*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 by the author. Due to mature subject matter; reader discretion is advised.

Table of contents

  1. Crashers
  2. The Sketch
  3. The Arsonist
  4. Bathroom Attendant
  5. The Dukes of Marpole
  6.  The Dinner Party

Crashers 

I wasn’t a fan of the downtown east side…it smelled like sewage, dead rats and cockroach oil—and it emanated from tenements crawling with disease, bedbugs, fentanyl and death. Though it contained some illustrious architecture; it had been taken over by the destitute and the lost and the city had, in accordance with its general apathy, accommodated this take over—going so far as altering speed limits and adding extra traffic lights; so that passing speeders wouldn’t mow down the walking dead who staggered out into the streets in a drug induced daze.

Still, though he was as white headed as Leslie Neilson, Walters enjoyed hanging around on the downtown east side at sleazy clubs intended for bedwetting millennials who believed that being hip meant fitting in…and where they always seemed to play his favorite guitar rock which reminded him of his youth and much more adventurous days out east…when he’d been far less grey and far less of a prick—or perhaps more of one; it was hard to tell with Walters…in many regards it seemed he sat on the fence.

Tonight he was lurking dangerously close to an incidental black widow, pale as hospital walls and painted up like a demonic sex-fiend whose eyes may have started glowing red and crying tarry zombie blood at any second. In other words; she was right up Walters’ alley. Being the blue-collar shipwreck that he most consistently was—he had little else to lose.

He was leaning in with a heavily sedated look on his hypertensive face; a lizardly calm expression of hopelessly adaptable intoxication and devil-may-care suggestiveness, mixed in with something I’d never understood…something I could never quite place—something that always assured me that there was a dark void in Walters where a soul should have been. It was in these instances Walters brought out not only his perpetual Oscar Wilde quotes, but also his finest artillery.

“Nero, you lazy cunt, I asked you to be here an hour ago.” he snarled at me before turning to the black widow and adding with drunken flippancy, “It’s always self-indulgent bullshit with this guy.”

“Listen…though you look old enough to be my father…you ain’t.” I said.

“That’s not funny.” he grinned.

“Neither is your attire.” I assured, taking note of the wrinkled three-piece suit he’d worn to the office and had been beer-farting in all afternoon.

“If I was your father I’d have taken you fishing more.” grinned Walters.

“My father once told me about an instance when he shot a villager in front of his platoon leader…that was the extent of our father/son bonding.” I said, leaving it at that.

“That’s a great thing to say.” his black widow finally said.

“You not going to cry tarry zombie blood are you Elvira?” I asked her with a grin.

“I give you Frank Nero, ladies and germs.” said Walters drunkenly, raising his glass and fumbling it nervously, spilling all over his shoes—shoes I assumed were permeated with the piss stains of benders past. Indeed, Walters would piss anywhere when he was in the throes of a glorious drunk. He’d once taken a piss in the mail slot of an abandoned building while reciting Yates. He’d subsequently claimed, as the piss dripped over his shoes, that he was channeling Oscar Wilde.

“Is that your real name–Nero?” asked the black widow.

A large, coarse looking mole dotted the very left corner of her lips…it caught the light and gave her the look of a prison camp fraulein; the one in charge of shocking your balls with 450 volts. She leaned in close and spoke her name…Nadine, and I’d expected her breath to reek of sausage and vodka. However, it smelled like her dark beverage; black liquorice  and rum.

As Walters salivated at the pale sight of Nadine’s fleshy presence, I felt my phone buzzing with a few incoming texts. I realized I had only one bar of battery left, so, to preserve it, in case I needed to make an emergency call later; I powered down my trusty black flip-up phone and dropped it into my back pocket—I used the black flip-up just to spite popular demand and also, being entirely unconnected to the grid brought me back to the catacombs of imagination—a sun-lit 1990’s set deck. Joining Walters’ losing game with his evil minx—I ignored her question and asked the object of his alienation if she’d indeed cried for Heath Ledger; a great brain teaser that insinuated everything and nothing at all. With any luck it would get Walters laid finally, in which case he’d refrain, at least for a while, from insisting that I act as his wingman every time I agreed to meet him.

“Why the fuck would I cry for Heath Ledger? I didn’t fucking know him,” said the black widow, brushing a lock of hair from the crack of her powdered tits, “…besides, if I was going to cry for anyone I’d cry for this DJ; he doesn’t have the sense to play any Nine Inch Nails—Reznor is my god.”

“Reznor? Wasn’t he the creep who thought he was Joe Cool when he moved into the hell-house on Cielo?” I asked her.

“What hell house on Cielo?”

“Figures.” I said, clicking my eyes from her mole, back up to her eyes, then back to Walters who was chewing a tequila worm between his front teeth, so its guts and fermented bile turned inside out and ran down into his bottom lip. He raised his brows and chuckled as the black widow leaned in and sucked up the yellowy juice, subsequently washing it down with a stiff swill of her liquorice rum.

We wound up at a booth with the black widow and one of her friends—a short robust woman, also thoroughly pale and powdered, who bared a striking resemblance to Tattoo from Fantasy Island, and I wondered if she realized how much her copious face-powder emphasized the layer of hair on her upper lip. She smiled at me and I remained sullen, staring back at her and brooding over being guilted into participating in such a disaster. After all, when Walters had called, I’d been proofing my epic work about the notorious asylum.

“I was abducted by aliens.” she said.

“How was it?” I asked, wondering why aliens would choose her.

“You sure don’t smile much do you?” she asked.

“What? You want me to sit here smiling to myself?” I asked, looking around the room and noticing that everyone else was smiling to themselves and rubbing each other’s backs tenderly, gently group hugging, cuddle puddling…it was a room full of bunny-soft hand holders—all the while ecstatically posing for photos; as if it was their first time out on the town.

“Bed wetters.” I laughed.

“You have a terrible attitude…don’t you realize this place is the next Studio 54?” said Tattoo, wrinkling up her face.

“Oh yeah…Studio 54…” I laughed, “and I guess that’s Warhol over there on the dance floor?” I chuckled motioning toward a cadaver looking man with frizzy grey hair and spectacles, flailing around on the dance floor like a damp rag-doll.

For this I’d been granted the exclusion I so desired and as the two were discussing with Walters; I felt a hand gently squeeze my shoulder. Turning my head I found Melissa Davenport standing there, clad in a silver alien disco-skirt and a silver bob wig…indeed, she effortlessly channeled Debbie Harry and what’s more—on the daily. She was a Fembot from the east coast that breathed dab smoke and pissed gin and tonic. She believed that tattoos were a contrived aspiration and that men were a mystery; she was right about the tattoos. I’d been in her bedroom and had spent some time staring up at her water stained ceiling tiles.

Though this was a truism, nobody really knew that Melissa and I knew each other…nobody was supposed to; according to her, she had handlers who were very particular about whom she was seen with. Her main handler, though aloof and apparently somewhat syndromed, was indeed a jealous sort of ponce who’d managed to convince everyone in their coterie, including Melissa, that he wasn’t a clout chasing poser. I often joked that I avoided meeting him for fear of punching my fist through his bony rib cage and extracting his beating heart before biting out a bloody chunk of it—for dramatic effect only of course. Needless to say, the joke never went over well with anyone other than Walters.

“I thought you were too cool for places like this.” she said, rubbing my shoulder slightly with some added warmth.

“I never claimed to be a great man. Besides; this was all Walters’ decision—he needs to be part of something.” I shrugged.

“This is so weird—I was just thinking about you before you walked in…I think I know what you did to me…I think you put some voodoo on me.” she said, casting a suspicious gaze.

“Do I look like the kind of guy who’d involve you in something so trivial?” I said, sipping my seltzer.

“I’m serious…you started crashing through my mind…then you were suddenly here.” she said.

“Come on…you don’t have to lie to get me in bed…we’re way past that.”

“No lies officer…you want to hitch a ride to Venus?” she asked moving a palm over the curve of one hip.

“Who did you wear that dress for if you didn’t think I’d be here?” I asked.

“This is what we wear on Venus.” she said, copping a girlish pose.

“Sounds like I should take you over my knee right here and now.” I said.

“Oh my.” said Melissa, covering her mouth dramatically, as if she were ashamed suddenly, then her demeanor changed when she remembered our last exchange, “Your last text was simply crass by the way…I like you better when you’re not being crass.” she said dryly.

“I’m not crass; I’m a realist.” I admitted.

“Like, the ‘realest’?” she said, making quotes with her fingers, the nails of which were silver as well—to match her space-girl dress and silver lipstick. She looked a bit hurt and her silver bob wig made her look even more hurt. It was perhaps the saddest silver bob wig in town.

“In this place? Yeah, probably.” I chuckled.

To this, Melissa had no reply, more an awkward stare off toward the other side of the room where she was perhaps scoping for her handlers; the inane beard posse. When she looked back at me, she spoke and her tone was full of conviction and nurturing. “Sorry, you didn’t deserve that.” she smiled.

“Deserve what?” I asked.

“He deserves what he gets.” slurred Walters, slinging his skinny arm across my shoulders suddenly, his eyes glazed over with reptilian calm, “I’m Joseph Benedict Walters the third, most just call me Walters though.”

“What does that even mean?” giggled Melissa Davenport.

“He’s having a mid-life crisis.” I said, “By the way—this place makes my skin crawl…like termites clawing behind wallpaper.” I admitted.

“You just got here!” exclaimed Melissa, gently wringing my neck with her long playful fingers.

“Forget about it.” I said, waving it off, leaning to her ear so Walters and his black widows couldn’t hear, “You make me crazy…I want to spray paint that on a wall.” I promised close to her earlobe.

“You want to do graffiti for me?” grinned Melissa, “That’s kind of hot.”

“Anyway, I’m going to book.” I said, “You’re welcome to join me.”

“Well, I’m here with friends. I shouldn’t just leave—and besides that; you know we probably shouldn’t leave together.” said Melissa, reminding me of her conditions of secrecy, “Kyle is around here somewhere.”

“Don’t worry; he’s probably in the powder room coiffing his hair.” I chuckled.

“He didn’t like what you said to him last time…in fact he hated it.” Melissa informed.

“But Melissa—he is a load that should have been swallowed—that’s not my fault.” I insisted.

“That’s so crass. Why do you hate him so much? He’s never said anything mean about you.” she said.

“That’s definitely not what I’ve heard…and anyway, it’s not hate, its indifference. Why do you care?”

“Maybe I love him.” she shrugged, squinting her eyes at me.

“Fine, then piss off and go love him.” I said, “Why are you sitting here with me?”

“Seriously?” she asked.

I just looked at her.

“Don’t be like that.” she clarified, “You can love someone as a person without—loving them romantically.”

“Whatever, you killed it by saying that—nice job hot shot.” I said.

“I was only kidding.”

“Funny joke—A plus.”

“Hey, I’m not a bitch…I’m probably the nicest out of my friends.” she assured.

“If I thought you were a bitch we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. Anyway, I need to be out in the open tonight. The sky wants to tell me things…I’m listening for frequencies.” I said.

“When are you leaving for LA?” she demanded, her expression serious now, her long earrings dangling, her silver lips pursed.

“A few days.” I said.

“When will you be coming back?”

“You know I don’t belong here.” I told her.

“There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be.” said Melissa, shrugging with a sad smile.

I didn’t respond…rather I squeezed her hand and left…with the feeling of termites crawling under my flesh. Perhaps I’d never see Melissa again…and I wasn’t sure how I felt about that…certainly not great. At first I’d fended off her nurturing…but had grown to appreciate it, along with her perversions, round wagging ass and her mediocre yet nourishing cooking. After bidding farewell to Walters who drunkenly attempted a fist bump that went wide of its target, I exited the dive bar and headed for my van.

On the way back to my van, I walked by some illustrious architecture, namely an old library that boasted a grand Renaissance lantern dome, propped up by Romanesque pillars—a stately sight indeed. However, the neighborhood was a mess of neglect which lined the splattered streets in droves; schools of tweaking junkies, crack alley hookers…mental defectives lurking in dark corners, mumbling to shadows cast against tenement walls…a few corpses…dealers doing their deals…hip kids from the suburbs who thought the slums had so much soul—I wondered if any of them had any humanity left in them or if they ever had it from the start…then a call from behind caught my attention. It was accompanied by a shrill whistle.

When I turned I found Melissa Davenport striding toward me through the crosswalk, her silver dress sparkling against the passing headlights and her silver bob shimmering under the street lamps. Her knock-off Prada bag was slung over her forearm and when she was close enough, I realized she’d put on a fresh coat of silver lipstick.

“I was texting you and then I even called…and you didn’t even answer. Why are you being such a dick tonight?” she asked.

“I’m conserving power—I turned my phone off.” I told her.

“Yeah right—you were ignoring me weren’t you? Guess you think you’re pretty cool to ignore me.”

“Why would that be cool?” I asked.

“Anyway, sorry about what I said in there…I’m really sorry. I shouldn’t have joked like that. It was mean.”

“Save it—you meant it I’m sure.”

“I don’t make shit up…if I could prove it I would.”

“Yeah? What are you willing to do to prove it?” I asked, grinning at her with curiosity.

“Why should I have to prove anything?” she asked.

“You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.” I said, “That’s the brilliant thing about freedom of choice.”

It was then that I heard a voice from behind. Looking over my shoulder I saw a tall, lanky man hovering in near proximity. He wore a ratty toque from under which scraggly blonde locks of hair poked. His shirt was plaid, his jeans were skinny…his beard was closely cropped. He angled closer, like a wild animal, eyeing me up and down before addressing Melissa.

“Hey Melissa, you look great tonight.” he said with a heavy drunken English accent, “Really fantastic dress.”

“Thanks.” said Melissa, looking down bashfully.

“You going in?” he asked, gesturing to another dive bar outside of which a pack of smokers stood, blowing plumes up toward the street lamps.

“No, I’m not.” she said.

“Sure you don’t want to join us instead? Me mates are inside waiting for me…I was just getting me nicotine fix out here.”

“I’m leaving with Frank. Have you met Frank?” she asked, gesturing toward me. The man turned and nodded absently before continuing.

“Please come in…just one drink.” he begged.

“You want to go in?” she asked me, knowing the answer.

“If you want to go…go.” I told her, “I’m heading out.”

“Sorry, Frank and I have some things to discuss.” she told the skid apologetically.

“You really should leave this rude cunt here and come in with me.” he slurred.

I just grinned and pinched the bridge of my nose—shaking my head at the absurdity of animal kingdom competitiveness.

“That’s so funny is it? Like hardy fucking har?” he asked me directly now. I realized he was carrying a long-board. I assumed he was probably a self-proclaimed purveyor of electronic music as well…another free-loving transient surf-skid whose prick doubtlessly looked like a cheese pizza with everything on it.

“It’s absurd.” I laughed.

“You looking for trouble? Cause you just found it.” he said, turning and staggering toward me.

“Bobby.” urged Melissa, taking hold of his arm, “You’re drunk…you should just go back in.”

“You wanna get rough? I don’t care mate, I’ll go bare knuckles right here and now in the street.” said Bobby.

“Big hero.” I said.

“You know who I am?” he demanded.

“I would postulate: a free-loving transient surf-skid whose prick looks like a cheese pizza with everything on it?” I shrugged.

“I’m Bobby fucking Billington.” he snarled proudly.

“Congrats.” I said.

“Just go Bobby. Please.” said Melissa.

“No fuck that…I’m not afraid of this Yankee Doodle dick-wad.” he snarled hurling his long board which landed on its wheels and rolled out onto the street, and was narrowly missed by a passing sports car. The car came to a screeching halt and the driver was powering up the sidewalk toward us in a matter of seconds.

“What the fuck bra?” the driver demanded…he reeked of body spray and was wearing a white short-sleeve dress shirt two sizes too small…incidental tattoos climbed one arm that was wristed by massive white rubber watch.

“It were a fucking accident…bra.” said Bobby, “So why don’t you just get into your back to the future car and piss off.”

“What was that?” urged the man.

“Just get in your fucking back to the future car and piss off.” slurred Bobby fucking Billington.

“He’s drunk.” apologized Melissa.

“Why you letting your drunk ass friend throw his board out into traffic?” the man demanded.

“He just did it.” assured Melissa.

“Hey, hey…don’t fucking negotiate with this cunt…let him get into his little back to the future car and fuck off.” said Bobby.

The man looked at me finally, flashing his crazy gaze my way, “You just let your boy here throw his board at my car—you think that’s right?”

“Clearly he’s mistaken actually; the back to the future car is far cooler than yours.” I said.

“You think this is a joke asshole?” asked the man.

“Ok, piss off now…we’re bored of you already—away you go.” said Bobby in his whiny voice.

I thought the man would walk away…I thought he’d made his point, however, he was just getting started. In a surreal turn of events, the man in the too-small dress shirt stepped up to Bobby fucking Billington and shoved him so hard Bobby’s lanky frame toppled to the ground easily…somewhere in the fall of dull thuds, a snap rang out and it was followed by a high pitched cry of agony…Bobby had broken something in his drunken fall to the sidewalk. As he rolled in agony clutching his right arm and the man who’d shoved him stood above him threatening to finish the job; I noticed the driver’s make-up veiled girlfriend standing nearby, craning her neck to get a better view. I’d thought we’d come further as humans…however, for all our acquired knowledge; people were still chimps.

When the man noticed his girlfriend standing by, he turned up the volume, issuing a hard kick to the side of Bobby’s head, one which knocked his toque off and tossed him to the right like a sack of potatoes…one which drew a gasp from not only Melissa, but a few of the by standers smoking below a neon sign advertising piss flavored beer.

The man subsequently stormed back to his girlfriend and pulled her close, tongue kissing her deeply and grabbing her skinny ass…he then offered us his middle finger before getting back into his banana colored race car. Completely perplexed, Melissa and I watched them peel away in an ear deafening squeal. Bobby meanwhile tried to push himself up off the ground but the head kick had scrambled his balance…he crumbled back down onto the sidewalk, a broken chimp. A crowd had gathered by then and an old shirtless man with a heart surgery scar running down the center of his chest lit a cigarette and dialed an ambulance; another day in paradise.

“Listen…if you’re coming with me; let’s go…it’s going to get hairy out here in a few minutes.” I said, noticing some zombies staggering slowly toward us.

“We shouldn’t just leave him.” she said.

“He’ll be alright…look he’s got a new friend.” I told her, pointing out a woman tweaking on meth who’d sprawled out on the sidewalk next to Bobby…perhaps to offer moral support.

“We should at least tell his friends.” she insisted.

“I’m sure one of them will come out to piss on the wall and find him lying here.” I said.

“Some might say that’s callous.” Melissa suggested.

“They’re entitled to their opinion—which happens to be wrong.” I shrugged.

“You’ve made it crystal clear to everyone that you don’t give a fuck…but you know the situation…my social life is separate from my private life sometimes.” explained Melissa, “You know how tricky that can be.”

“Is that what we’re really talking about? Listen, this place is probably crawling with the bubonic plague…there are better sights in this town baby.”

“You’re not even trying to understand the situation.”

“Melissa…I’m going to be perfectly frank with you…social media has really done a number on your generation—it’s made you all think that you actually matter…if you were a Hollywood starlet like Jennifer Love Hewitt and there were paparazzi snapping photos of us standing here right now; then I could see the cloak and dagger shit…I could see a bit of incognito—but really—people are too self-involved to care.”

“Who’s Jennifer Love Hewitt?” asked Melissa.

“I’m not done with you ya fucking wanker.” gurgled Bobby from his spot on the sidewalk. I’d nearly forgotten he was still lying there.

“Point is…nobody gives a fuck—they’re too self-obsessed.” I summarized.

“But this is my hood and I’m one that people would gossip about—my friends can be very critical sometimes.” she said.

“They sound uptight.” I confessed.

“Well then I must be too.” she said.

“I didn’t think so.” I told her, “Anyway, I’m gonna take off.”

“Where to?” she asked.

“Wherever you want to go.” I said.

“Can we go to the beach? I know this cool stretch we go to and smoke” said Melissa.

“The beach it is.” I said, clicking the key fob and opening the passenger door for her. After she bid goodbye to Bobby who had seemed to pass out on the sidewalk next to his new companion, she stepped by me and I caught a waft of her in the slight breeze. I could smell it under the alleyway piss odor; perfume, cosmetics, cinnamon gum, fabric softener…flowery incense smoked into her soft skin; a girlish scent.

“That was fucked up. I can’t believe that guy just attacked Bobby like that. We should have gotten his plate number and called the police.” said Melissa.

“There’s always someone tougher, and they’re usually around the next corner.” I said as we weaved in and out of traffic.

“Men and their conflict…you’re all such apes.”

“How do you know that douche bag anyway? Is he your part-time lover or something?”

“Not at all!” exclaimed Melissa, “He’s just some guy who hangs around the bar scene. I told you, I don’t fuck bar-guys. Boy, you really think I’m a sleaze don’t you?”

“I didn’t say that. I just want to know if I need to get a complete blood count.”

“For what?” Melissa said, issuing a chuckle of absurdity as she peered out the window at the passing homeless masses.

“Gonoherpasyphilaids?” I suggested.

“Oh, you’re sooooo funny,” she squinted at me, “besides, I gave you my word in the beginning; I don’t sleep around…so you can shut the front door already.” she said, looking at me slightly hurt, “Don’t you trust me?”

“Too late either way.” I said.

As we drove through traffic Melissa told me about some of her latest projects. She showed me a photo of a painting she’d done…it was tempestuous and stormy and if it had a sound, it would be the hollow blow of wind through a sea shell—I liked it.

“I’m working on this as well.” she said, thumbing to the next photo. It was a giant sized box, perhaps the size of a walk-in closet. In the center of the box was a small white table upon which sat a small white tea cup. The walls, ceiling and floor of the box were plastered with sheets of paper filled with writing. I’d never seen so much writing in one place.

“What’s written on the papers?” I asked.

“Possible explanations…about the significance of the tea cup.” said Melissa.

“Clever. Hey…can I ask you something personal?” I asked.

“Sure.”

“Do you remember where you were when Wham broke up?” I chuckled, holding steady.

Melissa however, without missing a beat, placed a finger on her chin and looked upward to choose from the words floating around her innovative mind, “Um, I feel this question is just a ploy to distract me from the fact that the earth is flat.” she said.

Eventually we arrived at our beach front destination and I pulled the car up into the darkened parking lot. I locked the doors in case of marauders. We had a few puffs before walking across the dark expanse of parking lot. Eventually we reached the water which lapped gently against the rocks. The beach was deserted and the air was salty and indifferent.

“What if I pushed you in?” Melissa joked.

“I’d probably pull you in with me and we’d both come down with flesh eating disease.”

“Oh, let’s be careful then.” she said, linking her arm in mine and leading us along the sea side stretch of beach that was soft under our shoes.

We walked in silence for a long time looking out at the water which was vast and deep and black; a century of secrets buried beneath its murky leagues of salt water. Across the bay, the lights twinkled back at us. A plane blinked up high, moving across the endlessness of night and beyond it, the moon, nearly full and veiled slightly by a passing cloud beamed down against the rippling water; in a few days it would all be a memory—like some soft-focus dream—a flip-side. The serene and empty sky would fill with helicopters and brilliant sun and the sedate pace would be replaced with the bounding noise of Los Angeles, moving at the speed of sound. Likewise, the puttering, gridlocked streets would turn to roaring freeways and the evergreens would turn to swaying palm trees and late night adventures. Melissa too would fade away…and I thought about that; perhaps she didn’t have to.

“It’s a big world out there Melissa.” I told her.

“I know…makes me feel so small.” she said.

“Is that how it makes you feel?” I asked.

“Now and then.”

“Why?”

“It just does.”

We walked for a long time as the tide rolled in, not saying anything. It was like that with Melissa, there could be long periods of silence without discussion…then out of nowhere she might start crying, or laughing, or telling you about arcane folklore…or her masturbation techniques. Tonight it was the moon and she spoke about how its fullness drew in her tides. She was in the middle of a break-down of astrological significance and I was thinking of telling her something important when someone called out to us from the darkness.

“I say, who goes there? Who lurks in the shadows on this fine evening?” I demanded in my best O’toole, “State your purpose.”

“Can you please take our photo?” asked a distant female voice.

As Melissa and I drew closer up the incline, we could make out a couple standing on wooden stairs that led all the way up the cliff side…at the summit of which sprawled a vast estate—one of the harbor side mansions…from which the sound of terrible music and overly enthused minglers emanated.

“What’s the occasion?” asked Melissa.

“It’s our friend’s wedding.” the other woman replied, smiling wide so we could see the outline of her bleached teeth in the darkness.

“Can you take a photo of us here…with the ocean in the background?” asked the man.

“Of course—but it’s so dark you probably won’t see much.” said Melissa, accepting the man’s small camera which was cued and ready to take a shot.

The two stood there, entwined and smiling dumbly for the flash, which froze them for a second in their awkward pose…something they’d post on social media…so they might prove to strangers online that they were living every bit of the dream they possibly could in such a boring city.

“Thanks so much.” said the man, shaking my hand with two of his…cupping my hand in his clammy grip as if we were old comrades.

“No prob dude.” I said, pulling my hand out of his slimy grip—feeling the microbes climbing up my palm.

“We’ll walk back up with you.” he offered.

“Back up?” I said, about to explain to the old chap that indeed, Melissa and I were only passing beach goers and in fact weren’t part of their wedding party, however it was a gentle elbow nudge from Melissa that stowed my words.

“It’s quite the climb—we’re right behind you.” smiled Melissa, interlocking her arm in mine as she stepped forward, leading us up the rickety stairs I was certain weren’t maintained by the city and so probably weren’t maintained at all.

“Really?” I asked her quietly as we descended the steps.

“I just want to see what it’s like.” Melissa assured.

“You’ve never been to a wedding? They’re all the same shit.”

“Well…I’m curious.”

We followed the couple to the top of the stairs and found ourselves in a large sloping backyard in the corner of which stood a grand tent, under which dozens of guests danced their problems away to cheesy uptown junk…sprinkled about the yard were other guests, in small groups, conversing and sipping drinks. As usual, they all looked, dressed and sounded the same—different heads of the same unoriginal entity. I wondered what was it about the town that made originality so unappealing to the general populous.

I was thinking we’d be leaving when Melissa started to pull me toward a makeshift bar at one end of the long patio. A sign on the bar read ‘Host Bar’, below which a long list of beverages prevailed. Melissa scanned it thoughtfully for a few moments before deciding on a Cosmo tall.

“Thank you, it looks delicious.” said Melissa, garnering another glare from the bartender, “This drink is totally watered down.” she said once we’d left the bar and she’d taken a sip.

“I wanna check out the rest of this place—it’s like an ancient ruin.” I said taking Melissa by the arm.

The house was indeed a relic…a feat of restoration and though you could smell the musty old wood, and the creaky floor cast a reflection from the wax, and the grand illustrious rooms were decked in rustic, old-world décor; the kitchen was post-modern and equipped with the latest appliances—it was all chrome, tile and granite—the owners loved the idea of colonial living—as long as they didn’t have to shit in a bucket.

There was a group of people standing around a large table in the middle of the checkered floor, eating pastries from napkins and chuckling among themselves, hugging and rubbing each other’s backs like lemmings…I’d have been happy to leave them to their socializing, but Melissa engaged—introducing the both of us with a casual air as if we were late comers with invitations.

Reluctantly I shook a few hands, contaminating my palm even further, as Melissa nibbled on a small bruschetta, somehow striking up a conversation with a woman approximately her age, whose face was waxy and swollen with filler. It was then that a Jesse Eisenberg clone appeared at Melissa’s side…he stammered over his words meekly, as if begging to apologize for something. His voice was sniveling and there was a whiny urgency in his tone that suggested he was addressing us all in jest—however; it was quite a serious matter.

To summarize his line of questioning, I would say that it was fairly obvious that he had designated himself hallway monitor, interrogating Melissa with passive aggression as he shrugged his lips in response to her answers—answers that I must admit were weak, unfounded and a dead giveaway; we were busted and she knew it and it was now about the divine comedy…the performance art which she was so great at. The only thing keeping us from being ejected immediately from the party was a thin line of social diplomacy that Melissa kept intact with her soap-star smile–two perfectly aligned rows of perfectly white teeth…it always won the people over and she knew how to use it.

“Let’s not be preposterous.” smiled Melissa, innocently and looking striking.

“You’re eating our food and drinking our alcohol and yet you have no idea who’s wedding it is? Ok, I think we have a handle on that fact.” sniveled the Eisenberg doppelganger, “It’s disconcerting how unashamed you are of such a devious ploy.”

“Devious,” grinned Melissa, glancing at me, then back to the Eisenberg clone, “Look, yes, we were passing by, but we didn’t join your party for the food or the watered down drinks—and I can assure you, the bartender is watering the drinks down; we joined your party because we love weddings and what they mean…and also we’re planning our own at the moment.” said Melissa, slipping her arm around my waist and cuddling up like a lithe mermaid, “And besides that—it’s not like we’re in a starving country…there’s plenty to go around. If you want twenty for the drink and the bruschetta, I’ll give it to you.” said Melissa, now reaching down into her knock off Prada bag.

“Money isn’t the issue; I can assure you of that.”

“Oh, you’re getting married too? How wonderful!” exclaimed the woman with the filler who Melissa had been chatting with.

“Yes,” Melissa lied, “we’ve been asking everyone about their weddings for months…we want ours to be extra-special.” she nodded enthusiastically…the little thespian.

“Is that true?” asked the Eisenberg doppelganger, clicking his beady eyes toward me, “You guys are planning a wedding?”

“Well…she’s doing most of it.” I lied, hating the lie, but deciding it was a white lie and worth avoiding a boring scene. I wondered however, why Melissa had chosen that particular lie when there were so many better ones to choose from. Perhaps her lie was Freudian and not just a decoy smoke-screen…perhaps she fantasized about planning a wedding with me—taking a plunge…doing what everyone else did so naturally…retiring to a complacent life of child rearing, alcoholism and suburban spouse swapping; the perfect fortress in which to endure the madness aging brings about.

“You’re trespassing.” the man pointed out, creepily grinning and nodding now at me—the silent partner in this crime of morality.

“I didn’t see a no-trespassing sign anywhere.” I shrugged.

“I thought the idea of a wedding party was the more the merrier.” stated Melissa, “What’s your deal?”

“I’m the groom…that’s my deal…it’s my wedding day and I don’t appreciate it being crashed.” he demanded.

“Hang on,” said Melissa very seriously, “you’re saying that we’ve crashed your celebration of love?” she added, suddenly frowning dramatically, as if she’d been punctured and the air was escaping, “If we have, I’m deeply sorry…I don’t think I could live with myself if I ruined your special day.”

At this I immediately chuckled, for it was just like Melissa to add a truly sick shade of sarcasm to break up the monotony…it was her particular brand of comedic realism that I found so comforting. I soon realized Melissa wasn’t kidding however—there was a fine line in her and it often got finer under social scrutiny. Along with the others in the post-modern kitchen, Melissa held me in a sanctimonious stare as if demanding what the bloody screaming fuck was so hilarious; she hadn’t been fucking with the old boy evidently…it hadn’t been a sarcastic remark…indeed, she’d been broken by a sudden wash of her own guilt.

“I see this is amusing to you.” the Eisenberg look-a-like said my way, throwing me a sniveling glance…sizing me up just in case.

“I thought she was being sarcastic.” I shrugged.

“I’m not being sarcastic.” Melissa said, tears welling in the dip of her bottom lids.

“For real?” I asked, suspended in that nether-region between surprise and laughter, nearly expecting Melissa to break out laughing…however, she didn’t.

“It won’t be so funny when I call the police on you for trespassing.” the man said, producing his gold plated, wafer thin phone.

“Anthony…let’s not get carried away.” said the woman who Melissa had been chatting with.

“Look, the truth is, a couple down on the beach asked us to take their photo—then invited us up…we didn’t realize it was a private event.” said Melissa, “It seemed casual.”

“It seemed casual…” said the man, studying the words with a finger rested against his chin, “You know what that sounds like? It sounds like a lie.”

“The truth is often more absurd than a lie.” shrugged Melissa.

A voice suddenly rang out over top of all of us…a robust voice. The man to which it belonged hadn’t raised his voice; rather he’d projected it, not unlike a stage actor…from the solar plexus. He was upon us a moment later, extending his hand to first Melissa, then I. He offered his name, which was Keaton and his relevance second—he was, beyond being the owner of the old estate, the father of the bride, who was just then entering the kitchen, flanked by two of her bridesmaids who were covered in incidental tattoos and smudged make-up. The bride was similar in appearance, only she was swaddled in a flowing white gown that was scuffed around the bottom from dragging on the floor all evening…she held her dress bunched above her knees and her feet were bare—a diamond anklet sparkled back at me when she pivoted.

“Dad, the ice sculpture leaked all over the floor—those catering people are totally retarded…they didn’t bother to put the drain hose in a bucket…there wasn’t even a bucket under the table. Now there’s a huge fucking puddle.” she whined, broadsiding her brand new husband’s point—a prelude to their future together no doubt, I thought, taking note of the groom’s hot headed flush that turned his cheeks red as he bit on his tongue.

“Water dries my dear…don’t look so sullen.” said her father.

“I don’t want someone to slip and sue us dad.”

“We were in the middle of something here.” said Anthony, the groom, daring to defy his wife…Anthony, the new cuckold husband who had a lifetime of ulcers, verbal whippings and ball breakings ahead of him.

“The middle of what?” demanded his new wife, already irritated with his sniveling.

“These two are crashers baby…they’ve officially crashed our wedding.” he professed.

“Really? Cool. Me and these bad-ass bitches at my side crashed a wedding last year in Cabo…what a night that was.” said the bride with an enthusiastic smile which her bridesmaids shared—a dirty secret among them, the fine details of which Anthony would never fully know.

“Well, we’re not proper crashers because we got an invite from a couple on the beach whose photo we took…they asked us to come up for a drink.” clarified Melissa, “I’m Melissa by the way…you have a lovely home.”

“I’m Wendy.” said the bride, smiling and extending her hand, her glassy drunken gaze focusing in hard.

“Charmed.” said Melissa, “I love your dress.”

“Really? This isn’t happening.” whined the groom.

“Thanks…you have no idea how much puking I went through last month to fit into it tonight.” cackled Wendy, shushing her husband with a powerful finger; one that he’d eventually come to loathe if he didn’t already…though he’d probably appreciated it at first, when she’d used it to massage his prostate.

In the end, we achieved what most of the guests probably hadn’t; an official verbal invite from the bride herself, who had with one shushing finger quashed her husband’s protest in a rather humiliating fashion—rather than side with him, she’d sided with crashers. And it came to pass in fact that not only were Melissa Davenport and I granted access to the lavish, boring-as-fuck wedding party; we were made to feel at home which though it meant little to me—it meant the world to Melissa who was beside herself…touched all the way down to the core of her vulnerable heart, that she, a crasher, was taken in and accepted by the very group of folks she’d initially attempted to punk.

“Hey, do you want to dance with me?” she asked after a few drinks.

“Wrong verb.” I said gazing into her deep blue eyes. She grinned and climbed onto my lap; straddling me as she enveloped my shoulders with her arms…she got in real close and sank her lips against mine.

“Why don’t we go somewhere private?” I asked.

“Why…” she demanded, “don’t you like kissing me?”

“Of course, but why in front of everyone?” I inquired, “Who are you showing off for?”

“You…” she said, leaning in again, “We’ll have plenty of time to get private later…I want to dance right now.” she said.

Boring.”

“Why don’t you ever dance?” she pouted.

“Because it’s ridiculous baby.” I laughed, “But you go ahead…I love watching your perfect ass jiggle.”

“Fine, but I want to change it up a bit…I’ll be right back.” she said, slinging her knock-off Prada bag over her shoulder as she backed away to the music, pointing at me with both fingers and pulling both triggers.

I watched her round ass wag away across the vast patio and back into the house. Change what up? I wondered and glanced at the others sitting at my table. Three clones sat across from me…they all had the same ultra-barbered, side-part hairdo…they wore matching dress shirts that varied only slightly in hue…their sleeves were rolled up exactly to the elbow in order to display their contrived tattoos and they were playfully arguing about who had copulated first with a woman they’d all apparently been seeing simultaneously—glee-drunk, they scrolled through their phones, searching for a confirmation message that might prove their conquests with a time stamp; a neck and neck race with no real prize. This went on for a while until their dates returned. Like the men, the women were carbon copies…baring no individual characteristics…the six of them sat around me, texting on their phones in silence as the party went on around us.

I’d sat there for a while, smoking a cigarillo and sipping a glass of seltzer, wondering how it was possible that their evidently mundane existence didn’t drive them to suicide or at least madness, which would at least make them slightly more interesting. I wondered what it was like for them…I wondered what life might be like without creative obsession and the incessant compulsion to sail up the river toward the end of the night—what existence would be like without the accompanying madness, disconcerting epiphanies and bleak truths that are often revealed when hacking through uncharted jungles of prose…a realm perhaps most men are better off never venturing too far into. Perhaps it was what I despised most about clones; that they didn’t risk going mad in the name of a seemingly useless contribution to a dying craft…that they got away with being oblivious, dull and happy…that they didn’t have to be sick in the head for the rest of their lives.

After a while I felt two hands come down hard on my shoulders. Looking up I found Melissa’s alter ego…she was no longer space girl Melissa…she was downtown Melissa…she’d lost the silver bob and she’d brushed down her blonde hair so it hung over one eye…she’d painted a star over her other eye with silver lipstick and had wrapped a studded band around her slender neck…she’d swapped her silver space-girl skirt for a snug-fitting Cramps t-shirt and tight black, shiny leggings. She’d changed her lipstick too…she now wore it thick and red as horror film blood; chameleon girl. I had to hand it to Melissa though…she knew how to sex it up.

As the other women at the table eyeballed Melissa as if she were riff-raff, she got in my lap again and leaned in for another kiss that tasted of Cosmo tall and her juicy fruit. When she took a suggestive drag from my cigarillo, looking down at me with her icy blues as she ran her blood red lips over the filter a few times; I realized I’d miss her freaky ways in a few days…when I drove off down the I-5 without her. It was my grand send off and I watched her smoke rings move upward into the calm night, turning inside out as they climbed toward the moon.

As I admired the moon, a familiar intro came over the speakers—a thoroughly out of place, yet perfectly timed selection of music. David Cassidy’s version of ‘Cherish’ piped in lightly, swelling warmly, soaked hauntingly in reverb and casting a Technicolor brush stroke that burst like sunshine through trees. I looked up at Melissa who was gazing down at me with a coy grin.

“I requested it for you…surprise.” she said.

“Ah, I love this version…it’s better than the original.”

“I know. By the way, the DJ was like, I’ll play it, but it’s going to clear the dance floor. As if there’s some stigma about David Cassidy.” said Melissa from the east coast.

“This is some real shit.” I said and it was true; the greatest masterminds in music had put some of those classic songs together back in 1970s Hollywood—when music arrangement still meant something…top songwriters, top producers…top players—the wrecking crew…the Ron Hicklin Singers. In time the mystical production and high caliber compositions would prove to be much bigger than David Cassidy’s fleeting teen idol persona.

I had to hand it to her—Melissa really knew how to create a moment. I never got lost in moments…but just then, with Melissa in my lap and Cassidy’s stainless version of Cherish chiming in the background; the present fell away, transporting us into an analog era…a warm summer lane in 1970’s Hollywood…a magical era that was beautifully haunted by the ever-present majestic. For a moment, I felt it all just as it had been, I knew what it was to experience the long dead tides of 1970’s collective consciousness—for a moment it rushed upon me and I knew; I knew that they got something that we didn’t.

I embraced the moment, absorbing what they felt and the faded image that was left…knowing the moment would dissipate as all moments did…and when it did and the DJ commenced his tirade of uptown junk and Melissa lost herself on the dance floor, I got up and headed across the vast sloping backyard, finding the rickety wooden staircase that led back down to the beach, across which I walked until I reached my van in the abandoned parking lot. Before getting into my van, I turned and hurled my trusty black flip-up phone into the bay, attempting to skip it across the water. It didn’t skip however…it sank immediately with a plunking splash—in a few hundred years it would be an archaeological find.

Goodbye would have killed the magic…there was no follow up for the perfect glance Melissa had offered—and I knew that if I wanted it to remain something in this world that was truly poetic; I had to vacate…you see the moment far outweighed the consequences of walking out. There was always a possibility, or rather a likelihood, of tarnishing such nostalgic alchemy by staying too long…it was, in fact, the perfect ending to a perfectly bizarre chapter—and I’d be leaving the next morning.

The Sketch

A few years ago I received a package in the mail. I signed for it even though I hadn’t been expecting it and had no idea who it was from—for all I knew it was hate mail containing a strange and curious powder, or perhaps black market body parts sent to the wrong address. In 2016 it could have been anything—the world had gone mad. I left the package sitting in my storage locker for a few weeks until my cohort Brice visited one afternoon…indeed, Brice was a jovial-go-lucky sort of chap with the disposition of Odie; the famed cartoon pooch.

In passing I mentioned the package…as I suspected he opened the package without hesitation…and produced from within the thin box, a sketch that was vaguely, distantly familiar. Taking the sketch in hand, I studied it, the fine contours and shading that, though looking haphazard and quickly done, was indeed drawn by a skilled hand with great attention to proportion and perspective. There was a neatly penned note with the sketch which read as follows:

Frank

Hoping you remember our immortalized pear…and my name

All the best,

Tess

I remembered all at once…and though I’d never quite forgotten it, the memory had been stored somewhere down a long hallway in my mind—a hallway lined with doors…the keys to many of which, I’d lost—but not that particular door. The sketch unlocked it easily and the recollection came back to me in a wash of auburn shades and a ghostly whisper from the mid 1990’s.

If I’m to tell the story however dear reader, I must take us back twenty years…to 1996—a long lost era. Bill Clinton had been reelected, the Yankees had won the World Series after an 18 year slump, Trainspotting had just been released in theaters and Counting Crows’ Long December was all over the radio and record stores…people still paid for music and films in 1996 and you didn’t have a cell phone unless you were a drug dealer or a real estate agent; a phone wasn’t yet a proverbial umbilical cord—rather it was another home appliance…one which you made and took calls through.

In 1996, I’d been living in the attic of my mom’s house, enjoying being freshly single and freshly graduated…I’d spent that summer writing songs, working for a film company in their locations department and alley-catting the east side of town with my thoroughly botched cohort Paul Stanfield.

Just a bit about Stanfield before I begin however…Stanfield you could say had acquired somewhat of a reputation in Hillcrest Village. He was a cunning concoction of Richard Lewis, Richard Belzer and perhaps a bit of the old Hunter S. His appetite for substances was nearly as insatiable as his eagerness to publicly shred anyone who got in his way—friend, foe or new acquaintance…he had a talent when it came to being able to detect and rapidly articulate a person’s weaknesses and sore spots into jugular cutting insults…but it wasn’t the insults as much as it was the delivery—his delivery was key. His parents were both psychiatrists and they’d spent a large portion of their lives analyzing Stanfield in the Victorian fortress they’d built on the posh east side—one which Stanfield saw as a cage with golden bars—one though he couldn’t quite live without, he definitely resented.

His parents weren’t unlike most others in Hillcrest Village…they sat on boards and committees, hosted fund raisers, they pretended to care about the tribulations of kids growing up in the rough inner city district—kids like me. They wanted so badly to be involved with and give something back to the community about which they both so evidently cared—which was indeed a mystery to Paul and I because as we saw it; the community was rife with white collar alcoholism, spousal infidelity and parental tyranny—it was no wonder why teen drug addiction was so prevalent in Hillcrest.

In any case, the old chap took great pride in ransacking not only the family name, but also the family compound on weekends when his parents were out of town on one social mission or another. Stories of his parties and accompanying antics were infamous in Hillcrest Village and shrouded in both scandal and intrigue. Like headline news, word of Stanfield’s wild parties spread like bulletins through social circles he had no interest in belonging to but somehow was part of by default. The stories were often embellished, but usually were not…like the time Lindsay Halstead had gotten herself stuck in Stanfield’s third floor bathroom and after repeated failed attempts to pick the faulty lock, Stanfield had retrieved his father’s pistol and shot out the door knob and subsequently kicked the door in like an episode of Hunter…or the time he’d challenged Tanya Turnbull and Elizabeth Stinson—two rough and tumbles from South Valley University’s women’s wrestling team—to a 2-on-one wrestling match and subsequently won by way of his sheer retard-strength and pride based determination–the spectacle had unfolded out on his front lawn before dozens of drunken spectators and was subsequently broken up by the local federalies. Stories like these made Stanfield infamous and it was widely said about Stanfield that one either sincerely liked him, or sincerely hated him…most were the latter.

To complicate his existence, Stanfield had been dating Savannah Ruben for 3 years by that point and was usually in a tumult over one odd or end concerning her dark madness and crazy-girl antics that never failed to slice him deep and with an exacting precision. Though he couldn’t seem to live without her, Stanfield resented her on levels even he couldn’t quite comprehend. Indeed, Savannah was a Mazzy Star doppelganger and a near complete shut-in who kept mainly to herself in the confines of her dorm room or study hall—a prerequisite for reaching her academic goal of becoming an Aeronautics engineer. When she wasn’t studying she was drinking home brewed absinthe, swallowing ecstasy tablets and smoking copious amounts of hash, which irritated Stanfield, for the substances she abused reduced her libido to trace levels. Strangely however, her reduced libido only applied to Stanfield specifically.

Beyond having attempted coitus with every one of Stanfield’s closest friends, myself included; Savannah had managed to carry on a number of heavily medicated affairs around town with various suitors of varying degrees of douchery…the news of which made its way like wildfire across the various social coteries of Hillcrest village—essentially making a mockery of not only Stanfield, but his relationship with Savannah as well. Upon hearing of her most recent heavily medicated affair, Stanfield had merely sunk his face into his palms…shook his head and implored the universe to answer a question that had plagued him since day one; why did Savannah always have to be such a blithering drunk-ass psycho?

This was Stanfield, and on any given night, he would parade into your world wielding a bicycle chain and a lot of postmodern performance art. On the night in question, Stanfield insisted I meet him alone at Prime Ribs—the local hangout. It was my understanding that he didn’t wish me to be accompanied by any of the usual misfits I frequently bonded with. I’d obliged and after band rehearsal, I’d driven my mother’s plush interior Grand Marquis IV down to PR. I’d rolled into a spot near the entrance and sat in the parking lot for a while, smoking the good grade shit and chatting at my window with Patty Valens…who we all called Patty Hearst because of her remarkable resemblance and the militant garb she perpetually wore to match her militant social views.

She’d been telling me about how tired she was of being socially wronged, gossiped about and generally disrespected in Hillcrest Village when Stanfield had pulled up. When he climbed up out of his father’s Mercedes, I saw he was pressed and dapper looking somehow—a grand departure from his signature plaid shirt, boxy torn jeans and checkered Vans. On this night he was clad in a turtle neck sweater crested with a designer monogram, beige golf pants that were two sizes too tight and blue and white yacht shoes; Patty and I, knowing Stanfield’s regular attire, had to laugh.

“Why are you dressed like Ted fucking Bundy dude?” inquired Patty.

To this Stanfield just smiled his wide Jabba-esque smile.

“What’s this chick’s sob story?” he chuckled, gesturing to Patty with his hand.

“It’s Patty, dickwad—not chick. Chick is a baby chicken…do I look like a baby chicken?”

“Lil bit…but listen…enough chit-chat.” said Stanfield, making a talking mouth with his hand, before addressing me, “Franky, we gotta talk man…now.” he demanded.

“Ok, talk.” I said.

“This is Area 51 shit though man…top secret.” said Stanfield glancing at Patty who just stood there in her Desert Storm fatigues and her Patty Hearst beret, chewing her gum and snarling back at him.

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” asked Patty.

“It means that this is top secret—and you don’t have that level of clearance…truth sells, but who’s buying.” Stanfield said to Patty who sneered at him with disgust before backing away and sitting on a nearby curb, shaking her head and lighting a cigarette; once again having been socially wronged and disrespected in Hillcrest Village.

“What a psycho.” said Stanfield, shaking his head with a grin of disbelief.

“Patty’s alright.” I said.

“Yeah you fucking cretin…hear that? I’m alright.” spat Patty toward Stanfield.

“You really wound her up.” I laughed.

“Don’t worry, another Quaalude and she’ll love me again.” said Stanfield, waving her off.

“So what is it with you and your secrets? You’re always plotting some shit aren’t you Stanfield?” I said as I got out of the Grand Marquis.

“Listen, you’re going to have to be my wing man tonight.” said Stanfield—getting straight to the business at hand.

“You need more than a wing man dude.” I chuckled.

“Listen; remember that Tess chick I was telling you about—the one who wears the cleavage shirts—the one with the blonde friend who looks like Sharon Stone?”

“No.” I said trying to recall…the 90’s were full of clever cleavage shirts and women who tried their best to emulate Sharon Stone.

“I gave her my number a couple months ago and I told her how badly I wanted her friend—who is also named Tess. I begged her to get her friend to meet me…I begged, but didn’t hear back—I figured that was that. Can you believe she finally called me tonight and Tess number 2 finally agreed to come out with me…I can’t afford to fuck this up—I broke it off with Savannah a few nights ago and then I got the call from Tess 1—it’s like fate or something.” said Stanfield, “So will you help me out here or what?”

“You broke it off with Savannah? That’s the smartest idea you’ve had in ages. That shit you got going with Savannah is a biohazard.” I said, “It’s high time you guys ended that circus. But just for the record, I doubt we have any women in this town who look like Sharon Stone.”

“Eye of the beholder.” he shrugged.

“And what does her friend Tess 1 look like?” I asked.

“Tess 1, who would be your Tess, she looks a lot like Madchen Amick actually.” insisted Stanfield.

“Now I know you’re full of shit.” I laughed.

“I tell the truth…even when I lie.” Stanfield assured,

“I don’t know about this…your plays are disorganized and prone to failure…last time we tried this it was a disaster.” I said, recalling the night in question.

“Come on—don’t be a dick about this…I need your help…she won’t come along unless I bring a friend.” said Stanfield, running a finger under the neck of his turtle sweater that was too tight—his father’s no doubt.

“Hey man…is it my fault she’s a princess?” I said.

“Hey…don’t talk about her that way.” Stanfield chuckled, shooting me a sick mocking grin and we both laughed.

“I’m telling you, if my date, Tess 1, shows up looking like Roman fucking Polanski with a wig on, I’m going to walk…make no mistake about it—I will walk.” I assured.

“Franky…when are you going to learn never to doubt me? It won’t be like last time…these are beautiful babes. Plus, they’re new age—they wear crystals between their cleavages…they’re into eastern philosophies and metaphysical type shit—like tarot cards and those little colored rocks; they’re open minded man and probably game for anything dude.”

“If you say so.” I laughed.

“Look, she didn’t want to come out with me alone the first time.” Stanfield said with a wince.

“Well…showing up dressed like Ted fucking Bundy isn’t going to help—did you raid your old man’s wardrobe?” I chuckled and this one was a long, deep chuckle…Stanfield had that coming to him. Patty who’d been listening intently from her perch on the parking-lot curb, blew out a chuckle through a plume of smoke.

It was then that the Tess’s arrived in a cab. Indeed both one and two were hitting on all 8 cylinders; cleavage shirts of course—as Stanfield had described…beyond that however, they’d polished themselves up with make-up, nail polish, perfume and hair tricks—the girl arts…a beautiful lie we loved being told. In any case, they looked like pretty little dolls who didn’t eat, poop or pee and Stanfield was at a loss for words immediately, he’d clammed up momentarily—a first—you see dear reader, Stanfield was more comfortable and skilled when it came to debating—or rather arguing; pleasant conversation only made him skittish.

As pleasantries and introductions went around and I was thinking to myself that Tess 1, though certainly lovely, looked nothing like Madchen Amick; Patty rose from her perch on the curb and sauntered over, eyeing the Tess’s up and down with a killer grin, “Well, well, well…” said Patty in an exhale of smoke, “…if it isn’t the Tickle sisters, up close and personal.”

“Tickle?” asked Tess 2, pausing for a moment to connect the dots, “Fuck you, you little Gremlin.” she snapped when the wheels clicked, in retort to which Patty only grinned and flicked her lit cigarette onto the asphalt so a small cloud of orange sparks erupted near the Tess’s feet.

“Have fun.” Patty said to me before leaving us standing there in the calm breeze.

Because Prime Ribs was full beyond seating capacity we opted to go somewhere a little more intimate and perhaps dimly lit. As we coasted along Irving Road, taking the dips and swells in the luxuriously plush smoothness of the Grand Marquis, listening to the Fire Walk With Me soundtrack on cassette—I lit one up and passed it to Stanfield who puffed it very rapidly and with a fair amount of spit so it’s end became wet and visibly slobbery. When he handed it back to me, I refused with an emphatic hand gesture…not wishing to infect myself with whatever parasites and strains he was harboring. He gave me a look and passed it into the back seat to the girls. Tess 1 declined on the merit of the spit and 2 declined on the merit of her virtue, reciting what sounded like a public service announcement stipulating the long term effects brought on by smoking; strike one for Stanfield. We drove on in silence, as the Fire Walk with Me cassette played on the stereo…creating some intricate blends that made me imagine we were all residing in a Twin Peaks dream montage. After a while Stanfield turned the music down and turned around in his seat to face his date.

“This music is depressing the hell out of me. Where do you guys want to eat?” he asked.

“We’re vegan.” said Tess 2.

“Vegan?” grinned Stanfield, “What does that mean?”

“That music was so dreamy and by the way—what’s your problem with vegans?” asked Tess 1.

“No problem.” assured Stanfield.

“Then why are you mocking us?”

“Uhhh,” laughed Stanfield, as if 1 was being preposterous, “I didn’t realize that I was.”

“You know…you know what you do.” insisted Tess #2.

“Do I really though?” Stanfield chuckled, looking more like Richard Lewis now, punctuating his guffaw with a who-me? shrug.

“I think you do. In fact I know you do. You think you’re so clever…but I see through your cellophane innocence. I think you have little daggers in your socks and you like to throw them at people when you fork your tongue.” said 2, thoughtfully, as if she’d just discovered something disappointing about Stanfield.

“Daggers in my socks? Fork my tongue?” laughed Stanfield, “What the fuck?”

“You have little daggers in your socks.” assured Tess 2.

“Do you hear this nonsense? Do I have little daggers in my socks Franky?” Stanfield asked me as I weaved in and out of traffic.

“Your socks are probably too crusty.” I chuckled, at which Tess 1 let out a sudden laugh…elated somehow by this prospect.

“What?” she exclaimed in disbelief.

“That was one sock years ago dude.” said Stanfield, waving it off.

“Pardon me?” demanded Tess 2.

“Ah, my ex…Savannah…she got all bent out of shape once because she found a crusty sock beside my bed—told the entire fucking city about it…did I care?” shrugged Stanfield, “Truth sells, but who’s buying?”

“That’s fucking gross.” said Tess number 2.

“Hey that’s not the worst of it; after that she demanded I dispose of my mags and give up my favorite hobby altogether…she said it only proved that I wasn’t attracted to her…can you fucking believe that shit?” exclaimed Stanfield.

“You’re really a ghastly person to date aren’t you?” said Tess 2.

“Can we talk about something else?” Stanfield said.

“No this is interesting.” piped in Tess 1, “Why did you use a sock? I don’t get it.” she asked, breaking out in laughter again.

“That information will be given on a need-to-know basis.” Stanfield whined, baring uncanny resemblance to Richard Lewis.

“I agree with Paul…can’t we talk about something else?” said Tess 2 uncomfortably from the back seat, silently processing the guy who’d begged for her company two months before.

Stanfield found another cassette, one we could all appreciate—Aimee Mann ‘I’m With Stupid’… which went nicely with the momentum of our high times ride…the windows were open, the breeze was hopeful, the night was young and we owned the world—it was the 90’s and though we didn’t know that subsequent generations Y and Z would destroy the underground empire we’d built in plain sight—we somehow knew it wouldn’t last forever.

By the time we arrived at Nell’s…the only strictly vegan restaurant in town, Stanfield and Tess 2 were into it again. It seemed Stanfield had walked headlong into another social blunder…a moral conundrum; you see dear reader, Tess 2 had made the mistake of mentioning that she’d not only read the Rubicon Prophecy but she’d also made it the focal point of her existence to base the most minute nuances of her life upon it’s teachings.

Stanfield however, argued that the book was a crash and burn—a complete and total falsity founded on ‘lies’ and ‘cosmic bullshittery’…and was generally a pacifier for gullible halfwits—though he’d never read it. To Stanfield, his pride far outweighed his prospects of getting laid…for getting laid was fleeting, while pride and hardline ethics defined a man.

“For four?” asked the hostess as she approached us.

“Four yes.” said Stanfield, trying to unroll his Ted Bundy turtleneck.

“Ok, there’s a short wait-list though.” said the hostess.

“Really, at this joint? But you guys serve like, bird food and sawdust here. How can there be a waiting list?” said Stanfield.

“Its actually fine vegan cuisine sir.” corrected the hostess with a wide purposely embellished smile, “If you give me your name, I’ll put you down for four.”

“Ok…name is Duncan…let me spell the last name: M-c-C-o-c-k-i-n-e-r.” said Stanfield with a straight face, “Can you please read that back to make sure you’ve got it?”

“Sure…Duncan McCockiner?” read the hostess, completely oblivious.

Tess 1 nearly died, keeling over with laughter and I closed my eyes trying to hold back a chuckle of sheer absurdity…Stanfield’s wheels were always spinning. Tess 2 on the other hand either didn’t catch it all or simply ignored it and stood there, inquiring with the hostess how long approximately the wait would be.

“Could be 20 minutes.” she said, offering her best guess.

As we stood in the lobby of Nell’s waiting for a table to free up, Stanfield and Tess 2 continued their riveting debate, gaining volume and theatrical appeal.

“It’s ludicrous…you realize that don’t you?” asked Stanfield, “And this astrology shit you believe in…it’s also a farce. Really, how does one fit a million different personality types into 12 fucking zodiac signs?”

“It makes perfect sense…we’re over 90 percent water and so the specific alignment of the planets at the moment we’re conceived is imperative—it’s all about gravitational pull forming our individual brain chemistries. Through meditation and yoga I’ve developed a sixth sense which tells me the details of someone’s astrological chart. I can usually tell a person’s zodiac sign within ten minutes of talking to them.”

“Yeah, so what’s mine?” asked Stanfield…putting Tess 2 to the test.

“I would say you’re cunning yet forthright…you’re sincerity is the quickest way for you to deliver your deceptiveness. Your rudeness and obnoxiousness are derived from a deep insecurity about your secret shortcomings. Yet you’re strangely sharp and your vibration suggests you process information in the way a computer can; I’d say you’re an Aquarius man—albeit one who’s been botched by faulty upbringing and a lack of real connection with your male-femininity.”

“Sad…” said Stanfield, shaking his head with a coy grin, “I’m a Sagittarius by the way.”

“You’re lying.” insisted Tess 2, “Let me see your driver’s license.”

Stanfield obliged, handing his license to Tess, who examined it back and front, squinting at the tiny lettering to make absolutely certain that it wasn’t a forgery, “I was going to say Sagittarius at first, but you lack the devil-may-care cheer of a true Sagittarius.”

“A true Sagittarius…listen to this bullshittery.” Stanfield playfully scoffed, “Did you read that in your Rubicon?” he asked, for good measure.

“How would you know anything about the Rubicon? Firstly you didn’t read it…secondly I’m fairly certain that someone like you couldn’t even fully comprehend the Rubicon Prophecy even if you did read it.”

“Sad.” Stanfield chuckled uncontrollably now, nearly foaming at the mouth with hilarity.

“Well…I guess I can’t blame you for subscribing to such closed-mindedness…after all, you’re at most a level 4.”

“A level 4? What does that even mean?” demanded Stanfield, out of breath with laughter.

“According to the Rubicon Prophecy, someone who subscribes to your base level of thinking is at best a level 4.” said Tess, in a delicate, news breaking tone laced with the slightest bit of sanctimonious apology.

“And what level are you?” inquired Stanfield, straightening up a bit now that his fit of laughter was subsiding.

“I’ve taken the required tests and I’ve figured out that I’m a level 77.” informed Tess 2.

It was nearly too much for the old chap, my cohort Stanfield who was treading a fine line just then…and when he’d emerged from another fit of hilarity, he turned fully now to Tess as if addressing her intimately.

“How can you be so pretty, yet such a flake?” inquired Stanfield.

“You’re an asshole.” snapped Tess 2.

“Oh and the guy who wrote the Rubicon…I suppose he’s a real fucking prince.” said Stanfield.

“Orson Theodor James is a brilliant man, who is so far beyond you intellectually, spiritually, emotionally…you couldn’t even begin to comprehend his philosophy.” assured Tess 2.

“He’s a salad tosser.” said Stanfield.

“He’s brilliant.” insisted Tess 2.

“Brilliant at tossing salads, sure.” laughed Stanfield.

“Sorry guys but you need to leave.” said the hostess with an apologetic wince from behind her wooden podium.

“Why?” demanded Stanfield.

“Salad tossing?” said the hostess, her face etched with absurdity, “You think that’s appropriate to say at a restaurant.”

“Listen lady, I can say salad tossing all night long if I want to and you can’t do shit about it…salad tossing, salad tossing, salad tossing, salad tossing.” exclaimed Stanfield as the hostess took a surprising stand and came around from the podium, stepping up to him and simultaneously pointing toward the door, matching Stanfield’s unwavering loop with her own, “You’re gone, you’re done…you’re gone, you’re done.”

The two went on shouting over each other for a while, until Stanfield asked to speak with the manager.

“He’s right over there.” said the hostess gesturing to an old man who was obliviously conversing with a table of guests in the far corner of the restaurant. The old man was dressed like Liberace, clad in a shiny vest and frilly collar and cuffs. I stood there with Tess 1 & 2 as Stanfield strode across a threshold of hardwood floor, adjusting his sack in the beige Ted Bundy slacks that were a couple sizes too tight.

“Are you the manager?” asked Stanfield when he reached the man.

“I certainly am son.”

“Let me ask you something sir: have you ever tossed a salad?” Stanfield asked.

“But of course.” said the manager, slightly perplexed by the question, “It’s our specialty here at Nell’s.”

“I’m leaving.” uttered Tess 2, turning and storming out, pushing her way through the lobby doors and out into the night. Noticing this, Stanfield deflated slightly and eased off.

“Well, I guess I’m a real bad-guy then aren’t I?” said Stanfield backing away, “Say goodnight to the bad guy!”  he slurred in his best Pacino to the patrons who were all conversing among themselves, oblivious to his impression, “The last time you gonna see a bad guy like this again—let me tell you.”

Once back in the car, Stanfield swilled back another beer from the pack of six he had waiting in the Grand Marquis. I grabbed the remaining five from the center console and opened one for myself, after which I handed the rest back to the Tess’s. It seemed Tess 1 was willing game; she cracked her foamy beer and slurped it up greedily as we softly bounced down the road.

“There’s another vegan restaurant on Milo St.” she offered after which we all broke out laughing…Tess 1 had timing—that was for certain.

“Oh, the Venetian House…that’s a good one.” said Tess 2.

“To die for.” Tess 1 concurred.

“Fuck all that…why don’t we go back to my place…I’ve got all kinds of shit to smoke and drink and we can order-in from Venetian—we can get you guys your bird food, don’t worry.” suggested Stanfield.

Surprisingly, Tess 2 agreed, perhaps not wishing to be seen in a public establishment with Stanfield after the Nell’s mishap. In any case, Stanfield instructed me to change course and double back toward his parent’s compound in the east end of town. As we drove, Stanfield declared that because he himself didn’t eat bird food; he wanted to make a stop on the way.

He implored me to stop at a fast food drive thru. Indeed, as one might imagine, Tess 2 uttered a gasp, followed by a spirited lecture on the untold horrors behind drive thru food. She concluded that the meat wasn’t actually meat…it was more of a mystery concoction made of spare animal parts—snouts, entrails, lips, assholes, claws and hooves mainly…perhaps the odd testicle. There was however a plethora of other unsightly fast food items including beef fat ice cream, cow rectum burgers and chicken beak nuggets; essentially a fear factor menu plan. Stanfield didn’t falter however and insisted it would only take a minute and that he would order light.

As if it was perfectly placed, for the purpose of our ill-fated night on the town; we passed a drive thru advertising a sale…double cheeseburgers for 35 cents each. Stanfield insisted I double back—and in spite of Tess 2’s protest which had become desperately whiny, as if travelling through the drive thru itself might make her skin melt away like red candle wax.

In any case, due to Stanfield grabbing the steering wheel and nearly throwing us into the concrete divider; I U-turned at the next available junction.

“Hey asshole—nobody touches this wheel but me.” I warned Stanfield who looked at me as if he were hurt and this somehow caused an eerie silence to prevail…at least until we reached the drive thru window, at which he ordered 6 double-cheeseburgers, large fries and gravy, a chocolate milk shake and a small order of chicken beak nuggets—in case the girl’s changed their minds. Tess 1 asked Tess 2 just then if she wanted to share a sundae…to which Tess 2 made a gagging sound. Still, Stanfield felt compelled to ask.

“Do you have sundaes?” Stanfield asked the small square speaker in the drive thru menu display.

“Yes we do.” the speaker crackled back.

“Do you have penis here?” he asked.

“Yes we do.” the speaker crackled back.

“Is it salty? Because we have a couple ladies with us who don’t like salty penis.” stipulated Stanfield.

“So, juvenile.” Tess 2 moaned, I could see, rolling her eyes in the rear view.

“Not very salty…regular I would say.” crackled the speaker.

“Ok, well, can you put your penis on the sundae for them?”

“Not really…the peanuts come in a small bag sir.”

“Your penis comes with a small bag?” asked Stanfield, causing Tess 1 to keel over slightly with laughter, followed by a small apology to her cohort for laughing.

“Yes sir.” crackled the speaker.

“Ok, then fuck the penis.”

“Ok sir.”

“In fact fuck the sundae too—I’ll still take the other stuff though.”

“Copy that.” said the drive thru attendant.

The food came in a large brown bag that was already soaked through with grease when it was handed to us by the drive thru attendant who had a wandering eye, a spotty beard and when he smiled he displayed a crooked mess of rotten crack-smoker teeth; good for the appetite. Within seconds we were back on the road—as if we hadn’t stopped at all.

“To the compound!” Stanfield declared, inserting his favorite DK cassette into the stereo and turning up the volume…as Holiday in Cambodia echoed into play, Stanfield emptied the contents of the brown drive-thru bag onto his lap before throwing the bag out of the window.

“You just littered you jerk!” exclaimed Tess 2 over the music, now nearly amused by her horror…as if it were now an experiment that begged to inquire how deep it all really went with Stanfield.

“Ah, don’t get excited…some do-gooder will pick it up and throw it in the garbage I’m sure.” assured Stanfield.

As we drove on, Stanfield unwrapped one of the double-cheeseburgers, taking large bites and smacking his chops with a slobbery zeal. He threw a pickle out the window and asked me if it was indeed considered littering—mainly to placate Tess 2. Ignoring a tirade of disapproval from both Tess’s, Stanfield ate on, arguing back unintelligibly, his mouth crammed with fast food and milkshake. When he was halfway through eating the second burger, he placed it between his teeth and held it there as he opened the wax paper wrapping of a third cheeseburger…he then lifted the thin, sesame seed sprinkled bun from the fresh burger so the melted cheese, pickles and condiments covering the patty were exposed. He next took the half eaten burger from his mouth and placed it carefully atop the patty of the fresh burger before capping the stacked mess of greasy mystery meat with the sesame seed bun…creating in effect, a monster quadruple decker Cyclops burger that oozed orange when he bit into it innocently.

“Classic Stanfield.” I chuckled.

“Classic how? I’ve never done that before.” Stanfield admitted as the Tess’s confirmed to each other that indeed, the evening topped their list of historically disastrous dates; an achievement indeed…and Stanfield had pulled it off with a 7 dollar drive thru order.

Stanfield’s parents were in San Jose for the weekend, I assumed reliving the late 1960’s in a swanky, show-time hotel to a Dionne Warwick soundtrack and the squishiness of K-Y Jelly, swinging with other old and busted married couples. This meant that the four of us would have the place to ourselves for some exclusive socializing.

We sat around the large oak dining room table, sipping on drinks Stanfield had prepared from his father’s illustrious liquor cabinet and smoking some of the good grade shit from a punch holed pop can as a Smiths cassette jangled melancholically from a ghetto blaster Stanfield had set up on a nearby stool. Indeed, the Strange Ways album had painted the backdrops of our highschool years in deep shades of blue and always brought us back to the same vulgar picture, back when the excuse of youth afforded us immunity to most demands of the adult world which seemed menacing and filled with bad hair, social falsities and a keen misunderstanding of the mess our generation was up against…there was no blueprint, only the exhilaration of knowing that it was the 90’s and a world of sunsets belonged to us and we were going to color them more brilliantly than our predecessors, even if it led us into ruin.

Perhaps the phone had been ringing all night…if it had; we’d not heard it over the music Stanfield liked to play loud. When the cassette stopped however, offering a break in the constant drone of Brit-pop guitars, we could hear the phone ringing persistently until the answering machine picked it up. It was Savannah Ruben and as usual she was blithering drunk, or perhaps she was high as a kite—it was a toss up. Through the distorted answering machine speaker, she reiterated her disappointment that her calls were being ignored…speculating that Stanfield must be with “some little slut-bag”…citing the fairness, but also insisting in a teasing tone that nobody could ever turn him on the way she did; indeed it was macabre and Tess 2 listened in awkward silence, turning her insulted gaze toward Stanfield who only offered an impossible Richard Lewis shrug, to match his hopeless Richard Lewis face.

Hurriedly, yet diplomatically, Stanfield excused himself from the table and disappeared into the darkened expanse of the house, to call Savannah back I assumed, which left the two Tess’s and I sitting around the table in silence. I changed the cassette to Pyschocandy and made us all another round from the top-shelf liquor Stanfield’s dad kept on hand for those hard nights when the dark reality of his suburban paradise crept up on him in an existential sort of way and shot a jolt of terror through his bones; he must have needed the elixir in those colored bottles every night of his life—certainly Stanfield did. And what about Stanfield? What was his major malfunction? I wondered, as the Tess’s drank their drinks and the tin can buzz of Pyschocandy kept things gloriously fogged.

“You know,” said Tess 2, as if sensing I’d gotten around to pondering Stanfield’s absence, “your friend is a disaster.”

“He learned the truth from Lenny Bruce.” I said.

“How rude to walk out on guests when you’re the host—such a lack of social skills.”

“But really…why do you care? You don’t like him anyway.” I noted.

“Do I look like I care? I’m not here because of what I want.” sighed Tess 2 rising from her chair, “I’ve had a lot to drink and I’ve got an early morning…so I’m going to go lie down on the couch for a while—wake me up when you’re ready to leave Tess.”

I looked at Tess 1 who was looking up at her cohort, her expression suspended somewhere between awe and comic betrayal. Tess 2, buzzed as she was, only issued a small shrug; payback for exposing her to Stanfield’s antics all night—a fair trade perhaps. Tess looked at me, offering a smile as her friend left the room, rounding the corner into the sunken living room, singing the chorus of ‘I Started Something I couldn’t finish’.

“She was up really early today.” said Tess 1, apologetically.

“Why?” I asked.

“She’s up early every day.” said Tess.

“Holding up the infrastructure.” I mused with a grin, realizing somebody had to be there at the crack of dawn to get the city running; that took something; something I didn’t have.

Rather than respond, Tess took the comment with a smile and a nod understanding what I’d meant. She looked good sitting there, still wearing her tight fitting jean jacket and a Cure Disintegration t-shirt that hugged her breasts snuggly. She shuffled through Stanfield’s cassettes and smoothed a lock of her hair behind her ear, from which dangled a black prism earring. My eyes were running down the soft smooth flesh of her neck when she looked up at me.

“This album is amazing by the way.” she said, changing gears suddenly, holding up the cassette and displaying the cover; a black and white photo of Natalie Merchant against an orange and green backdrop, “I fell in love with it last summer when it first came out. The beauty and simplicity really struck me.”

“It’s a classic already…you can hear that after one listen.” I nodded, taking the cassette in hand.

“My favorite song on this album is River, the line; with candles, with flowers…he was one of oursone of ours.”

“I guess he was…just like the times we’re living in…the 90’s are ours…we’re in the middle of the last great decade—mark my words…it’s all going to turn to shit when this decade ends…it’s not that the next couple generations will entirely lack originality and a spark of genius—they may have moments; but compared to us, they’ll seem dull and they’ll know they’re dull…they’ll know they’re living in our shadow and they’ll resent it.”

We chatted a little more, moving to the atrium and getting more intimate on a love seat next to a darkened fire place for a while, looking at Stanfield’s parent’s comical family albums before eventually moving upstairs. Once we were lying on the crunchy cotton sheets of the hard bed in the spare room that was never used; Tess snuggled up as rectangle of lamplight cast from an outside streetlamp stretched across the stucco ceiling, keeping the room dimly lit.

“This is nice.” she sighed, “What are you thinking about?”

“I’m wondering what atrocities have gone on in this room.” I chuckled.

“Probably lots…it’s an old house—someone could have died in this room for all we know…or been born. By the way I’m not going to sleep with you tonight.” she said.

“I hadn’t expected you to.” I said.

“But you wanted me to didn’t you?” she smiled.

“Sure.” I said, “At some point.”

“At some point…” she said, letting the words trail off into the darkness, “I don’t fuck people on the first date. I’m not that kind of girl.”

“Evidently.” I grinned.

We chatted for a while about nothing…an issue-skirting conversation that eventually droned off into nothingness…so the only sound was the clock on the nightstand that ticked away, keeping track of time, even though nobody ever slept in the spare room. I listened to the ticking as I made out with Tess…she kissed well; non-invasive and minimal slobber—she also had some moves. And afterward, when we were through, she disappeared into the darkened house that was silent except for the Ingmar Bergmanesque clock ticking in my ear…I didn’t mind it then, though I knew that certainly one day the sound would be disconcerting—one day in the distant future…when I was old and grey and talking to shadows on the walls—if I made it that far…we weren’t there yet…it was the 90’s, and we had the world by the tail and a long uncertain road of intrigue ahead of us.

When Tess returned to the room, she was holding a bottle of wine in one hand and a bowl of fruit in the other. The orange ember of her blunt traced through the darkness as she made her way to the window where she down-turned the Venetian blind, making the room nearly pitch dark. As the aroma of smoke reached me, a flick of her lighter threw a pool of orange warmth against her face, softly illuminating the contours. She looked at me for a moment before lighting a candle that had been sitting on the dresser in the corner of the room and it glowed to life, casting flickering shadows against her face and the eggshell walls.

“What are you going to do with that?” I asked.

“You into candle wax?” asked Tess.

“Not really…” I shrugged.

“Candles are magical…you can summon spirits with candles.” she insisted, sitting cross legged now beside me on the bed, crunching into a juicy sounding apple, “Maybe we should summon the first owner of this house.”

“Let’s not.” I said.

“That clock is really loud.” she laughed, “How could anyone sleep with that thing ticking in their ear?”

“I don’t think they use this room ever.” I said.

“It’s like one of those houses on a nuclear test site.” laughed Tess.

“Yeah, it just sits there ticking away…relentlessly.” I sighed, “Whether anyone hears it or not.”

“Why relentlessly?”

“Time is relentless.” I told her.

“How so? Time heals all wounds…does it not?” she asked, tilting her head.

“Did it heal yours?”

“I’ll tell you when I know you better.” she smiled, handing the apple to me. I took it in hand and looked at it.

“Did you wash this thing?” I asked her.

“No.” answered Tess, as if to ask if she should have.

I handed it back to her.

“Really? You’re not going to take a bite?”

“You didn’t wash it.”

“Who washes an apple?”

“You should…think of how disgusting that apple is by the time it gets into your mouth.” I assured.

“How so?”

“Well,” I sighed, “For starters, the guy who picked it in the field had probably been pissing and shitting out in the bushes all day long—wiping his ass with leaves and bark or his bare hands—out in the bushes. Then it gets sorted by more people who were shitting outside all day long in bushes…then it goes into a storage where rats piss all over it, then it goes to the store and then everyone handles it at the store; it gets squeezed, sneezed on, some disgusting old guy with remnants of jizz all over his hands comes up and starts feeling the apple up and leaves traces on it…then Stanfield touches it in the store and who the fuck knows where his hands have been…and then he brings it home and it sits here, where everyone breathes on it and little bits of spittle get projected onto it and people sneeze on it and dust mites fall on it…and then the cat, who just licked his tangled asshole, jumps up on the counter and licks that apple directly after.” I offered with a sigh of disapproval.

“Gross.” she said, biting into it again with a slurping sound; we both laughed.

“Have the orange then…you can peel the orange at least.” suggested Tess.

“Yes, but if you don’t wash the orange before you peel it, you just transfer whatever was on the peel onto the orange itself–imagine it’s covered in red paint, you can see what happens.” I said.

“How about the banana?” she smiled.

“Yeah, how about that banana?” I grinned, raising my brows a bit.

“That could be interesting, next time.” said Tess, biting again into the fecal apple.

“Take this pear.” I said, lifting the small bruised and yellowed pear out of the bowl, holding it up before Tess, “It exists here and now…it takes up space…and adheres to gravity—it’s seemingly no less important to the laws of physics than you or I, the dresser or the bed…it’s subject to the elements. It grew on some tree somewhere and some guy with pissy, shitty-hands plucked it off a vine and it wound up here.”

“I know…it’s teeming with poop and pee and jizz.” Tess laughed, “What’s your point?”

“I’m saying that its part of this reality now…but it has no chance to sustain…it’s skin is too thin. People aren’t much different…on average a person lasts only 70 years—in the grand scheme that’s a blink…so, you see…we don’t really own anything—we leave it all behind…the evidence of dead generations is all around us—everything gets left behind…this house–the men who built it are all dead now…the families that lived here in 1900…they’re all dead now…vanished into the endless leagues of the dead.”

“I hear what you’re saying. I started reading Karen Blixen a few months ago,” said Tess, “I found it so strange that she felt compelled to use a man’s name. I found myself completely compelled by her illustrious descriptions and her adherence to her wifely duties…even though her husband gave her syphilis. That world is buried under so much time and social evolution that it’s hard to even comprehend…what’s most fascinating is that perhaps the most important thing she ever did was document it all…so a suburban girl like myself, living in 1990’s America could read about her life in Africa all those decades ago.”

“Maybe someone decades from now will read about this night.” I suggested.

“Well, you’d better write it soon because even twenty years can erase a lot of memories…probably you’ll forget my name in twenty years…if you remember me at all.”

“I’m bad with names.” I admitted, “But I rarely forget a face.”

“I won’t forget your name.” promised Tess.

“You might.”

“I won’t. And I definitely won’t forget that poor pear that doesn’t stand a chance.” she smiled, “In fact…know what I’m going to do? I’m going to make a sketch of it. I’m going to immortalize the ordinary, through the extraordinary.”

“Right now?” I asked.

“Right now.”

“Cool.” I grinned.

Indeed, Tess wasn’t one for loose talk. She was up and wandering back out into the darkened expanse of the house in search of a paper and a pencil. I watched the candle burn smooth and still as the sounds of Tess’s rummaging sounded from the main floor. When she returned to the spare room with a piece of printer paper and a long yellow pencil, she sat moved the candled close and began to sketch the pear which she placed on one of the pillows, so it weighed in its cottony center. I leaned my head against her shoulder and watched her multi-talented hand sketch the pear, bringing it to smoothly shaded life, complete with pillow contours and the bruising of its ripe skin.

“You’re damn good with a pencil.” I noted.

“I’ve been doing it since I was a girl.” Tess said, holding the sketch up closer to the candle, bringing out the details and dimensions through her own individual perspective.

“What are you going to do with it?” I asked.

“I’m going to keep it in a folder…and in twenty years I’m going to find you, wherever you are in this world and I’m going to send it to you…so you remember this night…and the pear as well as my name.” said Tess as she wrote her name in a loopy scribble in the bottom right corner of the page.

I clicked my eyes from her sketch to her face which was glazed smoothly in the steady candle light…wondering where moments went when they passed and wondering where we’d both be in twenty years and if either of us would even remember the evening after twenty years of ascending through leagues of time and space. It was the 90’s…such were the notions, such were the times.

As I sat there in 2016…twenty years later, in a different city, a different life and a different time zone…holding the sketch that Tess had made all those years ago; I scanned the rough curving lines, the dark smudging she’d done and the markings of the bruised pear, remembering it, but vaguely, so it was as if I was looking at the sketch for the first time.

“What the hell is that?” asked Brice.

The immortalized pear; a 1990’s story.” I told him, rising from the couch and posting the sketch against the refrigerator with magnets.

The Arsonist

I’d met Cabrino that afternoon at a street side cafe on Franklin—just across from Gelson’s. As Cabrino went on about his latest conspiracy, I sipped at a seltzer, half listening to his line of nonsense, thinking of Michelle’s long blonde hair and those dimples in the small of her lovely back and what it exactly was about her that settled very deeply in the pit of my chest.
Always dapper in his appearance, Cabrino stroked his chin, so the diamond studs embedded in his wrist-watch caught the sunshine like a mirrored ball, sparkling a million points of light back at me—waking me from my trance of recollection.
“Frank, are you listening to me?” demanded Cabrino.
“Of course I am old boy—carry on, please.” I assured.
“This is imperative man, c’mon. Cassandra deals in tarot cards man, dark magics…she has witchy routines and some pretty questionable colleagues. Her reality is a circus. She knows this one guy with a John Deer hat and a beard, who sends her poems about eating her ass–how is that normal?” he said with urgency, running a hand through his thick dark hair which carried the sheen of pomade.
I just shook my head, “And how do you feel about that?”
“That ain’t the half of it; I was drinking beer at her place in Palms last weekend and her and her girlfriends did this ritual thing…they were all dressed in gowns…so bizarre…they had ribbons and candles and they were chanting. Mama mia!” said Cabrino, perplexed by what he’d seen.
“Sounds like trouble to me.” I laughed.
“You’re telling me. There was this one guy there. He was sort of the ringmaster; this tall skinny guy in a long black cloak. He was getting on my nerves…he kept breaking my balls real indirectly like. I mean I’m a good sport—but after a while…like half an hour of this kid busting my balls…I couldn’t just sit there and let it go on. So finally, I told him I would drag him outside by the lips and slap him around a bit if he didn’t knock it off.”
“Classic.” I chuckled.
“Not really. The girls weren’t too happy about that.”
“Oh boy.” I laughed.
“And Cassandra said that I was going to be sorry that I did that…that I embarrassed her in front of her wizard friend.”

“Sexual sanctions?” I asked.
“Maybe I oughta take communion.” said Cabrino, “I should do something…strange shit is afoot—you know, a few days after Cassandra and I got in that huge fight…the one when she kicked her shoe through the wall in the studio; I cut myself shaving really bad…there was blood all over the sink. I had to wear a ridiculous fucking band aid on my neck the entire day. People don’t like to see a guy with a band aid on his neck—it’s suspicious.”
“What does this chick do?” I asked.
“She’s a fry cook.”
“So you think a fry cook is working some ancient voodoo on you?” I asked.
“Like I say, it’s not just her–she has this wack-pack fan club going on spacebook. They write in and leave her comments about her melodramatic poetry. They say it’s powerful, but I read it and just think it’s vague and flaky…like she’s trying too hard to be unusual. You know; if everyone is ‘unusual’ in the exact same way—then nobody is really that unusual are they?” said Cabrino, shaking his head and leaning in now to study his ice cubes.
For a long moment he remained silent. A bus went by, droves of tourists walked by, a distant helicopter chopped it’s propellers through sweltering blue sky somewhere far above us and after a long pause Cabrino made a confession.
“I’ll tell you man, I went to a fortune teller last week. A psychic you know? She took an egg white and put it in a cup, and then told me to piss into it…so I dribbled in the thing, and brought it back to her. She took it and added a magical spice to it, some kind of liquid from an eyedropper…and suddenly the piss and the egg white started to smoke! Right there in the office. It was hard to believe man.”
“You pissed in a cup in a psychic’s office?” I asked, setting down my glass. “In front of her?”
“No man, in the bathroom in her office. Point is; she said the smoke proves that someone is trying to mess with me—and it makes sense. See Cassandra went to Egypt in the fall with her family and while they were on a tour, she whispered a short incantation and threw a vile of her menstrual blood into one of the pyramids…down a secret vent or something…and she did it to cast a spell—on who? I’ll never guess…I can’t remember the specifics but she said something ‘witchy’ was going to happen.”
“Throwing a vile of menstrual blood down an air vent?” I chuckled, “Wow…Listen to me man, while we’re out here doing business and getting shit done on the merit of hard work and disciplined craftsmanship; this lass is dancing around in capes and littering archaeological finds with biohazard material. Does she have any tattoos?”
“Yeah, a few.” nodded Cabrino, “She has this real huge one across her back—it’s a black cat with vampire fangs wearing a studded collar. That’s what gets me everytime–her style.”
“Style? Listen old chap, last time we talked about ‘Assy Cassy’ you told me that she dressed like a medieval barmaid. Know what I think? I think you’re using this Cassandra as a diversion…a distraction from yourself.”
Cabrino absorbed what I’d told him for a moment. Nodding.
“How do you know that Sigmund?” he asked.
“Because I’m magic Cabrino.” I smiled, widening my eyes and making a witchy face.
“That much I don’t believe.” he said, “The worst of it though is that I can’t get her out of my head. I can’t stop thinking about her. Her sexy London accent and her eclectic musical taste—you know she gave me a Stone Roses record for my birthday.”
“Good choice, but that’s not everything man.” I said, realizing I could still smell Michelle’s coconut suntan lotion on my shirt.
“But what can I do?” he asked.
“Let’s focus on what you hated about her.” I suggested.
“She had a breath problem…huge smoker and coffee drinker. It was like a cat came and shit in her mouth when she’d come at me first thing in the morning.” admitted Cabrino.
“Now just imagine life with her…everyday life…walking through the grocery store with her on a Sunday morning, you’re pushing the cart and she’s nagging you and you have a kid and the kid is screaming in your ear and you’re in Britain and it’s raining and she’s breaking your balls in front of the cashier and everyone in line is shaking their heads and feeling sorry for you.” I illustrated.
Mama mia.” Said Cabrino nearly absently as he peered off into the distance, imagining the scenario with intensity.
Cabrino ran a recording studio in the Los Feliz hills, out of an old turn of the century Spanish style villa. Originally Villa studios as he’d so predictably named it, housed a number of potentially lucrative projects from various emo-rock sissies crooning in forlorn tones about the somber side effects of being too cool for one’s own good. However, in recent months, VS had become a hotspot for late night socials, which usually included decent, random jams on any particular night with any particular guest appearance. Lolly Vixen, Seth Narcolepsy, Garland Way, Cash Trio, Humbucker Wall, Vermilion Trees…they all stopped by regularly, bringing with them their deranged and estranged packs of posse.
Yet little was ever recorded anymore by Cabrino; the odd jam perhaps. Mostly, he recorded spoken word sessions, spoken by himself mainly. A two hour and rather tiresome four part lecture on Winston Churchill topped his list of sessions to reveal when asked, by any number of guests, about the capabilities of his studio. Running the lecture, to prove the clarity and body of voice his studio could provide, he’d swivel back to face the center point of his console—the large plasma monitor unraveling on its screen the thick green wave file expanding and contracting with the volume of his words. Like this, he might sit for twenty straight minutes, intensely rapt with a wrinkle of concern between his brows as guests politely stood, losing their comfort as the moments ticked by and the lecture ran on, in a deep full bodied tone that rumbled through the speakers with comical conviction.
Primarily, he rented out the studio during the day to less successful producers as well as many independent producers who owned little more than a laptop computer and a Sure 58. Of course he charged them a reasonable rate, and on occasion became involved in the odd session, lending his prestige to independent recordings. But all in all, Cabrino hadn’t recorded anything himself in two years outside of the spoken word sessions.
Later that evening, as we stood in the control room of Villa Studios, listening to a Lolly Vixen laying down a vocal track, my phone vibrated in the breast pocket of my shirt, sending I imagined, small currents of radiation into my flesh—the price we pay for microwave ovens, TVs and cell phones. For me, however, the cell phone wasn’t the handle end of an ever reaching communicative umbilical cord. I used it primarily for taking and making calls, but found, whether I liked it or not, that I’d become part of a network in doing so; the cell phone talkers network…those people I found so irritating when standing next to them in line at the grocery store, or anywhere at all.
I was relieved to find it was Michelle.
“Michelle.” I said stepping out of the control room.
“Hey baby…what you doing?” she asked.
“I’m up at Villa…just listening to a lecture on Winston Churchill.” I said.
“He was solid.” Said Michelle, “Anyway, I stole one of your shirts today before I let myself out, in case you are looking for it later and wonder where it went.”
“Which shirt?”
“Your grey Replacements shirt…it was in your hamper.”
“You stole my second favorite shirt? How come?”
“Never mind.”
“There must have been a reason.” I said.
“Nothing ominous; I just like to smell it.” confessed Michelle.
“Ok.” I said.
“It smells like guy.” said Michelle in her playful tone.
“I thought it smelled like Dark Temptation and sweat…but that’s just me.”
“I like it—it’s like being with you.” She said, “Will I see you later?”
“Yes. I thought when I’m done here I could take you to the House of Pies on Vermont for a bit of ala mode.”
“I’m game—girl wants to see boy later…and of course the pie ala mode.” she said.
Back in the control room, I found that Lolly Vixen had left the confines of the vocal booth and was now sitting on one of the leather sofas in the control room, sipping a cup of tea. On the glass table before her knees was a small saucer containing a few wedges of lemon, the smell of which, brought a ray of memory to my mind; summers in my childhood, sun baked streets and bored kids in the hood, substituting stones for baseballs, and abandon windows for a catcher’s mitt. But there was nothing like ice cold lemonade.
Introductions went around, and a few clammy handshakes that left my palm crawling with pathogens; such a filthy habit, the handshake. For all I knew, this man Samson had pissed all over his hand in the bathroom only moments before—or worse. I next passed the pathogens onto Vixen—who’d been having difficulty projecting through the climb of a scale. Her hand, clammy as well, shook mine before immediately retracting to furiously rub her nose—as if she were eager to infect herself with Samson’s pissy germs.
“Sounds terrific.” I greeted her with a nod and excused myself immediately.
As I walked down the narrow hallway that held at its end, the single purple door labeled ‘Lavatory’, I saw it was opening, and from behind its illuminated interior emerged a face I’d seen before but couldn’t quite place immediately. He wore a designer cap tilted on an axis, and a low V-neck t-shirt that exposed the ripped crease where his waxed pectorals met…it was man-cleavage and dangling over it, hung miscellaneous bling that was the shape of a dollar sign. His teeth beamed from his darkly tanned face in a wide grin that greeted me along with an outstretched hand; a hand that was doubtlessly laden with fresh deposits of feces, urine or possibly herpes.
Because my hand was already contaminated, I shook the tanned man’s hand, which was dry, and though initially deflating to my sense of urgency—the dry hand soon revealed the obviousness that the bastard, having just exited a bathroom, had failed to wash his hands. As he rambled on with lyrical rhythm, dropping props as cunning ops, I placed him; it was Tupelo—the soulless bastard. Laughable at best; whether you loved or loathed him, Tupelo had made a local career out of shamelessly carving his mark in the illusory world of night club DJs. He’d become, in a span of two short years, king of the dance parties. I didn’t attend dance parties on merit that I didn’t dance…however I’d heard that during his performances Tupelo would squeal in a high pitched, out of tune cry that quaked with obvious hilarity. This fact, coupled with his glossy, ultra-groomed appearance, made seeing him nearly macabre.
It seemed he was part of Vixen’s entourage and so in essence; Cabrino’s guest. And so I stood, nodding politely, noticing under the harsh glare of the hallway bulb that he wasn’t only wearing eye liner, but also a thin veil of foundation. It was hard to believe. He spoke of his new project; a cameo on Vixen’s new album and while doing so he managed to cite, in cosmic terms, that essentially—Vixen needed to free herself from inhibitions in the studio by embracing her spirituality. Apparently the lemon, honey and hot water concoction wasn’t working. Or perhaps she simply screwed far better than she sang and Tupelo was only now realizing it.
“You know, I’ve got a taste something versatile, and enterprising is my thang bro. Feel me?” he asked, widening his icy blue eyes.
“I can only speculate.” I nodded.
“And you know, I may have been birthed from privilege beginnings but the hard streets humbled me when I left my parent’s lavish world…I squatted in tenements in NYC for 6 months before I came into my own and I can tell you G, I remain that humble cat stepping out and fandangoing the reality…the main drag reality all up in the da clubs, feel me? Respect it son, that’s a frame of mind not a demand. I bring that essence to all that I touch baby. It’s one of yours I’ve been humming and bumping around in my mind,” said Tupelo, stroking his chin now and gazing up at the bulb with intense recollection, “can’t grasp the name my brotha, but I gotsda melody locked in. Locked in like gun sites. Feel me? That particular groove on the piano, that particular song you have, I could franchise…immortalize…quantize it baby.”
For the most part he’d lost me, and as I stood there, pushing up my chin to clamp back a grin, I offered my hand again, this time in departure from the conversation. Though it seemed to catch him off guard, Tupelo shook again, with two hands and backed away nodding, his smile appearing as a deep wince of hilarious pain.
“I need to wash my hand.” I confessed, feeling his fecal microbes moving up my palm and over my wrist.
“We’ll rap more on it later bro. Nature calls.” he said before turning and swaggering down the hallway.
Flipping the light switch on, I was enveloped suddenly in a thick, acrid wall of air freshener—the aerosol type. Sickly sweet and covering a foul under-odor; one evident in the porcelain bowl directly in front of me. The basin could be heard still refilling from the previous flush Tupelo had given it and in the bowl, swirling slowly clockwise was a floating wad of toilet paper, smeared lengthwise with a tarry looking smudge; Tupelo’s last wipe. I squeezed my eyes shut stricken by sudden terror.
Perplexed at how it could have come to pass that Tupelo remembered to aerosol the room but had forgotten to flush down his last wad of asswipe; I held my breath and lathered down my hands in the marble sink and vacated the small confines without drying my hands on the towel hanging beside the sink, for the towel doubtlessly contained the microscopic residue of flushes past.
Walking back up the hallway, drying my palms in the back pockets of my jeans and taking a deep breath of hallway air in compensation, I noticed Lolly Vixen approaching with her cup of lemon and honey water. Her long cowgirl boots clopped toward me in confident strides and her smile met me with a sudden wrinkle of concern.
“Everything okay?” she asked, her smile still holding beneath her air of concern.
“Yes, of course.” I nodded.
“You look like you’ve just seen a ghost.”
“No, but I should warn you. Tupelo left a wad of asswipe in that toilet…you might want to exercise some caution.”
Putting her hand over her mouth, Vixen giggled, “Oh my god…Really?”
“Unfortunately.” I assured with a solemn nod.
“Wow. But I grew up with four brothers, so I can’t say that it really bothers me too much, I’ve seen way worse; believe me. Boys are so gross though, that’s for sure.” She admitted.
Wondering exactly how she meant her final comment, I watched her clop onward, toward the bathroom door, before which she stopped and turned back to me, “Really?” she asked again with a giggle, as if brimming with some macabre form of fascination at observing the great Tupelo’s wad of asswipe.
“Yeah, maybe you can sell it on Ebay.” I chuckled.
“Ewe.” She laughed opening the door with caution, “I’m sure there are people out there who would pay top dollar too…”
Back in the control room, Cabrino was rolling one particularly fiery segment from a lecture on Centralia Pennsylvania. I sank down into one of the leather couches and listened. Indeed, Tupelo sat in one of the leather swivel chairs, stroking his chin and nodding intensely as the lecture boomed through the speakers in a deep tone, edged with severity. The other man, Samson, sat perched on the arm of the couch, his arms folded across his chest and his face, holding in the fatty pockets of unshaven jowls, a slack jawed awe. Also, I took note of an extra face; it was Seth Narcolepsy and he was looking rather sinister sitting there swathed in leather, hair spray and shamelessly applied mascara. His idol and the mentor of his entire façade was Tommy Stinson, circa 1989—and Narcolepsy did Stinson well, though he had a tendency to get carried away in the performance…to lose himself completely.
“This is brilliant.” He said finally to Cabrino who only nodded in agreeance.
“The low end comes out with such power, yet doesn’t distort—I know.” Cabrino finally said, stopping the roll with a click of his mouse, feeling he’d proven a point.
“Yet another faction of hip-hop evolution baby.” interjected Tupelo with a downward swiping hand gesture.
“I wouldn’t say that.” Said Cabrino, “Sermons are as old as intelligent civilizations my friend. My man J.C. was giving sermons back in biblical times. Know what I mean?”
“Fair enough my brotha from anotha mutha.” Smiled Tupelo, backing off with two humble palms raised—palms teaming with fecal matter no doubt. “Fair enough.”
“I was being sarcastic you douchebag.” said Narcolepsy from beneath his heavy veil of straight whiskey.
“You know something Narcolepsy—you ought to open your mind more often than you open your mouth.” said Cabrino.
“You don’t think those people have a right to live there? Why should they leave their homes? What would you know about real hardship, sitting up here in the hills in your grand den of slack?” said Seth, gritting his words drunkenly.
“I didn’t say they didn’t have the right…I said they were irresponsible to live on top of an active coal mine inferno…understand dip shit?”
There collected a heavy silence over the room. One into which Cabrino waded with ease. He sank chin deep into it and stared back at Narcolepsy, who squinted drunkenly back at him. Again, at that moment, my phone vibrated in the breast pocket of my shirt and I answered again without checking the call display. It was Michelle and she informed me she was near finished work for the day; she was a personal assistant and was perpetually plagued by the demands of the narcissistic clients to which her agency assigned her. On this evening, she’d driven around Los Angeles for hours searching diligently for a particular energy drink requested by a client, whose identity she was contractually obligated to keep confidential.
When I was through speaking with Michelle I realized I was suddenly being drawn into Cabrino’s heated debate with Narcolepsy; it seemed it was time to pick sides–as it often is when insecurity and booze merge and take hold of men of lesser alcohol continence. Indeed, Cabrino was always sipping at a brandy and nibbling strange leafy herbs he kept nearby in a small leather pouch…he nibbled one of the herbs intensely as he peered at Narcolepsy and spoke in a cold tone, “You’re an arsonist…a spiritual arsonist.”
“Arsonist? Is that what you all think of me?” Seth demanded, peering at me, as if the word was in some way a reflection of my personal opinion.
“Did I say something?” I asked, posing the question rhetorically; however, Narcolepsy lashed back with a deeply wounded scream…as if he were in some way directly in tune with the primal traits evolution had discarded. After emitting the gurgling scream, he pulled his shirt off with one hand, up and around the bottle of whisky he clutched in his other hand.
“You said it with your eyes.” he said, squinting hard as if to burn his psychopathic glare into my forehead.
As we all watched in silence, half interested in where he was going to take this demonstration; Narcolepsy raised his face dramatically, as if staring off yonder, into a billowing sunset and across a great expanse of prairie. “Fire on the horizon!” he sang, throwing a flimsy kick forth that destabilized his balance.
“Ok, let’s get him out of here.” said Cabrino looking at me, standing up and rubbing his hands together as if wiping off dust.
“Me?” I asked of his head gesture.
“Whoever.” he said, approaching Seth and grabbing his flailing arms and pinning them at his side.
Narcolepsy didn’t fight it. Like a professional activist he concurred physically, allowing himself to be led by Cabrino down the long carpeted hallway lined with photos of Villa Studios’ past clients. Passing his own photo, Narcolepsy exploded, shaking free of Cabrino’s steel mill grip. With a quick spinning maneuver Seth lifted the photo off of its hook and faced Cabrino, backing away slowly, stating his case, “This is my likeness…my image…and you don’t own my soul. I’m taking it.”
“Take it…and get the hell out.” said Cabrino, stopping now and placing another leafy herb between his teeth, which he nibbled ravenously as he studied Narcolepsy in a certain degree of awe, “You just keep burning bridges don’t you Narcolepsy?”
“You’re the one holding a match to this bridge man…it’s you.” Seth accused, hugging
the picture against his chest, “Give me my shirt then.”
Not missing a beat Cabrino tossed the shirt so it draped softly over Narcolepsy’s head, “Go ahead…get lost…go cool down.” said Cabrino.
“Ok, let it burn. Let it all burn man…I’ll watch it go up in flames.” said Narcolepsy once he was standing out on the lawn, pulling his t shirt back on.
From the lawn the twinkling sprawl of LA stretched as far as the eye could see. There was everything imaginable out there, poverty, violence, drive-by shootings, cheating mothers, absentee fathers, kids on crack, death of all sorts, birth, marriage, love…potluck dinners, speed daters, player haters, suicidals, pimps, johns, telemarketers. What would it all be in a hundred years? The sight of Narcolepsy standing there under the dim glow of the street lamp, swilling back a haul of Jack Daniels suggested that things would only get worse. After all, he was a poster child for Generation Fucked; the truly lost.
A sound had been growing in the distance, becoming louder as it drew nearer. It was only then that I recognized the sound as sirens; or rather it was then that I realized that they were going to pass us directly. As the volume grew, Cabrino covered his ears, wincing against the shrill squeal as flashing red lights strobed against the underside of the palm trees lining Los Feliz blvd. As the convoy snaked its way up the hill the volume grew to an unbearable level and I too, as well as Tupelo covered our ears.
With his bottle of whisky in hand, Narcolepsy turned toward the street and spread his arms out into a V. All at once the convoy emerged from around a corner at the end of the block and barreled by us in a flurry of whirling lights and shrieking sirens. Two fire trucks, three squad cars and an ambulance pulling up the rear, the convoy took the bend at the opposite end of the road with brazen speed.
“What the fuck?” hollered Cabrino, throwing a perplexed stare after the convoy whose lights flickered against his face in a severe way, as if he were Franz Kafka, held in a crooked hold tight.
Leaping from his place on the stairs, Cabrino proceeded to jog down the long descending side walk which led back out onto the street. Like clockwork, Samson and Tupelo followed suit, sprinting after Cabrino. I stood on the top step; throwing a glance down the street where the glow of an inferno could be seen, igniting the sky with licks of distant flame.
“That’s a massive fire.” I said.
“Aw, big deal!” snarled Narcolepsy, lowering the bottle to his mouth for another copious haul. He then turned to face me and grinned, “Big deal…some movie star probably torched his mansion smoking in bed.”
“Strange Cabrino was calling you an arsonist…then this.” I mused as I descended the stairs.
“Fuck Cabrino…let’s go watch it burn.” said Seth.
By the time we reached the blaze; we were only two more spectators in a horde of dozens, all slightly wonder struck by the roaring walls of flame that spread like liquid through the outside walls of the home. Like Narcolepsy, I stood transfixed in a state of slight awe at the fiery sight. Though it was a horrific sight and the hope was that there was nobody trapped inside; it was nearly mesmerizing to watch the flame eat through the wood, loving it dearly and with an eerie lack of malice–there was only nature’s indifferent resolve and the crackling combustion of elements.
“Holy fuck man, look up there on the roof!” spat Narcolepsy.
My eyes followed the trajectory of his pointing finger to an arching second level roof at the far end of the mansion. Frantically pacing the shingles was a golden retriever who’d apparently gotten out onto the roof through an open second floor window that since had begun to spit flames and black smoke; he’d made it out just in time I would seem. Narcolepsy squirmed as the dog desperately barked for help, the sound of which was easily eclipsed by the roaring
flames and ever approaching sirens.
“My god aren’t they going to save it?” he demanded, “That pooch has ten minutes if even that.”
“I think they’re preoccupied with making sure there are no souls inside.” said a voice from behind; it was Tupelo and he stood studiously, stroking his chin and contemplating the fire with a small grin of curious fascination.
“Hey!” I hollered to a passing fireman, “You guys see that dog on the roof right?”
The fireman didn’t stop or respond; he only walked on, squinting toward the roof where the pooch still paced, safe for the time being from any flames.
“Where’s Cabrino?” I asked Tupelo and without withdrawing his mystical gaze, he motioned with his head toward where Cabrino was standing in the gutter of the road, speaking with two women.
Noticing that I was peering his way, Cabrino waved me over. When I shrugged at him he waved me over again, this time with some added zeal. I strolled over, feeling the heat of the fire against my back, fearing slightly in the back of my mind that the house would explode and wondering exactly how far the blast would throw me if in fact it did. I was however shaken from this notion by nearly being broadside by a trio of firemen who were jogging by with equipment. I got out of their way and jogged across the street to where Cabrino was standing with the women.
“This is Shelly and Nadine.” said Cabrino, as if we were mingling at a cocktail party and in the same fashion the women extended their slender hands. Their hands were soft and their smiles where all lipstick and pearly teeth.
“Listen, there’s a dog on the second floor roof…I’m wondering if we should go over and try to catch it…if we stood below it and called to it—it would probably jump down.” I said, turning to point.
Squinting beyond my extended arm Cabrino shook his head, “Brother, there could be people in the house too.”
Nadine leaned her pretty face toward me so the luster of her red bangs nearly glistened in the flicker of fire. Her complexion was smooth and fair and her small jaw produced her words carefully as if she was in diction class, “You may be interested in knowing…that’s Eva Radcliff’s estate.”
“Who’s Eva Radcliff?” I asked.
“She’s a screen writer and only lives here half the year.” said Nadine’s cohort Shelly.
Her sentence was cut off abruptly by a sudden gasp that swept through the crowd of spectators in an awesome wave of disbelief. They stood in awe, silhouetted by the brilliant bludgeoned orange inferno that engulfed the entire west portion of the estate. In one corner of the yard, a group of firemen stood, waving their axes like marshaling wands,
trying desperately to gain the attention of someone. Scanning the engulfed facade of the house searching it’s windows for any signs of life, I could see only black gaping holes where windows once were, which now only billowed black noxious clouds of soot and smoke.
An officer ran by, listening to a crackle that came over his radio, behind him was a team of new firefighters fresh from their truck. What could any of them do though? The fire had taken hold of the west quadrant of the estate and the roof was caving in with horrendous volume, breaking the sound barrier and sending vibrations through the ground all the way to the street. The collapse created an explosion of embers and flame that plumed up into the starlit night; certainly the fire would consume mindlessly until there was only ashes left.
As another gasp sounded through the crowd of onlookers, a number of people began to transfix on the far end of the estate, pointing and aiming their cellphones at the blazing east quadrant. Through the spectators crowding the street and dozens of their recording phones, I could make out the firefighters in the yard waving their axes, obviously now directing someone. When I moved five feet to the right in order to see around a wide knobby tree trunk that concealed a portion of the yard, I was perplexed slightly by the sight of a figure scaling a vine-weaved trellis that ran up along the east wall of the estate. It took only a second to recognize the tattoo splayed across the back of the climber–a large four leaf clover spanning from shoulder blade to shoulder blade; it was Narcolepsy and I couldn’t restrain a chuckle—he was going after the pooch.

“The crazy motherfucker is actually going to do it.” I said.
One of the firefighters charged suddenly, reaching the trellis just in time to catch Seth’s shoe, which he customarily wore loose. The shoe, the left of a 500 dollar pair of designer runners, slid off easily and left the firefighter to the command of gravity, which pulled him and his heavy suit to the lawn, where he wriggled for a moment before rising to one knee and pushing himself back up. As he hollered at Narcolepsy from the base of the trellis, Narcolepsy climbed like a small monkey, lithe and agile.
With either experience or drunkenness, Narcolepsy moved up the trellis at an astonishing pace. Once he’d hoisted himself up onto the arching rooftop, he strode eastward, toward the retriever who’d resorted to cowering near the exposed brick of an antique chimney. With flames licking the air only a matter of feet away from his bare back Narcolepsy kicked his other sneaker off and it landed on the lawn beside the fireman. He then balanced with two arms extended, as if he were walking a tightrope. Carefully, his white socks stepped heel to toe as he approached the dog who relaxed into Narcolepsy’s arms passively. Lifting the dog and draping it across his shoulders like a scarf, he held fast to the dog’s front and hind paws as he carefully turned and headed back toward the trellis where the firefighters had managed to raise a ladder.
As if undertaking a concert ending encore, Narcolepsy glanced down at the dozens of cellphones aimed at him. Apparently tickled, he raised one arm, flashing his signature hand symbol; a fist with the index and smallest finger extended.
“Rock the fuck on!” he hollered though it was barely audible.
Everyone knew though; it was what he said at the end of each of his concerts and something Cabrino always criticized, citing it’s painful lack of profoundness and contrived lameness that was signature of the mid 1980s heavy metal scene. This instance was no exception; Cabrino turned to me and rolled his eyes, shaking his head with a grimace of annoyance.
“I’m glad for the dog…really that was a close one. But let’s face it…Narcolepsy would jump off a fucking bridge if it would get him on TV…and you know this shit is going to be all over the news tomorrow. This isn’t a man…this is a clown.” said Cabrino.
“Well…sometimes a clown gets shit done.” I chuckled as we both watched the firefighters grab hold of Narcolepsy’s torso and ease him and the dog down to the lawn when they were low enough on the ladder.

When the firefighters had carefully removed the traumatized pooch from around his shoulders, Narcolepsy picked up the runner he’d kicked off from the roof and started pacing the yard looking for the other. As he did this two of the firemen approached and instantaneously and not surprisingly, a heated argument ignited entailing a lot of pointing fingers and hollering. Soon a third fireman walked over casually, returning Seth’s other runner and as Seth pulled it on, two officers of the law walked over…the five of them stood, arguing with Narcolepsy as fire department hoses sent massive jets of water arching over the street and down onto the inferno and news helicopters and police choppers hovered in the sky above.

Cabrino, his two new friends and I, stood on the curb, looking back and forth between the burning mansion and Seth arguing with the firemen. Eventually, they escorted Seth to the sidewalk where their dispute was interrupted by a pretty blonde reporter and her camera man. She spoke into the camera’s spotlight before looking back to Narcolepsy. She asked him what prompted him pull off such a death defying feat. Pulling his shirt back on with a wry grin, Narcolepsy leaned forward and opened his mouth wide, exposing his teeth in a vicious growl before biting the foam tip of the reporter’s microphone, tearing at it so the foam cover slipped off entirely. He then scampered off into a darkened neighboring yard disappearing into the night and taking the microphone cover with him as the firemen, the reporter and the rest of us looked on; indeed, another true Hollywood story.

Bathroom Attendant

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 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.

“Why that?”

“You’re in love with statues old chap…and you have every right to be.” I told him.

“No way.”

“No?”

“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.

“Who?”

“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 rotten.”

“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.

The Dinner Party

A friend of mine invited me to a dinner party at his parent’s place—his wife refused to go and he didn’t want to go alone. I’ve known the guy for years…since back in the day when we used to play at Café Montmartre. He panicked at some point, got married, had kids—dug in for the slow burn. Things have changed, but some things will never change—like for instance his disdain for his father. Evidently the animosity between them was still so bad that Brad’s wife opted not to attend anymore dinner parties at the in-law’s place, never wanting to endure another excruciating scene.
I’d heard stories about the epic wars he and his father used to have, but I’d never met the old guy. I’d heard a bit about him though. He’d been a hot-shot real estate agent before an early retirement and now spent his time collecting art, boating and condescending his adult children. On first meeting him, he just seemed like an old and broken man with a bad sweater and a museum-like house. I say this because his house was femininely organized and pristinely clean and filled with perfectly placed post-modern décor…there was a giant giraffe in one corner of the room plated in gleaming silver and beside it was a book case full of entry level titles he probably never read and only used as fashion accessories; he was an easy study—because he had no art in him, he needed a lot of art around him.
His film noir wife sat on a Victorian chaise lounge beside an intricately carved ivory fireplace surround—as if she were just another item in the old man’s collection of decorations…to be looked at and admired, but not touched. She’d made her choice and had learned to live with it—hoping perhaps all the luxury would placate her deeply hidden disenchantment. However, my uncannily accurate telepathy suggested to me that there was a fiery artist somewhere in her past who she regretted not marrying…either that or she was just constipated.
As Brad talked with his mother and a few of the other guests, I sat in a stately chair, nursing a Pellegrino and scanning the mantlepiece where a succession of awards stood under the penetrating glare of LED lights. It seemed he’d sold enough houses to be honored with a number of glass trophies.
“You’ve got quite a collection of trophies.” I said of his real estate awards and wife.
“I have three more in the master bedroom—they wouldn’t fit on the mantle.” he grinned.
As we all sat around the exceptionally long oak dining table Brad’s old man socialized, wining down his guests and discussing local architecture and the various new condominium developments dotting the perimeter of town, his favorite resorts in the Bahamas and the best stocks to invest in. When he was drunk enough, the old man started in on Brad, politely criticizing the house Brad and his wife had purchased in Queensborough—through a different real estate agent; indeed a primal insult to the old man. I thought, here it finally was—the beginning of another epic battle and I was present to witness the fireworks. However there were none…Brad only grinned and repeatedly changed the subject smiling nervously across the table at his mother who wore an expression of apologetic concern; an expression she’d doubtlessly mastered over the years. It made sense, the old man’s advanced age most definitely emphasized his mortality—perhaps Brad recognized that the realization of this was larger than any animosity they had between each other—even if his father didn’t quite.
Later, after we’d bid goodbye to his parents and their guests and were heading toward the foyer of the house—Brad stopped in the carpeted hallway and after checking to make sure the coast was clear, he tipped the perfectly straight angle of three unframed abstract portraits that hung on the wall against the warmly lit eggshell plaster.
“What the hell are you doing man?” I chuckled.
“It will drive the old man bonkers when he notices it tomorrow—completely and totally bonkers.” said Brad with a snide grin before continuing on toward the foyer, “Small victories man…small victories.” he said leaving me there in the hallway looking at the crookedly placed portraits.