I was in a biker bar. There were worse places. My colleagues, who had names like
Lumpy and Gargoyle, thought no less of me simply because I was an English
professor. It's nothing to be ashamed of, one dude suggested. It's what's inside
your heart that counts.
The venuethe Astrid Hotel, in Astrid, Mainewas famous not only for the skankiness of its patrons but also for its ghost, an undead girl who walked its tattered hallways weeping in her pajamas. She'd drowned in the twenties, in the nearby Kennebec River. The girl was determined, supposedly, to find her father and her sister, who'd been guests of the hotel, back in the day. Hey. Don't you know I can't swim?
I had come to the Astrid to play with my friends in an R&B band, Blue Stranger, up on the hotel's grandiose stage, in what had once been a fancy ballroom. Now it had a cement floor, fiberglass tiles on the ceiling. On one wall was a rough-hewn mural of the north country. There were lumberjacks hoisting logs with skidders, fur trappers trudging through the woods on snowshoes. The Astrid Hotel itself was depicted on the mural as it once had been: a genteel mansion perched on a ridge overlooking Carrabec Falls.
It was on a rock at the bottom of the falls that they'd found the girl.
Over at the pool table, guys with tattoos and beards employed the ladies' bridge. There were mill workers and river guides, taxidermists and hippies. The bouncer chalked his cue. To his left and right were guys named Sleepy, Gangrene, Itchy, Monster, Weasel, and Happy.
The last song of the first set was "Somebody to Love," the Jefferson Airplane number. I was playing Farfisa organ through an old Leslie amplifier.
Your eyes, I say your eyes may look like his
But in your head baby I'm afraid you don't know where it is.
I liked this song all right. But sometimes, I don't know. It left me dispirited.
During the break, we all went up to the bar. The band's lead singer, my friend Shell, ordered me a drink.
I got out the book I was readingPale Fire, by Nabokov.
Shell looked over and sighed. "Hey. Professor Glasses. What now?"
I smiled. "It's a fake poem. And then there's commentary on the poem, written by somebody who doesn't exist."
She sighed. "Whatever."
"It's really interesting," I said.
When she wasn't leaping around the stage of the Astrid Hotel in spandex, Shell was the vice president of a savings bank. "You think?" she said.
I cleared my throat.
"Was he in Sherlock Holmes, the fellow whose
Tracks pointed back when he reversed his shoes?"
She smiled. "You really do live in your own little world, don't you?" she said
"That's so wrong?"
The bartender put two clear, fizzing drinks in front of us. There were what looked like prunes on the bottom. Shell handed me a glass.
We clinked. "Fart in the Ocean," she said. "Tequila and SevenUp."
"Servedwith a prune?"
"Served," she said, "with a prune."
Why is it, I wondered, that women have to drink the undrinkable? In my day, I had seen my sisters order everything from a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster (vodka, cider, cherry brandy, and Tia Maria) to a Warsaw Waffle (an unspeakable union of vodka and Maine maple syrup). Would it be so wrong if once in a while we had a nice pint of Guinness instead? But whenever I had a Guinness it was inevitable that one of my girlfriends would come up to me and say, You know how many calories are in that, Jenny? As many as a steak dinner! This, from someone who was drinking something called The Screaming Chocolate Monkey.
Excerpted from I'm Looking Through You by Jennifer Finney Boylan Copyright © 2008 by Jennifer Finney Boylan. Excerpted by permission of Broadway, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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