On Thursday, Judy Blue Eyes and I met for lunch. And yes, I know what you’re thinking. You’re imagining that she ran into me somewhere and I reluctantly agreed to meet to avoid conflict. But that’s not true: I actually called and invited her out. I won’t stand up in front of the church and claim that I had been struck blind on the road to Damascus and was now a changed person. What had happened was that I’d gotten a glimpse that honesty with women had at least the possibility of working. Being honest with Judy Blue Eyes gave me a chance to try out my new philosophy before committing to it irrevocably with Anne.
THE GRAIL’S STORY, PART XVII: THE BASTARD PRINCE ARTHUR
The journey from a cave on the Dead Sea back to Britain took Merlin and The Grail several months to complete. Dark-Age Europe was risky for travelers, and there were more than a few tense encounters with brigands or avaricious members of the nobility. But Merlin was not one to be trifled with, and now that he had The Grail to augment his powers, it would have taken more than such random pettiness to be a serious threat.
The days were filled with a comfortable companionship between the two of them. In the evenings they stayed at inns when one was available, begged shelter from anyone who would take them in otherwise. Merlin never met a stranger, charming peasant and lord alike along the way. I have pages of notes filled with history and color that, again, may someday be publishable. But nothing germane to the story took place until they reached the court of King Ban of Berwick, a loyal comrade of Uther.
First thing Monday morning I made an appointment for the next day with Dr. Gerry Giles. Dr. Giles was the newest, youngest, and most radical professor in the history department, our token New Age historian offered up by an otherwise stolid and traditional staff as an oblation to the times. I had taken his senior seminar entitled The Great in Great Britain: The History of Scotland, Wales, and Cornwall and had admired his offbeat style, even while wondering if he was for real.
THE GRAIL’S STORY, PART XVI: MERLIN
My next recollection was the heady taste of strong warm wine mulled with currents, honey, and spices. A man was gently pouring a draught of this strange, delicious mixture into my bowl, crooning softly as he did. “Easy, there, old fellow. Just relax. We’ll have you fixed up good as new in no time. Here, have another sip.”
The creature holding me was an unimposing man on the unkind side of middle age. His hair and beard were long and peppery grey, but combed and neatly trimmed. Deep wrinkles crisscrossed his face, telling tales of long exposure to the elements; beneath the tan he looked more like the inhabitants of Atlantis than the people of Palestine. But his best feature was his eyes which sparkled with flecks of fire. Continue reading
The girls left sometime in the wee hours of the morning. I woke up just enough to note by the light coming through the crack of the bathroom door that there was hushed activity going on around me, then drifted back toward sleep. I vaguely remembered both of them gently kissing me goodbye at the same time, one per cheek.
The next thing I knew, it was 10:40. A typical Sunday morning in the old days, but definitely a radical departure from my new weekend regimen. So I wolfed down a bowl of Cheerios and got right to work.
THE GRAIL’S STORY, PART XV: Mary M and Joseph A
The Grail’s description of the next chapter of her saga was pretty sketchy. We engaged in a lot of back and forth as I tried to draw out more details, but there simply weren’t very many. So I have broadly summarized this part of the history.
Later on, when it became apparent that the exact details were much more critical than just a matter of being as accurate as possible for inclusion in some erudite work of history, we poured over the same material again. But that is a tale for later, and truthfully, gained me little.
SGT (stage rank) Jenny Slade (real name) sang the blues in a hard-fisted way that brought tears to the eyes of all of us who loved Janis Joplin and had never fully gotten over our broken hearts when she cheated our hopes by OD’ing. She wore a thigh-length dress-green Army jacket—cut like a suit coat—with gold sergeant stripes on the sleeves and little bows around her ankles and nothing else that you could see. Or at least nothing that I had seen. Although I had attempted as aggressively as possible while still being reasonably discreet during all of her writhing and prancing on stage to confirm the popular rumor that she didn’t have anything on under that jacket, she had never quite revealed her hidden charms. But the raw sensuality that beaded up on her face and dripped down her bare legs wasn’t just from her outfit—in fact, what she wore wasn’t even all that important. It was her music. She sang to every man in the audience like she had the incorrigible hots for him and him alone, and if they could just somehow steal five minutes backstage, he could bend her over her dressing room table and have his way with her.
Saturday was a long day. My typed notes were almost forty pages, which in itself is an accomplishment every bit as remarkable as the construction of the great pyramid, or at least the Astrodome. My brain was frazzled, but I wasn’t anywhere near ready to quit. Fortunately, Mother Grail badgered me into stopping and getting ready; otherwise I would have been late for my date. As it was, it was after eight by the time I got up from the typewriter. No real problem—it never took me long to get dressed. Quick shower, quicker shave, a clean pair of jeans, choosing one of my four shirts with collars.
Judy Blue Eyes picked me up promptly at 8:35. She was (and who knows, probably still is) one of that rare breed, a woman who is consistently on time. On time to her meant five minutes late, of course. Which also meant that it had to be deliberate, since you cannot plan to be exactly five minutes late, time after time, without being just as capable of planning to be right on time. No doubt her subconscious was running the show. The Marquess, as it were, doing what her mother had drilled into her as her grandmother had drilled into her mother (and still effective despite the sexual revolution because the brainwashing had been done early enough): nice girls don’t appear too eager, lest they send out the wrong signals, and nice boys don’t mind waiting a few minutes for their dates anyway. Well, I wasn’t a nice boy, but I didn’t mind waiting a very predictable five minutes. She wasn’t really a nice girl, either.
She was looking foxy, too. Normally, knowing that I would be wearing jeans, she wore jeans too unless it would be totally inappropriate, in which case she would call and suggest I “wear your brown slacks,” which of course she knew about since she’d bought them in the first place. But today she was decked out black and slinky, just because she felt like it, and it didn’t matter a fig what I had on.
The Marquis loved it when Judy Blue Eyes dressed black and slinky. He would have been perfectly happy to skip going out at all, or at least make time for a quickie and get there a little late, but he wasn’t running the show (although if you believe that a man’s logical mind is ever in charge when both a woman and his aroused subconscious is involved, I have some hilly property covered with large chestnut trees in South Houston for sale). So after an admiring whistle and a quick grope or two to extend the compliment into multi-media, we headed for the club.
Bilo’s was a fancy dive on Richmond. ‘Fancy’ in that the waitresses put napkins under your drinks and emptied the ash trays if they started spilling out onto the tables; ‘dive’ in that they swept the floor once a week and haven’t painted or washed the accumulated cigarette smoke out of the curtains since they remodeled, back when they bought the place from the former proprietor and it was just a regular dive. But they’d added rock and roll regalia to the walls—a bright red Fender guitar, a poster of Hendrix playing The Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock, ads for shows long past at Fillmores East and West, psychedelic album covers from the late Sixties. They kept the lights low enough so you couldn’t really make out how dirty the floor was. And most important, they brought in live music Thursdays through Sundays, which kept the place packed and paid the rent.
There were still empty tables when we got there—we were Bilo’s veterans, and knew how long before the band started you had to be there to get a seat, which is why we hadn’t indulged The Marquis in a half-dressed-in-black-and-slinky quickie. By the time the band showed up an hour later, even the walls were crowded. In a brilliant burst of entrepreneurialism, the owner had installed a two-by-eight shelf running elbow-high all the way around the wall so that the standing-room only crowds that flocked to hear any band known more than twenty blocks from the garage they practiced in had a place to set their beers.
Sergeant Jenny Slade and the Privates was no garage band, and they could pack larger places than Bilo’s. Unlike the Indigo Poets, the Privates didn’t fiddle with their electronics, harassing the audience with a bunch of errant feedback, either—they were pros of the club circuit and did all that stuff in advance. They just strolled up onto the little raised area that served as a stage, exchanging nods with a few regulars, plugged in, switched on, and launched right into their first number. It was one of those instrumentals that featured a short solo by each of the musicians in turn as his unspoken introduction, a raucous, driving piece proven to get a crowd fired up.
Performing musicians have a unique relationship with their audience. The works of the non-performing artists—novels and poems, paintings and statues—are orphans. Begotten in dark solitude, labored over with love and hatred, done and undone and redone, ultimately they are driven forth from their refuge to stand naked and alone in front of the audience. Not at all like the creations of performing artists who must stand on exhibit beside their work, sharing in its accolades or raspberries.
Like the musician, the stage actor feeds off the energy of the audience. And yet seldom can the actor play his listeners like the musician can. With the words—penned by some playwright safe in his tidy alcove—dominating the performance, a play is, in the final analysis, too choreographed an activity to allow the depth of interaction that the musician experiences every time he steps in front of an audience.
The Privates were real musicians—two guitarists, bass player and drummer; no brass or keyboard players need apply. We had met them all during breaks at the half-dozen performances we’d attended, and although their stage personality was laid back (despite wearing fatigue shirts in deference to the group’s gimmicky name), they were totally dedicated to what they were doing: paying their dues and living the dream. There wasn’t five pounds of fat among the four of them—not because they were literally starving artists, but because food was as uninteresting to them as thermodynamics, something to keep them alive until they could step on the stage and begin ingesting their real nourishment. To a man they loved and adored Sgt. Jenny Slade, recognizing that it was her talent that made it possible to make a living playing music without having to work day jobs like so many of their peers. They were totally dedicated to supporting her every whim, wrenching just the right electronic scream from their instruments when she wanted it loud, or making them weep when she got blue and personal. And if you could actually get them to articulate their answer to “the big question,” they all hoped they would die on stage during the thunderous applause at the end of the perfect set.
Halfway through the band’s first number, the audience was already stomping and screaming at maximum decibels. The sound man kept turning up the volume so that the crowd noises wouldn’t drown out the guitar licks, finally holding it right there below the pain threshold for the veterans who had already lost the edge off their hearing, slightly into the discomfort region for the cherries. He was good, though; when the final chord began fading and the cheering died down, he’d already backed the volume down so the start of the next song wouldn’t blow the beer bottles off the two-by-eight shelf.
Then the drummer started a compelling beat which after six or eight measures the bass picked up, and suddenly she was there at her mike stand. Then the spotlight found her and the rocket ship that was the stage presence of Sergeant Jenny Slade blasted off. And away we went.
The good ones have such musical impact that it gives them a presence, an aura that sweeps the audience up into their music. But the great ones pour their animal magnetism into their music, not the other way around. They could just as easily harangue the crowds at Nuremburg and have them Seig Heil’ing without an electric guitar or even an accordion in the entire city.
Jesus had nothing on Sgt. Jenny Slade. If she’d owned The Grail instead of me, she could have conquered Europe and been the new Messiah both.
THE GRAIL’S STORY, PART XIV: THE LAST SUPPER
Then came Thursday, the Feast of the Passover. Jesus was moody and spent a quiet day, not returning to the temple but strolling through the city, talking calmly to small groups of people, then moving on before a crowd could form. Twice he was accosted by roving patrols of priests and their retinues, and once a large group of soldiers led by Annas himself actually tried to arrest him. But each time he used the power of The Grail to pass through his enemies unharmed.
That night he slipped away from the growing number of hangers-on that followed him back to the Mount of Olives. Taking just the disciples, Mary Magdalene, and a few of the other women, Jesus retired to a private place to celebrate the Passover.
I waited until Thursday to check my mailbox. Didn’t want to water down the surprise (or be disappointed; you decide) by getting there before the wave of responses to my radio appeal did. When I checked, the only thing in my box was a note from the secretary to please see her to get my mail. But there was no problem like overdue postage or a certified subpoena or anything like that; just that the carton of letters was way too big to cram in my box.
“RSVP’s for a big party?” She smiled at me, obviously curious but way too shy to come right out and ask. Marcie had a pretty face but was about forty pounds overweight. In my experience, heavy women are either shy because they’ve spent so many years thinking of themselves as second-class citizens or else loud and brash and clown around a lot to hide their inner insecurities. I guess the rest of us beat them up so badly with our uncaring—or worse, ignoring—that they have practically no chance to just be themselves. Or maybe their image of themselves is slender and beautiful, but it stays buried so nobody will laugh at how ludicrous it is for such a delicate creature to be packaged in such chubby wrapping.