A serial memoir by Jean Fogelberg

Driving Through the American Night

The night of the Halloween party arrived and I was ready to go with time to spare. I hated first dates, so I was tense. As I paced my small apartment waiting for Dan, I began to question the appropriateness of my costume. 


     It had seemed just fine when I’d worn it to perform at the Silver Dollar Bar in Jackson Hole, Wyoming in 1993. The film “Batman Returns” had come out recently, with Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman, so when the employees decided to dress up for Halloween, I chose that for my costume. Since there were probably going to be bright, shiny Catwomen prowling all the bars, I thought I’d portray her the way she appeared at the end of her fight with The Penguin. I bought the pattern and some stretchy black fabric and fake leather, then I pinned and cut and sewed. A few rips and loose stitches here and there, some talcum powder splashes for concrete dust, and it was suitably un-shiny. On Halloween night I carefully stepped into the skin-tight leotard and fastened the fake leather bustier over it. After pulling the mask on I shaped the ears and drew some of my hair out of tears in the top and ratted it. My costume was a hit and, as it turned out, I was the only Catwoman in the bar that night. The following morning I rolled everything up and put it in a grocery bag, which went into a box, and that’s where it had been until I poured myself back into it on All Souls Night three years later.

     Now, jittery and unsure, I looked in the mirror and wondered what in the world I could have been thinking. We were just getting to know each other and tonight would be our first date. What kind of message would this outfit send? Easy? Kinky??! In desperation I looked from my makeup bag to my stash of craft supplies - did I have time to throw together something more wholesome? A sprinkling of eye-pencil freckles and some red yarn hair, maybe, for a sweet, improvised Raggedy Ann? I looked at my watch. No, there was no time, he was already five minutes late.

     Half an hour later, I was stressing BIG TIME. Now I was becoming concerned about the first-date message he was sending. I thought, If he thinks he can bring some hot shot, rock star attitude…! I peed and reapplied my deodorant, no small feat in a cat woman costume, I can tell you.

     When the knock on the door finally came I was so worked up I wasn’t even thinking about the costume. I strode to the door in my black spike-heeled boots and yanked it open. Hand on hip, I said, “You’re late.” 

     I can still see him standing there in his homemade Old West costume: jeans tucked into his cowboy boots, a tan suede vest over a cotton shirt, a brown felt cowboy hat, and a tarnished silver star proclaiming him “Sheriff.” 

     I’d caught him mid-offering, a red rose in his hand and a greeting on his lips. Now he stood, unmoving, an unwitting Perseus turned to stone by a cranky feline Medusa. 

     “I…got lost,” he stammered.

     I invited him in from the cold and now he pulled it together enough to explain that someone had given him bad directions to my unit and he’d ended up wandering around the large complex for half an hour before finding my apartment. He stood in the kitchen doorway as I found a bud vase and filled it with water, buying time to breathe and unwind. 

     He said my costume was amazing, and there was no undertone or insinuation, just an artist-to-artist acknowledgment of all the work that had gone into it. I thanked him and put the rose in the vase. Then I walked past him into the living room and set the vase on the old Victorian trunk I used for a coffee table. When I turned back to him, he was smiling at me. My breath caught in my throat. He really was such a beautiful man. He said, “Shall we go?”

     Following him out to the parking area on the narrow cement walkway, I breathed in his sweet musky cologne. It was intoxicating. He opened the passenger door on his big white truck and I stepped shakily onto the running board then climbed in as gracefully as I could.

     The gallery was in a refurbished warehouse with polished cement floors and metal rafters crisscrossing the ceiling. Kenny and his date weren’t there yet so we wandered about, looking at the art on the walls while the band finished setting up on a big stage at the end of the room. It was getting crowded and noisy, so it was hard to talk. We were both nervous, so I suggested we head to the bar, for a shot of tequila

     In the 80s Dan’s career was in high gear. Late-night parties continued into the morning hours with plenty of smoking and drinking, but somewhere in the early 90s Dan grew weary of the excessive partying and the way it made him feel the next day. He desperately wanted to quit smoking, and to cut back on the booze, but the people around him were still into both. And their drink of choice? Tequila

     It was my drink of choice as well, and had been for many years. I started performing in bar bands when I was nineteen. ABC (California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control) regulations stated that, being a minor, I had to leave the public bar area when I wasn’t performing. So, five nights a week, four times a night, I sat in the kitchen and listened to the muffled shouts and laughter of a nightclub in full swing while waiting to go back onstage.

     The guys in the band were more than happy to help me party, but the only glasses they could secretly smuggle to the kitchen were shot glasses. I was an inexperienced drinker; all I really ever drank was Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill wine, so they brought me the closest thing to it: strawberry-flavored tequila. I eventually graduated to silver tequilas with a Coke back, which carried me through thousands of nights performing in bars and restaurants. I was a lightweight, though, and still had to function at work, so my limit had always been, and still was, two shots.

     When I mentioned tequila at the Halloween party, warning lights were flashing in Dan’s brain. And maybe he would have paid some attention to those lights if he’d been with some half-hearted Raggedy Ann. Leading the way to the bar, I turned to make sure I hadn’t lost him in the crowd. He looked anything but lost, following the svelte blonde Catwoman with a big grin on his face.

     We tossed back our shots and the band started playing, so we made our way toward the dance floor. Any concerns I’d had about my costume disappeared. Santa Fe is a town of free-spirited, artistic souls who aren’t afraid to let their freak flags fly on any given day, so Halloween is extreme. We were surrounded by aliens, tin men, vampires and characters from Rocky Horror Picture Show and Cats, all done with panache and a great attention to detail. As I drew my share of appreciative smiles, and meows from fellow felines, I started relaxing.

     More than almost anything, I love to dance. I am never more happy or free than when I’m moving to a well-loved song. The music, the tequila, my handsome, sweet-smelling Sheriff; everything fell into place. All my inhibitions fell away as I shimmied and whirled, seducing and flirting, with the kind of confidence that thrives behind a mask.

     Dan told me later that I wove a beautiful web around him that night, but I was caught up in it too, and it wasn’t entirely of my making.

     Kenny and Janelle arrived and there was an instant rapport between us. Kenny had played bass guitar, on tour and in the studio, with Dan for years. Before that he’d been in Barnstorm with Joe Walsh and played with Elton John as well as Hall and Oates. Janelle was a beautiful young choreographer and flamenco dancer who performed with a local troupe. 

     The rest of the party is a blur of laughter and dancing and a growing intense attraction. When the lights came up, we said goodnight to Kenny and Janelle and headed back toward my apartment. 

     Then, we drove right past it. 

     I pointed this out, hesitantly. “Um, that was my apartment…” but Dan was happy for the first time in a very long time, and he didn’t want it to end. “I know,” he said, “but let’s just drive through the American night for a while.” I thought that was poetic, and kind of Jack Kerouac, and I wasn’t ready for the date to end either. So we kept going, the Beat cowboy and the tattered Catwoman, dimly lit by the dashboard lights and squeezing every living second out of the night.

     We headed south on I-25, listening to a CD compilation Dan had made of his favorite classical pieces. Then, somewhere amid the rolling red hills and piñon trees, we turned around. When we got back to my apartment, he walked me to the door and we said goodnight, both too shy to initiate a kiss.


Posted April 25th. 2020 Copyright ©Jean Fogelberg 2020