Thursday, May 15, 2014

No. 21 – Unbound

Performer: Robbie Robertson
Songwriters: Tim Gordine, Robbie Robertson
Original Release: Contact from the Underworld of Redboy
Year: 1998
Definitive Version: None.

When Contact came out, I was excited, of course, for new Robbie Robertson music after a four-year wait. Considering that all three of his previous solo albums remained in regular rotation on my CD carousel, I had high expectations for the new album.

They weren’t met. Robertson, of course, veered into electronica with Contact, getting rid of the signature ethereal sound that I loved so much. I didn’t connect with it at all (and, in fact, haven’t listened to it since that initial time) … with one exception.

I remember talking to Doug about it later, saying when prompted that I didn’t like the album except for that song Unbound. Doug agreed, saying it was the only good song on the album. Now, it’s my No. 1 Robbie Robertson song and a song I understand intimately.

I never cheated on any of my paramours, in the generally understood definition of the term. With Monica Lewinsky back in the news, I can stand, like Bill Clinton, and wag my finger, saying “I did not have sex with those women.” Unlike Bill Clinton, I’m not lying.

But … a term that has gained currency is “emotional cheating,” in which a relationship of some kind doesn’t become sexual but is no less involved. Of that, I’m guilty: I had an emotional one-night stand once, and it ultimately caused my breakup with Debbie.

In February 1999, I went to Flint for a weekend of shenanigans. To kill multiple birds with one stone, I’d stay with Doug one night and Dave the next. Dave and I planned a jaunt to Gibraltar that Saturday. Friday, I’d hang out with Doug.

Usually that consisted of going to the White Horse to see the Sports crew, but on this particular night, Doug and a few friends wanted to hit the ballet on Dort Highway. I’d never attended any of Flint’s legendary dance establishments, so I was game to check it out.

I can’t remember the name of the first place we went that night. It might have been Nathan J’s before its expansion, but it was unlike anything I’d seen before. Although it wasn’t that different from the establishments I later would patronize in Columbus, up to that point, the entirety of my experience with the ballet came from Windsor, Canada. The differences couldn’t have been more profound.

The dancers in Windsor were far more attractive—they also were fully nude—but they were plastic and distant. A table dance consisted of a ballerina moving on top of a milk crate just out of arm’s reach. The scene, ultimately, was antiseptic.

In Flint, the dancers were a bit rough around the edges. Tattoos were just coming into vogue, and a couple Flint ballerinas had them, unlike those across the border.

But the big difference was the Flint dancers were right on top of you—literally. In Flint, a table dance consisted of the ballerina of your choice sitting on your lap, grinding on you. Where you put your hands was largely up to you. (Touching was strictly forbidden in Canada.) I couldn’t believe it.

Typically when I go to a dance establishment, I like to hang back, just observe the scene, before I make my move. Just as I was getting acclimated to these new sensations and ready to dive into the dance pool, a few guys decided it wasn’t happening there, so we moved on.

We went to The Men’s Club, just off Dort Highway, and it was more of the same but smaller. I was having a good time, but no one seemed to catch as though it would have an inexpensive night, I met Frederique. I didn’t see her until she suddenly leaned around me from the side asking whether anyone at our table wanted a dance.

Frederique was petite with short brunette hair and a definite European look. She had a nice body and was attractive, but she wasn’t quite my type. However, given the visual stimulation I already encountered thus far that evening, I definitely was ready for some action. So were others in my group.

I went first, and whatever fault I found with Frederique just looking at her more than vanished as soon as she danced for me. In other words a 7 on your lap beats a 10 across the room (and there were no 10s there that night). With one dance, I’d crossed the rubicon. After Frederique was done with the other knuckleheads at the table, I had her come back to me for more.

I was smitten, but I had only so much money for frivolity, and before long, Frederique had it all. She asked whether I’d be back to see her, and I said I’d love to, but I didn’t live here anymore, so it would have to be tomorrow if at all. She said she’d make it worth my while if I came back.

With visions of Frederique dancing in my head, I had a fitful night of not sleeping as much as I should have. I couldn’t get her out of my mind, how she looked, how she smelled, how she moved and how she felt.

The next day at the card show I was able to concentrate long enough to buy a few things, but I still rid my mind of Frederique out of my mind. I had to see her again, and I was able to talk Dave into going back to The Men’s Club that night.

Almost as soon as we sat down, Frederique was back by my side, eager to make good on her promise from the previous night. I’ll never be able to hear Metallica’s version of Turn the Page or Lenny Kravitz’s Fly Away the same way again. As the night moved along, Frederique grew more clingy. During one song, she even took my hand and put it where it wasn’t supposed to be. No one stopped her, least of all me.

All too soon, it was over. I was spent financially, and as much as I might have wanted, I couldn’t replenish the cash supply. Debbie and I shared a checking account, and even though I balanced the books, any big withdrawal that was taken out in Flint would arouse suspicion.

That night was worse than the one before, and when I got up to leave early the next morning, I felt as gray as the dismal weather. I don’t think I had Unbound in my car at the time, but I thought of the song almost the entire drive home. Frederique had me drawn to her, like a moth to a flame.

I had all these images running through my head, poetic lines, and I had to write them down before I forgot them—although to what end I didn’t know. I drew the Sunday shift at The Dispatch, which meant a 2 p.m. arrival, but I got home in enough time that I could write before going in to work. I could do it undetected, because when I decided to go to Flint, Debbie made plans to visit her friend, Jan, in Kokomo, Ind. I wouldn’t see Debbie till I got home from work that night.

However, Debbie came home early and caught me after I finished but before I left. She was surprised to see me, and, not expecting to see her and not really wanting to see her at that particular moment, I lashed out defensively in a way that was completely inappropriate before rushing out the door.

Doug told me he saw Frederique again a month or so later, adding that she had asked about me, but that visit in February was the extent of the physicality of our “affair.” However, it wasn’t the end of it emotionally for me.

I couldn’t stop thinking about Frederique. She was beautiful and sexy, of course, but more important, Frederique was young, wild and free. I had felt that way once, but I wasted that time, hiding in my apartment, in Flint. Now, I had a respectable house, a respectable job and a respectable fiancée. I no longer felt young or free. I felt old, and at 34, I was too young to be old.

This realization caused me to withdraw emotionally from Debbie, although, of course, I couldn't own up to it, let alone say why. I had to put on an act, and I did it unconvincingly.

This went on for months before I finally pulled out of my midlife crisis. Things got better between me and Debbie, but they never were the same. So when she alerted me that our relationship was in great peril over dinner the following year, I couldn’t really feign surprise, although I was taken a bit aback.

After all, I was the one who’d paved the road we now traveled. Even if I’d done it unwittingly of the ultimate destination, it was my doing. Unbound.

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