Farewell To The Shade
The day Random and I rekindled our friendship, I was maintaining my clean. Twenty-two consecutive days of being good, as a matter of fact, and I was proud to tell him.
"I'm off speed," I quipped, ignoring the tension that was supposed to be between us. "Almost a month now."
"Really?" Random looked up from the row of CDs. 80s Casio keyboard music, Total Coelo and Dead or Alive, the stuff of K-Tel compilations. We were on the second floor of Tower Records at Noe and Market, bold canary yellow and red logos surrounding us and a manic clinking of cash registers that would've been too much to handle were I tweaked.
"Me too," he smiled.
Shawna and Z made a beeline to the Gothic-Industrial section of the store, their stingers practically exposed. They didn't like Random, referred to him as a pretentious little twat.
"You too?" This surprised me. Last I knew, Random didn't even smoke pot. We'd dated once but it was an absolute disaster, my paranoia convinced he hated me and was really after my friend Nick. The fact that I'd flung a bucketful of snide comments at him because my feelings were hurt was likely not prime courting material. Plus I'd caused his friend to get her car towed, insisting she use the lot at McDonald's. I was too impatient to look for Haight Street parking before A Winter Gone By when I wanted to clip in my hair extensions and get in Outfit. You know, important stuff. A Winter Gone By -- what kind of name for a club is that? "We're going to A Winter Gone By." Yeah, well I'm going to A Summer That's Yet To Happen; see ya later.
But it was spring and there were no explanations. And Random with the drugs, that'd been three years ago -- well, okay, three years before this Tower Records rendezvous -- and three years in San Francisco is something like 21 on the crack cycle. Yeah sure, there's the whole dog/human years analogy, but also, cells replicate every seven years. That's something you should know.
"Yeah. But aren't you living with Airick?"
My stomach rumbled. Random's eyes opened wide and he let out a friendly laugh.
"Hungry there, girl?"
"Always," I admitted.
"I can relate. On both counts. You know, Airick and I kind of used to have a thing," he said, warming up. "When we were roommates."
"I know," I said uncertainly. Actually all I remembered was a story about Random walking in on Airick porking some troll, a midget from the tats and chaps set who frequented Hole In The Wall and other SOMA bars. The visuals and "degrees of separation" game were getting closer than I wanted to consider.
"So it must get kind of crazy there? At your apartment."
I shrugged. "Yeah."
"Well, if it ever gets too much to handle, remember I'm around the corner. 1869 Golden Gate."
That was easy enough to file away. When I met Random he was 18, and who doesn't like to....
"This place blows." Z's words were sharp and metallic with his return, the jab of keys on an ancient typewriter. "The staff is so fucking clueless. They act like Christian Death is a new band."
"C'mon," Shawna added. "Let's go eat."
Nuff said. Cheers, Random.
The Ubergoth couple took me to a restaurant in the Marina, a Mexican place called Acapulco though it smacked pure Americana. The food was fucking amazing. I gorged on the fattest burrito -- its tortilla stretched like a pillowcase containing the softest refried beans and rice imaginable; it burst beneath my teeth. Then I dove into a warm plate of nachos smothered in a pool of cheese.
"Let's go to the movies," Shawna said between sips from her margarita. "I've got passes."
I nodded, though I suddenly felt like I was going to nod out.
That's the way, uh huh uh huh / I like it.
The afternoon was soft and paralyzed, a warm amber. A golden brown that made me think of sherry.
Everything slowed down like I was sick. I had been blissful -- euphoric even -- while stuffing my face, but now conversation was difficult and movement was a chore. I slid into a sluglike position in the back of their RAV-4.
"Oh, Wilde is playing!" Shawna scanned the S.F. Weekly, its crinkly newsprint pages.
"Wild? What's that?" Z buckled his seatbelt with a precise click.
"No, not Wild. W-I-L-D-E, as in Oscar."
Shawna was so chipper; it must have been the top shelf margaritas. Plus I loved that she had read his mind. I was really into the whole clairvoyant thing at this juncture in my story, didn't have enough distance yet from the meth insanity to realize its ensuing hilarity. Oh no: I believed in the power of thought and its infinite potential.
If this were a movie, there'd likely be a montage of arty flashbacks, me doing this gesture I pretty much trademarked with pure koo koo sincerity, tapping my index finger in the center of my forehead, as if I were jolting my Third Eye awake. Me willing the words the spirits are after us we've got to get out of here over and over to Hannah, because natch the "spirits" couldn't understand the message if I communicated it telepathically. And Hannah, poor Hannah wearing an expression like I'd just wiped my butt with her best business suit, the horror shooting off her skin like those glass orbs stoner boys have, the kind with purplish lightning that meets your hand or keeps time with whatever Doors or Grateful Dead re-release is pumped through their impressive stereos. I think it's a prerequisite for their mystical experiences, just like an obnoxiously oversized bong and a subscription to High Times.
Of course Hannah's face was a combo meal of fear and confusion, unsure what my constipated expression and finger-to-forehead dance was about, which she didn't admit to me until years later. At the time I thought a malignant shadow had wrapped around her like an anaconda, rendered her speechless and sucked her breath like the kiss of a succubus.
But Hannah was not there that day and this is not a movie, so I might as well tell you that I flaked out on that one, too, Wilde.
"Gotta go home," I grunted, total Neanderthal. "Food coma calling."
"Yeah, Cliiiiint," Z mocked her whining, but they dropped me off on Divisadero.
The wind smelled like the glistening shards of salt that'd rimmed our margarita glasses, gusts of the seawater constantly shifting around that peninsula prone to earthquakes. I love San Francisco. It's so other-worldly. I sucked in the stink of it.
The Diviz and McAllister Liquormart lured me in with its soft white glow in the approaching twilight, a beacon. My stomach ached in groggy delight, yet I felt as if I should get something while downstairs, experience the convenience of a convenience store. I'm a sucker for marketing. Those sickeningly sweet coffees were hot new items in retail hell, the Starbucks bottles with screw-off caps. Frappuccinos. And then there were cigarettes. Once I discovered Dunhill reds with their impressive flip-top carton, I made the switch. New vices, all part of my plan: become someone else.
Inside the shop, various products were displayed, the puzzles of America. This type of soda -- with its red, white and blue swirled label -- for the New Generation; that tangerine-colored box of detergent called Sun, a phenomenon. And Marlboro. Perfect match for the real men. Missing links.
Foofy pop-top coffee and import smokes fit right by me.
"Four ninety-eight." The edges of his lips curled in a kind of insult.
The cashier was the type of person who doesn't like me. His cranium a waxy Kojak brown, bare and shiny as a chick pea, dark sprouts of hair remained like lifeless winter trees above his ears. Short arms thickly covered with hair, he motioned to the Formica countertop, wouldn't take the legal tender from my hands. Pushed two pennies at me, change from my last five bucks.
Stepping from the corner store onto the sidewalk, I crossed paths with somebody batty, a familiar face from Roderick's Chamber. Yeah hi / hey, whatever / gotta go I nodded in my lazy stroll.
"Hey there. You look healthy," he said, and it was not until I was all the way upstairs that this statement infuriated me, broke my over-stuffed stupor. Healthy? Soon I would learn to hate these three words, a euphemism I translated into You've gotten fat with a painful cringe. This was the onset, and I was ready to fashion his cheesy cape into a noose. You can't get more Goth than dead, motherfucker...
Anxiety shook me like a coin-op motel bed.
Healthy. That pair of syllables sunk in my gut with a seeping dread. Well, the mid-section of my trousers had gone from loose-enough-to-swim-in to noticeably snug in three short weeks. But how much weight could I have possibly gained? All those loose coil springs and useless gadgets strewn about the flat, and not a scale to be found in our place. Healthy.
I didn't feel healthy. I felt huge. I waddled to the W.C. to investigate.
My shirt lifted up, I looked like Shamu, that big white whale from Sea World or one of those water parks I've never been to. The waistband of my pants curled down, a button struggling to hold in the dam of watch-it-wiggle, see-it-jiggle flab. I slapped it. Oh, time for bed --
Sleeping was my new pastime. In fact, it was my only pastime, broken up by snacks interspersed between scarfing and naps. Smoking was not exactly enjoyable, as I still had to remind myself to inhale. Coffee made me more queasy and jittery than alert, despite attempts to convince myself otherwise. And my purchase of the long-armed plant adorned with chartreuse heart-shaped leaves like gaudy bracelets didn't ease me into the serene life of adulthood, no matter how adequately I watered it. I was in dire need of new hobbies.
Sleep, sleep, counting sheep --
But me, the thought of me, always fashionably thin and embarrassingly arrogant about it, "I can eat anything I want," boasted with the same bravado as Linda Evangelista's "I Don't Even Get Out Of Bed For Under Ten Grand," now fat? That's all that needed to happen for my crystalline cleanliness to be squandered for some instant gratification. It couldn't have come soon enough.
No no, I should not get high, I reminded myself, a mantra. The Voice of Adult Reason was astoundingly unsuccessful. The problem was it was battling my bruised self-image, snotty Miss Painfully Thin of days past now stripped of her diamelle tiara, as well as the searing euphoria of chemicals coursing through my body, more Take-Me-Away than Calgon could ever be. That factored in with the unfortunate challenge of wanting to feel like I was on drugs and that I had to be on drugs to feel that way.
Plus there was the ridiculous challenge of wanting to cop when the ATM gods were tapped dry. I could give somebody my two cents' worth, literally, but that was about as funny as Andrew Dice Clay. This situation was serious.
Bummed busted broke, who's got the coke/Where should I walk, to sell my cock -- The Mission Street jump-rope jingles just weren't cutting it.
Fadre owed me, but was it worth the price of being in her presence? Even the spelling of her name made me shudder. F-A-D-R-E. No, it did not rhyme with the Spanish word for father; thanks for asking. She had christened herself after Phaedra, the creature of myth, but like Chynna and Naïf -- another fabulous disaster I'll get to later -- she got fancy with the alphabet. What is it with drug dealers and their games of musical phonics? I guess it was something to spruce up their business cards, add a little zing above their pager digits. I strolled several blocks over, skipped the preliminary call.
blinggggggg, bling bling I did the secret ring, one long push of the buzzer followed by two short, praying I remembered the right one. Of course I also had one of these, though it was amended countless times. It was important, a form of doorbell caller ID.
Buzz went the door as it unlatched. Fadre lived on the second floor of a Victorian, and was the only person I knew in S.F. with one of those ancient levers at the top of her staircase that actually worked.
I don't have to tell you I was glad she was home. Well okay, she was always home, but answered the door about as infrequently as she changed her crusty clothing.
"Hey Fae," I greeted the gargantuan shadow hovering above me, her silhouette surrounded by a piss yellow stream of light. "How's it -- going?" I almost gave her my obligatory "How's it hangin'?" but fortunately caught it in time. Faedre was born a hermaphrodite -- not that that's funny; I actually find it fascinating -- in some backwoods Minnesota town near the Canadian border. Her parents opted to have "nature's little pocket" sewn shut in her infancy, leaving baby Fae a painfully confused girl armed with a penis. So "How's it hangin'?" wouldn't have gone over well. Come to think of it, neither would any reference to this as a joke, but that really was what I thought and how it happened, so excuse the P.C. outta me.
"Hmmph. It's you." She turned and sauntered into the recesses of her apartment.
"Is that a bad thing?" I double-stepped my way up the stairs.
Faedre let out a bronchitis wheeze that sounded like it should be accompanied by flying car parts. "No, it's not a bad thing," she mocked over her shoulder. "I was just waiting for The Man."
Fucking Lou Reed. Aren't we always waiting for the man?
"Oh. Me too." I made it to the top of the stairs, out of breath. Faedre plopped into her worn recliner, a purple velveteen La-Z-Boy crushed to a dusty lavender in its head and arm rests. Me, I scooped a thick stack of fashion mags, Vogue and Elle and whatnot, up from the seat of her hardwood chair and plunked myself down. The glossy mags had their own weight and direction in the architecture of her parlor. It was a place where manufactured grace and squalor intersect, tweaker bric-a-brac and piles of festering garbage displayed in a loosely arranged tumble wall to wall like the unfortunate choice of carpet. Rancid smells coiled through the room.
"S'what I figured. Thought you were off the stuff," she said, igniting a Kool Mild. Her voice was thick and phlegm-filled.
"This is just a little vacation."
Faedre gave a half-nod, blew out a menthol cloud. She stared at the tip of her cigarette as if the ember were telling her something. "Well, I'm out."
"Out?" I didn't believe her. She was awake and moving; how could she be out? "Come on! I know you're holding."
"I'm not. All I've got's the stain in my pipe." She extended it to me, the glass cloudy in the bulb and partway up the stem. "You can have a hit."
I snatched it from her sausage fingers, sweat busting out of my brow. "Where's your lighter?"
She fished it from the hip pocket, bulky and square, of her synthetic black dress. "I know I owe you, but take it easy now, Clint." The lighter was held just out of my reach. "If I pass out before he gets here, I can't re-up. And we know how ugly that gets."
"O.K., o.k., I promise." My voice was too quick, too loud.
Faedre chuckled, a deep sound like a dog growling. In the light, I saw that stubble pushed its way through her chin. She reminded me of a catfish flexing its maw. And she tossed me the lighter.
"Thanks Fae," I stammered, grateful to fire up and lose myself in the swirl of smoke.
I slouched in the hazy, unsolid dim of the room made malignant and heightened by the intake of meth. The air between us was layered with the smoke and ash of Crystal Carrington, the scent of scorched plastic. Molecules were separated. Stained. And that hardwood chair, well, it was hard -- hard as the realizations I had of the warped microcosm around me.
It did not seem glamorous. It did not look glamorous. It was not, I was not, glamorous.
Faedre gave a little snort of twin columns of smoke through her nose, coughed, and said:
"Clint?" She repeated, her voice starting to rise. "Clint, I said take it easy."
Vision throbbing like an off-kilter strobe, I lifted my thumb from the lighter and studied that Faedre. She looked muted and raw, her hair a rusty tumbleweed, the pores of her cheeks gaping with windburn from all those trips she never took outside. Another product of not enough sleep. But speaking of products, the John Waters improv that happened next blew my mind like the loogie from Fae's lips. First there was a tremor, and then it happened: a slick yellow lung creature ejaculated in her cough, a sluglike beast that flew from the cave beneath her chapped lips and made its home on the brown shag carpet. It was monstrously huge. The size of an oyster. Faedre made no move to clean it up, acknowledge it, even. Instead, a beige mutt appeared from nowhere, as if on cue, and lapped it up in a sloppy gulp.
"Good boy, King," praised Faedre. Then to me, as an aside: "Mama's little garbage disposal."
Wagging a dreadlocked tail, the dog disappeared from the room. That's another thing I hate: When people name their animals things like "King." It's so unoriginal.
Fae, on the other hand, was one of a kind. She was one of San Francisco's glittering SSI superstars, infamous for their ploy against the corporate world. Legally they were considered too crazy to work. I wasn't arguing.
Her boyfriend Ippy, laid out in post-speed distress, moaned from the bedroom. "He not here yet?"
"No, child," Faedre chided. "When he is, I'll room-service you a rail."
Then I believed her. Everything was very intellectualized and intense between Ippy and Fae: they had a nonmonogamous relationship but were asexually involved with each other. Fae loved him with a hopeless, indefatigable longing. One night when he was out dumpster-diving with some degenerate skater friends, she confessed to me that she planned on getting The Change -- you know the one -- for him. Shouldn't the person you're doing it for be yourself? I prodded. "I've already given up on myself," she explained. "If there really is a God up there, the cruelest joke he could've ever played is putting me in this body. Pretty much my only hope left at love is for somebody else."
These three sentences, and my heart melted. All the years I had of hatred pent-up in my physique, I knew that Faedre and I were the same stock of spirits, however kindred.
But we mustn't forget the speed. Sucking on the devil's dick didn't do it for me. Translated roughly, I got nada from the pipe. Not exactly --
"Who's over then?" Ippy's words drained from the bedroom in a succession of sighs.
"Hey Clint how's it going," he asked, the words neither sounding like a question nor that he gave two shits how I answered.
"It's going," I said and returned the pipe to Fae. "And so am I."
Mourning clung like stucco in my mouth. Inside my veins I felt a fluid the color of rust and dead palm fronds, tortured fruit. I had fallen back through time, regressed to the place of infinite want, of nightmarish paranoia. Twenty-two days later and I wasn't high, yet there were the splotchy ghosts again, shadows tattooing the night with coal-black swirls. No, no, I was jolted more than high. I was jolted across a border, into another dimension. I ran from it: Faedre, her side-show attraction of an apartment; Ippy, the spirits, snot-slurping King, all of it. And I couldn't get out of there quickly enough.
"You can check back in with me later," Fae said. But she was behind me.
Stung and wounded, skittering from lamppost to neon sign through that world divided into streets named after presidents -- Pierce, Fillmore, Hayes -- the night felt like my stomach, somehow utterly empty. The speed didn't make me feel skinny anymore; it just kept me from sleeping, thereby allotting more hours in which I could eat. Or try not to. I took my fear and fiending home and offered it to the arbitrary referees of my refrigerator. The apartment's refrigerator. The icebox of our flat, stocked with a shrink-wrapped deli sub sandwich I gobbled down, molasses spread on seven-grain bread, vanilla soymilk -- why had nobody told me it was so good? -- I couldn't get enough of it, any of it, this stock of my roommates I'd resolve things with later. Deal with them later.
Later came sooner than expected. My house guest arrived, and later we did see Wilde, Shawna and Z and me and my chum Alana, the recovering Goth / recovering speed freak studying law down in L.A. She was up for Spring Break and we were out celebrating something -- probably the fact that it was another day that ended in "y" -- in another Amerimexi-chain restaurant.
"So you guys want to go to the movies, right?" Shawna quizzed.
Sure, sure everyone nodded between sips of margaritas.
"To Oscar Wilde!" Clink "To friendship!" Clink Everything a cause for celebration, Shawna was noticeably buzzed. We all were.