She stared narcotic into space two stools to my left, an unlit Marlboro balanced between purple lips. Tattoos blanketed her pale, phthisic arms all the way down to the chipped black paint on her fingernails. I could not imagine her in the daylight.
“You look like a corpse,” I slurred.
She turned to me with a look that Mengele might have given a thalidomide baby. “Excuse me?”
“I said you look like a fucking corpse.” I turned back drunk to my pint, and when next I looked in her direction, she spat a large clot of phlegm into my eye. By the time I wiped it away, she was gone.
Arty from Philly worked the bar when he wasn’t getting paid to sit in the studio audience of a daytime talk show. He called me a week later.
“Remember that girl from the Burgundy Room?” he asked.
“The one that spat in your eye.”
“What about her?”
“She was in here again, asking about you. Her name is Faye.”
That night, I went back to the Burgundy Room, and for my sins, so did Faye.
“You always introduce yourself to chicks by insulting them?” she asked.
“I’ve known llamas with more class than you.”
“I don’t get it.”
Nothing worse than having to explain a joke in a loud and crowded bar. “Llamas,” I said. “‘Cause they spit.”
“Oh,” she replied. “That’s funny.” Only she wasn’t laughing. She turned and walked some drinks to her friends, a necromantic crew of punk rock groupies probably conceived in the back of a touring van. They mocked the jukebox, scowled at boys, then zombied their way out the door. Before leaving, Faye told me where they were headed, but I didn’t follow.
“I’m not one for the chase,” I told her.
I wasn’t always that way. During my college years, I pursued a beautiful, young virgin for the better part of three semesters. I woke every morning thinking of her. We made mix tapes for each other, wrote poems and love letters. We held hands in the bleachers at homecoming and pulled all-nighters studying for finals. Then she gave it up to a lacrosse player. Some cad she’d met that night who videotaped the encounter and posted the footage online. His camera work was a little verite for my taste, his editing too French new wave, and his lighting far from cinematic, but there was no denying it was a riveting piece of work. By revealing her unknowing in the sexual act, he had taken the woman I’d put on pedestal and reduced her to the frightened animal that she was. The animal that we all are when we’re fucking. At least if we’re doing it right. I must have watched that film a million times. Watched that preppy bastard fucking my girl, the one I thought I’d marry and live with the rest of my life. Watched it until I could only fantasize about her with him in the picture. I could never have fucked her the way he did. I didn’t have it in me then. I didn’t have the ability to even imagine being that brutal with a woman I was so madly in love with. And it was brutality she wanted. Brutality she needed from a man so that he could manage the rough surgery that he performed on her. It was a cruel lesson that sonofabitch taught me but one I needed to learn: one man’s chase is always another’s easy lay.
The next time I saw Faye was at the Ralph’s supermarket on Third and La Brea. I was picking up toilet paper and beer at three in the morning when I nearly tripped over her, sprawled out in the condiment section, licking mustard off the back of her hand.
“How ’bout a ride?” she asked, and an hour later, we were sitting on the floor of her studio apartment, smoking black tar heroin off of aluminum foil. With “Performance” playing on the television set and the Velvet Underground hissing from the speakers, I can remember feeling that her hardwood floor was the most comfortable surface I’d ever collapsed on. That the towel she’d thrown on top of me was better than the childhood blankie I once held over my head to hide from monsters. I nodded into an opiate slumber, devoured in the belief that everything was alright, always had been, and always would be.
In the morning, over a breakfast of Twix bars and Diet Coke, Faye unveiled to me her dreams and visions.
“Fuck these whores who call it ‘exotic dancing.’ I take off my clothes and show my cunt for money.”
She was a high school dropout, born in the Midwest, who hitched her way to LA when she was seventeen. She had over twenty tattoos, nine piercings, and a wooden cross she wore around her neck. She had a vintage sign nailed over her door that read: Working girls bringing in sailors must pay for room in advance. She was writing a graphic novel. Started a band with some friends. She met an agent at a bar, and he was thinking of representing her.
There was a moment in our relationship before Faye confessed she could never get past page ten of her graphic novel; and after she thought out loud about how her band needed a place where they could rehearse; and after she admitted the agent never wanted to meet her at his office — there was a moment in our relationship when we both sat back adrift on the ripples of providence and wondered at the hand, malevolent or divine, that brought us together. Neither of us had reached very far out of the abyss to find each other, and yet there we were, however briefly, together, and momentarily sublime.
I was driving Faye home from the abortion clinic when we spotted a blind, old beagle wandering into the middle of Sixth Street somewhere around Hancock Park. Faye insisted I stop so she could scoop the poor bitch into the car. The collar said her name was Sally, and Faye demanded we keep her. She said whoever allowed a precious little girl like Sally to run around on the street didn’t deserve to have her back. Sally licked my face and farted, and I was in no position to argue.
Faye got kicked out of her apartment on account of Sally, and having nowhere else to go, the two moved in with me. There was a promise that it would only be temporary, but I never did witness Faye making any effort to find another place to crash. And that was fine. The money she made at the club helped with the rent, and Sally provided countless laughs by bumping into walls and barking at the landlord. For my part, I enjoyed periodically glancing over my shoulder to see the girls cuddled up on the couch, watching TV as I typed away on my laptop. I wouldn’t say we were happy together, but I did find the situation productive, meaning I was writing well and often. And even though I figured the arrangement wasn’t sustainable, I wanted to squeeze as many pages out of it as I could.
But the TV got louder and louder, and the cigarette smoke hung so thick in my apartment it burned my eyes to look at the monitor. And Faye wasn’t writing down my phone messages, especially when they came from my agent.
“I’m not your fucking secretary,” she said.
The task of walking Sally fell repeatedly to me as Faye spent more and more time on the couch, sleeping, smoking cigarettes, and shooting up. She quit her job at the club. Or got fired. I never knew which. We stopped having sex. We stopped speaking.
I asked one day if she planned on living with me forever.
“Are you kicking me out?” she replied.
“I don’t know if this arrangement is doing you any good.”
“So what are you saying?”
Signs started to appear in my neighborhood with pictures of Sally, but the owner offered no reward. One day while I was walking her in Runyon Canyon, some chick with a yoga mat screamed at me.
“That’s not your dog!” she said. “That’s not your dog!”
Faye was cooking up when I got home, and I told her I couldn’t live like this anymore. I couldn’t afford it. It was unhealthy and so nineties.
“It’s your fault,” she stated. “You think I don’t know what you’re doing on that fucking computer all day?”
“You got me figured out,” I mumbled as I sat down at my desk. “I’m not writing to generate the revenue which pays our rent and your habit. No. My writing is purely part of my diabolical scheme to ignore you.”
“It’s your method of seduction,” she drawled, pulling the liquid into the syringe. “You re-direct your cock into your work, creating a lure for young whores who are enchanted by your words. You’re looking to replace me.”
“Where’d you get that nonsense?” I asked as she tied off.
“It’s Freud,” she said, pronouncing it, frood. “I read the Lectures on Psychoanalysis in your bookshelf.”
So this is what she did all day while I was typing at coffee shops. Such was my punishment for teaching a shiksa to read.
“Frood was a fool,” I told her. “None of his theories were developed by scientific means. He was a horny, drug-abusing sheeny, and his work has been dismissed by academic psychology.”
Faye plunged the needle into her arm and smiled. She had the cure for everything.
I took Sally’s tags out of my dresser and walked her out to the car. Faye caught on to my plan and sprinted outside, fighting through her nod to stop us before we could escape.
“My baby!” She pounded on the windows, screaming and crying. “You’re taking my baby!”
Sally whimpered and jerked her head back and forth. Faye hurled curses and anti-Semitic epithets as her figure diminished in the rearview mirror.
The address on the dog tags was up the street from a girl’s school where the girls wore those plaid skirts that must have been designed by a very clever pervert. When I got to the security gate, I pressed the button on the intercom.
“I got your dog,” I said, and someone buzzed me in.
It was a tan, straight-haired white woman in her forties who answered the door. She had a Pilates figure and a country club smile. Sunlight drenched her home, and pictures of her fat kids covered its pastel-painted walls.
“Where’d you find her?” she asked, laughing as she rubbed Sally behind her ears.
In some half-baked bid for sympathy, I told the woman my whole story. How I met Faye in a bar. How I may or may not have gotten her pregnant. How we found Sally wandering around Sixth Street and took her home. How Faye and the dog moved in with me and eventually turned a productive situation into a prelude to homicide. The woman responded to my heart-warming tale by threatening to call the police if I didn’t leave her house immediately. I knocked over a vase on my way out and did a couple of donuts with my Volkswagen on her front lawn.
You can’t blame her, I figured. If she had wanted to watch the parade of lost souls traipsing across Hollywood everyday, she wouldn’t have built her walls so high. She knew what was out there and wanted no part of it. She had no prurient interest in people destroying themselves with drugs and self-pity — the ignorant masses that flood Los Angeles with their infantile dreams of stardom. This was a practical woman, who hadn’t fallen for the desperate illusion that there was something to be gained from the bohemian lifestyle. I could imagine her asking, You gambled and lost, now what do you want from me? And I would have answered, A reward for rescuing your dog. And she would have replied, You stole my dog. I’m not paying you shit.
“But give up all this?” I asked myself as I drove home. “Isn’t it better to be three months behind on your rent and have a sniveling junkie on your couch?”
My anger towards Sally’s owner was pure envy. Here was a woman who had fucked the lacrosse player, and it worked out for her. I’d have to call that girl from college and apologize. Maybe there was still time for us to get together and live a normal life. If only I could suck it up for a nine to five and a 401k. But she had probably settled down by now with her own chubby spawn and razor sharp pickets on her fence. And even if she weren’t married, she still wouldn’t have me – I’m lousy at lacrosse.
It took another three months of ignoring her before Faye finally decided to leave. Another three months of staring at a computer screen, writing and re-writing a script, before Faye finally packed her whips and chains into a box and sealed it up with masking tape. She was little more than a pimple-faced skeleton by then, a Hollywood casualty with more heroin than blood crawling through her veins.
“What did I do?” she asked with tears in her eyes and a tremor in her voice, before leaving me for good. “What did I do that made you turn on me?”
“It wasn’t you,” I replied, as I finished typing the last line of my screenplay. “It was your smell.”
I could sense she was baffled. “What smell?”
“Sort of a corpse-like smell,” I said. “Similar to rotting dreams and decomposing ambition. I dug it at first,” I added. “I was even attracted to it. But then it kind of got to me.” She looked baffled. I shrugged. “I guess I’m not the necrophiliac I thought I was.”
I never saw Faye again, but I did run into a friend of hers one day while I was eating brunch in Los Feliz. She told me Faye moved back to a suburb in Michigan. She was married to some lawyer and pregnant with his second child. She was undergoing laser surgery to remove the ink from her paws.