The used car I just buried the bulk of my money into just died on the side of the road two days after I bought it. I could relive the AAA mechanic who told me he was going to make me cry, shining a flashlight under my hood. Or the other AAA mechanic who flirted with me over Michael’s head as Cherry Bomb, the Honda Civic I bought and liked, crawled up the spine of a tow truck quiet as a corpse.
None of that matters- well it does in my other essay but not in this one. Michael was there. He took me home and advised I get “black out drunk.” “That is all you can do in this situation,” he said. I didn’t get that far, sipping something from Frank’s (my roommate) glass bottle selection on the kitchen counter. It wasn’t long before I was slurring and doing my usual drunk, one-woman show as Michael called the people who sold me the car and threatened legal action. They agreed to take back the car. We were lucky … that time.
The next day, I got my cash back and headed back to the house.
Gary, the Native American stoner who jumped in my car the night I left Washington state, was still unemployed while living with me and Frank. When he first arrived in LA, he landed a job at the Halloween Store in the North Valley. When we moved, he quit over the phone. He tried to get jobs here or there, but easily gave up and watched Frank’s cable television from 7am to 10pm at night. He washed the dishes and walked the dogs. Then he stopped washing the dishes and stopped offering to walk the dogs.
Frank would pull me aside and express how growingly uncomfortable he was about the loan he gave Gary for deposit and rent. I would then talk to Gary, who blew me off until I told him Frank would be the next to talk to him, “and he won’t be nice about it.” I saw Gary kind of suck this in and then resume the search for a job. I find it irritating that men can’t talk to each other, and yet the only thing they take seriously is the words I pass between them … not the ones I speak from myself.
I had been pushing Gary to get a job for weeks. If I came in from a dogwalk, and he was planted in front of the television set … I started rubbing my temples and pacing. Rent would be due in three weeks, then two, then one.
After our last talk, he went to the social security office and was granted food stamps. (By the way, I recently applied for Food Stamps but was told I work too much .. if I worked less with my net pay, I would qualify. “I know, the system is screwed up,” the government worker said.) Then he applied on-line to various jobs I bookmarked for him on my computer.
“Am I tidy?” he asked, seated in the dining room with my computer.
“Is this an on-line job application?” I asked.
“Yes. They are asking if I am tidy. Am I?”
“If it is a job application, YES, you are tidy. And organized. And punctual.” I said.
“Oh .. ok,” he said in that kind of dumb-founded, endearing voice.
Another job interview was at INN-N-OUT Burger. After the interview, Gary asked, “Is the interview part over?”
“Yes, it is,” the manager said.
Gary took a step back and reviewed the menu. “Ok, then I will have an Animal-style burger and a medium drink with fries.”
Needless to say … he didn’t get the job. We all loved Gary though. He was quiet. He was funny. The ice cream truck would come dashing down the street. “How is anyone supposed to keep up with that ice cream truck?” he said. I looked out the window and saw the truck singing its sad, music box theme song for a blink of an eye before it was around the corner. “You would need a bike,” he said, then mimed sweating over a bicycle, reaching out to the ice cream man, ‘Can I have an orange creamsicle, please?’” It was hard not to like him.
"I want to make love to Mick Jagger," I said one morning over ramen noodles and tea.
"Even though he is old?" Gary said.
I sipped my coffee, " ... yeah."
"Ok, I would like to do Joan Jett and she is super old."
“I also want to make love to Bob Dylan."
"Is he still alive?"
"Yes, but he is also old. And! AND ... Justin Beiber."
"That little kid ... hahaha, nice. (sip of coffee) Who else would I like to bang?" Gary said, looking up to the ceiling for a cue.
"Ha. 'Baby, you'd better be good to me!!' ... it's the coffee talking. Who else would I like to bang Deborah Harry, that would be pretty cool. Oh, I know who else I would love to bang, fucking Cher! I thought she was really, really good as the biker chick in 'Mask'."
Frank especially liked Gary. Though they shared a wall, Frank knew he didn’t mind if he ripped a fart in the middle of the night. Equally a comfort, I knew that Gary was safe. He never complained. He never hit on me. He was funny, but a wallflower. It was the perfect balance for a loud New York stand-up comic and me, a hybrid hippie who sounds like a fog horn when she orgasms.
While putting my contacts in one night, I heard a commercial for “The Hunger Games” about to premiere on Fox. “I feel like I heard of this movie,” Gary said.
“We watched it … together at Alia’s,” I said from the bathroom.
“Oh … right.”
He wasn’t the sharpest tool in the box, but I trusted him. I left my purse out in the kitchen. I threw him cash whenever he walked my dogs. I bought him food when I could. I adopted him, like I adopted the three dogs snoring on my bed right now. He needed to stand up on his own, though. The well-being of the household depended on it. Frank pressured me, and I then pressured Gary, who really tried for about 3 days or so.
I knew he was hungry. He was a big guy with no money. Frank stopped inviting him out for lunch and I only had enough money for ramen noodles and canned beans. (I wish I was exaggerating). Not to mention, Gary’s shoes were in such poor condition, he had to put plastic bags over each foot when it rained to keep them dry.
He left his car in Washington. His girlfriend, and mother of his two daughters, grabbed his paycheck from the very easy-going Lodge where we worked over the summer in Skamania. The Lodge is in a town of 2,000 people, so they are used to leaving everyone’s paychecks out in paper rolodex. Employees mosey on in through an open door and pluck it out in person. Gary’s long-time girlfriend knew this, grabbed his paycheck and cashed it at the bank, who also knew that the two were a couple and thought nothing was wrong or criminal about the transaction because the clerk knew the couple. Gary called the local police, who have family relations to his girlfriend, and needless to say … the money didn’t come. No one wanted to take responsibility for it, and it was hard to come down on his girlfriend about it when she was stuck supporting their two kids now, alone.
This left Gary shit out of luck. We were all pulling for him. We all wanted him to get a job and stay.
The day after Thanksgiving, Gary told me that he was going to visit an old friend in Long Beach for the weekend. When he said goodbye from the front door, I started getting up to hug him goodbye but he left before I could. Not too much later, I realized $50 cash in my wallet was missing.
“Maybe he left for good,” I said to Frank.
“You think he would do that?”
“All of his stuff is still here,” I said, “but it isn’t much. A pipe. A record. Some clothes.”
“Let’s give it four days, that is about the time people start staring at each other from the couch and visits get uncomfortable,” Frank said.
Four days passed.
I contacted his girlfriend, Mary, and his family on Facebook and asked if I should file a missing person report. Though the chances were he bailed on us, what if he fell in front of a subway or was mugged and unconscious somewhere. Someone had to say something, and who else would but Frank and me. His cousin pinged me back, “Ok, thank you.”
No more than 20-minutes later I got a phone call. “[StarFire], it’s me! Gary!” he said, excited.
“Hi,” I said, flatly. “I thought you might be dead.”
“No. I am in Arizona with my cousin. I got a job!” he said.
“Great but um … rent is due next week, man.”
“I will send you money,” he said.
“Did you say yeah right?” he asked.
“Yeah, I did.”
“Well, I walked out on Mary so why wouldn’t I walk out on you,” Gary said.
I hung up on him and sat down in the dark, without a car and speechless. Michael was there and rubbed my shoulder, he heard everything from the phone even though it was held up to my ear. “What the fuck,” I said, in almost a whisper. I started crying.
“I can move in,” Michael said.
I rubbed my eyes and pushed my bangs back over my head. More crisis. Dear God, why?
“Baby, he walked out on his kids, why wouldn’t he walk out on you?” Michael asked.
My image on Facebook was attacked the first few weeks I moved down to LA by Mary and her friends, all eager for a salacious story to sink their housewife teeth into. They called me names and made me feel like I hurt Mary and now, for the first time since I left Washington, I wondered if I did hurt Mary and her kids. Should I have talked him out of coming down? What the fuck was I thinking? Was I enabling a deadbeat?
“I have money, I can move in next month,” Michael said, coolly.
“... FUCK,” I shouted through my hands.
“Do you not want me to move in?” he asked. “I won’t if you don’t want me to.”
“We have only been dating for a month,” I said.
“I am ready,” he said.
“Well,” I threw my hands in the air, “Why not? You are here every night anyway.”
“Are you sure? I won’t if you are uncomfortable.”
“No …” I thought about it. I thought about waking up to Michael every morning. I thought about how someone would be home who cared as much about my dogs as I did. I thought about rough days and coming home to Michael’s cooking and bad jokes.
“I think it would be a good fit because I love cleaning. I find it very zen,” he said.
“You know I am bad at cleaning?” I asked.
He laughed, nodded and rubbed my back.
It was soon, but it was inevitable. We were hot and heavy. He wanted to step it up and now I needed someone to step up.
“Ok,” I said. “Let me tell Frank.”