Wednesday, August 31, 2005

On The Road (1984)

Watching TV
in my hotel room
in downtown
New Orleans.
I'm by the freeway and
my room feels cold.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Angel Of 11th Street (1991)

At the end of another drunken week
of beer and whiskey and wine
I walked home
and on the street I met a woman
who bummed a cigarette from me
and offered a piece of candy in return.
She told me she was heading
to 11th Street by St. Mark's Church
to make money by giving guys blow jobs.
She was young and beautiful and spoke
in tones of the brightest white light,
and I wished her luck, said goodbye
and walked away.

And I've seen people hit by cars
and people OD'ing on the street
as crowds gathered to watch,
and I've seen people staring
into space at nothing
because there was nothing left to see
that didn't make them sad or mad or weary,
and I've seen men and women
step from the doorways of buildings
where their friends or lovers live,
each parting a necessary loss
when the only thing left to be
is alone.

And as the days go by
what you remember most
is the distance between things,
the endings of great moments and pleasures,
and as you walk
in the sharp eye of the midday sun
or beneath the cum-colored shining
of a crescent moon
the weather is always
the same.

And tonight
The Angel Of 11th Street
is standing on a corner
selling blow jobs and buying candy
to keep the devil at arms' length
and heaven close to the steady beating
of her holy heart.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Dear Friends

Yeah, we moved. Bought a house. A house down the road. Down the river. Down south.
Well, it's not that much further south, but we're probably going to want to buy a Chevy pickup truck with a gun rack, and I'm probably gonna have to grow a mullet, and Norris is gonna have to start going by two names so that she's called 'Norris Renee,' and Kate is gonna have to chew tobacco and call us Paw and Maw and wear halter tops. All that so that the neighbors don't harass us all the time and piss on our lawn and throw turds at us because they think we're Commies.

OK. This is the deal. We've gone so far down below that now SATAN worships US. Our neighborhood is called Fairview Village which is short for Fairview Village OF THE DAMNED. Yeah, we'll be buying our guns at Wal-Mart now (take that Rosie O'Donnell you fat fucking retard). Hell, we'll be buying our cheese and our lard and our porn there too! Wait, they don't sell porn at Wal-Mart. Well, fuck me!

Actually, it's a nice quiet neighborhood, about 4 miles south of where we used to live, with lots of green, lots of trees, and only about 2 miles to the water. The neighborhood association meets every month at the senior citizen center. Kate has a big yard to play in, we have a bigger kitchen, and I have a great big shed in the back which I can use for a meth lab. The neighbors are really old—even older than me, so they won't know what's going on. One of them, I think, is blind—anyhow, he never seems to react when I give him the finger. And another neighbor never noticed when I accidentally set his social worker on fire. (It was quite a fire, too. Man, them were some flames!)

We'll be sending out invitations to our housewarming party real soon. In the meantime, just keep buying my books.

Norman Mailer and Norris Church

Friday, August 19, 2005

Nausicaa in New York (an excerpt from The Edge of the World)

Like a having a dog hump your leg, it felt odd at first, having this stranger touch me. But in an instant I found myself detached from what was really happening, imagining that I was watching myself from a distance like an actress watching a movie in which she is the star, an actress performing a scene in which she is having an affair with a married man who is no longer attracted to his wife.

Suddenly I was someone and somewhere else, a young woman in Los Angeles—a secretary, in fact— seducing her boss, Mr. Eliot, who after years of devoting himself to his business discovers in himself a desire to be free of everything his business demands of him. He had begun by having an affair with me, a situation which he believed would invigorate him but which in the end left him feeling more lifeless than ever.

After a few months his wife finds out about his indiscretions, and with her and his children now shunning him he peers out the window of his office as his secretary sits in the next room typing up a memo. Opening the window, he climbs onto the ledge of the building, looking to the sidewalk twenty stories below. Kicking his right foot out from the ledge, he then leans forward in a gesture which, despite his sense of dejection, is more an act of curiosity than of despair. Falling, he hears the sound of traffic growing louder and, just before he hits the ground, the sound of a woman screaming accompanied by the slight clangor of a minor car accident a few feet away from where his body finally lands.

It might have been a scene from a movie, but then again it might have been from real life—a scene I'd either witnessed or read about in a newspaper. But whether it was from fact or fantasy, that was what I felt, what I perceived, in the space of a minute during which a strange man felt my breasts. It was a sad story, I suppose, but just as I wasn't one to cry at the movies, neither was I one to cry in real life; and when the peep show window began to close and the grey haired man withdrew his hands from beneath it, I found that I was ready for the next film, the next tabloid report, the next suicide, and the next mid afternoon fender bender on a busy city intersection.

I got off work at midnight. .

Walking out the door of the House of Blue Lights, I went to the corner of 43d Street and Broadway, where I stood still, regarding the neon signs, the illuminated billboards, the headlights of cars, the persistent opening and closing of doors, and the sometimes faint, sometimes blaring noises that accompanied everything. The scene there reminded me of a carnival just before closing, of that time when the throngs of people, eating cotton candy or toting the stuffed animals they'd won for their sweethearts, had begun to dissipate.

That was always the time when the lights of the merry-go-round and the ferris wheel seemed at their brightest, when their movements seemed the most frantic—because you knew that very soon everything would be dark and still. Indeed, it was always the moment right before the end when life was at its most vivid—or at any rate that how it would be in the best of worlds. And this gleaming intersection, with its bursts of light, its lost noises, and its prolonged stance of twilight, seemed to indicate that I was approaching ever closer to my ideal, and that I was, finally, after many wrong turns and false endings, on the right path.

I stood there in its midst for what must have been an hour or more before I began to feel tired and cold. Opening up my bag, I took out my jacket, put it on, then headed south on Broadway. I kept walking until I reached Madison Square Park, where, at the corner Broadway and 23d St., I sat on a bench facing east. The clock on the tower of the building across the way showed that it was after 2 AM. I stayed there for another hour before I began walking again. Going down Broadway, I passed through Union Square, walked past all the closed stores and restaurants near Houston Street, continued on past Canal Street, past City Hall on down to Battery Park, where I rested again, gazing across the water towards the lights of New Jersey and the Statue of Liberty.

It was there, pushing my bag to the opposite side of the bench where I sat, that I finally lay down. Using my bag as a pillow for my head, I fell fast asleep. My dreams that night were altogether pleasant, filled with visions of the lights from Times Square, visions which made me feel as if I were floating, as if in my sleep the waters of the Hudson had risen above the railings surrounding the park, sweeping me down through the narrows and out to the ocean.

When I awoke the park had begun to fill with people out for a Sunday morning stroll. I picked up my bag and headed uptown again, this time passing through Chinatown where, at a small shop on Bayard St., I bought a knife. It was a beautiful weapon, with a long silver blade which curved up delicately at the tip, and a red wooden handle upon which was carved the image of a dragon. I had decided that even if I never slept in the park again, it was a good idea for me to carry some kind of protection—especially for those occasions when, after leaving the House of Blue Lights, I would be walking home alone late at night.

Because that was how I had planned on getting around New York—by walking. Not that I was afraid of what might be going on in the subways or on the streets, for that matter. It was just that by walking, and staying away from subway trains, buses, and taxis, I would be better able to control my distance from people. And although on the subway the knife would be a necessity perhaps, like food or water, I concluded that on the streets (or wherever I found myself) it would grant me a kind of luxury, a sense of privilege that even an elegant apartment or a fancy clothes could never provide me with.

Slipping the knife into the inside pocket of my jacket, I continued uptown until 31st St. where just off of Fifth Avenue I found the Wolcott Hotel. With rooms there costing fifty dollars a night, it was the cheapest place I'd found so far save for those places where I'd have to share a bathroom. I gave the clerk fifty, leaving another fifty for a deposit, then got on the elevator to the seventh floor. On opening door 717 I saw that my room was utterly plain but clean. With a single bed covered by a white bedspread, a somewhat rickety nightstand on top of which was a phone, and a dresser on which sat a lamp and a television, this room would do for the moment.

I set down my bag and went to window. Raising the Venetian blinds I saw that I was looking out the back of the hotel, opposite the back of another building, and turning my head up I could see a small rectangular portion of an overcast sky. Standing there at the window, I kicked off my shoes, took off my jacket, my shirt, my bra, then reached down to pull off my jeans and my panties.

I lingered there for a while, listening to the sound of a man's voice from across the way. It was a deep, raspy voice, the voice of a man who at one in the afternoon was already drunk. I lifted my arm and ran my hand from my neck and down between my breasts to my stomach, still gazing up to the sky as the voice grew louder. As soon as the voice stopped, which took about a minute or two, I went into the bathroom and turned on the water in the tub. When it was full I stepped inside and sat down in the warm water, reaching between my legs. Lying back, I gazed up at the ceiling as I rubbed myself, feeling my muscles tighten.

I closed my eyes and started to groan, sending not a plea but a message, through the ceiling and all the rooms above me, and on up to the heavens—a message saying that whether I was in the company of a man or else totally alone, I would always be a woman of strength. Recalling a time many years ago when I was somewhere else, I considered how the "loss" of my virginity had not been a loss at all but a triumph—a triumph in which my body's experience had at last reached the level of experience I had gained with my mind. And lying here wet in this distant room on a Sunday afternoon, I reflected how even if I were never again to be with a man, I would carry this dual knowledge of mind and body with me, the strength and wisdom that would insure I would never be lacking and would never be at a loss.

From a novel in progress

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Magic and Memory (an excerpt from Undercover Angel)

Larry was impressed, and halfway to Las Vegas he was still checking his rear view mirror every ten minutes. Sometimes he’d see Cousin Louie with his hand inside Amber’s blouse. Amber, who an hour after meeting Louie had become his fiancee. Sometimes Larry would catch a glimpse of one of Amber’s nipples, or get a whiff of her perfume.

“She’s a hot number, yeah, don’t you think, Buddy?” Louie shouted to Larry. Then Louie began to sing, “Still the one. Who can scratch my i-itch. Still the one... you son of a bi-itch...”

Louie took a swig from a fifth of Jack Daniels, then turned towards the closed window and inhaled, as if he were taking in a deep breath of desert air.

“This country of yours,” Louie said, still facing the window, “is like nowhere else in the world. I come here as a rich man. Others from my country, they come here, thinking that here they’ll become rich. But they just get fucked.”

Even though Louie was gazing out at the desert he could tell, by the way Amber shifted her head away from his outstretched arm, that she was giving Larry a puzzled look.

“That’s the way of the world, Baby,” Louie said. “You plant your flower, you grow your pearl.” He handed her the bottle of Jack Daniels.

“What the hell is this shit?” Amber suddenly yelled, but neither Cousin Louie, whose mind was lost in some old song again, nor Larry, who'd turned around from the driver's seat to get another look at her, bothered to answer. For a moment Amber was about to scream, then she stopped herself, pulled out her compact and studied her face in the mirror.

Amber was a true California girl. Born in Fresno, she grew up to be taller than anyone else in her family. Shy and quiet child in Catholic grade school, in high school she transformed herself into the nastiest girl on the cheerleading squad. She was the party girl who smoked menthol cigarettes, drank whiskey every night and went all the way on a first date. She was smart too—smart enough to know that brains were what helped you survive but not what helped you get ahead. And, like a lot of true California girls, she was a total asshole.

Amber had ended up at the O'Farrell Theater two years earlier—that's where luck, or rather her lack of it, took her. Becoming Amber after spending the first twenty-two years of her life as Karen Ann Johannson didn't take much thought. It was a way out of doing the nine to five office routine, but after these two years she was ready for a way out of this too. And at the end of a day shift full of half-hearted lap dances and watered down drinks she didn't need much convincing. Louie, as bizarre and impenetrable as he was, was the best ride she'd been offered in years.

They drove on for another hour, silently winding their way through the desert. Every now and then Louie would take a bite out of a bar of Kraft American Cheese he’d bought at a rest stop outside of Bakersfield. To Louie, it was best cheese you could buy, better than anything that came from France or the Netherlands or anywhere else in the world. It was the best because it was American cheese, made in America’s heartland. “Wis-con-sin Cheese,” Louie would say to himself. They were magical words, like “California Condor”, “Florida Orange,” and "Rocky Mountain Oyster." In those words was the force that created the “purple mountain majesties” Louie had dreamed of back in the Philippines, the “amber waves of grain” he’d seen pictures of in Life magazine. America, his greatest dream, was now something that was passing right before his eyes.

“You know, Babe,” he suddenly said to Amber. “I’ve been through the desert, on a horse with no name. You know what that’s fucking like?”

“No, Louie. What’s it like?”

Louie turned toward the window. He wasn’t about to explain. Explanations weren't what helped him get this far. They weren't what saved his ass when he found himself surrounded by enemies who, at the time, were more powerful than him. They weren't what made him learn that you needed a lot more than luck if you wanted to be in charge of the game. Explanations just took time away from getting things done, from growing what had to be grown and killing what had to be killed. "Explanations," he would later say, in one of those strange instances when his accent, for some reason, disappeared, "are for fuck-ups."

Louie suddenly closed his eyes. He did that from time to time, taking a moment to remember some horrible thing that had happened to him. And then another moment to remember some horrible thing he'd done in turn. It always helped to lighten his mood.

"Oh oh oh, it's MY DICK!" he started to sing. "You know oh oh. Never believe it's not SO."

Pressing the button to roll down the window, Louie caught the eye of a passing motorist in a minivan and smiled at him.

"Never been a wake. Never seen a day break!" Louie continued to sing. "Leaning on my pillow in the morrrr-ning. Lazy day in bed. Music in my head. Crazy music playing in the morrrr-ning laiyyyyt!"

He smiled at the motorist's wife, at his kids in the back seat. It was his pray-I-don’t-waste-you-motherfucker smile.

Louie then looked out toward the landscape, his face caught in a grin, and smiled at all of America.

From a novel in progress

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Introducing Joe Bay (an excerpt from Undercover Angel)

It’s four o’clock on a bright and sunny Tuesday afternoon in 1999 and I’m drunk again. I don’t usually like sunny days, especially in the spring right after they go back to daylight savings time. Sunlight tends to make everything look ugly, and to tack on an extra hour of it in the spring is like putting your eye up to a microscope to take in all the ugly details you usually miss. Besides, I don’t trust sunlight. Because whenever someone proposes to “shed some light” on a subject, that person’s usually a liar.

I woke up at noon today. I was still wearing the clothes I’d had on the night before. Although I’d planned on staying inside until at least three in the morning, I slipped my arms into my sport coat, then headed downstairs and out the door. It was what normally would have been just another inauspicious beginning to a never ending series of days when it isn’t until I’m drunk that I feeI truly awake. Taking a deep breath, I looked up at the sky and smiled before walking down the block to the Raven, my neighborhood bar.

My buddy Carl was there. He’d beat me there by an hour. He always went home at eight in the morning after getting off from his job as the nightwatchman at the old Gas Company building, and after trying to sleep for a couple of hours would always end up at the Raven. He’d get there early—eleven a.m., as soon as it opened. For the last five years he’s been an insomniac, though he doesn’t like to call what he has “insomnia.”

“I hate that fucking word,” he says. “And besides, it’s sounds like some kinda wimpy kid disease, like measles or mumps. I’m forty-two years old, and I ain’t gonna be telling someone I got some goddamn kid’s disease.”

Carl’s a white dude. A white dude with the kind of sallow face that people look at and say, “He looks so unhealthy.” It seems you always see Filipino dudes like me hanging out with white dudes like Carl. White dudes who look like they’ve got something wrong with them. You’ll never see two Filipino dudes hanging out together, no matter how healthy or unhealthy they look. Unless, of course, they just got off the boat. They’re the kind who’ll see you on the street and try to make eye contact—as if just because you’re Filipino too that they fucking know you. Then while you’re minding your own business trying to ignore them they’ll call out to you, saying something in Tagalog. Thinking that just because you’re Filipino you understand the language.

I never learned it and never wanted to—at least not until I was older. What I wanted was to be white, black, anything but Filipino. It’s never been hip to be Filipino. We’ve never been the popular ethnic group, the foreign flavor of the day—and we've never wanted to be. Hell, when Ferdinand Magellan landed in the Philippines in his attempt to become the first man to circumnavigate the globe, we immediately slaughtered that uppity Eurotrash bastard. Back in the sixties you never saw any of those radical college kids in Berkeley quoting Ferdinand Marcos—President Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines who, in addition to being a totally corrupt leader, was also one of the greatest poets in the world. But none of those braless Berkeley coeds or their furry, fetid boyfriends ever mentioned his poetry.

So whenever it was time to hold court with a few nuggets of wisdom, they chose to quote Chairman Mao, a motherfucker a thousand times more ruthless than Marcos. But because Mao was Chinese and not Philippine, he could get away with it. And just when people were starting to forget about the whole deal with Magellan came Imelda—the lovely Imelda Marcos, first lady to the president and wife to the Philippines’ greatest poet. Imelda, who possessed one of the greatest singing voices in the East, as well as several thousand pairs of shoes. It’s the crime of possessing too many shoes that people remember her for now, not the gift of her voice. Filipinos don’t get away with shit. But I’m trying.

“And I hate opera,” Carl mumbles. “And Oprah... and origami and... ortolans. Have you ever eaten an ortolan? I did once. I hated it.”

What Carl did like was cars. And California girls. It didn’t matter if they were black or white or Asian or Latino or whatever. If he heard that some woman just came here to Washington from California, he was there. Buying her beers, buying her shots, trying to get her as drunk as he was.

“But I’m about ready now for some of that goddamn California love,” he says when this woman walks in and sits a couple of stools down from us. A skinny Asian woman with a don’t-bug-me-I’m-on-my-period kind of look in her eyes, she’s about thirty with long black hair and wearing a purple sun dress. She orders a “Lemon Drop”—Vodka with a twist of lemon—when Carl looks over to her.

As he curls up the side of his mouth to form an expression that’s part smile and part sneer, I can see that Carl’s about to say something to her. Carl can get away with the worst pick-up lines. I’ve heard him ask women, “So, do you come here often?” or “So, are you new in town?” And though he doesn’t always get to go home with them, he always gets them talking. But this time he went into a spiel.

“You know, I can tell you’re not from around here. Because on a warm spring day like this, women who grew up here in our Nation’s Capital tend to wear something along the lines of denim shorts and a light colored blouse with the sleeves rolled up. Women who’ve come here from someplace further south, for example, but have lived here for a few years would most likely wear a dark tee shirt and long pants—an outfit that’s spring from the waist up and winter from the waist down. You see, being from the south, they’re not quite ready to commit to warmer weather up here in the north. And, well, to make a long story short, you’re wearing a light purple sun dress. And though most women who just came here from your part of the country wouldn’t wear something like that right now, you would... because I believe you’ve just come to town via San Francisco.”

The woman looks at Carl, lowering her head as if she’s about to fire right back at him.

“Well, am I right?” Carl asks.

She turns away toward the window, then back again. “Shut the fuck up,” she says finally.

“Carl, you ready for another beer?” I say, even though another beer is the last thing he needs.

“I’m sorry,” Carl says, “let me introduce you to my friend, Joe Bay.” Carl, as always, pronounced my last name to sound like bay, even though he knows it’s properly pronounced to sound like buy. “He’s a Filipino dude, which is interesting here, because I can tell that you’ve got some Filipino blood in you as well. I’d say you’re half Filipino, half Japanese”

The woman looks at Carl, then at me, feeling more helpless than angry now.

“Hi,” I say finally after recovering from a moment of drunken embarrassment. “Ah... this young man here who’s been harassing you is Carl—Carl Watkins.”

“I’m part Irish, part French, part German, part English, part Italian,” Carl says. “Sort of a Eurotrash mongrel.” Carl pauses, then picks up his bottle and turns it upside down into his mouth. Looking back towards the woman, he sighs. “So, how about this weather?”

She looks at Carl quizzically. She knows that for the time being Carl and I are just a couple of drunks for whom all progress has stopped. But she also knows that out of inauspicious beginnings such as this momentous things can arise.

She smiles sweetly like a little girl, and says, “It’s fucken great.”

And then she begins to talk.

From a novel in progress.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

My Multicultural Drinking Life (an excerpt from Undercover Angel)

I started out the 90s by leaving my job at the Library of Congress in Washington, my home town, and moving up to New York. To the big time, where I got a job writing for one of those so-called alternative weeklies. I wrote “slice-of-life” stories—stories that usually involved me getting stinking drunk at some bar and getting into arguments and fistfights before finally being kicked out. One might not think so, but it was a formula which lent itself well to about a thousand variations. I never got to do that thousandth variation, though, because after about a year the editors decided that what I was writing about wasn’t cool. Or at any rate, that it wasn’t cool for me to be writing about it.

“That José Bay’s writing is actually coherent, unlike the seemingly usual state of mind of its author,” said one of the many angry letters to the editor in response to my work, “does not justify the waste of space you continue to devote to this self-polluting, sociopathic loser, whiner, and lazy brat.” In closing, the author of this little missive addressed me directly: “Leave New York, José Bay, and go back into the sewer you crawled out of.”

The drinking life—the black eyes, broken noses, and third degree hangovers—that was the realm of Irishmen or Poles or Russians—anyone, as long as they were white. If you were Asian, Hispanic, or black, you had to be a saint, rising up out of poverty, parting ways with the violent gang you used commit crimes with, overcoming your humble immigrant beginnings to live some fucking Horatio Alger American dream.

When you’re not white, and you’re in the public eye, you have to be an example—you have to “represent.” With my byline being “José Bay,” people reading me thought I was Hispanic, though when they saw me in person or saw a picture of me, they knew I was Asian. But whether I was Asian or Hispanic, my unrepentant chronicling of my disorderly behavior wasn’t something I could get away with. Especially since I was Filipino, because Filipinos are supposed to be polite, goddamnit, like everyone’s favorite servant, the Filipino houseboy: Would you like me to fix you another Mai Tai, sir? Or perhaps you’d prefer a Suffering Bastard?

I went on unemployment for a year—that much I could get away with—and, like many a failed journalist before me, started working on a novel. And, like the stereotypical failed journalist, I never finished the novel. So when my unemployment benefits ran out, I started looking for work.

I sent out resumes in response to ads in the New York Times and signed up with an temp agency that specialized in library and research assignments. A few weeks went by and my money was nearly gone. I’d sent out about a hundred resumes and hadn’t been called in for a single interview, but then I got a call from the agency. They had a job for me, a month long temp job that paid fifteen dollars an hour. I added up the numbers and it came to about two grand. Subtract the $675 I paid for rent on my dumpy studio apartment, and take another $100 off for bills, and that left me $1,225. Take off another $200 for food, and that gave me about $1,000 to drink with.

I immediately went over to my friend Randall’s apartment to celebrate. Randall Crump was another white dude—a film maker who’d moved to New York from South Carolina about ten years earlier and who only now had finished shooting his first feature film, a B-movie parody which he called Girlquack. It was an idea he came up with while we were drinking at the Parkside on Houston St.: a movie about these hot babes who communicate with each other by quacking like ducks; living on some remote island in the Pacific, unknown to Western civilization, they come to America in search of their lost queen.

We were completely trashed when the concept appeared before us like the blurry spectacle of a beer bottle falling off the side of the bar, but the next day, when I talked to him about it on the phone, it still made sense. That we were still drunk made no difference: it was a great concept and a great metaphor for our times, even though we had no idea what it meant.

But now it was time to celebrate my escape from the ranks of the unemployable. We started off with a six pack Randall’s girlfriend, Jane, had bought the other night but never got around to drinking. When we were done with that we opened up a fresh bottle of bourbon. Bourbon was our drink of choice—bourbon, the national drink of the S.U.S., the Southern United States, where the most respected science of all is the science of drinking. Like athletes preparing for a heavy workout by doing stretching exercises, beer was our warm up. Whenever it was time for the real workout, we’d twist the cap of a bottle of Jack Daniels, listening for that subtle cracking sound that tells you that the bottle’s contents are ready to be dispensed.

The next day at eight in the morning I hopped on the F Train and took it up to 53rd and Fifth Avenue. I’d only gotten three hours of sleep but I felt good. Taking the elevator up to the 23rd floor of one of the more luxurious high rise office buildings on Fifth Avenue, I reported to a woman named Claudia Schiffer. A tiny, hunched over woman somewhere in her thirties, she didn’t look anything like the supermodel whose name she shared. Nevertheless, I liked her and thought that if I turned on the charm I could get off pretty easy in the month I’d be working with her: two hour lunches, a leisurely pace, and maybe, every now and then, an afternoon quickie in the storage room.

But as soon as she sat down to talk to me about my job she tensed up.

“Well let me just show you to your work station,” she said, turning her face away from me. Standing up, she walked quickly out the door.

I did my nine to five thing there for the first time in over a year, playing with the numbers for what turned out to be some big financial consulting firm. It would take some getting used to, I thought, but I could handle it. Still, as soon as I got off that day I headed across town to the Shandon Star, my midtown dive. I knew that it would take some serious drinking to get through this new job with my senses intact. And in order to stay ahead of the game, I knew I’d have hit the bars immediately at the end of each work day.

Before leaving the Shandon Star I used the phone to check if there were any messages on my answering machine at home. There was one message, from the guy who ran the temp agency.

“This is Donald Miller from Reilly-Bush,” he said. I could tell by the tone of his voice that something was wrong. “Claudia Schiffer called me this evening and asked that you not come back tomorrow.”

Well, I thought, rejected by Claudia Schiffer: it was something that had happened to a lot of other men before me. Then I realized it was not Claudia Schiffer the supermodel who was rejecting me, but Claudia Schiffer the civilian, from the renown financial consulting firm of Baker and Evans.

“And although your work was acceptable,” Miller continued, “the reason Claudia Schiffer asked that you not return was your body odor. It was highly inappropriate.”

My body odor inappropriate? In other words, I was stinking up the joint, most likely with the previous night’s bourbon and that day’s tobacco stench. Christ, I thought, if Claudia Schiffer is environmentally sensitive, what the fuck is she doing in New York City?

“At any rate, we’ll continue to look for other positions for you,” Miller said at the end of his message.

That, I knew, was a lie. His agency wouldn’t do another thing for me—unless, of course, they started filling jobs for sewer workers. I was, apparently, well on my way to crawling back to that sewer from where I came.

Walking out of the Shandon Star and down Eighth Avenue, I kept my distance from people. And although I usually marched straight ahead, making people get out of my way or else be shoved aside, I was now darting left, then right like a lost dog sniffing the sidewalk, searching aimlessly for the territory I’d once staked out as my own. All because my smell wasn’t something I could get away with yet, not even on New York City’s pissed-on streets.

From a novel in progress

Monday, August 01, 2005

Undercover Angel

My Cousin Louie had a dream too. “Make your enemies eat their own suka,” he advised me shortly after I first met him. Suka meant vomit in Tagalog. Later, Cousin Louie would explain what you had to do to make your enemies vomit.

I hadn’t asked him for advice on this or anything else, for that matter, but somehow he recognized that I was a man in need of guidance. That I was in need of a few tips on how to make it in the world…

Cousin Louie said he came to America last Friday. Stepping off the plane and onto American soil for the first time, Cousin Louie kissed the ground, then reached up to place his hand on the shoulder of a woman from Montana who’d been on the plane with him.

“This is America!” he exclaimed. “This is the tits, man! The real shit!”

The woman, whose name was Faye, looked down at Cousin Louie. At four foot ten, Cousin Louie was about a foot shorter than this tall Western woman who had a figure like a long neck bottle of Budweiser. And though Cousin Louie was forty-five years old, he had the voice and build of a teenage boy. How else could she respond to his crude exclamation except to say, “You need to watch your language, young man!” And, “Where is your mother?”

“My Mama’s back home, babe.”

“In Hawaii?”

“No, in the Philippines, babe. This plane we just got out of started in Manila, babe. We only stopped in Hawaii to pick your big butt up.” Cousin Louie paused a moment, then asked, in a mock Southern accent, “Wanna get a brewski?”

Faye clutched her purse close to where the words “King of Beers” would have appeared on her body, then rushed ahead without either another question or another command to Cousin Louie.

“Pray I don’t waste you, motherfucker!” Cousin Louie shouted after her. Although Cousin Louie understood English fairly well, this was one expression he didn’t understand at all—which didn’t keep him from uttering it confidently every chance he got. It was something about the sound of the word “motherfucker.” Surely there was no word in the English language more beautiful than “motherfucker.”

Cousin Louie’s first stop there in San Francisco was the Golden Gate Bridge. Despite the exhilaration he showed on the surface, Cousin Louie had been sad of late. And when he stepped on that plane headed for California, San Francisco, U.S.A., the words that kept going through his head were, “I’ve had it with this shit.”

Taking a cab into town from San Francisco International Airport, Cousin Louie got off at the entrance to the Presidio, then walked. As he walked he opened the one bag he’d carried with him and pulled out a tiny bottle of Jack Daniels that he’d saved from the flight. Unscrewing the top, he turned the bottle upside down into his mouth. In a second the bottle was empty. Staring straight ahead towards the Golden Gate Bridge, Cousin Louie tossed the bottle onto the grass and wiped his mouth.

Cousin Louie had made it halfway across the bridge when he laid down his bag. Grabbing onto the railing, he started to hoist himself up but then stopped. Gazing out to the West, towards what was once home, a look of disgust came over his face.

“Fuck this shit!” he yelled. He stepped back down. After looking from side to side, he unzipped his pants.

Cousin Louie took aim, then let it go. Adjusting the angle, his piss went over the edge of the bridge.

“I say WHOOAAA!” he sang. “I say whoo-ooo-OOO-eeee. I say all RIIIIIGHT!”

Then he kept quiet to see if he could hear it hit the water. He listened closely until he heard something.

“That’s it!” he yelled finally. “That’s me, motherfucker! That’s me!”

Cousin Louie had just now, at the age of forty-five, left everything behind. His career, his wife, his eleven children. The only man in our family to get rich, he nevertheless had gotten tired of being a big fish in a little pond, a big island among little islands, a great sinner among lesser saints.

“Sorry, baby,” he mumbled as he zipped up his pants.

Cousin Louie started walking again when he realized he was heading north.

“Oh man, that would suck,” he mumbled. “Wine country my fucking ass!”

He turned around and headed back south toward San Francisco. Once he got off the bridge he hailed the first cab he saw.

“895 O’Farrell Street,” he commanded.

The driver, a middle-aged white guy with a beer gut, shifted his shoulders until he was facing Cousin Louie. He looked Louie over and smirked until his chubby right cheek turned red.

“What’s your problem, Buddy?” Louie asked. “Don’t you know where that is?”

“Yes, I know where that is. I just don’t think that’s the sort of place you should be going.”

“Quit grinning like an idiot, Buddy!” Louie yelled. “I’m forty-five fucking years old and if I wanna go someplace I’m gonna go whether it’s good for me or not.”

Louie pulled a hundred dollar bill from his pocket and waved it in front of the driver’s face.

“This looks like a hundred dollars to you, but to me it ain’t nothing but small change, motherfucker. Do as I say and I’ll scratch your back with it, Buddy.”

It took him a minute, but finally the driver understood. Soon he was pulling up in front of the O’Farrell Theatre. Louie gave the driver a hundred dollar bill, then pulled a five hundred dollar bill from his wallet.

“If you’re still out here when I come out, I’ll give you this.” Louie held up the five hundred dollar bill. “You can depend on me, Big Buddy. Show me that I can depend on you.”

At the door of the O’Farrell Louie had to show his international driver’s license to the doorman, who eyed it closely and rubbed it between his fingers.

“It’s the real thing, Joe,” Louie said, gazing up confidently at the doorman. Louie then pulled his license from doorman’s hand and replaced it with a hundred dollar bill. “Just show me the way in, Joe. Everything’s fucking cool.”

The doorman looked down at Louie and shrugged his shoulders. Then holding open the door, he showed Louie inside.

“Everything’s cool,” the doorman said loudly to the bouncer and waitress who were standing inside by the entrance. “He just looks young.”

“That’s right, Joe,” Louie said.

Looking directly into the doorman’s eyes, Louie flashed a smile. ”Just pray I don’t waste you, motherfucker!” It was only when Louie smiled that you got a sense that he was a lot older than he looked.

Louie made his way through the O’Farrell Theatre, checking out the dancers on the main stage, in the Ultra Room, in the Kopenhagen Lounge. Two hours later, when Louie finally left—with a tall blonde dancer holding tightly onto his arm—he looked ahead to see that Larry, the taxi driver, was waiting for him, ready to take him wherever he wanted to go.

Excerpt from a novel in progress