Monday, January 27, 2014

No. 129 – The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys

Performer: Traffic
Songwriters: Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi
Original Release: The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys
Year: 1971
Definitive Version: None.

I’ve had a roller coaster ride with this song. When I was exposed to it through Debbie in the late Nineties, it bored me, but when I heard it again five years later, I thought that the distorted saxophone was actually a guitar. That made it far more interesting to me.

Only recently, I learned that what sounded like a guitar sounding like a saxophone was in fact either just a sax or a Hammond B-3, which made the song less interesting. It’s still close to the pantheon, but at one point not long ago, Low Spark would’ve been top 100, maybe top 50.

The following two-part story, really the continuation of a story begun more than a year ago (good ol’ No. 549), doesn’t sync up with the respective songs per se, but it makes more sense to be told in chronological order, so that’s how I’ll tell it.

When I came to Chicago to see Laurie in November 2004 (SPOILER ALERT: It’s the same Laurie to whom I was introduced two entries ago), our first night together was quite a night. Technically, it was tomorrow when it ended. We went to sleep at 6 a.m. as the sun started to come up.

One thing we didn’t do, however, was eat together. There had been a bit of a miscommunication about that: I was expected to have dinner on my own; I thought we’d eat together after she showed up from her play. So the next day when I awoke at 10, I was plenty hungry.

Let’s back that up a bit. Yes, I got four hours of sleep. Since I readjusted my sleep schedule to get up early regularly in Cleveland (to maximize my time at the library) in 2003, I don’t sleep late. Late to me now is anything after 8 a.m. It makes no difference whether I drink or how late I go to bed. I wake up between 7 and 9 without fail. I guess the fact that I didn’t get to sleep till 6 made it so I slept till 10 that day.

Plus, I had a pretty killer hangover when I awoke, but that’ll happen when you drop two shots of Jameson and two beers on top of a single Steakburger over the previous 22 hours. I got up, got some Advil and went out to sit in a slack-jawed stupor on the couch in the living room so I wouldn’t disturb Laurie.

After awhile, I started to feel … well, less bad. I wanted food, but I didn’t want to be rude, so I didn’t go into the kitchen to forage. I figured I’d just wait for Laurie to get up, and then we’d have breakfast. So I waited and waited … and waited … and …

Laurie, unlike me, can sleep into the afternoon if she puts her mind to it. I didn’t know that at the time, but I found out right away. It was well after noon when I heard her stir, and after she got out of the bathroom, I went back into the bedroom.

Man does not receive sustenance on food alone, so after sating ourselves in other ways, it was time finally to break the fast. There was only one place to go as far as I was concerned—Walker Bros. It had been a long time since I’d been. Because the closest one was my old one in Wilmette, Laurie had never been or maybe had been once before.

By the time we headed out, it was well past 2. However, I had a different feeling in my stomach. It wasn’t hunger; it was nausea.

Well, this was a revolting development. I’d mentioned that I had stomach issues the previous week before coming to Chicago. Now it seemed like whatever I’d been fighting was manifesting itself in a big way.

It’s a difficult thing to try and keep the good feelings going when you don’t feel well. I did the best I could, but the giveaway was that after I ordered my usual—chocolate chip pancakes (with real whipped cream on top that I spread like butter on the pancakes … auuuuuugggghhhhh)—I ate only one of the six pancakes.

When I have an upset stomach, I eat something. My rule of thumb is if I do and I feel better, then I’m fine. If I don’t, I’m in trouble. I ate one pancake and didn’t want any more. That’s trouble.

In fact, what I really wanted was a bathroom. I excused myself and went to find the facilities. I didn’t get sick, but apparently I was gone long enough that when I got back, Laurie said she was about to come find me.

We had a few things planned for that afternoon before Laurie’s play, but all I wanted to do was go somewhere close to a bathroom. We went back to Laurie’s apartment, but it didn’t help, and soon it became obvious that I was in no condition to go anywhere—even her play. In fact, I told Laurie that based on experience, not only did I have to beg off from seeing her play, but chances were good that she might have to take me to a hospital when she got home.

When Laurie left, I was in bed, feeling queasy and embarrassed as the day turned into night. I had been looking forward to this weekend, and it had gotten off to such a promising start. Now, I’d ruined everything, and I felt like crap to boot. What a revolting development.

I didn’t get sick right away, so I decided to try to distract myself with some music and work on my computer. In her living room, Laurie had a kidney-shape desk in a corner overlooking the street opposite of the sofa. The light from the streetlights shone through the windows, and I found that I could use a nearby plug for my computer. I plugged in my headphones, let my iTunes roll through a playlist that included Low Spark and started working on my research.

Something about Laurie’s apartment made me feel comfortable. I sensed it upon my arrival. I particularly loved her lighting setup. Laurie had twin stand lamps on either side of the sofa. One had a shade of the New York skyline; the other was draped in a sheer cloth, just like Annie Savoy. On the wall was a nightlight with a decorative cover of a woman smelling roses. Candles were everywhere. I used only the ambient light of the streetlights, that night light and my computer.

As I continued to work, as the sound of a guitar/sax/organ soothed me, I noticed that the sensation in my stomach felt a little different. Hmmm … that seems like … hunger, not queasiness. I decided to test my theory with a glass of water. If I couldn’t keep that down, I couldn’t keep anything down.

I went into the kitchen, which Laurie left lit up via a string of red chili-pepper lights under the cabinets, and a nightlight that had a white plastic Jesus as a cover. While there, I found a loaf of rye bread and decided to push it a bit. I fixed a piece of toast—no butter—and went back to my computer.

The toast seemed to sit on my stomach well, so I grew more bold—popping one of my chocolate chip pancakes into the microwave. That tasted really good, but I didn’t want to push my luck any further, so I just went back to work.

The time seemed to fly by, and suddenly I … felt fine. Wait? I’m not sick? So that means that … no!

Yes. I realized that my recent stomach ailments were nothing more than nerves—nerves about coming to Chicago, nerves about what might or might not happen with Laurie. It stunned me, but I was certain it was true. I hadn’t felt nervous about a date since long before Debbie, and the realization that my stomach wasn’t acting up due to illness but nerves made me feel better. Hey, genius: You scored last night. THERE’S NO REASON TO FEEL NERVOUS!

That said, I was pretty frazzled after the day’s events. I shut everything down and climbed back into bed. I didn’t lie down but just kind of leaned against the wall. I don’t know whether I dozed off, but I remember feeling relaxed when I heard the latches turn and the main door open.

Laurie was home. She called out to me, and I returned the call. She nervously asked how I was doing, and I said a lot better. She was relieved, saying she’d thought the whole drive up to the theater and back where she could take me when she got home. It turned out she didn’t have to take me anywhere.

In fact, I said, I’m feeling so good, I’ll come out to the living room so we can visit for a while. Laurie told me about the show, and I told her about what I’d been doing since she left. Laurie seemed happy to hear that I’d just made myself at home at her place.

Then I did something I wasn’t expecting, and it was as inappropriate as the previous night when Laurie asked me out of the chute whether I’d been married. I started leaning over towards her. She asked what I was doing, and I said, as natural as could be, “I’m coming over.” With that I put my head in her lap.

It’s something I used to do with Debbie, and it’s something you just don’t do—that level of intimacy—that soon in a courtship. But I never gave it a second thought. I was feeling vulnerable and I just trusted that it wouldn’t be the wrong thing to do. I just figured, as I had the past year, if I were going to go down, it wouldn’t be because I held back.

Laurie gave me a few pets on my troubled bean, and I felt … at home.

(To be continued)

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