I had returned home from tending bar at the Grand Lux Cafe at the Beverly Center. Clive and I were hired there together two years ago. He hadn’t been to work in a while…taking sort of a leave of absence. I worked a rare day shift because my band was playing the Whiskey at eleven p.m. I rummaged through the cupboards for anything that resembled edible nourishment. Ramen, Oodles of Noodles, even crackers would have done. There was nothing but dust, a package of multicolored straws, two Sweet’n Lows, and a can of beef stew that was born there and would die there. My stomach was starting to turn on itself. I hadn’t eaten much, a handful of french fries and a bite of an untouched club sandwich at work is all. It was left behind by some executive producer of shit films you wished you hadn’t seen; he was on his cell phone the entire time, impatiently nodding and waving his finger at me—shitty tipper, too. Clive most likely went on a few auditions. He wanted to be an actor. Go figure. After that, he probably met with Bartolo, our drug dealer.
Bartolo is this sawed-off, stocky Mexican, drives a blacked-out Honda Accord. We call upon him often, usually more than once throughout the evening when we’re carousing the degenerate cavities of Hollywood, beating the drum to a bloody pulp. He’s always dependable and charitable with his portions. Clive makes the exchanges because Bartolo doesn’t like me very much, thinks I might be a cop so he keeps me at arms length. I suppose I could be. He thinks Clive is nuts, which works in our favor.
Clive came home with the bounty shortly after I came home from the grind. I didn’t hear the door open, still staring at the emptiness in the grubby cupboard.
“What up, boy?” he said.
“Hey,” I said.
I looked at Clive. My hunger quickly started to fade at the thought of the zip and the drip.
“How’s Bartolo? Still think I’m a cop?” I asked.
“Yut. Wants to wear your handcuffs. You want his number?”
I gave Clive the finger as he passed through the living room, tracking in the stale scent of a Camel Wide Light, the nagging hunger now completely bypassed by the anticipation of getting high as my stomach fell to my ass indicating the impending shit I would have to take. I looked at Clive’s left jacket pocket; he kept the narcotics there…his jacket, not my ass.
After a shit, shower, a few pages of Bukowski’s Ham on Rye, and a change of clothes, we collided in the living room. Clive was sitting on the couch staring at the six snowy lines he’d cut up and laid out on our weathered tan wooden coffee table. We’d found it on Whitley one night, all alone on the sidewalk, four perfect legs. It looked clean enough, so we took it. Clive was using my Lux ID card to straighten out the curvy, powdered contour that lay surrounded by a disheveled mass of useless unread magazines.
Must have lost his ID card again.
I reached into my wallet for a dollar bill, a conduit to oblige the thirst of our adrenaline. A handle of Jim Beam lay on the kitchen’s bar top, picked it up on my way home from the drudgery. I took a healthy pull, three gulps, all the size of a clementine, then picked up my guitar—a Martin acoustic/electric dreadnought cutaway, natural-colored, solid Sitka spruce…a real beauty—to warm up for the show.
Things were moving fast, as usual. We’d rifled through an unhealthy portion of bourbon and bird-dogged it with a half gram. Just getting warmed up for the night’s ensuing chaos, a bona fide Tuesday in the land of make-believe. Didn’t matter that Clive overdosed six months ago.
“You’re up, mate,” I said.
I handed Clive the rolled-up bill. He blasted a fat line in one sharp snort, snapping his head back to feel the drip. I picked up the plastic bag.
“That’s a big bagga cocaine.” I looked at him and then back at the bag. “What the fuck. Bartolo give you extra blow to curb your appetite…so you don’t try to eat him?”
Clive had put on a few pounds from when I first met him. Once in a while it required a dig.
“Fuck you, asshole. I ain’t fat…I’m chubby.”
He looked down like one looks at a puppy and lifted his bulbous overhang.
“Right,” I said, my eyes the color of sarcasm. I reached for the tightly wrapped bill. “Let’s have it.”
I took a deep breath and dropped my face like timber falling toward the fluffy, ivory stripe.
"What time you setting up tonight?” asked Clive.
He got up and began to pace, grabbed the handle of Beam and pulled.
“We don’t go on till eleven. Avi and the boys will get there early. They like checking out the opening bands anyway.”
“They don’t get pissed?”
“That you don’t help.”
“Nah. I told you, we had that out once. Never again. I market the band. I promote. They can set up for the shows.”
“All right, princess."
“Fuck you, Dom DeLuise.”
I’m the lead singer. I also do a majority of the grunt work. Flyers, emails, booking, haggling; you name it. In exchange, I told the guys that I didn’t want to get there too early for shows, made up some bullshit about how I needed to properly prepare in order to perform. It was partially true. I do have my own system of preparation. But I never let them in on my methods of madness. None of those guys would understand. We’re different that way.
Clive sat down, blasted another line.
"What’s the plan?” he asked.
He was making more decisions six months ago.
“As soon as you drop five pounds we can go to Reggie’s on four.” Clive laughed. I got up, grabbed the Beam, took a pull. “You remember pissing in his roommate’s bathroom sink? That annoying fat chick from Kansas…Debbie or something. Remember?”
“She was pissed. Fuck her, though. She was uppity, type you wanted to strangle. Actually had a dream that I did.”
“Uhhh…okay. I don’t think that’s the only reason she was pissed off, psycho.”
I took a pull of Beam, did another line. Clive grinned like the devil—but he always did—then did another line.
“Why else would she be so pis—”
“Wooooooo!” Clive interrupted.
I continued. “Maybe she was mad at Patrick. Poor bastard left in tears that night, busted out of her room crying like he dropped his lollipop. Or was that my dream? I can’t remember. Are they fucking? I thought he was gay.”
I’m not sure how Patrick Thornberg ended up in this unkind megalopolis. Perhaps it was because he’d washed downstream from Seattle, and the thought of actually seeing the sun—which he had only heard rumors about—was too comforting to pass up. We met him at the Grand Lux. He’s not a good friend. We mostly have the tendency to feel sorry for him when we’re not discounting him. He isn’t any more lost than the rest of us. But there is something about Patrick that makes one feel like it will all end badly, sooner rather than later, a curious cat down to his last two lives, vulnerable in such a cruel, fenced-in, concrete meadow full of rabid, cat-hating dogs.
“Patty-Boy was as gay as the day is long. He got trained by Jose and Rob," said Clive.
"Jose and Rob from the Lux?"
“Yeah, those guys are wicked gay. What do you mean, was? Doesn’t Patrick still work at the Lux? I haven’t seen him in a whi—”
“Yeah, they’re out and proud, all right, lip gloss and high heels, marching down Santa Monica during Gay Pride singing the Dong Song with some guy’s balls in one hand and a double-sided rainbow dildo in the other.”
Clive flailed a reenactment. We laughed.
“Whatever blows your hair back.” I accelerated up from the couch. “We should head up to Reggie’s before we tackle the strip, yeah?”
Clive motioned for the bourbon.
“What time is it?” I handed him the bottle. He lifted and pulled. I grabbed his other wrist. “You cold?”
“I don’t know. I can’t feel anything.”
I laughed, then checked the time on his three-inch-wide red leather band.
“It’s seven fifty. Let’s go.”
“One more line.”
We sat back down. I handed the rolled-up dollar bill to Clive and plucked another from my wallet, then poured two shots of Beam. We took the shots, then did the lines, responding to the flood of adrenaline by surging back up from the multi-stained brown sofa riddled with loose change, old credit cards, and sloppily forgotten pills. I grabbed the bourbon while Clive put the rest of the blow in the left inside pocket of his burgundy velvet jacket, a gift from me—I’d shanghaied the jacket from some Hollywood wrap party that I’d bartended a year ago. It was too big for me.
Off we went, out the door and to the right, blasted in the face with the unbecoming stench of mildew. The smell had been there for months from when Clive set off the fire alarm; he lit a towel on fire and held it up to a sprinkler head—somebody dared him to make it rain. We continued down the halls of intrigue we called home and turned left toward the elevator. Just as I was raising my right foot to press the up button, a sketchy young couple—guy and a girl—popped out of the elevator with their heads down, gnawing on their fingernails. They were both unwashed, blond, and dressed in goth. Neither of them made eye contact as they scurried down the opposite hall like mice, characteristic etiquette for the seedy occupants in our domicile. We filed tensely into the polluted metal box, landing in the center, keeping our distance from the fusion of vile textures that garnished the walls. The smell alone indicated the possibility that you could catch some horrible flesh-eating disease from the boogers and grime that were smeared like a cake. We never leaned against the outer bank of the box, using a foot—or an elbow if we had on long sleeves—to push the buttons, still reluctantly.
“I did it last time,” I said.
Clive sighed and leaned in with his right elbow, his hands quarantined in his pockets. He pressed the number four and the doors began to close. We looked at each other, our eyes admitting concern, and inhaled deep, holding on tightly to our breath. I thought of chocolate cupcakes when the doors closed.