Ruby was gay. Or maybe bi. She was married (or maybe she wasn’t). I learned this one day in gym class when we were hiding in the back, trying hard not to exercise. "My ring!" she cried, and clattered down off the bleachers — no mean feat in the Candie’s mules she wore with her gym shorts — to retrieve it. She and a gay kid from her old high school had supposedly wed on a lark in New Jersey (or was it Delaware?), where they were helped, if I’m remembering correctly, by a kindly nun.
She was extremely smart, wildly funny, and deeply political (a passion I didn’t share but admired). She could be as solicitous as a geisha or as gruff as a stevedore, whichever the situation called for. Men (and often women) all but swooned in her presence. I was astonished and more than a little grateful that this bold, exotic creature saw through my shyness — which in turn encouraged me to creep farther and farther out of my shell. Some mornings she fortified herself with a pre-homeroom swig of amaretto from a full-size bottle that reposed, in its decorative lidded coffer, in her locker. Ruby once mortified me by meeting me on the subway with snow-white tampons dangling, chandelier-style, from her earlobes. "I am making a statement," she declared. "Why should we be embarrassed by these things?" Why, indeed.
My father passed away when I was 17, and I got Social Security survivors benefits. Instead of giving me an allowance, my mother let me keep this monthly check (about $80 and change), out of which I was to pay for all my personal expenses. Which I did: Eighty dollars, in those days, bought a lot of concert tickets.
From our home base in New York, Ruby and I took buses and trains throughout the tristate area and beyond: out to the Jersey shore, down to Philly, up to Oneonta, Rochester, Boston. Over and over and over again, never getting bored. In the back of my mind was always this nagging fear: God, I love this so much and I never want it to stop; what will I do if it does? When it does?
Sometimes we came back the same night; sometimes we stayed over in the band’s hotel. Either way Ruby and I (along with a handful of fellow fan-pests, groupies, and other hangers-on) would hustle over to the hotel after the show, plant ourselves in the bar, and wait. Kind of like hanging out before the sound check, except with cocktails and air-conditioning. Our mulish tenacity and impressive knowledge of the group’s oeuvre, at a younger age than most of the other fans, earned us some band cred. Still, at heart, we were nervous, silly girls. Sometimes we shared quick hellos with them, sometimes a few drinks. One night Ruby, an ardent lefty, let the bass player have it after he suggested that she should applaud Margaret Thatcher’s recent ascension to prime minister: "But she’s a woman — I thought you’d be pleased!" Sometimes we even got invited to the Noisy Room, where the festivities would continue in a boozy haze of cigarette smoke and Cockney guffaws. (No, nothing happened — the right ones never asked.)
One morning Ray Davies, who rarely attended those Spinal Tap-ian soirees, approached Ruby and me at the breakfast buffet. "You were in the Noisy Room last night, eh?" he teased before becoming positively avuncular. "You look tired. Go home and get some rest."
I started college; Ruby didn’t. We both hated school, but, as was our pattern, she was the one both ballsy and foolish enough to stand on principle. We kept going to shows, but our antics started to pale.
At one point, when she was between jobs, Ruby decided to treat herself to a Kinks road trip, following the tour arc cross-country. I couldn’t take that kind of time off from school, so I figured I’d live vicariously through her adventures. But her phone calls became increasingly strange. Most of her stories seemed to involve abuses at the hands of strangers she met on the road, men she would go home with because she didn’t have enough money for a hotel.