Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Goodbye, Skamania: Soul Music, Beer and a Big, Fucking Indian

It was my last day working in Skamania. Gary, the large Native American I worked with, always asked, “Aren’t you excited to get the hell out of here?”

I would turn my cigarette between my index finger and my thumb. “Yeah, but now I am attached.”

“Fuck that,” he said. “Fuck this place. I hate this fucking job. I hate fucking Mary.” Mary was the woman he lived with. They were together for thirteen years and raising two daughters, one 8 the other 12. He claimed they only had one good month together in all thirteen years. I asked if they slept together. “When she wants it, I am not in the mood, you know? And when I want it, she’s not in the mood. That’s just how it works out. We haven’t been together in a long time. She’s a God damn fucking bitch. When she took the kids to Idaho on vacation, I had a good time. I played records and smoked weed, you know? But then I kind of missed them so I cleaned up and was ready for them when they came home, you know? She walked right in and blew right by me. Didn’t say a God damn word. That God damn fucking bitch Mary.”

There were a few people in Skamania trapped in bad marriages. Terry lived with a couple cats and her husband who barely said a word to her. They haven’t had a real conversation in years. “Do you think he is with other women?” I asked.

“Oh, I know he is,” she said. “I saw one in my garage one morning and I chased her out screaming ‘Get out of here before I fucking kill you!’ That was the only one. He hasn’t brought one home since.”

“Eugh,” I groaned. “Do you do his laundry and cleaning?”

“Are you fucking kidding me? Hell no,” she said.

Then there was Bob, who was a Houseman for the Hotel since its genesis nineteen years ago. He was in his 50s and groaned a lot through his crooked smile. You could tell the long hours and physical work was wearing on him, but so were the house payments, the children struggling with methamphetamine addiction and the alcoholic wife of whom he claims he no longer loves. When the Old Man first came home, I asked everyone if I could move in with him. When I asked Bob he smiled and said, “Maybe in another life.” He laughed at my jokes.. He looked happy to work with me. When the Housemen were tearing apart a conference room, I tried to clean off the Banquet table and knocked down a few things including the presentation easel behind everything. “For fuck’s sake,” I grumbled. His laugh always rung out from far away, like he was watching me the whole time.

When his shift was over, the smile would fade and he would sigh a “Well … I guess its time for me to go home.”

“Aren’t you happy to go home?” I asked.

“If there wasn’t an alcoholic there, yeah,” he said.

“Poor Bob,” I said.

“Well, I guess its time for me to go home,” he said again.

I had my own problems. My writing school needed twenty pages of manuscript for residency in December. I submitted my pages for the month to my mentor two weeks before but hadn’t yet gotten them back with her notes. A week went by, then another and by the time she submitted her notes back to me, it left me 24 hours to do a revision and submit to the school in time. I was exhausted from working and was going to drive down to Los Angeles the day of the deadline. That morning, my last full day at the Hotel, I ran around complaining that I wasn’t going to be able to finish it, how tired I was, how fucked I was … One of the Housemen stopped me, “If she waited to give you your notes this long, explain it to the administration. She shouldn’t have waited so long. Its not your fault and your work shouldn’t suffer for it.” He was right. My breath steadied. I bit my lip and nodded my head.

One of the servers grabbed my shoulders and shook me, “Its going to be ok. You are going to write that paper and its going to be great. Ok?” I smiled. “Ok.” Then I thought of how my parents would have dealt with it. They were never cool or collected when I was frazzled. If I was upset, they got upset. It struck me that these people provided a support system and gave me a glimpse of what I wanted for myself.

Around 10am, most of us were given our first break from the 6am shift and most of the breakfasts were over. We would convene in the empty banquet room, dragging carts of food behind us, lock the doors from the outside, put a post-it over the peep hole we often use to check on meetings for service and settled down for breakfast together. This would be my last one.

The Housemen’s two way radio went off. “We need a Houseman in the Business Center with a chair for a guest.”

“Copy that, working on it,” the Houseman said into the radio. Then he resumed his scrambled eggs, sausage links and bacon. "Bob, do you work tomorrow?"

"Yeah," Bob said.

"Not me, I don’t work tomorrow."

"You got a fucking day off. God damn it," Gary chimed in.

"But I still have to coach," the Houseman said.

"That's not work, coaching is fun," Bob said. This Houseman coached high school girl’s soccer.

"You don’t know how hard I've worked to get these girls out of losing in the double digits,” he said.

“Did you see the General Store’s note on their front door about not accepting change over $4 anymore?” another server asked.

“Some dude bought $20 worth of gas in change last week,” the Houseman said.

"I thought it was because of Mary's God damn mother and son of a bitch brother going down there to buy cigarettes with change,” Gary added.

“Trixie thought if was because of her,” Tina, a teenage server said.

Fifteen minutes later, the radio went off again. “We still need that chair in the Business Center.”

The Houseman sat back in his chair, wiped his mouth then clicked on the radio. “I am working on it. Having some trouble finding a chair in here.”

“We have a guest on her knees,” the radio voice said in a dry, unamused voice.

“Copy that. Working on it, I will be there asap,” he said before leaning back in his chair again and sipping the rest of his coffee.

It was my last breakfast. I was laughing too loud, as usual, and I was shushed for the last time over my last plate of hash browns in tabasco sauce, my last glass of orange juice, my last healthy serving of fresh pineapple. It was my last breakfast with my real family in Skamania.

"Break time?" Gary asked after our 20 minute feast.

"Yeah," I said.

We stepped outside on the steps in the cool mountain air, lighting each other’s cigarettes under a canopy of cedar and pine. “It’s going to suck when you leave. Nobody will laugh. Nobody will sing. I hate this fucking place. I would be so glad to leave. I am going to smoke this cigarette, then take my lunch and smoke through that hoping I die of lung cancer,” Gary said.

“Jesus,” I responded. “Don’t be miserable. Just change your life. You will end up like Terry or Bob.” I put my hand on his shoulder and he looked into my eyes. “Look at them if you want to see your future. You are on the same road.”

“Fucking hell, you are right,” he said.



Since pulling double after double on back to back days, my new favorite song to sing at work was “Get Up Ofa That Thang” and would start dancing upon entry into the Back Hall jingling, “I’m back … I’m back.”

“If I have to hear you sing that song one more time, I am going to break something,” the Quarterback said. “Don’t you know the rest of the words?”

“♫ ♪ Get Up Ofa that thang, and dance til you feel better ♪ ♫ … what is it?” I asked for days. Then one day it spilled out of me, “Dance to release the pressure.”

“That sounds right, actually,” he mumbled under a smile.

James Brown got me through the last two weeks of work and no sleep. “♪ ♫ Feels Good ….”

When the swing shift started, the boys Tate and Harry walked in with rap playing on their Smart Phones. I threw open the doors to the Back Hall, “I can smell you!” I said. “It’s my last day so I am giving out spankings.” In turn, Harry and Tate both bent over slightly so I could wallop them on the butt.

The Quarterback came in to start a lunch service and stay for a plated dinner later in the night. I wasn’t working either. “It’s your last day, [StarFire], you wanna fuck?”

“I think I have five minutes,” I said. Harry and Tate exchanged a smile.

The Hotel had me making floral arrangements for the services. The first time they asked me to work with the flowers, the floor was covered in petals and stems, wrapping paper and ribbon. It was a mess. Anytime someone would comment, I threw my hand in the air, “It is part of my creative process,” I dismissed. A wedding planner came in that first time and said my arrangements were better than the ones she brought from the florist and ended up leaving hers in the car. After that, the Hotel asked me to keep doing them.

So there I started again, cutting, fluffing, sprucing, clipping and mixing flowers. The Quarterback came in to set for service. Gary was there too, but he was usually quiet, occasionally providing a little amusing story. “Yeah I was robbed at knifepoint in Arizona. They were talking to me in Spanish. I said, ‘I ain’t Hispanic. I don’t know what the hell you are saying.”

“That’s right, you say I am Native American. This land is my land, mother fuckers!” I said. The Quarterback stared at me and then broke down laughing. That made me happy. “I am having a drink tonight to celebrate your leaving,” the Quarterback said, “... do you wanna come over?”

I smiled and I thought about it. I wondered how this would end. A goodbye kiss. A drink behind a gas station. Something more ... then he started again with, “You have the flattest ass I have ever seen.” “Do those even count as tits?” “You can’t come to work looking like that. This is a place of business.”

As service approached, more people worked in the room. The Housemen moved and arranged tables. The Bartender stocked her bar.

“Have you ever seen someone with no ass before, it’s embarrassing,” he kept saying.

I snapped, “I have never heard someone talk so much about my body before. Not a boyfriend. Not anyone. Just deal with the fact that you want me.”

“Eugh, why would I want an old lady? You are practically my mother’s age.”

“I don’t know, but you want me and I have to hear about it every fucking day so do us both a favor and deal with it!” I said.

The Housemen from breakfast stopped working. “I don’t know what’s going on but we just walked into something amazing.”

“You want me, why can’t you just say you want to fuck me?” the Quarterback asked.

“Oh my God, would you deal with your feelings? Just deal, ok?” I said.

“What feelings?” he said.

“You like me,” I said. “Its ok, go ahead and say it.”

He stopped working and stared at me smiling. Everyone in the room stopped and was staring. “You wish,” he said. Everyone groaned and we all went back to work. The Quarterback’s mother, my boss, came in to look things over. “[StarFire] wants to stay for the dinner service,” he said. She ignored him.

When I pushed the linens down the hall, the Quarterback came up behind me, put his hand on the rack to keep it steady as I pushed the flimsy bar on wheels through the kitchen. I felt his chest against my back. When I walked by, he would start falling backward into my arms. I dodged him, “Oh, I thought you were going to catch me,” he said. He was so desperate to touch me. It was kind of beautiful. “Since it’s my last day, I am giving out spankings,” I said. He turned around and bent all the way over. I threw my whole body into the blow and felt my hand burn. 

“Geez, I didn’t think you were serious,” he said, turning back around.

“Oh, I am serious.”

My shift stretched into the late afternoon. I was given one job after another. Around 3pm, I walked up to the Quarterback as he was pushing an ice chest to a service. “Ok, [his last name], I am leaving.” He stood up. His face turned scarlet as his mouth dropped into a frown. “Psyche!” I said, slapping my hand against his chest, once again reminded of how rock hard that kid was under his button-up.

“I saw you get teary eyed!” he said. “I saw it, don’t lie.”

Later he asked me, “If you had to fuck Martin or me, who would you rather do?” Martin was the 58-year-old server who partnered with me on most services and spent the most time with me outside of work. Towards the end of summer, he dragged along his family and co-workers to the brewery with us, I suspected to make it less controversial. His son was thrilled to drink with us. His wife … the opposite of that.

"I would rather fuck you, ok?" I said.

"Really?" he smiled. It only then occurred to me he really wasn't sure.

My last full day at the Hotel, I ended up staying until 8pm. When I was released, Kelly (my favorite 18-year-old girl) asked me to buy her alcohol. I agreed after giving her a speech, “If you aren’t responsible with this, and something bad happens to you or somebody else- a car wreck, anything, I won’t be able to live with myself. I will have to kill myself. Do you understand?” I said.

“I promise I will be responsible,” she said. I left the Hotel a little after 8pm to buy her a bottle of flavored vodka, rum and something else foo-foo only high school students would prize. I got back and threw the bottles in the back of her car then repeated my speech. She walked me back inside the Back Hall and I picked her up to hug her goodbye. I loved that girl and held her in my arms as I walked down the hall, accidentally hitting her leg on a cabinet. “OWW!” she screamed, laughing.

I made my goodbyes to everyone, the bartenders, the boys, the girls, the older women. I hugged. Sometimes I stopped to let the tears come out in a corner somewhere where no one could see me. I quietly picked them off with my fingers and reminded myself I had to leave. There were a few I would see the next morning on my breakfast shift, but I made a clean sweep saving him for last. “Where’s [the Quarterback]?”

“He is on break,” the PM Manager said.

“Why do you have to see him?” Kelly asked, looking worried. She had a flirtation with him too, not nearly as intense but with more potential.

“I have to say goodbye.” I walked down to the lunch room and there he was, sitting alone with a bowl of soup. There were two other night men there, sitting at their own tables. I walked in happy, nervous, giddy, and sat directly across from the Quarterback. He ignored me to watch the football game on the television behind me. He had a little smile and his eyes were wet glossing over those green eyes.

“I am saying goodbye,” I said. He ignored me. “What the hell are you eating?”

“Cream of bacon soup,” he said, not looking at me.

“Fucking disgusting. Everything here has to be a cream of something,” I said. “How is it?”

“Tastes like you,” he said.

“It must be the best thing you have ever had in your life then,” I said smiling. My knees were shaking, why were they shaking? His eyes kept on the screen behind me and I pulled out my phone to check Facebook. He suddenly turned his attention on me, leaning over the table to stare at my phone, then stare at me … as if I was being rude. I put away the phone.

“Come on, let’s get it all out. I have to go,” I said.

“You don’t have to go,” he said.

“I can’t stay here. I need to make money,” I said.

“You can make money here,” he said. I leaned back and smiled, “Year round?” Silence. Someone in the Smoke Shack told me once winter hits, you are lucky to get one work day during a pay period.

“Why won’t you look at me?”

“Because you are weird,” he said.

“No, I’m not!”

The night man at the closest table chimed in, “Yes, you are.”

The Quarterback couldn’t finish the soup. “This is disgusting, actually,” he said. He slowly got up and dropped his dirties in a tub by the door. We walked out together.

“Your dreams are about to come true,” I said with my arms outstretched. He leaned into me and wrapped me in his arms, resting his chin on my shoulder. My smile fell off of me immediately, as he walked down the hall back to work, embracing me. Our feet fell back step-for-step in synchronicity as if we had been practicing the waltz all summer. He held me perfectly. I felt his breath on my ear and hair, wishing I hadn’t smoked so many cigarettes beforehand so he could remember the smell of my shampoo instead of tobacco. 

He pulled away from me and we put our masks back on. His hand dropped to my left ass cheek and he squeezed. “Sorry, I just had to,” he said, twisting away his smile again. I took a step towards him but he was walking away too quickly. There was no big kiss. There was no collapsing under the tension into an afternoon of lovemaking. There was no admission of love, lust or indifference. There was just a kid who couldn’t look at me to say goodbye. That meant more in a way.

I went home that night and cried.                                      


Just as the Hotel asked me to stay an extra week to help with October banquets, I was asked to come in on the morning service the day I planned on leaving. I obliged and showed up puffy, pale, my throat sore from chain smoking and my hair in a greasy bun.

I trudged in and took a lot of breaks to smoke with Gary outside. “I wish I was going to Los Angeles. Here, I bought a new pack of cigarettes last night. Take as many as you want. I quit smoking for Mary ten years ago. What has that God damn bitch done for me? Nothing.”

When I returned to the Back Hall, I started detailing some silverware. Tate was there, playing rap on his cell phone, killing time until someone complained that he wasn’t doing anything.

Out of the blue, he said, “You should stay here and date [the Quarterback].” I didn’t look up. I polished a water stain off a knife. “That doesn’t sound like a good idea,” I said, sadly. Since our goodbye the night before, I couldn’t stop thinking about him.

Earlier that morning, before anyone was there, I copied his phone number into my cell phone and texted him “Stay in touch, my Apple Blossom.”

He texted back: “Alright, Hollywood.”

Martin worked that shift with me. He was my other big goodbye. He put on his white hat and plugged in his ear buds. “You’re not leaving are you?” I asked.

He chuckled. “....yeah. It’s my 8 hours. That’s when I go. I am not like you.”

“Let’s go get a drink,” I said.

He smiled. “Ok, just tell me where.” He told me three weeks before that he wanted to cook me dinner before I moved out of Skamania. We also had a flirtation and a deep friendship. I couldn’t imagine his wife loving the idea of Martin cooking me dinner but I agreed to it. We simply ran out of time. We worked too much. He went to Vegas for their anniversary. By the time he came back, we barely had time to grab a brew after work anymore.

“Bob, will you come with us for a goodbye drink?” I asked.

“No, I gotta go home,” he sighed in that groan that reminded me of my senior pit bull who only now gets up if she hears the rustle of food in the kitchen.

“Well this is goodbye then,” I said. We hugged. “I hope you find your little spot of sunshine.”

“I do, too,” he said.

When Bob left, I walked to a dark corner and picked off my tears like they were spilling off an assembly line. The fatigue contributed I am sure, the stress, but I understood why we need to believe in a place called Heaven; only in the faith of a magical place where everyone we love and have loved coming together at the same time can we soften the sting of goodbye.

I grabbed the teenagers and hugged them goodbye, they all seemed fairly reluctant but later added me on Facebook and sent me affectionate messages.

My boss, the Quarterback’s Mother, asked if I wanted to stay for the swing shift or leave. I opted to leave, huffing in pink tears. “I am not emotional right now because I know I will see you again. You always show up next door after a few years, so I am not going to cry,” she said. I knew that I would never show up next door again.

Martin and I met at a restaurant serving beer. We sat across from each other, shooting the shit about work, where we want to go, what we want to do. He was worried his kids and grandkids would never find jobs and move out of his house. “Your generation may never get ahead with the way things are going.” Still, he wished somebody else would wash the dishes once in awhile.

Gary pranced in wearing his Blues Brothers sunglasses and work shirt. He ordered a pint and we all toasted to my goodbye. When Martin picked up his white hat, I felt myself crumble into tears and made a face plant into my hands. Martin laughed. “I will see you again. Don’t worry about that. Whether its here or down there or in Hawaii someday. I will see you again.”

We hugged goodbye and I ignored the waitress, who was waiting to see if I wanted another drink, and I stood there watching Martin until he disappeared around the corner. He looked back once and laughed at me one last time.

Gary and I resumed drinking. The habit of not eating, working day and night while rarely sleeping made the alcohol buzz turn over into an all out belligerent mid-day drunk fest. No better company for such a party than a bitter Native American. We corralled Terry into coming down and I bought her an expensive vodka drink while drunk texting the Quarterback. She solemnly looked at me, “He is just a kid.” My smile faded and I nodded. Shortly thereafter, my cell phone died and I missed calls from Matt, my Skamania lover, who wanted to find me for one last goodbye.

Terry, Gary and I moved to the bar The Bungalow to keep the party going. There were only a few regulars there that night, but all eyes were on us. Here is where the night gets spotty. Terry ordered drinks for us. I popped a dollar into the juke box and turned around as James Brown squealed “♪ ♫ Owwww … I’m back … I’m back … ♪ ♫” Gary’s eyes grew wide, “It’s your song!”

We drunk dialed the Quarterback. We all vowed to go to Disneyland together and take psychedelic mushrooms. Gary called his mother. “Mom? Mom! I want to talk to you. Yeah, I’m drunk. So what? So what!” He held out the phone, “She just hung up on me.” Then he dialed her again. He asked me for a kiss with sad eyes. “On the lips?” he added. I offered a quick peck before dancing next to the pool table a little more.

When it was time to leave, we all stood in a little triangle. “Fuck it! I want to come! Fuck this life. Fuck Mary. I want to go to LA with you!” Gary pronounced.

“Ok,” I said, “Do it. break the cycle. Come be free with me. Terry, you have to come to!”

“I can’t come right now, but I will meet you down there later, when I have money,” she said.

“You promise?” I asked.

“I promise,” she lied. Then she looked at me and her face dropped into tears, her mouth opened revealing the gaps in her teeth, the prominent missing tooth in the front. She pressed her hands against her face and I wrapped my long arms around her.

“I love you,” I said.

“I love you too.”

“Goodbye, Terry,” Gary said.

“Yeah, see you tomorrow at work,” she smiled. Then she walked out.

Gary and I walked out to my car and he shouted, “Fuck it!” and threw his phone into the forest. “Take me back to my place so I can grab my record player and my weed.” So I did. I parked outside in a fog of beer, delirium and God knows what else. I settled in expecting it to be awhile. The night was creeping in through my car windows. Gary would fight with Mary and maybe he would change his mind. In under three minutes, Gary walked out with his record player under one arm, a Wendy Rene record, a bag of ganja and his pipe in the other. 

We drove back to the Old Man’s house, I charged my phone and threw my things at Gary so he could pack while I unloaded from the house. Most of my things were already packed up since there was a forest fire not far away. I took my computer with the speakers, mouse and keyboard still connected. We shoved everything in and slammed the trunk closed. I took my dogs and packed them in a tight spot in the back seat. Then I wrote a note to the Old Man:

Thank you for letting me live here and not raping me.

Later, I told Gary about that note. “He probably woke up, read that note and said ‘That God damn woman.”

“That’s what most men in my life say,” I said.

I put Brad on my lap and checked my phone. Someone called. I called back.



“Where are you?”

“I am at Mamma’s (a bar). Where are you?”

“I am in my car with a big fucking Indian.”

“Come on by.”


I drove us through Carson for the last time, past the dark house where my parents lived. My headlights blew through the leaves like the wind off the river. When I pulled into Stevenson, I parallel parked on a hill and backed into someone’s truck who was behind me. Thrusting my head out the window, I shouted, “Oh fuck!”

Gary laughed. Two men crossed the street from the bar, tossing their cigarettes out of their mouths. “Holy shit!”

“Sorry, is this your car?” I asked.

“No, but you really hit that car.”

I got out and saw the license plate bent backward underneath the bumper at a 90 degree angle. “Doesn’t look too bad,” I said, walking into the bar.

“Who called you?” Gary asked.

“I don’t know, I guess I will know when I see him,” I said. Mamma’s is kind of a hole. People in Skamania will describe it as “hit or miss”. A hit would mean you can enjoy some good tunes while playing pool. A miss is a rat will eat your slice of pizza while a fight breaks out. It is dark inside with red walls. There are more tables than there should be making it difficult to walk around but you get the feeling the place was thrown together without much thought. It feels like a storage unit for drunks. I looked around and saw the am dishwasher with the skull handkerchief wrapped around his head fighting heavy eyelids at a table. “Fucking TJ,” I said.

“Hey gurl,” he slurred. “What’s going on?”

“I am all packed up and leaving town. I have three dogs and a big, fucking Indian in my car outside,” I said.

“Did you say you have a big, fucking Indian?”


“Ok. Just making sure.” We chit chatted a little while, it couldn’t have been long since I didn’t even order a drink.

“Whatever you do, don’t do meth. That shit is evil,” I pontificated.

“It’s all good. I have been doing meth for 13 years. I know when I am doing. I am a professional,” he said.

“That means you started doing meth when you were 11 …” I said. He raised his eyebrows and smiled.

I got up and gathered my purse, “Please be very careful. I am very worried about you and I won’t be here anymore, so...”

“Wait a minute, you are driving drunk with a car full of dogs and a big, fucking Indian, and you are telling me to be careful?” he said.


“Is there really an Indian or are you bullshitting me?” he asked.

“No,” I said, “There he is.” I pointed at Gary as he walked from one end of the bar to the other with his sunglasses still on.  We left and Gary promised he was ok to drive. It was around Portland that he said he blacked out while driving. The only thing he remembers is my deaf pit bull, Esther, nudging him awake whenever his eyes and head dropped down.

He told me later, I woke up in the passenger seat and pulled out the loose wind piping from my door. The summer before, I rescued a German Shepherd who destroyed the lining in both passenger side doors in the 5 minutes I left her alone in the car. “What the fuck is this doing hanging over me,” I grumbled, yanking it all out before passing out again.

I should probably state here that I am not proud of driving drunk or having a drunk drive me, especially with my dogs. If something bad happened to us or them, I would never have forgiven myself.

It was in Eugene I remember coming to at a truck stop. The air was ice cold and I was grouchy from the alcohol and the chill. “Where the fuck are we?”

“Eugene,” Gary said. “They won’t give us a room unless we have a trucker’s card.”

“What the fuck?” I grumbled. The next thing I remember is Motel 6, trudging into the desk clerk and getting a room before jacking up the heat and collapsing on a motel bed still in my work uniform.

At 7am, I woke up to a text from Martin. ‘Where is Gary?”

I looked over at the other bed. He was asleep underneath my two pit bulls. I wrote back, “He is here with me. I asked him a thousand times if he was sure. He said he was, so I took him with me.”  

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Just a Kid Who Lives in the Middle of Nowhere

It was on. I had one week to work as many hours as possible before flying high out of Skamania. Living with the Old Man was difficult. He would sit in his chair and watch TV until I got home from work. I would get on my computer. He would get up and retreat to his bedroom almost immediately. We wouldn’t talk.

The tension at home didn’t rob me of my joy at work. I grabbed any shift they gave me, often starting at 6am, leaving around 12:30 or 1pm to walk the dogs, then coming back and finishing another shift around midnight or 1am. People were surprised to start the graveyard shift and see me from earlier that morning. I felt like an apparition walking the halls of the Hotel without much sleep or food. I didn’t care anymore if food was vegan or not anymore, I ate what could maybe pass for vegan and smoked cigarettes to keep awake.

We were all working a lot. The line cook was passing us trays of food and said, “Tired” instead of “Hot Pan”. The Bartender broke down in tears when we were finishing a service because she didn’t know when she would have time to see her child before she started school. It was intense. The single mothers would have to shell out money for babysitters or drop their kids off at the Grandparents and often seemed like they were stumbling around with the light out in their eyes. They were only half a person without their kids.

I was alive though. I tried to pull together the service with a couple of fuck-up teenagers working under me. I was grouchy:

“I need coffee, decaf and hot water for service. Can you please do that?” I asked Tate. He stood still a little too long, “Like now?” I punctuated. A few minutes later I stormed into the Back Hall shouting, “Coffee? I need coffee!”

Tate handed me a small carafe of black coffee. “This is for 60 people, are you insane?” He stared at me as I ripped it out of his hand. “Forget it, I will do it myself. Jesus Christ, you kids make me want to get sterilized.”

“Sorry …” Tate said softly. “Can I help?”

“I got it, it is fine.”

“Seriously. I want to help,” he said. At the end of the day, they cared what I thought and that was nice. I didn’t want to let the stress, the sleeplessness and the self-abuse poison my love for the job.

I took in everything about the Hotel knowing I would never see it again. The misspellings on the shelf and walls. The cute baker who rapped Eminem at 6:30am in pigtails. The 7-foot dishwasher who spoke loudly to himself as he scraped mediocre food off of dirty pans. One night, he grabbed me and hugged me tight. He hugged me so tight I couldn’t breathe, the man was freakishly large. “We love you, [StarFire]” he said.

The PM Dishwasher took a different approach:

“Hey, why don’t you ever answer my calls?” The PM Dishwasher asked.

“Because, I told you- I have no reception, man. I have to drive down the road to get my text messages.”

“Oh,” he said, “Well, I thought maybe we could go out sometime.”

“Hey, can I move in?” I asked.

“No, I live with my parents. No one can even come over there,” he said.

“How did you expect to take me out on a date then?”

“We could just drive around, you know … cruise ...” he said. I broke out laughing.

The Dishwasher, Chad and QB all said they didn’t have girlfriends, which I took for face value at the time. “Oh, he is practically married to the mother of his child,” Martin said one day about the Dishwasher.

“He is? He said they broke up several months ago,” I said.

Martin laughed, “... ok. That’s a good story.”

Chad was late one day and the PM Manager said, “I think his girlfriend is dropping him off.”

“I thought they broke up,” I said.

As Chad pranced in I said, “Hey man, you said you didn’t have a girlfriend.” He smiled and poured himself a Pepsi before disappearing.

There was no one in Skamania who really had a chance with me. Well … QB. He told me several weeks before that he broke up with the Belgian foreign exchange student who spent her last semester of high school in Skamania. They went to prom together. The hundreds of pictures on Facebook are just adorable. One day, while standing with his Mother out on a Brunch service she said, “And he is so good with his girlfriend. We are thinking of sending him over there to see her sometime next year.”

I almost said, “Oh, I thought they broke up” but I knew she was telling me so I would know to stay away. She never scheduled us on the same service and if another manager did, she would switch us around. It was frustrating because he really was the best food runner there. He grew up at the Hotel, not to mention he moved and thought fast.

When we were in the break room for my peanut butter and jelly sandwich and his glass of milk, I mentioned something about it. “I heard you were still together with your girlfriend,” I said.

“Who told you that?” he asked.

“Your mom,” I said. He grinned.

“You jealous?” he asked.

I held up my pathetic wheat bread PB&J, “That’s right … I am jealous of your high school, skype, long-distance relationship …” then I took a bite out of my sandwich. He smiled and turned away. “You are so sarcastic, [StarFire]” He said my name with a laziness, where the consonants were dulled by his country boy tongue. I liked it.

At the end of the shift, he would ask, “Are you working tomorrow?”

“Of course,” I smiled, “Aren’t you excited...” His eyes slowly rolled through my hair, down the nape of my neck, over my breasts and around my hips like fingers. He leaned into me, lifted the corner of his mouth and exhaled a puff of hot air. “Nah. Excited about what?”

I laughed. He walked away but tossed his head back to see if I was smiling, to make sure I got the joke. If I was studying the Banquet Service Orders on the wall, out of nowhere a hand would shove me from the back until my face and chest were planted against the wall. A hot slap across my shoulder.  Once, he walked up and put both hands on either side of my face and dragged them across my skin. It took several seconds before I realized his hands were wet with dish soap. It was oddly intimate. “I can see your tummy,” he said when my shirt was untucked. We had evolved from a passing flirtation to some kind of head fuck.

While pushing my cart after a service, he came up from behind me down the hall, “I am comin’ for you, [StarFire] … you better run, I am comin’.” I laughed and pushed faster, trying to close the door into the Housekeeper’s side room before he inched his way through.

“I went up to the golf course last night and got drunk with someone. We had sex. Are you jealous?” he said. This was some one-line story he used to tell over and over again. At first I believed him simply because he was saying it out loud. I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Ok.”

“Yeah, we went up with a bottle of champagne.”

“Now I am jealous. I love champagne,” I said. Later I would realize he was testing me. He wanted to know if I had any emotional attachment to him. It seemed silly at the time to think we were more than an attraction, or a playful flirtation- but he was feeling me out.

While folding napkins late one night he said, “I used to think your parents were really nice and everyth-ang,” he always dragged out the “ings” like he was plucking straw out of his teeth, “but after hearing your stories about them I started kinda noticing weird things. Like your Mom just let herself into our house the other day. I was asleep by the door, but she thought the house was empty. She didn’t even knock. She just let herself in and walked around. It was weird.”

“They are insane. I told you. I can’t blame them for the way they treated me. They are repeating patterns from their childhood. Both my parents came from broken homes. My mom was told she was fat growing up and they both went through a lot. They are just repeating what they learned but I wish they would be smart enough to break the cycle. I just don’t think they are that intelligent anymore. Why can’t they be better than their parents?” I asked. “I sometimes repeat those patterns too, but I am fighting it so I can … evolve.”

“Have you ever been hit in the face by a guy?” he asked.

I carefully folded the linen napkins in three parts as I was instructed on my first day, “Yeah.”

“YEAH!? YOU HAVE?” he almost shouted. He was still smiling, high on my honesty.

“Yeah, well once someone bit me in the head which makes me sound insane but there is no other way to put it. I mean … he bit my head,” I said.

“You look like the type of girl who stays in a room all day and read books but you have an interesting life. I just want to smoke a joint and listen to you tell stories all day,” he said leaning back with his hands cupped behind his red head.

“Why don’t you just say you want to fuck me?”

I huffed a little laugh, then we got up to walk to another Banquet Hall for something or another. “Let’s say I did want to fuck you, exactly what positions would you want to do?” I asked. Fuck it. I was leaving anyway.

“I only do one position … the Jackhammer,” he said. I laughed and wondered what it would be like to have the high school quarterback pound into me for a split second. “Nahh, I only know that because my friend was texting some girl he met off Craigslist once and she was asking him for the Jackhammer.”

“Ah, well, it sounds like it could have its appeal,” I said. We walked into the dark, empty Banquet Hall and I sensed he was nervous. His confidence fell out of his pockets and he was eager to get what we needed and leave. He frantically collected things and then stood a little too close to the back of the neck. I gave him a few seconds to stay there but saw that he wasn’t ready yet.

The more we worked, the more exhausted and the more emotional. One day, I asked someone to just slap me in the face. Everyone stood around grinning until QB walked up to me and planted a decent size slap on my face. The sting jolted my heart and kicked off the fatigue if only for a few minutes. “That helped,” I said.

“Can you help on my service tonight? Its for 50 people and I only have Chad helping me. With just him and me its like … you know … one and a half people on the service,” he asked one night.

“Yeah, I can do that,” I said.

“Ok, I will ask my Mom.”

We arranged for me to come back and pull another double on his service but when I came back to work, his mother shifted me off his service and put me on another one. There was some miscommunication and when QB found out I was moved he got very grouchy. “Chad says you were moved off my service. Is he lying?” he asked.

“No, I think I was,” I said. QB coldly turned away from me and wouldn’t talk to me for an hour or two. Then he started digging in on me. “Why are you always looking at me? What’s your problem? You are always smiling at me?”

“Give me a break,” I said at first- but his tone changed and it started tasting bitter.

“What is it? Why are you looking at me?” he asked.

“Don’t be an asshole, QB,” I said.

“What, you are always looking at me … its getting pathetic,” he said. That was my sore spot. “Pathetic”. Boys love calling me “Pathetic”.

“I don’t care what your problem is, you are just some kid, that’s all. Just some kid who lives in the middle of nowhere. Big deal.”

A wall of ice fell between us and as service picked up towards dinner he wickedly threw dirties down, “You looking at me again?”

I violently dug the hand shovel into the ice machine to fill up a bucket. “You are looking at ME! I am looking at YOU because YOU are looking at ME! You have been looking at me since the day I started!!” I shouted.

“Well, that’s because you are weird,” he said, fumbling.

“Well, I am sorry. There is nothing I can do about that,” I said, throwing everything I needed on my cart before making a dramatic exit.

“You were born weird,” he said again, a little stronger, with a smile flickering over his face.

“Jesus, get over it, asshole!” I said.

I knew his mother could hear us. Once in awhile she would hear me complain out loud to myself and answer my question or address my concern from the office. She heard me call her son an asshole but I didn’t care. He was being an asshole. From that point forward, whenever we passed in the Back Hall, I ignored him. The second or third time he stopped. “Good job, I know how hard that is for you.” I turned and smiled at him. He smiled back. We walked away to our separate services.

The next day at work, he was stocking wine glasses. “My girlfriend says you’re hot. She saw you on Facebook and she thinks you look like you’re in highschool. She wouldn’t believe me that you are some old lady. I knew that would make your day … stop dancing, you are embarrassing me.”

We went back to the old shenanigans. He would gently push me while I conferenced with his mother on a service. When I turned and kicked his feet, he giggled. His mother froze, widened her eyes and walked away. He would hold out his hand when I walked towards him so that my boob would collide with the palm of his hand.

After his shift that day, I watched him from the Back Hall walk to his car in the parking lot. There was a big window overlooking the entire employee parking lot, and he trudged to his beat up jeep with his uniform shirt pulled out in the front. I thought about massaging his cock until he melted in my hand. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him and realized I would never have a chance with him. We were running out of time.

“I just want to go home, get a massage and make love to a boy,” I said to the girls on my service.

“Oh, well that’s what I am going to do after this,” the chunky 18-year-old with bleached hair said.

“Are you fucking serious?” I said, dryly.

“Yeah,” she chirped.

“What kind of cruel universe is sending you off to have intercourse and leaving me to rot back here?”

“Maybe sex isn’t in your DNA,” she said.

“Honey, it’s in my DNA. Don’t worry about that.”

I came home to the Old Man that day and sat down in front of my computer to pound out a blog. I rubbed my hand over my eyes and slicked my greasy hair back before opening up a clean sheet of canvas to carve words on. The Old Man approached me and said, “You look tired.”

“I am working really hard. I will be out in 5 days, don’t worry,” I said.

“You have to take care of yourself. I can see rings around your eyes. Can I show you something?”

He walked me outside to his shed and led me to a clean, new RV parked in the barn. I never noticed it before. He made my dogs stay outside which bothered me but I was a guest and didn’t say anything about it. “This is my home away from home. I like to come here sometimes to just relax. Why don’t you pick out some music?” He pulled out a box filled with old cassette tapes. I extracted “The Best of Rod Stewart” and he plopped it in the player and it rung out on the speakers. “Go ahead, lie down,” he said.

I didn’t know what he expected or what to do. I was too tired to do anything but lie down. So I walked over to the bed and lay face down as he sat on the other end of the RV and watched. Rod’s nasally prose filled the stale air:

Stay away from my window
Stay away from my back door too
Disconnect the telephone line
Relax baby and draw that blind
Kick off your shoes and sit right down
Loosen off that pretty French gown
Let me pour you a good long drink

I thought maybe that was the wrong song choice. I didn’t want to fall asleep just in case footsteps led up to my bedside.  Just in case I felt an old hand crawl over me. My eyes rolled back into my head and the smell of mildew on the pillowcase lifted as everything slowly receded to black.

I woke up and Brad, my 15-pound terrier mix, was rolled up in the bend of my knee. The Old Man saw I was awake, “He just kept waiting by the door so I let him in.” I softly combed back his long blond fur and looked into his eyes to see if he knew anything more than I did. His brown eyes were soft and alert, as they always are when we are away from home.  I closed my eyes again feeling the fresh sweat from a nap in my hair and sticky veil of oil on my skin and face. I lay down again but couldn’t let my mind surrender the sounds of his footsteps, the pacing of his breath and lay still for another half hour or so.

I shot up out of bed and saw he wasn’t in the RV anymore. It was dark outside. I felt frantic to write, to apply for jobs in Los Angeles, to finish the book for my monthly annotations. Picking up Brad, I rushed out of the RV and swiftly jogged to the house, past the Old Man urinating in his own lawn, past the goat with his own Facebook page and the two dogs next door and I disappeared into my room to feel alone and safe again. I still feel badly about that. He was just trying to help but I didn’t trust him.


It was my last night shift with QB. While shuffling butter and creamer out of the fridge, I looked over my shoulder and saw him looking at me with this hopelessness. His eyebrows up and colliding into each other, pink and red in want. I never saw that look on his face before.

The dinner service was lit by candle and a powerpoint presentation.  QB was food runner and I was a server, but I kept close to him knowing it was the last time we would work together. I asked if I could help him and he would look down and smile, “Thank you,” he said. “So, you said you would tell me if you would really sleep with me or not before you left.”

“I did,” I said, smiling. I didn’t feel pretty. My eyes were puffy. My hair was twisted in an unflattering knot on my head. I couldn’t stand my reflection anymore. “But it’s not quite the end of our shift so I can’t tell you yet.”

“Come on, you would fuck me. Wouldn’t you?” he said.

“I will tell you this …” he leaned in and I looked down to blush, “I like your shoulders.” The broad shoulders I often imagined pressing up against the inside of my knees, slithering as I was wrapped around him and pushed against the wall.

He smiled and looked hard at me, “That’s one.”

“And that’s … all,” I said.

“Yeah right, come on,” he said. We were constantly disturbed. There was always something missing or late for the buffet line. And the inevitable customer complaints, mostly about the bar not staying open long enough. Modesto, the Mexican line cook who gave me the ‘I Love You’ sticker several weeks before, was manning the fish station. A large, dead Halibut was resting underneath a heat lamp. Modesto cornered me, “You leave soon? I could come too. We could work together and help each other. Why not?”

I laughed and smiled, piecing together his broken sentences as QB pretended to masturbate behind his back. “I don’t think so, Modesto,” I said. “It would never work between us.”

“You toy with me! You toy with my feelings,” he said, disgusted.

“How do I toy with you?”

“You smile, you say you want to see movie and now you leave,” he said curtly before his face melted again with the pleading that I take him along. I realized that it wasn’t necessarily my allure. How could it be? I looked like shit. They all wanted to leave. California sounded like sunshine and smoothies, more people, more everything. They were trapped. I was free.

We worked the service. I was so exhausted, I was spilling wine and coffee. I was averaging 3-4 hours of sleep a day and working my ass off. My eye-hand coordination was for shit. Once I spilled half a pot of coffee all over someone’s dinner table. I still lingered at the end of my shift … to be with QB. We walked around each other, sometimes quietly, sometimes obnoxiously tossing insults. When I smacked his chest I could feel the rock hard flesh of an athlete and it always surprised me.

At the end of the shift, the PM manager promised everyone on staff (over the age of 21) a cocktail. I was the first released from the shift since it was a 17 hour shift. “What do you want?” he asked.

“Anything?” I asked.


“A vodka martini dirty,” I said. When he brought it to me I said, “I am going to take this and drink it in front of QB while he works.”

I marched into the Banquet Hall as everyone set up for a breakfast service in the morning. It must have been 1am by then. Pulling up a chair, I sat a few feet from QB as he folded napkins and enjoyed the martini. “What the fuck?” he said.

“It is my martini, beotch! Now get back to work!”

“She is already drunk from one martini,” he said to the others.

“You wish.”

“Give her one more and she will be all over us,” he said.

“The only way I would be all over you guys is if I drank so much I passed out and fell over you,” I said.

“So there is a chance,” Tate said.

Someone was playing music off their phone and I danced a bit. QB was excited by it all; my slurred speech, my sloppy dance moves, my snarky banter. “She is getting drunk, get her another drink.”

“Relax, Junior,” I said, steadying the glass on my lower lip.

“I think Penny is hotter than you. I want to do Penny more than I want to do you,” he said. Penny is a 50-year-old bartender with heavy blue eye-shadow and hair blending the cherished styles of mullet and beehive.

“Wow, he wants to jump your bones … bad,” she said to me quietly on the side.

“I know,” I whispered back in delight.

After my drink, I had to leave. I had to leave the teenage boys folding napkins. The single moms complaining. The managers huddled quietly in the office pounding numbers and gossiping about each other. The dishwashers smashing dirty pots and pans into the sink, shouting at each other over the rush of hot water and a temperamental dish washing machine. The night man coming in, pale as milk with a bushy mustache and a little wink just for me.  I would have one more shift there at the Hotel, but it was my last night shift and that meant something to me. I had to let it go. I had to let them all go.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Old Man and Me

“Is the old man back yet?”

It had been five weeks, and the old man who left me his house keys before an elk hunting expedition was still MIA. His daughter-in-law was calling to see if he was back yet. The neighbors said they were going to give it a day or two after the season closed before going out there themselves to look for him.

“No, not yet.”

Working at the Hotel made me happy. I was getting tons of hours and I liked what I was doing. The only downer was I hated our clientele- they were entitled, rude and completely boring. Overhearing their conversations put me in a daze, so I would wander over to chat with Gary, a huge Native American dude who often blended into the background and was a big time stoner.

“These people have absolutely nothing of any interest to say to each other,” I said.

“It’s because they are forced to be here together. The company makes them do these retreats and conventions, they don’t want to talk to each other but they have to.”

“Good point … so, do you have a dog?” I asked.

“No, but my friend had a big ole’ fucking rottie and she was really nice but once she bit my friend,” he said.

“Oh, I hope it wasn’t serious,” I followed.

“Oh yeah, fuck yeah it was serious. He fucking bled out all over the place. It was hilarious,” then he would giggle over the silverware. “It must have been because she was drunk.”

“The dog?”

“Yeah,” he said. Then he laughed to himself for about 5 more minutes.

One of the pm managers was a guy around my age, with light brown freckles and a close, fuzzy crew cut. He wore small glasses and strolled like he was a young Santa Claus, almost waiting to grow in a pot belly but I found him attractive. Mostly because he gave me his jacket whenever I was cold and working an event outside. It really takes something that simple for me to start a crush. He was married and had three young boys. It was strange to look at this person, smile, laugh at his jokes and exchange drug stories knowing he was someone’s Dad.

“So when I used to work at Safeway, all of us would go home together after work and just get stoned. That is all we did, everyday. We were big time stoners. We used to do these knife hits … you ever done those? They fuck you up! You take these two heated knives and you press them on both sides of the nug and you suck them through a bottle. I mean, we got thrashed nightly. Well, one night I went home and decided to smoke a whole bowl by myself. Then my roommates came home and kept pushing me to get stoned with them? ‘Just one hit …. come on!’ So I smoked another bowl with them. I took a sip of Pepsi and everything stopped. My friend is like, ‘Dude, are you ok?’ I couldn’t answer him. I had a mouth full of Pepsi and I forgot how to swallow. I fucking forgot … how... to … swallow.”


“Whoa,” Gary said. I was stoned at work this particular afternoon and couldn’t stop giggling at QB (the Quarterback), my 18-year-old at work flirtation. Gary, QB and I were killing time erecting odd structures out of serving utensils on the banquet table.

“Once I took a shit load of peyote on a Greyhound bus and I was tripping hard!” When Gary wanted to emphasize something, his eyes would get wide and he would stretch out the word like it was melting cheese. “There was the big old cat that was chasing me on the bus. This big, fucking 25 foot cat. I was scared, and I couldn’t go anywhere because I was on the fucking bus.”

I would buckle over laughing so hard, my knees would give way and I would tip over the edge of the table. QB would give me a crumpled look of disapproval and then grin through his closed mouth. “You laugh like a Jew,” he said.

I was working my ass off at the Hotel and knew that I had to leave soon. Ideally, I would leave before the Old Man came back, but I knew it could be any day now. I knew he would come back as soon as I got comfortable and felt ownership over his dusty little farmhouse. So I put in my two weeks notice the last week of September. I started telling everyone.

“That’s gay,” Tate said. He was a skinny 18-year-old with bad acne and too much confidence.

“Gay as in happy or gay as in homosexual?” I asked.

“Gay as in … gay.”

A few of us were working insane hours. Sometimes 15 a day. Sometimes we all worked 7 days in a row. I was exhausted, but I took everything they gave me as long as they let me leave between my double shifts to go walk my dogs. Everyone got surly, and I would sing all day long.

My shift would start at 5am, and with a sub-par but tolerable cup of coffee I would start, “♪ ♫ There's a fire starting in my heart, Reaching a fever pitch, And it's bringing me out the dark … ♪ ♫”

One of the 18-year-olds would scream, “Stopppp! It’s too early!” Everyone else chuckled.

I kept singing, off-key, following her around the back hall, “♪ ♫ The scars of your love, they leave me breathless, I can't help feeling, We could have had it AHHHHLLLL ♪ ♫”

“NO! STOP!” she said covering her ears.

“ ♪ ♫ ...Rolling in the deEEEEP... ♪ ♫”

“OH my God!”

“I am going to record it and make that a ringtone for ya!” I said, winking.

One of the few things that kept me going was the singing, the espresso I dropped in my coffee, the soda (which I usually never drink) and cigarettes- which I took up again to keep me awake.

Walking out of a wedding reception we just finished, I would start, “♪ ♫ Rah Rah LA LA LA LA. GAGA OOH LA LA LA ♪ ♫”

Another girl, “Oh my God, no!”

“♪ ♫ I want your love, and I want your revenge, You and me could write a bad romance … ♪ ♫” I kept singing.

I loved everyone that worked there. The snotty teenage girls were cute and friendly to me now. The few am workers who showed up everyday were my confidants. And then there was QB, who heard I put in my two weeks and got moody. He was the only one who was working even more hours than me.

I would be checking the Banquet Event Orders (BEOs we called them), turn around and see him sitting there with puffy eyes staring at my ass. “Why is your ass so flat?” he asked.

“Fuck you.”

We both worked a 40 person banquet alone together and he harangued me about everything “You aren’t supposed to have your arms crossed, they are supposed to be behind your back or at your sides.”

“You aren’t filling water glasses!” he said.

“Excuse me, I am bussing and serving 40 people by myself. I will get to it,” I curtly responded.

“We are behind, hurry up!” he prodded. Things got intense. We were both exhausted and the sexual tension was snapping like a cheap rubber band. If we served on the same event and briefly passed each other, I could feel his red arm hair tickle me. My vagina throbbed. Later, I would demonstrate this effect on my friend Frank: “He made my vagina do this-” and I slowly squeezed his arm.

“That’s really beautiful. He made your vagina skip a beat. Lovely.”

Those last two weeks, strolling into work, QB would dig into me almost immediately. “You want to fuck me. I can smell it on you,” he said.

“That would be charitable on my part. I mean, the greatest experience of your life . . ."

"Please, it would be the greatest experience of your life," he said.

He offered me a fortune cookie in a wrapper and wouldn’t let go of my hand after giving it to me. He smiled at me as he crushed my fingers over the cookie, demolishing it into small crumbs inside its plastic wrapper. In my palm, under his hand, I could feel the clammy sweat from his work on my skin and smiled back at him. I liked him.

Once after a service, he found me and said, “You are going to cream yourself when I show you what I got for you,” then he revealed a huge plate of curry tofu.

“That is my favorite food, thank you!”

“Are you being sarcastic?” he asked.

“No, it really is. Thank you!”

We alternated from hate to love throughout the day.

“Why don’t you just say you want to sit on my face?” he yelled down the back hall. I was working doubles, trying to finish my school work and walk the dogs at least once a day. I was exhausted and grouchy.

“Why would I waste my time?” I snapped.

One of the single moms hi-fived me and I turned away just before seeing the dazzling smile on his face as he opened packages of cocktail napkins and straws. I will never forget that smile. The one where he showed me his teeth. It was beautiful.


“Is the old man back yet?” Lilith, the 50-year-old painter who fiercely hated her job asked me one Sunday morning.

“No,” I answered, “but I found his supply of 1989 Penthouse magazines yesterday.”

“Forget the acting career, you have a gold mine in writing about your life,” she said.

“These lemons were out on the am breaks and for the lunch. Should I throw them away now?” Kelly asked. She was 18.

“No, you should dip each one in clorox and put them back in the fridge,” Lilith said, rolling her eyes. I steadied myself on the counter laughing as Kelly stood frozen with a container of old lemons. God, I miss that place.

Then the day came. The one day I left my weed out, the beer can bong, the dirty clothes on the bathroom floor and one dirty dish. It was on that day I drove home from work and saw the light on in the house. The old man was back.

I walked in and was greeted by my three dogs, happily jumping on me and dancing back and forth between him, seated on the chair by the window, and me, standing in the kitchen. I was friendly and smiled. I even walked over and tried to talk to him.

“I was worried about you,” I said.

“Why?” he asked, kind of smiling without looking at me.

“Because no one heard from you.”

“Oh. (pause) I was fine,” he said. He wouldn’t look at me as he studied envelope after envelope. “Bills.” is all he said.

The next afternoon, he came home drunk. He popped through the door, barely able to stand. “You’re home early!?” he said.

“I had an early shift,” I said carefully.

He stumbled towards me and held on to the cabinet in the living room to keep from falling.

“How are you?” I said, slowly.

“Drunk!” he cheered with big eyes. I kind of chuckled. “My friends asked me, ‘Who is that woman living in your house?’ and I said, ‘I don’t know ...’” He said it almost sing-song and that made me chuckle again.

Then my deaf pitbull, Esther, started growling at him. She didn’t like that a man was stumbling towards me and wavering around like a garden flag on a windy day. I didn’t like it either.

“Shut up. SHUT UP!” he yelled. She couldn’t hear him but she didn’t like that either and growled some more. “This is my house. MY HOUSE!”

“She’s deaf,” I said softly as I drew her close to me and buried my hands in her warm, caramel coat. I was touched that she was trying to defend me.

Then he turned towards me and waved at me as if I was to join him in the bedroom. My eyes got wide and I kind of twitched my head like I was saying “No” but hoping it could pass as “I don’t understand.”

“I am going to take a nap,” he said, “Don’t come in there after me.” He smiled to indicate the sarcasm.

“I won’t,” I said.

He disappeared into his bedroom. I was angry and worried and anxious, so I fell back on my shitty coping mechanism and went to the Bungalow to get drunk. I was scared and told everyone there what happened. They listened but didn’t know how to help me. They didn’t know me.

I drove home drunk, swerving into the opposite lane and stumbling into the house. He was awake, watching television. I drunk emailed something nasty to the Eric (my ex-boyfriend of 5 years), Abe (my ex-boyfriend of 2 years) and Huck (the lover who dumped my ass shortly after I moved back to Washington):

Fuck you all  . ..

I loved you and you left me to fend for myself with my 3 dogs.

They love me despite imperfection. And you ALL love your pot, alcohol and women more than anything. SO fuck you!!!

I am sorry I gave you three my heart. And I truly ;loved all 3 of you.

I remember trying to keep my eyes forward and my finger steady so I could hunt and peck for each key on the computer. Then I collapsed on the couch in the living room and felt the Old Man’s hand stroke my hair. My mind was submerged in whiskey and beer until the morning, when he was back in his bedroom and I was on my way to work. The only one who responded to my drunk email was Huck who wrote, “What’s your problem?

I thought that was hilarious. Partly for being so wonderfully simple, and partly for needing such a complicated answer.

That day, I came home and he was sitting in his chair staring at the TV set. “You and me gotta talk!” he said roughly. I knew this would come. I was allowed to stay there as his lady friend, not as a down-in-out girl studying and working full time. Now that would just be ridiculous.

“You had a friend over,” he said firmly.

My mind reviewed the one night Matt was there in the guest room and the kids who smoked a bowl with me on the back porch. Both fairly harmless. I bluffed.

“Once,” I said.

“I had to wash my bed sheets. I don’t smell like that,” he said.

“Um … you are implying I had sex in your bed.”

His face was red and he nodded. “That is insane. You realize you sound … insane. I slept in there once or twice when I had a migraine but no one went in there. No one. You are losing your mind.”

He leaned back. “I am not an unreasonable man. I won’t kick you out, but you have to find somewhere else to live,” he said.

“You mean you are a better person than my parents,” I thought. I nodded and said, “I am already working on trying to find another place to stay.”

“Oh, then you knew something I didn’t,” he said.

“I knew after I rejected you that you would ask me to leave,” I said.

He slowly nodded and I followed up with, “Give me a week.”

“Ok” he said, “You have one week.”

Part of me wanted to stay. I kept drilling people I worked with about whether or not I could move in with them. Many of them simply didn’t have room for the 3 dogs, me and their kids. Some had cats, which my pit bulls would eat. I didn’t want to put money down on a place and get stuck there. The money I was earning was for Los Angeles, not Skamania.

Already I had been working my LA connections for a way to get back. Frank was looking at places for both of us and I believe he got frustrated with the pet policies and threw an ultimatum on me:

“I will buy us a house right now, but we have to go in as a couple. I want us to start this off the only way I know I can. Commit to me and I will do everything I can for you and the dogs.”

I sighed … “No. I can’t do that and you know it. And that is no way to start a relationship.”

“Then I can’t do it. I can’t move in with you.”

A friend from the Doggie Daycare where I used to work said that I could bring the dogs down to his house and stay with him anytime. He would drunk dial my dogs, which I always thought was hilarious:

“Hey … hey … put Maggie on. Put Maggie on. I have to tell her something. Maggggggie. Maggggie,” he would say.

The house he lived in already arranged for a new roommate who had a cat. So that was out.

It was endless walls. Wall after wall after wall. I was sleeping with my shoes shoved under the door to jam it from being opened. I stole one of his fishing knives and kept it on the bed stand. Drunks are unpredictable and I was scared of sleeping, all the while exhausted from insane doubles at work.

Then a Facebook friend in Los Angeles I never met in person pinged me. A girl named Alia.

“Do you need a place to stay? You can come here,” she wrote.

“But I have three dogs,” I wrote back.

“That’s ok,” she posted.

One week to work my ass off. One week to say goodbye to Washington. And one week until my new life back in L.A.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Vegan Angel of Doom

Well she was an American girl
Raised on promises
She couldn't help thinkin'
That there was a little more to life somewhere else
After all it was a great big world
With lots of places to run to
And if she had to die tryin'
She had one little promise she was gonna keep ...

 One of the final weeks I was in Skamania, I met with another ex-boyfriend. This one was someone I dated the last few months I lived in Olympia after I graduated Evergreen State College in 99’. Frederick, I will call him, was a year or two younger than I was. We first met at a party in the dorms. Who ever’s dorm it was they were drying psychedelic mushrooms in the closet. I remember that. Frederick was sitting on the bed and we got in a little tiff about nothing in particular. I asked him a question, he pitched me attitude and I called him stuck up then he called me “a bitch”. After that, I gave him the evil eye on campus for an entire year.

I don’t remember how we became friends. He was in the chess club and was pretty much a straight shooter. At 20, his hair was already thinning. He wore a long tweed jacket and eyeglasses.  He also religiously rode his bike everywhere. He was passionate. Once a car pulled up too close to him on the road and he kicked the door. The driver cursed him but Frederick was up for the challenge and fed the confrontation until they drove away. He hated cars.

The other thing I remember about him was his speech to a Ralph’s cashier. “No, I don’t want a loyalty card. I don’t like the idea of being loyal to any corporation. It isn’t just about taking the card and using it whenever I need to. It is in my wallet and I have to look at it anytime I need to take something out. It gets embedded in your mind. No. I don’t want a loyalty card today, thank you.”

We hit it off, and our comfortable friendship quickly blossomed into a romance. We dressed up together for Halloween from dresses we found in a thrift store; mine a bulky white dress with a chain around the waist and his a polyester blood orange dress with a high collar. I painted my face white and called myself “Chastity”, he put on heavy eyeliner and black lipstick and called himself “Blasphemy”.  Our college was on the edge of a rainforest and on any given night the whole place looked as though it had a skyroof to space. The stars and tree tops were crystal clear. I ran around singing, “Blasphemy …” and he chased after me jingling, “Chastity …” We made love in the forest, getting make-up all over each other and our clothes.

I adored him, but knew upon acceptance to Grad school that we were short-lived so I scored our affair with Diana Ross love songs, playing them after sex or simply breaking out in song. When I took him home for Thanksgiving my mother claimed she didn’t like him, describing him as “too effeminate”.  For Christmas, he spent the night. My high school boyfriend, Jay, also came by for a visit but left when he got wind that Frederick and I were intimate. My mother cried for him that night. She always liked Jay the best and still insists that I shouldn’t be in a relationship because I “don’t have the personality for it”. Looking back, I remember several wonderful young men I loved in Washington. They were all kind, good-looking, brilliant in their own way and good friends. Being right out of college, drunk on independence and arrogant with promise, I was casual with all of them and protective of my future. Unlike my other alumni, I wasn’t particularly eager to marry right out of college. I wanted to be free.

On the New Year for the the millennium, Frederick and I rented a cottage in Long Beach, WA and got drunk together. That was our last night together as a couple.

After I left Washington and moved to Orange, CA (and leaving one last Diana Ross song on his voicemail- the title escapes me though I have been searching for several hours) we still corresponded. When I came back to visit, I gave a blow job to another ex-boyfriend then made love to Frederick the next day. I felt bad and was honest with him about it. He was bitter and hurt, but he stuck with me … I thought as a friend.

He came down to California to visit me with a friend, but my affection for him cooled in light of a new place and new men. I remember making love to him in the bathroom and promptly leaving him against the wall, opening the door and joking with his buddy (who was waiting patiently in the living room) “I think he needs to be held in there.”  A few months later, he sent me a letter with a ring proposing marriage. I sent it back with a funny but probably too cold letter refusing him.

"Dear Frederick, first off, I had rolled out of bed this morning and had to walk to the post office and pay 29 cents in extra postage to get your letter today ... "

To be fair, I was 21, every minute of my day was devoted to being a Pre-School Teacher or working on my degree in Film Production. That year, I would get pregnant by one of my roommates and have an abortion. I would fall in love with a British actor who asked me to move in, then cheated on me and broke my heart. My identity was changing every few months and I just wanted to see where things would take me. The last thing I wanted was to settle down with someone from UnderGrad, or my roommate from Grad school (who also proposed). I wasn’t in love, I was just floating, and unfortunately breaking hearts in the process.

I don’t know where I was a year or two ago when I got an email from him. I must have reached out to him on Facebook or something and got an email back blaming me for a failed relationship and general darkness clouding his life since Undergrad. It was ten years after our 3 month affair, so it was hard to take the email seriously.

When I was back in Washington this last summer, we made plans to meet for dinner. He asked if I was still vegan and suggested a spot called ‘Sizzle Pie’. Driving down to Portland to meet him, I didn’t know much about him anymore. He was in law school now, living in a commune type house in Portland. I sat down to read a book with a beer since I was early. A bike spun up to the front door, and I watched through the glass entrance as a balding Frederick locked up his bike and waved at me through the doors. I was happy to see him and smiled big. His mouth was a little crumpled like a discarded Christmas ribbon, but there was a smile in there.

He came in and hugged me. We ordered pizza. I got something heavenly called the “Vegan Angel of Doom”. It was caked with something revolutionary in the vegan world called Daiya cheese (It is made of tapioca, tastes like cheese and, more importantly, melts like cheese), with jalapenos, pineapple, shaved almonds and cilantro. God damn it, that was one of the best pizzas I have ever had in my entire life.

I was happy to see him and rattled off my typical stories about France, my parents, the Old Man and Los Angeles. He sat across from me in a dimly lit booth and listened with a big smile on his face. “I can’t believe you look exactly the same. I mean exactly the same. And your life is exactly the same too. Is this how it always is? Has your life been crazy like this all this time?” he asked.

“It isn’t too crazy, I mean … I am giving you the highlights. I just have lots of stories and the summer was kind of amazing,” I said. The pizza place had Tecate, that made me happy. I hadn’t seen Tecate anywhere since I crossed over the Oregon border. “You look the same too,” I said.

He laughed and stroked the top of his receding hairline, “Not really,” he said. I tilted my head to the side and grabbed his chin, shaking his face like he was one of my dogs. I got the feeling he didn’t like that but he didn’t offer any indication either way. “So tell me about your life,” I said, tempering each spicy slice of pizza with a mouthful of Mexican beer.

“Well, it certainly isn’t as interesting as yours. Not at all actually. I am almost done with my law degree,” he said.

“Are you in civil rights or something good or have you crossed over to the dark side like my ex-boyfriend?”

“No, I am one of the good guys. Environmental law, actually. Yeah …” he spoke slowly, thinking carefully about everything. I could see the data feed reel through his brain with each sentence, measuring who I was, what I did to him and who he was. “You dated a law student?”

“Yeah, just for a little while. He started off wanting to be Atticus Finch and a year later in law school he decided he wanted to do corporate law, which he is probably better suited for anyway. I am fairly certain he is a sociopath.” I said.

“You don’t want to know any lawyers or law students. Stay away from them. They are terrible people,” he stroked his thinning hair.

“So … what else, you were in a relationship that ended when you sent me that horrible email blaming me for everything that went wrong in your life?”

“I did?” he said. “I don’t remember sending the email but I believe you that I sent it. That was a dark time, I ended a relationship then … I don’t know, it was bad. My mother and brother were killed actually.”

“Oh my God, I am so sorry,” I said. I stopped eating.

“Yeah, it was bad. I am still trying … to get over it,” he would trail off in mid sentence and, as if suddenly remembering he was talking out loud, he would speed up the remainder of his thought. He always had a rich voice. I closed my big mouth and sat there, waiting for him to take the conversation wherever he decided to.

“When they died, I ended this relationship. I don’t really know if that was the right thing to do or not, it was just a really bad time in my life,” he said.

“I understand. I am so sorry.”

“It’s ok. I haven’t really been in a relationship since … that weekend I came down to visit you in Orange, that was bad too. That was one of the worst trips of my life,” he said.

“I am sorry about that, too.”

“It’s ok, I went back to Evergreen and wrote this amazing poem my professor loved. It was a big thing. I was really happy with that.”

“I am sorry about … all of that. I am sorry about the way I handled things. I was just really young and being selfish. That’s what kids do I guess, but I am sorry anyway,” I said.

He paused then smiled big, “Thank you, oh my Gosh, thank you. That is so good to hear. I am surprised.”

“Surprised?” I asked.

“Yeah, I just assumed you were flippant towards other people’s emotions so I am surprised to hear you apologize. Thank you,” he said earnestly, bitterly, genuine but disingenuous.

“It bothers me that anyone would think I was flippant towards their feelings. We were young, that’s all. I never meant to hurt you, I was just thinking about myself,” I said. He slowly nodded, staring at me, measuring me for all I was worth. “You know,” I continued, “it’s funny how I got that email from you and you seem surprised by my apology since my memories of you are all so warm. When I think of you, I just remember having a really good time with a really good friend. It’s strange how different our perspectives are.”

We chatted a little about things. Dancing, pierced nipples, people we may have known but don’t anymore. I wondered if he would hit on me and I wondered how that would make me feel. I was still high on my night with Nick and felt funny about being intimate with anyone new yet. Though Nick and I only really dated for a month, a third of my time with Frederick, there seemed to be a stronger connection there. Love is funny.

“Well, it’s past my bedtime. I have to go home,” he said.

“Ok, well, if you ever want to go dancing sometime, let me know. If I can bring my dogs to your place, we can pull an all-nighter somewhere,” I said, getting up out of our booth.

“Ok, yeah  … I will let you know. I just have to talk to my housemates about it. There are some cool things happening on the weekends out here. I think you would really like Portland,” he said.

“Maybe … I really miss L.A.”

We hugged goodbye and though it was a full on chest-to-chest hug, there was a chill between us. We texted a bit back and forth for a few days, entertaining the idea of dancing. Then I never heard from him again.