As I turn the key in the lock of the front door to my old brick apartment building on Summit Avenue, I breathe a sigh of relief. That had to be the weirdest bus ride of my life, I think to myself. What the hell was that about with that homeless guy? There is no way he could know anything about the pink-haired girl. What was this I will help her thing? Bailey, you are totally losing it, I muse to myself as I pull out the mail from my clogged mail box and thumb through the stack of junk mail and overdue notices that are crumpled due to the fact I haven’t checked my mail in days, maybe all week. That was just one really weird, mentally off-balance dude in need of lots of meds that probably can’t tell reality from his waking dream trance that he so obviously was in…probably perpetuated by too much Thunderbird. Wacked, I tell myself. Totally wacked and completely not worth your consideration.

I trudge up the stairs to my apartment. The hallways and stairwells of this old place perpetually smell of burnt veggies, pine sol and mildew and I momentarily wonder how many years of odors are floating through the air into my nostrils. The carpet is worn, very worn. In places you can’t even tell what the color the fibers are supposed to be because it’s worn down to the warp. I open the door to my one-room studio of smallest proportion and toss the mail on a table by the kitchen. My mother would shit if she ever saw the place. There’s only a tiny closet-sized kitchen with a half-size refrigerator and a three burner gas stove, the tile in my bathroom needs replacing, like 10 years ago, but the water is hot so I don’t worry too much about it. The rent is rock bottom and as long as you keep your scraps cleaned up and your food in Tupperware or Ziploc bags, the roach problem is not a problem after all. What the hell, it’s a place to be alone and the steam heat is free.

I turn on the tube and flop on my bed that also serves as a couch on the rare occasion that I might have someone over…like never…and flick through the channels, trying to find something to zone out on…

I apparently fall asleep because in what seems like no time, the phone is ringing and it’s totally dark outside third floor window. I look at the clock on a table next to my bed slash couch and it reads just after 9:00 p.m, so I sit up rub my eyes and pick up the phone.

“Hello?” I say into the mouth piece, my voice thick with sleep.

“Hey! Dude, where are you? I thought you were coming over here to help me stretch some canvas.” Oh. It’s Toby. “Remember? You said you would be over here around seven…” Oh shit. I totally forgot.

“Oh…yeah…sorry…I fell asleep.” That’s what I get for drinking on an empty stomach and then having a panic attack. The crash after a panic attack always tuckers me out and coupled with the fact I didn’t eat all day before hooking up with Brian…well, you get the picture. “Do you still want me to come over? I can hop on a bus…”

“Sure, sure. Yeah…get your ass over here. I can’t paint without anything to paint on. Besides, I have something to tell you that is better in person.”

I say okay and hang up the phone before going into the bathroom to splash my face awake. In the kitchen I drag a plastic jug of milk out of the fridge and take a big swig, only to choke on the clumps that hit the back of my throat and I spew it into the sink. Ugh. Nasty sour shit. I up-end the jug in the sink and pull out a can of Pabst, pop the top and chug half of it to get the awful taste off my tongue. When was the last time I actually bought milk, anyway? I look at the jug. The date is two weeks past. No wonder. I chug the rest of the beer, grab my keys and a jacket head out the door to Toby’s place. This should be fun…it’ll take me two busses and who knows how long to get to Toby’s place. First downtown, then a switch to get to Fremont. I really hope I don’t run into any pseudo-psychic bums this time.

© 2008 D. Kessler

As the #49 bounces along its route, over the University Bridge and alongside the freeway, heading south towards Capitol Hill, I try to theorize again what may have happened to Shayla. In my paranoid mind, I’m sure that something bad had to have happened to her. Why else would she just not be anywhere to be found when I got here. I know I’m basically beating a dead horse until I can actually talk to someone that may have any information at all to help, but this is my mind: it just will not turn off until I either drop dead, fall asleep or come to a conclusion I can live with…at least for now.

Okay, I tell myself. What if you’re wrong and nothing bad has happened to her at all? I mean, what if, in the three years that Shayla has lived here…the three years that I have not seen her…she’s totally turned into a flake? Could be, you never know, stranger things have happened. So, if that’s the case, then she could have just picked up and gone on vacation or something, right? Right, I answer myself. Geez, this is getting bad…I’m talking to myself in my head. What’s next? Am I going to start talking to myself out loud like some of the freaks that wander around downtown and smell up the bus when they ride it?

So, focus, focus…what really are the possibilities here? One, something bad happened. No, no…remember. You’re trying to figure out the other possibilities. So, she could have gone out of town on a whim…maybe another friend of her’s was going somewhere, just for the week, and wanted her to come with and…I stop. This is always where I get when I try to come up with alternative ideas about what happened to Shayla. Wouldn’t she have called me? I mean, I don’t have a cell phone, but she could have called my old house to let me know…left a message, even? Oh. Hmm. That would have turned out bad, I guess. Either I wouldn’t have gotten the message, or there would have been a freaked out situation after such a message was left because I was taking off without saying anything about it. But would Shayla have realized that? Maybe….maybe not. So…a big shouting match did not happen ergo there was no message left. And if no message was left, it is possible that Shayla didn’t leave one because she knew the deal…mum’s the word, although we didn’t really specify that when we made our plan.

So, like Todd and Chris have said, it’s possible that Shayla took off for a few days. Except, wouldn’t she have left word with her land-lady slash apartment manager? I mean, something like “Look my friend Jessie is coming to visit but I can’t be here when she gets here so can you please let her in and give her a key so she has a place to stay until I get back next…” Next when? Week? Month? Okay…I’m getting worked up again. This is never going to do.

I look outside the window, trying to think of something else for a little while. The clouds are a big grey mat hanging in the sky like huge a roll of laundry lint taken from the lint trap of one of those industrial-sized clothes dryers, but it’s not raining…yet. I haven’t figured out yet how to tell if it’s about to dump or not. The clouds look pretty dense despite their fluff, and if you ask me it will probably be raining any time now. But Aliah would probably laugh at me…or at least break out one of her smirky smiles…and tell me, no way, those aren’t rain clouds. It seems she must have a sixth sense about if it will rain or not, I swear.

Thankfully, the little old lady with Eu de Depends & Roses got off the bus not long after she got on, but not so thankfully is that now there’s a woman with a trillion shopping bags: one from the U Dub bookstore, another with what looks like a couple boxes of shoes of some kind, yet others with a plethora of unknown objects, and still others with groceries. The bags are on her lap, falling into my lap, and on the floor in front of her, making me feel extremely boxed in…claustrophobic, even. Why she didn’t go for a real seat farther back in the bus where there is room for all her shit, is beyond me. Well, that leaves one of those seats for me. I get up from my prison and make my way toward an empty seat about halfway down the bus, grabbing at the railings as I go so as to not fall on my ass or bump into anyone along the way.

Flopping heavily into my new home on the #49, I dig in my bag for my iPod and Harvard Mansion 2007, photo by Joe Mabel tune out from the conversations around me. We’re stopped behind a line of cars at an intersection where the oncoming traffic is turning across our path onto I-5 and I notice an old house…or rather, a mansion?…on our left. It’s white, with greek colonial columns in front, lots of trees and a stone walkway up to the front door. Talk about out of place, I tell myself. Very cool, but it looks west over the freeway and probably gets about as much noise as the house in the U District that I’m staying at now. Obviously, it was built in a much quieter time, when the occupants would look out their windows to a rolling valley now desecrated by concrete, asphalt and a constant parade thousands of motor vehicles zooming north or south, each with only one or two occupants. Sad…plus the architect is probably spinning in his grave.

Back to thinking about Shayla, I expand on the probability that she took a break out of town. A trip to B.C. seems likely. Vancouver is pretty close and she could have taken the train or even driven up with this as yet unknown friend. The weather hasn’t been horrible yet, so she could have even gone to the coast for a sweet off-season deal at one of the normally touristy places out on the Peninsula. Aliah did say that a lot of artist-types do that this time of year, before the real storms start to hit, because it’s so dramatic with the drift wood and varied light…etc. And maybe she did leave a message with her land lady…I haven’t been able to talk to her yet…and it’s been over a week now since I got here. She could be back. That would totally fix everything.

Okay. So I’m a little more calm about this whole thing. Or maybe it’s just the Ladytron coming out of my earbuds, I dunno, but in any case I’m feeling better. All I really can do now is follow my plan from this morning…go by Shayla’s apartment and see if I can find her land-lady slash apartment manager and see if she left a message with her, or she can tell me where she works so I can check there. Or maybe Shayla could even been home by now. Or…a big sigh escapes from my until now very tight chest and the person next to me looks over at me, probably wondering if I’m okay. I tend to worry people without meaning to, I’ve noticed. I smile at the middle-aged business-type woman and shrug my shoulders. No worries, I mean to convey. She smiles an unsure smile back at me and goes back to her book. There. I dodged that one, thankfully. I really don’t need to have to hash anything out with another total stranger.

The bus rumbles along a mostly residential thoroughfare: cool old craftsman homes, single-story bungalow-style apartments probably built in the 1940s and 50s, occasionally some newly constructed modern condos scaring the flow of comfortable visuals. I check one of the street signs as we stop near an intersection…10th Ave E, it says. Then all of a sudden as we continue on, I catch a St Marks Cathedral, Seattleglimpse of this huge blocky cathedral on our right set back from the street behind a large parking lot. Before I know it, it’s gone and I’m left wondering what kind of church it is, if there is a tour I can take, if they’ll allow me to take photos …Wow, I didn’t know this was here, I think to myself. I make a mental note to come back and check it out later. I’m sure Todd will know something about it.

Eventually, we make it to Broadway and I get off the bus at Broadway Market, thinking I’d like the walk a few blocks down the street rather than the start-stop of the ride as it snails toward my destination. Broadway is one of those streets that seems to have traffic at all times of the day, and it never goes quickly. The blocks are short and the lights don’t seem to be exactly synchronized to optimum flow. But then, it’s not really so bad as the sights are often worth the snail-pace. Broadway is kind of the heart of Capitol Hill, with freaks of all kinds doing their grocery shopping, pan-handling, meat-market pick-up, a place to see-and-be-seen. I think of Todd and his obsession that he can never go outside his apartment without making sure he is ultimately put together; he never knows who he’ll run into and to be seen in a ball-cap and ratty sweats just to go to the store, even in the middle of the night, for a little something forgotten on a previous trip… oh-my-gawd he’d just DIE. I smile at the thought. He really is a piece of work…and I do really like him. More than the fact that he helped me find a place to stay, I think he’s sweet and a hoot to boot.

Speak of the Devil, and he shall appear, I muse to myself. There, as I am standing in front of the flower shop on the corner, rummaging desperately for a smoke in my bag to replace the one I had to ditch before getting on the bus in the U District, and as being bumped into by some skater-types, I notice Todd coming up the sidewalk, small entourage in tow: a couple of boys I groggily remember meeting at four a.m. the other night after they came in to the apartment for breakfast after they were at Neighbors, an overly made-up slightly heavy-set girl (or is it that she has the biggest boobs I have ever seen in person that makes her seem so? I wonder…) who looks like she’s ready for a night at the club a few hours too early, and a geeky artsy girl with shortish hair and horned rimmed glasses. Todd sees me and it’s all over.

“He-ey!” He waves. “What are you doing down here?” He turns to his fan club, “Hey, everybody, this is Jessie. Jessie, this is Jennifer and Stevee…and you remember Brad and Trevor, right?”

I nod and say hello.

“We were just going to get some breakfast, I mean lunch.” He giggles. “Whatever, something to eat. You have to come with us!”

I try to tell him I just ate a few minutes ago in the U District…

“Oh, come on! We’re not really eating, are we kids? Well, some of us might…just a little bit…but really we’re just going for drinks and maybe a little nibble. Come on…you are coming with, right guys? We’re not taking no for an answer…”

No, of course they weren’t. I was quickly learning that Todd did not ever take no for an answer. So, I tag along to some place I’d seen as I’d passed it the other day…The Broadway Grill…and there’s hugs and hellos between the guys and the maitre de/host before he shows us back to a table in an open and airy sunken area with a ceiling entirely comprised of large skylights. Abstract copper-pipe The Broadway Grill interior - 2007 fountains line the walls, one for each table against the wall under them, and the floor is made of flagstone. There are large plants in the corners of the room and large wall at the back houses what is obviously their entire wine selection, stacked like a wine cellar behind cabinet doors that are just framework with chicken wire. Along one side of the sunken room is a railing separating the bar on  the original/upper level of the room from the rest of the dining area. There is a neon sculpture all along the wall above the bar and clubby dance music fills both the bar and restaurant areas. The whole place seems like a cross between a Mediterranean atrium with a hint of 80’s disco, depending on where you lay your eye and how good you are at ignoring the background music.

An uber-fit, too-tanned straight-from-the-tanning-bed, perky bleached blonde boy/man is suddenly at our table, nipples poking at his slightly too tight polo shirt that has “The Broadway Grill” embroidered above one of those nipples. “So, is it Black Orchids for all?” He asks.

What the hell is a Black Orchid, I wonder. Well, I am obviously soon to find out, due to the enthusiastic response from Todd and his boys. What the hell, I ask myself. Todd is apparently picking up the tab. I buckle my proverbial seat belt and hang on for the ride, hoping the track is intact up ahead.

© 2008 D. Kessler

After the bus pulls away, away from the girl that freaks me out for no reason, I start to calm down. I’m on the way to Capitol Hill, on my way home. I can deal with this. I plug in my ipod and veg out, tune out, watch the various scenes around me…detached. It’s like watching some movie with the soundtrack off. Or rather, with the soundtrack of my choosing…Neurosis, Sepultura, Tool. Very different than most of the persons in the visual backdrop in front of my eyes. That’s what makes it tolerable…the paradox of society versus sound…

At the first stop, one of the business-type robots gets on, early thirties, hair haphazardly pinned up in back with some sort of plastic clip, her feet in tennis shoes, bright white like they just came out of the box sometime this week. Her charcoal suit is ill fit, shoulders a bit too wide, and she doesn’t fill out the bust properly. Probably got the thing at some discount second-life store like Ross or The Rack and doesn’t even realize she should get it altered to fit; she’s not going up the ladder too quick like that. She’s bogged down with too much shit: an over-stuffed handbag, a laptop case and an armload of something that looks like a portfolio stuffed with miscellaneous files being brought home to slave over until midnight. Well, maybe she doesn’t realize that it’s not just how hard you work or how good you are at your work…she still needs to look the part for that promotion. Stupid robots. Exactly why I don’t want anything to do with that shit.

Some kids rudely push past her going the other way in the aisle trying to get off at the same stop. Loudly bickering amongst themselves about something, I can even hear them a bit over my music. They don’t care that as they bump past her, they knock the portfolio out of her arm and it falls to the floor, scattering papers everywhere. She squats down to gather them up and the bus lurches forward at the same time, knocking her on her ass. I catch a glimpse of thigh where it meets a more private area and notice that she’s wearing bright blue underwear. Lovely. One of the guy robots in the seat next to where she sits struggling to get up bends over to help her, and also picks up some papers just out of her reach. He scoots over to the seat by the window so she can sit down next to him and I notice he’s introducing himself, hand extended. I wonder if he saw the blue panties too and chuckle to myself. Yep. Just like a stupid movie.

Just the other side of I-5, the bus stops again to let off more people…and let more on. Things are getting pretty tight and I’m glad that I got on at the stop that I did. Seats are at a premium now and most of the newbies are having to stand, gripping the rails above their heads with whitening knuckles. This driver isn’t the smoothest ride…I wonder how long he’s been doing this job.

A little old lady is wanting to get on the bus, but with her walker she wants the bus driver to lower the handicap lift. Its piercing annoyingly high-pitched beeping noise invades my audio world, then a pause as the old crone wheels her metal walker on in front of her and then up the contraption goes, bringing her with and resuming that gawd-awful sound. Once on the bus, she looks at the passengers sitting at the front on the seats facing inward, waiting for one of them to offer her a seat. A lady with a toddler picks up her snot-nosed kid and plops her in her lap so the old lady can sit, her walker in front of her, blocking the aisle. She looks like she’ ninety, hair covered with one of those plastic rain caps…even though there’s not been a drop of rain today despite the clouds. The little girl in her mother’s lap starts to cry…I can’t quite hear her, thank god, but I can see her face all screwed up and she’s squirming violently trying to get down off her mother’s lap. The passengers across from her are looking very uncomfortable, annoyed even, as they look away, or glare at the child and/or the mother. Mommy is obviously exhausted and ineffectual at curtailing this obnoxious behavior…it’s all she can do to keep the child in her lap. I feel sorry for the kid rather than the other passengers. I mean, how must she feel cooped up on this contraption with lots of strangers around her, giving her the evil eye, and some weird old lady that probably smells of Bengay or worse sitting so close to you she’s actually touching you? Ick. I’d scream and cry, too.

Somebody nudges me in the shoulder. I ignore them. Leave me alone. I don’t know you. They nudge me again, harder this time, so I turn my head to look at the person responsible for interrupting my made-for-Metro movie. Some shaggy guy…great, looks like a bum… is saying something to me, his broken teeth and chapped lips moving in silence…or rather I just can’t hear what he’s saying over my private soundtrack blaring through my earbuds. I shake my head at him and look away again, out the window at the first-story retail storefronts going by: an Italian restaurant that’s been there forever, a nightclub or two, an overpriced “antique” store, a coffee house on the corner, and an Indian store with a window filled with textiles, beads, spiritual books, statues of Ganeshas and Buddahs, and world music CDs. Dude, just leave me alone, I think. I don’t have any spare change for you, don’t want to hear your crazy talk and I definitely don’t want to catch your lice or scabies or whatever virus your saliva is carrying.

Apparently he really wants to talk to me because he’s not letting up, pushing me harder this time. I pull out one of my earbud and look at him. “What?” I ask him, most annoyed to be bothered.

“You will help her.” He says. “You don’t want to, but she needs your help, so you will. It’s your true self.”

What the fuck is he talking about? I just glare at him, roll my eyes and turn away, replacing my earbud. But he grabs my wrist and yanks it back before I can fade off into my own private Idaho again.

“No!” He insists urgently. “You will help her! She bothers you, makes you uncomfortable…but you will keep seeing her until you resign yourself to your task.” His breath smells like a dead wet dog that’s been in the alley under a trash dumpster for three days. It makes me want to barf…but what he’s saying suddenly totally is freaking me out. Who is he talking about? It can’t be…I mean…what does he know about it? How can he? I haven’t even barely admitted it to myself yet…keep telling myself it’s coincidence, I’m imagining it, there’s no reason I should be freaking out on it…

Who? What are you talking about, old man? You’re a freak…” homeless-bums-tramps2 crop

He’s shaking his head, eyes bleary yet filled with some weird sort of compassion. He’s really weirding me out now. “You know.” He pauses. What, for effect? “You know. She will help you too.”

That’s it. I can’t take it. This is too much, too weird. I jump up, pushing him  away from me as I pull the next-stop cable. Shoving past where Miss Blue Panties is sitting, talking to Mr. Nice Stranger, I accidently bump into her portfolio and the papers scatter again, this time under her seat and the one in front of her. Fuck it. I gotta get off this bus! I bolt as soon as the doors are open, stiffing the driver for the bus fare. He shouts after me but I’m long gone, running halfway down the block before I realize it.

© 2008 D. Kessler

cherry_chicken_salad_sandwich“So, I guess I have an admirer.” Aliah tells me as we sit down with our lunch. She  looks like she’s about to crack up.

“Oh, yeah?” I wipe at the mayo trying to escape the certain death that is my digestive system by jumping off my lower lip to the plate below.

“Yeah,” she continues, eyebrows raised high. “I guess we just missed him the other day. That day when you came by for the first time? Dale said he and a friend came in like 15 minutes after we took off. He sat at the bar and kept looking around like he didn’t think anybody could tell he was looking for someone. Well, okay…not that bad, but Dale picks up on these things quick, being a bartender. You know, reads people pretty well?”

“Did he say what this guy looked like, at least?” I ask. No use getting worked up over an admirer if they don’t measure up, you know?

“Oh god, you know guys can’t give you a decent description ever! All I got was average to tall, sandy blonde, kinda skinny, with dirty finger nails…but like multi-colored dirty, like with ink or paint or something.” She took a bite of her sandwich, chewing as she went on. “I guess he said he’d been in the Friday before while I was working…that’s when he saw me… but what Dale described didn’t ring a bell with me. Anyway…” she swallows, “I guess his friend had some sort of freak-out as they left. Like, just all of a sudden cut Dale off and bailed out the door like he saw a ghost or something. Weird.”

“Whaddaya mean? He has no idea what triggered it?”

“Nope. One minute he was asking more info about me…you know, probably for his friend who was in the john at the time. Like, was I into girls or guys and were you that kind of friend or what…that kind of stuff. And then the next minute he just, poof! Freaked out. Dale said he was telling him about how he didn’t know you, but that I didn’t usually go for girls…and he didn’t think your were my type or some nonsense. How do guys determine this shit anyway? Do they just get some idea in their head and let it sprout into a full-fledged theory based on, what? Spirit dust? Whatever.” She takes a drink of her soda. “So, anyway…the one guy bails out the door and Mr. Loverboy comes back from the bathroom all cartoon-like, looking first at his friend’s back walk through the door then at Dale, then back at his friend outside, before asking Dale what that was about. ‘Course Dale didn’t know; he was just as confused as Mr. Loverboy! So, Loverboy paid the tab and followed after his buddy.” She shrugged. Apparently that was that. End of story.

“That’s it?”

“That’s it.”

“But, what about this guy…he didn’t try to find out your schedule, or leave a message or phone number for you…or anything?”

“Nope. Must be love for real then, don’t ya think?” Her eyes wide, eyebrows high on her forehead, she stifles a laugh. “I mean, I guess he was a bit distracted by his buddy’s freak out, but…still…”

“Do you think he’ll come back?” I ask. What a stupid question. Of course he’s coming back. Probably not with his freaky friend, though!

“Oh sure, probably. Unless he’s as freaky as his friend apparently is, why not.” She’s collecting the dishes and stacking them to take them to the kitchen. “Who cares, though, really? I mean, I’m not like aching for a date or anything. It’s just kind of amusing and all.”

Yeah, she was right. Who needed a couple weirdos hanging around, anyway. We…well, I, anyway…had enough on our plates right now. I help Aliah bus the table and say I’m going to venture out towards Capitol Hill or Downtown, maybe look for more work to fill in the empty spaces in my schedule. She looks at me hard before asking her question.

“You’re not going to go digging too deep and get yourself too worked up, are you? Really.”

Yep, I’m one really shitty actress, alright. I heave a sigh. “Alright, okay. I am going to check in at the other Twice Told about adding to my schedule…and I was thinking that I could try to get a hold of Shayla’s land-lady again.” She’s looking at me with that look again. “What?” She just continues to look at me that way. “Every day I don’t try to find her is another day something bad could be happening to her. I have to do this!”

“I know, I know.” She wipes down the table. “Just…take it easy, okay? I promise…you, me and Todd…Chris too…we’ll all sit down and figure this out. I mean it. You can’t do this by yourself. You need help. Depending on what we find out, we might need help. But we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it…”

I let her go back to work and tell her I’ll see her later back at the house.Stubbed-Out-Cigarette_web Digging in  my bag for a smoke, I head out the door to find a bus going my way. Of course, just as I get to the bus stop, only three puffs into my cigarette, there’s the bus already and I flick the fag in the street. Frickin’ waste of a good cigarette. Oh well…what do I keep telling myself? I don’t really need to keep smoking? Yeah…whatever, okay.

I plunk down in what is actually only half an empty seat next to an old lady up front…one of the seats that face inward toward the aisle instead of forward. She has one of those wire folding carts parked in front of her, obscuring the aisle, with old wrinkled plastic bags over flowing from it. Her swollen ankles in support hose, with shoes tidy and in good repair, but look like they’re from a 1970’s Sears catalogue…like in those weird chain emails that get forwarded all over the place with big fashion “don’ts” from years past. They’re plastic, caramel brown, and would look like nurses shoes if they were white.

She smells of feces and rosewater. I just don’t even want to think of why…

© 2008 D. Kessler

A few days after the fiasco at Flowers with Toby, I’m kickin’ it around downtown  and I run into Brian again, this time coming out of The Whiskey Bar. It’s around 5:30 pm, the sun peeking from behind the clouds hasn’t gone over the horizon yet, but it’s making tracks, making the light reflect on the buildings in such a way as to make them seem a bit surreal. Windows gleaming, metal shining, concrete glowing, trying to keep up with the other mediums around them. I’m sure they are even more surreal to Brian, if he’s been at The Whiskey for any length of time. The thing with Brian is that you never really know how much he’s had to drink or how if he’s toasted yet. He holds his Beam-and-Coke-no-ice pretty well. Many a time I’ve had conversations with him at some party or bar or other and later he doesn’t remember seeing me at all due to his inebriation…and I was sure he was lucid at the time. But then there’s the whole thing last week on the bus  where I run into him Whiskey_google DaveEdit (2)and he’s clear as a bell that he saw me at Toby’s more than a week previous to that. I shake my head thinking about it. You just never know with that guy. The only thing you do know is that he’s usually scoping some girl out.

“Hey, Brian” I say as I come up to him on the sidewalk. “Sorry about the other day on the bus. Didn’t mean to cut you off and bolt like that.”

He pulls out a smoke and offers me the pack. I take one and lean towards him, passing the tip of the cigarette through his Zippo flame and pulling the calming stimulant deep into my chest. What an oxymoron, I think in passing. Calming. Stimulant. Fuck Nicotine, man. One of these days I had to quit, but not today.

He blows out his own grey cloud of death and smirks. “Oh, no problem. I know, wrong bus, whatever. I do it all the time…” We walk together for a bit and I ask him about the two girls from his story last week. He frowns in concentration, then, as if smacked on the back of the head, suddenly brightens.

“Oh yeah! Those two….almost forgot. Yeah, they were pretty crazy. We went back to one of their apartments, I don’t which one’s it was, somewhere on Capitol Hill…I think it was up by The Canterbury, but I could be wrong…maybe it was on the other end by down by The Comet , I dunno. I lost track after a while. We hit both at some point during the night and the one girl…the blonde…had a car.” He laughs, remembering. “Dude! A blonde and a red-head…together! Hey, let’s go in here…I’ll buy you a drink.”

We walk through a little metal gate separating the outside smoking area in front of a bar from the sidewalk and he pushes open the glass door under a dark green awning. Oh, I knew this place…two dollar happy hour well drinks. Looks like Brian was willing to forgo Jim Beam in favor of cheaper well whiskey, but I didn’t care one way or the other. A drink was a drink, as far as I was concerned.

We order at the bar and take our drinks over to a big circular booth by the front door. It’s already full of a plethora of persons: a dread-locked bike-messenger type, an older hippy guy with graying hair, a geeky-cute girl with horned-rimmed glasses and a lip piercing, a gothy hippy girl with tribal tattoos trailing down her arm and a few Indonesian silver beads braided into bits of her hair. Although they all seem normal enough to me and just like anyone I would know, I don’t know any of them. Brian seemed to, though, so they scoot around to make room for us. Brian names them off, gesturing to each one with his drink, but I don’t really catch all the names. And it’s not like I really am going to remember them or need to anytime soon, I tell myself.

I look around the bar at the artwork on the walls…some sort of surreal Dali-does-Japanime stuff in muted dirty pastels and charcoal hues on small- and medium-sized canvases, mostly. It’s not bad stuff, way better than anything I’ve seen done by Toby, and I lean closer to the one closest to where I’m sitting to get a better look at the artist info. Damn! They want how much for this one? I never even heard of the guy before. But someone obviously thought it was worth it…more than half of them had sold stickers on the info cards under each piece.

“What do you think of that one?” A voice in my left ear is asking me. I turn toward it to find the horned-rimmed girl looking at me, her eyebrows slightly raised as she sips from a glass of what looks like cranberry juice with vodka. On the spot, I shrug.

“It’s okay, I guess. I mean…I dunno…”

“You don’t think it’s a bit trite and trying too hard? I mean, what’s with the skelton birds on the telephone wires? And the pink panda sitting on the curb?” She takes another sip and gulps it down before going on. “And the whole fractals in factory smoke pouring from a skyline of smokestacks in the distance. What do you think the artist is trying to say…is it an environmentalist statement or just a bad acid trip?” She tilts her head at me, waiting for something profound to discredit her synopsis of the painting sitting on the wall just above our heads. She was wearing a t-shirt…white with lime-green baseball-style sleeves just past her elbows…with some cheesy 70’s-esque glitter iron-on design. Her hair looks like it used to be a pixie cut, but it grew out rather quickly since the summer and now its varied shades of dirty blonde and honey curl a bit into her ears and eyes, making her fidget with it a lot, sweeping it out of her eyes from behind what look like vintage eye-glass frames…tortoise-shell with slightly dulled rhinestones at the corners. A skirt of indeterminate color hinting at the khaki spectrum…maybe a faded café latte?…and a pair of well-worn Vans round out her ensemble.

“Uh…I dunno. I don’t really think about art…too much.” I start off, somewhat haltingly. “I mean…I don’t think that I’m really qualified to judge…what the artist was thinking when they painted it, I mean. Or what statement they’re trying to make… if any.” She looked at me kinda weird, so I go on, stumbling ever closer to the precipice that was me looking like even more an idiot than I felt. “I mean, I like art…and I guess I kinda like some of this stuff here…but…I don’t try to pick it apart…really…”

She gives a little laugh, a cross between a chuckle and a giggle.

“What?” I asks her.

“Oh…nothing.” She sits her empty glass on the table and goes to dig her wallet out of her canvas book-bag, a smirk on her face.

“No …what?” I press her for an answer. I guess I just don’t get girls; they tweek me out, and this one is starting to get on my nerves. She stands up to go to the bar and order a drink, so I move my knees out of the way so she can get by.

“They’re mine.” She says matter-of-factly and leaves me watching her walk away, totally confused. Her’s? So she’s the artist…is that what she’s saying? I looked at the name on the artist info card.  Steve. See, she’s full of shit, it’s a guy. I do a double-take…wait…Stevee?  What kind of name is that? And what the fuck was all this what-do-you-think-about-blah-blah-blah about then? Was she fishing for compliments or just fucking with me for fun. Either way, she’s pissed me off.

I look over at Brian; he’s totally talking to the hippy guy, no plans to leave anytime soon, it seems. I catch his eye and gesture something about thanking him for the drink, that I have to take off, I’ll see him around, okay? He nods, mouths something that looks like “sure, sure” and raises his hand in farewell as the hippy guy talks his ear off.

I’m through the door and on the sidewalk before the geeky artist girl can come back to the table, walking at a good clip toward the nearest bus stop to take me to Capitol Hill. It’s about to pull away as I run up to it, banging on the sides as I try to catch the driver’s attention to keep him there long enough for me to get on. Then while walking down the aisle to find a seat as the bus lurches forward, almost knocking me over, I catch a glimpse outside of that girl again, walking down the sidewalk. Not the artist one from just now; the weird one from the other day last week with pink hair looking for the bus tunnel. What the hell? Why does she keep popping up…in person, in conversation…? It’s really beginning to get on my nerves! I flop in a seat at the back and pull my hood up to block out the world. I just need to zone out and clam down…I’m not making any sense, even to myself…

 © 2008 D. Kessler

4th & Pike

I’m thinking back over the last few days, now that I’ve got someplace of chill out and can close my own door. Aliah has been pretty cool, helping me to get the futon from Capitol Hill, and my stuff from downtown. And not just that. Once we were back at her…I mean our…place, she started digging through her closets, pulling out old blankets and sheets and pillows, an alarm clock, a lamp…even a throw-rug. She keeps saying I don’t have to use them if I don’t like them, that they’re just for until I can find some of my own stuff, but it’s more like she’s giving them to me on indefinite loan and it’s no big deal if I never get my own shit. And really, the rug is pretty cool.

So, the past few days I’ve been getting settled in. And I went to check out the book store on The Ave that Aliah had mentioned, Twice Told Tales. It’s cool, I guess, but they’ll only have me for few hours a week…like three days in the afternoons…so I can eat, but I’ll have to get something more if I’m going to be able to keep up. She says there’s another one on Capitol Hill. Maybe I should check with my new boss to see if they can work me into that one, too, for another couple days to flesh out my schedule. Now that I think of it, I think I remember seeing it near where Todd works…that might not be too bad…

Anyway…my brain is just going in circles so I guess I’ll trudge downstairs and see if anyone is home…I thought I heard someone walking around a bit ago. If it’s Aliah, she’ll be good to help me focus; if it’s Paul, maybe he’ll be a good distraction for a while. I can try to pick his brain about whatever it is he’s studying at the University of Washington. The U Dub, as they call it…“Dub” being short for “Dubya”, like the letter W. People are weird, how they shorten everything due to pure laziness. Like I’m one to talk.

Lix3-akaAdam I open my bedroom door to find Lix planted right outside in the hallway at my feet, facing the door as if he were waiting for me to come out. He looks up at me as the door opens, turns and runs pitter-pat in front of me down the stairs into the kitchen, right to his bowl. Then he looks up at me and vocalizes something that sounds like it would come from a much smaller cat: a high-pitched, slightly crackly meow. He obviously is thinking that I am to give him some wet food, even though he still has a full bowl of dry food, or “crunchies” as it is called in this house.

“No, no, Lix” I chide him. “you’re way to fat already, silly cat. You don’t need any more food.” He rubs up against my legs with a force nearly sufficient to topple me, but I’m not falling for it. “No, no wet food.” I open the fridge and pull out the pitcher of filtered water and pour myself a glass, replacing the pitcher and scouting around for any edibles that might appeal to my slightly grumbling stomach. A collection of odd plastic air-tight containers filled with leftovers of varying degrees of age, color and smells populate most of the second shelf; the bottom shelf houses what appears to be remnants of three different loaves of bread, all stale, and a large covered pot of what looks like what was some sort of legume-based dish… opening the glass lid, I immediately wish that I hadn’t… and a bag of lemons. The crisper drawer is mostly empty, but there are a few not-yet-over-the-hill veggies that look promising, so I throw together a small salad and then realize there is no salad dressing to be had. Hmm. I poke through the cupboards a bit and turn up some olive oil, a sprouting head of garlic, various herbs and spices of indeterminate origin…no vinegar though. Well, I tell myself…I can wing this. There’s lemons in the fridge.

Sitting in the sofa, TV on, I munch away while Ellen blathers her silly monologue in the background, and I wonder where everyone is. Aliah did say that Paul was almost never home, so that’s not much of a surprise, but neither was Aliah around. Was she working? Why did she leave and not tell me? What, I scoff to myself…Did you think she would hover around and babysit you? Right, you’re a grown-up, Jessie…remember? Start thinking and acting like one!

Okay, so, let’s see…plan of action for the day…what time is it? I crane my neck around to spy the clock in the kitchen, visible through the doorway that separates it from the living room. Just after 11:00 am. Yeah, I bet Aliah is at work…and Paul at some class I suppose. I set the now empty bowl on the end table and dig in my bag for a smoke, thinking as I did so that I guess I could meander over to The Ave and see if Aliah is at work and if she has any plans for later. Or I could wander down to Captiol Hill and make another attempt at contacting the land-lady slash apartment manager at Shaylah’s building. I had tried previously calling the phone number on the sign dangling from the building itself, but it just went to a property management firm and they weren’t giving out any information. They wouldn’t have any of the kind of information I needed, anyway. Things like, where did Shayla work…and when was the last time she had been home…and was she friends with anyone in her building that I could talk to? Things like that. Of course, there was no guarantee that the on-site land-lady slash apartment manager would give me any of these answers, but it was a start. Or at least I kept telling myself this to ward of the continued feeling of impending panic every time I tried to piece out what may have happened to my best friend.

Come to think of it, I was starting to wonder, really, if she was still my best friend. I mean, we emailed often and sometimes talked on the phone…more so since all the drama back home had started. But I haven’t seen her in almost three years…since she moved to Seattle herself…and I don’t know what she is really into anymore or what she does with her spare time. I mean, I don’t even know what she does for a living or who her friends are up here! What the hell did we talk about in our emails and on the phone, anyway? Stuff like ‘went to this party…’ and ‘there’s this really cool new restaurant…’ and ‘did you see such-and-such movie…? Wasn’t so-and-so hot?’ …blah blah blah. No names, no places for real…just general shit. She could be a total flake now and I wouldn’t even have had any indication. I mean, yeah, I had talked to her just days before coming up, but what if she did just bail and go out of town for a few days, a week, or…? I shake my head. This was just crazy, really. I mean, I had just talked to her and she knew what was going on with my living situation back home. Something bad had to have happened to her!

Jess, you’re getting yourself all worked up again. Stop it, I told myself. I take my as yet unlit cigarette and empty bowl into the kitchen, putting the bowl in the sink. Then I walk back through the living room to the front door and onto the porch to sit and smoke on the steps. Paul doesn’t smoke and, although Aliah does sometimes, the house rule is smoking outside only, unless it’s your own room with the door shut and the window open. No smoking in the common areas, period. Sitting on the creaky old wooden, peeling-lead-painted steps of the front porch, I light my fag with my soon to be toast old pink lighter. To look at it, you wouldn’t think it would even work, empty of fluid. Must be running on fumes. I make a mental note to pick up a new lighter when I’m out and about later. Oh. So I guess I just made up my mind what to do, I muse. I’m going ‘out and about’…to where, that’s as yet the question unanswered.

4718 NE 7th, looking W

The house on 7th overlooks a view extraordinaire…not really. The freeway whizzes past on just the other side of the street and the roar of traffic usually lulls me to sleep these past few nights. I don’t know really how Aliah deals with it though because her room faces front, towards the freeway, while mine faces the back so it’s more muffled in my room. Almost like being near the ocean, I tell myself. Well, kind of. The traffic can get a bit heavy right about where we are. In fact right where our house sits, the off-ramp from I-5 merges with our street, to connect with NE 50th just a block or so up. 50th is somewhat of a thoroughfare, so it’s a busy off-ramp. I guess back in the 30’ or 40’s when these houses were built, there was no Interstate, so there were probably more houses across the street from us; a nice little residential area where kids rode their bicycles and played kick-ball and hopscotch. But now, as I sit smoking, I watch the cars drain off the freeway a few at a time…then gaze far away across to the other side at a row of houses facing back at me, looking very similar to the one on who’s porch I sit.

I take a last pull off my cigarette while I stand up and smash it on the walkway with my foot, picking up the flat butt to toss in the kitchen trash bin before washing my dish. As I open the door I hear the phone ring and wonder if I should answer it. What the hell…I do live here now, right?

“Hello?” I timidly speak into the mouthpiece. It’s an old heavy avocado-green thing from the 70’s…the kind with a really loud old-fashioned ring. “Honorable House of Chaos.” It’s what Aliah always says when she answers the phone.

She’s laughing on the other end. “Hey! See? I told you you’d fit right in with us! What time did you get up?”

“Oh, uh…just an hour ago or so, I think.” Was it? I guess so…whatever. “You at work?”

“Yep,” Aliah answers. “Hey, I have a break in a bit. You wanna come down and meet me? I know there’s not much in the house to eat so maybe we can split something here?”

Um, okay, I hear myself say. I don’t tell her that I just ate a salad. Not that I think she’d care that I ate her food…obviously she doesn’t, if she’s offering to split her shift meal with me…but because it really didn’t fill me up much and I need to get out of the house anyway. Kind of a way to jump-start my half-baked plan to get something done for the day. I tell her I can be over there in, like, half an hour and we hang up the phone after a couple quick goodbyes.

Vans walkingThrowing on my Vans, checking my bag for all the necessities…lip balm, cigarettes, wallet, keys…I thankfully notice that it isn’t raining. Overcast, with high light-grey clouds, yes…but no rain today. The walk to Flowers will be nice…I’ll take the back streets, not the high traffic Brooklyn or The Ave. It’ll be a good way to learn my new neighborhood, I tell myself.

© 2008 D. Kessler

So, when Toby and I finally get to the U District, it’s totally pouring again; the proverbial Wrath-of-God torrent that makes looking for a parking space absolutely ridiculous and soon instigates prayers of desperation from the driver, then from its occupants, to whatever god or goddess you can imagine. Bear in mind, of course, that these prayers soon turn to vehement curses as we continue to circle and circle an ever widening circumference, making the radius run to our eventual destination ever longer and more daunting. Finally, there’s an opening…a full four blocks from the restaurant, but Toby’s mind is set on his destination…and he squeezes the car into what probably isn’t actually a legal parking spot after all. Too close to the hydrant, I’m sure…like that ever stopped us before? Nope, and not now either. Besides…who’s going to need a hydrant anytime soon with the sky opened up raining cats and dogs like it is now?

Flowers Restaurant & Bar, U-dist, Seattle A mad dash to the closest awning and then a brisk pace for a few blocks and we’re there. Outta the rain and into Flowers we go. Shaking our jackets out near the door, we spy a couple seats at the bar and head over.

“Two shots of Jager and two Fat Tires,” Toby orders for the both of us. His money let him pick the beer, I guess. “…and a couple menus, too.”

We order a couple burgers to go with our beers and hand back the menus, down the Jager and settle in to wait for our dinner. Toby keeps glancing around the room like he’s rather be somewhere else, but I know him. He’s looking for this girl he mentioned before, but trying not to look like he’s looking for her. How pathetic. You’d think someone like him…someone that always seems to get the girl, whatever girl, at least for as long as he wants her…would have a more nonchalant attitude, or at least act more chill about it. But no, not Toby. Every new conquest is like it’s the only one for him. Maybe that’s his way of keeping it new, keeping it real…well, as real as he can be anyway…shit, maybe that’s why they fall for it, for him. What a fa-la-la land fairytale.

“So, where’s this chick you claimed works here?” I can’t help myself, I have to ask. Just open the can of worms and spread them around on toast like sardines and Vegemite before I smear it in his face. “I thought that’s why we came all the way over here in this fucking storm…so you could mess with her and whatever.” Set it up. I know she’s not here, she can’t be. We haven’t seen anybody but the bartender and some other dude wiping tables.

“Oh, she’s here.” A flit of anxiety undetectable to anyone else but me sparks in Toby’s eyes. Gawd, he’s ridiculous. I think he really believes his own shit sometimes. “I was here the other day at this same time…” He trails off, looking around a little more obviously. Watch it, Toby. It’s starting to show.

I take a big gulp of beer. “That doesn’t mean shit and you know it,” I say, setting down my glass. “You know, they could rotate their shifts or something…or she could just not work today at all.” I don’t know why I’m enjoying this so much. Oh yeah, right. I remember…I’m Mr. Side-kick to Mr. Cool. And Mr. Cool is looking like he feels less cool by the minute as it starts to dawn on him that maybe the world doesn’t revolve around him and it’s not a sure thing that he can just waltz in and get everything he wants in a to-go bag. “We shoulda just gone to the Triangle or Costas…a lot closer, no traffic. Shit, Taco del Mar and a six-pack would have been okay by me.”

He pulls out the Bali Shag and starts to roll a cigarette. I grab the bag from him and do the same. The rain is a just tad lighter, and we have a bit of a wait for the food, so might as well go outside for a smoke. Stupid smoking ban…no smoking in bars or restaurants, and not within 25 feet of the door or open windows…in Seattle, no less. Like you can keep a cigarette dry enough to smoke when you’re outside any time between October and April! We signal the bartender that we’re going outside for a smoke and will be right back.

Now, Flowers does not have an awning, and after a few minutes leaning against the window, trying to stay at least a little dry, we realize that the rain is not as light as we thought it was. We are going to have to go across the street and smoke under the awning at the Haagen-Dazs store. Of course, I don’t think there is 25 feet worth of awning between us and the door to the shop, but has this ever stopped us before? Nope, and not now. We talk bullshit about nothing for a few minutes while we smoke, about nothing in particular. We’re guys, you know? Fuck, whatever. It’s more fun rubbing the worm sandwich in his face when he thinks there might be someone to overhear or notice. No one’s gonna notice anything about two guys smoking under an awning…and definitely not anything Toby would care about. Inside is a different thing. This girl works there; there are people working there right now that know her. The potential for unintended eavesdropping and knowledge of the parties talked about, by those doing the eavesdropping, is high. Much more fun for me.

Inside again, the burgers are waiting for us and the bartender is getting the ketchup and mustard.

“Another shot?” He asks.

“Yeah, sure.” I answer for us both. When he comes back with the Jager, I take the plunge. “Hey, um…is what’s-her-name working? You know, um…” I look at Toby, Mr. So-Good-With-Names. “What’s her name, Toby? That girl…you know…red-head…?” Ooo…the daggers are about to come out! I better watch it if I expect him to actually pay the tab like he said.

“Blonde.” He says tersely. “Tall, blonde…red star tattoo on her wrist…” I can’t believe it. He must really want to meet this chick. He’s all of a sudden cool as a cuke, Mr. Nonchalant…but I can see those daggers just below the surface of those calm pools that are his eyes. “She was here on Friday…”

“Oh, I know who you mean,” says the bartender, knowing smirk on his face. “Aliah. Yeah…she works later on the weekends, but weekdays she’s usually gone by five. You actually just missed her.” I look over at Toby to catch the wall crumbling. Just missed her, he said. This was too much. Better than I’d hoped. “She stuck around for a bit to meet some girl…never saw her before….and then they took off. Not fifteen minutes before you got here…” He goes on but I’m not listening to him; I’m watching Toby with a mixture of utter delight at how-the-mighty-have-fallen and a weird feeling of…was it remorse? Sympathy? No way…yeah, I guess it was something like that. Even the daggers weren’t really very sharp any more. Toby was just eating his burger like it tasted of cardboard and ketchup, half listening himself to the bartender ramble about what was sure to be more information and speculation than he should be handing out like candy on Halloween.

We hang out a bit and finish our dinner, another shot of Jaeger, another beer. The rain lets up and it’s soon only the swish-swish sound of cars driving by on wet roads, the lights reflected in warble-y lines and splashes of brightness in puddles that confirms that it has been previously pouring cats and dogs. Rolling a cigarette for the walk back to the car, Toby in the bathroom, I ask the bartender again what he knows about this Aliah-chick. I mean, Toby is my friend…I guess I still feel back for outing his hand like that to another dude.

“So, Aliah, huh?” I start, “You said she was meeting some girl after work?” He nods. “But, I mean, she likes guys, right? She wasn’t meeting the girl like that, right?” I mean we gotta know, you know? No use working on it if she’s into chicks, right?

“Oh no, she’s not into girls like that. She was just some friend, I suppose, though I’ve never seen her before. Pink short hair, wearing a grey hoody…looked a little anxious, if you ask me…” More words coming out his mouth, but again I wasn’t hearing him. Did he say pink hair? I couldn’t be…of course not. How many chicks running around the U District…hell, Seattle…with short pink hair? Lots. Tons. Could’ve been one of any number of college brats, Ave Rats or …? It just couldn’t be…

Toby’s back from the john, just in time. “Come on.” I say to him, interrupting the bartender. “Come on…I gotta get outta here. I need a smoke…”

I’m out the door before he can even reply. I dig frantically in my pockets for a light…matches…anything. Finally I nab a passerby and light my rolled cigarette. Deep drag….aaahhhhh. I let it out slowly. That’s better. There’s just no way, I tell myself. That would be just too weird. This girl, Aliah, can’t be friends with that weird girl downtown…no fuckin’ way. I don’t even know why it bothers me…no idea at all. It’s just that…I dunno. I take another drag and Toby’s on the sidewalk with me.

“Dude, what is your problem?” He shakes his head. “First calling my shit like that with the bartender, now panic-boy bolting out the door before I can even pay the check? You need to chill out. Come on, let’s blow this taco-stand. I say we park the car back at my place and get some real drinks.” He lights his cigarette and blows the smoke straight at me. “That’s for what happened back there.”

© 2008 D. Kessler