I have no idea where to go now. I readjust my duffel bag tight under my right arm and take a long look up at L Street. I look up and down wondering what bar is closest to the Greyhound station in Sacramento. And I start to think, the Capitol Garage is only a few blocks from here, maybe they'll have music later.
As I pass the sterile-white, palatial hotels along 'L' heading towards the Capitol Building I push my neck far back on my shoulders and exaggerate my posture. Affecting a stoic pose as if supposing there are people of class looking down on me a hundred feet from high inside one of the hotels, I imagine out-of-towners finding it impossible to find their hotel building among all of the others. Each one of them was enormous and white; with a sky blue pool lit up in the front and a hundred windows. The Capitol Building is as scary as a church and several times more imposing.
About half a block from the Garage I hear, "Leo, Hey. Yo. LEO!" I turn around and see my old friend Buddy Truman sitting down in the fenced-off smoking area and waving his beer at me. I walk over and give him five and a fistpound. Buddy is a lush. I met him at the junior college. Buddy always had some weed in his pocket and was always looking for somebody to smoke with, so we would hang out all the time. Half the time I would run into him he'd be like a half pint deep in Wild Turkey, and he would be discretely pointing at a paper bag softly mumbling, "You want some Turkey?" or "C'mon, hit that shit. You don't want me taking that whole pint to the face."
Buddy looks pretty drunk for the early afternoon. He is wearing the same type of eccentric clothing I always have seen him in. He's got black boots, pegged in khakis and a red shirt with pearl snaps half unbuttoned and with big roses printed on it. His black belt has a large buckle with a gold hammer and sickle on it. His hair was longer than ever and made him seem really enormous for such a waif. I tell him hold on while I go inside to get a beer.
I dropped my duffel-bag under the table as I sat down and took a long drink from my beer. "So whats new man?" I ask mechanically.
"Well, did you hear about Bobby and KC?" Buddy asks with unmasked enthusiasm in his voice.
"How would I have?" I answered, half-trying to sound interested at all, "I've been mostly down in the desert for the last year."
Buddy only registers that I, in fact, have not heard the news. It is only 5pm but he is already so drunk he is rocking slowly from side to side. A bartender ignites the pylon-shaped propane heater behind me. I light a cigarette as he begins to expound on the highly personal details of a relationship between two people I can't care less about.
"So you know Bobby and KC have been together since highschool. Right? And they been together longer than most married couples. And you've seen KC. She's, like, insanely smokin' hot. Well, being 23 or 24 and still younger than Bobby, but well, she got the slightest little belly above her couchie. A FUPA if you will. And Bobby, he gets more insecure than her about it. So we never let him hear the end of it. Right? And the whole time he's all like, 'Fuck you guys. Whatever. Fuck you!'
"So he goes to KC all like, 'Damn girl, you got a little pooch. You should do some fuckin' sit-ups or push-ups, something.'
"She gets so worried he's gonna dump her that she starts working out at the Sierra College weight room. I mean obsessively. And over a few months she got this really manly build. She got these big shoulders and shit. And Bobby can't take it anymore and he dumps her. Right? But he can't think of any good excuse to dump her, and she's asking him all these questions until he's so overwhelmed he tells her exactly why he's no longer attracted to her. And she fuckin' loses it. She's like blaming him, right, but he gets confused and says, 'Naw but that won't bring back your pretty little shoulders.'
"KC goes fucking crazy. She just starts beating the shit out of him. Kicking him and shit with her stilettos. He's still in the ICU. They took the tube out of his throat but the doctor say he won't ever be able to see out of his right eye ever again."
I am laughing uncontrollably at this point. Bobby is notorious for being a dick and the fact that he's very athletic makes it even funnier that his ex-girlfriend beat him so bad.
I get some fresh beers and come back outside still laughing. Buddy says in that one-of-a-kind dopey tone of his, "So where have you been man? I havn't seen you in days. You just fell off."
"I told you," and I repeat again, "I spent most of the last year in Arizona."
"No way." Buddy says with a profound sense of wonder. He meditates a moment and thoughtfully asks, "So how are the bitches down there?"
"Crazy!" I answer without a thought. My mind is overflowing with things I want to relate all at once. "Check this out. So I was in Reno and I met this dude who is running around with a ton of coke." Buddy's eye's light up at the word. "I asked this dude in the bar if he wants to smoke out and next thing I know I'm eyeballs deep in the biggest pile I've ever seen. He was kinda shady about it the whole time I was running around with him. Always saying shit like, 'Don't worry where it came from,' and 'Don't worry how much I have.' He was a crazy mack though. You should've seen this motherfucker run game. I became like his wingman, we cruised all the way past Vegas before we went our ways. He swore to me, 'Bitches love whitepowder drugs.' I wasn't so sure that was true but there was no arguing the point with him. He'd be all like, 'No, I'll show you.' But like, it seemed like only a certain type of chick was into that shit, I dunno."
Buddy blinks his glassy eyes twice and says, "Naw man, bitches love bleezo."
"You shoulda seen him negotiate with these hookers. He gets to selling them blow and he books them for the whole night. But by the end of the night these stupid bitches packed their faces so full of yo, they owed him a couple bucks when they settled up."
As Buddy struggles to stop laughing he keeps muttering melodicly to himself, "Hookers and Blow. Hookers and Blow." He uses the sole of his shoe to put out his cigarette and says, "Hey man...wanna go down to The Shady Lady and try and find some breezies?"
"I don't know man, I been thinking about Crystal a lot on my way back up here. You know, I like miss her and whatever. She's so decent. Honestly I don't even remember why I dumped her."
Buddy sits across from me staring blankly out of his bright red eyes. So I continue, nervously accelerating my speech with each word, "You know if she is at the same place? She changed her number, do you have her new one?"
Several moments passed tensely as I waited for Buddy to answer. I knew I wasn't going to like whatever he had to say. Eventually he managed to softly mumble, "Naw man. I mean, I think she might still be staying at the West House in Placer County."
I picture Crystal at the West House as I lean back and light a fresh cigarette. The bars in that part of Roseville where notorious dive bars, full of tweakers and dirty thirties. The West House was the very worst. It is the kind of place a hobo goes after an unexpected windfall to spend a week smoking crack in the hundred dollar a week hotel rooms above the barroom. I quickly drain my beer.
"Look man," I say, "I'm gonna get outta here, get my shit together. I'll see you around though Buddy."
After three hours and three buses into Placer County my head is a mess of tangled nerves. Why the West House? Will someone be there with her? Has she started drinking heavily? I shake my head as I swing the door open. A surge of anxiety rises in my guts. She's here I think to myself, or maybe she's not. I order a beer to calm my nerves. The bartender is a haggard woman who is probably ten years younger than the roadmap of wrinkles and purple veins on her face make her look.
"Whats-a-matter cutie? Trouble with your girlfriend?" She giggles showing lipstick smeared on her grey front teeth.
I smile wide back at her and say "No ma'am, I'm just tired. Say I have a friend who was staying here. Do you know if Crystal Prigg is still here?"
The bartender's eyebrows droop into a frown and immediately drops her cordial inflection, "Yeah she's up in room 4 right now I think." She turns and walks to the other side of the bar without saying another word. I drain my beer quickly and head for the stairs.
I stand in front of the room 4 door for several minutes trying to sort through all the things I have been planning to say when I finally get here, I can't settle on any. I decide to wing it and knock at the door. It opens slowly and Crystal stands in the doorway wearing a spaghetti strap shirt and thong underwear. Her face looks dirty and her cheeks are sunken in. Her hair stands six inches high in greasy, nappy clumps and one of them looks burned to a frizzy stump. She has a lighter and a light bulb with a black splotch in her left hand. Something inside the room reeks of burning plastic. "Oh Leo," she screams.
I take a step backward in horror. I look at her panties thinking of the frumpy, baggy clothes she used to wear when we dated. Feeling dizzy I can't bring myself to look directly into her wild, meth-addled eyes. I ran. My legs feel like they where made of butter and I almost fall as I sprint down the stairs. I can hear her calling after me but can't make out the words. I don't stop running until I'm on the other side of the railroad tracks. Starting toward the next bar, I mutter with my head bent to the cement, "My fault. All my fault."