Jim Booth


THE BALCONY SCENE

January 29, 1993
4:54 A. M.

Dear Angel,

I am starting to come to some sense of myself now. The first thing I have done since beginning to sober up is get my laptop and start writing to you. This may prove once and for all that I am crazy.

This is all I can think to do, Angel. Somehow I know that if I talk to you that everything will be all right. But how can I talk to you?

You're dead, Angel.

This is the first time I've said it. This is the first time I've let myself think it.

What will I do?

* * *

Angel, I must say some things. I'm not sure how coherent I can be—or how coherent I am or ever will be again.

It feels as if someone has taken a shotgun and blown a gaping hole through my life.

What in the hell were you thinking, Angel?

You were drunk driving. What have I told you?

I know. I do it. All the time. I should be the one dead.

I've explained this to you. I've lived two or three lifetimes in these fifteen years I've been a (god forgive me) rock star. My life is charmed.

No, this does not justify my self-destructiveness.

My being so wrong will not make you right, then, will it?

Or alive.

You are the only woman who ever made me truly believe that she truly loved me.

I have always felt pretty much alone in the midst of it all, you know? As if I was standing in the center of a tornado that whirled about me and moved as I moved, never touching me, always moving about me. Always letting me alone. Leaving me alone. Left alone?.

I now feel the most alone that I have ever felt in my life.

Oh, Angel, I love you so. Truly. With all my heart and soul. Always. Forever.

And now it's too late to tell you again. One last time.

I know. I told you plenty.

This is the story I was going to send you. The story that would finally make you see that although saner people might love you better that no one could love you more.

Are you as alone as I am?

Okay, okay. Here's the story.

* * *

If you look up "decadence" in the dictionary, you'll probably find a picture of New Orleans. It's a great town to go wrong in. I know. I've gone wrong there several times.

Had a lot of fun.

I think.

There are so many balconies in New Orleans.

You walk through the French Quarter of the city and all you see are these beautiful balconies. Some of them are tilted toward the street because the houses have shifted or settled or something. They look as if they'd be easy to fall from. Even easier to jump from.

The beer you drink in New Orleans is Dixie.

There's a place called Pat O'Brien's. They serve a drink called a hurricane. God only knows what's in it.

I started out from the Chateau de Roi Marque. Nice hotel. Teddy and Mick were chatting up some girls in the bar. I watched for a while and had a few Dixies. Got the start of a buzz, then made my way outside. Only had to sign two autographs. One nice thing about really expensive hotels is that people who stay in them like to think they're too cool to ask a rock star for his autograph. Or they're too old to give a damn. Either way—you know?

Wandered down to Bourbon Street. Ran into Sid who'd gone out earlier. We hadn't talked thirty seconds when college kids surrounded us. We signed some autographs, then flagged a taxi. Sid got out after two blocks. I got the driver to circle back to Bourbon.

Met Sid again at this dive called Johnny White's. We always eat there when we're in New Orleans. Even though it was January, it was in the sixties outside (at night, no less), so we sat out on the balcony. Bastard lists like the deck of the Titanic, Sid said. So we sang a stanza of "Nearer my God to Thee."

Some asshole at the next table told us to shut up, then slobbered all over us when his friends told him who we were.

Drank a few more Dixies. Sid drank those damned Blackened Voodoos.

Sid ate blackened snapper. I had cuisses de grenouilles. Frog legs. Say it with me—kwees duh grin-ooyuh. I'm a gourmet—or a fool. Maybe both.

You know, I just thought about the first time I saw you across the room in that class we took together when I'd come back to UNC to finish my BA. after I'd "retired" last year—so to speak. I thought you were the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen in my life.

I still think that.

I will always think that.

I wonder what people will think if they read this. They may not like my little digressions, my little rhapsodies. If they don't, fuck them. They won't get it anyway. They never could.

This is assuming that people get to read this stuff. Knowing me, I'll destroy it all when I find out I'm dying (of something godawful for sure) and no one will ever get to understand why an aging (38!) rock star and a 21 year old psychologist-to-be fell in love against the wishes of families, friends, and much of Western civilization.

Some things are just going to be, you know? Maybe it's proof of God's existence. That's how I like to think of it.

Yeah, I'm off the subject.

Okay. The story.

We sat on the balcony at Johnny White's and got pretty toasted. The asshole at the next table kept buying us beers to apologize. Foolish on his part. Rock stars drink a lot.

Finally, Jacques, our waiter, whispered that he needed to close down. When we got up from the table, Sid staggered over to the railing to look at the design (you know how all those New Orleans wrought iron balconies have such elaborate designs) and almost fell over. Jacques and one of the guys from the next table grabbed him.

I went over to the railing.

It was probably fifteen or twenty feet down to the street. After all those beers I felt like I might go over myself. I leaned out into the New Orleans night with all its filth and sound and grasping and whispered, "Rome, Romeo/ Wherefore art thou Romeo?"

I was Romeo for a while. Early on it was "Wow, all these girls. And I can have any of them. All of them."

But I found I couldn't do that. Couldn't do that at all. I have to feel something. And I can't fake it. And there's no feeling to that stuff—well, you know?.

In a way it was much easier for me before you. It was easy when everyone wanted me and I didn't want anyone. When people loved me and I could love them back in this Jesus-like way. Even the women I (more or less, mostly less) got involved with I felt I was doing a kindness to.

(Yeah, this is just about the height of arrogance. I don't mean it to be. It was protection. Jay the Big Star, you know? Not me.)

Of all the things about you, I think I love the way you walk the most. It's a real woman's walk. You sort of roll side to side the way a good sailboat does in a strong wind when the waves are making white caps.

I love sailing. I love a good sailboat. I love you. Loving you is like sailing. Good sailing when you're excited and scared at the same time, almost flying and not caring if you ever stop or come back. Makes your heart stop.

You always make mine stop.

There was nothing else to prove. Nothing to test. Sometimes, to test might be the wrong thing. Sometimes we must trust and love and risk—but not risk—ourselves.

I mean, really. Drunk driving. After we talked about how sensible and responsible we needed to be. For each other. Just in case. Because we always knew we'd find each other again. Even if we went apart for awhile.

Well, we did go apart.

You left me.

Then you died.

Will we find each other again? Sometimes I think yes, sometimes no.

All I know is I miss you.


January 31, 1993
2:31 P. M.


Dear Angel,

Well, it's been a couple of days. Life on the road, you know? Played concerts in Houston and Dallas. Good shows, actually.

Some alternative music asshole (What kind of term is alternative, anyway? Alternative. Jesus. Give me a break. We all play rock.) was complaining about all the dinosaur rockers out on tour. He mentioned us specifically.

Well, fuck him. At least we can play. There weren't 10,000 little half-assed recording studios and record companies around for us. We had to be able to play before we made records. All these little snot-nosed, paisley wearing, tie-dyed hippie wannabes and nose pierced, spike-haired faux-punks can kiss my ass.

Ooh, Jay's mad, she says.

And then you laugh.

That raucous laugh that makes me see I'm as silly as they are.

That laugh.

I'll never hear it again.

And I'll never stop hearing it.

Maybe it was your laugh that made me love you.

Yeah, I know. The story. Where was I?

Oh, yeah. Well, these two guys are holding Sid up from the railing and I'm standing there thinking about jumping. You know, stuff like whether a fall of twenty feet would be enough to kill me. So I could be with you. Or if it would just maim me badly so I'd end up in a hospital bed unable to do anything but lie there and think about you for years and years.

I say that as if it were somehow different from what I do now. I was thinking about once, last fall I guess it was, you'd been at some frat party with an old flame. Anyway, you'd had a few so you decided to ditch the poor sod and come out to my house. I was sitting in the den with my headphones on, so you were able to let yourself in without my hearing you. And you came right in and sat down on my lap. And you kissed me. And when I get to heaven and God asks me what was the happiest moment of my life that's the one I'll mention.

We were never your average couple. Average couples can't love each other the way we do. "Dull sublunary lovers" we weren't.

It's a quote from a John Donne poem, Angel. A poem called, "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning."

I won't mourn, Angel. I will still love you. And eventually I'll be with you.

I have to go get ready for the show. I'll finish the story about New Orleans later. I know, I know. I don't mean to make you crazy doing that.


February 1, 1993
2:15 A. M.


Dear Angel,

I've been off the stage for a couple of hours now. I've had a shower, some food and a few drinks. Maybe it's me, but the UTEP audience just wasn't into the show. I kept getting the vibe that East Coast college boys playing Beatles influenced songs about WASP relationships didn't seem to strike a chord with them.

Well, as Teddy said at one of our first gigs, we've got their money.

Now we have a few days off. Teddy and I are going skiing in New Mexico. At Taos or maybe Angel Fire. Probably Angel Fire. Taos is full of people like us. You know—famous people. Or worse, people who get excited about being around famous people.

All right. Finally. Here's what happened in New Orleans.

So the guys pull Sid back from the railing. Then everybody is so relieved that he didn't get killed that the management pays our bill. I insist that they pay the bill for the folks at the next table, too, since they helped save Sid's life. When I ask them to pay the bill of everyone who comes in during Mardi Gras, they laugh and throw us out.

Sid and I stand around for a little while in front of Johnny White's while groups of people go by and point at us and whisper to each other. Sid yells at one group of baby boomer couples, "Hey, is my fly open or something? Or are you so backward you've never seen a rock star before?"

They laugh. As if he'd told them a joke.

See what I mean about people not getting it, Angel? These stupid people think we're going to be like the Beatles in A Hard Day's Night. Cute, lovable chaps with just a funny flicker of attitude. They think they're in on the joke.

Remember how you hated it when we'd be out to dinner and people would worry the hell out of me for autographs so that half the time I wouldn't eat?

I hated it, too. Only I couldn't say so because if I did I'd just lose it and become a complete asshole and scream at everybody who came close. Or tried to.

Can't live like that, Angel. I mean, I accepted certain turf when I accepted money and fame.

Something's wrong somewhere, sweetheart.

I should not have to be a target for people's wishes, dreams and fantasies. Yeah, maybe I'm an artist. Maybe I've spoken to a lot of people through music. Maybe I've articulated some of their feelings about love or loss or life. But really, it's the music that's done that.

It's art that's done that.

And I'm the artist. I'm not the art.

I guess that's why I'm always uncomfortable when some man wants to buy me meals or drinks or when some woman comes on to me because I'm Jay Breeze.

It's not me they want to thank. It's the music. It's the art.

This is all getting too complicated. I'm going to sleep.


February 2, 1993
1:20 P. M.

Hi, Angel,

Hey. I just got up a little while ago, when Paul came by to bang on the door to make sure I was still alive. I always answer the wake up phone calls they give, then go back to sleep (as everyone else does), so part of Paul's job is to come by and get us awake so we can go wherever it is we're supposed to and do whatever it is we're supposed to.

Yeah, I'm pretty spoiled, all right.

Oh. I still need to tell you what happened in New Orleans. Okay, okay. I know it's about time.

You know, it's important to me to be in touch with you.

A lot of the time I feel like you hear what I think.

Cool.

* * *

Sid and I were pretty buzzed when we left Johnny White's. The sensible thing to do would have been to go back to the hotel. Or at least call someone in our entourage so they could come and get us.

We didn't do either, of course.

What we did was wind up in the hands of about five or six college girls. They were LSU students out for a bit of fun in The Big Easy. Two of them had been to the show the night before. They were all pretty excited to be out on the town with a couple of real live rock stars.

Yeah, they were all sort of pretty in that college girl way. Youth and freshness going for them and all that.

No, I didn't fall in love with any of them. It wasn't like that. It was just fun. They were kids and they thought we were so great and it was enjoyable to let them think that for the evening.

Anyway, that's how we ended up at Pat O'Brien's. One of the girls said it was great, so we went there.

Actually, it was pretty nice. There are two or three bars. We went in all of them. Sid and I tried to pay for everyone's drinks all the time, but the girls wouldn't hear of it. They each bought a round.

Sid and I were drinking these things called Hurricanes. I'm damned if I know what's in them. Pure intoxicant, evidently.

We were pretty shit-faced when the police took us back to our hotel.

The police. Why the police?

Well may you ask, love of my life.

It was my fault.

After a few of these hurricane drinks, I took it into my head to go exploring. When you go into Pat O'Brien's you walk in through a kind of entrance way with a bar on either side. Then you come out into this big, beautiful courtyard that's surrounded by buildings three or four stories high.

And there are all these balconies.

Actually, the way they're all together they're more like those walkways at Holiday Inns.

No, that's not fair. They're much nicer than that.

They play a part in this. Which is why I'm going on so about them.

Somehow I got myself up to a balcony three stories above the courtyard. I don't know how I got there. I remember thinking I wanted to be up there and then I was.

So I was standing on the balcony, leaning on the lovely wrought iron railing and looking down at Sid sitting at a lovely wrought iron table in a lovely wrought iron chair and talking to the lovely not wrought iron coeds. And there were other people there, too. All sitting in lovely wrought iron chairs at lovely wrought iron tables having lovely drinks with other lovely people.

It was all lovely, Angel. Too lovely for me. And too far away.

So I climbed up on the railing of the balcony. And I stood with my arms around a post and watched everyone. And then a woman looked up and saw me.

And she yelled.

She yelled, "My god, he's going to jump!"

Until that moment I hadn't thought of jumping, Angel. I just got up on the railing to look at everybody a different way. But then she yelled. That woman yelled. And I thought (maybe it was the booze) that I should jump. I really hate to let people down.

And then I thought, because I was way high, I guess (both in the air and from the drinking), that jumping would be a way. A way back to you. That it would only hurt a second when I hit the courtyard, and then I'd see you again. And you would take me into your arms and it wouldn't hurt anymore. Ever.

Boy, that was tempting, Angel.

But then Sid saved me.

Sid saw me up there on the railing after the woman yelled. I must have been swaying some (I was drunk, after all). So he got up from his chair and meandered over to a spot directly below me. (He was smashed, too.) "Jay, yo, Jay," he hollered up at me.

"Yeah?"

He took a step back, involuntarily. "Whatchadoin?"

"Just standing here looking down at everybody." I leaned against the post and my foot slipped a little. I heard gasps, which I thought were angel voices at the time, but I know now they were just gasps.

"You thinking about jumping?" Sid hollered.

"Not before, but just now I was," I hollered back.

"On account of Angel?" (He said your real name, but I promised never to write that here, so I've put in Angel.)

"Yeah." I clutched the pole tighter, because I knew then that I didn't want to die. I didn't know if I wanted to live, but I didn't want to die.

"But what about Houston?" Sid yelled.

"Houston?" I yelled back.

"We have to play there tomorrow night." He held out his hands in the familiar 'Search me' gesture.

"Yeah? So?"

"Jay, if you jump, then we'll have to cancel. You know how Teddy gets when we have to cancel." Than he grinned.

Sid has a great grin, Angel. Even from a long way away, a long way up, it's a great grin. "What should I do?" I asked, just messing around.

"Come on down and let's have another drink with these pretty girls," Sid yelled. Then he grinned again.

"Okay." And I got down off the railing. Just as I was back down on the balcony, several firemen (and some cops) came rushing into the courtyard. Very strange. They told me to stay where I was, which was fine with me because I couldn't have figured out how to get back down to the courtyard. Then, the firemen came and got me and took me down to the courtyard and the cops talked to me and Sid for a long time and we convinced them that we were only clowning around, drunk and all like that, and then we were going to have another drink with the college girls but the cops had sent them away and then the cops insisted on taking us back to the hotel and Paul and Van and Teddy and Mick and everyone met us in the lobby and we talked to them and I got yelled at for being foolish but not for the other thing, the part about you that I talked with Sid about and he never told anyone and I appreciated that and told him so later in Dallas.

And then we went to Houston.

That's what happened in New Orleans.

Got to go. Teddy and I are flying up to Taos.

Talk to you later.

Love, Jay

* * *

Jim Booth is a native of North Carolina. His most recent story, "Fins," which is excerpted from the same work as "The Balcony Scene," will be published by DeadMule: The School of Southern Literature, in February 2002. His novel The New Southern Gentleman will be published by Wexford College Press in CA in March 2002. He is currently an associate professor of English and director of the university writing program at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro.

"The Balcony Scene" copyright © 2002 by Jim Booth