“Hey, Bailey.” Toby says when I walk in the door. He’s got some paint cans strewn about, leftovers from somebody’s home improvement project in the neighborhood. He’s mixing colors with gesso for thickening to use on some canvas…or is he painting on scrap plywood again? I don’t know.

Center of the Universe Toby lives in Fremont, cracked putty barely keeping the windows fixed in their sills and the wind outside where it belongs. It’s you classic mostly uninhabitable dump above an empty storefront , just west of The Center of the Universe…west of the hustle and bustle the hipster zone. In crappy-land, actually…on the way to Ballard. The hallway stairs leading up to his 2nd floor apartment always smells of stale cigarette smoke and sour left-over beer from some party or other that he threw the weekend before…or that just happened by accident. The stairwell never seems to get cleaned up after such events. Empty beer cans and bottles lay every which way just asking for someone to trip on one and wham, bam! They’ll be at the bottom with some broken something…or at least some serious bruises. I don’t know how Toby can live in a place like this, but whatever. His life I guess. And it’s a place he can paint and make a mess and generally ignore the rest of the world…except when he has his parties.

Sometimes his parties are pretty cool…when they’re planned and thought out and he cleans up the place beforehand. He’ll work some magic to have eats and drinks and put up his latest blobs of paint on the walls…almost like a real gallery opening. But it almost always ends the same eventually…blurred with barf and comatose gutter rats passed out on every semi-flat surface at 6:00 am and a desperate need for five trillion aspirin to kill the bomb that went off in your head at some point.

So on this very rainy, blustery day, his hands full of multicolored goop, Toby is in a very happy space. From the amount of crap stuck to him and strewn about he’s had a very industrious time and is very calm. “Just let me wash this crap off and we’ll bail outta here.” He flashes a grin. Girls love his grin. I think that grin and his blobs of paint are the only things that get him laid. I mean, I guess he’s not ugly…I dunno, I ‘m not a fag or anything…but I just don’t get it why he always has some girl hanging around and it’s hardly ever the same one. I just don’t get it, while I’m always stuck with nothing or left overs. Whatever.

“Hey, I ran into Brian on the bus just now.” I say. “He was still going on about that party from Saturday before last and the two girls he supposedly hooked up with. What’s up with that guy?”

“Oh, you know Brian.” Toby replies. “All he can think about is pussy this and hooter that. I doubt he could tell you who else was at the party. Tunnel vision, that guy, for real.”

“Well, he seemed to know I was there…almost more than I did. Fuck, I barely remember half that night. I always forget I can’t drink Spodie like it’s kool-aid, ya know what I mean?” I open the ‘fridge hoping for a beer, but all that’s in it are a few rolls of film, a few condiments and a very suspect plastic take-out container with what I assume is left over food from Taco del Mar…only because it’s in a plastic bag that says Taco del Mar on it. I would guess whatever is in the container has a full head of green hair and its occupants have established themselves as an independent colony of a soon to be higher life form.

Toby looks up from the sink where he’s busily scrubbing some color that looks like regurgitated spinach mixed with baby poop. “Hmm, really? I actually don’t remember that he was here that long himself. I think he took off with those two girls…I think one was named Sheila or Sherry or something like that. She stayed over a few weeks ago, but I can’t remember her name. Dude, but she was wild crazy, if you know what I mean! Damn!”

I roll my eyes and close the ‘fridge. “Come on. Let’s get outta here. I’m starving marvin and I’m sure you owe me at least one beer for helping you hang up all this crap around for that party.” Rummaging around in Toby’s coat hanging on the door, I find a bag of Bali Shag tobacco set about rolling a cigarette. “Where were you thinking you wanna grab some grub?”

Pulling on his boots, Toby looks up, that grin of his on his face again. “Well, there’s this chick at Flowers that pours a mean shot of Jaeger…”

Ah. I get it. I’m Mr. Side-kick again to Mr. Cool. I’m his excuse to go hit on some hippy-chick that he wants to dip his wick in. Whatever. Free food for the poor…with a beer and a shot to boot. Can’t complain too much I guess. I shake my head slowly at him and his grin, a smirk finding hit’s way onto my own face.

“Flowers it is then. But you’re driving.”

© 2008 D. Kessler