At last call we got in the car
And drove like psychos
Through the dead city of Oakland
To the pathetic empty streets of Berkeley
Where we urinated on the clock tower
The moon hung up in the sky
Still swollen from the night before
Satisfied with our streams
We ran back to the car
Our noses inflamed
And everything else fried to hell
Scaring the few twerps on foot
With our howling
And manic stupid caveman laughter.
When I was a younger man I loved a girl dearly. We lived together for three and a half years. We loved each other for five. She was kind and patient with me when she should not have been. And she never stopped thinking I was funny—even when everyone else had long before.
But I was terrible and selfish and jealous and ruthless and cold. She went away from me, taking my cats with her. She left a note on my desk while I was out of town. It said, amongst a lot of other sad things that I haven’t been able to forget: “This is possibly good-bye forever.”
I haven’t spoken to her directly in nearly three years, but I watched her cry in a Baltimore courtroom last March. I wanted to hold her when I saw her crying but she would have punched me in the face.
My father told me to be tough. I tried to be tough. It didn’t work very well.
A month later my father drove me to her parents’ house where I collected one of my cats. It was the first time I had seen him in a year and a half. I scratched his head and held him against my chest.
My father dropped us off in the parking lot of a movie theater I had worked at as a teenager. My rental car was there. I drove sixty miles north to Maryland and got on a bus to the airport. We flew to Florida, and then Texas. Girls would come up to me and look at the carrier I was holding and ask to see my dog. When I told them I had a cat they walked away.
My cat and I were happy to see each other again. We rolled around my bed and slept beside each other.
A week later I wrote the girl a letter and said there would never be a point in my life when I didn’t want to see her. I said, “I miss you a whole god damn lot. I always will.” And then I said good-bye forever.
Today she is 27 years old. Maybe she is at home, wherever that is, with a glass of wine, joylessly filing her taxes.
• • •
As a 26-year-old man I awoke at 3 p.m. I had a mild hangover and I felt like garbage for reasons besides. My cat was sitting on my chest, looking down at me. He had been pawing at my face for two hours. He was very hungry. I had been unconscious for twelve hours.
I got out of bed, spine twisted as hell, mind empty, and gave the little guy some of the good stuff. Then I did a bunch of push-ups and drank a half a French press of coffee and put on a stupid purple t-shirt and my denim jacket and drove to the grocery store.
I bought beer and cat food. I said hi to the lady with the pink hair who stocks the bread and milk. She asked me when I worked next and I told her. She said she would come see me. I gave her a thumbs up and said “OK!”
I walked across the street to the bank and deposited the pathetic sum I had been keeping in my breast pocket. It was essentially all the money I had to my name.
The lady behind the counter said, “So how’s your day going?”
I said, “One screaming catastrophe after another, sister.” For a moment she seemed spooked because I hadn’t said “fine” or “good” or whatever people who drive beige four-door sedans say. And when I saw this flicker of horror in her eyes I said, “Oh, I’m just kidding.”
She said, “No you’re not.” And she smiled. It was a neat smile. It was a listen, jerk, I’m right there with you kind of smile.
I got into the decommissioned police car I share with my cousin and put on Madonna’s Immaculate Collection. I took my jacket off and slung it over the passenger seat. The air was nice and the sun felt good on my skin. I blazed down Telegraph Avenue, past Temescal and all the jerks slouching around there, while “Borderline” looped a half dozen times.
At UC Berkeley campus I put on “Lucky Star” and had a good old time. I did circles around the clock tower and made faces at the happy people there, hoping to rattle a few skeletons. Instead I looked like the lamest 80s TV bad boy ever.
When I got bored I drove home. I took my beer and cat food inside and decided that it was all just a temporary smear of dumb bullshit that would be over soon enough.
Tonight I will drive to the top of a mountain and watch the twinkling lights of all three cities and all three bridges and breathe air that isn’t toxic. And when I get bored I’ll go home and sit on my mattress and write a little sci-fi story that no one will ever read.
In a week I will drive to Los Angeles with a Grim Reaper costume and with a head full of acid I will walk the beaches of Santa Monica at midnight.
And on and on.
I did my taxes three months ago.
“What are you?” says the woman. The little girl replies: “A freak!”
It is not a two way pursuit. The authorities seek with frantic abandon but there is no corresponding flight. The perp sits smoking a needle-thin joint above the traffic, legs dangling off the third story fire escape waiting for the hammer to fall, in the form of a helicopter maybe, spotlight roaring white and piercing down from manufactured red twilight drone of urban midnight.
They will never understand a mortal justice, between two free individuals, as impermanent as the lives on either end of the handshake. Theirs is a bloodless justice, solid gold for eyes, iron filings for pubic hair, hungry for electricity in her vacuum tube arteries.
Our justice comes in winks of time, in the folds of a daring moment when despite shifting this and changing that, a promise is fulfilled, the final arc-slice of the circle comes to rest at its origin.
For Bianca it came screaming from the muzzle of a 19th century pistol. The gun (unregistered because, officially, it is incapable of discharging a bullet) was lifted from a pawn shop in the heat of July, sold in a parking lot for cash, traded in an alley for heroin, swapped on the shoulder of a desert road for a spare tire, before coming to rest this morning in Cyril’s hand packed with wadding, powder, and a ball bearing of just the right size.
Under the glaze of fear and confusion there was an acceptance in Bianca’s eyes. Early red sun came slow behind her over the waves, the wind tossed her sandy braids. She refused the cigarette and the bandanna. Did craving blood and open eyes serve her well as she crossed over?
Impossible to say, even for one as close to both the passing and the passed as Cyril herself, for whom the horns honk as headlights from afar ignite her bare swaying legs hanging in space. For now she doesn’t have the strength to resent the curse of unwelcome attention, she is exhausted, readying herself for an undertow of misery riding on the heels of the gunshot. For now, she wants nothing more than to be found. She hums a tune, so soft the pitches can only be felt, only by her, only in the back of her throat.
Yet it’s possible, even likely the act will remain untraceable, the sun will rise and set and rise and Cyril will not be killed, captured, or questioned. And what then? Will she keep on, stacking the odds, waiting for karma to. . . . No, the circle is closed. The act was promised, known, and recognized as it was delivered. The mojo has been equalized.
But the machine whirrs on. Autopsy, suspicion, insignificant whispers behind closed doors. Everyone who knew her knows why. It is a desperate mystery only to people who never knew Bianca as a living human being. They will search without result, through the night and into the morning, for a woman perched high above in plain view with neon legs and a clear conscience.
The Crude Hungarian advances over the cobblestones, brown leather medicine bag clasped in his gnarly left, while thumb and forefinger of the right twirl a hawk feather lifted from spinning purgatory in a storm drain two blocks back. The impulse to clutch and carry the feather might serve as a clue to the clever psychoanalysts of the period (were they not busy imagining cocks in cream rorschach atop steaming espresso), that what skips down the street swinging the medicine bag like a flower basket wearing a clownish smile is less a man and more a hollow blotch of humanity’s shame, a perverse abstraction. A creature for whom all things, even and especially those most free and whimsical, jabber in silent tongues of their desire to be enslaved, surveilled, vivisected.
Such a beast would be called upon only by the ladder-steppers, who fear the Crude Hungarian as they fear a man who exhibits the terminal stage of a disease they have already contracted. Shadow-slinking cigar-sucking Old World gentlemen who employ this maniac to carry out—by whatever means necessary, with access to extravagant funding and the full support of underground globe-trotting cultists—the mission at hand.
Believe it: the Hungarian’s task tonight is slippery. Nestled cozy, believing himself secure under the soft weight of a sad-eyed Jewess, on the third floor of the inn at forty-second and Santo Pietro, cycle the rapid eye movements of a dreaming brain in the skull of one Dr. Jarald Burrfellow, newly proclaimed enemy of the State, a slick information specialist from across the channel who bats for the team with the sleekest car and the sharpest eyelashes. Jarald is quick on the draw with straight razor and derringer alike, trigger finger twitching at every shadow, trench-coated figure, and scampering rodent since word of his exposure and exile flowed down the grapevine.
Or at least, the twitching was frequent, for a time. Until his nerves were soothed to euphoric somnambulance by exponential doses of laudanum slipped into Jarald’s drinks over the last three days by the Jewess. Amelia Luvless, who appeared one fateful night like a demon given beautiful form and voice by Jarald’s lonely imagination as he sat at the end the bar, at the end of his rope, at the end of a two day bender in northern Italy during a brief hiatus from fleeing his own inexorable termination.
Miss Luvless is a prodigy in the art of seduction, a fact recognized by two men before she realized it herself: one was her father, the other the Crude Hungarian. Now that her father’s sins against her have been paid for a dozen times over, young Amelia is in the Hungarian’s pocket, and what a sweaty, scruffy, sandpaper-lined pocket it has turned out to be.
Amelia prays, not to god but rather to the angels of her innermost shrine that not even her father could poison, as she lies awake with her face on Jarald’s hairy heaving chest, that this will be her final rite of passage to escape the debt she owes to the Hungarian. But she is no fool. She’s been hanging around these types long enough to know what she’s doing here is not buying her freedom, but building her resumé.
Would take a real jive mother two hours to pick all the locks on this paranoid’s room, and it’d take too many unseemly decibels to break it down. But the Crude Hungarian has many tools, and here is one of them slipping out from under Jarald’s arm, into a night gown, soft-stepping to the door, unlatching the many clasps, beckoning to the terrifying, jagged form, allowing it passage over the threshold, down by the side of the doped sleeping victim, watching with no surprise, no feeling at all but a dull gutless thud like a gob of dough on a hollow log, as the Hungarian reaches into his bag for the lethal injection. Jarald fades away without ceremony.
Now the Crude Hungarian speaks what could be a prayer over the corpse, in a language either constructed or dead. He then rises to his unsteady feet and rolls on them across the room, torso writhing slightly, head like a buoy on a treacherous sea. (He only moves straight and true, Amelia notes, when he dances or skips. And in speech, he always replaces the first person singular with the word this.) He then undoes the latch of the window and throws it open to the cool humidity.
Amelia thinks for one frantic moment of rushing over and throwing all her weight against his crooked frame, perhaps propelling him over the sill to die on the cobblestones. But again, she is no fool, her sixth sense tells her some trickster demigod would intervene to save this evil fucking creature, if only to keep him alive until a more theatrical end could be arranged.
The Crude Hungarian pushes aside a greasy tuft of salt-pepper hair, plucks the hawk feather from behind his ear and flicks it out into space. He then closes his eyes, tilts back his head, and snorts a heroic draught of breeze, toking deep the last traces, and there are only ever traces in these parts, of the Mediterranean winter.
“It will rain tonight,” he says, and giggles.
Casper Lockett was seated on his $30,000 sofa thinking about big tits and cool guns and good whisky. He would leave for Tokyo in the morning. Tonight he would fuck his robot secretary and his robot housekeeper and his robot cook and his robot sex doll until his dick fell off and his testicles exploded.
“Jesus, Ingrid, where are you?” said Casper. He slapped his fist down on his $12,000 coffee table and managed to swallow the bile that was creeping up his throat like a cockroach. “I don’t pay you to not fuck me.”
“You don’t pay me at all,” said Ingrid. “I’m a robot.” She stepped out of the hallway closet and closed the door behind her. She had been hiding.
Casper’s penis was rock-hard. Her motions had made it swell and now it was pulsing there on his hairy thigh.
“Get over here,” he said, “and show me what you do for free.”
Ingrid glided over the smooth obsidian floors and knelt beside him. She lowered her head and rested it on his knee. It was a ritual the two knew well. Casper gently stroked her synthetic hair and eyed his throbbing member as it grew larger still. Soon it would reach her chin—and then things would really get wild.
“You’re going to be gone so long,” Ingrid said. “I don’t know what I’ll do.” It was the most melancholy Casper had ever seen her. For a moment he even felt bad for her. But then he stopped before it got weird.
“Two months ain’t that long. And you know the Japs, they always find a way to kick me out.” Casper Lockett had been caught consuming industrial quantities of drugs on various Tokyo rooftops and train platforms and in hotel bars and public restrooms during his stays there but had managed to avoid jail time due to his immense wealth.
“But you’ll come back?”
“Yeah. After I smoke a bunch of dope weed with those Yakuza fucks. Crazy fuckers. In general Jap weed ain’t all that great, but these creeps have the good stuff.” He paused. “And of course I’ve got to attend some, uh, meetings. Financial stuff.”
Casper thought for a moment and couldn’t figure out why exactly he wasn’t fucking Ingrid. What was with all this talking? he thought.
The head of his penis was engorged with blood. It was reaching the legal limit (whatever that meant). He lifted Ingrid’s chin with his right hand and gazed into her vacant robot eyes. There was a tiny flash of something in there, deep and far away, and it startled him to see it. He realized then that there were thoughts and feelings swirling around inside her, even if she was little else than miles and miles of wiring shoved inside a pleasant-looking human-shaped thing.
“Let’s get down to it or I’m gonna lose it.” He took a cigar from his pocket and popped it into his mouth. The bile was coming back but he let it simmer there for a moment before pushing it back down again with a heroic gulp.
“I thought maybe we could watch the city for a while. I wanted to stand by the window with you and watch the city. Before you left.”
The city was in flames three hundred stories below Casper Lockett’s top-floor penthouse apartment. People were screaming and crying out for food and comfort—for anything other than the inevitable painful deaths that shortly awaited them.
Casper fingered the remote in his pocket and the shades lowered. The penthouse became dark and moody and cavelike, even more so than before. The dim overhead lights glowed somberly on the obsidian floors.
There was faint chatter heard elsewhere in the place. It was Casper’s other robot servants. They were plotting to kill him later in the night while he slept.
“Let’s fuck,” said Casper, preoccupied. He hadn’t made out a single word. The cigar was still unlit in his mouth.
“I hope that one day things change for us, Casper. I love you and want the best for you. And I want you to want those things too—for me and for you.”
“Uh huh.” Casper stood up and put his hands on his hips. His boner ripped his pants and flopped out of the hole it had created. It hung there unflinchingly—trapped in the mucus of the moment. Casper laughed at the sight of it. It was big and fierce. It was ready to go.
In the morning Casper Lockett would leave for Tokyo. But tonight he would fuck a bunch of robots until his dick fell off and his testicles exploded.
I had gone to Target because I didn’t want to be at home and because I wanted to feel as horribly isolated and alone as possible. When I got into the place I made a beeline for the toy aisle and went into the one with the yellow walls—yellow denoting “neutral” toys, the other aisles being some garish pink and some terrible blue, because apparently boys and girls can’t play with the same toys unless they’re weird and hard to categorize.
Of course I immediately took the cat keyboard off the shelf. I always take the cat keyboard off the shelf. The cat keyboard is a child’s music-thing shaped like a cat’s grinning face. Its teeth are the keys. If you press the “meow” button the keyboard produces notes using synthesized cat meows. It is the best thing they sell. It is the best thing anyone sells.
I held it there with my left hand and pressed the keys with my right. It wasn’t enough to keep the meows to myself. I wanted to share them with the world. So I stepped out of the aisle and stood there in that big-ass through lane near the electronics section. That’s when I saw you coming towards me holding a half gallon of milk and a bag of apples. You had on a big weird jacket and your hair was red as hell. I thought you were a good-looking person. Meanwhile other bad-looking people were passing by, either ignoring me or giving me hateful glances, maybe because they’re not having any fun at all and can’t stand the sight of someone else trying to have some, but you laughed and smiled at me when you got close. And when you did I played the first few notes to “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”.
Girl, I played those notes for you. I just wanted you to know.
Keep twinkling, baby.