Sunday, December 14, 2008


Sitting in Charlie's darkened living room, the light from the street filtering in through the blinds, they passed it between them quietly, each inhaling deeply and professionally until the bomber of a joint was nothing more than a sticky tab of brown paper that would not light no matter how hard Charlie tried.
"Stop flicking that thing, man. You're giving me a headache." Rosa said, leaning back on the couch and nearly disappearing into her coat.
The window unit pumped heat into the room.
"Sorry." he said, putting the lighter down and scraping the resinated roach off of his thumb and onto the edge of the ash tray. The heater shifted gears and settled into a different tone. "Rosa," he continued, "I may be crazy, but I think all of this has happened before."
"Huh?" she said, almost asleep, her feet slowly making their way up onto the couch with the rest of her.
"I mean everything, everything that happens. Like elections and wars and death and, well, shit. . . just everything. . . Ya know?"
". . .hmmm, yeh. . . right. . ." she said through a sleepy haze.
"I mean the way we think of previous generations as backwards and uneducated, innocent, the whole nine yards. . . why should they be so innocent? Did our parents simply appear and POOF! there we were? No of course not. . ." He lit a cigarette as he spoke, pursing his lips, continuing to speak around the cigarette. "What. . .we. . .per. . What we perceive as just beginning to happen is really not just beginning to happen, it's just that we are only now beginning to perceive it. For instance, how long have people been sucking toes? Hmm? How long? You might think it'd be a relatively recent perversion, but I'd be willing to bet that hunch-backed, club carrying mongoloids were sucking toes ten thousand years ago. My point? Well my point is that people aren't as original as they like to think. . . People make a huge stink when there is a murder or a gang-rape or whatever, but what they don't seem to understand is that those things have been going on for so long that their outrage is misplaced. Benobo monkeys. Ever hear of them? They basically do nothing but hang from the trees and fuck all day. You should see the positions these things can achieve what with their prehensile tails and all. . . They have group sex, incest, anal sex. . . all of it right out in the open, right in plain view of the rest of the population, who if they aren't too busy fucking, often sit and watch while masturbating. Meanwhile, we, WE have laws against nudity, laws about who you can and cannot marry, what sex they have to be, exactly how far removed they must be from your family, etc. . . Who came up with these things? Us? Our parents? Their parents? Nope, this stuff has been going on for tens of thousands of years, since before we stood upright when our little rodent ancestors scurried around collecting nuts. . . But today we have law enforcement telling us that in response to recently growing problems, laws are needed such as laws against oral sex and exposure. . . I say that it's just a pretense to allow them to pull the noose tighter around our necks. These things are supposed to take care of themselves naturally. If an exposer keeps it up, he is eventually trounced. If the oral sex goes on, well, I still can't figure out what would be wrong with that, but what I mean is, these things should be left to nature. If someone exposes themselves to someone else and the person who is exposed upon, so to speak, does nothing about it, or doesn't have someone else do something about it, well then I guess someone got away with something naughty. Children are raised to hate and raised to follow their parent's example. Boys born to hunters would die for the right to have their guns. Why? Because they need them? Not likely in this day and age. They would die for them because their fathers felt that way. Why then, did their fathers feel that way? because their fathers felt that way, ad infinatum. Guns have never been an absolute necessity of life. The American Indians made it for many generations without them and did quite well, thank you, that is, until the Europeans showed up with cannons and rifles and bombs. . . Most every healthy young Indian who died for the next five hundred years was killed by a bullet. Why? Control. It's not necessarily bad to pass things down until it becomes almost a matter of course that the youngsters learn it. Lions all learn to hunt or they die. It's not a bad thing for them to pass down to their children, but humans have filled their children's heads with such garbage that it makes me sick. Is it just me," he asked the now soundly sleeping Rosa, "or do the same families seem to be the ones in control, generation, after generation. . . Kings and monarchies, presidencies, tribal chieftains, the whole gamut, there always seems to be that alpha-male thing going on like in those Jack London wolf novels. . . I grant that it's an entirely natural process, but it seems to me that we have pretty much rid ourselves of every other semblance of hierarchical bestiality, why not that one? We don't mate with our relatives because we know it'd foster regenerative traits, we research ways to make babies born without vital organs live long, empty and confused, unseeing, bitter lives, but we still have the same alpha-males making our decisions, governmental and economic. . . Why? Because by the time we are old enough to give a damn, the alpha male is firmly in place, his seed gestating and waiting to be placed onto the throne of power just as his father grows nearly weary enough for us to topple him. I hate to sound bitter, Rosie, but it seems like breaking that cycle, in any of its modes, not just political, is impossible. That barrier is thrown up everywhere. I go to the grocery and find the old man behind the counter, his son working in the stock room waiting for him to die so he can do some remodeling and really get the place going, when all that's really gonna happen is he'll pass it on to his kid. Where's a guy supposed to break in? What's to be done? All I've been left are two strong legs and this accursed mind. . ." He lit another cigarette, lost in thought. He had been sitting on the floor in front of the couch. His head leaning on Rosa's back. At least he thought it was her back, he couldn't be sure it wasn't a handbag in the giant pockets of her coat. Whatever it was, it was good and he could feel her breathing and smell her smell. He finished the cigarette and got up to get a blanket for her.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Big Night

Charlie knew fun and had tried to remain familiar with it over the years, but somehow it always seemed to elude him now, seeming to just slip around the corners of his awareness, growing more intangible as the days and months passed him by. Often, he went to places where others seemed to enjoy themselves in one way or another, but he usually came away with little more than an empty feeling and a smile that sat like a prosthesis, disgustingly plastic, on his face.
Winter was coming.
He let the thought hover in his mind as he lay listening to the muffled news broadcast that was seeping through the wall and had awakened him. Eyes still closed, he tried to understand the flow of the reporter's words, but he could only catch a few here and there. He got out of bed and, sniffling and snorting, he fished a set of clothes from the hamper and set out for the neighborhood bar.
The neighborhood was an old one and as such, had seen both good times and bad. Lately it seemed that the pendulum was on an upswing. People were opening coffee houses and news stands, corner groceries were chasing the bad elements from their storefronts, the old cathedral was playing Amazing Grace on its bells. Still, people crossed the streets from each other and only the very old gave greetings if they happened to pass close enough to do so. But still in all, it was a pretty nice neighborhood. It was almost three hundred years old and had been built when New Orleans was nothing more than a little place where European sailors could get whores, whiskey and slaves.
Jonny's bar was a dark little place. The door, like many in the area, had steel grating over the window and required a buzz from the bartender to open. Charlie pressed the buzzer and waited. A camera scrutinized him from above and he looked up at it blandly. The door clicked and buzzed and he pushed it.
"Hey, what's up, Chuck?"
"Chuuuuuuck. . ."
A nod from someone playing pool alone that implied an invitation.
A tilt of the head, a slight spreading of the hands and a crooked tsk-tsk smile, two slow shakes of the head and Charlie graciously refused the invitation.
Pool balls resumed their clicking, the pool table resumed it's clunking and Charlie sat on a stool at the long, antique cypress bar.
He paid quietly and looked up at the tv mounted in the corner, sipping the foam that slowly rose from the neck of the bottle. Music videos filled with unnaturally perfect, bikini-clad women and shirtless, muscular men with chiseled features paraded across the screen between important messages from the sponsors--mostly beer, trendy garment manufacturers and automobiles. Charlie looked around with a sigh and noticed that everyone else seemed to constantly be in the process of either turning toward or away from the television or trying in some way to consciously to ignore it.
Charlie pulled out a dollar and studiously folded it back and forth on the bar in front of him, stealing glances at the bartender. Soon enough, he had four quarters and was standing before the jukebox. He played two blues songs by a long-dead black man. The tv volume was turned down and the music loped along, smoothing everyone's mood. He ambled back to his stool.
The pool player caught Charlie's eye and nodded approvingly as he shot and missed a maroon seven ball in the corner pocket.
Charlie raised an eyebrow, squinted, nodded, took a sip of his beer and returned to his spot near the taps.
At the bar again, making a concerted effort to avoid the television, his gaze moved from liquor bottle to liquor bottle, examining, appraising, remembering. . . listening to the man on the jukebox holler his woes over driving rhythms and a railroad train harmonica player that made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.
The reverie was broken by the buzz at the door.
The bartender looked at a screen under the bar that Charlie could see in the mirror through all the bottles. He could also see what looked like a sawed-off shotgun lying on the shelf, next to the little screen. When it came to security, they didn't play around at Jonny's. Not since the murder of a nineteen yr. old kid right outside the front door the year before.
The door buzzed and opened.
Charlie and the others at the bar all looked mutely at the mirror behind the bar and watched her come in.
She wore a long coat with jeans and tennis shoes showing out of the bottom. Her black hair framed a face with a slight south-of-the-border cast to it. Bustling her coat off, she sat down on the last stool at the bar, next to Charlie.
Charlie, careful not to look at her, lit a cigarette and pushed the ashtray to his right, her being on his left. Before he had taken the first drag, she was lighting one too, so he moved the ashtray back to his left into the neutral space on the bar between the invisible lines of their staked out spots on the bar.
"Thank you" she said, looking not at his face, but at his shoulder, or hand, or somewhere. Charlie couldn't tell, watching her in the bar mirror, her appraising him unabashedly. She followed his gaze and turned to stare right at his reflection and their eyes met for a second, Charlie turning away first, then furtively looking back, her looking away, then back, both of them looking down, blushing.
"Charlie. . ." he said, sticking his cigarette into the slotted ashtray and extending a warm hand.
"Rosa," she said, "but my full name is Rosalita" she continued, letting a slight, probably second or third generation, accent peek through.
"It's a beautiful name" he said, feeling her soft, tan hand in his. She had given it to him palm down, like a princess, as if she were expecting him to genuflect and kiss her knuckles. He just squeezed it ever-so-lightly and nodded sheepishly at her.
He could feel the stares coming from the other men in the bar and he couldn't blame them. He had become the only entertainment in the bar, other than the music videos, which remained soundless even though the juke-box had long since quieted.
"Like a beer?" he asked.
"Lite please."
"Fine, fine. . ." he trailed off as he tried to imagine her midriff through the multiple shirts that girded her against the cold. The bartender was standing in front of him before he had his wallet out. "Michelob and a McLite" Charlie said, dropping a five on the bar.
The beers came and they sat and sipped them in silence. The tv volume returned and they smoked slowly as the beers disappeared.
He was down to one last frothy sip when she produced a pocket book from within the folds of her voluminous coat and ordered up two shots of whiskey and more beer.
They sat drinking like that for the space of an hour or more. Neither of them saying more than two or three words at a time, occasionally nodding at each other in response to something on the tv. The pool player turned in the balls and chalk, the tv switched to baseball, no one in the bar spoke, blue cigarette smoke hung in the air and rose lethargically to be gently sliced by the two slow moving ceiling fans that were suspended from the high ceilings.
"You smoke?" Charlie mumbled the question in the quiet bar.
Rosa looked at him, time seemed to slow and Charlie fidgeted in his chair, puffing at his cigarette. "Yes, but first let me go to the bathroom." She got up a little wobbly and put a hand on his shoulder, squeezing gently. He put out a hand to steady her and he let it rest on the small of her back. He could feel the taut, parallel muscles and the pert curve that led downward. She regained her balance and turned, her hair flying past his face. The smell of strawberries and something else and his hand was left holding only empty air.
Charlie looked around at the other patrons. They looked like wax statues and he found himself imagining them with dust and spider webs like he imagined an old abandoned wax museum might look. He slouched back to staring straight ahead at his beer, sitting on the bar. He tracked the statues in his peripheral vision for a while and could feel his eyes glazing after a minute. The bathroom door squealed and slammed loudly and Rosa was soon behind him.
"Hey Chuck, you all right?" she ran a cool hand over his back.
"Yeah," he said blinking away the trance. "Let's go burn."
"Let's go" she said shrugging on her coat and buttoning it up.
The door buzzed as they approached and Charlie pushed it open for Rosa with one hand and waved to the bartender behind him with the other.
Outside it was cold. As they walked, they both stuck their hands into their pockets, foregoing cigarettes until they reached warmth.
"So you got it with you?" she asked, looking up at Charlie.
"No, it's at my house." he said, noticing for the first time that she couldn't be over 5'1.
"Where's that?"
"Three-and-a-half more blocks."
They walked along in silence, her heels sometimes giving her problems on the irregular brick sidewalks. After the third stumble, Charlie offered a piggy-back ride. She politely declined, watching the changing sidewalk pass more and more quickly beneath her feet like a treadmill gone wild.