*as creative works, these Frank Nero memoirs do not represent any residences, facilities, locations or persons either living or deceased — any similarity is purely coincidental

Year of the Comet

In many ways it is like any other day. Looking at the bustle and the buildings and the people crawling the street below, toting shopping bags and baby strollers; it would seem as such too. At least to Walter Springer, who peers down at the endless expanse of rooftops and palm trees, tangled in freeways that course with the rapid pulse of cars and trucks. They pollute the horizon these automobiles, coloring it a hazy shade of rust so the distant LA skyline looks slightly smudged; fossil fuels—never meant to be dug up, thinks Walter, leaning against the balustrade of his 24th floor balcony, dragging deeply on his cigarette and shaking his head slightly; maybe that was the reason.

A DC-9, jetting overhead in the direction of LAX rumbles the twin panes of the sliding glass doors that gape widely behind Walter, letting into his overpriced apartment the succulent southern California air as well as the sweltering July heat; the planes are still running—and why not? People still need to fly. The world couldn’t just shut down—though it would anyway in six or so months; denial.

Walter wonders why this denial has evaded him in the midst of mass oblivion. Had they not seen Dr. Hayward on CNN explain in quantum physics layman’s terms, exactly how the impact will be? Had they not witnessed the computer generated mega-tsunami racing for the coast and swallowing it up? Everything west of the I-5 would go. Had they not heard that sexy blonde anchor woman on channel 7 explaining it…had they not seen the fiery cloud engulfing the globe which in the end becomes a cinder? Had Walter been the only one who’d been watching? To see the cars pouring down the freeway and hear their speeding tires clacking over the cracks in the asphalt in endless supply would suggests perhaps so; perhaps he was at this point—the last man on earth.

He knows better but still cannot fathom the general nonchalance of the city’s populous. In droves they push along, like insects moving forth on instinct alone; suckling at the last remains of life’s marrow, unafraid of choking on the bone. No one will survive—the words of one expert repeat in Walter’s mind…what was the mortality rate? He can’t remember exactly, but it was a chilling statistic and doubtlessly accurate.

All of his favorite writers were dead already, he muses…however, his favorite actresses would be extinguished by the impact—one way or another…Rachel Woolworth, Sarah Valentino, Sasha Beckwith, Ariel Holland…it would spare no one…no matter how rich or poor, famous or obscure…like Rick the valet attendant who parks his car when he eats at one of the trendy restaurants on La Cienega…he wouldn’t be spared…not his dentist who has caused him much pain…not the foxy girl behind the deli counter at Gelson’s he always means to flirt with but never does…not that beautiful blonde anchor woman on channel 7 who wears the snug fitting pant suits…nor the barista at his favorite café on Sunset who always makes his cocoa too weak—well, maybe the barista deserves to go, grins Walter dryly—feeling hopeless.

Knowing he must push on as well and tend to his now pointless afternoon succession of meetings, the surreal reality that he and the rest of them will all be dead in six months is somehow kept at bay, neatly packed in a far corner of his mind. Padding across the soft carpet of his living room and back into the bathroom, the whiteness of the tile walls wakes him, sharpening his focus so he can see the tiny pores of his flesh under the mirrors perimeter of small bulbs; human…flesh, blood, bone—mortal.

As he smears a thick spread of light blue shaving cream over his face, the image repeats in his mind; the mega-tsunami racing inland with the cold, violent indifference of nature. The razor is cool and drags through the cream easily.

Dusk

I told her that at dusk we would walk along the edge of the road, under the hot sun and up the grade, toward the confectionery at the bottom of our hill. It wasn’t really our hill. But she called it that. To the top of this hill led a path that was marked in spots by wooden crosses—12 to be exact. They were meant to symbolize the Via Crucis. We were in pioneer country and I wondered about the vicars who had come here in those early days and diligently carved out the land and carved out the crosses and then pounded the crosses into the soil—carrying out God’s work; a beam of light piercing through the darkness.

“You said we’d go.” she said as dusk approached.

“I know.” I nodded watching her stand topless, wringing the lake water out of her swim suit on the deserted beach. I sat there watching her, thinking of how the women in the old pioneer days were just as naked as she but never so naked.

“One more drink, then can we go?” she asked with a playful grin.

“We can go now if it really means that much to you.”

“One drink.”

“Okay. You make it then.”

She squatted, pointing her knees apart as she fixed us each a drink. Propped up as I was, the sand had ground a numbness into my elbow and I savored it slightly—feeling life all around me. Peering off northward, I noticed an approaching form. It was the other woman; the one Adelle had befriended for some reason, against my better judgement. I watched her walking over the sand toward us, her basket looking heavy and her sun hat drooping and casting shade over her face.

When she was close enough, this woman who we both only knew as Babette held up her basket giving it a shake.

“You found cherries.” sang Adelle now sitting beside me, cross legged and in the sand.

“Oui, oui—lots of them.” said Babette with her thick French accent.

“How were the locals?” I asked.

“I think there should be something illegal for men to watch me picking the cherries.”

We all chuckled mildly at this. Babette knew that she was very French and very pretty. In her innocent way, she understood something about nature—something Adelle hadn’t either realized or hadn’t cared to embrace. This made Adelle the smarter, more reliable woman. Babette went into the water and waded out quite far. She lingered in one spot after a while before sinking under, replacing her head with the distant splashing of her feet.

“What would you do without me?” asked Adelle.

“I guess I’d have to make my own drinks.” I smiled.

“Let’s get out of here.” Adelle whispered in my ear.

“But what about your new bestest buddy Babette…”

“Let’s go up now…before she comes back to shore. It would be funny that way.” said Adelle, giddily rising to her sandals.

White Knights

        It seems unbelievable somehow; this staggering heat from which there is no escape. And stranger still that he has somehow walked head-long through a stream of infectious vapor at some point to have become infected by this nagging summer cold. Brody swallows as he peers across the trudged through sand toward the rolling shore, wishing he could taste the cold drink that he is sipping. The drink is a concoction, suggested to him by the other of this female team of cutthroat daters from Malibu; gin, tonic water, grapefruit juice and a shot of cranberry juice for added color. “It’s delicious.” Sasha had chuckled…and he cannot taste any of it.

He can however, faintly make out the scent of her coconut tan lotion as she explains to him the various resources in Redding; where she is from originally. He remembers Redding vaguely, from the times he’d passed through it, but his memory of it is only through the recollection of road signs…the rest is all farm land. And so when he remembers it he is only reminded of the surrounding landscape…and how the palms seemed to end without him noticing them end.

Again he peers across the sand that becomes flat when wet as it takes the tide in smooth long foamy strokes. Hawthorne’s form can be seen, submerged in the water, diving into an oncoming wave, rising again and then spouting a long bending stream of sea water from his mouth; he is a clown and it makes Brody chuckle—interrupting Sasha’s recollection of an office in which she’d worked one summer filing documents she’d never read.

When they are back on the topic of him eventually; he finds that there is too much to say and in all of this, he cannot find a sufficient start—where should he begin?  More importantly, why should he begin? What difference will it make to this woman who seems to fear more than anything—empty silence. It’s an exhausting idea. To rehash himself…editing out the not so nice parts for this peroxide blonde who seems to find amusement in the mere passing of seconds. She smiles widely again, as if to chuckle when Hawthorne and the other girl are finally trudging back over the sand…still dripping from the ocean.

“Is the water cold?” Sasha asks as he himself peers outward, still perplexed by the inconceivable volume of the ocean. Men have gone out into it and never come back…and some have discovered land. Go figure.

“Not once you’ve been in it for a while.” says Hawthorne’s girl. She is nearly perfect and Brody believes the reason he hasn’t fully contemplated Janna (Hawthorne’s company on this weekend excursion) in a sexual nature wasn’t after all because of the nagging summer cold; she is simply too beautiful to contemplate…and it’s like looking into the sun for Brody. Plus, she’s Hawthorne’s date and in effect, she’s been tarnished by Hawthorne in ways.

“I say old boy,” says Hawthorne, relaxing back into his chair, “have you fallen in love?”

Brody’s eyes pull from Janna’s bikini that has now turned frontward…her smile, gleaming down on him perfectly white between two turquoise earrings dangling from either of her smooth ear lobes, eases Brody into a confessing grin; it was just like Hawthorne to turn things tacky, but perhaps for the best; too much peace and quiet turns to boredom eventually.

“I don’t see your name written on her.” Brody says, calmly…with a cool gaze and with it takes in Hawthorne who isn’t as relaxed.

“Maybe it is…just in a spot where you can’t see.” says Hawthorne now grinning a little.

Perhaps feeling left out, Sasha, who may or may not have breast implants–speaks flatly, “Well she does have a name written on her ankle don’t you Jan.”

“Oh god, don’t remind me. I used to wear a Band-Aid over it when we broke up.” says Jan…then they are off–the cutthroat daters from Malibu–cackling into each other’s eyes, like sisters of a cackling coven.

They joke, the girls…reciting hypothetical situations in which one statement or another could account for the Band-Aid, ‘oh, cut myself shaving again today’ is volleyed high above in a whirl of cackling that makes Brody dizzy somehow. He cannot see the humor, but is still interested in the tattoo.

“Show us.” he says and Janna, who throws her gaze at him suddenly as if surprised, or feeling she’s been challenged, lifts her ankle and rubs her thumb over the faded ink stained into her skin that spells the name “Craig”.

Craig?” asks Brody…throwing a puzzled glance toward Hawthorne who has missed the joke widely…for to him this permanent declaration of self-proclaimed love must be irksome.

“Or The Craiger as he was fondly referred to.”

“The Craiger?” Brody says, needing to hear it out loud again so there is no distain lost on the notion…he chuckles and shakes his head, “what was his sob story?”

“Well, he was a rich kid…or at least his parents were rich…they basically bought him a condo in Brentwood for graduating College…he was blonde…beautiful…surfer boy—a man child.”

“But he had the devil’s eyes.” interjects Sasha.

“For real.” agrees Janna, nodding fast and seriously, nibbling a single sunflower seed between her two front teeth desperately, “He was evil—but the thing is, he looked so good in black.”

This notion stays with him. Through the following drinks, the phrase keeps rearing its head for reasons unknown to him…like the piece of drift wood in the distance that has appeared and reappeared through the rolling up of the tide. Indeed, adrift in his mind, this statement has appeared again, on their way back to the car through a wooded area that caught the sun through a cathedral of leaves, and in the shelter from the boiling sun, Brody turns to Janna and grins. “He looked so good in black.” says Brody.

“Some guys do.” Said Janna with a small grinning shrug, “But I want a white knight—not a dark prince.”

“Why not just a regular guy in jeans and a t-shirt?” asks Brody.

“I don’t like being bored.”

“And how about Hawthorne?”

“Well…as you can see.” Gestures Janna toward Hawthorne who walks barefoot across the parking lot in his jeans and snug fitting t-shirt and Brody cannot help but laugh.

There Goes the Neighborhood

Huchence lived next door…in that bloody awful haunted house next door. A man had been bludgeoned to death in the garage one year, long before I moved to the neighborhood—or so Huchence had sworn. He swore he saw ghosts from time to time too—that the sensor lights inside went on and off by themselves…that the cats were always on edge…that he heard whispers when trying to read. I rented a room in the basement of the mansion next door. A mansion a widow let out in the summer. I never understood what my $700 a month did for her being that it was clear Mrs. McLean was filthy rich. I chose to believe she was sending my money to a daughter somewhere in the world–overseas perhaps. I had developed mixed emotions about screwing her once or twice a week as had become our wont. It was Huchence you see. He had turned me off of her slightly.

“That’s what I told you.” he had said one afternoon, “She doesn’t need the money. What she wants is a good poke now and then…she’s a widow.”

“I don’t know.” I said, leery of this idea.

“Of course she does. What else, at her age and all alone? Christ, she has to be at least 45.”

“At least?”

“At least.”

“And in all the years you’ve lived beside her I’m certain you’ve collected certain information.” I had speculated.

“Ah yes…but I never poked her. Her and I have a mutual respect…” Hutchence had said with smug ignorance.

Remembering this conversation, it struck me as odd that I had formed a bond with Huchence at all, for he was socially inept and was working on his third marriage; he hadn’t the slightest fucking clue. His first two marriages had been ‘bloody disasters’ as he’d put it. I stood on the veranda and watched him as he strolled up the walk, clad in a tennis shirt. His shirts I should add were all monogrammed and this presented itself as another reason why I failed to understand our friendliness.

It can be said that Huchence was always around. He would visit quite frequently and what’s worse, quite unannounced. This afternoon was no exception. As he approached me with a large smile, I came to terms with the realization that I wouldn’t miss him if he were to disappear suddenly and without return–if he wound up buried beside Hoffa; I’d not mind much. Still, I didn’t altogether despise his company.

“The old bat out of the evening?”

“She’s not old.” I said.

“Ah, I knew you’d be getting sweet on her. I knew it. I was worried about you the other day while I was golfing. I was thinking–that kid is gonna be sweet on Paula.”

“Listen, that’s just outrageous.” I leveled with him nonchalantly as I watched a spider crawl up his leg, “There’s a spider crawling up your leg.”

Huchence leaned forward and gently swiped the spider from his pants. It stayed perfectly still once it was on the veranda floor.

“Look at that little bastard. He thinks we can’t see him.” Said Huchence.

“He must realize we can.” I said.

“It’s not even a realization. It’s all instinct with insects and animals. If this spider here was as big as a civic he’d eat us.” said Huchence leaning forward now, extending the lit end of his cigar toward the spider. The spider stood no chance as Huchence walked beside it, “look at the little bastard. He thinks he’s going to get away.” He said, following the spider closely with the burning ember of his cigar.

“You’re not going to kill that spider on my veranda.” I said.

“You afraid it might rain?”

“No. I just don’t want to see it.”

“Listen,” said Huchence, sitting down finally in one of the chairs Paula McLean set out for afternoon lemonade with her women’s auxiliary group, “I’m having an operation done.”

“Yeah?”

“Rhinoplasty, you ever hear of it?”

I nodded.

“Well, I’m going under the knife. This fucking nose of mine is terrible. See, Helen doesn’t like it. She never has. So I’m getting it done for her. Christ I love that woman. I love that dame in the pit of my soul. Have you seen the ass on her?”

I nodded.

“Thing is, she’s been making comments about men on TV. Hey, TV I can handle right? TV is one thing…but today she commented on a salesman’s lips. She said they were very full. Then she noticed out loud how mine are thin. I think she’s hinting for me to get bigger lips. They inject stuff into them–I’ve read up on it.” said Huchence eyeing my lips. “You know, you don’t have bad lips.”

“Listen…” I said, shifting uncomfortably. There was a feeling within me suddenly that Huchence would want to ‘trade’ lips. “Nobody’s perfect.”

“No, but now adays you can cheat your genes, you can cheat mother-nature just a bit.”

“I don’t know. It seems like such a bother.” I said.

“You have to please your woman. You have to keep her interested.”

“Well, I hope those doctors set you up with a really interesting nose, shithead.” I chuckled, taking a sip of my iced tea and shaking my head. There goes the neighborhood.

Diamonds

Though the man doesn’t claim to know everything, or even a great deal about art; he cannot help staring across the room, at the wall, across which sprawls a monstrosity of earth tones…smudged…for effect he assumes–with a squint of harsh criticism. And as he sits, sipping his dry gin, he imagines how much better the painting could be. And directly after is sure that wherever one finds comfort; one also finds pain—tempestuous oceans of it…and fearing the glass is draining him, rather than the opposite–he sets it down. Wondering where Salina is.

“Salina.” he calls over his shoulder, “Salina old girl…I’m getting tired.”

She calls back after a moment from the bathroom…and the man has the notion suddenly that she is pinning up her hair…

He is wrong however and when she emerges from the darkened hallway he wonders now what she’s been doing in there…being that her hair isn’t pinned up…and her clothes haven’t changed. She hasn’t slipped into something more comfortable it would seem. There she stands, this Denison of 555 Belmore Place, wrapped snug in her silk oriental print dress, her high heels still clacking about the hardwood…no doubt driving the tenants below mad.

“Here…sit down.” says the man patting the cushion beside him, “You’re making me nervous.”

“Just a minute. I want to make a cocktail.”

“Cocktails huh?”

“Not really…it’s more of a cranberry, Perrier, vodka sort of thing.” she calls from the kitchen–the woman gets around pretty good on two feet. To maintain her, could be disastrous.

“I couldn’t help noticing this painting.” calls the man after another sip of his gin.

“Which one?”

“The one above the fireplace.”

“Oh yeah?” she calls, absently…

“Yeah.” He says and is not urged to elaborate. Who cares anyway? Certainly not her…and so why should he?

When she returns and is beside him on the squeaky, slippery, black leather couch; she sets down her pink, carbonated beverage on the glass coffee table and commences to remove her heels. Carefully and with a wince of relief tightening between her brows.

“That feels good…what did you notice about it?” she asks.

“That it takes up a hell of alot of wall space.” says the man, “What made you buy it?”

“I thought it was cool.” she shrugs.

“What else do you think is cool?”

“Um…” she says, relaxing into the cushions now beside him by folding her legs underneath her in a seemingly uncomfortable fashion as women often do, “Coffee Crisp bars, Persian cats, potluck dinners…”

“Go on.” says Jack.

“Are you waiting for me to say piano singers?”

“The thought hadn’t crossed my mind…I’m just curious. Do you write desperate poetry? Do you masturbate in bathrooms at parties with the door unlocked?”

“No…ewe.”

“Just asking…I knew a girl like that once.”

“Sorry to disappoint you.”

“Oh, come now…you haven’t disappointed me yet.”

“What was her name?” asks the woman.

“Anabelle.”

“Anabelle the poet.” grins the woman. “Did you date her or something? Define your definition of ‘knew’…you knew her how? In the biblical sense? Or did you just stumble upon her in a bathroom at a party?”

The man chuckles.

“I just knew her…it’s hard to explain.”

“So where is she now? Where is Anabelle the poet now?”

“She writes a column in Z-magazine. In the literary section. And she mocks things she doesn’t understand. She once told me that Updike was a fraud.”

“Who?”

“John Updike. A remarkably gifted writer–super accomplished too…a staple in American literature…perhaps less relevant than Hemingway, but for sure just as gifted. She mocked his style of describing textures and colors…complexions and so forth. I mean, Mailer thought of Updike as a brilliant painter for this very reason…and this dame tears him apart because she didn’t like his wordiness–can you fucking believe it?” the man is chuckling about it by now…remembering her now.

“Do you know what I can’t get out of my mind?” she asks him.

“No tell me.” the man says…turning to her slightly on his cushion and causing a squeak that jarbles his nerves slightly–like small nails on a chalk board.

“That woman who stole our cab.”

The man nods…and he is unable to recall the woman; the perpetrator of Salina’s mind.

“I mean, who wears what she was wearing?”

“It’s hard to say.”

“Not for me…I’d say she was a farm girl.”

“Really?” Jack smiles widely…finding this cute.

“Well, yeah…it’s obvious…she doesn’t buy by the wardrobe…it’s by the piece. So nothing matches…”

“The poor thing.” he grins…

“She can’t be that poor…her boots were for sure Italian…but hello–the pin striped 80’s skirt ruined anything she was going for…unless she was going for Sheena Easton on heroin.”

“It’s hard to say.” shrugs the man…finally draining his gin so the ice cubes cool his lips.

“And what about that guy she was with?”

“What about him?”

“He was practically humping her against the mailbox before they stole our cab.”

“But there was plenty of cabs.” says Jack.

“He was icky.”

“He was probably her pimp.” he says, moving closer to her ear which smells of shampoo, perfume and the distant scent of her evening sweat.

“Probably.” she says, “Hey, know what I like a lot?”

He smooths his lips over her ear whispering closely, “Diamonds.”

And it works.

Love Among the Ruins

I’d been lying on a smooth patch of sand reading Tropic of Capricorn as the sun beat down on my back. The rolling tide foamed thick and frothy along the sandy banks that went on forever—to the ends of the earth and into pestilent jungles and swamps where modern man had no business being.

The distant voices of frolicking beach goers barely cut through the soothing roll of tide that drown out their glee with infinite stoicism—the tide only knew to erode and push on, leaving its shape in the earth; the ocean is a woman, I mused, watching a lady bug crawl across the boxy black print that had been splashed against the page from a dead man’s mind. Oblivious to me, Miller and his literary legacy and the UV rays baking our sprawling beach and its inhabitants, the ladybug crawled on…feeling with its antennas.

Henry Miller had never thought about UV Rays. He hadn’t thought about the ozone layer. Technology hadn’t made it there yet. He’d thought mainly about writing and fucking and drinking. He’d once said that life is a game we play and had afforded himself an obligation to oblivion through the means of unapologetic artistic whimsy. What was my excuse? I wondered, laying the book flat with the pages skyward, and blowing with a good gust, the lady bug forth onto the baking dunes rippling up the shore toward the dry bluff, beyond which, the parking lot stored our cars. I watched the bug crawling, moving over the small peaks of sand like a ruby red dune buggy. It headed instinctively in the direction of the bluff. How did it know?

Cool droplets pattered my back suddenly and the weight of her inner thighs, made coarse by the gritty sand stuck to them, scratched my sides as her bottom sat down in the small of my back. Two cool hands, pruned by salt water covered over my eyes suddenly. Leaning forward with her stringy wet hair mopping over my shoulders, she whispered in my ear.

“Guess who.” said her voice in a close whisper.

“Catherine Deneuve?”

“You wish.” said Mitzi.

I rolled over onto my back so she was sitting astride, looking down at me. She leaned down and looked at me closer, much the way I had studied the lady bug. After a few moments she straightened back up so the smooth, still wet flesh of her belly gleamed brilliantly in the late afternoon sun. She whipped her hair to one side and gathered it with two hands, pulling it over one shoulder. She folded the hair once and positioned it directly over me. She then wrung her wrists so a small cascade of sea water splashed against my chest.

“See, that water isn’t so bad baby.” said Mitzi, rubbing the water into my flesh with her nail polished fingers.

“Well, I guess we’ll both get flesh eating disease now.” I mused, focusing at a plane high above, which was from my point of view, a small silver spec at the tip of a long spreading jet trail.

“Sounds romantic.” she grinned, throwing her hair back over her shoulder, “What are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking that I’ve been laying here watching you walking around all morning in a thong bikini…I think we need to get a room for a couple hours.” I said.

“You like this swimsuit huh? I got it 70% off at Beverly Center. Can you believe it?” said Mitzi.

“Sounds like a good deal to me. There’s a hotel across the highway where I can take that bikini 100% off.” I told her.

“What time is it?” Mitzi asked, pulling my wrist up toward her peering eyes that had become intense again, “Its only 12:15. That leaves us plenty of time to get into a room; if we go now.”

Mitzi, who found a quiet solace in organizing disarray, gathered up our strewn belongings from the warm sand, packing them neatly into the leather bag she’d brought. As I lay on my side, finishing my drink, I watched her in motion. I admired the long curvy lines she’d inherited from her mother and I was grateful that she’d gotten almost no resemblance from her father.

After all there’s little worse than meeting a beautiful woman’s father and spotting resemblances they share, for the recollection of which could pose a danger of reoccurrence in the wrong situation—like say while you’re in bed with her. Certainly, her father’s profile is the last thing you’d wish to see looking back at you over her shoulder when the lights are low. Mitzi Rosenberg only resembled her mother and her sister whom I’d only seen in photos. Her mother was still something of a looker at the age of 56 and taught Mitzi the importance of keeping fit…so the day was looking up.

Deciding to leave the car in the beach parking lot, Mitzi and I walked across the highway and checked into a fleabag motel and spent a couple hours with the drapes closed. Though the sand on the sheets had been an annoyance, Mitzi always put on a great performance, especially when she was being watched.

Still, the hollow remained afterward, the one which felt like dissatisfied hunger; only deeper. I wondered if eating would help fill the void…provide a few shreds of emotional comfort at the very least. Though Mitzi was a ball of energy on any given day and though she could speak volumes on any given notion; she was happy go lucky and skirted around any issues that might spark an intense conversation. I assumed she believed that if you didn’t look under the bed, the monsters weren’t really there.

After finding a restaurant that appeared to follow at least some regulated practice of safe food preparation; we sat comfortably at a table near the window, Mitzi cutting into her blueberry pancakes and I sipping tonic water. I peered out across the baking expanse of sand toward the water, upon which two colorful Waroos in the distance caught the wind on a high up angle, pulling two kite surfers along as if in slow motion over the white crested waves far out beyond the reef. I sat there for a moment, peering out at the Waroos holding steady just above the deep blue horizon. It was chilling to think we are only passing shapes in this world. Writing did something though; it offered a twist—the unexpected. I thought this, wishing I could discuss it with Mitzi—wishing that she’d have some answer, some method of deconstruction that could explain the unexplained; the grand comedy. However, Mitzi was the physical type and she did it well.

“So what’s your plan this afternoon?” asked Mitzi before sipping deeply from her tall pulpy glass of Tropicana.

“I’ve got to go to a wedding thing—more like an after wedding type thing.” I said, sighing deeply at the idea of attending a dinner with old friends.

“Oh, cool. Need a date?” she asked absently.

I didn’t answer immediately. Rather I watched her eat for a while and she ate casually, looking up at me occasionally and smiling, signifying with nods that the blueberry pancakes were above satisfactory quality. I chewed a slice of bacon while I watched her…trying to divert my mind from the fact that the delicious crispy strip had been actually shaved from the carcass of a once curious animal.

Beyond having been born extremely pretty, Mitzi was also an academic over achiever who’d passed the Bar exam the year she’d turned 28. I often speculated that because of her strict dedication to study, she’d missed out on a lot of college experiences that would have rendered her otherwise jaded.

Having isolated herself to a 6×10 dorm room study chamber for the entire duration of her college years (with the exception of class and chess club obligations), she’d by passed any grossly exaggerated social deaths or psychologically damaging scorched-earth break ups. She’d never been extremely intoxicated, or for that obvious matter, extremely hung over. She’d never smoked up. She’d never had a one night stand or a summer fling and felt used and dirty about it. She’d never felt the urge to deface her flesh with contrived tattoos or absurd piercings in her eye brows and nostril flaps. She’d been so uncool that she was in fact irrevocably cool.

When the waitress came around again, I ordered another tonic and more pancakes. Mitzi smiled pleasantly at the waitress, thanking her for me with her eyes and went back to her syrup soaked plate. I watched her for a few moments cutting perfectly triangular wedges from the pancakes which, when pressed with the knife, sent up small bubbles through the thick layer of syrup; like spores. Spores had owned this planet for millions of years. How boring. No writing, no reading, no singing; no nothing—just spores bubbling up through the slime.

“I don’t know,” I said, “I wasn’t told to bring a date—and it’s a crowd that I rarely see. They ostracized me years ago…but still want me around once in a while—just to make sure I’m doing better than they are. What I do know however is that you’d find it miserable.”

“Why do you say that?” asked Mitzi.

“Because you’d be with me and I’m going to find it miserable. You’d also probably be bored silly. Thing about old friends is that they always remember you as you were when they last knew you.”

“What do they remember you as?” asked Mitzi.

“They remember me as Franky boy—the bad boy, freak show, disaster who was a great antidote to their boredom.” I chuckled.

“You don’t think you were?” asked Mitzi, surprising me with the sudden shard of insight.

“It was a long time ago. But as I say—it’s hard to live down a reputation. The whole thing sounds like a nightmare I know…and I just don’t want to tarnish your pristine virtue just yet my dear girl.” I told her, giving her my best Clare Quilty.

Mitzi leaned forward slightly, resting her elbows on the table. She interlocked her fingers and rested her chin on them, peering at me deeply; her eyes glowing with wonder, “I think it sounds absolutely wonderful.”

In the end, Mitzi decided not to join me. She had appointments all afternoon and who knows what else. I didn’t care about the what else because I didn’t quite love Mitzi; ours was a very formal coupling based solely on sex and outdoor activities—namely hiking. Still, once I’d arrived at the wedding after dinner, I regretted not insisting she join me. You see dear reader, I realized it was a date night; a tidbit that had been left out in the email invite. It seemed everyone but me had been informed to bring a date; even Jensen had brought a date.

 

Certainly Jensen had never brought a date anywhere in his life—yet there he was, guarding her with a heavy arm slung over the back of her chair as if she were a prison yard meal; thigh touching, hair smoothing, back rubbing…it was slightly nauseating—but more so, it was a curious phenomenon given the fact that Jensen displayed perpetually graphic angles of plumbers butt whenever he bent forward—which was for some reason quite frequently.

Indeed, I had been present during past discussions. It was a fact that none of them could figure out why Jensen would intentionally wear clothing three sizes too small and perpetually display his ass crack in this fashion. Furthermore, it sat as an unspoken mystery to everyone at the table how Jensen had gotten a date in the first place—that much went without saying. But there he was, in the flesh, fondling this strangely blinking bird who seemed to find anything at all hilarious enough to throw her shrill, piercing chuckle at.

 

There are instances in life, when horribly ironic moments are topped with a rancid red maraschino cherry. Jensen wasn’t the cherry on this evening. Indeed, not; the cherry this time was Shannon Hayward and her always pleasantly grinning boyfriend of 9 years Phil somethingorother. I knew Shannon well and had heard a lot about Phil and his many domestic blunders. As far as Shannon was concerned, Phil was on probation—indefinitely. To punish him, she flirted with an array of men; myself included. There had been a time, many in fact, when I believe Shannon was beckoning me with lurid invitations. There had been a lot of innuendo, questions like how I rated myself as a lover, friendly shoulder massages, quiet patios and restaurants she’d show me on quiet afternoons…not to mention crotch flashes of her red panties while sitting on a park lawn, during a smoke break in an afternoon badminton game. It didn’t stop there…in fact it stopped abruptly one afternoon weeks later.

 

A missed afternoon phone call attached to a hesitant voice mail alluding to coming over with a bottle of wine finally wised me up to how far Shannon was willing to go with it. But having not returned the call in the end—not believing that Shannon would ever really want more of me than my attention, I’d left the ball in her court—so that she might be direct for once in her life. So that she might make a confession—and seal the deal.

 

However, Shannon withdrew, eventually becoming absent; frightened by the reality of actually embarking on an affair. Still, in that time I’d acquired information. Not info I’d intentionally extracted—but info she’d given willingly…for whatever reasons. Allow me to elaborate.

 

She frequently complained that Phil didn’t compliment her on her appearance, that he’d lost the desire to go down on her, that he was too intellectual and therefore too tame, that he was going grey, that he never took her out anywhere fun, that he frequently reminded her that they were getting old and once they entered their forties it would be all downhill from there, that he had no mission in life, that he’d sucked the passion out of their lives with his apathetic surrender to the decampment of his youth…and her resentment grew. In another brief and sadly comical confession, she admitted to hurling at medium velocity, a remote control against his face, which left him with a black eye after painfully connecting one fateful morning when they’d been jousting about one matter or another.

 

I couldn’t help but feel a small shred of pity for the old boy; perhaps because of the remote control incident. That took self-control—to not pack his things and leave her—or at least negotiate some ground rules. Perhaps he was a better, more patient man than I. Or perhaps he was just a browbeaten pussy. However, no man is only one or the other, if he says he is—he’s a liar too. There’s a thin line between love and hate after all…and their whole mess only made me glad in a distant way that I’d never gotten in the middle of it.

 

Indeed, if you didn’t know anything about either of them, Shannon and Phil appeared to be terrifically, drunkenly happy with each other. And of course, when they’d arrived and he’d dipped her in front of everyone at the table, holding the position for a moment, peering down at her surprised, nervous grin with all the synthetic charm of a game show host—everyone applauded. I meanwhile checked his face and neck for fresh contusions and abrasions.

Though there were no such marks visible, I was positive there may have been small, Shannon sized bite marks on his calves and shoulders. I chuckled to myself at this as I greeted Phil with a fist bump rather than a handshake—in hopes of avoiding a head cold or flu. I then proceeded to endure a horribly long winded hour of their contrived social facade and public groping.

 

As I say, even Jensen was party to this. Jensen, who’d never brought a date anywhere, so of course was obligated to cling to his new found girl to the point of following her to the ladies room, where she might be seen without him and subsequently rendered ‘free game’. It was beyond him to let her piss in peace. I found it amusing.

 

Looking around the table at all of their pontificating faces gesturing, grimacing, giggling and slobbering with desperate enthusiasm; it dawned on me then, as I sipped a fresh rum and coke, that I’d never, ever retrieve the time I was wasting sitting among them. And it became clear to me that these couples were bored silly, and so gravitated toward other similarly bored silly couples, to form a sort of couple’s support group, for the sake of interaction based on the premise of flirtation and subtle innuendo with other significant others—which I suppose forms subtle jealousy, and in effect an instinctual claim of territory after the lights go out, later on in the sack with their originally assigned significant others—ground zero of their boredom; ‘hey, you’re mine baby—don’t you forget it.’

 

It wasn’t real love though. I knew that much. I’d had my shot with real love once and it was a warm sea of enchantment…then I’d set it free—and it never came back to me. However, at least I’d been given a shot. Some poor suckers never get a shot; they get a suitable mate with compatible features—then wind up at couples nights, twisting basic dynamics into complicated shapes and catching each other in jealousy traps. How boring.

 

When I was finally hopelessly bored and casually out witting Shannon’s man, I managed to offend a peroxide blonde purely by accident. I can’t recall exactly what I’d said, but evidently my words had rubbed her the wrong way. She’d made a quiet comment at first. I turned to her after nearly hearing her comment, and her eyes were staring back at me intensely, held tightly in the forced grin she’d been wearing throughout the evening, one threatening to crack the heavy layer of foundation that had been seemingly applied to her face with a putty knife.

 

“Say again.” I said.

 

“I don’t repeat myself.” she said.

 

“Suit yourself.” I said and went on bantering with Shannon’s man, who was surprisingly bright after all, though browbeaten and broken.

 

“Oh, you’re so cool aren’t you?” she cooed, as if she were a long lithe cat, purring for attention…throwing her generalized sex appeal at me like a hatchet. Rather than being cleaved in two by it however, I’d caught her hatchety sex appeal and held it there before us for a moment, looking it over, recognizing its shape and contours. I’d met this woman before…and I’d been meeting her for years.

 

“Are you for real?” I asked, turning to face the blonde.

 

“Oh yeah…so for real. You’re so like the coolest guy I’ve ever met.” she said.

 

“Well,” I said, raising my glass, “thanks for saying so.”

 

“I was being sarcastic.” said the blonde.

 

“Yeah, I got that.”

 

“Well, at least you understand something.” She said, stepping over the line of casual ball breaking; indeed, it seemed I’d actually offended her. I looked at her for a long moment, studying the hurt expression in her large blue eyes. What exactly had I said?

 

“Are you sure it’s me you’ve got an issue with…or is it someone else…your father maybe?” I said, drawing no immediate reply from the blonde woman I’d never met before; only a silent stare.

 

“Pretty much just you.” She said with a tone of loathing that seemed a bit extreme and quite out of place. How was it that I could conjure such disdain from a complete stranger in only a matter of a few minutes? Perhaps it wasn’t hate at all.

 

“Well, if it’s any consolation, I’m completely indifferent to you.” I admitted.

 

“Oh, bravo…that’s so Brando…but I thought bad boys are supposed to be sexy.” said the blonde with a hateful grin.

 

“Hey,” I said, “I’ve never claimed to be a great man…or a bad man…or a fucking sexy one and by the way—why do you care?”

 

“You know, I’ve heard about you from all of these very nice people…I’ve heard the stories about you. I got to say, I wasn’t impressed then and I’m certainly not impressed now.” said the blonde who was checked slightly by one of the other women who simply spoke her name in a cautionary tone. Leslie—the name didn’t ring a bell.

 

“You done?” I grinned, looking at her.

 

“No I’m not done. Why are you even here? Nobody here even likes you anyway.” She added, sitting back in her chair and crossing her arms, feeling she’d done her best and still hadn’t cut me up as bad as she’d wished to.

 

“I’m sure that’s true. But do you know what? I prefer to be hated rather than fake liked.” I said.

 

“How deep.” Leslie groaned.

 

“You’ll never know.”

 

“I already know about you.” she said.

 

“Maybe the problem is that you actually do believe the hype Leslie—and you really shouldn’t.” I said, offering her a small grin before draining my glass; piss on these pricks, I thought as the rum and cola went down with a sting. Rising from my chair I raised my empty glass as if to call a toast. “To Reeves, congrats man; I hope your new life with your new wife is splendid—she’s really a vision of loveliness—far out of your league old chap…I appreciate the invite. To the rest of you—you can all kiss my balls.” I said with a charming grin before setting my empty glass down on the table and heading for the doors.

 

I was strolling through the parking lot when I heard a voice calling my name from behind. For a moment I thought it was Leslie herself, having followed me outside in order to dig her nails into my face. When I turned to look however, I found it was Shannon and she was walking toward me slowly, hugging herself against the slight breeze and carrying a look of embellished concern in her eyes. She stood in front of me, perhaps flirting with the notion of leaving with me…something she’d never do, but longed to.

 

“What’s up?” I asked.

 

“Wow, that Leslie woman really doesn’t have a handle on her alcohol.” said Shannon.

 

“I think there’s something else going on in her head.” I said.

 

“You think? Like what? Have you ever met her before?” asked Shannon.

 

“Never seen her before.” I shrugged, “I could care less what’s going on inside her head—probably not very much.”

 

I continued walking toward my car and Shannon fell into step beside me. We talked as we walked.

 

“Well, it’s too bad you have to leave so early.” she said.

 

“It’s okay. I’ve got to be out in Marina Del Rey soon anyway.”

 

“What’s going on out there?” asked Shannon.

 

“Probably not much.” I said.

 

“So mysterious.” She grinned, “A girl?”

 

“You guys…all you couples love the jealousy nights huh?” I smiled. We were at my car and with the lights of Burbank acting as a twinkling backdrop; Shannon leaned against the driver’s side door, taking a cigarette from her handbag. Placing it unlit between her glossy red lips, she looked at me good and hard.

 

“I miss our friendship—the laughs.” She said.

 

“Is that what it was; a friendship?” I asked.

 

“I don’t know what it was.” She admitted, for the very first time.

 

“Don’t light that.” I said as Shannon flicked the flint of her lighter, creating a small orange flame she carefully raised to meet the end of the cigarette.

 

“Why not?” she asked.

 

“Because,” I said, reaching up and removing the cigarette from her mouth, “cigarettes will kill you…plus, I’m going to kiss you. You ok with that?”

 

I reached around her waist and pulled her close, pressing my lips into hers. Hers were soft and tasted like lipstick and alcohol. Her body, tense at first, eventually relaxed, and she draped her arms around my shoulders and lifted a leg and ran the instep of her pump down the back of my calf; one of Shannon’s many moves I presumed—moves I’d never come to know. For I realized then that once I drove away, Shannon would smoke her cigarette, collect herself and return to the restaurant, giddy with a secret that she would take to her grave; she would never tell Phil and for that I was glad—glad all around that I would probably never see any of them again.

 

Once back in my car, with the taste of Shannon’s lipstick in my mouth, the night was alive and rolling by in lights. The movement of people; how profound. The city at night, layered in decades of oily, street stained history rolled beneath my wheels as I drove on, past alarmed and darkened boutique store front windows displaying things I didn’t desire. I drove on into the night that was crawling with oblivious summer lovers and roast baked vagrants with hundred yard stares.

 

I drove leisurely through downtown corridors, where the sounds of traffic echoed between the concrete parapets of skyscrapers and overpriced condominiums; wondering if there was something horribly wrong with me. For how could such a desert lifestyle, void of anything sacred, be understood by such a vast many while making little to no sense to me? Certainly it was I who was the out of touch one…the one lurking out on the fringes of collective understanding. And the question remained, had I changed, or had the world around me changed?

 

In any case dear reader, I was in quite a state by the time I arrived at Tiffany’s. She lived in a flat down by the docks. It was no secret why she decided to live where the ocean met the earth. For she loved turmoil and could sit for hours, wrapped in a fleecy comforter, sipping a bottomless cup of tea with a book folded in her lap, just staring out into the beautiful violence of the tide smashing against the rocks.

 

Indeed, there was that side to Tiffany, but there were many sides to Tiffany and it often kept one guessing. I’d figured her out though and perhaps had become a fixture in her domain on the merit of that fact alone. For she, like most women, longed to be understood. The sadly comedic truth however, was that I didn’t understand her. Though I’d come to know exactly what to expect from Tiffany, her predictability still made no fucking sense to me.

 

You see, dear reader, I hadn’t committed myself, fully or in part to Tiffany. I knew much better than that. I merely allowed my existence to merge with hers a couple times a week. It was a strategy I employed to avoid getting attached—for Tiffany was the wrong woman to get attached to; she wasn’t the type to handle your heart with care. She would inevitably stuff it into a blender; I’d seen her do it to others…and most chilling was her lack of empathy for any of the poor bastards; Tiffany could be cutthroat and that was her biggest flaw.

 

So there I was standing in her doorway, taking a deep greeting hug which pressed her firm breasts against me in a waft of perfume, shampoo and cosmetics. She was a hot blooded, American born Sicilian beauty who took nothing lightly. Indeed, her possessiveness and red hot jealousy was her sexiest attribute—as it made one feel appreciated.

 

“Is that lipstick on your lips?” she asked, taking a step back and peering at me sideways.

 

“Come on…its raspberry smoothie.” I said, loosening my tie uncomfortably, finding it difficult suddenly to breathe.

 

“Oh…well it looks like lipstick. You better not be messing around on me with chicks that wear whore lipstick.”

 

“Yeah, well…here.” I said, handing her the bottle of 120 she loved so dearly.

 

“Mmmmm, this will go nice with dinner.” she said.

 

“Yeah, what’s cooking good looking—I’m starving.” I said, strolling casually across the hardwood expanse of her living room.

 

I sunk deeply into the soft hold of her leather couch and turned on the TV and as I flipped through the channels hoping to find an episode of Fantasy Island, Tiffany stepped over to me and lifted her skirt. “This is what’s cooking.” she said cocking a brow.

 

When I’d taken care of that, she brought me a slice of banana bread that she’d prepared earlier in the afternoon. She was nibbling on one herself and handed me mine. I stared at it for a moment, hovering there before me, square and brown and wedged with walnuts sliced smoothly through.

 

“What’s the matter?” she asked.

 

“Nothing,” I said, taking the spongy square of banana bread in hand, trying not to think of the many possible ways it could have become contaminated under the nonchalant eye of Tiffany, who I’d often seen washing her hands without soap and in cold water, after handling raw meats.

 

“What?!” she squealed, “You dissing my banana bread?”

 

“Of course not; I’m just wondering when the last time you prepared chicken was.” I said, peering toward the dark marble surfaces of her post-modern kitchen.

 

“Not for a long time.”

 

“How about sushi? I know you love that ghastly shit…you make any sushi lately?” I asked, studying her reaction for the hesitation that concocting a lie creates and indeed did spot a pause and called her to it immediately,

 

“You’re hiding something clearly.”

 

“No, I just couldn’t remember for a second.”

 

“Couldn’t remember…” I repeated, throwing it into the air for the possibility of analysis.

 

“Please…don’t insult me ok.” she demanded, “Eat it!”

 

“Ok,” I said, biting into the banana bread against my better judgement. It was bitter and salty to make matters worse, “there, happy?”

 

“That makes me happy yes. So how was your wedding dinner or whatever it was?” she asked, sitting down next to me on the couch, as she did when were only friends, bending her legs to the side as women often do and brushing a curly lock of her hair from her eyes.

 

“Enlightening, nightmarish, yet pleasant at points.” I confessed, tasting the banana bread again, and wondering if it was impolite to point out the excessive baking soda flavor.

 

“That’s crazy speak. Talk sense to me baby.” she said.

 

Slightly wounded by her unwillingness to play, I spoke in a sterile tone, “It was a creepy couple’s night and then out of the blue this Loni Anderson look alike started breaking my balls—as if she had a vendetta. Then I got the fuck out of there and came here.”

 

“Why did she do that?”

 

“I don’t know. She heard some stories—which tells me that those people—that particular crowd likes talking shit about me.”

 

“What stories?” asked Tiffany.

 

“Look, it’s nothing you won’t find in any of my memoirs.” I said.

 

“I’ve read them—I think they’re funny.”

 

“They probably aren’t funny though when you have a dip shit like Reeves or Jensen or who the fuck ever, recounting them; those people have no delivery…and maybe that’s what the books are about…the proper delivery…stating what happened in the proper context. Know what I mean?” I said, suddenly perplexed by the realization.

 

“Yeah, you want people to know your side of it…I get it.” Said Tiffany, somehow summing up in one sentence what took me years to realize.

 

Though Tiffany asked me to stay the night; I knew she didn’t mean it. Her Sicilian hospitality demanded that she offer however. In the end, I left Marina Del Rey with a three quarter portion of Tiffany’s baking soda flavored banana bread on the passenger seat of my car and the same hollow sensation that I’d been carrying around for months in the pit of my chest —like dissatisfied hunger.

 

Back on Alexandria I took a quiet dip in the courtyard pool. It was late and everyone in the place was asleep. I floated on my back in the center of the pool staring up at the starlit sky. The moon was smudged behind a veil of air pollution and somewhere high above a helicopter was passing over. LA—she loved to lie awake with me…sometimes it seemed that she was the only one who understood me—unlike others; she knew what I needed, but gave me what I wanted instead.

 

When I returned to my suite, soaked and dripping chlorine pool water onto the kitchen linoleum I noticed a missed call; a missed call from S. The hollow in my chest was invaded by a sudden freeze of distress. Why would she do it? Didn’t she know I was trying to erase all recollection of her from my existence?

 

As I was coming out of the shower I heard the phone buzzing from the kitchen. Indeed, I’d found, after I’d dried off and pulled on a pair of jeans, that S had called two more times; perhaps something had happened. But I didn’t want to risk a call back. Rather I kept the phone in my pocket in case there was a fourth attempt. The fourth came a moment later and I answered it immediately.

 

“Hey.” I said.

 

“Frank? Hello?” said S.

 

“Yeah, I’m here.” I said, “What’s happened?”

 

“I needed to call.” Said S.

 

“You need to call…” I said, waiting for more.

 

“Are you ok?”

 

“Not really.” I admitted.

 

“Why? Why’s that?”

 

“You can’t understand.” I told her.

 

“Look, I had a dream earlier…you were in it…it was a very strange dream. I needed to check on you.”

 

“I thought we’d already established that you’re not an oracle.” I said.

 

You established it.” said S.

 

“Calling me like this is really unfair…it’s unfair to me. It’s like opening a wound every time.”

 

“It’s not fair to me either, believe me, I know.” said S.

 

“You let me go.” I said.

 

“I had a child.”

 

“With your husband.” I clarified.

 

“You can’t understand.” said S.

 

“Is he there right now?”

 

“No, he’s in Phoenix on business. What are you doing?” asked S.

 

“I just came in from the pool.” I said.

 

“Is there still leaves and bugs in the water?” asked S, a pretty smile coating her words.

 

“Don’t know—it was dark.”

 

“Would it be too late for you to drive over?” she asked.

 

“Over to your place?”

S. didn’t answer; rather she let a long static silence envelope the distance between us. Not so much distance—I couldn’t help thinking. Echo Park was only a ten minute drive—I knew that well enough. And though the invitation threatened to provide a tremendous wave of relief to my midway state of mourning—the relief was like a bad drug that would leave me sick for days if not weeks; could love come in such an ugly shade?

 

“Are you on acid? This isn’t doing anyone any good.” I told her.

 

“Did you ever love me?” she asked.

 

“How can you even ask me that?” I demanded, wondering if she’d swallowed any pills.

 

“I just would like to know.” said S, surrounded by the eerie silence on her end of the line.

 

“Look, you want my end of it—my assessment? I’ll tell you, but you probably won’t like hearing it. For three years, I played the game. The sneaking around, the secret meetings, the signals and codes—calling your landline from a fucking pay phone on a daily basis and letting it ring just once, in hopes that you’d get the signal…or waiting sometimes hours to realize that you’d gotten obligated to other plans with him and now weren’t going to make the plans we made—often a week in advance…and always looking over our shoulders in fear of someone we know seeing us together; who were we really fooling?”

 

“You knew I was married baby.” said S. in a pleading tone.

 

“Yeah, and for three godam years, I had to give you back to him every night and then sit there for the rest of the evening knowing that you were sleeping beside him, having wake up sex with him…making him breakfast, going on romantic walks around the fucking woods with him—knowing that when you weren’t with me, you were with him, being his wife. You think that was easy? It wasn’t I can assure you—and evidently; it didn’t make me any better of a man. You had the best of both worlds for three years S. but I need to get my shit on track here and I can’t do that if you keep calling me.” I said feeling very much like throwing the phone against the wall and shattering it into a thousand and one pieces.

 

“I’m not trying to make this hard for you…it’s hard for me too—half the time I’m with him, I’m with you in my mind.” Said S quietly, deflating my anger.

 

“This is so sick. You’ve ruined me for any other woman by the way. I can’t seem to treat any of them right, no matter how cool they are.” I confessed.

 

“I don’t want to hear about them.” said S.

 

“So what is it you want?”

 

“I want you to tell me if you ever loved me.” S. said in a matter of fact tone.

 

“Why are you doing this to me?”

 

“I need to know.” said S.

 

“Do you remember that time you flew to Florida to see your sister?”

 

“Yeah, for the wedding.”

 

“Ok…at the airport, after your plane left…I remember walking back to my car and feeling this terrible dread…that your plane might crash and that I would be stranded in this world without you…it was a fucking terrifying notion and for the first time in my life—I knew someone else owned a part of me. It wasn’t liberating…it was just this intense realization with an end of days kind of severity to it. Does that answer your question?”

 

“Yes.” Sniffled S., “Do you want to see me tonight?”

 

“Yeah…like you wouldn’t believe…but it can’t happen. If it does, I’ll be truly fucked. You know all this.” I said.

 

“So then what?”

 

“How should I know? I guess he’ll get back from Phoenix and you’ll live happily ever after, until the next time he leaves you alone.” I said.

 

“I’m sorry.” whispered S.

 

“I know.”

 

“Ok…I’m going to let you go. Promise me you’ll take care of yourself.”

 

“I’m doing my best. By the way…he’ll never love you like I would have.” I said before hanging up.

It was unfair to use the morbid truth as a parting statement; this was neither love nor war—it was goodbye, this time for real. And because speaking with S after so long had injected a strong dye into my clarity; I sat at the typewriter, making perfect sense of the chaos so that I might pull my sensibilities together and come to exist happily or at least contentedly without her. Looking over at my bed, the one she’d picked out for me to buy, I remembered the afternoons we’d spent on it. She didn’t live within my proximity anymore. She lived in Echo Park with a casting agent named Neil and evidently she preferred his last name to mine.

 

I turned on the TV and poured myself a Gin on the rocks. It went down with a cold sting. They were showing Altman’s Short Cuts on a late night channel and I was relieved to have found it. It was the sort of film that cleaned out the cobwebs—reminded you of something you were supposed to be doing. I was quite absorbed in the film too when my phone buzzed in my pocket, sending waves of radiation into my flesh. I didn’t recognize the number but answered anyway.

 

“Frank?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“It’s me…Mitzi. You’re not going to believe what happened to me tonight. My bag was stolen, all my ID…credit cards…cash. Nightmare. Also my phone…I’m using my friends phone—so glad you answered.” she said over a distortion of loud music.

 

“Where are you?” I asked.

 

“I’m at this rave in K-town. Listen, are you close? Can you come pick me up? I have no money…no phone…nothing.”

 

“What are you wearing?” I asked.

 

“Skirt, boots…sad girl face.” whimpered Mitzi.

 

“Ok, in that case, I’ll leave soon. Don’t worry about a thing…I got ya.” I said.

 

“Ok…calming down. Thanks so much.”

 

After giving me the address, Mitzi thanked me again before clicking off and leaving me alone again in my living room. I looked upward toward the ceiling where a series of scrapes left by the previous tenant cast long shadows in the lamplight. “Thanks.” I said with genuine gratitude and rose from the couch, lifting my car keys from the counter as I passed it on the way to the door.

The Hunt

I slept for fourteen hours that night and woke up the next afternoon at around 3pm…no one was around…there was only my aunt’s dog…he stood on the kitchen floor smiling at me with a healthy tongue…things were simple now I remembered—uncomplicated and smooth; as I’d wanted them to be. I ate a bowl of cereal and watched the news from the dining room table…there was some sun in the sky but mostly it was still cloudy…watching the clouds turn themselves inside out, I decided to go apartment hunting…it seemed I’d be staying in town for a while…at least until things got sticky again; a man can always move was the consolation—move…that was a concept. And moving out of Aunt Rena’s attic as soon as possible was a pressing priority; two nights was more than enough…I looked in the paper for a room…there were columns of them…I started at the top of the list; an apartment building off of Venebeles St.

I booked an appointment for 2 pm and showed up early…the landlord showed me around clad in his robe and slippers. He was wearing shirt that read ‘Spring Break Daytona Beach 98’ and was harboring a long unkempt looking beard. Though his body odor was revolting, his daughter was attractive in a majestic sort of way…red, red lips…feminine figure…heavy dark eyes, sitting calmly in their sockets.

“A lot of kids in this building?” I asked.

“Oh yes…very many.” She smiled and despite my irritation at the presence of brats, “You have to be kidding me.” I sighed, disappointed about the arduous drive from Richmond, made worse by lack of a freeway system. “Sorry to have wasted my time.” I smiled politely leaving them both standing there in the hallway.

Back out on the hunt, I checked out a few more possibilities. It had been hours, or so it seemed…the sky was clouding over again…ready to piss down another dreary deluge that may or may not subside. I tried not to think about the mess I’d left in LA…the disaster who wore heels and burgundy lipstick. This was much better—a little nook in the mountains…a mystical get away in the mist—it’s all in the way you see it…wouldn’t you say dear reader?

I drove for a while…having a few puffs while blaring Third Eye Blind’s first album—something that took me back to much better times. Eventually I wound up in Kerrisdale…there wasn’t a lot to see with all the rain so I found the address and went in…an apartment on Arbutus. The walls were the color of diarrhea and there was a strong odor of mothballs in the air…I was starting to get depressed as hell…the landlord’s perpetual habit of snorting back before swallowing was starting to turn my stomach slightly.

“How you like it?” he asked me as I paced from one side of the living room to the other imagining myself surrounded by my belongings…I asked for some privacy…he wouldn’t oblige however; he only shook his head, absently—as if I’d not meant it. To hell with him I thought and laid down on the rug…you see dear reader; it had to be the right floor, the right room, the right ceiling, or else there could be no transaction made…I did my best thinking while lying on the floor…I laid there with my eyes closed trying to find that pocket of solace—the one I’d have to be able to achieve at will…in the middle of the floor whenever the moment of inspiration came. As I tried to gauge whether or not the walls would accommodate flights of creative prowess, the landlord stood there, jingling his keys and sucking on his mucus in the corner of the room…dragging it back and savoring it as if it; purely repulsive, the man was insight repellent.

“Please, will ya? For chrissake you’re distracting the shit out of me over here.” I said opening my eyes at him from my spot on the floor…I held him upside down in my sights and imagined gravity sucking him toward the ceiling. I closed my eyes again and breathed deeply, imagining myself wandering the jungles of prose, tracking an elusive masterpiece with only a pen knife—still the distraction didn’t cease—the mucus sucking in the corner continued and shattered my concentration easily…I pushed myself to my feet and straightened my tie.

“How do you live with yourself?” I asked the landlord before stepping past him and out—where I could hopefully discard the memory of his suckling sounds.

The next apartment on my list was near Main and King Edward…the Sunnybrook Apartments; the irony wasn’t lost on me either dear reader. Indeed, it wasn’t surprising that the lobby smelled of cigarettes and faded piss…the rug was splotched and discolored here and there by decades worth of vomit splatters and who the hell knew what else…the price was enticing though.

Being that the front door was propped open by a broken brick, I let myself in. The manager’s suite was number 7 and outside her door, there were three men sitting in lawn chairs…right there in the hallway if you can imagine it…they were smoking cigarettes and drinking beer out of cans…one was a dwarf sized man wearing the hat of a leprechaun—being that he was about the size of a leprechaun, I wondered if he wore the hat for effect. The two other men were average stature and seemed to be thoroughly intoxicated. As I approached they looked at me in unison, their eyes glazed over with booze—bad drinker faces.

“What do you want?” the leprechaun asked.

“I want to see the manager.” I told him.

“Yeah and who the fuck are you?” he demanded.

“That a philosophical question?” I asked.

“What?”

“It’s about the ad in the paper…for the room.” I said.

“Just wait here.” he said and went into number 7.

After a few moments a heated argument erupted, of which I could only make out bits and pieces…it seemed he wanted to show me the room himself though it was technically her job to do so—she cited the legalities of it all. He eventually emerged with a small woman who was dressed in sweat pants and a Ringo’s Bingo sweater…her lipstick was applied roughly and she’d colored far outside of the lines. She offered a charming smile and spoke in a raspy voice. Rather than breathing fire, she breathed alcohol. What’s worse, she was sick with a terrible chest cough—one that resembled the sound of a seal call—just my fucking luck. None the less I followed her staggering hips up a flight of stairs and onto the second floor. Her sweat pants read in yellow letters the word ‘juicy’ across the ass—I could’ve thought of a better word. She led me down the hallway and halted before a door and wavered for a moment just looking at me. With her own bad drinker face she formed her words carefully.

“You married? You bringing a wife in here?” she asked.

“No wife.” I said.

She squinted at me deeply, as if trying to read my mind…as if trying to gauge whether I was lying. She then looked away, turning to the badly scraped door. She tried many times to fit the key into the lock and finally after a couple agonizing minutes managed to make the connection. As she opened the door a loud crash, followed by a string of curses, spilled out into the hallway…a woman a few doors down stepped out into the hallway all of a sudden and nearly as soon as she’d emerged was wrestled back into the suite by a shirtless man with a hairy back and shoulders—as if she were being mauled by a Yeti. The door slammed behind them and their hollering continued.

The landlord cast a  look of confusion my way before her expression tightened into an expression of rage, “Godam motherfuckers!” she spat, staggering over to the door from behind which the racket was emanating. A second later she was pounding with the hammer of her fist against the heavy door, demanding they open up.

“What the fuck is going on in there Rita! Hey!” She screamed with her mouth close to the door and so loud that a few other doors on the opposite side of the hallway opened a crack; eyes peering out at us from safety. After numerous threats of physical violence the door clicked open and the woman who’d been wrestled into the suite emerged back out into the hallway. Her cheeks were coated in tears and badly running mascara—what a disaster zone, I mused, watching the tenant apologize as more hollering a smashing boomed from behind the door.

“Hey…What the hell is going on in there Rita? I told you before not to fuck around with me.” slurred the landlord.

“Please, he’s crazy…he’s mad…he’s going to drown me in the tub tonight…please.” cried Rita, wiping a new coating of tears from her cheek.

“Good, then I’ll finally be rid of the two of yous.” The landlord slurred as a long ash fell from her cigarette to the rug. She turned back to me with a smile, shrugging and shaking her head.

“Tenants.” she chuckled as she walked back to the door.

Inside, the apartment was made up of a sum of damages; not unlike a lifetime—haphazardly mended and covered over; a few fist holes in the wall, a closet door that would not open…cupboards missing doors…a missing tap and in its place a tightened vice grip. To make matters dire, the woman’s gurgling cough was clear and present, making me wonder whether it was pneumonia or tuberculosis…or who knew what else.

She led me from the kitchen into the bathroom as I scanned the floor for dead roach carcasses…the toilet seat was cracked and the crack was filled with something greenish…I didn’t know why I hadn’t by then hit the high road—macabre fascination perhaps. Indeed, at one point, she pressed up against me in the bathroom doorway as she stepped past, carrying a waft of cigarettes, cheap booze and stale pussy; a real charmer. By the time we were in the bedroom she was standing dangerously close to me. Trying to ignore her close gaze, I took note of the room. It was large compared to what I was used to…I was used to living in a smaller room in LA…a flick of the light switch brought no light…

“Oh yeah,” She crackled, “That light doesn’t work…Uh…period.”

The curtains were drawn and in the dimness I felt my way through the room, opening the closet door…a moment later, a lighter sparked a few times beside me before finally catching the flint the right way and igniting, coating the room in a yellow glow…the landlord stepped up close and held the flame between us.

“Cozy isn’t it?” She grizzled devilishly…

“I don’t know if I’d go that far but it’s spacious.” I told her.

“Yeah…spacious.” slurred the old gal, bearing down on me suddenly.

This was actually happening, I mused as I stepped away from her, backing eventually into a corner…her hand didn’t hesitate and reached low, finding what it was looking for…she massaged me through my jeans, trying to kiss at me. I pulled away–no way in hell lady…I let her go on massaging my balls for a moment though before I smacked her hand away.

“Listen lady you’re not my type. But I need to ask you something.”

“Yeah?”

“What’s the damage deposit like?” I asked

“Half the rent.” She croaked with a drunk hiccup, “You have to fill out a form…though…It’s a credit check and a background check, plus references…”

“Really, to check into this this dive?” I chuckled. “You’ve got a fucking leprechaun downstairs getting pissed in the hallway with a gang of deadbeats.”

“It’s the policy here.”

“That’s fine, just seems ironic. Speaking of which; what about the disaster down the hall…how much does that go on?” I asked.

“Once in a while…it’s nothing…don’t even worry about them.” said the landlord, “This is a nice place…it’s a family building…we all know each other…we’re all good neighbors…we have picnics outside with all the kids, we play croquet and have ice cream. It’s a real family oriented building.”

“So there are kids running around here all hours of the day squealing and making a hell of ruckus?” I chuckled in disbelief.

“Yeah, I’m telling you it’s a real family oriented place.” Slurred the landlord, trying to keep her balance.

“Well, I’d love to stand here and talk to you but….I’m not going to.” I grinned, leaving her standing there in the darkened bedroom.

I exited the suite and padded down the hallway, finding my way back to the lobby. When the leprechaun caught sight of me, he rose from his lawn chair and rushed over to me, placing himself between the glass doors and I. His eyes were a crazy void…his teeth golden brown…his chin covered in scarred over lacerations. I wondered absently where a man such as the leprechaun would be grown—from which crack had he slithered out of?

“Were you trying to fuck my wife up there mister?” He asked, looking up at me…the top of his head level with my chest as it were.

“Were you always a leprechaun?” I countered, looking down the hall and finding the landlord rounding the corner.

“I’ve killed men bigger than you for a bottle of wine asshole.” said the Leprechaun.

“You’re drunk, why don’t you go have a nap in a dresser drawer.” I suggested.

“Oh, you just cashed your own death warrant.” said the Leprechaun.

I got ready…he was tiny but full of liquor and red headed rage and my plan was, in the event that he lunged at me, to bounce him through the large plate glass window just behind us…all my might would do it nicely—I was certain of that. Just beyond the window the rain was coming down in murky blue sheets and I imagined what it might look like in slow motion, the hip throw, the silence of flight, the sudden explosion of glass, his eventual landing on the concrete steps and the rain pouring down on his bewildered and bloodied face.

“You’re fucked.” he said and took a drag of his cigarette…which he flicked at me. Indeed, his aim was terrible however and the burning ember entirely missed me and landed on the rug beside me—neither the landlord nor her leprechaun seemed to care.

“That’s a fire hazard asshole.” I said and immediately after, the leprechaun lunged…wrapping his little arms around my waist…pushing for all he was worth—trying to topple me to the rug. I sprawled slightly and held him in a tight headlock as he struggled…however, in an unexpected explosion of strength, the leprechaun shot upward, just missing my chin with the top of his skull…he then issued a few body shots which my coat absorbed quite nicely; he was a scrappy little son of a bitch—that much was evident. Feeling it was my best shot; I shifted my weight hard to the left and used the leprechaun’s pushing momentum to volley him into a glass table beside the entrance doors. Indeed, he careened into the table with a terrific crash, sending the sound of smashing glass echoing down the long dismal corridor. He stayed down, perhaps as a display, laying it on thick, screaming bloody murder and rolling from side to side, professing his agony in several different tones as his hand gushed blood like a small red geyser.

That’s when the joint went mad…doors opened and more tenants suddenly spilled out into the hallway—each looking meaner than the last, crowding the corridor suddenly with alarmed expressions and words of hostility…the other two men rose from their chairs and poised for their turn to avenge their fallen comrade…meanwhile, the landlord pushed by them all, rushed over and kneeled above her bloodied leprechaun—cursing me through a barrage of tears and liquor fueled rage.

“He’s half your size you animal! How could you?! Somebody…please…call 911!” she hollered to anyone who would listen, “Look what he’s done! Look at what he’s done!” oh boy.

“Look, he attacked me.” I said; a far too late attempt at reasoning.

Looking around at the tenants approaching like a mob of brain eating zombies; I backed away, surprised by how quickly the hallway had become a Romero film cattle call. A few of the men who’d spilled out into the hallway, were now instructing each other to grab me—they wanted instant justice; I realized then that the scenario was taking on a shape of its own. Indeed, it seemed the tenants of the Sunnybrook Apartments weren’t fucking around…and had found the perfect form of recreation in lynching your diligent narrator then and there.

“This is the best you degenerates will ever do!” I hollered before turning, pushing through the glass doors and breaking into a sprint down the rain spattering sidewalk.

It was coming down hard and as I ran, my shoes splashed through puddles as the hollers of my pursuers cut through the wind. I glanced over my shoulder and took notice of perhaps a half dozen Sunnybrook tenants sprinting after me down the sidewalk. Like ants they’d emerged from the building…hollering…gaining on me…but I’d been a jogger…my legs remembered and I turned it up easily…sprinting on down the road toward my car which sat like a beacon alone on the street beside a red mailbox…then a sudden thud…a sharp pain in my back…followed by a clatter of metal against asphalt…I didn’t look back…I ran on…running for my life now…clicking the door unlock button on the keychain…however, glancing back finally, I found that they’d given up…fallen back, retreated back into their miserable existences. They’d fended off an assailant and that was good enough for them; underachievers.

When I was back in the car and peeling away from the curb I leaned back into the seat and felt a sharp pain in the back of my ribs…bloody hell—how had it all gone so wrong? I wondered absently. Taking a U-turn in the middle of Main street, I doubled back, coasting by slowly, in hopes of issuing my pursuers the fuck-you finger. However, they’d all returned to the dry, soiled confines of the musty building. As I coasted by I saw what they’d hit me with; a frying pan that now sat in a gutter puddle. After a few blocks heading south I relaxed and scanned the rows of dismal looking shop fronts for a bar in which I could swallow back a few shots of cognac…I then remembered I wasn’t drinking anymore…and that dear reader, concluded my afternoon apartment hunt.

Aftershave

Later, when I returned to Aunt Rena’s house, the place was darkened and quiet—nearly eerie, like the static calm before a violent thunderstorm; however, they didn’t get thunderstorms in Vancouver…only rain, and more rain. I found my way in the darkness, following the dim light emanating from the living room.

 

The living room was warmly lit by a small stained glass lamp and the flickering blue glow of the antique television. Greg, Rena’s husband who was technically not my uncle, sat motionlessly in a reclining chair he’d designed for himself, according to the arthritic regions in his back. He turned to me and grinned, “Hey Frank.” he said before turning back to the TV. It was an episode of Miami Vice and I was more than happy to join Greg by taking a seat on the neighboring couch.

“Ah, classic show.” I said.

“Yep.” Nodded Greg in his usual sedative tone.

“We used to play Miami Vice in the neighborhood when I was a kid…we had automatic water guns…Uzis, Mac Tens—the works.” I reminisced.

“Sounds like fun. By the way, what did you get up to today?” Greg asked.

“Checked out a few apartments…got attacked by a leprechaun actually.” I said.

“Did you beat him?” grinned Greg.

“I guess…it all happened so fast. What the hell is wrong with people in this town?” I asked.

“Don’t know, I’m from Ontario.” he shrugged.

We sat there in silence for a while watching the show. Greg rarely talked. It wasn’t that he couldn’t articulate his thoughts—it was that he was perpetually marinating in a bottomless dose of morphine. I wasn’t certain if the morphine was prescription or not…I only knew that Greg frequently took Sampson on walks for the purpose of injecting morphine into his arm in the dog park at the end of the street—this much Rena had confessed to me. During a commercial break, Greg turned and looked at me, his eyes glazed over with morphine and the psychosis of a drab routine.

“Can you hear that?” he asked me.

“Hear what?” I said.

“That scratching.” he nearly whispered, pressing the mute button on the boxy remote control.

I listened for something but heard nothing, only they cars swooshing by on the wet streets outside, “There’s nothing.” I said.

“There is though. Step over here.” said Greg, motioning with his hand for me to join him at the living room wall.

With a fair bit of reluctance I joined Greg at the wall and following his lead, placed my ear to the smooth egg shell plaster. The scratching sound was audible but just barely. It seemed hard to believe that the sound would even register to Greg, a man of perhaps 60, who’d spent his youth riding motorcycles, listening to loud rock music and shooting dope.

“Ok…so what is it?” I asked.

Greg moved his head away from the wall and whispered, as if someone might hear, “It’s a squirrel in the wall.”

He stood there, peering down at the wall, motioning with his hand to wait for it again…and so we did…Greg and I, standing in Rena’s living room, waiting for the squirrel to start scratching again. When the scratching sound returned, Greg nodded, “He knows we’re onto him.” he said, “But I’ve got just the thing.”

He disappeared down a darkened hallway and emerged a moment later holding a bottle of after shave and a syringe—a syringe from his personal stash I assumed. As he filled the syringe with the aftershave I took note of his hands, which were steady as a rock. I’d heard stories about Greg in the past…through the family grapevine…about how he had migrated to Vancouver from Toronto one sweltering summer in the mid-1980s…how he’d lived wild, took every drug under the sun, occasionally partook in bar fights and had damaged his liver so badly with death-proof whiskey, the doctors hadn’t given him long…also, I’d heard that he’d carried a railroad spike in his pant leg for protection in the old day…and that when he met Rena he’d been living in a van with three wolf-dogs.

He was a bad boy…and as effective as kryptonite to Rena’s better judgement. Beyond that, there wasn’t a soul who approved of him—perfect incentive. Though aunt Rena had been warned…she had fallen for Greg all at once…she’d fallen for the wolf in him…and, as she’d put it so eloquently—the moment of her realization had come all those years ago when, while in mid conversation with her at the local pub one fateful night, Greg had climbed onto their table top in order to holler at the band,

“Play born to be wild right fucking now!”

He’d screamed it and had punctuated his demand with a blow of conviction, thrusting his skinny fist into the air…he’d been wearing a studded wrist band to boot and to add fuel to his fire, he’d also been wearing a half t-shirt, that is to say, one that is cut halfway, just below the chest. I could fill in the blanks…the assumed mullet, the incidental moustache…the leather jacket…the jailhouse tats…it all went hand in hand with Greg who’d mellowed considerably since the old days. It was difficult to picture now however…he was old, arthritic and plagued by noises in the walls; life is bigger than us all in the end.

“Hey, let me ask you something…do you know what the number one squirrel repellent in the world is?” he asked me.

I just stood there looking at him.

“After shave…” he finally disclosed with a knowing nod.

“I see.” I said.

After the syringe was full of blue aftershave, Greg climbed up on the chair, balancing carefully—I imagined him doing so in a half shirt and studded wrist band and still couldn’t see it. With intense concentration, Greg pressed his ear to the wall again, and again…until he found the perfect spot…there it was. He marked the spot with a small pencil before climbing back down onto the rug.

“He’s directly below that mark.” Greg assured.

“Stealthy.” I grinned, drawing no such grin from Greg who was too focussed with intent.

“It won’t kill him…it’ll just give him the message.” said Greg.

There was the problem of matter though…Plaster and wood…how did he plan on getting the needle into the wall…I pointed it out to him. There was an easy solution…he returned a moment later with a hammer and a long nail…next, he carefully drove the nail through the plaster…it took a few swings of the hammer—one of which missed entirely, gouging a horrendously large dent in the wall, however, in the end, the nail breached the center space of the wall and I watched Greg fit the syringe into the nail hole with great concentration. Once the syringe was fully immersed, Greg slowly emptied the aftershave into the wall, turning to me and flashing a toothy grin, “Only a matter of time now.” He said.

Greg climbed down from the chair and waited with his ear to the wall, “It stopped.” he finally said when the scratching could be heard no more. Satisfied with his method, Greg sank back down in his chair and sat very still, watching Miami Vice with the mute button on. I returned to my place on the couch and we sat for a while in silence, watching Crocket and Tubbs shoot it out with drug dealers in an abandoned warehouse. After perhaps ten minutes like this, the scratching returned.

“Ah, shit.” sighed Greg, “Guess I’ll have to dose him again.” he said, rising from his customized chair and repeating the process with the syringe. Again, he injected the blue aftershave into the living room wall…this time however, the scratching didn’t stop, “He’s a stubborn sun of a gun.” mused Greg with a shrug, “I can do this all night.” he smiled, repeating once again the process of injecting the aftershave into the wall. He’d used a half bottle of the stuff and the living room was starting to smell like a Eurotrash nightclub. As we both listened for the scratching to stop, a voice boomed from behind us both, cutting through the mellow silence.

“What the hell did you do to the wall?” came Rena’s demand in a gasp of shock. Indeed, the wall was badly dented, punctured and stuck with a syringe of aftershave, which Greg removed instantly, causing a dribble of the blue liquid to run down the outside of the wall, “What am I seeing here?” said Rena, in disbelief.

“Honey, listen, it’s perfectly explainable…” said Greg, “There’s been a squirrel in this wall for weeks…maybe not the same squirrel, but they come here…to this wall and they scratch, all day and all night long…I think they’re trying to dig through the floor, or maybe through the wall…to gain access to our bedroom. I’m using the aftershave because it’s the best squirrel repellent in the world.”

“What the fuck are you on? Did you shoot morphine tonight?” demanded Rena, stepping over to the wall, “Of course you did…and look what you’ve done. It’s ruined…you’ve ruined the wall…it will never look the same again…you realize that don’t you?”

“Don’t worry baby, I’ll use some filler and paint over it tomorrow.” Greg assured.

“You’ll never get it to match…it will never look the same…and every time I sit on the couch and look across at you I’m going to see that godam discoloration of the wall and I’m going to want to yell at you every time I see it.” Rena assured, livid at the notion of having another of Greg’s obviously evident blunders at such close range.

She placed her ear to the wall, hearing nothing, “What scratching?” she said.

“Exactly…it’s not there now because I took care of it.” said Greg, leaning over and placing his own ear to the wall again.

They listened to the wall in silence for a minute until the scratching started yet again, drawing a groan from Greg. He began to fill the syringe with another load of aftershave when Rena stepped away from the wall shaking her head.

“You’re a moron Greg.” she said, “A godam moron!”

“What are you saying Rena? I’ve almost got him…one more dose ought to do it.” Greg sighed, resigned to having his balls busted yet again, by the woman he’d once lusted after enough so to pull her from a 15 year marriage and claim her as his own.

“I’m saying you’re a fucking pin-head!” Rena spat at the man she’d fell so hopelessly for once upon a time; a man she’d left the father of her children for.

“I know you don’t believe that Rena.” said Greg, returning to the comfort of his chair, taking a long sip of orange juice before reclining and closing his eyes.

“Oh no? Well, Sherlock…if you had anything other than pins in your head, you’d have realized that the scratching you’ve been hearing for weeks is the heating vent in the floorboard…it’s a repetitive clicking…not random scratching you knuckle head.”

“Really?” said Greg, rising from his chair, this time pulling the bureau away from the wall to expose the heating vent…indeed, once exposed the clicking of the vent was audible and as Rena said, a repetitive clicking. On the upside, the air blowing through it smelled of Aqua Blue.

The Circuit

I moved out of Rena’s place a few days later, after I’d decided on an apartment in Kerrisdale—where the word quaint was epitomized. The streets were smoothly paved, the lanes were lush, the sidewalks were spotless, there were no helicopters chopping overhead…there were no rumbling freeways, no booming stereos, there was no action after 9pm—in fact there was no action ever…indeed, I wasn’t in East Hollywood anymore and the notion left within me a longing…a longing that could only be soothed by a polar opposite—a space void of reminders…of familiarity; this is how I realized I’d been right in suspecting that moving to another neighborhood in LA would not have aided me in cutting S out of me with a pen knife. Indeed, leaving the country was the best way—for me…and so I had left her. I’d planned on Montreal, but I chose to give Vancouver the benefit of the doubt—hoping the devil may care…yet knowing somehow that he wouldn’t…but there was the Bronze Tavern gig—perhaps a hint at why I might stay.

So there I was one evening, at the Bronze Tavern, sitting on a stool at the end of the bar…swilling back a seltzer while some girl on the stage played a guitar and sang softly…she wasn’t Aimee Mann…indeed not—few ever could be…still, she was trying…which is more than most do…and so I sat, all the same, my hat on a tilt, a flood of contemplation in my brain, listening absently to her broken hearted twang. I’d left my own broken heart in Los Angeles, and this new place, this place in the mist, painted in lush greens and liquid blues; this new city was a bit of culture shock to my desert sharpened senses.

The previous week I’d sent an enquiry to the Bronze Tavern’s management team and was, on short notice, given an allotted time, in which to play a number of selections on the piano—solo style. They’d included me on a bill with a few local songsters—billing me as an ‘international act’—but there was no act about me…it was all for real—too real perhaps. Of course this was emphasized by the fact that the Bronze Tavern was filled to the brim with thespians—that is to say that everyone in the place was prettied-up to the nines; displaying their refined costumes—for the paparazzi in their minds. Ironically it wasn’t character driven…rather it seemed they’d all polished themselves up very properly for the evening—where I’d shown up rough and tumble…unshaven, clad in jeans and a worn out leather jacket…my face still scorched from the desert sun and my insides badly bruised from the mess I’d left in Hollywood. I looked like hell and felt okay about it—there was a slight sense of heroism in it—a thousand yard stare that was foreign to these pristine posers.

Case in point, the next chap up was an exhibit unto himself…he wore a tender beard and his hair was perfectly coiffed and reflected a matte sheen from the overhead lights, the sleeves of his dress shirt were rolled up just enough so one could observe the incidental tattoos on his frail forearms. As I sat there stone sober, I listened to him singing about getting back to his true love…somehow, some way, some day…he was really laying it on with a disturbing array of cum-faces…rocking back and forth, strumming his guitar and whipping his head around, veering dangerously close to whiplash force.

In between songs he was also a story teller…recounting his youth growing up in east van, citing the sunsets and his connection with nature and veganism; indeed, one thought he might delve into greater personal details—like what color panties he wore…and then finally, after playing four more songs that all sounded the same, he exited the stage, but not before taking two theatrical bows…bows to which people responded first with confusion, then with a pattering of awkward applause. Strange, sheepish energy at the Bronze Tavern…strange days indeed—most peculiar mama.

Next up were two Brit girls…a blonde and a brunette…I’d watched them preparing their gear as east van was finishing his last song…I watched the lasses bending over as they gathered their gear. Though I tried not to stare, my eyes kept meeting with the blonde’s eyes…out of the pair she seemed to be the stoic one…who probably had a fair amount of madness in her…she glanced at me a few times and neither of us smiled…then they went on…

When the house music stopped and the lights went down again and the brit girls were seated on wooden chairs, facing each other with their guitars; the entire room fell silent—as if the people of vancity had never ever seen a couple of brit girls like these before. The blonde started strumming in a gentle, psychotic manner, staring out at the audience from behind her stringy blonde locks. The brunette eventually strummed in, locking into rhythm with the blonde. They didn’t sing very well, or even play guitar very well…yet there was some elusive appeal…some pretty darkness in their lyrics…they were products of their environment—perhaps that was it…two twenty something brit girls…just ‘travlen abat’ the eleven points of our beloved Maple Leaf….they made no apologetic gestures and didn’t even speak in between their songs—not a word.

When they were through with their set, I’d nearly forgotten that I was up next. I’d been pulled into the British spell cast by the blonde’s intense gaze. When I snapped out of it, I wandered over to the area beside the stage where the girls were packing up their gear. As I stood there, waiting for them to vacate, the blonde turned to me and flipped her hair to one side, flashing me an intense stare, as if she were going to say something. She eventually broke it when her bandmate started speaking to her. Finally however, she was beside me and I leaned in prompting her to stop and extend her ear.

“Nice work.” I told her.

“Nobody danced.” She said.

“Dance?” I grinned.

“Yeah…don’t you like to dance?” she asked.

“Wrong verb.” I said, cocking a brow and stepping away, toward the technician who was beckoning me to the stage.

After a brief check, I went through my set…conjuring deep shades from the piano and setting a silence through the room that became eerie after a while; as if they despised sitting there listening to me. At the end of the set I was greeted by a lone clapper somewhere out there in the darkness the stage lights created…the clap however spread into a patter…then a rumble…then a surge of applause that was quite unexpected, and I seized the moment, rising from behind the piano and throwing down two theatrical bows, in perfect satirical representation of our fond cohort from east van. Of course the divine comedy was lost on most, who perhaps thought all performers at the Tavern were accustomed to theatrical bows at the end of their sets and only applauded harder at the sight of my theatrical bows; however the Debbie Harry doppelganger caught on immediately and let loose a surprisingly shrill witchy cackle, placing a hand over her mouth in surprise of her own reaction.

Afterward, as I sipped another seltzer, the singer who’d opened the evening gave his regards:

Nice piano singing…I play piano too…the Coconut Lounge…Saturday nights…you should come by…play a couple tunes…perhaps we could collaborate.” Said the guy whose name I’d forgotten…I was terrible with names…

“Sounds like a plan.” I told him, shaking his limp and soggy hand…and I was about to stroll away when suddenly the British tarts were there standing at his side, cozy as crumpets and tea with him…evidently he’d met them earlier. Indeed, the Brits stood there in their scarves and fuzzy hats…the blonde one looking rather femme fatal.

“How long you been in Canada?” I asked her when she threw me another of her sticky glances.

Before she could reply however, I was abruptly interrupted by the sound tech who assured me what a great job he’d done. He explained to me his experiences touring with a death metal band in Europe during the 1980s. He admitted to drinking blood in Prague and catching the clap in Bucharest. Indeed, I stood, taking in his reminiscing with a stoic nod. When I turned back to the blonde a moment later and asked again, how long she’d been in Canada, this time I received an answer…however, we were interrupted once again by a small hand gently squeezing my arm…and can you believe that your diligent narrator was suddenly face to face with a mid-thirties glamazon who was hitting on all 4 cylinders. Indeed, she was there…silver lipstick…solarium skin…nice cleavage showing through her blouse—she was a grown woman…ready and ripe; eager to start baking buns in her warm and womanly oven…it was written all over her…her pores were excreting knock-me-up pheromones, suggesting that she was building a nest somewhere out there; like a body snatcher…that much was evident…the rest however was a mystery.

“Hey dude…do you have a CD?” she asked.

“Not on me.” I said.

“Not on you?” she chuckled, “What kind of salesman are you?”

“I’m not a salesman.” I said.

“Hey, I heard you’re playing at the Neptune next week.” she asked, lively-like and chuckling…a little boozed up and a little too happy for my sobriety.

“Who told you that?” I asked.

“Ronson.” she said, touching her tongue to the tip of her straw.

“Who the fuck is Ronson?” I asked.

“The soundman…anyway, where can I get a CD?” she said in a strange tone I didn’t recognize,

“If you’re that serious about getting one…” I said, handing her a business card.

“That sounds good…I’d like to get one.”

“Sure.” I said.

“Listen, here’s my card…email me and perhaps we could meet…to make an exchange. I have a lot of great ideas for songs.” She said.

“Sure.” I said looking at her business card. It read this:

Lydia Chan—Dance Instructor

          “You teach dance.” I said.

“I do.” She nodded enthusiastically.

“What kind of dance?”

“All kinds…mostly ballroom though…a lot of people also want to learn the tango…ever tango?” she asked.

“Never.” I said.

“You don’t like to dance?” she asked with a little pout.

“Wrong verb.” I said.

“Well…” she smiled, “I’m sure I don’t quite know what that means. In any case, my email is on the card, at the bottom, email me…it’s best to email me.” She said, as if it were a business transaction.

“Ok Lydia Chan.” I said as she backed away awkwardly…indeed, there was definitely a sheepish energy to these folks…as if they were skirting some issue—in fear of admitting something…as if we were all going to exist forever. I wondered if any of them realized they were actually alive.

I stood there and watched Lydia wag back to her table, where a scrawny, pale looking hipster with a middle-aged hair line sat, eagerly awaiting her return, shrugging as if to ask exactly what the fuck she thought she was doing handing me her card. He threw a few misconstrued stares my way—his wheels turning against his own suspicions—the poor bastard; hell only knew the twisted dynamics between them. However, I assumed it was the usual; Lydia was a social climbing thespian—and he was her number one fan. Indeed, he threw me another misconstrued stare, perhaps ready to rush me…not realizing his real enemy was his girl; a bad enemy to have.

Now dear reader, I’ve told you all of this about the interruptions because an interesting occurrence transpired next; when I turned back to the Brit—the one who resembled Debbie Harry in a frightening way—to segue way back into our conversation by asking her once again how long she’d been in Canada; her expression was that of pure, uncut, irritation.

“You’ve asked me that fucking question like, three times now.” she snapped.

I suppose I had. But perhaps what this little scone needed more than a witty reply and a soft apology—was to be buttered and jammed—right smartly. Because of my social benevolence; indeed I was willing to do just that for her—to rid her of her no fun attitude perhaps. Also, asking the same question three times seemed forgivable to me…after all, it was only a segue—into more interesting topics…and so, I’d blown it with the Debbie Harry doppelganger from the UK, and I’d blown it without even trying to…and later in the evening I’d watched her leave the Tavern accompanied by an effeminate, yet bearded, hipster kid, not unlike the one Lydia Chan had left with. Evidently the gentle, soft spoken hipster guys with tender beards and ironic t-shirts had the dating market cornered in Vancity. I imagined what it took to maintain a tender beard…and the methods employed to keep it so soft and tender and closely cropped—like Michael Gross from Family Ties–I had a good chuckle and shook my head, sipping down the last of my seltzer water…time to go. As I headed for the door, my phone vibrated in the pocket of my jacket. It was S.

“Yeah.” I answered.

“Frank?” her soft voice came in real time, live from Los Angeles.

“S…”

“Hey.”

Silence

“Are you waiting for me to say something?” I asked.

“You’re in Canada? What the fuck Frank—I was worried sick…dead phone number, nobody’s heard from you…some other person’s car is parked in your spot—some old woman living in your suite…do you have any idea how worried I was?”

“You went by my apartment?”

“Obviously…and it wasn’t fun for me.” said S, softening up now that she’d found me.

“How did you find out where I’d gone?”

“Wes told me…”

“I’m sure it was Wes who gave you my new number too.” I sighed, “That jack ass.”

“That’s so cold.” said S.

“Defending Wes are we?”

“Cold to me…it’s like you hate me now.”

“Just the opposite.” I said, knowing I shouldn’t have said so.

“You leave town and you don’t even call—fuck you for that…seriously, fuck you for that…how dare you do that—after everything.” said S, her voice taking a wounded tone.

“Well, I’m sure your husband will console you.” I said.

“Don’t.” said S.

“Don’t what?”

“That’s unfair.”

“Is it?” I said fighting an impulse to hurl my phone against the sidewalk and shatter it into a thousand and one pieces.

“That’s so unfair.”

“It’s the reality though.”

“My marriage isn’t as exciting as you make it out to be. You think it’s all a big honeymoon Frank and…it’s not. Anyway, are you coming back? What are you doing up there? Can you just tell me you’re ok?” she asked.

“What do you care?”

“You’re not coming back?”

“What do you care?”

“So juvenile.”

“It was the only way S.” I confessed.

“So it is true—you left town because of me?”

“You’d love that wouldn’t you?”

“I’m not loving this, no.” admitted S.

“S…isn’t it enough to know that I had to leave town because of you? Isn’t it enough to know that? Doesn’t that satisfy your ego?” I asked.

“How can you ask me that?” she demanded in a quiet, hurt tone before hanging up on me.

Indeed dear reader, hearing from S wasn’t ideal…I’d made the mistake of believing she’d surprise me; she didn’t though. Such is the reality of loving a married woman for three years. So it was in this fashion that I went about settling into my new city…dodging calls from 323 area codes. To distract myself…I’d tossed Lydia Chan around in my mind for a few days…remembering her designer style…her tight jeans…her smooth features and mostly, her nicely sculpted dancer ass…and so it was on the merit of those finely formed twin cheeks that I took her card from the papers stacked haphazardly in a pile on my bureau. I next sent her an email…the transmission went as follows:

          Lydia…when do you want to meet?

          Indeed that had been my message and I was surprised to find that she’d replied quite promptly…

          Hi Frank. Busy tonight. But how about tomorrow? By the way…are you on spacebook?

I told her social media wouldn’t stop us all from getting old and dying. To this she failed to reply…and so, I assumed it was done…my great romance with Lydia Chan—over before it even began. I left it at that and headed out to the Café Neptune gig which went much the same as the Bronze Tavern show, only this time, during the after show mingle; I was invited to play a set at an event at Brighton Rock Manor the following weekend. It sounded interesting—a collective effort—a fundraiser for something or other…I thought it might be a great place to make more contacts—a professional opportunity perhaps—if any existed in perhaps the most sedated city in which I’d ever lived.

When I returned home from the evening, I decided to check my email…just to see…just to confirm that Lydia wouldn’t be giving me a nude lap dance anytime soon. However, I was surprised to find that indeed, Lydia had dropped me a transmission.

Franky boy that’s so bleak, but kind of intriguing. I’m looking forward to our date.

          Date? I hadn’t been on an actual ‘date’ in years. Did people still do that? Before S., it was my habit to fall into complex understandings with women…eventually winding up lost in their woods with the eerie sounds and the poetic moon worship, with things too complex to draw any certain lines; perhaps the action of bucking for a stable, moderately sane, and most importantly—available woman, entailed this label of structured protocol; an official date.

I wondered about this the next day as I shaved…in anticipation of our date…and what about that? What was the proper way to behave on a date? Did I open the door for her? If so, was I not supposed to admire her fantastic cheeks wagging through it? Questions…many questions indeed. For with a woman who is a wreck of possibilities there are usually no guidelines…no rules…a man starts out of bounds and is inclined to navigate freely and on impulse…but with a relatively stable woman, who leased a Land Rover, rented a postmodern apartment in False Creek, insisted—wrongly by the way—that it was indeed ok for a man to wear yoga pants and was, in most regards, well-practiced in ‘girl-arts’ and the methods of cut-throat dating; there may have been certain guidelines I wasn’t privy to.

And so dear reader, it was in this fashion that your diligent narrator read through Lydia’s latest message.

Hi Frank. Hope you are well. I’ve given it much thought and I would like to show you my favorite little Vietnamese restaurant. It’s in Chinatown. Wasabi Rolls to die for! It’s called Pho Hoang Dream and it’s on Keefer St. Meet at six?

C U there

L

To die for? Sounded suspicious to me. In any case, I was tempted to call it off. However, I couldn’t for the life of me get her lovely rear out of my mind…I imagined the lead up…for I could see it taking shape in my mind, her bowing before me honorably, before dropping her red and silver Kimono to the hardwood floor…around her ankles, revealing an image dyed across the soft smooth flesh of her belly—the image of a fire breathing dragon…I could nearly hear a wooden instrument being rapped upon to an ancient rhythm…as well as a mystical flute echoing around us as she unzipped my fly; it got me chuckling.

Indeed, by the time I was strolling into her little Vietnamese house of greasy noodles and deep fried prawns…I was hopelessly adaptable and oblivious to the nature of the place…to the old world odor of it…to the wood paneled walls…the booths cushioned with worn, orange upholstery…even the piping of flute music echoing through unseen speakers didn’t distract me…indeed, dearest readers, I wasn’t concerned just then with any of it…in the absence of S; my long lost indifference was returning.

“You’re right on time…I’m so glad you aren’t one of those guys who believes in being ‘fashionably late’.” She said, crooking the two first fingers of each hand to lend quotations to “fashionably late”, as if it were a popular slogan and perhaps it was in the fast paced world of cut-throat dating…a world which was foreign to me.

“What can I say? My watch is fast.” I grinned.

“Ha, ha.” She said with a dry smile, “So you were aiming for fashionably late and wound up being fashionably punctual?”

“Actually I guesstimated my ETA and headed out accordingly.” I said, “What other way is there babe?”

It was then that the waitress was hovering above us…she was a cute Vietnamese girl with rosy cheeks and a poised pen…and as she took down Lydia’s order, I peered down the hallway that led to the restrooms at the end of which an open door exposed the alleyway, where a cook sat on two stacked crates, smoking a cigarette and spitting on the cement. Next a stray cat was rubbing up against his legs, purring and erecting its tail, which he stroked from the base upward, so his hand inevitably brushed the shit crusted fur around its rear. With the same tattooed hand, the cook picked a spec of Tabaco from his tongue before running his fingers through his greasy blonde hair. Indeed dear reader—it was hard to believe and my horror was apparent to Lydia who inquired if I was ok…I couldn’t answer, I could only watch in disbelief as the cook suddenly rose, spit on the cement again and flicked his cigarette to the ground before waddling back into the restaurant, he gave us a miserable glance, holding us in his icy blue eyed stare for a moment, before pushing through the swinging kitchen doors…indeed, when it was my turn to order, I could only form two words.

“Just tea.” I said.

“You’re not going to eat?” asked Lydia, a stark surprise in her expression.

“I’m fine.” I said.

“But the reason I wanted you to…” she sat up straight suddenly as if playfully frustrated and glanced at her nails which were painted a glimmering gold and smiled, “forget it.” She said shaking her head as if she was amused…but clearly she wasn’t.

“Yeah, I know, the wasabi rolls to die for…it’s just—I don’t actually want to die from them. Know what I mean?” I stated.

“Not really…but…it’s your loss.” she said, glancing up at me from her nails.

“Oh well.” I said.

.         “You’re missing out I tell ya…the cuisine is startlingly delicious.” She said wisely…folding her hands now as if to overlook my statement…which was fine by me…perhaps we’d start over.

“Listen, if it makes you happy, I’ll order some steamed rice.” I said, “I mean, what could go wrong with steamed rice right?”

“Uh…yeah.” said Lydia as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, “So how did the Neptune go?” She asked when the waitress brought our drinks out…a cup of cloudy hot water for me and a glass of white wine for Lydia.

I examined the water, holding the cup up, peering into it at an angle…unable to suppress an expression of distaste.

“What’s wrong with you?” she asked now, her grin on its last legs.

“This water is overcast.” I said…

“Why don’t you have a glass of white…it’s nicely chilled…”

“I don’t drink.” I admitted.

“No? Why not?”

“I quit.” I stated simply.

“Really? What was the catalyst for that decision?” she asked.

“Alcoholism.”

“Oh.” She said, “Does it bother you that I’m drinking in front of you?”

“No, I’m very strong willed once I make up my mind about something—my aunt says it’s because I’m a stubborn Capricorn.”

“Hey I’m a Capricorn too.” She said, fidgeting…her eyes darting around the room.

“Really? So what does that mean?”

“I don’t know—I follow Chinese astrology.”

“Which is?”

“For instance,” Lydia said, leaning forward a bit to explain, “I’m year of the rat…which means I’m very clever and quick witted.”

“Ok…what’s 56 times 67 subtract 34 add 23?” I asked.

“That’s got nothing to do with it.” said Lydia.

“Ok…”

“What’s your Chinese sign?” she asked me, squinting her eyes so her lashes nearly met, exposing her eye lids and the silver makeup caked over them.

“Look, I think I’m a tiger maybe…but none of that means jack shit baby…you can’t fit everyone’s personas into 12 signs.”

“I guess.” said Lydia.

“It is what it is.” I said and leaned back in the booth, contemplating sipping the overcast water…taking inventory of the woman before me…her manicured nails…her solarium skin…her caramel cleavage…her designer smile…and I was searching for a question to ask her but couldn’t decide on one…

“So…” she said as I looked at her.

“So.”

“What do you think about this rain?” she asked.

“I try not to.” I said.

Then she was quiet.

When her food came, I watched her eat it…she ate pretty good…knowing the moves…she appeared to be skilled…then she offered me a roll…I declined…however she was persistent. I still declined…but feeling that perhaps my sitting across from her and not eating was causing her a small amount of anxiety, I decided to order a bowl of plain steamed rice…

“Can I get a fork also?” I asked the waitress adding insult to injury when she set the chopsticks down beside the bowl on the table top.

The waitress nodded and returned a moment later with a fork…and when I looked up at Lydia from my steaming bowl, I noticed that there was an expression of horror etched into her face.

“What?”

“I think you’re the first date that’s ever asked for a fork.” She said.

“I don’t know how to use chopsticks.” I said.

“Well how will you ever learn if you never try?” she said.

“But I never use them…”

“When in Rome though hon.” She said.

“But Lydia, seriously, don’t you think the fork is a more efficient utensil to eat rice with?” I asked.

“Perhaps to you it is…but most guys will at least make the effort…and there’s something hopelessly adorable about watching a man make a fool out of himself with chopsticks—for his date’s benefit.” She said.

I’d thought it was about eating…or at least company…however, I was wrong…there was much more to all of this…and so, I commenced to eat the rice with the fork, washing the pasty grains down with the warm muddy water they’d served.         Indeed, our conversation stayed light…only venturing out of Lydia’s predisposed margins momentarily and on my accord before being pulled back on track by her—it seemed she wasn’t conversationally agile…and it seemed that indeed there were only a certain number of subjects we were allowed to discuss; work, the weather and finances…and in the duration of this rather colorless conversation she’d confessed to me that she had a day job aside from her evening dance instruction class…she was by day, a financial adviser at the Imperial Bank…she then spoke of house hunting and the price of land in certain regions of town…it was her theory that the houses closest to high level elementary schools were of a higher selling price—because of the newly wed, nearly dead parents. Next she involved me in a conversation about investments and how she lived with her investment banker boyfriend in her post-modern apartment in False Creek—Gavin was his name.

“Pardon?” I interrupted her.

“Pardon what?” she asked.

“You live with your boyfriend?” I inquired.

“Yeah…my partner.”

“Partner…”I said, stretching the word out, so that we might look it over, for the purpose of, if nothing else, a glance at the strange reality of this new region and its inhabitants.

“Like, your actual boyfriend?” I asked.

“Uh huh.” she nodded enthusiastically as she ate away at a short rib.

“And how would your live-in boy toy feel if he knew you were on a date tonight?” I asked.

“He knows.” said Lydia, widening her eyes as she took a sip of her white wine.

“Well…he’s quite a liberal chap then isn’t he?” I said.

“We have an arrangement in place.” confessed Lydia, with a tone of pride.

“An arrangement is it?”

“An open relationship—I guess people would call it.” she said.

“You fuck other people.” I nodded.

“It’s not just about that…it’s about…knowing who you love.” said Lydia.

“Really?” I asked.

“Totally.”

“How sophisticated…and let me guess, Gavin is the same guy you were with the other night at the Tavern—correct? The bearded clam?”

“Yeah, so what?” asked Lydia, screwing up her face.

“What kind of man lends his woman out? Especially if he loves her?” I mused, gazing at her as if from afar.

“You just have no understanding of it…a lot of people misunderstand the concept of an open relationship.” Lydia said nonchalantly moving back to her meal.

“I have a perfect understanding of it—it started, like most relationships—based on physical attraction—but that always fades…and now there’s no attraction left…now that the dopamine high is gone…and rather than break it off—you’ve both decided it’s best to make a caricature out of it.” I said.

“You can’t say that—you can’t know that…of course we love each other.”

“If you say so…by the way, whose idea was it to go…’open’?” I asked and watched Lydia’s expression change into an icy stare.

“It was mutual.” she said after peering over my shoulder for a few moments.

“You sure about that?” I asked and she didn’t answer, she just peered at me from across the table, shaking her head in disbelief—perhaps because I’d asked for a fork…and that dear reader was the actual end of my love affair with Lydia Chan…over before it even began.

Brighton Rock Manor

Situated on the sandy banks of the bay…Brighton Rock Manor stood stoically; a witness to eras past—speaking legacies through its elegant, antique architecture…like a long lost tune vibrating through the static of an old phonograph. If nothing else, the manor stood as the curious residue of dead generations—though we didn’t ask for their legacy—we claimed it as our own, as would our descendants, when we were eventually all worm food. Inside the gates smoothed a circular driveway, in the center of which splashed a small fountain in the form of a sculpted woman wrapped in a toga with one breast exposed…I strolled by this fountain slowly—feeling as if the sculpture was following me with her blank plaster eyes.

Sitting on the concrete edge of the fountain was a couple and they were letting flower petals fall from their hands into the water which moved the petals away from them and into the splashing; lovers—high on dopamine—Vancity was full of them.

Inside, the place was a love-in…soft spoken hipsters with tender beards held their girls close…they were cuddling on couches…sitting cross legged on the floor hugging each other, or leaning against walls in spoon position, all with drinks in their hands and proverbial tears in their eyes…I’d never seen such a gang of teat sucklers in all of my travels; I hadn’t ever encountered tender beards in such excessive numbers. One here and there yes, but never as a majority. I wondered distantly if it was birth control chemicals—estrogen, carried by women’s pee into the water supply…rendering these men’s beards so sensitive and tender.  In any case, they were all rapt with intense concentration as a girl crooned on a makeshift stage that was situated in front of an old coil water heater.

As she let out her heart in song, I glanced around the interior of the manor, moved by the antiquity of the intricate designs…indeed, if I was to try a description of it for you I would start with the ceiling…which was chalk white…along its perimeter was carved a vine that sprouted ivory leaves endlessly, bearing no roots…a nice touch at infinity. Beneath it ran a gold border that gave way to long white walls which were interrupted half way down by candle holders, each blooming with two bronze-leaf cups from which narrow candles rose, their flames holding steady. On one side of the makeshift stage stood a woodgrain baby grand, and on the other a crackling fireplace…above it hung a gold framed oil portrait…perhaps old man Brighton himself…a gray flowing mane of hair combed back in rows of perfect ridges…his eyes surprisingly intense—telling us all exactly what? I wondered, peering back at the man in the oil painting.

I was suddenly drawn back to the function at hand by a parade of applause that seemed to echo up into the attic of the old place and back down; like a holler into a large vacant cavern…for you see dear reader, in spite of its crackling hearth, the place had a cool vacancy to it…as if the fall had set in and wouldn’t leave…no matter how sweltering the temperature would grow in the summer months—a cold hollow would remain; what the hell went on in this place? I wondered, nudged by my senses.

“Thank you…thank you…” said the girl who’d been crooning…soaking up the applause.

There was a man standing next to me watching the girl intensely…he was wearing a closely cropped, particularly tender beard and a fuzzy cardigan, “Sue is just an amazing woman isn’t she?” he said, in a rhetorical tone.

“I haven’t met her.” I confessed.

When Sue was finally through with her set, the room remained silent, with the exception of a few lovers whispering to each other in the dim candle glow. Indeed, the atmosphere was not unlike valium and I began to feel very sleepy. As silence filled the small spaces between us, I felt us all careening toward imminent doom—an inevitable demise; perhaps this was what it was all about—drinking, smoking, eating, fucking, sucking, cheating, posing—perhaps it was all about distraction. Suddenly a shriek of feedback from the microphone jolted me from my contemplation.

“Listen guys…” said a man who now stood on the makeshift stage…he was holding an open book in his palm and he read from it, as if it was his bible, “Ok…certainly language is a process of free creation; its laws and principles are fixed—but the manner in which the principles of generation are used is free and infinitely varied; infinitely varied.” he said, repeating the last line as if it were a proverb to be dissected with more scrutiny than the Zapruder film.

He went on for a few more minutes, attempting to draw a parallel between what he’d read and the significance of the evening’s fund raiser. Then, rather abruptly he introduced me, inviting me to the stage while peering out into the room with his hand saluting his brow, as if the candle light was too bright for him.

I strode over to the baby grand and hit a few chords.

“I’m Frank. Perhaps great men resided in this house, perhaps great men built this world, perhaps a great man will embalm you one day—I can’t say for sure…but I can tell you this…I never claimed to be a great man…I don’t quote Chomsky; I just quote me.” I said, then sang a few numbers…then a few more. There was a nice resonance in the room and it was one of those great voice nights—which happen…but sometimes don’t. In spite of the dozens who’d paid their $15 at the door and expected to be entertained; I sang more to the house on that evening than to them—more to the wood and the walls and the ceilings…to the ghosts that may have been lingering in the attic, hiding themselves away from all us uninvited guests. With eyes closed, one could nearly imagine the surroundings—the same acoustics that would have existed there in that very living room a hundred years previous. In short dear reader—a strange thing happened; I’d been caught in a hypnotic trance of nostalgia.

When I was through with my set and ordering a soda water from the bartender I felt a hand touch my shoulder. When I turned around I found it was…what’s his name? The guy from the Bronze Tavern who’d opened the evening…the guy who’d become friends with—no…could it be? Indeed, dear reader—as plain as day I stood there in a silent state of surprise to see her casually striding toward us—it was, as you may have guessed, the Debbie Harry doppelganger, the British sugar plum who’d turned hellion on me during our last encounter and even used the ‘fuck’ word. Tonight however, her attire was different, perhaps offsetting a parallel persona in her mind—always a woman. When she was upon us and tilting her head to speak to me—I didn’t return her small grin.

“That piano loves your voice.” she said.

“So…” I said, placing my head on an axis and gazing upon her with a devilish grin, “How long have you been in Canada old girl?”

“Bloody hell, I was hoping you’d have been too drunk to remember that bit.” She grinned.

“I don’t drink.” I said.

“You did that night—at least you seemed drunk.”

“Seltzer…it was seltzer water.”

“Oh. Well, in any case…could you blame me? You basically took a date with a woman while you were in the process of chatting me up.” She said, laughing about it now.

“What date? That broad who handed me the card?”

“Yes, the bird who’s a dance instructor—do you do the tango? What a fright…fucking utter fright.” She chuckled.

“Listen, you don’t know the half of it…I went on a date with her last week and she tells me she’s in an open relationship.” I said, shaking my head.

“Uh, rubbish.” She said, rolling her eyes in a sexy way.

“I seem to remember you leaving with a hipster kid sporting a remarkably tender and soft, closely cropped, Michael-Gross-from-Family-Ties type of beard. I caught that—in case you were wondering.” I told her.

“Hey,” she shrugged, “guess that night was ill-fated for everyone huh?”

“What the hell is your name anyway?” I asked her.

“Emily.” she said, “…named me after Dickinson.”

“Emily…” I said the name, letting it roll off my tongue…to see if it would do a four digit dive or simply sputter off and fall flat. Indeed, the name I’d always disliked sounded quite nice when matched with her face.

Having allowed us our extended greeting without interruption, the guy whose name I’d forgotten turned to Emily and I after finishing a conversation of his own with a passing tender beard. They’d embraced warmly rather than shake hands. Addressing both Emily and I he declared an expedition…a trek westward, along the beach, into rugged nature—the darkened forest that surrounded the University complex like a moat. Indeed, I’d not answered immediately; it was my intention to get lost downtown amidst a concrete jungle and neon lights…find myself a buxom flamenco dancer…sit on her wooden floor and drink her tea and kiss her inner thighs perhaps. Indeed, that, or something close to it had been the plan—however, because Emily was game—I was game too…it seemed I’d been given a second chance with the Debbie Harry doppelganger.

And so dear reader, if you can picture it—there we were, six of us, paired in double file, exiting Brighton Rock Manor through the rear, across the patio and out onto the sprawling grounds that were lit by flood lights fastened to the roof of the mansion. The grounds sloped downward, descending toward sea level, where the ocean could be smelled in the distance just beyond a wall of hedges. Emily’s bandmate Haley headed the convoy, accompanied by her date…easily enough they located the gate which led through the wall of hedges and down a steeply zigzagging wooden stair case, at the bottom of which we found a rocky beach strewn with logs and seaweed. As planned, our convoy trekked westward along the dark beach. As we walked in the dark with the city lights rippling across the vast expanse of bay and the moon high in the sky, smudged slightly behind a thin veil of cloud, Emily and I talked.

“It’s a beautiful night.” she said.

“Soon the rain will come.” said I.

“Just like home.” Emily said, gazing back across the bay toward the illuminated city, “I’m used to the rain.”

“There are places in this world where you might go a whole year without seeing the rain.” I told her.

“Sounds…dry.”

“Very.”

“You know you don’t belong here right?” she said, leaning over and squeezing my arm as she rested her head on my shoulder—ah, she was all kinds of woman.

“It’s that obvious?”

“I could notice it right away…you’re like a fish out of water.”

“You mean a duck out of water.” I said.

“Why a duck? A duck can go out of the water and be ok.”

“I don’t know—we say ‘duck’ here.” I told her, adding with a chuckle, “Get with it.”

“Bullocks then…I get all your North American phrases wrong. But I don’t care, because I’m relaxed here…it’s so relaxing.” she sighed, removing her head from my shoulder and locking arms with me as we strolled behind the others who were involved in their own moonlit conversations.

“Perhaps too relaxing.” I told Emily

“How do you mean that?”

“It’s the dopamine.”

“Dopamine?”

“They’re all dopamine addicts—the place is crawling with them.”

“You think?”

“It’s a collective dopamine high—or the pursuit of it…you can see it in their eyes; it’s the glassy daze of love-struck dopamine addiction.”

“Who?” laughed Emily.

“The people here…they’re addicted to the dopamine love rush. The missiles could be flying overhead…the sky could be blood red and falling in…an asteroid the size of fucking Florida could be careening toward the earth—a bird-flu pandemic could be sweeping across the nation…and these people would be too gaga to even notice—or care—they’d be too preoccupied sucking on each other’s holes. Very dangerous—the loss of one’s grip on reality. But who knows…maybe they’re right.” I said, casting a wave of futility with my hand.

“Hang on…are you saying that they’re not in love—these people that are ‘too preoccupied sucking on each other’s holes’?” chuckled Emily, perhaps seeing herself as one of them.

“It’s all chemicals…it’s all a primal design—for the sake of procreation…a spell of biology.” I told her.

“Come on…you can’t believe that.” She chuckled “It’s like saying there isn’t such a thing as love…that there’s no such thing as fate…destiny. It’s like saying all coincidences are coincidences and nothing more.”

“Listen, I knew a guy once—terrible fellow, the personality of a mime, only he wasn’t a mime. This guy met a woman during a skiing excursion in Banff. By the end of the weekend they were in love. By the end of the month they’d moved in together. By the end of the year, they were in court figuring out which one of them would be granted sole custody of their brat—a brat neither of them really wanted in the first place. I think it was Mailer who said you never really know a woman until you meet her in court.” I laughed.

“Who got custody?” asked Emily.

“How should I know? The point is—the dopamine love rush drove them mad with the fever brought on by imaginary love.”

“Imaginary love…” mused Emily looking up at the sky, “Is there really such a thing? That would mean that nothing is real…nothing we feel…that everything is just drug induced rubbish. Don’t you believe in love at first sight? You hear these stories from old people…how he saw her, or she saw him…from across a street…or a room, or at a news stand…and they fell in love then and there. Is that all just rubbish?”

“How should I know?” I said.

“Romeo and Juliet?”

“Dopamine.”

“Really? Ok, Napoleon and Josephine.”

“Wine…definitely wine…as well as dopamine.”

“Elvis and Pricilla…dopamine as well?” asked Emily.

“More like pygmalionism.”

“And last but not least…and I have to throw this one in…how about Humbert and Delores Hayes?”

“Ah, my dear Emily from across the vast Atlantic—good one indeed…but you’re talking about infatuation—the most dangerous of them all.”

“Why do you say dangerous?”

“Why do you think?” I said.

We walked like that for some time, in silence—myself and this stranger from across the mighty Atlantic…this sunny girl from rainy London who decided she wanted to lock arms with me—perhaps because I’d been honest with her. And all at once Haley, Emily’s bandmate started to ignite fireworks. They’d set up on a spot far ahead and as Emily and I approached we admired the crack of the colorful explosions against the night sky, the sound delayed a half moment by our closing distance.

“Can I shoot one off?” asked Emily when we’d finally reached the group.

“Hold it away from your face Em.” said Haley, handing Emily one of the small rockets.

Emily held the rocket as her friend had specified and we all watched as the fuse was ignited into a flash of sparks that sent the rocket whistling into the sky, however, en route the rocket collided with a bird and the impact spun the rocket, reversing its trajectory, sending the rocket back down toward us, where it exploded against the sand. The girls shrieked with laughter and I took a seat on the hull of a beached canoe, feeling terrible for the bird. After which I found myself wondering about S. Wondering what she was doing that very moment…thinking of me perhaps? Walking her dog in Echo Park? Drinking wine with girlfriends? Doing it with her husband—or worse, doing it with someone new? Perhaps I should have been moving on as well—perhaps I should have taken Lydia up on her offer of casual sex…or perhaps the universe was giving me the okay to take Emily back to my apartment and give her whatever she asked for. Both options, as well as any that could be easily chased down in a city full of lost, empty souls, were bleak alternatives. Perhaps this was a gift from S; my realization that sex was an act of intimacy and intimacy an act of trust.

When the small supply of fireworks in Haley’s backpack was exhausted, the guy whose name I couldn’t remember—the singer who’d opened the night at the Bronze Tavern—he informed us of a text message he’d received just then from his people back at Brighton Rock Manor; the fundraiser was winding down and a number of the guests were moving to a different venue—the Scorpio Room on Commercial Drive; it seemed this man whose name I’d forgotten was fully jacked into a scene—a club…a social coterie with a hierarchy…what’s worse, the hierarchy was most likely based on an intellectual template and bullshit credibility…citing a certain credo—it’s not what you know; it’s who you know.

A surge of disappointment swelled in my chest when I wondered if in fact this was the very reason Emily knew the man whose name I’d forgotten—simply because he was a person to ‘know’. The notion that she might be a social climbing thespian was enough to make me close my eyes and shake my head slightly and I did so as she bubbled with enthusiasm over joining a convoy of posers on a cross town excursion; for who knew who would be at the Scorpio Room? Doubtlessly more didactic, pontificating phonies like what’s-his-nuts.

“You’re coming right?” Emily asked me as the others headed back toward the manor, the flood lights of which stood as a beacon to guide them across the stony beach through the darkness.

“I’ll pass.” I said.

“Pass? Like not go? Why not? It sounds like an intriguing time.”

“Does it really though?”

“Yeah…and later we can go dancing.” said Emily, offering a few dance moves for effect after which she extended her hand to help me up from the upturned canoe. I reached up and gripped her hand and pulled her down toward me so she sat on my lap. She was heavier than I’d suspected and I looked up at her for a moment, admiring her Debbie Harry good looks.

“Emily…it sounds like fun, just not my kind of fun; you go ahead.” I insisted.

“And what’s your kind of fun?” she asked.

“Ah, you wouldn’t be interested.” I assured her.

“So you’re going to just sit here in the dark?” she asked.

“Hell no…”

“Then what?”

“I’m going to turn this canoe over and I’m going to row across the bay. There’s a Spanish café I know of across the water…they serve a mean hot chocolate…come with me—don’t worry I’ll do most of the rowing.” I told her, “I’ve had enough of scene crawling for one evening.”

“You’re a mad man.” Emily said with an edge of seriousness.

“Maybe.” I said, “But this is your chance at true romance.”

“You can’t be serious.” said Emily, grinning at me as if waiting for a final puzzle piece.

“Why not?” I said.

“Well, for one you’re insane, also you have no life jacket…no flares…its very dangerous.” she said, realizing I meant what I’d said.

“Help me get this thing turned right side up.” I said.

With reluctance and a last effort to convince me out of it, Emily helped me turn the canoe over. I grabbed one of the oars and used it as a shovel, pretending to dig into the sand with it, “So, in case shit goes south…I’ll dig my grave here and you can bury me in this spot if the sharks don’t get to my body first.” I chuckled.

“You’re kind of fucked up aren’t you?” she asked, with her head on a tilt.

“No more than anyone else I’m sure.” I said as we pulled the canoe across the stony beach and down to the shoreline.

“Also this canoe must belong to someone…it can’t just be abandoned.” Suggested Emily—a last, last effort of discouragement.

“I’m only borrowing it.” I assured her as I got behind the boat and pushed against it carefully across the remaining sand until it was immersed in the salty ocean water, “Besides, this town is one giant hippy commune isn’t it—don’t people borrow each other’s shit all the time in a hippy commune?” that got her laughing.

I climbed in from the rear, inevitably soaking my feet. The water wasn’t as cold as I’d suspected however. I balanced on one of the flat wooden seats and fit the oars into their locks. With the oars in place I pushed off from the shore with a strong shove and felt the sudden unsteadied buoyancy moving along with the waves. “See you around gorgeous.” I said as I rowed out further. In the darkness I could just barely make out Emily raise her hand in a small sad wave from her spot on the shore. She offered no parting words, only the wave…then she was trudging back toward the manor, not realizing she’d just missed out on an immortal moment of true romance.

As I rowed at a relaxed pace, the canoe chopped easily through the water, eventually allowing momentum to pull me further out into the bay, until I was so far from shore that the beach front houses became dots of lights sitting like a string of bulbs along the sandy peninsula banks. I rowed on, wondering how deep the bay was, wondering how many leagues of pitch black sea water made up the expanse between the hull of the canoe and the floor of the bay. As I rowed I wondered absently what would be found at the bottom of English Bay if it were to be combed. Ancient aboriginal artifacts? Sunken vessels from eras long past? Human bones? Perhaps an array of hypodermic needles that had been grabbed and dragged out to sea by the tides?

I wondered also what would become of me if I were to capsize. Perhaps no one would ever learn the truth. Quite possibly Emily would return to the UK without ever hearing about my ill-fated canoe ride—in turn telling no one. I would become, in essence, another statistic. I thought of S again and how she might respond—the fact that I wasn’t certain alarmed me. Now near the center of the bay, I gave my arms a rest and embraced the black surge of dread that invaded my core like an ink injection; contemplating how life and death were only different phases of the same cycle and how emotions seemed entirely foreign and out of place in such a callous and cold reality…the blackness reached in for me again, gripping me with the sum of its strength and I sighed, grinning a small defiant grin—because I knew it wanted me…and so I had the power—the power to deny it; and deny it I did dear reader, liberating my existential compromises with a quiet decision to fuck ‘em all.

As I lit a Black and Mild, I scanned the illuminated skyline and its uniform architecture, the bridges arcing over the inlet of False Creek…where Lydia Chan leased a post-modern apartment with her live-in boyfriend Gavin; the man who loaned her out. I took an estimated inventory of how many others among the uniform skyline residents were just as, if not more lost as Lydia and her tender bearded cuckold. Running my eyes over the skyline from end to end, imagining it all, the cheaters, the liars, the vampires, the dealers, the soulless, the intellectuals and their prey…it was a quagmire of filth and pretension…Gomorrah with parking meters, boutiques and liquor stores. But then what was so different about Los Angeles? I wondered…or any city for that matter? The extraordinary I assumed.

After a while I flicked the Black and Mild overboard and heard it sizzle into the water. I resumed rowing and used a sidewalk lamp on the distantly approaching beach as a beacon. The oars cut into the water and pushed on with ease and the burning in my arms felt exquisite…my indifference to my own fate was also exquisite and I wondered if this is how Diefenbaker had done it…living on the open prairie in a wooden shack. He was one of them; the forefathers who had engineered this vast nation with moral geometry and the pursuit of the dawning light; there had been a vision. As I rowed closer to shore, I thought of the blown up old photos lining the underground hallway adjoining Canada Place with Waterfront Center; the grainy faces were now just intense stares suggesting ghostly whispers, but uttering none…just bones and chiseled stone now. I leaned back, letting the canoe chop through the water with its momentum until the hull scraped the shore, creating a noise that caught the attention of a couple cuddling softly on a nearby log. They watched me as I pulled the canoe onto the beach and turned it over, much the way I’d found it. As I walked away, the man spoke in a whiny voice, piecing the calm silence around us.

“You can’t just leave that canoe there like that.” he said.

I looked over at him and his girl, sitting on the sand. They were swathed in a colorful blanket and leaning against a log. I lit another Black and Mild and took a puff before addressing the couple who sat there staring at me in an eerie sort of way. I wondered why this man cared about an upturned canoe on such a vast beach.

“Are you the beach patrol?” I asked.

“No, I’m not…but I’d be happy to call them…and I’m sure they’ll tell you the same thing; you cannot leave your canoe sitting like that on the beach.” he whined, his voice shaking a bit. He was a pale skinny guy, perhaps 40, blonde hair, pointy nose and a simmering rage in his eyes; another godam defender.

“Then I guess I’m in the clear.” I said.

“How’s that?”

“It’s not my canoe…tough guy.” I said, half expecting him to issue me a lecture on the narrow spectrum of local morality. I’d heard a few during my short time in Vancity. However, the man didn’t reply, he merely sat still, sneering intensely—defending his beach…defending something.

I trudged past them up the incline that led toward the street, thinking of a cup of hot chocolate and that mysterious flamenco dancer I knew was out there somewhere…the one I’d seen at Café Madrid the night before. The one from Argentina who’d worn the senorita lipstick and the long ruffled flamenco dress…the very one who’d stomped and twirled and clicked the castanets to the violent strum of a classical guitar; indeed, a powerful woman.

Kahunas

Maybe there was an asteroid out there somewhere heading for earth. Maybe there would be no consequences for the years of bad decision making and personal neglect I’d subjected myself to in the name of defiant oblivion, or rather, an oblivion that far outweighed the alternative; a life of button-downing and 9-5 office sitting…waking up at the crack of dawn for a vegetable smoothie, a quick jerk and a hungover jog…reading men’s health magazines as a guide for living…becoming an expert on stool consistency…engaging in cutthroat competition with friends and colleagues in matters of materialism—starting personal wars and having the audacity to take prisoners…picking a bad sports team and sticking with them…honing one’s powers of social observation for the sake of becoming a square peg.

However, if we are all to meet a horrific end—and I generalize the experience on grounds of death being a generally horrific array of causes and effects—it may make more sense to embrace the oblivion which most citizens of our era keep perched on their mantelpiece like a declaration of blissful ignorance. If we are all heading down the same conveyor belt of inevitability; why be concerned about anything. Faces can be immortalized in ivory, words in ink, ambitions in history…but the flesh withers and dies and is born again—moving through the centuries along with the push of time; a dust devil.

The notion that I was part of it all; a member of a species that had come this far without extinction was both wondrous and terrifying. If human achievement is measured only by the scope of human understanding—then perhaps the pursuit of greatness isn’t vanity after all. Perhaps the distant future starts now. Perhaps the hole we burned into the ozone layer will one day be the only proof left that we were ever here—our interstellar littering only a flag planted in the sand; our crowning achievement. Why not just fuck it all?

I was pulled from these thoughts suddenly by an officer of the law. She was short, robust and masculine around the jawline. From the side of the road she waved me down, clicking her flashlight to gain my attention before gesturing that I pull into a side road. When I obliged and pulled my car into the alleyway, I found that it was an all-out ambush. There were a few other officers standing at the windows of other cars that had been ushered in, writing tickets to the drivers for whatever reason.

“Do you know why you’ve been pulled over?” asked the officer.

“A random ambush?” I shrugged.

“This is not an ambush. This is a traffic stop and you’ve been stopped because you were spotted with a phone in your hand while operating a motor vehicle.” said the officer. Her eyes were cool blue and there was dried snot around one of her nostrils.

“Spotted?” I asked.

“We have officers on the overpass.”

“And did your ambush patrol happen to mention that I wasn’t talking on my phone?” I inquired.

“Again sir, this isn’t an ambush—that’s not what we’re doing here. We are upholding the statutes, ok. Why did you have your phone in your hand?” she added.

“Listen, I’ll level with you…I have this Swedish broad who sends me artistic selfies at random—it’s been a fair amount of suspense and I like to keep current.”

“Well that may be all and well, but the bylaw states that you can’t even hold your phone when you drive.”

“But what if I was holding a chocolate bar? What’s the difference what I’m holding?” I inquired.

“Well, as of yet, there is no bylaw that includes candy bars.” Said the lady cop.

“So, exactly what is that you’re saying here?” I asked.

“I’m saying that you can’t hold your phone while driving. You can however hold a cigarette, but if you were to flick the butt of that cigarette out of the window—then you could be cited for littering.” she said firmly, cocking a brow as if in warning, “Point is, we live in a society with bylaws and regulations…there are rules in this life.”

“So how much is this infraction going to cost me?” I asked.

“It will be $300.”

“I’m in the wrong business.” I said handing her my license and registration.

That’s how the day started and it wasn’t even 5pm yet. I’d been awake for under an hour and had already been dealt a hand of bad luck. What if I’d have stayed home, or perhaps taken a different route to the hotel? Would fate have found me? And why can’t fate ever be a jackpot when I’m on the slots? Why did the universe feel obligated to instead cross my path with a traffic cop ambush? Perhaps I was asking the wrong questions.

By the time the cop let me go, with a rather expensive ticket and I was moving along like mud with the rush hour traffic; I was warmly nimble and mentally agile. On occasion, sleep deprivation can lend a certain intrigue to otherwise commonplace occurrences. It helped that I had the Replacements ‘Let It Be’ CD on the stereo—I had a few puffs as I listened and drove. In spite of my spot of bad luck with the ticket, it seemed the day was taking on a certain luster…I chose to see it that way.

In such a reality, the warm sun catching the sheen of blowing leaves in brilliant sparkles isn’t just a sight; it becomes a glimpse at the symbiont circle of the ecosystem operating entirely by God’s will. The mountains jutting from the misty banks of a distant shoreline aren’t just magnificent; they’re a frame of geographic reference, illustrating the molten violence deep beneath the surface, pushing shelves of rock forth toward the heavens that bore them. Likewise, the woman in a neighboring car picking her nose and eating it appeared as something more—an earthly portrait, illustrating social diversity and all of its exotic appetites. Indeed, it seemed there was a little magic in the air.

Of course this magic evaporated very easily once I was seated across from Tanis Radcliff and her assistant Josie somethingorother. Josie was Radcliff’s protégé, but it seemed there was something more to them that perhaps involved olive oil. Indeed, a curious duo, the two were inseparable and spent a great deal of time huddled in their tiny windowless office, plotting their next ambush. Otherwise they could be seen wandering the hallways, always together, in search of reasons to reprimand and make examples of.

As Radcliff was in the middle of a phone conversation when I’d arrived, Josie instructed me to take the hot seat and wait—and wait I did, feeling as if I was eavesdropping. After a number of minutes waiting in silence however, I took note of a bit of the thespian in Radcliff. There was something in her embellished gestures that suggested the entire phone call was a decoy…a faint…a sham…what have you. Of course the notion that she could be eating up valuable time with such a senseless charade managed to tickle me, conjuring a sudden quake of laughter that drew both of their eyes.

Suddenly sullen, Radcliff bid farewell to the possibly empty receiver and placed it gently in its cradle before addressing me.

“So, mister Nero, how are you today?”

“I’m here to help.” I stated.

“I see. Well,” Radcliff continued, “an issue concerning you has been brought to my attention recently. I thought it would be best to address this issue in person.”

“I can’t imagine a better idea.” I said, glancing at Josie. She was a mini version of Radcliff. She’d even started wearing her hair like Radcliff. The worst of this was that Radcliff’s hairdo was frozen in time—a direct import from rural 1984. Glancing from do to do, I had trouble deciphering.

“A number of your immediate supervisors have approached me, voicing concern about your lack of enthusiasm.”

I waited for more, but none came. Her statement hadn’t even been giftwrapped, rather it was thrown down like a gauntlet; another passive aggressive challenge with multiple angles to match.

“Well, I must say that’s an extraordinary allegation.” I said.

“These reports say that it is in fact so.”

“Define lack of enthusiasm.” I urged.

“Certainly you know what enthusiasm is.”  Said Josie—Radcliff’s dog in this fight.

“Of course, but if we’re going to discuss this fairly, we need some frame of reference. Wouldn’t you say?”

“Enthusiasm is enthusiasm regardless of context Mr. Nero…you ought not test the durability of our diligence.” Josie countered, locking eyes and waiting for a response.

Josie was, like so many others, part of the new breed. From one angle, a fiercely independent, militantly empowered woman—from another angle, a tenacious, groin kicking, ladder climber on her way to perpetual cat-lady-hood. I wondered what had made her this way. Perhaps a man who’d wronged her way back when. Or, perhaps when she was growing up, her mother demanded that her father sit down when he pissed. I could only speculate what twisted events molded Josie’s shrewd persona. I had to play ball though; the hotel Davenport was based on cutthroat diplomacy after all.

“I wouldn’t dream of it. Let me ask you this though—is there a definitive example of this alleged lack of enthusiasm, or are you basing your allegations solely on heresay?” I asked Josie.

“Oh there are many.” she smiled.

“For example?”

“We’re not here to satisfy your curiosity, we’re here to discuss what steps you can take to improve yourself.” Josie said, stumbling over her words and in effect, illustrating her synthetic tenacity—perhaps I’d had Josie all wrong—perhaps she was all girl inside and had only adapted to the pressures of her generation.

“But certainly there are two sides to each story…right?” I said, not deviating from diplomacy.

“Of course.” Radcliff finally chimed in, when her protégé was left momentarily speechless—having not foreseen such an obvious retort.

“So you see, I need to know what I’m defending.” I said with a shrug of sincerity.

“Mr. Nero, these points, which are many, have culminated to create the present situation. There is no one thing—it’s a succession of many things.”

“Like?” I asked.

“Like the fact that you don’t smile.”

“I smile.” I insisted.

“It’s been reported right here that you don’t smile.” Josie said, pointing to a printed memo she held in her pudgy hand.

“Also, you walk far too casually…you tend to swagger—it’s a very unprofessional way that you carry yourself.  You don’t engage the guests that come to your bar in any sort of conversation…what’s more you move slowly—like ‘molasses in January’ another captain’s log specifies.” Radcliff added, studying the dog eared pages of what appeared to be my file—a dossier of sorts which seemed to be filled with interesting tidbits highlighting my professional shortcomings.

“Also, you seem to use a product in your hair that gives you an oily appearance.” Radcliff added.

“Yeah,” Josie agreed, wrinkling her brows as if ultimately perplexed, “what is that product?”

“It’s called Chrome Velocity—and I can assure you…it’s not cheap at $45 a bottle ladies.”

“There’s also the matter of shaving—for a number of days last week you showed up for work with growth. We have a very strict policy about growth.” Radcliff said, spurring me to jog my memory.

“Ladies, I can explain…that was my John Stamos look…you know, the famed actor—I thought that was just a given.” I said.

“Rather than offer justifications,” Said Radcliff, flexing her corporate muscle with a long sigh, “you might offer us suggestions on how you intend to improve your performance.”

After pondering Radcliff’s statement for a moment I shrugged and offered the only reply I felt best illustrated the man they wanted me to be. “I’ll be good forever?”

“I assure you Mr. Nero, this isn’t a joke and not something you should be cavalier about.” Said Radcliff, tilting her Skelator head and peering at me thoughtfully—a tactic she’d doubtlessly learned at another of her three day, coffee breath, bagel fart, managerial seminars.

“I don’t take it lightly Mrs. Radcliff…or is it Ms.?” I said, rising to leave.

Remaining seated, Radcliff peered at me from behind her desk, “Allow me to read to you one captain’s assessment of your performance.”

I reluctantly eased back down into the chair and prepared for a doubtlessly bias read. The memo was penned by Kensington, one of the morning captains, whom, as I never worked the morning shift, had little to no knowledge of my late night heroics. You see dearest reader, the morning shift was for lifers; men a women who’d relinquished any hope they ever had—people who’d forgotten, or never understood in the first place, the true majesty of moonlight.

Where the morning shift was coffee stains, crusty marmalade and halitosis boardroom meetings; the night shift was splashed with white wine, gowned trophy wives and red carpets—the lesser of two borings I suppose. Still, I only ran into Kensington when his usual morning shift might bleed into a gala ball, or a white gloved reception, rendering the poor chap out of his element among the night crew.

To compensate, Kensington would inevitably become a cunt…what’s more; he thrived on the hatred he instilled in total strangers and long-time colleagues alike. He was the type of fellow who would let his trousers drop to his ankles at a public urinal—just to moon everyone. Furthermore, it was a common practice of his to telephone other captains in the wee hours, delirious with drink and grumbling with paranoid threats.

One such voicemail had trickled down to us grunts who were all slugging it out in the trenches. As imagined, the recording was a wealth of entertainment. He’d managed to use the word fuck 17 times in the course of a 30 second message—no small feat. He’d also made references to agencies he intended to contact and file complaints with, all before slurring a volley of incoherent insults. Well—who had guessed Kensington had his points of interest?

Indeed, it came as no shock to me that Kensington would forward such a statement to Radcliff. It was as I’d expected, an incoherent rant regarding my handling of a ‘code red’ the previous Friday. A code red, dear reader, is a priority alert; an alert that is issued over the captain’s radio if a guest spills a drink on himself or another guest.

Rather than come around from behind my bar and console the guest and try to remove the stain from his shirt with a wash cloth and club soda—I had merely handed the clumsy old prick a bar rag and informed him that if he was indeed intoxicated; he would be refused any more alcohol—a sensible thing to say—or so I’d thought.

In any case, Kensington cited in great detail his disdain for my lack of devotion and social eloquence, after which he embarked on a lengthy recount of his history, assuring in the end that in all of his travels, working the cruise ships and luxury hotels throughout Europe; he’d never encountered such a lazy sod as I. I took it with a nod, waiting silently for Radcliff to finish. When she was through reading Kensington’s statement, she placed the paper back into the dossier and interlaced her fingers.

“Those words are quite telling.” she said, leaving a long trail of silence before leaning back in her squeaky leather chair and raising her brows, “Do you care to comment?”

“I thought the letter lacked real heart.” I offered, “His drunken late night voicemails to other captains are much more entertaining.”

Indeed, word that I’d been dragged in with Radcliff and her protégé spread through the hotel like wildfire. I was certain that on a weekly basis, a lot of them were betting on whether or not I’d be fired. Nobody asked me directly until later, after hours, when I joined some of the guys for a drink.

Kahunas was a low rent watering hole on Virgil. It smelled like cigarette smoke, cheap perfume and urine. It attracted a suspicious clientele and for this reason the pitchers were a steal. Once inside we made our way across the empty dance floor and found a table in one corner of the bar. The place was sparsely populated and there was a total absence of customer service. There were three women stationed at a neighboring table, but repeated treatments of Botox had turned them from once normal looking humans into Muppet people.

“This was a great idea O’Leary.” I said, “What a shithole.”

“Hey man, cheapest beer in LA.” he attested with a wide grin, clearly unphased by the grim surroundings.

“Yeah, it’s probably piss water.” I mused.

When the waitress was upon us finally, she stood there staring at us all with a grin as she smacked her gum with intent. She stood like that for few moments, smacking the gum nice and hard.

“Are you trying to annoy us?” I asked her.

“No.” she said, tilting her head at me a bit before scanning the others at the table.

“Sharp uniforms, where you all work?” she asked with a chipper disposition.

“Hotel Davenport.” said O’Leary with a toothy grin.

“Wow, so posh.” Our waitress said, poising her pen to take Stall’s order first.

She went around the table counter clockwise and landed on me last. “I’ll take a beer—preferably something German; in the bottle.” I specified.

“So what went on with Radcliff today?” O’Leary asked when the waitress was gone.

“The usual shit.” I said, loosening my bow tie.

“You were in there for a while man.”

“They were reading me the specifics…apparently Kensington and Katie Salzburg wrote a few reports about me. These assholes have nothing better to do.” I sighed.

“Reports about?” asked Jansen.

“Apparently I’m the worst employee they’ve ever seen…apparently I should wear a creepy clown smile around all day and kiss a lot of rims.” I said, “According to Salzburg, I shouldn’t use product in my hair—I should shave more often…blah, blah, blah.”

“Yeah, know what? She’s been riding me too…every time. If Salzburg keeps riding my ass, I’m going to write a letter about her.” Said Stall, loosening his own bowtie with a frustrated yank, “I mean, she rides me every night…I turn around and she’s there, just waiting to ride me over something—something useless…she’s out of control man.”

“Ease up,” assured Jansen, “she has hers coming…I got an ace up my sleeve for her.”

“Do tell.” O’Leary chimed in without looking at Jansen. He had his sights set on a table across the room.

“Well, this is between present company only,” said Jansen—his usual disclaimer, “a reliable source—no…very fucking reliable source told me he’s got a video of Salzburg snorting lines in a ladies room—in one of those cheesy boom-boom clubs downtown.”

“She’s like 50.” chuckled O’Leary, again without looking in Jansen’s direction, “It’s probably bullshit.”

“Or maybe it was some other cougar who looks a lot like Salzburg; this town is full of them.” Said Stall.

“You can say that again.” said O’Leary, still staring toward the table across the room.

From our booth I could see that the table at which O’Leary was staring was occupied by five guys and from the collection of beer bottles and glasses crowding their tabletop it seemed a safe assumption that they’d arrived long before we had.

“Have you seen this video?” I asked.

“I will, next time I see the guy. We’re going golfing next Tuesday.”

“Golfing…” I scoffed, “are you one of those bastards who golfs to be more like his old man?”

“My dad doesn’t golf. What are you implying?”

“What am I implying? Aside from the fact that golf is the most boring fucking sport out there—in fact you can’t really call it a sport even. Aside from that, there are those who golf because they can’t play any real sports—then there are those who golf because they want to be more like daddy; busy do-nothing duds who talk about shit like golf and use the word ‘sweet’ as a noun. It’s like a shield Jansen—you ought to know that.”

“Building a shield.” O’Leary concurred, nodding his head a bit.

“Shield for what?” Jansen inquired.

“For whatever.” O’Leary replied, gazing on stonily.

“Something interesting over there?” I asked him finally.

“Ain’t nothing interesting about a group of sad ass motherfuckers from the Bradley, swilling piss water after a soft, cushy night on the job.” Said O’Leary as the waitress was returning with our drinks.

She set the bottles down one by one, this time starting with me. We sat there for a few moments just sipping at the cold crisp beer, waiting for O’Leary to elaborate. O’Leary was like that—verbally constipated…he let things out slowly and often with a wince.

“I know those glamor boys from my days at the Bradley.” Said O’Leary, before taking a deep haul of his beer.

When I turned around again to get a better look at the Bradley crew, I noticed that their uniforms were futuristic somehow; as if they should be armed with laser guns. Indeed, their silver tunics and perfectly groomed appearance lent them the appearance of body snatchers. What’s more, all five were groomed in exactly the same fashion, with matching hairdos and matching jawline beards that were meticulously sculpted.

“So what’s your point man, do you wanna say hi to them or what?” asked Stall.

“Those were the shitters that got me canned.” Said O’Leary with a wince, “What the fuck do you think?”

“Those are the guys?” asked Jansen.

“Sure as I’m sitting here.” Assured O’Leary as he removed his cufflinks, “They accused me of skimming…and I ain’t ever skimmed in my entire life.”

“How can you be sure they were the ones that ratted you out?” Jansen pressed.

“I just finished saying I didn’t do it—so I wasn’t ratted out asshole—I was set up. But anyway, I’ve got a man on the inside…he’s an old college buddy and heads up the room service division. He’s the one who got me the job in the first place.” Said O’Leary, now turning his attention to Jansen, who was listening intently as to find a hole in the story, as he often did.

“Looks like college did you guys a whole lot of good.” I chuckled, “And by the way…why do they all look so similar? Like, I can’t tell one from the other.” I chuckled, peering at O’Leary’s ex-colleagues, who were still at that point, oblivious to our presence.

“Because they’re…barely there.”

“What’s that mean?” asked Jansen.

“How the fuck should I know Jansen.” said O’Leary, shaking his head, “Tell you what I do know though. I have a good mind to go over there and let them know just what a bunch of douchebags they really are.”

“You don’t think they know it already—how couldn’t they?” I said, sipping deeply from the beer that wasn’t German. The waitress had brought me a local blend that wasn’t half bad.

“You know, that whole hotel is a façade. It’s like a cult really; a real lame, socially awkward cult.” O’Leary said, breaking into chuckles, “You know what those bastards do at the beginning of each work day? They huddle up in a circle—arms over each other’s shoulders…the boss sells this pep talk thing about how they’re the best hotel on earth and how they’re setting a world standard and how in essence, the world is watching them—we’re talking Manson shit here. When he’s done yammering, they all holler the Bradley motto before breaking the huddle; it’s actually really fucking creepy.”

“What’s the motto?” asked Jansen, curious as ever.

We Are Bradley.” Said O’Leary, leaning to one side and chuckling.

“You’re kidding me.” Jansen said, slamming his beer down on the wooden table top, “That really is sick.”

“Did you do the huddle?” I asked O’Leary, who looked back at me, knowing the question was bound to arise.

“Once or twice, once or twice ok.” He confessed, breaking down in chuckles and drawing a well- deserved razzing.

“How do you live with yourself?” I asked.

“Hey, I got out of there before they started planting triggers in my head.” He insisted.

“Well yeah, but only because you got canned—which by the way you should be glad about; salut.” Said Jansen raising his gin and tonic.

“I wasn’t sorry to lose the job; what bugs me is that those sweethearts over there tried to fuck with my livelihood…and we all know that you don’t ever fuck with a man’s livelihood unless you’re willing to go all the way.” Said O’Leary.

Just then the phone in my hip pocket started to vibrate, coaxing me from the conversation. When I fished the device out of my pocket, I saw it was Samantha from the Roger Gold Agency—a licenser who once in a while placed my works.

“Yeah.” I said.

“Frank…Samantha Bell here from RGA. I tried emailing you a number of days ago but hadn’t received any reply.” She said.

“I check my email once every few days.” I admitted.

“I don’t hear that very often…most check numerous times daily, email being accessible on tablets and such.”

“I don’t have a tablet. I use a flip up from the 90’s.” I said pointing to the phone and motioning to the guys that I’d be right back. “I’d use an old rotary phone if I could.” I said as I headed for the doors in the rear of the bar that led out onto a wooden patio.

“Why?” asked Samantha.

“I’m old school.”

“Which entails?”

“Well,” I said, thinking of how to explain it to a blonde 20 something office assistant like Samantha, “I don’t wear yoga pants and I don’t take selfies.”

“You don’t wear yoga pants?” Samantha repeated more than replied.

“I know a lot of these guys who wear yoga pants are natural types—real earthy guys who are in tune with the cosmos…but listen, there’s nothing natural about male camel toe, know what I’m saying?” I said.

“I hear what you’re saying.” She chuckled.

“Anyway, what’s their decision?” I asked.

“Looks like the music super is going to use your song in the film. Couple of things though. They are asking for a lyric sheet and also isolated tracks so they can remix the song.” Said Samantha.

“Isolated tracks and a lyric sheet? Tracks means they’re planning to remix it. I spent weeks on that mix. They don’t like the mix?” I asked.

“They didn’t really specify…I suppose their request might answer that.”

“What if they butcher the remix?” I asked.

“They’re a major network…I think they’d do just fine to remix it.” Said Samantha.

“But I spent weeks mixing that song.”

“You have to make a decision then. Make it fast though.” Said Samantha absently, as if she were doing something else, “I need an answer now. I should mention that if you offer any resistance—they may just go with the next composer in line…they tend to do that.”

“You need me to answer now?”

“Now would be ideal.”

“How about tomorrow morning?” I asked.

“You wake up at 3 in the afternoon. Somehow I think that won’t work.” said Samantha, knowing me too well.

My train of thought was abruptly derailed by a sudden explosion of glass just then. It only took a split second for the giant plate glass window to shatter into millions of shards that caught the overhead lanterns in a sparkling deluge as they scattered outward across the balcony, following the momentum of the hurled projectile—which was the body of a man.

It was one of guys from the Hotel Bradley table and as he lay on his side atop the mound of shattered glass, gasping in the sudden silence that followed, I realized who’d vaulted him. It was O’Leary and as he stepped through the breakage out onto the patio to finish what he’d doubtlessly started, I noticed over his shoulder, a full scale, booth clearing brawl ensuing on the dance floor, directly under the disco ball that cast spinning shards of glittery light over the entire scene.

As O’Leary approached the man writhing on the hardwood patio, the glass crunched beneath his dress shoes. “Hold on a minute Samantha.” I said before setting the phone down carefully on the edge of a stony concrete flower pot. I got between O’Leary and the downed Bradley staffer at that point. You see dear reader, heroics aren’t my forte by any stretch of the imagination; however, O’Leary had a murderous look in his eye and an accompanying grin—at that moment he was our own Private Pile who’d been caught one too many times with a jelly donut in his footlocker.

My intervention was more of a reminder of what somewhere deep down, O’Leary must have already known. Reflecting now however, imploring O’Leary to refrain from doing anything ‘rash’, was perhaps redundant. I cited, within my limited understanding of the law, a speculation of perhaps O’Leary only being charged with destruction of property—if he left it at that. However, O’Leary wasn’t going to leave it at that.

Pushing me aside with a shoulder check, O’Leary leaned down and gripped the writhing Bradley staffer who’d begun to moan, realizing the winded shock of having been volleyed through a window. Certainly none of us had ever seen such a spectacle.  I watched as O’Leary hoisted the man to his knees and wound up his arm for right cross—one which landed against the man’s face with a cracking thud; an ugly sound if you’ve ever heard one. The man crumpled to the patio floor, knocked unconscious and twisted into an awkward position with his right leg bent upward so his foot was at his hip and his nose bent, broken and gushing blood as if from a severed garden hose.

When I got back to the phone Samantha was still there…she was calling my name in a frustrated tone.

“I’m back.” I said.

“What’s going on over there? What was that crash?” she asked.

“Ah, nothing…just the TV…don’t worry about it. Listen, I’m in…let’s get this done. Let them destroy my work and remix it.” I told her.

“You’re good with a remix for sure? There is no going back on this once we agree Frank. Are you certain?”

“Not really…but sealing this deal is the only thing that’s going to make this day right. So…I’m in.” I said before clicking off and looking back at O’Leary who was at that point being restrained by two of the Kahunas bouncers. What a mess.

The Penthouse Killers

The Hotel Davenport was a towering five star property, sprawling across four city blocks and piercing the sky with a satellite antenna atop its 45 floor tower. The Hotel had been built in the 1920’s and boasted elegance and an illustrious past equally in all of its gold surfaces, sparkling chandeliers and plush burgundy carpets. In its heyday the Davenport had hosted brief residencies of royalty, celebrities and foreign diplomats. Always swarming with schools of international tourists, business class travelers and overly eager bellmen; the Davenport was a city unto itself; a city inside a city—the city of Angels.

I worked on the second floor which was home to a number of massive ballrooms where on any given night, galas, balls and receptions took place under the dim glow of chandeliers; a reign of tradition. Luckily the hotel Davenport was massive enough to make getting lost quite easy and also, if you’d made a blueprint of its hallways in your memory it made ducking management even easier.

Concerning hotel jobs, there were always two musts…two non-negotiables; plenty of absinthe and plenty of ducking out. The ducking was essential to keep an even keel psychologically and in fact had started after my second week at the hotel, once it became clear to me how loosely run the operation was in spite of its self-declaration of prestige and top line customer service. There was, I found, limitless room to disappear into and this vanishing act became a regular part of my routine.

For these unsupervised and unauthorized rounds of the massive structure. I kept in the inner pocket of my tuxedo vest, a flask filled with authentic, sugar cube percolated Absinthe. This allowed for a certain degree of mental agility in the wake of a particularly strenuous and disorganized five course served gala dinner—or a seven hour long cocktail reception the repetitiveness of which, if you let it—would surely drive you mad.

The second floor also housed in its east wing, an executive lounge, fully equipped with a fruit juice bar, indoor palm trees, rock fountains and every other symbol of serenity that could possibly be franchised for the sake of escape and drunken oblivion. The executive lounge was appealing mainly because I’d made a friend of Garrison, the night bartender, who would set me up with nicely poured G&T’s when I made my unauthorized visits.

I would sit with Garrison for sometimes and hour, knowing I wouldn’t be missed in the ballrooms as I wasn’t yet on management’s radar. It was a nice system; ladies would come in from the spa and mingle with Garrison and me, occasionally inviting us up later on, after work, to their plush suites for drinks, socializing and sometimes more. Of course it was all done under the guise of admiring the twinkle of urban sprawl that seemed to stretch out infinitely beyond the bay windows of their suites.

It was all part of a world traveler façade these middle aged, business class women had come to exude—in their minds they were globetrotting movie starlets…and who were we to disclose the truth? Who were we to crush that fantasy? Indeed, if anything, Garrison and I were the two key components that most preserved any of the Davenport’s old world charm.

Indeed, it seemed I’d found the perfect niche; the perfect job from which I could frequently escape. What made this phenomenon possible was that the supervisors where, as in most catering situations, painfully underachieved and compensating for past failures. They were usually wrought with OCD impulses and tending to more pressing matters. Their mental scope was narrow and their intellect was obviously stunted by constant and trivial concerns; a missing fork, a spot of spilled wine, an empty salt shaker, a wayward napkin—these matters plagued supervisors nightly. Some spent hours of their own personal time devising diagrams and charts in hopes of simplifying (even more) the process of ordering a vegan entre from the kitchen or the correct way to scrape the guests spit back food onto one plate when bussing a table. They were in over their heads and such pure dedication to details that the guests, in reality, didn’t give a squirt of piss for, left very little margin for the supervisors to chase down a wandering waiter.

Such conditions not only encouraged my unauthorized rounds—they nearly demanded that I roam. And roam I would, during which I would saunter the hallways sipping absinthe from my flask—the real thing; allowing the wormwood to take effect and open portals to the long lost—often cobblestone lanes shrouded in Parisian fog. It didn’t seem like much of a work detail, visiting colleagues on various floors and ducking out onto balconies for the purpose of taking a few puffs. It seemed nearly magical that I could be paid to wander aimlessly and abuse substances while doing so. That is until one day, while wandering through a burgundy carpeted, chandelier lit, tenth floor hall way, I came face to face with Denise; one of the ballroom supervisors.

Indeed, in such circumstances of nostalgic contemplation, it was nearly possible to hear the old Davenport ghosts whispering to me from their place in the past, that had been somehow allowed to prevail, virtually untouched in the long chandelier lit hallways that had been kept perfectly restored. In ways, the hotel held portals to another time and I found them easily, if only for short glimpses.

It was uncanny however dear reader; the odds of running into anyone from the Ballroom division on the tenth floor of the hotel were so slim they’d not even registered as a clear and present danger. They were so slim that I had stripped off my bow tie, loosened my cuffs and rolled them to my elbows. However, the most incriminating hotel policy infraction was perhaps the murky green absinthe splashing gently in the flask I held in my hand.

Upon seeing Denise step out of the elevator perhaps only twenty feet away, I pulled the flask from my mouth and slipped it into the inner pocket of my tuxedo vest, uncapped. As she approached, shock wrinkling her face into a pucker of disbelief; I sighed deeply, flashing her a grin…as if we were old friends who had run into each other in the supermarket one Sunday afternoon.

“Well, well, well.” I said, “How is my favorite supervisor?”

“Frank!” She screeched, baffled at the sight of me. “What are you doing up here?” She demanded, “Everyone is looking for you downstairs. Your tables are calling for wine and you’re…you’re…what are you doing up here?”

The line of questioning demanded a certain degree of lucid thought and with my mind being curled up very relaxed in my head as it was, I was at a loss for words—for perhaps the first time in my life.

I took a blind stab, “Ah you know—some broad asked me to carry a bag up to the spa for her; what was I gonna say? No?”

“Well, that’s not your job Frank! You’re not a bellman; you’re supposed to be in the ballroom taking care of your section. And where the hell is your tie.” she demanded, pent up aggression and sexual frustration getting the better of her.

“I took it off for a moment.” I admitted.

“Why on earth would you do that?”

“Well Denise, Readers Digest says that wearing a tie too often for too long can be detrimental to your sight.” I explained and I wasn’t fabricating this fact either. “Why are you up here anyway?” I counter-asked for the sake of distraction, thinking perhaps we were both ducking out of our responsibilities.

“Get back to the ballroom now or it’s going to a write up for you.” came her reply, issued with a stern finger that pointed the way to the elevator out of which she’d just stepped.

Certainly this put a kink in any plans I harbored of wandering freely through the hotel during my shifts from then on, for Denise had taken it upon herself to address the issue in a very public way—to make an example of me I suppose. The scene was a verbal lynching, with her minions in tow. They’d cornered me in the servery during my actual break; so the rest of the staff could observe and consider themselves warned. As they badgered me and declared a list of points illustrating my unsavory work ethic, poor moral character and social indifference; I sat still in a plastic chair, sipping from a Styrofoam cup filled with scotch and soda, nodding occasionally and adding in at the appropriate spaces in their tirade that I disagreed with their harsh judgements and that perhaps they should exercise a shade of empathy for the imaginary woman whose imaginary bag I’d carried to the tenth floor, out of dedication to our ‘collective team’ of course.

They thought about this for a moment…the collective team. It seemed I’d offered the correct defense, or at least one that couldn’t be so easily disproved…there was also the fact that the sad sacks of shit believed that our team really was collective and that all of us cherished the labor as much as they did. Indeed, dear reader, I evaded capture…but next time I was certain that I wouldn’t experience such good luck.

It seemed I was officially on their radar…a large red blip perpetually blinking in management’s peripheral scope. It wasn’t difficult to notice that I was being watched by not only just the supervisors in my division, but also the women in housekeeping, the front desk girls and Donata the Romanian barista, who in passing one evening, mumbled under her breath that ‘it must be nice getting paid to do nothing’. Of course this could have been a jab at the entire banquet division, after all, there was a misconception around the Davenport that the banquet division was the easiest job in the hotel—which simply wasn’t the case.

In fact, of all the jobs in the hotel, banquets was perhaps the most strenuous; pure grunt work—a notch below communism. If it wasn’t—I ask you; would I have gone to such great lengths to evade it? Being on the radar altered everything however, and it seemed an iron curtain had fallen over the banquet division, for me at least. If word of my wandering had spread through the echelons of hotel management, then anonymity was no longer an option; I’d now be noticed very easily wandering the carpeted hallways of the old building.

When I declare that the current situation was indeed a thorough drag, dear reader, I mean it with all sincerity. The Davenport, which was once my favorite, was now quickly becoming a grueling detail—a no fun zone. For three consecutive nights I was forced to remain in the ballroom for the entirety of my shift, which it’s probably needless to add seemed like an eternity. What’s worse, I was punished further by having to remain stationary during a succession of provolone laced wedding speeches given by friends and family of the bride and groom. And believe me when I say that they wallowed in provolone; they had it coming out of their ears. You’d never seen such a gang of phonies. It was hard to believe. Worse, it was hard to endure.

Eventually, I had to get away. I had to get away or I would have pissed in their punch bowl; every man has his breaking point after all. The only solace I could find during these marathon shifts was ducking into the basement locker room. It wasn’t exactly entertaining as roaming the hallways of the massive hotel, but there was a certain charm there between the cinderblock walls and rows of badly dented and paint chipped lockers. It was on one of these occasions that I was stricken with an idea of genius proportion. Perhaps it was the old ghosts whispering in my ear—lending their experience. I’d been sitting in a shower stall, having a good puff. As the smoke rose and wisped toward the overhead bulb, I came upon a realization. Truly this locker room was special. It was a beautifully sound proof and highly ventilated encasing of brick which I realized, because of its punch code lock, was a private haven from Denise or any of the hell bent snitches who made up the female element of the ballroom staff and who were either all in management positions or were ass kissing hopefuls. In fact, this locker room, sitting unmanned for the most part could, with time and a certain degree of planning, become a smoky poker room steeped in a fine brandy haze; a gentlemen’s lounge from the prohibition era.

It became clear to me that a game of poker held in the locker room wouldn’t have to halt or close as there would enough men on staff ducking management and taking unauthorized breaks in consecutive order to sustain the game for hours. I wasn’t the only one evading management…I was the only one who’d been caught. And certainly it would speed the hours of a shift knowing that our poker room was clacking with cards and chips only a few floors below. Also, there was a good chance that I could make a small fortune.

The catch would be however, the oath of silence from the brotherhood of this clandestine lodge. In fact there would have to be measures taken to enforce this secrecy as a plan like this once dreamed, could not continue anymore as only just that; certainly we would need to nurture it and protect it like a newborn. Such an operation could only exist under a cloak of secrecy; our own Anne Frank hiding in the floor boards.

In the following days I tended carefully to organizing the operation. One evening I spent 45 minutes in the locker room to gauge the traffic. I sat there, contemplating the walls as the Ritalin set in. In 45 minutes, only one man had entered the locker room. Indeed the locker room appeared to be remote enough of a destination for the plan to succeed. Beyond that, the spies placed sporadically throughout the hotel weren’t baffled by my absence. It seemed the instances of my wandering openly where more disconcerting to them than my actual absence. Each time I returned to the ballroom after a stint in the locker room, I wasn’t questioned or even looked at funny. In fact, they’d not even seemed to notice my absence; they were all too busy tending to pointless details and chasing meager gratuities.

Within a week I was incorporating meals into the routine, testing the room and finding it to be satisfactory dining quarters. Within two weeks I’d brought in a small vintage TV I’d found in basement storage. It seemed to be a product of the mid 80’s and as if fate was aiding me in my quest, I found to my surprise a remote control taped to the rear panel of the boxy TV. Along with that I also brought in a stock pile of D&G brandy, a fresh deck of cards, and a few colorful stacks of poker chips that Willem from the hotel casino had fronted me. Cigars came next and I began smoking one on every break, watching basic cable on the TV I propped in the corner of the room and sipping on the brandy while playing black jack with myself. It was quite a nice room, but a bit solitary—clearly it was time to enlist a group of regulars.

The first of this bunch I recruited by sheer accident. I’d embarked on a stealthy and quite risky mission to visit Garrison in the lounge for he had promised me a taste of 46 year old brandy that had been ordered and left by a guest the previous evening. I was forced to duck into the Bronze room to avoid being seen by Denise however, who on that particular night was an inferno of duress, ferociously clogging around the servery hallways in her platform boots, barking orders and criticisms high and wide; verbal whippings meant to hurry us into catching up with the staunch demands of another ultra-cheesy wedding banquet.

I had been on a roll and had managed to stay out of Denise’s sight for nearly an hour. It seemed I was making progress with ducking management and getting better all the time; I’d begun to master tactics of stealth and it was in this fashion that I’d backed into the warm emptiness of the Bronze room, concealing the generous sum of 46 year old brandy Garrison had set me up with in a snifter. I sat down on a table that neatly presented a coffee/continental breakfast station. As I sipped back the smooth wash of brandy, I took note of the saucers and coffee cups stacked three levels high in a giant pyramid. All of their handles were set perfectly at 4 o’clock; such accuracy about something so pointless was indeed the sign of an unraveled mind.

It wasn’t until I was nearly at the bottom of the glass that I realized I wasn’t alone in the room. There was a muffled voice emanating from beneath one of the long, velvet skirted tables and as I approached it cautiously, I took note of a grey cord running from beneath the table, over the carpet, along the floor boards and eventually up the golden door frame, where it finally connected to a touch tone phone fastened to the wall.

Reaching down, I pulled up the skirting, revealing a man I vaguely recognized as a fellow ballroom waiter. His name was Tyrone and he’d existed until then as an extra…a prop…a man that didn’t beg to be remembered—he kept a low profile and for good reason I now realized. He flashed me a grin from his place on the floor, lying flat on his back beneath the eight foot table.

“Hold on baby.” He said into the receiver before addressing me, “Shit man…thought you were Denise. What’s up man?” he chuckled in a thick Jamaican accent, extending his free hand for a fist bump.

After taking in hand his knuckles and shaking his fist, I dropped the skirting and returned to my place on the continental breakfast table. Slightly baffled, I drained the rest of the brandy which had existed 15 years longer than I on this earth. I had never seen such innovative methods; lying beneath a skirted and set buffet table right under management’s noses. I was so impressed with Tyrone’s tactical skills and stealthy instincts that I waited for him to finish his call. When he finally emerged from beneath the table with a grin a few minutes later, I immediately commended him.

“I say old chap, you’ve taken management ducking to a new level.” I said.

“What you mean man?” He smiled, “Under the table is the best place. They never look under there.”

“When did you discover this method?” I asked.

Tyrone pondered the question, gazing toward the ceiling and setting a long black finger across his chin, “Maybe three months.”

“That long? Impressive…quite impressive.” I said, eyeing the table again.

“Got to talk to my women.” He said smiling bashfully, peeping around the room for more to say about it but finding no more words.

“It certainly seems that way. Listen old sport, do you play poker?” was my next question.

“Shit man, I always wanted to.” he grinned.

After explaining the situation to Tyrone, we began frequenting the locker room during our unauthorized breaks and after a few days had abandoned wandering the upstairs rooms and hallways altogether. There, behind the safety of a punch code lock, we could now speak freely and frequently on our phones to potential booty calls without the threat of reprimand. Certainly we were both relieved to have discovered such an ideal setting to sip fine liquors, play some cards and enjoy a few good puffs from a punch holed Dr. Pepper can—all the while watching Judy Woodruff on channel 14—like civilized chaps.

“Ever play on a chess board man?” Tyrone inquired one evening as we sat in our respective chairs sipping ice cold beer while watching a Blackhawks game unfold on the small television propped up on a chair.

“Well, I’m not above it if that’s what you’re asking.” I said.

The next night Tyrone brought a chess board as well as a friend to the locker room. The man I recognized as an import from the laundry room. I’d seen him carting linen through the halls on many occasions but had never spoken with him. I poured myself a tall G&T and sat there with them as they contemplated their game.

“So, you work in housekeeping correct?” I asked Tyrone’s friend.

“Yeah, it’s ok.” He said in his heavy Parisian accent.

“You talk a lot with those housekeeping broads?” I asked.

“Not really.” He shrugged.

“They can never find out about this.” I said simply and cutting straight to the point, “If they do, we’re through—you hear me? Through.”

“But of course not.” He assured.

“So, how have things been?” I asked Tyrone after a long icy sip.

“Ah, I got busy with this thick lady in K-Town the other night man.” Tyrone said without breaking his pose of deep concentration.

I wasn’t sure if he’d meant this negatively and so I only nodded and sipped again. Indeed, it was clear to me then that we’d need to recruit a wider variety of members into our private locker room meetings.

The following week I made an executive decision to officially leak news of the locker room to other departments through discreet word of mouth. I decided to tell Schroder, a concierge from back east who possessed a synthetic professionalism that people often responded to. As concierge of the Davenport, Schroder had become a deal maker—the expeditor of one’s whims. He operated on a first name basis with, business moguls, celebrities, foreign diplomats and other such narcissistic douchebags, fulfilling their requests no matter how absurd or scandalous and always doing so with great discretion; discretion which we now counted on. I charged Schroder with the task of enlisting members throughout the hotel. Within four days, news of the locker room had spread to the right people. Cooks, dishwashers, valets, housekeepers, maintenance men, room service attendants, bellmen—they all began showing up, contributing to the pot in the center of the table; a mound of sweaty, green bills that made the games a touch more interesting.

On any given evening, the locker room would become a crowded, smoky backroom, clacking with cards and stacked with chips and booming with loud collective guffaws. The air was filled with palpable energy; thrilling sweats of anxiousness, brought on by the collective gambling rush crowding our crowded room, playing poker or black jack or placing bets on televised sporting events. In a few short weeks our quiet locker room had escalated into a full blown gambling operation. And with so many bets coming in, the numbers eventually grew a fourth digit. It was then that we realized the need to keep at least approximate track of these figures.

We enlisted in the mathematical talents of William O’Leary; the Davenport’s night auditor. Beyond harboring a weakness for gambling, William brewed his own corn-liquor and habitually quoted everyone from Darwin to Dali in support of any number of his useless theories on life. He’d travelled the world during his self-proclaimed prime, over land, sea and air. He’d nearly died of dysentery in an African jungle like Louise Ferdinand Celine and had subsequently sky dived over Barcelona. He’d lost himself to reckless abandon in Italy and had climbed mountains in Tibet; he’d caught syphilis in Bucharest and had been treated for it in Scotland. He got around O’Leary did. A legend unto himself, he was now married to an older woman he’d imported from his Midwestern hometown, along with her two daughters. In short, his life was over for the most part. So, it made perfect sense that William would want to add some spice to his otherwise lackluster existence. They all did—and perhaps they all saw the locker room as a perfectly viable distraction from their boring jobs and the inevitability of their own impending deaths.

I didn’t give a flying f— what their perceptions were; we were making a small fortune and that was the important thing. We were giving the casino on the main floor a run for their money, or so William would joke on occasion. We were on a roll and that meant two things; firstly, that it was all just a fleeting era as all eras are and secondly, that people would inevitably aim to sabotage our operation—for basic people exhibit basic behavior; it’s a natural fact. Furthermore there had always existed the element of whistle blowers, whether we chose to recognize it or not. In fact, the news of our gentlemen’s lounge was whetting suspicions in dangerous circles. And indeed the night eventually came when one of the night watchmen sauntered into our locker room during peak business hours.

I recall the moment well, for it was indeed cinematic; the way in which silence swept across the room and the way everyone stopped what they were doing or saying and froze, clutching fast to their cards or their drinks; smoldering cigars dangling from some of their mouths. Malcom the nighttime security guard stood at in the doorway with his flashlight poised to spotlight any one of us had we made a move. He peered around the room; his expression of stone eventually turning to a wide grin.

“Well, well, well, what do have we here?” he’d said, slipping his flashlight back into its holster.

Though I’d expected the moment since the start; I was caught off guard when it finally arrived and could only offer a single question.

“A focus group?” I offered.

My words, as well as a few chuckles from a few of my colleagues, dissipated in the heavy silence that suddenly cloaked the locker room. You could have heard a pin drop. It was anyone’s guess what would happen next…it was a standoff. It was then that Tyrone came from around the corner, from the urinals, latching his belt and holding a stack of green bills between his teeth. I was standing there, contemplating how the filth and pestilence seething within the microscopic folds and tears of the money didn’t register to Tyrone, when he held out his fist and bumped it with Malcom’s.

“You weren’t kidding man.” chuckled Malcom.

“No, I wasn’t.” Tyrone said, placing a cigar between his teeth before widening his eyes and letting loose a sinister chuckle laced with voodoo and black jack fever.

“Give me 40 in chips.” Said Malcom, handing O’Leary a twenty and two tens.

It was hard to believe, but within three nights, Malcom was a regular and making his nightly entrance with something of a hula dance as the guys would applaud and blow loud whistles. We’d all started to refer to him as ‘Teece’; a nick name I’d coined because of his uncanny resemblance to the famed TV chopper pilot.

It seemed like a new lease on the operation. Malcom kept us informed, assuring us that though there were some murmurs concerning the goings on behind the punch code door of our west wing locker room; he was in fact, ‘putting out the small fires’ by assuring anyone asking that indeed there was nothing of the sort transpiring in our locker room. Though there was gossip, there were no direct accusations or speculations, much less a plan of shutting us down. This new information seemed to broaden our parameters and put everyone at ease, at least for a while.

It was this cavalier air which prompted us all to step further across that line—the one separating personal recreation and risky business. Soon, liberties were being taken. It seemed everyday someone was showing up with an extra convenience, an extra vice. Vince from valet rolled in his own chair—a fancy leather sort with a kingly stature—he’d snagged it from one of the executive board rooms on the 14th floor. Walt from maintenance brought in a mini fridge from storage which would keep our wide selection of beer ice cold. O’Leary and a couple of the others had the diligence to carry in one of the old leather couches from the reception area on the 25th floor. Aside from a number of new centerfolds taped to the walls, I noticed one evening that a giant half-moon table had been rolled in from one of the ballrooms as well as one of the spare portable bars from the Emerald room. The half-moon was a perfect fit as a makeshift blackjack table.

One night, when I took notice of William and Tyrone setting up a cappuccino maker in the corner of the room, it became clear to me that we’d become too comfortable. We’d mustered the diligence and determination to carve out a better existence in the hotel for ourselves and had passed the point of no return and now perhaps saw no point in drawing limitations; the sky appeared to be the limit and so every limit was exceeded.

One night O’Leary stopped me in the hall during the Mayor’s 8th annual Save the Children Gala. He demanded I follow him to the locker room.

“Trust me—you’ll want to see this.” William assured.

“Just let me deliver these desserts to the shitheads at table 14—Denise is riding my ass tonight.” I informed him; however, this could not wait.

“F— the desserts man…” he chuckled, accosting my tray and handing it off to a junior server, “Drop these at 14.” He commanded, jolting the skinny kid into action, before pulling me by the arm into the elevator.

“Let me guess, you guys rolled in the Jacuzzi from the spa?” I chuckled as we descended floors.

“You’ll see.” said O’Leary, pouring out a tiny, perfectly white pile onto the top of his hand before snorting it off with a painful sounding squeal.

“What is that?” I asked of the powder.

“Crushed caffeine pills.” He replied with a chuckle.

On this particular evening, the locker room was packed beyond its capacity and thick with humidity and cigar smoke. A mass of bodies stood perfectly still, their heads rapt and their shoulders square. I too halted for a moment at the splendor of its majesty; a massive screen nearly the size of one wall towered over our makeshift lounge. Stand included, the screen stood perhaps 9 feet tall and was perhaps 12ft in width. The screen itself was slightly concave and seemed to wrap around the peripheral scope as unseen speakers boomed the sounds of a hockey game back at us with extreme volume—as if we were actually there, first balcony.

It had been pulled into our room from one of the boardrooms upstairs that was being renovated; this was risky and I voiced this concern to William who shot me a glare of amazement laced with his caffeine rush.

“Are you f—ing kidding me? Just look at this f—ing thing man!” he sang and gestured toward the enormous screen, “We’re gonna get Apocalypse Now going on this tomorrow night! Can’t wait man…can’t wait. Flight of the f—ing Bumble Bee is gonna hit you right in the chest out of these speakers.”

I stood there for a moment and watched as a Detroit forward blazed across center ice toward a building break away which resulted in an eruption of hollers, cheers and ear tightening whistles when the player tipped the puck through the opposing goaltender’s pads. The cheer was a sonic boom—easily heard in the staff cafeteria next door. It occurred to me then that it wasn’t only the gambling and the unreal amounts of money filtering through our operation on any given night. It wasn’t just the sheer success of the initial plan. Indeed dear reader, it was the right plan at the right time and the perfect fit only illustrated further what I already assumed; this was what legends were made of and like all legends, ours would come to pass in a blaze of glory.

And though we all hoped for some kind of break, for some kind of divine intervention to erase us from the suspicions of upper management; it wasn’t meant to last. In spite of Malcom’s assurances that we were in no immediate danger; quite suddenly it was all brought to a screeching halt. The locomotive force of our operation was halted in its tracks when one fateful Saturday night, the general manager made an unannounced appearance.

Mr. Q he was called. The Q was for Quade. He was a short man who I’d never seen dressed in anything but black blazers and black turtleneck sweaters. Evidently he had not a shred of mercy in him either and fired immediately any new staff members who’d not passed their 6 month probation period. He fired them on the spot and with a scolding sermon that went on for what seemed an hour.

He threatened to call the authorities, to have us all arrested…caned and thrown into the drink behind the hotel. He was livid—a man with a crusade suddenly…it was a shamefully sanctimonious display; a real drag. Quade went on, becoming more fired up, gesturing wildly like the caricature of a third world dictator. It wasn’t what the locker room was for apparently and according to his pleading tone of vengeance, we’d done more than breached the employee agreement—we’d apparently committed a moral crime as well. It wasn’t enough to lambast us all; the bastard was trying to get us to tear up, to break down and sob. I lit a cigar, feeling I was already in the shit house and had little more to lose.

“There is no smoking in this locker room Nero!” boomed Quade stepping over and tearing the cigar from my between my teeth.

I drained my glass and leaned back in my chair as Quade went on with his lecture. The words however were a drone of pointless drivel…a blowing of hot air. I could only focus on the financial consequences—and the looming dread of having to find a new job…of having to sit through often 4 interviews to secure a 5th and final sit down with any random hotel GM…most of which undoubtedly knew Quade. Easy come easy go, I thought, feeling if I was going to be fired myself; I wouldn’t subject myself to anymore of Quade’s sermon. I stood up and left the locker room with Quade’s threat nipping at my heels, “You walk out of here now Nero, you’ll never be allowed back in.”

Quade’s words haunted me as I drove westward down Wilshire; however, I just couldn’t sit there and digest his self-righteous lecture—especially if I was going to get the axe anyway. Swigging a mouthful of murky green absinthe, I dialed Garrison who hadn’t been present in the locker room when Quade and his henchmen had burst in.

“It’s a firing squad around here.” he said when I reached him and inquired, “8 people from banquets, 3 bellmen and 2 from valet. 13 got terminated tonight.”

“I think I’m one of them.” I said, in a long smoky exhale.

“No, you and O’Leary and also Tyrone can’t be fired.” Assured Garrison.

“How do you figure that?”

“You’re protected by your brothers and sisters down at Local 709. The shop stewards are already on this. They’re saying Quade was taking names, which he can’t really do. The guy is out of control they say…and you gotta think; he suffers from little man’s syndrome.”

“It would appear as such…still, I walked out in the middle of his sermon.” I said.

“I heard. Apparently now you’re on his shit list. Talk to the union tomorrow. The shop stewards were all looking for you tonight. A lot of people want to talk to you I guess.” said Garrison. Just great.

Ride Along

Paul Hennessey had been a friend of mine for years by that point. Frequently, on nights when his girlfriend would leave the apartment and seldom return until the next morning, Hennessey would invite me to keep him company in his rent controlled den of paranoia and gothic themed décor.

It seemed the old boy had an ongoing complaint; that indeed, his live-in girlfriend Stacey was frigid and quite maladjusted—so he’d said. He had made a point, in his anxiety which was present almost constantly, to illustrate this fact by describing the situation; among other romantic tragedies, she’d moved her quarters into the guest room. Perhaps she was bored—or worse off; cheating with the ball capped scoundrel who called for her on a nightly basis.

Certainly Hennessey had made mention of the bastard—the one who pulled up out front of their shared apartment a few times a week, in a low riding monster truck, a Tap In ball cap and ‘fat ass beats’ booming from the thoroughly pimped-out stereo system. It seemed this ‘Chad’ character would whisk Hennessey’s girl away each time and not return her to the premises until well after midnight and in some cases she wouldn’t return at all. Of course it was grounds for suspicion…and Hennessey swore he was at his wits end with the situation. Though I urged him to throw her clothing out of the window and barricade the door, Hennessey was in many respects a gutless turd.

He was also a filmmaker. Indeed, he was a shit filmmaker, but none the less a film maker. One film in particular had featured an ex-girlfriend of his making out with a mannequin and afterward vomiting blood against the inside of a shower curtain. He was an occult fanatic and swore by ancient religions and hokey magics. Also, being a second degree Freemason he subscribed to the concept of clandestine brotherhood and indeed, ours had become a bond of clandestine meetings…steeped in liquor and the compulsion to regress. Abiding tradition, he’d not asked me directly to join the Freemasons; rather he’d hinted for a long while that it was my destiny to become a blue lodge member.

On this night, I’d brought Napoleon brandy. There is something about Napoleon brandy, for brandy is, even in its worst moments, the perfect complement to a world settled in lurking midnight fog, cobblestone walkways slicked with a dim street-lantern glaze…and while in the palm of a fearless brandy buzz, there always appeared above me, as a tangible and moving backdrop, a large proverbial Kafkaesque clock tower, swirling old world poetry the color of blood in its stained glass invitation; an invitation into the long lost.

Hennessey would often say, on some desperately drunken night, “Franky, I feel we’ve regressed back to the beginning of this century, back to the Masons Franky, back to the old dance halls, the smoky old cabarets Franky.”

“Perhaps.” I said as I loosened my tie—a genuine vintage I’d gotten from a shop in Atwater Village.

“Let’s have another drink.” I said knowing his misery wouldn’t clear on its own, “You need to get very drunk, very fast. Then we’ll talk about this situation of yours.” I told him.

“Franky, there’s nothing to be talked about. I just can’t leave her yet.”

“Even though she’s cheating with guy who drives a f—ing monster truck?” I asked.

“We don’t know that.” Said Hennessey swilling bravely from his glass. Tart Napoleon brandy. Hennessey had never swum in these dark waters before and was enjoying it so far. However, when drinking brandy, it is very important to keep a good pace for balance and I was afraid he was slipping behind the warmth of it.

“I’m sorry to be the barer of bad tidings, but you’re complicating the issue…your girl Stacey isn’t putting out for you because she’s given it all away to this Chad f— wad.” I told him with Frankness, “And by the way, what about the girl you’re using in your film; the Russian girl who looks like Thora Birch. I’ll tell you; if I were in your shoes, I’d give that Thora Birch doppelganger of yours a bit of the old Joe McCarthy treatment, just to make sure she’s not a Red…and then I’d take her out somewhere real nice. You’re silly not to.”

“That’s just it Franky…I can’t. I love Stacey’s torture too much…plus—she told me she’s getting close to trying something new. I certainly can’t back out now.”

“Trying something new in the parked monster truck perhaps.” I pointed out, unable to suppress a sigh of disappointment in the old girl, “As I’ve said, expel the contents of her closet down onto the front lawn of the building—barricade the door…let the chips fall where they may old boy—fall where they may.”

“It wouldn’t change anything.” said Hennessey solemnly.

“Then I’m done hearing about this. Unless you’re going to take the initiative and bird-dog some other, more receptive lass—who is at least into you—I don’t want to discuss it again.”

“You won’t; I won’t mention it again.” Said Hennessey, drunkenly, “But just one more thing I have to show you…something I can’t take anymore of Franky; look at this f—ing shit! Look what I have to deal with here!”

He reached for a powder blue bear that was sitting on the floor beside the couch. He gave the bear a squeeze cuing the mechanics inside to prompt a munchkin voice that sang an ill, creepy tune.

“She’s regressed too far back—her room is full of these.” He said, anger brimming in his voice now, “I mean shit Franky, look at that f—ing thing in the corner for instance.”

I followed the direction of his gesturing and noticed a cage atop a book shelf. In the cage was a hamster, peering out at us through the tiny silver bars. I felt bad for the hamster immediately, having to share living quarters with the likes of Hennessey and his maladjusted girlfriend.

“She never does anything. She won’t even clean that cage out. That little rodent in there shits and pisses itself for weeks before she’ll lift a finger. She’s totally indifferent, and ironically, she’s stopped shaving her legs.” He went on, “It’s getting grim; very f—ing grim.”

“The old girl has regressed has she? That’s almost interesting. Have another drink—there’s little else to do at this point.” I told him.

“I agree.” Hennessey mused as I poured him more brandy.

Now, with a man like Hennessey you must be very cautious, you must ease him into ideas that are of an extroverted nature. For instance, to get him out of his domain and into the van that night was especially complex because there were the scenes to consider. Where would we go? Who would we see? Of course I would assure him with a nod that everything would go as planned; but one never knew what would be encountered in a night; LA was always wonderfully unpredictable.

We drove west down Sunset, bouncing over the pot holes and cracked asphalt as ‘If I Should Fall From Grace With God’ blasted over the factory stereo in my van. By the time we pulled into the Dresden parking lot, Hennessey was stark and raving with a liver full of brandy.

“Why are we here? Why the f— are we here Franky? You know how much I hate this godam place.” Hennessey hollered trying his door that was still automatically locked.

“Let me park before you let things get out of hand.” I told him.

“Out of hand? Franky, you know better than that.” He said, finding the lock and stepping out of the van before I could park it. I’d have been just as well to leave the motor running however—for once we were standing in the doorway dear reader, gazing over the crowded dining room with no table vacancies, Hennessey took a turn for the worse and in him, at that moment, I saw the beginning of the end of our night…the blueprint of derailment.

“I think we’ve taken this too far Franky.” He said to me as Crystal approached us. She was slender, blonde and wrapped in a cream skirt and tanned blouse and she approached us heel to toe with the power of a race horse in her long strides. Beyond possessing a soft beauty, Crystal was a writer, or so she thought.

“Hey Frank, you didn’t text back so I wasn’t sure if you were coming. Our booth is full now. Can I buy you a drink? If you guys wait a bit a table will become available—I’m sure of it.” she said.

“I’ll buy you one Crys.” I said looking at Hennessey who was now peering around the dim dining room that was flickering with candle light at the center of which Marty and Elaine crooned ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’.

“Let’s get out of here…” He said shifting his weight uncomfortably. You see; to Hennessey, The Dresden was something you had to build toward…and it became clear to me that he would need more brandy if the night wasn’t going to crash and burn.

“Is he okay?” asked Crystal, who had seen Hennessey in this state before and so had become closely aware of it.

“Don’t worry about that asshole—it’s his birthday today.” I told her as Hennessey wandered toward the glass doors through which a number of people were passing…a pack of hipsters clad in skinny jeans and cardigans. Hennessey scowled into the ranks of this group, standing firmly in the middle of the doorway, so they had to move around him.

“Looks like Paul wants to go though. Why don’t you just let him go? Come sit.” Said Crystal.

“Your booth is full.” I reminded her.

“I can sit on your lap—I know how much you like that.” She teased.

She looked stunning, fresh and younger than she was. Her style was femme fatale and just then I realized who she bared uncanny resemblance to; a twenty something Tuesday Weld—that’s where I’d seen her before.

“I like the idea of meeting you later, when you’ve lost your posse.” I said.

“They’re not a posse.” She smiled, “They’re nice people.”

“Not nearly as nice as you.” I said.

“Are you being sweet or sarcastic?” she asked.

“I’m always sincere with you Crystal.” I reminded her.

“Then let’s meet later. I have a short story I want you to read. I really want to be there when you read it though.”

“I’ll be there.” I said and left her standing there.

Though I’d have liked to speak with Crystal longer; we left, on account of Hennessey’s jitters. After all, Crystal, who Hennessey blew all out of proportion in his mind, had been looking exceptionally femme fatale—the female was deluxe you could say—and I often told her this; in bed.

I didn’t have the heart though to admit to Hennessey that Crystal had shown up at 1557 N Alexandria one night a few months previous with the intention of showing me one of her short stories. You see dear reader, she was from Los Feliz; a child of privilege with little grasp on reality. She wrote freelance columns for local rags now and then for the cash—which she realized she didn’t actually need. Somewhere along the line, she’d discovered fiction—and now penned epic tales of love at first sight, the beauty of the ugly and the torture of being born beautiful and not being recognized for much beyond it. And though her stories lacked any real discipline–she was in love with words and about this, we could talk for hours. Her mind to me was a perfectly hungry canvas upon which I could splash grandiose portraits of retrospect.

Certainly it would have poisoned the air between Hennessey and me if I admitted to carrying on a moderately passionate affair with Crystal for months, in secret no less. Hennessey had blown her all out of proportion in his mind, elevating her levels no woman could live up to. He had nearly approached her on one occasion, driven speechless by her widely set eyes—which he believed suggested a deep passion on her part. Indeed, I couldn’t imagine bursting the old chap’s bubble by letting him in on the fact that in spite of her theatrics and wider set eyes, Crystal was fairly conservative. This all would have left him terribly disappointed, not to mention enraged.

“Franky.” He said once we were both strapped into the van and moving again, “I can’t express my disdain here. I didn’t want to go out anywhere tonight—I don’t care if it’s my f—ing birthday. Why must I do these things to myself?”

“Calm down you crazy f—.” I chuckled, swilling hard on the flask of absinthe as I turned out of the parking lot.

“No! Don’t tell me that! Take me home! I’ve grown tired of your cool f—ing indifference to the problem. Why is Crystal so nice to you by the way?”

“She’s a nice woman.” I said.

“Nice girl’s finish last.” Said Hennessey.

“That’s a lot of bullshit—nice girls are the ones who you want to open the door for—and not just to stare at their ass as they walk through it old boy—nice girls evoke chivalry godamit.” I told Hennessey, wondering if now was a good time to tell him about Crystal and I.

“I don’t want to hear about Crystal.” He finally said in a very morbid tone.

“Well…you asked, dick weed. Here.” I said, passing him the flask.

“I won’t. I refuse to socialize with a man of such questionable character. Your character has come into question now Nero…and to think, I vouched for you.” hissed the Lizard Hennessey.

“You realize that you’re not getting any younger Paul…the fact that it’s your birthday today should emphasize that. In fact, you’re only going to get older looking and more lizardly and ugly…not to mention that you’ll only become more of a prick than you are now.” I assured, “What’s it going to take to get you to have some fun tonight?”

“I would like Russian vodka.” he said quietly.

“Let’s pick some up then.” I said.

We pulled into Hollywest promenade and I waited in the van as Hennessey purchased a bottle of Russian vodka from the Ralphs. Once we were rolling again, I switched the CD to the Replacements ‘Tim’ album…it brought back fond high school memories and seemed to change the atmosphere. It seemed Hennessey was calming a bit too, but by the time we were pulling up in front of the Whisky a go-go, he was in an uproar.

“Franky…look at this shit…a line up! I don’t stand in line ups. It’s cheap Franky. It’s a cheap way to be.”

He was right. There was a long line up stretching around the outside of the building, trailing up the incline of Clark st. with no visible end. This would inevitably mean a large, humid mass of bodies inside—pestilence and airborne viruses. Though the idea had been appealing en route, it stood now as evidence of our fragmented planning.

“But look at this…mmm, nice.” Hennessey said as two skirted women separated from the line and made their way across the sidewalk, which brought them directly before my idling van.

I recognized them once they were closer. It was Gena Ross and her near mute friend Cassandra something or other. Perhaps I shouldn’t have tapped the horn lightly to draw their attention; perhaps not. But I did and within a few short seconds, they wanted in.

“Unlock the side door and let them in.” I told Hennessey who was sitting Lizardly, scowling from the passenger seat.

“It’s your car, you open it.” He snapped with reluctance.

I leaned behind Hennessey’s seat and rolled the door open; letting in a wash of street sounds and muffled music booming from within the club. When the two were seated behind us on the long seat there was nothing but questions to be asked. It was as if Gena had compiled a list over the months since I’d last seen her and she fired them off, one after another, as if it were an interrogation.

“How was it up north? Did you see Allison? When did you get back?” Gena sang mesmerized by the notion that I was indeed back and sitting before her again after all of this time. She had expected to never see me again after our last engagement.

“I’ve been back for a while.” I admitted.

“And you don’t call me.” She said swatting my arm from between the seats, “You’re such a brat sometimes Frank.”

“I’ve been busy, really.” I told her. It suddenly became clear to me that Hennessey had clammed up entirely.

“Guess who else is back?” She boomed and I could feel that she was gripping my seat with excitement. Hers was a sucking energy.

“I don’t know; any one of your thousand ex-boyfriends?” I finally answered.

“Hey,” She warned with that playfulness I was starting to recognize again, “be nice. You were lucky enough to be one of them.” She said, not realizing that she was wrong.

Gena was a woman I had been intrigued by initially, only to be intensely disappointed in the end by her vanity. She was a proper socialite and she knew how to handle being at the center of everyone’s attention. Her mind was that of a microbiologist, which was her chosen field, but in her heart she was a poetess, a wreck of possibilities. She identified solely with Plath, citing me as a Ted Hughes stand-in—subsequently adding that it was her opinion that Hughes had influenced Sylvia’s downward spiral. How dramatic. She also admitted to using the unisex bathroom at her place of work without locking the door—on purpose.

“Who then?” I asked.

“Rick Panagopoulos.”

“Ricky Eyes?” I said, a smile uncontrollably edging its way into my face.

The name brought back a lot of memories. We had parted ways, Rick and I, last on a gray dismal street in Montreal, the summer we’d both coincidentally moved there; he for love and I to write a novel. We had both unfortunately begun tending to the same woman—someone we’d both known for quite some time. Indeed, I felt almost terrible about the fact that an affair had mauled our friendship which was, by that time, nearly a decade old.

It was raining and he had been waiting outside of Clare’s flat one evening…waiting there beneath his umbrella in his most proper garments in the evening drizzle and there was the residue of a good bout of sobbing in his eyes, for he had taken note, on arrival, of my car sitting just outside the entrance of Clare’s building and in that moment must have accepted this idea with first, I imagine, rage, followed by a sentimental tenderness for both Clare and myself–for each of us had gone through thick and thin with him–Rick was a sap that way.

“Man, you look as if you’re going to a funeral.” I had said to him. His half smirk a friendly warning not to press this situation; it was serious this time.

What a mess it had been. Still, he made me promise to meet him for tea the next day at a cafe. Being the thespian he was, he showed up wearing black. He’d had a full day to cap his sentiment by that time and had sat there in his black threads, taking sharp swipes at me for an hour before Clare, the princess herself, had made a surprise appearance—the bastard had invited her—in attempt to prove something I suppose.

In a disgraceful show of contrived male competitiveness; he’d forced her to sit with us at our street side table, under the shade of the umbrella and made her choose. He’d demanded it. She’d cried…and he’d cried as well…and I’d felt ill having to sit there and bare the both of them carrying on like nerds from the high school drama club. In the end, after a twenty minute round of blubbering and babbling and blowing snot into Kleenex; Clare decided to leave with Ricky Eyes; because he’d cried perhaps. Who knew at that point? I sat there after they left and smoked a cigar and drank a bottle of wine, penning only one line the entire time:

 

I could love a woman if she wasn’t a real ballet dancer, but I couldn’t love a ballet dancer if she wasn’t a real woman.”

 

Of course this was all in the past. At least as far as Gena was concerned. Ironically she had been the one who had introduced Rick and I to Clare who eventually lost herself to suicide. I’d heard about it through various conversations and each time felt less about it. So many men mourned her loss that I decided to hand my own mourning over to them to carry—along with her proverbial coffin. She wouldn’t have missed my sentiment anyway.

“He’s having people over tonight. That’s just where we’re going now. Screw this line up shit…I love the band but not the line-up. Okay, you’re coming–let’s move. Franky I’m so happy you’re here again!” Sang Gena—pulling my mind back to the present tense.

“Okay.” I nodded. “Okay, I’m game…I’ll go see that self-righteous shithead again.”

“Uh, Franky…” Hennessey suddenly piped up. There was great distress in his face suddenly, “you aren’t serious about this I hope.”

“Shouldn’t I be?” I said absently as I pulled the van out onto Sunset in a giant U-turn.

“Who are you again?” Asked Gena.

“I’m Paul Hennessey—second degree Freemason.” He nodded to her with the most polite distaste I’m sure he could conjure, “and you?”

“Wo.” Said Gena, leaning back in her seat.

“Wo what?” Hennessey said turning in his seat to meet her eye to eye.

“Wo nothing.”

“Oh she’s a funny one.” Said Hennessey…”Take me home Frank. I refuse to socialize with people like your friend here.”

“Pardon me?” she demanded.

Gena was quite patient, but she had her limits.

“Never mind, it’s beyond you.” said Hennessey.

“Frank, what’s wrong with your little buddy here?”

“Little buddy…” Hennessey scoffed out the window, with rage simmering in his tone.

“I don’t know, what the hell is the matter with you?” I demanded of Paul who sat next to me in silence, “Well?”

“Just take me home.”

“Pull yourself together.” I said.

“Frank, fine. I’ll walk.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. You’ll come along with us. This is asylum talk.”

“I refuse to interact with these shallow and forgetful people.”

“Come on.” I said.

“I can’t.” He confessed.

“You can, and you will.” I assured.

“Excuse me, what did you call us?” asked Gena with a tone in her voice of authority, “Did you just call us shallow and forgetful?”

“Gena.” urged Cassandra, hoping perhaps to defuse a scene.

“No, I’ve been sitting here patiently; listening to this little twerp and his twerpy comments. What’s your problem dude?”

“Dude…” Said Hennessey rolling his eyes.

“You know what…” Gena started, but I didn’t let her finish. I turned the volume dial up so loud the windows rumbled. ‘Left of the Dial’ blasted back at us through the speakers as I drove at a casual pace eastward down Sunset. Once everyone had shut up and the music took hold and we crossed the threshold into Silverlake where Rick resided, I felt like abandoning them all and meeting Crystal who’d texted just then, informing me she was at Pehrspace watching a band. It sounded like a nice idea…but I was stuck with Hennessey, Gena and her sidekick now. Also, I was too indifferent at that point to change course.

Once we were at Rick’s parent’s house, a towering Victorian that his parents only used during the summer when they came back from Greece, I lost touch with Hennessey. He had set himself up on a velvet chair in the living room sucking from a glass of brandy, staring coldly at the outside world, not looking or talking to anyone. His own personal strike I suppose.

The place wasn’t crowded, but there seemed to be bastards in every room…and more of them coming down the stairs into the living room every few minutes…passing through, some in couples…some alone…some in groups…then some new arrivals. Ellen Green and a few of her friends. Ellen had pretended I didn’t exist ever since I’d called her one evening years before, declaring that indeed, I wished her to come over wearing nothing but chopsticks in her hair. Still, I wrote it off as her problem. Graham what’s his name showed up next…with his girlfriend—Michelle? I couldn’t remember…it was a long time ago that I’d seen any of them. And perhaps a lot longer I wished it’d been. Still, the mahogany surfaces and old-world velvet cushions made the burgundy rug very soft beneath sock feet. And though it was hard for me, sitting there among the pattering crossfire of Gena and Hennessey’s rising debate about whether a true nihilist would label himself as a nihilist, I eventually had to pull myself from the comfortable couch…toward the main level bathroom where I could piss in Rick’s sink, wash my hands and swallow a pill—in that exact order.

Rick I should mention was a gent; a real f—ing prince about our little mishap in Montreal all that time ago. The poor sap was in fact, good natured enough to take me aside when running into me in the hallway. He requested that I follow him down to the old man’s wine cellar for a private conversation. As he searched for the right bottle, he spoke in a hushed tone, though through the ceiling could be heard the muffled minglings of his guests set to the rhythm of The Smiths ‘This Charming Man’ and the warmth of the living room’s enormous expanse to which I longed to return myself. Though an impulse told me to vacate; I felt obligated to hear him out. Perhaps he would apologize to me formally. For the way he’d played dirty to win a now dead woman’s affections.

He stood there crouched over the labeled bottles, making up his scattered brain. I gazed at the bottles, each one holding the overhead bulb in a pin prick of light against the curve of its dark glass…and I imagined myself living on a houseboat in one of those bottles, on a calm sunset sea of merlot. Of course, this pleasant focus was shattered by Rick’s mention of an old but unforgotten name.

“I thought I’d see you at Clare’s funeral.” He said nonchalantly.

“Funeral’s give me the creeps.” I admitted.

“I figured that. But for a moment I thought you may not have gone because of me and that whole thing at the café in Montreal.”

“Rick, let me clarify something. You’d really be better off by not giving our little mishap too much credit. It was f—ed up, yes—however; I didn’t much care after a bottle of wine and then I wound up meeting this cute little Frenchie…Pauline…and let’s just say she helped me get over the loss for the following three weeks.”

“Well, I’m glad it worked out in the end old friend.” Rick said, and I detected no malice in his words. Indeed, perhaps the tides had changed…perhaps the thespian had learned something from his travels. Still, he couldn’t leave the subject…and it became clear that in doing so, he wanted still to tell me something.

“Well I’m glad I have your blessing dickhead.” I said.

“I’m just saying, Clare thought about you a lot.” Said Rick.

“How the f— do you know what she thought? How could anyone know what Clare thought?” I asked.

“I read her diary. Well, she left it out all the time and so I figured she wanted me to read it. There were a lot of entries about you.” He admitted.

“She probably knew you were reading it jackass…and you fell for it.” I chuckled.

“Cool…I won’t harp on the subject…but level with me…did you ever really love her? Clare that is. “ he asked, not facing me, but rather the bottles, with the pin prick of light smoothing over their glass.

“I don’t know.” I laughed.

“You don’t know?”

“I don’t really know anymore. I loved women after her…maybe it’s possible I did. What kind of question is that for one guy to ask another guy anyway?”

“C’mon Frank. You were in love with her and there’s no bad shades about that. It’s all fine and dandy–know why? Because it isn’t anyone else’s life but your own.” Said Rick nearly absently now as he reached through the grating to wedge loose another bottle. On his sweater I noticed a spider; it was crawling up his shoulder and nearing the white folded over collar of the shirt he wore beneath it. I wondered if it was a black widow or perhaps a brown recluse.

“You have a spider on your collar.” I finally said, just before it reached the skin of his neck.

He gently brushed it off and it scurried under the wine rack. We both watched it go into the darkness. Then quite suddenly, Rick stood up and spoke very seriously, “Listen, buddy, while I have you down here, I need to ask you something.”

“I knew there was more to this.” I said.

“Okay, I have a real problem.” He said…turning now, so his back was toward me…he walked a few paces toward a barred window on the other side of the small cellar. I could see this was serious, to him at least.

“Okay, this is delicate Frank. When I was in Japan I came into my own so to speak. You know, I was away from home, my parent’s money and the past, all of that garb…the foolish mistakes I’d made for all those years, the misjudgments, they were all gone suddenly…the whole year I wasted at school in London seemed to evaporate. The pain of losing Clare the way I did seemed to ebb a little—to give a little. Anyway, I felt free—as free as I could feel considering. I felt that the day could go on forever you know? I just didn’t want to sleep any of it off anymore. I was on the brink of something every day. I would stay up all night. I was an owl…an all night chemist! You know? So naturally when winter kicked in, I came to grips with my mortality. Without darkness there would be no light right?” Rick paused, looking at me and nodding, as if to spur in to agreeance.

“Obviously Rick…go on.” I said, wincing slightly at the pain of having to process his dime store epiphanies.

“Right…and so it was in a sort of philosophical state that I began obsessing about planting my seed—you really start to think about that when your own mortality comes into question. There was a certain logic to it all suddenly and in that moment, I’m telling you, I was wiser than I’d ever been.”

I nodded unsurprised by this coming from Rick, “You had an early mid-life crisis, and?”

“Gena was with me in Japan for a while.”

“And?”

“I got her pregnant.” He said, leaving a vast cavern of silence.

“And?” I grinned.

“Well, there’s no easy way to say this…she went ahead and…took care of it; like in a clinic.” said Rick; tears welling in his dark eyes, “Those were real stormy nights man, I tell ya.”

“Why are you telling me this?” I asked.

“Well, you showed up with Gena and I just wanted you to know the backstory in case she wants to take you home later…I know you guys have a past and I know she’s really into getting back at me—for I don’t know what.”

I realized suddenly that I was faced with a desperate man; a man who had no concept of who he was. It was clear to me that men like Rick could suppress nothing; for his curiosity about Gena and I was more than he could bear—certainly because we’d shown up together. What it was in the old boy that irked me so, was the way he viewed women as property rather than people. I wondered if he could even tell one woman from another or if that even mattered to him anymore. There is no telling with a man lost at sea.

“You’re always going to be the same guy Rick. You’re never going to get over Clare either…and I guess I’ll never know what the hell it was she ever saw in jagoff like you.” I told him. I thought about it for a moment as he stood there under the small glowing bulb looking as if he were going to cry again, and I realized that in fact, it just didn’t matter to me either way.

Back upstairs there was trouble with Hennessey I found when I returned. He was perched on the edge of his seat gesturing wildly toward Gena who was sitting, laid back and cross legged taking swipes at him. Just swipes though. Had she wanted to, she could have gutted him. She could be mean, sharp witted, sharp tongued and ruthless when she wanted to be—what’s worse—he was a sucker for the abuse; a bad combination.

“Frank. Doesn’t your friend have a mute button on him somewhere?” Gena asked from the couch, drawing some nervous but obviously slightly rewarding laughter from the people strewn around the room, couples laying on each other and all sipping from their communal cups…enjoying the entertainment; people I had known at one point but to which now, I had little to say.

I felt slightly bad for Hennessey for he had become the object of this hostility and would be until Gena decided to stop the game.

“Give it a rest Gena.” I chuckled, “Can’t you see you’re breaking the poor guys heart?”

“Why are you defending him? Is this part of your man club code? Your fraternity pledge? Is that it?” she dug into me.

“I thought you were into making love not war.” I said.

“Perhaps you’re right. Perhaps, I should ostracize you for introducing me to this little worm of a man. Or perhaps I should ostracize you for not being there for Clare when she needed you most.”

I heard someone in the peripheral release a wincing sigh; as if Gena had just burned me with fire, but it wasn’t fire…it was only psychobabble.

“For Clare? What the f— is it with you guys and Clare? Can’t any of you just let her rest in peace?” Was all I said.

“Little worm of a man…” Hennessey exclaimed in disbelief unable to conceive of such cruelty, though still savoring it painstakingly. “You have some pretty polite friends Frank.” He added, shaking his head as if he were disappointed in me somehow.

“We’re friends aren’t we Franky? We are still friends aren’t we?” Asked Gena suddenly, and quite coyly swinging one of her long legs.

“It’s dull Gena.” I told her and there was a glint of surprise in her eyes.

“Am I being dull? I’m so sorry.” She grinned.

“You’re not though.”

“I’m about as sorry as you are for not showing up at Clare’s funeral.”

“It really matters to you for some reason, doesn’t it Gena? I think I know why too.” I told her as I rose to my feet.

“How would you know anything about me?” she asked from her place on the couch.

“I read it all on a bathroom wall I guess.” I said.

Silence…to this she said nothing. It’s not that she couldn’t have, it’s that she knew how much I hated her silence.

I left them all sitting there and strolled out onto the veranda, down the stairs and across the cracked asphalt toward my van that sat loyally and ready, shaded from the street lamp by an overhanging tree. I heard Hennessey behind me, muttering to himself about Gena’s rudeness and his regrets for being so polite about it.

Back at Hennessey’s abode, things got particularly ugly. Hennessey snarled as he stormed through his living room with all the controlled rage of a drill sergeant. “I should have let her have it, but instead I sat there like a gentleman…a nobleman…all because I didn’t want to insult your friend…who turns out not to be your f—ing friend! Why do I bother going out at all?” came his cry with a spill of his brandy.

“I couldn’t say.” I said taking a seat on the emerald green couch. “Anyway who cares who said what and did what? It’s not like anyone was writing any of it down. It’s not like any of it will be documented in a novel or something.”

“Oh you’re so f—ing insightful aren’t you? Frank Nero the writer. Pfft.” He raised his chin in disgust.

“I am tonight.” I nodded.

“I mean, listen, I didn’t want to talk to her…I didn’t care to be f—ing attacked by her! This tanned trollop with perfect teeth! But you dragged me in once again. I’m never associating with any of your old friends Frank. I respect your decisions, even if I don’t agree with them.” he assured.

“You participated so willingly in Gena’s usual bullshit.” I said, shaking my head.

“I thought she was beautiful!” cried Hennessey in his own defense, raising his shoe and slamming it down on the end table. He balanced this way and leaned forward as if to divulge some deep secret, “The mighty falcon of my heart knows that I’m through with all of you. I’m going to retire to my quarters for the next year. None of you will see me for a long time.”

“Don’t be so dramatic.” I said, “Sit down and have a drink you crazy bastard.”

“Franky…” said Hennessey sliding down onto into his chair, slobbering slightly with drink and unprofessed lust, “It’s true…I wanted her and so what…I would trade Stacey for her any day of the week…any day. I would trade Stacey for any other woman! Any other woman Franky!”

“Get a hold of yourself for chirssake. Believe me; you want to stay away from Gena.” I said wading out into my own glass of brandy and loosening my tie.

“Why?”

“With Gena, its all a rehearsal…and the irony is that no one could ever love her as much as she loves herself. Dig what I’m saying?” I said, “Anyway, where the hell is Stacey tonight?”

“Why are you so interested in Stacey? Why are you always asking me about my girlfriend?” Hennessey pondered gazing at me suspiciously.

“I’m only asking because I’d like to know if I should leave soon. She’s hates me in case you didn’t recall.”

“She hates me too, so what!” gurgled Hennessey flipping his head back so he could catch the last few drops from his upturned glass.

“Where is she? Out with Chad in his monster truck?” I chuckled.

“Oh, this is priceless Franky…she’s out with her little deliciously dopey sidekick, Anna. They’re having a sleep over tonight at Anna’s house. Isn’t that cute? All of the girls….isn’t that just f—ing clever Franky? A little cutesy sleepover…isn’t that just f—ing adorable?” he was snarling now with malice, searching the room for something to destroy.

“Sounds like trouble to me.” I chuckled, seeing the grand hilarity of it.

“Of course Franky. Let’s not get into that. Anyway, she’ll be back in the morning.”

To the theme of the Cure’s Disintegration, Hennessey and I discussed the matter further, eventually turning to the subject of Crystal, who I knew was at Pehrspace just then, grooving along to a band and drinking black market alcohol. I was slightly jealous.

“Why do you look so uncomfortable when I mention Crystal?” Hennessey eventually asked.

“Get the f— out of here…uncomfortable.” I said, dismissing the notion as asinine.

“Tell me the truth.” Said Hennessey, “Tell me why.”

“You want the truth? You really want me to tell you what you probably already know? How boring Hennessey—how f—ing boring.”

“Let’s not drag this out.” said Hennessey.

“Ok, this seems like a good time to mention it. I’ve been having an affair with her for…” I looked up at the ceiling trying to gauge an exact time frame—I owed Hennessey that much, “I don’t know…I guess a few months.”

“Oh, I see. You’ve been having an affair with the woman I’ve adored for two years and what’s worse—in secret; the whole while knowing that I adore her. The whole while listening to me go on about her. You’re not a friend. You’re a f—ing traitor. You really f—ed up this time Nero.” snarled Hennessey with fire in his beady eyes—this had been simply too much for him.

He punctuated the threat by lunging up from his chair and across the rug, hurling himself toward me, in effect throwing us both, in our combined momentum, over a large table in the center of his living room upon which a clutter of books, Cds, and candles awaited our tumbling fall. Inevitably, laying there on the floor, beneath Hennessey who was panting heavily and holding a look of mindless destruction in his eyes as he tried to strangle me, a moment of clarity surfaced through the absinthe; this new plateau of consciousness extended forth in its hand, holding in its palm a diamond; the birth of true enlightenment. This was all temporary—all of it.

“I should kill you now peasant boy.” Said Hennessey a string of drool hanging viscous and long from his mouth as he squeezed his Lizardly fingers around my neck.

On reflex, I executed a rusty, but effective scissor sweep, vaulting him with the sum of my strength so his head collided with a plaster wall—denting it terribly so a small pile of rubble fell to the carpet. Though this rung his bell it also managed to reset him, so he chuckled dumbly, holding up an arm, insisting I help him to his feet. When I obliged him and took hold of his wrist, he leaped forth, wrapping his arms around my calves so we both came to a crashing tumble against his stereo, stopping the music suddenly so an eerie silence prevailed…in the silence a voice suddenly told us we weren’t alone.

“If you guys are going to break up the apartment you should go outside.” It was Stacey and she had emerged from her bedroom. Hennessey and I were both stunned. I backtracked in my mind immediately, trying to remember what we’d both said while assuming we were alone and that she was across town somewhere having a sleep over with her dopey side kick Anna. Surely my surprise was obvious but I replaced the stereo carefully anyway, and took my flask in hand. Henry Miller was dead suddenly and Stacey had killed him with her pale, kill joy presence.

“Honey, you’re home.” said Hennessey as he rubbed the site of impact on the side of his head, “I’m bleeding,” he said, holding back his palm and finding it smudged with blood.

“That’s just great.” She said in the palest of skin and the reddest of hair I’d ever seen…a ghost in the flesh. “How much have you guys been drinking tonight?” she turned and asked me through her tussle of bed hair…

“Are you a cop?” I inquired as I moved across the room taking note now of her attire; tussled pajamas and cat head slippers. The sleep over had been obviously called off and she’d apparently been in the next room during our entire mess. I wondered why she’d laid there in her bed through it all only to emerge now? I was sincerely perplexed. How much exactly had she heard shut away in the spare bedroom by herself with only the darkness to aid in the imagery Hennessey and I had conjured in our assumed privacy? Everything obviously.

“Listen, Stacey, you shouldn’t take what you heard tonight seriously we were just goofing on you…shits and giggles…you know.” I said.

“I heard what I heard…and now I know. All I want now is for you to get out of my apartment.” She said in a cold tone.

“Fine.” I said, “But I’m taking the hamster.”

Stepping over Hennessey who was still laying on his side, recovering from the blow to his head, I reached up and lifted the cage down from the bookcase, easing the fuzzy critter down to eye level. He peered up at me, wiggling his whiskers; he had no idea how good life was about to get for him. Before I headed for the door, I stopped and looked down at Hennessey who looked up at me with a confused expression. “Happy birthday asshole.” I said before leaving him lying there with his soon to be ex-girlfriend standing over him.

Taking the stairs down easily and carefully, I pushed through the glass entrance doors out into the fresh air that would take me to the end of the night…I headed for my van that stood alone beside the curb as I text Crystal.

Windows & Doors

Crystal lived on Beachwood a few blocks north of Franklin. She never hesitated to inform people that she lived directly under the Hollywood sign. She’d grown up in Los Feliz and had returned to Los Angeles after a stint in New York working as an assistant editor with a magazine. She’d come to despise the job on account of it being a sports magazine and her having no intrigue or penchant for games of a physical nature; her games were all psychological, which I found comical on some level.

I stopped briefly at Gelsons to pick up something to drink, for I knew all too well Crystal’s weakness for bubbly drinks. I also picked up a couple bars of her favorite chocolate which she always craved after we finished. The bottle was heavy and cold in my hand as I buzzed her from the street below. As I waited for her to buzz me in, I felt a sinking sensation invade my core. Perhaps it was the old Hollywood ghosts whispering a warning on the late night breeze. The palms above were rustling and I was suddenly taken by an impulse to set the bottle and chocolate down, walk back to my van and drive back to good old 1557 N Alexandria where my piano waited—to lull me with deep watercolor tides of melody.

Crystal had gotten into the habit of competitive writing, which she said made one a better writer—that and influence. She believed that there was no difference between us and them—the giants of the craft. It was all circumstantial as far as she was concerned. For reasons of her own, she saw me as her superior prose-wise and because of it, I endured some of her most biting criticisms; which by the way, I didn’t ask for. Beyond that she resented the fact that I was slightly immune to her mind tricks, while every bastard in her circle of acquaintances threw himself at her blindly—possessed by her spells; they all wanted to marry her. However, she harbored true resentment for her father somewhere deep inside and this they could never understand. They had no concept it seemed of the fact that she’d make a terrible wife for all the reasons she’d make a terrific mistress. Still, I was more of a distant outpost to her…Pluto—or one of its moons…circling on the perimeter of her gravity at a safe distance, riding the balance between orbit and a crash landing impact.

Still, I pressed her little button again…the one naming the previous tenant…F. Audrey 407. I was buzzed up with swiftness this time. I assumed she’d been getting herself ready for me; fitting into the right outfit, applying her femme fatale make-up just the way I liked. She knew how to dress and she liked to look her best when I read her work—doubtlessly another installment of her fantastical dreamscape where I was Henry Miller and she was Anais Nin. Where we roamed the misty cobblestone lanes and took each other prisoner.

She expected me to take the role opposite her when all in all, I was only distracted in a frightening way by the scenery… it was the architecture—there were beautiful ghosts in it—but it was clear that Crystal wasn’t willing to venture further into those backdrops than she already had. She was more comfortable sitting on her $1200 Ottoman reading fashion mags and dead existential authors.

Though she spoke frequently about moving to Africa and digging irrigation ditches; Crystal wasn’t willing to part with her devices, her trust fund, her designer clothing or the Miata her parents had bought her for her 26th birthday. Though she had learned the art of flow—she lacked confession. She didn’t live it and so her writing wasn’t ruthless…her writing wasn’t inseparable from her being; one could definitely live without the other. However, she had a wonderfully round behind and a vast vocab.

The summer had soaked itself into the walls of her apartment and all of their ornaments with a heavy and thick humidity that hung close, like the oil of one’s own skin. Enclosed in this heat, Crystal sat loosely, sipping a chill-fogged glass of lemonade and gin; her drink of choice. Her apartment smelled of a certain musk; gin, skin lotion, an evening worth of her feminine sweat and scented candles which sat now, flickering on saucers in their small pools of glow…it smelled like woman in there and my eyes smoothed over her exposed knees.

“I brought this little guy for you.” I said, setting the hamster cage down on a table.

“Really? For me?” she said giddily, smiling hard and bending forward to kiss-kiss at the little fuzz ball; indeed, he had no idea how good it was going to get for him.

“He’s from a broken home…he needs a nice girl like you to love him.” I told her.

“He’s so sweet. What should I feed him?” she asked.

“How the hell should I know—look it up on that phone you can’t separate yourself from.” I shrugged.

“Hey, be nice. Anyway, I didn’t really think you’d be coming.” she admitted.

“I told you I would.”

“You’ve told me things before.” she smiled.

“Anyway, let’s see this short story. I’m anxious to see how badly you slit me in this one.”

“I don’t slit. I slice.” smiled Crystal.

“Hand it over.” I said.

“I want you to first sit down and get comfortable…want some lemonade and gin?” she asked.

“I brought some bubbly.” I said, “And some of that chocolate you always crave when you’re done with me.”

When she returned from her bedroom with the story, I felt very strongly like getting drunk. Certainly this would have been easy as Crystal was a great drinker with a wide variety of hard liquor and reckless abandon. However after gazing through the first paragraph of her story, I had other things on my mind. It became suddenly clear to me that Crystal was on to something. There was a spark there in between the lines that I hadn’t seen before; it seemed as if she was finally living it. It reminded me of my early works when I was perhaps 19 and dive bombing entire regiments with words; napalming the jungles of contemporary prose…or so I’d thought.

Usually the lack of discipline was clear in Crystal’s work. She wrote of love at first sight, the beauty of the ugly and how the ghettos had soul. She also believed that the best lovers were constantly at odds with one another. This time however, her work took no prisoners—and didn’t offer any flowery apologies. Her piece illustrated this quite obviously; a man and woman, two writers living in New England, who’d fallen for each other’s madness and talent in a frightening way—star crossed lovers—just the kind of complicated drama Crystal not only adored, but sought out.

Though he was cleverly disguised the man was familiar, waving like fine quills between the pastel oils her words conjured. He wasn’t for everyone to recognize though. He wasn’t spelled out as things usually never are but yet should be. He was disguised by Crystal’s coy pen and there I was, splayed out and cleaved to bits on the examination table. Every ounce of substance she had attained from my being, in those moments when I thought her blank stares to be harmless shades of daydreams…every of my confessions had been, in actuality, at her disposal for literary reasons. The realization came like a wash bucket of ice water against my face.

“Prone to storming out?” I asked.

Crystal gazed back at me from behind her femme fatale make-up.

“Well you are. Don’t look at me like that. You so are. You’re not going to deny it, are you?”

“You really think you know something about me huh?” I said, slightly amazed by her observant nature—and my ignorance for having thought she’d not had the slightest clue.

“Well I know that you’re prone to storming out yes.” she smiled.

“Come on Crystal…that’s an extraordinary allegation—extraordinary.” I said.

“Yes. I believe the last time you were here you stormed out.”

“Well, it’s nice that you’ve invested such thought in my malfunctions.” I said, setting her booklet down on the coffee table.

“I care about the world around me. I care about the people around me…”

“Aw, then maybe you should catch the Concord to Calcutta.” I said lighting one of her thin European cigarettes and leaning back in her ottoman.

“You care about me too Capricorn boy. I don’t care what you say in your arrogant little novels.” She said softly, reaching over and running one of her fingers from my chin down my neck and hooking it on the collar of my shirt.

“Arrogant little novels.” I chuckled, “Indeed my good lady, you’ve finally lost your mind.”

“You and your little arrogant novels.” Crystal nodded and laughed.

“You really think that? That my books are arrogant?”

“I’m being polite by calling them that.”

“You know, Crystal; It’s not wise to mistake one’s honesty for arrogance.” I told her, “Besides, I’m too damaged to be arrogant—what you see is something else.” I said, feeling better now that her perception was only hit and miss.

“You can’t hide from me.” she said, now standing and running her hand through my hair, pulling my head so it rested against her belly, “You can run—but you can’t hide.”

“You’re so nurturing aren’t you?” I said gripping her wrist with some tightness. I rose from the ottoman and gestured for her to move in the direction of an Elizabethan chair which she sat down in and stared at me with a crooked grin, knowing where this was now meant to go.

“I didn’t mean to touch a nerve,” said Crystal, “Stop pouting and come over here…and don’t be nice.”

I ran my eyes over her as she raised one leg over the arm of the stately chair and rested a finger between her grinning teeth. It was hard to resist, but was even harder to dismiss her story and its extraordinary allegations. Instead of joining her on the chair, I turned and gazed out of Crystal’s 4th floor window at the blinking city below that sprawled toward the end of the night. I could smell summer in the air. It was flowing in through the window she always kept slightly ajar. On the sill were two flowers in clay pots. I walked closer to the window, lifted one from the sill and placed it down on the hardwood floor beside the old water heater, then the other.

“You have to put something under it if you want it to stay open any more than what it is.” said Crystal as I lifted the window.

I gave the window such a good pull upward, it jammed in place. Leaning forward and out of the window I contemplated the street below–the clean summer air, a woman walking her dog, a taxi cab cruising by and flashing its brake lights…then I climbed out.

“Hey!” Crystal hollered, jumping up from her chair. She was at the window in a flash holding me by the wrists.

“Don’t! Do not! Do not!” she kept repeating, like a mantra as she gripped my wrists frantically.

“Let go of me.” I said, now hanging from her window sill with two hands along the outside wall of her building, “do you want me to fall? Let go. I’m not storming out…I’m just getting some air baby.”

From this perspective I could look directly up the wall and into the night sky that was speckled with a million points of light.

“I’m calling someone! I’m calling the fire department! I’m calling my father!” Crystal hollered frantically.

She raced to her phone that was sitting neatly on a white doily and clasped it in one hand as her other, still holding a long thin European cigarette, dialed frantically. I wasn’t certain who she was dialing, but seeing her so concerned conjured a certain degree of guilt; enough to draw me back into the apartment. When I was once again within the confines of Crystal’s room and sinking back down onto her Ottoman, I was attacked by a flurry of accusations.

“You’re f—ed up in the head.” she said firmly, stomping off into her bedroom and slamming the door.

“Oh…who’s storming out now?” I chuckled, popping the bubbly and swigging directly from the bottle. I rose and walked across her hardwood floor, opened her bedroom door and leaned in the doorway.

“Come on Crys, don’t be mad.” I said.

“There’s something wrong with you.” Crystal assured me.

“Don’t I know it.” I said, shaking my head, “I mean why the f— did I even come over here?” I said, stepping over and joining her on the side of her bed.

She turned to me and in a softer tone she issued a scolding; citing medications that could help me—one’s her father could prescribe. It was hilarity at its very best and I couldn’t help laughing, which only heightened her concern. She had had her doubts but now, she knew for certain that I was ‘mad as a hatter’.

“What’s a hatter anyway?” I asked before taking another long gulp of the bubbly.

“You really drive me crazy Nero.” she spat as she rose from the bed. Standing above me, she cupped her palms over her eyes in attempt at collecting herself, “Ok, that was f—ed up. Really Frank…what in gods name?”

“C’mon.” I said, reaching up and pulling her down into my lap, “I’m sorry…I really am. You just make me crazy Crys. You’ve been marinated in allure.” I confessed, moved slightly by her concern, even if it was embellished.

Crystal resisted of course, but eventually gave in and allowed herself to sit. With her buttocks weighing in my lap and her averted eyes peering toward a spot on the ceiling; she sighed, whispering to herself.

“Trouble loves me.” She said.

“Hey, where’s that old record you used to put on? XTC Black Sea.” I asked.

“I donated it to charity.”

“For real?”

“I gave them a box with a bunch of things in it.” said Crystal.

“Aw—that’s crazy. That’s the real crazy thing here. That record was something else. I would love to hear that record very loud right about now.”

“Maybe we can buy it back tomorrow.” she said softening up finally.

“Maybe you should forget all of this and just come live with me for a while.” I said.

“Over on Alexandria? Please.” Crystal grinned.

“So we move to Fairfax.”

“Been there done that.” She smiled.

“There’s always Glendale, you like Glendale…we could get a pad there easy—a love nest.” I suggested.

“I like shopping at the Americana, doesn’t mean I want to live there…get real.”

“Princess.” I said.

She leaned in and kissed me in her signature way, guiding my hand to certain regions. It was then that the buzzer sounded and Crystal made no move to answer it, which I found odd. Something in her froze as her mind worked away at unraveling a sudden dilemma; to answer or not to answer.

“Well, I wonder who that could be at this hour.” I pondered aloud.

“Probably a drunk visitor punched the wrong suite—happens all the time babe.” Crystal said; she wasn’t a very good liar.

When I lifted her off of me and dumped her to the side on a pile of cushions she bolted upward, moving surprisingly fast, trying suddenly to hold me back from the intercom that buzzed again, this time for a longer duration; whoever it was buzzing from the downstairs lobby was desperate. I could feel Crystal’s nails digging into the flesh of my bicep as I pulled her along merrily toward the intercom that buzzed yet again.

“Frank, seriously. Seriously! It’s no joke. Let me answer it.” She said now, all kidding aside.

I gave her a long hard look before pulling out of her grasp.

“Whatever.” I said, “I don’t really care what suitors buzz you in the night Madame Harrington.”

I left her there at the intercom and returned to the ottoman feeling suddenly disappointed. Perhaps I needed to push past Crystal, storm down the stairs and lay a good old fashioned shit kicking to the buzzer-happy bastard. Perhaps I needed another drink. Perhaps I needed to schedule an appointment with her father; the shrink with Stanley Kubrick’s beard.

She spoke through the intercom and a man’s voice crackled back through the small speaker; he addressed her as ‘gorgeous’ and told her to cue the lobby door.

“Just give me a minute Brad, I’m just getting out of the bath.” she said.

When he started to make a lewd comment, Crystal removed her finger from the intercom button, cutting his words off before they could confirm what I already knew. When she turned back to me, I was already rising from my spot on the ottoman; it was definitely time to go.

“Well, guess this concludes our evening.” I said, heading for the door.

“Please, not that way.” Crystal said, with a tone of concern.

“What way?”

“Can you go out the bathroom window and take the fire escape down?”

“What am I, a f—ing cat burglar?” It had me chuckling a bit…after all…

“Please, Frank, do this for me ok.” she was gripping my hand with both of hers now and one was still cold from the glass of lemonade…it was fitting, the warmth and the coldness of this woman gripping me at once.

“Why can’t I just walk out the door like a normal person?”

“Because you’re the other man.” she confessed, carefully, as if to remind me of something.

“I am?”

“You are.”

“And this going out the window thing is an unspoken guideline for ‘the other man’?”

“Something like that.” Crystal said breaking away and hugging herself.

“So just to clarify, Romeo downstairs—he gets to leave a building through the front door because he’s what—the main man and I gotta go through a f—ing window? I don’t understand the policies of the ‘other man’. Sounds like a raw deal; maybe us ‘other men’ need to form a union.”

“Please Frank. I thought it was understood.”

“To you maybe.” I said shaking my head.

“Hold on here…what does that mean?” Crystal asked, her energy suddenly changing.

“What if he’s the other man? What if that’s what I’m saying?” I inquired.

Crystal just peered at me, squinting her eyes and shaking her head, “Why are you saying all this suddenly?”

“Mabey I thought it was understood.” I offered.

When the buzzer sounded again, Crystal cocked her head with frustration, “Well, you better make a decision quick then I would say. Is this really what you want? For real?” she asked…raising her brows and tilting her head; an eerily calm gaze in her eyes—a bluff.

I looked around the room, with everything of hers in it…and knew suddenly that I knew the answer—or at least what the answer was just then.

“Not like this–.” I said.

I turned and headed toward her bathroom. She followed me and stood in the doorway, watching as I stepped into the tub then climbed out of the window above it. I stood on the fire escape for a moment giving Crystal a last look. She watched me from the small shag area rug with a hybrid look of concern etched into her face as if she might cry.

“You don’t look like someone who’s just come out of the bath by the way.” I pointed out.

“Will you call me?” she asked. When I didn’t answer, Crystal shook her head, as if I’d insulted her on a very personal level, “Are you going to call me?” she asked again. This time when I didn’t answer she turned and headed for the intercom that was now a solid buzzing. I stood there for a moment peering in through the window before finally making my way down the fire escape, knowing that I wouldn’t call.

Ariel

I’d first seen Ariel at the resort, and if the truth be told, I’d thought little of her upon first glance. She was merely another face, another local girl they’d hired out of desperation. It was a fact that the Oceanic Resort and spa management team had painted themselves into a corner by way of apathy and had taken on the habit of hiring out of desperation, which, by the way, would perfectly explain how I’d gotten hired in the first place.

To me Ariel was yet another transient waitress with tight black jeans. On first glance Ariel was perhaps 24, she had long dark hair with undefined bangs which hung, almost always, over half of her face. Curiously the bangs didn’t conceal the side of her face which bared a rather large scar that ran from her brow, across her cheek and down to her chin. The scar was discolored and the stitch holes were forever healed into the flesh around it. She didn’t speak much, and when she did, her statements were blunt, awkward and spoken with an unraveling tone. She wore her apron very high and, as well as having slightly slouched posture; she had a signature way of peering up at you from beneath her perfectly plucked eye brows in a very psychotic fashion. That was my quick assessment of Ariel—at first anyway; another desperate hire who rode the Big Blue Bus into work each afternoon.

I say ‘at first’ because I was about to learn more about Ariel. It seemed on a daily basis, the women on staff were diligently collecting as well as sharing tidbits of information about Ariel. They were still undecided about whether they would befriend Ariel, or tear her apart limb from limb; women could be surprisingly vicious to each other it seemed. Though this verbal lynching of Ariel had been going on for perhaps two weeks, I was the last to hear about the wildfire scrutiny concerning her.

You see dear reader, for the most part, I was in a world of my own standing there behind the bar, mixing contrived drinks for the faceless, charmless droves of tourists that descended upon Santa Monica all hours of the day and night, all the while sipping my own bottomless dark rum and cola. In short I’d been hopelessly oblivious to the social dynamics and preferred it that way.

Bartending was a perfect break from the lounge piano gigs I took for the money. Certainly with the lounge gigs there was the pay, there was also the 20 dollar tips they’d give you for playing their girl’s favorite song, there were the lonely suburban divorcees who wore tight skirts and plenty of make up and ordered you drinks all night long…there were also some of their phone numbers passed on napkins, or matches or cardboard coasters; all printed on hotel stationary—in case you forgot at which hotel you’d encountered them…indeed the lounge gigs were easy all around, but I tell you dear reader; the bartending gigs were something I could do while diligently drunk—no one ever played piano worth a shit when they were diligently drunk. As a bartender you are a lone wolf…the man behind the man, behind the man. I loved the solitude. However, though I tried to avoid it, gossip always came to my bar on the glossy lips of bored and flirtatious waitresses…and they’d stand there with me for long durations, tearing apart the new girls they felt competitive about; offering commentary, criticism and speculation—all of which never made any sense to me.

Mostly I think they wanted to compare their notes to mine—they desired a man’s opinion to measure theirs against…for it’s a known fact—women seldom understand why men find certain women attractive, or not, and it’s because their suspicions about our motivations are founded on their estrogen based sensibilities—they can’t imagine the mentality of caveman instinct; the all-terrain state of mind…to be fair, they can’t be expected to fully grasp the often frustrating predicament it is to be partially navigated by testosterone fueled aggression and so cannot understand the arcane preferences that come along with tactical hunting genes—they cannot gauge where the manifestations of which originated; to them, our tastes seem often divorced from common sense, perhaps even reality. It’s easier to dismiss us a idiots with poor taste. Ariel was another example—my own personal example, and Ariel had them all stunned. For she flew under the radar—you didn’t see her coming until her intrigue was upon you; if you were observant enough to catch it that is.

There is a grand difference between fiction and literature, just as there is a grand difference between gossip and curious discussion. I tried not to listen to gossip—I tried to form my own opinion of people; none the less, Anabelle swore by her self-professed talent—psychological profiling. Ariel, she informed me, was a “mute”. Indeed dear reader—this was the tipping point; the moment I’d officially become intrigued by Ariel…and perhaps it was partly because of the severity in which my female colleagues appeared so threatened by her mere presence.

“A mute?” I’d asked, breaking out of my blank nodding stare across the ballroom toward Ariel who was pouring a cup of coffee for a guest with an expressionless gaze, “What do you mean exactly?”

“She’s soooooo strange. Her responses are all monosyllabic.” said Anabelle, squinting her heavily painted eyes with suspicion, “And you know what else? The other day, when she was leaving work, a few of us said goodbye to her and she didn’t acknowledge us at all, she just walked out…I mean, what kind of person doesn’t say goodbye? I mean that’s what a mute is, isn’t it?”

“Anabelle, you’re smarter than that. A mute is a person who can’t speak. Ariel speaks—probably she’s on edge because you’re all so threatened by her. And why do you all care so much about Ariel? What the hell is it with you broads?” I asked before taking a haul from my glass.

We were joined about then by Miles, the acting night Supervisor. I suppose it can be said that I liked Miles—he was from Pittsburgh and was a lot of fun to have around. He was an old school type of guy and wore a matching mullet—he idolized Springsteen, Melanie Griffith and drank Coors light—he was a snapshot of care free times—a beer commercial hold tight. He took nothing seriously and nothing ever cracked his wise-ass composure. He was the kind of chap you could pass many long hours on the job with, breaking each other’s balls, talking women, playing black jack and drinking company booze—you couldn’t expect anything more precision from Miles, but he kept things on an even keel; he was the type of bastard who’d do anything for a laugh. He possessed a casualness I found sometimes consoling in the often vicious sea of estrogen that made up our staff of skirted ballroom vixens.

“What are you guys talking about?” Miles asked, leaning on the bar with his signature grin.

“Anabelle was just telling me that she thinks that beard thing you’re trying to grow makes you look like a jerk off.” I laughed.

“Well, Anabelle has banana tits.” Chuckled miles, looking directly at Anabelle who squinted her eyes with a quiet, calm fury.

“Fuck yourself Miles…you may as well—nobody else would.” she said.

“Aw, it’s so cute how much you pretend not to lust after me.” Miles laughed, a good sport with bad timing.

“Ana here thinks Ariel is a mute.” I said.

“The new girl? She’s a little off…there’s something a little twisted about her—but she’s not a mute…she talks.” He assured, looking over his shoulder at Ariel who was pouring another cup of coffee, “She doesn’t say much does she…”

“Much? She doesn’t say anything at all. Not even goodbye!” scowled Anabelle.

“Something else about that one I find strange…” said Miles, turning back to us, “don’t you think she wears her apron a little high?”

Anabelle burst out in laughter, “She ties it right under her boobs right? Who does that?”

I looked at Ariel…who was now peering around the ballroom, looking for empty coffee cups to fill. There was something meek in her gestures, something warm in her eyes—at least the eye I could see. There was a quiet femininity about her and it was curbed by what I could only assume was some keen sense of personal awareness…Ariel was aware of things it seemed; but what? Perhaps I wasn’t looking deep enough–perhaps I knew I shouldn’t. Yes, there was her high riding apron to consider, but it was easily over looked–it would be the first thing to come off after all, if that is, she ever agreed to join me in one of the empty third floor board rooms, after hours.

“You guys are fucking awful.” I said shaking my head before draining my glass.

“Awful? Can you not see what a freak of nature she is Frank? Also she has that creepy scar running down her face; I can’t even believe she got hired. I mean, even if she offered to blow someone for a job here, the only loser who would accept it would be Miles here and he doesn’t even do the hiring.” Said Anabelle.

“Listen my word would get anyone hired here—as well as fired.” Miles said locking Ana in his sites.

“I think she’s really pretty.” I admitted.

“Pretty?” demanded Anabelle, “You’re kidding me right? Tell me you’re just saying that to be funny Frank.”

“Not a bit. Look at her…it’s so obvious…she’s got a super pretty face—like Gina Lollobrigida, nice figure, gold nail polish…deep stares—she’s all kinds of woman and you’re hung up on a fucking scar and the fact that she doesn’t talk to you. You know I saw her coming in the other day wearing a ‘Meat Is Murder’ t-shirt, I’m wondering if that’s just sheer chance…and where did she get that scar by the way? Mama Mia; that’s what I want to know about her above all—how’d she get that sexy scar?” I said.

“Sexy scar? Ewe. And what’s a meat is murder shirt? Sounds like creepy shit to me.” said Anabelle puckering her face.

“I mean Miles, you’re telling me she doesn’t look just like Gina Lollobrigida if you really look at her?” I said.

“I don’t know who that is, but…now that you mention it—I guess I wouldn’t kick her out of bed for eating cookies.” said Miles raising his eye brows in agreeance.

“Guys are so bizarre.” said Anabelle rolling her eyes.

“Maybe she was in a knife fight.” speculated Miles now as Ariel stared over at us all watching her from across the crowded ballroom.

“Your taste in women is definitely atrocious.” said Anabelle, sounding distantly wounded.

“It’s just refined is all.” I said.

Anabelle didn’t respond. Instead she stood for a moment staring at Ariel, watching her work, quaking on the inside with jealousy. When Anabelle finally walked away, I turned to Miles and inquired if he possessed any additional information about Ariel. Of course Miles didn’t know much more than I. Like me, he didn’t quite listen when the girls talked shop…but he’d paraphrased a conversation he’d had with Ariel in which he’d asked her why she wore her apron so high, and she’d answered that it was because her pants were ‘up high’. I peered at her again as she lifted an empty coffee cup from a table and proceeded to fill it—again with a stone expression. The apron was indeed high, as were her pants, but the effect created a beautifully tight package of womanly buns that wagged around firmly as she circled the tables. A moment later when she walked by the bar Miles shot her a smile and a nod, which she averted by turning her head away.

“Did you see that?” asked Miles, “She’s just shy…that’s all; just shy. Maybe she had a really fucked up childhood. You ever see that movie Carrie? Maybe her mom locked her in closets and shit.” Speculated Miles as we watched her nicely shaped rump wag away toward the servery doors.

I thought my intrigue with Ariel would be an isolated incident—that I would leave it where I’d found it. However, a few nights later, when I returned to the hotel for my next shift—I found myself standing behind the bar, watching them all eating…investment bankers from Fresno…devouring their individual portions of undercooked mystery meat. As my stomach turned slightly at the sight of them all gorging themselves and salivating at once, I noticed that Ariel was approaching the bar. Her apron was high riding once again and she was peering at me intensely from behind her neatly plucked eye brows. She was wearing black eye shadow and a thick coat of red lipstick. She stood there for a moment without saying anything; there was no doubting it now—she was definitely attractive.

“Hows it going?” I asked her. She looked to the left, then to the right…then back to me.

“I’m supposed to ask you if you need anything for the bar.”

“Maybe some company—I’m so bored. I’m the chairman of the bored.” I said.

“Okay.” she said peering at me blankly…as if she were a Stepford wife.

“It’s Ariel right?” I said as she joined me behind the bar.

“Yes—that’s what my name tag says.”

“Why is this your favorite job?” I asked her as I began polishing one of the wine glasses, which were usually always tarnished with an oily film and lipstick residue.

“It’s not.” she said.

“No? What is your favorite job?”

“Another place…I don’t work there anymore.”
“Cool…” I smiled, running my eyes over the scar that ran down the side of her pretty face. Again I wondered how she’d gotten it.

“A book store.” She said finally when I looked away.

“What a job…why didn’t I think of applying at a bookstore?” I said, “Getting paid to sit on my ass and read books—how rad is that?”

“It’s a bit more than that.” said Ariel, “But yeah, I got to read all the books I’ve ever wanted to read.”

“Like what?”

“I got to read all of Bukowski’s books when I worked there. Before I worked there I’d only read two.” Said Ariel, catching me off guard.

“You’re putting me on. You read Chinaski? Which one did you like the most?” I asked, my pulse quickening slightly now, wondering how deep this all went.

“I really liked Post Office—but Hollywood was my favorite.” Ariel said, nodding and throwing a glance at me.

“The bathroom sink scene, with the towel…I nearly pissed myself laughing.” I chuckled, “True emotion.”

“Also, another good one…Sylvia Plath’s Bell Jar. I read it a few months ago…then I read it again. It’s possessed me and I’m reading it…again.” She said, phrasing the last word with a whisper.

“A third time…that’s hot.” I admitted.

“Yeah.” Ariel purred, turning me on more than she probably estimated.

“So, can I ask you a personal question?” I asked her.

“You can, but I may not answer it.” She said.

“There are certain questions you can ask someone that will answer several questions at once—kind of like the questions the FIB might ask.”

“Trick questions?” asked Ariel.

“Not exactly…more like power questions. You probably won’t answer…but I’ll throw it out there anyway—here it is; did you cry for Heath Ledger?”

“Who is Heath Ledger?” she smiled, flashing two rows of perfectly white, perfectly straight teeth.

“That’s a bad question for you? Well…do you remember where you were when WHAM broke up?” I inquired.

“I wasn’t born I don’t think. Anyway, how much could the answer to that question possibly tell you about me?”

“Listen, maybe you’re right. Forget about it. Let me ask you something though; I saw you getting off the Big Blue Bus the other day…where do you bus in from?” I asked.

“I live Westwood with my mom…” said Ariel.

“You like Westwood?” I asked.

“It’s like living in a house of mirrors.” Ariel said, shooting me a sideways glance. “I did go to Fairfax High though—same high school Phil Spector went to.”

“Really? What a town.” I said with a grin of amazement.

“The girls here don’t like me.” said Ariel out of the blue—and so I ran with it.

“They’re threatened by you is all.” I said.

“Why would they be threatened—I never threatened any of them.”

“They’re threatened by you because you color outside the lines.” I said.

They do too…I’ve never seen girls wearing so much make-up.” said Ariel, issuing a small shrug, “Guys like makeup girls I guess.”

“Sure, but it’s not all we like.” I said.

Ariel looked at me and brushed away the long lock of hair covering one side of her face, “If you say so.”

“I do. By the way, I think your scar is fucking sexy.” I admitted without any lead up, or indication; knowing full well that in doing so I was setting something in motion—and feeling indifferent about the consequences.

“No it’s not.” She said.

“To me it is.” I assured as I poured myself another shot of rum,

“I know a lot of guys—no one ever says that. I don’t know if I believe you.”

“What, you think I’m messing with you?” I grinned, tickled slightly by the insecurity and prettiness that simultaneously existed within Ariel.

“No, I think you’re probably just trying to fuck me.” she said peering out at me from underneath her perfectly plucked brows.

I didn’t see Ariel for a week after that. I wasn’t scheduled back at the hotel until the following Saturday. Indeed, when I finally did return to the resort the next weekend for my scheduled shift, I noticed that Ariel’s name had been crossed off the schedule list. However, she was still listed on the laminated sheet that included each staff member’s full name as well as their contact information. Ariel Granger 424 456 5678. I punched the info into my phone.

After my shift was over, I drove down Pacific avenue, with a half bottle of Appleton’s Amber in my liver and a wad of bills in my hip pocket; it had been a good night for tips and I felt like going out somewhere dimly lit for a drink—I had the Dresden or the Bigfoot Lodge in mind. I turned down the music and found Ariel’s contact and hit the dial button. After a few rings I was greeted by her automated voicemail message which instructed me to leave a message.

“Ariel, its Frank…Frank from the Resort. Was working there tonight. Wondering if you’ve quit, been fired or you’ve been abducted by the ‘makeup girls’ who loathed you for being prettier than they—call me…I want to take you out somewhere real nice for a drink—maybe the Bigfoot, would love to chat again.” I said and clicked off in time to avoid being spotted chatting on my phone by a cop on a motorcycle.

A few minutes later, my phone buzzed, signaling a text message. It could have been from anyone at that hour, but it was from Ariel and her message was short and to the point, “How did you get my number?”

“Magnum P.I.” I texted back.

After a few minutes another text buzzed in.

“Who is Magnum P.I.?” asked her text.

“Are you going to meet me or not?” I replied.

Radio silence…

I drove on, surrendering to the notion that Ariel was going to a) overanalyze my advances and b) decide finally that the best plan of action was no plan of action at all. However, to my surprise, a text finally buzzed in.

“Not tonight…but I’ll be downtown and horny tomorrow.” said her text.

I wondered briefly if her text was pure sarcasm…but realized that in regard to Ariel; one could assume nothing. I wanted to reciprocate her to-the-point sincerity if that was in fact what it was.

“I’m here.” I texted, sending it off into space, where it would sit permanently in some server database—a record of my intrigue for Ariel.

The next night rolled around soon enough. The day had gone by quickly, as it always did in Los Angeles…as if time were travelling at warp speed. I’d spent the day in Glendale helping Gardiner pack up his world. He’d had his fill of cattle calls and desert heat and longed for the lush green Oregon valleys from which he’d come three years before. He was getting back together with his ex-girlfriend Samantha, who’d just become a veterinary anesthesiologist back in Eugene, and the plan, though structured and seemingly fool proof, clearly terrified the old chap to the point of panic attacks, one of which he suffered while I was boxing up his vinyl collection.

Indeed, he’d surrendered himself fully to the panic and had taken to locking himself in the bathroom for an hour, chatting with Samantha the veterinary anesthesiologist about the fine print of their new policy on life. When he emerged, his grey shirt soaked with perspiration and his face pale with the terrifying prospect of suburban bliss—Gardiner wandered out onto the front lawn, complaining of dizziness, abdominal pain and a deep burning in the center of his chest.

I was in the midst of collecting a check list of symptoms that may or may not have pointed toward a coronary when Gardiner reached out and grabbed my arm tightly, “Everything is going black—this is fucking it man…tell Christine I always loved her.”

“Who’s Christine?” I asked, this being the first I’d heard of her.

“She works at Banana Republic…at Citadel Outlets.” Gardiner managed to squeeze out before his eyes rolled back behind his fluttering lids and he fell suddenly limp, collapsing to the lawn face first and emitting a deep gurgle on impact.

It was a regular day, at least as regular as they came under the Aztec sun. A sprinkler chopped away at a long foamy jet of water, showering grass that had turned dry and brittle, a dog sniffed it’s way along the curb of the sidewalk across the street, a car drove by…a plane flew over…and I was at a loss—standing there above Gardiner who may or may not have been dying before my eyes. Christine who worked at Citadel? What about Samantha—his bride to be? I wondered.

I dialed 911 and explained the situation and after giving the pertinent information, I hung up and waved down the first person passing by; a mailman crisscrossed at the chest by two heavy looking bags.

“Hey, this man may be dying.” I said to the mailman who only grinned, “Do I look like I’m kidding? It’s for real man.” I said.

The mailman, taking a second look, took note of the unnatural position Gardiner had collapsed into and immediately stripped off his bags and knelt next to Gardiner, leaning down as low as possible to check for the sound of breathing. Hearing none, the mailman rolled Gardiner onto his back and tilted back his head, bracing the back of his neck with his gloved hand. The other hand, also gloved, squeezed Gardiner’s cheeks so his mouth popped opened. I stood there watching as the mailman leaned down and pressed his disgusting moustache against Gardiner’s open mouth…it was hard to look at but the hilarity suddenly struck me in a way that could not be contained and I was seized by a tirade of heaving chuckles…so much so my eyes burned with the salt of tears and my stomach muscles ached with constriction.

“What are you guys on?” the mailman demanded with an expression of distress.

“Sorry…I’m just freaked out man…that’s all.” I said, swallowing back another heave of laughter and collecting my wits.

“Yeah…sure thing.” said the mailman in a sour tone, dipping in to expend another blow of air into Gardiner’s mouth.

Gardiner had come to just then, as if he’d been awoken from deep hypnosis by the snap of a shrink’s fingers. He was disoriented, discombobulated and dumb struck by waking up in the arms of a mailman baring a John Oats moustache. Rolling away and onto his stomach, where he started coughing and gagging into the discolored, brittle grass, Gardiner demanded answers…explanations.

“We thought you were having a heart attack.” assured the mailman, rising to his hiking boots and raising his palms, looking surprised behind his moustache and expression of forced concern.

“You don’t give mouth to mouth for a heart attack you dumb fucks!” spat Gardiner.

“Actually yes, you do.” insisted the mailman.

“No you fucking don’t dumb ass—you don’t stick your sick moustache into someone’s mouth unless you absolutely fucking have to.” snapped Gardiner, pushing himself up into sitting position now so I could see the loose blades of grass and pebbles stuck to his sweat beaded skin under the glare of the high noon sun.

“I thought I did,” assured the mailman, raising his palms and backing away down the sidewalk, back toward the bags that he’d dropped to the concrete only a matter of minutes before.

“Ah, whatever…it’s okay…you were just trying to save my life…thanks man; any mail for me today?”

“I’ll catch you next time—I’m behind schedule now.” said the mailman, fitting the bags around him again.

“There won’t be a next time—I’m moving today.” Gardiner informed.

“In that case, let me check.” the mailman said, sifting through a pile of letters, none of which were addressed to Gardiner. The mailman glanced at me for a moment before turning to Gardiner and speaking in a confiding tone, “This guy was laughing his ass off while I was trying to revive you. The fuck is that matter with him?”

Gardiner turned to me, a wounded expression etched into his face—one he’d rehearsed for such situations when sympathy might render him a perpetual victim. “How could you man?” he asked, his face sinking into an intense expression of disappointment.

“I wasn’t laughing at you.” I assured.

“He was laughing like a mad hatter.” confirmed the mailman.

“It wasn’t like that man.” I insisted and I didn’t have to insist again as our entire discussion was broadsided by the squealing arrival of a fire truck, from which hopped down a stubby looking man with a Neanderthal brow line. He conferred with first the mailman, then with Gardiner, who assured them both that he was alright.

They were in the middle of this discussion when another response team squealed onto the scene. It was an ambulance; a pair of paramedics stepped out onto the baking concrete and approached us in an orderly fashion. They both wore mirrored sunglasses and got to work checking on Gardiner’s vital signs as he denied or confirmed their questions regarding what had transpired.

In the end, it turned out that Gardiner was diagnosed with dehydration and adding to that was an episode of hypoglycemia as well as, I assumed, the sticky residue of an afternoon worth of panic attacks. He was given a cold bottle of water and directed to spend the rest of the afternoon lying on the couch with a fan on him. Surrendering to the advice of the paramedics, Gardiner did exactly that, drinking half a 26 of whisky in the meantime and volleying into a 45 minute sermon about the importance of structure in one’s life and how that structure can be built on the foundation of a loving wife.

Apparently, having forgotten the message he’d requested that I deliver to his immortal beloved, Christine—Gardiner went on, painting a lovely oil portrait which contained wisps of fog and the distant, old world façade of the Hotel De Ville as a backdrop. Only it wasn’t his immortal beloved whom he’d French kissed—it had been a mailman baring a John Oats moustache, and so I listened to his line of drivel—perhaps because I’d laughed, perhaps because it was none of my business if he’d fallen madly in love with Christine—whoever she was. Still, it was my silence that gave it away to Gardiner and he paused, taking a break in his sermon to ask me a question.

“You think I’m full of shit don’t you?” he asked.

“Probably you are—but if you believe it then so what right?” I said.

“Do you think I’m kidding myself?” he asked.

“Am I Dr. Phil? How the fuck should I know?” I said.

“I remember what I told you—earlier before I went out…I remember, in case you think I don’t—about Christine…and I know you’re sitting there judging me…thinking I’m a shit because I’m going back to Samantha and I’m saying that I love Christine.”

“I may impale certain folks on a sword of hard truth now and then old boy, but I never judge anyone; that’s a shitty thing to do. But it’s telling…very telling, what you said when you thought you were going out of this world—you thought of this Christine broad…that’s as real as it gets.” I told him.

“You think? So what should I do? Is it a huge fucking mistake to go back to Eugene? Back to Samantha and that whole thing? Am I supposed to shit-can the weeks of planning and arranging Samantha and I have been doing?” asked Gardiner, exhausted by the events of the day.

“I don’t know…all I know is that if this Christine is the one you’re thinking about when your life is passing before your fucking eyes; you should really go to her man…go straight to her and tell her.” I shrugged.

“But what about Samantha?”

“You didn’t mention her when you were dying.” I said.

“I wasn’t dying.”

“You thought you were though.”

“Yeah, I thought I was.”

“And you thought of Christine—she must be one hell of a broad.” I said, “So, like, if you decide to go to Eugene…can you set me up with her?”

Gardiner’s face contorted into a shape of pure disgust, twisted by building rage and a titled stare of amazement that I’d suggest such a ghastly arrangement.

“Man…you really got it bad for her.” I laughed, snapping him out of his psychotic trance of jealousy.

“I guess so.” He admitted with a sad sigh, the realization becoming crystalline.

It was then that my phone buzzed. I flipped up the screen and saw it was a text from Ariel. Indeed, she’d not flaked out—she’d followed through and was informing me that she was going to a friend’s exhibit; modern art—a vague term. The following are direct quotes from our digital conversation:

Ariel: You’re welcome to join

Me: I will later – with a sick friend now in Glendale

Ariel: I want to meet you in a scuzzy bar later

Me: Can we meet in a bar that’s not scuzzy?

Ariel: Scuzzy bars turn me on

Me: I was thinking Cha Cha’s – that scuzzy enough?

Ariel: Hate that place

Me: El Cid? It’s not scuzzy but they have bands tonight and a nice courtyard where we can make out a bit.

Ariel: El Cid it is

Me: Where and when am I picking you up?

Ariel: I’ll bus it – let’s say between 6 & 9

Me: 6 or 9?

Ariel: both ;o

Indeed, dear reader, I wasn’t sure what to make of the semi-colon and the ‘o’ and so as Gardiner went on, describing how he’d met Christine, alphabetically citing every nuance about her that he adored, I was forced to interject.

“Listen old boy, you may know something about this…I’m not quite text savvy—and for good reason; but what does it mean when a chick texts you a semi-colon followed by the letter ‘o’?” I asked.

“Depends what the context is.”

“She said she’d meet me between 6 and 9…I asked 6 or 9 and she said both…then the semi-colon and letter ‘o’. That’s code?” I asked.

“It means she’ll probably blow you and vice versa…can I finish for fuck sakes? I’m pouring out my guts here and you’re fucking sexting? Or like, trying to sext.” spat Gardiner, chuckling toward the ceiling.

“Look,” I chuckled, “all this shit you’re talking right now—this parade of psychobabble—it’s not Freudian; it’s you being a pussy. In your assumed dying moments, you begged me to deliver a message to your immortal beloved—that you always loved her—your dear, immortal beloved Christine. You didn’t mention jack shit about Samantha.”

“Know what…you’re right.” Said Gardiner, pushing himself up from the leather couch that was already tagged with a paper baring the word ‘Free’ scribbled across it in marker, “I’m going there now. I’m going to Citadel now—they’re open late tonight…she’s always on closing so she’ll definitely be there.” He said as he rose and began pacing the house, collecting the articles of clothing he’d wear for the occasion, “I’ll go, I’ll tell her what happened and if she still loves me…I’m going to ask her to marry me—right there in the fucking Banana Republic.”

“That a boy.” I said, “No apologies—but maybe the Banana Republic isn’t the proper place….”

“It’s as proper as any and also, no fucking way any apologies. I mean,” he said as he pulled on a burgundy dress shirt, “why should I feel awkward for having made a huge error of judgement? Ok, I made a mistake…but that shit today…that shit out on the lawn…that cleared it all up suddenly. Only thing is–what if she spits in my face?”

“She won’t.” I assured.

“How do you know?”

“Oh man—you’re the biggest pussy I’ve ever met.” I laughed, shaking my head.

I parked on Sunset, just out front of El Cid. I sat in the car with the stereo turned up loud, waiting for Ariel. I watched the busses rolling up to the stop across the street, each time wondering if Ariel would step off. However, after a number of busses came and went and none of which contained Ariel, I dialed her—this texting shit made it all so impersonal.

“Hello?” she said after a few rings.

“Where are you?” I asked.

“Where are you?” she asked back.

“I’m where I said I’d be—out front of El Cid.”

“I’m across the street, at Circus of Books. Be out in a second.” she said.

Sure enough a few minutes later, Ariel emerged from Circus of Books carrying a white plastic bag. She was dressed in tight white jeans and leather laced sandals of the same color. She wore a tight Cowboy Junkies t-shirt and her bangs were pulled back and tucked beneath a white 1960s style head band. I watched her cross sunset and walk westward toward my van which was parked outside the entrance of El Cid.

I got out of the van to meet her. “You look so different in your real clothes…you look hot.” I said noticing she’d applied an extra thick layer of foundation, to perhaps conceal her scar which I found strangely alluring.

“I am hot…it’s so humid tonight.” Said Ariel.

“I mean you look hot…but I guess you probably hear that a lot so it probably doesn’t even mean anything to you anymore.” I said.

“I don’t get that a lot.”

“Come on…gorgeous baby like you? I’m sure you have a special contacts folder for the guys that chase you. Am I in that folder?” I laughed.

“I don’t have a folder…I’m not like the girls you’re used to I guess.” Ariel said, as if to remind me of something.

“That’s the best part about you.”

“Thanks.” Ariel said with a stone expression.

“So, are we going in?” I asked.

“No…I have a better plan.” She said.

“Like?” I asked.

“We can go to my place in Westwood. My mom is at a benefit dinner tonight…won’t be back till very late. She used those words, ‘very late’.” said Ariel.

“Whatever you want to do; I’m game.” I said.

Once we were in my van, rolling westward down Sunset toward her mother’s condo; Ariel answered some of my questions. She’d attended Otis College and had dropped out to live in San Francisco for two years—which she said had taught her more about the artistic process than any class ever could. She said her father wrote for a travel magazine and often sent postcards from the places he visited—he was never home. Also, she rarely dated. She informed me that her last boyfriend had dumped her because she was too ‘crazy’ in bed. She then interrupted our Q&A period to confirm, by pulling the box from the white paper bag, that the condoms she purchased where okay with me.

I smiled, looking at her sideways for a moment, “Really? So I guess we’re going to get that out of the way before we start our date? Or is the date over after that?” I asked.

“Guess we’ll see how you do.” said Ariel, surprising me…Frankly; I’d never have guessed…and certainly no one else would’ve guessed either that shy quiet Ariel was indeed something of a super freak.

Ariel’s mother’s residence was nicely decorated and color themed—to be more exact; it looked like a centerfold spread in some home-worship magazine. It seemed a touch odd at my age to be out on a date with a woman who still lived at home with her mother. Ariel was perhaps 25 years old—still young in many regards. There was a freedom in that—there was freedom in the fact that she had a few years left to make a lot of massive mistakes; the mistakes after all, though no more or less fantastical in the future, would only become systematically less harmless as the years wore on. These were the best years of her life and I wondered if she realized it.

She circled around the post-modern kitchen a few times, pouring us two glasses of lemonade before gesturing with a wave of her head for me to follow her down a hardwood hallway, at the end of which her bedroom lurked in a shroud of darkness. She disappeared into it, with me in tow, until we were both enveloped in pitch black…then a spark, a small orange flame from a wooden match…then a candle, then another, then three, then four, flickering in their warm pools of glow atop what I now saw was her dresser. As my eyes adjusted to the rooms flickering dimness, I made out the walls, which were covered in oil portraits Ariel had done.

“Hey, these are all yours?” I asked.

“They are.” said Ariel, opening one of the dresser drawers.

“Can we turn on a lamp? Can I see them?” I inquired.

“Why do you want to see them?” she asked as she fished through her dresser drawer.

“Call it foreplay.” I said.

“Really? I have something better than foreplay.” said Ariel, retrieving a small plastic bag from the pile of clothes she’d turned over to find it.

She brought over the bag as well as our two glasses of lemonade and joined me on the edge of the bed. I took one of the glasses in hand and watched Ariel pick a pill from the bag. She handed it to me and I looked at it sitting in the palm of my hand, it’s chalky, candy-like contours dancing with flickering shadows and dark mysteries. Ariel swallowed one herself and tipped her head back with a mouthful of lemonade. She peered at me with a grin. “Go ahead, it’s out of body.” she assured.

“Uh, listen babe; I don’t need any…aid here. Know what I mean? I’m good.” I told her.

“If that’s true then why did you say that looking at my artwork would be like foreplay?”

“Because it would be in a way—us being in your bedroom and all.”

“So will this.” she insisted, “Just trust me.”

“Sure…why the fuck not.” I said, pretending to pop the pill into my mouth, pretending next to wash it down with tart, chilled lemonade, “Mmmmmmm, tasty.” I grinned as I set the glass down.

Rather than actually swallowing the pill; I slipped it under her pillow as I leaned in for a kiss…a kiss which she seemed to take very seriously. Ariel kissed well, she knew how to apply the correct amount of tongue without it getting too slimy; she was a noninvasive kisser one could say. Beyond that, she knew how to talk the talk. I was wondering if she walked the walk as well when voices could be heard echoing through the hardwood surfaces of the condo; a chuckle, the screech of a chair sliding across the floor, a jet of tap water, the sound of glasses being clinked, another chuckle, then the distinct frequency of a woman’s voice emphasizing her tones in a dramatic way; Ariel’s mother had come home early—and she’d brought a guest.

“Fuck.” sighed Ariel, as if deflating rapidly through a sudden puncture wound in her enthusiasm, “It’s my mom and Gordo…her shadow puppet.

“Shadow puppet?” I mused.

“Guess this is her idea of a late night.” said Ariel, “We should go.”

“Guess it’s my place then.” I said, pushing up from Ariel and sipping down the rest of the lemonade which was surprisingly refreshing.

“Sorry.” she said sitting up too, “I thought she’d be gone longer. Sucks to be living back home.”

We waited until the coast was clear and Ariel’s mom had disappeared into the master bedroom with Gordo the shadow puppet before we made our grand escape, tip toeing through the living room and kitchen before slipping out the front door which Ariel closed very carefully and so silently it didn’t even click; I didn’t ask because I didn’t really want to know the dynamic between her and her mother. I really wasn’t interested in the mutual understandings her and her mother had refined during their time living together over the years; I simply wanted to get back to where we were before we’d been interrupted. However, fearing the lengthy car ride back to 1557 N. Alexandria might kill her mood, I pulled into a hotel on Wilshire; the Palm Court.

“Wait here, I’m going to get us a room.”

“Thought we were going back to your place.” said Ariel.

“It’s too long of a drive—and I don’t want to lose our groove baby.” I told her.

“Place looks expensive.”

“Perfect for your uptown ass then.” I grinned as I got out of the van.

“Hey, can you leave the music on? I love this guy.” she said, reclining back into the seat as Matthew Sweet’s ‘Sick of Myself’ banged through the speakers.

“You know it.” I said, leaving the van running and the music blaring.

I provided my credit card and two pieces of ID to the robotic woman behind the glass at the front desk. She looked at me very intensely as she compared the photo to my in-the-flesh appearance. After some computer work, she printed a paper and passed it through slot in the Plexiglas. The paper was an invoice that included a contractual agreement stipulating that I’d be held responsible for any damage to the room and furthermore that I understood that the hotel assumed no responsibility in the event that my van was vandalized on hotel property during my stay—which in actuality would last no more than 2 hours.

“Make sure you sign in all the right spots or the contract will be null and void.” she said with stern intent.

“You know something lady, such lengthy and in depth processing is a bit superfluous for people like my lady-friend and I who would only visit your pretentious hotel to drink absinthe and fuck.” I stated, peering intensely at the lady, searching for a sign of life; which wasn’t there.

When I’d signed on the dotted line and the card key was in my hand, I promptly made my way back through the lobby and out into the parking lot where I expected to find Ariel sitting in my idling van, waiting in the same spot where I’d left her, grooving out to 90’s indie rock. However dear reader—Ariel was not there and in fact, neither was your diligent narrator’s van.

I was perplexed and stood there under the exterior fluorescents, watching the Wilshire traffic course by. The squirrely bitch had jacked my van; it was hard to believe and quite unexpected. I took a moment to wrap my mind around it all. It occurred to me that, even if I so desired, I now couldn’t return to my apartment as Ariel had taken the keys to my entire life with her when she’d jacked my van. As far as the keys were concerned, for some reason, I’d never backed any of them up with spares. Luckily, my phone sat like a small weight in the back pocket of my jeans and to it I reached, dialing Ariel with little expectation of an answer. As I suspected, she didn’t answer; so I left a message.

“Hey, grand theft auto is a crime in the state of California. I’m going in—room 112. Don’t make me wait—waiting is boring.” I said and clicked off.

The room was small and smelled of old carpet and cheap laundry detergent. I opened a window and flopped down on the bed, staring at the ceiling and sipping from my flask, contemplating the best plan of action. Perhaps it was best to just lie there in contemplation. Perhaps this was the room in which a grand epiphany would call to me and send me into another flight of inspiration—the greatest yet. Perhaps it was in this room I’d create a masterpiece.

It suddenly occurred to me though that I’d overpaid for the room and if indeed I was going to be shenaniganed by the likes of Ariel; then I owed it to her, as well as myself, to inject a bit of my own home grown chaos into the small circus that was unravelling around me in a quiet way. Never underestimate the relevance of a paid for hotel room. And so it was in this fashion that a small surge of elation filled my chest as I rose, left the hotel and trekked back up Wilshire, reverse engineering the directions Ariel had given me to find my way out of her mother’s labyrinth-like neighborhood.

As I walked, a variation of possibilities surfaced in my mind. Of course, whether or not my van would be returned was a valid concern and one that was sinking in just then, along with all of its ramifications. After all, Ariel had swallowed a pill—a pill containing who knew what, which could induce who knew what effects; most certainly, operating a motor vehicle under the influence of anything other than grass was certainly a recipe for disaster. I was gripped suddenly by equations—the possibilities of which ranged from Ariel careening my van off of a Mullholland cliff and plummeting to a fiery death in the valley below to colliding head on with a bus in some busy Hollywood intersection. I imagined what the blood toxicology report would say and the interrogations that would follow. What had she been thinking?

Indeed, on foot the journey was a lot longer than I’d estimated and by the time I was climbing the steps leading back up to the glass entrance doors of Ariel’s building; the companionship between me and my absinthe buzz had ebbed greatly, leaving me nearly sober to contend with Ariel’s mother who answered my frantic buzzing with an irritated tone that crackled back at me through the small speaker in the intercom.

“Yes? Who is buzzing this late?” she asked.

“Listen, I’m a friend of your daughter Ariel.” I said.

“Ariel isn’t here right now.”

“I know…she’s joyriding in my godam van right now…without me—see what I’m saying?” I said into the speaker.

“I have no idea what that means young man…but I don’t appreciate being woken up in the middle of the night with rude language and asinine accusations about my daughter.” said Ariel’s mom.

“Listen, hairdo—I want to be perfectly clear here…if she doesn’t get back to me, or get back to you in the next ten minutes; I’m calling it in…and that’s going to be grand theft auto. Know what I mean sweet cheeks?” I said, my words trailing off into the abyss of silence created by Ariel’s mother’s contemplation.

“Ok, wait, I’ll come down—for godsake.” she snapped before clicking off.

I had my back turned when she emerged at the door behind me, clicking it open and stepping out onto the concrete in oriental slippers. She was clad in yoga pants and a tank top, her hair was tussled and her eyes looked weighted and red—however, she looked great—perhaps 44 years old, an older, somehow sexier version of Ariel—who would evidently age quite well…the apple hadn’t fallen too far. A few seconds behind her was Gordo, the shadow puppet. He was perhaps 50, overly attentive, doting, whiny and clad in a badly faded Sheena Easton t-shirt, which I assumed must have belonged to the Mrs. He pushed his spectacles up against his brow with a finger before souring his expression even further and volleying into a particularly whiny line of questioning.

“Who do you think you are coming here in the middle of the night, waking up total strangers? What kind of a man does that?” he asked.

“I never claimed to be a great man. Also, this really doesn’t concern you pal.” I assured him.

“Oh, it does…what concerns Pam most definitely concerns me.” sniveled Gordo.

“Really? So you really are a fucking shadow puppet.” I said, hitting him low and hard and watching the expected reaction take form on his face.

“Be careful how you talk to me.” sniveled Gordo.

“No, I don’t think I will.” I said.

“You can and you will.” Gordo retorted.

“Oh really? That’s just what I told your mother last night before I boned her.” I said.

“My mother is 83 and living in an old age home you asshole.” said Gordo.

“Look, if I didn’t know Ariel how would I know that she calls you Gordo the fucking shadow puppet?” I said, turning back to the mother, Pam.

“Well, knowing his name only proves that you know Ariel…there is no proof that she stole your van as you say.” Said Pam.

“I think the footage from the security camera in the Palm Court hotel parking lot will stand up in court pretty well Pam.” I assured her.

“She stole your van from a hotel parking lot? How does that work?” asked Pam.

“Well, it’s like this, when I went in to rent a room for us to use for a few hours; your delinquent daughter decided it would be a great idea to drive off in my van.” I said, watching her hard boiled, old-lady toughness, tighten into an expression of shock.

“Oh my god.” said Pam, shooting a glance at her shadow puppet.

“Maybe you ought to dial her up Pam.” I said.

“Already on it.” said Gordo, placing his sleek, wafer thin phone to his ear. After a few seconds he spoke, “Ariel? Where are you? We’ve got a man at the house who is claiming that you’ve stolen his vehicle…yes, he’s buzzed us…woken both your mother and I up…he’s not saying borrowed honey—he’s saying you stole it…you’d better get back here now…we’ll be out front…and Ariel—don’t speed…drive carefully. Everything is going to be alright.” said Gordo the shadow puppet.

After a moment of contemplating the police helicopters pattering overhead, Gordo turned to Pam and explained the situation, every once in a while, throwing an awkward glance my way; as if I was only a bystander and not directly involved with the unfolding mishap. It seemed Ariel insisted that she was only borrowing my van, which would imply that she’d first asked to borrow it. Could it really be framed as so in her mind? I wondered.

The three of us stood silently on the steps in the late night breeze waiting for Ariel to pull up. I’d expected some groveling, some begging perhaps—maybe a bit of bargaining, in order to sway me, your fair minded narrator, from calling the five-o on her delinquent daughter. However, there was nothing…no words, just sniveling glances from Gordo and sighs of impatience from Pam. Finally however, a sign of life surfaced…Pam, perhaps having had too much for too long of her daughter’s delinquent ways broke into shallow sobs, sniffling hard and leaning her face into one of Gordo’s flabby man tits; so the old sex pot did care about her daughter after all. I turned to them both and pulled my flask from the inner pocket of my blazer. I swilled hard before speaking.

“Listen, you can shit-can the tears Pam…I’m not going to call it in…I was never going to. I just wanted my van back—do you realize what that van and I have been through together? It’s family.” I sighed, peering at Gordo who hated the idea that I was consoling his woman.

“I’m sorry; I don’t know what’s gotten into Ariel lately. You know…she lost her father last year and since then things haven’t really been the same.” sniffled Pam.

“She never mentioned that. Guess that would explain why she hates Gordo here so much.” I said, throwing a glance at the whiny bastard.

“She’s had a very tough year…two years really, if you consider what happened in San Francisco.” said Pam.

“What happened in San Francisco?” I asked.

Pam looked at me with tears welling in her eyes and nearly spoke, but stopped short, shaking her head and issuing a wave of her hand, “Don’t even get me started.”

So…perhaps San Francisco had been a horror show for Ariel. It wasn’t hard to believe—there was a darkness in San Fran—much like the darkness in Ariel. Then she’d lost her old man; her world had unraveled and the sun had failed to rise—one never gets over losing a parent…one can only adapt and come to embrace in some manner, the new normal. Perhaps Ariel was still adapting.

By the time Ariel was parking my van out front of her mother’s concrete palace, I regretted trekking back to her place and waking Pam and her undeserving lover. I should have read it better…I should have caught the designs—the jagged textures of fresh emotional trauma within Ariel. Where had my powers of observation gone? Had I really become that out of touch with the basics? I pushed myself up from the railing on which I’d been leaning and strode toward my van as Ariel was fitting the gear shift into the P position.

As she did so, opened the passenger side door and eased down into the seat next to her. Throwing a confused stare my way, Ariel spoke in a wounded, malicious tone, “What, you want to lecture me before I get out?”

Glancing over my shoulder through the window I saw Pam approaching rapidly up the sidewalk with her shadow puppet in tow, “Drive.” I said. Contorting her face even further Ariel squinted at me, completely perplexed by my request, “Drive.” I repeated, this time with a grin, “Unless you want to get eaten alive by your mother and her shadow puppet.”

Ariel gave me one last glance before pulling the gear shift out of park and fitting it into Drive. She pulled away from the curb gently, leaving her mother and Gordo shrinking into the rearview darkness. The Mathew Sweet cd was still playing and for a few long minutes we didn’t say anything. After a while I turned the stereo down.

“Listen, Ariel…I have to tell you something.” I said.

“What?” she said, glancing at me as she drove carefully, her hands at 10 and 2, just as she’d doubtlessly learned from a private instruct0r Pam had hired.

“Baby, that Gordo guy is an utter fucking spaz.” I noted.

“Don’t I know it. So where are we going?” Ariel asked.

“Well, I do have the hotel room until tomorrow.” I said.

“You still want to do that?”

“We can do whatever you want. We can order pizza. We can buy a board game and a bottle from Ralphs and stay up till dawn playing it. We can find some old detective show on the tube and just hang out. Or just talk if you want. I don’t care…it’s your night.” I said.

“What did they tell you?” asked Ariel.

“Enough.” I said as the darkened Wilshire shop fronts went by my window.

 

The 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 woman 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 and utensils on occasion; that’s how at home I’d allowed him to feel in my house…never suspecting he was harboring facial herpes—and who knew what else.
“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? Are you sure it isn’t gonasyphilaids?” I asked. After all, it was hard to believe.
“Frank…” my cohort said, his perpetual grin fading a shade or two, “it very well could be…it 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, “Sounds like bad luck to me.”

“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 on her lunch break 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 Brooklyn; a neighborhood which subscribed to nothing. 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 st. 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.

Still, 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 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. 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.”

“True, but a lot lack a signature style.” I shrugged, again not seeing the mystique of clones.

“Yeah, well…you’ve got a darkness about you.” 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 and 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, that’s good for you no?”

“I’m not so sure anymore. I mean, I’ve noticed a few things and they’re 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.”

“You know what they say about men who are way, way too picky.” I chuckled.

“Come on man, don’t be a dick.” he pleaded, “Just tell me two things; first—tell me if you think the skin above her elbows is a bit wrinkled and old looking…second—do her earlobes hang down too far? Also she says she is only 29 but I notice she has these dark circles around her eyes and I think she must be older…I think its affirmative on all three counts and it’s got my dick in a sling.” he said, looking panicked.

“You actually have a dick correct?” I chuckled as I followed Hawthorne back into his tuna can basement suit.

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; looking to hook a husband, a sugar daddy…a caregiver. To me, dear reader, her earlobes looked normal—or at least normal to me. Did they hang low? Not so much…not so much at all. I felt like asking her to stand and turn around so I could inspect the coagulation of skin above her elbow knot…however, that would have been crass—hilarious but crass none the less. In regard to the circles below her pretty eyes, she looked a tad tired but nothing some R&R wouldn’t probably cure.

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 got to do.” 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 refuses to do what he’s gotta do. He’s always looking for excuses not to do what he should do.”

“Ok, now you’re just being comedic.” Hawthorne chimed in, hoping to hell I wouldn’t disclose his dilemma.

“Listen, I got to be honest. Hawthorne here called me over to his fine abode tonight to gauge the bunching of flesh above your elbows…he also voiced his concern that your earlobes hang too low and he suspects you may be older than you are admitting because of the dark circles around your eyes.” I explained, glancing to Hawthorne who was frozen in a grinning wince of shock, “I think he’s mad though…you’re a looker.”

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 an intense expression of hurt; she stormed out, surprisingly bidding me farewell and voicing her appreciation for my honesty—people love honesty when it benefits them—otherwise they all want lies and deceit. 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. 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 completely viable piece of ass slip through his fingers—I’d offered him the perfect chance to win her back in cinematic fashion—but he’d let it slip away…not an ounce of romance left in him.

At least he could have pled bullshit; citing falsely my penchant for shit-kickery and illusory remarks. He could have chased her down and come clean—explaining the various issues that drove his pursuit of physical perfection in a date and insisted that, on the contrary—he found her exquisite—right there in the street. 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, focusing on what he deemed as her many faults.

“It’s better that she left—I just couldn’t stand looking at those earlobes of hers—and those elbows man; they were like Kentucky Fried Chicken.” He quietly confessed.

After a twenty minute lecture from Hawthorne on the importance of solidarity among cohorts, 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 100 year 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.” He added sadly, setting down his burger and peering with a forlorn gaze through the window.
I give you this illustration because, from this pocket of conversation, the old boy had somehow found yet again, another way to merge back into the reoccurring topic of Lacey…his ex-girlfriend turned arch nemesis, who had taken to jumping from boy-toy to boy-toy after gifting Hawthorne with rashes, urinary tract infections and cold sores, then leaving him high and dry to pick up the pieces. And I tell you dear reader that Hawthorne was a master at segueing back into the topic of Lacey. He could relate any subject back to her…NAFTA, the invention of the wheel, mosquito transferred malaria, global warming, diet soft drinks, Nelson Mandela, ancient aliens—these are just a few of the subjects he’d managed to segue back into Lacey.
This instance was no different. He pulled his anguish, still entangled in vessels and sinew, from the center of his chest…so it pulsated in his hand—this unwarranted preoccupation with a woman who didn’t deserve even an ounce of it. Still, the old chap was in a terrible state over this woman who’d doubtlessly used him as a bandage over her perpetual loneliness. It would have been an Elizabethan tragedy if not for the VD.

After having had the situation explained to me in great detail several times; I’d come to the conclusion that Lacey had been hurt by a man in her past. One from which she’d never recovered. This romantic death was the catalyst that had volleyed her into a life of lies and deceit, multiple partners, infidelities and inevitably the garnering of several STDs—which I might add, she seemed to pass onto her lovers willingly and with a cavalier disposition; as if she were getting back at all men for the sake of one—the one who’d hurt her. In short—Hawthorne was in over his head.

It was a simple solve, but not to Hawthorne. He perpetually contemplated her whereabouts and romantic entanglements and inevitably, he became a deflated mess—a shell of the man he once was. He’d lie on his pleather couch in fetal position whimpering in anguish…perhaps feeling she’d not given him his fair share—perhaps feeling it was unfair that she hadn’t infected him with even more diseases—or perhaps inflicted her with his demon spawn; an unwanted pregnancy.

“I’ll never meet another woman who did it for me like Lacey did.” 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.

“What does that mean?” he inquired.

“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. And you know something; Lacey had this crooked tooth…one of her canines protruded a bit and it always threw me for a loop. Somehow the rest of her was so hot though that I could convince myself it wasn’t really there…as if it were an optical illusion. I could find an escort who had perfect teeth to match and that might very well set some new records.” 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 cunt…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.

Now 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 Bardot. 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—in case he might catch glimpse of Lacey—the unicorn girl. After all, we all lived in the same sector…Marpole; which subscribed to zero pretenses…zero facades. It was real life. It was also Lacey’s neighborhood and indeed and Hawthorne was prone to running into her—though I lived in the same neighborhood and never saw her ever. I was convinced that Hawthorne invited his coincidental encounters with his unicorn girl…and what’s perhaps worst about his predicament is that Lacey—being the kind of ex-girlfriend she was…or at least the kind of ex-girlfriend I’d been told she was—would most likely relish his misery.

“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 ‘So good’ 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 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—that were now prone to cold sores.

“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…and that was Hawthorne.

When I got home I heard my phone vibrating on the counter top. I assumed it was Hawthorne calling to analyze what was about to happen; he lived to over analyze things.

“Wow, you’re up early.” said Nancy, hers was a raspy voice…there was something firm in her, but still, her emotions were a spark setting more fires than not.

“Come now dear girl—I’ve already made it to the market for rotten oranges today.” I said in my best O’toole.

“Gross.” she said, quietly, “Can you come and meet me?”

“You’re in town?”

Duh…I have a meeting at the G.H. Parsons building and-”

“For what?” I interrupted, “A meeting for what?”

“For my work silly; I have to hang around with these stupid ass people all day and pretend to enjoy their company. Smile and say cheese and most importantly get shit faced.”

“Sounds brutal…”

“Yes…ignorance is bliss.”

“I wonder if it is.” I mused, considering the possibility.

“Come meet me.”

“I shouldn’t…I don’t want to start up any of our usual shit…I was doing just fine without you—swimmingly in fact.”

“Shut up—you’re meeting me.”

“Fine, but no snares or trip wires Nancy—I swear…I’ll walk out the second I see…”

You won’t…La Moulette…one hour.” she said before clicking off.

Knowing it was a deplorable notion; I met Nancy an hour later, in the specified spot and found that she wasn’t alone. Her sister Cindy was with her and the two were already drunk and starting to abuse the patrons, silently and with only malicious, miserable glances…

“Look at that one…looks like his mother smoked crack when she was pregnant with him.” Sneered Cindy, casting the most wrinkly, miserable scowl toward one of the bartenders, who I must admit, did appear to be suffering from one drug related syndrome or another.

“Oh my god Cindy…he’s an alien.”

“They’re all so hip in here…they’re all so funky.” Chuckled Cindy.

“Too funky for me.” said Nancy, sipping from her glass…indeed in the light of day, which I hadn’t seen her in for years (being that we were both creatures of the night) it was clear that age was catching up with her; too many G and T’s, too many paid for vacations under the Mexico sun…too many lines and too many bitter break ups.

She had lived large, using men for their resources, falling in love only once and into obsession too many times to count…she had ruined many men…and had mastered this skill to a point where it became an automatic reflex to plan the destruction of a man’s psyche—perhaps subconsciously…deep in her core, she hated men…she despised their weakness for her…their willingness to blindly adore her.

What’s more; she expected it…and took prisoners here and there to keep her company. Nancy was a knock out…or least had been at one point…and to her, men were drawn, knowing full well that in some small way, she would ruin them. She moved into their domain and turned things over…smashed things without a thought of the consequences…then she moved out. Adding insult to injury was the fact that Nancy was, in the end, a total prude in the sack; which was the perfect punchline to an awful joke.

In my case, she’d become too comfortable in my unruly kingdom and had chosen not to leave it, though I’d begged her to—she chose to stay and complicate my life…perhaps because her father didn’t like me—perhaps because I was different from the daft, barbered rest of them—perhaps because I never tried to figure out all of her bullshit. Deep down I wished she would have moved on once and for all and left me alone…but she didn’t…and we’d took turns obsessing over each other until she’d finally moved to a city on the opposite side of the country. Indeed, it had been our habit to move in and out of synch…falling in and out of each other at the most inconvenient of times—doomed from the start…a bloody mess—an experience that rendered Nancy in the annals of my personal history as the coldest woman I’d ever known.

You see, I’d realized finally that getting too close to Nancy was dangerous and so I kept my distance…and had stayed off her radar. Indeed we hadn’t spoken for years…but something remained…how had it survived? The truth is that it hadn’t. The truth of the matter is that this time Nancy didn’t want back into my unruly kingdom…in fact she was a damaged mess…all broken up inside like bag of shattered glass; it was hard to believe.

As I sat across from her sipping an Appleton’s and root beer , after her sister had left us alone and had gone to her night class, I watched Nancy unfold, bringing herself to tears over the mere mention of a man’s name. A man who she had finally loved…the man she had planned to marry…it didn’t sound like Nancy at all…in fact; I had no idea at that point who I was conversing with—it was all too surreal.

She reiterated the macabre tale in between large gulps of her wine. This man who she’d finally loved had been high altitude hiking with his friends in the BC interior—he’d stepped on a loose rock and had lost his footing. He’d fallen over the cliff down into the ravine—he’d died instantly. “He died instantly.” She repeated, as if this was an important point that perhaps made then entire scenario less tragic. These were high karmic stakes and she knew it as well as I did.

I watched Nancy break down again in tears, vowing that she was no good from the start, including me in her long list of men whom she’d haphazardly fucked over. Seeing her in such a weakened emotional condition was more surreal than it was macabre…the old Nancy was gone and had been replaced by this new, shattered one; a stranger.

I sat there watching her sob uncontrollably…seeing this side of her for the first time. My initial instinct was to take the seat beside her and squeeze her close—tell her she wasn’t alone and that she would eventually heal—however, my sensibilities wouldn’t allow it. As Nancy was never without an angle; I simply could not trust the she wouldn’t exploit my show of sympathy—she’d painted herself into a corner with me.

“It was my fault…he wanted me to go and I’d stayed at the camp…I stayed at the camp to make out with one of his friends.”

“Oh boy…” I sighed, realizing her issue.

“I know…I made it happen…by being such a…who I am…who I’ve always been and who I’ll always be.” said Nancy, dabbing at the corners of her eyes with a folded napkin.

“Listen, it wasn’t your fault.” I finally said when the couple at a neighboring table started to stare.

“Yes. Yes it was.” she said, “Why did God take him from me?” she sobbed–this was getting heavy.

“Listen Nancy, calm down. You expect me to explain God’s plan to you? I don’t even know how my TV works. You’ll never make sense of it…so it’s best for you to stop trying to understand the why.” I said not knowing how else to answer the question, “You shouldn’t be drinking though…especially now.”

“Fuck now…” she croaked, leaning back her head and draining her glass.

As she did this I noticed, behind a long, shoulder-high wooden divider near the entrance of La Moulette, a familiar face scanning the place…there was a line up at the door and Danielle was in it, scanning the room for a friend or two. I couldn’t see the rest of her below her head but imagined her regular pose, hands folded, interlocking her fingers, red nails, tight jeans torn in the knees and her snug fitting leather jacket. I imagined the transparent stone hanging around her neck between her deep, white cleavage.

Noticing me noticing Danielle, Nancy scowled at me.

“Hey, I’m right here. Okay…right in front of you.” she said, pulling suddenly out of her fit of sobbing with a fiery glare.

“I know that.”

“Then why are you not listening to me and instead watching that blonde hipster chick at the door?”

“I wouldn’t call her that exactly…but I’m listening go on…” I said, realizing that I hadn’t heard a word.

As Nancy went on, Danielle sauntered over with a large pretty smile…teardrop earrings…green eye shadow—there was a Debbie Harry hotness to her and a matching mildness that put me immediately at east.

“Hey Frank. I didn’t know you came here.” She said, taking inventory of Nancy.

“I don’t usually.” I admitted.

“There are better places, but I like the art on the walls in here.” She smiled and it made me think of all the places I could take Danielle…but in fact I was stuck with Nancy–who had nearly become, by that point, Joan Collins.

“Aren’t you going to introduce?” asked Nancy.

“Nancy, Danielle—Danielle, Nancy…” I said absently.

Nancy’s phone started to ring just then and rather than answer immediately, Nancy gave pause, reading the number and contemplating her game plan—old habits die hard. Eventually though she answered. As she spoke in a hushed tone to whoever it was on the other end; Danielle slid down into the chair next to me.

“I read your letter.” said Danielle.

“Good. Did it mean anything to you?” I asked.

“It meant a lot.” Danielle said.

“About the other night…” I said, prepared to volley into an elaborate explanation.

“It’s cool…let’s meet later and talk.”

I just looked at her.

“Is that cool?” she asked.

“Is what cool?”

“That we meet later…” she said.

“Sure.” I said.

“God.” Nancy said rolling her eyes after hanging up her phone. Though I’d not been listening to her conversation, it was apparent that she’d been arguing with someone, “This guy is starting to get annoying. That’s the sixth time he’s called me this afternoon.”

“Why does he keep calling you?” I asked.

“Because I’d had his car for like, three weeks already,” she giggled, “I’m terrible.”

“You probably are.” I agreed.

“I don’t understand…did he lend you the car?” asked Danielle.

“He wouldn’t let me leave his place one night…he kept begging me to stay…he was drunk and he sat on the floor in front of the door…so I had to stay there listening to him whining. When he passed out, I took his keys and left him there. It’s a Jag…I can’t give it back right away.” Nancy giggled.

“Be careful—he could call that in as grand theft.” I warned.

“He won’t.”

“He might.” I said.

“Trust me…he won’t.”

“Same old Nancy.” I said.

“Hey, fuck you Nero—you have no idea how needy and annoying this guy is. What the hell are you saying?”

“I’m saying that maybe you should stop fucking with people.”

“Oh, I’m fucking with people? Hey Nero,” she said, leaning in, her boozy flirtatious mother showing through in her, “I don’t think you oughta talk about fucking with people…you’re the one who builds these little instances…these totally retarded situations with people…I don’t know…I think it’s funny. You’re a funny guy. You’ve always made me laugh…but you ought to learn when to shut the fuck up.” Nancy said, breaking out into laughter.

“No problem.” I grinned and held up my palms as if in surrender—it was her life and she wasn’t my headache anymore; she was someone else’s.