Waiting for Warhol

      “Would you like to hear John Cale in concert?” Vladimir asked. Intense and in tune with everything ahead of its time, he had a soul patch with a tint of grey hair, just like his idol, except Cale’s was dyed hot pink.

Her only connection to The Velvet Underground was her first husband. Much older, he was a concert promoter in New York who once made Warhol a proposition. During the business lunch in a bistro, Andy was silent, “not even mumbling. And later, through his manager, he declined anyway.”

Her first husband died of cancer three years ago.

Vladimir, her second husband, begged her to listen to one of Cale’s songs. Appreciating its edginess and Vladimir’s eagerness to spend the evening with her, she nodded “yes” (she often was too immersed in dark thoughts to be able to tolerate daylight) and then “yes” once again, to obtain his autograph after the concert was over.

As the robust Cale in a jean jacket and boots left the old-style ballroom’s stage (velvet curtains and gold on the ceiling), they exited through the back door onto the street. With a dumpster on the left and a dilapidated hotel in front, the barely lit street was lifeless except for three people. A determined lad in a pea coat holding a rolled poster, a gentleman with a ponytail, and a wiry man with a guitar, squatting and smoking a joint.

A concert tour bus was parked outside and its driver stood up, scratched himself and pulled down a t-shirt over a jellied belly. A beat-up sedan crawled by and then stopped. Two rough-looking young punks got out, luminescent stripes on their pants and shoes flashing, with sheets of paper in hand.
      “Who is it today?” one of the punks asked. “John who? From a band formed by Warhol? Oh yeah, we want him!”
      “Professional autograph hunters,” Vladimir whispered. “They have no idea… But the guy with the ponytail is holding the famous 'banana' record designed by Warhol. If the banana’s unpeeled, it’s worth a thousand bucks.”

Suddenly she overheard what the wiry, wheat-mustachioed man in a hat, resembling an exhausted and slightly effeminate cowboy, said to the punks, “When I go to festivals with my son, I tell him everybody closer to your age is yours and everybody closer to my age is mine. Do you folks like women or men?”

“Women.” She heard an assertive voice and felt threatened. The voice brandished sexual prowess outside the concert venue. Unsettled, she looked around; she was the only woman here, at one in the morning, waiting for an autograph from a famous man.

At the dumpster, a homeless person in fuzzy orange gloves that looked like furry paws raised himself over the edge and peered inside. Down the street prostitutes in tights exited one car and approached another. A peculiar hunched figure was walking toward them carrying something huge and misshapen on its back. Coming close, the figure stopped, lowered what turned out to be a mattress, positioned it on the ground and sat on it, listening to headphones around his neck.

The ponytailed man stared in front of himself, his mouth tense. She had seen him in the audience earlier with a “First Aid” badge and some medical instruments: refined and aloof, in thin glasses, he reminded her of Chekhov, Vladimir’s favorite writer, who doubled as a doctor and treated the underserved.

She thought an autograph from a member of The Velvet Underground would connect her to her first husband who’d once attempted to rent a venue to Warhol’s band. She still missed him, at times experiencing a severe depression which severed her from the rest of the world, but was afraid to tell Vladimir she wanted to visit her late husband’s grave.

Vladimir elbowed her. “The Ponytail accidentally peeled his banana,” he said. “Now the record’s lost half of its value. The young guy was inching toward the door and shoved aside the Ponytail, who nearly dropped the record on the dirty sidewalk. He tried to catch it and grabbed it instinctively by the banana’s stem – which separated. He looks so desperate now. This is so sad!”

And she thought: “Sad, indeed, this night and this narrow street… And these people huddling on a filthy mattress… scrounging dumpsters for food… following artists they don’t care about… Searching for sex at music festivals… All this, coupled with the ghosts of my past… All immensely attuned, as though prewritten, yet longingly sad.”

Margarita Meklina is a bilingual essayist and fiction writer originally from St. Petersburg currently residing in San Francisco. In 2003, she was awarded the Andrei Bely prize for her Russian collection of short stories Battle at St. Petersburg. In 2009, she was awarded the Russian Prize, established for Russian writers living abroad by the Fund of the first Russian President Boris Yeltsin, for her manuscript My Criminal Connection to Art. Her English-language articles have appeared in Fiction Fix, The Contemporary Pacific, The Context (by Dalkey Archive), The Cumberland River Review, The Jelly Bucket, The Toad Suck Review, Landfall (New Zealand), and many other publications.