Catching my breath to lose it again, I rolled over and lit a
cigarette, unoccupied fingers haphazardly covering a bare saluting
nipple. I inhaled, exhaled, watching the silver smoke dance
psychedelic under the influence of an unfamiliar ceiling fan.
"Mind if I blow a line?" I nodded at him in indifferent approval and
scrutinized in my periphery. He sculpted his drugs with a debit card
on the worn surface of the nightstand. Whatever happened to the
glamour of mirrors and hundred-dollar bills? I couldn't remember when
cocaine became mundane, like commuting or using a toothbrush.
I fucked him once more before he sunk into a congested sleep; this was
my cue. I slid into my fishnets and leather jacket and collected
soiled undergarments and intact cigarettes. I pocketed the envelope
on the dresser and stumbled out into the Loisada sunrise.
I was nine years old when I saw the west coast for the first time. There were no surfers named Tod, no destitute childrens' icons, no sno-cones. There was overpriced coffee and an iceman on display; there were salmon hatcheries and seagulls to feed outside local seafood chains. I remember Washington as fog and breaking waves, watching froth shooting from speedboat bows as I leaned over the railing, wanting to jump, to swim with my fairytale coolwater whales.
I played superheroes with the boy next door. I was Catwoman in a cape and he my Batman; I sipped imaginary martinis with the one motherfucker who stood between me and the bomb. I think his name was Andy, and the more I think about it, I looked more like Zorro in pink spandex and a bad haircut.
I sip on a whiskey. Eleven years later, I'm told he's now a Jehovah's Witness.
"Will you ever forget this place?"
I looked over my shoulder at the man in the grey woolen houndstooth coat. He walked like a stockbroker and wrung his hands like a junkie on uppers; he had the glassy eyes of a disembodied poet on the Astral plane.
And we might as well have been floating there in clouds of concrete clothed in graffiti, swaddled in colors that would turn Oz puce with envy. He was infected, I was enraptured, and we were spinning along the prismatic walls, lost in this oubliette hidden from the Michigan urban sprawl.
I could have sworn I saw him suspended from the leaking sky, a tuxedo of lesions at the keys of a dusty grand piano strung up by invisible fraying rope.
Now I know his skin was clean, I was naive, and we only added our poetry to the painted cinderblocks of an abandoned commune.
I'm not weeping anymore.
I left for Chicago with intent and aspirations, all bandanas and Birkenstocks and clove cigarettes. The Windy City was photographs, bistros, my own personal demigods, and Emily.
She came to me like Rosie the Riveter, two and a half sheets to the breeze of her own suburban chemistry, stuck in a teenage american dream. Her mascara, salted, swirled with lipgloss and unacknowledged self-pity, and I picked her up.
We rode the Red Line like truant zealots, the dirty hippie and Cheerleader Barbie. She scoffed at my coffee and nicotine idolatry, but I wrote her poems she could taste, fresh out of the darkroom on the stoop outside, tuned into Miles and the sweat of the city.
Four months later, Ken slammed her against a wall like disobedient spaghetti refusing to soften. She slid limp to the floor, and when he was through, she called me again.
She cried. I was finished. I don't remember what was said.
I needed to think of her like the movies, perched on a blanket in Grant Park... how we waited for the sun to set over Printer's Row, submerged in something a little more Sapphic.
Another day, another pack of cigarettes, 108 degrees at the end of September. I've never understood the magnetism of the Lone Star state, and even now, I never will. 9,267 harrowing hours and counting, and the pickup trucks and conservatives still elude me... overweight, underpaid, and just as lost as I ever was.
The front lawns here are Elysian; they're like miles and miles of photosynthesizing prom queens melting in the vitriolic heat. The skies, they swallow you here, unforgiving and indismissable. I'm stunned and shipwrecked, running dry, and deuces are wild.
My words don't even punch euphonic anymore, adjectives and uppercuts forfeit to the plains of the Great Southwest. There's no one to blame, and nothing scatters my proverbial ashes, so I kick them like obsidian sand into the eyes of the nation. Hell, it was blind anyway, and come to think of it, so was I.
I came to Texas on a Greyhound bus with two shirts, guts, a bottle of whiskey, and twenty bucks... but Dallas did me, so I ante up.
Sometimes I wonder what I'm doing here.
And sometimes, I remember.
Johnny, you're a hard man to follow, but this has been months in the making.
This one's for you.