Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales From a Bad Neighborhood (7 page)

BOOK: Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales From a Bad Neighborhood
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Dance of Life

and I went to a nightclub the other night and he, as usual, stayed across the room in case I felt like dancing, not that I ever do anymore. There is no actual physical restraint keeping me from dancing—like a broken javelin imbedded in my head, for instance—so technically I suppose you could say I am capable of dancing. In college I used to quasi-dance. It was the eighties, and I was a quivering, cocaine-fueled blur that needed to expend energy. Once the burden of tuition fees had forced me to drop my drug habit, though, I rarely danced again, instead isolating my spasmodic outbursts to those times when I was blotto and inexplicably overconfident. Ten years ago, exceptionally soused, I actually tried to charm Lary into dancing with me, figuring heavy flirting was in order.

“Goddammit, you crusty pocket of butt rot,” I slurred, “get out there on the dance floor with me.”

Lary doesn’t “do” dancing. And even if a comet passed within
four feet of his head, creating a magnetic force that completely altered his physical aura and infused all the molecules in his body with a jolt of electrons responsive to sound waves that caused his toe to begin tapping to a beat, he would
never dance with me. He has seen me dance, and when I dance, he says, I look like a mental patient swatting at imaginary insects.

That’s not to say there weren’t times when I thought I was hot. Under the delusional influence of youth and the correct bucketload of alcohol, I could convince myself I was tearing up the floor, that people were actually clearing the way to get a better look at the physical wizardry of my technique, and that a spotlight was actually descending upon me from above because the DJ had discerned that my incredible ability to boogie was the standard to which everyone in the club should aspire.

God, I’m gorgeous
, I remember thinking at those times.
I’m young and beautiful and free and unfettered and I could fucking fly if I wanted, just take off and catch a wave and surf the world with my mermaid hair and my wide eyes, and I can reach with my goddamn twenty-two-year-old fingers and wrap my hands around the heart of the universe and run with my arms outstretched across a field of feathery daffodils forever and everyone here knows it

But then I grew up and learned that I have the internal rhythm of a well-used med-school cadaver. So I try not to dance too much anymore, because I have faced the reality of my limits, unlike this woman I saw at a club while I was in college. She was drunk and had stringy hair, partaking in some after-office celebration and undulating like an offbeat walrus all over the dance floor. You could tell she thought she was hot, when really she was out of place, deluded by booze into thinking she was as lithe as an acrobat, as desirable as a runway model, her face radiating a pathetic, misplaced elation. Watching her, I held her in the highest contempt, and my eyes bored rays of hate into her private little capsule of complete joy. I resolved to never end up like her, to never be caught dancing with all the grace of a plastered parent crashing her kids’ sock hop.

I am amazed at how often I think of that woman now. Images of her constantly flash into my mind. I remember her black dress, and her cascade of brassy, bleached hair, her jubilation, and her complete conviction that she was incandescent. Sometimes I feel the same revulsion I felt at the time.
She should have faced the reality of her limits

But other times it’s different.
Look at her go
, I observe, as the image plays over in my head, and the woman forever dances awkwardly on, her jowls wagging in a beatific grin, her toneless upper arms waddling at odds with the music. I want to recapture the same pity and conceit I felt when I first saw her, the conviction that she is trespassing on undeserved territory, but I’m unable to muster that old feeling. Instead, as the phantom woman does a few lunging twirls and then faces full on the camera lens of my memory—her eyes alight and her arms outstretched—I have to catch my breath because she is so beautiful.

Something Caught

just got popped for speeding on the way home. Daniel was in the car, and not until the officer was gone did we figure out the perfect way to get out of a speeding ticket: You pretend you have something caught in your throat, and then ask the police officer to kindly use his penis to help dislodge it. Lary says that would work if he were a police officer, but probably not if he were the perpetrator.

Like he should worry. Lary is almost immune to police. I couldn’t even get the police to handcuff him when he was shooting at people running through the parking lot that abuts his backyard. Granted, they were burglars Lary had caught in the act of robbing his house, but I don’t see how the police could have known that at first. I figured I’d at least get to see a SWAT showdown before matters got sorted. But no, Lary says they told him not to miss next time, and to just drag the bodies from the parking lot onto his property, thereby reinforcing a self-defense scenario.

“What about the trail of blood?” Lary sensibly asked them.

“We won’t see it,” Lary says they answered.

Daniel and I don’t enjoy that kind of privilege when it comes to police, so we’re basically law abiding, except for the occasional traffic ticket, and we wouldn’t get those if not for Freedom Parkway. The police swarm like hornets around that stretch of road, which appears to be a seamless offshoot from the freeway, except for a thirty-five mph limit. When you exit onto the parkway, it’s practically impossible
to speed. You have to brake as if approaching a barricade, and most people don’t bother. A lot get caught.

I got caught, and I hate that “caught” feeling. I hate it when you’re flying along, enjoying life, and something stops you cold, sucking all the fun out of everything. For example, the other day I was in New York, on Canal Street, where I had intended to buy a truckload of fake handbags and other designer knockoffs that, to me, are the total ass end of tacky, but evidently they’re precious to image pussies back home who are too poor to afford the real thing. I thought I could cash in on that. I mean, what better way to make a buck than to bilk vain people? But while I was at the hotel asking the concierge for directions, a woman at the reception counter next to me casually mentioned that she personally “boycotts” Canal Street.

“Why?” I asked.

“Sweatshop labor,” is all she needed to say.

Oh, Christ. Until then I’d been in a happy state of amnesia about the fact that those knockoffs are pumped out by sweatshop workers. I went anyway, though, thinking maybe the guilt would just dissipate as I packed up bagloads of the fake booty and fenced it back home.

I thought about calling Daniel to see if he’d sanction profiting from the misery of immigrants and children. He was busy working on his art opening at the Marcia Wood Gallery, his first since he figured out years ago that he had to stop pumping out fake shit and start creating the real thing, expressing what’s really in his heart.
That was when all his unexpressed creativity was caught in his chest like a big fish bone because he was too inhibited to let it loose. Today, let me tell you, he has let it loose.

You never know with him. He just might have shouted, “Crack the whip on those overworked adolescent asses, honey!” He’s capable of being quite salty sometimes. To this day, he swears that Pearl, his goldfish, died accidentally when…let’s face it, it’s pretty hard to accidentally grind your goldfish up in the garbage disposal. And when he and his boyfriend Mitch decided to move in together, Daniel seriously suggested a good way to accommodate Mitch’s cat would be to close her up miles away in a rented storage compartment.

I didn’t call him after all. It wouldn’t have mattered what he said. I knew I couldn’t cope with the image of little fingers toiling away in an underventilated misery pit when they should be off experiencing the more conventional misery of grade school. So I headed empty-handed back to the subway station. In the center of the crowded platform was a street performer belting out a song, one of those emotional country ballads, and the guy really let loose with his voice. I stood there with the rest of the crowd, envying him.
God, I wish I could do that
, I thought. I wish so badly to be able to let loose with my voice. I wished it so strongly I even started to see it.
Wow, look at me
, I thought. Look at me
, look at me
, look at me jumping, running,
. Look at me standing up and shouting out what’s in my heart! Then I could feel it welling up. I swear I could feel it coming out! I could feel myself
flying along!

Then the train came and cut me off. I boarded it with the rest of the horde, having been reverted back to my basic self, having been stopped cold again, with nothing in my hands but something caught in my heart.

I Can Fly

there some kind of age limit on acid trips? You’d think that by the time you turn forty or so you’d graduate to
drugs and become a legitimate, respectable junkie like a few First Lady runners-up I could name. But Lary is at least five hundred years old—or older than me anyway, not that you’d ever know it by his behavior, which landed him in the hospital yesterday with a concussion and cracked ribs and probably brain damage too, not that you’d be able to tell right off. Essentially what happened is that Lary took acid, climbed the scaffolding inside his warehouse, and flung himself headfirst off the top just like a junkie. His account will differ from mine because I was not actually there, but since he was all hopped up on drugs neither was he if you think about it. Still, he insists he slipped and did not fling himself, and that he did not climb the scaffolding because of a bad trip but because of his bad roof, which is falling down and needs to be fixed.

“Don’t give me that,” I said. “You thought you could fly, didn’t you?”

Lary knows I’m afraid of acid, because as a kid I totally bought into that tax-funded traveling sideshow of ex-addicts who used to visit grade schools and host antidrug rallies, which essentially entailed freaking everybody out with stories of their former junkie escapades. These were not just trite little tales about hippies who thought they could fly. No. For example, one guy took the microphone and told the audience about his drug buddy who had a bad trip one day and barfed out his entire tongue onto the floor. That’s right, one second his friend was fine with his tongue attached to the back of his throat and everything, then he took some drugs and
, there his whole tongue was on the linoleum, raw and quivering like a piece of liver.

Looking back, I realize that’s probably not even possible (right?), but for an eight-year-old it painted a pretty graphic picture of what to avoid, and now I can at least look at myself and say I didn’t end up a tongueless junkie. Too bad I couldn’t, at least in part, extend the same compliment to my best friend. In all, I’m really glad Lary didn’t die, because knowing the condition of his place, a fall like that could have easily meant impaling his brain on a big railroad spike. We’re pretty close, considering we have little in common. He is the oldest in a brood of ten siblings falteringly brought up by a severely God-fearing mother and a philandering father, and I am the middle kid from a much smaller family that was headed by my mother, an atheist missile scientist and part-time petty klepto with broken aspirations of becoming a beautician, and my father, a boozing unemployed trailer salesman who once had huge dreams for himself, only his fears turned out to be much bigger.

Lary once told me he spent very little time at home while growing up, instead choosing to wander the woods behind his house. That’s how I like to picture him, as a child running with his arms outstretched in total solitude, gleeful to be free of the emotional
oppression of his home. My own home held a similar aversion for me as a kid. At first, my chain-smoking parents fought with the ferocity of rival tigers, each blaming the other for the fizzle their hopes and dreams had become, but as the years passed, that anger hardened into a calcified weight that simply hung there in our house, hidden in the constant blanket of cigarette smoke over our heads.

I used to wait until the middle of the night to escape. After my parents fell asleep, I’d sneak out and run barefoot through our neighbor’s vast front lawn. When it was warm I’d unbutton my flannel shirt and just run in the quiet night, back and forth under the moonlight, with my shirt flapping behind me like a little cape, my face hardly able to contain my utter joy.

Then, one morning, my father awoke, rheumy-eyed and shaking. “I saw you in the grass last night,” he said angrily. I was immediately terrified, certain he’d mete out his usual punishment, which was to clout me across the ass with the lid of a tin flour canister we kept in the kitchen, but instead he stopped and just stood there. Through the smoke of his cigarette I saw his face suddenly fall as if broken by the weight of all his mistakes, all the steps he took or was too timid to take. But these had nonetheless led him here, to this messy house, confronting an errant child he’d watched gallop barefoot under a full moon in the middle of the night. Looking back, I wish I had taken his whiskered, tortured face in my hands, but I didn’t. Instead, I am left with the memory of how he stopped and shook his head, and ran his twitching fingers through his thinning hair. I remember his eyes, his booze-addled eyes, suddenly beseeching for something just outside his reach.

“I saw you,” he said again, softly, “and you were flying.”

BOOK: Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales From a Bad Neighborhood
5.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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