"Raspberry jam makes me horny like a dog in heat!"
Hal screamed this right in the middle of the pit. There were ten people close enough for him to reach out and touch, and forty, fifty more jamming the floor. But Hal could have been yelling into the void of space; nobody heard. Tricky Woo was just too loud.
"The only time I ever did anything right in my life was when I tried a souffle recipe out of Readers' Digest!"
It stank in the pit. Burnt hair and mustard. Farts and the insides of shoes. Salami and licorice. Hal bounced off a pair of unseen hands behind him and smashed into the back of girl in a sweaty red tank top and buzz cut brown hair. The back of her neck smelled like toothpaste.
"I often gorge myself with chewy granola bars and english muffins just before eating a big dinner!"
Buzz Cut flashed Hal a strange look as she pogoed next to him. "What?" she screamed.
Hal jumped in the air and crashed his shoulder against Buzz Cut's. "I said I often stuff myself with granola bars and english muffins before dinner!"
Hal smiled to himself, secure in his anonymity. The floor was hard beneath his feet, hard beneath the stomping, jumping, moshing feet of everyone in the pit. Tricky Woo bounced about on stage, elevated four feet above the floor, illuminated in blue, white, and red. After crashing hips with Buzz Cut, Hal looked up and around at the horseshoe-shaped balcony, just under the ceiling of the club. He could see people in their seats, smoking and drinking and nodding their heads to the beat. Others had their arms stuck through spaces in the railing, slapping the balcony wall like hockey players slapping the boards in front of their bench to celebrate a goal or a good fight. Somebody, a brute, pushed Hal hard in the back, but Buzz Cut broke his fall, grabbing him under his left armpit and hoisting him back to his feet.
A tall guy with curly blond hair and a white undershirt jumped in between Hal and Buzz Cut, pumping his fist in the band's direction like a heavy metal madman. Hal hopped away, zigzagging toward the front of the pit where eight kids lined the stage. They kept themselves from being crushed against it by holding on to the stage with their hands and thrusting their backs and butts against the mass of slamming bodies behind them. Right behind the stage kids were the craziest thrashers: shirtless, zitty backs, protruding vertebrae, long hair slick with beer and sweat, bald heads beady with beer and sweat. These ones thrashed the hardest, flailing their arms, spinning their bodies like feeding crocodiles, smashing each other, once in a while hoisted up to surf the crowd. Hal moved carefully around the crazy ones. He slipped in between them and the kids lining the stage. He sidestepped to the far end of the stage on the right side, near the tall, brown, folded curtain. He staked out a spot in front of one of the big speakers and Tricky Woo blasted into his ears, so loud he could feel it dancing on his skin. He started in on the big confessions.
"I only own four pairs of underwear, so I wind up wearing the same pair on Thursdays and Fridays!
"I'm sexually attracted to Vladimir Guerrero but I'm sure I'm not gay!
"I hate Radiohead!
"I'm twenty-nine years old and I've only had sex with two women-one of them once, the other twice. I've only made out with six different women in my whole life, if you count the ones I slept with!"
Hal picked his nose and popped a rock-hard booger in his mouth, secure in his anonymity; secure in the knowledge that nobody was watching, that everybody was too busy thrashing to Tricky Woo. That's what made going out to the shows so great. Buzz Cut was coming back, pushing and bouncing through the crowd toward Hal. He wondered if she was doing it on purpose. She had a silver ring in the middle of her bottom lip that he hadn't noticed before. He liked the way her eyes were big and brown. She had tiny nostrils. She didn't have any zits on her face.
"Hey!" she screamed in Hal's ear.
"Hey!" Hal screamed back, yelling next to her ear but pointing his mouth down, just in case he spat.
"What are you screaming about?"
"I was just saying that I'm twenty-nine years old and I've only had sex with two women in my whole life!"
Hal smiled. "I was just saying that I'd really like to know what it feels like to get blown by a girl with a ring on her lip!"
"I can't hear you!"
"I know! Isn't it great?"
"Yeah! Isn't it great?"
"Yeah," Buzz Cut screamed, nodding her head toward the stage, the band. "Great!"
The guitarist fell to his knees at the edge of the stage, right in front of Hal and Buzz Cut, sweat dripping from his brow, cheeks, and chin. He leaned back and shook his head like a lunatic, fingers twisting and twirling across the guitar strings. It reminded Hal of the way he played air guitar in his apartment. The stage kids ran over and crowded the area, reaching out to touch the guitarist. Buzz Cut pretended to go nuts and screamed like an old fashioned Beatlemaniac. She grabbed the guitarist's knees with both her hands. Hal spun and gyrated out of the miniature throng, leaving Buzz Cut behind, and stepped carefully between the edge of the crowd and the wall, fingering the change in his pocket as he walked to the bar near the back of the club.
It took a few minutes to get the bartender's attention, but Hal eventually ordered a draft. He pulled out a cigarette while he waited. He fished a book of matches out of a pint glass filled with them. The music was still blaring, almost as loud at the bar as in the pit. He tried to think of some new confessions for later.
"Can I steal one of those off you?" asked a voice from behind.
It was Buzz Cut. The ring in her bottom lip seemed to shine right in Hal's eyes. Her red tank top was tight around her skinny frame, her breasts pushing out round against the fabric. A thick wooden cross hung from her neck on what looked like a homemade chain of thin string. Her belly button was exposed, another silver ring inside it, surrounded by paper-white skin. Hal's eyes passed down to Buzz Cut's hips, snug inside black leather pants. She wore them tucked into her big green Doc Martens.
"I said, can I steal one of those off you?" Buzz Cut pointed with her chin at the cigarette pack in Hal's hand. "Fuck it's loud in here!"
Hal fumbled with his pack, but after a moment managed to open it. He extended his arm toward Buzz Cut, holding the pack open. She wrapped one hand around Hal's wrist, steadying it, and reached for a cigarette with her other hand. Hal felt a wave of warmth explode in the back of his neck, then pass through his torso. Her fingers around his wrist were pleasingly cold. Hal felt sick.
With the cigarette dangling from her lip, Buzz Cut brushed past Hal and reached into the pint glass at the bar, scooped out a handful of matches. She stuffed them into both her front pockets. "Got a light?" she asked, laughing at her own joke.
Hal lit his cigarette, pulled smoke into his lungs, reached out with the burning match. Buzz Cut took hold of his wrist again, and leaned her head forward, the cigarette dancing on her lips. The end of her cigarette ignited red, and she blew the match out with a puff of smoke. She let go of his wrist, but Hal could still feel the beautiful coldness lingering on his skin.
"I'm just here for the Woo," Buzz Cut said, blowing more smoke. "They fucking kill. Are you staying for Nomeansno?"
Hal wanted to reply quickly and smartly, but his mind took a while to process the idea that Nomeansno was probably the headliner. He never knew who was playing the Cabaret; he just came every Friday night.
"Can you hear me?" Buzz Cut asked, motioning with her head toward the stage. She stepped forward and spoke directly in Hal's ear. "Are you here for Nomeansno or just for the Woo?" Her breath touched Hal's earlobe gently as she spoke.
"I like Tricky Woo," Hal replied, speaking the first, only, words that came to mind.
"Yeah, I like them, too," Buzz Cut said into his ear, "I go to all their shows. Did you see their photo on the cover of the Mirror with all the private school girls in their little skirts? That was cool."
Hal nodded, figuring it was the appropriate thing to do.
"What's your name?"
Buzz Cut nodded. Uncomfortable silence beneath Tricky Woo's noise. "Well, I'm Lisa."
Hal got with the program. "Hi Lisa."
"Hi Hal." Their arms touched, skin on skin, but Lisa didn't pull away.
"Hey you!" came a voice from behind the bar. Hal's draft was ready. He paid and tipped. He faced Lisa again with the plastic cup in his hand. She didn't look like a Lisa. He felt suddenly inspired. "You don't look like a Lisa," he said. And took a big swig.
They smoked, looking at each other, then at the floor, the crowd, the stage, the bar, and then at each other again. Puff puff. Hal drank more beer.
"I gotta go to the bathroom," Lisa said. She took a last haul from her cigarette and crushed the butt under her boot. A column of white smoke funneled out of her mouth, accentuated against the dark club background. "Walk with me?"
Hal coughed on smoke. "Okay." He offered the rest of his draft to Lisa and she downed it in seconds.
"So. You like to yell in the pit?" Lisa asked halfway down the stairs to the bathrooms.
"What?" Hal pretended.
"You yell and scream while the music's on. What are you saying?"
The answer came quicker than he thought it would. "I'm saying the words."
"Oh," Lisa sang, as if she didn't believe him. "What's your favourite song?"
"Um. The first one."
Lisa laughed. They reached the bottom of the staircase. Lisa headed straight for the men's room, and leaned her back against the door. She looked Hal in the eye and asked, "Would you be terribly disappointed if I told you I take my ring out before giving head?"
Hal didn't answer. He got a stomach cramp. Lisa turned and pushed on the men's room door. She put one foot inside. She looked in. And around. She pushed the door all the way open. "Come on," she said, fingering the ring on her lip.
Hal felt sweaty, especially in his armpits. His heart beat in his throat. His stomach cramp creeped and crawled down his colon. Bye-bye Lisa, he thought. He spun and walked quickly away.
He farted as soon as he got outside the Cabaret, and his stomachache was gone. He walked to Lafleur's. He ordered two steamies, a poutine and a Coke. In the booth, secure in his anonymity, Hal covered his late night snack in salt and confessed to his plate: "I'm scared of girls that like me. I'm so afraid."