GUEST POST: I’m With You by Michael Juliani
In May 1991 the Red Hot Chili Peppers recorded Blood Sugar Sex Magik in a mansion in Laurel Canyon where The Beatles first dropped acid. I was born on the 13th of that month, a day before Mother’s Day. My mother was trying to digest her dinner when she went into labor.
Right now I’m sitting in the reading room of a gothic university library listening to the album’s title track. I used to come here like I was looking to buy the place—twice, three times a day: all the times the halls filled with people coming home from classes, proffering bongs from behind their sock drawers. Their presence reminded me to pressure myself. I was in the market to make myself a new person.
My spot’s at a table that pinpoints an exact right angle to the two most beautiful young women in the room. One of the girl’s wearing white, the other black. The one in black looked kinder than the one in white until she put her hair up. They both seem to have a few layers of anxiety, maybe insecurity, the kind that doesn’t matter to attraction.
When they remaster old classic records it means they go back in and make them sound louder. They know what the people want. The blues to make us all feel unified in our old souls. Rap to turn pain into a resume. I woke wanting music to make my life a movie. I had weak sweat all over my face. The girl woke up alone in covers, naked like an aching wife, wanting and hating me at the same time. Two nights ago I broke her heart (she’d probably linger on that statement…I’d say you just really disappointed me…) so I’m feeling about ready to leave town in a whirl of dust and calm sounds. Halloween night we were on her bed where she’d usually let her incense and speakers drain over us—she called any classic song a “throwback.” It felt dangerous arguing about what she expected and what I wanted when we were still under the same covers—I tried to decide the best time to get up and put on my jeans and boots, somewhere before her pained expression would turn to tears.
She’d heard, during our gray togetherness, half of what she wanted to hear. She allowed herself that. The other half I confused her with. I imagined our lives as rivers, so like with songs the ends (the whole feeling) could justify the means, the waters would roil over the rocks. As is true for whenever I’m acting in my best interests, I sounded completely full of shit.
We owe each other CDs. When our heads had been suctioned together by our moist faces, my nerves in another place, I’d said that I’d make one for her if she’d hand over the free copy of the new Chili Peppers she got from the newspaper office. I rifled through the lyrics with a smile on my face while she was in the bathroom—And Mary wants to build it up, and Sherri wants to tear it all back down, girl. I’m never going to get that CD from her.
I keep sleeping through my alarm, shaken finally awake by sounds of machinery and labor protestors. “Shame! Shame!” they chant, disturbing the atmosphere and appearing insane. It makes me feel like the whole day’s over, like I’ve wasted my life. The food trucks lining the street look, smell, and sound like my discomfort.
The girl in white could be an athlete, by which I mean she has water at her place and her legs look stronger than mine. She’s chewing gum like a cow, totally focused and wearing pearl earrings. With her firm wrist she circles some important words.
My mouth, from lunch, has a metallic deli taste. I know the girl in black put her hair up because work’s more important to her than anything, accounting books splayed out like maps. Her neck is an amber tan. I want to see her in her regular clothes. Even someone like Rilke said art and sex are the most similar things. Lots of people would throw religion in there too but that’s not for me. God speaks to me when the other two things are working.
I’m afraid of someday going deaf. Wherever I’ve lived I’ve needed headphones because there’s no way of sharing yourself with people like that without being selfish. The doctor, after I asked if I should worry about my ears, drew calculus on the paper mat next to where I was sitting—the jagged ups and downs to me could’ve referred to anything human. “This is why doctors need to learn calculus,” he said. “For questions like this.”
Since I turned thirteen I’ve listened to music to learn myself. When I set it aside for a couple days I become a turned-off television. I’ve never fought another man, but if I do (it seems like it has to happen) I think I’ll need a tune going to keep an anger fresh.
The weather in California gives older women the opportunity to dress how they want to feel. The oldest person I’ve ever been with turned 20 six months before I turned 19. She thought Roger Daltrey still looked sexy. Her dad took her to see his shows whenever Daltrey came through town, which during our quick relationship seemed to be about twice.
Her father had lost his job, they went on the mother’s money. She asked me to go with them to reciprocate for a concert I’d taken her to. I didn’t want to feel like I was that together with her. It wasn’t that kind of thing, but it was still serious. In other words, I didn’t want my parents to know about her so I kept things private. I spent everyday in her living room—hers was the only place I watched TV for almost two weather seasons. I did all my wandering on her couch, her floor, her balcony. Some nights I’d watch the street at four a.m., seemingly trying to freeze myself in the aquatic blue cold.
One day she took me to her favorite place on campus, a building that doesn’t exist anymore. Now its foundations are beneath all that noise that wakes me in the afternoons. It belonged to the School of Music, a place for students to sit in glass rooms that numbed out sound. Any of the singers could be screaming, or just opening their mouths.
She took her white wool gloves off (this was winter) and put them across the top of the piano so it looked like a performance was coming. She admitted that she didn’t really belong with an instrument anymore (her bass cleft tattoo happened in high school). I demanded to know the name of the song she started to play. My notebook in my lap, I’d wanted to write a poem along with her haltering music—I wanted to improvise like with jazz. She claimed the song to be the easiest thing in the world to play, that anyone who had ever taken lessons knew how to play a version of it, but that she had never learned its name. I think I made a disgusted face.
Since then I’ve listened to it plenty of times, it’s Beethoven, “Moonlight Sonata.” After I had to leave her that January—with a phone call I really couldn’t answer—I needed to know that I’d gained something. The flood had come through. I needed the name of that song.
In the present, I’ve had to press myself to remember that. The girl in white isn’t wearing jewelry on her wrists, a detail I admire. The song on now reminds me of whiskey. Blonde hair reminds me of whiskey. The two of them together remind me of a feeling. It’s the young man’s American Dream—the point we’re driving towards to learn once again that we’re all false prophets until we truly, somehow, fall in love, maybe, hopefully. The girl in black has in black earbuds. A blonde in black could make me leave home—her skin, hair, and teeth pop and shine in contrast. We stared at each other for just a moment. Only I thought it was staring, I can tell. She’s started to leave, wearing rainproof boots all the women wear now when the temperature drops. Her walking’s truly something that can’t be stopped, and why try…I haven’t the slightest clue what her name or nickname is. “Hey Girl in Black! Don’t leave me, honey!”
Music to me seems like the only way to scream and cry in public and get people to love you for it. So I have the question all the time in my mind: Why aren’t you trying to make music?
Michael Juliani is a writer from Los Angeles, 20 years old, brown hair, brown eyes. His column “From Young Rooms” runs on Neon Tommy. He’s a junior at the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism at USC, studying Print & Digital Journalism. You can email him here: firstname.lastname@example.org. His blog is here: michaeljuliani.wordpress.com
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