Sunday, April 10, 2011

Crazy Horse

My friends and I knew the cop named Frank Palombo was coming back, he had told us as much the first time he came up to the apartment. Actually, he told my buddy Joe Alves, promised him, in fact, that if the police ever got another call from the neighbors about us, we were all going to jail.
     Joe was playing his pink Charvel through the Marshall half-stack in his bedroom one day loud as fuck when Palombo came walking in through the front door, a bag of weed and several spent roaches in the ashtray sitting right out in the open where anyone could see. Palombo said he knocked but the Marshall amplifier was so loud, Joe couldn't hear him.
     Joe was a helluva guitarist back then, played in a cover band called Black Rose with some of our other friends; Colin Boughton played drums, Steve Ferreira was the lead singer and Jason MacDougall played bass, God rest his soul. Back in the '90's, the good old days, as they say, we'd all get drunk and crazy and watch them play at The Clubhouse in Bristol on weekends during the summer. The bar would be filled to the rafters every time they played, but you never see anybody in that place anymore.
     Anyway, Palombo let Joe off with a warning that first time in the apartment, although he had some fun busting Joe's balls and making him sweat. Joe said Palombo picked up the bag of weed and waved it in his face, taunting him, as if he never smoked any himself, the fucking hypocrite. After that, it was just a matter of time before Palombo came back, considering the noise we used to make.
     The apartment was a tiny two bedroom on Mt. Hope, but we used the den as a third bedroom for Brinza and converted the kitchen into our living room, with three Lazy Boys and a coffee table in the middle of everything and a black-and-white TV propped up next to the fridge. We'd put the boom box in the open window and crank Guns & Roses and Jane's Addiction tunes at top volume, so you can understand why the neighbors hated us. My friend Alex used to call it the House of Sin.
     One night we're getting drunk on forties of malt liquor, Crazy Horse if I'm remembering it right, and of course we had the boom box in the window, when somebody knocks hard on the door from the back stairwell; which since the apartment is so small is only about ten feet across the kitchen from the door to the front stairwell. It was strange, too, because nobody ever used those back stairs, the reason why we always piled our trash out there.
     Joe turns off the music and I yell, "Who is it?" in my best tough guy voice and the answer that comes back is, "Pizza delivery," and we all look at one another and laugh. Then Brinza picks up an empty forty and throws it at the thick wooden door but it doesn't break, just makes a loud "boom," and Joe yells, "We didn't order no fucking pizza," and the next thing you know the voice on the other side says, "Bristol Police, open up," and we almost shit ourselves because we knew it was Palombo.
     We're all standing there now frozen in the middle of the kitchen and Joe grabs the ounce of weed from the coffee table and runs into the bathroom and flushes it, and of course it takes three or four flushes to get it all down. And since the bathroom is adjacent to the back stairs, you know Palombo hears that shit and knows full well what's going on inside.
     The next thing we hear is, "Officer Palombo, open this fucking door," and everybody looks at me like I'm supposed to know what to do, and the only thing I can think of is to run right out the front door and take those stairs three at a time and that's exactly what we did.
     We hit the bottom step and we ran out of the apartment building right past Palombo's police cruiser with the engine still idling in park and we hauled ass down Second Street faster than Carl Lewis ever ran the 100 meters, I swear to God.
     At the end of Second we hooked a right onto State Street and we didn't stop running until we were belly up to a bar called The Kinsman Tavern, which is where we were planning on going anyway that night, just not so early.
     We stayed at the bar and got shit-faced until closing time and then we stumbled down Second Street back to our apartment and were relieved to find no sign of Palombo anywhere in sight.
     Later, we found out our friend Colin Boughton had arrived at the apartment minutes after we ran out, and when Palombo came down from the back stairs and saw him standing there on the sidewalk he cuffed him and threw him in the back of his cruiser. But Colin didn't live there and had no idea what the fuck was going on, so Palombo had to let him go.
     We never heard from Palombo again after that, but I'm guessing he was embarrassed about what happened and never told anybody about it. Later, he married a friend of ours named Angela Ferri and we found out through the grapevine that he wasn't such a bad guy after all, just not too bright.
     Yeah, those were the days, as I said before, back before the towers fell and our friend Jason died of cancer, and then Ray Green died of the same and we all grew up and I moved away to points west and everything changed. Those were the days.
          "They may say, 'Those were the days.'
          But in a way, you know, for us these are the days.
          Yeah, for us these are the days, and you know,
          You're my girl. Such a classic girl."
                                         - From the song "Classic Girl"
                                           by Jane's Addiction

Friday, March 25, 2011

Born Again

When Carlos Tejada and Loriana Gonzales first saw the girl in the crowded street, Carlos knew right away she was going to be the one.
     The girl was wearing stonewashed blue cut-off jeans and dirty white sneakers and her tight black t-shirt left her belly button exposed. She didn't seem to have any friends with her, none that Carlos and Loriana could see.
     It was early Friday night and the sun was descending in the western sky as packs of rowdy college students began to fill the street.
     On weekend nights the street was closed to traffic from Red River to Congress and the road teemed with drunks and people-watchers and tough guys looking for trouble. There were bars with live music and run-down convenience stores and trailer carts with men selling sausage-and-pepper rolls and bratwurst with onions. 
     They followed her at a distance as the girl entered the tattoo parlor and they watched her through the front window while she spoke to the long-haired man at the counter. The girl seemed to be making an appointment, but Carlos and Loriana knew it was best to wait outside.
     Soon the girl left the tattoo parlor and began walking through the crowd and they followed her until they were sure she was alone.
     It was Loriana who made the first move.
     "Hi," said Loriana in a friendly voice. "I really like your tattoo."
     The girl lifted her left foot and turned her ankle outward so she could look down herself at the orange-and-black scorpion on her lower calf. It was as if she had just remembered it was there.
     "Thanks," she said. "I got it last year at Diablo Rojo."
     "It's so cool," said Loriana. She extended her right hand. "My name's Loriana. This is Carlos."
     Carlos stepped forward and shook the girl's hand and when she smiled at him he realized for the first time how beautiful she was. 
     "Hi, I'm Monique."
     Carlos could feel Loriana watching him out of the corner of his eye. The softness of the girl's skin and the fact that Loriana was watching excited him and he could feel his penis swelling inside his pants.
     "You're very pretty," Loriana said and the girl named Monique blushed. Carlos noticed that she had the whitest teeth he had ever seen.
     "Thanks," Monique said to Loriana. "So are you."
     There followed an awkward silence which Loriana finally broke.
     "We were thinking about smoking some kind bud," she said. "You wanna join us? It's boring if you can't share it with a friend."
     "I don't know. I'm supposed to meet someone in a little while."
     "It's really good shit," said Carlos and they all laughed.
     "Well, okay," said the girl and Loriana took her by the hand. They walked together toward the east side where Carlos's car was parked in a crowded lot beneath the highway.
     They got in and Carlos pulled his car out of the parking lot and they cruised south toward the river as the evening sky grew dark.
     Loriana took a hit from a small glass pipe and coughed out white smoke in a violent burst, then she passed it to the girl named Monique.
     "Thanks," said Monique. She smiled at Loriana as she put the glass pipe to her mouth.
     Soon both girls were coughing and laughing and having a good time. Carlos parked the car in a pecan field near the river and then he took a long hit of his own. He turned the radio low and they finished the pipe with the windows rolled down, then Carlos packed it again as they watched the bats come flying over the river like a long dark cloud of smoke.
     They were stoned now so they decided to leave the car and walk down closer to the river. Loriana and the girl were talking and holding hands as Carlos watched them disappear into the darkness.
     The girls had taken the glass pipe with them but Carlos waited behind and took a long piss. Then he zipped up his fly and reached down inside the car.
     When Carlos finally joined them near the bank of the river he could see Loriana pull the girl close in the moonlight and kiss her softly on the mouth.
     When the girl named Monique backed away slowly she didn't see Carlos swing the baseball bat which caught her above the right eye and knocked her to the ground.
     Carlos lifted the aluminum bat high above his head and came down with it hard. He could feel the girl's skull being crushed as he swung down repeatedly, again and again.
     Loriana had run back to the car just as Carlos started swinging and now she returned with a container filled with gasoline. She poured the gasoline over the girl until the container was empty, then she stepped back as Carlos tossed down his lighted Zippo and they watched the girl erupt in orange flames.
     "Take out your wallet," said Carlos.
     Loriana did as she was told and dropped her wallet near the edge of the fire. They knew the girl had no identification of her own, no wallet in the back pocket of her cut-offs and no purse.
     The girl named Monique was now Loriana Gonzalez and Loriana had just become someone else, someone with no name and no criminal record and no deportation orders hanging over her head. The new Loriana was a dead girl burning in a heap by the river and the old Loriana had just been reborn.
     They would have to find a new identity for her, a new name, but for now she was nameless and without history, free to choose her own destiny and to make her life anew.     

Sunday, February 13, 2011


"I’m not gonna show you," she said, "so don’t even ask." 
     It was early Sunday morning. Jenny Forlan and me pulled an opening shift at the coffee shop, Jenny doing her flirty, overcaffeinated vixen thing and me doing my silent, grumpy, hungover thing. Jenny’s a senior at Central High School but she’s not your average 18-year old. Jenny makes me blush. A lot. Believe me, I know what you’re thinking but you could not be further off-base. You gotta meet Jenny, that’s all I can tell you.
     "I really don’t mind the scars," she said. "That’s the only drawback, you know. The scars underneath. I don’t mind, though."
     Jenny got new tits. Her parents bought them for her high school graduation.
     "When I graduated from high school," I said, "my dad gave me five hundred bucks. That’s actually not bad considering it was almost twenty years ago. It’s like he was paying me off for disappearing when I was seven. I bought a candy-apple-red 1974 Mustang with it. The license plate said Ford 74."
     "You’re old," she said.
     "It’s not like it wasn’t used when I bought it. I just got lousy taste. ’74’s probably the worst year ever for Mustangs."
     "Epic fail."
     I love all the new pop cultural youth lingo bullshit. My friends and I spoke our own language back in high school. In fact, we invented some pretty cool word constructs that eventually leaked out to other parts of the state, I’m not even kidding. In college I had a conversation with this guy from Lincoln who accused me of being scared to shotgun my beer. We invented that. My friends and I said "scared" more than anyone ever had any right to. If you were tired and wanted to call it an early night, you were scared; if you didn’t think it was cool to smash out all the street lights down at the old folks’ home, you were scared; if you couldn’t score with a horny little fox like Jenny Forlan, you were scared. We invented it, and it preceded us everywhere we went.
     "You want to see them, don’t you?" she said.
     "I’m fine, I can see them all right from here."
     "No, you can’t."
     I turned on the bake oven and the overhead fan. We didn’t open for another hour so there was still some time to kill. Jenny’s tiny but she’s got a great little ass and she knows it. She’s one of those girls who’s in perpetual performance mode.
     "I showed Daniel last night," she said. "He kept bugging me until I showed him."
     Daniel Estrella works at the coffee shop a couple nights a week. He has a full-time day job working for the state, filling pot holes and sweeping up at work sites. He’s one of those nice guys who tries to become best friends with every girl he meets, that’s his angle. He does all right.
     "What did Daniel have to say?"
     "He liked them. He said they came out perfectly even. Sometimes they can wind up spread too far apart. Unnatural-looking."
     She took the soft drink nozzles from the sink and attached them to the six carbonator pumps on the soda machine. I finished up filling a large insulated carafe with fresh brewed coffee.
     That does it, I decided. If Daniel Estrella gets to see them then I wanna see ’em, too. What the fuck? Why not? 
     "Hey, Jenny?"
     "You can’t see them."
     "What? I wasn’t gonna ask you that."
     "What were you gonna ask me?"
     "Did you see the Red Sox game last night?"
     "Good game."
     "Who pitched?" she said.
     "Who pitched?"
     "Lackey. They won."
     "Lackey sucks."
     "Yeah, he was awful last year. He’ll be all right, though."
     I don’t need to see them. I’m almost forty years old, I’m a professional. Integrity still counts for something.
     "Hey, Vic," she called from the kitchen.
     "Come here for a second."
     I was kneeling in front of the bake case counting the day-old cheesecakes and pastries. I imagined her standing by the dishwasher with one hand placed on her hip. I could see her clearly in my mind.
     At just this moment a tall city policeman rapped his knuckles hard against the glass door three times and pointed at his watch.
     "Eight o’clock," I almost shouted, as if he could hear me through the glass. Cops always expect special treatment. Let him wait outside.
     The cop climbed in his cruiser and slowly backed out of the strip mall parking lot. I waited by the cash register and looked up at the television mounted on the wall. The local news was on.
     "You’re lucky he doesn’t tow your truck," she said as she walked back in from the kitchen. "Your inspection sticker’s from the 1990’s."
     "It’s vintage," I said.
     "So are you."
     Jenny’s a good kid. And I know what you’re wondering about, too. Did I get to see them? Hey, give me some credit here, I’m just a guy. And if you had the chance to see something like that, knowing that each of us only gets one loop around this circle, what would you do? 
     Integrity still counts for something, right?