Thursday, September 17, 2009

Chapter 18

The attic is cold and the bed is soft and my heart is on fire with sweat. She sleeps beneath me in a room in a bed with a frame and four posts and framed photographs of her family. I’ve known her eleven years. I sit up and feel for my dogs. They are on either side of me and outside it’s bright and I can smell the coffee downstairs. I masturbate to a woman I saw in the bar last night. In my head I lift her dress over her hips and have her from behind while I kiss her ear, neck and shoulder. Her hips are high and smooth in my hands and we move there in front of the mirror. I finish and look above the window AC behind me. It’s upside down from where I see it and the room is perfectly lit for me, dark where it needs to be but not depressing. I reach over and grab my phone and turn off the volume. It’s set to play Run to the Hills when I have a new email, but this morning I’m in the mood for something more refined, if that’s possible. I tap the screen and read the message. It’s from a reader of mine asking me about this blog, about why I haven’t written anything personal or moving on here, why the writing doesn’t reflect the book or my actual work. The letter goes on to ask why I am writing a travel log with photos, and it accuses me of censoring the work for no good reason, that the novel was about a youth burning through the years toward 30 while working on the road and coping with a seriously shitty hand that was dealt to him, and here is the writer of the book years later, and the work on the blog just sits there and it’s really heart breaking for this reader to read it, as something’s changed in the work and so on. The letter goes on to say that they want to read about what it’s like NOW that I’m on the road again, 38 years old, only this time not going labor field to kitchen, warehouse to factory, city to town, insane situation to insane situation, in aimless capture of something permanently beautiful.

At first I think horrible, disgusting things about the motherfucker who wrote the letter to the website. I have never met this person and here is this letter coming over me after a nearly flawless morning. The work is the work, and the blog is not my work firing on all cylinders, but rather a quick summary of my trip. Yet on one end reader is not totally off the mark. Without caring too much, I have been writing this blog photo heavy with words that really don’t have the impact, say, that a novel has. I think about the reader who took the time to write the rather lengthy letter of concern after buying the novel and reading it cover to cover in one afternoon, as the letter had pointed out in the last paragraph. He may not realize the weight of how brutalizing driving across the country can be on a writer who is pushing his own novel on a budget of zero and two dogs. The reader who wrote the fan letter of concern to the Rose City site is not a huge concern of mine, though he tells his own truth to an artist of his liking. And on the other end he's totally off the mark, because I did awake with that feeling of cold fire down my arms, the urge to sit up and write first thing in the morning, which is something that has never been stripped from me, but only paused naturally considering my changing environment as of the last few years. I have ended the drive eastward in a town called Beacon, about an hour and 10 minutes by train north of New York City. I used to visit Dawn and her camp out in the city and even lived there with them in the apartment on 34th but that was years back, and I’m now on the West Coast, but the fact that I’m staying at her place in a town called Beacon is fitting for me. I walk downstairs. She’s in the kitchen drinking her coffee. She is still as beautiful as she ever was.

“Morning, Stewart. I see you’ve had your required 18 hours of sleep.”

“Ha. Fuck off. Good morning.”

I pour some coffee. She opens the door to let the dogs out. They run around back past the garden and circle the yard. I watch them then turn back to her,

“Great spot up there. Cool, dark, foam memory mattress on the floor. It’s ruling.”

She laughs and sits next to me at the counter. I’m madly in love with her and have been for over a decade. Not the kind of love that I’m used to, but rather a hardcore and deeply protective family type of love for a seriously fucking hot woman. It’s strange to me. I stare at her paintings on the floor and to her sketch book.

“Can I borrow that?”

“Sure. Need a pen?”

“Actually, I do.”

I sit out back at the picnic table and write her a poem. It’s good to feel the pen on the page. I sign it for her and date it. The coffee is good and the sun is high over the trees and garden. I write a few about the past and now. She walks out with two bottles of beer.

“It’s good to have you here. I've missed you."

"Right back at you."

The dogs come in from the woods. Willis the cat is a street person cat who was rescued by Dawn and her ex-husband. Likened to a person, he would live in the 5th Ward in Houston with a gangster limp and an eye patch. He is her cat and her cat only. He hisses at anything that fucking moves. I hear him hiss behind me on the sill of the window. I reach over and press my finger into the screen by his nose.

“Willis. Relax, you fucking rape victim.”

He swipes at me and runs off.

We talk about my book, about the girl on Melrose with fake tits. She asks me about my take on them.

“I never got the allure of that," I say, "I can see it if it’s a big problem, like a reduction for a better back or if they’re really droopy or really non-existent, or if it’s a cancer surviving deal, but just to make them bigger or more firm or more desirable, and also the fact that they aren’t real, but they’re always there, like a permanent wig.”

I shrug at her,

“Fuck it. If they're happy, I’m happy.”


Inside she shows me some of her sketches. She’s a lefty like I am, and her work is fucking inimitable. She’s a graphic designer now and getting back to the brush, a fully independent artist making a great living her way. She never folded, ultimately. I look at her sketches and writing and it’s warm there and I am back in my element.

Her phone rings. She talks for a while and looks at me,

“That was my friend, Peter. His brother owns a house up in Garrison. Ever heard of Duncan Sheik?”


“He's a singer. Want to go over there?”


We’re driving toward Garrison. The sun is setting and I’m watching the water off to my right before we go through the tunnel. She reaches for her phone,

“You have to meet my friend, Joanne. She was the first model to ever be on the cover of Playboy and not actually be in Playboy. She’s fucking awesome.”

She talks to her and we’re heading over to pick her up. She lives in a house set off in the woods. She walks out of her house and my tongue almost hits the floor. She is fucking beautiful.

“Jesus,” I gasp. Dawn laughs. I whisper,

“She's something else.”

“Doesn’t she look amazing?”


She jumps in the backseat. She’s British. It occurs to me that I’m hanging out with two of the hottest women on the planet. We stop for wine and then we’re heading up some dark road past mansions and properties. We pull up and a guy in a samurai pony tail appears.

“Hi. I’m Duncan.”

We shake hands and head inside. The place is giant and barren. Guitars line the wall across from the table. His brother, Peter, is there and it’s a good night for us all. They have grilled hamburgers with a layer of duck fat over them. Dawn and Joanne and I split the third one. Peter makes a round of Old Fashions. Good and strong. He’s a younger kid with a beard, leaned hard to the left politically, and good about it. I walk to the back door and stare out over the dark field. Duncan walks in with his spatula. I nod to the guitars and we talk about them. I've been a fan of the guitar for years, and I acutally bought a guitar in Palo Alto a few years back. I'm terrrible at it, but that's fine, because the guitar is fucking hard to learn.

We’re hanging out at the table. I’m buzzed. We’ve been talking about his music. He gets up and walks to the kitchen. I say to him,

“I feel bad. I don’t know anything about your music. What’s it like?”

He sits down and plays a song on his acoustic. It's about a hotel room overseas. It's good, really good, and he has a good voice. He sets his guitar down. I ask him about the weird banjo hybrid sitting off in the corner. It's fretless and almost aluminum looking. He brings it over and plays it and the table talks a bit more and it's good to be here. After a while Joanne and I talk. She's as brilliant as she is beautiful. Her humor is dead pan. She asks me about my tour.

“So, Dawn tells me that you’re on the road promoting your books?”

“I am promoting my book and a book by Kurt Eisenlohr.”

“So what’s it like being published and on tour?”
”It’s not like I’m published by a big company or have PR. I’m on tour to try and save my ass. I’m in debt, I live book sale to book sale. In all reality it’s pretty fucking frightening. But on a night like this it’s fucking fabulous.”

She raises her drink to her lips, “I understand you’re very good.”

Her accent is killing me. We talk about the books and my life and her life and listen to the words around us and the night is rolling along smoothly and without pause. It’s Duncan’s idea to walk drunk through the woods to see Russell Wright’s house, and it’s a bad idea. Five drunks stumbling through the dark woods on a pathless walk up and down and under things. Slips and falls and laughter can be heard all around us. We see the house, stop for exactly one minute and head back, where I sign a book for him, we slam a few more drinks and Joanne is dropped off and I’m back in the attic and for the first time since I left the West Coast I feel certain and sure about things.

In the morning I’m hungover. No big surprise there. I drank like a fish. Downstairs Dawn and I have a beer. She starts on the wine and I drink a glass of whiskey, to bite the dog that has bitten me. I flip open my laptop and turn it on. Dawn sits across from me by the sink and pulls her hair back and we make lunch. I write in the sketchbook and take the dogs to the water. Her backyard sits just beyond the train tracks and stream, which become cliffs and a river. I get to bed early. I am taking the train into the city when I wake up. Dawn has a shitload of work to do and I want to give her the space and time to work, Meg and Chico are happy where she lives. When I get the chance to leave them somewhere worry-free it’s almost like being a parent away from the kids. It’s foreign to me to spend a day without them. I lay in the dark and listen to the hum of the AC.

Bright and hot out. I sit next to a guy who is telling me about his life in South Dakota or South Carolina or some fucking place. I’m waiting for the train to take me into the city. I am going to walk around and shoot photos all day. I haven’t been to the city in 10 years. I get out at the station and walk toward SoHo. The energy is fucking incredible. Manhattan is the one place where I can watch strangers eat and not feel fucking sick to my stomach. They walk and avoid too much contact with each other, they eat and live on the run, but they all feel like they’re going someplace better than where I’m going. The women are so beautiful they are almost weird looking. I walk and eat a hot dog and look around and for a good length of time, forget myself and all of my bullshit and worries. The city is full of everything. I haven’t seen Delissa since Portland 2002, when she was playing drums on tour. I walk into the bike shop and see her in the back on the computer. She’s easily one of my favorite New Yorkers, and easily one of the better photographers I have seen. She’s grown her hair out. She tells the main manager she’s taking a break. When we hit the street and start walking.

I laugh, “How’s it goin’, sis?”

“Ah, fuck, man. You know how it is.”

“I remember.”

We sit down outside of a café. I order a soda, she orders a bottle of bubbly water. She smiles at me,

“Well, let me fucking SEE it.”

I hand her a book. She shakes her head, “This is so fucking cool.” I still have the manuscript of this thing. This is so fucking cool.”

“Thanks, babe.”

We talk about the years and people behind us, and about her photography. She's working a lot these days, and I remember those days, the fucking fluorescent lights or the lines of customers, looking over their shoulders to the outside which led to the street, which led to my place which led to my door which led to my typewriter on the other side of it. It creates hatred for strangers, in even the strongest of us. I bitch about owing money or about the stress of no health care or about being broke and struggling until I figure out my method, but I have to understand that it’s the ebb and flow. My payoff for the worry I have is no more workforce. No more fucking faces or tension. I was going to see Delissa this weekend anyway, as Dawn has booked us in for some motorcycle race in New Jersey and a hotel for the weekend. I’ve never been to a motorcycle race. This is one where the riders lean over and scrape their knees on the track into the turns. Dawn has been on and off with a guy who is a good rider. She regaled me with stories of him on the phone as I made my way eastward. It was funny. Lots of comedy involving a maker of high art and an adrenaline junkie. Delissa and I sit there and watch the people. A young Brazilian beauty walks by and gives me a half smile. I turn and watch her ass.

“Goddamn it.”

Delissa smiles,

“You picked a good day to come here.”

I walk her back to work and dial Ben from Wisconsin. He’s a strong inspiration for a character in March of Time and Skin. He’s answering phones now for an architecture firm off 42nd and Broadway. He’s off in a few hours and I’m going to meet up with him at a coffee shop on 40th and 8th, where we’ll head out and meet up with Chad, a dude I used to roof houses with in Minnesota during one fateful summer. I walk around and shoot photos, talk to a few interesting people who stop me and then I’m in walking back from SoHo up to meet Ben. I’m feeling streamlined and healthy from all the walking. You can walk 100 miles in Manhattan and not even know it.

He walks in. He looks the same. He argues it and says he's going bald, spinning his head 180 degrees,

“Dude, look at this. Losing it fast.”

“Oh, bullshit. It happens naturally to everyone. You’re fine, dude. Who fuckin’ cares, anyway?”

“Good point.”

“How’s life in Brooklyn?”

“It’s great, man. Lots of life out there, and here. Glad to see you’re doing something with your writing. About fucking time.”


We walk out and grab some food, meet up with Chad and drink a few pitchers, and it’s a blur of Times Square and then I’m on the train back to Beacon, where I blast my ipod and text Dawn and a few others and ultimately miss my stop and end up taking a cab to my van from Cold Spring to Beacon. I get in the cab.

“How much?”

“You’re fucking kidding me. For 10 miles?”

“It’s a zoning issue. We’re crossing zones.”

“Yeah, the fuck me in the ass zone.”

“Am I taking you there or not?”

“No choice.”

“That makes two of us, pal.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Just make sure you swing by an ATM.”

“No problem.”

“I’m sure.”

Dawn is still working when I get back. It’s almost 2 am and it’s nearly 4 am before we go to sleep. We’re picking up Joanne in the afternoon and heading over to the Colt 45 mansion, also in Garrison. Dawn’s friends Daniel and Connie live there in a seriously lavish house on premises and they take care of the place. Daniel races pigeons. It’s never fucking normal in my life. Dawn looks at Joanne in the rearview,

“You were in the city last night. When did you get back?”

“I took a late train. 11 o’clock.”

“Jeff was on that train! Ha! I KNEW you two were on the same train.”

I look back at her, “Which fucking cart were you on?”

“The one in the front. You?”

“The middle one. Son of a bitch.”

They laugh. Joanne smiles at me, “And I didn’t have your cell or you could have texted me.”

I stare at the road, “What a gip.”

Daniel and Connie have a fucking great life. Their daughter, Micah, is so adorable I that can’t stand it. Connie is every bit as gorgeous as the most beautiful woman alive. I’m sitting here in the backyard of this estate drunk on wine, we all are, except for Connie. Daniel and I walk down to his racing pigeon center where he lets them out, they circle the field where we stand, then they fly back in. A drunken flash forward and we’re sitting in the back by the pool overlooking the woods and Bear Mountain Bridge. We’re talking about life and women. It’s good to sit there with him. He’s had an interesting life growing up and surviving in the city. Back at the table he tells us a story about how he was outside of a club and this woman is in his face and she won’t stop cutting him down and then she spat on him and he knocked her out.

“Dude, I have NEVER hit a woman. And it was like a light, fast jab. But even her boyfriend didn’t get mad at me.”


We sober up and head to Cold Springs where we get dinner across from the gas station where the cabby stopped for me to get his fare. My time in New York is ending in a few days, and it saddens me in the moment, but the food arrives and another tall drink and the next day I’m riding in the parking lot in front of the courthouse. My new handlebars are high and mean. I’m heavy and rusty due to an old knee injury. But I’m rolling around the lot and it’s warm out. A dude on a mountain bike with a basketball jersey, a mullet and a Newport in his mouths rolls up and stops.

“Jesus, dude. How long you been doing that shit?”

“Since I was a kid.”

“No shit?”

“No shit.”

He pedals off. Back at the house I do laundry and walk the woods with the dogs. That night Dawn and I see Inglorious Basterds after a couple of drinks. It’s so good we laugh nearly through the whole movie. Been a while since I’ve seen movie that good. We hit the same bar and have one more then the next night we’re headed to the city to pick up Delissa, then we drop the dogs off at the room, then we’re going into Philadelphia to meet up with Rob Cortez, who used to work at the same bike shop as Delissa. I haven’t seen him since 1999. Rob is famous for his craftsmanship. He makes things out of leather, metal, everything. His work is sought after by celebrities and homeowners and anyone else who can afford to pay him.

Outside of the bike shop Delissa throws her bags in the van and we make it through the Holland Tunnel, get off the turnpike in Jersey and get the room and find Rob’s place, which is right in the heart of Philly. We’re downstairs in his work space because his wife is passed out upstairs, and we’re stoned out of our fucking minds. I snap pictures of everything around me. A blur of night and we’re eating at Pat’s, after an angry and toothless motherfucker threw us attitude about ordering a cheese steak sandwich. He called Dawn a tourist. I wanted to say something to him, but a flash of his gums and the deep wrinkles under his sockets said it all. It’s a weird night there. Driving down South St. was good and tense. Also, there was some drunken homeless guy pulling a knife on three emo kids, who stood there the whole time we ate and talked about rushing the guy and beating him, but it was comical because the three pussies knew they wouldn’t put words into action. Dawn looked at me,

“Dude, I should go over there and bum a smoke from one of them and say, what the fuck is wrong with you guys? You’re gonna LET HIM get away with that shit? I thought you were MEN.”

We laugh and eat our food. Rob is telling us stories about their apartment, how he gutted and built it and the Philly lifestyle mag did a piece on it. It was good to be there with him. He’s paid some heavy dues with his talent. We go into downtown and sit on the 19th floor of a hotel in the lounge and drink a few. Rob sits next to me, where I’m across from the girls looking over their heads at the skyline. He hands me a strong Jack & Coke. Turns out that in the course of the decade we haven’t seen each other, both of us have pink chrysanthemums tattooed into the scheme of work on our arms.

We drop Rob off. It’s Friday night. Saturday and Sunday is the race. Rob’s sitting Saturday out due to prior commitments. We’re in the hotel room and we’re baked, and the girls have fallen desperately in love with Chico, and he’s milking every second of it. He jumps on their bed, stretches, yawns, and hams it up. He sleeps between them. I’m stoned in the dark there, Meg is curled up on the corner of the bed facing the door, and it’s almost light out. I quietly masturbate and fall asleep.

The girls were up early petting Chico a few hours later. I’m so fucking tired I can’t handle the thought of getting up, but I have to. They accuse me of snoring.

Delissa shakes her head at me, “Dude, it’s like sleeping in a fucking bear cave.”

“Bullshit. I don’t snore.”


Dawn looks out from under the covers,

“Yes you do, motherfucker.”

“Well, then I must have been stuffed up or tired.”


We’re at the race. The track is new and with low visibility. You can see corners here and there. I stick it out with them. I like the speed of the bikes, the linear art of the sport. If I had seen more I could say more, but that night we’re stoned again in the hotel, we go out to eat at Uno’s, and back in bed I am half dreaming that I see the dark figure of Dawn slapping me on the chest. The figure lays back down and it’s light out. I turn over and they’re staring at me. They are tired to shit. Dawn nods,

“Dude. Did you not fucking feel me trying to wake you up last night?”

“I was just wondering about that.”

They start giving me shit over it.

“Let’s just get some goddamned coffee and go,” I say.

We drive into Philadelphia and check out Rob’s place. It’s fucking amazing. I walk around and snap photos of the metal bowl basins below the faucets and twin shower heads and spiral staircase and all of the custom shit he’s done in there. It’s literally the nicest apartment I have ever seen. Out back Dawn jumps in with Rob to catch up.

I drop Delissa off at the track because I don’t want to leave the dogs tied up anywhere and also because I want to check out the Jersey Shore. We’ve checked out of the hotel already so the dogs are on my shoulders, which is fine. It’s good to be with them, driving across Jersey. I didn’t know there were so many farms in New Jersey. It’s exactly like the Midwest with cornfields and lush green scenery. We drive through Cape May and then up through Atlantic City, where I’m stuck in traffic for an hour, which means I’ll be an hour late getting back. Atlantic City is grey and disappointing like it always is. Back at the track I pick up the girls. Rob is long gone, had to get back to Philly for some reason or another. It’s dark when we leave the track. We fill the tank and head merge onto the 55. A few miles up there is a fast and sickening hiss, and I’m riding the left from rim on the freeway. I get out. The fucking tire is destroyed. The girls are beat from no sleep and another hot day at the track. I get out and scope the situation. I have to reverse on my rim to keep the exit clear. The donut is nearly flat. The jack I have is too high for the frame. I’m trying to figure it out. I lay on my back and stare up to the sky while the freeway traffic speeds by the top of my skull. I think back to the letter in the attic, what’s it like NOW? It’s the same as it ever was. Nearly four decades old, less hair on top and more on the stomach, a bum knee and over a million unpublished words. A bad relationship with money. Only difference now is I can’t afford a tow at 39 instead of 23. Here’s how it is. I’m completely fucked and trying to learn how to change it. A cop car rolls up. I stand and face them. One nods to me,

“Hello, sir.”

“Hey fellas.”

“Flat tire, eh?”

I stare at them. The tall one speaks,

“Need a hand?”
”Got a scissor jack?”

They come back with one. I jack the van up and put the spare on. They escort us to a station, where I inflate the donut, do 60 miles an hour back to the city to drop Delissa off, then Dawn and I make it back to Beacon, where we get good and stoned, pour another drink and decide that I’ll stay until Tuesday, because tomorrow is Labor Day and I don’t want to deal with the traffic, and I’m not sure if a tire shop is open on the holiday, or if it is, then how busy it will be. I hit the attic and pass out cold.

Monday goes by like no time. We have coffee and hang around the house, deal with our heads, and Tuesday morning I’m in line at Sears getting a tire mounted. Back at Dawn’s I have the trailer hitched and she’s outside halting traffic for me. I get on the street and drive a block up the road and pull over. She runs over and I give her a hug. I will know her until the bitter end.

I check the rearview and head up to the freeway. I’ve gone east as far as I’ve wanted to and I’m heading across the inner U.S. As we cross the border we hit a small shower that turns into a pitch black sky and raindrops the size of cue balls, and it’s raining horizontally into the grill and windshield. The trailer starts to fishtail as we go into a small hydro-plane but we come out clean. The rain is picking up harder and I take a hand off the wheel to turn on the radio. Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song begins and we are bucking and blazing toward a sun that we escaped one season ago, or maybe we were never there, but we drive into it: On we sweep with threshing oar, Our only goal will be the western shore.

1 comment:

  1. What is this shit, pandering to the fans? Pussy (heh, heh).
    Dude, it's a blog. If that fucker wants to read your book, then he can wait for the book. This feels like a freebie. The book took HOW long to write, but people expect that kind of craft here? Also, the book is fictionalized, which is not what I expect to read in the blog.

    Here is what the blog seems like to me, based on conversations we have had over the time I have known you.

    The book was written, people liked it. The rest of your life is not going to be what it has been up to now. You're less a fuckup everyday, but don't worry, it happens to most of us. Your only recourse is heroin, bro. Heroin might save your blog. Now what I enjoy about your writing is your perspective and voice. THAT's what I get from this blog. Chaos happens, you brought it on yourself... blah, blah.

    Fuck your whiney fans who have some need from you. You are the pitcher, we're the catchers.

    Now as far as masturbation goes, I need more details.