My girlfriend Sashi used to hate it when film crews used her neighborhood to film. She hated it because her neighborhood was quiet—and then come all these film people noising it up, blocking roads, leaving colored tape everywhere. But mostly she hated that she was the insider, and they were the outsiders, and shooting a film was their pass to become tourist in her neighborhood, where she was a native.
Also: Sashi went to film school. And somehow that figured into her hatred of film crews.
I went to film school too. Sashi’s was in New York. Mine was in LA. She studied lighting. She liked to be on crew. I studied directing. If I never pick up another light or calculate line voltages in my head it will be too soon. I think Sashi held it against me that I liked the heady work while she preferred the grunt work. Sashi was smart enough to direct. To write. She considered it more pure to haul cord, to respond to the cinematographer barking orders. When she worked on a movie, she preferred not to read the script. She and her fellow crew members would go to Starbucks ☕️ after filming and talk philosophy—not the casual kind that most people talk, but real philosophy, the kind that to keep up with you had to have read every last work by Derrida. They didn’t want to know anything about the movie: Their way of filmmaking was pure. The less they knew the better.
This story I’m about to tell you took place over one weekend in September (or maybe October). It was senior thesis week and as a director I didn’t have any interest in helping out some classmate by holding the boom microphone—which is what I liked to do when I was required to be on someone else’s set. Much for the same reasons Sashi worked lights: I could be there and not be there. Just get the mic in the right place and my brain could wander to infinite places other than here.
I lived right up the street from my school. Three blocks. And right between block two and block three was a restaurant with no name (as is popular in LA). It had a black door and a red carpet and I had never been inside but I had walked past it every day for a year and on Sunday and Thursday the red carpet was rolled out. If I got drunk my apartment was one block up the hill. I could walk there and see the homeless man sleeping on a couch someone had literally thrown out their window. Hollywood is like that: Lamborghinis and rich people live on the same street as homeless ones. There is no plan to help the homeless ones. They wander, move, die.
I had seen people enter the restaurant with no name. In couples or quads, guys and girls, all dressed up. And disappear behind the door into relative blackness.
Now I stand here, ready to knock—realizing what a silly gesture that is—and I’m not dressed up, instead wearing my brown cargo pants that I used to swear by as a film person (due to the extra—the third—side pocket almost to the cuff at the bottom of the pants). I’ve never seen that pocket before or since. Only on the ones sold in a surplus shop on Hollywood B.
I pull open the door, walk a few steps in. I almost leave because no one is there. The tables are stood on top of each other like they stand when a restaurant crew closes for the night. There was a bar—no one at it, no one behind it. I look around the place:
I see a bar with nine stools. An area in the back with a stained-glass skylight. Tiles on the floor underneath that: Forming the structure of a wave, patterns never lost on me. I think about texting my film school buddy but decide I want to be alone. At the top of the Ave is the Alto Nido building, where I live. Sashi lived with me for a while. Then I threw my phone across the room, shattering it, glass everywhere. Then I kicked her out. I feel bad about it but me throwing that phone was the last in a line of incidents tracing us from Arizona to Ohio and then to LA. I have never met anyone who made me as mad as that girl.
Other than the skylight, there were no windows in this place. The ceiling was packed with cinema lighting, stage lighting. Even underneath the floor, which was glass block, a parade of colors went by as though I was standing on a river.
I sat at the bar, put my laptop bag on the floor, leaning against my stool. Maybe there was an underground chamber and that’s where everyone who comes through that door went to..some Alice in Wonderland in the basement or sub basement where all the kids in Hollywood (not the students, not the ones without money) would go to dance and hook up and go home and fuck and come back next Sunday or Thursday and ignore everyone they had taken home before.
“Excuse me”—that was the bartender.
I smile in a familiar way, as though we know each other.
“Is this place open?”
“We open at seven, actually.”
“Do you have a kitchen?”
“Yes,” he says deeply. “I’ll get you a menu.”
“That’s ok,” I say. “Do you have a rib eye?”
“Yes sir we do.”
“I’d like a rib eye. Extra rare. With blue cheese crumbles on top.”
“Sure thing,” he says.
“Also? Could I have Serrano peppers and two eggs over easy on top of that blue cheese?”
“Sure thing? You want a drink?”
“Yes, a glass of Syrah if you have it.”
“We have it! Totally. We have it. I guess it’s ok if you sit here. There’s a party later.”
“I’ll be out of here by then,” I say (having no intention to leave).
The bartender pours me a generous glass of wine in a glass with a thin lip (important if you’re me). He goes into the kitchen.
I flip through my phone book. Not that far from the start. I pretend to consider each name, each number, but really I’m looking for a certain name all along—and it’s near the beginning: Baker, my fuck buddy from Ohio. Don’t ask me why I picked Baker. It may have had something to do with my having picked up a sandwich bag of cocaine a few days ago, and something in me knew that Baker had done cocaine—or could help me with her sexy words. My sex with her was the best ever—she said our sex was amazing. After our second bout of soap-suds squishy sex on the floor of my apartment in Ohio, she said, “It’s not that our sex is amazing. I just always wanted to know what it was like to have sex with a genius.”
I refrained from asking her what that was like.
Now in LA, in my empty restaurant, I called her.
“Well look who it is,” she says.
“Hey, pretty girl.”
“So what’s going on?”
“I’m on a coke binge and I need a break.”
“So you called me! Ha ha.”
“Have you ever done it?”
“Matt. You will not believe your synchronicity with me and my house right now! We—me and my roomie Brooklyn—we just got this house. To rent. And we are breaking it in with a whole weekend of coke. The whole weekend. You know what I think would be great?”
“If I fly to Dayton and participate in your coke weekend?”
Then Baker’s voice: “Would you?”
“Oh please! Could you?”
“Oh my god we could do coke and have sex all weekend!”
“Ok!” I say. “Tell me about this house.”
“I will,” she says. “Brooklyn and I live here—the lease is in our name. My grandmom lives here. And Brooklyn’s boyfriend name of Rambuncto is getting out of jail on Saturday.”
“They let people out of jail on Saturday?”
“You’re my smart boy. As in: Anyone else would have asked me What is he in for? but you ask Will they let him out on Saturday?”
“Well: What is he in for?”
“Assault. On a stranger in a Walmart.”
“Is he guilty? I mean: Did he do it?”
Baker’s laugh gets two steps louder. “I’m pretty sure he’s guilty, yeah.”
“Is he gonna be there this weekend?”
A pause from Baker.
“Matthew, don’t worry about it. Rambuncto may talk some shit but he’s harmless.”
“Not to the person in Walmart.”
“Don’t worry about it, Matthew. You spend so much of your head worrying it’s a miracle you’re not losing brain celluloid whenever you wake up. Come over. Can you afford it? I can send you money if you can’t afford it.”
“I can afford it.”
“Ok, good. ‘Cause I can’t really afford it.”
We both laugh.
“And I have enough money for coke,” I say.
“Ok, this is what I think we should start with, whenever you get here: an eight ball,” Baker says. “Then we can get more eight balls when we run out. I don’t know if you remember, but I always wanted to get a Snoop Baby Babe and—guess what?—I have one—Well, Brooklyn does. Do you want me to tell you his name?”
“Hold up. Before that. Is Rambuncto—? Is Brooklyn—? I mean, are they ok?”
“You’ve met Brooklyn before.”
“Did she go to Colonel White?”
“She went to Stivers. She’s fine. Don’t worry! The house is cool, ok? Say The house is cool.”
“I just wanna—”
“SAY THE HOUSE IS COOL!!”
“Ok. It’s cool. The house is cool.”
“We’re gonna have so much fun when you get here, Matt. We’ll fuck all weekend. I know you like that slippy little soap suds fucking we do. Look. I gotta go.”
“Can you pick me up from the airport?”
“Guess what the new baby’s name is. Just text me the details. What’s Brooklyn’s baby’s name? Baby hurry ‘cause I gotta go.”
“I don’t know. What’s its name?”
“Faulkner.” She lays it out like carpet.
“Why did she name him that? Has she ever read any Faulkner?”
“I gotta go, my wayward king! Brooklyn says we have a dead-ish baby in the crib room. I gotta go wake ‘im up.”
“Alright, girl—” I say, but the line goes dead.
Just then the bartender returns with my steak. It is cooked extra rare. With two eggs, blue cheese, and jalapeño peppers instead of Serranos. I decide to eat it anyway.
Baker and I had a history. From the first I saw her practicing color guard with the school’s JROTC program—her face so smooth, her hair: an angel’s!—to the time I followed her across the gym floor during a science exhibition—projects everywhere, and none more important to me than my own—I tracked her down and we spoke and she did seem kinda dumb to me. But I liked her anyway, and over the years we’d become fuck buddies. From that time watching The Great Gatsby (Robert Redford version) sitting in the dark of the basement where her apartment was, her dog outside listening. And Baker and I moved deliberately to a lying down position and kissed in the dark—and all we did was kiss—but the seed was sewn, and it wasn’t till a couple years since The Great Gatsby that we hooked up in my place on Second Street in Dayton Ohio (with the help of a bottle of Aftershock) that we finally took it all the way.
Fucking Baker had become an exalted experience. Full of imagination and the fulfillment of imagination. Her puss was so red and so tight..it was unimaginable. Truly, the best sex of my life, right there. Soap suds—the works. Tight as a flower mate by a honeybee 🐝, the bee shaking his tail feathers to get in there. Before we had stood in the light of a street lamp visible five floors below..and when it turned red we stopped touching each other and when it turned green we started again.
My friend Julian was mad at me when I told him Baker and I had fucked. He asked me to describe her vagina, which I did. Red. Redder 🌶 than the purest red in a box of Crayons 🖍—a set of oil paints. Wet and snug and so tight she made me cum in her after five strokes, even after she asked me not to cum. We never used a condom—not in the beginning. Kept it clear and functioning. Lord of the Flies. The next morning she jacked me off with two hands while she waited for her mother to pick her up. Then it was off and on, whenever one of us happened to call the other. And it never seemed off-limits, even when one of us was in relationship—it was never cheating, with us.
This is the girl I was flying from LA to Dayton to meet. This is the girl when I showed her picture to my film school buddy, he said:
“You fucked that?”
To which I said, “Yep.”
And that was the end of the conversation. The end of Mike’s constant pestering me about getting a girlfriend, about everything he pestered me about, right down to the bottom of why I took baths instead of showers. Right down to the end of who my Christmas present was: A girl who I woke up in my LA bed to see. A girl I fucked during film school: brown hair, lovely petite, screaming sex in her chokers and all blackness and pink panties 💝 you could see above her back. Her back hurt. She needed relief. Any way I could provide it, I was willing. Fucked that girl in the equipment room, just, like, that.
I don’t remember that film school girl’s name—believe that? I don’t remember my Christmas present’s name. She was a costume girl for Adam Sandler. And the fact that I didn’t remember her name isn’t really an act of pathological sport fucking—more an act of casualty that we all engage in. Fuck one girl, forget her name. Forget her phone number and wake up the next morning with more unknowns in your address book: “Molly, 323.818.9544”—total unknown. Don’t remember a Molly—don’t remember anyone. No one new, no one old. A real bright way of living, there.
But on that night Baker and I decided to invite each other to spend a coke weekend at her house in Ohio..on the night I invited myself into this anonymous dance and supper club, on that night I stayed sober enough to remember two cute girls a few years older than me who danced and opened up their world to me.
“Do you wanna dance with us?”
These women were formally dressed and I with my six-pocket cargo pants they grabbed me by the hands and took me to the place under the skylight and they freak-danced me, holding me in the envelope of brightness where each of them plus the skylight made a triangle of importable lust, striking jealousy in the eyes of the boys more normal to this party. Soon they picked me out as the threat, the tall nail which is inevitably hammered down, and the girls were saying goodbye and the bartenders and bouncers were telling me goodbye and the street lamp having just come on was guiding me home across the street with the intersection of the homeless man sleeping in the couch that had been thrown out the window and my school was far behind me and I let myself into the Alto Nido—it’s the building shown in the opening shot of Sunset Boulevard—and I took the stairs (down) and I struggled with the lock and soon was in the wood-floored studio apartment where I had the pages of an entire screenplay (one I was writing) placed end to end across the floor.
This and some snail puzzles (dubbed thee by my friend Michael). They were stacked on the writing desk with a bunch of cocaine stacked next to them. I was reaching for a result and I thought coke could help. It seemed to speed up my thinking, but no result came. These were some mathematical puzzles that had been puzzling me and I didn’t know whether it was more in the problem-solving vein to take them to Dayton on my Baker weekend or to leave them here and let them simmer.
I thought of the dead man out there on the sidewalk—he seemed dead to me. I had never used enough drugs to make myself actually homeless. I didn’t have sympathy for that man. This was what happened when you couldn’t control your addiction. When you lost your job and lost your wife and lost your nerve to walk into a job interview on LSD or walk into a job interview on meth and coke—if you couldn’t make that work, then you couldn’t make it work—period.
The idea that there were people out there who had never tried drugs was empty to me: I did not understand how that could be. My cousin divorced her husband after he 1) had back surgery 2) was prescribed opiates 3) became addicted to those opiates and 4) went to rehab to end his addiction. To me that seemed like the best-case scenario, minus the divorce. But, I mean, how in this first world of ours could anyone live for long without coming into contact with drugs? We live on them, can’t function without them. Anyone who has tried alcohol knows that if this drug was introduced today it would be illegal. Same with cigs. The most dangerous drugs are on the street, legal to get. And a couple of the most transformative drugs are listed as the most restricted in our world. The real problem is you have people walking around with no general knowledge of drugs and their actual dangers and benefits.
I set up a line of coke, snarfed it.
I set up another line, banged it.
Mmm. Salad wenches of lines spreading before me the remnants of ecstasy flying, colliding. Rummaging in my mind tailwinds of stories I had yet to tell. Yardley dangers of Pluto, planets banging across each other to form craters, my jizz the center of the galaxy, girlfriend gone, somewhere at a Starbucks sitting out front talking with a homeless man, treating him better than she treats me (I have seen this) and her going home to some weekly hotel where she barely makes the rent, has to eat off the employee shelf at work—all she had to do was not wake me up at night, not engage me in impossible swirls of arguments that never end, there is never a truce, never a peace of the day, but me waking up with her kneeling over my body yelling at me. Never stopping. One who wants not to live together, not to love each other, but to be one end of a debate course, for us to work it all out and for her to be right! I could not take any more of that.
I punched up my ticket—laptop, coke—making sure I got the flight times, origins and destinations, correct. Making sure I had the times correct. Enough room for changes to and from Dayton Ohio. I’d pack my bag tomorrow. I called Baker.
“Hi y’all” (said in an English accent). “I hope you have been following my YouTube channel as of late where myself and my house mouse—we will call her ‘B’—move into a fabulous house in East Dayton. This weekend we have a guest, my old friend Matt from Colonel White. Anyway—any who—he’s coming for a visit. A sortie. An exportage. If you will. I” (sound of a smooch) “you, fuck boy! I smooch you I smooch you I smoooch 💋 you!!”
Listening to Baker’ voicemail prompts were always like this: spinning in infinity, telling a tale. You could get a glimpse of her, through this medium, that gave you information you could only get in this way. If you saw her grandmother die and then asked Baker if it saddened her, Baker would say nothing. Then you’d listen to her voicemail and in the prompt she would say the truth right there: she was sad. And her girlfriends did the same thing! It was like a totem-pole messenger service for white girls.
Boarding the plane ✈️ high on coke scared me. I had done a lot of coke before taking a cab to the airport and I spent the whole ride there wiping down the corners of my bag, licking clean my normal coke holder and burying it in the bottom of my clothes. LAX is a trip within itself, messages of the white zone and the orange zone (please avoid standing in the—). I passed through the white zone thinking of all the white I had done, hoping those drug-sensing chemicals wouldn’t expose me—all to everyone. I took off my shoes and put my laptop in its own bin and walked through that fucking machine with the facial expression of the Dalai Lama and the shluffing feet of a would-be LA party goer—I would be a party goer except after that first impression I came across like a kid just broke into a candy 🍭 store. I had the nerve but not the money: real LA party people had rich parents and bottomless trusts and multiple parts in small movies.
They were the chosen ones. I was the nothing one.
I got through security. Got through the boarding process. Sat with my carry on beneath my seat, leaned my head against a window, and I’m sure snored all the way through the flight.
During my sleep, I dreamt I was on a bicycle touring a school that was close to the shadow of my plane. There were a hundred black people in a small gymnasium watching a basketball game that was in cable—only—not on regular TV 📺. I ride through that room and back outside, nodding to a guy who is riding his bike and he has crystal meth on him and while my nod means nothing to me, it means that I want some crystal, to him. Soon enough I’m riding my bike, high on crystal, around this park and some people hold a phone out to me:
“This is Whitney Houston. She wants to talk to you.”
I stop my bike and talk on speakerphone.
“Hey, my bro. How are you doing over there? Where is over there for you, anyway?”
“Over there? I think I’m in a poor neighborhood, traveling like a flashlight across the country by air, and my shadow casts a spot over poor neighborhoods across the country. Whatever the plane’s shadow touches, I am there. We’re somewhere in the Midwest now. That’s all I know.”
Whitney Houston continued the dream:
“Look there on your TV. There I am—see? Now tell me what to do.”
I looked at the TV in front of these hundred poor kids here to watch the game. It was an old-fashioned one, SONY, with no inputs but for one—the antennae—and skipping past the part where I wondered how they could see anything, I told Whitney Houston to make a heart ♥️ shape with her hands and fingers and as soon as I said that, she did it!
Whitney Houston, right there on TV—right there for me.
I rode out of the gym and saw the meth guy again and I remembered (in the dream) something that seemed at the time to be a remembrance of another meth experience but which also seemed at the time to be a remembrance of another dream, or a remembrance of a dream—just created!—a memory of a memory, the second memory created at the time! to seem like a waking-life memory of another dream—I don’t know how I seem to you but this tangle tripped me solidly upon waking and it was a few minutes more before I took this dream within a dream to consist of another waking-life dream accessed by myself from within this secondary dream. It’s confusing, I know.
Somewhere in there was a stop to change planes. I stooped around this large airport sitting in a circular intersection of hallways, desperately checking that my carry on was still beside me.
I sat down, removed my laptop. It had some of the snail puzzles on it—plus the code to generate them. I tapped this way and tapped thus, there was nowhere else to go with them. I had spent a lifetime (it seemed) in Tucson in front of a white board deducing what originally seemed a system of two states and two rules to what seemed now to be a system of four states with two rules. I could generate, with my new set of pieces, the table of 16 binary Boolean operators just by copying them with my hands, with visual pattern matching (and that’s what made this second rule set superior) but I could not generate the actual snail puzzles from them.
This concerned me as I sat alone in—which airport I can’t remember—working out the pattern matching, the visual copying of four rules which allowed computation to be known as simple creation and unfolding of patterns. They didn’t even have to be visual!—They could be calculated by a blind person—Even a person with no senses could sense this, deep in their brain, I had determined.
That and nervously picking at my coke pill: silver with a keychain and a screw-tight lid. I had carried it with me since I first started doing coke. It came from Amazon. In the airport I unscrewed it and tried tapping its (hopefully non-empty) contents onto my laptop cover. You’ve never lived until you’ve done coke off your MacBook. I was hoping to do some here but the silver pill box had nothing to offer. If you could somehow get your coke over the security points, doing coke in airports would be ideal: it would be a safe environment, no one would imagine you had coke on you and you could tap out lines in clear sight of everyone and they would go: What? Is that what I just saw? and they would say Naw and keep going.
I had a dangerously long layover—one could say a dangerous hangover—during which I could easily have exited the airport and ended up in Nashville, or Atlanta, or whatever city I was in. I could have easily met up with party people in an airport bar and from there gone off on some other adventure, something far more dastardly than the one I was on. Filled up my coke reserves and re-filled my silver pill box.
On the second leg of the flight I wasn’t fortunate enough to have a window seat. I was in the aisle and this meant there were duplicate waitresses-cum-stewardesses rubbing on my super-sensitive sides. Everyone seemed like they were on coke and everyone seemed like they could sell it to me.
I had a panicky moment wherein I doubted my entire goal: sleeping with Baker was doubtable, unlikely: she had gained weight and had a child before our last meeting and I had been telling myself this time would be different: she would have lost weight (at least to her high school level) and the child wouldn’t be with her (that was a London baby that Baker and her boyfriend had given to adoption)—when she had that baby and given her up, Baker had suckered me into listening to her whole sob 😿 story, how they named her Schuyler and they insisted to the adopting couple that they keep her name and the adopting couple said Sure, sure and they obviously were going to change the baby’s name—obviously they were going to change it.
Baker told me that story while I was pinned to the bar stool in a Dayton Thai place. Baker always did that: kept you on the phone too long, long past when anyone would insist the conversation must end! She did it to everyone—I was one of the only people who would still talk to her (listen to her) and so my punishment grew. From a virgin boy who wanted to have sex with her to an experienced man who had sex with her and a lot of people, Baker was always wasting my time. Always making a two-minute conversation into a ten-minute one ⏰. Always driving me crazy with superfluous monologues, over-emphasizing small points which Baker claimed were big ones!
Years after this trip, several moves from city to city for me, Baker found my number on Facebook and called it. I was on my last few minutes of cell time and that wasn’t even a factor when I finally said to her, “Stop. Baker, stop. You always call me and dangle all this bullshit in front of my face, how your kids are doing and how this new man in your life is finally the perfect one..but then there is this unmatched thread 🧵 where you introduce that he’s a wife beater or a drug addict or a crazy Christian. And you never get to it! You’re dragging me on for years with a story that could be told in a minute! Just stop, Baker—please, stop. This is the last time we talk together. I have seen you for the last time. Don’t find me on Facebook. Don’t call this number—in a minute it will change. I love you—in a way. We’re a high school thing. That turned into a fuck buddy thing. I had fun and I truly like you and I will always remember you well. You blew my mind—truly. And I appreciate that Dallas and Caycee have me as their godfather. That was nice of you—more than nice. But I’m not your children’s godfather. I’ll never see them. I’ll never see them, Baker, as few or many years as you and I and they will pass. I will never see you, Baker—never again.”
I knew coming ‘round the corner in Dayton’s little airport that I would see what I knew I would see which is what I had been seeing in my mind since the no-name red-carpet affair in LA and no amount of imagining it would do anything to change it in the here and now.
Baker was fat.
Standing there with her portly pudgy itsy bitsy top and pants—whoever knew they made such a tiny top for such a big girl!—Baker both hopped and ran toward me and in this smattering of other people waiting in this open-air welcoming area and looking at me! me! me! and at my former fuck buddy C Baker and she smiles and shakes her hair out (still beautiful hair) and it is natural blonde and I have fucked her once since her London child and Baker had said to me the next day, “Matthew, I think this was our best time yet.”
And I said: “I think so too.” But I hadn’t meant it then and I didn’t mean it now even in my own head. This is what I had come to see, to spend my weekend with, to do coke with. My thoughts went to assholes who spoke of beer goggles and coke goggles and I wanted to scream at them that it wasn’t all that simple.
She hugged me.
“Good to see you!” I said through scented hair, waves of lighter blonde, the smell of a head you would like to lie down next to, the hints of a pussy downstairs I would like to see again, forgetting if she was blonde down there, too—but no: she had darker hair around her puss it was thin, though, or shaved when I had seen it before. Truth be told, I didn’t spend a lot of time with my face down there but I used to love looking between Baker’s legs while my dick went in and out of her. It looked right, it looked like what was meant to be.
“I’m guessing this is your only bag?”
“Yep. Wow. It’s great to be back here!”
“Here? I would rather be back in a coffin.”
I put my arm around her and she walks me to this old VW Rabbit that has been in her family since before we met in high school.
“You have to help me pay for parking.”
“You drove into this parking lot without enough money to pay for it?”
“I’m counting on you,” Baker says, “to make my dreams come true. Unfortunately that is starting with this.”
“What if I had got off the plane, seen Dayton, and turned right back around and left you here?”
“Is that what you were thinking of doing? Leaving me standing there waiting for you to show up and you become a no show and you never call me again and I don’t even have money to pay to park?”
“Never was I thinking that,” I choked.
“Don’t worry, my friend,” Baker says. “I’ve got such the weekend planned for you—for us!—and it only begins with your four dollars and 25 cents to get us the hell out of here.”
I drop the money in her cupped hand.
“Have a nice day!” says the attendant.
“Have a nice day!” says C Baker.
“Now,” C Baker says. “I bet you’re hung-a-ry!”
“Yes. I want a special meal from my favorite restaurant. We can get it to-go if you like.”
“Uno. I say. “I want the Rattlesnake Pasta with a few additions. Do you have coke at the house? Do you have some on you?”
“Look, I don’t have any on me that’s because Brooklyn took the rest of it we were saving a good amount for us all when you got here but now we’re out. There’s a place we buy it but! but but but it’s kind of expensive but I think you will like it—its quality, in every refinement—I’ve only ever bought coke in Ohio but this shit rips!” says the girl I flew here to fuck who is so much fatter than last time that I don’t know if I’ll be able to find the muscle to stick it in. “The coke you have in California is prob’ly better than it is here.”
“I have no idea, girl. The coke I’ve been doing in LA is all from the same person and it seems very good to me—but what do I know?”
“Exactly. What do I know!” Baker says. She veers onto the highway and I feel the Rabbit sliding across lanes. “What Dayton people do you want to see while you’re here? Do you even know any Dayton people anymore?”
“Yeah, I’m planning on seeing Nik for dinner tonight.”
“Other than you there’s no one I really want to see this weekend.”
“No ex-girlfriends? The one with the red hair?”
“Which one?” I say.
We both laugh. Baker grabs me between my legs. She runs her fingers here and there.
“I think,” she says. “I will get something from Uno’s too.”
“Get anything you want.”
“I think a lemonade. It’s ‘cause of my hypoglycemic. My blood sugar is low—that’s why I shouldn’t be driving.”
“Since when did you know about that?”
“That you have hypoglycemia? Since high school 🎓. Since I used to go to your house and hang out on the porch, in the basement. You told me about it back then.”
“I did? Huh. Well a lemonade will fix it.”
“We’ll get it.”
“Cool runnings, brew. So, do you want me to catch you up with the events of the last 24 hours at my house?”
“Well. It started with Brooklyn—she has this baby named Faulkner—”
“Right. You said the baby’s name was Faulkner.”
“Well, he is. Don’t contradict me. The baby. The child. The man. Faulkners all. So Brooklyn has a baby named Faulkner, and it’s like—this baby was born on Wednesday—so he’s young.”
“The baby’s legal name is Faulkner?”
“Yes! Now please shut up. This is going to take forever if you keep saying things. So Faulkner—Brooklyn’s infant child—is home from the hospital last night and he is the cutest little thang! Oh my southern heart would break if he died! Brooklyn and I bought an eight ball. We were working through that when for like two hours Brooklyn locked herself inside the baby’s bedroom. He sleeps in a crypt—I mean he sleeps in a crib! And I was banging and banging on the door and B was singing all these like Halloween carols and anthems and shit from Halloween movies like da da da! and I was like Bitch, come outta that room! and she was all Make me! and I was like Fuck you, bitch you’re a collar-want-to-make-me whore and Brooklyn opens the door and she’s all on her tippy toes and shit trying to act like she’s older than me, taller than me, much more scarier than me and I pushed open the door, got in that bitch’s face, and I was all like I am the taller one, I am the scarier one! You don’t understand. This bitch thinks she’s got a one-up on me. And nobody in my house has a one-up on me. Even other people in my house. What was I saying? Anyway this bitch is hiding her Baby Faulkner in the crib and you’ve got to see this crib, right: It’s nine feet tall and four foot wide and soft as a feather bed. There are no sheets and no pillows and I said Brooklyn don’t you lay your baby on his back that’s the way they catch fetal bed syndrome or is it on their stomachs just sleep them on their sides and hope for the best if you sleep these newborn fuckers in your bed with you, you run the risk of rolling over on them and squishing them that way! I mean as you know I don’t have kids (except for the London kind) so what can I say? Right? Right? Hold the wheel.”
I touch it, guiding us slightly within the lane.
Baker rummages through her purse, a big white Clinique one.
“What are you looking for?”
“I’m gonna see if I have a bump for us in here.”
“Please don’t. Hold the wheel.”
“Matthew. If you’re going to be a party pooper, I’ll let you out on the side of the road. I know I have something in here, a fifth, an eighth, a crow bar, something. You can smoke it, you can lick it, you can pretend it’s my golden little pussy right before you stick it, you’ve got to lick it before you stick it, Matthew, have you heard that before?”
“The guttural maps of the cerebral hemisphere. That’s what I’m trying to get across to you. From the golden hemispheres of the human brain, there never was any chimp DNA there never was any chimp DNA it’s all random sequences of sequences and every time the first sequence changes the secondary sequence-of-sequences kicks in—it kicks in! So you have, in these two sequences, an infinite-appearing sequence that is very hard to predict, cryptographically, and—Are you listening to this?”
“I am, girl. I am. To be honest I think we’ve been reading the same books in different towns.”
“But you’re the genius,” she says.
“Have you been reading my blog?”
“Does it show?” she says.
We’re at the Uno’s now. I’m getting out the car.
“Should I come in with you?” Baker says. That whatchamacallit pasta you’re getting sounds good.”
“Yeah, come on.”
I check my door is locked and look around me in the parking lot behind the restaurant. Everything is old and dirty, provincial. Dayton has seven exits for it on the highway. In LA, the neighborhood of Hollies has seven exits. It’s small and crammed here, and dying, and I don’t know why I ever come back.
Baker drives us through the city, into its center and outward from there, up Wayne, and Wyoming, and into the state streets from there.
Everything looks familiar, but wrong. Living but dead. Apartments above triangle-shaped buildings at the intersection of Wayne and Wyoming, where we turn left. I imagine myself living in one of those apartments, working at Mead Research, living here again, and it’s an immediate no show. Dayton has some great apartments, but no good jobs. If I had stayed at Mead Research I would have been one of the highest-paid people in Dayton, and I would have had great weekend times: an art studio and an Oregon District house, with fading blue brick and that kind of porch I like: no columns, just a slab of concrete covering the basement ceiling and the front door was there and no no no this would never work. A man cannot live just to make a house, just to pay for one. Not in a city of black on white crime, a city with white on black laws, you can’t live that way or I wouldn’t! I would not. Not to sit in a cubicle and explain Legos to the CEO. And that is all it would ever be.
Some people make their soul a weekend project. I think that’s for fools. You can’t usurp soul growth for a solid house. Even one in your favorite neighborhood: Oakwood, for one, where the greatest crime committed is driving while black. Where even your closest friends will pull you aside where it’s only whites and they’ll tell you how this hotel is whites/rich only and that it’s better for it.
Baker pulls a hard left onto Wyoming and we’re traveling up past the Sunoco where I once paid my bill in change—for a fraction of a gallon of gas. The attendant took my payment and gave me a knowing smile. But I wasn’t smiling.
Up the state streets: Illinois, Indiana. I had an ex-girlfriend on every one. A story for every day of the week. One involved me going over Tuesday Welder’s house, then her taking us into the basement and allowing us to be ready to have sex and she took off her bra and she had huge nipples with bumpy areola—they were like my mom’s, not small like some women I had met since then, seen in porn. I associate large nipples and correspondingly large areola with “real” women: mothers, women who use their breasts for feeding the up and coming generation..as opposed to porn stars who shave their puss and have nipples not much larger than my own. Tuesday gave me the chance to lick her breasts and I can still feel the bumps on my tongue. I wasn’t ready to have sex, though (I was sad that day) and soon her mother came home and yelled downstairs for us to come out of the basement. I stayed at Tuesday’s house long into the evening, waiting for my dad to pick me up. He never came, though, which left Tuesday and I swinging on the porch swing and her dad talking on the phone to my dad, who assured him that if they called me a cab my dad would pay them back and I guess Tuesday’s dad wasn’t too keen on the fact that Tuesday and I had been in his basement together for some time before his wife called us up—and I guess he was scared and angry that Tuesday might have fucked me. That’s just one of the stories that happened on a state street (this one Indiana Ave).
“A lot happened up there,” Baker says, putting her hand on my leg.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean him,” she says.
“Between you and me, between everyone and you, between me and everyone. That’s the street where Zochae died. I mean that’s the house he lived in. Do you ever see Martha?”
Baker said: “I don’t see her because I’m not friends with her. When’s the last time you two talked?”
“Who me and Zochae? It’s just another memory. Zochae and I used to trip on mushrooms and paint.”
“In your warehouse?”
“In my living room! I threw away all my paintings since then. Well, I gave the best ones to my friends.”
“Do you remember the painting you gave me?” Baker says.
“Yes. Of course.”
“It’s blue and purple, with the canvas borders torn off and stapled back onto the front of the canvas.”
“I remember,” I said. “I should have given you a better one.”
“Oh I don’t—I never wish that. I knew you would give me a lesser one. That it would be one you wouldn’t care if I lost it in one of many moves from apartment to apartment.”
“Actually, I painted that one specifically for you.”
“But it was still one of the lesser ones,” she said.
“You know, Baker, I could sit here and blow smoke up your ass on why that painting isn’t one of the lesser ones. Who am I to judge it? It wasn’t meant as a slap in the face. I was doing the best I could do at the time. I’m sorry if you feel it was lesser.”
“I don’t, though. I don’t think that! Do you remember the plates my grandfather painted on? I showed you his pile in the basement.”
“Yeah, I remember those.”
“What was painted on them?”
“They were country houses. That’s what I want to live in someday. A country house 🏡 in Xenia somewhere with a cat—no, two cats—a dog—did you know my dog died?”
“Get the fuck out of here. Picasso! Rembrandt was my old dog’s name!”
“Chuck. Seymour. Picasso. Rembrandt. You have too many names for dogs!”
“Chuck and Seymour are my new dogs! You don’t remember anything, do you? Remember that black lab I had—”
“Oh yeah chained up in the basement next to your apartment.”
“He wasn’t chained.”
“Baker that dog had a chain around his neck and he was tied to the toilet oh what was that dog’s name?”
“His name was Rembrandt. He was dark brown and he was a lab of some sort and he took a special liking to you. Do you remember?”
“What I remember is that you would take me into your downstairs apartment whose walls were like chiffon and you had bookcases and a television outside the walls and you would drape cloth to the side to reveal it and the whole room practically was filled with your bed and it was high off the ground and the floor was concrete—unfinished—and the first time you took me there or some time you took me there you sat me on the bed and held my hand and you told me stories about your military boyfriends and then we kissed and laid on the bed and kissed some more and we didn’t do anything else but by the next time I came over you had moved the television and we were sitting on the dark concrete and I laid you back and touched your bra and I could feel your nipples under there and they were big! like my mom’s and I touched them so gently and felt them both excited and repressed underneath that bra of yours.”
“What color was my bra?”
I look over at Baker. We’re still driving. She doesn’t turn to look at me.
“You remember what color bra you were wearing from that far back?”
“I wore it especially for you.”
“Gray. A gray sports bra.”
Baker hits me on my shoulder.
“I said I picked it out for you! Why would I wear a sports bra if I wanted you to touch it? It was black. With red lace sewn around the edges. With white thread. Wide threads. Do you remember now?”
Baker looks at me.
“I think you should like to see the road!” I say. “I am remembering it now.”
“No you’re not. You’re doing what children do: remembering something that your family just now reminded you of. You’re taking what I’m saying and building an entire world.”
“Ok. You had a black bra. I don’t remember.”
“It’s ok,” Baker says. “If I hadn’t stitched together that lace myself, I wouldn’t remember. But I was planning something. Something for us. Something special.”
“But I wasn’t ready, was I.”
“Don’t worry, brew. You’ve made up for it since. If we had fucked back then, we would have had a baby. I know that for a fact.”
“Speaking of babies—”
“Don’t worry about that. It’s taken care of.”
“Ok but like—”
“Hush, man. It’s taken care of. Don’t you love it in the movies where the lady says it’s taken care of and after that the characters don’t even revisit the subject for the entire rest of the movie? Do they talk about it in Gatsby?”
“I don’t think they talk about it at all.”
“Did you want to fuck me when we watched Gatsby?”
“It’s kind of an old movie.”
“Right. But did you kind of want to fuck me?”
“They never show the sex! It’s like looking at Playboy, 1963.”
“I know, I know. I should have spent more time picking out the movie. It was between that and a raunchy porn but I didn’t think that would do for you—much less us. Did you fuck to a movie 🎬 the first time you fucked? Please tell me what the scene was. Or the song.”
“I was in college, ok? I didn’t fuck you. I didn’t fuck Tuesday. Not in high school. Not ever.”
“What about Jessica?”
“I would have fucked Jessica. That was a year after you and I fooled around. I was ready to fuck with Jessica but she wouldn’t fuck with me! Said she knew it would just be sex with us and she sent me home.”
“Damn. I was triple sure you fucked that girl.”
I raise my left arm—but like a Boy Scout.
“I would have fucked that girl for sure. You know what she did? Wicked my dick on the couch then we made out watching Fox and the Hound then she takes me to her bedroom, lies me on the bed, then changes panties for me, right in front of my face. I mean she’s bent over with her tight little sex kitten goth girl pussy in my face whatever. It’s given me years of masturbatory fantasies.”
“Hold it there,” Baker says.
She pulls across traffic into an alley, stops the car.
“This,” she says, looking over a backyard filled with car parts, string, a torn hammock, and basically a whole lot of junk. “This is the house.”
She leads me in. Through the trash (the back yard). Through the screen door. In through a silent-sounding kitchen. Baker a few feet ahead of me. Me looking at mountains of dishes, dirty cracks between kitchen tiles, baby toys on the floor—a toddler’s—circular hydraulic walkers to work the baby’s legs—this one caked with brown and white substances, pyramids of powder—
“That’s flour,” Baker says.
“And that is brown sugar.” She runs her finger along the top of the brown pyramid and steps to me, putting her finger inside my mouth, running it around my gums. “My sugar,” she says to my face, “is so much sweeter than this.”
“Charisma! Baker! Where art thou? Where?”
“I’m right here, Grammy! You ruined my surprise entrances!”
“Make thy entrances with more haste than waste,” her grammy says.
We go into the living room and this old woman is hunched over on..what?..some end of the couch not seen for centuries? A pile of hoarding existing only under this woman’s butt? She is wearing a white moo moo with stitching crossing the neck, traveling across the arm, and running into her forearm.
“Here. Grammy. Let me help you.”
Baker tries to take the needle and spine from her grandmother’s control, only then realizing what I had already seen (that her Grammy was perfectly happy sewing purple thread into her arm and Baker has tugged the string almost out of her arm before she realizes what she’s done).
“ ‘Risma! Baker hello! What in the Hell’s Angels is you doing to my arm!”
“Grammy! What the hell are you doing to it?”
“Let me go, thy excellent bitch! Rescind thee and resort thee to thy bath, with young son yonder introduce me thus!”
“This is Matthew, you stylish bitch! I’ve been talking to you about him all week! Remember? I said he was coming to visit me and that he’d be staying in my room and that we’d need to find a room for Wendy to stay in so Matthew and I would have some motherfucking peace and quiet!! Where is that little brat anyway?”
“She’s upstairs, Baker. She’s just upstairs. Why you have to come home and make such a big deal out of something as small as a camel passing through the eye of a needle—”
“Wendy!” Baker says. I hear the report in her voice like she’s back on color guard. Her feet snap together like Hitler’s. “Wendy! You better get your ass down here and introduce yourself to my friend Matt!” She stomps out this next part: “Wen. Dy. Get. Yourself. Down here. Now!”
“You could’introduce us,” Grammy says.
“No I can’t!! No, I, cannot. If I did that, then I would only have to reintroduce him when Wendy comes downstairs—does that fact make itself aware of you? To you? Does it Mom?”
“I don’t like it when you call me Mom. I ain’t your Mother Mary Mom, am I? I’m your simple gramma mom, a simple fucking grandma mom—Jesus Mary and Joseph Christ of a Son of Grandpa’s motherfucking Dog! Chain on the leash of thy right hand motherfucker.”
“Grammy, don’t curse.”
“A’ least I belie’e. At least tha’s true of me. Is it true to you is what you should be askin’. ”
“I ain’t sayin’ it b’cause you believe,” Baker says. “I’s sayin’ it b’cus you suck at cursing! God damn, Grammy, what’s that smell?!”
“That be my panties runnin’ girl—you know tha’ smell.”
“Eww. Enough!” Baker grabs my hand and takes me up the stairs. When we get to the crook, there’s a girl of 11 or 12 sitting with her knees up, watching Baker and my every move. Baker leans over and whispers to her: “We need the room for a while.” The girl nods and Baker and I go into the second door on the left.
It’s a messy room. A kids’ room. A girls’ room. Baker closes the door behind me.
“You can put your stuff down here.” She indicates a place on the floor by the first bed.
I put my stuff down.
Baker lies down. She gets under the covers. Her eyes tell me to be self-conscious. They tell me this trip was a waste and I’m crazy to be here. Came here for tha’ motherfucking pussy. Now I’m in the bedroom. Now the girl is in the bed. Now the girl is underneath the covers. Now my cock should be getting hard. I should be going down on her, on that sweltering, in the jack, no longer underage pussy that Baker carries with her. It’s with her all the time. On her person. She can touch it and it’s on all the time. Cracked-up whole. Nutcracker. A tall thin man stuffed in and out of it, in and out and in, and out, and in and out and in and out.
I see Baker’s ears perk.
“Did you hear that?” she says.
I listen closer.
“If that’s who I think it is,” Baker says.
She gets up from the bed and leaves the sheet on the floor.
“Should I come with you?” I ask.
“No.” She turns to me. “I got this.”
She leaves the door open and I follow her halfway down the stairs. The front door is closing and Wendy is next to me. We’re looking through railing slats like we’re the children and it’s Christmas morning except this Christmas Santa didn’t come or the value of the poles were reversed. Brooklyn, Baker, and Baker’s grammy stand before the door, at the bottom of the stairs, and on the end of the couch.
“What is this?” Brooklyn says.
Baker rejoins. “What is what?”
Brooklyn makes a pointed finger at me. “That.”
“Don’t point at him! Do not point your finger at him. No.”
“I told you not to bring him ‘cause this is the weekend that Rambuncto is getting released. He is getting paroled on Saturday. Did not I tell you this?”
I notice that Brooklyn is carrying a teenie tiny baby in her arms. Rocking him gently with the sound of her voice. Is it?—Yes. It is. This is the baby from Baker’s story. The one who almost got smothered by his mother in the corner room? The one with no mattress on the crypt? A cage of plastic—that making three metaphors for jail in the current house alone.
“How’s Baby Faulkner?” Baker says.
“Baby Faulkner is fine,” Brooklyn says this. “It’s you I’m worried about, though. Day after tomorrow. The day after tomorrow. Sometime in the late morning or afternoon. That’s when Rambuncto is going to get here.”
“You know he can’t stay here,” Baker says.
“I never in a thousand years said he’d be staying here. I said he’d be staying here a while while we look for an apartment. That is all I said except there are to be no visitors until after he’s gone. That’s so simple, Baker. It’s so fucking simple I’m sure that even your boyfriend can understand it.”
“His name is Matthew. He’s not my boyfriend.”
“But y’all are getting together to fuck all weekend. Is that right? Is that the deal? So what happens when Rambuncto gets here? Ya dig? Am I supposed to tie up my bedroll and sleep on tha motherfuckin’ porch? Rambuncto might, not, like, him. You know? Rambuncto’s been locked up with a bunch of jungle motherfuckers doing dog knows what all throughout the motherfucking night!! He’s gon’ be hungry for pussy and I am not going to be the one to deny him that.”
“Fine!” Baker says. “Give him your puss! I know I’m not thinking of getting in the way of you and Rambuncto fucking.”
“Baker. Please. I know you and Rambuncto have fucked and I know he likes it your way: strapless.”
“Rambuncto and I only fucked with a condom.”
“You’re such a liar. The worst. You can’t even tell a lie if you had to! You and Rambuncto? You’re going to stand there and tell me that you two used a condom every single time and that Rambuncto was perfectly ok with that?”
Everyone was quiet for a minute.
Finally Baker spoke. “I have zero plans for fucking your guy,” she said.
“So you admit that you and Rambuncto fucked.”
“I ain’t trying to hide it. Look, here: Matthew, there was a guy named Rambuncto who used to come around here and yes he used to fuck everyone in the house—even that little girl sitting’ on them stairs right next to you. Are you happy now, Brooky? Does that quench your thirst? And I ain’t sayin’ I didn’t like it, either, but since Rambuncto went to jail I’ve visited him for a total of five times and you was visitin’ him once a week for practically every week he was in there—what was that? Thirty or forty weeks? So I ain’t trying to fuck your man—I got my own man here. Tha’s who I’ll try and fuck if I try and fuck anyone in here!”
“That’s not gonna work, Baker.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean I need y’all to get out.”
“Get out where?”
“Baker I don’t give a shit where you go I just need you two to get out. Of here. Right now. I ain’t kidding, Baker. Get the fuck out.”
Baker ran upstairs past me and Wendy and I heard her rummaging through the bathroom like police looking for weed, smashing bottles and knocking them onto the floor. She comes back out and says:
“Matt. Come get your bag.”
I stand and follow her into the bedroom.
“Get your bag. Let’s go.”
“Isn’t this your house too?”
“I’ll explain it in the car.”
We stand faced-off over the bed. That’s the bed we were supposed to fuck on. This was the moment we were supposed to do the deed. I see Baker has cleaned the sheets and picked out a faux-down comforter. Wendy is unknown to me. Brooklyn and Little Baby Faulkner are unknown to me. Baker’s grammy is even unknown to me. Somehow in all our fuck-nighting I only ever met her parents and sister. The whole house is unknown to me and I’m playing psychological catch up.
“I gotta call Nik,” I say.
“Matthew. I know you gotta call Nik. What I need you to do is bring your phone with you. And your phone charger—got it. Grab your bag and let’s go.
Baker and I shuffle down the stairs—quick, quick—I’m out the back door savoring the delicious evil of my eye contact with Brooklyn, savoring her mixed look of fuck me and fuck me, her standing in front of a screen door holding her baby and behind the screen, two dobermans jumping to the top of the door scraping and slobbering all over it—I guess this be Chuck and Seymour.
The instant Baker and I step out the back door, Brooklyn un-hitches the front door and these two dobermans flow through the house like water. Covering every surface with licks and smells and bites. Rushing into the back door, unable to subdue it, and Baker has the key in the ignition and the Rabbit is pulling backward through the neighbor’s yard flattening grass and going bump, bump over some other car’s muffler, then pulling forth—like thunder!—now we’re the ones who win! Now we are the ones who win. We are the champions over ice and dogs and coke and blow and we are the ones whose mobility is piloted by my old friend Baker, my carnal buddy who would always offer it up to me since that first time we ever did it.
“You alright?” she says
We’re on the freeway.
“I’m alright now!”
“Kinda gives your head a rush,” she says.
She says: “It’s like we’re already doing blow!”
“I know, Baker. It’s amazing. Are you and Brooklyn even friends?”
“Oh, don’t worry about that. She’ll come around.”
“Ok but it doesn’t seem like she’s about to come around.”
Baker laughs. “No, she is, she is. Or maybe she’s not. Listen. Matthew. Here’s the plan. We’ll go get you an eight ball. You go to dinner with Nik. When you’re done you call me, we’ll go to my aunt’s house and Manny. We can stay there tonight and I’ll call Brooklyn tonight or tomorrow and we’ll try to get back into my house.”
“Can’t we just go there tonight?”
“It’s not good to get Brooklyn mad. And plus with her boyfriend Rambuncto coming tomorrow..Rambuncto is not a guy you want to bump into.”
“But you fucked him.”
“Well, yes, but when a girl spreads her legs, even a guy like Rambuncto has a calm side.”
“A loving side?”
“Let’s say calm. Calmer. I would hate it if we all had to live up to the standard of having a loving side. Maybe you know many people in LA with a loving side? Some cute costume girls you take home and warm between your sheets?”
“The costume girls I’ve met are quick to bed and even quicker to leave. I can’t say I’ve met too many people with a heart on the left coast, either.”
I push off my shoes and take off my socks and stick my feet out the window.
“Is that not ok where we’re going?”
“To buy an eight ball?” Baker says.
“Yeah,” I say. “Are they serious people?”
“They are pretty serious,” she says. “I mean I would keep my feet inside the car. In fact it’s better if when we get there you give me the money and you stay in the car. New people, dig?”
“I dig. I prefer it that way, too. You know. Don’t want to see too much. Don’t want to know too much. Whose house is that back there?”
“Fuck,” Baker says. “It’s me and Brooky’s! She just gettin’ all territorial with her beaux coming in.”
“Is he going to live there?”
“Hell no. He’s going home when he gets out.”
“Where is home?”
“At his parents’ house!”
“Oh,” I say. “So whose house is the one back there?”
“Let me see. I signed the lease with Grammy as my credit check but Brooklyn put up all of the deposit.”
“To me if it’s your name on the lease it’s your house.”
But Baker stops me: “Normally that would be the way but this isn’t some Hollywood address. It ain’t no Oakwood one, neither. This is East Dayton and in East Dayton I hate to say it but different rules apply. Have you ever opened an East Dayton door?”
“Sure,” I say. But I stop there as the rest of my answer involves another girl.
“Is it like every other door you ever opened?”
“No, you know—they’re all tight. They all require two hands.”
“Esactly,” Baker says. “Exactamundo. Persactamondaniferous. This our stop, up here.”
“What do I do?”
“Give me your money. Wait. Do not start trouble with these guys.”
“Who am I? I don’t start trouble.”
“Whatever. Just don’t start trouble with those guys.”
I give her a Jim Carrey wink and a thumbs up and I look around to see what I can see. The first few minutes go alright with me seeing that we’re in a boulevard with large grassy areas in between the road that goes in and the road that goes out. There are no children playing, though. Just guys with wife beaters, tongues hanging out their head. These are all whites, no other colors here. If Baker and I were black, we’d be on the west side of Dayton and our powdered coke would be crack and we wouldn’t have driven up in a car. We’d have come on foot and our binge would take place on the floor of someone’s house.
Here, being black would get you shot.
Here, you look at a person the wrong way, you’d wake up in the hospital, cast on your arm, missing an eye, with Baker pulling a chair next to you, asking if you want a bump.
These guys, lounging on porches yelling at they bitches and slapping they kids in the backs of they heads with force that could give a concussion.
You figure everyone’s high (at least on weed)—at worst on crack and heroin. I pictured the room Baker was in right now and it had her guy, sitting on a couch with scales and piles and straws and spoons. As soon as Baker walked in the door everyone else left for other parts of the house: his baby momma #1 with some titties hanging out, his guard left to come outside to watch me. And here’s this motherfucker now, coming to sit on the steps in front of the building. He knows who I am from the very beginning and he lets me know he knows.
I want to pick up my phone and call Nik. But I don’t want to be on the phone, making a call in front of these people. I think of texting him, but what would that look like? An out-of-town guy (that he’s never met) sitting in front of a drug deal texting the cops!? That’ll never happen. I nod in the guy’s direction and look out my own window, sight lines never set to stare, always casually looking toward the sky or the grass in as little-threatening way as possible.
I think of jails, of every cell I’ve ever seen on TV. I am afraid. Of incarceration. Of my clean white ass being raped by monsters, by former people who no longer respect any human rights. Of a system of laws and wardens, those so happy to put anyone in jail—even those innocent of a crime. I fear being wrongfully convicted, even though I’m white, of having 10 or 20 years of my life stolen from me and for what? To write books in a jail cell? To be prevented from writing? To have my writing stolen? I fear being stuck in jail having no way to get my pills. Pills prescribed to me by a psychiatrist who loved me in a certain way, who knew that without this one or that one my chances of suicide would go way up. I fear being executed. I thrill the mechanics of a lethal injection, of being killed by jail mates for being smart, of being stabbed in my eyes.
I look at the door again, to the apartment that Baker is in. The guy turns and makes eye contact. Then he stands and goes back inside.
Now Baker is going to get asked about her friend outside. Is he cool? Is he ok? He’s getting kinda shifty. He’s impatient. About to drive away. Are you sure this guy’s ok, Bakers? Can he be trusted? This guy, Baker, his mouth invites my fist, invites a board to slap his head and jiggle his brain matter. And what is it?—Just a can of superior attitude, malt liquor, cranberry jelly? Is this what you’ve brought us, Charisma? C Bakers? I wanna hold his head through the window and slap his mouth with my dick. To slap his pretty boy mouth with my East Dayton dick.
Baker leans out the doorway and waves her hand at me: hurry, hurry! I reach for the door handle: it’s not there. I reach again: contact! I’m foot down and out the door. Following Baker up the stairs, taking two at a time until I’m in the close wake of Baker’s perfume, closing a door behind us both. A girl with a baby across her chest leads us to a bedroom on the left side of her short hallway. Baker and I go in, push the door to almost closed, sit cross-legged on the floor.
“Check this out,” Baker says. She plops out a sandwich bag, one corner full of coke, and reaches for the vial around my neck.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m dosing out your coke for the evening.”
“Oh,” I say.
Baker unscrews the metal vial, sets it on a Stephen King book she grabs from the shelf behind her. She’s tapping the vial to make sure nothing’s in it. Pouring all coke from the bag on The Shining’s glossy cover.
“This is for you,” she says. “And this is for us, later tonight.”
“Are you gonna be ok with me and Nik having dinner?”
“Sure. Of course!”
“What are you gonna do?”
“I live here, buddy! I’ll make do.”
“Ok,” I say. But I’m already imagining betraying her, snorting all that coke with Nik, leaving nothing for me and Baker.
Baker makes three piles now.
“One for you and Nik. One for you and me after your dinner. And..one..for you and me right now—how’s that?”
“That’s good,” I say.
Baker puts her hand on my leg.
“Are you comfortable here?”
“A little. Yeah. I’m ok here.”
“Do a bump with me.”
She cuts off a bump from the me and Baker pile. I snort it with nothing but a soft crush to the other nostril.
“Ooh!” she says, impressed by my method. “I thought you said you just started doing this shit?”
“I watch movies, though.”
We both bust out laughing and Baker takes a bump from the same pile. She and I are all smiles and squinted eyes—the formation of crows’ feet all around. She’s sexy to me again, with her heft hidden behind those cheeks and averted eyes—everything but her plush and I remember what it’s like to be inside..
“And..one..for you,” she says. “And..one..for me,” she says of the two lines she cuts off and sniffs.
“I like this shit, Baker. This is almost as good as what I got in LA.”
“Did you ever do coke in Ohio before?”
I shake my head, snorting a drip from the back of my throat.
“Damn!” I’m smiling. “The only reason I say that my LA coke is a shred better than this is that coke..it comes from a guy who knows PT Anderson—I mean hangs out with PT Anderson—I’m not saying PT Anderson does coke! Just saying: the closer you are to an ever-increasing set of circles, the better your coke is likely to be and damn, Charisma this is that good shit. Good better best! Motherfuck!”
I let out a wolf howl.
Baker looks to the door. Puts her finger to her lips.
“Maybe better to keep the animalistic howling to a minimum.”
“Sure.” I nod.
“Now,” my always-a-fuck, never-a-girlfriend Baker says. “Let’s get you to Pacchia for dinner.
Pacchia. The nicest restaurant in town, on a row of restaurants where the serious restauranteurs throw in their hand at catering to the almost nonexistent upscale dining clientele of Dayton Buttfuck Ohio.
Charisma pauses on Fifth Avenue and I step out, peering back through the rider’s window at my friend raising her hand to wave at me and she drops her foot on the accelerator and speeds off down the road.
Nighttime. The coffeehouse (that’s what I called it anyway) was busy with customers, everyone standing in line looking heads up at the chalked-in menu. I decide to go in this way, as here’s the trick: all three businesses on this corner are owned by the same person. The coffeehouse, the Jazz Room, and Pacchia. And they all flow through from one to the next. I flow from caffeine junkie in ultra-bright halogens through a dark hallway into the subdued atmosphere of the Jazz Room. Katya tending bar—she looks my way and gives a what the fuck?! gesture with her shoulders. I remember a time when Katya introduced me to real hip-hop, on mixtapes she made in New York, carrying them around with her for all these years. Then I’m underneath a doorway and into Pacchia, the fusion jazz from the last business falling fast from my ears as I scope out the hostess area where Nik stands looking out for me.
“Hi, my friend.”
A man handshake, hands joining, a light touch for each of us from the other—a shoulder touch. Smiles.
“Hey, buddy,” he says.
Erin, coming from behind the hostess station, says, “This way, guys,” and seats us at a table in the middle of the front dining room. She picks a RESERVED sign from the tabletop and reads us the specials.
“And of course I should let you know that we also have on special a black-and-blue tuna..which..is what about everyone in here is having!”
Nik looks to me.
I look to him.
Nik is dressed out in suit pants. A handkerchief which matches his pants (baby blue) and a white shirt with pin stripes. His hair is combed and sports a chipmunk fluff where it terminates on his forehead.
I am wearing red converse. A pair of yellow club pants, a white t-shirt and a baby blue Paul Frank beanie covering my head.
“We’ll have the tuna,” Nik says.
We all smile and the waitress leaves.
“So. What brings you here?” Nik says.
“I..well I was in film school. And I’m on break. I got tired of LA, naturally. Missed my Ohio roots. That was an amazing time we had when you came by, by the way.”
“Yeah, hows Sashi?”
“Sashi..you know we broke up. Actually we broke up and then I kicked her out of the house. Actually: I kicked her the fuck out of my house,” I say.
“Never really saw what you saw in her.”
“I want to ask you a question,” I say. “When you me and Sashi were making breakfast that day and you and Sashi went out to the farmer’s market, did Sashi flirt with you?”
Nik starts to talk but I interrupt him:
“Or: really: did you flirt with her?”
“Never flirted with her,” Nik says. “As to whether she flirted with me, I’m not the best person to read Sashi—not better than you.”
“Well, if she flirted with you, you would know it—she comes on like a tornado.”
“Truth, Matthew: I never understood why you were with her. I figured she was really smart and you were smarter than that and your extra brain cells allowed you to see what no one else ever saw in her. Me and the people here never understood why you were with her.”
“Huh. Yeah. Well. I mean. The reason I was with her is that the sex was really good!” I say, and laugh.
Nik laughs too.
“Also: Sashi is really smart. She’s also super fucked up on drugs. From drugs. She and her friends used to do LSD every day in New York and ride the busses around with film equipment and they’d make these cray-cray movies. I don’t know if the drugs really messed her up, but she thinks they did so she goes around with this belief that she’s permanently fucked—that she can’t relate to anyone, that no one can relate to her.”
“You know what?” Nik says.
I place both my hands on the table in front of him.
“What?” I say.
“I’m glad you broke up with her.”
“Haha. Thanks, bro. You known what? I gotta take a piss. Will you get us some wine?” I ask.
I’m off to the bathroom. And here I went wrong. For not trusting my friend. For being paranoid on coke. I locked myself inside the men’s and broke the innocent-seeming vial beneath my neck. Dried the countertop obsessively. Tapped out a little bit of coke. Found the straw in my pocket. Looked at myself in the mirror. And here’s where I really went wrong: trying to make my image look my definition of perfect. Snorting, adjusting my shirt. Taking pictures with my mind. Ignoring people knocking at the door: bunch of know-nothing Ohioans who wanted to piss. By the time I was finished I was the definition of coked out. My pants were extra crumpled—extra smashed. My forehead filled with medium-sized sweat bumps. I finally checked and triple checked my gear and made sure I wouldn’t be leaving anything behind.
I went through the dining room and sat across from Nik. Everyone at every table around us was buzzing for action, ready to both exalt and deny my high. Nik poured me a glass of wine—from just about the most expensive bottle you could buy in Dayton. And I drank and ate with my friend. Everything was supreme. Our meal was the best piece of tuna I have ever had anywhere in my entire life. And as it all sunk in and as I decided not to reveal to Nik that I was high on coke this entire time, Nik’s story echoed in my mind:
“..these two girls—one I had never slept with, one my on-and-off girlfriend Katya—are sitting here. Janel here. Katya here. They both have their hands on my cock. And I’m like: is this the invitation to a threesome? Am I gay? I mean that’s the question I’m asking myself: Am. I. Gay? I know sex with these two would..you know..be great. But I don’t want to go through with it. This is like the perfect situation, right? Isn’t this what every guy wants? But I stood up—called it off. And I’m standing in my kitchen. With those two on the couch making out and shit. And all I could think of? I went over every time Katya and I were together. And every time I had to pick her up from the Jazz Room, her stupidly, crazily drunk. Like kill yourself drunk. And I’m like: I love this girl. I am head-over-heels, pink-cheeked-schoolgirl absolutely in love with this woman. And if she never stopped drinking, I’d be in love with her till the end of time.”
Katya drank like I drink. Or maybe like I do drugs. She sent herself to the hospital. Nik would get the call. Katya, poisoned with alcohol, out in a coma at Miami Valley Hospital. This would be on an evening when Nik has invited her over for a quiet evening. Katya had come over, flaunting her sexuality in Nik’s face, then she’d suggest some wild sexual deviance. When Nik turned her down, Katya would storm out, slamming the door to Nik’s apartment. Then Nik would wait for the call.
Then I would hear the same sad story from Nik about how Katya did this, Katya did that. It seemed like a luxury problem to me but I’m sure that’s how my endless alcohol stories strike Nik: me, lying face down in the parking lot beside Inferno, Baker holding my hair. To me that story’s hardly worth telling. To Nik, it seemed an eventful night. To Nik, all his Katya stories were just part of his life. To me, they were beauty bordering on vanilla, all of them involving Katya drinking in Dayton while Nik stayed home—he knew what they’d be doing if he went out with her. They’d be drinking together except Katya at three times the rate. Nik would have one glass of wine. Katya would take the rest of the bottle. That such a person worked as a bartender..it was par for the course. She kept it reasonable while she was behind the bar. As soon as the place closed Katya jumped to “fun side” and she drank herself into a position where she could not: keep a secret, talk intelligibly, drive. That’s when Nik’s phone blew up. A hundred messages a night. The end of this assault by Katya was either that Nik would drive her home, or on especially fun nights, that he would tell her to walk the five blocks to his apartment. Of course she would try to drive it. Nik knew this. It was that hour of the day that turned Nik’s hair gray.
When Baker picked me up I was sitting alone in front of Pacchia. Nik had gone to the Jazz Room. Baker reached over and opened the door.
“Get in, Kimosabe.”
“You know what makes me feel comfortable?”
“What,” Baker says.
“Being with Nik, then being with you. Nik’s life is kind of formal and high class. When I’m with him, then with you, I feel like someone lowered the air pressure. I can breathe out.”
“I know exactly what you mean,” Baker says, mimicking Morpheus.
I didn’t tell her that went both ways. What Baker possessed in the way of low-brow animal fucking tourism, Nik made up for in being an equal—he always had money to spend. And, being that I always had money to spend, and Nik was one of my friends who had a real job, Nik could introduce me to exotic drinks and restaurants like no one on Baker’s level could—yes, it really was like that.
“We going to your parents’ house?”
“You always call them my parents. That’s my aunt and uncle’s house.”
“Did I say parents before? Why didn’t you correct me?”
“A girl gets tired of correcting you on a years-old fact that you’ve been messing up forever.”
I look at her for signs of tears. Her eyes leave the road and I see her face turn sour.
“I’m just kidding!” She slaps the steering wheel. “We’re almost there! And don’t ask me where we’re going. It’s bad luck. Like seeing the bride in her wedding dress before the wedding day!”
“I don’t think it’s like that at all.”
“I know you don’t think it’s like that at all. That’s ‘cause you have too firm a set of metaphors. You think if an analogy is in any way loose that it doesn’t fit at all! Everything with you is tight and rigorous. Fuck that, man!”
I shake my head and prefer to keep my responses to her loose metaphors to myself. Anything I say there will likely be returned to me as evidence that Baker is right. I mean the girl is always right, huh?—The girl is always fucking right.
“Where is this?” I ask as Baker pulls to a stop next to a playground on the edge of a large field.
“It’s a park. If you want to know the name you can read about it on that sign over there where the street..and the grass..meet.”
“What are we doing here?”
“Oh-ho. Since you must know, in addition to this being a very nice place to hang out when it’s dark, this is also a fine place for me to make a phone call—”
“Oh! You’re gonna get us back into your house so we don’t have to sleep at your parents—err, aunt and uncle’s—house. Yes? Good! Yes?? Good!!”
“You are high as a motherfucker,” Baker tells me.
But I say: “Higher.”
“Let’s not argue, my friend.”
“Fuck it. All I’m telling you is it isn’t high as a motherfucker, it’s higher than a motherfucker.”
“You know, you say that now but I think once my legs are wrapped around you, and you’re feeling that pussy from the inside, once you’re as deep as a knee in pussy—”
“It’s not deep as a knee!” I say, but I stop there as nothing I say will ever correct Baker’s dumb-kitten misuse of idiomatic phrases. Let her tell me about “her hypoglycemic” until the day is done and I will take a ticket to ride that glorious pussy deep into the nighttime.
Robert sets herself up sitting on a picnic table: she drops the car keys and her phone on top of it. Lights a cig. Picks up her phone and calls.
I sit next to her but I’m on the table’s bench seat and Baker and I are facing opposite directions, looking at each other.
“Hello. Brooklyn,” Baker takes a long drag off her cigarette. “I know it’s late and Matthew and I have found another place to stay for tonight—it’s alright! We found another place to stay—Yes, with my aunt and uncle. What difference does it make? To you. Who else? I mean who else would it matter to? Whatever! Why are you kicking me out of our house? Just when my friend came to visit? There’s not going to be any problem. Who? When Rambuncto comes? Matt is a gentle person, he’s not going to start a fight. Why would Rambuncto do that? All we wanted to do with you two is snort some coke? And—I mean, not to put a fine point on it—but Matthew has the money. That we’re going to use to buy the coke. Yes! Yes. He came here to have a nice peaceful weekend with me and to meet you and for the three of us to do some coke together. That’s it. And for me and him to have sex. You think Rambuncto will be jealous. Of Matt? Then tell him to close his beady little eyes and forget about what it’s like fucking me. Isn’t Rambuncto with you? What the fuck, girl! Tell him to stop. Even if Matthew wasn’t here I still wouldn’t give it up to Rambunction Style. No. Never going back. Get ahold of your man, Brooklyn! It ain’t my problem..your boy..has the hots for me.”
I get up from the picnic table. Step out from underneath the pavilion where the tables are. The field is lit by street lamps. My mind is tumbling, tumbling. Tumbling down from its position across from Nik at our fancy restaurant and our fancy company and our fancy conversation style. I am falling from the coke, needing more, thinking of pulling it out right here in the park—
“Nah ah!” Baker says. “Don’t even think about it. Wait till we get home.”
I look at her, then at my hands, then at the vial around my neck.
“How did you—?”
Baker taps her head with the phone. It reminds me of seeing her in color guard all those years ago.
“I can feel what you think,” she says. Then she goes back to Brooklyn: “No! No! You’re a two-bit whore smacking up the side of two one-eyed jacks spanking your Little Baby Faulkner until it can’t breathe, Brookly—It can’t!! Let the fucker breathe!”
I turn my back on Baker and I think about three things: 1) the white Rabbit sitting up there on the road, 2) the keys to the Rabbit, set beside Baker on the picnic table, and 3) a wild fantasy from which I can get out of this shit. Feeling truly alone and like I made a mistake coming here. This is a feeling I get on adventures sometimes: that palpable desire to cling to the side of the bridge that I left from—a half step—so scared that I won’t have blankets or a pillow or a bed to sleep in tonight. That as I wander, I won’t have food. That Baker and I aren’t actually going to have great sex this weekend, that I’m with the wrong girlfriend—I long for the security of a well-paying programming job but then the well-paying part isn’t enough for me. The idea that someday I’ll become homeless and be a homeless fucking drug addict once who went to film school. Once who had high-class friends like Nik and low-class ones like Baker.
I could grab those keys and get in that car and be gone across America, halfway back to LA by the time Baker thought about reporting the car stolen. Her wondering face as I drive away from this park, every minute I don’t do anymore coke another minute I am sobering up. Stop in New Mexico or something, abandon film school, and squalor in the sand forever.
We arrive at Baker’s house—her parents’ house—where I always used to pick Baker up with a handbag full of extra panties for their daughter to take over to my house. Memories of her mom packing extra undies for her daughter, us all knowing what was about to happen (apparently)—Baker getting to my house and we throw down and skrog (which is some term invented by my old friend Chad meant to say: to fuck with animal intent and abandon)—don’t you just want sometimes, to throw down and skrog? Baker and I actually fucked like this, reaching upwards, begging for each other’s genitals, clawing them, raking them with fingernails, teeth, skin.
Baker grabs my arm and brings me inside their hou