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?”
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 a 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 obil 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.