Times being what they were, money was tight. Nobody would give me any. I got on the phone. Begged my mother, my sister, my brothers. Sounded like they had gotten together on this one. It’s the old tough love concept. Putting the feet down. Utility bills, rent, grocery store vouchers, even a modest bar bill – fine. Cash, a pittance of an allowance. Real cash, like working people have – no deal.
Dot dot dot.
I had had my share. Money – that is, a wad of it – lasted me a week. It didn’t matter where I got it, whose it was, where I was, or how much it was. Money, in my pocket, had a life – and a life cycle – all its own. It was born, it lived a week, and it died. Off the top of my head, I recall having nice weeks, and then being flat broke, in the Italian Dolomites, in London, in a small village in the north of Finland, and New Orleans. Should a wad of cash be born unto me right now, where would it live out its seven days? I only know this: it wouldn’t be New Orleans.
So I thumbed to the mountains, where the skiing was good and the rich people in abundance. These rich people, though. They don’t just give their cash away. They want you to work for it.
I got a job. Twenty-five bucks a day, plus tips – hoofing skis and boots from the cars to the slopes. It was a haul, across those parking lots and up that hill, with all that shit. But the generosity, on the part of some folks, I must admit, was outstanding. One rich son of a bitch – a young guy – with a wife, a Mercedes, and four kids, actually had me carry one of the kids. He gave me a twenty. The older folks, they had lots of time, wanted to carry their own gear. The really young people of the male persuasion – potential terrors on the slopes – I stayed away from them, not to get stiffed. The young women? No problemo. Tipping was not an issue there. The crowd in the middle, my age, they were the ones to look for, as long as they got out of a car worth thirty thousand or more. I made sure to strike up a conversation and slip in the important part, that I was working for tips only, trying to make a living like anybody else.
Give me some dough, give me some dough, give me some dough. I was a working man.
By mid morning, the muscles in the backs of my legs ached. And my knees were sore. But I had enough to get a room at one of the working person’s ski lodges. By lunch, I had enough for a working person’s dinner and an evening of working person’s beer. I’ve always been resourceful; it’s a knack. When I put my mind to it.
You see, I have no objection to working. Nothing wrong with a job. I just can’t keep one. Can’t.
Dot dot dot.
Ug. Working dots. This time, forget it. Too sad, and embarrassing.
So I had my working person’s sandwich platter, cleaned up in my room from a hard day of work, drank a few brewskies, and bummed a ride down to the ski lodge. The party there was right up my alley. They had a band going, and a little shin dig for an outfit the name of which I liked as soon as I heard: Parents Without Partners.
Of course, I wasn’t a member of the organization. But I told the woman at the door about The Wimp. “I’m a bona fide parent without a bona fide partner,” I told her. She welcomed me in, almost, I suspected, with open arms.
I hadn’t danced for awhile, never did like it much. In my teenage years, being a not so normal guy then either – the disease had not yet bloomed, but it was incubating – I used to hate dancing, couldn’t figure out where everybody else learned how to do it. But this night I got the hang of it and couldn’t get enough.
Hey, it was easy inside there. My kind of group.
I walked up to a table of undancing women and made a group request, “Anybody here care to dance?” I was hot and sweaty by then, in the mood. That’s how I met Marlena. She was the best looking one at the table, and the most floozy looking. She wore a navy skirt, loose, and she was flipping it around with restless legs. Had on a white blouse, buttoned low, offering lots of peeking possibilities for unpartnered men. And she was obviously lit. Like Althea, she smiled too much. Perhaps we manics attract each other; I know we drinkers do. Her hair was fixed-up big, brown curls bouncing all over her shoulders.
I looked right at her when I offered my dancing services. Two of the women at the table responded to my open ended invitation by ignoring me, as if I would soon disappear. They whispered to each other. Two of them glared through me. I waited — hopeful and hopeless — for a response. Eventually, they laughed at me, made a few remarks. Then they asked if I’d like to join them for a minute, sitting, drinking.
“Sorry,” I said. “I came to dance.”
Thusly pressured, Marlena was the one, luckily, who stood.
We boogied to a fast one – The Beatles – and when the slow dance came around – an Elvis number – we moved closer. Two drunken strangers on the dance floor. I gave her a warm kiss on the neck, and then a kiss on the lips. Knocked her fucking socks off. But I can’t take all the credit. She was a parent without a partner, and she was ready for it. She kept it going, moaned, gave my back a scratch. I got that sweet taste of marijuana there. She was half looped, had that watery look in her eyes, probably had a purse full of condoms and pot. You get in a room like this, where it’s real dark and a lot of shit’s going on under the surface, and you’ve got to know how to pick ’em.
Naturally, she left me after that long kiss, wanted some distance, but she had something to think about. As fucked up as she was, her brain cells had kicked into action, those little neurotransmitters firing little messages about me from one synaps to the next. I stayed close and kept asking her to dance. She wouldn’t, but she smiled, watched me drink a few more. The evening was still young, so I danced with a few other parents without partners and joined Marlena’s table.
At the bar, this big son of a bitch came over and asked me if he could join us at our table.
“C’mon over,” I said. “No problem.”
He was a quiet guy, drunk, too serious, but no different from anybody else in the room. An adult revisiting teenage land. He took Marlena out on the dance floor, which, of course, made for some healthy competition.
I got out there myself with little Debbie-Boo. Debbie-Boo was another woman at the table, a four and half foot red head who chirped when she talked. She was little and light, cute – so I swung her around a few times. I swung myself into a few tables, almost swung myself onto the floor, and came pretty close to swinging myself into the big glass wall that offered a view of the ski slope.
When the dance was done, I slithered away from Debbie-Boo and over to Marlena, got on her other side and pulled her away from Mister Big and Silent. He had his head above the clouds anyway, looked like he was too deep in thought, taking this whole scene too seriously. He didn’t know what the fuck he was doing with a woman like this. I whispered in Marlena’s ear.
“I haven’t been high in a long time,” I said.
She didn’t say anything, but she grinned, so she heard me.
“I’d love to smoke some reefer.”
“You would?” she said.
She grinned some more. So quickly, and so quietly — we had reached an understanding.
“Let’s go outside,” I said. “I’m a parent without a buzz.”
“I don’t know if I want to leave the fun,” she said.
It was a tough decision, but she grabbed her purse, tapped little Debbie-Boo on the arm, and we went out into the cold. It was snowing like a son-of-a-bitch out there.
We stood under an awning at the back of the lodge and did the old inhale-exhale routine. Marlena had some strong, well-conditioned lungs. She took in tankfulls of that shit. Little Debbie-Boo got her tiny tokes and, thank God, went back inside. I smoked until I cut-off my oxygen supply and coughed and gasped. When I moved, felt like I had exchanged heads. Like the Hoos down in Hoooville, something inside me – and it wasn’t my heart, but some part of my brain – grew seven sizes that day. The rest of me was freezing.
Whooa. That snow, the beer, and now this – I wobbled like a drunk toddler on skates when I walked.
“I’ve got a room in a motel,” I said.
“I’ve got a car,” she said.
“I don’t have a car.”
We got in the back of her car like a couple of teenagers and tried to do it, freezing, but there was not much doing. I got my hands all over her, disclosed my oral fixations, and, being the alternatively medicated manic depressive I was, begged her to take me home, back to the room, where we could spread out, make an adult evening out of it. Marlena didn’t want to do that. She got off on my hand, doing all the work herself, then gave me a blow job while my neck was pressed against the metal of the backseat car handle. It was not a sensual, lovemaking experience; but sex is sex. Then she left me there, passed out, to freeze.
And I mean she left me there. It was smart, too. Don’t want to take chances, driving drunk on mountain roads in fresh snow. Get the car in the morning. Hopefully, the bastard from the night before’ll be gone. I woke up in a damn igloo, snow caked all over the windows of that car. Somebody, presumably Marlena, had put a blanket over me and my vomit. Nice touch. Thank you, sweatheart. Kept me from dying. Thanks for the blow job, too. I remembered it, had enjoyed it, had needed it, and very much appreciated it.
I didn’t feel so bad. Sunrise has always turned me on, and that’s what the sun was doing. Hell, I had slept a couple of hours. I was a hungry son-of-a-bitch, fumbled around inside that car of hers until I found the key underneath the mat on the passenger’s side. I also found a couple of joints in the glove compartment. They were whoppers. That Marlena loved to get high. I wiped myself a snow hole in the windshield and drove off, doing some early morning skiing of my own. Slipping and sliding all over that road – just me and the snow plows out. I stopped at the country diner for pancakes and coffee, left the car there and started hoofing it down the mountain.
I walked against the traffic; all the cars were coming up, people hitting the lift lines early. I helped this nice young fellow push his BMW out of the ditch, slide it back on the road. He gave me a five. I gave it back, told him I was too broke for a five, couldn’t use it. He gave me a twenty, and I thanked him eloquently for the fair compensation.
So I left the mountain. Five miles down, in the valley, I wasn’t in moneyland anymore.
There was a time, dot dot dot, when I could get my hands on some money right quick in a needy situation. I had bank accounts with ready reserves. Savings accounts. A multitude of options. I cut deals, held jobs longer, had friends, family, access! Instincts! I used to love credit cards. No more. Shit, you get diagnosed and the whole world changes on you. You’re not a nice guy in a pickle anymore, trying to better your life. Your a diseased motherfucker who needs to be locked up. Like I said, tough love was the order of the day. But I gave it a try anyway. I called my mom again, my sister, my brothers, and had some damn good conversations. Come for dinner, they said. That’s it. “But how do I get there?” I pleaded my ass off. “I said I was broke. I need a bank wire, a credit card number, something.”
You get here the same way you got there. Tough love. They’ve done too much goddamn reading – all in the same book.
I called Gracie’s home, spoke to The Wimp. She said Gracie had been talking about me. She was worried, wondered where I was. I asked about Artie. The Wimp hadn’t seen him in a while. “Good,” I said. I asked her if she knew her mother’s credit card number. She was far too smart for that. Said she didn’t know it. Said Mom didn’t like credit cards anymore. Bullshit!
But I did have those two joints from Marlena’s car, and you can go a ways with that. So I smoked them both, walking down the road on that bright morning. Man, that pot makes everything bright, plus the snow. The world was lit up. Fourteen zillion watts of white brightness. Trees, oozing snow from every pore, going white wild against the blue sky. You can get a long ways in that condition, with a good thumb, a friendly manner, some sense of humor.
It reminded me of Robert Frost in Camelot. The old blinded poem in the glaring snow. I could have written a book full of poems, and I could have read them all in front of the Capitol Building – but I didn’t have any paper. I used to write poetry, everyday. I was into it. I didn’t need it now, however; my life was a poem. So I went to Washington, D.C. – as good a place as any. My old roommate was there, and when I got to his house, I was one smelly, broke, cold, hungry drop-in visitor. But my spirits were still good, which is all he cared about. Old, dear friend, long time no see. Hell, he was happy I showed up. And no wonder. He was always such a stiff bastard – more so now – having let adulthood grab him by the balls. Now I was there to brighten his day.