The Suburbs of Babylon Chapter 18 Part 3

Happy Friday, mofos. This here’s a Frowback…….to a time in this old whoremonger’s life when things weren’t so rosy. What follows is the 3rd installment of the 18th chapter of my heretofore and still unworthy of mention self-published semi-autobiographical tome of mediocrity better-known as The Suburbs of Babylon. It’s a fitting excerpt as it references my penchant for painting, and tonight is the opening of my art show at Candle Light Studio in Patpong. If you’re not caught up, you might want to go back and read the previous episodes. Let’s get back in…

“The days are passing with blinding speed.  Like I’m trapped between heaven and hell, or no, more like between Earth and hell.  Heaven’s shooting a little too high.

Nothing of consequence has happened or is happening.  No highs, no lows.  My painting soothes me like Prozac.  I churn out smooth-lined portraits of nude women lounging, the curves of their bodies like the roads I drive between home and Malibu.  I’ve made a careful study of the female form, every excruciating detail.  I recall it the way a widower might call up the memory of his dead wife.  I’ve stopped going to strip clubs.  They’ve lost their appeal.  I can no longer lie to myself that they promise more than reflections of the ideal of a woman.  My paintings do that for me now, better than a stripper ever could.

I’m not working.  The substitute teacher unit has Art’s phone number, since I’ve disconnected mine, and whenever his phone rings I poke my head out of my office, anticipating a job.  But it’s always some pathetic girl trying to get back into Art’s good graces.  His strategy is simple.  Leave them first.  If you leave first, the girl always, always tries to get you back.  It’s working pretty well for him so far.

So instead of earning money, I put the top down on my car that I can’t afford and drive to the beach, then return, open a bottle of Bordeaux and paint and drink until I pass out.  Sooner or later I won’t be able to make a car payment and it’ll be repossessed.  Then I suppose I’ll have to take up drinking in the morning in addition to noon and night.

*    *    *

            It’s midnight.  Art has gone out with some woman he doesn’t care about and left me alone.  He tried to convince me to go with him, but every time I leave the house, I either want to flee the country or come straight back home.  It’s feast or famine with me.

I’ve just finished a bottle of Syrah and am at present putting the finishing touches on an oil-on-canvas of a woman, painted in yellow, disappearing into dark storm clouds, her hair whipping in the wind.  I’m not sure what significance the image holds, except that it bears a striking resemblance to my dreams lately.  Either nightmares of Jane or dreams of some unknown goddess whom I try to preserve by staying asleep as long as possible, but inevitably lose to the coming daylight.  If I could be convinced that death was just an eternal dream, I’d go drive my car into a wall this very minute.  But death isn’t a dream, and right now I don’t think I qualify for even the coldest corner of Heaven.

Blessedly, the Syrah is washing over me like a wave of anesthetic, and I’m already approaching an emotional flatline.  I’m thinking that if I sell my car I can buy about fifty cases of my favorite wine and just stay in my house and drink myself to death.  Then Art could sell my paintings and become a millionaire.

I got an email from Cris the other day.  We haven’t seen each other in a while, and I fear that our renewed friendship is in its swan song.  But I suppose it has served its purpose, to be a balm to our old wounds, the ones we inflicted on each other, and to our new ones, or at least the most recent ones.  To hope for more would be unrealistic.  She and I weren’t meant to share years of our lives.  We were a moment in time, a step on life’s journey, and not to be tread over again.

So that leaves Art.  It is he and I against the world, and with his constant parade of women, it’s usually just me against myself.  Confidentially, he is who I was aspiring to be a year ago—unfeeling, womanizing, soothing his ache with the scent and skin of various women.  I failed in that endeavor.  But it doesn’t matter, because I can see it brings him no lasting happiness, no peace, no purpose.  So it’s just as well.

*    *    *

            It is Tuesday, not that it matters.  Every day is the same here.  No work, no place to go, nothing to do, money running dangerously low.  Art has, out of sympathy, pity, or fear that I may do myself in, dragged me out to the Cat.  I’m on my fourth beer, sitting at the runway, a dark-haired goddess in a white g-string kneeling before me.  She is from Brazil, so I tell her in her native tongue that she is the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.  I can say that sentence in nine languages—Portuguese, German, French, Hindi, Farsi, Spanish, Italian, Hebrew, and Russian.  You never know when it’s going to come in handy.  She is positively tickled pink.  After her dance, she comes and sits with me while Art does a disappearing act.  She’s asking me about myself; I’m making stuff up because there’s nothing interesting to tell her.  I say I’m a photographer for the LA Times.  She bluntly asks if I’d like to take naked pictures of her.  I assume she’s teasing, until she says she’s trying to model, and she wants some artsy black and white nudes done of her for her portfolio.  I tell her artsy is my middle name.  Before you can say Jiminy Christmas she’s inviting herself home with me, and I’m telling her no, since I have no idea what I’ll do with her when she gets there, even though in the back of my mind there’s a voice that’s already going over where my camera is and whether there’s film in it.  I suggest we have a drink first, and she enthusiastically approves.

Now we’re attracting the attention of other girls.  The Brazilian (her fake name is Carmen) explains to her friends that I’m going to take modeling photos of her.  Several of the girls know me, have seen my paintings on my website, and tell her I’m incredibly talented.  I’m beginning to realize I’m in way over my head.  The fantasy of this Brazilian naked on my bed is one thing.  But the reality is downright terrifying.  What if she wants to have sex?  What if she doesn’t?  What if I make as ass of myself?  I’m wishing now that I’d just stayed at home.  Carmen leaves to get dressed and grab her things.  I look around for Art, who has vanished.

Right about the time I decide how to get out of this mess (by telling her I have to take a rain check and go visit my ailing mother) Carmen returns and tells me that Art has taken off with one of the bar girls and entrusted her to take me home.  My palms begin to sweat.  I take one last gulp of beer, she grabs my hand, and we’re out into the night.  Her car is a convertible corvette—a new one (strippers make obscene amounts of cash that, if they don’t have a drug habit, goes towards really nice cars)—silver, with a black top.  The inside smells like all strippers do, like that perfume they all wear, something like a mixture of vanilla, cotton candy, bubble gum, and strawberries.  She’s wearing baggy jeans and a big blue UCLA sweatshirt.  Her hair haphazardly thrown into a bun on top of her head.  She is chewing gum and asking me questions about my life.  Where are you originally from?  (No one ever believes you when you say you’re an L. A. native—we’re like Bigfoot.)  Do you have a girlfriend?  What do you like to do?  Do you like Vegas?  Ever been to Tijuana?  I am giving her one-word answers because my brain is too busy trying to figure out what I’m going to do once I get her home.

We park in front of the house.  I am walking ahead of her, quickening my pace, anticipating what I have to do:  throw dirty clothes into the closet, shove shoes and magazines under the bed, find the camera and dust it off.  I open the door.  She asks to see my artwork.  I walk her into the tiny room that serves as my studio and point at the walls.  She asks if the nude charcoals and watercolors are of actual people and I tell her yes, some.  She tells me I do beautiful work.  I thank her for the compliment.

I lead the way to my room, already apologizing for the mess, but she has pushed past me and in one smooth movement tossed her purse by the window and thrown herself onto my bed.  She lays back and looks up at me, smiling a beautiful perfect white smile, her hair tumbled over my pillow.  I am frozen in place.

She asks where the camera is.  I move, seemingly in slow motion, arms stiff and robotic.  Closet door opens, hand reaches up, comes back down with a camera in it.  I flip it over, there is film—twelve more exposures—I go to the bathroom to grab a tissue to clean the lens and come back to find her naked, leaning back on her elbows, one knee up, hair spilling over her shoulders, still smiling, eyes dancing like a teenager in love.  I begin taking photos.  She turns her back to me, tilting her head back, eyes closed, still smiling.  I snap the shutter.  She sighs, turns on her side to face me, propping her head up with one hand, elbow on the pillow.  I hit the button.  Then she stretches out on her stomach, toes off the end of the bed, arms straight out, grabbing the pillow, back arched, one eye winking.  I capture the moment.  She sits up, crosses one arm over her breasts, tilting her chin down, hair covering her face.  I immortalize the image.  She sits Indian style, elbows on her knees, chin in her hands, looking right into me, still smiling that smile.  I save her for all time.

After a few more, I put the camera down and tell her I’m out of film.  She hesitates a moment, then asks if I’d like to draw her.  I go into my studio and return with a big pad and a stick of charcoal.  She moves to the edge of the bed, crosses one leg over the other, leans back on her hands, and closes her eyes.  I begin to draw, and somewhere in the middle of it all I stop drawing her and begin loving her, loving with the charcoal and the paper, loving the line of her neck, the shadow under her breasts, the delicate slope of her stomach, the shoulder, the collarbone, the elbow.  I begin to see her the way only God has, the way the Creator sees His artwork, how a groom should see his bride.  The soft hairs that adorn her thighs, the freckles scattered across her ribs and chest.  The dimple in her chin.  Eyelashes.  Forehead.  Lips, teeth, tongue.  The charcoal moves over the paper, the only sound in the room a scratch-scratch-scratch as highlight and shadow bring her image forth on the page.  In a way, I have made love to her—in a way no one else has or ever will.  When I am finished, I sit up, back aching, hand shaking, shoulders stiff, and turn the picture so she can see.  She looks at it a moment, her head cocked to one side, and I am already regretting it, knowing I didn’t do her justice, knowing she’s disappointed and mad.  Then a smile creeps slowly back over her face, and she slaps her knees, takes a deep breath, and rolls back over the bed.  Then she gets dressed.  I ask her if she wants it, but she tells me to keep it.  She says to put it in a gallery someday and name it after her.  I ask if she wants me to use her real name or her fake name.  She says it’s up to me.  She tells me to bring the pictures to the Cat when I get them developed.  I thank her and she thanks me and then she is out the door.  An hour later Art returns home.  I show him the drawing and he almost falls over.  He says it’s the best one I’ve done thus far.  I tell him I agree.

That night, I lay awake in bed smelling her candy perfume on my pillow, recalling her smile and the intoxicating surface of her skin that was like my own private universe for a few precious perfect hours.  I suddenly realized that the entire time she was here, Jane never crossed my mind, not even once.  I don’t want to make it into more than it was.  I know that it wasn’t love.

But it was something.”

If you’re interested in seeing how the early artistic expressions described above have metamorphosed from the influence of life in Thailand, swing by Patpong and check out the show. It runs from tonight till December 11.