Everything the same. Everything different.

Humans need each other. We are sitting on the kitchen counter in her ‘grown-up’ house. It’s sometime between 3 and 5 am and she is one of my best friends. We live too far away from each other. We talk for hours and hours stopping only laugh hysterically (but silently) while we shove straws down the butt crack of our sleeping friend on the couch – a real couch that has a matching love seat in a living room that has a color scheme and coasters. We are back from a short night out on the town where-in we quickly became weary of the loud music and long bathroom line.
Who are we? we say…
When did we become so OLD?
I think the use of coasters has a lot to do with it.
We keep talking, whispering in the kitchen long after every one in the house has passed out – draped across couches and carpets. Because really when we are together we are still fifteen. Eating cold pizza and mixing sprite with vodka – just one more… a little one. Everything bears down on us; children, credit scores, sick family members, car payments, in-laws… but just for these few hours, while the real world has turned it’s head, we can time travel; that is power of old friendships.

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Fresh Dungeeees.

Running down the driveway to the big house with a bottle of beer and a mason jar, through warm rain that steams up off the asphalt as soon as it hits. Purple flashes stain the groaning slate clouds, and I am hoping he isn’t still holding the hedger. Father and son have taken cover on the back porch beneath the modern greek stucco pillars. We stand looking out over the sound, gracing the seats of the ornate outdoor furniture with our torn shorts and grubby gloves. We sip the beer and watch the electric purple veins strike like long vengeful fingernails the wooded islands across the water.

He kisses my damp shoulder, calls me beautiful, and says thanks for the beer. We sit for a while until it clears, watching the ferry boats and cruise ships drift  by;  watching the water steam up off the warm grass and pavement; the sun slicing through again.

This weekend we are headed across the water to places with exotic, and mysterious names; distant watery towns tucked into trees, hanging above docks, curled in on the down of soft pastures. We take the car ferry from Seattle. The weather has cleared and the sun cooks Seattle’s sensitive belly. The locals are all but naked in anticipation of the summer weather. 80 degrees with only a 20 percent chance of rain, to me, it feels like October.  A wave of salt and cedar slough off the looming coasts of small and little-known islands, soaked in exhaust and algea. I try to tamp my excitement, he points to shadow-green strips of land with roofs and decks poking out and says “Indianola, Kingston, Suquamish, Manitou, Vashon, Bainbridge….”   I butcher the old and poetic names with niaeve humor.. “Succotash, Indiana, Manatee…” These are not the familiar Spanish arrangements of my upbringing, but an older and unnatural tounge. I can’t keep strait which are Islands, and which are peninsulas. I wonder about the cold-boned and broad faced people from here. The trickling families, who stays and who leaves, how they get old and petrified with salt and rain like boney logs on the rocky shore.

Once off the ferry and out of town the roads become thin strips of pavement between walls of endless trees. Everything is cut out of the forest with the smallest possible footprint; the trees loom, as if glowering over the gas stations, corner stores, two lane highways, and bright little farm houses tucked apologetically in damp meadows.

His grandparents live in a little wooden house, on a clear-cut patch of grass at the edge of a cliff. “That over there, is Miller Bay…” Grandpa says, ” There is Suquamish, these guys here are getting busted for crabbing without a license… look at them… yeah… busted.” He points down at a little yellowing boat, ensconced in buoys, being approached by a police boat with it’s sirens on. The red muddy tide curls along the shore.

“The crabbin’ been good this year,” He says, “I’m getting some salmon this week… ’bout fifty pounds… gonna smoke it.” This leads to a debate between merits of Sock-eye versus King Salmon (subcategories I only know from menus) settling on the merits of the King, it having more fat, therefore better for smoking. This is all sounding like a foreign language to me, a girl from a patterned stucco suburb of Los Angeles. We fished once a year, at a penny-sized man-made pond  called “Trout-Dale”. The thin dead trout would then live in our freezer in plastic bags until mom threw them out.

Grandpa is buying the salmon from someone “in the tribe“, who has the right to fish the coveted breed. The tribe is a presence around here, a frontage road running along side the highway, a sub culture. There is an ‘us’ and a ‘them’ with a oval of impasse, relationships of convenience. They  mention “the Rez” in the same way that I would mention  “Van Nuys” or “Riverside.”

We wrap up our visit with cups of tea and sugar-free cookies. More driving through trees, across bridges, through towns, more naming of  beaches – thin and pebbly. The town of Indianola is absurdly charming. There is a stop sign, and a little red building called the Country Mart. Out front – like he was painted in by Norman Rockwell – a little toe-head boy shares an ice-cream cone with a curly-haired dog. We pick up a 12 pack of Rainer (that’s Washington-Speak for Pabst-Blue-Ribbon) and walk down to the dock, where teenage girls lean against the wooden railings talking to thin boys with fishing rods.

We are picked up by a shirt-less crew of Rob’s good friends, in a little speed boat and I work quickly to impress them with my wit, trying hard not to seem too “Californian.” I  hide my squeamishness when they pull up glittering cages of brown spidery Dungeness Crabs, clinging in panic, snapping their prehistoric claws with indignant rage. They seem so benign in the big glass aquariums at Pavillions, I can’t fathom how we are going to eat these things, they look like dinosaurs. We zip around to a few different buoys drinking beer, pulling up baskets of angry crabs.  The sun lighting us up, burning up the corners of our eyes, and drying yesterday’s storm.

In the  grassy yard of a little house, just up the road from the dock, we set up the BBQ and the crabs are boiled on the grass in an old beer keg with the top cut off, the screaming yellow foam brings a few curious neighbors, who ask about “our pull.” They eye me warily, they ask me where I’m from, and with proud grins, inform me with sweeping arms, that I am lucky to be here. I agree as I slice vegetables on a picnic table, help a little girl spell everyone’s name with a crayon, and take shots of  whiskey. I watch and learn how to crack crab on a pile of newspapers.  Finally the sun sets around 9:30, the fire-pit is lit, and we drunkenly eat crab salad and grilled vegetables. Someone turns on “The Talking Heads” which spawns a sing-a-long. The kids fall asleep in the master bedroom, and I am the only one with a sweater on, as it has fallen below 70 degrees now. The air, the still and shore-clean air holds the sweatness of the grass, and the fresh crab, and the crackling fire-pit. I want to bottle this smell and keep it on a shelf, and whenever I am feeling lonely or sad, I could just open the little bottle and sniff the cap, go back in time to an unfamiliar homeyness I felt, right then.

Rob’s Crab Ceviche/ Salad:

Ingredients: 

15 Fresh Dungeness Crab boiled in an old beer keg

1 head of crunchy purple lettuce

1 head of Garlic

1 jalapeno

1 thai pepper

1 purple onion

2-3 heads of fresh uncooked corn

1 can black beans

limes, lemons, vinegar, oil, salt, pepper, and hot-sauce to taste

Directions: Crack crab on sheets of Newspaper; chop all vegetables; put everything in the same bowl. Enjoy with beer, and friends, on tortilla chips or with a fork. 

I know there are hot dogs in heaven.

I am ten years old, visiting grandma and grandpa for the first time on my own. I take the train to Sacremento, they great me at the station standing side by side. Grandpa Owen with his hat and cane. Grandma Maura with her tent-like lavender blouse. I ride in the back seat of his big blue cadillac, sinking into the velveteen apolstry. The air thin and hot. Always too hot. He drives as if the thing is made of glass, not detroit steel. He sings to me in his thick brogue, In Dublin’s fair city…where the girls are so pretty… I first set me eyes on sweet Molly Malone… he smiles at me through the mile-wide rearview and tells me he’s going to ship me to Ireland to be Rose of Tralee. I think he tells all the grand daughters that, but it feels like he is telling just me.

The house is like a balm. I can almost see through the slats of the tall wood fence. We fumble with the latch on the dutch-door. The side yard is shaded by a two-story maple, the interlocking bricks have the tiniest hint of moss. The ash-tray on the patio table is half filled, and the ceramic garden goose in a light blue bonnet, sunk deep in the muddy planter,  gazes across the wild lawn at the junipers, where the leprechauns live. Grandpa brought them over from Ireland in a trunk, But they don’t like it here, grandma says, it’s too hot, they’d rather live by the sea. She uncrosses her legs, looking at me through her lashes she flashes a wink, so quick, you’d think you imagined it.

The  noon- sun beams just-so through the paint-by-number glass decoration, suctioned to a small square pane of the side door. The carpet, long and green gets between my toes, and hides chocolate crumbs. Its worn flat and bald where everyone shuffles in, dumping their purses and back packs on the flowered couch. It’s quiet without my thirteen cousins and 8 or so Aunts and Uncles, except for the steady clock,  but the air buzzes like after a shout.

I stay in “the mices” room (the nickname for my mom and my aunt Sheila, always rolling around in a trouble-some pair). Always choosing the bed by the window. My mom’s old bed. She slept here when she was my age. The closet is full of sweaters in all colors and sizes, toys that fall apart, it smells like old things. The hall closet is the most interesting, full of thin creamy linens, and pinging china. I know the priest is coming for dinner because the good plates are out and the whiskey.  The kitchen is hot with steam from the potatoes. She is making turnips for me, my favorite, after reading a book about a girl named Molly who had a Victory garden and  hated turnips. I had to ask my mom what turnips were, I don’t think she knew much more than I did about them. But grandma knew all about victory gardens, and turnips. It turns out, I liked turnips: boiled, salted, and mashed with parsnips, onions and carrots.

All the pictures on the walls and on the shelves are peeling away, or wrinkling. The people’s faces are just a collection of black and white specks. Thats Aunt Nan, and Pat, there is your mother and your Aunt sheila. Thats Aunt Deb at her wedding, thats my brother Billy, he died in the war, thats me on the Queen Elizabeth…thats a boat, we called it the QE2, a very fancy boat.

 I like the way she takes a breath in when she says “yes” while she is remembering something…Yes…(breath-in) yes, yes. Her eyes will flick around  and she will nod and lick her lips, thats when I met your grandpa. I went to Ireland, and met him at confession, now THERE’S a place to meet a nice boy. She points at me with her wooden spoon, hot water and potato bits flinging onto the gold-flecked linoleum. It bubbles in places, making nice long creaks when your trying to get to the candy cabinet. If we all lined up, all the cousins and held out our hands and closed our eyes and said “please” she would go down the line and pour from a 1 pound bag of M&Ms into our outstretched hands. It was like getting communion but better,  and you had to cup your hands real tight so they would slip through your fingers. By the time you were done, you had sweaty multi-colored palms, your mouth raw with sugary milk chocolate.

She showed me how to knead the dough for the irish soda bread, her fingers, pale and already warping under the knotted pressure of arthritis. Push it back with the heal of your palms, then fold it over, getting flour in all the air pockets. then you make a cross on each loaf, father, son, and the holy ghost. We’d eat the dough off our fingers, salty and sweet.

In the morning I would climb into her bed after grandpa went for his walk, with our books and tea and toast, dipping the corner of the toast triangle in the molten belly of the egg: sitting up-right and decapitated in one of her many egg-cups. In the afternoons we would hang up her “un mentionables” on the clothes line, large flesh-colored silks that I could use as a hammock if I dared. I would poke around in the yard, sticking my face unside the large  hollow globes of hydrangea. They came out different colors every season. Sometimes punches of blue and lavender, sometimes pale pink and red. If it was a good season, yellow and white daffodils would spring up from bulbs, the fairies plant them and use them for tea-cups, she told me, and she would find me hiding in the spidery caves of the junipers, waiting for fairies with a handful of daffodils. They won’t come out when you’re here sweetie, lets go get a treat and let them have tea. We would go out to the market and stop at the bakery for an eclair or a raspberry swirl, watching the wild chickens strut around old town. They belong to everybody and nobody, they are wild chickens, they tried to kick them out, but they didn’t want to leave… no we can’t eat them. Then we would wrap the roast in twine and watch Murder She Wrote  while it cooked. Angela Landsbury was her hero, I think.

In much later years, we would break her out the back door of the nursing home on Foothill  at and 35th  at dinner time (3 pm) in a wheel chair with her big sunglasses on to go get a handmade pork tamale at the taco-truck across the street. Braving the deadliest  cross walk in the world, for what is sure to be the fluffiest tamale north of Lompoc. She loved the melon agua fresca.

One of the last things she ever asked me for was a hot dog. I’m not hungry but I could always go for a hot dog.  It’s such a simple American thing. A tube of beef parts (if you’re lucky) wrapped in a white flour bun, doused in relish, mustard and ketchup. But for her it symbolized an elementary part of life, living in the burroughs of New York City, nestled in between jews, italians, and puerto ricans, the lowest common denominator is a hot-dog.

I wish I could have gotten her a good old-fashioned dog. I hope that when I’m taking my last breaths at a catholic nursing home that someone I love will bring me a “mission dog”. Something so foundational to my young-adult personality. An item that that you can only get between the hours of 11pm and 4am roughly between 16th street and Ceasar Chavez, the smell of grilling meat and onions will guide you to a small man, next to a rolling grill, wrapping bacon around a meat tube, grilling onions and jalepenos, You wan onions? Si. Peppers? Si. You wan mustard? Si. Ketchup? Si. Mayo? No, no mayo pro favor,  I have a thing with mayonnaise. .. and he shrugs, hands me the foil wrapped savior, and asks for 4 dollars.

How well can you know a person? I know her, my grandmother, like I know the sea-glass bottles she kept on the kitchen window sill, and the soft way she smelled, and the way her breath would whistle through her teeth, or how she would slap your leg if you told her something biting and funny. I told her once that she was like a compfy couch, a compliment not appreciated by any woman, and for good reason. It was possibly my first metaphor, misguided and naive. What I was trying to say was that you could curl up in her and feel safe, steady. But how well do I know her sadness and her anger? How well do I know what she thought about her life, the choices she made, mistakes, guilt, loss. She looked up at me, on my last day with her, shortly before her hot-dog craving, It was never all that great, she said. This is something you never want to hear from an old person. We want to know that it’s great to get old, to live a long life with intermittent pain and joy. We want to know even on our heaviest days, thats it’s worth it.  All I could offer her was some juice and a scone. Even if it wasn’t ever all that great for her, it was great for us, maybe she just couldn’t see it and it still is great for us, and it will always be great. Dancing an amateur version of the irish jig after we’ve all had seconds on dessert, irish coffees, and gone through the 7th bottle of wine, and the last slice of yorkshire pudding (which is neither a pudding, nor from Yorkshire), laughing like idiots… thats great. It’s moments like that, making it all worth it, getting us out of bed in the morning. We wouldn’t have any of it, if it wasn’t for her, picking up a cute guy after confession one sodden afternoon in Tralee, Ireland.

Cinco de embarrassing

Lets say that you’re a guy.

And you’re not great looking, but you have a nice sense of humor and an interesting job…

Lets say you meet a lonely waitress…  and you charm her enough into going on a date with you. Maybe you take her out to a nice greek restaurant in Malibu, you have easy conversation (including details of your last anger-management course… yikes) and you even share a kiss. But a few days later after she never calls or returns your texts, you remain confused. You think to yourself: But I had such a nice time, we really hit it off, why wouldn’t she call me back? 

Well, guy, she’s just not that into you. So, DON’T COME INTO HER PLACE OF WORK, WHILE SHE IS WORKING, AND CONFRONT HER ABOUT IT. It’s sad, and not very classy, also, I’M WORKING, I don’t have time to let you down easy or massage your ego. I’m just going to notify security and have them escort you out. Oh, and yes, I DID enjoyed the free meal, up until you told me about how you locked your last girlfriend in a bathroom for three days..”she had water…”

And yes, we did kiss, as you leaned over to unlock my door and attack my face with your mouth. 

And another thing, please don’t come back the very next day and announce to every one that “you happen to be working down the street and your just here to have a beer with some buddies…jeez.”

There is never a dull day. Those who say they are bored are just blind to all the weirdness around them.

Speaking of weirdness, Cinco de Mayo is one of the most overrated party holidays ever. Anyone who works in “service” is usually forced to wear something embarrassing and up-sell “special house margaritas”. Regular restaurants are festooned in pinatas, marachas, and  red, white and green streamers. The weird part is, most of the mexican people in California are working on Cinco de Mayo, serving white people tacos. White people, drunk on mexican tequila and  dressed up in sombreros and ponchos vomiting all over the streets.

Here is a non-douche white person’s guide to celebrating the the Battle of Pueblo while beating the crowds:

1. Dress up like “daytime” Selena: cowboy boots, high-wasted jean shorts, mid-drift peasant blouse, and Wrangler jacket… very festive.  Don’t forget the large hoop earrings, middle part, slicked back hair, and lip-liner.

2. Make a “Mexican” Coffee:

make a cup of coffee (I use a one cup drip and some Yucatan single origin coffee beans from Primo Passo, because I am a yuppie poser and a total coffee snob.)

put about 1 oz of kahlua in it

and a splash of reposado tequila (wink)

some ginger powder

a dash of nutmeg

shake the almond milk so it is really frothy… pour that on top

toss a dash or too of cinnamon on it

twist an orange rind.

drink.

Put on game face.

go to work.

3.  For Lunch Go to El Pollo Loco and order the “EL Traditionale” burrito:

It’s actually not bad at all, there are real beans, real rice, decent chicken, fresh avocados and has your daily in-take of sodium covered…. for two days.

4. Watch Nacho Libre: Nothing is more authentic mexican than Jack Black dressing up like a mexican Monk running around in spandex with a crappy latin accent, “I am not listening to you, you are crazy.”

5. Head out with some friends ( if you have any) to the local Irish pub…   it will be quiet, and full of old alcoholics, kind of like a large smelly living room. Don’t ask for a margarita because there is no way the bartender has rock salt or “sweet and sour”.

Revisions

The next two stories are ones that you may have read before in their first or second drafts but I took ’em to the butcher, then the car-wash, then the jeweler, then sent them out in an envelope across the country. As I signed the mail receipt, I felt like a parent  dropping her kid off at college. Going over again and again, all the mistakes I may have made, what I could have done differently.  I almost shouted “call me when you get there… don’t eat with your elbows on the table…play nice with the other manuscripts!”

Settle in, it’s a long one.

That Time We Accidentally Killed Louise

We came rattling down the mountains, in borrowed cars. Steel sleds packed shoulder-to-shoulder with vibrating young bodies, happy to be squeezed together, skin lighting up.

They knew who we were; they had heard how we put Howie Barnes in the hospital with a cracked spine after he jumped me in the parking lot of a 7-11.We shut down the school with smoke bombs and spray painted giant cocks all over the inside walls of the gym, the lockers, the windows of the coach’s office. We got suspended, but we didn’t really go to school anyway… we had to help the janitor clean up the cocks, or else be fined. We didn’t have any money; we didn’t have anything but each other. We grew up on bologna, mayonnaise, and soda.  We tattooed each other with sewing needles and pen ink. We shaved our heads, and paid the homeless schizophrenic guy to buy us booze. We stole our mother’s cigarettes. We liked the bare thinness of snowy air, and the pale silence of unheated mornings in abandoned trailers, sick and foggy from the malt liquor and speed. We had loyal dogs, mutts, who would run a hundred miles if we told them too.

They knew we were coming down for the show; one of our guys, Daren, had slept with one of their girls, a pudgy blonde named Louise, and her boyfriend Kelly wanted to kick Daren’s ass, so he had to come up against all of us. We played cassette tapes on the way down, mostly Slayer.  Lauren was my girl at the time; she was just a freshman, her hair long and brick red. She brought bottle of schnapps stolen from her parents. She wore my ‘Youth of Today’ shirt, cut off the stomach, her egg-colored belly glowing against her back denim shorts.

We drank 40’s of beer in the parking lot of the show and passed around a couple bottles of cheep vodka, seeing who could take the longest pull, I got up to 5 seconds before I gagged. The sky down here in the city was a blank navy blue with a few yellow spots.  We were used to the mountain sky: a sugared wet blanket, a lid on the ridges, like incisors. Down there in the flats, never dipping below 50, the asphalt was warm beneath us, but we hunched over anyway, sucking on Pall Malls, with our hands in our pockets like it was cold; we didn’t know how else to act. Our girls gathered around pocket mirrors taking hits off the schnapps bottle, rubbing black pencil around their eyes and speaking to each other in hushed song, like a distant carousel. They were growing more and more into a mysterious tribe; painted and secretive.  But sometimes, late at night in the back of cars, or laughing they were still the girls we used to know in school. Jessica was Pete’s. girl, he was our biggest man, so she was the queen of them. Short with big tits, heavily made-up. Her blond hair dyed black and cut against her scalp, except for the long trail of bangs framing her face. Our moms used to live in the same apartment complex. But when we were in 7th grade her mom married a motor-home salesman and they moved to his big house on the North end of the Lake.

We crushed the beer cans and threw them around; Moving through the place was like swimming in a pool of wet t-shirts. Everyone stared at us right in the eyes, but we didn’t look away. They knew who we were, in our starched collard shirts and close-shaved heads. Lauren pressed against my shoulder, gripped the pocket of my jeans, her breath quivering, I thought she might run.

We were fables, like giants, traveling around the room on breath. Macho Kelly came out of the crowd towards us, he asked who Daren was, and we all stared strait ahead at him. He asked again, and our biggest man, Peter came forward,

We’re all Daren,’ he said.

‘Then I’ll have to kill all of you.’ Kelly said. He rolled his shoulders back, his evenly shaved head coming up to Pete’s nose.

‘Good,’ Pete said, ‘ Because we can’t live with ourselves after fucking that fat fucking pet pig of yours…’ a little bead of sweat jiggled down his chin and onto the clean chest of macho Kelly’s white t-shirt. Kelly grabbed Peter’s throat with his left hand, his veins popping out the side of his head, his grip barely made it around Pete’s jugular. Peter just smiled and laughed, pushing his throat into Kelly’s struggling grip. Fat Louise stood behind Kelly, her arms folded, her face was red like she was holding her breath, cheeks wet. No one knew what to do. Kelly finally reached up his right hand, attempting to cover Pete’s wild mouth, but Pete bit down hard, and blood spurted out, and like a dog he started shaking his head and locking his jaw down on Kelly’s hand. Kelly went white, his mouth dropped open and his eyes rolled back as Pete kept shaking his hand around in his mouth, and blood was, all over his face. Louise screamed and launched herself at Pete, which prompted drunken Jessica to launch herself toward Louise. Both sides folded in around the girls kicking and screaming. I just started flinging bodies out of the way looking for the girls.  I could hear wheezing and growling and screaming, and the shuffling of bodies all swollen with adrenaline. In a moment sirens flashed outside, and we made for the fire exits, toward the back parking lot. Our eyes swimming, our skin raw, throats scraped open with gasping.

We all met at the cars, squatted and leaned, breathing, checking for blood or busted bones. Coming down after a fight, everything sounded sharp, my limbs begging me to run. Lauren, sat on the bumper of my car, arms folded, looking down at her shoes. I called to her but she wouldn’t answer. ‘I want to go home,’ She said.  One of the girls, Dee, had some hair pulled out and was bleeding pretty bad; it poured down her face and blended with her dripping make-up.

‘ Oh fuck you little girl!’ Dee said, ‘I wanna go home…’ she fake sniveled, ‘ where the fuck were you?’ pretending to rub her eyes with her fists, giving the effect of a zombie clown, ‘ while I was getting scalped by a valley whore?!’ But she was laughing and leaning on her friend who stuck a bar napkin in the seeping gash, and laid her down on the back seat of my car, an ’86 Cutlass, my grandfather’s hand-me-down, I could have it, he said, as long as I did all my grandmother’s grocery shopping, and took her to her doctor’s appointments.

Shut up Dee,’ I said, ‘ Don’t get blood on my car.’  Lauren put her finger up to the corner of her eye, and stood walking around so her back was to me, her red hair falling in a neat orange column around her.

Our big man, Peter, came back minutes later, with asphalt ground into his shoulder and a blood pouring out of his nose, mixing with Kelly’s blood that circled his mouth. He hovered for a second on the outside of the circle; he put his hand on Daren’s back. ‘Louise is dead,’ He said and his voice cracked open, ‘And we need to get the fuck out of here.’ His words clogged with blood and spit. We all looked at Daren, the one who’d fucked her in the first place. He put his head down sort of nodding and scuffing the ground, his mouth opening in a silent cry.  Lauren gasped and lifted her head, I reached out to her but she turned her shoulders, ‘Just an accident,’ I said, ‘ she was just stupid to get in the middle of the fight.’ My face was turned to Lauren, but I said it for all of us. For Daren, who was now squatting with his head between his knees, rocking back and forth.  Pete turned his face up, rinsing his mouth with a warm beer.

There was a gag and a cough from in between the cars where Jessica, the big man’s girl, sat leaning against the rear wheel, nursing a busted-up knee. She leaned up on her palms, clearing her throat.  There were little black tears coming off the corners of her eyes, towards her hairline, she looked like an Egyptian painting. She held her arm out with her palm up and one of the other girls silently passed her the bottle. She didn’t say anything, but she swallowed the last half-inch of vodka, and leaned back against the car, her breath catching unevenly in her throat, like a toddler too upset to speak.

‘It’s not our fault,’ I said whipping around, I pointed at Peter ‘ But they’re going to blame you for this.’ Peter was picking gravel out of his arm, ‘Let’s get the fuck out of here,’ He said ‘Before this gets really shitty.’

The cops shut down the main drag coming out of the venue, no doubt, looking for two packed cars full of busted up teenagers with addresses in the Sierras. So we backed the cars out of the delivery entrance, no headlights, and took the long way around the outside of town, behind the Costo and joined up with the 99 until we hit the pass.

Jason kept saying that he probably had some broken ribs, ‘No man, I definitely broke some ribs or something.’ I thought about what other kids our age where doing tonight. Thursday, maybe the preps and the sporty kids were having a party after a basketball game, down on the lakeshore, with a fire, and some beer. Every year there was always a girl or two that got drunk for the first time ever and drowned in a foot of water a few yards away from her friends on the beach. She was always a nice girl, from a good family, with good grades, and a soccer scholarship to USD. You never saw some greasy skinhead drowning in a foot of water or puke.

That week with the janitor, painting over the graffiti cocks we made on the walls of the gym, was the most fun I ever had in school. Jason and I were assigned to repainting the mural of the school mascot, the steelhead trout, which didn’t need much help looking like a cock anyway. It took the better part of the week; first the primer, then the base coat, then we stenciled in the design with charcoal and butcher paper, then the colors for the fish, layered lightest to darkest. The Janitor, Will, was a nice looking Mexican dude in his 30s, he must of thought we were such spoiled punks. He taught us how to get perfectly strait lines for the lettering using tape and sponges. He didn’t even get mad when he found us in the paint closet, huffing the thinner. He just told us to ‘get the fuck out of there and get to work. I am not a god damn babysitter.

We crawled back up the mountains silently that night, except for the radio. Pete, and Jessica in the back with Jason who braced against the passenger side door, a cold can of coke pressed up against his puffed face, wincing every time we hit a pothole. Jason’s girlfriend Dee crumpled on the floor of the car, with her head in between Jason’s thighs, the saturated napkin still stuffed in the clotted hole just above her left temple.   She drifted to sleep, humming. Chugging slowly up the two-lane pass draped along the slate shoulders of the familiar ridges, I smoked my last cigarette and thought of what we learned in physical science in the 8th grade. How it took a billion years to make these mountains – earthquakes and lava, and rain and snow and glaciers the size of cities cutting the lake into existence.  And now I am driving an ’86 Cutlass against their ancient belly pausing only a few times so Jessica can vomit at a turnout. Lauren sat silently in the passenger seat, responding to nothing, face pressed to the glass, her breath making a little cloud. As soon as I pulled up to her house she opened the large steel door letting in the sharp pine-clogged air. Took off at a jog, arms strait, hands balled into fists, hair wild. Her parents were on the porch, arms folded. Her dad made a few steps towards us.

‘Fucking prep! Stupid poser pussy!’ Jason yelled out the back window, and hurdled the coke can into the glowing bay window of their house.  A satisfying shatter followed us and I peeled out of their long, smooth driveway.  In the rearview mirror I saw her dad taking off after us, in a sort of sloppy gallop, I laughed and beeped my horn twice.

‘Didn’t fucking need that bitch anyway,’ Jessica said, ‘ fucking pussy ass prep whore.’

I had expected Lauren and her parents to go running to the Police within minutes, but no cars waited for me at home, nobody ever heard about it again, and I still saw her around. She would give me a smile but at the same time a headshake. Her red hair waving around, nose crinkled up like a cat bearing its teeth. She looked more like a kid than before. She never gave back that shirt.

Later that spring, Louise’s brother and Macho Kelly put our big man Peter in the hospital.  They ran him down one night in a big Ford pick-up just as he was leaving his job at the garage. His skull nearly crushed, and his intestines scrambled. They had to remove some of his organs from his body cavity and place them in what looked like a medium sized fishbowl next to his bed while he healed.  He was in the hospital for four months; a new landlord hauled his trailer off the abandoned lot in early summer. No one knew what became of his two rottweilers; we guessed the police just hauled them away too. About a month after that, Jessica took up with me. She needed a place to live and I had an old fishing tackle shack on the south end of the lake. I didn’t blame her, Pete wouldn’t be able to even shit right for years. She was devastated by the loss of her boyfriend and her dogs, one of which was a Christmas present from Pete the previous year.

I worked at the convenience store down the road the “Beer ‘n Bait,” did a good business in the summer. My boss owned the shack, and let me live there if I took three dollars an hour, instead of five, and I promised to fix up the dock, which was rotted almost all the way through. I felt bad for Pete, but nobody harbored any sense of injustice about it. We spent that summer by the water, or inside in bed. She grew her hair out, the black dye fading into a pale grey, then a white blond in the high hot sun. She waited tables at a Mexican restaurant in town, saving her tips so she could go to beauty school.  Scotty, and Jason were sent away to troubled youth training camp by their parents. Daren and his brother went down to the valley to work for their dad’s construction company. Most of the girls hung around taking summer school and waitressing. Dee got pregnant and moved in with Jason’s parents; they had a baby shower for her. When he came home from camp later that summer, he was sold on the Army, and enlisted in October right after his 18th birthday. Dee’s hair never quite grew in on that one patch; it remained a rumpled little divot in the skin. For years, every time I saw her, in the market or at a party I would peer at it, and think about her crumpled in the back of my old Cutlass laughing with a bloody bar napkin stuck to her head.

Jess would visit Big Pete in the hospital almost everyday, out of guilt really. Daren, Jason and I only went to see him once. We stood back against the walls of the little white room, banging into rolling equipment, searching the drawers of the cabinets for anything valuable. We ended up with a lot of medical tape, and stitching needles.  He rambled, half lucid, about getting everyone together, going down there and taking Kelly down, ending it, finishing off that retard family for good. But no one really cared enough, I think we were all tired of it, or maybe it was just the summer that made us want to forget. He could have died, and it would have been easier for everyone. When Pete could finally walk again he moved in with his grandmother. She had a two-bedroom condo in a well-groomed community where the median age was 75.  His skin took on a funny gray tinge, his chest had narrowed and become concave.  A large pink scar crept from the crown of his head, behind his left ear, down to the outer edge of his collarbone.  People just never get right after a head injury like that. I would dream about his guts, all scrambled in a jar, like a pink and gray pasta salad, I would wake up sweating and chewing my lip. Jess would drive Pete to physical therapy, always going over there for lunch first. I hated this, I would protest, and threaten, ‘ We both know he can’t fuck me,’ she would just say ‘I’m going, and you can decide while I’m gone if you’ll let me in later.’  I always would, and sometimes I would sit like a pouting kid in the back seat of her car as she would chauffer Pete around, the two of them always talking or switching the radio.

We were very drunk one late afternoon in September, before Pete was out of the Hospital. We drank ‘Nickel Creek Red’ which cost two dollars a bottle with my employee discount. We tried to fish off the sinking, rotting dock with some old poles, but ended up just throwing smooth rocks against the darkening surface.

‘This whole valley used to be a glacier’ I said.

I heard there is still ice at the bottom.’ She turned her round face towards mine; there were purple stains on the edges of her lip. The gold in her hair like fiber optics. I kissed her.

I wish I had paid attention in science class,’

You didn’t go to science class.’ She teased and pushed my chin away.

I thought of that last day of painting with Will, the Janitor. We were so high from huffing paint thinner when he caught us. We finished the last two letters in ‘heads’ for the mural then started taking the blue tape off, one long strip at a time. We all stood back at center court when it was done, looking at the giant fish with the gapping jaws and spiney fins with the words ‘ GO STEAL HEADS’ across It’s speckled flank. Jason was the first one to start laughing.

What?’  I said.

Yeah… what’s so funny? You fucking stoner…’ Will clipped him up the side of his head. Jason backed away laughing stopped for a moment, stood up and screamed ‘GO! STEAL! HEADS!’ pumping his fist up towards the ceiling. That’s when we all lost it; I never laughed that hard in my life – cheeks burning.  Will sat down with his hands on his knees and his fingers pinching his nose, his shoulders jumping up and down. If you didn’t know he was laughing, you’d think he was weeping. GO. STEAL. HEADS.

Sitting on the edge of the dock my feet dipped in the water, the skin white with green veins. Jess’ legs dangle just above the surface, she points her toes and makes little rippling circles.

I think I’m gonna be a janitor when I grow up.’ I said.

Don’t be an idiot.’ She said.

Nah, I’m serious…’ I threw a rock strait down into the water; it splashed up onto us, momentarily halting her breath with cold.

Why not just work for your dad?’ She took a pull from the wine bottle and wiped her face.

Because I’m not really cut out for selling ski’s and tennis rackets.’ I motioned to my shaved head and the three-inch scar across my nose.  The air was cooling now as the tiny bright sun hit the serrated ridge of the bowl. The first stars came out behind our heads, the gray blanket of insects shook out around us.

You sell beer…’

‘Exactly…’

She shook her head and pulled her feet up beneath her.

What are you cut out for then?’ She asked, ‘Just getting drunk and beating people up and living in a shack your whole life?’ She was trying to sound light, but I knew she was getting at something, that I didn’t want to get at just yet.

Uh, I don’t know. Sure. Is that job available?’ I still found joy in frustrating people. She shook her head breathing out, and studied me in a way that made me feel like a retarded mouse. Her eyes narrowed, jaw clenched.

I just never want to get into a fight again,’ she said, ‘not after Louise.’

That was just a bad night.’ I saw the goose bumps on her legs and arms, and threw my leather jacket around her shoulders, scooted close to her, so our thighs touched.

Have you ever stepped on a snail?’ she asked.

Sure, tons of times, mostly on purpose.’

That feeling when you crunch through the shell and the gooey part kind of springs you back up…’ she put her lips to the bottle again, and with her other hand gripped my knee, ‘ that’s what it felt like to kill Louise.’ She swallowed and coughed a few times; her voice had this plain tone, like she was reading a letter aloud. ‘ It was crazy, and we were all in this big pile, I just wanted to get out, someone was yanking my arm. Louise was on the ground, wrapped around my right foot. I just screamed for her to let go, and I brought my left foot down as hard as I could on her face and it crunched like a snail but it was soft too… someone launched me off her and I was on the ground again, that’s when the police came and I took off… I just remember all the colors of the stuff coming out of her head…’

I took the bottle away from her and threw it into the lake, it was just something to do, something to watch. I couldn’t stand to talk about stupid Louise that fat whore, at the bottom of the pile, holding on to Jess’ leg like a baby.

‘It’s not your fault,’ I said, ‘ stupid Louise… fucked stupid Daren….’

‘Now Pete’s pretty much dead…’ she shrugged.

Yeah, he should have really died, he doesn’t really care though.’  I could see it in her, the cogs and cranks of a tragic life, carrying around this thing, like rotting from the inside out. Pete and Louise.

‘We are all just jars of guts, I guess…’ I said this, thinking it would somehow trivialize things, make her laugh. But she looked up at me with long red trails of tears on her plump cheeks, her eyeballs dark and clouded over.

I guess…’ she said but didn’t finish, she turned her head and leaned over her knees, for a moment I thought she was going to shout at the water then she emptied her stomach full of wine into the lake with a horrible wretch like a guttural burp.  I held her shoulders to keep her from slipping off the dock. She barfed, again, and again, until there was just a little bit of pink bile coming out of her nose. I couldn’t help but laugh about how embarrassed she was, crying and hiding her face. ‘We are all just jars of guts…’ She said, sobbing, and I was giggling, pulling her up by the armpits, carrying her inside. The dry air sharpened our voices; the lavender sky hurdled down around us.

Day 24: The People Look like dollar-signs… at last.

“I don’t need you or your brand new Benz, or your bougie friends, I dont need love lookin’ like diamonds, lookin’ like diamonds.” – Ke$ha

New York City can do happy hour like nowhere else on earth. When I worked as an intern at a small start-up company in Murray Hill, happy hour became a sport. there were categories to rank them: price, duration, food options, and location. More often than not we ended up at the cuban restaurant down the street with a couple of pitchers of sangria and plantain chips. We would usually go with everyone, seeing as it was a small office and it was impossible not to invite people.

It was a sunny afternoon last March, the kind that makes you just stare out the window the whole day. We were all silently pretending to work in the tiny office above the little italian deli when my coworker Miata messaged me on g-chat ( that means when you are in your email account and someone else who has a gmail account can message you like skype kinda). We were sitting right next to each other which made it weird. The message said Do you want to go to happy hour with me in the village? I turned to her and said out loud, Yeah sure. She gave me a wide-eyed look and shook her head. Then she typed  away

No, just us, I don’t want to invite anyone else.I know this place that had 15 cent wings on Thursdays, its in the village. They have margaritas.

Ok, when do you want to leave?

I’ll leave first then I’ll meet you on the corner outside.

We had never had an extremely close relationship, she was an Ethiopian girl from Queens who graduated from Notre Dame. She had gone to one of those fancy all girls private high schools, and had a picture of herself and her mom both in white gloves, on her desk. Her boyfriend was a tall slender Slovakian  basketball player at Columbia and would text her every ten minutes. I was always intimidated by how well she dressed and how nice she smelled. She had this laugh that was immediate, sharp, and hacking. It would make you jump if you heard it across the little office. My mom raised me to get along with everyone.

Needless to say, we didn’t have a whole lot in common. I was named after a poor lady who pedals oysters on the streets of Dublin, and she was named after a car. But we made each other laugh.

So we met up with Milosh, her gigantic Arian boyfriend and headed down to the village  on the 6 tain. to get some wings. Miata is one of those people who talks real loud about personal stuff on trains and buses. It makes me wince.

I neglected to mention that I hated chicken wings, but that hardly seemed like an issue at the time. The issue was that I had been invited to a personal happy hour with the coolest girl in the office, and I went along.

It was hot, the air was hot and thick. Miata was in flat sandals and an asymmetrical pink skirt. Milosh was in basketball shorts, he remained silent and observant the whole duration. We talked about our boss, in a way that you talk about boss’ with coworkers that you don’t know that well. I was the new girl, so all I could say was nothing. She talked about the other people who worked there and who had girlfriends and boyfriends.

We got a seat on the velvet couches of this western-themed place with a large patio. There were ten gallon hats on the wall, lassoes and a piano in the middle of the seating area with a guy at it playing rag-time music. Milosh ordered 2o spicy wings for himself, then pulled out his phone and started clicking away. Miata ordered 20 each for us before I could say no. I ordered a margarita and said goodbye to the last of my spending money for the week. More of her friends arrived, they all had sharp clothing on, they were coming from other advertising jobs and assistant jobs. I thought about my friends with their grocery jobs and waitress jobs. What does this mean about us?

They all went to Pratt and Yale and Columbia. These exotic mysterious places I could only imagine with brick and Ivy. I ate maybe five wings, leaving all the “good stuff” on the bone. I listened to their plight about this and that office manager and how their business blackberry was so annoying and hard to use.

On the way home to my tiny cot in my tiny apartment with two reclusive vietnamese sisters,  I bought a sweet potato from a florescnent mini-market, I had a light tequila buzz on, I thought about the avocados in California, and the deep blue sky with cold white stars. I think of the hills and the cool shade. I thought of the Pacific, I thought of Miata and Milosh bickering about some text message that he had allegedly sent to some girl he was friends with on Facebook.

Sometimes when I am standing behind the bar on a sunny day, talking to someone (usually a New Yorker) about traveling and jobs and they will look around and ask,

Don’t you miss New York?

I smile and say Nope in absolute confidence.


Day 20: Chocolate Toast

 

The Stag

For dinner I sliced two pieces of thick crusty bread, then I toasted them to “level 4” on my janky toaster. Meanwhile I pre-heated the oven to a mysterious degree seeing as there are no numbers to indicate degrees, as they have all been rubbed off.  I call all oven temperatures in face-clock time now. So lets go back and say that I turned the oven up to 7 o’clock.

I lined a cookie sheet with aluminum foil. I sliced a bartlett pear into bone-china grade half moon slices (meaning that you can hold the slice up to the light, then put your finger behind it, and see a shadowy shape of a finger through the ivory flesh of the pear.

Then I sliced a few lobs of buttery yellow cheddar cheese, scooping up the crumbs.

I cracked open the last of the dark chocolate bar my mom sent me for valentines day, sampled it. When the toast was done, I laid both slices out on the cookie sheet. On the right one, I placed the gradating slices of aged cheddar. Then I cracked pepper over it.

On the left slice of toast I fanned out the pear slices, then, I cracked oblong pieces of dark chocolate and placed them on top of the pear slices. Then I sprinkled two pinches of lavender sea salt over the pear and chocolate toast.

For a finishing flourish I doused each slice in a dollop of fancy olive oil.

I put them in the oven, and set the timer for 10 minutes.

I sat down and cracked open the half-drank bottle of wine from last night.

I began to write:

On the way to work today I saw a stag. It must have been about eight-feet tall. It’s antlers mirroring each other in an eight pronged headdress shaped like Africa. It was clipping quickly along the shoulder of the highway at the crest of the grade. It had its head high, black nose forward. It’s shoulders churning, muscular and sure of their footing. I half expected it to turn its head, and ask for a ride. His hind was fluffy and white, with a triangle shaped tail darting back and forth. A long black stripe of fur lined the ridge of it’s back. Cars slowed down, some rolled down their windows, passengers where hanging out of their cars, trying to take pictures with their phones.  The down pour started, and we were all there following the stag, riding along next to it. Thinking, that we were somehow helping. The stag could not be bothered; it clipped along no faster or slower. It’s neck thick and aloft. Wet charcoal eyes, the rain was gripping in droplets on its antlers, and running of it’s soft down. We were worried about the stag, but as we watched, it started to seem less delicate than we thought; it was going along as if we weren’t there.  Some cars moved on. Were we protecting it? Or were we envious?

The oven timer goes off, I pull the tray out with a dirty rag and inspect the bubbling salty cheese and the dripping chocolate over the crispy pears.  Perfect.

I am just about to reach for a fork and knife, but instead I reach for the paper towels.