The Moody Blues Incident

Los Angeles, 2002

I was looking in the mirror, futzing with my hairdo, when the phone rang.  I saw that it was Jon (caller ID was still newish to me), a boyhood friend turned Hollywood bartender.  I flipped open the phone, said hello.  “Jimmy!” Jon said, “How fast can you get your ass down here?  There’s a guy at the bar with a shitload of drugs!”

Jon was calling me with the kind of information that would’ve seemed absurd had we been in most other cities.  There was a gentleman at his bar, claiming to be the lead singer of the multiplatinum-selling British rock band, The Moody Blues.  And he had a purported potpourri of drugs: coke, weed, and mushrooms.  “What the hell are you talking about?” I said.

“His record company called here looking for him.  He’s hiding, but he’s got a plane to catch and he wants to dump this shit before he goes.  I’m broke and we’re running out of time.  You were coming down anyway, weren’t you?”

“Yeah, but I wasn’t gonna leave yet.  Are you sure this guy’s for real?”

“I told you, he’s the lead singer of The Moody Blues.  His name’s Ray Thomas.”

The thoughts came like a B movie trailer.  A rock star suddenly remembers that he’s due for a flight and recruits a random bartender to help move his stash, which he somehow forgot about.  What is he doing with all these drugs?  Who the fuck eats mushrooms anymore?  Don’t they grow naturally in cow shit or something?

I was skeptical.  But this was the Hollywood and Vine Diner, right there on Hollywood and Vine, home of Capitol Records.  Everything Jon was saying was within the realm of possibility.  Plus I was getting caught up in his fervor, an effect he’d always had on me.  “Something about this stinks,” I said, “but alright.  I’m on my way.”  I didn’t want Jon to think that he’d sold me.  I was probably more excited than he was.

I could never get fully satisfied with my appearance, and now I was rushed.  I went with the staples: Diesel jeans (boot-cut, my only pair), Nike Dunks from Undefeated (maroon-colored and kind of ugly, but Jon had the same ones), and a beat-up western shirt from either Jet Rag on La Brea or Wasteland on Melrose.  My hair was transitioning.  I’d been experimenting with cheap pomade called Sportin’ Waves, the idea being to look like I wasn’t trying, which was everyone’s goal.  I grabbed the necessities: wallet, keys, cell phone, cigs, and of course whatever coke I had left.

I fired up my Geo and went careening down the nameless dirt paths around Vasquez Canyon.  I was living in Canyon Country, thirty miles north of Hollywood, but I had the route down cold.  A straight shot south all the way from the 14 to the 5 to the 170 to the 101.  Once I hit the 101, I knew I could be anywhere in Hollywood within 15 minutes.

I hit the high beams, alerting the desert rascals and sending them scurrying.  How could there be so many bunnies, I wondered, and why do they seem so attracted and yet repelled by my headlights in the night?  I made my way down to Sierra Highway and onto Soledad Canyon Road where I blew through an intersection so brazenly that I’d have been pulled over for sure had I been clocked by a local.  There isn’t much north of the San Fernando Valley save for strip malls, aqueducts, tumbleweeds, coyotes, and cops.  And the cops are always idle and on the lookout for reckless interlopers like me.  I still had out-of-state plates.  Fuck it, I thought, hitting the gas harder.  There were drugs waiting and the situation was time-sensitive.

I was speeding down the highway—indicating, merging, flashing my beams.  No one in the fast lane was moving fast enough.  I cracked the window and lit a cig.  I’d just started smoking, so I was still a bit goofy with it.  I wanted to smoke like Rock Hudson.  He had such nimbleness about him, the way he’d slink his finger over the cig like a snake slithering around a stick.  I practiced, couldn’t come close.

I decided to call Jon, check on the status of the situation.  “What’s up,” he said, “you almost here?”

“Yeah, is everything on track?”

“Yeah, but he’s getting bitchy, this guy.  Did I tell you that the record company called here looking for him?”

I found this questionable.  Who knew if The Moody Blues were even signed to Capitol?  And then there was another strange assertion.  According to Jon, this guy was claiming to be the father of one Rob Thomas, lead singer for Matchbox Twenty.  This made absolutely no sense to me.  How could an icon of the original British Invasion end up fathering the front man of an Orlando pop band?  Jon had no older siblings, no one’s record collection to pillage as a youth, so he couldn’t appreciate my puzzlement.  (Today, of course, we’d have just gone to Google.)

I found parking on Vista Del Mar.  When I finally got to the restaurant, there was no straggly guy at the bar, no one fitting Jon’s description.

“I couldn’t wait anymore,” Jon said, “so I told the guy to meet me in the bathroom—you know, so I could see the shit.”

“Yeah, and?”

“He said that he could get it…but he wanted the money first.”

I laughed.  “Are you fucking kidding?  What’d you do?”

“I threw him out.”

“Good for you.  Was he ashamed at least?”

“No,” Jon said, “he was offended.  ‘Fuck you if you don’t trust me,’ he said.”

Annoyed as I was, I had to admire the guy for staying in character.

I sat at my usual barstool at the corner by the server’s station.  Brian, a bartender and newish friend, drew a pint of Stella from the tap, ineptly, and foam littered the bar.  Brian groaned characteristically, baiting me to comment.  I didn’t bite.  I knew my place.  He still had to burn through his shift, do his side work.  All I had to do was wait.  Soon enough we’d all be headed to The Well for last call.

Brian moved down the bar to clean some glasses.  “Got any mints?” he shouted.  I reached for my meager stash.  I kept my cocaine in one of those breath mint cases: small, round, opened with a firm press on the lid.  Pop.  It fit perfectly in the tiny pocket displaying the label on my Diesel jeans, which I’d taken to wearing dirtily and daily.

I slid the “mints” down the length of the bar and into Brian’s eagerly waiting fingers.  He hurried off to the bathroom.  Why, I wondered, did we even bother using code?

Dissolving a Decade

I met Lola at the Lucky Duck on La Brea.  I was munching on the orange chicken she’d served me when she said, “You should come to my speakeasy.  I run it out of my place on 10th and Broadway every Saturday.”  She handed me a card that was busy with color.  It featured a sexy-looking Asian girl and a 213 number.  Call before you cum it said.

I went with my friend Vince.  We lingered by the door while I dialed the number.  Once inside, we were led around a drywall partition and into a loft space flickering with strobes.  The place was huge, black-lit, and littered with vintage lounge furniture.  There was a full bar with an Asian motif, so we ordered Tsingtao and lingered there, bobbing our heads to the techno and watching the go-go girls as they danced with their hula hoops on platforms in platforms.

Then Vince whacked me on the shoulder.  C’mon he motioned with his head.  I followed him to the bathroom where he pulled out a baggie.  “You got a key?” he said.  I handed him my set.  Propping the bag open between his thumb and forefinger, he extracted a heap of powder, perfectly peaked, like a snowcapped mountain.  He steadied it up to his nose and sniffled harshly.  Then he did it again, sloppily this time, and a mist of white cascaded to the floor.

My turn.  I snorted audibly.  The bite was sharp.  A bitter drip oozed down the back of my throat.  I swallowed, quivered.  It’d been nearly a decade, and I’d forgotten about the high, but I remembered the anesthetic quality, so I dipped my pinky in the baggie, put some to my tongue, and in an instant, that decade dissolved away.

We walked back out to main floor.  The music was thumping and the strobes were fracturing everything to discontinuity.  The dancing girls, short-skirted and knee-high-booted, seemed more elevated now, flashes of light hurling around them, their spasms reduced to a series of slow-motioned jerks.  Everything looked sexy.  People laughed and danced and drank and laughed and danced some more.  It’d only been a week since the last gathering, but it felt like a reunion.  It felt limitless.

The Lydia Story

Lydia was the quintessential hipsterette: pretty, edgy, hedonistic, volatile.  One night at my place she made an announcement.  “Who wants to see me clap with my ass?”  She then moved to the far wall so that everyone could see and turned her back, hiked her skirt, dropped her panties, and began bouncing on the balls of her feet.  And voila!  Her buttocks smacked together rhythmically.  Loudly.  It was at once ridiculous, impressive, and stupefying.  We all applauded, adding irony.

Lydia never missed a party.  She’d be in my lap one night, Huff’s the next.  You wouldn’t have guessed that she was Skot’s girlfriend.  Couples were always tricky.  I supplied many, and sometimes they’d place orders together, sometimes separately, and when they’d do it separately, I was expected to keep mum, which was standard procedure; there was no need for anyone to know anyone else’s habits.  But often, one of the two would begin asking me, for whatever reason, to ignore the other.  I’d politely explain that I wouldn’t do that, and that it wasn’t a money issue.  To ask that of me was overstepping, I’d argue, and groundless.  They had to agree.  But breakups were trickier.  He takes his friends, she takes hers, but who keeps the drug dealer?  Answer: both, separately.  And people just had to accept that.  I couldn’t be expected to choose sides.  (I’m just now realizing that although I had gay customers, I never had gay couples.  Weird.)

Skot and Lydia’s breakup was messy.  There were rumors of a physical altercation, which didn’t surprise anyone.  Skot had once slapped a woman publicly and because he couldn’t deny it, he’d occasionally thread his mea culpa into conversation, just to ensure that his spin would reach everyone eventually.  And Lydia was, well, Lydia.  Whatever happened, she went straight to bed with Huff, my downstairs neighbor and good friend.  Why him? I wondered.

Huff and I had always competed amiably.  I had the cash and the little empire, but he had a bohemian charm I just couldn’t feign.  He played guitar, knew his way around a mixing board.  He was an artist, and therefore more soulful.  Lydia had been flirty with us both from day one.  And now Huff was feeling invaded by her.  “She keeps texting,” he said.

“Just ignore her.”

“I am, but how long can I keep it up?”

He had a point, I thought.  With cell phones, we’re all fucked.

Then Lydia called in the middle of the night.  She’d never been over alone, so I didn’t know what to expect.  I applied some deodorant, moved my hair around.  When she arrived we hugged and kissed as usual.  I sat her on the couch, got her a beer.  She bought a bag and began tamping it.  “Save it,” I said, taking a seat next to her.  I poured out plenty for us both

She was trying to be her peppy self, but I could see that she was distraught.  “I don’t know what’s happening,” she said, “he’s not answering my texts, he won’t see me.  What am I supposed to do?”  I wondered who she was talking about at first, and then I realized that it didn’t matter.  Skot and Huff were interchangeable now, and Lydia was flummoxed.  How, within days, had both men slipped through her nail-bitten fingers?

I consoled her breezily on the motives of men.  She seemed intrigued, even though I was basically just offering fish-in-the-sea platitudes.  I was probably more flattered by her attention than she was by mine.  The conversation turned to cocaine, specifically its long-term effects—a subject on which I was presumed to be omniscient.  I told her not to worry.  “Look at Stevie Nicks and Mick Fleetwood,” I said.  “They were major cokeheads for many years.  And now they’re fine.  Eventually you quit, and any damage reverses itself.”  This was my pat answer.  I’d deploy it occasionally, citing Fleetwood Mac because they’d supposedly ripped a shit-ton of blow and were old now and clearly not dead.  While on the subject, I mentioned the classic Stevie Nicks rumor: that she’d corrupted her nasal passages to the point where her assistant had to blow the coke up her ass.  Lydia finished her line, swiped her nose, and turned to me.  “Do you wanna blow coke up my ass?”

It was easily the least expected, most thrilling question ever asked of me.  (And I realize how sad that is.)  I choked out an affirmative.  Lydia then peeled her stockings and underwear down to her ankles, turned over on the couch, hiked her skirt, and parted her cheeks.  I was supposed to be preparing, I realized, so I quickly grabbed a full baggie and jammed in a straw.  I would blow from the other end, obviously, but I was besieged by unknowns.  How deep do I go?  How hard do I blow?  How much is enough?  How much is too much?  She was waiting, I realized, and the situation was clearly time-sensitive.

I packed the straw about half an inch deep and inserted it carefully, so as not to scratch her.  I blew hardish—a gust strong enough, I’d say, to extinguish a few birthday candles.  Or to disperse dandelion spores.  Lydia didn’t react, so I asked if she was okay.  Without looking back, she flashed a thumbs-up.  I figured I had a window, so I quickly unbuckled my belt and pushed my jeans halfway down my thighs.  Her feet were together, so I just moved in and began sliding my cock up and down the crack of her ass.  I wanted to be sure that she was aware of what was about to happen, so, once fully hard, I poked her and made moaning noises.  (Assuming the permissibility of this seemed safe enough.  It occurred to me later how confounding an objection would’ve been.  Wait, what’re you doing? I’m not that type of girl!)

We partied into the morning.  I was high, and eager to press on, but we were running low on beer and cigs, so I asked Lydia to sit tight while I run to the store.  I’d been in this situation often enough to know how easily the spark can die, so I blazed to the 7/11 on Silver Lake Blvd and Effie.  By the time I returned, Lydia was out front, smacking Huff’s window with an open palm.  I could hardly believe it.  How, this time, had I not left the more lasting impression?

Does that Make Me a Bad Person?

Maus was an exotic-looking beauty with chestnut skin and a pixie haircut that clung to her wobbly head.  I met her through Huff, a friend who’d vouched for her.  Whenever she’d stop by, she’d run straight to the bathroom.  The moment she’d see me, actually.  I didn’t think much of it at first, but then I realized what was happening.  She was associating me psychologically—and by extension, physiologically—with my product: a diuretic despite the baby laxative.  I’d become a stimulus—a walking Pavlovian trigger with Maus as my first salivating dog.

Maus lived just a few blocks east and we became friends.  I was in the process of breaking up and I confided my predicament.  “I can’t kick Carrie out,” I said, “that’d be kinda mean.”  Maus happened to be in a similar spot.  She’d broken up with her boyfriend, Jazz, a musician who was currently touring.  She suggested that I move in with her for a while.  “I think it’d be good for us both,” she said.  “We could bond over our issues.”  I wondered if she was being allusive, but it sounded fun regardless.  I told Carrie I’d be crashing with a friend.  “So you can get your bearings,” I said.  It felt close enough to the truth.

We had a party the first night.  People kept trickling in, all of them empty-handed.  I considered that tacky, but Angelinos are a bit scruffier; plus they all worked till two, so one can’t really hit the store.  I’d gone ahead and bought extra booze and I was pouring out party coke as well, which was becoming habitual for me.  I figured I was investing in people.  But really, I just wanted to please them.

A girl named Jeannie showed up at four or five in the morning.  She had that skater girl look: Vans, skinny jeans, spaghetti top.  She was thin and tatted up all over.  I wanted her immediately.

The party lasted through the morning and into the afternoon.  Things were winding down, but I’d somehow managed to charm Jeannie, and draw her into an adventure.  Wearing sunglasses and clutching road beers, we staggered into the street like drunken vampires.  After a brief search for my car, we took an ill-advised drive to the Roosevelt Hotel.  I had a Viagra pill on me, 100mg, so I broke it as evenly as I could and popped half right there at the front desk.  Some crumbly bits fell onto the marble, so I dabbed them with my finger and put them on my tongue.  They were bitter.  The lighting was harsh, and check-in seemed to take forever, but by the time we got to the room and hit the mini bar, I had a Duraflame in my pants.

I awoke parched and disoriented, eyelids fluttering, tongue pasty.  Light was pouring in from a series of windows to my left.  Jeannie was lying next to me, snoring.  It could’ve been any day of the week.  I called the front desk.  “We need late check-out.”

We stumbled sleepily through the lobby and out the front door.  I asked Jeannie where she lived.  “Near Melrose and Western,” she said.

I fidgeted with the radio as we drove.  I hadn’t given much thought as to how I’d explain myself to women.  I hadn’t anticipated needing to, being that I had a girlfriend when I started.  But what did I think—that my relationship with Carrie would outlast my dealing?  I knew myself well enough to know the improbability of that.

So, how best to explain?  Most dealers have some other gig, some suitable identity.  Something one can call oneself, even if it’s bullshit.

I waited till I pulled into her driveway.  I put the Geo in park and turned to her.  “Listen, Jeannie, I’d like to see you again, but there’s something you ought to know.  I make a good living, but I don’t exactly operate inside the law.”

I actually said this.  And in the ensuing silence, I began reevaluating my life.

If this is how it’s going to be….  If no woman will ever want me this way….

But then Jeannie put her hand on mine.  “I get it.  It’s cool.  It doesn’t bother me.”

I was relieved immeasurably.  Had she balked, I don’t know what I’d have said.  How I’d have handled that.  But she made it easy.  “I’ll call you,” I said.

When I got home, Maus was snoring on the couch.  I stood there for a moment, gazing at her cherubic face.  She looked so peaceful.  I walked over and pushed the clingy bangs from her forehead and gave her a light kiss.  Without opening her eyes, she moaned a little and smiled.  I turned off my phone and went to bed.

You Know You’re a Fucking Lame Ass when Your Dealer Won’t Even Take Your Call

I endured a lot of unwanted company.  I found it particularly burdensome during the day; being that business was slower, people tended to treat appointments like social visits.  Add to the problem that druggies are notoriously oblivious when it comes to subtleties.  I has a customer named Cheyenne (which bugged me; it was pronounced Shane) whose favorite expression was, “You don’t have to tell me twice.”  And he was right.  I’d have to tell him four or five times to beat it before he got the message.  And then there was Paisley, who often treated the transactions like therapy sessions.  I was never one to tailor my disposition seamlessly, and on one occasion in particular, my indifference to her banter must’ve been noticeable.  She lashed out, “You know, Jimmy, I spend a shitload of money here.  You could be a little more respectful of my feelings!”  I was an LA dealer, remember.  It’s simply impossible to imagine a dealer in Detroit or Oakland having to micromanage such neediness.  It wasn’t unusual for me to fabricate an errand that needed running.  Then I’d walk the lingerer out and drive around the block.

I had a guy named Bart.  Rockabilly Bart, I called him, for his aping of that culture.  You know the type: Teddy Boy hairdo, cuffed up jeans, loves Social Distortion, treats women like crap.  He was so tedious I took his call maybe half the time.  One day he called when Gregory (whom I liked) was over.  I decided to deputize Gregory on the spot.  “Just act really bored,” I told him.  “That way Bart won’t stick around too long.”

“You watch,” Gregory said, “I’m gonna be just like Robert De Niro.”

Bart arrived wearing a studded leather jacket, a biker hat and boots.  I laughed in his face.  “You look like the guy from Scorpio Rising”—a reference lost on the feckless Bart.  He followed me into the living room where we discovered Gregory perched on the couch, catatonic, staring somberly into space.  He looked like he’d just lost his whole family in a plane crash.  I cracked up.