Friday, February 20, 2009

A Squalid Tale Of Love And Friendship

Due to the illegal activities discussed in this post, the identity of this man -- code-named 'Buck' at his request -- must be kept secret.

Of course those illegal activities fall into the category of youthful experimentation. Hell, presidents do this kind of thing when they're kids, before they grow up and get access to Halcion and shit.

The real mystery is this: just what is he doing? He's wearing headphones, using a capo, and has a tuner plugged into his guitar. A capo and a tuner... What the fuck is he

So this happened back in... Lordy. October of 1988. It was a different world. Punk had only been dead for ten years or so. (Hi, kids with mohawks and safety pins in their ears. You are just adorable.) This is a story involving my three favorite flavors -- sex and drugs and rock and roll. Consider yourself warned. Please forgive the wretched excess -- we were very young at the time.

Anyway, it was my kid brother Duncan's twenty-first birthday. (If you want some more info on Duncan, go check out Margaret Cho's book I'm The One That I Want -- she writes about him fairly extensively toward the start of the book. She also briefly mentions me -- "too intelligent to be sane" is the phrase she used.)

Duncan was really looking forward to the novelty of being able to drink legally and he wanted to make the most of it. So he chose two companions, one who could help him create a disgraceful shambles in public and one who would act as a designated driver.

Me and Buck, respectively.

At this point Buck and I had known each other for nine or ten years but our interactions had been peripheral. We'd see each other at certain social events, we had friends in common -- but we'd managed to avoid having anything resembling a conversation.

Duncan had devoted a lot of thought to the location of the intended debauch. He'd settled on the Jack London Bar and Grill in Glen Ellen.

His reasoning was this; Jack London was a working-class genius and alcoholic. Just like Duncan. Any place that bore his name had to be simultaneously low and brilliant, dank yet shot through with gleaming jewels of wit, a place dangerous and edgy enough so that those of us prone to unfortunate behavior could be ourselves without having to worry about giving offense.

Sounded good to me.

At the time I was living in a trailer park -- excuse me, mobile home center -- in Sonoma with my grandmother. There's another story about that but it's long and involved, featuring mental illness, saucermen, and a houseful of needle freaks and pioneer crackheads.

Let's just say that I was there at her insistence and for my benefit.

I had recently become involved with my first girlfriend, who shall be anonymous as she would no doubt prefer. Let's call her Trixie. She was seventeen; I was twenty-three; her parents approved, which I still wonder about. Trixie was a perfect student and daughter, very, very smart and conservative in her personal behavior. Maybe they trusted her judgment and figured she deserved an oaf if she wanted one. Anyway, at this point we'd met and fell in love on our first meeting, then met again and had our first kiss.

(Which was my first kiss -- hell, that night I held hands for the first time -- and doesn't that explain a lot? Story of my life -- I'm better with violence than with sex. Damnit. Oh, well, the misery has been good for my writing.)

Anyway, we'd seen each other twice at this point and being away from her hurt.

So Buck (man, couldn't you have come up with a better name than that?) and Duncan showed up at the trailer that night. My grandma was out doing something Christian Science-y, so we spent a few minutes talking in the living room and thumping one another before taking off.

When we arrived at the Jack London Bar and Grill we found out that we weren't going to have the evening we'd intended. It wasn't a dive; it was a motherfucking yuppie fern bar. I mean, there were ferns. Duncan looked around at the tasteful decor and well-dressed patrons and asked himself, "What would Jack London do?" He'd fucking get fucking hammered, motherfucker.

So we got a table in the bar and started ordering drinks and talking... Look, I come from a loud people. When Duncan and I conversed the subject was Weird and Profane and the volume was all the way up.

The bartender hated us -- he was giving us the stink eye on a continual basis. But the waitress?

You've got to take two things into account here. First off, Duncan was a really good-looking guy. More pretty than handsome; it made me want to fucking puke.

You know the girl who's one of the guys, you can really talk to her and feel comfortable around her and all the guys think of her as a real pal and she goes home and cries herself to sleep because she can't get a boyfriend? I am (or rather, was, thanks to Trixie and the missus) the male version of that.

So when Duncan would leave the room and all the xx-chromosome types would start going goo-goo gaga over him, well. I would hate.

And Buck? Turned out that he spoke fluent French -- and he was not afraid to use it. Between the two of them they charmed the pants off the waitress. She thought they were cute and funny.

Anyway, at the start of things Duncan asked me for drinking suggestions and at that point in my career it wasn't going to be anything but tequila shots with beer back. At the time I used to say that if they could isolate the non-alcoholic component of tequila, the one that made you bat-fucking crazy, then that would be my favorite drug. (I have since found that I much prefer over-proof brown liquor.)

While I cannot recall any specific topics of conversation, I'd guess that we were talking about cyberpunk science fiction, the idea of starting some kind of collective household, the need for culling the human species and our preferred methods for eliminated the grinks and groinks, a variety of hilarious and terrifying assholes including Stephen the scar-eating hypnotist and molester of teens (When Duncan finally met Steven he looked at me and said, "I thought you made him up."), how frustrated I was to be discovering that I knew nothing about art, Drunks and Junkies We Have Known, the dulcet vocal stylings of the Anti-Nowhere League, the dreaded candiru fish, and the works of Jim and Hunter Thompson. Among other things.

Buck did something that not many people would have been able to do. He kept up with the conversation and added a lot. He also managed, after Duncan and I had gotten a sufficient load on, to steer us into the dining room.

We ate... there was... something. I know I put stuff in my mouth and it went somewhere. More than that I cannot tell.

When payment and tipping were done Duncan and I were guided through the door. Across the street there was some kind of mass arrest going on -- three or four cop cars were parked flashing and screaming and a bunch of cops were present and working hard.

Duncan climbed in the back, Buck climbed into the driver's seat and I opened the passenger door and stood there, staring.

Okay, okay, I'm a vulgar person. But I'm not one to behave in the sexist pig mode. I respect women -- the kind of respect that comes with fear. But this one time -- just this once in my life -- something slipped out.

I can still see her sillhoutte against the flashing lights, a black outline that was...

How shall I say this? I'm almost blind -- I've got a thing for women who at a distance, in conditions of poor visibility, are unmistakably female. Okay?

"Jesus," I said, loudly enough to be heard over the sirens, and then the tequila spoke through me like a spirit through a supplicant. "Will you look at that policewoman? My dick's getting hard!"

One hand reached out from the car and grabbed me by the belt and YANKED me inside; the car peeled out so fast my door slammed shut in an act of physics.

By the time we got back to Grandma's trailer (excuse me -- mobile home), we had managed to convince ourselves that my egregious behavior was comedy. Once inside Buck revealed the secret of his willingness to eschew drinking, aside from the one beer he had with his dinner.

While Duncan began raving at me about how much Trixie missed me and how I needed to see her, Buck went over to the spotless kitchen counter and pulled out a paper bindle and a razor blade and began chopping out fat fingers of white powder.


"No, it's crank."

"Oh, good, I was worried for a second there."

I had only done crank a couple of times but I'd seen a number of my friends destroy themselves with coke. I knew that speed was bad news in theory -- but in my limited experience it was a relatively harmless study aid. I would learn better in the coming years...

So we snorted the first round (jesus, the eyewatering shock of pain as that toxin-bitter grit hits your mucus membranes and sears its way into your bloodstream) and Duncan went off to make a phone call. When he came back he started to say something about me going with them --

-- and that's when headlights shone through the kitchen window as Grandma drove up.

Interesting thing about speed. It makes you go fast. By the time Grandma hit the porch the crank was gone and the gear was stowed and the counter wiped.

We greeted Grandma, exchanged hugs, and Duncan told her they were taking me with them.

"But it's a school night," she said.

"Grandma, I'm a straight-A student," I said. "I am a grown-up and I can afford to do this. It's not an issue."

"Well, all right."

Before we were out the door, Duncan turned to me.

"Bring some of your tapes," he said.

I grabbed a fistful of tapes, most of them ones that my friend Angel had made for me. (Angel had been my best friend for years when I lived in Santa Cruz, and she shows up in disguise in my novel.)

So on the drive to... where the hell were we going? Anyway, Duncan sat in the back, I sat shotgun, and Buck talked with me about music.

I think it was Leave Home that he put on -- either that or Rocket To Russia. Now I'd heard the Ramones before -- but I hadn't listened to them. It was a fucking revelation. Then and there they became my favorite band. Their music was what I felt like inside. They spoke for me and to me. If I were a country, they would have been on the money.

Of course when you put on music and someone reacts that way to it, it tends to give you warm feelings toward them. Buck was obviously thrilled by my enthusiasm.

And when it was my turn to put in a tape, I chose the Screaming Jay Hawkins album Frenzy.

Let's just say the musical experience that Buck and I shared that night was mutual.

"Dude," I said, "you were such a dick the first time we met."

"Well, you were tall," he said. "Tall people were the enemy."

"I feel like we've always been friends and I just noticed it."

"I hear you, bro. We're friends all right," he said.

Or something similar... anyway, that's when things went away for a while.

When I woke up I was in a cramped space, laying on a narrow futon, almost naked and intimately tangled with someone soft and pleasant-smelling. Breasts were involved.

I had no idea where I was or who she was and my first thought was, oh shit. How could I do this to Trixie? The guilt made me feel as if I'd eaten a rock. A sharp one.

Then the woman made a small noise, just a little cry in her sleep -- and I recognized Trixie's voice and a sweet wave of relief washed over me.

That turned out to be one of the best years of my life.

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