1949 - 1950
"Hi, Eddie, do you know who this is?"
That bitch, how dare she call me after what she tried to have done to me? I should throw the phone out the window.
"I heard that you were back in town after one of your many travels. I'll bet you've got girlfriends all over the country . . . I often think of you. I still have all the letters you wrote me . . . Won't you speak to me? You're still angry with me after all this time, more than three and a half years?”
I should hang up.
"I'd love to hear your voice again."
"Look, I have nothing I want to say to you."
"Do you know what I would like more than anything else in the world? To see you. Please let me come over.”
"But I'm dying to see you again."
"I haven't had a drink in days. Please, can I come?"
"What kind of dumb game are you trying to play with me?"
"I'm not playing a game. I'm begging to see you, that's all."
"Just forget it."
"Only for a short while, Eddie, please. What have you got to lose?"
"All right, come over if you must."
"I'll be there in about half an hour."
Thinking this a ploy to have me open the door so that her boyfriend can rush in to grab me, I shut off the lights in the living room and post myself behind the front window. I want to see if anyone tries to steal into the yard and hide behind the hedges, but I detect no movement before I see her walking up the drive.
Before she can ring the doorbell, I open the door, take hold of her arm, pull her into the house, and shut the door. I lead her upstairs to my room. Without saying a word, I lift her skirt, push her back onto the bed, pull off her underpants and slide into her. This is the way it’s going to be from now on. I'm not going to let her get to me again.
“Eddie, I just had to phone you to tell you that my mother read in the newspaper that you have ceded the rights to your inheritance to your mother until she dies.”
“I never did any such thing. Are you sure that it’s my name in the paper?”
“It’s yours, all right. My mother showed it to me.”
“Thanks for telling me. I have to think about this. Call you later.”
When did I sign away my share of the property to my mother? I don’t remember doing that. Nor has my mother said anything to me. Could my signature have been forged? Impossible, no one has a copy of. My signature! That’s it!
“Mama wants to see how you sign your name,” my sister Leontine had told me, coming to my room some days ago with a roll of papers in her hand.
“What does she want to do, read my character in my handwriting?” I’d said. “She already knows what a selfish person I am from reading the dregs in my coffee cup.”
“I don’t know why. She just wants to see the way you write your name.”
“Don’t bother me, Leontine.”
“Why don’t you want to do it? It’ll only take a minute.”
“Okay, give me the papers.”
And that is how my mother tricked me out of my legacy, but I’m not bothering to tell her that I know it.
“Eddie, I’ve never been so popular with boys,” Winkie tells me. “They’re phoning me all day long to warn me about big bad you.”
“You’d better take their advice and stay away from me before I eat you.”
“Never! I like you to eat me.”
"Eddie, will you lend me the books and the recordings of music which I should be familiar with? I don't want to be ignorant forever."
"Yeah, I'll do that for you.”
"Thanks, Eddie. You know, I just had an idea: why don't we live together?"
"Don't be ridiculous. You don't earn enough money as a telephone operator to support us."
"Two can live as cheaply as one."
"These days, two can live as cheaply as three."
Today was to have been a special day. I was to introduce Winkie to some culture in Boston. Before attending a matinee stage production of “Anthony and Cleopatra”, we were to have gone to a German restaurant to have imported tapped beer. And, after having enjoyed Japanese food in the evening, we were to bring the day to a close by watching the classic French film, “Beauty and the Beast”. And since all this was to have been for Winkie's benefit, she had agreed to pay for everything. She was to have phoned me at eleven in the morning.
By mid-day there had been no call. That eliminated the German beer.
One o'clock, two o'clock, and still no phone call. So, no stage matinee, and I had begun to be angry.
When three, four, and five o'clock had passed with no ring, scuttling the entire program, I had begun to formulate all the vicious things I would say to her when she finally did call.
By eight o’clock, my anger at fiery pitch, I honed to sharpness the words with which I intended to pierce her being.
It’s nine o'clock now, and I have decided to say nothing at all to her, as though her failure to phone has meant nothing at all to me.
Winkie and I listen to music in my living room. Suddenly, I see my mother standing at the door and glowering at us. She starts to come into the room, and I rise quickly to intercept her.
"Winkie, this is my mother. Ma, this . . ."
"I don' want whores my house!" my mother shouts, charging across the room to hover over the cowering Winkie. "Leave him 'lone. Don’ you see he's crazy?"
Winkie, in tears, doesn't know what to do.
"Wait for me outside, Wink." I nod toward the front door
Winkie takes her bag and hurries out, and I put on my jacket.
"Where you go?"
"I'm going to walk her home."
"You going be seen in street with dat whore?"
"She's not a whore. She's just a girl who came here to listen to music."
"Any woman who goes man house alone is whore. Look yourself, no clothes, no car, no money in bank. Only whore will go with you. "
"I'll see you later, Ma."
“You go out dat door, don’ come back dis house."
I leave to rejoin Winkie.
"Why does your mother hate me so?"
"She dislikes all females, even her daughters."
Being horny and having nowhere to fuck, Winkie and I decide to chance going to my room.
"That son of a bitch," Winkie cries, throwing an empty beer can across my room.
So, she comes to see me whenever her boyfriend stands her up. She’s using me to take revenge on him. That's why she often comes here drunk.
"Take off your belt and whip me." Winkie points to her naked belly.
“Why should I?”
"Because I'm telling you to."
"I don't like to hit anyone."
"Just do what I say, God damn you. Take off your belt."
Reluctantly, I pull off the belt.
"Now, hit me with it . . . No, not like that, harder . . . I said harder, you little weakling."
I snap the belt across her belly. She sits up instantly and slaps my face.
"You cunt, don't ever ask me to hit you again."
Locked with Winkie in my bed, I can hear my unsuspecting mother walking about downstairs. Listening to her footsteps makes me want to laugh and it also helps to delay my orgasm.
Now, those steps are pounding up the stairs! My mother must think there's something going on up here. The doorknob turns. The door, locked, holds.
“Open dis door!” My mother bangs on the door with what is probably a broomstick.
"Okay, Winkie, get dressed. Don’t panic. Look, I'll go out first and, while I'm handling my mother, you slip downstairs, out of the house and wait for me outside. You ready? Let's do it."
Opening the door, I engulf my little mother in my arms, pressing her against my breast to prevent her from seeing anything and pushing her back onto a bed in another room. Winkie safely out of view, I release my mother.
"You kill-it me, kill-it me," she howls, the back of her hand upon her forehead. "Next your sisters have-it sailors their room. Yah!"
"What happened to Mama?” Leontine asks, rushing in with Albert and Harry.
"She's fainted again," I say.
"Shall we leave her there or shall we get her out of it?" asks Arthur.
"Throw water in her face, if you want," I tell him and turn to leave.
"When is Eddie going to grow up?" I hear Isabel say as I hurry down the stairs.
Lying on my bed fully dressed, I’m ready to go out for a meeting I've been looking forward to all day. Winkie called in the morning to tell me to meet her in Central Square at ten tonight. Since then, it's been one good thing after another all day long: an afternoon on the beach, a fine dinner at home, a warm bath and, now, Stravinski on the radio. I feel so relaxed and content lying on my bed that it seems a shame to have to go out. It would be so nice just to lie here. So, why don't I? What can possibly happen in Central Square? We won't be able to fuck there.
Besides, I don't like the way she spoke to me on the phone. She didn't ask if I'd meet her tonight but ordered me to. Well she’s going to learn that I'm not the one to jump whenever she orders.
I undress and return to bed. Ah, it feels so great to sink deeper and deeper into the yielding softness of my matress.
The phone rings downstairs. That's probably Winkie. I'll let my mother handle her.
"Hello," I hear my mother’s voice. "No, Eddie not home. Don’ call-it dis house again."
A sudden warmth for my mother sweeps over me as I snuggle deeper under the covers. I’m sure Winkie will phone me in the morning, but I’ll be at the beach.
While fucking Winkie, I rise up on my arms and look down upon her face, no longer as attractive as it once was. Lowering my gaze and seeing the presence of her ribs through her breasts, I feel so sickened that I lose my erection.
"Please, Eddie, don't spoil this for me," pleads Winkie.
"But he doesn't even play bop. He only plays swing bass."
"That doesn't matter to me."
"No, I suppose a thing like that wouldn't. The only thing that matters to you is to get married, right?"
"Well, a big brained guy like you would never marry an uninformed girl like me.”
"It's good, in a way, that your mind remains uncluttered by knowledge."
What I don't go on to say is, that she'll adopt the beliefs of anyone whom she hopes will marry her. When she was with me she was an unbeliever; when she found a new boyfriend she became a Roman Catholic and, if she should find a serial killer, she’d probably adopt his peculiar bent of mind.
"Don't worry, Winkie, I won't interfere in your new affair."
"Let's have one last goodbye fuck."
"No, Eddie, it won't be any good."
"But we're never ever going to be with each other again."
"Oh, all right, but my heart won't be in it."
As soon as I enter Winkie, semen gushes from me.
"I told you it wouldn't be any good, Eddie."
Lying on my side, stoned, I look out my open bedroom door and imagine that my boyhood self is looking in at me and shrinking back from what he sees. I have become everything that boy detested: bearded, dissolute, unheroic. As a boy, I had never understood why all the villains in cowboy movies made themselves look so ugly by having hair on their faces.
Shuddering, and look away from the doorway.
Sitting on the bus, I look out at a life that holds no interest for me. I'm not stoned, but I'm trembling and trying not to scream. That's been happening to me lately. I'll be walking down a busy sunlit city street and suddenly I'll feel an urge to scream. Or I’ll be watching a stage play in a theater quiet save for the voices of the actors and trying my utmost not to yell out.
"No boom-boom work for you? Wat kind life dat, play music in bar for dirty people? One man out wit’ other man wife; one woman wit’ other woman husband. You like play music for dose bums? How long you tink you can stay my house and eat my food? I want you out dis house. You don' go, I go my attorney and get paper put you out."
First, she cheats me out of my legacy, then she threatens to have me evicted for having no money. But she’s too possessive to have me thrown out. So, let her possess me, but just as I am.
"Maybe you were right, Winkie, when you said we should live together," I say, having gone to her out of desperation.
"Who'll work?" she asks without hesitation, rendering me breathless.
I don’t remind her that she’d said once that two could live as cheaply as one, as that would make me seem to be somewhat dishonorable. Instead, I hear myself say, “We’ll both work.”
“What will you do, play bass?" she asks with a tinge of sarcasm in her voice.
"I'm thinking of going to Houston to look for work as a draftsman. It’s a city with a future, and there should be plenty of work for me there. You'd also be able to find work there as a telephone operator."
"You're willing to work for me?"
"Yeah, sure," I say with little conviction.
"Oh, Eddie, you make me so happy."
"When are we going to Houston, Eddie?"
"As soon as I can get some money together."
"We still have to get married before we go."
"Married! Are you crazy? We're not getting married. We're just going to live together."
"What's wrong with being married?"
"Everything. There's no need for it. I detest the whole idea of it. Besides, I've vowed never to marry.”
"But I want to be married. Doesn't it matter to you what I want?"
"Look, Winkie, it's so much simpler not to marry. Then, we won't have to get divorced."
"You're thinking of divorcing me before we're even married?"
"Why not think of everything? Also, if we don’t marry, I won't have to waste money on a marriage license"
"I'll pay for the marriage license."
"No, forget it. I don’t want to marry."
"I'm so disappointed, Eddie. And I thought you loved me."
"Love has nothing whatsoever to do with marriage.”
"You're expecting me to just live with you and be disapproved of by everyone."
"Fuck what other people think."
"Please, Eddie, you'll make me the happiest woman in the world if you'll have me as your wife."
“You should be happy just to be living with me."
"All I want is to be your wife. Is that such a crime?"
“It’s a crime against all I believe.”
“I’ll be the best wife you could possibly wish for.”
“I don’t wish for any wife.”
“Please, Eddie, please.”
"Oh, all right, so we'll get married." I submit and feel that I’ve betrayed myself ttally.
"I'm so happy I could dance. And, Eddie, you don't have to buy me an expensive wedding ring."
"Don't worry, I’m not even thinking of buying you a ring."
"But I want to have a wedding ring."
"What for? To conform to some stupid social convention? I suppose if the custom was to wear a ring in your like a cow to be led around by, you'd go for it.”
"I'll buy myself a wedding ring."
"No, you won't. I don't want my wife traipsing around with a ring on her finger."
"Not even if your wife begs you to have one?"
"Not even then."
"But, Eddie, a ring is such a small thing for us to quarrel over."
She’s right, I've already made the major sacrifice by agreeing to marry her.
"Go buy yourself a ring, then."
"I'm going to buy you one, too."
"No, you're fucking not. Don't push me too far, Winkie."
"But I want you to have a ring."
"Look, you want to wear a ring, I allow you to wear one; I don't want a ring, so please allow me not to wear one."
"Why is it so important to you not to wear a wedding ring?"
"How can you ask a such a stupid question after all I've said about following social conventions? Why is it so important to you that I wear a ring? Because you want every woman who happens to see me when I’m alone to know that I belong to someone?”
"You don't have to wear it when you're not with me."
"What, I should put it on each time you enter a room and take it off whenever you leave it? I'll wear all the flesh off my finger."
"Don't be such an old grump."
"Oh, all right, buy me a fucking ring."
I look at the dingy tenements lining the street and shudder at the thought of having to live within such grim walls with Winkie. What have I done to myself? Because I've wished to appear to be more honorable than I am, I’ve abandoned all my ideals. If I'd not gone to Winkie to cravenly seek economic security, none of this would have happened. And now I've agreed to marry someone I'm ashamed of, someone who’s neither intelligent, witty nor talented.
Would my father have married such a girl? Never. I feel like going home and putting my head in my mother’s lap. Where is that impulse coming from?
My only consolation is that Winkie may be grateful to me forever for having rescued her from the doldrums.
"Winkie, I have some good news. I'm working this summer at The Bowery, the club in Salisbury Beach where I worked the summer before last."
"But what about Houston, Eddie?"
"We'll go there after the summer."
"What do you want me to do while you're away?"
"You can do whatever you want to do."
"No, you tell me what to do."
"You're free to decide that for yourself.”
“Why won’t you tell me what I should do?”
“All right, do what I'm going to do: try to save as much money as you can for our trip to Houston."
"Eddie?" Sandra calls from the bedroom. "Are you awake?"
I hesitate a moment before asking, "Do you want me to come and keep you warm?"
I’m obliged to take my blanket into the bedroom, pile it on top of the blanket already there and get into bed with Sandra.
"It was nice of you to offer me your bed, not having met me before tonight.”
"What else could I do? You're a friend of the leader of the band and his girl."
"You would have given me your bed even if I were not their friend. Would you slip your arm behind my head? Um, that’s better. Your body is so warm."
Sandra snuggles closer to me, tilts back her head and offers me her lips. As we kiss, I’m wondering how I'm going to get out of this situation. Little Sandra, however, seems to be in no mood to get out of it. She clutches me even closer to her, curling her legs about mine. A conflict arises in me: should I be true to Winkie or be true to my body that yearns for Sandra? My determination to remain faithful to Winkie begins to crumble, to seem unnatural, even ridiculous. To be faithful to a girl who is miles away while lying beside a passionate young girl seems almost insane. It can't possibly harm Winkie if I make it with Sandra. Would it harm me if Winkie should be fucking someone else at this very moment? Not at all, Yes, the only honest way for Winkie and I to be when we’re living together is for each free of us to be free to have lovers.
I position myself between Sandra's legs.
"I should tell you, Eddie, that I'm having my period," Sandra says, offering me a perfect excuse to remain faithful to Winkie.
"That doesn't matter to me, Sandra. Does it to you?"
"No, nothing could matter to me at this moment."
"What's wrong with you two?" I ask Teddy, the alto sax player, and Randy, the trumpeter. "I assumed that you were progressive jazz musicians with an interest in new sounds, but whenever I play recordings of music by Berg, Schoenberg or Webern you pillow-fight with each other. It's as if you can't bear to listen to the sounds."
"Why don't you ever play jazz records?" Teddy asks.
"I’m playing jazz, so why should I listen to jazz records? I want to hear sounds more far out than the sounds that jazz musicians make."
"If you're with Eddie, then you must be an exceptional girl," Sam, the owner of The Bowery, tells Winkie who is visiting me in Salisbury Beach.
Hearing this, I cringe. How Sam's regard for me would plummet if he should really know Winkie. Fortunately, she's here for a short stay only.
"Eddie, man, you gotta meet this girl Dorothy," a young hipster on the local scene tells me. “She's just like you. She jokes like you, she talks about the same kind of books and movies and music that you do. And she's a real doll who used to be a model in New York, where she hung out with jazz musicians.”
"Where is she?"
"She's workin' as a waitress in a joint in Hampton Beach. She says she just got out of a convent her father put her in to keep her away from junk."
"Tell her to come to The Bowery."
"What're you doing, wasting your time playing in these nowhere clubs?" Teddy Kotick, an established jazz bassist, tells me after he’s heard me jamming with Dick Twardzyk, the young piano player in our quintet. "You should be working in New York, man."
I’m ashamed to tell him that I intend to work as a draftsman in Houston.
"That music is fine," Dorothy says, listening to a recording of Anton Webern’s music. "He leaves a lot of space in his music so that the bell-like sounds can stand out."
Teddy and Randy seem to be so spellbound by Dorothy that they forget to engage in a pillow fight.
"Someone said you were a model in New York," Teddy says to her.
"Yes, and I hated it, working with those empty headed bitches whose main ambition was to get into hopeless Hollywood movies. Can anything be more mundane than that? Hollywood doesn’t make movies like "The Children of Paradise". Have any of you seen it?"
"I have," I say. "I think it’s the greatest."
"Do you live in New York, Dorothy?" asks Randy.
"Sometimes, with my alcoholic mother. I despise alcoholics. They're so sloppily sentimental one moment, and suddenly cruel the next. They have no dignity. The good thing about alcohol is that it kills off a lot of unnecessary people. I don't have anything good to say about New York, either. It's full of loud insensitive people. They should drop an atom bomb on it and forget about it."
“There must be some sensitive people in New York, Dorothy," I say.
"A few, mostly in jail or junked out. Instead of locking up addicts, they should find an island somewhere and build a mountain of heroin on it, so junkies could go there to do up as much as they liked. An island like that would never become overcrowded because many of its inhabitants would celebrate holidays with an overdose," she laughs.
Dorothy's laugh is so infectious that it compels all those present to laugh with her.
"Eddie, man," Dorothy says, coming into my room, "the manager where I work keeps bugging me to move faster, but I can't take more speed than I'm already taking. I have to leave that job."
"Will you be able to find another job?" I ask, pretending I don’t hear Dorothy hinting of wanting to move in with me.
"I guess so."
I feel proud that Dorothy, so hip, so beautiful, wishes to live with me, but, reluctant to support her, I allow the moment to vanish. I need all the money I can get for Houston.
Dick Twardzyk wishes to make a party after hours one night. I have money to contribute toward the party, but I decide to phone Winkie after I finish the gig at midnight.
"Listen, Winkie, my last E string just broke, and I don't have the money to buy a replacement. Can you help me out with a little money? If you can, I'll come by your place tomorrow afternoon to pick it up."
"Is that the reason you call me at this time of night?" Her voice sounds so frigid that I have to remove the receiver from my ear.
"Yes, it's essential that I have a new string; otherwise, I’ll have great difficulty playing tomorrow night. And, since I have to come to town to buy a new string, I thought I could stop by your . . ."
"I have no money to give you."
"Oh, I see. Okay, then, I'm sorry I’ve bothered you. Is everything all right with you?"
"I'm fine. And sleepy."
"Okay, I'll cut off."
I leave the phone booth and walk out into the deserted street, feeling as forlorn as the street. She has no money to give me, not even a few fucking dollars. Which means she hasn’t saved anything for Houston.
I look across the way at the darkened roller coaster structure. Its owner is probably in his house, sitting at a table behind drawn window shades and counting the money he's pulled in tonight. While all I have to count are the stars above.
"Is that the reason you call me at this time of night?" she’d asked in a voice lacking the slightest hint of warmth or of concern. She didn't even ask how I was.
And this is the girl for whom I'm going to sacrifice my freedom, the cold bitch I'm going to live beside? How wrong I was when I thought she’d be forever grateful to me for pulling her out of the mire.
I find a mailbox in the town center in which to drop the letter to Winkie, announcing my decision to break off from her. It's been the most difficult letter I've ever had to write. My hand has had to overcome a strong resistance to writing it. Each sentence would be one more shaft driven into Winkie's often wounded heart. More than once I’d thought of stopping to write, but each time the remembrance of the icy tone of her voice on the phone made me continue. No, I don’t need to be with Winkie, when there are brighter girls, such as Dorothy, to be with.
I walk up to the mailbox, ready to drop the letter in my hand - and walk past it. I stop and turn to look at the box. I walk up to it again – and, again, I’m unable to drop the letter into it. Sympathy for Winkie is preventing me from slipping the letter into the mailbox. Determined, I return to the box - and go past it again. Stricken by indecision, I stand on the curbing.
Taking a deep breath, I go to the mailbox and drop the letter into it.
Hooray! I'm free! Liberated! Fuck Houston and fuck marriage and fuck wedding rings! And fuck Winkie, too. I don't care what happens to her. Let her suffer. Let her kill herself. It doesn't matter to me, because I'm true to myself again. I’m out of the cage I’d put myself into. Happy days are here again.
"Here's the dime bag you asked me to score for you in the Apple, Eddie."
"Thanks, Bill. I think I'll snort a little before going to work tonight."
"You're not going to waste this good horse snorting it. I'm going to do you up."
I watch Bill tear off the edge of a dollar bill, wrap the torn off piece around the nozzle of an eyedropper before fitting the needle onto it. Next, he cooks up some powder and a little water in a spoon before drawing the result into the dropper.
"Put out your arm and pull on this tie until I tell you to loosen it. This is your first fix, right?"
"Right, I've only snorted it a few times."
"Well, you'll probably remember this hit for the for rest of your life."
We're standing in the kitchen as Bill slips the needle into my vein.
"You can let go of the tie, Eddie. I’ll tease it for awhile."
I watch some of the liquid leave, then reenter the dropper, bloodied.
"Hold on, Eddie."
I feel I've been hit hard in the solar plexus. Wavering on my feet, I almost fall forward onto the floor.
"Wow, Bill, I really feel that."
"You're looking a bit shaky, Eddie. Do you want me to sit in for you at the club?”
"No, I'll play. I want to hear how I sound while I’m on junk."
ARRIVING TRAIN ONE AM MEET ME STATION = WINKIE
How can she send me such a telegram after I wrote to her that it was over between us? Why is she coming? What does she want? Does she wish to make a scene?
One thing is certain: I'm not meeting her at the station.
Winkie, having been met at the station by friends visiting me, sits quietly beside me in the noisy living room of the cottage.
"Why aren't you talking to me, Eddie?"
"You don't know why?"
"Is that your new girlfriend?" she asks, nodding toward Dorothy across the room. "Can I talk to you alone, Eddie?"
"About what's going on with you."
"We can go to the kitchen. Come.” I lead the way.
"Tell me why you're not happy to see me."
"I told you that already in the letter I sent you."
"What letter? I didn't get any letter from you."
"No, not at all."
Fuck, after all the trouble of getting that letter into the mailbox, I must have forgotten to put postage stamps on the envelope.
"Then, I guess I'll have to tell you. You remember the night I phoned you to tell you I needed money to buy a new bass string and you said that you had no money to give me?"
"Yes, I remember."
"Well, voice you used was so cold, without the slightest hint of concern or of affection. It made me feel abandoned by the one person who should have been my closest friend. If you cared for me, you could have gone out and fucked someone for the money. Why not? I’ve always come through whenever you’ve needed money, haven't I? So, now you know why I don't want to be with you."
"Oh, Eddie, you look so sad, so tired. Are you doped out? I feel sorry for you."
“Wow, those are far-out sounds,” members of the Woody Herman band remark after they’ve heard the Anton Webern disc I’ve played for them.
I feel proud to have introduced them to sounds they truly appreciate; proud, too, that their girlfriends have invited me to lunch to ask me whom I consider to be the greatest writers.
“So, you’re going to New York?” Winkie says.
“Yes, it’s about time I did. I just came by to say goodbye.”
“When will you be coming back?”
“Never, I hope. Oh, do you have a tissue to blow my nose?”
“In the bedroom.”
“Sit, Wink, I’ll get it.”
In the bedroom, finding the tissue and turning to leave, I see a Teddy bear on her bed. She sleeps with a Teddy Bear at her age! How could I have ever thought of marrying this girl?
"Eddie, man” Dorothy exclaims, entering the subway car. “So, you made it to the Apple."
"I've been here over a month. I've phoned you a number of times but you never seem to be in. What a coincidence to have run into you in the subway."
"Are you gigging?"
“No, The musicians’ union here doesn’t allow outsiders to work steady until they’ve been here three months. In the meantime, I’ve taken a menial job at the public library on 42nd Street.”
“That’s better than bumming it. And you’re close to a lot of books.”
“Yeah, and I’ve been going to concerts, plays, art galleries, jazz clubs, and I’ve probably seen every great foreign film made.”
“Does your gig at the library pay you enough to do all that?”
“There’s this Puerto Rican cat working at the library who gives me passes to plays and concerts which are given to him by one of the department heads. He has no use for them, so he gives them to me. Yeah, and when Carlos, that’s his name, learned that I wanted to go somewhere warm for the winter he told me he had a brother who might need a night watchman in his car wrecking company in Tucson. And if I were interested in taking the job, he’d phone his brother.”
“To Tucson, man, to work as a night watchman!”
“It’s an ideal job for someone who wants to write.”
“How well do you know this Carlos cat?”
“I’ve been to a party at his flat where I met his wife and friends. I took my record player with me and left it there. And when he fixed me up with the Tucson job I told him he could have it.”
“How convenient that your friend has a brother with a job for you when he learns that you want to avoid the cold of New York. My stop’s coming up.”
“Listen, Dorothy, there’s going to be a concert of contemporary music at The Philharmonic next Wednesday evening. Do you have eyes?”
“Good. Meet me there at eight.”
“Listen, Carlos, please don’t send me on a wild goose chase to Tucson if you have no brother there. Don’t be afraid to be straight with me. I’m not going to be violent with you.”
“On my mother’s grave, Eddie, I’ve been telling you the truth.”
“Keep the record player, but don’t have me go to Tucson with only a few dollars on me.”
“Believe me, I wouldn’t do that to you, never.”
Carlos comes to work with scratch marks all over his face.
“What happened to you?” I ask.
“I had a fight with my wife. She’s a real tigress when she’s angry. I’ve moved out of that apartment.”
I find no listing of Ajax Car Wreckers in the yellow pages of the Tucson telephone directory. Lucky I remembered in time that the library has phbooks from most of the major cities in the country. It also has newspapers from those cities. I find lots of help wanted ads for draftsman in the Los Angeles newspapers.
That done, I think I’ll go see Carlos’ wife.
In the hallway, I ring the doorbell of Carlos’ flat. He appears at the top of the stairs.
“Hey, Carlos, I thought you said you weren’t living here any longer.”
“Shush.” Carlos raises a finger before his lips. “Wait.”
In a moment, he comes down the stairs, the record player in his hand.
“Here,” he says, handing me the player.
“You really are a stupid bastard, Carlos; if you’d been straight with me, you could have kept the record player.”
“On my mother’s grave, Eddie, I’ve been . . .”
“Piss on your mother’s grave. I checked the Tucson phone directory and there was no Ajax Car wreckers listed.”
“He may have an unlisted number. Would you like to have coffee and cake with me?”
“Sure, Carlos, why not?”
“So, Dorothy, instead of Tucson I’m on my way to L.A. to take advantage of the Korean War.”
“That sounds a lot better than Tucson. You were lucky to latch on to that Carlos’ game.”
“Thanks to you. You were the one to arouse my doubts about him. When will I learn to be less trusting?”
"How far you goin'?’’ asks the young soldier, who sits beside me on the New York to L.A. bus.
"All the way to L.A.’’
"I get off at Dallas, then catch another bus to my home. Lots of Spanish where I live. You Spanish?’’ I guess he means am I Mexican.
"No, I'm not.’’
"Why you goin' to L.A.?’’
"To look for work as a draftsman.’’
"Opening and closing windows at a defense plant.’’
“Is that your trade?’’
"No, I used to play bass in jazz groups, but the jobs were few and far between. And when I did manage to get a gig I didn't like the smoke filled clubs, the gangsters who usually operated those places or the ignorant and pretentious people who hung out in them. But, most of all, I was not happy with my playing. It wasn't inspired or spontaneous, coming from my head and not from my heart. I was spontaneous only when I went to the microphone to do some scat singing. So, now, I feel there are better things to do with my life than to play bass.”
"Like opening and closing windows?’’
"No, writing stories. Sometimes what I write completely breaks me up, because I don't know where it’s coming from.”
"But you're not goin' to LA to write stories.”
"No, I need a lot of time to do that. By working as a draftsman I hope to save enough money to enable me to write in Europe for a year or two. It's much cheaper to live there.”
He leans forward to roll up his pant legs.
"I'm comin' home from Korea. Paratrooper; hurt my leg pretty bad doin' a jump.”
"Is it painful? I noticed you checking it a number of times.”
In fact, he looked at his wound so often, I concluded that he was proud of it.
"Yeah, it hurts a bit. I'm goin' home to rest up.”
He allows his pant leg to drop and sits back.
"Hey! I just noticed. What happened to your hand?”
"Hand to hand combat with a German,” I say, just to see what develops.
"Jeez! Let me see it. Yeah, two fingers cut clean off!” He seems to be greatly impressed. I have a more formidable wound than his. “How'd it happen?”
"We were in our trenches when the Germans charged us. Climbing out to confront them, I stumbled and saw a German bearing down on me with his bayonet pointed straight at me. There was nothing for me to do but to make a grab for his rifle, but I took hold of the bayonet instead. The last thing I remembered seeing was my two fingers dangling by a bloody thread.”
When the bus makes a food stop the paratrooper returns with his hands laden with goodies for me. I laugh to myself for having upstaged him. But now a dread begins to enter my mind: what if he should ask me the question I won't be able to answer. He'll find out I've been putting him on and punch me out.
"What company were you in?” he asks the question I've been dreading.
"When I grabbed that bayonet I not only lost my fingers, but I suffered a complete mental breakdown as well. I'm not fully recovered yet. I'm not even supposed to talk about it.”
Not only do I have a physical wound but a mental one as well! Even more goodies and drinks for me at the next bus stop.
A pair of crutches leaning against the wall is the first thing I notice when I enter the personnel manager's office.
"You haven't worked as a draftsman for the past four years,” he says, after looking through my application. “What have you been doing since you last worked?”
"Managing the real estate left to my mother by my father when he died. My mother is an Armenian born in Istanbul who speaks very little English, and it was left to me, as the eldest son, to look after the property. But a short time ago, I met and fell in love with a very sweet girl who is from here. My mother doesn't approve of her because she's not Armenian. My mother believes Armenians should marry Armenians only. So, that left me torn between my obligation to my mother and my love for this girl. Finally, entrusting my younger brother with the maintenance of the property, I've decided to come here to find work, to marry, to build a home and to start a family. But my mother says I'm incapable of doing any of these things because I’m a cripple,” I conclude, laying my hand down on the table before him.
He hires me.
1951 - 1952
"Have you heard the music of Anton Webern? Ah, what's your name, by the way?"
"Fred. Fred King. No, I never heard anything by that guy."
"Then, this'll be a new musical experience for you."
I begin the recording of Webern’s string quartet and sit with my eyes shut to listen to the music.
Fred King taps his feet, then begins to sing:
"Tea for two and two for tea, a roach for you and a joint for me."
He snaps his fingers to gain my attention. "You got any grass to smoke?"
I nod that I haven't.
"Speaking of joints, have you ever seen one as magnificent as this?" Leering gleefully, he fondly strokes his exposed cock.
I switch off the music and wait for him to leave.
He rises, takes off his shirt, and goes to the mirror to look admiringly over his shoulder at the reflected image of his back. Now he turns to admire his torso.
"Have you ever seen such a wonderful back?" He looks at me over his shoulder.
He backs toward me, slowly lowering his pants.
"Come on, don't be shy. Touch it. I know you're dying to put your hands on my back."
"The only way I want to see that back is going out the door."
"You mean, you invited me up here just to throw me out?"
"No, I invited you because I heard you tell the woman you were waiting on in the restaurant downstairs that you were studying harmony, counterpoint and musical composition. Out of sympathy for an impoverished student of music, I thought I'd turn you on to some contemporary sounds. But, now that I see you're not what I took you to be, you can go."
"Shit, who would ever take you for a hetero?" he says says, stamping out.
“I’m sorry about yesterday,” Fred King says, standing at my door. “I read you all wrong. It’s been so long since anyone’s been kind to me that I’ve forgotten such a thing as kindness exists. Everyone I meet wants to use me for my body.”
“With a modicum of encouragement from you, no doubt. And do girls also want to use your body?”
“Can I come in? Standing here, I feel like a door to door salesman.’
He walks in and takes the armchair.
“No, the bitches aren’t coming after me. It’s criminal injustice. It’s me, with my great body, who has to follow some flabby-bodied bitch down the street and memorize how her ass and hips swing, so I’ll have something to jack-off to in my lonely bed. Man, it should be the bitches on their knees before me, begging to touch my magnificent body.”
“You probably don’t know how to come on to them.”
“Whenever I see a bitch who attracts me, I show her this.”
He hands me a full-length photo of himself. Wearing only a jockstrap, his body agleam with oil, Fred stares solemnly out of the photo.
“I can’t see you getting many girls with this.” I return the photo to him.
“Okay, if I were tall and dark like you instead of red-haired and freckle-faced like me, I’d be able to get the bitches too. I’ve been so frustrated at times that I’ve tried to do away with myself. Once, after sealing all the windows and the door, I lay my head on a pillow in the oven and turned on the gas. But just as I was about to blank out, the gas was turned off. I hadn’t paid the gas bill that month.”
“You didn’t think of lighting a match? There might have been enough gas in the room to blow you away.”
“Another time, I’m speeding down the highway in a stolen car, a joint in one hand, my cock in the other, and guiding the car with a leg through the steering wheel - one of the greatest moments of my life. And the cops pull me over and take me in for driving without a license.
“And one night when I was in the army, I crept into the shower room, slashed both my wrists and was passing away nicely under the warm water when an officer, who happened to be passing, saw me and yanked me out. And do you know what the asshole said to me with a disgusted look on his face? ‘If I ever catch you trying to do this again, I’ll . . .’ ‘You’ll what?’ I asked, holding up my bleeding wrists before his eyes.
“Then the dumb bastards put me next to the driver of the ambulance taking me to the hospital. On the first sharp curve, I dove for the steering wheel and almost got us off the road before I was overpowered. You can see that my main aim in life is to leave it.”
“That’s too bad, Fred.”
“What’s so bad about it? What’s there to live for?”
“No, it’s too bad that you haven’t achieved your main aim. It would be a shame to die a natural death before you’ve succeeded in knocking yourself off.”
“You’re a humorous bastard, huh. Hey, there’s a piano downstairs. You want to come down and listen to me play?”
“Yeah, why not?”
“So, what do you think of my arrangements for piano?”
“Not bad. How’d you learn to play?”
“My father plays piano in cocktail lounges, and I’ve had some lessons.”
“Yeah, you play like a cocktail lounge player. I’d like it more if you played jazz piano.”
“That’s why I’d like to study more. But how can I do that without money?”
“What about your salary as a busboy?”
“Shit, all I get is room and board.”
“Can’t you study more with your father?”
“And have to live with that bitch, my mother? Never! She is the queen of all bitches. Even as a child I knew that. Mornings, I’d hear her tell my father how much she loved him, and that very same night, I’d be in the back seat of some guy’s car and hear her telling that guy how she loved him more than anyone else. That two-faced little bitch. I feel like vomiting whenever I think of her.”
“You want to play table tennis, Fred?” I nod toward the table in the room.
“I’m too upset now. Let’s play tomorrow.”
“It’s nineteen-seven my favor, Fred.”
“Fuck you!” He hurls his racket past my head. ‘You’re so fucking lucky.”
“Lucky for seven games in a row, Fred?”
“Yeah, I’m always a loser in life, while you’re always a winner.”
“You wouldn’t say that if you knew how humiliated I feel having to work a day job after all those years playing jazz in clubs. You should see the kind of people I’m working with. They drive down Main Street with their windows pulled up, afraid of I don’t know what. They are so straight, they think that eating pussy is something they’d only pay to watch.”
“And is that what you live for: to eat pussy?”
“You eat cock, Fred.”
“Yeah, but only for money, for survival. But why I want to survive is beyond me. Death fascinates me. Also, the atrocities committed by man against man down through the ages. That’s why I admired the SS. No love your neighbor bullshit with them. And they wore black, my favorite color. I like the dark of night and hate the light of day. You know who my hero is these days? Frankie Costello, the chief of the Mafia.”
“But you, Fred, wish to kill yourself rather than other people.”
“Hey, you’ve just given me a great idea: I take a machine gun into a crowded street and mow down as many people as I can before the cops gun me down. Ah-hah, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
“I just quit my fucking job.” Fred walks past me into my room.
“Why’d you do that?”
“I can’t take working with all those dreamers. One asshole owns a ranch in Montana, another is waiting for his fortune to be cleared by the banks, a third is a deposed prince of some unheard of country.”
“And you’re a serious student of musical composition.”
“Yeah, well . . .” Fred smirks.
“And now you’re without room and board. So, what’re you going to do?”
“I was just about to ask you if you could let me sleep here until I find a job.”
“You can see there’s only one bed in here.”
“I can sleep on the floor.”
“Impossible. I don’t want to watch out that I don’t step on you every time I get out of bed.”
“You can step on me all you want.”
“And have to listen to you yowl in pain?”
“You won’t hear a peep out of me.”
“And I don’t want to witness you gradually starving to death.”
“You won’t have to. I’ll scrounge meals out of the Salvation Army. I’ve done that before. Only, I’ve never liked staying around for the sermons.”
“And I don’t want you staring at the food on my plate and depriving it of its savor.”
“You’re responsible for my being here, you know.”
“Yeah, whenever I’m just about to do myself in you tell me I should read this book or see that movie before I kill myself. And when I read the book or see the movie I get so excited that I forget all about knocking myself off.”
“All right, Fred, stay until you find yourself a gig.”
Fred, who’s been watching Frances as she speaks with me, suddenly falls prone to the floor at her feet and, rolling up his shirt, looks up at her over his shoulder.
“Would you mind to rub my back?” he pleads.
“What is this?” Frances asks, recoiling. “Who is this creature?”
“That’s Fred King, Frances.”
“His behavior is most bizarre. What is he doing here?”
“Staying until he finds work.”
“Why do you permit such an imbecile to stay with you?”
“Perhaps I’ll use him as a character in a novel someday.”
“That novel is certain to fail,” Frances predicts. “Now, look here, Dread or Bread or whatever your name is, rise like a man and resume your role of silent onlooker.”
“Fuck you, you cunt, you should feel honored to touch my back.”
“Cool it, Fred,” I say.
“Anyway, it’s time I leave.” Frances rises. “Ernest and I will be expecting you to baby-sit for us next Friday evening. See you then.”
“Babysit! How much they pay you to do that?”
“I get good food and drinks, the use of a quiet home, and when they return Frances usually takes me to bed.”
“Yeah, and what does her husband do?”
“Sometimes he joins in, other times he just watches or reads a book or retires to his workshop to try to invent something that will earn a fortune.”
“A weirdo, huh.”
“No, just someone with an open attitude toward sex.”
Walking into my room, I find the light on, the shades drawn and Fred, flushed of face, sitting naked in the armchair, his hands tucked in his lap.
“Jacking-off again, Fred?”
He leers up at me.
“Why have you pulled down the shades? You feel ashamed of jacking-off?”
“I don’t want the bitches to see my beautiful body.”
“Your name is King, right? Then jack-off like a king: standing at the window with the shades up. Let the bitches see your body, let them come crawling and slavering to the window, let them scratch on the windowpane and beg to be allowed to come in, while you ejaculate disdainfully upon the inside of that windowpane.”
“Look at those people tossing food up in the air for the seagulls to catch,” Fred says, sitting beside me on the park bench. “They throw food to the gulls, but do you think they’d throw a crumb in my direction, those bastards? How fucking lucky birds are, free to fly anywhere they please without having to think of visas.”
“They may be bound by other laws, Fred.”
“Look at that drake after that duck. Got her. Jumped her in broad daylight. Fucks whenever he has the urge. If I should jump some broad in the street now, I’d be locked up right away. Life as a human being is the shits.”
“But it’s soon over, Fred.”
“Not soon enough for me.”
Fred and I attend a Sunday afternoon jam session in a Hollywood club.
“Eddie, man!” I look up to see Dorothy standing by our table.
“Good to see you, Dorothy. Sit down.”
“This is Johnny, a drummer I came with from New York. Johnny, this is Eddie, the bass player I’ve told you about.”
“And this is Fred.”
Fred nods sullenly.
“Are you gigging out here?” Dorothy asks.
“No, I’m working as a draftsman, trying to get together enough bread to go to Europe.”
“Yeah, I’d love to go to Europe.”
“There’s Billy Ecstine at the bar,” Johnny says. “Think I’ll go talk with him a minute.”
“You a musician, man?” Dorothy asks Fred.
“Ah. . .”
“He plays some piano,” I tell her.
“Billy says he has no cash on him,” Johnny says, returning to the table. “Hey, Eddie, can you lay a dime on us to score some dope?”
“We’ll give you a taste, Eddie,” Dorothy says. “We’ve got a car and a driver waiting outside.”
“Yeah, sure.” I hand him a ten dollar bill.
“Beautiful, Eddie. Let’s go, Dorothy.”
“Come with us, Eddie,” Dorothy invites.
“Cool. See you later, Fred.”
“Who’s that Fred cat?” Dorothy asks, sitting with me in the back seat of the car. “He seems so morose.”
“He’s a multiple failed suicide.”
“Then, he can’t be all that bad.”
“Dorothy, baby, try this drug store here,” Johnny says from the seat next to the driver. “We’ll keep the motor running.”
“I’ll be right back.” Dorothy leaves the car.
“We gotta score works first,” Johnny tells me. “How’s the jazz scene here?”
“I guess it’s cool enough for L.A. but it’s not New York.”
“Drive off fast,” Dorothy says, returning. “That mother told me to wait while he went into the back of the shop. Sure, wait for him to call the police.”
“Did he see this car?” asks Johnny.
“I don’t think so.”
“Cool. Try this shop coming up.”
Dorothy leaves the car.
“Are you working, Johnny?”
“No, I’m looking. I might be able to cop a job with a big band.”
“I never liked working in big bands. Not much scope for improvising.”
“I like pushing a big band with my drumming.”
“No good.” Dorothy hops back in. “The creep wanted to fuck me. For works, man. This world is full of such useless assholes.”
“Maybe we’ll hit on the third try, baby.”
“You know, Eddie, if I were in my room now, I’d be in so much pain,” Dorothy tells me. “But, now that we’re on the chase, I don’t feel anything.”
“Okay, baby, here you go again.”
Dorothy leaves and we wait silently.
“Copped it!” Dorothy says, returning to the car.
“Great, baby. Now for the easy part: scoring the dope.”
“Can we shoot up in your place, Eddie?” asks Dorothy.
As Dorothy inserts the needle into my vein, Fred, watching, winces. Fred, who talks incessantly of killing himself, can’t bear to see a needle entering my arm.
“Well, that’s all folks,” laughs Johnny. “Hey, Eddie, where can we dump these works?”
“You want to get rid of them after you went to all that trouble to score them?”
“Yeah, man, we’re quitting.”
“That’s what you say every night, right?”
“Yeah, but this time it’s for real.”
I wake up to see a small orange glow floating about in my room.
“What’s up, Fred?”
“I’ve never met a girl as cool and as beautiful as Dorothy. I’m sure she’s the girl destined to be with me. She despises life and people like I do. I can’t wait till the day when we’ll be together.”
“What do you intend to do about Johnny?”
“She’s been with many Johnnies before this one, but once she’s with me we’ll dispose of him.”
“You guys hang here,” Johnny tells Dorothy and me in their flat. “I’m going for an audition with Charlie Barnet’s band. See you later.”
“He’s not going for any audition,” Dorothy tells me. “He’s going out to score dope for himself, the selfish bastard.”
Although I’ve been looking forward eagerly to being alone with Dorothy, I find that we don’t have much to say to one another. Without music and books to talk about, we seem to be lost. How bored couples must become when they are alone with one another.
“Recently, I read a book by that guy who had written an article in the literary review you had in Salisbury Beach,” Dorothy tells me.
“By the writer you said you didn’t like?”
“I like him now; I found out he’s a junkie.”
Fred, who’s been listening quietly, falls before Dorothy, his shirt rolled up.
“Would you rub my back?” he asks, looking up at her over his shoulder.
“Hey, man, don’t get creepy on me.”
“You lousy fucking bitch. Oh, you look like such a sweet young thing, but you’re a hardened little cunt like all the rest of your kind.”
“Don’t mind Fred, Dorothy. He’s like this with every girl who comes here.”
“Johnny, man, that’s too much to give Eddie.” Dorothy watches Johnny tap powder into a spoon.
“No, it’s not, baby.”
“Yes, it is. He can’t handle that much.”
Dorothy’s so greedy for dope, she begrudges giving me enough.
“It’s all right, baby,” Johnny says. “Put out your arm, Eddie.”
As soon as Johnny shoots me up, I realize he’s given me too much. Dorothy’s not greedy after all, but concerned about my wellbeing.
“Lie in the bed, Eddie,” Dorothy says. “You don’t look so good.”
I become semi-conscious. I can’t move my head or open my eyes, but I can hear Dorothy and Johnny speaking to one another. Although they’re lying in bed with me, their voices sound distant.
“Eddie, here’s my friend, Danny, just popped in from San Diego for a visit,” Fred tells me excitedly. “Danny, I’ve told Eddie a lot about you.”
“You’re the Danny who works in a defense plant, right?”
“That is correct.”
“Fred’s told me you’re so afraid of being attacked by rednecks that you carry books and classical records under your jacket.”
“Danny knows philosophy inside out.” Fred beams. “You and he are going to have some lively debates, but you’re not going to be able to outwit Danny. Give him a sample, Danny.”
“There’s nothing new under the sun.”
“Nor under the moon.”
“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”
“That’s enough for now, Danny.” Fred takes Danny’s arm. “Let’s go find you a room in this hotel.”
“Guess what?” Fred says, skipping into my room. “Danny’s going to send me money every week to pay for piano lessons. Isn’t that great?”
“It sure is.”
“And he’s taking me out to dinner. See you later.”
My first impulse is to tell Danny not to waste his hard-earned money on an utterly unmusical Fred. But, then again, why should I try to deprive Fred of badly needed money? What does it matter, after all? Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.
Fred rushes into my room, places a wooden stool directly under the overhead light, takes out his cock and proceeds to jack-off, a beatific smile upon his face. His breathing deepens and hastens, his face becomes flushed, and the windowpanes shudder as Fred applies himself assiduously to his task.
Lying on my side in my bed and watching him, I can’t resist saying, “Sitting there, Fred, you look like God upon his throne about to create the universe.”
Fred’s cock falls limp in his hand, and he casts a baleful look at me.
“Shut your fucking yap, you cock-sucker,” he advises, then returns to his chore.
Again his face flushes, his breath quickens and the windowpanes rattle.
“What would your followers think if they could see you now, Fred?”
And again his cock shrivels in his hand.
“You dirty hypocrite, you tell me to jack-off openly and without shame, but when I do you ridicule me.”
“You should be able to jack-off in the face of ridicule, too.”
“Fuck you.” Fred charges out of the room.
He returns, holding up semen-webbed fingers before my eyes. He leers at me as he meticulously wipes the semen off onto my bed sheets. Lying on my side, I kick out and send him hurtling back against the wall. He recovers his balance and comes at me, a long knife in his hand. Standing at the foot of my bed, he taps my leg with the flat of the knife blade.
“Come on and kick again, you bastard. What’s the matter, Eddie, why have you become suddenly become so coy? Cat got your tongue? Kick, so I can slice off your foot. Oh, you’ll look so grand with a limp. And how popular you’ll be with the bitches begging for a peek at your bloody stump. They’re much more bloodthirsty than we are, you know.”
I nod out to the monotone of Fred’s voice.
Fred glides into my room, humming and smiling.
“What’s wrong with you, Fred?”
“I’ve got a date, a date with a girl.”
“With a bitch, you mean.”
“This one’s different. She likes me and, best of all, she works.”
“Well, that sounds promising.”
“Yeah, Eddie, but what should I do with her, say to her?”
“Just be your natural charming self. Amuse her, regale her with anecdotes from your extensive store of knowledge. But be sure to collect in front.”
“Collect in front?”
“Yeah, Fred, you know how fickle girls are. Once they’ve had a few orgasms, it’s difficult to get a penny out of them. So make sure she pays you beforehand.”
“I would never have thought of that. I’m glad I talked to you.”
Fred stomps in, walks up to the wall and smashes his fist into it.
“That bitch, that fucking little bitch.”
“Why, what happened, Fred?”
“I pick her up at her workplace, and on the bus to her house, I do what you told me to do. I entertain her with accounts of all the ingenious methods man has devised, through the ages, to torture his fellow man. I’m truly inspired, keeping up the chatter all the way to her house. Once we’re there, she tells me she wants to go in alone to see if her parents are home. So, I wait and wait and wait until I’m ready to set fire to her house. Finally, a little girl comes out and tells me, ‘My sister never wants to see you again.’ That cowardly cunt.”
“I guess your kind of knowledge was a bit too heavy for an unsophisticated working girl.”
Fred looks at me for a long moment.
“What makes you tick, Eddie? What makes you want to continue with this stupid life? How do you remain so fucking serene?”
“I don’t know, Fred. I just go on without thinking about it.”
“You pitiful bastard, you don’t even realize how miserable you are. But I’m going to do you a big favor. When I decide to do myself in I’m going to take you with me.”
“I suggest that you kill yourself before you kill me. Otherwise, if you kill me and then are unable to kill yourself, you will suffer an unbearable loneliness.”
“Danny’s cutting off my money,” Fred informs me. “The next installment will be my last. He accuses me of wasting his money on grass rather than spending it on piano lessons.”
“Well, that’s true, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, but I resent his spying on me and dictating to me how I should live. Why does he have to be so sickeningly straight? Shit, shit, shit, everything’s going wrong for me again.”
“I went to church today,” Fred announces.
“To pray, Fred?”
“Yeah, to prey upon the collection box. But if you think those bastards are placing their trust in their fellow man, you’re sadly deluded. They had a lock on that box as big as your conceit. I worked on it for more than an hour without success. Then, while I’m struggling with that lock, out from the surrounding darkness steps this well-dressed man. ‘Would you like to pray with me, my son?’ he asks, and since he seems to be affluent, I accompany him into the church.
“The dirty hypocrite, all the while we’re kneeling side by side, he’s got his hands all over my body. ‘If you’re hungry, my boy, come with me and I will feed you,’ he invites.
“Man, you should’ve seen his hotel suite, all decked out with costly drapes, rugs, furniture, paintings on the walls.”
“And were you fed, Fred?”
“Not right off. ‘After our sport,’ he tells me when I ask for food. ‘I delight in being ravished by a hungry young man.’
“He made me do everything to him, hang clothespins on his balls, stick wintergreen up his ass, the works. And, while I’m sucking him off, he says, ‘Bite it, my boy, bite it.’ So, when I’ve got him on the very verge of coming, I stop and ask, ‘Will you throw in some cash with the food you’re going to give me?’ And he comes up with, ‘Oh, yes, yes, yes, you cruel boy, money, jewels, whatever you wish. Just finish me off.’ ”
“Then you were fed?”
“Yeah, and it was very tasty.”
“And how much money did he give you?”
“He told me he had to go to the bank to get it and for me to phone him at two. At two, he said the money hadn’t arrived yet and to call him at three. At three, he tried to put me off by telling me to call him tomorrow.
“ ‘I’m in the lobby of this hotel, and I’m coming right up to see you,’ I told him and rushed up to his suite. The door was ajar, so I stormed in. The room was absolutely empty. The bastard had moved out with his paintings, his carpets, his furniture, the works, just to do me out of a few dollars.”
“Haven’t I always advised you to get the money in front?”
“That’s it. I’ve reached the end of my endurance. I’m going to knock myself off.”
“What are you going to do, Fred? Jump off the roof?”
“Don’t be absurd. I don’t want my gorgeous body splattered all over the sidewalk.”
“You could drown yourself in the lake across the street.”
“And have my body all bloated and covered with duck shit when its pulled out. No, I want to leave a beautiful body. Sleeping pills are what I need. But I look too weird for any druggist to sell them to me. You look respectable enough, though. Would you score them for me?”
“Sure, Fred,” I say, having no intention to do so.
“Going to church the other day has given me a great idea of how you and I can make a bundle of money,” Fred tells me. “You’re tall, dark, spiritual looking; while I’m short, freckled and as redhaired as Judas. Wearing a robe and carrying a Bible, you’ll begin to preach in the park. When a crowd has gathered around you I’ll push through the mob and confront you.
. “ ‘You’re a fucking hypocrite,’ I’ll shout and spit in your face, immediately putting the crowd in sympathy with you. ‘Why do you call me an hypocrite,’ you’ll ask in your mealymouthed way. ‘I’ll tell you why,’ I’ll say, and the crowd will press closer to hear the dirt about you. ‘You’re a hypocrite because it is written in that book in your hand that money is at the root of all evil, while YOU, HYPOCRITE, HAVE MONEY IN YOUR POCKET!’
“An hush will descend upon the onlookers as you pause and look benignly at me. Finally, seeming to have reached a decision, you’ll put your hand into your pocket, take out all your money and hand it to me. And the crowd, again in sympathy with you, will also hand me all their money. We’ll meet later and divide the spoils.”
“And what’ll we do for an encore, Fred?”
“I’ve just read a magazine article claiming that the jail in Santa Monica is the finest in the country,” Fred tells me “I’m going there now to tell the police to lock me up before I commit a most heinous crime.”
“Why do you want to be locked up, Fred?”
“For good food and a comfortable bed, you fool. What more could I want?”
“Freedom. You can’t roam far behind bars.”
“It’s a prison out here, too; only you can’t see the bars because the walls are very far apart
1952 - 1953
I answer a knock at my door. A man I’ve never seen before stands before me.
“Your friend Dorothy sent me. I’m a bail bondsman.”
“Her and her boyfriend, for possession.”
“That’s bad news. Come in.”
“Dorothy wants to know if you can post bail for her.”
“A thousand dollars, plus a hundred for our services. The thousand will be refunded to you when she appears in court.”
“And if she doesn’t appear, I lose a thousand dollars.”
“If she runs, the money will be used to try to track her down. But I’m almost certain she won’t skip. She respects you too much to do that.”
“Still, it’s quite risky to trust a user. I can’t afford to lose a thousand dollars. We’d better forget it.”
“You may be right.”
“On the other hand, she is a friend.”
“Sometimes your friends make it difficult for you to help them.”
Is a thousand dollars worth more to me than Dorothy’s comfort? Of course it is. I’ve worked hard to save it. My trip to Europe will have to be postponed if I lose it. But what kind of friend am I if I allow Dorothy to wallow in a jail cell?
“Okay, Eddie, I’m off. Here’s my card if you change your mind.”
“I’ve already changed my mind. I’ll take her out.”
“Good, I don’t think you’ll regret it.”
I wake up to the sound of my door being opened. The light is switched on. Fred, wearing a new suit, stands in the room.
“Look at this, you bastard.” He withdraws a roll of banknotes from his pocket and flicks through them. “One grand, Eddie, one thousand lovely dollars.”
“You won’t have them for long. Shut off the light.”
Fred is sitting in the armchair when I rise in the morning.
“A very merry day to you, my friend,” he greets.
“Yeah, Fred,” I say, going to the sink to wash my face.
“You want to hear how I got the money?”
“I’ll tell you anyhow. I was hitching to San Diego to say goodbye to Danny before I turned myself in, and this gorgeous blonde bitch in a sports car picked me up and whisked me off to a motel. I fucked her so vigorously and so relentlessly that she gave me all her money before she died.”
“Sounds like quite a wet dream, Fred.”
“Okay, I’ll tell you what really happened. I smuggled to Mexico a few emeralds I found lying neglected in a Beverly Hills shop. There, I traded them for the finest grass which I smuggled back into the States.”
“Those emeralds must have been of incredibly low quality if all you realized was a thousand dollars from your transactions.”
“No, what I really did was to go see Danny. Poor Danny, you won’t believe what’s happened to him. It’s the worst thing you can possibly imagine.”
“He’s become a redneck.”
“Worse than that.”
“He’s become a hole in the ground.”
“Even worse. Danny’s become religious. I thought at first that he was joking, but he assured me that he wasn’t. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t want to believe it. Danny who used to go to the park every Sunday and refute all the arguments put forth by the religious zealots, that Danny has become religious. It’s terrifying. If it could happen to him, it could happen to me.
“After unsuccessfully arguing with him for hours, I decided to cite a few passages from the Bible condemning money. ‘Danny, you can’t possibly believe what’s written in this book,’ I said. “Yes, I do, Fred,’ he told me. “Then, you’re nothing but a hypocrite,” I accused. “I say that because you have money in the bank!’
“That stopped him short. He stared at me for some time before saying, ‘Tomorrow we’ll go to the bank, and I’ll give you all my money.’ ‘Danny,’ I pleaded with him, ‘you worked years in a lousy factory for this money. You saved it dollar by dollar, week after week, year after year.’ ‘God will provide,’ he assured me.
“Yeah, God will provide. One hundred, two, three . . .”
“Hey, Fred,” Dorothy greets, entering the room and approaching Fred who sits imperiously in the armchair, thumbs under his new suspenders. “I hear you came into some bread.”
“What’s it to you, bitch?”
“Can you lay ten dollars on me, man? I need a hit really bad.”
“I can, but I won’t.”
“Why not, Fred?”
“Why should I? What did you ever do for me? When I asked you to rub my back you called me a creep.”
“I’ll rub your back for you now, Fred.”
“But I don’t want my back rubbed now. I’d rather watch you suffer.”
“Oh, Fred, I’m in such pain.”
“Wonderful. I want all you bitches to cry out in pain.”
“I’m begging you, man.”
“Beg away. It’s music to my ears.”
“I’m only asking you for ten lousy dollars.”
“Ask yourself why you haven’t got ten lousy dollars. Go on the street and find a trick to turn.”
“You’re being evil, Fred.”
“But I love to be evil, especially to you.”
“Why don’t you give her the money, Fred?” I ask.
“For my sake.”
“For your sake? What did you ever do for me?”
“You ungrateful bastard. Who was it when you wanted to kill yourself, who was it went from druggist to druggist looking for sleeping pills for you?”
“You, you cock-sucker!”
Dorothy pleads with her eyes for me not to make matters worse.
“If you give me the money, I’ll be out of here in a flash.”
“I’ve taken a sudden liking to having your agonized self around.”
“If this cold turkey kills me, Fred.”
“My heart will leap with joy.”
“The police will come for my dead body and . . .”
“ . . . you’ll have to leave here to avoid being interrogated,” I complete Dorothy’s sentence.
“All right, all right, you vultures, take the ten dollars and go.”
Fred is asleep on the floor when Dorothy and I return in the evening. We undress and get into bed.
“Why do you have that Fred thing staying here?” Dorothy asks. “How can you endure his presence?”
Fred clears his throat, probably to signal that he’s awake.
“I despise everything about him,” the stoned Dorothy continues. “I hate the way he looks, the way he walks, the way he talks, everything about him. And that disgusting photo of himself with his body covered with grease which he dares to show to girls . . .”
Fred lights a cigarette.”
“And did you see how long I had to beg the cheap bastard for a lousy ten dollars?”
“Is he awake?”
“Then let’s sleep.”
I hear Fred rise and go to the turntable. He blasts Alban Berg’s string quartet into the room. It’s impossible for me to sleep, but I’m not going to give Fred the satisfaction of knowing that he’s disturbing me. It’s my record, after all, and I may as well listen to it.
I wake up to find Dorothy getting dressed.
“What’s up, Dorothy?”
“I have to go to the airport to meet my uncle who’s arriving this morning.”
“You never told me you were expecting your uncle.”
“I didn’t think it was important. See you, man.”
Fred rises and, ignoring me, pisses into the sink, washes his face, combs his hair and slams out the door.
I go to the armchair with a book. I read until I hear footsteps coming down the hall, becoming louder as they approach.
The door swings open. Fred charges in and holds a knife to my throat.
“Give me my money, you motherfucker.”
“What money, Fred?”
“The hundred dollar bill you took out of my billfold. When I went to bed last night I had nine hundred dollar notes, now I have only eight.”
“Do you actually believe that I took your money?”
“If you didn’t take it, who did?” Fred pauses, then a light begins to appear in his eyes. “Dorothy, that bitch. That’s why she left so early this morning.”
“Her flat’s just around the corner. Let’s go see if she’s in.”
I put my ear to Dorothy’s door.
“I hear water running into a bathtub. She must be in.”
I knock. There’s no response. I knock again.
“Fuck this, let’s break down the door.”
“Cool it, Fred. Let’s see the manager.”
We go down to the manager’s office.
“My sister told me to come by today to help remove her things from room twenty-one,” I explain. “She’s in there, but she doesn’t hear us knocking. Do you have another key to that room?”
Key in hand, we return to Dorothy’s door. I unlock the door, but it won’t open fully. The inner chain is attached.
“Dorothy,” I call. “Hey, Dorothy.”
“Wait, I’ll let you in.”
As soon the door opens, Fred charges in, his knife extended toward Dorothy’s body.
“All right, bitch, give me my money.”
“What are you talking about, man?”
“The hundred dollars you copped from my billfold before you left our room this morning.”
“I never took your money.”
“Get it up before I extend your slit all the way up to your chin.”
“I don’t have any money. Search the flat if you want.”
Fred leans close to Dorothy to look at her eyes.
“You’re right, you don’t have my hundred dollars. You’ve already shot it up your greedy arm.” Fred turns the knife on me. “You give me the hundred dollars. She’s your responsibility. You bailed her out and brought her around.”
“All right, I’ll give you the money. On Friday, when I get paid.”
Fred looks at me, seemingly astonished, then lowers the knife.
“You’d better pay me.”
“I will. Now you can go.”
Fred leaves. Dorothy, sighing, lies down on the bed.
“Don’t give him any money, Eddie. He’s trying to con you into believing I took his money because he hates me.”
“Listen, Dorothy, I don’t blame you if you took the money. So there’s no reason for you to lie to me.”
“I’m not lying, Eddie.”
“I’m your friend. Don’t be afraid to be open with me. I can understand your need to take the money, but I can’t understand your need to lie to me.”
Dorothy’s bathrobe slips open, revealing her snatch. That’s her bare-assed attempt to bribe me into believing her.
I turn away from her.
“Don’t leave, Eddie. Come with me to visit Johnny in jail.”
“Why don’t you jump bail, Dorothy. They’ll never find you.”
“Where would I go? You’re all I have in the world.”
“Today’s Friday,” Fred reminds me.
“I know it.”
“Well, where’s my money?”
“You’re not actually going to take my hundred dollars, are you, Fred?”
“Bet your sagging ass I am. You promised you’d give it to me.”
“Here, take it.”
“Wow, no one’s ever done this for me. Now I feel like giving you something. What would you like to have?”
“The hundred dollars I just gave you.”
“No, not that. Let me get you something less costly.”
“How about buying me a recording. I’ll tell you which one>”
“Good, I can do that.”
“Ernest, Eddie has met a woman who has truly impressed him,” Frances calls out.
“Oh, yes.” Ernest enters the room. “Who is she?”
“Her name is Anna. She’s a Scottish national who was once married to an American with whom she’s had two children.”
“How old is this woman?” asks Frances.
“She’s older than you. What is it about her that so impresses you?”
“First of all, her eyes. They seem to envelop whomever she looks upon with a most profound warmth. Secondly, her voice. It’s very musical and tinged with a gentle humor. It’s such a pleasure to listen to her speak. She has quite a command of English. She used to be in theater, appearing in Shakespearean roles. She’s fond of all the arts. But most of all she’s fond of people. She’s convinced that everyone is innately good.”
“Do you believe that?” asks Ernest.
“I don’t know. Maybe, if you probe into the core of any human being, you may find that it’s so. But, though she believes everyone to be good, she sides with the oppressed of the world.”
“She sounds quite the idealist,” says Ernest.
“When do we get to meet her?” asks Frances.
“I don’t think you’d like to.”
“Why do you say that?”
“She says she’s an anarchist, but she’s very sympathetic to the Soviet Union.”
“Oh, God, a Stalinist,” Ernest exclaims. “How can a sensitive being such as you claim her to be possibly subscribe to Stalinism?”
“She may be projecting her love of mankind onto the minds of the Soviet leadership.”
“Don’t you argue with her about her beliefs?” asks Frances.
“I sometimes have to agree with her when she criticizes the activities of the United States, but I certainly don’t wish to live under a dictatorship of workers. The one thing in life I want to avoid is work.”
“She’s living alone with her two sons?” asks Frances.
“No, her husband was granted custody of the children when Anna refused to cooperate with the Un-American Activities Committee.”
“She’s sacrificed her children for her beliefs,” Frances says. “How she’s made herself suffer, poor woman.”
“No matter how she may be suffering, she never utters a word of complaint.”
I wake up to find Fred sitting in the dark, a cigarette in his hand.
“Can’t you sleep, Fred?”
“I’ve got Anna on my mind.”
“You once had Dorothy on your mind, remember?”
“Where is the bitch? Finally locked up, I hope.”
“She and Johnny got three months.”
“Good, may she perish in jail. Anna’s a completely different story.”
“I’ll say she is. You once had Dorothy on your mind because she hates people, and now you have Anna on your mind who loves everyone.”
“Now that I’ve turned her onto grass, I’ve got her in the palm of my hand.”
“You usually have something else in the palm of your hand, Fred.”
“That is entirely my affair. And so is Anna. I almost hear the pitter-patter of tiny feet.”
“Anna told me that she’s too sensitive to ever smoke pot again.”
“Shut your fucking yap. You’re just jealous.”
A powerful sexual surge peaking, awakens me. It continues to peak a countless number of times. I’ve been experiencing the greatest orgasm I’ve ever had. My bed must be awash with semen. I reach under the covers to check and find it completely dry there. How can that be, after all those orgasms?
The phone buzzes.
“Good evening, dear. Have I awakened you?”
“No, I woke up just before your call, Anna. What’s happening?”
“I’d love very much to have you here with me this evening.”
Why does she have to call me after what has just happened?
“I’d love to be with you, Anna, but I don’t think I can manage to stay awake. Can you forgive me?”
“There’s no need for forgiveness, since you haven’t been blamed to begin with.”
“I wish there were no need for sleep.”
“In any case, we’ll meet tomorrow.”
“That’s the one good thing about sleep: I’ll shut my eyes and, when I open them, it’ll be tomorrow.”
Fred falls to the floor at Anna’s feet.
“Would you rub my back for me?”
“Yes, of course, dear, but not on the floor. Get up on the bed.”
Fred, removing his shirt, dives onto the bed. As Anna rubs his back, he turns his head to leer triumphantly at me.
“Your hands feel so good, Anna.”
“Am I doing it as you like?”
“Oh, yes, but just a bit lower,” Fred says, raising his pelvis from the bed to undo his belt.
“You have a very nice back, Fred.”
“You think so?” He blushes. “Just a bit lower, Anna.”
Fred’s body emerges slowly from his pants, like toothpaste out of a tube.
“A little lower, Anna.”
“Oh, Fred, I don’t wish to arouse passions in you that I won’t be able to relieve,” Anna says, withdrawing from Fred.
“Why won’t you be able to relieve them, you fucking bitch? For a moment, you had me believing that you weren’t like all the other bitches, but I see now that you’re worse than all the rest. You’re nothing but a cock-teaser.”
“I’m sorry that you think that of me, Fred.”
“You’re sorry. Who needs your sorrow, you bitch? Just get the fuck out of here.”
“This is my room, Fred,” I remind him.
“I should be going,” Anna says, coming to kiss my cheek, but Fred pushes her away when she approaches him. “I’ll be seeing you tomorrow, Eddie.”
“Where do you find them?” Fred asks when Anna has gone. “Where do you come up with these frigid bitches? They’re all alike: unkind, selfish, vain. Oh, how I hate all bitches. May I never lay eyes on another one.”
“Oh, I forgot to tell you, Fred, that on my way here, a beautiful young blonde sitting on a wall called me over to her.”
“Of course, just because you’re tall and dark, you bastard.”
“So, I went to her and put my arm about her waist.”
“Don’t make me puke.”
“But she squirmed out of my arm and asked, ‘Who’s that red haired guy I often see you with?’
“ ‘Oh, that’s only Fred,’ I told her.”
“Only Fred, you cocksucker.”
“ ‘Fred,’ she said, as if savoring your name on her tongue. ‘I love everything about him: the way he dresses, the way he walks, the way he combs his hair. I must meet him. Will you please introduce me to him?’ “
“Wowie, when do I get to meet her?”
“I told her you had too many girls after you to have time to meet her.”
“What girls after me? There’s not even a girl cop after me. Why’d you tell her that?”
“The money, Fred. You don’t want to go with a girl unless you get money from her, do you?”
“I keep forgetting that. But how do you know this one’s going to come up with money for me?”
“I’ve never met a girl who’s so gone over a guy as she is over you. Of course, she’s going to give money to the man of her dreams.”
“When will you see her again?”
“She’ll be waiting for me every day, I’m sure.”
As I’ve been reading aloud the poetry of Dylan Thomas, I’ve been aware that Anna has been taking off her clothes Laying down the book, I see her standing naked before me. It’s evident that I’m expected to act. I rise, put my arm around her and lead her to the bed.
Lying beside her, I kiss her brow, her cheek, her lips, her neck, her breasts. I slip down to kiss her knees, then her thighs. As my lips journey higher, I feel her hands on my shoulders, pushing me back. What kind of signal is this? Does she want me to fuck her without any foreplay? Or does she disapprove of oral sex? Uncertain of what is expected of me, I back away.
“I’ll see you later, Anna.”
“Must you go?”
“I have a number of things to do.”
Anna is bright, informed, witty, but in some ways she is very straight.
“Did you see her?” Fred asks eagerly as soon as I come in.
“You know, the beautiful young blonde girl sitting on the wall.”
“Yeah, she gave me fifty dollars to give you.”
“Fifty dollars! Great! Give it to me.”
“I told her to stick it up her ass. ‘A mere fifty dollars is an insult to a man of Fred’s integrity,’ I told her.”
“Fifty dollars is fifty times what I have.”
“ ‘Do you realize the caliber of girls who take Fred out?’ I asked her. ‘Gorgeous girls, talented girls, famous ones. There’s the young movie star who picks him up in her limousine, stuffs his pockets with banknotes before taking him to racetracks and to posh supper clubs.’ That shut her up.”
“What does she look like?”
“I told you she’s a beautiful young blonde girl sitting on a wall.”
“No, I mean the movie star with the limousine.”
“Fred, snap out of it, man.”
“Oh, yeah, I’m sorry.”
“Forget this Anna woman,” Frances advises. “She’s sacrificed so much of her life to Stalinism that she’ll never be able to renounce her belief in it. Don’t forsake your intention to go to Europe. There, you’ll find many unspoiled young girls to enjoy. Go while you’re free, Eddie. Freedom is far more precious than love. What is love, anyway? A moment’s madness. Have you met any happy couples? Not even Anna’s husband was happy with her. She made him so embittered, he took the children from her.”
“I’m not thinking of teaming up with Anna; I’m only enjoying her company for the time being.”
“Did you see my beautiful young blonde girl today?
“Yeah. I fucked her.”
“What! Why’d you do that?”
“I told her that you didn’t have time to fuck every girl crazy about you; that it was my duty to fuck some of them and report to you the ones worthy of your attention.”
“You’re a crafty bastard, aren’t you? So, was she any good in bed?”
“Terrible. All she did the whole time I was fucking her was to say, ‘Fred, Fred, when will I get to meet Fred?’ and crap like that.”
“That doesn’t sound so bad.”
“Then, I had her give me an oral enema. Standing over her as she knelt beneath me and tongued my asshole, I shat right onto her lovely face.”
“That’s it!” Fred jumps to his feet and holds his knife against my throat. ”That’s the last outrage you’re going to commit in your brief life. Recite your prayers.”
“Wow, Fred, you’re so lucky, man.”
“What do you mean?”
“I wish I had a girl who loved me so much, she’d let someone shit on her face.”
Fred slowly lowers his knife.
“Okay, but don’t do anything like that again.”
“You don’t believe in stealing, do you, Anna?”
“You know that I don’t.”
“But you believe in revolution. So, when revolutionary’s succeed aren’t they stealing from the ones they’ve overthrown?”
“But that’s not stealing, Eddie. It’s only recovering what was taken from the people in the first place. Don’t you see that?”
“Not so readily. Do you believe that revolutionaries are any more honest than reactionaries?”
“Many of them are more selfless beings, trying to make a better world.”
“You believe in helping to change the world, Anna, but I think it’s too late for that. The world is already fucked. I just want to get through life doing only what I want to do.”
“Was blondie on the wall today?”
“Yeah, she was waiting for me, as usual.”
“You didn’t try to fuck her, did you?”
“No, I don’t want to go through that ordeal again. Other guy’s are fucking her. She’s become a hundred dollar a night call girl.”
“I knew it. Just a whore like all the rest of the bitches.”
“Yeah, and as soon as she gets together ten thousand dollars, she’s going to give it all to you.”
“Ten grand. Wow.”
“Didn’t I tell you she’d come up with real money for you?”
“You believe that everyone is innately good, Anna, and you may be right. But how many of us are operating in that innate realm? Not many. Most of us are dishonest or tyrannical in one way or another.”
“I know a great number of very noble people, Eddie.”
“I don’t doubt it. But how many of them would not be upset if they discovered that their partner was having an affair with someone else?”
“My body is itching all over. This is how I felt when I left my husband.”
She’s hinting that it’s over between us. She claims to love everyone, but she doesn’t love me unless I believe as she does.
“I must leave now to attend to a friend who’s recently terminated her pregnancy. What are your views on abortion, Eddie?”
“I’ve nothing against it. But I’m certainly glad my mother didn’t abort me.”
“What’s happening with my lovely lady?”
“She’s become a madam with ten hundred dollar a night girls working for her. She wants to put away a hundred thousand dollars for you.”
“A hundred grand! That’s more money than I’ve had in my whole life.”
“Yeah, Fred, this could be the start of something truly great.”
Fred, having finished a joint, leans forward to rise from the armchair, then very slowly topples onto the floor.
“Hey, Fred, you’re going to wear out the rug in front of the armchair, falling on your face like that every time you’re stoned.”
“It doesn’t matter. With a hundred grand, I’ll be able to buy the whole fucking hotel.”
There seems to be no limit to Fred’s gullibility.
“What’s the latest on my blonde benefactress?”
“She’s working her way up through the ranks of the Syndicate.”
“The Syndicate! I can’t believe it.”
“And as soon as she reaches the top, she’s going to hand the leadership over to you.”
“Ah-hah, me the head of the Syndicate!” Fred, rising, marches up and down the room. “Man, I’ll have assholes like you crawling behind me to powder my ass. I’ll . . .”
“Why don’t you come down, Fred?”
“What do you mean?”
“Come down, man. There never was a beautiful young blonde girl sitting on a wall.”
“I kind of suspected that all along. Nothing that good could ever happen to me.”
Fred collapses back into the armchair.
“You’re so unobservant, Eddie,” Gwen says. “I bring you to a place like Red Rock Canyon, and you don’t say a word about how beautiful it is.”
“Just because I don’t say anything doesn’t mean that I don’t see it’s beautiful. Does everything have to be put into words?”
“You’re not at all romantic. My husband used to have me sit beside him at the piano while he played and sang love songs to me.”
“Yes, and he left you when you were eight months pregnant.”
“I’m not sentimental and I’m not into flattering anyone. Judge how I feel about you by what I do and not by what I say.”
“Eddie.” Fred, in the armchair, leans toward me. “Even if it’s not true, tell me again about the beautiful young blonde girl sitting on the wall.”
“I’ll tell you something that’ll please you even more.”
“I’ve never met anyone as evil as you.”
“Ah-hah!” Fred blushes. “Why do you say that?”
“Your friend trusts you to score a kilo of grass for him, and what do you do? You pocket half the kilo before he arrives to get it. Then, when he comes you ask him if he’s going to give you a cut. After he gives you a generous cut, you ask him if he’s going to make a joint. He makes a joint, and when you have in your hand you ask him if he’s going to make a joint for himself.”
“Ha-hah!” Fred sits up.
“And your best friend Danny, Fred. You find him weakened by religious conviction, and what do you do? You talk him out of his life’s savings.”
“Hah.” Fred rises unsteadily to his feet.
“And me, Fred, the only one who tolerates your presence and offers you a haven, from me you take a hundred dollars that you knew I didn’t take from you.”
“Ahhhh!” Fred, as if struck a blow, falls back onto the floor.
“I wonder how it would be to live with you,” Gwen says, as she lies in my arms.
“I guess it would be all right if you could accept that we both openly have lovers. If I meet someone with whom there’s a mutual attraction, I want to be free to go with her - and not behind your back. And you’ll be free to go with whoever attracts you.”
“I don’t think I’d like that. It doesn’t sound natural.”
“It seems natural to me. How can we be sure we’re best for each other unless we try others?”
“Boy, you can’t get more unromantic than that. Anyway, I don’t think it’ll work out.”
“Does any arrangement between a man and a woman?”
“I know what I’m going to do,” Fred tells me. “I’m going to have myself committed to the mental hospital in Camarillo.”
“So, you realize at last that you need help.”
“That’s not why I’m going. There’s a piano there, and I’ll be able to practice on it all day long. When I leave that place I’ll be as great as Paderevski and have girls on their knees before me. And, while I’m not practicing, I’ll be lying on the green lawn and browning my great back. Also, I’ll plant some pot in the garden. You didn’t know I had a green thumb, did you?”
“You’ll go anywhere for security, huh, Fred?”
“What I want to ask is: will you commit me?”
“Of course I won’t. I wouldn’t put anyone in there.”
“Anyway, I know someone who’ll be happy to do it: that bitch, my mother.”
“At least, you can count on her for something.”
“Will you visit me from time to time?”
“Look, I’m not asking you to have yourself committed, so don’t ask me to visit you.”
“I guess I’ll see you when I come out, then.”
“If they’ll ever let you go, that is.”
“Don’t worry about that. If there’s a way in, there’s a way out.”
“You don’t know the first thing about women,” Gwen accuses, soon after she’s had me move in with her.
“Look, I’ve just made it with you four times in succession, right? And I’ve had four orgasms, right? And each orgasm took some time in coming about, right? While you’ve had no orgasm. So, ask yourself why you haven’t come, instead of putting the blame on me. Have you ever come from fucking?”
“It’s all my old boyfriend’s fault. He was so afraid of getting me pregnant that he used to pull out just before he came.”
“Maybe it was his fault and maybe it wasn’t, and you’re not the only girl in the world who finds it difficult to have an orgasm. On the other hand, there are women who come whenever their partner does.”
“I wish I could do that.”
“Maybe you will someday. Now, at least, you’re able to come when you’re given head. So, lie back.”
Returning home, I find the door locked from the inside.
“Hey, Gwen, it’s Eddie.”
“Oh, Eddie. Please wait. I’m busy just now.”
My stomach churns, my knees weaken, as I turn from the door and walk unsteadily into the backyard. I sit under the tree and try to calm myself, my shirtfront registering each beat of my heart.
Why do I insist on bringing all this anguish upon myself? Why can’t I be like the straight husbands I see driving on the freeway, their wives beside them? Perhaps their wives are having affairs, but these men are not tormented by knowing what their wives are doing.
Gwen and her lover are probably looking out the window at me and laughing. “Look at that fool sitting alone under that tree out there and leaving a gorgeous girl like you in here with me,” he’s probably saying to her. “I didn’t like it when he first told me that we should have lovers, but now T really do,” she may be saying to him. Of course she does. She can have many more lovers than I can. Most men will fuck almost any woman, while most women will not fuck almost any man..
“You can come in now, Eddie,” Gwen comes out to say..
I rise and go to the house. Inside, it’s not as I had imagined it would be. Her lover is not gloating but seems subdued. Nor is Gwen exuberant.
“Eddie, this is Arnie.”
“Look, I’ve got Greek goat cheese and puckered black olives, Italian bread and red wine. Let’s have a snack together.”
“Oh, yes let’s do,” Gwen says enthusiastically. “Arnie?”
“Yes, I’ll stay for that.”
“I’ve known Arnie before I met you, Eddie,” Gwen explains. “He’s a strange one. He usually visits me on weekends or late afternoons.”
“Maybe he’s married.”
“Oh, yes, are you married, Arnie?”
“Yes, I am, and my wife is expecting a child in about three weeks.”
“That’s wonderful,” Gwen says. “Have you decided on a name for it?”
“If it’s a boy, we’re going to call it David.”
“Oh, don’t call it that. That’s a Jewish name.”
Silence reigns in the room.
“What’s wrong with having a Jewish name?” I ask Gwen.
“Because he may have to fight with the other boys.”
“If he has to fight for his name, that’s all right. But I know lots of Davids who aren’t Jewish. David O’Connor, for instance; he’s certainly not Jewish.”
When Arnie leaves, I go up to the bedroom to read. Gwen comes up and stands at the foot of the bed.
“Well, aren’t you going to say anything?” she asks.
“Say anything about what?”
“About what happened just now.”
“You mean, about your being an anti-Semite who doesn’t even recognize a Semite when she goes to bed with him?”
“More about the going to bed part.”
“You’re free to have lovers, and you’re exercising that freedom.”
“It’s hard for me to believe that you’re not upset.”
“Gwen really hurt me when she said what she did the other day,” Arnie tells me while Gwen is not at home. “But when you asked her, ‘What’s wrong with having a Jewish name?’ I felt a sudden warmth for you.”
“Gwen’s a much better person than her beliefs.”
“I know. She’s so kind and generous. I think of her as being a true communist. That’s why I was so stunned by what she said.”
“We must remember that she comes from Mississippi, a true hotbed of intolerance. When I speak to her about her prejudice of dark people, she’ll say, ‘Well, you have to admit they smell.’ ‘You’d smell too if you couldn’t afford to buy soap,’ I have to remind her. Or she’ll say, ‘My mother was always kind to the coloreds. She’d carefully wrap leftovers in tinfoil and place it on top of the garbage for the them to take.’ ‘But how would you like to look into garbage cans for your dinner?’ I’ll ask her, and she’ll tellme, ‘The colored people were happier than the whites, singing and dancing all the time. Whenever we wanted to have a good time we went to shantytown.’
“It’s too bad that she doesn’t see how prejudiced she is.”
“But speaking with you has given me an idea, Arnie. I wonder why I didn’t think of it before. I’ll give Gwen the autobiography of Richard Wright to read. He’s a black man from Jackson, Mississippi, her home town.”
“Where is this man, Richard Wright?” Gwen asks.
“I think he’s living in Paris. Why do you want to know?”
“I want to phone him and apologize for the whole state of Mississippi. I never realized how awful life was for the blacks. God, how he suffered as a child and as a young man. You know, while I was reading his book, I could see so many of the streets and buildings he described.”
Some years later Gwen tells her hustler friend that she’s had some members of the Los Angeles Dodgers as sex clients.
“Baby, some of those guys are black. I’d fuck a dog first,” her friend says.
“What color dog?”
“Where will we sleep tonight?” I had asked Gwen as she drove us to Big Sur.
“With Howard and the other people in Krinkle Korner.”
“ The man I love.”
Boom! Gwen had dropped a bomb on me. That was the first I’d heard her say anything about someone called Howard. Wait a minute, had she suggested we go to Big Sur so she could get revenge for my having asked her to wait in the car while I went to speak with Anna in her workplace earlier in the day? If that is so, how petty of her.
Meeting Howard, I couldn’t understand how she could like such a cornball. The she’d decided to sleep with him last night, while I’d slept in the other cabin at Krinkle Korner.
“Good morning, you beautiful bastard,” I hear as I walk toward Howard’s place in the morning. Looking up, I see Gwen, smiling down at me from Howard’s window.
“When I say git, you git, woman,” Howard orders Gwen.
Gwen smiles at Howard.
“I said git, woman. Now, git.”
“Fuck you, Howard.”
And that’s it for the man she loves.
“How can a guy living in a cozy cabin in a wonderful place like Big Sur be such a fool?” Gwen asks as she drives back to L.A.
“Fools are rampant, baby, even in wonderful places.
“Please don’t go.” Gwen wraps her legs around me in the morning. “Stay here with me.”
“But I have to get to work, baby.”
“No, you don’t. You get paid even if you don’t go.”
“Yes, but I can’t stay home every day.”
“Who’s asking you to stay home every day? I just want you now.”
“Okay, go then. But will you do something for me? Will you go with me to my parents’ house in Jackson to pick up my baby?”
“Sure, I have some vacation time I haven’t used yet.”
“But please don’t argue with my father about religion. He’s a real fanatic. And he’s cruel too. I can’t remember a single day as a child when he didn’t beat me, sometimes holding me up by the ankles while he smacked my bottom. He ruined my early years. He wouldn’t allow music to be played in the house, wouldn’t let me go to movies or smoke or wear makeup. If it wasn’t for him, I might have become a great dancer.”
“Don’t worry, Gwen, I don’t waste my time arguing with bigots. I’ll just want to get away from there as quickly as possible.”
“I want to take Vincent back before my father damages his mind. Thank God, he’s only nine months old.”
“I’m moving to Big Sur,” Gwen tells me a few weeks later. “I’ve bought a small house trailer with the money I got from my divorce settlement. Howard will pull it there behind his pickup truck and set it up with water and electricity in Krinkle Korner. And then Vincent and I can live on my sixty dollar a month alimony payments.”
It seems she’s planning to go without me. Should I ask to go with her? Why not? What have I to lose?
“Is it all right with you if I come with you to Big Sur? Maybe I can find some odd jobs to do there.”
“Haven’t I been telling you all along that you should go to Big Sur instead of to Europe?”
I hope that Gwen prevents me from leaving the bed mornings in Big Sur.
“Hey, Gwen, Vincent’s crying.” I nudge her, lying beside me in bed.
“Um, it’s all right.”
It hurts me to hear the boy cry, but I’m not going to assume Gwen’s responsibilities on our first morning in Big Sur.
“Come on, Gwen, he’s been crying for more than an hour.”
“Yes, yes.” She turns her back on me.
If she’s able to lie there, so am I.
“Vincent must be starving, baby.”
She doesn’t respond.
Unable to listen to the boy cry any longer, I get up to change his diaper and to feed him. And it seems I’m destined to do this every morning. Anyway, it’s better than working in an office.
“Take off your pants, Eddie. I’m feeling very sexy tonight.”
“Is your diaphragm in?”
“I don’t need it tonight.”
“Why not? You’ve used it every time we’ve had sex.”
“Yes, but it’s too close to the beginning of my period for me to get pregnant. My doctor’s told me I can get pregnant only on the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth days after the beginning of my last period.”
“Put in the diaphragm, anyhow.”
“No, my desire may dissolve if I stop to do that.”
I walk into the trailer and see Gwen, perched atop the kitchen sink, pushing a piece of wood into herself.
“What the fuck are you doing, baby?’
“I’m trying to let air into my womb so I’ll miscarry. I’m sure I’m pregnant.”
“Get down from there, you crazy bitch. If you need an abortion, get a proper one.”
“I don’t have money to pay for an abortion.”
“I have money. And I have a friend who knows of an abortionist in Tiajuana. I’ll give you Eric’s address. Go to him in L.A. and ask him how to get to that abortionist. I’ll stay here and take care of Vincent until you return. Is that all right with you?”
“I couldn’t ask for more.”
While Gwen’s away it becomes evident to me that she knew she was pregnant on the night she didn’t want to use her diaphragm. She wanted me to believe that I had made her pregnant so I’d pay for the abortion. But why had she thought that I wouldn’t pay for it? Because someone else had made her pregnant. She hadn’t trusted me enough to be candid with me. Anyway, I won’t mention any of this to her when she returns. So much, then, for being open with one another.
“Eric was so wonderful,” Gwen tells me when she returns. “He went with me to Tiajuana and took me dancing every night before the operation. Then, he took such good care of me after it, always joking and in a good mood. I really love him. I’ve invited him to stay here with us when he has some free time.”
“I just made it with Stanford. It’s the first time I’ve had sex with someone younger than me.”
“He’s gay, isn’t he, Gwen?”
“Yes, but I was able to get him to do it with me. He fucked me, but he couldn’t come. He told me he comes only when he fucks a man.”
“Now, I don’t know what to do,” Gwen tells us on the first night of Eric’s visit.
“Didn’t you foresee this moment when you invited Eric?”
“It doesn’t seem like it, does it?”
“Unbelievable. Well, there are only three things you can do: you can fuck neither of us; you can fuck one of us, or you can fuck both of us.”
“Fuck both of you! I’ve never even imagined doing such a thing.”
“It’s up to you to decide. If you can’t, then we can resort to a democratic process, each of us voting for what we want to do.”
“I know you guys; you’ll both vote to fuck me.”
“Well, it will be a new experience for you, at least.”
“All right, you go on the couch, Eddie. Eric and I will take the bed.”
Lying contentedly on my belly after having fucked with Gwen, I look toward the other end of the trailer and see Gwen’s raised legs silhouetted before the moonlit window. And between her legs, I see Eric’s rising and falling rump. Just two bodies going at it. How can anyone possibly be jealous of this?
Whenever Eric has a girlfriend his head is always lying in her lap, as though to block off other males. Now, he’s going to return to L.A. and tell everyone that he’s made it with Gwen and make a fool of me in the eyes of the world. In the eyes of the world, man? Why should I care what the world thinks? If I do care, then why don’t I live as the world does and not pretend to be beyond its conventions? No, let Eric do his bragging, let the world scoff, I’ll go my way.
I hear heavy breathing. Someone’s about to come. Is it Eric? Is it Gwen? I lean forward to listen.
Look at me, man, watching over the scene like a big ape. Sure, Gwen, you’re free to have lovers, but please don’t enjoy it when you have sex with them. What a frightened little hypocrite I am.
Let her have an orgasm with Eric. Let her go with him if she prefers him to me. Let me be happy for her if that’s how it is. What am I trying to hang on to? What have I to lose? I was born naked, wasn’t I?
Yes, I feel my being soar into the night sky.
“Have you met Henry Miller?” asks Bernie, a young San Francisco poet, walking with me in the forest after we’ve gathered walnuts.
“A few times. We sometimes mind his son, Tony.”
“Have you shown him any of your writing?”
“No, I don’t want to bother him with that. We talk mostly about children and gardens and never about literature.”
“I’d like very much to meet . . .”
“Eddie, watch out!” Gwen shouts as she walks with Howard on a ridge above ours. I turn to look up at her in time to catch a glimpse of a bounding boulder just before it strikes me on the forehead on its downward course. I sit breathless, and feel the blood running down my cheek.
“Eddie, are you all right?” Gwen asks, having run down from the upper ridge.
“Just a bit shaken up. But am I fucking lucky, Gwen. If that rock had struck me flush in the face, I hate to think of the mess it would’ve made.”
“I told you people a couple of months ago that the old lady who’d given you permission to live on her land had died,” Howard tells us. “Now, when her daughter came here to inspect the property and saw your vegetable garden she became afraid that you’d someday claim squatters’ rights.”
“We wouldn’t be able to do that for seven years,” I say.
“That don’t matter. She wants you off her land. Now, if you want to make an issue of that, you’ll have me to deal with.”
“Cool down, Howard,” Gwen intervenes. “Eddie’s not looking to pick a fight with you. We’ll move.”
“If you want, I’ll help you move your trailer to another spot.”
“Thanks, Howard, but we’re thinking of going to Mexico.”
“Why would you ever want to go to that damned place.”
“Someone told us that San Blas is beautiful.”
“You’ll get killed by bandits down there.”
“We’re not worried about that, Howard. There are bandits here, too.”
1954 - 1955
Gwen, driving us down into Mexico, reaches over to undo my pants and take my cock in her hand. Is she holding onto something familiar in a terrain that’s new to her?
In San Blas, we park the trailer close to the section where the river runs into the sea. One of the Mexican men gathered there to look at the blue-eyed, blonde Gwen climbs up a pole with our line and hooks us up with electricity.
“My brother presidente electric company,” he tells us.
“Why are you putting on makeup, Gwen? There’s no dance at The Twin Palms tonight.”
“Salvadore’s coming here to make love to me.”
“You’re crazy, he’ll never come here.”
“Because I’m here.”
“I told him that you’d take a walk when he came.”
“Do you think he believed that? If he comes, I’ll eat your pussy.“
“You like doing that, anyway.”
“So, when did you arrange this assignation with Salvadore?”
“This afternoon, when he invited me to go up the estuary in his little boat. We didn’t get very far. As soon as we were around the first bend in the river, he cut off the motor and looked at me with big yearning eyes and asked, ‘Me fuckee you?’ He was so cute. But I took one look at his wooden boat and decided that I didn’t want to pick up any splinters in my ass. Besides, I didn’t have my diaphragm with me. I had a hell of a time trying to explain that to him. ‘Why you not want baby?’ he wanted to know, as though that was the strangest thing in the world. I told him I already had one child and that was enough. Anyway, he persisted in asking me to do it with him, so I suggested that he come here tonight.”
“And what did he say to that?”
“He said, ‘Edwardo?’ ”
“I thought so.”
“And that’s when I explained to him that you’d leave when he came.”
“You realize what you’ll be doing if you make it with Salvadore, don’t you? You’ll be making me into a man whose woman is unfaithful to him, a goat, a cabrone, one of the worst things they call each other in San Blas.”
“Are we going to live by their dumb standards or by our own?”
“In Mexico, it might be better to do as the Mexicans do.”
“That may be fine for you in this mans’ country, but it’s not good enough for me.”
“Okay, baby, do as you please. But, as you can see, Salvadore hasn’t come, so you may as well use your charms on me.”
“But I already know you.”
I return to the trailer and find the door locked from the inside.
“Sorry, Eddie, I’m busy,” Gwen calls through the door.
She’s probably entertaining Salvadore. That’s why the fisherman looked at me so strangely when they saw me coming.
Well, I guess this is a good a time to level the trailer. I easily find a wooden plank that seems to have the required thickness. Getting the jack from the car and placing it under the right axle of the trailer, I pump it just high enough to be able to slide the plank in place. I lower the trailer onto the plank, return the jack to the car and see that the trailer door is open.
“You bastard, thanks for screwing up my romance,” Gwen accuses, standing in the doorway.
“How did I do that?”
“You know how. Come inside, so we can talk without being stared at.”
“So, what is it I did?”
“Just as Salvadore’s was about to put it in me, he saw the walls of the trailer beginning to tilt - and he paniced, losing his erection. He thought you were about to overturn the trailer. He lept up, looked out the window, and seeing that you were busy in the back of the trailer, opened the door and bolted off.”
“Believe me, Gwen, I never thought that what I was doing would be noticed inside the trailer.”
“I guess I have to believe you. That’s about how thoughtless you are.”
“Hey, Gwen,” I say, when she wakes up, “Salvadore’s been running all the way around the building across the way, or he’s ducking behind moving cars, trying to avoid being seen by me.”
“You’ve made him terrified of you.”
“That’s crazy. He’s so much bigger and stronger than I am. What’s he going to do if I confront him? Just stand before me and allow me to slap his face left and right?”
“You were very drunk when you came home this morning,” Gwen tells me. “What happened?”
“After I fed Vincent and before you were awake, Jose Partita came over and invited me out for a drink. I told him it was too early to go drinking, but he insisted and I went with him. When I had enough to drink I waited until Jose went to the bar to order us another round and, seizing the opportunity, I slipped out and stumbled home in a hurry, giggling to myself.”
“Yes, you crashed in through the door, told me you loved me and fell onto the bed. Then, Jose came in, told me to regard my drunken man and tried to put his arms around me. ‘You’re as drunk as he is,’ I said and pushed him into the bed next to you. He slept almost as long as you did.”
“So, he missed out on all the tourists he had lined up to take out on his boat this afternoon.”
“He’s Mexican; he’ll drop anything to have a good time.”
“That’s what I like about them: pleasure before business.”
“Guess what?” Gwen says, entering the trailer. “I made it with Jose Espinoza in his hotel.”
“Success at last.”
“What a lover. I fucked him until my cunt became dry, sucked him until my jaws gave out, masturbated him until my wrist failed me, and he still could have come some more.”
“How many glasses of raw oysters did he have?”
“I didn’t see him have any. What is a guy like that called?”
“Well, anyway, he’s meeting us at The Twin Palms tonight. You go keep him company while I put Vincent to bed and get myself ready.”
“Where is Gwen?” Jose Espinoza asks, as soon as I sit down beside him.
“She’s coming. Which gives us a few moments to talk. Listen, Jose, you come from a culture with certain moral values, while I come from one with very different ones. If you learned that your wife had been to bed with another man, you’d probably wish to kill them both. Whereas, if Gwen makes love with another man, it doesn’t mean anything to me. Do you understand me, Jose?”
“Yes, Edwardo,” he says, looking downcast.
“Gwen told me she has made love with you this afternoon. But please believe me when I tell you that nothing has changed in my regard for you. I still consider you to be a friend, and I hope you think of me as one.”
“Excuse me, Edwardo, but I must go.” Jose, looking very pale, rises to his feet.
“Stay, Jose, Gwen should be here at any moment.”
“Tell her I had to go.”
“Where’s Jose?” Gwen asks when she arrives.
“He left when he learned that you’d told me everything. I tried to break the news to him as gently as possible.”
“I’ll bet you did.”
“Good evening, my very fine friends,” greets Ricardo, a neighbor who is not a fisherman. He is proud that he wears shoes and is lighter skinned than most of the others. “Please permit me to be your partner this evening, my dear. Waiter, bring a bottle of tequila and three cocas. And now, will you have this dance with me?”
“All right, but I hope you’ve learned some new steps.”
As Gwen dances with Ricardo, a number of young men signal to me from other tables for permission to dance with Gwen. I nod that they may. After one dance, Ricardo accompanies Gwen back to the table. Immediately, a young man approaches Gwen and asks her to dance.
“You must excuse me again this evening, Ricardo,” Gwen says, going off to dance with the young man.
Ricardo goes to the bar, downs two shots of tequila, hurls his glass at the trunk of a palm tree and storms out. He does this every time Gwen deserts him at The Twin Palms.
Robert pulls a large fish into the boat and lets it fall under my feet. I jump onto my seat to avoid being cut by the thrashing fins of the fish. This side of the boat seems to be tilting down while the opposite side seems to be rising. Gwen, Sheri, Robert and I are all on the same side of the boat. Are we about to overturn? No, it must not be! I can’t swim!
I’m dumped back into the sea. Desperately, I clutch the underside of the railing on the overturned boat. Reaching under the water, I’m relieved to find that my wallet is still in my pocket. But a fishing line wrapped around my leg is trying to pull me out to sea.
“How you doin’, ole buddy?” asks Robert in the water beside me.
“The line you caught the fish with is wound around my leg, and the fish is trying to pull me away.”
“Hold on. I’ll go down and cut that line.”
“Eddie, I’ve never seen you looking so white,” Gwen says.
“You look terrified,” Sheri says.
“I can’t swim.”
“I’ll have to teach you,” Gwen says.
“The line’s cut,” Robert says, his head emerging from the water. “Don’t you worry, Eddie, we’re not going to lose you. I’ve got hold of you by the seat of your pants.”
“It’s lucky none of us got caught under the boat,” Gwen says.
“Here comes a couple of fishermen in a rowboat,” says Sheri.
“Jose Espinoza is so pissed with me,” Gwen says. “ ‘Why did you tell Edwardo?’ he asked me. ‘I tell him everything,’ I told him. ‘But why this?’ he asked, seeming more disappointed than angry.”
“Of course he’s disappointed. Half the fun of having made it with you is gone for Jose, now that the pleasure of having deceived me is missing. It’s not much of a conquest when the cabrone is a willing one.”
Turning in my sleep, I seem to hear the faint sound of music. Is it outside or in my head? It’s becoming louder. They’re playing “Green Eyes”, Gwen’s favorite song, so they must be on their way here.
“Gwen, wake up. They’re playing your song.”
“Open the window and let’s see what’s happening.”
Jose Espinoza, accompanied by a trio of musicians and a number of stragglers, stands outside our window.
“Oh, Jose, how nice,” Gwen says, looking out the window, unaware that Jose is insulting me by publicly serenading my woman in my presence. “Come in, Jose. I’ll unlock the door.”
She jumps out of bed, unlocks and opens the door, then returns to the bed. Jose walks in proudly and sits on the edge of our bed. Silhouetted sombreros outside our window nod in sheer disbelief at this further heightening of Jose’s insult.
Jose Espinoza has won this round.
“Edwardo, come out, dance,” Jose Partita invites, the following evening. “Beer, tequila, music.”
“Coming, Jose,” laughs Gwen.
Stepping out, we see that Jose Partita has brought an even larger group of musicians than had Jose Espinoza the previous evening. The two Joses are probably going to try to outdo each other night after night.
“Do you guys feel anything from those peyote buttons we took?” asks Dan, a California hipster touring Mexico in a red convertible with his friend Paul, the three of us sitting in the beach bar across the street from the trailer.
“Not much yet,” I say.
“Man, I don’t know how we ever got those fuckers down; they tasted so bad.”
“We didn’t get them all down, even after we’d cut the buttons into small pieces so we could swallow them,” Paul says. “I caught you pushin’ some of your pieces into my pile, Dan.”
“That was after I saw you pushin’ your pieces into mine.”
“It was like eating dried cobwebs,” I say.
“You sure the cat who laid this bag of buttons on you said to eat six of them?” asks Dan.
“He told me he grinds them up and mixes them into a green salad.”
“Huxley never mentioned how bad these fuckers tasted in ‘The Doors of Perception’.” Paul says.
“Those things tasted horrible even when we downed them with those ice cream sticks,” Dan says.
“Man, did you dig how reluctant the ice cream vendor was to sell us more sticks when we went to him for the third time?” asks Paul. “ It was like he suspected that we’d discovered something invaluable in his product.”
“Hey, Eddie, we’re off. Thanks for the turn-on.”
I watch them drive off, then sit back. The bar owner, a quiet man who seems to like little Vincent, is working behind the bar. I begin to see myself as I imagine he sees me. “Poor doomed non-Catholic, so shabby, so lacking in self-respect, living with a woman who looks good but is morally corrupt. And pity their poor unbaptized boy destined to burn in hell forever.”
Wishing to get away from him, I return to the trailer.
“Are you all right?” asks Gwen.
“I feel sick to my stomach.”
“Go out and press your finger down on your tongue until you vomit.”
I do as she suggests.
“I vomited but I don’t feel any better.”
“Wait for a while.”
“Gwen, you’re wasting your time being with me. I don’t love you.”
“Be quiet, you don’t know what you’re saying.”
“You and Vincent deserve better than me.”
“Vincent loves you, Eddie.”
“Let’s go out for an orange juice. I feel boxed in here.”
Gwen drives us to the juice bar.
As I sip the juice, I see Ricardo coming. He has a rope in his hand with a cat hung by the neck dangling from one end.
“No servie,” he says, indicating the cat. “How are you? And I see your lovely woman and son sitting in the car.”
I’m sure it’s Ricardo who writes in chalk on the side of our trailer: “Look through this window to see the American whore in bed with her lovers.”
Imagining that the locals are peering from their windows at the ridiculous American cabrone, I say, “See you later, Ricardo,” and join Gwen in the car.
“Where do you want to go, Eddie?”
“Out of town to the forest.”
“You’re still not feeling so good, huh, Eddie.”
“For the first time in my life I know what it must be like for people who are terminally ill and are able to bear their pain without complaining.”
“Let’s get rid of those peyote buttons, Eddie. I’ll give them to the Cora Indians the next time they come to pray at the seashore. Remember that little bottle we found washed up on the beach the Indians had shot into the sea with their bows and arrows? It contained a kernel of corn, some blood and a peyote button.”
The forest feels airless, humid, and the trees seem to be closing in on me.
“I feel as though there’s nowhere to go, Gwen. Why do I become so straight when I’m high?”
“You’re not high; you’re low.”
“You’re right, I feel higher when I’m not on drugs. There’s something straight in me that I must get rid of.”
“You sound better already.”
“The peyote’s wearing off. I feel I’m me again.”
“Roberto is beating his woman in the street,” Salvadore’s brother reports to us in a restaurant. “He beats her to impress us that he’s like one of us, but we don’t beat our wives for no reason.”
Since there’s nothing we can do, Salvadore, Gwen and I resume eating.
Robert comes in and stands over our table.
“Edwardo, Sheri’s in the bar of the tourist hotel across the street with four French faggots. Come and help me drag her out of there.”
“Sit down, Robert, let’s not create a disturbance. She’ll come out in a little while.”
“So you won’t help me, huh, you communist bastard. After all I’ve done for you, paid for everything whenever we’ve gone anywhere.” I look at Gwen, having forewarned her that we should be concerned about Robert’s forcing his generosity on us. “Come outside and fight, you coward.”
I don’t look up at him.
“I should slug you while you’re sitting here.”
“Roberto! Run along.” Salvadore waves him away.
Robert hurries out, unwilling to argue with the muscular Salvadore.
I worry that drunken Robert will try to break into our house tonight. Who is there awake in the early morning hours to stop him? If I had a weapon, I could go to his place and attack him before he attacks me. Then, I’d be able to sleep peacefully. What mad paranoid thoughts come into my mind when I’m afraid..
Fucking Robert, what does he want?
I signal to Gwen that I don’t want to see him..
“Gwen, is Edwardo in?”
“Yes, he’s here.”
“Edwardo, please let me speak with you.”
“Go away Robert.”
“Don’t send me away, Edwardo. I’m so sorry about last night. I promise you nothing like that will ever happen again. Forgive me, please.”
I remain silent.
“I’m begging you, Edwardo.”
“Robert’s apologizing,” Gwen reminds me.
“I don’t care what he’s doing. I don’t want to see him.”
“Just let me come in for a moment.”
“Let him come in, Eddie,” Gwen urges.
“All right. Let him in.”
“Edwardo,” a group of boatmen call to me on the beach. “Sit a moment.”
I sit on the sand with them.
“Tourists rent our boats to go for marlin and sailfish. They speak no Spanish; we speak no English. The young bartender at the tourist hotel finds customers for us, but he takes fifty per cent of what we charge the tourists. That is too much, Edwardo. Now, you have learned enough Spanish to help us. Find tourists for our boats and we will pay you one third of what we earn. Do you agree to do that?”
“Yeah, I’ll start this afternoon.”
Jose Espinoza and I watch Gwen as she showers in the adjoining room.
“Gwen has a very voluptuous body, don’t you think, Jose?”
“That is true.”
An idea comes to me, a suggestion that will be distasteful to Jose but one that his sense of manhood won’t permit him to decline. “Shall we take turns having sex with her, Jose?”
“If you wish.”
Although Jose will easily outlast me sexually, this round is mine.
“I just saw Jose Espinoza on the street, and he wouldn’t even look at me,” Gwen tells me.
“Of course, he won’t, not after you’ve offended him, a respectable hotel manager, by making it with Miguel, a poor shoeless fisherman.”
“He’s such a proud little snob.”
A large American car pulls up alongside me.
“Hello, Edwardo. You know who I am, right?” asks the young Mexican behind the wheel.
“I’ve seen you around. You’re the bartender at the tourist hotel.”
“Right. Get in. I’ll give you a drink at the hotel.”
“No thanks. My woman’s expecting me.”
“You’ve been here long enough to know that we put off everything to have a good time. Your woman can spare you for a few moments. Come on.”
Opening the car door, I find a large revolver lying on the seat intended for me, a not too subtle attempt to intimidate me.
“Excuse me, Edwardo” Jose says, removing the revolver from the seat. “How thoughtless of me.”
I enter the car that belongs to the tourists he has just driven to the marlin fishing boats. He usually zooms around town in their big cars after he has dropped the tourists off.
“My name’s Pedro, but everyone calls me Peter because I lived in L.A. for some time.”
“I like that you’re in San Blas, Edwardo,” he tells me, after serving me a drink in the bar. “You have a very attractive wife and a handsome little boy. I hope and I pray that nothing harmful happens to you and to your family.”
“I’m sure that your prayers will protect all three of us, Peter,” I say, pretending that I haven’t heard his implied threat
“Yes, and I hope that you will also pray for me. Lately, the income I earn from tourists who wish to go marlin fishing has been very reduced.”
“I never pray, Peter.
“There is going to be a big fight in this town,” says Jose Partita, as Gwen and I walk along with him.
“Oh yeah, who’s going to be fighting?” I ask
“Your woman and the wife of Miguel.”
“Did you hear that, Gwen?” I ask her; because she understands less Spanish than I do. “Miguel’s wife is back in town and she’s out to get you.”
“I’ll piss all over that little bitch.”
Jose Partita shows us into a dingy little bar, its two comatose patrons sitting on the floor with their backs against the wall. Jose orders beer, then goes to the juke box to drop in a coin.
“Dance?” he invites Gwen.
Jose, sombrero lying on the back of his neck, gold tooth agleam in his broad smile, seems to be where he’d most like to be as he whirls Gwen about.
Bottles of beer pop up on the table before me. I look around to see that the bar is jammed. Men at other tables are smiling and winking at me.
Jose returns proudly to the table, Gwen on his arm.
A man leans down to me to say, “May I dance with your woman?”
There’s a light tap on my foot. I look at Jose. He’s looking at me and nodding his head.
“Ask her,” I tell the man leaning over me.
“Of course!” Gwen says, leaping to her feet.
Jose Partita leans closer to me. “We must leave this place, Edwardo.”
I want to laugh in his face. These are the men he pals around with almost every day.
When Gwen returns to our table Jose hustles us out.
“Where are we going, Jose?” Gwen asks.
“To a better place.”
“I don’t like it here,” Gwen says.
“No music, no dancing.”
Jose calls in three street musicians. While he and Gwen dance, the bar becomes crowded with cheerful men.
“Edwardo, we must leave this place,” Jose tells me, after he returns to the table with Gwen.
“Enough, Jose,” I say. “We want to go home.”
“Hey, Gwen, while I was looking out the window a while ago, I saw this little woman with something long and thin in her hand wrapped in a towel, casting a very dark look at the trailer as she passed by. It could’ve been Miguel’s wife, carrying a knife,” I report to Gwen.
“She wouldn’t dare try anything.”
“She looked very vengeful.”
“Eddie!” Gwen calls, looking out the window of the trailer, her face very pale. “An attempt has been made on my life.”
“I’ll be right there. I’m going to get something to drink.”
“Where have you been all morning?” Gwen asks when I enter the trailer.
“With a tourist in his car, showing him the outskirts of San Blas.”
“Miguel was here this morning. I tried to keep him out, but he pushed his way in and sat at the table. I begged him to leave and go home to his wife, but he just sat and smiled at me.
“Then his wife’s face appeared at the window and screamed at him to come out, but he still refused to budge. She shouted so loud that a crowd gathered around her. I knew she was calling me a whore and things like that. It was so awful.
“Finally, Miguel got up and went out. But, instead of taking his wife away, he knocked her unconscious and walked off. As soon as she came to, she made for the door. I couldn’t get it to lock, so I had to hang on to the handle. She was so strong for a small woman. A few times, she almost got the door open. My hands were sweating and making it difficult for me to hold on. She just wouldn’t stop trying to get in. She kept on pulling until I felt I was going to pass out. I’ve never been so afraid in my life. I must have been holding on to that door handle for an hour or more. In the end, some people led her away, and I’ve been locked inside ever since then.”
“Sometimes, while in Mexico, it’s best to do as the Mexicans do.”
“I don’t want to live like this any longer,” Gwen tells me.
“Oh, no, why not?”
“I want to have my own house, an income for life and enough money to provide a good education for Vincent.”
“You knew when you met me that I’m not willing to work for any of those things.”
“I’m not asking you to work. I’m going to get everything.”
“How are you going to do that?”
“I considered it even before I met you. I even looked for an apartment, but no one would rent one to me because I had a cat and a dog at the time. I’m going to be a call girl.”
“I guess that’s goodbye for us, then.”
“What’s wrong? Can’t you love me if I’m a call girl?”
“It’s not that so much as the prospect of having to live in smog infested L.A.”
“What difference does it make where you sit to read and write and listen to music?”
My dream of being supported by a woman has come true - and I’m trying to reject it. Think of all the jazz musicians and artists I’ve known and envied who were taken care of by their ladies. Isn’t it better to be with Gwen than to work as a draftsman? Of course it is. And added to that, I’ve become quite fond of her and of Vincent.