Matthew Suarez 3 p.m., Dec. 11
I sit here on the corner of Broadway and Columbia, puffin' a smoke and remembering the old broad. Carroll, I think was her name. She was the cocktail waitress at this place back in the day, back when it was Cindy's Topless A Go Go. I used to look at her and think, "Damn, she musta' been hot way back when, with her cocaine eyes– shake, shake, shakin' her booty on the dance floor in a mini-skirt and platforms– circa 1977.
That was what, back in '92? Then, she was already washed up with false teeth and a nasty scar on her right cheek from God only knows what kinda Devil. I was dating one of the dancers from that club. Hah! Dated: a sugar coated word for what we really did. She was about 35, a decade and a half my senior, but kept herself up like Superglue. Called herself Autumn on stage, but her real name was Jane. Said she liked younger men 'cos it made her feel young. I guess I liked older women 'cos it made me feel like a "tough guy." Like, everything I did back then I did to feel like a "tough guy."
Now, I sit here, finish off my smoke and go for another– the "tough guy" in me gone like yesterday's keg. I'm just a phantom along the highway now– some lonely specter trying to remember. Was that club right here? Now, there's nothing but a Bruegger's Bagel's or soon to be Crescent Height's Restaurant. The grit and grime of the old strip joint district I lived among is gone, replaced with a sanitized version of what was meant to be. I pass the old Piccadilly Hotel; the bar here was one of Jane and my old haunts, replete with transsexual hookers and crack dealers. This was where you could find the people I've always felt comfortable with: the rabbles, the dregs, the down 'n outs, those whose souls had been stripped right down to their bare bones who babbled glossolalia into their high-balls and never expected a damn thing from no one. 'Cos those have always been the people for me: creatures caught in the vicious grip of a malevolent fate, victims of vicissitude, harbingers of madness. It is in them, and only in them, where you will find the Truth.
Now, this place is called the Sofia, with a plaque honoring that racist dick, Pete Wilson. The bar is a pretentious upscale cafe that calls itself a "California Brasserie" with 8 dollar salads and 10 buck drinks. Inside are people made of plastic who all look like mannequins in your local department store. Outside is mixture of the suits of the rich and shadows of humans so far gone they're beyond redemption and Ave Maria's. I smoke another grit, knowing I'm the only one left who walks between these two worlds, a place now my own. Like, I'm in my own personal Purgatory.
Where was that liquor store around here? The one whose owners used to score dope from my neighbor, where a car crashed into the joint back in '95 and the cashier pulled the driver out and beat him senseless? It's all faded into an endless nothing. I light another smoke and walk on.
Years ago, I'd've continued down this street as if it were still called D Street back in 1910. Would've gone to other dives like Beanie's and Sushi Deli for a few rolls, some hot Saki and large Kirin's. But, that whole block's like a ghost town now, all boarded up and abandoned, waiting for the wrecking ball like the condemned. I would've gone to see Mona at the Hong Kong, then on to the Limerick Room and Hard Times Billiards. But, that building was razed long ago, replaced with a vapid square glass structure offering nothing more than a 7-11, Starbucks and some over-priced office spaces that all look vacant. Then, I'd do the same tour back and end up with some honkey-tonk special or at the Pussy Cat Theater on Fourth before crashing at my flop-room at the Golden West Hotel.
Now, since that world is gone, I light another smoke and take a right on Fifth, off Broadway. The Gaslamp Tavern, where the old Western Hat Works was, is a helluva joint. Among all the kitch and gaudiness of the new downtown, this dig is a genuine rough in a town full of fake diamonds. Not a dive, not a place where you'd find Carroll, but the bar has had more soul than Davie Jones' Locker since day one. The folks that run the place don't judge, always give a second chance and don't ask too many questions. I order a bottle of Bud from Jenna. I tell her I'll tip her next time, but she's heard that BS from me before. Somehow, the staff here still lets me in. Maybe it's 'cos their bar instincts tell them I'm as loyal as a hound, or maybe it's that old Sympathy For the Devil thing. I walk out to the patio and soak up the panoramic view of this world I can no longer relate to: the hustlers and hussies, the beautiful people who look so miserable inside. Could it be them? Are they all stamped out of the Lohan mold and run right off the Paris press? Or is it me? Am I just an apparition caught in the vortex of time, somewhere between Liquid Television and the O.J. trial?
I finish my smoke and inhale the warm late-summer air. This place looks like a postcard I'm living in; and not a cool psychedelic postcard like they sell at the Black in OB, but the cheesy touristy kind like they sell at Long's in Horton Plaza. I think about Jane and wonder. Is she some hot-shot business woman now or did she end up like Carroll? I'm guessing somewhere in between, probably closer to the latter.
I think of how glorious and euphoric it was to have Jane, Sweet Sweet Jane, all naked wrapped around my body, yet how much more real and in place she seemed as Autumn on stage.
I think of Jane, then let it rest. Best leave her nestled away in the heart of my memory, way back, back in a more dangerous yet simpler time– back when you didn't need a Myspace account to make friends, when full-sleeve tattoos weren't a dime a dozen, when Gwen Steffani was a cute little lead singer for an unknown outside of Southern California ska band.
Jenna asks me if I want another Bud. I tell her I'm broke, but she serves me one on the house. As I thank her with the supplication of a stray dog, I reach into my pocket for a smoke. I have one grit left and, therefore, a chance.