Update and Excerpt from Road to Ruin

I’ve been working on a bunch of stuff lately, maybe too many things, but it’s keeping me busy. On Thursday I will be interviewed by some team from the East Coast for the Library of Congress. That sounds fun. I was recently interviewed by the team putting together The Canticle of the Black Madonna for fundraising purposes. I got a check for that, over three hundred dollars commission check for the art we sold at the gallery, and over four hundred dollars for three days work as an associate producer for America’s Worst Tattoos, the television show on TLC. Funny how things work out.

Right now I’m still working on that painting of Tom Waits. I’m also working on a bigger piece with Orwell and Nietzsche. I’m also trying to convince myself my novel is still awesome, but it’s hard. The structure is off and I can’t decide on which subplots to use. I need to give a few of the minor characters more motivation, make them three dimensional. Plus, how the hell do you stick aliens in there and still make it believable? I really want to have this novel done by the time the next book comes out. I hope Wax Bullet War will help me get this one published. You tell me what you think. Here’s a chapter I’m working on:

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Potter and I pull into the full parking lot of the Acropolis Gentlemen’s Club and wait for a giant Dodge truck to back out for a spot. The Acropolis is known for having better cuts of meat than any other steakhouse/strip club, in every sense of the phrase. The blinker on Potter’s Subaru Forester ticks off while we wait for the white truck with a construction logo on the side to pull out. He says he had a busy morning and he doesn’t tell everyone this but cutting through all that flesh makes a person crave meat. When he laughs it looks like he has no lips, just beard surrounding perfect white teeth. He tells me he knows how bad it sounds but this craving happens to most pathologists, even the vegetarians.

I follow him up the steps forgetting that I actually have a choice in this. I could tell him at any point that I prefer to hit a food cart or a falafel stand, that I put all those dead bodies behind me and I try not to think about them anymore so I don’t need to see all these live, young, naked girls to somehow balance it out. I could tell him that even if I did have night-sweats four times a week eating T-bones while some stripper twerked her ass at me isn’t therapy.

The doorman shines a blacklight on our IDs to see the state seal holograms before releasing us to move deeper into the bar. For the first minute it takes my eyes to adjust all I see is a half naked blonde spinning around a shimmering pole in the middle of a stage. All this is floating in total darkness.

As the seconds go by the darkness recedes from the middle out. The place separates into four rooms – four chambers of a human heart – and colors pulse with the music, but apparently only one stage has a dancer during lunch time. Every flash of purple, blue, and red reflects off a low hanging disco ball over the bar sending hundreds of thousands pieces of broken light floating slowly across two dozen or more patrons, like blood cells through a vein.

“See, I told you this was a good idea,” Potter yells over the booming bass.

This plaid-shirt-and-denim crowd sits at two long L-shaped tables ten feet away from the stage seating. No one eats at the edge of the stage and those seats are empty, but not one space is empty at the long bent tables. Behind it all on both sides old men sit on torn leather stools facing away from the dancer, pushing touch screen buttons on video poker machines.

Potter pauses at the top of the stairs and smiles at the room with his hands on his hips. “So you followed her across town, but how the hell did you end up sitting in the UFO-X-Files meeting?”

I stand behind him and pretend to check a message or email on my phone. A man in stained overalls throws his napkin on his plate and gets up to leave. Another man follows. Potter hops down the stairs and sits down as if God willed it. He looks up at me, his teeth glow in the black light, and he motions for me to sit.

“They have the best steaks in town. Seriously, the owner owns a ranch out round Pendelton and I heard he’s recently divorced so he don’t care bout making a profit because it would all go to her in the settlement. I guess he screwed one of the dancers.”

“Ouroboros,” I say and push the plate with potato skin and greasy blood to the corner of the table.

“I wonder if she still works here. Ha!” Potter plops down next to me with his wide eyes blazing, taking in every inch of the girl on stage, his teeth clenched in a bright smile.

On the wall behind the bar hangs a bare-breasted mermaid carved and painted like one that would hang from the bow an ancient sea vessel. Each wall has its own wooden figurehead complete with ample-bosoms, dead eyes, and crudely carved face and hair. Each one equally chipped and cracked. I imagine an armada of ships with patched sails unfurled in permanent defeat. The bright pulses of light make their eye sockets deeper, darker.

The brunette on stage slides down the pole, and rolls off toward us. Some people would describe her as lithe but really she just has no tits and looks likes she’s a tween with expensive tattoos: two six guns at her waistline and stars running up each forearm. I blush because she’s staring at me sitting in my goofy suit and tie, directing the entire room’s attention. She flips her hair and asks if I’m on my lunch break.

I grab my wallet quickly and give three or four ones to Potter. He gets up and puts a couple of them on the end of the stage and she turns to him and says she’ll do her best to keep us distracted. She casually knocks the dollars into the stage, turns away from us.

Potter sits back down. “Seriously, what kind of meeting was it?”

“An encounters group,” I say.

“Yeah, but not like a sexy swingers type, right?”

“No, an alien life form type. They call them EBENs.”

“What?”

“Extraterrestrial biological Entities.”

“What?”

“EBEN.”

“A better question is why the hell would you put yourself through all of that for the redhead and not, I don’t know, this one?”

Instead of answering him I stare at the table and sweep all the fugitive crumbs from the table onto the thin shit-brown carpet. The lights strobes red, purple, blue. I picture Ruin with her back arched, blazing red-orange hair falling over her face, her defiant green-eyes staring at the crowd – so vulnerable and so fearless, not one ounce of regret. Real.

“This one looks like she dances for coke money,” I say.

A chubby, young waitress walks up and wipes the table down. She’s wearing an extra long red and black striped number that could be a short skirt or a long shirt, and I’m not sure which. Her pig tails aren’t cute. She piles the old plates on each other and takes our order for two IPAs. Before she leaves Potter asks the dancer’s name. “That’s Judas,” she pauses, “which means Carnal will be up next.”

Potter smiles wide. “Judas? Her name is Judas?” He laughs and the waitress leaves without a nod or anything. Potter hits me on the shoulder with the back of his hand. “Judas, Carnal, Ruin, what the hell happened to Candi, Bambi, or… I don’t know, Fifi? This world’s gone sour in just a couple generations, man. It’s mean even.”

I can’t help looking at her girl parts when she spreads her legs wide and I’m not sure how I feel about it. Guilt? Complacency? Responsibility? “What surprised me the most about the abductees was their exaggerated sense of importance. I guess I was expecting a group of people who had been taken by aliens to act as victims, but instead they all spoke about how they were specifically picked. They were the only ones that could understand, the only ones that could deliver the message to save the human race, teach us to get along, or whatever.”

The song ends and Potter’s eyes follow Judas as she rakes all the ones on the floor of the stage into a pile and collects her clothes. “They really believe that shit?”

“I’m not sure. They told vague stories about their dreams mostly, except this skinny kid named Thomas.”

The waitress brings our beers and we both order steaks with baked potatoes, mine medium well, Potter’s rare. When she leaves Potter says, “Do you think it’s cliché for a guy who deals with death everyday to wonder about the existence of God?”

A six-foot fake-tanned blonde with pigtails in a florescent yellow bikini walks on stage all awkward on heels so tall and so thick they could be cloven feet. She squirts the pole twice with a spray bottle and wipes it up and down with an exaggerated motion. What a burden, forced sexiness with every trivial action. The whole time she’s sucking on a lollipop, the glowing white stick moving from one side of her mouth to the other. She has a tattoo of giant Monarch Butterfly on the small of her back.

“We’re all cliché. That’s what nationalism is. That’s how you start a culture.”

The music starts and Carnal bends over so low the yellow bikini bottom turns to a thin strip where God split her. Her head is upside down between her knees, she shakes her hanging platinum blond hair; with a big smile she takes the sucker from her mouth and waves at me with two fingers.

Every time I come to one of these places I tell myself I’ll take my tie off so they single me out. “Now, do you want to know about my encounter group or what?”

“Of course. Wait a sec.” He gets up and puts a couple more ones on the edge of the stage. The lights start to pulse with the beat. Red. Yellow. Orange. Potter sits back down.

“Her real name is Lucy,” I yell over the music.

Potter points at the girl on stage with a question on his face.

“No, Ruin’s real name is Lucy.”

“I’m sorry, man. That’s horrible.”

“What? Why? I like that name.”

“Red hair, name’s Lucy, her parents probably named her after Lucile Ball. She was named after a 50s sitcom.”

I loosen my tie a bit and roll up my sleeves. “So what? I’m named after the bible’s original bastard.”

A guy wearing primer-stained overalls and a Texas Rangers hat in the corner puts a couple bills up on the edge of the stage. Carnal knocks them onto the floor and crawls up in front of him. On her side with her right leg scissor-lifted all her weight is on her left cheek. The skin bunches and squashes, and the butterfly now looks to have a hurt wing.

“I don’t know what I was expecting but they all looked pretty normal. They all spoke pretty normal too. Except that skinny Thomas kid.”

Potter is staring at Carnal. She’s leaning back spreading her legs wider and wider using the weight of her giant yellow high heels shoes to bounce her ass at the painter in his stained overalls. Potter says, “Jesus.”

“I know; these were regular people. I mean I could have been sitting at the DMV. They all really believed this stuff.”

Potter sips his pint.

“Except Thomas, he said that he talks to aliens regularly. He said the aliens are pissed off at us.”

The waitress returns, holding our food. She slides the plates in front of us. Potter holds up two fingers on the same hand. I take this as a peace sign until the waitress nods then I realize he ordered us another round.

Potter grabs his knife and fork and holds them over his plate for an instant. “It’s this fucking world, man. It drives us all some sort of crazy.”

I stare down at my steak in a puddle of thin blood then up at the girl twerking the crowd and feel something I don’t quite understand. When I cut off a piece and put it in my mouth the girl juts her chin with one hand in the air and the other behind her back. Before I’ve swallowed she’s thrown her florescent bikini top to the corner of the stage. I sip my beer, washing the tender meat down and Caligula comes to mind. The people loved him at first. Was it a coincidence that the ruler of the free world went completely mad only years after we crucified Christ?

“Why would the aliens be pissed off at us?” Potter asks.

It could be the flashing lights or the deep thumping of the bass on my inner ear, but the dizzies come on. Ever since the war I get random spells of nausea and my equilibrium spins. The flashing lights all around me make it worse, but I do what I can to ignore it. I see Potter looking at me like he’s waiting for a response.

“Water. He said that water is the most valuable source in the universe,” I say.

“They want our water?”

Potter cuts into his steak and the music dies off so I can hear his knife scrapping on the plate. Carnal is starting her second song by spinning around the pole. A butterfly with one wing can only fly in circles, I think and smile, wondering if that is some kind of Eastern philosophy.

“No, he said that they can’t believe we piss and shit in something so valued and hard to come by. He said out of the thousand of solar systems they’ve categorized about seventy-five percent of the cultures only dream about the amount of water we have, some of them even worship it.”

Potter starts laughing so hard he chokes for a few seconds.

I say, “I know, I should just walk away, leave her alone.”

“Are you kidding, man? No way you can give up now. You have the perfect set up. Shit, if she had gone to the grocery store, library, or anywhere else that night and you were shot down there would be no way you could have tried again. She’d think you’re a weirdo next time you tried to talk to her. She would have thought you’re a complete psycho stalker for showing up somewhere else and trying to pick her up, but if you just keep going to the alien probe support group you can flirt with her and try to pick her up every time and it’s completely normal.”

The lights flick on and off so fast I know we’re heading to some sort of climax. In the strobe I see Carnal in the middle of her stage on her stomach with her arms stretched out in front of her. She folds herself in the middle by slowly sticking her ass in the air and in a very practiced move one hand pulls the strings on the side of her bikini bottoms and they fly off. A heavy guitar riff repeats faster and faster and so loud it drowns out Potter’s words. The drums hit so fast that they must have come from a machine. Blue-Red-Purple-Blue-Red-Purple. All four chambers fibrillate and I can’t find any air in the place.

Potter screams, “And if shit gets too weird all you have to do is stop going.”

With this type of strobe light the room is bad animation with missing frames; every second shows a dozen expressions, each a variation of one of the Seven Deadly Sins.

My breathing pattern is fucked and I can’t find air. I grab the table hard, but it doesn’t anchor me. The faces around me are red, purple, blue filled with lustful smiles, perverted grins, or desperate grimaces.

Every tooth in Potter’s smile is its own light source and his eyes are two lanterns in a rock-face. The reds, blues, and purples flow up and down every strand of hair on his head and in his beard. The noise collapses on itself as it builds toward an aneurism, an arrest, or the end of the world. I think about the calming exercises the army shrinks told me about when I first got back. With my eyes squeezed shut I try to think of a lone bird in the forest, a waterfall, anything, but the colors break through, the noise consumes it all. The visualization techniques don’t work. My mind goes to how I can kill the people around me, to eliminating all threats. This is a crazy thought, it’s insanity to think about killing people, unless you’re told to do it by a superior officer.

It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense. I keep thinking that, over and over, and then I’m saying it, then I’m yelling it, then I’m yelling it even when the music finally stops.

Now everything can be heard: clothing moving against vinyl seats, zings and beeps of the video lottery machines, chairs whining against the weight of these blue-collar, bearded types. Carnal giggles at me while her open fingers rake all the dollars to one corner of the stage. Other people laugh so I check my email on my phone and this time there is a message from the site I manage in the Pearl District downtown. The supervisor writes in a long text that there is an emergency. He writes in mostly misspelled words that one of the security officers had an altercation with one of the regular panhandlers. The last line says, U need 2 get down here B4 the prop manager.

“Work?” Potter asks.

“Yeah.” I put the phone back in my pocket.

“Got to go?”

“Let’s have a shot first,” I say and swallow down the rest of my pint.

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