3B – The Swan Song

Danny unpacks Eric’s red cedar guitar with an arched back, with fresh bronze strings, tunes and gently strums while Anja slips on a dress. Danny, who rarely indulges in fast runs or exotic scales to impress listeners with flash or technique, plants his ear just above the sound hole to hear the guitar’s body resonate. From this position Danny can also bury his face and reveal only the back of his head, and though he sports a full head of frizzy brown hair, he hides even that with a small velvet cap. Following Danny’s fingers on the fretboard, all understated surety and finesse, Eric wonders, if Danny had been dealt a fair genetic deck with looks to equal the strength of his hands and delicacy of his fingers, would he ever have mastered music? As Danny weaves chords of his own invention, an iridescent nocturne full of fading rainbows, Eric can think clearly and muse. This is how Eric spends many an afternoon, dreaming or reading to Danny’s acoustic experiments. Perhaps all our lives are desperate compensations for loss, for unloved childhoods, dashed hopes, for certain mortality, for the irony of conscious freedom and social slavery? If Danny had inherited a conventional face — if Anja an honest father, a Munich and not a Dresden childhood, never endured attack, would Danny be Danny, or Anja Anja? So where’s Danny’s revenge? Why didn’t Danny become a slasher or thief or nestle behind a desk in some nasty bureaucracy, or lord it over a publishing or warehouse empire or tyrannize children as a cruel teacher, or nations as a tyrant, instead of offering back this gift of music lovelier than a bright girl’s smooth face, more relaxing than a wilderness hike after decades in a noisy city? Aren’t the splendors of his original chords arguably better than physical sex? No. Better stop there. Eric nods to Anja as she pokes her head into the room, giddy with delight. These are the hands to stroke my guitar, Eric muses, mine are, for some reason, rough, impatient. Indeed, Danny’s homely exterior masks an artist-soul, a lustrous tone-poem, a stream of lyric currents untouched by revenge or self-pity, gliding through light and space, and it is I who project frustration.

Anja cups her ear rounding the kitchen corner, spellbound. Eric was not joking! She ventures a single note, rather high, given her speaking voice, and Danny doubles the note immediately on the guitar, waits for Anja to relax into her natural pitch, a third lower, then strums a complementary chord. Anja sings an odd, ethereal melody which Danny follows at first just a beat short while orchestrating fresh chords, then nails the tempo when the phrase loops over. As Anja jumps a fifth to a bridge, Danny anticipates her, ear still centered in the sound hole then to the kitchen, utterly buried in the unfolding song pattern. Anja sways involuntarily, arm slung around the door, beaming, chanting at first in German, then English, a song with a deadpan recitative drone, a second ascending melody, then a chorus which breaks out into a soaring, mezzo-soprano ode to freedom, independence, to honesty. It is neither wholly rock, folk nor jazz, perhaps a poetic punk art-song defined by her own lilting style. Danny steps off the root chord until a lovely street lyric surfaces, smokes skyward from an iron grate, haunting Eric’s imagination with tone-color hallucinations: lichen-spotted columns and ruined temples, rocky peaks plunging to a village by the sea, a solar eclipse over a turquoise bay, exotic fish, sand castles, volcanic beaches — fantasies suggesting a world in which they could all live together. Eric nods, eyes closed, am I being kidnapped to an earthly paradise? To Anja’s imaginary isle?

“Got another?” Danny asks, examining his fingertip calluses, then looks up as if he too just woke from an adventure, “You need two for the open mike.”

“What is that?” Anja strokes her chin in delight, eyelashes like rays around two moist stars.

“It’s for anyone who wants to sing and play. You sign up, get a number and, except for the M.C.’s favorites, you perform with a mike and a P.A., before an audience.”.

“M.C., P.A.?”

“The announcer and sound system.” Eric explains.

“Does it pay?”

Eric sniffs, “No, of course not.”

“Why should I want to? This is just fine.”

“It’s a good way to test one’s songs before an audience. Danny likes to back up singers.”

“Yeah, you know, just wing it.” Danny mutters, himself weary of payless gigs.

“You don’t have to, Anja. It just happens to be Monday when these free-for-alls are held.”

“I will do it!” Anja shouts, “I never heard such guitar playing, Danny. Eric, can you sound like this boy?”

“No one plays like Danny.” Eric smiles. “You know Danny, and Anja, maybe ’cause I’m hooked on architecture I imagined an ocean when you played, saw ruins at night, envisioned a bay, then, I know it’s weird, I heard sea-creatures signaling each other under water. Signaling me.”

“I imagine me a swan with a long, slender neck, comme-ça!” Anja makes a spray of her fingers beneath her chin, then suggests, “Hey! We should hand-dance!”

“What?” Eric looks up, skeptically.

Danny accompanies her as she spreads out her arms, letting her fingers tell a cryptic story, rolling over, mingling, pointing, sketching, inviting, as if her fingers were legs, arms or tentacles. Danny begins to explore a pentatonic scale which sounds faintly oriental. “They dance like that in Cambodia. Or is it Thailand? Anyway, I would like a girlfriend as fine as you, Anja,” Danny finishes, shamefaced.

An awkward moment hangs between them until Anja breaks the silence, “When is the gig?”

“In an hour.” Danny peeks up, still so charmed by Anja and despairing of his loneliness that he’s nearly in tears.

“If you can learn songs that fast, sure!” Anja hesitates, undecided about what to wear, “How do I dress?”

“You don’t have to dress fancy, Anja, really.” Eric says, lighting a cigarette.

“But I want — to act savage! Expressive. Shocking!”

“I’ll be electric. I use an acoustic pickup. You’ll be miked. It’ll be much louder. It might feel shocking for you, anyhow. I don’t know how savage. You ever sung through a mike?”

“Twice in Dresden. In my friend’s band. Well, I will sing like I please but never pop my ‘p’s’”

“What’s your second song?”

“I put Rimbaud’s ‘Song of the Highest Tower’ to music.”

“Rimbo?” asks Danny.

“French poet. All the noirs know him, or pretend to. The lines in that poem are short, aren’t they, Anja?”

“Oh, you remember!” Anja kisses Eric then launches into an eerie melody full of metaphoric castles, dropping from a high trill a full octave down only to rise again, like a rope or Rapunzel hair flying up a stone tower, to peak at a mythic dawn. Anja sings it in French with rolling r’s, with all the lush vowel tone-colors of a native, and she seems even better at the language than English, tapping her foot, dancing her hair with the beat, warbling from her throat with an androgynous expression, like a French farm boy, fascinated by the corruption of a modern city. It is a spooky performance and no one seems to sing in a foreign languages at open mikes in America. The audience musicians are no more literate than Danny, yet Danny, no knee-jerk nationalist, nimbly responds with a flourish of exotic string orchestration, then a lightning fast run which seems to equal her (or the farm boy’s?) fall from innocence.

“Nice. I have to grab my amp,” Danny announces, after abruptly pulling up.

Eric, meanwhile, dresses in the kitchen, readying to rush out, “Goddamn, my only pair of pants are filthy. I’m going to have to wear my pocketless shorts and carry my keys and money.”

“Hurry, we must go to Danny’s place for his amp,” Anja interrupts. She feels wonderful. This must be the best afternoon with other people since Gabi left her. “But what should I wear? Not my jumpsuit. Can I wear your tank top, Eric?”

“Not without a bra.”

“What are you saying? Are you my husband? You know, look at the difference between our real life and music. We were just in another country, another age, wading into a sea of colors with diamond corals and here we shit, you are telling me I must not wear an ordinary tanktop.”

“Real life is different from music. Anyway, it’ll be way too baggy for you, you know… And what did you say about Americans swearing?”

“Is that my business or yours?” Anja steps precariously on top of the sofa, half mocking herself as if on a soapbox in London’s Hyde Park, “You damn American phony puritans go to peep shows, pile guns to the ionosphere, hang huge flags flapping over your doorsteps! Fat housewives and racists pointing thick fingers! Yuk!”

“She’s got a point, Eric.” Danny nods, laughing.

“She does not! What did she say have to do with how she dresses? Wear it, Anja, but don’t expect me to protect you from the ‘puritans’ out there.”

“No need to protect me!” Anja jumps from the sofa, skips into the kitchen to undress, put off by Eric’s protective jealousy, thinking he is not a real musician — like her and Danny — and just trying to spoil their fun.

On the pavement, they shuffle downtown and East to Danny’s basement studio, where, struggling to open the door, Danny finally forces it open as they enter an apartment offering a study in bachelor despair: a frying pan with three day’s mold under the couch, Village Voice personals covering the cushions, a torn-up stereo amplifier sprouting wires, transistors, tools spread across the floor, a John Coltrane poster peeling down a wall followed by torn wallpaper, two guitars, an acoustic bass, a silvery dobro, bookcases stuffed with sheet music, a stray box of spilt corn flakes, a television, old laundry, four different amplifiers, a keyboard on a ironing board, a reel-to-reel and a four track tape recorder, and a dingy yellow parakeet squawking in a rusty cage. There are also posters for gigs: Danny posing with various female singers, but in not one does Danny’s face fully appear. His back is turned or he’s holding his guitar before his eyes or he wears a Donald Duck mask. As if he needed one — Anja reflects, with a shudder. For the first time she considers Danny’s homeliness, and has to struggle to see Danny the musician again.

“That’s my favorite.” Danny snorts, watching Anja study the posters. “Here, I’ll just grab this little Gorilla amp and we split.”

Eric puts down his keys then tiptoes to the kitchen counter after kicking away a stuffed duck doll with a cigarette long ago taped to its bill and extracts a beer from the fridge. “Danny, when’s the last time you did the dishes?”

“Those are the last tenant’s,” Danny mumbles, then complains, “You know why I need this amp, because Mr. Gigs changes the sound halfway through songs, hamming it up, while I play. I have to know my sound is constant.” Anja follows Danny nervously wringing his hands like a neurotic grandma, then he glance up at her, painfully aware of the squalor which he never sees until a friend shows up.

“Danny, you are a brilliant guitarist.” Anja says.

“It’s my thang,” he mumbles.

“O.K. Danny, I just guzzled your last beer, let’s be off.”

“That’s what they’re there for,” Danny says, trying to peer sideways through Anja’s tanktop to her breast.

“That’s what they’re there for, right Anja?” Eric smiles knowingly.

“What are we here for?” Anja laughs.

Danny refuses to let Anja carry his amp or guitar, insisting on following her and Eric down from 2nd Ave. to A, head sunk to his sternum, eyes peeping worshipfully over to Anja or to the pretty girls, filing images for his future solo love efforts. For Anja, calmly walking the streets of the Lower East Side offers a revelation: she can admire groups of skateboard panhandlers in deliberately tattered clothes wallowing on stoops, pass by posturing artiste drunks, or Arab bodega owners, without claustrophobia. The absurd atmosphere, the outlandish fashions, lure her eye — particularly the nonchalant freedom of the women. The three of them negotiate around three shirtless Japanese male models, swinging silver and gold chains down their 6-pack abdomens. One wears a sequin spangled quilt, greeting a gorgeous, athletic, black American girl, who walks up to him, slender, confident, with finely muscled arms. Two others models arrive, also on display, sporting oversized fake eyelashes, and one, a bizarre chainmail vest. “That’s a transvestite, Anja.” Eric whispers. “Oh. I knew that!” Anja lies and smiles. Anja listens to the conga drums rumbling across Tompkins Square, observes the local chess masters pulling salt-n-pepper beards, stroking panting hounds, rifling plastic-covered shopping carts. American cops with huge guns in holster sit bow-legged on sweat-beaded horses, patrolling the park’s edge. The three take a sharp left into a bar, windows plastered by posters for upcoming acts with exotic names, which appear heroic, cool, hip or revolutionary in photos printed, no doubt, by themselves, then they squeeze past a row of hopeful guys decaying on stools, smoking, scuffing the sawdust floor, fingering peanut shells and staring blankly at a silent TV featuring the Knicks losing, again, to the Bulls, who undress Anja with significant glances.

They pass by the bar into a room lit by neon beer signs and old Christmas lights and populated by expectant musicians studying their feet at separate tables or grimly tuning guitars. The M.C., Mr. Gigs, with a wide-mouth, wizened actor’s expression and a balding head of stringy hair, dines like a local god behind a desk and a microphone. A video of himself singing blares out over the tables as he gingerly pokes his fettuccini strings, half-greeting familiar faces who scuff in, and waving away nervous neophytes who show up too soon or too eager for sign-up. Anja, Eric and Danny edge close to the M.C.’s table and sit beside obese twins with orange hair in bulging black suits. The twins smile broadly, shake Eric and Danny’s hands, then greet Anja, who flattens both her hands and bows as Buddhists do in greeting. Few women are present and the anxiety of unknown singers hangs like a thick fog as several crowd Mr. Gigs’ desk leaning guitars on their table until their view is wholly blocked — until Mr. Gigs rises. “Sign up begins in a few minutes, back off to your seats!”

“Is everyone here a … musician?” Anja asks.

“They pretend to be.” Danny nods.

“This is pathetic!”

“Yea, they all want to be stars.” Eric agrees, “I’ll sign up for you Anja.”

“No, it’s better if Anja does. Mr. Gigs prefers women.”

“You’re right. Anja, do you mind standing in line?”

“Why should I?”

“I thought you might be, well, feel uppity.”

“Me? We ex-proletarian girls stood in line our whole childhood!”

“I forget your fine Communist upbringing.”

“Where do you come from, Anja?” Danny looks up.

“The former East Germany. German Democratic Republic.”

“Oh, yeah the Wall fell. You have an accent but you talk better English than me.” Danny says, accentuating his Brooklyn accent.

“I speak better French. Comme ça! Not as idiomatic, but I prefer the sound. You know, the language of luuuuuuv. Russian too.”

“What did your father do?” Danny asks.

“Stasi. Secret police.” Anja answers dryly.

“Holy shit!” Danny exclaims.

“Anja, I know you know how to French kiss. But can you make love Russian style?”

“How is that?”

“Come here. Sit on my lap. Kiss my little Russian bear paw and you’ll see!”

“What? No way!”

“O.K. sign up!” Mr. Gigs barks.

The tables are rudely shoved aside and every wannabe star — the whole audience — queues to sign up. Mr. Gigs offers a glass bowl full of crumpled paper scraps on which he has scribbled numbers. Anja jumps up and finds herself behind eight hunch-shouldered guys, jostling zealously to the desk, with some trying to behave as if they enjoy standing in line, chatting, smiling self-consciously. Several turn to stare at Anja as she regrets volunteering, seeing that the line snakes right through the barroom to the wall. She remembers riding by a line as a child in her father’s black Zil sedan, pressing her nose to the glass, watching it rain on a her playmates’ mothers awaiting a shipment of trousers, beneath plastic protecting their bad hairdos. She remembers waiting in line at school to be rewarded first place in a spelling bee, all pixie’d up in patent leather shoes, and at her first rock concert, where the singers acted so dramatically, thrusting microphones in the air, grimacing, shouting, pleading. How dreamy they seemed to her in the old days! How much she craved an idol and not a boyfriend. Then she remembers lining up as a prostitute with other Ossies, many her mother’s age, on a drizzling night in Prague, all the delicate beauty of the city, its spires, friezes and bridges, dimmed by the sole concern of enticing goons in cars who crept the cobble streets, inspecting her like slave meat. Standing in line suddenly oppresses her. She wheels around and Eric and Danny have left their table. The twins are devouring two flour burritos, but a runt with a scruffy goatee sitting in her chair is staring at her in Eric’s revealing tanktop. Who’s been sitting on my chair?

“Yes?”

“What?” Anja had reached the desk.

“Is this your first time here?” Mr. Gigs asks, with a lascivious grin across his face.

“Yes.”

“What number do you want?” Anja glances at the M.C.’s page with a list of numbers appended with arrows and extra names jammed in between them, revealing a coded pecking order by which he rewarded or tortured hopeful stars. “If it’s your first time, you can choose a new number.”

Anja wonders if there are any new numbers, then asks, “Seven?”

“No, seven’s been picked. Sorry. What’s your name?”

“How about nine? Watertower Girl.”

“Nine it is, watertower girl,” Mr. Gigs says, then stands up for the first time to peer down her blouse.

Anja escapes to the back of the room to find Eric joking with Danny, who is hanging his head but laughing, and it strikes her how dependent she has become on Eric, on everyone. With a shudder she retraces the last week, and how domesticated she has become, and regrets leaving her tower. She is just another pavement dwarf, anxious for fame, to be known, and so, valued, socially coined, and with the example of the line only half finished, just another star-struck part-time singer, fawning over a young man. As if T.V. determined all values! She hasn’t watched a television once in America. Neither Eric nor Danny see her approach; she feels utterly objective, outside, above herself, peering at her own small head from her tower — sunlight and smog drift over a box filled with a miniature crowd of heads taking themselves seriously, taxis are tracing red, starting, stopping, skyscrapers stand like sentinels in smog, the horizon absorbs horns, sirens, across a vast dirty-silver sky, and in this little box, swimming with darkness and neon, filled with piping, tiny throats, clinking glasses, canned music, Anja needs to be recognized by two strangers, court midgets, who no doubt will be polite when their joke’s finished. It’s not going to work. Watertower girl will never fit.

“Aha, Anja!” Eric approaches and kisses her forehead. “What’s wrong?”

“I feel like a cow prepared for slaughter.”

“Beware the floor flaps.” Eric tries to joke, but clearly Anja’s expression has altered. She looks close to fainting, reflecting that steely disdain-glint in her eye. It’s a matter of time before she cheers up, or so Eric hopes.

“What number?” Danny asks.

“Nine.”

“Ooo, could be late.”

“Why?”

“Did you see the names he’s wedged in there? On the list?”

“Yes.”

“Those are people added beforehand.”

“Then why stand in line for a number, for Christ sake?” Anja wheels around and stares cruelly at the runt in her seat.

“It establishes the order.”

“What order?”

“The pecking order.”

Gigs rises and strums his guitar but sings only after excessive fussing with his sound. They ease back down beside the twins. Eric tells the runt to split. The runt huffs, swears under his breath, then moves to another table. Eric sees him sit beside a hostile singer, pointing at them and apparently running them down. Anja absorbs Mr. Gigs’ nightmarish performance, a nasal siren with rough slashing at simple root chords one could learn in a year. The whole concept of the song, ridiculing the questions players ask him as the M.C., sounds transparently egoistic and stale, but everyone claps wildly when his song ends. Gigs peers around to check who is or isn’t cheering him, presumably to influence his choices on who to list automatically without standing in line. The twins come next, and Eric roots heartily for them. They, beaming, dual mountains of flesh, sing in eerie harmonies, one pounding a drum, the other strumming a phase-shifted guitar, discharging a bizarre melodic barrage. The audience applauds but not with the vigor they granted Gigs, and it leaves Anja angry — the sycophancy of rewarding a bad performance, ignoring primitive but poetic harmonies, to get a gig defeats the magic of music. Then a short guy, hair done up to mimic Bob Dylan circa ’66, sings in a voice mimicking Dylan’s. Anja slumps her head to the table. She glances to Eric as if asking why and he shrugs. Eventually, more talentless acts rise, mimicking an image of themselves as someone other than who they are — for Anja — a desperate parade which equates anonymity with death. They’re dying to make pop history, get rich, worshipped in tabloids, to live as a replicated face, a commodity, a star, for those who equally despise their smallness. The herd needs a mirage, a fantasy dangled before their eyes, bait! The word “star” reconfigures for Anja. Why not admire actual stars? The moon? Planets? Galaxies? Study unseen anti-matter? Why not become an astronomer and look back in time and dwell on a peak in the Andes Mountains after peering through a gigantic telescope all week only to hike down for beans and rice and the kick of local Tequila on Saturday night? She’d rather eat than live the worm! Anja’s no worm!

“What do you think?” Eric finally asks.

“I hate astrology!” Anja smiles acidly.

One other woman sits up front and holds court with several men folk singers, but her eye lights on Anja, as if sizing up her competition. With yellow tinted hair fixed into a tumble of curls around her oval face and a voluble personality, a natural extrovert, the woman several time nods Anja’s way and the men, utterly bored by the succession of acts before them, awaiting their moment when they too will be mostly ignored, smile and agree about some point she’s makes regarding Anja’s revealing tanktop. Between songs, the woman approaches Danny and Eric, who apparently know her well.

“Here’s our best guitarist and handsomest bachelor.” She shakes Eric’s hand first.

“What about me, Evelyn?” Eric asks, switching the compliment to Danny.

“Danny, I thought you were going to accompany me?” She kneels beside Danny, smiles and massages his shoulders, then fluffs her hair.

“Me me, me-me!” Eric meows, like a cat. Anja faintly gets his gibe.

“Can’t tonight Evelyn, accompanying Anja.” Danny neurotically buries his head in his armpit and Anja can barely make out what he’s saying. Yet Evelyn never turns to greet or acknowledge Anja. Eric notices and cools toward Evelyn. Danny is alone, tortured, since he’s sharp enough to sense the social tension, yet he delights in Evelyn’s presence, and though he knows she is not a serious musician, if Anja is Eric’s, then he is not obliged to alienate Evelyn. He’s single, after all.

“Call me Danny, you have my number.”

“I do, too,” Anja thinks as Evelyn returns to her seat.

Eric checks the number list under Gigs’ nose, chats with him and plops back down.

Watching Evelyn, it occurs to Anja that she should sing the song she wrote last month, and hummed constantly to keep up her courage, her own “Watertower Girl” song instead. It would be closer to who she is. She would proclaim proudly exactly her own “gig” in the world. Yet since they had not rehearsed it, Anja hums into Danny’s ear. She follows him downstairs near the bathrooms and pool table where he picks up the chords, practices for thirty minutes, and they are thick as thieves until Eric rushes down and shouts, waving his hand, “Come on Anja! You’re next!”

“Everyone give it up for Watertower Girl!” Mr. Gigs shouts. The audience claps politely, especially the men outside Evelyn’s circle. Eric sits close and marvels at Anja’s beauty: slim, radiant, standing boldly in the light, unashamed, like a natural performer, with a rare full smile broadening her face. She leans down to adjust the mike and Eric braces, for Anja is nearly naked from her waist up when bending over. An audible tremor passes through the suddenly riveted men, followed by a chorus of whistles. Anja straightens up, face flushed, puts her arms on her hips, akimbo, and quickly recovers, mock-purrs, “Thank you,” which draws approving laughter and applause from nearly everyone, save Evelyn.

“I’m going to sing my own song. My ‘Watertower Girl’ song, with Danny here.”

When Danny tips his hat, half the audience quacks, which Danny encourages, making a rolling motion with his hand, as a band or cheer leader might, but the guitarists, for all their egoism, wait uniformly in awe of Danny’s power. Eric listens and reflects that Danny’s self-ridicule, a strategy to assuage their lack of musical talent and a way of anticipating their mockery of his looks: double-timing the enemy. Anja will have none of it. She hums the note to find the key. Danny strikes a single string, Anja lets him stoop to adjust his treble booster, breathe, then, after a moment of silence, he lets rip a cascade of notes which sound now like a waterfall, now a tumbling river, then it all crashes, like a naval battalion blasting a heavily defended beach, then this too dissolves into an understated, chinking rhythm. Eric watches Anja laugh soundlessly and fling her hair back, then sing:
The anonymous inherit the earth, so they say,

but Anja don’t care. She scales the fire escape stair

and feels the sun sink through the silver air

She watches the first stars poke through the smog

and city lights.

Ready to climb her tower and endure another crazy night

I’m the watertower girl

in my watertower world

Watertower girl , oh, oh,

in my watertower world , oh, oh.

Dawn or dusk, like birth or death,

we sprint through Time — till there’s no one left

Anja dropped out. Let the supers all scream!

Let them kneel before their TV screens

For the shadows confess to my aerial solitude

Let the sirens protest, if I ‘m seen danc’n naked

on the moon!

’cause I’m a watertower girl

in my watertower world, oh ,oh.

(— and you moles down there

can suffer, crawl … and die! ) Oh, oh!

She ends without Danny, acapella, and the crowd joins in the chorus, which rarely happens since this allows other performers to succeed. Then a man stands up just as Anja bows and flashes several pictures of her. Anja straightens quickly, shocked, trembling.

The audience explodes. It was not Anja’s singing, which rang out like a siren with her anthem, but her pride, as if she had crossed an ocean and found below her streets sprawling with miscreants or mortals, crawling like cockroaches, or scurrying like moles, all reduced, paralyzed by her alien, noble gaze. More, the sky above the city, ever washed out by street lamps, signs and smog seemed to drop on a sun or moonbeam illumining an ironic, latter-day Peter Pan with a very dangerous sexuality. Even Eric feels aroused, after making love with Anja two hours past. It was certainly funny. She delights in commanding an audience, and her free spirit wins over the jaded, “I’ve seen it all” crowd. It makes her feel high, and strangely generous. Anja is still prancing, smiling broadly, going a little too far with her body politics, when Eric spots Evelyn lost in the reflective glare of Anja’s success, envy smoldering the coals of her eyes. Evelyn tosses off a self-conscious laugh, then begins to talk, loudly, pulling the sleeves of the men around her for attention. Danny, meanwhile, bows and the audience shouts a collective, this time appreciative, quack. Eric realizes that he’s been sitting at attention in his chair with his hands clenched, spellbound, without cheering or applauding, until Anja nods to him, smiling ear-to-ear, winks, and blows him a kiss.

Anja edges into the high opening notes of “Song of the Highest Tower”, Gigs lays a cool blue light on her, dimming the signs and Christmas lights, but Evelyn is busy, rustling in her chair, talking, and Anja can hear her as Danny strums softly, as planned. Then another flashbulb goes off near Anja’s face, which makes her jerk back. She stops. Danny does too, then begins again, but the timber of Anja’s voice changes, the prankish gleam fades from her face and she stares through blue smoke to Evelyn, who uses her singing voice to carry on a loud, nonstop monologue. Anja loses confidence as the men at Evelyn’s table begin talking too, watching to see if Anja will stop singing in French and act sexy again. Anja loses her place in the song, hears others in the audience disengage, mimicking Evelyn, some mocking her French. She tries to see Eric but cannot, the blue light is in her face, and Eric, bracing for disaster, shouts, “Go, Anja!”

“No … this is a no go.” Anja stops short, then shouts, through the mike. “Will you shut up, fuck? Yeah, you!”

Evelyn looks around her innocently. The audience tenses, rustling in their seats.

“I mean you, bitch, Eveleeeeen, shut up now or I send a flame up your fat ass.”

“What?” Evelyn gasps.

“You can’t …” One of the men at her table stands up.

“Oh, yes I can! Why you acting coy, shy? Eva–leeeeen? You jealous cunt! Do you want Eric? You want Danny to be playing for you?”

A wag shouts, “Cat fight!” in the audience. Meows erupt.

Danny slumps over his guitar, trying to find a place for his hands, then sets down his guitar, and is bending practically to the floor, looking eager to fall right through it.

“This is not what we are about,” Gigs steps in. “I’m going to turn off your mike.”

“Well what is the place about?” Mr. Gigs reaches to the board and turns off Anja’s mike. But Anja, angrily beside herself, screams: “A lot of lonely hearts dying to be famous! Wanna be stars? Stars? You not stars! Want a lift to the sky? Without climbing yourself? You want to be what you are not because you are nothing!”

“Anja!” Eric stands up.

“And Evaleeeen, butting in other peoples’ acts, weighed down by your envy!” Anja now utterly loses it, “I have seen you, I seen you all from my tower!”

The audience boos, catcalls, and drowns Anja out as Eric collects her while she’s still shouting, weeping, “Goddamn moles, pavement dwarfs, spies, liars! You all go to hell!” As she collapses into Eric’s arms she can only manage to writhe and give the finger to everyone around her. The audience shouts derisively back, some crowd around Evelyn sympathetically, and Danny, with his guitar half packed, scurries out ahead of them, head buried. Before Eric can get her past the last regulars, a guy from Evelyn’s table jumps over several chairs and flings his full pint of beer in Anja’s face. “I seen you from my tower!” she cries as another flashbulb goes off near her face and Eric carries her out to the street.