Hugh Blanton is the author of A Home to Crouch In. He has appeared in The American Journal of Poetry, The Scarlet Leaf Review, As It Ought To Be, and other places. He can be reached on Twitter @HughBlanton5.
August around here is hotter than an equatorial hellhole. The top of my head is being torched, the wind is burning my bare arms. The sun is reflecting off of white building walls and blinding me because my sunglasses are gone. There’s a metal bus stop sign post rising out of the concrete sidewalk, but no bench. The Metropolitan Transit System is taking bus stop benches out because of guys like me lounging on them. The bus pulling out blasts me with heat from it’s rear engine vents. Goddamn, I should just walk on the shady side of the street, but neither side has shade. That tells me it must be about noon. I recently lost my Timex. No, I lost my Timex a long time ago. It’s my sunglasses that I recently lost. I’m going to the other side of the street anyway. That’s the side that Lisa lives on. But about 20 blocks away. I need someplace to go or I’m gonna get cooked alive out here. I hope she’s still there. I think I left my Timex in her bathroom. If I had seventy-five cents I’d have taken the bus. But if I’d taken this one, I’d be going the wrong way. My brain’s all hashgobble right now. I scraped the dregs out of my pookie this morning and smoked it. It’s better than a fresh rock. It’s more concentrated. The buzz lasts longer.
Rando turned me on to the stuff when we were in high school. Rando was a fucking genius. After we started smoking it we got smarter, way smarter. Our grades went down, but that’s the public education system for you. El Cajon Valley High School would bring in these DARE counselors with an arsenal of scare tactics to keep all us kids off drugs. What a bunch of lying assholes! They didn’t give the whole story—like how meth is really good for you and your mind. They just basically said we’d all be tearing our hair out, running and screaming down the street, murdering grandmas, jumping out of ten-story windows. DARE: Dumb Ass Retarded Eejits! That’s what me and Rando called ’em. We sat in the back of the assembly and every time one of them spouted off another one of their lies, Rando would cough bllsht cough.
Is my court date today? I lost the ticket, now I can’t remember. No, I remember now. It’s on this day next month. The guys in the canyon told me that cops don’t respond to shoplifting calls. But the fucking clerk in the 7/11 called them on me for a bottle of Gatorade and when they came out and found me they a wrote me a ticket. The clerk described me to the police as 30 to 35 years old. I’m 19! He also told them I had a missing tooth, but he never would have noticed if I didn’t have to scream at him to leave me the fuck alone. I’ve only lost two teeth, one in the back and one canine. I know how to take care of myself. Only doofuses drink sodas all day. I stick with Gatorade. Nobody notices the missing tooth unless I open my mouth too much. Hal always tells me how young and handsome I look.
There was something off about Hal from the start. I met him in a bathroom at a burger joint where I was washing up in the sink. He said I could stay at his place, but I told him I didn’t have any money. He said it was rent free. Just until I could get back on my feet. He assumed I was off my feet because I was scrubbing my armpits in a public bathroom. He said I could use his shower. I woke up from my nap when he put his hand in my crotch. What an ugly old piece of shit he is! He’s got a face of rubbery folds with bushy white eyebrows that look like they could swallow him alive like a Venus flytrap. After I jumped out of the bed screaming at him, he offered up a rock by way of apology. Said he must have been sleepwalking. We tweeked for three days until he did it again, then I bailed. He’s got a nice condo. Housekeeper comes in once a week. Air conditioning. I should have taken more than just his crack pipe, but I was in too much of a hurry to get the fuck out of there.
I need to get a notebook and write my memoirs. Or is it called an autobiography? Whatever it is, I lead the most interesting life of anybody. Except for Rando. I wish he was still here. I’ll dedicate it to him. To Rando. Better living through chemistry. I’ll go on Rush Limbaugh and cause a sensation with my facts and figures. Somebody will probably make a film out of it. I’ll buy a mansion in La Jolla with all my royalties. People will walk up to me and ask me for my autograph. I’m going to learn how to play guitar, too. I’ll be more famous than Slash or Angus Young. Girls will be all over me. Dumbasses that work 9 to 5 jobs will envy me. They’ll wish they were me. Fuck, I wish I was me. I gotta piss.
I twist and pull the knob, but it’s locked and it wants twenty-five cents. Some old woman with a Northern Mexico accent and a blue apron tells me the restroom is for customers only, so I tell her I’m a customer. It’s true, I’ve used this laundrymat before. Back when I had more clothes. She tells me again that it’s for customers only, but she doesn’t call me sir this time. A big hulking guy walks over and asks if there’s a problem. “She’s the problem!” I say, and hustle out. Back behind the building in the alley, I piss all over their wall. The Incredible Bulk comes out and says that he’s calling the cops. I’m pretty good at dodging the cops. I’m skinny and fast. It’ll make me take longer to get to Lisa’s now, but no pig is going to be writing me up for public urination. Rando always said that police evasion is my superpower. I’m glad he never saw me go down for the Gatorade.
Hashgobble! What a funny word. Me and Rando made it up one time when we were coming down. After that, any time there was a quiet lull in conversation, one of us would say “Hashgobble!” and we’d both bust out laughing. I’m definitely putting hashgobble in my memoir. Publishers will be falling all over themselves to pay me top dollar for it. They’ll be flying me all over the country for TV interviews. When the makeup artists try to get me ready for the camera I’ll wave ’em off, telling ’em I keep it real.
Oh, shit. There’s no way I can remember which one of these is Lisa’s. A bunch of two story beige rectangles with rusty iron staircases. At least I remember she was on the bottom floor. Now, which building? She was using sheets for curtains. But there’s about five or six apartments with sheets in the windows. I’ll have to try my luck. Damn, I should have brought something. Some flowers, some candy, anything. Too late now. I gotta get inside. She was always nice to me, she won’t care if I didn’t bring anything. All these people saying “CAN I HELP YOU??” and “I DON’T KNOW ANY LISA!” and “NOBODY HERE BY THAT NAME!” standing there glaring at me like they wanna kick my ass or something. Once my book is made into a documentary they’ll recognize me and they’ll know they fucked up. I won’t sign any autographs for them.
“What the fuck are you doing, Billy? You can’t be here!”
“Lisa! Let me in!”
“Go away, Billy! Mark’s going to be home soon. Go!”
“I just wanna say hello. Let me in. I just wanna talk to you. That’s all.”
“I thought you were dead. I haven’t seen you in a year.”
The door doesn’t open all the way, but I try to stick my head inside the crack. A metallic presence on my lips—it’s a door chain. The cool air from the swamp cooler feels good.
“Swear to god, I’ll call the cops, Billy!”
“I’m dying out here, Lisa. Literally! Can’t I just get a glass of water or something?”
I hear a tap running then a glass comes at my face. I reach, drink, then toss the glass over my shoulder. “Who are you? Where’s Lisa?” The door squeezes my face out and says it’s calling the cops right fucking now. Somebody in the next door has a phone to their ear describing an out of control person acting erratic on their property. Two other menacing-looking people are walking toward me. I gotta get outta here.
It’s what I do, anyway. Walk around. Especially since Rando’s gone. Try to look like I’m on my way to something important like a normal person. Normal people work 9-to-5 jobs but they wish they could be like me, out here free, surviving by my wits. That’s why my memoir is going to be a best seller. People are too stupid to figure out life. That’s why they cling to their stupid jobs and bosses telling them what to do. My book is going to pull the tent off their shitty little circus. Rando always gave me good ideas for what to put in my book. I told him I would give him some of the royalties. Damn! If only he hadn’t borrowed that car.
My shadow’s getting longer, following me wherever I go, I better figure out where I want to go. Can’t go to mom’s no more. So says the restraining order. She shot at me as I crawled in through the bathroom window, but she missed. The neighbors called the cops. The cops told her to get a restraining order against me since the locked doors didn’t seem to be doing the trick. Which she did.
It’s exhilarating to run when zooming, but it makes me sick, too. If it wasn’t for the sickness part, I’d feel like I’m in one of those flying dreams. I haven’t had a flying dream in a long time. Just dreams about people sneaking up on me and lighting me on fire. And these goddamn piles of dog turds in the dirt make me keep switching directions. Ruins my momentum. I’m flying in the direction of Hal’s even though I know I don’t want to go to Hal’s. But I don’t have a choice anymore. My forehead is sunburned. I’m eating the flecks of skin off my chapped lips.
Hal’s a failed fucking actor, but he acts like he’s got a shelf full of Oscars. He plays a DVD of the car commercial he appeared in five years ago over and over. A thirty second commercial of which only three show him. That was his one and only gig. He’s turning his head to admire the car going down the street—big stupid grin across his face. That’s it. He sits around in a silk bathrobe watching the fucking thing all day long. His trust fund must be limitless. He says he might have some connections that can get me a big advance and get my book published.
It’s getting dark and that’s when the cops come out. They figure all the decent people are at home cooking dinner and watching television with their families. Anybody outside after dark is some kind of criminal. That’s when they pulled Rando over. In the middle of the night. Rando borrowed a car, he shouldn’t have borrowed it. They probably wouldn’t have even searched it if he had a driver’s license. Ricky only lent him the car if Rando would make a delivery for him. That’s how it all went down. Rando just wanted to go to San Diego to party but he didn’t want to ride the bus. Ricky said he could borrow the car if he would deliver a bag of rocks to the bouncer. Rando never made it—the cops pulled him over three blocks away, took the rocks and threw him in jail.
I’m crashing fast, I gotta get somewhere. Coming down alone is when it’s bad, real bad. That’s why it’s best to zoom with somebody. If you come down alone, you just might end up a suicide. Especially right now. There’s that half B.O. and half cat piss smell coming from my armpits. My sweat is yellow and my piss is orange. Nothing’s going right today, I can’t believe Lisa wouldn’t let me in. Has it really been a year? No, she’s got her dates all screwed up. Hal’s condo is right up here somewhere. My stomach’s so fucked up my burps taste like farts. As much as I hate Hal, I guess he’s pretty smart. He kept me from calling the cops on Ricky after Ricky shot Rando. It wasn’t Rando’s fault. The fucking cops took the rocks! Ricky wanted the rocks back and gave Rando a week to come up with them. How was Rando supposed to come up with a whole bag of rocks? The cops probably didn’t even investigate it, thinking he was just another dead crackhead. They just took Rando’s body to the morgue and then dumped him in a city grave.
This is it right here. That goddamn “Hooray For Hollywood!” door mat. I ring the bell and knock. Venus Flytrap eyebrows answers in two seconds, says he knew it was me. I walk in right past him without a word and sit at the kitchen table. “I’m a little hungry,” I say.
“Domino’s is on the way. Thirty minutes or less, they always say.” He rhymes “way” and “say” in a show tune voice. “And do you know what’s for dessert?” he asks, pulling an amber crack pipe from the pocket of his silk bathrobe. “Yes, you do. Of course you do.”