Decided I’d pick a random picture out of a pile and write about it. What can I say? I’m desperate for topics. Okay. This one should be easy. Me and Joe. We’re at my mom’s house having lunch. I’m pouring him a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice made from concentrate. It looks like I’m wearing a chandelier, but I’m just standing behind it.
And that. Is pretty much. That.
That’s what’s going on there.
Old Joe. And me. At my mom’s house.
How about that?
Yeah, that’s some crazy shit.
Obviously, this was taken during a period of sustained sobriety. Because that’s how cray-cray I roll when I’m not drinking. Doesn’t lend itself to a good story though.
I guess I could write about the dashing black devil dog I’m pouring the OJ for. That’s Joe. We became buddies while working as bouncers at the same strip club. This was the dump in Gardena. Not the one by LAX. The one on the Compton border. Just get on Rosecrans Blvd. and follow the sound of gunfire. And the smell of sex.
It wasn’t one of my more stress-free gigs. There we were, sitting on piles and piles of cash, one block away from the 110 freeway on-ramp. It was as close to a sure-thing armed heist jack-pallooza pay-off as you’re going to get. At least that’s what all us bouncers had decided.
Now…if we could only find some people around here desperate enough to try. Yoo-hoo! Anybody in this zip code like some free money?
What made it even better was that I took the cover charge and carried the majority of the cash. Felt like I was wearing a bacon-bikini to a dog fight. Eventually the owners let me carry a piece, but in this neighborhood that didn’t really guarantee anything, except drawing more fire.
So I really appreciated having a guy like Joe watching my back. Ex-Marine. Funny. Sharp as razor wire. Strong as an ox. Squared-away. He wanted to be a writer too. We became pals and hung out when not at work. We’d lift weights at his apartment and talk about writing, life, strippers. Travel to border towns in Mexico in search of adventure and romance. Just normal stuff.
He was a good fighter. I got to watch him work his magic a few times. He had a pretty impressive beat-down delivery system worked out. Mostly thanks to Uncle Sam, but he also had a natural talent. Which is hilarious when you knew Joe. When you knew what a total sweet-heart, good soul he was. To watch him go from genial, charming guy–to ring gladiator–was an amazing thing to witness.
They never saw it coming. A flash of white teeth, then a storm of blows. Black Lighting.
He didn’t have to resort to that very often since he had this natural ease about him. It put other people at ease. He could defuse a potentially explosive situation with a well-placed wisecrack, or a “C’mon now, work with me, brother!”
He never showed fear. But he also didn’t get up in dude’s faces. Instead, he would gently steer potential trouble down and away. I liked that. Now that I wasn’t drinking, I wasn’t so gung-ho for fisticuffle solutions. A fella could get hurt.
Sometimes though, you’d run across a dude whose personal karmic debt was just screaming to be paid. A man intent on blowing past all the safe exits being courteously offered by this gracious gentleman. He’d misjudge Joe’s nice as soft. Think he could steamroll him.
That’s when he’d meet The Panther.
Surprise! You’re suppositions were errant. Now you get to do The Chicken while being choked out by in a powerful ebony bicep.
We worked well together. Like some salt and pepper super hero duo. I was salt. Since, you know, me and the salt-shaker thing. Although, at that point, I had moved away from those to a kinder and gentler 300,000 volt zapper, La Chicharra. A light touch on the back of the neck. Arcing blue spark blowing out CNS circuits, a little mountain dance, then a collapse into a puddle of electrified urine. Much more humane.
Relatively. That little Tesla cattle prod packed a wallop. I know. I accidentally sat on it one night getting into my car. Forgot I had it in the back pocket. All I know is I’m reaching for the ignition and a Frankenstein bolt of electricity blasts down my right leg. Kzzzzaaahrrrrrr!
I screamed like a little girl. Yes it hurt, like a bear trap snapping repeatedly along the limb, but it freaked the fuck out of me too. Your first thought isn’t “Oh I just accidentally sat on my zapper.” No, you think something very terrible is happening to you. Something mysterious. Some unmeasurable new torment. From God, maybe. And your involuntary screaming frightens you into more screaming.
Glad the windows were rolled up.
Anyway, it was good to know Joe had my six. I sure had his. I loved that guy.
We wound up working for the same security company after the we left the strip club. That was dead-end, so we’d try to pick up free-lance work doing escort for scared rich people. Most of the time we just wound up doing security at rap shows and private parties. But, whatever we’d find individually, we’d try to get the other guy in on. Always looking out for each other.
One day, I got to do him a major solid.
One of my contacts, a successful jewelry designer I carried baubles for, had one of her girlfriends coming in from overseas. She needed a driver and escort while she stayed in LA. My lady friend told me this woman was beautiful, and like I mentioned, prosperous enough to pay well. Just to safely shepherd her around.
Why I didn’t take the job I don’t know. Something just told me to pass it on to Joe. I knew his financial empire was struggling a little more than mine at the time, so I told my lady I’d have Joe do it. She had already met him one night in Santa Barbara when we all had dinner together. (Actually, that was the night before this picture was taken.)
“Oh yes,” she said, “Joe would be perfect. Mmm yes, PERFECT.”
Huh? Oh. Okay. I got it. Our company just expanded it’s service line. This was going to be one of those deals.
Shit. I may have just fucked myself out of a very enjoyable paid gig. Oh well. This was going to be quite a happy surprise for Joe. I called him and dialed him in on the basics, but left out my intuitions, not wanting to get his hopes up. I shouldn’t have worried.
He called me the day after.
“I owe you more than I could ever repay.”
I knew it. I sat down on the couch.
“Over several lifetimes.”
“Oh shit, what happened?”
“All good things, man. All good things. I so owe you.”
“What the fuck happened?!!”
“Just the best day of my life.”
“The one that could have been mine. Go on.”
He tells me how he goes to pick her up at the hotel she’s staying at, and into the lobby slinks this blonde cougar. Early forties. Classy. Sophisticated. Clearly an intelligent and together woman. But maybe unstable enough to be fun. Maybe some unresolved issues that periodically erupt in deliciously bad behavior.
“Nine,” he says, “with make up. Solid eight without.”
“You saw her without her make-up?”
“Hold on. I’m getting there, but it’s part of a whole package. A whole package of WOW!”
He’s laughing. You can hear the joy. Oh man, I’m thinking, a whole package of WOW sounds so good. Even half a package. I felt a tinge of something I didn’t like, so I shoved it away.
He tells me that after he picked up this clickity-clackity sexity society kitten, he took her to 3rd St. Promenade in Santa Monica.
They walked around, looking at the stores and restaurants, Joe just being the young-charming-good-looking-intelligent-witty-chivalrous-chiseled-mahogany individual that he was.
“We hit it off right away. She seemed fairly happy hanging out with me.”
“Really? I’ll never figure out women.”
They stroll along the beach. It’s a beautiful day and the freaks are out. Lots to talk about. Laugh about. Poke playfully at each other about. She takes him out to a long, leisurely lunch. Over a glass of wine, she tells him about her life, with Joe asking all kinds of questions that showed his deep interest in her personal history. He throws in a gentle tease here and there. She throws her napkin at him, and they smile. Order more wine. Let their feet touch under the table.
“Get to the no make-up part. Actually back up to just before that.”
“Chill my brother. The story is unfolding. Elements are…coming… together.”
“You managed that too?”
“Not every time. Just on the last one.”
“I fucking give up.”
Well, it turns out that our sexy and successful client wanted Joe to take her to a girlfriend’s house. Why not? Her friend’s a well-known actress, one that’s married to an even more-famous professional football quarterback. One who also happened to be an African-American athlete Joe greatly admired. How about that? His job now required taking this beautiful charge to their mansion, to party.
Fucking rough. Raw deal. It meant more people to charm, more people to make laugh and have fall in love with you. Having to sip the premium liquor your personal hero keeps pouring you, while a sexy vampula keeps sneaking you hungry looks. With teeth-licking. And eyebrow-raising. Mr. Quarterback’s quarter-grand sound system blasting Bootsy Collins. Everybody in the kitchen. Bumping to the beat. Drinking. Laughing. Eating sushi appetizers prepared by the private cook.
I got up to get a beer, then remembered I didn’t drink anymore and sat back down.
“Please tell me you all get food-poisoning. From the sushi.”
No such luck. After soul-brother hugging his hero and kissing his beautiful actress wife goodnight, he takes the slightly-teetering client back to her hotel room at The Four Season. After a few hours of endurance-testing, porn-worthy, jungle-fevered gymnastics they finally collapsed.
It was then he saw her without make-up, as she snuggled next to him in moist, twisted sheets.
“She taught me some shit. Man. Tore me up.”
“Got your freak on, did you?”
“Freaky freak. Freaky-deaky freak.”
“Wow. That is whole package of WOW.”
“Now here’s the kicker–”
Yeah. Need one. A good donkey kick in the gut. Just to send me somersaulting down the stairs of self-pity.
“She paid me my hourly…up to when I left the next morning.”
“That only seems fair. Making two month’s worth of pay to endure all that bullshit.”
I inhaled deeply through my nostrils. Exhaled through my ears.
“You’re a dirty whore, Joe.”
“Oh yes. Yes I am!”
It was weird though, the jealousy was only a pang. It sort of hit and binged off. It didn’t lodge in and smolder. Sure, I wish I had his day. But something about knowing that Joe got it, a guy I really loved, took the sting out. I found myself being genuinely happy for him. More happy than pissed about missing out.
It was strange. Nice, actually. It felt good knowing I kind of helped make it happen. That I helped a bro have that kind of a day.
A guy like Joe deserved it. All guys like him do.
Anyway, that’s what I think about when I see this picture.
My work is done.