Sex & Cars & Rock & Roll

I entered the Rolling Stone Rock & Roll Bowl on a whim. How'd I do? Just call me Johnny Ca$h.

While I'm filling my brainpan with denial, Steve and Will are going about the difficult business of salvaging the round. They're whirling like twin dervishes, chipping away at the deficit and capitalizing on The Finger's smallest errors. What long-lasting British band was named after the eighteenth-century inventor of the seed drill? Will knows. How do you spell Lynyrd Skynyrd? Steve knows. Who was on the cover of the first Rolling Stone? Both Will and Steve know. When I regain my senses, we're nearing triple digits and then we sweep a category and climb into a tie for second. With our resurrection fueled by the now-delirious crowd A everybody loves to see the kicked dog bite back A we go on hitting with our rhythm sticks, refusing to stop until we have grabbed every remaining point on the board. Amazingly, we do just that; the questions, which seem to be tending toward Sixties rock, favor our geriatric preferences. When the round ends, our total tops out at 210. San Jose holds down second place with 190, and Cleveland State stands stalled at 140. A difficult final audio question A an early Simple Minds atrocity that's unrecognizable in the noisy restaurant A stumps all three teams and nails down the single greatest comeback in the history of rock and roll. Harold and Aaron throw up Vs for victory. Roadies stream from the wings to put The Finger in a splint. The Hard Rock staffers call for a taxidermist to fix us where we stand.

Can you call a dream a dream if you're not asleep? This becomes a pressing question in the weeks after Los Angeles. Despite persistent insomnia, I am haunted by a vision of a cavernous concrete room furnished with a single bare bulb and a chipped pay telephone. Whenever the phone rings, I pick it up A I have to pick it up, it's one of those dreams A and the placid female voice from US Concepts congratulates me on my victory on the written quiz, after which she recites a stream of perversely inaccurate rock minutiae. "T. Rex's 'Rip-Off,'" she says, "is the national anthem of Guatemala. Luther Vandross and Prince are first cousins. Cher is a man." Well, most of it is inaccurate. At any rate, while I try to absorb these facts, I am besieged by elevator music, retoolings of punk and power-pop classics. If you can imagine the Sex Pistols's "Bodies" hijacked by Muzak, you'll understand the sickening terror this experience inspires. Will and Steve claim they're not having this dream, but I know they're just scared to come clean. Forgotten pop singers hide under my bed, rattling their single hits, itching to cut my throat. I try to count sheep and get Goat's Head Soup instead.

The first afternoon in Daytona Beach, Will and Steve and I are leaving the Marriott to grab an early dinner, trying to stay loose in the face of the mounting pressure and spring break, which is going full-bore. As our elevator doors open at ground level, we are treated to a fantasy that puts my sleep-deprived hallucinations to shame. Dozens, and maybe even hundreds, of beautiful women A scantily dressed in ribbon bikinis, thigh-teasing sundresses, invisible sarongs A wander through the lobby, staring at one another coolly, rubbing elbows with ordinary hotel guests. It's the Miss Hawaiian Tropic International pageant, a beauty content sponsored by the famous suntan lotion manufacturer. The hotel is putting up all 88 contestants, as well as twenty-odd "celebrity" judges culled from the sports world (Steve Garvey, Jim Kelly, Jerry Tarkanian), the entertainment industry (Gilbert Gottfried, Mickey Dolenz, Lorenzo Llamas), and the very, very bottom of the barrel (Don Swayze? Bo Svenson? Dan Hagerty?). When Steve spots Jim Kelly, we consider introducing ourselves and asking his advice on winning the big game, but instead, we just loiter in the blank spaces of the lobby's crossword and eye the taut, tanned clues. One Miss Uruguay (blonde) adjusts the sash of the other (brunette). Miss Austria and Miss Germany rescue a dying bird from the sundeck. A tall, dark-skinned contestant saunters sashless through the crowd in a tiny dress the color of tumescent flesh; never have so many owed so much to so fuchsia. According to a posted schedule, the pageant will be held the following afternoon, and in the evening the hotel sports bar will honor the victors with a party. We take this as an omen and vow to attend the celebration.

On the way to dinner, we check out the Howard Johnson ballroom where the contest will be held and then we zigzag under the main pier. In the afternoon glare, the stanchions of the boardwalk cast shadows in the shallows; farther out, where the water clouds to green, the sun gems the cap of every wave. All around us, French-cut suits and thongs command the beaches; the average tan, like the average body, is a beautiful distortion. We spend the evening filling our eyes with oiled curves and searching for the perfect jukebox A something where Ian Hunter slow-dances with Teena Marie and Hank Williams coughs himself to sleep. At about eleven we return to the Marriott patio bar, where a lone guitarist wows the crowd with good-timey acoustic stylings, lots of Buffett and Eagles, Jackson Browne and bland blues. Half-drunk and wholly disrespectful, we take up a strategic position and begin to heckle the performer, whom Steve has dubbed Tony the Troubadour (He's not grrrreat!). "'Cold Sweat!'" we yell. "'96 Tears!'" Tony ignores us, and soon we're talking only to ourselves, imagining limp folk covers of "Tattooed Love Boys," "When Doves Cry," "Can I Get a Witness." At the stroke of midnight, Sky Saxon's spirit cropdusts the plaza, howling "Talkin' Barnett Newman Blues" at the top of his spectral lungs.

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