So I was sitting in front of The Prissy Café again and I had a pretty good buzz going but the inspiration, as usual, just wouldn’t come. They’ve got all-you-can-drink mimosas on Saturday morning, and I’d downed 15 or 20 of them, and I had the damned yellow pad in front of me, and though I’d intended to write out a script for a new show all I could manage were little doodles. It had been going on like this for weeks. If I got my mind completely annihilated a few ideas would dribble out like piss droplets and I’d write furiously, sure I’d broken through, but the next day when I sobered up it was always the same—I found that what I’d written was little more than the ramblings of an over-lubricated brain.
It was becoming clear I’d have to dry out if I wanted to get back on track.
Just not today, I told myself. Maybe tomorrow.
I’d just knocked back another mimosa when my phone rang.
“Jack Barajas speaking.”
“You slurring, fool. You at the Prissy again?”
“You gotta get a life, man.”
“This is my life, Fooz.”
“Hey asshole. Did you forget what day it is today?”
“No…I’ll give you a hint…36 years ago, I saw the inside of mommy’s love canal for what would be the first and last time.”
“Oh. It’s your birthday?”
“That’s right, bro. Thanks for remembering.”
“How is it I’m 39 and you’re 36, though? I mean, we were in the same grade growing up.”
Silence on the other end of the line. Then, in measured and patient tones, Fooz said:
“I’ve told you many times, Jack. I was precociously gifted at five years old, so the school district bumped me from Kindergarten to the second grade.”
“But last year you claimed to be 37. And if you skipped 2 grades, how is it that there’s a 3 year diff—”
“Hey bro. Enough about my AGE, okay? All I wanna know is this: are you coming to my birthday barbecue at Casa Pinkley?”
I looked at the yellow pad covered in doodles.
“Maybe. What’s the scene like?”
“It’s gonna be off the hook. We gonna have brews, barbecue, maybe some coke. The Experience is coming over, and a buncha chicks too. We’re gonna jam, get wasted, eat like pigs.”
“What time does it start?”
“Started when the sun came up, Bro-en-heim.”
“You got stuff to make mimosas?”
“That’s what you’re drinking now? Good God.”
“That’s my chosen fuel for the day, and it’s what I’m sticking with.”
“I suppose I can scare up a bottle of Cooks and some OJ, degenerate. Get your ass down here.”
“I’ll be there in 30.”
I drove the Honda fit up Reseda Blvd. and got on the freeway. It was a typical early summer day in the San Fernando Valley, already broiling at 11 AM, smog residue collecting in the back of your throat like you’d smoked a pack of unfiltered cigarettes. I got off at the exit for Calabasas and drove up into the foothills with the valley spread below me like a dirty gray blanket, pulled up to Fooz’s place, parked in the driveway next to the Foozmobile, then got out and walked through the side gate into the backyard.
Fooz had the grill going, huge plumes of black-gray smoke billowing all around. He wore an apron that read MAY I SUGGEST THE SAUSAGE? and the egg yolk and aqua net in his carefully styled mohawk glistened in the sun. When he saw me he performed a series of back flips away from the barbecue, landed on his feet in front of a big blue igloo cooler, flipped the lid, grabbed a Miller Genuine Draft, tossed it in the air with his right hand, did a 360 spin, caught the bottle in his left hand, ripped the cap off with his teeth, spit the cap at his dog (a dyed-orange mongrel named Doggy Rotten), downed half the beer with one long gulp, let out a tremendous belch, and said:
“Good afternoon, Jack.”
“Good afternoon to you, Fooz. Am I early, or what? Where is everybody?”
“Early, late, who knows? I don’t keep a timetable for the comings and goings of the people in my life, these ephemeral rock stars in eternity, these falling stars of the dusk. They come and go in this back yard, this portal of pulchritude, and whence from here is not my concern.”
“Groovy, Jerk Kerouac. I need to imbibe.”
“The fixings for your queer drink are on that table over there.”
I walked over and made myself a king-size mimosa in a red tumbler.
“Where’s the chicks?”
“Not here yet. It’s only one o’clock, Jack. Most people I hang around with awaken no earlier than noon. You’re the exception to that rule.”
“If you say so.”
“When they get here, they’ll be delighted to see the arrangements I’ve made to accomodate those with special dietary needs.” He gestured with his beer, and we walked out by the badminton net.
“I’m going to tell you something about women you may have not realized,” said Fooz. “And that is this:
90 percent of them subscribe to a vegan lifestyle.
“Is that so?”
“That’s so. And let me tell you something else: Me? I couldn’t care less about the lives of cows and chickens. If people saw chickens without feathers they’d be horrified, Jack.”
“I know. They look like lizards.”
“That being said, if you go out of your way to make a vegan spread for the babes, the vegan babes will spread for YOU. Dig?”
“Oh, I dig.”
“Now here we have the secondary grill which we’ll be using for today’s vegan cookery. To differentiate the two grills, I’ve spraypainted this one hot pink.” He lifted the lid. A wave of heat rose up, and everything looked wavy for a second.
“So what you do,” he continued, “Is you fill a bowl full of canola oil…like this…then you take the veggie burgers and dip ’em in the oil.”
“They look like something that came out of Doggy Rotten’s butt,” I said.
He held the burgers down in the oil. “Let ‘em soak real good, like a couple of minutes. These things got no fat. You gotta add the fat. Get me?”
“Now the coals are nice and hot. We’re ready to roll,troll.”
Fooz pulled the burgers out of the oil, the fluid running down his hand and forearm.
“Looks like you fisted an elephant,” I said.
“Or your mother,” Fooz said casually. “So dig my technique.”
He flicked the burgers through the air like frisbees. The discs of compressed soy landed on the grill one after the other in perfect formation, bang bang bang bang.
“DID YOU SEE THAT? DID YOU SEE…THAT…SHIT?”
“You play horseshoes a lot, hey?”
“On the real, daddy-o. And now for the finishing touch, to give this crap authentic flame-kissed flavor.”
Fooz sauntered over to the porch and picked up a bottle of charcoal fluid, held it to his crotch, and simulated a piss-stream from 20 feet away. Flames leapt into the air.
“We’ll get these vegan broads fed, get ’em tipsy, and commence the orgy sometime later this afternoon,” said Fooz.
“Orgy, huh? Who exactly did you invite to this bash?”
“One-Eyed Rhonda, Sharin’ Sharon, Betty Plague….remember that all-girl band I played with at the Red Eagle?”
“You mean ‘Grrrlz With Prrrlz?”
“That’s the one.”
Hairy armpits, purple hair, facial piercings, hour upon hour of being lectured about white male privilege. This was not the afternoon I’d envisioned.
“You know what,” said Fooz. “Let me give them a call and get an ETA.”
He whipped out his cell phone and punched in a number and started pacing around the way he always does when he’s on a phone conversation.
“Sharon! You and your girls showing up? …Wut? If I don’t call you ‘girls’ what am I supposed to call you? Uh huh…uh huh….womyn, you say. OK. So when are you and your ‘womyn’ showing up?”
He was quiet, listening. I could hear Sharon’s chipmunk voice jabbering on the other end.
“A gig in San Diego? Hey man, San Diego SUCKS! Okay, okay. I’m sorry I called you a man. But why did you book a gig today? I told you more than once today’s my birthdaaaayyyy.” A whine was creeping into Fooz’s voice as it became clear he wasn’t going to get his way.
More chipmunk talk. Then Fooz said:
“You know what? If you don’t wanna celebrate my forti–my thirty-seventh birthday, then I’ll tell you what. I hope you drive your van off the Coronado bridge, you TWAT.”
He hung up the phone with an angry, dramatic flourish.
“It looks like the orgy’s off, Jack.”
“Bummer,” I said. It didn’t feel like a bummer, though. I had no desire spending my afternoon watching Fooz’s pockmarked buttocks thrusting away on top of some punk skag.
“It’s cool.. My homeboys are still comin’. We’ll get tanked up on shitty corporate beer and jam and when our need to rock is sated we shall eat of the cow’s flesh. Which reminds me…”
He walked over, grabbed a garden hose, turned on the spigot, and hosed down the pink vegan grill. A terrific plume of gray smoke whooshed up into the sky. The boca burgers really did look like turds now—dark, smoldering, wet turds.
“I wasted six dollars on that and for what?”
“Don’t worry about it, man. Let’s get wasted,” I suggested.
A couple of hours passed. We knocked back some drinks and had a pretty good time shooting the breeze but then Amber started blowing up my phone. She’d dropped me when I lost my job but we’d recently begun flirt-texting again and I needed that big rump like I needed food and water.
Fooz saw me texting and his eyes narrowed suspiciously but he disregarded it and told me about the time he’d met Jello Biafra at the Law Offices of Rosenblum, Smith & Felcher LLP.
“Yeah man, it was awesome. The dudes in his band were suing the shit out of him. He didn’t like what his legal counsel in Frisco was doing so he came to us looking for help BLAH BLAH BLAH…”
“You don’t say,” I yawned.
“Those fools in his band thought they should get publishing money, you believe that shit? When you’re the frontman like me or Jello—the talent,the brains, the creative force, the Alpha and the Omega—you gotta be on constant guard against the other guys in your band. Becuz they’re JEALOUS, man. Maybe they can play a little, but when everything shakes out they’re glorified session musicians and they know it.” He belched. “That’s why I changed the band’s name to ‘The Fooz Pinkley Experience’. I realized early on that you gotta set muthafuckas straight on who’s in charge.”
“You had some other good band names, though. I always kind of liked ‘Chum Chugger’.”
“What about ‘The Kenny Butt-Loggins Band’?”
“That was good too.”
“ Hey, speaking of ‘The Experience’, where are those assholes?”
He pulled out his little flip phone and started dialing again. It took him a few tries to get the number right because, lightweight that he was, three-and-one-half bottles of Miller had him near-ossified. I’d once seen him pass out on his feet after downing five Zimas at a bar in Culver City— he’d staggered into a Toyota Prius, careened off the rear bumper, and face-planted on the concrete, requiring twenty stitches to repair his chin. Fooz and alcohol was a combination that almost always ended in disaster.
Which was going to prove true, once again, in the next 24 hours.
Fooz paced around the yard listening to the phone on the other end ring. Finally someone picked up.
“Hey motherfucker, where the hell are you? Oh…what? Sorry, Billy. Go get your daddy, wouldja?”
He rolled his eyes and looked over at me. “You know what’s NOT punk rock? Fatherhood. Good God.”
I poured myself another mimosa and thought again about Amber. Get home, shower, sober up enough to hold erectile dysfunction at bay, and fall into her sweet brown embrace…
“Hey Todd…what? I didn’t call your kid a motherfucker…kid’s a liar, man. You oughta beat his ass. But forget about that…I thought we were jamming today.”
Fooz paced ever more frantically, right hand jammed into the pocket of his cargo shorts, while Todd talked.
“What do you mean, your kid has band recital? Motherfucker, we have band PRACTICE! I got dogs, brews, steaks, I got my gee-tar polished and ready…”
I couldn’t make out what Todd was saying on the other end but he did a lot of talking and as he talked Fooz’s eyes bugged out like yo-yos.
“Hey man. You need to get your priorities straight. If you don’t wanna treat this seriously then maybe you should go play for some blues band with all the other middle-aged bozos. No. NO. I can go down to Guitar Center right now and find someone to replace you in two seconds….Oh yeah? You don’t like it? Well guess what? YOU’RE FIRED! NOW GO HANG OUT WITH YOUR FAG KID…aw, shit, he hung up.”
Fooz stood there and stared at the phone in disbelief. Then, teeth clenched, he walked over to the vegan grill, kicked it over, threw his cell phone across the yard, and screamed into the sky.
“FUCK ! FUCK! FUCK! FUCK!”
I hardly noticed Fooz’s anger and consternation—Amber’s text messages were coming at a rapid pace,
each one more sexually suggestive than the last:
SO HORNY RITE NOW WHITE BOY—LOL—
NEED U 2 HIT IT FROM BEHIND BAE
—MAY B STRAP ON? —LOL—
“Punk rocker family man,” said Fooz. “Punk rocker family fuckin’ maaaannnn…”
He looked at me.
“I’m sorry your party is not working out, but look. Amber’s getting me worked up with all these text messages, dude.”
“Amber….Amber…hey, why not tell her to come up here?! We can all hang out!”
“I dunno Fooz, uh….I don’t wanna make you feel like the third wheel…”
“What d’you mean? The other guys in the band are gonna show up eventually. We don’t have to orgy with your chick, if that’s what you’re worried about. We’ll just hang.”
“Well that’s just it. I mean, I haven’t got laid in months, Fooz. I thought maybe I’d get lucky here, but it doesn’t look like that’s gonna happen, so…”
“Jack, Jack.” Fooz shook his head and gave me a disgusted look. “Is that all you can think about? Getting your knob wet? How about getting your whistle wet? Hanging with your bros?”
“I don’t mean any offense, Fooz, it’s just that…well, whenever you and The Experience hang out, you guys just jam and talk to each other and sometimes I feel kinda left out. And besides, you’ve got women crawling all over you. I gotta take my opportunities when they come, you know?”
My phone buzzed. Another text from Amber.
GONNA SUCK U DRY BUT U BETTER HURRY UP—AINT GOT ALL DAY 2 WAIT—LOL—
I looked up from my phone. Fooz must have recognized the look of sheer lust on my face because his own look of disgust changed to one of resignation and he said, with a sneer:
“So go. I don’t need you here anyway, Jack.”
“Are you sure? ‘Cause if you want I could—“
“Hey man, you know what? If everybody I care about wants to shit on me on my special day, that’s fine! Just get the fuck out of here…NOW!”
I put up my hands in a conciliatory gesture. Fooz picked up the bottle of lighter fluid and reared back like he was going to wing it at me. I backed away slowly, hands still in the air. As I turned to walk out through the side gate Doggy Rotten charged, a growling, furry blur of orange. As he leapt into the air I slammed the side gate shut and he hit it hard with a thump and a yelp. I hustled my ass out to the Fit and took off down the side of the mountain and got back on the freeway.
“You want some more of this shit?”
I held up the vaporizer. Amber took it and hit it and blew a cloud of vaporized cannabis oil into my face. I noticed as usual the weird little brown specks in the whites of her eyes. I’d brought it up once and asked her if that was an African-American thing and she’d given me that look, you know? Like I was the one white person she thought she could trust, and I’d let her down. The whole interracial thing turned me on, though. I grooved on how her skin looked on mine, the contrast of it. I giggled. I was high on the weed and post-sex endorphins and the residual effects of 35 mimosas.
I’d just lifted the vaporizer to my lips and was about to take another hit when the cartoon clanging of the iPhone brought me back to reality.
“Shit, it’s Fooz,” I said.
“What the hell does he want?” said Amber.
I looked at her a bit askance. I was pretty sure she’d fucked him, but who knew for sure? Every time the three of us got together they avoided eye contact, and I could swear there was some weird kind of energy in the room. Hell, Fooz had fucked every girlfriend I ever had. Why not this one?
The weed was making me paranoid…maybe. I answered the phone.
“Jack….Jack. ‘Sme. ‘SFooz.”
“You sound a little messed up. You all right, Fooz?”
“I’m jes fine. I’m feckin GOLDEN, brah.”
“So what happened? Did “The Experience” show up?”
“No. No they did not. Todd got me so pissed off, man, that I called em all up one by one and told them they could go take a long walk off a short pier right after screwin’ their mothers and fathers.”
“You drunk dialed your band.”
“Yes I did. I fired all of em. ALL OF EM! ALLLL OF EMMMMM!”
I held the phone back from my ear as Fooz screamed. I looked at Amber; she rolled her eyes and reached for the Thai food on the bedside table.
“…And now I’m gon do something crazy man, something so punk rock you won even bleeve it, okay? Okay Jack?”
“Right now. In fact I got a great idea, a great fuckin idea. My band doan wan get me famous, I get famous some othur way.”
“Fooz, listen. It’s almost midnight and you’ve been drinking since noon. Why don’t you have a couple of burgers and hit the rack? Just call it a day, what do you say man.”
He hung up. I put the phone on the nightstand and wondered what I should do next, if anything. As I pondered this with a brain working in exquisite slow motion I watched Amber slurp up pan-fried noodles from the Styrofoam container perched on her enormous breasts. The sheet tented up.
“Look!” I said.
I awoke the next morning,yawned, stretched, got up, and walked into the kitchen. Amber was doing the dishes in her sexy pink velour pajamas that read BLING across the ass. I started to get excited again. It had been a long night, and you’d think she’d sucked every last bit of vitality out of me, but I had a little bit of a weed-over and was feeling my oats. Should I eat breakfast? Try to write? Grab her rear end with both hands and squeeze? The TV in the nook blared on, the morning news, and I contemplated my next move.
“You want some eggs?”
“Oh yeah,” I said. “Overeasy? Runny yolks?”
“That shit is disgusting, eating runny yolks with no bread or nothing to soak it up.”
“What can I say. That’s the way I like ’em.”
“So what time are you going to work?”
“Work? Oh yeah…work. Uhhhh…we’re off today.”
She gave me a suspicious look. I’d been feeding her a line of bull about how I’d been hired to write a big reality TV show for Paramount, which was probably why she’d relented to giving me sex again. Amber had a particular allergy to losers; little did she know I was still 100 percent unemployed.
I decided it was a good time to change the subject. I walked over, turned on the morning news, and poured myself a cup of coffee.
I sat there and watched thje morning news–or what passes for it in Los Angeles, meaning stories about celebrities. The lead story was about the Kardashians, whose home had apparently been vandalized. I watched the anchors discuss the situation with facial expressions like it was 9-11 all over again; then they cut to a wall spraypainted with swastikas, various epithets, and one phrase repeated over and over again:
“Oh my God,” I said.
“What is it?”
I ran over with my coffee and turned up the volume. A female reporter stood on the sidewalk in a tony neighborhood in Calabasas. Fooz’s neighborhood. I turned up the volume.
“….the Kardashian family has no comment at this time. Earlier this morning Chief of Police Freddie Stetson held a press conference in which he had this to say.”
Cut to a shot of Stetson. He looked into the camera with tiny, suspicious, bored eyes.
“….the LAPD will not rest until we find the perpetrator of this act. We estimate damage to the Kardashian property at over $300,000. We are also considering this a hate crime.”
A reporter’s voice off-mic.
“What’s that, Jim? No, there is no sign of anti-Armenian sentiment. Just the swastikas and the reference to this “Jack.” Is the perpetrator named Jack? Is someone named Jack a party to this hate crime? We intend to find out.”
“WHAT THE FUCK,” I said.
My phone rang. I took the phone and walked out on the balcony.
“Hey man, it’s me. I guess I blacked out…I’m in Palmdale, man, fucking PALMDALE! I don’t know how I got here…I woke up in a field, man, I’ve got no wallet or anything….I’m calling you from a library phone….you gotta help me out, Jack…”
“Fooz. There’s a manhunt going on for you, do you understand that?”
“What did I do?”
“You spraypainted swastikas and stuff all over Kim Kardashian’s home,” I said.
“And not only that. You spraypainted the phrase “JACK FUCKS” all over the front of her house.”
“Huh.” He paused. “That’s actually kinda cool.”
“No it’s not, Fooz. It’s really not. I’ve told you a million times that swastikas aren’t just cool punk rock symbols, they represent the extermination of millions of people. Don’t you get it?”
“Don’t start with the lectures again, maaaaannnn….”
“It’s not a lecture, Fooz, it’s reality. And now you’ve implicated ME in your crimes, you idiot!”
“I’ll make it up to you later, bro-en-heim. For now, though…can you pick me up? I’m at the library on Palmdale Boulevard….”
“If the cops get to you before I do, you leave me out of it. Tell them ‘Jack’ doesn’t mean anything. Can you do that?”
“You callin’ me a rat? I ain’t no rat, maaannn.”
“You really screwed up this time. Jesus H.”
“Just pick me up bro…It’s hot, I gotta massive hangover….PICK ME UUUPPPPPPP–“
I hung up the phone and walked back into the apartment. Amber stood there in the kitchen with folded arms and slitted eyes. I wondered how much I was actually getting by her, if anything.
“Did Fooz have something to do with that hate crime?”
I feigned a look of ignorance.
“What? Oh, THAT. No no no, that’s ridiculous. Fooz is all about anarchy against the government and supporting the rights of women and minorities. You know that.”
Amber rolled her eyes and put my eggs in front of me. They were nice and runny, just the way I like them—but I’d lost my appetite.
“He don’t know shit about women or minorities,” she said. “He’s a middle-aged man playing teenaged games. Maybe it’s time for him to grow up, you know what I’m saying?”
I took a bite of eggs and said,
“You fucked him, huh?”
Now it was her turn to feign ignorance.
“Fooz has banged every woman I’ve ever dated–why should you be any different? I know he’s a big rock musician and has that animal magnetism, something which I sorely lack, so I don’t blame you. It just sucks that you can’t be honest with me.”
“Let’s say I did sleep with Fooz, which I am denying, OK? Why do you just roll over and let him take your woman? Why don’t you stand up for yourself, instead of being such a damn worm?”
I sighed, took the last bite of eggs, wiped my mouth with a napkin, and said:
“Because he’s my bro. That’s why.”
I picked up my phone and keys and headed for the door.
“Thanks for the eggs. I gotta give Fooz a ride.”
“Say WHAT? You just gonna leave–”
Behind me I heard her scream:
“I KNOW YOU AIN’T GOT NO JOB EITHER, ASSHOLE!“
Palmdale is a burg in the desert about 70 miles north of L.A. You drive up and up on a freeway that curves around golden sere mountains and foothills with desert valleys below and you feel like you’re ascending into the limitless blue sky. Then you cross a windblown pass and descend into a valley the color of horse crap. That’s Palmdale.
On the way over I listened to news radio. The Kardashian Hate Crime was big news in L.A. At just past noon a report came through that a disgruntled former employee of the family, a man named John “Jack” Stefanino, was being questioned.
The library was at the corner of Sierra Highway and Palmdale Boulevard. I parked and got out and walked around, looking for Fooz. No sign of him anywhere. I took a look inside the library and he wasn’t there, either. I walked back down Palmdale Boulevard and was about to give up the search when I saw him sitting crosslegged on the sidewalk with a crude handwritten sign scrawled on the back of a pizza box:
NEED TO GET BACK TO LA
I walked over to him.
He looked up. His eyes were blood red. There was a cut across his forehead that had scabbed and clotted and probably should have been stitched up hours earlier. He looked like he’d been on the street for years.
“Can you spare a dolla?” he said.
“Fooz…it’s me. Jack.”
“Jack? Oh sweet Christ. I never thought you would come, Jack.”
“You just called me an hour and a half ago, Fooz.”
“In this desert, time slows down, becomes distorted. I’ve lived a thousand years, died a thousand deaths, all on this street corner. Not only that, I’m still a little drunk.”
“You make any money with that sign?”
“An old woman gave me a fiver, but a giant spider with wings swept down from the sky and plucked it out of her hands.”
“Oooookay…Look, Fooz, we’d better get outta here before you attract the attention of the local authorities.”
“And go where? I’m a fugitive from the law, Jack. I’ve defaced the house of L.A. royalty, man. And they’re my neighbors! They’re good people!”
“I think it’ll be all right,” I said. “The cops have someone they like for the crime. The gardener, a guy named Jack.”
“Really? You mean some innocent squarejohn is going to pay for my actions?”
“They’re questioning him right now. Does that bother you?”
“Of course not.”
He stood up, dusted off his pants, and tossed the bogus homeless sign into the gutter.
We drove back into LA, the dung-colored tract home mosaic of Palmdale disappearing as the lip of the valley rose behind us. Fooz dozed off, water buffalo snores issuing from his mouth, a thin rivulet of drool on his unshaven chin.
“I didn’t do it, ma,” he said. “I din’t do it.” Then his eyes opened and he looked blearily around. “Where the hell are we, Jack?”
“In Santa Clarita. About 30 minutes from home.”
He sat back in his seat and stared out the window. I wondered what he was thinking about.
“You know, Jack, I lost my shit because I turned 40 yesterday. Not 36 like I said.”
“I know, Fooz. We were in the same grade, remember? And I’m 39.”
“I always can count on you to go all in on my illusions of grandeur,” he said.
“Don’t you mean delusions of grandeur?”
He shot me a look.
“They might be illusions, but don’t say they’re delusions, Jack. Don’t ever say that.”
He looked back out the window.
“I’ve been on this search since I was a kid. Trying to find a way. Trying to burn down the world with what’s in my heart, you know? And I never thought that flame could sputter, much less go out.”
“But man…Forty years old? I’m just so damned tired.”
He sat back in his seat and in a few moments he was snoring again. I tooled the Fit over the Newhall Pass. We were back in the San Fernando Valley.