“8 Rooms, 8 Stories”
Sara had received the invitation to the party: “8 Rooms, 8 Stories”. We proceeded with caution, there were hippies involved.
We, Sara and I, were best friends, hours every day friends.
The party was at a giant house south of the river. On the front lawn a girl wearing wooden ribboned wings writhed and cawed strongly into the night sky.
We entered the house. The first room has a band playing: two pianos, upright bass, xylophone, crashing cymbals. We give it ten minutes. Throughout his month, no matter what, I keep rushing from room to room, story to story.
Next room the door reads “WHAT HAPPENS WHEN POLICE LIE”. The walls are covered with ripped magazine pages, candles burn plastic crates and make the smoke, a naked lightbulb. A sweaty guy throws a superball over our heads at the wall behind us and it bounces around to land on the floor with many other superballs.
The kitchen is the next room. It’s a stinky mess. There’s a guy dressed as a granny. He makes people do things: flip eggs, throw medicine in the hole, make toast, plunger sink. He’s screaming orders at everyone and drinking milk from a fraying carton. He makes people hold tiny fish. Throughout the night he’ll come running around the house with a plate of soiled, fried eggs screaming “Princess, princess. Have you seen the princess?”
In the attic there’s a puppet show. A spinning roof vent is on the floor illuminated and actually spinning animation with photos of reptile motion. The guy tells a long story ending with a puppet slamming his head in to the dust saying “the boy, the raven and the beast. What the fuck is that?” over and over. A spinning collection of spikes makes a riff on a windchime. The man reveals a mechanical Charlie Brown, Woodstock and Snoopy marionettes with masks on dancing slowly: the boy, the raven and the beast. The plays the clarinet as the marionettes slowly twitch.
Sara and I go to the gazebo that’s on the roof. Hidden under alce the princess holds a light and strums a harpsichord. She extremely slowly tells a story of a girl who grew one giant wing during puberty. The puppeteer comes out and breathes through a clarinet as slow as the princess’ words.
Sara and I climb higher as there is an attic to this gazebo on the roof. We sit looking at the city and the sky as the princess repeats her story for another group. “If we were different people this would be a great time to kiss” Sara says.
“Yeah, if we were different people.” We laugh and go back inside.
I go by myself to the first floor, to the music room. I sit in between the two pianos listening. A girl and a guy are playing. The music was great, the communication. A beautiful girl with bangs and giant eyes sits across from me. She’s wearing real nylons with the stripe down the back. We smile at each other for what seems like forever as the two pianos play.
After ten minutes or so everybody in the house gathers in the foyer and sings the closing party song called “Mystery of the Night”.
As we leave the girl says goodbye and rubs my arm. There were only about thirty-five people there. It all ended by midnight. I thanked Sara as she dropped me off.
A girl broke up with me in March. Then I started having sex with Bridgette. It was a plan. It was a plan that worked out well. We had scheduled nights. We had nights where she would break into my house, climb up to my room and wake me up tilld awn. She was thirty and divorced.
It was this time that I finished library school It was this time that my room caved in.
I lived in a huge old attic. The frame was exposed like a skeleton. Mornings I would wake up and look around and imagine I lived inside a whale. The rafters were ribs, windows eyes, there was even an opening above my bed that worked as a blowhole. Me sleeping all night in the belly of a whale. Where would he take me? Where have I woken up? I would wonder and then one of my cats would come in the window trailing the smell of the outside morning up my bed and rub it from their face to mine.
The pounding started at seven in the morning. I woke to five men on my roof ripping off the shingles which, with the exception of some plywood, were essentially my walls. Giant holes of sunlight appeared. Dust and woodchips rained down on me and everything I owned. There had been no notice.
I threw on some pants and went outside to start yelling. The men stopped. They didn’t think that anyone would live in such a place. They paused, hammers poised as they laid slipshod tarps over my room.
“That pretty much covers everything”, the man in charge said.
“But where am I supposed to live?”
“Well, it’ll only be three days. We saw a couch downstairs, you can sleep on that.”
I called the landlord. I had dreams of hotel rooms and reduced rent. He was belligerent right away. Within five minutes he had called me a baby and hung up on me.
The landlord didn’t own the house, the big Baptist church across the street, probably the biggest church in town, did. I went to them the next day. I had it all worked out. This was my last week of graduate school, this is what I’ve been working my whole life for. I need a place to live, I’m being deprived, I have asthma and allergies.
I laid it all out to the head of financial services for the church. Tears welled up in my eyes. I knew I had him. In his big new Lincoln he drove me a block to my house. Still in the car he grabbed my hand and said “Let’s pray”. He asked the lord to help me with my studies, to help with my allergies and asthma, to help me not to judge others. He told me he’d talk with the landlord and definitely see about getting me some money back on my rent.
Three weeks later the roof was still not done.
Most of the time I slept on the couch but often Sara would let me sleep over. We met when mutual friends from Kansas came to visit. She came over every day after and with a regimen of Mexican valium, music, swimming and walks our dialogues started to match and we made each other happy. Too happy to try to jinx it with sex. We were both pretty isolated.
We sleep in underwear in the same bed. We go to sleep talking about how we have often masturbated to each other’s image. We wake up talking about how each of us woke up during the night and wanted to jump the other but decided against it. Nothing ever happened. Maybe we’re pussies or maybe it was for the best. To this day she’s one of my closest friends.
A day after my room was done the church guy comes knocking on my door. In between his knuckles he holds a crisp bill folded lengthwise. It juts out like a skinny, green finger. I grab it and check it out. Fifty dollars, less than a quearter of my monthly rent. “Is that all you could do?” I ask.
“It was supposed to be three days, it was three weeks. My asthma, my scholling . . .”
“Did you make it through school all right?”
“See, everything worked out fine.”
“No, I still had to sleep on the couch for three weeks. I had no privacy, nowhere to go.”
“Life, God, presents us with many challenges.” He went on. I could by his smile, the glint in his shiny Lincoln parked in front of my house, in the giant church buildings across the street that there was no budging this man. I slammed the door. At least I didn’t have to go through another bullshit prayer.
The next day from the dust of my room I awoke. I dressed my clothes of silt upon my dirty body. I walked a half-mile to the Tamale House. The air was cool for the time of the year. I was thankful but I wanted to swim,. I just couldn’t seem to bathe anymore. Apartment complex pools had become my salvation. So much relied upon them.
At the restaurant I ordered migas and sat at one of the three tables outside. My number was 69 and I tried to cheer myself up with this.
Still waiting, a man came up and asked if he could sit with me.
“sure.” I scanned him, I read AIDS. Bones, skin like a fragile shroud. Quarter size lesions up and down his arms. He was weakness and he had experience. Because one has experience doesn’t mean one learns anything.
He started without prompt. Often mumbling he told of his robberies, his wars, his diamond smuggling, his beautiful wife empty of love. I listened closely. I decided it didn’t matter if I believed these people or not.
“So, what’s the worst thing that’s happened in your life?” the man asked.
I thought of asthma years, Oklahoma isolation, me at the wheel as a van full of retards flipped over. “I’ve been living in a shithole. My landlord fucked up my room. He called me a baby, he called me a liar. He’s just an asshole.”
“Well, there’s a lot of other things but this just happened so it comes to mind.”
“Before the robbery, before the army, I worked on a construction crew. My foreman had it out for me. Everybody could take a break but me. I couldn’t smoke, I couldn’t eat. Two weeks in I tell my Dad about it. He says punch him. I say ‘Dad this is an older man, this is my boss.’
“’Punch him’ Dad says.
“Next day I went to the foreman’s car and poked around underneath until I saw a drip. Everybody’s leaving, I strike a match and keep walking. I hear an explosion. Next morning I found out he was still alive. But I never worked for him again’
“If you’re going to do something just do it. Don’t tell anybody about it. Meet somebody, like me, at a place, like this. Get two hundred dollar bills.” He picked up two salt packets. “You tear them up like this.” He tore them in half and salt spilled all over the table. “You keep the left halves and then let me have the right halves. When the job’s done I’ll get the other half. But the important thing is to not tell anyone.”
69 was called and I picked up my food. Lately I’d been having to make myself eat and now I had nowhere to look. Everything was disgusting the food, the table, the man, airplanes flying lowly over in the smog, the immediacy of violence. I ate silently and quick. I thanked the man and left.
Walking back home I said out loud “Fuck this shit, let’s take it to the sea.”
The next morning I’m hitchhiking to Corpus Christi, the ocean. I take the city bus to the two lane highway southeast. An old man that I always see playing guitar on the main drag is out there. He tells me he hitchhikes about ten miles twice a day. I give him dibs and walk further down the road. I get a mile before my first ride. Here they all are in all their glory:
#1 Nosepickers in a shit truck take my five miles.
#2 Woman parolee in a van. Said she felt sorry for me in the rain. I don’t mind the drizzle. She gave me a banana.
#3 Two Mexicans in a truck. Said I didn’t look like a killer.
#4 Illegal Mexican with little English. He thought I was in high school. He takes me 5-10 miles.
#5 Nasty-ass minivan family. Free Cheetos and ten miles. Warned me to look out.
#6 Christian horse trainer offered to take me all the way to Kennedy. He made me listen to the Christian recording artist Carmen. I had him drop me off in Nixon where a carnival was starting. Saw him the next day going the next way.
Nixon, Texas. I drank in Joe’s lounge waiting for the carnival. But I got bored after a few beers, wandering around and getting a small town haircut. I head beck to the two-lane to make it to KearnesCity before dark.
#7 After five minutes I thumb a truck ride towards Gillette. It’s two older black guys. The younger one introduces them “I’m Lou and this is my Dad.”
“I’m not his Dad” the older man says.
The whole time Lou is nonstop talking what seems to be bullshit. We stop at the Dad’s house I help them load a bunch of wood into the truck. Lou keeps giving me vague promises until it’s too late, too dark. Lou, just me and him in his car now, drives down dirt and mud roads almost out of gas. He keeps fiddling with the ignition to get the utmost coast.
Turns out I’m staying in Lou’s trailer in the middle of nowhere. He has a shitty boombox that blasts out distorted George Jones. He puts his arm around my shoulders and we sing along, swaying to the whole tape. “I bet you never thought you’d meet a nigger who was in to George Jones, did you?” Later I put on Technotronic.
After all the tapes are out he tells me about his three kids. Two are dead. One son shot in the neck in San Antonio. One daughter died at eighteen of cancer. “You wouldn’t understand” he keeps saying and he is right. He talks about us sticking together and him going down to Corpus with me. We were drinking.
I slept in his bed on a frizzed out pink bedspread grown coarse. He sleeps on the couch like he’s been doing since his wife left him three years ago. I wouldn’t understand.
I wake up early in the morning. “Happy Days”, the episode with the l’il Fonz, was on the TV. I slowly turned up the volume as Lou slept five feet away. I snuck out the door into the early day.
As overwhelming as he was I liked Lou a lot but I wanted to head to Corpus alone. But what if he’d come, what would have happened? Seaside photographs and more boozing. I pictured him crying or fighting, telling everyone his sad story. I would feel obligated and bitter. He would find someone he liked better than me, someone who cared more, someone to worship his pain with. It’s like my fears of getting in to a relationship. He was too much of a wild card. I just couldn’t commit to Lou.
I walked a mile from Lou’s to Route 80. I see Lou’s “Dad”. He points at me and says “hey” in a knowing way. I keep walking for four miles.
#8 A guy in a truck takes me down 181. I slept.
#9 I woke up walking. A nice old man takes me to Beesville.
#10 A girl in a truck makes me run a long way and then only drives me half a mile. She’s going to see some friends in prison but if I’m still on the road she’ll give me a ride.
#11 I see a Trans Am and I make it stop with my mind. A twenty year old (“but I got a kid and shit”? is driving his souped up T.A. to Grandma’s with his fourteen year old brother riding shotgun. “I’ll be fifteen the thirteenth” he says twice. They ask if I’m a narc and I tell them I’m on the special hitchhiking squad. We share two joints and bullshit drug talk.
We split off 181 but they driver says the Interstate is fine. Right after they pull away from dropping me off a state trooper pulls up next to me. I’m stoned as shit. He does a fruitless warrant search. He tells me it is “illegal to solicit rides from the roadway.”
I walk, two stoned wrong turn (one on farm road 666) and I’m back on 365.
#12 Old lady and grandkid gives me a ride to Orange Grove. She offers me money. “I’ll pray for you”, she says.
“Please don’t”, I respond.
#13 “Corpus Christi” sign I make pays off before I finish a bottle of juice. A minivan man. I ask him where the orange groves are. He says he doesn’t think there ever were any. He’s a Lutheran minister but no bullshit talk. He drops me of at the edge of Corpus.
I liked this town a lot. Bar hopping with NBA playoffs and Mexican food. There’s more bars per capita here than any other town I’ve been to.
I ask piercing gallery dudes what’s going on tonight, it’s Friday. They say a ‘crazy” band is playing at this bar. I go there and they are the safest, sanest band I’ve ever seen. But everyone in the crowd seems desperate for it, anything. I have punk rock fantasies of moving here with a guitar and an amp and totally changing this town.
A cute girl at the show rolled her eyes at the band and looked at me and smiled. She was featured in my fantasies but I wussed out. I left and walked around moping, looking for a party.
I walked by a porch twice where a bunch of young Mexican guys were drinking flagrantly and listening to Ice Cube. The second time I went over and asked them where I could get some drugs. Ramon is the guy who lives there. Everyone’s super friendly to me. Ramon wants to impress me and lists his recent gangsta accomplishments: he wasted three people last weekend, pays off cops, he has $40,000 in cash in the house from his crack sales. We sit around some more. “So, how about those drugs?” I ask.
All he can get for me right then is pot. Everybody but me and Daniel pile into Ramon’s Camaro. Daniel is nineteen and drunk for this first time in his life. “Look out, he’s a faggot” they yelled as they drove off. I wasn’t sure who they were talking about.
Everything’s spinning for Daniel. I give him water and, like a puke coach, I try to get him to throw up. We walk around the block and halfway through we both stop to pee in an empty lot. “Man, I got a hard on, you?” Daniel says.
“No, I’m good.”
He twice reaches for my dick. I redirect him. “I don’t give a fuck, but be careful who you pull that shit on. A lot of guys will fuck you up for that shit.”
We get back to the house and sit on the stoop waiting. We hear the car before we see it. Ramon is revving like crazy and going way too fast. He loses control and slams the driver’s side of his car into a tree.
The car still runs but there is crazy body damage. The car is quickly stowed in a shed behind the house. Ramon is freaking out and goes into the house. I follow him and sit on the couch. While I’m watching the Playboy Channel for the only time in my life all the other guys sneak away so they don’t have to deal with Ramon all stressed. It’s just me and I try and console him by getting him to drink, one eye on the TV. I keep asking what happened to the pot. “You are my true friend because you are the only one who staid,” he says to me.
I have another beer and leave with a flurry of fancy handshakes. I tell him to take it easy on Daniel.
I go back to the bar and talk shit on the band. I walk and crash into my pre-chosen weed patch and sleep like a king.
I woke up in a dewey field looking at the seashore sky. The wind gently shook the grass that hid me. The wind cooled me off and pushes new clouds in my grass bordered vision. I felt better than I had felt in months. I heard soft voices and rustling. I waited for the people to leave falling in and out of sleep.
The people left and I get up well rested. I head for the city bus stop a mile away. I stop in a junk store and get first editions of Cassidy’s Girl and Beebo Brinker for twenty-five cents each. I rode the bus to the end of the line. I make a sign in a restaurant: “TO THE BEACH”.
On the highway there was no luck, just a paranoia payoff as a cop pulled up. He says to stay off the highway, if he sees me there again he’ll arrest me. I walk the access road for a mile and a half with no second looks.
#14 Finally, a dad and his shirtless sons in a fishing truck with dogs stop. I climb in the truck-bed with the two kids, two dogs and plenty of fishing poles. We ride over a crazy, tall thin bridge (it seems like we’re a mile up but everything is a mile up to me) to the island. They drop me off at the first souvenir store. I go inside and get one of the girls to pull me a cone of frozen yogurt.
#15 I get a ride with a high school couple in a pickup. They’re already smoking a joint when I get in. I always assumed I looked like a narc but with all these people handing me drugs I guess I don’t. Or maybe they’re just stupid.
I smoke and talk with them. It’s her graduation day, she’s all excited and confident. She’s going to be a travel agent. They invite me to a party that night. I thank them but say that I’ll probably be gone by then. They drop me off at the beach.
I realize if I want to go swimming I have to ditch my stuff on the beach. I walk down the line of cars blasting Top 40 looking for someone I can get in with. I settle on a Baptist youth group from Weatherford, Oklahoma. I figure Baptists, as a whole, owe me and if they ask I can claim Okie brotherhood. I don’t know anything to say about Weatherford but I think of saying “You must be a pretty cool church to let these 16 year olds out in these cheesecake bikinis”.
I go into the water. This is the epic override of the journey. When people asked I would say “I’m hitchhiking to the ocean”. It was a cleansing, a ritual; it was what I needed.
I had pictured radiant blue and yellow. I found tan and green and gray. The water stank and was full of slimy kelp. Nobody much swam. Everyone was here for the sun or an excuse to wear a swimsuit in public. After five minutes in the water I was ready to get out but made myself swim more. Out further waves clobbered me and my head felt full of nasty-ass shit. I felt sorry for the Oklahomans, I felt sorry for me. We were both getting away at least.
I swam past the waves into the flats, I looked around to the gulf beyond. I could not be amazed. I pictured my head bobbing above the water surrounded by kelp as if they were tentacles once attached to me, released to die. I imagined my body covered in sores.
A white, ball shaped object floated next to me. I couldn’t tell what it was. T swam away. I headed back to shore and behind each wave, as I sank to lull, the ball was right there beside me. I got scared and swam harder. It kept meeting me. I n fury and fear I punched it. On my knuckles it felt like something hard wrapped in skin, like a disembodied skull with a thick layer of white, watery flesh. I swam fast never looking back and never seeing it again.
#16 On the beach I hitch a ride in a yahoo car back to town. Ozzy on the radio. Look for seafood lunch but nothing looks good.
Walk across another crazy bridge, arched and super (two miles?) high giving me a view of the aquarium and a mothballed battleship.
#17 On land I thumb a ride to Gregory.
Two mile walk till chrome-crazy pick-up throws me in the back. I ride, read Miami Blues till Taft. Fuck around with driver’s friends in other truck, revving abck and forth. Other truck guy yells to kick driver’s ass and steal his truck.
#19 I get out and get ride with nice guy to Stinton. Rain coming, I’ll hitch until it starts. On road out three cars pass by. In the creek below snakes swim from shore to shore and a giant turtle sits there. I can’t tell if it’s alive. I throw rocks near it but it never moves.
#20 A truck stops for me, my first semi. A friendly man in his fifties, hawling to New Orleans takes me to Victoria as the storm comes in.
I make it to a Mexican restaurant and eat. It’s still raining but I run to a Mexican bar. I’m soaked and it’s freezing. My dripping/shivering is drawing attention. After two beers the rain stops. A friendly cop tells me where the Salvation Army is.
I go further into town ona path of mud. I make it to the Chit-Chat Lounge. The door says must be twenty-five to enter, I hold my breath and walk into the place. Black wood, redlight. Obscure 80s soul bouncing against itself. I join some black people in their thirties dressed in suits and dresses. I really should have staid at this bar. They had gizzards and gravy, they offered me some. I asked if they had livers, but no. Two drinks and, stupid, out.
Walk a mile into town. At a busy intersection I see a guy jumping around and laughing. He’s young and black and muscular. When he gets to me I smile and nod. He stops and turns around.
“My name’s Pepper.”
“Pepper, everybody knows me around here. Hey man, you want to go to a party?”
“What kind of party?”
“Oh, everyone will be there. Whites, blacks, Mexicans. Girls, man, lots of girls.”
“Is it a graduation party?”
“How’s you guess?”
“It’s the season.”
And we’re going. He’s talking, waving at cars. We stop in places and talk to people. “What’s up, going to the party?” It seems like everybody does know him around here.
We go into a residential area. He shows me the party house as we pass to walk to his place five houses down. He shows me in and goes to get some pot, I gave him five bucks, and says he’ll meet me at the party.
I go there and immediately realize that I’ve been misled. The party is nothing but Mexicans in their twenties. They all eye me weird as I timidly approach, thinking that at this point turning around and walking away would be more offensive. A guy (Birthday Boy) comes up to me and shakes my hand all kinds of drunken ways. Girls come up to me and tell me that I should leave. Birthday Boy, still holding my hand, reluctantly says, yeah, I should probably go.
I head back to Pepper’s. On our earlier walk I gathered that the government paid Pepper to live and be crazy. I search the house for something of interest. I find an idiotic journal, too dumb to be juicy, fetishized pictures of cartoon blonde girls tacked all over the wood paneling, a bathtub full of old clothes and very dark brown water, 852 cockroaches, encouraging notes from his social worker: “Pepper you’re doing great”, “Pepper keep being so sweet”. There was nothing interesting enough to think about stealing.
I can’t take the place anymore and head back into town. As I pass the party has spilled onto the front lawn. Passing by I ask Birthday Boy if he’d seen Pepper.
“Pepper, what are you hanging out with that guy for?”
“He said he was going to take me to this great party where everyone was welcome.”
One of the girls from before comes up to me. “I thought we told you to leave. This is a family party and this is a mean family so you need to get out of here.”
She goes back to the house. I’m about to leave but Birthday Boy says “you can stay for a few beers if you want. It’s my birthday and it’s my party.” He tells me about all the liquor he’s drank-a whole bottle of Crown Royal and some other stuff. Two friends of his come up and greet him.
“See you later man, Happy Birthday.” He waves.
I stop to pee against the wall in the next alley over. I finish and turn around to se Birthday Boy and his two friends walking fast to me. Sensing fishy I throw out “Hey” right before Birthday Boy reaches me to punch me in the jaw. I feel at least one more punch before I slam into the concrete and pass out. Maybe I’ve got a glass haw. I don’t think they beat me up after I was out.
I woke up covered in blood from the fall, strapped to a ripped backpack, and a little piece of shit in my pants. I didn’t know who or where I was. I ran to a nearby park to hide from unknown danger and figure it all out. It took me fifteen minutes to remember my name.
I make it to the Salvation Army. I ring the bell but the guy tells me it’s closed but I can stay in his van if I want. I’m bloody and shit pants, but I place sleep over personal safety at this point. Nothing happens except for the guy in the back keeps farting.
I wake up and leave, go to Quick Trip and use their bathroom. I change underwear and clean up in a convenience store bathroom kind of way. I make it to the new hitchin’ road and walk with the mist out of town.
#21 A cool guy picks me up after an hour. He tells me about hitchhiking in the sixties around here: a car steps. He looks in “Oh, hey James” the passenger in the car says. Once he was in he noticed a shotgun on the passenger’s lap. He asks about it. “Oh yeah, you’re lucky we recognized you because we were going to shoot off the next guy’s legs and just leave him there.” Everyone in the car laughed “But we saw it was you, so we decided to give you a ride instead.”
He drops me off in Cuero.
#22 Waited an hour and a half reading on a stump until a truck picks me up. Turns out there’s a prison right by where I was. He drops me off in Gonzales.
#23 Got a ride in a back of a truck with man and his son. At a gas station stop he asks me why I’m all fucked up. I tell him. When he comes back he buys me Neosporin and a coke. He lives in south Austin but drops me off at me doorstep on the other side of town. “God bless you” I tell him and realize that I’m brain damaged. I had no idea why I said that. I try and think about it but the efforts rush to fuzzy. Wors and ideas, maybe related bounce about in static. My cats come up, Sara comes over.
I spend the night at Sara’s. I want to make a move, but I’m too sore and raw. The move would be an attempt at communication. My heart could manage but my body and mind couldn’t handle it.
This fuzziness stayed for days. I couldn’t talk to anyone but slowly my mind worked back to where I could talk to myself. I look back on all these days and everything was clear again. I dreamed about taking the guitar to Corpus starting a band, winning the girl, getting Ramon to take me to Victoria and wasting Birthday Boy . . .
Bridget stopped calling and got back together with an ex-boyfriend, a huge biker dude. Sara got a rad boyfriend and I was in a bad mood for the next month and a half.