I thought maybe some interesting character would walk through the doors with some wrenching human tale of tragedy or social pith.
  • I thought maybe some interesting character would walk through the doors with some wrenching human tale of tragedy or social pith.
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Certain questions will plague me to my grave. The larger ones, I have, with maturity, made peace with in a way, accepting that answers will most likely be denied me in this life. Questions such as “Where does love go when it is gone?” or “Why suffering on the scale of the Holocaust?” or “Can the paradoxical nature of free will ever be understood?” Who can say? It seems reasonable, however, that some of the lesser questions that haunt me might be answered; those with their roots in the world of men and not the fundamental mysteries of human existence. I refer to questions such as “Why are frozen peas all the same size?” or “Can a green flash on the horizon at sunset truly be witnessed? Does it occur independent of sight? Is it a function of man’s cornea and iris? The atmospheric distortion of sunlight? Or are those people who keep saying they see it out of their damned minds?

As I wrestle with these questions in the dead of night over a Farmer’s Brothers large coffee and a chocolate donut, staring out at the fog on Midway Drive and listening to my watch ticking the minutes east of midnight, I am confronted with one immediate question in neon lights. If I turn away or close my eyes, I see the ghost of the sign in the window of Yum Yum Donuts: OPEN 24 HOURS, followed by the question my mind’s eye presents to me: WHY?

I am the only customer. No one has come in for almost an hour. The sporadic swelling of headlights out of the fog as some lone vehicle makes its way through the night toward Rosecrans. The Doppler traces of taillights, shrinking like dying coals on their way to I-8. Point Loma and the ocean are the only movement beyond the glass. My reflection, lifting the paper coffee cup or brushing chocolate crumbs from my lap, startles me after long moments of stillness. The neon-stained concrete of the parking lot between Yum Yum and Los Panchos Taco Shop join sluggish wraiths of mist at the sidewalk that form and dissolve, advancing or retreating from the far side of the street. Boot World’s extinguished lights and 7-Eleven’s garish illumination eclipse in the pearlescent darkness. I am plagued by morbid thoughts. Madness threatens to overtake me. I have kept this vigil no sane man should undertake for several hours now. What am I doing in a donut shop in the middle of the night?

I am eating donuts, I remind myself, and it is time for another one. I set down the paperback of Colin Wilson’s Mind Parasites. This disturbing, supernatural novel of ideas has given rise to huge, unanswerable questions. My attempt to concentrate on what should be a more explicable and mundane phenomenon is met with another kind of existential paralysis. I consider alternative reading material from my plastic bag of pulp fiction and study the choices of pastry laid out before me on trays, beneath glass and fluorescent lights.

In reading matter as well as dietary matters, you are what you eat — or read. That is clear.

Mmm...cream-filled long johns beckon me.

I see now that bringing along the ’60s science-fiction novel that inspired me so much as a young man was probably a mistake. It is far too heady for my immediate purposes, and that is inspiration. I’ve got to write something fast, and this novel about the innately flawed functions of reality interpretation is probably too ambitious. Let’s see what else I have.

Ah, here is a novel by Barry Malzberg, again science fiction. It’s been years since I’ve written the stuff, but Malzberg is certainly a paradigm of genius on deadline. He has written entire classics in the field (still in print) over a weekend, armed, if he himself is to be believed (and why not?), with only economic necessity, whiskey, and amphetamines. I have one of those vital ingredients tonight (I will be modest and forgo mention of any estimation of my own genius). Galaxies is a slim volume, and on casual perusal I can see that it too is only apparently escapist. It appears, in fact, to be an almost Jungian analysis of the genre itself:

“...the spacecraft Skipstone, on an exploratory flight...falls into the black galaxy of a neutron star and is lost forever....”

Flipping through the pages I find scenes and dialogue like this one where Lena, the starship captain, appears to be the only human on board. She is surrounded with dead crewmembers and cyborgs. Her conversations with the cyborgs are set against the backdrop of interstellar night and the “clamorous murmur” that “seems to arise from the hold as if all of the dead were shrieking in exquisite pain.”

“...Now listen here. Listen to me and attend this. You’ve fallen into a neutron star, a black funnel. It’s utterly beyond your puny capacities to escape it, and the dimension of what has happened here would reduce you to inconsequence. What can be done against forces like these? You’ve got to submit, got to accept the situation.”

“I don’t want to believe that,” Lena says.

“You had better.”

“Man can overcome anything. He can voyage anywhere.”

“But he cannot voyage out.”

“What he sees he understands; what he understands, he can master. Nothing is beyond us.”

“That’s puerile thinking.” “No it isn’t.”

And so on. It is an eschatological debate in deep space. Reading this, alone, late at night in a donut shop in the fog, is unnerving. I see now that Malzberg has disguised consequences of the Diaspora, the Holocaust, and Heart of Darkness as space opera and adolescent power fantasy. I set the book down and approach the counter.

I signal Chim Ny, the Cambodian woman deep-frying batter in the back of the shop. She smiles and approaches, wiping her hands on her apron. She betrays no sign of surprise or judgment as I make my fifth confectionery selection of the night. If anything, I sense she approves of my choice. Her husband spares me a look of blank curiosity. I reach around my neck for my camera strap, lift the device, and take his picture.

His name is Sophan Chun, and he tells me he came to this country ten years ago and that he was a soldier in the Cambodian army. He must have been a kid; he looks no older than 30, but you never know. Asians seem to age quite differently, more gracefully. Maybe that’s a stereotype, though. Still, I think the Eastern mind is more agile with the dualities and contradictions of life. Hardship seems to make them more pliable and accepting (yes, like willow trees in the monsoons), more appreciative of beauty and the finer things like tea and those little stunted trees. Well, that’s Japanese, but the principle applies. Cambodians make those beautiful, intricate temples, though I’m not sure they’re still at it over there.

I am wasting time with all these abstract digressions. I should be concentrating on work. I need to come up with a story, a novel, an outline, an article, anything. I’ve promised myself I was going to sit in this donut shop until I came up with something. Even if it took all night. Why a donut shop? Why not? I thought maybe some interesting character would walk through the doors with some wrenching human tale of tragedy or social pith. Possibly someone coming from an amusing date who could recount a light, witty romantic romp — or better yet, they’ve fallen in love!

No. No. Not only am I no good at love, I can’t seem to write about it worth a damn either. I’ve been 20,000 words into a historical romance for months now and I am frozen, not with writer’s block but a gathering certainty that it is crap.

I try to strike up a conversation with Chun, but his English is very limited. I can tell he thinks it’s pathetic that I have nothing better to do than eat donuts, one after another, and try to make pals with a stranger at almost 2:00 in the morning. I manage to learn that he and Chim Ny are married, have seven kids, this is their only job, and when they get off at 7:00 they have to make breakfast for the kids and get them off to school. He tells me, I think, that his tour of duty was Cambodia, Thailand, and some other places and that he was somehow connected with customs or the Cambodian post office. I might be way off, but his English is tortured and my Cambodian is nonexistent. This is exactly the kind of exquisite torture the muse will often think is hilarious. I can’t think of anything to write, and here is a man whose short life story would undoubtedly be a bestseller in skilled professional hands such as my own. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the dramatic rights were bought for a fortune and the thing became an award-winning classic like The Killing Fields.

“Pol Pot?” I ask Chun. “How about that Pol Pot?” He looks at me and shakes his head as if he doesn’t know what I’m talking about. He’s probably afraid to say anything about the repressive political regime back home. I might be a double agent in the CIA. I just got a haircut, and I’ve got that look of steely-eyed intelligence that gives nothing away. I don’t blame him. Of course, he may not want to talk about it anyway. He probably just wants to forget, or maybe he escaped and they’re still looking for him. Something like that. He may have been the victim of unthinkable atrocities.

I take my long john back to my table and think about this. I lick the chocolate frosting off first and consider: Yeah, Chun probably has a hell of a story, but who am I to exploit him? The language barrier prevents me from convincing him that I would treat his material only in the most sensitive way, and of course we would split the Hollywood money. He and his wife wouldn’t have to work at Yum Yum anymore. And me, I could buy my own franchise: JOHN’S DOUGHNUTS. I would use the traditional spelling.

“All you ever think about is donuts,” my mother once said to me when she caught me ditching Mass one Sunday. I was sitting on a Chicago street corner getting blueberry filling from a bismarck all over my white shirt and one of my father’s ties, which I had to tuck way into my pants.

“No, I don’t,” I said, spitting powdered sugar all over her. I thought this accusation was patently unfair. “I think about lots of things.”

“Think about what you’re going to do in your room for the rest of the day while the rest of the family goes over to Grandma’s for dinner.” Wow. Big punishment. I don’t get to listen to a bunch of screaming grownups trying to forcefeed me meatballs because I’m too thin. Apparently you can’t eat too many meatballs or horrible shit like black olives and anchovies, but get caught sneaking a donut or a Danish, and it was like you robbed a bank or something.

That afternoon was one of my happiest memories. I still had a French donut and a cruller stuffed into my jacket pockets, and my mother didn’t bother to search me. My older sister was left to guard me. She played vacuous 45 records on her pink record player, like Billy J. Kramer’s “Bad to Me” and Bobby Vinton’s “Take Good Care of My Baby,” while talking on the phone. My door was closed so I couldn’t hear her, only her damned music, and I was alone with a roomful of paperback books: The Invisible Man, Mysterious Island and a few hardcover Hardy Boys novels. It was great. Since that day I have associated peace and pleasure with good stories and sweet baked goods.

It paid off, too. I became a writer. I made some money writing adventure short stories and novels, magazine articles, and book reviews. I may not be rich, but I can damn well buy as many donuts as I want anytime I want to.

But lately, I’ve been having trouble coming up with anything, and my landlord doesn’t want to hear “I’m sorry but my last novel was rejected because I don’t have a strong, independent, and politically correct female detective with a cat that solves crimes.” Time is of the essence, and I have to come up with something. I was thinking that a donut shop in the dead of night would provide characters with some previously unguessed-at storyline of heartbreak, danger, crime, intrigue, romance. Maybe a portrait of a late-night bulimic, secretly scarfing down apple fritters and entire pies only to flee back to her hotel room before dawn, induce vomiting as she weeps over the toilet bowl, pulls herself together, and starts another day on the runway or in front of the cameras as America’s sweetheart. A sad, poignant tale of a troubled supermodel or a beautiful actress who, ironically, is the spokeswoman on television commercials for diet products like “Flab Fast” and “The Tush Trimmer.”

No, forget that. I’m no good with female characters, everybody says so — of course, they’re all women. How about a lonely, obese bachelor who haunts the early-morning Yum Yum locations and falls in love with a married hypoglycemic? Her illness drives her out in the middle of the night for relief and she meets — we’ll call him Gordon. She sees beneath his unattractive exterior, his fleshy prison, to the sensitive soul inside, a man with so much love to give yet cursed with an inheritance of vast wealth (his father is Duncan Glais of DUNK ’N’ GLAZE DONUTS), a sweet tooth, and a really slow thyroid. His nightly vigils are a desperate ritual to feel close to his father (who never spent enough time with him as a child, obsessed as he was with his donut empire) and to fill his yawning need for love with glazed maple bars and endless donut holes covered in little multicolored sprinkles. The donut holes would be a metaphor for the missing pieces of Gordon’s life. The hole in his heart, as it were. Maybe that’s the title right there: Donut Hole of the Heart.

Yes. Think in literary, midlist terms. Maybe even use a woman’s pseudonym.

Anyway, he meets this woman — we’ll call her Little Debbie or Dolly Madison (it doesn’t matter for now), and they hit it off. They discuss life and art in the wee hours over coffee and fresh pastries. Her husband, a health food and fitness nazi, knows nothing of her nightly rendezvous with Gordon, but soon he suspects. Debbie must choose between the husband and Gordon and, eventually, her happiness, which equals death (since she is developing diabetes from all the donuts) and a long life of mind-numbing, emotional paralysis in marriage. She chooses a few months of happiness and then death of renal failure, all the while suffering in silence. Gordon knows nothing of her worsening condition, and Little Dolly would not trade a moment of the fulfillment she has found in exchange for another day in her loveless, sugar-free marriage. It would be bittersweet as she wastes away, not unlike Love Story. Naturally it would be rich in insights concerning the oppressive male patriarchy and the martyrdom of women blah, blah, blah...

Who am I kidding? This is terrible. Come on, somebody walk in here who I can use as a character. The very next person to walk through that door will be the subject of my next project. But another hour passes and I’m the only goddamned customer.

Surely, something can be done with the story of a young couple — he in the Cambodian Army, she a nurse or a schoolteacher — who decide to flee the horrors of an evil dictatorship. The story is right here in front of me and yet maddeningly out of reach. Besides, they’re both busy in the back making donuts for the rush hour. That was the only other thing I got out of them: “Five, six o’clock, we busy.”

I need to think. I need more coffee.

My notes concerning a Cambodian soldier who uses his connections at Thai customs to forge documents and escape Cambodia with his young wife (I have now made her a concert violinist) include notes toward a sympathetic American, former CIA agent, grizzled and embittered but with a heart of gold, and he is a classical music fan. I get them as far as Hong Kong and a shootout on the docks with Chinese slavers and a double-crossing CIA agent, when someone enters the shop.

The guy is in his early 30s. His hair is short but unattended, and he wears glasses. While there isn’t any adhesive tape on the bridge of his glasses, you kind of expect to see it. He’s that kind of guy. He stares at the trays of pink-glazed, chocolate, and sugared products and lifts a few crumpled bills and two palms full of change closer to his glasses. He seems nervous. I imagine he’s a scientist or works with computers or both. I wonder what he’s doing on Midway Drive in the dead of night...

He sees me staring at him and fixes me with a worried look. I must be making him nervous for some reason. I reach into my bag and resume reading The Mind Parasites.

“...when I practice trying to pick up their wavelength [he meant the parasites’], I get a feeling of great activity. They’re up to something.

“It was maddeningly frustrating. We possessed the great secret; we had warned the world. And yet, in a fundamental sense, we were as ignorant as ever. Who were these creatures? Where did they come from? What was their ultimate aim? Were they really intelligent, or were they as unintelligent as the maggots in a piece of cheese?”

I have trouble concentrating on the words. Someone has just entered Yum Yum Donuts. A woman. She is probably the same age as the guy with the glasses, but she’s a little worked-looking. Filipino is my guess. Her complexion is scarred, probably from a youthful bout with acne. Under a corduroy coat she is wearing a wrinkled red-silk dress. Her pantyhose are sagging at her ankles just above clunky-heeled, strapped pumps of shiny leather. “Just buy me a cup of coffee, okay?” she says and falls tiredly into a plastic chair. He buys her a coffee, which Chun pours. After sparing me another look, the customer seats himself across from the woman, his back to me. A single cup of coffee steams between them as he leans forward and whispers something to her. She says, “I don’t care,” and looks in my direction.

This is an unlikely couple, I think to myself, as I bury my face in the paperback again.

“...Human intelligence is a function of man’s evolutionary urge; the scientist and the philosopher hunger for truth because they are tired of being merely human. Now, was it possible that these creatures were intelligent in the same way? Since they were our enemies, it was hard to believe. But history has taught us that intelligence is no guarantee of benevolence....

“I explained my fears and said that I thought we would have to make an attempt to learn something more about the parasites. We asked our four ‘pupils’ to make an effort to establish a telepathic link with us....”

The author was clearly onto something here. Possibly my own intelligence and creativity were being sapped by an insidious force, some parasitic entity as old as man itself that fed on the instinct to poetry and art. I was annoyed that I could not focus on the page. The two intruders were raising their voices. I was on the brink of inspiration here, at least an insight as to why my artistic juices were being siphoned away as quickly, it seemed, as they arose.

“You’re crazy!” the woman was saying to the man. “No way!”

“All right,” I could hear the guy as he hunched forward, trying to get her to lower her voice.“Forget that. Just forget that.” And then he whispers something else I can’t make out. Whatever it is, she doesn’t like it. She gets up, leaving her coffee, and pushes open the door. She turns south on Midway and in a moment the fog envelops her. I can make out her dim shape against smudged headlights, hear her solid heels stomping with annoyance as she turns the corner into the parking lot where the F Street bookstore is the only other open business at this hour.

The computer/science guy is shambling after her into the darkness, waving a few crumpled bills in the night air. “Latisha!” he calls out,“Latisha!” Something like that. I’m glad they’ve gone. Now I can concentrate on art, see if I can get the muse to return after such a rude interruption. I need a story, dammit. Just an idea, a character — something. Give me a break here.

It’s quiet again in Yum Yum’s and I can think.

The Colin Wilson book is okay. I think I understand that the mind parasites are a metaphor for distraction. Like these two that just left. Mind parasites. While the supernatural science fiction thing is a good way to go — after all, I’ve written enough of that stuff and sold it — maybe I should pick one: either supernatural fantasy or science fiction. Genre fiction is always commercial, but this Colin Wilson brand is a little too cerebral. What I need is another genre altogether.

I reach into my bag and come up with Ace Diamond: Private Eye by Mark Schorr. This one is signed to me. We both did a book signing at Grounds for Murder bookstore years ago, and he was a riot. He wrote on the title page: “To John: It was a pleasure to be mysterious with you. Best, Mark Schorr.” It’s a fond memory and I finally begin reading his book.

“I hit the floor in the darkened room as the slug from the big .45 whistled past my head like a truck driver ogling a pretty girl. There were two more whistles, followed by thuds, as the lead burrowed into the cracked plaster behind me.

“The rotgut I’d soaked up at the Arab’s place in the Tenderloin was making me slow. I fumbled under my trench coat for my roscoe. The butt felt like a royal flush at a hot poker game as it slipped into my hand.”

This stuff is great, and Schorr knows what he’s doing: he’s demonstrating not only a grasp but a mastery and reverence for a style fallen into disrepute. I blame women: their Sisters in Crime and novels like M Is for Menstruation or whatever it is — but then, I blame women for pretty much everything. I select another donut, just a plain donut, manly and unadorned, refresh my coffee. Chun smiles and retreats back to the vat of hot oil birthing lovely comfort food. I start humming to myself, a self-styled tune called “Lovely Donuts.” The muse is nearby. That is undeniable.

The song goes nowhere. “Lovely Donuts, I love ’em so much....” Not much of a song. The sugar level in my metabolism is rising and falling at erratic rates, dangerous rates.

It is 3:00 a.m., and now I’m annoyed. Could be the sugar thing, but I’m thinking: All I want to do is pay some bills. I’ve written under pressure before. This donut-shop idea was insane, but okay, here I am. I once spent an entire night in a Laundromat in National City and got some interesting stuff: drug deals and some old Elvis impersonator washing his cape. But it looks like no stories are going to walk through the door here. Still, try to look at this as a challenge, through new eyes. Take a leap, a creative risk! You can do it. A car is pulling into the lot. Two guys get out.

Whoever they are, I should be able to construct a story around them.

Pretty well dressed. Nice razor-cut hair on the one guy, a kind of Miami Vice suit on the other, and he’s got a little earring that winks as it catches the overhead fluorescence spilling into the disabled spaces right out front. Jeez! There are like 40 handicapped parking spots right up against Yum Yum’s. I’m just noticing this now. Maybe I should write about a handicapped pothead with a driver’s license and the munchies at 3:30 a.m. I’m not physically handicapped, exactly, though I’m not what you would call athletic either, but I’ve got a good imagination. I file this one away for future reference. My handicap, it is now clear to me in a random moment of grace and lucidity, is that I am deprived of sleep and possibly undergoing a nascent, psychotic experience of some kind triggered by hyperglycemia and caffeinated blood flow to the brain coupled with REM deprivation and garden-variety dead-of-night anxiety courtesy of the IRS and other godless creditors. My subjects approach.

And walk right by. They are going to the F Street bookstore for porn. Well, forget it, I’m not going to waste my imagination on porn stories again. Not after that $80 for 3000 words I did twice for certain national magazines you guys might have in your secret collection. I wrote “The Erectile Ranch” and “Teen Pie” for magazines with embarrassing names like Strut and Lavender Truckers. A complete waste of time. Worse. The therapy cost me $800.

Anyway, this gives me an idea. I reach into my portable library for Body Bag Bonanza by Gable Steele. This is straightforward, male-action fiction. Steele is a writer who clearly has no doubts. A good writer too: muscular prose, no time for intellectual waffling or prevarication. Guts. That’s what he delivers, and that’s what I need. Here’s what I read and I realize, This ain’t as easy as it looks. Here’s a job. Do it. Am I up to this kind of commercial work? I ask myself as I read:

“Captain Dirk Buckrod fondled the trigger on the Uzi and dead-eyed the terrorist leader. Habib fell to his knees, ‘Insha Allah!’ he whined,‘Dispatch me to paradise, infidel!’“

‘’Fraid not, Habib. That would be too easy. You’re going up against an international tribunal for crimes...duck! Grenade!’ Buckrod hit the ground, rolling away from the 40 mm missile of death. He fed a fistful of slugs into the beefy torsos of the Palestinian fanatics pouring through the windows of the embassy. He was deafened by the concussion, but not before he heard the blood-chilling cry of his enemies, all of them armed with M-4A1s — ‘Alahu Akbar!’”

How hard could it be to write this stuff? I ask myself as I stare out the window at the single parked car in the lot. Of course, I’d have to do some research, find out what an M4A1 is and a 40 mm grenade and such, but hell, this town is full of Navy, and the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot is just a few blocks away. I reach for my cigarettes. I’ll have to step outside to smoke and think about this.

As I’m smoking, I notice that the car, a late-model Honda Accord, has a radio antenna on the left side behind the rear window. A police radio antenna. Those two guys who just got out and walked into the adult bookstore are cops! Probably vice. The story is shaping up. San Diego Vice. A buddy novel. It would be like whatsisname, Crockett, Don Johnson, and the other guy, only Hispanic. These guys are on the heels of flashers and punk hustlers and chicken hawks, maybe child-porn moguls or a snuff-film ring in which a senator’s daughter is involved. As the story is fermenting, another car pulls into the lot. I crush out my cigarette and return to my table where I’ve left my bag and camera.

Four men get out of the car. It’s a Jeep Cherokee with heavy-metal rock bumper stickers — Metallica and Slayer and one that reads,“If It’s Too Loud, You’re Too Old.” As the guys open the Jeep doors, a cloud of smoke precedes them, like Sean Penn getting out of his van in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. This could be great, a late-night run-in with marijuana pushers and vice cops in the parking lot of Yum Yum Donuts. Three of the four guys have shaved heads. The fourth has longish hair and is wearing sunglasses — and he’s the driver. These guys have to be stoned, and they’ve got donuts on their weed-enfeebled minds.

I go back to Body Bag Bonanza. I am studying the four youths as I pretend to read.

“In the Gulf War, Buckrod had learned compassion for the enemy, as a mercenary he had to unlearn it. ‘Give my regards to Allah, Habib,’ he said through gritted teeth and pumped leaden death into the terrorist leader....”

One of the kids with the shaved heads is looking at me and laughing. His eyes are bloodshot and stupid.“What are you reading?” he asks me. I show him the cover of the book. “Hey, are you, like, a Vietnam guy?”


His friends are studying the donuts on display. The one with the sunglasses turns in my direction. I sense a challenge behind those tinted lenses. The other two are now engaged in a debate over buying a dozen donuts altogether or what. I have to buy time until the vice cops emerge from the porno store and collar these feral thugs before things get ugly.

“So, is that good?” The first kid is pointing at the book — not, I decide, the remains of my plain donut — or the camera. That was it. They were going to rip off my camera and I was outnumbered.

“Yeah, it’s pretty good.” I get to my feet, clutching my bag and camera, casually leaning across the counter toward Chim Ny.“Is there a back way out of here?” I ask quietly.

“Yes, turn right. No light in there.”

She has directed me to the bathroom. I don’t see another way out. I enter the john and flip the light switch. It is as black as space in here. I sit on the toilet and crack open the door. I have to stall until the cavalry arrives. I only hope the gang doesn’t try anything before help gets here. Through the crack in the door I see that two of the shaved heads have taken up positions by the door. Classic hold-up situation. I run through the odds quickly. My only edge is that I know the law is nearby, armed and looking for punks just like these. The kid who pretended he was interested in the Gable Steele book bends over my table to get a closer look at it. He stares at the cover, grinning mindlessly. “Cool,” he nods and plops into a seat at the next table. The kid with the hair and the shades is ordering donuts and keeps changing his mind about what he wants.

This could take a while. Longhair passes the box of donuts around, and his accomplices chew maple bars and cake donuts, mostly with their mouths open. Their drug-addled eyes roam up and down the street with low, animal cunning.

I am going to have to wait it out. I might as well take advantage of my position. I lower my pants and get comfortable. The coffee is doing its work. I reach into my satchel for more reading material. Here is Philip K. Dick’s Clans of the Alphane Moon. Though I had decided against science fiction, I leaf through the text to relax and facilitate the job at hand.

And I am shaken with a bizarre discovery. On page 43 of the Carroll and Graf paperback edition is my own name! The passage reads, “I’ll wait until the divorce action comes up before Judge Brizzolara.” I had never read this book before, though I had read plenty of Dick. I cannot describe the chill I experienced. To find one’s name (not a common name by any means, I think it’s safe to say) in a Philip K. Dick novel is cosmically unsettling. Anyone familiar with Dick’s body of work, his onion-skin realities, his juxtaposition of madness, illusion, and the mundane, will understand the fear I experienced as the minutes ticked toward dawn in that donut-shop bathroom.

The young toughs are now making their way from the parking lot to their Jeep. They have, for some reason, decided against knocking over Yum Yum Donuts and are obviously frustrated in their plans to mug me for my camera as a result of my evasive maneuver. No doubt they think I am long gone.

I wait until the taillights of the Jeep are swallowed by the fog and then wait another three minutes for good measure before emerging from the back of the shop. I look out and see no traffic on Midway. The Jeep has headed toward West Point Loma Boulevard or I-8.

decide against another coffee and another donut and just sit, reflecting on the close call I have avoided with quick thinking. I need a cigarette, find one in my jacket, and walk outside to light it up.

As I stand there in the damp chill, breathing the night air and coughing, my two vice cops appear on the sidewalk to my left. They have come out of the F Street bookstore at exactly 4:57 a.m., and my guess is, they aren’t cops after all. One of them carries a paper bag from the adult bookstore. Both of them are laughing and talking in hushed tones. They are holding hands.

The hour or so until daylight stretches out before me like weeks. I will think of something to write. I just have to keep a cool head.

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