Each student got a bathroom pass, these laminated pieces of yellow paper that were shaped like all sorts of dinosaurs. They would turn them in when they came back. Except one kid out of all the other dozen twelve-year-olds who had turned in their bathroom passes kept asking to go the bathroom again, as if the questions would get him closer.
“Come on, I got to go bad, Mr. B, I mean it.”
“Don’t ask me again or I’ll write you up.”
“But why can’t I go?”
“Because I don’t like you.”
That shut him up. He looked genuinely hurt, sadly because it was genuine. He went back to his seat with his chin down. He was bothersome no more.
The principal called me into her office right after that period.
“Why did you tell Sean that you hated him?”
“I never said I hated him, I said I disliked him.”
I didn’t hate anybody until I moved to Los Angeles. Once the district in Peoria fired me from all schools, I moved there to become a writer at twenty-six years old. A writer needed to make more mistakes though, so as a fallback I dated women for money. Being a gigolo was organic, given to by my father. When he was frustrated, he turned into one—half a gigolo, half a dad. He attracted certain women, as did I. We both regretted so afterward. He died in the Hudson River as a gigolo at sixty-three. The reason was unknown. What I did know was a gigolo only made enemies, never friends. If only the gigolo were suppressed….
“I can’t function as a simple adult man,” I told my shrink who was also one of my clients. “Most of them are married with kids, with their slave mentality. Some of them are high on the slave chain. They even delude themselves into thinking they’re free. They’re what Malcolm X used to refer to as House Negros.”
“When was the last time you called your mother?” she asked, as if that were related.
“I don’t have a mother. I mean I do somewhere but I’ll never meet her.”
“That’s so sad.”
I stayed a gigolo for nine years. I lived in fifteen different apartments in that time. Once on a dating app I met Shirley. She was an ambassador who would live her final years in Dubai—if she lived that long. The woman was rich of course. Otherwise she wasn’t attractive. She had planned after three months to celebrate my thirty-fifth birthday by flying me to Paris.
When we checked into our suite, Shirley sat me in a veranda for gin and cigarettes. She told me it was over. Her female brain had decided it somewhere over the states or the Atlantic Ocean—I was guessing somewhere over Texas. When a woman no longer felt a man, she went instantly callous.
She wrote a severance check for $80,000. It came from her ex-husband who had cheated on her with mistresses, so he was unknowingly paying me to go away.
“What do you want me to do?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “Give yourself time to figure it out.”
“Can we still be friends?”
The question stunned her that two people could stay friends after they had slept together.
“Sure. I mean we can pretend, I guess.”
Well, the check lasted from July to July. These hands had never held a check of that heavy a sum—not even close, not even from any other clients. It didn’t matter how large the sum was when I wouldn’t be in bed with her ever again, to listen to her offensive pillow-talk:
“You give me herpes, I’ll break your kneecaps. I know people who can do it.”
I should’ve never become emotionally attached to my clients. Shirley was the only one who made me smile, which was enough to make me love her—coming from someone who never had a girlfriend.
Seven years went by. Every day I took lysergic acid, in the same routine as my grandmother took her Zoloft. The trips ceased to be trips. Once I quit being a gigolo, I lost my identity. When I lost my identity, I couldn’t hold jobs. When I couldn’t hold jobs, I couldn’t pay rent. When I couldn’t pay rent, I went back to being a gigolo.
On Valentine’s Day in my bathroom I read about a writer who wouldn’t succeed until his forties. Henry Miller had written the same theory in Tropic of Capricorn: that a man didn’t succeed until his forties. My grandmother—my father’s mother—was living in a hospice at the time. She said that life didn’t begin until forty. She could’ve meant that my body would begin to crumble apart. But time was meant to be wasted, Bukowski once wrote. I never spoke with my grandmother after that.
Shirley was there to curse me for the rest of my life. Love cursed. No woman before her or after her compared to her Irish tongue. She made me wish I had never become a gigolo.
The Monday was overcast. I was supposed to fill out a form for my taxes, but I didn’t. I was supposed to go to a job seminar, but I didn’t. I needed to cut my hair, but I didn’t. I should’ve bought groceries, but I didn’t. My only wish was never to do those things again. Instead I worked for eight hours on a page of a memoir (I think it was). I called it The Long Drop To The Hudson River.
Then I walked to Musso and Frank’s. The moon came out. A Moscow Mule there cost twenty dollars at Happy Hour. I was back on the clock, though, so I could write it off with my accountant (she thought I was an entrepreneur—which theoretically I was). Monday nights at Musso and Frank’s were either gold or copper. When it was gold, the restaurant was crawling with divorced women. They weren’t crying about their hearts to the bartender, they were crying over money. They were potential clients. When it was copper, the restaurant was filled with Tinder dates. The women purchased; the men sold. No one was looking to buy me, so I punched out after the third Moscow Mule.
That was when this brick of cologne sat at the next stool; a bald, rich man in a black suit and no tie. He also wore bluesy sunglasses, like he was Paul Newman, to show everyone that not only was he rich, he was important. He chewed ice from his glass to get me to notice. He said his name was Carmine Alonso. Carmine wasn’t a gigolo: he produced films. When he heard that I was a screenwriter, he scooted in closer.
“I’m not here to tickle your balls. I’m also a writer, I write poetry.” (I could tell.) “But I don’t write screenplays. I need someone to write me a draft.”
“What’s it called?”
He put his hands in the air as if they were hoisting a marquee:
“Carmine,” he said. “…Or Alonso. I ain’t figured it out.”
He invited me back to his place on Shadow Hills to get me drunk and thus to seduce me into writing his script. Carmine was obligated to the mob. He strung along a few bookies in the Bahamas too.
“I don’t know if I’m right for this,” I said.
“Pal, I know I just met you, but you don’t know who you’re with.”
“Yeah, but I think I need some time to think.”
“I just told you things that the FBI can’t even know. Do you know how important it is? How important I am?”
“I just don’t know.”
“Is it fear? You’re scared, ain’t you?”
“You did drink a lot. I just want to make sure you mean it.”
“Look here Pal. It was Confucius who said: ‘just do what you love and get paid for it.'”
A week passed before he chose the title: Carmine Alonso. And a month passed before the rough draft was finished. Sometimes a month felt like another lifetime. Carmine thought I was just a screenwriter, but after seven tender years I was sure of nothing, not even of suffering. Henry Miller also wrote that a man didn’t suffer until a man loved a woman. Did I love Shirley or was I infatuated with her.
“Haven’t heard from you in a month,” Carmine said. “Was it ketchup or mustard?”
“Mustard, I guess.”
“Then good. You have a script for me?”
I did. He flipped the pages in front of me as though the script for a short phonebook. He seemed to be looking for keywords. Minutes later he was so happy about the script that he kissed me on the cheek.
“Did you really just read it?”
“It needs a rewrite darling, but you’re getting there.”
“What was wrong with it?”
“It needs more blood and death. Don’t just slit the Guido’s throat, give him a Colombian necktie. You following me?”
“Now let me get out of this robe. I’m taking you out to celebrate.”
He brought me to Cheetah’s in East Hollywood, to watch his wife dance. Brody was the prettiest out of all the other girls that Saturday night, a twenty-five-year-old suicide girl. I couldn’t look away from her except when she looked at me. Her beauty was too much to handle, until she started talking.
“I’m from Wisconsin, where they have black folks. They’re nice, they’re polite, everything. They don’t live in the city. Here they’re ——-. They have no respect. They take forever across the street, and they do it on purpose. They do it in spite. You ever had one of them give up a cigarette? They’re always bumming from you, with no shame. The black folks in Wisconsin are lazy too, but at least they’re nicer, and they follow some of the rules.”
Nothing about racism was sexy. Anyway, Carmine got an emergency call from one of his investors.
“Do me a favor,” he said. “Make sure my girl gets to car safe and sound.”
So I chaperoned her to her car safely in the parking lot after her shift.
Brody liked older men. The older men didn’t have to be rich either, but the rich ones could buy their way to the front. Well, I liked rich women. I wasn’t old enough; she wasn’t rich enough: we were perfect for each other.
“I went out with this CEO last night,” she said. “He bought me dinner. I didn’t give him nothing; I just wanted a free dinner. He called me today, but I’m not calling him back.”
She said it guiltlessly too. It was disgusting.
“What do you look for in a man besides his age and wealth?”
“Men are just utilitarian.”
“What do you mean?”
“They’re all dick, nothing else. Just get the baby and leave.”
“So you want a baby with Carmine?”
“I never said that. I just meant theoretically.”
We kissed up against her motorcycle. Her lips tasted like licorice and hatred.
She had been with Carmine for two years. She kept flirting with me when Carmine wasn’t looking. I wasn’t like most guys, she said. Carmine seemed oblivious to her sidemen—a sideman such as myself. Her tatted beauty was powerful enough to outshine her unscrupulous attitude. She lived by herself in a duplex in Mid City. I dropped her off there. I didn’t want to invite myself inside, but I didn’t have to.
She had chickens on her bed.
“Why are there chickens on your bed?”
“Oh, just push them away, they’ll leave.”
I wouldn’t go near those dirty things. She had to move them away with her hands. They knew what to do. They left through a little doggie door to her yard.
Not only did her mattress smell like bark and livestock, her bedroom had never left Wisconsin. Her chest and drawers had a bumper sticker with a slogan from the Bush era: “These colors don’t run.” In that case, the colors of France didn’t run either; nor did the colors of Chile or Croatia. Nevertheless the phase had never left: I was still fucking women that I hated. Rather than her garter belt I thought about Ku-Klux and burning crosses and the crooked trees in Mississippi. Brody used to be an escort. She would serve any John with the right money. He had to be Caucasian too. Women could choose whom to sleep with. As a man—and an unsuccessful one—, and even as a gigolo, I couldn’t choose, I had to settle. Settling was hard for a broke and lonely man in Los Angeles: He was more susceptible to con-men, gypsies, and charlatans. The gypsies weren’t so bad.
Not only was Brody racist, she was also a cat thief. My apartment was on the third floor. One night, she climbed to my window and snuck in with a pillowcase, with a ski mask over her head. The bitch thought I was sleeping. She didn’t want to steal anything else but my breath. When she hovered over me with the pillowcase I grabbed her by the throat. She liked that over anything else.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”
She couldn’t say anything with my hands on her throat. I recognized her scent. Brody always smelled like an Egg McMuffin. Besides, that ski mask couldn’t hide the tattoos on her neck, so I knew it was Brody. The tattoos were darker than shadows.
When I let go, she ran back out the window and climbed back down the rope. That ski mask made her look hotter. I wanted that catwoman more than ever before.
I called her instead of the police. They couldn’t know that I was involved with Carmine Alonso. She told me over the phone that she was just trying to surprise me for my birthday. I had just turned forty-three. Well at least Shirley didn’t try to kill me on my birthday—she preferred to kill me slowly. Second by…slower…second.
Brody wanted to act out scenes full of hate sex. Neither of us knew when one of us would try to murder the other. It was exciting. Brody even fixed her pillow-talk. She was no longer outwardly racist.
She fetishized over being attacked. One night, she texted me to come over. She told me that the door was unlocked; the ski mask was behind the flower pot. The Academy Awards were that night. Some movie about a deaf king won for Best Picture. But who cared; I was getting laid, off the clock. I found the ski mask, with a chef knife underneath it. I picked them both up and pulled on the ski mask. Her neighbor came out with his dog. He rolled his eyes.
Brody had it to where I had to show up at the right time, when she was taking a shower. Then she wanted me to give it to her from behind with the knife to her Adam’s Apple under the hot shower water.
Things between us were copacetic until she stopped taking her Seroquel. Brody was no longer thrilled by the scene we were acting out, so she had to think of another. She wanted me to set her bedroom on fire. She had already leaked butane in a circle around her bed. Now as a gigolo, I had been kinky enough for those rich women. I had used toys, not only on them but on myself. I had involved myself with their best friends and neighbors. I even once dressed as an alligator (she had the right costume).
“I think you’ve gone too far,” I told her.
“Are you calling me a freak?”
“I didn’t call you anything.”
“What is it? You resent me. You think I’m shit.”
“Where did you get that idea?”
“You hate women, I can tell.”
“OK, now you’re trying to piss me off.”
“You don’t respect our struggle. We had to fight for our rights in this country.”
“And you fucked it up.”
She double-downed on her mania. She threw her nail file at my head, then a softball, then the chef knife. I could dodge them all except for a bottle of nail polish. The bottle stung me right above my right eye. I needed to run away before she killed me.
The bruise stayed for a week. It went from red to blue to black to green to yellow. She called me day and night. I averaged eighty-three missed calls a day. The day came when she mentioned us to Carmine. I was getting hostile phone calls in the middle of the night, not from Brody but from goons. The phone numbers were blocked. I never answered them, but I didn’t need to. They said it in my voicemail:
“You’re a dead motherfucker, whether it’s tonight, tomorrow, a year, you won’t know, motherfucker. Have fun going to sleep, motherfucker….”
I had to disconnect my landline and turn off my Motorola. But there were still noises outside that made me paranoid, so I began sleeping in cheap motels. Those weren’t exactly safe either. The cheaper the motel, the more whores and pimps were there; the more frequent fights between them. Carmine ended up scaring me right out of Los Angeles. Somebody else would have to write Carmine Alonso.
The only place to see fit was Las Vegas, where I moved in with these two escorts from Craigslist. Craigslist was like a flashlight in the nether reaches of existence. They lived in a two-story house in Henderson. They had chauffeurs who drove them to their clients who took them to dinner and boxing matches. Any person in Vegas could’ve been one of Carmine’s goons, especially the chauffeurs—or ridesharers as they called themselves. They wore Bluetooths; they drove black Escalades. When they waited for their next jobs, they would stand outside their Escalades, smoke thin cigars or cigarettes, just looking around. They all looked Russian, which was Brody’s descent.
The whole underbelly had gotten so ugly that I gave up the gigolo trade again. I found luck at Roulette (not Russian Roulette: that would come later). Everybody had to be lucky at something. Every person had some sort of luck. Everyone was lucky. Luck appeared at the same casino; in fact the same roulette table. I had to make sure a new dealer was working there, or else the same one would’ve remembered me.
On the night before Christmas, I won $15,000 in the red. The pit boss somehow figured me out, even though there was nothing to figure out except luck. The owner of the casino flew in from the Bahamas on his private jet to see me. He invited me to his penthouse. He looked at the check before he handed it to me.
“Consider this a check to keep you away,” he said—another rich man paying me off.
The $200,000 did last me through an entire year though. Money shortened the days, so that was the shortest year of my life. The two escorts both moved in with Vegas moguls, so I moved into the Luxor. I would order room service every night, of ribeye steaks to go with lobster, to go with blue-label Johnnie Walker. The women surely swooned in. They could smell the lobster outside. They could also smell the money even when I dressed in the same clothes from Express or drove the same Mazda that I had since Obama’s inauguration. I lost track of their names a few hours after sex. Some things had never changed since I was a gigolo.
Once I turned forty-four, I used my last hundred dollars to move back to California. I was worse off than when I was at forty-two. Broker. No job. Nowhere to live. No one to stay with. And at my most impulsive.
The town might’ve been Hawaiian Gardens. All those small towns right outside of Los Angeles were better off nameless. When I was looking for roommates, I read about a secret club:
ARE YOU DESPERATE AND WANT TO END IT ALL? COME TO THIS MEETING IN THE INLAND EMPIRE. CALL ME FOR DIRECTIONS AND MORE DETAILS.
Nick was a party clown from Riverside. He told me to wear clothes that I would throw away.
The group met in a basement below a California Pizza Kitchen. The password was AVOCADO. The other middle-age men as well as myself had come to play the other kind of roulette (as mentioned before).
Nick brought the revolver.
“You have to be fully committed for this to work,” he told us all.
I believed that I was. Eight of us showed up in this basement. It had one lightbulb hanging from the ceiling; it wouldn’t quit swinging. Nick called this a group therapy session. He did kid’s parties, but he was also a licensed MFT. He said sometimes he wore the clown suit in front of his patients, other times he didn’t. It depended on his schedule. That night he did.
Each man had to tell his story, to use the revolver as a talking stick before he held it in his mouth. Nick asked that each man put the barrel in his mouth instead of against his temple for the sake of the man sitting next to him. The stories they told were worse than mine, as far as peril went. The first guy said that he smoked too much crystal meth one night and ate his dog. His eyes squeezed tighter than his finger did on the trigger. The click from the trigger let the air back in the room.
Even though Nick was the administrator, he took part in the game like everyone else. He was fair in that way. Well, if he lost, which he did, then someone would’ve had to replace him—that was if the other seven of us wanted to go again next Sunday. Nick used to hold up registers. One night he shot a cashier at a Baskin-Robbins. He didn’t kill the man, he got him in the leg. That guilt over that night compelled him to become a therapist. But now that his wife and kids had left him with only his license and his clown suit he was willing to end it all.
Russian Roulette was a good lesson in questioning our own futility. But having to bury Nick in the desert, with the help of the six other guys, wasn’t futile at all.
Right after the burial, I had a Marlboro with Lenny, the one who ate his dog.
“Where do we go now?” he said.
“Good question. I have to get a job.”
“What’s your background besides that other thing?”
“Well, I write pretty damn well, but what does that matter today or tomorrow?”
“You got any retail experience?”
He said he worked at a pet store in Monrovia. Ever since he ate his dog he wanted to be closer to animals. The job wasn’t glamorous, but it also didn’t involve the mob or the FBI or any bookies. The job paid closer to nothing, not even two-thousand a month. I could afford rent and utiltities. And food too.
Sunday mornings were the worst days to work. I was missing the Bears games. Those were the only things to look forward to each week in the Fall. Also in those mornings the worst customers entered the store. This young lady came up to my register with a large bag of cat food. It was so large that she had to sling it off her back like it was lumber. She was gorgeous because she was young. I was mindful not to look at her while I rang her up, but she kept her eyes on me like my old therapist used to do.
“Umm, aren’t you a little old to be working here?” she said.
I had to stop ringing her up. She smirked in an unforgettable way. My father once said to a customer when he was waiting tables: “Honey, I want you to remember this face. When you get older, you’ll hit the bottom, and you’ll keep falling.”
I always admired that side of my father. But the young lady didn’t find it so admirable; she called the manager. He wrote me up. Because of her I almost got fired. Because of her I went to alcohol.
I ended up moving into Lenny’s one-and-a-half-bedroom apartment in Cerritos—the human landfill outside of Los Angeles. The owner of the building didn’t allow pets. Lenny liked to watch TV, I liked to read books about writers who read about writers drinking.
One night I saw a commercial for Carmine Alonso. The film would premiere nationwide in a few weeks. I asked Lenny to rewind it. He could because he had recorded some reality show about miserable housewives.
“Pause it at the credits,” I said.
The font was too small on the screen, so I stood close enough to read who had written it. The writer so happened to be Brody Hanks. Son of a Fuck. An escort turned stripper turned professional feature screenwriter.
“Hey, Lenny, you ever think about starting up a new chapter?”
“It can’t get any worse than this, can it?”
“I beg to differ.”
I had casted myself away from Facebook for so many years that I didn’t realize that Carmine even had his own reality show on cable, about his former life in New Jersey. Some people seemed to never meet their fates.
Lenny loved hot dogs. He garnished them with relish, mustard, onions, chopped tomatoes, sauerkraut, and mayonnaise. He ate hot dogs every day; he was over six feet tall; weighed 145 pounds. He may have eaten his dog, but he still had an exceptional metabolism.
“Lenny,” I said. “I think we both ended up here because of broken hearts.”
“You never told me your story,” he said.
He was right. I never had a chance to hold the revolver.
“Henry Miller once said that a man hasn’t suffered until he’s been in love.”
“I was in love once,” he said.
I could imagine, with the crystal meth and his appetite and the suicide trip and all. Lenny used to be the guy who threw frisbees to his dog at Chargers games. That was his gig in the past two decades before he took meth. He had the woman he loved in those glorious times of his. She lived in the Philippines. He had met her on a dating website. He said she was the cutest thing on Match.com. He said he had fallen in love with her since their first Skype conversation; she had completed his whole life. He sent her money every month to support her family. Then one day she disappeared from the internet; she changed her phone number. Gone. He didn’t even do anything to upset her. She just vanished.
“Why don’t you fly out there?” I asked.
“I never met her in person.”
Like I said, some had it worse than I did.
I told him about Brody and Shirley, about Carmine, even my father. Lenny was the first person whom I admitted these people to. Somewhere in the middle of it he fell asleep on top of an apple crate. The story bored him.
One day I would find the girl of my dreams; none of this would matter. She lived in the Philippines. That didn’t matter either. What mattered was that I was communicating with someone. That was something I never had before.