I was 19 in the early summer of 1990. I had just finished up my junior year at a college in Manhattan. I was seeing this girl named Patty, who was so beautiful?red hair, lithe, just awesomely gorgeous pale skin?that I was absolutely in shock for the duration of our relationship. She had chosen me; there was no way my 19-year-old self could have chatted up such a beauty. One day she just kind of grabbed my hand and dragged me into her life. On the eve of a semester's-end trip to Jamaica with her and her two roommates, she broke up with me by?and I'm not fucking with you?shaking my hand and saying, "Thanks for the great sex."
Jamaica was misery. These three beautiful hipster lasses and I shared a windowless one-room bungalow on the Negril beach, and I slept in a rickety bed with Patty, who noticeably shifted away from me in the middle of the night if I jostled her. We would smoke spliffs and walk up and down the beach, and inevitably these Jamaican hustler cats would approach us and call out to me, "Hey man, you have t'ree! Give me one!" The air smelled so fucking good and the colors?the water, the greenery, the sunsets?were overwhelming. I was so high on weed that I was pioneering startling new heights of paranoid. This and the broken heart and the awkward nights in the rickety bed and I was completely overloaded with excruciating weirdness.
I had to go back a couple days earlier than Patty and her roommates, because I was starting a job driving an ice cream truck on Monday. I like to say it like that because it makes people think I was a Mr. Softee guy, but in fact I was just delivering gourmet ice cream to fancy-shmancy restaurants. I inherited the job from a guy named Daniel Vincent DeVincentis?again, not fucking with you?who had appeared in a play I wrote at the end of the semester, and who had forgotten the entirety of a monologue and spent seven whole minutes pacing around the stage in front of the audience trying to remember it while I quivered in the front row. He had managed to sell me on taking over his entire life as he left for the summer?I moved into his old room, too, in a crumbling two-bedroom apartment on the Bowery. At the time I didn't know Patty was getting bored with me, and I was desperate to stay in Manhattan and not go home to the suburbs for three Pattyless months.
Daniel Vincent DeVincentis' roommate had a huge vinyl collection, of which I only listened to two LPs?Elvis Costello's My Aim Is True, and Toots & the Maytals' Funky Kingston, which I put on either side of a 90-minute cassette, and I would play it on the truck stereo as I left the ice cream place at 5 in the morning to start making deliveries. These were fantastic mornings, driving up 1st Ave. as the sun was rising. I was, however, in tremendous pain, pain that I just couldn't understand?how could someone do this to me? Why can't I just shrug this off? How can this possibly hurt this much? It was unfathomable to me. Not knowing what to do with the feelings, I churned them into a monstrous resentment for her.
There was one Toots & the Maytals song, "Pressure Drop," that I would listen to over and over again in the delivery truck?Toots' anguished vocal over a simple rock-steady groove and a two-chord organ vamp. "Pressure's gonna drop on you," he sang. There were like two lyrics in the whole tune, plus a bunch of soulful mmmm-hmmm-ing. "Is it you? Oh yeah." It magnified the pain to galactic size. I still love the song, but it baffles me, remembering that surge of whatever feeling it was overcoming my whole self, the gnaw of the heartbreak in my chest, the sizzle of that narcotic sensation of the music coming over me. I can't help but think I will never have access to that horrifying, delightful feeling again in my life.
The summer got worse. I got stomach flu that left me incapable of walking for a week, so I stayed home sitting on a blanket on the floor of my dingy Bowery pad. My best friend Dave, a conga player with a cruel streak, would order Chinese food and then go around the apartment hiding soy sauce packets in shirt pockets and cracks in the plaster, knowing I was unable to stand up and stop him. He had a huge head and a lazy eye, resembling a debonair recasting of Marty Feldman. We would jam on these songs I wrote all summer long, trying to refashion myself as Toots, angry missives to Patty that I would imagine someday being massive chart hits, me sending flowers to Patty at work with the note reading, "Thanks for the song?it just went #1! Hope everything's great waiting tables at Bandito's."
Dave and I would do this thing where we would get very, very high, and turn on a mono tape recorder, and we would just play until the tape ran out, and pretend we were cutting records. The phone would ring and rather than answering it, I would hold the mic up to the answering machine and artily incorporate the message into the jam. One time it rang, and Patty's voice came after the beep: "Hi, Dave? Rachel said you were at Doughty's? Are you coming over? Like around 10?"
Pressure's gonna drop on you. Is it you? Oh yeah.
Patty and Dave took off for a Greyhound tour of the South and Midwest like a month after that. Whatever pain I felt before was now a mindblowing fireball of grief and betrayal. When I finished my deliveries, I would drive past Patty's apartment on 10th St., which at the time was still an open market for dimebags of weed. I would imagine running over them with the delivery truck, and then, more maturely, I would imagine going past the Port Authority?which I started driving by five times a day?as they happened out of their bus, and I would offer them a ride back downtown, and then I would lock them in the car and drive them over to Jersey, where triumphantly I would shove them out onto the Pulaski Skyway and abandon them. That Toots song became ever more of a miracle, somehow striking a mathematically exact balance between the grief I felt, the sensual memory of beautiful, pale Patty, and the biblical vengeance I wrought upon them in my imagination.
"And when it drops," Toots sang, "Oh! You're gonna?feel it?know that you were doing?wrong."
They really didn't get my rage. They actually called me when they got to Memphis and left an answering machine message heralding their arrival at Graceland.
I didn't speak to Patty or Dave again for years. Dave eventually left to become a squatter in Rotterdam, and Patty switched over to his next best friend, who, actually, she's still with today. Dave came back one day, not knowing she was with this guy, and called me. He seemed totally psychotic. He had a thick Dutch accent, which is bewildering, considering absolutely everyone and their mom in Holland speaks perfect English. My band was playing Irving Plaza that week, and he cheerily informed me that he would be showing up with his ratty conga drum to jam with the band. He didn't, and I haven't seen him since.
He got back in touch with Patty and pulled some kind of scene on her and her boyfriend, and amazingly, she called me and we kind of debriefed each other on the returning-Dave fiasco. We've been friendly ever since. These days she's a medical student in Los Angeles, and I've seen her a couple of times out there. She and the boyfriend came out to this big show we did at the Shrine Auditorium for KROQ. Her boyfriend was distinctly cool to me, a reaction Patty summed up in a later e-mail as a slight jealous reaction to her rockstar ex-boyfriend.
Pressure's gonna drop on you. Is it you? Oh yeah.