Sunday, February 8, 2009
This is the first thing I see every morning. This street. Running east to west on the northwest corner of my block. The children call it crack alley. It holds the world record for breeding arguments, a million a day. Mutters twist into words, into slanders, into screams. Bits of want, disguised as need, funneled down this corridor. Amplified to a perfect haunting tone. Vibrating at a speed only hollow bones hear….then comes night, and a new record is set. My day begins and ends at my window. I am the eyes born witness to the lowest level the human condition can bear. I saw a man die here today. He was arguing with another man. The man that was facing him simply stopped yelling, pulled out a gun and shot him in the head. It was like he had reached in and turned off a light switch in his brain. The man fell like a stone. I thought I saw his spirit leave his body before he touched the ground. He laid there, his arm still extended as if frozen mid- motion, still trying to stop the bullet…and for a moment the street where I live fell silent. Even the pigeons in the palm trees held their tongues in reverence. The gunman looked around for awhile, then up at me in my second story window. He raised his finger and shook it calmly...I nodded back with understanding. He simply turned and walked away. And as the heavens opened to take another soul, the street again gave way to sound. And the inside of my building shook as I heard it, echoing down the hall from two doors down. A loud long wail of a sound. My silence was not enough to save me.
.”IIIIIIIII hate you, you sonofabitch!” It was Molly….always followed by the footsteps leading to my door. BANG BANG BANG BANG…”Do you hear me you sonofabitch? I hate you!”…I took another drink in silence, waiting for the storm to pass from the other side of the door. I knew then she was taking two steps back, as always, like clockwork. Raising her leg, bringing her foot up to her chest, letting it fly, then…KABOOOM…against my door. “I hope you die!”
The ice shifted in my glass.
The sound of Molly’s exiting footsteps were drowned out by the cries from the mother or sister or girlfriend of the man laying dead in the street. Cries of, “Why?”….
Truth was, I thought as I turned from the window,
I didn’t know why…
But Molly was a different story. I knew the answer to the question of why, about her and I.
I met Molly when I was damn near homeless and fresh out of the county jail, serving thirty-three days for another drunk in public charge. I had been out for less than thirty-six hours and was hanging out with a not so good friend of mine at the corner watering hole. I didn’t trust him. But,
I had no money.
He was buying.
We were on the corner outside of the bar sharing a cigarette. And from around the corner with the lazy California sun pushing her along came a thin mousy tattooed wisp of a woman. Hobbling along with a muddled gait, obviously inebriated. My friend Lonnie barely got the words, “Oh shit” out of his mouth, when the woman sprung, leapt into my arms and screamed, “DADDY!”…I didn’t know what else to do but go with the situation.
“Hello mamma” said I, as she looked dizzily into my eyes, trying hard to focus.
“Buy me a drink, daddy” she said, and put her forehead against mine.
“I don’t have any money, mamma” said I, hoisting her higher onto my hips.
“That’s o.k., my ex husband’s rich. He’s buying, daddy” she hiccupped then frowned ….”Hey Lonnie” she said and turned to my friend.
“Hey Molly.” Said Lonnie and walked into the bar.
“Into the bar, kind sir…”she said to me and smacked me on the ass.
“Ooh, you like the rough stuff, huh?” said I, and ran with her into the bar giggling like a little girl all the way.
I sat her onto a barstool like a princess, and bellied up to the bar beside her. We ordered many drinks.
We drank like sailors that night. We drank like old men about to die and young women getting married and poets and newlyweds and prom dates and soul mates and anyone else that had a reason to celebrate. We were alive and we were together…
We talked and laughed and stared and we drank.
So as the last song played slowly on the jukebox we came together even closer still and whiskey was the moment. I could tell that something was about to happen…I can always tell when something is about to happen. She drank her shot down and said, “Spend the night with me”.
“Alright” said I. She didn’t know it but I had nowhere else to go. I had planned on asking Lonnie for his couch that night when he was drunk. But things were looking much better for me now. If there was one thing I had learned in thirty-eight years of being on this planet it’s to never say no to a beautiful woman, especially when she asks you to spend the night.
With that we were out of the bar side by side. And it was one of those perfect California nights. Where the night is dark and clear and the moon is full and heavy over the trees and roof tops…one of those nights when it’s good to be drunk. I whistled as we walked. And I held her hand, swinging it in front of me and in back of me like a child baiting the other to start running first. But I noticed her slowing her pace every few steps and peering up at the sky over her shoulder as if she was expecting the whole thing to come crashing upon her at any given moment.
“Isn’t the moon beautiful, mamma?” said I, throwing my head back and laughing. “It’s just a sliver, tonight. It looks like it’s winking at us.” I could sense her body change, her spirit cringe.
“I need my shmoopie” is all she said. She wrapped herself around my arm and rushed me to her car. Well I didn’t know what the hell a shmoopie was. But I figured I was about to find out. So I played along for safe keeping, “Yeah, mamma, we’ll get you a shmoopie.”
She started to cry. She cried and she cried.
She cried and she drove…..Four blocks. Fucking L.A.
But the second we pulled up to her building she stopped crying. ”We are here daddy!” She leapt from the car, wobbling as she walked. I tried to keep up the best I could, our heels echoing down the street between the buildings…amplifying, vibrating. She fumbled for her key for a bit, and finally found the one she wanted.
“Come on daddy, I’m on the second floor.” She paused and kissed me on the mouth, wet and deep...soulfully…and with that we were up the stairs and to her apartment.
And as she opened the door a snaggle-toothed black shaggy Shmoopie attacked me. Barking, growling. Shmoopie attached itself to my ankle and would not let go…that is, until I kicked. Then Shmoopie surrendered.
“Shmoopie, you’re a bad dog. Bad dog. You leave daddy alone. Yes you will, Shmoopie. You leave daddy alone….” Molly said as she bathed the dog’s snout in kisses. Shmoopie finally got embarrassed and wriggled away.
“Is your ankle alright?” she asked, and walked to the kitchen bringing back with her a bottle of Jack Daniel’s.
“It is now, mamma. It is now.”
I looked around her apartment. What a wreck. There were clothes strewn everywhere, dirty glasses with cigarette butts drowning in tiny pools of left over alcohol absorbing the liquid slowly. It was chaotic. Along the walls was artwork hung incongruent with the lines of the ceiling and floor, paintings of different parts of Los Angeles. They were decent and one of them caught my eye. It was of the Hollywood sign high in the hills, with spotlights from the buildings bellow shown upon it. I squinted from across the room…and upon further review I made out that the artist had replaced the “H” in Hollywood with an “M”, so the sign in the painting was read “Mollywood”. I chuckled under my breath and drank my drink quickly.
“You’re a painter, mamma.” Said I, and pulled her on top of me. Her ass fit perfectly in my hands.
“You like them?” She asked.
It was one of those moments that could have been spoiled by words. So I was careful to be kind.
“I do” whispered I, pulling her ass into my body. She reached behind her and took a drink.
Then she kissed me hard and long, alcohol spilling from her mouth into mine. It was delicious, it was divine. There on her couch amongst the clothes and cups and cigarette butt glasses, we rolled about with the slivered moon rising high in the Hollywood sky, coming in through the window, touching the paintings along the wall. We kissed and we groped. We groped and we squeezed. Until I knew it was time to move things further. I always know when it is time.
“I want you daddy.” She said, standing up on the couch pulling the window shades down. The room fell dead into darkness. The shades were thick and black and covered the windows completely as to not let any outside light in. I moved my hand along the table in front of me to find the bottle of Jack. It felt much larger now in the darkness. I put it up to my lips and drank as much as I could and by the time the bottle lowered to meet the table, I was drunk again.
And from the darkness of the room she found me, her body half naked pressing against me. Then she rose, took my hand and led me to the bed, walking over piles of clothing and stacks of paper lying about the floor. We fell on the bed like lovers do, pulling and tearing at each others belongings until we were both naked in each others presence. I could still see nothing, but the lack of sight made my other senses grow sharp, keen.
I felt completely and utterly at home with her. Inside of her. Around her. I traced her body in the darkness until my hands were numb. I felt along her arms and legs, small ridges long and lean, like standing veins, only rougher. And I wondered in the night what they were. But the moment was building and the Gods welled up from within us. And as we came to climax together I felt the earth crack. And the sound from it echoed down the alley like war. Rumbling.
We lay there afterwards, bathed in each other and ourselves. And from the other side of the bed, she struck a match along the side of the wall and lit a cigarette. The glow from it struck the room with shadows. And as she took a drag from it the end of it lit up her body and I saw what I had felt along her arms and legs. My eyes quickly followed tens and tens scars along her arms and legs weaving a tapestry of ridges, some straight some jagged forming abstract patterns. I suspected that they were self inflicted.
Mamma was a cutter.
I needed a drink.
I needed lots of drinks.
“My husband left me when I had a breakdown, daddy.” She took another drag from her cigarette. Her body began to shudder. The reflection from the cherry of the cigarette shown in the bottle on the table next to the bed and I grabbed it quickly and passed it to her. She drank from it loosely and alcohol poured down the front of her body, running to her belly, gathering then spilling onto the bed. I slid up the length of her body to meet her, my hand finding the scars on her arms along the way. My lips found her ear, wet from tears, and silent. I touched one of her scars. “To let out the blood your body could not hold…” I said, I kissed her on her forehead and held her body tight.
“You understand, daddy.” She whispered, then she wept like widows do. Like abandoned children do. Like I used to do.
And from outside of the window I could hear the pigeons from the palm trees migrating, descending to the ledge of the building, tapping on her pane. It was as if the weight of her sorrow was so great it needed wings to carry it and they knew it and were there for the offering. Outside the street was alive with sound. My hollow bones rattled.
Shmoopie stirred in the corner, growling and moaning. And then he began to bark. Barking and barking. And then he dashed to the window his head banging on the pane. I heard the sound of a hundred wings escaping back to the trees.
“Oh, Shmoopie! You’re a vicious dog. Yes you are!” said Molly, suddenly giggling, rolling out of my arms hitting her head on the lamp. She slid down my body and took me into her mouth slightly gagging. Her sorrow seemed to evaporate into air. It rose off her body like steam. And there in the night with the dog violently barking, the Gods welled within me again. Then she took me. Every drop of me. Laughing loudly. Like a giant. And I smiled like a beggar. Thankful. Grateful. Everything was right once again.
I don’t know if I moved in the next morning as much as I just didn’t leave. We had coffee and we smoked and we had good conversation. I cooked her breakfast. We laughed as she did the crossword puzzle out of the paper as I wrote and looked for a job in the classifieds. I felt at home. I felt a little less desperate than before.
I refer to the next two months as the honeymoon phase of our relationship. We drank at bars and at home, welling the Gods up within us every chance we could. I wrote and she painted. We were a little less desperate and we were happy. And we were together.
So it was the three of us, Molly, me and Shmoopie. We would make our rounds to the bars on the boulevard at night. Drinking more than our bodies could hold, somehow still standing. Always making our way back home. Joking, laughing along the way. It was nice. It was very nice. This went on for awhile until I began to notice, just slightly at first, a certain undercurrent. A familiar feeling began to return.
It was desperation. It was shallow. But I knew, soon, it would run deep.
She began to drink without me. She stayed out all night. Coming in at dawn. Smelling of bourbon and secrets--and sometimes worse.
I found work at this time at a small bar around the corner as a doorman three days a week. It was good money, and after shift I could have all the drinks I wanted. I took full advantage. Drowning my desperation; calling out the names of my accomplices. Jack, Jameson, Johnny, under my breath. I would stay stagnant at the bar until my fear yielded, after the sixth or seventh drink. Then I would have the courage to make my way home.
Nothing is worse than the feeling of impending doom. Nothing.
One particular night, I was catastrophically drunk. I left the bar late, I made my way home along the Hollywood sidewalks. They were clear and wet. The men that were spraying them down watched me as I walked my crooked path. I felt free. I felt free enough to tell her I was free from her. I would do it when she got home. She had been gone for two days, this time, but now my mind was made up. I had resolve. I turned the corner to the street where I live, and it came alive with sound from my footsteps. I heard a dog howling in the distance. I was too drunk. The echoing sound was making me sick. I fought hard to keep my resolve. My stomach turned inside me.
I loved her. And I needed to leave her.
I made my way up the stairs to the apartment door. And as I reached for the handle I realized it was Shmoopie that was howling from inside of the room. A long hard sorrowful song. It made my skin move along my body. I reached for the key to slide it into the lock. And as I reached for the doorknob I noticed it covered in blood. Fresh and weeping.
I was struck sober. Instantly.
I turned it and the door swung open slowly. One fluid movement. The shades were drawn and the apartment was dark. Pitch black. I stepped in and the dog stopped howling. From the corner of the room I could see her on the bed, just from the tip of her cigarette glowing like a beacon. Like a sun setting in the distance. Like a warning. It lowered and then it went out.
I wanted to run. But my body would not let me.
Instead it moved me through the darkness to the bed where she was. I found the edge and sat on it. My hand ran along the sheet to find her and her legs were wet and cold and I could not tell if she was drunk.
I had no words in my mouth.
Just then she burst into tears and leapt from the bed and screamed, “Rabbit.”
She ran to the bathroom and slammed the door…I followed opening the door just as she closed it. And as the door swung wide the full moon was coming in through the bathroom window made everything glow in shades of grey. She lay there, against the wall, crying. I saw then what was wet on her leg. She had deep gashes franticly laced along her arms and legs. And the blood still fresh looked black in the moonlight. I could see her face and the make up running from tears made her eyes look beaten and bruised. I dropped to my knees to hold her. I dropped my guard to love her. I prayed to the Gods to protect her…and then, she came undone right in front of me.
“I’m cold” she said. “I’m cold and I can’t get warm”. I took off my jacket and covered her naked body curled on the tiled floor. She flung it into the bathtub.
“You’re a wolf like a thousand other wolves, and I’m a rabbit, running. And now that you’ve caught me, you’ll leave me”. She started to shiver and her hands began to shake as she placed them on top of her knees. Gracefully. Like a dancer. She straightened her neck peering over her shoulder, up and out the bathroom window. “The moon, it mocks me” She said and burst into tears, her wounds still fresh started weeping.” It watches me and it mocks me”.
And her being became sound and sorrow. And I threw myself at the window, pulling the shade down, “See, momma, it cannot see you. You are safe. Here, now. Look”. But it was too late. I was the wolf. She was the rabbit. The moon was there. High in the Hollywood sky, full, mocking her. I walked from the bathroom to the edge of the bed and sat. She was still in the bathroom crying and rocking the moonlight away. Making it dissipate with her motion. The dog came and sat next to me. He licked my face. We both were at a loss…
Nothing is worse than the feeling of complete and utter desperation. Nothing.
From the blackness of the room she came. Screaming. Lunging from the bathroom into the living room. Over the piles of clothing across the stacks of newspapers past the bed. Deft in her perception in the dark. She went straight for the window shades, tearing them down one by one. And the moonlight filled the room with large blue grey beams. “I want you out of here!” she screamed as she flung the shades about the room. Her face took on horrific contortions in the half light. “You don’t love me” she kept chanting. Like a ritual. Like a mantra. Like she was convincing the smallest, deepest part of herself. She finally did it. It finally took. I remember the exact moment that she gave in to it. She ran over to my dresser, pulled out my clothes and threw them out the door. The light from the hallway shown brightly on her fresh blood. Still flowing. Still being pulled out like the tide by the moon.
“Get out” she screamed. And pointed to the hall. I was still on the edge of the bed. Still there, watching it all unfold. Like a Greek play. Like a sad song. The dog was shaking, licking, tasting the desperation in the air. “Get out now” she screamed again. Shading her eyes from the moonlight. Sucking the air through her teeth.
It’s moments like these that haunt me.
I stood from the bed and walked to the door and as I passed her the weight of our existence together made the floorboards split and splinter. The things came off the wall, tumbling to the floor as I walked. Except Mollywood. It stayed on the wall, glowing in the beam of moonlight. Defiant. As if by my leaving, it was reclaiming her. I closed my eyes in the hallway of the building. Knowing what was to come next. The door slammed behind me. I was alone. I gathered my clothes and made my way to the lobby. My head was still up there, with her, there in the madness of the moment. I was homeless again. I needed a drink. More than one…many. The clothes I was carrying were stained with her blood. So I threw them in a dumpster and headed to my bar. I needed solace. I needed peace. I needed my accomplices.
Nothing is worse than the feeling of needing a drink. Nothing.
I bellied up to the bar and ordered. It was not coming fast enough. There was something familiar next to me. Something staring. “Hello, stranger” it was Dawn. A neighbor in the building. A regular at my bar. “I said, hello stranger” she stuck her elbow in my ribs. Just then my drink arrived. Three fingers of Jack. I drank it down…then I could face her.
“Hello, Dawn” said I, trying to smile. Failing miserably.
“What’s a-matter, sailor. Somebody shoot your dog?” she said and pouted, her face close to mine.
“I’m homeless” said I, and ordered another drink. “My girl kicked me out and yes, the dog is probably dead.” The drink came quicker than before. It was down before she could speak.
It made her laugh. And that made me laugh. We laughed together. My spirit lightened.
We drank in the way of friendship. And I needed it. I think she did too. We spoke of love and leaving and letting go. I didn’t feel so alone. And I felt a little less desperate. So as the music was finding the last song on the jukebox. I could feel that something was about to happen. I can always feel when something’s about to happen. She leaned into me and asked, “Do you have somewhere to stay tonight”?
“I don’t” said I and drank my last shot down.
“Well you can have my couch if you promise to be good” she said. “But you have to buy some whiskey on the way home”.
“Alright” said I. If there was one thing I’ve learned in thirty eight years in living on this earth…
So on the way home we picked up a bottle and as we turned the corner of my building the street opened up to sound. It was echoes of tapping. Tapping on glass. It was the pigeons on the ledge tapping on Molly’s panes. The sound bounced between the buildings, vibrating, to a perfect haunting tone. And the feelings welled within me again. I instantly lost my mind. I began to run down the street yelling, waving my arms, throwing them into the air...”hahhhhh”. The sound billowing up the sides of the buildings. The shockwave from my cries forced a mass exodus of the pigeons. Criss-crossing up and out of site into the night. Leaving the sky glowing again simply from the city lights.
“Let’s get inside, sailor” Dawn said and grabbed my arm. And we ran up the stairs to the second floor. We were walking to her apartment when it hit me. The second floor. We were heading two doors down from where I had just left.
I began to shake. I needed another drink. My hands tightened around the bottle.
“This is where you live, huh?” said I, as we entered her apartment. I took the bottle from the bag and twisted the top off and drank deeply.
“Just for another week” she said,”then I move in with my boyfriend across town. Why you want to sublet?” she went to the bathroom and shut the door for a good long while. I stayed on the couch. Stagnant. Trying to reach oblivion. But my head was full of darker things. And I was haunted. Still.
I sat there realizing the shape my life was in. Desperate. Homeless. Barely employable. And two doors down from the last woman that I loved. So when Dawn came out of the bathroom the whiskey did the talking for me. “I’ll take it” said I, and handed her two hundred dollars from my pocket. “But I have to sleep here until you leave”.
“You got yourself a deal, sailor. Now pass the whiskey and scootch your ass over”
I don’t remember falling asleep that night. I woke up to the sounds of the street. The bums were having a sing along. My head felt like a hammer. So I poured myself a drink to calm the pounding down. Dawn was gone. A note on the coffee table told me that she was at her boyfriend’s and she would not be home until the next day. I made my way to the window and lifted it. The sound filled the room. It was too much for me too bear. I slid the window down and stepped away. I sat on the edge of the desk and finally wept. Two minutes I allowed the street to break me. My toes gripped my shoes from the inside as I cried. I counted off the seconds in my head. And then I stood and gathered myself and grabbed the keys Dawn had left for me and walked out into the hall. I looked at Molly’s apartment as I went down the flight of stairs. I spent the day in the neighborhood, buying clothes and stopping in at the local bars. It wasn’t until night that I returned. The moon was just rising, coming up over the rooftops as I made my way into the building. Mamma was at the top of the stairs.
The building still moaned from the weight of our love.
I said nothing as I passed. Her wounds were not bandaged. I noticed them peeking out from her clothes. I walked with purpose down the hall, two doors down, and slid the key into the lock and opened the door. I looked over my shoulder as I entered the room and she was still there, her back was still to me. But frozen. Like a thief. No. Like a pistol, waiting to be drawn.
The moment I shut the door I could hear her. Stomping down the hall. Screaming. “You sonofabitch, who is she?”
I went to the door and opened it, her face was contorted. “I had nowhere else to go, Mamma. She is just a friend.”
“I hate you, you sonofabitch” she screamed and raised her leg to her chest and let it fly. The door hit me hard in the head, almost knocking me out. I shut it quickly and bolted it.
I heard her exiting footsteps and her screaming at the end of the hall “I hope you die”.
The building shook.
I sat down on the couch and thought of my future. And I began to get drunk.
The next day Dawn woke me up as she came into the place. I jumped. She laughed. I lit a cigarette and she poured us a drink. I told her we needed to talk. I explained what had happened with Molly. I mean I explained everything that happened with Molly and she said, “You’re fucked, sailor. I’ll get my things today and the place is yours”.
“Thanks” said I and sat back into the couch. She made a phone call and two large men came over and helped her with her things. I sat there and wished they would stay and keep me company. If only for awhile. That feeling was beginning to return. It was shallow now, but it was deepening fast. “I’ll be seeing you at the bar, sailor” she said with the last load. “I’ll buy you a drink” and with that she was gone. The door clicked quietly shut behind her.
From the end of the hall I could hear them again. The footsteps. Then…BANG BANG BANG BANG…”You chase her away too, you sonofabitch?” then crying. She stayed there at my door sobbing for ten minutes. And my door swelled from the moisture. The hinges rusted. And as soon as it began, it was over. I heard no footsteps this time when she left. There was no sound. She left me there a prisoner, waiting. Hating my existence.
And so it went for two and a half months. Day in and day out. Sometimes I hear the footsteps, sometimes I don’t. Either way there is always hell to pay. Today I saw a man have hell to pay. Whether or not he could afford the price he paid with all that he had. So I took a drink in his honor. Or his debt. Whichever is more noble. And I got dressed for work. I crossed the floor and opened the door to a thin mousy tattooed wisp of a woman. With wounds fresh and weeping. In one hand was the head of a dog. The other was a Colt .45. And she smiled softly as she stopped and shot me in the head. It was as if someone reached in and turned a light switch off inside my head. I fell like a stone. My spirit left my body before I touched the ground. My arm was still extended as if to stop the bullet.
I heard a woman singing to her child from the balcony in the street. And I thought I can’t remember the last time, if ever, I sang a lullaby.
They say the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. So I know that my baby still loves me. She still loves me.
She still loves me.
And as I heard Molly’s footsteps exit the building, the street where I live gave way to the sound of a thousand pigeons giving her flight, lifting her sorrow, high into the city sky-while she was
letting out the blood her body could not hold--
and shooting the moon as it mocked her.