Morrison needs to chill before work and so he’s perched on a stool in the ancient Buddha Bar. It’s like being inside a mummy, what with the half light, the blood red velour wall paper, the synthetic plush carpeting with cigarette burn holes starting to form a pattern, the permeating stink of the years that almost feels like time is sliding back into itself, trying to retract the past. Morrison always liked the Buddha Bar because you could shift in there and most of the time people let you alone to do it.
But tonight he draws a guy in a monkey suit who’s looking for a jar to stick his paw in. He sits on Morrison’s right. The stool to Morrison’s left remains empty long enough for him to taste his Guinness. Morrison watches a woman slide onto it – nice face, friendly, kinda short, smiling – he just wants to watch the ball game and feel the kundalini move up his spine.
Well, the lady’s pretty eager and the Suit’s on something so they engage in conversation over Morrison’s dead body. There’s a scent of cheap cologne, and he sees that the lady has decided to oil a tattoo freshly etched on her shoulder – the phrase ‘fresh meat’ flashes through Morrison’s head. From behind him he hears Augie-Doggie say so helpfully, with deadly grey earnestness, “May I do that for you?” Next thing Morrison knows, behind his back, the Suit’s oiling her up . . . and the air begins to feel greasy. The Suit leads her so smoothly from tattoos to exes, to comparative drug use, to self-confession, and back to relationships, that Morrison wonders if he isn’t after all … an animal trainer of some sort. Have her eyes glazed over?
Part of the Suit’s technique is the creation of a sense of pseudo-intimacy through recital of
autobiography so the lady and Morrison are treated to the Autobiography of a Suit: Special Forces six years, arrived in San Fran with five bucks, hitchhiking all the way from the north coast on a rainy winter’s night – Morrison gives him points for the attempt at dramatic flair. Then our hero goes underground into the ritual dark wood: telemarketing, coke, crack, twelve steps.
“Got off the stuff,” he tells her, “but one night, drunk with an ex, she blinks her eyes at me, her lips move, ‘I never smoked that stuff, what’s it like?’ Two years later I got off again.”
His tale has the little lady slack-jawed, and Morrison orders another drink to celebrate another hard-luck story. In the ball game, the Giants are shutting out the Dodgers. But Morrison can’t shut them out. Before he can drink and the lady can blink, the Suit’s got another token in the slot.
“Ask you something, you play pool?”
“No, well, I’m really terrible, you know, unless I’m real shit-faced, like four or five drinks, heh heh.”
“Oh yeah, you’re on two, well maybe I’ll ask you later. When did you have to be at your father’s house?”
“Coupla hours, but he gets pissed if I show up drunk. Says I look like a cat been out in the rain.” She fishes nervously in her bag. He asks if she wants one? “Well, kind of, like, not really,” she says.
“I asked if you needed a cigarette, what did you think I said?”
“Ah . . . I thought you asked if I was single, heh heh.”
“Ha ha, well do you?”
“Do I what?”
“Have a boyfriend?”
“Well, kind of but I don’t want him to know.”
“I don’t want to tell him first, you know, I want him to say it, I don’t want to say I love him or, well, you know . . .”
“Yeah, right. You know I’ve had some relationships, I’ve had some experiences, not too many or anything, but I’ve observed that the woman should never tell the man she loves him, not even after they’re married because then he loses interest, right, human nature.”
As he says this, the TV erupts in a sudden cheer. The mighty slugger has just struck out. Morrison hears the lady say, “Do you mind if I sit next to you?” He spills his beer, thinking for no reason at all that she means him. Ah reflexes, Morrison thinks when she turns to him as she’s getting off her stool, and says, very sweetly, “That way you can watch your ball game in peace.” She did, definitely, have an inviting sensual blossom of a mouth.
The Suit slaps his forehead. “Oh! Oh my gosh, here I am all day long trying to be polite, doing the right thing, and I’m being so rude, oh man, please—“ He smacks Morrison hard on the back, buddy-buddy, and the lady moves over next to him as the crowd roars – Morrison’s missed the action; someone’s scored. But the Suit’s loud; he can’t help it, and Morrison’s still enjoying the dialogue.
“Do you mind if I ask you, I don’t want to be rude but, uh . . .” the Suit fumbles.
“It’s ok,” she says.
“I’m four foot six, my dad knew I might turn out this way but he did it anyway and—“
“Oh I’m fine, I have no problem with that, none, no—“ the Suit swears.
The lady’s laugh is brave and nervous as she says, “Hey short girls are more in demand, you know, cus there aren’t so many of us, ha ha, lots of tall girls around.”
Fox is selling more pickup trucks as the Suit orders a fourth round. Morrison is wondering if the Special Forces telemarketer, the killer salesman, the true believer, is ever going to close the deal. He’s been dead on so far, expert and creepy as hell at the same time, and the lady is enjoying the attention, working herself up with neon-pink Fuzzy Coladas that leave a faint odor of burnt almonds in the smoky air (the smell of cyanide, Hammett observed), counting them on her fingers, calculating.
But suddenly, the Suit’s snapping shut his briefcase. He’s standing not entirely erect and Morrison’s missed something. The Suit has been dismissed and as the lady heads for the washroom, he hears her curse under her breath, “What kind of a tramp does he think I am! With a card says, ‘This is a pickup, lady.’ Piss off!”
By the ninth inning Morrison misses them. A pair of rowdy, muscle-bound, belching, beer drinkers have taken their place, drafting chain-smoke into his face like a Charles Atlas satire. Anyone can be vulgar but these two are a crowd so he heads for the street and the nearby, affectionately dubbed, Taco Hell. It’s time to fuel up and brace for the job. It isn’t much of a gut-wringing machine really, just a solo evening cutting the news shows into little pieces for the headhunters.
Soon Morrison’s on top of the aptly-named Hobart Building, steadying for another session of cherry-picking strange bits from carbon-copy local news in 223 markets, from New York to Natchidoches, from Compton to Corpus Christi, Yakima to Chico. Not even pale fire comes down that toxic mainline of “If it bleeds it leads.” But, muses Morrison, here in the wee hours, no one interrupts my own mad interior monologue. Cus let’s face it – listening is a rare ability and we’re all monologists at heart. So when the office is empty and Morrison’s alone with the talking heads he doesn’t mind the job. He just runs the tapes and pushes the buttons, and listens for the voices that leak through the night.