Barry knows he’s in deep when he starts hypothesizing about how the woman manages her pubic hair: a hippyish one, this. Probably not shaven then. But perhaps trimmed… Barry fancies himself somewhat hippyish, and he trims every now and then—keep the brush down, the statue tall, y’savvy. He doesn’t mind pubic hair, not at all—he likes women, not girls—but he doesn’t like walking away feeling like a cat pregnant with fur ball. It gets tiresome, plucking wiry ones from your teeth mid-act—takes away his suave, fucks with his rhythm. It puts a kink in his arc. For yes, he knows… knows the importance of a well-constructed narrative, steady rising action and the fall; how you can’t make music without taut strings and silence, the give and the take…
Barry turns the water to C, the last step in his wake-up procedure, and begins his morning.
A fat lip on the way to work, the skateboard uncooperative today. Too bad, he has that meeting. Ah well, his beard trusty beard covers the scrape, all he has to deal with is the hot pain and scuffed sleeve. He skips the coffee and plows through another eight hours of Riverside-Continuum-Communications-how-can-I-help-you-Please-hold-Let-me-look-at-your-records-transfer-you-to-Sales-Billing-Technical-Support-Thanks-for-calling! and 5 o’clock Barry’s off to do some real work. ’s supposed meet Jody Throat at Zippie’s, swap some loot.
Not much happening at the gas station this evening. Barry and Dustin (clerk) exchange nightly nods, howsigoings, cash and beer. They share a sense of workers’ solidarity, and depend on each other as fixtures in the daily grind. They do not speak of this bond, even though they see each other more often than they see their own parents, siblings, even friends. They haven’t hung out, but these pit stops add up. On his way out Barry checks his cig box for the pinners. Provisions, check. He’ll make this deal, drop the cash at home, and see where the night takes him.
Barry’s never raked it in like this before: a whole G in one transaction—this is like, the big leagues. He looks up at the dusklit sky, his silhouette cutting a holy figure in the deep blue background, six-pack hanging from his hand, and he breathes the evening. He smells dry leaves and imminent cold, lights a cigarette, scratches himself, and thinks of the woman… sautéed veggies and reading in bed, probably—a classy broad, definitely above his pay-grade. He’d get ’er though—always does, convincing them that he’s interesting enough for their time and maybe some meals. In it for the fun, y’know, your aimless arty bourgeois-type—commitment issues, as they say—but somehow things usually seem to work out pretty well for all involved. They have a good time. Sure you have your losers in these affairs—sometimes him, sometimes them—but no risk, no payoff, yeah? Barry always manages to cobble together some chips and move on, cut his losses and hit the next table. Now where’s Jody? Kickoff at eight tonight.
Here come the ultra-cool blueish headlights and dark car behind. Barry can hear Jody’s subwoofers three blocks out, a soft vmmm-vm-vm-vmmm growing as the car rolls up. Barry still doesn’t understand how these flashy dealers fly under the radar, but he doesn’t ask questions. Barry just grows the shit, sells it in bulk, picks up some extra coin from a hobby way down the hole.
Jody hits the station himself, walking out with a big can of Arnold Palmer, and pulls out of the parking lot, Barry to follow. Ten minutes and they’re someplace up in the suburban hills, a good spot—folks up here mind their business, asleep or in front of screens, seldom looking out their windows. Nary a cop in these parts, either. Jody pulls over when they reach an undeveloped section sans houses and streetlights.
“Evening,” Barry says, moving the beer as Jody plops in. “Howsigoing.” He lights a joint, hands it across.
“S’all right, all right. Same shit, different day. Livin the dream, you know how it is,” Jody says. He exhales the smoke slowly, faint tusks under his nose, savoring it. “Like an old glove,” he says.
“So,” Barry says. “I’ve got a pound for you.”
“Cool, man, cool,” Jody says.
Barry takes back the joint. They sit a second, Jody apparently with time on his hands tonight. “I wanted to take you somewhere.”
“Oh yeah? I don’t have any cash… ’sides what you’ve got for me. Anyway, I’m s’posed to meet someone…” Barry checks his mirrors—dark streets ahead and behind.
“Oh right—” Jody reaches into his bomber and hands Barry a stack. “Well there you go. Here, put it in your glovebox, I’ve got you covered tonight anyway. Trunk?”
“Uh…” and Jody’s out the car. Barry snaps to and pops the trunk. He takes a breath and puts his bundle o’ bills in the glove box. No time even to celebrate, he’s off again. Jody slams the trunk and pats the car. “Come on, Bare,” he says. Bare?
Barry finds himself in Jody’s passenger seat.
“Got another one of those?” says Jody, tossing the little duffle bag in the back seat. “Light ’er up! We’re in for it tonight.”
“Yeah, yeah,” says Barry. But: the beer. “Shit, I’ll be right back.”
Walking back to his car, Barry has some time to consider his situation. He questions the decision to jump into a drug dealer’s car—with sick subs, to be fair—and agree to go to some unknown destination. Hmmm. His parents would be proud.
“So what’s the plan?” Barry says to Jody through the driver’s window.
“Just wanted to take you to a show, man. Bass music. Get in your bones, boogie some—that electronic shit.” He shimmies. “C’mon, I’ve got some Lucy!” He practically sings it: LooOO-sseeeeEEE. He flicks the knob on his stereo, volume up, and the car begins to vibrate and rattle, a tremor through the streets.
“Allrightallright!” says Barry, “Just turn it down!”
Jody turns it down.
“Fucking Christ,” says Barry. He walks around the car, gets in, breathes, smokes a smoke. “When’s your show?”
“Ten,” Jody says. “And here.” He flips a small piece of foil at Barry.
Welp! can’t complain about a free date with Lucy-loo-hoo-hooo. He slips the tiny tab under the tongue—zip!—and there it is, just like that. Now boarding for Delta, flight one-zero-six… “Thanks, Jody.”
Walking up to the warehouse, Barry can hear the sound system inside. The bass rattles the sheet metal siding. Barry’s head feels about twenty feet above the rest of his body.
They slip past some fellow scumsters, buy tickets and make their way toward the sound. People are standing around the speakers, heads bowed. Barry finds a seat and closes his eyes, really swimming now, and falls back into a lovely vibrating abyss. He basks in the uterine tones, Mom’s heartbeat, deep and watery thumping. For the first time in a while, he feels at home.
$ $ $
He’d met the girl in a calculus class. Yes, calculus. She walked in late, tangled strawberry hair and a Wu-Tang shirt, calves cut like the Rocky Mountains—Barry hasn’t been the same since. He doesn’t see her though, doesn’t talk to her—only occasionally sends a link for some Internet video or another. They studied together a bit, see. But Barry lacked the cojones to ask for a bona fide date, and now he just conjectures about her activities, whereabouts, and fuckbuddies, hoping to run into her at a bar, the library, a coffee shop. A-and he knows she’s into him, too—he’s seen the Eyes… but he just sweats and says hello if he happens to catch her walking on campus, like he’s got a finger on the trigger but can’t twitch the kill. And that’s the worst part: he’s responsible for his own misery. Again.
Well so that’s what’s the scoop with this “big deal” with Jody, the exchange. Barry’s hoping an injection of capital can break his perpetual cycle of longing, smoking pot, onanism, compulsive eating, lethargy, longing, smoking pot, etc. He hasn’t figured out quite how a thousand bucks would do this, but he could buy some nice-ish clothes, new music maybe, a stereo system for the car—now we’re talking.
This is classic Barry, he knows, he knows. Always finding a way around, not through, avoiding direct action at any cost. He blames it on modernity, or post-, all that stuff about impotence and silk, no center or whathaveyou. This is the method he knows—the hyper-rational approach, always blueprinting, running numbers, adjusting-adjusting-adjusting…
But it’s got to work this time, this plan. Money --> Girls. This is your basic shit here.
$ $ $
And the next thing he knows he’s being dropped off back in the ’burbs. Jody leans out the window and gives him the “hang loose” sign, lazy and well-practiced. It resembles a swan. “Your car’s down the street, man,” Jody says. “Gotta scram!” and drives off. Barry takes a drink of Arnold Palmer, which he finds in his hand.
He can hear birds, your cartoonish tweet-tweet, tweet-tweet: mocking him. He looks to the east and there it is—the dawn, right on his heels. This again: the graveyard shift, a head full o’ drugs—just fumes now—Barry needs a bed. Thankfully he’s too burned out for self-criticism, and his mind wanders... What would it be like to lie down on the horizon? Right now it’s pink-yellow-orange, a bath of light. He could lie there with her, drawing with fingers in the purple clouds, fucking on mountains, leaping over the sun… They could evaporate into the wind, like so many dew drops from the lawns in these desert hills, and dance over the sea.
He lights a cigarette and touches his toes, working out his dance-sore muscles and brain for the drive home. Helluva purge, he can really feel it now. Worth it? You bet. He got juiced last night, he went places. He danced next to a pretty girl.. A baggy cardigan and beaded dreadlocks, a goddess incarnate.
But where’s his car? Jesus. Wrong street? He tries to sift through the nebulous impression of the night before… There was the uh, green house? Something about a cat.
He remembers his phone and texts Jody: dude wheres my car? cant find it. He paces around, coughing on the cigarette, his second to last. Fucking shit, he says to the birds. Fucking shit and a half. Welcome back to your life.
He walks up a promising hill, looks around—nothing. Hills, hills, hills, but no way to get above them for a vantage point. They have a way of blocking each other...
His phone beeps at him, but no Jody. Low battery.
All right. It’s do-or-die here.
$ $ $
Next day—Saturday?—Barry gets Dane to drive him back to the hills.
“You did not do this again,” says Dane as they drive.
Barry lights one and hands it over. “It should be up around here,” he says, “I remember this street, anyhow.”
Barry turns up the music, Dane turns it down. They decide on a sweep pattern, driving through the subdivisions one by one. Neither of them has anything better to do anyway.
“Well so what about this girl,” Dane says. “Any movement there?”
“Nah, still sitting on that,” Barry says. “I’m just a pussy. How’s Tits McGee?”
“She’s fine. We smoke and fuck, it’s great.” Dane always with the nonchalance when he’s scoring. But Barry’s heard plenty about Dane’s own dry spells.
“Here!” Barry says, pointing. He remembers the undeveloped block. “Pretty sure it's up here.”
$ $ $
“We’ll get it, man. We will,” says Dane.
Barry dips a burger into his puddle of hot sauce and mustard. He would like nothing more than a nap after this.
“A thousand dollars.” Dane says. “Gone.” He takes a fry. “Fucking asshole took you, man.”
“Jesus man,” Barry says. “We don’t know Jody stole it.”
“Okay,” Dane says. “All right. Then who did? You guys do a deal or whatever, he gives you free drugs and a sweet show, and next morning your car window’s broke and your money’s gone. He knew it was in your car. He knew where your car was. He had a buddy go pick it up when you were tripping your ass off at that show. The guy hustled you! What the fuck else would’ve happened to your car, man?”
“Jesus,” Barry says. “I don’t wanna have a beef with a fucking dealer, man. I don’t want any part in that shit. What am I gonna do? Pop a cap? Am I gonna drive by? Smoke a nigga? This is fucking Riverside, Dane. I am not a gangster, and I will not be gangstering. I’m already over it.” He eats a mouthful of fries.
Dane takes a deep breath. Barry can smell it coming: “Barry. You’re my friend. We believe in critical friendship, no? Okay. So you’ve been obsessing over this girl, right? You want her. Correct? Okay. And you were gonna use this money as a springboard, yes? All right. Now: you’ve been bitching about modern impotence or whatever for months, how you need to take some action, make some moves, break the cycle. Right?”
Dane puts up a finger. “Well, this is the universe challenging you, man. This is your Moby-Dick, your chance to break through the metaphysical wall and touch God’s face! You’re here. You gotta get that money back and you gotta get this woman. We’re in LA, man. No money, no women.”
Barry can’t believe it—Dane’s right.
“Let’s go over to Zippie’s,” he says, “and see if Dustin’s seen Jody around.”
$ $ $
` They find Dustin reading his Enquirer, sucking on a vape pen.
“Dusti-hin!” Barry says. “Howsigoing today man.”
“Guys? Howsit. What do you think of reptile people? Check out these pictures of the Clintons’ forked tongues. A little grainy, but. Pretty convincing, if you ask me.”
Somehow Barry and Dane say “Uh” at the exact same time.
“Yeah! Love that reptile people stuff,” Barry says. “It’s everybody, man. The Illuminati rule the planet, I bet… Anyway we were just wondering if you’ve seen Jody Throat or any of his buds of late.
Dustin nibbles on the synthetic cigarette. “Um. Yeah, I think. Bandana, longish hair?” he says. “Yeah! Always gets Arnold Palmers. I think I smoked with his roommate the other night.”
“No kiddin,” Barry says. “We were actually looking for some but can’t get ahold of Jody. Thought we might just swing by his house. Been there before but forgot exactly where it is.”
“Yeah, over on Garfield and Adams—” Dustin seems to catch a scent of something unsavory. “Well, no. That was this guy Kevin’s house. Never mind.” He scratches his neck and takes some vapor.
“No worries, man,” Dane says. “We’ll figure something out. Probably hear back from him soon anyway.” He checks his phone.
“Yeah,” Dustin says. “Well. You guys buying anything today?”
Barry looks at Dane—time to go. “How bout an Arnold Palmer, Dane?”
$ $ $
Jody’s shiny black car is sitting out front. Dane drives around back to the alley, stops.
“I’ll lean down when we go by—case Jody’s there,” Barry says. “He doesn’t know you, so. Should be good. Just see if you can get a look. Be cool if you see anybody. No need to make a stir here, ’kay bud?”
“Yeah sure,” Dane says. “I can’t believe I’m doing this.”
“C’mon Dane, s’no problem. Here.” Barry holds up his Arnold Palmer. “To hustling!”
They clank oversized cans together.
“All right,” says Barry, bending down, head between knees. “Let’s do this.” He feels the car lurch forward. “See anything?” he says.
Dane, crooknecking: “Um… “ He squints. “Shit!” He snaps to, head-forward-shoulders-up, not exactly keeping his cool. He pedals a bit, another lurch. He seems to be hyperventilating. “Jesusjesusjesus,” he says. “Goddammitgoddammit, we fucked up!”
With his head down Barry can only see palm trees above them. “What happened?”
“Long hair, scruffy. Brownish—Hispanic? Saw me looking. Hold on.” He turns the corner onto the street and Barry sits up. In a few blocks they pull over and Dane lights up a cig.
“Sorry about that,” he says, blowing smoke. “We should be fine, I’m not sure why I freaked. No Jody. But there was a brown guy standing there looking at me. Hence my outburst. Pretty nice place though. They have Birds of Paradise. You know, the flower.”
Barry reaches for Dane’s cigarette, takes a puff. “Fuck. I don’t wanna deal with this, man. This fucking blows. What’m I supposed to do?” he says. “Ring the doorbell, say pretty please?”
“Chill out,” Dane says. “Let’s think this through… Here. We can drive around front, see if they’ve got anything valuable lying around—brass address numbers, bikes, ya know.” Dane’s lip actually twitches. “Something worth a grand.”
$ $ $
Barry pulls down the ski mask, ditching his cigarette as he walks up the sidewalk toward Jody’s house. He feels ridiculous, but Dane insisted he wear it if he didn’t want to get killed. He checks the time: 4:57. Dane should be around back by now, ready to pick him up.
Barry slinks up the line of hedges bordering the front yard, taking note of the fixed-speed bike on the porch—no lock. Up against the side of the house, he finds himself in near-total darkness, a place of relief and safety. He takes a breath and peeks around the corner of the house to the back porch.
Shit—somebody left the light on. There’s a ring of couches with a table in the middle. On the table, standing tall and proud, a hookah—worth least a couple hundred dollars—and a TV. Wellwellwell. He might recoup some money after all.
He takes a last look around and begins crawling alongside the bushes, making his way toward the couches. At the end of the bushes he risks a look through the sliding door—dark and quiet inside the house. He’s got this in the bag. Between couches he sees the hookah, TV, and—bingo!—a Nintendo 64 with about twenty quality games piled around it. Pillowcase in hand, Barry stands up to see Jody Throat lying on the couch, sleeping.
There is a gun on the table. A pistol.
A car starts in the alley—Barry forgot he was on a deadline. Jody stirs, and Barry grabs the gun, points it at Jody’s face. Jody’s still asleep.
He tucks the gun into his waistband, begins putting the 64 and the games in his pillowcase, quiet as he can. He’s just about finished when Mario Kart slips from his hand and lands with a plastic clack on the concrete.
Jody’s reaching for the gun, but Barry’s pointing it at his head.
“Don’t. Say. A fucking. Word.” Barry finds himself talking like Batman, low and gravelly. “Just shut the fuck up and I’ll be on my way. No funny business,” he says. “Eyes on me.”
Barry puts the last of the loot into his pillowcase—the games, a little sack of coke, a rolled-up twenty, and a sandwich bag full of pot. He slings the pillowcase over his shoulder and lights a cigarette.
“Don’t fuck with me,” he says, looking as deeply as he can into Jody’s eyes. “Don’t you fucking fuck with me again, okay?” He backs away, gun still at the ready. When he reaches the corner of the house, he gives the gun a little shake and breaks away, heading for the fixie.
As he rides the bike down the dark lawn, Barry hears shouting in the house. He heads down the street—away from his meeting spot with Dane—and swings into an alleyway. He slips behind a dumpster. A car speeds by, missing him. Barry hasn’t felt this good in years.
Dialing Dane, he has a vision—a memory? The ringing on the phone drifts away, and Barry sees a purple woman with dreadlocks, gold medallions hanging from her ears, her skin sparkling with the ocean water from which she rises, beckoning him onward… She wants him.
Dane's voice sounds far off. Barry can't speak. A realization: without this pillowcase and this bike and this gun, Barry has nothing, nothing.