THRILLVILLE: Will "the Thrill" Viharo's weird, wild world of Pulp Fiction, B Movies, & the Lounge Lizard Lifestyle.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A MERMAID DROWNS IN THE MIDNIGHT LOUNGE: Chapter Three

Third excerpt from my novel in progress...

A MERMAID DROWNS IN THE MIDNIGHT LOUNGE

by Will Viharo

Chapter Three

A man without a future met a woman with a past. It happened at a run down tiki bar next to an old movie palace in a small town on the outskirts of a big town. The woman sang forgotten torch songs in the tiki bar. The man MC’d forgotten midnight movies in the movie theater, where he sometimes worked in the booth taking tickets. The woman just sang and waited tables and tried to stay sober, attending as many AA meetings as she could. Sometimes she drank anyway. After all, she sang in a bar. Sometimes she even went home with a drunken customer, who would call himself a fan. She wanted to believe she had fans. Maybe then she wouldn’t drink so much, she told herself. That was her disease talking, though. She knew that. But sometimes her disease was all she had to listen to.

Then the alcoholic singer met the lonely midnight movie host one night, and everything changed.

His name was Nick Winters, and he called himself the Lunar Lounge Lizard for his “act,” which really wasn’t much of an act. He didn’t sing or dance. He simply spun the Wheel of Fortune and asked trivia questions and gave away prizes. His typical outfit consisted of a an old red fez hat he picked up for a song in a vintage clothing store, a shiny green smoking jacket, a neatly pressed white shirt with French cuffs and shiny cuff links, black slacks, shiny black shoes, Ray-Bans, and an affected attitude. He acted like the ultimate ladies’ man, but no one knew he went home and cried most nights. Alone.

Her name was Dolores Summers. Everyone knew how lonely Dolores was, except for Dolores. She sang sad songs with acute awareness of their melodic melancholia. She had lived the lyrics, and continued to. Her pain was on vivid display. It was part of her act. Nick worked at the Omega Theater for two months before he even went into the Midnight Lounge, which was called that because it was always dark inside, except for the glow of the jukebox and a strand of blinking Christmas lights lining the top of the bar. Several tiki statues remained in place from when it was an authentic tiki bar back in the 50s, called Zombieville. The new owner changed the name and updated the menu when he took it over in the 90s, but didn’t touch the faux-exotic décor or the selections on the jukebox, which still played scratchy old Exotica 45s.

When she sang, Dolores worked off a small stage in the back that was dimly lit at best, once graced by burlesque dancers. The atmosphere was more forlorn than festive, more sullen than seductive, with a fake, seedy, tropical tint. Yet it had an undeniable appeal to those that fell under its accidental, incidental retro-spell. Nick felt it right away, and wondered why he had never ventured here before. It was like where he lived, in a small studio apartment over a strip joint. He lived there for three years before he even went into the strip joint. Then he became a regular, before he had an affair with one of the strippers, who turned out to be a hooker as well. When he found that out, he wanted to dump her. But he couldn’t. She had to leave him, eventually. She had a kid, too. Somewhere. He saw the kids’ picture, which she kept in a purse, a boy with ice cream smeared on his fearful face. Eventually she moved away, with her pimp. Nick never went into the strip joint again after that. He still had the stripper’s picture hanging on his wall in a cheap frame when he met Dolores.

Nick was in his forties. Dolores was in her thirties. They were too young for the previous century, too old for the next. They were stuck in between the Millennium, but ultimately it didn’t matter. Time was over-taking everyone, it seemed. It was racing by so fast that for some, it simply stood still. This is how it was for Nick and Dolores, at least before they met. They remained frozen in a time before their lifetime, in a romantic dream of an era they knew only from music and the movies. They yearned for the time when people dreamed of the future. Now that they were in the future, all they dreamed of was the past. It was a fantasy anyway. A dream.

Dolores wasn’t even on stage yet when Nick walked in and sat at the bar. Nick wasn’t a heavy drinker. At one time he had thought of himself as a writer, until he came to the painful realization that he wasn’t an alcoholic. To him, all great authors were on one big literary bender. This one night he ordered a Mai Tai, since he wanted to somehow merge with the pseudo-Polynesian ambience of his surroundings. A few trendy types were at the bar near him, a good-looking slicked-up stud with two model-perfect female companions, giggling at his every gesture. Nick wondered what this guy did to deserve such unadulterated appreciation. Nick still wasn’t over the stripper. He’d come in to drink away his memories of her, or at least get drunk enough to fall asleep, even though he’d then be tortured by dreams about her. Sometimes they were so real he woke up in a sweat. Other times he just woke up wet. He hadn’t experienced nocturnal emissions like that since he was an adolescent sex addict. But the stripper - Gloria, from Georgia, a tasty peach of a woman - was very voluptuous, and Nick had experienced memorable sexual acrobatics with her. He even thought he loved her, for a few minutes. She knew the difference, though. She liked Nick, and even talked about having his child, even though she couldn’t take care of the one she ostensibly already had. But her profession was dangerous, and she didn’t really want to be bringing anyone else into this nightmare world. She told him she was a prostitute in order to turn him off. It worked, in a way, but he was still obsessed. He still pursued her, even when he would come home and find she was using his place for a fuckpad. He forgave her. He just didn’t want to be alone. Ever. So she left him, moved away, and didn’t give him her address. Last he heard she was pregnant. Not by him, it was too late. Someone else, her pimp, maybe.

He felt haunted. Every morning he woke up feeling empty and sad. It was the weather that did it, really. The grayness and constant rain made him melancholy and romantic, and reminded him of her. This was the time of year he had been with her the most, cuddling in their sanctuary, making love with the sound of the rain beating gently outside the window. They were in their own little private paradise. Or so Nick had thought until he learned the truth. It’s always that way. You enjoy yourself until you learn the truth, and then it’s all ruined. He loved listening to music, particularly his favorite genre, “crime jazz.” He called it the soundtrack to his soul. It was as true as it was corny. It was truth that didn’t bring pain for once, because it wasn’t real truth, it was romantic truth. It brought enlightenment and emancipation, or at least facsimiles he could live with. His favorite movie was Sweet Smell of Success, one scent he had never sniffed, that was for sure. He loved the cynicism and the Elmer Bernstein theme. His favorite novelists were Raymond Chandler, James Cain, Jim Thompson, and David Goodis. He read almost nothing except vintage crime novels. He could relate to them, even though he’d never actually committed a crime.

But that night in the Midnight Lounge, crime was exactly what he was thinking about. He had a pistol concealed beneath his roomy, broad-shouldered, slightly worn, seam-torn thrift-store bought sharkskin jacket, its pockets full of bullets. His hope was to get drunk enough to hold up the place. He didn’t expect to get away with it, of course. He just didn’t know what else to do with his life, or the evening in particular. It was something to do, something unusual, unpredictable, unprecedented.

True to form, the jukebox was playing old “exotica” music. It was stocked with nothing but Martin Denny, Arthur Lyman, Les Baxter, and the like, just as it had been since it was first founded as Zombieville in 1957. The same guy who owned and programmed the Omega Theater also owned the bar. The only reason Nick even got a job at the Omega was because he was incidentally acquainted with the owner, Miles, an old, fat Greek Jew who wore glasses and sweated a lot.

Dolores was in the back room, resting for the show. Her favorite singers were June Christy, Sarah Vaughn, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald; her favorite songs to sing in public, and to listen to privately, were “At Last” by Etta James, “Cry Me A River” by Julie London, and “Stormy Weather” by Lena Horne. She was lying on the cot in the dark listening to old records to inspire her. Miles didn’t make her wait tables on the nights she sang. She had just returned from a meeting, and felt relatively good, but tired. And she still had the urge to drink. A lot. She’d been sober for almost a month now - for the fifth or so time since entering the program - and she only blamed herself for her slips. She didn’t have a sponsor and didn’t really work the Steps as rigorously as she once had, and knew she still should. Something inside of her had given up hope a long time ago. She really just wanted to be drunk, then dead. That was her heart’s desire. But she fought it, because something inside of her told her there was a God and a purpose for her lonely little life. But if that purpose didn’t manifest itself soon, that was it. She was resigned to drinking herself to death.

Her mood swings were less violent than they once had been, but they still haunted her, and anyone close to her. She’d never been officially diagnosed manic-depressive, but she knew that’s what she was: a manic-depressive alcoholic with dreams of being a famous singer. But her dreams were as out-dated as her material. Even after the late century lounge revival, she didn’t feel like she could cut it. A record, that is. After her divorce the previous year, she’d gone on a sex binge, reverting to her wild days of youthful abandon. It made her feel sick inside, but she kept doing it, because she didn’t turn to her Higher Power anymore. She wanted to be higher than her own Higher Power.

She sometimes billed herself “The Moody Swinger,” but nobody got it, because no one knew her that well enough to get it. Sometimes on stage she’d just start laughing after she said it, and people just thought she was drunk again. Sometimes they were right. Out at the bar, Nick was still contemplating the wisdom of holding up his own boss. His general plan was to disappear, maybe go on a vague search for Gloria. Find her pimp, kick the crap out of him. Kidnap her and the baby, run away to an island. Or sail away. Whatever. Something. His life was too stagnant, too boring and repetitious. He had to live his dreams, and sometimes his dreams were very dark.

He might have been dreaming now. He wasn’t sure anymore. The lines between fantasy and reality were blurring, and had been for months, maybe even years. He wasn’t sure if he actually pulled his gun out and stood on the bar and demanded all the cash in the register he wouldn’t just wake up. Maybe his fantasy of living in a crime novel or B movie had finally materialized, or his dreams had become disturbingly realistic and lifelike. The consequences of a dream, however, didn’t last. They would evaporate with the light of day. But in the real world, the one he despised and felt trapped in, the consequences could cost him his life, which would mean all sleeping and no dreaming, no escape from the darkness inside of him and all around him as well.

If this weren’t a dream, then he’d get into a shoot-out with the bartender, an ex-cop named Stewart, who kept a sawed-off shotgun behind the bar. Or so Nick surmised. Then Nick would die in a hail of bullets and crawl out into the rain and die in the gutter, right beneath the marquee where his name was up in lights. The Lunar Lounge Lizard would become a legend. And if he was only dreaming, so what? Anything could happen. He might even win the shoot-out, and the girl, for a change. That was when Dolores walked out onto the stage, and Nick’s world changed forever. Or his dream world. Whichever. It didn’t matter before. Now he just wanted to stay in the world he was in, because she was in it, too. Nick fell in love with Dolores, just like that; as soon as he saw her come out onto the stage in her glittering crimson dress, form fitting her voluptuous figure. She thought she was fat, or, politely, zaftig, in a Marilyn Monroe kind of way, but with a Bettie Page face and hair. Nick thought she was just right.

Sometimes when Dolores sang, she imagined herself a mermaid, singing to a bunch of sailors. Only since they’re underwater, all the sailors are dead. Zombies. It filled her with ghoulish glee to imagine this. Sunken treasure and zombie sailors surrounded her as she sang. She didn’t know exactly why she imagined this scenario. It just made her feel good. Well, not exactly good. Nothing really made her feel good except booze. But the idea of a mermaid singing to zombie sailors underwater just suited her mood, her perspective, made it seem more real, the whole experience, even though that scenario was impossible. Or was it? Maybe she was a mermaid, and she was underwater, and everyone in the bar was dead. Somehow, believing this made her sing better, because she felt all alone.

She burst out with “At Last” in between sips of her martini. She liked drinking harder stuff, but Miles said she had to drink something “classy” while performing, or nothing at all. No belts from the bottle in between belting out. Reluctantly she complied. She felt sad for drinking tonight anyway. She’d just returned from a meeting, feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. What the hell was wrong with her, anyway? She knew AA worked. She knew personally so many people whose lives had been saved by working the Steps. But that was it. She wasn’t working the Steps, really. She went to meetings now for comfort, for companionship if not Fellowship. But then nobody wanted to go drinking with her afterward. So she had to come back here, and pretend she was a mermaid, the only living thing in this sea of cadavers, alone with the sunken treasure, which was all hers. She was a mermaid in her world. She could never drown. Not as long as she stayed drunk, anyway. Submerged.

Nick remained transfixed by her presence. So did a lot of people in the bar. Dolores’ gown was low cut and her creamy cleavage was glowing sadly in the seedy spotlight, beckoning with lusty desire each time she breathed a note. Her long, dark, thick hair cascaded sensually over her heart-shaped face as she gently twisted her head with the tempo of the tune. But Nick felt more than lust, he told himself. He felt kinship. Or something. If this was a dream, it had to last. He was forgetting all about Gloria now. Gloria, in the real world somewhere, lost. Nick was in here now, with his new dream girl. He just couldn’t allow himself to wake up. Ever. A shot rang out suddenly, and everyone froze, and then moved again, in slow motion. As if everything was in a dream. Or underwater.

READ CHAPTER ONE

READ CHAPTER TWO

Copyright 2010, Will Viharo, all rights reserved