When I think of her, I think of the summer walks I would take from her apartment to the bus station. Hot streets and a warm wind. Elmwood Avenue or Main Street. Sometimes I tangentially drift off into the song “Sunday Morning Coming Down”…
On the Sunday morning sidewalk wishing Lord that I was stoned
Cause there’s something in a Sunday makes a body feel alone
There ain’t nothing short dying half as lonesome as the sound
Of the sleepin’ city sidewalk, Sunday morning coming down
My trips to Buffalo always follow a certain routine. I make appointments with the people with whom I have remained in contact. I talk to Mike Rizzo about staying at his place (he has a nice big house in Sloan, and generously accommodates me). I look at all the things I need to bring with me and forget most of them. I fill out my schedule as best I can, leaving as little down time as possible, still left with too much when all is said and done.
And then I do a Google search for Kate Licata.
And I never find her.
Kate and I met during a dinner theater production of Grease. We were instant friends. Outcasts who recognized each other as kindred drifting spirits. I was a musician trying to ingratiate myself with the cast, and she was an actress who felt more at home with the band. In short order, she was letting me stay at her apartment, even though she had a boyfriend. He would come in and out, looking askance at this unfamiliar presence on her couch. I was no threat. I never was a threat. I knew somehow instinctively that if we ever crossed that line that our good times would end, I guess. There was something about her. She made me do things I never did. She and I tried to buy pot from a dude in front of Reuben’s on Pearl Street after a show. He sold us tobacco.
She had this 2-album set of The Zombies’ Greatest Hits. And a little Casio keyboard. And we would take turns changing the lyrics to the songs we knew. “What’s your name, who’s your whorehouse?’ and on and on. We even wrote a song together. “I believe that there are flies, infiltrating all the dead dog’s eyes, and I never saw the spew until I drank the beast with you…” and we would go on and on deep into the morning just having fun.
I liked her right away. God, I loved her. She was wisp-thin, with short red hair. She was wild, and didn’t care what she said or to whom she said it. She was one of those people whose poverty made them free. She drank. She waited tables in the daytime hours to pay her rent. She lived about a half-mile from Reuben’s. So when Grease was over on a Saturday night, I would stay at her place.
Sleepy Sunday mornings. Drinking and laughing and scraping around for money. She came over to my house ONCE, and I think we played Frisbee. I liked being in the city. The whole point was to escape my house, my surroundings. She let me.
We’d go to open-mike night at a local club and start singing our stupid songs—One lady was singing a song called “Tell Him What You Want”…
“If you want to be happy, tell Him what you want…”
Moreover, she’s have people come up on stage and sing along to this gospel favorite. Kate and I, of course, were more than willing…
“If you want potato chips, tell him what you want…”
…this effectively ended the evening. We walked to Kate’s laughing hysterically.
She had me over to her family’s house in Lockport a few times. It was surprising to see that this girl, terminally scraping by, should come from such a wealthy home. Maybe my first clue to something deeper. Her father and I sat and watched Notre Dame vs. Michigan. He provided a satirical, barbed play by play not of the athletes or the action on the field, but of the socioeconomic and religious disparity between the two cultures. I thought he was hilarious and brilliant. They all were. Kate and I would sit at the piano and thumb through old music books and sing together. I loved that. “Summer Me, Winter Me…”
I had, on the odd occasion or a visit from my mother, money. So I’d take her to dinner. We, on one occasion, went to some Indian Restaurant on Main St. and she told me I’d like Frangelico and I should order some. She taught me the word “aperitif”. What she did not teach me was how fucking expensive that shit is in an Indian Restaurant.
And today I can hear her raspy, deep voice. Those thin, pale arms flailing as she described her philosophy to me. She was an excellent cook and made me dinners that I still recall as being spectacular in their taste and intricacy. We were exploring the idea of living together, even finding a place on Chenango St. with a Wilson Farms across the street. I demurred.
Toward the end of our salad days together, I took her to a wedding, but she was visibly and audibly and olfactorily smashed before she even got in the car. Even so, she got me to dance at the wedding. Did I mention she could make me dance? The song was “I Love You” by People, and just as I was getting over the shock that a wedding band included this in their set list (their FIRST set!) Kate’s swinging fist caught me good in the right eye. I hated weddings and I hated dancing and at that moment I hated her too, even though it was an accident.
Maybe a true friend would have staged an intervention of some sort. And I know it sounds silly, but when she got in the car that day, 12 noon, drunk and slurring, I felt myself letting her go. I came from alcoholic parents, an alcoholic neighborhood. It was hitting too close to home for me now.
I saw her a few times in the city after that, on return trips and whatnot. I bothered her sister a few times about her whereabouts, which I’m sure she appreciated. I pictured her homeless, still struggling to make her jagged pieces fit into a perfectly circular but merciless society.
So I’m going back to Buffalo. It was so long ago, but sure as eggs is eggs, I cannot eat a potato chip, drink Frangelico, hear the song “Summer Me Winter Me” or anything by the Zombies, go to an open mic night, listen to my first CD or Leonard Cohen without my mind snapping back to all those aimless evenings, all the laughter and all the freedom she shared with me.