Showing posts with label novel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label novel. Show all posts

28 January, 2011

The Beans, Bread, and Beer Fund: An Explanation

Making it as a writer is rough, no matter how you go about it. Mostly people get some kind of pointless day job, or they become college instructors. Either way, you're more or less screwed out of valuable work time. A tedious day job saps your strength, your soul, and your imagination. Teaching on the college level isn't much better, except that you're expected to jockey for position, scramble your way up the ladder by stepping on the backs of your friends and colleagues, chasing that mirage once called tenure.

The other option -- go at it alone, try to come up with some other equation. And unless you get "discovered" or picked up by some eye tooth licking salivating agent or a big house publisher that wants to own your work into the next century, you do, more or less, go it alone. That's just the way it is, and, like Bukowski wrote, "isolation is the gift."

But life, even an inexpensive one, isn't exactly cheap.

I've learned a lot over the last year about hawking my own stuff and hustling to get writing work as well as exposure. While that oft dreamed of dream of writers to get picked up, get a major contract, and skyrocket into literary fame still pecks at me, I have learned to stop hoping for it. I still have my need to write, though, and I am still dedicated to the Art and the Craft of it. I write, in some fashion, nearly everyday. And I will continue unabated.

The Beans, Bread, and Beer Fund was something I started and posted on my blog as a sort of joke. Okay, half a joke. If I can't get The New Yorker or Playboy to pay me, maybe I can find people who wander across my blog, like what they see, and are willing to help. It's the digital equivalent to singing on a street corner with my hat on the sidewalk. But I haven't pushed it or explained it.

Until now.

I can't tell you your contribution will be tax deductible. It won't. I'm not a non-profit 501(c) 3 organization. Whatever you contribute will go towards what the name suggests – food, shelter, and some beer (I'm just being honest.)

If I can get enough money in this fund, it's my intention to put that money toward a limited run of print chapbooks, in addition to my Dead Machine E/Ditions.

I have two chapbook length manuscripts of poems: Boomtown Holiday and Love and The Baboon that I intend to release as E/Ditions within the next six months or so. If you are so kind as to give, depending on how much you give, you could end up on the dedication page.

Here's how it works:

$1- $12.99: your name will appear on a dedication page in one of the upcoming E/Ditions, and you'll get a free copy of one.
$13 - $29.99: your name will appear on a dedication page in both the E/Dition and one of the limited edition print chapbook. If you leave me your address, I'll send you a signed copy of the chapbook of your choice.
$30 + : all of the above. Plus, I'll list your name on a permanent page on as a  motherfuckin' god send. Really.

The link on the right sidebar will take you to PayPal, where your personal information is secure. I will not have access to your card numbers, and you can use any credit or debit card, or your own PayPal account. The link below will also take to the same place.

Thanks in advance for your goodwill and your support. I won't forget it. Ever.

By the way:

I'm also thinking about putting together The Beans, Bread, and Beer Tour.

I'll come to your venue and read from any number of my works and teach workshops on fiction, poetry, and independent publishing. Base cost is the cost of a bus ticket to wherever you are, a cot or couch in a reasonably warm place, and a flat fee to be discussed, depending on whether you're looking for a reading, a workshop, or both. If you're interested email me at

30 November, 2010

Excerpt from In Season: A Sense of Community

Walking home from the bar, two things invariably cross my mind: stars and sidewalks. One of things I was looking forward to when Maude and I moved to “the country” was being able to look up at the night sky and see stars for the first time in nearly a decade. We’d both grown up in the country – different parts of the country from northwest Illinois, the place we now referred to as home – and we had both missed it. Or maybe it was the idea of it. Clean air, small townie people, simple lives. It had been more than ten years for me. A decade plus of neon lights. Neon lights that wiped out the stars, cement that erased the landscape. Real cities, too; not those half-assed Midwestern city stand-ins where the streets mysteriously roll up after dark and there’s nothing to see or be afraid of in the shadows left by the illumination of street lights. Real cities – where the only interesting people are the ones who crawl out after the sun goes down, where the dirt and the grime and the stench are hiding some deep dark secret that’s worth knowing if you take risk. Real cities where you can sleep all day or not at all … though to sleep at all is to miss something. Something important. Sleep is for the lazy, the disinterested. Sleep is wasted time. Sleep means you’re not earning money to pay taxes and buy shit you don’t need; sleep means you’re not hanging out in bars or in clubs trying to obliterate those parts of the day – the majority of the day – that’s tedious and dull and insulting and debilitating; sleep means you’re not drinking or smoking or fucking. And to help us a long in our quest to work our ways into forgetfulness and a stress free retirement, cities provide neon lights. Neon lights that blot out the stars and allow us to lie to our bodies when they tell our brains we need sleep. Neon lights that allow us to believe that time is expansive and stretched out in front of our feet like a giant plush carpet, ready to get trampled, that allow us to convince ourselves that there are more secrets to be discovered, more money to earn, more movies to watch, more food to eat, more shoes to buy, more people to fuck.

But in the country, there are no neon lights. Even the street lamps are a little dimmer. I don’t know why. I don’t know if they buy cheaper bulbs or if the fixtures are just older and close to wearing out. I wonder sometimes if the people who manufacture bulbs for street lights make them in two kinds: city and small town. Which would end up costing more? Logically, city bulbs would cost more; better illumination, bigger budgets. But that’s not how economics works. The price index is determined not by who can afford things, but by who can’t. Those with the inability to pay are charged more for an inferior product that always has a FOR SALE sticker on it. And since small towns have smaller budgets and shrinking tax bases, I’d put my money on small town street light bulbs having the bigger price tag.

But fewer, less illuminating street lamps mean that the stars have one less layer of static to push through in order to be noticed. There’s still pollution, of course. All human life breeds pollution faster than it breeds more people. But there’s not as much mucky muck for the fading star to filter through.

When I was a kid, I used to know some of the constellations by sight and by season. I don’t know why I knew those things or what exactly made me decide to acquire that knowledge. I remember being told in Mrs. Ramey’s 5th grade Science class that the stars we see aren’t really stars, just the residue of light traveling through the universe. By the time the light reaches earth, the star is long dead. Burned out. Gone, but still beautiful.

The problem with being drunk and walking home and thinking about the stars is that while I’m looking up at the sky, I’m not really watching what my feet are doing. I have untrustworthy feet. Sometimes they take me places I never intended to go; many times they simply trip me up. Over the years, I’ve learned how to fall so that the impact doesn’t hurt as much; not as much, but it still hurts. Parking lots, crosswalks at busy intersections, well-manicured parks, mole hole besieged back yards, and uneven sidewalks – I’ve fallen on them all. I’ve fallen up and down flights of stairs. The trick is to go limp before and protect your head and face as much as possible. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

“So… where are WE heading tonight?”

My focus between the early spring stars above and the crumbling, piss poor sidewalks under my feet was interrupted by what had become a familiar voice. “Hello, Erle.”

“That’s deputy to you.”

There are generally two kinds of cops. There are cops who end up going to law school and cops who become cops in order to continue a lifelong pattern of abuse, bullying and intimidation. The first kind don’t stay in law enforcement for any longer than it takes them to get through night school. They get out of law enforcement for any number of reasons, none of which really matter. Sometimes they want to make more money and there just aren’t the opportunities to be a crooked cop like there used to be. Sometimes they’re worried about getting shot. Occasionally, they see the flaws in the system and are still optimistic enough to believe they can change it while charging $200 + an hour. This first type makes up a small number of the whole total, however.

The second type – which make up the majority – were those guys in school who punched you to see if you’d cry and if you DID cry, they’d punch you even harder. They were the guys who saw dodge ball as an excuse to bean you in the head and who always managed to turn a seemingly benign game of soccer into Extreme Dodge Ball because the cross hatch design on a soccer ball made for a more interesting welt. They were the jerks that always took out the prettiest girls – because the girls had learned at an early age to fall for bullies and jerks out of some misdirected belief that love will change them. Sometimes these guys went into the military. Sometimes they went to college. But they always end up being cops because they lacked the natural skill to be professional athletes and the basic IQ to do anything else.

Erle Scrogins was neither of those. He was one of the rare third kind. Erle became a cop because he suffered mercilessly at the hands of bullies his entire childhood. He lack the athletic prowess or street sense to defend himself. He wasn’t smart enough to be brainy. He saw that the bullies got all the respect and all the pretty girls, and he wanted them too. So he started copying the behavior in an attempt to win the favors of the real bullies as well as the girls. But that never really worked, either, and when he saw that people tend to respect the badge regardless of who wears it, he decided to put one on.

I’d only known one other cop that fit into this category. My ex-wife’s fourth husband. He was an Army MP, and a Class-A pig fucker. He was also as tall as a slightly abnormal leprechaun. Erle was on the short side, too. Guys like Erle usually end up being prison guards or mall security. But for Erle, there was no mall and the prison had closed more than ten years ago. Being a small town deputy was the only way, short of moving. And Erle would probably never move because all the people he wanted to impress still lived in the town he had grown up in. Besides, he was too scared of all the things he didn’t know to ever move more than two streets away from his parents’ house.
“Just on my way home,” I answered.
“Where you comin’ from?”
Are you serious? “You know where I came from. You were sitting across the street when I came out.” I nodded behind me to the Moose Head , one of the only two bars in town, and the one I tended to patronize the most. It was almost always deserted that time of night, which made it easier to drink in peace and get out of the house at the same time. Most everyone in town was an early to bed early to rise type. They were farmers, crew workers. Salt of the Earth types. Self-styled. Nearly all of them were older than me or Maude. Most were more than twice my age. Except for a few. Like Erle.

“Where's your car?”

“You know I don't drive home from the bar.” He couldn't even go with a new tact. Erle knew I didn't drive because he harassed me at least once a week... usually the day the paper came out. He didn't have any other reason to lean on me; but he had made a point of inconveniencing me as much as possible ever since I wrote an article about how the Mount Arliss Police Department was so poor they couldn't afford bullets. According to several people, including Erle, the mayor, the Chief of Police, one baptist minster and other concerned citizens, all of whom had declined to be quoted – except Erle – my article made the police department look “like a bunch of ineffective Barney Fifes.” That particular quote came from one of the several letters my editor Sam received in response. I know there were several letters because Same showed me each and everyone of them. Only one of them made an Don Knotts reference; but they all had one thing in common. Each letter began with the sentence “I do not authorize you to publish my letter in your publication.” Cowards, all of them. Sam showed me the letters as a way to encourage me, I think. He and I both tend to take the position that you're not fixing anything unless you're pissing people off and causing trouble. A few of the letters could have been construed as threats. But I wasn't all that concerned.

Erle never forgave me for the article or for quoting him for saying that he'd be in “real trouble” if he ever had to actually pull his side arm on more than one suspect because he only had one bullet. Part of the reason he never forgave me was that the quote got him in trouble – which was why he was pulling night shift in a town that usually rolls up Main Street at 6pm. The other reason he was pissed off at me was that he knew that while he was harassing me, Police Chief Dolarhyde was at that very moment at Erle's house in bed with Erle's wife, Eileen.

“That don't mean you're not drunk.”

Funny, I thought. I sort of thought that was the point. “Can't you scrape up any real criminals to bother?” I asked. “Isn't there some meth lab hidden in the middle of a corn field somewhere that you can go set fire to?” I was going to stop there, but I was doing so well. “I'd have thought there were meth dealers on every corner the way Dolarhyde describes it.” The chief of police didn't give me interviews, not since the bullet article. But he still talked to Sherri at the Mount Arliss Examiner. Of all the the papers in the area, they were Sam's biggest competition. I had applied for a job there, but Bill Watson was looking for somebody who could write and sell ads. I knew better than to think I had the temperament to sell anybody anything. Combining the writer and ad rep positions was the only way Bill could make it a full-time position; but I wasn't all that interested in being a full-time anything. Besides, selling ads is incongruous with journalism... even the small town variety. Sales is a smile and a handshake wash my back and I'll wash yours kind of gig. That's not my style. Sherri is a good at her job because she's a serviceable writer and a pleasant person, and the crusty old bastards in town have no choice but to be polite to her. She's smart because she uses their chauvinism to her advantage. Of course, she used to give me the stink eye whenever we crossed paths at meetings; I think she was under the impression that I had my sights set on her job. Eventually she must've figured out that I have no such ambitions, because we're more or less polite with one another these days.

If it wasn't the bullet article that made Dolarhyde run to Sherri and the Examiner, it was probably the fact that I would've asked him how he felt about the increase in DUI related traffic stops since he took office – especially since he was part owner of the only other bar in town, Bausenforfer's. That was where the younger set went to get drunk, fuck in the back of pick-up trucks, and play out small dramas fueled by cheap beer and schnapps. Dolarhyde sells the booze out of one hand and with the other reaps the benefits – a new squad car, for one, which was bought with proceeds from DUI fines and property seizures. Dolarhyde seemed to be good for a few things that made for a police chief – he was good at looking like he was cracking down, and good at skimming money. I had heard that he was working with the County Sheriff to shave money from prisoner commissary accounts – the money inmates have to buy bubble gum and cigarettes – to help offset the cost of their incarceration. Of course, that means he's pocketing a percentage. But I couldn't get anybody to go on record.

“OH,” Erle straightened his back and leaned in like he was ready to pounce. “You think the law's a BOTHER?”

Yes. “That's not what I said, Erle.”



That made him smile. “And just what were you saying?” He asked. “I wouldn't want to MISQUOTE you.”

Fucker. “You asked me if I was driving,” I answered, lighting a cigarette. “I'm not driving. I'm walking home. I'd RATHER be be driving, because it's too god damn cold to be walking. But I AM walking. I'm walking the way I'm always walking home from the Moose Head.” I'm walking the way I'm always walking when you stop me for no reason.

It's important to keep track of what cops say; one of the little tests they use to decide if you're drunk is to talk in circles and see if you can keep up or if you're easily confused. Beating this test is easier than beating a breathalyzer, and it's generally the first one they use to decide if they want to bother with making you blow and subjecting you to a road side sobriety test that most people can't pass sober unless their professional athletes. If you're smart and you pay attention, the talking test is the easiest thing in the world to walk away from. If you're smart. Keep in mind, this is not an objective test. It's specifically allowed as evidence in front of a judge; but it does fall under “officer's discretion” and is often written into the report as “Accused seemed disorientated and confused.” This tactic – making you sound like you have Alzheimers instead of a liver full of booze – is one of the unofficial perks of carrying a badge and a gun. Because that badge and gun aren't mere symbols of presumed authority and power. They are a license to fuck with people and get off on it.

“That's not what I said, Rafferty.” He used my name. That meant he probably thought he was close to hauling me in. I haven't yet had the privledge of seeing the inside of the Arliss County jail and I wasn't about to make that night my first. I'd sit until arraignment next Monday because we didn't have the money for Maude to come down and post bail. I has also developed the impression that Erle, Dolarhyde, and maybe even the Sheriff were just waiting to get me in there. In my few and far between interactions with Police Chief Alvin Dolarhyde, I got the impression that he was the sort of cop that kept drugs on hand to frame prisoners – the kind that would stab himself in the arm to justify a midnight escape/ self-defense shooting. Dolarhyde was a Class A Fucker; and that made him a Mount Arliss bad ass. Erle was nowhere near that; but he still tried to toss his shriveled little balls around.

“You asked me where my car was,” I answered. “You implied that I was going to drive drunk.”

“So... you ARE drunk?”

Yes. But it's fading fast. “Now I think YOU'RE the one not hearing things, Erle. You wouldn't have worried about me driving if you didn't get it into your head that you think I'm drunk.” Choose your words carefully
He sneered. “You think you're so SMART, dontcha?”

“Yes. I also know I'm able to walk home without hurting anybody.”

“I could make you blow. You'd probably fail.”

I wanted to respond with something like “Sorry, you're not my type.” But that would give Erle the extreme homophobe just the excuse he was looking for. I'd get run in, probably lose a few teeth, and end up with the only bull queer rapist in Arliss County as a cell mate.

“If you really thought I was drunk, DEPUTY” I said very carefully, smoking my cigarette and trying to remain calm, “you'd already have hauled me in.” I used to know this chick who was into tarot cards and far eastern chants who told me I needed to stay more centered. At peace. She told me I was too angry and that I drank to avoid dealing with the things that made me so angry. She was always telling me to close my eyes and focus on the quiet center of my body. She would say these things right before she went down on me. I didn't know if she was trying to help me become a better person or if she was just getting herself in the mood. I guess it worked. Not that I ever bought into that grocery store check out line brand of new age pop spirituality. But she gave phenomenal head.

“I could just haul you in on suspicion,” he spat.

I was winning. “Of what?”

“Maybe you look like you're buying dope. Maybe you look like you're going to steal a car. And there's always PDI.”

“PDI?” I didn't bother to answer the other things. “Public Intoxication? That's the best you can come up with?”

I couldn't tell if he noticed the sarcasm or not. That's one of the things that tends to get lost in translation around here. Sarcasm. I don't know if they don't recognize it or they simply don't know how to respond to it. Maybe it's a matter of appreciation, like art. I hadn't meant for it to slip out; but it had … like art. I waited and locked eyes with him. It was down to the struggle of wills, now. Tug of war. If I slipped even a little, he'd click the cuffs on my and shove me into the back of his worn out cruiser. All I really wanted to do was go home and slip into bed next to Maude. I suppose I could placate what was left of his ego and get away with a hollow warning for whatever it was that he wanted to pin on me. I could call him sir or something. I mean, it wasn't like I didn't like him. I did, sort of. I just didn't have any respect for him. And it had nothing to do with him being a cop, or with (apparently) being okay about his boss boning his high school sweetheart. There was something else about him. Something not right. Not dangerous, exactly. Not a victim of circumstance. A victim of himself.

I could hear Maude's voice in my head. It was telling me to placate the bastard so I could go home. Her voice is telling me that I'm being to damn stubborn for my own good. She tells me that a lot. She's not wrong.
After a few stretched out seconds of staring at one another he points at my cigarette. “What's that you're smoking, Rafferty?”

“It's a cigarette.”

“It don't look like a cigarette.”

The hell it doesn't. I roll my own because I want to actually taste the tobacco I smoke. I use pipe shag instead of the usual Bugler or loose leaf tobacco. Erle knows this. He's about to give up, but he wants to see if he can scare me just a little before he lets me go.

“You know I roll my own,” I said. And even if he didn't know, I know how to roll them. It doesn't look like a joint. Even when I smoked weed I never rolled it to look like a joint. A badly rolled joint … or a badly rolled cigarette … looks like a long bird turd. Who wants to smoke that?

“Fine.” He sighed and broke the staring contest. “Go home. But you better...”

“... be careful.” I finished the sentence. The bitter look on Erle's face told me I should've maybe not done that. I waited for him to grab me. He didn't. He turned, walked back around to the driver side of his cruiser, got in, and squealed away.

The son of a bitch didn't haul me in. But he did steal my buzz.


11 November, 2010

Excerpt from In Season: The Nuclear Option

Between the scratch I bring in and her salary, we can get by about as well as we've ever gotten by. Catching up is a distant dream, and one that I don't think about very often. Too depressing. Maude thinks about it a lot; she has her third eye focused on that ethereal moment you see in stock broker commercials during the Sunday morning talk shows. Lately I've begun to feel like I'm letting her down. She hasn't said anything like that; but the weight is still there, bearing down on us both. I'm starting to wonder about her old age, how she'll live, how we'll get by. I don't worry about myself so much because I figure I'll keep going until I collapse on the street; maybe still writing about chili cook offs, maybe mumbling to myself and scribbling odd two line poems on the back of fast food wrappers. And I'm really okay with that … for me. But Maude deserves more. It's just difficult for me to see that far forward.

When I don't have anything on the burner to write about, that means foraging: which is by far the most meaningful part of my job. I think of it as loafing with purpose. That means I hang around looking useless, eavesdrop on conversations, pay attention to local gossip. One of the problems with being a small town freelance hack is that most of the news isn't really new. Everybody knows what's going on before the paper even comes out on Wednesday; so it's not really a matter of informing people as much as confirming what they've already heard. This frustrated me, initially. But once I realized that I was under no real obligation to inform anybody of anything, I was free to write about whatever I could find that was timely and interesting. The highest hope I have is that I can at least dispel the inevitable hearsay that's a part of every well-established ear-to-ear gossip network. This may not be the kind of illumination I always looked for in poetry; but it's something.

Then I figured out that no one really read the paper except to get the high school football, basketball (boys) and baseball scores.

But in a way it was also a liberating experience to realize that regardless of whatever got printed in the paper from one week to the next, people most likely choose to believe the shit they overheard in the line at Blaine's Farm and Fleet instead of anything I carefully researched. Then I came to understand that the issue was not that I wrote it as a member of “the liberal media”, or that it was too honest, or even that they saw my articles as an out and out lie. The major hurtling point was that I actually took the time to research it instead of just talking to the Pharmacist or getting my facts from the grizzly old bastards who ate lunch every week day at the Moose Head. They sat around this one large round table, where they were often joined by the County Clerk – who had the clarity of mind to get most of his opinions and at least half of his ideas from the eight men sitting at that table – and called themselves the Round Table. Most of them were round, too... though that had less to do with the table and more to do with a diet consisting of fried food, salt, and shit beer. They meet each work day at noon for the lunch hour, order whatever the special is for that day (Monday Chili and Fritos, Tuesday Tacos, Wednesday Open-Faced Pork, Thursday Pizza Burgers, Friday Fried Fish Sandwich) and solve all the world's problems. They loved politics and especially loved that each of them agreed with one another on three basic tenets:
  1. Country life is the only way God intended man to life;
  2. Cities are bad, and only made worse by all the blacks and illegal Mexican immigrants living there; and
  3. The only thing worse than blacks or Mexicans is a democrat.
Their solutions for all the world's problems: war, poverty, the national debt, the educational crisis, gun control, or anything else not listed, were as uncomplicated as they were predictable:
  1. Shoot the democrats;
  2. Shoot the blacks and Mexicans; and
  3. Shoot anybody that didn't look like they belonged there.
As a matter of fact, they often sat and talked about the advantages of full scale nuclear war, which they saw as the sum total solution to all the world's problems:
  1. All of America's enemies would be destroyed.
  2. Most of the cities and tainted horrible people in them would die. And
  3. The ones who didn't die right off would eventually because they didn't grow up in the country and didn't know how to take care of themselves. Plus, they'd be deformed and if they wandered into town, they'd be easy to spot.
It took them the entire hour to actually say these things. Or things suspiciously similar.

Not much going on, and I still had some cash and nothing to do. It was important that I be productive, that whatever I do that day in some way relate to getting paid; I decided last night that I would get work done, no matter what.

It's harder than people think... not working. You drop a enough points below the poverty line and you have to be smart. Sneaky. Like being turn a few pennies into a hamburger. Or being able to turn the money for one scotch on the rocks into several cocktails and maybe a beer or two. It requires finesse. And if I was careful, I might be able to extend my scotch and get a story or two for the week, and earn a little scratch.

That, I told myself, was all I really expected from a good day. That, and a night of restful sleep.

But I have to get through today first. And then... we'll see what happens.

16 February, 2010

[Morning Glory]

The next day I woke up to someone banging on the door. I wasn’t sure of the time. I looked at my cell phone. The clock read 10:35. Shit. I didn’t know anybody who would be up at this time, let alone anybody who would be banging on the door. I rolled out of bed and stumbled downstairs, if only to tell whoever it was to shut the hell up and leave me alone.

I opened the door. There was a woman on the other side of it. It was Marie, the apartment complex manager. She was an attractive Latino woman with big dark eyes, a ghetto ass, and smooth dark skin. When I opened the door and the outside air hit me, I remembered I was naked; but I was too hungover and pissed off to care. Marie took a few steps back and made sure to look directly at my face.

“What do you want?” I asked. “It’s not the first of the month.”

“Don’t you think you should… put something on?” I couldn’t tell if she was really offended or if she felt the need to act that way. “There are kids around here.”

“They’re in school,” I said. “And if they’re not, they deserve what they get.”


“Oh. They’re not up yet then. I wasn’t either, as a matter of fact.”

“There are FAMILIES here, Mr. Rafferty.”

“Did you beat on the door just to tell me that?”

“I could have you arrested.”

“Well, do that. I’ll tell them you sexually assaulted me.” Horror spread across her face. Of course it was all bullshit. But that’s what she got for waking me up. “I’ll tell them you threatened to evict me unless I put out. It’ll take YEARS to straighten out and by then you’ll have lost your sweet little gig here and I’ll be living in Alaska. Now if you’ll excuse me…”

“I was just dropping off this notice Mr. Rafferty.” She held it out in front of her at arms length. I grabbed it from her and looked at it. It was a notice informing me I was late on the rent.

“So what’s this mean?”

“It means,” she said, “that you have five days to pay or move. Or we start the eviction process.”

“Uh huh.”

“And let me suggest, Mr. Rafferty…”

“Call me Raff. Anybody who sees me naked gets to call me Raff.”

“Let me suggest, MR. RAFFERTY, that you take this seriously. And next time,” she sniffed, let her gaze drift downward, arched her eyebrow, and frowned. “Put on some clothes. You’re embarrassing yourself more than you are me. Really.” She turned and shimmied away, laughing to herself.

I closed the door, locked it, and looked down at my limp cock. Fucking depression. I blamed depression. Lynda had blamed booze. She said to me, “You’re giving up your libido for a bottle.” Fucking hell. Used to be I could set the clock by my morning wood. Used to be. And here it was letting me down, literally. I couldn’t get it up for pathetic reality TV women, girls at the bar, or even porn. It had been months since Lynda and I fucked. And that was before she left. And she’d been gone almost three months. No wonder Marie didn’t respect me. No wonder Lynda didn’t, either. I dropped the notice on the floor and went back to bed.

Twenty minutes later someone else was banging on the door. This time I knew who it was; it was Randall. He was calling my name while he was beating on the door. Among his more annoying qualities, he rarely experienced the wonder of a full blown hangover. The bastard. Again, I considered ignoring it, but then I remembered he had my key and he’d probably use it if I didn’t answer. For all I knew, the fucker went and made a copy.

This time I pulled on a pair of shorts before I stumbled and opened the door. When I did, he was smiling.

“I thought you’d be asleep by the pool again,” he handed me my key. “You gave me your house key.”

“Thanks.” I moved so he could come in.

“Does this mean we’re going steady?”

“Fuck off, Randall. I’m not in the mood.”

“Well GET in the mood. We got us some PLANS today, son.” He made a face and sniffed. “Dude, maybe you should… I don’t know… CLEAN every once in a while? This place reeks of old ass and dead fish.”

I was trying not to look at the mess as I tried to make coffee. “And just how do you know what those things smell like?”

“I visit you.”

“Do you want a cup of coffee before I kick your head in?”

He smiled. “Nah. You know I don’t drink the stuff. It’s bad for you.” He pulled a cigarette out and lit it. “Besides, we don’t have time for coffee talk. Get cleaned up.”


“We’re going to the track.”

“You didn’t lose enough yesterday?”

“Shee-it. That was yesterday. I got a new lease on life today.”

Lucky fucking you. “I don’t feel like doing shit today, okay? Just let me wake up and go on about my day. You can tell me how much you lost later.”

“Come on, Raff. We’re meeting up with Steve and Paul and Chris. It’ll be fun, man. It’ll be good for you. And if you don’t have any money, I’ll stake you a few bucks. But you need to get your smelly ass in the shower first and get that creeping stank off, or I won’t let you in my car.”

If I waited until later that night, he wouldn’t care about letting me in his car because chances were I’d be driving him home. I had money. I had a little money. My unemployment payments were reliable, if nothing else was. I was behind on rent, sure; but losing a few bucks at the track wasn’t going to make any difference anyway.

“I need coffee.”

“We can get you coffee up at the bar.”

“Will they let you back in?” I don’t know why I asked.

He laughed. “You know better. That place needs me. I bring in all the good business.”

“Fine. Give ten minutes.” I pushed by him to get upstairs.

“Seven,” he said. “I’ll give you seven. Hey, I saw this cute spick chick when I pulled up. Longish dark hair; ghetto booty. You know her?”


“You ever tap her?”

“Nah,” I answered. Briefly, I considered putting Randall on her trail; it would come to nothing but it would give him something to do besides roust me and it would annoy the shit out of her. She was only doing her job, I thought. So I decided to do her favor. “She’s a lesbian.” But I also said it for myself. I couldn’t have him trying to play grab ass with her; that would only make me homeless faster.


“Yeah. She likes chicks. Real militant, too. Hates men. Carries a big knife in case she feels like cutting somebody’s junk off. She needs more pussy than you.”

Randall whistled. “Fucking shit, man. I mean, I wouldn’t marry her or nothing…” he drifted off for a second. “Maybe she hasn’t seen the right dick yet.”

“I’m sure she’s met plenty,” I said. “Do you want me to shower or do you want to circle jerk over the apartment manager?”

“Shower,” he said. “I don’t spank in front of nobody.” His smile widened. “Unless she’s into that freaky shit.”

11 February, 2010

[Playing Pretend]

My First Love was Erica Delaney. She was five years old. I was six. She lived with her parents on the newer side of town. Her father was the team leader of the power company that had built the dam and blocked off The West Fork. The hydroelectric plant saved the valley, according to the power company; the alternative was to build a nuclear power plant a little bit up river. But that presented other problems. What to do with the waste was one. The other was the blow to civic pride that Blighton would’ve gotten the power plant instead of New Leeds. Erica’s father was a popular man and a CPA. She didn’t understand any of these things anymore than I did; all she did was laugh and run around in circles the way small children used to.

I was older because I got sick and couldn’t start school in time. When all the other kids my age were learning to write large block letters and to count on their fingers, I was in and out of the hospital. The doctors didn’t know what was wrong with me. When one specialist either announced his confusion or offered one more incorrect diagnosis, I was shuffled off to another specialist. I learned to read sitting in waiting room next to my mom, who would read aloud to me and teach me words at the same time. It was the same thing with every specialist, though. Each one of them would do the same tests: listen to my heart and lungs, take a blood sample, stick me with some needles, pinch and poke and prod, take my temperature. The allergists always stuck me with this needle that was actually a bunch of tiny needles bundled together. None of it did any good. One doctor thought there was some infection in my tonsils. Another thought it was my appendix. I’d been sick so long that I didn’t remember what it was like to not be sick; and even when I did go to school a year late, the only thing anybody came up with was chronic asthma and a ton of allergies – which meant pills, inhalers, and shots once a week.

And when I did go back to school, the slightest thing set off an attack. I couldn’t run too much at recess or hop around during classroom games. Any hint of excitement triggered an attack. Maybe that was when I learned to bury it all – because to show any excitement, happiness, or to get too rambunctious would lead to an attack that might kill me. All the kids knew about my asthma because the teacher had told them. But it was beyond any of them. I didn’t look sick. They just thought I was lazy, and their parents probably thought my parents were just babying me. When the kids made fun of me because I wasn’t allowed outside when the groundskeeper was mowing the grass, I learned to tune them out. Mostly While they were outside playing tag football or dodge ball, I sat inside, drew pictures, looked at books, and started making up my own games. Games I played in my mind. Playing Pretend. And in my mind, I was never sick and the other kids were all slower and weaker than me and none of them ever made fun of me.

Erica Delaney was not one of the kids who made fun of me. I think that was the reason I fell in love with her. She had long, curly blonde hair in which she wore brightly colored ribbons; the ribbons always matched her dress. Her eyes were a sparkling blue and she had this birdlike little laugh that I could pick out at a distance. Mrs. Chance, our teacher, liked her the best and always let her take the chalkboard erasers outside and clean them. She also let Erica pass out the cookies and juice during snack time, and whenever she asked a question, Erica Delaney’s hand was always the first hand in the air.

Sometimes, when I was actually allowed to go outside, Erica Delaney would smile and wave at me. And when I wasn’t allowed outside, she became part of the game I played in my mind. Sometimes I was a secret agent; that was when I first encountered the evil Dr. Tongo, enemy of all mankind, bent on either ruling or (if he couldn’t rule it) destroying the entire world. Inevitably, Dr. Tongo, in an attempt to keep me from stopping him, would kidnap my sweet Erica Delaney and hold her hostage. That meant I had to break into his super secret hideout, buried deep in the mountains in a place only I could find, to save her and upset his diabolical plans. The adventure was always full of peril, and while I was playing pretend I could be strong, emotional, and in control. I was trained in all the deadliest forms of fighting and I was an excellent athlete. And in the end, I would always rescue her and stop Dr. Tongo. And Erica would wrap her arms around my neck and hug me and kiss me the way women did in the movies and the television shows I watched. And her blue eyes always shone brightest for me.

08 July, 2009

Adapt and Survive

Sometimes the cable went out. When you beat around and live cheap, you learn to accept certain things. That was one of them. The TV set was a piece of shit anyway, but it was my only real entertainment. I left it turned on for days at a time just to combat the silence and to drown out the noise. Noise from my neighbors. Noise from the foot and street traffic. Noise from the endless street construction. Noise from the random drunks wandering the parking lot and from the ranting religiholics who would occasionally “protest” in front of the adult book store when they got tired of marching around the abortion clinic seven blocks away. There were more than a few nights that it was the last thing I heard before I passed out, only to be the first thing I heard when I woke up the next day. I looked around. I had a few swallows of wine left in a bottle of Mogen David Loyce had given me. (It was left behind by one of her less orthodox circumcised customers.) I tipped the bottle back and emptied it. When I looked around for the garbage can, I noticed a cockroach crawling near my foot.

Most of the time, they hide during the day and only come out at night; but sometimes they get brave and act like they own everything. I hate cockroaches. I don’t just hate them because they carry disease. I hate them because I remembered reading about them in a junior high biology class. They’re brainless little fuckers that, even if you squash their heads, they don’t die. They crawl and eat and lay eggs until they die – and then the young eat the dead ones so that they can get fatter, bigger, and eggs until they die. Cockroaches only die naturally when they’ve eaten so much that their outer shell is too small for their stomach. They serve no function other than to reproduce. And if there were ever a nuclear war, they would be the only thing that survived. I saw a picture once of a lair of some gigantic Amazonian cockroaches; they got to be as big as a full grown man’s hand.

But not that one. I stepped on it, tossed the empty bottle in the garbage, and opened the door, sweeping the roach carcass out with my foot.

Then I went down to the main office and complain; I felt pretty safe doing that, since I knew Dave was working. I walked in and he smiled; he always smiled. When I told him about the cable, he told me there was a loose wire.

“What do you mean, ‘a loose wire’?”

He shrugged. “There ees a loose wire, sir. We Weel geet eet feexed.” He smiled. He didn’t blink. It was hard to be pissed off at Dave. I think that’s why he smiled all the time; it wasn’t like his job was anything to be happy about.

“Loose wire, huh?”

“Yes sir.”

“And you’re, uh, working on it?”

He nodded like we had achieved a deep understanding. “Yes sir.”

I don’t know why he just didn’t say they didn’t pay the fucking cable bill. But there was no point in bringing it up.

“Thanks Dave.”

He kept smiling and waved. I waved back.

When I stepped outside I looked up and down the street. I had a decent wad of cash left over from a job I’d had and lost. It was a particularly degrading and meaningless job as a night shift clerk in a 7-11. Mostly I sat behind the counter, but I had to broom and mop and refresh the coffee and hot snacks whenever they were empty. My boss was an impish, weasel looking guy named Lester. He hadn’t achieved much in his life besides growing dreadlocks and being a 7-11 manager – but he derived a lot of satisfaction from lording it over the heads of his employees. I ended being robbed twice and finally got fired because Lester claimed to have video tape of me stealing beer. I’d managed to squirrel away some money, in spite of myself, even after paying two weeks rent. And I had nearly all my last check. I didn’t feel like going to the bar. I started walking towards the liquor store.

On my way there, I remembered there was a little consignment shop a little further up the street past the liquor store. Maybe I can find a cheap radio, I thought. Then they can have all the loose wires they want.

The consignment shop was jammed into a small space in one of the older strip malls; I knew it was an older building because the stucco had faded to a grayish off-white and because the roof wasn’t covered with the orange tile that was crucial in establishing a southwestern motif, and it had clearly been built before the city mandated a strictly enforced southwest aesthetic for newer construction.

When I walked in, I almost walked right back out. The place was in no particular order at all. Racks of clothes and coats were shoved up against furniture. The display shelves were crammed with stuff. The bookshelves, which occupied the front corner next to the counter, were completely disorganized – except for the single shelf at the top where the bibles were. That shelf as meticulously organized by translation. It even looked cleaner. Next to the register there was a glass jar (that almost looked like an old mayonnaise jar). Taped to the front of the jar was a small sign which read: THANK YOU FOR HELPING THE CHILDREN OF ST. ALICE. Behind the cash register there was a dowdy old church matron. Small and shriveled with pince nez glasses balanced on the tip of her narrow nose. Her carefully constructed coiffeur was so silvery white that in the right light it matched the faded blue flower print dress she was wearing.

“Good day,” she croaked.

I mumbled a response and pushed my way down the first narrow aisle. Baby bottles. A ceramic statue of a sad hobo clown sitting on a tree stump and holding out a tin cup. Coffee makers with no pots. Coffee pots with no coffee makers. Napkin holders. Wooden spoon. The handle to a kitchen knife. Tea kettles. Plastic tumblers. Old ash trays. Chipped dinnerware. Shot glasses from Cancun, The Bahamas, Rocky Point, and other places where booze was requires and clothing was optional. Blankets and handmade quilts.

It was impossible. How the hell can anybody find anything in this place? I was thinking that I would have been better off going to Goodwill – but that was farther away.

“Can I help you find something?” the old lady croaked after I fought my way up the second crowded aisle of mismatched and misplaced things. She smiled, which only made her already deeply wrinkled face look more like worn out leather.

“I’m, uh, looking for radio,” I answered. “Just a small radio.”

“Ah,” she replied. “So you like music, young man?”

“Uh, yes ma’am. I do.”

After lifting her right arm with what seemed like massive effort, she pointed a narrow spindly finger towards the far back corner of the store. I started to excavate my way back, when I turned to look at the old woman to make sure I was goin the right direction.

That was when I noticed that the hand she was pointing with only had one finger on it. The middle one.

It took what seemed like forever to push my way through furniture, small appliances, baby clothes, and other random crap I couldn’t imagine anybody being interested in. When I got to the back wall, damned if there wasn’t a couple of display shelves holding different radios, old stereo equipment, and VCRs. I pushed some of the pieces around and found a small portable stereo. It was an older one, but in decent shape. It had a cassette player. The case looked in decent shape. The antenna wasn’t broken or bent. The tuning dial was readable and the knob worked. The price tag read $10.

“Cheaper than a new one,” I said out loud. I was about to take it and make my way back up to the cash register when the old woman said,

“I think there’s an empty plug back there if you want to make sure it works. No refunds, I’m afraid.”

I looked around and sure enough, there was a double wall socket. I plugged in the radio and flipped the small switch. Nothing. I unplugged it and tried the other socket. Dead.

Shit! I tried a couple of other newer looking radios. None of them worked either. I was starting to think there was something wrong with the socket, not the radios. The last one picked up to test was older than the other ones I’d tried. It was a small box that was all speaker with a round tuner dial. The dial worked. The antenna was fine. The cord wasn’t chewed or taped together. If this doesn’t work, I told myself, it’s the goddamn plug. I decided in case that I would buy the first radio – the ten dollar one – pay, and get my ass to the liquor store and back to my room.

When I plugged it in and turned it on, the radio dial lit up and sound came out of the speaker. I turned the dial to make sure some stations would come in. Then I turned it off, unplugged it, and looked at the price tag: $7. Go figure.

I wrestled my way up to the register and the old lady smiled at me again. “Did you find what you came for?”

I set the radio on the counter, and she stooped a little to read the price tag. When she punched the price into the register, I noticed that her left hand only had a pinky and a thumb. I wanted to ask. But I didn’t.

“Seven dollars and a nickel,” she said.

I put the exact amount in the palm of her two fingered hand. Then she hit the cash rendered with her single-fingered hand, put the money in the drawer, and closed it. Using her thumb and pinky like pincer claws, she tore off my receipt and handed it to me. “Do you want a bag?” she asked.

“No thanks,” I answered. Then I wrapped the cord around the radio, tucked it under my arm, and turned to leave.

“Bless you,” she croaked and smiled. I turned (almost instinctively) to thank her. She was still smiling at me. She was also waving goodbye with the single finger of her right hand.

After that I stopped by the liquor store and bought myself a large jug of Carlo Rossi. When I got back to my room, I opened the door and was greeted by three more cockroaches. They were standing there, in the middle of the floor, like they were taking a damn smoke break. I stomped them immediately. I only got two of them. The third scurried away.

“That’s right,” I said a loud, setting the wine and the radio down on the small round table. “Tell all your bug friends about me.” Then I plugged in the radio, found a decent station, sat down, and opened the bottle of wine.

30 June, 2009

Mac the Elder


It was comical. Kind of. Mac the Elder would saunter through the door everyday around the same time and everyone at the bar would turn and call out his name. It was hard not to like the old guy. He knew everybody and everybody knew him. And he always went and said greeted everybody he knew. Sometimes that was a lot of people.

“Charlie, how ya doin? How’s that wife of yours and her varicose veins?

“Tommy, Tommy, what do ya know, huh? Those White Sox of yours having a good year yet?”

“Mary, Mary, love of my life! Where have you been all my life?”

He liked to flirt with the waitresses; but it was all in harmless fun. Sometimes he laid it on pretty thick, but the girls never paid it any mind; it was sort of a right of passage to new waitresses to have her ass grabbed by Mac the Elder. If there’s an advantage to being an old man, it’s that you can get away with doing shit that a younger man couldn’t. The last guy I saw playing grab ass with one of the waitresses here got kicked out. But Mac was safe. Everybody knew Mac and Mac knew them.

Once he made the rounds, he’d take his seat next to the brain trust and settle down to the business at hand: the horses. Rico and Bob were usually there before him, and they updated him on their success or failure. Mac the Elder made his bets carefully, and always in small amounts. Sometimes he’d go in on a bet with one of the brain trust, but mostly he made dime superfecta bets. His system was numerological. He only picked horses whose odds could be divided into prime numbers. For example, if a horse had three to one odds, he’d probably pick it. If the horse had a jaunty walk, that was one more reason. “The trick to gambling,” I overheard him say once, “is not to get in too far. It’s all in good fun, see? Just go into it thinking you’re gonna relax, keep your numbers small, small, small. Have fun. That way, when you lose, it’s not a big deal. I’m never out more than six bucks.”

He was always conscious of the time; he usually had a bag from the nearby grocery store with him – a bottle of milk or orange juice or something from the meat counter. That was his excuse to get out of the house. Mac was retired and sitting pretty; but he didn’t want to be one of those retirees who loafed around waiting to die. He’d made some smart investments back when the markets were good and the economy wasn’t in the toilet, and he was still trying to use his money to make more money. It wasn’t because he needed it, he said. No. “It’s something to do,” he said. “Besides, with the way my kid spends it, it’s any wonder I have anything at all.”

Mac the Younger was his son. Of course, Mac the Elder was in his seventies, so the Mac the Younger was really more like Mac the middle-aged. He’d come in all the time, drink expensive drinks and lay out more money on the horses than he had. Once I overheard Mac the Elder telling Sammy that he had to pay to get Mac the Younger’s electricity turned back on. “And he works!” Elder Mac grumbled. “You’d think he would know how to take care of things by now.”

This day in particular, he was talking up a trip he was taking out to California. “I’ll be gone a couple three days,” he told Ted and Rico. “Going out to visit my daughter and her family.”

That was the first I’d ever heard him mention somebody besides his son. Apparently was the daughter was well married – she’d landed herself an architect in San Fernando, had a few kids. They had a nice house. Their oldest daughter was graduating from high school. Mac the Younger wasn’t going, apparently. There was some bad blood between the siblings (I’d heard Mac the Younger drone on about it once) and it was better if the brother offered his congratulations long distance.

“You’re going to have to get along without me for a few days, fellas,” he said and laughed. He was walking around the bar again, talking to people. He could only sit for so long, even when he was watching the horses run. He came around to me. “Hey, there,” he said. “I see you in here all the time and I know we’ve talked a few times. I’m Mac.” He extended his hand and slapped me on the back.

We hadn’t talked so much as he had talked at me once or twice. I shook his hand and told him my name. He decided take that as a sign that he could sit and talk to me.

“So what do you do?” he asked.

“I drink,” I said.

He laughed. Mac always liked a joke, even when there wasn’t one. “No, no. I mean your job. Your work. What do you do?”

“My last job was in a warehouse,” I said, “but that didn’t work out. I have high hopes of finding some other degrading occupation in the near future.”

“I worked for thirty-five years,” he said. “And now I pretty much do what I want. I was a pilot – you know, flew the big passenger jets.”

“Sounds like interesting work.”

“It could be,” he said. “I was gone a lot, you know, but, heh, that’s not always a bad thing. Now I’m home all the time and my wife doesn’t know what do with me.”

I bet. “It’s a good thing you come here, then,” I said. “Nothing holds a marriage together like frequent trips to the bar.”

Mac laughed again. “You’re not married, I guess?”

“No,” I said. “Haven’t found anybody who wants to live the posh lifestyle I live.”

“Women, you know,” he said in a confidential tone, “all they want is a little security. Whether they work themselves or whether they stay home. It’s all about security.”

“I can see that.”

Mac fell silent for a split second. “My son, he works,” he went on. “He’s some kind of supervisor over at the university.”

“Good for him.”

“Yeah. It should be,” he shook his head. “So, you ever watch the horses?”

“Sure,” I said.

“You ever play? You know, bet?”

“When I can afford to lose,” I said.

“That’s good,” he said. “Most people, you know, they make the mistake of putting more into it than they have. And you know you can’t ever really win that way.”

No one ever really wins. “Yeah. But I do like to watch them run. They’re beautful animals.”

“What about the dogs?” he asked.

I shook my head. “I don’t like the dog races. They treat those dogs like shit. The horses, at least, when they’re done racing the go out to kiddie farms and carry five year old around, or they’re put out to stud. Dogs get used until they’re used up.”

My answer must’ve surprised Mac. The look on his face suggested that he was going through the script in his head to find the appropriate response. “Yeah, well,” he backpedaled a little, “I see what you mean. But what I was going to tell you was that the odds are usually better and so is the pay out. You can put down LESS and walk away with MORE.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Yeah,” he sighed. “I did okay today. Won one, lost one. That’s probably as good as it’s going to get.”

“You never know,” I said. “That’s why they call it gambling.”

He laughed and slapped me on the shoulder. “That’s true, that’s true.” He took a few breathes. “Well, you probably heard, I’m going out of town for a few days.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I heard something about it.”

“It’ll be nice to see my daughter and her family,” he said. “My granddaughter’s going to college in the fall. San Diego State. It’s not the BEST school… but it’s school.”

“Very true,” I said. “Does she know what she’s going to study?”

“I think she’s going to be a teacher.”

I nodded. “Worthy occupation.”

Mac nodded. “Yeah. I think so. I’m just glad she’s not one of these kids who wants to go to school to ‘find herself’ or whatever. She’d got a plan.”

“It helps.”

“Yeah,” he went on. “You know, and I don’t mean anything by this…” he paused and looked around to make sure someone wasn’t around who might be offended, “… but too many people are just wandering around doing NOTHING. You know? Back in my day, you went out and got a job and that was it.”

I didn’t answer. He didn’t really give me the space.

“But she’s got a plan. She’s smart. Got a solid head on her shoulders. Good parents.”

I nodded.

“My son,” he went on, “he was married once. But it didn’t work out. I told him before he married her that she wasn’t ,ah, right in the HEAD, you know? I mean, she was NICE enough and all that. But she was just kinda FLAKY, you know?” He used his hands to illustrate flaky. “I mean, the woman had two college degrees and she wanted to go back and get a third. Don’t get me wrong,” he looked around again, “education is a great thing. My granddaughter’s going to get an education. But so is DOING something. And all Joyce – that was her name, Joyce – all she wanted to do was go to school and make little clay pots in the shape of people’s heads. I mean, that kind of thing is fine when you’re in elementary school… but she was a grown woman!”

“Yeah,” I said. “That must’ve been rough.” Go away now. My tone was sarcastic. Either he didn’t notice it or he chose to ignore it.

“It was.” He nodded over to Mac the Younger, who was pouring over a racing program and drinking some cocktail with an umbrella in it. “I told him he should get married again. You know, it’ll settle him down. If he finds the right woman, of course.”

Sure, I thought. It’s worked out so well for you. “Maybe some people shouldn’t get married,” I said. “Maybe some people weren’t meant to.”

Mac looked shocked. “What do you mean?”

“Look around here sometime,” I said. “Half the guys who hang out here are divorced. Most of the rest are married, but they come here to get away from their wives and bitch about them. Maybe if they hadn’t gotten married, they wouldn’t feel the need to get away. They could do whatever they wanted and not have to worry about how somebody at home is going to respond.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Mac said. “But that’s just how it is. Just ‘cause you complain doesn’t mean you don’t love them. It’s just – I’ve been married for almost 40 years, and I can tell you, it can be tough sometimes, but I’d rather be married than not.”

“But that’s you,” I said. “Maybe your son just shouldn’t get married. I think it takes a temperament, you know? Some people got it. Some people don’t. And there’s nothing wrong with NOT having it.”

Mac shook his head. “Ah, I guess,” he spat out. “Things used to be different,” he said. “Used to be, there wasn’t any question about it.”

And used to be, people used horse drawn carriages to get around and candle sticks to see at night. “I guess things change,” I said.

“I guess they do.” He stood up, slapped my shoulder again, and shook my hand. “Nice talking to you,” he said.

“Take care, Mac,” I said. “Safe travels. Enjoy California.”

He wandered back over to his seat between Mac the Younger and the brain trust. I looked up at the TV looking down at me from on top of the bar. The races at Santa Anita were pushing ahead in spite of an unseasonable rain that had made the track a little muddy. A few minutes later, Mac the Elder grabbed his grocery bag from the freezer behind the bar, said a few goodbyes and grabbed a few of the waitress’s asses. One of them, a new girl with porcelain white skin, read hair, and distinctive features, jumped, squealed, then turned around like she was about to hit him. One of the other girls came over, though, and Mac, ever the gentleman, raised his hand and smiled apologetically. The red head shook her head, but appeared to accept the apology. Then he left without looking at me.

29 June, 2009

Loyce and the Monkey Man

Even though there was a room between Loyce’s and mine, sometimes I still heard what was going over there. Mostly it was just the sounds people make when they fuck; some old wheezer hemming and hawing and laboring through while Loyce played her part and screamed like it was the best sex she ever had. “Oh Daddy,” she’d say, “Oh Daddy. Fuck me. Like that. OOOH YEAH, DADDY!” That kind of shit. It never lasted long, and she was usually sitting out in front of her room smoking a few minutes later. I once asked her what her secret was; she smiled and waved at me with the tip of her index finger. “All guys need is a little finger up the ass,” she said. Then she laughed. “All you all want is a good dickin’ but you too manly and shit to admit it.”

Loyce was pretty good at picking her clientele; she didn’t go in for rough stuff and didn’t care about kink so long as it wasn’t too extreme. And there were all kinds. Sometimes she talked about them. She had regulars who liked being tied up. A few who liked being spanked. She told me she once had a client who paid her a thousand dollars to play mommy while he dressed up like a baby, diaper and all. Listening to her talk made me glad I never took her up on her offers to “help me out.” I never went in for that weird shit; but who’s to say she wouldn’t talk about me to someone else? Sometimes it’s just better to suffer and masturbate. And it’s cheaper.

She was independent; she mentioned that to me several times. “I don’t need no goddamn pimp smacking me around,” she’d say, “and taking all the money I work for.” Every once in a while a creep managed to get by her, but from what I could tell, Loyce did an okay job of taking care of herself.

Once or twice a month, the cop in the silver car would show up. I never asked her about the arrangement, but it was clear that he was a big part of the reason she could operate independently. He’d show up, walk up to her room, and let himself in. He never stayed very long. Sometimes I heard them fucking and she did her Oh Daddy bit and he left. Sometimes he yelled at her and knocked things around. Sometimes she laughed at him. Sometimes she pleaded with him. A couple of times I heard her cry.

I was sitting on my bed, drinking scotch, and watching something on Animal Planet when I heard them. At first, Loyce was all set to do her Oh Daddy bit; then I thought I heard her laugh; then I heard a crash and a thump. Loyce screamed at him. He yelled at her and started slamming things around.

God, I thought. This shit gets OLD. Quick. I turned off the TV and stepped outside to smoke.

“Get outta here,” I head her say. “You get your fat ass and your LIMP DICK outta here you fucking PIG! I don’t need you!”

“Fucking whore,” he growled. “You don’t tell ME what to do.” I heard his hand connect with her and she cried. “Go ahead and cry,” he taunted her. “You think anybody cares about a stupid fat whore like YOU? You think you have friends? You think anybody would notice if you up and blew away?”

She cried some more, but I couldn’t make out the words. He yelled some more. He beat her some more. I thought about breaking it up, but for all I knew the cop had his gun with him too, and it wouldn’t take much for rape to turn into a double homicide. I heard fabric ripping, Loyce sobbing, and the cop grunting. A couple of minutes later it stopped. And a couple of minutes after that, the door to Loyce’s room opened and he stepped out, straightening his tie and carrying his suit coat. “You remember,” he said. “You just fucking remember your place you stupid nigger cunt. Or it may turn out that this place isn’t so safe anymore. All I do is pick up the phone and make one call. You remember Randall? He’d sure like to find your ass again.”

Loyce was sobbing when the cop closed the door. He looked up at me and glared; his bottom jaw was jutting out as he lumbered toward and past me. “What are YOU staring at you junkie motherfucker?”

I didn’t answer him. He pushed me intentionally as he walked by, made his way down to his car, and peeled out of the parking lot. I was about to go back in when Loyce came out of her room wrapped in a red silk robe that looked like it had been run over a couple of times. Her right eye was puffy and she walked like she was sore.

“He’s gone,” I said.

She didn’t answer. I lit up another cigarette and offered her one. She nodded and took the cigarette. I lit it for her. “Thanks,” she said.

After a couple of minutes of her not talking, I decided to go back in my room.

“You heard all that,” she said as I turned to go. “Didn’t you.”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“He get a little grumpy sometimes,” she said. “Like to take it out on people.”


She looked at me. “I don’t deserve it,” she said. “I don’t deserve it. Not at all.”

“No one does,” I said.

“I should turn him in,” she said.


“But it won’t do any good, will it?”

“Well,” I said, “it seems like they might be inclined to believe whatever he tells them.”

“ ‘Cause I’m just a whore?” she sneered.

“Because he’s a COP,” I said. “They don’t usually go after one of their own.”

She nodded. “True nuff,” she said. Then she stamped out her cigarette butt. “Thanks again for the smoke,” she said.

I wanted to say something; but nothing I could think of seemed appropriate. Sometimes there just isn’t anything to say. It wasn’t my business. The cop wasn’t my problem. Whoever Randall was wasn’t my problem either. Loyce was looking off at the setting sun in silence. “I got a little bit of scotch,” I said. “You look like you could use a drink.”

She eyed me suspiciously. “I’ll bring it out here,” I said. “What are they gonna do? Arrest us?”

She almost smiled. “Thanks anyway,” she said. Then she turned and walked back into her room, closing and locking the door behind her.

I went back in my room and turned the TV back on, but I didn’t feel like watching Animal Planet anymore. I turned the TV back off and focused my attention on the rest of my bottle of scotch.

26 June, 2009

The Barstool at the Edge of the World

I went to the bar the following day. It was Suzy’s day off and there was some other chick behind the bar. It was still a little slow: only a few of the usual cast, two members of the brain trust, and one or two stragglers who had nowhere else to be. I’d never seen the new bartender before, so she didn’t know what I drank. She approached, smiled, asked what I wanted. I ordered a draft beer and a whiskey shot. She brought my order and paused for a second. Then she leaned forward a little, smiled, did a lift a squeeze so I’d notice the cleavage popping out of her tank top with the bar’s name splashed across her left boob.

“You wanna see a menu?”

Is it under that tank top? “No,” I answered.

Her smile shrank along with her cleavage. Then she wandered off to go smoke a cigarette on the patio – without making sure that everybody else had a full glass.

I looked up and saw Rico and Bob, the two members of the brain trust who were there, watching me. Rico was a retired steel worker and Bob, as far as I could tell, didn’t do anything. They, along with the two other members of the brain trust Sal and Mac the Elder, hung around, played the horses, and drank the usual mixed drinks. Rico preferred gin and tonic. Bob liked whiskey sours.

“Nice girl, huh?” Rico asked me.

I shrugged. “She new?”

Bob nodded. “Yup. She started yesterday.”

Rico concurred. “Yesterday.”

“She’s ok,” I said.

“Pretty,” Rico said.

“Very pretty,” Bob echoed.

“I guess so,” I said.

Rico squinted at me. “What’s wrong with you? You queer or something?”

“Yeah,” Bob chimed in. “You queer or something?”

“No,” I said.

“That’s good,” Bob said.

“Yeah,” Rico echoed. “That’s good.”

They were going to keep talking about how glad they were I’m straight, but they were interrupted by the start of the third race at Evangeline. Finally, I thought. I didn’t mind the new bartender particularly. She was a decent piece of eye candy – the kind that Adelle usually hired – but I was in no mood. Suzy not being there disturbed my sense of normalcy; and after Ruby’s visit, I was desperate for consistency. Or what passed for it. Of course, if I had bothered to pay attention, I would have known that it was Suzy’s day off; but I wasn’t willing to admit that my sister might have been right about needing to look at a calander.

Ruby’s visit was as nice as I could expect. It was short. Much longer and we would’ve had nothing to say to one another, and then all the old arguments would have started again.

When I’ve heard people talk about how close they are to their family and how they couldn’t imagine not being around them, I feel a mixture of disbelief and envy. Don’t get me wrong; I do love my family, in as much as I’m able to love any group of people I’m bound to by the accident of birth. I guess I never felt like I had much in common with them, besides the familial liver – and that only goes so far. Most drinkers don’t particularly enjoy the company of other drinkers; they’re just part of the package unless you decide to stay home and drink alone. But then your life starts to look like a Prohibition Era public service announcement. I remember watching those goofy made for TV holiday movies – where, despite the drama, the disagreement, and the personality clashes, everyone was laughing and smiling under the light of a too too pretty Christmas tree by the time the credits rolled. The dads always wore comfy sweaters and the mothers always baked cookies in uncomfortable looking high heels. All the problems were cute. All the kids were basically good at heart – even that odd rebel who walked around with long hair/pierced ears/tattoos/bad taste in music. There was always the wise grandparent who understood that the kid was just going through a phase and would eventually ditch the extreme clothes and teenage slang for an acceptable and gender appropriate alternative.

By the time the bartender came back from her smoke break, I was empty.

“You want another?” she asked.

“Just whiskey,” I said. “On the rocks.”

She brought me my drink. No lift and squeeze this time. Instead, she focused her attention on Mac the Younger, who had just shown up. He took his place on the peripheral of the brain trust and began his usual binge and purge approach to drinking and gambling.

I was still trying to wrap my head around my sister’s visit. Unless I was missing something, she almost seemed concerned about me. Maybe it was all that twelve step AA bullshit; but I wasn’t sure which odder: that my sister was being (as best she could) concerned, or that she was a recovering alkie. I guess it made sense. I never saw her drink more than few sips of wine at Thanksgiving; but then again, I never really saw her. Ex-drinkers are a lot like ex-smokers in that they start to see themselves as a crusader. They got themselves saved, so they become zealots, needing to go save other people. Whether they wanted salvation or not. Clearly her (and by proxy, the family’s) general consensus was that I was a lousy drunk who needed saving. That didn’t surprise me, particularly. I heard that song before I left home.

But I knew their motives. Their concern had less to do with me and more with the shame I was theoretically bringing down on the family. Appearances were important to them. To Ruby in particular. Her entire life was an exercise in carefully managing the appropriate public image. Not to smart, not too dumb. Marry appropriately. Live in the right neighborhood. Have the right number of kids. Dress correctly. Act correctly. Like the appropriate things. Just watching her was exhausting, and that was in spite of the fact that I hardly ever saw her. If there were things to be said, any deep dark secrets, they were never discussed. Ruby liked her little bubble undisturbed, just like mom liked hers. It was hard to tell what the reaction to Ruby’s AA lifestyle was. And I didn’t particularly want to find out, either. Go home? For what? To what? So I could get back on at the soap warehouse? So they could count how many beers I drank a day? What was the point? What did they know about my life?

A few minutes later, Adelle came out of the back office. Chivas Joe wasn’t with her. She sat at her usual corner spot and the new bartender had her drink ready before she sat down. “Thanks, sweetie,” Adelle squeaked and immediately sucked down half the glass.

The afternoon crowd was starting to trickle in. The other two members of the brain trust, Sammy and Ted, showed up. Sammy was a retired postal worker and Ted used to be in sales. They took their seats and started talking to Rico and Bob about the races. The bartender made their drinks, went around making sure everyone had a full glass, then went and talked to Adelle.
Rico and Bob hobbled off to make their bets, and Mac the Younger sat and looking over a borrowed racing program and chatting it up with Sammy and Ted. All gamblers have a system. Rico liked horses with long tails. Bob preferred grays and speckled mares. Mac’s system was more mathematical; he figured if he threw enough money in, he’d make it back eventually. If he hadn’t been born with the bug, Mac the Younger could’ve been a financial wizard. He knew the names of all the high winning jockeys at all the tracks he bet on. He knew the horses, the owners, the trainers. He read through the racing program like it was the Wall Street Journal.

I’d never seen him win, though. And Mac the Elder usually ended up bailing him out when he got in too deep. It’s easier to lose when you know there’s always a back up.

23 June, 2009

Visitations, Ruminations, and a Quick Polka

I went to pay another week on my room and the little foreign guy behind the desk told me I had a message.

“A message? What do you mean I have a message?” I couldn’t think of anybody who would even THINK of leaving a message. Who does that? I didn’t owe anybody; and anybody I would’ve owed money to certainly would not have left a message.

“Yees sir,” the little guy nodded. He was easier to deal with than the chunky bitch he split desk duty with. And he was even mildly friendly – as long as you could pay him. I saw him rip into a tenant once because he was trying to work out a deal. The guy had enough money to pay for three nights, and he said he just needed a little more time to come up with the rest. The problem was, he only had enough money for three days at the weekly rate, and he was trying to play off of the desk clerk’s sympathy. He used all the cards. Unemployment. Alimony. Child Support. A sick mother in need of a kidney transplant. I had to hand it to the guy; he knew better than to try and go up against the bitch. She would have had him out on his ass three seconds after the words left his mouth. The little foreign dude – who told everyone to call him Dave – stood and listened. And the more the guy talked, the less Dave smiled. And when the tenant was finished, Dave laid into him with a litany of English curse words and insults mixed with some other language that only made Dave sound like he was putting a voodoo curse on the poor bastard. By the time Dave was finished, the guy put down the cash he had – which only gave him another night at the regular rate – and slunk away like a beaten dog.

Dave liked me because I paid on time and I paid in cash. He didn’t like credit cards because the motel still used one of those carbon copy receipt machine and it usually took a month or so to find out whether the card was still good. But I paid in cash and I didn’t make trouble. I put money down for another week, and he gave me a hand written receipt, along with a piece of paper with a name and a phone number written on it.

It was the number to another hotel. My sister Ruby was in town.

Yeah, I thought. She would leave a message. That was just her style. Ruby traveled a lot because of her job. She’d gone to college, dropped out, started working as a secretary and worked her way up over the years and after countless night and online classes to the mid-executive level of a fairly successful educational software company. Her husband was a thoroughly devoted school teacher at a small private high school, and their kids were prodigies in waiting who attended private schools that would, in Ruby’s words, “draw out their talents and expand their possibilities.” She talked like that a lot. Sometimes I got the sense she borrowed heavily from infomercials and pamphlets she found in the various hotels she stayed in when she traveled.

I thought about not calling her. Don’t get me wrong; I love my older sister. But we never had much in common. She was a full ten years older than me. She was out of the house and on her own before I turned nine. I saw her on holidays, and sometimes on my birthdays. The last conversation she and I had was about a job I’d quit in a soap warehouse that our uncle had gotten for me. She did most of the talking. She called me spoiled and lazy. She said I was a leech. She told me she wished mom would just kick me out of the house. Then she said that I was making mom’s life harder than it needed to be and if I loved her at all, I’d get a job and get out. I left home not long after that.

Against my better judgment, I decided to go ahead and call her. I didn’t want to take the chance that she’d actually come looking for me; not that I thought she would. But there was always the chance, and I didn’t want to hear her bitch about how I lived. I called hoping she would be out. No such luck. When the phone in her room rang she picked up on the second ring.


“Hey sis,” I said. “How are things?”

“I wasn’t sure you’d call,” she answered. “I thought I was going to have to come and find you.”

“I figured you’d be too busy for that,” I answered. “Besides, why wouldn’t I want to talk to my sister?”

She snorted. “Yeah, well. So, how have you been?”

“Peachy. You know. Living the life.”

“Which life is that?”


She snorted again, and I thought I could hear her rolling her eyes. “I see. Are you going to be free for dinner in the next couple of days?” she asked. “Or does living the life take up most of your time?”

Sigh. My head was started to hurt. “I can be free. How long are you in town?”

“Until Wednesday,” she said.

“Ok.” Shit. “What day is it?”

Ruby sighed audibly. “It’s MONDAY, kid. Geez. Don’t you look at a calander?”

“How about tomorrow night?” I asked.

“Fine,” she answered. “Where do you want to meet?”

“I’ll meet you there,” I said.

“That works,” she said. “How about six o’clock?”

“Smashing,” I said. “Just smashing. You’ll know me by the red carnation in my lapel.”

“Whatever,” she said. “I’ll see you then.”

After she hung up I went up to my room and debated the wisdom of my decision. Clearly Ruby was in town on business and seeing me was a convenient afterthought. I hadn’t seen anybody in family since I left home. It wasn’t that I was trying to hide, exactly. I always made sure they had some idea where I was. But there wasn’t a lot to say. If something was wrong at home, Ruby wouldn’t have waited until the next night to see me; she would’ve told me over the phone.

I took the bus to her hotel. Naturally she was close to the airport, staying at the Marriot and it took me three connections to get there. The Marriot isn’t the swankiest hotel chain around; but it’s one of those places where the people behind the reservation desk smile and greet you when you walk through the door. It’s a little unnerving, actually. They’re all bleached smiles and coordinated outfits with ugly blazers. I nodded at them and made my way through the lobby to the bar. All shiny hardwood and brass fixture. All the beers on tap were imports. The bottles of liquor shined like a dozen stars. I ordered bourbon over ice and told the bartender to put it on Ruby’s room. The flat screen TV above the bar was turned to Fox News. Bill O’Reilly was ranting and trying to stir up the national xenophobia that had made him rich. You watch guys like him long enough and the words start to run together; then all that’s left is a big clown head making hissing noises and with veins popping out of their enflamed foreheads. They’re like bad Macy’s Day Parade balloons that never seemed to float away.

“I hope you’re not putting a lot of those on my tab,” she said coming up behind me. “I’m on the corporate account.”

I turned to face to her. She had changed very little since the last time I saw her. The only evidence that she had aged at all was the tired look in her eyes.

“It’s nice to see you, too, sis,” I answered.

“You’re not drunk are you?”

I downed my drink. “Nope,” I said. “Only had one.”

“Just now or today?”

Some things never change. “Did you call me just to give me shit?” I asked. “I can get that other places that don’t require three bus transfers.”

She sighed and gave me a hug. I hugged her back. It felt a little odd, since I couldn’t remember her ever hugging me before. Not even when I was a kid. “It’s good to see you little bother,” she lied. “Where do you want to go? My treat.”

“Your treat, you choose.”

We left took the elevator to the garage and she drove us to a nearby steak house. While we were waiting to get be seated, she updated me on her husband and kids. Darrin, the hubby, was now a principal and looking to move into a superintendent’s position. Her daughter was in junior high and the boy was turning into a little league star. She’d just been promoted again after her company was bought out by a larger competitor. Darrin had a brief health scare, but he was taking better care of himself.

“How’s mom?” I asked after we finally got seated and ordered our drinks. Ruby drank iced tea. I ordered a beer.

“She’s fine,” Ruby answered. “Same as always. The kids love her, though.”

“That’s good.”

“Yeah. It makes things easier. She misses you. Talks about you all the time.”

“That’s gotta get boring,” I said. “There’s not that much to talk about.”

“Is that why you never call?”

“I call,” I shot back, “when I have something to say.” So that’s it, I thought. She called just to try and guilt trip me. I’m not sure why I was surprised. Or why it bothered me. I should have anticipated it.

“She was in the hospital a few months back,” Ruby said.

“Was it serious?”

“No,” she said. “But it could’ve been.”

“What was it?”

“Her back. She had to have surgery on her back.”

“Did she want me there?”

“She might have liked to see you, yeah,” Ruby answered. She was about to say something else when the waitress came back with our drinks and asked if we were ready to order. Ruby ordered a grilled chicken taco salad. I ordered a steak dinner. If I was stuck listening to her tell me what horrible son and terrible human being I was, I figured I might as well eat something good so the trip wasn’t a total waste. Besides, I couldn’t remember the last time I had a steak. After the waitress left, I downed half the glass of beer and waited for Ruby to continue the onslaught. Some things never change, and people rarely do. The only thing I could figure was that she was bored with bullying her husband and controlling the lives of her children, so she decided to look me up. Catch up on all the verbal abuse I was missing.

“She’s fine,” Ruby said. “In case you’re wondering.”

“Good,” I said.

“But you should call her.”

“I will.”

The waitress stopped by and asked if I wanted another beer. I said yes. Ruby didn’t say anything, but she shook her head.

“How much are you drinking these days?” she asked.

“How much are you drinking?”

“I’ve been sober for three years,” she said.

“Congratulations,” I said. I never even knew she drank. Not that we would’ve bonded even then. Drinking in our family was less of a social building block and more a fact of existence. I remember going to family reunions as a kid and noticing that three of the four coolers were filled with beer. When I was seven I snuck my first taste from an older cousin’s can of Schlitz. When my grandfather died, his one remaining brother showed up to the funeral hammered. “So how much are you drinking?”

“I don’t really keep track,” I said. “That might distract me from all the important ass scratching and nose picking.”

She made a face. “Don’t be gross.”

“Not to mention my extensive navel lint collection.”

“Now you’re being an ass.”

“And you’re not? Listen, I know we don’t talk much, but that doesn’t give you the right to ride my ass. Okay?”

Ruby waved her hands in defeat. “Fine,” she sighed. For a couple of seconds she couldn’t think of anything to say. I suspected that she was going through the list in her head, trying to find something civil to talk about. I decided to through her a bone.

“So it sounds like work is going well, then.”

She shrugged. “It goes ok. We’re expanding. The recession means that state universities are losing funding and have to find ways to streamline.”

“And you’re there to fill the gap,” I said. “Good for you.”

“Have you thought about going back?”

She couldn’t last more than two minutes. “Go back where?”

“To college. To school.”

“I don’t belong there.”

“You didn’t. But maybe you do now.”

I shook my head. “I don’t have the patience for all the bullshit.”

“It’s hard work,” she said. “But it’s worth it. Sometimes I wish I’d gone straight into college instead of getting a job. Things might have been easier.”

“You’re doing pretty well for yourself.”

“Yeah,” she said. “But what about you?”

I didn’t feel like talking about me. I’d heard all of this before. Growing up, I was told from the age of five that I was going to go to college. I was tracked into college prep classes in high school when my friends were taking shop and art. I learned the art of regurgitation, thinking that once I got to college, I’d be able to think my own thoughts. But when I got to college, it was the same thing. They talk. I tell them what they just told me. There are cheaper ways to find that kind of bullshit in the world.

“So if Darrin gets this superintendent gig, does that mean you’re going to have to move?”

She shook her head. “No. It wouldn’t be good for the kids to change school districts. Besides, now is a bad time to try and sell a house. But it’ll be a short commute for him.”


We forced our way through more chit chat until the food came. She talked about dance lessons. Apparently she and Darrin were taking dance lessons: ball room, line dancing, whatever. Before her business trip, they had taken a class on the polka.

“The polka?” I asked. “Why the polka?”

“Darrin’s family is German.”

“I thought he was from Illinois.”

Then she told me not to be an ass. I ordered another beer. We didn’t talk much through dinner – the whole eating while talking thing was never big in our family. The streak was thin and a little on the tough side, and the steamed vegetables were mushy; but it was a square meal and I was grateful for it. Besides, you can put enough ketchup and hot sauce on anything to make it edible. Eating dinner with Ruby made me think of family gatherings. We used to get together for Thanksgiving. The entire family, including second and third cousins and those long lost grand-aunts who send you birthday cards with a quarter taped to the inside of the card. They were always loud, talkative occasions. I usually got stuck at the kid’s table with all the cousins and I never knew what to say to them. As I got older, I just ate until I was full and then found a chair to fall asleep in. By the time I was old enough to refuse to go, the big family Thanksgivings had disappeared, along with all the grand aunts and uncles and numerous cousins who all seemed to know one another better than I knew them or they knew me.

When we finished, she offered to drive me back to the Lost Dutchman. I wasn’t sure I wanted her to see where I lived; not because I was ashamed but because I knew it would just give her more excuses to be critical.

But I didn’t feel like dealing with three bus transfers, either. So I decided to let her and just deal with whatever shit she pulled.

The chit chat in the car was even more forced; there was not a whole lot left to talk about. She asked if I was working, and I lied and said I was. I told her about the last warehouse gig I’d been on so that when she reported back home she’d have something to tell everybody. It wasn’t that I thought anybody was really worried about me; it was more like they were worried that they might have to lie for me and cover their shame. It wasn’t that I didn’t think they loved me. Loving someone and liking somebody are two different things, and so was feeling a sense of pride. People were generally proud of Ruby because she was smart and because she had earned everything she had the hard way. And I guess she deserved it. But she and I were just different, and it didn’t take anybody long to notice that. If someone did know who we were, they didn’t realize we were related until they were told.

As we pulled into the parking lot at the Lost Dutchman, I prepared myself for the attack. Surely she’d have to say something; she couldn’t help herself.

“Listen,” she said as she pulled the car into a parking spot and put it in park. “Have you thought about coming home?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean,” she turned to face me, “come home. You’re struggling out here, obviously. Mom wants you to come home. Out here you’re all alone, and if something were to happen…”

“I’m fine,” I said on the defense. “I know it’s not the pretty suburban life, but it’s MY life.”

She shook her head. “Listen,” she said, “I didn’t mean to sound critical. It’s just… mom is worried about you. And I know you don’t want to go back and live with her. But you could stay with us if you wanted to. Until you got on your feet. We just converted a room in the basement that you could use. It would be temporary.”

I shook my head. “There’s nothing there for me, Ruby.”

“What do you mean? What about your family?”

“Do you honestly want me living in your basement? Does Darrin? I’m not… comfortable in the same kinds of places you are, Ruby. It’s not me.”

She gestured out the window towards the motel. “And THIS is?”

“Maybe,” I said. “It’s not perfect. It’s not pretty. But it’s honest.”

She shook her head. “I don’t understand.”

“You don’t have to.”

She sighed. “Listen, just THINK about it, okay? And if you don’t have the money to get home, don’t worry about it. I’ll loan it to you. Okay? Just say you’ll think about it.”

“I’ll think about it,” I said, not really intending to. “What time does your flight leave?”

“Tomorrow morning.”

I started to get out. “Safe travels, sis. Tell anybody who cares that I said hi.”

“I will.” She gave me another uncomfortable hug and I got out of the car. I got out, closed the door, and lit a cigarette. I waited until she pulled out of the parking to walk up the stairs. Loyce was sitting out in front of her room smoking a black and mild. She smiled at me.

“Hi honey.”

“Hi Loyce.”

“She looked nice,” Loyce said with a smile and a wink.

“My sister,” I said. “She’s in town on business.”

“Oh.” Loyce nodded. “She didn’t want to come up and see the grand palace?” She laughed.

“I thought it might be too much for her,” I said, taking a drag off my cigarette. “You know. I wouldn’t want to shock her sensibilities.”

Loyce looked at me cock-eyed. “You talk funny sometimes,” she said.

“I know.”

“You go to college?”

“Not very long.”

“You should,” she said. “You’re smart.”

“Uh-huh.” I dropped the used cigarette but, stepped on it, and turned to open my door. “Take it easy.”

“Ain’t no other way,” she said, and chuckled.