Fall 2005 [Issue No. 8]
The Longest Suicide Note by Stanley K. (Part 1 of 4)
▪► M. Frias-May
Hear, Hear & All That
I threw the solitaire game off the San Simeon Pier the evening Arnold became General of California. It wasn’t a political act. The game had cheated me again. I had 300 points in the first play of cards and when the second round started, it, the game, deducted 20 points. It was a nasty thing to do to someone who had been nothing but civil and occasionally drunk and often amused by the General’s freedom to grope. Hear, hear, and all that is fine when you’re winning but when you aren’t, your attitude can veer. Mine did.
I got the game on my 50th birthday from my 95-year-old neighbor, Pancha. Her son said she was too busy minding her geraniums to fuss with this nonsense. It was the only present I got that day. I thanked him, waved to Pancha, tossed the game aside and an hour before I was going to make another obscene call to another friendless and pathetic woman in this town of falling pines I played and scored a 740. Then, I had no idea that was a monster. It took me a week of several hours a day playing that random cheating piece of plastic to discover what I had accomplished and was unable to do again. That was in winter when my mother died and the woman who thought I was only marginally creepy moved to San Francisco. The game took hold of me like I was a skank custard-eyed dog and yanked my chain.
Clear Skin & Thin Thoughts
In summer of that year I wrote the President a letter and commended him on the Iraqi body count and invited him to our town’s Labor Day parade. I didn’t get a response but on that Monday I scored a 735 and I felt fall was going to be the season of my big score. That spot of hope must have weakened my immune system because I caught a cold. My clogged sinuses forced me to breathe through my nose which left my breath dry and foul—not good when you clerk for a living. The storeowner was on vacation and the other employees didn’t like me enough to work doubles while I recovered. About the same time, the wind suddenly ceased and the dead salty air incubated the first flies of the season. Almost daily, it seemed, a fly would crawl on my face and I’d twitch and scrunch my rheumy eyes while my customers pretended it wasn’t there and to them it wasn’t although, it seemed, almost daily between the rush for nicotine, Lotto cards, and booze, a real ugly customer would flinch before me and I’d think: there has to be someone a blocky 50-year-old redhead could pal around with somewhere between the Golden Gate and the Hollywood Hills. Isn’t it in the Constitution—the freedom to pick your pal, someone to help you through these times of clear skin and thin thoughts? I just wanted it to happen like it’s supposed to happen.
Man From Montana
You can’t sit back and let others tell you what’s right and wrong. They’ll take things from you. The misplaced heart people. They got Fish & Game to take away the steel traps. They used to plant them and you’d get your rogue coyote. Nowadays you shoot every one of them. Is there any sense in that? The cowboy was wearing camouflage clothes and had a cell phone on his belt. He said he’d spent the last few nights walking his land and killing randomly. I asked if he needed any help and he looked at me like I had marshmallow balls. “No, we got it taken care of.”
He’d come in for some chew. It was a Sunday, his day to share his rage with me. If you saw him on a horse, you’d say, there’s a man from Montana, living his way and loving it. He was about my size but bigger in the shoulders and haunches and certainly more handsome. You could tell there was no place he could hide on his thousand acres. He had that henpecked panic in his eyes. His wife hated him chewing and he hated her hating it. We had a little talk recently about the movement to live longer and he reasoned it was another plot by the health world faggots and the trivia witches to humiliate men. “Isn’t it a biological fact that the hags will outlive us once we can’t fuck anymore? So why do they condemn our choice of poisons?” He was in that kind of cranky mood and I thought, while he talked about coyotes and the sinister succubuses, here’s a chance. Don’t blow it. You got a cowboy in distress and he might, just might…
Then it happened. My bladder filled up and I got twitchy. Happens every time I get in a situation that might lead somewhere. I was trying to hide my discomfort by tapping on my leg and I guess my tapping got noisy because he said, “Stan, you got to go.” I hate blushing because I’m fair-skinned and red-haired and a good blush on me looks like the light over the door of the bordello. “Stan, I’ll cover if you need to…”
I nodded and clumped off, telling myself what a rock oyster I was. In the bathroom, which is really a closet with no fan, I couldn’t go. There was a mouse swimming in the rusty bowl. I closed the lid and flushed. He wouldn’t go down. He was soggy and squeaky and his dark tiny eyes blazed with the recognition that I wasn’t his Francis of Assisi. I flushed again and my friend was gone.
Oh, yeah, right after I tossed my game I had a sighting. Remember, it was a Tuesday and the whole bloody world was waiting for an actor worse than Ronald Reagan to become General of a state with seasons for its morals and morals for its seasons. As soon as the game left my hand I was hyperventilating. It plunked into the green sea, floated like a plastic heart until it filled with water and disappeared under the pier pilings. I looked west and saw a fin rise up and glide like a dark ax through the calm waters.
A great white had taken a sociology professor a month ago in Avila. The professor was a hardy, individualistic swimmer known to the harbor patrol. They say the shark, according to its bite radius, was 15 to 18 feet and hit her at about 25 mph with its maw open. Her death stirred up some paranoia around here but the surfers kept going in. It was occupational, they said. My seeing the fin meant two things: it nullified any stupid thoughts I had of jumping in after the game and it meant I had an in with one of the tribes of California.
I didn’t anticipate my surfer to have red hair and a cute little shape. I’d never seen her before. She had a small board on top of her late 60s Volvo hatchback. I could smell the lotion she rubbed into her skin and thought, I like that. Her eyes were bloodshot. She bought a 20-ounce coffee and a couple granola bars. It was around 7:15 in the morning and I was already playing back the moment she walked in the store. She hadn’t even left and I was kissing her this time and she was kissing back like I’d invented the sport. Right there in the hot doorway, the gas pumps obscuring our clinging carelessness, the busybodies still asleep in their pious dreams, Lord, we were in a French movie.
“Hi,” she said and put a crumpled twenty on the counter. “How’s your morning going?”
It was like I had staples in my tongue and when they dissolved I said, “Shark.”
I blushed and my bladder filled. “I’m sorry.”
“No,” she insisted, “You said, ‘shark,’ I think.”
“I did but I didn’t mean to. Sorry, I saw your car out there and…” My mind processed her amusement, her freckles, and the transparency of her long dress. I said, finally, stupidly, “You’re not from around here, are you?”
“I live over the hill.”
“I moved up from Newport Beach about a year ago.”
I didn’t see her twenty on the counter and I couldn’t remember if I’d made the transaction or not. She wasn’t moving so I plunked open the register again.
She asked, “Rough night?”
I said, “No,” and should have left it at that but her eyeing me, smiling, pretending I was more than a talking buoy, rattled me. “No,” I said, “I’m a farmer without a farm.” She slipped her change into a pocket of her sundress, along with the granola bars. She didn’t get my meaning or if she did she thought it was lame. And it was and I blinked and watched her discomfort grow, trying not to imagine what she was thinking: freak, weirdo, I just ripped this guy off.
She tapped the lid of her coffee cup. “Cream.”
“In the cooler over there, there’s an open milk carton.”
No one came in and she took her time doctoring her coffee. Wisps of red hair slipped over her eyes and she looked like she was falling asleep. What I’d said couldn’t be taken back or put in another context. I was stuck, like those human-sized cutouts of immigrants working the fields in Salinas, passed by and forgotten. I heard a clock in my head, ticking, but I think it was my heart striking noon in a world I couldn’t share with her, each bong, bong, bong, like last seconds before I became an official moron. Then she walked toward the counter.
“It’s bugging me,” she said and I nearly wet my pants.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I wasn’t trying to shortchange you.”
“No,” she laughed. “You said, ‘shark,’ and I ‘m curious if you meant the one from Avila.”
“Yeah, I saw a fin last night.”
“Up at San Simeon.”
“Wow. I was in the water at Pico this morning and there were some seals around, and boom they were gone. I got creeped.”
“You see anything?”
“No, but I felt something and I got out quick.”
“Wow, weird, huh?”
She hesitated and I hoped she didn’t think I was trying to mock her.
“I’m Louise,” she said, holding out a little hand, which disappeared into mine. “But everyone calls me Lou and you’re…” She eyed the name stitched on my shirt. “Stanley.”
After my shift I went to Camozzi’s, a saloon on the east end of town. The dim is generous to the ugly and the hard pours make it a place where the ugly can mingle with the pretty, providing the pretty have had enough. There’s no smoking in any bar in California, but the stale reek of cigarettes is the perfume and attitude in Camozzi’s. The signage around the bar tells you this establishment won’t have jazz on the jukebox or straight pool cues. Depending on the hour and the day, your baggage will either be lightened or filled with the crap of other historically anonymous locals. I came in, elated, because of my encounter with Lou. In my head I was already waxing her board and telling her I knew a bartender in Half Moon Bay who called me every time the waves rise above 30 feet at Mavericks. I drank my scotch, wondering if she was pet-friendly and what she would prefer, a Siamese or Chihuahua. I was sitting on the last stool near the popcorn machine. It was Warren’s chair. His hat and sign, Talcott’s Garden, were nailed up on the wall. I hoped some of his juju would rub off on me, though I didn’t know what kind of magic he had. He was an artist, small, quiet, loyal to his red wine thoughts and I was a clerk happily suffering delusions of Lou, the redheaded surfer. Maybe I picked his spot because I wanted to be left alone, which wasn’t a problem because a blonde in tight Wranglers was getting drinks bought for her and her stumpy girlfriend. They looked like friendly Bakersfield gals on a mission of fun and they didn’t seem to be checking IDs for social standing. The one in Wranglers was comfortable around the men and I figured she might be a cop or lawyer because she acted like she dealt with boys who spent their afternoons playing snooker. Her presence distracted everyone except two short brown guys. They were drinking tequila and talking about writing and how to manufacture the juice to keep it going. Their indifference to the blonde didn’t go unnoticed. She’d glance at them and every once in a while, one of the brown men would swivel and smile at her. After their third shot of Patrone, I got up and moved closer to them. They looked like brothers, only because they wanted to give that impression of rivalry and loyalty. The one with the bulbous nose, the one who was clearly a writer, said, “We’re the smartest ones in here—why wouldn’t she be attracted to us?”
The other brown guy, with the face of a man that hypnotizes for a living, said, “Should I tell her?”
“Yeah. Tell her to come over here. You’re the motivational man. Talk her into our world.”
I couldn’t hear what the writer said but the motivational man stood up, laughing. “I’ll be right back.”
The writer looked my way and grinned. The tequila was blowing out the windows in his head. I placed his face to his purchases: American Spirit hard pack, green tea and airline bottle of Stoli. He always asked me how I was doing and if I had any suggestions on how to become a better human being.
“Hey,” he said, recognizing me. “You’re from…”
“Yep, I’m him.”
“Can I buy you a drink?”
“I’ve been meaning to talk to you.”
I felt a jolt. “You have?”
His friend’s return from the bathroom interrupted our exchange. We watched him linger behind the blonde, who was fielding questions from two professional drinkers. You could see she was aware of the little brown man behind her, waiting for him to step up and surprise her. He did, whispering in her ear, and she looked at the writer and the writer waved.
“Your friend is something,” I said.
“I just met him. Swear to God. We have a mutual friend in common. That’s it.”
Liar, I thought and then wondered, why would he lie? It didn’t matter. Within a few minutes I was excluded. The blonde became part of their play and she liked playing in their backyard. Her laughter was like a shriek in a church and all the losers eyed her, the best thing they’d seen in a month huddled between the little brown men like a stepsister. “Either you’re sweet,” I heard her say, “or you’re going to hell and don’t care.”
“Oh, but we do,” the writer said, “and we can thank you for that and giving us a little light in this dark place.”
I felt myself blushing.
“I’m serious,” he said and the motivational man said, “He’s serious because it’s true and you know it and you shouldn’t be ashamed of it.”
The snooker balls cracked again and the losers turned their attention to a couple of housewives walking in for their laughs and pats on the ass before they had to pick up their kids at the daycare. I had no chance with the second string and was getting tired of waiting for that drink the writer promised me. I was forgetting Lou and her tiny hand and my ridiculous conversation with her. Ignored was all I was feeling, that and a draft coming in. Like generals, the brown men took the blonde behind the lines of their war and told her to stay close and be careful. It was maddening, listening to their humble megalomania. It was elitist and exactly what she seemed to crave. The bartender hovered by them, listening like it was a ghost story. I’d asked her twice for another scotch but she held up a finger. I finally yelled, “Am I here?” Of course, my timing coincided with a lull in the noise and my voice sounded like a roaring car salesman. I never got that drink from the writer.
A week later -- or maybe it was two or three, I can’t recall exactly -- I made my way back to Camozzi’s for that drink. The shark didn’t take another life, but accounts in the paper said it was likely the one swallowing seals in the harbor. A bear wandered into Lilia Kaiser Park in Morro Bay and I spotted a golden eagle roosting high in the pine limbs of a woodpecker neighborhood. I smoked a cigar and threw a rock at a young buck munching on Pancha’s geraniums. I hadn’t felt my heart stir since I’d been in the saloon. So I came back. The snooker boys were subdued and the bartender -- not the bitch who’d embarrassed me, but a guy with an earring and a tarantula tattoo on his forearm -- got my drink right away. In the center of the bar was the writer, staring at his notebook, tapping his pen on the page. Gone was his Pancho Villa zeal. I bought him a round and he toasted me. “To redheads—may they inherit the earth.”
His compliment surprised me.
“Busy?” he asked.
“When I opened, I had a rush but it’s not like summer. You?”
He didn’t look at me. “I got up at six and drank two pots of coffee. I was so buzzed I had to smoke a joint to calm down and that got me horny, so I jacked off and that made me tired, and by eleven I was sleeping again. And when I woke up, I was pissed because I’d written myself into another wall, and the remedy to get over the wall was to change my schedule.” He took another sip. “That worked, huh?”
I didn’t say anything. He stared at the name on my shirt and then waved me over. I told myself, don’t believe anything he says. He hadn’t shaved since I last saw him and there was gray in his beard. He wore a ball cap and glasses and was chewing gum. “What do you want, Stan?”
The question stung me. “Want?”
“Yeah, in the next month or year or so or whatever.”
“I don’t know.”
“Come on, Stan. You want to talk to me, you got to talk and I don’t want to hear any romantic bullshit about world peace.”
I laughed. I had to. I didn’t know if he was making fun of me or not. “Style,” I blurted out. “I want style.”
“Style. What the flipping fuck is that?”
“Like you and your friend the other night.”
His face strained to remember.
“I think his name was Zuli.”
“You were there?”
“See, no style.”
“No, no,” he said, “There was that crisis intervention woman…”
“Yeah, I got yellow that night. I mean, it was all, you know…”
“No, I don’t.”
“To me it does.”
His face scrunched up. “You’re serious.”
“Is that strange?”
“Why,” I asked.
“Because I was being a jackass.”
I finished my scotch. “So between us jackasses—who’s she interested in, you or me?”
“I don’t know you.”
“You didn’t know Zuli, but you two acted like the right and left hand.”
He smiled. “That’s good.” He wrote it down. “You don’t mind, do you?”
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“Okay, that was different.”
“How?” My insistence was exciting me. I felt like he owed me an apology or at least a chat. And the chat was happening.
“We had a friend in common,” he said, “and that friend talked about me to him and vice versa. So there was some bio we had, you know, and we filled in the blank spaces talking about the mutual friend.”
“Oh,” I said.
He peered at me like I was student in one of his classes. “Don’t move, I’ll be right back.” He staggered off toward the bathroom.
The bartender came over. “You hear about the fake twenties in town?” he asked.
“I got two the other night. Medusa’s got one and so did the Chinese place.”
“Thanks for letting me know.”
The writer came back and I was glad because the exchange between the bartender and me pretty much summed up the kind of information I get from others in town.
“You ever try to talk when your bladder feels like a hundred paper cuts?” The writer killed off his glass of water. “H2O, baby, that’s the secret.” He clinked my glass, looked at the bartender, said, “I got this round, Bobby,” then back at me. “To Stan the Man, lifetime .331 hitter and heart and soul of Saint Louis.” He took a little swallow and grimaced at me. “What, you a Yankee fan?”
“I’m not a sports guy.”
“Serious. Your size, I thought at least varsity tackle, maybe shot put, or Bill Lambier low post guy.”
“Nope,” I said.
“You look in shape.”
“I’m on my feet a lot.”
“Never use that stool behind the counter.”
“Messes with my posture.”
“How tall are you?”
“And your fucking hands are huge.”
“Is that good?”
“You’re kidding me, right.”
We clinked glasses again.
“Style,” he said.
“Yeah, like you and Zuli with that Bakersfield blonde. I know, you were being a jackass, but she liked it. That’s what I observed and that’s what I want.”
He checked me for sarcasm. “You making fun of me, Stan?”
“No, I’m not. I’m serious.”
“Whoa, Stan, really, it’s flipping fucking weird to want what I have.”
“In what way?”
“Bobby, come here.” The bartender trudged over and I braced myself for some ridicule. “If you were a woman, what would you do with Stan here?”
“His hair,” Bobby said. “It’s all wrong for his face.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s thick and curly and makes his head look too big. I’d straighten it.”
The bartender left and the writer wiped his mouth. “Stubble too, and maybe a tattoo on one of your forearms.”
“I don’t like tattoos or jewelry or anything like that.”
“Who cares what you like,” the writer said. “It’s what they notice, and they do notice.” He paused. “Look at my ring.”
“High school ring, big deal.”
“The ruby was my grandmother’s. She had it on when she gave birth to my dad. On his graduation, she gave him the ruby. A week later she died in a train accident. Can you see the figures on the ring?” He slipped it off and I picked it up. “Scorpions,” he said. “Scorpio was her astrological sign, so Dad had a ring made to remember her sign in the heavens.”
I set the ring down and he said, “It’s not a high school ring. It’s a tear jerking testimonial I got a heart.”
“See,” I said, “That’s style.”
“No, it’s a fucking accoutrement. I bought it in a pawnshop in Venice.”
A big smile hurt my face. “How do I get that?”
He put his ring back on and tapped it against the bar. “You talk to people all day, don’t you?
“You stand there eight, nine hours a day and say nothing.”
“I don’t interview them.”
His sigh was gravelly. “Stan, you need a little Stella in your life.”
“No, ‘Hey, Stella!’”
The snooker boys looked over and Bobby motioned with his hand to keep it down.
“Streetcar Named Desire. Stanley Kowalski, the ultimate male beast, pleading for one more chance. Christ, Stan, you should know him like a brother. You should change your middle name to K.” He paused, exasperated. “What’s your last name?
“Forget the last name. Just go with ‘K’ and I guarantee one curious O will ask what the K stands for.”
“Those types don’t come in the Texaco.”
His voice rose. “We live in a flipping fucking tourist town. We’re three hours from LA and San Francisco, the twin towers of culture. There’s a high probability in a town with only three gas stations that she, your she, the whack mama of your perversity, will come in the station and pay.”
“Why would she?” I asked. “She has a credit card.”
“Gum.” He spit it into his hand. “She might need some to freshen her skanky breath, I don’t know, but I do know that if you stitch ‘K’ on your shirt, you might connect. Okay?”
Bobby came over with the tequila and filled the writer’s snifter. “He ain’t getting it, is he?”
“No, Bobby, he ain’t.”
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