By: Demond J Blake
There are several universal truths for folks in their twenties, but the main one that stands out for me is roommates. You’re going to love them but mostly you’ll end up hating them but it’s something the twenty-something can’t get away from. This was the case for me a 24 yr old community college dropout, shit warehouse job living with three Jackass wannabes. First there was Bruce our “ringleader” according to him since his name was on the lease, he collected the rent $ and had the master suite. Next is Benny who used to have the other bedroom but lost his job after a month long bender. After fucking up on the rent a couple of times Bruce gave him the option of either getting the fuck out or sleeping in the shower for $125 a month. Since Benny couldn’t bring himself to move back with his older brother or his mother (all for reasons he wouldn’t share) he chose the shower. Then last there is Dean the Couch-guy because in the words of Bruce “You should always have a couch guy as the first line of defense.” Defense against what only Bruce knew for sure.
With Benny out of the way Bruce moved in his old hippie friend Molly Flanders. He thought the place could use a woman’s touch and class us roughnecks up a little bit. Dean and I didn’t care but ol’ Benny-boy was fucked. The balance of power in the household was shifting. We all knew (or at least acted like) Bruce ran things but Benny was like 2nd in command because he was paying ½ the rent, now with him being downgraded to shower-guy.
Once Molls (as Bruce called her) got settled in she started this thing where she took all the roomies out to eat separately as a sort of ice breaking measure. I had been avoiding it because all it would be is a getting to know you sess and not even a free meal was worth that. I never liked it when anyone tried to get to know me because instead of being obvious about it they beat around the bush. They’d hint at questions they want to ask then get me drunk, stoned or whatever and think now my defenses are down and they can find out what they want to know because I’ll blurt shit out. What people don’t seem to understand is that if a person doesn’t like to talk getting them fucked up isn’t going to help. If you want to know something about a person it’s best to not dick around and just ask them straight up. Now if they don’t answer your questions then odds are you weren’t meant to know. After a couple of weeks of avoiding her by volunteering myself for any overtime available (which my supe loved) my day off came around and the bastards made me take it. My first day off in over a week happened to be the same as Molls. Summabitch! I tried to ignore it. First thing I did when I woke up was take Bruce’s bike to buy a sixer of Santiago and head to Fairmont park to drink and watch the desperate fish in its polluted waters. I didn’t know why the fishermen around there didn’t just beat a duck to death take it home and eat that. There were plenty of them struttin’ around getting fat off of the bread dumbasses would toss to them instead of the bums who could really use it. I know what you’re thinking, ‘the bums, well shit they can get their own food.’ In case you forgot so can the fuckin’ ducks. Anyway I finished my sixer rode around the park for a while got bored then went home only to find The Molls still there sitting on the couch watching School of Rock.
“The sooner we get this over with the sooner we can both move on,” Molls said.
“Why the fuck do you think you gotta take us all out to eat?”
“I gotta let you all know I’m not the enemy.”
“I think everyone else knows you’re not the enemy and I could give a shit either way.”
“Bruce told me you’d say something like that.”
“See, Bruce apparently knows me like the hair on his asshole so if you want to know anything just let him tell you.”
“But I want to hear it from the horse’s mouth.”
“I’m not a horse.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Yeah but I’ve always hated that saying.”
“Just get cleaned up we’ll smoke some chron and I’ll take you to eat wherever you want.”
I got some clothes went into the bathroom took the old bum bath and got dressed. I had been taking the bum bath for a couple of months now and I was getting sick of it. No one ever cleaned the shower after themselves anymore. I didn’t know why Benny didn’t clean it out after Bruce made him sleep in there. It was beyond sickening, mildew on top of mildew, grime caked all over the fuckin’ tub and the shower curtain…it used to be white. Now it was darker shade of beige if there was such a thing. I was tired of looking at it every day. I ripped it from the shower rod took it outside and threw it on the glass patio table. Then I got Benny’s Zippo lighter and some hairspray that Molls and Bruce liked to use and torched the fucker. It didn’t burn like I wanted. Certain pieces caught on while others didn’t. It was like trying to burn the old stars and stripes; good idea when 1st thought of but not as easy as you’d seen in news footage. When a piece did light up it looked marvelous. The stench of plastic filling the yard probably destroying the environment got me laughing. I kept torching the fucker until Benny came and calmly asked for his Zippo back.
“And the hairspray?” I asked.
Bruce and Moll Flanders came out and got that. Bruce started laughing his ass off while parts of shower certain burned.
“Fucking Jimbo, you little pyro! Yeah fuck this shitty ass shower curtain! Benny give me your fuckin’ lighter?!”
Benny gave it to him. Bruce tried to torch it but the curtain wouldn’t catch on. Bruce was started to get pissed.
“Benny goddamn it, you burn this fucking thing!”
Ben didn’t say anything just took his lighter the hairspray and started trying. It wouldn’t burn for him either. He kept trying and trying. Bruce got bored watching and went inside. Molls and I stood around and kept watching. I walked over to him and grabbed the spray.
“Hey no one cares anymore you don’t have to keep doing this.”
“Bruce wants this shit burned , I gotta burn it.”
“Fuck Bruce” Molls said, “If I want this shit burned, you gotta burn it. Jim give him back the spray!”
Over the past few weeks Ben was slowly becoming everybody in the pad’s bitch. He didn’t want to work anymore but he didn’t want to leave so Bruce made him the bitch. Whatever anyone asked him to do he did. Lately he had been on kitchen detail and housekeeping. When someone left for work or whatever and didn’t make up their bed, it was Benny’s job to do it. If there was a party and the pad got trashed, it was Benny’s job to clean up in the morning. He was the bitch, he was the maid. No one said much about how things had devolved for him. I didn’t understand why he acceptd it the way he did. If he wasn’t bigger than everyone in the fucking spot he was certainly stronger. Yet he let everyone here tell him what to do as long as sometime during the day he got hooked up with a tall boy, a little hit of chronic and could fuck around on his PlayStation. Molls still wanted me to give Ben back the hairspray so he could keep trying to burn up the curtain.
“Fuck you, this is stupid, I thought we were gonna go grub.”
“I thought we were gonna smoke when you got all crazy on the shower curtain.”
“Grab a pipe we’ll smoke out on the way.”
“Where do you want to go?”
“I don’t care; I am in the mood for fried rice.”
“I know a great place!” Molls said then ran inside.
Ben sat down on the steps and lit a cig. He exhaled the smoke with a sigh.
“I gotta do something Jim.”
There wasn’t anything else to say. We shared the cig until Moll Flanders came then it was off for a nice little getting to know you meal, for fuck’s sake.
* * *
Molls and I were speeding down the road when she got a phone call. It was her best friend The Salsa. She was just getting off work at Club 101 strip club where they both worked (named as such because it was just off the 101 freeway), one her regulars wanted to take her out to eat. The Salsa wanted Molls there because she hated being alone with him. It‘d be a little too intimate seeming if they had dinner alone and The Salsa wanted to keep the old boy guessing. The old guy liked Molls too just not as much The Salsa. Molls was a simple white girl while The Salsa was exotic being part Jamaican and Italian. According to Molls the old guy was loaded and the ladies have been fleecing him every chance they got. Now here was another chance but the problem was he hated it when the women had guys around. The old fella didn’t like competition of any kind. So now they figure out what do to with me.
“I could say Jim’s my boyfriend,” I heard The Salsa say over of the phone.
“YOU CAN’T SAY THAT! THAT’S WHAT HE’LL HATE THE MOST!” Molls screamed.
“You’ve gotta learn to calm down”, I said then lit up Molls’ pipe and had a hit.
“How about if I say Jim’s your step-brother?”
“Salsa, that could WORK! Whatcha think Jimbo wanna be myyyyyy step-brother?”
I was hitting the pipe when Molls asked so I didn’t answer right away.
“Shit all I really want is a beer and some fried rice.”
“Alright Salsa it’s on. Should I meet you at the club, I’m only a few minutes away.”
“Yeah but hurry up you know how impatient he can be.”
Molls hung up. I hit the pipe.
“Hey don’t Bogart that weed man.”
“I never did understand what that meant. Besides you don’t need this, you’re driving. When we hit a light you can smoke.”
“Alright so remember Jimi you’re my step-brother and we share an apartment. We don’t get along with our folks too well but we’re really close okay?”
We hit a light and I passed Molls the pipe. It was cashed. Then the light changed, lesson to be learned, if you’re going to smoke pot and drive use a joint not a pipe.
“Shit now I gotta wait till we get to the club.”
“Next time roll a joint dearie.”
“Whatever! Now this old guy um Harold’s his name, he’s not an asshole so don’t make him be one ‘kay.”
“If he’s an asshole it’ll come out regardless of what I do.”
“Just eat your food play up the step-bro angle drink your beer and it’ll be fun like an episode of Three’s Company.”
“I never watched Three’s Company.”
“Well then I’m buying you the 1st season on DVD!”
People sure did like to offer me shit I didn’t want. We got to the club Harold and The Salsa were outside waiting. Harold didn’t look that old at all. He had a little salt and pepper workin’ in his hair, eyebrows, outfit but he looked in shape, he looked well. I guess that’s the thing with kids my age, anyone over 40 is ancient. I could smell Harold cologne before I got a foot in front of him, but it wasn’t as bad as with the supes. Maybe this was what the supes wore when they weren’t on the job. Introductions were made by The Salsa.
“Jim this is Harold, his friends call him Harry. Harry this is Jim Molly‘s step-brother.”
We shook hands. His was a bit limp, limper than mine. I tended to give limp handshakes because I didn’t like the ritual of shaking hands; I wondered what his deal was.
“Molly you never mentioned a step-brother. Shame on you for holding out on me like that.”
“Girl’s gotta keep ‘em guessing sometimes.”
“Well Harry, if The Moll is good at one thing it’s keeping ’em guessin’.”
“He’s been calling me that for years. I don’t know why and he’s never told me. My little step-bro, he’s a strange one. He‘s more family to me than anyone else has ever been.”
“Is that true Jim?” Harold asked.
“Well you know sometimes you gotta be family to someone whether they’re blood or not. Blood’s never meant much to me.”
“Me neither,” Harry agreed.
“Where we gonna eat?” The Salsa whined.
“Where do the step-siblings want to eat?”
“I don’t know about Molls but I’ve been feeling like fried rice all day.”
“Fried rice hmm, there’s this Thai place I love to go to. It’s not far from here.”
“Good then we’ll follow.”
The Salsa followed Harry to his car, an old school four door black Jag. I got in Moll Flanders’ station-bucket. She quickly packed the pipe and took a nice big hit blowing smoke everywhere. I woulda gotten a contact high if I wasn’t already. Harry pulled out and Molls finished the pipe started her car and pulled up behind him. We followed him to some Thai place whose name I couldn’t pronounce. Thankfully Molls didn’t say anything during the ride. She just blasted the soundtrack from Punch-drunk Love and sung along to that damn song “I knew at once, I knew at once, at once he needed meeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” For fuck’s sake; I almost wished she would’ve talked instead. Molls was one of those who when high got fixated on something and unknowingly tortured others with it.
The Thai place wasn’t too classy but it was nice and just a bit dark. It had a cozy sort of air that certain dive bars have before the hordes have discovered them. The restaurant was pretty empty which was good. We were seated in a nice cushy booth and were given our menus. I knew what I wanted right away. Thai Beer and veggie fried rice. Everyone else needed a minute to decide what to eat but they knew what they wanted to drink. Molls and The Salsa were on domestic beer and Harold ordered a quart of Merlot. I saw wine on the menu but I didn’t want to be presumptuous by ordering any. But Harry did knowing that the ladies probably didn’t want any so either he was a drunk or…
“Jim do you drink wine?”
“DOES HE?!” Molls said a bit too loudly. “Jimi drinks everything. Don’t you Jimi?”
“Well I don’t know but I do like to enjoy a little wine here and there.”
“So Merlot is fine with you?”
“I’m not picky.”
“Good. So, Salsa tells me that you girls are going to Jamaica this summer.”
“Oh yes”, they say.
“Jim, are you going with them?”
“Don’t know yet, depends on how the money situation is and some other things. Moll Flanders loves to go on trips and I used to as well but then I saddled down with this job and it’s a good job. I’m afraid to leave it because there’s not much out there.”
“A working man, I can respect that.”
“I don’t think that’s anything really worth respecting, It’s just that sometimes you grow up and you realize that it’s all about paying bills and standing on your own two, you know.”
“Indeed I do. No one gave me anything coming up. I had to work, sweat and bleed for everything little thing I got. Hard work is what got me where I am today and that’s what’s going to keep me there.”
The waitress came with the drinks. Everyone took their beers and had a nice pull then ordered their meals. Harold poured a wine for himself and for me very pro, meaning that he didn’t top us off but filled it a little short of halfway and did that little twirl thing with the wrist to keep from dribbling. Shit he was probably one of those fucks that was obsessed with Sideways, bought the damn DVD and went to wine shindigs for $20+ bucks at The Echo when Mia Doi Todd, Dosh and Daedalus were playing for the hipsters in the main room. I took a nice drink of wine and chased it with beer then thought of a question to ask Harry-boy.
“So where is there?”
“What do you mean?”
“You said hard work is going to keep you there and I’m asking you where there is.”
“Jim what’re you talking about?” The Salsa asked.
“There, I’m asking about there. He’s there and I want to know where there is so some day when I get there, I’ll know where I’m at.”
“Don’t mind my little step-bro”, Molls said, “he likes to smoke herb too so sometimes he talks nonsense.”
“Oh he’s not talking nonsense I know exactly what’s he’s saying. Jim you’re in one place right now and you are wondering if the place you’re stuck in will eventually lead to where I’m at. Am I right?”
“Umm I don’t really know. I tend to drink things and smoke things then start talking out of my ass.”
“See girls, I’m right he simply doesn’t want to talk about it in front of you because he doesn’t think you’ll understand. Isn’t that right Jim?”
I finished my wine then had a nice pull off the beer. I wasn’t sure what we were talking about anymore. I stopped listening and started nodding at everything. I was starving. All I wanted was my fried fuckin rice. Then it came along with everyone else’s food. We all dug in. One thing about strippers is that they love to eat. We were all shoveling in food except for Harold. He picked around his food, kept refilling his glass and talking to me about how to get where he was, wherever that was.
“The thing is Jim while you’re working your day job you have to find that other thing that gives you pleasure then find a way to make a living at it. I’ve always loved being around trucks and truck drivers. My father was in shipping and receiving and loved for me to be around him at his job…”
And on and on he went. The ladies would give him acknowledging looks and whatnot while I gave up on doing anything. The sound of his voice kept piercing my ears and he kept staring in my direction talking with his left hand drinking with his right. I stopped eating ordered more beer. Harold ordered another quart of wine (they only sold it in glasses and quarts). This time I poured my own glass filled it to the rim. Harold did the same. He was really going now. There was nothing to do but drink and keep from keeling over. I doubt he would’ve noticed. He was on his soapbox. It was my fault I got him going. I looked at his nose. Salt and pepper hairs would stick out when Harold got real animated and scrunched it. So he talked with his hand and his nose. Harry was a talented old boy. I looked at his throat. His Adam’s apple stuck out like a walnut and moved up and down like an elevator. Sometimes his eyes would open wide and all the wrinkles on his forehead mashed forming waves of skin. He had taken off his little leather jacket revealing the hairy arms underneath. Tufts of hair curling on top of each other, the black battling it out with the gray but the gray knowing that the black will either join them or die. Harold had fat stubby wrinkled peasant hands with one ring on the left wedding finger. His wife had died some years ago of cancer and after years of mourning his wife appeared to him one night. Harold swore he wasn’t dreaming but he was coked out of his fuckin head. His wife (whose name he wouldn’t say) told him all the obvious things like ‘don’t mourn for me’, ‘life is for living’ et cetera. Harold still did coke now and then but it was more celebratory because he wasn’t addicted. Of course it was. He kept on going and I felt Harold and everything else starting to recede into the background. It was all human wallpaper.
I wasn’t sure how it happened but somehow the four of us were in Harold’s car in the parking lot doing coco-puffs (coke sprinkled on top of pot). I had a bag of leftovers in my lap and I didn’t know what the fuck. The lighter and pipe came my way and I lit up, took a hit and passed it on. Music was playing. It was Mel Torme, The Velvet Fog and Harold was singing along. The ladies were giggling. It didn’t make sense, being in this car made no sense. At his age you’d think Harold would have more creative ways to show youngins a good time. Maybe it was The Salsa’s and Molls’ influence on him. He talked a little bit about his son, asking the girls if one of them would be interested in a twenty-seven year old who still lives at home and can’t keep a job. He had few interests outside of racing radio control boats. Molls said that sounds like a lot of people that stop by our place. And she’d be right. Then the pipe came around again. Soon The Velvet Fog became nothing but musical wallpaper.
Next thing I knew I was in back of Molls’ car flying along the freeway with The Salsa up front and both singing along to some Yeah Yeah Yeahs song all shrill with annoying 80s guitars. Then they switched over to Hope Sandoval & the Warm Jets. That was better if only because it was calmer. I was dozing in and out till The Salsa turned around and started shrieking at me about Harold.
“Jim I can’t believe how much Harry talked to you! He’s never told us the story about seeing visions of his wife! I can’t believe it! He hates it when we bring men around! He hates it when we bring anybody around! But he really liked you! It must be that you’re like how he wishes his son was! Is that what you think it is?!”
“JIM YOU DID REAL GOOD! IT WAS LIKE AFTER A WHILE HAROLD DIDN’T EVEN CARE IF YOU WERE REALLY MY STEP-BROTHER OR NOT! HE WANTS US ALL TO HANG OUT AGAIN; PARTY AT HIS HOUSE WITH HIS BACKWARDS ASS SON OR SOMETHING. HE GAVE US EACH FIFTY BUCKS AND GAVE ME THIS HUNDRED FOR YOU. I CAN‘T BELIEVE HE GAVE YOU THAT MUCH MONEY. HE MUST‘VE BOUGHT ALL THAT SHIT YOU WERE SAYING.”
A hundred bucks? I dug through my pockets and sure enough there was old Ben Frank. Son of a bitch. The only time I see him is right before I give ‘em to Bruce. The drugs must’ve gotten to old Harry. People were nicer to me when they were fucked up.
“Molly this music’s boring put on something else!”
“YOU PUT ON SOMETHING ELSE I’M DRIVING!”
The Salsa put on Credence Clearwater. They both started singing along again. I’m sure that eventually I’d have to hear “Freebird.” Shit, when I was bouncing around the country doing whatever it seemed that song was following me. There wasn’t a bar I went into where some drunk didn’t put that on and start mouthing it to his lady.
“I love CCR don’t you Jim?”
“Sometimes you gotta play the good stuff Salsa.”
She grinned and went back to singing. I sighed and waited to be back in the cubbyhole.