I’m eighty years old and living in a hotel for men. I’ve just finished half a can of cat food salad that I’ve made using the mayonnaise packets I stole from Arby’s. I spread it on a some day old white bread and toast it using a coat hanger and candle. If I knew I would live this long, I would’ve invested in something. Like Arby’s. Who would’ve thought those shit holes would still be around? What a burn on me.
I look out the window and see a woman walking along the sidewalk in heels. She’s not particularly attractive, but I feel a compulsion to run out and tell her that I love her. I was hoping that when things stopped working down there the insanity up here would also stop. Nope. If anything, it seems to have gotten worse. I knew this would happen. I could see the writing on the wall, way, way, way back when.
Both of my grandfathers were still interested in women long after everyone wanted to imagine they weren’t. “You really shouldn’t dig that kind of stuff anymore, Grandpa. Actually, you shouldn’t have ever dug it. You’re Grandpa.”
Now I’m sitting here looking out the window, perving on the passing parade, and grossing myself out. I guess that’s justice. My cat dances around and between my legs. She’s hungry. I could make a dirty joke here, but I’m eighty years old and not very sharp or funny anymore. I give her the other half of the can.
“Easy Tallulah, this shit isn’t cheap.” I look back up and the woman is gone. There will be another one. In the meantime, try to do a push-up. I get on the floor and press my hands hard into the linoleum. I manage to raise myself off the ground a few times and collapse. That’s what my next girlfriend has to look forward to. I get up in time to see another woman passing by.
She’s wearing an algae-green, poly blend pantsuit, accessorized smartly with a white fanny pack and matching orthopedic sandals. She has a Moe haircut and cataract sunglasses. Looks like she’s twenty years younger, and is probably out of my league. Is it time to eat rat poison? Not yet.
I remember sitting on the veranda with my grandfather in Queens. It was an early summer evening and we were having some drinks. We watched women come home from work. He would make comments based on what he thought they were all about. After 76 years on the planet, living among them, he could call some pretty good shots.
“Dis von gut in dah bed, but maybe killen you in dah vollet.” He’d pretend to pull out his wallet and scatter bills. I’d look over and think, “Yeah, a little high-maintenance, but he’s right, she does look like a kicker.” The best was when he’d see one and just say “Vow!” I’d turn and watch some creature clacking up the street, calves chiseled out of marble, hips swinging like lethal weapons, the bra barely able to contain the madness trying to bust out.
“No shit, Grandpa,” I’d say, “Vowee.” You knew she would devastate your sanity, bleed your bank account white, set fire to your peace of mind with gasoline soaked rags and road flares. And it would be so vorth it. Our eyes would follow her as she pulsated past us. Vow.
I would watch that grandfather trying to make time with the various women he’d meet. He had this thing where he would click his heels and raise a St. Louis Arch of an eyebrow when taking their hand. I remember being demoralized. Shit, if even he hasn’t learned any better, after all these years, what hope do I have? I am always going to be held captive by their sway, forever a slave to their fickle folly.
It was one of the few times in my eighty years that I was right. About that, and that 3-D internet would revolutionize porn.
Evening was descending and the walls were starting to close in. It was time to hit the streets and play the flaneur.
I put on my state-issued jacket that clearly identifies me as a recipient of government aid. It has a big letter P, for parasite, emboldened in neon yellow on the back. In case of emergency, I am the first to be recruited for forced labor, hazardous work duty, or organ harvest. I am also not entitled to any emergency supplies or health care.
I’m just glad the jacket looks good on me. Makes me kind of look like a bad-ass. I did a little tailoring. Took in the waist a little.
I pet Tallulah good-bye and close the door behind me. Down the hall I nod to Bryce. He looks loaded. He’s been cheezing. Ever since it was discovered that the government cheese food product was laced with sedative, the fiends found a way to distill it. They call it “making fondue.”
The petroleum product is cooked down, leaving an amber-colored tar. The tar is rolled into a bullet shape and inserted as a suppository. Everybody knows cheese blocks you up. Jamming it like that has serious repercussions. I could hear him banging on the walls of the bathroom down the hall. Poor sod.
I step outside, grateful to be sober, and regular. My biggest high these days is watching Tallulah kill one of the mutant rats that gnaw through the walls. I don’t eat them, but I can trade them in Chinatown for a cup of green tea, which I have with a cigarette butt that I’ve saved for the occasion. I get a mild buzz. That’s as wild as it gets. That’s my big thrill. Oh, and seeing something like this coming up the street here. Hello, Vamprilla, lost your virgin sacrifice?
Lately, I’ve been finding myself enamored with these Ghoul Girls. Pale as death, lips red from sucking out the blood of past boyfriends, arms tattooed with portraits of famous serial killers, the loaded syringe earrings, the human finger bone through the nose, the black latex boots with ice-pick heels. My hope being that going to bed with a corpse wouldn’t be entirely out of the question for them, and that somehow I might have a chance.
That’s it. I’m down to hoping I’ll meet a nice necrophiliac. Pretty depressing.
I smile and arch an eyebrow. She sneers. Okay, maybe not that one.
I don’t know if this parasite parka helps. She’s probably Republican.
My other grandfather had his own game with women. When we were holding the wake for my grandmother, the funeral director came outside where I was having a nip from a flask. I offered her a hit, but she said she didn’t want to smell like liquor that early in the day. She was an old Lithuanian lady, so we got to talking about this and that, and she mentioned that she liked my late grandfather’s writing. “He was very funny,” she told me, “But I didn’t like…the way he kissed.” I got it. I knew what she was referring to.
He was sort of an aggressive kisser. He didn’t want to settle for the peck on the lips that you get, let’s say, after accepting an award, but would try to burn it in drive-in style, right there at the podium. Wish I could say I don’t know the impulse, but damn. He’d be there in the batter’s box swinging at anything, hoping for at least a dinger over the shortstop’s head, anything for a chance to beat one out safely at first. I guess saying good-bye to an old lady funeral director is as good an opportunity as any. Not like she was getting a lot of action either.
I stop outside my favorite thrift store. It’s run by a woman named Stasha. She’s a cougar and has made it clear she wants me, but she’s 86. That five or six-year difference was nice before. I always liked older women. Generally, they had their shit together and knew a couple of extra tricks. Somewhere along the line that changed. I know today everybody is saying that eighty is the new forty, but eighty-six is still eighty-six.
She was alright, otherwise. An ancient, hippy free-spirit, she was at least somebody you could joke around with.
“Hello Maurice, how are you doing it today?” she giggles.
“Marius, and I’m doing it like I always do, when nobody is watching.”
She laughs and puts her hand on my arm. Signal. I feel uncomfortable, but don’t pull away. Can’t hurt her feelings.
“Get any new books in?”
It’s one of the few places that still has them. The libraries have been closed for decades. They were considered a fatuous waste of tax payer dollars. “Everything you need to know about life is on your screen,” we were told. Nobody banned books. People just lost the ability to concentrate on more words than were contained in a photo caption. Books died off like Esperanto and bath houses.
“I just got in one of the classics, Betrayal, by Danielle Steel.”
“I’ll take it.”
“A little desperate for reading material?”
“Yeah, it’s been like jail lately, I’ll read anything to keep from staring at the walls. I really can’t afford to be too picky these days.”
She smiles. Oh shit. Not what I meant.
‘”She’s not the worst,” she says, “Besides, a little romance never hurt anybody.” She throws her shawl over her shoulder and gives me a wink that get’s stuck closed. She turns around and walks back to get the book. I could see her giving her ass a little extra kick with the strut, making the bangled belt around her gypsy skirt ring little bells.
She’s wrong there. A little romance has hurt plenty of people. Some guy holds the door open for some woman at Starbucks and three and a half months later he’s jumping off a bridge.
I can remember plenty of people I hurt. The drunkenness, the cheating and whoring, all took a toll. I could be a real selfish asshole. Remind me to tell you about Valentine’s Day in Mexico some time. Anyway, I’ve hurt some nice ladies in my day, women whose only crime was to see something in me. That still feels bad. Even now.
I’ve tried to be better. You know, not take advantage. Like with this one. I don’t want to give her the total frost out. She has feelings. But, I also don’t want to lead her on. I want to her to know she’s still a woman, but not give her any false hope. It’s a razor’s edge. Then again. False hope these days is better than no hope.
She comes out with the book. A paperback so swollen from water damage that it bulges like a football.
“That’ll be $400. The silverfish between the pages are free,” she says.
I laugh. Funny chick. I pull out a grand and hand it to her. She gives me the change. $600 will buy me six more cans of cat food, and that will take me to the end of the month. Then it’s back to the welfare office for a piss test, anal probe and mandatory blood donation to get my monthly $5,000 check. Easy money. I’m solid.
“That should keep you from staring at the walls for a while,” she says, handing me the book, “I hate thinking about you being so lonely.”
“Oh, uh, it’s not all that bad. I have my cat.”
I regretted it the second it came out of my mouth. She’s going to springboard from it. Watch. I could see her roll it over, and then come up with something. Oh God. Please, please, please don’t let her go there. She’s 86 years old.
“Is that the only pussy you need?”
Oh Damn. Now would be a great time to drop dead. Just leave the body and go Eckankar. No such luck. Need a polite pivot here.
“Ya-ha! Pretty much, ha-ha, these days. I did a lot of nuclear clean-up during Earthquake Summer. I’m not the man I used to be.” I smiled.
“Oh, that’s not a problem. There’s other things boys and girls can do for playtime.”
Manly P. Hall, this is awkward.
“I’m rebounding from a bad break-up. She left me for a rodeo clown. Still stings like a bitch. I need some time alone to lick my wounds.”
That was a bad choice. Lick my wounds? Where is she going to go with that?
She picks up a feather duster and starts to dust a dirty ashtray. I hurt her feelings. Damn it. See? It never ends. I still haven’t learned how to do this.
“I’ll tell you what, next time I get a lonely spell I’ll call you, and you can come over and we can hang out.”
“Maybe we could play Scrabble?”
“Not that one, but something else, like a card game.”
“I’d love for you to show me your kitty,” she says.
I wave good-bye and start for the door. She calls out after me.
“You don’t have my number!”
I stop. I was almost home free. I smack my head.
“Oh, that’s right. I’m going to need that to call you. I can’t believe I forgot to ask for it. Yes, very good then, write it down, and I will be calling you very soon, alright? So don’t feel bad about yourself or sad about anything, okay?”
“Okay. I won’t.”
She hands me her number and I step outside. A light drizzle starts to come down. It doesn’t smell too toxic. The streets are deserted early tonight. Where is everybody? I didn’t hear any warning sirens. Whatever. Looks like it’s just me and the night sky. I start back up the street and head home. I hope Tallulah caught one tonight. We both could use something.