THG 3 – CH N/A – The Gangster, the Hooker and a Roll of Quarters

From Jackson’s vantage point on the piano bench it appeared Frankie, the “bartender” who’d hired him three months ago, knew everyone in Vegas. The big-shot gamblers, gangsters, movie stars, musicians, comedians, the “dolls.” For a barrel shaped boulder with a 24/7 five o’clock shadow he moved with an incongruous grace in a perfectly tailored tux and custom Italian loafers through the shoulder pats, two-handed handshakes, inside jokes, giggles, kisses on his cheeks or blown with a wink. It took him twenty minutes to work his way through the dense people cloud in the anteroom to the piano. He set his drink on one of the dozen or so coasters Jackson kept spread out on top, hitched his slacks up, lowered himself onto the piano bench and interlaced his fingers between his thighs.

“You been good for me, know that?” He looked around the anteroom between the lobby, restaurant and the Stiletto at the plush ‘gay-cor’ upgrades made over the last three months by Johnny’s girl Lou and Savannah the hooker. “Damn good.” Frankie drained his rocks glass full of Coke. “Lookit,” he turned his head in a slow arc. “Who’da thought you an that smart-ass whore would be the ones brought me some romance back to a corner room in Lost Wages.” He snorted, flipped Jackson’s Paul Revere ponytail. “Hippie motherfucker. Sure you wanna go?”

“No.” Jackson killed time while he kept loose track of ‘All the Things You Are.’ “But I need to amount to something besides Vegas lounge lizard and hooker houseboy.”

“Some guys, that’s their dream.” He jiggled the ice in his dead Coke, tried for the last drop while he side-eyed Jackson. “Lounge Lizard’s icing.”

“When I was fourteen or fifteen, I used to tell my mother playing piano in a whore house was my big dream. She told me not to tell her if it came true.” Jackson’s turn to hit Coke in a tall Collins glass. “So I haven’t. What’d you tell yours?”

“She run off with a Portuguese door-to-door knife sharpener, I was seven. Followed him out the door laughing, no suitcase, nothin’ in her hand but a bottle of vodka. My old man threw all her shit down the trash chute except a big stack of records. Put him sour on women for a while.” A waiter cut from male underwear model cloth glided up, replaced their Cokes and vanished.

“With two brothers, a sister, all workin’, at seven I got my houseboy job. I listened to that stack of her records while I cooked, cleaned, folded. Kept me sane. I was seventeen, figured if I had some money I could make a go of a restaurant. ‘Course everybody knew better. Laughin’, callin’ homo an shit on me. ‘Little men an queers run restaurants. Big boy like you should box.’ Since I was twelve, I hit a man he stayed down, where’s the kick for me in that? Fuck boxing, I wanted a restaurant.” He killed the new Coke.

“You should get a bigger glass.” Jackson let a passing chord hang forever before he dropped on the major 7 resolve.

“That shit there,” Johnny said, “you do that, everybody in the place is holdin’ their breath and they don’t even know it. You let it fall the whole room relaxes, wants to kiss somebody. Subliminal is what Savannah calls it. You do it on purpose. You ever get in a hurry?”

“Driving. Playing something plugs in the wall. Houseboy duty. What’d you do about the restaurant?”

“Somebody killed a friend of mine and his old man. Mindin’ their own business workin’ in their shop. For twelve lousy dollars. Had to do what had to be done. Things took off on their own after that, I never got my place. Why you been good for me. This is the place I wanted. The food’s lousy ‘less you like Savannah’s whore’s-derves, but nobody cares. I come in here and everybody’s glad to see me, see each other. Even the asshole Jews complain about everything are happy. Friendly. Like outta some movie. Good, y’know? Everybody needs a place don’t feel like sandpaper to some part of their soul.”

“You goin’ soft on me?”

“You ain’t tellin’ nobody if I am. San Francisco, Philly, Kansas City. Tulsa even, you can find places like that. Quiet, friendly, good music. All the time I’m sayin’ Vegas is a cheesy, no class fuckin’ carnival. Except here. I wasn’t scared of catchin’ somethin’ I’d kiss that whore brought me your picture.”

“Can’t sell that one. You’d kiss her in a heartbeat just to say you’d let her suck your tongue down her throat, ran off without paying her and got away with your balls.”

“Godammit…” Frank slapped high thigh, shook a little with a Santa Claus chuckle. “That’s what I’m gonna miss. You and Savannah don’t give a fuck I get pissed off at people bust my chops. So I don’t when it’s you two, and the doc says that’s good for me. The coasters tell me you expect visitors. Who you recognize in this room?”

“Nobody.”

“When you’re gone?”

“I played piano in a blind corner of an old hotel lobby. Never knew anybody. Except I might keep the one about the roof party and the guy that looked a lot like a movie star who tipped me a thousand dollars to play Grand Canyon Suite while the sun set.”

“He got drunk with a doll half his age in his lap. He ain’t gonna complain to me maybe you faked it. You and the doll both fucked him, ‘cept you kept your pants on and made two, three times what she did. Lookit, I’m not here to do memory lane with a fuckin’ hippie. People might get the wrong idea, like I’m maybe gonna miss you.” He clicked a black lacquer pen he’d pulled from inside his tux, wrote a number on the back of a coaster, slid it over in front of Jackson. “Any trouble on the way to bein’ somebody I’d still like to know,” he stood, drained Jackson’s Collins glass of Coke, looked around for a waiter. “Pick up a phone.”

***

The only word he could find for the way Savannah smelled was ‘expensive.’ He’d tried to justify that around her profession, couldn’t. It wasn’t what she did, or looked like or wore, she simply smelled like what diamonds would smell like if they had a smell. Barely there, nothing tangible he could pick out. Amanda’s hair always smelled that far off exotic way, like where magic carpets came from, Alix like a spring garden floating in through a window. Deanna…Ivory soap and lavender and a touch of Chanel. Clean. Even when she sweat. She smelled like…Deanna –

“I asked you a question.” Savannah had narrowed her eyes, knitted her brows together, pulled herself closer to him on the piano bench. “Am I dead? Disgusting? Bothering you?”

“No, no. Not…I don’t need anything.”

“Take this anyway. Don’t lose it.” She pushed an upside-down coaster with a number written on it in front of him. “In case.”

“Of?”

“In case you get lonely in La La Land.”

“I couldn’t afford –”

“You let me worry about ‘afford.’ Call, tell them you’re mine, done.”

“I thought my deal with pros was no contact. Or minimal contact. Besides, me and professional sex?”

“You’re not a houseboy anymore. And don’t go all romantic or pious on me, it’s the oldest profession for a reason. The best girlfriend in the world is one who listens like she cares, fucks your brains out and leaves. What did Frank want?”

“He gave me a coaster. Kinda like yours.”

“Yeah?” She looked over her shoulder, the twist brought her left thigh full contact with his right. His foot slipped and the piano pedal banged. “You have a problem, he’s the one to know.”

“I thought Johnny –”

“Johnny’s a puppet. He doesn’t make the PTA and apple pie people look mobbed up when they get their picture taken with him. Frank’s the man.” Her boobs brushed his arm. “God, can you imagine the Sisters of Hope selling prime geo at two-x market and trying to look angelic in their hard hats with Frank?” She stopped halfway back around, her lips an inch from his ear, breathed “What’s my name?”

“Savan-uhhhh….” He had to lean slightly to his left before her breath set his right ear on fire.

“Don’t forget it. It won’t take much of the L.A. Woman syndrome before you’ll want to use it and the number, trust me.” She tapped the coaster with a fingernail. “So when it gets that way, pick up a phone.”

“That’s what Frankie said.” He dropped his voice about two octaves. “Pick up a phone”

“Yeah?” She turned all the way back, put out a cigarette in the piano top ashtray with her left hand, let her right fall on his thigh. “Well, it’s a good thing you didn’t have that roll of quarters in your pocket when I sat down, babe, or I’d be worried about you two. Silly me,” She slid off the bench, leaned down and planted a bright red lipstick tattoo on his cheek. “For a minute there I thought you weren’t paying any attention.”

I must have 15 different ways in the can to get Jackson out of Vegas. Thoughtful, touchy feely, philosophical head time. This one cuts to the chase before he packs his car. It could have been considerably more elaborate, based on what I’ve read lately form some best sellers, but it gets where it needs to be and nobody has to have tags to show who they are, or how they’re feeling. I think…

 

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Hugger Orange

“Fuck…” Jackson planted his left foot, palms flat on either side of his gas cap, stepped into the push. “You sure the brake’s off, it’s out of gear?”

Dash leaned against the open driver’s-side door, flicked sweat off the end of his nose. “Tasks such as this are why auto-mobiles and I are currently at odds.”

“Fuck.”

“You ’bout in desperate need of a more di-verse and entertaining dialog. ‘Nother half a block, all we need.”

“You said that two, three blocks ago. Why the hell did we go to Venice Beach anyway?”

“I painted you a verbal picture of mustachioed muscle men in mi-nute elastic panties and beautiful women on roller skates in far less. You were overcome with a need to see those wonders for yourself. I was obliged to accompany, you a stranger in a strange land and all.”

“Fuck…”

“Must I admonish you further?”

“Whose idea was Ripple or whatever that was we put in the radiator?”

“The mixture of ‘whatever’ be a varietal blend of leftover fluids found in the Venice trash, and was installed under decree by committee. We come close to makin’ it, though.”

“Said the Titanic to the iceberg.”

“See what you come out with, you think on it?”

***

Jackson backed out of the passenger door of his dead ride with a shopping bag full of six years of console, under seat, trunk and glove box junk. He stepped away a few feet, took it in. All the memories. All the bullshit. There was still a quarter of a tank of gas in it. All he needed was a match.

“Somethin’ on your mind, Casper? I perceive a vibe that bodes ill for this sad piece of industrial sculpture.”

“Maybe we get a keg, throw a block party with a bonfire.”

“Block party in El Lay always a winning proposal. Famous bands and topless women a given. But an auto-motive bonfire spells R-I-O-T to the po-leece. We be fingerprinted and on Channel Seven ‘fore the fire’s out.”

“Fuck.”

“There you go again.”

“I can’t afford to fix it.”

“Don’t want to afford to fix it. Howsome ever,” Dash turned his palm up in a game show model’s ‘here’s your new washer and dryer’ move. “Even in its current immobile state ride still looks cock. If you will allow me to speak on your behalf with a brother I know who specializes in vee-hicular transactions I might persuade him to offer you a modest amount of cash or functional in-kind trade for your lifeless possession.”

“You have a friend who deals in dead cars?”

All kinds of cars. Magic is afoot in East Compton, my brother. Buster put a black Jag-u-ar in one end and a red Lincoln pops out the other. Same may be said of dead or damaged in, alive and well out. Shined all the hell up and runnin’? This’ll be seriously ripe for a low down and payments guaranteed to last longer than Star Trek reruns. Buster will perceive, as I do, that a Messican or pimply-assed kid will think their dick grew three inches they find themselves behind the wheel of this aww-toe.”

“He’ll keep it the same color? I’d hate to —”

“Output color depends entirely on condition and Buster’s means of acquisition. It’s legal and wrinkle free. Only his feelings on Day-Glo Orange come into play.”

Hugger Orange.”

“Nigger, please. A rose by any other name, we understand each other?”

***

Jackson followed Dash down from the wrecker cab in a swirl of east Compton dust. Dash took a fistful of cash from a tall, skinny kid with red eyes and an eighteen inch ‘fro, disappeared through a heavy, steel-clad door. A few long minutes passed and from the minor sea of Quonset huts and rutted gravel a primer coated 1964 Impala SS with shiny bumpers, pimp wheels and zero trim pulled up purring smooth and low like a fat cat in a circle of sunshine. A sweaty, wiry gray-haired black man in grease stained pin-stripe overalls stepped out, leaving a hint of Bay Rum and an old time barbershop in his wake.

“You bein’ the only thing white I see ‘sides the garage door, this’n must be yours.” He stepped around, popped the hood, spit tobacco juice in front of Jackson’s feet. “Supra Sport Shivvies came stock with a 409. Big and dumb as our current crop a heavyweights. I put this new 327 crate motor in yestiddy. Old with no blue smoke keeps the gov’nor happy an the po-leece away. Break ‘er in easy she’ll stay that way. ” He dropped the hood, wiped his hands on the red shop rag hanging from his back pocket, spit again. “Small block’s lighter, lets you keep some rubber on the tires, drives past a gas station ‘casionally. Axe me, rides some better, too, all that weight gone. Had in mind to paint it, but you come along.”

He paused, examined Jackson like a man encountering a disease. “Air conditioner blows cold, no back seat, no radio. No charge for the trunk mount spare cover. It come in from somewhere, don’t fit nothin’ else, tired a walkin’ around it.” He held up the keys, dropped them so quick Jackson almost missed the mid-air save. The old man nodded, spit another stream of tobacco juice. “The Dash be along drekly with paper an plates.”

Jackson watched the man walk away, his bowlegged side to side gait kicked up light puffs of gravel dust, a walk punctuated with an off-beat sway of the shop rag hanging from his pocket and an every fourth step spit. “Nice to meet you, too.”

***

“Needs paint. Legal, mostly. Nothing due, no change, even up.” Dash put his hands on the door sill. “You an Ellis get on?”

“You mean the old guy who spits redneck diarrhea, no. No handshake, no thanks. No take it easy, no fuck off kiss my ass honky punk. Must’ve left all that in the same place as the back seat and radio.”

“No radio?” Dash’s head rolled back. “Muh-ther fuh…” He tossed the plates and registration on the passenger seat, went back through the heavy door, wasn’t gone long, wasn’t happy coming out. He landed in the seat, right leg still out, hand on the door. “Hang left, follow the drive around back. Stop where I tell you.”

Jackson stopped on command, Dash slid out, vanished behind a corrugated metal door, was back in under thirty seconds with a nearly new Delco combo radio and cassette player from a Cadillac. He eased back into the passenger seat, set the radio where the back seat should have been. “Radio’s for the shit paint job. I told the motherfuckers, you know, I be ridin’ in this aw-toe and you were cold as ice. Next thing I’m back, askin’ all them old domino an Jack niggas sittin’ around, you know, what’s their fuckin’ damage, where’s my fuckin’ radio? They tryin’ to fuck a brother ‘cause I brought a deaf dumb and blind cash money client to their criminal empire? Motherfuckers. ‘Take the deal, fool, you an the ghost take a walk’? Fuck they doin’, talkin’ that shit to me? Thinkin’ I didn’t come up in here, don’t know their shit?” He took a breath, smacked the door sill. “Fuck it. You drive, I’ll di-rect. Weekend comin’, college calls on Monday an I need some unwind time. You’ll be droppin’ me down to Lakewood at my little slice of heaven’s place. I’ll draw you a map home from it on the way.”

Jackson drove south out of east Compton, Dash ranted on Buster’s crew like they were his dysfunctional family while he took a BIC Stick and drew a map on a paper napkin that would have done a retentive Renaissance mapmaker proud. He had Jackson roll up slow on a semi-residential, semi-small business street in Lakewood and stop near the middle of the block.

“You get to the crib, call your people. Tell ‘em you’re alive and where you’re at, how wonderful your new friend Dash Man be. ‘Cause if San Andreas opens up an your white ass drops they can tell the bloodhounds start lookin’ for you in Long Beach. They need to find you and this ray-dee-oh on the west side, don’t need nobody sniffin’ around my shit in Compton. Least till Buster’s player’s caught some chill.”

“Anybody. You don’t want anybody, or anyone, sniffin’.”

“You gonna be the grammatically co-reckt English Nazi all the fuckin’ time? I thought you played music or some shit.”

“Habit. Can’t get sloppy. People take you more seriously when you don’t talk like a refugee from a corn field full of single-wides.”

“Your accent don’t clean up soon you’re gonna need all the help you can get you expect to gain some on serious.”

“Doesn’t. Not don’t. Accent doesn’t clean –”

“We have arrived, Jeeves. I doesn’t require your services any longer,” he interlocked his fingers, popped his knuckles. “You straight on how to get to the crib?”

“Yeah. And ‘don’t.’ That one was ‘don’t.’ Like that shit’s bad for your hands, don’t.”

“Get back to me, I ‘don’t’ got room in my head for any of that shit today. You know where the stash is. Blank’s for the drive.” Dash tossed a thin black cigarillo on the empty bucket seat, lit one of his own and walked away. Jackson leaned over to pick it up, looked out the window and damned if they hadn’t pulled up in front of a beauty shop called Little Slice of Heaven.

THG 3 – CH 22 – Shining Example

Mid August 1979 / Long Beach, CA – Jackson makes it to L.A.

“Shit.” Jackson wiped his forehead with a sweaty dollar-at-the-truck-stop bandana, leaned back in the seat, looked through the glass and a chain link fence at the funky old house behind the parking lot. Grass grown up around an unused lawn mower, a swingset frame, chains but no swings and a pair of bicycles. Next door, to Jackson’s right and past its own overgrown yard with several pieces of long ignored playground equipment was an apartment building. An older, two story shotgun style job with parking underneath an overhang down the right side. There were four windows upstairs, the middle two open and occupied. A blonde kid was looking out of the window on the right and a skinny black guy with three-to-four- inch spiky dreads was parked in the left. Jackson hoped his predicament was entertaining them. He opened the door, thought about going into the bar, finding a phone. Why? He didn’t want a beer and who the hell was he going to call in L.A. and tell them about his car that was leaking coolant from the block and overheating?

“You’re not a regular.” From the little girl in the window. Maybe ten, eleven, blondish, needed a hairbrush. “What’s your name?”

“Jackson. That’s all of it, either way. Story if you want it. How ‘bout you?”

“I’m Sky. My mom’s name is Star, but she’s at work.” She looked down, brushed something off her t-shirt. “Yeah, I know, it’s backwards. Mom should be the Sky and I should be her little shiny Star, but Gramma? She screwed me into ‘splaining that one forever by making Mom Star first.” She shook her head like she had water in her ear, messing her hair more. “Mom, too. She could have given me a real name, you know, that wasn’t more hippie junk.” She disappeared, came back with a can of Coke. “Your car broken Mr. Jackson? My mom’s does that sometimes. Smokes and leaks and won’t go nowhere.”

“Anywhere,” Jackson said. “Won’t go anywhere.”

“Fuck that shit, Mr. Jackson. It’s summer.”

The black guy had been watching Jackson, interested, but detached. Like a man would watch a puppet show or a street mime. “Your momma’s gonna have your bee-hind talkin’ to strangers, Sky.”

“Shut up, Dash. He’s white and clean and prolly lost. He’s not fucked up and ain’t got the shakes looking to leech a pipe hit or for a bindle a freak mighta dropped or nothing.”

“Anything,” Jackson said. “Not looking for anything. Don’t you go to school?”

“Out for the summer. I told you. Are you some kind of teacher? With a broke car? I’m not doing no homework in summer, so you can drop that in the Sky don’t give a fuck can down on the corner.”

“No teacher,” from spiky dreads. “He’s got nearly ex-pired Oklahoma license plates, Sky. I’m thinkin’ runaway. Or maybe a dope mule. Okies need their fix same as anybody else.”

“You a dope runner, Mr. Jackson? There’s a lot of that goes on in the parking lot where you’re at.”

“Nope. Not a teacher, not a dope runner.” He climbed out, sat on the fender of his car and laid out his ‘got lost trying to get to USC’ situation through a chain link fence for a ten-year old girl with a thirty-year old mouth and a chilled black dude hanging out the upstairs windows of some apartments that backed up on a dive bar parking lot not far from the Pacific Ocean.

***

“UCLA is closer, yo, than USC. To where we’re at anyway, ” spiky dreads said. “Me? I’m homegrown Trojan. I grab the express on the corner or catch a ride up the 110 or Ocean, the 405 maybe if I have time. Like how you be needin’ to go when that Day-Glo beast breathes its last. Fact is you need to move your aw-toe out of that lot now, while it will co-operate, or they be towin’ it with you inside. Po-leece in Long Beach need their impound money, bartender gets a piece. Out of state makes you a double hit sucker.” He vanished from the window, came back blowing smoke rings. “Homeless, all that hair and talk of music school speaks such that we may have arrived at a mutually beneficial crossroads, so look here, Casper Jack-sown. I got a no-tow parking pass this side the fence ‘cause I have a place here and no ride. You pull Day-Glo around, park in front or down the other side underneath, number 7. Do the walk through the middle, step on up, hang right. Okies an brothers both second class citizens in El Lay. Less you have some southren background problem with black people an shit.” He held up a pink acrylic bong blocked from Sky’s view by his body, raised his eyebrows.

“That’s how Okies got the panhandle. Texas wanted slaves and had to fit below that invisible line where life on the other side was supposed to be different.”

“Why there’s more Messicans than brothers in Texas. Come on around, my pale brother. Step up.”

***

Jackson eyed DaShontè Calhoun’s apartment with a touch of fear. Not physical fear, like he was in imminent danger. More like what was going to crawl out from under the pizza boxes and beer and Coke cans and dirty clothes covering the old wood floor and bite him kind of fear. He handed the bong back across the open counter into the kitchen.

“They call me the Dash.” The bong got dumped, rinse water turned on. “That’s gospel, about your name? Just Jackson? Shit’s some easy that way. I’m not here much, so we won’t be a trouble, bein’ up in our respective shit, follow? I eat, I drop off clothes till I don’t have any then I find me a lady can wash ‘em. Where I am, most times. At a lady’s place, know what I mean? The rate?” Dash wrote a number on a piece of thin, six-pack carton cardboard, set it on the counter.

“Double that is right.” Research before he left Vegas told Jackson he couldn’t touch Dash’s deal anywhere in L.A. “You really need a roommate?”

“No. You do.”

“Truth.” He toed a Dr. Pepper can into a small pile of other cans leaning like a snowdrift across the back of a clothes covered couch, held up the piece of cardboard. “You sure about this?”

“Indeed. Place be subsidized in part by scholarship. Only fair not to jack you, you bein’ my steppin’ stone in the di-rection of slum lord and bein’ your first day in El Lay.” He measured all of Jackson’s mental machinations, let the room breathe. “Well, my brother, are we to set a shining example of racial coexistence for the entire city of lost angels to follow?”

“Okay. Yeah.” Jackson flipped the cardboard at a pizza box. “Hell yeah.” They shook, slapped skin and fist bumped over the counter. “Phone there part of the deal?”

“Outbound. Incoming, too, were I to know the number. You see, that telephone line is liberated from the egregiously totalitarian and unsympathetic communication monopoly. If you were, say, to hold the flashlight long enough for me to use the tools liberated from said monopoly I could obtain that information. Sadly, the last time I was in the telephone box across the street after midnight someone called in a black Peeping Tom. Po-leece be prompt about that sort of thing rather than involve themselves with the drug traffic and gun play in the bar behind us, so I had to make haste back to my, our, abode. Where the storm troopers did eventually knock and inquire of me had I seen any suspicious activity, as they often do of this entire complex.”

“At one in the morning?”

“Thereabouts. The gunfire we mention to them is never a concern. Howsome ever a negro pervert on the loose is not to be taken so lightly.” The wink was stagey. “Show you the bus in the morning. We bump to USC with your big brown envelope, get you signed in and up and every which way they be havin’ you.”

THG 3 – CH 21 – Black Lipstick Pt 4

Mid-July, 1979 / Train Between Nottingham and Cambrdge, UK

Deanna fingered interlocking circles on the fogged train window, let a half smile break through. She could hear Jax saying from the driver’s seat of his stupid, precious car, “D, why do you do that to my windows?” For some attention, maybe, or just to piss you off, Mister Clean. If he was for real in the seat next to her he would lean over, squeeze her knee where it tickled and pretend to look out her window, wet kiss her nose or ear to piss her off, wipe off the circles and say, “Trains, Collings. What a concept.” Yeah, Mister half dead and lost, they are. And they go everywhere. She tried to hear what he’d say to that. “Everywhere? I don’t care about everywhere, but do they have lots of tunnels? Trains and tunnels, you know, because –” he’d do that thing poking his finger through a hole made with his thumb and forefinger. She’d have smacked his arm at the grin and ‘you know.’ She tried to hear what he’d say to Ms. Pollyanna Perfect Deanna Collings losing however many days…

She elbowed the Army jacket next to her, where Jackson should have been. “Alvy, what day is it?”

“Huh?” The olive drab jacket roused, more from boredom than sleep.

Day, Alvy. What day is it?”

“Christ, D’anna. Monday.”

“God…” She kept her gaze out the window, counted silently on her fingers. Friday night, Saturday…Sunday. Where’d that one go? Now it was Monday. Afternoon sometime. Cloudy, cool. Well, pushing 70. Hot by English standards.

“Who called you?”

“Morton.” Alvy yawned, rounded himself into a stretch in the seat.

“The beanpole with the moles? His name’s Morton? I thought it was Fish or something.”

“Fizz. Fizzy Piss. They call him that because he can pee on anything, pavement even, and it still bubbles like soapy water or –”

“Just what I needed to hear. He’s an architect. Was an architect, right? Quit to get rich screaming bullshit at skinheads? And none of them are really named Quiqley? Now that you say it, Fizzy, I heard it I think, at the party thing…”

“I wasn’t there.”

“No, you weren’t.” Did he have to wrap everything he said in mope? “What happened?”

“After the fight at the club or before?”

“Fight?”

“Go on, D’anna.”

Okay, be that way. Someone would tell her. “What was in those pills?”

Tablets. Different ones, different things.”

“The blue one?” Dumbass.

“Special blend. Some Ketamine, Ritalin, pheno.”

“Can you tell me what that means without a chemistry lesson?”

“Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic. Ritalin to keep you awake. The pheno and Ketamine react to –”

“I said no –”

“It’s a speedball with psychedelic properties, okay?”

The woman in front of them, the one who’d moved when Deanna sat by her to avoid Alvy, turned to look at them.

“Excuse him. He talks too loud. To impress people.” The woman gave them a church lady look, turned back around.

The speedball psychedelic explained Friday. The endless car ride with five girls stuffed like sardines in a small car some friend of Feeb’s was driving. They laughed for hours. Driving sideroads too trashed to be on the A1, headed for someplace outside Nottingham. They went through Peterborough, all of them making burrowed Peter jokes. They got lost in Blid something Bottoms, all got out to pee, obsessed with the thought of bottoms. Deanna discovered tripping and personal plumbing and bathroom business was hilarious and impossible. They made it to a house in Nottinghamshire somewhere. A big house. Ancient looking outside, completely modern inside. An old man, tall, creamy hair, ascot…ponytail. A butler. No, an actor who looked like a butler, but he owned the place. “Welcome,” followed by some kind of arts and enlightenment, creative and enlightened people junk. She’d laughed. He remained an overdressed mannequin, offered her a tall glass.

“A drink? Champagne?” Okay. One won’t kill me.

“What’s upstairs?” What did he say?

“The stairs, yes, by all means.” Toasted her with some sexist garbage, clinked her glass with “Stairway to Heaven vintage.” He’d smiled with one side of his mouth, the other side frozen, like the eye above it. The music was so loud, the fireplace huge, everything too much. She took the stairs two at a time, stood on the second-floor landing. It was quieter.  Through a door off the hall some people offered her a seat with them on a satin pillow the size of a living room rug. There were guitars and weird shakers and bongos scattered around. No one was playing them. The forest of incense sticks put out so many smells it was a perfume counter on fire. The satin pillow people chanted nonsense and passed a fat candle around. A strange candle that left a neon trail in its wake, the smoke curling along with the incense into morphing faces on their way to a disappearing ceiling. Neon tracer candle passing and murmuring, and they all wanted to touch her forehead.

No.

Back to the stairs. No! The fucking wooden staircase had turned into a river of chocolate, the bannister, when she grabbed it at first a feathery boa, next the real thing. Did she go all the way down the liquid fudge slide on her butt? She wasn’t covered in chocolate, but she was downstairs, the snake had turned into another glass of champagne. People were laughing, the lyrics to the too loud music running out their ears. God. Talking with your ears. Not fucking funny, people! Outside. Outside. Feeb! Thank God, Feeb! Feeb’s eyes. She was dead. Oh, shit. Dead. Outside somewhere, on a cement bench by a naked white guy built like a jock. He had curly hair, a tiny little dick surrounded by the same, and he was peeing in a jar. Get a life, dude. Really. Feeb! You’re dead! Did he do this? Blood, running from Feeb’s eyes. That was it.

She’d told that story, what had happened to Feeb, when Skinny Moles pulled her from a pile of intertwined bodies wrapped in canvas and straw. He’d said, “All the wiser we are for damage done to young Apollo pissing.” Told her not to worry, the rest would come back in a couple of days. The pile she’d come from. More dead people? The stench of the bodies. Overpowering. She’d complained, he’d snarled, said it was as much her as the rest. She shed the oversized denim jacket of unknown origin. It hadn’t helped much with reducing the smell, and it was cold, so she kept it. Wrapped herself back in a potpourri of stale cigarette smoke, incense, alcohol, urine, vomit, sex. She felt like a frat party’s worth of dirty underwear with feet. None of the stink really hers, she hoped. And woodsmoke.

Woodsmoke! Saturday had been the philosophical bonfire where everyone wanted to shag – what a fucking word, shag – they all wanted to fuck. Not make love, fuck. Nasty, careless fucking. With anyone and everyone else, regardless of gender boundaries or how dysfunctional their bodies were from drugs. She’d gone on a rampage about women protecting themselves, like a wild woman version of her mother with the condom and cucumber. The “Fiery cunt from Cambridge  preaching the sanctity of the vagina,” Fishy Piss had told her. She’d gone around unplugging, mid coitus, the ones who could figure it out until someone dragged her off to the house. She had more of the old butler man’s champagne and Sunday vanished.

On the drive to Nottingham station Morton or Fish or Fizz or whoever had called her a stagnant bit of Cambridge good girl who needed to find something to believe in besides her twat. If she had to know what happened, fine. He lit a smelly Russian cigarette, told her she’d been out, of her own and everyone else’s misery, somewhere in the woods for twenty-four hours before she was found and tossed on the pile in the barn with the rest of the passed-out party casualties. His last words to her before slowing down and opening the van door were “You go on about being a good girl with broken girl looks, pretending, with your golden twat and a pole up your arse. See what it gets you.” She was out on the sidewalk, the old van rounding a corner before she could respond.

“Alvy? Who called you?”

“Morton. I said, didn’t I? Rang me at half gone noon. Said you were a right solid pain in his arse, dumped on him as you were by me, and I had to come make you disappear from his life. I said you were none of mine, he said bollocks. Said I’d have to take the train. He said be quick about it. The train’s three bloody hours I said.He blew a sigh out his nose. “That was pissing petrol on his fire.”

“Great. He must have waited to wake me up. Twenty minutes from the barn to the sidewalk and there you were. Who bought my ticket?”

“D’anna, it’s not, it doesn’t…What is, and does, is we’ve missed Monday. My supers, the study committee, the advisors – we’ll say we caught something, ate something. I’ll think of –”

“Something? You do that.” She curled into the train wall, pulled the stinky jacket tighter. “And then explain away what the fuck you were doing with that bag of crazy pills while you’re at it.”

“That’s…It’s not that easy.”

“Sure it is. ‘Here Danna, you might like this one.’ And it’s three fucking days later and I’ve seen all kinds of crazy shit happen and, and, ohhh no!” She reached, grabbed his jacket. “Feeb’s dead. And that old man’s hair ate his head…”

The old woman turned again, scowled deep and long. They waited for her to have enough.

“Feeb’s at work. Saw her yesterday.” He stretched again. “She’s how you got out of the club alive. She’s the one left you in Nottingham wood.” He hrumphed further down in the seat. “She should be on this bloody train, not me.”

“Really? She’s not…Dead? Or anything?”

“She’s something, but not dead.”

In the window she saw Feeb’s eyes again. They ran down her face in a black river of moonlight blood, her mouth open, her teeth stained black with it. How was she alive?

“What about the old butler?”

“Fizz says Krysanthe is still with us and all, as nothing ate his head. He was well done with Fizz and Feeb and the whole lot of them for having you out to one of his expansionist happenings. Says you ought to be caged.”

“His face. That thing on his face was mocking me when we were talking. He’d say something, and I’d say something back. Then it would ‘Nyah Nyah’ me, repeat what I said. I slapped it and it went crazy. I saw it. His hair got all mad about it and ate his head. Really, I mean it. I saw it, Alvy.”

He let that sit for a long ten seconds, didn’t bother to look at her. “Some people shouldn’t do drugs.”

“If that was about me, I know a guy who said the same thing. He said I was wound too tight and a good hit of windowpane would probably cure me if it didn’t kill me, but he didn’t want to be around to co-pilot.” Jax kept all that, that part of himWhere did he keep it? She’d never seen him really out of it except a couple of times. His thing was pot, mostly. But he knew about all of it, said it was everywhere. “More bad shit around where music happens than you can imagine, D.” Her brother had said the same thing about college and pro football. Maybe that was why he and Jax got along, the two un-likelies. They’d both said, “Keep your head down, do your thing, stay out of it.” She finally hadn’t kept her head down, and they were right. Wow. How could that be? Jax and Doug. They were, were…Guys. And they got it?

She gave a couple of the window circles eyes and angry eyebrows, thinking about the concert. More like hours of horrid noise in public. Did Jax know about Punk? He’d never said. He did do that stupid egg beater thing on the piano for that stupid whore dance major. He knew about Classical, that was pretty weird, because he’d talk about it, when he talked, with the same sort of vocabulary she used for lit, but he was in music school. He knew all about Oldies and Radio Rock, made her listen to ‘Prog’ sometimes which was just too much. Poetry could be outside, but songs were supposed to be songs. Songs you could dance to. Weren’t they? And the Blues. She liked the old ones by black guys best. Jax said they were “honest,” not written for white kids and Billboard. His favorite stuff, he told her early on and she wasn’t supposed to tell, was Standards and ‘Torch Songs’. He’d hooked her with those. The dreamy sounds…

He could sit in Amanda’s office with Amanda and Alix and Amber the Lady Godiva California hippie turned lawyer and they’d talk about all kinds of music. He’d make fun of Amanda’s folky stuff, but he and Amber would play folk songs for her until they’d make a joke out of one and Amanda would say “Enough” in that way she had. There was something he’d play on the piano for Amanda, the same as he did “Summertime” for her mom. And they both got that same way about him and “their” songs that made her jealous. They’d get all wispy over them, and he’d have to say something to make them laugh. Amber said it was because he could make the colored bubbles come. Like that was some sort of magic. But Amber said it so off hand, like everybody saw the bubbles and understood. Colored bubbles was nutso, and Deanna’d said as much. What was Jax, anyway? Some kind of, of,

“What did you call that stuff? Ketta whatsit?”

“Ketamine? A dissociative anesthetic.” He saw her face, wanting to ask but not wanting to look stupid. “The pharmacologic point is you get so doodled by it you don’t know you hurt.”

She leaned back into the window, her hair obliterating most of her window art. She drew a smile on the lone remaining crooked circle. “So maybe some people, or love even, could be like that, huh? That Ketamine stuff?”

THG3 – CH 20 – Black Lipstick Pt 3

Mid-July, 1979 / Cambridge, UK

Deanna put on a second pair of socks, stuck her feet back into Merriam’s shiny black military surplus “skinner” boots. “The last time I wore work boots I went to a tractor pull. With a nice, straight, redheaded racist from Kansas who worked on a farm, smelled like my grampa and had a pickup about two stories off the ground.”

“A what pull?”

“Tractors. Only tractors like dragsters. They tried to pull trailers full of really heavy stuff, or tug-of-war each other. They got really loud and then one or both of them blew up.”

“Lass, sometimes I don’t know if you’re high or lying.” Merriam reached over, pinched up a piece of black tight from Deanna’s thigh and stuck a fork in it. Randomly pinched and repeated on both legs.

“There are times I don’t know if you’re crazy or just fucked up in the head. What have you done to my only pair of warm tights?”

“Laddered. Can’t have you punkin’ as a night out with the Vicar’s missus. Mind you, laddered punked tights would run thirty pounds or more in a shop.”

Deanna held up a the Daisy Dukes cut-offs that moments ago had been her next to last pair of Jackson’s old Levis. “So it’s like a favor, you ruining my clothes?”

“Oh aye. Your clothes are refugees from the bin as it is. At least the ones you wear.” Merriam dug around in Deanna’s dresser, found the long-sleeved leotard Deanna lived in as her bottom layer.

“NO! Not that. You can’t. I –”

“Right. You’ll wear it under. But this…” Merriam’s pinking shears that Deanna had cut her hair with seven months ago flashed across the bottom of her brother’s orange Miami Dolphins jersey with COLLINGS across the shoulders and a foot tall 92, back and front.

“Oh…Well, it’s not like he doesn’t have any more.” Deanna held it up, checked the ragged trim running under the numbers, tightened her lips. “They’re fan jerseys, really, not game jerseys. I mean the real ones would be down to my knees. And this one covered…Used to cover my butt.”

“If arse were valuable you’d be chained to the far wall in debtor’s prison. Let’s put your face on.”

Deanna followed to the small dining table where sometimes they ate, or studied or Cat and Merriam drank Scotch and talked sex smack. Merriam screwed the bulb into the hanging flying saucer fixture until it flashed on and proceeded to finger dusty black powder around Deanna’s eyes, followed with a streak of red across the top almost to her temples, told her to close her eyes and shot her eye art with hairspray.

“Done.” Merriam squinted, kept the laugh in check. “You look like a bloody escapee from the Hammer vampire lot.”

“Are you sure you won’t come? I mean it’s Alvy and…I’ve never done this before. Punk I mean. Really.” She grabbed Merriam’s hand. “Please? What do I say? I mean I’ve been to concerts and watched Jax play back home and everything and I know my way around, but not…Well, I’m not punk. Or never have been.”

Merriam removed her hand. “I’ve been, thank you. Keep your mouth shut or they’ll take you as smarter than the whole room and you’re out with a smack or worse. If they get you on top in the pit stay tits up or you’ll take a beating. Gets too much for you kick and scream and shove and bite till you’ve managed a door.”

***

Alvy maneuvered Deanna through the gauntlet of leaflet and handbill pushers, sprinkled with a few rude, rough and glam boys that floated like litter in a sloshing edge to edge tide pool of mostly male, middle class kids in various stages of high, sporting tails out button down shirts or homemade fuck this or that emblazoned t-shirts and jeans. All in poor imitation of the Fifties James Dean or Sixties Mods. Deanna had hurried through several essays in the sociology files about the current state of punk. Too many influences, too much anger and volatility confused up with skinheads and squatters and no direction. All along the walk the leaflet snipers were spewing what Deanna’s old mentors called “two bit sloganeering” while covering the ground with their oversized confetti handouts. Alvy pushed her head down, led her through a hole in a chain link fence past a smelly guy her brother’s size who grunted recognition and on through an open steel door in the back of a building she wouldn’t have known the front of if she saw it.

“Alvy! Rotten little faggot, what have you brought us?” The skinny guy with a Three Stooges bowl haircut and a sprinkle of facial moles, who was dressed in skin tight black everything slammed a cupped hand into Deanna’s crotch, grabbed the back of her head, lifted her off the ground and stuck his tongue far enough down her throat to gag her. She fought her way loose, backed up bent over, gagging slobber on skinny mole face’s feet. He threw his head back, laughed and dropped an arm collar around Alvy’s neck.

“Can’t have us a gagger, Alvy. What else have you before she’s off home with the good girls?”

To Deanna’s wide-eyed shock Alvy produced a Zip baggie stuffed with light blue, white and yellow pills, handed it off.

“Alvy? What the fuhhh –”

The backhanded slap from a guy in slashed brown fatigues landed on Deanna’s left cheek accompanied by “Shut up, bitch. Not your game, is it? Why don’t you bugger right – ”

Deanna’s right fist landed hard on Shredded Fatigues’ nose and lip, dead center. He duck-walked backwards into a cinder block wall. Another guy in normal street clothes who could have been working behind the counter at Burger King if he wasn’t smoking and strapped into a huge electric bass, caught the guitar stumbling Fatigues knocked off a stand when he hit the wall. All the sound from outside and the front of the club disappeared from the tiny brick alcove.

Alvy broke the smokey soundproof Vaseline bubble. “Brother’s an American footballer. His jersey she’s in.” He raised an eyebrow, cocked his head. “Women’s studies?” Everyone cast eyes on Deanna, made faces of acknowlegment as if that was enough explanation for a bit too thin, pretty, pale American girl with crazy hair to have, and not be afraid to use, a solid, shoulder driven right.

“Fair done, Miss.” Street Clothes tossed the guitar up, caught it by the neck closer to the body, looked down and kicked Fatigues in the ribs. “By a Cambridge schoolgirl. You pathetic shit.” His throat rumbled, he hocked something green and brown and slimy on Fatigue’s chest, dropped the guitar in his lap and left by a narrow, doorless opening. His exit elicited a wild rise in the noise from beyond the alcove. Skinny Moles lit a cigarette.

“Scab and Freeze don’t get on so well,” Skinny Moles blew smoke sideways. “So, Miss Collings I take it…” He examined Deanna like a cake in a pastry shop window, the cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth.

Miz Collings,” she stepped up into his gaze, plucked the cigarette and flipped it aside.  “And you’ll take it nowhere,” her eyes went to his left hand. “What’s Alvy got in the bag?” She reached for the baggie, he threw up his hands in mock surrender, the bag over his head. He wanted to palm the top of her head, squeeze it, laugh, remembered her solid right and thought better of it.

“What it is, see, Alvy’s a chemist. We’re a band. A ways in we throw a few handfuls into the crowd.” He checked his watch. “Gone half-ten they’re off in as many directions as a pack of blind Bishops on holiday in Rome, we’re a third down the set. Come midnight the press interviews the puke parade in the street, says we pulled another stunner of a show. Trust you to forget all and say less?”

“It’s not right, really…” She looked into the black holes that were his eyes. “Never mind. It’s not for me to say.” Shredded Fatigues edged past her, sullen, bloody nosed, his guitar strapped on. Her eyes burned into his back. “Your fraud’s not my game, is it?”

“No…Nor yours ours.” Skinny Moles offered a vague smile. “What it’s all about, eh? Vive la différence? Where would we all be with no one to hate…” He held his hand on the opening like it was a curtain, stared off into the noise. “You’ve done us a favor, Freeze starting out bloodied.” His sigh was on the edge of imperceptible. “Scab will still have another few goes at him.” He waited a theatrical pause and followed Shredded Fatigues through the narrow hole in the wall to yet an even louder eruption of noise.

Deanna tilted her head through, hands flat on either side, in time to see an older, muscular, covered in tattoos head shaved guy wearing nothing but baggy capri length pants and dirty white high top Converses use two members of the crowd’s heads to vault himself onto the stage in a free air summersault. She blew a buried in crowd noise finger whistle in ex-cheerleader appreciation. Muscled tattoos jumped over and behind a meagre, mismatched drum set, clacked his sticks and the Quigleys overrode the crowd noise with a deafening cacophony of feedback, throbbing bass and screaming delivered with retarded string puppet prance dancing.

She turned, screamed at Alvy. “This is Punk?”

“Yeah,” he screamed back. “Like it?”

“Not yet.” She ducked under his arms for the back door, still having to scream. “Is it better from the front?”

THG3 – CH 19 – Black Lipstick Pt 2

Where were we before I got out of sync with the Christmas story? Ah, Deanna had just bought her way out of hanging with a serious study mentor/monitor pest by agreeing to attend a “Punk of Some Sort” concert in black lipstick and grunge attire. But first she needs the lipstick, and ends up with a philosophic reality check from Feeb the Boots Girl.

Smoke On The Water

Mid July, 1979 / Boots, Cambridge UK

“No black, love. Management doesn’t want the type.” The light olive, attractive mid-twenties Boots counter girl stood from her squat where she’d been stocking, smoothed the one-piece jumper over her patterned blouse. She lowered her chin, corner eyed the sewn in pocket patch that matched the blouse and tugged lightly to fluff it, just under a nametag with FEEB and a smiley face at a 45-degree angle. Her dark hair in a sensible bob pulled behind one ear exposed a not too sensible dangly earring. For a cosmetics girl she wore very little makeup. And lacked the air of disinterested superiority Deanna had expected.

“Do have some Deep Purple, if you’d fancy a look.”

“Smo-oke on the wah-terrrr…doot-doot-doooo, doot-doot-dee-doo…” Deanna got a madwoman stare before the counter girl broke out laughing.

“I’ve seen you about. The American mess in Merri and Cat’s pack. In for necessaries, never over here.”

“Makeup and I don’t get along.”

“Me and men.”

“Oh please…” Deanna smeared the offered Q-tip of Deep Purple on her lips, rubbed them together in the counter top mirror. “I don’t do well there, either. At all.”

“I do too well at times, and I’d think you would. The hair limits your choices I’m sure. Not the sweater and crest’s or businessman’s lunch lot, but…” She pulled a cream scarf from under the counter, framed Deanna’s face with it. “Show time, that is.”

Deanna yanked it off, shook her head. “That’s the point. Or not the point. What I look like has nothing to do with anything. Every guy I meet wants the wrong piece of me, and I’m sick of it. I was sick of it when I was 16 and I’m sick of it now.”

“Then why the lipstick?”

“Someone has offered me a deal I can’t refuse. If I go see something called Quigleys with him he’ll stay out of my way for a couple of weeks. All he asked for was black lipstick and raccoon eyes. I can do Alice Cooper for a few hours for the time off. It’s in public, so I’m not worried about it getting too weird. Do you know them, Quigleys?”

“The Quigs’re pigs. Locals they were before going off. Screaming about slits and gash and piss and shit and we’re all fucked but them. They play one song for an hour and a half, change up the lyric along the way. A mosh and bruises and mystery gropes evening I should think.”

“What do they sound like?”

“A motorbike or six with muffler’s all gone missing. I’m going, but I don’t fancy them. I like a bit of blues. Not the poncey Rolling Stones, but I do like some ZZ Top.”

Deanna finger drummed on the counter. “Haow haow haow…ummm hmmm.”

Feeb rolled her eyes.  “You’d know all the old songs?”

“Know a guy who does. Knew a…” she smacked the glass counter. “God dammit.” She glared at the counter girl. “Why do they do that? How do they just suck us in and –”

“Don’t drink or touch anything the ugly Quigs hand you and you won’t get sucked anywhere. Do and you’ll wake up stupid three days later with every hole in your body screaming bloody murder.”

“I got that lecture. From, from…and well I sort of ignored it and then freaked after and now I have…this hair, and I’m avoiding a guy by buying black lipstick –”

“Deep purple, love.”

“So does that make love like a big bruise? All purple and…Because that’s what it feels like. I mean it.” She took a breath, looked for some composure. Goddam Jackson. She was about to lose it on somebody if he didn’t turn up. “How much?”

“One pound and ten.” She bagged the lipstick, handed it to Deanna. “We’re not through. Here.” She took the hand Deanna held out for change, slid a spongey pad under it, set it down. With her left hand still on Deanna’s she turned and with her right hand fished around in a drawer behind the counter. She turned back with something in her hand, bumped the drawer closed with a hip.

“What –” Deanna worked her fingers between the slight humps in the pad and fell in love with it.

“Nails, love.”

“But –” The pad massaged her fingers, like it was made for them. She squished her fingers around a little and the pad squished in return. Feeb set a small bottle of Deep Purple nail polish beside the pad. “Really, uh, I don’t need –”

“Can’t do proper whatever punk it is this week without matching nails.” She held up the tips of Deanna’s fingers, eyed them like a pawnbroker appraising a tarnished but salvageable bracelet. “Proper would be to chip them biting your nails. Well turned out is once a month for most of the bandy girls. A clean Cambridge lass’ll stand out like a bog pickle on the Queen’s doorstep.”

“I can’t afford the polish, or to have you…Bog pickle? Um…And he’s staring. Your boss? Over there?”

Feeb turned her head, held up the nail polish brush and flashed a version of Deanna’s Miss Popularity smile so sweet it could’ve induced immediate onset diabetes. The man flustered, waved her off and disappeared through a door.

“Now we can talk. I’m Feeb. Phoebe. But don’t.”

“Feeb is, uh…Cool.” She could hear Jackson calling any lame-o involved in anything a ‘feeb’, stopped herself from letting it fall out her mouth on the Boots girl. “Deanna. Deee – Anna.” The second and deliberate one earned her a raised eyebrow from Feeb. “Sorry. Somehow, over here, it always turns into Dina or Deena or Danna. I haven’t heard my name the right way since I got here, except the times I’ve called home…”

“Missing it you are.” She buffed back and forth, two strokes per fingernail. “What’s his name?”

“Jackson. Jax…I mean, how do you…?”

“Nobody misses their Mum with that face. What’s his take on you across the pond with us and all?”

“That’s the…” She felt it building again, realized she couldn’t smack the counter with her right hand. “He hasn’t…Won’t, maybe. I don’t know…It’s just…Shit. Really.”

“Took it hard, did he? Some do. There’s no easy way to let them go unless they think it’s their doing.” She brushed Deep Purple on Deanna’s lifted index finger, turned it slightly, tilted her head, expressionless. “I eloped with a pretty soldier. On a dare. My dare. To see how far his ‘shippin’ out tomorrow’ heavy breathing ‘proposal’ would go. On the train to Devonport I pretended sleep and he jumped with his kit the first stop after Paddington. Sent me a lovely note explaining how he wasn’t good enough for me.” She made a noise in her throat followed by “Bloody coward.” She lifted Deanna’s ring finger and brushed. “Lovely bit of man art he was. Fit, clean, a good size and hard as nails. Everywhere.” She smiled, wistfully, cocked an eyebrow. “Give us the thumb and a word about your Jackson. Was he rough when you left him?”

Deanna worked her lower lip while Feeb finished her right hand and set her left on the spongey pad. “No. Well, I mean he said I was trophy hunting. That no matter what I said about not that I was always trophy hunting. My presentations. Academics. Men.”

Feeb waved a small warm-air dryer over Deanna’s fresh polish. “Are you?”

“Maybe. I…God that feels so-o good. Like I don’t have icicle fingers for once.” Feeb let her space, briefly.

“Trophy hunting?”

“’Kay. I didn’t think so, really. I…I got into some kinds of stupid trouble being in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Feeb turned her head slightly, knitted her eyebrows together.

“Well, okay. For real I was putting myself in the wrong place and I guess it did sorta look like trophy hunting. And they never turned out how I was imagining them. But at the time you don’t see it, you know?”

“Only if you don’t want to see it or won’t like the way it will sound if you say it to yourself. Is he gone for good d’ya think?”

“I don’t know, really. I got a Valentine’s card, he sounded out of it. Mom Anne, that’s his mom, she said Amanda, that’s Ms. Morisé my…well my old mentor, she won’t talk to me either, at all. She, Amanda I mean, she told Mom Anne he’d almost died in New Mexico. How she even knew that I don’t know. And that’s all crazy because he knew about stuff. Street stuff. How to stay out of trouble or see it coming and was always so pissed at me when I blew it and got my stupid on. So how could he be almost dead?”

“You left him to where he didn’t care. Wasn’t a case of underdone suicide?”

“Jax? No way. If I’m gone it’s like so what, he knows girls I don’t even know he knows, in places I would never go.” The lip chew was back. “And he promised. To wait. And other stuff. And, well, he didn’t have to be such a fucking jerk and leave for California before I was even gone. Like he’d been thinking about it, planning it. Forever, maybe.”

“How long had you had us on your diary?”

“That doesn’t count. I mean I had a reason. I…Okay. A year? A year I was really working on it. Thinking about it for a year before. Maybe two, but it was all out of focus. I was just…”

“Unhappy?”

“Not really. I wanted to do more. About what I was writing and saying and feeling, not just running my mouth in auditoriums with Jax and Amanda polishing me like you and my nails…Fuck, you know? I really fucked all that up leaving, didn’t I?” She raised her eyes, Feeb’s were waiting.

“I don’t know, Dee-Anna. All is lot of fucked up.” A tiny smile and almost giggle passed between them. “But if he won’t call and whoever set you up to be whatever you wanted to be won’t talk but his Mum will? You didn’t explain yourself to who you should’ve and left a right shit mess. His Mum is past it and sees you as daughter by proxy with him the means.” The eye lock lasted, not forced, for a quiet minute.

“I guess I did, huh? Leave a giant shit pile.”

“I guess. You should have done like my soldier.”

“Left them sleeping? Not said anything? I couldn’t do that, I…I should’ve, huh? Shit, then I’d be here and they’d be all sorry I was gone and I could be the one sending lovely little cards about how they were too good for me…Except, well…”

“Jackson?”

“Yes. What do I do about that? About losing him. Forever, maybe?” Feeb hot aired Deanna’s left hand. Warm fingers. Something Deanna would do with her unused since the pinking shears haircut hair dryer.

“Replace him. They’re interchangeable, you know. Except the good ones. And like the lady said, they’re all taken.”

“What about love? Doesn’t that count?”

“Love is like that song.” She held up the nail polish, label out. “All smoke. On the water. Where nothing can stay lit for long.”

 

 

Goldmine

This time of year it’s easy to get cynical, get materialistic or so busy we don’t feel, put a happy face on sadness, miss people and places we loved. Miss the innocence and wonder of Santa Claus and flying reindeer and the baby Jesus. Miss the Norman Rockwell Snowman, snowball fights, being a teenager with a blush and a warm hand to hold not shopping in the mall. (Tough to hold the Amazon driver’s hand…) We might not get what we want or deserve, but if we make a friend, we might just get what we need.

Venice Beach, CA / Wednesday December 19, 1979

The girl with hair like black silk followed an oblivious Jackson all the way from their composition juries at USC and sat down to his left on the little sandy, grassy patch he’d picked on the line where South Beach and Venice blurred.

“That’s a shitty guitar.”

He picked up a gum wrapper, absently flicked it toward the steel barrel to his right. “I’m a shitty guitar player. Works out.”

“Most shitty guitar players redeem themselves with their singing.” She tried to put on a smile she hadn’t felt like lately, missed it.

“I’m a shittier singer. I’m going to try to fix that in the spring. Next year sometime, anyway.”

“Oh yeah?” A laugh managed its way into her voice. “Remedial Singing with Summerford? She’s older than oil and her breath will peel paint. Good luck.”

“That sucks, about Summerford.” He looked up, threw her a surprise smile he wasn’t sure he had, either. “Hey, you’re Honey Muffin from the Dick Baits. I’ve seen your gig. You run a cello stuffed with diapers through a wah pedal and a phase shifter, play it like a big, fretless hollow body guitar into a cranked Marshall half-stack. Most badass. That girl drummer you have stomps.” He paused a beat, lost some enthusiasm. “You, uh, might need to fire the bass player.”

“I don’t need you, of all people, to critique –”

“I said the bass player sucked the night I saw you, that’s all. Like she started yesterday. Unless that’s the way you write that shit, then it’s your fault.”

“We had a gig and she’s never played bass before. She’s another cellist. We’re all string players, the guitars are just like, ‘Oh, right, frets’. Frets are for sissies, but it makes it easy to cross over. And easy? I checked out your comp piece. What was that? Music for ‘I saw a beautiful cloud?’ It was so simple I thought they’d expel you for pretending to be a student.”

“Simple is harder than it looks.”

“That’s what he said. It was beautiful. And simple. I’d almost go elegant, but since we’re critiquing, the trumpet part would sound better on cello. More air. If you go that way, make me your first call.”

“Ring. I have to record it after the first and I’m not married to the trumpet. If you can bring that girl who played classical guitar on your jury piece, I’ll try to find some more money. You get high?”

“Thanks for calling. Yes I’ll play your puffy cloud music, yes I’ll bring Yaz and before I say yes to the last part, what have you got?”

“I’m no junkie, it’s just some NorCal weed. I’ve been mostly straight for a couple of weeks working on this damn final. The cat who gave it to me claimed it’ll melt my face like the old ‘stages of a stoner’ poster.”

“I’m a NorCal girl, I can deal.”

“Gotta tell me your real name first. Just so I’m not another Muffin groupie.”

“I followed you, lonely one. Besides, we rant on men too much. Our groupies want us to spank them for being naughty.” She rolled a little to one side and pulled a Bic lighter out of her back jeans pocket. “Malika. Heinz. Make a ketchup or a mutt joke and I’ll crack you. I’m a Ninja.”

He lit the thin joint rolled in a Stars and Stripes paper, handed it off. “Jackson. That’s all there is. Whoa, shit,” he coughed, coughed again.

She coughed, looked around. “One name Jackson. I heard. Is it a gimmick or is there a story?”

“Story. Want it?”

“If there’s a short version.”

“Done. Parental brain fart, last name on first name line. Nurse came back with it, mom said they’d get a first name when they got to know me, never got back on it. According to legend the only thing she said to anybody in the hospital after that was ‘get me the hell out of here’. The nurse put my last name on the right line when they checked her out and here I am. Jackson Jackson.”

“Damn. Your mom had other stuff on her mind, huh?”

“Always. She doesn’t like being told what to do, or when to do it. She’s a hard core womens worlder in suburban camo. High heels, pearls, and an opinion on everything she thinks she needs to share with everybody.”

“I know her. How’s your dad cope?”

“He sells paper, has a garage full of Kotex and tampon and paper towel samples, spends his days listening to grocery store buyers talk smack about women and their periods and how messed up it is they have to buy all that junk from him, comes home and listens to my mom talk smack about jerks with penises who talk smack about women and their periods. He says living with my mom beats the hell out of normal and keeping up with her keeps him from watching mind pudding on TV. Except for Porter Waggoner on Saturday at dinner.”

“That has to be about the behive blonde with the boobs, Dolly whosit. Mom let’s that slide?”

“She likes it that Dolly’s getting over on Nashville with her assetts. Dad gets a pass for handing out free emergency lady gear to her friends.”

“They’re harder to follow than your puffy cloud music. My mom is Vietnamese. Don’t say something stupid like ‘I’d never have guessed’. She’s the same way. A heart of gold as big as the sky, but on her terms. Her main thing is making sure everybody eats because we might forget. I have relatives on her side that go on for like centuries. Some of them, I have no idea who they are or how they’re related and they’re so old I don’t think anybody else knows, either. But they all come for Christmas and mom feeds them. The house smells like fish and cabbage and old people who smoke for a month. Vietnamese women run their world, so if she has forty old people no one has ever seen before in her kitchen you can’t ask her like ‘Mom, you know, why, and who are all these people?’”

“I know that ‘don’t ask questions’ mom. I used to have to iron the tablecloth, just in case. That was my mom’s wear clean underwear rule for housekeeping. What’s your dad do?”

“Dad is a white ex-surfer dude, who for real surfed all over, even Hawaii, and played surf guitar. Until he saw what happened to old surfers wasn’t the dream he wanted and became an aeronautical engineer. Mom wanted me to be a pianist, dad wanted a country singer. Cello was my compromise. Neither of them understood it and whatever I told them was little Melika’s ‘isn’t she smart’ gospel. That’s how my first wah-wah pedal came to be in my Christmas stocking when I was twelve.”

“You told them you had to have it? Like it was a mandatory orchestral accessory?”

“Fact, Jack.” She pursed her lips, shook her head, stared at the dead joint between her fingers. “So now you know I’ve been stroking big, hollow wood between my legs since I was five.” She stuck the joint in the sand beside her. “Tell me your heartbreak story before I start to like you, or I have to leave. I know you have one, it’s written all over your music, so give it up. I need to ride on someone else’s shit ticket.”

“There’s a song somewhere in Shit Ticket.” He leaned into his knees and told her about Deanna, the almost year of silence, mostly his own fault being out of it, and her unexpected letter. The phone call looking for help she wouldn’t explain. Her poetic memories, the “beautiful lies.” He rolled sideways and pulled Deanna’s folded letter out of his back pocket. “My comp piece was about us. So I kept it for luck on the jury performance.”

Malika opened the folded letter, read it slowly. “Ouch, dude. You lived together. That gets intimate. Morning breath and showers where somebody just pooped. Cheap Aunt Flo panties in the laundry basket, soapy whiskers in the sink, tampon tubes in the wastebasket and dental floss on the floor. If I was by myself it would make me cry, hearing your piece and reading this.” She folded the letter, handed it back. They sat for a while, feeling the breeze off the ocean, the people-traffic noises not so loud on a weekday so close to Christmas.

“So what’s really happening, Ms. Heinz. You didn’t follow me because I’m cute.”

“I followed you because, word up, you’re the biggest musical anomaly in the system right now. You show up from the dust bowl, nobody gets what you’re up to. Out of nowhere Doc Hartmount dropped that air freshener music of yours in a no-money, no-body chick flick and I thought you might be interesting. Someone else who knows how, but has other ideas. And you shaved. That really helped. The homeless druid look was tired.”

“Come on. Rasputin the grunting piano string scraper was all the rage in Malibu for the fall art with wine and moldy cheese season. Made me some money. Mostly it kept me occupied instead of dreading the day that letter showed up.”

They sat for a while in a world of their own, watched the sun kick grays and golds and pinks over the Pacific’s vanishing point.

“I just lost my honey.” She sounded concerned, let it hang, as if she’d crossed an invisble intimacy line. But he’d shown her his, and he hadn’t recoiled. “After almost three years. But he’d never move in. He was a real cowboy from Wyoming and said my place was ‘too fragile’ for him. Old high school bedroom NorCal hippie chick stuff from Pier One. And that’s too fragile? His place was in a frat house, so that wasn’t a happening move for me.” She spaced for a minute before she pulled what was left of a crushed pack of Kool Super Lights from her other back pocket and lit one.

“He was about your height, only beefier. Hands like sandpaper, and like born to be in the army. The way he walked, you know,” she rolled up from her butt to her knees and mocked a stiff, elbows out shoulder-swinging military walk. “He was my bassist before Zuki. His dad let him get his music degree because everyone needs a hobby, right? Now he has to earn this deforestation business degree at some bullshit Ag college back home in Bumfuck. You know what he said when he left? After almost three years he says, ‘Well, Leeka, I’m gone. You were a hell of a little number.’ His senior juries were five days ago, and when he was done he walked straight out of the hall to his loaded pick up and drove off.  ‘Hot little number’?” She turned towards Jackson, leaned back on her right hand, her eyes glowing. “I mean what hot number? Two, five, twenty-seven? Six thousand? The asshole.” She reached for the guitar. “Give me that piece of shit. I wrote him a get fucked song.”

Jackson traded the guitar for her Kool. She got through a rough verse before she started to snuffle and he saw a metaphor in trading for her ‘Kool,’ left it alone. He pulled a couple of long strands of black hair that had stuck to her cheek with tear glue back behind her ear, took the guitar back.

“You think too much.”

“It’s a girl thing.”

He snort laughed. “That’s some no shit truth right there.” He took the first line of her song and a couple of her ideas. “I hope you miss me, when you kiss her, when she moans your name. I hope you miss me when you love her ‘cause she’ll never be the same. I hope you miss me when she leaves you for calling her my name. Anything down that line, but keep it organized.” He offered her the guitar back. “That’s your hook, ‘I hope you miss me…’ You could work ‘it’s a shame’ or ‘lame’ in there somewhere. That’s what you were trying to say the whole verse. Tell your ‘how you fucked me’ story in the verse, dump your ‘godammit I hate your guts’ in the chorus. That’s a Fifties heart breaker if you’ll back off the two million chord changes. That killer tune of yours about Gozzadini I heard at Transit is the same. ‘Dress like a man’ is the chorus, not the whole story. When I heard you guys play that live it was like four minutes of a great chorus, but where’s the song.”

She wiped her eyes with the back of her wrists, snuffled again and gave him a sideways look. “At least you dress it up and don’t just come right out and say it sucks. I don’t have another verse. Let’s talk, and I’ll play guitar.”

They sat on the grass for three hours, until the December sun started to set, and wrote four songs together. She had an accident with the ice cream cone they split, dropped the top ball right in her lap. Jackson dared her to let him eat it. After a lot of laughter “Pussy Flavored Ice Cream” became song number five.

She smiled, finally, stared out at the ocean. “When you take the voice class you might be the guy to get even with Summerford for all of us. The dude with the voice to match her breath.” She stretched out her legs, leaned back into her hands “I know where we can eat real food, space cowboy, for free. But you have to let me borrow this little acoustic to finish thinking about what we did today.”

When he looked again she was staring at the sand, a million miles away. Already finishing the songs, or eating something worth eating. He stood, reached out sideways with his left hand and pulled her up.

“Deal. It might do that little guitar some good to hang out with someone who can play it.”

She shook her legs out, brushed the sand off her butt. “Ground rules, Jackson. I’m not ready, or even looking, for some guy to jump me. But I want to do this again, the songs and all, as often as we can. I still can’t believe you know who Gozzadini was.”

“Women’s history 101. Right now I’d be worse at bone jumping than I am at singing, so your love canal is safe with me.”

“There’s another one. Damn, you’re a freaking goldmine.” She dug a pen out of her purse, wrote “love canal” on her palm. “I have a bigger idea for our girl band than Honey Muffin and the Dick Baits. Skanque, with a Q, U, E. Like the biggest girl band gimmick ever. I want to shred these songs you and I wrote, and I want us to fix a couple of the others. I can hear them. All I’ve been needing is simple-minded pop with depth. You have the simple mind, I have the depth. What do you think? Classical cellist forsakes cut-throat symphonic career for fame and fortune as a cooch rocker?” She let off on the full speed ahead, thought for a few seconds, elbowed him on the arm. “Nobody can know I wrote men are just stupid and fuck us up man hate songs with a simple minded man. How would it look?”

“I know exactly how it would look. I used to prep a would-be feminist for speeches. I stayed home and did the dirty work, she got to travel and party and get awards.”

“That’s the job I want, the travel and party and awards part. You stay home, keep the kitchen clean and come up with more ideas. What do you really think about Skanque?”

“I like it better because The Dick Baits isn’t really you or what you’re about. The Skanque thing is a gimmick itself, so you might want to lean on your guitar and only stick that cello between your legs as an extra gimmick, no matter how badass I think it is.”

“Yeah? well, right now I think I like a gimmicky cello better than that phony lumberjack who offered me his undying love for this hell of a hot little number until daddy waved the checkbook.” She stared at the sandy grass between her feet and he saw her start to tear up again.

“Goddammit.” She kicked at the patch of grass, looked past the palm trees and the kids playing with a Frisbee that lit up like a flying saucer. “It was the half -Vietnamese part, I know it was. His dad is a hardcore ‘nuke the gooks’ vet so I was never going home with him. I didn’t want to see it is all. Sorry, I keep girling down on you. It just hurts, you know?” She looked down, toed the sand again. “Did you pick up that roach? ‘Cause where I’m taking you, honest to God, has the best seafood quiche in California and way awesome deserts. They only speak Vietnamese, so I’ll talk and won’t order you anything slimy or gross. They’ll call my mother up north about us being there and bring me the phone and she’ll want to know when we’re getting married. I’ll tell her you’re my pimp and you drive a nice car and we went to a wedding chapel in Nevada and not to worry, I’m still on the pill. Smile and nod at everybody.”

“She’ll know those are all lies. Us getting married, and my primer gray pimp-mobile that one side of is sitting on chunks of railroad ties.”

“No, she won’t. And since I know you’re not going anywhere else she’ll a set a place for you at Christmas dinner ‘cause you’re family. Hope you like fish. We’ll pick it up fresh in a cooler off the pier, from another relative in San Francisco.” She took his guitar, walked him to her yellow ‘75 Dart Swinger decked out with plastic flowers and decals of flowers and all kinds of beads hanging from the mirror. And a “Real Musicians Play Cello” bumper sticker. “I’m about to find out where you live, Jackson, so be sure that’s where we really go. A week from today, Christmas Eve, I’ll pick you up in the same place I drop you. You can drive and I’ll sing and we’ll write songs all the way up the Five.”

MERRY CHRISTMAS!