Elvis Romero and the Cosmic White Corvette: ‘Comrades’

- October 1, 2012

A Serialized Novel and Podcast by Andrew Leo Lovato

The following is Chapter Sixteen of a serialized novel and podcast. Start the story at Chapter One.

Cruising around town, jamming with friends in garage bands, and checking out the babes pretty much took up most of my time as I wound my way through high school. Rudy and I would cruise in my Chevy all night on Fridays and Saturdays talking about our plans and dreams for the future. We broke up the routine sometimes by catching a movie at the Yucca Drive-In or we would grab a booth at Denny’s, which was open 24 hours and sit nursing a cup of coffee and a burger until the waitress would come around and tell us we’d have to leave unless we ordered something else. Our social world expanded into a regular threesome when Lyle entered the scene.

I took a liking to Lyle the first time I saw him in Ms. Peterson’s tenth grade history class at Santa Fe High School. I’d always been attracted to people who were outside the norm, the outcasts, but I had never run across anyone quite like Lyle. He was so far removed from the average Santa Fe High student that I was immediately intrigued. Most students and teachers didn’t know how to integrate themselves into his universe so they kept their distance and gingerly approached him only when absolutely necessary. It’s not that Lyle was aggressive or dangerous in any way; actually he was quite the opposite. He was passive to an extreme. What made people cautious about approaching him was the depth of his seeming alienation from the human race. He seldom looked people in the eye and he spoke only when absolutely necessary. It was as if he wished to be invisible. However, given his unique physical characteristics, this was quite impossible.

Lyle had the longest hair I had ever seen on a male student at Santa Fe High. His brown, curly locks fell well past his shoulders and down his back. His complexion was an unearthly, pasty shade of white that hinted at a lack of exposure to direct sunlight. His long, brooding face and doleful gray eyes reflected a deep, immense soul that was searching for a place to call home in a terrifying, mysterious landscape. He had a face that you did not easily forget. Not an unpleasant face, but rather a face that reflected a soul of profound complexity and longing.

One day in Ms. Peterson’s class I became engaged in a heated debate with the squat, ex-military career woman turned teacher. The history textbook stated that American settlers migrating west across the continent had been involved in many fierce battles with “barbaric Indians.”

I objected to the blatant bias that I perceived in this description. I raised my hand  and Mrs. Peterson dismissively asked, “What is it now, Elvis?”

“I wonder what’s going on with this textbook. You know what I mean?”

“Make yourself clear Elvis, no I don’t know what you mean.”

“Well, it’s sort of like this.” She wore an exasperated look on her face but I continued anyway;

“Whoever wrote this book must have thought that Indians were barbaric but maybe the Indians could say the same about the white men. Didn’t those vatos, I mean pioneers slaughter them? I mean what could be more barbaric than that?”

And so it began again between Ms. Peterson and me. She impatiently explained that the textbook was reflecting the viewpoint of the settlers and was not inaccurate in its description. I pointed out that this viewpoint was not balanced with an opposing opinion and a history class for high school students should emphasize fairness. The exchange continued until she finally threw up her hands and ordered me to report to the Principal’s Office for disrupting the class.

Behind our surface antagonism, Ms. Peterson and I were actually quite fond of each other. The oppressive monotony and rigidity of the educational system was relieved for both of us in some small way by our outward opposition. We provided some much needed entertainment for each other and the students. We acted as a safety valve for the psychological stagnation that could have easily settled over the class.

After I returned to the classroom the following day, the unimaginable happened. Lyle stopped by my desk and muttered,

“Cool man, I really dug what you said to Peterson. Right on!”

I was taken aback as I’d never heard the sound of his voice before. I caught up with him in the hallway after class and said:

“Hey Lyle, I saw you had a copy of Crawdaddy on your desk with Pete Townshend on the cover. Are you into The Who?”

“Yeah” he replied hesitantly, “I really like their new album Quadraphrenia.”

I was impressed because it was my opinion that Quadraphrenia was a very complex rock album that was not for the average fan.

“So,” I prodded, “who else do you listen to, no pun intended.”

“I like a lot of stuff by the Kinks, T Rex, Mott the Hoople, and definitely Zappa.”

I had a flash of intuition and I asked “So, are you a musician?”

He grimaced and looked away.

“I play the drums a little, mostly in my room.”

“Wow, that’s cool. I play guitar we should do a little jamming some time.”

Lyle’s eyes lit up and he said:

“Yeah, bring your guitar over and we can mess around.”

We decided to meet the following Saturday. Rudy and I showed up at Lyle’s house and set up our amps in his magnificent room. I had convinced Rudy to buy a bass guitar and amp and I had been tutoring him in its intricacies and he was getting pretty good. Lyle’s pad was a teenager’s paradise. His bedroom was his sanctuary. It was a large rectangular room about twenty feet wide by thirty feet long. The walls were covered with posters of rock icons and comic book heroes. In addition to being infatuated with rock music, he was also a big comic book fan.

Lyle’s drum set sat in the middle of the room facing a vintage juke box like one you’d find in a truck stop or a dive bar. It was stocked with an eclectic selection of 45s that fit his tastes. There was everything from Alice Cooper to Sonny and Cher.

This was the beginning of a long and soulful partnership that would bring out the best in all of us and spur our creative juices for years to come. In no time we had put together a set of rock ‘n roll songs and we were playing for high school dances, weddings, and parties all over Santa Fe.

Lyle was the only child of a workaholic father who practiced law and a new age mother who spent her time chasing the latest spiritual saviors passing through town and contorting her body in elaborate yoga poses. He had been raised in this relatively isolated environment which helped to explain his stunted social skills. This same environment also influenced him to develop an elaborate inner world filled with complex imagery.

Lyle, Rudy and I spent all of our free time together writing and recording songs on Lyle’s four-track recorder. We also got into creating our own comic books, and smoking high-quality weed. We dreamed about ways that we could live outside the mainstream. Although we weren’t sure what we wanted to do with our lives, we knew it wasn’t working eight to five at a straight job. The life of a decadent rock star appealed to us; being adored by millions, traveling the world, trashing hotel rooms, and having drugs and groupies at our beckon call appeared to be a reasonable alternative. So did the idea of being recluse geniuses, hanging out in Lyle’s room, indefinitely churning out great songs and comic books. We could be mysterious hermits who only came out to collect massive royalty checks and give shrouded interviews to the clamoring press.

We remained undiscovered waiting for our big break while we sat in our booth at Denny’s till the wee hours of the morning, fine tuning the lyrics to another song or hashing out the plot of a new comic book.

I was grateful to have comrades with whom I could bounce my wildest ideas off of and know that I would be understood. The intellectual symbiosis we shared was like a brotherhood of the soul. We were strong-willed and our egos often clashed, but even in the heat of these conflicts, our fires of creativity were fanned.

Our holy trinity was destined to become a quartet when Angie came into my world. Angie started out being the object of my school boy fantasies. Her free, uninhibited sexuality created a legion of adolescent admirers at Santa Fe High School. I had no illusions that I would be plucked from the masses for her exulted attentions. Still, I worshiped her from afar.

She was the quintessential “hippie chick.” Her apparel of choice consisted of embroidered peasant blouses with the top two buttons undone to expose a hint of her ripe and ample breasts. She wore tight-fitting jeans that outlined her perfectly shaped hips and a compact, round bottom that wiggled seductively when she walked. If she knew what kind of effect she had on the boys at Santa Fe High when she strolled past them, she never let on. But certainly she must have been aware of the awe-struck gazes that marked her appearance in the classroom. The other girls shied away from her for fear of appearing pale and insignificant next to her magnetic presence. In a strange way, this had the overall result of leaving her isolated and surprisingly devoid of company. She seldom interacted with her fellow students and mostly kept to herself, trapped inside of her exclusive universe.

Even though I wasn’t able to muster up enough courage to engage Angie in conversation at school, this didn’t stop me from trying to find out as much as possible about her. I traced her address down from the telephone book which was a relatively easy task given that there were only a handful of Siringos listed in Santa Fe. I narrowed down the list by calling each of the numbers and asking for Angie. The first three numbers I tried were wrong numbers. Call number four proved to be the jackpot when a child-like, female voice that I assumed belonged to Angie’s younger sister stated that I should hold on while she called her to the phone. I immediately hung up in a cold sweat with no intention of trying to explain why I had called or trying to initiate a conversation out of the blue. But now I had her number and an address and this gave me a faint sense of optimism. My days as a secret admirer had begun.

She lived on the south side of town in a subdivision called Casa Solana. Her home was a non-descript adobe structure on a street named Placita Loma. I spent several days parked down the street from Angie’s house watching for any sign of her.  After a while, I began to notice a pattern emerging in her routine. She usually arrived home from school about 4:00 o’clock and around 5:30 or 6:00, she’d jump on her 10-speed bicycle and ride downtown with her large doberman trailing on a long leash.

I followed in my car from a discreet distance and traced her movements. She often stopped at a coffeehouse called the Outside Inn and had a cup of tea.  Then she’d chain her bike to a pole and walk her dog along the Santa Fe River, eventually circling back at about 7:30.

I devised a plan to “accidentally” run into her now that I had all of the logistical information I needed. A Tuesday afternoon was the day I selected to put my carefully designed plan into action. I parked my car and took up my now familiar position down the street from Angie’s house and waited nervously for her to emerge. At about a quarter to six my patience paid off and she stepped outside and hopped on her bike with her dog in tow. As soon as I saw her riding toward town, I started up my engine and took off down a side street and headed for the Plaza. My goal was to get there well before she did so that I could find a place to park, gather my wits, and get into position for our “chance” encounter.

As luck had it, I found a parking spot almost immediately near the coffeehouse. I entered and ordered a cup of Red Zinger and casually sat down at a table across from the chair that she usually occupied. I cracked open a beaten copy of Herman Hesse’s “Siddhartha” and waited. In a few minutes, I glanced out the window and true to form; Angie rode up with her dog. I gathered my courage and contemplated what my opening line might be. My heart skipped a beat when instead of entering; she gently tugged on her dog’s leash and they began strolling down Guadalupe Avenue toward the Santa Fe River.

I bolted up from my table and jumped out the door watching her disappear down the street. I raced to an adjoining street near the bus station, sprinted down and began to circle back up so that I’d run into her before she reached the end of the street. I took a deep breath and headed up Guadalupe. I saw Angie and her doberman about a hundred yards ahead of me. I stuck my hands in my pockets and began shuffling casually with my eyes turned downward, studying the cracks on the sidewalk. As I neared her, I slowly looked up and caught her eye.

“Hi,” she said.

I slowed down and replied “How you doing?”

She stopped and surveyed me inquisitively.

“Haven’t I seen you somewhere before? Don’t you go to Santa Fe High?”

I offhandedly replied, “Yeah, but I’m there as little as possible if you know what I mean.”

She smiled and asked, “So do you come downtown much?”

“Yeah, I like to hang out and take in the scenery; you know, just feel the vibes and do a little reading by the river.”

“So what’s that you’re reading?”

“Siddhartha, by Hesse. I really relate to the spiritual journey that Siddhartha goes through. I feel like I’m sort of on the same path sometimes.”

“Wow,” she replied, “That’s cool.”

I continued hoping to impress her further: “Sometimes I sit by the river and play guitar. You know, when I’m working on a new song or something.”

“I don’t even know your name” she said. “You know, I play guitar too.”

“Well, my name is Elvis, Elvis Romero. My mom named me that. It’s kind of unusual but it’s okay.”

“Too much. I’m Angie, nice to meet you Elvis. Maybe we should get together sometime and play some music. I’d love hear what you’ve written.”

I contained my ecstasy and coolly said, “That would be far out.”

She asked, “Do you like Joni Mitchell? I’ve been told I kind of sing like her.”

“Oh yeah, she’s one of my all-time favorites,” I replied even though I didn’t have any of her albums.

I glanced down for the first time and noticed the massive doberman eyeing me with a cold, protective stare that followed my every move.

Angie introduced us. “Elvis meet Cobra. Cobra this is Elvis.”

I smiled nervously.

“Go ahead and pet her. She loves it.”

I slowly extended my hand, expecting at any moment that I would feel the searing pain of canine teeth piercing my skin. However, Cobra closed her eyes and wagged her short stump of a tail as I caressed her smooth head and sharp, pointed ears.

We exchanged phone numbers and before long Angie was part of the gang and singing in the band. Although my original intention of romance never materialized, something even more sustaining and valuable evolved from this meeting. In time, she became one of my closest friends and someone I could talk to and share my craziest ideas with.