When David Lee Roth drops his voice low to growl about the road and the heat and reaching between his legs to ease the seat back, I listen hard, so hard I’m there, speeding on a two-lane desert highway at dusk when the air goes silky and I see myself, steering with my knees, one hand helping some sweet thing with the buttons of my fly. My other hand is resting light atop her head and her fingernails are tugging at my jeans, red lips aiming straight for my crotch.
It doesn’t matter that I’m a girl, nineteen. Embedded in a song is my version of a perfect evening, like the one B. and I are chasing when we climb into her ’78 black Camaro on Fridays after work, leather seats still warm from hours in the parking lot. We cruise streets and boulevards, rarely boarding the freeways. We glow in the street lights and brake lights and neon of Beach Boulevard, Imperial Highway, in the moonlight and high beams of the dark curves of Turnbull and Carbon canyons. When B asks, I light her a cig and pass it over and she grimaces because I always get the filter wet. My mouth is painted burgundy, my signature Wet & Wild #55, but I don’t know the proper way to light a cigarette, can’t figure out how to hold it between my lips, just what to do with my tongue or teeth.
Driving is an excuse to listen to the stereo loud, to sit behind eight cylinders and inhabit other selves. Tougher, harder, dude-selves, wiped of the retail smiles we wear behind the store counter. We barely talk, lost in song and smoke haze, jolted back when idling at red lights and glancing over to the leer and the brute gesture coming from the car beside us. When we’re hungry we park and step through the chiming doors of a 7-Eleven into fluorescent glare and instant body scans from the clerk, from the Mexican guys with cases of Coronas under each arm. We stand in line with our Screaming Yellow Zonkers! and Diet Cokes, and I lick my lips and make eye contact, yeah what? I smirk, and they smirk–but who wins depends on who caves, who looks away, down at the grimy floor.
We cruise a neighborhood of small ranch houses, drawn by the glow of an open garage door and guys milling around a beater up on blocks. Metal band posters on the drywall, band stickers on the cars at the curb. We are not, at all, trolling for boyfriends or looking to party, only for the thrill of the spectacle, men in their habitat. We slow, staring. Tap the brakes and they look up; we speed away. Turn a corner, turn up an old song, “Hair of the Dog.” You never hear the title, only a warning, over and over: now you’re messin’ with a sonofabitch. Yes, exactly. Pedal to the metal.
We know what we don’t want, are resigned to who we can’t become. Despite dark lipstick and contacts, we are bookish and opinionated. Mouthy. We’ll never lounge against car hoods, backs arched, purring with lips parted just so. The trick is to be the appraisers, not the appraised. In the Camaro, in the thrum of engine and bass guitar, we forget our soft bodies, our brains, become all brute power and heedless motion.
The evening over, B drops me at the curb and I watch her red lights recede. I enter the apartment, pass my dad asleep on the couch, into my dark bedroom and flick on the the green glow of the stereo receiver. I stand at the window and watch cars on the boulevard below. It’s not so late, plenty of people are still out there, together. I’m not sleepy. I am wound tight, still feeling a throb between my legs, memory of the ride, momentum like a phantom limb, a rush of blood, a muscle car all the forward thrust I’ll ever know. I take out a fresh pack of Marlboros, whack it expertly against the heel of my palm. Put a cigarette between my lips and flick the lighter, hot against my thumb. Take a pull, drag it in deep. Hold it in.
STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/motorheadgirl87