“My parents are famous,” Chanel boasted.
She stood on the dirty steps of Hollywood High school. A minty Newport dangled from her glossed lips. Her thin legs were wrapped in torn fishnets and she wore an oversized Sonic Youth shirt, belted into a sloppy dress. A mural sprawled behind her, acrylic and stucco images of celebrities—legends—former students who once stood on these steps and carried their books down these halls. Rudolph Valentino was the last painted face, dressed in his famous Sheik robes. He had gone to school in Italy.
Other students stood on the steps below her or in patches of desiccated grass. Ravers sucked on oversized pacifiers, their necks stained from candy necklaces and stuffed animals draped down their Day-Glo backs. Popular girls with shiny hair stretched their tanned legs over a fluffy pink comforter. They blew iridescent bubbles that they popped with manicured fingers. They ate bananas and tossed the peels behind them. Behind the girls were stoner boys with greasy hair and acoustic guitars slung over flannelled shoulders. They kicked up a limp hacky sack with the sides of their scuffed Vans.
“Who are they?” one of them asked.
Chanel bit her lip, tasted the saccharine berry of her gloss, and scanned her audience. It wouldn’t matter to them that her mom once photographed David Bowie or gave giggly hand jobs with Sable Starr. It wouldn’t matter that she’d been an early fixture of the Sunset Strip and was once invited to dance on the tables of the Rainbow. And her dad? The fact that he filled in the gaps of forgotten anachronistic bands wouldn’t matter either. The New York Dolls were nothing but a Hot Topic t-shirt to these kids.
They wouldn’t get it. They just wouldn’t get it. She was part of the wrong generation.
They were all idiots.
Chanel jumped off the wall, smashing her cigarette on the rubbery sole of her boot. Shimmering embers danced down the gray steps.
Everyone looked at her.
“You wouldn’t know who they are,” she said, smirked, and lit another cigarette.
“That girl is so weird.”
“Her parents are probably has-beens, anyway.”
Chanel walked home alone. She kept her head down, her steps brisk down the smooth sidewalk. She avoided the homeless men, burrowed under the bushes holding out their smudged hands and asking for spare change. Squishy headphone speakers throbbed inside her ears, blasting T-Rex’s Electric Warrior.
She was surprised to come home with both parents’ cars parked in the driveway—her father’s dented ’52 Buick and her mother’s Rabbit, white and boxy with a hanging muffler. They always said her mother had the reliable car, even when the car sputtered and blackened fumes spewed from the exhaust.
Chanel wished they weren’t home. It was better when the house was quiet and Chanel could imagine them—not listen to them complain about hangovers or explode into mutual denigration. She liked to pretend they were on red carpets or drinking champagne with Iggy Pop, maybe driving around in Liberace’s rhinestone car wearing top hats and gaudy jewelry.
She opened the door slowly, the hinge creaking. Overpriced antiques—a rusted Victrola, a dented Jukebox, sun-damaged reels of silent film—cluttered the living room. All of them covered in brown dust and old, unopened bills. The pieces weren’t arranged, just propped against the burgundy walls or piled on the sticky wood floor. Her father couldn’t resist a steal at the local antique malls, even when the electric company threatened to shut off the lights. And Chanel’s mother wasn’t any better. She charged credit cards, and then called her own parents sobbing, telling them she didn’t know how Chanel would survive. Chanel stashed the money given to her at birthdays and holidays inside of worn socks and cracked CD cases. Just in case.
Chanel heard her parents. Loud and almost frantic from the back room—the one where her father kept his collection of vintage guitars. Cigarettes stained the walls of that room, the paint greasy and yellow. Old ashtrays covered the floor and teetered on blackened windowsills. Getting closer, she heard her mother’s shrill laughter and the manic words of her father. He was probably trying to secure himself on someone’s tour. Probably trying to sell his musical skills—reminding them about that time the LA Weekly wrote a glowing blurb about his show. Or, maybe, he was trying to sell a broken guitar. Chanel pressed herself against the hallway wall, careful to avoid the framed movie posters.
“There’s a tribute show to the Ramones in a couple of weeks. I’ll get in touch with CJ and Richie—if we could be ready by then.”
“Cool. I have a contact at Spaceland, but we need to get our merch together before we play anywhere. I’ll get some shirts done up and CDs. Maybe some posters or pins?”
“Are we recording just a few songs? I mean, I have an old Moog. It’s pretty nice, with a crackly, vintage feel.”
“Nah. We need to do my comeback big. No home recordings. We need big name producers, stuff to get the press going. I’ll give Rick a call. He used to produce all my stuff in the eighties.”
Chanel recognized her father’s voice—laden with desperation. The second voice was also familiar. Another one of those guys, she figured. Bloated, sweating men coming to her house on an almost daily basis. They responded to the ads, with the blurry photographs of vintage instruments. In the photos, the instruments were intact. When these men came to buy them, they found her dad only selling them in pieces. Dismembered skeletons of guitars and drum sets, and putrid, decaying trombones. These men were disappointed, rambling how they once met Keith Richards and talked to Perry Farrell at the Scream. They had seen Guns N’ Roses with Tracii Guns.
“It’s 100 bucks. This guitar was in perfect condition,” her father would tell them. These men would dig into their pockets, counting out wet twenty-dollar bills while watching Chanel. They didn’t care that she was sixteen. She wanted to tell them that Lori Mattix wouldn’t have slept with Jimmy Page if he was anything like them. They left quietly with their instrument pieces. Their rounded stomachs protruded from their too-tight Cramps shirt, silvery stretch marks slashed across their skin.
Chanel pushed herself off the wall and walked towards the kitchen. She didn’t need to see any of them again.
On the counter was a package of macaroni and cheese and a can of diet coke. Chanel was shocked. Eating was fickle in this house. Her mother was usually on some incredibly restrictive fad diet, the ones touted by waifish celebrities. She vacillated between Atkins, South Beach, starvation, and diet pills sold at GNC. Chanel’s father seemed to forget food existed. He survived on impromptu salads, chain-smoking, and cognac.
Chanel was boiling water when they all walked by. Her mother and father…and him.
She knew him. She knew him from the glossy photos scotch-taped to her bedroom walls, the edges serrated from when she tore them out of Hit Parader and Spin. She knew him from the glitzy videos shown on MTV flashbacks. She knew him from the stories she created in her mind.
The man walking with her parents was Troy Velvet.
The glam god of 1980s New Wave and current fodder for VH1’s glut of documentaries. He made her hate her own generation, and wish she’d been a part of his.
Chanel couldn’t talk or blink or smile. This was the man she gave herself to. To his dated pictures and videos. In her room she would pretend they were meeting. The year was always 1983 and she was always dressed like Cyndi Lauper with him frozen in time. His eyes lined black and doused with glitter.
Troy Velvet was here. His black hair spiky. His eyes more blue than they’d been in any photograph.
He was in her house, in her kitchen, with the dishes spilling from the sink, watching her stand in front of the stove with her mouth hanging open. She forgot the interesting things she once said to him inside of her head.
“What band are you in? You must be a singer or something,” he said, winked, and leaned an elbow on the faux marble countertop.
“I’m not in a band. I just live here,” Chanel mumbled.
“So, Troy, can you call that person at Spaceland? Today? Maybe book a show by next week?” her father blocked their view, lighting a new cigarette while the old one extinguished between his lips.
“Sure. I’ll let you know tomorrow,” he said. Troy offered a small wave and friendly smirk to Chanel, who stood rigid in front of the stove, “Nice to meet you.”
The water was boiling over, sizzling on the red burners.
Troy was at her house the next day. And the day after that. He wore vintage suits and band t-shirts and heeled boots. Her dad ferried him outside to the makeshift studio while Chanel pretended to do homework. Chanel held her breath listening to the muffled sounds of crashing symbols and electrified strings. Her mother sat in front of the computer, selling old clothing and shoes on Ebay. She didn’t seem to notice Chanel’s behavior, didn’t notice her gliding through the house with her fingers trailing the walls.
After listening to her dad and Troy run through “Glam Boy” seven times, Chanel crept into her room, slowly shutting the door behind her. On her knees, she placed a scratched Joy Division record on the turntable. “She’s Lost Control” purred from her speakers. The record stuttered, repeated synthesized claps. Chanel loved how worn the record was.
She twirled around the room, her home-bleached hair swishing in her ears. Troy’s face was ubiquitous in her bedroom. There was an image of him from the late 70s, shirtless and wearing heavy eyeliner while holding a laced joint in one hand and a book of Dylan Thomas’ poetry in the other. Above her dresser was a picture of him from 1984, dangling from the article discussing his struggle with heroin. He was clean in this photograph, his eyes brighter. A little heavier.
Chanel loved him. She penciled their names together in class. She wrote his name in Sharpie around the scuffed whites of her Converse. She wrote I love Troy on the palm of her hand, watching the black bleed down the drain when she had to wash it off.
She knew everything about Troy Velvet. Trevor Vaughn was born on May 18th, 1958 in a Jersey suburb. He ran away to join CBGB’s coterie. They welcomed him—gave him beat up instruments, fed him flat beers, let him share their drugs. He cleaned up and went more new wave than punk. He won Grammys, had platinum records. Now he was here. In her house. In her kitchen. Practicing in her garage. It had to be fate. She knew his favorite food was pizza, his favorite color was red, and his greatest inspiration was The Velvet Underground. She was in love with him.
She placed her cheek on one of the pictures taped to her bedroom wall. The glossy paper stuck to her warm skin.
Chanel’s head spun with imagined, sensational magazine covers—her and Troy a front-page story. A scandal. A romance. Dizzy, she collapsed onto the twisted floral comforter of her unmade bed. She hummed the next song, “Shadowplay,” the needle leaping over the vinyl’s grooves. Her hands traveled down her stomach and under the elastic of her skirt. They moved along with the song’s dark notes, her eyes wide open and watching the picture of Troy above her bed. She didn’t stop, her eyes on his inanimate image.
Far away she heard a soft click. She wished she’d heard it quicker. She sat up, her heart pounding in her ears. Troy stood against her door, his eyes surveying her walls and seeing his own face everywhere.
Chanel wanted to die.
“I thought this was the bathroom,” he said, his hands flat against the door. Chanel’s hands smoothed down her skirt.
“It’s down the hall,” she muttered to her chest.
Troy didn’t leave.
“Your dad and I are playing that show at Spaceland tomorrow. I can get you on the list,” Troy said.
“They won’t let me go. My parents, I mean.”
Troy walked over to her. Chanel could smell the stale cigarettes and masculine perspiration.
He bent down in front of her, his index finger held to his lips.
“They don’t have to know. Meet me there at 11. Our secret?”
Chanel couldn’t eat. She wrote out what she wanted to say to Troy, then tore up the pages. Burned them with her lighter.
Her parents were oblivious. Her dad spent the day sleeping and then crafting his image for the show. He wanted to appear like Alice Cooper, only softer and prettier. Her mother called up distant acquaintances, telling them they had to see this show of a lifetime.
“Everyone will be there!”
Yes, everyone, Chanel thought. She worked on her own image, covertly in the bathroom. She dipped the ends of her peroxided hair in Purple Haze Manic Panic and snuck into her mother’s room for a black sequin skirt and a pair of false eyelashes.
Her parents left around nine. Their loud, cacophonous voices trailed behind them before she heard the rattling engine of the old car. Chanel ran to the living room, slowly peeling back the blackout curtain to make sure. She stared at the ticking clock on the wall, sipping on the small amount of vodka she had stolen from their open liquor cabinet and smoking a Newport.
She couldn’t wait for 10:45. That’s when she would strut up to Spaceland, her shoulders pulled back and pouting her lips.
“I’m on the list,” Chanel said in a powerful voice to the worn, bearded man leaning in the threshold.
“So?” he sneered back to her.
Chanel felt herself shaking.
“I’m on the list for Troy Velvet.”
“I said ‘so.’ I don’t give a shit who is on any list. I don’t work here.”
The man lit up a cigarette and leaned farther into the wall.
Chanel felt panicky. Lost. She walked farther to the door.
“What are you doing?” a woman with taut puffy lips asked.
“I—I’m on the list. I’m just trying to tell somebody.” Chanel wondered if Troy had forgotten. She wondered if he hadn’t meant it.
The woman sighed, flipping her long blonde hair.
“You gotta walk around the corner. There’s another door there. Aren’t you kinda young to be here, though?”
“I’m old enough.”
Chanel scurried to the other side of Spaceland. She heard Troy. Behind the black walls was his music. A cloudy and quieted version of “Junk” unbraided into the heavier “In the Bowery.” She stood on tiptoe and urged the three people ahead of her to move faster. The line inched past the smoking section. Chanel saw her mom, her head thrown back in exaggerated laughter. Wispy trails of smoke circled around her head like a halo.
She never noticed Chanel.
The other door was shut, plastered with torn band stickers and pieces of hardened gum. A man with a tall pompadour and a punk Virgin Mary tattoo on his bicep slouched on a stool outside of the door.
“I’m on the list,” Chanel told him.
“What’s your name?”
“Chanel Lombard. I’m on Troy’s list. Troy Velvet.”
The man grabbed her wrist, stamping her hand with a black bat.
Chanel stood in the shadows, her feet pigeon-toed. She saw Troy on stage. He wore a fitted black suit and skinny red tie. His ringed fingers curled around the microphone, while he jerked around the stage. A blue Stratocaster swayed across his front, bouncing between bony hips. Behind him her dad posed with his own guitar, his fingers sliding down the neck. He snarled to the last notes of “Glam Boy.” The song gurgled from Spaceland’s wall speakers, guttural and nothing like the version from MTV or 93.1’s Flashback lunch.
There were maybe a dozen people standing around the stage. Another fifteen stood or sat at the bar, their conversations dissonant. Plinking glasses laced through the grating voices. Five women huddled closest to the stage. Their hair conservatively colored and bobbed. Their middles rolled under clingy outfits they had probably pulled from the attic, buried in musty boxes beneath old Bop magazines and cassette tapes they’d forgotten about. Cellulite dimpled legs peeked from under miniskirts. Shoulders made shelf-like from the padding in their fluorescent jackets. Chanel noticed one woman yawn and look at her phone. The screen’s wallpaper was a smiling, freckled child. Troy ignored the women as they sang along to his songs, as they reached to graze his pant leg when he danced close to the lip of the stage. Chanel wondered if she should stand there. She wondered if Troy saw her.
“Thank you!” Troy yelled into the microphone. The ceiling lights brightened, bleaching the room. Chanel leaned behind a pillar.
The women surrounded Troy as he stepped off the stage. Shoved old records and tattered posters at him to sign. Took cellphone photos with him. Chanel knew he wasn’t happy and liked that he kept space between the grinning women and himself in each pose. After they took the photo, they walked out hugging their tattooed relics.
“That was worth coming out for.”
“I don’t even care how tired I’ll be tomorrow.”
Chanel stayed behind the pillar. Watched her dad put his guitar in the case. Watched Troy head to the bar. Watched her dad wave good-bye to Troy and dart outside. Watched the crowd thin.
She headed for the bar. Troy sucked down two amber shots before he sat down.
“Hey,” she tapped his shoulder. Let her finger rest on the smooth fabric.
He turned to her. His face was strange in the dusky glow of bar lights. She saw creases down his cheeks and darkness under his eyes.
“I’m glad to see you. We played already. It was awful.”
Chanel jumped onto the stool beside him.
“I heard some of it. I didn’t think it was awful at all. Those women liked it.”
“They like reliving the past,” he snorted.
“Yeah, I guess,” she muttered, running her fingers down the sequin scales on her skirt.
Troy turned to her.
“You want a drink?”
“Uh—I don’t know.”
“Nobody will card you.”
Troy bought her a drink, something pastel in a fancy glass. He also bought her a shot. She wouldn’t let herself gag. The room felt hazy and she was uncomfortably warm. Troy was talking about music. He was telling her piece by piece how it had gone downhill.
It was nearly two when he took her to the parking lot. They smoked cigarettes under the flickering street lights. Most of Spaceland’s crowd had already left, stumbling into yellow cabs and demanding a drive-thru. Chanel wondered if her parents noticed she wasn’t home, if they were even there. They were probably at some after-party. Sitting on plastic covered furniture talking about how great things used to be, and how great they would be again. Chanel was happy to be here with Troy. It was what she had always wanted.
“In the seventies, I ran away. You probably knew that, though. All the articles love that story. Some Jersey kid running to CBGB. The place was a mess. People shooting up in that dirty bathroom, fucking next to the stage. But I loved it. I got to stay with the bands. You know Blondie and Television? The Ramones? The Talking Heads? They were my first friends. Did you know that?” His eyes were wide, expectant. Chanel nodded. Hearing these same stories from him was magical. Even when he spoke about stained urinals.
“In the eighties, I had to go to England. That’s where it was at then. That’s where they helped me get really big. I hung out with everyone. Duran Duran and Adam Ant. Malcolm McClaren dressed me. I even met Princess Di. She told me her favorite song was ‘Glam Boy.’”
Chanel sucked on her cigarette. The world was blurred by the shots at the bar. Her stomach gargled. She realized she hadn’t eaten anything all day.
“What’s your favorite song?” He asked. Chanel paused.
“What’s your favorite song from the seventies? From the eighties? From the nineties?” His eyes darted around wildly. Chanel couldn’t answer, her throat was choked by an invisible pressure. Why did she suddenly feel so anxious?
“Do you wish you were there?” He asked, leaning forward. Under the eerie yellow of the streetlights he was different from the photos. Bloodshot, yellowed eyes. Gritty skin. Jagged shadows made him almost grotesque.
But he was Troy Velvet—he wasn’t allowed to be anything but perfect.
Chanel felt queasy when he slid her into his car. He had an old silver Volvo, parts of it held together with peeling duct tape. He had to jiggle the metal handle before he guided her in. The car’s interior smelled like trash and aged skin. How strange that he didn’t have a nicer car. A fleeting wish to go home quivered through her. She told herself to be quiet. Why would she want to go home?
“Let’s smoke again,” he said, lifting his lighter to her face. She nodded weakly.
“You’re really pretty,” he said, his breath hot and reeking like booze.
Chanel thought about the image used for Rock and Rhinestone. Andy Warhol had helped design the cover. Troy’s hair was ratted and he wore a pencil-thin silver suit. She loved the way he looked on that album.
He kissed her with his brittle mouth, his scratchy tongue sliding between her lips.
Troy pushed her sequin skirt above her stiff thighs. She heard the fabric tear, felt the dangling strands and the edges of the sequins digging into her stomach. Slowly, she unbuttoned her own shirt.
Her eyes stayed shut. She thought about one of his music videos. Her favorite one, from 1981. It was a parody of silent films—The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Flesh and the Devil, and a medley of Harold Lloyd stunts. None of the films made sense together. The entire video didn’t make sense. But she watched it over and over. The VHS had warped, the screen smeared with blue and red streaks. The sound slow and demonic.
He undid her bra, the straps tugging against her arms as it was pulled off. He held her with moist, shaking hands. She stayed still. He grunted from on top of her, heavy and dripping with pungent sweat. Stinging wetness trickled down her nose and pooled in the corners of her eyes.
Chanel opened her eyes and stared at the car’s ceiling—drooping fabric held in place with mismatched thumb tacks. She tasted the dryness in her mouth. She watched the moon fade behind the fogging car window. She sang silent songs in her head.
It shouldn’t take more than a few songs.
He didn’t say anything when he was done, just stared ahead. Eyeliner smudged and dripping around his eyes. His pants were pulled down to his knees. Hairy thighs marred with scabs.
Chanel saw her own reflection in the rearview mirror. She was pale, her make-up bleeding. Scarlet splotches on her cheeks. Troy’s face was behind her. Ashen. Rough. He was somebody else in the reflection, not Troy Velvet.
“I have to go,” Chanel said quietly.
He unlocked her door, looking away.
“Things were so much better before,” he muttered, lighting another cigarette.
Chanel shut the door behind her, the metal clanging echoed in the barren parking lot.
Ashley Roth‘s work has appeared in 100 Word Story, The Molotov Cocktail, Moonsick Magazine, and HerStories: So Glad They Told Me.