It was an unfortunate name.
Maybe not for the gray haired mechanic who had fixed your parent’s cars for years. But, a little off, antiquated, paired with the quiet, occasionally impatient fella who packed his own lunch every day and went to movies by himself. Chris Roper, who was in a cubicle about ten feet from Marvin, had taken his wife to see Avatar a few years ago, not having seen a movie in the theater since Titanic, and on the advice of a brother in law who said “Avatar HAD TO BE seen on the big screen.” Chris had seen Marvin at the ticket window, but didn’t say anything to him.
“Ol’ Metal Marv, all by himSELF, man,” he had relayed to his coworkers the next day. His inflection was the same as if he’d seen Marvin pouring ketchup on oatmeal. As if going to a movie by himself was so out of the ordinary it bordered on offensive.
The disconnect between Marvin and his coworkers was always palpable and frustrating at times.
“TURN THAT SHIT DOWN, MARVIN!” they’d yell.
“Them,” Marvin thought.
Marvin listened to hard rock on his headphones at work, AC/DC, Motorhead, Black Sabbath, the Stooges. Strangely, it kept him on task. He didn’t listen to that type of music much on his own time. Maybe if “Paranoid” popped up on a classic rock station, he’d crank it in his car. But, he got stuck with the nick name “Heavy Metal Marvin” or usually just “Metal Marv,” because his coworkers didn’t know much about Marvin, or metal, for that matter.
Marvin didn’t necessarily want or need his coworkers to like him, he didn’t like them much either. But, he often thought about a place, he didn’t even look at it as a job, just a place where he would be surrounded by some more like minded folks.
“COMPADRES!” his brain would yell at him, when his mind wandered into the place.
He had thought this place would be graduate school. He saw graduate school as draft beers and literary chatter at divey downtown college bars with worn wood and pictures of drunk professors on the wall. When he didn’t get accepted, he drove across the country on whim that led to a job and eventually subtle misanthropy. It wasn’t always like this. Marvin used to have friends. Marvin used to get laid. Sometimes. Now, he went to movies by himself and daydreamed of some place where he felt he could thrive.
Marvin was cursed with talent: a way with words on paper, but without the drive that is required of greatness; leaving his place littered with scraps of stories, his spirit weak with insubstantiality.
A piece within Marvin existed, though, where he was sure he could write as well as anyone. If this piece existed externally, it might be described as a prick. His inner prick did not provide Marvin with any outward confidence though. It just made him cynical.
“Starman?” Marvin said to himself quietly.
The thought had appeared to him unexpectedly, and out of context from what he had been thinking about when it popped in his head. He had seen “Starman,” with his father in 1984, at a theater that was not longer in operation. In his head, though, it was just when I was a kid with my dad. He hadn’t thought about it much since then. He went to youtube, and watched some scenes from the movie. He was taken by the music. His senses were flooded with 1980s synthesized strings and a swooping melody that fit perfectly with the movie and his mood and became electric within him. As Marvin was scrolling youtube for “Starman” clips, scenes and the score from “The Last Starfighter” came up in his queue. His father had also taken him to see the Last Starfighter” in 1984 at the same theater. Marvin clicked on the theme song, and as he listened, his mind traveled to when he was seven years old at a high school football game with an older cousin, and he remembered a sad little marching band, playing a sad little attempt at the Theme from “The Last Starfighter.” Even as a seven year old, sitting in the stands he felt the sadness of the moment. At seven years of age, he didn’t understand what about the band, or the moment, made him feel the sadness. It was just there. And now, it was with him again, as he thought about the band and the moment. But, then it was gone, because the music was making him feel good.
Then, Sarah moved into his mind. She didn’t take the place of the music, though. She fit in alongside the songs. He was picturing her slightly bent and somewhat slouched, her legs resting off her swivel chair with the gray back and black cushion at her desk, knees far apart, beside the picture of her holding her niece in her christening gown. He hoped maybe she shared some sort of space with him, a kinship. He tried small talk. But neither he nor she was particularly adept in sparring simple, small and quick. Most of the men he worked with looked past Sarah. The other ones ogled the receptionist, Erica. Erica wore white skirts with black thongs and leopard print bras that sometimes showed at the top of her shirt. But for Marvin, it was Sarah. Kind eyed Sarah.
At a bar after work one night, when Sarah had been working with Marvin a few weeks, Marvin had been drinking and was summoning the courage to have a real conversation with her. He waited until she was alone at the bar, breathed deeply, focused in and made an awkward stride toward her. When he got beside her, he lost his nerve. And he just stood there, pretending to be preoccupied. He wasn’t sure if she noticed him or not. But, right about the time he was getting ready to walk off, someone carelessly brushed passed Sarah and knocked her drink out of her hand. It crashed to the ground, and sprayed some pants legs, and someone in the back yelled, “Mazel tov!” He could tell she was embarrassed. Marvin reached down and picked up the broken glass, and put it in a trash can right beside the bar.
He looked directly at Sarah and said, “I think you need another drink.”
Sarah smiled, and laughed a little bit. “Thanks,” she said.
Marvin’s demeanor shifted and he began to feel comfortable, confident, even. And he talked with Sarah and it didn’t feel forced and they seemed to connect over a few things. But he was getting drunk, and she started talking about bands and movies that she liked, and the cynicism appeared and his words began to run hard. When she brought up some particular artists, Marvin referred to both as a “basement flooders.” Sarah asked him what he meant and Marvin replied.
“You know, basement flooders, girls like ‘em.”
Sarah didn’t say anything and so he continued.
“As in, they FLOOD GIRLS BASEMENTS,” he said and made a flowing motion with his hands in front of his crotch.
“Yeah, I get it,” said Sarah looking somewhat annoyed and uncomfortable.
Marvin’s face became hot and he staggered to the restroom and then left without telling anyone he was leaving. On the way home and all that night, he tried to comfort himself by thinking that he couldn’t be with someone with such bad taste, anyway. But, he burned as he lay in bed and he barely slept. And he woke up the next day, head pounding and still burning inside. He went to work and avoided contact with Sarah. A week later, when the burning had not stopped, he decided to ask her out. He sensed she didn’t want to go, but he thought about the fact that you’re born and die and only have one shot at the whole thing and decided that he should take the risk. She told him she had plans when he awkwardly asked her out in the elevator. In truth, Sarah did have plans, and was also in a relationship she felt was bottoming out. But, even if she was single and free, she felt as though she could do better than Marvin, and she knew she would have turned him down anyway. This made her feel somewhat guilty and sad, and she didn’t really know why.
Marvin had planned it in his mind and tried to be cool, but lost his nerve in the elevator as they rode down three floors without saying anything and then he just blurted it out as soon as the elevator reached the bottom floor and the doors opened. When she politely turned him down, his insides felt as though they would incinerate and he just stood there until the doors closed. He hit the button and watched her as she walked out of the building.
“I heard he banged Sarah on Friday night,” it was not quite a whisper, between Chris Roper and Kevin Stanton.
“Really? Doesn’t seem like her type.”
“Lawton’s every girl’s type, yeah?”
“He thinks so. Maybe he’s right.”
Two months prior, Lawton Richards had gotten a job at the office as an assistant manager. A lot of people were angry that the promotion was given to someone on the outside, but Lawton made friends quickly and easily. He always had. He was six foot four, had played football at a small liberal arts college, had gone to law school, but was not a lawyer. His story was that he just decided one day that the last thing the world needed was “another fucking lawyer.” The truth was, he had failed the Bar exam so many times that he just gave up. Lawton was loud and cocky and Marvin tried to avoid him as much as possible, as he would give Marvin a hard time any chance he could get. He was the only person that called Marvin“Metal Marv” to his face.
In truth, nobody really liked Lawton, and none of his so called “buddies” ever had. He referred to himself in the third person, as “Big Law.” He was obnoxious, misogynistic, and had common taste. But, he bought rounds of drinks and shots after work and he had great stories involving high school and college pranks and bizarre sexual conquests, that even Marvin laughed at occasionally when he happened to hear one. And, he had managed to have sex with Erica the first week he was there. Which impressed his co-workers very much. A couple of them had tried and thought they had a chance, but never made it happen. Marvin had heard him bragging about “nailing that hot ass chick at reception,” one morning while getting some coffee at the coffee shop on the first floor of the building. Marvin was jealous and felt small beneath Lawton’s presumed prowess. Marvin had not had sex or even come close to it since his last girlfriend, who had moved to Atlanta two years before. A possible sex story from Marvin might go something like, “One time, I prematurely ejaculated while having sex in a recliner.” Marvin’s sexual experiences were limited, which in most circumstances, is fine, not abnormal. But at the office, with four or five guys swapping stories, about “banging some girl in the bathroom of an airport, then in the bathroom of a plane, then again when they arrived...” having nothing to offer can make anyone feel insecure and cast off.
As the music from Starman penetrated his ears, jealous fire spread through his being and the music along with the burning anger was putting him on the edge of tears. But he suppressed it, knowing that he couldn’t cry.
“Crying?” he angrily asked himself.
It would not have helped Marvin even if he knew the truth, because it was the same truth to him, either way. It wouldn’t have mattered to Marvin, that the day before Sarah slept with Lawton, her boyfriend had broken up with her via an email that stated that he was getting back with his ex girlfriend. And that the next night, feeling depressed and bored, Sarah slept with Lawton, getting exactly what she thought she needed to get her ex off her mind: a guy she knew would be an easy target and wouldn’t be there when she woke up. Something that she had never had, nor ever thought she wanted. She’d overheard Erica talking about, as she put it, “her crazy intense” experience with him, and Sarah just decided that she needed to see for herself. Maybe it would be fun? She didn’t know. She was at the mercy of an anxious malaise that was overwhelming. Her mind and feelings pushed her towards “getting laid.” So, she went with it. After all, the boyfriend who had just dumped her had a small penis and an enlarged prostate and often had to stop in the middle of intercourse to urinate. He claimed it hurt afterwards if he didn’t. He also turned out to be a chronic masturbator, which Sarah discovered when she stopped by his office with some lunch and walked in on him masturbating to a site from the UK, “PuffyLasses.com,” which featured heavy set girls with enormous breasts. In the end, Sarah had used Lawton as much as Lawton had used her.
She had woken up the morning after the break up, feeling hurt and angry, because she didn’t even really like the man who had just kicked her to the curb. But, she had grown attached to his presence and their occasional good times. It was comfortable. She took a shower and shaved her legs, which she usually only did a couple nights a week. She looked in the closet and found a short black dress, and put it, along with her black nylon stockings and her one pair of high heels in a hanging bag to put on after work. Sarah didn’t have much to work with in terms of terrain, but she did have good legs. She always had, even when she was a child, her legs fit her body in a way that foreshadowed her sexuality, and one time leaving a friend of her father driving home from a gathering, trying to convince himself that he wasn’t actually staring at a 12 year old’s legs. She decided that she was going to get “fucked” by Lawton around seven thirty in the morning, and by eight o’clcok that night, she was fairly sure it was going to happen. She went out with her coworkers, the ones who go out every Friday evening, and when she got her chance, she handed Lawton a tequila shot and said, “I’m Sarah, I don’t think we’ve been formerly introduced.” She sat on a barstool, making sure that the tops of her stockings showed a little bit. Lawton took his shot, and moved his eyes along her body, in an obvious way, that he thought was cool. It was one of his moves. He called it the “casual cool creeper vibe” when he was telling stories and dudes would laugh.
“Like the Beatles’ song,” he said.
Sarah just sat there.
“Sexy Sarah,” he remarked.
She blurted out a girlish laugh and did not correct him. It was at this moment that she knew that she could have sex with him if she wanted to, and she was also thinking that she might not be able to get beyond her moral opposition to let such an insubstantial human being know her in such an intimate way. But then, the image of his penis going inside her moved into her mind, and her mind changed the word penis to cock and she was on track again.
And so, that night at the bar, Sarah listened to “Big Law” talk about high school and say “fuck” every other word and get excited when a song by “Notorious BIG” came on, and watched him take at least 3 Irish Car Bombs which she turned down all but one that she didn’t finish. And she flirted with a few other guys and watched as Erica tried to nuzzle closer to Lawton to no avail. Sarah knew Erica was not a problem. Sarah had two older brothers and knew how guys worked, they were always shooting for something new. Lawton had offered her some cocaine, which she had not done since college, but she did a little bit and immediately kissed him deeply. They ended up going back to her place, because it was closer, even though Lawton had mumbled something about ‘home court advantage’ in the cab. Sarah had never had a one night stand, and was nervous when her apartment door shut behind her. She’d had sex with guys on a first date, but always with plans to see them again. She offered him a drink, she had a small bottle of Jack Daniels. He filled up a glass and chugged it.
He said, “Baby, I’ve been thinking about those legs all night, let see how they look outside your dress. Then he kissed her aggressively and pushed her into her room. She started to peel down her stockings, but he asked her to keep them on. He commented on the fact that she had pubic hair, and that it was sexy because it was “old school,” which made her uncomfortable. Sarah fell asleep to him snoring and woke up to nobody. It was more awkward than she anticipated at work, but she just kept her distance. There was only a small portion of her being that didn’t regret her night with Lawton, but even that portion was not satisfied in a way she thought it would be. And she was still down over her ex, and she was angry that she was missing him.
The story of Sarah and Lawton filtered into Marvin’s life the Monday after the fact, sometime around 11 am, and when denial gave way to acceptance, he felt like breaking something. He went from feeling good, to wanting to puke, among a few whispers and laughs scattered around an office with nothing better to talk about. A muffled rage brewed deeply and he could not concentrate on anything. It plagued him, and a misanthropic loneliness took hold and could not be soothed. So he just stared at his computer and tried to smother his feelings with the soundtrack songs. It was not working and so he took off early.
He drove to his favorite movie theatre and got a matinee ticket for the only movie he had yet to see, a teenage comedy featuring mostly people that Marvin had never heard of, plus Powers Boothe and Rebbecca De Mornay as grandparents, which made him feel old. He got a cherry Coke and a medium popcorn and put so much butter on it that it stained his khakis through the bottom of the bag. Marvin did not really like the movie, but he enjoyed being in the theater and it was empty except for him. And for the duration of the movie, he didn’t think about Sarah or Lawton. The music from Starman was still on his mind’s turntable, though. But not quite consciously. It existed as part of his being that was tucked away from logic. It was simply there. He left the theater feeling sluggish and like a slob with butter stains on his shirt and pants. He was developing a sinus headache, so he drove to the drugstore to pick up a pain reliever.
He parked his car and walked with his head down past a Volkswagon Jetta with the door propped and an attractive woman with her legs hanging out, resting on the open door. Her toenails were painted blue. He liked her shirt, or maybe it was a blouse, he thought. It was white and puffy with a pink and yellow floral pattern. It reminded him of Mexico. Her legs were long, smooth, and tan. His heart sped up and he quickened his pace. Inside the store, he bought a generic brand of sinus headache relief and was annoyed by a man in line who was whistling. The whistling was actually melodic, but it was still whistling. And he was thinking that this guy probably prided himself on his ability to whistle, which made it even more aggravating to him. It really started to burn him up. His stomach tightened and his head was hot and if he was an aggressive type of person, he might have told the man to knock it off. But he didn’t say anything and wondered if it was bothering anyone else as badly as it was bothering him. The girl at the check out was a bleach blonde with frosted lipstick and deep green eyes, eyelids smeared with blue eyeshadow and he immediately saw her as a purely sexual being and his mind placed her in a 1980‘s pornographic video with bad lighting and a cheap set, and then tried to quit picturing it as it made him feel uncomfortable and slightly afraid that she may be somehow clairvoyant or psychic and could read his mind, even though he knew that wasn’t possible.
Marvin paid for his pills and walked into the early evening. It was May, and already the air was humid. As he was walking back towards his car, his ears were greeted with the music from “Starman.” It was flowing freely from the side of the building where he had walked in. He was immediately and positively taken back. He followed the music, it was coming from the the Jetta and the girl with the blue toenails and Mexican blouse. Marvin felt a jolt, as though his universe had collided with fate and his entire life had led up to this brilliant moment and that everything was about to change.
His mind moved fast, charging him with a wordless electricity, but if the feeling could have been interpreted, it would translate like, “I mean the thought just pops in my head today? And then this? This CAN”T just be a coincidence.”
He took a deep breath and walked towards the car, following the tune. He stopped about 3 feet from the open window.
“Awesome song,” he said. The woman didn’t hear him. He swallowed hard and spoke again. “Great tune,” he said. This time she acknowledged him with, “Huh?” and a confused look.
“Its the theme from “Starman,” he said. “A classic Jack Nitzsche composition, you know, and kind of a departure for a John Carpenter film.”
She stared blankly and then said flatly, “Oh, the song. Its on a playlist that my boyfriend made,” and then added, “He listens to a lot of weird shit.”
Marvin could see her eyes glancing over his shirt and pants, and he remembered the popcorn stains.
“You work at KFC or something?” she asked through a subtle laugh.
He really just wanted to walk off, but he said, “No, someone spilled popcorn on me earlier.”
“Sucks,” she said.
Quickly, he reached down within himself to find some deeply hidden wit, but he just stood there, feeling small and flushed. He waited a few more seconds and then blurted out, “Bye,” And walked away. She didn’t say anything. The song ended and one by Paul Simon came on. “Kodachrome.” The girl turned up the volume and danced a little in her seat.
Marvin headed home, the headache not allowing him to feel much better about anything. He took a walk because right then, a walk was all he had. He walked and thought and searched. Some of his thoughts were of Sarah. Always Sarah.
Lawton Richards heated up some leftover spaghetti his sister had made him, sipped a Miller Lite and flipped through the channels. Later he watched some internet pornography and was slightly concerned that maybe he was concentrating more on the men than the women and he fell asleep still worrying about it.
Sarah stared at the name of her ex boyfriend in her phone. She was debating calling him or deleting his contact. Then, from somewhere else, she thought about Marvin and didn’t know why. And the thought stayed with her a while. Not just Marvin, but the thought of why she was thinking of him. It lingered like muffled noise from a party when you’re on the outside, trying to study or sleep, internally clambering for peace and quiet. She stared out the window. There was a steady stream of cars and people on the streets and avenues. There were lights on in some windows. Others were dark.