Saturday, February 8, 2020

Crushed Velvet

Crushed Velvet

by Arlo Hennings


The mid-70s, that time in between progressive rock, disco, schlepping through bad haircuts, one-night stand relationships, the birth of Porn, white suits, STDs, the arrival of the party high of choice — Cocaine, and disreputable roommates.

I got an apartment with a guy nicknamed, “Tool”. The quintessential ‘70s era roommate had the idea to move his crushed velvet life into an upscale neighborhood on Kenwood Parkway, near where Mary Tyler Moore lived, the city lakes in Minneapolis. From this vantage point, Tool thought we could easily score on “chicks” that hung out at the lakes and impress people that we were going places. At the time, Tool referred to anyone in a skirt as “chicks and babes."

Tool’s face was marked by a port-wine-stain birthmark, which left a chip on his shoulder — against God. His temperament with reality was thinning like his hair. In an effort to draw attention away from his face, he wore loud clothes — crushed red velvet pants, blue suede shoes, and silk shirts that were unbuttoned to expose the hair on his chest. His favorite outfit was predictably a look-a-like Saturday Night Fever disco suit. Matter of fact nearly all of his possessions from pictures on the wall to stereo speakers were covered in velvet, thick and thin.

He also liked to associate himself with those he considered to be VIPs, and he masqueraded as a success.

Family money paid his rent, bought his clothes, and got him possession of a black Lincoln Continental, which he drove around while high on coke and Santana on an 8-track player. His goal in life was to be an insurance underwriter, but when he got caught lying about a college degree was fired and never found another job in the field. Similar to his sociopath brother, he worked out his personality disorder on conga drums and plotted to rob and bully people.

I tried to keep my distance from his alcoholic brother who had a nagging problem of climbing in through my bedroom window in the middle of the night in search of a bottle. When I didn’t have what he wanted he’d resort to drunken threats and shook me upside down until my wallet fell out.

Likewise, Tool, in a fit of psychotic rage, stole my library card, checked out two dozen rare and expensive books, and hid them beneath his bed. I returned the books to face hundreds of dollars in fines.

“No one steals a library card!” the librarian shook, filled with skepticism.

He also stole a checkbook from another roommate and wrote bad checks for whatever pleased him like the time he wanted a kitchen table. Finding an ad in the paper, he gave a retired couple a bad check and parted with their furniture. One trick was putting utility bills in a roommate’s name, asking for payment, then keeping the money — which he gambled away on Sunday football.

When he was on a high, he loved my guitar playing; when down, he threatened to bash me over the head with it. The only thing that kept his anger in check was his father’s prescription for Percodan. On Sundays, he grinds up the pills in a blender with ice cream and called it a "Percolator."

The upside to living with Tool is he often left to stay with his enabling parents. While he was gone I could access his closet freely and wear his shoes and other garments that were my size. His leather jacket, gold necklace, and purple suede platform shoes looked good on me.

On Saturday nights, Tool would roll out his Lincoln, and we’d headed for the discos. I always feared though that he would get angry and leave me stranded. Rejection by women could set the world on fire.

Tool bore his birthmark like a curse. The purple-colored mark covered half of his face, straight down the middle from the top of his forehead, over his nose, down to his chin. I thought he resembled the character the Joker, the insane criminal who tormented Batman. Unfortunately for Tool, most women gave him the cold shoulder.

He did have one small advantage; he had good dance floor moves. As long as the lights remained low his partner couldn’t see his face.

One night we strolled in under the spinning mirror ball to a table of two women.

“Like what it is, what it is babe, how about we boogie on down, you know?” Tool shook his hips like Elvis Presley.

The women nodded yes and we hit the dance floor. Tool jumped up and down, landing in a split. He threw in a couple of Kung Fu moves, too. We danced through a medley of Bee Gees songs then walked the gals back to the table.

“Looo-king gooood,” Tool said, enthusiastically.

“For-sho,” the women chimed.

The Tool sat down and offered to buy a drink for his dance partner. At that moment, all the white lights in the room suddenly flashed on and she got a good look at him.

“Like, I’m sorry, my boyfriend will be back soon, you know.” She ducked off.

After the women left, Tool rubbed his curse like it was coming alive and crawling all over him. I thought he might pull out a Joker card, leave it at the table, and end up bombing the place.

We left the table where the scene had repeated itself 12 more times with different women.

“Tool, not happening here,” I pleaded. “Let’s go somewhere hipper.”

Tool left the club without uttering a word and on the way back to the car he tore off the antenna on every vehicle for two blocks.



Hennings is the author of “Guitarlo” an award-nominated memoir that includes his experiences living in Minnesota and Indonesia.

Guitarlo - available where ever books are sold

This disclaimer informs readers that the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author’s employer, organization, web site ISP, search engines, committee or other group or individual.


© Arlo Hennings 2020

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