Nine pm on a Saturday night in an English seaside town, Eric and I eat in Harry Ramsden’s fish and chips restaurant across from the seafront. We’re just like the other couples sipping large glasses of wine (the English equivalent of a “small glass” is a half pint) and tucking into their cod and chips and mushy peas, only Eric doesn’t drink, and told the waitress “no mushy peas”. (I tried the mushy peas and agree they belong only in a color photo or black and white film.) We’re just like the other couples making occasional conversation while the overhead speakers dotted in among the modest chandeliers play the type of music good old Harry would have liked back in the day.
“And he gave it all up for a girl – from Pittsburgh Pennsylvania” a male and female ensemble croon in a chorus repeated often enough to sound like a threat.
We’re just like the other couples, only we’re not. We’ve just finished five weeks of touring together, Eric playing in my trio, driving all over England and before that the northeast US. We’ve loaded in, soundchecked, rocked, talked, loaded out, found hotels or friends’ houses; somewhere to eat, somewhere to change clothes; decent coffee, bad coffee. We’ve listened to music or silence, or each other, or the drummer. We’re just another couple but we’ve lifted amps, packed guitars, unpacked guitars; wadded dirty clothes back in our suitcases, shared deodorant, shared Manuka honey and echinacea, waited patiently while the other did interviews on the phone.
Maybe the other fish and chip couples are ambulance drivers together. Maybe they’re doctors or own their own fish and chip shops and them coming to Harry’s is like us going to see Loudon Wainwright or Television.
“One bill or two?” the waitress asks. “One’s good – we’re married,” I say. She seems surprised. What did she think, this was a Tinder date? The least romantic second date ever? A business meeting? It’s Saturday night on Easter weekend – who goes out looking for love, or makes deals, then?
“Ah, you married.”
Walking back to the hotel along the seafront, we remind ourselves to slow down and do our best to stroll given the wind, the rain and the temperature. We come up behind another couple a decade or two older. They amble along side by side in their overcoats. He’s wearing big white gloves. Almost gardening gloves. The gloves glow through the mist against his dark coat, attracting the moonlight.
I am transifxed by these gloves. The man strolls in his overcoat, appearing comfortable next to a woman who’s got to be his wife, they are so similar in height and gait. But his hands in the gloves are doing a ballet. Behind his back, he clenches, he flaps, he flattens one palm and circles one wrist with the other.
“He’s signaling us, Eric!” I say. “He’s sending messages of distress: Help, I am being held against my will. This woman is not my wife. Alert the authorities. Help. Me.” He is so solid, so secure as he strolls along, but his hands say otherwise. Maybe it’s not distress – maybe it’s pure self-expression. He wishes he could be out on the seafront in a ballgown or a tutu, on a skateboard or smashing up stuff, but he can’t, so he takes his hands in their white gloves out to play.
The hands flatten and flap again and I revise – definitely distress. The couple turn into a building entrance and climb the steps. The hands flutter – we should follow them! She’s taking him to a dungeon. I mean, they’re going up stairs but there’s probably steps going down somewhere in the building…
See how I can do this? I can go off on an imaginative tangent, just like Robert Christgau. When he writes a review I’m not sure if he’s the man in the white gloves signaling what’s really going on with him, or whether he’s me trying to interpret the man in the white gloves and getting it all wrong. All I know is that it was fine when he’d conjecture about me as a single mother, my work, my songs, hell even my breasts. It was fine cause I was hungry then – I wanted what ever any critic would say about me as long as it felt sort of like a compliment.
But I don’t feel that way anymore. I don’t want his praise that feels like a put down. I don’t want him talking about me in terms of my first husband who, bless his heart I have not been married to for twenty years. I don’t want him praising while panning and damning my partner, my husband, by saying he’s kept me too busy to do much work on music when he’s done nothing but encourage me to work. I don’t want him dismissing my hardworking husband for taking the easy way and living on the past when he’s done nothing but try to outrun the past.
I don’t want his readers thinking something’s a rave review when it feels hurtful and personal and dismissive.
Sure he can say what he wants. But I don’t have to feel complimented when I really feel angry. I don’t have to wear floppy white gloves to express myself. And I don’t have to follow the older guy in the floppy white gloves. I write my own story, thank you.