Sunday, March 11, 2018

How I met Black-Jack Fingernails

If Black Beard enameled his nails,
he would've colored them black.
I have an aura about me that draws the freaks of nature out of the woodwork to confront, confuse, and sometimes amuse me whenever I wait more than fifteen minutes at a train or bus station. 

   I know, they say it's safer and flying is more convenient, and faster, and crying babies need be tolerated for far less time, but perception-warps sponsored by the likes of Black-Jack Fingernails, rarely happen at airline terminals.

   I had my carry-on bag, laptop, and Mom’s guitar case with me twelve hours before my train’s ETD in the early morning. Sitting on the hard-wooden bench, I made myself as comfortable as I could and opened a Tana French novel to pass the time when I saw him come in the door.

This was how I met Black-Jack Fingernails.  He was wearing sweats, I later saw that his hoodie had CCC Firefighter printed on the back. He had a red windbreaker tied at his waist over a studded leather belt over his sweats. He looked the part of a regular Black-Jack Sparrow… but not at all as fem as Johnny Depp.  Though he could pass for any sub-tropical ethnic with mocha complexion and brown eyes, I call him Black-Jack because his fingernails were enameled black. The enamel flashed when he tossed back his hoodie to expose his head of wild hair in beaded braids and dreds that sprung out around a bald pate at the top too messy to be real notty-dreds... not quite Rasta. And his black beard was accented by whited streaks down the middle of his chin that gave off the appearance of a rabid dog foaming at the mouth and his dark eyes darted about as though seeking out prey.

I knew he would soon zone in on me soon after my 15 minutes of allotted nut-cases immunity at the train station. Not that he’s a nut case, I’m not one to judge, or to diagnose, his mental state. But he approached as a whirl of erratic motions. I felt that crazy vibe about him that could be violent and went inside to samadhi-land where shelter’s balance can find its head in the sand. At least that’s what I thought originally. No, he was looking for a friendly face… that’s all I think.

He opened a conversation with a set of questions, “I’m Jack. What time does your bus leave?”
I grunted, “I’m taking the train.”
Excited, he exclaimed, “Oh, me too, do you know what time? I need to get to Redding?”
My thought was, oh shit, he wants to be buddies. I didn’t want to tell him I was going on that same train but to be polite I did my duty to civilized behavior on the behalf of this wild-man and said, “That train leaves at 02:45 in the morning.”
"Oh, military time. Me too. You in Nam?"
Maybe so he'd think we had nothing in common, I attempted to distance myself, and said, "Not combat. Navy. Off-shore, never touched dirt there."
"So, makes no diff, you were there. So was I, Screamin' Eagle, Hamburger Hill."
I wasn't so sure he was old enough but anything's possible, so I acted impressed, "Hat's off to you."
He wasn't done with me because I'd opened my mouth. Now we were as good as brothers and he continued as though I'd said nothing, “I axed the bus lady and she said they have a bus going before then… I don’t remember when, but sooner than that. But I think the train’s cheaper.”
Hoping to ward off his enthusiasm to be best pals, I said, “I don’t know about that. It’s been my experience that the train costs more.”

As though it was established we were buddies for the next twelve hours, he either didn't here me, or it was bound to be a one-way conversation. After discussing of and on several times the difference between bus fares and train fares, he dove into his tale, “Say, you know, a bit ago I was hungry, you know.”
Oh hell, he had a story he was aching to tell someone, and I was it. I played with the pages of my book to signal that I’m already engrossed in a story and said, “Yeah?”
He wasn't at all going to allow me to hide in the pages and began, if it is true, a mildly shocking diatribe, saying, “And I went out to the parking lot where I meet this guy that says a taco stand comes by every day. So, we walk out there around the corner to where he says it parks. I says, I’m from California, I can smell a taco truck a mile away, you know? He says I can’t smell it cause it’s not here yet.”
Black-Jack had me hooked with "smelling a taco truck," and I was listening to him now. He gave me no time to answer anything more than an, "Uh huh," because his delivery was not to be interrupted.
He continued his narrative, “Well, there’s no taco truck and I’m thinkin’ okay, what now? The guy says, I know where there’s a hot-dog stand down the street. Right then and there a light came on you know a red-flag thing… when he starts goin’ on ’bout Mexicans bein’ here and no respect for the way things go. Bing-bing-bing and another red-flag pops up in here!” he slaps the side of his head with his palm flashing black fingernails and says, “Duh, I’m thinkin’, the guy’s a racist or sumpin and wonder what he’s up to about that fuckin’ hotdog stand down the street talking racist shit when bing, bing, bam... another red-flag goes off. What do I look white, like Donald Trump, to him? Then we pass an alley. He says, hey let’s take that shortcut. I start to walk in with him, you know, only a few feet, you know just outa sight from anyone, you know. Bing, bing, bing, bing, all the dashlights in my head are lit. I’m sayin’, Naw, an’ I says, I ain’t goin’ no further down no alley. The guy grabs my arm, right here at the shoulder, you know and says, the alleys here are safe. Naw, I jerk my arm loose and say, an alley’s an alley. What do you mean this alley is safe you fucker? But he just repeats himself and then I think fuck him, and I plant a round-house on the side of his head… man my wrist hurts like I broke it.”
When Black-Jack said, "a round house," amused, I thought, I hadn’t heard that term since Archie Moore’s day. But now Black-Jack Fingernails has my full attention and I check to make sure my walking stick is kung-fu near-by.
Fingernails kept talking, gesturing with both hands swearing, “I ain’t into violence, you know. So, the mother-fucker hits the ground and is layin’ there like he’s dead. So, I goes through his clothes. He don’t move the whole time, and all I find’s a twenty. Well fuck him. I take the twenty and then I have to piss so I yank my prick out and piss on his head. He still didn’t move but I gots his twenty, and so I went to that convenience store and bought this.” He dangled his prize; a styro-foam sandwich box in a plastic bag and laughed a hearty pirate, “Har-dee-har! Made the fucker buy me lunch sorta and then I pissed on his face!”
Black-Jack Fingernail's story, while mildly amusing at first, had gone darker than night and all I wanted to do was run, but I stayed steady inside my head where there’s no fear… exhale, breathe… calm… steady… inhale, steady, calm, breathe.

The Amtrak ticket window wasn't open until ten pm because ours is one of two trains takes passengers out of Spokane and that's one eastbound at 01:30 and another southbound at 02:55. Black-Jack Fingernails was in and out of the station several times until then. Plopping down on the bench in front of me he rubbed is forearm with one hand and moaned, “Shit, I think I broke my wrist. So, you think the train costs more? I don’t think so man. I don't care, I’m gonna get a ticket.”
He came back from getting his ticket and when he saw my Mom’s guitar case he asked, “Shit, it did cost more. Too late for the bus though. You play guitar? So do I! Hope I still can with this wrist, you know. What is it, a Martin?”
I answered, “Yamaha, it’s a Japanese guitar. But it's a damned good one."
He got more excited and shouted, "Kinda like tellin' a Harley rider that my bike’s a Honda. Hey, you ride? I can tell. You ride, huh. A biker don’t give a shit what the fuck what anyone on two wheels rides and git-players don't either. From the looks of that case, I bet you been playin' it a lot. You been around too... must be good, eh?"
I agree but I’m more concerned that he might want me to play. Mom’s guitar is in a cheap, beat-to-shit, case and that makes it look like an equally beat-up old fart my age ought to be the best damned guitar player on the planet after years of playing it around campfires. I was ready to admit that appearances are deceiving at times and that I’d never played a lick on it or any other guitar. I’d merely promised my Mom I’d try to learn at her memorial and took it home with me. My inheritance.
My anxiety was relieved when he babbled on, “I’m good… played with the Ramones. Joey Ramone gave me this guitar-strap. Worth some money… see,”
He reached under his shirt and pulled a studded black leather guitar strap from the layers of sweats and I see it has a KISS belt buckle. He tries to cover it with the hand adorned with black enameled fingernails but sees that I’m looking at it and before I can say anything, he asked, “Do you smoke?”
I’m thinking that it’s a threatening gesture… the belt with studs is a perfect weapon to whack the fuck out of someone and that someone could be me.
He asks again, “Do you smoke pot?”
“Naw, quit, can’t afford it.”
“I wish I could find someone that can sell me some.”
“There’s pot shops on damned near every corner around here.”
“Really, where? Can you show me. I gots money to buy?”
I was waiting for an invitation to leave the station out of view from the public where he could use my face as his private urinal.
Declining the offer, “Just check it out, man. I gotta stay here with my stuff.”  and he got-up off the bench.
"I gotta get some pot, I'll be back, ha, like Arnold, you know. I'll be back, get it?" then he left out the door and came back several times to bounce his stories off the walls and other folks... of Rock Stardom and giving-up fortune and fame to take care of his kids and baby-mama. He was full of shit, maybe some of it was true... and maybe he played with Kiss, or the Ramones, or thought they were the Ramones... Maybe he didn't knock out the taco guy, or piss on him, and maybe he did, and Most likely, the CCC Firefighters Hoodie came from a thrift-store. But I have a feeling he was at Hamburger Hill because he never spoke of it, and it turned out that he was a sweet guy who told a good story.

Later on, while in line to check in our baggage he saw me and, like a child greeting a long-lost friend, he hollered, “Say, I met you before... when I first came in, remember?”
Innocent, see what I mean?
Every time he saw me on that train ride from Spokane to Redding his eyes lit up and he exclaimed, “Hey, remember me, we met in Spokane.”
“How could I forget, of course I remember you.”
So that’s how I met Black-Jack Fingernails and that's why I like waiting at train and bus stations. You just never know when someone is going to become an adventure.
  


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Chapter 19. Modigliani Eyes

Arrogant or confident?
Casey and Anna were cozy at the helm where they'd been watching the action when I came out of the cabin. Her eyes were riveted on me while I walked back to the stern to sit and air out what had transpired. The Blatva… it was something I’d heard of but hadn’t paid much attention to. The LSD affects were at that stage where my brains felt fried and my eyes burned from the light reflecting off the seas.

“We’re goin’ to the Bay now, the Boss wants us there,” Casey’s voice interrupted the thought.

“What?” I had begun to wonder what Ryan was doing ashore. I knew he would have something planned but I had been in the dark up to then. It would be easy to get Casey to tell me everything he knew of it. I probed, “I know Ryan wants us in San Rafael but you must know more than me.”

Casey was bubbling with joy to be part of a big plan… that he knew more than me, “I have a good friend, Jimbo. He has an old boat I heard he’s been workin’ on. New canvass and paint. Other than that I gots no fuckin’ idea what Ryan’s up to.”

Anna interrupted, “Speaking of fuckin’ ideas, I want to know what the fuck’s going on with Doc, huh? What’s the plan with him?”

“He’s still tripping pretty heavy. I sent him below to chase the bats from his belfry, I suppose. I’m done with him though… got what I wanted.”

Anna entered the cabin and went straight below towards the berths where Doc was quietly sitting on the bunk.

“I gotta use the head and change clothes.”

I wasn’t sure what she would do so I called out, “Wait, Anna. I’m done with him but you and we need to pow-wow,” and followed close inside.

Casey was watching us from the wheel.

The Dinky Dao had a layout similar to the Sherlock’s except that the Casey’s tub was an unmodified working lobster boat. The Sherlock had the same cabin and berthing configuration. Converted to a popular yacht design, it’s stern wasn’t open for hauling in lobster traps. The cabin was a step up from the deck to the galley. It was about three steps forward of that to a level accommodating a small shower and head. Forward of that space and through a hatch were four bunks… two on each side. The helm was outside in the weather on the starboard side but under the same canopy as the cabin.

Everything about the Dinky Dao was the same except it was in dire need of a paint-job and the clutter everywhere. Empty plastic water bottles, empty beer cans and gallon wine jugs, newspapers, doubled plastic bags stuffed with laundry, and junk… fishing line and flasher lures etc. covered every counter and table top. However, a stack of skin magazines was a conspicuous exception. They were kept, covered in cellophane in a neat bundle in a plastic milk crate under the table I’d cleared for our breakfast.

It was noon by the time I was done with Doc but I was anxious to keep him out of reach of Anna. Once paranoia slips into one’s psychedelicized consciousness it is difficult to sort out which fears are justified and which ones are not. I knew a few Lurps (an affectionate name adopted from the initials for Long Range Recon Patrol) that liked to go into the bush on acid to enhance their environmental awareness. This worked well for real reasons to be safe, “left of the bang”, but it might also account for some of the Geneva Accord violations against innocent villagers. My paranoia told me that Anna had a motive to take out Doc beyond mere revenge. He might expose more than she wished of how she fit-in. I had to keep those suspicions in check, however, because they might just as well be chemically induced fears.

Anna was already stripped down and stepping into the shower. I could see why Ryan was in love with her. Her nudity, while my mind was sucked into cosmic reality, didn’t evoke any desire at all to possess her sexually but I was completely in rapture at the sight of her innocent beauty. My mind raced from big questions to wondering whether women got the same depth of sensual arousal at the sight of a man’s naked body. They might but I suspect not because I don’t see women keeping a neat and bundled stack of old skin mags. I million and one such ruminations passed through that transcendent Bardo as she slipped out of sight into the shower. I went from paranoia to awe in less than a flash… the time it takes for a match head to flare upon striking.

Her shout from below snapped me out of that Bardo of reflection, “Hey! There’s no fucking water!”

She came out and up to the table wearing a weather jacket and nothing more. She knew she was going to be grilled and was prepping herself to craft the best defense she had leaving the jacket open enough to expose the partial curve of her breasts. Just enough to keep me distracted. There is a line from the Bible… hell, I don’t know where to find it. I just heard Thumpers quote it in jail. It says the eyes are the windows to the soul. Anna had been trained by someone on more than that Mac-10. Her eyes suddenly became hard to read and that’s a skill known by only a few amateurs that are unwelcome at poker tables or by specialists in trade craft. I knew full well when the subject’s eyes became opaque and unbreakable.

I broke the ice, “We aren’t playing the school-girl now, are we?”

She wasn’t playing alright. She had become robotic and my task was to remind her that she was human; that I was human, and hardest of all, that Doc was human. Her jacket opened to expose more Modigliani flesh but I was transfixed on the opaque eyes. The painter studied eyes. Each portrait displayed a fascination with the deception of eyes. It was as though the painter never quite figured them out. He painted what he saw. There is one painting of a teen with the pupils blurred… there could be a three ring circus behind them but there was no way to get past that matte glaze. No wonder he drank himself to death with absinthe and wine.

Her hands lay flat on the table with her fingers spread as though on display. They were another work of art; long, thin and graceful, a Gothic saint that had just blown away a man with a Mac-10 a few days ago.

I finally saw in them. Her eyes turned sad… full of regret, "Look Crash, I've got nothing more. This tub needs swamping out if we're staying on it for any amount of time. Let's not play cat and mouse for a while and get to work."

"You might be right. Bit we have to talk."



Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Tourist in another Strange Land

O8/02/16 Twi’s Day (07:56):


I did my laundry yesterday. I enjoyed the whole experience. The first thing that happened was that I had to get change. The lady attendant saw how I was looking for the machine and asked, “Are you looking for something?”
   I don’t exactly know why but I felt just a little intimidated. She was a Hispanic woman and I hate to admit it but it is so. It wasn’t so much that she was Hispanic/native but that she had that natural assurance that Taos was her home… had been the home of her parents, grandparents and so on further back than when the Spanish conquistadors saw the Pueblo and settled the area that had already been settled for over ten millennia. Once more, with only a few exceptions, the laundromat was a mix of varying degrees of that ancestry.
   I got past this intimidation and remembered how well I had gotten along with the Taos Pueblo people and how I too… just like the conquistadors before me… had eventually gotten along with everyone. I answered, “I’m looking for a change machine.”
   She led me to her little office and asked, “How much do you need?”
   I said, “How much would it take for two washers and two dryers?”
   “Two? Is that bag all you have?”
   “Yes, you know, separate the darks from the whites,” I smiled and once more became intimidated having not thought about any implied apartheid until she returned what I call an Indian smile… a blank face to anyone less perceptive.
   “Two still? That bag is small,” she repeated while she took out a roll of quarters. “Maybe seven… eight to make sure.”
   “Seven’s good. I have a buck’s worth on me.”
A good sized man that looked purer bred Pueblo limped by. I took the quarters and set about with the laundry task when suddenly one of the washers began overflowing. One of the only white women in the laundromat called her attention to it, “The floors are flooding! There’s water on the floor!”
    After that there was a buzz of activity. The man with the limp stood by and watched and the two talked while she squeegeed the floor. While she pushed the water out the door the two of them talked casual, very briefly. She said, “You’re dong better.”
   “Yes, I’m alright… a little better every day.”
   “Time takes time. You look good.”
He left her to her task and sat down on the side next to me.
   I was at home.
   This is the part of Taos I love. The old adobes are one thing but the people are another. Everyone in the room was going about with their own business like people do everywhere else but there is a flavor to Taos that is hard to describe… a not so subtle as it might seem at first. For instance, I had a chorizo omelet that morning too. It was Spanish chorizo… not at all like the chorizo I'm used to. It's a solid sausage instead of the greasy California ones I love so much. Probably mush better for ya too. New Mexico is like California but much better for ya too.

   
   In Taos, I am, at first, just another tourist in another strange land.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Arjuna's Colt 45

Most sailors keep a few books in their cabins. In one of the cupboards was a copy of the Bhagavad Gita. I’d read some of it before but I must have skipped over these stanzas Krishna spoke to Arjuna as the sea rolled under my feet. I read between the lines of these stanzas, “The duties of the Priests, the Warriors, the Merchants/Artisans, and Laborers, Arjuna, are passed along through the genes according to the qualities which arise from their own nature” and “Heroism, majesty, firmness, skill, and never a coward, generosity, and nobility, are the qualities of the warrior, born of their nature.” You can’t help but to be what you were born to.Strap on your 45 Arjuna and get in the mix.
The Brahman, the Kshatrias, the Vashyas, and the Shudras… each are noble. I took a deep breath and sighed the sorrow. We are born the way we are. I had been granted a part in the universe I denied. I tried to find peace between the Kshatrias and the Vashyas where no peace could be found.
I’d settled for the mask of normalcy instead of taking the path. It turned out to be a big mistake. I chose the oblivion of the bottle when I denied the fire… the challenge of creation as an artist. It was the same Warrior/Creator Muse that left me then and this thing in me became numb. Sitting on the deck of the Sherlock in that moment, I understood… it was a flash. When Earhart took his dive off the bridge it was his last chance to get back to his warrior soul. It wasn’t when I chose to drink… it was when I chose to be normal. Creation and destruction, oh Arjuna, are the same beast. This reality shocks normal people with normal lives. Likewise, it’s the karma of most people to live out their lives in peace, to raise families, and participate in society. The merchant/artisan or laborer perfect their own duties to be successful but couldn’t be expected to understand the drive of pro-athletes or Navy SEALs. Nor should they. The odds are a million to one against making it but the drive is there and that drive denied will pull us down the way nothing else can.


There were a few beers in the cabin’s small fridge but I craved a soda instead. I realized I hadn’t the DTs I’d feared since my last drink. I should’ve. I always did when I tried. I had nothing more than the usual hangover and some shakes but it was remarkably easy to quit. It had never been this easy for me before whenever I tried. Shit, it had been a couple years of daily drinking. I’d heard others say the same thing happened to them when they went had gone bat-shit religious. They always attributed it to a miracle… an act of God or Higher Power. It made believers of them. I hadn’t any such an apparition or transcendent experience. I’ve heard it said that positive thinking changes the brain chemistry but that wasn’t quite enough of an explanation for me. It was as though my friends on the Wall had called me to a mission. Maybe Earhart’s spirit was my Higher Power. It did awaken me none-the-less.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Chapter 9. The Inspection



I know how most civilian investigations work. A crime scene is taped off, if there is one, and all evidence on the spot is gathered. No one works alone like Colombo. It takes teamwork. Witnesses are interviewed and from there it goes door to door asking the neighbors; “Where were you when it happened? Did you see anything unusual? Did you recognize anyone?” A list of possible “persons of interest” is compiled and then it’s taken to the interview room at the station. One by one “persons of interest’ are narrowed to a couple of suspects. There’s not much need to go back into the field. Confessions, or leads, are extracted there with varying results.
Sometimes it’s another story with persons of interest who contribute to campaign funds like Doc does. If a simple child molestation accusation comes from an obscure source, like a prostitute, the case might not be filed at all. She is more likely to be arrested and booked for her sins and, added to that, filing a false report. I’ve seen it happen. This isn’t because of overt corruption. More often than not it's a combination of case overload, a simple bias, or bureaucratic laziness. If the witness is corrupt, and that the case has no chance in front of a jury, the matter is complicated.
A murder escalates the concerns of all involved. If the person of interest is a campaign donor and the victim is a cab driver, there is a good chance that the case will go cold. Perry's case would have been lost in a glacier of ice… just another suicide… except that Ryan had a dog in the hunt.
I flatter myself to think that this dog was me but I believe that my friend was in love with Anna.

I had to leave the sanctuary of Anna’s studio to pick up my VA check at the Virginia. Spiderman was at the desk holding up the foldout of the newest Pethouse to the light. I had to slam the ringer to get his attention. He damned near fell out of his chair. Recovering his composure, he said, “I see you Crash, but I’d rather look at this. What do you think, is she a ten?”
I looked at the fold-out a second but asked, “You got my check yet?”
“Say, Crash. Have you been takin’ vitamins or something? You don’t look so bad.”
“I didn’t come here to get married sweetheart, I just want my check.”
He put the magazine aside and pulled the government envelope out of a drawer and slipped it across the counter, “You ain’t drinkin’ are you?”
“It’s only been a week. You think it shows?”
“Yeah, it does.”
“I just have to keep my head clear for a while. At least ‘til a few things get straightened out.”
“I gotta tell you. A PD Detective was here lookin’ for you. What kind of shit did you get yourself into, Crash?”
“Not sure, what did he say?” I knew it had to be Ryan.
“He just asked if I knew where you were stayin’ and if I knew that Anna chick. Man-oh-man, I sure do wish I knowed her better.”
“Hey, you’re starting to drool.” I stepped back and started to walk away. “But thanks Spiderman. You don’t have to tell him I was here.” The thought came to me that Ryan didn’t know where I was hiding out. Anna hadn’t let him know either. I supposed there was no reason to let him know until I had a better idea what I was up against.
I went to the corner to cash my check. John had been doing that since I first moved into the Virginia. I always paid up my tab on the first of the month. I had him cut it off at fifty bucks so that I wouldn’t use up my reserves. That was my way of budgeting a monthly hundred twenty-dollar check. It was a thirty percent disability… the pittance the VA threw my way to delay paying off at a higher rate. It seemed as though the VA was betting most of us wouldn’t have the stamina to endure the delays and obstructions before an appeal came through. Most Vets gave up and walked away… went to prison, committed suicide, or died before an appeal was ever awarded.
John cashed my check… counted it out. I passed fifty back.
“No Crash. You can get me later… when you’re back on your feet.”
I looked at my feet, peeled off fifty bucks, “I’m on my feet John. Here, take this. I’m okay, really.”
John took the money, “You know; that cop friend of yours, Detective Ryan, was here first thing this morning… banged on my door before I opened. He says it’s urgent.”
“I know. I’d appreciate you don’t know anything… right.” I passed three quarters over the counter and he passed back a pack of generic unfiltered smokes.
“I can’t lie to a cop, Crash.”
“You don’t have to lie except by omission.”
I was halfway to Gutierrez Street before I realized I hadn’t bought a pint from John. It felt good. Two more steps and I wanted to turn around… Maybe go to the Ofice to see Nancy. I didn’t have to struggle much though. It felt like a big hand was on my shoulder guiding me away. It wasn’t long before I was on the breakwater lighting up a smoke and listening to the surf pounding away under me as I sat on the concrete bench taking in the sun. I knew what the big hand was and the feeling was vivid… like the way I felt watching Adrian breech and come out of the Elaine’s vagina fighting. It was a feeling of awe, fear, and beauty. That’s when I saw Ryan coming towards me from the Yacht Club.
I patted my hand on the wet spot where the spraying surf left a puddle as he approached, “Don’t sit here unless you want to get your butt wet.”
“Walk with me to Mizz Sherlock, Crash. You in the mood for some fishing?”
Mizz Sherlock was a clean boat of about forty-five feet… nothing fancy about her. The old Chrysler marine engine that powered her could be pushed to twelve knots max… cruises at ten. The cabin was big enough to squeeze in a gateleg table for eating that dropped down for a third berth and a chart table for plotting a course. It even had a shower below next to the head.
Under the forward hatch was the usual two berths. The most modern feature on it was a marine radio scanner and 1950’s radar screen. There was no fish-finder sonar, or RDF. A compass, sextant and clock was good enough for him. It was a comfortable cabin and the boat was made to hold up under the conditions of damned near any seas.
We didn’t need to talk as we boarded and cruised out of the harbor. I knew he was going to fish for something more than Yellowtail and that he would be patient. The sea-air away from the harbor was different… just as fresh and all… but there was something about it. It was fresh in the nose… like the sweet smell of freedom. I’d sailed a skiff around the sloughs of the Sacramento River and San Francisco Bay before I was drafted. The Navy wasn’t taking high school drop-outs and draftees back then. I could have been on Swift-boats. But the Army took anyone then and I found a home there.
I tossed the pack of smokes into the churning wake. It was a compulsion. I don’t know why I did it but it felt right… something like pouring out that beer.
We set up our poles and took turns at the helm. Ryan opened a cooler and pulled out two cans… a beer for himself and offered me one.
“You got a soda or something?”
“You quit drinking too.” He wasn’t asking. It was like he was reading it from a report.
“No. Just laying off a bit. Who told you that?”
“A little sparrow… ‘sides, smokin’ and drinkin’ go together.”
“Shit, you get around. So does fishin’ and drinkin’.” Not knowing how to drink one, I gulped down the soda and tossed the can off the stern. “I didn’t really quit. I’m just putting some time between drinks, if you know what I mean.”
Ryan scowled and pushed five-gallon bucket next to me, “Put ‘em in here next time.”
He cut the motor and we just drifted with the current. He continued to look at me with a scrunched brow.
A weight pressed my chest and caught in my craw, so I let it out, “Anna’s in trouble.”
“I know,” he dropped his beer in the bucket as his line went taut and his pole bent nearly to the waterline. He yanked the pole from its rod holder and hollered, “It’s fishin’ ya know. Sometimes the little ones fight harder than the big ones. You don’t know what you’ve got until you pull it in.”
The reel on the pole zinged the line out…. Ryan’s body leaned back with the pole in both hands… “It’s not a Yellowtail!”
“How can you tell?”
“A Yellowtail won’t take it to the bottom. Gotta be a shark. We’re fishing with too light a line.”
“What do you have, the Loch Ness monster?”
“I might as well… we might be in for a long… long… haul.” Ryan didn’t look as excited as I thought he would be. He was calm, “Damn. I was looking forward to some sushi.”
“The day isn’t over yet.”
“I was fishin’ for bait. This bugger is going to take more than we’re rigged for. Fortuitous… let’s talk about that.”
“About Anna, or this fish?”
Ryan pulled the line back from the tip of the rod, took out his Buck knife, and cut the line. The pole snapped back upright, “You tell me. Anna’s too smart to get big headed. She’s in a trap she got into as a small fry and now she’s upped the ante.”
Anna hadn’t told me enough to know how much Ryan knew or how much I should let him know. I wasn’t comfortable between these two loyalties. No wonder I drank. The beers in the cooler started to look damned good. I cracked one open but didn’t take a sip. I just held it in my hand like Linus’ security blanket.
Ryan’s eyes were on my beer, “Your old boss is into some pretty sick shit. Worse than that, he took that bimbo with him and now it’s starting to cave in on all of them.”
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
“Perry.”
“Anna told me. I was in jail at the time… you know?”
Ryan busied himself re-rigging his gear, “I think I’ll put some live squid on it. Change it up. You probably don’t know what’s been going on. I don’t think you even cared until a week ago. Am I right?”
“That I care? Yeah, I suppose I do. Ryan, I think I’m coming alive. I feel it. I’m done with all this bullshit… it isn’t self-pity and all. I just didn’t give a shit.” I watched Ryan finish hooking up the squid and cast out with only a light flick of his wrist. I set the beer in the holder on the gunnel and took the helm. Ryan didn’t have to tell me to take the helm and I began cruising just fast enough to create a wake. I looked back in time to see a Marlin clear the water. It was a good sign the day would be a good one. I shouted over the throbbing motors, “So, Anna’s the live bait? Why are we fishing if you already have a bead on Doc?”
Ryan reeled the squid towards the boat in front of where we saw the jumper and, as an aside, he shouted, “You know there’s Great Whites out here too. Funny thing about them. They have some sort of instinct… At the Farallons, a friend… a marine biologist, told me. I don’t know what it is but, if you kill one… well, the old ones… the big ones… they skedaddle and don’t come back for a long-assed time. Maybe all you got to do is kill one. Folks don’t know that.”
“You aren’t going to let me know more?”
“About fishing? Crash Craszhinski, you’ll know more when I know more. Try to remember, this crap will take time and patience. You stay close to Anna; she can help us out but we don’t want to scare off the big ones. I don’t trust her story. Her heart is good but she’s a compulsive liar.”
“Then, I take it that you’re not going by the book this time?”
“I am. But the book we’re going by hasn’t been written. Circumstances always warrant an exception. I have to tell you, something smells bad at the station. Might go up near the top of the chain of command in the DA’s office. Someone’s stepped on my earliest attempts to investigate.”
“So, Ryan,” I was intrigued now. Ryan was going rogue. That wasn’t his style. I had to probe, “I need to know what we’re getting into.” Still not sure what anything he said was about, I added, “I’ve never liked working with ARVN’s commanders in the Embassy. Too much like catch and release.”
Ryan’s rod dipped a couple of times, “Sometimes they tease the crap out of ya.”
I cut the engines as soon as I heard the reel’s shrill r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r’s. He yelled, “That ain’t a Great White!” He planted the butt of the rod under his belly and the fight was on. I could see why Hemmingway loved Marlin fishing so much. It could be compared to a fifteen round boxing match. It looks like I had a ringside seat for this bout. The line went straight down, pole bent… keeping the line taught, Ryan reeled and released it… brought it closer and letting it go further. The line changed directions a dozen times before the fish breached in a graceful leap coming back down on the line as sure as a fencer’s parry and lunge. The pole sprung back straight and the line went slack… the fight was over… the Marlin won.
Ryan laughed, “That was one smart asshole! Took lessons from Douglass Fairbanks for sure.”
“It was more like Liston and Clay… over in the first round,” I sniped, but one of the things I especially liked about Ryan was his quick acknowledgement of his adversary’s prowess. My stomach started to churn and I realized how hungry I’d gotten.
Ryan pulled up his line and relieved me at the helm. “Yeah, but don’t it give you a rush? Let’s go over to the oil rigs and get us some lunch.”
All in all, it wasn’t a bad day. Ryan had snagged one and let it go. Another just plain got away.
He snuggled the Sherlock idling in the shade under Platform B casting distance from the stanchions where we lobbed our lines to the bottom. Within minutes we were both hauling in a couple of nice rockfish and calico bass. I was afraid we were going to have sushi but Ryan pulled out the propane Hibachi from a space under the deck. We filleted our catch and had them on the grill on the spot. I couldn’t remember a time in the past several years when I felt life had been so sweet.
After eating, Ryan stood at the helm, fired up the old Chrysler and said, “This isn’t catch and release. We’re dealing with great whites and Anna’s our bait.”
Mizz Sherlock rounded past the sand spit buoys, sea landing jetty, and into its slip on Marina One. I dropped the bumpers, jumped off and set the bow line to the cleat when Ryan stopped me. “Don’t tie up the stern. You’re not staying.”
“What’re you talking about, Ryan?”

Monday, September 21, 2015

Salesmanship 101 from Untitled

Changes (1989)

Chapter 1. Salesmanship 101
(Selling Yourself)

   It was the beginning of the end of an era for me the day my cab license was yanked by the City. I had been at a stand-still for several years anyway and hardly cared but for the principle of it. Cab driving always gave me the independence and pocket cash I needed to keep my bar tab paid and enough for a room at The Virginia Hotel. Driving at night, I could also stay invisible to a daylight world I wanted nothing to do with. But now that was gone.
   I dumped my coin jar on the dresser and, with a shaking hand, separated the pennies from the dimes and quarters. There was enough silver for a pack of generic smokes and a pint of Popov’s at Jerry’s. I didn’t necessarily want a drink but I definitely needed one to calm my nerves.
   I tried to slip out through the lobby while Lucas sat on his ass behind the check-in counter reading a skin mag. He was like a spider waiting for its prey all day without moving, the lobby was his web. When anyone touched the carpet at the bottom of the stairs he must have sensed the vibration at the counter. He let me get all the way to the door before he put down his magazine and called out, “Crash!”
   I froze, “Yeh, I know.”
   “I’ve let you go a week already. The boss…”
   “C’mon Lucas, I’ve always been good. I’m waiting for a shift to open up,” I lied. It wasn’t a big lie because there was always a chance the Professor would change his mind.
   “You ever hear from the VA on that appeal?” he asked, rubbing the stub of what was left of his arm under his shirt.
   “Not yet, but any time now. It’s been three years,” I felt embarrassed. He’d lost an arm and a leg in Nam and I’d only lost my mind. I went back to the counter, “How come you never wear your prosthetic, Lucas?”
   “Not unless I have too. I like to air it. Irritates the skin, you know.”
   “I’ll take you to Vegas when my ship comes in,” I promised. I meant it too but three years back-pay on my VA claim was but a dream. I had a better chance of winning the lottery.
   “Don’t try to grease my butt Craszhinski.”
   “Think of it, Lucas. The Chicken Ranch and...”
   “Okay, okay, enough Crash. But I want good news from you by tomorrow or you’re out.”
   Spiderman was actually a good guy. He was just doing his job. We were like brothers over the years. He’d covered me several times in the past but he had to answer to the boss. I apologized, “Lucas, you know how humiliating it is to beg another week’s reprieve.”
   “Humiliating? Look at me. I sit here at a dead-end job putting the squeeze on losers like you. And you whine about humiliation? I probably have only a year or two left on this pile of shit.”
   “Never looked at it that way, Spiderman. I’ll pay up soon enough, okay?”
   “It’s Lucas, not Spiderman. Friday… no later than five, Crash,” he shook his head, “and that’s final.”
   I was out the door before he finished. I got my smokes and pint. It occurred to me I ought to save it ‘til later... After being put on hold every time I’d called the past week, I knew what to expect. Okay, just one toke before I face the music. I needed a bit of liquid courage... enough to make the Professor squirm, mano y mano.
   The company’s offices were down on East Yananoli, near South Salsipuedes, and not too far a walk if I took the tracks. It’s an uneasy feeling to be in a place where I was no longer a part of the business. For several years it was like we were family but overnight I had become persona non grata. Bob sat in the dispatch office situated behind a crosshatched wire glass window where anyone entering the lobby could be seen. He swiveled around in his chair checking who’d come in. Next to the dispatch office, the door to the inner sanctum was open. It was an oversight. Dispatch would normally have to buzz me in and, as I passed through it, Bob looked at me as though I had breached the barricades. The speaker above the door crackled, “Hey, Crash, you can’t go...”
   Once inside I took a seat across from Ginny’s reception desk guarding Professor’s office. While she was on the phone I could see why all the drivers used to stop by the receptionist desk to chat with Ginny just to be in the presence of her Dolly Parton’s. She was a freak of nature for sure. When Ginny became Professor’s plaything he installed the buzzer lock at the door and moved the drop-safe into dispatch office instead of behind her desk.
   The owner, Dr. Lawrence Spawn, was in. I could see his door ajar. The professor was one of us; an old cabby that hooked into a widow ten years before. He was once called driver #75, or Larry, but now he insists we use his formal name; title and all. He was a PHD after all and we all knew that in his case it stood for Piled Higher and Deeper.
   There are those in every cab company who thrive on pushing ahead in those kinds of shark infested waters. There were students too for whom cabbing was just another job to pay the rent. There were others holding down a shift to make ends meet until they got that big break... a screenplay that gets accepted or, a real acting job. Then there were realists ...fishermen that can haul groceries and church ladies all day without losing sight that they are casting to reel in the big tuna... a widow with enough inheritance to put ‘em on easy street. Rachelle was in her late fifties when the Professor sank a hook in her. He was in his thirties and movie star handsome when she took his bait... empty promises of eternal love. He gave her a free ride to Vegas where they got hitched by an Elvis impersonator, and that was the last time he did anything for her that came from his own pocket.
   Ginny pretended to be on the phone ignoring me. I got out of the chair and stood for several lifelong minutes before she acknowledged my presence.
“Hi, Crash, what can I do for you?” She was warmer towards me the last time I saw her.
   It was everything I could do to keep my eyes focused on that silver cross hanging from her neck, “I need to talk to the Professor.”
   “I’m sorry, Crash, Dr. Spawn’s not in…” Ginny held the phone receiver covering that silver cross between her ample breasts. She kept her dual assets locked up under a heavy duty bra and a puritan white, long-sleeved blouse. I wasn’t distracted enough to miss the door gently shutting.
   “Don’t tell me he’s not in. Did a ghost just close his door?”
   “You can come back when Dr. Spawn isn’t busy, Crash,” her tone sealed the conversation. “Or, I can tell Rachelle you were here when she comes in.”
I knew the Professor wasn’t busy. He didn’t run the company. Rachelle and Bob did that. Doc only owned it. He owned it along with Rachelle’s house in Montecito, a nice boat named A Doctor’s Dream, and a blood red Jaguar, with the money we dropped in the safe guarded behind the locked door of the dispatch office.
Doc was in charge of PR, the hiring and firing, and that was about all. You just knew he loved hamming it up for spots on late night TV. He wore stripes behind bars for his pitch... “Leavin’ the bar? Don’t drive your car. Take a cab.” He followed these with Dr. Spawn’s Bail Bondsman ads, “Drop a dime and I’ll save you time.” 
   Ginny would bounce in on cue, “You’ll be out before you can shout, Dr. Spawn Bail Bonds!”
   Professor’s wife knew about Ginny but looked the other way. Divorce was not an option for other than religious reasons. Professor had a grip on the bank account she’d signed away when the romance was hot.
   I’m really not a breast man but my eyes couldn’t help themselves. I alternatively gave Ginny the once-over before nailing her eye to eye. I planted both hands on her desk and demanded, “Ginny, don’t give me any shit.”
   Bob came out of dispatch with one of those 18 inch cop flashlights in his hands.
   “Get back in there Bob.” I turned to face him, “The phone’s ringing.”
Bob stood a minute and considered whether there was anything he could do. We went back a few years. There was a time when he could have mopped the floor with me but he’d grown soft in the office and wasn’t about to take me on now.
   I passed Ginny’s desk and opened Professor’s door. Doc was standing a few feet back. He reached out to shake hands. His gesture wasn’t reciprocated.
   “Crash, good to see you. I was just going to tell Ginny to let you in,” Professor backed behind his desk and sat down, “Have a seat, Craszhinski.”
   “Cut the shit, Professor,” I was brief with him. Behind Doc, on the wall above his head, hung a certificate nicely framed. It was his Doctorate of Philosophy diploma. A few of us knew about how the Professor got his degree. It was a con like everything else in his life. He had somehow incorporated, formed his own college, and turned in a thesis. It was filed where doctorates are filed and amounted to little more than a list of stats about cab drivers: their gender; education; marital status; military service; race;... and so on. He had a no more than a dozen drivers to fill out a survey form from which he expanded the numbers to hundreds for the sake of a thorough sampling.
   “Doc, I need a break. I know you always need a graveyard dispatch.”
   “Crash, you know I can’t rehire you so soon after.”
   “And you know damned well I wasn’t busted on the job...” I protested, “It wasn’t for drugs.”
   “It just doesn’t look right, Crash,” Doc pulled out a green sheet of a carbon copied police report.
   “Yeh, like I’m a big drug king-pin living in the flea-bag hotel.”
   “The city still pulled your license and sent me this report: Drunk in public; creating a nuisance; assaulting a police officer...” Doc read from the list, checking off each item. When he finished he flipped a pencil in the air, missed the catch, it bounced off the desk and rolled to the floor.
   “They dropped all the charges ‘cept drunk in public,” I picked up the pencil and handed it to him, “Besides, I wasn’t in my cab!”
   The professor started chewing on the pencil. I couldn’t take my eyes off it hoping he would choke on the eraser. The pencil caused him to talk through his teeth, “I can’t do anything right away. The town’s changing. You’re becoming a relic... things of the past. You can’t be cowboys out there now.”
   “That’s an excuse Doc and you know it.” I approached his desk, “Dispatch has always been where drivers go that get their licenses yanked. Who else would want the job?”
   Dispatchers only get paid minimum wage. They supplement their income by milking tips from drivers. No tip... no good fares.... all’s fair on the streets where money is concerned. Some make out real well that way. It isn’t a job for anyone with some humanity, principles, or dignity left, after driving for years.
   “Look Crash, all the cab businesses have to clean up now. Times are changing and Sergeant Lopez is getting on all our asses. After last week the City’s leaning on him too. Go to Schick/Shadel; to a rehab or AA. Let ‘em know you got sober... get it on paper when you graduate... get your license reinstated and maybe we can get you back on...”
   “Bullshit, Professor. Clean up all you want... but you and I know damned well you ain’t so clean yourself.”
   “That was my past, David. But since I found the Lord...”
   “Don’t give me that Lord BS, Doc,” pointing to the wall I threw his crap back at him, “You found the Lord up Rachelle’s vagina. You can get widows and schoolgirls to wipe your ass with that paper but it won’t work with me!”
   I was on a roll and knew I got his goat but had no idea the implications went beyond the obvious. Doc’s face turned from pasty white to beacon red. He screeched, “Craszhinski, if you don’t leave now I’m calling nine-one-one!”
   I’d never heard the smooth talkin’ con-man yell like that. Professor stood from his chair holding the receiver away from his ear with his fingers on the keys of the phone.
   Bob must have had his ear to the door with the flashlight in hand. He opened the door, “You need help Professor?” He lifted the flashlight as though he was ready to use it.
   I slammed my body against Bob and shoved him out the door so hard he landed on Ginny’s lap with one of her bullet breasts inches from his mouth. I was out of the building and never did see him rise from Ginny’s lap. I suppose I did him a favor landing him there.

Chapter 2. Some Tea & Sympathy

   Did anyone hear that? The door to another chapter of my life had just slammed shut. I didn’t want it to. But the time had come to pack up everything and sneak out past Lucas. I had to put my stuff somewhere until I found another hole to crawl into. As always, Lucas let me cross the lobby before he caught me at the door.
  “Don’t be a stranger, Crash.” He called out and waved, “We’ll have a room for you when you pay up.”
  “Thanks, Lucas,” I was grateful for the old spider’s concern.
My feet took me up State Street towards Pal’s. It was a sad walk... a funeral dirge... Louis Armstrong’s horn was mourning in the background between my ears. The sidewalk was littered with the Fiesta refuse from the night before... plastic beer cups, confetti mixed the visual with splatterings of vomit that Jackson Pollack might have been proud of. I stopped for every signal though it was six AM and there was no traffic to be concerned about. I got as far as the Snake Pit bar where my friend Anna stood out front smoking a joint. “You want company, Crash? You look like you’re goin’ somewhere.”
   “Company, sure,” I inhaled the pungent smoke she blew in my face, “but I can’t pay.”
   “Well, sailor, your credit’s good with me.” she teased, passing the roach on a clip.
   “With you and no one else,” I set my pack on the sidewalk.
   “Awe, poor baby, you looked like you needed a little tea and sympathy. What’s goin’ on?” she hefted my pack onto her shoulder. She knew exactly where I was headed.
   We were approaching De La Guerra arm-in-arm and I liked the way that, when Anna was with me, she acted as though we were a couple. I think it was her way of telegraphing to all concerned that she was off-duty. On the way up the street, a tatted-up character with a shaved head approached her as though I wasn’t there and asked, “Is this guy your father?”
   She snuggled closer to me, “No, he’s my pimp.”
   He checked me out. A general rule of mine says that, when in the jungle, never make eye contact with a predator unless you’re ready to take him on. We made eye contact.
   However, Anna was capable of handling him easily enough. “You couldn’t afford two minutes with me,” she blew smoke between us. In that Nano-second his eye lids flickered. She passed the roach to him and said, “Teeny weenie; take this and scoot.”
   Still eye to eye I swear I saw him blush. The guy backed off and walked away. I wasn’t sure if it was rage or embarrassment.
   “You know him?”
   “Not that well. He tried for a date once at The Toasting Company. I thought he was a cop, ya’ know. So, what’s goin’ on with you?”
   I knew the guy was probably a John as much as I was sure she was lying but it didn’t matter. After all, an essential part of her profession required discretion. Searching her face for sympathy, I confessed, “Doc’s not going to hire me back. I’m out of a job and homeless. I’ll have to move into the van.”
The old VW was parked in the lot at the company. Its brakes were completely shot and the registration was a year past due. Still, in an emergency, it was a hole I could crawl into.
   “Oh, boo-hoo. You need money? I can put up your rent.” Anna offered as we turned on De La Guerra Street towards Pal’s.
   “Isn’t it bad enough that you’re buying my drinks today?” I didn’t like owing anyone a piece of me but a drink was another thing.
   “Oh, am I now? Okay. I’ll buy ‘em.” She hooked an arm in mine, tugging,       “C’mon, Crash. Cheer up. It ain’t that bad. You’re the one that told me,” (air quotes), “pride ain’t an asset.” She was young… so young she missed high school and all that normal kid stuff. I forgave her the air quotes and we entered the bar.
   Once my eyes adjusted to the dark I could see the place was empty except for Keith, who was on his usual stool by the door doing the crossword. You couldn’t beat Keith to the bar. He was there every morning before the doors opened. Claire saw us and was pouring a beer from the tap already when we took our stools. “A soda with lime for Anna and beer for Mr. Glum. Right?”
   “Give him a Bloody Mary, Claire. Can’t I have a drink?” She flipped a passport to Claire, “I’m old enough to dance at the Rhino.”
   “You look 18 but if you’re 21, I’m Methuselah’s mamma,” Claire laughed.
Methu… who?” Anna puzzled and then schmoozed, “You hold your age well. I mean it, Claire.”
   Claire was in her early fifties and could still sport a short skirt when she wanted to. In the old days she worked at George’s Pour House on Milpas where the barmaids all wore stilettos and bikinis.
Clair laughed. “Where’d you steal this I.D.? Hmmm... So, you’re Laura Rogers... okay, when were you born?
   Anna smiled. It was a joke. She would never try to pass it on Claire but she took a guess, "1968... May? ah, let’s see... 19th? Hmm... let me see it again...”
   “March 19th 1968. Better get to know this one better, Laura,” she handed it back to Anna and busied herself mixing my drink.
Anna grinned impishly and showed it to me, “I just got it. Haven’t even looked at it yet.”
   “She kind of looks like you if you dyed your hair and injected Botox in your face,” I said.
   “I wear a wig when I use it,” she boasted.
Claire turned to ring up my Bloody Mary and I snuck the pint to Anna’s glass dumping a taste into her soda.
   “I saw that, Crash.” Claire returned to the bar, poured herself a shot of schnapps, and downed it. “But time, sweetheart, will have us joining the ranks of old broads soon enough. Lay off the crack and booze or you’ll have to retire your bones early or go Postal like Crash here.”
   “I haven’t done coke or meth for three months now, Claire.”
Claire turned motherly, “Booze and cigarettes will wrinkle you too.”
   “Postal?” I knew I had gotten in trouble… blacked out most of it… there had been a fight and I ended up in jail. I had no idea about the why’s and what’s of it and tucked in my sphincter awaiting the news. It was like the television news to me because it was as though I was hearing about someone else.
   “I didn’t tell you yet,” Anna nearly whispered, “You flipped the other day... completely flipped.”
   “Naw, I knew what I was doin’...” I couldn’t remember a thing but I tried to act like I did.
   Clair stepped in, “You were here all day. Not kidding. I stopped serving you. Your daughter... you know... the courts and all. I let you get by with it all day but sent you home. I heard you stopped by De La Guerra Plaza and got in a fight with one of the dope dealers. Anna’s right. You flipped... yelling all kinds of stuff at the statue and you threw away your wad from the night before.”
   “Threw away? What do you mean, threw away?” I wondered what happened to my cash.
   “You went over and threw all your money at the bums and dopers hanging there. They ate it up. How much did you have?”
   “About three hundred when I got off my shift.” I had no idea where that money went. I thought it got dirt-grabbed sometime that night.
   “Another Vet gone bug-shit fuckin’ crazy,” Claire said mournfully.
Anna cozied up, “Look, Crash, I have a new place with lots of room. My door’s always open. Get the point. You helped me when I was a kid.”
   “You’re still a kid.” And she was still a kid as far as I was concerned, but I can admit to be feeling a little high just thinking of the possibilities. “Say, are you bidding for my affection?”
   She leered back, “Your affection but not your intentions,” Anna was used to leering older men but got serious with Claire... almost in tears the words slurred just a little, “Crash... if it weren’t for himm... Did I ever tell you about when I rode in hiz cab with everything I owned in a Hello Kitty backpack?”
   “Oh, c’mon, a thousand times, Anna. Where did you find her today, Crash?”
   “The Snake Pit, why?”
   “This ain’t my first day on the job,” Claire scowled. “She’s blitzed and she’s repeating old stories.”
Claire was right. Like a child, Anna reverts to a stripper’s voice when she’s loaded. I found it annoying but cute enough to tolerate.
   “Hey, I’m here. I’m here!” Anna waved. “I know… I know... I’m buzzed. Sorry, but don’t talk ‘bout me like I’m not here.” She returned to the subject, “You’ve been my best friend. You kin stay with me, Crash.”
Claire’s warned, “Girl, careful what you say when you’re high. Crash might take you for more than a couch.”
    “See, Anna, don’t let him fool you. That’s what he wanted all along. Ain’t I right, Crash? You wanna thank me?”
   Claire had me pinned, I am a man after all, and I have to admit my mind swam with romantic fantasies... of sharing an apartment with Anna. My sub-Craszhinski was already introducing her to my family, marrying her, and slipping between the sheets. It’s an ego thing. Lonely men like me dream of entering a room James Bond full of movers and shakers with a sexy young women in arm...  imagining the envy of others thinking... he must be rich to have a girl like that! The best I usually went home with was another bar-fly past her prime.
   Anna patted my back sympathetically cooing, “Now-now, grand-pa, you’re my friend. You’ve got the couch as long as you need it. Okay?”
   “All I’ve got to do is to get back with the company. I kind of blew it today.”
Claire scowled, “Now, what did you do, knucklehead.”
   I laughed. It always made me laugh when Claire or Anna called me a knucklehead. From anyone else it’s not so funny but there’s an arcane cuteness about that word coming from either one of them. “I don’t feel much like explaining it, Claire, but I went off on Doc. I have no idea what’s going on with him and Bob. I expected them to back me up... dispatching, you know.”
   “Now what are we going to do?” Claire merely posed a rhetorical question as if it was her problem too. She knew about the bust but she didn’t know about how or why I was shut out that morning.
   “C’mon,” Anna coaxed me off the stool, “We’ve got things to do and they ain’t gonna get done sittin’ here all day.”

Claire called out as we left, “Don’t sell yourself short, Craszhinski. You’re a better man than you think you are.”