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!”
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.
Tonight John and I sat in the back of a pub on Telegraph Avenue and listened to strangers laugh and scream about terrible things that couldn’t possible matter to anyone anywhere. I said to John, leaning over the wooden table: “They may as well be slamming stones down on coconuts while the rest of the apes watch on with vacant grins.” John nodded but his eyes were all bad. He’d been out of it all night.
“Maybe that was a mean thing to say,” I went on, not sure if he was paying attention, “but let’s not pretend it isn’t true.”
I stood up and walked over to the door. Outside it was raining like a real bastard. I was glad we had driven our old Fremont police car to get there. The “DOOMSMOBILE,” as we called it, was parked on a nearby curb and I wanted to walk out of the bar and sit inside the damn thing while the rain came down on the windshield.
John said he was going to use the bathroom and I went to the bar to pay my tab. When I got back to the table he was gone. I found him leaning against the windows out front. His hood was up and he looked shredded. We walked down the sidewalk together, not saying anything, and I got in on the driver’s side and unlocked the doors. The two of us sat down and put on some good music.
In the rearview mirror I saw the only sign of aging I had experienced in ten years, the spiderweb crack of flesh beneath my eyes . . . little trails going nowhere. John lit a cigarette and I thought that maybe I needed to either get laid or jump off the Golden Gate Bridge.
We drove west in the rain. On Peralta Street I let John out and he put our rent checks in our landlord’s mailbox. I watched half a month’s salary disappear and the rain came down harder.
John got back in the car and slammed the door behind him. He leaned his head against the glass and closed his eyes.
I stomped on the accelerator, letting those cop tires squeal against the asphalt, and aimed the DOOMSMOBILE toward downtown Oakland hoping maybe we’d see a body or at least a few sparks.
Above my desk is a tarot card I mysteriously found in my kitchen a few months ago. It was from an incomplete deck, which I have been told is bad luck. I took the card anyway because I liked the look of it, which is just as good a reason as any other.
On it, an enormous blond-haired angel blows a horn while pale, naked humans rise from their coffins to greet the sound with outstretched arms. They’re so excited, I imagine, because wherever they’re going is probably a whole heck of a lot better than being stuffed inside a god damn coffin.
I look at this card at least once a day and say aloud to absolutely no one at all (no friends): “Hurry the hell up already.”
When is judgement day? I wonder. Is it today?
So I sit here at my desk and wait. I have no wooden box to spring from, not yet, but I will meet the wail of the trumpet just the same. I do not know anything of the process after that, but I will say to the creature in charge of my fate, if it will hear me, “Do what you will, but know this, sir: mostly it was bad, but I really did try my best.”