Below is a selection of Frank Nero shorts…these pieces are full of sharp edges, existential hilarity and emotional authenticity. We’re all about the artwork here at jarrodtyler.com
*As creative works of fiction, these pieces do not represent any residences, facilities, locations or persons either living or deceased — any similarity is purely coincidental and not in any way intended. Due to mature subject matter; reader discretion is advised.
- The Hester Street Madrigals
- Up At the Villa
- A Case of a Mistaken Name
- The Penthouse Killers
- Bathroom Attendant
- The Healing Game
- The Dukes of Marpole
- Sly Girl Friday
Aere Perennius (new)
O’connel was a comedy of errors…however, he made up for it with consistency and after all, consistency is as rare as it is important in this life. And when I say consistency, I’m not referring to the contrived charisma most people default to as a means of blending in; such charisma is adaptable…where true consistency doesn’t adapt at all–no matter what the case. Indeed, O’connel was the same disaster every time you spoke with him no matter what the case; a devil you knew.
I worked with O’connel a few nights a week at a pretentious bistro in Yaletown called the Jade Room; where they shamelessly over charged for tiny, post-modern portions of bird-like food. He’d been added, along with a few other new hires, to our dysfunctional, toxiholical, verbally abusive work family that was wrought with vendettas, infighting and animal kingdom lynch-mobbing; a dysfunctional work family which seemed less dysfunctional somehow when O’connel and the other newbies were around—as if they were house guests. I knew that soon enough though, they’d realize the level of general shitheadery my colleagues at the Jade Room aspired to and either the new hires would fall in line, weep tears or walk out in a blaze of profane glory, like so many had before.
As always, I didn’t participate in clan mentality and this they couldn’t quite understand and so naturally they were put off by it. As far as they were concerned, there was something wrong with a person who wasn’t defined by their phone, their Instagraph page, their neighborhood or their shoes. They sought out similar types; likeminded individuals who all seemed to emulate the same prototype—a soft fuzzy bunny; it was the accepted norm in Vancity.
However, it was obvious to them instantly that I wasn’t a bunny…to them, I was a stray who might be rabid…a rogue who took no prisoners, took no sides and hated my enemies openly and what’s more, with casual nonchalance…but they were mistaken—I simply hadn’t drank their Kool-Aid. Simply put; I spent 6 hours a night with the creeps—and that was bad enough.
It wasn’t only my endearing co-workers who made my skin crawl however, perhaps worse were the guests we catered to. I frequently stood behind the bar, marinating in mild disgust, watching the clone-like hordes stuffing their faces…all salivating at once; socializing and gesticulating wildly as the wine brought out their inner thespian. I’d never seen such a bunch of phonies. Fake smiles, fake laughter, fake charm, fake souls; fakers. Needless to say, I was puzzled by two things…firstly, how it was that they could have been anything; creative geniuses, great thinkers, history makers, artistic revolutionaries, visionary citizens or at least signature—instead however, they made a decisive choice to be unoriginal shitheads. Secondly, I found it puzzling that though they existed in a perpetual state of blandness, they somehow weren’t bored with themselves by the end of the day—that took something.
Each night the exact same people with different faces would fill the Jade Room—the city’s finest…as if they’d rolled off an assembly line. Strangely, the men all looked the same—on purpose…they all wore soft and tender Steven Keaton beards and for some reason they all had ultra-barbered Sportsnet haircuts and matching tight-suits. More puzzling, they were void of intrigue and stood there smiling dumbly, clinging to their women desperately, as if they were suckling at a proverbial teat; they’d simply forfeited.
Accordingly, their women all shared the same persona and style; boisterous lasses all competing for attention with piercing voices, witch cackles and ear drum tightening whinnies…who, as far as I could tell, also didn’t exhibit any original signature style…rather they all seemed to be only different heads of the same entity…more curiously, many seemed to share the exact same puffy, waxy features which afforded them the creepy likeness of Muppets. I was wondering if they’d all somehow found the same plastic surgeon when O’connel approached me at the bar…it was the first time I’d ever conversed with him.
“Can I ask you a question?” he said, raising his brows.
“Let me ask you something first.” I said, “This is a place for what? For whom?” I asked him.
“I don’t know what you mean. Hey, listen, I can’t figure out this technique…how do I pour this wine?” he’d asked me…a hopeless grin stretching across his bloated, blubbery face.
“Why are you asking me?”
“You’re the bartender.” he countered.
“I just want to learn.” he smiled, his blubbery face turning red.
“Ah, that’s truly sick old boy…good one.” I chuckled, absolutely positive this was brilliantly placed sarcasm.
“No seriously…I want to learn…I want to be good at this.” he said.
“Oh, you’re a sick one aren’t you?” I laughed.
“I am?” he asked, his face turning even redder.
I state this exchange to illustrate O’connel’s awkward dynamic. Given his helpless, deer in the headlights routine and the utter and perpetual shitheadery of our loathsome team; I’d not expected O’connel to last more than a week at the restaurant and indeed I was surprised to find him still employed after a month had gone by. I’d seen many before O’connel fired for far less jackassery…however; O’connel remained like a hemorrhoid…somehow and for some reason. I saw him around the dining room, failing and bumbling, and though it had made me laugh, I was perplexed by the fact that he hadn’t been crucified by management for any of his blunders…he simply flew under the radar. One evening he joined me in the staff room during a break.
“So, O’connel old man…how goes the battle?” I’d asked as I forked into my mouth a slice of apple pie (the only item in the restaurant that I felt was free of micro feces).
“What battle? Hey…why do you only eat the pie here?” he asked, holding me in an unfaltering and intense stare of intrigue, as if he was fascinated.
“Because it’s the only thing here that the chef doesn’t get his feces hands into.” I said.
“How do you know?” he asked me.
“Well, O’connel, it’s like this; a sexy Italian woman comes in twice a week to make all the pies and then it goes directly into the cooler until some asshole orders a slice…so, you see the logic; the chef doesn’t have anything to do with this pie—therefore I’ll eat it.” I informed O’connel.
“This Italian woman who makes the pie…how sexy is she?” asked O’connel.
“I could eat her pie all night long.” I assured.
“But why do you think the chef has fecal hands?” O’connel said, twisting his face into a comically confused expression; a genuinely loathsome expression to cop.
“Unfortunately, he doesn’t wash his hands after he uses the bathroom.” I told him.
“How would you know?”
“Look man…I went into the bathroom one night for an unofficial smoke break…as I was having a few of the good old puffs, I could hear someone really having it out in one of the stalls—like they were giving birth…it was a bit disconcerting. Anyway, I was leaning up against the sink when a stall door swung open and there was the chef standing there, panting and buckling his belt…he walked up to the mirrors and his face was covered in sweat. He started mopping it up with a paper towel and running his hands through his greasy hair—then he stormed out without washing his hands…I don’t know what’s worse; that he wiped his ass or wiped his face with those hands…but either way, he didn’t wash them.”
“Well, let me ask you…how do you know that the sexy Italian woman didn’t have feces hands when she made those pies? You ever think of that?” asked O’connel.
I just looked at him, realizing he had a point…I pushed away the pie, “A woman that sexy could never have fecal hands…nature wouldn’t allow it.”
“Accept it, there’s feces on everything.” declared O’connel.
“I noticed you haven’t been fired yet…why is that?” I asked him, as the rest of the staff chattered indifferently around us.
“Guess I’m lucky…by the way, see that goddess over there?” he asked, motioning to one of the night supervisors.
“Adele?” I said.
“The most attractive thing about that girl, is that she doesn’t even know how beautiful she is…she doesn’t even know it.” said O’connel.
“She knows it.” I said absently, glancing at Adele, who though put together nicely, was the type of person who might think the shooter on the grassy knoll was an alcoholic beverage.
“Of course she knows it.” chimed in Sherry, our colleague…a 26 year old paralegal from Ottawa who worked the night shift at the Jade Room to help pay for her $2000 per month Yaletown bachelor pad.
Though she hated the Jade Room and most of its staff nearly as much as I did; she needed the money now more than ever. She’d had a bad few months. She’d been rear ended by a hit and run driver three months earlier and had bought a used Jetta to replace her totaled VW…a few months later however, she’d been T-boned by another hit and run driver and that time didn’t have the money to pay her high deductible. She’d finally resorted to a scooter, which was subsequently jacked by crack-heads from outside a shithole dive bar in Gastown she’d been getting smashed in one evening. After the scooter theft, she’d resigned herself to public transit to get around town and it made her absolutely miserable having to now ride the bus like a sardine, on top of working doubles—especially doubles with Adele, for she hated Adele with a searing passion.
“How can you possibly know that?” asked O’connel with a curious grin.
“Women can sense that sort of thing about each other.” said Sherry.
“Don’t you think she’s the most perfect female you’ve ever seen?” O’connel asked me as he cast a dreamy gaze Adele’s way.
“Well, she’s no Lindsay Forester.” I shrugged.
“Who’s Lindsay Forester?” asked O’connel.
“Seriously…Lindsay fucking Forester?” demanded Sherry, looking at me as if she was wounded, “You really think she’s the perfect female? Gaaad you probably do.”
“Aesthetically…sure.” I nodded.
“Who is she?” asked O’connel.
“She was night manager here before Adele; very plain Jane.” Sherry assured, “Beyond that she was crazier than a shit-house rat—I mean she wasn’t a bit quirky—she was up the river crazy…she cut herself on the inside of the forearms with a razor blade and didn’t even wear short sleeves to cover up the cuts and scars at work. She missed two weeks once on account of being locked up in the psyche ward…trust me, she was a total weirdo…and of course, Franky here was getting it on with her—on the reg and on the sly…nobody even knew about it until after she got fired.”
“Look, there’s more to it,” I offered in my defense, “she was definitely, without a doubt, an Amber Heard doppelganger…uncanny resemblance.” I specified, “So you see, there was no resisting her.”
“In your head she was an Amber Heard doppelganger.” scoffed Sherry.
“Who’s Amber Heard?” asked O’connel.
“Well, one thing is for sure; your taste is up your ass—both of you goons.” said Sherry shaking her head.
“Hate all you want Sherry—Adele is female perfection embodied though.” said O’connel, taking her in from across the room, “Women can’t understand what we see in other women…you don’t have our chemicals…you don’t get it.”
“Yeah, you’re retarded…I get it.” Sherry nodded as if it was the most obvious concept in the world.
“Think of it….a woman like Adele would have no problems. She’d be a heaven of ecstasy. No insecurities and no bad angles.” said O’connel as he gazed at Adele who now nibbled at a slice of mirco-feces banana bread.
“Are you cereal?” Sherry demanded.
“Dead cereal.” nodded O’connel.
“You don’t see that she has a Kevin Bacon nose?” Sherry pointed out.
“Hate all you want, but probably a beauty like her is actually very lonely…probably she just wants a man who will look beyond her beauty…probably she gets a lot of lines from a lot of guys who only want her for her beautiful face and her deep booty crack…probably she has men chasing her around Vancouver like crazy.” said O’connel.
“Big deal,” said Sherry from Ottawa, “any woman can have that here…even ones who look like garden gnomes and have the personality of a wet noodle…guys here are desperate—you’re walking proof of that home-slice.”
“Adele doesn’t need to be chased…she needs a man to hold her hand and tell her soft things.” said O’connel, dreamily gazing across the room at Adele.
“Where the hell are you from?” asked Sherry.
“I’m from Clark and 12th.” O’connel said with a reminiscent grin.
“Listen mister sensitive Clark and 12th boy—if you think anyone falls for that puppy dog act, you’re delusional…secondly, I don’t mean to piss on your parade…but women like Adele love one thing…and you don’t make enough of it to qualify…sorry tumbleweed but thems the facts.” said Sherry.
“You’re so wrong and what’s more you’re highly judgmental.” said O’connel.
“Sure…” said Sherry, rolling her eyes and smiling at me, “a sucker is born every minute.”
“Are you denying that she wants a man to look beyond her beauty? To discover the strange and mystical world within her?” O’connel begged.
“Look,” said Sherry, “let’s say that’s so…let’s say she wants a man to look beyond her beauty and find out who she really is on the inside—the real Adele…whoever the hell that is. The fact is; in reality she’s not very interesting on the inside—she’s not even nice. The reality is this; the only reason most guys would bother to look beyond her pretty face is because she’s pretty…so in the end, she’s kind of her own problem.”
“Hate all you want…but I’ll tell you what; I wish she’d drop something off of her tray.” said the fleshy faced man named O’connel…and he watched her…waiting for something to drop. Nothing did however and Adele took a seat in the corner by herself.
“Why does she sit by herself?” O’connel asked, his blubbery face blotchy red as if he’d endured a barrage of open palm slaps against his wobbly cheeks.
“She’s building a mystery.” I chuckled.
“Uh, can’t you tell? She’s better than the rest of us peasants.” said our colleague Sherry who often engaged in vicious verbal duels with Adele in a very public fashion; once coming dangerously close to a naughty, hair-pulling cat-fight.
“Why do you hate her so much?” asked O’connel who next took out his order pad and clicked his pen as he grinned across the room at her; Adele, who was oblivious. Next he was scribbling his phone number down while harboring a very calm and very thoughtful expression in his blubbery, blotchy red face.
“Hate is too weak a word.” Sherry concluded with a squint and a playful shiver of disgust.
“Ah Sherry, where’s the love?” I asked her, “You know, I think you and our good colleague Adele should do a road trip in a Smart Car together one of these weekends…drive out to the interior and go for a hike together in the woods—stir up a cauldron or two.”
“Only one of us would come back.” snarled Sherry with a snide grin.
“You’re entitled to your opinion…but I have a feeling about her.” said O’connel when he was through writing down his name, email, phone number and social media addresses in the pad, “And I’m about to prove you wrong.”
When he arose from his seat and straightened his tie; I was perplexed and hovering in a state of suspended hilarity…for he was, within a brief moment, standing at Adele’s solitary table side, handing her the piece of paper with a charming bow…he then spoke with a gently quivering passion, “Your eyes are very sad—and very beautiful.” he said…dropping the proverbial ball in her proverbial court. Adele, not missing a beat, unfolded the paper and opened it…her eyes moved over O’connel’s number and a moment later, once the dots connected, her face wrinkled into a sour expression of contempt.
“Listen man-tits…let’s get this straight; I don’t mess around with the hired help and even if you weren’t the hired help—I still wouldn’t mess with you…just—ewe.” she informed, refolding the paper and handing it back to O’connel promptly, “Also, you need to iron that shirt before you return to the dining room—there are still fold creases in it…didn’t you wash it after your last shift you dirty pig?”
O’connel didn’t answer, he only smiled and tilted his head at her and looked at her for a long moment before nodding slightly and backing away; it could have easily been a display of jagged performance art. Perhaps O’connel was brilliant…an Andy Kaufman whose talents were yet to be refined.
“That was truly sick.” I said when O’connel was back at the table.
“Was that bad?” he asked me.
“It was hilarious.” I assured, “I’m not sure anyone else really got that though. But we did.” I chuckled, glancing at Sherry whose face was as sour as Adele’s had been.
“Why would you even give that silly-ass fool the satisfaction?” asked Sherry, shaking her head at O’connel, baffled.
“Evidently she won’t let me give her the satisfaction.” shrugged O’connel, “But she’ll come around—I felt it when she was looking at my tits.” he laughed, inadvertently blowing a bubble of snot out of one nostril.
So you see, his consistency though subtle was ever present and you’d notice it when you eventually stumbled upon him at random, standing with his hands in his pockets in the back hallway with a wise grin stretched across his blubbery face…not knowing exactly what else to do. Though he seemed a curious study, we learned more about O’connel as the days became weeks and the weeks became months and the nights bled into each other in a colorless wash of boredom.
One Saturday, dear reader, we hosted a wedding party at the Jade Room and it was the sort of night you might have seen on a reality television show and had not quite believed it hadn’t been staged…because certainly F&B could never be so frightfully exhilarating. Whatever the case, I can assure you; it was a night that pushed our dysfunctional squad to the breaking point…it was also a night that offered me a chance encounter with a rare and utterly unexpected historical artifact; a night of full moon howling.
To start the evening off, a line cook had been escorted off the property after nearly coming to blows with Louis, the head chef. After being yelled at by Louis all afternoon, the line cook had reached his boiling point and finally exploded…it had been a brief war of attrition in which the heavier chef Louis had grabbed hold of the cook’s tunic and pulled it over the guy’s shoulders and head before hurling him into a tower of stacked crates in the loading bay…the new line cook had a hard time getting up after that…it was quite a scene and management was called in immediately—the entire team…in fact, the entire staff had gathered in the loading bay to witness the shaken line cook lying on his side on the platform amidst the scattered crates, some of which were broken from the collision…indeed, Adele had informed Louis that a complaint would be filed, which turned into an all-out screaming match during which Louis used his heaviest artillery on Adele…sharply pointed tidbits he’d heard about her personal life—the romantic tragedies and social deaths, of which Adele had many. Though he won the screaming match, this sort of thing put Louis in an even worse mood and it was hell in the kitchen when Louis was in a mood.
Perhaps a half hour later, Randy, the Bulgarian sous chef, had torn a jagged strip off of Adele, who’d had it coming, and Adele had, in turn, hollered at a new waitress who’d subsequently barricaded herself in the dry storage room so she could suffer and emotional breakdown in solitude, among bags of flour, cans of ketchup and bottles of salad dressing. As a few waitresses tried to talk her down, another drama exploded between Louis the head chef and Beaumont the maître d’. The argument was over a batch of undercooked chicken breasts that had made it to a few tables before being spotted by a guest…Beaumont, a hot head by nature, had flown off the handle, frothing at the mouth as he chastised Louis for allowing such a rookie error to make its way down the line and out into the dining room…of course after that, it was all-out war; the kitchen staff against the serve staff—and it got ugly, as usual. Threats of physical violence, cutting personal insults, plate throwing, trash can kicking, pushing, shoving, finger giving, fuck you slinging…a real night at the fights. At one point, cracking under the heavy demands and verbal cruelty of her high maintenance tables, a first-nighter waitress needed to be resuscitated via smelling salts after passing out against the ice machine and bumping her head on an empty keg of Mayne Island Pale Ale when chef Louis badgered her with ferocity about a flawed order she’d placed, throwing the plate in her general direction where it exploded against a nearby wall; all the action had been too much for the new girl who fainted dramatically.
The commotion was only escalated by a sudden oil fire that blazed so high it blackened the ceiling tiles and sent steam and clouds of black soot billowing from the line and out into the dining room. Though he was already short handed, Louis fired on the spot, the fry chef responsible for the oil fire…following him down the back hallway throwing random items at his fleeing back while hollering a suggestion; that the kid forward his resume to the fast food joint down the street—as a toilet cleaner. Though he was generally a cunt; you had to hand it to Louis–he had some good off-the-cuff one liners.
I’d seen it coming…it had been a pressure cooker, building steam with each passing service. A blow-out was inevitable and I realized there was nothing anyone could do or say to keep it from happening. As I stood by, taking in the scene during a break from my bar, sipping a root beer and wondering if part of the reason why the kitchen staff were so intensely miserable was because they were forced to wear such ridiculous outfits; O’connel came around the corner at that moment…as if with perfect timing—completely oblivious to the highly combustive scene.
“Yo chefaroony…the guest wants this grilled…its way underdone…it’s still breathing I think.” said O’connel, carrying in his hand a slice of prime rib that looked completely raw.
Indeed, it was marinating in a pool of blood which had dyed the mashed potatoes red. The rawness was evident to everyone…however, Louis refused to accept the reality—he’d been existing in a state of non-reality for so long he’d adapted to it and had become disillusioned. In a collected and calm fashion, chef Louis strolled over to O’connel and took the plate from him…he squinted at the raw, bloody slab of meat and grinned slightly before hurling the plate against the wall, sending an explosion of shards and spattering blood in all directions, causing everyone to duck for cover.
“Chefaroony? Chefaroony? Are you fucking serious? Read my lips…never, ever enter this kitchen again you blubbery cunt!” hollered the chef, his face red with madness, hypertension and grill heat, “Get the fuck out of here!”
When O’connel chuckled and insisted that such a demand was simply ridiculous; Louis lost control and started hurling tongs, spoons, squeeze bottles and a few sleeves of take-out containers at him…striking O’connel’s brow-line and drawing blood. Indeed, O’connel had cinematically dropped to the floor and sprawled, wailing in pain and clutching one side of his face.
When O’connel finally turned over onto his back; I saw that his brow was clearly swollen and bloodied and seeing the blood smeared across his palms turned O’connel pale. Gary the pantry chef came to O’connel’s aid, waving me in to help O’connel up and to the first-aid kit near the rear entrance of the kitchen. I was taking a break and didn’t quite feel like leaving my leaning spot against the expo refrigerator quite then. However, I eventually obliged being that my break was nearly through…and once we moved O’connel to the first aid station, I stood by and observed as Gary dabbed disinfectant on O’connel’s wound.
“That’s a nasty cut man…what did chef throw at you?” he asked O’connel.
“I think it was tongs…I can’t be sure though, I hit the ground directly after.” said O’connel.
“Next time you’ll remember to duck yeah.” chuckled Gary.
“Next time I’ll eat his godam spleen.” assured O’connel, “By the way, how did your date go with that girl you met on the dating site?” O’connel asked Gary, wincing slightly in pain as the alcohol drenched Q-tip dabbed at his cut.
“Perfect man…” said Gary, “I did it with her on our first date…and I can assure you—I had no desire whatsoever to pull out.”
“You didn’t use a condom? What if she gets pregnant?” asked O’connel with genuine concern.
“She’s not on the dating site looking to become a mother you dip-shit.” laughed Gary, throwing the Q-tip into the trash can before returning to his salad prepping without washing his hands.
“What about STD’s?” asked O’connel, smoothing a band aid over his brow.
“I doubt I’ll pass any on to her…I hadn’t had a break-out in weeks before we hooked up.” assured Gary, as he sliced a head of lettuce on a dirty cutting board. It was hard to believe that men like Gary existed…but they clearly did, for some reason.
Later, near the end of the night, while I was disposing empty bottles of wine in a recycling bin in the alleyway, O’connel joined me outside and asked me if I’d ever seen his friend Grady Pile do his comedy routine at Cafe Alonso—a hang out on the Drive for designer-hipsters and wannabe poets. According to O’connel, Grady was a made-man at Alonso and beyond that; a laugh riot…however, I doubted it—usually people were most funny when they weren’t trying to be; intentional hilarity was a social rarity.
“I want to do some spoken word next week at Cafe Alonso…Grady is trying to get me a slot.” confessed O’connel.
There was a group of heroin junkies rolling around and groaning in the alleyway. One was lying flat on his back staring starkly into the midnight sky, yelling at the top of his lungs about implants in his brain.
“Hey, you mind?” I asked him, “We’re trying to have a conversation over here.”
The junkie peered at me with madness in his eyes. “You got five dollars?” he asked me.
“What’s five dollars going to do? You need an entire overhaul.” I pointed out.
“Hey come on buddy…you got five dollars for an old man?” he slurred.
“If I give you five dollars will you shut the fuck up?” I asked him.
“If you give me five dollars…” he made like he was locking his mouth with an imaginary key which he tossed over his shoulder.
It had been a good tip night and so I handed O’connel a Wilfred Laurier and motioned with my head.
“You want me to give this to him?” he asked.
“Unless you want to keep listening to him scream.” I said.
With a shrug O’connel walked over to the man and handed him the five after which the man rested his head back down on the cement and resumed yelling at the sky about the implants in his brain.
“Can you believe this asshole.” I said.
“Yeah, so I want to do some spoken word.” O’connel said when he was back, “But do you think people will laugh at me in a bad way rather than a good way?”
“Probably they will laugh either way.” I said absently, noticing beside the recycling bin a large window pane made of stained glass which, from what I could decipher in the darkness, depicted a vintage vineyard scene.
“I just don’t think I’m ready yet.” he said.
“Ready for what? Have you seen some of the bastards that get up at word slams?” I said, moving the recycling bin out of the way so I could get a better look at the stained glass window pane.
“I don’t care about competing…I just want to impress the barista…so I have to be good, I can’t go up there and blow taint.”
“I’m sure it wouldn’t be the first time old boy.” I mused, “You got a lighter?”
“Why you gonna spark one up?” asked O’connel.
“Look at this crazy window…I think it must be a relic from the old days…it’s gotta be from the 1970’s…maybe earlier. Why is it just sitting back here?” I said.
“I have a flashlight on my phone.” said O’connel, triggering it and shining the light over the dust covered, stained glass contours.
Indeed, the window was a vintage illustration; a vineyard scene complete with a bludgeoned orange sunset sinking into a horizon of hills lined with rows of trees. In the foreground of the illustration, was a row of pillars wrapped in leafy vines…the rest of the window was missing…a large jagged hole smashed in its corner left only the stem of a wine glass sitting on a wooden table beside what may have been a bowl of grapes. I wondered what had gone through it to make such an oval shaped hole. In any case, it was an unexpected slice of history they kept leaned against the alleyway fence.
“I have to be good to impress her…her name is Jenna…Jenna the barista.” O’connel babbled on.
“You got it bad for a barista do you?” I asked absently still studying the artifact.
“Pretty bad.” assured O’connel, “She’s the first woman since my ex who I want to hit up.”
“Why did it end with your ex?” I inquired.
“Well…the thing of it is…she was dating like four other guys while dating me.” said O’connel, ” She said we were exclusive…then eventually I found out about all these other guys she was dating…she was dating one of the guys even longer than me if you can believe it. I also found out she was registered on two dating sites while she’d been dating me. I guess I shouldn’t have expected devotion…I did meet her in a threesome.” confessed O’connel in a forlorn tone.
“Sounds like a walking Jerry Springer episode to me.” I said.
“What’s Jerry Springer? I swear…people on dating sites are dating 10 people at once–it’s so easy to do. Social media didn’t help the problem…you know how social media is.” said O’connel.
“I don’t actually…I’m not on social media and have never used a dating site.” I informed him.
“Come on man.” he chuckled as if the idea was absurd.
“Why would I?”
“You’re not on Spacebook or Instagraph?”
“Do you see me taking selfies in fucking yoga pants? Come on…” I said, waving it off, “Here give me a hand with this window…I want to pull it out into the light.
“You’ve never used a dating site?” he asked.
“You mean a fuck site? No…I never have. I’m not trying to wind up looking like a chili-dog with extra relish.”
“Extra relish?” asked O’connel—the space cadet.
“So how did you find out that your girl was a walking Jerry Springer episode, I mean what was the defining moment?” I asked him, taking hold of one side. O’connel took the other and as we wedged the window pane out from behind the bins, O’connel continued.
“Well…it was pretty evident when I got the clap…but when I came down with Gonorrhea like a month after…I realized she must have been cheating on me…I was only sleeping with two other women at the time and neither of them gave me anything.” Assured O’connel.
“How do you know that?” I asked.
“Well, for one they both lost their shit on me when they found out I’d passed it on to them—one of them threw my laptop against the floor and smashed it into pieces…she didn’t take it very well.” O’connel confessed in a solemn tone.
“Well, congratulations asshole.” I said, shaking my head and grinning at O’connel; not sure if any of it was serious.
“What are you dick-weeds doing?” came a voice from behind us. It was Holland…he’d been working at the Jade Room the longest and he took his job as seriously as his cigarillo breaks. To me, he was a sinewy old chap who I’d only ever heard talk about three things; women, drinking and fishing. He was originally from Oregon and had a bit of the old Ken Kesey to him. He’d lived his prime years in the 1970’s; a different world altogether…an era of stubby bottles, filterless cigarettes, and devil may care political incorrectness.
“Have you seen this relic? It’s got to be from the 1970’s…maybe even earlier.” I told him.
“I remember that window.” said Holland, “So that’s where they stashed it. They were thinking of having it redone…but I guess they forgot about it.”
“What happened to it?” I asked. “How did it break?”
“Oh, that was during the riot…somebody threw a beer bottle through it.” said Holland.
“What riot?” asked O’connel.
“Over the hockey cup they lost…you don’t remember?” asked Holland.
“No.” said O’connel.
“You didn’t hear about it on the news?”
“Ah, the news is boring.” said O’connel.
“You’re one simple son of a bitch aren’t you O’connel?” chuckled Holland, pulling out his wafer thin phone and thumbing in a quick search, a few seconds later he was playing a video of the riot on the small screen of his phone for O’connel. O’connel watched calmly, his eyes still pleasant and glassy, his lips slightly curled in his perpetual grin and his blubbery, rosy cheeks looking freshly slapped.
“I’ll tell you…” said Holland, replacing his phone in his pocket and taking a last few puffs on his cigarillo, “In my day, you rioted for a good reason…not over some hockey cup you couldn’t win. You rioted over things that mattered…that’s the problem now…the kids are spoiled rotten…too much coddling and not enough adversity…that’s why they’re so confused and have so many allergies. I never had allergies when I was a kid…I didn’t know anybody who did either…there was none of this lactose intolerance bullshit, gluten free, vegan, fruitarian crap…you ate what your mother put on the table…now every night I get these bitch-ass kids coming into the bistro, whining, ‘I can’t eat meat…I can’t eat bread…I’m allergic to tomatoes…onions, garlic, butter, mushrooms, dairy, citrus, pretty much everything on the menu…I can’t eat anything with cucumber in it’…how do these people survive—what do they eat?”
“I don’t like to eat asparagus…it makes my pee smell bad.” said O’connel, making a face.
“Congratulations.” said Holland, “Anyway, I think that window was from a wine bar that used to be here in the sixties, I got here in the late sixties and I don’t remember it ever not being there…back then it was a Greek wine bar…a Greek tavern sort of thing.” said Holland, “This town was a lot different back then.”
“I always wish I could go back to the late sixties for a week…just to see how it used to be…if the photos lied.” I said.
“History grabs you does it? Well…in that case, I got something in a safe at home that you oughta see.”
“Yeah?” I said, wondering what it could be.
“If you give me a ride to my place in Steveston after work; I’ll show it to you.” he said.
Later that night, the three of us, O’connel, Holland and I, drove to the distant outpost of Steveston in the pouring rain. It was nearly 1230am and the streets were barren. O’connel had tagged along because he was curious about what was in Holland’s safe and I didn’t mind O’connel tagging along in the event that Holland turned out to be an axe murdering cannibal…indeed, in such a case, O’connel would make a great blubbery buffer.
When we arrived the wind had picked up and pieces of branches were blowing across the asphalt amidst heavy sheets of rain; a monsoon. With Holland in the lead, we beat it across the lawn, not bothering with the scenic walkway that wound through a labyrinth of flower beds and manicured shrubs. The wind and rain pounded our backs as Holland fumbled with the keys…eventually though, he found the correct one and we were nearly blown into the foyer of the house by a severe gust of wind that brought with it into the house, loose leaves and a sad soaking cat.
The cat, once in the warm safety of the house, shivered like a drowned rat, looking up at us, clearly terrorized by the storm which had come on nearly immediately in a tirade of ferocious gales and torrential rain. It was Holland’s neighbor’s cat and he’d gotten lucky when we’d arrived. Holland’s wife, a lithe blonde woman perhaps half his age, took pity on the neighbor’s cat, wrapping him in a brown towel and bringing a bowl of warm milk. We, meanwhile, headed to the second floor living room.
We found Holland’s daughter in the living room, smoking a water bong and painting her toe nails different colors while a Die Antwoord video played on the giant flat screen fastened to the wall. She was perhaps O’connel’s age…23 perhaps; a wreck of sensitivities.
“That’s a nice color.” said O’connel of the white nail polish she was applying.
“It’s my fave color.” said Holland’s daughter, looking now at O’connel who froze, like a deer in the headlights.
“White is your fave color?” asked O’connel, copping his signature comically confused grin.
“It’s called Frosting.” informed Holland’s daughter before sticking her tongue out at O’connel, “Nice skinny jeans…you look like a chicken.”
“Marcy…I brought you some desserts…why don’t you take one to you mother.” suggested Holland, opening the small brown take-out box and displaying the desserts to his daughter.
“She’s not my mother.” said Marcy tilting her head and gazing into the box…as if hypnotized…she then reached in carefully and picked out a cupcake topped with a few inches of purple icing. She held the cupcake and blew on her toenails as she bopped her head along to the Die Antwoord video which had caught O’connel’s attention.
“I can’t tell whether that little blonde chick turns me on or creeps me out.” he chuckled.
“How does she turn you on?” asked Marcy, without taking her eyes from her drying toe nails.
As O’connel tried to articulate an answer, Holland used the remote to turn the TV off, sank down into a large leather barcalounger next to the windows and let out a long sigh of relief after being on his feet all night. His daughter turned and looked at him for a moment before getting up from the couch. With her free hand, she picked up her bong and waddled awkwardly on her heels over to the TV, the cotton balls still pressed between her toes. As she looked back at her father, she stuck the cupcake against the screen with a small squishing sound, twisting it for good measure so the thick icing stuck like glue. She then waddled down the hall on her heels, leaving Holland, O’connel and I in the quiet room, all of us looking at the cupcake…waiting for it to fall to the carpet…it didn’t fall however, it sat still, snugly stuck to the screen.
“You’ll have to excuse my daughter…she’s a child of divorce.” grinned Holland.
The storm raged itself up against the huge bay windows that overlooked the west dyke and beyond it a vast expanse of blackness; the Straight of Georgia, doubtlessly heaving with cresting waves out there in the darkness. As I imagined a giant wash of sea water breaching the dyke and smashing through the bay windows, Holland turned on a lamp, turning the windows into black mirrors. My reflection looked back at me in an eerie way and I turned to look around the room. Above the fireplace was a painting of Holland’s trophy wife sitting in an Elizabethan chair and in a cabinet beside the painting was a collection of Venetian masks that cast eerie expressions.
Holland tossed me a cigarillo…a wood tipped Black & Mild. I lit it and peered out into the night as the gales threatened to break through the bay windows. Holland then produced a bottle of whisky from a cabinet beside his chair. He poured us all three fingers and I gave mine to O’connel who drank it up like a glutton. From the same cabinet, Holland took a box and set it on the glass coffee table.
“What’s in the box?” I asked him as I blew a smoke ring toward the overhead bulb…the smoke ring was perfect and rolled itself inside out as it floated toward the ceiling.
Holland opened the box and produced from it a folded envelope. In the envelope was something rectangular wrapped in linen. He carefully unraveled the linen and an old paper back was eventually revealed. Holland handed the book to me—it was a Hemingway, ‘The Garden of Eden’. I studied the familiar cover art and flexed its soft-cover body…so amazing books were…though often thin and bendy; they contained long dead worlds of vast enchantment. What would the world be without prose? I wondered, opening the old book and admiring the print.
“This is one of his best.” I said, “Why do you have it wrapped up like a mummy?”
“Open the cover.” urged Holland from behind a plume of cigarillo smoke.
On opening the cover I found some words scribbled across the bottom of the page…they were written in black pen and looked as fresh as if they were written the day before:
To the sensible Mr. Hughes.
“For real?” I asked Holland.
“Of course it’s for real.” said Holland with a wide grin.
“How?” I asked.
“Who’s the sensible Mr. Hughes?” asked O’connel…lost in his milenialhood without a clue.
“That’s mister as in Howard.” assured Holland.
“Howard Hughes…what did he do again? Didn’t he invent the television or something?” asked O’connel.
“How did you get this?” I asked Holland.
“I used to work at the Bayshore…down in Coal Harbor. One year, Howard Hughes rented out an entire floor in that hotel…he lived there for months…on the tenth floor if I recall…tinfoil on the windows and the whole bit. Anyway, one of the housekeeping ladies found this book up there after Hughes and company had moved out. She asked me if I wanted it and I took it nonchalantly. I’m a Hemingway fan, so I intended to read the book. The book wound up sitting in my book case for a year before I finally got around to reading it. When I opened the first page; I realized what I had.”
“That’s incredible.” I said…looking down at the words again which looked as if they’d been penned only the day before. I needed a moment to wrap my mind around it. Again I ran my eyes over Gardner’s casual hand-writing…hand-writing that had outlived her and Hughes, like a mysterious hieroglyph. We’d never know—and it wasn’t any of our business. Still, I ran my finger over her words, feeling for energy…but there was none…just smooth paper whispering back at us from beyond the grave…aere perennius.
Scenes from an Apocalypse (new)
In many ways it is like any other day. Looking at the bustle and the buildings and the cracks in the cement, it would seem as such too. At least to Paul Springer, who peers down at the endless expanse of rooftops and palm trees, tangled in freeways that course with the rapid pulse of cars. They pollute the horizon these cars, coloring it a hazy shade of rust so the distant LA skyline looks slightly smudged; fossil fuels—never meant to be dug up, thinks Paul, leaning against the balustrade of his 24th floor balcony, dragging deeply on his cigarette and shaking his head slightly; what difference would any of humanity’s blunders make now?
A DC-9, jetting overhead in the direction of LAX rumbles the twin panes of the sliding glass doors that gape widely behind Paul, letting into his overpriced apartment the succulent southern Californian air as well as the sweltering July heat; the planes are still running—and why not? People still need to fly. The world couldn’t just shut down—though it would anyway; denial?
Paul wonders why this denial has evaded him in the midst of mass oblivion. Had they not seen Dr. Harvard on CNN explain in quantum physics layman’s terms, exactly how the impact will be? Had they not witnessed the computer generated mega-tsunamis racing for the eastern sea board and running hundreds of miles inland? Had they not seen the animated dramatization, shown from outer space—a fiery cloud engulfing the entire globe? Hadn’t anyone seen the one hour specials each and every news channel was sparing no expense to produce to keep the masses informed about the latest projections of heinous demise?
Though somewhere deep in space, far beyond the blue ocean of sky that domes their city, a rock the size of Massachusetts is tumbling toward their world; they push along, like insects moving forth on instinct alone…suckling at the last remains of marrow, unafraid of choking on the bone.
Knowing he must push on as well, the surreal reality that he and the rest of them will all be burned cinders in six months is somehow kept at bay, neatly packed in a far corner of his mind—stored away in an endless warehouse, like the lost Ark in the famed movie from the carefree 1980’s. Padding across the soft carpet of his living room and back into the bathroom, the whiteness of the tile walls wakes him, sharpening his focus so he can see the tiny pores of his flesh under the mirrors perimeter of small florescent bulbs; human…flesh, blood, bone—mortal.
As he smears a thick spread of light blue shaving cream over his face, the image repeats in his mind; the mega-tsunamis racing toward the eastern seaboard with the cold, violent indifference of nature. The razor is cool and drags through the cream easily as he listens to Dr. Hargrave on the TV—another news syndicate PHD telling the masses how horrible the impact will be. Today he speaks of the exact point of impact just off the shores of Nova Scotia—where the Titanic went down, he adds, for dramatic effect, as if any more was needed.
Kendra Kelly, the scrumptiously gorgeous yet eerily brainy anchorwoman emits her trademark guffaw, like a programmed robot, suggesting that the Titanic is ‘just a lightning rod for bad luck isn’t it?’ Hargrave humorlessly continues to suggest that if the impact site was further east, like for instance the center of the Atlantic; the Tsunamis might not be so bad once they reached the eastern seaboard…however, before a black cloud envelopes the atmosphere, the megatons of vaporized sea water would still surely jet upward into the stratosphere like kettle steam, burning a massive hole in the ozone layer; inevitably causing a slow leak in our tire tube out here in the middle of infinity…and this phenomenon could kick start the death of the planet itself…like it’s distant cousin Mars. Great, thinks Paul, imagining the billowing cloud of fire and brimstone reaching from sea to sky rushing across the vast rural plains, eating through metropolises, peaceful meadows and dog parks—fucked either way.
Janet is waiting on her corner as she said she’d be. In spite of the sweltering heat, she is clad in tight fitting jeans and a faded London Calling tank top. Her over sized horn rim sunglasses give her the appearance of a small pouty bug. Leaning against a lamp post at the corner of Franklin and Beachwood with one arm crossed over her chest, propping up the other that holds a cigarette suspended beside her remarkably pale face; a grin forms across Janet’s candy red lips when she notices Paul emerge in the turning lane.
She is in the car in no time, bringing with her a waft of spring breeze…the shampoo she uses.
“Hey…why all the clock and dagger?” asks Paul as he U-turns back onto Franklin and makes an easy left.
“Just drive.” she says, peering over her shoulder as if they are being followed.
“So mysterious.” chuckles Paul, his laugh ebbing a moment later when Janet removes her sunglasses and he finds there is only dire intensity held in the twin pools of her blue eyes, “What—were you joining up?” Paul asks, motioning with his head toward the Scientology Castle passing by Janet’s open window.
“I did it.” says Janet.
“I got my mother’s brooch back from the bastard.”
Paul peers straight ahead, connecting the dots, “How did that happen?”
“I went in and took it.” says Janet, replacing her sunglasses and peering out of her window at the passing facades of old Hollywood manors.
“Break and enter…” nods Paul, the notion unsettling somehow, as if it centers focus on the inevitability of their global predicament in a frightening way.
“More like smash and enter.” Janet corrects.
“Smash and enter.”
“I threw one of those wooden patio chairs through their sliding plate glass window…I mean what the fuck right? And it felt real good—as if the months of frustration dissipated with just this one act of vandalism.” says Janet now, deflating her anxiety with a long sigh of indifference, “Made a terrible mess of their room looking for that brooch…but—I got it.”
In the small palm of Janet’s hand sits a diamond studded, butterfly brooch. The stones are stuck solidly into the gold wingspan of the butterfly and they sparkle back at Paul brilliantly and he is slightly awed—for he’s heard of this brooch for months now and had thought it to be a dusty old relic from a long dead era—before satellites, internet, cell phones and social media had turned the world dumb, numb and narcissistic as hell. It is a thing of beauty and Paul admires it for a few seconds before the red light turns green and they can push on, toward no particular destination.
“Jesus Jan…what did you do?”
“I had to baby.” she says, turning and looking at Paul with her bug eye sunglasses.
Paul, tempted to volley into a lecture on the importance of not losing their humanity in the midst of Armageddon, chooses not to and instead reaches over and closes her soft hand around the brooch, “Well, you got it back now.”
“That son of a bitch said he lost it in the move…and then insisted that I must have taken it with me when I’d left. He lied Paul…he fucking lied to me.” says Janet, sounding freshly wounded.
“He lied about everything else…why not that?” shrugs Paul, turning south onto Vermont now. He’s decided they will take the 10 out to Santa Monica…sit on the beach perhaps and try to fit their minds around the fact that the world they know will, in a very short while, become a burning cinder. After all, it’s a beautiful day for the beach.
The 10 is racing with cars and running smooth and it whisks them onto the PCH in no time at all. As they drive through Santa Monica’s beach front, Paul admires the colorful waroos sailing the foamy crests of small waves rolling in from the blue abyss. What about at the bottom of the ocean? He and Janet in a luxury submarine at the bottom of the pacific…certainly the carnage wouldn’t reach them there. As Paul absently ponders the plausibility of such a plan; Janet screams for him to brake and brake he does, expecting fully to be rear ended by whatever car is behind him. No rear impact comes however and Paul faces forward to find a man in his underwear holding in one hand a tiny puppy and in the other—a 45 automatic. His shirtless arms and chest are covered in tattoos that reach up his neck and nearly to his jaw. There are also tattoos of tears at the corners of his eyes and under the left tear a name is written, ‘Adele’…Paul wonders what kind of a woman Adele must have been to have earned a permanent spot on the man’s face. For a moment, Paul wonders if the man will raise the gun…however, the man only nods and walks on…back toward the beach.
“You nearly ran over that little puppy—and the crazy looking guy.” says Janet.
“Was it the guys’s dog?” asks Paul.
“He ran out and picked it up…maybe he’s the owner?” she speculates with a shrug.
If only things were different, they might have made a great marriage he and Janet—in another life perhaps. They drive on, slowing with the coagulating traffic, hoping to find a spot to park on the side of the highway…however, there are no spots—for many, or perhaps most in the LA region…life will be a beach, until humanity’s short reign of history and achievement is wiped clean from the earth—confirming the insignificance of human achievement. For some reason, Paul thinks of the Zapruder film…locked away in some National Archives vault; the fire would get to it too…the fire would get to everything in the end. A shiver runs through Paul and Janet’s hand tugging at his sleeve comes as a welcome distraction.
“There…there’s one.” she points toward a spot beyond the oncoming lanes. Taking advantage of a perfectly timed break in traffic to U-turn into the only available spot for miles…Paul sees it as fate; the day was meant to take them here.
“Hey, why don’t you put on that brooch.” says Paul once they are parked tightly between two sports cars—cars that will be eaten up by the inferno, “Take off those godam shades too…I want to see your pretty eyes.”
“My eyes feel tired.” says Janet as they make their way carefully down the grade toward the shore that is foamy with the lapping of tide.
There must be thousands of people on the beaches today. Stretching down the vast coastline, the sands are crowded with people as far as the eye can see…not such an original idea, thinks Paul, and though crowded beaches usually deter him; today there is a distant comfort in it as he walks with Janet, hand in hand toward the setting sun—an end of days postcard.
Though she hasn’t taken off her sunglasses, Janet has fastened the brooch to her tank top shirt and it looks brilliantly out of place among her attire. He glances at it again, the brooch, imagining this small woman beside him throwing a chair through her ex’s sliding glass door for it. It seems out of character for her and he wonders what else she’s keeping inside herself that he hasn’t learned about in the last 16 months.
Most details have come forth on their own accord, presenting as reactions that puzzle and intrigue him…such as her laughter while watching Diane Sawyer’s interview with Charles Manson. She hadn’t been appalled by Manson’s ultra-evil facade; rather she’d found him to be ridiculous and worthy of mocking laughter. There is a strength about her—a strength that seems untouched by the approaching asteroid and all of it’s fiery ramifications.
He is perpetually awed by the stained-glass shades within her…and left fascinated by his inability to fully conceive the religious upbringing by which she’s been forged; the spiritual scaffolding within her. Perhaps she’d have gone the distance with him–perhaps she’d have made a great wife…or perhaps not–perhaps she’s merely the perfect girlfriend for an apocalypse, thinks Paul, turning back to the horizon that is gradually becoming a bludgeoned orange masterpiece.
“Funny,” says Paul, “we’d thought this was all for us…that the world was only a backdrop for our lives…however–we didn’t even make it as far as the dinosaurs…or even bubbling spores–we were a blink…a layer of dust cloaking the height of history. We were just the dust.”
“We’re more than that.” says Janet, sliding her hand into his.
“Where is your God in all of this?” asks Paul, unable to help himself from asking her.
“Why is he only my God when things are going badly?” she smiles…somehow able to put him at ease in the midst of all of this; the answer to his question.
By day, Churchill Park was a lush, vast expanse of rolling green hills, dog walking trails and lake-side benches. The park was centered by a large marble fountain which was perpetually filled with pennies, dimes and nickels tossed into the foamy water by wishers who weren’t willing to pay more for their wishes. At night, a heavy mist would always drape lightly over the dewy grass and surround the turn of the century lanterns in soft halos that dotted the main cobblestone walkways in warm pools of yellow light. It was said that the park was haunted, only we weren’t aware who’d originally said that—for certainly every urban legend is started by someone.
Churchill Park was also a mystical safe haven for the moon-worshipping, esoterically adventurous post adolescents who, like us were killing time before moving away for colleges in other, more prosperous cities. At the very least, Churchill park was a safe haven for the publicly drunk. In this instance, as always, we—Chantal, Mitzy, Sampson and myself—fell into the latter classification. Having wandered together from a magic-mushroom house party in the far west side of town; we had decided to finish the remainder of alcohol in Sampson’s backpack amidst the dark shadows of Churchill park—for the park hadn’t changed much since the late 1800’s and never failed to evoke mysticisms from that time period…as if on some innate level we could collectively sense the whispers of our forefathers…which, if nothing else, allowed us reassurance that no matter how badly we fucked up this world—which had been inevitably left in our hands—it was all going to turn out alright in the end…and if it didn’t—what the fuck…perhaps the next generation would succeed, or better yet—fuck it up even worse and make us look not so bad.
We found a spot—a familiar spot in the center of an old gazebo where, during the summer months, chamber orchestras played on Sunday afternoons and had been doing so since the early 1900’s—the gazebo marked a spot of hard bred tradition and perhaps it’s what we all craved most in the three years since graduating. Getting comfortable on the cold wood I admired the design of the gazebo. The men who’d built it were all dead now…along with their era—time had eaten their entire generation away and existing as we were among its relics was like sleeping in their bed. Lighting a cigarette a notion occurred to me—we were only passing figures in this world—and so what if? The mist, rolling in off the lake danced beautifully over the ridge of a nearby hill and it was caught perfectly in the lamplight as it moved toward us in a ghostly, billowing blanket.
“It’s chilly as fuck out here tonight.” I said, holding the cigarette in the corner of my mouth, looking up slightly to keep the smoke out of my eye as I buttoned my plaid to the collar.
“Here.” said Chantal, gently tying her scarf around my head in an attempt to warm me against the chill of the mid March early morning hour…3am and we were the only ones stirring.
“Aw, you look so cute and harmless now.” she said, smiling at me from behind her Liza Minnelli hairdo which flopped over one eye slightly.
“I think Franky looks like a big bunny with that bow sticking up like that.” said Mitzy.
“What are you doing to me?” asked Chantal, removing the scarf and wrapping it back around her neck.
“Nothing you haven’t already done to me.” I told her.
“It’s not a competition.” she admitted.
I just looked at her, not sure what she meant by this—certainly the notion had never crossed my mind.
“It’s not really that cold out here is it?” Sampson said, barely 20 and already hypertensive from too many rare steaks and hard nights of drinking.
“Tell that to my balls.” I spat back at him as Chantal found a spot directly across from me.
“Here…light these…I nicked them from my uncle’s restaurant.” Sampson said to Mitzy as he produced three sternos from his backpack and placed them in a perfect row on the gazebo floor before her.
As Mitzy lit the sternos and set them one by one in the center of our circle, Chantal picked up one of Sampson’s remaining beers which cracked open with a hiss of foam that she sucked up immediately, careful not to spill on her lap. She handed me one and I opened it with one hand, letting the foam run down the side of the can and onto the gazebo floor.
“Do you always have to make a mess?” Chantal asked.
“What do you care? You never have to clean it up.” I told her.
Chantal just looked at me with a deep, half-hurt expression…a dramatist—she had no reason to be hurt at all, for what I’d said was true, and she knew.
“Who cares about the mess,” said Mitzy, “I’m thinking that’s a waste of beer, especially at this hour.”
“You’re going to make a smashing drunk one day Mitz.” I told her, raising the dripping can in her honor before taking a long haul from it. Though the night was chilly, the beer was somehow still lukewarm, or at least the room temperature of the house party we’d trekked from—minus a few degrees which we’d lost along the way.
“I’m too pissed to be cold. Did you see Tanner tonight? What a fucking douche bag.” mused Mitzy, shaking her head and hugging herself against the chill.
“Yeah, that was pretty low…but ya know—the guy is known for being low.” said Sampson, cracking his own beer, “Not judging, just saying.”
“I’m judging.” said Mitzy solemnly, “I’m judging really fucking hard right now.”
“Did I miss something?” asked Chantal glancing at Mitzy then back to me.
“Yeah, you missed the afterschool special.” I chuckled.
“Fuck you Nero,” spat Mitzy, “and double fuck you if you’re going to defend him.”
“I’m not defending anyone.” I told her.
“You’re free to defend him if you want.” said Mitzy.
“I’m not though.” I assured.
“I hate him.” said Mitzy.
“But do you really hate him?” asked Sampson.
“Yeah…I do…and I don’t really ever hate anyone…I hate Tanner tonight though.”
“Well, there’s a thin line after all.” said Sampson.
“It’s not a line…it’s fucking Kate Wainwright…she’s obsessed with me…and always has been since the tenth grade—it’s creepy sort of.” said Mitzy.
“Ok, I must have really missed something tonight.” grinned Chantal.
“Look at it this way—you can spend the rest of your life hating him—there is no rule that says you have to forgive and forget.” I offered, hoping this would offer at least a modicum of consolation…if not a prized silver lining.
“That takes too much energy.” said Mitzy, stonily, “And what the hell do you mean by saying that anyway?”
“You don’t know? He’s moving to Baltimore in May—his entire family is going…and you know, he’s the type of bastard who’ll live at home until he’s 40.” I said.
“Why Baltimore?” asked Mitzy.
“Wrong question.” I said.
“I guess.” she concurred in her quiet masterful nonchalance, before sipping from her sporty water bottle with the screw-on cap…the one she usually kept spiked with gin, sparing lime juice and ice cubes, “Maybe I should be asking why he showed up there at all…not to mention with Kate ‘all-night’ Wainwright.”
“That’s what they call her ‘all-night’ Wainwright?” chuckled Sampson.
“That’s what I call her.” growled Mitzy with a malicious grin, now marinating happily in her scorn.
“Probably it was the last party he could hit before making his big move to Baltimore.” shrugged Sampson.
“Look, Tanner at a Karen Dunbar party? That doesn’t fit and everyone knows it. Karen is my friend not his…even when Tanner and I were together; he never came with me to any of Karen’s parties…and tonight he shows up with ‘all-night’ Wainwright?”
“Why do they call her that?” asked Sampson.
“Why do you think?” grinned Chantal, listening quietly on the sidelines now. She’d been involving me in very involved bouts of marathon sex since the previous year…perhaps afraid that Y2K would be the end of us all…however it hadn’t been and we’d become secretly, monogamously content with one another…kidding ourselves that we could get so close to the fire without getting burned.
“Godamit Mitz,” I said, “you’re looking for a conspiracy where nothing exists.” I pointed out, trying to keep her on the rails—Mitzy had a tendency to go off the rails, “You broke up with him…he moved on—let the poor guy go.”
“I’m looking for a conspiracy where nothing exists? That concept is so easy to dismiss for you, sitting there like Earl godam Warren in your plaid shirt, buttoned up to the top like a member of Suicidal Tendencies…bloody fuck Nero—how can you be so simple?” demanded Mitzy, her fangs showing a bit.
“Listen, Mitzy…it’s the end of an era. This is what happens in life—people disappoint you and then they move away—or you move away. We’re the last stronghold of the golden years baby…right here…the four of us…we’re the last sad sacks to get out of Dodge. Did you really think this was all going to last forever?” I asked her—a question she didn’t bother answering—she only stared back at me, her face flickering in the sterno flames.
“The end of an era it definitely is,” interjected Chantal, “and I feel like a kid who refuses to pack up and leave summer camp—it’s like well into fall and I still refuse to leave…it’s hard to believe that this will all be a memory…I wonder if we’ll know each other in fifteen years…if we’ll still talk.”
“Who knows if we’ll still even be here in 15 years…a comet could fly out of the Oort Cloud, miss the earth by a few miles and turn us all into brain eating zombies. Maybe we’ll be eating each other’s brains in 15 years.” said Mitzy, amused distantly by the notion.
“Well, if time really is a fabric and the past, present and future all exist simultaneously; then whatever will be will be—just like it’s already been, is now and will be in the future—don’t sweat the fine print.” advised Chantal.
“You’re such a Gemini,” spat Mitzy, “and to say that is to suggest that destiny actually exists—when it clearly doesn’t.”
“I believe in destiny.” Chantal said quietly with her trademark stare that focused on a far off point.
“And what about freedom of choice?” inquired Mitzy, “Don’t I have a say?”
“Ok,” said Chantal, getting cozy on her piece of gazebo floor, “try and see it as a reel of film…and we’re the actors in the film. There’s a past that has already been projected and it’s all wound up at the bottom of the reel…there is an inevitable future—a future that is yet to be seen, though already predetermined—because it’s all been filmed and edited and of course there is the present that is being projected right this second. Really, the present is ever fleeting…it’s only here for a second before it’s gone…and there’s 24 frames in each second; so of course the present is now—and we’re just moving through it…at 24 frames per second. It seems spontaneous, but it’s not…it’s all predetermined and in fact, we may have done this same exact thing before.”
“Missy Gemini.” said Mitzy squinting her eyes at Chantal.
“What does that even mean?” asked Chantal.
“It means you’re two women in one.” said Mitzy.
“Two women in one; twice the headache or twice the fun?” I chuckled.
“Oh, you’re so witty.” Chantal rolled her eyes at me.
“If we’ve done this all before…is that why we get déjà vu?” asked Sampson, perplexed by this analogy.
“Didn’t you already ask her that?” I inquired, the pun clearing well above his head.
“If you understood physics—if you could speak that language—you’d see it all makes sense.” insisted Chantal.
“I failed physics.” said Sampson, “And I failed proud.”
“Physics is overrated.” I said, before swilling down the remainder of the warmish beer, tossing the can over my shoulder so it landed on the grass silently, “You need physics to send a module into space…to take photos of Mars…you need physics to calibrate the instruments…but physics can’t describe what inspired our greatest artists.”
“Physics can’t explain the existence of God.” Sampson said, nodding.
“But certainly physics could explain the existence of God…what about Roger’s Version?” grinned Chantal…her clever eyes clicking at me—a dig? One could never tell with Chantal; two personalities—elusive and more elusive.
“The laws of physics are meant to be bent, clearly.” Mitzy pointed out.
“Well, if you’re talking about bending a spoon with your brain—you’ve read too much science fiction.” laughed Chantal, enjoying this jousting match.
“If we used more than a small percentage why couldn’t we bend a spoon?” shrugged Mitzy.
“Damage control…we’ve already been lobotomized haven’t we?” grinned Sampson, “I mean, why all the extra storage space? Maybe evolution figured we didn’t need all that brain matter anymore…just like we don’t need wisdom teeth or a tail bone anymore.”
“My point is…” Mitzy sighed, lying on her side now and propping her head up on one hand, “…the USS Cyclops…gone without a trace in the Bermuda Triangle—without so much as a fucking trace.”
“I thought that the Nazis captured that ship.” said Sampson.
“Wrong World War.” said Mitzy, “Anyway, it was the Triangle that took that ship…like so many others.”
“Took it where?” asked Sampson.
“Into another dimension—I don’t know…the future maybe. Time is altered by gravity—we know this—they have to re-calibrate the clocks in satellites because of gravity. Explain that one with our current understanding of physics.”
“We may not be able to…but that’s not because physics can’t explain it—it’s because we don’t fully understand the language of physics yet.” said Chantal.
“I can’t believe that all this time I’ve thought the Cyclops was taken by the Nazis.” said Sampson, removing a large bottle of home brewed moonshine from his backpack.
“Wrong war Sampson…the Cyclops disappeared around 1918.”
“Well…shit on my bum. Hey…my grandfather was there on D-Day—he stormed the beaches man…he was a fucking hero.” said Sampson.
“To the Greatest Generation.” I said, raising a fresh can of beer, “Si Deus pro nobis quis contra nos est?”
“Such a lovely language.” said Chantal, the lover of language.
“You only think that because it’s a dead language.” I postulated.
“Not true, I think Middle English is atrocious.” corrected Chantal, leaving the ball in my court, not suspecting I would forfeit.
“How do you know about so many languages?” I asked.
“My father is an antique book dealer.” admitted Chantal.
“Sounds very…literate.” Mitzy said, lying now flat on her back, “Is he a writer like Frank?”
“Are you kidding me? He may have contrived tastes, but he’s no artist—he peddles the works of dead writers…aside from his collection; he’s absolutely artless and void. Explains why he had so many affairs on my mother with younger women.”
“Boy you really resent that father of yours.” I said.
“My dysfunctional relationship with him has affected all of my relationships with men—and probably always will.” said Chantal, staring at that far off point again.
“You’re going to kill yourself drinking that swill.” Mitzy said to Sampson who was now rising from his spot on the creaky wooden floor, “What’s the alcohol content in that shit anyway?”
“Burns the mouth like 130 proof…I know that much. Check me out…I’m Tom Cruise.” said Sampson twirling the bottle before rolling it down his arm from his bicep and vaulting it upward off of his wrist so it suspended in mid-air for a second before he snatched it up with his other hand.
“Tom Cruise you’re definitely not.” laughed Mitzy.
“I bet you can’t spin around and catch it.” Chantal suggested.
“Bet you’re wrong.” said Sampson, vaulting the bottle a bit higher this time and spinning quickly to catch it…amazingly, the bottle met with his palm with a small slap. “What’d I tell ya?”
“I’ve never seen you move that fast old chap.” I told him.
“I’m dizzy…hold on.” he said, staggering forward theatrically, holding one side of his head, which got us all chuckling.
Still standing in the center of the gazebo, Sampson tossed the bottle between palms as he stared out into the dark expanse of the park, “I think there’s someone out there.” he said, squinting his eyes.
“Don’t make this spooky.” Chantal said, with a wry grin.
“Oh my god…I see someone…a man, he has no face!” exclaimed Sampson before volleying into a guffaw that seemed to resonate up into the gazebo rafters that were perhaps designed for acoustics.
“You’re such an ass.” laughed Mitzy from her lying position on the floor.
It was then that what happened, happened; Sampson, being the klutz he was, tossed the bottle slightly wide of his waiting hand and in an attempt to recover it, fumbled it upward and out—beyond his reach…we all watched the bottle, as if in slow motion, fall to the gazebo floor, directly atop the flaming sternos. What followed was a fireball that spread outward in a split second, the fiery splash coming dangerously close to Mitzy’s splayed hair. All at once, we all scrambled back, feeling the sudden burst of heat warming our faces…it was hard to believe and it was only a moment later that the magnitude of Sampson’s mishap registered; a large portion of the floor was engulfed in fire.
As if bedazzled by the dance of the orange flames, Chantal glanced at me with a seemingly exhilarated smile before turning back to the spreading inferno.
“Let’s get the fuck out of here man…this shit is going up!” hollered Sampson.
I pushed him aside and lifted his backpack from the floor and turned quickly and swung the bag down, then again, then again…beating down the flames in a challenge of wills. The fire only ate into the backpack until I had to abandon it. Giving up, I tossed the bag into the fire and watched it crumple and melt in the destructive grip of the flames.
“Well, I guess that’s that then.” I said, glancing at Sampson whose face was tightened with panic and etched in moving shadows set in motion by the flames, “Nice move dude.”
“Let’s just get the fuck out of here man…”
We all silently concurred and backed away, half wanting to stand by and watch it burn…as an offer of consolation…the gazebo had stood in that spot for 100 years and we’d destroyed it in a matter of minutes; the end of an era indeed.
As we made our way to the mouth of Churchill Park, we kept looking back in the direction of the gazebo. By the time we were standing on the street the gazebo was an inferno, reaching perhaps 70 feet into the night sky; surreal indeed.
Perhaps out of panic, perhaps out of guilt, perhaps out of fear—or all of the above, Sampson started jogging away and Chantal, Mitzy and I watched him bounce away down a darkened lane.
“I should go after him—he’s really drunk.” sighed Mitzy who followed suit, distantly calling after Sampson.
Chantal and I didn’t hang around; we knew the fire trucks wouldn’t be far behind. We walked down Mackenzie Avenue another two blocks before taking a turn down Chantal’s street. When we were outside her father’s rustic villa-style abode, Chantal turned to me—this was goodbye. She would be leaving on an evening flight to Syracuse later that day, where her mother now lived and where she’d attend school for the next four years.
“That was a completely fucked up night.” she smiled with her Liza Minnelli hairdo covering one eye.
“I’ve had worse.” I admitted.
“So I guess I won’t see you before I go.”
“Guess not.” I sighed, putting my hands in the pockets of my jeans.
“I’ll miss you.” she said.
“You’ll find someone else to play mind games with—don’t worry.” I told her.
“Is that what I’ve been doing with you?” she asked.
“And what if we were both staying here?” she asked.
“We’re not though.”
“But if we were…” she said, peering at me intensely.
“Your father would probably want to kill me once he found out what was going on with us.” I laughed.
“My father cares too much about himself to want to kill any lover of mine.”
“I guess I should be hurt by that.” said a voice coming from somewhere in the darkened expanse of yard. Peering into the yard deeper I noticed a form sitting in one of the wooden lawn chairs beside a bed of flowers. A swell of orange ember illuminated slightly the contours of a face. It was Chantal’s father; smoking his tobacco pipe in the wee hours out in his front yard. I assumed in his other hand he held his usual snifter of brandy. The man was a caricature of a caricature.
“I should go.” she said.
“Don’t ruin such a romantic moment on my account.” said Chantal’s father, rising now from the chair, “I was just going back inside.”
“I can’t wait to get out of here.” she whispered as we both watched her father make his way up the steps and back into the house.
“Hey, how many years you think he has left? One day he’ll be gone and you’ll regret hating him.” I told her.
“He was gone a long time ago.” Chantal sighed, “Anyway, he’s going to be up all night probably.”
“Why?” I asked.
“He’s a huge weirdo—I don’t know.” shrugged Chantal, glancing back at the darkened façade of the house to make sure he wasn’t lurking.
“So what’s the big?”
“I was going to invite you in.” said Chantal.
“One last time?” I asked.
“One last time.” she confirmed with a sad smile.
“How depressing.” I said, looking over her shoulder toward the house. A light had come on in the attic—where her father’s quarters were situated.
“He’s in his room.” I noted.
“So maybe we sneak down to my room.”
“For one last time…” I said.
“The last time until the next time.”
“You know there’s not going to be a next time. Come on Chantal.”
“I’m not going to Mars…I’m going to Syracuse.” she insisted.
“It’s not where you’re going it’s where you’re from and you fucking hate this place and him and you’re going to love your new life in Syracuse.” I said.
“You think too much about shit that’s out of your control Nero…it is pretty late. Probably I should just try to get some sleep.”
“We could be quick.” I suggested.
“When are we ever quick about it?” smiled Chantal.
“It would be depressing…the last time…we’d both know it was the last time, especially now that we’re talking about it,” I said, “I don’t want to remember you like that.”
“Are you trying to make me fucking cry?” asked Chantal, her eyes welling up.
“No…but I’d rather remember you like this…standing here in front of your old man’s house, looking beautiful and a bit haunted—invincible somehow…that’s the snapshot I want to keep.” I confessed.
“I don’t feel invincible.” she said.
“Nobody really is.”
“You’re sure you don’t want to come in?”
“It’s less sad this way…trust me.” I told her.
“So what are you going to do then?”
“I’m going to double back by the gazebo…I want to see if it’s still burning. Strange that nobody called the fire department…anyway.”
“Anyway…guess this is goodbye.” said Chantal quietly so her words were carried away by the cool breeze.
“I’m not going to say goodbye. I’m just going to say…see ya and good luck. Ok?” I said, backing away toward the sidewalk.
“Ok. See ya.” Chantal said, her voice quivering slightly. She offered a small sad wave before turning and heading up her walk toward the darkened house.
Marry Me (new)
The funeral hadn’t been surreal. It hadn’t been a lot of things—it hadn’t lucid, prickly, all forgiving or pivotal…it hadn’t even been that sad…it had been dreary, bland and boring thinks Jack, sitting behind the wheel of his car in front of Elizabeth’s apartment, waiting for her to put on the finishing touches of her make-up…certainly she’d want to look her best today; the day of Jack’s ex-fiance’s funeral.
As the people walk by in droves, joined at the hip or the hand, lost in their lives; Jack wonders why he’d felt so little during the service, why it seemed like a slow motion dream…why the backs of their heads seemed so ridiculous to Jack—Alyssa’s family…who had never quite liked him and never quite seen what was going on with Alyssa. Why had it all seemed so bland…as if they were all actors taking a scene for the 25th time? Alyssa would have hated that above all…the blandness. Of that Jack had thought most—how much she’d have hated her own funeral service. Perhaps a lively band, some laughter, a bit of recited poetry…some colorful stories…anything but the drone of the pastor, trying in vain to console a shocked and mourning congregation about the pointless death of their loved one—the mysterious Alyssa Jones.
Jack had thought mostly however about Alyssa’s body, lying in the casket at the front of the church—a guest spot they’d all occupy one day or another. He’d sat fixed on it, from his place in a fourth row pew, blazing a stare at her waxy profile lying perfectly still in the coffin, which was equally as bland as the service itself; beige and without design…just a box. It made little sense…especially that she wasn’t being cremated. Did her family not know her? Did they not recognize her flair for grand statements? Jack had shaken his head, distantly wondering the man was there somewhere in the crowded church…the man she’d been with the night she’d died…the man she’d met in the seedy world of downtown night clubs, ecstasy group sex and cocaine parties. Such a lot of action—seemingly far too much to be cut short by one line of Fentanyl-laced cocaine…but it had been.
Jack had left the service early, as the pastor was making his closing remarks…he’d not stayed to console her ravenous mother who hated him for reasons of her own, or her father who, in his advanced age, still played the jealous and protective dad, trying to out-macho jack during every encounter. He’d not stuck around to chat with any of her wack-pack of friends who’d enabled Alyssa’s reckless lifestyle after he and Alyssa had broken it off because of irreconcilable differences regarding her drug habit. Ironically they, like her parents, also never understood he and Alyssa’s pairing. Though he himself had always understood perfectly their bond, Alyssa’s sudden death had rendered it a mystery…now that she was gone, somewhere—or nowhere at all, it made less sense to him; a reverse riddle.
It is Elizabeth appearing at the passenger door that pulls Jack from his recollection of the funeral…Alyssa was now gone, leaving only a spot of senseless darkness in Jack’s heart…one that would inevitably shrink and disappear into the past. Elizabeth would see to that…and she is a work of art, sitting suddenly beside him in the close confines of the car. Her lipstick and makeup have been applied impeccably and she brings with her a waft of spring…a welcome departure from the slightly nauseating smell of flowers and death that had permeated the funeral hall.
“How are you?” she asks immediately.
“Strangely unmoved.” says Jack as he pulls the car away from her curb, merging into the slow moving Sunday afternoon traffic.
“Probably you’re just numb.” Liz consoles, placing a lovely hand on his leg as he pumps the brake at a stop sign.
“I wasn’t numb…I just couldn’t believe that Alyssa’s family would throw such a boring bon voyage for her…she’d have hated that.” says Jack, inserting a Cd into the stereo that swallows it mechanically and fills the car with 90’s indie rock a moment later.
Turning the stereo down so it becomes a slight jingle, Elizabeth turns in her seat slightly peering a concerned look at Jack, “It’s okay to feel something…you shouldn’t keep hating her.”
“I never hated her…” says Jack, swerving close to emotion that may be lurking just below his exterior…pulling the doors open, he peers into his heart, half-expecting a suppressed tangle of emotion to jump forth like spring-snakes from a can…however, there is nothing…only the spot of darkness Alyssa had left there long ago, “I never hated her…I was hurt yes…but I think above all she disappointed me in a very profound way. The disappointment had turned to a black spot and that’s what she became; a black spot.” shrugs Jack, hoping this explains things to Liz, “What can be worse than becoming a black black spot?”
“Did you speak with her parents?” asks Liz, removing her hand now from his leg, leaving a cool spot in the place of her retracted body warmth.
“No…I got the fuck out of there. I didn’t even go up and say goodbye to her—I just couldn’t see the point in touching her cold waxy hand and whispering some pointless words into her empty ears—I mean she didn’t care to hear them when she was alive; why would she care to hear them in death?” says Jack, shaking his head at the absurdity.
“That’s okay…those kinds of things can be a bit much sometimes.” says Liz.
“It wasn’t that…it was more like I knew Alyssa too well—probably better than anyone there knew her. I didn’t go up because yes, I didn’t want to see her lying in that ugly, bland coffin that she’d have hated—looking all waxy with shitty makeup and those schoolmarm clothes they dressed her in—maybe I didn’t want to start crying like a school-girl…but there was also this fear I had of breaking out laughing…imagining what she’d say about the whole thing…how she’d criticize it all to hell and probably mock the shit out of half the people who’d shown up.” Jack says, a grin threatening to crack through his brooding expression.
“People react in curious ways when it comes to the death of a loved one.” says Liz, “It’s not uncommon for people to break out laughing through their tears in a situation like that. You should have said goodbye to her–you may regret not doing it.”
“Well…it’s over now.” says Jack, with a small shake of his head…finding it hard to believe somehow, though she’d been dead to him for the greater part of a year before the overdose, “Maybe I shouldn’t have shown up at all.”
“You had to.” assures Elizabeth, “You’d have regretted not going.”
“Life is full of regrets…we just don’t realize what they are until it’s too late.” Jack says, pulling the car into the restaurant parking lot.
“And some people don’t live long enough to realize their regrets.” added Liz reaching over and squeezing his arm gently, “It’s hard to understand.”
“I kept wondering if the guy was there in the church…the guy that was with her the night it happened. What I still don’t understand is what she was doing with him…the guy was involved in crime and drugs and all sorts of other lowlife shit…Alyssa was a smart woman. I don’t know what she saw in him.” Jack muses.
“Obviously she wasn’t smart enough to know better.” says Elizabeth, turning in her seat again, this time offering a wince of absurdity, “What she saw in that guy was cocaine probably first…then a bit of danger, probably a bit of excitement…she was playing a dangerous game and she paid with her life.”
Jack is tempted to tell Elizabeth that she sounds like a public service announcement but refrains; she is only trying to solve for him the dark mystery of Alyssa Jones—a mystery she doubtlessly hates, mainly because to Elizabeth, there is no mystery, there is only a portrait of a tragic and foolish woman who Jack at one point was unfortunate enough to fall in love with.
“You’re right…let’s get some chow.” says Jack as a break in the clouds brings a sudden surge of brightness that sparkles against the hood of his car and illuminates Elizabeth’s face, bringing out the deep blue of her eyes and the concern within them.
“Is there anything I can do?” she asks Jack, her eye unwavering.
“Marry me.” he says to her, turning back the key and killing the engine.
And One More Makes Seven (new)
When I returned home I was surprised to find that indeed, Lydia had sent me a reply to the note I’d sent her—in which I’d assured her that social media wouldn’t actually make any of us any younger or better looking in real life. After a number of weeks of talking, I was surprised that I hadn’t discovered anything disconcerting about Lydia Chan.
Franky boy that’s so bleak, but true. Oh, and yes, I wasn’t kidding when I told you that I used to be a gymnast—and I can tell you that it’s true what they say about gymnasts! Looking forward to our date!
Date…I mused with a grin that threatened to become a chuckle…I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been on an official date. Rather it seemed I was a master of falling into intense dynamics with complicated women who believed that either I knew nothing about them—or that they knew everything about me…psychological chess that one party would often forfeit, surrendering us both in most cases to a state of mutual devotion that might last years. This was main-line mate-seeking; end of days commitment for true existentialists. On the other hand, a pick-you-up-at-eight o’clock date was something very foreign to me and seemed quite quaint—like an evening sitcom where the studio audience seemed high on laughing gas.
Of course it was systemic…as Vancity was a perpetual date night…as if in lieu of anything more exciting to do, the general populous sought online dating as a primary goal—a way to distract themselves from their ordinary lives, unoriginal pursuits and the fact that in spite of their up-to-date wardrobe; they would likely do nothing extraordinary with their lives. The streets were crawling with them…masses of cuddly sport-daters who to me all sort of looked, dressed and acted the same. It was as if they were all initiated clones belonging to the same dopamine-junkie cult and I wasn’t exactly thrilled about stepping foot in their realm…however, there was something about Lydia that beckoned me.
I wondered about Lydia the next day as I shaved my face in the bathroom mirror in preparation of our official date. A few questions had surfaced over the previous week…mainly questions about her sanity—for I’d been with so many different types of crazy, I’d become weary and nearly paranoid of psychosis and craved psychological wellness in a frightening and quite surprising way. I’d become fascinated with the notion of meeting a sane woman who didn’t require so much emotional maintenance. Just once, I wanted to meet a woman who didn’t have any monsters under her bed…or in her closet…or in her dresser drawer…or under her pillow—slaying someone’s demons can be an exhausting job—especially when you’ve got a pantry full of your own.
Through a series of lengthy interviews with Lydia, I’d found that she seemed ‘issue free’…she came from a normal upper middle class family in Kerrisdale, she got along great with both her parents, she had three siblings and so didn’t assume the world revolved around her every whim, she worked in an office building downtown as a financial adviser, she volunteered her time with certain charities, she’d never been seduced by a seedy drug scene, she wasn’t a social climbing bar-star, she drank only socially, she possessed more female friends than male friends, she leased an SUV and a condo in False Creek and harbored had a penchant for 1980’s hard rock—she owned a German Shepard. She wasn’t suicidal, she wasn’t filled with dark envy or the need for constant validation, she wasn’t yet another sport-dating thirty-something cougar ravenously searching for younger men online, also she wasn’t searching for a daddy of sugar to placate a need for fatherly support. In fact, she didn’t use dating sites at all. Indeed, Lydia seemed to be, for all intents and purposes—a fairly normal, mentally healthy person. To me it was a breath of fresh air.
The issue was however that with a woman like Lydia, I had no idea how to behave. For certainly my sharp edges would scare such a woman off. You see dear reader, with a woman who is a hopeless wreck of disconcerting possibilities there are usually no guidelines…no rules…a man starts off out of bounds and is inclined to navigate freely and on impulse—for with a deeply troubled woman a man comes to expect the inevitable conundrums and character flaws that come hand in hand and in turn, he is expected to color far outside the lines of traditional behavior; he is required to exist in a parallel world of surreal dimension. Lydia however existed in reality…during daylight hours—a holder-upper of civil infrastructure…the type of chick you could take home to your parents—if you weren’t an orphan as I was. As I shaved, I listened to my voice mails…the third one in was from Lydia:
Hi handsome. Hope you are well. I’ve given it much thought and I would like to show you my favorite little Vietnamese restaurant. Wasabi Rolls to die for! It’s called Pho Hoang Dream and it’s on Keefer St. Let me know if you’re cool with meeting at around six.
To die for? Sounded suspicious to me; in any case, I was tempted to call it off—feeling I had no business courting such a normal girl. However, I couldn’t for the life of me get her lovely rear out of my mind…I imagined the lead up…for I could see it taking shape in my mind, her dropping her red and silver Kimono to the hardwood floor…around her ankles, revealing an image dyed across the soft smooth flesh of her belly—the image of a fire breathing dragon…I could nearly hear a wooden instrument being rapped upon to an ancient rhythm…as well as a mystical flute echoing around us as she did a sexy dance; after all, it always seemed anything was possible when mystical flute music was piping in the background…it got me chuckling.
Indeed, by the time I was strolling into her little Vietnamese house of grease noodles and deep fried prawns…I was hopelessly adaptable and oblivious to the nature of the place…to the old world odor of it…to the ancient wood paneled walls that hadn’t been renovated since perhaps the 1960’s and had absorbed countless decades of burned peanut oil and cigarette smoke. In one of the booths that were cushioned with worn, orange leather upholstery…sat Lydia, made up nicely…nicely enough to eat.
“You’re right on time…I’m so glad you aren’t one of those guys who believes in being ‘fashionably late’.” she said, crooking the two first fingers of each hand to lend quotations to “fashionably late”, as if it were a popular slogan.
“This town is an infrastructure nightmare—I’m surprised I got here on time.” I grinned.
“So in other words you were aiming for fashionably late and wound up being fashionably punctual?”
“Actually I guesstimated my ETA and headed out according to the terrible city planning.” I said.
“You’re not really dissing my town on our first date are you?” she asked with a strange grin that hung in the murky realm of half-seriousness.
“I’m merely making an educated observation.” I confessed.
It was then that the waitress was hovering above us…she was an attractive, lithe woman, with violet eye shadow and a poised pen…and as she took down Lydia’s lengthy order, I peered down the hallway that led to the restrooms at the end of which an open door exposed the alleyway, where a cook clad in a white apron sat on two stacked crates, smoking a cigarette and spitting on the cement. A stray cat was rubbing up against his legs, purring and erecting its tail, which he stroked from the base upward, so his hand inevitably brushed the shit-crusted fur around its rear. With the same tattooed hand, the cook picked a spec of tobacco from his tongue before running his fingers through his curly greasy hair. Indeed dear reader—it was hard to believe and my discomfort was apparent to Lydia who inquired if I was ok…I couldn’t answer, I could only watch in disbelief as the cook suddenly rose, spit on the cement again and flicked his cigarette to the ground …he flashed an icy blue-eyed, serial-killer stare my way before swaggering back into the restaurant and through the swinging kitchen doors.
You have got to be fucking kidding me, I thought, as the man appeared immediately at the pick-up window…too immediately to have washed his hands…I watched in disbelief as he sprinkled a green garnish over one of the steaming plates in the window. When it was my turn to order, I was speechless.
“Uh, just tea.” I said, “Bag on the side—I’ll open the bag.”
“You’re not going to try the wasabi rolls?” asked Lydia, a stark surprise in her expression.
“I’m fine.” I said.
“But the reason I wanted you to…” she sat up straight suddenly as if playfully frustrated and glanced at her nails which were painted sparkling silver, “forget it.” she smiled shaking her head as if she was amused.
“Yeah, I know, the wasabi rolls to die for…it’s just—I don’t actually want to die from them. Know what I mean?” I stated.
“Not really…but…it’s your loss.” she said, glancing up at me from her nails; a double meaning?
“I’m willing to forego…and anyway, I came here to see you—not the wasabi rolls.” I said, “I’ve been seeing your pretty face in my day dreams.”
“Aw, that’s sweet…but, you’re missing out I tell ya…the cuisine is startlingly delicious.” she said wisely…folding her hands now as if to overlook my statement…which was fine by me…perhaps we’d start over.
“Listen, if it makes you happy, I’ll order some steamed rice.” I said, “I mean, what could possibly go wrong with steamed rice right?”
“Uh…yeah.” said Lydia as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, “A bit boring—but you should eat something.”
I told the waitress I’d have a bowl of rice as well and the waitress backed away with a smile and a small bow. I sat there studying her face as Lydia nervously explained her day. I kept waiting for a punch line or a spot of drama…but nothing; it was an unabridged blow by blow, which I found somewhat soothing. I could have sat there and listened to her talk all night.
“So how did your show in Portland go?” she asked when the waitress brought our drinks out…a cup of cloudy hot water for me and a glass of white wine for Lydia. I examined the water, holding the cup up, peering into it at an angle.
“What’s wrong?” she asked now, her grin on its last legs.
“This water is overcast.” I said…
“Why don’t you have a glass of white…it’s nicely chilled…”
“I don’t drink.” I admitted.
“No? Why not?”
“I drank a lifetime worth in my twenties,” I said, gesturing to the waitress who now ignored me.
“Really? Do you care to tell me about it?” she asked.
“When I know you better.” I laughed.
“Oh, very ominous.” she said with a smile, “Does it bother you that I’m drinking in front of you?”
“Of course not.”
“Hey I was meaning to ask you; what’s your Chinese sign?” she asked me, squinting her eyes so her lashes nearly met, exposing her eye lids and the silver makeup caked over them.
“Tiger…” I said and leaned back in the booth, contemplating sipping the overcast water…taking inventory of the woman before me…her manicured nails…her solarium skin…her caramel cleavage…her designer smile.
“And your sun sign.” she said as I looked at her.
“Capricorn…why? You don’t actually believe in that stuff do you?”
“I do.” she said, “Also, I think you may be my perfect match.”
“How so?” I said.
“I’m a Taurus dragon.”
I nodded, not sure what any of it meant. Then she was quiet, turning to her wafer thin phone and texting somehow with her slender brown thumbs that were tipped with silver painted nails. When she was through texting she looked up at me and said very seriously, “Taurus Dragon was made for Capricorn Tiger.”
“So I guess we can put this on autopilot.” I shrugged.
“Synchronicity.” said Lydia, squinting her lashes together with a sexy grin.
When our food came, I watched her eat her—I wasn’t sold on eating anything the vile cook had prepared…Lydia ate pretty good though…knowing the moves…she appeared to be skilled with chopsticks…then she offered me a roll, holding it out in front of my mouth…I declined…however she was persistent. I still declined…but feeling that perhaps my sitting across from her and not eating was causing her a small amount of anxiety, I decided to have a bite of my steamed rice.
“Can I get a fork for this rice?” I asked the passing waitress. The waitress nodded and returned a moment later with a fork…and when I looked up at Lydia from my steaming bowl, I noticed that there was an expression of horror etched into her face.
“I think you’re the first date that’s ever asked for a fork.” she said.
“I don’t even want to know how many dates you’ve brought here. I don’t know how to use chopsticks.” I said.
“I’m not promiscuous if that’s what you’re afraid of…and as far as the chopsticks are concerned; how will you ever learn if you never try?” she said.
“I never use them…”
“When in Rome though hon.” She said.
“We’re not in Rome…and Lydia, seriously, don’t you think the fork is a more efficient utensil to eat rice with?” I asked, “Really its simple physics.”
“Perhaps to you it is…but most guys will at least make the effort…and there’s something hopelessly adorable about watching a man make a fool out of himself with chopsticks—for his date’s benefit.” she said.
I’d thought it was about eating…or at least company…however, I was wrong…there was much more to all of this…and so, I commenced to eat the rice with the fork, washing the pasty grains down with the warm muddy water.
Indeed, our conversation stayed light…only venturing out of Lydia’s predisposed margins momentarily and on my accord before being pulled back on track by her—it seemed she wasn’t conversationally agile…and it seemed that indeed there were only a certain number of subjects we were allowed to discuss; work, the weather, local real estate and finances…and in the duration of this rather colorless conversation she’d confessed to me that she was interested in having a child before she turned 40…which was only three years away…she then spoke of house hunting and the price of land in certain regions of town…it was her theory that the houses closest to high level elementary schools were of a higher selling price—because of the newly wed, nearly dead parents. Next she involved me in a conversation about investments and how she lived with her marketing-strategist boyfriend in her post-modern condo in False Creek—Gavin was his name.
“Pardon?” I interrupted her.
“Pardon what?” she asked.
“You live with your boyfriend?” I inquired.
“Yeah…my primary partner.”
“Primary partner…” I said, stretching the words out, so that we might look them over.
“Like, your actual boyfriend?” I asked.
“Uh huh.” she nodded enthusiastically as she ate away at a chunk of short rib.
“And how would your live-in boy-toy feel if he knew you were on a date tonight?” I asked.
“He knows.” said Lydia, widening her eyes as she took a sip of her white wine.
“Well…he’s quite a liberal chap then isn’t he?” I said.
“We’re mature adults. We have an arrangement in place.” confessed Lydia, with a tone of pride.
“An arrangement is it?”
“An open relationship—I guess people could call it that—though it’s much more complex than that.” she said.
“No I get it…you fuck other people.” I nodded.
“It’s not just about that…it’s about…loving more than one person…it’s also about knowing who you love…really it’s about emotional maturity.” said Lydia.
“That a fact?” I said.
“And let me guess, Gavin is the same guy you were with the other night at the Tavern—correct? The ponce with the soft and tender beard?”
“That’s extremely judgmental…and yeah, I was with Gavin at the Tavern, so what? He loves me and I love him. Loving other people won’t change that.” said Lydia, screwing up her face.
“Well…take it from me—a man knows when another man wants to kill him…and your man Gavin was seething with murderous rage when you were whispering in my ear. Of course he concealed it pretty good…to what end I’ll never guess—why play charades? And by the way, what kind of man lends his woman out? Especially if he loves her?” I mused, gazing at her as if from afar.
“A lot of people misunderstand the concept of an open relationship.” Lydia said nonchalantly moving back to her rolls.
“I think I have an understanding of it—let me guess; it started, like most relationships—based on physical attraction—which you felt was love, but really wasn’t. You felt a connection because you became addicted to the person you became when you were with him…but eventually that all faded…and now there’s no attraction left…now that the sexual attraction and the dopamine high is gone—and you want that feeling back…because you’re an addict. You want to be able to experience it, legally…so rather than break it off, or at least accept that you’re both bored silly with each other—you’ve decided it’s best to fuck other people.” I offered.
“You can’t say that—it’s not about fucking other people…it’s about knowing who you love…and nothing wore off…the sex is still there…the love is still there—we’ve realized that we’re capable of loving more than one person though…perhaps that concept is a bit too advanced for you at this point. It’s not about sex.”
“Right…so, let’s say you have three boyfriends…and one of those boyfriends suddenly tells you he’s not interested in fucking you anymore…he only wants an emotional connection; you’re telling me he’s not going to get shortlisted real fast? I mean isn’t that the reason you started looking for relationship supplements in the first place—for sex? What differentiates a friendship from a romantic relationship? Sex.”
“Bradley isn’t a relationship supplement.” said Lydia.
“Who the hell is Bradley?” I asked.
“He’s the other person I love.”
“Interesting…and what number is he?” I asked.
“Yeah, like in the consecutive order. If Gavin the is your primary lover, then what number is Bradley…one, two…three…or is he behind door number four?” I grinned, finding this becoming more amusing by the minute.
“You’re being way too judgmental about this. Sex is just…sex. I mean, haven’t you ever tried swapping with another couple? I mean, come on…we’re not in high school anymore—we should all be emotionally mature enough at this point to shed those adolescent boundaries.” said Lydia nervously poking at her noodles.
“Any man who lends out his woman doesn’t love her—not really.”
“Any man who wouldn’t ‘lend her out’ as you say, isn’t emotionally mature enough to understand what real love is.” countered Lydia.
“Is that the line he’s selling? Emotional maturity?” I chuckled, “Man, these guys…really they’re clever—they’ve got you ladies fooled pretty good.”
“How do you mean that…clever? You say that as if it’s a bad thing.”
“They’ve figured out a perfectly viable way to get away with it.” I laughed.
“Nobody is getting away with anything…everyone on board is in agreement.” said Lydia, her expression changing into an icy stare.
“Everyone on board?”
“Yeah…everyone involved is cool with the arrangement.”
“I suppose they’d have to be.” I chuckled.
“Well…it’s real easy to judge other people.”
“Not judging—just saying.” I said.
“So where does that leave us?” she asked.
“As attracted to you as I am—I just can’t get involved with you. The last thing I need is to fall in love with a woman who is prone to falling in love with numerous people…and by the way who is dating another guy and two other couples…that would be very irresponsible of me…it would be emotional masochism…and what turns me on most is devotion.” I said.
“Because I don’t share.” I said.
“What you’re saying is very unfair and also very judgmental. When you have casual sex with a woman, how do you know she doesn’t have numerous partners? Yet you still would sleep with her no?”
“I don’t do anything casually.” I told her.
“You’ve never had a casual sex partner?”
“Maybe in college. Since then I’ve pretty much been a serial monogamist.”
“That’s funny because you’ve probably fucked more people than I have in the last year. Presently I’m involved with 4 people; Gavin—Gavin’s lover Tim, Tim’s girlfriend Elyse and Bradley. And, Bradley is very close to convincing his girlfriend Sherry to join us; she’s a bit apprehensive but I think she’s mature enough to accept the lifestyle. That’s only five people…where as a ‘serial monogamist’ as you so eloquently put it; you could be fucking a new woman every month. You want to talk numbers?”
“Hang on…hang on…let me get this straight…your boyfriend Gavin is in a relationship with another couple…Tim and Elyse…and evidently you as well…and you’re trying to recruit this Bradley chap and his girlfriend into the fold? So basically you’d be three couples all, ‘sharing’ with each other…I mean, doesn’t that require a schedule or seating plans—a bit of choreography…a family sized bottle of Valtrex?”
“Very funny…but I will tell you—we all love each other…I mean, sometimes it’s a bit complicated…sometimes it’s guy, guy and girl, sometimes it’s girl, girl and guy, sometimes, like last weekend, it was guy, girl, guy, girl and Bradley. So one possible equation could be guy, guy, guy and one girl…or if Brad’s girlfriend joins then it could possibly be girl, girl, girl and a guy…or three guys and three girls–but the key is that it’s all based on mutual love…nobody in the mix isn’t loved–get it?”
“And if I join then it would be like girl, guy, girl, guy, girl, guy and then me?” I laughed and couldn’t quite stop laughing.
“Laugh all you want. It’s the way of the future.”
“Not my future.” I assured.
Lydia looked at me from across the table, her face sagging with disappointment, nodding a small, hurt little nod, “It’s not for everyone…as I say, not everyone is emotionally mature enough for that lifestyle and it’s really closed minded for you to judge me.”
“I’m not judging you Lydia I’m just saying that I don’t want to be unlucky number seven. I’d want you all to myself and I’m not going to fucking apologize for that. When I’m with a woman…I give her everything I’ve got. There’s no leftovers for some other woman or multiple women. I accept her for who she is…shortcomings and all—I don’t seek out supplements if I’m not getting everything on the menu; I’m loyal.”
“I don’t seek out supplements either.”
“Of course you do…you both do…probably your man Gavin does it more, and probably that has more to do with him than with you.” I nodded, realizing this as I said it, “Good luck with that.”
“You don’t understand.” said Lydia now sitting up very straight, “That’s why you think it’s cool to judge me.”
“I’m not judging godamit…more than anything I’m just real disappointed—because I dig you…in spite of my incessant realism; I had some hopes for us. But my bed just isn’t big enough for five of your friends babe.” I said with a small shrug, abandoning the rice…deciding there was no point finishing it now.
Lydia didn’t answer, she just peered at me from across the table, looking hurt—perhaps because I’d asked for a fork, perhaps because I wouldn’t share her…and that dear reader was the end of my love affair with Lydia Chan—over before it even began.
The Hester Street Madrigals
For the third day in a row, he walks to Village Avenue with Amanda. Amanda, who during this final semester of high school has gone from particularly fun, to a girl of grandeur—and perhaps even more narcissistic than her mother; or step mother to be exact. On this sunny afternoon, the third of its kind, Amanda makes many indirect references; few of which Brody cares to decode.
Certainly Amanda’s poignant anxiousness must be a symptom of the looming, collective atmosphere—one which Brody feels is deliberately perpetuated by the students and faculty of West Point High. Or perhaps the atmosphere is of instinctual design, tailored and handed down by previous West Point generations who’d fed into the notion that graduation day is a major milestone in one’s life; a grandiose punctuation mark.
Funny, thinks Brody—in ten years—less in fact, they’d all forget each other’s names, become borderline obese, willingly spawn spoiled brats, become incarnations of their pretentious parents and perhaps most disappointing—never know the difference. West Point would then be nothing more than a distant buoy in the ocean of time marking a chapter of life to which one could never return or redeem in terms of time spent. Not he, not Amanda, not any of the students filing down the sidewalks and crowding the bus shelters on this sunny afternoon would ever get these years back. They would all become ghostly memories, blurred around the edges and fleeting.
In years to come, one might remember Mr. Robinson’s feces breath and feminine colored argyle sweaters, but his lessons in eighteenth century literature would eventually evaporate from context, like condensation from a shower room mirror. Likewise, one might remember Mrs. Shale’s stilettos and fishnets and how she just couldn’t quite hold all of that sex appeal back. However, her lessons in mathematics class wouldn’t help anyone land a rocket on Mars or even help calculate a tip for the country club waiters. One also might remember the shameless manner in which Mr. Sheldon would, while reading from a text, absently pick his nose; but one certainly wouldn’t recollect with any clarity his ramblings regarding the emergence of Europe.
All around Brody it seems the air is permeated by impending change, melancholic and manic all at once—a shifting of the poles that has pulled everyone’s world into orbit around the dark spectacle of adulthood; the bizarre nether region where one becomes directly accountable for one’s own actions amidst a carnival of potentially dangerous freedoms and the temptations of which.
“Listen,” says Brody when they are finally out in front of the Italian restaurant where Amanda works three nights a week as a hostess, “it’s not your fault you were raised in a house of mirrors.”
It’s a reference of his own which Amanda takes with a tilt of her head, unsure of how it correlates to her known reality; the disappointing PG13 drama she has become in these last months of high school.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” she whines, further confirming her cluelessness.
“It means that I’ll see you when I see you.” smiles Brody content to spare her an elaboration.
“So you’re really not going to Cameron’s party with me tonight?” she asks with synthetic concern.
“The old chap isn’t having a party, he’s having a wake.” Brody says, noticing a small grey spider scaling the spine of the laminated binder she holds loosely at her side.
“A wake? That’s absurd.”
“No. Absurd is the fact that your restaurant has a red carpet out front.” Brody points out, amused by the lavish plush red carpet lined on either side by velvet rope and gilded stanchions, “Has this always been here?”
“Of course it has—but what’s that got to do with anything?”
“Listen, have fun at the wake.” He says backing away so he can frame in his mind perfectly, Amanda standing on the tacky red carpet in one of her stepmother’s dinner gowns.
At home Brody finds that he is to be coated and combed, turtle necked and pleated, all for the special guests his mother has invited to her latest dinner party—the third one in two weeks no less. Although Brody doesn’t mind eating dinner at the table, he feels as though dinner is always served under stage lights in accordance with a well-rehearsed script.
At dinner, Brody’s father is stoic as usual and as always his mother takes the helm, navigating with razor wit and stellar semantics through a labyrinth of empathetic criticism and hypothetical morality. She has invited the Prescott’s for dinner and of course they’ve managed to drag along their daughter Emily, who, Brody is convinced, is aware of little beyond the fact that she is the Emily Prescott—daughter of the Willington School’s dean, Treat Prescott. What irks Brody most about them is how many times in a night Prescott’s wife can speak her husband’s name. Tonight he’s lost count in the mid-teens.
Brody is unsure which Joan Prescott loves more; the sound of her husband’s name or the sound of her own voice speaking it. The name ‘Treat’ had at first seemed curious and perhaps a touch comical to Brody. After such repetitious use however, the name lends itself to Joan Prescott’s anti-appeal. The shrill manner in which she sheers through her consonants and vowels gives the name a double ‘s’, shelving it as if with lascivious, self-indulgent bookends—the horny old tart.
“So, Brody, I hear it was quite a game last Sunday.” Treat Prescott says out of the blue, turning the collective attention of the dining room table on Brody.
Looking up from his butternut squash ravioli Brody is glad to break from its rich, oily heaviness. After gently stabbing his fork into one of the large striped raviolis so it stands upright like a silver sword in the earth, Brody sighs deeply and rests his elbows on the oak tabletop, “Well, it was quite a treat.”
Though this anecdote brings a small smile to Brody’s face, the older man seems expectant, as if the statement should be followed by more. However, Brody is content to spare him an elaboration.
“Oh come now Brody, don’t be bashful—the pursuit of glory isn’t a crime—at least not yet.” says Brody’s mother with an encouraging chuckle.
“I couldn’t agree more. There’s nothing wrong with a little sportsmanship—it builds a strong, well rounded man.” Prescott tells them all with a knowing nod, “In my day a boy became a man, not by way of self-deprecation, but by way of brashness and a good fighting spirit…down there in the muck and mud…getting mashed up in a good scrum.”
“But you realize that contact sports cause post-concussion syndrome?” says Brody, “I’ve been lucky, so I’m quitting while I’m ahead. No college ball for me Mr. Prescott.”
“Oh?” says Prescott, raising his brows as if such information is strictly privileged.
“How can that be true?” asks Emily, squinting at Brody from across the table; a sexy and doubtlessly well-rehearsed expression.
“Well Em—you might ask a neurologist about the long term effects of repeated concussions. I can only draw upon our assistant coach ‘Tiny’ as an example. He’s an honest man, but not unlike Steinbeck’s character—the one who pets the rabbits too hard and breaks their necks.” Says Brody, leaning back in his chair.
“I think she’s referring to the part about no college ball for you.” Prescott says now, his tone more serious perhaps because of Brody’s abbreviation of his daughter’s name and the familiarity it had suggested.
“Simply put, it’s a meathead’s game sir…a meathead’s paradise.”
“You may not think so now son, but all of those team plays you strategized have already given you a good prepping for the game of life.” Prescott says, as if he’s stating a password for entrance to a private club.
“It was fun for a while…then it wasn’t.”
“Well, you have to have fun in life.” says Emily, enhancing her father’s awkwardness.
“What is it that you do Emily?” asks Brody, suddenly aware that he is only half interested and so only half expectant of an answer.
“Last year I started my own clothing line—we cater to professional women. We’ve been featured in the Mayfair Chronicle and Sea Side Weekly.” Says Emily with well-rehearsed diction.
“Clothing line huh?” Says Brody, clicking his eyes from Emily to her mother, who sits, poised with silent enthusiasm, the top of her thin, frilly cuffed wrist mounting her chin; she was proud of her daughter on many levels—and perhaps living vicariously through her. It made sense; their similar demeanor and shared hair style…Emily was quite simply, her mother’s protégé. Emily had her pressures it seemed, and she weathered them like a pro—not because of skill but because of necessity.
“I’m going to be part of a trade show in Manhattan next month. It’s going to be the opportunity of a lifetime.” says Emily, her large blue eyes hungry for the vast expanse of bright future ahead of her.
“Well, best of luck.” says Brody, “It’s a big world out there.”
“And you? If your plans aren’t football; to what are you going to apply your talents?” asks Mrs. Prescott, still poised with enthusiasm. Like her daughter there is a look of ravenous hunger in her eyes; a woman that would stop at nothing to devour her friends and enemies alike to get what she wants.
“All information will be given on a need to know basis.” says Brody, forking a carrot into his mouth and chewing it loudly.
“Well, we kind of need to know.” chuckles Brody’s mother from her end of the table.
Peering at her, Brody finds that there are many devices to her expression. For she fears social embarrassment and isn’t fond of awkward exchanges. ‘Fix it’ says her look, but Brody cannot; none of it can be fixed.
“I’m leaving tomorrow and I have a fair amount of packing to do…if you’ll excuse me.” he says before sliding his chair back from the dinner table.
“What are you talking about Brody?” asks his mother, shaking her head slightly.
“Yeah buddy, what’s this all about?” his father pipes in, suddenly waking from his trance.
“You really don’t know?” says Brody, looking at the Prescott’s now, taking inventory of each of them, “None of you know what I meant by that?”
“Not really.” says Emily, her expression made of pure blue eyed concern, “Is everything ok?”
“Of course not.” Chuckles Brody, feeling a tickle in his chest, “Has it ever been?” he asks them all before rising calmly from his chair. “In answer to your question Mrs. Prescott; I’m going to study magic. I’m really good you see. Let me demonstrate.”
As Mrs. Prescott watches Brody with a surprised grin, Brody leans forward slightly, gripping the table cloth carefully with both hands. In spite of his mother’s pleading expression and his father’s mustering demand to immediately abort any attempt; Brody pulls with the sum of his might, the red and blue plaid table cloth from the old oak table, causing a calamity of crashing, smashing and a splattery mess of water, wine and ravioli sauce.
“Now if you’ll all excuse me.” Says Brody in the dead silence that prevails.
Up At the Villa
I’d spent the day proofreading a number of pointless and boring documents that I could have just as easily set on fire. I’d been called in last minute by Leanne, who ran the Oceanside hotel in Marina Del Rey—which I’d recently quit; Leanne wouldn’t let me quit though…her tactic was guilt and she’d trip me every chance she got. So there I was, standing behind the sprawling wooden bar, rolling a joint on the small white cutting board I was supposed to chop limes on. Fuck these dipshits and fuck their limes—they could kiss my balls. I suppose it could be said that I was standing there behind the old wooden bar basking in my disdain for contemporary culture—the mad orgy of talentless narcissism and uniform mediocrity…they were a mass of gutless turds, sport dating, polymorphously perverse, almond milk drinking, soother sucking dimwits who’d been spoiled by stunned, overly affectionate parents…they’d been shielded from the horrifying realities of the world and existed in a cartoon-like disposition of warm cuddles and persnickety hypersensitivity…this generation would have lost World War 2 in a miserly fashion—they’d have rolled over, lifted a cheek and been branded with a swastika—lemmings.
I stood there as the reception went on, taking inventory of the absurd presence of them all floundering around in the plush ballroom, dressed the same, poised the same, bred the same, and posing for any camera flashes they could coax…dumbly nibbling at the hors devours and guffawing at flat, nerdling humor; they’d given up on something—or had never had it from the start.
I was marinating in these deep leagues of contemplation when Leanne appeared at my side smelling of sea breezes. Leanne the night manager managed very little. Mainly she spent the bulk of the night smoking long thin European cigarettes and nibbling appetizers in the staff lounge, gossiping with the other useless tits that kept the F&B flowing like mud. Indeed, Leanne could be found on any given evening, curled up like a cat on the leather staff lounge couch, weathering the deep hours of her shift with reality TV and online socializing. In fact, when she appeared at my side—I was surprised to see her.
“You’re not really rolling a joint here at the bar? Can’t you go in the back and do that?” she asked.
“Shouldn’t you be watching TV somewhere?” I asked.
“Very funny; I’m going home now because I’ve been here since two this afternoon and I have a head ache and my feet hurt.” she whimpered.
“You’re like a sixty year old lady.” I said.
“Yeah…” she said blankly, staring at me with an airy distance in her big brown eyes, “Anyway, I’m leaving you in charge.” she said, batting her lashes at a strand of stubborn hair that wouldn’t stay out of one eye, “Just make sure everyone does their closing duties okay? Oh, and make sure you don’t let anyone leave early—everyone has to stay till the end.”
“Leanne—nobody is going to listen to me.” I pointed out.
“Then make them listen.” she said, the exhaustion of the day having spent her will to make with the pleasantries.
Leanne I noticed was looking into my eyes with a sort of pleading desperation just then. I understood what it meant; she wished to return to her home, where she could flop herself like a fat cat across soft surfaces, gargle her boyfriend’s ball bag, then spend the rest of the evening watching sitcoms, eating potato chips and rocky road ice cream—concealing her gas attacks with cigarette smoke and minty gum—a nightmarish combo.
I didn’t reply. I only stared back at her, wondering if there were cameras hidden in the vents above us. Perhaps it was a set up. Perhaps they suspected that I was drinking on the job…or much worse. Perhaps they thought a slip up would be more likely an occurrence in the absence of management. Cameras or not, I shrugged and saluted Leanne.
“We’ll dob, dob, dob.” I said with stone seriousness prompting her to give me a once over before leaving me standing there behind the bar with my drained glass.
“Lighten up Nero.” she said over her shoulder as she strode away.
As the Awards ceremony got underway and the MC volleyed into his contrived and humorless shtick; I headed to the men’s room where I could smoke the joint with Phillips, the bathroom attendant who still worked, at the age of 72. Leaving the bar and cash float unattended, I found the men’s room empty, except for Phillips who was combing his grey hair back, proud of his intact hair-line at such an advanced age. I lit up the thing and we passed it back and forth…and I was slightly terrified of contracting whatever lip diseases he’d acquired after 72 years of hard European living.
“Hey, you ever get a cold sore?” I asked him.
“On my cock yeah.” he nodded…taking a mean puff on the joint and hauling it back, continuing his statement with a croak, “Never on my lips though…I was never a great yodeler.” he assured, passing it back to me.
Deciding I was fine and that the few puffs I’d taken had oiled up my joints well enough, I bid Phillips farewell and made my way back to the reception area. I peered out the large glass windows as I walked, adjusting the knot in my red tie and glancing the beautiful expanse of deep blue pacific that went on forever, or at least to Japan…the horizon line was erased however by a thick layer of rust colored pollution and I could faintly make out an ocean liner floating distantly on the sparkling water.
Once back at the bar, feeling the sativa take hold, I became hopelessly adaptable—as if I’d regressed back to a long dead era…back to the ballrooms of old; when the only things to fear were prohibition and syphilis. In a long exhale I spent the last of my concern—and found there was a certain invincibility in casual indifference. High above it all from a lighthouse on the hill, I watched the awards ceremony unfold, indifferent to the categories or their winners; I was a cork floating in an ocean of whatever.
Though I felt very little either way about the guests—one might say the scene was grotesque; real estate agents patting themselves on the back with an Academy Awards theme, complete with red carpets, long gowns and miniature gilt statues. Something in me quietly snapped when the slide-show started…indeed dear reader, it was somehow further grotesque…you’d never seen such a bunch of phonies.
I shifted my attention to Tommy, a new and virtually useless waiter whom Leanne had hired on the merit of her own desperation. I took my cue, addressing the kid as he strolled by balancing an empty cocktail tray in his hand.
“Hey kid, step over here a moment.” I said and motioned for him to join me behind the bar.
Tommy was skinny as a rail and barely old enough to drink legally. His curly blonde hair was crimped and sculpted in such a way that it resembled the half used curve of a pencil eraser—like the fresh prince. I wondered who had given him the idea that such a ridiculous hairdo was becoming. I swung my arm over his shoulders and chuckled…
“Guess what old chap. It’s your lucky day. I’m going to leave you in charge of this bar for a while okay? And if you can’t help having a few drinks, well…keep in mind there may be cameras hidden in that vent above us so be discreet. Okay?”
His expression didn’t change…he just looked up at the vent and back at me with a blank stare glazing his eyes as he nodded slowly.
“Simple concept really—you know how to mix drinks don’t you kid?” I asked him.
“Yeah, yeah…” he said, “It ain’t shit; just some cocktails and highballs—this ain’t motherfuckin rocket science G.”
“That’s the attitude old sport. Perfect. I’m gonna leave you to it now.” I said, offering a supportive thumbs up before leaving him there behind the old wooden bar.
Leaving the Bronze room, I wandered out into the reception area through a crowd of women in gowns and men in tuxedos that were too tight around the belly. They cackled toward the chandeliers, eating cheese and fruit skewers, sipping wine from smudged glasses; they hadn’t realized the reception had closed and the program had begun. It was my job to let them know about it; to politely herd them into the ballroom. I said nothing however and instead made my way across the hotel lobby toward the exit.
“—where are you going now?” demanded Amber from behind suddenly.
I paused and let a long sigh before turning around to face Amber. Aside from being an alternate supervisor, Amber was, in her mind, anyone could easily assume, the most beautiful woman on staff at the Oceanside. She worked on her smile frequently in various mirrors and strived toward feats of illusion; with her smile, she offered men a one way ticket to paradise…but the brochure didn’t make any mention of the fact that the paradise she offered wasn’t all inclusive.
“Amber,” I said diplomatically, catching glimpse of her tongue through her perfectly white, perfectly rowed teeth, remembering how she’d so ravenously slithered that pink little tongue into my mouth the night of a drunken staff party the previous year, “I’ve been put in charge of this division tonight and that means that I have other things to tend to at the moment.” I said.
“I heard Leanne put you in charge…even though I’m here. And what other things do you have to tend to?” she prodded.
“Things above your pay grade…now tie your hair back and get one of these useless waiters to help you take the fruit mirror into the room before these shit heads start complaining.” I told her.
“Hey—this is bullshit…I’m a supervisor…I know what to do.” said Amber defensively.
“Repeat that like a mantra.” I said and pushed onward toward the fire glass door exit at the end of the servery hallway.
In case any of them followed suit, I carried the charade as far as the office, which was situated on the second floor, at the end of a long half renovated hallway strewn with pales ladders and scaffolds. Instead of entering the office however, I ducked behind a scaffold draped in plastic sheeting and observed a collection of supervisors and managers engrossed in conversation. I waited until they broke into a volley of chuckles before striding by the office door. Noticing my passing had turned one head in the crowded office, I sprinted down the remainder of hallway and carefully down the winding staircase that led out onto the promenade; a promenade I might add which overlooked the foamy shores of Marina Dell Rey. I’d made it outside—and was now home free.
Feeling like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders; I loosened my tie and took a moment to adapt to the suddenly serene surroundings of a bludgeoned orange dusk. I took it in for a few minutes before continuing down the promenade toward the parking lot where my car awaited.
It seemed like a long drive back to East Hollywood and as I rolled down Los Feliz blvd, the city was alive and twinkling through the smog with the promise that anything at all was possible. In the rear view a train of headlights coasted along behind me. Adjusting the mirror, I noticed the beaded bracelet Carmen had left hanging on it. She’d hung it there randomly six months before, when all was well and friendly and we’d been out exploring in my beloved Ford Focus SE wagon.
There had been a story attached as there always was, some abstract forming of imagination tethered to the self-apparent logic that had set the tone of her directionless life. The gist being that the beads were good luck—either that or witch beads meant to cast a spell. Originally from Chicago, she took a hard boned stance against most everything she encountered; a trait perhaps passed down from her mother—the tree from which Carmen had closely fallen.
Indeed, Carmen had started off as sweet; a lovely pixie haired fresh-face, who would sit, staring back at me attentively as I spilled volumes of jagged fiction, hard truth and sparkling anecdotes into the chalice of her aggressively curious mind and she ate it up like chocolate ice cream without bothering to wipe her mouth before asking for more—she was some kind of cute…at first. Intrigued by my existence, for seemingly unfathomable reasons only known to her, her nonstop interview was chock full of singular questions that if answered correctly gave her multifaceted answers. Answers she wasn’t quite equipped to handle, for whatever reasons.
Needless to say, Carmen had fallen in love with the artist, but had grown to resent the man. She’d left quietly on a Sunday morning, feeling she’d outstayed her welcome and perhaps I’d allowed her to believe it. And in spite of my shameless attempts to retrieve her from her vacating frame of mind, she’d remained silent. Winning no points and in fact forfeiting whatever game she’d been playing.
She’d flown back to Chicago, citing that LA was going to kill her soul if she stayed. I felt her sudden distance rendered the beads useless and perhaps counter-productive and so I took them in hand, hesitating for a moment, smelling them for the scent of her coconut hand cream. Finding none left; I tossed them out the window out onto the warm Los Feliz Blvd. asphalt and drove on.
Indeed, as Updike once wrote—and I’m paraphrasing here: with a woman, a man always goes from being able to do no wrong to being able to do no right. It was true, they are an elusive species and better left an enigma. Certainly it has been the downfall of many men, great and not, to enter a chase of futility; the futility of solving the mystery of her estrogen. Don’t wonder why. It’s a working motto.
The streets were mad as usual–people wandering around in the sticky late night aftermath of another sweltering Los Angeles day. In tourist dregs, the crowds roamed the streets, sifting through the sweltering ruins for the pulse of stardom—oblivious mainly to a long dead Hollywood era. An era that existed in black and white key chain photos sold in novelty stores all up and down Hollywood Blvd. I saw the general lack of contemporary society, but chose to see LA in Technicolor…like a Hal Ashby film. Though many ghosts lingered…it was the ones from the mid 1970’s I heard most. There was also the architecture that venerated effortlessly the best days…when there was still some romanticism left…some historical bravado…an old world war cry against the inevitable darkness we’d all gotten so used to after 9/11. Sitting at a red light at Hollywood and Wilcox, I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket.
“Franky…” said Walsh, “What’s doing?”
“I was heading over to Michelle’s place.”
“Yeah, well, you’ll have to put that on hold…I’ve totaled my car man…I’ve totaled my favorite car and I have a house full of people. I need you to come pick me up.” said Walsh.
“Listen man…my car is fucked…they’ve towed it away…to the junk yard I suppose. Are you really going to make me take a fucking cab? I’m literally standing on Laurel Canyon with a bunch of bags full of booze and snacks—I’ve got a houseful of people back at home.” Walsh exclaimed in his English accent.
Walsh lived large, in a house on the summit of a hill overlooking the canyon; a handsome view at an ugly price. Decorated by Walsh’s ex-wife originally, the house had once held the theme of beige fabrics and sandy, wood grain finishes. Now however, having been eroded by two years of divorce and countless spontaneous purchases by Walsh and any of his many transient girlfriends, the villa held no theme at all, by way of diversity and lack of a consistent interior decorator; it had become a giant man cave.
Leather couches had taken the place of wicker love seats. One half of the living room wall which once held three Degas prints was now covered by a massive black and white poster of Al Pacino as Scarface wielding his hungry M16/M203. In the corner, where an antique wooden loom was once situated, now stood a grand piano made from Plexiglas baring the autograph of Ringo Starr. The top of the piano, always closed, was littered with an array of fine liquor bottles varying in fullness and size. Crystal vases, once blooming with flowers now held pocket change, pens, keys, discarded mail, incense sticks and other knick-knacks. In the now furnitureless, hardwood expanse of the dining room, a basketball net equipped by a yellow Lakers backboard was screwed tightly into the beige plaster above a rounded door way leading out onto the back patio.
As Walsh’s guests sat in the living room around a glass coffee table; I sat, sunken deeply into the surprisingly comfortable hold of a leather couch, chatting with Isabel Silver, a diction coach from Monrovia who ravenously intellectualized the ideals of Marxist Feminism, as the legs of her perfectly pronounced diction wobbled and buckled with the wine warming in her core. As she spoke I took note of her lips, which glistened with a thick shiny coat of candy red lipstick. It was clear that she enjoyed listening to herself talk—I didn’t mind listening to her either, especially with those red lips which moved over the shape of her multi-syllabic words with a lurid grin.
As she spoke, I half listened, swirling the sour lime gin around in my mouth, wondering why I wasn’t getting drunker.
“I thought you were fond of his work?” asked Isabel.
“Yeah, but there’s a difference between the artist and the man himself.” I said and for the first time I realized that this rule applied to myself as much as anyone else.
“How can the two be deciphered?” smiled Isabel.
“Well, take Walsh for instance,” said Isabel, “there is no difference between the artist he is and the man he is.”
“Yeah well…I’m sure his ex-wife would disagree.” I mused, watching Lindsay, Walsh’s ex, wander back into the living room and peer around, as if accessing for damages.
It had been a scorched earth divorce and one which Walsh and his wife had fought it out in court over. Custody of their daughter, the family dog…ownership of the house…so many other nuances and nightmarish complexities had entered into it—by the time the lawyers had finally adjourned, the agreement had gone from absurd to vaguely surreal; something along the lines of Walsh having to share the old house which had been left to Walsh by his grandfather initially. Apparently this was granted on grounds of Lindsay having rescued the antique house from utter disrepair after they’d married and moved into it. Being that there had been no prenuptial agreement, the sky was the limit as to how far the two could go getting even with each other through their respective teams of lawyers.
As Lindsay and her new man Manolo wandered about the vast house, taking inventory of incurred damages, Walsh could be heard coming down the hall just then. His chuckling resonating through the villa, seemed to grate directly on Manolo’s patience, causing the dark man’s jaw to grit slightly so a pulse formed in his darkly stubbled jaw-line.
“Ah,” sighed Walsh once in the room and fixing himself another drink, “I thought I smelled sulfur.”
“Don’t be crude.” said Lindsay, squinting the radius of her lashes at Walsh; a cold warning.
“So Manny.” said Walsh, “I see you haven’t tired of my wife’s hospitality yet.”
“Ex-wife,” clarified Lindsay, “That’s ex-wife.”
“Funny that you’re still Lindsay Walsh on paper though isn’t it?”
“You’re drunk.” replied Lindsay, running her finger along one of the window sills and sifting a dusty substance between her manicured fingers.
Manny stood motionless, staring at me suddenly, as if in my face there was a mirror through which he could see Walsh, who stood behind him, shirtless and watching a police helicopter fly overhead through the French windows…beyond which only darkness prevailed; we were all alone out her in the middle of infinity.
“And you haven’t tired of entertaining us.” Manolo smiled, showing no temper—though it was most certainly simmering under his cool exterior.
“I am the entertainer and I’ve had to pay my price.” sang Walsh with a clap of his hands, making Isabel Silver jump slightly on the couch beside me. In the uncomfortable silence, the rest of Walsh’s guests sipped at their drinks awkwardly.
“Maybe you’re not feeling ok.” said Manolo, who appeared suddenly to be an overgrown child, standing there, silently stewing in personal resentment over the fact that he felt instinctually inferior to Walsh.
“Everyone is just fine.” said Walsh, “Please Manny. Tell me you’re not all for the notes.” pleaded Walsh, “Please tell me you didn’t help her write them.”
“No. The notes were her idea.” said Manolo turning his head slightly in Walsh’s direction.
“What did the notes say?” asked Margret Stanfield with an intrigued grin.
“Well, that’s really the question isn’t it? Here is one now.” said Walsh unfolding the latest that had been balanced neatly on the counter top, “Dearest roommate, da, da-da, da-da…too noisy….da, da-da, da-da…cheap smells emanating from my half of the house?” Walsh chuckled, leaning back in his robe, in effect, shaking the pitcher of lemonade he was sipping from directly, “da, da-da, please refrain from flushing anymore of my ‘rubber collection’ down the toilet? Ah, this is her finest note yet, I must say…mutual respect…da-da, da-da, da-da, perhaps you might enforce a simple rule, that your girlfriend removes her shoes before traipsing through the hallways at all hours of the night as the clicking tends to keep me awake?!…Jesus…” chuckled Walsh, spitefully before biting down on the note and tearing it in two, letting the pieces fall to the floor before swaggering back to the refrigerator with a yawn.
“I don’t traips…” says Laura, Walsh’s new girl, rolling her eyes as she sat contently thumbing through a fashion magazine that had been sitting in a pile of others on the glass coffee table.
“Ain’t that just the most dirlin thing you ever read? Little notes…ain’t she just dirlin…well tarnation, ain’t that just thee most dirlin little gal you ever did see?” Walsh said, embellishing Lindsay’s southern accent.
“Yes.” said Manny suddenly turning to look at Walsh directly in the eyes, “As I say. The notes were her idea. She didn’t like my idea.”
“C’mon, share. What was your novel plan? Did it involve a machete?” asked Walsh with a grin.
“Nice image…but you know—if I was you, I wouldn’t say such things in the company of ladies.” said Manolo.
“Why not? You wear that obscene hairdo around town all day long.” chuckled Walsh.
“You like it?”
“Oh, I think it’s impeccable. It reminds me of Mr. Quarts.”
“Who is Mr. Quarts baby?” asked Laura from her magazine, not bothering to look up.
“Why Laura my sweetness…my darling dear…Mr. Quarts was a guy who lived down the street from us when I was growing up in England…he had some type of mental syndrome and tended to defecate in public after which he’d pick it up and put in into his breast pocket…a very tidy old chap if I’ve ever seen one.”
“That’s enough!” spat Lindsay, spinning to face the man she’d once loved enough to marry and play house with.
“That’s silly hon. I like Manny’s hair-cut.” said Laura, finally looking up from her magazine to address the dark man, “I like your hair cut—it’s very avant-garde.”
“Oh Laura baby—that’s what I love about you most—your sick sense of humor.” said Walsh warmly.
“Well I learned the truth from Lenny Bruce.” said Laura absently, returning to her magazine.
“You’re very kind.” said Manolo, accepting Laura’s compliment.
“She’s the kindest.” said Walsh, looking directly at Lindsay now.
“Let’s get this straight,” said Lindsay, stepping up to Walsh, looking him square in the eyes, “It’s your stubbornness and incessant need to win at everything that got us into this situation in the first place…now I don’t mind if you have little parties and you play basketball in our dining room and even play that hideous piano at 4am…but you’ll at least have the decency to show a little respect to myself and Manolo when we’re staying here…which is only a few nights a week.”
“Ok dear…for old time’s sake.” nodded Walsh.
“Let’s go to my room Manolo—where we can have some privacy.” said Lindsay, her eyes still locked with Walsh’s…raising one brow slightly; a small defiant challenge meant to rub salt into a wound that should have already been healed over.
“Be my guest…you always have been.” said Walsh stepping aside.
“Asshole.” muttered Lindsay as she and her man made their way toward her room on her side of the house.
“I think it’s a bit crass that she’s going to entertain that Neanderthal in her bedroom while we’re all down here having drinks.” said Isabel, looking from me to Walsh.
“Ah, they won’t be doing much—not with the jar of spiders I dumped on her bed a few minutes ago…Lindsay is terrified of spiders.” assured Walsh offering us all a small nodding wink.
The Blue Room was full, the wall to wall hardwood echoed with them all. Halfwits…a dumbed down denomination…generation Z…the Omega–the ones that would hammer the last nail into the casket of contemporary culture…perhaps I was one too…sifting for my sanity and personal space at once, fitting myself through the crowd, sidestepping toward a wooden and brass bar, toward a drink I could have just as easily fixed myself at Sanchez’s place. I wasn’t bucking for chief bar-star, so places like the Blue Room never made sense to me. I preferred creative space…perhaps an actual blue room with a typewriter in the center—or a baby grand. There are men on this earth who are cursed…inflicted with a horrible and all-consuming obsession to create…take art away from these men and you’ll be left only with the illness. I’d been on a binge, reading simultaneously three of Celine’s works–London Bridge, Guignol’s Band and for the fourth time–Journey to the End of the Night–perhaps I needed to start reading lighter.
As I waited for the bartender to mix my drink, I took note of the tattoos wrapping up both of her arms. I could never understand why beautiful women never realized how a full sleeve of tattoos substantially subtracted from their beauty…not only that but afforded them membership to a club that had become contrived—Club Contrived let’s call it. It was beyond me how they didn’t realize how unpleasant it was to see incidental ink where their otherwise alluring skin used to be. The worst I felt were the knuckle tattoos…an absolute turn off to me…especially if they were letters. I’d shake my head slightly, appalled by their eagerness to self-desecrate, in the name of what the fuck ever it was that compelled them to do so. It was 1999—the year everything became nothing.
I was thinking this when I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was Elizabeth and she stood behind me with a straw in her red lips…the straw was attached to a yellow drink and she was wearing large dangling earrings.
“Hey, did you just get here?” she asked.
“About two minutes ago.”
“Hey…we’re over there…at that booth in the corner.” said Elizabeth and I peered toward where her finger was pointing. Indeed, in the far corner booth sat Kate, she was joined by a few other people…Blue Room randoms who I’d seen around the place. I was about to make my way to the booth with Elizabeth when Sanchez was upon me…he was livid and his eyes were wild…crazy like old wilderness legends of fire. He grabbed my arm and spoke directly.
“Man, I was just talking to Walters and he said he saw Melissa in here earlier…she was with some dude.” said Sanchez.
“What dude?” I asked.
“Don’t know…some guy with a soul patch. A fucking soul patch!” he spat with a psychotic grin, “I’m disgusted already. We’re going over there. I need back-up.”
“Going over where?” I asked.
“You think she’ll be there?” I asked.
“Probably…and if she’s with that soul patch guy—there’s going to be a huge, massive, mega problem.” spat Sanchez.
“You don’t even know who this jerk-off was…could be her interior design friend.”
“No way…that interior design friend is a blonde dude and doesn’t have a fucking soul patch…think of it Franky…she came into my bar with this fucking prick. This is my fucking bar…this is where I come…she never comes in here…this is my place! Suddenly she fucking comes in here? With a soul patch guy no less? She did that to send me a message. Well, message received baby.” he said, pointing to his temple with a finger.
“What’s this all about?” asked Elizabeth.
“Sanchez here has this ex and they play really toxic games with each other and it’s sick and twisted. This is yet another installment in the saga.” I said in a dry tone.
“You’re way off base Franky…way off base.” said Sanchez before guzzling back his drink.
“Meet you at the car.” he said, storming drunkenly toward the exit, leaving me standing with Elizabeth.
“So you actually going?” she asked.
“More so to make sure the dumb fuck doesn’t do anything stupid.” I said, likewise guzzling back my drink.
“Will I see you later?” asked Elizabeth.
“We need to talk about some shit—you know that right?” I told her.
She only nodded quickly, fluttering her lashes at me…as if it was understood, “That’s not ominous at all.” she smiled.
“I know you put something in my drink last time.” I told her.
“You really think that?” she asked me, a hurt expression forming across her made-up face.
“I don’t know what to think. That’s why we’re gonna talk later. So stay sober tonight.” I said.
“I can’t make any promises.” she shrugged.
“Stay sober.” I insisted.
When Sanchez and I arrived at the house his girlfriend Melissa rented with her sister…we found there was a bronco in the driveway…it was equipped with the fog lights, tractor tires…probably a fucking CB as well. There were flames painted across the sides and a ram-bar fastened over the grill. It certainly seemed a viable accessory for a soul patch sporting fuck-wad as had been the description of the man Melissa had been seen with at the Blue Room. As we strolled up the driveway, Sanchez walked around the front of the bronco and looked at it for a few long moments in silence before looking back at me.
“Look at this fucking truck.” said Sanchez, his words made calm somehow by his seething inner rage.
Pivoting on one heel he turned and headed for the side door, where Melissa took guests. Rather than ring the door bell, Sanchez started to pound on the screen door. He moved to the doorbell eventually after a few minutes went by and his pounding wasn’t answered—he tapped Morris code into it the doorbell and we could hear the frantic ringing through an open kitchen window above. When the doorbell didn’t draw results, Sanchez moved to the back of the house where a bay window allowed for him to peer into the living room and kitchen area. He stood at the window for a few moments staring intensely. I lit one up and puffed a little, staring up at the sky and wondering where we’d all be in twenty years—the blink of an eye.
“I just saw something…I just saw a figure walk across the darkened living room. It was a guy…short hair…shirtless…it’s gotta be the fucking soul patch guy.” spat Sanchez before stepping back and addressing the entire neighborhood in a loud booming voice.
“Hey soul patch! I know you’re in there shithead…I just saw you sneaking across the carpet like a little bitch. Why don’t you come answer the door asshole! Yeah…I heard about your soul patch! And I heard about it because Melissa wanted me to! You know you’re just another of her props—that’s all kid! Just like your lame truck…an incidental prop!” there was a silence that followed…crickets and a suspended electricity that suggested anything could happen, after a moment Sanchez peered up at the darkened windows, “Not coming outside? Well then soul patch–I won’t offer you up any witty Oscar Wilde quips to capt his evening off…I will though bid you a horrid night and a fuck you very much…for making things apparent…this night has opened my eyes!” said Sanchez, stepping over to the truck.
He stood beside the driver’s side door and looked at me for a moment, shaking his head and peering up at the sky. “Let’s get the fuck out of here man…let’s call the Blue Room and have Kate and Elizabeth to meet us back at your place. This drama is a bore.” I said…to distract him. It didn’t work however, and I nearly expected him to wind up his leg and start kicking the truck…or at least I expected he’d smash the windshield with a large stone…something—I’d never seen him so livid and it seemed inevitable that this evening would end in smashing glass and police lights…however, it ended in a trickle…a trickle that eventually turned to a splashing stream…perhaps a dozen Jack and Coke’s strong, Sanchez aimed his stream of high pressure piss directly at the driver’s side door of the truck, leaning back to catch the door handle. As I stood there scanning the darkened windows of the house, I made out two forms, faintly illuminated standing in the second floor window…watching Sanchez lean way back to flip the stream upward enough to get the window. It struck me with hilarity suddenly.
“You’re marking the wrong territory old boy.” I chuckled, “You ought to be pissing on her car.”
However, he was going to be talked out of anything…also, he was out of piss and already waddling toward his car parked on the street…as he fumbled to buckle up his belt, I walked around the passenger side of the bronco noticing an emblem spelled into the flames. “Ashton’s Off-Roading” It all suddenly made sense…Ron Ashton was Melissa’s sister’s man—not Melissa’s…he was an off-roading specialist whose family owned the company. Though Ashton was an unconscionable dick-weed and an unoriginal one at that, and most likely deserved to have his monster truck doused in whiskey piss; alas, he had been an innocent bystander, caught in the crossfire.
When we were pulling away from Melissa’s house Sanchez asked me what I was laughing about. I took a long puff and exhaled out the window before turning to him.
“You know something—you can’t even fail properly.” I told him.
“What’s your point asshole?” he asked taking a corner hard.
“That bronco belonged to the guy who’s dating Melissa’s sister…Ashton the off-roader…and you just showered it in piss.” I told him.
“How do you know this?”
“It said on the side of his bronco…Ashton’s Off-Roading.”
“And you decide to fucking tell me about it now?” asked Sanchez.
“I saw it as we were leaving.” I said.
“Fuck.” Sanchez sighed, “Guess that’s that then.”
“I’d say so old chap.” I nodded.
“I wish I didn’t still, love her man…” said Sanchez, shaking his head.
“Love isn’t this sick…it’s something else.” I told him.
A Case of a Mistaken Name
If I’m to be clear and illustrate the exact elements that culminated to create the perfect atmosphere for the following scenario, I will need to backtrack—far back; perhaps two decades, back to an era when most things meant more and technology hadn’t robbed the world of romanticism or attention span. It was the 1990’s and as I remember it, there were many evening lanes smoldering with sunsets, or there were wide open blue skies and a homesick yearning that was always accompanied by great Manchester guitar rock…it was the summer after high school graduation—a summer of love.
Indeed, the melancholy of leaving behind a legacy of dead poets and virtues of modern mercy at Coronation High School lingered in a delicious way and I’d spent that summer writing songs and performing with a band of outsiders who’d somehow earned a slight bit of local popularity. I’d also met a grunge loving college sophomore from Seattle. Her knowledge of intimacy was not only vast, but a fascinating education of sexual whimsy, to which I dedicated myself fully that summer.
Beyond the successions of suburban, end of days parties thrown by various classmates who would be leaving for ambitious destinations in the world; I had little time to notice a certain person who would, in the years to come, have a dramatic effect on me. Her name was Laura—Laura Lassiter and as I say, she didn’t beg to be remembered…she didn’t need to—there was a quiet energy about her and of course her uncommon beauty spoke for itself. However, I’d not noticed any of it at the time—being as preoccupied as I was.
There were passing hellos between Laura and I, there were a few packed car rides from one party to another, there were group conversations at which we’d both been present but never did we talk. There was a passing glance one evening after the fourth of July fireworks when we’d passed each other in the park. The glance was sticky and long enough that it had vaguely registered to me that she possessed a tragic type of beauty—something rare and lovely, though slightly troubling. She’d been flanked by her friends; a group of Sylvias—classmates from the Westlake Academy; a private school for the overly privileged and overly sheltered south side kids—it dawned on me then that Laura was one of the Sylvias and indeed part of that whole ‘Westlake’ thing. But I paid her little mind at that point.
The Westlake thing, I should mention, was made a thing by Laura Lassiter and her band of Sylvias throughout our high school years. They were beautiful femme fatales and usually clad in their School uniforms during the week. They were different from the majority of the all-girl student body and quite an equation; though for the most part beautiful, the Sylvias were misfits—outcasts; the kind of troubled girls mothers worried about their sons falling for—they liked their boys bad and their weekends rough and tumble; a detour from their Catholic values I suppose, but deep down the solid values were already instilled.
There was a tragic air about them however, and they often behaved as if they were acting in a Fellini film. They loved Ingmar Bergman…they loved Lenny Bruce…they lusted after dead authors and tragic poets, adored Kubrick’s earlier work, played the most depressing Smiths selections at their parties and in their cars and they expressed their angst and Catholic guilt through macabre humor and existential perversion…they laughed to us about the bulimia lines in the school washroom just after lunch hour and how they were frequently subjected to harsh mental/emotional punishments for being insubordinate and twisted. They really were an intriguing and sexy bunch.
On top of this, the Sylvias were, perhaps because of their non-co-ed upbringing, unpracticed in proper male/female interaction and in effect they were prone to romantic mishaps, social disasters and public drunkenness. We all talked the talk about the girls of ‘Westlake Academy’, but few of us walked the walk. I walked the walk…I got directly involved with these good hearted bad girls; I was one of the few…it could be said that we saw eye to eye on some levels. Though I consecutively dated exactly 4 of Laura’s classmates, having developed a severe weakness for the Sylvias of Westlake; I never dated Laura Lassiter herself.
Laura, like the others, exhumed fringe styles from the 1960s and wore her Deneuve-like beauty in a haunting fashion. Her hair was a flowing blonde mane that made up perhaps 1/3 of her visual body mass—nearly a spitting image of Deneuve in her April Fools film. I’d noticed her in the mall one afternoon, carrying her mother’s Chihuahua, she was feeding him ice cream from the cone and humming a long lost tune. As I passed, Laura had stopped, fluttered her lashes and tried to form words…I stood there waiting for her to speak as the dog ravenously ate away at the ice cream…I asked her if the cat had gotten her tongue…however Laura didn’t speak, she only smiled and curtsied slightly before moving on.
I’d admired her round behind as she’d walked away…but hadn’t really given it a second thought aside from the encounter being too short. Beyond residing behind a veil of mystery, sadly, Laura Lassiter was quite troubled and suffered terribly from madness—daylight nightmares and scary voices telling her scary things…a condition which it was said she only haphazardly medicated. Of course at the time, I knew little about her condition—I’d learn more about it much later, a number of years after graduating. Indeed, there was no shortage of Laura Lassiter stories that could be reiterated if you sought them out—that is if you dared ask any of our mutual friends of which there were many. It seemed people loved to gossip about Laura…and after hearing a number of initial stories—a portrait began to form—one of impossible design which made no sense—like Penrose stairs.
I learned of Laura’s illness a few years later…we were all into our 20s and seeing less of everyone. During a chance conversation, another Laura report came across my desk. Again I was intrigued, but this time something more happened. The story was one told to me by a good friend who lived with his parents across the street from the Lassiter home. In a rather nonchalant manner, he explained to me how one night at approximately 1:30 am, he was awoken by an intent wrapping against his bedroom window. Indeed, he’d found on waking that it was Laura and she’d come across the street in the middle of the night without bothering to dress…that is to say that he found her standing in the snow in her sock feet and pajamas, looking lovely as hell and terrified all at the same time as the snow came down all around her.
As the story went, she explained in a panicked tone that there was indeed a kill-crazy taxi cab driver stalking her through her bedroom window. She insisted that the driver had dropped her off earlier in the evening and had kept returning—to peak through her window and watch her undress. In a dire tone, she insisted that the cabby was still there and that my friend accompany her back—to have a look.
As the story goes—as it was told to me; my friend dressed and slung one of his father’s hunting rifles over his shoulder and accompanied Laura across the street, back to her parent’s lavish residence. Once inside she’d led him through a labyrinth of hallways until they came to her bedroom. Certainly I was expecting the story to end in a torrid bout of fucking. However, my friend informed me that when they were standing in the close confines of her bedroom, Laura became terrified, pointing toward the window, “Do you see? Do you see him? I just saw him again.” pleading for Jack to look out the window. Indeed, my friend had readied his rifle and approached the window carefully with Laura in tow. When he reached the window, opened it and looked out however, he’d seen nothing but a perfectly smooth bank of snow in the place where Laura insisted the cabby had stood only seconds before, allegedly staring at her through the frosted pane.
It was one in dozens of circulating Laura Lassiter stories, but it was the one that affected me most. Instead of remaining removed and objective; my heart went out to her–poor thing…perhaps cursed for being too lovely of a creature. Beyond the immediate wave of sympathy I felt for Laura, I also felt a pull of magnetism…it seemed the jagged ugliness inside of her, the one that directly countered her lush beauty, awoke a very male instinct in me to comfort her…take her in my arms and make her better again. The instinct had been foreign to me up until then—as I’d never experienced such a thing. It seemed my heart responded to Laura in ways my sensibilities couldn’t understand.
Perhaps it was ill advised…perhaps it was a dreadful habit to get into…but for the life of me, I couldn’t stop inquiring about Laura. Indeed, I began subjecting our mutual friends to pop quizzes regarding Laura and said friends spoke without reluctance…telling their tales with a fond tone—as if missing Laura by remembering her aloud. I could delve into it all here and now, the stories; the time she was called to the office at Westlake and subsequently used up three lipstick cartridges covering Father Sanders office walls in dark rouge poetry when, on account of speaking with a visiting parent, he’d left Cassandra alone in his office for 20 minutes. Or the night she’d torn off her clothing while strolling in the park with friends and subsequently ran off into a wooded area after which nobody saw or heard from her for days, or how she used trust fund money to travel alone to remote third world lands, into which she’d go missing for weeks on end, without so much as a phone call to friends or family. She’d been tracked down once in the Far East, wandering the streets barefoot, unveiled and asking the locals where she could find fire—or so I was told. I could get into it all, the entire collection of installments from the Laura Lassiter saga but to do so would surely fill a novel and then some—indeed, Laura was in many respects, a book with far too many pages.
I believed that if I could sit across from her and listen closely to her without distraction, perhaps a clue would present itself…a clue that might lead me to a key—a key which might open a door somewhere; so that I could solve her, or at least distract her from herself with laughter and some very involved sex or whatever it might take to clear the sadness from her big blue eyes.
Eventually, after some debate, I’d called for Laura one evening and her sister Cassandra had answered…I’d never met Cassandra; she was a number of years younger than Laura and I. I’d been prepared to ask Laura if she’d join me for a bite to eat…I’d been prepared to hear it all…I’d been prepared to witness a delusion in progress. However, her sister relayed to me that Laura herself had gone to Europe three weeks before and hadn’t given an estimated date of return—if any date of return was even planned—Laura was known for her vanishing acts and one never knew when she’d appear again. When Cassandra Lassiter asked my name, I’d bid her goodbye and hung up, knowing that I’d been too late and there weren’t many things worse than getting involved with a tragic beauty whose restless mind pulled her in twenty different directions at one time. There was also her other personalities to consider—the ones that seemed to surface at random. I chose to see her unexpected decampment as fortunate and in short I gave up on the idea of Laura Lassiter.
As the passing months blurred into vague generalized seasons of retrospect, Laura Lassiter also became a vague apparition, fading into the past easily enough. Though I assumed I’d never run into her again, she crossed my mind once in a while…and rather out of the blue. Should that have been the end of the story? Most certainly it should have dear reader…but the Laura thing didn’t quite end there; there are a few more installments, crucial to the telling of this story. For one, I did finally run into Laura again, and by complete chance—ironically just as I was forgetting about her nearly completely.
I had run into her at a dinner party I’d attended with a girl I’d been casually seeing. I was more dragged to the dinner party than invited—my then girlfriend Clare insisted I accompany her in spite of my initial refusal to attend. I had done everything I could do to get Clare to grant me the night off…for I could think of nothing worse than spending an evening surrounded by her flat humored girlfriends and their boring, effeminate boyfriends who all aimed so carefully at hipness and pseudo-intellectual pontification. Still, Clare assured me that if I didn’t attend, she’d impose sexual sanctions…perhaps realizing that sex was the only thing we had left in common and not very good sex at that.
Needless to say I’d dressed in a blazer and attended the dinner party…and I can’t tell you how shocked I was when I rounded a second floor corner in search of the bathroom and came face to face with the Laura Lassiter, a woman in which only a few years before I’d invested so much thought. It had been longer since I’d actually seen her and I was taken aback by her sudden presence. I suppose I remembered her in the dance floor spotlights, illuminated brilliantly as she grooved to a band all those years ago. The framed recollection was immediately erased by her sudden appearance and pretty, nut of a face.
On seeing me, Laura offered a smile and a warm greeting. She stood there looking tussled in haphazard, rugged clothing and a freckly tan across her forehead over which golden locks of her hair hung, covering slightly one of her eyes. She’d been in South America and had just returned, she told me this when I’d asked where she’d gotten the tan. Though she was dressed more for hiking than a dinner party, she looked marvelous and earthy and made her overdressed counterparts pale in comparison.
During the actual dinner, I sat across from Laura, basking slightly in the soft texture of her voice…the feminine way in which she sipped her water, the adorable way she made sure to never place an elbow on the tabletop, her large blue eyes and the dark coronas of her long curled lashes. She was every bit as beautiful as I remembered her…and hopelessly mysterious—a perpetual enigma. What can I say? Though Clare was sitting next to me with her nervous hand on my lap, I was climbing the nape of Laura’s neck with my eyes…wishing to whisper three words into her ear, “Be with me.”
Later in the evening after the bullshit conversations had subsided and people started to mingle and mill about; I found Laura in the kitchen and asked her if she would walk to the liquor store with me. I told her there was something I needed to tell her. She was in mid conversation with a few guests but obliged me easily, walking at a casual pace beside me on the nighttime street that was glazed slightly with lamp light and the warm blue glow of the full moon…there was something uncanny about the evening, perhaps the magnetism of the moon, messing with our tides…or perhaps it was running into Laura after all those years.
“You know Kristen told me a lot about you…more than I should probably know.” said Laura of her Westlake classmate…one which I’d dated for perhaps six months before she one day stopped calling me without explanation.
“Good stuff I hope.” I said, knowing otherwise.
“Some good…some baddy bad, bad.” said Laura, shaking her head with a grin.
“Well,” I said, “I never claimed to be a great man.”
“I’m sure you’re just fine—Kristen is a dramatist. So you’re seeing Clare. How is that going?” asked Laura.
“She hates her father.” I said as the car tops and darkened lawns passed by.
“She’s a real sweet person.”
“Ah, she’s a pain in the ass.” I said, lighting a smoke.
At this, Laura leaned her head back and let out a gargantuan chuckle; a chuckle slightly out of place—for I’d not meant it as humor. The truth remained—Clare Forester was a ginormous pain in the ass and there was no reason to pretend otherwise.
“She’ll be pretty even when she’s 40.” Laura said of Clare, “She has a smart figure don’t you know…and her skin is so fair.”
“So will you…” I said, “…be beautiful when you’re 40. Like Deneuve, you have this very rare beauty…really it’s very rare.”
“Thank you. That’s probably the nicest thing I’ve been told in a long while.” said Laura.
“Don’t thank me…thank your mother’s genes. Hey listen,” I said, interrupting our small talk, “the reason I asked you here…” I said, not knowing how to word it all, “The reason I asked you to walk to the store with me is because…I wanted to talk to you about some shit.”
“I gathered that…what’s on your mind?” smiled Laura…she was shorter than I and I looked down my shoulder at her beautiful, tanned face. She seemed much different from the afternoon I’d seen her with her mother’s Chihuahua in the mall. Perhaps I’d encountered an alternate personality in the mall.
“You know…I called your parent’s place one time…a few years back…I got your number from Jack.” I said, “I’d hoped to get you on the line, but your sis told me you’d gone and moved to Europe.”
“Paris.” said Laura, “A land full of love and art and death and birth…it all meshes together there right before your eyes you know…and it’s hard to find the ugliness…but it wasn’t for me…I was back in under 4 months…you should go there one day.”
“I’ve never been off the continent…I don’t fly.” I admitted.
“That’s ok…no one will make you fly.” said Laura softly, “Do you know Balzac died when he was only 51 years old?”
“No I didn’t…that’s young.” I said.
“Maybe there were no more novels left in him.” said Laura.
“Also, health care was terrible back then.” I suggested.
“So why did you call for me anyway? If you don’t mind my asking.”
“I called for you because I wanted to know the truth about you…for myself.” I said.
“Oh…” said Laura, dragging out the word, understanding suddenly my issue. Doubtlessly she’d heard it all before, from dozens of other men who’d fallen for her tragic allure.
“Yeah…it was that kind of thing.” I nodded, “Go ahead, roll your pretty eyes.”
“I wouldn’t dare. What would you have said if I would have answered instead of Cassandra?” she asked.
“You can say it now don’t you think? Or is it so naughty?”
“There was a lot of naughtiness yes…but…I wanted to rescue you I think—if you can believe it.” I said.
“From what?” Laura asked, tilting her head.
“I don’t know.” I said; disappointed slightly at my inability to articulate what I’d have been able to dictate in volumes only a few years earlier.
“Some can’t be rescued.” she said easily and after biting her lip in contemplation she stopped walking, turned to me and suggested we sit down on a soft looking lawn belonging to a towering darkened Victorian, one overhung by trees, “But we should definitely have a long talk.”
“It’s about time.” I nodded.
Laura sat cross legged, balancing her pretty face in her palms, listening to me explain the entire thing—the times we’d passed at parties, or concerts or restaurants, in the mall…and had smiled and said hello and I’d never thought to stop and talk to her…the times people had spoken of her and the stories had gone through me, in one ear and out of the other—and how it had all changed rather suddenly one evening when Jack had told me about the imaginary cabby she’d seen lurking outside her bedroom window. I told her that hearing about it had affected me.
When I was through, she assured me that it had all happened a long time ago. She told me that I should see Bertolucci’s ‘Sheltering Sky’. She told me she had once wandered three days through a jungle in the Amazon searching for a holy place…she told me that she’d once had her food drugged at a hillside retreat and had suffered hallucinations…she told me life isn’t what we all think it is…she told me that she was game for most anything that made life more interesting. She then filled me in on her travels since the old days; cliff side bus rides in third world country roads, filthy hostels and hard shanty floors, epic hikes, international flights, the airports in between, hitchhiking on foreign lands, encounters with ancient artifacts and desert sunsets. I sat and listened, fascinated by her words and her lovely face and the boundless adventure in her. We spent the following two weeks together—two weeks I wouldn’t quite forget.
After two weeks of absence, I returned to my life. When I finally saw her, I made the mistake of explaining the entire situation to Clare, the sort-of girlfriend I’d left at the dinner party two weeks earlier to fend for herself socially—something she hated to do. Indeed, Clare had first thrown a fit, then had thrown a plate at me…she’d stormed into the bathroom and locked the door…she’d cried…she’d called me a pussy through the tears, citing that she was livid that while she’d sat alone in awkwardness for the rest of the evening; I’d been a ‘total pussy’, lying on a lawn stargazing with Laura. She said she was sickened by my desire to spend two weeks falling in love with Laura Lassiter. The notion sickened her for more reasons than she realized though—for she’d come to know me as her rock base…a solid unmovable foundation upon which she could build her fortress of anxieties. She hated most that I could be softened by the allure of another woman—especially one she considered to be ‘crazy insane’. It made no difference to me however if Clare, a cocaine addicted, ex-Sears catalogue model/now Sears hairdresser, ever wanted to see me again; I had been willing to sacrifice what I had with Clare for two weeks with Laura Lassiter—even if it did render me a major pussy and a suddenly single one at that.
Laura on the other hand left the next day for the Mediterranean; she’d only been in town for a month and I’d caught her halfway in. When we’d finally parted ways in the early morning sun she’d handed me a small paper upon which she’d scribbled in dull pencil, her personal phone number at her parent’s residence as well as their proper address in up in Vancouver, in case I wanted to send her ‘letters’. When her visit was over and she had to leave town again, I asked if I’d see her again. Laura looked back at me over her shoulder—she nodded and said yes, but something wasn’t right about it. I felt something was wrong, like the way animals can sense an approaching earthquake. The image stayed with me; Laura looking over her shoulder with a sad smile—in my mind it’s framed as a haunting, black and white snapshot…it was the last time I’d ever see her.
Sadly, I’d been told shortly after that Laura had, in a hopeless act of surrender, committed suicide—she’d done it overseas; so I’d been told by a number of mutual friends. I knew that she’d had enough of the monsters that plagued her and she’d finally decided that she wanted out. The news left a small hallow in my core. She had her reasons, no matter how ill and tortured—there came a point when she could no longer stand the voices and the sinister laughter and the cabby’s outside her window. She’d checked out, leaving behind a slew of unanswered questions and the memory of a beautiful and deeply troubled woman who’d been a book with too many pages for far too long.
Time went on, the years melted into the past and everyone seemed to forget about Laura Lassiter. I thought about her from time to time, however—thoughts of her were mauled by the ugliness of suicide. I’m sure had she gone on existing somewhere in the world and all was well as it should have been, the memory of her would have eventually dwindled into a distant but fond recollection. However, shit didn’t go down that way. Over the years it became a dark piece of conversation and pretty much anyone that ever knew Laura never wanted to mention her anymore and eventually, she joined the endless leagues of the forgotten. However, her saga was documented in the historical annals in my mind and once in a while, I would return to her and her tragic mystery—the one no one ever solved. And a mystery it was indeed. For the details that were offered regarding the weeks leading up to her suicide were for the most part vague and ever evolving, which made knowing what had really gone down and why, nearly impossible. There were certain people who knew definitely, however, they were people who wouldn’t wish to talk about it…people who’d rather forget. I decided to join them.
I’d first seen Ariel at the resort, and if the truth be told, I’d thought little of her upon first glance. She was merely another face, another local girl they’d hired out of desperation. It was a fact that the Oceanic Resort and spa management team had painted themselves into a corner by way of apathy and had taken on the habit of hiring out of desperation, which, by the way, would perfectly explain how I’d gotten hired in the first place.
To me Ariel was yet another transient waitress with tight black jeans. On first glance Ariel was perhaps 24, she had long dark hair with undefined bangs which hung, almost always, over half of her face. Curiously the bangs didn’t conceal the side of her face which bared a rather large scar that ran from her brow, across her cheek and down to her chin. The scar was discolored and the stitch holes were forever healed into the flesh around it. She didn’t speak much, and when she did, her statements were blunt, awkward and spoken with an unraveling tone. She wore her apron very high and, as well as having slightly slouched posture; she had a signature way of peering up at you from beneath her perfectly plucked eye brows in a very psychotic fashion. That was my quick assessment of Ariel—at first anyway; another desperate hire who rode the Big Blue Bus into work each afternoon.
I say ‘at first’ because I was about to learn more about Ariel. It seemed on a daily basis, the women on staff were diligently collecting as well as sharing tidbits of information about Ariel. They were still undecided about whether they would befriend Ariel, or tear her apart limb from limb; women could be surprisingly vicious to each other it seemed. Though this verbal lynching of Ariel had been going on for perhaps two weeks, I was the last to hear about the wildfire scrutiny concerning her.
There is a grand difference between fiction and literature, just as there is a grand difference between gossip and curious discussion. I tried not to listen to gossip—I tried to form my own opinion of people; none the less, Anabelle swore by her self-professed talent—psychological profiling. Ariel, she informed me, was a “mute”. Indeed dear reader—this was the tipping point; the moment I’d officially become intrigued by Ariel…and perhaps it was partly because of the severity in which my female colleagues appeared so threatened by her mere presence.
“A mute?” I’d asked, breaking out of my blank nodding stare across the ballroom toward Ariel who was pouring a cup of coffee for a guest with an expressionless gaze, “What do you mean exactly?”
“She’s soooooo strange. Her responses are all monosyllabic.” said Anabelle, squinting her heavily painted eyes with suspicion, “And you know what else? The other day, when she was leaving work, a few of us said goodbye to her and she didn’t acknowledge us at all, she just walked out…I mean, what kind of person doesn’t say goodbye? I mean that’s what a mute is, isn’t it?”
“Anabelle, you’re smarter than that. A mute is a person who can’t speak. Ariel speaks—probably she’s on edge because you’re all so threatened by her. And why do you all care so much about Ariel? What the hell is it with you ladies?” I asked before taking a haul from my glass.
We were joined about then by Miles, the acting night Supervisor. I suppose it can be said that I liked Miles—he was from Boston and was a lot of fun to have around—he idolized The Clash, Melanie Griffith and Blue Ribbon beer—he was a snapshot of care free times—a beer commercial hold tight. He took nothing seriously and nothing ever cracked his wise-ass composure. He was the kind of chap you could pass the hours on the job with, breaking each other’s balls, talking women, playing black jack and drinking company booze—you couldn’t expect anything more precision from Miles, but he kept things on an even keel; he was the type of bastard who’d do anything for a laugh. He possessed a casualness I found sometimes consoling in the often complicated sea of estrogen that made up our staff of skirted ballroom vixens.
“What are you guys talking about?” Miles asked, leaning on the bar with his signature grin.
“Anabelle was just telling me that she thinks that fohawk thing you’re trying to grow makes you look like a total jerk off.” I laughed.
“Well, that’s only because Anabelle wants my dick.” Chuckled miles, looking directly at Anabelle who squinted her eyes with a quiet, calm fury.
“Fuck yourself Miles…you may as well—nobody else would.” she said.
“Aw, it’s so cute how much you pretend not to lust after me.” Miles laughed, a good sport with bad timing.
“Ana here thinks Ariel is a mute.” I said.
“The new girl? She’s a little off…there’s something a little twisted about her—but she’s not a mute…she talks.” He assured, looking over his shoulder at Ariel who was pouring another cup of coffee, “She doesn’t say much does she…”
“Much? She doesn’t say anything at all. Not even goodbye!” scowled Anabelle.
“Something else about that one I find strange…” said Miles, turning back to us, “don’t you think she wears her apron a little high?”
Anabelle burst out in laughter, “She ties it right under her boobs right? Who does that?”
I looked at Ariel…who was now peering around the ballroom, looking for empty coffee cups to fill. There was something meek in her gestures, something warm in her eyes—at least the eye I could see. There was a quiet femininity about her and it was curbed by what I could only assume was some keen sense of personal awareness…Ariel was aware of things it seemed; but what? Perhaps I wasn’t looking deep enough–perhaps I knew I shouldn’t. Yes, there was her high riding apron to consider, but it was easily over looked.
“You guys are fucking awful.” I said shaking my head before draining my glass.
“Awful? Can you not see what a freak of nature she is Frank? Also she has that creepy scar running down her face; I can’t even believe she got hired. I mean, even if she offered to blow someone for a job here, the only loser who would accept it would be Miles and he doesn’t even do the hiring.” laughed Anabelle.
“Listen my word could get anyone hired here—as well as fired.” Miles said locking Ana in his sites.
“I think she’s really pretty.” I admitted.
“Pretty?” demanded Anabelle, “You’re kidding me right? Tell me you’re just saying that to be a dick.”
“Not a bit. Look at her…it’s so obvious…she’s got a super pretty face—like Gina Lollobrigida, shapely hips, red lips, gold nail polish…deep stares—she’s all kinds of woman and you’re hung up on a fucking scar and the fact that she doesn’t talk to you. You know I saw her coming in the other day wearing a ‘Meat Is Murder’ t-shirt, I’m wondering if that’s just sheer chance…and where did she get that scar by the way? Mama Mia; that’s what I want to know about her above all—how’d she get that sexy scar?” I said.
“Sexy scar? Ewe. And what’s a meat is murder shirt? Sounds like creepy shit to me.” said Anabelle puckering her face.
“I mean Miles, you’re telling me she doesn’t look just like Gina Lollobrigida if you really look at her?” I said.
“I don’t know who that is, but…now that you mention it—I guess I wouldn’t kick her out of bed for eating cookies.” said Miles raising his eye brows in agreeance.
“Guys are so bizarre.” said Anabelle rolling her eyes.
“Maybe she was in a knife fight.” speculated Miles now as Ariel stared over at us all watching her from across the crowded ballroom.
“Your taste in women is definitely atrocious.” said Anabelle, sounding distantly wounded.
“It’s just refined is all.” I said.
Anabelle didn’t respond. Instead she stood for a moment staring at Ariel, watching her work, quaking on the inside with jealousy. When Anabelle finally walked away, I turned to Miles and inquired if he possessed any additional information about Ariel. Of course Miles didn’t know much more than I. Like me, he didn’t quite listen when the girls talked shop…but he’d paraphrased a conversation he’d had with Ariel in which he’d asked her why she wore her apron so high, and she’d answered that it was because her pants were ‘up high’. I peered at her again as she lifted an empty coffee cup from a table and proceeded to fill it—again with a stone expression. The apron was indeed high, as were her pants, but the effect created a beautifully tight package of womanly buns that wagged around firmly as she circled the tables. A moment later when she walked by the bar Miles shot her a smile and a nod, which she averted by turning her head away.
“Did you see that?” asked Miles, “She’s just shy…that’s all; just shy. Maybe she had a really fucked up childhood. You ever see that movie Carrie? Maybe her mom locked her in closets and shit.” Speculated Miles as we watched her nicely shaped rump wag away toward the servery doors.
I thought my intrigue with Ariel would be an isolated incident—that I would leave it where I’d found it. However, a few nights later, when I returned to the hotel for my next shift—I found myself standing behind the bar, watching them all eating…investment bankers from Fresno…devouring their individual portions of undercooked mystery meat. As my stomach turned slightly at the sight of them all gorging themselves and salivating at once, I noticed that Ariel was approaching the bar. Her apron was high riding once again and she was peering at me intensely from behind her neatly plucked eye brows. She was wearing black eye shadow and a thick coat of red lipstick. She stood there for a moment without saying anything; there was no doubting it now—she was definitely attractive.
“Hows it going?” I asked her. She looked to the left, then to the right…then back to me.
“I’m supposed to ask you if you need anything for the bar.”
“Maybe some company—I’m so bored. I’m the chairman of the bored.” I said.
“Okay.” she said peering at me blankly…as if she were a Stepford wife.
“It’s Ariel right?” I said as she joined me behind the bar.
“Yes—that’s what my name tag says.”
“Why is this your favorite job?” I asked her as I began polishing one of the wine glasses, which were usually always tarnished with an oily film and lipstick residue.
“It’s not.” she said.
“No? What is your favorite job?”
“Another place…I don’t work there anymore.”
“Cool…” I smiled, running my eyes over the scar that ran down the side of her pretty face. Again I wondered how she’d gotten it.
“A book store.” she said finally when I looked away.
“What a job…why didn’t I think of applying at a bookstore?” I said, “Getting paid to sit around and read books—how rad is that?”
“It’s a bit more than that.” said Ariel, “But yeah, I got to read all the books I’ve ever wanted to read.”
“I got to read all of Bukowski’s books when I worked there. Before I worked there I’d only read two.” said Ariel, catching me off guard.
“You’re putting me on. You read Chinaski? Which one did you like the most?” I asked, wondering how deep this all went.
“I really liked Post Office—but Hollywood was my favorite.” Ariel said, nodding and throwing a glance at me.
“The bathroom sink scene, with the towel…I nearly pissed myself laughing.” I chuckled.
“Also, another good one…Sylvia Plath’s Bell Jar. I read it a few months ago…then I read it again. It’s possessed me and now I’m reading it…again.” She said, phrasing the last word with a whisper.
“A third time…that’s hot.” I admitted.
“I love her.” Ariel purred, turning me on more than she probably estimated.
“So, can I ask you a personal question?” I asked her.
“You can, but I may not answer it.” She said.
“There are certain questions you can ask someone that will answer several questions at once—kind of like the questions investigators and psychiatrists ask.”
“Trick questions?” asked Ariel.
“Not exactly…more like power questions. You probably won’t answer…but I’ll throw it out there anyway—here it is; did you cry for Heath Ledger?”
“Who is Heath Ledger?” she smiled, glancing up at me from beneath her eye brows.
“That’s a bad question for you? Ok, let’s try this one; do you remember where you were when WHAM broke up?” I inquired.
“I wasn’t born I don’t think. Anyway, how much could the answer to that question possibly tell you about me?”
“More than you could imagine. Listen, maybe you’re right. Forget about it. Let me ask you something though; I saw you getting off the Big Blue Bus the other day…where do you bus in from?” I asked.
“I live in Westwood with my mom…” said Ariel.
“You like Westwood?” I asked.
“It’s like living in a house of mirrors.” Ariel said, shooting me a sideways glance. “I did go to Fairfax High though—same high school Phil Spector went to.”
“Really? What a town.” I said with a grin of amazement.
“The girls here don’t like me.” said Ariel out of the blue—and so I ran with it.
“They’re threatened by you is all.” I said.
“Why would they be threatened—I never threatened any of them.”
“They’re threatened by you because you color outside the lines.” I said.
“They do too…I’ve never seen girls wearing so much make-up.” said Ariel, issuing a small shrug, “Guys like makeup girls I guess.”
“Sure, but it’s not all we like.” I said.
Ariel looked at me and brushed away the long lock of hair covering one side of her face, “If you say so.”
“I do. By the way, I think your scar is sexy.” I admitted without any lead up, or indication; knowing full well that in doing so I was setting something in motion—and feeling indifferent about the consequences.
“No it’s not.” She said.
“To me it is.” I assured.
“I know a lot of guys—no one ever says that. I don’t know if I believe you.”
“What, you think I’m messing with you?” I grinned, tickled slightly by the insecurity and prettiness that simultaneously existed within Ariel.
“No, I think you’re probably just trying to fuck me.” she said peering out at me from underneath her perfectly plucked brows.
I didn’t see Ariel for a week after that. I wasn’t scheduled back at the hotel until the following Saturday. Indeed, when I finally did return to the resort the next weekend for my scheduled shift, I noticed that Ariel’s name had been crossed off the schedule list. However, she was still listed on the laminated sheet that included each staff member’s full name as well as their contact information. Ariel Granger 424 456 5678. I punched the number into my phone.
After my shift was over, I drove up San Vicente, heading back toward Hollywood. I felt like going out somewhere dimly lit for a drink—I had the Dresden or the Bigfoot Lodge in mind. I turned down the music and found Ariel’s contact and hit the dial button. After a few rings I was greeted by her automated voicemail message which instructed me to leave a message.
“Ariel, its Frank…Frank from the Resort. Was working there tonight. Wondering if you’ve quit, call me…I want to take you out somewhere real nice for a drink—maybe the Bigfoot, would love to chat again.” I said and clicked off in time to avoid being spotted chatting on my phone by a cop on a motorcycle.
A few minutes later, my phone buzzed, signaling a text message. It could have been from anyone at that hour, but it was from Ariel and her message was short and to the point, “How did you get my number?”
“Magnum P.I.” I texted back.
After a few minutes another text buzzed in.
“Who is Magnum P.I.?” asked her text.
“Are you going to meet me or not?” I replied.
I drove on, surrendering to the notion that Ariel was going to a) over analyze my advances and b) decide finally that the best plan of action was no plan of action at all. However, to my surprise, a text finally buzzed in.
“Not tonight…but I’ll be downtown and horny tomorrow.” said her text.
I wondered briefly if her text was pure sarcasm…but realized that in regard to Ariel; one could assume nothing. I wanted to reciprocate her to-the-point sincerity if that was in fact what it was.
“I’m here.” I texted, sending it off into space, where it would sit permanently in some server database—a record of my intrigue for Ariel.
The next night rolled around soon enough. The day had gone by quickly, as it always did in Los Angeles…as if time were travelling at warp speed. I’d spent the day in Glendale helping Gardner pack up his world. He’d had his fill of cattle calls and desert heat and longed for the lush green Oregon valleys from which he’d come three years before. He was getting back together with his ex-girlfriend Samantha, who’d just become a veterinary anesthesiologist back in Eugene, and the plan, though structured and seemingly fool proof, clearly terrified the old chap to the point of panic attacks, one of which he suffered while I was boxing up his vinyl collection.
Indeed, he’d surrendered himself fully to the panic and had taken to locking himself in the bathroom for an hour, chatting with Samantha the veterinary anesthesiologist about the fine print of their new policy on life. When he emerged, he flopped down onto the couch and began reiterating their conversation.
About 15 minutes into this, my phone buzzed. I flipped up the screen and saw it was a text from Ariel. Indeed, she’d not flaked out—she’d followed through and was informing me that she was going to a friend’s exhibit; modern art—a vague term. The following are direct quotes from our digital conversation:
Ariel: You’re welcome to join
Me: I will later – with a friend now in Glendale
Ariel: I want to meet you in a scuzzy bar later
Me: Can we meet in a bar that’s not scuzzy?
Ariel: Scuzzy bars turn me on
Me: I was thinking Cha Cha’s – that scuzzy enough?
Ariel: Hate that place
Me: El Cid? It’s not scuzzy but they have bands tonight and a nice courtyard where we can make out a bit…if you you want.
Ariel: El Cid it is
Me: Where and when am I picking you up?
Ariel: I’ll bus it – let’s say between 6 & 9
Me: 6 or 9?
Ariel: both ;o
Indeed, dear reader, I wasn’t sure what to make of the semi-colon and the ‘o’ and so as Gardner went on, I was forced to interject.
“Listen old boy, you may know something about this…I’m not quite text savvy—and for good reason; but what does it mean when a woman texts you a semi-colon followed by the letter ‘o’?” I asked.
“Depends what the context is.”
“She said she’d meet me between 6 and 9…I asked 6 or 9 and she said both…then the semi-colon and letter ‘o’. That’s code?” I asked.
“It means she’ll probably blow you and vice versa…can I finish for fuck sakes? I’m pouring out my guts here and you’re fucking sexting? Or like, trying to sext.” spat Gardiner, chuckling toward the ceiling.
“Look,” I chuckled, “all this shit you’re talking right now—this parade of psychobabble—it’s not Freudian; it’s you being a pussy.”
“Know what…you’re right.” said Gardner, pushing himself up from the leather couch that was already tagged with a paper baring the word ‘Free’ scribbled across it in marker, “I love her and I’m going back to her…even if her family hates me.”
“That a boy.” I said.
I parked on Sunset, just out front of El Cid. I sat in the car with the stereo turned up loud, waiting for Ariel. I watched the buses rolling up to the stop across the street, each time wondering if Ariel would step off. However, after a number of buses came and went and none of which contained Ariel, I dialed her—this texting shit made it all so impersonal.
“Hello?” she said after a few rings.
“Where are you?” I asked.
“Where are you?” she asked back.
“I’m where I said I’d be—out front of El Cid.”
“I’m across the street, at Circus of Books. Be out in a second.” she said.
Sure enough a few minutes later, Ariel emerged from Circus of Books carrying a white plastic bag. She was dressed in tight white jeans and leather laced sandals of the same color. She wore a tight Cowboy Junkies t-shirt and her bangs were pulled back and tucked beneath a white 1960s style head band. I watched her cross sunset and walk westward toward my van which was parked outside the entrance of El Cid.
I got out of the van to meet her. “You look so different in your real clothes…you look hot.” I said noticing she’d applied an extra thick layer of foundation, to perhaps conceal her scar which I found strangely alluring.
“I am hot…it’s so humid tonight.” said Ariel.
“I mean you look hot…but I guess you probably hear that a lot so it probably doesn’t even mean anything to you anymore.” I said.
“I don’t get that a lot.”
“Come on…I’m sure you have a special contacts folder for the guys that chase you. Am I in that folder?” I laughed.
“I don’t have a folder…I’m not like the girls you’re used to I guess.” Ariel said, as if to remind me of something.
“That’s the best part about you.”
“Thanks.” Ariel said with a stone expression.
“So, are we going in?” I asked.
“No…I have a better plan.” She said.
“Like?” I asked.
“We can go to my place in Westwood. My mom is at a benefit dinner tonight…won’t be back till very late. She used those words, ‘very late’.” said Ariel.
“Whatever you want to do; I’m game.” I said.
Once we were in my van, rolling westward down Sunset toward her mother’s condo; Ariel answered some of my questions. She’d attended Otis College and had dropped out to live in San Francisco for two years—which she said had taught her more about the artistic process than any class ever could. She said her father wrote for a travel magazine and often sent postcards from the places he visited—he was never home. Also, she rarely dated. She informed me that her last boyfriend had dumped her because she was too ‘crazy’ in bed. She then interrupted our Q&A period to confirm, by pulling the box from the white paper bag, that the condoms she purchased where okay with me.
I smiled, looking at her sideways for a moment, “Really? So I guess we’re going to get that out of the way before we start our date? Or is the date over after that?” I asked.
“Guess we’ll see how you do.” said Ariel, surprising me…Frankly; I’d never have guessed…and certainly no one else would’ve guessed either that shy quiet Ariel was indeed something of a super freak.
Ariel’s mother’s residence was nicely decorated and color themed—to be more exact; it looked like a centerfold spread in some home-worship magazine. It seemed a touch odd at my age to be out on a date with a woman who still lived at home with her mother. Ariel was perhaps 25 years old—still young in many regards. There was a freedom in that—there was freedom in the fact that she had a few years left to make a lot of massive mistakes; the mistakes after all, though no more or less fantastical in the future, would only become systematically less harmless as the years wore on. These were the best years of her life and I wondered if she realized it.
She circled around the post-modern kitchen a few times, pouring us two glasses of lemonade before gesturing with a wave of her head for me to follow her down a hardwood hallway, at the end of which her bedroom lurked in a shroud of darkness. She disappeared into it, with me in tow, until we were both enveloped in pitch black…then a spark, a small orange flame from a wooden match…then a candle, then another, then three, then four, flickering in their warm pools of glow atop what I now saw was her dresser. As my eyes adjusted to the rooms flickering dimness, I made out the walls, which were covered in oil portraits Ariel had done.
“Hey, these are all yours?” I asked.
“They are.” said Ariel, opening one of the dresser drawers.
“Can we turn on a lamp? Can I see them?” I inquired.
“Why do you want to see them?” she asked as she fished through her dresser drawer.
“Call it foreplay.” I said.
“Really? I have something better than foreplay.” said Ariel, retrieving a small plastic bag from the pile of clothes she’d turned over to find it.
She brought over the bag as well as our two glasses of lemonade and joined me on the edge of the bed. I took one of the glasses in hand and watched Ariel pick a pill from the bag. She handed it to me and I looked at it sitting in the palm of my hand, it’s chalky, candy-like contours dancing with flickering shadows and dark mysteries. Ariel swallowed one herself and tipped her head back with a mouthful of lemonade. She peered at me with a grin. “Go ahead, it’s out of body.” she assured.
“Uh, listen babe; I don’t need any…aid here. Know what I mean? I’m good.” I told her.
“If that’s true then why did you say that looking at my artwork would be like foreplay?”
“Because it would be in a way—us being in your bedroom and all.”
“So will this.” she insisted, “Just trust me.”
“Sure…why the fuck not.” I said, pretending to pop the pill into my mouth, pretending next to wash it down with tart, chilled lemonade, “Mmmmmmm, tasty.” I grinned as I set the glass down.
Rather than actually swallowing the pill; I slipped it under her pillow as I leaned in for a kiss…a kiss which she seemed to take very seriously. Ariel kissed well, she knew how to apply the correct amount of tongue without it getting too slimy; she was a noninvasive kisser one could say. Beyond that, she knew how to talk the talk. I was wondering if she walked the walk as well when voices could be heard echoing through the hardwood surfaces of the condo; a chuckle, the screech of a chair sliding across the floor, a jet of tap water, the sound of glasses being clinked, another chuckle, then the distinct frequency of a woman’s voice emphasizing her tones in a dramatic way; Ariel’s mother had come home early—and she’d brought a guest.
“Fuck.” sighed Ariel, as if deflating rapidly through a sudden puncture wound in her enthusiasm, “It’s my mom and Gordo…her shadow puppet.
“Shadow puppet?” I mused.
“Guess this is her idea of a late night.” said Ariel, “We should go.”
“Guess it’s my place then.” I said, pushing up from Ariel and sipping down the rest of the lemonade which was surprisingly refreshing.
“Sorry.” she said sitting up too, “I thought she’d be gone longer. Sucks to be living back home.”
We waited until the coast was clear and Ariel’s mom had disappeared into the master bedroom with Gordo the shadow puppet before we made our grand escape, tip toeing through the living room and kitchen before slipping out the front door which Ariel closed very carefully and so silently it didn’t even click; I didn’t ask because I didn’t really want to know the dynamic between her and her mother. I really wasn’t interested in the mutual understandings her and her mother had refined during their time living together over the years; I simply wanted to get back to where we were before we’d been interrupted. However, fearing the lengthy car ride back to 1557 N. Alexandria might kill her mood, I pulled into a hotel on Wilshire; the Palm Court.
“Wait here, I’m going to get us a room.”
“Thought we were going back to your place.” said Ariel.
“It’s too long of a drive—and I don’t want to lose our groove baby.” I told her.
“Place looks expensive.”
“Perfect for your uptown ass then.” I grinned as I got out of the van.
“Hey, can you leave the music on? I love this guy.” she said, reclining back into the seat as Matthew Sweet’s ‘Sick of Myself’ banged through the speakers.
“You know it.” I said, leaving the van running and the music blaring.
I provided my credit card and two pieces of ID to the robotic woman behind the glass at the front desk. She looked at me very intensely as she compared the photo to my in-the-flesh appearance. After some computer work, she printed a paper and passed it through slot in the Plexiglas. The paper was an invoice that included a contractual agreement stipulating that I’d be held responsible for any damage to the room and furthermore that I understood that the hotel assumed no responsibility in the event that my van was vandalized on hotel property during my stay—which in actuality would last no more than 2 hours.
“Make sure you sign in all the right spots or the contract will be null and void.” she said with stern intent.
“You know something lady, such lengthy and in depth processing is a bit superfluous for people like my lady-friend and I who would only visit your pretentious hotel to drink absinthe and fuck.” I stated, peering intensely at the lady, searching for a sign of life; which wasn’t there.
When I’d signed on the dotted line and the card key was in my hand, I promptly made my way back through the lobby and out into the parking lot where I expected to find Ariel sitting in my idling van, waiting in the same spot where I’d left her, grooving out to 90’s indie rock. However dear reader—Ariel was not there and in fact, neither was your diligent narrator’s van.
I was perplexed and stood there under the exterior fluorescents, watching the Wilshire traffic course by. The squirrely bitch had jacked my van; it was hard to believe and quite unexpected. I took a moment to wrap my mind around it all. It occurred to me that, even if I so desired, I now couldn’t return to my apartment as Ariel had taken the keys to my entire life with her when she’d jacked my van. As far as the keys were concerned, for some reason, I’d never backed any of them up with spares. Luckily, my phone sat like a small weight in the back pocket of my jeans and to it I reached, dialing Ariel with little expectation of an answer. As I suspected, she didn’t answer; so I left a message.
“Hey, grand theft auto is a crime in the state of California. I’m going in—room 112. Don’t make me wait—waiting is boring.” I said and clicked off.
The room was small and smelled of old carpet and cheap laundry detergent. I opened a window and flopped down on the bed, staring at the ceiling, contemplating the best plan of action. Perhaps it was best to just lie there in contemplation. Perhaps this was the room in which a grand epiphany would call to me and send me into another flight of inspiration—the greatest yet. Perhaps it was in this room I’d create a masterpiece.
It suddenly occurred to me though that I’d overpaid for the room and if indeed I was going to be shenaniganed by the likes of Ariel; then I owed it to her, as well as myself, to inject a bit of my own home grown chaos into the small circus that was unraveling around me in a quiet way. Never underestimate the relevance of a paid for hotel room. And so it was in this fashion that a small surge of elation filled my chest as I rose, left the hotel and trekked back up Wilshire, reverse engineering the directions Ariel had given me to find my way out of her mother’s labyrinth-like neighborhood.
As I walked, a variation of possibilities surfaced in my mind. Of course, whether or not my van would be returned was a valid concern and one that was sinking in just then, along with all of its ramifications. After all, Ariel had swallowed a pill—a pill containing who knew what, which could induce who knew what effects; most certainly, operating a motor vehicle under the influence of anything other than grass was certainly a recipe for disaster. I was gripped suddenly by equations—the possibilities of which ranged from Ariel careening my van off of a Mullholland cliff and plummeting to a fiery death in the valley below to colliding head on with a bus in some busy Hollywood intersection. I imagined what the blood toxicology report would say and the interrogations that would follow. What had she been thinking?
Indeed, on foot the journey was a lot longer than I’d estimated and by the time I was climbing the steps leading back up to the glass entrance doors of Ariel’s building; the companionship between me and my absinthe buzz had ebbed greatly, leaving me nearly sober to contend with Ariel’s mother who answered my frantic buzzing with an irritated tone that crackled back at me through the small speaker in the intercom.
“Yes? Who is buzzing this late?” she asked.
“Listen, I’m a friend of your daughter Ariel.” I said.
“Ariel isn’t here right now.”
“I know…she’s joyriding in my godam van right now…without me—see what I’m saying?” I said into the speaker.
“I have no idea what that means young man…but I don’t appreciate being woken up in the middle of the night with rude language and asinine accusations about my daughter.” said Ariel’s mom.
“Listen—I want to be perfectly clear here…if she doesn’t get back to me, or get back to you in the next ten minutes; I’m calling it in…and that’s going to be grand theft auto.” I said, my words trailing off into the abyss of silence created by Ariel’s mother’s contemplation.
“Ok, wait, I’ll come down—for godsake.” she snapped before clicking off.
I had my back turned when she emerged at the door behind me, clicking it open and stepping out onto the concrete in oriental slippers. She was clad in yoga pants and a tank top, her hair was tussled and her eyes looked weighted and red—however, she looked great—perhaps 50 years old, an older, somehow sexier version of Ariel—who would evidently age quite well…the apple hadn’t fallen too far. A few seconds behind her was Gordo, the shadow puppet. He was perhaps 55, overly attentive, doting, whiny and clad in a badly faded Sheena Easton t-shirt, which I assumed must have belonged to the Mrs. He pushed his spectacles up against his brow with a finger before souring his expression even further and volleying into a particularly whiny line of questioning.
“Who do you think you are coming here in the middle of the night, waking up total strangers? What kind of a man does that?” he asked.
“I never claimed to be a great man. Also, this really doesn’t concern you.” I assured him.
“Oh, it does…what concerns Pam most definitely concerns me.” sniveled Gordo.
“Really? So you really are a shadow puppet.” I said, hitting him low and hard and watching the expected reaction take form on his face.
“Be careful how you talk to me.” sniveled Gordo.
“Look, if I didn’t know Ariel how would I know that she calls you Gordo the shadow puppet?” I said, turning back to the mother, Pam.
“Well, knowing his name only proves that you know Ariel…there is no proof that she stole your van as you say.” Said Pam.
“I think the footage from the security camera in the Palm Court hotel parking lot will stand up in court pretty well Pam.” I assured her.
“She stole your van from a hotel parking lot? How does that work?” asked Pam.
“Well, it’s like this, when I went in to rent a room for us to use for a few hours; your delinquent daughter decided it would be a great idea to drive off in my van.” I said, watching her hard boiled, old-lady toughness, tighten into an expression of shock.
“Oh my god.” said Pam, shooting a glance at her shadow puppet.
“Maybe you ought to dial her up Pam.” I said.
“Already on it.” said Gordo, placing his sleek, wafer thin phone to his ear. After a few seconds he spoke, “Ariel? Where are you? We’ve got a man at the house who is claiming that you’ve stolen his vehicle…yes, he’s buzzed us…woken both your mother and I up…he’s not saying borrowed honey—he’s saying you stole it…you’d better get back here now…we’ll be out front…and Ariel—don’t speed…drive carefully. Everything is going to be alright.” said Gordo the shadow puppet.
After a moment of contemplating the police helicopters pattering overhead, Gordo turned to Pam and explained the situation, every once in a while, throwing an awkward glance my way; as if I was only a bystander and not directly involved with the unfolding mishap. It seemed Ariel insisted that she was only borrowing my van, which would imply that she’d first asked to borrow it. Could it really be framed as so in her mind? I wondered.
The three of us stood silently on the steps in the late night breeze waiting for Ariel to pull up. Finally however, a sign of life surfaced…Pam, perhaps having had too much for too long of her daughter’s delinquent ways broke into shallow sobs, sniffling hard and leaning her face into one of Gordo’s flabby man tits; so the old sex pot did care about her daughter after all.
“Listen, Pam…I’m not going to call it in…I was never going to. I just wanted my van back—do you realize what that van and I have been through together? It’s family.” I sighed, peering at Gordo who hated the idea that I was consoling his woman.
“I’m sorry; I don’t know what’s gotten into Ariel lately. You know…she lost her father last year and since then things haven’t really been the same.” sniffled Pam.
“She never mentioned that. Guess that would explain why she hates Gordo here so much.” I said, throwing a glance at the whiny bastard.
“She’s had a very tough year…two years really, if you consider what happened in San Francisco.” said Pam.
“What happened in San Francisco?” I asked.
Pam looked at me with tears welling in her eyes and nearly spoke, but stopped short, shaking her head and issuing a wave of her hand, “Don’t even get me started.”
So…perhaps San Francisco had been a horror show for Ariel. It wasn’t hard to believe—there was a darkness in San Fran—much like the darkness in Ariel. Then she’d lost her old man; her world had unraveled and the sun had failed to rise—one never gets over losing a parent…one can only adapt and come to embrace in some manner, the new normal. Perhaps Ariel was still adapting.
By the time Ariel was parking my van out front of her mother’s concrete palace, I regretted trekking back to her place and waking Pam and her undeserving lover. I should have read it better…I should have caught the designs—the jagged textures of fresh emotional trauma within Ariel. Where had my powers of observation gone? Had I really become that out of touch with the basics? I pushed myself up from the railing on which I’d been leaning and strode toward my van as Ariel was fitting the gear shift into the P position.
As she did so, I opened the passenger side door and eased down into the seat next to her. Throwing a confused stare my way, Ariel spoke in a wounded, malicious tone, “What, you want to lecture me now?”
Glancing over my shoulder through the window I saw Pam approaching rapidly up the sidewalk with her shadow puppet in tow, “Drive.” I said. Contorting her face even further Ariel squinted at me, completely perplexed by my request, “Drive.” I repeated, this time with a grin, “Unless you want to get eaten alive by your mother and her shadow puppet.”
Ariel gave me one last glance before pulling the gear shift out of park and fitting it into Drive. She pulled away from the curb gently, leaving her mother and Gordo shrinking into the rearview darkness. The Mathew Sweet cd was still playing and for a few long minutes we didn’t say anything. After a while I turned the stereo down.
“Listen, Ariel…I have to tell you something.” I said.
“What?” she said, glancing at me as she drove carefully, her hands at 10 and 2, just as she’d doubtlessly learned from a private instruct0r Pam had hired.
“Baby, that Gordo guy is an utter fucking spaz.” I noted.
“Don’t I know it. So where are we going?” Ariel asked.
“Well, I do have the hotel room until tomorrow.” I said.
“You still want to do that?”
“We can do whatever you want. We can order pizza. We can buy a board game and a bottle from Ralph’s and stay up till dawn playing it. We can find some old detective show on the tube and just hang out. Or just talk if you want. I don’t care…it’s your night.” I said.
“What did they tell you?” asked Ariel.
“Enough.” I said as the darkened Wilshire shop fronts went by my window.
The Penthouse Killers
The Hotel Davenport was a towering five star property, sprawling across four city blocks and piercing the sky with a satellite antenna atop its 45 floor tower. The Hotel had been built in the 1920’s and boasted elegance and an illustrious past equally in all of its gold surfaces, sparkling chandeliers and plush burgundy carpets. In its heyday the Davenport had hosted brief residencies of royalty, celebrities and foreign diplomats. Always swarming with schools of international tourists, business class travelers and overly eager bellmen; the Davenport was a city unto itself; a city inside a city—the city of Angels.
I worked on the second floor which was home to a number of massive ballrooms where on any given night, galas, balls and receptions took place under the dim glow of chandeliers; a reign of tradition. Luckily the hotel Davenport was massive enough to make getting lost quite easy and also, if you’d made a blueprint of its hallways in your memory it made ducking management even easier.
Concerning hotel jobs, there were always two musts…two non-negotiables; plenty of absinthe and plenty of ducking out. The ducking was essential to keep an even keel psychologically and in fact had started after my second week at the hotel, once it became clear to me how loosely run the operation was in spite of its self-declaration of prestige and top line customer service. There was, I found, limitless room to disappear into and this vanishing act became a regular part of my routine.
For these unsupervised and unauthorized rounds of the massive structure. I kept in the inner pocket of my tuxedo vest, a flask filled with authentic, sugar cube percolated Absinthe. This allowed for a certain degree of mental agility in the wake of a particularly strenuous and disorganized five course served gala dinner—or a seven hour long cocktail reception the repetitiveness of which, if you let it—would surely drive you mad.
The second floor also housed in its east wing, an executive lounge, fully equipped with a fruit juice bar, indoor palm trees, rock fountains and every other symbol of serenity that could possibly be franchised for the sake of escape and drunken oblivion. The executive lounge was appealing mainly because I’d made a friend of Garrison, the night bartender, who would set me up with nicely poured G&T’s when I made my unauthorized visits.
I would sit with Garrison for sometimes and hour, knowing I wouldn’t be missed in the ballrooms as I wasn’t yet on management’s radar. It was a nice system; ladies would come in from the spa and mingle with Garrison and me, occasionally inviting us up later on, after work, to their plush suites for drinks, socializing and sometimes more. Of course it was all done under the guise of admiring the twinkle of urban sprawl that seemed to stretch out infinitely beyond the bay windows of their suites.
It was all part of a world traveler façade these middle aged, business class women had come to exude—in their minds they were globetrotting movie starlets…and who were we to disclose the truth? Who were we to crush that fantasy? Indeed, if anything, Garrison and I were the two key components that most preserved any of the Davenport’s old world charm.
Indeed, it seemed I’d found the perfect niche; the perfect job from which I could frequently escape. What made this phenomenon possible was that the supervisors where, as in most catering situations, painfully underachieved and compensating for past failures. They were usually wrought with OCD impulses and tending to more pressing matters. Their mental scope was narrow and their intellect was obviously stunted by constant and trivial concerns; a missing fork, a spot of spilled wine, an empty salt shaker, a wayward napkin—these matters plagued supervisors nightly. Some spent hours of their own personal time devising diagrams and charts in hopes of simplifying (even more) the process of ordering a vegan entre from the kitchen or the correct way to scrape the guests spit back food onto one plate when bussing a table. They were in over their heads and such pure dedication to details that the guests, in reality, didn’t give a squirt of piss for, left very little margin for the supervisors to chase down a wandering waiter.
Such conditions not only encouraged my unauthorized rounds—they nearly demanded that I roam. And roam I would, during which I would saunter the hallways sipping absinthe from my flask—the real thing; allowing the wormwood to take effect and open portals to the long lost—often cobblestone lanes shrouded in Parisian fog. It didn’t seem like much of a work detail, visiting colleagues on various floors and ducking out onto balconies for the purpose of taking a few puffs. It seemed nearly magical that I could be paid to wander aimlessly and abuse substances while doing so. That is until one day, while wandering through a burgundy carpeted, chandelier lit, tenth floor hall way, I came face to face with Denise; one of the ballroom supervisors.
Indeed, in such circumstances of nostalgic contemplation, it was nearly possible to hear the old Davenport ghosts whispering to me from their place in the past, that had been somehow allowed to prevail, virtually untouched in the long chandelier lit hallways that had been kept perfectly restored. In ways, the hotel held portals to another time and I found them easily, if only for short glimpses.
It was uncanny however dear reader; the odds of running into anyone from the Ballroom division on the tenth floor of the hotel were so slim they’d not even registered as a clear and present danger. They were so slim that I had stripped off my bow tie, loosened my cuffs and rolled them to my elbows. However, the most incriminating hotel policy infraction was perhaps the murky green absinthe splashing gently in the flask I held in my hand.
Upon seeing Denise step out of the elevator perhaps only twenty feet away, I pulled the flask from my mouth and slipped it into the inner pocket of my tuxedo vest, uncapped. As she approached, shock wrinkling her face into a pucker of disbelief; I sighed deeply, flashing her a grin…as if we were old friends who had run into each other in the supermarket one Sunday afternoon.
“Well, well, well.” I said, “How is my favorite supervisor?”
“Frank!” She screeched, baffled at the sight of me. “What are you doing up here?” She demanded, “Everyone is looking for you downstairs. Your tables are calling for wine and you’re…you’re…what are you doing up here?”
The line of questioning demanded a certain degree of lucid thought and with my mind being curled up very relaxed in my head as it was, I was at a loss for words—for perhaps the first time in my life.
I took a blind stab, “Ah you know—some woman asked me to carry a bag up to the spa for her; what was I gonna say? No?”
“Well, that’s not your job Frank! You’re not a bellman; you’re supposed to be in the ballroom taking care of your section. And where the hell is your tie.” she demanded, pent up aggression and sexual frustration getting the better of her.
“I took it off for a moment.” I admitted.
“Why on earth would you do that?”
“Well Denise, Readers Digest says that wearing a tie too often for too long can be detrimental to your sight.” I explained and I wasn’t fabricating this fact either. “Why are you up here anyway?” I counter-asked for the sake of distraction, thinking perhaps we were both ducking out of our responsibilities.
“Get back to the ballroom now or it’s going to a write up for you.” came her reply, issued with a stern finger that pointed the way to the elevator out of which she’d just stepped.
Certainly this put a kink in any plans I harbored of wandering freely through the hotel during my shifts from then on, for Denise had taken it upon herself to address the issue in a very public way—to make an example of me I suppose. The scene was a verbal lynching, with her minions in tow. They’d cornered me in the servery during my actual break; so the rest of the staff could observe and consider themselves warned. As they badgered me and declared a list of points illustrating my unsavory work ethic, poor moral character and social indifference; I sat still in a plastic chair, sipping from a Styrofoam cup filled with scotch and soda, nodding occasionally and adding in at the appropriate spaces in their tirade that I disagreed with their harsh judgements and that perhaps they should exercise a shade of empathy for the imaginary woman whose imaginary bag I’d carried to the tenth floor, out of dedication to our ‘collective team’ of course.
They thought about this for a moment…the collective team. It seemed I’d offered the correct defense, or at least one that couldn’t be so easily disproved…there was also the fact that the sad sacks of shit believed that our team really was collective and that all of us cherished the labor as much as they did. Indeed, dear reader, I evaded capture…but next time I was certain that I wouldn’t experience such good luck.
It seemed I was officially on their radar…a large red blip perpetually blinking in management’s peripheral scope. It wasn’t difficult to notice that I was being watched by not only just the supervisors in my division, but also the women in housekeeping, the front desk girls and Donata the Romanian barista, who in passing one evening, mumbled under her breath that ‘it must be nice getting paid to do nothing’. Of course this could have been a jab at the entire banquet division, after all, there was a misconception around the Davenport that the banquet division was the easiest job in the hotel—which simply wasn’t the case.
In fact, of all the jobs in the hotel, banquets was perhaps the most strenuous; pure grunt work—a notch below communism. If it wasn’t—I ask you; would I have gone to such great lengths to evade it? Being on the radar altered everything however, and it seemed an iron curtain had fallen over the banquet division, for me at least. If word of my wandering had spread through the echelons of hotel management, then anonymity was no longer an option; I’d now be noticed very easily wandering the carpeted hallways of the old building.
When I declare that the current situation was indeed a thorough drag, dear reader, I mean it with all sincerity. The Davenport, which was once my favorite, was now quickly becoming a grueling detail—a no fun zone. For three consecutive nights I was forced to remain in the ballroom for the entirety of my shift, which it’s probably needless to add seemed like an eternity. What’s worse, I was punished further by having to remain stationary during a succession of provolone laced wedding speeches given by friends and family of the bride and groom. And believe me when I say that they wallowed in provolone; they had it coming out of their ears. You’d never seen such a gang of phonies. It was hard to believe. Worse, it was hard to endure.
Eventually, I had to get away. I had to get away or I would have pissed in their punch bowl; every man has his breaking point after all. The only solace I could find during these marathon shifts was ducking into the basement locker room. It wasn’t exactly entertaining as roaming the hallways of the massive hotel, but there was a certain charm there between the cinderblock walls and rows of badly dented and paint chipped lockers. It was on one of these occasions that I was stricken with an idea of genius proportion. Perhaps it was the old ghosts whispering in my ear—lending their experience. I’d been sitting in a shower stall, having a good puff. As the smoke rose and wisped toward the overhead bulb, I came upon a realization. Truly this locker room was special. It was a beautifully sound proof and highly ventilated encasing of brick which I realized, because of its punch code lock, was a private haven from Denise or any of the hell bent snitches who made up the female element of the ballroom staff and who were either all in management positions or were ass kissing hopefuls. In fact, this locker room, sitting unmanned for the most part could, with time and a certain degree of planning, become a smoky poker room steeped in a fine brandy haze; a gentlemen’s lounge from the prohibition era.
It became clear to me that a game of poker held in the locker room wouldn’t have to halt or close as there would enough men on staff ducking management and taking unauthorized breaks in consecutive order to sustain the game for hours. I wasn’t the only one evading management…I was the only one who’d been caught. And certainly it would speed the hours of a shift knowing that our poker room was clacking with cards and chips only a few floors below. Also, there was a good chance that I could make a small fortune.
The catch would be however, the oath of silence from the brotherhood of this clandestine lodge. In fact there would have to be measures taken to enforce this secrecy as a plan like this once dreamed, could not continue anymore as only just that; certainly we would need to nurture it and protect it like a newborn. Such an operation could only exist under a cloak of secrecy; our own Anne Frank hiding in the floor boards.
In the following days I tended carefully to organizing the operation. One evening I spent 45 minutes in the locker room to gauge the traffic. I sat there, contemplating the walls as the Ritalin set in. In 45 minutes, only one man had entered the locker room. Indeed the locker room appeared to be remote enough of a destination for the plan to succeed. Beyond that, the spies placed sporadically throughout the hotel weren’t baffled by my absence. It seemed the instances of my wandering openly where more disconcerting to them than my actual absence. Each time I returned to the ballroom after a stint in the locker room, I wasn’t questioned or even looked at funny. In fact, they’d not even seemed to notice my absence; they were all too busy tending to pointless details and chasing meager gratuities.
Within a week I was incorporating meals into the routine, testing the room and finding it to be satisfactory dining quarters. Within two weeks I’d brought in a small vintage TV I’d found in basement storage. It seemed to be a product of the mid 80’s and as if fate was aiding me in my quest, I found to my surprise a remote control taped to the rear panel of the boxy TV. Along with that I also brought in a stock pile of D&G brandy, a fresh deck of cards, and a few colorful stacks of poker chips that Willem from the hotel casino had fronted me. Cigars came next and I began smoking one on every break, watching basic cable on the TV I propped in the corner of the room and sipping on the brandy while playing black jack with myself. It was quite a nice room, but a bit solitary—clearly it was time to enlist a group of regulars.
The first of this bunch I recruited by sheer accident. I’d embarked on a stealthy and quite risky mission to visit Garrison in the lounge for he had promised me a taste of 46 year old brandy that had been ordered and left by a guest the previous evening. I was forced to duck into the Bronze room to avoid being seen by Denise however, who on that particular night was an inferno of duress, ferociously clogging around the servery hallways in her platform boots, barking orders and criticisms high and wide; verbal whippings meant to hurry us into catching up with the staunch demands of another ultra-cheesy wedding banquet.
I had been on a roll and had managed to stay out of Denise’s sight for nearly an hour. It seemed I was making progress with ducking management and getting better all the time; I’d begun to master tactics of stealth and it was in this fashion that I’d backed into the warm emptiness of the Bronze room, concealing the generous sum of 46 year old brandy Garrison had set me up with in a snifter. I sat down on a table that neatly presented a coffee/continental breakfast station. As I sipped back the smooth wash of brandy, I took note of the saucers and coffee cups stacked three levels high in a giant pyramid. All of their handles were set perfectly at 4 o’clock; such accuracy about something so pointless was indeed the sign of an unraveled mind.
It wasn’t until I was nearly at the bottom of the glass that I realized I wasn’t alone in the room. There was a muffled voice emanating from beneath one of the long, velvet skirted tables and as I approached it cautiously, I took note of a grey cord running from beneath the table, over the carpet, along the floor boards and eventually up the golden door frame, where it finally connected to a touch tone phone fastened to the wall.
Reaching down, I pulled up the skirting, revealing a man I vaguely recognized as a fellow ballroom waiter. His name was Tyrone and he’d existed until then as an extra…a prop…a man that didn’t beg to be remembered—he kept a low profile and for good reason I now realized. He flashed me a grin from his place on the floor, lying flat on his back beneath the eight foot table.
“Hold on baby.” He said into the receiver before addressing me, “Shit man…thought you were Denise. What’s up man?” he chuckled in a thick Jamaican accent, extending his free hand for a fist bump.
After taking in hand his knuckles and shaking his fist, I dropped the skirting and returned to my place on the continental breakfast table. Slightly baffled, I drained the rest of the brandy which had existed 15 years longer than I on this earth. I had never seen such innovative methods; lying beneath a skirted and set buffet table right under management’s noses. I was so impressed with Tyrone’s tactical skills and stealthy instincts that I waited for him to finish his call. When he finally emerged from beneath the table with a grin a few minutes later, I immediately commended him.
“I say old chap, you’ve taken management ducking to a new level.” I said.
“What you mean man?” He smiled, “Under the table is the best place. They never look under there.”
“When did you discover this method?” I asked.
Tyrone pondered the question, gazing toward the ceiling and setting a long black finger across his chin, “Maybe three months.”
“That long? Impressive…quite impressive.” I said, eyeing the table again.
“Got to talk to my women.” He said smiling bashfully, peeping around the room for more to say about it but finding no more words.
“It certainly seems that way. Listen old sport, do you play poker?” was my next question.
“Shit man, I always wanted to.” he grinned.
After explaining the situation to Tyrone, we began frequenting the locker room during our unauthorized breaks and after a few days had abandoned wandering the upstairs rooms and hallways altogether. There, behind the safety of a punch code lock, we could now speak freely and frequently on our phones to potential booty calls without the threat of reprimand. Certainly we were both relieved to have discovered such an ideal setting to sip fine liquors, play some cards and enjoy a few good puffs from a punch holed Dr. Pepper can—all the while watching Judy Woodruff on channel 14—like civilized chaps.
“Ever play on a chess board man?” Tyrone inquired one evening as we sat in our respective chairs sipping ice cold beer while watching a Blackhawks game unfold on the small television propped up on a chair.
“Well, I’m not above it if that’s what you’re asking.” I said.
The next night Tyrone brought a chess board as well as a friend to the locker room. The man I recognized as an import from the laundry room. I’d seen him carting linen through the halls on many occasions but had never spoken with him. I poured myself a tall G&T and sat there with them as they contemplated their game.
“So, you work in housekeeping correct?” I asked Tyrone’s friend.
“Yeah, it’s ok.” He said in his heavy Parisian accent.
“You talk a lot with those housekeeping girls?” I asked.
“Not really.” He shrugged.
“They can never find out about this.” I said simply and cutting straight to the point, “If they do, we’re through—you hear me? Through.”
“But of course not.” He assured.
“So, how have things been?” I asked Tyrone after a long icy sip.
“Ah, I got busy with this thick lady in K-Town the other night man.” Tyrone said without breaking his pose of deep concentration.
I wasn’t sure if he’d meant this negatively and so I only nodded and sipped again. Indeed, it was clear to me then that we’d need to recruit a wider variety of members into our private locker room meetings.
The following week I made an executive decision to officially leak news of the locker room to other departments through discreet word of mouth. I decided to tell Schroder, a concierge from back east who possessed a synthetic professionalism that people often responded to. As concierge of the Davenport, Schroder had become a deal maker—the expeditor of one’s whims. He operated on a first name basis with, business moguls, celebrities, foreign diplomats and other such narcissistic douchebags, fulfilling their requests no matter how absurd or scandalous and always doing so with great discretion; discretion which we now counted on. I charged Schroder with the task of enlisting members throughout the hotel. Within four days, news of the locker room had spread to the right people. Cooks, dishwashers, valets, housekeepers, maintenance men, room service attendants, bellmen—they all began showing up, contributing to the pot in the center of the table; a mound of sweaty, green bills that made the games a touch more interesting.
On any given evening, the locker room would become a crowded, smoky backroom, clacking with cards and stacked with chips and booming with loud collective guffaws. The air was filled with palpable energy; thrilling sweats of anxiousness, brought on by the collective gambling rush crowding our crowded room, playing poker or black jack or placing bets on televised sporting events. In a few short weeks our quiet locker room had escalated into a full blown gambling operation. And with so many bets coming in, the numbers eventually grew a fourth digit. It was then that we realized the need to keep at least approximate track of these figures.
We enlisted in the mathematical talents of William O’Leary; the Davenport’s night auditor. Beyond harboring a weakness for gambling, William brewed his own corn-liquor and habitually quoted everyone from Darwin to Dali in support of any number of his useless theories on life. He’d travelled the world during his self-proclaimed prime, over land, sea and air. He’d nearly died of dysentery in an African jungle like Louise Ferdinand Celine and had subsequently sky dived over Barcelona. He’d lost himself to reckless abandon in Italy and had climbed mountains in Tibet; he’d caught syphilis in Bucharest and had been treated for it in Scotland. He got around O’Leary did. A legend unto himself, he was now married to an older woman he’d imported from his Midwestern hometown, along with her two daughters. In short, his life was over for the most part. So, it made perfect sense that William would want to add some spice to his otherwise lackluster existence. They all did—and perhaps they all saw the locker room as a perfectly viable distraction from their boring jobs and the inevitability of their own impending deaths.
I didn’t give a flying f— what their perceptions were; we were making a small fortune and that was the important thing. We were giving the casino on the main floor a run for their money, or so William would joke on occasion. We were on a roll and that meant two things; firstly, that it was all just a fleeting era as all eras are and secondly, that people would inevitably aim to sabotage our operation—for basic people exhibit basic behavior; it’s a natural fact. Furthermore there had always existed the element of whistle blowers, whether we chose to recognize it or not. In fact, the news of our gentlemen’s lounge was whetting suspicions in dangerous circles. And indeed the night eventually came when one of the night watchmen sauntered into our locker room during peak business hours.
I recall the moment well, for it was indeed cinematic; the way in which silence swept across the room and the way everyone stopped what they were doing or saying and froze, clutching fast to their cards or their drinks; smoldering cigars dangling from some of their mouths. Malcolm the nighttime security guard stood at in the doorway with his flashlight poised to spotlight any one of us had we made a move. He peered around the room; his expression of stone eventually turning to a wide grin.
“Well, well, well, what do have we here?” he’d said, slipping his flashlight back into its holster.
Though I’d expected the moment since the start; I was caught off guard when it finally arrived and could only offer a single question.
“A focus group?” I offered.
My words, as well as a few chuckles from a few of my colleagues, dissipated in the heavy silence that suddenly cloaked the locker room. You could have heard a pin drop. It was anyone’s guess what would happen next…it was a standoff. It was then that Tyrone came from around the corner, from the urinals, latching his belt and holding a stack of green bills between his teeth. I was standing there, contemplating how the filth and pestilence seething within the microscopic folds and tears of the money didn’t register to Tyrone, when he held out his fist and bumped it with Malcolm’s.
“You weren’t kidding man.” chuckled Malcolm.
“No, I wasn’t.” Tyrone said, placing a cigar between his teeth before widening his eyes and letting loose a sinister chuckle laced with voodoo and black jack fever.
“Give me 40 in chips.” Said Malcolm, handing O’Leary a twenty and two tens.
It was hard to believe, but within three nights, Malcolm was a regular and making his nightly entrance with something of a hula dance as the guys would applaud and blow loud whistles. We’d all started to refer to him as ‘Teece’; a nick name I’d coined because of his uncanny resemblance to the famed TV chopper pilot.
It seemed like a new lease on the operation. Malcolm kept us informed, assuring us that though there were some murmurs concerning the goings on behind the punch code door of our west wing locker room; he was in fact, ‘putting out the small fires’ by assuring anyone asking that indeed there was nothing of the sort transpiring in our locker room. Though there was gossip, there were no direct accusations or speculations, much less a plan of shutting us down. This new information seemed to broaden our parameters and put everyone at ease, at least for a while.
It was this cavalier air which prompted us all to step further across that line—the one separating personal recreation and risky business. Soon, liberties were being taken. It seemed everyday someone was showing up with an extra convenience, an extra vice. Vince from valet rolled in his own chair—a fancy leather sort with a kingly stature—he’d snagged it from one of the executive board rooms on the 14th floor. Walt from maintenance brought in a mini fridge from storage which would keep our wide selection of beer ice cold. O’Leary and a couple of the others had the diligence to carry in one of the old leather couches from the reception area on the 25th floor. Aside from a number of new centerfolds taped to the walls, I noticed one evening that a giant half-moon table had been rolled in from one of the ballrooms as well as one of the spare portable bars from the Emerald room. The half-moon was a perfect fit as a makeshift blackjack table.
One night, when I took notice of William and Tyrone setting up a cappuccino maker in the corner of the room, it became clear to me that we’d become too comfortable. We’d mustered the diligence and determination to carve out a better existence in the hotel for ourselves and had passed the point of no return and now perhaps saw no point in drawing limitations; the sky appeared to be the limit and so every limit was exceeded.
One night O’Leary stopped me in the hall during the Mayor’s 8th annual Save the Children Gala. He demanded I follow him to the locker room.
“Trust me—you’ll want to see this.” William assured.
“Just let me deliver these desserts to the shitheads at table 14—Denise is riding my ass tonight.” I informed him; however, this could not wait.
“F— the desserts man…” he chuckled, accosting my tray and handing it off to a junior server, “Drop these at 14.” He commanded, jolting the skinny kid into action, before pulling me by the arm into the elevator.
“Let me guess, you guys rolled in the Jacuzzi from the spa?” I chuckled as we descended floors.
“You’ll see.” said O’Leary, pouring out a tiny, perfectly white pile onto the top of his hand before snorting it off with a painful sounding squeal.
“What is that?” I asked of the powder.
“Crushed caffeine pills.” He replied with a chuckle.
On this particular evening, the locker room was packed beyond its capacity and thick with humidity and cigar smoke. A mass of bodies stood perfectly still, their heads rapt and their shoulders square. I too halted for a moment at the splendor of its majesty; a massive screen nearly the size of one wall towered over our makeshift lounge. Stand included, the screen stood perhaps 9 feet tall and was perhaps 12ft in width. The screen itself was slightly concave and seemed to wrap around the peripheral scope as unseen speakers boomed the sounds of a hockey game back at us with extreme volume—as if we were actually there, first balcony.
It had been pulled into our room from one of the boardrooms upstairs that was being renovated; this was risky and I voiced this concern to William who shot me a glare of amazement laced with his caffeine rush.
“Are you f—ing kidding me? Just look at this f—ing thing man!” he sang and gestured toward the enormous screen, “We’re gonna get Apocalypse Now going on this tomorrow night! Can’t wait man…can’t wait. Flight of the f—ing Bumble Bee is gonna hit you right in the chest out of these speakers.”
I stood there for a moment and watched as a Detroit forward blazed across center ice toward a building break away which resulted in an eruption of hollers, cheers and ear tightening whistles when the player tipped the puck through the opposing goaltender’s pads. The cheer was a sonic boom—easily heard in the staff cafeteria next door. It occurred to me then that it wasn’t only the gambling and the unreal amounts of money filtering through our operation on any given night. It wasn’t just the sheer success of the initial plan. Indeed dear reader, it was the right plan at the right time and the perfect fit only illustrated further what I already assumed; this was what legends were made of and like all legends, ours would come to pass in a blaze of glory.
And though we all hoped for some kind of break, for some kind of divine intervention to erase us from the suspicions of upper management; it wasn’t meant to last. In spite of Malcolm’s assurances that we were in no immediate danger; quite suddenly it was all brought to a screeching halt. The locomotive force of our operation was halted in its tracks when one fateful Saturday night, the general manager made an unannounced appearance.
Mr. Q he was called. The Q was for Quade. He was a short man who I’d never seen dressed in anything but black blazers and black turtleneck sweaters. Evidently he had not a shred of mercy in him either and fired immediately any new staff members who’d not passed their 6 month probation period. He fired them on the spot and with a scolding sermon that went on for what seemed an hour.
He threatened to call the authorities, to have us all arrested…caned and thrown into the drink behind the hotel. He was livid—a man with a crusade suddenly…it was a shamefully sanctimonious display; a real drag. Quade went on, becoming more fired up, gesturing wildly like the caricature of a third world dictator. It wasn’t what the locker room was for apparently and according to his pleading tone of vengeance, we’d done more than breached the employee agreement—we’d apparently committed a moral crime as well. It wasn’t enough to lambast us all; the bastard was trying to get us to tear up, to break down and sob. I lit a cigar, feeling I was already in the shit house and had little more to lose.
“There is no smoking in this locker room Nero!” boomed Quade stepping over and tearing the cigar from between my teeth.
I drained my glass and leaned back in my chair as Quade went on with his lecture. The words however were a drone of pointless drivel…a blowing of hot air. I could only focus on the financial consequences—and the looming dread of having to find a new job…of having to sit through often 4 interviews to secure a 5th and final sit down with any random hotel GM…most of which undoubtedly knew Quade. Easy come easy go, I thought, feeling if I was going to be fired myself; I wouldn’t subject myself to anymore of Quade’s sermon. I stood up and left the locker room with Quade’s threat nipping at my heels, “You walk out of here now Nero, you’ll never be allowed back in.”
Quade’s words haunted me as I drove westward down Wilshire; however, I just couldn’t sit there and digest his self-righteous lecture—especially if I was going to get the axe anyway. Swigging a mouthful of murky green absinthe, I dialed Garrison who hadn’t been present in the locker room when Quade and his henchmen had burst in.
“It’s a firing squad around here.” he said when I reached him and inquired, “8 people from banquets, 3 bellmen and 2 from valet. 13 got terminated tonight.”
“I think I’m one of them.” I said, in a long smoky exhale.
“No, you and O’Leary and also Tyrone can’t be fired.” Assured Garrison.
“How do you figure that?”
“You’re protected by your brothers and sisters down at Local 709. The shop stewards are already on this. They’re saying Quade was taking names, which he can’t really do. The guy is out of control they say…and you gotta think; he suffers from little man’s syndrome.”
“It would appear as such…still, I walked out in the middle of his sermon.” I said.
“I heard. Apparently now you’re on his shit list. Talk to the union tomorrow. The shop stewards were all looking for you tonight. A lot of people want to talk to you I guess.” said Garrison. Just great.
Though the man doesn’t claim to know everything, or even a great deal about art; he cannot help staring across the room, at the wall, across which sprawls a monstrosity of earth tones…smudged…for effect he assumes–with a squint of harsh criticism. And as he sits, sipping his dry gin, he imagines how much better the painting could be. And directly after is sure that wherever one finds comfort; one also finds pain—tempestuous oceans of it…and fearing the glass is draining him, rather than the opposite–he sets it down. Wondering where Salina is.
“Salina.” he calls over his shoulder, “Salina old girl…I’m getting tired.”
She calls back after a moment from the bathroom…and the man has the notion suddenly that she is pinning up her hair…
He is wrong however and when she emerges from the darkened hallway he wonders now what she’s been doing in there…being that her hair isn’t pinned up…and her clothes haven’t changed. She hasn’t slipped into something more comfortable it would seem. There she stands, this Denison of 555 Belmore Place, wrapped snug in her silk oriental print dress, her high heels still clacking about the hardwood…no doubt driving the tenants below mad.
“Here…sit down.” says the man patting the cushion beside him, “You’re making me nervous.”
“Just a minute. I want to make a cocktail.”
“Not really…it’s more of a cranberry, Perrier, vodka sort of thing.” she calls from the kitchen–the woman gets around pretty good on two feet. To maintain her, could be disastrous.
“I couldn’t help noticing this painting.” calls the man after another sip of his gin.
“The one above the fireplace.”
“Oh yeah?” she calls, absently…
“Yeah.” He says and is not urged to elaborate. Who cares anyway? Certainly not her…and so why should he?
When she returns and is beside him on the squeaky, slippery, black leather couch; she sets down her pink, carbonated beverage on the glass coffee table and commences to remove her heels. Carefully and with a wince of relief tightening between her brows.
“That feels good…what did you notice about it?” she asks.
“That it takes up a hell of alot of wall space.” says the man, “What made you buy it?”
“I thought it was cool.” she shrugs.
“What else do you think is cool?”
“Um…” she says, relaxing into the cushions now beside him by folding her legs underneath her in a seemingly uncomfortable fashion as women often do, “Coffee Crisp bars, Persian cats, potluck dinners…”
“Go on.” says Jack.
“Are you waiting for me to say piano singers?”
“The thought hadn’t crossed my mind…I’m just curious. Do you write desperate poetry? Do you masturbate in bathrooms at parties with the door unlocked?”
“Just asking…I knew a girl like that once.”
“Sorry to disappoint you.”
“Oh, come now…you haven’t disappointed me yet.”
“What was her name?” asks the woman.
“Anabelle the poet.” grins the woman. “Did you date her or something? Define your definition of ‘knew’…you knew her how? In the biblical sense? Or did you just stumble upon her in a bathroom at a party?”
The man chuckles.
“I just knew her…it’s hard to explain.”
“So where is she now? Where is Anabelle the poet now?”
“She writes a column in Z-magazine. In the literary section. And she mocks things she doesn’t understand. She once told me that Updike was a fraud.”
“John Updike. A remarkably gifted writer–super accomplished too…a staple in American literature…perhaps less relevant than Hemingway, but for sure just as gifted. She mocked his style of describing textures and colors…complexions and so forth. I mean, Mailer thought of Updike as a brilliant painter for this very reason…and this dame tears him apart because she didn’t like his wordiness–can you fucking believe it?” the man is chuckling about it by now…remembering her now.
“Do you know what I can’t get out of my mind?” she asks him.
“No tell me.” the man says…turning to her slightly on his cushion and causing a squeak that jarbles his nerves slightly–like small nails on a chalk board.
“That woman who stole our cab.”
The man nods…and he is unable to recall the woman; the perpetrator of Salina’s mind.
“I mean, who wears what she was wearing?”
“It’s hard to say.”
“Not for me…I’d say she was a farm girl.”
“Really?” Jack smiles widely…finding this cute.
“Well, yeah…it’s obvious…she doesn’t buy by the wardrobe…it’s by the piece. So nothing matches…”
“The poor thing.” he grins…
“She can’t be that poor…her boots were for sure Italian…but hello–the pin striped 80’s skirt ruined anything she was going for…unless she was going for Sheena Easton on heroin.”
“It’s hard to say.” shrugs the man…finally draining his gin so the ice cubes cool his lips.
“And what about that guy she was with?”
“What about him?”
“He was practically humping her against the mailbox before they stole our cab.”
“But there was plenty of cabs.” says Jack.
“He was icky.”
“He was probably her pimp.” he says, moving closer to her ear which smells of shampoo, perfume and the distant scent of her evening sweat.
“Probably.” she says, “Hey, know what I like a lot?”
He smooths his lips over her ear whispering closely, “Diamonds.”
And it works.
Eventually all of the Pellegrino I’d drank made its way through me. I excused myself from the table and as I walked across the plush burgundy carpeted floor towards the men’s room, I wondered about Mcgillis and Summer. What the connection was between them—how he’d known we’d be at the Hotel Frontenac that evening, at that particular time…sitting in that particular corner of the lounge; perhaps Summer followed closely to a specific regiment on Thursday nights. Perhaps Summer was a creature of habit.
The men’s room was marble and gold…elegantly framed mirrors and monogrammed tiles…a chandelier overhead sparkled as I passed beneath it—class…a velvet sofa…gilt taps…classical piano piped in through unseen speakers…it wasn’t the sort of room you expected gents to be spraying piss and dropping shits in day in day out and it made me wonder who would actually consume one of the unwrapped mints sitting in a crystal bowl near one of the sinks.
Indeed, I unzipped, stepped up to the large urinal…ah, relief…piss against baby blue porcelain…it was the civilized way of doing things; an electronically triggered flush system and an attendant offering you a towel after you’ve washed up. The attendant was an old man with droopy puppy dog eyes and a head of finely combed silver hair…he beamed a smile back at me professionally when I slipped him a five…he knew how to accept a tip…and you have to admire a man who can accept a tip gracefully in a pisser.
“Thanks dude.” I said.
“Indeed sir—it’s my pleasure.” he replied with a slight and charming bow.
Though I badly wanted to tell him about the dangers of leaving exposed food in the vicinity of a bathroom, the airborne germs and all—I decided not to for two reasons; one—I didn’t wish my five dollar tip to take on the shape of payment for his having to endure a more than likely drawn-out food-safe lecture, and two—Mcgillis was suddenly pushing his way through the bathroom door, swinging it open with some gusto so it creaked loudly.
Grinning his drunken, sweet-boy grin, like the spoiled rotten, mean spirited prep school prick that he most definitely was.
“Watch this guy gramps,” he told the attendant, patting the old man’s shoulder with some weight, “he may try pissing in the sink.”
The attendant merely looked at me, furrowing his brows with suspicion.
“I’d never try that with anyone present.” I assured.
Staggering across the tiles and taking his place before one of the baby blue urinals, Mcgillis balanced himself with a hand against the wall as he unzipped. In the close silence of the room, he suddenly pushed out a monstrous and wet sounding flatulent before splashing a bladder full of piss into the poor urinal. The attendant peered over his shoulder at Mcgillis with an expression of distaste before looking back at me with a questioning stare as if to ask me who Mcgillis was.
“Random sick fuck?” I offered with a shrug as I finished drying off my hands, trying for a simple explanation.
The attendant only shrugged and extended his hand to accept my linen hand-cloth which I expelled into the wicker hamper myself. As I was pushing through the door, Mcgillis muttered a drunken comment.
“I suggest you keep your mind off of my property.” he slobbered.
“Say what?” I asked, turning around to face him.
Mcgillis stepped down from the urinal’s marble platform, his discolored prick and balls dangling from the fly of his black dress pants.
“What the fuck dude?” I asked as both the attendant and I turn away in disgust.
“I’m pretty sure you heard me.” Mcgillis said. When he opened the taps, the attendant and I turned back to him, feeling it was safe to do so.
“You really are a sick fuck aren’t you?” I said, addressing him through the mirror.
“She’s my property.” said Mcgillis, popping two of the E.coli mints into his mouth.
“Um, sir…just one mint; one mint per guest.” said the attendant who stood rigidly with his hands behind his back.
“Beat it.” Mcgillis said to the attendant, who only looked back at him with a puzzled expression. “I said beat it gramps!”
“You can’t ask him to leave, dickweed—he works in here.” I said.
Mcgillis pushed himself up from his leaning position against the sink and drunkenly stepped over to me. It wasn’t until then that I noticed how old Mcgillis was; early forties. I could really see it between his plucked brows…where he held his wine in a perpetual expression that begged the question ‘who me?’ His face was gaunt…there was dandruff on the shoulders of his jacket and even more curious perhaps–and it took me a moment to digest it–he was wearing a layer of thick black eye liner.
“I’m going to make this as clear as possible for you Nero—I realize you’re learning impaired when it comes to Summer,” he said turning to the sink to finish washing his hands and continued, looking back at me through the mirror. “Summer and I have an understanding. Sometimes she strays from that understanding but it never lasts too long…you catch my meaning? I own her ass.” he said…drying his hands on one of the towels the attendant was supposed to have handed him.
I didn’t respond; I was perplexed and still contemplating the eye liner and what it meant…it made little sense to me. Perhaps he felt the eye liner was theatrical…I could only speculate.
“Why are you wearing eye liner?” I finally asked.
“Do you know what I’m telling you?” he asked, ignoring my question.
“You’re telling me that Summer is lost in the deep dark woods without a compass.” I said.
“That’s what I’m telling you.” he said tilting his head as if studying my reaction.
“That’s preposterous.” I told him
“That’s it!” he suddenly shouted, spinning around and stalking toward me. It seemed he was actually going to go through with it, “You’re fucking dead…” he said winding up his fist theatrically, with his layer of thick black eye liner. Biting his bottom lip with what appeared to be a deeply psychotic rage, he swung at me—it was a drunken hay-maker and easy to duck and as I did, I shoulder checked him into a nearby table upon which sat a vase. The table had been placed there for decorative purposes and now sat upturned, the vase smashed and Mcgillis lying in the debris. When he scrambled to his feet and turned to me, his face red with savage rage, I saw his eye liner was smudged.
“Let’s not do this man.” I insisted, “You’re drunk and you’re going to get fucked up.”
“I eat punks like you for breakfast.” he snarled, stalking toward me with ravenous violence searing in his eyes.
I readied for his attack, thinking of how I could be doing better, more productive things. However, it seemed Mcgillis was fully intent on an all-out brawl in the marble and gold pisser of a five star hotel–over a chick who’d grown to hate him.
He put up a guard with his bony forearms and started to circle to the right. He threw a few drunken feints and nearly fell over…he then ducked out again, this time circling to the left. I was waiting for an obvious opening…but it wouldn’t come to that. When his back was facing the attendant I was utterly surprised to see the blue sleeve of the attendant’s tunic suddenly slink around from behind and tighten up against Mcgillis’ trachea…a choke hold against which Mcgillis fought hard but could not break.
I eased up and watched in slight fascination as the sinewy old man vaulted Mcgillis into the wall, against which Mcgillis’ palms squeaked desperately. Releasing his hold on Mcgillis suddenly, the attendant sent a barrage of body shots into him from behind…into his kidneys, causing Mcgillis to spin around so the unending barrage of blows pummeled into his ribs. I stood there perplexed, loosening my tie as the attendant unleashed on Mcgillis…elbows…fists…knees…thuds…cracks…curses…old man grunts…it was hard to believe and nearly as hard to watch.
All at once, as if a voice had called the attendant back into the realm of sensibility, he relented, stepping back a few yards as Mcgillis stumbled backward into the wall and slid to the floor, in a crumpled pile of blood and mascara.
“You didn’t have to go that hard man…he’s drunk as shit.” I told the attendant.
“Shut up and help me pull him into the fucking stall.” snapped the old man.
I shook my head…speechless and leaned against the sink…it was hard to believe…Mcgillis was down for the count…the old man had made sure of that. And seeing my bewilderment at what had just transpired, the old man went on without me, shaking his head.
“Godam pussy generation.” muttered the elderly bathroom attendant as he pulled Mcgillis into one of the stalls.
From my angle I couldn’t see inside the stall…I could only see one of Mgillis’ leather shoes…convulsing with the flushing whirlpool of piss water which now immersed his face, washing away all the blood and mascara down the immaculately white porcelain toilet.
I contemplated interjecting, but after witnessing the devastating shit kicking the old man had laid on poor Mcgillis; I stayed put, watching Mcgillis’ leg convulsing. I shook my head, lighting a smoke in spite of the non-smoking signs; never piss off a bathroom attendant—they are a different breed.
The Healing Game
I’d dated so many different types of crazy I’d come to expect it. I’d begun to think there was no other way. There was Kate who cut herself to get back at her father…there was Lacey who perpetually sought escape because the stillness of stable life made her want to tear her skin off…there was Genevieve who broke up with me eventually because I wouldn’t agree to tie her up, slap her across the face and choke her out during sex–I just didn’t see the fun in that…there was Simone who puked after each meal, so that her teeth turned a strange color and though she was skinny as a rail at the end of our relationship; she believed she was monstrously obese…there was Sonya who daydreamed about suicide regularly and eventually started attempting it—I heard years later that she eventually achieved her goal…there was Charlotte who was a sex addict. I caught Charlotte one evening with one of her flings…she’d expected me to be out of town that weekend and when I arrived at her apartment to surprise her with ice cream and let myself in with my own key—I found her sitting on her couch in the nude with some bearded guy I didn’t recognize; I assumed they’d been fucking. Though I wanted to beat the ever loving shit out of the bearded guy…he jumped up and locked himself in the bathroom…I tried to push through the door but he’d barricaded himself in somehow…giving up on the door, I walked over to the closet and grabbed a 5 Iron from Charlotte’s father’s golf bag and smashed in the screen of my TV—the one they’d been watching…it was my TV after all and so mine to break. The pussy she’d cheated on me with stayed barricaded in the bathroom the entire time–and I’d mentioned that as I swung away at the TV. Charlotte meanwhile sat on her couch, wrapped in a quilt that her mother had made, staring blankly at the smashed TV set, realizing the gravity of having made the wrong play with the wrong person. I never saw her again…though she kept calling and emailing for months afterward, professing her sincere regrets and apologies; I guess it didn’t work out with her and what’s his beard. The disgust I felt for her made it impossible to forgive her. What’s worse, one of Charlotte’s close friends started calling me and leaving messages, inquiring if I’d like to meet her for a ‘walk’. Though it seemed like the perfect way to get even with Charlotte and avenge myself; I didn’t want anything to do with her coven of friends among which all was fair and just, no matter how unscrupulous. I felt I’d lost faith in womankind at that point…what’s worse–I was okay with that…I felt I’d come to an understanding in life and was better for it.
The universe had other plans though. Her name was Nazaneen and she was March born…a Piscean beauty with a deep gaze. She was from across the mighty Atlantic and she dressed in flowing dresses and gowns…she wore diamonds, emeralds and 24 Karat gold. She often said there was no real gold in Canada—not like the gold from her country…she’d say this with a sweet little smile. She was always joking very innocently with me. She was little…5’2 perhaps…100 pounds…a tiny little thing with lithe cat-like movements and I was a bit awestruck by how suddenly her curious little form walked into my life.
We started with dates…I’d take her to White Tower on Robson Street and we’d sit there for hours, drinking tea and ordering when we were hungry. I listened with fascination to stories of her home country and how she worked as a biochemist in a lab. She loved more than anything to talk about love. She was obsessed with Titanic and had proclaimed she’d seen the movie perhaps ten times. Why not? She would ask. Does such love not exist? I would shrug…though I didn’t believe so.
During these conversations she told me about her family; an utterly foreign portrait of lavish luxury. She’d grown up in an estate with 14 rooms…she’d had a room for reading, another room for drawing, one for playing music, another for her wardrobe and one of course for sleeping. She brought old photos of her and her family once and I saw something in those old photos that I’d not seen in her since I’d started dating her. There had been a glowing happiness in her eyes that just wasn’t present as she sat across from me at White Tower sipping her tea. When I asked her about this, she looked away and told me she would one day explain herself to me. It was a curious thing to say.
We continued seeing each other…in spite of the fact that she had a husband. I couldn’t help myself. Something was happening to me. I didn’t know what…whatever it was I’d never experienced something like it before. It seemed I couldn’t be at ease in a day until I was sitting close to her…listening to her funny stories and watching her little mouth eat things from the end of a large fork. I could sit and watch her eat for hours. Though I realized I was relinquishing something hard won…it seemed Nazaneen outweighed my desire to remain self-contained.
When the weather was nice enough I took Nazaneen to Centennial Beach in Tsawwassen. We spent some intimate afternoons on the beach, lying close and watching the tide come in. She would sit in my lap and drape her arms over my shoulders and say, “If someone would have told me a few months ago that I would be sitting on this beach with the man I truly love—I’d have not believed them.” She would usually cap such statements with an innocent vulgarity and a giggle…which would always make me laugh. Indeed, Nazaneen was a character. She was also a leader. Among the people from her country who formed a small community in Vancouver, she was considered their leader. Nazaneen was put in charge of organizing events, socials, community meetings and helping new families who’d just arrived in Canada. Though she was tranquil and ultra feminine; there was a fearlessness to her…a selfless bravery that reached out to those in need or those who were oppressed in some way. I was beginning to see that Nazaneen was as much of an idealist as she was a humanitarian. Her strong opinions were articulated with crystal clarity and on occasion she would share her thoughts with me about western women. She often chuckled when telling me about seeing women on the street, dressed scantily, so their cleavages were in full view and their asses were half exposed…she chuckled about their visible thongs and loud abrasive voices, likening them to tribes women of the Amazonian jungles…she was struck with further hilarity by their accompanying men who were all too proud that everyone was observing their half naked girlfriends…she would tisk her tongue and laugh.
One night I met Nazaneen downtown and she insisted we walk along the coal harbor sea wall. It was out of character for her because not only was it quite late at night…but also between us was an unspoken understanding that we should not hold hands in public…especially downtown where many of her friends lived. When I met her, I saw right away that she had a black eye and her cheek bone was swollen…the corner of her mouth was swollen as well and her eyes were red and irritated from a long bout of crying. She fell into my arms in a puddle of heaving sobs. I didn’t know what to do. I just squeezed her, having never encountered such an absurd situation. We sat in silence for perhaps a half hour, until she finally stopped crying. When she was more composed she explained the entire ugly truth to me…there on a bench outside of Canada Place. She explained how her husband beat her brutally every other week. She explained how he’d bitten her on her leg and his teeth had broken through the skin. She explained how he’d once bit through her lip…knocked loose one of her teeth, bruised her ribs with shin kicks and had broken her orbital bone once with a hard knuckle right cross. I listened in my silently building rage as she explained how he’d thrown her out of the house the previous New Year’s Eve…and how she’d had to walk seven blocks in her sock feet through slush and snow to reach a friend’s place. She went on and on…the stories were endless…the memory of the horrors bringing back her tears.
When she was through, I could see that though she was exhausted, she’d purged herself at least a little. For the next three nights she stayed with me and in spite of her bruises and scars, we lived like lovers…happy to be with each other…requiring nobody else…we were in our own private little safe zone. One she needed so badly. She’d left her cell phone at her house and so there were no calls from her husband demanding that she return, as she said he often did when she left him to stay with girlfriends after he’d beaten her. We watched movies, went to the market, she prepared traditional dishes for me…I pretended to love them all…we took long baths together…I read her Hemingway in the bath…she loved to curl up beside me and listen to me read. We drove out to Hope and spent an afternoon in the mountains…for the first time in her life, she smoked some with me…and wound up laughing hysterically…we walked across the road and ate ice cream at the Dairy Queen. She pursed her lips and told me to lean forward—as if for a kiss. I did and immediately felt the cold press of her cone against my nose. Funny Nazaneen. Those days were magical. However, that weekend, when I returned from work, I found she’d gone…she’d returned to her husband and left me a long note explaining why. She cited duty…and the fact that her marriage had been arranged by their families. It was a partnership and somehow his beating her was her fault. She ended the letter with a declaration of love for me and signed her note with a kiss of blood red lipstick…her small lips leaving a sad and adorable imprint.
I didn’t see Nazaneen for perhaps a week after that…I didn’t even hear from her. I started to wonder if her bastard husband had found out about us and had killed her. It was starting to drive me a little nuts and so I decided to walk up the street to a payphone and call her cell phone. When a man’s voice answered, I hung up. I’d nearly said something…but had I said something, I’d have not stopped. I knew where she lived because she’d gotten into the risky habit of having me drop her off only two blocks from her house at the end of our evenings. I got the feeling that Nazaneen liked the thrill of taking such a risk—or perhaps deep down she wanted her husband to discover us. For a few days I contemplated calling the police anonymously and having them check on her…however, when my concern became nearly unbearable, she finally called my cell phone.
She’d called from a payphone and so I’d not recognized the number…however, I’d had a feeling it was her and I answered immediately. She told me she’d worked things out with him and had been busy working at the laboratory. She told me that her mother had gotten sick and that she was contemplating flying back home to visit her. I told her I needed to see her and she took a bus to my house later that day. She was dressed nicely…wrapped in one of her silk dresses, wearing leather boots and toting her Gucci purse. She looked tired and severe and as always, her long black hair was combed out impeccably. She wore diamond earrings that dangled brilliantly, catching the sunlight in sharp sparkles. Her eyes were cat-like…peering up at me with intensity in spite of her weariness.
I took her to my bedroom and we spent the greater portion of the afternoon in there. Afterward she asked me, for the first time, about other women. Did I have any? Certainly there must have been someone. She suddenly wanted to know the things she initially assured were rightfully none of her business. She admitted that it was not fair of her to ask being that she was married, but she couldn’t help it…she’d thought about me the whole week…wondering if I was with a crazy Amazonian girl with tit cleavage and a high riding thong…we laughed—but now I knew.
After perhaps a week, Nazaneen and I resumed our routine, basking in each other and falling deeper into whatever the hell it was we were falling into. Love? I suppose, yes. However, it seemed to embody more than a single word could encompass. It seemed there was more to it than simply falling in love. It seemed there was a fair amount of healing taking place and it baffled me how much we navigate by subconscious…how much a part our subconscious plays in the unwitting decisions we make…the people we seek out. Of course I could easily chalk it up to her womanly curves, her silk dresses, her deep gaze, her warm snug vagina and her small kissing lips…I could chalk it up to biology…however, it seemed we’d subconsciously sought assured mutual healing in one another.
It was around then that I cut all ties with any other women in my life and dedicated myself fully to a married woman. It wasn’t the smartest play, but I wasn’t exactly a master of the smart play; I rolled with life and made the plays I thought worked best…or depending on the situation, the plays I thought worked worst. In the case of Nazaneen, our involvement increased mutually, as if we were walking into a dark tunnel together…never knowing what was around each corner and neither of us caring very much. In fact, we’d started getting reckless.
I’d taken her to the aquarium one afternoon, to see the whales. Nazaneen loved the ocean…it appealed to her Piscean fluidity and we strolled casually through the corridors, stopping at the large windows to take inventory of the various forms of captive sea life. At one point, she turned to me and asked me to marry her and pressed her lips into mine very deeply. As we stopped kissing Nazaneen peered around my shoulder and turned pale, as if she’d seen a ghost. When I turned, I saw a woman approaching…it was her good friend Rozhan. I’d seen Nazaneen in photos with Rozhan. Their husbands were great friends; this was bad.
I stood there stupidly as the two talked. Rozhan’s baby started to cry and the women chuckled before Rozhan walked off toward the women’s washroom.
“Fuck.” I said.
“I think this is ok.” said Nazaneen.
“How is this ok? This is extremely not ok.” I insisted, “She probably saw us kissing.”
“I don’t think she did.”
“Did she seem like she did?” I asked.
“I think Rozhan understands my situation.” said Nazaneen.
“And if she doesn’t? What if she tells her husband and he tells yours?” I asked, “He might try to kill us both.”
“Then I’ll sacrifice for us both.” said Nazaneen, and something in her eyes told me she was stone serious; she was willing to die for this affair.
“That’s preposterous. You need to leave the guy. How long are we going to keep this shit up? Sneaking around like this?” I demanded.
“If I leave him, will you marry me?” she asked.
I stood there…not knowing exactly how to respond…it was a big question.
“See…you have nothing to worry about then.” said Nazaneen, gazing up into the whale tank with a sad grin.
Though we went on with our day and eventually found the sun again…the question resonated in my mind like the echo of an unfamiliar sound. For the next few weeks I contemplated what she’d said…her question of marriage and my feelings regarding the institution. Needless to say, I brought the subject up to Nazaneen a few nights later as we lay on my lawn looking up at the stars.
“Did you really mean it when you asked me to marry you?” I asked her.
“Of course…I’m not a scared cat like you.” she giggled.
“It’s scaredy cat.” I said.
“It’s a word? Scaredy?”
“Not really…it’s slang.”
“It’s slang…” she mocked my accent with a chuckle.
“Maybe I am a scaredy cat…maybe I’m scared of the things you make me want.” I said.
“I know you are…but my love—your heart is brave. Don’t sit under the tree waiting for the apple to fall…you must climb up and take it from the branch.” she said.
“You’re the apple in this analogy?” I asked her, turning to face her.
“If you marry me, you’d never have to worry…we could live anywhere we wanted to…you have no idea how rich my family is.” she said.
“You think I’d marry you for money?” I laughed, “You’re crazy.”
“I’m not saying for money…but we’d not have to worry…I could have your baby and we wouldn’t ever have to struggle. We could go live in Rome…or New York City or Barcelona.”
“You want to have my baby?” I asked, a bit dumbfounded.
“Yes.” she said, “I’m baby crazy…I think all day of having a baby…I want one so bad. I want yours.” said Nazaneen.
“Why?” I asked.
“Our baby would be creative and brilliant like you and beautiful and brave like me.” she smiled.
“I see you’ve really thought this out.” I told her.
“You’d be an amazing father. I know it.” said Nazaneen…once again startling me with an insight.
As the weeks went by, the topic of her having my child was a reoccurring one…she insisted that she would leave her husband if only I would commit to marrying her, move in with her and get her pregnant. It struck me as odd that for all the insanely dangerous predicaments I’d gotten myself into in my life; I was more terrified of having a child than perhaps all of them put together. Yet, men of what I deemed to be lesser gumption than I were making such decisions every day–picking a side and sticking to it. Indeed, this forced me to analyze exactly what it was about starting a family that startled me so much. Was it that I feared I’d be a failure as a father as my own father had been to me? Was it that I would eventually see a marriage to this wealthy woman as a cage with golden bars? Or was it simply that I enjoyed my artistic freedom too much and feared that marriage and a family would be the death of my artistic prowess? It wasn’t an easy call and so I decided that I’d never figure it out and so it was a waste of time trying; the chips would inevitably fall where they would.
A few weeks later I was sitting at my piano, composing a piece…I was deep into it and wandering out into a clearing, one bathed in brilliant enlightenment; this was my addiction. I was formulating the melody with nuances in the chord structures and making great headway. There is a delicious feeling one is winning a battle of some kind when creating something memorable…something bordering on brilliance. In those moments I can grasp the high such an accomplishment brings…perhaps artists were nothing more than addicts.
It was then that my doorbell rang. I hadn’t been expecting anyone and curiously I answered the door. Standing behind it, I found Nazaneen. She stood, looking up at me with tears in her eyes. One side of her face was swollen so badly it was pulling at the flesh around the corner of her eye; it was chilling and I led her inside. I took a pack of frozen vegetables from the freezer and wrapped it in a wet face cloth. When I joined her on the couch she had composed herself. She explained how this time he’d gone berserk and had held her by the neck and punched her repeatedly in the face until she fainted. She’d woken up on the floor a moment later to foot stomps to her belly.
I got up and started putting on my jacket.
“Where are you going?” she asked.
“I’m going to go over there.” I said.
“That’s a bad idea.” she said.
“You think I’m afraid of this clown? This guy has no fucking idea…” I said.
“I don’t think you’re afraid…I do think you’re better than that though.” she said quietly.
“Yeah well…maybe I’m not.” I said, heading for the door.
Nazaneen jumped up from the couch and took hold of my arm.
“Stay here…don’t go there.” she pleaded.
“I’m going.” I told her.
When she saw that I was decided on the issue she let go of my arm and took a step back, “Men and their conflict.” she said, her words brimming with anger—the first of it I’d ever seen.
“What are you saying?” I asked, “How do you expect me to react?” I demanded.
“Just love me.” she said.
I stood there looking at her lopsided swollen face for a moment.
“What are you worried that I’ll rearrange his face? You worried about him?” I asked.
“No…I would hate to think that you did something very foolish because of me.” said Nazaneen.
I never wound up going to see her husband. I never did. I took my jacket off and joined her on my couch. We watched a movie and fell asleep. We’d go on to spend another two and a half years together, sneaking around, saying goodnight a couple blocks from her house…me calling her landline from payphones and letting it ring once. Numerous people saw us together as well…it got to the point where I was certain the guy knew about us—but didn’t care…as long as her affair didn’t disrupt their social standing in the community. It was known that he had many affairs of his own…of which Nazaneen knew, but didn’t care. I was positive he knew.
In the end it didn’t matter. Nazaneen had come to my place one afternoon and in a fit of tears confessed to me that it was the happiest day of her life as well as the saddest. She’d found out that she was pregnant with her husband’s child…but she knew what that meant and I did too. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t livid…why I wasn’t angry. I guess I was happy for her—she’d finally gotten what she wanted in the end…to be a mother. I’d gotten something out of it too…a message from womankind – “Do you get it now?”
The Dukes of Marpole
My cohort was getting out. It was that simple. And he’d voiced his reasoning to me as we sat in our routine spot…on a picnic table just outside the supermarket at 70th and Granville, upon which junkies and transients scratched initials and non-profound one-liners.
“So…I’m moving at the end of the month.” he stated, peering far off at nothing in particular. He rested his sleeve in a dribble of bird shit that had splattered against the wood of the table; I didn’t bother telling him as it was too late now. I nodded and took a bite of my submarine sandwich that had been made grudgingly by the sandwich girl behind the counter at the supermarket deli.
“This sub isn’t so great.” Hawthorne muttered squeezing a lob of cream cheese from between the too dry Ciabatta buns.
“You have standards now?” I said, taking note of his sandwich…it didn’t look so bad and I’d seen the bastard eating from questionable street vendors on occasion.
He’d abandoned the buns and had begun to eat the meat in between by peeling it loose from the mayo and dangling it down into his mouth…right there on the bench as the cars and people went by…as if he were eating the buttered shavings of a dead rat. I watched him do
this–thinking about what he’d said.
“Where to this time?” I asked.
“I was offered a job in Medicine Hat. I think I’m going to take it. Plus, you know…I’ve been very disenchanted these last few months.” Said Hawthorne, “I came here to fall in love, be a stunt man in the movies…buy a house maybe…have a few kids—meet a nice girl. But when I finally met a beautiful dancer who I thought I’d marry; she gave me cold sores, dick infections and then…and then she broke up with me and started banging a stock broker like a week later…and then I lost my job at the furniture store.” he paused to lower another strip of smoked turkey breast into his mouth.
“Can you believe it? A fucking stock broker?” scoffed Hawthorne.
“Better than a broke stalker I suppose.” I shrugged, taking a bite of my own sub—not bad…not enough bacon though, “She gave you cold sores and dick infections?” was my question. For he’d used my cups, utensils and bathroom on occasion; that’s how at home I’d allowed him to feel in my house…never suspecting he was harboring disease.
“Yeah. I got sores in my nose too. It was nasty.” he said, squinting against the mid-summer sun which had left us both slightly sun burned…
“In your nose?” I asked. After all, it was hard to believe.
“Frank…” my cohort said, his perpetual grin fading a shade or two, “that wasn’t the half of it. My prostate was burning every time I took a leak…not only that but I came down with a strange rash around my chin. And I know it was from her because she’d had the very same rash around her chin for weeks.”
“Sores, piss burn and rashes huh?” I asked, sliding to the opposite end of the bench, which caused my cohort to display a wounded expression, “I’m gonna sit over here.” I told him.
“Man, don’t be a dick.” he pleaded, as if I was in some way obligated to shoulder his neurosis and recollection of ill-fated oblivion.
You see, as always; I’d only been guilty of being a solid friend. My ground floor window was always open and he’d taken it literally…rolling up on his bicycle around noon every day…wrapping on the window before pushing it open, wedging himself in and hopping down onto my
living room rug…like a stray you’d fed a few times that had now made itself at home.
It didn’t have to be noon however…any time seemed the right time for him to wedge himself through my living room window. And I might add here and now
for good measure that he had nearly caught Denise and I a few times—and so I’d taken to latching the window and drawing the curtains when Denise dropped by for some fun. Indeed, I’d had to Hawthorne-proof the windows and doors.
It seemed our friendship was a matter of convenience…for Hawthorne also lived in South Vancouver—our very own version of Brooklyn; a neighborhood which subscribed to absolutely nothing…the most unpretentious neighborhood in town. Indeed, it had become highly convenient for him to harass me at any hour of the day as he lived only a few blocks away on Oak Street in a condemnable suite, seemingly built for dwarfs by dwarfs, with impossibly low ceilings and counters.
He wasn’t without his uses though. Indeed, Hawthorne was a laugh riot—if you could see him from that angle. Most people didn’t. However, his asinine and perhaps completely unintended comedic genius was perpetual.
For instance, he would approach women at random, in the market, on the bus, online at the bank, at the 7-11, the liquor store…wherever he found those perfectly symmetrical ladies that caught his eye; he’d approach them and somehow talk them into joining him for a drink in his miniature suite that stank with decades of deep fried prawns and burned tobacco; it was hard to believe, but stranger things have happened.
Hawthorne cited above all else that he possessed extremely high standards regarding a woman’s physical appearance. One could say he was obsessive compulsive about their aesthetic imperfections—that something as unnoticeable as an unmatching arch of a woman’s eyebrows could turn him off to the point of going completely limp—situational erectile dysfunction. On one afternoon in particular Hawthorne had called me and in a frantic tone had demanded that I get there immediately and help settle an issue for him—an issue that was tearing him apart inside—the poor bastard. I’d been on my way out the door anyway and decided to stop by. When I arrived, he met me at the door looking as if he’d seen a ghost. He was pale and his forehead was beaded with sweat. He was nibbling his fingernails and looking at me with an expression of dread.
He stepped outside onto the steps with me, closed the door and spoke in a hushed tone. “Man, I picked this girl up at Granville Island this morning. I thought she was the most beautiful girl I’d seen in this city—and you know this city is full of beautiful girls.”
“I don’t know if I’d go that far.” I shrugged, again not seeing the mystique of clones.
“Yeah, well…unless they’re crazy, you’re not interested.” he said, dismissing my comment, “Trust me, this chick was gorgeous—I’m a Gemini—I have an eye for detail. We spent the morning just walking around Granville Island…sharing…”
“Sharing what?” I laughed.
“Sharing the warm sunshine, sweet baked goods and a beautiful afternoon…I was totally intoxicated by her beautiful face…she’s got a perfect face—you’ll see that right away…and from what I could tell, a perfect body…you know, I couldn’t believe I found such a perfect girl.”
“So, what are you bitching about then?”
“I’m not so sure anymore. I mean, I’ve noticed something and it’s freaking me out now…like enough to just call the night off with her. I mean, they have to be perfect looking or I can’t…I just can’t…I can’t get into it.”
“Well…you know what losing your boner for a beautiful woman really means.” I chuckled.
“Come on man, don’t be a dick.” he pleaded, “Just tell me something—tell me if you think her earlobes hang a little too low. I think she probably wore a lot of heavy earrings in her life and they ruined her earlobes…her earlobes just sort of wobble there…and it’s got my dick in a sling.” he said, looking panicked.
I chuckled as I followed Hawthorne back into his tuna can basement suite.
Inside his date sat attentively on the edge of her sofa cushion, clutching her glass that tinkled with ice cubes. She was dressed in a white t-shirt and black skirt. She wore a white pearl necklace and black bangles around her wrists. Her hair was pony-tailed down one side of her neck and her face was painted nicely with makeup—she was hitting on all 8 cylinders. To me, dear reader, her earlobes looked perfectly normal. They held in their smoothness two matching diamond studs that glittered like twin disco balls when she moved her head.
I sat across from her on a lawn chair Hawthorne had unfolded for me, not possessing more chairs beyond his sofa. As Mazzy Star’s Fade Into You played on the stereo, I listened as I puffed, watching the smoke rise toward the overhead fixture in long bluish wisps. When Hawthorne was through babbling and reciting escapades from his 6 month stint in Toronto, his date Nadine spoke to me, snapping me out of my absence.
“What is it that you do Frank?” she asked.
“Depends on the situation really.” said I.
“What does that even mean?” she asked, squinting her eyes into a quiet grin and shaking her head slightly, as if she were fascinated by my boredom.
“I do what I say and I say what I mean.” I said.
“Doesn’t everyone?” asked Nadine with her amused grin.
“Not everyone.” I said, blowing a few smoke rings and watching them turn inside out as they moved up toward the light, until the awkward silence threatened to smother Hawthorne and his date, “Take Hawthorne here for instance.” I said, causing Hawthorne to shift on his cushion.
“What about Hawthorne?”
“Well, he’s very elusive…he eludes the point.”
“Ok, now you’re just being comedic.” Hawthorne chimed in, hoping to hell I wouldn’t disclose his dilemma.
“Elusive Gemini man.” giggled Nadine, “What point?”
“He’s being preposterous.” said Hawthorne, waving me off.
“No…what point is he alluding?” Nadine demanded, with less of a smile.
“Well, apparently, according to Hawthorne here, I harbor a penchant for crazy women. That may or may not be true…but our good host Hawthorne here has it even worse.” I said.
“How so?” asked Nadine.
“He has a penchant for perfect statues—Pygmalionism.” I said after blowing a few more smoke rings.
“I didn’t say you had a penchant for crazy women.” assured Hawthorne.
“What are you guys talking about?” said Nadine, looking suddenly alarmed.
“Well, our benevolent host here called me over to his fine abode today to confirm or dispel his suspicion that your earlobes hang too low.” I explained, glancing to Hawthorne who was frozen in a grinning wince of shock, “I think he’s mad though…you’re quite perfect looking.”
Of course there had been a very long moment of uncomfortable silence. However, once his girl had thrown a subsequent and rather silent tantrum—at one point calmly standing on his living room floor, pouring out the remainder of her drink onto his leather couch as she stared back at him with an intense expression of hurt; she stormed out, surprisingly bidding me farewell and voicing her appreciation for my forwardness. Once she was gone, Hawthorne peered at me with an expression that begged the question “How could you do it?”
I just shrugged and blew a smoke ring, “Solved your problem didn’t I?”
Indeed, the best policy I’d ever encountered is social indifference. It is, no doubt, a subtle form of heroism—the perfect concoction of sincerity and existential oblivion; a stoic victory in which there is no score, winner or loser. Perhaps one could argue however that Hawthorne was the big loser, having let a total looker slip through his fingers. I thought he’d lecture me with his usual complacency. He didn’t however—he merely spread a towel over the couch to soak up the spilled drink and sat cross legged on the floor staring at a far off place.
“It’s better that she left—I just couldn’t stand looking at those earlobes of hers.” he quietly confessed.
After another drink, Hawthorne did in fact lecture me. This time the lecture detailed the importance of solidarity among cohorts. His grand point being that I should have studied Nadine’s earlobes and texted him my opinion later, after I’d left. A discussion ensued through which we came to the conclusion that we would agree to disagree and subsequently decided to venture out into the city. We wound up in Kits, rolling westward on Broadway, searching for a place to eat. We decided on the Red Spot restaurant which was coincidently celebrating its 70th birthday with free cake, face painting for the brats and a dunk tank. The orchestrator of this event seemed to be a man dressed in a chicken suit that was crested with the Red Spot’s logo.
It was a hot afternoon, perhaps 30 degrees and as we approached I wondered about the man in the chicken costume. Was he a PR person sent from Red Spot headquarters or was he a dishwasher who’d been coerced into donning the chicken suit on such a sweltering day—punishment for perhaps being the lowest man on the totem pole—perhaps he was a professional chicken mascot who made his living touring across the country, appearing at various Red Spot events.
I was contemplating this as I watched Hawthorne jog up the sidewalk toward the man in the chicken suit. When he was a few feet away from the man, Hawthorne wound up his leg, as if he were going to boot himself a victory field goal—right up the chicken’s crotch. Of course he stopped short…but the chicken flinched in such a dramatic way, he fell sideways over a flower pot, scraping his beak against the cement on impact with the sidewalk.
There may have been a vulgar retort—there may have been an all-out brawl, if it wasn’t for the volley of laughter that followed. Apparently the children assumed it was all either part of a scripted performance, or indeed the proper way adults interacted with a man dressed in a chicken costume. The chicken sprung to his feet, straightened his beak in a cartoonish way and bent over and wagged his fat, padded chicken ass at Hawthorne, drawing another roar of laughter from the kids. It dawned on me then that this man in the chicken suit was not only un-phased by Hawthorne; he was apparently a professional thespian—a method mascot. He’d incorporated Stanislavski into his chicken bit and wasn’t going to let his composure be broken by the likes of Hawthorne.
Later, as we dined, Hawthorne seemed to have forgotten about his mishap with his Kentucky Fried date. Indeed, it seemed he was onto bigger and better ventures. With jovial enthusiasm, he confessed to me his latest interest…or goal if you will. It seemed Hawthorne was brimming with new goals and personal projects on a weekly basis. That is to say that his goals evaporated in the wake of ever forming new ones and so on and so forth—until they all bled into the same goal—one of personal validation for god knows how many past mental traumas. Hawthorne never spoke of his upbringing and I assumed it was for good reason. However, he did frequently assess his goals aloud.
I listened absently as he went from the punch
line backward…declaring first his intent to become an actor of porn. He’d then elaborated, citing with conviction how his interest had initially budded and eventually taken the shape of motivation; in which he’d attained the
contact information of a porn agent from a wannabe stripper he’d picked up in a seedy Granville St. watering hole.
The poor old chap had flooded his burger with a tremendous amount of condiments, so it oozed with thick dark-orange goo. To make matters sloppier, he dipped it in his side order of gravy…glazing the seeping mess of slop with a thick coating. When he bit into the burger the orange slop ran down so he was dripping at the chin as he explained the benefits of landing a job in the local porn industry. I just nodded occasionally, eating a plate of fries and ketchup, wondering absently what the odds were that some prankster had dosed the bottle of ketchup with liquid LSD administered from an eye dropper. Not likely, I speculated—but not altogether an impossibility.
Eventually, Hawthorne became forlorn when addressing the most pressing of his concerns. What if he couldn’t perform…what if he couldn’t maintain wood while filming? After all, if he caught even a slight glance of a minor imperfection in his costar, the entire shoot might be compromised. He stared through the window, out into the street where cars and buses and people were going by. He shook his head, imagining the scenario with distant dread, chewing a French fry with an intense contemplative stare.
“I mean, if the chick isn’t perfect looking; it could ruin everything.” he said very seriously, “I mean, what if she has a pimple on her ass? That could ruin the entire shoot man…then my career is down the toilet. Dude, what if I go soft?”
“How should I know? Pop a Viagra if you’re so worried.” I suggested with a shrug.
“Viagra? I wouldn’t put that shit into my body man.” Hawthorne scoffed as he bit off another chunk of his greasy burger…insulted that I’d mentioned it, “After Lacey, I can’t settle for just any girl. She really ruined me for anyone else.” swore Hawthorne, sipping the gravy now from the side bowl.
“Come now old chap…certainly there are plenty of Lacey’s in this town—certainly you can hook yourself another.” I assured in an attempt at consoling him, “Why not just go to a strip club and meet another stripper?”
“What does that mean?” he inquired, “It wouldn’t be Lacey man! I love her.”
“What do you love about her most? The pus dripping sores or the dick infections she gift wrapped for you? Or maybe it’s the rashes? Ah, the rashes were a nice touch, old man.” I said, sipping from my flat soda.
“Can’t you see it? She’s lost man…she didn’t think she deserved my love.” Hawthorne said.
“That’s hilarious man. But really…what do you miss most about this damsel who’ll undress? You’ve never mentioned it…what are the top five things you miss most about the lass—that you can’t bring yourself to live without? Let’s hear it…state them now.” I said, thinking this ought to be good.
“Ok…that’s easy enough. I would say number one, her V…she had a perfect one…so perfect I can’t even imagine another one. Two would have to be her backside…she has this amazing dancer’s ass…really you could bounce a quarter off it. Three…that would have to be her breasts…I don’t think I’ve ever experienced breasts that large and firm at the same time. Four, that’s easy, her face and her make-up…she wore her makeup like a porn star and had these long porn star type lashes…she used to flutter those lashes at me. Number five…I’d have to say her legs…her legs wouldn’t quit. Now do you see what I’m saying?” Hawthorne said, satisfied with the points he’d offered.
“But these are all physical attributes old boy. You see that right? I mean in that case—if her personality doesn’t enter into it—you could just order an escort with Lacey’s exact measurements. Maybe improve on some points as well. That might do the trick no?” I chuckled.
There was a moment of silence in which my cohort’s eyes glazed over with a fine realization; enlightenment, if you will—as if an epiphany had struck him dumb…or dumber. In slight awe of this realization, he stared at me, an orange droplet of burger goo waiting to drip from his chin and onto the table. “Holy fuck man.” Said Hawthorne, “I could…I could order an escort who’s even hotter than Lacey.” said Hawthorne, now chewing on a French fry with renewed zeal, “Then, Lacey’s hold over me would be broken for good.”
“Listen man—I was only kidding…plus you can’t afford an escort.” I pointed out.
“Don’t be a dick…and yeah, you may have been kidding…but it’s a brilliant tactic…”
“You’ve been eating retard sandwiches again haven’t you?” I inquired.
“Nope…I’ve just had myself a life altering realization.” Hawthorne assured, tipping back the bowl of gravy one last time to guzzle down the rest of the thick brown slop.
Of course, I wasn’t surprised by Hawthorne’s plan—even if I had suggested it as a goof—a bit—a stabbing mockery. For Hawthorne was a master at connecting dots…and he’d connect them into constellations of intrigue; glow-dot shapes glued across the ceiling of his damaged mind. This instance was no exception. He was thoroughly willing to invest his effort and money into finding a Lacey upgrade in an escort agency line-up. And fairly speaking—who was I to question it? It seemed the old chap was willing to try anything to admonish his sensibilities against the Lacey spell he’d, by and large, created himself. It was classic Hawthorne.
Indeed, the very next evening, he’d conjured the courage to dial an agency. He’d even written a list in pen—as to order a perfect replica of Lacey Miller. I sat on his pleather couch, sipping from a frosted glass as Hawthorne patiently ran through his list to the receptionist; skin tone, hair style, eye color, lip fullness, waist slenderness, leg contour, pubic sculpt, lashes and makeup, clothing style, breast shape, etc. The list went on for what seemed an hour. After which the receptionist reminded Hawthorne that the agency wasn’t a custom car dealership. Hawthorne simplified his list—imploring the receptionist to keep in mind his preferences as this was a very important ‘date’—for psychological reasons.
“Hello? Hello? Godamit!” he said into his phone that was now empty. Surprisingly it seemed even the agency harbored a moral criteria. It seemed Hawthorne couldn’t even get a date with an escort—it was classic Hawthorne indeed.
“Don’t laugh man.” whined Hawthorne, citing unprofessionalism on their part.
“But how can’t I?” I asked, draining my glass and lighting a wood tip Black & Mild.
“Why do you smoke those things in here?” Hawthorne asked; forlorn as usual and massaging his temples.
“To cover the permeated odor of deep fried prawns.” I simply said, tilting my head at the old boy. For it seemed he really wasn’t his usual self—it seemed being unable to find a Lacey surrogate was a crushing blow to his psyche, “Let’s go down the street and get some oranges.” I insisted.
As we made our way down 70th toward Granville, Hawthorne peered around the streets and darkened apartment windows with edgy intent.
“Has Lacey ever called you?” Hawthorne asked me out of the blue, casting at me a suspicious eye.
“Why would she?” I asked.
“Maybe you’re fucking her behind my back too.”
“Yeah, coke heads are my thing now…plus, I’ve been planning to contract sores and piss burn for weeks now…thats way up there on my list of shit to do this month.” I chuckled, “Are you on acid?”
“Ah, you can’t understand.” He said with a dismissive wave of his hand, “And she’s not a coke head…she only does it in social situations.”
“Well…in that case.” I said as I went through the oranges in the bin that were mostly half rotten.
We chose ‘Ping Pong’ market on Granville…a questionable choice but all the same, a viable option—given the lack of markets in our district. I purchased a few oranges, having been told by the market man that they were a real find, very juicy he’d said. At the time I’d given him a suspicious look, but decided to chance it anyway. Hawthorne bought a hard looking kiwi and had asked for it to be bagged. He swung it around his wrist and back as we walked. “What is the meaning of this?” he asked.
“Writing.” I said.
“Is that true?”
“What else is there?” I asked.
“Music?” suggested Hawthorne.
“Certainly, but writing comes more naturally…it’s like breathing…and if you take away the writing—you’re left with only the madness.” I said, sighing deeply, wondering why the fuck it was that Hawthorne always had to take the spontaneity out of life.
“You’re going to write about this all aren’t you? My situation? I bet you will…and I bet you get it all wrong.” said Hawthorne.
“And I’ll call it—The Pygmalionist.” I said, running my hand over the sky as if to spread out the letters like a deck of cards.
“You’re in love with statues old chap…and you have every right to be.” I told him.
“No way.” said Hawthorne, removing his Kiwi from the bag and biting into it. His teeth barely punctured the skin. “This thing is like a rock.” he said, making a sour face and throwing the kiwi back into the bag. He then swung it like a lasso, gaining momentum fast before hurling the bagged kiwi high and wide so it lifted as if from propulsion, eventually descending quickly down onto the top of a passing bus.
“Nice shot.” I said.
“Not bad. Give me an orange.” he said.
I handed him the bag and he took out one of the oranges…using the sticker as a target he bit directly into the orange, chewing it with zeal—peel, sticker and all. I noticed the orange was slightly brown on the inside.
“How can these guys be so dishonest?” I mused.
“The market man…he said they were very juicy.”
“They are.” said Hawthorne with a grin as the brownish orange juice gurgled from his mouth and down his chin.
“It’s not rotten, it’s over ripe.” said Hawthorne, taking another bite, peel and all.
As we made our way back down 70th toward Hawthorne’s place his phone buzzed. It was the agency and the receptionist apologized for having been cut off. She confirmed that she’d found an escort that matched closest Hawthorne’s requested specs. In response to Hawthorne’s adamant badgering the receptionist assured physical perfection…it was a guarantee. After relaying to her his personal information and address, Hawthorne hung up and looked at me with amazed disbelief. There was something else there too…a mad glaze of potential victory that curled the edges of his lips—lips that were now prone to herpes legions.
“They’re sending over a lady named Candi…Candi with an ‘i’.” said Hawthorne, “I can’t believe this is actually going to happen. I mean, this is going to be monumental. The receptionist assured me that Candi is perfect…perfect to a tee. And you know what? I can already feel Lacey’s hold on me diminishing…as if it were a black magic curse.”
“Black magic curse…” I chuckled, “Well, I hope it all works out for you.” I said, bidding him farewell at my corner.
“I’ll keep you posted.” Said Hawthorne, walking off with a proud bounce in his step.
Sly Girl Friday
It was Friday night…I’d been at the studio late, tracking vocals for Downtown Lover–a song from the new album. When I got back home, I decided to smoke a bit and work out. I put on some music and reclined down onto the bench and pressed until my arms were burning pretty good. I drank a bottle of apple juice and did it again, repeating the pressing and the burn…the exquisite burn. I could feel the cobwebs clearing after a boring night on the job.
When I was through with the bench press I saw that I had a voice mail; I listened. Sure enough there was a long gap of silence and I was about to press erase when suddenly a girl’s voice spoke. The girl however did not state her name or her reason for calling…she simply stated her phone number…I listened to it again…perplexed…indeed, I didn’t recognize her voice…and furthermore…her voice sounded quite mad…reminiscent of the re-animated toddler in the first Pet Cemetery movie.
Macabre as the voice was, reaching out so crazily into the dimness of my apartment, I turned on a brighter lamp and was indeed inclined to dial the number…for I’d heard this voice before…in a message four days previous…I hadn’t recognized it then either for I hadn’t been able to match the voice to a face and so I dismissed it as a wrong number.
The previous message by the way stated the following; Don’t pretend you don’t know my number just because it’s Monday. A squirrelly giggle had punctuated the message in an eerie Pet Cemetery-like fashion. I sat on my couch, lighting one up and having a few puffs…I watched the smoke circle toward the ceiling as the rings passed by like buoys, leading me out into an unknown sea. Finally, there was an answer…the same squirrely voice that had left the messages now croaked back at me, “What took you so long?” she asked.
“Why hello.” I said, “I’m Frank and you’ve piqued my interest–is there something you’d like to communicate dear anonymous caller?” I waited for a reply…there was a long pause before one came.
“What number is this?” she asked finally.
“It’s mine of course dear anonymous caller.” I said, as if it was the most obvious answer in the world…
“Who’s number is this?” she said, giggling a bit.
“I have an idea…perhaps you might state your purpose.” I invited…slightly perplexed by this call.
“I’m looking for the boy named Frank. The boy named Frank Nero.” She said…and there was something in her phrasing of the name which stood out as slanted—italic…as if there was some emphasis that might cue me to deduce a grand point—if one perhaps existed.
“How do I know you?” I asked.
“You don’t.” She said then volleyed into a long and rather haunting chuckle…a chuckle so shrill that it forced my ear drum to tighten…
“How did you get my number? More importantly, how do you know about Nero?” I asked.
“Your place in outer space—your number is on your webpage silly. I saw you singing at the Railway Club a couple weeks ago.” she said, her chuckle now ebbing, “I wanted to whisper in your ear afterward, but you went away. You went away without even looking at me in my pretty dress.”
“I’m certain I don’t recall you.” I said, sifting through my memory for a girl in a pretty dress from the night in question…however, I came up empty handed in terms of recollection…for it had been dark and I’d left soon after we’d played.
“You didn’t look at me.” She said.
“Well, I’m not a mind reader…anyway…now you have my undivided attention—what did you want to whisper?” I asked.
“I sing…I sing with my soul. From the very bottom of my soul.” She said, without whispering it.
“Is there any other way?” I asked.
“I just got out of a very abusive relationship…and I’m dedicated to singing…I’m dedicated so much I could puke on a roller coaster all day long.” She said.
“I see…but what do you like to sing?” I asked.
“You like talking to me don’t you?” she said.
“I’m just trying to picture it all…not so much where you’re going but where you’ve come from.” I said, “What sort of music do you like to sing?”
“I don’t play an instrument.”
“The voice is an instrument, no?”
“I sometimes play with people…I’m playing with someone right now…right this minute…just like everyone plays with me.” She said.
“It’s like that is it?” I said.
“I knew I was going to meet you…I knew it before I ever saw you.” She said.
“Meet?” I asked.
“You think we’ll meet.” I said.
“I know we’ll meet.”
“When is this supposed to happen…did your ESP cite a date and time?” I laughed.
“You want me to meet you—a total and complete stranger—in the middle of the night…tonight?” I reiterated and broke out laughing. Who was this woman really? I wondered…perhaps a face from the past, arisen for means of revenge or a torrid bout of fucking. Either way, my interest was piqued.
“Ok…I’ll go along with this charade…where are we meeting?”
“Frank is going to meet me isn’t he?” She said.
“I guess so…but where?”
“Well…its dark out…I don’t like to walk around in the dark.”
“It is rather dark out there isn’t it?” I said.
“It’s always dark…even on sunny days.” She said with a deep shade of melancholy.
“Seems like.” I said.
“If I come to your house, will you show me artifacts and make me tea?” She said and her words cut through something…bringing with them a sharp edge of seriousness.
“You can’t be serious.” I said.
“Can you pick me up? I don’t drive automobiles.” She said.
“How old are you?” I asked.
“26. I’ll be 27 on July 8th. I’m a cancer girl.”
“Yes, July 8th. Beck was born on July 8th.”
“If you say so.” I said, “So…pick a spot then. I’ll swing by and pick you up. What the fuck—let’s do it.”
“Do it? Do what?” she cooed, trailing off into another eerie giggle.
“Meet. Are we having the same conversation here?” I asked, “And where am I picking you up? You need to make an executive decision…what’s your name anyway?”
“Well…” she said, “There is my door step…alas there is my door step. You could pick me up there.”
“Pick you up from your doorstep.” I said, “Ok, what’s the address?”
“You’re scared of me aren’t you?” she asked.
“Should I be?” I asked.
“No, but you don’t sound enthusiastic about my doorstep.”
“This is your plan baby.” I sighed.
“Okay then…how about the gas station on 12th and Clarke St.?”
“A gas station?”
“Well…it’s close to my house.” She said sounding nearly hurt.
“Okay…” I said, “Give me twenty minutes.”
“I will give you 30…please drive safe my lovely writer.” She said before hanging up.
It was my plan to first do a stealthy drive by—as to preview who it was I was actually meeting. Her voice, though squirrely and mad, sounded also as if it harbored potential to emanate from a truly sexy lass…one who might talk the talk as well as she walks the walk. And, wouldn’t you know that I did do my stealthy drive by and did manage to catch glimpse of her and did manage to ascertain from her fur boots, pink glittery leg warmers, plush fake fur coat and Parisian bob, that she indeed looked like something that had slid out of Phyllis Diller’s wardrobe closet twenty two years previous; she wasn’t hipster, she wasn’t punk, she wasn’t crazy artist girl; she was none of the above—she was a genuine misfit; an endangered species.
Upon noticing her shapely rear I decided indeed that I should get a closer look and so, stealthily, I pulled into the parking lot alongside a gas pump, trying to hide behind it. In doing so however, I blew my cover. As I sat in my van taking inventory of her, I realized that though she had a ring in her nose and too much make up plastered on her face, she bared a striking resemblance to Natalie Portman—it was then that she recognized me and a wave came next.
Indeed, her approach was marked suddenly by her nearly tripping on a strewn can of pop she somehow didn’t notice…then she was at the passenger side door…trying the handle…I looked at her, squarely before leaning over and unlocking it. Though she was perhaps only ninety pounds…she was carrying a bag which could have contained a weapon…a gun, a knife…a syringe full of the HIV virus.
When she was in the van I had an inclination to ask where she wanted to go but she did the talking for the most part, fidgeting…blabbing on suddenly about things so foreign to the design of introduction talk that I had to push things back on track a number of times as my van idled beside the pump.
“Where do you want to go?” I asked a number of times and she answered with what seemed to be a stock answer; she didn’t want to get emotionally involved in deciding upon a destination.
“What’s with the twenty questions?” she asked.
“It’s not…its one question repeated twenty times.” I corrected.
“It’s still twenty questions.” She said, “Can we drive? That man in the window is sending something bad our way.” she said and when I faced forward to find this sender of bad vibes, I locked eyes with the cashier behind the window who was peering an intense stare at us…standing there behind the till like impending doom. I put the van in gear and pulled, away fearing he may think the girl was a prostitute and that I’d just picked her up–fearing more that perhaps he was right. Once we were moving, I voiced this suspicion of mine.
“He probably thought you were a hooker and I’m your John.” I said.
“Maybe he’s right.” She said.
“Jesus, I hope not.” I said.
“No, I’m not.” She said, “I think it’s funny that those green lights are blinking.” She said, peering off toward the traffic light, “there’s three lights…why do they need three?” then she was off, in a hurricane of hilarity…a hilarity understood only by her…and as I drove, tensing slightly at the shrillness of her cackle, I contemplated just dropping her off then and there…but indeed, her remark about the man behind the till and the three green lights blinking, for some reason had instilled within me a grand curiosity to the bottom of which it looked like I’d be getting to.
Certainly the idea occurred to me that she was mad…an insane harlot carrying in her blond streaked black hair the scent of incense and the unnaturally squeaky clean floors of a third floor psyche ward…still, I drove on.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“Have you ever stood at the top of the Lion’s Gate Bridge?” she asked.
“I’ve driven over it.” I said.
“I want to stand on the top of it…I want to feel my legs dangling over the railing…” she said very seriously before bursting into a shrill chuckle.
“A field trip…I love field trips.” I said and changed course, making a right on Fraser st.
As I drove, listening to her talk, she explained that her grandfather was a millionaire but unfortunately for her, he didn’t know she existed. As we drove by a graveyard she said her father, who was an ex-KGB agent, was buried somewhere within its darkened, hedged in confines…and she knocked on the window as we drove by, whispering a small prayer before pressing her palm against the window. Her palm left a warm thin layer of condensation.
“What does your mom do?” I asked.
“My mom is a….” the girl thought for a moment, then smiled, “She’s an entertainer…but she never leaves the house.”
“She entertains at home?”
“She’s funny.” said the girl, “She has a strong personality and it’s like needles sometimes.”
“Listen, what’s your name?”
“I already told you like seventy million times.” She said.
“No you haven’t. What’s your name…or at least what the hell can I call you?” I asked.
“Chelsea.” She said.
“Okay Chelsea…so you said you were a singer…sing something for me.” I said.
“Yes. I sing so fabulously that a thousand pigeons would stop pigeoning if I just let out one note. I may not have Shiksappeal, but I can melt your heart with my voice.” She said.
“That good huh?”
“What are you most influenced by?” I asked.
“The snow on the rooftops in winter…true love…secrets.” She said, “I think it’s so funny that there’s so many secrets in this world.”
“Funny? I could think of another word for it.” Said I as I navigated us onto 41st, “So, Chelsea, do you live with your parents?”
“No.” she said, “They live together.”
“I thought you said your old man was buried in the cemetery back there.” I said, glancing at her face that was illuminated by the headlights of a passing car.
“My mom has a new husband.” She said, “I don’t live with them. I don’t wanna talk about them.”
“Yeah…ok fine…fuck your parents.” I grinned.
I navigated the van through a sea of terrible, halfwit drivers in the downtown core until we were finally on track and heading up Georgia toward the mouth of Stanley Park. I took the park exit and parked in the nearest stall. The digital clock on my dashboard told me it was 12:34 am; the night was young.
It wasn’t until we were strolling up the wet pavement toward the mighty Lion’s Gate that I realized how petite Chelsea was. She came to perhaps my shoulder and her leggings revealed through their tautness, nicely shaped legs that complimented greatly her shapely hips and round ass—one her mother’s genes had given her a delightfully ample sum of.
We walked in silence for the most part back through the mouth of the park until we were trudging the long stretch of sidewalk leading up to the summit of the bridge.
“I want to tell you something when we get to the top.” Said Chelsea.
“Why not just tell me now—suspense usually only make things anticlimactic.” I told her.
“At the top.” she insisted and we kept walking.
Indeed, the walk, though brisk, was picturesque even in the dead of night. The cityscape stretching out below us in lights and the suspender cables of the bridge running skyward gave me the feeling that we were all just passing shapes in this world…and how what really matters is how well you walk through the fire.
“Why do you wear that hat?” she asked, “You wear it on a tilt; like a poet…but your poetry is a lie…it’s all fake.” She said, squinting at me mischievously.
“How the hell would you know?”
“I can read your poetry right now…it’s all up your arms and up your neck and in your shirt…” she said as we climbed the grade leading to the summit, “It’s crawling all over you and making you itchy…only you’re too numb to feel the itch…because if you did, you might scratch your skin off.”
“I don’t write poetry.” I told her.
“Conceit is not a virtue.” She said.
“How is that conceited?” I asked.
“I’m not saying you’re conceited…I’m saying that you’re protecting your hat.” She said, giggling.
“I’m not protecting anything Chelsea.” I said, peering off toward the lights of downtown that seemed to flicker with distance.
“My name is really Aurora…I hate it…I hate that name.” she said, “It’s such a stupid name.”
“Isn’t it a town in Texas?”
“The boys called me areola in grade five.”
“That’s actually kind of clever.” I said.
“Texas…Texas Toast…I wonder if I can get some Texas Toast with apple pie later.” Said Aurora.
When we finally reached the summit of the bridge, we took in the panoramic view and it made me feel like a tourist. I was thinking about the men who’d built the Lion’s Gate bridge…the men who built the bridge were all dead now…I was grasping this notion when I heard a clanking.
When I turned I found that Aurora was climbing the hand rail.
“Really?” I asked her as I watched her climb the railing—swing her leg over it easily and sitting atop the painted metal so her legs dangled loosely, “You’re into that kind of thing?” I said, stepping closer.
“That’s what I wanted to tell you Frank. I’m going to do an arm stand reverse somersault in the tuck position…right down into that murky water.”
“No…you’re not.” I assured her.
“Sure I am and I chose you to be here for it. There needs to be a witness…I chose Frank.”
“Because no one will believe that I did it.” Smiled Aurora.
“Ok…enough messing around…come down from there.” I said.
“Ready?” she grinned and there was something terrifically terrifying about it all suddenly…that I was brought up to the summit of the Lion’s Gate to watch a girl plunge to her death.
“Are you on smack?” I asked, moving toward her, “Down…”
“Uh…don’t rush me…I may fall.” she warned, throwing herself off balance purposely so she tilted dangerously close to the free-fall side
“What is this…misandry? Some residual daddy thing?” I demanded.
“You’re not having fun because you’re protecting your hat.”
“You know what.” I said, stepping up beside her and taking off the hat…I threw the new hat that had been a gift over the railing, “Look at it…” I said as Aurora followed it with her eyes as it fell to the water far below, “It’s a long way down, but you might not die. You might just wind up in a body cast for a year. Think about that.” I told her, realizing that I wasn’t bad at suicide negotiation.
Aurora peered off toward the blinking skyline and sighed deeply, banging now in frustration the heels of her boots against the railing, so it rung in a low dull hum.
“Where is Frank? I thought you said I’d meet him tonight.” She whined, “You’re a fucking liar.”
“We’ll talk about it when you come down from there.” I said.
“If I do, will you introduce me to Frank?”
“Sure.” I said.
“I think I could marry a boy like Frank.”
“How are you going to do that if you’re a pale, bloated corpse they fish out of the bay?” I asked.
Aurora made a sour face and all at once threw her legs back over the railing and hopped down onto the pavement. She trudged by me and started on her way back down the incline…toward the darkness of the park and the confines of my van—where it seemed she’d left her sanity.
We didn’t speak much on the way back to the van. Rather she finally sang and I listened as we walked. I listened to her sing American Pie and truthfully, her voice was hauntingly beautiful and I didn’t want her to stop singing.
We walked the rest of the way in silence.
When we were finally back in my van and Aurora was buckling up, I turned to her and spoke.
“You don’t really want to die do you?”
“No.” she confessed, “But I thought Frank would be turned on by such dark romance.” she laughed.
“Oh yeah…what guy doesn’t love a chick who’ll jump from a bridge just for the hell of it?” I said.
“You promised I would meet Frank.”
“Come on.” I chuckled, “Are you for fucking cereal?”
“I’m totally cereal.”
“Why do you want to meet him so bad?” I asked.
“I don’t know…I think I want to sit on his face.” said Aurora.
“Really?” I said, “With or without panties?” I asked, watching her closely—to see if she’d falter.
Without missing a beat she clicked her eyes at me, “First with them on…then with them off.”
“You’ll never meet a woman as interesting as me.” said Aurora
“Oh yeah? You talk the talk as well as you walk the walk?” I asked her.
“I do.” Aurora said, as if there was no other answer.
“Cool.” I said.
“When am I going to meet Frank?” she asked.
“You’re like a dog with a bone.” I said.
“Frank’s bone.” Aurora giggled.
“Careful what you wish for.” I said as we got into my van.
“You’re a prick.” said Aurora crossing her arms once she was back in the passenger seat.
“How so?” I asked as I pulled the van out of the spot in which I’d parked illegally.
“You lied to me. You promised that if I didn’t sit on the ledge…you’d introduce me to Frank…the boy who made me all funny in my chest.”
“You have some good mockery.” I told her.
“I’m not mocking you. Why do you think that?” she asked suddenly, a stone seriousness invading her otherwise easy going gaze, “Tell me why you came out with me tonight.”
“No, please lie to me.” said Aurora rolling her eyes.
“I came out tonight because life isn’t what everyone thinks it is.”
“What does that even mean?” asked Aurora.
“You’ll figure it out in time. Also, I kind of wondered if you were for real crazy or just play crazy—I’m beginning to think you’re for real crazy.”
“I think you’ll only be truly at peace when you let Franky all the way out–become him…” she said.
“Been there.” I said.
“You want the truth?”
“Sure…” said Aurora.
“If I lived life like Frank does—in a month I’d be down in the Nevada desert with picks and shovels, digging in the fucking sand…feverish with wanderlust and looking for the bones of Jimmy Hoffa…or some such crazy shit.” I told her.
“At least it’s not boring.” Aurora purred.
“So, where to?” I asked, slipping the gear into drive.
“Nevada.” she said, “I’m not going to help you dig for Jimmy Hoffa’s remains, but I’ll bring you lemonade if you take me with you.”
“Where the hell were you ten years ago when I needed a woman like you?” I laughed, peering at her sideways as a smile spread across her lips.