All Rotten Apple Pie and Diseased Howdy Doody
I’ve been slowly turning over the contents of my wallet to the girls at Mary’s, the oldest strip club in Portland. It’s a shady landmark and so am I—shit faced, suicidal, dreading the arrival of closing time, reckoning the end of the ride.
I’m afraid to go home. There’s nothing there. I’m always afraid to go home. Tonight the feeling is magnified. There’s a guy sitting next to me at the rail who’s been tipping nothing but twenties for the last three hours. It’s Christmas Eve, rapidly crashing into Christmas day.
I order one last whatever I can afford and toss the remainder of my cash onto the stage. The dancer scowls as she scoops it up. She’s beautiful. I like her. She’s totally beyond me. The guy sitting next to me taps my shoulder and screams into my face, “Where the fuck can you get a drink in this town?” Red hair, baseball hat, big ears, nose full of broken blood vessels.
I tell him the bars stop serving at 2 a.m.
“All of ‘em?” he says, blue eyes, bad teeth. “Follow me. I’m staying at the Benson. We’ll hit the mini-bar.”
“Right,” I slur, and stagger after him. Stagger Lee. Good Seattle band, since disbanded. I hum one of their tunes while trying to walk a straight line.
It’s cold out but the Benson is close. We get there and dude tips the doorman forty dollars. He tips the elevator operator, waves to the desk clerk. They all smile and seem to know him: Mr. Big Bucks.
I flop down on a couch in a two-bedroom suite, way up high with the pigeons and the stars and, to answer a question, tell Big Bucks I’d like a vodka, not a gin, tonic. We make small talk, about drinks and drinking, small drunk talk.
“I made six million dollars this year,” he tells me. He dials the phone and when the bellhop appears he gives him a handful of cash and sends him down to Burnside for drugs—the street. I didn’t know you could do that, ordering drugs like room service. I don’t know a lot of things.
“What’s your story?” I ask. But I’m not all that interested. I have a drink in my hand.
“Six million dollars,” he says. “I tried twice and failed. This third time, I got lucky. I started this thing on the internet, and then I sold it. Now I’m a consultant. I’m on my way to Seattle. Wanna go?”
“I have a job to be at. I didn’t make six million dollars this year.”
“Fuck it, man. How much do you make? What do you do?”
“I’m a bartender.”
“Come up to Seattle for a few days. I’ll put five grand in your bank account right now. We’ll hang out and get fucked up.”
“I’m serious—I’ll give you five grand. What’s your account number?”
“Fuck that. I need my job.”
The bellhop raps on the door and Big Bucks gets up to let him in. They do their business and I fix myself another drink from the mini-bar. Big Bucks tips the kid sixty dollars, twenty, twenty, twenty, quick in the palm, shuts the door and tells me all about it.
“All he could find was crack,” he says, sitting down and hooking himself up an empty Coke can to smoke it from. “You want some?”
“I hate that shit,” I tell him. Truth is I’ve never tried it before.
“You’ll want some later.” He gets up and turns on the television: Cable porn. No penetration.
I go to the bathroom. I check my eyes, throw some water on my face, spit into the mirror like it’s some stupid movie.
When I get back, Big Bucks has a chair pulled up close to the TV. He has his pants off and he’s trying to jerk off.
“I love this chick,” he says. But he can’t get it up. His piggly wiggly little dick is useless. He keeps working at it, breaking every few strokes to bring the Coke can to his mouth. His dick lays there like one of those dead worms you see on the sidewalk after a hard rain.
I close one eye and look at the TV. The smell of the crack reminds me of a cancer ward, dead relatives, open wounds. The girl on the TV is beautiful. I know her but I can’t remember her name.
“God,” Big bucks says, “I wanna fuck her. Are you bi?”
“No,” I tell him. Her name is Blake. That’s her last name. I’m no good with names. But I’m right about this one.
“I think I’m bi,” he says.
It strikes me as funny to think I was once married and in love, that I used to eat meals and go for walks and kiss my wife goodnight and not feel terrified on the holidays—so funny I want to cry. But that will come later, when I get back to my apartment. The sun will be streaming through the windows and I’ll want to be dead. Not that it matters now.
I pick up the Coke can, put a rock in there, and fill my lungs with chemicals, exhaling a noxious cloud of hopelessness. Six million dollars. Money can buy just about anything. But it’s not enough. Big Bucks probably won’t live long enough to spend it all. Or worse, he will.
“Can I suck your dick?” he says.
“No thanks,” I tell him.
I lay down on a love seat and let Big Bucks do his drugs. The crack makes my brain feel like a pinball machine, but I close my eyes and try for unconsciousness anyway. Why is crack so much easier to find at 4 a.m. than weed? Because the dealers are using and the stoners are all asleep.
I have some Xanax in my pocket. I take a few, let them dissolve under my tongue, slip in and out of bad dreams. Hours seem to pass. I lift one eye and see Big Bucks squatting in front of the TV, blue flickering light, shadows, people fucking. He’s squatting over a hotel towel, sticking mini-bar bottles up his ass–still smoking crack, still no hard-on.
I sit up, collect myself. I’m clean now, pure of heart, half crazed. “Hey, you know that magazine you brought back from the club? You can call a hooker. There’s a whole section in the back–photos, numbers, everything.”
“No shit? Call us one!” He pauses before pulling a bottle out of his ass. “I hope this isn’t freaking you out.”
“Hey, listen, I’m out of cigarettes.”
“There’s some money on the table,” he says. “Take a ten. Get us a couple packs, Camel Lights.” He turns his face back to the TV.
I page through the magazine. It’s called Exotica. The girls are called “escorts.” I zero in on the ugliest, most psychotic looking tranny I can find, dial the number. Give the address, the room.
There’s a pile of cash sitting on the end table by the door, hundred dollar bills, fifty dollar bills, twenties, tens, fives—the whole fucking bag of bones. I grab a handful, then decide to grab it all. I stuff the bills into my pocket, every pocket.
I light a match, toss it in the waste basket. A flame leaps up—and I leave, out the door, up the hallway, into the elevator, down down down, off the elevator, through the lobby where I wave to a drunk in a Santa Claus suit, out another door and into the street.
The sun is up, bright, alarming… unreal. The air smells of sleigh bells and gasoline, and the Christmas people are awake, making their way to where? A communal meal with family and friends, presents and ham and mashed potatoes with gravy, cookies and gingerbread houses and eggnog minus the booze, or too much of it.
They all have stories. They are all full of secrets. I’d tell mine to God, if I believed there was a God. I think God would understand.