May 31 2009
Some decisions you live with forever. Many people learn that ugly lesson without truly knowing what it means, but eventually I ceased to be one of those people. When the decision to lie came, it came easily. Following through was a little harder, considering the venue-a Catholic church called St. Edward’s that commanded a sublime vista of sea and sky-but under the circumstances I still managed to blaspheme a little. Besides, it was the second time in three months that I’d been dragged into one of God’s houses by a pretty girl, and no one makes smart choices when they’re cornered like that. Especially since a police team broke open the wall on Aliso Peak earlier that morning and found a body. I knew that because Miguel Arroyo said so, almost as an afterthought, while he sat down in the pew’s remaining aisle seat and blocked me in.
“So Roy, is there anything else you want to tell me?”
Jan 19 2009
I possessed very few of my father’s old things, but one of them was a warped and discolored old acoustic guitar that I nominally shared with my brother. “Nominally” because it didn’t feel right to take it to school with me last fall; R.J. had been playing it more often since he’d formed the band, and once I had my own electric bass guitar, I couldn’t really exert much ownership over the battered old acoustic anyway. Still, it was important to strum a few chords on the thing every once in a while, and one day, as my internal rhythms settled into the simple slog of summer vacation, I took it down off the wall to finish the re-stringing that R.J. had begun the night before.
I figured I owed him at least that much, since he’d been running phone interference for me all week; Frankie had called at least once a day, but he’d always picked up for me. R.J. wasn’t being entirely altruistic-he had the legit excuse of waiting for Hannah Haynes’ calls-but I’d made it clear to both he and my sister that under no circumstances would I ever willingly speak to Frankie again. Robin had shrugged it off, but R.J. knew the circumstances and so was happy to oblige. I was so used to ignoring the phone by then that it took a while to notice its ring, even when I’d found myself alone in the room we shared, surrounded by the mess of band gear we’d accumulated-cables, amps, a tangled orange extension cord.
For some reason, re-stringing acoustics always felt like it should be done more delicately than electrics. Maybe it was just that this particular acoustic was so beat-up, but I’d been almost pain-stakingly careful doing the E and A strings, and was about to start the D when the phone rang and I absent-mindedly picked it up. I realized my mistake a split-second too late, and was silently cursing my own stupidity when I received the first of many shocks that day.
Dec 31 2008
Have you ever crushed someone’s spirit? Ever demolished someone’s confidence? Destroyed their self-worth so completely that they’re reduced to a trembling puddle of shame? I hadn’t-not until the day I drove Frankie back home to her parents for the very last time, that is. It was protracted and hideous and awful and extremely overdue, not to mention completely deserved.
Or so I thought at the time-because if there’s one thing I absolutely cannot fucking stand, it’s being the butt of inside jokes, the victim of compound, orchestrated fabrications so malicious and venal that they simply demand to be answered tit for tat, lie for lie, nuke for nuke. Mutually assured destruction.
Nov 17 2008
For many years I’d tried to convince myself that nostalgia meant death, that indulging in happy memories was much worse than just a pleasant waste of time, but recently I’d suspected that was a war I’d lost before it had even begun. The impulse to dwell to distraction had long since permanently fused with my frontal lobe, because not only had I been unable to kick the vile temptation, I’d come to enjoy it and-in a pinch-even capitalize on it. What I didn’t realize, though, was how completely uncontrollable it could be, and that almost cost me a lot more than a few lost hours on the day I discovered how completely Frankie had lied to me.
A slow creep of parasitic dread had been gnawing at me ever since we’d left her parents’ place, and I thought I’d need to draw on every reserve of nostalgia-sweetened sanity just to keep both eyes on the road and drive, instead of what I’d wanted to do-swerve wildly and crush her side of the Volvo into the freeway’s guardrail. We hadn’t spoken a word the whole way, but I was sensing a distinct undercurrent of fear from Frankie, running thick and deep beneath the smugly serene vibe she’d been trying to project. I’d figured that it would take a lot for me to be able to concentrate on what to do next-to lash my thoughts together and decide how to deal with the new and ridiculous melodrama that seemed to be invading my life via the girl I thought I knew in the passenger seat.
Oct 04 2008
The sun shone down in withering malevolence on the way to Frankie’s house, baking my drive north in the harsh heat of lives lived a little too far from the ocean. Thanking everything holy for being raised minutes from the beach and the sea’s cool release only seemed cheesy for a split-second, because I was mired in Anaheim traffic on the 57 freeway during high June. I kept the Green Monster’s windows down all the way, the whole time, and tried to stop the surrounding blast furnace from blowing a crumpled map out the window. It was a page ripped from an old Thomas Guide, defaced with Frankie’s scrawled directions, and I finally just held it in my right hand as insulation against the blistering hot steering wheel.
Sep 03 2008
My tolerance had really gone to shit over the past six months, as if I’d never realized that staying on the wagon in a college town would be fucking impossible. I had to maintain the facade and pretend to hold my liquor, not only to blunt the ball-busters-everyone suddenly seemed to decide they liked me better when I was drunk-but also to avoid any more epic blackouts. My liver, which had once been a slab of impregnable steel, had degenerated into a functional piece of meat, but that was a trade-off I could deal with as long as eternal sickness, halitosis, and the single life stayed the hell away from me. So it was a little disconcerting, but not exactly disagreeable, to find myself half-bombed in Frankie’s dorm room a few shades on the wrong side of tequila shots.
It had been three hours since we stepped off the downtown bus, and though it had been a good day I felt this creeping, nasty fear that sooner or later we’d be wading through a minefield of mutual mendacity if we spent too much more time together. Frankie solved that problem, for the moment, when she reminded me that we’d be getting happy and stupid with our friends at yet another dorm party. Finals were coming up, and this would be the last chance we’d all really have to relax before exams consumed our waking lives.
Aug 08 2008
Churches have always annoyed me. On the few occasions when I’ve had to spend time inside one, I’ve never felt comfortable. The oppressive, insistent implication that I don’t belong there always hit me right in the chest, and I always felt that the pathetic physical approximation of a divine portal fairly reeked of moral hubris and superstitious, fearful ignorance. I couldn’t relate to anyone who attended church, not for a long, long time; I couldn’t even meet them halfway.
Lately it’s been a bit different. Maybe it’s a little naive, but I considered it a mark of courtesy that I’d recently progressed to something less than my usual violent antipathy toward religion. I’m more able to set foot in a house of worship than I had been in the past, and a few months back I settled easily into the cushy throne of apathetic indifference when it came to dealing with believers. If they left me alone, I would stay out of their hair in return. They had their drug, and I had mine; as long as I was free to destroy my eardrums with Loud Rock Music, blunt or enhance my senses with choice chemical combinations, and blunder through carnal relations with beautiful girls, I didn’t care what any uptight idiot from any denomination thought of my behavior.
Aug 03 2008
My mother used to say that I had an advanced case of “Prince Henry the Navigator Syndrome,” and she was more prescient than I think even she knew. When I was a kid I absorbed ridiculous amounts of historical and geographical trivia, even before the onset of nightmarish insomnia made those useful distractions a necessity. Crumpled National Geographics and outdated Britannicas taught me about anything I wanted to know, anywhere in the world, but that didn’t make me want to actually visit any of the places I studied. Home may have been a disaster zone, but it was still home, the devil I knew as opposed to the unknown vast outside universe. The few family road trips I was subjected to as a child were sagas of hellish torture and crushing boredom. One summer, Modesto was a wretched sauna, Yuba City a muggy, sweaty armpit, and Arcata took the crown of Nastiest Refuge for the Crazed Legions of Plague-Ridden Killer Insects-or so I felt at the time. I garnered little sympathy from my stepfather on these occasions; one of the most vivid memories I have of him was enduring his withering, exasperated scowls as I whined pathetically all the way up the highway toward our next rest stop.
Of course, Prince fucking Henry was royalty, so that coddled little bastard could lounge around all he wanted in that cozy castle retreat in westernmost Portugal. He could watch the caravels sail in from India or Africa or America, and he was anxious to leech out the conquistadors’ tales of foreign lands for the sake of his own cartographical amusement. I’d always tried, all those years, to not be insulted by Mom’s unintentionally accurate caricature of me, but it annoyed me then and still rankles today, ten years after her death. I was trying to explain all this to Frankie in her dorm room on the night after I returned to school, still reeling from the potent stimuli of the weekend’s mild rock deviance and harrowing sexual fear. I hadn’t meant to spill out random family history to a girl I that I was apparently-according to Olivia-supposed to mistrust, but like everything else at that time, I had no idea what really mattered, and anyway, I never failed to rise to the challenge of out-weirding anyone else’s exotically bizarre family stories. Anyway, the Italian Front had been quiet for a good twenty-four hours, but I could feel it stirring in its sleep ever since I got back from the train station, so when the action finally began I was more than ready.
Jul 18 2008
I came home from Olivia’s around midnight, right into a brewing vortex of angst that had been set in motion hours before. On my way up the driveway I’d barely noticed the unfamiliar, unmarked Crown Vic parked on the curb out front-I was too wrapped up in a cloud of bitter regret that had hovered like a vulture over my quick cross-town drive. I thought about sneaking in, cause the living room lights were out, but then I saw a faint glow bleeding in from the kitchen behind, so I threw that idea to the circling hellhounds and strode through the front door.
As I shut it I heard a thick burst of laughter, like two dirty and drunk old men in their favorite bar watching football cheerleaders on TV. I knew both voices; the first was my stepfather Andrew’s, but at first I couldn’t remember where I’d heard the second, a clipped bark of remorseless economy. Then, instantly, I knew who it was-the combination of my Liv-ridden guilty conscience with the four-wheeled predator outside must have had its own deathless inertia-and I edged into the kitchen, where my stepfather sat at the kitchen table, across from Detective James Kelley.
Jun 13 2008
Olivia tasted like addiction, like she was trying to absolutely submerge me in narcotic sensuality. I was just getting used to the idea of life as a casual victim of overwhelming seduction when she seemed to really start pouring it on, and my brain blazed with the red light of no return. The video hadn’t even finished before she’d slid away to kill the lights, chattering happily about the movie in giggly Spanglish, and then crept back around the television’s blue glow to sit in my lap. She didn’t need to say anything after that, because she knew it would be indecent-crass, even-for either of us to spoil her triumphant homestretch with dumb, stumbling speech. She’d invested a lot in this operation, and it was good, for a change, to feel like I was something worth savoring that way.
May 28 2008
“Yeah!! Yeah, it’s like that, baby!”
Alan’s voice rang with defiant glee through the ragged PA speakers as we bashed out the last notes of “Eat Shit And Die” from the center stage of my old high school’s main hall. Our frontmanly singer-guitarist’s enthusiasm was met with scattered applause and semi-comprehension from the inert mob of teenagers below, who seemed to wonder why their lunch hour was being interrupted by an assault of Old Dead Sixties Music. Alan sensed that his precious span of glory was almost over, and he wasn’t gonna go without a fight.
Apr 30 2008
I had just agreed to join my brother’s band for their first gig when Peter came back, looking sloppier than he should so early on a Friday. “Roy, what the fuck have you been doing all this time?” he shouted. “Tell your little brother that he’s holding you up from watching your friends demolish a perfectly good bottle of vodka, okay?” My roommate grabbed at the phone, yelling into it with glee. “R.J., you little bitch! The next time you’re up here, I’m gonna make you pay for this! You won’t know what hit you, and you’ll wake up in bed with a strange man!” He motioned for me to get moving, doubling over in drunk guffaws.