Joseph Fulkerson

A Six-Pack for Chinaski

It was around midnight when we pulled up to the hotel exhausted from the trip and ready to stretch our legs. “Let’s see if the bar’s still open,” I said dropping my luggage on the bed.

“I can go for a drink right about now,” Isaac said pulling a from his jacket pocket. “When’s closing time in Cali?”

“Hell if I know,” I said, “two or three maybe? We have plenty of time.”

Isaac and I go back a long way. We both grew up in church, but his dad was a preacher, or more accurately a traveling evangelist. So he was dragged to every tent revival and bible study in the tristate, expected to act like a cherubic faced saint. Services every Wednesday and twice on Sunday, and that’s not even including revivals. He had more than his fair share of altar calls and baptisms, withering in the humid summer air of a tent. Needless to say it was more than a disappointment when he decided not to take up the family business.

We both grew up in Kentucky where I still live, but he managed to make his way as far west as Phoenix. As a result we lost touch for a couple of years while I raised a couple kids and had a couple of marriages. That all changed last year when he showed up out of nowhere at a favorite watering hole of mine, and picked up right where we left off. It turns out we have the same mindset and opinions about our shitty jobs and our shitty lots in life. He took the road less traveled and I took the path of least resistance, yet we ended up at the same fucking place; empty shells searching for meaning out of a meaningless existence.

“This trip was fucking genius, Joe,” Isaac said, “I’ve meant to come to California since I moved out here, but never had the chance. It never felt like the right time.”
“I know man,” I said, “Fucking inspiration strikes sometimes.”

Over a series of whiskey fueled conversations, I decided to take a trip to Phoenix to try and jumpstart my writing. From there we rented a car and headed to San Pedro to visit the grave of one Charles Bukowski. We found a cheap hotel in Long Beach. Isaac puts out his smoke as we walk up to the entrance of the bar. I’m almost knocked over by a young man in a toga, painted face and glow sticks around his neck.

“Sorry,” he said.

Isaac shot me a look as we walked in.

“What the actual fuck?” I stopped in my tracks.

Inside we were immediately on the dance floor, along with about twenty couples salsa dancing. I’m not talking about the twerking you see any given Saturday night at the club; this was dancing. This was choreography between two people in sync with one another’s breathing and steps as if they were dancing as one. The whole place was reverberating with rhythm and song. The walls were pulsing energy. Sweat glistening on the foreheads and faces of the participants. It was glorious.

The bar was on the opposite side of the place and we hesitated to encroach on such a beautiful display. After a few moments, I found a hole and danced my way over and ordered a Jameson.

“Can you believe this?” Isaac walked up and hailed the bartender. “This is what I was talking about, man. I needed this. A total shock to the system.” Laughing he took a long pull from his draught beer.

“People go their entire miserable life in the same place, working the same mind-numbing job, fucking the same woman, and never pull their head out of their own ass long enough to see past their own fucking noses. That’s why there’s so much pent-up aggression. They’re so miserable they wouldn’t recognize happiness if it walked up and started giving out hand jobs. Bunch of zombies, the lot of them,” I said.

“To not being a zombie.” Isaac lifts his glass.

“To getting hand jobs,” I said downing the remainder of my whiskey.

Just then the song ended and a crowd came up to the bar and ordered. I ordered another Jameson and asked the bartender what was going on.

“Salsa lessons,” He said, “one Friday a month they teach a class and afterwards they dance. You boys timed it just right.” He turned and poured another beer.

“Indeed,” I said cheering to no one in particular.

As another song started, the woman standing beside me was pulled onto the dancefloor by a different fellow than she had been with before. I looked around for him, but he was on the other end of the floor also with a different partner. Even those watching participated in the dance, having just as much fun cheering them on. The sense of joy and happiness was contagious. There was no fighting it. I didn’t want to. All I could do was smile and take it all in. It went on like this for another hour, everyone dancing, laughing, sweating and moving to the rhythm. We had a few more drinks, then walked back to our room. As I lay there in the dark, the warm west coast air blowing through the palm trees, the anticipation of the trip, the rhythm of the music and the intertwined bodies all danced in my thoughts, lulling me into a sweet and satisfying slumber.

The next morning, we dressed and found the closest Denny’s to figure out our next steps. “I’ve been thinking, man.” Isaac pulled out a map. “Buk’s gravesite is in San Pedro, which is here. But did you know the liquor store he used to buy from is right here? Also, the apartment where he wrote a couple of his books is just a couple of blocks away. Dude we could walk in his fucking shoes for a day. Buy a six pack from the same store he did!”

I took another bite of my eggs and thought about it. How awesome would it be to check out the places this man went, try to get a feel for what he was like?

“Let’s do it,” I said, “we can pick up some beer to drink at his gravesite. Do it up right.”

With that, Isaac went to writing down the addresses and we finished our breakfast reflecting on the possibilities of the day.

We pulled into the lot of a gaudy pink building called the Pink Elephant liquor and grocery. I took a couple of photos and went inside while Isaac finished his smoke. I bought a large can of Lite beer and some Jameson and Isaac got a pint of vodka. We asked the clerk if he knew of Charles Bukowski, but to our chagrin he did not.

“The women, the jobs, the fights. All the stories and we’re actually here,” Isaac lights up another fag.

“It’s surreal man,” I said.

“He walked these streets. Breathed this air. Lived, fought and bled on these streets,” Isaac said.

I stood there looking for the right words to say when a sharp abdominal pain woke me from my daze.

“I have to take a shit!” I said.

I quickly crossed the street to the CVS pharmacy and found the bathroom locked. Panicked, I went up front and retrieved the key, barely making it to the bathroom before unloading. As I returned the key, I laughed to myself knowing Bukowski would’ve been proud of the piping hot beer shit I just took.

We spent the next couple of hours driving around L.A. taking in the sights and sounds of the city, trying to get a feel for what draws so many people here just to sleep on sidewalks and park benches and in tent cities. “They would rather chase their dreams and have nothing, less than that and sleep on the fucking streets than live a life of compromise,” Isaac said. “Meanwhile the rest of us sell our souls for a nice house with a two-car garage and a 401k. We work our whole lives chasing the unattainable, only to die of a fucking heart attack or eaten by cancer in some vital organ. What a sham.”

We pull up to Bukowski’s old apartment on De Longpre Ave and get out to take it all in.

“This is where the magic happened,” I pull out my camera and take a couple photos.

“You mean talent. He wasn’t a wizard, he was a writer,” Isaac said laughing.

“He’s a wizard if there ever was one,” I said walking into the courtyard.

On the second level of the apartment complex behind us, a beautiful woman walks out of an apartment followed by two men, one with a camera. He sets up as she strikes a pose. He takes a picture, then coaches her on the next pose. Again and again she strikes a pose, as Isaac looks on, and me frozen in that moment in time, just a snapshot of a life, with the bustle of the city humming all around us.

We make a stop at the post office where Bukowski worked all those years but was refused entry by the security guard, so we admired the architecture of the old building and was on our way. It was getting on in the evening, too late to visit the cemetery, so we went to the San Pedro fish market to grab some dinner. Isaac suggested we stop by 49ers Tavern, a place Bukowski drank occasionally. It was a little hole in the wall with some charm, but the previous owner had run the business into the ground and neglected to pay her employees. According to the bartender, a man the size of an oak tree, they were struggling to get the clientele back. After the nostalgia of sitting at the same bar that Buk did wore off, we choked down our beers and headed towards greener pastures.

“Let’s see what Long Beach has to offer,” Isaac pulls on his jacket and heads out the door. “That guy shooting pool said to head down to 2nd Street.”

“I’ll call a Lyft,” I said pulling out my phone. “There has to be more to the scene than this.”

We get to 2nd Street and pop into a place called Simmzy’s. A nice pub filled with enlightened souls with finer palates than I’m accustomed to.

“What’ll it be?” the bartender asks as he sets a coaster down.

I don’t know if it’s the rebel in me or me just being a fucking dick, but I never use the coaster or the napkin, or whatever else they want to put down. I want my drink to make contact with the bar.

“What kind of Bourbon ya got?” I said adjusting my stool.

“I’m not sure, let’s see.” The hesitation in his voice lets me know my choices will be limited.

“Do you have Jameson? How about an Old Irish.” I asked.

“Good choice,” he said handing Isaac his beer.

Always on the move, Isaac had gotten into the habit of asking the locals about the housing situation and the cost of living. He and the bartender talked at length on the subject, while I eavesdropped on the conversation going on behind me. I’ve heard it before. Hell, I’ve had the same conversation a few times in my life. You know the situation. They’re telling you something they’re going to do, and you both know it’s bullshit but you just nod and let them finish. The sad part is they truly want to believe, as if telling you would make it real. It’s human nature to be optimistic, a kind of defense mechanism against the harsh realities we’re dealt, but the reality is people rarely change. If given the opportunity, we would rather cling to what’s familiar, what’s safe. While society spoon feeds us a warmed over version of life, we’re so engorged on mediocrity, we never see what our life could be if we’d just take a chance.

We move on to Shannon’s Tavern and I’m starting to feel pretty good. The place is long and narrow and it’s shoulder to shoulder all the way. I grab a beer and head to the back of the bar. I’d lost Isaac by that point, but noticed some space around the pool table and posted up close by to take in the scene. I watched as a young man in a beanie won a couple games of pool. Enjoying the music, I finished my beer and stepped into the bathroom. While I’m finishing up at the urinal a couple people come in behind me. I zip up and turn around to see the pool shark in the beanie sniffing cocaine off the outstretched finger of a guy taking a piss in the toilet. I nodded, washed my hands and stepped out the door to find Isaac.

The next morning, we both felt pretty rough. I showered, we packed up all our shit and got ready to head back to Phoenix. After breakfast we stopped at a dispensary then we headed to Rancho Palos Verdes where Charles Bukowski is buried.

We pulled into Green Hills Memorial Park and much to our surprise it was a very well-kept cemetery. We went into the main office and inquired as to the whereabouts of the infamous author.

“Oh yes, I’d be happy to help.” A tall middle-aged man in a three piece suit led us into his office. Isaac and I exchanged looks before sitting. He asked us where we were from and what had brought us here. “We came to see the final resting place of one Charles Bukowski,” I said. “He owes me twenty dollars.”

“Do you get a lot of visitors for Bukowski?” Isaac asked.

“Why yes, yes we do. We’ve had some come as far way as Germany. He was really big in Europe,” the man mused. “We get them by the busloads. They go on a sort of pilgrimage, if you will. Stop at all the usual places.”

“That’s kind of what we did. We went to his old apartment, job, a liquor store and a bar he used to frequent,’’ Isaac said shifting in his seat.

“This is our last stop,’’ I said.

The gentleman gave us a short history of the place, along with details of a few other residents known or otherwise, and sent us on our way.

“Thank you for your help,” Isaac says as he takes a map of the grounds.

As we pull up, I notice a young woman walking amongst the plots.

“I bet she’s here for the same reason,’’ I said grabbing my beer and whiskey out of the backseat.

Henry “Hank” Charles Bukowski Jr., 1920-1994

The phrase “Don’t Try” with an image of a boxer

inscribed on the grave marker

It was a nice plot, nestled on the side of a hill that overlooks a valley with a small cathedral. Standing there in front of his grave, the warm sun on our backs and a nice breeze blowing, the words escaped us. It was a mutually recognized reverence for a man whose words meant so much to us, we didn’t dare cheapen the moment with our own.

Suddenly, the woman came back into view. She made her way over and came to stand next to us.

“Bukowski?” I asked.

“Yes, of course,” she said.

Her name was Michelle, she was originally from Illinois. She had moved to California a year before for college.

“I’ve been meaning to come here for a while but never made the time. I needed some inspiration today so I came,” she said.

“So did we,” we said.

We talked for a while about writing, finding inspiration, we talked of the man and his exploits and what he meant to us, and then she took her leave.

“To Chinaski,” I said taking a pull from my whiskey.

“Don’t try,” Isaac said as he downed some vodka.

Just then a young couple, arms around one another made their way over to pay their respects.

“Bukowski?’’ Isaac asked.

“Bukowski,” the man said.

Jason and Claire, originally from Tennessee, were big fans of his work. The whole Southeast was represented on this sunny California day. I took another long pull of whiskey then offered them some. They held it out to Bukowski for a moment, then each took a pull.

We talked for a while about nothing in particular, and when we ran out of things to talk about, we stood in silence. They said their goodbyes, then left Isaac and I standing alone once again. I poured out the remainder of the bottle and left the can of beer there as an offering. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and stood there for a moment with the sun, the chapel, and the wind-swept valley. I opened my eyes and made my way back to the car. As we drove back to Phoenix, we marveled at how this man and his writing had brought us all together on such a marvelous afternoon and what exactly it all meant.

Days later I was boarding my flight back home. As I waited, I reflected on the events of the last few days, filled with a renewed vigor. Tired but content. My horizons had been expanded. I felt as if something had been accomplished, that some wrong had been made right within me. And then, just as the plane left the tarmac, the people and places and conversations all still fresh in my mind, eager to get home and put into action all the things we’d discussed, suddenly my bowels were on fire once again.

Joseph Farley

Jumpers

I went through through the turnstile at the 8th Street Station for the Frankford-Market El. The El runs underground in the Center City section of Philadelphia, emerging north and west of downtown to ride on steel trestles to the ends of the line. I saw the crowd in the platform was bigger than usual. I hoped that they were just a lot of people like me who had left work early, but knew there was small chance of that. Yes, it was a Friday, but it was a normal Friday, not a holiday weekend. I stared down the tunnel searching for the lights of a train. There were none.

I saw the crowd was even bigger across the tracks on the westbound side. Equipment failure? It would not surprise me. SEPTA, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, also known as Schlepta and the Septic System, was notorious for frequent breakdowns. Be it bus, trolley, subway, El or regional rail, a rider had to rely on luck to get anywhere on time. A coworker, a fresh transplant from Virginia, had caught on quickly. Within a few months of moving to Philadelphia she began referring to SEPTA as “the bane of my existence.” This was when everyone knew she had become a true Philadelphian.

I leaned out over the track and took took another look down the tunnel. Still no lights. A loud horn blared. I heard the rumble of wheels. I stepped back just in time before getting my head clipped, probably ripped off my body, by a train heading westbound on the eastbound side. The cars were crowded. The train came to a halt. The doors opened. People tried to push their way on while others tried to push their way out of the doors.

A voice came over the loudspeaker.

“All westbound passengers board on the east platform.”

Most of the commuters on the west bound platform stood where they were. They might as well. There was no chance of getting on this train. It was packed. The train pulled out leaving sullen crowds on both the east and west bound platforms.

The voice was on the loudspeaker again.

”All westbound passengers board on the eastbound platform.”

Nothing was said about trains going eastbound.

A guy in his twenties was standing near me. He was getting upset. Real upset. He asked me, “Am I on the right side? I’m trying to go east. I need to get to Tioga.”

I told him, “You are where you should be. It’s SEPTA. It looks like they’re running both eastbound and westbound trains on the same track.”

“Damn. I’m already late.”

He took his cellphone out of his pocket made a call. He explained to someone that he was running late. Told them about the situation with the trains.

Another train came westbound on the east track. The crowd on the platform was growing. The time I hoped to save by leaving work early had evaporated. It was full rush hour madness with trains only going one way.

Another announcement about boarding on the east side to head west. Grumbles. Anger. Strangers became instant friends, united against the common enemy, SEPTA, the bane of our existence.

A woman in her fifties said to me, “I left work five minutes early. Begged my boss so I could leave. Now I’m stuck here. I should have stayed at work.”

I told her, “I left early too. Been here twenty minutes.”

Another west bound train. Then another. No trains eastbound.

The young man on my right made another call. Pleaded with someone to understand.

I was about the same age as the woman. We shared our misery.

“Broke down yesterday morning.”

“And last week.”

“Three buses went by me Monday morning. Ignored me standing at the stop.”

Another man on the platform burst out, “I only need to go two stops to Second Street. This is crazy.”

I told him, “Hey. This is SEPTA. If you can walk the distance, walk it. Never rely on SEPTA to get you anywhere on time.”

The woman nodded.

The man said nothing. He just walked off, exited through one of those egg slicer turnstiles. He could walk the six blocks. Should have done so to begin with. I mean, it wasn’t snowing or raining. It was 47 degrees. If I didn’t have to go all the way to the end of the line, I’d walk it. Anything up to two miles. Get the exercise.

Another westbound train on the east track.

The announcer came back. This time with more information.

“Due to a medical emergency between 5th Street and 15th Street all trains are running on the eastbound side.”

Medical emergency, I thought, did someone have a heart attack, fall and break their leg, or was it a euphemism for a jumper? There were always “jumpers” somewhere along the line. Happened a few times a month. Though not all were true suicides. Some just fell on the tracks. Maybe got hit while looking for a train as almost happened to me. No one from the transit authority would tell you straight out anymore that it was a suicide. It was always “a medical emergency.” Sometimes a cop would tell you the truth, if there was a cop around. I once asked a cop standing on a platform with a crowd of delayed commuters if it was because of a jumper, and he said, “Yeah. Heard it on the radio. Nothing can run until the sponge crew is finished.”

It wasn’t always like that. I was 18 the first time I had to deal with a jumper delay. That was in the 1980s, when I commuted between college and a job at the Central Library at 19th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway. This was before death by light rail became such a common occurrence. SEPTA shut the train down for hours. I saw the ambulances rushing to 15th street station. At first no one said anything, then one of the fare-takers told everyone, “It’s a suicide.”

It was all a bigger production back then. Television crews, firetrucks, everyone talking. There was always a small article in the Inquirer the next day. But that was a long time ago. There was only a jumper a few times a year. Back then it was always shuttle buses. Getting on and off of buses until you could get back on the train further down the line.

Nowadays there’s rarely shuttle buses. Less production. No TV cameras. No blurbs in the newspaper. Times have changed. There are so many murders, so many suicides. It’s all so commonplace. The opioid crisis, stress, bad romances, poverty, the job market, global warming, politics, pimples. There’s so much that can push someone over the edge. There’s so much death to cover and only so much news to fit into a half hour broadcast. Newspapers barely exist and are much smaller, thinner, lighter with coverage of world, national and local events. There’s not enough room in the pages for stories like this.

Besides, no one wants to say it anymore. Jumper. Suicide. No one wants to upset anyone, or encourage them to imitate. Don’t do it for the fame boys and girls. We’re not giving you the five minutes anymore. Still, they are much faster with the clean up these days. Get the trains back and running a lot quicker than in the good old days.

The woman next to me voiced my thoughts.

“Do you think it’s a jumper?”

“Probably.”

The young man became more upset, emotional.

“A jumper? You mean a suicide? Someone jumped in front of a train? How do you know that?”

“I don’t know for sure. It just looks that way. They used the magic word ‘medical emergency’ and shut down a lot of track. “

The guy got in his phone again. This time video chat. I could see the face. A young woman. Girlfriend probably.

“I’m sorry. It’s a jumper. I’ll get there as soon as I can.”

His girlfriend sounded sympathetic, not like before. He was safe now. Out of trouble.

The announcer came on again. The faceless voice of SEPTA.

“They’ve finished cleaning up the track from the medical emergency. Trains will now be running west on the westbound side.”

“That’s it,” I said. “Jumper. They finished ‘cleaning up’, picking up the pieces, putting them in plastic bags, wiping off the track.”

“Thank God,” said the woman. “Now when will we get an eastbound train?”

A train arrived on the westbound side heading west. Ten minutes later the first eastbound train arrived. SEPTA made it an express. Some passengers got off, but not enough. Too many wanted to get on. I had to wait for a couple more eastbound trains before I could get on one.

I put it out the jumper of my mind. That’s what you do. You can’t break down because others do. You take the train. You go home. You go to work. Go home again. Know it will happen again. You just don’t think about it.

Less than a week went by when it happened. I worked late, and went to board the El at the 5th Street Station, near Independence Mall. There wasn’t a big crowd, but something was off. The wait seemed too long. It didn’t mean anything unless they said the magic words. Otherwise it was just normal malfunctions. I saw a guy, young, under 30. He was wearing blue overalls, the kind construction workers sometimes do. He was acting strange. His knees were bent, and he was nodding and bouncing from side to side. He had what looked like a thin brown cigar in his hand. Lit. He took a puff now and then. There may have been some tobacco in it, maybe even some weed. But there was something else as well. A more acrid smell.

My first thought was it was against the law to smoke on the platform. Of course that never gets enforced. There are too many more serious crimes to occupy the police. Then I began to wonder, as I sometimes do, why they had decriminalized smoking marijuana in the city and legalized vaping of weed at the state level, for medical reasons, but did not legalize edibles statewide for any reason. It would be a lot less distracting to see someone eating a brownie at a bus stop or rail station than to have to inhale second hand anything.

While I was going through this social and political debate in my head, the man in blue decided to hobble over to the edge of the platform and wobble and bounce there. Then he turned around. His toes on the platform. His heels over the edge. Bouncing to music only he could hear.

I had a bad feeling about this. I hurried over to him.

“Hey. You might want to get away form the edge. You could fall.”

He looked at me then looked where he was standing. His eyes got wider, waking up a bit, realizing how close he was to falling over. He grabbed a pillar and pulled himself forward. I backed up towards the wall. The man in blue came towards me with his bouncing swaying walk. He held out a hand. I shook it.

“Thank you,” he said. “I hate working. Hate my job. I swing a hammer all day.” He took a last drag on his smoke and threw it on the ground. “I tried to hold off. Tried to wait until I was home. But I couldn’t. The train was taking too long.”

“It’s okay. Do what you do, but try to be safe.”

He was still bouncing around. It looked like he was going to stumble back towards the tracks.

“Put your back against the wall.”

I showed him by doing it myself. Back to the wall. Arms spread out pressing against it.

He listened and did the same.

“Feel the wall. Solid. Stay against it until the train comes.”

He nodded. He stayed against the wall until the train pulled in.

The cars were crowded. We both stood for one stop. He looked like he could fall down at any moment, couldn’t keep his balance. I saw someone getting up to get off. I steered my ward into the seat.

“Sit. Take a rest.”

A man standing nearby spoke.

“I can’t understand this country. I come from Croatia. Why so many people do that stuff? Always someone like that on the train. There’s so much here. So much easier than where I came from. Why be like that?”

“Be easy on him,” I said, trying to keep my voice down. “He almost fell on the tracks.”

“Really?” Mr. Croatia was surprised. “You saw?”

I told him what happened.

“Jesus, we’d have all been late getting home.”

I told him that’s why I did it. To prevent another long delay.

But that was only partially true. Gallows humor. An evil joke. I didn’t want to have another long wait, sure. But who wants to see a man die in front them, maybe fall on the tracks and touch the electrified third rail, or fall and get run over by a train. I may be a cynic, a calloused bastard, but I’ve never seen an actual or accidental jumper do it, only gone through the inconvenience that they cause. I never want to see it happen. Who needs those kind of memories? Who needs that kind of guilt? I could never be the driver of that train. I could never be one of the clean up crew. I could never be someone who just stood on the platform and watched.

My ward got off at Somerset station and staggered down the stairs. The Croatian gentleman got off at the next stop, Allegheny. And me? I rode to the end of the line, hoping a bus would be waiting for me, in working condition, with space to sit or stand. A bus that would not catch fire or collide with anything, one able to get me home without further damage and at a reasonable time.

God, I thought, if I did anything good tonight, can you just grant me that?

And it came about just as I’d prayed. SEPTA or the Almighty must have been listening.

Judge Santiago Burdon

The Twice-Killed Cat

We became acquainted in a Mexican prison, where I was a guest for eight months. I make it a policy to never associate with people I’d met in prison once I was back on the outside, but in Johnny Rico’s case, he was the exception to the rule. Sort of like a mild virus you’re unable to shake, you know you’re infected, but you just learn to live with the malady.

Always with a bandanna around his neck, and most of the time its color clashed with his shirt. He says it serves as a fashion statement, but I’ve never been able to figure out what exactly he was trying to say. Then there’s his common practice of always wearing mismatched socks all the time. I’m sure he’s colorblind and I’ve tried to demonstrate the fact with simple a test numerous times, but he’ll never have any part of my experiment.

He’s very egocentric and will never admit to making a mistake or having a disability, but he’s my carnal and has always been there for me. My proverbial Colombian guardian angel. I gave him the last name Rico, which fits his personality hand in glove. Commonly translated as “rich” or “wealthy”, it can also mean exceptional, and for better or worse, that is Johnny all the way.

Cartagena, Columbia. A place so beautiful that even God couldn’t believe he’d created it with his own hands. If he vacations, I have no doubt this is his destination. Gorgeous women, true angeles sin alas, obras de arte (angels without wings, works of art). If god created a woman more beautiful than these Colombianas, he must have kept her up in heaven for himself.

Cartagena also happens to be the hometown of my lunatic sidekick, Johnny Rico.

There I am relaxing by the pool, working up an appetite for dinner with twelve-ounce curls, letting the sun have its way with me while recuperating from the night before.

“Excuse me, Mr. Bigotes,” says Raul, the concierge. “There’s a call for you. Would you like for me to bring the phone poolside?”

I’d made a request that I was not to be disturbed, interrupted or bothered in any way, but I guess the call must be important enough to disregard my request.

“Do you know who it is?” I ask.

“No, Mr. Bigotes, but he said it was an emergency.”

That’s all I needed to hear; instantly the mystery was solved.

“I’ll take the call on the phone in the lobby.”

I reach into my wallet and give him a healthy propina (tip), informing him that he never took this call for me. He nods to indicate his understanding.

“Diga me! Quien es?” says the voice on the other line. “Bigotes, I am very sorry to bother you…”

Which of course, he was not.

“It’s Johnny,” he says. “I have a big problem, and I really need your help!”

At first, I can only detect a faint quiver in his voice. Then, all at once, he starts crying uncontrollably. In all the time I’d known the man, I’d never known him to cry, and we had seen enough shit together that would have warranted it.

“Okay Johnny, find some huevos and meet me for dinner at Tesoro del Mar, 7:30 sharp. Entiendas pinche?”

“Okay Bigotes, gracias carnal.”

“Don’t thank me yet.”

Later, at the restaurant, I wind up dining alone. Wiping my mouth, I take a look at my watch. 8:15 pm. I swear, Colombians are more proficient at tardiness than even Mexicans. It’s a common and even accepted practice in this country to be late.

Just as I’m about to pay the check for my dinner and wine, in strolls Rico, looking as though his dog had just been run over.

“Did you order dinner already?” he asks dejectedly.

“Not only did I already order dinner, JR. I ate dinner, drank a bottle of wine, and tipped the bartender, the cook and the waiter. Now I am on the prowl for some of Colombia’s finest cocaine, an angel of the evening, and an orgy of such depravity and lewdness it would make a porn star blush. A night I won’t remember. Are ya in, carnal?”

“I thought you were buying me dinner?” he whines.

“That was at 7:30. It is now close to 8:30.”

“Are you going to start with that ‘gringo time’ again, carnal?”

“Okay,” I relent. “Have a seat, I’ll buy ya dinner. Como pasando contigo? Que haces dime?” (What’s going on with you? What are you doing?)

He begins to regale me with the tragedy that has caused him so much pain of late. His lower lip quavers and his hands begin to tremble as he speaks. From the way he is acting, I’m sure he has either fucked up big time or fucked somebody over, earning him a spot on their list.

“She’s cheating on me with some cabron at work!” he finally blurts out. “She’s fucking someone else, I’m sure of it. My heart has been killed twice!”

Son of a bitch, I thought, it’s about a woman this time instead. This coming from a guy who would fuck a bush if he thought a snake was in it.

Over dinner, I note that his heartbreak sure hasn’t affected his appetite. Two plates of pescado frito, arroz, salada, sopa, and cuatro cervezas later, finally we are ready to commence this mission of restoring my carnal’s manhood.

As we exit the restaurant, Johnny is still talking rapidly, crying, and flailing his hands in the air.

“Johnny, shut the fuck up,” I eventually tell him. “So, what’s this master plan of yours?”

“Come on,” he says. “I’ll show you!”

I’m already sure I’m not going to like this. If I must be shown and not told, odds are it’s another one of Johnny’s demented schemes, one that I would never go along with if explained properly beforehand. Trust me, I’d been witness to and participated in enough of his adventures in the past, some of which would make a schizophrenic’s actions seem normal.

We reach his car and I slide in the passenger side, immediately noticing the odd assortment of items in back. Bottles of tequila, beer (undoubtedly warm), rope, flashlights, and what looks like a box trap of some kind. It’s similar to what my grandma used to catch raccoons in her attic.

Why I’m even entertaining the thought of assisting this lunatic in whatever he has in mind this time is far beyond me.

It is in this moment I have to admit, Johnny Rico, insane though he may be, is my friend. That’s a word I have never used lightly, and while my standards of friendship are extremely high, I reciprocate by the same set of standards.

In other words, guess I’m in.

“First, we are to stake out her house,” he begins at length. “Then, we will wait for her cat to come along and trap it. Then, we are going to stab that son of a bitch until it’s dead TWICE and hang it from her door. When she comes home and sees it, she will know that no one disrespects Juan Villanova Johnny Rico and gets away with it!”

Johnny always had to kill something twice. I’d never understood where that ritual originated from, and I’d never though to ask until now.

“Uh huh…” I say. “So, you think the best way to win her back is by mutilating her cat, killing it twice and hanging it from her door. What is this, some sort of Santa Muerta ritual, or an ancient Indian ritual kinda thing?”

“No, this is all my idea,” he confesses proudly. “I thought of it myself!”

Like I never would have guessed.

It is then that Johnny pulls out a bag of cocaine the size of his fist, gleefully shoving it in my face. It’s not like he has to force me to partake. I open the bag and snort a healthy amount through his silver coke straw, and he does the same. I pop open a warm beer for me and one for my carnal, take a large hit of tequila, and pass the bottle over to Johnny.

Together we speed off into the night.

It is 9:20 pm when we run out of gas three blocks from his girlfriend’s house. We have to walk two kilometers to a gas station, through a barrio I was not very comfortable strolling about in at night. Johnny, meanwhile, seems oblivious to the danger, trudging ever onward without fear. He assures me he has earned safe passage through almost every neighborhood in the city. I doubt his dispensation but don’t express my disbelief.

Finally, we return to the car and gas it back up.

Slowly we creep down Johnny’s girlfriend’s street, lights off, but for some reason he has got the radio blaring.

“Johnny, the radio!” I yell. “Turn it off, pendejo!”

“Si si,” he complies, “I don’t like this song either…”

For Christ’s sake, if he’s going for stealth, it’s a lost cause already.

He parks the car across the street, in an alleyway with a perfect view of her house.

“I see that you’ve done this before,” I observe. “How long have you been stalking her, JR? This is not a healthy activity, carnal.”

“Only four or five times,” he confesses. “How else to make sure she’s not fucking around on me?”

Stepping out of the car, we quickly get the trap set up, and Johnny puts an unopened carton of milk inside.

“Johnny,” I laugh, “that’s never gonna work! Have you got any fish, maybe a can of tuna or something?”

“No, but that’s a good idea,” he says. “Come on, let’s go get a can of tuna…”

Half an hour later, we return with the tuna, bait the trap, and resume our surveillance mission.

“You know Rico, wouldn’t it have been easier to just send her a box of dog shit, like you did to that prostitute you were so madly in love with? What was her name? ‘Laura the Zorra’ (slut), if I remember correctly?”

“First of all Bigotes, she wasn’t a prostitute! That was a rumor started by some bitches, chismosas (gossipy women), only because they were jealous of her. So don’t you call her a zorra! Also, that pinche gato got into my Toyota and pissed all over inside. I could never get the smell out and had to sell the car for pennies, do you remember? So, the gato deserves what he has coming to him!”

“Isn’t that the car you sold your sister? And Johnny, with all due respect to working girls, she was a prostitute whether you want to believe it or not!”

“Ya, yo se carnal, I know she was a prostitute. And my sister never did figure out what that smell was, either!”

I start laughing uncontrollably and Johnny joins in, unable to catch his breath. There’s snot running from my nose, and the sight of it sends Johnny into complete hysterics.

There we sat laughing, smoking cigarettes and joints, drinking beer and tequila and snorting cocaine well into the night. We’re telling jokes, lies about women we’ve had, and exchanging stories of close calls experienced on dope runs. All while waiting on a cat that may or may not decide to show up.

Two hours later and it’s close to midnight. My speech has become so slurred, it is practically incomprehensible. I’m talking fast without punctuation, Chicago style, speaking total cocainese. I could run a marathon with a beer in one hand and a joint in the other, with Johnny on my back, I am so coked up by this point.

It is then I look outside the window, noticing the mountain of beer cans and cigarette butts that has accumulated on the ground beside the car. That’s when it occurs to me how bad I need to piss. Opening the door, I stumble out over the mess, and Johnny follows suit.

“Bigotes, mira playo (there’s her cat)!” he says, before I can even get unzipped. “Venga gatito, venga bebe…”

The cat walks right up to Johnny and start rubbing against his leg. What happens next isn’t pretty. I immediately grab the bottle of tequila, guzzling a monstrous amount.

“Now, I kill this fucking cat twice!” he screams, raising his knife yet again.

“Johnny, that’s enough!”

I almost can’t believe the sheer level of the brutality I’ve just witnessed. I never thought he’d actually go through with it. I nearly double over and start puking right then and there, but somehow I manage to maintain my composure.

Next thing I know, we’re standing on his girlfriend’s porch. Grinning maniacally, Johnny does the deed as promised, tying the poor creature’s carcass to her door.

“Okay,” I say, “let’s get the fuck out of here!”

“What!? No carnal, I want to see her reaction…”

My friend has proven himself to be a total psychopath, but I am far too tired, shocked, and fucked up by this point to offer much by way of resistance.

Johnny hands me a joint. I light it, take a hit, cough and follow him back to the car. He hasn’t even attempted to clean the blood off himself.

It is now close to dawn, and soon the sun will be shedding its light on Johnny’s heinous crimes, to which I have become an unwitting accomplice.

It isn’t long before a car pulls up to his girlfriend’s house. She climbs out and Johnny smiles wide, poking me in the ribs to make sure I’m still awake. He wants us both to see what happens next.

Meanwhile, an old woman is sweeping the sidewalk in front of the house next door. She looks up as a scream pierces the stillness of the morning. Abruptly dropping her broom, she hurries over to where Johnny’s girlfriend stands screaming on her porch.

“My cat, my cat!” the old woman begins to shriek. “My baby! Oh, my poor little Tito…”

Johnny just stares straight ahead with a blank expression on his face.

“Wrong cat,” he says.

Judge Santiago Burdon

Where in the World is Johnny Rico

I’d been living in Costa Rica, bored with the passive lifestyle I’d adopted in my retirement. I thought a remedy to my melancholy might be a short vacation away from this paradise. In any case, there had been too many rises and falls of the tides since I had last buried my toes in the sand of a Colombian beach.

Cartagena was beckoning me to become a willing hostage of her casual elegance, comforting charms, and the soothing touch of her ocean breeze. It had been close to eight years since I’d last seen her, back when I’d finally bid farewell to the “business”, and to my friend and former running partner, Johnny Rico, as well.

Upon my arrival, I hailed a taxi for the short ride to Hotel Caribe, an elegant five-star inn with a friendly, accommodating staff, nestled on the Boca Grande peninsula. Before I knew it, I was comfortably settled into my suite with a millionaire’s vista of the city.

Back in the bold reckless days of my youth, I’d be wired, revved up and ready to take on the night. But, owing to my advancing age, I’d decided to relax in my room for the evening instead. It was close to 7:30 on a Saturday night, with nothing much on the agenda.

I enjoyed an almost-hot shower and ordered room service, which was delivered much more quickly than expected. I focused my attention on the television, hoping to find something I could fall asleep to.

As I flipped through channel after channel, I was excited to discover several adult options. My excitement quickly dwindled, however, after thinking I might be charged a ridiculous fee for this service. Checking my hotel receipt for a possible clue produced no information, and referencing the brochures in the room ended with the same result.

Heading downstairs, I took a seat at the bar. I order a Scotch, neat, which the bartender pours with a generous hand.

“Thanks, carnal,” I say. “Appreciate your generosity. Kind of dead in here tonight, wouldn’t ya say?”

“Usually like this, early in the evening,” he replies. “Are you staying at the hotel?”

“Yes, I am. Tell me, how long have you been working here?”

“I think almost five years now. I like it very much. The people are very nice and always have interesting stories.”

“Bet you meet many new faces,” I tell him. “Let me ask you a question. I noticed on my television I have access to all channels, including certain pay channels. Do you know if this is included with the cost of my room?”

“If you have a suite on the top floor, I believe they are all free. Also, spa with massage and breakfast is included. Would you like me to ask the front desk to make sure?”

“Thank you, but that won’t be necessary. Say, what’s your name, so I won’t have to call you bartender?”

“Sergio, but everyone just calls me Serg. What is your name?”

“Santiago, but you can call me Santi, or Bigotes, if you’d like.”

“Bigotes, I like it. I could tell you were Mexican because of your Spanish, but you look very Italian as well.”

“I’m from all over. I live in Costa Rica now, but I have spent much time in Mexico. I lived here in Cartagena for quite some time as well, back eight years ago, right here in Barrio San Diego.”

“Bigotes, you have a face that is familiar to me… Where did you hangout, back when you lived here?”

“Everywhere and anywhere there were women, wine, and song. My friend and I had a favorite spot, right near my old apartment: Tu Candela Bar. Looking forward to going back there, maybe tomorrow.”

“Before I came here, that is where I worked, only as a waiter not bartender.”

“Really?”

“Yes. I remember you, Bigotes, always with another guy who laughed real loud. Rico was his name, I think. You both holler at each other and fight all the time. I remember you were the thinner one, and your hair was much shorter.”

“Well spank me with a spatula, that’s incredible. Johnny Rico, that’s him! You have a strong memory, my friend. Those days were quite some time ago.”

“You came to Cartagena to see your old friend again?”

“No, I haven’t been able to find him in years. I’m just on a mini-vacation, a short change of scenery is all. You have a great evening, Serg. I’m going to head back up to my room now. I appreciate your help.”

“No problema. I’ll be here until around 10:00. There is a wedding reception, here at the hotel tonight. Glad I’m not working the bar! See you around, Bigotes.”

“Nos vemos, Serg.”

Suddenly, my room somehow didn’t seem to fit the size of my temperament anymore. There wasn’t a movie on that interested me, and even the adult channels failed to capture my attention, despite them being free.

Damn, Serg had remembered Rico and me after all this time. I’d tried to get in touch with J.R. on several occasions in the past, but without success. His mother had long since died, and his sister didn’t want anything to do with him anymore, leaving me with nothing but a string of old memories and disconnected phone numbers. But that’s life.

Putting these thoughts aside, I make the decision to head out into the night, hoping to revisit some old familiar haunts. Mothers hide your daughters, Santiago is on the prowl!

I hail a taxi, and within minutes I’m back in Old Cartagena. The city’s quaint charm sparkles in the salty evening air.

After accomplishing my 4 D’s for the evening (dinner, drugs, drinking, and dancing), the mission bell rings once, signaling 1am. I chase down another taxi for the short drive back to the hotel, only this time with my companion, Valeria, now in tow. We had met earlier in the night, enjoying each other’s company at Cafe Havana, where a ten-piece salsa band had been playing.

My girlfriend de jour is an absolute vision of loveliness: humorous, compassionate, reasonably priced, and a talented dancer to boot. We were both pleasantly high from all the booze and cocaine chasers. By all appearances, she appeared ready to wrestle with the anaconda.

We arrive at the hotel, deciding first to enjoy a cocktail at the bar. Surprisingly, the room had filled with a large crowd while I’d been out, everyone dancing to a DJ spinning reggaeton, my newly adopted favorite genre of music.

We were fortunate to find two seats at the bar. It was then I recalled Sergio mentioning a wedding reception at the hotel that night. Generally, I make it a rule to not attend weddings, because I always feel so helpless to stop the proceedings. As I always say, marriage is what happens when dating goes too far!

I ordered our drinks, and Valeria headed off to the ladies room to do a bump. When she returned, I excused myself to use the restroom as well, peeking into the adjacent banquet hall as I walked past. There I observed a fair-sized group, dancing in celebration of the two willing victims of love.

That’s when it suddenly hits me.

Above the noise of the reception, my ears perk up to the sound of that old, familiar laugh. It rings out in my heart like a song from long ago.

Could it really be? The lunatic laughter of the only man I’ve ever called a friend?

Stopping for a closer look, I peruse the guests inside. And sure enough, seated at none other than the bridal table, is the man I suspect to be “His Riconess” himself.

He was grossly overweight with long, stringy hair and a short, scruffy beard. He wore an all-white suit with dark sunglasses, despite us being indoors at night. His overall look was one I’d call “Neo-Italian”. I watch him as he takes a long drink of wine, then erupts into another one of his crazed cackles.

There can be no mistaking it. After years of searching in vain, I have finally stumbled upon the one and only Johnny Rico.

I watched as the large, unattractive bride sat down beside him, kissing his stubbly, blubbery lips as the guests all applauded, clinking their glasses with flatware. It must have been a cold winter in Hell, if a storm of this magnitude had breached the Devil’s compound.

Rico got hitched. He was now a married man. I should really congratulate this hostage of love, I thought, then pay my condolences to the wide bride on her fine choice of a husband.

I returned to the bar, where seated on my stool was some scoundrel trying to woo Valeria away from me. He makes a hasty exit as I walk up, planting a kiss on my rent-a-date for the evening.

“Don’t go anywhere,” I tell her. “I’ll be right back.”

Flagging down one of the waiters, I asked if I could borrow his blazer, tipping him generously for the rental. Next, I draped a white towel over my arm, donning my reading glasses for effect. My look now complete, I set out on my ambush, returning to the banquet hall as a hotel employee.

Walking briskly past the bridal table, I came around the back of it, completely unnoticed by my old friend. Standing behind him, I slowly leaned forward, whispering just loud enough for others to hear.

“Excuse me sir, but you appear to be very drunk. We won’t be allowed to serve you any more alcohol this evening. In addition, your guests have purchased drinks from the bar, with a bill almost four hundred dollars. We will need you to pay it immediately!”

He begins to stand, but I force him back down, pushing down hard on his shoulders. He whips back around at me, ready to strike, but that’s when he sees my face.

In an instant, his expression of rage dissolves into joyous disbelief.

“Un milagro! Milagro a Dios! Carnal eres tu?” (A miracle! Miracle my God. My buddy, is it you?)

Leaping to his feet, he wraps his arms around me, squeezing all the air from my lungs.

“Someone told me you were dead,” he said, as I attempted to extricate myself from his grasp. “Killed in Mexico, they said, by enemies of your cousin.”

“I was killed,” I replied, “but they made one mistake – they didn’t kill me twice!”

“I am so happy to see you are alive, carnal.”

Meanwhile, Valeria is now standing near the entrance of the banquet hall. I signal for her to come and join us. She smiles and walks over, every man in the room fixated on her beauty as she graciously glides across it.

I order a bottle of mescal for the table to help get this party started.

“Thank you, Santi!” Johnny screams. “Now we get drunker than a hundred Indians!”

Half a bottle and several lines of coke later, we were both up onstage, singing together our karaoke favorite:

I GET BY WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS
I GET HIGH WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS

We finish our little number and Johnny immediately starts taking off his clothes, asking the crowd if they want to see an obre de arte (work of art). He whips out his dick and starts prancing around the hall like a ballerina, causing quite an uproar in the process.

His bride doesn’t seem to find his little performance quite so funny, however. Her attempts to intervene are met with an inebriated Johnny completely ignoring her pleas for him to stop.

It was then that I asked the DJ to play Satisfaction, by the Stones. I sing and dance in my best Mick Jagger impression, my spastic moves sending Johnny into hysterics along with the rest of the crowd.

Finally, we settled back down around our table, slamming more mescal as Johnny apologized to his bride and their guests for his antics. Meanwhile, our fans had raised their applause once more, clapping and demanding an encore.

Retaking the stage, we then sang our other song, I Shot The Sheriff (Marley version), only changing the lyrics to where we shot both the sheriff and the deputy.

During the lead break, Johnny pulls out the same .38 he’s had since I’d first met him, firing off rounds into the ceiling like a drunk cowboy in a saloon. In response, the wedding guests hit the floor, some taking refuge under tables, others fleeing screaming for the exits.

Now, I know my reaction should have been to disarm my lunatic sidekick immediately. However, I’d found myself in such a state of disbelief, all I could do was laugh, completely unafraid of the danger.

Within minutes, two security guards storm the banquet hall, demanding that Johnny surrender his pistol immediately. Knowing him, I knew their request would be met with defiance.

As they reached the stage, Johnny tossed the pistol over to me, thus diverting their attention. As they passed him by, he swept up a nearby chair and slammed it into the back of one of them. Meanwhile, I pointed the gun at the other, ordering him to stop.

I added that I would blow his fucking balls off if he didn’t.

Side note: Threatening a Columbian with death is not always a successful deterrent, but  living without their dick or balls is a fate they consider worse than death.

He stops as ordered, standing motionless with is hands out before him. He tries appealing to my sensibility, which has been all but drowned in tequila by this point. Acting on the tequila’s advice instead, I kick him straight in the balls, connecting with the force of a punter. He drops to his knees like a nun at mass, grabbing his crotch in pain.

Meanwhile, Johnny is punching the shit out of the other guard on the floor, his porky wife literally on his back, screaming for him to stop. She obviously has no idea of the man she’s just married.

And here I am, standing over my own victim, still pointing the gun at this terrified man.

“Bigotes todo bien carnal? No el mata! No el mata!” (Mr. Mustache, everything good? Don’t kill him! Don’t kill him!), Johnny yells.

“Why not?” I yell back. “He tried to hurt you, mi hermano. I can’t let that type of behavior go unpunished.”

The guy starts crying, begging for his life. I tell him I don’t understand Spanish, and with his life on the line, he chooses to argue that he heard me speaking Spanish earlier, accusing me of lying with a gun pointed at his head. I am so overwhelmed by his stupidity to argue with a crazed gunman, I burst into another uncontrollable laughing jag. My buddy joins in, his wife still riding him like a bucking bronco.

Meanwhile, some of the guests have returned, watching the situation intently. The DJ, for his part, seems totally unfazed by the fiasco. He puts on Street Fighting Man by the Stones, and I resume my Jagger dance over the security guard on the floor. Everyone begins laughing and applauding once more.

Eventually, I extend my hand to help the security guard to his feet, which he accepts.

What he didn’t know was that I’d folded two hundred dollar bills into my palm. He inspects them surreptitiously, then walks over to his partner, passing him one in like manner. Suddenly, they are both grinning like game show winners.

Our celebration is cut short, however, by the arrival of six or seven Colombian police officers with rifles, some of them adorned with helmets and shields. Valeria comes up from behind and slowly takes the pistol from my hand, pulls up her skirt, and tucks it away in her panties. She whispers that I can retrieve it later, kissing me on the cheek.

The cops scream at the DJ to turn off the music, pushing through the crowd without apology.

They immediately confront the security guards, demanding an explanation.

“Lo que está pasando aquí y solo tener un informe de que alguien está disparando un arma a la gente. Diga me!”  (What’s going on here? We had a call that someone was firing a gun shooting at people. Tell me!), a large military type demands to know.

“This is my wedding party,” Johnny interjects, “and the only guns here are those you brought yourself!”

“Hey Johnny,” I tell him, “how about you let the guards answer and shut the fuck up? Use those lips to kiss that new wife of yours, instead of inciting these officers just doing their jobs.”

“We thought there was a problem when we heard screaming and came to investigate,” one of the security guards informs the police officers. “It was this one,” he says, pointing at Johnny. “He was acting all crazy with his Mexican buddy over there, pretending to shoot each other.”

“The song had gunshots in it,” the DJ explains. “Everything is good. Solo bueno, solo bueno.”

He puts on some narco-corrido song, Sangunarios del M1 (Bloodthirsty Men of the M1), demonstrating the realism of the gunshots.

The cops appear unconvinced, however, ordering Johnny and I to stand against the wall. They start frisking me, asking us both over and over where the gun is stashed. Some of the other guests continue to explain to the officers there was no gun.

“Where is the gun, Bigotes?” Johnny starts joking. “Just give them the fucking gun so they’ll leave us alone!”

“Are you for real, bufo?”  I scream at the bastard. “What the fuck is wrong with you? Are you fucking insane?”

“This is my wedding reception,” he sneers at the cops, “and I would appreciate it if you officers either left or joined the party!”

“I see you found your friend!” a voice rings out from behind us. We both turn to see Sergio approach. “There you both are, arguing and yelling the same as I remember in the past…”

“Officers,” he continues, “I know both these gentlemen very well. What you’re accusing them of is not at all what happened here.”

“Who are you?” a cop barks at him. “Do you work here?”

“I am Sergio Mendez Ortiz, the Bar and Banquet Manager,” he answers. “I appreciate your quick response to what you thought was a dangerous situation, but whoever reported the incident was incorrect.”

“And how do you know that? Did you witness the event?”

“I did,” Sergio tells them, “and I can assure you there was no gun.”

Eventually, by some miracle, the cops begrudgingly accept Sergio’s explanation. As they start heading for the exit, that’s when Johnny decides open his big mouth again, spewing out comment after comment of contempt.

“You should apologize for ruining my wedding party!” he calls out after them. “Aren’t you even going to say sorry? You disrespected my wife, my friend, and all our guests.”

The commander turns to Johnny with a none-to-pleased look on his face.

“One more word out of you,” he warns, “and your bride will be sleeping alone tonight, while you become a bride to some convict. Understand?”

I run the short distance over to my carnal, literally clamping my hand over his mouth. He tries to spit out another smart-ass comment regardless, prying at my hand in an attempt to incarcerate himself.

“He understands, officer,” I assure him. “Thank you for your…”

The DJ cranks the music back up to a deafening volume, and suddenly everyone is dancing once again.

I walk over to Sergio and shake his hand, passing my remaining money to him.

“Sergio, we appreciate you rescuing us from being arrested.”

“No problema,” he says with a wink. “Just don’t let me see that gun around here again.”

“What gun?” Johnny asks, laughing.

It is then he gets his first taste of married life with a pissed-off Latina. Without missing a beat, his bride starts in on him in front of the assembled guests.

Completely ignoring her, Johnny turns to me instead, drawing me into a tight embrace. He still can’t stop laughing, tears running down his face.

“I’ve missed you carnal,” he says sadly. “You are more than family to me.”

“I know, Johnny,” I tell him. “Let me toast to your wedding. Do you have any money on you? Lend me a bill till I can get to a machine. I gave everything I had to the security guards and Sergio, and I want to tip the DJ for giving us an alibi as well.”

“No money?” he asks, his bride still yelling in his ear. “You aren’t even going to give us a wedding gift?”

“Wedding gift?” I cry in indignation. “I just spent three hundred dollars paying off people for your stupid antics! Wedding gift? I sincerely hope your screaming wife has the patience to put up with your mental illness.”

Finally, she gives up on her rant, exhausted by his utter lack of recognition. She quickly walks away with an older woman I  assume to be her mother.

“Johnny, I think she is crying,” I tell him. “Go and apologize, and tell her this type of behavior is likely to continue over the course of your marriage.”

He stumbles off after her, and I go to find an ATM.

I find Valeria waiting for me at a table, being hit on by every guy at the party. When she notices me walking toward her, she stands and extends her hand for me to take.

Walking arm in arm, she accompanies me to an ATM down the street. Along the way, she slips her hand into my jacket pocket, depositing the gun within.

“Santi,” she says, “I am ready for sex with you. Do you want to go to your room soon? You already payed for everything, and I need to call my mother to tell her I’m okay. Should I tell her I will be home Monday? I like you very much, Santi, and want to spend some time with you…”

Now, this isn’t my first initiation with a prostitute. I’d learned long ago just to fuck ’em, not fall in love with them. But Valeria is young and still hasn’t learned.

Finally, we reach the ATM, withdrawing four hundred dollars in twenty dollar bills. Meanwhile, it is 3am in a Colombian city, and I know better than to just stand there flashing my cash. After being victimized, gringos have no idea why they’d been robbed. Why? Because you deserved it for being fucking stupid, that’s why.

We begin to walk back the short distance to the hotel. You can smell the aroma of bread and donuts baking from the shops nearby.

It is then that a homeless street junkie confronts us, large rock in one hand and what appears to be a steel bar of some type, maybe a curtain rod, in the other. He demands that I turn over my money, my watch, and the gold ring on my left pinky finger, which belonged to my daughter.

I first attempt to reason with him, offering a small donation to his drug fund instead. The suggestion is received poorly, and he displays his anger by swirling the curtain rod like a lightsaber, as though he were a Jedi master.

“Santi, give him the money!” Valeria says, clinging close. “I am afraid Santi, please! Tranquillo, senor, I will get it…”

“I’m not giving this carapecha (dickface) a fucking peso!” I scream.

Next thing I know, Valeria has Johnny’s gun back in her hands, pointing it directly at Skywalker.

“First of all,” she says to him, “you didn’t say please. Now I’m going to shoot your fucking balls off, you hijo de perra!”

At this, I instantly got a monstrous erection. What a woman! This demonstration of foreplay on her part had aroused me to a point of near ejaculation.

The wannabe Jedi scurries off, and Valeria returns the gun to my pocket once again, giggling as she softly puts a finger to her lips.

“Valeria, that was awesome, baby. Damn, you really are the total package! We have got to get back to my room…”

She grabs me by the head, pulling me in for a kiss.

“No! No!” I protest. “Don’t touch me! I’m so excited right now, I might just cum right here!”

She laughs and grabs my crotch anyway, giving it a loving squeeze.

We return to the hotel, and I immediately start pulling her toward the elevators.

“Bigotes! Bigotes!” Sergio calls from across the lobby. “Wait, I have a message for you, from your friend. He’d asked for your room number, but it is not our hotel’s policy to give out personal information.”

“A wonderful policy, Serg,” I say, taking the note from him. “Thank you.”

Johnny’s phone number was scrawled inside.

“Santi, venga,” Valeria urges. “Please, let us go!”

“Buenas noches, Serg!”

He smiles and waves after us as we enter the elevator.

“You shouldn’t have called Skywalker’s mother a bitch,” I reprimand Valeria on our ride up. “She may well be a very pleasant woman.”

I had just enough time to finish this little lecture before she grabs me and kisses me with her tongue, telling me I was in for one passionate night.

And yes, folks, it was a good night indeed. So I actually wound up staying in after all!

The following afternoon, I call Johnny’s room, and a housekeeper informs me the guest has checked out. I try his cell phone instead, and a recorded message informs me the number is no longer in service.

“Perfect, Rico,” I sigh. “Now what am I supposed to do with this gun?”

“What gun?” Valeria asks.

Nos vemos, Johnny Rico!

Brian Rosenberger

Killing People and Calories

Hello All,

This group is KPC for short. If you are psychotic, a psycho, neurotic, have issues with parental/authority figures, and/or suffer from religious oppression or oppression in general, have anxiety problems, have a love of sharp objects and the outdoors, are an outsider, looking to shed a few pounds personally and shed/carve pounds from others or feel the need punish or be punished, this group might be for you. Have problems with your diet, we also offer high protein recipes. Trim the fat. Your way and Our way. Teamwork works. We provide you with knife sharpener kits and professional tips from professional butchers. Cut calories? We dismember them.

Nothing burns calories like fear. It’s been scientifically proven!

Look into the mirror. This group is probably is for you. Don’t be shy.

We do not judge. We accept You for You.

Our goal is to cultivate an emotional, physical, and spiritual attachment between those with a desire to hunt and lose weight and those who want to be hunted and lose weight. A Win-Win for both, if you survive. But what’s life without challenge? Boring. Are you tired of being bored?

We provide the tools – knives, chainsaws, axes, machetes, spades, body bags, bottled water, chopped fruit and fresh vegetables before and after every session. You provide the running shoes.

Welcome to KPC. Get ready to run. Get ready to get on with the rest of your life.

Joseph Farley

Butterflies

It was a week into refurbishing of the 5th and Market Street station of the Blue Line, also known as the Frankford El. The El runs above ground for most of its route, but in Center City, the downtown section of Philadelphia, it runs underground. 5th Street Station was the jumping off point for Independence Mall, the Liberty Bell, and Constitution Center. This made it one of the busiest stops for tourists coming to Philadelphia. It was also the closest stop to where I worked.

I worked in the Curtis Building at 6th and Walnut Street. Once the home of the publisher of Jack and Jill and the Saturday Evening Post, it now housed offices, upscale bars, and expensive condos. I would have had to work three jobs to afford the cheapest condo. I lived much farther north, in Holmesburg, where the rents were much lower. It was a short walk across the Liberty Bell plaza to the El stop which could take me close to where I lived.

Signs had been up for a few weeks warning of a “Deep Cleansing” of the underground station. It certainly needed one. Despite the red, white and blue silhouettes of Independence Hall on the walls, it was a dismal place. It had the usual smell of urine associated with all El stops, along with the typical herds of rats, mice, and various six legged creatures. It was not clear why there was a sudden desire to clean. There was a rumor a high profile politician had complained. I doubted that was the cause. Politicians were not known to ride the El. There was a rumor reporters had uncovered a massive bedbug infestation. That sounded more plausible. Bad publicity can get results.

During my daily trips I had seen the red, white and blue placards come down, and the spraying of some kind of foam on walls, ceiling and support beams. Cinder blocks were exposed. Pieces of paint and other materials hung from steel beams and the cinder block walls like peeling dead skin. I wondered why the station had not been closed during the cleansing. Whatever made the walls and metal peel could not be good for human lungs. I considered using a different station a few blocks away until the project was done, but that would have cost me at least 15 minutes more travel time each day. The thought of spending more time on my commute was enough to keep me using the 5th Street station. I would try to hold my breath.

As I said before, it was a week into the “deep cleansing.” I was waiting on the platform for a train to take me home. The station was darker during the construction. A gloomy place had become gloomier. I missed the red, white and blue walls. They had brightened things up a bit. I stared into the tunnel looking for lights from the next train. I saw movement. One or two objects fluttering. They were large and reddish brown.

“Butterflies”, I thought. “Now that’s pretty fucking amazing. I’m standing here thinking how lousy this place is with the poor lighting, the chemicals, the weird smells, and the sense of decay, when along comes some butterflies. One of God’s miracles. Some nature, the nice kind, underground at 5th Street.”

I stood and watched and smiled to myself, until the butterflies landed on a wooden board covering a construction area. As soon as the wings were folded, I knew I had been wrong. Cockroaches. A pair of them. Each as big as my index finger. Not God’s miracle. God or the devil’s joke on me.

I vowed to get on and off at the 8th Street station starting in the morning.

But I didn’t. 15 minutes was still 15 minutes.

And butterflies are free to fly.

Just don’t look at them too closely.

Judge Santiago Burdon

Johnny Rico And El Oso Rojo

There’s a persistent knocking at my door. Actually I would characterize it as more of a pounding than a knocking.

It’s 2:19 a.m. and I don’t have to guess who would be so rude, so impatient as to disrupt and disturb me at this hour. I’m sure of the identity of the intruder AND of the fact that he must be off his meds. I open the door without even asking the person outside to identify himself.

“Oh good Bigotes, you are awake,” says Johnny Rico as he pushes his way into my apartment. “I hope I am not interrupting anything. Listen, I need your help to get revenge on the Jamaicans who ripped me off last month. I know where they are staying.”

I stand there dumbfounded as he makes his way past me and to the refrigerator.

 “Ya got any beer?”

“Are you for real, fuckstick?” I ask. “It’s almost 2:30 in the goddamn morning and you want me to head out on some revenge-capade to get back at some Jamaicans for a couple hundred dollars? Are you fucking insane? Of course you are, what a ludicrous question.”

“So what do you say, Bigotes?”

I keep asking myself over and over whatever possessed me to become an active participant in his deranged and demented acts of psychosis, time and time again. To this day, I’ve still never been able to find a good answer.

“Hold on,” I say, my initial reluctance giving way. “Just let me get some clothes on and do a quick bump before we head out.”

“Hey carnal,” he calls after me as I head into my bedroom. “Grab your Glock as well, just in case things get out of control. Ya know, some insurance.”

“Hey JR, I’m really starting not to love this whole scenario,” I call back to him as I step into my pants. “Guns? What exactly are you hoping to accomplish? And I want a rational answer. Not your usual off-the-wall psychobabble bullshit.”

I can see by the look in his eyes that he’s currently riding The Bipolar Express.

“I just want those Caribbean chulos to know who they’re dealing with!” Johnny screams in response. “They can’t come to Colombia, my country and disrespect me. These Rastamen need to be taught a lesson!”

“So now you’re a teacher giving lessons? In what, Johnny’s brand of street justice? Listen, I will accompany you on this mission of restoring your pride, but no killing anyone, or anything twice, do you understand? “

“I don’t want it to come to that either, but if does, I gotta do what I gotta do. Remember those two fucking Dominicanos I took out for you? It’s time for you to pay me back. Now let’s go! They have a house in Barrio Los Lomas.”

Reluctantly, I follow him outside and climb into El Oso Rojo (Red Bear), a truly monstrous automobile. Immediately I am swallowed up by its crimson plush interior.

***

Johnny had bought this 1974 Buick LeSabre from some corrupt Federal Police at an incredibly discounted rate. It’s blood red with a white convertible top. You’d have a difficult time going unnoticed in this oversized pimpmobile.

He’d had a Dodge Duster prior to this impulsive purchase, which wasn’t nearly as high profile and drew very little attention. Unfortunately, however, the Duster became a victim of one of Johnny’s psychotic episodes after a three-day cocaine binge accompanied by a case of scotch and a variety of prescription drugs he’d pilfered from his last stay in the psychiatric hospital.

He’d resided there for only one week. After that, they’d asked him to leave, having finally had enough of “His Riconess.”

He drove the Duster into a concrete retaining wall near the beach. Then, in some bizarre ritual to an ancient God, he set the car on fire.

After that, the Duster was left beyond restoration and never arose from its ashes. There was just no resurrecting it. He simply left it right there in the middle of the highway and never looked back.

***

“So carnal, what’s the plan?” I ask along the way. “You must have some idea how you’re going to address this offensive, don’t you? “

“Not really,” he says, “I thought I’d leave that to you. You are always very at good figuring how to attack a problem.”

We arrive at the house where the suspects reside and surprisingly they’re still awake.

We can see them partying inside through some large sliding glass doors. The music is blaring and you can hear them laughing, talking, and see them dancing around.

“What is that music they’re listening to?” I ask. “That’s not ABBA, is it? Is that fucking ABBA? You said these were Rastamen. Big, bad Rastamen who ‘set me up and ripped me off, Bigotes’. That’s what you told me, JR.”

In a rare moment for him, Johnny Rico has nothing to say.

“That’s how you described what happened, Johnny!” I continue. “Where’s their dreadlocks and Bob Marley reggae music, huh mon? No self-respecting Rastafarian would be caught dead listening to ABBA! Ya know what I think, Johnny Rico? I surmise you met these cabrons at that gay disco club in downtown Cartagena and attempted to rip THEM off. That’s exactly what happened, isn’t it? But they got the drop on you instead.”

“Callate cabron!” Johnny finally shoots back. “That’s not what happened at all. Don’t you think of me being gay. I go to the club for the music. It doesn’t matter how it happened. Those pinches stole my money, my coca and my watch. You’re making me angry, Bigotes. You better stop making the fun of me. I thought you were my friend, carnal?”

He’s irritated and truly upset. For all his goofing around, Johnny isn’t one for being the subject of ridicule himself.

“Well, how are we going to lure them outside?” I begin to laugh. “It’s not like they’re going to invite us in for cocktails.”

“Still think this is funny?” he asks. “Well, I’ve got a way to get inside. Hold on, Bigotes!”

Before I am able to ask him how, Johnny backs up El Oso Rojo, revs the engine and, with all tires squealing, we careen toward the glass patio doors at an accelerated velocity.

“Johnny you motherfucking psychopath!” I scream. “You’re going to get us both killed!”

“Invitation”? Johnny screams maniacally, “we don’t need no stinking invitation!”

Within seconds, El Oso Roja smashes through the glass doors and into the Jamaicans’ living room. I watch them all jump up at once and quickly vacate the room.

“Come on, Bigotes!” Johnny yells.

He immediately pulls out his 38 special and starts firing off rounds after the fleeing Jamaicans. In all the years I’ve known my lunatic sidekick, I’d never once seen him shoot that antique revolver.

“Bigotes, cover me!”

Mamma mia, here I go again
My my, how can I resist you
Mamma mia, does it show again

This bizarre soundtrack accompanies us, still playing on the undemolished stereo, only adding to the already surreal scene.

In the meantime, my own gun has found its way into my hands. I squeeze off a few rounds of suppressing fire as Johnny charges ahead.

Next, I take aim at the stereo and kill the fucker.

“I hate that fucking song!” I scream.

Meanwhile, Johnny is screaming insults in Spanish, demanding the Jamaicans show themselves.

In response, they begin throwing out money and a few gold watches through the door to the other room.

Just to make sure they don’t try anything stupid, I decide to blast the large mirror covering almost the entire back wall. Shards come crashing down on top of Johnny as he’s crawling crablike on the floor, snatching up all the loot.

“Cabron que haces pendejo?”

Scrambling to his feet, he swipes a brass lamp off a table for good measure as he comes running back to El Oso Rojo.

We hop inside and I fire off a few more rounds at a painting of women carrying baskets of fruit on their heads.

“Let’s get the fuck outta here, Rico!”

“Wait, there’s something I want…”

 “Johnny, what’cha doing? Come on, venga!”

Exiting the vehicle, he runs back over to a picture hanging on the far wall. It’s one of those grotesque velvet paintings of some busty woman, Marilyn Monroe or possibly Madonna or someone else. He shoves it in the back seat carelessly, breaking its wooden frame in the process.

“Johnny Rico has left the building!” he screams, grinding the shifter into reverse.

Back out on the street, I observe the neighbors on their porches and watching through their windows. I smile and wave at the gathering of spectators.

“Those are very bad people,” I shout at the assembled crowd. “They molested my cousin when she was only just ten years old!”

At this blatant falsehood, some folks actually start applauding our dirty deed.

“We didn’t see or hear anything!” an old man yells out. “God bless you!”

***

Burning rubber on our way back to my apartment, an idea pops into my head.

“Hey Rico,” I say, “why don’t we grab some beers, put the top down, and watch the sunrise from the beach. Sound like a plan?”

“What did I say earlier?” he replies. “You always know how to make things better, carnal. Always suggesting the perfect solution!”

We reach the beach and sit together in silence, not saying a word.

Johnny lights up and passes me a joint, and I take a giant hit for mankind.

“I love you carnal,” Johnny eventually declares. “You are more than family to me.”

“Ya man, I know, I know.”

“Hey,” he says, suddenly remembering, “I haven’t counted all the plata…”

Plunging his hands into his pockets, he slowly fishes out wad after wad of bills, piling them up on the center console between us.

“Hijo de puta!” he cries. “Look Bigotes, we got a lot back!”

After he finishes counting up the booty, he lets out a hoot that I’m sure could be heard in Bogota.

“There’s over $1,700 here!”

“That’s in Colombian money, Johnny. It converts into what, about $23.68 in gringo plata?”

“No carnal, that is in gringo money after the exchange!” he insists. “Here hermano, take some. You’re always with me when I have no other friend! Here tome, I want you to have this!”

I accept his generous offer, later discovering that he gave me over $750.

“Thanks carnal, much appreciated,” I say, raising my beer to his. “A toast to a friendship to last long after forever.”

We clank our cans to the declaration.

“Hey Bigotes, you can have the lamp too,” Johnny says. “It would look good in your home. I think maybe in your bedroom to replace that ugly lamp with all the flowers. And a watch for you and a watch for me, to remember our aventura en El Oso Rojo.”

“Thanks carnal,” I say. “I’m just relieved we made it out alive, ya lunatic son of a bitch.”

“Son of a bitch? Yeah, I never knew my mother. Mi abuela (grandmother) says she was a bitch though, so maybe you are right.”

“Johnny, I’ve met your mother on several occasions and she’s a very pleasant woman who loves you despite your insanity. So stop with the compulsive lying. This is me, Bigotes, remember?”

I take a closer look at the watch he’s given me, a Louis Moinet, an incredibly expensive timepiece. I strap it on my wrist and stare at its second hand, seconds of my life ticking past.

We stayed until the sun had bled every drop of crimson-colored dawn from the morning. Just two displaced souls in search of a destination that neither knew for certain existed.

Little darling it’s been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling it seems like years since it’s been here
Sun, sun, sun here it comes

Oh, in case you were wondering, the grotesque velvet painting..?

…Madonna!

The Architect, By Steve A. Champion & Craig Anthony Ross

The Architect

The Architect, By Steve A. Champion & Craig Anthony Ross
Palewell Press, London UK
September 2019

A radical social treatise about African American gangs in the 21st century. This book is more than just a blueprint for self-transformation and the reconstruction of gang culture. It is also a unique step-by-step guideline that shows gang members themselves how to do it. Ross and Champion’s analysis builds upon – and expands – the work that Crips gang co-founder and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Stanley “Tookie” Williams was committed to before his death. The Architect seeks to change the narrative about gang members by providing them with an independent and self-sustaining plan of action and empowerment.

This book is the first of its kind. The authors are two well-respected Crips emeritus from Los Angeles, who are now prominent in the criminal justice reform movement. They also reside on death row at San Quentin State Prison. Ross and Champion’s street and prison experience enables them to offer in The Architect authentic, honest dialogue about the problems gang members face and the potential solutions to those problems.

The Architect was written for gang members. But anyone working for real community change should read it. The triumph over violence requires extreme responsibility—not just from gang members, but from everyone.

https://www.sacredeyeofthefalcon.com/the-architect—how-to-transform-yourself-and-your-world.html

Contact: enquiries@palewellpress.co.uk

IMG_3287Steve A. Champion

IMG_3288Craig Anthony Ross

Benjamin Blake

IMG_6510

The Night I Drank with Charles Bukowski’s Ghost

I stepped into the bar.

It was dark, cave-like. Barflies lined the wooden counter, hunched over cans of beer and glasses of whiskey.

I walked over to the bar. “Scotch and water.”

The bartender, a tall man from what looked like Arab origin, fixed my drink and took my cash. On my left was a rotund black man, balding and mustached. To my right, was a pair of elderly men, white of hair and pale of skin. Off in the shadows sat a cagey negress, her once jet-black hair streaked with gray.

I sipped my drink. The fellow to my left spoke.

“Hey, brother! I’m Pancake!” He extended a hand, which I shook.

“Ben.”

“Hey, Ben. Pleased to meet you! We’re all musicians here! Do you play?”

“Yeah, a little guitar and bass.”

“What you riff on, man?”

“Huh?”

“Fender, Gretsch, Gibson, Epiphone?”

“Epiphone. I have a real nice acoustic I got for cheap.”

“Alright! Let me see you play that bass, Ben!”

I took a sip of whiskey, and started playing air guitar along to the bluesy track coming over the speakers. Pancake near shit himself with excitement.

“Yeah, Ben! Rock that bass, man! Ooooh, yeah, brother!”

The place came to life from that moment on. The patrons started chatting, people introduced themselves to me, the bartender was all smiles and efficiency. It was like I had passed some alcoholic test and was welcomed into the ranks of the booze-pickled regulars.

The bar was The King Eddy. Situated on the edge of Skid Row in Downtown Los Angeles. Infamous former watering hole of Charles Bukowski, John Fante, and Tom Waits. I was in the City of Fallen Angels for one night only – I had a flight to catch from LAX the next day, so what better way to kill the time than downing drinks in a dive bar.

Despite its initial apparent seediness, The King Eddy was a friendly place. It felt like home. I was welcomed like family and everyone was friends. Conversation burst and bloomed amidst laughter and endless drinks.

“You chose a good day to come here,” Joel, the bartender stated once I finished my first drink. “Second round is free on Tuesdays.”

The King Eddy swiftly became my favorite bar.

I reached into my messenger bag and pulled out a paperback copy of Bukowski’s Portions from a Wine-Stained Notebook.

I turned to Pancake, handed him the book. “You ever heard of this guy. He used to drink here.”

Pancake looked at the cover, smiled. “Yeah! Bukowski! He’s here, man. I knew it when you walked in. He’s here with you, man.”

Shit. This was really something. A strangely wonderful moment.

I drank up.

Pancake and the old guys left. Joel and I started talking about the history of the place. How it was a speakeasy during prohibition (there’s still a tunnel beneath the building that was used to smuggle liquor into the basement), and how one of the old guys who was there before had remembered Bukowski drinking there. He was handed a photograph, and after staring at it, had said: “Yeah, I remember him. He sat at the far end of the bar and wouldn’t talk to anyone. No one liked him.”

The one woman in the bar had moved from out of the half-light and taken a stool next to me. She introduced herself. Her name was Joyce. Her voice was like silk. Soft and smooth and demure. It was incredible. I’d never heard anything like it. I was taken aback by the absolute tenderness of this woman. At first glance, she had seemed callous and standoffish. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

A Hispanic guy walked in, took the stool on my left. He ordered a beer, sipped from the can, and sighed.

“I came right from the coroner’s office. My little brother was hit.”

I turned to him. “Shit. Like he got shot?” I asked, indelicately making a gesture of a pistol being fired several times from a jaunty angle.

“Nah, man. He ain’t no gangbanger – well, not anymore – it was a hit and run.”

“I’m sorry, man. That sucks.”

“I can’t go home. I couldn’t handle it. Here, no one gives a shit about me. It’s good.”

Manny – the brother still shuffling around this mortal coil, quickly started a game of sorts. Favorite movies, favorite bands, etc., etc. You could tell he was trying to take his mind off what had happened.

We all drank on.

The drinks were interspersed with sidewalk cigarettes. I smoke like a goddamn train when sober, so when drunk I’m a veritable fiend. Joyce joined me. She bummed a cigarette and I lit it for her with a match from a book Joel had given me.

“You know,” I said, leaning against the outer brick wall, “you have the sweetest voice I think I’ve ever heard.”

She smiled. I kissed her. I had escaped from the clawed clutches of an ex-girlfriend that morning. Came down on the train from the Central Coast.

I was making the most of my newfound freedom.

A young Mexican girl walked into the bar, took a stool and ordered a drink. She kept to herself, enjoying her can of PBR.

Joel said his relief was due soon, and ten or so minutes later a black guy strutted in, went behind the bar and started messing around with something. Joel’s back was turned as he leant on the bar, talking to a regular.

“Hey, Joel,” I said. “Is that your relief?” I nodded to the black guy.

“Yeah, man.”

“Alright. Just checking.”

All sorts of down and out types had come in during the evening. Tweakers, bums, crazed women, middle-aged men searching for Percocets. I had already bought an 1801 silver dollar off a crack head for three bucks (unfortunately, it was a counterfeit). So I was already pretty wary of new patrons. I had formed a swift kinship with the place, already feeling somewhat responsible for it. As it turned out, the guy wasJoel’s relief. I think the black guy wasn’t terribly fond of the fact that I had considered otherwise.

How the hell did I know.

Someone mentioned that is was an open mic night that night. I was drunk enough to want to participate. On a whim, I decided to approach the Mexican girl.

“Do you write poetry, by any chance?” Of all the fucking lines in the world.

Surprisingly, she said she did.

We checked out each other’s work, and were relatively impressed. I tried to convince her to read later. She said she was too shy to do that.

I told her to drink up.

It neared 10 p.m. I was only planning to stay for a couple drinks. Initially, I was supposed to be meeting an old friend of mine at 5. A Filipino guy named Joe. Joe never showed and I never left.

The problem was, that I had checked my suitcase at the Amtrak luggage storage at Union Station, and had to collect it by 10. So I walked the several blocks to Union with Joyce, and got to the luggage check kiosk just as they were locking up for the night. Talk about good timing.

We took a cab back to the King Eddy.

The place had changed with the shift in shift, and not for the better. By the time Joyce and I had gotten back, the vibe was oppressive.

The relief bartender said something about thinking I had left. I told him I had only gone to get my shit. He was a weird son-of-a-bitch.

I had a feeling he had it in for me.

Joyce stared at me from across the bar. I smiled, an arm around the Mexican girl. What a fucking guy. One woman wasn’t good enough for old Ben, oh no. He had to have two! He had to pick up every female in the fucking place.

The bartender turned and told me he was cutting me off. I asked him why the hell would he do a thing that.

“You’re too drunk.”

“How am I too drunk? I’m not slurring, or stumbling around, or spilling my goddamn drink all over the place.”

“You’re holding on to the bar.”

“I’m fucking exhausted. I just walked to Union.” The truth was I was leaning against the bar because I had an arm around the Mexican girl’s un-clothed midriff, but I wasn’t about to tell him that.

“Alright. One more drink. But that’s it. You go after.” He poured my Jack & Coke, slid it over to me.

I took my time drinking it, more interested in that moment, in wooing my little Mexican Princess. A couple minutes later, he noticed I’d hardly sipped from my glass. He was incredulous. I guess the fucker wasn’t used to anyone standing up to him and arguing his point. He lost his shit. Snatched my drink, tossed it in the overflow bucket, strode out from behind the bar and grabbed me by the back of the shirt.

“I fucking told you to leave.”

“Hey, man. What the fuck are you doing?”

He dragged me to the door and threw my ass out on the sidewalk.

My suitcase swiftly followed behind.

Guess they didn’t like me either.

IMG_6505

Brian Rosenberger

My Therapist

She says I’m depressed.

No shit. Really? No PhD needed for that diagnosis.

Even my Mom says the same and I only talk to her once a week on the phone.

My therapist suggests making new friends, trying new things… Maybe joining a book club or a wine tasting group.

I tell her it’s a Kindle age. I have no time to read and George Thorogood summed it up pretty good already, when he sang “I drink alone.”

I tell her I drink to make the day taste better.

She makes a note in her always handy notebook.

Long fingers, short strokes. Always a pencil, never a pen.

Sometimes she licks the graphite.

She favors green nail polish. Like the skin of some endangered rain forest frog.

I’ve noticed. At $35 bucks an hour, I’m paying attention.

She asks if I’m seeing anyone. That’s therapist code for dating/fucking/sharing my thoughts and feelings with another human being while NOT being charged at a professional rate.

I respond truthfully and say only my co-workers, who are all male, one step up from Neanderthal, and herself. I point out that she’s paid by the hour but so are most of my co-workers.

She looks at her watch, scribbles in her notebook, brings the pencil to her lips.

I’ve never seen what’s in her notebook. Never asked.

Therapy session over, we shake hands. She has a very delicate handshake, like her hand is made of porcelain or egg shells. Then she smiles, all pearly whites, saying I’ll see you next week.

I pay at the desk. The receptionist is young, 20-something, about 10 on the cuteness scale, and always smiling, always friendly.

Maybe she realizes I’m clinically nuts and doesn’t want to provoke negativity.

She’s attractive, knows it, and should be selling worthless products on late-night infomercials in a bikini, or else involved in local politics. I’d place an order and/or vote.

After paying for my session, I stop at the bathroom on my way out. I jerk off in the stall, imagining my therapist, her green nails carving into my hips as my cock fills that pearly white mouth.

I think the therapy is working.