Hello, and thank you for all the kind responses I received from Stepping. This is another story from the collection entitled Streets, available for pre-order here.
A cold wind blows in off the Pacific and the sun hasn’t shined all day. I wake up itchy in the dunes not at all sure how I got here though I seem to remember riding in the back of a rusty van drinking cheap booze with the members of a hair band who are traveling north to do a gig. At least my ass doesn’t hurt so I'm pretty certain they weren’t queers.
I wonder what time it is, not that any of that matters. From the waning daylight I judge I must have slept the day away here. Maybe it's morning but no... the light is dying, a lot like me. I'm prone to binges these days so it's entirely possible I've been here for a night and a day or maybe even longer. Once I get started drinking I don’t like to stop.
My lips are dry and as coarse as sandpaper. When I moisten them with my tongue I taste the salt congealing upon them from the fine mist blowing over me. I shiver involuntarily as I stand up and the westerly wind hits me full force. Apparently I must have stumbled into a little grotto last night which protects me from the chilly sea breeze blowing incessantly. I notice all the trees are bent to the east from its force.
I try to remember what I'm doing here but between my head aching and my needing a drink it doesn’t seem worthwhile to worry about it too much. I'm here. I thought I'd be in Mexico though what I was doing there escapes me just now as well. I suppose I must have overstayed my welcome. That's become a routine of mine lately and one I'm not proud of but a habit I own nonetheless.
I have no jacket and my clothes are damp from the ocean fog. One doesn’t require accouterments as coats and such in the land of Mexico. In fact, not much is required of a man at all in that laid-back country though its citizens are working little mother fuckers to be sure. Me, I like work too but I'd rather watch it than to actually perform it.
The senoritas are fine and the tequila is cheap but the drug dealers are completely out of hand what with cutting off heads and blowing up tourists. Used to be Mexico was all about siestas and fiestas and having a fine time but these days us gringos are all too often seen as unnecessary evils in the land of the good... or is that the other way around? My mind doesn’t seem to model reality into a sensible equation as it once did. I tend to get things all turned around ass backwards and can never seem to set them right again.
Maybe that's my problem. Four wives—or has it been five now?—and eight or nine bambinos later, here I am all alone again wandering the wasteland like a wooly mammoth, a vagrant, like the kid I was forty years ago. It isn’t that I feel much different than I did back then. Of course the senoritas were easier to pick up and the jobs more plentiful and the liquor a lot quicker. All that's changed now... and then there's the goddamned mirror.
Mirrors don’t lie. Sometimes I wish they would... damn, even if they just sort of fudged the truth a little it wouldn’t be such a bad thing. It's hell waking up to this grizzled old mug of mine day after day. In fact sometimes it's downright scary.
I see buildings not too distant from where I stand. It's probably a town, at least I hope so. These days there are clumps of houses sprouting up everywhere. The problem is that when a tramp like me shows up at their door, I'm likely as not told to hit the road and not to return lest they call the police. I suppose I am more than a little frightening. Towns are better. A bum like me can be more anonymous there.
My luck is good today. A sign on the outskirts proclaims I am about to enter Little River. I wonder what state I've landed in, or what country for that matter... it seems like there ought to be a law that signage should specify not only the name of the town but also the state and the country. I guess most folk take it for granted that everyone knows things like that, but I don't.
Walking past the single story brick post office in town I see another sign that tells me I am in the great state of California. Somehow I always thought California would be warmer. I've begun to shiver uncontrollably but I'm unsure if it's from the cold, from the alcohol withdrawal, or both. I decide both are the most likely answers. Luckily the streets are deserted. I wonder if some grand calamity has descended upon Little River leaving me the only swinging dick left alive but I'm certain my luck isn’t that good.
There's a neon red and blue Goodwill box sitting on the corner of the post office parking lot and since no one is around I dive inside through the trap door to find myself something warm to wear... a sweater, a couple more shirts... anything that might provide a bit of warmth. Here it is the middle of summer and you'd think I was in Gnome. But then again I could be wrong about the season. Time has a habit of moving past me way too quickly these days. It could well be winter for all I know. It would explain a lot.
I wish they had Goodwill boxes for unwanted liquor too. I need a drink worse than I care to admit. My hands are shaking and my eyes are starting to cross the way they do when the tremors start. There are no clothes my size... everything is too small. I feel like Gulliver in the land of the Lilliputians as I finally discover an old blanket and hauling both it and myself out I wrap it around me like an old squaw woman might. The damned thing's probably tainted with smallpox or the plague but I figure I gotta die of something and it might as well be that as anything.
My stomach is hollering at me the way it does when I haven’t eaten for a week. Food always deadens my buzz so when I'm drinking I shy away from it. I'm certain if I had a little booze to swill I'd feel a lot better but I don’t and as far as I can tell I'm not going to acquire any in the near future. Food is easier. There's always something to eat in the garbage.
Stopping by the Dumpster out back of the SevenEleven next to the post office yields a cache of pizza bones, though I have to pry them away from the stray cats that got there first. Most of my molars are broken off but I can still gum them long enough to soften up the crust as so I can swallow it. A drink to wash them down would be in order but sadly my pockets are as empty as the promise of tomorrow,
A squad car rolls by, going slow and two sets of eyes looking my way. That's all I need... to be busted for stealing a moth-eaten blanket from a Goodwill box and scrounging pizza out of the garbage. The hills have eyes and some of them fuckers probably saw me climbing into that box or out of that Dumpster and called it in. Jesus Christ... you'd think people would have better things to do than watch out for hobos stealing blankets and pizza bones.
I keep my head down, drop the pizza, and start walking. I figure as long as it looks like I'm going somewhere and I don’t have any evidence on me maybe the bastards will leave me be. Of course I probably seem a tad out of place what with a pink blanket wrapped around me and looking a tad too much like old Charlie Manson. The squad matches my speed staying just behind me. Yeah... I'm in for it. I watch out of the corner of my eye as it pulls up next to me and the lights come on the same time the passenger window rolls down.
"Hey, fella... what'cha doing out here?"
I look up for the first time. The voice is female but she looks like a dude... close-cropped ginger hair, surly attitude, just a hint of a moustache... all the attributes of a true police officer protecting and serving the populous. I figure I ought to answer her though it takes me a few seconds to summon my voice. Apparently I haven’t spoken for some time as my throat is sore and dry and goddamn but I need a drink.
"Just passing through, officer... ain't causing any trouble."
It sounds suspiciously like a croak. Did I say passing or pissing? Can't be sure now. I clear my throat and think about trying again but then decide better of it. Enunciation has never been my strong suit and the more I drink the bigger my tongue seems to grow and the goddamned thing tends to get wrapped around what few teeth I have left leaving me to sound like a bumbling idiot. Did I mention it's hell growing old?
The car stops and the doors both open at once. That's never a good sign. Her partner is a big galoot and she looks more like a dude than he does. I think of Selma and Louise but I am confused as to which one is which. Maybe they take turns. They both are wearing black body armor, night sticks, and enormous guns on their hips. They look way too serious.
"Just hold up there a minute, partner... we need to ask you a few questions."
They saunter my way with that practiced swagger they must teach special at the academy. Or maybe it's a prerequisite for being a cop. Either way, it's the same old bullshit routine... do you have any identification? No? What's your name... where've you been... where are you going... do you live nearby? I answer the best I can hoping to placate the assholes all the while knowing they're going to run me in anyhow.
"We've had reports of someone matching your description ringing doorbells in the area."
That’s a new one. I thought I'd heard it all but I guess not. Doorbells? Why the fuck would I be ringing doorbells? I want to ask the dyke that question but suddenly she turns to the squawking bird mounted on her shoulder and speaks to it. For some reason I'm thinking the goddamned thing is a parrot. But no... once my eyes come uncrossed I see it's most definitively a radio. I can't quite hear what she's saying to it but I imagine it has a lot to do with me.
"Do you have anything in your pockets you want to tell me about?"
The big fairy is speaking again. At first I think he's talking to his partner because he's looking her way but no... he's asking me the question. Makes sense in a weird sort of way.
"Ummm... some sand, maybe... that's about it. If you find any money I'll split it with you."
He's not laughing. That's a bad sign. Hell, he isn’t even grinning. There's nothing wrong with a little impromptu humor but apparently my luck is rapidly turning ill today. The dyke keeps talking to the bird on her shoulder while simultaneously watching me with a kind of wrinkled-nose disgust that I've grown used to seeing whenever anyone comes too close to me. Yeah... that's what happens when you don’t take a bath for a few months.
"So if I reach my hand inside your pocket I'm not going to get stuck with a needle?"
"God... I hope not, officer..."
"Please place your hands on the hood of the car and spread your legs, sir."
I'm really hoping he's talking to someone else but as near as I can see I'm the only sir around. At least he's polite. He pulls on blue rubber gloves that match his uniform before he pulls back my blanket, pats me down, turns my pockets out, and finds nothing. I feel like fucking Superman with his red cape furling in the wind.
"Where'd you get the blanket, sir?"
"Ummm... I found it?"
"You don't sound too sure of yourself."
"Ummm... I found it."
Yes... that's better. Funny how just a little slipup can change the whole course of a conversation. Just a little sunshine... some cheap whiskey... something to warm me... that's all I need... that and...
He's looking at me. Interrupted in the middle of a thought I have no idea what he means by that until the dyke answers. Obviously I've mistaken the object of his words. The shakes have set in now in earnest. I'm hoping I don’t start drooling. That'll only encourage them... the rats that are climbing my legs. I feel their teeny tiny claws digging into my flesh as they make their way up my body. They're inside my pants, the bastards. Pretty soon they'll be after my sack and the screaming will start.
"No... as near as I can tell he's clean. No wants, no warrants... do you think we should run him in anyhow? Could be a false name he's given us."
The big fairy looks at me. I figure he must be some kind of Houdini... a mind reader... a soothsayer, doubtlessly a gypsy in a former life. I stand up as straight as I can manage and wrap the blanket a little closer around me hoping to hide the tremors. I stomp my feet ever so slightly to try and shake off the rats... gotta hold it together for just a few more seconds. These fuckers don’t want any more paperwork than necessary. Running my sorry smelly ass in will cause them more trouble than it's worth and this guy knows that I know it too.
"Nah... let's cut him loose. He's just another down and outer. Take my advice, buddy... move on down the coast. If we see you loitering around this area, next time you won't be so lucky."
"Yes sir, officer... that's just what I'll do. Thank you, sir."
I start to walk away when the dyke surprises me by reaching into a pocket hauling out a five dollar bill.
"Here... take this and buy yourself something to eat... if I see that you've spent it on booze I'll be disappointed."
She hands me the money, turns, and climbs into the cruiser. The big fairy is still standing there staring at me like I have something on my face. Or maybe he knows about the rats. It's a disconcerting thought... that they might actually be real.
"Nell's got a good heart. Don't let her down, buddy. I hope not to see you around again. Remember... you're getting a break."
"Yes sir... I'll remember, sir. Thank you again, sir."
I sound way too obsequious but apparently the big fairy is appeased with my response. He scowls, climbs behind the wheel, and a few seconds later I'm left alone again listening to the ocean beating itself to death against the shoreline and the whine of early streetlamps just waking up.
Since the SevenEleven doesn’t sell what I need I walk down to the nearest gas station and buy a half pint of rotgut whiskey. The girl behind the counter graciously puts it into a brown paper sack which I slip under the blanket so no one can see what I have when I walk out. There is three cents change left over. She is way too pretty to be doing this for long. Big tits, nice smile. Someone will come by and scoop her up, make a porn star out of her. It just won't be me is all.
"Keep the change."
Yeah... I'm a big shot.