meth

Nampa, Id

by Eli Toast

I used to pour concrete foundations for homes out in Nampa, Idaho. A one-story culture rising from the agar of I-84; an open-air mega-church with monster trucks and weed-cracked parking lots staffed mostly with overweight freedom lovers swaddled in Looney Toon clothing, pious addicts on foolish errands, and soil working Mexicans. A modest Intermountain Northwest town, leveraged by usurers and strip mall layaways, with broad hissing avenues crusted by pawn shops, car title and payday loan joints, Carpet Barns, and auto parts stores; urban blight decked out in tacky signage. If Nampa were a plate of food it would be an indifferently cooked plate of chicken fried steak and eggs with a cigarette butt smoldering in the eggs.

And on the periphery, on huge plots of rammed and flattened earth, were guys like me who poured concrete foundations for all of the modest, nondescript homes for the not-so-wealthy people who come to live here.

I worked for one of my best friends, Ted, at an outfit called Galactic Concrete Construction. My other boss Mark, was a born again Christian who was forever persecuted by a compelling pornography addiction that ripped him in two. Raised by severe parents who believed in demons from hell and eternal damnation, he was certain porn punched his ticket to an eternity in the lake of fire. He was tangled in an insanely persecutorial double bind that made him weird, intense, and obsessed with saying the word “dildo.”

Then there was John, a general laborer like myself, a half Indian from Yuma who had lost his right index finger to a machine.

I was never any good at the work. On days when I was stoned, hung-over, and suffering from hemorrhoids I was almost worthless. Almost… I could still manage my primary duty of lifting things and moving them to different places. Occasionally, I got to use my hammer and sometimes I would smash my fingers with it. Often in the summer it was 100 degrees by 10:00 a.m., and for an inflamed sphincter that was bad news. At times I could think of nothing more than my swollen, aggravated, bound-tight-as-a-knot-on-a-balloon hemorrhoidal asshole. All of who I was, everything I had ever experienced, and everything I would become… swallowed in that needling singularity of anguish. I would put my head down and plod away in a miserable un-life emerging only for profanity and tobacco.

We all got hemorrhoids from time to time, although John would never admit it. Hemorrhoids in our line of work were about the worst thing a guy could have and still function. They’re not debilitating, but imagine if one morning you woke up and as you were getting ready for work you discovered you had a pulsing, hot sauce soaked cactus growing in your lower rectum. Mark claimed the best thing for hemorrhoids was Ambesol, the toothache medicine, and I believed him, though I’ve yet to try it.

Each day the erratic pop of nail guns being set loose on innocent lumber was constant. In the distance, backhoes and dozers dug holes and moved dirt, roiling thin clouds of khaki dust that loitered around us throughout the day. The sorry fuckers who framed houses were bony, impossibly sunburned men with violent, inky black tattoos, crawling over the skeletons of new homes, forcing lumber into involuntary positions, and full of vile dreams.

Occasionally Ted and I went over to John’s apartment after work to smoke weed and drink a few beers. John’s dim and swampy apartment was a two bedroom affair steeped in soiled clothing and broken toys. The massive television took up half the space in the living room, and, below it, on the floor, were Play Stations, Nintendos, DVD’s, and wires splayed out like the guts of a slashed television belly. The kitchen was a filthy display of fast food litter and dishes smeared with highly processed, low quality sauces. It smelled like cigarette ash, meth, wet skin, brackish carpet, and boldly organic compost.

John never seemed comfortable talking about hemorrhoids, or, masturbation, (both firmly in my wheelhouse) but he always wanted to talk about fucking his wife, whom we all hated. John’s wife Elaine (or whatever) would come around at lunchtime in a chronically fucked-up root beer-colored Ford Econo-Line packed with all six kids. The kids were filthy little buggers, but nothing was inherently wrong with any of them. Nevertheless they were totally doomed; doomed to a life of boring episodes in the Auto Parts stores, unable to find, or, unable to afford exactly what they need. Or worse. At least that’s what we all thought.

“Sometimes I wonder how people keep going like that,” Mark would wonder.

“Dudn’t know any better.”

John and his wife did quite a bit of meth. They weren’t stabbing babies yet, but they were basically always under its sway. These were the days when meth was everywhere, especially in a place like Nampa, Id.

The last time I went home I met John, by chance, at the Cactus Bar in Boise, a bar where I once witnessed a man getting raped in the men’s bathroom. (Seriously depressing story. It was Ted’s birthday and we were getting drunk, on, like, a Wednesday afternoon. I go to the bathroom and intrude on two guys engaged in anal sex. One of the dudes is so drunk he’s barely conscious [obviously he’s the one taking it up his keister]. Afterwards, that guy, the barely conscious one, manages to make his way back to the bar where he passes out and shits his pants. Eventually the police were called to take him away. The other dude sticks around like nothing happened, and at one point even offered to suck my dick. It’s likely he was high on meth as well.)

Anyway, John looked like shit. His teeth had become soap-soft and jagged like tiny black spires eroded by the winds of meth. He explained to me that he was broke and being evicted from the trailer he was living in. Came right out and fessed up to being broke. It takes balls to admit you’ve failed to manage a stable life. It’s like admitting something fundamentally embarrassing, like you can’t read, or tie your own shoes. When it’s confessed with no self-abasing shame, it comes across, at least to me, as kind of endearing. Small town America is famous for this kind of openness.

He had quit the concrete racket and was working as a street hot dog vendor (Gator Dogs) that sold sausages to late night drunks–keeping the coolers stocked, chopping onions, in charge of general tidiness and what not. Probably 45 years old, nice as could be, too. I suppose it’s a gradual wearing down of one’s expectations, a gradual acceptance of one’s lot. Surely there must be some hope involved, a belief that things will get better with time.  But when it comes to meth addiction time isn’t on your side.  If you’re at black tooth stage I’m afraid things are fairly un-do-overable.

I think about them, the meth addicts, the ones destined to be blown away by the shit, the gas huffers and glue sniffers, the Indians you see on COPS caught huffing gold spray paint behind blighted junipers in strip mall parking lots, beneath the stark “this is what you’ve become”  high wattage bleach of sodium bulbs. Those who occupy the lowest rungs of society’s ladder, these are the people whom I look at and ask myself: how do they do it? Carry on, I mean. Don’t they feel as hard? Because if it were me, I’d… I don’t know… I don’t know what I’d do.

All this was in my 20’s. I’m older now and live halfway across the planet and the most difficult part of my job is the stairs. I still see Ted from time to time when I go home. These days Ted is a rancher in central Idaho. Last time I was there we rode horses and four-wheelers through his pastures. Neither of us have any idea what Mark is up to. I have no idea why, but I think he lives in Spokane with a god fearing wife whom he hides from when he can. Maybe he still pours concrete and has a medicine cabinet full of Ambesol. Who knows?

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The Girl Who Peed In Her Shoe

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.

“Melissa!”

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?”

“My girlfriend?”

“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.”

“Okay.”

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.

 

 

Out of My League

By Mr. Motgol

When you’re coming down off a three-day meth binge, every cigarette is a feast. Each inhalation is an exercise in deep, existential satisfaction. Your nerves are blown out and you need cigarettes to keep the frayed ends from unraveling completely, but more than that, they just taste good. Each one is delicious. As you suck in the blue smoke, it dances over your tongue, which is hungry and rewired hyper-sensitive from the deprivation of both food and sleep. The earthy tobacco taste seeps in first, followed by any impurities, which the speed fiend also comes to crave—hints of fiberglass, ammonia, the faint taste of metals. All of these unholy additives stimulate the taste buds and manage to give you a little boost; they complement the tail end of the chemical bender and are the main reason that you will never see a tweaker smoking American Spirits.

stock-footage-full-ashtray

Chaz, my basement roommate, stood in the doorway to his room, awash in thought. “She was our in, I’m tellin’ you,” he said, chewing on a sunflower seed. “And the one day, BAM! She changes her number, changes her locks, and kicks his ass to the curb.”

Though he was just feet away, his voice sounded distant, as if he was speaking through a megaphone. My pupils felt like raisins and did their best to focus on the TV, which showed the latest episode of Survivor. The unit was hopelessly old; the black casing faded, cracked, and literally taped together in spots.

“She was an A-Lister! The big leagues, baby! How often do we get that kind of access?” Chaz cracked another seed between his teeth and swallowed some spit.

I scratched at my scalp through oily clumps of hair, searching for recesses and scabs. My skull was a bar of soap; I felt like my fingers could dig right through the bone. I realized that I hadn’t shampooed in months.

Chaz continued: “Rick told me that she was interested in the script… this was before she dumped him. That’s what he said, that she was biting. We get her on board and we are fucking in… I can’t help but think we missed our one shot here.”

“Yeah, man,” I said, sipping from a tall boy of Miller High Life, captivated by the events pulsing on the screen. “Some fucked up shit…”

“Damn right it’s some fucked up shit.”

Chaz disappeared into his room and I was left alone with the TV: Tiki torches, ominous music droning over the rumble of drums. The contestants snaked in silently, funeral faced. It was time for Tribal Council.

survivor-tribal-council

The fluorescent light above weakly soaked the room, giving my already sickly skin a diseased, purplish hue. The white board behind the couch listed ongoing script projects, with the ink fading mightily on those long-dead works that we refused to give up hope on. Books, screenplays, and dog-eared papers lay in piles and jumbles next to the TV. Random props and costume pieces graced the room: A nude baby doll with a bloodstained face, an authentic Nazi helmet, a pellet gun, a wheelchair, a couple of Klan robes, a human arm, a gargantuan double penis springing forth from an unruly nest of dark pubes, and a custom made life-sized carcass of a white-tailed deer. Headshots, glossy publicity photos, and flyers from theater shows we’d put on over the years clung to the yellowish walls, along with a red star-adorned poster from the Italian Communist Party, a free score from a local yard sale. The couch I sat on was shit brown; the carpet a mosaic of beer stains.

I smoked my cigarette down to the filter and snuffed it out in the overcrowded ashtray. I immediately lit another, gripping it like a talisman. Survivor came back on and I poured myself in. I wonder who will get voted off? I surrendered to the actions on the screen, feeling a sense of camaraderie with those starving people forced to betray each other through pure chicanery and cunning. Not so different than Hollywood. I allowed them to think and act for me, since both were nearly impossible tasks at this point. I felt ravaged, as if a scalpel-clawed beast had ripped me open head to toe and devoured everything inside of importance. I was zombified, an empty, jittering shell. I would manage sleep in a few hours if I could just gulp down enough beer to bring on the black.

Hypnotized by the warm timbre of the voice of the show’s host, Jeff Probst, I continued to rot on the crap-colored couch, twitching and chain-smoking, until the banshee’s scream of phone jolted me back into the here and now.

stock-footage-stopmotion-of-an-old-style-telephone-ringing

Chaz emerged from his room and shot past, answering it.

“It’s for you,” he said, holding out the receiver.

I turned to him in horror. He shrugged.

“For me?” I mouthed, tapping my chest for effect.

“Yes,” he replied, full volume. “For you.”

“Who… is it?” I whimpered.

“I don’t know, dude. Some girl.” His eyes began to burn with impatience.

“A girl?”

“Yeah, a girl.”

“Oh, man…” I closed my eyes, took a long, deep drag and exhaled. “I don’t know…”

“You gonna talk to her or what?”

“Uhmmm… uh…”

He waved the receiver in the air, over his head.

“Uh… okay okay okay…” I downed the last of my beer and stood up. The room twisted and warped and everything went dark for a moment. I staggered but managed to stay on my feet, propping myself up against the wall and catching my breath as my vision crystalized. Chaz thrust the clammy plastic phone receiver into my hands, patted me shoulder and said: “Good luck.”

I tried to swallow but my tongue was made of leather. My mouth was entirely sapped of saliva. For a moment I stared at the receiver, quashing the impulse to drop the thing and sprint out the door. Finally, I put the phone to my ear and squeaked out a word.

“Hello?”

“Hi… Nick? Nick Greco?”

I don’t recognize the voice.

“Uh… yeah?”

“This is Adrianna.”

My eyes rolled back as I tried to connect the dots. White noise. Nothing.

“I’m… sorry… who?”

“Adrianna?”

“Uhh… uhhh…”

Unable to retrieve file.

“You don’t remember me?”

“Sorry, I’m having a hard time… uh… Could you… repeat your name?”

“Adrianna. Adrianna Giannopoulus. You were my prom date, remember?”

Bingo!

“Oh my God. Adrianna, of course. Oh man… uh… wow. Adrianna Giannopoulus. Sorry, it’s been… a while… So… uh… How are you doing?”

*            *            *

curly blonde

I met Adrianna in high school, where, like me, she was a member of the International Thespian Society, a school theater organization that gave official sanction to drama geeks everywhere. Adrianna, however, was hardly a geek. She was a stunner—simmering and tall–with a cascade of curly blond hair, steely eyes, and a nose straight off a Roman statue. As her named suggests, her family was Greek, and she had spent her childhood moving all around Europe and South America, eventually–for reasons never really explained to me–settling in the suburbs of northeast Seattle. As a result of her international upbringing, she was fluent in Greek, Spanish and Portuguese, with a pretty good grasp on German and Italian as well. On top of it all, she was a hell of an actress-a magnetic natural capable of true incandescence on the stage. Talent and competence just radiated from her bones, and I was smitten at once, unable to take my eyes off this gorgeous Greek girl during the two or three drama conferences a year where we’d run into each other.

By my senior year, I too had proven myself to be one of the dominant fish in our state’s high school actor pond, and by the last conference before graduation, she was mine. We made out in the dark on the bed of the motel in the college burg of Bellingham, near the Canadian border. I was riding a high, bursting with euphoria, invincible. I’d done it. I had finally managed to snare not just a true beauty, but the whole package, an alpha-female. She was magnificent–a Goddess in my eyes–and as I held her close and ran my hands over her body, I couldn’t believe my dumb luck. Or just maybe I had earned it: perhaps Adrianna wasn’t so out of my league, despite the hairball of self-doubt lodged deep down in my throat. Why couldn’t a working class kid from the trashy hinterlands of Lacey, Washington secure such a prize? Was I not also talented and capable? Adrianna was clearly destined for success, and according to what many people were telling me at the time, so was I. Why should I have disbelieved them?

*            *            *

“It was… my brother’s car,” I spoke deliberately into the receiver, concentrating on every word. “He lent it to me… for the night.”

“Yeah,” she said. “It was a white Nissan, wasn’t it? And we went to a little French place near Pike Place Market for dinner, remember?”

“Yeah… I do,” I said, drawing on my reserve tank of memory. “I think it closed a long time ago.”

“You ordered the rabbit, said you’d never had it before.”

“Oh yeah…. I ate a rabbit.” I tried to recall the taste. “Or part of one, at least.”

“And then after the dance we had espresso and cannoli with my friend Lisa and her date at a trattoria in the U-District, which was also a first for you, if I recall.”

“You guys were a bit more… cultured than me. I was kind of from the sticks.”

“And then afterwards we ended up at my friend Anna’s parents’ place on Lake Washington…”

“Uh-huh.”

She lowered her voice. “…where I gave you a blowjob on the couch.”

I attempted to summon the scene, but drew yet another blank.

“You gave me a blowjob?

“Yeah, I gave you a blowjob.”

“Oh, man… I… I don’t remember that.”

“How could you not remember? You told me it was your first.”

“Really? Sorry, I uh… My first blowjob? Really? I think I’d remember it.”

“Do you think I’m making it up?”

“No no no… I just don’t… uhhhh… What I’m trying to say is… oh man…” I let out a pathetic wheeze and zoned out on the wrinkles in the wallpaper, which seemed to dance on their own. My head felt like it had been exposed to uranium.

“Are you high?”

“No. No no no. No.”

“Well you sound high.”

“Listen… I’m not… high.”

But I was, and part of me wanted to cop to it. I wanted to tell her that I was coming off a beast of a tweak, that a few years back I had developed a vicious little drug habit and that since coming to L.A. I had generally managed to keep the ogre chained to the rock, but how from time to time he snapped free of his fetters and took me on a wild ride. I wanted to tell her how just, three days ago, I was drinking away my afternoon at a tiny East Hollywood dive, and after getting good and juiced I decided to score. I wanted to tell her how I followed my demon’s instinct and located the entrance of a rough looking gay bar where I could just smell the gear, how I ended up paying a homeless street hustler and his buddy to hook me up (and them in the process), how we hiked up the hills behind Hollywood under a full moon and shot up within eyeshot of the big sign. I wanted to tell her how I spent my night wandering Hollywood and Santa Monica Boulevards and streets in between, just walking and walking and walking sunset-blvd-at-night-by-J.P.Silva_ until I ended up on The Strip, where obscene people cruised in Hummers and limos under garish billboards promoting such gems as Rob Schneider’s “The Animal” and “A Knight’s Tale” starring Heath Ledger. I wanted to tell her how the next day I returned to the bar to score some more, this time through a blond ex-con named Glenn who I drove out to the far-flung suburb of West Covina, where I passed the next night with a house full of malevolent men lost in the spirals of speed. After taking an informal poll, it was determined that I was the only one there not on parole.

I wanted to tell her all of this, but that would require stringing together sentences and forming consonant and vowel sounds in the dried out cavity of my mouth. It would require being honest, not just with her, but with myself. Lying was easier, and it would get me off the phone that much more quickly, which was really my overriding concern.

“So…” I asked. “Are you married?”

“Yes,” she answered. “I’ve been married for four years now. How about you?”

“Me? Nah…” I rocked back and forth on my sore feet, twisting the receiver chord in my fingers. “Still single…”

“I see.”

“What does he do? Your husband?”

“He works for Microsoft. Project manager.”

“Okay… of course…”

“What do you mean, ‘of course?’”

“Uh… I don’t know man… I mean… it seems like everyone in Seattle is working for Microsoft or Amazon or something… What… about you? What do you do?”

“I’m a corporate consultant.”

What the fuck does that even mean?

“Yeah, she continued. “Just doing the corporate thing.”

“Sounds like good bread,” I said.

“Uh, yeah. It is. I do very well.”

“I bet.”

“We have a beautiful house on Queen Anne here in Seattle. Things are good.”

“Any, uh… kids?”

“Nope. Not yet.”

“Cool…” I lowered my voice. “Are you still hot?”

She took a beat and then answered back: “Yes. I am.”

“I bet you are.” I attempted to direct enough power to my worn-out synapses to conjure an image of her in a corporate power skirt, glasses, and fuck-me pumps, with her blond Hellenic mane pulled back into a tidy, fascist bun. For a moment, the remnants of speed in my system helped to shoot a flash of electric heat into my groin.

“So, you’re in L.A.?” she asked.

“Yeah… uh… yeah. L.A.”

“Do you like it?”

Oh God what do I say?

“Uh, yeah, yeah…” I nodded my head as if to convince myself of my own words. “It’s cool. Sure.”

“What, are you like trying to make it?”

“Um… no… I mean yes, but not make it make it… Sure, that’d be nice, but… I moved down here three years ago with some college friends. We… uh… had a group in Seattle…. Did kind of well for a while… Catastrophe Theatre. Ever hear of us?”

“No… can’t say I have.”

“Well, we were a little popular in Seattle… thought we’d, uh… give it a shot down here.”

“So how’s it going then?”

“How’s… what going?”

“How are you doing? Are you making it?”

“Uh, sure… I’m—I mean, we’re trying… doing late-night shows at some little theaters in Hollywood… here and there… writing some scripts to sell… you know Christina Ricci? Our buddy was her boyfriend and… well we wrote a thing with her in mind but… uh… she, uh… never mind… so now we’re just… just…”

The words evaporated in my mouth. I looked to the TV, but the credits were rolling. Shit, I missed it.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

“Uh… yeah… just kind of out of it.” I scratched my neck. “I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night. I just… uh… well.”

“Uh-huh.”

She went on to tell me about her time down here. How after going college in the area she spent a couple of years working the town. She had an agent, booked a few commercials and other TV gigs. An improv group she was in performed on the Tonight Show at the end of Carson’s reign. She’d had a taste of it, at least.

“… but the life of a struggling actress wasn’t for me,” she concluded. “I am more than happy not acting these days. I don’t like being poor.”

Neither do I.

I tried to keep it upbeat: “Well it sounds like you’re doing quite well.”

“I am,” she replied. “I am… I’ve thought about you here and there over these last many years. Just curious as to how you were doing. I always imagined that you’d be very successful.”

I let out a weak laugh. “Work in progress,” I said.

We ended the conversation by exchanging email addresses and promising to write, but I knew that this would never come to be. In LA, failure is considered an infectious disease; people want nothing to do with you once you are branded with the Scarlet F. At this point the letter had been irrevocably seared into my skin, and I knew that even she could smell it over the phone.

F

*            *            *

“Who was that?” Chaz asked from inside his room, where he was doing his nightly yoga stretches. He kept things clean, sober, healthy. I could learn from him.

“Blast from the past,” I replied, snatching up my box of smokes and heading out the door into the cool night air.

Our rental house sat atop the main hill in Echo Park, a historic neighborhood that was known more for gang shootings than the old movie star bungalows tucked into the canyons. But things were changing now. Crime was on the decline and rents were going up. The yuppies and hipsters were moving in, a wave that we were surely part of. The barrio was being colonized by the industry crowd.

I strode out to the massive wooden deck just beneath the house. It was easily the property’s best feature, constructed over the street-level garage. I stopped at the rickety railing, looking out over the roofs and palm trees, down onto the twinkling flatlands splayed-out in the distance. These were the bowels of L.A., the dirty, violent, unglamorous neighborhoods that housed the people who weren’t here to make it. For them, and even some of us, life in the city was just an act of survival. I lit a smoke and took in the scene. A police helicopter circled far off, blasting its spotlight onto the boxy houses and streets below. Perhaps I would finally get some sleep tonight, but all I really wanted to do was hide.

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