They see our faces and it makes them sad and guilty, even wistful. Their own tattoos remind the men to take their shot and let us pass. I say I don’t look at men but I do hear their voices full of longing, broken faith and hot, hot, heat…”
by laine perry
These are the wild times, nights of drinking, sunning ourselves, afternoons of decadent meals, and evenings of the dirty sex we carefully avoided during our marriages. C. is my best friend. We share a willingness to triumph over the immense pain we’ve reaped and sowed. We belong to each other, and to this town, this seaside amalgam of transient vessels, motion, sea, broken spirits, and fierce devotion waiting to attach. The light in our eyes is a trick that still works. We make our mistakes. We are knocked to our knees. We fall on slick, wet stones. Refusing to die in two feet of water we rise and continue toward the breaking waves. The dull ache: a welcome flagellation of bone.
These are dark times. These are the nights when we come to know brutality intimately. We engage in these nights to protest the failed marriages. We are carving out a new beauty for ourselves. We are old. This town idealizes destroyed beauty. We will not leave this town for this reason. Each man here has known a woman like us at one time. They see beyond the truth of our age. They wear sadness like a hat. They know it is there defining them in some way and when they need to, they remove it. Our sadness is worn like skin. It is on us for good. On better days it shifts layers and heads deep.
My neighbor the airbrush artist tells me I am the new Henry Miller. This town is the tropic of everything unholy. At a point the close streets converge. The Strand, which is German for beach, (and includes blood, muck, and stringy saliva), runs along the ocean. Some afternoons we walk the Strand counting the number of men who say hello to us. I pat my beer belly and yell, “This wasn’t easy. This took years. I don’t even like beer,” C. laughs. The men don’t care about the belly. They like our breasts. They see our faces and it makes them sad and guilty, even wistful. Their own tattoos remind the men to take their shot and let us pass. I say I don’t look at men but I do hear their voices full of longing, broken faith and hot, hot, heat.
The has-been, never-been, never-going-to-be, old men, the male versions of us, they recline with a permanent squint on the corner with a tall can. They are beaten down. They don’t destroy anything anymore. They drink it down. They swallow it deep. It’s every lost woman, estranged child, dead friend, every house that went back to the bank and every car repossessed. It’s the awards of merit and trophies stacked somewhere in a friend or brother’s basement, all of this in the eyes. It’s a spark in the squint, the fire still there alongside the repercussions of infamous resolutions, waves, and surfboards muddied with wax.
My house-sitting job is almost over. The people I work for are also clients at my Art Gallery. They will be back from Australia within the next day or so. I’ve drunk all of their booze, and eaten their food including jars of expensive, imported condiments they believed were safe. I’ve loved their house well for them. I am homeless again in a couple of days. I’ll be living in the gallery. If I didn’t own the place I would not go back to work ever. It’s unbearable in the gallery with Jesse gone missing. He won’t come back.
I told him too many times that he didn’t do anything for the business. He smoked outside the shop, littered his butts on the sidewalk, and drank his 40 oz in the window. He looks destroyed when he’s with me, and destroyed when he’s not. He’s now sleeping on couches and in skate parks, and other places. My breath is uneven in his absence. It’s hung up by burrs.
Jesse’s taken my New York Dolls CD with him so I head out to replace it. In my haste I waste thirty bucks on a live box set full of ambiance and little else. I think of artists who might possess the good stuff and hit up Tim. He burns Live in Paris ’97 for me along with my old favorite Love, (Arthur Lee), and some early Stooges. Listening to this makes me crazy. I ride Jesse’s old Schwinn over to his job. On my way I see a chubby young guy on a weird bike. Love handles and ape hangers. I tell him, “My bike is cooler than yours.” He laughs. I tell him I want to start a punk band. He says he’s played in a punk band for ten years, took a hiatus and is ready to hit it again. He promises to come by the gallery and does. I hand him the song I’ve written for Jesse, who works behind love handles and ape hanger’s apartment.
He lays down some guitar and we have something. People are coming in the shop. They like what’s going down. The next day I see Jesse hanging out a town over. I can’t eat. The guitar player comes over and we try to play. A bass player shows up. I can’t sing. I can only think of Jesse, the heat of him, his body close to mine. I drink so much I black out. I wake to find Chubby raping me. I throw up and he drags me to the bathroom.
In the morning C. and I find dead birds and blonde hair everywhere. C. says, “Why exaggerate when the truth is so much more alarming?” The dead pigeon is on the front bumper of my neighbor’s ’56 Chevy truck. Two clumps of blonde hair are lying on the sidewalk just outside the gallery door. C. photographs both items to make a record of this time in our lives. “This is going to be a hell of a summer,” she says. I need a turntable and C. thinks she needs a dildo. To prepare for our mission we buy two bottles of red wine and more Mickey’s beer because C. likes the puzzles on the flip side of the caps.
The dildo is $18. The clerk throws in the batteries. C. names it Caesar (Caesar-the-pleaser). We head to the thrift store where C. pays $15 for my turntable because I am still penniless. She promises to volunteer at the thrift store where we’ve found it. She likes the stories the manager tells her. The manager is coked up and wears thick, black mascara. I like the frenetic push she gives us. It gets us out the door and to the grocery store. I want to buy beer for Jesse in the unlikely event that he stops by to reconcile. C. goes home for her date with Caesar. Sadly, she manages to make off with the good bottle of red. What she leaves for me is affectionately referred to as two-buck chuck.
In the car the next morning the Stones are screaming about the suburban bitch with the far away eyes. C. has those eyes. She finally takes me to her house in Corny-copia. It’s one of those communities so lifeless if it wasn’t for the cars in the driveways you could be sure it was a ghost town. The whole thing looks like an abandoned project. Layers of dust cover up the barely intentional tan paint. I blink fast and the whole scene washes to a field of dirt. We’re out of there in a hurry after feeding the perplexed cat and throwing seed toward the fledglings.
Just as we are abandoning that building she lives in I spy a lime green vintage dress hanging in her garage. My mom was a model in the ’60s and I can imagine her in that dress, raven hair piled high, black liner framing her stark blue eyes. I can hear my mother singing, “One less bell to answer, one less egg to fry-y-y-y-….” C. looks at me looking at the dress and gives it to me. My neighbor Justin’s turning 30 tonight. I think I’ll wear the lime to his party. I’d marry Justin. I can’t because he has C.P. and a lazy eye and it makes me too sad to see that every minute of my life. All that laid out he’s still the best man in town.
Last night I dreamed I was riding in a car with some young kids. In the dream I saw a very large rattlesnake on the side of the road and pointed this out to the little ones. They watched the snake. The driver sped up and so did the snake. The snake increased in size as we increased speed. His scaled skin was black and dark green. His eyes kept our look. He became ten feet tall, at a point stood upright as a human and his two unnoticed hands began to spin a clear thread. He was spooling thread and he was ten feet tall. That was how we left him. I’m not sure what his plans were at that point. I’m not sure what our destination had been. We drove on neither terrified, nor prescient.
This afternoon is electric. I’m watching it. I have my eye on this afternoon, and for good reason. I’m drinking rum. I’ve drunk three-fourths of the contents of the glass already. It’s 11:14 a.m. Ice cubes tinkling. I think of Esther, my grandmother, my soul mate. I can smell her skin, the warmth and dirt, the way she gave up. Her smell is in the drink. It’s Sunday. The gig’s up and I’m back at the shop. The tight jaws that pass by are headed toward a case of something I like to call epiphanitis. It’s a made-up disease where every epiphany is also a macabre discovery.
A haggard artist with a relaxed jaw stops in to tell me he’s been moving all day after giving up the fight with his girlfriend of fifteen years. He’d just rather give up their place on Fire Mountain and move to a little shack with a view of the ocean. He used to be a surfer. He used to be in the ocean every day. Then he fell in love and moved inland to raise a family. He tells me that at the exact moment when he realized the significance of his loss he ran as fast as he could to the ocean that he had abandoned. As he stood before it praying for his life’s resolution he noticed a group of younger people. They were humming and crying, and throwing some things into the sea. The first thing he noticed was a wreath. When he blinked his remorse away he saw the roses that had been thrown in after the wreath. They were a good 20 feet away from the wreath but edging gingerly toward it. The roses kept steady on their target achieving a union within three to five minutes. This impressed him like nothing else. As he marveled over such a simple miracle he adjusted his focus to include the horizon. Two dolphins dove in an arc framing the goodbye wreath with its rose arms and leafy absolution. He shuffled backward and finally turned away from the group. He had prayed for grace and found it. People had not done him much good until that moment.
I’m standing on the rotting porch of the house I’m sitting. It is late afternoon. After succumbing to a bout of hunger I open a tin of detested tuna and sprinkle red wine vinegar on it. I douse it with French mustard, and pepper it well. It’s still tuna. I feel queasy rather than grateful after eating it. The four-year-old neighbor comes over. Her sniffer pointed high in the air she announces, “The sky smells like rain.” Hmmm. “I’m making peach pie,” she says with a silly, proud smile. I want some. “It’s made of dirt, and sticks,” she says. “All right,” I tell her. That said, she unpacks her little spoon and several small cups. We eat our pie beneath a clear blue sky. She gives another sniff and packs up in haste. I duck inside to listen to the thunder of heavy rain on a metal roof.
Today in the shop the strumming sounds like picking. It’s a tin guitar. Better blues than these? I haven’t known them. My neighbor O’Reilly Jones, is crooning. It’s not yet noon and the sky is silver and gray. He misses his brother who was a cold first tenor, crystal clear. He doesn’t tell me how he was killed. He sits on my tufted blue pleather couch. I bring out a little amp I have stashed in back. His blue love songs are strokes across my chest, arousing me and tempting me to rise like a Phoenix from the ashes of my last incarnation as an art dealer, skate widow, and beer-swilling over-the-hill vixen. He croons “Eight men and twelve women found me guilty of loving you.” In the ’90s O’Reilly Jones was caught making love in a car in Houston, Texas. When they took him to court the judge asked his woman, “Tell me, do you really love that man?” His story breaks the dark cloud. The truth is that O’Reilly Jones has come to tell me he wants me.
He’s noticed my old man has hit the road. He’s wanting in. There’s a prostitute strolling south toward the old man’s business. I can hear the double click of heel on pavement.
It is not so different from heavy rain on a tin roof. O’Reilly Jones is taking Amtrak to L.A. He’s been cast as James Brown in the Spike Lee film. I pop in Parliament and let the funk satisfy. I’ve had sex in a speeding car, but never anything stationary.
Tonight I open a show at my Art Gallery. Three hundred people come to see the art. I sell 53 paintings. This is a record. This is something that does not happen in Oceanside, Calif. My artist has come all the way from D.C. He has one arm and a tiny girlfriend. He loves me. He wants to move here. That is how it happens. I put on a Nina Simone record and beg him to reconsider.
I drink too much. I’m cranky, and I laugh all of the time. I only have one pair of shoes: black converse. When I grow up I’m going to comb my hair and smoke a hooka. More of my stories can be found in the Vault of Smoke.