Friday, February 24, 2012

"The Chase"

Then wear the gold hat, if that
            Will move her;
If you can bounce high, bounce
            For her too,
Till she cry, “Lovely gold-hatted, high bouncing lover,
            I must have you!”
--“Then Wear the Gold Hat,” Thomas Parke D’Invilliers

            There was no gold hat. Nothing to move her, and no delicate her to even impress. No one wanted Dean, and there was nothing he could possibly want out of this place, this dead-end after graduation and returning to Missoula. Sitting at the kitchen table one night of his parents’ lackluster craftsman, he couldn’t keep his eyes off of the television an old commercial where a ski resort was luring viewers to visit the heavy snow that past season. Dean had nothing. But there was something he wanted, and it wasn’t getting up to the resort. It was getting out.
            The Golden State said it all in its name. Bouncing out of Montana in less than a week he managed to catch up with Greg at Four Barrel coffee just south of downtown San Francisco. At least Greg, his roommate in college, was from the Bay, and at least he was still there before bouncing that scene and into Australia for the summer. They were working out living conditions for Dean over dark hot espresso in teal ceramic and poached eggs on French rolls, though neither touched any of it.
            “What else you’ve got?” Greg was asking. He was looking at Dean’s worn North Face he’d seen him abuse their four years at Denver.
            “Just this,” Dean replied, moving the bag close to him.
            “I’m surprised,” Greg said. “Given you’ve never been to the West Coast I was expecting a grand U-Haul or something.”
            His companion laughed, and began, “Didn’t think much into this, man. Just did. Just got outta there to find myself something for the summer here.”
            “A job?”
            “Not even that. God—how are you supposed to pack for something when you don’t even know why the fuck you’re here?”
            “Well I know I certainly can’t answer it. All I did was agree to meet you in the city and let you stay at my place.”
            “For which I’m grateful for.”
            “Yeah. Fuck that.”
            “You’re not even going to be here, you fucking leave tomorrow.”
            “So why have you come?”
            Dean was hesitant. “I don’t think you’ll really care for it.”
            “I’ve never really cared about much. No one’s ever expected me to.” Dean sighed, getting his phone out and opening the browser to an ad on Craigslist:
            “Good God,” Greg exclaimed. “Where’d you dig her up?”
            “The first listing for ‘services.’ Had to do it.”
            “You don’t even know her name.”
            “I don’t know her name, but I know she’s the sort of thing I want out of life right now.”
            “You sick shit.”
            “C’mon, nothing like that, I’m serious.”
            “No, you are sick—why couldn’t you have found someone like her back in Missoula?”
            “Because I’d be in Missoula.”
            But there wasn’t much Greg disapproved of, giving Dean his ex’s key to his place out on Haight and Steiner. In the hours of the evening that followed Greg got Dean drunk, and Paul met up with Greg and Dean. Paul knew Greg and that was all that mattered to Dean; it was the last thought he had of the night sitting at the bar of Chambers in the Phoenix Hotel.
            In the morning he’d found himself alone and dirty. He smelled tequila in his short sandy hair and in his mouth he tasted peanut butter and traces of Tobasco. Greg’s presence was only felt through the photos of him with his grandparents from Zimbabwe and scattered vinyl from Lady ‘Day to Dr. Dre and the Strokes. Dean searched his jeans for his phone, then the couch on which he passed out. His head hurt, and he wasn’t feeling the need to leave a message of his parents’ voicemail or call later. It was one o’clock in the afternoon.
            The hot seventeen-minute shower and a quick run down to the burger joint on Hayes in his old Crown Victoria was alleviating. He sat at the counter of the kitchen back at Greg’s place with the windows all opened. It was fairly warm and the sun poured light into the tiny apartment. Life was being let in to the place. Dean was letting something in. Maybe the gold would find him; meet him halfway as Dean had ventured a thousand miles out to it. So far, all steps to it were giving him bounce; he was surely getting higher to this need in his empty Rocky Mountains life he wished to get over badly. He was meeting her at seven.
            Dressed and the apartment door locked, Dean set out. He felt his windbreaker was anything but the wrong choice, walking against the fog turning around him. He let out an exalting and triumphant laugh.
            She waited in front of the studio out on McAllister near Civic Center, wearing a tint of orange just as she’d promised. Her highlights in her long hair were fading, hair which she kept draping all over her left side while adjusting a cigarette in her wide mouth that was dabbed in a coral balm. Her knitted infinity scarf about her long neck was orange, but her dress was a short teal color with a flowing hem and fitted at the waist with a white belt. He didn’t know how to approach her, but at the corner of her eye she saw him staggering to her and called, “Come here.” It was a soft high voice.
            “Hi there,” Dean began, smiling uneasily at this strange first encounter. “I’m sorry if I’m late—”
            “It’s no bother,” the girl interrupted, looking up to him with that wide smile. “Finally nice to meet you.” They awkwardly moved forward with their hands extended and ready to shake, but after a confused but mutual laugh she reached over him for a hug. It was a beautiful gesture, she smelled like hazelnuts.
            “Jesus, we’ll be late!” She suddenly cried, moving away. “Sure hope you warmed up before you got here, yeah? Been breakin’ in my ankles with these heels for weeks!” He had a slight turn in his stomach. “Sure did,” he replied calmly to her, beaming. “Thank god I don’t need no heels.”
            “That’d be a sight to see! Well, must be frank but the spotlight is bound to be on me. I’ve never even been to a class here, but I can feel the crowd with their eyes on us.”
            “Never been?”
            “Yeah, just jump in and join, even if you don’t know what the hell you’re doing—don’t give a shit.”
            “Just ‘cause I’d never done it before. Otherwise you’ll miss chances to do all sorts and you’re gonna reflect back on ‘what if’ for the rest of your life. Get what I’m saying?”
            They rushed up the stairs to the second floor where the dancing was being held. In no more than a little over half an hour they lost. The circumstances under which the two of them had miserably but amusingly been disqualified was driving their conversation over their drinks at Comstock on Columbus. Dean was laughing as he recalled walking into the next couple while the girl amused at—
The girl, she had still not told Dean her name.
            She was going on about her skirt folds outlining her legs and the fear of her crotch being seen by the judges when Dean interrupted her. “My name?” she repeated. “Could have sworn they said it at the contest.”
            “They would have called mine,” he said. “You would probably know that then, would you?”
            The look on her face gave her away; she smiled and shook her head. “Wow, they really didn’t address people by names.”
            Dean joined in her bewilderment. “Been together at least four hours now, and we’re practically still strangers!” She looked blankly at him. “I mean,” he went on, “I flew out here from Montana to be your dance partner. The least I could have is a name.”
            “And really,” she began, “I thank you for it. But even I can’t put a finger on why you’d do such shenanigans.”
            He couldn’t answer for it either. “I’m Dean Fairbanks,” he said politely to her.
            The girl in orange smiled back and shook his outstretched hand. “Nice to meet you, Dean. I’m Valerie.”
            She rode with Dean. Thursday evening it was, just in time to go dancing at the Rickshaw Stop and meet up with Drew and Elly. They were strange folk, these tattooed pin-up reminiscent girls who embraced Valerie and got them seats at the bar of the dim, stuffy venue. Both were pretty, giggling girls who swayed with New Order and MGMT as they talked loudly to Valerie and Dean.
            “New piercing?” Valerie shouted to Drew, pointing at what looked like a silver dot just above the left corner of her mouth.
            “Uh huh,” Drew replied, looking to Dean for his response. “Hella cool, yeah?”
            “Very Winehouse,” he said smoothly.
            “Exactly what I was going for, fuck!” She leaned over to touch his hand. “I like you.”
            “She came here with me,” Elly playfully threatened to Dean. “Better not be getting no ideas.”
            Dean winked wickedly at her, buzzed and quick with his words. “It’s cool. You’re invited, too.” Elly kissed his cheek and nodded approvingly. With Drew, she pulled him out to the dance floor, bodies bouncing and swerving to the tunes that hung in the air as gold streaks of the light shone at intervals.
            At one point, when Drew and Elly had deserted him to smoke outside, Dean was dancing alone, lost in the crowd, looking up to admire the light falling down onto the place. And in the light he saw Valerie approaching him for a dance, her flowing hair loose about her sides and her face illuminated into a glow. If she had it, everyone did too. He could see the gold falling onto his own crown. They were all wearing the hat now.
            She was yawning and bare foot with her white high heels dangling in her hand by the fingertips. She wanted to go home with the girls. Valerie embraced Dean before parting ways, telling him so sweetly in her high voice, “Good night, Dean.”
            He repeated the words to her as she and her friends walked away. It was almost two in the morning.
            He’d abandoned his car and walked back to Greg’s place alone. He got into the bed and stayed awake in the darkness. The windows were still open despite the cold. He looked around the dark and then out onto the street. The gold was gone, and she’d had him. She was on to the next.
            But there was still something in the crisp air. It was barely there, but dim and still prevalent, screaming at him to sleep and keep up the pace. There was still a ways to go for Dean, he was realizing it in that darkness. He was seeing gold was around him. Hats were aplenty.
            He got dressed in his best jeans and jacket in the early morning, and the chase was on again.

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