Here we are again. In a fantasy book I haven’t published yet, these two young warriors are escaping an enemy, and they approach a bridge, and the leader yells out, “I’m gonna do it again!” The other one says, “You won’t be happy til you get us killed.” And then they both jump over the side of the bridge. Well, I’m gonna do it again. Here comes another blog blast. That’s what I’ve decided to call them. I’m gonna throw things around a little bit, put a kink in the chain. We’re gonna do the last five chapters of The Round Table, which was our last blog blast, and then we’re gonna start a series about the powerful women I’ve met who have had an effect on my life. It starts at 9:00 Friday night, and will be finished at 8:30 Sunday evening. I’ll release a blog every two and a half hours. So travel with me from Spanish swords, old lady gangsters, and red painted nails. Travel with me as I carry a bag of dice, watch a falling star, and end with Love.
He filled the door frame. He did it well. It was winter and he wore a thick woolen trench coat against the Wisconsin winds. It was the coolest coat I had ever seen in my life, and this was, without doubt, the coolest person I had ever known. He walked into my bedroom toward a chair across from mine and stopped. I sat at one of those folding card tables. That sounds wrong. It seemed sturdier than that. Let’s just call it a small wooden table designed for an elderly couple in their twilight years. You know those small meals when everything is romantic in the winter of your life.
I had a very small, scratchy tape player, white with a big pink handle. Sky blue plastic lines crossed the speakers. Yes, we are definitely talking about the 80s. I looked up at him and my heart stopped. He was everything I wanted to be. This was Ryche.
“Can I sit?” He motioned to the chair across from me.
“Yes.” The answer was always yes when it came to Ryche.
He dropped down across from me and pulled from his inside pocket a tape cassette. He set it upside down on the table, jerked his thumb in the direction of my tape player. “Lionel Richie,” he said. “Lionel is amazing. Anyone who ever tells you different is lying. Do you like Lionel Richie?”
He cast his eye out of my bedroom into the kitchen, where my mom hummed Merle Haggard and made dinner. I looked in the direction of my mother and thought about how she had been the only instructor of musical tastes I had ever had. Everly Brothers. Gospel. Hank Williams. Jennings and Cash. With a little Billy Joel thrown in when she wanted to get wild.
“I like Lionel Richie,” I said.
“Good, Jesse, that’s good. You have to know where it all starts.”
I looked at the tape cassette set between us.
He tapped his finger on it. “Can I play you some of this?”
I nodded. I was scared. What if my mom heard it and didn’t like it? Rose and Less’s wars were fought so many times on the battlefield of music. One wrong twang from my bedroom, one wrong lyric, and I was choosing sides. I realized, as I could recite every lyric of the song “Bird Dog,” that I had already chosen a side. I nodded to him.
Plastic. It was all plastic back then. Opening the case for a cassette was loud. Pulling the tape out clacked and clattered. The eject button is a snap. The tape being pulled out snicker snacks as it is removed. It was all so loud, I kept sneaking glances into the kitchen. She kept humming and cooking. He turned the volume down, and I heard Violent Femmes for the first time.
It was a bootleg. Somebody had recorded it at a concert. The Femmes were just getting started, so of course everyone was hearing a lot of them in Wisconsin, where they came from.
Femmes. What can I tell you about the Violent Femmes? The music is not good. The guitar playing is medium quality. The drums are not reinventing anything. The singer is not good. And listen to this last part very carefully. Everything about the Violent Femmes is amazing. It’s all gorgeous and hideous, melodic punk. I’ve still never heard anything like it. You can hear the echo of “Day After Day” in Blink 182, in the whining voice of the guitarist in 182. You can hear Femmes everywhere if you’re looking for them. You can see them everywhere. Once you’ve listened to their music and you’ve connected with it, you can see the Violent Femmes in a car driving down the street. You can see the Violent Femmes in the way a casserole is laid out on your plate. The Violent Femmes are in the way a man smacks his woman’s ass and she swats him as she giggles. The Violent Femmes are in the twisting and spinning of the game controller as it flies across the room, thrown by your frustration. And for me, the Violent Femmes is in the curl of Ryche’s smile and the eyebrow lifting slowly.
He explained not to listen to it with my ears. I’m not gonna find Lionel Richie’s piano or his perfect voice. “Let it fall into your head and bounce around,” he said. The last thing he said to me was the most important when it came to the Femmes. “The Violent Femmes live in your shoulders.”
Ryche shouldn’t have been at my house. He was a grad student at some college in Milwaukee, working on his doctorate in chemistry. But Ryche had met Sassy in a bar, and he had been the only brave soul to cross the floor to talk to her. He was an extremely attractive man and Sassy was in love with him from the moment he shook her hand and introduced himself. He won though, he was faster than her, he fell in love with her from across the room. They talked all night and played the way you play at a bar. She ended up buying most of the drinks. He was a college student and broke. She worked for tips at Rocky Rococo’s. When, at the end of the night, he leaned over, he said he wanted to show her where he lived. When she told my mom about it, my mom rolled her eyes. Sassy giggled.
“Is that the best he could do? Show you where you lives?” Rose laughed around a mouthful of coffee.
Sassy slapped the table, pointed a painted finger at my mom. “Get this,” she said. “This man walked me to the bar’s front door and out onto the street. Pointed a block and a half away at a blue apartment building. He said he was the fifth floor up on the corner if I ever wanted to come see him.”
Rose’s jaw fell open. “Are you serious?” she said. “Sassy, you gotta marry this man.”
Sassy smiled and nodded. Her eyes widened. “Oh, I plan to. Ryche looked me dead in the eye,” she said. “He said, ‘You’ve had a lot to drink. We need to get you home.’”
Rose had her coffee cup frozen six inches away from her mouth, her eyes wide and staring, needing every moment of the detail she was about to hear. “What did you say?”
“At that point, darlin’, I was ready for him to take me home. And I just looked at him and smiled and said take me home. He scribbled out his number on a piece of paper and hailed a cab. He gave the driver enough money to get me home and a tip. And I realized he had been saving that money all night. That was supposed to be his drinking money.”
“What did you do?” Rose said.
“He kissed my hand and told me to call him. He closed the door and he was gone. I just cried all the way home.”
Now Ryche was in my life. He wouldn’t be for long and he wouldn’t be for much. But I hope you can see Guardian. I hope you can see Shadow in the love of Femmes. I hope you can see Servant.
I would see Ryche one more time.
This chapter is from Reality of the Unreal Mind, Vol. 3: The Keep.