His mother's great fear had come to pass. They found Jack without clean underwear. Without underwear at all, in fact. In a compromising position he swore he'd never get caught in, splattered soaking wet and naked all over the front seat. A lascivious grin on his boyish but otherwise drown face.
As they carted the body away, the spirit thought back to the exact moment it all started to come unglued, and marveled at the simplicity of life lurking beneath all the complicated explanations. She was hungry, she wanted a cheeseburger: He said, "Right. I'll be with you in a minute, baby. Just have to make one more call and we'll wheel on over."
Her last words as she walked out the door in a blind rage were, "I love you but I hate your life! Up yours, asshole!" He admired her spirit, he remembered that much, even though what he really wanted to do was punch out her lights. His last words, as he looked out the window and watched her cross the highway to immortality under The Golden Arches were, "Yeah, well, your life's not so hot either. Up yours too!"
She splattered then, never even seeing her maker pulling out of the shopping center in the brand new Mustang 350 LTD. It was a Special Edition, and Baby was D.O.A.
Three years after her passing, only a few hours before his own, he was sitting in a roadside bar, his mind drifting without curiosity, straining for numbness. Sweat rolled down his cheeks as he checked the ice cold Blue Ribbon out of his memory bank and swigged. George Jones was doing his thing on the box, making him feel alive and like death at the same time, as usual. He'd sworn off listening to Jones' blues, but his dreams had not been good, and the desert was out there in front of him. Waiting. So he sang along, "still doing time in a honkytonk prison", under his breath.
Sometimes, he remembered, he used to dream about his death, and though the circumstances were always different, he thought he saw the way it would happen and tried to make friends with it. What had been happening lately was something else though! She was astrally nailing him in his dreams. That is, coming back from the astral plane and riding him, just like he was a thoroughbred, as she made her run for the roses. Or was it still that cheeseburger?
Either way, whenever he woke up from the dream he was sticky with sweat and old fantasies bathing in the stink of his fear. His first question was always the same: Where the bleep am I? What year is it? He thought the world was supposed of have already ended. What was taking so long? By now California should have been in the drink, or maybe that was just another easy way out, just like all the should-haves that never-would-be in his life.
Once upon a time, he couldn't remember how long ago, he was going to be a BIG MAN when he grew up. It was hard to figure out what had happened to his plans since Baby had got herself pancaked out of existence, but when he looked at the flies crash landing on the Shell Pestiside Strip hanging from the rundown adobe bar, he got a brief flicker. He lost it when his eyes laid down on the obese rolls of flab hanging from the stomach of the washed-out-before-her-time Mexican b-girl compulsively feeding quarters into the slot machine in the corner. Christ, no, he couldn't still be in Nevada! The damn thing was a Video game, built to simulate a slot machine. What the hell would they think of next?
He remembered taking in the whole bar with one fluid sweep of his tired eyes; the Mex, the drunk with his head down sleeping it off on the bar, the toothless vapid old man with the cowboy hat behind the bar, and an old red mutt on the dirty sawdust floor wagging its tail at him, knowing a friend when he saw one. He nodded to the dog and thought, yeah, right, sure, but something is wrong with this picture.
It was him of course. Boy wonder down on his luck, no longer a boy as he felt middle age suddenly creeping up and beating him a new asshole right where his third eye should have been.
In an hour he was gone, the mutt still on the floor wagging its tail in the sawdust as he barreled down the highway through the night, the desert and the memories - both good and bad - he had left behind, just like he left the dog behind. And then clear sailing all the way to the Big Taco Rico. Home of the refried fantasy.
James Dean, it should be pointed out, died for Jack's sins.
Elvis died committing sins Jack could only dream about committing. John Lennon's proclivities were another story, a story he couldn't even go into without short circuiting. Too much pop culture cluttered his head, too many experiences refused sequential order, free floating through time and space instead. Where he originally came from was immaterial, just somewhere in that great soulless middle of the burbs. His sirens called to him from the first malls, not the road. Though he had done that number from 15 to 18 as some sort of ode to Monsieur Kerouac and his finger poppin' diddie-wa-daddies. Caught in the gap between too old and too young, he became just another runnaway on the way to San Franvana with a flower up his yeah. . .yeah. . .yeah. . .
Yeah. . . For awhile though it was good, he remembered, almost like magic in its grass induced optimism. Then he and Super Dog found the stash of Owsley blue in Carson City while they were watching the pre Dan Hicks & The Hot Licks "Charlatans" work out their ya-yas at The Red Dog Saloon, and the next thing he knew it was three months later and he had his head shaved, doing Survival Training at Fort Bragg. After that he could only surmise he needed the Training.
"Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose," he sang as he toaked up and felt Baby's energy enter the truck.
"You're such an asshole," he thought he heard her voice hiss. "You had it all, but you couldn't accept it. You were too guilty, you didn't deserve what you didn't deserve until you deserved. LOVE was not enough for you, Jack, you wanted more. You always wanted more!"
"I'm not greedy," he laughed, knowing he was mad enough to be considered sane in New York City, where everyone talked to themselves.
"Asshole!" the voice repeated, so real now it sent chills up and down his spine. He turned and looked at the empty seat next to him, then back to uncoming headlights sudddenly blinding, then gone. Soon it would rain. He could smell it in the air.
It was madness of course. Here he was on the way to El-A, with a load for Mr. Deal, and Baby was back to tell him what a jerk he was. It had been happening every nine months or so,since the accident, but lately the time span seemed shorter. Sixmonths, three months, it was hard to say. First she always banged him. That gave her license, he supposed, though in all probability he knew that the ghost was nothing more than a product of his guilt. A figment of his failures. His own internal dialogue dressed in sheep's clothing, but sporting t & a production values to get his attention.
Lately, the last several times she had come back she had gotten into a feminist dialogue with herself, through he felt like it was more a series of lectures he would be graded on. Two years after her death and she suddenly decides to get liberated.
"When a woman behaves like a man, why doesn't she behave like a nice man?" Baby cooed.
"I don't know," he shook his head. "I give up, why doesn't
she behave like a nice man? Is it because nice guys finish last, and
for centuries women have been looking for winners to get their
vicarious self esteem from? Or is it because a woman is born-"
"One is not born a woman, one becomes one!"
"Who said that?" he snapped, turning toward the empty seat. He blinked his eyes. The astral body was flickering on and off like a short circuited bulb. She was there, she wasn't, he was hallucinating, or almost hallucinating, take your pick. "That doesn't sound like you," he stammered. "It sounds like a quote or somethin'."
My God, you're payin' attention, Jack!" Her body beamed into the seat, just like Star Trek. "The only time I ever got your attention was during sex, but now you're payin' attention. Simone De Beauvoir said that."
"Said what?" he asked, marveling at her body.
"One is not born a woman, one becomes one, ASSHOLE!" The body flickered out then.
He shook his head, and turned back to the highway. "What do you do out there, go to the library?"
"Yes, I go to the library," she snapped. "We don't get to sleep, you know!"
"I don't know."
"You've been dead before, you just can't remember. Out here we remember everything."
"It was cheeseburger time again.
"Including, of course. . ."
"That's right, ASSHOLE!"
"Glad to see your temperament has improved." He pulled off the highway, into an all night truck stop. "I've gotta bleed the lizard, Baby" he said. "Be right back, don't go way."
He got out of the cab with her voice ringing in his ears. Oh she wasn't about to go away, he could be sure of that. This was the strongest the ghost had ever come back. And no, he didn't really have to take a leak, but he knew she was into boundaries, and this was the only place she'd leave him alone, that is unless he took too long. Then her spirit would start banging on the door in an unbelievable imitation of his mother banging on the door every time he worked the ya-yas when he was 14-years-old. It was uncanny the way things repeated themselves.
Once, right after he got back from Nam, he wandered up the East Coast and hung around on Cape Cod, where he was taken in by a woman 10 years older than himself, who insisted on sheltering him from the draft. As much as he tried to protest, as much as he tried to explain he was already out, she insisted the war was wrong, and she wouldn't let them take him. After awhile he gave in to her, and even got into her fantasy of sneaking into Canada via the underground railroad. He supposed he was sick, or maybe just bored, or maybe he was trying to understand what she was talking about. So he hung around Wellfleet with her and her friends all winter, as they plotted to smuggle him out of the country. Then one morning he woke up and decided to go to college on the GI bill and become a lawyer, so he left her a note saying, "I've decided to enlist."
Of course he never became a lawyer, but he did meet Mr. Deal, and did become involved in a certain aspect of the law. Sometimes when it seemed that that certain aspect was bound to get him permanently institutionalized, he thought of all the great philosophers in history groping for meaning, but groping in Pig Latin. This did nothing to increase his understanding of life, but it did seem to get him from one bad situation to the next, relatively unscathed.
After he got this load through, they were ready for the BIG ONE, whatever that was. Mr. Deal wouldn't talk specifics over the phone, only ask him, "Are you ready to quit putzing around? Are you prepared for greatness?"
Jack was. Oh indeed he was! But it would never happen with Baby around. Once she got wind of what was going down she'd never let him have a moment of rest. Her opinion of Mr. Deal was well documented.
"Don't turn your back on him. Despite all that back to back cowboy brother bullshit he's always spoutin', he'll sell you out, Jack, 'cause he's got no code, and worse than that, he's got no balls" For a feminist, Baby sure didn't beat around no rhetoric.
Does it serve a purpose here to delve into Baby's subconscious? Just the name "Baby-baby-baby" reverberates derision. She was a grown woman, though dead. During what passed for her life, she took so much shit she wasn't about take anymore in death. For instance, when she was alive her demands were always considered fantasies. Now her fantasies are realities! It wasn't that she was after revenge, but she has her pride, you know!
He never could understand that. To him there was dignity, honor, loyalty, courage, sacrifice, bluff and one or two others he couldn't remember unless they were snapping at his heels in the moment of truth, but pride was definitely not in his spread.
"Some people are owed some things, and others deserve 'em," she huffed.
He nodded as if in a television trance. "Uh-huh," he grunted, changing the channels before she could see what was on. The early morning highway raced by like a travel log. El Camino Real to-go. And that's when he lost control of his Vertical Hold.
To cover himself he started talking about baseball. She liked the square jut of his jaw, the conviction in his voice when he talked about the Red Sox or the Tigers or the Bears or the Dodgers or the Pirates or the way they stole bases, ate dirt and bunted. The language had a life in his mouth that it didn't have in life, yet what did he do with his gift?
"Whatta you do to improve yourself, Jack? Are you evolving or just jerking off again?"
"I'm talking to my imagination! Trying to explain to myself a job is a job is a job." He shrugged. "Part of the bigger parlay."
"And just what is the bigger parlay? Another dope deal? Or is it a bond deal this time? What are we goin' to L.A. for?"
"WE are not going anywhere!" he snapped, turning his head toward her. "I'm going to L.A.! I'm going to L.A. on business! You may not like it, but it's none of your damn business. It's my damn business!"
She liked it when he talked like that. It almost sounded like he knew what he was talking about. The fire in his eyes made her hot, made her really hot.
"What're you doing?" he asked in astonishment.
"What's it look like?"
It looked like she had her fingers nestled in the thick bush of her temple, dancing the tango. There was a certain rhythm, though at any moment the floor could turn to quicksand. He knew it well, this sweet scent of love. It's very essence was his roots.
Beads of perspiration breathlessly ran down the finely muscled veins of Baby's neck. Her mouth was open, her long blonde hair down over one eye, like Bacall in something with Bogie. He couldn't remember what. He was way overdrawn at the memory bank, bouncing his credibility off the walls.
"If you're trying to get my attention. . ."
"Who needs you!" she snapped. "I can score Elvis if I want to! I can score anybody at anytime I want! Feel fortunate when it's you, Jack. Feel privileged. Thank your lucky stars for it!"
"Fat chance!" he scoffed. "You can get me when I'm asleep,
when I'm vulnerable, because YES I miss you, YES I remember you, but
I wanna tell you something-"
"Beg for it," Baby demanded. Her legs spread wide, gyrating like Tina Turner on Soul Train. "Tell me you can't live without it."
His tongue went dry. Words froze on his lips.
"Tell me you like the taste. Tell me you love the taste.
Tell me you miss the taste. You remember the taste.
What's it taste like to you Jack? Sushi?"
He smiled. A big wide, stupid all embracing shit eating grin plastered permanently on his face like clown lips.
"Tell me what you want, Jack."
He spotted an EXIT just as the rain exploded out of nowhere. Water slapped the windshield like an ex-lover in rage. Then rolled over and smothered it. It looked like a flashflood washing over them. If he could only make it off the ramp, there was a MacDonald's in the distance, it's Golden Arches rising into the clouds and disappearing like a dream he had had that never quite ended before he woke up to the mess of reality.
© Melt Magazine 2003