#360: Buzzcocks, "Singles Going Steady" (1979)

Look at them, all those creeps, all those teenage hormones boiling and bubbling up and popping out of their mouths. Shouting dirty words like incantations, as if on a dare. Look at them on every corner, digging sticks into mortar of brick walls to pass the time. Look at them snarling, look at them with narrowed brows. She knows them, their physicality. How they like to fuck strangers. How they like to leave the lights on so they can see.

They catcall her. Tell her the ways they want to use her body. She walks with hunched shoulders, trying to block their energy out, trying to force it onto anything else, anywhere else but here. She hears a song in her head, a voice other than theirs. That, she can handle.

Then she sees it: a sign stapled to a telephone pole. She stops and reads:



She pulls off one of the little paper tabs with a phone number on it and tucks it into the pocket of her coat. She turns and stares at the boys on the corner, huddled around a lighter they’ve found on the ground, trying to make it strike and light against the wind, but it produces only smoke.


A voice: “Hello?”

“Hello, yes?” She hesitates, and breathes. “I’m calling about the… the ad?” She hears a commotion, the sound of someone not quite prepared to be discussing things over the telephone. Like the sound of a snare drum. Maybe fumbling for glasses. Maybe stubbing out a cigarette. She imagines actions she can’t even know producing the sounds on the other end of the phone.

“Oh, yes, that.”

The voice is high and breathy; its tone rises and falls, sustaining single syllables like in old poetry: o-O-oh, ye-E-es, tha-A-at. She can’t tell if the voice is male or female, or neither. She doesn’t care. She only knows that she once read somewhere that when you fall in love with someone it feels like being plunged into a deep, dense fog, where thoughts don’t come clearly and nothing makes sense for days, and that after only four words a fog is beginning to settle over her head, and she realizes that she might be falling in love with the voice on the other end of the phone.

“Meet tomorrow?”

She nods, then realizes that the voice can’t see her, and so she says quickly: “Yes.”

The voice gives her an address and a time which she scrawls onto a flyer advertising a yoga retreat. She whispers “thank you” and hangs up the phone, her heart beating a little faster than it had been before.

She gets up and pops a cassette into the hi-fi. It starts abruptly, a familiar high-pitched voice overtop of the whine of spindles catching the spokes of the cassette.

....want you-oo-oooo, on top of me....

She is an addict. She knows this. She finds ways of ducking into the ladies’ room at work to get herself off, checking first for any feet under the doors of the stalls. She spends most of her nights at home, the privacy and comfort of her own bedroom far more appealing than any public restroom. She dresses in stiff clothes to try to dampen her urges: polyester pants with too many buttons, starchy high-necked shirts with knotted collars, cable-knit sweaters and thick wool socks. Never skirts. (She used to wear wool pants but the itch of them just set her off.) Her addiction makes dating nearly impossible; she moves too quickly for themyes, even men; yes, even boys who stand on street corners and like to fuck strangers.

The last date she went on was with a guy a work friend had set her up with. He had longish hair and a creased brow that could indicate he was lost in serious thought but mostly just made him look angry. He took her to an arthouse movie theater to see some old French film. She loves the idea of foreign films but hates reading subtitles. Half an hour into the film, which appeared to be about a pixie-haired Parisienne who wanted to have a threesome, she reached over and began fumbling with his zipper, only to have him discourage her through a mouthful of popcorn. She tried not to be embarrassed by his rejection but lost so much focus that she couldn’t concentrate on the rest of the movie. She made up her own story, which probably ended less tragically anyway.

After the movie they went to a club that had small strips of pink and blue neon running the length of the walls, where the floor was sticky and the drinks had too much ice in them. She ordered a rum & grape juice, downed it quickly, and dragged her date to the edge of the dance floor. The crowd was dancing to something fast and angry, with loud distorted chords that fell down the neck of the guitar, drums that moved almost ahead of the music, too eager, sweaty bodies jumping up and down, boys with long arms and girls with shoulders hunched up to their ears. Their realness and closeness excited her and confused her; she wanted to reach out and touch each of them as they danced. She moved into the crowd. She felt her own body pressing against them, and she began to dance, and she thought that the energy her body released into the crowd, and into the room, directed toward the voice singing fast and high over the songshe thought that would be enough for now. She would think about touching everyone later, in the safety of her bedroom. Until then she maintained a heightened awareness of the danger of other bodies.

Her date disappeared at some point in the night and she knew it was for the best. The only thing she hated more than reading subtitles were men who refused hand jobs in movie theaters.

Two days later she found herself staring at a poster stapled to a telephone pole. And then, that phone call. Back here in her bedroom now, she finds herself thinking of that voice.

She lies on her bed, staring at the ceiling, and begins to unbutton her pants.


The next day she goes to the address written on the back of the yoga flyer. There is another group of boys huddled on a nearby corner, watching her, digging their eyes into the barely perceptible curves under the bulk of her sweater as they shout all the dirty things they would do to her body if she were to cross the street. She turns back to the building. There is no sign and the doorbell is missing its bell but the address is correct. She bangs loudly on the door from fear and curiosity, but also possibly out of some kind of lust.

The door opens under the weight of her fist, and she follows a dimly lit staircase to an upper floor. She is possibly dreaming, she thinks.

And then she is dreaming.

The room appears empty. But something is there. What she sees in front of her is less of a thing than it is a shift of the light in the room, a place where the lines of the bare floorboards and windows become curves, her eyes tripping over a vision. It’s as if an image of a room has been folded over something three dimensional, a mirage draped over a dress form.

“I….we spoke on the phone?” She speaks in the direction of the shift in light but looks to her left and to her right in case there might be someone else there. But the voice that speaks comes from the bend of light.

“Will you kiss me?” It’s that high-pitched voice again, the squeaking whine of a cassette spindle in need of oil.

She’s not scared. But the fog in her head grows thicker and she tries to figure out what comes next. She wants to kiss the voice, to feel its closeness. But she can’t figure out where the voice wants her to kiss it. There is no face, no obvious surface where she would leave her lipstick marks. It’s as if it’s so real that she can see it, but there is no possible way she can touch it.

She thinks back to the pressing bodies on the dance floor. Dangerous bodies with arms and legs and flesh. Faces to kiss and mouths to be kissed by. Not like this. She shouldn’t fall in love with an abstraction like this. It would be far too complicated. How could she fall in love with a voice without a body, nothing more than sound that bends the light like a cassette whirring on the hi-fi? All these things suddenly seem nebulous: love, and sex, and bodies, and the voice standingcould she even say it was standing?in front of her in that room. A fog as dangerous as smoke.

She knows she shouldn’t. She doesn’t know. She moves closer.

—Zan McQuade