AN AMERICAN DREAM - ROBERT CRISMAN
The American dream. Mostly opium smoke. The dreamers all think it’s a road map.
Eddie and Dennis went down to Tacoma so Dennis could pick up some money. They took the Pac Highway. Conversation was light till they got past the airport. Then Dennis cracked out with, “This thing we got goin’... You ever think about what you’re gonna do after?”
“I don’t know, some. You ever think about what you want to do?”
“I got some ideas.”
“Yeah, this an’ that, you know. What about you?”
“Well.” Eddie shrugged. “I’ve got some ideas.”
“Yeah? Like what?”
Eddie thought for a moment. “Well, you know, like... I thought, first thing, I’d really like to get out of this town. That’s number one.”
Dennis grinned. “Tired of Jet City, huh?”
“Fuck yes, I am,” Eddie said. “Seattle, man, all the yuppies, those grunge motherfuckers, whatever they’re calling themselves now. Yuppies, man, assholes... I dunno.” He shook his head. “Even the music. Why is it, any other city, you know, like Detroit, it had Motown. Memphis had Stax. Chicago has blues, Muddy Waters and those guys. New Orleans, Neville Brothers and all that good stuff, at least before the hurricane blew it away. Minneapolis has Prince, for Chrissake! See, all this good-ass black music, all over the country—and this town, like, what? These pinky-doo fuckers, can’t sing or play shit, an’—Kurt Cobain, right? I knew his dopeman, or one of ‘em, man, an’, what the fuck was that all about? They made him bigger than Presley! At least Presley could sing. I swear, I don’t get it.”
“Yeah, man, alright.” Dennis was laughing. It was funny to him, seeing Eddie get torqued over nothing sometimes. “You oughtta cut them boys slack. Ol’ Cobain, he offed himself, right? An’—”
Dennis laughed. “Well, man...but, hey, you know what? That broad, Courtney Love, man—”
“Screaming freak bitch.”
“Yeah, man, I know, but, you know? Them little six-year-old girl dresses she used to wear up on stage? You see her, she’s all freaky-deaky an’ everything’s poppin’ on outta that dress, swear to God. She’s sweatin’ an’ shit—an’ I’m gonna tell you, my brother, I’d get up under that shit in a minute, put my face in an’ just lift. Be wearin’ that broad like a hat, swear to God.”
“You’re a sick motherfucker.”
“Get them legs wrapped around me—”
“Yeah, man, alright. I’m convinced. Your face and her ass, a match made in heaven. Fuck Courtney Love. And, besides, man, you see any pictures of her lately? Been doing that dope and she’s getting to look like the oldest ho on the stroll on the night before Christmas, you dig it? Fuck with that broad, you’re a necrophile, man, and—anyway, look. The thing I was saying, this town, Seattle? The yuppies, all that, and it rains all the time, fucking traffic, you name it, it sucks.”
“Alright, man. Where would you go?”
“I don’t know. L.A., Vancouver, who knows? Fuck, Portland maybe. Out of here, though, that’s for sure.”
Eddie wanted to think that a move would solve all his problems, a move and some money. People were cold in Seattle, he’d say, and, he wasn’t far wrong. But who wouldn’t freeze on someone with his kind of bankroll, his kind of wardrobe, and his kind of mug? His mug you’d pick out of a lineup, unless Manson was in it or something. Or Dennis.
See, in Seattle, as in most fucking places, guys like Eddie, all edge and with no place to put it, got swallowed then spit out early on. His was one of those Joe Sixpack families that didn’t quite make it. His old man got fired from jobs and then took his shit out on the family. His mother just wrung her hands. Then, schools that bored him and marked him for trouble. A deepening sense of perdition and drift.
Perdition and drift are ruddered by hatred and fear. And comic-book outlaw romance. The prisons and shelters and doorways and graveyards are littered with Eddies who bought that refrain.
Eddie, believe it, was one among many. Like whole lots of others, he dropped out of school and then boogied downtown, age 14. He went for the bright lights, sleek action, dark shadows, that shit. What he found was a vast, yawning hole full of porno and dopemen and creeps.
It beat where he came from. The hole sucked him up.
He was looking for pulp-fiction women. The girls he met were daddy-rape victims and doormats for love, either that, or so cold. And the dudes: pulp roosters with acts patched together from Superman comics and Clint Eastwood flicks.
A valley of cripples, he saw that quick—and felt he fit in...
Mostly, the white boys were lame. The brothers were slicker, had style; they were poets. They introduced him to weed. Weed gave him some style and let him forget he was coming from hunger. He learned to talk out the side of his neck.
He wasn’t a thug, and not really slick. He scavenged the action, sold weed and speed, and boosted a little, hung paper sometimes, and did what he did that came up. Mostly thin-margin scuffles.
Then he met Dennis, who’d come from Rat City like Eddie. They hit it off. Dennis laughed at Eddie’s take on the squares and the flotsam downtown. Dennis could also bust through a wall like King Kong. They pulled off some capers. Speed gave Eddie balls. It also bought him a ticket to jail and, later, a three-to-five bit.
Parole was a bitch: go-nowhere jobs, low-rent hustles, getting strung out and then kicking, again and again. This was the ’90s, when yuppies were spitting on poor folks and cops locked up crooks who stole nickels.
Then the 21st Century landed. Clusterfuck City. George Bush, Osama, the war in Iraq, global warming, we’re all going to die...and Eddie, mid-30s, ass-out, like always. Most guys had families, careers, a place in the sun. Skies rained down on Eddie.
Oh, well, you’re saying, he bought the ticket. Well, yes, he did. Trouble was, he didn’t find out where the bus was taking his ass until late in the game. A tweak here and there, and it could have been you.
Like you, he believed that somewhere up on a hill where the sun keeps on shining, the party was nearing full swing. Sexy, beautiful, bankable people dancing on white clouds and so forth. And, here he was, scuffling on tideflats with losers.
Like all other scufflers, he rifled for clues in the tea leaves. And kept on believing it boiled down to money and hasta la vista.
“So, yeah, man,” he said. “’Frisco, L.A., some goddamn where. The sooner the better.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Dennis said. “What do you do when you get there?”
“You know what? You know what I’d really like to do?” Eddie sounded almost embarrassed. “You’ll laugh, man. What I’d really like to do is open a bookstore.”
“Yeah. Like a mystery/science fiction bookstore.”
“A mystery/science fiction bookstore.”
“Yeah. That’s what I read, and that’s what I’d sell.”
After awhile, Dennis said, “A bookstore. Huh. Why a bookstore?” He really did want to know. Who would have have guessed?
Eddie explained. “I’ve been thinking about it a long time, you know? I like to read, right? You get a hold of a good book, get into it, leave the whole fucking world behind.”
He lit up a smoke. “You know that place I was at in juvie? Cedar Creek? Made you go out in the woods and chop trees and shit?”
“Yeah. They turned it into adult.”
“Yeah. You were at Green Hill, right?”
“Yeah. So, anyway, I was there six months in ’85. Chopping down trees, building roads, and like that. Hard fucking work, man. There were dudes up there, chopped their toes off, or jumped out of bed and busted their ankle or something, just to stay out of the woods.”
“No shit. Always seemed a little drastic to me. Got the back of my leg burned up in a fire one time, though, and those fuckers were going around asking if I did it on purpose so I could stay in.”
He paused, smoked, and thought about that for a moment, then snorted a laugh. “Fuckers,” he said. “Anyway, I’m laid up six weeks. They keep me in camp, mopping floors and that kind of shit. Nobody around during the day. They’re out in the woods, chopping trees. And a lot of the time, I finish up early, and go in the library and read.
“I’d’ve lived in that place, Dennis, I swear to God. It was right off the dayroom where the guys would come in after work and watch the TV. And, you know me, man, fuck the TV, unless it was the fights on or something. TV’s for morons, which most of those fucking guys were. Me, I’d go in the library there, shut the door on the noise, and I’m off on some other planet.
“It was this little old room. You go in there, you got these high bookshelves, big old oak table, beautiful, man. A reading lamp, big old thick rug on the floor... And the books, man! Mysteries, science fiction... There was this one book, Foundation. You know, science fiction, and...” He let the thought trail off. Then, “You know, whatever...” He sort of waved the thought away with his hand. Dennis wasn’t really a guy he thought he could talk about books with.
He finished the smoke. “Anyway, man, I was about the only one who went in there. No one around, fucking paradise, man. And I used to think, you know? If I had to work, make a living? I’d be, I’d like to just, be in a room just like that, kicking back, and people come in, and they’re browsing around, quiet like mice, no loud-talking bullshit or fucking around, they come up, buy a book, and they split, and I’m back in my book. Or, we kick it around for awhile, and it’s all this and that, or whatever, you know? I’m snuggled up all in my chair, there’s a fire in the grate, the rain’s howling outside, they’re marching to war in Lower Siam or some goddamn where, and who gives a fuck? Not me, my brother. It’s Miller Time for this dude, all day, you dig it? And I’m getting paid.”
Dennis, laughing, said, “Man!”
“Hey, man, check it out,” Eddie said. “It’s like, look. You aren’t out there ripping and running around, just waiting to get your ass bagged, for one thing. And you ain’t humping ass nine-to-five at some boring-ass, backbreaking job to make rent and eat. Paycheck to paycheck, and if something comes up, you get sick, car fucks up, or whatever, you’re fucked. Then, anything, man, you’ve been at some place since they built it, they lay your ass off. They’re downsizing, right? And they give you five minutes to pack up your shit and you’re ass out the door. Or, get too old? Good fuckin’ luck. Bush already sucked off your pension to pay for the war, so it’s, ‘Fuck you, my man. Go shoplift some catfood at Safeway or something, and have a nice day.’ Fuck all that noise. My old man got laid off at Todd’s in, what, ’82? Yeah, ’82. Couldn’t get rehired, and what the fuck else is he going to do? He started back drinking. Come ’87, he’s dead of cirrhosis. No way, my man. It ain’t going to happen to me.
“You know, it’s funny. All I ever wanted in life was my own little thing. You know? And this shit? Ripping and running around like we’ve been doing since Jesus smoked his first joint? And I sold him that joint, man, I swear to God, and—anyway, just, we do this, I get where I’m going and so forth, and, fuck it. I’m, just, let me pay taxes and, have enough left for a roof and a cot and a car and every so often a nice, juicy steak, and I’m cool. Maybe sometimes meet some nice girl, pretty face and a cute little ass, I can talk to and stuff... Go out to dinner once in awhile, you know, catch a flick, and come home and get belly to belly... That’s all I want, really. I swear to God. I’d even get out and vote for the crooks they’ve got running for office, they’d let me off paper. Citizen Ryan. My little slice of American Pie.” Eddie paused and then laughed, sort of a sad, wistful laugh. “That’s what I want.
“And, this? This here we’ve got going? My ticket, Homes. Ticket to Ride, you know what I’m saying?”
A soliloquy, man! They rode for awhile. Then Dennis said, “Well, what the fuck. Bookstore, huh? Good a way as any to go broke, I guess.”
Whenever Eddie would bring out the pipe and start blowing dream bubbles, Dennis felt it incumbent to bring out the dart gun.
“Hey, man, uh-uh,” Eddie said. “Why do I got to go broke?”
“’Cause who the fuck reads books, that’s why.”
“Whattya mean, who reads books? A lot of people read books. You read, for Chrissake. Don’t you? I’ve seen books at your house. Your old lady reads. C’mon.”
“I like Stephen King.”
“There you go. Nine million people like Stephen King, man. You see what I’m saying? People read, man. I don’t ever have to go broke owning a bookstore.”
“Well, my advice is, stock way the fuck up on Stephen King. Then, maybe, you got a shot.”
“Man, fuck Stephen King. This is a mystery/science fiction bookstore. Dashiell Hammett, George V. Higgins, Ross Thomas, James Ellroy, William Gibson, Mick Farren, and like that. Nothing but the best and later for the rest.”
“Well, hey, that oughtta work. Whattya got there, maybe 25 books? You better stock up on some canned goods, an’ salt an’ pepper an’ ketchup an’ shit, make them books taste better, you come to the end of the month, you sold three in six weeks, you know what I’m sayin’?”
“Man, fuck you. I’m just making the point. I’ll have other stuff. But it’s going to be my thing, my way, you dig it? I—”
“Better get in the left lane, man, get over this bridge.”
Eddie eased over, and put the pipe back in his pocket.
BIO: Robert Crisman writes crime and noir fiction. He spent 15 years on streets in downtown Seattle and has some idea of what really goes on in these realms. He’s had stories posted on A Twist of Noir, and some scheduled on Yellow Mama and Darkest Before Dawn. A movie he scripted, Chasing the Dopeman, is currently in post-prod down in L.A. and, with luck, it’ll be ready to go sometime this fall. He maintains a blog, chock full of stories, at 6S.
Irish Times Crime Fiction column, February 2018
13 hours ago