WTC guy in Mexico
Timeframe. That needs to be worked out. How does he get from Mexico to wherever Billy is, and does he need to.
I’d say don’t go out at all, but definitely do me a favor, don’t come back to my place. I won’t let you in and I will deny I’ve ever seen you.,” said Murray.
Wah, what do you mean?
“You know what I mean. This is a bad idea, you need to go away now.”
“Go away? Where am I supposed to go?”
“That’s not my problem. Call Jake. But, if you think you’re going to find a safe house in my place after you go traipsing around along your past paths then you’re delusional. You’re worse, you’re a liability. You’re a risk to me, to Jake, to the entire movement.”
“Movement? This is a movement now?”
“Dude, you have no idea.”
So, Billy goes to Martin’s and early in the morning there’s a pounding on the door. Billy runs. Need to talk Murray into going out.
“Oh, if you can’t reach Jake, go to Phoenix.”
“No, Phoenix, France, dickhead.”
“Shit, Murray. Give me a break. Why the hell would I go to Phoenix?”
He leaned close over the table, the dregs of dinner, a T-bone and potato skins, “Where the fuck else are you going to go?”
I stopped and thought. He had a very good point. “So, what do I do in Phoenix?”
He smiled a bit and said, “You listen to the radio.”
He looked at me and I looked at him. “Fuck you, Murray. What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”
“Look, you’re the ass that’s about to go carousing about San Francisco when you don’t have a clue about who is looking for you, so don’t get pissy with me.”
“I think you’re being a bit paranoid.”
“Really. Me. Paranoid.” Murray spoke again after a pause. “Listen, all I’m saying is, if you go off with this friend of yours. I’m done with you. Actually, I’m done with you regardless. My work here is over, you’ve got your papers, I have no more interest in you.”
“Oh, come on Murray…”
“No. I shouldn’t have come out. I don’t know how you talked me into it. I’ll give you that, you can be a pretty persuasive guy, maybe that’s what Jake sees in you. Frankly, I think you’re not cut out for this. You are way out of your depth and you don’t even know it.”
“This is stupid.”
“No. You’re stupid. You have no idea what you’re doing. You get a few drinks in you and you think everything’s OK. Well, listen, pal, you’re life is over. The life you had is long gone and there’s no goin back, so you better figure out how to live this one cuz it’s the only one you’ve got left.”
I just sat there soaking in the cold reality of what Murray was telling me. “You can either get nabbed by your stupidity or do something real. Either way, though, that happy family bullshit is over. No wife. No kid. You are no longer who you thought you were. And, this guy, this friend of yours from your old life, he’s an illusion, he should not exist anymore. He is nothing but a path to nowhere.”
More silence and I thought I saw Murray’s face soften a bit as he watched me soak in his cold water. Then, I went into denial.
“Don’t ‘whatever’ me!” he stifled his anger, and harshly whispered, a slightly slurred admonition.
“Look, my friend is waiting.”
Finally, in total exasperation, Murray conceded. He visibly deflated, such as was possible, and relaxed, absolved. He’d tried. “Alright, alright, be that way. If there’s trouble, though, and you can’t reach Jake, just go to Phoenix.”
“And listen to the radio,” I said drily.
“Yes, listen to the radio,” he smiled.
“Why do you have to be so fucking cryptic?”
“Dude, that’s who I am.”
“Alright, yeah, I can see that, but give me a break. I’m supposed to jump on the Hound and go to Phoenix and just scan the dial 24/7, that’s stupid, why not just tell me a name or something?”
“Fuck me again?! No, fuck you. No, it’s more than that, I don’t even have to say ‘fuck you’, you’re already fucked.”
Give me a break,” I said, slightly sobered but still incredulous.
“I’ll give you a break. Against my better judgment I’ll give you a break. How much money do you have?
I had about $40 bucks left.
He pulled out a wad and peeled off about ten hundred dollar bills.
I took the money in surprise, not even thinking to protest.
“And, if you can’t reach Jake…”
“I know,” I interrupted, “Listen to the radio.”
“Right, and one more thing,” he motioned me closer as I tried to edge away from the table. “Are you listening?”
“Yes, I’m listening,” I said impatiently.
“This is important.”
“Just tell me, Murray, I want to get out of here.
“Oh, and one other thing.”
“Another, other thing?”
“Yes, don’t worry about the check.” I said nothing, but gave him a look that said, ‘no shit.’ “You’re welcome.”
“So, what’s the important thing?”
“96.5.” I just looked at him not comprehending.
“The radio station in Phoenix, it’s 96.5.”
“Why didn’t you just say so before,” I said in frustration. He just shrugged as I turned and walked away, thinking to myself that I would never see Murray again and feeling quite pleased about that.
(NOTES) WTC guy and Billy share a disassociation with American life or what America has become and how people exist in it and how it exists in the world. The conformity gets to WTC, even when people in his circle try to be different they’re all basically being different in the same way. The escape from marriage is an escape from the whole system, there’s not much there anymore in the way of love, but it represents the bonds and limitations of that life. We are all trapped and he takes the opportunity of a tragedy to liberate himself. It’s symbolic of the larger political liberation. The west is trapped, exploited by an eastern business/financial establishment that leaves most in a position of coddled servitude. We think we’re happy, living quiet productive lives, but we’re really feeding the pockets of the corporate titans (through mortgages and the consumer machine, and graft) and funding foreign adventures with our taxes. Simple taxation without representation. Throw in a little freedom of religion (a Christian state?) and the desire to get government out of their private life and you pretty much have the reasons the American colonies seceded in the first place.
The short guy from the ferry yesterday, leathery face with a bushy mustache, battered ball cap pulled down low over his brow, a jaunty step and a mischievous twinkle in his eye. Who is he? He can be one of the characters of the road trip gang. The radio guy. Phoenix to Denver to Boise, stay in the west? The others need to remain in “society” they are the financiers or local organizers. Some of them are not involved but filled with crazy/prescient ideas. Utah, SLC, religious freedom. St. George, the irony, king George, dragon slayer. Need allies and Mormons qualify. Badlands, the missile silos. Second amendment – right to bear arms, more allies, the wild west faction, ruby ridge, waco, kazinski. How to avoid violence? Nuclear standoff, mutually assured destruction. Can’t deploy troops, it would be a disaster along the lines of Iraq. At some point this needs to go public. Like Sein Fein and the IRA. Billy is the Gerry Adams of America or Jake is. They could arrest him for treason, but that would just make a martyr out of him – an American Nelson Mandela. Somewhere there’s a Stan Goff character – former military, turned to the other side by the hypocrisy – where is he? Big military – San Diego – near the border. He’s the connection to WTC. WTC surfs the net in the afternoon and surfs the baja coast in the afternoon, sees Galt’s writing and as things get worse (Iraq, patriot act, NSA spying SWIFT) he contacts him (maybe swift fear, his money transfers may be tracked he may be found, he’s on the hook, too) and they connect. Galt is tied in with the military and he and the radio guy (franklin) end up in friendly/heated debate, much like Virginians and New Englanders. WTC guy needs a new ID when he gets back in the states. He still has big $ in his account, but that’s just a number and he’s worried about the tracking of transactions. He goes to Murray, he needs to exist in America again even if that means under a different identity.
Billy gets Murray’s back story. He’s the illegitimate son of Jerry Garcia (or some SF rock legend). There’s a prominent left leaning lawyer in SF who holds his estate. Murray is entirely under the radar. The lawyer is connected too, massive numbers of Californians are disassociated. Gays, hispanics, the working poor, environmentalists (or those that just want clean air and water) and the troops, national guard, veterans, homeless. Rabble rousing. Street demonstrations. Fiery speeches. The foment spreads.
Billy is the mouthpiece (or the organizer, this may be part three after he gets back from Asia.) Jake comes out. They are always on the edge. Could be taken out MLK style or simply disappeared. A public trial would be a disaster. Removal to Gitmo would be obvious.
There would be an icon to rally around. Somehow riots need to be avoided. How to peacefully secede?
The love interest. A return to Soo Moon. “Why did you do this? Why have you done this, what about us, don’t you love Nate and I anymore?”
“It’s because I love you that I have done this, don’t you see what’s happening? The country has changed, it’s not Nazi Germany, it’s more nefarious, more subtle than that. It’s a silent/unseen noose around us all, and it’s closing in on us. Look at the prisons. Look at immigration ‘reform’ I said sarcastically. Look what they’re doing to arab americans, muslims. They came for them and I did nothing and when they came for me there was no one left to stand up for me.”
“This is crazy. You’ve gone crazy.”
“Maybe. Maybe Tom Paine was crazy, Jefferson, Washington, Franklin. Maybe it’s only the crazy people who do anything in this world, maybe they’re the only ones capable of looking at things as they should be rather than as they are.”
“You’re my husband. Nate is YOUR kid.”
“What happens if they start interning Koreans?”
“That’s a bit extreme.”
“Is it? It’s all a matter of degrees at this point isn’t it. When does it get too bad, what does it take for people to get outraged?”
This could go on, I’m stuck.
So, Billy is in the Boar’s Head. He needs to go to Phoenix. The story goes, he goes to Martin’s apt and cops (gov’t agents?) knock in the early hours. Billy has to run – slip out the fire escape kind of cliché, but what the hell. So early morning SF Billy is on the run again back to the bus station? They might know, they might have figured out he would do that now. He takes BART to Berkeley and lays low. On the street again. Call Jake call Jake. Jake tells him to go to Phoenix, conversation re Murray.
“Did you talk to Murray?”
“Murray told me to go to Phoenix, too.”
“Did he give you a name?”
“No. Just a radio station.” He gave a bit of a laugh.
“Yeah, I don’t have a name either.”
“What?” I said disappointed and shocked.
“I’ve got an idea. I have more information than Murray.”
“well, what am I supposed to do?”
“We’re still figuring things out. It was chaos, the dust is settling and information’s trickling in. We know there’s a potential ally in Phoenix and he owns this radio station, but we’re not sure of his true name or where he lives or what his deal is.”
“OK, so what does this mean to me?”
“We need you to just go and figure it out.”
“Figure it out, what am I Matlock?”
“Just do your best to figure it out. We have faith in you.”
The vote of confidence sounded hollow, but what could I do. “96.5?” I asked in resignation.
So, Billy rents a car with his new ID and credit card. But, first Jake gives him the name of someone in Oakland/Berkeley? Black America, liberal/socialist America, slavery, legacy oppressed black man blah blah blah, but with a twist. Lots of stuff that needs research, black panthers, Peebles, etc…
Drive to Phoenix, beauty of the west with ugliness of the highway culture – McD fast food nation, oil/gas, same crap everywhere. Get off the highway into the recesses of the country and you find what this is what this country really is, outside of what you see on TV and the chain world. We’re shackled to the chain world and we want something more, some people want more…
GenX did McJob and it’s more than that, the chains could actually do a lot to improve our lot. Great distribution, huge volume, crap product.
In Phoenix, I checked into a Motel 6 (paid cash thanks to Murray – or used credit card, might as well use it as I’m on the card with the car anyway), and just listened to the clock radio.
Chain, more description, perhaps a conversation in a McD with some freak or employee, generic flaws of ordinary – the burden of an oppressive sameness, lack of motivation of staff – socialist? America has bred a class of worker or imported a class of worker who pretend to work so they pretend to get paid. No Healthcare, no benefits, no future, kids and college slipping away, it’s the inverse of socialism, but the effects on the common man the same. And, what’s more we’re trying to export it just as communism was (or as it was perceived to be). Where does this go? National self-determination is key – any monolith is the enemy – hegemony won’t work. Mono-crop (crap?) agriculture won’t work, it leads to stagnation in-bred flaws, round pegs in square holes.
To the radio station, the world of radio and all the media has been monopolized, sanitized and turned into a boring stew of blandness. You could argue that there’s a world of cutting edge cinema and “original programming”, but that is only available to those who can afford to pay for it. Much like the communist party members. The rich republicans are our version of communist party members. The philosophy is bi-polar (ha), but the result is the same – one class of people who has stuff, another class that does not, but aspires to it. Distribution of wealth is a farce. People aren’t equal but you have to give them hope. If not for them at least for their kids. Religion is the opiate of the masses and those that use that may be willing to forego a decent wage/life and a better world for their kids. But, we must acknowledge that opium is also the opium of the masses. Sometimes the simple answer is right there in front of us, Occam’s razor. Drugs in America. This is the Oaktown conversation and Billy reflects on it in the hotel room listening to the radio.
It was after two days that I had a sort of revelation. I was racking my brain at first trying to detect a pattern. Then I simply got tired. The time in the Bay Area, the craziness and then the wear of the long drive produced an utter, deep, bone-tired exhaustion. I was so tired that I didn’t even know how tired I was, my body, mind, soul had entered a realm, a cloudy world of existence that in retrospection felt as if I had been made dumb or dumber than I was. It’s hard to imagine I felt overly smart after abandoning my wife and chide to follow Max and his merry crew. I was numb and I didn’t know it. The familiarity or the familiar-ness of the room also produced a comforting other-worldly effect. It was a room in Phoenix, but it could have been in Salt Lake City, Stockton, Charlotte or Canton, Ohio, any of a number of exact rooms anywhere in the country. It was familiar, it was comfortable, it was relaxing, in short, I fell asleep. After the surprise of finding myself listening to a radio station that had no commercials, and no particular format to speak of – the playlist ran the pop/rock gamut from AC/DC to ZZ Top, but it also threw in oddities from Hawaiin, classical, swing and jazz so you never really knew what to expect. One moment you could be listening to Queen’s “We Are the Champions” and before you could finish mouthing “…of the world…” Rachmoninoff’s third concerto/symphony was beginning.
I was baffled and ultimately/eventually my body/brain just shut down. The radio stayed on and with the shades drawn and the absence of any DJ, news, or voices of any sort other than the vocals of Billy Holiday, Elvis Costello (and the other one) Annie Lennox, Ice-T, et al, I was in a world of my own, and what a world it was. I searched and searched for some sort of purpose, a point, a reason, I wrote down the names of songs, artists, dates of recording when I could guess, timeframes, eras, was there a point to playing “99 Luftballoons” after Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nacht Music”? Modern German overtaking Habsburg imperialism? Then David Bowie came on singing Modern Love and fixing the English and allies against Teutonic techno-pop in a contrived confrontation/exploitation/invasion for Leibensraum and uniting all Germanic tribes was further complicated by Men at Work, “I Come from the Land Down Under.”
It was infuriating . And, what made it worse was I liked the music. It was fantastic. Like nothing else I’d ever encountered on the public airwaves. As time went on though, my bafflement infringed on my enjoyment. My epiphany came after Percy Mayfield followed Lyle Lovett followed Don Ho followed Bing Crosby. After listening to Bing croon I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas whilst sitting in a Phoenix hotel room/Motel 6 I came to the conclusion there was no hidden meaning. The answer lay in the lack of an answer. I figured I must not be the only one dialed into 96.5 and so decided to venture forth and start mingling with the local populace.
Somewhere above add – and it was against the length of the pieces, I thought of that as he/they had no qualms playing extraordinarily long songs like Inagoddadavita (sp?) or Beethoven’s Ninth in their entirety. Long short long – some sort of Morse code maybe, an SOS, but how could I differentiate between what was long enough and what short? There was that huge gray zone in the middle and isn’t that always the case. Sure, there’s black and white but those are the poles and everything else lingers above and below the equator…
I first went out into the Phoenix sun around midday. I went to a Denny’s and ordered breakfast, it wasn’t quite breakfast but as it was my first real meal in awhile I thought I’d start out at the beginning. A Grand Slam breakfast did the trick. It may be generic but damn that hit the spot. There is that benefit to the chain world of America, if you want a Big Mac you can get a Big Mac whether you’re in New York City or Tuscaloosa Alabama.
I asked the waitress as she set down my plates, “Hey, I’ve got a question for you.”
“Do you ever listen to the radio station 96.5?”
“Nope, I never listen to the radio anymore. iPod. Greatest gadget in the world.
“Ah, what about the guys in the back?” I used to wash dishes at a Chuck E. Cheese, horrible high school job, but we used to rock out in the kitchen (elaborate).
“It’s all Mexican music back there. I have no idea what station they listen to.”
“You taking a survey?”
“No. Just wondering…I’m not from around here and as I was driving in I dialed into this station just looking for music and they never played any commercials. I thought it was kinda cool but odd, and I wondered how they did it, what with no ad revenue.”
“That is kind of funny. Well, enjoy your breakfast.”
It was 2:30 in the afternoon.
Halfway through my short stack, she came back to freshen up my coffee and said, “Y’know I asked my manager about that station and he said he listens to it sometimes and has wondered that same thing.”
“Yeah, he says it’s like his own iTunes.”
“Where is he, can I talk to him?”
He came over and I asked him to sit down. His name tag said “Stan”.
“It’s the weirdest thing. My wife and I can’t figure it out. I think I saw an article about it in the Sun or the (check names) but I can’t remember which or when.”
“Do you think it’s some big media company just prepping the market. You know when a new station starts they always play more music at first to get you hooked. Maybe it’s a ploy to get attention.”
“Damned if I know, but it’s made my commute a fair bit better.”
I smiled and sipped my coffee.
“What you doing in Phoenix? Margey said you’re not from around here, not that anyone is.”
“Oh, I’m just passing through.”
“Road trip, huh?”
“Yeah, of a sort.”
“Well, have a good one. Sorry I couldn’t help you solve our little radio mystery,” he said standing up. “Back to work.”
“Yup, take it easy.”
I finished up, paid, said my goodbyes to Margey and Stan, and went for a walk. It was hot, scorching hot, but it was a dry heat, ahem. It was also bright, excruciatingly bright, so I put on the pair of cheap sunglasses I had bought at the Texaco station in Baker. I felt like a spy, man of mystery, private eye, cruising Phoenix to track down a musical phantom. (Should have a line back on the LA-AZ route about passing through Vegas and not stopping, nothing but trouble there. Need to check on a map and see if I’m right. Oh and take a trip to the Grand Canyon, then call Jake and have him chastise Billy for “this is NOT some touring trip for you. We don’t have time for you to go sightseeing!”
“Yeah, well that car isn’t in a real name remember, you never know when that’s going to get called in, you don’t have a lot of time.”
“Well, where am I supposed to go, what am I supposed to do?”\ “Did you find out anything in Phoenix?”
Boars Head to Martin’s apt. Go to Bus Stop. Either a conversation in a crowded bar or a quiet conversation in his apt whilst drunk, bar, then back to apt in haze and then pounding a mad scramble.
The Billy/Murray conversation – the separation – money changes hands. Martin walks over. Billy grabs the wad of cash in a bit of surprise and stuffs it in his pocket before Martin can see it.
“Thanks,” was all I could mutter stupidly, all I…in the quick exchange with Martin approaching and Murray flipping through bills, all I could muster was a feeble, “Thanks.”
“Fuck off. No, wait. Good luck, and thanks for getting me out. Despite your bullshit this has been good.”
“Fuck off.” I started to walk away. “Oh, and don’t worry about dinner. I’ll take care of it.”
I just looked back and smiled, gave him a quick, perhaps overly jaunty wave and scurried off to meet Martin at the door.
“Should we go to the Bus Stop for old times sake?”
Martin and I had gone to school together. A large contingent of folks from my university ended up working and living in San Francisco. As time went on they ended up in the various surrounding cities, like the scattered drops from a rock dropped in a lake. Every year a new batch of graduates landed like a rock in the SF pond, in a sort of time delay film (like in the old nature shows where you could watch a flower grow, bloom and die) those droplets rose and fell in Marin and Belmont and Walnut Creek and points around the bay, and there they mingled with past droplets from previous rocks that fell from the same source.
Martin was of the part under the rock that sank to the bottom and stayed in the city. San Francisco appealed to him and he had never found that complementary droplet that made the trip to the burbs more enjoyable (or that necessitated the move). Besides, he liked city life.
He and I and a large group of guys frequented the Bus Stop and other such establishments back in the day. It was one of the more “mature” places not populated too much by the bridge and tunnel crowd looking to hook up. Not quiet, but no pounding music and an excess of swinging dicks out for a companion. Clearly hetero, but not in an overtly exclusive way. It was a good spot and just up the street.
“So what the hell are you doing here?” He just came out and asked.
“Oh, just a quick little trip.”
“No, no,” I said quickly realizing that Murray may have been right and this was going to be more complicated than I had anticipated. Afterall what the hell was I doing here?
“Got a hall pass, huh? A boy’s trip? Are you meeting with John (new name here, or for John in Korea) or Scoop?”
He mentioned two old friends of mine who would be obvious people I’d want to connect with since I was down.
“Oh, no. I don’t think I’ll have time.”
By that time we’d walked up to the Bus Stop and had entered, the long bar on our left, wood-paneled walls, the sound of billiard balls clinking in the back room, an assortment of San Franciscans drinking, talking, watching the Giants game, the TV hanging from the corner of the ceiling.
“When in Rome,” I replied. When he returned he jumped right back into the questions in the careless off-hand way old friends or now slightly less than friends who had once spent a great deal of time together, but had drifted apart yet are still capable of returning to that comfortable comraderie can. It’s my opinion this is a male thing. Martin could be blunt and honest in a way that two old female friends might find incomprehensible.
“So, how’s whats her name?”
“Yeah, you got a kid now, too, right?”
“Yup. A regular family.”
“Up in the northwest, Seattle?”
“You like that?”
“Yeah,” I started hesitantly. “It’s great, we love it.” The remorse was setting in again and I was afraid it was showing. Martin was picking up on that and turned to catch the score of the game, sipping his beer thoughtfully.
I decided to avert further inquisitiveness by starting a line of questioning myself. “So, are you still with Schwab?”
“No, no, I just took a new job with Morgan-Stanley, lovin’ it. You can’t imagine the difference between a discount brokerage and a group like Morgan Stanley.”
“Yeah, I bet I can’t.”
“What you doing now?” he asked quickly, shifting attention back to me and foiling my plan.
“Oh, you know, this and that,” I replied lamely.
He looked at me suspiciously and then took another glance at the game. “We could get some free baseball.” It was tied in the bottom of the ninth, just another game, the Florida Marlins, certainly not worth taking attention away from a conversation between two friends who hadn’t seen each other in years, a game between two bottom dwellers in their divisions.
Marty looked back at me and somewhat sternly, with a trace of a wry smile, and asked frankly, “Billy, what the fuck is going on?”
It was hard to hide anything from Marty, he was a no bullshit kind of guy, and I wasn’t exactly the poker-faced cool cat hustling some scam over him. I caved. Hanging my head, sulking in my beer, I just came out with the most innocuous form of the truth I could, even though it failed to capture even a morsel of what was going on, it was essentially what I’d done.
“I’ve left Soo.”
“Wow,” a pause. “Just up and left?”
“Yeah, pretty much.”
He was silent again for awhile. We both sat quietly, looking at each other and then looking away. He, afraid of the look of depression in my eyes, and me afraid of the judgment in his.
“Got a wife and kid in Baltimore, Jack, I went out for a ride and I never went back,” he deadpanned the Springsteen line.
I thought, “like a river that don’t know where it’s flowin’ I took a wrong turn and I just kept goin’” but couldn’t bring myself to say it.
“Well, this calls for something stronger.”
He got up and muscled his way to the bar, which was crowded now with people watching the bottom of the ninth. Barry Bonds struck out and they were going to extra innings.
“A fantastic cancer,” said Marty as he set two glasses of brown liquor down on the table.
“That’s what a buddy of mine at work calls Bonds – ‘a fantastic cancer’.”
“I don’t get it.”
“He’s great, hell, he’s the picture of greatness, yet as long as he’s on the Giants they will never win. Not the whole thing. He doesn’t want it enough. Deep down it’s all about him. He cares more about himself than the team.”
I knew where he was going with this and didn’t like it. I’d left my team. This was big talk from a free agent who had never stayed with a team for more than a season or two.
“Right,” I said. “I get it.” Pause, “What is this?” I asked picking up the highball glass and sniffing two fingers of something.
We drank, sipped.
Someone for the Marlins hit a home run in the top of the tenth.
“What are you going to do?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Where are you staying?”
“When did this happen?”
“About a week ago.”
“Jesus,” he said quietly, shaking his head.
“Does she know where you are?”
“I don’t think so,” I said.
“You haven’t called her?”
“No. I can’t,” I said, leaving it at that as if I couldn’t bring myself to rather than I was afraid our phone would be tapped.
“You’ve got to let her know where you are, that you’re OK, she must be frantic.”
“I left her a note,” I said, referring to the mad scribbling I’d done before the, well, before the ferry thing, even though that nonsense resembled a note as much as a bird did a dodo.
He just shook his head. A waitress came by, pointed to our glasses, “Another round?”
“God, yes,” said Marty. “Two more Makers and two Steam backers.” We absent-mindedly checked the game, a reflex. The Giants were batting in the bottom of the tenth, down by one and more people in the bar were paying attention.
“For Christ’s sake, Billy. Why?”
“Oh, you don’t want to know. It’s a long story and really I’m not sure you’d understand.”
“Look,” he said as our drinks arrived, stopping then to thank the waitress, he started to pay her then stopped and thought. I was afraid he was going to look to me for money. Instead, he pulled out a credit card and handed it to her saying, “You better keep it open.” She nodded. The Giants were down to two outs.
“Billy, I’ve got all the time in the world. I blew off my date, it’s Friday night, I’m doing nothing til tomorrow night.” I noted to myself that before he said that I had had no idea what day it was. “And, let’s be honest, it doesn’t matter if I understand, it’s whether you understand that’s important.”
He was making good points. And, his perfunctory, if somewhat off-putting, questioning was starting to put this whole situation in a different light. Maybe I was over-reacting, maybe I could go back. Turn myself in. Maybe Jake and Murray were a bunch of cranks and if I ratted them out, I could save my skin.
“I don’t know, Marty.” I said hesitantly. “It’s not as simple as you may think.”
“These things never are I’m sure.” We stopped. I was uncomfortable looking him in the eyes. Marty had an intimidating gaze, fueled by a supreme confidence. Bill Mueller struck out (check lineup) and they were down to their last out.
“It’s not what you think. I don’t want to get you involved.”
“I’m already involved. For whatever reason you and I ran into each other tonight. Frankly, you and I were never that close.”
I stopped my glass halfway to my lips, “Well…” I started to protest.
“No, really, come on. John (name) and Scoop and you were always tight. I just tagged along…and we’re not exactly of the same (political, think about this) persuasion.”
“That doesn’t mean much,” I began, but he was right and my argument petered out. He always did have an understanding of power that ran contrary to mine. Not that we ever spent too much time discussing such things. It was reflected more in career choices, such as mine qualified as a “career choice.” Marty was always going to make money. College was an end to a means and he treated it with the seriousness that mindset dictated. I was never that focused, but through neglect, sloth and ennui managed to evoke an aura of disdain for that attitude. Marty’s attitude. He may have perceived me as having strong liberal leanings with a latent if not strong/apparent opposition to his life direction. It was never that pronounced. I was a bad student with poor judgment and a weakness for the easy way out. Any snide comments about ‘selling out’ and ‘working for the man’ were little more than affectation and cover for my flaws, which were many. I’d changed since then, but not in a way that he’d approve.
“My point, Billy, is that I’m just enough of a friend to be brutally honest without fear of damaging a long-term friendship. It’s not that I don’t give a shit about you or about staying your “friend”. I think you’re an interesting guy, I always have. It’s just that we don’t run in the same circles. It wouldn’t bother me if you decided I was a dick because I said something to piss you off. For instance, I think you’re being an asshole. I don’t know what’s going on. I have absolutely no background on your situation, but you made a promise. You entered into a sacred contract before god and the world and that must be honored. You brought a child into this world and you have a responsibility to raise it. If you walk away you’re nothing more than another nigger leaving a single mother to raise a kid who’ll have all sorts of unnecessary hurdles to jump over.”
I should point out here that Marty is black. He had a tendency to use the ‘n’ word as a weapon. In his mind he had the right. Of course, none of his white friends could and that gave him a sort of trump card. Regardless of this, or maybe just maybe because of it, he had lost me.
“You’re being a bit controversial about this, don’t you think.”
“Don’t get all PC on me, Billy. You know exactly what I mean. The numbers don’t lie.”
“Well, that language still makes me uncomfortable.”
“You’re missing the point, and don’t try to change the subject. This is about you, what you’ve done, what you are going to do. Forget the semantics.”
I checked the TV again, post game, the Giants had lost and the bar had become less crowded.
“Let’s have another round. Have you seen the waitress?” I said.
Marty somewhat disdainfully said, “I’ll go get the drinks,” and got up.
He was right in many ways and I alternated/vacillated/was ambivalent about trying to tell him about Max and Jake and Murray. I was afraid he would think I was crazy or just making up far-fetched excuses. It occurred to me, too, that I might be putting him in danger, but that could have been lingering/my heightened paranoia.
He came back balancing four glasses, which was quite a trick since they were different sizes.
“You do that well.”
“I was a pro.”
“No shit. It paid good money. Listen, I don’t know if I’m going to have any influence on you. Plus, I don’t want to lecture. I’m not one to get righteous…”
“Let he without sin cast the first stone.”
“Right. But. But…”
“But, my ass,” I said and we got a peurile drunken laugh out of it.
“But, you’re fucking up.”
“I’m getting fucked up.”
“Yeah, well, one won’t help the other, unless…”
“Unless you find a way to say or think something that makes you make sense of this.” There had been such a preponderance of awkward pauses during the course of this conversation, and I was getting to such a state of inebriation that I was almost ready to break out and tell Marty the whole crazy story. It was at this stage that he came out and asked, “So, who was that fat guy you were with at the Boar’s Head?”
So, yeah, who was that fat guy, I thought to myself.
“Well, that’s part of the reason why this whole thing is more, is different, it isn’t as simple as me running out on my wife and kid.”
“No. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but no.”
“Well. Are you going to get all mysterious on me at this point?”
“Alright,” I said with a sigh of resignation, “What the hell. You have to, though, you have to listen to the whole thing, and you have to promise to hear the facts, to note the facts and not have some quick reflex reaction, some, you know…”
“No, I don’t know. I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.”
“Alright then. Let me tell you.” And with that I ran through the entire story from start to finish, from scanning the web and seeing those crazy comments on the Las Piedras web site to Murray buying me dinner.
When I had finished, and, to be fair, he had been completely silent, although, not without facial expressions that spoke volumes, when I was done he sat there for a moment and then asked after minutes of reflection during which some invisible clock ticked in my head, “Are you done?”
“Yeah, that’s about it.”
“There’s nothing else…no flying rhinos or tin foil hat salesmen.”
“No,” I said, expecting something less than a receptive analysis.
“Well, then. You’re either full of shit or absolutely fucking crazy.”
“Yeah…that well may be.”
“Well maybe we should just get another round.”
“Why the fuck not?”