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Exquisite CorpseExquisite Corpse
Issue 10 - A Journal of Letters and Life
Mooch (Continued from Cybercorpse #9)
by Dan Fante
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Just when it looked like Bruno was out of the woods, he has somehow managed to leave his shoeprints in a fresh patch of dogshit. Jimmi Valiente has turned on him - with no less than the likes of slick-talking Rick McGee. Then there's Eddy-fucking-Kammegian. Another boss on another day might have been sympathetic, bought into Bruno's excuses, and cut him some slack. Not Edward Thomas Jefferson Kammegian. They say the light you see at the end of the tunnel just might be a freight train coming at you head-on. Let's find out.

You sleep.
     Sometimes, in a panic, you wake up in the middle of the night, not knowing where you are. Bolt upright. After you realize you're okay, you suck back a half-dozen pulls from the bottle on the floor by the bed. You smoke a cigarette. Two. If you've had enough whiskey, you can fall back to sleep. Sometimes.
     In the morning you come to and start puking. But you must drink again right away to hold off the heebie-jeebies. So you drink and you puke some more, because the booze won't stay down.      
     You try eating food to settle yourself. Anything. Stale bread. Dry cereal. Peanut butter by the spoon. Anything.
     Eventually the food stays in your stomach, and you're okay and you can start again. The best thing of course is vodka in orange juice. Or ginger ale. Cold. Cold is always best. If you haven't got vodka, a beer. But it has to be cold. If it's not cold, you'll puke again. And that's how it goes - if you have money. If you've got money, you've got no worries - not a care in the world.
     Sometimes my runs lasted ten days. Two weeks. How long they go on depends on how much my body can take. When your ankles and feet stay numb all day, it's time to ease off.


The day I started back, I had a fistfull of hundred dollar bills, clean socks and underwear in my drawer, and a 5:00 PM dentist appointment for an examination because my gums bleed all the time. I was thinking constantly about Jimmi, but I had made no conscious decision to drink again or even had any thoughts about it. The morning after Kammegian fired me, I was up early, slurping coffee in the communal breakfast room at my recovery house, re-reading my story, "Compatibility." I remember for once liking what I had written. Straight up fiction. Dashiell Hammett. Boom boom short sentences. Like my father's stuff. Hemingway. My twenty-five pages were just right for the high-end man's magazine market. I had made up my mind to send the story off.
     My plan for that day, except for the dentist, was to complete rereading my story, attend the movies, and go to an AA meeting with Liquorstore Dave. Because money was no problem, I told myself that I'd start looking for a new telemarketing gig in a week or so.
     After more coffee, upstairs at the hall payphone, unable to stop myself, I dialed her number again and again. I wanted to say I was sorry and say hello.
     Jimmi's sister, Sema, with the two kids, answered the phone. One of them crying in the background. Sis said Jimmi was in the bathroom and asked me to hold on.     
     There was yelling through the door - Jimmi shouting something back. Sema asked me my name. I told her, "Bruno." Jimmi yelled something in Mexican, then the phone clicked dead.


On my way to the movies, I stopped at the 7-Eleven for cigarettes. A guy was sitting against the wall outside the store - a street guy. Shaking one out. He wanted chump change for some beer. We talked for a minute.
     Thinking back, that was how it started. I bought him two cans of Coor's and brought them out. I didn't drink with him, but my mind did. I never let go of the impulse.
     Parking my Chrysler at the movies, I was twenty minutes early. I hate the fuckasshole commercials and trailers and the hard-sell stuff they make you watch for fifteen minutes before the feature, so, with "Compatability" under my arm, I walked to the bookstore nearby to kill some time, to see if they stocked any titles by the dead writer, Jonathan Dante.
     The bookstore was closed. The sign in the window said opening time was one o'clock (the same time as the movie). Next door was an air conditioned sports bar: the Alibi Room. I walked in. Not a second thought - no hesitation at all - found a stool, set "Compatibility" down on the bar, then ordered a double Stoli shooter with a beer back. One sip and I was home.
     An hour later, Cin walked in. It was the beginning of the second inning of a Mets/Dodgers game on TV. I had finished re-reading my story about a dating service salesman being seduced by the red-haired manager of a uniform store.
     Cin was short for Cynthia. Australian with an accent. Lovely large floppy tits. Her friend with the big hair and the shopping bag was Nikki. Cin had been in America for twenty years. She was older then me by a dozen years, but pretty. Short blond hair. Ass wide and ample. By comparison, Nikki's ass was huge, a hippopotamus ass.
     Cin ordered tequila and smiled at me when they sat down. Nikki ordered something red that came with an umbrella.
     Piazza homered early with two guys on, so the game was in good shape. The girls were talking about their vacation in Barcelona. They were animators at THE KARTOON FACTORY in El Segundo.
     Mike, the barkeep, was coming and going behind the bar. He and the weekend bartender, Stu, were involved playing a video game. Yelling and whooping and high-fiving in an imitation of a commercial for basketball shoes. When any of us at the bar required another drink, we had to contend with getting Mike's attention.
     Closest to me was Cin, only a stool between us. Nikki had anchored her ass on the far side. Everything Cin said was in a low voice, a semi-whisper, which I liked. Sexy. I learned from the girls that animating is a lucrative occupation. It's piece work, but when animators are being paid to animate, the money is excellent. The two of them traveled a lot together and made excursions to various foreign destinations.
     My buzz was good and my money was on the bar: a stack of hundreds and twenties to impress the girls. I was paying for their drinks and for mine, but Mike clearly didn't give a fuck about his patrons because of the video game. I tried tipping him ten dollars, but it didn't help.
     "Compatibility" was in front of me. I said I was celebrating a film deal. Big Nikki suggested that she and I might have friends in common at the studios and wanted to know who I was doing business with. What producer. What production company.
I changed the subject.
     The Dodgers got five runs in the third and two in the fourth. I bought us each three rounds, so we didn't have to worry about Mike. Presently, good and drunk, I began to put a move on Cin. I told her "Cynthia" was my favorite woman's name. My aunt's name was Cynthia. As a kid, my family had pet bull terriers, brother and sister, named Rocco and Cynthia.
     There was a sweetness about her. Not like the insanity in Jimmi's eyes. A gentleness from some old sadness. She knew New York too. Manhattan and Soho and the upper West Side, The Ansonia Hotel. While we talked, she leaned over to pick a piece of lint off the front of my Yankees' cap.
     Mike came back and poured more drinks then switched the satellite station from the Mets to hockey without asking shit from anybody.
     Soon, big Nikki was bored and drunk. Five tiny, bent, pink umbrella sticks spelled out "N I K I" on the bar. Finishing her drink, she suggested to Cin that they both should leave. After some conversation I didn't hear and a quick phone call from the cell portable in her purse, Nikki went off alone.
     Cin and me continued talking. It turned out she was an avid reader. Agatha Christie and that stuff, but Harry Crews and Sherwood Anderson too. And Herman Hesse. Even one or two by Selby. Her breath was sweet, and her thighs were firm and strong against the inside of her thin dress. She was touchy too, putting her hand on my arm as we talked. She asked if she could read "Compatibility" and wanted me to loan it to her. I shook my head no. My last copy, I said. It was my only copy.
     One drink later, she leaned close to my ear. "Time to go, Bruno," she whispered. "Meeting friends for dinner." Then she kissed the side of my head. "You're quite drunk. You should go too."
     The sadness in her was deep. It was filling the room and touched me. Impulsively, carried away by the emotions of the moment, I passed her my story. "Okay," I said, "read it and send it back." I wrote my Venice P.O. Box number and zip code on the front by my name. Then I said, "Can I tell you something?"
     Cin was smiling. "Of course."
     I leaned close and put my hand on her leg. "The way your body looks in that dress makes my dick hard."
     Her eyes came alive and began to twinkle. She tilted her head back. "Say that again."
     I kissed her neck. "I said, you make my dick hard."
     Her fingers were on my arm. "You have to look at me when you talk."
     "Why? Are you a lip reader?"
     Without shame she pulled the hair back on the left side of her face. There was no ear where an ear should be, only an indentation and a smooth scar. "I have to be face to face when we talk."
     "You're deaf?"
     She nodded, looking almost afraid. "I hear a bit out of my right ear, but not much," she whispered. "So, say it again, Bruno. I am interested."
     Being sure she saw my mouth, my words came out too loud. "I love you. Could we go somewhere and fuck?"
     Cin laughed. "Not today, angel."
     "Would you like my phone number?"
     "I would. Yes. I want your phone number."
     Taking a pen and a business card from her purse, on the back she wrote her name and a Hollywood 323 area code number. The penmanship was perfect. "Drive safe," she said. Then she was gone. "Compatibility" under her arm, a sweet melancholy lingering behind like the quietness of Jasmine.
     Now it was only me and Mike. Stu, his video game partner was gone. Walking back from the pisser, I stopped by NINJA BLOODBATH/MARAUDERS OF DEATH. A kickboxing video deal. Mike was still at the machine. I watched for a minute. It was bullshit. A preposterous child's amusement. The principle of the game appeared to be maiming your opponent by karate kicking, then hacking and dismemberment. There were controls: Two red buttons and a joy stick.
     He sensed me behind him, and I knew it made him uncomfortable. I didn't care if Mike was uncomfortable. Mike was an asshole, a crime against the environment.
     I continued to watch the action. His warrior was getting nailed and sliced up. The opponent, the computer, was piling up points. Then Mike settled down. He pounded the buttons in front of him, wiggled furiously on the joy stick, and made his guy leap in an impossible twirling pirouette. Down he came, hacking off his opponent's fighting arm. The next move was a gore to the throat. A nifty one-two. The tide had turned. Mike's digitized killer began bouncing up and down waving his weapons, waiting for the opposition to get up. Oozing blood and bodily fluids, the enemy squirmed in an attempt to get to his feet. But Mike tapped crazily at his red button and his man showed no mercy, kicking out viciously with a stiletto-pointed armored boot. Down again went the opponent, the spike driven deep into his forehead.
     It was time for the game's final move. Mike's killer did a flip and crashed down on the fallen warrior's skull. Blood and brain tissue squirted against the inside of the video screen. Death! Victory! 940,000 points.
     "How 'bout it, Ace," Mike sneered. "Wanna play? You and me." He was ready. His neck veins throbbing. "Tell you what," he said, "I'll make it easy; ten bucks a match. Loser buys the drinks."
     "How about fifty bucks a game?" my mouth shot back. "How about that, ACE?"
     "You know BLOODBATH? You play?"     
     "Fifty bucks a game," I said. "Here's mine." I slapped a hundred up on the glass.
     After he had won the first round, we began going double or nothing. Half an hour later, I was cleaned out. Twelve hundred dollars.


I was evicted. That night at the recovery home, Chickenbone, the manager, saw me come in drunk. That was that. While I was packing I kept trying to call Jimmi from the upstairs payphone but her sister's answering machine kept clicking on, screening my calls. After a pocketful of quarters, I finally left a message. "Jimmi - Bruno...I'm moving out. Tonight. They kicked me out...You there? I'm sorry you got fired. I got fired too. I want to see you. I want us to talk."
     I heard a click, like someone was listening on the line. Then it went dead.


My run lasted nine days. Drunk around the clock with the blinds down and porn movies blinking at me from the TV. My new home was Room 117 at The Prince Carlos, a "U" shaped, fifties-style 'remodeled' motel on Sepulveda Boulevard. Before the neighborhood changed the building had once been two floors of furnished studio apartments. Now it was $197 per week. Two weeks up front. The Carlos was the only motel on the street advertising air conditioning, weekly rates, and all rooms with HBO and Adult Movies. "Se habla espanol."
     It took several days for the crazies to start. It had been over half a year since the last time, but now they were on me. It was bad. I had been sleeping only an hour or two at a stretch and hadn't got drunk enough - hadn't been numb enough - so when I fell asleep there they were - the terrors - the phantom fuckers. Huge bastards, scurrying around, the size of dogs - bodies like roaches - on my wall, scooting along, their lizard fucking tails twisting, up the ceiling and across, one side of the room to the other. Watching me as they crawled. Leering. If I woke up with a jerk, sat up, sometimes it would take a full minute or two for the images to go away.
     Sometimes I would hear them in the drawers. Or the floor creaking. They bred in closets, hidden places. By the hundreds. Scratching noises everywhere.
     A day later, with a lot more booze, it got better because I kept myself awake, burning myself on the arm with the tip of my cigarette.
     Scratching. Scratching. Scratching.
     If I had to piss, I pissed in an empty vodka bottle, pissed over everything because I was shaking. Pissed on my fingers. On the sheets.

Then finally, exhausted, I slept.
     When I opened my eyes, it was to a different noise. Outside, the rumbling sound of the motel maid's heavy, metal-wheeled cleaning cart. I realized it must be morning. I had no idea what day. My body hurt. I couldn't move. My face, my legs, my back. Pain everywhere.
     Looking around, I saw that I was not in my bed. I was in the bathtub, naked. With me was my stuff, all that I owned: shoes, bottles, clothes, my typewriter, a fake plant, a suitcase, my books. I had relocated my life to the bathroom. The sharp pain at my temple was being caused by the volume dial of my portable radio.
     Shifting positions, I looked at my watch. Seven o'clock. On the linoleum floor was a bottle. Half empty. I took a long hit. With the drink came an acute awareness. I was now fully crazy. If I kept going, I would be dead.
     I was hungry. My shakes were bad, and the sourness in my stomach was choking me. I unloaded the tub, slowly, one object at a time, then moved all my shit back to the main room.
     After puking, I took a slow hot shower, putting down the rest of the vodka; then I found a shirt and got dressed.
     In the daylight on the staircase of the Prince Carlos Motel, it took a long time for my eyes to adjust. When I had convinced myself there was nothing crawling near my feet, it became okay to walk across the asphalt to my car.
     I drove slowly to Vons market and purchased cold beers to taper down. A ham and cheese sandwich from the deli section. Only one quart of vodka.
     Back in the Chrysler, after I ate and drank two beers, I felt okay. Better. I still had the shakes, but I congratulated myself on making it out into the world. I decided to drive to the beach to my Venice P.O. box. I hit the radio. The blues station. 88.1. Otis Redding. "I been Lovin' You Too Long." I cranked the music up to make sure it was louder than my head.


At the post office, opening my P.O. box, ten days of congested pulp spilled out. There was a big brown envelope. Even before I looked to see who it was from, I knew the sender was the sad Australian woman. Then I saw the handwriting, formal, calligraphic. My returned manuscript. "Cynthia Appleton. 8743 Wonderland Park Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90048." Post-marked two days before. Safe to open.
     Most all the other stuff was crap, but two letters worried me; one had a New York law firm as the return address. I assumed it was my ex-wife's attorney. Another one, an evil-looking, blue-bordered prick, note size, bore one of my mother's stick-on return address labels. The postmark was a week old. Trouble. I threw everything into a trash bin except Cynthia's package and mom's note.
     I was right.
     Mom's letter was to notify me that my brother, Rick, was dead from an exploded ulcer. Forty-eight years old. The family genius. Jonathan Dante's first born pride and joy. Ricardo Frederico Dante. Rick Dante. My big brother. Chess champion at ten, scholarship to art school, one of the designers for NASA of the flexible struts that held the first space stations together. A thinker. A guy deeply into books and Wagner and the histories of weird SS German Generals. A confused, sad, isolated, bad-tempered, damaged mooch of a guy. Dead from years of scouring his large intestine with two quarts of whiskey a day. First Pop, then Fat Willie. Now Rick. Dante's were dropping like flys.
     I shoved mom's note down into my pants pocket, then locked my P.O. Box.
     Outside, at the top of the steps, I was hit by a blast of summer heat and dizziness, so I sat down. The mighty Pacific sun had worked its way above the buildings, blinding me. A dozen nearby roofs had become shimmering, punishing, mosques: vengeful fire gods reflecting their contempt on anything not young and tan and imbued with L.A.'s frenzied TV optimism.
     Below me were people, locals coming and going around the Venice Boulevard traffic circle. Skateboarders. Mothers pushing strollers. Rollerbladers. People attending to the business of Monday. Lighting a Lucky, I took a deep hit and leaned back out of the glitter. Soon the day would be swarming. Pizza stands and $10.00 parking lots would fill with tourists and immigrants talking in thirty different languages. Another perfect, cloudless summer day in the endless California dream. And my brother Rick was dead. Insignificant by comparison. Nothing at all.
     A girl in a tight two-piece bathing suit skipped by me up the steps into the post office, her thighs brown and flawless. A depilatory commercial.
     I opened Cynthia's envelope. Clipped to the cover of "Compatibility" was a note on Victorian-looking pink paper telling me how much she liked the story. Little fat angels with roses in their mouths floated along the paper's border. Cin's telephone number was there too.
     The post office has pay phones in front, so I punched in the number and let it ring.
     I had forgotten Cynthia was deaf. When she answered, her voice had a distant, officious tone. She asked me to speak up and told me that an amplification gadget was attached to her earpiece.
     I immediately realized that the call was a mistake. I was unprepared for conversation. My brain began pounding. Cin started asking questions, normal conversation shit. Too much. How was I? Was I writing?
     "I'm sweating," I said. "My brother Rick is dead. How are you?"
     Speaking his name triggered a phantom. Suddenly Richard Dante's sour face was in mind: a sneering, twisted genie. Part hangover, part insanity from my motel room. It felt like the asshole was standing next to me on the concrete - in my face the way he used to be when we were kids.
     I began shaking.
     Attempting to save myself I hung up the telephone. But I could smell this ghost's odious, stinking breath. To quell the stink I lit a new Lucky Strike, took a deep hit, and sat back down on the concrete.
     In a few minutes I was calmer, alone again.
     In my pocket I found more quarters, got up, and re-dialed Cin.
     "Bruno, you rang off."
     "AT&T. The fucking telephone company. The Military-Industrial Complex."
     "...Much better. I can hear you quite clearly now. Did you say someone died?"
     "You said you liked, "Compatibility?"
     "You have a great imagination. Have you written other things, more stories, more screenplays?"
     "I lied about the film script, Cin. I've never written a screenplay." (There he was - again - suddenly. Next to me. Less form than voice this time. About twenty years old, hissing in my ear... "Wait! Ha-ha, my brother, a writer?" he ridiculed. "When did that happen? Is this some kind of idiotic, witless, preposterous attempt at humor?")
I was shaking again. Dizzy.
 ("Who is this twat? I know! This is the thick thighed fat-ass blond from the bar? That Australian bitch?")
"Bruno, you have to speak up. I'm can't hear you."
"I'm not really a writer." ("Whaddya know, the truth! Our father was the writer, a giant of words, a poet, a raconteur. Tell her that. What you are is a regurgitating, moron fuck. A pathetic out-patient.")
     "What, Bruno...I'm sorry."
     I was dizzy, passing out. I had to hold on to the frame of the phone stand to keep myself upright. "Cin, I have to call you back."
     "...Why? What's wrong?"
     "I'm a telemarketer...An unemployed boiler room phone guy. I'm not a writer. Not really."
     ("Thanks for the honesty, bitch! What you are is a loser. A 12-step recovery-home cripple. Now tell this deaf kooz about the $1,200 you lost gambling at that fucking video game. Tell her, cheese dick!")
     "Please don't hang up. 'Compatibility' is your story? It's a good story. You wrote it, correct?"
     My body was breathing hard, sucking air in and out, half-coughing words into the phone. "Let's get together for a drink, Cin. I want to see you." ("Drink? What drink? You want pussy. Say it! PUSSY PUSSY PUSSY. You can smell the tangy stink of her snatch right here over the phone. Tell her that.")
     "Please slow down. I'm losing what you're saying."
     I formed the words carefully. "I want you to ask me over to your house. Can we get together?"("Now it comes! The begging! Shit-pants little Bruno.")
"That's sweet."
     "Is today okay?"
     "You sound...a bit odd, Bruno. Are you alright?"
     "I said my brother's dead...I just found out."("What happens when you're in the sack with this fat kooze and you decide you want a blow job? Think about it! What do you do, use fuckin' sign language?")
     "I'm terribly sorry, Bruno."
     "Cin...I like you. I like watching your eyes move while you read my lips. I need to talk. To be with someone. Do you mind? (Fuck you! You don't give a rat's dick about my rotting body. You want pussy!)
"I've got appointments and errands to run until this afternoon."
     "I remember Cin, you like tequila. I'll pick some up on my way. Okay?"
     "About three? I'll be home at three."
     "I want to kiss you, Cin."
     "You're very impulsive."
     "You want to kiss me too - don't you?" ("I'm about to shit myself here...)
     "...Okay. But Bruno, only to talk. I'm quite serious. I don't like moving fast when I first meet someone. Please understand."
     "I know your address. Laurel Canyon, right?"
     "I'll see you at three."("Outstanding, dickless! You have the verbal acuity of a Central Avenue crack dealer.")
There was a homeless guy at the bottom of the post office steps. Young and drunk. In his twenties. Toothless gaps when he talked. Seeing me smoking, he waved his hand, pointing at my Lucky cigarette.
     I handed him one. When he saw what it was - that it had no filter - he tossed it over his shoulder into the street. "Got anything else?" he cracked. "I smoke filters."


Cin's house on stilts and her big red cat named Camus had come in a divorce. Gerald, the ex-husband, was an important corporate guy in the London/L.A. music business. Nineteen years into the marriage, one night at dinner over a bottle of Pouille Fousse, Gerry let Cin know that he took it up the ass. He'd decided to go full-time gay with his Puerto Rican lover, Ugo. Along with the house and Camus and a permanent case of the empties in the divvy up, Cin got four thousand a month in alimony.
     It took me two hours, a shower, a Burger King Whopper and half the quart of Stoli, and blasting my car radio, to quiet my brother Rick's voice. My Chrysler was running good except for a funny engine smell, and the A/C was blowing cold. I took Venice Boulevard east toward downtown L.A. When I got to La Cienega, I turned left to Pico, then over at Crescent Heights. Crescent Heights turns into Laurel Canyon Boulevard when you get into the Hollywood Hills.


Cynthia's house was two miles up Laurel Canyon in the hills. On stilts. Wonderland Avenue. The back of the place, the garage, was against the road on the land side, and the front deck extended out over the canyon's sheer wall. In L.A., the term for that is "cantilevered." From inside, at an angle, when I looked out below, I could see the long poles that anchored the bottom of the place to the side of the hill. Then - a hundred foot drop - straight down. My mind reported to me that any minute the whole deal would give way and cascade my ass to the bottom of the gully. In the old days in Hollywood - the 40's and 50's - according to my father, Jonathan Dante, who worked as a contract screenwriter at Columbia and MGM during those years, Laurel Canyon was where all the brothels were located. Gambling and hookers. Many nights, rather than drive north on the Coast Highway to Malibu, Pop would shack up and play poker in Hollywood at The Garden of Allah Hotel at the mouth of the canyon on the L.A. side. Nat West. Scott Fitzgerald. A.I. Bizzarades. Bud Schulberg. Faulkner. Willie Saroyan - all came and went at The Garden of Allah.
     There were two copies of my story "Compatibility" on her piano. One was mine, and the other one was a Xerox duplicate Cynthia had made for herself on the copy machine in her den/office. She had all the gadgets an animator needs to work at home - an oversized computer, a printer, a fax machine, even a scanner.
     Cin's hearing aid was on, and we drank more tequila sunrises and sat outside reading my story to each other while Camus the cat lolled between us alternately demanding affection, then displaying fat indifference.
     By the end, on page twenty-five, the place where the guy selling the dating service leaves and never comes back, Cin was drunk and had tears in her eyes. She put her hand on top of mine. "Wonderful," she whispered.
     "Thanks," said I.
     You're better than Raymond Carver."
     "Raymond who?"
     She handed me a pen. "Autograph it, please. Inscribe the following: `To Cynthia: In appreciation of our new and wonderful friendship. Then sign it, `Your devoted, Bruno.'"
     It was my first autograph of anything, to anybody. I dumped fat Camus off the couch and was about to write on the cover when Rick Dante's voice began clanging in my head, louder now: ("Hey pussy, wait! Write this: I will do anything for a piece of ass. Then sign it, LOVE ALWAYS, Approval-drooling Twatbrain.)
     "What's wrong?" Cin wanted to know, her thousand-year-old eyes watching my lips.
     I handed the pen back. "It's devoted," I said. "Devoted is excessive."
     "One day The New Yorker or L.A. Magazine will publish this story. You'll be famous, and all I'll have are these scraps of paper."
     "I'll never be famous."
     "I want to commemorate this afternoon. Is that so fucking excessive?"
     Camus the cat was waddling toward a corduroy chair in the living room. I pointed at him. "That's devoted," I said.
     She handed me back the pen. I finished my drink then wrote, "For Cynthia, devoted best wishes. Bruno Dante."
     She read the inscription then grinned. "Splendid. Date it too."
     I did, then looked around in my head for Rick Dante. He was gone.
     "You're the Shake-fuckin'-speare of West Hollywood," Cin slurred. You're Tennyson. John-fucking-Fowles."
     "I'm Stan Laurel...Will you suck my dick?"
     Cynthia laughed. "Absolutely."


For thirty years I'd had the dream off and on. After Cin fell asleep I eventually dozed off and had it again that night:
At Saint Monica's Grammar School when I was eleven, mean-assed Sister Sirenus caught me and Paul Foley in the back of the room fooling around, having fun at the expense of weird Rudy Espinoza.
     Sister had ordered Espinoza up front by the black-board to give the answer to a history question. On his way up our row Paul chanted, "Rudy, Rudy why so fruity?" Hearing it, I chimed in. The class laughed.
     Espinoza was a simple kid, a fact that was common knowledge to all including Sister Sirenus who liked to use him when she felt the need to illustrate how stupid American students were as compared to the more precocious Catholic-educated kids in the Ireland school system where she grew up.
     As usual, Rudy had been daydreaming and blew the history answer and was given five demerits. Everybody laughed. Once again SS had demonstrated how stupid and miserably feebleminded us American kids were.
     He marched back past me to his desk.
     It was then that I made the mistake of getting caught making a jerk-off gesture - pounding my doubled fist against the crotch of my school-blue slacks. More class laughter. SS saw me do it, and then saw Paul Foley imitating my hand movement.
      She squelched the room's sniggering by loudly slapping her pointer against the top of her desk. She had not traveled seven thousand miles to be saddled with a room full of hypnotized, drooling buffoons - dim-witted, mannerless, hooligans. She slapped the desk again and again with her ruler. Our fifth grade class had just born witness to the commission of mortal sin. Full stop. This was no laughing matter.
     Justice was swift for me and Foley. Our lesson was humility. The room was deadly silent as he was ordered up front and given six whacks across his open palms - three on each hand. Zing, zing, zing!!...Zing, zing, zing!! And twenty five demerits; the most any of us could remember one kid getting, all at one time.
     I got twelve whacks - six on each hand. Then Sister let the class know that she was reserving the full measure of my penance until after school. She needed time to confer with her Lord and Savior.
     At five exactly, I waited alone, scared shitless, in the cold classroom for Sister Sirenus. It was getting dark, and the ticking of the wall's ancient clock continued to remind me that I was missing the last bus back up the Coast Highway to Malibu.
     Sister Sirenus shuffled in in her black Zorro getup half an hour later. I kept my eyes on the linoleum, but I could sense the fury of saved-up convent rage. Did I know PRECISELY what I had done?
     I nodded.
     Was I aware of the seriousness, the evil, of the hand gesture I had used in her classroom that day? Did I know what that hand gesture really meant?
     I nodded again.
     I could feel SS's face getting redder. Did I know that every time a boy like me committed the sin of masturbation, it was the same as murdering ONE baby. God saw everything. God was watching me right now. Did I know that me and every other boy who masturbated was no different than Adolph Hitler? Did I know what abortion was?
     I shook my head. I wasn't sure what abortion was.
     Sister wrote it on the blackboard in big capital letters;
"A B O R T I O N," then snapped her chalk, drawing a thick line beneath the word.
     Masturbation was a form of abortion. Murdering the unborn was called abortion. The corpses of the babies I had murdered would gnaw the flesh from my skin for all eternity in the fires of damnation. Sister wanted a note from my mother verifying that I had told her precisely what I'd done. Sister wanted it on her desk by the following morning. I was to go to confession on Saturday, inform Father Burbage of my sin, using the word "masturbation" in a complete sentence, and ask for his and God's forgiveness.
     It was over thirty years later. Satan and I had become old buddies, but I still hated the fucking dream.


In the morning, she was gone while I stayed in bed. Off to submit a portfolio full of sketches for a walking toothpaste tube to some guy at Paramount TV. A big, sad woman with wonderful fat tits. So needy. Wanting somebody to replace the vanished husband and fill the hole in her heart that she could not fill herself. Her paintings and sketches were full of it; the house was full of it. Emptiness.
     There was no tequila left in the kitchen, so I switched to scotch with my coffee and ate microwaved English tea cakes in bed. An hour later, I realized I had overdone the scotch when I started making phone calls to Jimmi's sister's number. Hitting the re-dial button again and again. Hanging up when her machine came on.


My room at the Prince Carlos was paid for the next five days and I had plenty of money in my pants, so, feeling good about what Cynthia said about my story, I decided to try some more writing.
     On my way back to the motel, still drunk on the Australian girl's scotch, I pulled into a big liquor store deal on Robertson Boulevard to stock up. Benny J.'s Wine & Spirit Mart.
     The place had everything: a toy aisle, greeting cards, even a vitamin section. I bought a carton of Lucky cigarettes, three quarts of vodka, cranberry juice, orange juice, and cold cuts and mayonnaise for my motel room's little fridge, beer, several jars of cashews for breaks and watching TV, a jigsaw puzzle, and a pack of 100-sheet, 20-lb. erasable typing bond. The excursion took an hour. Up and down the lanes, pushing a red plastic cart.
     When it came my turn in the check-out line, the clerk eyed me and made a face. He seemed to disapprove of the slow way I was unloading my purchases on to his conveyor belt. A gay kid, college age, impatient. American Philippine, with a ring through his pierced eyebrow and dyed white blond hair and a barbed-wire tattoos around each wrist. His name tag read, "TODD - ASSISTANT MANAGER." I grabbed two tabloids off a rack and tossed them on the moving counter.
     "Will that be all?"
     I nodded "yes" but threw on two king-size Snickers bars from a candy display.
     "Sir, will that be all?"
     "Yes Todd, that will be all." Then I changed my mind and tossed on an additional pack of Life Savers and a pouch of Red Man chewing tobacco. Impulse purchases.
     "Cash or charge, sir?"
     I peeled off a hundred and put it on top of the rolling twelve-pack of beer. "Cash, Todd."
     As he was feeding my stuff through the register's scanner he hesitated while swiping the peanut jars. "Sir, the sale is on the beer nuts only. The Benny's Beer Nuts."
     "I don't eat beer nuts. I don't like the skins."
     Todd huffed and rolled his eyes. "Okayyyy - sooo...which jars of nuts do you want, sir?"
     They all looked the same to me. "The cashews," I said. "I only eat cashews. I don't care about the sale."
     "Sooo, no Benny's Beer Nuts?"
     "Correct. No Benny's Beer Nuts."
     "What about the Benny's Mixed Nuts, sir?"
     "What about 'em?"
     "You have two jars of Benny's Mixed Nuts here. I assume you can read, sir?"
     "A selection error. I don't eat Benny's Mixed Nuts."
     Todd snorted, shook his head, and made a conspiratorial what-an-asshole face to the guy behind me in line. A construction guy with two cases of beer in his cart, wearing a sweaty NOBODY KNOWS I'M ELVIS T-shirt. "Great sir," sneered Todd, making a dramatic deal out of sweeping the extra peanut jars aside.
     Behind me Elvis snickered. The woman behind him with fleshy arms shook her head. This was Todd's turf. Making customers eat shit was a skill he'd refined. "Sooo then," he hissed, "you don't want the Benny's Mixed Nuts and the Benny's Beer Nuts even though YOU are the one who put them in your shopping cart?"
     More chuckles and snickers.
     Me and Todd were face to face separated by the moving conveyor belt. "For the last time, Todd, I only eat Benny's-fucking-Cashews."
     "Sir, I just asked a question. A simple question."
     "Can I ask you a question, Todd?"
     "What is it, sir? I'm waiting. And, as you can see, everybody behind you in line is waiting too. Our store is extremely busy this afternoon, but YOU have a question. What is your question, sir?"
     I could feel myself losing control. I leaned across the counter. "Are you a cocksucker, Todd?"
     "Excuse me?"
     "It's just a question! I'll ask it again: Are you a motherfucking faggot cocksucker?"
     Todd stepped back, and so did the other customers. This was L.A. A 9 mm automatic pistol might accompany my outburst.
     But I was done. I grabbed my money off the register, then tore the tab up and away from one of the cans of Benny's Mixed Nuts, emptying the container on the counter on top of the jigsaw puzzle and the other shit.
     Out in the parking lot, after I got in my Chrysler and put the key into the ignition, I noticed something strange: I had an erection.


I tried to write, but I couldn't. Nothing came out. I would scribble a sentence, then sit there and forget and write it again. I attempted to rework some poems. Nonsense. Guff. As a solution I turned on HBO and continued with vodka the rest of that day and into the night. Then, for an hour, I walked, attempting to tire myself. I slept a little, woke up, and started on the booze again.
     But something had happened. I had lost the ability to get drunk. It had been replaced by a black, bottomless depression. My body was slow and unresponsive, but my mind stayed lucid, yakking away, wanting to kill me. Finally, I figured out what it was. The cause. It was Jimmi. Thinking about her, I had made myself impervious to alcohol. The time I had spent with Cynthia, her irreversible sadness, had only made Jimmi's presence more profound. I could smell the smell, close my eyes and see her, feel her next to me on my bed.
     It was morning. I got up, vomited, and drank again. Still haunted by these thoughts, I opened my legal pad, and sat at the desk. If I couldn't write anything worthwhile, I would write to her. So this is what I wrote; "Jimmi" it began, "I walked last night. I couldn't sleep, so I started walking south on Sepulveda Boulevard in the direction of the airport. The whole time it was about you. Stupid miscommunications and problems. I mean this: it's all my fault. Not yours. I'm the fool. I over reacted. I'm sorry.
     "I passed by a darkened Methodist church, a crazy place at three o'clock in the morning. A ghostly place. I realized that I might have lost you for good. I sat there and tried to pray. But, as a kid, the nuns told us that Methodists and Jehovah Witnesses and Jews and everybody else who is not baptized in the rapture of Jesus is lost. All damned. Crazy, diabolical, Catholicism. These people must convert to the true faith or burn forever. So I knew the prayers didn't work. Then I had the thought that maybe I'm not really a Catholic. The idea came to me; I might have been switched at birth for a fucking Seventh Day Adventist or a Baptist. Anyway, without you, I'm doomed too, Jimmi. Empty. A goddamn fool. Please call me. Bruno."

     It was a preposterous and childish letter. I tore it to shreds and threw it away.
     To keep myself from going crazy, I decided to go out and copy my story. I didn't care if I got stopped for drunkenness. Locked away. I wanted to be arrested. I deserved it. I was alone now. The woman I cared about was out of my life for good. Like a madman, imitating Jimmi behind the wheel, I drove to a copy store, made my copies, then to the post office in Venice, running lights and screaming at the other drivers.
     From a list of high-end men's magazines in The Writer's Market I bought stamps and mailed off seven copies of "Compatibility."
     On the way back, I became more cautious. What if a publisher accepted the story, but I was arrested? I'd be in jail doing eighteen months for my second drunk driving, unable to get the acceptance letter at my P.O. box. A published short story writer rotting away at Wayside Honor Farm. Also, it had been over an hour, and I needed a drink badly.
     Alone again at the motel, I drank more, finishing the quart on the night table, then part of another.
     This was the onset of madness. For hours, there was only raging in my sober brain. I was waiting for something, I knew not what. Drowning in the fear of something not understandable. It wasn't Jimmi. She was dead to me. Gone forever.
     Finally, as a solution - a distraction - I remembered a porno arcade on Century Boulevard a mile and a half from the airport. Fifteen minutes away.
     I dressed and was about to leave my motel room when, opening my door, I saw three pink phone-message slips left for me by the manager. All from Cynthia. Then I knew what was wrong: I had sinned against the memory of the woman I loved. I had caught this curse of sadness from Cynthia, this overpowering melancholy. This living death.
I had been to the porno place a few times before I got sober and started my vacuum cleaner job, giving away coupon books in Glendale.
     I was always drunk when I went in. A dark parking lot in back and a small black and white sign above the door identified the building with one word: VIDEO.
Inside, a large, semi-lit room with porno magazines and empty for-rent movie boxes displayed on tall wire racks. Guys roaming around, cruising, staring at each other's crotch. On the far wall was a curtain and a doorway. Through the door was where the action took place. Little phone-booth sized cubicles with a chair and a TV screen in each one. Inside the booth, next to the screen, vending slots for coins and dollar bills. Not locking the door to the booth is the signal. Eventually, one of the guys cruising the hall comes along and finds the unlocked door. Wordlessly, they enter, get on their knees, and suck you off.
     I stayed in my booth for half an hour, watching the porn, feeding dollars into the slot, then got a long, slow blow job.
     On my way back to the Prince Carlos, I pulled off the freeway and bought another bottle. I was less tense. Now, I hoped, I could stay drunk and drown my life.
     Leaving the liquor store, across the parking lot, I saw a pay phone. I thought of Jimmi and felt the sensation of glass shattering within my chest. Unable to stop myself, a fistfull of quarters in my hand, I began dialing her number again and again, hanging up each time after her sister's answering machine would click on.
     At The Prince Carlos, sitting on my bed, exhausted - undrunk again - I decided to try to write. Not another moronic letter to Jimmi, something else. I began with the pen and a legal pad but soon discovered that my hands wouldn't cooperate from the booze. Keeping the scrawl between the lines was impossible. I switched to Jonathan Dante's portable type-writer, propping it between my legs for better results. My fingers began hitting the keys one at a time.
     To my surprise, words started spilling out. An old, sad memory. Not about Jimmi or anything to do with Jimmi. A recollection about me and a girl in a store - a donut shop.
I was living on Fifty-first Street in New York at a rooming house off Eighth Avenue. Her name was Yee. She worked afternoons and nights at her parent's shop near the Columbus Circle Subway Station. A part-time computer student. Yee's mother and father were old-country Chinese. They handled the early morning and day shift. I became a patron the day I started my new six P.M. job, a phone-sales hustle, setting appointments and demoing funeral services at Gowan, Fitzsimmons & Sons Mortuary on Columbus Avenue. I would stop in, dressed in the required uniform, a black suit and tie and black shoes. I would stop in, buy my bagel and coffee to go, then catch the "D" Train uptown to 86th Street. Sometimes I'd have a buzz going, sometimes not, but I always bought the same thing. And Yee always smiled.     
      It went on that way for a few nights. Being new in the bereavement business, unsure of myself, I practiced on Yee. She enjoyed my formal, exaggerated good manners, bowing when I bowed, playing along. Shaking my hand. Her smile had a gentleness from a galaxy a billion miles away from Taipei or the "IND" Subway Station. When she would bend forward, reaching into the glass case to get my bagel, her hard, small-nippled breasts would show themselves in the gap in her uniform blouse...One night when I came in, the baked-goods case was empty. Until then, our conversations had never exceeded a minute or two. I poured myself serve-yourself coffee and waited for Yee to finish taking care of another customer. When she was done, seeing me, she walked down the counter to where I was standing. "Hello," she said, bowing, smiling, mimicking my mortician-trainee stiffness. "Hey," I said playfully, "you're out of bagels," She stepped closer, pressing herself against the counter. From within the pocket of her white jacket, she removed a clump of carefully-folded waxed paper, then slid it toward me across the glass. "I save for you," she whispered. "I know you come."...A little startled by the kindness, I unfolded the offering. "Thanks," I said, seeing the bagel. It felt like a birthday gift. Yee beamed, "See! You special customer. My special customer."...I didn't say anything, worried for fear my incautious tongue might sabotage the moment by dispensing some smart-assed, gratuitous idiocy. Instead, instinctively, formally, I extended my mortician's hand. Yee shook it. It was then that our eyes met, really connected. I knew. Yee knew too. Zammo!...The next few nights our greetings went by with us grinning and shaking hands some more. On Sunday night, the end of Yee's week, I waited at the register after paying. "I want to take you out on a date," I half-blurted; "to a movie." Yee glowed; her magic, shy smile. "I never go to movie," she said. "Okay...," I replied. "That's okay. But do you want to go?" I'd made her uncomfortable and she began re-stacking coffee lids. Then the smile was back. 'Okay, yes,' she said, then nodded, "I go. Thank you very much for ask me, Bruno. I go."...The following afternoon I called in sick to my supervisor, Lawrence, at the funeral parlor, got a warning because I had already missed two days on account of illness, then walked uptown on Eighth Avenue in the honking bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic. I was mostly sober except for a few beers, and my pants were pressed and fresh from the cleaners, and my shirt was new. Not a starched, berevement-demo work shirt, but a twenty-five dollar blue cotton deal with jazzy buttons. Turning the corner at Fifty-Eighth Street, I walked into the shop....Yee's father was behind the counter. Not Yee. I assumed she was in the back room. Pop recognized me and looked away. We'd seen each other a few times. "Hello, Mister Chin," I said, holding out my hand, trying for cheerfulness. "Nice to see you." He ignored me, keeping his attention on the register. "You want bagel?"..."Is Yee here? I asked."...Pops was stone. "Yee off today. Not here."...Unsure of what to do, attempting to conceal my disappointment, I nodded okay...But after he rang me up, I tried again: "Mister Chin," I said, "Yee told me she would be here. We're supposed to be going to the movies."...Two black darts bored into my forehead. "Yee off."... "I know. I'm here to pick her up."..."I say to you, Yee not here. I say Yee off." ...Paying for my order, I took the bag and walked out...For the next hour, covered by the shadows of the subway entrance across the street, I waited, sipping my coffee, smoking cigarettes, watching the donut shop's door. Yee never appeared... The next day I was early at the shop, two hours before work. From my hideout across the street, I watched Mom and Pop behind the counter, as usual. Shift time change, five thirty, Mom went home and Pop stayed. No Yee. Now I was crazy...I had been drinking most of that day and realized too late I had forgotten to call in sick again. It didn't matter. I hated my fraudulent body-bag job; the manipulation and pretense. Lawrence, my supervisor, was a flatulent asshole. Always making some correction in my demeanor, giving me "notes" on the way I "conducted" myself with this customer or that. Fuck him and all the nacropheliac sour-faced fucking ghoul cocksuckers who spend their days and nights hoodwinking the bereaved, up-selling, claiming a coffin was mahogany when it was really plastic laminate...I crossed the street and entered the shop, determined to see Yee again. Unwilling to take NO for an answer...Standing at the counter, I faced old man Chin. I wanted to let him know things were different. I spoke bluntly, "I'll have a dozen donuts," I said. "And coffee to go"...Chin eyed me. "No bagel?"..."No sir," I shot back, determined to break the rhythm of our absurd, former communications. "And...I want to speak to Yee. Is she here?"..."You want me pick donut - or you pick?"..."You pick," I blurted...When Pop was done, he pushed the pink cardboard box toward me across the glass. "Three seventy-five."...I handed him a ten. "Mr. Chin, is Yee here? Yes or no?"..."Daughter not work now."..."I can see that. Is she okay?"...No answer. "Three dollar-seventy-five!"...Pop laid my change on the counter. I scooped it up. "Okay," I called out, not knowing what else to do, "two dozen more."..."Two dozen? You want two dozen? What kind you want?"...It felt good to be in control. "It's of no consequence, Mister Chin. Mix 'em up. Two dozen. Sprinkles, glazed, chocolate caramel. And toss in a few buttermilk bars. And those three cupcakes on the end. The ones with the pink icing." ...After the new box was filled and wrapped with string, Pop punched the register. "Two dozen! Seven dollar!" ...I slapped down a new twenty. "What about Yee, Mister Chin?"...No answer. The embalmed glance of the forever silent...I would not be deterred. Glancing down at the donut case I estimated that it was three-fourth's empty. Most of what remained was on the top shelves. Specialty stuff: eclairs, oversized glazed bear claws, lemon puffs, fruit tarts of different colors, and a dozen or so wrapped canoli-looking cream filled numbers. "I'll take everything on those shelves," I said, pointing across the glass...Pop didn't move. He folded his arms across his chest. "Daughter go school. College. No come back." He pushed my twenty back across the glass. There was a gentle smile on his face. Yee's smile. "You go now."...That was it. He was gone. Into the recesses of the back room, to the secret place where heat and flour and sugar combine to formulate perfect confection. I never saw Yee again.

Sometime after midnight I got to my feet, dressed, and walked to the pay phones next to the manager's office. I couldn't stop myself. Jimmi answered before the first ring, about to dial out herself: "...Who's this?...Flaco, izat you?"
     "...How are you?"
     "Wha'chu want, man? I thought you was somebody else."
     "I want to talk."
     "Sept I don't wanna talk wichu. Go piss on somebody else's life, man."
     "Are you okay?"
     "Hey, I got fired too. Remember?"
     "You crazy, an shit. Okay? You callin' me fifty-fuckin'-times-a day. You 'bout the craziest motherfucker in Venice. Wors iz, you act so high n' mighty n' shit - like you're some kina shopping-cart-fuckin' rock star."
     "I just wanted to check in. To talk."
     "I know whachu wan, man. Bah tha shit ain gonna happen."
     "Can we be friends?"     
     "I knew this girl in my detox, the last time - homie girl they all call "Zippo" - when she smoke rock, for fun, if someone pissed her off, she used to squirt lighter fluid on their house, their trees n' cars n' shit, then light 'em up. She showed me how to burn stuff. You know, just stand there on the street and watch the shit go up. Crazy. You're like her, man. You don't give a fuck. You burn up everything around you. You don't give a fuck."
     "So - everything's okay?"
     "My brother-in-law, another cabezon like you, wants me out. My rent's three weeks back. I'm broke. Unemployed. I can't get a no dancing jobs. No man, everything's not okay."
     "What about McGee? What happened with him?"
     "He got fired! Mister Kammegian fired him. You knew tha."
     "I mean about you and him? What happened with that?"
     "Bruno. Jesus! I'm a lap-dancer, man. I suck dick for money. What do you think happened?"
     "It was my fault. I pushed myself on you. You couldn't escape."
     "I need money, man. I'm all fucked up. You got money?"
     It was in her voice. I could hear it. I had to ask. "Are you back on rock, Jimmi?"
     "...I gotta go."
     "How much do you need?"
     "You got twenty bucks?"
     "Can we get together and talk?"
     "I just said why. To talk."
     A thud and silence. She'd dropped the phone or set it down. In the background, I began to hear other objects colliding and falling. A drawer slid open - slammed closed. Finally, she was back. "Okay...Bruno?"
     "I'm here."
     "...You know where I live, right? My sister, Sema's house? You dropped me off before."
     "I remember. I know the address."
     "Listen...park your car in the spot behind my bug. Knock on the side door. Knock twice. Bring me twenty bucks."
     "No problem. The twenty is no problem."
     "How soon?"
     "I'm leaving now."
     The ride to Los Feliz from my motel was fast at night with no traffic. Thirty-five minutes. Santa Monica Freeway. Hollywood Freeway. Then the 5. The booze was working again, so I drove carefully, observing the speed limit.
     Jimmi's sister Sema's house was on Rowena. 3373. A beat up twenties vintage craftsman with heavy concrete pillars supporting the porch's roof. Once an upper-middle class neighborhood, the dark street with its crowded, sweating sycamores, concealed eighty years of L.A.'s decomposition. Turning the corner to her block, the smell and taste of sludge was in the air. By morning, over the palm trees slums in Boil Heights, the fire ball summer sun would re-ignite the smog. A city of thirteen million being choked to death one day at a time.
     As I pulled in behind Jimmi's rag-top bug, I misjudged the curb and the distance, bumping a sports car in her neighbor's driveway. It wasn't a bad dent - not much of anything - but I didn't want any trouble, so I backed out and reparked on the street.
     After climbing the front steps, I walked around to Jimmi's side door entrance. I was about to knock, when my dead brother Rick's voice began yelling inside my skull: "Yo, fucko! Are you crazy? This bitch is a crack addict - a goddamn train wreck...Go home! You just smacked a fucking car. Get outa here, man! Run. Go back to your motel room - lock yourself in!
     I knocked, then pushed at the door. It popped open.
     Inside, the room's illumination came from a flickering TV screen. Jimmi was on her bed, sitting up, wearing a stretch top and shorts, her straight black hair piled and tied on her head.
     Seeing her was always a shock. Her beauty. The dark, smooth skin, the deep blue blazing eyes. She was barefoot, smiling up at me, but not smiling. Long brown legs full-length against the bed's light-colored quilt. "Hi, baby," she cooed above the sound of a cable TV movie.
     "Hi," I said.
     She was whispering, as if we weren't alone. "Close the door, baby."
     Stepping back, I swung it closed. The air inside was worse than the Los Feliz smog: stale, like a box of damp sweaters in the attic.
     I sat down on the bed beside her, competing for space with a dozen Barbies. "Bob, have you got a pen handy," she giggled, clutching one of the beat-up dolls. "You missed me, right?"
     An impulse made me reach out for her arm. As I did, she stiffened. Close up, in the weird TV light, her face was strained, ashy. She found the remote, flicked the sound off, then met my glance: "You want to fuck me, right?"
     It made me feel like a bill collector. "I missed you," I said.
     She passed me a stupid Barbie, smiling, still whispering. "I'm, like, your addiction, right?"
     I tossed it back on the bed. My mouth sped past my brain. "My addiction hasn't turned me into a half-dead, twenty-dollar trick."
     I got off the bed. "I can be in Van Nuys in fifteen minutes. I'll get my cock sucked by a sixteen-year-old crack whore for ten bucks. For twenty-five bucks and two chunks of rock, I can fuck one up the ass. A pretty one."      
     "Hey baby, be nice."
     I tried to kiss her, but she pushing me back. "you're drunk, aren't you? I never seen you drunk."
     "I'm not McGee. I'm not a trick."
     "Okay. Shhhh. I want you to meet somebody."
     She covered my mouth with her hand. "Quiet..."
     "Honey," she whisper-called into the darkness, "vente, mi corazon. I hear you. I know you're awake."
     Seconds later, a child appeared in pajamas, padding barefoot, noiselessly across the slatted wood floor. A boy. Small. Four or five years old, wiping the sleep from his face. He was easily as beautiful as his mother.
     "Timothy, this is Bruno. Say hi."
     The kid smiled, hesitant. He was lighter complected, lighter haired, but with the same blue eyes as his mother. When I held out my hand, he shook it firmly. "Hi, Bruno," he said in full voice. Then, looking me up and down; "What section of Los Angeles are you from?"
     "Right now," I said, searching for words, "Culver City. A motel on Sepulveda Boulevard."
     "I know where Culver City is," he said, thinking it over. "I've been there. Do you know the history of Sepulveda Boulevard? The Mexican derivation? I bet I do."
     The boy had me off balance. "I think I know," I said.
     Timothy didn't wait for me to go on. "'Sepulveda' was the name of the Mexican family that settled there."
     "Oh, that's good to know," I said.
     "Do you know what Las Feliz means? Me and mom live in Los Feliz."
     I had the answer. "Feliz means 'happy.'"
     "That's remarkably interesting, Bruno. But incorrect. To be exact it means 'the happy.'"
     "Timothy, Bruno and I want to talk. It's late, mijo. Please don't ask a billion goddamn questions and give Mommy a headache."
     "What kind of a name is Bruno, Bruno? My father is Irish. 'Timothy' is an Irish name. Are you familiar with the war in Bosnia? Mrs. Bennyoff is Jewish. You're not Mexican, are you?"
     I was dizzy now. "Bruno is an Italian name," I said.
     "Fascinating. Extremely fascinating. Do you own a PC with DVD? We're on the Internet. Aunt Sema is. Aunt Sema is a teacher too, like Mrs. Bennyoff. I've been reading since I was two years old. Aunt Sema taught me. I have two cousins that live with us. Both female, unfortunately. What's your preference in children, boys or girls?"
     "Boys. I think boys are more fun."
     "Do you know where Guatemala is? I'm bilingual. How many languages do you speak?"
     "Okay, that's it!" his mom snapped. "I want you to take your blanket and go to sleep on the couch in the living room. And do not read your books or play with your Game Boy 'n shit. And no turning on the TV. Understand?"      
     "Okay, Mom...How tall are you, Bruno? My Uncle Caesar is five-foot-seven."
     "You're pissing Mommy off, mijo. Get going."
     He disappeared across the room. The angel-faced chatterbox with the nonstop brain. Even in the darkness, twenty feet away, I could feel him thinking, ticking, forming new, more frightening questions.
     At the door he turned back, toys and books and blanket in hand, overcome by the urgency to communicate and gather more data. "Excuse me, mom, can I ask another question?"
     "Dios Jesus! What?"
     "Bruno, Uncle Caesar has a Jeep pickup. A V-8. Four wheel drive. Uncle Caesar is a painting contractor. What type of vehicle do you own? What do you do for a job?"
     "I'm currently unemployed."
     "That's two questions, Timothy."      
     "I have a Chrysler," I said. "A two-wheel drive. A Chrysler is a car, not a truck."
     "That's fascinating, of course. But I know the difference between a truck and a car. You have a white 'NY' on the top of your baseball hat. What does 'NY' mean?"
     "It means New York," I said. "For the New York Yankees."
     "Last year in school we took a trip to the La Brea Tar Pits. I have a hat from then. Want do you think my hat says?"
     "No idea."
     "J.H. Hull School. It's in the closet. Should I get it?"
     "That's it Timothy," his mother barked. "I warned you."
     "Not right now," I said. "Okay?"     
     "You're a New York Yankees baseball fan. Right, Bruno?"     
     "To the death."
     Jimmi threw a leg over the side of the bed in a threat to jump up.
     "Good night Mommy. I hope you sleep good tonight. I love you. Good night, Bruno."
     The door clicked closed, and the kid was gone.
     In two easy moves, her shorts and top were off and she lay naked, amazing. Looking up at me. "I lied to you, baby," she whispered. "I don't need twenty bucks. I need a hundred."
     Reaching for my crotch with one hand, she put her other hand between her legs and began rubbing...Pinch my tits, Bruno. I like it when it hurts."
     I got up off the bed.
     "I'm gonna make you feel good, baby. C'mon, take your pants down. I know what you like. 'Mimber, before, when I sucked your dick? You loved it, din'chu? Promise me you'll come in my mouth, okay baby?"
     Digging in my pocket, I came up with a hundred dollar bill.     
Flattening it out with my hands, I dropped it on the bed. Then I walked out.

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