Submarine Races

Johnny Applegate grew up in the sleepy little river town of Louisville, Kentucky, the gateway to the south.  Louisville is primarily known for Churchill Downs and Bourbon, but it had its fair share of pretty girls too.

When he was eighteen-year-old, Johnny bought his first car. He ventured downtown to a dealership by the name of Broadway Motors. His salesman was a guy name of Grundy Hayes. Grundy was a flashy dresser. He wore a green sharkskin suit and sported brown pork pie straw. He always wore a wide smile to greet the customers that lit up his face.

The car Johnny picked out was a 1959 two tone Chevy Bel Air, white over green. It had a manual transmission with a three-speed shift lever on the column. The car had huge tail fins that flattened over like the fin of a great white whale. Johnny paid $800 dollars cash for the car. He had been saving up the money for months. Grundy was only too happy to accommodate and they struck a deal and Johnny drove the car home that day.

Now the car was fine, the only thing it lacked was a radio. So, one day when he had saved up a little more money, Johnny went down to the local junk shop and bought a radio for the car. He had to go out on the lot and find another wrecked Chevy like his so he could harvest the radio and put it in his car. He was in luck and found the one he was looking for. It took him about an hour to uninstall the radio from the wrecked Chevy. When he got it out, he took it up to the front office and made his purchase then went home to install the radio in his own car. While he was at it, he installed two speakers in the rear of the car and surrounded the speakers with a colorful bright orange cloth. Now he was cooking!

Johnny was very happy with the car. He would wash it and polish it in his drive way every Saturday morning. On Saturday night he would pick up his girlfriend, Lynn and some of their other friends and drive out to Cox’s park down on the river. There they had a little party. It was sort of a precursor to the tailgate parties you see today.

Cox’s park was located down along the banks of the Ohio River. In the summertime the grass was of a vivid blue green color and on this particular hot summer night they could smell the fragrance of the freshly mown lawn. It delighted the senses. Johnny parked the car in the spacious parking lot under the spreading leaves a large chestnut tree. From there you could watch the river roll by and the sun go down as the day turned to twilight. Johnny popped the trunk of the car and played the radio real loud. The sound came booming from the rear mounted speakers. Johnny and his friends drank beer and danced in the parking lot. They whooped and hollered and howled at the moon while they were listening to the tunes broadcast from WAKY, a local AM radio station. Bill Bailey, who billed himself the King Kong of the Kilocycles, was the DJ. He played such tunes as Born to be Wild, Dance to the Music, and Those Were the Days. Later, after it got dark, they climbed back into the car and watched the submarine races.

LOVE KILLS

Instruments of death that fit snugly into the palm of your hand were gleaming dully in their showcases lovingly caressed by blue velvet. Oiled wooden handles jutted from solid blue-black bodies. There was a faint odor of oil and metal lingering on the air-conditioned atmosphere of the room. The soft sound of creaking leather reverberated through the reverential quiet as the clerk tenderly, ever so gently, eased a delicately balanced, but heavily weighted .357 magnum pistol out of its holster.  Firmly, but gently, he gripped the butt of the gun in his right hand. He placed the web of his thumb over the hammer of the awesome black revolver and slowly began to exert pressure on it. The man’s hands trembled slightly and he closed his eyes. Small beads of perspiration began popping over his upper lip. A little metal clicking noise emerged from the gun as the hammer went through it first cocking phase. A slight smile appeared on the lips of the clerk as he continued to pull back on the heavy hammer and another click emerged – the gun was half-cocked – the clerk began breathing heavily now and rapidly and his face grew flush. He slid his thumb to the edge of the hammer and applied the tip of it to the ridges cut deeply into the top edge. He pushed down hard and fully cocked the revolver. A tiny teardrop appeared in the corner of the clerk’s eye. The gap between the ridged head of the steel hammer and the body of the gun was a chasm. It looked like the jaws of a primordial reptile. It was powerful and it was frightening – the stored-up energy of the hammer begged to be released. He pulled the trigger. Snap! I jumped.  The hair on the back of my neck prickled and a shiver ran down my left arm. The clerk placed the gun back into its holster. He lit a cigarette, inhaled deeply and blew clouds of tobacco smoke across the room. He had a distant look in his eyes. I turned on my boot heels and walked out of the store into the bright afternoon sunlight.

The Thorobred Club Redux

I stopped into the strip club out near the race track early on a Friday night. They had just opened so there wasn’t a whole lot of action going on. Strippers sitting in little clumps here and there. I sat down at the bar and ordered a Budweiser. This is de rigueur for me at strip clubs because its an easy drink to order, it’s cheap, and doesn’t call a lot of attention. Usually a good way to change a twenty and get a lot of singles for the strippers. Strippers love singles.

“What’ll it be Bud?”

“I’ll have a Budweiser, please.”

“This Bud’s for you.”

She opened one of the glass paneled doors covering the refrigerated room back of the bar and retrieved a bottle of beer and set it down before me.

“Just a minute,” she said when I tried to pay her.

They were still opening the joint and she and another barmaid were hovering over the cash register counting money and signing in. It was OK with me. I was in no hurry.

I was sitting there on my bar stool swigging my beer and swiveling around on the stool to check the place out. Back behind me there was a large main stage with two stripper poles. Music was playing in the background. Kind of low for a stripper place I thought. There were tables and chairs in the space between me and the stage. The lighting was low and seductive and of course mirrors everywhere. I had turned back around to the bar facing the mirror on the back wall when I noticed a thin young girl with long brown mousy hair wearing a black athletic jacket heading in my direction. She was wearing black heels. Under the jacket was a nice lingerie set of matching black bra and panties. She was distinguished from the other girls because one, she was wearing a jacket, and two because her lingerie was nicer than the rest. The panties were high waisted and the brassier was rather full, more like a bustier, and while she looked good, she really wasn’t that sexy.

“Hi. What’s your name, cowboy?” She asked.

“Philip”, I answered. “What’s yours?”

She lowered her head and got closer and got a silly grin on her face.

“My real name or my stripper name?” She purred into my ear.

“Well, I always like to know a girl’s real name.”

“We’re not supposed to tell what our real name is.” She dropped her head and laughed. “It’s Crystal. My stripper name is Bella.”

“Oh, Bella! That’s a pretty name!” I was wondering if she knew what it really meant.

She smiled. “Thanks! Yours is pretty too.”

I smiled back.

“I don’t usually do this. I only work a couple days a month. Just enough to make a little money to pay the rent. I’m a single mother. I have a six-year-old daughter at home I have to take care of. She’ll be six in August.”

“Oh really? What day?”

“The ninth. August the ninth.”

“Wow! Really? That’s my birthday too!”

Her smile got bigger.

“Really? You’re a Leo?”

“Yep! Just like your daughter. What’s yours?”

“Scorpio.”

“Oh! The most dangerous sign in the universe!”

“Do you study signs?”

“A little bit. You?”

She nodded her assent.

“Are Leos and Scorpios compatible?”

She laughed and allowed that they were. “I’m very passionate.” She said.

Then she went on about how she didn’t’ drink but that she smoked a lot.

“Weed?”

“Yeah. Buy me a drink?”

“I thought you just said you didn’t drink.”

“I don’t. Except when I come here. I couldn’t do this unless I drank.”

“How much are they? I don’t usually buy girls drinks because they jack the prices up and I don’t like that.”

She grimaced. “I really don’t know. Get me a shot of tequila. I’m going over here to talk to my friend to make sure she is alright. I’ll be right back.”

So, I ordered a shot. I figured if the barmaid thought it was for me, she would just charge me regular price.

“Silver or gold?” She asked.

“Silver.”

She poured a shot and set it down in front of me.

“Lemon or lime?”

“Lemon.”

“You want salt with that?”

“No.”

“That’ll be seven dollars.”

In a few minutes Crystal drifted back over to where I was sitting and spotted the shot of Patron sitting on the bar.

“Where’s your shot?”

“I’m drinking beer.”

This seemed to satisfy her. She picked up the shot of tequila and poured it down her gullet and then sucked on the lemon and made a face.

“Oh, that was awful!”

“The lemon?”

“No, the tequila. I told you I didn’t drink.”

The she proceeded to tell me the story of her life. “You know, when I was younger, I was pretty wild and I did a lot of bad things. My boyfriend was killed right in front of me.”

“Bad drug deal?”

“Yeah. We were sitting in the car together somewhere in the west end and they just shot him right then and there.”

“Jesus!”

“Yeah, that was kind of a wakeup call for me. Ever since then I have been trying to get my act together and turn my life around.” 

“How’s that working out for you?”

She lowered her head again and smiled.

“Hey! Don’t go anywhere. I’m going back over there to check on my friend again.”

So, she walked back over to her friend who was sitting at the other end of the bar.

I figured she be back for another drink but it looked like she got caught up in the conversation with her friend and some others who joined them. Thought it might be a good time to blow so I took the air.

Note: I published this story once before, but this is a new and revised version.

Burger Boy

Flash Fiction

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I was having breakfast in one of my favorite hamburger joints, Burger Boy, down on Burnett Street. I was concentrating on my reading when I noticed a shadow falling over me and a rush of wind as someone walked past. I looked up and caught the figure of a young woman in a black leather jacket. She walked up to the lunch counter and sat on one of the stools that had seats covered in red vinyl.  She ordered some food and then stepped outside to smoke a cigarette. She never came back. She left behind her leather jacket and her purse. The jacket she set on the stool and the purse she set on the counter.  When she spoke to the counter person, she ordered breakfast to go: scrambled eggs and hash browns with rye toast. As I recall, officer, when I looked up from the book I was reading, I noticed a single black female, short in stature, with long black hair and fake eyelashes. She was wearing a black ball cap with the black leather jacket. The jacket had silver studs on the collar and along the half circle for each of her shoulders. She had on tight blue jeans and brown suede fringed moccasins that went half way up her well-shaped calves. There was a red leather purse with a gold chain sitting on the counter in front of her. It’s still there. I figured her for a pretty wild character. Judging by the way she was dressed she might have been a working girl. Although I, doubt it. She had an air of confidence about and looked like she wouldn’t take shit from anyone. Especially a pimp.

I noticed just before she went outside, she kept glancing at her cell, scrolling through her messages. Yeah, she might have been an independent all right. When she turned around to leave was when I witnessed and felt the full force of her great beauty. She was quite a looker. Shame about what happened. Do you think you will catch the guy?

The Monty Hall Problem

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My young friend Victoria had been wanting to take me to this speakeasy she knew about downtown for the longest. We had our chance the other night to go so we went. Only thing is you can’t just show up, you have to be invited. So, Victoria went through the necessary machinations to secure our invite and we showed up on time in our finest costumes for the occasion.

We walked through the unprepossessing door from an alley off Main Street. We entered a small cubbyhole of a space manned by two standing gentlemen and a woman seated at a desk in front of a locked door which was located directly behind them.

“Papers, please.”

We showed our IDs and it was dutifully checked against a roster resting on the desk. When our names were found the woman handed our ID’s back and slightly nodded to the gentleman guarding the door. He swung it wide and we stepped through to the top of a sharply declining stairwell.

As we made our way down the steep stairway, I couldn’t help but notice the atmosphere changing with each step. The air seemed to grow denser as if perfumed by some unknown censer. The lighting changed gradually and it seemed to give off a soft reddish glow. The temperature was getting colder by degrees the lower we went. At the bottom of the steps we were greeted by our smiling host. In the background we could hear music of the period playing and I swear I could hear the strains of “Put on a Happy Face.”

“Step this way please.”

We followed our host past a long and rather ornate wooden bar into the inner sanctum of Hell or High Water to our assigned seating.  We arrived at a small round glass topped table flanked by two high backed leather chairs. He placed two drink menus in front of us and said, “Your server will be with you shortly.”

We looked the menu over and tried to decide what specialty cocktail to order. When the server came over, I decided to ask for a recommendation.

“Do you like the smell of smoke or leather?” he asked.

I allowed as I did.

“Well then, I recommend Sparks Fly.”

I took a look at that and saw it contained Mezcal, Cardamaro, Benedictine, Crème de Cacao, and Gun Powder Proof Rum.  Sounded like an explosive concoction.

“Ok. I’ll try that.”

Victoria had the Devil’s Advocate, which was fitting.

I looked behind me at the room and on the back wall was a gigantic bookcase filled with books. The lighting was extremely dimmed and the music hushed.

As we sat sipping our drinks and soaking up the atmosphere, I was searching my head for something unfoolish to say.  Victoria is such a good listener I wanted to come up with a good story that would put her in awe and elicit her rapt attention. She was my best audience.

I thought about a book that I had been reading and there was a particularly good scene in it I wanted to share with her about a logic problem. Victoria liked logic problems.

“I say, have you heard about the Monty Hall problem?”

She shook her pretty head no. Her eyes fairly glistened in the low light.

“Well, there’s this book I’m reading called, Sweet Tooth. It’s by Ian McEwan. Very clever piece about a female British spy in the 70s. In one of the chapters the protagonist, Serena Frome (rhymes with plume) and her lover/writer/friend Tom Haley were having dinner in their favorite seafood restaurant in Brighton and Tom says, ‘I’m always telling you stories about poems and novels but you never tell me anything about math. It’s time you did. Something counterintuitive, paradoxical.’

“Serena thought for a while.”

‘Well there was this one story making the rounds at Cambridge while I was there. It’s called the Monty Hall Problem.’

I took a sip of my drink and paused for emphasis.

“So, let me tell it to you as best as I remember it. I think you will like it.”

“It seems there are three boxes. Two are empty and one holds a fabulous prize, like an all-expense paid vacation to some exotic place on earth. You have to choose which one you think it might be in. You choose box number one. The host, Monty Hall, who knows what’s inside each box, opens another box. Say, box number three. It’s empty. He then says to you, ‘Do you want to choose box number two or stick with box number one?’

I then asked Victoria which she would do. She says it doesn’t make any difference because you have a fifty-fifty chance either way.

“Not true,” I say. “If you switch you have a two in three chance of winning. If you stick you only have a one in three.”

“No. that can’t be. If you have two boxes remaining, it’s a fifty-fifty chance.”

“I know that’s what it seems like, but if you do the math that’s not right. It’s sort of a paradox. It’s really about re-evaluating your decisions as you get new information. Monty filters your choice by opening one of the boxes. You now have new information. You know the fabulous vacation is not in box number three. This changes the odds.”

Victoria sat back in her leather chair and stared into the middle distance processing this information. I saw in her face the slow signs of recognition as she grappled with the problem and gradually came to understand the solution with the new information I had supplied to her.

“Oh! Now I get it. I don’t know why I didn’t at first.”

“That’s because it’s counterintuitive. Most people don’t at first. By the way. Tom didn’t get it at first either. Now here’s the kicker, getting back to the book. Tom takes this math problem and decides to incorporate it into one of his short stories.”

The server came over and asked us if we’d like another drink.

I nodded my assent and said, “Yes, but I think I’ll have something more traditional this time. Do you have Old Forster?”

He says, “Yes.”

“Good! Well then, I’ll have an Old Forster and soda. Club soda.”

He writes that down.

“And for the lady?”

Victoria says she’ll have a rum and coke.

The server gives a slight bow and disappears back into the gloaming.

“So,” I say. “Getting back to the book. Tom and Serena spend the rest of the weekend together back at Tom’s apartment. He claims to have had an epiphany and now totally understands the solution to the Monty Hall problem, although at first, he insisted just like you, that there was only a fifty-fifty chance the prize was in box number one or two. Serena gave him another way of looking at it. She said what if there were a million boxes? And you choose box six hundred thousand? Monty opens all the other boxes except box number ninety-seven. Now the only closed boxes are yours and ninety-seven. What are the odds now?  Tom still insists fifty-fifty. ‘No! It’s a million to one against it being in your box.  And an almost certainty it’s in the other! Finally, he gets it.

“So, they go back to the apartment and Tom thanks her for the idea and starts writing a story about the problem. He calls it, “The Adultery Probability.” They make love, eat left overs and on Sunday afternoon Tom escorts Serena to the train station. She takes the next train back to London.

“Monday morning, she is back at her job at MI-6. Tom doesn’t know she is a spy and is responsible for his new found fortune of being awarded a financial grant so that he doesn’t’ have to work and instead can concentrate on his writing. This is the “dirty little secret” that is hanging over Serena’s head and stands between them like the sword of Damocles as she tries to figure out how and when to tell him about it.

“Three days go by and Serena gets a manuscript in the post. It’s Tom’s story. He has attached a note: ‘Did I get this right?’ She reads it before going to work and is horrified to learn that alas, he did not get it right.”

I can see Victoria is getting a little bit restive. Must be her ADHD kicking in again, I thought.

“Do you want to walk around a bit and explore,” I ask Victoria.

“Sure,” she says. Victoria is always up for a little adventure.

“We’ll continue on with the story when we get back to the table.”

So, we pushed our chairs back and grabbed our drinks and went for a little trek about the place. We were sitting in the Library Room which was two stories tall and opened up to the ceiling. Up a flight of stairs there were two other rooms and a mezzanine looking over the downstairs portion of the library. Off to either side of the mezzanine were the two other two rooms, the Boudoir Room and the Fumoir Room, only there was no smoking in the Fumoir Room. What went on the Boudoir Room, I wasn’t certain. Each room was richly appointed with distinctive features of the period offering its occupants intimacy and privacy. Each had a maximum capacity of five. We took a peek in each room. Downstairs, off the bar, was a larger room called the Gaga Room which held up to 14 patrons. These rooms were offered for rent by the hour. In the bar area there were lounges made of richly upholstered plush red velvet with lamplight gently streaming over each one. One had the feeling that one could sink down into that velvet lining and disappear forever. We stood there transfixed for a while as if hypnotized by the ambiance. We snapped out of our reverie and headed back to the table in the library.

We sat back down and a little silence ensued as we thought about what we had just witnessed.

“Don’t you just hate that?” Victoria asked.

“What?”

“That awkward silence when no one has anything to say?”

“Oh that. No, I don’t mind. Sometimes it’s good to just sit and think about things for a while and something naturally will come up of its own accord.”

“Well, I tell you what. Why don’t you tell me the rest of that story?”

“Good idea.” I raise my drink to her and say, “Here’s looking at you kid.”

She smiles back and touched her glass to mine as I resume the story.

“Now, where was I? Oh yes! Serena has just read Tom’s story and discovered to her horror that Tom indeed did not get the problem right. His story went something like this. A London architect suspects his wife of fooling around. One day, when he has time on his hands, he follows her to a sleazy hotel in Brighton. He spies her in the lobby with a man. They obtain a key from the desk clerk and head up the stairs. Terry, the architect, stealthily enters the hotel and follows them up the stairs, staying out of sight. They reach the fourth floor and Terry can hear a door open and close, but he can’t see which one. When he arrives on the floor, he can see there are only three rooms, 401, 402, and 403. His plan is to wait until the couple is in bed together then break into the room and catch them in flagrante delicto. Only one problem. Which room are they in?

“He listens for a sound but hears nothing. Time passes. He needs to make a choice. He chooses door 401 because it’s closest. He steps back to make a run for the door when the door to 403 opens and an Indian couple with a baby come out of the room.  They smile at Terry and go down the steps.

“He figures he has a one-in-three chance his wife was in room 401. Which means that until now there was a two-in-three chance she’s in either 402 or 403. Now that he knows 403 is empty there must be a two in three chance, she’s in 402. Only a fool would stay with his first choice, for the laws of probability are immutable. He makes his run and crashes through the door of 402 and catches the couple in mid-stroke. He gives the chap a slap across the chops and make a hasty retreat out the door and heads for London to file for divorce.

“Serena thinks about this story all day long after she gets to work. It was a good story but it was flawed. It couldn’t stand as written. It didn’t make sense. The Indian couple coming out of room 403 did not tip the balance in favor of 402. Their emergence was random while Monty’s choice was not. He knows what is in each box. If Terry had chosen room 403 the Indian couple could not magically transfer themselves to another room so they could come out another door. After they come out of 403 Terry’s wife was just as likely to be in 402 or 401.

“Serena didn’t think she could just tell Tom the story didn’t work, rather she felt she had to fix it. She had an idea how. Tom could re-write the story and make it work. First, she had to get rid of the Indian couple. Then as Terry take a few steps back to run at the door to room 401, he overhears two housekeepers talking on the landing below. One says, ‘I’ll just pop upstairs and do one of the two empty rooms.’ The other says, ‘Be careful, that couple are in their usual room.’

“Terry quickly re-figures the odds and decides to stand in front of room 401 forcing the housekeeper to go into one of the other two rooms. She knows where the couple is. Whatever room she chooses, Terry will move to the other door, doubling his chances. And that is exactly what happens. The housekeeper goes into 403. Terry makes his move and crashes into 402 and voila, there they are!”

“And there you have it. The rest of the story!”

I finished my drink and the server came over and asked if I wanted another but I said no I’d had enough. Victoria declined as well. We spent the rest of the evening in pleasant conversation as is our wont to do and we were well positioned to engage in another one of our favorite pastimes, that of observing other customers and making fun of them or making up stories about their lives. We found this to be very amusing. Oh, I know, we were perfectly awful, but it was fun.

Later I got to thinking about that evening and thought it would be fun to reconstruct it as a story. I thought the parallels between the couples were interesting. Similar, but slightly different. Sort of like an alternate universe. There was magic in the invention. You take a little from here and a little from there and you take all the parts and put them together to form a comprehensive whole, synergized and harmonized. Sort of like a stew cooked by chefs to create something new and delicious. A story within a story, like the windmills of your mind. We had fun that night. And I vowed we would come back someday, no matter what it took. Come hell or high water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dream of Fair to Middling Women

A Novel by Samuel Beckett

Book Blurb

Dream of Fair to Middling Women is Samuel Beckett’s first novel which he wrote in a fever pitch at age 26 and could not get published in Ireland due to it’s salacious content. He kept it under wraps his whole life and it was published posthumously a little while after his death per his wishes. He referred to it as “The chest into which I threw my wild thoughts.” It is a tour-de-force in rhetorical bombast and a great deal fun to read, small on plot, strong on wordplay.

A Quiet, Clean, Well-Lighted Place

 

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It was late and everyone had left the café except for me. I was sitting at a sidewalk table in front of the window and could watch the passersby on their way home. A tree sat a few feet from me in a large round pot casting a shadow over the empty table sitting next to it. A slight breeze gently moved the leaves on the tree. There was enough light to read by. I liked to sit late at night in this café and read and drink my whiskey and soda in peace. It was quiet now that all the other customers had left. There only remained two waiters, one old like me and the other young. The younger one seemed impatient to go home. Probably had a wife to go home too. That was not the case for me or I suspect the other waiter.

Last week I attempted suicide.

Why, you may ask?

Loneliness, despair, I don’t know. Just couldn’t stand the pain of going on.

It wasn’t for lack of money. No, no, I have plenty. There just didn’t seem to be any point going on. I was saved at the last minute by my niece who cut me down. I’m not sure she did me any favors.

I noticed out in the street a soldier and a girl walking briskly by. They better get home soon, I thought, or they will be out past curfew and have to pay the price. Hope he gets what he wants.

I signaled the waiter for another drink.

The younger waiter sauntered over.

“What will you have?”

“Another whisky and soda.”

“You’ll be drunk.”

I just looked at him. He went away.

The two waiters were huddled together at a table near the door. They were whispering. Probably talking about me I thought. Probably want me to go. Well, I’m not ready to go.

The waiter went to the bar and poured a shot of Woodford into a tumbler of ice and spritzed it with soda water. He carried the drink outside to where I was sitting. He placed the drink in front of me and said, “You should have killed yourself last week.”

He probably thought I couldn’t hear what he was saying as I am practically deaf. But I hear well enough in a quiet environment.

The waiter went back into café and sat down with his work mate. They began whispering again. Probably think I’m drunk and need to leave, I thought. Oh, well, I’ll stay a little longer and have one more for the road. I had a wife once. She left me long ago.

I like this place. It is clean, well-lighted, and quiet.

I motioned to the waiters for another drink.

“Another whiskey and soda, amigo.”

“No,” the young waiter said. “You’re done. Time to go.”

“Another,” I insisted.

“We are closing now.” He began to wipe the table clean with his towel.

I slowly stood up, looked at the bill he had unceremoniously laid on the table.  I pulled my cash from my pocket and paid the bill, leaving a modest tip.

I walked down the street away from the café slowly, a bit unsteadily, but with as much dignity as I could muster. I could feel the eyes of the two waiters burning a hole in my back. I wasn’t ready to go home yet. I didn’t want to face my dark room and the empty bed. One more drink, I thought. There must be some place open tonight. Only thing was, they would unlikely be as clean and well-lighted or as nice as this last one was. I didn’t want any music. No, I really couldn’t stand to listen to any music. And it would be difficult to stand with dignity in front of a bar. What was it I wanted? Just a clean, quiet, well-lighted place. What was it I had? A whole lot of nothing. I faced a cold void, full of nothing. A darkness. Deliver us from nothingness.

I came to a bar that was open and stood at the counter.

“What will it be?” asked the counter man.

“Nothing. I’ll have a cup of nothing.”

“What, are you crazy, old man?”

I laughed.

“I’ll have shot of Tequila, then. Patron.”

“This is a very bright place you have here,” I said, “and it is very pleasant, but the bar needs cleaning.”

The counterman gave me a look, but did not speak. It was too late to talk.

“You want another shot?” he asked.

“No thanks,” I said and left.  I dislike bars and dirty cafes. A quiet, clean, well-lighted place is a different matter altogether.

Now, I will go home. I will lie in my bed and fall asleep just as the day is breaking. I am probably not the only one who has trouble sleeping, I thought to myself, as I walked the six blocks back to my apartment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Big Sleep – Book Review

 

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I have been having a lot of fun lately reading the annotated version of the Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. The text of the novel appears on the left side of the book while the notes are on the right. This book was annotated and edited by Owen Hill, Pamela Jackson, and Anthony Dean Rizzuto. Much of the material in this review is gleaned from their notes.

Raymond Chandler wrote, as Ross Macdonald said, like a slumming angel. His private eye, Philip Marlowe, was portrayed as a knight errant, searching for adventures and rescuing damsels in distress. He embodied the chivalric code.

In The Simple Art of Murder, Chandler wrote: “Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero; he is everything.” He also said, “When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.”

The Big Sleep, like all of Chandler’s novels and short stories, is of the hard boiled, pulp fiction, detective story genre. But Chandler was a cut above the rest. Heavily influenced by Dashiell Hammett and Ernest Hemingway, he improved upon a category of fiction that was mostly known for its lurid and salacious subject matter.

Another reason I like this book is that it gives the history of Los Angeles during and around the time period (1930s) of the novel. It also goes to great lengths to explain Americanisms, colloquialisms, slang, and genre jargon.

The Big Sleep, while a great read and a ripping good story, has a complicated plot. In this version the editors give us some guidance into Raymond Chandler’s intricate and labyrinthine novel.

I quote liberally from the novel as Chandler’s writing style is the best part of his work and the most entertaining. His use of hyperbole and exaggeration is a real gas. Also, I will be dropping some interesting asides about LA.

Los Angeles in the 1910s was the fastest growing city on earth. The population exploded 400% between 1910 and 1930. It went from 310,000 to about 1,250,000, with the greater LA County area housing 2.5 million. The Los Angeles Aqueduct was built to steal water from the Owens Valley 250 miles away. Corruption was rife. Politicians and the police often worked together with organized crime. Los Angeles was also known as a “Sin City” much like Las Vegas, with booming prostitution and gambling. According to journalist Carey McWilliams, “Los Angeles was the kind of place where perversion was perverted and prostitution was prostituted.”

“I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it.”

Marlowe cracks wise throughout the novel. The term wisecrack dates from the 1920s and is associated with tough guy or hard-boiled fiction. The queen of the wise crack was the dame of the Algonquin Round Table, Dorothy Parker, who was known to have said, “The first thing I do in the morning brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue.”

Carmen: Tall, aren’t you?

Marlowe: I didn’t mean to be.

Carmen: What’s your name?

Marlowe: Reilly. Doghouse Reilly.

Carmen: That’s a funny name. Are you a prize fighter?

Marlowe: Not exactly. I’m a sleuth.

Chandler considered it his duty as a writer to affirm life and liveliness against the deadly and the dull. A sentiment I have always lived by myself.

She put a thumb up and bit it. It was a curiously shaped thumb, thin and narrow, like an extra finger, with no curve in the first joint. She bit it and sucked it slowly turning it around I her mouth like a baby with a comforter.

Chandler used blackmail in fourteen of his short stories and five of his novels. Blackmail was very common in LA in the 20s and 30s. As headlines show: “GIRL TRIES BLACKMAIL! CAUGHT IN POLICE TRAP!” “FUGITIVE SEIZED IN EXTORTION CASE.” “FANTASTIC PLOT AGAINST POLA NEGRI BARED” “EXTORTION PLOT SUSPECT TAKEN: STANDARD OIL MILLIONAIRE’S EX-CHAUFFEUR ACCUSED.” W. Sherman Burns, head of the Burns Detective Agency, said in 1922, “Blackmail is the big crime in America today.

The 1939 WPA (Works Progress Administration) Guide calls Los Angeles the fifth largest Mexican City in the world.

In 1904 Lincoln Stephens wrote an expose called, The Shame of American Cities. In it he states politics is business. In America, politics is an arm of business and the aim of business it to make money without care for the law, because politics, controlled by business, can change or buy the law. Politics is interested in profit, not municipalities, prosperity, or civic pride. The spirit of graft and lawlessness is the American spirit. Raymond Chandler wrote in 1934, “The typical racketeer is only slightly different from the business man.”

Ernest Hopkins wrote in Our Lawless Police, 1913, “Nothing so clearly marks our policing traditions in American cities as the use of extreme and unlawful force. In LA there exists a theory of law enforcement more openly opposed to the constitution than any I have yet encountered.”

“A life is a life.”

“Right. Tell that to your coppers next time they shoot down some scared petty larceny crook running away up an alley with a stolen spare.”

There seems to be a connection between French Existentialist writers and hard-boiled fiction writers like James Cain, Dashiell Hammett, and Raymond chandler. Albert Camus may have been influenced by the private investigators appearing in American detective novels like Philip Marlowe, as his portrayal of the quintessential alienated outsider Meursault in his own novel, The Stranger, clearly shows.

“I was fired for insubordination. I test very high on insubordination.” Marlowe

Marlowe is not an outlaw, but he does live by his own code, and he sometimes breaks the law by so doing. Jean-Paul Sartre says in Being and Nothingness: “Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on none but himself; that he alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than to the one he forges for himself on this earth.” Marlowe understands this and accepts the challenge.

Some of my favorite lines and quotes from the novel:

  • “What does Carmen say?”

“I haven’t asked her. I don’t intend to. If I did, she would suck her thumb and look coy.”

“I met her in the hall. She did that to me. Then she tied to sit on my lap. I was standing up at the time.”

  • “I don’t mind if you don’t like my manners. They’re pretty bad. I grieve over them during the long winter evenings.”
  • The general spoke again, slowly, using his strength carefully as an out of work showgirl uses her last pair of good stockings.
  • The next morning was bright, clear, and sunny. I woke up with a motorman’s glove in my mouth, drank two cups of coffee and went through the morning papers.
  • “Well, how’s the boy?” He sounded like a man who had slept well and didn’t owe too much money.
  • Vivian: “Speaking of horses, I like to play them myself. But I like to see them work out a little first. See if they’re front runners, or come from behind…I’d say you don’t like to be rated. You like to get out in front, open up a lead, take a little breather in the back stretch, and then come home free.”
  • “She approached me with enough sex appeal to stampede a business man’s lunch and tilted her head to finger a stray, but not very stray, tendril of soft glowing hair. Her smile was tentative but could be persuaded to be nice.”
  • Marlowe: You’ve got a touch of class, but I don’t know how far you can go.

Vivian: A lot depends on who is in the saddle.

  • The giggle got louder and ran around the corners of the room like rats behind the wainscoting. She started to get hysterical. I slid off the desk and stepped up close to her and gave her a smack on the side of the face. The giggles stopped dead, but she didn’t mind the slap any more than last night. Probably all her boyfriends got around to slapping her sooner or later.
  • The muzzle of the Luger looked like the mouth of the Second Street Tunnel, but I didn’t move. Not being bullet proof is an idea I had to get used to.
  • “Get up Angel. You look like a Pekingese.”
  • “You’re broke?”

“I’ve been shaking two nickels together for a month, trying to get them to mate.”

  • “Go fuck yourself”

“That’s how people get false teeth.”

  • I made myself a drink and was drinking it when the phone rang.
  • Listen hard and you will hear my teeth chattering.
  • I was thinking of going out to lunch and that life was pretty flat and that it would probably be just as flat if I took a drink and that taking a drink all alone at that time of day wouldn’t be any fun anyway. I was thinking this when Norris called up.
  • I was catching up on my foot dangling.
  • I got out of my office bottle and let my self-respect ride its own race.
  • …even if they didn’t strap him in a chair over a bucket of acid.
  • “Two coffees. Black, strong, and made this year.”
  • “That makes you just a killer at heart, like all cops.” Vivian to Marlowe
  • “Let’s get out of this rotten little town.” Vivian
  • A smell of kelp came in off the water and lay on the fog.
  • I braked the car against the curb and switched the headlights off and sat with my hands on the wheel. Under the thinning fog, the surf curled and creamed, almost without a sound, like a thought trying to form itself on the edge of consciousness.
  • “Hold me close you beast.” Vivian to Marlowe
  • Her eyelids were flickering rapidly. Like a moth’s wings.
  • “Killer,” she said softly her breath going into my mouth.
  • She took her right hand from behind her head and started sucking her thumb.
  • I didn’t have anything really exciting to drink, like nitroglycerin or distilled tiger’s breath.
  • She’s a grifter, shamus. I’m a grifter. We’re all grifters. So, we sell each other out for a nickel. Okay. See you can make me.
  • “Let’s dip the bill. Got a glass?”
  • Canino driving fast through the rain to another appointment with death.
  • …bare as hell’s back yard.
  • Fate stage managed the whole thing.
  • “A man has the right to live his own life.” General Sternwood
  • He looked a lot more like a dead man than most dead men looked.
  • You were sleeping the big sleep.

And the last line of the novel:

  • On the way downtown I stopped at a bar and had a couple of double scotches. They didn’t do me any good. All they did was make me think of Silver-Wig, and I never saw her again.

The Thorobred Club

o

I stopped into the strip club out near the race track early on a Friday night. They had just opened so there wasn’t a whole lot of action going on. Strippers sitting in little clumps here and there. I sat down at the bar and ordered a Budweiser. This is de rigueur for me at strip clubs because its an easy drink to order, it’s cheap, and doesn’t call a lot of attention. Usually a good way to change a twenty and get a lot of singles for the strippers. Strippers love singles.

“What’ll be Bud?”

“I’ll have a Budweiser, please.”

“This Bud’s for you.”

She opened one of the glass paneled doors covering the refrigerated room back of the bar and retrieved a bottle of beer and set it down before me.

“Just a minute,” she said when I tried to pay her.

They were still opening the joint and she and another barmaid were hovering over the cash register counting money and signing in. It was OK with me. I was in no hurry.

I was sitting there on my bar stool swigging my beer and swiveling around on the stool to check the place out. Back behind me there was a large main stage with two stripper poles. Music was playing in the background. Kind of low for a stripper place I thought. There were tables and chairs in the space between me and the stage. The lighting was low and seductive and of course mirrors everywhere. I had turned back around to the bar facing the mirror on the back wall when I noticed a thin young girl with long brown mousy hair wearing a black athletic jacket heading in my direction. Under the jacket was a nice lingerie set of matching black bra and panties. She was distinguished from the other girls because one, she was wearing a jacket, and two because her lingerie was nicer than the rest. The panties were high waisted and the brassier was rather full, more like a bustier, and while she looked good, she really wasn’t that sexy.

“Hi. What’s your name, cowboy?” She asked.

“Philip”, I answered. “What’s yours?”

She lowered her head and got closer and got a silly grin on her face.

“My real name or my stripper name?” She purred into my ear.

“Well, I always like to know a girl’s real name.”

“We’re not supposed to tell what our real name is.” She dropped her head and laughed. “It’s Crystal. My stripper name is Bella.”

“Oh, Bella! That’s a pretty name!” I was wondering if she knew what it really meant.

She smiled. “Thanks! Yours is pretty too.”

I smiled back.

“I don’t usually do this. I only work a couple days a month. Just enough to make a little money to pay the rent. I’m a single mother. I have a six-year-old daughter at home I have to take care of. She’ll be six in August.”

“Oh really? What day?”

“The ninth. August the ninth.”

“Wow! Really? That’s my birthday too!”

Her smile got bigger.

“Really? What’s your sign?”

“Leo. Just like your daughter. What’s yours?”

“Scorpio.”

“Oh! The most dangerous sign in the universe!”

“Do you study signs?”

“A little bit. You?”

She nodded her assent.

“Are Leos and Scorpios compatible?”

She laughed and allowed that they were. “I’m very passionate.” She said.

Then she went on about how she didn’t’ drink but that she smoked a lot.

“Weed?”

“Yeah. Buy me a drink?”

“I thought you just said you didn’t drink.”

“I don’t. Except when I come here. I couldn’t do this unless I drank.”

“How much are they? I don’t usually buy girls drinks because they jack the prices up and I don’t like that.”

She grimaced. “I really don’t know. Get me a shot of tequila. I’m going over here to talk to my friend to make sure she is alright. I’ll be right back.”

So, I ordered a shot. I figured if the barmaid thought it was for me, she would just charge me regular price.

“Silver or gold?” She asked.

“Silver.”

She poured a shot and set it down in front of me.

“Lemon or lime?”

“Lemon.”

“You want salt with that?”

“No.”

“That’ll be seven dollars.”

In a few minutes Crystal drifted back over to where I was sitting and spotted the shot of Patron sitting on the bar.

“Where’s your shot?”

“I’m drinking beer.”

This seemed to satisfy her. She picked up the shot of tequila and poured it down her gullet and then sucked on the lemon and made a face.

“Oh, that was awful!”

“The lemon?”

“No, the tequila. I told you I didn’t drink.”

Then she proceeded to tell me how when she was younger, she did a lot of bad things but she was trying to turn her life around. She said her boy friend was shot and killed right beside her. Turned out it was a drug deal gone bad. We talked about how dangerous Louisville was and what an underbelly it had. Then she went back over to her friend who was sitting at the other end of the bar.

I figured she be back for another drink but it looked like she got caught up in the conversation with her friend and some others who joined them. Thought it might be a good time to blow so I took the air.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Single Black Female

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I was having breakfast in one of my favorite hamburger joints, Burger Boy, down on Burnett, when I looked up from the book I was reading and I noticed a single black female, short in stature, with long black hair and fake eyelashes sitting with her back to me at the lunch counter. She was wearing a black ball cap and a black leather jacket. The jacket had silver studs on the collar and along the half circle of each of the shoulders. She had on tight blue jeans and brown suede fringed moccasins that went half way up her well-shaped calves. There was a red leather purse with a gold chain sitting on the counter in front of her.

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She kept glancing at her cell phone as she patiently waited for her food too to arrive. She got it to go. When it came, she picked up the white plastic bag the waitress had placed before her and she stepped away from the counter.

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It was then that I witnessed the full effect of her great beauty as her face came into full view. She then made her way to the front door and departed. It was a moment.

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