Saturday, December 22, 2007

Benson and Hedges

By Pauly
New York City

The loneliest pimp on the block is often the most successful. After all, we're all hookers or pimps. If you ain't chugging cock, or slinging rock, you are pimping off something. A girl. Your soul. Your identity. Your ideals. Your morals. Your self. The hustlers never cease to exist. And when an old whore dies, a priest sneezes in his sleep. It's a sign to let the angels in heaven know that a working girl is headed their way. But that's one club she's not going to get in. Hookers don't have much chance at the afterlife.

Late nights, when I can't sleep, I would sit in the dark and listen to jazz albums from Ornette Coleman and Charlie Mingus and Bird. I'd open every doorway inside the hallways of my mind and let my thoughts wander. I always hoped that if I let it run amuck long enough, my wound up mind would eventually grow tired and I'd finally be able to shuffle off to slumber. Never works.

The last time I can recall being able to get steady sleep was when I lived in Seattle. Towards the beginning of my stint there, I would have the occasional sleepless night. I would drive around and get lost all over the city. That's how I got to know it much better. I'd drive around with the windows down and listen to the radio since I didn't have a CD player or even a tape player in my 1984 Chrysler La Baron, the one I wrecked a couple of months after I moved to Seattle.

Once I lost my car, I had nothing to drive around on sleepless nights, so when insomnia struck every few weeks, I would sit out on my porch in the dark and listen to the rain. My roommates and I used an old Folger's coffee can as a communal ashtray which we sometimes left it on the ledge of the railing and the ashtray would get soaked in a soupy like substance of dirt, ash, used chewing gum, matches, and cigarette butts... a few of them were green because one of my freaky roommates used to wear green lipstick.

She painted her fingernails black and wore weird jackets with ruffles or feathers, and sometimes both. She always looked like she just woke up. It was probably all the Valium she digested on a daily basis or the myriad of bong hits she ripped moments before she stepped out of her secluded museum to herself which was room #5 in the big red house. I only got to see her room once, and that's when the light blew out and she needed "someone tall" to stand on a chair and screw in a new one. She said she was a poetry major and her floor was littered with crumbled up pieces of paper. Those were "unconnected thoughts" she explained. She could not connect what was inside her mind to the outside world and physically from pen to paper. There must have been almost a hundred of little balls of paper all over the floor, underneath her desk and at the end of the bed.

She had random CDs cases, most of them empty, scattered throughout her room and on her bed. Her brother worked for Sub Pop and she got dozens of promotional CDs from random bands like The Helio Sequence or The Reverend Horton Heat or those dykes from L7.

She didn't say much and out of all my roommates that could consider commit suicide, she was #1 on my list. There was always that possibility that I'd come home from work and find her limp body in the hallway after she choked on her own vomit from swallowing too many happy pills and wine. A couple of months before I moved into the house, one of the guys who lived in the room next to mine had committed suicide. He hung himself in his closet and no one noticed until six days later. The roommates smelled something funky after the fourth day, but they just assumed someone in the house scored a bag of the dankest pot on the planet. The big red house was haunted and there were rumors that Ted Bundy lived in the house next door when he was in the middle of his killing sprees. One of his victims was found dead in an alley way two blocks from the big red house. Seattle and the Pacific Northwest was the serial murder capital of the world.

Seattle also had a high suicide rate, especially among females aged 15-21. My roommate was exhibiting classic signs of a potential suicide victim. But she also struck me as the type of girl who would attempt to kill herself but not go all the way... she'd just get fucked up enough to get hospitalized and cause a stir to draw up some attention. I looked at her arms and wrists. She didn't appear to be a cutter, but she listened to a lot of angry indie chick rock and idolized Ani DiFranco.

Her sullenness always bothered me. I wanted to try to talk to her, but it was not easy. She used to sit in her room and drink alone. She preferred white wine, the cheap stuff that you saw on sale at Safeway, which she sipped in a purple UW coffee cup. I knew that she drank alone because she would hide the empty bottles in her room and then bring them down to the recycling bin very early in the morning.

She spent most of the time in her room and rarely hung out in the living room or kitchen. She would emerge from her room every hour or so for eight minutes, and migrate to the porch for a smoke break. She smoked Benson and Hedges and my other roommates teased her for her choice of death sticks.

She walked around barefoot and I thought she had sexy feet for such a depressed girl. She painted her toe nails in different colors. Sometimes they were metallic blue or greenish-grey. One time they were pink and I thought that was odd, since pink was a happy girl's color and not brown or black and depressing like most girls I met in Seattle in the late 1990s.

She moved out of the house unexpectedly. Before she left, she knocked on my door. I was watching the X-Files and sitting in my boxer shorts. She told me that she was moving into an apartment with a her best friend. That was odd because I never saw anyone visit her. Anyway, she held a desk lamp in her hands and presented it to me as if it were a Oscar or a Golden Globe award.

"I wanted you to have a reading light. I noticed that you didn't have one."

She told me to wait right there. So I stood in my doorway, in my boxers, holding a lamp. She returned thirty-five seconds later and handed me a box full of CDs that she didn't want to take with her. That's how I inherited albums from Zen Guerrilla, The Supersuckers, Fluid, Water Of The Delay, Kumquat Orb, and Chartreuse Tick Of The Demonic Fusion. I sold all of those at a used bookstore on the Ave. I got about $60 for thirty or so of her CDs. I used the money to buy a Pesto and mushroom pizza from Pagliaci's and a bag of weed, which I smoked on my porch late at night when I couldn't sleep.

A couple of weeks after she moved out, I wondered if she wasn't really moving and decided to commit suicide. In a way, she tried to reach out one last time when she knocked on my door and gave me some of her things. It was kinda creepy how she said, "I won't be needed these things anymore." She wasn't really headed to a new apartment, she was finally going to jump head first into the abyss.

I became obsessed with finding out if she had killed herself. I checked all the newspapers and scanned the interwebs looking for any sign of her. Every day I'd check the obituaries and ask my roommates who were UW students if they happened to run across her. They always said no and gave me shit for having a crush on the wine guzzling chick with green lipstick.

Then one day, it must have been two or three months later, I sat on a bus coming home from work. I saw her walking down the street wearing on of her black suede feathery jackets. I got off at the next stop and ran down the street looking for her. I couldn't find her and started to think that I was doing too many mushrooms, or acid, or just seeing a ghost. Just when I was about to give up, I spotted her standing online inside the 7/11 buying a pack of Benson and Hedges.

She gave me a half-smile when she saw me rush into the store. I embraced her and she seemed surprised initially that I hugged her while she stood online at the 7/11 buying smokes. After an awkward two or three seconds, she hugged back. We must have stood there for about fifteen or sixteen seconds total. I finally let go when all that built up guilt inside of my guts evaporated into thin air. I thought that I let her die and she miraculously sprung back to life. I said goodbye and walked out of the store as she stood at the counter completely stunned and confused.

I never saw her again.

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