The reunion was on the rooftop of a Westin Hotel in La Jolla. Lisa Gehrig greeted me at a table full of nametags. She still looked the way she did in high school after twenty years, except in a graceful woman’s body, no longer in a goosy girl’s body. She looked dangerously slender in a green gown.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
“Hello, Lisa. It’s been some twenty years.”
“I’m sorry, but you went to my high school?”
“Yes, I went to your high school,” I said. “Paul Talisman. I sat behind you in Biology class.”
“Really, I am so so sorry, this is embarrassing, but I seriously don’t remember you.”
Popular girls couldn’t remember anyone; it was their worst flaw.
“You were the head cheerleader, captain of the Flag Team, Class President, Prom Queen, Homecoming Queen, head of the Chess Club, Key Club, and Ski Club, and all that other shit.”
“And you went to the University of San Diego and majored in Biology, ironically.”
“How is that ironic?”
“Never mind. But by sophomore year, you found out that it wasn’t for you, so you switched to med school.”
“How do you know all of this?”
“Because you’re Lisa Gehrig.”
“What was your name again?”
Of course, she had already forgotten, so I gave her one of my business cards. I still carried business cards, even when I had a smartphone. It didn’t have a title under my name.
She copied the spelling onto a nametag, and I stuck it on my left breast.
“What about you?” she asked. “What have you done in the last twenty years?”
“Oh, just some blockbusters, some comedy tours, deals with HBO—”
“What happened to your nose?”
“Oh, just a boating accident. It’s complicated.”
She looked past me at other guests and cut me off, too ecstatic about them. She brushed past me and hugged them and jumped up and down with her old cheerleader friends. Sadly, I remembered all of their names, too. None of them had aged.
Everybody else at the reunion must’ve forgotten me, but I remembered every one of them and their names. It was a talent. I could’ve started a business with that gift if only the world had any use for it. They did notice me. How couldn’t they with the bandage on my nose.
One of them approached me with a Martini. Martin Chang would drink Capri-Suns at lunch.
“Paul Talisman?” he said. “Is that really you?”
“Martin Chang, how is Space Engineering?”
“Holy shit. It is you. It’s been a little slow lately, but I can’t complain.”
“You still living in Norway?”
“How did you know that?”
“Because you’re Martin Chang.”
“Well, cheers to me.”
He held his glass out, but my glass was empty.
“What happened to your nose?” he asked.
“Fishing accident?” He laughed. “How do you break your nose because of fishing? I never knew you fished.”
“That day I did.”
He took another sip and walked onward to a group of his people, the GATE students. He was the only one who talked to me there, so I loaded up on Red Label at the bar.
The bartender didn’t go to my high school. His name was Nick. I liked him.
The more I drank, the more the night blurred away, and the more Lisa Gehrig’s name flew throughout the rooftop as if she were Jay Gatsby.
At some point, I blacked out.
A day later, Lisa sent me a friend request on Facebook. I must’ve impressed her by whatever I did in my blackout phase, or she felt sorry, perhaps, for not remembering me, so she graced me with an electronic friendship. She had looked so elegant, so I accepted the request and looked at her photos.
She also invited me to an alumni page for our high school reunion. People posted about me, so it seemed:
Who was the drunk with the bandage on his nose?
Did he even go to our high school?
Who let in that psycho?
The cops were looking for him.
I hope they caught him.
Maggie said one of the glass shards cut up her leg.
That was enough of the alumni page, so I dropped out.
But I obsessed over Lisa, all alone in my Hollywood studio. All the lightbulbs had burned out, so the only light came from my laptop (and my Android). She was married and had four kids, and she lived in the Pacific Palisades. What if she left her husband and her family for me, for a weekend? I needed that one golden part in Hollywood. It didn’t matter if I still had never landed a part. That big one would’ve made her remember me.
She posted photos of mostly her kids doing cute things, dressing them up in little bear costumes or dragon costumes or alligator costumes; those kids were like a bunch of stuffed animals. When not of her kids, she posted photos of herself in long designer gowns, such as the one she had worn at the reunion, with her friends at spas or resorts. She posed with enough other Caucasian wives in beautiful gowns for a football roster photo. They all aligned like Miss America contestants: backs straight, jaws up, with the same smile of a real estate agent.
She also posted photos of her with her husband, Ken. They were alone together in all of those pictures. He had his arm around her in each one, with her hands clasped together in front of herself with that same real estate smile. And his smile was a worried grit of his teeth. He looked vanilla like an alpha-male would look: a leading man, someone who couldn’t tell a joke or express much of anything. Regardless, Lisa had posted eighty-four photos of Ken and herself of their vacation in Barcelona.
She had named the folder, Our Second Trip to Barcelona. I had never been to there, not even to Europe. I had twenty-three dollars left to my name, with ten calendar days before my next paycheck—twenty-three dollars in cash. I withdrew $400 from my investment, but that still wouldn’t hold the flood. The money wouldn’t go to my checking account until five to seven business days. Withdrawals either took too long or lasted too long, depending on the bank or the medication. A full-time job once kept a single man like me afloat.
I stayed in the apartment for two days just sifting through the hundreds of photos. What a rut was that. I had lived in that apartment for over ten years.
One night of my fifth year, I had drunk too many Long Islands before I drove back to the place. My landlord was a Romanian slumlord who practiced witchcraft. She had a bloodhound that mixed with a pit bull with bloodshot eyes like a junkie. It was the ugliest dog. It saw me crash my Oldsmobile against a pillar in the garage, and it barked at me as if I were intruding, which I wasn’t. I had lived in that building longer than he had. And that pillar had just appeared. She had put it there behind my awareness.
She hissed at me in the garage.
“You stupid fuck,” she said. “You park on street. ”
She wouldn’t accept my apology.
Since then I parked on the street. Most nights of the week, there were no spaces on my block, or for several blocks away. And most nights I parked at least a mile from the apartment, and I walked back there with murderous thoughts about the witch. Not necessarily a murder but a witnessing of her death, such as her falling down the steps, or her burning alive from a misguided incantation, or her having a pulmonary attack from too many cigarettes. I would’ve also accepted her bleeding on the sidewalk. I would’ve smirked at her, stepped over her, and carried about my business. Her own will could’ve pulled her back up, or somebody else could’ve called an ambulance. But what an evil fantasy. The Romanian witch was still a human being—just like I was. Besides, I wasn’t a warlock, and I was too weak; I couldn’t hire a hitman who specialized in witchcraft, either.
I woke up each morning with the calendar days in mind: eight days until the next paycheck…seven days…six days….I could’ve been stabbed, or snake-bitten, or mowed down by a city bus, or pushed off Runyon Canyon by a lunatic, or chewed to death by a family of mountain lions. I didn’t welcome those deaths. I couldn’t drink a shot of nail polish.
I was almost forty. I was never an alpha, and I could no longer dream of becoming a leading man. Not to mention, my nose was infected again. Those abscesses wouldn’t quit. I tore the bandage off when I was alone, and I poured hydrogen peroxide on it. Except the treatment didn’t work. There was a growth the size of a walnut on top. I couldn’t slice it with a penknife; that indelible fucker wouldn’t open up. It grew one day and shrank the next morning—and perhaps it moved.
I drove to an urgent care center on La Brea. The doctor looked younger than I was. That was always a bad sign.
Actually, she was Dr. Gehrig.
“What a small world after all,” I said.
“I’m sorry. Have we met?”
“It really is you, Lisa. Head cheerleader, captain of the Flag Team, Valedictorian, Prom Queen, Homecoming Queen.”
“How do you know this much about me?”
“Because you’re Lisa Gehrig.”
“Wait,” she said, “I remember.”
“Your condition is getting better,” I told her.
“But it’s Dr. Gehrig, and please take off your clothes.”
“I said ‘take off your clothes.’”
“But it’s on my nose.”
“You’re almost forty, Mr. Talisman; I must check for other abnormalities.”
My whole body was an abnormality. A white fluorescence exposed the porcine color of my skin. The pink paleness was that much pink and paler, and the shadows were that much more stark on my pockmarks. But those were less embarrassing than my ass. I bent over that table, and Lisa snapped a pair of latex gloves on her hands.
“Has anyone ever checked your prostate?”
“This producer three years ago.”
She didn’t laugh. Either way, true story. She poked through there. I had shaken her hand at the reunion.
“Let me know if you’re uncomfortable,” she said.
“This will only take a minute.”
“Can you cure cancer?” I asked her.
“Of course not,” she said. “What does that mean?”
“You’re Lisa Gehrig. It would be ridiculous if I called you Midas, with the position we’re in right now.”
She professionally kept herself.
“How much are you smoking?” she asked.
“A pack a day,” I said, “when things are all right.”
“So you’ll stop smoking by the end of the month.”
I laughed despite where her finger was.
“You will smoke nineteen cigarettes tomorrow, followed by eighteen cigarettes the next day, and seventeen cigarettes the day after that….”
“I see the pattern.”
“And how much are you drinking a week?”
“Give me a number.”
“Are we playing Blackjack?”
“See, this is why they kicked you out.”
“I kicked myself out. Paul Talisman always kicks himself out. I hate those people. I thought by now they would’ve grown into humble adults, but they were the same elite douche bags from high school—some of them arguably worse.”
“I don’t have time,” she said. “How many?”
“About eighteen. My final answer.”
She pulled her finger out of me and snapped the gloves off. The whole process had given me an erection. It got harder when she pulled it out. She pushed a lever to a trash can with her foot; the lid opened, and she disposed of the gloves. Everything in the universe was either pushing or pulling. The erection got thicker.
“I’ll write you up for a good skin doctor in Studio City. She can check your nose.”
Even with my ass in the air, she wouldn’t check my nose.
“But it’ll take you three minutes,” I said. “Can’t you just do it now?”
“Nope,” she said.
She went to the door, but I grabbed her wrist.
“How’s Ken?” I asked.
She fought away my hand, and I apologized. She calmed her hair down as if I had caused static.
“He’s in Africa for a yearly summit.”
“He sure travels.”
“You may leave,” she said, “and take your time.”
“Oh, I’ll take my time,” I said.
I got close to her.
“What is this?” she asked.
I pulled her in and kissed her on the lips. She didn’t pull away; well, not right away. She pushed me back and slapped me. It stung my gums.
“How dare you. I’m a doctor.”
“I’d been waiting for twenty years,” I said.
She pulled me back to her and kissed me again, roughly, with heavy breathing, and she stopped abruptly, looking at her feet, tucking her hair behind her ear.
“We can spend a weekend together,” I said. “Ken or the government doesn’t have to know.”
“I have other patients,” she said.
She left me alone in the room. Didn’t they all.
I put my jeans on, and they ripped. The right side was torn, where I always stuffed my wallet. Doctors had instruments that could freeze away warts, and yet they didn’t have sewing kits. I had three pairs of jeans, and they had all ripped to rags. I kept my wallet in the back right pocket, like always. The hole was still small enough.
That night, I went to a bar in Hollywood called The Talisman. The name had attracted me seven years ago. A notorious bartender called Damian served there on Tuesdays. He would send people out of there unconscious. That night didn’t differ from the rest. By closing time, his doorman carried each one out of over his shoulder and laid them in the backseats of Uber cars.
I was the only one remaining. The doorman didn’t carry me out; I remembered that. But my journey back home was a mystery. My wallet had fallen out of my right pocket. It had dimes, nickels, pennies, quarters—half dollars. Those sharp coins dug through my leather wallet and into my jeans until they dug a hole wide enough, and it had fallen right out.
I called The Talisman the next morning (they opened at 7 AM). Phillip opened up that morning.
“No, we don’t have it, Paul. Sorry.”
“Hey, how was the reunion?”
I hung up.
My wallet must’ve fallen through the hole somewhere during my stumble back to my apartment. Yes, I could’ve walked around with a pocket full of change like an old man, but that drove me as batty as the fact that my wallet was lost somewhere in the city. It had my credit cards, my driver’s license, my social security card. That was too scary. I once forgot my cigarettes. That was even scarier. But without my wallet, I was dazed. I lost my orientation. I couldn’t find the door to the hallway. I couldn’t think a straight thought. I couldn’t make decisions either. I couldn’t even pee in front of the toilet.
The witch pounded on the door. The piss flew out, and it went everywhere around the toilet. Her knock was distinctive: in a pattern of five, and all of the same volume. The pissing wouldn’t stop with the knocking. I couldn’t shut my own valve.
I did find the door to the hallway. The witch stood at the other end, with that green amulet on her necklace.
“Where’s the fucking rent?” she said.
“I don’t know.”
“What you mean you don’t know?”
“I don’t know what I mean, I don’t know.”
“I want the money now.”
“I don’t have the money.”
“Then when will you?”
“I don’t know.”
She rubbed the amulet.
“You pay in three days, or you’re out.”
She walked away, and I couldn’t reason with her.
By nighttime, my mind flipped upside-down. The amulet must’ve cast a spell of insanity on me.
My dead parents showed up in my bedroom. They wouldn’t let me sleep. The ghost of my father appeared over my bed; so did that of my mother. They both glared down at me with these glowing red eyes; bullet holes had never closed up from their heads, and bullet smoke still rose out.
“You deserve to be homeless,” Mother said.
“What kind of loser can’t pay rent?” Father said.
“I don’t know,” I said to him and her both.
“You’ve shamed your mother. Just look at her.”
I couldn’t, with the bullet wound in her head.
I smoked wax until I passed out, and it brought grizzly nightmares:
In one of them, I was my wallet. Jeffrey Dahmer picked me up and stuffed me into his pocket. It didn’t matter if he was really dead, not in my dreams. He fucked me, and before he could cut me up and eat me, I woke up.
A dump truck screeched and pounded outside my window like a steel elephant. That meant it was Tuesday. I woke up as the worst loser in the world. I missed my parents. I sobbed about them every morning. I had always feared homelessness; it was too easy. But what about a life sentence of rent and bills? I gave up everything, and I left the apartment for good, I thought. All I possessed were my clothes, my twenty-three dollars, and my toothbrush. I could live without showers, but I brushed my teeth every day. (Some) hair grew back—the unwanted hair. So did nails. They broke off, and they returned. But teeth. Teeth cracked or plainly fell out, and they couldn’t be replaced.
A few others lived on the neighborhood street. One of them called himself Sliggy. And he literally did live on the sidewalk, in a cone-shaped tent, like a teepee, with bedroom fixtures throughout the inside. It protected him at night from raccoons or other people. But Sliggy trusted me. I would always wave at him on the way to The Talisman, or I would give him change or cigarettes whenever he had asked for some.
“You seem all right.”
“I can accommodate, just as long as we both agree on our parts.”
“What’s my part?” I asked.
“You keep the place pretty. Sweep the porch with my broom.”
(The porch was the sidewalk).
“Buy stuff at the store when we got enough change. I’ll get us an eighth whenever we run out.”
Sliggy was impressively content with his lot. He wasn’t schizophrenic, he wasn’t drunk, not even bitter.
“I worked in an office, many years ago,” he said. “One day, I had these voices telling me to kill my boss. But I got a strong will, Man.”
“What did you do?”
“I quit that bullshit. I controlled my drinking, too. Ever since I moved here, the voices ain’t never come back.”
He lay on the sidewalk like a tycoon on a yacht, just wasting his days, smoking joints, lighting his pipe, giving his hellos to pedestrians. He averaged $74 a day in his Folger’s can.
The winter never changed in Hollywood except for a rise or a drop of ten degrees. That winter afternoon, it went over seventy. He sat in a reclining beach chair with his shirt off. His body was as good as Jesus’s was. He could’ve played him in a remake of The Ten Commandments, unlike my boss, the Vice President of Operations.
I slept beside Sliggy in the tent, and I rode to work the next day on a city bus, without my license, and without a shower. Sliggy’s odor had drifted onto me like a sprayed perfume. Co-workers joked and chattered among the cubicles.
The boss called me into his office.
“Let’s talk about your hygiene,” he said.
“People are complaining.”
“I’m sorry. We ran out of water in my building.”
“That’s no excuse.”
“It’s not an excuse, Sir, it’s a factor.”
“When I was stationed at Fort Bragg, I got up at four every morning….”
“And the first thing I did each morning was hit the showers and make my bed.”
“And I still do it now. I’ve done it every morning.”
“Every morning? For what? Twenty some odd years?”
“Affirmative. I owe that one chore to my success. Now, here I am. I’m the Vice President. I suggest you make yours every morning, Mr. Talisman.”
“Look at me now.”
“I can see it certainly goes a long way.”
“Did you make yours this morning?”
“Well,” my boss said, “I’m writing you up. And you better shower before work tomorrow.”
“Yes, Sir,” I said.
Mr. McCarthy was over 300 pounds. He ate his heavy chow as if he were still in a mess hall or running obstacle courses. He stood up, I stood up, and we shook hands.
“Were there any questions?” he asked me.
“Yes, but I forgot.”
I should’ve asked for a raise.
Anyway, I rode back home to Sliggy’s tent. It supported no more than two people. That night, Sliggy shoved me in the tent, and I awakened. I had apparently rolled onto him in my sleep.
The next afternoon, Sliggy lit a joint on the sidewalk. We smoked at the curb together.
“Let’s get one thing straight,” he said, “we ain’t roommates, we neighbors.”
“I respect my neighbors,” I said.
“I’ve respected them since the fourth grade. This one time, I wrecked my neighbor’s patio.”
“Now what the hell?”
“I was ten years old; I didn’t know any better. I was drunk, too.”
“I tore the cushions with my bare hands. I smashed the neighbor’s flower pots. I ripped her wind chimes and shucked them at her window. This was all according to my mother.”
I told Sliggy the truth. I had blacked out in my backyard. Mom made me write a letter of apology. I wrote several drafts until I got it right. The first four were insincere, my mother said. But how could they be sincere after I had blacked out? The fifth draft was more genuine, but I didn’t write it in cursive. That was my first real course in writing. Everything I wrote afterward (be it scripts or a memoir) was some form of an apology, either to myself or to someone who didn’t really deserve it (my reader).
“So what does that got to do with us?” Sliggy asked. “You going to black out and trash my crib? Should I kick you out or beat you until you do get out?”
“First of all, it’s our home, not your home. Second of all, I didn’t tell you what happened at my twenty-year reunion.”
“You blacked out there, too?”
“And I did much worse things, allegedly. But not anymore. I’m done drinking.”
“You know how many times I declared that?”
“Regardless, I should acquaint with my neighbors, not rival them.”
“So long as we play our parts,” Sliggy said.
He provided the toilet paper. It wasn’t Charmin, but it wasn’t a dry leaf either. We kept our place on the sidewalk clean as opposed to the rest of it. No wonder people kept their heads down. The witch walked her mutt towards us, and I hid in the tent. I watched her, though. She didn’t pick up after him. All the pieces of shit were like safety cones which people slalomed around. The people could’ve been sad or lacked confidence, or they could’ve been watching for any marks of defecation. One of the piles was grander than a pancake breakfast at IHOP.
“How can a dog shit that much?” I asked Sliggy. “The only pieces of shit bigger than those are the people who don’t pick up after them.”
“That ain’t dog shit, Boss.”
He pointed to one across the street who squatted as if no one were looking.
It was all over Los Angeles. Some towns were full of acorns or pine cones; Los Angeles was full of shit. Sliggy and I courteously wiped ourselves and threw the used paper down a sewer drain.
Afterwards, I bought Pringles, Zigzags, Marlboros from a smoke shop and a fifth of Jack Daniels from a liquor store across the street. So, I didn’t quit drinking altogether; I just practiced a higher temperance.
We did our chores, and we sat in our lawn chairs and passed a jay back and forth. Sliggy catcalled a beautiful young actress walking by. She pretended we weren’t there.
“Deep down,” he said, “she wishes she could be with me.”
Sliggy grew up in Inglewood.
“You’re drunk,” I said. “You mean that?”
“Then deep down, all men wish they could be with her,” I said.
“Very true, my man, very true.”
“What if I quit my job,” I said to him.
“Is that what you want?”
“I don’t want anything.”
“I could use a job,” Sliggy said.
“Then you take it. We’ll switch lives. I can always get another job when I see fit, even if it will suck my time.”
“You need at least eight hours for yourself,” Sliggy said. “I learned that in Alaska.”
Sliggy had fished for crabs in the Bering Strait for six months before he lived on the sidewalk. The boat had taken him and many other men out to sea for $80,000.
“When you go out there, you ain’t certain you’ll make it back alive,” he said. “But you’re certain that some of you won’t live through it. I seen men fall overboard or throw themselves overboard. I seen men lose toes, thumbs, noses…What good are you without any damn thumbs?”
“What good are you without a nose?”
“I seen men lose their fucking minds on that boat. I lost my mind there, too. I got some of it back, all mangled like a doggie toy.”
“At least you came back with all your faculties,” I said.
“Not all,” Sliggy said.
He pulled out his upper teeth. I looked the other way, at all the shit on the sidewalk. I was too high for that.
“They make you suffer, don’t they?”
“They sure do.”
“I need time to write,” I said, “and for exercise, and other time for books, and video games—”
“And beating your meat,” he said.
“That too. Today, I forgot to beat my meat.”
“Use the tent, if you like.”
“I was just pontificating.”
“You ever daydream?”
“When I’m able to, yes. It’s all I really have.”
“It kept me sane on the boat,” Sliggy said.
“Oh, stuff. Just stuff.”
Sliggy laid himself on the warm sidewalk. He gazed at a single cloud. I put myself next to him. Together we gazed like a couple of six-year-olds at this mass of white cotton hanging in the sky with a tobacco stain in its center. We weren’t punished for imagining, but paranoia loomed with the cloud. A police officer could’ve been watching.
“I’m on a rich man’s boat,” Sliggy said, “except I earned it, and I’m sailing the coast of France.”
“Yes, France,” I said, “I love that it’s France.”
“Nothing but European models taking care of me.”
“Yes, yes, Czechoslovakian. What do they do? What do they wear?”
“They wearing nothing, and they rub my shoulders while I smoke my pipe.”
“Go on, go on.”
“I’m even wearing a captain’s hat like I’m Captain Steuben. You ever watched The Love Boat?”
“In grade school I did.”
“And you know what?”
“When that dream comes true, my friend, you know what you can do?”
“What is it, Sliggy?”
“Come out to France.”
“I would in a second.”
“Come see me out there in the water, but don’t come too close. Just close enough to where I’m in your sight. And once you’re there, send me a text.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll have a cell phone, too. I’ll text you back: LIFE IS GOOD. That will be your cue.”
“My cue for what?”
“You’ll bring an air rifle, and you’ll put me right in its crosshairs.”
Sliggy aimed his imaginary rifle at the cloud, and he made the blast with his mouth. The cloud broke apart.
“Oh,” I said.
“That’s my dream.”
“I was thinking of something different, Sliggy.”
“Something a little happier?”
“Well, what’s your dream?” he asked me.
“I don’t know anymore.”
“That’s a damn shame.”
He turned to his side and fell asleep. Part of the cloud drifted over the Hollywood sign.
By nighttime, I retreated to the tent and brushed my teeth. It was my new office. A certain producer hadn’t reached out to me for a year about a spot for a new comedy show. It wouldn’t have won me an Oscar, but it would’ve paid off some debt. Either nothing became of the show, or Jonathan had found someone else and never told me, or this was all some cruel practical joke. Agents saw my nose in my headshots, and they wouldn’t accept me. They discriminated against me, but wasn’t the whole point of Hollywood discrimination? Nevertheless, an audition would’ve breathed life back into me.
Sliggy and I lived outside of a hostel for AIDS patients. He didn’t have AIDS, and neither did I, so they didn’t let us sleep inside or even use their toilets, but they did have strong WIFI. Their network was unsecured too. I emailed Jonathan from inside the tent, but the next day, Jonathan never replied. I was only a body with a dead person in it: I could walk, I could shit, I could smoke, I could drink, I could curse, but my body was a catacomb. Who’s that guy with the bandage on his nose? People stared at it as dumbly and rudely as the raccoons. Don’t obsess over it, my ex-girlfriend would tell me, but every person I met asked the same question.
I had twenty-three dollars to my name.
Sliggy had wandered to Silverlake into the night on my day off. I meditated on the sidewalk or in the tent which reeked of Sliggy. He returned with an ounce of Gorilla Glue. Silverlake was a good eight miles away: a day trip for Sliggy. No wonder he was built like Jesus. He belonged to no gym, he never took Pilates, and he thought Kale was a villain in DC Comics. He didn’t have a car, and he got dark on the sidewalk. Only his teeth set him back, and his skin which was brown and crumpled like the paper of a used cigar. He picked apart a clump of Gorilla Glue over a page of the Los Angeles Times.
On the front page of the sports section was Tom Brady and his arrogant smirk. I swigged the Jack Daniels at the sight of him.
“Hey Sliggy, let me see that.”
“What? The paper?”
“When you’re done.”
He could roll joints under three minutes, or perceptibly three minutes. The Jack Daniels sped time; the Gorilla Glue slowed it significantly down. My iPhone was dead. Without a watch or a clock nearby but with only the sun and the moon, time no longer related to numbers. The perception came from my shifting moods.
Tom Brady was worth 180-million dollars. I was worth twenty-three dollars. Sliggy didn’t even know who Tom Brady was.
“He’s an American icon,” I told him, “like Elvis.”
“He plays football?”
“He doesn’t just play football,” I said, “he’s a writer.”
“What did he write?”
“Who knows? But I heard that he wrote a book.”
“I know he ain’t the Rams.”
Sliggy was ten years older than I was. He had rooted for the Rams as far back as when they were the Los Angeles Rams the first time, but he didn’t know the names Vince Ferragamo or even Eric Dickerson, but he knew Kurt Warner.
“Anyway,” I said, “Tom Brady is worth 180-million dollars, and I’m worth twenty-three.”
“Tomorrow you could be worth more than he is.”
“Actually my credit card debt makes me worth less than zero—and I’m not talking by a few integers, I’m talking in the thousands. I’m worth thousands less than zero.”
“I’m worth more than you are,” Sliggy said. “I ain’t even got a bank.”
On that note, I went back to the tent. Gorilla Glue could knock me out.
The next morning, Sliggy scrubbed his underwear at the curb. He didn’t hog things like my brother did when I lived with him, but still…His nightly sweat could follow me around; both his post-nasal drip and his night terrors had woken me back up, and his dandruff and eczema had clung to me. Not to mention the raccoons had jumped in; the drunks had passed by and hurled their beer cans and whiskey bottles into our home (empty ones, too). There would’ve been even worse nights in the tent if I stayed.
The homeless excursion got stupid. After all, I still had an apartment, with a roof. And it was payday. My company had deposited the check to my bank.
“I got paid,” I told Sliggy.
“You’re leaving, ain’t you?” he said.
“I’ll always be a block away.”
“Thank you for everything, Sliggy.”
He gave me a nug of Gorilla Glue as a parting gift.
“Don’t thank me.”
I didn’t tear up, but I was close. I gave Sliggy the twenty-three dollars, and I paid the rent late. The witch had a small mail slot next to her apartment door. I dropped the check into it without giving it to her in person. My bed had never felt better.
I passed by Sliggy’s tent on the way to the Talisman that next night. He wasn’t home. He must’ve gone out for more Gorilla Glue; that, or he was scavenging food somewhere—or cans, or clothes, or ladies. Hopefully, he was still alive.
Hours later, I staggered back from the bar to my apartment. A paper document was taped to my door. I didn’t even read it. I tore it right off and crumpled it into a ball and threw it down the hallway. How could such a good tenant who had lived there for fourteen years and paid the rent on time every month except the last one deserve this treatment? The witch just needed a reason. I was on rent control, and the owner wanted me gone so she could boost the rent. And yes, I had damaged the property, but after fourteen years things would’ve been torn anyway. Well, lawyers cost too much. I woefully accepted the eviction. I threw away all my belongings into a dumpster in the garage, except for my toothbrush.
My job was still intact. I belonged to an LA Fitness down the road, so I washed there, and I slept in my car. The rent in Los Angeles made the message simple and clear: the working class wasn’t welcomed. Just as long as I had a job, I could still afford food, drinks, and cigarettes—and some drugs, too.
I got too drunk and high one night, and I looked up Lisa Gehrig on my laptop. She had posted another photo album on Facebook: this one of her at some art gala in San Francisco. I wrote to her—fuck off—and I deleted our friendship.
I could also pay for my cell phone. Someone called me using a blocked phone number.
“Guess where I am,” Sliggy said.
“I’m in the ocean off Venice.”
“Nah, Venice Beach.”
“On a boat?”
I could hear seagulls, and women giggling.
“With beautiful models?”
“They ain’t models,” he said. “I picked them up off Abbot Kinney. They just needed a place to sleep.”
“Where did you find the boat?”
“Where did I find it? I rented it.”
“Is life good, Sliggy?”
“Nah,” Sliggy said. “Life ain’t good at all, my friend.”
“But I’ll sure let you know when it is.”
Thank God, life wasn’t good.