Got the rent – thank God. Just paid it. Eighty bucks left over to last me until next payday. My soul was smiling as I walked to the bank to get the cashier’s check that would keep the roof over my head for another thirty days. Life ain’t so bad, you know? I mean yeah, I’m broke— what’s new? But I’m here in sunny Southern California, on this beautiful day, with palm trees towering over in all their splendor.
About half a block ahead an attractive thirty-something couple walk arm-in-arm. The guy’s massaging the girl’s back. As always, I try to assess, based on their body language, whether or not they’ve fucked yet. He’s got his arm tightly around her shoulder, but she isn’t leaning into him. Hmmm.
“All a guy wants is a cunt to stick his cock in,” I think. But I say it out loud and there’s a twenty-something hipster chick on a balcony right above me. Pretty sure she heard me! Sorry, sugar. But it really is true — all a guy wants is a cunt to stick his cock in. Vulgar yes, but that’s the way the world is.
Into the Chase on Venice and Centinela. Hey look they’re giving free pens away. Cool. I grab a handful and stuff them in my pocket. More good news: Jessica, my favorite teller, is on duty. A smooth skinned brown-eyed Mexican beauty with her sexy nerd-glasses.
“A cashier’s check for $1,000 payable to Scumbucket Property Management please,” I say politely.
“Very well sir. It’s eight dollars for the cashier’s check. Will that be coming out of your account as well?”
“Yes,” I answer as I stare into her murky brown eyes through the chunky black frames of her lenses. She turns her attention to the work at hand. I can see the outline of the black bra she’s wearing underneath her light blue Chase top. I think she senses what I’m doing. Probably happens all the time right?
She looks up at me and I lift my gaze and give her a wholesome smile. She finishes processing me request and pushes the check under the window. “Anything else I can help you with?”
“No. That’s it. Thanks so much.”
As I walk out of the bank I re-imagine the world as a porno movie. “Anything else I can help you with?” “Why yes, as a matter of fact, my zipper is stuck.” “Oh it is?” Jessica answers as she comes out from behind the row of teller hatches.
A familiar sense of relief washes over me as I cross Venice Boulevard with the check in my hand. Another month without that worry. I offer my creator heartfelt thanks for seeing me through and I take a stroll around Mar Vista market, a spacious hipster enclave that triples as a coffee house, supermarket and restaurant. Love this place. There’s a skinny little twenty-something tramp sitting by herself at the coffee bar. I’m trying to summon the nerve to make my move when my cell rings.
It’s Keith from Dispatch. “What time can you be here?”
“What time you want me?”
“Soon as you can,” he answers, “I got a three o’clock Wait & Return at the Peninsula.”
Darn, thwarted again. “On my way.”
The Peninsula Hotel is our best customer. Everyone there is filthy rich. I mean billionaires who would not be caught dead with millionaires. I dash back to my pad, squeeze into my limo suit, and beeline for LA Limousine headquarters on the corner of Wilshire and Hoover. An hour later I’m pulling in at the Peninsula in a shiny black Cadillac Escalade.
Mort and Cookie Mendelsohn are an octogenarian couple who got married right around the time Methuselah released his first album. They’re in town from New York to visit their grandson Dustin. He’s a hotshot movie director who’s just become a daddy for the first time. As soon as I set eyes on them a sense of relief washes over me. This is gonna be a piece of cake. The valets help Mort into the Escalade, which is no easy task. God, I think to myself, getting old sure is gonna suck! Cookie’s as spry as a squirrel. She races around to my side of the car where I’m holding the door open. “Thank you sweetie,” she says as she climbs the floor board and hops in.
I get behind the wheel and check in the mirror. Looks like Mort is strapped in just fine. “Do you have the address?” he asks, but I can barely hear him.
“Yes, Mr. Mendelsohn, 1101 Alpine Drive.” I tell him we’ll be there in ten minutes. North on Roxbury, east on Carmelita, north on Alpine. We’re there in a jif.
Young Dustin’s got the very last house on this wealthy Beverly Hills block. His pretty Asian wife comes out with him to greet us. She’s got a baby in her arms. I notice her Cornell University t-shirt. An Ivy League Asian? No way! I hop out, open the door for Cookie, and then zip over to Mort’s side. Dustin hugs and kisses Cookie and then turns his attention to extricating Mort from his seatbelt.
“Hey thanks so much,” Dustin tells me.
I hand him my card. “Just call me when you’re ready for pick up.”
“Will do,” he answers, “should be a couple of hours.”
As I’m pulling away it hits me — outta nowhere — that it’s been a long time since I drove past Michelle’s house. The skirmish in my head begins. Let’s not open that can of worms again. Ah what the fuck, what’s the big deal? What’s the big deal? What if she sees you? Want her to think you’re at it again? She’s not gonna see me. Just one quick drive-by. Who knows, maybe she doesn’t even live there anymore.
It’s been twenty-five years since I broke up with that woman. First time in a long while I think of that hideous night in the parking lot in Hollywood when I pushed both of us over the brink of sanity.
South on Beverly Drive in a total fog. My mind hijacked by this memory again. Thought I was past it. Guess not. Don’t do it. Don’t do it. Don’t do it. Too late. We’re at it again. Agincourt Avenue for the thousandth time. The familiar pressure of adrenaline in my veins. Calm, untroubled people walking their dogs along this picturesque avenue.
I slow down. Hastings Street is just a few feet in the distance. A tightness in my chest unravels when I make the discovery. The blinds are gone, the windows are open, and there’s an “apartment for rent” sign posted on the lawn.
I roll up to Doheny, double back to Pico and come back down Hastings at a state-funeral pace. There’s a stepladder in the middle of the living room. No doubt about it — Michelle is gone. After twenty-five years she’s finally gone.
I park on Agincourt. This is crazy. Are I really gonna pretend I’m a prospective tenant? I walk into the pretty Spanish-style building and stand in the hallway. Silence. I go down the steps to the kitchen. There’s a man painting the walls.
“Oh hi, is it ok if I look around?”
No speak English. I go on through to the bedroom and stare at the spot where Michelle’s bed used to be.
If she could see me now. All these years later. Sitting in her bedroom with my head in my hands. The memory of Michelle is quicksand in my mind. I can never permanently escape it. When it pulls me in there’s nothing I can do about it. And now once again I feel my feet begin to drag, and my mind spirals in.
I’m twenty-five again. California is new to me. I’m walking down Melrose Avenue with this incredibly beautiful girl named Michelle. We’re in love, deeply in love. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. Like nothing I’ve ever experienced since. God if I could only do it over again …
My cell rings. “Tommy, what’s up?!”
“Whatchu up to?”
I come clean.
“Dude,” Tommy commands, “get the fuck outta there right now.”
As I make my exit Tommy tells me about this chick back in the old country who still sends him letters proclaiming her love for him though he barely remembers going out with her.
I wave politely to the painter as I leave. It sickens me to hear Tommy’s story. I’m getting defensive. I want to tell him how I was everything to Michelle and how she must be just as heartbroken as me, and how our breakup had been the biggest mistake of my life.
I’m back on the street now. I’d totally tuned Tommy out but now his words are seeping through again. “Based on what you’ve told me,” he tells me, “this woman was a moody, manic-depressive, raging alcoholic.”
All I remember is Michelle underneath me, her eyes, her nose, her lips, her beautiful brown hair cascading over her shoulders.
But as I climb back in the Escalade Tommy hits me with the royal flush. “You wouldn’t have your daughter if you’d have stayed with this woman.”
Tommy cuts me loose. I’m good now, out of the quicksand, just made a left on Reality Drive. But damned if I’m not back on the corner of Hastings and Agincourt five minutes later. Out of the Escalade and back on the front lawn staring into that desolate living room. The painter appears and looks at me quizzically. I quickly turn away and double back.
Me and Michelle were just never meant to be. But God, why this quarter century odyssey of obsession and pain — for both of us. Why, God, why?
I’m driving in a haze with no clue where I’m going. La Cienega and Gregory, the street sign says, how the fuck? I turn left on La Cienega and start heading back toward Alpine. Traffic on La Cienega is a nightmare — what’s new? And now the Beverly Center. Remember that afternoon? Staking out her place for several slow psychotic hours, following her there, losing her in the parking lot and then searching every nook and cranny until I found her shopping for purses in a ladies boutique. I was earning eight hundred a week and had reception staff twiddling their hair when I passed. Yet there I was, hiding behind a swanky display of handbags, staring at the only woman in the world I wanted, knowing I could never, would never, have her again.
Further up La Cienega. Le Petit Bistro. Remember that night? Yeah, I remember. Finding out she was working as a hostess there and circling like a shark until the place dropped the shutters at 2 a.m. The cops showing up. And I was wondering, cops? Did something happen? And then I saw two male coworkers walking her to her car. And I got the hell out of there.
My cell rings. It’s Dustin. “Hey Wreck we should be ready for you in about a half an hour.”
“Cool. See you then. Thanks Dustin.” Hearing a human voice snaps me out of it.
Dude, I say to myself, let’s go. Close the fucking book. And this time I mean it. I turn on the radio. Must Have Been Love by Roxette. You gotta be kidding me. I switch it off again.
I pull up at Dustin’s place. Cookie comes ambling out like Secretariat, leaving Mort in her wake. Dustin and his lovely Asian wife and their cute little baby bring up the rear. Tip forecast time. I size Dustin up as he approaches. The kid’s in his early thirties, living in a trillion-dollar home. Might be good for a Franklin, or maybe a Grant, or maybe a couple of Jacksons. I go about helping Mort back into the Escalade. As I strap Mort in, I stare out at Dustin from the corner of my eye. He’s got his arm around his wife so that accounts for one cashless hand. What about the other one? It’s in his pocket. It ain’t looking good.
Looks like we’re all set. I close Mort’s door and go to the driver’s side around the front of the car because that’s where Dustin is standing. “Thanks so much, Wreck,” he says as he watches me climb behind the wheel.
“You’re welcome,” I say with a pleasant smile. Mort mumbles something as we pull away. Not sure exactly what. Cookie solves the mystery. “Yes Mort. That was broccoli in the pasta.”
“Where did you go all this time sweetie?” Cookie asks me. The way she asks creeps me out. “I went to visit my girlfriend. She lives pretty close by.”
“Oooh,” Cookie answers.
Mort complains that his seatbelt is too tight.
“Do you want me to pull over and adjust it?”
“No,” Cookie answers emphatically, “we’re almost at the hotel. He can wait.”
Mort mumbles again.
Here we are. Back at the Peninsula. A valet races over to offer assistance. He opens the passenger side door and begins the spiel that each and every Peninsula guest comes to expect. “Welcome back Mr. Mendelsohn. So good to see you again,” he says as he begins the task of extricating Mort from his seat. I hop out and get the door for Cookie.
“Here ya go sweetie,” she says as she stuffs something in my palm.
“Thanks, Mrs. Mendelsohn,” I say as I stare into her lustful eighty-something eyes.
“Please,” she says flirtatiously, “call me Cookie.”
“Thanks Cookie,” I tell her as she makes her way around the car and disappears from view. I take a quick peek at the face staring up at me from the palm of my hand. Honest Abe!
Dispatch calls before I’m even off the property. It’s Dick, LA Limousine’s one and only tough cop dispatcher. “Hey,” he says in his signature tone, “ya clear yet?”
“Hi Dick. As a matter of fact, yes I am.”
“Well, you’re still showing Code 4. Update your status immediately. I’ve got another job for you.” With that he hangs up without a thanks or goodbye.
Whatever Dick. I mark myself Code 5 and a new job pops up. A pickup at LAX coming back to Beverly Hills. I check the flight status. It’s coming in late. I’ve got three hours to kill.
An vast sense of helplessness drops over me. Michelle is gone, really gone. I mean I don’t know where she lives any more. The corpse of this decades-dead relationship has been stolen from the place where I’d buried it.
I do a quick online search, and not for the first time. Linked-in. Nothing. Facebook. Nothing. Google. Nothing. I could drive to her parents’ house in the Palisades, or maybe try her sister’s down in Newport Beach. I can call Dispatch, tell them I’m sick, and get on this right away.
Ok, take a step back. We’re totally losing it here. Call someone, right now. I see Fante’s name glowing at me from my contact list. God, how I wish he was still around. I know what he’d tell me: Pray for her. Ask God to remove the obsession and then turn your attention to someone you can help.
Somehow, just thinking of Fante, my attention is turned toward the future and to all the possibilities waiting for me there. Somehow, I can see just how dark and hopeless and bleak the path of this obsession is. Still, the war within rages on. Still, I want more than anything to drive down Agincourt just one more time.
Jesus. God. Christ, help me.
Through Century City and south on Motor now. I’m moving away from the danger zone. Right on National, back in the working class streets of Palms. Traffic’s starting to back up. Another couple of blocks and we’re bumper to bumper. Am I losing my mind? Is that Michelle in the red Miata? It could be, might be, I really think it is. Ok, you’re officially certifiable. Hallucinations are a new frontier.
No it is actually her. It is. She’s on the phone, completely oblivious to the world outside. Her hair is closely cropped around her face, dyed jet black, and it appears she’s put on twenty pounds since the last time I saw her.
If I can make it past the light at Manning I’m home free. There’s a Ralph’s on the south side of the street. I can turn in, loop back out and follow her home. She’ll never know. I’ll be back in control again. Back in control for another twenty-five years. Back in control until one of us dies. Jesus. God. Christ, help me. It’s now or never. The entrance to Ralph’s is upon me. I take a deep breath and grip the steering wheel tightly as the moment of truth slips away. Past Manning now, I search for the red Miata in my rearview. My cell rings. It’s Tommy again. “Dude,” I tell him, “I think I’m losing my mind.”
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Douglas Mallon is a writer based in Los Angeles. He was brought up in New York where he dropped out of school in ninth grade. Most of his writing is rooted in personal experiences. He was in the US Navy for a few months and has worked at many jobs. Now he works as a chauffeur in Los Angeles, struggling to make ends meet while ferrying the rich and famous around LA.
His work is influenced by the likes of Hubert Selby, Jr., and Dan Fante – the latter was a dear friend and mentor.
Mallon is the author of seven novels, numerous screenplays, and an original comedy series.
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