May 28, 2009
“There were tears in his eyes. A cigarette in his mouth. The clock on the wall was sleeping. Behind him the old man cleared his throat. And spit into an ashtray.
Horror was dumb. Blind and bitter fury rose to every lip. The terrible stain. The awful deed. Garfield had been shot.
“Can we make the final edition?” the old man asked.
Shrugging his shoulders he pulled open the top drawer of his desk and removed a bottle of whiskey, took a slug and handed the bottle to the old man.
Garfield left behind him the burden of this great office. He was just setting forth to the scenes of his young manhood, where he had toiled and striven to become what he was. Pleasant farewells were upon his lips and in his heart.
The old man swallowed, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and put the bottle down on the desk.
“They’re always the same, these assassinations. The victim is always Lincoln. The assassin is always Booth. It is a drama performed by the gods. We are merely the flies swarming over the corpses.”
He turned to the old man, looked at him for some time then turned to the half empty bottle on the desk.
“Let’s pretend it never happened.”
I’m Mary Richards and that’s the way it was on July 2, 1921.
May 24, 2009
Chapter Four (contd)
Michael leaned back in his chair, sipped on his brandy and watched Harry make his way across the room toward the bar.
“Why do you hang around that guy?” Bud asked.
“He thinks with his prick,” Bud added.
Michael laughed. “He’s a romantic. Guys like that come in handy. You can never have too many friends.”
“Always the pragmatist, eh Michael?” Bud shook his head.
“I like Harry. He’s a lost soul.”
Bud laughed. “I never thought of you as a sentimentalist, Michael. You’re seeing too much of Harry. The two of you are starting to look alike.”
Michael lit up a cigarette and leaned back in his chair. “The world is in decline, Bud.”
“I’m serious,” Michael added. “There’s no respect for institutions. The environment is being destroyed. Moral values are atrophying.”
“Shits always happening,” Bud responded.
“It’s more than that. There’s a storm coming. People are walking around with blinkers on: watching television, eating too much, doing drugs. We’re on a collision course with disaster, Bud, and no one sees it.”
“You sound delighted at the prospects.” Bud laughed.
Michael smiled. “It’s harvest time for guys like you and me.”
Bud shook his head. “Not me, Michael. I ain’t got the stomach for the business anymore. Frayed nerves. But, you didn’t ask Harry to leave so that you could wax philosophical. What’s up?”
Michael took a sip of his brandy. “I’m being watched. I can feel it in my gut. I thought it was the pigs. Went down to the cop shop with my lawyer to complain. They haven’t the slightest idea what I’m talking about. Maybe they’re telling the truth. Cops are funny like that. When they’re telling you the truth, they get a real dumb look on their face. But someone is watching. I don’t even dare go back to my place anymore. Have you heard anything?”
Bud shook his head.
“I don’t like it, Bud. I’m afraid of making a move. I need a favor.”
Bud swallowed deeply. “I don’t want no more trouble, Michael. I’m not a kid anymore. Like I said my nerves are gone.”
Michael glared at Bud for a moment then looked away.
For several moments Bud hesitated, his fingers squeezing smoke out of his cigarette. “Okay,” Bud finally relented. “But this is the last time, Michael. And only because we’re friends.”
“I need you to leave tonight.”
7. A God At The Bar
I glanced over Sheila’s shoulder at Harry who had taken a stool beside Marlo, Sheila’s girlfriend. Harry turned from Sheila, to Marlo, to the bartender, to plead his case.
“You kids are young,” Harry began. “This is before your time.”
“This another one of your tall tales?” Marlo grinned.
“Hey, I can only give you the facts. You make your own judgment. This goes back quite a few years in Dallas. It was a beautiful day, clear sky, a slight breeze. I was sitting on a grassy knoll with this girl, Candy.”
“Why are the girls in your stories always named after some food group?” Marlo cried.
“Okay, I know Candy’s a silly name. Would I make it up? Candy and I were sitting on the hill, sharing a joint, waiting for the President. The streets were blocked off for his motorcade. Don’t look at me like that. You could smoke anywhere you wanted in those days. Most people had no idea what dope smelled like. They thought we were smoking French cigarettes. Candy started to complain. She was getting the munchies. The girl liked to eat. I’ve seen her put away two bricks of ice cream in one sitting and she’s as skinny as a rail.”
“Isn’t that the way it always is?” Marlo sighed. “I look at a doughnut and it goes straight to my hips.”
“I noticed an ice cream van nearby,” Harry continued, “and sauntered off to buy us a couple of cones. When I returned with the ice cream, I heard sirens. People were scurrying around in all directions, crying and yelling and laughing hysterically. I rushed back to where I’d left Candy when I noticed this guy putting a rifle into the trunk of a black limousine. He looked up at me and winked.”
Marlo and Sheila began to laugh. The bartender shook his head in disbelief.
“You weren’t in Dallas that day!” Sheila cried. “Kennedy’s assassination was ages ago, long before you were born.”
Harry shrugged. “I don’t look my age.”
The bartender turned away. A group of patrons entered the door.
“There’s your girl friend, Harry,” the bartender cried.
“Everyone knows you have a thing for the chick from the tube.”
Harry looked at the group now sitting down at a nearby table.
The news gang had showed up. I watched Harry as he stared at Mary Richards. There was a look in his eyes, halfway between adoration and lust. Sue Ann Nivens, slender and middle-aged was beside Mary. Sue Ann had a cooking show. The other young woman sitting opposite of Mary was Mary’s friend, Rhoda Morgenstern. Ted was there, posing. The fifth member of the group was a balding stocky fellow. It was me, Lou Grant. How could that be? I was here sitting at the bar having a drink. Sheila glanced back at me for a second than at the other Lou Grant. She spoke to Marlo. Marlo glanced at me and my double ganger, and laughed.
“All fat men look alike.” Marlo remarked, sucking on the remainder of her drink with a straw. The ice cubes rattled in her glass. “That can’t be the Mary Richards from the television. She doesn’t look famous. I once saw Robert Deniro in a book shop. He was so short! I couldn’t believe it was him, but one of the sales girls insisted that it was Deniro. And to think, all this time I had the hots for a shrimp.”
“Isn’t Deniro dead?” the bartender asked.
“Do you think that the others are famous too?” Sheila asked Harry.
It was the first time Harry could remember her speaking to him in a civil tone.
“The older woman looks like the host of that afternoon cook show, the one who giggles every time she opens an oven door.”
“You watch cooking shows?” Marlo marveled.
“I love cooking shows,” Harry responded.
“Marlo watches them too,” Sheila added. “She can’t boil water but she loves cooking shows.”
“You ever watch that Chinese guy on channel 2? The one who tells those awful jokes?”
‘‘He breaks me up,” Harry cried. “And he tells the worse jokes.”
“That’s Ted Baxter,” Sheila added. “The distinguished looking guy. He reads the eleven o’clock news. I wouldn’t mind doing the horizontal tango with him.”
“Reading the news hardly makes you famous,” Marlo remarked.
Sheila turned sharply on Marlo. “He is on television, isn’t he?”
“Ya,” Marlo conceded. “But it’s not like being a movie star.”
“It’s all show business.” Sheila sucked on her drink. “I was in a band. That was show business. It’s the same.”
“Do you think that people who are famous are different?” Harry mused.
“Whatdya mean?” Marlo asked.
“Well, I see them as modern day aristocrats.” Harry leaned forward as if he was releasing top secret information. “We’re just plebs. What happens to us doesn’t matter much. But them, they’re what history is all about. We’re statistics. They’re the show.”
“Michael told me once,” Sheila said, “that history belongs to the first one who gets his hand on a gun.”
“Michael is a cynic,” Harry explained. “I like to think that their lives are somehow above ours, that their lives are a great drama at which we have the privilege of being the audience.”
“What do you think it would be like to fuck someone famous?” Sheila mused.
“You think they do it different than the rest of us?” Marlo laughed.
“I’d get wet just waiting to be fucked by someone famous,” Sheila added.
“Maybe they do it different,” Harry mumbled. “How do you know unless you try it.”
“I once gave head to a judge,” Marlo added.
“Judges aren’t famous!” Sheila responded.
“This guy claimed he was. Said he was the judge who ran the famous Simpson murder trial.”
“You recognized him?”
“No.” Marlo smiled. “But, he kept asking me if I recognized him. Finally he told me who he was.”
“Well, how was it?” Harry asked.
Marlo thought for a moment and laughed. “It tasted like chicken.”
May 22, 2009
“Jim Garrison, the New Orleans district attorney who failed to prove a conspiracy in the assassination of President Kennedy, was arrested yesterday on federal charges of taking payoffs to protect illegal gambling operations.
Kennedy had a smile on his face that said he was putting one over on you. His face was puffy. Jowls too early for a young man. Hair bushy and always falling in his eyes. Bald men don’t become presidents.
Garrison, released on a $5,000 personal recognizance bond pending a July 9 hearing said in New Orleans that he was framed but that being arrested was “better than being shot”, which he said he had expected since he first started his investigation of the presidential murder.
“It was a perfect day. The sky was clear and there was a breeze off the lake. I saw a woman weeping at a bus stop. And a bus door open and a bus emptied. A horse wandered aimlessly through a hydro field. Young girls huddled together, hugging. The chocolates in the variety store window were melting. Newspapers in their boxes which no one bothered to read. A terrible stillness. And the memory of a widow. A bullet in the Dallas sky, caught in a freeze frame. Suspended. Forever. I wanted to find out what happened.”
I’m Mary Richards and that’s the way it was July 1, 1971
May 18, 2009
Late Into The Night
1. In The Middle Of A Conversation
“That wasn’t the way it was.” Harry cleared his throat. “Much more graphic. Killing people is a messy business. And boring. When the Barrow gang wasn’t robbing banks, what do you suppose they did for fun? Wasn’t like there were two hundred channels on the tube. Wasn’t any television at all. There was radio. But how much radio can you listen to? You wouldn’t find the Barrow gang in the local library. They didn’t have many friends and the cops always had an eye on their families so it wasn’t like they could go over to mom’s for Sunday dinner. There was practically no entertainment except robbing banks. Maybe bowling.”
“Didn’t Bonnie write poetry?” Michael pointed out.
“And fucked anything with a gun,” Harry added with a grin.
“You liked Bonnie?”
“She was my kind of girl.” Harry laughed. “I’ve dabbled at poetry myself. Not the rhyming kind but that Robert Frost stuff. Remember that poem we studied in grade ten. Stopping by a woods to take a piss. I like a girl with a few smarts. Not too many, but enough to know how to blow her nose. There is nothing worse than a broad who looks like a Buick but runs like an Edsel. And some culture. I never had a girl who wrote poetry. Marian had a diary but that doesn’t count. I liked Bonnie. But, you can’t spend all your time writing poetry and riding a rod.”
“And how have things changed?” Michael asked.
“Today we got gadgets,” Harry responded. “We got all this technology to entertain the criminal, to help him kill those hours of tedium between jobs.”
“But it all comes down to the same thing,” Michael said. “We’re put here on the planet without any idea why. We ain’t no different than people have always been. We’re all just killing time. If you don’t believe in something, life is boring. That’s why we invented God. And then when God died, we invented television.”
Harry looked at Michael quixotically. “You believe in something, Michael?”
Michael shrugged. “What about the other one, Harry?”
“The other one? What other one?”
“The girl friend. Mary Richards. The chick on the television.” Michael smiled. “She seems pretty smart. I’ll bet she’s written a few verses.”
Harry shook his head. “I’m not sure what makes her so damn interesting. It’s mostly in her voice, I think. When she speaks, I feel transported, like I was suddenly placed in the middle of her stories. When I was a kid, my grandfather used to spin these incredible yarns. I could listen to him for hours. It wasn’t the stories so much as the way he told them. It was like you were a part of the story, tagging right along with him. It’s that way with Mary Richards. She carries me off. It’s a real trip.”
Michael laughed. “Her voice! We know what you want to hear her cry out. Don’t stop Harry! Don’t stop Harry!”
Harry shook his head. “Don’t even know her. And not likely ever to meet her.”
“Well, she comes in here all the time,” a third voice added.
Harry and Michael looked up. The round boyish good looks of Bud grinned down upon them.
2. A Drink After Work At The Selby Hotel
MURRAY: So now we’ve got this new character in your story, this Michael. What’s he all about?
LOU: You’re asking me like I invited him along. I don’t know anything about him. But there’s something creepy about him. Harry is a sleaze, but this Michael is a manipulator. I know how to deal with sleaze. Been dealing with lawyers all my life, but someone like Michael, you don’t know where they’re coming from.”
MURRAY: And you keep bringing Mary into the story. I don’t like that. If Mary knew that she was one of the central characters in your fantasies she’d be miffed.
LOU: You think I got something to say about all of this, Murray? Don’t look at me like that?
MURRAY: What! How am I looking at you?
LOU: Like I was some kind of… pervert.
MURRAY: Lou, they are your dreams.
LOU: Hey Murray, did I tell you this story that Gordo told me?
MURRAY: I’m not interested in Gordo’s cricket stories. I hate that game. They can play for days and score hundreds of points and still end up with a tied game. Tell me another story, Lou.
LOU: At one time in the Netherlands tulip bulbs, not gold, was the standard for wealth. People invested huge fortunes in them. One guy invested every cent he had into one particularly rare tulip bulb. He invited his best friend over to see the bulb. When his friend arrived, our guy was busy with a family matter in another room. The bulb had been left on the kitchen table. The friend was hungry and mistaking the bulb for an onion, ate it.
MURRAY: Onions give me gas.
LOU: Don’t you get it Murray?
MURRAY: Apparently not, Lou. Why don’t you let me in on the moral of this Aesop fable.
LOU: Everything in society is mad if you don’t understand its significance. Sanity is based on consensus.
MURRAY: Consensus? Did we all vote on insane behavior? I guess I forgot to register.
LOU: Are you trying to rile me, Murray?
MURRAY: Never, Lou.
MURRAY: Lou, why have you got your hands over your ears?
LOU: You wouldn’t believe me.
MURRAY: Okay, Lou. Now tell me, why is Mary so important in your dream? This fellow Harry pays her a lot of attention and it sounds as if she has aroused the curiosity of this Michael chap.
LOU: Be careful what you say, Murray.
MURRAY: Well, Lou, face up to the facts. You’ve got a thing for Mary.
LOU: Have not!
LOU: The social mores that run every society are tailored to the needs of the elite.
MURRAY: What’s that got to do with Mary?
LOU: I don’t know. It just came flying out of my mouth. This isn’t right, Murray. I’m starting to sound like an anthropologist. That’s not me. I can’t even spell the word.
MURRAY: I think you mean sociologist, Lou.
LOU: I can’t spell that either.
3. Old Acquaintances
Michael smiled, “You old fucker! Sit down!”
Bud took a seat in a chair that Michael had dragged up to the table. He put down his bag on the floor by the table leg. Bud’s long thin fingers stumbled over each other as he raised them to an awkward smile. Everything about Bud was fragile, effeminate: his limbs, his light fluid voice, his long slender fingers, his light pale blue eyes, his wispy straw like hair.
Cutting away from Michael and Harry, I turned back to the blonde, Sheila. She had accepted my offer of a drink and while we waited for the waiter to serve us, she asked if I had someplace where we could be alone. I shook my head. Certainly I wasn’t going to take a hooker back to my home. Another young woman sat down on the other side of Sheila. The two of them fell into a energetic conversation and I was soon forgotten.
“Do all the gods strike out like this?” I muttered and turned back to the table where Michael and Harry and their guest Bud, were seated.
“You’ve seen Mary Richards in this bar?” Harry cried, his mouth hanging open.
Bud turned and looked at Michael.
“He’s in heat,” Michael explained.
Bud nodded and turned back to Harry. “She’s in here all the time, never alone, always with someone from the office, usually a bald guy named Murray. He wears a toupee. Rotten tipper.”
“You’re not putting me on. You’ve actually seen her… what’s she like?”
Bud brushed some hair from his eyes. “Bony knees.” Bud grinned. “Like mine. And she always wears high neck sweaters and jackets. Maybe she’s got some kind of skin disease. Lot of women get rashes in this heat. Cosmetics. Nice eyes though. Like a Guernsey cow.”
“How come I’ve never seen her in here?” Harry cried.
“And false teeth,” Bud added with a whimsical grin. “She’s got these dentures. When she’s drinking they go clop clop clop like a horse’s hoofs.”
Michael roared with laughter. The waiter came by the table. Bud spoke to him for a moment and then ordered a club soda.
“Doesn’t anyone drink anymore?” Harry complained.
“I’m in training,” Bud explained.
Puzzled, Harry turned to Michael for an explanation. Michael shrugged him off anxious to hear what Bud had to say.
“My place is like an oven,” Bud continued. “The sweat just pours off you. Been hunting around for a fan. Can’t find one anywhere. Rather be at work. At least it’s air conditioned in here. Did you hear that they’re starting to ration water? This afternoon a guy in North York turned his lawn sprinkler on. Neighbors complained. A Swat team was called in. He held them off with a shotgun for about an hour before they blew him away. Showed it on the tube. Couldn’t believe it. Blood shooting out of the guy like a lawn sprinkler. They showed it right on television.”
“Maybe it was a warning,” Michael suggested.
“Maybe,” Bud nodded.
There was a long period of silence. Bud reached over to Michael’s cigarette case and helped himself to a cigarette. Match. Light. Smoke curled out of Bud’s teeth. Michael smiled. Harry put his beer down, wiped the neck of the bottle with his hand then wiped his forehead. Michael raised his cigarette case and looked at the reflection of those behind him. A blonde in a tight blue skirt brushed passed Harry’s chair. Harry looked up angrily and then smiled. The girl apologized.
The waiter came by and dropped off Bud’s club soda. The two jostled each other with conversation before the waiter moved on. Harry looked at Michael, and then at the blonde who was now sitting down at a table with several friends.
“What’s this about training?” Harry asked.
“I wish someone would turn that music up,” Michael said. “I love Chuck Berry.”
Bud turned to Michael. “You want me to ask Frank?”
Harry tugged at Bud’s shirt. “Excuse me, could someone fill me in on the training motif.”
Bud turned to Harry. “Did you say something?”
Harry repeated his question.
“Bud is going to attempt a crossing of the lake,” Michael responded.
“The lake!” Harry gasped. “You’re going to swim across Lake Ontario!”
Harry turned from Bud to Michael. “He’s not serious!”
Harry shook with laughter. “You’re going to swim across Lake Ontario! You really must think I’m gullible! It’s a sewer! You could walk across on the turds.”
Harry looked at Michael and then at Bud. “You’re serious!”
“Jesus!” Harry sighed, shaking his head. “That’s great. I always wanted to do something like that, something extraordinary. I know I’m great at something. I must be. We’re all great at something. Just don’t know what it is. Haven’t found my niche yet. That’s all I need. A niche. A guy can hit a baseball four hundred feet and all the riches of the world are laid at his feet. Some shmoe mumbles some words before a camera and women are fighting to climb into his bed. They’ve found their niche. It’s just a matter of finding that niche.” Leaning over the table, Harry gestured to Bud to draw nearer. “So, what’s the point? Why do you want to swim across the lake? Someone paying you? Is there a woman involved?”
Bud shook his head, than leaned toward Harry. “I’m going to be the first Gay to cross the big pond.”
Harry gasped jumping back “I didn’t know that you were gay!”.
Michael and Bud began to laugh.
“Jesus!” Harry cried indignantly. “Putting me on. I knew you were putting me on. Don’t think for a moment that I fell for it.”
After Michael and Bud had finished laughing and Harry had finished his beer, Michael asked Harry to excuse himself. “Get lost for a while, Harry. Bud and I have some business to discuss.”
4. At The Bar
I sat sipping my drink, watching Harry move across the room toward the bar. Beside me Sheila and her friend continued their animated conversation. I thought about my wife. Helen and I were like strangers to each other. When the boys were young, there was so much noise in the house. It was like oxygen for us. And when they left, we suffocated. Or maybe we went deaf and dumb. Don’t think we ever talked about much of importance when we were young, but we liked the sound of each other’s voice. And Helen’s laugh. I loved to hear Helen laugh. She loved my jokes. Helen doesn’t laugh much anymore. I don’t know how it happened, becoming a stranger to those you love. Maybe my jokes aren’t funny anymore.
I feel as if the person that used to reside in me no longer exists. To the boys I’m just furniture, just part of the landscape they call home. To Helen, I’ve become a habit, something she lives with, like the weather. At the office, I’m the one they call Lou or Mr. Grant, the one who had the nervous breakdown last spring, the one they dragged out of the office screaming.
The air is starting to cool. My skin is feeling dry, brittle. Wrinkles caked in third degree burns. Got to get out of the sun. Get out of my skin. Shed the sun. Got to move. Back of my knees won’t bend. Jesus, I wish I was a kid again. Wish I could make my mistakes all over again. Lou Grant, where did your life go?
5. A Drink After Work At The Pilot Tavern.
MURRAY: You’ve lost me, Lou. When did you have a nervous breakdown? And what’s this all about you and Helen? Now, you have a history with her! You told me that you couldn’t remember a thing about your past.
LOU: I’m making it up, Murray. It’s a dream. And the nervous breakdown… don’t you remember when I said I had food poisoning? Chinese food. I’m allergic to the meat tenderizer.
MURRAY: You barfed all over Ted’s suit. I remember because Ted tried to charge the cleaning bill to the station.
LOU: I lied, Murray. I was having a breakdown.
LOU: Right over the edge.
MURRAY: Did you ever consider the possibility, Lou, that you might be having another breakdown? That all this dreaming was another emotional collapse?
LOU: Breakdown? Maybe.
MURRAY: I can feel another story. Let it out, Lou.
LOU: There was a man in the Middle Ages who kept an extensive diary of all the events that passed through his life. He owned a large plot of land in Northern Italy and much of his diary was taken up with his crops, the new grapes he tried to introduce, the wines he created, and family and local matters. There was no mention in all of this of the barbarians who had to pass his lands on their way to ransacking Rome. The greatest event of his time had occurred and it was not mentioned in his diary. Why Murray?
MURRAY: What’s this got to do with your nervous breakdown, Lou?
LOU: Think about it, Murray. We are so cocooned in our own lives, in our joys and pains that we understand almost nothing of the history we are living through. We operate in a limbo of reality. Who are we, Murray?
MURRAY: Lou, these people in your dream, Michael, Harry, Bud, are they people you’ve met?
LOU: No. Why do you ask?
MURRAY: The fellow Bud.
MURRAY: I think I know him.
LOU: You think you know him?
MURRAY: He works at a bar we go to with Mary.
May 13, 2009
“The eight year trail of murder and robbery of Clyde Barrow, dangerous bandit of the southwest was ended Wednesday morning at 9:15 o’clock beside Bonnie Parker, his woman companion in crime, in a hail of bullets from a sheriff’s posse, fifty miles east of here near the Sailes community in Bienville parish several miles from the town of Gibs land.
So many days waiting for this moment. Bonnie, a lonely woman would sit at the table smoking a cigar and writing bad poetry. She would look up at Clyde standing in the doorway looking out into the night and wonder how she’d come to this fate, bored to death and wanted across the southwest.
“Whatdya wonna do?” Clyde would ask without turning around.
Both the man and woman were killed instantly before they could fire a shot and their bodies and automobile were riddled with bullets.
In his arms one night she tried to keep him warm. Her nails were broken. Her fingers ached. She looked out the window of the cabin at the full moon and imagined that there were couples just like them all over America.
“I’m so scared,” she thought she heard him say but pretended she hadn’t.
They drove into a posse’s ambush, arranged by the former captain of the Texas Rangers, Frank Homer, who had followed Barrow’s trail relentlessly and by Sheriff Henderson Jordan of Bienville parish. “We had a look at her after we were sure they were dead. Someone hoisted up her dress. She weren’t no different than other women.”
I’m Mary Richards and that’s the way it was May 23, 1934.
May 9, 2009
The Blue Lagoon
1. In A Trenchcoat Standing Outside A Bar In The Late Evening
I’ve been in a hundred bars like the Blue Lagoon, a collage of all the tasteless tacky bars I’ve found myself lost in. Pastels and neon colors that bloom out of the darkness like exotic flowers that have evolved in caves, without light, deep beneath the earth’s surface. Black purple, black blue, blood black red oozing out of wells of darkness, darkness haunted by voices — laughter, coughing, and whispers. The Blue Lagoon. purgatory of the soul. Existing in suspension as if life outside the bar had ceased. Outside is nothing. A great void. As if the bar itself was a soul being flayed in hell.
2. Stepping Through The Doors Of The Bar
There is a smell of stale beer and cheap perfume and cigarette smoke. The constant thumping of rock music chops the silence into small edible morsels. The low background noise of human voices mangled and tossed in a blender of bitterness, despair, and frivolous panic. Silhouettes of faces flash in and out of existence in the whispers of lit matches. It is a slide show; the outline of fingers against mouths, waiters moving amongst tables, figures exiting from washrooms, women dancing together in the small square before the juke box, faces posturing, hands gesturing, the flash of a lighter, a candle lit, the dim house lights now introducing the neon painted faces of cherub young women smiling, or the smooth hollow glares of hungry young men. The kind of bar that middle aged men occasionally wander into hoping to find something they’ve lost. But all the time, they wait in dread, as if they were in a bar on an alien planet amongst female creatures, whose vaginas are in their mouths, or ears, or curled up beneath long angular fingers.
3. Taking A Seat At A Table
From the opposite corner of the room, I spotted them, Michael sipping a brandy and Harry drinking a coffee. With amusement, I watched as a waiter arrived at the table with a plate of French fries and a hamburger and Harry fell ravenously upon them. I was just another patron. A father to all these children of Lou Grant’s imagination. It was as if Yahweh was in a bar with the children of Israel. Lou Grant was their God.
A young and shapely waitress came up and took my order. Scotch. I smiled. As the waitress bent over to clean the table, her low cut blouse offered a view of her ample bosom. Lust rose up in my heart. This is no way for a god to behave. She looked at me, noticed the attention my eyes were paying her breasts, and smiled. I wondered if this was how Jesus was conceived.
“Didn’t realize how hungry I was.” Harry smiled, food spilling out of his mouth, a blender of words and fries.
Michael grimaced and turned away from Harry who continued to talk and eat at the same time.
“At least the air conditioning works in here,” Harry continued. “Thought I was going to pass out on the way over. I read in the paper that twelve people died in one day from the heat in Chicago. Most of them were old farts. That’s one perk of drought, famine, war. Kills off enough old coots to keep our taxes down. Everyone complains about the weather but no one does anything about it, eh? I heard on the radio one night that the American military has been fooling around with weather weapons. Dry your enemy out. Or flood them. Bury them in snow. Or create dust bowls. They say we could have summers even hotter over the next few decades. Everything is drying up. What is the military advantage of starving your own people? God, this is a good burger. The cow is our sacred beast. Except that instead of worshipping them, we eat them. Huge beasts. Never see any fear in those big brown innocent eyes. Herds of animals grazing every day in meadows around our fair city, completely ignorant of their future. Can’t they smell our appetite? Maybe that’s the purpose of life – grazing? They feed on our meadows and we feed on them. The last judgment is the slaughterhouse. I’ve got to complement the chef. So caught up in my grief recently that I’d forgotten about my stomach.”
“A dangerous policy.” Michael grinned as he produced a polished black cigarette case from his breast pocket. He offered a cigarette to Harry who declined.
I took my eyes off Michael and Harry and allowed them to wander around the room. Is this hell? Are these the tortured souls of sinners? Does anyone really suffer for the evil they do? What do I know of evil? Someone skirting the income tax laws? Someone cheating on the wife? Someone skimming change from the till? Misdemeanors. How much real evil have I seen? This is why I was brought here. Lou Grant wants to know evil.
“The Green House Effect,” Harry continued. “Is that what’s causing this heat? I think it’s another money grabbing scheme by those rich pricks in Rosedale. Fuck bankers! Fuck lawyers! Fuck accountants! Why should they get all the gravy? You know what I hate about the rich, besides the fact that they have my money? They think having money makes them different, special. Their shit smells just like mine. Okay, maybe not exactly the same but you catch my meaning.” Harry stopped to swallow. For a moment he began to choke but managed to push the meat down his throat with another piece of the burger. “Sheila told me a very interesting thing the other day.”
“Yes.” Michael’s listened as his eyes cased the bar. Where was he?
“She told me, now get this, that you are trying to make yourself look like me. I don’t see it myself. She says you’re doing it for a reason, that you have a plan. No disrespect, Michael, but I think that girl needs some serious counseling. Talk about being paranoid.” Harry noticed the cigarette case that Michael played with in his hand. “Nice cigarette case. Where’d you get it?”
Michael held the case up. There was an inscription on it that Harry couldn’t make out. “A little shop in Amsterdam. Run by a little old lady.” Michael put the case on the table. Harry picked it up. Michael slapped his hand and Harry put the case back on the table. “You’d have liked her Harry. She was your type — available.”
Harry ignored Michael’s slight. “When were you in Amsterdam?”
“While ago. Business trip. It’s still legal to smoke there. Civilized country. They cherish the small pleasures in life. Your kind of town, Harry.”
“What’s the supposed to mean?”
“Don’t laugh,” Harry cried. “I’m a sensitive guy. And as soon as I figure out what you said, I’m going to be crushed.”
Michael choked on his laughter, sending billows of smoke out of his mouth.
“I am sensitive. Why do you find that so amusing? Women tell me that I’m vulnerable. Women like men who are vulnerable. I can’t figure out why. Take Marianne as an example. There was a real rapport between us. I’m serious. We had the same interests, the same viewpoints on so many subjects. We could read each other’s thoughts.”
“Is that why she left?”
Harry swallowed his last bite of the hamburger. “I kicked her out, man!”
Michael’s laughter went silent in my ears. Harry’s lips moved; my thoughts wandered. It was in a bar like the Blue Lagoon that I met my first hooker. I wasn’t looking for sex. Just wanted a drink and a few quiet moments to myself. She was young. Blonde. I have a weakness for blondes. She approached me. I’m a goner when a blonde smiles at me. I have this insatiable curiosity. Is she really a blonde? And I wanted to try things out, things that I’d read about, things you couldn’t do with a wife or a girlfriend. Everything was extra with this girl. That’s the American way. Radio in your car — extra. Mushrooms on your steak —extra. Movies on your cable bill — extra. Balls in her mouth — extra. The fear afterwards. Did I catch something — extra? Why am I confessing all of this? The final judgment? A last opportunity to get things off my chest? Having a stroke has a sobering affect on your state of mind. To be honest I don’t think I’ve committed any great sins. Not that I’m virtuous but like most people I think I’m basically innocent of any serious wrong doings. But, what of the sins of abstinence? What of the good I could have performed and did not? When I think of all the lives that touched me and I did not respond, I am riddled with guilt. Why didn’t I do more?
A blonde sat at the bar, looking my way. She reminded me of the blonde I met that evening. Young. Beautiful. Calculating. I glanced behind me to make sure that her eyes were not seeking out someone else. There was no one behind me. Should I buy her a drink? I smiled. It was a stupid sheepish grin like a kid in a cake shop staring at an éclair. She smiled back at me and for a brief moment I had the incredibly naive idea that she might be another lost soul reaching out for comfort. My heart began to race. Gosh! I started to drool.
4. A Drink After Work At The Ford Hotel
MURRAY: What happened with the blonde?
LOU: The blonde?
MURRAY: You’re having a stroke and while you’re having your stroke, you dream that you’re a god in a bar hustling a blonde. Did you get lucky?
LOU: What kind of question is that?
MURRAY: If a god can’t get lucky, what chance is there for the rest of us mortals?
MURRAY: What was the blonde’s name?
LOU: Sheila, I think. Yes, it was Sheila.
MURRAY Did she have a small tattoo of a rose on the inside of her left thigh?
LOU: A tattoo? I can’t remember. Is it important?
MURRAY: Didn’t you look at her naked? If it was my dream all the women would be naked.
LOU: I don’t think you’d want to see everyone naked.
LOU: I went to a nude beach in Germany once. There are a lot of things on the human body that hang.
MURRAY: Okay. Everyone under 30.
MURRAY: Did you see the blonde naked?
LOU: I didn’t see her naked. Does that make you happy, Murray.
MURRAY: I’m disappointed.
LOU: Next time I run into her I’ll make a point of taking her clothes off.
LOU: Why did you want to know about the tattoo?
MURRAY: It’s odd, but I have a feeling I know that girl.
LOU: You think you knew a girl in my dream?
MURRAY: Did you go home with her?
LOU: No. I did not go home with her. There was no home. It’s all a dream.
MURRAY: What are you getting out of these dreams if you can’t have a little midnight emission?
LOU: That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you, Murray. All of this, this conversation I’m having with you right now, feels like it’s part of a dream I’m having in some other universe. And everything that’s going on in this bar, The Blue Lagoon, is part of a dream.
MURRAY: So why don’t you leave The Blue Lagoon?
Lou: I can’t. I can’t leave the bar.
MURRAY: You can’t leave this bar you’re dreaming about. You’re a prisoner in your own dream?
LOU: Well… yes. I tried to leave but there was a guy at the door. Big mean looking bastard.
MURRAY: So you tried to leave?
LOU: No. The bouncer was part of my dream and I knew he wouldn’t let me leave.
MURRAY: I thought bouncers were supposed to keep people out.
LOU: (laughing like hyena) Ya, right.
5. Harry Pushed His Empty Plate To One Side
“Eating gives me an erection. Did I ever tell you that, Michael? It’s the rush of protein. Red meat. Goes directly to my dick. If I really pig out. I get an enormous hard on. If I’m not fucked immediately, I get a terrible case of heartburn. Don’t laugh, man. This is the way my body operates. Did I tell you about the movie I saw last night? Paul Newman. The Left Handed Gun. Paul Newman is Billy the Kid. He falls for this Mexican chick. Newman looks about thirty and the chick looks like she’s about twelve. Big tits and a nice ass but about twelve years old. Mexican chicks mature quickly. It’s the sunlight. She’s poor and religious. Big silver cross on the end of a chain disappearing in her breasts. I like that image of Christ dieing on the cross and being smothered by a big set of knockers. Maybe I was drunk. I was drinking scotch. I should have been drinking tequila. And it was hot. When you’re shot in Mexico, the sweat pours out of the bullet hole before the blood has a chance to escape. Suddenly, Michael, I’m in the movie. Newman’s gone and I’m in the movie shooting peasants, putting bottles in the mouths of the villagers and slitting open their throats so I can quench my thirst. Ah, it was marvelous! The mind is a wonderful form of entertainment. I love violent movies. It’s a male thing. Women don’t like violence. They’re into sentimentality. A man wants his heart to pound; a woman wants her heart to ache. A man is looking for an adrenaline rush; a woman wants to cry. That’s what gets me about that Mary Richards in the Homicide series. You can tell she digs the violence. That’s what turns her crank. She’s a man in a woman’s body. It’s every guy’s ultimate fantasy. To have a chick who likes to get a little of your blood on her.”
6. A Drink After Work In The Imperial Room
MURRAY: You’re going to tell me another story, Lou.
LOU: How’d you know that, Murray?
MURRAY: I don’t know, Lou. Maybe it’s my feminine intuition. This is going to help explain about your dreams.
LOU: That’s right.
MURRAY: Well, go ahead, Lou. I’m all ears.
LOU: In the seventh century a noted theologian named Tertullian wrote about a walled city appearing in the sky every morning for forty days. This vision was seen by hundreds of people. This same walled city was seen by the Crusaders as they fought their way toward Jerusalem.
MURRAY: What are you trying to tell me, Lou? That mankind is susceptible to mass delusions? Remember, I voted for Kennedy.
LOU: That wasn’t funny.
MURRAY: I’m sorry. I’ll order another round.
LOU: In Rome, some time in the Middle Ages thousands of people including the Pope saw an angel hovering in the middle of the sky. The angel hovered there for several days.
MURRAY: Maybe it was a UFO.
LOU: It was an angel, Murray. A church, that still stands, was built in memory of that event.
MURRAY: Same thing in New York. They call it the house that Ruth built.
LOU: What I’m trying to tell you, Murray, is that we all live our lives amongst the ruins of our ancestors delusions. We live in the past. We live amongst the ghosts of history.
MURRAY: I was never good in history. Mr. O’Reilly didn’t like me. Gave me a complex about remembering dates. If I can’t remember Marie’s birthday, how am I going to remember the year of the Battle of Hastings?
LOU: 1063, give or take a few months. Were you married to Marie when you were in high school, Murray?
MURRAY: It only seems that way.
MURRAY: You’re very philosophic tonight, Lou. Where’s that waiter.
LOU: Pay attention, Murray. This is the important part.
MURRAY: I’m thirsty, Lou. You’d think you could get better service in your dream.
LOU: I could tell you thousands of stories about my upbringing, Murray. The problem is that all these memories are of a boy who was not Lou Grant. About Lou Grant, the one sitting here with you now, I know nothing. Nothing, Murray, I can’t remember a thing before I came to be the news manager at WGM. I can’t even remember getting the job. It’s as if I’ve been the news manager forever.
MURRAY: Maybe it only seems that way.
LOU: I know nothing about the news manager’s parents, where he went to elementary school, when he first got laid. What I remember, the history of my life, is the history of the middle-aged man horizontal in his backyard dieing of a stroke.
MURRAY: Gee, Lou. Who wants to remember all that childhood stuff? It’s not like you can change it. Marie gets upset when I can’t remember the color of the dress she wore on our first date. I’m not ever sure what the color of her dress was on our wedding day.
7. I Couldn’t Take My Eyes Off The Blonde
She looked up at me from beneath a swath of hair that hung down over her eyes like Rita Hayworth. A cigarette dangled between her fingers. Her elbow rested on the bar. Her eyes were a midsummer sky blue. My gaze flew into them. I could read her thoughts. She was thinking about Michael, remembering their days together selling jewelry on the street. In those days Michael had wire rimmed glasses, long straight black hair, greased and combed straight back. He was leaner then, hungrier. They had been lovers. I could feel her longing, a terrible pang of loneliness. She wanted a man. I picked up my drink and made my way down the bar toward her.
Sheila stirred the ice cubes in her ginger ale as she brooded. Why was Michael trying to set her up with Harry? She hated Harry. Michael knew she despised the little bugger. Why had Michael changed his appearance? Why was he trying to look like Harry? There must be some reason. Michael never did anything without a reason. Twins. Did Michael want to watch Harry balling her? Hadn’t Michael taken pictures of her with clients clandestinely? Did he like to stand back and watch someone else fucking her? Was that the kick? Was that how Michael got his juices boiling? Sheila butted out her cigarette.
“Soap opera,” she muttered to herself. “My life’s become a soap opera. I hate it. Need something else. Need to get out of this place.” Sheila lit up another cigarette. Shouldn’t smoke. Voice will never come back if I keep this up. The doctor warned me. Who am I trying to kid? I’ll never sing in a band again. The voice is gone. Everything is gone. Her eyes fell upon Michael. God, why did I have to fall in love with that bastard?
I stepped up to the bar and took a seat beside Sheila. I felt foolish. She was just a kid. But I kept imagining her naked, on a bed, her legs opening, waiting for me. Why couldn’t I just imagine us there now? Why did I have to go through these preliminaries? Was this really part of Lou Grant’s fantasy life? Wasn’t he supposed to be a happily married man? If not happy at least sedated. Lou Grant did not fool around. It was not in his character. He liked situations in which he was in control. In matters of romance, Lou Grant was a bungler. Smoke slipped easily out of her nostrils. I imagined her slipping out of her gown.
“You could sing again” The words almost lodged in my throat.
Sheila turned and looked at me indifferently.
“Can I buy you a drink?” I asked.
Her cigarette danced impatiently in her fingertips, fingers that were long and elegant and filled with hate. “Sorry, bud. I just punched out.” She butted out her cigarette. Then sliding off her stool, she walked across the room towards Michael.
8. A Drink After Work At The Silver Rail
MURRAY: So you can’t even get some action in your own dream, Lou?
LOU: There is such a thing as free will, Murray.
MURRAY: Ya, but Lou. She’s a hooker working in a bar. What else is she there for? She sees you and suddenly decides that it’s punch out time? So she’s got this thing for some small time hood, what has that got to do with the old in and out? Doesn’t sound to me like you’re in control of your own dreams.
LOU: There are limitations. Rules. Maybe. I don’t know, Murray. I’ll order another round.
MURRAY: It’s my turn. Unless you insist, Lou. After all it is your dream.
9. A Drink After Work At The Silver Rail
LOU: There was a man of Bourges who was driven into the forest by a swarm of flies.
MURRAY: Another story, Lou?
LOU: I’m drunk and I’m your boss.
MURRAY: I’m listening your lordship.
LOU: For two years the man of Bourges wandered through the forest — a mad man. When finally he exited from the forest, he declared to everyone that he was a new man. He was a Jesus Christ.
MURRAY: Don’t tell me! People believed him.
LOU: He had a huge following, Murray. A middle-ages Billy Graham.
MURRAY: Did he own a tent?
LOU: Finally the man from Bourges was brought before a local prince. Who are you? he was asked. He did not respond. Are you the Christ? he was asked. So, you say it, the man replied. Ah, the prince cried and had the man burned as a heretic.
MURRAY: That would certainly teach him a lesson.
LOU: This story was repeated throughout the middle-ages. What if he was Christ, Murray? What if that was the Second Coming? What if Christ kept coming back but no one ever believed him?
MURRAY: I’d be pissed, Lou. If I was God. Which I’m happy to point out, I am not. And neither was this fellow from Bourges. He was nuts.
LOU: What if he wasn’t though?
MURRAY: Lou, you’re starting to worry me.
LOU: I’m starting to worry myself.
MURRAY: Have you talked to Mary about this?
MURRAY: I think she should know.
LOU: Why would I tell Mary?
MURRAY: Because you’re in love with her, Lou.
LOU: Me in love with Mary! (hyena laughter)
MURRAY: Tell me you’re not in love with Mary, Lou.
LOU: She’s like a daughter to me.
MURRAY: You’re avoiding the question, Lou.
LOU: I’m drunk, Murray. That’s my prerogative.
10. Harry Looked Up And Smiled As Sheila Slid Into A Chair Beside Michael
“We were just talking about you.” Harry grinned sheepishly. Sheila scared him. “Doesn’t that skirt cut into your circulation? I stay away from skintight jeans since the time I cut off the blood flow to my cock. Couldn’t feel a thing for hours. Thought I’d dropped it somewhere.”
Sheila did not respond. Michael gestured to the waiter and ordered another round. Harry ordered a beer; Sheila ordered a water.
“You’re not drinking?” Harry asked.
“She’s on duty.” Michael winked at Harry.
Sheila turned and smiled at Michael. “Thank you very much, but I do believe I can speak for myself.”
Harry grimaced. Michael smiled as if nothing had been said. Sheila stroked the lapel of Michael’s jacket. “What’s with the threads?”
“Michael’s been to court,” Harry responded.
“Jesus!” Sheila cried. “Can’t anyone answer for themselves?” And then turning to Michael added. “You look real fine. A real gentleman. What did they want with you at court?”
Michael offered Sheila a cigarette from his new cigarette case.
“Oh, how lovely,” she said, removing one of the cigarettes and waiting for Michael to light it. Harry reached across the table with his lighter. Sheila glared at Harry but accepted his offer.
“A thank you would be nice.” Harry put his lighter back in his pocket.
“So what did the police want?” Sheila ignored Harry and turned back to Michael, smoke slipping out through her nostrils.
“Nothing.” Michael’s eyes continued to cruise through the crowd at the bar.
“You sure know how to smoke a cigarette, Sheila.” Harry said. No one was listening. “So sexy. I guess it’s all that on the job training.”
“You got all dolled up for nothing.” Sheila leaned her elbow on the table and held her cigarette like a lantern.
Michael turned to Sheila. “Went down with my lawyer. The police have been trailing me or so I thought.”
Sheila howled with laughter. Michael glared at Sheila then turned and looked at Harry. Harry shook his head.
“What are you two thinking?” Sheila cried. “Are you two laughing at me? You know I hate that.”
Harry leaned across the table. “Michael is a little concerned that you’re broadcasting everything to the whole room. Try and keep your voice down.”
Sheila leaned across the table to Harry, the cleavage in her dress giving him view of her ample breasts. “If Michael wants to tell me to lower my voice, why doesn’t he speak for himself? And quick looking down my dress or I’ll reach under the table and pull that little dick of yours off.”
Harry leaned back in his chair and giggled nervously.
Michael turned to Sheila. “Harry just broke up with his girl.”
Sheila nodded, a bored expression on her face. “Isn’t that interesting?”
“It’s been tough,” Harry began. “I’m a sensitive type guy.”
Sheila turned away and looked across the room at the bar where I was sitting. I wondered if she was going to return for the drink I had offered her.
Harry turned to Michael and whispered. “What did I tell you? She despises me.”
“You’re too thin skinned,” Michael responded. “Sheila’s bark is worse than her bite.”
“Maybe, but she’s still a bitch.”
Sheila turned back to Harry. “Excuse me?”
Michael cleared his throat, swallowing a chuckle. “Haven’t seen Bud, have you?”
Sheila shook her head. “It’s his night off.”
“He was supposed to meet him here,” Harry explained.
“Maybe he’ll show up,” Sheila responded ignoring Harry. “I avoid this place like the plague when I’m off.”
“Where do you like to hang out?” Harry asked. “Maybe we could…”
“Was I talking to you?” Sheila barked. “I’ll let you know when I want to talk to you.”
Harry threw his arms up in the air. “What did I ever do to deserve this kind at treatment? Tell me why you hate me, Sheila. I’d be very interested to know.”
“Do you want the Reader’s Digest version?” Sheila said biting off each of her words and firing them at Harry.
Michael laughed. Harry turned red.
“You’re an asshole, Mr. O’Toole. Is that good enough for you?” Sheila spat out then turned to Michael. Her mood and voice softened. “Thanks for the smoke, Michael. Don’t be so scarce around the apartment. I miss you.” Sheila stood up and made her way across the room. She sat down at the bar beside me.
I swallowed deeply.
“Does that offer of a drink still stand, mister?’
Harry watched Sheila move across the bar. “What did I say wrong? I never say the right thing to that broad. She acts like she hates my guts. She doesn’t know me well enough for that.”
Michael laughed than gestured to one of the televisions in the bar.
“Look, it’s your girl friend.”
Harry turned and looked at the set. A smile crept across his face. “They oughta name a drink after that woman.”
May 6, 2009
The hottest summer in years has not slowed down the spread of the rebellion in Mexico as shown by dispatches tonight. Bodies in ditches, pile up in garbage dins, half covered in dust. Blood as dry as the sun. The wicked look of peace. Death’s satiated lips.
The rebels have overrun Laguna district in Coahuila and appeared in the states of Durango, Zacatecas, and Guanajuato. Widows and the midnight wail. Flies. Swarming the sun. Priests and old women filling the wells. Young girls fainting. Loins giving birth to targets.
In the south Zapatistas continue their campaign and in Guerrero followers of Salgado are showing remarkable activity. Proclamations dangling from trees. Torn, shredded, flayed. Print martyred to lead.
The government has repeatedly said the Salgado uprising is practically ended. Bullet holes in cement walls. Blood running down. As if the walls were bleeding. As if the walls were the innocent victims of the revolution.
I’m Mary Richards and that’s the way it was February 14, 1912.