Fiction

 
Summer 2005 [Issue No. 7]

James Dean's Diaries (Part 1 of 4) ▪► Arthur Winfield Knight

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For Bob and Nadine, love and happiness

 

 

 

JIMMY

GOOD TIMES

I imagine them together, my mother and father, the month before they marry. They are lying, naked, on the double bed that is too small for the room my father rents in Marion. It is a warm Sunday in early May. They can see the tulip trees in the park across the street, see the blossoms floating gently, like tiny flakes of Ivory Snow, to the ground. The sky is the color of a faded lemon, but the air smells sweet.

Their bodies glisten in the soft sunlight coming through the window across the room. An hour ago, they were still dressed, sitting beneath a chestnut tree, eating the bologna and cheese sandwiches my mother had made along with the German potato salad they'd purchased from a delicatessen. Now they can hear someone singing "Moonlight on the Wabash" from the street below, although it is mid-afternoon.

My mother keeps her eyes open as they make love, although she looks at everything except Winton: the small fan whirling on the tarnished oak bureau, the gray water stain on the ceiling, the brown paper bag that held their lunch, the white silk parasol she'd used to shield herself from the sun. Her skin burns easily. Blisters.

When Winton finally climaxes, she says, "I think we might have made a baby."

"Shit, I hope not," he says.

 

 

BULLFROGS

 My father tried to raise bullfrogs with six legs, but nobody bought them. They were strange creatures with gelatinous bodies and watery yellow eyes. No one had seen anything like them.

Our Baptist neighbors claimed they were an abomination to God and they'd sneak into our yard at night, stomping on the frogs. In the morning we'd find their bloody guts everywhere.

 

 

THE COUCH

 

Mom purchased the couch at a thrift shop shortly after we moved to Los Angeles. It had a faded floral print and had never been very comfortable, but my father was cheap. He worried about money constantly, unless he wanted something.

One afternoon he'd come home with a bright red Chevrolet. He hadn't bothered to consult Mom. He leaned against the left front fender, smiling, while Mom took his picture, his thumbs hooked around his suspenders. He said, "Ain't it a beaut?" I'd never seen him so happy.

I was happiest when my father wasn't there. Mom and I spent hours together, making up stories, but they stopped the afternoon she came home from the doctor's office. Mom said, "The doctor told me I have cancer, and he doesn't think he found it in time." She squeezed my hands. "Death isn't the enemy, Jimmy. Living in constant fear of it is. You have to be brave. All we have is now." We were sitting on the used couch and Mom was dying while my father drove around town in his new Chevy. I didn't want to be brave.

That weekend I set the couch on fire.

 

 

 

APPLESAUCE

 

The doctors said there was nothing anyone could do for her because the cancer had progressed too far by the time it was discovered. Mom had always loved to play the piano, but she just sat on the bench in front of it, staring at the keys, her dark eyes clouded. She'd always been proud of her long brown hair, brushing it by the hour, but she was finally so frail it hurt her to raise her arms. Everything hurt, even with the pills the doctor gave her. She'd stopped eating, because food made her nauseous. She was so thin she couldn't see her shadow that final summer. It was as if her body were made out of crepe paper. I tried feeding her applesauce through a straw, my hands shaking. Mom said, "It's not going to work, Jimmy, I can't swallow," then she began to cough, the applesauce dribbling down her chin.

  

 

BILLY THE KID

 

My mother taught me to pretend, but she died on July 14th when I was nine. We'd played games every night before I went to bed. I knew I wanted to act. Sometimes--now--I pretend I'm Billy, walking toward the darkened house where Garrett's waiting. I'll be dead in minutes, but I don't know that. I don't want to know. It's July 14th, hot out. I know that. In a few minutes it will be midnight and everything will be over. There's a circle of light around the moon. Garrett's sitting on the edge of Maxwell's bed, his pistol cocked. I feel breathless in the burning night air. Mexican women will light candles for me and cry when I'm laid out, but it won't matter.

 

 

MOM

 

Grandma and I went back to Indiana on the train that carried Mom's coffin--going home, going home--but Winton stayed behind in Los Angeles. I never called him dad again. He said he didn't have the money to make the trip, but he lied. Each time the train stopped, I ran back to the baggage car to make sure Mom was still there. I wiped away tears and cinders standing in the dark next to the tracks beside huge silos and water towers, calling out to Mom, but there was no answer. The moon glistened somewhere faraway along the Wabash. I had my picture taken, lying in a coffin in the back room of a grocery store that doubled as a funeral home, the last time I was in Fairmount. People thought I was ghoulish. No one understood. Mom, I cried out silently, but there was still no answer.

  

 

SAFE

 

I remember going into the woods to shoot squirrels and wild turkeys, cradling my .22 rifle under one arm. It was early fall and I wore a red baseball cap and a plaid jacket that was yellow and brown, and the russet leaves fluttered in the wind. I must have been ten.

I walked faster when I came to the cemetery where my mother was buried. How could you leave me? You shouldn't have left. I stumbled across the broken earth, the leaves rattling overhead like the breath of someone dying. I shot the sun, standing beneath a huge maple, then I ran back to the house and watched my aunt prepare a stew, the light leaking through the huge window above the sink. Her hands were delicate. The kitchen smelled of red wine, of meat, potatoes and carrots. It smelled safe.

 

 

CHICKENS

 

My Uncle Marcus killed a Rhode Island Red the summer I was ten. Marcus held the ax in his right hand and the chicken in his left, its neck spread across a jagged stump Marcus used as a chopping block.

 Aunt Ortense held my hand and said, "It's best not to look."

Marcus brought the ax down, hard. I flinched when I heard the blade bite into the stump. The chicken quivered, its reddish brown feathers floating through the humid air as it ran, blood geysering from its neck. It circled its lost head.

 Uncle Marcus said, "Boy, is that a stupid chicken. It don't even know it's dead," and he laughed, holding the bloody ax.

Everything was red: the earth, even the bloody air. I thought I was going to vomit, but I just stood there, unable not to look. I could smell the coming rain that would wash it all away. The chicken kicked and twitched as it collapsed on the fractured earth, dying. It fluttered once, twice. Then it stopped. Forever.

I never ate another egg.

 

 

 

MOTHER'S DAY

 

A calico cat slept in the window of Tate's Florist. A gray-haired lady who always wore a gray dress owned the shop, and she'd run it for as long as anyone could remember. The wooden floor was worn smooth by thousands of feet, by people who'd come to buy flowers for weddings and graduations and funerals. Mrs. Tate knew everyone in town. Roses and carnations and some other flowers I didn't know the names of filled the refrigerated glass cases along the back wall. Lightning blared hot light through the hard rain outside. I'd stood there for half an hour, looking in the window, watching the cat, before I'd gone into the shop, dripping, because I only had a few cents. You were supposed to wear a red carnation if your mother was alive and a white one if she'd passed on. I clutched the pennies until my palms hurt.

Mrs. Tate pinned a white carnation to my shirt. "This one is for your mother, Jimmy. There's no charge. I remember what a fine lady she was. I hope you do, too," Mrs. Tate said. Her face was mottled in the flickering light.

I choked back my tears because I was too old to cry. "Thanks," I said, then I went back outside into the hard rain.

  

 

 

REVEREND DE WEERD

 

Reverend De Weerd would take us to the speedway and the art museum in Indianapolis and to the YMCA in Anderson where we could swim without our suits. He could discuss bullfighting and Jesus in one breath, and he was the most educated man any of us had ever met. He and Winston Churchill had been friends when De Weerd lived in England. I can still picture him standing in front of the huge fireplace in his front room, reading from the Bible.

"Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side. In the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, 'It is a spirit,' and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spoke unto them, saying, 'Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.' And Peter answered him and said, 'Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.' And he said, 'Come.' And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus." De Weerd paused, the light from the burning logs flickering on his face. "We could all walk on water if we believed enough," he said.

 

 

 

ADELINE NALL

 

She'd come to teach speech and drama at Fairmount High School in the fall of 1940, a few weeks after Grandma Dean had brought me home from California. Mrs. Nall and I shared the same birthplace, Marion, and her father had died when she was four, so we'd both lost people we'd loved when we were young. It was a bond.

Mrs. Nall had come home to Indiana when her marriage ended, and she'd realized she was never going to succeed as an actress. It had been her dream. She said, "I had a seven-year-old son to think about so it was time to get real, even if I didn't like reality." She'd directed the class play, Goon with the Wind, the year I was a senior. It took place during the Civil War and parodied the novel. I had the leading role.

The day I graduated, you could smell the tornadoes in the air. Everyone was nervous, even the animals. I could hear a horse neighing, and every dog in town must have been barking. Mrs. Nall and I stood on the fire escape, smoking cigarettes, behind the high school. I could feel the sweat rolling down my sides. The purple sky roiled.

Mrs. Nall said, "Failure in America is a bad report card or a bounced check or a letter ending a love affair and all the words that hurt people when they read them. You won't have to worry about failure, at least not for long, you're a talented young man, but you have to remember not to hurt others." I thought she was going to cry, but she just blinked, wiping her glasses on the floral print dress she wore. I think she'd been drinking. "It may not seem like it, Jimmy, but none of us have a monopoly on pain."

  

 

 

WHOPPERS

 

People in Fairmount claim Bill Dolman created the hamburger here and a fellow named Orlie Scott invented the first horseless carriage years before Ford came along, but Orlie's car didn't have any brakes. Residents say the ice cream cone was invented here, and it's where Orville Wright first imagined flight. Some claim the surviving members of the Dalton Gang came here, even though no one survived but Emmett and he went to L.A. when he got out of prison. They even say Frank James retired to Fairmount after Jesse was killed, but everyone knows Frank died on the family farm in Missouri.

Here's what's true: less than three thousand people live in Fairmount, and the numbers are getting smaller. A green and white sign on the Jonesboro Pike reads Downtown Fairmount in case anyone wants to come here, which isn't likely. Our state poet earned his living as a snake oil salesman and a blind sign painter before he took up the arts, and our local historian won a medal as the World's Champion Liar the year he turned 80. I took the first bus out of town when I graduated from high school.

 

  

LIGHTLESS FRIDAYS

 

My father wanted me to study law when I enrolled at UCLA, but I spent all my time in the Theatre Arts Department when I wasn't cutting classes. I earned some money making a Pepsi commercial, but dropped out of college when that was gone. I read Daily Variety and the Hollywood Reporter, taking them off the rack at Schwab's, and went to every casting call I could. I sucked water through straws, sitting at the soda fountain, waiting to be discovered.

A friend and I rented a rooftop apartment in Santa Monica. The walls were painted yellow and red and blue, and the floors were terra cotta. The woman who owned it had a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of West Virginia and spoke with a drawl. She had a husband in the Merchant Marine who was never home and a bulldog. Bill and I weren't allowed to change anything in the apartment. She said she hadn't planned to rent it. I think she knew how poor we were and felt sorry for us.

Bill and I ate dried oatmeal with mayonnaise for dinner and oatmeal and strawberry jam for dessert. He and I got jobs as part-time ushers at CBS, but I hated the uniform I was supposed to wear and was fired when I called it a "monkey suit." We tried everything to save money. On Fridays we ate our oatmeal by candlelight to conserve electricity, but that didn't work either.

 

 

CHRISTMAS

 

Someone was singing "God Bless Ye Merry Gentlemen" as I walked along in the warm rain and the sky turned scarlet. Drivers honked and swore, and jaywalkers raised their middle fingers. The street glistened with green and blue lights, and there were sullen looking Santas sitting on wooden thrones in the store windows along Wilshire. Fat little kids stood in line with their want lists, punching each other. Gap-toothed old ladies in dark capes rang bells in your face, doling out salvation a dollar at a time, and someone who was supposed to be an elf stood in front of a department store. He was either a midget or a deformed child, and he was wearing a green suit with a pointed hat that had a red ball sewn on the end of it. People jabbed each other with their umbrellas, and the rain got harder. An alcoholic veteran with no legs was perched on a skateboard, yowling, and a Jehovah’s Witness shouted, "Christ is your Savior. Repent now, the world's coming to an end." That didn't sound so bad. I was wet and hungry and out of work. Merry Christmas.

 

 

 

ELEGANT SLEAZE

 

Beverly and I would meet at the Paradise Pavilion because she loved the big band dances that were held there and her father owned a small piece of land on the cove where we could hide out in his trailer. The pavilion was filled with hookers and smalltime gamblers and a few low-level gangsters whose suits never fit right because most of them carried concealed weapons. The pavilion made sleaze elegant. I was sleeping in my old Chevy because Bill and I couldn't pay the rent.

Beverly was starring in a network comedy called Junior Miss that year. Her mother, Joan Davis, was an even bigger star, and owned a huge home in Bel Air. I'd started going there for the free food. There was roasted turkey, kosher salami and bagels and lox with cream cheese every afternoon. A little Filipino in a chef's hat was always cooking something on the barbecue.

Beverly's birthday was a major event that season. The All-American Archery champion was invited, and he shot a bright pink balloon out of Joan's outstretched hand after he'd pretended to miss a couple of times. The arrows never came close to Joan. I asked him to shoot an apple off my head, but Joan began screaming, "I don't need a scandal," before he could do it. I was never invited there again.

 

 

COFFEE DAN'S

 

I spent hours standing in front of Coffee Dan's because it was across the street from NBC. There were times when I studied my reflection in the window, but I barely recognized myself. It was as if I wasn't real anymore, as if some part of me had vanished. All I could see was this weirdo. I'd go from network to network, but I could never get past the secretaries. They were everywhere, and they were impenetrable.

One named Helen was probably in her early 40's. She had long auburn hair, and she looked like unslept-in pajamas. She wore low-cut blouses with no bra, and you could see the freckles on her breasts. She always said, "Mr. Preminger is in a meeting now," or "I don't expect him in the office today," but she always seemed sorry. She gave me a pack of cigarettes one humid Tuesday afternoon. I had blisters from walking all over Los Angeles, and I could feel the blood rising in my socks.

 

 

ISOBEL

 

The ocean smelled like poppies in July. I'd go to Venice's Pacific Ocean Park late at night when the sky was colored with hazy neon and red brake lights. I'd watch people eating corn dogs and clams while they stood next to the great roller coaster that rocked and shook the dark, and I'd follow teenagers along the boardwalk as they held hands and laughed. I'd see old men in worn suits leaning against the fun house, trying to make it through one more night while they passed a bottle back and forth, waiting for the light. Cops watched me watching.

I'd spend my last nickel at a small coffee shop on the boardwalk in the early hours before dawn because I liked to talk to the waitress. Isobel would wipe the counter with a dirty rag and try not to get any grits into my cup. She had dark circles under her eyes and read all the movie magazines. She was a philosopher of trash. "I wonder how the stars look so beautiful all the time when they're so miserable," she said. Her life didn't seem so drab when she watched others. It gave her purpose.

 

 

THE JUNKY & THE POET

 

 I went to three movies a day when I arrived in New York. Then I got a job as a busboy at Chase's Cafeteria, and another as a counterman at a rundown drugstore on 42nd Street. I stayed at a flophouse near Times Square while I tried to get an acting job. A junky I knew introduced me to this Jewish kid who was queer and said he was going to be the most famous poet in America. He was always writing something on a scrap of paper, and he liked to read his poems to us when he got drunk. They were always about angelheaded hipsters with hallucinating cool eyes, and there was a lot of phallic stuff. I never understood a word he said. The junky, the poet, and I hung out with an old black guy who called himself Moondog and lived on the streets. He was selling morphine Syrettes and amyl nitrate poppers when I met him, and he rolled drunks in the subway when he didn't have any drugs. He said he just needed to get straight for a while so he could get his sax out of hock. "Then, Charlie Parker, look out." We were all sure we were going to make it big.

 

 

THE MAN WHO WAS KISSED BY TYRONE POWER

 

He was wearimg wrinkled linen slacks and blue suede shoes the first time I saw him, and he was so tall he had to duck going through some doorways. Jonathan had taken a Greyhound Bus from Los Angeles to New York. He'd been on it for three days and nights, living on bologna or egg salad sandwiches because they were cheap. It was difficult to imagine how cramped his legs must have been as the bus lumbered across the prairie. He got off in North Platte, Nebraska because he wanted to see the huge ranch Buffalo Bill had owned, but Scout's Rest was too far to walk from the depot and he didn't have the money for a taxi. Neither of us had money in those days.

Jonathan's father was a cop in Los Angeles and his mother had been a bit player at MGM in the 30s, so he knew a lot of the old-time movie stars. He rattled their names off casually. A drunken Tyrone Power had kissed Jonathan on the lips at a party one night, but he didn't seem to mind. Ida Lupino had told Jonathan he ought to get some Broadway experience before trying to make it in Hollywood, which is what I'd been told by my acting coach in L.A., so we were like brothers. I was the moody one. I'd barely talk to people if I auditioned for a part and didn't get it, but Jonathan would just shrug. He could be out of work, out of smokes, out of food--it didn't matter.

We'd have dinner at a greasy cafe near the docks. The cafe had a small structure that resembled a lighthouse on the roof, and we could see people getting on and off the Forty-second Street Ferry through the grimy windows. The waitress had a face like Tugboat Annie's and she was missing two front teeth, but she went to the movies two or three times a week and she loved actors. She'd slip us a free piece of banana cream pie if the boss wasn't looking. She'd slide it across the counter on a chipped plate, looking at Jonathan, and lisp, "This one's for you, sweetie." Sometimes it was the only food we got all day. I think she was in love with Jonathan, but we all thought he was great.

 

 

THE VIRGIN

 

She liked Italian food and jazz and midnight runs in Central Park, and she wanted me to be her first lover because she'd seen me on TV. Arlene said the thought of losing her virginity to an actor was exciting, but I imagined she'd lost it years before. She took acting classes at the Performing Arts High School and spoke breathlessly. She'd started to smoke when she was 11. Arlene had long black hair and dark eyes, and the afternoon we met she was wearing an angora sweater that was two sizes too small. She claimed she was a Jewish American Princess, but I wasn't sure what that meant. It was difficult to believe she was only 17. She screamed when we began to make love, and there was blood on the sheets when we'd finished. "Oh my God," I said, "I didn't believe you were a virgin, you seemed so sophisticated, I'm sorry."

Arlene held my hand as we lay next to each other. She said, "I wanted it this way. With you. It's all right. I always know what I'm doing. My psychiatrist says I'm afraid to lose control."

It was 2 a.m. when I finally took Arlene home, and her mother was waiting for us. She said, "You may be accustomed to bringing girls home at this hour but Arlene is my daughter and she is very young and this is not acceptable." She certainly knew how to ruin an evening, but mothers never liked me.

 

 

CHICKEN SOUP

 

I was smoking two packs of Pall Malls a day that winter Dizzy and I shared an apartment, and I'd been coughing for weeks. "Quit smoking," she'd said. "Give your lungs a rest." I'd never heard of someone's lungs "resting," but it sounded sensible. Breathing was very important to her. She was a dancer.

I remember it was a Sunday. We were sitting in a corner booth at a small bar around the corner from our place, watching the rain come down. Neither of us had worked that month and Christmas was only a couple of weeks away. We'd spent the afternoon trying to sculpt things out of salt, but we'd just emptied all the shakers in Jerry's. Salt was everywhere.

When we went back to our place, Dizzy heated a can of chicken soup she'd "borrowed" from a local deli because I had a low-grade fever and she had a Jewish momma. "Chicken soup cures everything," Dizzy said. She was positive. She fed it to me out of the pot, using a spoon I'd stolen from a Horn and Hardart cafeteria. It was snowing by then. "Look at those poor people out there," Dizzy said. "Everyone in New York but you will be sick next week," then she'd force some more of that damn soup down my throat. I really wanted a cigarette, but Dizzy wouldn't tell me where she'd hidden them.

 

 

REAGAN

 

He was on his way down when we met. Ronnie had been a B movie star for 15 years, and he'd been the president of the Screen Actors Guild for five. He'd been a good boy, a red chaser, trying to get all the Commies in Hollywood fired. He let everyone know he was proud to be an American, and he had his picture taken with Senator Joseph McCarthy in front of a flag. Ronnie's wife divorced him. She said he was the dullest man she'd ever met and he knew as much about acting as a chimpanzee, which became a joke all over town after he'd made Bedtime for Bonzo.

Ronnie was hosting the G.E. Theater when we worked together. The script called for me to terrorize his character, but he was actually afraid of me because I was different. Ronnie complained, "I hate the kind of person Dean represents," but he just hated my talent. Hated anyone who might be somebody. He said, "I hate this kind of New York school of acting, this 'dirty shirt' school. It should be outlawed along with this rock-and-roll recording business. I'm trying to have the whole sour episode shelved. Nothing would please me more than to have it burned." The man was a moral imbecile.

 

 

HOLLYWOOD

 

I like to drive into the copper colored hills at dusk, past the huge letters that spell out HOLLYWOOD, as if people would be lost if the name weren't there to remind them where they are. Many of them are lost anyway. You can see old men and women sitting on their faded stucco porches, watching the sun go down, their feet stretched out before them in the burnt-sienna sunlight. The rich are getting ready to have cocktails in Beverly Hills or Brentwood, but there are no cocktails for the poor. No dinners at the Villa Capri. The poor drink cheap wine or unsweetened iced tea out of old jelly glasses, their hands shaking. They might have dinner once a week at some flyblown Italian restaurant where the sidewalks out front are cracked and huge dandelions grow out of the concrete. There are a few cheap hotels where nobody but people named Smith and Jones sign the register, and there are some cheap apartment houses for aspiring actresses, but most of them have faces the color of stale beer by the time they have been here a year. The lucky ones make it back to wherever they came from. Hollywood almost looks beautiful from the observatory at Griffith Park as the sky deepens, turning ocher, but it's an illusion.

  

 

GHOST RIDER

 

I'm hitting a hundred when I come down the hill from the Palisades to the Coast Highway on my motorcycle, leaning over the handlebars, a ghost rider. I know the cops won't be able to spot me. I'm invisible. I pass rows of Edward Hopper diners with no customers and forlorn Signal and Shell stations that have been shut for hours, their signs creaking in the wind and salt air. Giant bird-like machines pump oil out of the damp earth, moving rhythmically, their iron beaks rising and falling, as if they were prehistoric creatures keeping time to their own deaths. The lights in most of the cottages along the ocean have been out for hours. The waves wash huge pieces of rotting kelp onto the beach in the rusty moonlight. I like it because it's so lonely.

 

 

MARILYN

 

We spent the night making love, although we barely knew each other. We lay on the small double bed in the hotel room where Clark Gable and Carole Lombard had spent their wedding night. Marilyn had been told her father looked like Gable. It was a nice story, but Marilyn's mother had been confined to a mental institution for years, given to outrageous fantasies, so who knew what the truth was?

The room we were in had been transformed into The Honeymoon Suite, once Gable and Lombard had stayed there, but it had a tin roof and the bathroom was down the hall and the toilet leaked. The owners of the hotel must have had a great imagination.

"Do you think they'll put our names up on a plaque, saying we stayed here, once we're famous?" Marilyn asked. She had no doubt we were going to be huge stars, although she doubted everything else, even her beauty.

"I'm sure of it," I said. "In another ten years, our photos will be all over the place. We'll get a complimentary room every time we're in Oatman."

"I certainly hope they've fixed the toilet by then," Marilyn said.

  

 

BURRO SHIT

 

We fed the wild burros in the morning. They roamed the main street, stopping traffic in front of the Oatman Hotel. It had been built in 1902, just before the gold boom began. The burros were used to haul rock and ore inside the mines. Outside, they were used to haul water and supplies, but they were abandoned, left to roam the Hulalapai Mountains, when the boom ended in the 1930s.

Marilyn bought a bunch of carrots for a quarter at a small grocery store. Tourists were encouraged to feed the carrots to the burros, but they preferred Granny Goose Potato Chips. She'd bought a bag for herself, but the burros crowded around her, braying. "Get away, get away," she said, waving the bag at them, but I could tell she loved it.

Marilyn backed away from the burros, her blonde hair glistening like cotton candy. She was wearing Levi's and a pair of high heel shoes that would have made anyone else look ridiculous. She finally sat on the wooden sidewalk after she'd thrown the bag away in retreat. She looked at her shoes. "Burro shit," she said, "burro shit," as if it, somehow, delighted her. Any other woman would have been furious, but Marilyn just sat there in the sunlight and shadow, her breasts rising and falling with her laughter.

 

 

THE NO NAME BAR

 

Jonathan and I park our bikes in front of a small bar with an orange neon sign in the window. OPEN. I can smell the stale beer and cigarettes when we go inside. Jonathan strolls across the room, draping his leather jacket across one arm, as if he were holding a muleta. All we could talk about was bullfighting the night we met.

There's a calendar with a naked woman on it behind the bar. She looks as if she's tired of smiling. So does the bartender. He has a crew cut and a T-shirt that's stained under the arms. "What do you want?" he asks. He has huge biceps and a hula girl is tattooed on his right arm. I can imagine him standing in line, drunk, at a whorehouse in Honolulu when he was on shore leave. He must have been in the navy.

Jonathan says, "Two beers."

"What kind?"

"I don't care. They all taste the same."

"What are you? A wise guy?"

"Budweisers." Jonathan shrugs. He's tall and gaunt, and he has great posture. He keeps telling me I shouldn't slouch so much.

"Why didn't you say so in the first place?" the bartender asks. The backs of his hands are scarred. I wonder if he boxed in the navy.

 There's a dartboard at the far end of the bar, next to the restrooms, and a torn banner picturing a blonde in a red, white and blue bikini, waving an American flag. I can only stand so much patriotism.

"What do you call this place?" I ask. "I didn't see a sign out front."

"It's been called The No Name Bar for as long as I can remember, so it don't need no sign. Some of the regulars call it Mr. Friendly's, since I took over five years ago, but it don't need no sign for that, either."

"Yeah, I can tell," I say. "It must be a fun place."

 

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