Home > Last Night at Chateau Marmont(5)

Last Night at Chateau Marmont(5)
Lauren Weisberger

“Should I go introduce myself?” she asked everyone at the table, leaning far enough forward that conversation couldn’t continue.

“To whom?” Nola asked.

“To Julian!” This was exasperating. Didn’t anyone else realize he’d already stepped outside and would soon disappear forever?

“Julian, the piano man?” Benny asked.

Nola rolled her eyes and took a swig of beer. “What are you going to do? Chase him down and tell him that you can overlook his potential homelessness as long as he’ll make sweet love to you atop his piano?”

Benny began to sing. “Well it’s nine o’clock on a Sat—Sunday, regular crowd shuffles in. . . .”

“There’s a scruffy man sitting next to me, making love to our friend Brooke,” Nola finished, laughing. They clinked beer mugs.

“You’re both hysterical,” Brooke said as she stood.

“No way! You’re not following him, are you? Benny, go with her. Piano Man could be a serial killer,” Nola said.

“I’m not following him,” Brooke said. But she did make her way to the bar and, after digging her nails into her palms and changing her mind five times, she finally worked up the courage to ask the bartender if she knew anything else about the mystery performer.

The woman didn’t look up as she mixed a batch of mojitos. “I’ve seen him in here before, usually when we have a blues or classic rock band playing, but he never talks to anyone. Always alone, if that’s what you’re asking . . .”

“No, no, I, uh . . . no, it’s not that at all. Just curious,” she stammered, feeling like an idiot.

Brooke had turned back toward the table when the bartender called out, “Told me he plays a regular gig at a bar on the Upper East Side, a place called Trick’s or Rick’s, something like that. Tuesdays. Hope that helps.”

Brooke could count on one hand the number of times she’d gone to see live acts. She had never tracked down and followed a strange guy; and, with the exception of ten or fifteen minutes waiting for friends or dates to arrive, she didn’t spend a lot of time solo in bars. Yet none of this stopped her from making a half dozen phone calls to find the right place and, after another three weeks working up her nerve, actually getting on the subway one scorching hot Tuesday night in July and walking in the front door of Nick’s Bar and Lounge.

Once she sat down, finding one of the last seats in the very back corner, she knew it had been worthwhile. The bar was one of a hundred just like it lining Second Avenue, but the crowd was surprisingly mixed. Instead of the usual Upper East Side mob of recent college grads who liked downing beer after loosening their brand-new Brooks Brothers ties, the group tonight seemed an almost odd mix of NYU students who’d made the trek uptown, couples in their thirties who sipped martinis and held hands, and hordes of Converse-wearing hipsters rarely seen in such concentrations outside the East Village or Brooklyn. Soon Nick’s was packed beyond capacity, every seat filled and probably another fifty or sixty people standing behind the tables, all there for only one reason. It shocked Brooke to realize that the way she’d felt when she heard Julian play a month earlier at Rue B’s wasn’t unique. Dozens of people already knew about him and were willing to travel from all over the city to see him perform.

By the time Julian claimed his seat at the piano and began his checks to make sure the sound was okay, the crowd was buzzing with anticipation. When he began, the room seemed to settle into the rhythm, some people swaying ever so slightly, some with their eyes closed, all with their bodies leaning in toward the stage. Brooke, who had never before understood what it meant to get lost in the music, felt her entire body relax. Whether it was the red wine or the sexy crooning or the foreign feeling of being in a crowd of complete strangers, Brooke was addicted.

She went to Nick’s every Tuesday for rest of the summer. She never invited anyone to join her; when her roommates pressed her on where she went each week, she invented a very believable story about a book club with school friends. Just being there, watching him and hearing the music, she began to feel like she knew him. Up until then, music had been a side note, nothing more than a distraction on the treadmill, a fun dance song at a party, a way to kill time on long drives. But this? This was incredible. Without so much as a hello, Julian’s music could affect her mood and change her mind and make her feel things that were completely outside the realm of her daily routine.

Until those solo nights at Nick’s, her weeks had all looked the same: first work, then the all-too-rare happy hour with the same group of college friends and the same nosy roommates. She was happy enough, but at times it felt suffocating. Now Julian was all hers, and the fact that they never exchanged so much as a glance didn’t bother her in the least. She was perfectly content just to watch him. He made the rounds—a bit reluctantly, it appeared to her—after each performance, shaking hands and modestly accepting the praise everyone lavished on him, but Brooke never once considered approaching him.

It was two weeks after September 11, 2001, when Nola convinced her to go on a blind date with a guy she’d met at a work function. All their friends had either fled NYC to see family or rekindled relationships with exes, and the city was still pinned by acrid smoke and an overwhelming grief. Nola had hunkered down with some new guy, spending nearly every night at his apartment, and Brooke was feeling unsettled and lonely.

“A blind date? Really?” Brooke asked, barely looking up from her computer.

“He’s a sweetheart,” Nola said one night while they sat side by side on the couch watching SNL. “He’s not going to be your future husband, but he’s super nice, and he’s cute enough, and he’ll take you somewhere good. If you stop being such a frigid bitch, he might even hook up with you.”

“Nola!”

“I’m just saying. You could use it, you know. And while we’re on the topic, a shower and a manicure wouldn’t kill you either.”

Brooke held out her hands and noticed, for the first time, bitten-down nails and raggedy cuticles. They really did look gross. “What is he, one of your discards?” she asked.

Nola sniffed.

“He is! You totally hooked up with him and now you’re passing him along to me. That’s vile, Nol. And I have to say, surprising. Even you’re not usually that bad.”

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