70 Cities as Love Brings the Fall
By Jose Padua
Kill Yr. Idols
Sitting next to me in my car, Mona had just unbuttoned the waist of her jeans, unzipped her zipper, and was leaning over the way you would if you were about to hurl, but she wasn’t sick to her stomach and she wasn’t even drunk, like I was, because all she had to do was take a leak. A really big leak that she didn’t want to take yet, but her tight ass jeans were squeezing her like old Elvis trying to wear Iggy Pop’s shiny pants. Her stringy black hair was hanging in her face like seaweed on a dirty beach and she was moaning like a person who’d just been pounded in the gut, or gotten a leg hideously mangled in some kind of industrial food processor that grinds things up into edible sludge. Or, scariest of all, like a woman about to give birth. But in between moans she’d talk. Like “Let me tell what happened the first time I rode one of the buses here in town” and “Did you know that if you put a piece of fat into a cup of Coca-Cola it’ll dissolve just like that?”
I didn’t want to think about any of these things. I mean, neither of us are kids anymore, and all I was doing was trying to get a little bit of action and I hadn’t even gotten to the action and already I was thinking ahead to all the things way in the distant and most likely improbable future that I didn’t want to happen, but with her moaning the way she was, my mind was there. In some hospital room with her breathing heavily and pushing out an infant from between her soiled legs—our infant—her soiled legs the legs I wanted to get inside, and as my mind finally got back to my car, with her in the passenger seat next to me, I wondered if this shit was ever really worth it. What’s more, I didn’t really even like her. So of course, before you say, Then what the hell were you doing with her, let me just say that I didn’t like myself either; but fuck, people grow, so leave me alone now and let’s have no further discussion of the matter.
Love Will Tear Us Apart
It had started off about an hour earlier downtown outside the club. I was beat. I was about to walk out after some local band had finished their set when a song I liked started playing on the sound system, so I stayed, stood there at the back bar and after a moment caught the bartender’s attention and said, “A gin and tonic, please.”
Yes, I drink gin and tonics and yes, I said “please”—because I am one of those drinkers who is invariably polite to whomever is serving me, no matter how drunk I am. I may be yelling Fuck Yous and Kiss My Asses to the clowns sitting next to me, but to the bartenders it’s always “Please” and “Thank you” and leaving a decent enough tip when I can afford it. That’s why even when I’m at my worst, I rarely ever get kicked out of a bar. And tonight I was back after one of those nights when I was at my worst.
I don’t remember much of that night. Marie, my bartender, said that I was throwing lit cigarettes at people and making kissy faces at them. And that I was in the middle of one of those drunken binges when I’m actually, despite my small size, on the scary side—which meant that no one even tried to punch me out or retaliate in any way. If anyone had, they could have fucked me up so easily and I would have dropped to the floor like a clueless idiot diving into a swimming pool he doesn’t realize is empty.
The Magnificent Seven
That’s when I looked to the other side of the club and saw that Mona was there. I’d met her the week before, on the street, when I was waiting for the bus. My car had been destroyed a couple of weeks earlier, parked around the corner from the club while I watched the Bush Tetras play. I could have sworn that Pat Place was glaring at me as if she wanted to smack me when she wasn’t staring at her guitar, which made me feel pretty good. I was also sure I caught singer Cynthia Sley’s eye as she sang the word “creeps,” though I might have been mistaken and she was just looking to see if there was snot on the back of her hand after she’d just wiped her nose with it. When they were done playing I was going to try to go back stage to see if I could hang out with the band, but they weren’t letting anyone in that night. Usually they do, but maybe the Bush Tetras really did attract too many creeps. I was about to split, then decided to have one more drink at the bar.
Afterwards, when I left the club and turned the corner to my VW Bug, there it was with a big brown Pontiac freshly lodged into it from the back. Looking into it, I saw the driver’s seat was pushed through the steering wheel. I didn’t understand the precise timing and physics of what had happened, but I was pretty sure that if I hadn’t had that extra drink—and had gone to my car right after being denied entry backstage—I would have been behind the wheel, trying to start my engine when the Pontiac hit. That car never did start right away—it always took a few tries. I would have been looking at my dashboard, turning the key, waiting for the right moment to step on the gas, oblivious to the massive piece of shit car that was heading right for my ass. Which means that all my precious days from here on out are some kind of blessing, as they say. A fucking gift.
Holiday in Cambodia
When I ran into Mona at the bus stop last week after I got out of work, we ended up eating vegetables from some community garden near the bus stop. We’d recognized each other from the club, with me nodding first, I think, then her focusing her eyes through her thick glasses and saying “Ohhh!” like she either remembered me from somewhere or else had just stepped into some dog shit on the sidewalk. But she talked to me anyway.
“My boyfriend Davey used to pick me up from places,” she explained after a while. “He’s a cab driver. We live together, but we haven’t been getting along lately.”
“I used to have a car,” I said. “But it got wrecked near the club a few weeks ago. I should have a new one next week. Well, not a new one, a used one. But it’ll be new to me.”
“Oh cool. Maybe you can give me a ride once in a while. You live in my neighborhood too, I think. I’ve seen you around—at the store on Columbia Road.”
“Oh yeah, that’s where I go,” I said. Then, trying to be funny, I added, “I get my eggs, my sausage, my toast…”
“You get toast there?”
“Well, no, I get bread. Then I take it home and toast it.”
Mona nodded, and in a moment finally laughed. She had this asthmatic sort of laugh—it sounded like she was having trouble breathing. I was alarmed at first and was about to ask, “Are you ok?” She looked out to the street where there was no sign of a bus coming, just people who had cars, looking straight ahead into the dimming light. I looked over to where she was looking and said, “What a bunch of assholes.”
“Hey, let’s start walking,” she said, turning the other way, and suddenly we were walking together. Several blocks up the street, Mona noticed the community garden saying, “let’s look here.”
I walked with her into the garden—there was no one else around. Mona found some vines of cherry tomatoes, grabbed a small one near the middle of the vine, pulled, and put it in her mouth and started to chew. She looked at me and smiled, then reached out to pull off another one. This time she held it out to me. “This shows you why they’re actually fruits,” she said.
I took it from her fingers, put it in my mouth, and bit into it. It felt like a slightly cool drink, or somehow, like a broken down machine. Anyway, that’s what I thought for some reason, as she pulled another one from the vine and held it to my face. Taking it into my mouth, my lips brushed lightly against her fingers, which I imagined tasted salty on this warm day even though they were nowhere near my tongue.
Days of Wine and Roses
Tonight, as soon as we spot each other, we’re hanging out together. I walk to the bar, she walks to the bar, she tries to get closer to check out the band, I get closer to check out the band. Later, we even do that shit where I go to the bar for a drink and bring another one back with me, but it’s not a backup drink for me, it's a drink for her. I mean, one drink at a time, one for me, one for her. It’s like so fucking normal it’s scaring me.
We’re standing a few feet away from the stage, watching The Dream Syndicate. The singer, Steve Wynn, is good, I guess, but a little too smug. I know I’m smug too, but the singer is in a band. He’s a regular kind of cool looking guy. Kendra, his bass player, is gorgeous. Me, on the other hand, I'm not in a band. I'm not normal good looking. I’m not hanging out with Kendra after the show, obviously. I’m not hanging out with Allison, the club's beautiful waitress. I'm hanging out with Mona. I've got nothing to be smug about, yet I am. Steve Wynn of the Dream Syndicate, however, has a lot to be smug about and he is smug. I hate that.
By this time I’ve given up trying to find someone else to hang out with. Besides, I don’t really know anyone else all that well and right now it seems that the person I know the best is Mona. I know Marie, the bartender, and she tolerates me. I have a friend at work, whose name escapes me at the moment. That happens in these instances of great revelation—your long term memory takes a hit, and people you encounter on a daily basis lose their names, their faces, maybe even their job descriptions.
At the end of the set we walk toward the exit. Usually I go straight to the bar again at that point, but with the big crowd in the club that night, we instinctively go outside for some fresh air.
“Wait, maybe I should go to the bathroom first,” Mona says. “But fuck, there’s always a huge line to the ladies room.”
She lights a cigarette instead of heading back inside. We’re standing with the rest of the crowd that has just left. It’s something you have to do at the end of a show—you can’t just go home, even if that’s what you really want to do next. It’s not cool to leave like that. It means you’ve got school the next day, or an office to go to in the morning, or if you’re young enough, a curfew even. But even when you’re not a kid anymore, it’s not cool. You have to behave like you haven’t got shit you have to do. I reach into my pocket and light a cigarette also as Mona and I look around, not saying much.
I’ve always liked the way the neighborhood around the club is so quiet at the end of the evening. It’s the only thing downtown that’s open late, so it feels like you have the whole city to yourself. No businessmen in three-piece suits, no business women wearing sophisticated ensembles, no mothers taking the kids to buy new tennis shoes, no old men picking up their arthritis medicine at the drug store. It’s just the night’s architecture, humming so softly you can barely hear it. It’s a silence that only gets interrupted by a siren, an out of control car, a homeless drunk mumbling insane shit out loud—all of which get swallowed up again by the power of everything that’s dark. As the crowd starts to collapse into fragments before disappearing completely, Mona and I start to walk toward my car.
Don’t Eat Stuff Off the Sidewalk
We’re in my car, on the way to her and Davey’s place. She was getting ready to move out, she’d said earlier. She had a girlfriend who said she could crash at her place for a while. I look straight ahead, both hands on the wheel, feeling like I’m on some sort of mission. There’s hardly anyone else on the streets right now.
“Davey’s become a bit of a cunt, eh? It’s a fact of life, in’it?” I say, continuing a conversation we were having earlier in the evening and using some British slang in an attempt to make her laugh and take her mind off having to piss.
“Ha, yeah,” she says. Then, “Oh, stop with that. It’s going to make me need to pee even more.”
“Should I look for some place with a bathroom? Or go back to the club so you can go there?”
“I like going someplace clean,” she says.
“You mean you’ve never used the bathroom at the club?”
“I have. But I prefer not to. I really don’t mind having to wait so long. It’s just that’s it’s so filthy there.”
“That’s not very punk.”
“Shut up,” she says. She seems to be having trouble focusing her eyes. Then she laughs her asthmatic laugh before saying, “I know” and again “shut up.”
70 Cities As Love Brings the Fall
It was a year that began like this, with me feeling I’d just been punched so fucking hard in the gut but slapped lightly on the cheek—as if the light slap on the cheek after the gut punch was a kind reminder that the gut punch was a punishment for something for which I was no longer responsible. Rightly or wrongly, I felt that my past was my past now, a song I’d grown tired of and would never listen to again.
Yes, I’d been drunk so many nights my legs felt like I was walking in outer space. High so often that every smell had a sound to go along with it, every taste a color, and every touch a scene from a porn film, the one where the actor playing me is named Roman Langli. The film that makes me look tall and hung with lips in a perpetual, almost miraculous sneer. The one where I wake up and I’m on the floor with a hot club girl named Leena. Driving with Mona on the way to take a leak that she’s reluctant to take—but which she will inevitably have to—I realize those days and imaginations are all over now.
Nevertheless, the discomfort I feel considering that Mona might be the one for me is only a little less in degree to the horror I feel that I might be the one for her, and that the world may be meant to go on this way, wanting to go to the bathroom but not going, wanting to love but not loving anything, and just continuing to live with some vague pain that can only be relieved by getting rid of something and either flushing it away, or leaving it by the side of some building downtown, just another thing we created and are adding to the beautiful, endless stench of the universe.
So I drive on, past everything that’s closed for the night—the 4 Dudes shoe store, Peoples Drugs. Turning right onto the strip, I see that even the strip joints are closed—The Butterfly Club, This is It?, The Gold Rush—which means we’d been hanging out for quite a while after the show with Mona not taking a piss yet. And even though the neon lights of Benny’s Rebel Room, Casino Royal, and Doc Johnson’s are still on, I know they’re all closed now. I think that’s something I learned to spot over the years—how to tell if a strip joint is closed without having to yank on the door.
Leaving all the clubs on the street behind us, I think about all the things Mona and I have in common, but mostly I’m thinking about what a mess it will be if she ends up peeing on the seat of my new used car and that I’d better get her to her apartment. Davey might be there, and he might be annoyed to see his soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend getting a ride back with someone who’s going to be her future boyfriend. But maybe not, because maybe he realizes too that that’s the way time passes, with different eras overlapping. Why, even the centuries overlap, in a way, with the next century starting in 2001 and not the year 2000 like all the assholes think, which reminds me that I better get Mona to a bathroom now. I’m about to step harder on the gas to make it through a light that’s about to turn red, when I suddenly slam on the brakes.
“What the fuck did you do that for?” Mona wheezes. We’re stopped at the red light as a cop car crosses our field of vision, moving from right to left. The cop glances at us, but moves on. I look over to Mona, who looks back to me, grins, and squeezes her legs together more tightly.
“Jesus how long is this fucking light?” she yells, after a minute, and I marvel very slightly at the almost beautiful sound of her voice.
Jose Padua’s first book, A Short History of Monsters, was chosen by former poet laureate Billy Collins as the winner of the 2019 Miller Williams Poetry Prize. His poetry and essays appear regularly at Vox Populi. He lives with his wife, poet Heather L. Davis, and children in Washington, D.C.
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