Sunday, November 25, 2001

Mormons on One Side, Perverts the Other

“And all this have they done that they might pervert the right ways of the Lord, that they might blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men.”
-The Book of Mormon, Nephi 13:27

    I walked briskly into the Salvation Army Thrift Store in Petaluma, California.  I was a man on a religious mission; October was quickly drawing to a close and I was in desperate need of two copies of the Book of Mormon.  Or at least one.  My buddy Chris and I had decided to be missionary Mormons for Halloween.  We planned on drinking a great deal and then going door to door amongst the trick-or-treaters, telling all who would listen of the evil sinful nature of Hollow’s Eve, how Christ had visited the North American continent after His resurrection, and how they still had time to repent and find the true joy of The Lord if they would just give up whatever they believed in and join us in our trip back to Salt Lake City.  I had already tracked down the short-sleeved white shirt, the black tie, the black backpack, and the bicycle helmet.   However I still had yet to make my “Elder Damian C Cohn, Church of Latter-Day Saints” nametag. And I still needed two copies of the good book.
    I walked right on past the shirts and pants and kitchenware sections as if they didn’t exist: I knew what I wanted.  I had no time to deal with neither rusty muffin tins nor size 42 waist 24 length slacks.  My mind was pure, I would not be tempted.  I cruised right up to the huge, overstuffed bookshelves in the back of the store and begin wading through the romance novels and cookbooks and such.  The store was crowded.  An oldies station was playing Elvis from overhead.  “Blue Suede Shoes”.  “I could use some new shoes,” I suddenly thought, beginning to turn my head toward the shoe racks but then I immediately killed the thought, violently destroying all its dangerous thought trees concerning shoes and Elvis and blue suede as well, for what did any of them have to do with the Book of Mormon? 
    Meanwhile, 2824.2 miles away at the exact same moment (although the clocks said that it was three hours later, but that’s just their math...) Isabell Ingham strolled lightly down a busy street in Washington DC, knowing exactly what she wanted as well; a cup of coffee and a pack of cigarettes.  She had been busy sewing all morning and was now headed toward a small gas station about four blocks from her new apartment that had both.  The sun was out overhead and she could hear birds chirping from the tall trees scattered all about and even the passing noisy traffic seemed somehow cheerful to her.  She imagined the engines smiling inside the passing metal bodies, the pavement groaning with pleasure as it received the continuous massage from all those rolling tires.  Although she was wearing high-heeled sandals she was still making remarkable progress, fueled on high spirits and carried along by long, powerful legs.  For the first time since she had arrived in DC three weeks earlier she was wearing something other than jeans and a sweater. 
She had decided that morning to sport a long hip-hugging green and blue plaid dress, one that she had made herself, like she had almost all of the clothes that she actually enjoyed wearing.  The sun and breeze felt soothing and invigorating on her bare shoulders while her hands felt warm and safe in the large pockets she had built into the front of the dress.  All that this day needed was a little coffee and a cigarette and she knew just the place.  She quickened her pace a bit.  She was finally beginning to feel at home in DC.  And she hadn’t thought about me in over a week. 
    Meanwhile I was busy looking over the book selection.  To the right of me an old woman was flipping through the LP’s.  We both searched a while and then she snatched one up and sighed in satisfaction, taking the vinyl out of the sleeve for inspection.
    “Just what you were looking for?” I asked.
    “Oh, yes,” she replied, holding the record gingerly by its edges with gnarled fingers. “Perry Como is Home for the Holidays” is what it said on the cover, and Perry was indeed spending his Christmas at home, pictured wearing a Santa hat in front of his fireplace to prove it.  “My copy’s ruined, you see.”  She bent her neck forward so that she could inspect the grooves more carefully, holding it now inches from her nose.  “Hmmmm..... it’s got one bad scratch though, see?” she held the disk out for my inspection.  It didn’t look so bad to me, certainly better than “ruined”.
    “Yeah....” I said, “doesn’t look too deep though, and only through that one track.  You probably won’t even be able to tell.”
    “Well,” she said, sounding unsure, “maybe you’re right.”
    “After all, it’s only fifty cents.” I added.
    “Well, that’s true,” she said sounding even more unsure and slightly sad.  Suddenly I felt as if that was something that I shouldn’t have said; maybe she was a poor old woman to whom fifty cents meant a lot, even worse maybe she was a senile old woman who’s mind had never adjusted with inflation and I had become the smart mouthed young punk reminding her that the world she thought that she lived in did not exist anymore.  I decided that I should share something too in order to smooth out the situation.
    “I’m looking for the Book of Mormon.”
    “Yep.  I’ve been all over town and I haven’t had any luck yet.  All the actual book stores are out and I guess if you have extra copies of the Book of Mormon then you probably think that they’re sacred, and then you wouldn’t be able to stand the idea of them sitting around sharing musty bookshelves in stores like this one with...” I grabbed a book, “Managing Presidential Campaigns in the Television Era.””
    “Yes, I suppose not...” replied the old woman, her voice distant as if she were somehow talking with her mouth closed.  I suddenly realized that this woman was OLD and therefore probably had at least some belief in some sort of Holy Scripture.  Perhaps she was even Mormon herself.  Strike two!  I just couldn’t win.  I decided to give up trying not to offend this woman.  Some things are just unavoidable.
    “Would you have any idea where I could find two copies of the Book of Mormon?”  I asked.
    “I don’t know, but I’m sure they’d be glad to tell you!” she replied with a little sarcastic laugh at the end.  This made me feel a lot better.  Perhaps this woman had some animosity toward the overbearing door-to-door tactics of the Mormons, resenting their intrusive nature.  Perhaps she wasn’t such a delicate old prude after all!
Then she continued on, “I have one friend who could tell ya.”
“Oh yeah?” I asked with hesitation.
“Yeah.  She’s one of them.  You could ask her. She’d be happy to tell you all about it.”
“Hmmmm..,” I said.  I wasn’t sure quite what to make of that one.  Was I about to receive the home phone number of some Mormon? 
“Why do you need two of them, anyway?” she asked.
“Well, my friend and I are going to be Mormons for Halloween.  We’re going to go door to door telling everyone how evil Halloween is and stuff like that.”
“Oh....” said the old woman, looking me in the eye for the first and last time during our conversation, “well then I would never let you talk to any of my friends.”  She held the angry bloodshot stare for a brief moment and then turned and stomped away, leaving Perry Como smiling at me from inside his cozy living room.
Strike three and she was out of there.
I mentally shrugged my shoulders and laughed quietly to myself and was slipping the old woman’s record back into its sleeve just as Isabell caught her first glimpse of the Exxon station she was so looking forward to reaching just a few blocks ahead.  She imagined the coffee just sitting there on the counter in a paper cup with her name on it and the cigarette already lit and hanging in the air waiting for her to catch it between two fingers and take the first drag.  That thought sat so sweet in her mind that she almost didn’t want to reach the gas station at all, just this easy walk on warm DC pavement toward the promise of something even better on into eternity. 
Then a yell from a passing truck kidnapped Isabell from the cozy digs of her imagination and spat her out back into the reality of her tall, vulnerable body walking down the street only partially covered by tight fabric.  She hadn’t heard what the man had said but she didn’t have to.  It was simply another howl from another passing stray.  They thought her beautiful, and this was how they told her; by hollering gibberish from wheeled machinery; by giving her those looks that didn’t say “hi there” but “I want to fuck you” instead, by making suggestive drunken comments about how she should do some modeling...... “in my bedroom”, pant pant, stuff like that. Always lots and lots of stuff like that. 
After she finished cringing she stopped a minute and squatted down to adjust her sandal.  When she got back up the whole event was like a dream that hadn’t happened.  She had gotten quite good at doing that with the memories of all the perverts.  At first it took a few days, but now she had it down to just minutes.  Perhaps soon she would learn to make the perverts disappear before they even arrived.  That would be nice, she thought. 
Then she looked ahead of her and: there was the Exxon station!
She had arrived and was walking through the door and she hadn’t really realized it yet.  The door chime sounded and she smelled the warm aromas of various coffees and pastries.  From behind the counter came a deep welcoming “Greetings, Isabell!”  The voice sounded dark and rich with Columbian accents and just enough sugar.  Classical music played quietly like a gently passing sound stream underneath the whole scene.  Multicolored packs of delicious cigarettes lined the wall behind the counter, and sugary and salty goodness hung ripe for picking from the store’s three isles.  Isabell had reached her oasis.  
Perhaps DC was alright after all.
“Hello there, Ali!” came Isabell’s voice.  “So nice to see you!”
“Yes, always it’s pleasure to see you too, Isabell,” replied Ali, his thick Indian accent transforming her name to sound like “ease able”.   “How is the DC treating you today?  Well, I hope.”
“Right now I am feeling wonderful, darling,” she said. Her voice was quiet and carefully articulated, like it always was.  Isabell had never raised her voice at anyone in her entire life.  “I simply adore your new classical backdrop.”
“Ah, you like?  I bought some new CDs yesterday.  I was tired of the popular rock and roll.”
“Well, it sets off your store just perfectly,’ she replied.  “Soon I’ll fix this lighting up and your store will be a grand palace!”
 The first day that Isabell stopped in to Ali’s gas station Ali had told her that his name meant “friend” in his native language, and over the following few weeks Ali indeed became one of Isabell’s favorite new friends.  Every morning she would stop for coffee there and they would trade the stories of their lives that had led them both to Washington DC.  Isabell loved hearing Ali’s tales of his family’s recent journey from India to the United States and she had many tales of her own to tell, having lived in British Columbia, Wisconsin, California and now DC.  For the past couple of weeks they had been discussing the possibility of Isabell being paid to redo the lights in the store, having had varied experience in the art and of craft of interior design.  Ali was more open-minded than most gas station owners and Isabell thought it a neat opportunity, figuring that no one had ever given much thought to creative lighting schemes for Exxon stations. 
“Yes, I wish you to start right away,” said Ali, his voice full of honest enthusiasm.  “You can do whatever you wish.  I like your idea for long bubbly tubes,” he said, pointing a small dark finger all along the perimeter of the store’s ceiling. 
Originally Isabell had been joking about the tubing idea.  She told Ali of her experience with designing the lighting for night clubs and coffee shops and then Ali asked her what she would do with his store had she the opportunity.  Isabell took one look over her shoulder at the store’s interior and then told Ali that she had a friend in Milwaukee who knew how to make this liquid-filled plastic tubing that carried light using fiber-optics and bubbles using small pumps and that he should run a network of this multicolored tubing all around his ceiling and down the corners so that the whole place could resemble a giant inside-out jukebox.  Then she said that he should only play music by Elvis Presley on the store’s intercom.  
She laughed quietly to herself after telling him all of this.  “Only in Isabell Land could the inside of a gas station be a giant inside-out juke-box,” she had thought. But when she looked up at Ali’s face he was just smiling and nodding a slow, amazed ‘yes’.  He told her to find out how much he would need to pay for such an arrangement and Isabell told him that she would, indeed.  During the following days she had called her friend and priced it out, and now it was only a matter of when.
“Yes, my friend said he will be here in town visiting relatives ‘round about next week,” replied Isabell as she pumped herself some coffee into a large paper cup.  “He says that he would like to come in Tuesday to check the place out.”
“Yes, yes,” he replied, “Tuesday would be perfect.  Later in the evening is okay?  Then it is less busy.”
“Sure thing, Ali, sure thing,” she replied, but her mind was now deeply embedded in the concoction of the perfect cup of coffee.   She was adding very measured amounts of milk, white chocolate and cinnamon into the cup, taking little sips after each addition.  By the time she was finished and walking up to the register Ali already had her pack of Marlboro lights out on the counter. 
“Right on, Ali.” said Isabell.  “So, how much is it then?”
“Well, I will give you special employee discount since you will soon be employee of mine, I only charge you the cigarettes, so it is $4.23 with the tax.”
“Why thank you, my dear.” she replied, pulling a crumpled five out of one of the deep front pockets of her dress. 
As Ali rang up the change he added “I may have another job for you, actually.  Something else I would like to pay for you to do.”
“Oh,” replied Isabell as she looked up at him curiously, “and what would that be?”
“I would very much like to pay to watch you sleep.”
“To watch me sleep?” she asked, her eyes widening, her posture stiffening underneath the dress. 
“Yes, my dear, I will pay very highly just to watch as you sleep.  That is all, there will be nothing else.  I promise.  You will just sleep and I will watch.  We will not have to tell my wife.”
The moment just hung there between them, over the counter, the symphony orchestra hesitating, carefully developing a quiet passage.  Ali just stared at Isabell’s form, his eyes like that of a child’s gazing at a coveted object in a toy store window. 
He had been a good boy all year and now he wanted a sleeping Isabell for Christmas. 
“You.......” Isabell muttered quietly, laughing nervously while shaking her head.  “You fucking little.......”  She angrily tossed the cigarettes against the right side window of the store.
“Isabell! No! I didn’t mean for anything wrong!” implored Ali from behind the counter. “I am so sorry!  Forget I say anything!”
“You......” she repeated, struggling for words through fresh tears, “you fucking.....”.  The words still did not come.  She stood there, red-faced, breathing heavily.  Perverts, perverts, perverts.  The whole world was comprised of nothing but creepy filthy desperate little perverts.  
“PERVERT!” screamed Isabell, squeezing the paper cup until the top popped off and burning hot coffee ran down the sides of her hand like lava from a volcano.  She watched for a moment without wincing as the coffee seared her skin and then dumped the whole thing over onto the counter.
The coffee flooded over both sides of the counter.  Some of it splashed onto Ali’s hands and pants causing him to scream something in his native tongue.  Now the air smelled even more like coffee than before, this time with just enough white chocolate and cinnamon added.
Isabell pushed her way through the double doors and out of that gas station forever just as I realized that there was another bookshelf on the other side of the Salvation Army Thrift Store.  I had been in that store probably close to a hundred times, yet I had still forgotten about the other shelf.   As I walked through the clothes racks toward the shelf “Blue Suede Shoes” finished on the intercom and was replaced by “Jailhouse Rock.” 
“KLVS, all Elvis, all the time,” I muttered to myself in a faux announcer’s tone. A woman trying on a large straw hat in the mirror let out a little laugh.  She was tall and beautiful.  I begin to think of Isabell for a second but then I stopped:  What does she have to do with the Book of Mormon?  Isabell isn’t a Mormon!
As I sternly scanned the rows of hardbacks I began to hear voices.  The wall ended right above the book shelving and the voices were coming from the other side of the wall, where the employees sorted out and priced the donations for sale. 
“Did you hear about that tree that fell yesterday and killed that boy?” asked a man’s voice.
“Yeah, here in Petaluma, right?” replied a woman’s voice.
“How did it kill him?” asked the woman.
“Fell right on top of him.” came the answer.
“Wow,” said the lady, “I wonder what that looked like....”
I had to laugh at that one.  I have a very loud laugh.  It often gets me into trouble.
“Hey, you listening to us over there,” said the man, slightly irritated.
“Yep,” I replied. 
“Oh,” said the woman laughing, “I’m sorry.” 
“Hey, don’t be sorry,” I said, “That was quite a beautiful thought.  That’s why I laughed.”
The woman laughed again, “alright, alright” she said.
I suddenly realized that there was no Mormon literature in this store.  Plenty of cranky old ladies and Elvis tunes and weird dialogue but no Book of Mormon.  With that I immediately turned and walked toward the front entrance. 
Why couldn’t I find a copy of the bloody Book of Mormon?  I have heard that in many parts of the country every hotel room is stocked with a free copy.  Well, I wasn’t going to give up yet.  If there were any in this rotten town I was going to have to hit the streets with a vengeance to uncover them and I had no time to lose.
I pushed my way through the front door and marched on through the sunny streets of downtown.  All about me was the swirl of people high on weekend activities, most with variously shaped stuffed shopping bags in tow, almost all in boy/girl man/woman pairings.  Smiles and sunglasses on their faces, they crossed streets, entered and exited stores and coffee shops, trying not to think of Monday, trying to be happy.  They all seemed to be ignoring me.  Then a couple walked past, an older man with a younger woman, who did seem to notice me.  They were both staring at my face.   Then I passed another couple: same thing.  I then realized that I was talking to myself, about my Mission.
“Gotta be a temple in one seems to know where it is........hey what about that religious bookstore in Santa Rosa........” I muttered to myself as I approached the place where my car was parked.  I got the keys out of my pocket and before I knew it I was in and pulling out into traffic. I am the worst parallel parker on Earth, always leaving my car at some obscene angle that is probably technically illegal, but it makes it real easy to pull out because I’m barely in there in the first place.
I was only three blocks from downtown, in a little residential neighborhood when I saw them.  There were three of them, all the same height, one following the other like a line of ants attracted to the honey of spiritual possibility in the doorway to some house.  They all had black ties and backpacks and nametags and short haircuts.  Everything but the bicycle helmets.
“Holy Shit!”  I of course exclaimed and immediately pulled over.  Luckily I didn’t have to parallel park.  Running into these guys was shurely a sign, a blessing from God maybe, and I didn’t want to waste any time.  I leapt from the car and crossed the street.
.  I tried to act casual as I eavesdropped, leaning against a mailbox while I pretended to search my pockets for a cigarette. They were just starting in on their spiel.  An older man in blue polyester slacks and a white t-shirt was standing behind the screen door looking quite impatient.
“HELLO SIR!” called out the first ant.  The overbearing volume of his voice made it sound like he had taken too many voice training classes back in Utah.
“hello...” came the hesitant gravely voice from behind the screen door.
“HOW ARE YOU TODAY?” asked Captain Confidence.  The other two just stood behind him trying to make silent eye contact through the screen door.  ‘This is great!’, I thought, ‘I’m gonna follow these guys all day and really learn this part!’
“okay.....” came the voice, “how are you?...”
“yesIknowwhoyouareandI’mnotinterested,thankyouverymuch.” the man said quickly as if he was speed-reading a cue card and then slammed the door.
The Mormons lingered on the porch for a few moments and then solemnly turned an about face and marched in reverse order down the steps.  They seemed sad, a bit defeated, but you could tell that they had been through this and worse an infinite number of times since they left home for their Mission.
 They had just a tiny period of mourning and then that wide-eyed look of Hope and Enlightenment returned to their faces as they hit the sidewalk.  They were walking right toward me.  ‘Oh shit, here we go!’ I thought.
“Hi!” I said to them as they walked past me.  The last one in line, “Elder Michael” it said on his nametag, said a small pleasant “hi,” back, but he was eyeing me with intense suspicion, and seemed to be looking over my shoulder at something.  Then I heard a heavy low voice behind me.
“Excuse me sir.”
I turned around.  On the other side of the mailbox was a man in over-alls, a straw hat and a big white beard just standing there in the street. 
“Yes?”  I answered.  What was this?  What did this man want?  The Mormons were escaping to some obviously rented shiny automobile.  ‘So, that’s  why they didn’t; have the helmets,’ I thought.  ‘Perhaps it would be more realistic if Chris and I got a rented car instead of using our bikes.....’
“Is that your car over there?” the man asked.  He had a half smile in the middle of his white beard.  The man looked a little rural even for Petaluma.  If he had had a pitchfork in his hand I would have assumed he was trying out his Halloween costume early.
“You mean the old blue SAAB?” I asked, while thinking to myself what an inopportune time it was to run into another old car freak.  He probably would want to know what year it was and how many miles it had.   Oh well, the Mormons seemed to be slipping my grasp anyway.  “It’s a ’79,” I said, unable to hold back the proud tone that all men use when talking of their automobiles. 
“Well, it just crashed into that little trailer right over there.” he said, still smiling.
“What?” I asked.  I followed his extended finger and sure enough there was my car smack dab up against the back of a small flat-bed trailer about two driveways down from where I had parked it.  I quickly realized that in my Missionary haste I had forgotten to leave the car in gear (my emergency break was broken) and it had rolled forward, gaining momentum over the distance of about 20 feet and then colliding with the parked trailer.
“Oh, shit.” I said.  The Mormons were halfway in their car, but were staring at me now, curious to see what was up.   I looked back at the bearded man and he was staring at me also, still with the same smile on his face.  I figured that perhaps he was tipping me off, signaling me with his knowing grin, that I should take off before the owners of the trailer came out of the house.  He was trying to help me out of a jam.  It didn’t look like there had been any damage to either craft, my rubber bumper resting neatly against the back of the trailer, yet still I was not in the mood to deal with the hassle of exchanged insurance information.  Plus I was still flush with all the instincts I had acquired from all my years without automobile insurance.  I decided to run for it.
“Well,” I said to everyone, “time to make my escape!”  I said this loudly so that the Mormons might hear.  I can’t help it, whenever I get around religious folks I always seem to have to flaunt my amoralistic behaviors.  I wasn’t going to do the “right” thing, I was going to do the logical thing!  After all; I could basically tell that there wasn’t any damage to that rugged looking trailer, and, most importantly, I knew that there was no “God” watching from above and that we create our own moral universes.  I was going to drive on out of there and avoid a whole lot of unnecessary hassle.
I was the enlightened one.
I hopped in my car and started her up  I had left the keys in the ignition..  The Mormons were still staring in my direction.  They all had smiles on their faces now too.  Then I noticed that the man in the farmer costume was approaching my car.  He walked right up to my open window.
“This is my trailer you know,” he stated simply and quietly, still with his little-bit-more-than-Mona-Lisa grin quite intact.  I felt my guts constrict and sweat droplets immediately beginning to push their way through pores on the back of my neck.  This man had been testing me!  I looked over at the Mormons.  They were finally getting into their car.  The last one looked back at me with that same smile before he slammed the backdoor shut behind him.  Before I had taken the smile to be somehow conspiratorial, but now I realized that this was the sarcastic smile of God, laughing at me through these faces as I tried to weasel my pathetic way out of another jam in the most “logical” way possible. Now I was going to have to pay.
I looked back up at the wide face of the man.  Of course it was still smiling also.  I would see that face in my nightmares.  I wondered if his smile meant that he was crazy and about to clock me one.  Oh well, I guessed I sort of deserved it.
“Oh man, I’m sorry.”  I placed my hand over my face in embarrassment.  I was also kind of hoping that when I removed my hand the man would be gone.  He wasn’t.  “Here,” I continued, “I’ll pull my car back and we’ll see if there were any damages.”
“Don’t worry about it,” the man said in a hushed tone.
“No, I insist.  I feel like such an asshole,” I pleaded.  The man just smiled back. 
Then I realized: perhaps the smile HAD been conspiratorial after all!  Perhaps the man had realized that he would have done the same thing had he been in my shoes.  I decided to level with him.  Perhaps he would find my situation humorous.  I would tell him of my Halloween plans, how I spent my entire day looking for Mormon gear and how I then ran into these actual Mormons and had pulled my car over and in my haste forgotten to leave the car in gear and......
But first I had to make sure of something.
“Um, are you a religious man?”  I asked.
“Yes,” his smile broadened, “I’m a Mormon.”
I took in a deep breath, and then let it out.  “Never mind,” I said.
He patted my shoulder a few times and said “you drive carefully, now, son,” before walking away. 
I watched him for a while as he ambled to the other side of the street until he turned around and let God smile through him again.  I couldn’t take it anymore.  I put it in reverse, pulled away from His trailer and then down the street away from Him and out of this story forever just as Isabell’s sandal came undone.  She knelt down onto the sidewalk and fixed it.  She stayed down there for a little while, her tears stopping, her body relaxing, her breath slowing down.  By the time she got up her mind had erased the Exxon station and all of its contents.  The only evidence left of the afternoon’s events were her stinging, redenned right hand and the dried tear marks on her face, which she quickly wiped away with her forearm. 
She was just about to start out walking again when she noticed a little chubby boy standing by himself next to a tree in a small park across the street.  He was wearing an orange striped t-shirt and shorts and staring at her with wide eyes that appeared to not even be blinking.  He stood there frozen with his hands in his pockets.  He appeared to be in some sort of trance. 
“Hello there,” called out Isabell with a friendly smile, but there was no response, the boy just continuing to stare.  Then with a shudder Isabell saw the motion of the boy’s hands on his crotch from underneath his shorts.  The boy’s mouth was hanging open, like he was in some sort of pervert coma.  Isabell just continued to stare back in the boy’s direction, never letting go of her smile, as she imagined the tree tipping over and crushing the little boy and just what all that beautiful mess might look like.    




Saturday, November 24, 2001


Finances down the tubes.  Phone disconnected.  Friends moving away.  Creative outlet blocked due to phantom health problem curse.  Recent realizations about inherent amoral, evil impulses and tendencies.  It’s the end of August and I am in the Safeway at the special services desk buying a second long distance calling card so that I can call back the ENT’s office and get the confirmation on an appointment all the way in distant fucking October.
    “Can you believe this weather we’re having?” asks the lady behind the counter as she rings up my purchase.  She is wearing a lot of makeup to make her skin appear smoother and tauter than it is, but she is still looking good for her age in a Safeway advertisement employee actress sort of way. 
    The weather in question is dark and cold and rainy.  Over the last two days it has appeared as if some huge chunk of December has dropped off and accidentally landed on the tail end of August.
    “Yeah,” I agree, “it seems like a transplant from a different time.”  The lady behind the counter gets distracted by some procedure having to do with my check card as I continue on, “is it supposed to keep going like this, do you know?”  I ask.
    There is no response from the middle aged commercial on the other side of the counter.  Her mind is a few computers away as she negotiates my purchase with big daddy technology.  “Do you know?”  I push on. 
    “Do I know if it is a transplant?” she asks, her voice seeming to come from distant phone lines.
    “Have you heard anything about how long this spell is supposed to last?”  I ask again.  Since I don’t watch the news or read the paper or listen to the morning commute comics on the radio I figure Miss Safeway Middle Aged is probably the closest thing to meteorology I have going.
    “Um,” she finally responds, “ I heard something about an early winter and a hard winter I think.”
She says this as if it is going to be two different winters, one following the other in a marching line of weather realities.  That’s cute, I think, knowing in my very bones that it is going to be both at once along with everything else.

Cat I.D.

1:30 am

“Fucking cat I.D.!”  I call out from the floor.  I am laying on my back with a ¾ full bottle of Guinness Stout in my right hand.  Joseph has just brought out his new toy, his latest grand goof, the transformation of his Official California Drivers License into a “cat I.D.”.  He has replaced his own head-shot photo (the original photo had been pretty damned good itself; he had stuck his abundant mass of curly dirty-blonde hair straight out at all angles right before going into the D.M.V. and then whenever they would try to take the picture for the license, good old Jo would approximate the facial expressions of someone undergoing a surprise electrocution, eyes wide, mouth wider open showing his yellowed fangs.  They tried to tell him that he couldn’t do that and he would explain to them that it was not something he could control.  He just did that whenever someone tried to take a picture of him.  They tried distracting him, giving no warning before suddenly opening the shutter, but Joseph got his shot.) with that of his cat’s.
    “Ah yeah, cat I.D., cat I.D.,” Joseph sings, dancing around the room with his silly I.D. in his hand, “I gots me..” he lets off the maniacal idiot grin I believe he saves only for me, “a cat I.D.!” 
    ‘His expression looks just like the one he seems to get every time he steps into the D.M.V.’ I think, sending me into giggling laughter on the floor.
    “Fucking cat I.D.!” I call out again between gasping laughter.  I’m on Guinness number five, however I had found his little cat I.D. picture pretty humorous from the get go. The picture, simply glued over his old photo, is of his cat “Little” (named by his little sister for the size the cat seemed to be in a perpetual state of as it grew up) staring at the lens straight on.  The glare of the flash is reflected harshly in the eyes of the cat, but there is no “red eye” because the picture is in black and white, giving this tiny creature a very serious and fierce alien-like stare.  Underneath the animal’s head the edge of a glass fishbowl can be seen.
    Joseph is turning up the Tom Waits soundtrack in my bedroom.  Tom is shouting about someone being a “big shot down at the slaughterhouse” over a stopstart stripped-down rhythm.  Joseph comes bounding back into my dimly lit living room where I am still on my back, light as air on my hearty meal of Guinness.
    “I’ve got to do something with this thing.”
    “Indeed you do, Jo,” I say, finally composing myself.  You’d just have to see the picture to understand how funny it is; the expression on Little’s face so much like a little kitty mug shot.
    “Hey...” say Joseph, after a little pause. “Do you need some more beer?”
    “No, no.  I think I’m doin’ okay down here old buddy,” I reply.  “I gotta slow down anyways.”  Joseph doesn’t drink at all and that always puts my alcohol consumption in the spotlight whenever we spend time together, which is quite often. All his other friends say that he doesn’t need it.  I think it’s just that he doesn’t want it.  Joseph doesn’t need anything. Joseph writes his own life.
    “Well", he says with a decisive air, “I think you nee some more beer, my friend.  In fact, I think we need to pay a little visit to the “cownah stoe”!” he declares, affecting the best East Oakland ghetto drawl he can muster.  He has already pulled on his tweed overcoat, car keys jingling.
    Suddenly I leap from the floor, Joseph’s energy temporarily clearing my head of its foamy Guinness fog.  “Meow.” I say in agreeance.  I fetch my coat, hat, turn up the music (just for the landlord downstairs), and we are out the door.

1:42 AM

    “Ding dong, ding dong....”declares the cheery little major-third intervaled door chime as me and Joseph enter the Seven Eleven.  Joseph is in first, his confident strides leading the way, cat ID in his pocket.  I follow close behind trying to keep a straight face.           The whole place is lit up bright with the fluorescents, giving it the feel of a crime scene, which seems glaringly appropriate to the occasion. It appears devoid of people, except for a scrawny speed freak with a handlebar moustache and brown web-backed baseball cap which says “Pope Valley Turkey Shoot ‘96”on it.  He is busy paying the cashier for his hot dog.  The extra relish is dripping onto the counter despite the liberal amount of waxed paper and paper napkins wadded up beneath it.  The cashier appears to be quite miffed about this, despite the freak’s shaky attempts at cleaning up the mess. I follow Jesse to the far right of the store.   
    We both stand in front of the liquor selection, cheap beers, and cheap wines, wine coolers stand before us behind glass like multi-colored soldiers awaiting our command.
    “Now, if I was a cat...” Joseph quietly mutters, sending me instantly into stifled hysterics.  Joseph shoots a glare at me and I manage to gain control over myself.  “...what would I want to drink?” he continues.  “Ah yes,” he declares, a satisfied yet still serious smile crossing his face as he opens the glass door and retrieves a bottle of pink wine “a fine “Wild Vines Strawberry-Flavored White Zinfandel”, choice libation amongst my species!”
    Joseph turns a split second 180 degrees and immediately begins to head up the front counter where Mr. Pope Valley Speed Freak has just finished paying for his green hot dog experiment and is heading for the front door.  I take a longer route along the far isle and meet up with him just as he is placing the bottle before the counterperson.  To this I add a 5 ½ ounce can of Friskies Turkey and Jiblets Kitty Dinner.  I notice much to my satisfaction out of the corner of my eye that this almost gets the best of Joseph, but his dead serious façade remains stone other than a slight liquefying ‘round the eyes, as he lays the ID out with our purchase, slapping it onto the table like a final winning card in a blackjack game.
    The counter man, a very tall Arabian fellow in his late 30’s, takes the ID, looks at it briefly, and then replies, simply and without hesitation, “This is not you.” as he plunks it back down on the counter.  He does it so matter-of-factly that it’s as if he has simply been given an out-of-state or outdated driver’s license.  There is silence, then he repeats: “That is not you.”
    “Oh yeah, I know.  I’ve got to get a new ID,” Joseph says.  “I was so tired when they took that picture.  I really didn’t look like myself.”
    “That is not you.” he replies again, as if Joseph was simply trying to sneak some older brother’s ID past him, like he had been through this countless times before, like he was bored with all these people bringing in their pet’s IDs to try to buy wine.
    “No, no, see, that was before the operation,” Joseph says, changing his story mid-scam, “I just got out of the hospital.  Really, that’s me.”
    “That is not you.” the counterperson replies, not a sliver of humor in his gravely voice.  “That is cat.” He has a nametag on his uniform, it says “DEEP”.
    Joseph gives a stage laugh.  “Oh yeah, I know, it’s just such a bad picture. Really, man, it’s cool.  I’m twenty-two years old, I was born on April 13th, 1975.”
    “That is cat.  Cat.  Not you.  Cat!”  DEEP’s voice is finally picking up.  Joseph follows suit.
    “I am so tired of this!  Look, I had an operation!  I’m 22 years old!  I used to look like a cat.  See?  I got this ID two years ago! Here,” Joseph reaches into his wallet and pulls out his social security card “See?  It says “Joseph Shorpkenoff ”; same name!”
    “That is cat!” DEEP’s temper is taking center stage.  “Get out!  I call police on you!”  The Tranquil Trance of Total Detachment he was exuding before has now been utterly shattered.  All these kids with their fake IDs, and now this! That is not him! That is cat!
    “Look, look, look....” Joseph brings down the volume of his voice, making a “simmer down” motion with his palms turned downward, acting diplomatic, as DEEP stares at him with an angry thick silence.  “Look, see?”  Joseph is pointing at his face, the expression of which he has fashioned into as much of a cat-like form as he can muster, eyes wide, maniacal open mouth with raised upper lip to emphasize fangs.  When he then proceeds to push out his ears with fingers to complete the effect I can contain my silence no longer, blowing an evening’s worth of cool, laughter issuing forth with orgasmic uncontrollability.
    “Get out! Fucking cat man!” DEEP pulls the bottle and can behind the counter.  “You are banned from store!  THAT IS NOT YOU!”
    “Dammit!” cries Joseph, unable to keep a straight face, his voice breaking, yet still pushing the fury through.  “I’m hungry, I need to eat!  Gimme the food at least!”
    “This is cat food! Get out!” screams DEEP, looking as if he may soon blow a blood vessle or something. 
    “Okay, okay.  I’m sorry,” says Joseph, lowering his voice, the hands of diplomacy returning, “I’ll just have a pack of Catnip Lights.”
    “Need ID for cigarettes!”  cries, DEEP.  When he realizes that “Catnip” is not a brand name for cigarettes he becomes transfixed in a wordless fury of supreme magnitude, throwing the cat ID at Joseph and picking up the phone.
    “Go ahead, call the police, they’ll verify it!” Joseph is screaming as I begin to drag him toward the door.  He pretends to fight me in order to remain.  “I got rights!  I was born deformed! I don’t have to put up with this shit!”  He emphasizes “shit!” with a wild arm gesture, his hand catching me on the side of the face.  At this, of all things, Joseph lets out his first laugh.  I continue shoving him, this time with more conviction, toward the door.  Joseph is screaming something about him not fearing the police because of his nine lives as the major-third-have-a-nice-day-happy-chime sounds and then we are outside.

1:51 AM

    When we finished laughing we found that there was nothing left to do so we head back to my house.  On the way home I realize that that was probably the first time Joseph had ever even tried to buy alcohol. I laugh to myself quietly about this, shaking my head in astonishment, as Joseph turns the corner onto my street.
    “What?” he asks.
    “Nothing, nothing...” I say.  I turn up the stereo.  I look over at Joseph, then back to the road.  “Fucking cat ID,” I mutter, continuing to shake my head.

A Moving Violation

The duality of rubber tires spinning impossibly atop asphalt and the sure, yet frenzied motion of my middle and forefingers plunging in and out of vagina was really blowing my mind.  ‘‘Goddamn’’, I was freestyle rhyming to myself , ‘‘I’m Superman! The King of this godammned San Fran!”  Life finally felt like it was picking up speed.  Almost 65 miles per hour at times, within city limits.  I was piloting my small, late seventies European car with my left hand only, crossing over my lap to shift, while my right hand was busy piloting the naked girl seated next to me through her own orgasmic journey.  I was laughing maniacally and calling out profound statements such as “Oh, shit yeah! Fuck yeah! Goddamn, that’s right.”  An S.U.V. pulled up next to us at a red light.  On her side.  She didn’t notice, her eyes closed, her smallish hands pinching her own nipples.  Her window had been opened, so as to invite the cool summer evening San Francisco air to dance across her pale skin, so her cries were quite audible, attracting the immediate attention of the conservative looking 30-something father who had pulled up next to us.  I could barely make out the outline of the top of his occupied baby seat in the back.  Veronica opened her eyes just as I turned on the dome light, casting a faint ambient glow upon my strange mobile San Francisco peepshow, featuring a very naked young passenger, shuddering with orgasms beneath her seatbelt.

We had felt so innocent about an hour or so earlier, skipping naively through the dirty strange complexities of Chinatown.  A typical dating couple.  Stopping at a Chinese restaurant with a sign claiming its kitchen to be “under rabbinical supervision” for a lavish spread, sweet and sour heaven, dancing across our young and expectant tongues.  The food was so damned good that we barely noticed that I was the only man in the entire restaurant without a yarmulke.
The entire day had been light and comfortable.  Giggles.  Sly, strategically placed witticisms launched and received by both parties.  By the time we hit Chinatown I felt as if we were two sweet, innocent, rosy cheeked rag dolls, Raggedy Ann and Andy, strolling hand in hand through this miniature foreign land.
              We had spent the earlier portion of the day doing the other Hallmark “2nd date, this time in The City” sort of things; a trip to the Exploratotium, a visit to the Haight Asbury district, a walk across the Golden Gate Bridge.  There is nothing more beautiful than a girl you have just started to date and haven’t had sex with yet, with the wind blowing through her hair and her tiny jacket buttoned all the way up, on the Golden Gate Bridge around 6:30 PM.  The sun is vague and California golden, cutting through the fog at an off angle.  The wind is cold and you see her shivering through the viewfinder of your camera as you take a picture of her.  She is your woman.  She is in need of your man-warmth.  Go to her.
And of course, after all that wonderful spontaneous posturing, we were off to Chinatown to eat a well deserved meal, as well as to laugh at all the endlessly silly gift/technology/symbolic-Chinese-trinket stores that crowd the streets like far too many strange paperbacks crammed on an old bookshelf.  Battery powered, very loud, metal crickets.  Solar powered, very loud, miniature metal birds.  “Moonstone eggs”.  Chinese teas.  Old license plates.  Endless pink and white hooded sweaters with iron-on cartoons of the Golden Gate.  And pajamas.

She really wanted the pajamas.  They were black and silk and meticulously ornamented with gold and red stitching on them.  They were thirty dollars and she didn’t have any money left over.  She really wanted to have them, however, and when she emerged from the dressing room, I really wanted her to have them as well.  They were child sized and fit her slender body tightly, the pants stopping short at the calves and shirt buttons pulling tight over her breasts like some ultra-hip little Japanese servant girl lingerie.  I paid for the pajamas.
I pulled the car out onto Pine Street.  Traffic was heavy, and although the date had gone well I was growing frustrated with the hours of driving a day in the city requires (especially for those too hip to bring maps).  Tensions felt high.  Someone cut me off and I honked my horn like a mad man.  I cut someone off and they honked their horn and gave me the finger like a mad man.  A homeless midget begin whacking the trunk of my car repeatedly with his fists when I was stuck in a cross walk on a red light, causing me to honk, gesture and holler like a truly mad, mad man.  A Muni bus nearly severed my car in two directly afterwards, and I simply laughed.
“I want to wear my pajamas” was how it started.  I told her to go for it.  I was delighted by this sudden irrational impulse, especially in the midst of all of this swirling mechanized turmoil.
“I can’t, though.  I’d have to take my clothes off.”
“Good,” someone else temporarily inhabiting my body said.  “Take all your clothes off.  Do it right now!”  I was saying this less like an order and more as if I had just discovered the cure for some major disease.  The day had been so freeing, so perfect that my mind was high, and thus delirious, on satisfaction, a feeling I’m not exactly overly accustomed to dealing with.  “Oh yeah.  Right here in my car!  Right here in goddamned San Francisco, for Christ sakes!”  I was speaking in a harsh staccato that sounded and felt like fireworks chain-reacting inside my mouth.
What in the fuck was I saying?
She laughed.  “No...” she trailed off.  She was saying ‘no’ in the form of a question.
“At least take your pants off! C’mon.” I rolled down the window.  “You know you want to.  Oh goddamn yeah.  Let’s do it! Take off your goddamn clothes!”

We had stumbled upon the topic of sexual fantasies in the restaurant.  I had gulped down a large swallow of sweet ‘n sour vegetarian pork in a rather hard manner when she had mentioned her exhibitionist bent.  Told me that she enjoyed masturbating in front of her open window at night.  She lived by an empty field, and she had never seen anybody out there before, but it excited her nonetheless.  I returned the serve with some mentioning of my fondness of being tied up and controlled, as well as to dominate, in bed.  I suppose that this turn of conversational events had planted an itchy, sordid little seed in our minds.  That and the fact that I hadn’t had sex for over a year.  My fantasy life had grown to become a formidable sideshow of erotic oddities swirling through my brain at the speed of electricity.

“Oh fuck yeah!  That’s right, oh my god.”  I had my hand on her bare thigh.  She had removed her pants!  We took a right turn onto Van Ness.
“Now, doesn’t that feel good?” I snarled. All I heard was a heavy intake of breath for a response.  “Yeah, doesn’t that feel nice?  It was a hot day, after all...” I felt like a car salesman or something, like I desperately needed the commission to feed my miserable family.  However, this was a car I actually knew she would love.  But I still had to sell.  “Here,” I threw the pants in the backseat.  “Now, your shirt!  That’s the next step!  It’s the next goddamn step!  Take it off!!  AHRRRRRHHRGG!”
 “People will see....”  I could taste the invisible question mark hovering in her brain.  She wanted to do it.
“Who cares?!”  I realized that whatever evil force I had felt taking possession of me before had moved in to stay, at least for a while. “C’mon!  Who gives a crap?!  You’ll never see any of these people again!  They’re all just faces!  Faces, all looking at you!  They’ll all want you.  Take it all the way, my young starlet!  Take it to the fucking stars!  Show yourself to big ol’ mean San Francisco, baby!  Show ‘em what’s what!  C’mon!”  The traffic seemed thinner for a moment as I sped up toward a seemingly permanent yellow light.
“People will see.  I can’t.  No.”  She shook her head like someone finally putting some insidiously desired piece of expensive clothing back on the rack at a department store.  The light suddenly turned red and I slammed on the brakes, the car lurching a few inches into the right lane before coming to a stop.  An old man with a beard in a station wagon gave me the “you’re an irresponsible asshole” look.  I ignored him and stared at the red light ahead of me.  I was feeling kind of like an irresponsible asshole.
               Then, in a motion like that of a picture falling off of a wall that you hadn’t ever noticed was there in the first place, her shirt was off.  She sat there in her underwear, sinking down self-consciously in her seat, adjusting the seatbelt over the white bra clinging to her chest.  I glanced over at the bearded old man, who unfortunately hadn’t noticed.  I honked my horn.  The light turned green. I jammed on the accelerator.
“Yes!  Yes!  You Calvin Klein wonder!  I’ve got a fucking billboard in my car!”  I composed myself only for a microsecond, “okay,” I said calmly.  Then I went right back into the exclamation points. “Okay! The panties!  The panties!  Oh yeah!”
“Mmmmm... No.  That’s borderline illegal.  I won’t,”  she said and traffic slowed up once again.  Behind three cars at a red.  The old man was gone.  This time we were next to a young Asian couple in a shiny new Saturn.
“What are you talking about?!” I screamed.  “It’s totally illegal!  That’s why we have to do it!”
The light turned green.
“Why don’t you do it?”  she said.
“Cause I’m fuckin’ driving, obviously!  Anyway, what’s the difference?  You know you wanna do it, Veronica.”
“No.  Ah....”  she ran a hand nervously through her long , very straight red hair, “no.”
Someone pulled out in front of us.  I honked the horn. “Dammit!”  I yelled, hitting the steering wheel with my fists.
“But....Oh god” she moaned “oh god!”.  Her voice had begun to shoot out erratically in all directions, not unlike her frantic hyperactive glances out the front and side of the car.  The guy who had pulled out in front of me turned right onto Pacific and I picked up a little speed.
“Do it babe!  Do it!  Don’t you want to feel the fog against your, uh, womanhood?” After the words left my mouth, I reread them and laughed briefly inwardly.  But only briefly.  “Ha ha!  The panties!  The panties!”  I said this as a delighted child would say “Barney! Barney!” when encountering the large purple dinosaur in person.
“No.  I won’t.  That’s too far.”
My right hand shot out across the car and rubbed her crotch through her panties.  It was a very quick motion.  One without thought, and met with no opposition.  Only her head shooting back against the seat at the moment of contact.  She was wet through the cotton fabric.  My hand stayed momentarily and then departed as I downshifted in reaction to an upcoming red light.
“Oh shit.  Don’t stop,” she said, her voice suddenly more passive and soft than before.  She pulled the panties down her long white legs with an absent sigh, and threw them onto the backseat with the pants.  I begin to rub her again.  She moaned and writhed in the seat.  I pulled my hand away suddenly as we stopped at the red light.
“Hey!”  The spell was broken.  “Keep touching me, you fucker!” she spat out at me savagely, yet sinking timidly lower into the seat at the same time.
“The bra has to go!  The fucking bra has to go!  Oh my god, we’re so close!  I won’t touch you again until the bra goes!  Be fucking all the way, let’s see it!”  I wasn’t even making sense anymore.  I grabbed uncontrollably for her bra.
“No!  She screamed, and pushed my arm violently away.  I felt a sudden rush of guilt.  I was taking this too far.  I was turning into an animal.
“Sorry.” I said, the first sentence out of my mouth in the last five minutes that wasn’t yelled.  I was behind four normal cars with a lumbering armored car at the lead.   There was a moment of silence.  Something distracted me from outside my window.  It was somebody slamming the back of a large van.  The light turned green.  I slipped in the clutch and then looked back over at my passenger.
“Oh yes!  Goddamn yeah!  You’re my fucking little kidnap victim!  Oh yes yes yes! Ha ha!”
Traffic picked way up.  I slid into third.  On my right her beautifully full pair of breasts were finally greeting the city, with only the thick black seatbelt crossing over her chest diagonally, like a slender country road bisecting a very scenic route indeed.
“Naked.  Totally naked!  How does it feel?” I didn’t wait for a response.  She shifted lower into her seat. “Oh my god, you’re the most beautiful fucking girl I’ve ever seen!  Look outside.  Look at them all!  They can all see you now.  Hey, sit up!  Sit up for christsakes!”
“I’ll touch you if you sit up.  I’ll touch you all the way out of this city.  Just sit up.  Just a little.”
She slid her back up the seat cautiously, her breasts pushing the seatbelt out.  My hand returned to its work and I flipped the steering wheel awkwardly with my left hand only, making a dangerously wide left onto Lombard.
I was surprised just how freakishly orgasmic this girl was turning out to be.  I had forgotten that some girls are just like that; fourteen, fifteen orgasms a night, no problem.  These highly blessed women exist on a plane of pleasure the likes of which us men can’t even imagine, with our standard issue, mono-climactic sexualities.  Veronica’s whole body was a churning white sea of constant movement.  Her right hand would grasp onto the top of the seatbelt, her eyes closed, and she would lift her body from the seat right before the time of orgasm.  Her whole abdomen would ripple, as if some great electrical current were washing through her body.  She looked to be a woman possessed by evil spirits, with a new one exiting her slender shuddering body in turn every three minutes or so.
And then there was me, of course, with my maniacal grin,  performing the whole exorcism.  We were both  possessed, really.  Quite a pair, I thought, perfect for San Francisco.  All these years of seeing the insane, the sordid and the depraved out of the corner of my eyes throughout my trips to this crowded old city, and now I finally felt as if I was contributing something, as if I was finally involved.
              We pulled up next to a group of young boys with longish hair in an old Dodge Dart who were busy trying to light a small bong pipe with the cigarette lighter from the car’s dash.  The kid on the driver’s side noticed first and then brought his friend’s attention to what we were doing.  Veronica was going through a rather intense one at the time, her face hanging halfway out of the open window.  I quickened my pace with my fingers and sent her to moaning again. I could hear the sound of her occasionally harsh bray echoing off of the tall buildings outside.  She arched her back and lifted her body, giving me the feeling of having her “in my hand”.  I gave the kids a smile just as the light turned green, leaving them behind to find the cigarette lighter they had probably dropped on the floor of their car.
It seemed all greens for an eternity, with my attention divided between the orgasmic display on my right and the task of driving all around me.  I had never felt so in control of things my whole life.  It was as if I was simultaneously playing a virtuoso piano piece, that I had penned myself of course, while at the same time building the piano itself.  I owned this goddamned city.  I was the mayor and the shopkeeper and the fucking banker and everything else.
          At this point Veronica had abandoned dialogue all together, and was simply moaning and cooing phrases such as “Oh, shit.” and the like.  My erection was a trifle uncomfortable, pushing hard against the zipper on my pants (laundry day).  I kept shifting in my seat, and I considered the idea of setting my little friend free, but both of my hands were presently in use.  After almost every climax, she would shift lower in her seat, prompting me to pull my hand away, at which point she would scoot back up and the whole process would start over again.  We kept this up for a while without incident.  I decided to make a series of rights and head back toward the “red light district” on Broadway.  The porno theater, lap-dance section of town, located right next to the more sordid, low brow tip of Chinatow.  “Might as well leap into the vortex at this point” I thought.
“God, where are you headed, uh shit....” my temporarily illiterate nymph asked.
“Never you worry, my little one,” I responded in an overly dramatic b-movie villain sort of manner.  “You will see soon enough.” I followed this with a deep, mad scientist-like cackle.  The fact that neither one of us laughed at this vaudevillian display was highly demonstrative of how deep we had both become ensnared in this strange sexual spell, pulled up into this higher plane of perversion.
The “theater district” unfolded before my eyes in all its Vegas-esque glory.  On the right, the huge lit up sign for “Big Al’s Adult Books” featuring a tall man in a 1920’s-era gangster suit and holding a tommy-gun.  On the left, an even more lit up sign for “The Garden of Eden”, featuring a giant neon snake draped over a very non-biblical looking Eve. We had reached the promised land.
“Oh, fuck you, no way!”  Veronica had finally opened her eyes.
“Oh why not!  Right into the vortex we must go!  This is San Francisco, babe!  We must make our mark....we must.....”  I lost my train of thought as I realized once again that the girl I was talking to in my car was naked and that my hand was buried deep beneath the light, feathery hairs on her crotch.  I pushed my middle finger hard up into her, the way that one fantasizes doing it to a girl in a summer dress seated right next to you in a junior high school mathematics class.  The teacher turns his back on the class to write some meaningless gibberish on the chalk-board and you feel your way up through the light orange folds of see-through fabric of her dress until your hand rests on something warm and wonderful and perfect.  Of course, she is not wearing any panties.  Oh, and she loves it.  And marries you.
Any way, hard like that, causing Veronica to moan, almost shout, her head halfway leaning out the window again.  A few of the desperate, various patrons of the porno shops, strip joints and movie houses began to take notice what was happening in my car.  “Ah yes, you suckers, here is the real thing,” I thought to myself.  We slowed down at a light, and two rather creepy looking men unabashedly approached the car.  One was Phillipino and was wearing an old greasy business suit.  The other a young Caucasian fellow in tight jeans and a huge billowing “49ers” jacket.  Veronica instinctively slumped down, yet seemed more aroused than ever, throwing her long hair back against seat and grabbing her breasts hard.  The two sorry souls were right up in the window of the car by this time, one literally drooling on himself.  The other, the Phillipino, was rubbing himself through his suit.  It hadn’t taken long to attract the sharks with my fresh meat.  These guys had probably already dropped fifty, sixty bucks at the other places without seeing anything nearly this good.  Before we knew what was happening they begin to swarm the car.  Strange men approached from all sides, pushing each other out of the way.  They were all moaning together, seemingly drunk off a combination of alcohol and sheer sexual depravity.  The whole thing was beginning to seem a lot like “The Night of the Living Dead”.  Then, just as an arm reached into the car causing Veronica to scream, the light turned green and we were moving away.
Veronica was a little shaken.  “Okay, okay, that was too fucking scary.  Now, let’s get the hell out of here.”  She was covering her breasts and crossing her legs.  She was right.  This was just plain dangerous to be doing right here.  Plus, I liked the idea more of showing off in front of people who were not ready to deal with it.  These people were too damn thirsty for this sort of thing.  Before I knew it, Veronica was even back in her clothes again.  It took me all the way to Van Ness to get them back off.

    She masturbated for me all the way across the Golden Gate Bridge.  For herself really.  I just happened to be there.  By the time we made it out of the city it was late, so the bridge itself was virtually empty of pedestrians.  Plus we were driving so fast that the scant few who were there never even probably got a chance to see anything.  Well, actually, there was that one time when a rather upset looking mother, with the rest of her family asleep in their old station wagon, became transfixed at Veronica and almost ended up pitching her, Dad and the kids straight into the bay.
But, for the most part we were alone. Yet, with Veronica still naked and doing her thing,  I still felt overcome by this feeling of exhibitionism.  Perhaps it was the bridge itself watching.  It looked so ominous and stately, rising up into the evening fog.  Perhaps it was the eye of God, adding this to his list of reasons barring us from his big resort in the sky.

The rest of the ride home was a tad bit awkward.  Veronica had laid there, inert, for some time as we passed through the Caldacott Tunnel and onto the Waldo Grade, a long downhill stretch that would lead us up north and back to our small suburbias.  I didn’t say anything either.  Neither one of us had ever imagined that date number two would have ended up like this.  Without words, Veronica reclaimed her clothes, which were scattered throughout the back seat, and begin to put them on.  There was something very solemn about it all, and it made me feel a sinking feeling in my chest.  I was suddenly saddened, fearing that I would never again see this beautiful young body.  She was disappearing before my eyes.  I felt like someone who had spent his entire paycheck in a drunken Friday night, and who was awakening the next morning, wondering where his money had gone and how he was going to make rent.  I tried several times to put my hand on her leg as an act of affection and comfort, but each attempt was met with her deft, delicate hand pushing me away.  We said not one word to each other the entire drive home, Veronica staring out the window and me torturing myself mentally.

Surprisingly, she kissed me on the cheek at the bottom of the stairs to her apartment in Santa Rosa.  It was a quick kiss, yet she still said nothing.  Still seemed upset.  I thought about trying to talk to her about things, yet I couldn’t think of the right thing to say.  She begin to enter her house and I grabbed her by the arm.  I wanted to pull this immaculate young adventurist into my arms and kiss her deeply, take her home with me.  We would laugh about this wacky night later on, an explosive event, early evidence of our mad, crazy passion for each other.  Instead of this, however, she just pushed me away, closing the door slowly, a vacant expression on her face as if I was a strange crazy animal that she had no connection to whatsoever.

After calling her repeatedly for a week, I had finally gotten her to agree to meet me in a coffee shop to discuss what had happened.  I desperately wanted another chance.  I was seated alone at a table right in the middle of the large coffeehouse.  If it hadn’t been such a busy night I would have opted for a more intimate table somewhere off in a corner somewhere.  But, unfortunately, these were all taken up, either by couples or other soloists, writing in journals or reading.  I was finding the volume level rather disconcertingly loud as well; there were seventeen or so tables in this place, and they were all filled up.  I hadn’t wanted to have my begging scene played out in front of so many people.  Yet, on the phone, she had insisted upon this place, and I had gone along with it.  Anything, I just had to see her again.
She was over a half-hour late, and I was just about to get up and get my third refill of coffee when I spotted her sauntering through the double doors of the place.  She of course looked ridiculously beautiful; she had no doubt spent some time in front of the mirror finding the right combination of tight sweater and skirt that would torture me the most.  Her dark red hair was pinned up in two complex rolls tight against her head and she was wearing knee high brown leather boots.  My heart had stopped.
She strolled slowly over and sat down confidently opposite me at the table.  I wanted to tell her how sorry I was.  I wanted to tell her how I thought I had jeopardized something very special by letting my pent-up libido get the best of me that night in the city.  I wanted to tell neither her not to hate me, nor herself for that matter, that it was just an event in the past, an event we should forget and move on, as if it never happened.  I wanted to tell her that I was in love with her.
However, upon opening my mouth, I felt an unexpected tickling against my testicles that caused me to jump up a bit.  Veronica was waving her finger back and forth in front of her smiling face in a motion that meant I wasn’t to talk.  She had somehow taken one of her boots off and was fondling my genitals through my pants with her bare foot.  My eyes widened and I felt frozen.  An erection sat up obediently against her nudging foot.  She then pointed at my chest.  I didn’t understand what that meant.  Then I did.  I looked frantically around at all the reading, writing, talking, laughing and yelling patrons of the coffee shop.  I saw that two of them were already staring at us, staring at this beautiful young woman with her foot deep in the young man’s crotch underneath the small table. I looked pleadingly back in Veronica’s eyes and she simply shrugged her shoulders, letting me know that she didn’t care how many people there were.  I could feel my pulse racing and the skin on my face reddening as I pulled my T-shirt off over my head.

Wednesday, October 31, 2001

He, Birdgirl and Faceless Larry

     It was a typically nice sunny day in California.  The type all of the natives don’t appreciate any more.  Frank was one of those natives.  He’d seen it all before.  He had big troubles rumbling through his head like the violence of a juxtaposed thunderstorm against all of this bright sunniness bullshit.  He had chosen to eat inside the taqueria.  In the back.  It was his one meal a day (he seemed to be limiting himself to that nowadays, waiting to eat until he just couldn’t stand it anymore, or the dizziness and shaking begin to set in).  His whole happiness system was embedded in the half-eaten burrito that sat before him.  He was shoving huge chunks of food into his mouth and not bothering to wipe his face.  Sour cream and salsa lined his mouth.  Even the employees had begun to take notice.  They probably thought him a junkie of some type, what with his gaunt frame and greasy bed-headed hairdo.  Frank did not give a fuck what they thought.  “What do they have to do with my burrito?” He thought to himself. “Sure, they made the thing, but they are over there whereas my burrito is right here in front of me.”  Frank was becoming a junkie of some sort; a junkie of food indulgence, a junkie of the way that food to a starving man could simplify a whole goddamn swirling hell world into “mefoodeatnow”.
A burning need and its obvious solution dancing through his body. But just then someone stepped into his temple that broke his trance mid-chew.

It was Larry Terry.

Larry Terry, oh perhaps number one on the list of fellows that Frank really did not want to run into.  And here he was, with his long blonde-dyed black hair and young taut face with that perpetual half-condescending grin, cutting a dull old blade right through Frank’s last simple pleasure, his worship of food.  Larry Terry was a local musician, just like him, but the fact that he wasn’t successful either had never seemed to bother him somehow.  Quite the contrary, Larry seemed to wear his failure like a badge on his shoulder.  He had slighted Frank on many occasions, too many to name, always with the off-hand pseudo-offensive remarks about his art, mannerisms, hair, always with the evil grin of self confidence.

And to make it worse, by his side was her.

Frank didn’t know her name, but he goddamn sure knew her looks.  The small shocks of jet black hair across her white forehead, her angular youngish body juxtaposed against her 6 foot tallness, she was even wearing the same dress she had been on that night, a tantalizing black number, of course, black, everything that wasn’t perfect angel wing white on this girl had to be dark raven wing black. And she was shaped like some beautiful bird as well, an egret perhaps with her long graceful neck.  Frank had nicknamed her Birdgirl in his mind.

Yes, he had spent a few hours about a month ago unable to stop gorging on the sight of this would-be young goth starlet at a local nightclub where one of his favorite local bands was playing.  He had even known the girl she was sitting next to and had sat dumbly down hoping to be introduced, but no such luck.  The girl he already knew just started having some stupid conversation with him having NOTHING to do with the beautiful girl that he OBVIOUSLY couldn’t stop staring at.  And stare on he did, she was like an impossible fiction to him........

..and still was.  And of course, here she was spending her time with our young representative of Satan, Larry Terry.  Even his name pissed off Frank.  Larry Terry.  Of course, being the pretentious little gothboy that he was, he had made up a new name for himself, Ulysses S. Mayle or something, but it never stuck.  At least not to Frank, to him he would always be Larry Terry, the guy with two first names and the perpetual evil grin.
Larry of course ignored Frank for as long as he possibly could, and Frank followed suit, diving back into his burrito, albeit in a little more civilized manner due to the presence of the beautiful Birdgirl.

The next time Frank looked up Birdgirl was gone, probably in the bathroom, and Larry was ordering for the both of them.  After placing his order Larry pretended to suddenly notice Frank.

“....” he said.

He of course said nothing.  Just the sneer with a slight grain of recognition curling in his thick black eyebrows.  It would be of course necessary for Frank to say the first words.  He tried to hold back, to turn the responsibility on Larry, but it was no use, Frank, although the moody depressed type, had little control over the spasms of human social practices.

“Ah yeah.  Burrito time.”  he said lamely, hating the words as soon as they left his mouth.

“.....” said Larry.  Then, “oh, Frank!  Hey man, haven’t seen you in a while.  Hey, ya got something right here” he said while running his fingers all around the circumference of his mouth.  Frank, of course embarrassed, reached for a napkin, but all of them were thoroughly soaked with burrito juice.  The napkin dispenser was of course right next to Larry, and of course he wasn’t going to give him one, and of course Frank certainly wasn’t going to ask anything of Larry, so the moment just sat between them.  Frank could see that Larry was eating this whole thing up, just another rich cruel delicacy in the plentiful buffet of his life. Just then the main course walks up to him and kisses him on the cheek, ignoring Frank of course, who was busy wiping the burrito mess on his forearm in a panic.  One more grin from Larry and then the happy new couple went giggling to a table, the only one behind Frank’s.

‘The restaurant is almost entirely empty, but still they have to sit there!’ thought Frank in a rage.  It seemed as if they wanted to avoid even having to gaze upon the hideous visage of Franklin Chambers.  When Frank had wiped his face he had remembered the fact that he hadn’t shaven in three days.  Plus of course he had been sporting what were essentially his pajamas, i.e. sweatpants and a t-shirt that said “Reno” with dancing pretzels on it.  This, along with the mess he was making of his meal had probably been quite a humorous sight to Larry and his new girlfriend, and was probably the source of their continuing giggling right behind his back.

Frank thought himself lucky to only have one bite left of his burrito and finished it before carefully getting up and walking to the napkin dispenser.  He kept his back turned to the twittering couple while wiping his whiskery face.  He then raced for the door in as controlled a manner as he could muster.  Just before he could open the door, Larry had to clear his throat and say “see ya Frank!” with a little laugh shooting off after the “k”.  Of course Frank had to look back and wave, a hokey gesture it seemed, causing Larry to full on laugh with the beautiful Birdgirl playfully punching him in the ribs to stop, even though it was perfectly obvious that it was probably this sort of behavior that caused all the beautiful girls to flock to guys like Larry in the first place.  Women.  They all secretly want the cruel trickster, the manipulator, the condescending prick, even if it’s a secret that they keep from themselves.

Even in this thorough moment of embarrassment and hatred, Frank still managed to get hung up in the stellar swanness of Birdgirl.  He had never seen a girl with a body that at once appeared so lithe and yet so strong.  And did her skin even have pores?  Then his gaze went to Larry, who in response to Frank's obvious mental fondling of his new chick put his arm around her slender waist and teasedly pretended to tackle her.  This was of course very funny to Birdgirl, and her laughter mixed with the door chime as Frank finally pushed through the door to the outside sunny happy bullshit California parking lot landscape.

Frank walked over to his car, a dirty, white ‘65 Dodge Dart two-door, and got inside.  He sat there and just brooded for a long time.  He had been doing a lot of that recently.  He had big problems on his hands, on his mind, the details of which we won’t get into here.  But suffice it to say they were big. Huge. Large. Humongous enough to end up with Frank quitting his job, quitting his band and breaking up with his long-time unsympathetic girl friend.  Yes, Frank was down to nothing, and the problems weren’t going away either.  They were actually getting worse and Frank had no idea what to do about them anymore. So, he ended up doing a lot of sitting around.  He couldn’t write, he couldn’t play, and he definitely couldn’t relax.  He was quickly becoming the mental cartoon of himself he had always dangled in front of his mind; a burned-out lowlife musician who never moved out of his hometown.  He could barely get the energy up to go to the bar and get drunk.  It had taken a huge amount of mental self-flagellation to get him to his car to end his daily fast at the burrito shop there in the shopping mall across town from his apartment.

He sat there for what seemed like a long time, but of course everything in his life seemed to take a long time to him nowadays, so he looked at his clock which of course was no longer working which of course meant that the stupid alternator was shorting out somehow again, so he couldn’t leave the parking lot without fiddling around with the fuse box again.

That was exactly when he grabbed the gun out from under the passenger seat of the car.  He would have kept it under the driver’s seat, but that one had long ago collapsed into itself, creating a small canyon that Frank had to fill with pillows.  He looked at his shiny black gun thinking to himself that even the real ones don’t look real.  But it felt real, cool and heavy in his hands.  He read the inscription to himself and laughed.  “.38 SMITH & WESSON SPL.+ P JACKETED”.  It sounded so serious.  Nothing in this world was serious.

Nothing in this fucked up world made sense, how could anything be serious?

Frank exited his car.  He kept the gun low, but made no attempt to hide it.  He walked straight toward the taqueria.  His mind was empty and simple.  He felt calm for the first time in a while.  The sunniness of the parking lot seemed almost comforting to him.  His sneakers felt as if made for the hot asphalt as they escorted him toward the awaiting door of the restaurant.  He pushed through the door with his left hand, gun in his right. 

The new couple were seated right where he had left them, still giggling, now with a spread of food half eaten in front of them.  At the sound of the door chime Larry had looked up first, shooting the sneering grin at Frank’s form reentering the restaurant.  ‘What is this fool up to now?’ Larry seemed to be thinking.  He chuckled to himself but then a forest fire of movement overtook his taut young face, the perpetual sneer actually disappeared, first in his eyes, then finally in his mouth, as it dropped open.  Frank had never seen Larry like this, and he thought to himself, if only for a moment, that perhaps this wasn’t Larry Terry that he was about to shoot in the face.  Birdgirl, who had of course been watching Larry’s face this whole time, had definitely not seen Larry’s face look like this and let out a little yelp of terror at the mere sight of it.  Then of course she followed his gaze to Frank and his gun and let out an actual scream.

Meanwhile, that moment I mentioned earlier, the one in which Frank hesitated about the fact that Larry looked like an entirely different person, was still happening.  Frank wanted to kill Larry, not some new other version of Larry that he had never seen and thus had no reason to hate.  Birdgirl continued to scream and Frank to stand there pointing the gun.  Just then, the forest fire of transformation in Larry’s face reversed itself as the perpetual condescending grin returned as he decided this whole thing was probably some kind of joke.  He turned the grin lopsided a bit and let out a laugh before his whole face was blown off by Frank’s gun.

Blood splattered out all over the wall behind where the Larry with the face had been sitting.  Birdgirl leapt away in terror, bumping her elbow against the wall.  She staggered back into a corner screaming.  She had streaks of blood all over her white skin.  Just then the new faceless Larry, which had been somehow supporting itself up as if in disbelief that it had been shot slumped forward onto the table in a bloody plop.  Parts of Larry Terry and parts of unfinished tostada mixed together in a mess of fangoria that seemed the sick idea of some depraved special effects team.

In the movies when something like this happens the music stops and everything becomes frozen.  At first it had, with Franks hearing temporarily dropping away, deafened by the gun blast.  But it came back, and there, in real life, the music was still playing.  It was the local Hispanic station, playing the usual type of track with the jolly, slightly unpredictable, oomph oomph background with the warbling singer over it all in some heavy reverb.  This was music Frank had always associated with gorging himself with spicy food  The only difference since the gunshot was that the music was now naked, singing over the whole scene in a classic display of irony.

Just then Frank remembered that there were others in the restaurant beside faceless Larry Terry, Birdgirl and himself.  In a dramatic quick motion he pointed his now warm gun at all of them.  First it was three Mexican employees, the fattest with a phone in his hand already in the process of calling the police or perhaps taking a phone order?  Either way the phone dropped from his hand as if all behind the counter was a theme park shooting gallery, and he had just hit the fat Mexican’s target with the red laser of his gun and this was the comical result.  The two other employees, one a young girl, stood frozen in time.

Then Frank turned to a customer still sitting near the front.  He certainly hadn’t noticed her on his way in.  She was a middle-aged woman with a romance novel held open by some plastic mechanism so that she could eat and read at the same time.  She looked at him with the seriousness of a woman who has seen more than her share of true crime reenactments, yet Frank couldn’t quite see her jumping him from behind if he were to turn his back.

Then Frank turned his weapon toward the only other table with customers in the place, a middle-aged bearded man with what appeared to be his full-grown son.  They had two half-finished bottles of Corona on their table and a basket of chips.  It appeared that they had not gotten their meal served to them yet.
Then Frank turned the gun on Birdgirl.  Somehow this finally stopped her screaming.  Frank walked up the Birdgirl with nothing but simplicity shooting through his brain.  Keeping his gun on her crouched form he walked up close enough to stare her right in the face.  Tears were streaked around her perfect high cheekbones.  Her usually lovely blue eyes were reddened with swollen capillaries.  Her elbow was skinned from her leap out of her chair and into the wall.  Her breath was quick and panicky, like a bird’s.

Frank pointed the gun at her face.  “Get up.” he said, quietly.  She did so, never taking her eyes off of Frank.  She was whimpering steadily now but the restaurant music threw a tacky Mexican blanket of sound over it.  He held the gun to the side of her beautiful head.  Frank held on to this moment for a while, the Birdgirl in front of him giving him her fullest attention.  She looked so gorgeous to him, the shocks of black hair still appearing unruffled against the perfect white tapestry of her forehead.  Her tiny dense cleavage seemed to be fighting to get out of her tight raven black dress, just like it had been that night at the bar.  And on a few other nights he had seen her as well.  It seemed this dress was a part of her, like it could never come off, like it was glued against her body by the same people that created Larry Terry and all his problems that wouldn’t go away.  ‘Well,’ he thought ‘there is only one way to find out’.

“Take off your dress.”  commanded  Frank in the same quiet voice as before.

“No!” shouted a voice from behind him.  It was the middle-aged man with the beard.  His son was now standing by the front door, not knowing what to do.  But his father was a man of honor, not the type to let some deranged lunatic molest an innocent woman without at least saying something.

“Fuck you motherfucker!”  exclaimed Frank as he unloaded two bullets into the man’s table, one hitting the target of a Corona bottle.  The rest of the people had gasped collectively at the shots, thinking of course that Frank had killed the man, but instead of blood all over the man it was beer foam and instead of falling onto the table he leaped up and joined his son.  They both stood there in the doorway, looking like they were in an earthquake drill.

Frank turned back to Birdgirl and repeated his command.  She looked desperately to the other patrons and employees and then back to Frank.  “Please....”

“Take it off!” were the first non-quiet words Frank had spoken to Birdgirl.  Then she looked over at her faceless boyfriend "face-down" in their meal and let out a low moan as she reached down and pulled the entire dress over her head.  Frank grabbed it and threw it to the side.  She stood before him in white panties and bra, but her skin was such a perfect white that it appeared to Frank that she was naked.  Frank pushed her against the wall violently, forcing a sob from her chest.  He kept the gun trained against her head as he pulled off the flimsy bra.  With his free hand he then undid his pants and pulled out his turgid erection with utmost efficiency.  With the tip of the gun still resting against Birdgirl’s head he in one motion pulled down her panties and entered her.  He thrust forward against her wiry body, pushing it up higher and higher against the wall, knocking down a clay Mexican gargoyle-looking head sculpture, which fell to the left of Birdgirl with a crash.  He continued thrusting, seeming to go deeper into her every time, holding her up by her arm while keeping the gun trained keenly on her head.

The entire contents of the restaurant disappeared from Frank’s mind.  It was just he and this perfect, albeit a bit blood spattered, vision of femininity.  In fact, it wasn’t even him.  He had ceased to exist, just like all of his problems.  All that there was was the devouring of this perfect meal before him.  He was back in his temple and things were finally simple, although hopeless, again just as they had been before Larry Terry had decided to show up and interrupt his meal.

Frank could feel muscles tightening up  in his body.  This meant that he was about to climax.  He increased the speed of his thrusts, while slowly moving the gun from the side of Birdgirl’s head to the side of his own.  Birdgirl, in an unexplainable moment of something impossible said “” just before the gun fired.

Monday, October 1, 2001

Inside the Haunted Halls of the Sonoma County Department of Mental Health Services

The front office of the Sonoma County Department of Mental Health Services in Petaluma California is a strange place to find oneself indeed.  But, that's the way life works, first youre on one side of the fence marveling at the antics of the clinically insane on the other, and then one day you wake up and see that fence has been moved to the other side and you're in with them now. Only, in all actuality the fence hasn't moved at all, it was you who moved somehow across that line while you were busy dreaming of other things.

            So, there I was sitting in the waiting room of our local government welfare nut house waiting to see a shrink so that I could get a new prescription for an anti-depressant medication called Serzone.  ("Serzoneâ, Reach For Relief" the package had said, with a cartoon picture of a happy yellow sun climbing out from behind dark, purple, brooding mountains.)  I had been on the medication for two weeks and I hadn't felt shit, but like I told my therapist, I didn't think that my dark purple mountains of suicidal thinking were going to go anywhere until my luck changed, but I would take the stuff anyway; oh why not; just one more drug going into a human body; who's to notice?

            I was of course feeling moody and depressed and generally frightened of humanity at large and the decor of the waiting room wasn't helping.  Even though this particular office building appeared young and fresh on the outside, with a hip, modern architectural motif using red painted steel beams woven in and out of concrete, the inside reminded me of waiting in the principals office when I was in 3rd or fourth grade, before they remodeled it.  The over-stuffed cushions of the waiting room seats were a blazing, while still dingy, orange-red.  The floor was covered with mangy off-beige carpeting and the ceiling mirrored its bleakness with its cracked, yellowed acoustical tiling.  Plastic cubbies lined the walls with self-help information pamphlets that looked to have been designed in the 1970s, with titles like "How to Know if Youre DEPRESSED", or "Depression HURTS", or "What Every Kid Should Know About ALCOHOL" or "Dealing with Teenage ANGER", all written in that round bubbly late 70s font, like normal type filtered through a lava lamp sitting on a naugahide coffee table next to a stained yellow ash tray with three stubbed out cigarettes and one tiny roach.

All about were advertisements for various medications like the one I was taking.  There was a Prozacâ clock, a poster explaining the various pros and cons of using Paxilâ, a small Prozacâ manipulatable magnetic sculpture toy, a Busparâ stress relief squeeze ball, a Zoloftâ calendar.....

            Another part of the decor that was increasing my fear of mankind was the man who had just walked in.  His name was Patrick, and he had an appointment with Bob at 2:00.  He was short, with a somewhat trimmed, very full black beard, in the middle of which was a mouth that could not stay closed.  When he had initially entered the office I thought that his mouth hung open because he was winded, perhaps panting like a dog or something.  This I could have dealt with.  However, after telling the secretary of his appointment he sat down and the mouth did not close.  It hung open gaping, unexplainable.  In a normal doctors office waiting room I would have assumed that he had some sort of jaw condition, but here I imagined that perhaps he just always thought that he was in the dentists chair with everyone he came in contact to being either nurses or the dentist himself.  Glad I'm not on the other side of that fence, I thought to myself just as the ghost walked into the room.

            I had never seen a ghost before, so this came as somewhat of a surprise to me.  She did not glow a ghostly blue or green or anything, and you couldn't see through her no matter what angle you tried and she couldn't even walk through walls.  She simply pushed through the other door in the room, the one that led to and from the therapist's offices, and brushed past me toward the receptionist's sliding glass window.  She was dressed in multiple layers of sweaters, sweat-pants, dresses and jackets.  She had a huge collection of plastic bags that seemed to be overflowing with garbage; dirty shoes, empty beer bottles, paperback novels and stained magazines.  She smelled faintly like an alley I always cut through on my strolls through downtown.

When she walked up to the receptionist's window she tried to speak but nothing seemed to come out.  Instead she just made a strange circular motion with her head.  The receptionist seemed to understand this and replied, "Okay Linda, see you next week," with a little smile and curtly closed the sliding window.

 This lady didn't seem like a ghost at all, just a mentally ill homeless woman keeping it all together long enough to pick up her new free prescription down at the government psychiatric ward. But I knew she was a ghost all right for I was the one who had killed her.


It was about a year ago.  My roommate Chris and I were riding around town in his somewhat bashed up white sports car.  It had the kind of headlights that flip up like opening eyelids, but one had been jammed halfway open from a small accident between Chris and a skateboarder, giving the car a groggy, drunken look.  Truthfully I don't exactly recall what we up to, why we were driving around in the first place, but there we were and I was in the passenger seat and bored and playing with Chris's astoundingly realistic looking fake handgun.  It was actually a pellet gun, purchased from a Wal-Mart in nearby Rohnert Park, but Chris had not purchased it to shoot pellets; he had purchased it because it looked so fucking real.  It was black and HEAVY as you would think a real gun would be and it could always be found just laying around on the floor of his scared-up Acura.

I remember thinking that you could have conducted a scientific study right there in Chris's automobile about men and women and handguns.  Here, for all esthetic purposes, was a real handgun, and it would be so fascinating to see what different people would do with it, all sitting in the passenger seat with Chris driving at their left, at different times. I could see the women asking questions about the gun, perhaps even picking it up once they realized it was fake, but putting it down, perhaps away under the seat even, soon afterward.  Women are by and large disgusted by tools of violence.  They also mature faster, live longer and are generally all-around better people than men.     However, I was of course a man and thus having the time of my life with the thing.

            I was holding the gun in my lap with a mean look on my face, like I was a fucking killer.  Chris was of course the driver.  We were busy entertaining ourselves with fake arguments about who was gonna get it from "da boss" if we didn't "do dis ting right".  By "dis ting" of course we meant a drive by shooting.  I told him that if I missed it was "gonna be bofe our asses" and Chris was hollering disagreement, saying that he was "da drivah" and that I was "da fuckin shootah" and that it was my responsibility not to "fuck this ting up".  We sounded like a bad mutant sketch of Italian mobsters and South Central LA ghetto gang bangers, but we kept this line of immaturity up, interspersed with the occasional outburst of pure honky suburban laughter, as we headed toward downtown.

            We turned a corner.  I held the gun in my right hand, fiddling with it, pretending to make sure that it was loaded.  But as we turned the corner everything changed.  It was one of those times when fiction jumps out of its usual hiding place in the human imagination and becomes the real thing and who knows where actual reality goes to.  Perhaps it just gets covered up.

Anyway, as we turned the corner I saw her. It was one of the few crazy homeless ladies that lived in our small town.  It was the one who screamed profanity at the antiquers downtown on Sunday, who couldn't keep from exposing her lower genitalia to passing children, the one who seemed to like masturbating in public during our yearly local parade.  She was sitting at the bus stop all alone with her huge plastic bag seemingly full of garbage on the seat next to her.  She was busy having a rather animated conversation with herself.   There wasn't a single other person, not one potential witness, in sight on either side.

Now was the time.

In one quick, automatic-feeling motion I brought the gun up and extended it out the car window, aimed it at Miss-Crazy Petaluma's head and fired.  From the time we had made the turn on the corner up until then, perhaps only a few seconds, but it seemed like an eternity, I had become a cold-blooded killer.  I had been overcome by an overwhelming instinct that had, without an ounce of hesitation, led me to stick the gun out the window cool and calm and professional-like and just fire on an innocent easy victim.  After all, the shot was wide open, ideal.  Chris had seen what I was doing and hadn't said a word.  Like he had said, he was just the driver.

But then, after the empty pellet gun clicked in my hand, I thought about what I was doing.  Sure, no one was going to be hurt by me and this realistic looking toy, and of course there was the danger that some law-enforcer could see me sticking a gun out of a car window at a pedestrian and follow us in hot pursuit, but I wasn't very worried about that.  It was such a quick moment, what were the chances?

            I was much more worried about what the lady would think as she saw a mean-faced youth sticking a handgun out of a passing car and aiming it between her eyes. She might have a heart attack, I thought to myself.  But then again, the woman is insane, so she's probably used to seeing images like that, probably some even more terrifying and threatening.  She probably doesn't believe anything she sees anymore anyway. Plus she looked pretty involved in that internal debate.

            Boy was I wrong.

            The moment she saw the gun the poor old woman's face constricted into a mask of cartoonish terror.  Her eyes squinted up as if it was a light beam ray gun I was about to shoot her with as opposed to just a normal old hand gun.  Just as the trigger was pulled the lady's hands shot up to cover her face and the motion of her arms was so violent that the momentum caused her whole body to slip off the back of the bench, which had no back to it and into the plexiglas wall behind her.  In reality of course, the gun had just made a tiny click as the trigger was pulled.  But, I swear to god I heard a goddamn shot and I certainly know that she heard it.  Her body flying back against the wall was the last thing I saw as our car sped away down the street.

Half a block later I pulled the gun back into the car and rolled up the window.  It just seemed the right thing to do.

            "Holy shit!" Chris spat out from my left.

            "Whoa...." I responded.  I felt as if I was waking up from some sort of dream.

"Holy shit!" Chris repeated.

"Did I just........ kill her?" I asked, my voice sounding tiny and far away to me.  Was I in a movie?  What the hell was going on?

            "Holy fucking shit Damian!  That was goddamn hard-core!"

            "Is she okay ya think?  Oh man what the hell!  I didnt mean to do that...."  I said.

            ".....goddamn hard-core...."  mumbled Chris like a mantra.

            " just happened.....Oh man Chris, turn right again!  Lets go around the block..."

            We went around the block and passed the bus station again but she was gone and I never saw her around town after that. I asked around a bit and no one else had seen her either.

            That is until I saw her ghost passing through the waiting room at the Mental Health Services building.  After gesturing to the secretary she pushed her way through the front door, with some difficulty due to the large, full plastic bags slung over her shoulder.  I caught another glimpse of her face and I was totally positive it was her.  She looked exactly like she did before I had blown her away.  After the front door closed behind her I dropped the book I had been pretending to read and just sat there with my mouth hanging open.  I had never seen a ghost before.  Then I looked across the room and there was bearded Patrick, with his mouth hanging open as well of course, staring right back at me.  Our eyes stayed locked for an eternal second until the inner door opened and a woman's voice said:

            "Damian......the doctor is ready to see you."