The Beaux Arts white light dripping from the ceiling of the Celeste Bartos discussion room in the New York Public Library bounces off the sea of balding men and shines straight onto my face. The door opens, inviting in a gust of wind as another hairless man with suede elbow patches and thick rimmed glasses waltzes in, his face angled towards the stage as he walks in the opposite direction to the back of the room. This isn’t the first time I shivered to see Elvis Costello this week.
I took Wednesday off from work to line up all day at Book Court in Cobble Hill for his book signing. You’d think he would’ve been surprised to see the first person in line was under fifty but the stale aroma of whiskey in the air and his preoccupation with the frail redhead behind me (a self-proclaimed “moderate fan” whose favorite album was The Best of Elvis Costello: The Complete 10 Years) declared total indifference. I tried to feel flattered when he called my name beautiful, but remained unmoved at large. I’m sure that would have made Frank from Staten Island’s day, though. He didn’t even care if his copy was inscribed after taking a ferry, a train, and two taxis just to wait four hours for this man.
Heavy with the weight of presumed rejection and two six-hundred-page hardbacks (I bought a copy for Ariel, too), I walk towards the direction of the F train. The idea of respecting this man suddenly feels very alien. At sixty-one, I was expecting him to flirt with me like he was twenty-four. But he was my Peter Pan: he was twenty four when I was fourteen, and would probably remain twenty-four well after I turn forty. This made it conveniently easy to disregard he was old enough to be my father’s uncle, and has three children from two different wives, one of them being Diana Krall.
Now I am sat between two elderly men, embarrassingly holding on to a letter I wrote to Costello in a bathroom stall at work. Krista tried to talk me into dousing it in perfume and signing it with a Fire and Ice kiss (thank you Revlon for aptly articulating my MO in lipstick colors). I dismissed her suggestion but secretly sprayed some Vanilla Cherry body spray when she wasn’t looking. I explained: “he might fantasize about Miss Bueno Aires in a world of sexy lingerie in ‘Tokyo Storm Warning,’ but he’s certainly the late-night, candlelit drinks-and-conversation purist.” But, then again, that was a premature notion of mine from when I wholeheartedly believed he could reform the good-girl-gone-groupie because he saw the innocence behind her uncombed blond hair. After reading his autobiography, I realize I may have projected ten years of my life onto songs that essentially stitched newspaper headlines and commuter observations together. I pictured him to be possessive and obsessive, somebody with an appetite for desire, not destruction. In reality he sent the same love letter to twelve different lovers at a safe distance from each other so they could think they were exclusively getting his attention.
I’m not entirely sure what drew me to him in the first place–maybe it was the way he wrote about growing up with the misery of being alone with his thoughts. Maybe it was because he sang like he whispered and dreamed his lyrics. Or maybe it was because I hadn’t seen these faux Vevo music videos until earlier today. Listening to “Green Shirt” at age twelve authorized an imagined reciprocation of my early crushes. “(Angels Want To Wear My) Red Shoes” mitigated the pain when they laughed and left with another girl. I spent the following years sneaking in “Veronica” and “Green Shirt” in all of the mixtapes I made, CDs I burnt (legally) and, later, collaborative Spotify playlists I shared with my boyfriends. They managed to learn the words, but couldn’t see me the way I imagined Elvis would.
He plays a song he finished earlier tonight at the end of the reading. I am enamored once again, and barely mad at the encounter I had with him on Wednesday. I don’t end up handing in the letter because he’s too far and the security is tight, and I’d rather not confirm that my opener (“Your songs were to me what alcohol was to Peter Criss”) wasn’t going to grant me any favors in the first place. Besides, in the bottom of my heart, I have finally realized: Alison was some ‘chick’ he saw walking down aisle 4 at the supermarket and Veronica was a frail, Greatest Hits girl.