Iraq War veteran, and aspiring writer, Ben Rose, finds himself as a somewhat older college student, falling in love with a coquettish yet unavailable sophomore, Samantha Kelly, whose obsession with Harry Potter, Ben believes might be her only flaw. Fed up with the teasing of Samantha and looking to escape his small town ennui as the son of a prominent lawyer, Ben finishes school and promptly heads for Los Angeles for an acting class. When his nihilistic, German girlfriend, whom he had met during his time in the Army, comes out to rekindle what Ben had always thought was a perfect opportunity to live as a literary expatriate, Ben learns that there might be a chance for love in America yet. Upon his return home, Ben elopes with Samantha and falls desperately in love with her in a luscious affair.
Love in America
For my Mom, with love.
And for S.M. – “We could’ve had such a damned good time together.”
“Isn’t it pretty to think so.” –Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises.
Gertrude Stein – “Romance is everything.”
I never would have met her if I hadn’t had done a stint in the Army – the ultimate aberration to my father’s plan and my well-to-do social contract and what not. Samantha Kelly — gorgeous, bombshell, sublime — dated this beefy businessman, Frank D’Angelo, for nearly six years. Since she was sixteen, she dated him. Then, one day, in early 2008, she added me on the old Friendbook. She was nineteen then and apparently an extraordinarily fast typist. She promptly messaged me, saying that she’d seen what I’ve come to term as ‘my horrible self-published book’ on display in the English hall at St. John Fisher College, and that it was her dream to see her own book in print. And how does it feel?
I’d seen her before: Sitting in the back of the little theater at Basil Hall, I watched her approach in the semi-darkness. She wore this red thing, this Little Red Riding Hood sort of button up overcoat – very cute. The event was a talk on the Iraq War. Something I should’ve had interest in. The speaker, a bald analyst from Washington assured us that, “We have enough nukes to make Iraq glow green for decades,” (if they actually did have WMDs and tried to bomb Israel, of course.) There was talk on the 100,000 plus Iraqis dead. All very eye-opening and interesting, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the girl in red walking the aisles, collecting question cards for the speaker. She came to my aisle and I thought about scribbling my phone number and a quick message down on my card.
Thankfully, I did not. But she smiled warmly, cordially at me in the dark theater as she helped coordinate the event which also stirred, I should say, some much needed political discussion. I sat in the back at the end of the row by the aisle, grazing her gentle hand ever so slightly as it took my blank index card. Bliss. She needn’t say a thing. I couldn’t help but to eye her a bit more through the blur of the dissipating crowd. Fortunately enough for her, (or so I’d thought at first), she’d appeared too good, too traditional for my type. This was the perfect Fisher girl my parents hoped unquestionably that I would meet; as long as they paid the tuition, I’d go off and elope with a nice Catholic girl.
I walked out of the theater momentarily in love yet knowing still that she was too young and perfect, her GPA too high, her brown hair too beautiful and flowing in shined rivulets for an already half-jaded literary hack / 26 year old veteran like me. Then erupted the online friendship of certain rather trite yet tantalizing niceties that following semester on account of my book, I guess, and soon we swapped numbers.
“I’m going to read your book,” she’d texted while I was hauling my bag of books into my dorm room. Before I could get situated and compose a reply, she sent another one: “Heard it’s scandalous!”
“No no, don’t read it. Never read it,” I texted back. “Wait till my next one. More mainstream friendly. Like a romantic-comedy.”
I could already see her little fingers dancing on her keypad as indicated by the constant dots of ellipses pacing back and forth on the screen below my fresh text. Don’t ask me to recall the random subjects of that night’s texts. Let’s just say she’s far from a traditional Catholic but very American and very much into Harry Potter.
I lay on my bed reviewing it all, swiping my finger up the screen. I put the contraption down for a minute and pondered the idea of actually dating someone like Samantha: a girl who had Harry Potter marathons; a girl who dressed impeccably with snazzy colorful outfits and loud-clacking heels; a girl whose relationship to her high school boyfriend carried over into college and now seemed hell bent on untarnished marriage.
“He kind of freaks me out though,” she’d said, notably. “He has high anxiety.”
“Oh,” I’d said. “Well…tell him to take a chill pill…we’re just friends,” I’d texted.
“LOL,” she’d said.
Now, I do not do the ‘LOL’ myself, but I understand it, and when Samantha Kelly did it, I must say, I understood it more implicitly, and I imagined finding her at once in her more natural state: lain out naked on a beveled iron rock near that glassy pond in the green courtyard outside my window, waiting for her strapping ex-soldier, Ben Rose, to come and ravish her.
“Coffee this week,” she texted me last.
“Absolutely,” I texted back, “Let’s meet at 1 in Basil Hall, in the Cyber Café.”
Engraved in the limestone slate atop Basil Hall, just before the tall tinted glass expanse of the writing center and another lounge, are the words: “Teach me Discipline, Goodness, and Knowledge.” Old John Fisher didn’t get his head chopped off for nothing, I guess. I went in and climbed the couple of steps that led towards the café. There she was, smiling, standing by one of the tall tables near the staircase. She had with her, a friend, a tall Indian girl.
“This is my friend, Michelle,” she said. “Do you mind if she joins us?”
“No, not at all,” I said, crumbling a fresh picked geranium into my back pocket.
We got coffee and sat and talked. The flat screen TV on the wall to the left and behind her played Sports Center but it quickly faded out. Her lips were pink and her face and hands and shoulders were white and her eyes brown.
She told me that she does whatever Dr. Blicker, the head of the communications/journalism department tells her. She had an internship and she was a highly motivated and intelligent student. She said she’d read Angels and Demons and loved it. I seethed a bit. I’d read Da Vinci Code and thought it was a neat sort of game – nothing more — but then she said she wanted to read something different than Dan Brown, or the goddamned Twilight Saga – no one’s perfect. As a writer, I was inclined to answer her request and turn her on to some of my favorite contemporaries: Kerouac, Salinger, Faulkner, Hemingway, Burroughs, Vonnegut – but not all the crazy white men. I mixed it up a little. My book had been based on these guys and look how far it had gotten me. Then again, I was sitting with her.
And her friend – she let her go to class as I let her continue to argue the literary merits of Harry Potter:
“They are great books. And will definitely stand the test of time. You will read these books, Ben, you will read them to your kids. Mark my words. You should give them a try.”
“I did pick it up once,” I said. ‘Every chapter begins with Harry. Harry did his homework. Harry practiced some magical bumfluffery to save the freaking day.”
She hit me on the arm and pulled back a tight-lipped grin. Her eyes bloomed wet light brown.
“I’m sorry, Sam. I just couldn’t get into it – but hey it’s cool – whatever the kids are doing these days, right?” I said. And I almost wished that I could’ve gotten into it. “The combination of young adult and fantasy is just not my thing. Prefer a bit more of an adult variety, I think.”
“Yeah you like what more like dark comedy / erotic, am I right?” she said.
“Got me pegged,” I said.
She was a flawless communicator, I mean excellent pronunciation and she really projected herself. You never had to ask ‘what’ a thousand times when talking to her. She was after all President of the Speech Club. When I asked her about her plans for her writing, she simply explained that she wanted to work for a publisher.
“Then when it comes time…published!” she chimed brightly, as though the word had little sparkles on it.
The next time we met I knew better than to say Harry Potter was a bunch of crap. And yes we did meet several times in the Cyber Café, at those tall tables, or in a booth, huddling together to discuss Dr. Bloomburg’s latest quasi-academic display of early English porn. Sometimes I’d appear somewhat disheveled after pulling an all-nighter on some paper or some screenplay or another morally bankrupt novel.
She instant messaged me one afternoon after literature class – Milton to the Romantics: “Hey, tortured writer! Try these sleep techniques! ☺” She attached a link to an article that said healthy food and just 10 minutes of daily exercise and no caffeine after 6pm is the natural way to get to sleep without tricking your brain with harmful chemicals.
What a goddamned angel.
I messaged her back: “Yeah I musta totally looked the part of the tortured writer today…thanks for the tip…”
The next day I awoke and went for a jog in the wooded path lining the golf course behind Murphy Hall dormitory. I showered and gathered my books and went to class. As soon as I walked in to Dr. Bloomburg’s ‘Milton to the Romantics’ literature class there was Samantha, dressed in white and black like a NYC model, except not anorexic. She sent a smile at me and I went to sit down next to her.
“Ah, and alas, we have Ben. You’re almost on time, wow,” Dr. Bloomburg said. She always said ‘alas;’ I loved it – sexy and elegant. She was a lovely dark-haired Jewish woman who knew everything about John Dryden and the Romantic period, naturally. She’d love to highlight all the little nasty early porn of English literature – particularly from the Earl of Rochester. Sometimes it would make some members of the class squirm at the sight of giant penises traversing across a stage into a giant vagina, but my, what a refresher she was as compared to the other professors. Not to say that Jewish folks are all so minded – far from it – just to say that she allowed for some sort of inlet of inquiry unmatched by any of the other professors and that she happened to be Jewish. And she would also poke fun at her position as the only Jewish professor at the Catholic school. I sort of loved her, and in a weird way, sort of wanted to be Jewish. After all, have they not spawned Hollywood and thereby largely, the American Dream, with little more than nickels and dimes in their pockets?
“Yeah, little trouble finding the room,” I said, stupidly, as I sat down.
“We were just doing introductions,” Dr. Bloomburg said. “You’re up.”
“Oh, Ben Rose,” I said, and I waved around at the small crowd of classmates.
“We like your name,” Dr. Bloomburg said with a smile.
“Perfect for the Romantic period,” said the lovely professor, mysteriously.
“I guess so.”
“That there is Benny Rose: finest poet in all of New York,” announced a bearded poet in the back of the room. I turned around and saw that it was my friend Mark from poetry class.
The class chuckled. Samantha looked over, her face in her lovely hands, playing with a thin silver necklace, and she smiled, giggled a bit, perhaps.
That semester went on and she started in heavy with the texting. Back and forth about this and that we’d text. I had my old iPhone 3GS back then, compliments of the GI Bill and my dad vouching for the tuition, which made it quite fun and easy. I loved that sound my phone would make when one of her texts would come in. I lost my phone down in the crack of my bed and the wall once in my little single dorm room. Even then when that happened she messaged me on The Book of the Face saying what’s up? and where’ve you been? And I said, “I lost my phone.” And she said, “Oh man, I hope you find it. I’d be lost without mine.”
What to do with this information? I decided I’d ask my friend, the girl next door in the old dorm, one very stellar academic, Miss Coco Rosendale.
“Coco,” I said, leaning in her doorway. She looked up from her Spanish notebook where she had perfect Spanish journal entries splayed out in elegant cursive. “What if I told you a certain somebody – friend of mine here at Fisher – who doesn’t really get out much, you know, especially with the whole dating scene…”
“Yeah right, go on,” she said, putting down her green felt tip pen.
“Well let’s say this friend of mine, right, he’s not very experienced, socially, right – not because he hasn’t wanted to, ah, date, that is, but because he hasn’t really had the chance, particularly with American girls,” I mumbled out, trying to pinch off an impression of James Dean.
“Look dude,” she said. “You’re a veteran. You fought for our country. You’re the reason why we can all sleep better at night. Now who’s the girl?”
“Samantha – oh I love her! She is so fashionable! Ben, good choice! So have you talked to her?”
“Yeah, few times: coffee, internet messages here and there – and about 200 text messages. It’s all just somewhat new to me and I’m not quite sure when and how or if I should advance, considering…”
Just then a group of girls arrived and shuffled in for a group study session. Coco promised we’d pick up our conversation later as I heard the muffled echo of Bill’s basketball bouncing along with him down the carpeted hallway.
“Where the hell were you?” Bill said.
Where I lived back in Murphy Hall in those days was all right. Across from me lived my good aforementioned friend Bill Ryan, an avid basketball fan whose voice one could often hear shouting “McGrady!” – his favorite player – from the hall walking by.
Sure enough, on the inside back of his door was a near life-sized poster of McGrady himself, leaping up for a dunk.
Often we’d play PlayStation and I’d give him feedback on his creative writing.
Often Coco Rosendale would be up all night blabbing on the phone. You could hear her through that one-brick-layer-thick wall – up at night with her parents on the old dorm phone she had installed:
“And I pray that Dad doesn’t lose his job at Kodak…well maybe I do have psychological problems!”
And on and on almost nightly. She was a good old-fashioned violently Republican American Catholic girl who believed that Hiroshima was not just a good, necessary thing to end WWII but a glorious victory. Bill would provoke this by knocking on her door while she studied Spanish. She’d come out pissed at Bill who’d say, “Coco believes we should nuke Iraq, too!”
“Well if those terrorist bastards want to knock down our buildings – Sept. 11th! It was awful! My aunt’s friend was killed there!” she’d said once.
“Coco you get a real sick kick out of the bombing of Baghdad don’t you?” said Bill now. “Ben was there he can give you all the details.”
“Well, of course, I wasn’t exactly there at that–”
“You know what?” Coco stammered, amid the hallway of laughing freshman. “Kill all of those mother-f-ers!” Coco, the non-swearer said, stomping into her room in Republican rage.
And it wasn’t just the war. We’d tease her about birth control, too, among other things.
I mean, history is always violent, but for Coco, the most historical and therefore the most necessary kind of history was that which secured America as a dominant force so she could get her straight As at Fisher and keep her chastity until the absolute right one comes along. She wasn’t bad looking or anything. That’s just how she was. Had the violence of hegemony and tradition and institutions in her. We loved her anyway because she was quite cute and harmless and great to provoke into a cute murderous wench who’d split you up the middle if you crossed her or said anything bad about the USA.
Canandaigua, nestled against the lake, fresh water glimmering, green hills and foliage. My home town. The green-blue water, the wake in the wind in late August. A Sunday church wedding spilled out like black-stemmed lilies on the water and breakfast with mom and you drive by the lakeshore where they have that patio with the wooden archway (I hate the word gazebo) and water spout 10 feet out, and you think, damn I have got to get married.
I’d been close once. Real great woman. But I’d been a perfect whore as a soldier over in Europe, naturally. Just had to experiment. I was young. Horrible thing was, I was honest. Fell from grace or whatever in a house of supermodels; put it all down in detail in a letter on yellow legal-pad paper and sent it to my girlfriend back home. Das ist kaput, the lady had said. Told the old maintenance Sergeant about it while sitting around with the guys in the dusty bay in Karbala, Iraq one day. He handed me his pistol.
Now I’m back and this girl Samantha won’t stop texting me…
She texted me that her boyfriend had high anxiety about certain things and would freak her out. She told me over coffee that she had once punched him in the face. What am I to do with this information? Somehow she trusted me. I tried to get her to go to the movies as a friend. She almost did but there was a scheduling conflict. She was quite busy, maintaining her 4.0 and buying clothes, working somewhere part-time and being the President of the school newspaper or decorating her boyfriend’s house or whatever the hell it was that she did.
I didn’t think her boyfriend was beating her but she did seem somewhat sincerely nervous and nondescript about it. She told me that he freaks out sometimes. I think she just wanted me. I don’t know why. She had to have known that my novel was a self-published unsellable vulgarity, but in those days, I had the confidence and the swagger, I guess. I wore a leather jacket, shaved infrequently and knew that as soon as I graduated, I was going to get the hell out of Upstate New York. The Canandaigua/Rochester area is nice but I still had a chunk of Army money in the bank and this girl had a boyfriend, so.
Lying around in the dorms, good old Murphy Hall. I got a text. It was Bill: “Yo…” he said.
“Yo,” I said.
“got tree,” he said.
“u got tree?” I said.
He did and I went over and we got high and played video games.
I started rambling then: about this girl who’d first broken my heart at a fifth grade roller skating party. Hey, he’d asked? He needed some writing material for his creative writing class. I told him how she’d done it: skating up behind me with her friends, saying, “Hey, I know you can hear me.” How she’d waited till I turned around then said, “I hate you and we both know it,” in front of all her friends. I left the floor, pulled off my skates, returned them, and called home. Cried like a damned baby in the car to my dad when he picked me up. And I’d tried to explain to the girl that it wasn’t my fault that we’d moved. And that we’d only moved from the country to the city anyway. She just had to make a scene like that though, because her emotions were so advanced. Then came the sullen anguish of my youth on a long boring street in Canandaigua, NY. This withdrawn state translated to prudishness with the girls and it was unacceptable to them, even in sixth grade. Needless to say, as the son of one of the top lawyers and educational leaders on the board, I became painfully shy: “Though Ben will not articulate this to you, he is actually a great writer,” so my dad had once introduced me as to the school athletic director. “Well, he’s got a hell of an arm,” said the director. And they made me a second string quarterback my junior year, when I, needless to say, became obsessed with this one certain cheerleader.
I sat at the round table across from her in the cafeteria with my circle of young gentlemen, one of whom was hilariously fat. I’d indulge in a vanilla pudding with a white cream swirl at the top because it reminded me of how her skin flowed daintily into her bright blonde hair by her dainty hair-twirling hand as she’d strut over and sit down across from me.
I leaned over and floated a question to her once. “I’m ineligible,” she’d said in response to my Medal of Valor inquiry as to why she wasn’t cheering at the game last weekend. Through the cafeteria blur of peanut butter and jelly, I decided finally to get her attention the old fashioned way. I put a plop of pudding in my plastic spoon and cocked it. The thing flung up and landed on my fat friend Todd VanDoogen’s head. “That’s funny!” she’d said. Bliss.
And as per my football career: well they did put me in once, when we were killing McQuaid Jesuit, and I made one hell of a pass to none other than linebacker Todd VanDoogen, who’d punched it into his stomach and plowed in for the touchdown.
High on the moment I ran into the red and white skirts as though the play was still happening and I couldn’t help but to dive into the cheerleaders for at least one triumphant kiss; but alas, this also did not work out. My girl had been ineligible to cheer, because of her grades, yet she elected to show at an exclusive party later that night populated by only the first string, senior guys, one of whom my very father had suspended for drinking. Fat chance Benny-boy, old dog, old heart, old broken-hearted Ben. Let that be the last time I stand up for a besmirched cheerleader whose name shall be etched out from the torpid halls of my heart.
“Slut,” said the pimply Trevor across the cafeteria and he was her cousin.
“I’ve fucked her,” said Keith — a statement which, despite my romantic misgivings, was easily corroborated by just about everybody.
“Hence the romantic life of Benjamin Rose,” I concluded to Bill.
He fingered his chin. “Aren’t you forgetting the part about being a bad ass tank driver–”
“Bradley driver,” I corrected.
“And dating some supermodel German chick?” he said, adjusting himself on the bean bag, kicking my ass in basketball.
“Yeah, I had some good times there,” I said, “but here, well, I’ve never had much luck with American girls, for one reason or another.”
CoCo came by then. “Knock, knock,” she said. By the time she came, Kevin, Bill’s friend, had squirreled in there, too, sitting on the bean bag, yelling into his cell phone at some text, “This girl is so goddamned stupid!”
“What is she saying?” Bill asked.
“She’s saying that she wants to go to the movies. I said let’s go see the Bourne movie. She goes: ‘What?’ All she ever says is ‘what?’ She is literally fuckin’ stupid.”
“Samantha texted me again,” I interjected.
“Aw shit! Ben Rose is gonna fuck Samantha Kelly! – And she’s got a fuckin’ boyfriend!” Bill said.
“What’s this?” Kevin said.
Coco plugged her ears.
“Coco’s got a boyfriend, too,” Bill announced.
“Really?” I said.
“No, it’s just some guy I went to the Bible Studies group dance with,” Coco exclaimed with rosy cheeks.
“That right? How is he Coco? What’s his name?” I inquired.
“He’s really shy. My friends hooked me up with him,” she said, leaning against the desk by the door. “So what’s the status of you and Samantha?”
“Yeah, I don’t know what is with this girl.” I said. “I didn’t expect her type to like me.”
“Samantha Kelly is the hottest-cutest girl at St. John Fisher College,” Bill said.
“She’s a real sexy dork,” I said, “with a very mainstream taste in literature.”
“Damn, got her all analyzed, huh Ben?”
“I’m still trying to figure out what she sees in me.”
“Yeah me too,” Bill said, dunking with McGrady on my guy during an intense PlayStation basketball game.
“You should ask her out,” Coco said, smiling.
Kevin moved to sit under Bill’s bunk on the little couch. He picked up a bong. Coco rolled her eyes and left to finish her Spanish homework.
“Oh my god this girl is so fucking stupid,” Kevin said into his phone.
“What’s she saying?” Bill said, laughing.
“What? Ugh, ‘what are the movies’ – I don’t know. She can’t spell and she can’t comprehend simple text messages.” Then he looked up and said to me, “Yeah man, you should ask her out.”
I love Samantha Kelly. There, I said it. I’m not Jake Barnes. I actually say things besides, “Go to hell.” And I didn’t get my damn dick blown off in WWI. Rather, I blindly participated in one of the greatest follies in American history. But I’m not Robert Cohn either. I’m a regular American. I drink regular coke, etc. So why can’t there be a little love in America between this jaded modern veteran and this smart gusty beauty?
But when it came time to get this ineffably cute girl who initiated coffee meetings and such with me to go out and meet outside the Fisher campus, there was very little luck. But as any true Mets fan will tell you: you gotta believe. Maybe not the most uplifting example, but it’s a good motto nonetheless. Besides, don’t you know I always wear my damned heart on my sleeve…?
There was this girl named Janelle in my magazine writing class. After a semester of sitting across from her I slowly fell for her. I think it was because she looked a bit like my ex-girlfriend over in Germany, except taller. She was half French, half Italian, Vogue magazine austere aloofness about her mixed with a seemingly very approachable disposition, and she worked part-time at the Eastman House. Loved clementines. Her magazine article in Fisher’s “C” magazine covered a story on an artist who used her menstrual blood as paint. Kind of a weird artsy skinny girl. Took my mind off Samantha for a while, who as it turns out, also wrote and modeled for that lovely publication. In the Fall Edition her brown eyes would warm and melt you from the cover, her brown hair slicked wet straight down shimmering along her lovely fresh cheeks and her hidden beauty mark.
For a while I weighed out which girl’s sexy Vogue aloofness seemed less cold and more approachable. Janelle was taller and a bit colder, into psychedelic pop which Samantha definitely wasn’t. Samantha was still a peach, a homegrown darling sweetheart who worked summers at Stella’s Greenhouse in her hometown of Fairport, NY, tending the wandering customers, and the flowers. But when I played with my collar, this Janelle girl played with her skirt across the room and looked at me like a cold sexy cover model. I would always look away, but when I went to flip her a clementine one day, well, as it turns out, this Janelle had a live-in boyfriend. So she told me via email after class. They all do.
Samantha’s live-in boyfriend, Frank, he worked for his family’s advertising company and also as some sort of computer genius at RIT. He studied the divine art of plastering computerized advertisements on boxes – commercial packaging or something. Samantha told me that he had a 99.9 percent chance of getting a really awesome job. Hey, well I can be a famous writer, I thought. I mean some parts of my novel were actually quite good and it would definitely make for an amazing film, I thought. Nevertheless, I advised her not to read it. My next one would be better, more mainstream friendly, like a romantic comedy. You see, the bulk of the first one was written when I was 19 over in the dorms, flunking out of Fisher and getting ready to run away first to Vegas on the Greyhound, then to the United States Army. I wasn’t afraid of racy stuff then and I’d thought I’d set the world on fire when I came out with it all. I could just picture myself walking from my red Lamborghini, with my Rolex and my Ray Bans and a stack of money that I’d flip casually to my awe-struck father standing on the front porch of 123 Holiday Lane with the drop-jaw: “Got that money I owe ya old man,” I’d say. And I’d get back in and burn out with my vanity plates that said, “Writer.” Or something corny like that. I’m addicted to pipe-dreams and corn. I suppose that’s why the wholesome all-American girl was so damned irresistible. Unattainable beauty.
Anyway, I was drunk at Lux Lounge in the South Wedge of Rochester, having a good old time on Spring Break with my best buddy Conrad Spalding, trying to flirt with this Swedish medical student – and she was well-interested too; her light eyes would perk up and she’d lean her blonde innocence in to catch that I was a writer of sorts – “Yeah, we’re doctors,” said her friend as he escorted her back to her group of male med students. Well, I mean if only it were a different century: he’d be the guy digging up graves for research and I’d be the revered national scribe. And just then, who would you think would send me a goddamned text message? Good old Samantha Kelly. My gorgeous muse, alas, she’ll never stop coming back.
“Hey man look,” I said to Conrad, a skinny blonde bearded Fisher graduate.
“That Samantha girl again? Tell her to come out here,” he said.
Conrad was a hell of a guy. He knew heartache on account of his last girlfriend leaving him for a waitressing opportunity and her lesbian roommate out in Portland. Now he had a steady shit job up in Rochester and a one bedroom apartment. We grew up on the same street, loving the Mets and me giving him rides to school in my old Hyundai Elantra, ’93. Now we were both lushes in our time, but me more so than him, still coming down off that insurmountable high of being a young veteran and a writer/actor artist of sorts in the United States.
I texted her: “Come to Lux Lounge.”
She was complaining about her boyfriend again.
I texted her: “Come to Lux.”
She Googled it and texted back: “Doesn’t look like a good place for me, besides I’m not 21 yet.”
I texted her: “Just come and I’ll work everything out.”
She thought about it. She told me so in a text. Then she said, “Doesn’t sound like a good idea.”
The next day she texted me while I was walking down the thin green-carpeted hallway of the dormitory. She said she picked up my book and read a passage. She read the wild Chapter Seven sex scene. I’d told her not to read the book but at same time I told her that it was awesome. And the book I’d lent her, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, had some erotic details in it so I figured it was cool. But she expressed, “My boyfriend says you just want to fuck me.”
“You said ‘fuck,’” I texted.
“So what, you say ‘fuck’ all the time in your book,” she said the next day over coffee. “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck…and the cowboy fucked the virgin-whore and the other 10 girls he met on the side of the road–”
“Ok, ok, hardly a synopsis– What does your boyfriend think about us meeting like this? Me lending you books and such?”
“He’s not your biggest fan.”
“You’re nothing more than a tease,” I told her later on via text message from my parents’ house. “Why don’t you just leave him and come out with me.”
“What for some wild sex?”
“Well there’s that…and more,” I said. “So much more – just come out and see.”
Silence. I sat on my parents’ white flowery couch in the living room. I paced a bit, then planted my elbows on the mahogany ridge of the couch and I let her have it:
“Come on, he majors in putting commercials on boxes for god’s sake!” I texted.
And after just the right amount of time to pinch off a focused reply, she sent: “Yeah, he’s got a real nice package.”
That did it. I’d go back and scope out her FB page every now and again and I’d reassure myself. I’d catch a glimpse of Catholic school girl evil in every picture: how her hand crinkled like a spider upon her waist, or how her elbow jutted out, or just the sheer volume of pictures of herself and 30 pictures of her damned dog and 20 pictures of her and her fat nerdy boyfriend, who I’m sure is a nice guy. And she’s a nice girl. A nice Catholic private school 4.0 double major in English lit. and communications/journalism girl. Interested in fashion and Harry Fuckin’ Potter and all that happy teeny-bopper bullshit. Fuck her. Took me all of a couple of days to forget all about her. That May, I graduated with a decent 3.15, moved out of the dorms and put Fisher and all its perfect people behind me. Time to get the hell out of Rochester, I said. Fuck her.
Sa-man-tha – one of those luscious girl names where the tip your tongue rolls off the palate to come to its dainty conclusion. There’s a little “man” packed inside this one though, requiring your tongue to flatten totally against the palate as opposed to the torturous flicker of “Lolita.” Plus, of course she was nearly 20 years old when I met her. Anyway, I do recall that she said she resembled more so her father than her mother. Nevertheless, she had her girlish qualities: Coquettish and unbearably cute. She knew she was desired. But as long as her page said ‘in a relationship,’ coupled with all her life’s pictures like that, I actually found it quite easy to forget all about her.
I started living at home, sleeping on the fold out bed downstairs on account of my sisters taking up both upstairs bedrooms. I’d stay up watching TV, sipping on my old man’s booze and I’d fall asleep, awake, find my phone fallen under the couch/foldout bed and I’d lean over and grab it from bed and I’d stare at it, dancing my fingers on the touchscreen, Googling random things. Then I’d get up and eat and search on the downstairs computer for jobs.
My dad hovered behind me once to glance at my screen.
“Can I borrow 148 dollars to take an LSAT course?” I said.
“Ben, you blew off your senior year – your grades are lousy – now you wanna be a lawyer?”
“Well, I mean just take the class, see if I can get a better score.”
“Get a job. Become a teacher or something, earn some money. You’ve never really had any money, have you?” by and large, so he’d quipped. And off he went.
He did make a point though: it sucks being broke.
That first summer the parents would have old friends over and they’d introduce me as the recent college grad. Sometimes Dad would throw in a word about my stint in the Army as well: “Ben’s more the strong silent type,” he’d say. And I’d tell them, “Yeah I’m just not really sure what I’m doing now.” I wanted to get a job and my own place. It was of course, insanely difficult. I had a damned college degree with the veteran status to boot now where’s my 35,000 plus a year desk job? Sitting at a desk reading and writing. It took me a while to learn about money and reality. A financial services firm ironically expressed interest in my resume. But I had to pass: 750 dollar certification test just to crunch numbers and chase dentists for a few bucks, that’s not me.
Finally, after getting sucked into a bullshit sales job where I actually put on one of my dad’s suits and drove my dad’s car out to some pizza shop out on the lake to sell some business owner a new credit card scanner; and after getting hired as an insurance agent and taking a 2 week long course on insurance jazz, which my dad unwittingly elected to pay for, I had enough. I Googled acting classes in LA. Found one that was recommended by Rain Wilson, you know, Dwight, from The Office. I called in and talked to the guy.
“I really want to get into the screenwriting /directing business,” I said.
“Well yeah, as a trained actor in LA…” he closed.
I told him I’ll call him back.
I had a 6500 chunk of Army money in a CD in the bank collecting minimal interest and Sasha Grey had gone down only from Sacramento with 7000 and she had a plan. Wikipedia. Bad comparison. Anyway, acting is such a longshot. I’d never acted, as my dad reminded me. But I’ve also never really worked, at least as a civilian. I was still fairly young with my Irish / Italian good old Benny Rose, New York charms about me. Fuck it.
My other option was the New York Film Academy – 8 week program for screenwriting. 3,000 dollars x2 at least given the cost of living, I figured. That guy on the phone sort of missed with his sales pitch:
I said, “Why should I pay to go down and study screenwriting – Why not just write it and send it out?”
“This is New York City. Movies are made here every day,” he said.
Despite my family’s NYC connections, I decided to forfeit my 50 dollar application fee there and head out to LA. Get away from the old fam for a bit. Besides, anyone can do those New York programs. You’ll see the ads on bus stop benches on Wall St. of all places and you’ll see those guys making student films in Times Square. For me I had to get away from New York for a while. Anything went completely awry, I still had my Irish cousin in Vegas, and in San Diego my Uncle, the princely Italian priest. The point was getting out there to that sprawling arts and entertainment city on the other side of the country. My dad thought it was nuts. It was. But I just had to go and grind it out. So I’d hit the road to California. I’d get a job, do auditions, make connections, and just grind it out, I told my dad. “Ludicrous,” he said. (He’d also paid unwittingly for the 350 dollar deposit for the acting class. I had to protect my account before going out. He was a rich lawyer, I was not, so.)
In the end, I just had to get out there and do something, grind it out and try to be somebody for a while at least. So I decided to hit the road for California.
A couple of weeks before my departure for the west coast I went out with my old drinking buddy Conrad Spalding and my brother, Aaron.
“I don’t know man, you got it pretty good here, man,” Conrad had said as we sat on my sofa in my parents’ living room.
“Yeah, but I wanna have my own having-it-pretty-good,” I’d said.
The only real way I saw fit to really break out on my own from the regiments I’d known, namely school and the army and more school and money or a lack thereof and parental expectations and what have you, was to get completely out on my own and as far away from home as possible. I figured if I stayed, next thing you’d know I’d be suckered into some Podunk grad school and teaching and I’d soon be old and bald.
So we went out got properly pissed (drunk) at the Pickering Pub in Canandaigua that night and I said goodbye to some old country lassies (girls), blame Wordsworth). Ended up walking over to the Farmer’s Inn – a dilapidated tavern where this haggard drunk had once copped a feel off me at the bar. On the way there my brother Aaron decided to take a leak on a pick-up truck in the parking lot behind the Main Street storefront. Conrad also took a leak but he actually arched his stream into the bed of the truck saying, “I guarantee the owner of this truck is the biggest douche — gets drunk at the Farmer’s Inn and beats his wife.”
Before we knew it, cop lights flashed on us, and some young officers were writing us up. I was leaking over by a tree on a thin medium of grass, on the natural earth between the parking lots, notably. The shade from the tree and the grass made me feel safe, but those drunken idiots got me written up as the bright flashlight of the Man cast upon me. I zipped up and turned around. Aaron, who had initiated the truck-pissing, had miraculously disappeared into the night. Conrad and I were compliant with the cops. I mentioned merely that I was once a solider in Iraq.
“Yeah, there are even less rules over there,” said the young liberal officer. And he was right.
About a week later, I went down to the courthouse and rolled a cigarette. I smoked outside and went in and signed in and sat down. I’d elected to move the case up since I was heading out to California.
“Mr. Rose, urinating in public ah… at 1:48 in the morning…” stressed the judge.
An attractive lady from the prosecution smiled to the point of a giggle.
“What do you have to say for yourself?” asked the bald judge who knew my old man.
I thought for a moment: I was after all on the grass when it happened, the natural earth, by a tree in the dark. You could smell the fine mist of dew and earthiness. These other fools had attracted the attention. But never rat out your friends, right, even in the simplest of matters. So I told him after an extended ceiling-staring pause:
“I’ll just plead guilty, your honor,” and I hoped this would get rid of any further incrimination or embarrassment.
“I move for 100 hours of community service as well,” said the fat prosecutor from leaning against the stand.
He’d seized the moment for capitalizing on teaching the ungrateful young citizen a lesson. Note to self: always act in court. I looked over at him, tongue-tied.
“You may speak now,” said the judge.
“Your honor,” I said, “I can’t do that. I have school! In California!”
“When do you leave?” he said.
“Today!” I said.
“Well, you can do it when you get back,” he said.
‘I ain’t comin’ back,’ I thought. Fuckin’ New York. Always trying to fuck ya with some law. Always some goddamned judge who’s good friends with your old man and some fat prosecutor trying to fuck ya.
So I paid the 200 some dollars. At first I took out the cash right in front of the judge just so he could see it and would have to direct me to the back counter, just to spite him I think, and flaunt my roll, so to speak – I don’t need this shit, I’d gesture. Truth was, this would put a significant dent in my start-up money, alas, but I was absolved for the time being, and on my way out of upstate New York.
“Ah—we have a counter in the back. See the lady to pay, Mr. Rose,” said the judge. So I did, and was all but acquitted and free to go west.
So I was down to 63 hundred dollars – minus 1,000 for the acting class – and minus 650 for one month’s rent at the Chateau de Soleil – a temporary house for actors and the like out in North Hollywood. So that’s about 4,500 in my pocket and I’ve got my Chevy Prism all loaded up with a banner advertisement for my cowboy novel spread across the platform above the back seat so people driving by might get a glimpse. An Epic Tale of Grit and Lore! read the star-spangled banner.
First stop was my cousin’s house out in Champagne-Urbana, Illinois. He’d done well for himself in school. Went to Cornell. Now he was a scientist living with his lovely wife, also an astute academic. Wonderful people.
I pulled in around dusk. They had one of those driveways that goes up a sharp little slope. Their house was a lovely little bungalow, except with a lot of room and a nice screened in patio. David, my handsome cousin, greeted me at the door and invited me in. We sat up talking over some Miller High Life beers which were quite good. I drank three; he drank none, while we sat in the wooden lawn chairs with comforters.
I told him about how I couldn’t wait to get west. I’d finally broken free and I was going out to a big city like he always recommended for me.
The next morning I awoke on a soft feather bed. I eyed an essay lying neatly on the mantel. It was one of David’s wife Kellee’s perfectly crafted essays on tourism by the printer. I went into the kitchen and said hello and we all had eggs and bacon. David said how he’d put so much money into that house and that they didn’t want to move but knew that they would once he completed his studies there. David was always very mature and funny and smart and secure. And here I was running off on some crazy solo-cross-country adventure.
They waved me off and I took a picture of them waving and smiling and holding each other – the great American couple, I swear, standing on the sidewalk in front of their house. And then off I went, with my Garmin GPS system targeted for Burbank Blvd, North Hollywood, California.
When I had taken off finally, my dad and mom stood in our circular driveway atop 123 Holiday Lane. They’d seen me leave before, and each time had a rough breadth of mortality and worry to it. Carry on my Wayard Son …Conrad Spalding had proclaimed was my theme song. I’d been to the mid-east, Germany, France, now it was for the West. My dad hugged me in the sun, his huge Irish breadth, an American who worked hard all his life in the field of education. I never saw him get emotional over this California business up until that last moment by the car.
“Goodbye my son,” he said.
I received a call from him, cutting out my iPhone Pandora.
“Where are you?”
“I’m in Oklahoma!” I said.
“Oklahoma! My boy!” he said.
I drove on through the long plains. I’d passed old Jesse James’ Cavern in Missouri. I’d seen St. Louis. I drove through the pan of Texas looking for Route 66. I kept finding it – this cracked-up road which turned to dirt for long meandering stretches. Kellee had given me her map of the old route and I just had to drive on it. The locals weren’t too keen on giving me directions to find it though when it would disappear. ‘It’s just a road with store fronts on it in the towns,’ they’d say, as I stood sweating in some desert gas station, purchasing water and protein bars.
In Texas, I stopped off 66 at a saloon for a beer. The saloon looked just like the old west – or as much as I’d seen from the movies. The skinny blonde girl who served me said, “No charge – we just opened up. You’ll have to pay for a membership, normally, so.”
It didn’t make sense but I got a free beer. I walked out in the hot deserted crossroads. I filled up at the gas station across the street. Not many people hang around these parts. There was only me and my car and enough gas money to push me through.
I stayed on 66 for a long while, driving into the sun. But of course, I had to get there to start acting school so I’d hop on the Interstate for stretches as well. I stayed usually in Motel 6. The one thing my well-travelled cousins told me about was that I had to see Secret Wash Pass on the section of 66 called the Oatman Highway. I had it marked on the map and when I finally got close, I pulled off to Route 66 again which shot out away from the Interstate and straight to a jagged range of iconic mesas, blazing in the setting sun.
I got out and took pictures – me and my unkempt hair, sweating in a black cowboy hat. A police SUV shot by fading fast into the distance. This was the Wild West – No Country for Old Men, indeed. As I headed into the mesas, the road curved up and around the giant mounds of rock. Little smoldering canyons and cacti-speckled valleys. Sage everywhere. The road slithered dangerously around the sun-scorched mesas. This was the original wagon-trail, I thought. Somewhere around here, the grandma from Grapes of Wrath was buried alongside the road. All those folks in the Dust Bowl and before that, who braved this path in our expansion, our manifest destiny, or what have you.
As I finally came to the last ridges of the pass, I parked near an overlooking bluff – an outlook that spread over a vast rocky valley with distant peaks staggered in a pool of light. Beyond the steep decline of the bluff I saw a makeshift graveyard of about 25-30 graves, maybe more, crosses of wood with unknown etchings at the heads of little mounds of stone. The stones of the graveyard twinkled in the white fading sunlight as I photographed it and got back in my car and drove down and around a huge slab of red rock and around another miniature mountain. The slope grew steep as I came out into the quick clearing of a tiny town — Oatman- – which lined the same single street as its Main Street. The perfect place to shoot a low budget Western. I made a note of it.
The old western-stylized taverns and shops along the street stood quiet and desolate. The Oatman Highway straightened out and declined and widened only slightly enough for a tiny outpost of a town to reside within the rocks. I went into the only open tavern across from the “Classy Ass Saloon.” Some ruffian truck drivers and a savagely uneducated woman bartender populated the place.
I stood in the hot doorway, exhausted.
“Damn, that’s funny,” said a gruff man whimsically at the sight of me from the bar.
He left his remark at that and I went over and started talking to the three people in the tavern. I had a beer and discovered that the two men sitting perpendicular from each other on the corner of the bar were indeed truck drivers, Big Riggs, I assumed from the one fat man’s hefty chain of keys, and of course the huge shafts of semi-trucks I’d spied at the end of the row of buildings parked a little ways into the red desert. The lady bartender was partially sunburnt and red-headed. She warned me not to get lost out here and advised me to take Route 66 to Needles and then get right back on the Interstate. They couldn’t believe I was headed for LA. They didn’t ask where I came from but they all looked like the omen in the beginning of a bad horror film.
I got a call as the reception temporarily cleared. It was back home. My Mom and Dad were at the engagement party of my first childhood girlfriend. They put her on and I wished her congrats. It was subtly strange and romantic and natural that I would talk to her after all those years from way out there like a bandit on the dodge stooped in some dive along the Oatman Highway, a desolate speck of a town furrowed in the red rocks and huge orange boulders.
There was also, inside the tavern, a huge white bear head mounted on the wall that had been used in a Burt Reynolds picture back in the day. I got one of the ruffians to snap a picture of me holding a beer under the bear’s head in my cowboy hat with my dusty iPhone camera (took a couple of takes).
Then I went out and pushed on, driving around a live stand-still burro just out of town in the middle of the road. Apparently a whole heap of them had escaped a carnival or something some time ago.
I splattered a muskrat on the road. Or some sort of critter. Saw it flattened in the empty dusk-bleached road in the rearview. It felt good to be alone out there. Out passed Death Valley. No girls, no couples. Except maybe one. This guy pissing vulgarly on the side of the road, as the ranges of Death Valley stung with a foreboding hot rising delirious music of the desert. I looked back and saw the guy’s girlfriend telling him to get in the car. I turned around and decided to get back on the main road then. You don’t want to die alone.
Come up on the gray-silvery metal bridge in the desert where I crossed the Colorado River and by nightfall I came up to the border of California.
There was a harried man in uniform at the gateless checkpoint who asked, “Where you coming from?”
“Secret Wash Pass,” I gasped to him out the window in the red sky of dusk.
He must’ve not seen my New York license plate. There were other vehicles carrying produce which seemed more suspicious to him, I suppose. The guard waved me along and under the white arcade I went into the red rolling hills of California.
I made it in to Barstow and shacked up in a motel.
The next morning I came out of the motel into the bright sun. I walked around passed the green wooden motel doors under the sand-white arcade of the motel. There was my car. It had made it all this way. Now on the pavement of the parking lot the muffler lay. I called Triple A. Used my credit card. Poor black little car. It looked so hot in that sun.
A fellow with a buzzed haircut, a wife-beater and a sense of humor pulled up in his tow-away truck about an hour later. As he hooked it up and hoisted I was almost reminded of my army days: lifting up supplies and bombed-out barriers and Humvees with huge Hemmett Trucks on the 2nd deployment, or even: dragging me along as IED bait, the lone driver of a bum Humvee skittering along the road in a constant poppa-wheelie, chained to the back of a long Hemmett Truck. But now my trusty car, far from destroyed, hoisted beautifully and I simply took a picture of my black little Chevy going up on the flatbed which picked it up and leveled out nicely. I then hopped in the passenger’s side and we rode down to the mechanics’ station, listening to the some redneck humor CD, which I found ticklish and vulgar and hilarious at the same time. Sort of on par with Army humor, if you will.
This guy, this tower, had a buzz-cut – appropriate for the weather – and he hated rich people. As we pulled into the mechanics’ station in town, a middle-aged woman came running out of nowhere. There were some uppity restaurants and a mini-mall complete with Starbucks nearby.
“Excuse me! Are you going to move you’re truck?” hollered the rich lady. “You have to move your truck! I was – about to park there – I need to park there!”
“Yeah calm down lady, I’ll back it up for ya so you can get in,” Shane, the tower said.
Aside to me after she’d gone, he said, “Rich people, ya know?”
“Yeah, I hear ya,” I said.
95 dollars later and I’m back out on the road. Sent some post cards from a barn red old railroad station turned Souvenir Store. Folks were moving fast in and out of the place, munching on corndogs and what not. Hopped up on Starbucks and Red Bull and the last of my protein bars, which I’d purchased rolling through Santa Fe, – (back where I espied too tripped out hippies in bathrobes and then only beach towels standing in the sun on the corner at one of the highway exits, awaiting a police car rolling up) – I rolled on to California, my muffler reattached and a tank full of gas.
The great Los Angeles’ Valley gorged out before me. Traffic thickened with semis hauling on a road that hugged around a mountain. 66 was down at the base of the gorge in the dry rocks. The road lined around the mountains into the city, making a huge U around some grassland expanse, so you could see the trucks like miniature toy blocks coming around the bend. This was the passage into the City of Angels: with the mist of the mountains spreading out thin to the pinkish haze of traffic and blocks of towns at the edge of the sprawl.
I had this idea that I would take 66 into the finish, until it turned into Santa Monica Blvd. Not happening. Too many red lights and too hot as the street dragged on from town to town, all looking relatively the same, as though I were not travelling anywhere, just bumbling along the perimeter.
I turned around in a Ralph’s grocery store. Some lady behind me in a red car honked vehemently and gave me a dirty look. I knew I was getting close to L.A.
Jumped back on the Interstate and streamlined in. Unlike my first venture out there when I drove up from my uncle Pete’s in San Diego right into the palms of Hollywood and Highland, this time I saw the exit for Burbank Blvd. as the Interstate seemed to curve up and around about to cut further into the city. It then splintered right off and halted at Burbank Blvd. The SevenEleven on my left. My Garmin directed me right and then left to a fanciful little place on the corner with four little veranda-clad windows. The place looked elegant: like a breeze-washed Spanish hacienda. In Spain, however, we were not.
I parked behind a blue FIAT with some rust coloration and a bumber sticker that said: “USA – Still # 1!”
Alas, I had arrived. This was where the travelling actors live, and I was certainly that. Twenty-six and handsome, I’d say, a hell of a physique and still most of my hair intact.
I got out and went in to get settled.
Inside, the first person I met was Gary’s sweet little niece, Isabella. She swiped my card, went over some house rules, and told me where my bunk was. Yep, I’d be living on the top bunk in a room with five other dudes. Gary came in then – this excellent Armenian Californian dude with long rock n’ roller hair in a slick pony tail. He took me down the hall, pointing out the headshots proudly of some of the other aspiring talents who’d stayed at the Chateau de Soleil, the idyllic sun-bleached hacienda in North Hollywood for fawning artists of all kinds trying to set the world on fire. But when we got back to the room and he pushed aside the curtain I sensed a nervous pause in Gary, a strange moment of preponderance, as though I’d reject the room and
demand my money back.
Tell you the truth, though, I rather liked the little place: Fairly spacious hard floor filled out to two large wooden wardrobes on either side of the room; a one utility shelf sat against the wall. It also had a little sink and kitchen area with a computer desk. Nobody was there when I showed up except this old Elmer-Fudd looking character lying on the bottom bunk in the corner; he sat up and looked at me.
“Hello,” I said.
He shook my hand; his chubby dry hand.
On the desk between the beds, I surveyed the clump of clothes, ashes and bottles and pieces of paper and business cards with random times and notes and little perverse rudimentary sketches scribbled on them. It was quite messy, with a bunch of cards and empty Steel Reserve beer cans strewn about, layered with socks, loose change, a cassette player/recorder and random things.
“That’s Chance’s stuff, he’s on the top bunk – you’ll meet him,” Gary said.
“Can’t wait,” I said.
By the time I’d settled in, with my Rogaine carefully hidden in the bathroom and my clothes all neatly hung in the wardrobe, I lay in my bunk gazing out the window at the palm trees impaled against the dark blue Los Angeles sky. Slowly but surely, voices filtered into the room. Those voices turned to whispers and footsteps in the dark as my future roommates settled into their bunks, not at all dissimilar to soldiers coming off of guard duty in a bombed out college in Camp Hit, Iraq. I heard a faint Texan accent, then a loud bolstering Australian one with a little pleasant lilt, some kind of hip hop Indian, and of course the ringing tune of my lower bunkmate Kenny’s phone in his pocket singing, “Blame it on the al, al, al, al, al, al-cho, hol….”
These are my roommates, I thought – a mixture of random wanderlust compiled in one room in North Hollywood for 650 a month per head, a figure which I would have to find a way to meet on the regular.
That first Thursday there I had a job interview, a very important one, as I had looked it up, applied and secured an interview all the way from back home. It was some sales job any college grad in a suit could apply for and possibly make 30-50 grand, easy. But that Wednesday before that, I ended up meeting up with a few guys who’d somewhat distract me from my interview prep: Phil Olsen and Phil Sachsenhausen. Olsen was American, looked like the guy from Burn Notice and apparently wanted to be him, too. The other one we called, ‘German Phil,’ as he was incredibly German, hailing from some wealthy yet corrupt family in the Fatherland with roots that go back to when my own original German ancestors even were probably swinging an axe into some poor bloke’s face. Decidedly, I liked the American Phil much better.
I went out to the bright sun-soaked day Wednesday. I walked over to the swing seat at the end of the shaded veranda out front.“Fuckin beautiful out here, ain’t it?” said a voice.
I looked over and saw that it was Phil. He sat on the steps at the end of the alley between the Chateau and the fence. Verdant palm bushes hung over the fence form the neighbor’s yard. Phil sat smoking and looking off with his thick brows arched together as though posing for the camera with that sun-glint look in his eyes. “Ya know,” he said with classic James Dean slighted-grandeur, “there’s a girl back home waiting for me back in Florida. Love of my life. You got a girl?”
“Yeah, but I don’t think she’s waitin’,” I said.
“Yeah, how’s that?”
“As a matter of fact, I never really got a chance to know her too well.”
“She is beautiful though.”
“Yeah, well there’s plenty of dames out here. You strike gold out here and you won’t have to worry about no sweethearts back home.”
“I hear that,” I said.
Just then Kenny, the recording artist stepped outside. He came over to the patio and kicked one foot up to slap the flap of the canopy that covered the veranda. Kenny was a large black man with a goatee and a soft pudgy face. He couldn’t keep from flirting with all the girls and smoking weed. He said his muscles were all soft and that he’d gotten so flexible from smoking so much weed; hence his ability to slap that flap with his foot. It was quite impressive. He then lit a cigarette and settled in.
“Did you guys know today’s my birthday?” he said.
Turns out he was thirty. “Thirty is the new twenty,” I said, after smoking a bit and swinging on the rocking chair in the cool sunshade.
“Shit, thirty is thirty,” Kenny said.
I asked him about his life.
“Shit that I made is in space,” he explained. “I used to work for a company that assembled satellites and radios and stuff for the government…”
Kat joined us then. Kat was a nice blonde from New Jersey. Smoked Newports. A bit chunky but she was the most attractive girl there, I’d say, and the one I could most easily talk to. She was going to school at Chapman for film while working as a product placement girl for some purse company, arranging purses to be photographed, very risqué stuff.
We all settled in and partied, smoked, drank and went out. The next day I couldn’t find my goddamned keys for the life of me.
I finally found them hanging in a bush on the side of the Chateau. But too late. I’d had to have my friend Dan from my acting class drive me to that job interview. Dan was a good kid, neat head of hair that just sort of flops straight down on his head and never gets messy. Attended Yale, apparently. To my luck, he had a decent car with AC. The 101 was clogged with traffic: trucks with produce and livestock and sports cars and rust-buckets, one from Wyoming even. But we made it and I interviewed for a sales position. Thing was, my nice shoes were locked in the car at the time which sat parked along the side street there off Burbank Boulevard. The place in West Hollywood I had Dan drop me off at was real nice, too, with a real nice outer design complete with a water fountain and a sort of turquoise arch sculpture in the middle of the quad of a modern building of glass and soft red stone. It’s kind of hard to find old buildings out in LA, except of course for the old missionary churches, namely the spired church at Highland and Hollywood where the endless flow of traffic mushes down under huge billboards of Bruce Willis comes to mind.
But anyway, the guy I interviewed with, a thick man of Asian descent in an impeccable suit, seemed to dig my resume and my answers to the interview questions for the most part. But when I got up to leave, shook his hand and smiled, I turned back and saw him catch sight of my sneakers and then quickly scribble down a note. Damn it.
When I came back I found the keys sunning in the bushes. I was so frustrated I had to smoke a little weed and lift weights out back. Finally, I got into my car and got my suits and my good shoes lined up in the classic oak wardrobe in the room for future interviews. We went out again that night to a hookah bar, Kat, Chance, Phil, German Phil a few others and me. Gary had a nice little pad where we partied afterwards as well. I had nodded off at the hookah bar. Some younger deuschy guy pointed this out to the gang. I didn’t care. As long as I could sleep in my top bunk, which was quite comfortable, and wake up and go out to the sun and slump back into the swinging chair until Chance and them came out to smoke, eat and drink and do it all again, I was happy; and class was going well, too. It wasn’t exactly a streamline into the limelight, but it was interesting to say the least.
Where they had this acting course was down off Burbank on one of those Hispanic named streets – whose name begins with a C and is very Hispanic but at this moment escapes me. We’d be in there walking around silently, swiftly passed each other, making intense eye contact in a room that was painted black. We’d have to act like monkeys and dinosaurs, crawl on the ground and stare at each other for prolonged acting exercises. I kept letting my energy escape to my hands as this one girl would say. Or I’d break eye contact and get distracted or hesitate before speaking which was what you weren’t supposed to do. You were just supposed to react, naturally, see. We’d sit around and stare at each other and sometimes the little guy, Charlie, would cry on the spot. It came around to me and the most natural thing to do was recite some CCR lyrics in the voice of a grizzled cowboy, of course. They all loved it.
“Now Ben is playing a stereotypical cowboy,” said teach, a bald Mario brother look alike. “His influences are coming from outside, what is already established – she if you can draw more from the true Ben,” he advised.
“Whatever you say, teach,” I said.
I was a likable guy in the course. They all were good people, a lot of foreigners, Aussies and Dutch and big oil offspring who’ve been living in the jungles of far flung oil producing lands making billions. Only about half were Americans. But by the end, we all felt like we’d known each other for years. During an activity in which the goal was to get one person to ask another the most provocative questions he or she could, I instinctively contributed by telling the person on stage to ask a German-American 34 year old woman with a thick German accent if she “liked to kill a shitload of Jews.” Dan overheard, from the dark theater seats in the little black room and he intoned through the semi-darkness: “good question!”
I apologized to the German woman afterwards. She said it was ok and that that didn’t affect her anymore. Thank god my girl over in Germany did not hear me say that. Then again, she always was a bit of a sadist.
And at the end of my day, I’d walk back in the sun down to the Chateau on Burbank; must’ve been about a 2 mile walk at least. Once I’d been so deep in thought on method acting and whether I’d get a job and be able to actually grind it out that I hit my head on a dry low hanging branch. It knocked me down and dazed me. Birds were chirping around my head and blood was dripping from the center of my forehead. Luckily, that day I’d taken my dusty Prism so I hopped in and drove back to the Chateau.
“Gary, you got any ice,” I called as I entered.
He was there by the computer in the TV room.
“What is this, a movie scene?” he said.
“Cha,” I said, “There’s a huge gangster outside chasing me.”
“Pulp Fiction,” said American Phil.
“I love that movie,” said German Phil.
“Are you ok,” said Andréa, this Dutch girl who’d just arrived last night.
“Yeah,” I said, dryly, like Clint, and I got fixed up with some ice and water, by Andrea, minus only the Hollywood-lay-after-the-hero-heals bit; where’s my Hollywood lay? If only it were real.
I came out later in the evening and I saw a square-faced skinny white guy in the corner typing away intensively on a lap top. New face. I went over and introduced myself.
This square-faced beady-eyed long wet curly black-haired skinny as a rail young man in a white t-shirt and jeans, typing away intensively on what appeared to be the friendbook looked up at me as I approached and said, “Hey, dude, what’s happenin?”
“Hello there?” I said as I extended my palm. “Name’s Ben, Ben Rose.”
“Hey Ben, Norm, Norm Redwood, what’s happening?”
“Nothing, I just wanted to introduce myself – You’re American? – that’s nice. You’re one of the few aspiring talents that are actually American – most of our people are not this deluded I guess – too busy workin’,” I asserted.
“Or sitting on their asses,” he said. “No, I’m not an actor though – director.”
We strolled out for a smoke and a beer down Burbank Boulevard. Ended up about a mile and half down, way passed Denny’s, at this hipster dive, nice and dark. We got a beer and talked shop. He’d earned his master’s in business on account of his dad, an oilman from Canada footing the bills. He said he had to quit all his part-time jobs because they always offered him full-time because he was so good – a perfectionist with an iron-clad work ethic. But he always had to turn them down on account of his art.
Billy Idol raged in the background as a long-haired biker ripped up the room with karaoke. Apparently it was the biker’s birthday. He and his leather-vested gang looked like they’d just rolled in from the desert beyond the red range of rocks that lined the long road of Burbank Boulevard. On our walk back we saw the Bat Mobile, or an old version of it, parked along the road in the dusk.
The next day, I found myself in the shaded sunlight out on the front patio at my first production meeting. It was I, Norm and Chance, the rapping Indian. We decided to all put in 350 dollars to make a short film. Chance, had no money and mine was dwindling down but we went along for the moment. It was my charge as the writer of the group to write the screenplay. After some brainstorming, I came up with a bit about dirty cops and a slain Mexican man found in North Hollywood. I called it, “Dead Mexican.” They seemed to like it. Chance, the 6 foot 5 Indian was a sliver Mexican as well and he wasn’t offended by the title. He’d just sit there rocking back and forth rapping extremely fast about how he’d come from Montana where the horses run wild, where his woman is and his child, about how he’d ruled the streets of LA with music, rhythm and beats, about how the cops couldn’t touch him because he kept his shit neat, about how Pizza Hut owed him a paycheck because they never paid him for the pie he delivered when he was wrecked.
Chance was a hell of a guy. He’d put on this fake afro and we’d zip down to the street behind Burbank and poke around the corner to a business at 1442 and ½. At the sound of the buzzer we’d pop into the waiting room behind the thick glass. A bald thugged-out white guy, sweaty wife beater and tats, would approach, smile that it was us and let us back. They had everything under the glass: New York Diesel, Kind Bud. I did not need to pay no 160 dollars for a medical permit to the green; I simply knew Chance and Phil from the Chateau and talked to the guy explaining that I’d been to war and what not. He was cool. Said he’d never been to New York though. New York? Who needs it when you have the palms and the freeway and the stars and Denny’s and runaway Indian Rappers and legal access to marijuana? Somebody’s always gotta pay the piper though, eventually I guess, so rapped Chance.
We had to get that movie made, or get something going. Acting class was going swimmingly. I was due to portray the rapist from the scene from Tape with Ethan Hawk’s character, played by my dear friend Ivy League Dan. We’d gotten scripts from Samuel French down around the corner. Dan was a bit short to play Ethan Hawk but he nailed it with his own intensity. They made me the bad guy I think on account of my receding hairline, and for slight repercussion I believe for attempting to correct Cory, the 29 year old blonde acting coach who’d had a bit in Law and Order SVU. I’d misquoted De Niro saying, “It’s important to indicate.” When of course, it is really important not to, as most people don’t show their emotions. I rightly apologized.
Anyway, as I walked in wearing my suit for the performance on the last day, Ivy League Dan commented, “Is it a bear market or a bull?” I’d looked damn good, my friends, damned good. Our performance: so stellar and real that the emotional little guy Charlie said afterwards that he felt like he was actually there in the scene, out of the room and in the scene for the duration. I had mastered method acting. All those crazy methods of walking around noticing and reacting and focusing intensely had made me adaptable to any context or character. And I had a charming personality. So they told me. Then they invited me to the next level: Acting Corp. II where I would perform before a live audience again, get professional headshots and start auditioning for another 1400 dollars. Yeah, me.
At least we could scope out the ladies; have a good time at the Chateau. Plus, I knew this valley-girl, Susie W., from back east who I could look up.
As the sun set Norm and I espied these two ladies across the street getting out of a car with a Pennsylvania license plate on it. Back East.
“Looks like they’re going to a party,” I said, smoking a cigarette. “We should go talk to them – east coast ladies.”
“Yeah, why not.”
And he walked right on over and introduced himself. I chimed in with a few words, mainly that I was from NY. Other than that I played my strong silent type, especially in such a sober and spontaneous moment – what was I to say? I didn’t expect this film nerd to just walk on over like that. They shot us down lightly and turned away, walked down a path into a sandstone hut of a house for their party.
“Ah, fuck’em,” Norm said. “One day they’ll be too many of them to count lounging around the pool.”
“Right. Gotta get that movie made, Norm.”
“Tell me about it. Let’s go check on Chance – see if he wants to get high and go to Hollywood.”
It wasn’t a bad idea. We collected Chance up from the patio at his usual spot downing Steel Reserves. There’s nothing more dangerous than an Indian alcoholic. I once went drinking with a Native American before – my old multicultural lit. Professor, Dr. Sands back at Fish Sticks (St. John Fisher College). We started drinking on a Tuesday. I didn’t wake up until Thursday.
I liked Chance better high. But Chance, he liked to drink, and wave that goddamned hunter’s knife around like Dr. Gonzo. To deal with his energy you have to give him a joint and take him for a walk downtown, let him rap. This we did. And besides a few shout outs to some passing girls: “Hey mammasitas!” or what have you, he was cool.
We went out with the whole crew downtown that night. Bradley Rogers from Pennsylvania, the bald actor who’d landed an extra gig in GI Joe and did a shit load of crunches and pushups before bed; Kenny from Oakland who studied recording arts at LA Film School and had apparently made shit that was now in space; Chance, LA recording school applicant pending denial of financial aid; German Phil, the actor who hailed from a prominent yet reportedly corrupt family over in Deutschland, wearing a T-shirt that said, ‘Protect the Gene Pool’; American Phil, Norm and I. No European girls from the Chateau, except Holly, the attractive Dutch girl who’d recently arrived. She strolled steadily under Kenny’s arm, flirting and reveling at his American speech.
At Denny’s, we passed the homeless guy the acting coaches had warned everybody about who lived by the trunk of a short palm tree. Kenny stopped and gave him 75 cents. After some appraisal of the charity, the old black fellow chased us hollering at Kenny, “Hey big man!” This is what he kept yelling, “HEY BIG MAN!” Getting closer and closer. He followed us down the street towards the subway. In his rags he ran slow and scary-like in the night, like a blotch of muffled fury. Kenny ignored him. I thought we’d have to face him. He got close enough to throw the 75 cents at us, landing the coins at our feet. “Keep your damned 75 cents!” he proclaimed.
“Shit, you were asking, take it or leave it old man,” Kenny said.
And we submerged to the subway to board that yellow 3 stop train to Hollywood Boulevard.
Once arrived, I’d forgotten about calling up old Susie W. up in the San Fernando Valley. She was a sweet girl but probably not my type and besides, I had my friends to show me around, I figured, as that subway dumped us right at the Kodak Theatre. Everybody and their brother were there on account of Michael’s Jackson’s death. It was my second time at that classic American strip. The second time you start to feel sorry for the guys in costumes a bit. The first time was the year before on a trip out to visit my uncle down in San Diego. “It’s nothing special. You’ll see,” he’d told me. He is a priest.
We strolled up the escalator, across the marble-floored quad of the Kodak Theatre with the big elephant statues and into the glitzy bumbling street in the night. The road was slicked with rainwater that looked like oil under the lights. I thought about the blurb I’d read about out-of-work cowboy actors shooting out the streetlight just to get attention. Now people of all kinds hopped in and out of stores, taking pictures with the superheroes. You never know quite what you’ll see there. In the day one time after coffee I spied a lady with her eyeball hanging out of her head walking around blindly as though she’d just escaped a torture chamber by the escalator. Tarantino on the premises? Or a sublime flash of an unmasking of the whole scene? Some hidden torture chamber below? I thought. Surely, life could not be as good as the 50s’ gloss, glitz and glam which seemed to emanate from that street. If only I’d gone to Hollywood High. I’d be famous like the other elites.
We bumbled into the restaurant with the cheerleaders and had some wings and beers. I was wearing my light turquoise shirt, hippyish with pretty long hair grown out of my standard boy cut. Got my picture taken with the girls, then with Michael Jackson across the street. The air dried up quickly in the black night and the cars gassed on through the intersection of Highland forever and ever. We escaped the people and went upstairs to a sushi/karaoke bar that overlooked the Roosevelt Hotel. We sat outside smoking and drinking where we could see the big elephant statue and the people below. Some kind of biker gang leaned against the marble ledge in the backdrop. American Phil was in his glory, talking nonstop about his auditions. He wore this leather jacket with his hair slicked back as usual and he kept eying one of those skin-showing biker chicks. She eyed him right back, all the way to the quick point when she simply came on over and plopped right in his lap. She was skinny and beautiful; aggressive personality; I’d never attempt her. But she kissed old Phil in the lights of the Roosevelt Hotel. And I snapped a picture of it on my phone: the faded American flag on the back of the girls’ leather as she leaned in to smack giant red lipstick smudges all over his face like Betty Boop.
After nights like these and more diving in and out of pricey bars and quirky yet well-curated boutique coffee shops, after losing Chance time and time again, I started to realize the irresponsibility of it all. I’d be hammering away on my screenplay at the Chateau and I’d say, “Let’s go to Santa Monica, ho!” And we’d go ‘tea-bag’ the ocean as Chance would say. We’d sit there drinking 40s from SevenEleven right on the beach – diving right into the waves and feeling the cold rushing smack of the Pacific on our foreheads. I’d shoot in, body surfing, find my beer lodged in the sand and sit and drink in the sun. Then came the infamous night when we got the limo with all the frills through Allen the Texan and everyone put in 80 dollars for it. In traffic, I saw a guy looking over at me. I rolled the window up real slow.
We ended up at some club off Hollywood that charged 300 dollars to sit at a booth with a bottle of Grey Goose. There was no other way. There was a gorgeous Spanish actress at that time in our company whom I danced beautifully with before the table of aspiring talent in the bright blue lights of the club. Gary was in the open back end smoking. I chatted briefly with him about the rent. I went back inside to find a foreign face poking at me through the dark: it was this Czech girl, wagging my MasterCard at me. They were all foreign girls in our crew. And it all came down on the American guy with the card. From a quick look around, I could tell, the bouncers were about to kick us out.
“Don’t charge the whole thing on my card – split it among all the cards,” I explained to her over the music.
“No, you pay; you need to pay with a different card. Your card no good,” she said.
“I’m not going to pay for the whole entire–”
I grabbed my card and Chance and headed towards the door. Chance faced me in the doorway.
“I’ll pay,” he said, drunkenly.
“You? You don’t have any money, Chance, c’mon man!” I yelled so loud that the bald built bouncer took a step my way.
We left. Chance said he was going to take the limo back. I was fed up with the whole scene and went for a pizza and beer down the street towards the Boulevard.
Inside the pizza joint, I minded my business, sipping and munching and recalculating the events of the night and my debit withdrawals over the past month and a half. This man strolled in there – looked uncannily close to some more built version of me. He was even wearing a similar stripey and he talked like a real dandy, a real Kerouac or Butch Cassidy sort of cockamamie defiant youthful sort of disposition.
He comes up to the counter – the light was all yellow in there as though they were shooting a movie – yet watching myself act from behind the camera – and he orders a slice and a beer. He then talks her up a bit about getting a job there. “I noticed that you’re hiring,” he says, and he gives her one of his cards from his breast pocket. The lady smiles and pins it up on the bulletin board in the back, and as the lady leaves to prepare the meal, the guy pours out all the change from the tip jar into his wallet. Some went in – the rest clattered everywhere. The lady came back with his food. He paid with some scuffed up old bills and sat down.
Not a minute later…The lady says, “Now why did you do that?”
“Do what?” he said from his seat.
“The change jar – it was rattling.”
“What are you talking about?”
“It was rattling with change. Now it’s empty and change is all over the floor,” she said.
The guy gets up and saunters over. He leans in over the counter.
“Listen lady, I’m in a bind here. I’m from New York and I just ran out of money. I need a couple of bucks for the subway, see, otherwise I’m liable to get knifed by a Mexican or something walking around here, you understand. I’m not from around here. I’m desperate.”
“Knifed by a Mexican, huh?” she piqued, picking up the phone.
“I’ve been threatened by one already last time I got lost, I swear. Now look, I will come back here and put a hundred dollar bill in this change jar, I’ll stick it right in the jar, ok? Just don’t call the cops over spilt change ok? Would ya please put the phone down?”
He placed his hand on hers on top of the receiver.
“Get out of here,” she said, “just get out!”
Just then a thick Mexican man stepped into the picture from the kitchen.
“See this man here,” said the lady, “he owns the place. He’s Mexican. You can take your damned card back and forget about working here.” She took the card off the bulletin and flicked it back at the dandy’s stripped shirt. The guy left.
I went over and helped her pick up the coins.
“So uh…I overheard that you’re hiring,” I said. “I love Mexicans.”
I found an ATM and took a cab back. I jolted out and out flung my sacred iPhone. The screen cracked up good on the curb. I went in and went to my bunk.
The next day I’m on the horn with the old man:
“Yeah it’s great over here, you know, I got some good remarks and feedback from the acting people – they all say I’d make a phenomenal actor – no auditions as of yet but I’m workin’ on it….400 dollars just for a decent headshot out here, it’s crazy….I need to borrow some money, yeah….might have a job at a pizza shop downtown….”
My next call was too the bank.
“What’s your social security number,” said the guy.
“067-234-5757,” I said as fast as possible.
“What? What? You’re gonna need to slow down.”
“I said it again even faster, whispering violently as I paced the little nook of a kitchen that extended from the bedroom of the guy’s room on the first floor of the Chateau. They also had a little computer desk at the edge of the counter back there. That’s where I’d hammer out my crazy screenplay. There was no one back there at the moment except, Ron, the old retired taxi driver who looked like Elmer Fudd. He lay on his bunk reading a newspaper.
“Listen Ben—Mr. Rose: I need you to slow down,” repeated the banker on the phone.
Guarantee he knew my dad, the lawyer/indefatigable educator, and exactly who I was: the dropout dreamer, trying to catch up with his western sailed ship, get long gone from that teasing imp of a girl and all those New York girls. Damn.
When I finally slowed down, I stumbled over the numbers.
“Oh, so you don’t even know it unless you say it that fast, huh?” said the banker.
I reached through the phone and punched him. Turns out, I was broke.
“Your last charge was from an ATM in Hollywood, California? What are you doing out in California?”
“I’m here on business. None of your business, of course, but nevertheless very important business, alright? Now am I overdrawn or what?”
“Got about 20 dollars. 19.98 to be exact.”
I hung up and went outside to sit and smoke with Chance.
“I’m in a real bad spot here, Chance,” I said.
“Yeah, no doubt. Hey, how’s your movie coming?”
“Great, I finished it.”
“Really? That’s awesome, son…”
“What – you wrote a script?” German Phil chimed. He came down the steps and did a back flip to impress the London girls over under the umbrella.
“Yes,” I responded.
“What’s it about?” Norm said, sitting down on the swinging chair against the wall.
“It’s an allegorical satire of Americana,” I quipped, “involving a cowboy and his adventure home to the woman he loves…on the way he meets a stripper who nearly takes him for all he’s got. After a gritty scene, the cowboy finds himself on the run, with the stripper’s bastard son Dusty, in tow. So he decides to teach the kid the ‘cowboy way,’ as he takes him back to Kansas where his long lost childhood love awaits.”
“Damn,” said German Phil as he passed me the bong.
“Nope, no more…I’ll smoke when my picture is made,” I said. I lit a cigarette instead.
We talked into the night until twilight rose from those sweet palms. I was in love with LA. The surfing, the freeways, the girls from all over, the Chateau itself. The Italian chick, she goes, ‘Watch what you say around Ben, he’s a novelist, he’ll write it all down and spill all your rotten Hollywood secrets!….”
“Guilty as charged,” I said. I ended up taking a little toke myself from my own private stash but that’s beside the point. The bottom line was I loved it out there, and I did not need a girl, but only to work and party and work towards my big break. Sure, German Phil pisses me off sometimes, and they were all a bit mad at me for leaving them without a ride back once, but I apologized and now we’re cool as can be. Maria, too. And Holly, Anna, the Mexican girl who once told me and Chance that drinking raw eggs can give you Salmonella, especially if there’s like puss conglomerated on the bottom of the yoke after we’d finished drinking a stirred glass of the stuff in tribute to Rocky, of course.
Back to the main scene though:
“Damn. Nice synopsis. But what’s your logline?” Norm asked, smartly.
“After a duel with a drunken Sheriff, a delusional actor from LA becomes a famed cowboy outlaw on the run. Set in 2001. Eh? How about that? It’s a satire after all, brotha man!”
We went out a few more times. My dad put 500 in my account so I could pay for one more month out there. Plus, of all things, a royalty check from my book showed up and saved my ass. So I was good for a while longer before busting out the emergency credit card, which could only be used to go back. So I assured the old man, and this was the truth, that I was the most responsible one out there — the only one actually looking for a job. I told him that most of these riff-raffs out here were Europeans from wealthy families. The few Americans were all scraggled and bitter. Take Norm for instance: he drove a dusty old Firebird, worked out down at 24 Hr. Fitness, and worked on this short film projects for NY Film Academy. He was all work. I wish I could’ve helped him out with his film projects more but I had to get a shitty job myself to pay rent. American Phil was 34 years old but he had the look and the heart to grind it out to a few independent gigs. Me, I was the writer, trying my hand at acting, trying to see if I could break in that way, get behind they eyes of some these young folks. We were all dreamers – and when we’d sit out front of the Chateau till that sun turned to twilight, our dreams would carry us out into the night and back and at least we’d tried. There’s no better sleep than after a good night out in Hollywood with a bunch of dreamers from the Chateau – take my word for it. They’re faces lined the hall as you walk in the next day all foggy to drink your OJ and find your cereal amongst the community kitchen. In the softly snoring room under the palms on the top bunk, the ocean-valley air flowed coolly in and out.
Who was with us then? There was Holly from Holland. Cute as hell. She, I must say might not have been so rich. I gave her a ride to go meet an agent once. I swear I saw Tom Cruise roll by in a Ferrari convertible while waiting outside. The parking cost 8 dollars. I charged her only 5 for the ride. She handed it over and said, “My last five,” making me want to shove it right back into her palm. I didn’t. Needed that five. But we got a good look at who was rich. As we rolled by I pointed out Alex Trebek’s house atop a hill overlooking Sunset Boulevard.
“Smart Canadian guy,” I said, “did pretty well for himself.”
Now Chance and I took old German Phil one time to the Greek Theater – 15 bucks to get in – I only had my dwindling debit – so I asked him to spot me and Chance. Had to twist his arm before he pulled out a stack of hundreds. This fucking rich German fuck.
Another time when it was just me and Chance trying to get into a rock theater on sunset, the guy let us through free of charge:
“Who’s in there?” I asked.
“Industry professionals,” the guy told me.
We must’ve had the look. Turns out it was a pretty big gig for some up-and-coming rock bands.
Anyway, the night we went to Troubadours was the worst. I had my little car. Pulled it around to the side and German Phil came running out, him and his weird cousin Nick. He opened the back door and with both feet on the floor and one hand on the roof, he started jumping up and down, riding the worn shocks of the car, flailing his hand out to the others. I was one of the few guys with a car, but I didn’t think I could handle German Phil that night.
Previous nights he’d been ok.
“You were in the military,” he’d said, “You got my back if things go down right?”
“I got your back,” I’d said, strolling down Hollywood Boulevard.
Fun part though was watching him get the shoulder from two drunken Hollywood girls walking home from the club:
“Don’t even try,” one of them fired from a distance.
But he tried anyway. The old wounded gazelle approach doesn’t work in LA if you’re not stepping out of a Porsche or something, apparently. This night we cooled off with some late night Denny’s and went back to the Chateau.
Sitting out there on the patio on the night in question now, the pizza guy came and I was in the midst of depicting the end scene of my movie and practicing my pitch:
“……and then the cowboy tosses the money, shoots off his last remaining shots, to keep back the cops, grabs the girl and kisses her one last time……
“That sounds like one hell of an ending,” said the pizza guy from the gate, “go out in a blaze, man!” He was a comical chubby Hispanic fellow.
“Hey, you know my cousin works for CAA,” he added, whimsically.
“Chance – get my card!” I ordered.
Chance laughed. I went and got it myself – novelist/screenwriter it read, underneath the logo of two old-fashioned pistols facing outwards so as to make the oblique spatial reference to a lovely vaginal area in the center.
We played poker, drank vodka and soda, smoked a bit and got all spruced up to go out – the ladies from the Chateau including ones from Italy, London and Spain all wearing tight modern outfits with sparkly jewelry. I got to take Maria, the Spanish supermodel, Chance in the back beside her, German Phil on her other side, and Norm up front with me.
“Do not jump on the fucking car this is my only car, ya got me?” I said to German Phil.
He was like an animal. I wanted him out. How he could do a back flip from a standing position was beyond me. He looked like a dumb, slightly chubby guy around the mid-section. But he was a goddamned Tasmanian Devil when he was high. Dumb, rich, blue-eyed fearless German sucking away at the American dream.
Anyway, we headed out and I had it all Garmined out but still we must’ve passed it or the maps weren’t updated. I tried parallel parking on a residential street of Santa Monica on a curve.
“You sure you know what you’re doing?”
“Don’t worry, I used to drive for the government,” I said.
Ended up parking atop some grocery store. Paid the huge black security guard my last eleven dollars to let us leave it there overnight. The rest of the passengers just walked off.
We finally made it to Troubadours on account of Maria asking a host of one of those ritzy restaurants spilled out into the sidewalk. He pointed down the street and we were there at last.
15 bucks to get in. German Phil gave Chance a hard time about it.
“I need that money back, I’m running low man, for real,” he said, shuffling his bills back into his wallet.
Inside was an excellent band with a female lead singer scantily clad who claimed to hail from Liverpool, England and to have had sex with most of the band members there. Her fishnet legs and red bra were something to look at while sipping scotch and cooling down. Music wasn’t so bad, too. It was sort of vulgar, raunchy alternative ska rock yet somewhat poetic and adroitly flowing in melody, to say the least.
I walked around.
“Benjamin!” German Phil was blitzed.
I’d seen him aggressive, cursing you out in German, threatening to smash a “flasche” or bottle in your face back at the Chateau while we were all just sitting around watching TV one day. It was sort of an actors’ showdown between him and American Phil. American Phil had not backed down. He’d stood his ground right there in the common area behind the couch, his dark blue Brooklyn eyes piercing into the German’s pale spineless ones – and at the next flinch by the German, he popped out that switch blade. Game over. German Phil sat down and shut up. It was just a game between actors.
But here in the dark club with the red stage lights bouncing off random rock’n roll English skin, when you’re enjoying a good drink and swaying with your fellow Chateau mates in the night, the last thing you want is a thick-headed, blitzed out of his mind German kid blasting spit and German in your face and drinking your drink. That’s right, he stuck his straw right in there. And his cousin Nick, the Nordic Justin Bieber, who kept copping feels off the sweet English dancer from the Chateau who couldn’t have been no older than seventeen, kept laughing on at the whole scene.
I grabbed old Phil by the collar and yanked him up like Batman did the Joker. Stared him down. No words needed. Let him go and pressed one finger into his chest to the point at which he had to break stance and step on back. I went over to the bar and finished my drink. Ordered another.
“Hey, I heard Kiersten Dunst comes in here,” I said to the bartender when she came around.
“She does,” she said.
“I was wondering if I could give you my card, and you could, I don’t know text me when she’s here. I might have a part for her. I’m a screenwriter.”
“Yeah, well a bigger tip might help me remember,” said the bartender.
I added a few more bucks.
Norm came over.
“How you doing, man?”
“Fucking German Phil. Keeps spitting when he talks and drinking my damn drink.”
“I saw that. Gary did, too. Said you handled it like a gentleman.”
“I swear I’ll kill him he comes over here.”
Norm was laughing. He couldn’t believe how angry I’d gotten.
“You’re kinda like me, man. Just chill though, ok – let’s talk about your movie.”
“Yeah, we should round up a cast – go out to the desert and shoot some preliminaries.”
“Sounds good, man.” I got up.
“Where you going?”
“I’m tired. I’m headed home.”
So I snuck out without saying goodbye to the others. Yeah, I knew I was stiffing them with the ride back but I had to get out of there. I found the car and drove up Santa Monica. Stopped off at the grocery store and bought some vegetables and talked to the grocer at length about my movie idea. He had a nice fro and looked interested in what I had to say. Kept asking questions.
I made it home chewing on alfalfa sprouts right out of the bag and scudding the bottom of my car on the dip in the freeway crossing between the valleys of LA and North Hollywood doing about 110 passed the gym. The next morning I rose and drove down Burbank to Sherman Oaks to work out at 24 Hour Fitness. Tried to run down there one time. Burned my ass off. It’s a good five miles of wide roads, endless, random traffic, auto shops, Indian restaurants, and then you finally get to the mini-mall where you park in a garage and walk in past PF Changs with all the other young valley girls in spandex and the working professionals, trying to stay fit. I saw the beady-eyed salesman there who’d said his wife worked at CAA in the music department. “Yeah, you could play a bad guy or a best friend type guy – I can see it!” he’d said. Excellent salesman. I was new to town and signed up for a gym membership right there. Norm was smarter and devised a system where he’d slip in as a guest every time. Anyway, I’d have to cancel the thing soon, as my money was dwindling down.
That afternoon, Norm explained that Maria and German Phil were pissed at my vanishing act the night before. Leastways, Norm and Chance found their way ok. Chance and I tried to take the bus back from Hollywood once – I got on and looked back only to catch a shot of Chance in the closing bus doors with the puppy dog face and a little smile: no money for the bus. The bus jolted away. He’d miss the episode with the crazy Jewish lady who kept preaching that no Jews ever drive drunk. (They let her off near UCLA. We all watched as she climbed into an Escalade.) Somehow, he always made it back, though, Chance. And I’d find him jolly as ever with a 40 in his hand. That day, apparently he’d had enough dough for a cheap bottle of wine. Locals saw him wandering the streets, taking up the whole of the sidewalk with his dynamic height and wingspan, his arms like sticks jutting from his wind sail of a T-shirt, smoking a joint and drinking wine from the bottle.
For the most part, all were jolly again following the night after the Troubadours incident. I’d felt bad and apologized to Maria and German Phil – who’d gone to some other club bitching at me the whole time. Like they couldn’t find a ride.
Now, I’d gone down to the clinic to get my TB shot so I could work as a tutor for 17.50 an hour. I’d been beefing up on my job search. Had to get a job. I took Chance with me to the Clinic and thank god for that. He nudged me in the packed waiting room and said, “Don’t look now…but you’re the only white guy here.”
The Hispanic mothers, children breast feeding everywhere and running around speaking Spanish faster than I will ever be able to speak anything; cousins, Uncles, sisters and brothers filled that tiny clinic in East LA. I got my yellow slip after hours of learning Spanish through immersion and Chance and I went home. I’d had a job lined up finally. I could see myself driving around the Valley, helping all sorts of kids with their homework.
I just had to field one special visitor – my German girl, Nadia, whom I’d met in the Army when I was over there. Hadn’t seen her in a while and through e-mail and Skype she’d decided she’d like to check out the West Coast on her holiday from university. German Phil had hung up on her once when he was trying to get me to go on a weed run. There was that, too. Germans – they’re all over the place. I like the Aussies though. They had lovely accents and outstanding optimism. One asked my friend once, “Do you like Aussies?” “No, I don’t know the Osborne’s.” Classic. Slav – this physically superior Aussie with aboriginal blood – would meditate cross-legged up in his upper bunk and he’d jump rope for literally half an hour. And at the gym? Forget about it.
I asked him how he did it from the balcony at the rear of the Chateau one day. He was down there jumping rope on the paved back porch and I was up toking away in the dusk and he said, “Well, I don’t get drunk and high all the time.”
Excellent advice. I put it out. No more until I finished my script to the point where I could polish my pitch – get everything loaded and ready before I lived too far beyond my means and robbed myself of my own ambition. The heat was getting to me. Totally different terrain out there. Best to stay in sometimes and work and chill.
So we lounged away another morning of spicy western omelets and the crisp scent of coffee and weed out on the veranda of the Chateau in the late summer of ‘09.
“We’re all livin’ beyond our means,” Kenny said, as he hugged Holly, pulling her in close to kiss her and wrap his arm around her to deliver one last toke.
Ron, the old retired taxi driver who was living with us got caught masturbating by Chance on the couch in one of the community rooms. He promptly left the Chateau. Brad, the actor who abstained from alcohol, after being surrounded by it, finally succumbed and had a drink. He immediately climbed in his old Corolla the next day and drove all the way back to Pennsylvania. I liked him. He was dedicated. He had turned me on to Bobby Chance’s acting workshop. There’s a story: if you’re ever in LA and you feel like getting really sweaty, look into it. It was twenty-five dollars a pop every Sunday to work out your acting talents basically by screaming your lungs out with a group of strangers. I remember having to scream, “I’m worth it!” or something like that until we all were in tears and really believing that we all should have legitimately been famous and that it was an outrage that we were not. The point is I guess to get beyond the need for personal gain, oddly by butchering it with such exercises, so you can express the most extreme emotions on a dime and break down and realize that you’re going to keep coming back to this workshop despite the fact that her son is rude and will call you a ‘retard’ if you can’t remember your lines after only a few minutes of memorizing, and despite the fact that you envisioned hanging him outside the studio, and the fact that the girl called you up while you were driving on the 405 to a job interview and you said, ‘I’m sorry! I can’t talk right now – I’m driving!” to which she said, “well, why’d you pick up the phone?” and you realized that you’re kind of a corny country kid, nice and naïve and your money is dwindling and that you already owe your father money and that they’ll never get their stupid movie made anyway, what was it called? I Love Hollywood. Yeah. Just because Brad Pitt walked in their once doesn’t mean –
Well, whatever. They mean well and if you’re secure out there near the Sherman Oaks area with some extra cash, try it out, but for me I had to go back to New York. Back to New York: it wasn’t so bad! The Europeans all looked at me with envy. I explained that I was from upstate New York. But most just wanted to get to New York anyway – the East Coast so enchanted them. I sympathized with the English dancers – who always made a point at how they were from England, not London.
Kat, the raspy-voiced babe from New Jersey, finished her classes at Chapman and I called her and said that I was Quentin Tarantino and wanted her for a part. She laughed her raspy laugh the next day in the sun, thank god. “I would’ve felt so bad if you didn’t,” I’d said and I sat and smoked with her and wished I could sleep with her before she headed back to NJ. Thing was my girl Nadia was arriving from Germany that afternoon. Had to pick her up from the airport so I couldn’t get too drunk.
No more drinking. My screenplays and query letters had been sent out to some people I’d looked up so I was good there. German Phil came out and played a hippy-ish song about stepping inside the circle of life or something. He strummed his guitar and it sounded quite nice for a while. You could tell he was trying to put in as many Americanisms as possible. Germans love American English, most of them, I think, for some reason, I mean they really get a kick out of it. I recorded his song on my iPhone and set it as my answering machine. Later on, some 818 number is calling me and the guy waits the full 4 minutes of Phil’s song to leave me a message about his photography business. I was impressed. Turned out it was 400 dollars to get a really nice series of photos done, with some connections to agents too, though. The guy was motivated. I would’ve done it but I had to borrow more money just to get me through, so.
If I’d only brought with me my social security card. Had to wait in that hot line on the fifth floor of the social security office downtown just to order a new one. The large African American lady behind the counter glanced at my Catholic school boy photo on my ID and looked up at me and smiled hugely. “Whatchu doin’ out here?” she said.
“Yeah I’m going to work as a tutor,” I said.
“As a tutor?”
“You speak Spanish?”
“Well you gonna learn, honey,” she said.
There was a banging clatter in the background. Some crazy old guy had to be escorted out. As I recall, there always is some sort of crazy old guy in public offices. Everyone just stands and watches like plastic flowers or fishing magazines or some other part of the natural scenery of the place. Bottom line was: I should’ve brought my goddamn SS card out there with me. I’d obtained a job to hold me over, actually: 10 bucks an hour at this air conditioned place out at the edge of town. The big tattooed boss showed me around and I sat in and listened to a sales call from this old pig-nosed fast-talking salesman pushing industry hardware to automotive garages across the country: “…correct me if I’m wrong but I thought you were mad at us or something? Haven’t heard from you in a while!” It was apparently a foolproof pitch as he kept slapping his finger on that highlighted shitty old sales script to me and my fellow future telemarketing employee friend. At least one script was getting action. He’d hang up vehemently and rifled through his numbers book to try again. Now as soon my little vacation with Nadia ended my new SS card should arrive and I’d start working as a salesman and a tutor. Until then I figured we’d try and see if we could shack up at my cousin’s in Las Vegas.
Now as the international passengers pool out with their bags to hugs and quick affectionate multilingual greetings I can’t help but laugh at the American PA announcement warning: “Please be advised, you are not obligated to give anybody money.” I mean, one of the first steps to becoming an artist is often times learning how to ask for money – every artist needs his patron. But here it seems that anxiety overflows to its own realm: con artists, matchstick men. Welcome to LA. I’d liked to catch somebody trying to tell Nadia that she had to pay money just for stepping off the plane. She’d once wacked a chubby Texas kid for bumping into her at the Dallas Airport McDonalds on her first visit for my cousin’s wedding out there. The chubby kid did not know what to do. I just told him to keep walking.
All of this I illuminated to Nadia while driving out of LAX in my rented car. LAX, with its purple-lit arcade lining the drop off point for departures, its ‘Arts and Entertainment City’ true advertisement surrounded by fresh vrooming concrete jungles and distant snow-capped mountain ranges at certain points in the season was something you just did not see back in old Upstate NY.
On the freeway that glided above the sprawling turf of suburbia, with that insane old train station in between the wide tracks of road, I drove out to Whittier, CA with my sexy German girl, Nadia, in the passenger’s seat. She’d just finished her master’s program in journalism and said she could barely speak English but I found her English to be beautiful as ever, and quite the refresher from the gnarly Californians. Plus, I loved to correct her.
I hadn’t seen my lovely foreign friend since our break up a year prior, so I had to get her to myself, and the internet claimed our destination to be named after a poet, Whittier – nice and cheap and poetic. Can’t go wrong right? I’d arranged for a nice night at a motel out there. Old Nixon’s old stomping grounds, I believe. Anyway, it was the cheapest nicest place I could find for a night and there was a nice Mexican restaurant nearby and the Mexican attendant seemed like a good guy.
Nadia’s German skin, pale, lightly freckled, lit up in the sun. Under her big pink sunglasses her blue eyes danced about the roof of the palms as we shot out to Whittier on the freeway. She spoke in German and then realized that I had not quite mastered that language.
“I cannot help but to speak in German,” she said again. “I’ve been doing so much work on my master’s thesis…”
“That must be exhausting,” I said. “Especially in German.”
She smiled. “Yeah, I forgot you Americans only speak one language.”
“It’s the simplest language. Commercial brilliance,” I muttered, awing at an elaborate board for Carls Jr.
It was great to see her. The story goes, we’d fallen in love at the bitchiest club in Germany while I was drunk off my ass on a half-bottle of Southern Comfort – call me a light weight, whatever – we kissed the first night. Showed me the pinkness of her gums. There was a slight clash of teeth, but I’ll never forget her blue eyes as I saw them for a moment under the swirling florescent haze of the club – those eyes withdrawn in a pocket of shadow, coiled back from the dancing lights, yet smiling solid blue with a certain poised beauty and determination.
We’d gone back and forth between each other’s countries: a writing conference here, a cottage getaway in Ireland, a little hacienda in Spain, (thanks to her dad’s digs and my dad’s frequent flyer miles and my parents hope for an eventual marriage of one of their children); then of course a little uninvited appearance there at her house once where I’d first delivered her roses with a little note and a bracelet in the envelope. She’d lost that damned bracelet.
She hated the blatant hypocrisy of religion and America, especially considering the current administration. Ironically, only by my hasty decision to join the Army as an infantryman during wartime, only to then take part in one of the greatest blunders in recent American history, did we meet. Hey, at least we got Zarqawi.
And at least we’d met. And she was beautiful and intelligent, a journalist, no less. I loved her. Hadn’t seen her in almost two years. Our last separation, as I recall, ended on kind of a sour note. “I think our sex life is going down,” I’d said in bed in my Park Ave. apartment back in Rochester, NY. “Yeah, it’s going down,” she said with some bite to it, and she got up out of bed and out of my life for two years to date others. I’m a realist. A beautiful reddish blonde haired German girl who’s a wonderful enigma in the sac is going to want to experiment. And I, well I had not really dug America yet, so it was to be expected that we’d have to open up the old relationship status there. When she was with me though, we’d always fall in love and she’d be my girlfriend.
We got to the motel, my lovely German girlfriend and I, and we escaped the sun, turned on the old AC to cuddle and lie around a day. She’d flown halfway around the world just to see me. Rekindling our relationship was slow and wonderful. We kept the AC on full blast until we had goose bumps and chills. Our room was on the second floor of that hot wooden motel. All of California seemed to fade away through the blinds.
The next day we got up and walked around Whittier. We had a romantic little lunch at a burrito place with huge burritos and freshly made salsa. The owner was apparently a little league coach and a well-respected man in the community, according to various plaques and pictures. Nadia admired the authentic Mexican place.
We walked out and crossed the street. The long wide streets and the sun exhausted her quickly and even though it was a relatively short walk, we had to stop at a gas station to use the rest room. A bum had attempted to talk to Nadia then. She brushed by him while I waited outside and lit a cigarette.
The bum came up to me. He was a wretched white man. Smelled like shit.
“There’s no men’s room at this station, then?” I said, trying at least to govern the inevitable conversation.
“Naw,….men’s room is back this way,” he said, gesturing towards the back.
There could’ve been one back there, you know how sometimes they’re back around the side of a gas station. Turns out he was referring to the area behind the dumpster, his own personal men’s room.
“Can I have a cigarette?” he asked. “You see, women go inside. Men go out here,” he explained.
Tossed a Marlboro at him as I plugged my nose and ran back around to collect Nadia and we got the hell back to the car. We headed out of Whittier, and up the 101 to the Chateau.
“Welcome to California,” I said.
Once we got back there, to that magic little spot possessed by the Chateau, right across from the police station, there seemed to be nobody around. It was uncanny, as though the camera had just done a slow zoom out and the credits were rolling and all the actors had gone home.
They’d actually shot a movie there at the Chateau. Film crew from the LA Film school were on scene, huge amplifiers and lights and black boxes of film equipment jammed up the Chateau for about three days. German Phil played a wizard. They shot his scene back in a corner of the chateau inside the shed where they could cover the small wall of a backdrop with the canvas of an orange western sky in Middle Earth. Special effects must’ve been phenomenal. Outside, I got to talking to some actors. One guy from Utah seemed like he could fit the part for the cowboy/killer guy in my own damned movie. He agreed with Chance that I could play one hell of a CIA agent in a spy movie or something, but that what I should do is focus on my writing career.
“You’re a writer man!” he says to me.
“You said it man! ‘he said as the cars kept bleeding down the Boulevard,’” I narrated.
“See, that’s good, man,” he said.
They were all wearing muscle shirts; flashy shirts and designer stripeys, cologne all over; Chance with his fake afro on his head and his huge baggy clothes, 40 in one hand, joint and/or huge hunting knife in the other.
“Did I ever tell you about my friend, Chance?” I asked to Nadia now. We were outside the Chateau, on the patio, sitting on the swing set alone. We’d stopped at SevenEleven for some beer and cigarettes. We’d made the necessary stop down the road at old 144and1/2 on whatever the hell that long broad road was behind Burbank for some necessary purchasing of some California’s finest flora. After some perusal we landed on New York Diesel, an excellent brand. We sat there talking as I eagerly and skillfully emptied half the tobacco from a Marb Pure (that’s what we called American Marlboro Lights in the Army on account of the German ones tasting like ass) and filled the rest of it, nugget by nugget, with weed.
We started smoking and I enjoyed how her face lit up in the night as she’d light, smoke and stare up at the stars through the palms.
I told her about the time Chance and I got arrested. I told her about how we’d just been walking across the street after having some red wine and we got stuck in the light change. I’d told him not to go but once he went I found myself as usual, chasing after him. It’d happened once before: down at the subway station on our way to Hollywood, drunk as fuck. Chance of course fails to stop and purchase his ticket from the machine. I wind up chasing after him, myself not having enough time to purchase a ticket. We hop in the door and not five seconds later, a Hispanic body builder in uniform is all up in our shit. He took us out right there and lined us up against the fuckin’ concrete column.
“We’re from out of state. We didn’t know,” was our general plea.
The officer shook his head and let us off. He heard me whip at Chance, “You goddamned drunken idiot! What? What do mean ‘what?’ You drunken fool. I was yelling at you to pay for your damn ticket. I told you they check down here. They don’t fuck around here, man. Jesus.”
It was quite an intense lashing. I mean I really meant it. I cared about that big crazy Indian goof, but it was clear that he needed some kind of serious help with his drinking. Once a Native American gets addicted to alcohol, it’s incredibly hard – genetically, I think, or historically, perhaps – to ever fully recover.
“But what about when you were crossing the street?” Nadia inquired, astutely.
“Oh yes,” I said, “the road….that long hot road across where there is the SevenEleven, and the house Flav-La-Flav once lived in before he was famous, or whatever adjective you might use to describe his social condition now,” I said, pointing out the places across the street over the hedge, “and then right next to it there is the LAPD North Hollywood Police Station–”
“Oh come on just tell the story,” Nadia said.
“Ok, ok, story: Chance is caught in the middle of the—well probably only about a quarter of the way through, walking his happy-ass to the SevenEleven across the street right, and he’s got his flip flops flopping around and he’s all drunk as usual, and some guy beeps at him. Well it bothered him somewhat. He turned around. I mean here he is walking across the street – a Native American no less – and a guy beeps at him like a piece of trash in the middle of the street.”
“So he flipped him off. Gave him the bird and said, ‘I’m walking here!’ I kid you not.”
“Sure enough,” I said, “there were like two freakin’ police cruisers just pulling out of the garage to go on freakin’ duty. They pull him and me over – I was just standing there. But I did chase my crazy fuckin’ friend out across one of the broadest and busiest intersections in America with about 3 seconds left on the walk signal, so I was guilty, technically of J-walking, a much more serious offense than you’d think out in LA where the cars truly rule the show and ‘pedestrian’ takes on a whole lower and often times perilous sense of the word.
“But Chance he didn’t fold up, he never did. They had us sit on the tall curb under the shade of a tree. The Chateau was in eyesight and everyone from back there is watching like it’s a fuckin’ movie.
“The pimply one took my thumb print. They looked to be a couple of rookies. Yet they were pretty mean. Must’ve had a lot to prove, holding up the outstanding American institution of the LAPD. I guarantee if Chance had been a normal white guy—well, Chance is Chance, and I was with him, so we both had to bite the bullet. I explained that I was a student from New York. I told them we lived on the corner at the Chateau.”
“What is that? A place for rehab or something?” asked the non-pimply cop.
“It’s temporary housing for aspiring talent,” I said.
“Uh-huh. Well, you’re both getting written up for your actions today and when you get home, Mr. Rose, you’re gonna have to take care of this. You’re free to go.”
“So the officer let me go, but not Chance. They hounded him: two on one, asking whether he was in a gang or something. They’d asked me the same question but when I said no, they believed me. Chance had some sort of tattoo on his hand or something that might have indicated a gang years ago, or it could have just said ‘love’ or something like that. Anyway, Chance just kept shaking his head, saying no, giving them nothing until they left him alone with some crumpled pink and yellow ticket which he might as well have used for rolling paper.”
“And that’s Chance for ya,” I said. “Norm!”
“What’s up Ben?” Norm came out the front door of the Chateau, spilling light into the night as he came in to sit and smoke. I introduced him to Nadia and we talked about the times we’d had and how we had to meet real soon to talk about getting my movie made. Norm said he’d met a guy form his film class that said he knew a professor who knew Quentin Tarantino. I gave that guy about four copies of my book, and a treatment and the first ten pages of my screenplay adaptation.
We talked shop for a minute, Norm and I. Then we went over to SevenEleven to get some beer and burritos. When we came back I was hoping Chance would be there so I could continue singing his praises about how he’d stonewalled those typical LAPD white asshole cops – upholding the great Native American rapper that he was.
He’d come at me with that hunting knife one time when he was drunk. Never talk about his wife and daughter back in Montana, especially when he’s drinking. He’d married at eighteen and soon caught the western wind.
“How’d you get that cut on your forehead?” Holly once asked me in front of a room full of Chateau-people.
“Chance,” I explained. “He said he just wanted to draw a little Z on my forehead.”
Apparently none but Norm could conjure the reference.
Holly came over then and I was struck by the sight of her with an idea for a movie – about a blonde – no an innocent brunette who travels to LA and dies her hair bleach blonde, believing she would make it as an actress. I’d call it Life is Short, and it would be only 90 minutes and would end in a most brutal double suicide, involving cocaine, a rope and a shotgun. You see she’d fall in love with a dreamer/scammer who’d run her dry down all the wrong avenues…but then he would find himself disillusioned in the same position, and by a crafty means of suspending his girlfriend above him, (some sort of pulley system) hanging from rope they would watch each other die as he’d blow himself away with a shotgun, blood spattering on her serene young face.
Holly wanted nothing to do with it, though she commended me on my descriptions, however morbid. I said it would be the most talked about ending in a short film, and it would make a profound aesthetic statement on the unfortunate realities of two young dreamers – and a couple who would not succumb, but burn and burn into that good night.
Nevertheless, I had Susy W. out in the valley. She was always looking for acting gigs. But first I had to start working at my tutoring job that I’d just got and start saving up money. And foremost, I had to sit and smoke and rock in the night and entertain my beautiful German girlfriend, Nadia.
After much laughter, stories and goodbyes, Norm departed into the night with that red firebird of his that signed, “If only my girlfriend was this dirty,” – in the dust on the back window.
A final memory smacked to the forefront then – not about any dirty girl, but probably one of the cleanest guy’s I met out there; and I told Nadia about Brad Rogers, the straight-faced turtle-headed not so bright guy who had landed a role as an extra in GI Joe and whose mom had inquired to me via FB about the process of publishing, (another quick lashing at my shameful dismay in self-publishing). I told her about the time he rode with Norm in the Firebird of his when Norm had dropped some ecstasy pill and he came back and said, gravely, “Never again. Never will I ride with Norm again.”
Nadia laughed and smoked the marijuana cigarette tranquilly. Her blue eyes looked loftily about then pierced into mine through the night. The LA twilight beckoned us as Norm’s name and picture populated on the cracked screen of my phone. I answered and he offered us a drive up Mulholland for a toke at the lookout point. We went and I parked the car on the side of the road. I was completely nervous about another anal-retentive cop bothering us as we climbed the fence of the then closed lookout point. Nadia found her way through the trees somehow and we stood by the edge together and took in the vast whites, reds, oranges and pinkish lights of LA with the 101 plugging into it like a main vein, and the pristine haze of all the city’s dreamers evaporating into the eternal ephemeral of that angelic night.
The next day we hit the road with the old Chevy for Las Vegas, to stay with my Irish cousin for a couple of weeks – Vacation for Nadia, and a rest for me from spending money so I could prepare for employment as a tutor, salesman, and writer of sorts in the valley upon my return.
As we approached my cousin’s house in LV, having first awoken in a crumby motel at the edge of the desert (which required 3 forms of ID), with Nadia sitting in the semi-darkness totally upset at my preference to sleep on the other bed alone just for the night for it was so hot and sticky in there, I watched fondly as the last remnants of the sprawl of LA dissipated into desert hills. Soon we were in the red rocks again and we were having a discussion.
“You couldn’t live out here – in LA, I mean,…” I said.
“No,” she said; pissed off, glaring out the window.
“Why not?” I said. “There’re plenty of opportunities for artists – hell it’s an Arts and Entertainment City – says it right on the damn LAX sign at the airport.”
This got her. She hates it when I speak like a damned arrogant redneck. It was a vernacular that rubbed off on me I believe from my old commanding officer Captain Adcock. Hell of a guy.
“I mean what airport glows purple like that at night?” I continued, “in the palms and the beaches – weed and stars everywhere.”
“Yeah and fat stupid Americans with stupid attitudes everywhere,” she said.
There was a pause, and we went through that same pass that Forrest Gump must’ve run through, all those hippies in his trail.
The long road shot out and simmered.
“Yes but don’t you love the struggle,” I said. “You must – as a writer at least – appreciate the struggle of America. We’re still a young democracy.”
“No,” she said, looking out the window.
What can I say? We can’t compete with the social democracy of Germany. She had me on the health care issue, the superficiality of Hollywood and the image of America in general, the Bush administration, etc. But were we really a bunch of arrogant assholes hated by most of Europe? Then why do flocks of Europeans crowd temporary houses for actors in LA? New York is probably worse. All just for a shot at meeting Carson Daly or getting a tidbit role in a movie or meeting the right person at a party.
Funny story, and I think this is what originally ticked her off: I ran into Dane Cook at a comedy club on our last night in LA. After stargazing out on Ventura, we headed for it, Norm, Nadia and I, as we’d heard it might be open mic night and that stars usually show up around there. Got a Jack and coke and headed to the back room and bumped into Dane cook in the doorway. I knew dead certain that it was him. I had never been that close to any celebrity before. And it was him, Dane Cook, who’d faded out suddenly due to an unpopularity or a backlash to his decidedly machismo humor? Or due to deaths in the family? Or perhaps just the damned economy. Nobody knew. But it was him. He was here before me. I stuttered something brief and unintelligible and he walked past me and took a right down the hall to the bathroom. I considered heading there myself, sliding my business card across the top of the urinal. But no, I headed in and told Norm. We had to order a bunch of wings, burgers and beers just to sit there. But when the guy came out and said, “We got a surprise for you tonight!” I knew it was Dane and sure enough he popped on stage and started doing his thing. The joke then about the tic-tac on his pee-hole complete with a very entertaining sound-effect done by Mr. Cook at the onset of ejaculation after having his girlfriend “give him a blowjob” was what might have ticked Nadia off, in hind sight.
This was relieved somewhat by a funny female comic who said my Hawaiian shirt was awesome in the street as we got pictures with her outside.
And finally, we’d said goodbye and parted with Norm and headed out.
Now we gassed for my cousins’ in Henderson, Nevada, passed the giant desert billboards advertising beer, guns, women and one dollar black jack casinos trying to get you to try to get back that obscenely monumental amount you lost to the city. I espied two proud Americans walking out of one of these 59 cent Texas hold’em joints: orange-bearded was one of them, no shirt, tattooed up the wazoo, laughing his ass off like a damned yellow-toothed hyena.
But in the end we’re all a bunch of wild animals are we not? This is why I loved America: the one nation where you can fully articulate your true animal nature to kill and win. Am I wrong? Probably. But it’s a motif to consider, one with which many live by and seem to get by with for the moment. Not that I condone primal competition but alas it’s a dog-eat-dog world, and we still got some pitt-bulls, do we not? Fuck China. They can technically own a hefty chunk of America on paper but what are they gonna do about it? We’ll pay when we’re good and ready.
Let ‘em. Let ‘em work in the factories. Let ‘em work in the fields with the fuckin’ rice patties (pilafs?), let them work for us and make our necessities; name me one Chinese famous guy of the top of your head. Confucius, Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, maybe Short Round from Temple of Doom as well: “You call him Dr. Jones, doll.” Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, our famous people: fuckin’ George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Don Cheadle, Casey Affleck, Matt Damon, T.J. Mac, (though the Asian acrobatic cast member who is crucial to the whole operation) and the rest of the rat pack and that’s a merely a remake; I haven’t even mentioned Old Blue Eyes. Maybe that’s it: All you need is a shit load of good lookin’ fuckin’ people, a laissez faire capitalist democracy of course, and a shit load of war heads, and you’d be us. You can lord over the world like fuckin’ Julius Caesar.
Case in point: a bunch of fucked up youths in a black Escalade with the license plate: Princess – they get pissed off ’cause I passed them, might have cut them off. But had they to chase me around the corner? I parked my car in my cousin’s driveway as we had just arrived and I got out. They just turned around once they saw me standing. It was uncanny. As though they expected no man to be standing there waiting but rather some sort of computerized apology.
Now my cousin Jenny, she’s a great Irish babe with an undeniable Long Island accent and patience for things slightly higher than her twin sister, Jinelle, who has the fuse of a flare and can barely stand to go less than 80 mph on the L.I.E.: “Why are we going so fucking slow,” she’d pronounce. Yeah, but her sister I’d say was slightly more mellow. She had amber and brown hair and was convincingly cute. Her husband was Pedro, a good man as well. He worked at Southwest and hailed proudly from El Salvador. “He’s not Mexican, he’s El Salvadorian,” Jenny would explain. Hell of a guy. Saved my cousin when her boyfriend broke up with her and left her out there alone. Fuckin’ prick.
Pedro had apparently seen more combat than me; viz., he’d been wounded, shot in the leg on a normal day in El Salvador. As I arrived to their abode in Henderson the first time — when I took the Greyhound as a 20 year old runaway (before joining the army – totally different story) I’d arrived in the dead of night and first thing he does is pour me a huge whiskey/coke and we go to the strip and he tells me about his El Salvador days. Guy was crazy. But I tell you, the guy was true-hearted Catholic; macho as fuck, you could tell he shaved his forearms as he poured me another drink.
Anywho, he’s the kind of guy you’d want on your side in a scrape, put it that way. However, I cannot entirely vouch for the sincerity of Jenny’s response over the phone when I told her I would be in town and would love to visit.
“Oh yeah! Totally! You can stay at my house,” she’d said.
“It’s locked,” I said.
“Did you ring the bell?” Nadia said.
“It’s freakin’ locked. I don’t believe it. I told her I was comin.’ She said the door would be unlocked.”
“Call her again!”
We went around back and sat on the sun porch and smoked a little bit for a while.
“So you’re sure this is the house?”
“Positive,” I said. “God you’re beautiful, you know that. I haven’t seen you in so long.”
And she was and it had been, and those specks of freckle lit up under those ocean blue eyes.
We made out for a while, then went in the front door via credit card. Apparently they needed to upgrade their home security system. With but a few swipes and swivels, I had myself engulfed in a nice modern air-conditioned house with nothing to do for hours but make love to my sweet German goddess.
They came home around 10 and we had drinks and nachos and we all went out to seize the night right off the bat. We started at a joint close by. Jenny and Pedro knew practically everybody that worked their – courtesy of a blue-collared disposition to connect and unionize, like an underground railroad, to those who were on the level. How do you get on the level? You had to look her in the eyes, laugh and dance, sing karaoke, love the Irish and the Mets and think the New York accent, especially as exemplified by Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny is the sexiest accent in the world.
No, I’m sorry though, this was….the second night. The first night, I remember, we didn’t meet them till late, after my damned car shit the bed.
We’d gone out to charge my emergency credit card with an emergency 9 holes of golf with a cart and a couple of beers. By the time we’d finished, I got a call from Jenny. They were at the karaoke bar just outside town. After taking care of the car situation, breaking into Jenny’s house, and finding the key’s to her Camaro, and after insulting a local bar owner by asking for directions without buying a drink (business was tough) we found Jenny and Pedro dancing their asses off and singing karaoke. We embraced and I don’t think I was ever happier, under the glow of the karaoke lime light. I knew Nadia would request me to sing “A Secret Garden” by Bruce Springsteen – and there she goes. Here’s my cue: (at least it’s not “Come as You Are,” by Curt Cobain; I’d ruined the image of a legend and let down a diehard fan in front of my whole family back in Long Island.) Thanks Nadia. Only you. Same girl who would yank me away from the craps table when passing through as I’d sometimes like to stop and make a joke: “So the economy is really hurting the craps crowd seems like?” Yank. I’d look back and they’d be laughing their asses off. Eh, she was good for me at the time.
So now I hear my name roughly called and I go up and make every broad in the bar fall in love. Rode me like a keen fox that night. Or whatever it is, that rides…
On that first night in Vegas though, on the night in question which very well ended up sacking the whole scene, we’d just talked to Jenny and Pedro on the phone. We’d just finished playing practically 18 holes of golf with Nadia always jumping on me, raising her blue skirt halfway up her body on her clunky swing in an attempt to get me to sleep with her in the woods. “Honey, this isn’t Germany,” I’d explained to her. “We can’t get away with what we once did on the back nine, my darling.”
Then we get the call. It’s Jenny. She gives me directions to where to meet her. I pay up at the clubhouse with my credit card – another 56 dollars, what the hell? – and we scoot off into the dusty dusk. Coming around the curve of the freeway I spied our exit and we were literally getting off to where we needed to go, right in the middle of a classic Pink Floyd song to which I was impressively singing, showing Nadia some American-British culture, when the engine pops. The radio stutters out and every damn check engine light pops out on the dash.
“Oh fuck,” I said.
“Oh fuck, what oh fuck.”
“Oh fuck we’re, screwed fucked, screwed as in fucked – like we-might-have-to sleep-out-in-the –desert-or-hitchhike-our-way-there fucked. But don’t worry. I have triple A. Let me just pull out my handy dandy iPhone,” I said.
I held my iPhone with its damned cracked screen from having been flipped from my lap as I was exiting a cab – I believe I mentioned it. The battery was about fucked. We were fucked. I could barely read the screen to dial triple A. When I finally got them they gave me the run around about not knowing my triple A number. Apparently I just had my father’s card. Smart guy. They at least said they would send a tow truck.
Twenty minutes later a cop shows up on a BMW motorcycle. Nice digs for LV’s finest, I must say. We explain that someone from Triple A should be coming and he drives off. Triple A arrives another 20 minutes later. I was beginning to get strangely entranced by the sound of rushing cars on the desert freeway. I believe there’s a name for that. In every car there could be another random dreamer just like me. Another problem child, another rebel. Another prodigy in his or her own right, yes. That’s enough kissing my own ass. But the point is, and I have to finish this now, is that there are a lot of dreamers out there on many different tracks. That’s what makes us so great. Damn, I said that like a regular social studies teacher.
Tow truck takes us to the restaurant—scratch that — to Jenny’s because it was actually closer. Nadia runs in and gets her emergency cash, some 200 dollars – which is like 89 Euro or something – and with some bitching and moaning, and some hysterical laughing in between, we find the keys for Jenny’s Camaro convertible, after having swiped in through the front once again with my Visa Card, never leave home without it.
Thank the Lord for that card and that car. Cab fare might have sunk us. From this point, with my car in the shop, we headed out to the Karaoke club and the rest is history.
We went out to Club 54, Paris, New York, The Tropicana. Nadia beat me in public after I left her alone for a while in a circus/casino at the wrong end of the strip.
“Did you hit him,” said a passing old cop with a sense of humor.
“Yeah,” Nadia nodded, her pilot blue eyes.
“Good, I was just checking,” said the bear of an old laughing cop.
We headed across down the strip to catch a show at the Tropicana. Nadia kept pounding the dash board.
“Ahhhh…come on, traffic is so slow….we have to get there! Tell them to fucking move it, Ben!”
She was really having her American moment, and loving it I’d say. We made it there and asked for directions from the casino kiosk. The lady spoke to my girlfriend like a child as soon as she heard she had a foreign accent.
“The show starts in 10 minutes,” she said with her hands explicitly, “Go back around the tables to the stage.”
We meandered around back and I could not help but to notice a homeless guy in the stairwell. I bought a beer before the show and went in and sat down – had to run real quick to the ATM. I was running dry. But I had to forget about it for the time being and enjoy the show. And it was well done: Tigers and flaming hoops and girls with really nice abs.
Afterwards, we went down to Old Vegas where the cowboy is to see a comedy show with Jenny and Pedro and Pedro’s cousin Louis and his wife Lucy. By this point, I had a couple of Budweisers in me, actuating a nice even buzz. But Pedro takes it to the next level with some shots and Long Islands and a pitcher of beer to cool off. We ate hot wings and drank and the comedians were old redneck alcoholics, mainly. The guy did not know when to stop, this Pedro. He started slinging in orders of food and drinks and he says to me, “Don’t worry, I have a lot of money.” So I didn’t feel so bad about living off the guy for the time being, I suppose.
Luis, Pedro’s cousin looked somewhat like Ron Jeremy. My cousin Jenny resembled Sarah Palin. Pedro kept calling them these names and as I explained the allusions to Nadia she began to boil. She hated porn and republicans with a passion.
There was a glow from the stage lights on our table which was back and to the side and I could feel the whole party getting tanked. All except for Nadia of course, laughed right along. These guys seemed like they just rolled out of a trailer in the desert. This one with the huge forehead and the reddened skin kept drinking bourbon on stage, stalking about how he loved his job. Then there came a squirrely younger one with a bit more to prove.
“It seems like all the democrats these days are getting darker skin tones,” he said.
And I must say, this stopped my thought patterns.
“Hilary Clinton doesn’t seem to be able to make it into the inner circle,” he said, baffling the crowd.
“Maybe she should go to a tanning salon,” shouted out my cousin.
“What!? Who said that,” said the comedian, and he came over to our end of the stage, the light flashing back on us.
“A tanning salon, yeah right, when I want an answer I’ll ask for it alright,” he said as he walked away.
About to carry on with his act, I stopped him. “Go to a tanning salon!” I shouted out, uncharacteristically.
He came back furious. “I will kick your ass man! Fuck you asshole!”
We were all cracking up, except for Nadia.
“Hey, you wanna pound him?” Pedro asked seriously, finishing his drink.
I tried to catch ahold of myself in this moment.
“He did call me an A-hole,” I said. “But neh.”
We walked out and as I got up, I bumped my iPhone with Ron Jeremy’s and got his contact info. But more importantly, as I took those steps from the dark through the thick red curtains out into the casino I felt like running in the wild. By a side exit/lobby there was a fountain with a glassed in pool and some dolphins swimming underneath. I jumped in and cooled off. They were all laughing. I saw the dolphin face to face, smiling, and back up I went and climbed out in my soaked clothes. There were no guards or people calling for them. Nevertheless, Pedro shuffled me out of there and into his Camaro convertible. Dried off on the way home. Nadia sat in the back next to me. By the time we got into the driveway she’d said the words, “I hate America.” I could barely hear her.
“Well honey if you hate it here then don’t come here,” Jenny said.
She had a point. But damn, I had drunk too too much. I’d turned into a straight devil, or a ruffian cowboy type, like she hated. She was just there to see me, not America, and as I awoke to scratch my contacts from my cornea I took one look at her pouty European face and knew: I’d acted like a damn fool.
I’d given some thought to selling my trusty Chevy Prism back in LA. I’d stare at it parked in front of the Chateau or down around the corner under the palms and I’d think, ‘Man I could stay out here a couple more months if I could only turn it into cash.” A lady on craigslist made an inquiry into it. Problem was, I had not the title. Yuc, yuc, yuc. Dad wins again. He’d harbored it in his lockbox back home and when I’d asked if I could have him sign it over to me and send that title out here, he said, “Son, that’s my car and if you sell it I’ll report it stolen, understand?”
So I was down to spare luck and chance again, with the good Lord of course always my guide. Who am I kidding? I’m a lapsed Catholic, unthinkingly trying to squeak by reality with my dreams intact. But I’d made every cardinal sin of trying to swap coasts after college: I drove out, alone (no other option there, as my best bud Conrad was stuck in a job – he had not the drive nor spirit anyway, I was the crazy one); I forgot my SS card, so even when I did get an offer to sell hardware to auto shops across the country for 10 an hour in an air-conditioned room with a view of the foothills, I had to pass it up on that technicality. Considering my other tutoring job, well I couldn’t bike around the valley house to house now could I? And finally there’s the money and the title to the car. Those two kind of go hand in hand.
“Hey, you wanna buy?” asked a portly Latino auto mechanic in a grease-stained wife beater.
I’d been looking at this old white Ford Mustang convertible down Burbank Blvd. back in LA. The top was a bit tattered but other than that it seemed in great shape.
“How much?” I’d said.
“2000,” he said.
“I only have 500,” I said.
He took me aside. “Give me 500 now and come back later when you have the rest and it’s yours.”
I reached in my pocket.
“No, really, I said, I can’t afford it – wouldn’t be right,” I’d said.
Thing was probably stolen or something. So many chop shops out there at the edge of the valley.
Back in LV now, I awoke to a pissed off German girlfriend and the ringing of my phone. I swung my feet around out of bed into a collage of suitcase, towels, notebooks and clothes. I trudged through, searching for my phone. Finally finding it, I spoke to a very convincing talent rep from LA. Said he’d seen my head shot and that he thought I had the look for the new Melrose, casting next week. I ran out to the kitchen and showed my cousin a text that confirmed that some casting director wanted me for Melrose and that I had the guy on the line! By the time I found my credit card buried in my suitcase back by the bed, I’d sadly come to admit to myself that it was most likely just a guy trying set me up for 20 dollars a month which I did not have, to be on the audition website, with American Phil, who was one of the best looking actors I’d met and could barely get a short film gig going. I had more of a mystique to my face though, more of an Italian/Irish thoroughbred of a devil, like Jake Gyllenhaal, mind you, yet still reserved, refined with curious innocent eyes, despite my recline of hair. Nevertheless, I could not talk myself out of hanging up on that salesman/talent scout. He called back and left a message, begging a guilt trip on account of hanging up on him. They never give up, do they?
“Who was that?” Nadia inquired, sultrily, sitting up in bed in her blue summer dress.
“Nobody, hey let me cuddle you–”
“Nein,” she said, and she cursed me out in German. The language was purely meant for it and she delivered it well.
I called up old Conrad Spalding back east.
As I spread the dusty blinds, light spilled in and Nadia told me to go away. I stood by my cousins’ old IBM which was clearly outmoded and I turned to her and shushed her with my finger, which I know she hates.
“How ya doing over there man?” Conrad inquired with his deep voice through the phone.
“Nadia…she’s, well she’s very German…” I said as I passed around the bed and out the door. “Cankles and all.”
“Cankles. Ok. What do you mean cankles?”
“All German chicks, well many, have them, and it’s quite hot – a landlocked genetic feature I guess, or just hearty good bread – nevermind–” (this cankles theory had spawned from a cheerleading role play at her father’s hacienda in Spain when up against the sink or ‘spulbecken,’ if you will, a thick healthy drop of me landed on her cafe and I noticed the feature).
“Is Nadia puttin’ out for ya, or did she fly all this way just to bitch about?” Conrad said.
“Meh…she’s not really puttin’ out, but she says I can munch some carpet later, which is always good.”
“Alright man,” he said, “have fun munchin’ carpet.”
Conrad was a hell of a guy, dynamite realist. He’d never come out there with me. But alas I was there and now car-less.
I went out to catch Jenny on her way back from the store. She stood in the sun by her car in the driveway. We got into the car to talk.
“Is she alright? I feel bad. I don’t want her to hate me,” she said.
“She doesn’t hate you, she hates me, it’s all my fault. I drank too much,” I said.
“She said she hates America.”
“I know, she didn’t mean it, it’s all my fault.”
Jenny opened the garage door and there was Nadia by the ping pong table in her blue dress, staring, poised in the shadows.
“What do I do,” Jenny said. “I don’t think she wants to talk to me.”
“No, she’s forgotten all about it,” I said. “I talked to her. She said she likes America; she’s just pissed at me for getting too drunk.”
I had to let her beat me a ping pong five or six times before she was human enough to socialize. Then Nadia came out and got in Jenny’s convertible with us again and we went out for dinner with Pedro. I bought.
That night I phoned home about one last lump sum of 500 to be deposited in my account to get me through. I also finally received a call from Susy W. She said she couldn’t believe I was out there and that she was hanging with her friends in the valley. Too late to link up with her about that movie though. I had a burnt out car on my hands.
“Jeez no job, no permanent residence, this whole thing seems half-baked,” said the car salesman.
“Jeez, ya come out to Las Vegas and your car breaks down,” said the Triple AAA guy, “Welcome to Vegas, huh bud?”
I cleaned it out and prepared it for its parts to be stripped, (someone was making a killing off this) as the entire engine had died. It said that the oil change I had done in Arizona still had another 500 miles on it. Must’ve been leaking, or burning oil quick out there in that damned heat.
I rented a car on the credit card and drove Nadia to the airport in LA. She was an expert traveler. She got out and left without a big emotional good bye. But as I watched her walk into the airport, I felt the usual break as I drove away.
She’d never live here, that is for certain. What am I to do with that? I swallowed the lump in my throat and spit out the window as I got going on the freeway out of town, back to Las Vegas. Eying the tall Bank building in the center as it faded and the rain came for a quick drizzle and the foothills spread out red into rocky desert; I knew I’d have to come back to LA sometime. But for now, time to go back to LV. One more drink with Pedro and I’d pack up and head off to the airport. Pedro had secured me a ticket to Buffalo through his connections at Southwest Airlines, an Airline, known, in my experience for its Simpson jokes over the PA: I need Amanda Huggenkiss? Amanda Huggenkiss? Where’s my advanced paycheck for my screenplay and my lady to Huggenkiss? Hey, at least I’d tried out there. I wasn’t going back with my tail between my legs for nothing. I had my time—“When Benny Came to California—the photo album would read. Might make for a good short story or perhaps a novel I’d flesh out one day perhaps at least in conversation. Some parts were corny and self-deluded but I’d seen the west and now I was headed back to where all those European actresses back at the Chateau would have died to go: to New York. Back to the right coast, back home. Back in the old Ra-cha-cha, as Conrad liked to call it. Rochester, New York.
The Southwest Airlines people however, seemed a bit ticked as they took my bag. Pedro must’ve said something to them about how I was freeloading with a German chick who hated America. How I’d come out there with no money: “You have no money!” they’d nearly screeched the car to a halt when I first told them.
“Check this bag – not that one,” I said to the baggage guy at the check-in.
“Ok stupid,” said the pissed Hispanic airline worker, hardly under his breath.
I told Pedro I’d pay him back that 100 he had to pay for the discounted flight. Whatever. I was bound for New York, State, that is, where my good old man and my East Coast friends awaited me, to start anew.
Time to get on the receiving end of some cash flow and quick, I said to myself. With the help of a job fair for veterans I was able to make it happen. One benefit of the acting course: it sort of makes you more confident. So I interviewed better. Even my lovely old professor Bloomburg said I looked “more relaxed” after coming back from California. What a neurotic weirdo I must’ve been to her. Caught me watching her adjust her bra once and she knew I’d signed up for her two classes, Legal Writing and Milton to the Romantics, partially in order to get an invite to her house at the end of the term like the rest of the class did before. But before I had had to go to Germany, only to get my heart ripped out, as it turned out:
“Well, the course of true love never did run smooth,” I’d quoted to my blue-eyed German beauty the first time we split in ‘08. “At least your father will be happy.”
Now as I exited through the glassy passage that separates the passengers from the receivers that first day back on the east coast, I saw my good old man sitting on the bench to the side, smart bald head cupped in curly white hair. With a knowing smile, he closed his book and welcomed me back to New York State.
“What’s this LA Dodger hat? What are you, a Dodger fan?” he said.
“Hey, they came from Brooklyn,” I said. “Second favorite team, at least: last remnants of an era.”
We got in the car and drove home and I became somewhat overwhelmed by the green verdure of the east coast.
“You should see it out there, Dad, totally different terrain and culture – here might as well be England,” I reported.
“I know son,” he said, “I go out there for conferences. But they pay me to go out there. By the way, I published my book.”
And he had – a nice bit on educational leadership.
Six and a half months, give or take, selling phones and data packages, etc. over the phone – ‘I sell phones over the phone’– and making a decent base pay plus an average thousand buck commission a week, I just up and walked out of the cubicle, headed over to Jay’s Diner out in Henrietta; met Conrad there, ordered a steak salad as usual and told him that I had quit my damn job.
“You quit?” he said.
“Just walked out. Couldn’t take it anymore.”
“Aw God, really? You can’t go back there, man.”
I could’ve, but I didn’t. Though having sent a resignation form and letter to my boss, I never properly did my two weeks as per the ‘two weeks’ notice’ policy thing. I still cannot get back in there. Always do your two weeks.
Nevertheless, I’d saved enough to pay my dad 1500 cash – “You’re making good money’ he said. And I had the GI bill kicking in again as I’d enrolled in the state school down the road, going for my MA in creative writing. Living the life I was: taking poetry classes, building a real flare for John Berryman and free indirect discourse, while my GI bill money came in every month, as long as I was full time. The Marxist critical theory paper on Frankenstein however was what pushed me over the edge, literally pulling my hair out trying to catch up with all this rampant Marxism in the literature field that nobody had told me about. Hence, I had to, just had to quit my soulless, capitalist money machine job, even though it was kind of fun. I must’ve sold over 20,000 iPhones while pissing off another 40,000 people with not enough credit to avoid the deposit. There is nothing more volatile than a 45-year-old African American woman when you tell her she must pay an 800 dollar deposit to get a phone.
With money in the bank, I’d lie in my third floor apartment on University Ave. – a gray brick building with a steel awning jutting out Park Avenue, NYC style – with the castle-like brick lining around the roof – the uneven blotches of stone in the rainy night reminding me of my young scholar’s dwelling as I’d walk in and lie around reading, thinking.
I’d lie till the sun hit me and I skipped the class on Robert Lowell because I had that brackish Harvard-swooned boredom/genius before as an undergraduate. Instead I’d go down when Conrad would finally get out of his shit job and I’d pop in for a drink.
And this drink I usually desperately needed, for mid-way through my creative writing degree, I succumbed to the idea that I might need another degree in order to get a decent job. And considering Nadia’s refusal to move to the US, this job might’ve had to be overseas. Make a long story short, 15 months later I’m writing my portfolio to attain my master’s in teaching English as a second language, a real exciting, growing field of inquiry; I was really liking it, working with the multicultural learners and all, and lo and behold but what would you think would pop up on my screen:
An instant goddamned message on the old Facebook.
I didn’t even know I still had this social site. The Book of the Face, as I’d liked to call it to my friends for no reason (part of a new language I invented that is having its problems taking off), had apparently opened every time I opened the internet, part of my homepage that I’d set up when I got the computer.
The message, alas, was from her, Samantha Kelly. My old college friend.
“Hey how’s life?” it said.
I studied it then fervently composed my reply.
“Great,” I said, “I’m just working on something for school…”
“Awesome. For what?”
I told her everything. I left out, however, the uncanny coincidence that I had happened to be revising a hypothetical I.E.P. (individualized education plan) for a hypothetical student with autism named Samantha. She was a real runner, this child. Required much art and drawing time and time outdoors, only watch out she doesn’t run right out into the street.
I didn’t tell her this, nor did I mention the intolerable state of my studio apartment, the relentless construction outside, building the new “art walk” by the MAG (Memorial Art Gallery), and of course the lunatic in the building across the alley who would scream obscenities at random times so madly that neighbors finally would pitch in with a “yo, shut the fuck up” or two but why not call the cops? I did once. I mean the guy’s probably getting orders from his dog or flogging himself in there.
What I did tell her was that I’d be happy to show her about Rochester as she’d reported that she’d never really been around the city in all her four years living at her boyfriend’s house in Webster and at the Dorsey Dorms at St. John Fisher College. I told her I was on the verge of finishing a handsome master’s degree from the University of Rochester, and that I was still writing – still plugging away at the old writing career at least, you know, one foot in the arts at all times. No more splurging, taking high risk chances on acting courses in the west – no more pitch fests on the credit card, straight scholarship and discipline now, pursuing literary merit and career now, straight waiting, with much regret, albeit, and random fits of utter consternation, pushing 30, hairline going from Spacey to Keaton.
Or perhaps, the other way around. Regardless, it was going, and here Samantha was just finishing college, Summa Cum Laude. No more wallowing at my failed search for the American dream, I had Samantha Kelly eloping with me on the net, my old college flame. I belonged after all, didn’t I? This vulgar novelist, crazy veteran, money blowing actor-wannabe had the sweetest girl in upstate New York checking in to make sure I still had her digits.
“Yeah ahh…go ahead, send it…unfortunately I got a new phone, so…”
I texted her the next day – a Thursday.
“Hey,” I said.
“Hey what’s up,” she replied.
“@ Murphy’s law,” I said.
“I’m at the Old Toad,” she said.
“I’ll be right over!” I said.
“I’m actually just leaving,” she said. “I’m just here with some friends.”
“Oh, ok,” I said.
The next day was Friday. I decided to take the extremely familiar drive down to Canandaigua, New York to visit with my folks for the weekend. Three quarters of the 45 minute drive there, having just gotten through the toll onto the old rolling route home, she texted me.
“Doing anything tonight?” she asked.
“Hanging out with you,” I responded, having flipped a U-eey in a gas station as though a lasso had yanked me back.
She texted me her address. She lived quite close to my place, out on Blossom. I went back to pick up Samantha Kelly for a Friday night date.
I had to freshen up a bit and clean up my dump. This took a total of seven minutes. Had the place looking like mint and I’m wheeling out to her place spraying cologne. I’m coming in her apartment complex off Blossom Road, going around the traffic circle in there and she hits me with a ‘Did I mention how impatient I am?” text. I pulled in near her place and texted that I was there. A few minutes later she came out. I caught a glimpse of her looking at the floor in the lighted vestibule then she approached in the darkness across the grass. I sat parked in my 1990 Buick LeSabre. Luckily I’d had my hair dyed back to its original color. I’d out some grizzled side patches as the war had not doubt aged me. I actually have a sliver of red in me in my upper sideburns apparently, according to the dresser at Hair World – red and then dark Italian black which I swirled stylishly over my forehead.
She fumbled with the old door and said clearly: “God, you’d think I’d know how to open a car door,” as she got in.
“Hey,” I said, “yeah, it’s one of those old-fashioned doors. “You look great,” I added as the brief interior white light died into the red semi-darkness of the dash and we drove away into the night.
She picked up her phone to text her friend and only then did I gleam the full aura of her and the wholesome bombshell that she was with her milky white complexion and silky brown hair – she hadn’t changed a bit. She wore this white thing, this silk blousy thing, sashayed across her full-bodied bosom and jeans. Classic, sexy American broad, through and through. And for once my old blue box of a car floated with the concupiscent allure and the scent of a lady.
We drove on into town, the old car coasting in the night, under the dark bridge. A street light flashed on her face and she spoke:
“Yeah, I haven’t seen you in forever,” she said.
“I know I know, how’ve you been?”
I suggested Starry Nites but we ended up going to Lux Lounge, on account of her wanting to see the dark liberal hang out spot that I’d told her about once.
I parked my old car on the right side of South Ave. in the South Wedge and we headed for the entrance. At first I didn’t have my damned ID. I only had the temporary license the judge had given me because of my damned DWI which had been the ultimate reality check after discovering the new club across from the police station out by the State School where I’d elected to do my English MA when I’d come back. I was like John Berryman stepping out of that car, in my old Jeffersonian shoes and my beard and my cigarette hanging from my grin and my merchant’s receipt that I’d handed the officer. They’d told me to step forward and I’d felt as though I was stepping off that bridge. I closed my eyes. When will I fucking grow up?
Now, fumbling for this ID while she waited was a bit embarrassing, but I made up for it, I figured, by telling her the story of how my friends and I had gotten kicked out of there like a couple of bad-asses once. We walked right by the little coffee table where Conrad Spalding had slapped his brother Tim backwards sending him crashing on that old vintage wooden coffee table, shattering it. Tim had been asking for it pretty hard though, as I recall: jabbering his face around up in Conrad’s like a damned rabid monkey.
Anyway, I played it cool once we got in there. I noticed finally under the white she was wearing sort of a sparkly bluish spandex top with jeans, very sexy, and very much complementing her splendid Irish complexion in the red-lighted lounge.
“So this is it,” I said. “Kinda diabolical isn’t it?” And I pointed out the Republicans Eat Shit sign with Bush depicted as the devil.
“Let’s get some drinks,” she said, her lilt and smile half desperate and disarming under the pale club light.
She ordered at once, meticulously: Bacardi rum and diet and a Heineken for me.
It took forever to get that dreadlocked bartender to attend us as the place was quite crowded. I’d look back and catch her on her phone and she’d look up and I’d smile but she’d seem distant.
Finally we got the drinks and went outside to sit. “Where can we sit?” she exclaimed. The place was littered with people drinking and smoking on the picnic tables and out on the patio. Walking around out of the alley into that back yard night spot was always a treat for me, like entering a cool underground world of artists and hippies and people just relaxing.
“You can sit there,” I said impulsively, gesturing towards the rocking wooden chair sculpted like a giant penis on the side. I couldn’t help myself. It was the only unoccupied seat. She smiled and laughed a bit, thankfully, and we quickly straddled a bench by the fire, facing each other.
We quickly caught up. Her boyfriend was out of the picture. She was quite distressed.
“He stopped fucking me,” she said, and my eyes lit up as she said fuck. “So we had to split up our assets and everything.”
“Assets?” I said, my eyes starting to wonder.
“Yeah, it was like a divorce.”
“Oh yeah, I forgot – you had that house out in Webster with all that stuff in it, right?” I said.
We made some small talk, on her job at Aristotle’s Closet: “Did you know, I sold my best leather jacket for 15 dollars there when I went bust in Vegas!” But she was otherwise quite direct. Apparently, she’d had a bit of fright after college when she ended up all alone after her new boyfriend Fred with whom she’d cheated on Frank had left her for above all other places, Germany, with the foreign exchange student. Now she was alone. And after I had – and I had, I remembered then, when I was drunk no less, instant messaged her while out at Murphy’s some weeks ago asking how’d she’d been. And she knew that I had an eye for her and that we’d had our somewhat literary collegial rapport, her digging me with the whole author thing going on, and me trying to steal her away.
Now she was out in the open.
“Let me call my friend Conrad, ah Conny Spalding, great guy, dynamite guy,” I said. “He can meet us out and hopefully make me not look so weird.”
She smiled a bit and didn’t laugh but pierced her eyes at me through the night. I sat across the bench and my eyes met hers as she said,
“Do you really want to call your friend?”
I put my phone away.
“I mean you’re here to fuck me, right?” she said.
“It had crossed my mind,” I said, suave as hell.
We got up and I finished my beer and followed her out to the car.
At this point in time, I felt compelled to tell her about my DWI. I mentioned it to her over the roof of my blue Buick as I opened the door and got in. I told her my long short story about how my boyhood memoir had been ripped apart by the graduate school people, so I drank afterwards at a bar across from the police station. She seemed not to respond in any way but a sly smile and perhaps a slight roll of the eyes. So it was three beers only and a quick drive home to my apartment and we had made it.
The old apartment building which housed my thin corner of the world had been a dormitory for University of Rochester medical students in the 30s. Right across from the MAG on University Ave, dwelled the gray brick block of Haddon Hall, with its castle-like roof and its jutting rusted black awning. I parked on the street and led Samantha in through the front. She awed a bit at the old mystique of the place: the hallway with a yellow hue of an old chandelier in the foyer and the walls decorated with pictures of old Rochester, in all its shagged elegance.
I showed her the way to the elevator and to be fair, offered the stairs. I let her hit that big bronze button and in we stepped as I held open both sliding doors: the muffled glass one with the ancient black frame, and then the heavy gray metal cage. I held them both for her to step daintily past, into the old jerky box.
“It’s three,” I said.
She hit the button, stepped back. “It’s just like the movies,” she said.
“It is just like the movies,” I said. And I kissed her, and she let out a sigh, as the elevator bolted upwards.
The elevator halted violently, parting our lips.
“This is me,” I said. And I opened the doors once more and led her out, around the corner, past that surreal painting of autumn which you could step into, so it seemed.
“I always thought this hallway looked like that scene from The Shining,” I told her. “You know, ‘hello Danny,’ with the twins…” She wasn’t into horror, apparently. I shut up and opened the door. We sat on the bed together and contemplated for a moment. She wore a white blouse over a blue tight shirt and jeans.
“Well….” she said.
And we kissed and took each other’s clothes off and fucked. Her breasts were wonderful silk balloons as they unfolded from what she claimed accurately to be ‘C’ cups – a system of measurement entirely fascinating to me. Then, I must say, there was a moment, when I withdrew from a kiss and her eyes focused into mine through the soft city dark. She smiled like a prowling cat beneath me – such a vixen – and said, “Tell me how long you’ve wanted to fuck me?”
“Since the day I saw you,” I said.
“Give us the deats, brosef, the deats!” said Conrad Spalding the next day. He stood shirtless by the open fridge in my apartment, broad shoulders, proud little gut flapped out over his boxers. I admired his hilarious physique showcased in the light of the fridge like a puddle of pasty melted marshmallows. I let him know this, too.
“Ok. Nice hairline,” he said. “I’m like Brad Pitt and you’re like DJ Qualls, my man. Lemme hear some of those details, though, my man. Why is it so clean in here?”
I was dusting my bookshelf and spraying down the toilet at the same time.
“I’ve never had it this clean before,” I told him. “I have to maintain it.”
“That’s great, man. Details, though – nice rack?”
“Aw, amazing rack.” I gave him the more vulgar details at last: about how I first went down on her and how she possessed the softest, most tender, most ripe, shimmering fruit of joy, as she squealed decibels of high-pitched ecstasy up and over an easy pinnacle of pleasure, my feet dangling off the other end of the bed. And I told of her classic one-liners and my classic responses, unthinking in the moment yet cracking a knowing smile, as though it were meant to be like Indy rekindling with his special lady friend: “It’s not the years, it’s the mileage.”
But we were still young and free. I was 28. She was 22. It had only been a few years apart from my old college mate. She must’ve read the comments on my FB page about my break up from the German girl. Facebook. You never know who will come around.
“I’m gonna wait to text her,” I told Conrad. He agreed with this and left me be. I lay down to scribble a poem and review my text messages as a June breeze flew in and she messaged me just then:
“I’m just having a picnic. You are welcome to come,” she said.
An after-fuck picnic, why didn’t I think of that?
I went down and banged on Conrad’s door. I plugged the peep-hole, as I was known to do, and when he opened the door, I popped him a fake punch with my own patented sound effect, which he’d praised as dead on.
“This kid’s not gonna go on a picnic with Samantha Kelly,” I said.
“Shut the fuck up. Are you really?”
“Ben man, you’re turning into a normal human – hanging out with a girl in the middle of the day? What you got there?”
“Satchel man, for my books. She said to bring books. You gotta bring at least one book to a picnic, man.”
“Is that mine?”
“You gave it to me.”
I sat down on the foot rest for a moment. Conrad went back into his kitchen to tend to his home beer making experiment.
Tim-bo-bopz, Conrad’s 23-year-old brother, suddenly poked his head out into the room.
“Ben, you’re going on a picnic?”
“With Samantha Kelly? That’s awesome, man.”
“You know her?”
“Conrad was telling me about her.”
“What are you doin’ here anyway, Timbo?”
“I live here, pathetic fuck,” he said, shaking his head.
“Think about your life,” I said, as I walked out.
“Think about yours,” he said.
Leave it to Tim-bo-Bopz to get himself kicked out of his girlfriend’s apartment. Yes, that’s right, Tim’s rather plump (at the time) lady friend whose arms bruised rather easily had recently pushed him past his limits by not getting out of the car during a heated debate in which she’d kept pushing all the wrong buttons and he’d punched her in the arm. She sued and he’d spent a night in county jail. But the public defender fixed him up with a sweet probation, without piss tests, not that old Tim-bo-bopz would ever relapse to his old pill-popping, acid dropping, weed smoking days. He was a fully recovered long dirty blonde-haired celibate monk now, who simply studied classic rock and the finer niceties of life, such as 80s classic VHS collectibles, while he looked for work, living on his brother’s futon.
Alas, my friends and I had all tasted the bitterness of failed romance. And who hasn’t really? At least we still had each other to make it through with our somewhat bitter humor. Yet I, for the time, was on the up and up. A full-figured young college grad had texted me her address: out on Blossom Ave, and I was headed to it, thinking about throwing in some flowers, as lilacs were very much in season. But no, that would have definitely been far too much.
I took Atlantic out to Blossom, humming along with a Simon & Garfunkel song with the window down. June summer bliss twinkled gold in the trees as I turned into her complex, remembering what she had said about just taking a left and going the opposite way in the little traffic circle there – can’t keep a girl waiting, after all. I got out and slammed the door of my old car. I stepped up a little knoll onto the platform of her yard and there she was a few yards yonder in the sun-dappled shade of the trees, legs swinging daintily as she lay. She lay on a purple blanket in her shorts and bare feet. She did not notice my approach until I spoke.
“Hello,” I said.
She flinched and looked back.
“Oh, hello, I did not even hear you. Here, lie down.”
I lay next to her. I wasn’t quite sure what to do.
“Did you bring a book?” she said.
And most certainly I had. I showed her A Farewell to Arms and told her, “Just read the first paragraph,” and she did and it was gorgeous the way she smiled over at me when she read the part about the ‘channels’ and she was gorgeous in the sunlight, perched on her elbows, peering over at me.
“Wow,” she said. She put the book down and rested her head in her arm.
“Of course it ends sadly,” I said, and I made my move for a light caress along her silky-clothed back.
“I know,” she said. “Tell me about the war?”
“You were in Iraq, right?”
“Well, yes,” I told her, “but I have a very different opinion on the war. A very negative one.”
“Yeah, who doesn’t,” she said. “Explain in a nutshell.”
“In a nutshell, ok, I like that. Let’s see: the reasons were forced BS, the invasion was improperly handled, stupidly assumed that we would prevail quite easily over the long term – but we got Zarqawi,” I said. She looked over. “He was the leader of Al-Qaeda at one time. Killed in Baghdad. We wouldn’t have gotten him if we didn’t go over there. Him and many others knocked out over there, so…”
“Yeah,” she said, dreamily.
“I never had to fire my weapon, though,” I said. “I was lucky. And that’s all I’ll say about that.”
We talked about a few other things. I told her about how I’d joined to piss off my dad and first voted just to cancel out his vote and how dumb and reckless it all was and how I was graduating with my MS in teaching English to speakers of other languages now from the University of Rochester, using the remaining funds in my GI bill and how I wanted to go back West and live with my uncle who was a prince, and I’d get a job out there and start up with the writing again. She seemed fairly interested. She told me some facts about her family, a relative with cancer, her refusal to become a “soldier of Christ” and get confirmed and how this, in her words, divided her family (yet I’m sure she was over dramatizing possibly to compete with my nonchalant war references); how she was more like her dad and more forcible and aggressive and impatient like a man, she said; and how she hated that her younger sister was naturally skinnier yet her sisters were her best friends. It’s adorable to get to know a girl and fall in love under the sun. Neither of us said anything about it, but just enjoying each other’s company, even only for a moment, is a kind of love, especially outside, laid out on my back, she on her front, beside each other on a blanket on the soft shaded grass.
The sun dissolved into a shore of clouds and I remembered just then: the Jazz Fest in downtown Rochester.
“Hey,” I said, getting up and brushing off my knees, “would you like to go to Jazz Fest with me and my friends later tonight – in like an hour?”
“Sure,” she said. “Just let me get dressed. I’ll call my friends.”
“Great.” And I said goodbye and wheeled out to go back and convey everything to Conrad before going up to my own closet/box of an apartment to shower and fix my recently dyed hair with an excellent gel.
And what seemed like five minutes later, my phone is buzzing and I’m rushing around spraying my place with cologne, tucking in my bed sheets extra neat with the old military fold, so tight you could pop a quarter off of it. But I hadn’t the time to check. Last time she’d commented on the boxes of books and stuff next to the bathroom– “I’m going to stay away from that area,” she’d said, crashing into my bicycle on her way past to my freshly bleached and near mint condition toilet. I’d left the bike there, though. It served for hanging clothes and bras on the handle bars. And I figured it added a little small city charm to the whole scene of me the 28-year-old graduate school veteran and her the freshly-broken-up-with college grad sweetheart, stomping around in my carpeted rectangular pad of lust and happenstance, as we’d lie together in the moonlight watching that black cat writhing against the rusty fire escape and meowing seductively in the late evening just outside my window.
“I’m ready. Ready to go. How long? I told you how impatient I am, right,” she barraged in some form via text.
I responded by running out the door with an exuberance unmatched by anything before in my young adult life. This kind of thing simply did not happen to me. Very cute Fisher girls did not Facebook IM me out of the blue and then tell me point blank, well, what she said, and then screw all night, the details of which will never fully come through. Let’s just say she had quite a devilish tongue and wasn’t afraid to use it. And sometimes, she’d playfully bite.
I picked her up and she wore this turquoise and white striped summer dress, tight yet sashayed in a way across her. We drove in the night down Browncoft to Culver, under that old creepy bridge. She wouldn’t stop texting. I played the tough guy and spoke in quick dead-on spikes of manliness, like say Bruce Willis perhaps: “You look nice tonight. Ready to go. Let’s go. We’re gonna meet my friends.”
We wheeled in again to my lot and I parked it between those two poles which indicated my space. “Home sweet home,” I said. “Who you texting?”
“My friends. They want to meet us out, too? That ok?”
We went in. She put her phone in her purse.
“This is it,” I said, at my friend’s door.
“We’re not gonna….”
“You wanna go upstairs for a minute first?” I said.
“Yeah, let’s go upstairs,” I said, and we went.
She sat on the bed and fell apart at my touch. I started to remove her top and she said, “And I’m not even drunk.”
At some point I pulled back and caught her eyes for a second.
“What?” she said.
“You have amazing….tits,” I blurted (perhaps I should’ve said buxom breasts) with a surprising stutter of confidence.
“Thank you,” she said.
“Can I….titty fuck you?” I croaked out in crippling lust as I lay raised above her on my elbows. My triceps flexed.
“Yeah,” she said, “here…”
And she set it up, pressing her gorgeous tits around me, her eyes watering, her jaw dropping in undulating sighs.
“I like that,” she said.
She honed her eyes in again, such a vixen this one; in the dark her eyes leveled my sweat-soaked ones in my little sweaty apartment.
“You want me to fuck you?” I asked for the pleasure of it.
All she could do was nod.
We dressed quickly as we were due to meet my friends. She slipped on her turquoise and white stripped summer dress that fit her snugly, yet seemed to dance around her. I may never fully understand women’s fashion, how they sashay and snug all at the same time. She brushed her hair in my mirror that was nailed to the wall by the door and I fixed mine behind her with my hands and with a bend of her back we snapped out of the brief shot of our reflection (fixing our hair fervently in my apartment before we went into the hall to go down and knock innocently on Conrad Spalding’s brown wooden door).
“Yeah,” Conrad opened the door, iPhone to his ear. “Yeah, there’re here, finally – Ben where have you been?”
“Just had to spruce up, Bruce,” (a common nickname for each other as friends) I explained.
“Oh, well. Come on in, man. Have a beer?” He saw her then.
“Sam,” she said, and shook his hand.
We settled in and Sam sat upright on Conrad’s futon, watching Seinfeld no less.
Conrad was in a chipper mood walking back and forth from the kitchen to the TV room checking in on everybody. Sam sat so straight and studiously stared at the TV until she said, “Oh Seinfeld, you can tell it’s getting outdated.”
My god, she was right, and she was gorgeous. I sat on the foot rest leaning in with my bottle of beer. I could hardly contain myself but knew I must and in a way reveled in the secret between us. She had a glow around her, a bluish halo in the squalid guy’s one bedroom apartment on the brown futon with the cigarette holes in it (I owed Conrad for those, I admit. Weed smoking and cigarettes and laughing then a tendril drifts up past your nose and Conrad’s pissed. Our mutual friend Jay-Boss, who had arrived with the volcano vaporizer bong handcuffed to his wrist in a briefcase, looks over at me like he doesn’t want to say anything but the truth always comes out, my friend). She was not privy to any of this, just a girl previously satisfied in lust but perhaps desirous of a bit more. She barely looked at me now, though. Too much temptation. What would Epicurus do? Touch once and learn and leave. Or in the words of my grandpa, look but don’t touch. Just as Timbo popped out of the bathroom with his scraggily blonde hair and his godly skinny pale body, she shot me a look that implied there’d be a bit more touching and out we went, Tim, Conrad, Sam, oh and E-Monz (Eric Money), who also tagged along.
We went out to the Jazz Fest around the corner. On the walk down Sam spied a sign for an apartment. She called in right there.
“What’s going on?” Conrad inquired.
“Sam’s looking for a place to live,” I said, smiling over at her and her perfect bosom.
She projected her lovely voice into the phone, only to discover the rent was too high. Imagine her living around the corner, if she had, though, if she had?
Down East Ave. the masses had already gathered, and we got some beers and listened to a band in the crowd on the corner of East and Alexander.
“That guy went to Fisher,” she said.
“Which one?” I said.
“The one playing the bass, uht, now the Sax.”
He was this excellently trim, groomed black fellow.
“Really,” I said. “I love that guy.”
Suddenly her phone was blowing up with her friends and it took forever squeezing through people to try to find them only to find ourselves lost in the crowd, but we didn’t care; we decided to wander a bit, Sam and me.
“So thanks for showing me around Rochester,” she said.
“Yeah, no problem.”
“I’ve lived here six years and I never really got out to see it.”
“Well you’re about ready then,” I said.
“So how’s your book doing?” she said.
“It pretty much died on Amazon,” I said.
“Aww, I liked the cover, though,” she said. “Did you design that?”
“No, I just signed off on it.”
“Yeah I thought about design myself–”
Just then she tripped terribly on an improperly jutted up sewer lid, nearly planting herself on the sidewalk.
“Oooh, you ok? You stub your toe?”
“Yeah,” she said, “there’s a giant sewer there.”
“Yes there is,” I said. And we kept walking.
I bumped into my friend Conrad down at the other end across from the Eastman Theater. We had a beer near the big tent but didn’t go in on account of an extra 20 dollar charge for some attraction. Conrad took our picture, naturally, as he was a photographer and we made our way back, stopping only for a whiskey sour and an attempt at a piss in a church – but they were charging to go in there, too.
“Oht…I think I see my friends; they usually have weed on them,” said the Summa Cum Laude grad., Sam.
I was loving her more and more, but as we approached the crowd sucked us in and spat us apart from each other only to pit us back together. I felt enthralled and wrapped my arm around her and tried to kiss her but she pulled away. No kissing in public. And her friends we met and talked and they took our picture, with me at least holding her, and both of us with genuine smiles, and me with my recently dyed jet black hair that waved over long enough to fall at least about a quarter of the way to my eyes, I’d say.
Just then, her friend, the black one, as Sam would later refer to her as, grabbed my hand and yanked me through the crowd. The plan was to get a beer or get her in somewhere somehow, as she was 18, I believe. We ended up buying a cigar at the local smoke shop just so we could roll weed that she had. Then we reconvened and I could see Sam was getting antsy. We went into a bar called the Dublin Underground and I bought Sam and her other friend fruity mixed drinks and myself a gin and tonic, my pleasure. “Isn’t Sam so cute!” I said hoarsely over the music to her friend.
It took a while now to get the slightest semblance of meaning across, but I didn’t mind, for I was in ecstasy.
“Isn’t Sam so cute, he said,” Sam said cutely to her friend. “Thanks for the drinks,” she said to me.
We danced a bit, awkwardly, on our own. Sam’s friend was texting. She was pissed she couldn’t get in on account of her age. Sam said she’d better go out and talk to her. I followed her out. We got caught up at the intersection of East and Alexander as the crowd had bulged for the grand finale. A blonde foreign perhaps Indo-European attractive woman looked back at me and danced closer in the crowd. Sam instinctively, then, took my hand and took me away through the crowd. We found her friend, crying on the little knoll by that huge ancient apartment building.
Conrad’s sister and her fiancé showed up and they asked for the thin cigar with which to roll. Sam’s friends asked me and unfortunately it had fallen from my ear. I went out on my own to get another one. The night had fallen. I went around the corner into Monty’s to get a whiskey and stand in the window. I danced and drank and stared out the window. Passersby laughed and it was glorious. I could not see Sam and them. She texted me then: “Hey, where’d you go? I’m about ready for round two.”
I went back there where they had been standing on the street. They were not there. I despaired, fervently looking in the night as the crowd dissipated. Then I found her, them, having drifted just a little further out. We walked back, Sam and me.
“Well, no weed,” I said.
But at least I bought her a slice of pizza. We ate and walked. The random remaining night howlers, brawlers and wounded gazelles all made their way home. I shared the story of how Conrad and E-Monz and Jay-Boss all got in a fight on the strip of Alexander that got a little sketchy going towards University Ave, and how Jay just froze while Eric tackled this huge thuggish guy over the steel rail of the parking lot while Conrad got in a few before being pummeled and pounded good until old Jay-Boss came in with a swift kick to the guy’s jaw.
She was unimpressed. No amount of violence could impress her.
We went into the apartment building. I had to check on Conrad, which was probably a mistake – should have just taken her upstairs. Tim was sitting up and I doted on him.
“Sam, isn’t Tim the coolest guy with his angel long blonde hair and his awesome sense of being and all?”
“Ok man,” Tim said.
“Is Conrad here?” I said.
“No, he’s not back yet,” Tim said, navigating the music videos on the TV screen with the PlayStation controller.
“Think he’d mind if we slept over?” I said, ruining the night.
“I have to go,” Sam said, “can you take me home?”
“Yeah sure,” I said. And I took her home. “Goodnight Sam,” I said. I kissed her on the cheek in the dark in my car and she got out and went in and I pulled out and went home.
The next day I slept late and thought it was over, kicking myself in my bed for ruining the moment by suggesting the use of Conrad’s bedroom. It was considerably bigger though and it was just a half joke. No public evidence of our lust, though. You should’ve known, I told myself. This was purely a fling. She didn’t want any friends even thinking that it was anything more. In hot breath we’d decided that too: “Let’s just be fuck buddies for a while” I’d said and she’d nodded her agreement.
She had to be unsatisfied, though, knowing her. She had to have her round two. But this would have been round three, actually. And most certainly, late in the day, after tidying up and dusting my place – a good practice that meeting a girl like Sam will entice a guy to do more often, a habit which I’d tried to embrace and make a daily routine – the text came in: We were to meet that night at Starry Nites Café.
Sam looked ravishing, I must say. She emerged from the night in this black silky cocktail dress and we wheeled over into the city. We decided for some dry Riesling, discovering that we both only liked it dry.
“I love your hair,” commented the girl behind the counter as we ordered.
“Thanks,” Sam said with a quick blush.
She had some locks in braids going back in front, yet she left enough room for her bangs. It was cute as hell. Plus she had some reddish highlights sashaying across there. I didn’t know how she did it. In my awe and upon my first sip of Riesling I missed a little exchange there between Sam and the girl. But I believe it was her explaining that red was her natural color. And didn’t I too possess a speck of ginger in my lineage, sporting a red patch in my sideburns no less, least that’s what the girl at Hair World told me before she turned it back to my original dark black. As I said, this was thankfully right before Sam came around to throw herself at me, right after California.
We sat giddily as old schoolmates (heck, we were) in the corner of Starry Nites. There weren’t too many people out that young Saturday night, just a few students pecking away on laptops, reading casually, some highlighting. A man was setting up to play the ukulele.
“This is where Frank used to take me,” she said.
I smiled and made easy conversation as we sipped that chilled dry white wine in the room of Monet and dark blue antiquated walls and elegant old furniture. She was glowing, as though she’d just escaped from somewhere. She was constantly escaping with me, so it seemed, and her face lit in the cool light of the wine as she hovered above it, her chin on the back of her folded hands. We sat in the corner and drank and talked. Then we went right next door to that ritzy little restaurant.
We sat down and discussed risqué things we’d done or considered in our young lives. We sat by the tall thin windows and we sunk down in the old living room chairs around that antique coffee table they have there in the barroom.
“This place – there’s a story behind this place,” I said.
“Oh yes – caught my eye,” she said to the passing waiter. She ordered another vodka cran something or other fruity cocktail; I another gin and tonic.
Was she flirting with that waiter?
“So what is the craziest thing you’ve ever done?” she asked.
“Well, I’ve…” I told her about my travels, briefly; then stumbled into an admission of having tried cocaine.
“I wonder how I would act on cocaine,” she said.
“Ah, it was stupid,” I said, “You’re flawless – radiant enough as it is.”
And in the evening sun through the window of that elegant place she emitted a lovely fickle white luminescent girlish hue. She was very proud of how white she was.
“Did I ever tell you who I took to the senior ball?” I said then.
“You took Adrian Conway,” she said, decidedly.
“I asked her – she said yes but backed out at the last minute – wait, how’d you know?” I said. I raised an eyebrow at her.
“I just…heard.” She shrugged.
“No, I ended up taking this girl, Ashley Smith – my sister’s friend – this blonde really sorta slutty yet innocent girl – I don’t know maybe she was just poor – but I can’t believe Adrian backed out. I think it must’ve been a race thing? You never know. At any rate, I went with my sister’s friend, took her out to dinner right here – we sat over by the window in the dining room over there and she said the cutest thing: first off she ordered this shrimp scampi noodle thing and she hardly touched it but cut it all up into little pieces, then after a nice bottle of champagne — my treat — you know how I have to doll it up for special occasions, right? – and the waiter comes back and she looks up at him and sort of curls into herself and goes ‘My you’re tall – I don’t even want to stand up, you’re so tall. I’m a shorty.’ Or a ‘short thang,’ I think she said.”
“I know how she feels. I’m five one,” Sam said.
“I’m a foot taller than you,” I said. “But that was one tall waiter. It’s just that she was legitimately embarrassed. It was cute. One little step out into a more elegant soiree than she’s used to I suppose. She’d never been out to a restaurant in the city apparently and with the champagne and all – can sweep a girl away, I suppose.”
“I’ll say,” she said.
“Anyway we ended up making out real sloppy-like on the dance floor at the Lotus Country Club.”
Sam was laughing, checking her texts intermittently, which seemed a natural habit of hers, but laughing nonetheless.
“During the graduation ceremony they showed us together on the big screen – I swear I had a lipstick smudge on my cheek. Our faces all flushed red, too. I don’t know, it was just funny.”
Sam finished her drink, snapped her phone closed and put it in her purse. Some plan about meeting her friends had dissolved. “Wanna get out of here?” she said.
“Surely,” I said with a classic corny half drunken smile and a wink.
We went for the door and made it out into the clear gray early evening.
“You might have to carry me,” she said, half tripping on the curb.
“I’m ready for ya,” I said, about to scoop her up.
But she made it to my apartment, arms interlocked, leaning against me, and I pulled open that worn golden handle under the walkway awning and in we went.
Due to the risk of giving out details too prurient for the Supreme Court, or what have you (and I do promise you there is a redeeming quality to the end of this expose) I must unfortunately skim over the details of our impassioned pleasure in my sweatbox of an apartment for round three. I will give this one little one though: as I kissed and breathed into her lovely neck, lobe and shoulder area I felt her hot whisper in my ear: “You can tell me anything you want, you know….I won’t remember.”
She must’ve been able to feel my thinking head against her for I had been trying to summon the right words.
“Oh Sam,” I said.
“Go on,” she said. “You can tell me, tell me you love me,” she said.
“Oh, Sam I do – I do love you,” I said at last. I kissed into her and sort of disappeared in her with my eyes closed. “I can’t believe your boyfriend wouldn’t fuck you. What was his name?”
“Right, Frank,” I said, fucking her.
“Yeah, what an idiot,” she breathed, barely able to close her mouth.
I had started to sweat.
At least I’d had an AC unit put in earlier that day. Two hundred dollars at Wal-Mart. Waited five minutes in line with Timbo then drove out of the ghetto back home to install the thing right before she called. So I had the cold air funneling in right on us where we lay, relayed to us via a vertical shaft of a fan that scanned back and forth from the AC in the window to us on the bed.
As we lay there feeling the AC come and go on us, her on her back, me on my side in the twin bed, I felt totally cool and satisfied. Night came and she’d passed out long ago: “If I have any more orgasms I’ll pass out,” she’d pronounced.
“Go ahead, pass out,” I’d said.
I turned over in the night then propped up on my elbow. As I watched her sleep, it occurred to me: “Who is this fleshy thing beside me?”
“You with all curves and me with no brakes,” I’d actually delivered while running the back of my hand along the swift slope of her shoulder blade to her stomach and butt. “Have you ever heard that?”
“Yes, but not to me,” she said, hesitating for just a moment.
What could I say? She’d admitted she was self-conscious about her body? Her? No way. Can’t have that. So the line just came out, and I’d meant it. It was true.
I moved then. She suddenly did, too. I sat up.
“Yeah, can you take me home?” she said.
We both agreed, even with the AC and fan, it was rather difficult to sleep in that place on a twin. Besides, she needed her beauty sleep. Sam collected her bra from the handle bars of my bike. She dressed quickly and before I knew it I pulled into her place and looked over at her with a sly smile in the dark.
“Goodnight, Sam,” I said.
She shot me a weary glance. Exhausted? Ashamed? “Good night,” she said and got out and went in across the grass to her place.
I didn’t see Sam again for weeks. What are you going to do? Wait, I did see her again, briefly. She came into Starry Nites while I was writing – red hair, gorgeous – no, that wasn’t her. A look-a-like, a fraud. Are we all just copies and of what original strand? Nay, there is only one unbelievably gorgeous, beautiful, virtuosoest, best Sam!
She messaged me again, saying how bored she was. I enticed her to a movie at my place, a romantic comedy I’d swiped out of Red Box. Should’ve gone with the thriller she brought over, though. Never watch a romantic comedy with a girl you’re crushing over, especially if it’s more romantic. This one was, with slowed-down scenes about “what are we becoming” and all. And I could’ve had her cringing into my shoulder as Liam Neesan takes back his daughters from a fat, evil Arab royal on the East River.
She pushed back my yellow laptop to the foot of the bed and we rolled over together facing the wall which she’d once pressed her hand against so passionately, which now only seemed to embody the end of our little conversation.
“I’m just really tired,” she said. “Wanna give me a massage?”
“Of course,” I said, and I got up to get the oil, an old gift from my German girl.
“No need,” she said.
“Right,” I said, remembering the silky Irish shimmer of her skin in my hands. She drank a lot of water, so she’d explained.
“But don’t be brutal,” she said.
I massaged her as she lay on her back and side and we cuddled together and began to grow still and talked about the past.
“So what about your ex-German love?” she asked.
“Well, it’s complicated. We first met in a rush at a club – turned out I was the other guy. Foolishly, I volunteered to stick around till she chose me. Coulda just let her go. I remember there was a chance. She was literally turning away and I said, ‘Wait.’ What can I say? I’m a sucker for beautiful women and we had some nice times together, travelled the world, New Zealand, Ireland, France. But I had a lot of suppressed vengeance planned on account of being the other guy so long. We seemed to have a long artfully complicated sort of international battle back and forth. I mean I showed up there once uninvited. Bam. I’m at her door in Germany. Had to figure out what was going on with her and this other guy. I stayed at the hotel in her small town where we first made love, I suppose is the proper term…Anyway, it worked. About a year later she came, not exactly crawling, but she came back and I took her, far too easily now I will admit in hind sight. That whole open relationship just killed me.”
“Yeah, it would me,” she said.
“Right? It’s a European thing. After all my attempts to escape and be some kind of literary expatriate I find myself back stateside. But hey, why can’t there be love in America?” I said. “After all, we won the war.”
In the yellow light of my apartment we shared a laugh and I began to massage her front.
“We haven’t won any recently but we won the big one,” she teased.
“And we’re still trying,” I said.
She undid her bra then and I felt her underneath. Bliss. Nothing but one right hot silky balloon of bliss full in my tender grasp.
Heavenly, divine. I kissed up her nape and ear.
“Well, I better go,” she sighed. She sat up. “I have work in the morning.”
“You know I’m going to have to turn you into literature,” I said. “You’ll be my Lady Ashley.”
“Yeah, I know,” she said. “‘Isn’t it pretty to think so.’”
“The rising quiet desperation of it all: the veteran and his unattainable love.”
“And you’ll be all impotent from the war.”
“I don’t know about that part. You’re not gonna have to sleep with the matador are ya?”
“Well, just make sure you get it right,” she said, and she sat up and I watched her reach back and under to snap back her bra with expert precision. And just like that she was gone. I drove her back and said goodbye, cordially. Little did I know she would not be answering my texts for months.
Then set in the great silence of that late summer between us. She’d post song lyrics like, “Kathy I’m lost I said / Though I knew she was sleeping….” And one of her friends tried to guess the reference totally missing with Wuthering Heights of all else and I claimed it: “America by S&G!” She liked this comment with a white-gloved thumbs up. Sublime. I didn’t even know you could like a comment before that. It’s all random, fast, lovely, haphazard, hot and heavy bliss, then it’s gone, isn’t it? And it’s nothing then but a few comments and thumbs up here and there. She wouldn’t even poke me anymore.
Overwhelmed with graduate school and student teaching, I finally received a substantial paragraph from my dear friend Samantha about mid November:
Hey, Sorry I haven’t talked to you very much in a while. Truth is, I got back together with my boyfriend, Frank. I’ve moved back in and have been living with him back in our house. We’re going to try to work things out….
That guy? She just wanted a comfy house she could decorate while plotting to cheat again and find someone else, someone more set up. If only I had a house.
“He’s a graduate student at the U of R,” Sam had said at the Jazz Fest, puffing me up a bit as she introduced me to her friends.
She didn’t just want anybody. She wanted a guy with a house and a job. A girl doesn’t just jump from a fancy house out in Webster to a guy with a studio apartment on University Ave. with 50 grand in student loans, no less. Ok, so once she’d messaged me and we got together for a drink at Jeremiah’s in Rochester. They must’ve been fighting themselves apart again, I could only surmise. We sat giddy as schoolmates again across from each other under the bar light drinking beer. She told me her current woes about her boyfriend and her work in sales at some company, how she couldn’t get promoted and how they were taking advantage of her and even how she had a thing for older guys, including her boss, who was 32. And would she ever break that glass ceiling? Or would she ever break out into fashion and / or literature? Would she ever have her coveted family and career? Would her crystalline desires ever truly be satisfied by this world? I took her hand across the table and kissed it.
“Oh Sam, you’re going to be fine,” I told her.
She smiled but looked up at my hairline immediately afterwards, I believe. I now nearly had an island of hair at the fore. What are you going to do? Just own it like Bruce Willis, advised my brother. Besides, she liked older, right?
I dropped her off that night and breezed my knuckles through her shimmering locks.
“Yeah, I’ll be fine,” she said. “I’m just gonna take a Xanex. I’ll be fine.”
“Feel better,” I said. “And don’t hesitate to call.”
A couple of weeks later I get a voicemail from Frank himself. He had a nasally kind of assuming and dominant voice, not all unlike a police officer or a decent prosecutor.
“Give me a call back regarding a common interest. I think you know who I mean…”
Bastard! He must’ve hacked the phones, the computer genius that he was, or he probably was still paying her account. I was driving and decided to call back right away while going around this huge exit loop – hands free blue-tooth, you see, of course. Thankfully, and this is one of the reasons I called back right away, so he wouldn’t expect it, I got the old voicemail. I smoothed things over real nice and quick: “I’ll back off,” I told him, “best of luck, she’s all yours.”
His responding voicemail a couple hours later confirmed the smooth over: “…I think you get the big picture…” Yeah, if only I could get her to text me anyway – Of course he had her phone monitored. Explains clearly how he got my number and Sam’s concern over his overbearing protection and all the anxiety that goes with that. Tough spot to be in – but I was still largely an outsider and let’s leave it at that. “Why don’t you just change your number?” I’d advised her once. “Cause then I’d have to tell all my friends my new number, I don’t wanna have to do that,” she’d said. Real committed true love we had going on there. Strangely enough, her boyfriend ended his voice message by saying how he’d like to possibly hang out sometime. I don’t know why. What was it to talk man to man about this mutual heartbreaker, Sam? To plant a bug on me so as to spy on Sam if she ever did swing back my way? Or was it just one of those attempts to seem normal and easygoing for just a genuine let’s-be-friends-after-you-were-one-of-the-guys-who-fucked-my-girlfriend-who-I’d-planned-on-marrying-since-high-school chat and a handshake?
Sam had first cheated on him with this handsome enough fellow from Fisher who took off for Germany with a foreign exchange student after graduation. Those German women will get you, I do say. They just don’t make them like that over here, cankles and all. So we both had that weird anti-German pain. Yet we both loved Riesling. “From your favorite country,” I’d said as I poured her a glass last time she came over. She only took a sip.
Now she was gone from me totally. She was back with Frank, then with some other guy who had less hair than I did. She’d always said she had a thing for her older boss as she’d moved down to Delaware on account of probably some interoffice drama only she could cause. Then she ended up at an uppity communications company back in Rochester, apparently, according to FB, with this new guy now in the picture, who looked like her 37 year old boss. Whatever. They looked happy. Good for them. Onwards and upwards. We’re all getting older. Time to move on. The pregnant British bartender at Monty’s Corner so consoled.
I didn’t see or hear from her straight through the holidays and into spring again. Then one day she messages me: “Be in Roc for the night.”
At dinner with my parents, I grew at once excited for the check. She said she’d be with a bunch of people. This must have been a set up to clip me out. But I hadn’t really texted her anything lately. I spruced up in a snazzy blue shirt and out I went. Texted her when I was at Monty’s corner, jacking my jaw with my buddy Jack. “@ Club One” was all she said back, then she said, “Kinda lame here tho.” Her little spelling aberrations – so unique. I took note and headed straight for Club One, this blue-lit club around the corner with a second story outdoor dance floor, pretty popular place for Rochester, attracted fashionable young people.
She wasn’t at all on the dance floor but when I stepped outside she swung out and saw me. She was with a couple of guys. I had with me at the time, my friend Tim for moral support.
I greeted her and she promptly introduced me to her friend, Nick who shook my hand, and according to Tim, smirked. We went to the bar and I tried to ask how she’d been and she’d said she’d lived in Delaware now and had a new job. She wore this tight black spandex thing that covered her arms. She looked so blasé, so Chanel No. 5, so aloof yet present and beautiful as ever but only in a way that was instantly dismissive – a poisonous subject of a girl. I should’ve stayed in Hollywood.
She flipped her hair and looked at the guys to her right. I got a shot a whiskey but she did not drink one at my offer. She stuck to something fruity. I invited her to a party. Just get her out of there, I thought. And her friend, Nick, a young, athletic guy with longer hair, who kept looking at me funny, muttered something, like, “yeah, we’re not going to get really drunk…” as though I were the culprit here.
Had Sam herself not posted on her public page in response to her old family friend’s comment that she was in love that rather it was ‘more like drunken euphoria,’ and had her own sister not given this a thumbs up days after our little foray?
Perhaps, I was reading too far into it. I remembered Conrad’s advice and shook it off.
“We’re going to go dance,” Sam said.
“Ok like as a group, group dance right in a circle right?, dance, ok, I can dance, let’s dance,” I said.
And I could only watch as she shook her ass to that Nick fellow. I got one more drink and left. Message received, I thought. I will now forget you.
But she had to text me on my walk home: “Sorry. Kinda weird group of people.”
Who could blame the young beauty for having fun? Die Frauen Schwimmen. Isn’t that a phrase? Least the German girl’s father had told me so. The women swim. And that they did. And I’d just carry on and wait once more for her to swim on back to me.
Then what really sealed it: I was cleaning up and I found one of her hair stretchy things coupled with some hair and some whiffs of her natural pheromones and her Blushing Primrose perfume and I remembered tendrils of our chat on my bed looking up afterwards at the ceiling: “What do you want that you’re not getting?” I’d posed.
She thought about it. “Hmmmm…..Sex….Check!” she said cornily yet cute as hell as usual like her idol Tina Fey, I suppose. “I don’t know,” she said then, “I want a family.”
“Yeah me too,” I said, perhaps not loud enough.
But I dropped the hair band as I came to my desk. For in the updated online picture popped into consciousness a beautiful little baby cringing red in the young mother’s buxom bosom and loving arms. She couldn’t have looked happier.
And like the great wave of riff raff dreamers and haggard hippies that breaks upon the boardwalk of Santa Monica and Venice Beach year after year – or at least they did when I was there – (so I told Chance to pass out pamphlets for my book and try to sell at least one to earn his beer as I sat and watched the wonderful debacle, espying that dusty old piano at dusk strapped down atop an RV parked along the beach) – the memories crash and reawaken to cleaning crews an interview with a 32 year old wanderer living under a palm tree, she the only one who will listen to you; and the fishermen up all night trying to pull one in through the foam; and the bum settling in for the night behind the red bait house under the stars…
There is a pounding at my door.
The girl who jumped on my back laughing as we walked through Manhattan beach under the twilight, singing and greeting the other couples, so far from me now.
The pounding persisted to banging, rattling the cheap old metal lock with an unmistakable clang.
“Ben get up!” I heard the voice of Tim-Bo-Bops.
“All right goddamnit hold on,” I said.
I rose up from my mahogany writing desk (imported from Brazil, no less) and started to fasten my stately robe. I searched briefly for my roach clip, gave up, and headed for the door.
“Your car has been stolen man!” Tim blurted out as soon as I opened the door.
My hands dropped. My robe fell open.
“Impossible dude! I parked it in its spot – and I’d double checked that it was…locked. I locked it, I swear,” I said.
“All right, dude, Jesus, cover your junk.”
I fastened it tight.
“Dude man, you better come down here and take a look. There’s glass all over the place.”
Just then a call came in from Conrad confirming: “Where’d you park your car, man, cause there’s just shattered glass all over your space and your car is gone,” he said.
I threw some clothes on and went down there. Sure enough, someone had stolen my 1990 Buick Le Sabre which I’d managed to procure when I’d come back from California, broke off my ass.
The most harried middle-aged cop imaginable came and scribbled some notes on a form on a thick gray plastic paperclip while sitting in his car. My statement was pretty simple. Apparently, those older cars you have to watch out for – anyone can bust in and hotwire them.
“1990 Buick Le Sabre, you said, right? Light blue in color? Rust coloration?”
“No, no rust coloration,” I said.
“No rust coloration?” said the cop. “You sure about that?” He looked at his chart.
“Positive. Ok maybe a little by the back wheels,” I said. “Brand new wheels though.”
“Yeah, guy used it to rob Charlie’s corner store last night,” said the cop.
They found it deserted and took it to the dump. I went to collect it. They told me the car was totaled on account of some irreparable damage to the steering column, as well as a significant V slanted dent on the rear bumper, the headlights smashed out, the shitty stereo that always came out all scratchy jacked, and of course all the windows smashed out. I stepped in the car – that pillaged frame of an old classic American beast, disheveled. The wires next to the bare steering dangled like gutted innards, the plastic panel ripped downwards. An empty pack of menthol cigarettes and a couple 22 ounce malt liquor bottles littered the passenger’s side floor, along with, a copy of my book I had kept in there (at least somebody had been reading it).
I took the insurance money and left the old elegant brute of a car in the yard.
Back at the apartment, I found Tim commenting on some Neal Young fan page, about to pop in some classic 80s vhs.
“Think about your life,” I told him.
“Think about yours,” he replied with a high-pitched laugh.
Tim flaunted that long angelic dirty blonde rock’n roller type hair. He stood 6’2” and was skinny as a rail, with broad shoulders and a disposition like a puppy. In fact, he owned and actually read from time to time a publication called Coping with the Modern World for the Highly Sensitive Person. After fighting a war, publishing a book, graduating from college and going out west for a little acting school excursion, I found Tim in the exact place I’d left him: reading that beautiful book on his brother’s futon and penning great American song lyrics.
He was one cool cat. His older brother Conrad though was an absolute overachiever: after nearly making the Olympics for his high-jumping skills, the German-blooded posh blonde-mop head, red-bearded Conrad Spalding ended up running his own photography business in Rochester while working full-time at the photo-lab at East Ave. Wegmans and putting himself through school to become a goddamned radiologist. Kid’s not a scientist to me. Perhaps he could get me a job if I couldn’t find one teaching, I figured.
But when it came to maters of the heart, good old Tim-bo-bops is the one you really want to talk to. Now he’d quit his subscription to bigwetbutts.com and was completely celibate, or simply waiting for the right one to come along, reading books and writing poems, no less. How had the great Jantronics employee disinfected himself from love’s raptures?
I hung out with Tim that day and I discoursed to him at some length all that I’d been through with Sam. His brother Conrad came over then, too, and I spilled to him the news of the death of my affair with America’s sweetheart.
“See, aren’t you glad that isn’t you, man,” said Conrad, eying the online pic of Sam and her kid, “knocking up a girl who just got out of college. Now you’d have to take care of her – you could do that….skeeeblowp!”
“Who’s the dad anyway?” Tim inquired.
“The father is not shown, as of yet,” I replied.
“You don’t want to be that baby’s daddy,” Tim said.
“Cha, me,” I said while sniping a Somalian terrorist in the dome-piece from 300 meters away through the old video game console.
“Tell you the truth I might already be a father,” I let out. And they made me explain the story of a 21 year old German blonde and me, after a night at the club drinking absinthe, skinny-dipping in a public pond and making love under the moon. “I had the condom but I just forgot. I ended up hoping the water had washed it away.”
“That’s probably the dumbest things I’ve ever heard,” Conrad said.
“Anyway, the guys wouldn’t give her my number, these soldier types, you know. I wanted to get a hold of her and find out for sure if anything developed but the guys refused to let me communicate with her once I’d sobered up back at the base. Turns out she hadn’t finalized her divorce and her husband was still down range in Iraq of all places.”
“Cool guy,” Tim said to me as he made himself a sandwich and sat down on the futon.
“I felt horrible, especially because they said in the weeks afterwards that she was looking kind of plump – then not so much – she must’ve taken care of it, if it did in fact exist. I’ll never know.”
I felt like I was disclosing top secret government information.
“Wow man,” Conrad said. “You the man Ben, spreading that seed like you’re supposed to, ya goddamned moron.”
This was more like Cons, to call me a moron instead of condoning my past and sometimes present habit of ‘stomping around with the ole Devil’s hooves’ as I once called it, which basically refers to getting drunk and high and acting like a wanton idiot. It’s great to have Conny as my go to realist/friend.
All that Devil’s hooves stuff – high out of my gourd with the brain bubbles keeping me squirming on Conrad’s shag carpet — was behind me now though. Little German me, if you did in fact end up existing through all that speculation and irresponsible humping, I hope the air splits at your every desire. And that’s all I’m going to say.
“Where’s Jay-Boss?” Tim asked then. “He comin’ over, er?”
“Yo, where is that Jay-Boss – let me call him,” Conny said.
“He said he’d be here at 5 so that means about 7:45 I said. I’m going to swing by and pick him up – you wanted to play golf, right?”
“It’s probably too late, man,” Conrad said.
“Let me go and get him,” I said and then I realized I did not have a car. Tim let me borrow his old Thunderbird thankfully and off I went.
As I pulled back into the grove of trees, ravines, lawns and foliage and tracked around the curving road, Jay-Boss slowly came into view. He was wearing a surgical mask for he was blowing the leaves off the lawn and he always wore his mask whenever he did lawn work. Jay Charles Georgio, aka Jay-Boss, looked up from his leaf-blowing finally, as he saw my car parked in the shade on the side of the road by his driveway. He walked over to greet me.
“Jay-Boss, what’s going on?” I said.
“What’s up man,” Jay took off his leaf-blower pack and put out his hand. He was a fairly big guy: ex-linebacker in high school (he’d let you punch his famously hard gluts to prove it at times), home run bopper in prep league baseball, at least for his first at bat, jacking one out all the way to roll down that hill way out there that led to the other fields. His hyphenated last name truly was Georgio-Hannishmacherstein and it was a running joke to see this name someday running down the sleeve of a baseball jersey. As a novel boater and an intelligent car guy, though, Jay-Boss had other plans.
“You’re the toughest guy I know,” Jay said to me.
I had to answer a few questions about my army stint as at that time I was still fairly fresh back.
“Let me know who you need clipped,” I said, “you’ll just have to help me dig the whole.”
“Gotta dig the hole, really man, c’mon.”
“Alright. I’ll dissolve it in acid or something. Hop in, we gotta go.”
We cruised around East Rochester for a while, smoking up. We switched cars to Jay’s Crown Victoria cop car. We passed a cop and Jay put out a broad hand above the steering wheel. The passing cop returned his wave.
“How do you like that Benny-boy?” Jay said with a smile as the sun beamed from his huge super trooper sunglasses.
“High under cover,” I said, “All right.”
As we rode on, we rolled down the windows to let out some smoke. Jay-boss was bossing some rap artist’s music very loudly, singing about how he was the biggest boss and I tell you it was quite true. We went to Pittsford Park passing a joint and reminiscing about how the first time I pulled up to his house right after I’d come home from the army and had that Red Mustang convertible; and how Conrad once he had to hose down (I wasn’t there for this one), but apparently, previously Conrad or somebody had emitted some gray linty substance in Jay’s dad’s pool out back one day. So the next time Conrad was over and wanted to go swimming he got the old, “I gotta hose you down, man,” followed by, of course, the sturdy stream of fresh freezing hose water.
I connected this to my old first sergeant Johnson, who upon any delay in managing a unit of soldiers would say, “Agh, you’re fuckin’ hosin’ me!”
We pulled out of the park then as we’d both become somewhat paranoid about an actual cop nearby and how we’d pass ourselves off as undercover detectives in an empty park. So Jay-Boss wheeled the Crown Vic. over to the golf course behind the old Murphy Dormitories at St. John Fisher College, and I unleashed to him some fresh details about Sam: how she liked to French kiss and bragged about the power and size of her tongue and would suck my fingers till she bit them and would laugh and say, “I love getting fucked…”
“She said that?”
“Yeah, she did. Isn’t that amazing.”
“Yeah man, better catch up with her. What’s your brother say?”
“He said it sounds like pretty standard dirty talk. I just never had one that was into that though – it’s quite shocking, enit?”
Happily we drove on and I reminded Jay-Boss about the first thing he had to try to do when I let him drive my Mustang convertible V8, when I’d first gotten back, how he had to punch it 0-60 through a 45 mph zone on Route 96 through East Rochester, winding up teetering closer to 85 before cruising to an effective brake test halt at the next light. We arrived at the Fisher golf course behind Murphy Hall and we popped out of the Crown Vic., like a couple of bosses in our shades on a late evening summer day. We greeted Conrad, Tim and none other than my cousin in town on holiday, Jefferson Eubanks, the unstoppable, classic salesman from Saratoga – best friends with Conrad since high school. We pulled out our clubs from our trunks and hit the course. Trouble was, the old geezer in the little box of a clubhouse wouldn’t give me the wave this time for some reason. I was an alumnus – hell they all were – as it were, I was simply the only one who’d actually graduated from that particular institution, the old Fish-Stix College that is.
So they all had to pay 11 bucks each; no biggie, I believe it still kind of put a hex on Conrad’s game. He was always somewhat bitter at these bourgeois prep schools. So I figured as I went back in the woods on Hole Three near the trails and I did a J while sitting on a magnificent rock. My mind opened up as the sun leaked a column through the trees and I mediated in nature for a while. Then it was my turn to hit. I swiped a long towering ball that curved just right, nicking the top of those huge oaks out there and torpedoing back in to bounce favorably down the center fairway. I was quite high.
“Lucky son-of-a-bitch,” Conrad said.
He had not smoked anything but a cigarette and was growing stressed. I couldn’t help but to burst into laughter as I watched him yank another sharply angled dud, going wherever it pleases but not going very far. I felt like this was the time of my life, like when I was back in finishing up at school at 26 years old and I’d skipped a day of legal writing class to walk around the snowy course and I’d smoked a bit while I walked and on that very hill of that 3rd tee I’d jumped up and clapped my heels together as though in a freeze frame for a memoir I’d never write: “Myself in My Twenties.” Look for it.
Anyway, we’d finished the 9 holes, with Conrad owing everybody beers, Eubanks making an unbelievable 40 foot put sliding the ball sideways up a slope, and we headed back to the baseball field to smoke a bit more in the dugout.
We talked about the time I’d flashed my military moves on Jay-Boss, putting him in a sleeper hold, and unfortunately, wrenching back.
“You still owe me for years of chiropractor bills, man,” he said, “it’s still fucked up back there.”
“How about the time you and Jay we’re back there in the woods smoking Ben’s old green bong and that jogger came bossing through. Tell that one,” Conrad said.
“You just did, Bruce. That jogger came out of nowhere – he didn’t care though.”
Jacking my jaw with these good old boys felt good. Took my mind off things for a while. We ended up meandering towards the doors of the dorm flirting with some coeds (I never understood by they call them that). The one girl was so cute she shied away frightfully down the hall at first glimpse of Jay-Boss bearing down and making funny smiley faces through that wire-class door window. There was no way they were letting us in, though I had lived there just a few years prior. So we went around front and that’s when Jefferson got the idea to relive the scene that nearly got him and Conrad both kicked out of Fish-Stix their freshmen year. We wheeled down to Wegmans and bought some eggs.
“Keer-Splat,” went the long arching egg, right on this guy’s windshield. “Kids,” he must’ve figured and kept driving.
Then there was the line drive by Eubanks smack into that nicer looking car which flipped a U-ey and ran Jefferson and Conrad down through the parking lot till they made cover inside the back vestibule of the dorms. I was up in the bushes. None of my eggs hit, and I began to conclude how wasteful and childish it all was: five guys in their mid-late 20s egging cars in the middle of the night?
The next day we went to Dick’s Sporting Goods to check out golf equipment and fishing gear for the summer, Conrad Jefferson, Jay-Boss and I.
“I can’t believe you spent your student loan money on a cop car,” I said to Jay, walking down the machete aisle.
“Yeah well, how else am I gonna get a cop car,” he replied. He picked up some binoculars and looked at me, then around the store. “These are nice.”
“I don’t know, become a cop?” I suggested.
“I’m not gonna become a freakin’ cop man, why don’t you become a cop. That’s what you need to do: just become a badass cop, man; you’ve got that military experience–”
“Buy those bi-nocs,” Conrad commanded Jay.
“Gotta have nocs, man. I got my house ‘nocs, boat ‘nocs, car ‘nocs, gotta have nocs.”
“Jay man, how’s your dad doing – is he still using you to pick up girls on the lake?” Jefferson inquired.
“Cha, says I’m his brother, or friend sometimes. Sometimes he’ll say ‘friend.’”
“So tell me about that lady friend of yours, Ben,” Jay said to me then as we walked out.
“Ben ruined it by texting too much,” Conrad said.
“Wait a second, which girl,” I defended.
“The one with a kid, let me see a pic of her?” Jay said.
I showed him the FB pic of her holding her baby on my phone. He tapped the screen and the thing zoomed in right past her sleeping baby to her pillow of cleavage. “Wow,” he said. He tapped it again and it went back to normal.
“That ain’t her kid man,” he said.
“Yeah, how can you tell?”
“I don’t know, I’m just trying to get your hopes up.”
We went out to get some food at Liberty Diner and then we went our separate ways. These were the East Coast Dreamers, a book title I’d chase with some scribbled half fictionalized memory-faded narratives every now and then – saw it on a T-Shirt once. Dynamite crew I had. Yet alas I decided it was high time to grow up and move on – get a goddamned job.
One fairly boring and hard-working year later, I’m totally sober and I’ve saved about four grand towards a house or something, so I explained to Tim-bo-bobz as we sat in the parking of an establishment called “The Klassy Kat” out in Henrietta, NY. I must say he looked a little nervous:
“Alright man…it’s not like were invading Normandy here,” I explained to him.
“Yeah man, I know, it’s just been a while since I’ve, you know, been–”
“Been close to a live girl scantily clad prancing around to a bunch of hip hop / soft core porn.”
“Exactly man. Plus, I’ve vowed to find a girl of substance man.”
“Speaking of substance – I think there’s a roach or a line perhaps of the old white devil around here somewhere.” I started clawing through the glove box.
“Come on man,” Tim, the spiritually revived freshly employed maintenance worker slash musician said.
“Joking man,” I said. “Let’s just get of couple of dances then we’ll go get something to eat, fair?”
“Alright. Ready to storm the beaches?”
And that we did. However, due to some raucous bachelor’s party somewhere, they must’ve had their B squad working, if not their C. The girl who crawled up real close in the lights was like some scarred 45 year-old alien. I twisted a sweat bill in her thong, squinting like I was in the desert. I felt bad. We left and I promptly reaffirmed my dedication to grow up, you know, continue saving, contribute to my Roth IRA and all that good stuff.
After all, I was paying off my student loan and helping kids learn English. I felt America in a way growing up with me and hopefully paying off some debt, too. The credit bubble burst, the housing market collapse, the auto-industry bailout, the daily delusions and scandals, all seemed to be breaking away slowly but surely for a new tide of austerity and responsibility. At least I, for one, was watching a hell of a lot more CNN. I was working out, too, getting pretty lean and mean again. My hair seemed to halt strongly at a nice stylish U recession and I was a working man again. No more asking Dad-boy to bail me out like Detroit, though at least in my case, that did seem to work a few times.
The days would go, and I would come up with new units and lessons, borrow material, return it, darting all around the school district pulling kids for their daily ESL.
I suffered a heart break: my then German fiancé called it off for the last time and dumped me via email. I’d asked her on the northern shores of Ireland, no less, just after dusk, and she’d said ‘yes.’ No, ‘sure,’ she’d said, ‘sure’ not yes. Doesn’t count. My date for the 8th grade freaking formal had said ‘sure’ and she’d ended up dancing with way more guys than just silly old me. But this time, alas, I was ready to leave this country and start afresh. Then she’d hit me with it. Let her go, Indy, let her go.
“But I’ve never had much luck with American girls,” I told my mom, sadly, at the chopping block in the kitchen.
“Ah, you’ve just told the universe you’ve never had such luck – so it is so. Cancel that thought and try again.”
She was all about this philosophy. I took an honest shot at it; found myself cancelling everything.
My boss tried, even to hook me up after I’d notified him that I would be not be moving to Germany and yes I’d like to stay on:
“What you need me to get you a job and a girlfriend?” he’d said. “I got plenty of single kindergarten teachers.” And he recommended a highly qualified teacher with multiple certifications who owned her own home, no less, named Ms. McDonald.
I always saw her talking so pointedly to her fellow teachers and at her students. It frightened me. Making it through the year, I had my kids sell lemonade and chocolate covered strawberries for charity. One student wanted to knock on Ms. McDonald’s door.
“Go ahead, see if she wants some,” I’d said.
Ms. McDonald was lording over a silenced room of reading children with her finger out pointed and about to withdraw but not trusting the situation entirely yet.
“Nah, she looks busy,” said my fifth grader.
Ms. McDonald is it? I don’t believe we’ve met…how are you? I heard you’re the one to…this I’d so rehearsed and now echoed in my head.
“Yeah you’re right,” she looks very busy,” I said. “Come on.”
June changed her tune quickly to July of that year, 2013, and my dear, distant cousin and his fellow Ivy League fiancé had decided to throw a lavish wedding in Manhattan. They were rich and had big plans so my hopes were that this one would happen, though I held off on getting a date. They were to be married right on the 3rd of July.
Amazingly, right before this time, I’d had some relative success with my floundering semblance of a writing career: published my first poem in an online litzine and remarkably secured a tentative deal to have my first book of poems published by this tiny independent publisher down in NYC. The title: Poems of Love and War, by B.K. Rose. Not bad right? Nice little ring to it. And it all came, largely, from raw experience, true grit and romance recorded. Anyway, they wanted me to do some readings in the city at these little clubs and coffee houses starting right around the time of my cousin’s wedding. What luck! And I’d always thought my poetry hand to be the lame one. Apparently, they liked my perspective and voice, a veteran who can write a bit and bring us back to the all too quickly forgotten scars of our young nation in the postmodern.
This was around the time this techno-punk alternative band was sort of blowing up in stores or in the blogosphere or what have you. I couldn’t get their music out of my mind so I’d be constantly half humming and dancing with an occasional snap of the fingers.
I snapped my fingers at the extravagant punch bowl at the wedding. I failed to realize that this would get me a drink served as I’d hoped on pouring my own. Apologies all around, I tipped the guy and tried to take a picture of myself before he offered to do that too. I ended up posting it on my page with the caption: “I’m not even really sure whose wedding this is…”
But I was in Manhattan for sure. They kept brining up extravagant smorgasbords of appetizers, entrees and desserts. I wished the guys could have been there. I danced with my little nephew a bit then made it down the service elevator with a load of dishes to have a smoke outside. We were in the West Village. Everything was lovely and lit yet strangely subdued in the night. The soft yellowish hue of the street lights and one passing taxi led my eyes to wander and soon I began to walk out. I crossed the street and walked further out into what seemed like a shifting leviathan of buzzworthy young indie pop stars of wondrous variety in the night.
“Excuse me, do you know where I am?” I asked a fast walking girl in a beret with a lovely satchel.
“I’m from the East Village, sorry,” she said, quickly excusing herself and crossing the street.
I found a bar with a corner seat open and I sat down for a beer. The couple around the corner was looking at me and eventually we got to talking. They were friends. One was this laid back, rad Chinese looking type. The other a blonde from Boston. They were having swimming pools – these aqua-blue pool colored sugary concoctions with umbrellas jutting out of pineapple chunks.
“I’ll have one of those,” I ordered. And I further inquired over the crowd, “Say, what’s in a swimming pool, anyway?”
“I dunno, chlorine and water?” replied the bald bartender.
Where’d we be without our New Yorkers?
I was starting to get a good buzz on when they took me clubbing.
“You’re pretty, really,” I told the girl from Boston.
“No I’m not; that’s sweet though,” she kept saying.
The next day I awoke in the hotel my family was staying at, thankfully, and I reviewed the night in phone pictures. I had danced with that rad Chinese guy, just for fun, at a safe distance. Then later on he was making out with boyfriend by the window in the streetlights and the Boston girl was in the shot giving a peace sign. What a shot of love, though, truly serene and true, in the moment, one in denim and white, the other in this rad red and black motorcycle leather suit. Only in America.
Anyway, this was the big day: I was to leave the hotel in a tie and suede leather jacket and link up with one Andrea Meadows up on West 55th St. near the park. Andrea was the chief editor at Danny-boy Books – a tiny coffee house / Indie book press wedged between two gigantic towers. On the website it seemed like a neat little joke that this little house could exist there. There was only one way to find out.
I kept calling my friends on the subway. No one would pick up though, except for Conrad, who was in a rush and simply said, “Good luck, Benny-Boy.”
The squealing train and all the people and tiny crevices of ware and dirt and faded advertisements induced a quiet resentment. I mean who was I anyway? If only I’d been born with perfect sight and genes for a lasting full head of hair, or the son of some rich and marginally famous Hollywood family – I’d have my own reality TV show by now or something. But I had faith in my work – I kept telling myself – even though, prose I figured for my stronger suit. My poems had, however, passed my professors eyes; received some decent reception, I think, at some readings back in Rochester. But the NYC critics, whoever they were, had yet to speak. Anyway, just getting something published, that meant something, after all that work and raw experience drawn, well it was kind of neat.
I espied then, a strawberry blonde-haired girl in classic black Ray-Bans, seemingly lifting a sly smile at me (or her book she was reading) through the blur of subway folk. I decided not to get caught staring and got off with a cheery whistle and a bounce in my step all my own. Activating my poetry voice within, I invoked one of the greats as I climbed up to the street: “So much depends…” Then I saw the big red carved blocks that made the LOVE sign on the corner of West 55th St. with the first two letters appropriately falling into the others.
I found the place around the corner facing the park. I entered the main door. There was no one at the counter so I went back through a maroon curtain: it was a shadowy room of amber hue, twelve chairs set up around a softly lit stage.
“B.K.?” A voice followed by a quick little face covered in a green cantaloupe face mask poked out of a curtained corner. “B.K. Rose, the poet?”
“Yes that is me; ‘tis I,” I proclaimed.
“Welcome – thanks for coming early.” She clasped her hands over mine. “Oh, let me take my face off,” she said, and scurried back into the corner.
“So you must be…Adrianne Meadows?” I said after her.
“Adrianna, yes,” she said from the little sink behind the curtain in the corner. “Welcome to Danny-Boy books! We just loved your poems – -the raw edge and voice of the war poems…”
“How about the love poems,” I ventured.
She came back out in a black and maroon doily sort of outfit. “Yes those too – very passionate and original. Makes for a nice contrast, right? Anyway, people should be arriving shortly, you can go ahead and set up on stage there, let me know if you need anything, water, anything.”
“I’m ok,” I said. “I brought my own water.”
“Ok so I will introduce you, then, when some people arrive, shortly and you’ll do your thing, capicse?”
“Yes indeed, so I’ll just sit here then,” I said.
I sat up on stage and looked at the empty chairs in the small room that looked like the library of an old English patriarch, yet varnished with a new chic appeal. I sat and looked at the empty chairs in the small room surrounded by tall shelves of books.
Adriana brought out some simple cheese and crackers. Then her husband showed up – a large windy-haired mustached man who must’ve been Danny-Boy himself. He went ahead and set up the wine and even freshly sizzled scallops materialized, cooked from somewhere nearby, as a few people started to trickle in and ponder around the bookstore.
Adrianna had explained that they had printed one hundred copies so far but that they expected to print 2,000 and they’d market it all over town. I snapped a pic of me and one of them on the one of those antique shelves.
I got it in my mind that first I’d try to wow them with the war poems then I’d have little interludes of love poems to sort of shoo away all that military terminology and the very vexed socio-political context, a few more war poems, then I’d deflate them again with some of the more mushy love poems, which I thought were so uncomplicated, reveling only in the Madness of Affection, that they almost became indirect clichés – not an easy feat let me tell you. If it weren’t for the war backdrop, and the fact that most lovey dovey stuff had been inspired by the hot long German affair, my work probably would’ve been totally dismissed. How to bridge that expatriate gap and fall truly for an American on my own turf now? Or was I simply too old and complex, yet my tastes still too European or somehow immature? I wondered briefly as none other than Jefferson Eubanks popped in the door.
He still wore his tux and on his arm he escorted a bridesmaid still in her dress. They sat in the back row with heavy eyes and she started clearly nibbling his ear in the semi-darkness as Eubanks pointed and winked up at me on stage: “Wouldn’t miss it for the world, buddy,” he said, “knock ‘em dead!”
I’d half forgotten he’d gone to the wedding. After all he was my cousin, and he never missed an opportunity to go down to “New Jack” as I’d used to call NYC jokingly around him: “There’s no greater state than the United States and in that State there’s no greater place than a little place I like to call New Jack City!” I’d sing through the speaker phone on my way to visit him, making my way through the toll and spotting that huge green sign directing cars to split off towards there.
“That’s great Ben,” he’d say, “You’re not going to New Jack though right? You know I live in Saratoga?”
Currently, I pointed back, thumping my chest and I gave him a thumbs up: “I’m doing it man, doing it down in New Jack…This town, baby!….is a make you town…” I tried to match his infectious salesman’s positivity, how he’d show up and make best friends with everyone in the bar. But there was no one there except him and his bridesmaid whose hands he tried to keep above the waist, at least for the time being.
Then finally they trickled in, or streamed in rather, single-file. Who? But none other than my entire family: they filled the rows in their Sunday best: my young sisters and my mom and dad, and a lovely dark haired professor, Dr. Bloomburg herself sat in the middle. I had hardly time to talk to her but she beamed up at me, those dark sparkling eyes. Some old man also muddled around back there, eating cheese and pouring himself the first glass of wine. Him I did not know.
After some brief socializing with the publishers and after a snippet of scolding from my dad for leaving the hotel without leaving a note:
“I didn’t think you wanted to go….”
Then the lights dimmed and as they did a girl shed the last of the daylight in under the curtain by the entrance as she came in and sat in the corner. As I began introducing myself and building the context around some of the first poems to be read, I tried to lean in and get a glimpse of the girl in the corner but to little avail as she wore a big hat with a floppy brim and dark sunglasses.
Midway through, I knew I’d have to switch over to the love poems soon, as the crowd winced and attempted their own civilian version of the 1000 yard stare, staring up at me with crinkled eyes, staring at the aging kid with a book of poems in his bloody hands.
“This is called ‘Imperial Commodity,’” I said, and began to read:
Mary-Kate and Ashley –
these were the names embossed on the hulls
of two of America’s Armored Infantry Fighting Bradleys,
At ease patrolling the streets with death and rock n’ roll
Charlie 22, doted, ‘Ashley,’ moved into her post
in the city of Karbala, by the canal.
Two young freedom-fighting Iraqis – ghosts
thought to be dogs in the thermals at first —
then came into view white-hot with a most
Ever discernible knapsack (of RPGS) indicating a hostile thirst;
the gunner Martin (a Georgia-Tech drop-out) snapped to it, forgetting to select CO-AX
and unleashing a 25 millimeter high-explosive burst.
Ribald and unwittingly we impale our cultural commodity hacks
Imperial young girls dishing out death in war-torn countries; smitten;
forgotten today, as we talk by the cafeteria in lax
Imposing hunks of steel, full pivoting technological apex —
Special Forces with eyes on the destroyed human apparition–
Said it was a paint mess.
As for me, my actions serve no merit for contrition
Hostile intent? yes, there always is, lest
I move the vehicle into position.
Lastly, men, we are on the cusp of securing our AO, yes?
Smoking a pack of reds on guard you read the famous imperial lines
from the box: “Veni, Vedi, Veci” – Human consciousness conquered
as the mortars rain and the radio blares wholesale death in lively advertisements and jives–
we came we saw we squandered.
By the end of this read, the woman in the corner stood up and moved towards the exit. The door opened again from outside as the woman pulled back the curtain that led to the coffee shop and the rest of the bookstore. Natural bright light captured the woman then and she snapped back around towards me. I half stood up but could only manage lifting my brows. Someone brushed passed the woman to take her place, causing her to drop her notebook and pen. I could see her then: red curling locks and gorgeous.
“How dare you,” she said under her breath.
And as she raised herself back up and turned in the last dying flash of light, she dropped her jaw – all very cold and sexy-like, very blasé, very New York – a come on and a fuck off all in one.
Who was she? A critic? A French model too good to be here? Was that Isla Fisher? I remember thinking. Holy shit no! It’s Sam!
It was Sam, I swear, as I live and breathe, or however the saying goes – it was uncannily, unthinkably, gorgeously her? And what was she doing at my Podunk family gathering in the Big Apple? What was she doing in New York?
She left in a hurry and was gone from the store.
“Ben – Ben…”
It was Adrianna. “Why don’t you read one of your love poems now.
“Ok,” I said. Let her go, let her go, let her go. She’s just a girl, man, just a girl, I kept saying in my head. Just a girl. And I saw Eubanks’ eyes setting on me and I got my shit together.
“Lovestruck,” I read, my finger on the word, and I leaned back and sighed along with a strange slight sigh from the crowd.
And I so began:
Spun and fluxed,
Lovestruck at first touch,
First sight, first scent,
First airs giving consent.
Wooing luscious obsession,
Governs the silent conversation…
The question, the dance,
The capricious gentle trance;
Swaying together in the night,
The feeling breathes like a child’s fright.
The kiss, when the mouths
Freeze in mid-speech—
(a slight clash of teeth)
Love-clumsy, to say the least.
“Excuse me,” I said and I got up and ran out. She was gone. Around the corner. Faded out. A block and a cab and a lifetime away.
I turned and there was Sam, the blonde now – of course — who’d come in when Isla Fisher had left. I’d scarcely noticed, but yes it was her this time, I knew it as I approached.
“Hey foxy!” she said. She tipped her sunglasses down. She wore this chic straw town hat.
“That was you in the subway, my god, what are you doing in New York?” I said.
I hugged and twirled her around right there by that big red sign on the corner, classic.
“Are these S&M sunglasses,” I said, removing them. I leaned back in her arms to gaze.
“Look like them don’t they?” she said. “Oh, you won’t believe where I’m working now.”
“Big publisher internship in the city?”
“Close, but no guessing – I must serenade you now. It’s my turn to show you New York. You have some family in the city right?”
She pranced her words about, seemingly half sure of herself yet fresh as ever, talking a mile a minute. Sublime ecstasies coursed through me as well, popping in jubilation while trying to grasp the reality of our little rendezvous in the Big Apple.
“Well who was that other girl – woman – the red-head who walked out with a strange snide look on her face?”
“Ah, my decoy,” she said, “Isla Fisher look-a-like, right?”
“I don’t know, I think she’s a critic. Well, maybe she’ll give you a good critique. Congrats, by the way. Any press is good press, right?”
“Yeah hey listen my family’s in there…”
Poking around the corner I saw my dad poke out and a few others leaked out onto the sidewalk and started looking around.
“Yeah, suppose I should…”
“Can you text them? ‘Ran into an old friend,’ something like that?”
“Ehh, we just better go explain. Come on and meet them. They’re kinda funny.”
“Ehh, I don’t do so hot with families right away. I was rather hoping to steal you away.”
“Miss Samantha Kelly does not do well with families? I thought you started one of your own?”
“Why because of that profile pic? Yeah that was my sister’s kid, silly. I’m officially as skinny as her now. Thank you very much.”
“Alright. Well, they’ve spotted us. Let’s go back in, or meet me by this big love sign in five, my darling.” And I bowed, with a fanciful gesture. “It’s up to you.”
She decided to stay there, provided I bring her a signed copy of my book and meet her in the park in ten. I don’t know how she construed that as a deal for me but suffice it to say I made it about five minutes. This was approximately the time it took to rattle of a few more poems, scribble a few signatures and field a few questions, one of which was from this old guy in the back by the wine and cheese who asked if I was going to win the Pulitzer: “You should win Pulitzer!” he claimed as I darted out.
“Where you going, Ben?” said my dad.
I’d forgotten my main purpose of going back. “I have to meet a friend,” is all I could make out and before I knew it, I was across the street in the park.
Sam Sam Sam Sam, sinkingly, I’d lost her once again.
I sat on a park bench overlooking the pond. And with but a couple breathes of breeze, her hand covered my eyes.
“Hello foxy,” she said in a baffling British accent.
“Hello,” I said. “I thought you said, ‘got any oxy’ for a minute there, like you’re going to dope me up and have your way with me.”
“You got any?”
She came around and sat next to me on the bench.
“Since when did you start saying ‘foxy and dishy’?”
“I’ve been to Britain.”
“They say foxy over there?”
“Some do. Dishy is specifically for guys though.”
She rested her head on my shoulder. Yes, she’d been to England to get used by her then freshly single ex-flame before me, or whatever it was that I was. Then briefly, there was some British guy. It was hard to keep track. Anyway, she’d managed to complete an internship at a fashion magazine, mainly blogging about fashion and setting up fashion shows from what I could gather; and now she was here in New York having parlayed from some crucial contacts back in London. She now worked at Katherine Allen, a new, trendy boutique clothing store across the street from Chinatown as she described it.
“Does Fifth Avenue run through Chinatown?” I said.
“No, well, we’re still kind of growing, but it’s a great little shop, starting to catch on. This dress is from there,” she said.
She wore this black and white stripped summer dress with those high jet black heels and chic sunglasses and that hat.
“Hey you wanna catch a movie or a Mets game?” I asked her then, recalling how awkward it had been the first time I’d asked her via text only a couple of days post sex.
This time she wrinkled the corners of her eyes at me behind those shades and off we went for the subway.
We were lucky to catch an afternoon game, getting splashed on the Jumbotron during the seventh inning stretch, passing as a couple. She pointed us out and kissed me on the cheek, then went back to flaunting her summer fashion. I elated in the aftermath of this as the Mets went on to win it in the ninth with a walk-off hit from some glorious new no-name kid. I decided I had to be a bit more prepared to kiss Sam and that I would go for something big as our little rendezvous would inevitably conclude. Besides, who knew when I’d see her again?
We took the train back into the city and she was growing tired, napping on my arm and sometimes texting her roommates, sparsely.
“You have to meet them,” she said sleepily, “We live right near the store by Chinatown.”
“Right, the Fifth Avenue of Chinatown,” I said.
“Hey, we’re pretty popular in Chinatown,” she said.
“Hard to compete with Little Italy, though.”
We got off in Chinatown and had some Oolong tea which cleansed and focused us like a drug, so we both agreed.
“Let’s go get a slice of pizza and see a movie or something,” I proposed.
“I got a better idea,” she said. And she went up to this group of African Americans which looked to be some kind of do-wop group. “I love these guys,” she said to me and bought what looked like a long receipt which they printed up right there. And that big red tour bus carved through the traffic and we climbed to the upper deck, Sam leading me, holding my hand. The announcer, a real comedian, said, “Make room for the lovers, the lovers.” We listened as she commented about how the buildings acted like urban canyons, coolly blocking the wind and yet basking in the sun’s fickle incandescence.
“This really is the best deal in town,” Sam said. “Gotta show you around on the cheap,” she said.
“Fine by me,” I said.
“And this is where Brooklyn begins,” said the announcer. “We keep going and we’ll hit a sign that says: Pennsylvania: Where America begins…”
We got off in Brooklyn and got a beer and a slice of pizza. The girl behind the bar said she was an actor.
“There you go,” Sam said. “You can do acting down here.”
“Yeah, well…I do have my bartending license,” I said.
“So why are you not a bartender?” she said.
“Cause I’m not a hot chick,” I said.
And we walked out without paying for our pizza. I didn’t realize it until we were busing through Manhattan. There were just so many people in that bar / pizza shop.
I had just hopped off on Canal St. and Sam had wandered off to the park overlooking the Statue of Liberty out on that little piece of New Jersey, when this guy tried to sell me a watch.
“No, what else? What else you want?” he said.
Ring necklaces with “Amore” on them, earrings, fake gems, rubies, silver and gold, pearls galore, like popcorn in a trench coat.
I picked up a bracelet from his little stand then. It had little peaches and apples chained together in sterling silver.
“Real silver fruit bracelet, my friend – 50 dollars,” he said.
“Twenty-five, no twenty,” I said.
“40,” he said, “Final offer, take it or leave it; I throw in T-shirt and certificate of authenticity – some real silver in that bracelet my friend?”
He’d used all the bargaining phrases. At least he gave me a neat little white box for the bracelet, which I chucked inside my inner jacket pocket.
I crossed the street and found Sam with a squirrel running up her leg.
“How cool is this?” she said.
I took a picture of her and a Chinese family took one of us and she let me post it, even, and people started commenting from way back: Norm and Bill and even Coco: “Looking right at home there Ben…real slick…” and: “Who’s your friend?”
Susie W. gave it a thumbs up, too. She was out there studying marine biology apparently, like she always wanted — so I gleaned from the picture of her kissing a dolphin.
It’s amazing, this social media thing. I’d thought that I’d sort of peaked at Nintendo and AOL but now I finally got it – and I must’ve just missed the cut at first — always the oldest of my generation, but, indeed, it’s like one big constant reunion.
“Way 2 go tank driver!” Bill commented.
And those guys, Chance, back home with his young wife in Montana, American Phil, back with his young family over in Florida, they all liked it. The Elmer Fudd look-alike, enjoying retirement in Tennessee, apparently. And Jay-boss and Conrad, Timbo, and all those true-blue east coast boys who hadn’t yet given in to the idea of constantly updating their status, well, I’m sure they would’ve tipped their hats. And for all my old friends that didn’t make it, I’d pour a little whiskey in the dirt.
“Got you a shirt,” I told Sam then, as I slid my phone in my inner jacket pocket with the bracelet. We strolled along the dock.
It was one of those ‘I love NY’ shirts. “Thanks,” she said, and she stuffed it in her purse. “I can hang it up in my window or something.”
“Do you realize that we didn’t pay for lunch?”
“Oh yeah, ha!”
“Who says there’s no such thing as a free lunch in NY?”
“I don’t know. Is that a thing?”
We re-boarded the bus and headed back uptown. Gazing out the window like a couple of kids, we held our hands lazily together, and she rested her head on my shoulder again.
We got off near Times Square and got some food and drink at a restaurant with an open table on the sidewalk on Seventh Avenue. We got into some fruitful conversation then. Her eyes danced over the light of her wine as I drank a beer.
“You know, I was almost related to Pat Benatar?” she said.
“Yeah, my dad went to school with her on Long Island.”
“I didn’t know your dad was from Long Island. Mine too.”
“Small world.” She laughed and drank her wine.
“So did he hit her with his best shot, er?”
“My aunt apparently blew it for him,” she said. “She was asking about him; said he was cute with his little Jew fro and everything.”
She started dipping bread in this aioli sauce they’d brought out.
“You’re the worst damn story teller,” I teased.
She reached out with her other hand and smoothed down the alfalfa sprout of hair in the back of my head. As she smiled and continued, I saw her white teeth awash in red wine as her speech grew alluringly coquettish.
“My aunt said he had a girlfriend, so. Besides, my last name would’ve messed up her image. I like hers way better. Mine just sounds trite and ditzy.”
“Hmph. How long have your parents been married?” I said.
“31 years,” she said. “And they’ve only had one fight.”
“And it lasted 31 years?” I said.
“How’d you know?” she said.
“My dad tells the same joke over and over,” I said.
“Wow,” she said, “we’ve got something in common.”
“Right. So Samantha, it’s just you down here, right?” I dared.
“How do you mean?” she said, chewing.
“No, boyfriend, no Mr. Big, no kids? Right?”
“Not right now,” she said. “Why, you wanna have kids?”
“Ehh, I’ve thought about it. But who am I? Who am I to propagate God’s single imperfection?”
“Ok, Adam,” she said. “Somebody finished an MA.”
“If only they could’ve respected each other as individuals,” I said.
“I know, right?”
“I can’t believe you’re here.”
“I can’t believe you’re here.”
We both drank dry red wine then, which was on special at that half-Italian half-Irish Seventh Avenue dive. We laughed and leaned in together as the night fell, our teeth red, like children at a wedding.
“So who is that kid with you in your profile picture?” she said.
“My nephew,” I said. “He wards off the bad ones. I’ll take him to the mall sometimes, too. But no, no kids of my own.”
“So you’re free to move down here and save me,” she said.
“You could say that.”
“Teachers get paid really well down here,” she said, “and pretty much, every third person needs to learn English.”
“So what do you think?” she said after a while.
“I think we’ve led very precarious lives. Finding you here now is quite charming, though. And who knows?…”
“No, what do you think??” she said again running her hand through her strawberry blonde hair with a little flip at the end.
We stood at the bar with Martinis now, and I smiled over at her. “Well, gentlemen do prefer blondes, right?”
“Let’s dance,” she said, tugging at my arm.
We finished our drinks in haste and went to dance together. They were playing that hot and heavy scandalous song that had all the women up in arms, with the exception of course of everyone in the club and the singer’s own wife, apparently. Closer and closer she danced around me, insouciant, relentless, alive. The flash of her under the lights froze her vixen visage in my eye as I’d spin her, hold her, shaking up and down, round and round. Every couple in there seemed to be trying to mimic us, or perhaps to reenact the scene of that one scandalous music video, but nobody got it quite like us. I caught her and she swept down and spun around and shot back up to slow dance for a while, defying our growing audience with a premature ballad.
“Let’s get out of here,” she said. “I know a place.”
But we didn’t make it past Toys R’ Us where me made out in front of a father trying to protect his children from soft core porn.
She ran her hand down my shirt.
“Wanna jump in the balls?” I said.
We fell in, briefly; then rushed back out into the night at the behest of some red-suited usher. Sam hooked my arm and we ran to the street where she hailed a cab with a whistle that nearly summoned Jesus.
“Top of the Rock,” she said to the cabby.
It occurred to me that we could’ve walked, but the cabby seemed pretty chill and he had that other song, that techno pop catchy song on in the cab, so we wheeled out into traffic right past this huge black guy saying, “If you da party people, I got the party stuff!”
She swayed against me in the cab and we had our little Hemingway moment. Her arms were cold. I put my jacket on her.
In the nick of time we’d made it before they closed up down at the base of the Rock, with Atlas shrugging ‘neath that iron globe. It didn’t even occur to me until much later, but we were literally backtracking over heartbroken ground for me. I did not tell her this, but my previous German love and I had been there a year ago and she didn’t go up with me, too costly. But she let me take her camera. I’d flipped through her pictures — couldn’t help it – only to see a thousand of her and this Asian fellow and some more of her and a German chap. She was quite the one for boyfriends, but she wouldn’t come up. For Sam, though, I gladly paid the 44 dollars for both of us to go past the mysterious floor of her favorite sitcom, you know the one, and up to the top with the words of Gertrude Stein, as they were displayed above the reception desk in a bronze panel, ringing in our ears: “’Tis the greatest sight I’ve ever seen, ever seen, ever seen…”
The greatest city in the world spangled out in endless stretches around us and for the first time that night I saw the girl I knew. It occurred to me then: how a guy like me could stick it out and come to be accepted by somebody once perceived as so blasé, so Chanel No.5 (though she did have a modest upbringing, didn’t she?), so Vogue-aloof yet straight-laced and sharp, and current, ever current – full in red in the night, in my arms, before me.
“Sam,” I said.
“Yes?” she said.
“You know, you met me at a very strange time in my life.”
“Hm, same here,” she said, stars in her eyes as she closed them and lilted up on her toes and back down to drift back and open them again.
“Will you be my girlfriend?” I said, and I took out the fruit bracelet.
She needn’t say a thing. She arched her bare heels, departing the leather, and kissed me slightly – showed me the pinkness of her gums.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I mean I am, a Yankees fan.”
“I think we can make an exception,” I said.
“And Harry Potter?” she said.
“That will have to be a later discussion.”
She laughed into me. The buildings stood like statues in the night, like classical nudes looking on. She arched her heels once again and in slid that devilish Irish tongue of hers to seal the night away with the juiciest kiss.