheck office work so I could afford to move to my own place, pay for gas, groceries, utilities and babysitting. Our personal pursuits often prevented us from crossing paths and when we did wind up in the same room, we'd argue, usually about money. By this time, I had stopped going to his gigs. I never seemed to have the time and it was painful watching his girlfriend gaze with unflagging adoration at him. Besides both of us being in one place spooked the band.
I met Keith at a last minute job I accepted in San Bernardino. I was filling in for Christa, a singer I knew, who had been clubbed over the head and robbed by two twelve year old black kids in the underground parking garage of her Hollywood apartment. She had called me from the emergency room while she was waiting to get four stitches in her head and begged me to sub for her for a few nights until some of the bruises faded a bit. Gerard had nothing going on right then, so he agreed to watch the baby and I agreed to drive 65 miles each way to San Bernardino and sing with an unknown group of musicians. My hope was that they knew most of the songs I knew; I wouldn’t bomb completely; and I’d get paid. As it turned out, the band and the club liked me better than Christa, and Keith wanted to produce a video of the band, but only with me in it.
Driving home on the I-10 that night, 3 in the morning, tired and confused, I wondered if I should screw over Christa, take her gig and do the video. It felt wrong and I rationalized that this feeling was probably because I was so far out of my comfort zone, the zone created by partnering with Gerard for a decade. I had to make my own way without Gerard as a partner and maybe this was the opportunity to break away.
As I approached the gang-banger paradise of Pomona, a dark car began to ride my bumper. I changed lanes and slowed down. The dark car sped up, changed lanes in front of me and slowed down. There were no other cars on this eight lane highway, just me and them. I had always hated our 1970 Pontiac Catalina, a big boat of a car with a broken radio, but it had one thing newer cars were missing – a powerful V8 engine. I maneuvered into the fast lane and took off, going from 60 to 90 in seconds. I made the mistake of looking in my rear view mirror and was horrified to see the passenger in the dark car hanging out the window pointing a shiny, silver, gun-like object in my direction. I changes lanes, accelerated to 100 and hunched a bit lower in my seat, expecting a bullet to crash into my skull at any second, but I outran them and as I approached the 710, I finally looked in the mirror again. No cars anywhere. Safe. Slow down. This is a sign. Do not take that gig in San Bernardino. Good luck Christa.
As it turned out, Christa called me the next day with my night’s pay. She didn’t need me to cover her gig anymore and could I come by and get my money. I almost told her to keep the cash rather than venture into her parking garage, but we needed the money. As I rang her apartment door bell, Keith came toward me on the stairway. I hid my shock and surprise and wondered if I was hallucinating.
“Hi babe! Nice job last night. You really helped Christa out. She would have lost the gig without you.” He babbled as Christa cracked open the door. Her left side was swollen, bruised and a large swath of hair was shaved exposing black stitches. She looked scary and exhausted. I was not invited in, instead, she shoved an envelope full of money at me.
“Thanks for covering for me. I heard you did okay. Here’s for last night and I included gas money. We’ll talk soon, okay?” and the door closed.
I did not count the money in front of Keith, but slid it into my coat pocket and backed away from the door. He looked like he was going to knock on Christa’s door, but changed his mind.
“Well! She looks like hell, doesn’t she. We’re neighbors you know. I told her to let you stay on the gig until she feels better, but she’s got rent due. I think she’s got a wig, so that’s not a problem. Maybe I’ll drive her to the club tonight.”
The good thing about Keith’s self-absorption was that I did not need to respond to his commentary. I discovered that he answered his own questions, never bothered to check for a body language response, and lived within his own drug addled dream world. I left quickly, never expecting to hear from either of them again, but I was wrong.