By Mike Hudson
Photo © Dale Johnson
Chloe was as ugly as Lola was beautiful, but he loved them both, having found one in arid Bakersfield and the other over near San Bernardino. Lola was an aristocrat while Chloe came from humble mestizo stock and when they weren’t sleeping with him they slept with each other.
How can you decide who won and who lost? Everybody dies, that’s a given. And in the grand scheme of things, five or even 15 years one way or the other wouldn’t seem to make a lot of difference. So what was it? How much you loved? How much you were loved? Whether or not you loved yourself?
Was it how much money you made? Whether others judged your work to be insignificant or important? Was the concept of winners and losers even valid?
We can be beautiful in defeat and ugly in victory in any event. The lives of the saints are full of sorrow. Only man’s commitment to divine providence can determine his destiny.
And everything was destroyed, just as quickly as that.
The crashing boredom of it. People frightened and angry about things they didn’t want to think about convinced themselves they were actually angry at the way a stranger was driving his car or some political statement made by someone they’d never heard of previously or because a friend or family member did something differently than they would have done it. So they walked around deluding themselves and pretending.
He’d forgotten to bring any books so he picked up a dog eared copy of Alison Lurie’s The Nowhere City from off the shelf where they kept board games and magazines and read that. It was a long book about Hollywood and he’d just written his own book about Hollywood so he was interested in what she had to say about it. He’d heard of Lurie, of course, but had never read anything by her, nor did he know anything about the particulars of her life other than what he read on the back cover, which was that she’d received both the Guggenheim and Rockefeller grants and had taught at Cornell which, to him, meant that she really didn’t have to worry about whether the book was any good or not.
It was the fourth time he’d been in a lock down detox ward over the past 20 years and his hands were shaking like the leaves on a tree. The sweat soaked through his clothes and his eyes were red and runny.
As soon as he’d signed off on all the paperwork a nurse came and took his blood pressure and gave him a Valium. He was given a perfunctory going over by a doctor who told him his liver was pretty beat up and that he’d somehow developed a heart murmur. The guy didn’t even bother with a blood test.
I long for her, I weep for her
Her flesh, her name, her eyes;
The idea of La Vita
Beneath her Cali sky….
When a normal person takes a drink and gets stopped driving down Sepulveda, he starts crying and apologizing and promises he’ll never drink and drive again.
When a drunk has some drinks and gets stopped driving down Sepulveda, he says fuck, why the hell did I take Sepulveda?
They sat in a circle around an open space, ten guys, all crazy, lying, detoxing, talking shit at the urging of some $25,000-a-year state certified counselor who’d been through the program seven years previous.
“Dude, it was the second time I detoxed, I mean, the second time I relapsed and I was in detox,” one of them began. “And I’m like, dude, I can’t relapse now, I don’t even have a jacket.”
One of the other ones looked at him.
“Anybody ever punch you in the mouth for talking too much?” he asked.
It was easy if you were good at it and difficult if you were not. Like anything else, really.
Among them was the biggest Indian he’d ever seen, a three hundred pounder with a belly so swollen that he couldn’t find a shirt big enough to cover the fleshy band just above the waist of his trousers. The fat Indian had dark circles around his eyes and sat chain smoking Chesterfields and peeling little Clementine oranges and eating them whole. A big pile of orange rinds gathered on the polished oak floor around his huge, clumsy feet. His name was Listless but because of his eyes everyone called him Cooney.
He belched and farted and bathed and washed his clothes but seldom. He began coughing uncontrollably, though whether it was from the Chesterfield or a squirt of orange juice that went down the wrong pipe or some more generalized bronchial condition, no one could say. He coughed and hacked and wheezed and it looked as though his eyes would pop out of his head and all the coughing drove the gas from his belly and down and the room began to stink up.
But he was the biggest goddamn Indian you ever saw.
“You OK, Cooney?” someone asked and Cooney nodded vigorously and with great exaggeration as his eyes bulged out and finally rolled up in his head.
“You really ought to see a doctor,” the guy said.
The smoking area was out back, about as big as a good sized dog run and just as friendly. A chain link cage with a concrete floor and a few plastic garden chairs and tables. Old hubcaps for ashtrays and a store bought sign that said No Smoking, all set beneath a chicken wire ceiling.
And so he sat there reading and smoking, drinking tea and trying not to think about the fact that, this time, he had signed himself into crazy prison voluntarily. In the hope that he could get a girl to notice. He was certain of only one thing, and that was that his book about Hollywood had come off far better than Alison Lurie’s.
She was blonde of course and had those semi-human almost alien facial features, cheekbones and lips and eyes that you can see a hundred times over along Mulholland, shopping at Gelson’s or Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, with the matching tits and problems. In their heads they listened to music that wasn’t playing and in their shopping carts they had kiwi and avocadoes and wild king salmon and organic filet mignon for their husbands. Bottles of flavored Grey Goose.
He leaned on a window ledge in front of a closed and padlocked Italian restaurant on Topanga Canyon Boulevard between Mulholland and Ventura just waiting for her. Her name was Lola and she was a beautiful woman so he waited gladly. He wasn’t in New York anymore and he certainly wasn’t in Cleveland. Giant hemlocks lined the roadway. Across the street there was a makeup salon called Endless Beauty. An Asian kid with a cigarette dangling from his lips and wearing a knitted Sherpa cap whizzed by on a skateboard.
He lit a cigarette himself and waited for Lola. There was a nice breeze blowing in from the Palisades and the air was perfect despite the traffic. He’d have been doing the same thing in New York, probably. Or Cleveland.
He had a reputation as a ladies’ man.