THG 3 – Ch 13 – Don’t Talk to the Whores

Most of this is in here elsewhere, but here it is, straight out of Scivener, unedited for short story consumption –

Easter Sunday 1979 / Albuquerque – Las Vegas

Jackson had a knack for filling the Taco Bell with people. He changed the Muzak channel to something resembling FM radio, turned it up, jived. Set up impromptu dance and sing along giveaways, made happy customers. But he gave as much Taco Bell away to hungry students with the late night munchies as he sold. A grand humanitarian effort that got him fired in the middle of April, Good Friday the thirteenth.

He stopped to say goodbye to his roomies, left them his second half of the month’s rent. Génene asked why he had to leave, he was such a good listener. He shrugged, told her it was time he put himself closer to L.A. He couldn’t tell her when Carmel walked straight into her bedroom leading a grad instructor at least ten years older than all of them it hit him a lot harder than he expected.

He should have told Carmel thanks, and goodbye, but he couldn’t drop his baggage on her, either, and couldn’t lie. He knew she’d be sitting on the small fenced porch tomorrow afternoon, looking to talk to him about the failure of the educational system for young children while she petted the black lab mix that was fatter, and lived better walking the student housing than most dogs with homes. Thinking of her juxtaposed that way, between the tweedy poser and the bright, tuned-in girl he knew, forced him to look deep for the phenomenon in the first years of college that killed romance. For what made intimacy a string of offhand, often leveraged sexual commerce one-hit wonders. Whatever it was, it seemed to be universal. With Deanna in England, probably doing the same things as his roomies, he’d seen all he needed to see and it was time to change scenery.


Jackson rolled into the east side of Vegas on Easter Sunday, and out the corner of his eye caught “Peeno Player Wanted” on the marquee of a shit-hole Turquoise and rust motel called the Sea Wind. He pulled a U-turn on the two lane asphalt and skidded into the parking lot. The same sign, on laminated pink construction paper, was stuck on the window of the motel office. He grabbed it, banged the bent aluminum framed screen door open and offered the sign to a swarthy bearded guy in a sweat stained white shirt who ignored it, and him.

“Peeno player is me.”

“Yeah?” Swarthy gave Jackson’s hair a frown. “When this was?”

“I tried it once. Liked it. It’s my destiny.”

“Funny guy. You know songs people like? Last guy want to be Elvis. All time with the rollin rockin and everybody is babb-ee babb-ee babb-ee.”

“I thought being Elvis was mandatory in Las Vegas.”

“Maybe, babb-ee.” He squinted a little tighter at Jackson. “Me? I don’t like so much.”

“This is your lucky day because I don’t sing or do sing along.”

“Is good day for you, too, funny hairy guy because I think I’m liking you more, now. You have better clothes?”

“Like yours?”

Swarthy man raised one eyebrow like he’d practiced it a thousand times. “Peeno player only. Everywhere in Vegas?” He swept a thick, hairy arm in a wide arc, leaned over the counter into Jackson’s face, “I can find asshole who wants to be comedian.”

He showed Jackson some gold dental work, snatched the sign away from him and stuffed it in a wire basket full of paper. “I show you the place.” He flipped up the hinged counter, grabbed Jackson’s shoulder and turned him around. “First. Don’t talk to the whores. They waste your time to stay inside better air conditioner when should be working. You want to fuck one you pay the same for a room as anybody. If you cheapskate on me don’t fuck in your car where customer can see or they all start to do it. Shit happens that way I go broke in big hurry.” He pointed out the piano in a dim corner of a bar lit with red bulbs. “No blowjobs from under piano. Last guy banged hooker’s head on bottom, cost twelve stitches and too much shit to me and too much talk to cops. Play what you want. Until customers ache their bellies to me and I fire you.” He turned, put a hairy finger almost on Jackson’s nose. “Don’t never play along with jukebox like Elvis guy.” He put on a pained face and silent scream and with both hands over his ears he tilted his head side to side. “Same shit different ways gives me headache,” he held his hands open wide around his head, “this fucking big.”

“When do I start?”

“When you put on long pants. And socks. You can wear bow tie, no shirt, I don’t care. But long pants. And socks.” Swarthy held out a foot clad in a black sock, encased in a Mexican Bazaar tire tread sandal that Jackson figured for a Sea Wind fashion statement.

“Right. Bow tie, long pants. Socks.”

“Good boy! Maybe you get hair cut sometime.” He lumbered back toward the office where two hookers stood in front of the door arguing over a room key that kept changing hands and left Jackson in the doorway between mildewed cool and the desert. From the Regent to the Sea Wind. But it wasn’t Taco Bell, and he wasn’t dead. And he could play piano for the first time in four months.

The Sea Wind sat right on the east edge of Vegas and the desert, so close the far north end of the parking lot faded into sand. It was a “plus tips” gig, and there weren’t many, and most of those were so he’d stop so someone could play the jukebox. The door was always open because the air conditioner was half-dead, flush the urinal in the men’s room and the plumbing groaned the soundtrack for The Exorcist and finished with metal pipes thumping a Latin beat on sheetrock.

The housekeepers called it the Hot Wind, Jackson called it the Breaking Wind. The lobby smelled a little like vomit, the tiny casino smelled a lot like cat pee, and he learned there was a stabbing every weekend. Usually on Saturday night. Usually in the doorway to the lobby. Usually about somebody not paying somebody else for something they shouldn’t have been doing in the first place. They wanted to charge him more to stay in a room than he was making, so for a week he slept in his car at the end of the lot where the sand started.


He drove around on his second Sunday in Vegas, looking for gas. He pulled into the Lucky Lady, an ancient gray brick Mobil station, because of the giant, metal sign featuring a Nineteen Forties cheesecake pin-up girl sitting on an oil can. He made friends with a guy named Michael who said he ran the ancient rust and cinder block station for his “lost inside his own mind Grampa.” They talked, drank a couple of almost frozen Nehi strawberry sodas from a cooler, moved on to beer.

Michael heard Jackson out, told him he could park his car inside and sleep in the service bay. Jackson took cold showers in the blue and white tiled men’s room with a garden hose and hosed it down when he was done. Every now and then at the Sea Wind he could get into a room before housekeeping and take a hot shower, even though he was a little leery of what might be living in the plumbing. He shaved in the ladies room at the Mobil because it had a real mirror instead of the piece of bent chrome in the men’s room that made him look like one of those pictures of a kid, or a dog, that was all nose. Michael’s hospitality was Spartan but manageable. He was a little older than Jackson and had his own heartbreak story, and he was the first person to ever cast doubt on Jackson’s manhood.

Michael popped the kitchen match to life with his thumbnail. “She just got tired of you, man. She didn’t want to hurt you, you know.” He lit the joint, hit it solid but not too deep. “Didn’t want to call you pencil dick or nothin’. You were probably just a crummy piece of ass, girl had to roam.”

Jackson hadn’t considered that. Didn’t want to, either. “Man, I’ve known girls who knew how to fuck. Crazy ass sex girls that ran me through the Kama Sutra and a couple of other books full of ideas. I never had any complaints before.”

“You ever ask her?”


“Should have. Me, too, on that should have. We were engaged. She was a first-year third grade teacher, right here in Vegas. I came home and found a note on a Friday night sayin’ she’d run off with a textbook salesman from Baton Rouge.”

“If it’ll make you feel any better my dad used to say ‘There’s hell, and then there’s Houston. If the devil thinks you’re a miserable son of a bitch, there’s Louisiana.’”

“Never been anywhere but the desert myself. I hope she hates it. I used to hope he beat her, and if she came back? No more Mr. Nice Guy. But I couldn’t, you know, beat her or nothin’. Now I just hope she’s happy. Not too happy. Like his dick falls off and he can’t screw unhappy.”

“She tell you why she left, call you a pencil dick?”

“No. The note was the last of it.”

“‘Later, fool’ is a cold shot. You find a new girlfriend yet?”

“Nah. Hard to find one, even to have time to clean up and go lookin’. They got all the pussy, hold all the cards, man. Maybe Cinderella will pull in here one day, need a tank of unleaded and a self-service grease monkey.” He frowned, killed the joint between his thumb and middle finger. “Snowball’s chance in Vegas of that shit.”


Jackson couldn’t stop thinking about what Michael had said. Maybe he was useless, that way. Maybe if he’d tried some things on Deanna. Maybe some of what that girl welder and her Kama Sutra book and waterbed thought was fun, or some of Monica the waitress’s gymnastic sexual circus madness, Deanna might still be around. She made lots of noise all the time, though. The apartment neighbors would complain or beat on the wall, particularly on Sunday afternoons. Maybe it was just this Michael guy’s weed fucking with him. It didn’t work. He pulled the quilt out of his trunk, pulled out the bolt that held his passenger seat up, dropped it and passed out.

He dreamed, fitfully, of all the things he should have done with Deanna that she had someone else doing now. All of them laughing about him, how inept he was, what kind of pussy whipped idiot he’d been. She’d grabbed both sides of his face and pulled his head up. “Now,” she’d whispered through a kiss, before she pushed his face away to look at him. “Before I give you all of me, promise me you’ll love me forever. Please?” What a load of it.

At three in the morning he gave up on sleep, raised the service bay door and ran tepid water from the hose over his head. For lack of anything better to do he rotated his tires by hand under a sliver of moon that dared the puddles in the drive to last till daybreak.

THG 3 – Ch 11 – Good Friday

Like Deanna’s first gymnastics class, like her first swim lesson from her brother, Cambridge was another lesson in “Jump!” Totally immersive, pray to land upright or come up for air. She didn’t have time to breathe. An overloaded schedule, overlapping classes. An average week could be between 800 and 1,200 pages, sometimes more. There were no weekends, only days where the food was different. There was no conversation with her classmates or flat mates about anything but what happened in class, was happening in class, what needed doing for class that could be put off and exchanged for sleep. Her personal life had come to a standstill except for the tapes she kept playing in her head of better times.

She’d discovered early that being belligerent or cocky or profane trying to direct the constantly present study advisers, study assistants, monitored discussion groups and peculiar, eccentric lecturers did no good. It wasted time none of them had and pissed everyone off. The only time she could manufacture for herself was when she ditched the inter-college weekend brunch bonding at Newnham. She studied then, too. Between classes and study sessions, between passing out and waking up she wished she’d hear more from Jackson than a rose and a cryptic note. It didn’t matter now how he’d been when she’d told him she was leaving, all that mattered was that he was still there. Maybe she had it coming, being ignored, maybe not. Yeah, it had been wrong, all of it, for a long time, and now every day it felt like what she’d paid for what she’d thrown herself into had come at too high a price.

Her letters from February had told him the truth of how she felt, sort of. And they begged, a lot, for him to understand and not abandon her. To wait for her. The memory of him had become her light at the end of the endless tunnel of Cambridge, his picture on her dresser her lighthouse in the cold, foggy nights.

Both of her letters to Jackson boomeranged back to her letter drop on the same day, Friday the thirteenth. Good Friday. Beat up, torn, dirty, unopened and unread. Undeliverable as Addressed, No Forwarding Order, Addressee Unknown.

After several minutes staring at the cold mist outside the window, the pain in her stomach doubled her over, her head banged on the table. She sat up, arched and leaned her head back against the pain in her stomach before she ransacked her purse for any folding money and ran outside in the drizzle wrapped 43 degree evening. No coat, no scarf. No hope. A perfect target.

She banged the door of “Little Red,” a small, bright red pub that had been stuck on the side of a building at the end of a block as an afterthought a hundred years ago. It’s real name was The Red Door, a nod to the die-hard Rolling Stones fan owner who hoped one day Mick Jagger would drop by and ask him to paint it black.

She walked to the bar hugging herself, dropped the wad of bills and pushed them at the stout, furry barman. “Beer.”

“I’ve one in six of a prop —”

“Strong. A strong one. A boiler whatsit.”

“Boilermaker for the Yank,” came from behind her. Deanna turned, saw a tallish rake handle thin guy. Ridiculously tight, pegged black jeans and and a deep green jacket. He was grinning. He raised his chin at the barman. “Go on, then,” he tilted his head at the wad of bills. “Her money’s good.”

Furry the Barman wiped out a glass, said, “You and that lot with you, take your brand of shit outside.”

“No, he’s right.” Deanna tapped her pile of notes. “Boilermaker. I remember now.”

“Mmm.” The barman pulled her a headless dark ale, splashed a shot glass full of whiskey, set them in front of her.

Deanna rarely drank. It wasn’t that she was opposed, she never developed a tolerance. She stared at the two glasses in front of her. “Jackson used to say I had a two beer projectile return policy. It came standard with anything I’d eaten the same day. Well…Fuck him.” She dropped the shot glass in the thick black ale, slammed it down, coughed and came close to bringing it back up.

“Again,” Green Jacket directed.

Barman eyed Green Jacket off. “Give that one time. As we’ve come to know, you and Cat are…connected, so —”

“Like Velcro.”

“Look,” Furry’s glare went hard, “keep your mates shut or all of you, get out.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Green jacket waved his crew outside.

Barman scooped the beer glass, wiped up the beer displaced by the shot glass. “Maybe you should call her? Yeah? Cat? Get her around –”

“No.” She smacked the pile of bills. “Another. Please?”

“Take your money and go home.” Looking past her he’d taken note of Green Jacket’s sneer. “While you can still walk and find it.”

“Be a mate, Percy. Give her what she wants.” Deanna turned, Green Jacket’s grin was more expansive. Or maybe…The glasses were in front of her again, the beer  short to accommodate the shot glass. She slammed it with less effort and only a slight coughing fit. One more and head spinning she went outside to give them all back to the mist slicked street. Green Jacket and friends watched her stagger and barf and stagger and handed her a bottled beer. Two more bottles appeared and they egged her on to drink and keep them down.

They assisted by heaving her up on the lone picnic table on the tiny pub patio. One held her head down with one hand so she had to choke the beer barf back or drown in it, flailed his dick across her face, in her “lovely” hair with his other. One on either side pulled her sweater and bra up, held her torso down, kissed and bit her in crosshatch motions like eating corn on the cob, another fumbled with her belt while Green Jacket laughed, offered commentary, told her how it would be better for everyone if she’d just calm down. The one on her belt had given up kissing her stomach and pulling her belt with his teeth, pulled his hand from where he’d been randomly squeezing between her legs like what was inside her jeans was a gripe exerciser, and tried to pin her thighs to the end of the table with his elbows while he worked her belt with his hands.

She drunkenly kicked at him and burbled out “no” between bursts of choking beer barf. The two on her upper body laughed and dodged it, Green Jacket upped the pacing to a nervous dance around her, drinking from one bottle and holding another.

“Are ya always this much fun at a party, love? Ohhhh ho, not another.” He’d dodge, laugh and pinch her nose when she coughed up beer.

“Will ya have a shit an’ a piss for us as well, eh?” Green Jacket pinched her nose again, poured more beer down her, all over her face, laughed louder when it came foaming out her nose when he released it.

“Get her bloody belt off, you clumsy fuck.” He poured the end of the beer in her face, hoping more beer might slow her down, or make his drunken friend more agile. “Come on, mate, I want a bit of a scream before she goes.” He handed his remaining beer to the left tit man and reached in to help with the narrow, double tongue belt that was impeding access to what he was after.


Cat and Merriam arrived at the flat, found their door unlocked, the returned letters and the contents of Deanna’s purse scattered on the table and floor, her coat still on the rack. Merriam checked her watch, hunched back into the coat she had started to shed.

“Half an hour or less since the post, Cat. These,” she held up the letters, “never made it to the lad on the dresser.”

“We didn’t take her to raise, Meri. She’s not the first or the —”

“No, but if it was one of us she’d come along at a run.”

Cat leaned her head back, stared at the ceiling for a long five seconds. “Get her coat. The Red Door’s all she knows of where to drown a sorrow.” She shrugged back into her coat as well. “Couldn’t have had a mathematician instead of a dreamy-eyed poet, could we.”

They heard the noise from the patio when they rounded the corner, Cat stepped through the metal gate, pepper spray blazing. The party director and his clumsy, hard humping belt klutz and the tit man facing them took the worst of it. They all bolted, screaming, arms over their faces.

With the party boys gone Deanna convulsed onto her side heaving and wheezing. They pulled a her up to seated on the darkened table, yanked her bra and sweater down, arranged their contents as best they could while dodging whatever she was draining from her nose and spitting out. The top button on her jeans was gone, her double tongue belt still intact. It took them a few minutes to find her missing shoe.

Merriam swiped a fistful of paper towels across Deanna’s waist, ran them across the belt line of her jeans. “Look at the bloody mess of her.”

“The belt’s what saved her, him at it that way Couldn’t get to it so in or out he was having his.” Cat made a face, lifted Deanna’s shirt tail with the tips of a finger and thumb. “It’s still all over her belt, her belly. Was it out, did you see?”

“I wasn’t having a look for it but the mess says it was.” Merriam dropped the wad of paper, kicked it away, grabbed another from the table top dispenser she’d found on the ground while looking for the shoe. “I saw the lad was on her other end tucking as he ran.”

“Tempest on the trousers then for the one down here. Lucky for her he couldn’t think through two things at once with his little head. Give us a hand, love.” They each grabbed an arm, slid Deanna off the table and onto her feet. “That’s the girl, up we go. Mind your feet, Deeeee…Oh bloody hell…I’d stay out from in front of her, Merriam.”

Random NVDT – Writerly Concerns #12


I like the sound of that word. What it represents. Not all words are like that. How does precision, a very direct and precise word apply to something like writing that can appear from the outside to be playing Legos with words? Choices. We have thousands of word choices. Every character, every scene, every dialogue. Nuance words. BAM words. Words that economize, words that billow out and take up space. Words that define, words that obfuscate, words that lead. Making the choices, that’s the hardest part. Because I can throw down draft as it runs through my head and get close. But then? The work starts.

First, I’ll abuse myself. In THG 3.7 a good deal of word time was spent on describing the flat. I had a reason, a couple of choices, made one that will still work once pared down. The reasoning was “see it through the character.” She lives there, not me. I got busted for that by an editor once. Here it is –

Deanna issued a sleepy snuffle sob, rolled out of a fetal position on her bed, hit the floor on all fours. She dropped her forehead into the shades-of-pink shag carpet in her bedroom, felt a small, cool, bony hand between her shoulder blades.

“Gramma Cora? How long have you –”

The editorial comment was “Why do we have to feel this through Deanna? Why not direct action?”

Consider this. A big shot editor bought into my characters early on, not far from here, and instead of reading the first 20 pages and sending me a quote she read it all. This is a touchy-feely scene. I intentionally put the experience through the character. Now, a professional someone, who bought into it for the very reason of investment in the character wants to hit the equation button and suggest destroying intimacy with the character. Huh? Based on what? A Rule? Something more precise? Precision is how we sculpt our characters and our work, not a formula.

The Hard-Boiled school cuts to the chase. That is not an imperative, even inside the genre, because they can hit the detail switch when needed. Even then, the good ones do it so well you are sold on a character, a situation, a scene – with great economy and precision language. In THG 3.10 I tried that, just for grins, by describing a musical instrument without using any musical vernacular. And three characters with indirect descriptions or third-party information/observation.

On occasion a short string of precise language evokes exactly what you need. Watch a master do that very thing –

They came down to the marina dock in John Tuckerman’s big blue Chrysler Imperial. John Tuckerman was a sort of unofficial assistant to Hub Lawless. He didn’t seem to hold any particular office in any of Hub’s many corporations and partnerships. But he always seemed to be around, laughing, making jokes, making sure of air reservations, hotel reservations, dockage space, hanger space, and so on. They brought two young women aboard. Half the ages of Hub and Tuckerman. Tight pants and airline carry-ons. Perfume and giggles. *

We know what’s going on. We know about both men and their guests and a setup for some future action. From some very precise language. Lawless from Tuckerman’s job description (indirect). Not Jill and Jane and who they are. Perfume and giggles (direct). Later you could split them up that way, if you needed to talk to them. ‘Lieutenant Rogers took the tall, walking perfume counter and I sat down with her partner, a short redheaded professional giggler.’ Regardless. All you need is all you need when you need it.

Song lyrics can do that. Everybody’s heard this one – “A singer in a smoky room. The smell of wine and cheap perfume.”** BAM. There. Whether you’ve been there or seen it a thousand times on TV, you’re there. Precise and economical. Dylan got a Nobel Prize. Often picturesque, not always economical or precise, always a storyteller. “Tangled Up in Blue” is as easily a condition as it is a song title.

Precision language makes short work of what might be considered mundane or difficult tasks. Elmore Leonard (and Steinbeck) suggest not spending too much time describing characters. Particularly main characters. They should belong to the reader. But precision language for bit players, the nemesis, the sideshow, makes loading them into the work much easier because you don’t have to spend time getting to know them and making them work. Or even, as I have witnessed in a number of works, not bothering to give them names. Because, in a group scene, names will kill you. And overload your dialogue tags quota. If, in a scene with four or six or more people, you impose on the reader to remember six or seven names you dug up on a random name generator or researched the meaning of, it’s all gone. The reader walks, all your hard work naming someone who will get shot or eaten or carried off by a Phoenix anyway is wasted. If there are characters the reader has spent time with, use those names, and the interlopers get descriptions. Precision. It’s easier to visualize for the author AND the reader without remembering a name. I did that here, just to see. The scene is action that gets a main character off the mud and back in the game without “all hell broke loose and Mick got away.” Because what the hell kind of cop-out is that, and why read something that doesn’t take you for a ride? Boots and Boxers, Plaid Pants and Red Converses don’t need names at the point of BAM. Bottom line – Authors and readers don’t need a meet and greet on everybody involved.

I suggested in a comment elsewhere that a quick introduction scene was the perfect place to drop character nuggets without overkill. Short, tall, hairy, mercenary. Think harder, direct descriptive words as well. Mousey, fraudulent, a new favorite “shit speck,” deliberate, pensive, fawning, a rednosed walking Kleenex ad, a lip balm addict with an effected limp… uh-oh, muse attack – a contrived, prissy, arrogant and morally bankrupt man full of nothing but a theatrical impression of himself and the faintest whisper of soul. BAM. I liked that one.

Homework. Go find a character you spent too much time, or not enough time on, and give them no more than three, short and precise language lines. No adverb-ly fluff. Direct and precise. Nail them down and move on. While I go fix Deanna meets her flat.


*  Excerpted from The Empty Copper Sea © 1978 by John D. MacDonald Publishing Inc.

**  “Don’t Stop Believin’” Perry-Cain-Schon © 1981 Weed High Nightmare Music

THG 3- Ch 10 – Minor Epiphanies

Albuquerque, New Mexico / Thursday February 15, 1979

The Taco Bell sat up on a hillside not far from the University of New Mexico. Jackson gauged the steepness of the hill  and landed on indecision. Six weeks ago he would have popped the clutch, hit the hill hard and hoped all of his wheels came off the ground Smokey and the Bandit style when he cleared the top, landed, drifted and stopped before he hit the retaining wall. All he could see now was his car on its top, sliding back down the hill. He wasn’t alone. The lot was empty except for two Jeeps. The Taco Bell was in overflow, the street so jammed he had to park a block away.

He picked up his order, tried to shake off five weeks in the desert where he’d babbled to the wind before he’d moved up to horses and a big, solemn Navajo. Last night in the Motel 6 was the first time he’d seen televison in six weeks, understood why he hadn’t missed it. He stared at his enchirito, knew something needed to gel besides enchilada sauce and cheese. Quick. The hundred bucks Tony had given him wasn’t going to last long. He took a deep breath, let it go in a low, slow whoosh. He’d managed to re-acclimate to reality but his social skills were in tatters and there was no place else for him to sit. He could pace around rubbing shoulders and kicking feet saying “sorry…” while the plastic cover on his enchirito got steamier or drop into the one vacant chair in front of him, beside her. Long, straight brown hair. A lot of thin abalone, silver and turquoise bracelets and a big leather purse. And an enchirito. He dropped.

“No place else. Sorry.”

“You’re fine.” She said without looking up, checked, just to be sure. He smelled like soap, had on goofy moccasins and put out a spacey vibe, didn’t really look at her. She offered him a friendly on the cool side smile. “As long as you watch your elbows, Geronimo.”

“I do a better Tonto. Less pressure, you know?” He thumbed the lid off the enchirito and slid it under the bottom. “‘Yes, Kemosabe. Me go get horses, put out campfire’. No hero stuff required.”

She laughed. “Careful. This is Tonto Central. You must not be from —” She stopped, watched him dip his spork slowly into the enchirito, turn it in measured half-circles, each lower than the turn before until it was loaded to perfection, last turn in the cheesy sauce picking up an olive slice. She continued to watch, transfixed, as the spork traveled in slow motion to his mouth, none of it getting on the beard he needed to shape or get rid of.

“Religious experience?”

“Had one of those.” His eyes and enigmatic smile were momentarily a thousand miles away, the spork suspended in mid air. “Been living in a hogan, doing some work for a Navajo guy. Coffee, fry bread and tamales. Eggs and beans once in a while. This is manna.”

“You seriously think God gave Moses enchiritos?”

His second perfectly loaded spork blew into his tray. She immediately reached out with a handful of paper napkins and wiped it down, caught the question in his eyebrows.

“Habit. Student teaching. Primary. They stuck me in kindergarten. None of them can eat without it ending in disaster.” She reached out for round two of the cleanup. “You’re not the usual muttering vision quest vagabond type we get around here. You flunk out, lose your compass and your razor at the same time?”

“I flunked advanced girlfriend. She went to England, I took a drive.” He rubbed the beard he’d forgotten about. “I was supposed to be in school a month ago.” He lifted the reloaded spork around her stewardship of his mess.

“Took a drive?”

“Looking for Los Angeles. I turned right at Albuquerque and got lost for a month, my survival cash got hijacked. Now I need to hang for awhile. Find a job, make some traveling money.”

“Where’re you staying?”

“I just got back a couple of days ago. I can keep doing the cheap motel till I get a job or run out of money. Then I’ll —”

She dropped a roll of papers on the table, slipped the green rubber band off and flattened them into a short stack of Xeroxed ads.

Private Patio Home – Near Campus
Rent Only – Bills Paid
Personal Hygiene a MUST
UNM Preferred

He tapped the address at the bottom like it meant something. “Nice idea, but I’m more U of nowhere headed for USC.”

“Yeah. But you’re clean and not too weird and we eat the same. People call me crazy but I accept things like you landing next to me as minor epiphanies.”

The spork stalled mid flight. “I get that.”

“Good. One other girl and a guy and no weirdness ‘cause nobody’s screwing anybody. There’s two guys, actually, but one of them owns the house and he’s never there.” She turned his way, her elbow on the table. “He works construction. Sometimes.” She made the universal for crazy finger rotating by her head move. “He wants to write acid head mysteries. Like Castaneda meets Miss Marple? We pay for his house, he eats ‘shrooms and disappears for a couple of weeks. There are mountains of notebooks in the garage.”

The spork stalled again, his head turned so he could see her. “You read any of it?”

“I tried. It reads like what I think happened to you when you turned right in Quirky the first time and missed USC.”

“Maybe it’s contagious. I’d feel better if it was.”

“Don’t get high on that feeling. It’s more like stupid. The best time to say ‘no’ isn’t the next time.” She stood. “If you’re following me I…We can go to the house and I don’t have to hang these posters.”

“Sure you don’t want to audition more weirdos?”

“Seen one, seen ‘em all, right?” She held out her hand. “Carmel. Or Mel. Or Lita. Don’t ever call me Karma. Education and Philosophy.”

“You have a handful, I have one.” He took her offered hand, light squeeze. “Jackson. Front or back, either way. Story if you want it.”

“Later.” She smiled, shook her hair and picked up a key ring that had at least fifteen keys and a long, fringe-y leather thing with turquoise and silver beads hanging from it. “Lucky for me today was one and done. Génene, the other girl? She has a test tomorrow. What do you know about transportation economics?”


“You’ll be an expert by this time tomorrow.”


“Yeah. Look at me. I student teach five-year-olds. Last week I learned all about container metrics and Inland Marine insurance and more other kinds of useless information than I thought existed. I can’t believe people get into doing shit like that for a living. What about you?”

“I’m a musician.”

“Yeah?” She raised an eyebrow, shrugged her purse up. “I really can’t believe people try to do that shit for a living.”


Jackson moved in, shook hands with the house and got parked on the sofa bed in the living room. The construction worker slash acid casualty mystery writer was on the way out, heard musician and hung around for Jackson to teach him the signature intro to “Light My Fire” on an old Lowrey home organ with pearlized plastic switches and a built in duck farts and click clacks drum machine. The process and patience netted Jackson a Lawrence Welk “Here’s a nice-a waltz” sweeping theater organ rendition of “Foxy Lady” and a sizable stack of unworn clothes, close to his size. Gifts, he learned, from several of Mystical Agatha Christie’s unpopular former girlfriends who all wanted him out of overalls. And to try shirts with sleeves. The girlfriends nor their plans had taken. Their style choices of wheat and chocolate brown doubleknit “jeans” and shiny nylon pimp shirts weren’t a hit with Jackson, either, but to avoid a “karmic shift from refused treasure offerings” he waited a couple of days after Mystical Agatha disappeared before he threw them in an unsupervised Goodwill donation bin.

Jackson found his feet going from desert to town and quickly discovered that That Girl reruns and daytime TV would send his mind straight back to mush. He moved to paging through Mystical Agatha’s notebooks packed with the adventures of a sexually androgynous witch who got high, fought mythical demons and the forces of evil across rivers of time and reincarnation karma debts looking for clues to murders in the here and now. Unfortunately every time it got interesting the pages would fill up with crooked arrows and crazy hieroglyphics and sentences full of words that were letters strung together. And some of it, when it made sense, was way too big a stretch. Because Jackson had been there, and Mystic Agatha’s acid casualty flying lizards and witchy sword fights were nothing compared to the cosmic debris field Jackson had stepped off into. It wasn’t tidy. Or simple. Or anything as child’s play as good and evil sword fighting across eons.

By day eight, in a town full of real Mexican food, but a long-standing hatred for legitimate restaurant gigs, he drove back to the Taco Bell on the hill and got a simple job. Where he deliberately manufactured screw up orders that he carefully wrapped, set aside and diverted to his car on their way to the dumpster and fed them to his roommates when he got home.


The house was truly collegiate communal, internally platonic, and laid back smooth. When Jackson wasn’t at work he polished the skills that lapsed during Deanna’s fadeout. Hair dryer holder, study helper, essay proof reader. All things that helped bring him back from the edge.

Most nights they’d sit in the living room on or around Jackson’s iron-bar-in-the-middle bed-couch, pass a long, thin leprechaun pipe while they studied and talked everything from psychology, ancient literature, economics, history, political science and lip service revolution with a soundtrack of mostly late Seventies ballad-slop rock. Weekends Carmel would grill chicken, hand it off and he’d make huge versions of Mom Jean’s chicken salad with the big green peppers that were everywhere and in everything. And on occasion he got to hang out, talk, maybe burn one with and be nice to what his otherwise intelligent female roommates thought passed for a decent guy to sleep with. Their equational process for arriving at those guys he would never understand.