Some oozingly atmospheric dubstep echoes and drips from the bass-bins of a set of high-end speakers positioned around the room. Of course: what better soundtrack could there possibly be, especially at night, for this wrecked but enchanted little wasteland of a town? It’s almost as if this deep and spooky sound were made specifically for Asbury Park—a place that I’ve already begun to love, oddly, with something of the love Evelyn has for it. Her love will be more authentic, since she grew up here. But neither is my own love inauthentic, for this fractured and unique corner of the world—half quiet town, half slum by the sea.
“Where did you two meet?” I ask.
“In a bar just down the road here,” he says. “Now demolished. It was soon after I moved here from New York. I was wandering round one night, to see what was here, and looked through the door and saw this one behind the bar.”
“I only worked there two weeks, so it was lucky timing,” she says. “The place was nearly empty and he just came in and parked himself at the bar right in front of me. He was tipsy already and I was thinking, I have to get rid of this one somehow! But there wasn’t much I could pretend I had to be doing, so I was kind of stuck with him. I thought, not long till closing time, I’ll survive till then. But then he started telling me the stupidest jokes—”
“Two pretzels were walking down the street,” says Rik. “One was a salted.”
“Yeah, that was one of them.”
“A horse walks into a bar,” says Rik. “Bartender says, ‘Hi there, why the long face?’”
She throws a pillow at him. “So I had a couple of drinks, to help me make it through the jokes. Then by closing time I just found I was nearly on the floor laughing, even though the jokes hadn’t improved at all—including mine. So we locked up and turned the lights lower and just kept pouring drinks and got slammed. We could hardly stand up by the end of it. For some strange reason it was just the funniest night.” She chuckles long and loud at the memory.
“When I first came in, I was pretty desperate for a drink,” says Rik, “but I was out of money by this point, so I was down to sponge shots.”
“What are they?” I ask.
“You know, those squeezes of juice from the sponge they use to wipe off the bar, when you can’t afford anything else? Well, maybe I wasn’t that desperate. But this place we’re talking about, it was hardly even a real bar, it just about had wall-to-wall floors. I was scraping the barrel, going in there, because what I was really looking for was some rich chick to snog and then maybe shack up with. Instead of which…” He looks at her.
“Leaving me to sit on the floor, excuse me. ‘You OK?’ he asked me. And I said, ‘Well if you’ve got an enormous ass like I have, the floor’s quite comfortable, thank you very much.’ Then he remembered his manners and dragged me into the bedroom. Then later I got all serious and asked, ‘Who are you?’ And you said—”
“I said, ‘I am the fleck of beefburger on the mirror of humanity.’” He gets up to change the music. “Here’s an oldie but goodie, Chill Out. Reminds me of hearing it in Glasgow.”
“Happy memories?” I ask.
“Oh yeah… Sometimes the smallest snippets of a place are the most flavoursome. Like at school there, there was this thicket beside a pond—”
“How thick was the thicket?” asks Evelyn.
“—Where we used to smoke in break, to avoid getting caught, though the teachers always knew we were there of course. It was all ‘Let’s spark up’ and ‘Flash us a cigarette’ and the fag-packets tossed down among the roots in the banks of the pond… Nothing special really, just a keen little scene for a while there, which I shan’t forget. I used to go there with Florinda, my girlfriend at the time. She had a face like a well-smacked arse—they used to call her the blonde bombsite. She used to play these CDs of nature recordings all the time, like ninety minutes of whales moaning or The Sound of Hippos Belching volume 3. She wore tons of scent, I have to say. Always smelt like a hooker’s handbag, but I liked her, she was cool…
So we chat and laugh, and smoke another joint and sink further down into the deep-purple sofa and armchairs, as Rik regularly nudges the music in a different direction to suit the shifting mood; and such is their understated genius as informal hosts, that when at last I take a leisurely float through the Metropolitan’s stairways and corridors to my room, I feel I have known them my entire life.
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