NOTE TO READER: The following paragraphs are from my journal and represent actual events and real conversations.
Considering the nature of the content, it is important for you to know that the information is not imaginary. This is a nonfictional piece and ours is a crazy world. I doubt you’ll be bored. Welcome to a strange day in my life. Walk with me.
I woke up punching my pillow. That’s all I’ll say about it. Some dreams are too vivid to mention without embarrassment and my nightmares were rife through the night with the Devil’s prophecies. Taking advantage of parted drapes, a bright morning sun beamed the hot white light of reality upon my closed and swollen eyelids—I was seeing red before twitching them open to a sickening confirmation.
Perhaps that’s too strong of a word—call it an abused intuition—tail straight, teeth bared, snarling, wanting to trust again but unable. Or maybe it’s something more fatal than fear: a sixth sense of betrayal foaming at the mouth with rabies and must be shot. She would admit that once upon a time he’d been a good dog but easily and quickly found another. It’s a matter of simple replacement.
(These are fictional ideas. I’m talking to myself again.)
I slip into a pair of damp Levi’s because I ran out of qurarters yesterday. The dented dryers at Sammy Laundromat are almost as powerful as hairdryers and drained my wallet like a line of ugly strippers with runners and holes in their lint baskets. Earlier I had handed a $10 bill to a beggar whose self-edited story I actually believed. Now I’m the one who smells as sour as the homeless.
I climb into Sylvia, my elderly but sexy silver Dodge Dakota, blow hard (and angry) into an expensive ignition interlock device, pass the test, and drive to the local 7-Eleven for a 24 ounce cup of coffee with French vanilla (no sugar because it’s fast and easy for writers to go soft and saggy at the naval). There’s a keypad at the register which requires me to sign my name on a plastic screen. My signature looks like a sperm. I hit the green ENTER button and send it to the bank to conceive more debt.
Back at the Zanzabar (50 bucks a night for bedbugs—a good deal where I provide the free meal), the hot drink is scalding my sensitive fingertips through thin cardboard. Enduring the pain, I fumble with a jingle jangle of keys and secure Sylvia from any invasion of her womanly privacy. In my peripheral vision, a black man in his mid-20s is walking hard and fast toward me. Menacing and threatening. This in broad daylight.
Suddenly I am hyper aware of social distancing. My crazy mind flashes a mental picture of me turning to him with a straight arm—the anatomical stop sign—palm outstretched. Halt! Come no closer than 6 feet! Or I’ll rip your mask off and breathe straight into your face!
In reality, I’m clenching my right fist and positioning my feet (reminding myself that the best defense is a jaw breaking offense) but he stops abruptly without unlawfully entering my air space.
Cautiously, I turn to him. “May I help you?”
“I saw you. I saw you…”
My eyes perform a quick head to toe scan of the man, attempting to ascertain with the swiftness of a search engine the exact nature of this unusual encounter. The man is shirtless in a pair of baggy shorts that are slipping toward his ankles and exposing navy blue underwear. His sneakers are expensive. His abdomen is as muscled as a pit bull but swollen with the parasitic worms of alcohol. His eyes are dark and penetrating but not cracked out, scleras white as snow. He has all of his teeth and one of them is gold.
“You all ready to fight when I be com’n at you look’n all pissed off and shit. I bet you say in yo head, here come another muthuhfuckn angry nigga. Am I right? Am I right?”
“I can’t deny what you’re saying.”
“Becuz we wuz trained to hate each other. Blacks against whites. Whites against blacks. We wuz trained up dat way.”
Saving my tangled tongue from reply, he launches into a passionate monologue concerning the purpose of his fast and alarming approach, concluding with “I just be try’n to prove my point before I open my arms to you and declare peace. I sick uh dese riots and shit. It ain’t your fault and it ain’t mine. It starts with one person at a time and I gonna start dis day by say’n I love you.”
The unidentified man steps forward and squeezes me tight. I feel his strength. He smells like soap. Irish Spring.
As fast as he came, he went. Silent and maybe a bit embarrassed. Maybe I was his first.
I call after him, “Hey—what’s your name?”
He doesn’t answer. He doesn’t look back.
I climb the stairs to my humble quarters, reflecting upon the awkward moment, respecting the man. I set my coffee aside, pop the tab of an ice cold Stella Artois (pfftt…) and enter the impotent world of my limited imagination, fueled by loneliness, and steered by dark fantasies of the night. The tenacious, sweaty-tooth pursuit of a happy ending.
•. •. •
Writing fast for two hours, only three paragraphs out of almost 2000 words are worth keeping. Heavy digging for gold just enough to cover one incisor of a novel.
The lamp of my creativity has dimmed to the soft glow of minimal wattage. Time to recharge.
I plan to attend a séance in Rockville, Maryland. 22 miles away.
First, some personal hygiene.
To my pleasant surprise, the shower is not a tepid trickle but a boiling hydrant. I try not to close my eyes in ecstasy because whenever I do, I think about her, the one I love, the one I left standing on the front lawn crying. It was a cruel and self-centered thing to do. The willful crushing of my lover’s tender heart, a sin for which there is no atonement. Still, I hope for a Lazarus resurrection. Even though we’ve been dead long enough to be stinking in the grave, I am writing as if our future together depends upon it—which further explains why I’m going on a field trip today to visit a dead man. In life, he understood the beautiful and the damned and the struggle for perfect love and perfect words in an imperfect world.
•. •. •
I’ve heard that piss is the unholy water of sacred graves and will reward the offender with a ghost sitting at the foot of his bed. So after a half hour spent alone at Saint Mary’s, the thought crosses my mind to anoint the grave of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda. I decide against the desperate idea, knocking back a single shot of Gordon’s London Dry Gin instead, lighting a Chesterfield cigarette (Scott’s favorite), and hoping the unfiltered cloud of gray incense might waken his vices and voice.
But my presence doesn’t disturb the Fitzgerald’s eternity in the least. There’s not a soul in sight, living or dead. The cemetery, generously treed, opens naturally with a circular window directly above the headstone of the two legendary lovers. Buried in a single plot, Zelda’s head rests in peace upon Scott’s chest, both staring (sober as the soil) at the dial of the sun, moon, and stars. Together at last. Forevermore. Amen.
Worried that my truck won’t start after one efficacious shot of gin (still warming my throat and fuming in my nose), I linger longer, smoke another Chesterfield to the music of the Jazz Age, trying to entice the novelist and his wife to come topside for a dance. After fifteen minutes and four songs, I download a novella entitled, “May Day.” The greatest American author knew drunkenness experientially. In a story more fact that than fiction, he recounts with perfect dialogue the foolishness, embarrassment, dissipation, humor, and the ultimate tragedy of poor choices—the permanent loss of love and life. This living portrait of words brings belly-shaking laughter to the graveyard but leaves me sitting in stunned silence at the end, hand over my mouth.
I look around—the only visitor today—not some stalking necromancer but a writer with a visceral longing for eternal love preserved in divine and unforgettable words. The first breeze of the day rushes through the trees with an ocean sound. I look up, wondering if Scott and Zelda are pleased with this singular visit. I am.
Before leaving St Mary’s, I inform Scott that he and I would’ve been best friends. I, too, am a Romantic Egotist (often mistaken for a drunken narcissist) but without his prodigious talent. Imposing my friendship upon him, I feel free to offer a strong and uninvited personal opinion: he should’ve punched that asshole Hemingway in the nose.
More wind in the trees. Ghostly applause.
• •. •
Less than an hour later, I’m being served a heavy plate of meatballs and spaghetti at Vecino Restaurante Italiano in Silver Spring, Maryland and sipping a glass of burgundy wine. Alone at a picnic table (with the exception of some curious, buzzing bumblebees—plump, friendly, heavy in flight—and I am delighted by their company).
A voice behind my back, addressing me. I turn, mid-bite.
“Excuse me? Are you staring at my ass? I mean—really?” Are you staring at thiss assss?“
A middle-aged black woman.
Mental issues? Drugs?
I remember the young man’s message from earlier that morning and try not to form any hasty conclusions. So I say nothing at all.
She continues, “I saw you. I saw you… walking like a model down the street. The flag woman saw you and there was a wreck. She was staring at this ass (smacking her huge backside with obvious pride) and caused another wreck! I mean, come on! She likes my ass too. And I like her!”
I truly don’t know what to say to her borderline word salad and ass worship.
The woman starts twerking on the sidewalk, singing, “Do you like it? Do you like it? Do you like it?”
A meatball slips off my fork and splashes into watery sauce.
I conclude that here is a woman off her medication and her rocker. She sees the world and herself differently. She’s amusing but not attractive. Her spine is irreversibly bent, weighed down by some unknown burden. Her ass can be likened to an elastic sack stuffed with an assortment of vegetables, lumpy and loose.
“The flag woman is jealous of this (an index finger pokes a wobbling ass cheek). Now I feel close to her, like we have a connection. What do you think of that?”
My mouth agape finally closes but opens again in speech. “I think it’s kah-RAZY!”
The woman smacks her butt again. “What do you think about THIS?”
I lie and tell her that she’s still in the game. Of course, she’s extremely pleased to hear this and starts laughing with joy.
“I knew you would know! Now I have to go down there and tell them something.” Shuffling away, she stops, turns around.
“You walk down the street like a model. Are you gay?”
“No. I own the world.”
She says, “That’s what I’m talking about! Alll-right!”
I tell her to stop causing accidents.
Clapping her hands, she disappears around the corner, leaving me feeling as crazy as her. Three black men as large as bears are bouncing a rock and shooting hoops in the alleyway to my right. They are sweating, breathing heavy, and shouting. Their bellowing conversation is violent and stuck on one subject of fuck the police. It’s Donald Trump’s fault and other illogical conclusions concerning the current state of fallen humanity.
They agree with Colin Kaepernick’s taking a knee at the national anthem. I think to myself how inappropriate that gesture has become as it was a cop’s bended knee that killed George Floyd.
Their decibel level is giving me indigestion. I wonder if I should stand up, give them a hug, and declare peace.
I stay seated and order a second glass of wine.
•. •. •
At sunset, I return to the Zanzabar for one more night.
Sylvia is parked safely within view. Finished with driving for the day, I no longer have to worry about my BAC. (But I’m quitting again tomorrow.)
On the second floor balcony, I sip gin straight from the bottle and light another cigarette. Whores and drug dealers come and go, breaking laws but wearing masks.
Sorrow and gloom find me again. Two nightly visitors dressed in black.
These are the madman hours. I am the hollow man of cactus land. I drink myself down, down, down to final conversations not suitable for publication or preservation of any kind. The foul language of a broken heart. The ravings of a jealous lunatic. Jekyll and Hyde. A priest who prays and a blasphemer who curses. Someone to love and someone to hate.
I can always erase everything in the morning except for the pain I’ve caused.
Before I turn in for the night, I soothe my troubled spirit with a genuine modern poet. I pull out my guitar and practice a song that’s become a recent highway tune for me. Neil Young’s, “Out On The Weekend.”
The woman I’m thinking of
She loved me all up
But I’m so down today
She’s so fine
She’s on my mind
I hear her calling
See the lonely boy out on the weekend…
Untalented, lazy, and thoroughly drunk, my laughable jam session doesn’t last long. I close the guitar case and open my journal.
I’m almost finished telling you (whoever you are) about a day which may or may not matter tomorrow.
Urine splashes into the toilet. I’m glad I didn’t desecrate the sod of the Fitzgerald’s bed. It would’ve been Zelda who came after me and I’ve had enough of her lately.
I brush my teeth and rinse with gin. My mouth is clean and my gums are tingling. There are dark circles under my eyes. I quote the famous line from the last page of Fitzgerald’s first novel, “This Side of Paradise”:
“I know myself,” he cried, “but that is all.”
I am slurring.
Beneath the cool white sheets of a double bed, I stare up at the pitch black ceiling,
I think of coffins. Theirs.
I listen for ghosts. His.
I long for a kiss. Hers.