Casper Lockett was fucking his robot secretary when the president called.

Yes?” said Casper, still going at it.

“My god, man,” said the president. “What are you still doing there? Get the hell out of the city! Didn’t you hear the air raid sirens?”

“I’ll leave when I’m good and ready.”

“There’s no time. The bombs are set to go off in less than twenty minutes. You won’t escape the fallout unless you leave now.”

Casper tossed the phone across the living room and reached for a little remote on the coffee table. He pushed a button and the lights in his penthouse apartment dimmed.

“Who was that?” said Ingrid, Casper’s robot secretary, whom he was still fucking.

“Don’t ever fucking talk to me again,” said Casper Lockett, pressing a button on the remote to lower the shades.

Gritt Calhoon slammed a massive bootheel down on a scuttling cockroach and snorted what was left of the eight-ball from the side of his bowie knife. As the powder hit his brain he tried to remember the last time he had seen one of the damn things. How is it, he thought, that those terrible little creatures had the genetic constitution to withstand the blasts while everything else had perished in flames? And yet still the bastards hid underground. What the hell were they doing down there anyway? he wondered. God only knew. He suppressed the bile in his throat, imagining their creeping nightmare city deep below.

Gritt stood there for a moment letting the summer breeze soar through his salt and pepper forelock. His veins were full of beer and crystalline tropane alkaloid and his headband was soaked in sweat. The good stuff was juicing through him now and he knew that he had fifteen solid minutes of painless insanity to do whatever he pleased with himself. Briefly he considered masturbating—hell, why not?—but instead he plucked a cold one from the refrigerated side-pocket on his camo fatigues and drank the whole thing in one gulp. Burping, he crumpled the can with his dominant gorilla-fist and chucked it into a pool of bubbling toxic waste not far from where his Tyrian-purple all-terrain vehicle was parked. He shook his head wildly and screamed at the distant stars. Gritt was feeling good but knew there was work to be done.

“Shark!” he yelled. He was pointing his booming voice at a small brick building next to the old high school. There was no response.

“Shark, ya god damn hillbilly,” he muttered. “Git’cher ass out here already.”

Clipped to Gritt’s thigh was a stick of space-grade dynamite—the kind they used for mining on the moon colonies. He fetched it with a greasy hand and pressed firmly on the little orange button near the top before tossing it into a patch of dead grass near the entrance of the place. In seconds it exploded into glassy particles and Gritt was pleased by the sound.

As expected, the door of the brick house swung open and out came a ten-ton stone slab of a man, his muscles tensed, his veins bulging like earthworms—the whole package glazed in the kind of sweat you’d find on the worst sinner in the darkest hallway of hell.

“The fuck?” said the man. It was Shark Guffy, Gritt’s old war buddy. In the years since he’d last seen him, Shark had put on fifty pounds of muscle and had six new tattoos, all of them depicting busty women eating various jungle fruits.

“As I live and fuckin’ breathe,” Shark said now. He put his hands on his hips and leaned on one leg in a sexy way. “Shoulda figured it’d be Gritt Calhoon throwin’ fuckin’ dynamite all over the damn place.”

“Your doorbell was broken.” Gritt adjusted his testicles with the back of his Desert Eagle. “Knew I’d have to git yer attention somehow.”

“What brings ya back? Been a while. You look even uglier than you did when I last saw you on Mars, all them fuckin’ years ago.”

“To be fair,” said Gritt, “the last time you saw me was also the day I single-handedly defended the Olympus Mons encampment from an entire platoon of Chinese doom-bots. Not to mention Shirley had just left me for the last time.”

Shark laughed. “Hell, I don’t doubt Shirley’s what did ya in that day—not them fuckin’ rice cookers. They was a cinch. Cheap plastic shit.”

“Only ‘cause Shirley took the truck.”

“Yer kiddin’?” Shark shook his head and spat at the ground.

“Nah. And I miss that fuckin’ truck. Miss it more than Shirley, that’s for damn sure.”

The two men stood in silence and let old memories play out in their weary minds. They were still half a football field away from each other, still feeling weird about the past.

Shark broke the silence by cracking open a brew he’d fetched from the refrigerated side-pocket on his camo fatigues. “You want one? Got two left.”

“I don’t drink that gas station shit,” said Gritt. “Come on, Shark, you know that. Ain’t been that long. Unless yer brain’s gone to shit.” Muttering to himself, Gritt added, “Which wouldn’t surprise me.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Mr. King of Fuckin’ England, with your preference fer fancy fuckin’ beers. ‘Cept I’m positive yer still drinkin’ that bullshit that even the gas station don’t wanna stock.” He chuckled.

Without a moment of hesitation, Gritt emotionlessly pointed his Desert Eagle at the beer can Shark was holding and, with pinpoint accuracy, blew it into a thousand pieces. Foam erupted everywhere and splashed Shark’s chest hair, which was curling out of the neck-hole of his snow-camo tanktop. (Continued )

In the room with the red velvet drapes I watched a nervous woman cradling a Telecaster knockoff gulp down glasses of whisky and wordlessly communicate to her drummer that the crowd just wasn’t into it. John had descended the stairs moments before seeking out cigarettes and I stood alone near the back wishing I could afford even a single beer, mostly because I wanted something to hold in my hand. I was leaning against a table with my arms folded, thinking about the dark road we had taken to get there and how soon enough we would have to take it again. We were lucky the first time. Later on, would we be dismembered by evil men? They could take what I had on me, I thought, if they really wanted it. I wouldn’t suffer a bullet to the head or a knife to the gut for a denim jacket and an A’s hat.

I looked around: everyone was talking to someone, or pointing the bottom of a glass at the ceiling while liquid poured into their mouth-holes. My doom-dwelling seemed silly. (After they’ve taken what they want they’ll toss my body in the bay for sure, I thought.) I swept away my thoughts and decided to blend in—to do this thing incognito. Give them the illusion of normalcy.

John had left his empty beer bottle behind, so I picked it up, took a swig of air, and held it there in my right hand to pretend that I had some sort of purpose or reason to be where I was. Meanwhile I decided that the music being funneled into my head was sloppy, but I respected it anyway because something—anything—had come into existence where there had been nothing before. And though the crowd was rude and cacophonous, I watched as the duo played on, stopping between songs to splash their insides with courage. The sight of that was enough to soften me. I took a few more empty gulps and set the bottle down again, deciding that I didn’t give a damn about fitting in with my peers, who were cackling wildly and talking about good Ethiopian food and new bands and beaches in southeast Asia with a strange, plastic-smooth enthusiasm that made me hopeless.

Why had I come? Yes, for Liza—because I liked her so much, and because I knew her friends from the city wouldn’t show. They, like many, perhaps saw the space between San Francisco and Oakland as a galactic ocean whose polar ends were lightyears apart. And at the end of their journey they would be in that place that they found so uncomfortable and strange, which was Oakland.

Earlier that night Liza had hugged me by the bar. It was that gentle, polite kind of hug. It was sweet also. The hug took me by surprise, because I often assume there is no real reason why anyone would ever want or need to touch me. Liza and I didn’t know each other too well, which maybe accounts for the gentleness of the thing. We were different in many ways, but that long, twisted night we’d had in the Mission was enough, in both our minds, to seek each other out every now and then. We’d had garlic noodles and drank on the train and watched a movie with thousands of other people in Dolores Park. And later there was a party at the home of some wealthy young people, who spent all that new money on record players and tobacco and vintage couches and photobooks on Eastern Europe. It made me nauseous to see all that worn, second-hand Nietzsche and Camus fanned out neatly on a shelf above the window, with a girl I did not know saying, “Oh, Kent just puts those there so girls will want to sleep with him.” And so many beers in I motioned to Liza that we should go, and on the street I told her she was too intelligent for the company she kept. And we walked back to her house in the mist and cold and fell asleep watching Spirited Away. I woke at 7 am, whispered a nice sentence in her ear, and ambled out onto the street, still drunk, and took a taxi to Berkeley where, sleepy and starving and red-eyed, I washed the dishes of the fabulously well-to-do for nine and a half hours. . . . (Continued )

We have been sitting at this godforsaken desk all damn day, staring at the blank white spaces and wondering when little squiggly lines will fall from heaven (or bubble up from hell) and choke this terrible emptiness. We have drunk all the liquor in the place, have had the kettle steaming for nearly seven hours, have let all the old tales race through our terrible putrefied brain so many times we may soon vomit until there is nothing left but the skeletal framework. . . .

This is here more for us than it is for you, but you may take something away from it if the hatches of your brain are open and ready to receive the world. And they should be. If they are not, then what in god’s name are you doing here, you beast?

Anyway, a little Hemingway to throw into the mind’s fire:

The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof, shit detector. This is the writer’s radar and all great writers have had it.

Now, we put hands to keys—silent ones, damn them; no clacking at all—and perhaps a story will emerge from this godless pollution.

Mother and Father, forgive us.

And to the Oakland Police Department, we have just five words for you: It was not an accident.

No, no—it won’t do to go out. I will stay here in this sunken room and shield it from the sun.

Earlier in the butterfly room I swallowed a capsule with cranberry juice and sat around and waited for the light show. She had said, “It will take some time.” And I asked her if I could be off to get to my hole and she said, “I think so.” I rocketed to 34th in a car full of people who would soon be strangers.

Had I stopped working? I think I had. There were only weeks left until I left that place for-ever.

Rushing through that slanted house, watching it become more slanted, I put on a purple t-shirt and welcomed the strangeness. There were faces in the back yard and I wanted nothing to do with them. Instead I wanted only to sink to the bottom of the tank and stay where it was cold and blue.

Oh, the electricity!

Outside a woman is pushing a baby carriage. A band is practicing several blocks away. I open the door and when I breathe I feel heat fill the emptiness. I shut the door and in seconds I am empty again.

Something dashes by and I scoop it up. It is a creature I have seen before. In my arms it is grey and squirming. Big green insect eyes growing and shrinking like little balloons. My son! I hardly recognized you through the rot in my head.

Don’t come in here. For god’s sake, don’t come in here. I pay for this damn room and I want those doors shut as long as I am near them.

eightbroz

Pictured: two young men who will never, ever get laid again.

*puff puff*

This is some fine tobacco. I have been smoking it all afternoon and into this deep dark Oakland night. No snow tonight—no, they say it will never come. For god’s sake, why would it?

We have been warped on guerrilla sake and fermented arugula for days now. The tobacco is a new addition. John picked it up this afternoon on his way through Berkeley, from a tobacconist who will not allow us to smoke inside. That’s just the way it is in that godforsaken city, and we’re not going to challenge them. Hell, if we did, they’d have us in the lotus position with pistols pointed at our heads for the rest of our lives. We’d be dead men, for all intents and purposes. So we don’t question the rules: we take the money and we run.

In this case the money was tobacco.

*puff puff*

In Virginia, where we were born and figured things out, tobacco is king. Always has been.

*puff*

Last night, our kinsfolk collected us from this dark place where we dwell and took us to a fine new eatery on San Pablo Avenue. They had met the owners (we think (if it actually happened, we have chosen to believe them)), at a wine tasting in Napa Valley. The owners had said, “Come on by.” And so, hours after we had drunk the last drop of whisky we had in the place, we took a handful of barbiturates (god knows which) and were whisked away, not far south, to Uptown, which for some is a nice enough place, and for others is an invasive tumor which Oakland is sick with all over.

*cough*

*puff*

Maybe none of that happened. We did go to a restaurant. We’re sure of that part. It was called Mockingbird, and the decor was bright and crisp and the menu was small and probably perfect. It felt strange though, sitting there a few blocks from the Greyhound station where a man in terrible sunglasses had once asked me for $37 US dollars so he could get to Las Vegas. Another time I’m pretty sure I witnessed a birth on that sidewalk. I was on my bicycle, going someplace on an important errand (always important), at 15 mph, so maybe it was a mock-birth. It’s Oakland, man. Who knows.

Things are changing, I reckon. Mockingbird is new and beautiful. I am glad it exists.

I myself *puff* had the house pasta, which was good fun. John had strips of something—an animal, maybe, not too long ago—and the best-tasting French fries a man could ever hope for. Everyone except me drank merrily from the wine that had been hand-selected, days earlier, from a winery in Napa Valley—and I sipped a tall glass of water and pawed at the black rings under my eyes with whatever free hand I had available.

Pictures were taken for the matriarch in the east. John and I were caught off guard; the night was getting colder and our minds were dim. So we posed naturally, which is to say we didn’t pose at all, leading to the abomination you see at the top of this post. We look like a couple of psychos who live off caffeine and stay up until 5 am every single god darn night.

*puff*

In all likelihood, no sensible person will ever love either of us again. Especially if they’ve seen this picture. Our future was already doomed and I have doomed us further (and faster) with its publication.

*puff*

It’s a damn funny place, this world.

*puff*

Mockingbird is great. Try their desserts.