Dirty Old Man; An Entirely Fictional Tale About the Future Written in Present Tense.

Aqualung, my friend.

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?

“I understand.”

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.

Totally psyched about getting old.

Cuddling Catcus in The Desert of Love

Proceed With Caution

Black Sabbath was playing over the stereo.  On TV, the German 6th Army was surrounded by the Russians, and was freezing to death.  I was drinking a beer and looking at the socks on my feet.  All was well in the world.  The only way it could be better was if there was some female company there to enjoy the perfection of that moment.

There was a knock at my door.  Not a cop knock, or a drunk buddy knock, but a tippy-tap chick knock.  The Universe.  I jumped up and put on some pants.  A lost little girl on her way to Grandmother’s?  Or… just a cop knocking like a chick, to get me to open up.  I paused.  If it is the cops, I’ll just have to pay for the lock anyway.  I slowly opened the door, hoping for a mystery dream date.

It was the biker chick who moved in next door.  It made sense that she’d be the woman The Universe would send.  Great sense of humor, The Universe.

I had already decided I didn’t like her when I overheard her jaw at the two hayseed meth addicts that helped her move.  “Hey Fucker, watch it!  I won that mirror at the fair!”  “Where the fuck is my lighter?  Did you steal my fucking lighter?” “Dalton! I swear if you break that, I’m gonna break your face!”  She was personality-challenged, and she didn’t have the looks to make up for it.  Hopefully she’ll want to drink all my beers, too.

“Got a beer?” she asked, taking off her buckskin jacket and throwing it on the chair that served as my hamper.  She wore a leather vest, revealing a beef jerky-textured cleavage formed by two flattened and freckled breasts.

“Yeah sure,” I said, “But I’m kinda low, I might have to make a run pretty soon, and that’s going to be iffy since my car doesn’t have any brakes.”  This didn’t seem to register.  She stood looking around at my apartment.  She had straight black hair that hung-down like the Land O Lakes Butter maiden.  But unlike the Land O Lakes Butter maiden, who is hot, this woman had rugged features that were probably etched deeper by frequenting smokey and boozy environs.  A harsh life had scoured any softness from her face.  She looked hard.  Prison time and honky-tonk hard.  I don’t generally go for chicks that look tougher than me.

She didn’t waste any time getting under my skin.  “Wow, this place is thrashed! It smells weird in here. Hey turn the music down. What’s this shit you’re watching?”

I looked at her amazed.  Mom, is that you?  I wished the cops had come instead.  I could turn down the Sabbath, they’d run me for warrants, and then leave.  This buzz-kill was going to be a little trickier to get rid of.  I went over and gave a token dial-down on the volume.

“To what do I owe the honor of this occasion?” I asked, getting a beer from the fridge, but not before stashing two in the vegetable drawer.

“Oh, I don’t know. I was bored and I heard the music,” she said, taking the beer.  She flung back her hair and tilted the bottle.  I watched her drain half of it in one pull.  Six ounces in three seconds.  I figured I should just start walking to the store now.

“My name is Toni, but everyone calls me Tehachapi.”  She held out her hand.  I shook it.  It was a firm handshake.  Great.  A cornball handle and a manly mitt.  Sweet deal, all around.

“Well Tony, would you like to have a seat?”  I pulled up a milk crate.  “That’s okay, I’d rather lay down here.”  She flopped on my mattress and started to kick off her boots.  She took out a pack of Marlboro Reds.  They were in a tooled leather purse with beaded suede fringe.  A swap meet purchase, I imagined.  Probably the same vendor that sold her that silver and turquoise lighter holder.  “Do you have an ashtray?” she asked, already lighting up.

“Ah yeah, it’s totally cool to smoke in here,” I assured her.  I handed her an empty bottle to use.

This is so bad, I thought, on so many levels, I don’t know which one I should fixate on.  Maybe I should just focus on the fact there’s some sort of a representation of a woman on my bed.  That has traditionally been considered a good start for me.  Perhaps if I drink a lot of beers, in a very short time, things will somehow improve.  I cracked a fresh one and sat down on the milk crate.  I looked over at the TV and watched troops pull a field artillery piece through the snow.  This was going to be hard.

“My name is…”  Hold it. Real name? Lives next door now. Fake one won’t help. “…Marius.”

“What is it?”


“That’s a weird name.”

“Yep…It sure is.”

I looked over and saw a German soldier running through the rubble.  A sniper bullet caught him and he went down dead.  If it could only be that easy, I thought.  She pointed to my bookshelf.

“Hey, you got Scrabble!  I loved playing that with my Grandma.”

“Yeah well, I don’t really play it anymore.”

“I’m not very good with spelling, but I’m good at coming up with words.”

“That’s hard to pull off,” I said, “That’s really awesome.”

She killed off her beer, and set the bottle down on the floor.  “That was good. Got another?”

Ok, I need to be called away to some emergency.  What kind of emergency happens at 10:30 at night?  Loads, but I can’t think of one right now, not one that would need me hanging around.  I have eight beers left and that was going to be pushing it even flying solo.  Now this thing happens.  Well, I can’t let her lap me.  I slammed my beer and got up and got two more.

She began telling me about herself, but somehow I already knew it.  Alcoholic parents, abusive marriages, kids taken away, some stripping, some prostitution, drugs, county jail, rehab, bartending, carnival gig, transporting meth to Indiana for her biker boyfriend, state prison, rehab again, and now collecting welfare and selling Mary Kay.  It was a depressing saga, and I was fairly immune to those by then.  Her story curb-kicked anything I had resembling a high into shit-smeared bummer.  Oh, and she’d never even been to Tehachapi.

The liquor store was inevitable.  I told the Old Maiden of the Iron Horse to kick up her heels while I rolled on down to the store.

The car really didn’t have brakes.  I had to rely on the parking brake and my psychic hunches about when lights were going to change.  It was a good thing I was an intuitive, or it would’ve been crazy dangerous.  I coasted to a stop at Owl Liquors, but I overshot the drive-thru and had to get out of the car to order from the window.  The ride back was uneventful, except for the car wreck going on in my mind.

“Where the fuck is your remote?” she asked as I walked through the door.  I told her it was a long story, and that reaching up to change the channel was a good ab work-out.  I put the beers in the fridge and added two more to the vegetable drawer.

We drank and she talked some more.  The drunker she got, the flirtier she became.  The flirtier she became, the drunker I needed to get.  I prayed for a deus ex machina to descend from the sky and save me.  I kept bringing up what an early morning I had ahead, but she kept on yammering and beating her eyelids at me.

“Why don’t you come lay down next to me and make yourself more comfortable?  You’re all hunched up,” she says.

My ass had deep x’s imprinted in it from the milk crate, but I wasn’t about to make myself more comfortable.  It seemed like I couldn’t impair my judgement fast enough to keep up with events.

“I like being hunched up,” I told her, “I think I was a cathedral gargoyle in a past life.”  I started to tell her about how my grandmother spilled an entire pint of cognac in her purse at St. Patrick’s Catherdral, but she interupted with, “Hey, do you want to fuck?”

Oh God. Panic in Detroit.  Things around me began to stretch and distort.  The lines in the room started to point upwards at crazy angles, like in German Expressionist set design.  I couldn’t remember the last time I said no to that question.  I didn’t think I knew how.  I was going to have to learn fast.

“Yeah I’d love to except that I don’t have any condoms, and I’m having an outbreak, and I’m a little confused about my sexuality these days, and I don’t want to rush things, and I’m too drunk, and I have a girlfriend.”

“Well then scaredy cat, just come over here and cuddle with me for a while.”

Could this really be happening to me?  I tried to wake myself up.  No, still here.  The problem was I didn’t want to hurt her feelings.  I know.  I’m lame like that.  Was it time to fake a seizure?

“Oh, if there’s one thing I love to do, it’s cuddle,” I said.  I slowly got up.  I wanted to be a fly, or a pencil in a cup, or a ball of dryer lint, anything but me right then.  I laid down next to her.  She burrowed her face into my armpit, and just like that, she was out cold.  The Universe.  Nothing like adding a little drama with a last-minute save.

I looked down at her.  Her face seemed to soften.  I pictured what she looked like as a young girl, back when she had no idea how bad things would get.  That made me feel even more sorry for her.  I found myself feeling bad because I didn’t even want to love her.  But, I wanted somebody to love her, eventually.  Nobody’s life should be non-stop bullshit, and if it is, they should at least have one partner in crime.  Would it kill me to let her pretend for a while?  Clearly I’m not averse to doing things that could kill me.  Besides, I was drunk.  I had the all-purpose excuse already in my back pocket.

I leaned back. I thought about war on the Eastern Front.  That was hard.  This should be easy, well…easier.  You’re just holding another human being.  Fucking relax. I listened to my clock tick for a while, and then remembered the beers in the vegetable drawer.  I wondered if I could get to them without waking her up.  She started to snore as my arm fell asleep.