He lived by the Los Angeles airport though didn’t mind those angels.
Echoic roars and whispering resounded in his ears every morning before he rolled out of bed. He felt like he had swallowed ashes in his sleep, so he brushed his teeth in front of a bathroom mirror, went to his bedroom, got dressed, left his house, then went to the neighborhood McDonald’s.
He recalled his former job: squarish headphones itched his ears at work as he—high up in the air traffic control tower—sipped warm coffee before a computer console with a screen with moving dots inside a virtual abscissa. He wondered when the day would end and when he could go home and continue reading about the Red Baron. He, too, wanted to fly; and, he often imagined himself donning a fluttering red scarf and a leather hat with ear-flaps, scrawling across the sky like some mad banshee replete with a turret gun in his clutches.
His car was busted. He rode the bus. He was hungry.
He had always been fascinated by World War I and had learned the impetus for the war, aside from money, was that Germany became a country too late in the game—1871—and for that reason, coupled with the fact that Germans were solely defined by language for so long, when the new national identity kicked in, the Prussian empire as a collective subject felt it was next in line, after Britain and France, in carving out their ambitions for empire on the battlefield that was Europa. Europa, of course, was a rape victim, yet that did not register in his mind because he had given up on reading about Greek myths. He himself felt raped every time he got his paycheck. The trade-off for how many hours he once put in (calling out the alpha-phonetic names of planes) did not match up with what he was getting as a net sum as far as finances. That is why he often opted to thwart being responsible and chose to slack off, got to work late, so as to be in a secret state of protest against American Airlines and do what he loved to do, which was read.
Did he lose his job because three planes crashed while he was reading? Perhaps.
Reading became easier after he decided to take medication for his schizophrenia. It made the voices stop, but he drank on top of taking his medication. He did not have to drink alcohol anymore to drown them out, but the demons came and he had to accommodate them. He could concentrate on the text he was reading, before him somehow, however, and make concrete inferences about what was being conveyed. His comprehension increased, he thought; maybe it was the medications; albeit, he quite simply did not understand the change in times. He looked through his dust-lined window. Years had passed since he had been diagnosed (in the era of polyester). He felt like he was still trapped back in the 70’s: at the time of his initial diagnosis, when he still talked to angels and they would tell him things: like Gods’ in pain.
He had no internet, yet he had a library card. His clothes were mostly matted for he washed them only once a month and he looked slovenly and sticky whenever a cautious on-looker would behold him: much like now. He had a square face and bushy eyebrows like Brezhnev. He had a weather-beaten tan—a cross between a construction worker working in the sun and a movie star who faked it by going to a sun-tan booth. His face was an amalgamation of so many faces that it looked as if he was an inbred: his blue-green eyes were spaced close together; his nose hawkish, as if he were the member of some extraterrestrial Reptilian race. To get a better sense of what he looked like one would have to locate the face of an extra on a movie set; the one extra that kept showing up in films, who had occasional speaking roles, though whose face you could not place exactly, though that seemed so familiar, if you saw him, in public, at some crosswalk on Hollywood Blvd, and you would say to yourself, “Oh, shit! That’s him! That one guy! Just walking around!”
For our purposes here, it does not matter how he looked. What truly mattered was how he smelled: he donned a veneer of sweat on his body; if one did not suspect they were at some Southern barbecue when standing next to him, his scent could be mistaken for an odorous farrago of pork and sulfur. Nevertheless, his body exuded certain primal and primordial pheromones that for whatever reason—because nature is mysterious—attracted women who were smack dab right above the poverty line.
Just like him.
And that is how Rob Meadows met Amanda Holt.
Amanda was subjected to Rob’s smell. She, a supplemental security income (SSI) recipient and frequenter of the same McDonald’s where he got his morning Egg McMuffin—first noticed him, on the stoop, by the children’s tub of multi-colored plastic orbs, smoking a cigarette. “Can’t smoke here,” she said. “Are you sick or something? Don’t you know that children play here?”
Rob quietly turned to her, with a scowl, sipped his coffee, which he held as if he were going to pound it, gripping it tightly, then smirked. “Fine I’ll move, but I don’t give a fuck. I’ve been going to the same god damn job for twenty years and you know what they told me the other day? Do you want to know what they told me?”
“What?” said Amanda, who did not know what to say, though stood there, listening to him, in a short white frilly skirt, and a pink top, with a lavender dragon, of the British variety, Imperial-style, stamped on her chest. She wore mint-leather flats.
“You’re a crazy son-of-a-bitch—that’s what,” said Rob. “They said it slowly. I spilled my coffee on the console and then told them all to stick it where the sun don’t shine.”
“A sick son-of-a-bitch, aren’t you now? I bet you seduce all the ladies with that smell of yours. Do you shower? You smell.”
“What smell?,” he replied. “I smell like garbage.”
“You had a job at least. They didn’t give you any severance?”
“Yeah, I do though I don’t think that’s the problem. The problem is what am I going to do with it? You party? Are you married?”
“Ha. You’re a fucking assshole, that’s what. Let me get a drag of your cigarette. Name?”
“Name? Name’s Rob.”
Amanda walked up to him. Sparks. Rob did not notice it at first, though Amanda, whose name he then learned, was the kind of woman that did not care what other women thought, for as they stood there and other women passed by, staring at them, exchanging drags of a cigarette with someone that looked like a homeless person—in penny loafer shoes, polyester pants, plaid short-sleeve button up shirt, —she did not flinch, nor make eye contact with them. She smiled. The few pock marks on her cheeks contrasted the trace of wiped-off lipstick. She was ruddy-faced, though sultry. Her breasts were perky; she was tall and fleshy and her hips seemed to sway in whichever way they damned well pleased.
“You smoke Camels. My brother smokes Camels.”
“Turkish blend. Once you got that blend in you, you’re then transformed.”
“Transformed into what?”
“Transmogrified, yeah. It’s good tobacco.”
“Say are you some kind of queer? What kind of word is that?”
Rob looked at her up and down. “Are you some kind of dyke? Transmogrified?”
“I like you,” Amanda said. “I get it. I get it. So you’re smart and rude. What else can you do?”
“I could fuck your brains out,” Rob said. “I have built in ammunition.”
“You have a mouth on you.”
“Then why you asking?”
“Let’s just say I care. I want things to be clear. I’m cool, but I care.”
“You never know what you’re going to get in L.A, you know,” said Amanda. “Trannies running meth on Highland and Santa Monica by that pet hotel. People are genuinely fallen, I think. But some have the HIV. I used to live in Beverly Hills—that’s where I came from, originally. I was rich once, you know. I mean my man was. I made a return just now. I met a new man. A good man who knows how to treat a lady and how to fuck. Though then came the violence..”
“Son-of-a-bitch. Batterer. Was it like that? Are you still on the track?”
“Now, what kind of thing is that to say, baby? I’m no hooker. I’m a woman.”
Rob glared at a station wagon pulling into the parking lot, which reminded him of his afternoons getting blown back in high school, so he looked at Amanda with a solemn glee; indeed, he knew right then he was going to fuck her. She had given him a stare of longing and desperation and had taken pity on him in some way; and he took pity on her, too, because he knew she was a hooker. Knowing that he himself was a piece of shit, cars in the drive-through pulled up to the window and fascinated drivers were staring at them, facing one another, talking. It would have made sense for them to think they already were a couple, even a married one at that.
He could, of course, not tell her of his plan: he had some guns. He was thinking about walking into work one day, unloading a duffel-bag, on his desk, before the computer console, before the headphones, and the mouse-pad, pulling back the chair, sitting down, then blowing his brains out. Yet that was a bad plan. His initial plan was to shoot everybody else in the room, then put the shotgun in his mouth and blow his brains out using his bare big toe. He did not tell Amanda about the plan. Not today, he thought as he looked at her. She was so much more beautiful than he felt. He measured up his insides with her outsides, which was perhaps, the greatest mistake an American could ever make. True, he was depressed; he had pissed himself the previous night, sitting watching Leno.
He downed a couple cans of 211 Malt Liquor and was heading to the cabinet for scotch, or at least what was left of it, and simply went. He cried out, “Fuck, I pissed myself!” and in the memory within a memory recalled childhood (when he did the same thing without the booze,) and just went like that, after he asked some girl to play with him, or rather dance with him, during music hour. The girl said yes, though there was no music. The girl was a ballerina, though she did not know how to dance. So nervous was he when he held her hands, he urinated on himself; a curvilinear moisture stain formed on his pants and there were droplets on the carpet. The teacher walked over to him and told him to go clean up. He did as he was told, though ended up giving a picture of a boy and girl dancing to the girl, after he was done, to which she replied: “That’s good. I like you, though please don’t go pee on the floor anymore, because Mrs. Haven said that’s what babies do. And I don’t want to be with a boy that’s a baby.” He looked at Amanda, and for whatever reason, saw not the same version of the girl he knew from childhood, though some version of his first wife.
His first wife—a buxom, angry, highly sexed woman—who always told him he should get up and quit his air-traffic controller job, and get to work on her—-had become a do-gooder, and moved back to North Carolina to live with her sisters, though, upon leaving, had him mowing the lawn before the realtors came over to appraise the property, and she told him to go upstairs with her and do his manly chore one more time. He took her from behind, finished, then was given divorce papers. “That’s it?” he said. “That’s it. Will you sign?” “Yeah, I’ll sign. Love you, too,” he mumbled. He watched her leave and watched her absence, standing there, in that second-story room doorway for a while. He glanced at the papers on the desk, and thought it was his style. There was no arguing with his style. He had it, and some people didn’t have it; they walked through life like an unsuspecting herd, looking for people to follow, listening to opinions not their own, so that they could steal them. He hated such people. L.A. was full of them. Banshees without names. That’s why he did not go to bars anymore, at least not the ones with those kids in them. He hated Generation X and Generation Y as much as he hated bigots and religious fundamentalists: each always babbling about their lives as if their lives were preordained and mystically-charged. For all he cared, he would opt to make a toast to the citizens of Los Angeles. It would start with vulgarities about their sense of entitlement to fame and their vanity and end in tenderness. It would be poignant to a fault. It would be short-lived and it would be certain.
He thought all these things, and before he knew it, he and Amanda were walking down the street, then waiting for a bus, talking about a million things—so many things he could barely keep up. He lit up a cigarette, nodded at a joke, smirked, looked at her: she had adopted the position of his accomplice. How novel, he thought. Perhaps, she, like he, would see in that terrible wasteful landscape from Encino to Long Beach, a beautiful stark and wonderful void oscillating in center-less space, as if it had been injected with plutonium. They sat at a bus-stop. Cars zipped by. He wanted to do her senseless as he watched her cross her legs. He thought about his guns. He could stick a gun up in her. He could get really crazy and just put a pistol barrel up there, kiss her on the mouth. He wouldn’t pull the trigger. He would just let its coldness kick it there. And before long he would take her onto the bed and undress her. He would remove her bra and remove her panties. He would diddle her. He would be there for her. And all the while, the planes and shanty homes that lined the area of the Los Angeles airport could all burn away. He could see the planes crashing, engulfed in flames, just riding right into the terminal. A series of planes. One right after another. Ones whose noses touched earth and asphalt as they skidded along the runway, jaggedly skidded along the concrete, whipping up sparks and fire and billowing smoke out of the chambers of the plane. And following that explosion there would be another one—another plane: a plane with Republicans on it, or something like it; a group, perhaps the Masons. He hated the Masons. He knew a mason once, a chilling figure, who once asked him to go to a Lodge and did all kinds of strange handshakes—putting his thumb above the grip, doing some kind of quarter-back shuffle, doing a jig in place with his fingers. He didn’t know why someone would be inspired to become a mason. Perhaps, it was to belong to something. Yet as far as rituals were concerned, his rituals were intact: he ate greasy food and did not wipe his lips during the meal, though only at the end; he drank vodka like it was a divine command, was not proud of it, though he always kept a sports bottle with him during work, from which he would sip with a straw, as though he had filled up his cup with soda from 7-11. He took a shower once a month, the sign of a marked man. He drank espresso to defecate in the morning and still loved McDonald’s coffee. He smoked his Camel non-filters, with the label facing outward, like a person from L.A should.
Still though, he did not know what to do next, except examine Amanda in his room, after they boarded the bus and returned to his apartment, where he executed the most beautiful ritual of all: the ritual of fucking a woman who wanted it so bad it was as if a demon had enveloped her, and he could see it, as she, giddy, shook a bit, sliding around in that room, all naked, on all fours, bent over, pointing her lotus at him, which seemed to blink at him in steady intervals, pulsating, waiting for him to have her. He mounted her, gripped her hair like a bridle, gripped her hips, dug his fingers into her. He pushed himself into her, had his way with her; and, she was shaking, crying out “fuck me.” And he did as he was told because that’s all he knew: to do what he was told. And if he had any self-respect left, he would do her and without regret: walk into work one day, like he had in his daydreams and spray bullets at his oppressors, his employers. Yet the failure to act on his white man’s rage was taken out on Amanda’s body. She was moaning, gripping bed sheets. She was hovering there in space, rocking back and forth as he pummeled her and he did one great big thrust into her, then pulled out. “Oh, put it back. Put it back in,” she said. He smirked and did not know what else to do but continue what he was put on earth to do, which was to love and hate as much as possible and drive the insane sane and the sane insane, remove dirt from his fingernails every time he cursed the craggy bread he had forgotten to eat in the mornings, as he, instead, opted to eat those sorry-ass Egg McMuffins.
He could hear the planes as he fucked; he could hear their engines whirling, could know he stepped up to the plate by being a lover that afternoon, by not having to deal with thoughts of God’s Final Judgment, which was always perpetually deconstructed or suspended, though suspended for a reason. He felt no shame in what he was doing. He cared for Amanda more than she knew; and, as he pulled on her hair some more, drove it home, he realized where he had been living thus far in life: there were rats crawling above his head, in the floorboards, up in the ceiling; there were vodka bottles strewn out on the carpet like the aftermath of many completed games of “spin the bottle” with wraiths and wretched ghosts. The T.V. set was broken. It seemed like it was only two weeks prior, that he was watching a talk-show host babbling about the state of the world, making light of it, telling the populace it was okay to laugh. Perhaps, it was okay to laugh. He kept fucking Amanda. And he started laughing. He kept doing it until he could not take it anymore. Perhaps, he should run away with her. Perhaps, he should call his first wife, see his child in North Carolina. Perhaps, he could forgive his first wife for fucking the gardener. Perhaps, he could forgive America. “I’m going to come,” cried Amanda. Rob rammed in her—hard. He stared at the wall and then noticed a crack had formed in a zigzag from the top of the ceiling to the head of the bed. He kept thrusting himself inside Amanda as she came. A gel poured out of the crack in the wall, with the viscosity of a jelly fish. A great light entered the room. He was enshrouded in its brightness. He squinted and lifted his arm to shelter his eyes. He was balding. He was getting old. He felt good about it. That night, he lay with Amanda, shoulder-to-shoulder, smoking cigarettes in bed, talking: “I think I want to be your wife,” she whispered to him. “No, you don’t. You just like the way I fuck you.” He looked at her and said nothing more—taking a long, hard drag of his cigarette, snuffing it out in ashtray, on the side-table, by the lamp, by the unplugged phone, atop a stack of phone books, by the gun, wondering about the noises angels make.
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