In response to absolutely no demand whatsoever, but in the personal interest of publicly archiving them (with a few more to come), here are two of my earliest literary works - my first and only play, from 1982, and my first published short story, from 1987.
|Linda Kerridge, 1982|
A Wrong Turn at Albuquerque was written when I was 19, performed once only at the Actor's Studio in West L.A. in 1982. It was directed by my father, Robert Viharo, and starred veteran character actor Jim Antonio as "The Writer," and Australian model/actress Linda Kerridge (Fade to Black) as "The Girl." Originally, Victoria Jackson - pre SNL/right-wing meltdown - was in rehearsals to play The Girl, but when she was booked on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson (ironically, as you'll see in the dialogue) the exact night of the scheduled performance, I suggested Linda for the part, whom I'd just magically met at the Nuart Theater in West L.A., after obsessively dreaming about her for over two years and bugging her Fade to Black co-star Mickey Rourke (with whom she had no actual scenes) to introduce me to her. I wound up introducing her to him after she sat directly in front of me at the Nuart Theater during a Marilyn Monroe double bill of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How To Marry a Millionaire. (This true story inspired my 1987 fever-dream noir novel Lavender Blonde, written entirely in dialogue and "sound effects" ). She wound up being ideal for the role. It's a whimsical piece, but I think it showed a great deal of unrealized promise. The closest I ever got to Broadway glory was when I took a leak next to Neil Simon in the bathroom at Neiman-Marcus while I was working there as a busboy in the early 1980s. In the restaurant, that is, not the bathroom. I only pissed there once in a while.
Ironically, I recently returned from a trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, visiting my Pop, who now happily resides there. The title of the play was inspired by this famous Bugs Bunny bit:
My trip made me think of this play, so I dug around in a box and finally found the original neatly typed manuscript, which has been essentially lost for 32 years, publicly shared for the first time here outside of its single performance over three decades ago. Hope you enjoy it:
A WRONG TURN AT ALBUQUERQUE
A One-Act Play by Will Viharo
Performed at the Actor's Studio in West Hollywood, 1982
As the scene begins, we see the two principals, THE WRITER, male, about thirty and dressed casually but neatly, and THE GIRL, young and attractive, dressed conservatively but colorfully, seated in chairs parallel to each other facing the audience. The writer is pantomiming driving a steering wheel in an obvious but downplayed fashion so as not to be distracting. The girl, in the “passenger seat,” is gazing out the imaginary window thoughtfully. The lighting should be a bright blue or soft purple to suggest a nocturnal, almost ethereal atmosphere.
WRITER: Hard to believe, isn't it?
GIRL: What is?
WRITER: That I finally, you know, arrived. It's incredible, really. I just can't believe it. It really staggers me.
GIRL: It doesn't seem so terribly wonderful to me.
WRITER: I didn't say “wonderful.” I said “incredible.” But it is kind of wonderful, too, now that you mention it. Sure it's wonderful. It's fantastic, are you kidding? Success at last, after all these fuckin' years slaving away at menial crap. I mean, this is a helluva great thing, when you think about it.
GIRL: You don't sound too convinced of it to me.
WRITER: What – you think I'm not happy with all this?
GIRL: All what?
WRITER: All – my success, what else?
GIRL: You sold a manuscript that's not even published yet. Where's the success?
WRITER: In my pocket, honey. The advance.
GIRL: So? It'll be gone by the end of the weekend, probably.
WRITER: Yea, maybe. But then I'll have some great memories, won't I?
GIRL: That's success? Great memories? Anyone with a good imagination can have those.
WRITER: The book will sell, though. It'll hit. Big. Don't worry.
GIRL: Who's worried?
WRITER: Not me, baby. I'm as cool and collected as a...a really together cucumber.
GIRL: So why are we lost?
WRITER: We're not lost! (pause) You think we're lost?
GIRL: It crossed my mind. That is, of course, if our destination is still Las Vegas.
WRITER: Well, where else, sweetheart.
GIRL: I don't know. At this rate. Atlantic City, maybe?
WRITER: That's very clever. You're a very witty girl, anyone ever tell you that?
GIRL: Yes, just recently, as a matter of fact.
WRITER: You know something? I think I'm in love with you.
GIRL: Are you sure we have enough gas to get there?
WRITER: Did you hear what I just told you?
GIRL: I'm pretending I didn't.
WRITER: How come?
GIRL: How come what?
WRITER: How come you're pretending you didn't hear me?
GIRL: Hear you what?
WRITER: Don't play dumb.
GIRL: Who's playing?
WRITER: I'm beginning to get the picture. What did you say your name was, anyway?
GIRL: I didn't.
WRITER: No? When I first picked you up and all?
GIRL: I don't remember. Probably not.
WRITER: I guess you're not going to tell me then. (silence) Look! (points) There's a signpost up ahead! What's it read?
GIRL: (squinting) Your next stop...The Twilight Zone...
WRITER: You're pretty flip for a chick riding in a total stranger's car.
GIRL: You're not a total stranger. I've known you nearly forty-five minutes. In this day and age that's grounds for intimacy.
WRITER: You know nothing about me except what I've told you. I could be lying, you know. How do you know I'm really a hack California writer and not a rapist?
GIRL: What's the difference?
WRITER: Have you ever been on Johnny Carson, by any chance?
GIRL: Not that I recall. Much of my past is a blur.
WRITER: You need an agent. What do you do for a living, anyway? Or should I ask.
WRITER: Okay, fine. (pause) How old are you, anyway?
GIRL: I could say something, but it would only bore you.
WRITER: Try me.
GIRL: Old enough to –
WRITER: – know better. Right, right. Hitchhiking out in the middle of nowhere. Jesus, what a stupid thing. Pardon my bluntness, but I've always considered it a really...dumb thing. Hitchhiking, I mean.
GIRL: So why did you pick me up?
WRITER: I thought you needed help. Either that, or...you know.
GIRL: No, I don't. What.
WRITER: Well, I mean, the way you were standing and all...I thought you might be...you know. A hooker.
GIRL: You thought I was a hooker in need of help. That's why you picked me up? How did you know I wasn't dangerous?
WRITER: I still don't. But you look innocent enough.
GIRL: Yet you thought I was a traveling whore.
WRITER: No, actually I only hoped you were.
GIRL: (smiles) Do you find me attractive?
WRITER: You? Yea...kind of. You know.
GIRL: A minute ago you said you were in love with me.
WRITER: A minute ago I was. But it wore off quickly.
WRITER: Honestly? You're too damn weird. Nothing personal. But the truth is...I am a sucker for a pretty face.
GIRL: So you do think I'm pretty pretty.
WRITER: Sure, why not?
GIRL: Why not? Because chances are nature could've made me a dog. That's why not. It happens to many girls.
WRITER: Why are you so sensitive?
GIRL: I'm not sensitive. You hardly know me and you accuse me of being sensitive.
WRITER: That's not exactly an accusation. I like it, though. It's a new side of you just come to light. I like it. (pause) Hey, uh, what did that sign back there say, anyway? I've got eyes like a dead bat. It looked like something about Vegas.
GIRL: Try “Welcome to New Mexico.”
WRITER: Pardon me?
GIRL: That's what the sign said.
WRITER: You must be kidding me. Please tell me you're joking, or I'm going to cry. There's no goddamn way in hell we could be anywhere near –
GIRL: Okay, okay, relax. So someone moved the sign and stuck it randomly in the middle of the desert to confuse people. Okay? I'm sorry.
WRITER: You're joking, I know it. I can tell. But that's not funny, that kind of stuff. We should've been there already, a long time ago. I can't figure out...I must've made a slightly wrong turn somewhere...but it's all right, it's all right, we'll get there. Don't worry. We'll have to hit it. Eventually. I know we're going in the right direction. But we are a little low on gas, though. Keep a lookout.
GIRL: For what?
WRITER: Gas, what else?
GIRL: Are we going to drill our own?
WRITER: A station, sweetheart, a station.
GIRL: Are you serious? Way out here? Only Alfred Hitchcock characters have places this far out.
WRITER: What are you worried about? I'm with you.
GIRL: Is that an excuse for us to shower together?
WRITER: We're not even that far out, for Chrissake. We'll be there extremely soon, I promise. It's right over that horizon there.
GIRL: So's Timbuktu.
WRITER: Hey, what is this, a roast? Ease up a bit.
GIRL: I'm getting nervous. You can hardly blame me.
WRITER: Look, I've been to Vegas fifty times at least. Well, actually, only three, but...we'll be there shortly. We have to, we've been driving so goddamn long. We have to wind up somewhere.
GIRL: Terrific, Charley. A one-way ticket to Palookaville. This must not be my night, Charley. But...someday, right, Charley? I'll have class? I'll be a contender?
WRITER: All right, all right. You'd better be, with your mouth. But if it makes you feel any better, I just passed some very familiar-looking cactus. Listen, why don't you just drop off and take a nap and when you wake up we'll be in front of the Hilton, okay?
GIRL: Which one? Havana?
WRITER: Hey, enough already, huh?
GIRL: What's the difference if I sleep or not? I can see desert with my eyes shut. It's embedded in my brain. I doubt if I could fall asleep, anyway. Unless I count roadrunners or something.
WRITER: You know...I find that story you fed me very hard to swallow.
GIRL: What story?
WRITER: The one about you running away from your affluent family in Vegas to find yourself in L.A and now you want to go back and make amends.
GIRL: What's wrong with that?
WRITER: I don't know. You just don't seem like the type.
GIRL: What, to run away?
WRITER: To make amends.
GIRL: (dryly) Thanks.
WRITER: No, I mean...you seem like the feisty, independent type who never apologizes.
GIRL: Maybe I just ran out of money.
WRITER: Even still...there's something very different about you. You seem like a survivor. Rather on the bull-headed side, though. Stubborn. Willful. A little, you know, of a hard-ass. Almost a complete cunt.
GIRL: Are you trying to seduce me?
WRITER: Hey, I'm just giving you an honest impression. You don't give me much to go on. If you want charm, I'll give you charm. I'm just trying to figure you out, that's all. You are a bit off-the-wall, to say the least.
GIRL: Okay. So you don't like my story.
WRITER: I didn't say I didn't like it. What's to like or not like? I simply said it seems a little...I don't know. Phony.
GIRL: All right, so I'll think of a new one.
WRITER: You'll 'think of a new one'? Are you putting me on? You aren, aren't you. What're you, an escaped convict, right?
WRITER: Maybe? Jesus.
GIRL: Would you accept a direct answer from me?
WRITER: Probably not, at this point. Forget it, it's none of my business, anyway. I'm just feeling exceptionally good because of my turn of luck lately, and was in a Samaritan-kind of mood, so I gave you a lift.
(Silence for a few moments)
GIRL: (after looking at her watch) Oh! Um...there's something...I've got to tell you...
WRITER: Yea? What? You made me jump.
GIRL: Well, it's a little difficult...
WRITER: What – you're dying, for Chrissake?
GIRL: No. You are.
GIRL: You heard me.
WRITER: Don't say things like that. Not even kidding around. That's a very touchy topic with me. My folks died when I was young and all that crap, so don't –
GIRL: I am not kidding around with you now. This is serious. You must treat it that way.
WRITER: Treat what what way?
GIRL: Well...you have approximately five more minutes to live.
WRITER: Jesus, I should've known. You pick up some kook and she turns out to belong to some sick cult. Am I going to be in a ritual sacrifice or something?
GIRL: Hardly. Don't panic, now.
WRITER: (panicking) What do you want with me?
GIRL: I was going to break it to you gradually, but we're running out of time. I wanted you to be loose and good-humored when the time came for your demise. But we're almost out of time.
WRITER: Speak for yourself, sweetheart. (Pantomimes slamming on brake and stopping at side of road.) Get out. Hit it. Happy trails.
GIRL: I don't think you'll want to be alone during your final moments of existence on this plane, do you?
WRITER: What the hell are you on, anyway? That Angel Dust crap?
GIRL: Not exactly. You see...um..I'm what's known as a...Guardian Angel. I was sent to accompany you during this transitional period and spare you the shock.
WRITER: (after looking at her intently) You need help. (He pantomimes starting the car again and driving off) I'm taking you to the first goddamn hospital we pass. I should've guessed you'd be a flake. A man just doesn't drive down a lonely desert highway and come across a beautiful chick who also has a nice personality. I've lost my sense of reality, I guess. Sure, you're sarcastic, but a fuckin' space case? What're you, an addict, right?
GIRL: Don't insult me. There's no cause for that.
WRITER: (fed up) Just shut up, okay? I'll drop you off in town and you can do what you want. Just don't...hurt me or anything...
GIRL: Just calm down, will you? It's nothing personal. Death happens to everyone. I'm only here to help you, not kill you. It's not my fault it's your time to go.
WRITER: All right. All right. For the sake of indulging you, okay, so you're my 'guardian angel.' So why the lip?
GIRL: You don't appreciate a good sense of humor? It's the world's saving grace, you know. Laughter is the key to survival.
WRITER: Now you tell me. Sure, I appreciate a good sense of humor. But from certain kinds of girls. New Yorkers, for instance. Angels, no.
GIRL: I was only trying to conceal my identity. I knew if you thought I was a celestial being, chances are you'd have kicked me out a long time ago, or worse, you might've turned around completely and gone back home, which is not the way it's meant to be.
WRITER: Don't worry. I don't meet enough angels to be wary of them. But, so why are you telling me now?
GIRL: Like I said, we're running out of time. (She looks at her watch) Oh, dear...and I wanted to get to know you better first. Oh, well.
WRITER: You should've been better prepared. Isn't there a file on me up there you could've read? Ha, ha.
GIRL: You've seen too many Frank Capra movies. This is reality now.
WRITER: Oh, sure. You're my guardian angel, descended from out of the blue, telling me about reality. That's a peach.
GIRL: “Guardian Angel” is simply a phrase. I have to call myself something in terms you can relate to. Even my appearance is customized to cater to your limited understanding.
WRITER: Hey, don't start patronizing me. Just be straight with me and I'll play along.
GIRL: Don't you believe me now?
WRITER: No, but I'm interested, let's put it that way. You're unique, if nothing else. All right, so let's say it's my time to go. All right? And you're my 'guardian angel.' All right? So why?
GIRL: Why what?
WRITER: Why...now? I mean, I've just begun to live. I just sold my first novel, I'm feeling good, I'm feeling happy, I'm feeling fine, for the time in my goddamn life, I'm content. And suddenly you appear out of left field and want to jerk the rug out from under me. All I'm asking is 'why'?
GIRL: This is no 'why.' There simply 'is.'
WRITER: I'm supposed to kick off just when things are going nice, and I'm not supposed to ask any questions, is that it?
GIRL: Ask all you want. But everyone has their own answers, their own version of the Truth. What's yours?
WRITER: What? My version? Well, when I die, I'm going to wake up in a tremendously beautiful...coffee shop, with dozens of gorgeous waitresses at my beckon call, and jazz playing non-stop on this fantastic jukebox. How do you like that?
GIRL: What does that answer?
WRITER: Well...what happens when I go.
GIRL: Is that the only answer you care about?
WRITER: No. I also think about other things.
WRITER: World hunger, crime, war, cancer, disasters. You know, all that crap.
WRITER: And what?
GIRL: What are your answers for those problems?
WRITER: Frankly, I don't have any good enough. For instance, why should I have my health and relative success and everything when some other poor schmuck, fuckin' millions of 'em, is born with brain damage and no arms and legs and nobody to give a damn? When you think about these things, it's hard to feel sorry for yourself, even when you get depressed, which is often in my case. That kind of injustice really bothers me. Know what I mean?
GIRL: So why ask questions to which you have no answers?
WRITER: Good question. And I can't answer it, either. Good point. One for you. You're not so flighty after all. A little neurotic, maybe, but aren't we all.
GIRL: We only a few moments left, um...any last words?
WRITER: Are you still on that kick, for Chrissake? Let it die – I mean, let it go, will you? It's not the least bit funny.
GIRL: Indulge me then, please. For just a little longer. Don't you have any regrets to get off your chest?
WRITER: If I die, I will. I'll regret death, because I'm just starting to live.
GIRL: Have you always wanted to be a writer?
WRITER: No, not always. I went through different stages. I used to want to be a professional baseball player, when I was real young. Then I switched to a superhero, then to a werewolf, then to a rock star. I had a very active imagination as a kid. I had to. I was fuckin' alone so much...never got along with anybody, really...bounced around different homes...aw, what do you care, right? Everyone's got their problems. But now at last, I feel vindicated. With my novel, I mean.
GIRL: So death now will make you a legend. A literary James Dean.
WRITER: Unless it's a flop. Then I'll just be another Lee Harvey Oswald. But I mean if I'm not around to enjoy my success, who needs it? There's other things in life, anyway. I'd miss little things, mostly. The sunrise. The sunset. Snow at Christmas, with carols and that crap. I guess I'm a real sentimental hack when you come right down to it. But so what.
GIRL: Do you believe in God?
WRITER: What's it to you?
GIRL: It may help people...explain things.
WRITER: Aw, I don't know. It can't hurt to believe in God, I suppose. You might as well. I mean, when you look at the seasons and nature and the solar system and all that miraculous stuff, you have to suspect something is going on. There's some kind of order in the Universe. I mean there's a definite system somewhere. But sometimes I get the idea that the caretaker is out to lunch, in more ways than one. Know what I mean?
GIRL: Do you have a religion?
WRITER: I used to. I was born Irish Catholic. Gave it up a long time ago, though. Religion is too much like a lottery to me. Pick the right number and you go to heaven or hell. I mean, gimme a break. If that's all that it means, forget it. I'll take my chances on my own.
GIRL: So do you have a philosophy of Life?
WRITER: I don't know. Sometimes. It changes. Sometimes I think love is the answer. Only love has never brought me anything but pain. So much fuckin' pain. So maybe life is pain, right? But naw, that's too goddamn nihilistic. Then other times I think sex is the answer. But it's too fleeting.
GIRL: So's life.
WRITER: Exactly. You know, you're beginning to really spook me a little. All of a sudden you're so serious. I can't figure you out.
GIRL: I'm just tired, I guess.
WRITER: But, anyway. I don't know. Most of the time I figure, what the hell, you live once, life is too short to take seriously. Tragedy and comedy are just matters of perspective, when you think about it. It's all in how you look at the same situation. You can either laugh or cry about it. Nothing makes sense, anyway. It's all a dark farce. Tell me if I'm getting too heavy. But you've got me going on some things I think a lot about. I go off sometimes.
GIRL: We're coming to the end now –
WRITER: (irritably) Knock that off.
GIRL: What are your views on death itself?
WRITER: What're you, Barbara Walters?
GIRL: I'm curious.
WRITER: Death is...a fantasy to me. You know. How can I fathom not existing when I can't understand existing, you know? Every morning I expect to wake up, pour a bowl of Wheaties, and turn on Bugs Bunny. That's reality to me. I can't conceive of not being able to do that. You get so used to the routine of life, you know? It catches you up. It absorbs you. Death is no more than a distant dream to me.
GIRL: Not any more.
WRITER: (frantic) Hey, where's the road – my God, everything's dark – Jesus, a cliff! – we're going to –
When the lights resume, the stage is dark except for a spotlight on the couple, still in their previous positions. The writer has his head bowed at first, but slowly lifts it up as the dialogue resumes. The girl is looking at hime with a peaceful smile.
WRITER (moans) Oh..what happened? (rubs his eyes)
GIRL: You've transcended. Not so awful, now, was it?
WRITER: What the hell is going on...? Where are we? (He grabs at the air aimlessly) Jesus, are we floating or something? I feel so light-headed...like I'm...stoned.
GIRL: It's better than that. Don't you feel emancipated?
WRITER: Wait a minute. I have to think about this now...what happened? Did you slip me something or...I mean, I really feel funny. Like I'm dreaming.
GIRL: C'mon. We'll discuss it over a cup of java – angel style.
The LIGHTS BRIGHTEN and they are surrounded by several WAITRESSES in pink uniforms. Slowly, a blues number is heard increasing in volume. One of the waitresses has a coffee pot in her hand and a smile on her face. The writer looks around incredulously.
WRITER: (grinning slightly) I must be dreaming. (A WAITRESS hands him a menu, brightly colored, which he accepts reluctantly.)
GIRL: Don't be coy. It's on the house.
WRITER: This can't be for real.
GIRL: Don't question, now. Just relax and enjoy yourself. The food's good here. Especially the Ambrosia Cake.
WRITER: I can't fuckin' believe this –
GIRL: Just watch the language, please. That's all we ask. You'll learn. You have a long way to go yet. But for now...just relax. Everything is going to be just fine. Oh, by the way....(She signals to one of the WAITRESSES, who brings her a book)...Here. You might want to see this.
WRITER: (accepting the book with marked interest) Holy shit! – I mean, uh, golly gee willikers. It's my novel! Nicely bound, too.
GIRL: It's for our special library.
WRITER: Posterity...in the hereafter. (He sets the book down and looks around him, beginning to loosen up) What's the name of this joint, anyway?
GIRL: You just said it. The Hereafter Cafe.
WRITER: Far out. (A WAITRESS pours a cup of coffee and hands it to him, and he sips it) Hm, good stuff.
GIRL: Only the best.
WRITER: (smiling broadly) Yea...I think I'm gonna like it here.
LIGHTS SLOWLY FADE TO BLACK. FINIS.
The In-Betweeners was published in Berkeley's Daily Californian as the first in their abruptly aborted series of original fiction. It was 1987, I was 24, and I had just left L.A. and relocated to the Bay Area for the second time, bitter and desperate for a fresh start (much like when I recently moved from the Bay Area to Seattle). They published only one other piece after mine, I believe, then quickly axed the idea, sticking to articles of interest to the campus community. Editor J. Poet became a good friend of mine and I began writing movie reviews for the paper, and eventually was hired as a Classified Ad Manager. I had no idea what that means, and still don't, but I faked it for about a year. My first movie review was for Barfly, which I trashed (though I've since grown to love it). I sent it to Mickey Rourke and he told me he had it framed.
I much prefer writing fiction over movie criticism, anyway (one reason I gave up the latter long ago). Some have compared this piece to Jean Paul-Sartre's No Exit (which was not intentional as I was not familiar with that work at the time). Others have not. You decide.
by Will Viharo
Originally published in The Daily Californian, 1987
“You want to know what I miss the most?” the Musician asked no one in particular. It was a cloudy, breezy afternoon, and the bar wasn't even half full. The misty ambience outdoors and the rustic décor of the Dew-Drop Inn inspired the Poet to furiously scribble romantic rubbish on dozens of napkins. The Actor remained passively alert, one ear given to the rambling Musician, and one eye dedicated to the sashaying contours of the Waitress. “Well, do ya or don't ya?” the Musician repeated.
“I'm listening,” said the Actor. “Just tell me. What do you miss? I'm dying to know, really.”
“You see that? That tone of voice?” the Musician said, riled, sitting erect and abandoning his screw-this slouch.
“I'm tone deaf,” said the Actor dryly, sipping his bourbon thoughtfully, trying to imagine the Waitress nude, and what their kids would look like, and if he'd still find her attractive when he was famous.
“I hate when you pull this shit,” said the Musician, blowing smoke from his cigarette aimlessly. “I hate when you get pedestrian on me.”
“You mean patronizing,” murmured the Poet, mentally lost on a boat on the Thames, looking for his True Love through the fog.
“Whatever the fuck I mean, I wish he'd just listen and, and, y'know. Listen,” said the Musician, tugging at the crucifix dangling from his ear.
“Just tell me what you miss, goddammit.” The Actor sighed, throwing back the rest of his drink. He summoned the Waitress for another.
“Okay, I'll tell ya,” said the Musician, returning to a reclining sprawl on the bench opposite the Actor and the intently-creative Poet. “I miss despair.”
“Have you tried sending it a postcard?” asked the Actor as he held one finger up to the Waitress.
“Fuck you,” said the Musician, returning to a reclining sprawl on the bench opposite the Actor and the intently-creative poet.
“Despair or passion?” the Poet suddenly said, but softly, still concentrating somewhere on the storm-swept Outback, looking for Her.
The Waitress, pretty, lost-looking, self-conscious, set the Actor's drink down with a quick smile, then departed. Their eyes had barely met, but the Actor felt encouraged.
Her eyes, wrote the Poet, her eyes...
“Whaddya mean by that?” the Musician asked the Poet. He lit another cigarette. The Poet's coffee was ice-cold by now, ignored into obscurity.
“By what?” said the Poet absently.
“By 'do I not miss despair but passion instead'? What the hell is that supposed to mean?” He sounded defensive as well as curious.
“Sshhh, I'm trying to think,” said the Poet. “Talk to him.”
“He won't listen to me,” the Musician said spitefully of the Actor, who was already forgetting the Waitress in favor of the Bartender, a frat, a loaf of white bread with a bow tie. Decisions, choices, variety. Life. Trapped. Suffocating.
“Hey, you listenin' to me?” the Musician practically yelled in the Actor's face.
“No,” said the Actor, now studying himself in the mirror behind the bar. He was noticing that he was better-looking than either the Waitress or the Bartender.
Eyes like twin oases in the wasteland of my...vision. The Poet crumpled up another napkin and jammed it deep into the pocket of his coat, not to be discarded carelessly someplace where it could be discovered and published posthumously. God forbid, he had a reputation to uphold. Such trite, trivial nonsense could ruin his place in eternity.
“All I'm tryin' to say,” said the Musician, sitting up for another shot at it, “is that...I don't know. My mind keeps going blank. I feel like...like I'm on the verge of somethin', y'know? That I lost somethin' but I don't know what, 'cause it vanished-like, you understand? Does that make no sense at all or...what? Something's missing...and...I don't feel like I've got anyplace to go, even though I've never been anywhere special yet...like when I was a little kid, I used to dream of doing gigs on the moon, for Chrissake, but now...I really don't care if I do. I mean, I care, but...in a way, I don't.”
“You're apathetic. Join the club,” the Poet said flatly, mesmerized by the blank napkin before him.
“I need another drink,” yawned the Actor, feeling his hairline, wondering if he'd be compared to Cary Grant or Jack Nicholson.
“Ask for more napkins,” said the Poet.
“You ask,” said the Actor.
“Whaddya mean, 'apathetic'?” said the Musician, refusing to have his train of thought derailed. “You mean like I don't give a shit, really, that I don't give a shit about not giving a shit?”
“Your eloquence,” said the Actor, “is staggering.”
“Think so really?” said the Musician. “Thanks. People tell me I talk like jazz sounds.”
The Actor got the attention of the Waitress. She motioned she'd be right there. She was watching the soap opera on the TV by the Bartender. The Actor wondered if they had a thing going, and if so, if he could join them. Montgomery Clift is who they will compare me to, he decided. But then a hair came out in his hand. He needed that drink.
“I feel burned-out, but not on acid,” the Musician continued. “Like I've done life already, the whole trip, even though I really haven't done anything. You know? You ever feel like that? Like you can't remember where you've been, and you don't really care where you're going?”
“The trouble is,” the Poet said quietly, “we're too young for one century, too old for the next.” She touched me in places my heart had never dreamed of. “I need more napkins,” he said. “Where's the Waitress?”
“Something's just...missing,” the Musician said, sitting back. “I feel like I'm going to disappear any second.”
The Waitress ignored the Actor's intense stare as she set his drink down. The Actor noticed she had a string tied around her finger. He wondered what she needed to be reminded of. To take her pill? She hurried away, intuitively, before he could ask.
“She seems so sad,” the Actor mused as he sipped, barely able to find his own lips by now.
“Who does?” said the Poet, looking up. “You mean – she was just here? Did you ask for more napkins? This is my last...”
“Christ, where were you?” said the Actor disdainfully. “Wake up.”
“Where did she go?” the Poet asked loudly.
“She's gone to a place where you'll never find her,” said the Actor ominously. “You'll never get your goddamn napkins now. You might as well give up and study computers. Poets starve, one way or another. Even if they get published. They're never satisfied with Life, the main source of their material. They always find something to whine about or they're not happy. Melancholia is their stock-in-trade.”
“I don't feel like anyone else cares that I don't care,” said the Musician, picking up the sax. He began to blow a few delicate notes, delicately. The Waitress, in the bathroom, began to cry at the sound of of his blue melody.
“Where the hell is she?” the Poet wondered. “This is my last napkin.” She was like a specter that haunted my memory. Her love a gentle sunset on the stark horizon of my existence... “If only I had someone to write for,” the Poet lamented.
“Stop whining,” said the Actor. His gaze had met the Bartender's. The Actor wondered if he had enough coke left for two. “You two guys make me sick. You escape into dream-worlds because you simply cannot deal with reality. You're looking for an illusion, both of you. There's no escape. This is it. You might as well learn to make the most of it.” He fought the overwhelming sense of futility in his gut.
“No one notices anything anymore,” the Musician said to the ceiling. “Or if they do, no one cares.” He went back to his sax plaintively. The Poet covered his solitary napkin with fruitless ink. The Actor got up to order his next drink from the bar.
No way to find you, no way to forget you, wrote the Poet.
The sax sounded mournful.
“I'm off at six,” the Bartender told the Actor, who was showing him his resume of summer stock work.
Suddenly, the Musician stopped playing. The Poet crumpled up his napkin and threw it aimlessly. “I give up,” he sighed.
Blood trickled from under the door to the ladies' room.
“Where can she be?” wondered the Poet.
“No one's listening,” said the Musician as he put the sax back into the case. “What's the point?”
Outside it began to rain.
LITTLE BLACK BULLETS (1989) and NIGHT NOTES (1990)
COFFEE SHOP GODDESS (1990) and THE EMANCIPATION OF ANNE FRANK (1991)
PEOPLE BUG ME (2013)
ESCAPE FROM THRILLVILLE (2014)
NOW AVAILABLE from THRILLVILLE PRESS:
THE THRILLVILLE PULP FICTION COLLECTION!
|VOLUME ONE: A Mermaid Drowns in the Midnight Lounge and|
Freaks That Carry Your Luggage Up to the Room
The new Vic Valentine novel HARD-BOILED HEART now available from Gutter Books!
My short story ESCAPE FROM THRILLVILLE as well as my Tribute To Ingrid Bergman included in this issue of Literary Orphans
My short story BEHIND THE BAR is included in this anthology:
My Vic Valentine vignette BRAIN MISTRUST is included in this anthology: