by Mr. Motgol
I met her at Al’s Bar, which was the greatest place in LA, as far as I was concerned. It was a shelter from the nauseating, status-obsessed banality that made up so much of the city’s night life, an exquisite dive full of honest, friendly people. Al’s Bar also featured live punk rock music most every night of the week, booked by a smiling lesbian named Toast. I fell in love with it the moment I walked in the door.
At that time much of downtown was abandoned at night—if you didn’t count the packs of homeless folks who gathered in the shadows and burned fires on the sidewalks. It was widely viewed as a forbidding, lawless place, more Mogadishu than American Mecca. Because of its unglamorous location (“Isn’t it dangerous down there???”) people didn’t accidently end up at Al’s Bar. It wasn’t just a place you popped into during a night out. You went there intentionally and stayed. As a result, the clientele was largely pack of happy, dedicated wasters who liked their beer cheap and their music loud. It was my kind of place and I was gutted when it eventually closed down.
Melissa was a regular at Al’s. I had seen her once before and had my eye on her. She was a punk rocker through and through, though prima facie she looked quite normal–no visible tattoos, no dyed hair, no Mohawk, no safety pins (trappings of a bygone era, anyhow). She was a petite woman with brown orbs for eyes and dark, wavy hair. Her tight black jeans, leather boots and slightly excessive eyeliner were her only outward nod to “punkness.” Like most folks at Al’s, she didn’t need the uniform, because she raged where it counted: inside.
I stepped out to the covered smoking patio attached to the bar to have a cigarette. She was right behind me.
“Hey lonely,” she said, approaching. “I don’t suppose a tall fella like you would have a light?”
She actually spoke like this. Not all the time, to where it became some kind of annoying affectation, but her speech was often imbued with a cinematic tone, as if she had stepped out of the frame of a hardboiled detective film of the 1930’s. This added to her mystique, for me at least. After all, we were in the City of Angels—Hollywood—and we all had our roles to play.
I lit her smoke even though I was sure she kept a few lighters in her purse.
“You always come here alone?” she asked.
After the bar closed up she invited me to join her and her friend “Badger” at a small party in the residence hotel right next door. Badger was a tall, kind of dorky guy with glasses and a mop of sandy blond hair who did “foam sets” for film and TV shoots. He didn’t have a lot to say to me.
“We’re just friends,” whispered Melissa, as we shared a joint atop the stairwell of the old brick hotel. Two of residents on the third floor had opened their doors and a few folks wandered in and out, drinking canned beer and appreciating the original art on the walls. Badger was nowhere to be seen.
“’Just friends.’ Really?” I said, moving in closer.
“Yeah, no funny business. Promise.”
She crossed her heart with the hand holding the nub the smoking joint and looked up at me with hopeful, glassy eyes. We kissed. She scribbled her number on slip of paper and later left with Badger.
* * *
I had lived in Los Angeles for over a year and hadn’t been on one date. I was there working it with a crew from Seattle—performing shows and cranking out scripts and trying to bust into innards of the Hollywood beast— but my lack of success in “the industry” was mirrored by my lack of success with women. I had broken up with a terrific girl in Seattle to pursue the showbiz carrot, and since then had had a terrible dry streak. I was just another loser trying to make it; the deck was stacked against me and women could smell it a mile away.
After the night at Al’s, I savored the idea of dating Melissa, repeating the scenario in my mind. Here was a hip attractive chick that, despite working and living in LA, wasn’t caught up in the soul-corroding bullshit of the game. And she loved drinking beer and listening to loud rock and roll, pretty much my two favorite past times. So I waited a couple of days and called her, and the next Friday night I was knocking on the door of her apartment (which was covered in stickers for punk bands), located in an otherwise respectable building just two blocks off Hollywood Boulevard.
We grabbed some burgers and then ended up at an anonymous little dive just a few minutes’ walk from her house. I loved Al’s and often complained about the LA nightlife scene, but Hollywood still had a load of these grubby little scumbag bars–real Bukowski stuff. We hunkered down at a table and proceeded to guzzle pitcher after pitcher of Natural Ice. We were the only patrons in the place. We put AC/DC, Black Sabbath, and old ZZ Top on the jukebox and rocked it, singing along and shaking our heads to the 4/4 beat. Eventually we jumped up from the table, grabbed each other, and danced. We went for it, infused with the energy of American beef, cheap beer and rock and roll, sloppily jumping and spinning and moving hip to hip.
“Hey! You can’t do that in here!”
The fuzzy headed bartender stood in front of us with his arms crossed.
“No dancing. Bar rules. Sorry.”
“Fuck that,” Melissa said, flashing the guy the finger. “We’re outta here…”
I paid and we left laughing, stumbling back to her place, arm in arm. We picked up a half-rack of Natural Ice on the way (she drank nothing else) and sat in her apartment listening to the Buzzcocks, downing cans of the cold weak lager, telling each other our life stories. Eventually the clothes came off and we attempted sex, but the beer had done its work: We were both messy as it gets and soon passed out, naked and snoring on her bed.
At one point in the night I awoke to a rustling sound. My head was hissing and my vision blurry, but I could still make out the silhouette of Melissa, squatting on the floor just in front of the bed. Then I heard the gush of water.
I fumbled for the lamp switch but managed to turn it on.
She turned to me, eyes half closed, mumbling to herself. She was clutching a leather ankle boot and holding it to her crotch, while she let loose the beery contents of her bladder.
* * *
Melissa was an interesting character, the child of proper 60’s bohemians. Her mother was a professional lounge singer with actual albums out, and her father was a 60’s radical, an avowed communist who had moved to New Zealand and was granted political asylum, based on his previous hassles with the FBI. As a result, Melissa had grown up in both LA and Auckland. Though she spoke like an American, she could switch into a flawless Kiwi accent at the snap of a finger.
She was clever and funny, with a sharp, wicked sense of humor. She also possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of music and film. While no artist herself (“I’m just a nine to fiver,” she used to say) she loved cinema most of all, and most of our subsequent dates were spent in her apartment, sitting on her bed drinking Natural Ice while watching films such as Welcome to the Dollhouse and Julien Donkey Boy.
The drugs didn’t come out until the third time I came over. The featured film that night was Requiem for a Dream, Darren Aronofsky’s otherworldly examination of the lives of two heroin addicts. This is an interesting film because, while it pulls no punches in showing the dark, grotesque consequences of hardcore drug use, it also honestly portrays the pure pleasure that people find in them. I had stopped regularly getting high a while before even coming to LA, but every few months I’d find myself in the tunnel, on a two or three day bender. And that movie, that night, served as a trigger. We were drunk, of course (we were always drunk), and the close-up shots of pupils dilating and blissed out junkies awakened the fiend in me.
“Man, it’d be nice to get high right now.”
“Well you know the rule,” Melissa said. “You can’t talk about drugs unless you’ve got ‘em.”
“Well, I don’t go ‘em.”
She got up from the bed, pressed pause on the VCR (she was old school—analogue only), and went into her kitchen. My eyes stuck to her the whole time. From a hidden space above her little refrigerator, she slid out a large mirror with a huge pile of beige powder heaped in the center. A couple of lines were already cut out. My heart raced and my mouth went dry.
“Want some coffee?”
Meth. Here we go…
I really knew how to choose ‘em.
* * *
In the couple times I met Melissa after that night (and day and next day) she didn’t hesitate to bust out the gear. We’d get high and have ferocious speed sex and tweak around and then go on meandering drives throughout the expanse of the city. At one point we ended up at her dealer’s house to score. He was her ex-boyfriend–a tattooed dude with a shaved head and flinty eyes. He sported that ‘jean shorts and wallet-chain’ look so popular with working class white boys in SoCal at the time. He had done some time and seemed a bit of a hardcase. She told me of how he had taken her looting during the LA riots of ’92. It came as no surprise that his favorite band of all time was Sublime.
Things cooled off for a few months. I didn’t hear from her and figured that was just as good, as I was trying to stay away from nasty drugs, though I did miss her company. I had absolutely zero other action going on as well, so when the phone rang and it was her, I can’t say I wasn’t pleased to hear her voice.
“Hey stranger,” she said. “Wanna come to the Punk Rock Barbecue?”
The Punk Rock Barbecue was a once-a-month, rotating event, always held on Sunday. A different house would host it each time. They would provide the venue and a grill. As the name suggests, bands would set up in the back yard and play. It was potluck, with a 5 buck-a-cup keg, and had only one hard rule: Everything must end by 8 o’clock: the music finishes, the guests vacate. I think the whole thing was organized by Toast from Al’s, which had since closed its doors.
I met Melissa at the barbecue and stood with her in the yard, nibbling on a hot dog and listening to the hyperkinetic buzz of the band. She was looking rough, with yellowish skin and circles under her eyes, but she still had some of her old spark. Aside from our first meeting at Al’s, we had done little socializing outside, electing instead to indulge our passions and addictions within the closed confines of her Hollywood apartment. So I didn’t know anyone at the barbecue, whereas Melissa had basically grown up in the LA punk scene. She was in her element and quickly left me to work the crowd. Then at some point she disappeared. The band finished its short set and began to pack up the gear.
I searched for her to no avail, and decided it was time to split, so I walked down the palm tree-lined street towards my car, which was parked a few blocks away. Then I saw her. She was on the other side of the road, leaning against a familiar car, making out with a tall blond guy: Badger.
I went home, and after a few angry beers, dialed her number, but it just went to her machine (neither of us had cell phones). I left a screaming message, telling her I never wanted to see her again.
This didn’t stop her from calling a few months later.
She came over to my place this time. She wore a mini-skirt with high stockings and a tight mini-tee. Her hair was put up into pigtails and the eyeliner was on extra thick. She joined my roommate Chaz, a couple of friends visiting from Seattle, and me. The five of us put on a stupid comedy—Chris Farley’s Tommy Boy—and sat down to take in the brainless, silly action.
Space was cramped on the couch and Melissa was basically sitting on my lap. About thirty minutes into the film she whispered in my ear: “This movies sucks. Let’s blow this joint and make a movie of our own.” She stood up, took me by the hand, and led me into my bedroom, just a ten second stroll from the couch.
My room had no real door—just a pair of stunted, swinging saloon-style thingies—so it was pretty easy to look in and even easier to hear what was going on. Melissa immediately stripped off her clothes and crawled onto my bed. I followed suit. We made out for a while until both of us were ready to take it further. My friends chuckled in the next room, just feet away. As I went to enter, Melissa stopped me.
“No, not there…” she said, shifting the angle. “Here.”
Massive laughter erupted as we proceeded to go at it.
* * *
Again I didn’t see her for a couple months after that. At this point she was this girl who would blow in and out of my life and I was fine with that, especially since it was clear that the drugs were getting the best of her. That night in my room she confessed to losing her job. She told me that she may have to move out of her apartment. It was clear things were spinning out of control.
One night I came home and joined Larry, one of my upstairs roommates, for a smoke on the balcony. Larry was a burly gay guy from New York, with all the biting wit you’d expect.
“Oh,” he said, suddenly turning to me: “Did I tell you girlfriend stopped by the other night?”
“Yeah, you know: ‘Sloppy’ Spice?”
A couple of weeks later Melissa stopped by again. This time I was home, in bed. It was 3 a.m. I had just gotten to sleep when I was awakened by the thump of bass from car stereo speakers. I could tell that it was coming from out front of the house, where I could also make out the hum of an engine, idling.
This went on for a few minutes before the front door of our downstairs space creaked open (we stupidly never locked it at night). I heard the uneven clunk of heeled boots on the floor. Shortly afterwards Melissa came staggering through the swinging doors to my room. She stood there in the dark, swaying.
“Hey,” I said.
She fumbled through the pockets of her jacket and then stopped.
“You got a cigarette?”
“Uh… sure,” I said. “They’re upstairs. On the kitchen table.”
She stumbled out of my room and made her way back out the front door. I listened as she clomped up the stairs, creaked open the upstairs door, plodded to the table, paused, tromped back, slammed the door, and thudded back down the stairs. Her footsteps diminished in volume as she meandered away from the house, toward her parked, still-running car.
She must have really enjoyed that cigarette, because she just sat out there for another five minutes–engine running, bass pumping away. Then, with a jerking sound, I heard the car engage into gear and she drove away, out into the big dark city, out of my life.
I never saw her again.