The Suburbs of Babylon, Chapter 4 Part 1

Well reader, it’s another Frowback Friday. Frown-back, locked-down, and non-essential. If you’re lucky enough to be working, or living in a country that hasn’t gone full-fascist, congrats. But if you’re like me, you’re trapped like a rat in a cage despite all your rage, as our overlords extend and extend and extend again those decrees that were never legal in the first place. Covid won’t kill you if you’re under 60 and otherwise healthy. The veil has slipped. The jig is up. The cat is out of the bag even as we rats remain caged.

For your momentary distraction from said caging, I offer below part 1 of Chapter 4 of my mundane first novel, cagey if not engaging. So grab a beer, sit back, and let me take you on a semi-fictional walk down my personal memory lane, to a time before BKK…

“Chapter Four

‘I need a phone call.  I need a plane ride.’—Counting Crows


            Not much to say about this place, except it confuses me.  It could be because being here evokes such a mixture of feelings, in every sense.  It is temperate, accepting, a constant epiphany.  It is seductive, ridiculous, depressing, hateful, comforting, excruciating, diabolical, disgusting, delightful, dismal, dull.  It is a place that has found the beauty in always being on the verge of destruction.

I should say that, when I refer to “home,” I’m not really speaking of any kind of domicile.  Rather it is the city itself, in all its shame and glory, which I consider home, since I’ve not spent any real length of time in one specific place, but instead have bounced around within its limits.  I was raised in an orphanage on the west side of the valley which encases my childhood memories like a cradle, leaving at age sixteen to join a group home a few miles east, close to my high school.  Then at eighteen it was the college dorm, a couple miles further east, and after that an apartment a stone’s throw from the college.  So all in all I haven’t been more than six or eight miles from the orphanage where this mess started.  Even now, upon return from my short stay on the peninsula, I’m holed up at an old motel a mere mile from said orphanage.  I can’t seem to break away.

The owner of the motel, Mitch, is a former employee of the orphanage.  He used to work with the really tough kids—the ones that were too messed up or mean to be placed with families.  I was just as unwanted, though for the opposite reason.  Too reclusive.  At any rate, the guy remembered me and is letting me rent a room for ten bucks a night.  At this point I appreciate any kind of break I can get.

Perhaps by now you’ve begun to wonder how I pay for things.  How I can afford to take random trips to different places without fear of being fired.  Well, it’s simple.  I’m unemployed.  I have a stash of money, however, and the story of how I got it is worth telling.

A little over a year ago, I was at Malibu pier alone, just hanging out, watching the water.  It was just before sunrise, and the surf was small and choppy, so no surfers were out, so I had the beach pretty much to myself.  As usual, though, there was a film crew down there cluttering up the place, blocking the street with their trucks and equipment.  It’s one of the hazards of living here.  You can’t go anywhere without running into the Hollywood Machine.  Turns out they were taping a Pepsi commercial.  But it didn’t take long to figure out something was awry.  I wandered over to eavesdrop on the conversation between the assistant director and one of the ad agency hacks.

Apparently, one of the actors they’d hired was sick, and evidently, he’d gotten that way by eating something from craft services.  So there was a combination of arguments going on—who was at fault, how to fix the problem, which company to charge for going over-budget.  Then one of the assistants saw me sitting there and came over and asked me to leave the set.  But the director also saw me, and he also came over.

“Hey, can you surf?” he asked me.  Well, of course I could surf.  I live here, after all.  So they drew up a Taft-Hartley and used me in place of the sick actor.  Most of the “surfing” I did was just standing on the board on dry land while the camera shot around me. And I had one line, something about “hanging ten” or “catching a wave.”  And for that, I got 25,000 bucks.  And I’ve been living off that ever since.  Needless to say, it’s almost gone, and they’ve stopped running it in the U.S.  Every now and then I get a royalty check because somewhere in Argentina my face is on a screen while a voiceover says, “Pepsi—cuando hace mucho calor, es el mucho frio.”  Or you know, something like that.  The experience did give me the bright idea that I could make it as an actor in Hollywood, and I pursued it, briefly and unsuccessfully, but more on that later.  Right now, suffice to say, I’m riding this wave to its end and haven’t thought much beyond that.  I’ve got a Bachelor’s in English, so I suppose I’ll try to put that to some use soon.

*    *    *

I haven’t seen Jane for a while, and though I say that I can’t give any accurate length of time, since minutes seem like days and drunken benders pass without time.  But I think it’s been a few weeks since I saw her last.  For the last day or two it seemed she might come back, as some of the old affection she tries to conceal came bubbling to the surface.  She called once, re-charging my hope, a distant-yet-forlorn tone in her voice, and I felt the Pepto-Bismol-like comfort of familiarity come seeping back into my joints.  But as the bright flash of contact died down, so did the hope of her return.  She hasn’t called again, and time has once more ceased its function.

All in all I’ve come to feel a kind of nothingness, my body producing its natural Prozac in concert with the television.  And when those don’t cut the mustard, there’s always the sick ebb and flow of vodka, along with many, many bottles of red wine.  I’ve taken a particular liking to a blend from Wild Horse called Valentina, and also to a luscious cabernet-merlot by Morovino appropriately named Tango.  I tell myself there is a climate of change, as if the next exciting chapter of my life is right around the corner.  But really, I’m just waiting for something, anything new to happen.  I’d welcome a disease, at this point.

In the spells between drunken blackouts, I’ve taken to spending all my free time and money in the company of local strippers, as I have come to realize that the only way I can keep from thinking of Jane and my miserable meaningless existence is to saturate my senses with superfluous women.  This has proved to be highly enjoyable, for very brief moments, in an almost therapeutic way.  I’m beginning to see how one could embrace this lifestyle as a kind of Utopia, provided one approaches the environment with the right frame of mind.  The only crack in the armor that seems to threaten me here is the increasing tendency to conjure up love for these women.  To make the dream of these girls into reality.  To attempt the impossible.

It has become apparent after observing the regular clientele in strip joints that I stand out as an unusual type.  Last night at the Kitty Cat, a dive of a topless bar where I spend far too many nights, I was perched on the runway next to two Hell’s Angels, complete with leather vests and long wavy beards, and about half a dozen belligerent frat boys shouting obscenities and making rude gestures.  And there I was in between, dressed in dark jeans and a DKNY shirt, looking and feeling like a choir boy compared to everyone else.  I act like one, too, when I’m at these places.  I don’t stare, even though that’s the whole point of going there.  I’m polite and respectful, something these women aren’t used to, and I have a brain in my head, which also seems to be a novelty around here.  And the girls take to it, let me tell you.  I get all sorts of extra attention most of the time.  These women love to see me blush, long to hear what I’m going to say, and miss me when I’m gone.  It’s ironic.  But this is how most men live—we’re a dichotomy.  We objectify women ceaselessly, yet are trained to be chivalrous.  We are torn between women’s demands to be respected and the instinctual urge to live life like a tomcat on the prowl.   I know I shouldn’t be here—it is unfulfilling, even depressing afterwards.  And the girls seem to know I don’t belong.  For what it’s worth, though, it makes the moments I waste at these places more enjoyable.  Most of the girls spend an extraordinary amount of time writhing, crawling, bending, bucking, and tweaking just inches from my nose.  It’s the kind of attention men dream about all their lives.  It’s a quick fix for my need to feel wanted.  In this light, it’s hard to imagine how anyone could live without strip joints.  Truth be told, though, I don’t like it when they get that close.  It makes me uneasy.

As I drove from the Cat last night I thought the most amazing thing was how much one could get for a dollar there.  It beats a lottery ticket by a mile.  It was at that moment that I realized how my relationships with these women were the purest of any I’d ever had.  There were no misunderstandings about what was going on.  No “I love you” in June and “I’m sorry, it went away” in December.  They responded to money on the table and your reciprocation was proportional to the amount paid.  As long as I could keep my mind straight about it all—that is, that this was business and not the fragile seeds of love—I was in perfect shape.”

From this bit of text, it’s easy to see where my penchant for gogo bars came from. Unlike the Thai gogo, however, strippers in America are all but uncatchable. And in 2020, who’d want one? With the exception of Las Vegas, the trolls that lurk in the shadows of strip clubs from coast to coast are vile, ugly, obese, crass, and unkempt. Compare that to any of the entertainment zones in Thailand, where among those few unattractive lasses there shine a bevy of beautiful babes, lovely and lithe, beguiling, becoming, and come-hither. And on a scale somewhere between their monetary need and your charm, can be coaxed back to your room. What a difference an International Date Line makes. 8,000 little miles.