In The City
Donnie watched her from his peephole whenever he heard the hall door open, her elongated ghost, her skin dry of sweat from the stage, the smell of money around her hips, or he’d imagined. Asia, or whatever her real name was. A hot piece of Portland ass. Young, 22, tattooed neck to feet, perfect little tits bouncing up the hall at three in the morning. Donnie would watch her open her door: her little bubbly ass and tight waist, what he could do to her if she had an interest in an ex-punk 46 year-old with a gut and a life of shame. All the aggression and strength of his past, and he ended up in that building, a place for the young or the very old. The scene was long dead, the city was weak now: skinny hipster clones that worshipped the feminazis who fucked them while Donnie jacked off in his apartment.
But Donnie had a good night in front of him. Poison Idea was playing downtown, and he was meeting up with a few of his old friends, or rather a few of the friends from his scene back when punk was really alive, when it had guts. He looked into the mirror. Faded skulls and webs across his elbows, a smooth head by nature, but it worked for him, he’d lost the rest on top at 29. He was heavier today, his anger put some weight on his posture. He was never a leader back in the day, maybe not the last follower, but he didn’t have the charisma to walk in front. Had he been born that solid, he might have a shot at pussy like Asia, he might not be drunk and flying on coke before 7 p.m. Hell, cocaine was even non-hip these days, an old man’s drug. He looked out the peephole when he heard the hallway door close downstairs. He stepped out, closed the door behind him and started down the hall in old punk form: Docs laced high and polished, his denim jacket with the CRASS iron-on, his eyes pinned and hungry, ready to try Asia— ready to try the alpha male bit one more time in the rotting, new millennium, eight years past 2000—all of it was slipping off the edge of life and into the boring pool of androgyny, mid-tempo garbage, a complete lack of question—all so unbearable for him. He walked the hall toward the stairs. The door opened. Donnie eyed him, and his mind ran down the list: expensive ink, frail, bangs in eyes, girl jeans, headphones on, his fucking iPhone playing iTunes while he walked toward Asia’s door. He nodded at Donnie, like he had some kind of connection with him, and he sang along to the music coming up from his phone. Misfits, Plan 9. He nodded at Donnie and sang it:
I’ll do anything to exterminate the whole fuckin’ race…
Donnie didn’t feel it coming, but it happened. It happened out of nowhere, his elbow being slammed into the kid’s face, the kid down on his back without a sound, curled and covering his mouth. Donnie stared down then moved toward the door. He’d actually seen Misfits play live. Not that he could hold it against the kid, yet he did, and something snapped in Donnie’s head. He felt better. He was a man again, a mushroom risen from all the shit in the city. He shoved the door open, jumped down the first set of stairs and laughed, ran to the bottom and stepped on the sidewalk, lit a cigarette and walked to his truck.
The light was red before the Burnside Bridge. Donnie reached over and put a tape in his cassette player. Summer had just hit Portland, his windows were down, and beyond the bridge the city waited, almost like it had when he was a kid, when NW 23rd was a littered street lined with dives and dangerous venues, where all the bands used to play. He thought about it now, a street lined with boutiques and cafés, with corporation, the Rodeo of Portland. He thought about the busted mouth in the hallway and he felt better about the street— he’d created some kind of balance. Jello Biafra came over the speakers:
Ever hear about the guy in New York whose dick fell off in the bath after he shot it full of coke? It’s okay to run out of butter in Zambia, just smear squashed caterpillars on your toast. Waiter, there’s a terrorist in my soup-
A guy screamed at him from a mini-van in the next lane over and a car behind, “THE POWER OF LARD!” He waited for the bald guy in the truck to say something back, surprised by the connection, but Donnie just yelled out the side of his mouth, “Fuuuck youuuu!” then gunned it through the red light, to let the other guy see how alive he was, how rare. The guy in the mini-van glanced up Burnside at the back of the white truck, looked on in disgust and made the left, over to his girl’s place. He walked in and she kissed him, “Hi, baby. Congratulations on the review in the Mercury. They really loved your book.”
“Thanks, beautiful,” he handed her the bottle of red and kissed her back, “good to see your face.” The fake skinhead on the bridge had tried to fuck up his night with a yell, but that fuck wasn’t in her place with her. He opened the wine and looked out over the water from her kitchen window. Her place was the highest room in the house, and the hottest, but the window AC he’d given her kept it like a penthouse. She wrapped her arms around him and watched the city. She told him Poison Idea was playing downtown if he wanted to go, because she could get them in. Her friend owned the place with her old man. He shrugged and poured the wine, “That’s alright, baby. It’s not the same band as it was, and I’m an enemy of that kind of nostalgia.” She laughed, “What do you mean?”
“Well, not like it’s Slayer playing. Also, I’m not in the mood for that fucking crowd tonight,” his thoughts glanced the bald fuck in the white truck, “anyway, I’d rather walk the city with my favorite gal, maybe get a martini in a lounge on Broadway, what do you think?”
She wrapped her arms around his ribs, “I think I love you.” He peered at the city, “Goddamn right.”
They drank the bottle and walked the bridge into downtown. The water of the Willamette was gorgeous, the night sky, the buildings behind them. They kissed there, held hands and walked into the city. Two young men watched them go into a hotel lounge up the sidewalk. The shorter one took the other’s hand, “See, why can’t we be like that? We’re in Portland now. You’re two thousand miles from home.”
The taller one checked his shoulders, and his boyfriend threw his hand away. He grabbed his hand and bumped him with his shoulder, “I was only joking. And calm yourself. You know I’m not really into PDA, but if you want to hold my hand, I’d rather you held it than bitched about it all night. Meaning that now you’re holding it stop your bitching.”
The shorter one laughed, pulled him against a wall and kissed him deeply. Across the street two old skaters watched. One handed the other a rolled cigarette, a Drum. He shook his head, “Fucking faggots are taking over the whole fucking world.”
Barren shrugged, “Fuck it, better them than the old fucks.”
“If you see it that way,” Greasy said, “it’s all fucked, day in, day out.”
They watched the sidewalk move with the mix of the city. Students, junkies, hipsters, faggots, lawyers, stuck up bitches who wouldn’t respond to their hellos. A blonde caught Greasy’s eye. Long black boots, sexy as the night could become, flawless beneath a perfect moon. He nodded to her, “You look beautiful.” She ignored him. He flicked his smoke over her head. It landed in front of her, she stepped on it and kept walking. Barren laughed. Greasy looked over at him, “Fucking stupid cunts.”
Barren watched her round the corner. A junkie on a BMX caught his eye, with a cop on a mountain bike pedaling for Hell behind him through the side street behind Berbati’s. The junkie looked back at the cop’s face: rigid in pursuit, his arms tense on the grips. The cop was younger than him, all the cops started getting younger than him once he passed 31. He looked back again then stared forward at the embankment that led up over the rail and onto 3rd. He looked at the rail and smiled, “Fuckin’ pig,” he went up the embankment and hopped over the rail, really rubbed the cop’s face in it. The cop got to the top of the rail, picked his bike up and lifted it over, but by that time the dude was gone. The cop made a few laps around the block, but he’d been burned, and it was fair. Elsa sat on the floor and waited. The floor was easier when she was hurting. Why, she had no idea. Maybe because she saw the room from a different angle and it threw off the pressure. She heard the hallway door open and the sound of Dag’s freewheel being pushed up the hall. She sat the table and opened a book. The door was always opened, and Dag pushed his bike in, “You know you were just sitting on the floor.”
“Oh, fuck you. No I wasn’t.”
He kissed her scalp and sat across from her. He raised an eyebrow. She shrugged, “Where were you?”
“Had to outrun a cop. They got those fuckers thick as flies down there now, on mountain bikes. More than usual.”
She didn’t care. He was there now. And he didn’t care that she would rather run it up than see him alive. They were both fucked without it. He cooked her up and she set the rig out. She thumbed what was left in the baggie, “Are you getting in on it?”
“Don’t worry,” he watched it cook with her, “I just sorted myself out on the way over.” “The cop saw you finishing?”
“Exactly. Didn’t kill the course, but it was really shitty timing on his part.”
She smiled into the spoon. She would probably love Dag even if they were both clean, but she couldn’t love him if one of them were. They’d tried that. One toppled the other, then the other toppled that one. They were connected to fall. Dag had enough for the rest of the week, and what he’d given Elsa would get her by until then, unless a cop popped him and he did another ten days in county, which meant nine days in medical. When that happened, Elsa sold some ass. When Dag was out he was constantly hustling to keep them both covered. He shot her up and they fucked, then walked down the street and watched a plane get ready to land off to the northeast of the bridges.
He stepped off the plane and pulled his fedora low on his brow. It was slow at the airport tonight, but old habits in public died hard. He’d had a good time in the city on set, survived the wrap party, gave a long interview with Playboy about his life as an actor, then blurred back to Portland to spend two weeks with his family, or his mother, really. His father didn’t have much to say to him, never did. A couple of fast whispers as he walked through the baggage claim, a few cell phone shots, and he was in the back of the car. The driver looked in the rearview and smiled, “You know who you look like?”
He stared at the driver and smiled. The driver wanted to make the kid laugh. Hell, the kid was 40, but he was still a kid, he still had his baby face. He was famous for it. He’d seen the kid grow up. He pulled onto the access road, “Saw you on Late Night. You’ve been busy.”
“I’ve been going non-stop. Good to be home, friend. Name?”
The driver laughed, “Like you’ll remember. Lenny.”
“I like Lenny,” Alex said. Brubaker smiled at him. They played the same game every time. Brubaker was older now, a lot older. He’d been a driver for the old man before the old man retired from film. He was the only one in the family anyone could fully trust, including the people in the family. Alex thought about it. His cell rang. He looked at Brubaker, “I have to get this.” Brubaker raised the window between them. Alex put the phone to his ear.
“That was fast.”
“I told you I had to come here last weekend. I offered to bring you with me-”
“Yeah, as your fucking buddy from the city.”
“Don’t do this to me, Christian. You know what I’m up against.”
Alex rubbed his eyes. Brubaker glanced back. Alex stared off over downtown. He made Brubaker take the same way every time. The Fremont Bridge onto 405.
“You know what it’s about, babe. Please don’t do this. I’m fucking begging you.”
“I know what it’s about. Your parents’ heads are so far up the ass of Jesus and all that bullshit. I can’t hide like this anymore, Alex.”
Alex hung up and texted him that the call was dropped and he’d call him from home. A text came back:
Alex watched the city from the bridge. He loved Christian, he burned for him. The world had their suspicions, jokes were made on SNL, Comedy Central Roasts, references to him being gay, but he wouldn’t admit it. The bridge was in the mirror. Brubaker rolled the glass back down:
“You gonna tell ‘em this time, kid?”
Alex squinted at him in the rearview, “Tell them what, Bru?”
Brubaker shook his head, “Gonna leave that elephant in the room again.”
Alex reached into his pocket and lit a cigarette, “Mind your own business.”
“Bullshit. Let’s go down Burnside.”
They looked at each other in the rearview. Brubaker smiled at him, and Alex sighed, took a long pull and watched two cops cuff and stuff an old punk with a bald head. He looked like he’d been in a brawl. They had him tackled by a white truck. He was screaming at them. One shot pepper spray into his eyes. Alex saw the other cops grinning at him. They bent him into the back of the squad car. Brubaker slammed on the brakes. An old bum looked casually over at the car and kept pushing his cart across. Brubaker hit the gas again. The bum watched the tail lights go up over the bridge and disappear. He got his cart up the sidewalk and looked around Chinatown. The idea of getting off the streets one day had long ago died and sank deep into the earth. He pushed his cart up past the House of Louie, the same broken lives hiding in the alleys, walking up to civilians with their hustles, threats to jump off the Burnside Bridge if they couldn’t eat tonight, the litany of the sickened, the hard life in contrast to the other side of Burnside, one light away from being clean, one light that would only be earned through stroke of luck or felony. He wanted a beer, he wanted a beer so goddamned bad he couldn’t stand it. He pushed the cart up past Magic Gardens, made a left and walked past a man puking. He pushed his cart off to the side around the corner and walked back. The guy was letting it go with force. He put his hand on the guy’s shoulder. He looked like a lawyer, “You alright, brother?”
“Too much fucking tequila.”
The guy smelled the bum and threw up again. When he woke up a few hours later, his head was still bleeding and his wallet was gone. He stood, stumbled into the wall and made his way toward Burnside looking for help.