“What’s not to believe?” I searched him. “What?”
Lena just winked at Marcus. She’d never contradicted him, yet never fully supported his claims either. Opposite me Dan was having none of it, just pushing around specks of sugar with his plastic straw, staring down at the wood grain table. He didn’t give a shit about a rock-n-roll band, his heart was being torn in two. Marcus dug in his shirt pocket and pulled out a tiny square of blotter paper. He stuck it on his tongue a moment, then washed it down with milky, silty diner coffee in a thick-handled mug. Flashed a peculiar smile that meant so many things: trust me, on the one hand; you fool, on the other.
“They’ll never get it,” he said. “So why try?”
“Why try? Isn’t that the whole point? Isn’t that why we’re going?”
Marcus just smiled. But indeed, it was why I was going. It was just what he’d promised, that I’d get to see the greatest band in the world, my Achilles heel. Lords of Oblivion. Marcus had turned me on to them. Month by month he’d drip-fed a store of mythology—there was plenty of it, at least in Columbus—that said that Nic Devine, the band’s singer, was a giant: Iggy Pop, Jim Morrison and Mick Jagger in one man. We were stranded in the mid-80s, surrounded by posture in every direction, cheap hooks and pancake make-up and fishnet stockings, bands that couldn’t be troubled to break a sweat on stage or barter their souls, worshipping instead at the High Church of the European Cigarette. Lords of Oblivion were different. You could hear it in their records, the way the singer shrieked, bargained, pled and howled, the way the band commanded your speakers until you were ready to beg for mercy yourself. Their shows were said to be Passion plays, outriggers and enactments of the Apocalypse. Your head rang for days afterwards, and—if the accounts of witnesses were to be believed—Nic Devine did everything but resurrect the dead. The records couldn’t approach the reality of the performances, I’d been told over and over, and given this it was simple. I would see the band play or die trying. The rest, Marcus’s gassing on about how Columbus was a bohemian paradise, a sort of Paris Commune for misfit kids, was secondary. You could live without food or cheap rent or sex even, but music? Lords of Oblivion were the key.
“You all ready to order?”
Our waitress came back. And as I stared into her face, I saw it there too: youth, mystery, life in its uncut form. That thing for which we were all always searching, a newness perhaps, a sense that we were the first people to whom anything interesting ever happened. She stopped and she sighed in her orthopedic shoes. Her face was a cumulus of middle-American moods. Only Marcus and Lena were tripping, yet her brassy beehive seemed to sparkle with gnats of electricity. Her eyes were a lucid Cadillac-black beneath them. She squinted at my mangy quiff.
“Did you lose a fight with a weed-whacker, hon?”
Marcus and Lena burst out laughing. To them, this place—this part of the country we were just entering, no longer New England nor affixed to either coast—was home. To me it was unfathomable, irresistible, true. And even this woman, whose name tag read Joyce, was a part of it, a part of the New World indivisible from the Old, a tiny wilting slice of eternity. I’d never met a woman called ‘Joyce’ before, the name so old-fashioned it could as well have been from the future. I watched her pour out our coffee, flexing her waxy marzipan wrists, shaking her head at whatever was so funny.
“What can I get you?”
Everything, I wanted to say, anything. Just give me one of all you’ve got.