Before you knew him as Tanya’s boyfriend, he was the guy who looked exactly like Jon Bon Jovi. He sat at a desk in the front of Green Library and checked your bag when you left, using a clipboard to establish his authority as a gratuitous and ineffective form of library security. The job was part of his work-study program, and it granted him a large degree of visibility amongst the undergraduate population. And that was how you knew what Andy was talking about when he said, “You know that guy who works at the library desk? Doesn’t he look exactly like Jon Bon Jovi?”
Because you didn’t know what Jon Bon Jovi looked like, beyond a vague impression of long hair and stage pyrotechnics set to music that was gayer than gay. Bon Jovi was not cool where you were from. Far from it. But Andy–the leader of your alternative friends–had an unfortunate penchant for hair bands, Superman, and white leather. And Freshman year, early on and from afar, Andy had developed a deep, head-over-heels, nonsexual mancrush on him. For months before you even knew his name, his exploits were the stuff of legend over cigarettes on the sunporch you had claimed–through proximity to your dorm rooms and sheer volume of cigarette butts deposited on its surface–as your own. The sunporch witnessed Andy’s construction of a mythology around the library guy who looked like Bon Jovi: returning to the dorm after a morning of classes, he spoke of talking to the library guy who looked just like Bon Jovi; on Saturday night, he claimed to have successfully bummed a cigarette off the library guy who looked just like Bon Jovi at the TAXI party; on any given day, he bragged of having seen and ogled the girlfriend of that library guy who looked just like Bon Jovi.
Later you would find out that the library guy who looked like Bon Jovi was just a garden variety overintelligent, overprivileged, white doctor’s son from the Chicago suburbs with a beautiful and crazy girlfriend. His name was Matt and he didn’t wash his hair, and one day he would write a novel. He would beg you to read it and charge you $10 for a xeroxed copy of it in order to do so. And as you read it, you would realize it was deliberate jibberish, that it was his answer to Finnegan’s Wake, and you would tell him as much. He would be tickled that somebody figured it out, and would explain that that he envisioned it it, 41, as the obscure “first novel.” The one that people–true fans–would go back and find after the meteoric success of his second, more commercial book. You would go along with this because you always hated Joyce and who was to say anyway.
Tanya and Matt were inseparable that first year, when you did not really know either of them yet. And yeah, they were sort of glamorous, in the backwards, bizarro world version of glamour that you were still getting used to. Where you came from things were simple: good looking surfers were as close to glamour as you knew, but this new place had a different set of rules–a mix of the trends and cultures of the student body, which came from all over the world. There was preppy glamour, and the socialite glamour of Jane Lauder, these were easy enough to understand. But this was rocker glamour, badass glamour, that did not make sense. Leather jackets and long hair on men did not do it for you. But there was something there, wasn’t there? Everyone could see it.
What happened between Tanya and Matt you only ever heard in the past imperfect, second-hand, and though all their stories shared a common thread of batshit crazy, the blame might shift based on the storyteller. Once the shine had worn off Matt and he became just another one of the gang, Andy told you about Matt’s habit of keeping bodily fluids in plastic containers and other food packaging in his dorm room. Andy did not know why Matt did this, he only knew that he did it. He knew because Matt had told him. And you believed him. Matt was gross. And Tanya was lazy. Word had it that, in Tanya’s single in Branner, science experiments like this were kept for months on end, whether by accident or design, and that they shared everything, including their blood, the hows and whys of this never being clearly explained. You didn’t ask questions: you were not sure you could stomach it and besides, wasn’t there possibility in the not-knowing?
Even after their tumultuous affair had officially ended, Tanya and Matt would sometimes physically reunite in the wee hours of the morning. This would begin when Matt arrived at Tanya’s coop room window, and she would invite him up for the metaphorical nightcap. They were no longer together, and for the most part could not stand each other, but it was the type of cannot-stand-each-other that would signal, were this a romantic comedy, that a couple was made for each other.
They would rehearse their whackadoo version of the balcony scene night after night, remaining together until dawn, when they went back to hating each other publicly. This practice continued until the night that Matt came through the window and found Tanya surrounded by lit candles, with what looked like a spell book open by her on the floor. She was chanting something in a low, unintelligible voice. When he asked her what she was doing, she matter-of-factly answered, “Putting a hex on you,” and it was at that moment that Matt left for good.
The last time you saw Matt was at a casino in Reno, where you were spending New Year’s Eve with your alternative friends. You were drinking pina coladas for the first time in your life in this unlikeliest of places, and the three of you–Andy, Matt, and you–would agree that they were the best you had ever tasted, would ever taste, because why would you ever come to Reno again? Why had you come this time? And who orders a pina colada in Reno?
And Matt told you that this bar was “Our Place,” now and forever, the bar at the Silver Legacy. And that someday you would get a note from him, scrawled across a cocktail napkin, that read, “Meet me at Our Place.” He would be on the run from the law, and you would know where to go to help him. And everyone had laughed, because surely your futures would be the whitest of white bread suburban clichés.
And now it is years later, you have lost track of Tanya, and you are still waiting for that napkin.