Two young men are strolling down winding cobblestone streets in a pub
district of London, talking in cockney accent. The dark night streets vaguely
lit up by the interior lights of various pubs; various crowds milling about
talking drinking laughing leaning against the tables and the mossy stone
structures of ancient and gaudy decorated buildings.
Ben Myers dressed like a dandy in fancy clothes, pint in hand, not a care
in the world:
“The thing about writing…is to catch the eye of the reader. Get their
attention. Something…different. Something…I don’t know, they haven’t
Joe Ridgwell pint in hand, cigarette in the other; wearing ordinary clothes,
but trying to imitate the look of a young artisan:
“Yeah, yeah. But it has to be real. It has to…have an effect on them.
Change them. You know. Mean something. Mean everything. The rest is
just glitter fraud fake. A waste of time. If it doesn’t mean something…it’s
just sham. It isn’t real. It doesn’t mean anything. Know what I mean?”
Ben: “Of course, of course. But nobody’s gonna listen, if you don’t punch
it up a bit. Pitch it with the old pizzazz. Spring it on them from out of the
blue. Or maybe something…something totally new. Something wild…and
weird and foreign and startling. Make ‘em sit up and take notice. Make
‘em jump outta their chairs, crane their necks to get a peak at what you’re
up to. Make ‘em…come running from outta the shadows just to get a
glimse, a taste…”
Just then a young man comes running from the shadows, nearly colliding
with the two men. He grabs at them, catches himself, all outta breath:
“Did you see her?”
Young man: “My girl, my Melinda. She’s run off with a thong peddler
from Hollinshed!” Shouting now: “Did you see them?”
Joe, looking behind him and motioning toward the long dark alleyway,
nothing visible in the blackness of the night: “Down there, mate. Not a
Young man, running off into the dark: “Thank you, thank you.”
Ben, looks at Joe, grinning at the obvious lie: “There, you see what I
mean? Action passion affairs of the heart, adventure, crazy zany off the
wall stuff. Run off with a thong peddler? His Melinda, huh? You can’t
make this up. It’s perfect.”
Joe: “Not if you’re him.”
Ben: “But that’s just the half of it, don’t you see? If it were my Melinda
…run off with…a shopkeeper from Trent . Nobody’d give a rat’s ass.
My troubles, my despair, wounded broken heart.” He clutches at his
chest and dramatically falls against the dark building. “and life’s over
and done with. The same thing, you see. But no punch to it. …a thong
peddler, no less”
Joe: “The quickest way to a girl’s heart…”
Both of them laughing in unison: “…is through her thong.”
Ben, pushing Joe away, and waving arms into the air, singing loudly into
the night: “thing me a thong…you’re the p’ano man. Thing me a thong
Joe, joining in the act: “Cause Melinda’s run off with a peddler. And
aint this a wonderful life.”
Fade out to piano music.
The two young men push their way into a lit up crowded pub. Make
their way to a bare wooden table where another young man is seated.
Matthew Coleman, well-dressed well-heeled reading Rimbaud from a
small worn poetry book. Doesn’t look up when the others sit down
Ben: “Hey Matthew! How’s the night life treating us?”
Coleman waves his hand detached still reading. Finally looks up,
acknowledges his two companions.
Joe: “How ‘bout some drinks over here?”
A pretty waitress approaches carrying a round of Guiness on a tray. Joe
grabs three pints and winks at the girl.
Joe: “Bring us some ale, when you get ‘round again, m’love.”
He pats her on the backside, lets his hand slide down to her leg. Ben
watches the path of his hand, bending down to follow.
Waitress: “And who’s gonna pay?”
She nods at the pints, plus a couple of glasses of wine already on the
table. Coleman looks at her then at Ben who reacts with open, empty
Coleman: “Him.” Nodding toward Joe.
Ridgwell makes a face like he’s used to it but none too pleased. Then
takes a long drink, half-emptying the pint, and lights up another cigarette.
Ben: “Can smoke in her, pal.”
Joe, unconcerned: “Yeah, she’ll probably mention it when she gets back
Ben, to Matthew: “Hey, guess what we just saw. You’ll never believe it.”
Before he can explain, a gorgeous young girl comes back from the
bathroom sits down beside Coleman. He looks at his two friends then
remembers he ought to make introductions.
Coleman: “Melinda.” Then looking at her “couple a ruffians from the
street…joining us for a drink. You don’t mind?”
The girl looks at the two, sees a warmth in their eyes though a bit of a
hungry stare from Ridgwell: “Course not, the more the merrier I always
say.” Picks up her wine glass and finishes it: “Cheers.”
Ridgwell looks at Myers, wondering about the coincidence in names.
Ben: “So…how’d you two meet?”
Melinda: “Oh…it was lovely. Out on the bridge, Derek offered me a pair
of thongs for my feet. Said it was a gift. Didn’t even have t’pay for
Ben, looking at Matthew: “Derek?”
Coleman, still reading, looks up from his book: “Oh…yes, what?”
Before he can continue, a red-cheeked young man pushes through the
crowd and confronts them fists clenched: “Melinda! There you are.”
He grabs her, pulls her up then reaches for Coleman’s throat grabbing
onto the lapels of his coat. Ridgwell gets to his feet in front of the angry
Joe: “Hold on now, mate…”
Myers jumps up and grabs the man from behind freeing his grasp from
Coleman. The man swings his arm back throws Myers to the side then
punches Ridgwell in the mouth. Myers flies into him from behind knocking
him down on top of Joe. Coleman gets up grabs his glass of wine, decides
to take a pint of the Guiness too. Casually makes his way through the
crowd and out the door.
A couple of large bald-headed or crew-cut bouncers grab Myers and
Ridgwell escort them out the side door of the pub pushing them into the
dark alley. They regain their footing and find Matthew seated at a table
toward the front of the alley.
Ben: “Thanks Matthew. What was all that about?”
Coleman looks up, nonchalant: “Lover’s quarrel I imagine. Was
wondering how I was gonna get rid of that girl.”
The two sit down. Ridgwell picks up the pint of Guiness and empties it:
“Get rid of her?”
Coleman: “Great girl marvelous in bed. But that’s all she wants to do.”
He looks at the others, sees there’s need for further explanation: “Had
to call in sick from work barely had time for lunch. The girl’s crazy.
Just wants it…all the time.”
Joe, mulling it over: “What’s her last name, phone number?”
Coleman waves it off with his hand: “Not your type, Joseph. No…
artistic nature. No, appreciation for the classics.”
Joe: “I could teach her…”
Matthew: “Tried that. In between…but, was like I was talking French or
Ben, looking at the poetry book: “Maybe you were.”
Coleman: “Ah…yes, but doesn’t really matter does it? You could tell by
her eyes. Sorta glazed over all the time.”
The angry young man finds them in the alley his girlfriend in tow. Sheepish
look on his face now. Extends his hand awkwardly to Coleman. Melinda
having explained things.
Young man: “Sorry mate. Didn’t know you’s her cousin.”
Coleman exhuberantly: “Not a problem my good fellow. We all make
They leave and the waitress comes out with a round of ale.
Waitress: “It’s on him. The bloke who just left.”
Ridgwell: “When you getting off, m’dear?”
Waitress, sternly: “I don’t want to see any of you’s back here again.
Stirring up trouble.”
She turns to go then looks back at Joe: “Around midnight , love.”
They watch her leave. Coleman casually drinks his pint as if nothing’s
happened. Starts to open up his book then thinks of something else.
Matthew: “That reminds me. Lee Rourke’s reading some of his stuff
tonight, at seven or so. I’m supposed to be there.”
Ben looks at his pocket watch, chained to his rumpled vest: “It’s nine-
Matthew: “Good. He should be done by now. Let’s go round and see.”
The three of them pick up the pints from the little table and make their
way down the busy street, up the hills toward Covent Garden . Along
the way taxi’s weave in and out of traffic, people push by on crowded
little sidewalks hurrying to and fro. Ridgwell drains his beer leaves the
empty glass on the window sill of another pub along the sidewalk.
Hurriedly lights up a cigarette as they approach their objective, an artsy
looking side-street bar.
They enter just as Lee Rourke is finishing his reading to polite
Coleman clapping his hands loudly: “Bravo, bravo, well done.”
Rollie’s the apartment manager, a youngish middle-aged guy with dark hair and Hawaiian-
type shirts. He seems like a swinger and his bleachy blondy wife with the too- dark tan
skin seems like a swinger too, but who’d want to? I think they invite us over once or
twice and I think we don’t go. I mean anybody over twenty seems like they ought to hang
with the old geezers and believe it or not it’s true because they’re just too damned old.
I’m just out of school with the understanding and responsibility of being a senior so
everyone else is either my age, younger, or completely gone and unconsidered.
Except for Morry. He’s forty-five or fifty but he’s an alcoholic and never grew up so he’s
kind of like one of us but with wrinkles, like a salty old sea dog kind of black sheep uncle
that the grown-ups wouldn’t let in the house but the kids would, just for kicks. Jo is a
friend of his, sort of a heavy-set female version of him except that she’s got money and
doesn’t much give a damn about anything so she’s kind of fun too. I met Susie Idel by
the pool and there’s so much going on I think it somehow all centered around her.
Jo was throwing a party for some reason or other, who cares, it was free food and that’s
all that matters. I mention it to her while we helped carry in all the groceries that I haven’t
eaten for three days and she says “yeah I heard that one before.” I guess it never dawned
on either of us that it makes no difference if it’s true or not. After all the outdoor grilled
hamburgers and etceteras, me and Morry’re up in his apartment drinking warm Coors
beer looking out over the pool. In the meantime there’s another flare-up between Jo and
her quiet unspeaking surfer son. Seems his darling sweet young brunette of a girlfriend is
pregnant and the angry part is that Jo paid for the abortion last year and this is getting
All I see is that that sixteen year old girl is so darling and pretty you oughta not sweat the
cash. Shoot, if she was mine… But she aint, and Rollie’s daughter by a previous marriage
is there in her swimming suit and a tall pretty blonde girl. But too tall, too grown up or
mature for eighteen or twenty or whatever she is. Distant some way or too meaty. Mostly
it’s just the young kids splashing around in the water and maybe my roomies Buddy and
Phil in there somewhere too. But one of the kids is a right scampy looking young-un and
that sort of thing always catches my notice one way or another. And that’s Susie. Just a
slick little blonde kid with squinty little eyes and pouty lips and such a skinny little thing.
Seems real stuck on herself and I admire that.
So with nothing else to do and Jo done yelling at everybody, her son, the wind and sky
and everything else, I mosey over and strike up a conversation. Nice kid, says she’s
fifteen which is too young and doesn’t even look that old, but I’m only seventeen and
girls are never the right age mentally or physically. Of course she wants to know who
Buddy is. That’s the dead giveaway, but I too have heard that one before so it’s blunted.
Then I’m up there with Morry again, reviewing the day’s events and everybody mad at
everybody and we’re swoshing down a gallon of red Sangria wine. He’s an alcoholic
and doesn’t give a shit but I don’t want to be bested by everyone every goddamn day
of my lousy life so fuck it I’m gonna at least outdo him.
He’s filling our little six ounce dixie cups and mine’s empty before he can fill his so he’s
gotta refill mine and it’s empty again before he sets the big round green bottle down so
he has to refill it again and we do that for what seems like quite a pleasant little bit of
time. Though I’m altogether aware of so much pain that just on’t quit hurting or leave me
be and wishing the damn wine had more kick to it and quicker and like I say Morry
doesn’t give a shit. I do notice at that moment the Sangria seems right flavorful, though a
bit too much like sticky cherry Kool Aid. Much later with no feeling at all I find myself
without conscious effort going somehow down those cement steps and across the
courtyard and up the steps to my room and then out completely.
Not for long because at 5am Rick the fat ass foreman is there and screaming about
going to work which for some reason I do. Of course it’s a hundred and six in the
shade that day and no shade but unfortunately it doesn’t kill me or make me stronger
just another day older and more lifeless. When I get home I notice that nice king-size
soft pink blanket of mine I bought at the mall behind our apartment building, is now all
pukey and needs to get itself washed and life goes on. So time passes, nothing happens
as usual, there’s nothing to do and seems like it’s going to be that way forever. Days go
by and a couple of weeks later I call up Susie and she says to come on up and party.
Of course I got no idea where she lives. Some town I never been to and don’t even
know where it is, north of Pasadena somewhere, I’m south of LA and never been
farther than Hollywood and that’s just to go work at the construction site.
But she gives me directions and I write ‘em all down like somehow I could follow them
and make it up there by some kind of miracle which is no big deal for a kid. I’m stoked
‘cause I really want to see her and talk to somebody kind of nice and soft and sweet for
a change. A big change from dealing with assholes like Rick at work all day who just
think you’re a piece of shit and like to be treated that way. I’m ready to go but can’t get
the car ‘cause Phil won’t give me the keys unless I drag him along and of course Buddy
wants to go too and fuck that shit. I just want to meet this kid and not be a fucking tour
guide for these tagalong clowns but got no choice so there y’are, fucked from the get go
and nothing ever works out for me for some reason. My fault I guess.
God knows how but we find the right freeways, exits, the right streets, and a few calls
later even find her house and only a couple a three hours getting there. Weird, very weird
but kind of neat. Pasadena I only know from that’s where the Rose Bowl is and some
old surfer song about the little old lady who’s the terror of Colorado Boulevard and we
were up and down that huge cement artery what’s like straight uphill like straight up the
mountain ‘til you get to Altadena and that kind of overlooks the whole world. Nice green
suburbs all dark and neat little cool houses all quiet and peaceful and inviting. Susie’s
there at her dark little house and happy as a lark to see us, not me I guess, but just to see
someone and we all go out to buy some beer and her little kid brother and sister go with.
The one kid is Jack and he’s kind of cool, like California kids are, twelve going on
nineteen, but the little girl Trisha is about eight or so and oughta be somewhere else.
It takes forever to find some place to get the beer but we do and get back to the house
which is totally weird. It’s their old house and is for sale I guess, but it’s only a couple
of houses down from their new house so we’re gonna party there. Jack’s got some jelly
bean acid, yeah right. I can’t imagine how he thought that up but California kids think
you’ll believe anything and I’m all totally bummed so I take one or two or three or
whatever and go sulk. Susie and Buddy are splashing around in the pool, I don’t know
where Phil is, don’t care, the whole thing is just totally fucked. I’m sitting there sulking
and thinking about the end of the world as a sign of what life is really like and later go on
over to the pool. Buddy gets out and drips on past toward the house in the cold air and
then Susie comes out all skinny and tiny and naked like a giggly little wet fish.
I just hand her a towel.
At sunrise I get out of the car where I been sulking with my eyes closed and no sleep at
all, maybe there was acid in the jelly beans I don’t know, feel like it, all twisted and
churned up but no high at all. Shitty acid or shitty life, whatever. So it’s light out and
sunny cool California misty morning and my billfold’s missing and not to be found. Go
around to the pool and into the freezing cold water without feeling. Later have breakfast
at Susie’s new house up the street cooked up by her mom who doesn’t seem to wonder
who we are nearly as much as I do. We all wander back to the other house and Susie
and Buddy are on the bed naked and we’re standing there talking to them like is this
normal. I feel bad for Trisha ‘cause you can tell that Susie is like her everything she
looks up to and wants to be and best buddy and all and now she gots a new friend
who’s having sex with her as we stand there talking.
Keep looking for that lost billfold and hate to see that imitation alligator birthday present
gone forever but glad I put all my cash in my pant’s pocket just the same. Give Buddy a
ride to work down in Hollywood with Susie telling me how to get there and me not
wanting to be in the same general planet as them but feel better moving than standing still.
Phil called in sick and stayed at the house. I’m not even worried about it, fuck it. On the
way back we’re alone together in the car and she’s not even there – lying down on the
front seat all worn and haggard looking. I don’t know, maybe jelly bean acid and shitty
warm beer and sex take a toll on a young kid like that, I don’t know.
Maybe she’s in love and missing her new boyfriend who’s gonna be gone all day working.
Or maybe she senses that she’s wanting some really cool good looking guy to want her
the same way and not just think she’s a hot-blooded little fuck thing. I say something to
her but she doesn’t answer and put my hand on her hip to see if she’s awake but she
brushes it away. And I’d tell her that I know Buddy and he’s too much in love with
himself to share that with anyone else but jeez she’d just be defensive and think I was
trying to make the leftovers which even don’t look very attractive anymore but she
probably doesn’t know that either so what can I say.
Almost funny in a sickening putrid sort of way and shouldn’t be and even not wanting
her like that I still don’t want her to get so hurt like she probably will. Poor kid. I mean I
know if it’d been me it’d probably be the same thing because who wouldn’t want and
take this sweet sexy young so all eager just like a California poster girl. I’m no better
than anyone else at using people and rotten ghastly things but not her and I suppose
Buddy can’t recognize any special people besides himself, maybe nobody can. But I
can, can always see that and it’s just really rare. To me it’s about all there is. I know
that’s her nature and his nature and doing what they want and that’s not for anyone to
say but them, except I would’ve cared for her as much as the sex. When we’re back at
the house me and Phil take off back to Anaheim . Susie gives me a picture of herself,
eight by ten of all things, I suppose it’s all she could find at the moment.
Back home I put my other pair of clothes in some kind of suitcase and bug out to LAX
which is better than I’ve felt in months. Can’t figure what Morry was yelling about though,
never seen him angry before even when he gets fired and then goes and gets another job
later in the week like some kind of funny life-type event. But back at the place he was
just all bent and mean, calling me a coward for running out, leaving California and not
staying around and making something of myself. Jeez, words just have no meaning
except what’s it to him? LAX gots a cool moving walkway that you just get on and
glide to wherever you going like getting the fuck outta here. Never been on a jet before
and it’s so different than a little prop plane, like a goddamned Greyhound in the sky
drifting effortlessly through the rich blue air through the happy clouds about higher than
I’ve been ever.
Takes you home in just a few hours, in the meantime they let you smoke and serve you
drinks. I got bourbon straight ‘cause I don’t know you’re supposed to mix it with
something but that works out for a really fine buzz after a couple of doubles at thirty
some thousand feet sitting between a nice young woman and a friendly businessman all
relaxing together like we’s old chums. Sitting there mellow as morning thinking about
Susie and wanting her to know that I care about her even if she doesn’t and not even
sad but just sort of wishing life was better for all of us.
Of course not even good feelings last very long. Back in Omaha heading north on the
highway to Podunkville is about the most depressing come down you can do. It must be
just me that hates to come back home but God it’s just so awful and bleak and bare of
anything and any feeling even. Like going back to the damp dark tomb after wandering
the earth as a free spirit in the shimmering sun. And so godawful dark here now, I don’t
remember it like that, all nothing but gloom and emptiness unlit along the roadways
leading nowhere. Knocks the breath all out of me to know that I’m all alone out here
with family that never would know who I was and not able to understand that feeling I
can’t explain to them.
The sunshine just aint here and I’m all alone. All the kids are in school and don’t know
that school’s out like I do.Feel like an outcast and sorry for them but I guess I’m the
only one ‘cause everyone else is just having a good old time and I’m thinking how great
it is that I’ve at last reached the lowest point in my life and anything’s gotta be better
from now on. Still dreamin of sunny California and all the girls I never met and the deep
blue ocean that was never warm.