Walter Mencken 9:27 a.m., Feb. 27
- Community Blog
- Off Broadway
One Classic Mission
My pager woke me up.
It was my own number on the screen, which meant I had a voice message. Didn’t you just love that new technology? I’d even customized my own verbal greeting– no more generic beep-beep-beep’s. It was like having a mini answering machine clipped to my belt. How did we ever get by before that stuff?
I stepped outside my Mission Blvd. studio into a warm late June high noon and went to the payphone one door down at the Lido Market. That’s right. I didn’t even need my own phone those days. Soon, I thought, no one will need phones in the house anymore. We’ll all be able to talk and send messages with our pagers.
The voice on the other end was my homeboy, Shawn. I wondered what the heck he was doing up so early, then I remembered: he probably hadn’t even gone to bed yet. Party at 2. Boardwalk. Jamaica Ct. Three kegs, barbecue and a band. Five bucks. Bring chicks.
Am I still doing this? I thought. Six months out of college and it was still daytime kegs and late-night dregs? The year before, when we were still in school and broke, this was how we survived. And on the rare days we couldn’t find a party, we’d wait till the 4 o’clock happy hour at Beach Boys Cantina over in Belmont Park– $2 drinks after tip and a free buffet. It wasn’t just happy hour to us. It was our food source, our kitchen, our feeding trough– the one place where we came to fill up for the next twenty-four hours.
And now, there I was with actual money to spend, but I couldn’t think of anything better to do than hit another boardwalk keg party. It’s all good, I thought. There was plenty of time to grow up. And besides, I knew “she” was gonna be there. I was gonna make sure of it.
Since I was already at the liquor store, I figured I’d might as well pop in for a morning pop. “Heyyyy, borracho!” greeted the clerk. “What’s up, güey?”
“Not much, Romo, just came over to use the phone and thought it’d be rude not to come in and buy something.”
“Yeah, any excuse. Ha, cabrón? Any pinche excuse!”
I set my tall can of Bud on the counter and replied, “Tú lo sabes.”
“You go out an’ get all crazy last night?” he asked as he rang me up.
“Naw, man. You know I work late on Fridays. I got home around midnight and just kicked back on the sidewalk out there drinking beers till around 4.”
“What’s up with that place? They hiring yet?” He always asked me that. Mexicans always want jobs working outside. The year before, when I told him how much I made as a courier, he almost flipped like I told him something with six figures. Not even close, but not bad for cruising around town in my pick-up all day and some nights. Not exactly what I’d gotten a degree in, but it paid for that piece of paper; so we were even.
“Naw,” I told him. “But I’ll let you know when they are.” As I walked out, I checked the paper. I always checked the paper but never bought it. Earlier in the year, when the Zapatistas were making revolution down in Chiapas, my Mechista buddies and I bought the paper almost every day. Couldn’t wait to read about what was happening down south with Subcomandante Marcos and his army. We knew the Union Tribune was only giving us one side of the story, the bias US media side, but we had no other news sources. After the Colossio assassination in March, public support for the Zapatistas plummeted, and the headlines had shifted. Mexico was rapidly becoming a violent, lawless land.
That day’s headline read “Reading Recovery spells success story for faltering pupils– and it’s growing.” It didn’t spark my interest in the least. And I figured that was all I needed to know about current events. So I stepped outside, cracked my tall boy and imbibed those first few precious drops of the day as the sun began its lazy blaze through the grey marine haze. There was scarcely a soul about yet. Unlike towns that go around the clock, Mission Beach was like TJ– party till 5 am, then shut down till about noon; so things were gonna get moving any minute. I had to get an early jump. I was on a mission. And her name was Brandy…. You’re a fine girl.
We’d met at a Sublime show at Schooners over on Hornblend in PB a month or so back. The lead singer was so out of it, he couldn’t even keep his head up, let alone sing. I made some remark about how sad it was to see such a tremendous waste of talent. She overheard me and said, “That’s crazy. I was just thinking the same exact thing. I’ve seen him put on such soulful, inspiring performances, I’ve almost cried. And now… this?” By the end of the night, I had her number, and we’d hung out a handful of times since. She was an art major with senior status at SDSU set to graduate in the fall– a year or so younger than me. That Thursday, I tried calling her a few times to no avail. She hadn’t gotten around to buying an answering machine, so I came by and stuck a post-it note on her door telling her to page me on Saturday so we could do something. Figuring that page would come around 1 or 2, I went home, hopped on my skateboard and went down to Roberto’s for a breakfast burrito.
I went for the usual: eggs, cheese, rice and beans– safe and easy. As they brewed it up, I popped my head next door into the Coaster Saloon. The lovely Mona was wiping down tables and entertaining all the early drunks. “Hey, Bry,” she smiled. “Comin’ in for a beer?”
“Naw, not yet. Just wanted to see your pretty face. I got food comin’ next door, plus I already got my brown bag special,” I explained, holding up my tall can.
“Ah, I see. You’re being a cheap drunk today.”
“I’m always a cheap drunk. But I take care of my bartenders!”
“That you do. That you do,” she said, putting away her towel.
“Hey, I’ll probably be in for dinner, though. I’m tryin’ to meet up with this girl I been hittin’ on. We’ll be seein’ ya then, Mona.”
“Okay. You go then, stud.”
Many afternoons like that I’d spend sitting at the sea wall, drinking a beer and soaking in my surroundings, wondering if something horrible had happened to me in a past life. Did I make some kind of sacrifice so altruistic and magnanimous as to warrant my rebirth into this Paradise? Was there a suffering stricken upon me so tormenting and dreadful that the Fates felt obliged to reincarnate my soul in the most Arcadian place in America? Or was it pure luck– a beautiful cosmic accident that sent me here free of charge or indenture? Like the gods just decided on a whim to serve me up a double scoop of heaven and say, Have yourself a blast, boy. In any case, I appreciated every moment, every crazy night and wild day. It was like I’d wake up in the morning and try to inhale the world around me and hold it in for as long as I could. Every day, I stretched out my arms and grabbed on– grabbed on and tried tried tried, tried as hard as I could to never ever let it go.
My pager went off.
It was Brandy…. What a good wife you would be.
I called her from the payphone in front of Hamel’s. “Good morning, Sunshine,” I told her.
“Come on. I’ve been up since 10. I figured you’d be the one still knocked out. I didn’t wanna wake you up and make you grumpy.”
“Oh, no. I’m what you call an early riser. I’m all ready for beer number two. Ready to join me?”
“Sure. Where at?”
Thirty minutes later, I rolled up to Jamaica Ct. That was the funny thing about Mission Beach; anything happening at night was bound to get a late start. Like if there was a show at Chillers, the first act would be on an hour and a half behind schedule. But daytime gigs were a different story. If tap time was 2 o’clock, you’d better be there at 1 or you were lucky to even get a cup.
On the news, you’d hear about the cost of living in San Diego being so damn high. Not in this San Diego. This was the Dago on the other side of the postcard– the freewheeling, pay-as-you-go side; the why work when I already got everything I want? side; the tanned feet and skipped beat side. This was the San Diego where people would come looking for a job in the summer and end up on Spring Break for the rest of their lives. The San Diego with the high cost of living? That was a far off, imaginary place to us. We didn’t worry about the cost of living. In fact, we didn’t worry about much of anything. And we didn’t know too much about anything either. But one thing we did know– and we knew it damn well– was that the cost of living was chump change compared to the cost of dying.
Such an eclectic crowd of clowns was hard to find anywhere else: dreadlocked Rastas, OC sickboys, South Bay lowriders, UFC jocks, bikers, bikini models, old school drunks and under-age punks. I muscled my way up to the keg, handed over ten bucks for two cups and filled mine up. As I pulled back from the crowd, I tripped out on the hand full of "old schoolers"– washed up characters who’d been bummin’ around Mission Beach for decades– chicks and dudes in their 30’s and 40’s who’d done nothing with their lives but party ‘em away ‘cos it was just too damn easy of a thing to do there. They didn’t look out of place either ‘cos there were a lot of them, they were always around and had been for a very, very long time. I couldn’t imagine ending up as one of the “old dudes." Like there was no way I was ever gonna get that old, let alone get that old and still be doing this. It’s amazing how men who are twenty-two believe the world will end before their youth. Women, it seems, know better.
Brandy had perfect timing. When she rolled up, I was just getting ready to hit the keg again. She greeted me with a big hug and said, “Let’s get drunk!” Right on cue, I handed her the cup I bought her. “Oh, you’re sooo romantic.”
“Whud you expect? Flowers?”
“No. I expected this cup to be full! What kinda crap is this?!”
She got me. She always got me. That’s what I liked about her.
At the keg, Brandy started telling me about the night before– a night I was quite bummed about missing. Agent Orange had come down from Orange County and played at Chiller’s with like three other bands. “I saw your boy there,” she said.
“Who do you mean, ‘my boy’? Skinner? Izzy? TR? I know a lot of characters who either went to that show or worked it.”
“Oh, well excuuuse me, Mr. Mission Beach. I didn’t know you were so popular,” she poked. “The guy they call ‘Feo', that real drunk guy. He was all bloody staggering out of the mosh pit. He came up and tried talking to me and Jen, but all he could do was mumble gibberish– his eyeballs all rolling back into his skull. I swear. That was the drunkest I’ve ever seen a human. That door guy everyone knows, Clayton; he had to walk him outside.”
Feo was one of the town drunks. One down and loyal dude but just always took the drink too damn far. The guy didn’t come close to pacing himself, and there was no governor on his mouth. But I dug the brother. He was one of the most misunderstood, underestimated people I’d ever met, who spent his life cloaked in a false pretense to avoid getting close to people for fear of being robbed or hurt. And yet, he walked around acting as if society owed him something he could never put a price on while treating people he cared about like he had an outstanding debt he could only pay in blood. I explained to Brandy, “I’ve seen that guy in pits before. He’s an animal! He and I went to the Phunk Junkeez show at The Spirit last week, and he was galloping around tossing people like they were rag dolls. Homeboy gets real low, and no one can move him. I tried. And he does it all while keeping perfect rhythm. There’s an art to the pit, ya know, Bran? You’re not supposed to just charge in there and plow people down blindside. That’s lame. Any jock-o-rama knucklehead can do that. You’re supposed to move your whole body to the beat while you crack people and stay up. That’s exactly what Feo does.” Now Brandy was looking at me like I was talking about running for Senate, but I kept going. “No. I’m serious, Bran. I’ve seen him take major elbows from big Samoans, make noise as he hit the floor, then bounce right back up like a Weeble-Wobbler. Homie don’t fall down. He’s like… the Fred Astaire of mosh pits!” She almost choked on her beer hearing that one when, lo and behold! As if his ears were ringing, Feo came cruising up on his chop-shop special with a 40 of St. Ides in hand.
Brandy looked like she’d just spotted a ghost. “Oh My God, Feo! I cannot believe you’re drinking right now!! I swear, you looked like you were gonna go into an alcoholic coma last night!”
Feo reached over and gave us both a one-armed hug. He stunk. Bad. There was like a viscous sweat oozing from his pores, and his face was beet red. He replied, “Never! I’m like a machine– a mean booze fiend of a machine, a… fermented cream dream of a machine.” Homeboy was still drunk– his words all slurred and one eye at half-mast. “I don’t remember seeing you guys though,” he went on. “I completely blacked out! I don’t even remember seeing Ku-De-Tah. I just know I woke up in the sand in the middle of the night with dried blood all over. Was I talking to you?”
“No. You couldn’t talk, or walk. The bouncer practically had to carry you out of there,” Brandy responded.
To Feo, it was all big joke. He laughed like he was the star of his own HBO comedy special. “Where were you Bry? You at the show?”
“Naw,” I told him. “You know how I do it on Friday nights.”
“Oh yeah. Lunch Box Joe over here. I’m tellin’ you, bra. You’re too smart to be Delivery Boy Roy. You need to come work for me. Well, I’m headin’ to Coaster for some food,” he said, hitting his 40 like it was an oxygen concentrator and he was at eight-thousand feet.
Brandy had that look on her face like Anthony Hopkins when he first sets his sights on the Elephant Man. "How can you drink like that after last night?”
Feo laughed again and said, “This ain’t nothin’. I started at 9. This is 40 number three.” Then he looked at me and said, “Hey, Bry. I’m beating Mike Ness by three hours and a twelve-pack!” I got it right away. He and I always made references to Social D lyrics.
As inimical as it seemed to my best interest, I said, “Hey, Feo. Whanchu stick around here? Five bucks for beer and food and music.” Brandy shot me a look like I spit in her beer.
“I know. I heard about this gig,” he said. “But I can’t wait. I’m starvin’!” Feo took the final chug of his brew right as the band came on, gave us another half hug and rode off into whatever adventure he would make of the day– one beautifully hungry spirit with one incredibly ugly thirst.
Like most women with that feminine perspicacity, Brandy said, “You really admire that guy don’t you? You wanna be like that or something?”
“Naw, Bran. I don’t even think ‘admiration’ is the right word anyway. I like homie a lot. Don’t get me wrong, but I think I’m more intrigued than anything.”
We headed over to the keg for a refill where we knew our private little interlude would end for a while as we mingled with the other locals and tried to talk over the band and catch a joint or two as they were passed around. “I’ve hung with the dude sober,” I explained. “He’s smart, professional, and shrewd yet honest. And you know, he’s the most real, non-pretentious guy I’ve ever met. But then, there’s this whole other side to him, the one everyone else sees. He goes on these benders that last for days when he doesn’t really eat, no water, no showers, sleeps on the beach like a bum and starts lookin’ and smellin’ like one. The dichotomy is fascinating.”
Brandy nodded her head, “I can see why that would be interesting, but ya know, he’s drinking himself to death.”
“Naw, I don’t think it’s like that. I think he’s just been stuck in the college years a little too long. He’s not that much older than us. I’m sure he’ll grow out of it soon.”
Stunned, Brandy said, “No Way! I thought he was waaay old. Like… thirty.”
“Naw. He just looks older ‘cos of the way he abuses himself, plus he’s all bald and fat. He’s only like twenty-six.”
“Oh…. Well, that’s still old.”
I thought she was right. A guy that advanced in age should be firmly established. Some people have PhD’s by then. I knew Feo had some two-bit hustle, a nice pad, new truck and spending cash. But I wasn’t too hip to what he was up to, and I didn’t mention any of it to her.
The Mission Beach boardwalk was the Network. The Hub. The Bulletin Board. The Meeting Room. Everything you’d never imagine could be in the form of a straight line. Right there, news was shared twenty-four hours a day. Every day. The original cable. All the latest gossip and updates were traded on the Walk like Wall Street– who was knocked up, who was knocked out, who’d been arrested, who’d been tested, who got rolled, who got gold, who’d been kissin’, who’d gone missin’. I spent that day on the circuit, oscillating between the keg, the stage, my friends and the myriad freaks who rolled up on the boardwalk to hear the latest scoops. By late afternoon, the sun and suds had everyone showing sweat and skin– bodies of all shapes, sizes, ages and hues filled with beer and THC. I caught up to Brandy alone at the keg and figured it was time to get her out of there. “Hey, Bran. I’m ready for a change of scenery. I’m headin’ to Coaster to eat.”
“You mean hotdogs and hamburgers aren’t doing it for you?”
Then I remembered something she mentioned a couple weeks back and thought I was about to hit a double with an RBI. “No, they’re not. And besides, you’re a vegetarian, aren’t you?”
My keen memory didn’t impress her much. “Not technically,” she said. “I still eat chicken and fish. Don’t you remember taking me to sushi the week before last?”
“Well, that’s what I meant. You don’t eat red meat.”
“No. And thank you for that consideration. I’m definitely starving. Let’s go.”
The Coaster Saloon was one down-home dive bar. Popcorn and peanuts all over the floor and old sailors who’d been there for ages was the reg. For ten bucks, you got ten drink coasters stamped out of old wetsuits and silk screened with a theme. Each was good for a beer or well drink. In effect, it was dollar drinks all the time, and that was exactly how people acted. When we walked in, Feo was stumbling around in there like a hippo on a trampoline. I’d forgotten all about him. “B AND B!!” he yelled all loud as he came up and put us in bear hugs, spilling his beer all over me. Brandy ducked out quick and went up to the bar. Feo ordered me a beer and a shot and kept his face about six inches from mine, telling me how much he loved me and I was his best friend. Somehow he walked the line-– not quite drunk enough to draw attention right then, but I knew any minute….
Brandy returned with a round, and he shifted his attention to her. I started to worry. Feo was staring right through her. Like he was making eye contact, but nothing was registering. That’s when I knew I had to get him out of there before he blew it for me ‘cos that’s exactly what was about to happen. Right before I started to administer the gentle exit, he opened his mouth. “Heeyyy! Are you Bryan’s chick?”
She decided to mess with him and said, “No, just Friends With Benefits.”
“WHAAT??!! No way!! YOU?? And him??!!”
“Totally! Like three times a day– in the ocean at Black’s Beach, in the bathroom here at Coaster. You didn’t know? I’m surprised he didn’t tell you.” Now she’d gotten into my head. I was staring at this sleek sexy Seraph like she was somethin’ out of an Aman-Jean painting. Those legs were what did me in– the length and texture, the soft, tanned skin and lovely, pedicured feet with elegant, high arches and perfect toes with midnight blue nail polish. She had her legs crossed and dangled one flip-flop. She knew exactly what she was doing.
I finally got Feo to come with me outside, and that was good ‘cos he was starting to get noticed. “Homeboy,” I told him. “Just go pass out in the park for a while. They ain’t gonna serve you no more. You’re faded, ese.”
“I’m gonna…. I’m gonna. We gonna eat?!” he mumbled.
“Okay. Let’s get you some grub.” I helped him to Roberto’s; he got a burrito, doused it with hot sauce and devoured it like it was his first meal in days, getting beans and hot sauce all over his face and shirt. Sure, it was kinda funny, but also sad and disgusting. People were looking and laughing. Little kids were staring in awe. I started to wonder if Brandy was loosing her patience. I looked in the bar to see if I could see her. I couldn’t. And just like that, I turned around, and Feo was gone. Like vanished into the ether gone. Swear to God. He was standing right by me a second before, I turned around, and he was gone! I figured he might’ve stumbled into the alley behind the bar by the dumpsters where they throw out all the scraps. There was usually a stack of broken down cardboard boxes there next to the grease encrusted bins and swarms of flies. That’s where I figured Feo would pass out. In heavenly peace. With the angels of alcohol watching over him. With the demons of dissolution protecting him from his own self-destruction.
I hauled butt back inside where Brandy was digging into her chicken salad. “Couldn’t wait, Bry. Didn’t know how long it was gonna take you to change Feo’s diapers and put him to bed.”
Right then, my pager went off. Another voice mail. I figured I'd check it later. Back then, we still appreciated company in the flesh. “It’s cool,” I told her. Then I ordered the barbecue chicken dinner. They cooked over an open flame grill on the outside patio and served it up with a heap of steamed veggies, mashed potatoes and a roll. Mona took my order and said, “I see I over-served your friend. Ya know, he was fine when he ordered that beer and shot; then he just turned into a retard.”
“Yeah, I know. Dude fights it. That’s what he was doing all day. He fights and fights and fights and staves it off for a while. But eventually, it gets the better of him. Every time.”
Back at our table, I just sat and looked at Brandy’s beautiful face for a while– just trying to see how long she’d let me stare. The women of Mission Beach weren’t all your typical California Girls. Sure, the beauty and bodies were there, but they didn’t all flaunt it. Some of those ladies dressed, thought and fought like men. Brandy walked somewhere in between. She had enough brains to avoid fights. But with her Ramones shirt, tattoos and Dickies, she didn’t exactly look like she was trying to get into SI Swimsuit Edition any time soon. Her long auburn hair; deep brown eyes; high cheekbones; exotic, slightly aquiline nose and wide, perfect smile was the epitome of natural exquisiteness. She didn’t wear a dab of makeup or perfume. I’d never seen her wear it and doubted she even owned any. A real woman by all means. Like that old, locker room joke: Why do chicks wear makeup and perfume? ‘Cos they’re ugly and they stink. She was the perfect antithesis of that…. Yeah. She’s a knockout!
Finally, she turned to me with a mouthful of food and said, all opening wide and showing chewed up chicken, “Quit watching me eat!”
I kept staring, smiling, admiring. “Sorry. Can’t help it. I’m mesmerized by your immense pulchritude.”
“Whooah! ‘Pulchritude’! Is that some big word you learned from Professor Feo?”
“Ha ha ha! You got jokes tonight, eh? It actually showed up in some book I was readin' the other night. And I could tell it meant ‘physical beauty’ but looked it up anyways, and when I saw the Latin root, I thought about the word ‘peluquería’– Spanish for ‘beauty salon.' I always wondered about the etymology of that word. Now I think I know, but it could also be derived from the word ‘pelo'. Like they were hair salons originally, but now they do nails and stuff.”
Just then, my food showed up, and Brandy turned to me. “Ya know, I dunno what the hell you’re babbling about, but for someone who’s such a kook, you sure are sexy!” And I could not find the proper riposte, so I just grinned and dug into my food. Suddenly, as if something triggered a memory and reminded her of something she was gonna ask earlier, she changed the subject. “Hey, Bry. Feo said something this afternoon that got me wondering. Something about you needing to come work for him. Like he was insulting your job. Was that some kind of joke?”
“Well, it is to me. He wasn’t tryin’ to be condescending or nothin’. He knows I make decent scratch. That’s why he’s been tryin’ to get me to invest in his company. But to me, it sounds like somethin’ too far fetched.”
“So it probably is. What is it? Some pyramid scheme?”
“Naw, not that. It has to do with the internet.”
“Oh. I don’t know anything about that.”
“Me neither,” I affirmed. “That’s why I won’t touch it. But you know those electronic billboards that mostly government agencies put out?”
“Uh-huh. They call ‘em 'web-boards' or something.”
“Yeah, ‘websites’. Well, right now they’re restricted and subsidized by the government ‘cos there’s only so many they can give out. It was only last year that the public gained access to them, but already there are like fifty-five hundred of these things. Okay? Now, according to Feo, the FCC or NSF or whatever agency is responsible for givin’ out websites is relinquishing authority to private companies like AOL. It’s gonna be free game and free reign. Anyone and everyone will be able to have their own website soon. And Feo’s puttin’ all his chips and investor chips on the bet that every company, every non-profit, every band, team, celebrity, every damn type of entity you can think of is gonna want their own website. So he and some guys formed a company to design different types of formats for different types of sites. And, get this: They figured out a way to secure the names of as many sites as they want. So they’re out there snatchin’ up the names of anything they can think of: www.wendy’s.com, disney.com, cindycrawford.com. Then, when these people go to set up their websites, they’re gonna find out their names are already taken, and they're gonna have to buy 'em from Feo and Friends who’ll be able to set the price as high as they want.”
Brandy hung on every word ‘cos it was such a far out concept. Like no way someone could make this stuff up. “Okay. Hold on. Drunk Feo not only thought of this but came up with investors?”
“Big time! They’re already makin’ money.”
“But the real money is supposedly coming in after the deregulation, right? When the owner of the Chargers wants to buy his own team’s name?” She asked it with a look on her face that said she smelled something fishy-wishy.
“Exactly! Sounds like copyright infringement to me too. But he says no. He’s already consulted with attorneys. This new technology’s like the Wild Wild West. Lawless. Lawless.”
“So what’s he want you to do? You don’t even know how to send those computer messages.”
“Write for them. They need technical writers. The graphics guys do the designing. The tech guys do the programming. The marketing guys do the sales. But none of 'em know how to write…. And he says I should invest. Even a two or three-thousand dollar ante can turn into millions in a few years, according to him.”
Once again, Brandy almost spit out her beer. “Bryan! If you give him a two or three grand, I’ll World Wide Whack you in the face! That’s like a small fortune! You could go live in Costa Rica the rest of your life with that much, and you’d consider gambling it away with Feo?! That’s insane! The writing part I can see, though. Have you considered?”
“Yeah. But that’s not where the money is. Besides, I can’t see myself sittin’ in some office with a bunch of computer geeks talkin’ about golf. I’d end up losin’ it and shootin’ the place up.”
“Yeah. You’re definitely the type of guy that needs to be outside, cruising around, checking out what’s going on. Besides, this thing’s probably just another passing fad. Those guy’s Feo’s brainwashed are putting all their chips down on something that’ll be gone in a year. Watch. By 1999, no one’ll even remember the internet.”
“Oh no. Not according to Feo. You should hear him hype it up when he’s drunk: ‘It’s gonna be in more homes per capita than the phone when it first came out. Gonna be more widely available than TV was back in the day.’ And on and on.”
Brandy laughed. “Yeah right! That’s what they said about Betamax.”
“Hmmm… I think that’s what they said about digital-audio tapes too,” I pondered out loud.
By sunset, the cash was getting low. We shot down to Jerry’s and picked up a twelve-pack and went to hop the sea wall by Santa Barbara Place. Just then, Snipe Martinelli rolled up on his old Chicago Schwin with ape-hanger handlebars that looked way too big to be either comfortable or completely functional and a motorcycle chain hanging from his wallet that damn near scraped the ground. Back then, both guys and girls would display their toughness with big handlebars on bicycles and long fat chains on wallets. Like the bars represented the muscle, and the chain– the phallic symbol. But that wasn’t what people looked at when they saw Snipe. They looked at the man, his bald head all covered in scars; the bony, powerful face and solid, square jaw; the deeply set eyes that expressed just as much percipience as psychosis. At a hair shy of six feet, Snipe had the body of a world-class gymnast mixed with Robert Deniro’s character in Cape Fear. Graceful but violent. Ferocious yet precise. Bolt cutters crossed with crochet needles. Crowbar mixed with syringe. The entire machine was covered in prison ink, but the only one people really noticed was the BIG BLOCK-LETTER “SWP” across his abs. Everything else was overshadowed by that brazen, audacious and conclusive statement– SUPREME WHITE POWER. It was like the frickin’ tattoo was yelling at you! “Hey, man!” Snipe called to me in his hard aggressive roar that sounded like he ate burning coals. “I jus’ saw yer boy gettin’ picked up by the pigs.” I didn’t have to ask who. And in a way, I was relieved. Figuring they just hauled Feo off to detox, at least I knew where he’d be spending most of the night– somewhere ugly but safe, where he couldn’t get into any trouble. He’d even be sleeping with a roof over his head for the first time in God knews how long. Maybe they’d even keep him there a couple days till he really sobered up. That was what he needed.
Just to make sure, I asked Snipe, “Who you talking ‘bout? Feo? Real drunk guy?” I noticed he was empty handed, so I handed him a cold one.
“Ahhh! SICK! Thanks, brother.” Snipe chugged it down in no time flat and said, “Yeah. Kid that gets pummeled in the pit at every show but jus’ keeps goin’ out there like a madman. That guy. I know that’s yer boy. That’s why I’m tellin’ ya in case you were lookin’ for ‘im later.”
“Alright. Alright. He did disappear on me earlier. Now I know. Thanks, Snipe. I’m sure he’ll be fine. They probably just took him to detox. I’ll pick his drunk ass up tomorrow.”
“Aw’right. See ya later, brother. Hey! Ya goin’ to the show at Club Diego tomorrow?”
“Killer! I’ll see ya in the pit, man!” Snipe said, riding off.
Brandy and I sat down on the beach and cracked some brews of our own. She kicked off her flip-flops and dug her heels into the sand. “Who’s that guy?” she asked with a bit of an uncharacteristically diffident tone.
“Snipe. Just another one of the local crazies.”
“You know him?”
“Well, yeah. I mean, we don’t have each other’s pagers, but I’ve kicked back and drank beers with him.”
“You just know him through the guys from Chiller’s, huh?”
“Yeah. He and Clayton grew up together. They kept in contact the whole time Snipe was locked up. Ten years. Can you imagine? Since he was sixteen. He just got out around the time you and I met.”
Long silence…. Finally, she asked, “Does he know you’re Mexican?”
“Awww, you’re tripping out on that? I’m sure he does. He can see my tattoos. Those guys don’t really care about all that, Bran. Most of ‘em ain’t even really racist. That’s more of a prison thing– somethin’ they gotta put on to survive in there. They know it ain’t like that out here in the real world.”
“I see…. Do you know what he was in for?”
“I got a vague idea but not enough to go repeatin’. What I do know is that for a guy who spent a very important decade of his life in joints from CYA to Pelican Bay, he’s got more social skills than most of these frat boys I see around here.”
I looked at Brandy and tried to read her expression but didn’t get much till she turned to me and said, “You know what? I just realized what I like about you.”
“Oh, I can’t wait. My boyish good looks?”
“No. I’m being serious right now, Bryan. You refuse to judge people. You concentrate on the good and give everyone a chance. It’s not like you’re over trusting. Hell, you won’t even give me your phone number. But you believe every person has value unless they prove you wrong. No one else is like that. It’s like everyone in our society knows they’re not worthy to cast the first stone, but they all rush to do it anyway just ‘cos it makes them feel good to punish other people. They know damn well they’re not without sin, but feel superior by stomping on those less fortunate than they are.” Then she slid closer and said, “You’re different. I’m so glad I met you.”
And it was now or never.
I put my arm around her shoulders, pulled her even closer and nestled my nose in the side of her neck. The smell of her skin mixed with the crisp, salty air filled me with the ambrosia of angels. My eyes followed the contours of her breasts and belly down to her golden svelte legs and pretty feet against the backdrop of the timeless undulations of Pacific grey and azure. Out in the beyond, the faint clouds refracted the suns rays into celestial blankets of crimson, violet and gold. Suddenly yet slowly like the infinite logarithms of history and tiny patchwork of instants, the truth became plain; the uncertainty was extinguished. The vanity of time was exposed like the fraud of an ancient augur. And the sacrament of the moment was as blessed as the Beatitudes and Psalms. …. Then my pager went off.
I ignored it.
Brandy looked up at me with eyes that asked What took you so long to realize?
They closed as I went to kiss her.