Rush and a Push
As the blanket of burning stars danced across the wide black sky, Lonnie Boyd fixated on the brightest one he saw in all that darkness and thought, for the first time in forever, how when they were little he and Jay used to sneak out at night after their parents were asleep and ride bikes through the starlit night. But that was so long ago that he didn’t feel like it existed anymore and none of that mattered anyway and then from somewhere behind him something metal crashed against concrete and someone screamed and someone else yelled, “You clumsy bastard” as all those people drinking late night cocktails in the shadowy light laughed together.
“Let me tell you what it’s all about,” Lonnie said to anyone who was listening. “Let me tell you what it’s all about. It’s about this right here. All of it.” Lonnie pointed at the wide back yard, the cocktail-wielding kids, the deep pool and the shallow hot tub, the light and the dark. “It’s about this house, these people, that Porsche out front. The security guard who walked us through the house. All of it. Those dogs. Did you see those dogs? They probably cost like twenty thousand a pop.”
“A dog can’t cost twenty thousand dollars, man,” the kid across from him said.
“Do you even know what’s going on?” Lonnie said. “Did you see those dogs? Did you see their coats? How big they were? They were fucking regal, bud.” Lonnie leaned forward and pushed the mirror across the table. “Look, I deal with these people and their money everyday. They have a ton of it. They don’t know what to do with it. So they spend it.”
The kid pulled the mirror towards himself. “What do you do?”
Lonnie handed him a rolled up dollar bill. “I do it all, my friend. I do it all.”
Lonnie tried to think what he knew about this kid. Spiked blond hair. His name was Frankie or Frannie or Franti or something. Maybe if Lonnie paid attention he would know more. So he focused. Frankie said he preferred Joy Division to Echo and the Bunnymen. Lonnie had heard of Joy Division because their lead singer had hung himself but he didn’t really know their music. And he had no clue who Echo was or what the fuck a Bunnymen was so he asked.
“It’s a band,” Franti said. “Obviously.”
“What’s so obvious about that? What year did these Bunnymen hit it big?”
“Early eighties, probably,” Frankie said. “Like ‘83.”
“Shit, man,” Lonnie said. “I was only four. How am I supposed to know some band from when I was four?”
“Well, I know them and I wasn’t even born then.” Franti looked away.
“Man, that shit is in the past. ‘83? Might as well be 1783. I’m talking the here and now. Like that shit over there. That pool. That’s here and now. Olympic. Like the fucking Greek Gods.”
Whatever his name was scratched his nose. No words. Eyes glazed.
“Zeus, man. Fucking Apollo.”
Lonnie had not seen the whole house but he had seen the marble bar with the mahogany wood trim, the deep black leather couches, the crystal stemware, that burgundy rhombus sculpture with all its hard angles and straight lines that Heidi said her step-dad bought for like forty thousand at an auction at the Beverly Hills Country Club last month. He had seen all that, so he could imagine the rest.
Through the glass doors, Lonnie watched Cherie’s reflection in a wall mirror. She stood still, like a statue, leaning on the pool cue. From where Lonnie sat, she was perfect. Perfect hair, perfect body, perfect stance. Statue.
“Hey man. Can I do another?”
Lonnie looked at the spiked blond hair. Frannie. “Of course you can. You do whatever the hell you want.”
Jalene had avoided him for the first few hours, bobbing her head off in the corner behind a pair of dark sunglasses, but around two she walked over and handed Lonnie a drink. She said it was a Frisky Whiskey for the boy from San Fran, but to Lonnie it tasted like rum and vodka mixed with pineapple. He gagged it down because Jalene, who had grown up on his block in San Francisco, was like a sister to him and he didn’t want to make his sister feel bad. Jalene sat down and tried to bring up old shit about Jay but Lonnie just shook her off and said none of that mattered anymore.
“What are you doing tomorrow?” she asked.
“Tomorrow? Who knows?” Lonnie said.
Jalene said they should have lunch or dinner tomorrow. Something. At least hang out together but Lonnie just waved her off with one hand and rubbed her shoulder with the other. Told her to call him tomorrow. Not tonight, he said. Tomorrow.
Lonnie stood at the edge of his hot tub and thought about jumping in but it was too crowded and he didn’t want to take off and wrinkle his three hundred dollar Perry Ellis shirt. He hated ironing because he could never get the creases right so he just stood at the edge of the water above Heidi and the two Ralph Lauren model types, all cheekbones and muscles. One wore sunglasses.
“Yeah,” the guy without sunglasses said, “I went to a boarding school in Lucerne for like a year but then I dropped out and started traveling. I came home a year later and my dad was pissed. But then he forgot why he was pissed and signed my tuition check.”
Lonnie had never been to Switzerland. Lonnie wanted to climb the Alps and stare down miles of snow and scream so loud his lungs burned, then listen to the echo of his voice bouncing back and forth across miles of unspoiled land. Just breathe that pure air.
“I went to school there for a couple of years,” Heidi said. Her cigarette smoke flirted with the steam rising up from the Jacuzzi. When Lonnie had met her at a party last month in Silver Lake, her hair had been long and brown. Now it was blond and bobbed. Who knew what it would be next month.
“Switzerland sounds awesome,” Lonnie said.
One of the model boys laughed and Heidi squinted at Lonnie. Then she grinned. “Of course it was awesome.”
“Yeah,” the guy with sunglasses said. “Awesome.”
“Obviously Switzerland was great,” the guy without sunglasses said. “I was just sick of being locked up. I wanted to get the hell out of there. You know?” His smile was so bright that he had to be on drugs. No one could be that happy when they were talking about the past. It had to be ecstasy. Something.
Lonnie sat down on the side of the hot tub and drank his rum and vodka. The hot tub jets fired so violently that he couldn’t see below the surface. All he could see was the off-white glow of the underwater lights beneath the bubbles.
Lonnie stopped to watch Cherie bend over the table and line up a shot. He imagined walking up from behind, unbuttoning designer jeans, pulling denim down over thin hips, spreading legs with knees.
In the bathroom, he pissed. He looked at himself in the mirror. His hair was still perfectly in place. His cell phone rang and he pulled it out of his pocket. Mom. He looked at his watch. It was almost three. He let the phone ring until it went silent and then it just read Missed: Mom. He waited for the voicemail to appear, and when it did, he erased it without listening to it.
Lonnie did another line and his heart took off. It’s all here. It’s all fucking here.
Cherie leaned against a pillar with a cigarette in her right hand, her gaze fixed on something off to her right. Behind her everyone congregated around the pool. They all laughed but Cherie didn’t seem to notice. She was beyond them. In another place. Lonnie had seen a couple of the movies Cherie had been in but he didn’t remember her from any of them. Her parts, according to Jalene, were small. But whatever.
Lonnie asked her for a cigarette and they smoked together.
“This house is awesome,” Lonnie said.
Cherie blew a stream of smoke into the darkness. “It used to belong to Walt Disney.”
“That makes sense,” Lonnie said. “Disney. Now there’s a company with some fucking money.”
A scream then a splash somewhere behind Cherie. Heidi was standing in the shallow end of the pool, her bikini top gone, screaming at everyone to dive in. Clothes flew and bodies flopped into the pool. Steam rose up from the water. Laughter.
“You want to get out of here?” Cherie asked without shifting her gaze from the shadows.
“Where do you want to go?”
“Anywhere but here.”
Lonnie didn’t know why she wanted to leave but he didn’t ask because when a beautiful chick says she wants to go, you go.
Lonnie drove out under the bright lights of Wilshire. Cherie said let’s go to Hollywood and Lonnie said why not. She said indeed. The Postal Service blasted from the stereo and she said she loved this song. She sang out the open window, like the world was actually listening to her, and Lonnie thought this was the way the world should be, the way the world was, the reason he came to this town.
San Francisco was a nice town but it was dead action. No action. No fucking action. San Diego, same way. All beach and mellow vibes. No way would he be cruising down the road at midnight on a night like tonight with some hot actress chick in his car screaming at the wind. He pulled out his camera phone and took a picture of Cherie. Then he rolled down his own window and started singing along with her and she smiled and laughed and they were going to fucking Hollywood.
A barrage of flashing lights invaded the dark night at Wilshire and Beverly. Cherie stopped singing and stared at the accident but Lonnie Boyd kept his focus on the road. He did not look at the stunned stances, the crushed metal, the sheet covered stretcher being pushed into the back of the ambulance. He pushed the accelerator. Hard.
The club didn’t have a name but it was open all night long. Cherie knew the bouncer so it didn’t cost anything to get inside. They danced and laughed and did more coke while outside the night dissipated, and inside, the shadows cut sharp across the dance floor where Cherie played with Lonnie and Lonnie played with Cherie and the world blurred and it was all fucking alive.
Lonnie woke up alone in his apartment to the sun beating his face. A metallic taste had invaded his mouth sometime in the night and he tried to wash the taste out with a bottle of Scope. He poured a glass of water but it tasted dirty so he dumped it out down the drain. He looked at his BlackBerry. Three e-mails from Gerald about the Fisher account and two more from Thompson about the Ogilvys. Who the fuck were the Ogilvys? Was that even one of his accounts? He fired a message off to Gerald about taking care of everything tomorrow, then sent one to Thompson saying he’d be right on top of the Ogilvys as soon as he finished taking care of the Fisher account tomorrow. Then he threw on faded jeans, flip-flops and an old USC T-shirt that he had bought at a vintage store on Melrose where they sold all sorts of ratty, beaten-up, 20-year old shirts and grabbed his sunglasses and headed out into the stiff afternoon heat.
At Stir Crazy, Lonnie bought a cup of coffee and ate an everything-bagel slathered in cream cheese and read in the LA Times how some African people were killing some other African people. He didn’t recognize any names or places. It was so confusing. Maybe he would get it if they made it into a movie. One of those epics. Maybe Denzel Washington could play the leader of the good Africans. He was a solid good guy. But he had also been a bad guy in that other cop movie, so maybe he could play the bad guy. Maybe they could do some cool CGI stuff and have him play both roles and then it could turn out that the leader of the good guys and the leader of the bad guys (both played by Denzel) were actually brothers and they could meet at the end of the movie to fight out the war but then they would recognize each other and hug and that would be the end of that. Nice and tight and everybody wins.
There was another story in the paper about an elderly couple who lived up in the Hollywood Hills. They had died of natural causes. Together in bed. Quotes from their son explained how they had met when they were children back in Virginia and had lived in the same house for forty years and had eaten breakfast together every morning and their love was a testament to everything that was good and true in the world.
Lonnie put down the paper and stared at the headline. A True Hollywood Ending. He imagined the hot Santa Ana winds blowing through an open window, washing over their wrinkled skin that had once been firm and tan. He looked down at his own wrist, the skin firm and tan and he didn’t ever want to see it old and wrinkled. Then he thought how Jay’s skin would never be old and wrinkled and he felt bad about that so he went inside and ordered a cupcake and asked for a candle but they didn’t have any so he walked back to his table and licked the pink frosting off the top, then ate the whole thing in one bite to get rid of it. He chased it down with the rest of his coffee, stood up, tossed the newspaper into the trash and walked out the door onto the chaos of Melrose.
The sun descended towards the horizon line, and the light and smog bathed the low flat buildings of West Hollywood in some unreal deep amber. He turned his Audi onto La Cienega where advertisements for a museum exhibit hung from streetlights. The banners bore images from decimated ancient civilizations: a Mayan temple, a Viking ship, the statues of Easter Island. Bold red letters spelled Collapse at the top of each. Then a banner with a picture of a log jammed freeway. Big red letters: Are We Next?
Lonnie pulled onto the 10 and headed west. The freeway was packed and Lonnie stared at all the metal and glass around him. Near the 405 junction, traffic stagnated. Lonnie closed his eyes and felt the heat of the sun on his chest and tried to imagine where everyone could be going and the only thing that made any sense was that they were all heading west towards the ocean. All roads flowed to the ocean. Lonnie stared down the road ahead of him, thinking of the endless ocean all those miles ahead where the land disappeared and this made his chest constrict and he wished everyone would hurry up and move and he just wanted out, so he closed his eyes even though he could still see the burning sunlight through his thin eyelids. Traffic inched forward.
There were two messages on his answering machine at home. The first was from Lonnie’s mother. Your father called. The second was from Lonnie’s father. Call your mother. He stared at the phone and couldn’t decide which parent to listen to, so he called Cherie. He got her machine and left her a message. He sank into his soft leather couch. He watched the USC-UCLA football game and cheered for both sides because he didn’t really care who won. If anybody won. He drank a beer and felt better, then felt worse, then drank another beer and felt better again. He passed out. He woke up in the fourth quarter and the game was still tied. The phone rang. Cherie. She wanted him to come to this bar off Sunset where her friend worked and he said why not and she said indeed. After he hung up the phone, he watched USC win on a last second pass, drank another beer, masturbated, ordered Italian, watched the sun set from his roof, watched an episode of Happy Days, tried not to cry in the shower, made himself a Jack and Coke, did a line, got dressed, hopped in his Audi and drove out to Hollywood.
He had a couple hours to kill before he met Cherie so he went to a bar where they blasted retro music that was somehow hip and he could sit and flirt with the bartender and no one asked too many questions. But when he got there the bar was way more crowded than normal and he couldn’t find a seat. He got a drink and tried to talk to this one chick but when he told her he liked her shirt she said she didn’t know who Chet was and walked away. People kept bumping into him. He couldn’t figure out where all these people came from. He slammed his drink, ordered another and went into the bathroom, did some more coke and sat on the toilet staring at the graffiti on the stall, trying to figure out if any of it made any sense. Someone came into the bathroom and turned off all the lights and then it sounded like a couple of people were making out, then they stopped and the bathroom door closed but no one turned the lights back on so Lonnie sat in the darkness with his whiskey glass.
A guy with perfectly disarrayed black hair fell off his stool and the bouncers dragged him out and Lonnie stole his stool and ordered another whiskey on the rocks. His phone rang. Jalene. He didn’t answer. She left a message. He listened to Jalene cry about Jay and how nothing was anybody’s fault, that it was all just sad, that we were all fucked. He snapped the phone shut and shoved it back in his pocket. He looked across the bar at all those faces in the dim light of the bar, all those faces chatting and laughing but all of the noise drowned itself out and all he could hear was that it was all sad and we were all fucked.
Lonnie hopped in his car outside the bar and drove down the street to Fatburger. He wasn’t really hungry but he ordered some French fries and sat on the hood of his Audi dipping them in ketchup. He just wanted something in his stomach besides coke and alcohol but every time he lifted a fry to his mouth, he thought of bloody fingers scratching at his face. He chucked the fries in the garbage. Cars zipped up Sunset. He got back in the car and drove down the street. More Collapse advertisements were strapped to streetlights. Mayan Temples. Volcanoes. Viking ships. His stomach gurgled. How did these civilizations fall apart? LA freeway. Are we next?
Lonnie tried not to think if we were next. He turned off Sunset onto a side street that cut up towards the hills but he didn’t want to go to the hills because that’s where the old couple had been and they were dead and he was here and he didn’t want to think about that, so he drove back towards the lights of Sunset but the world down there was collapsing and he didn’t want to think about that, so he drove down a side street that ran parallel between the hills and the main drag, and above him was the wide black sky peppered with stars, but this time there was no brightest star, that star was gone, and he for sure didn’t want to think about that, so he just pulled over on the side street underneath a tree that shaded him from the streetlight and put his hands on his thighs and felt his chest tighten and burn. He pulled out his phone and opened it up and closed it and opened it up and closed it and threw it down on the floor, then picked it up and dusted it off and put it back in his pocket and breathed as deeply as he could. Then he pulled out his baggie, dipped his key, sniffed, and shoved the key back in the ignition.
Lonnie pulled up to the bar where he was supposed to meet Cherie. She was out front smoking a cigarette with some greasy haired little fem named Javier who knew of a party up in the hills, so Lonnie swallowed and said hop in. Javier had slick black hair, a tight black shirt and huge biceps. In the car ride up into the hills, Javier talked about how his childhood best friend joined the army three years ago and Javier just heard from his mother the other day that a grenade hit him and paralyzed him.
“Oh my god, Javier,” Cherie said. “Why would you bring that up?”
Javier didn’t say anything. Lonnie looked at him in the rear view mirror but Javier was staring out the window. Cherie’s phone rang and she answered and started chattering.
“Hey Javier,” Lonnie said. “Seriously. Why did you bring that up?”
“Don’t know, man. I just been thinking about it.” He smiled at Lonnie in the mirror. “Sorry for being a downer but what the fuck, right?”
Lonnie tried to return Javier’s smile. But his jaw clenched and all he could squeeze out was a quiet, “Yeah.”
The house was filthy. Not as filthy as the Disney house but still filthy. These people were the real deal. That guy from Spiderman was there and he was hanging all over some chick from some other movie that Lonnie couldn’t remember the name of though he had seen it less than a year ago with Jay in San Diego but that seemed so long ago now. Jay sitting next to him in the theater. Laughing.
A glass shattered in the kitchen and someone pointed at someone else and they all laughed. No one moved to clean up the glass.
Cherie handed Lonnie a glass of champagne and asked if he had any more coke. He said por supuesto and she giggled. They walked down a hallway. Cherie stumbled and fell into a wall but picked herself up without looking back and just kept walking.
Lonnie’s teeth were so damn numb that he wasn’t sure they were even there. He ran his fingers over them and they were there but it was so weird because it really felt like they shouldn’t be there.
Cherie sat at the vanity and piled her hair on top of her head. She made a face at herself in the mirror. Lonnie watched her, thinking how many guys would pay to be alone in a room with this girl. And there he was. Living every guy’s dream. She stuck her tongue out at herself in the mirror. Then she looked at Lonnie through the reflection. “What do you think you’re looking at?”
“I don’t know,” he said.
“You don’t know who I am?”
Lonnie shook his head. The bag of coke was spilled out in front of her. “Not really.”
“That’s easy. I’m Cherie.”
“That’s your name.”
“And that’s who I am,” she said. She stood and walked over to Lonnie. Stepped right up into his face. “And who are you?”
“But that’s not your name.” She unzipped his pants. “That’s not who you are.”
“I’m not Lonnie Boyd?”
Her hand crawled inside his underwear. Wormed its way around. “I thought your name was Lathe.”
“Lathe?” Lonnie said. “Who the fuck is Lathe?”
“You are,” she said. She unbuckled his belt and unbuttoned his pants. She pulled down his underwear. Her hand clamped down and she squeezed hard, almost too hard, to the point of pain. Then she leaned into him and whispered in his ear, “Fuck me, Lathe.”
He leaned his head back. “My name isn’t Lathe,” he said. “It’s Lonnie.”
She pressed up against him. He fell back against the wall. “Just fuck me, Lathe.”
He did what he was told even though his name wasn’t Lathe. He flipped her around because he could and once he started she moaned so loud that he was sure someone was going to walk in but no one did, not even when she screamed, and he didn’t give a shit at that point because he was living in the moment so he just kept going harder and faster and the only things in the room were Lathe and Cherie and, oh god, Lathe, oh god. He could be Lathe if she wanted him to be. He could be anything she wanted and he gave her everything he had until there was nothing left inside of him. When he was done, he turned and looked at the two of them in the mirror, her face buried in the wall, his totally visible, his face, those blue eyes, the only thing he and Jay ever had in common physically, the eyes that would make people say, yeah, I can see you’re brothers now, I couldn’t before but now, yeah, it’s in the eyes. Those blue eyes. Staring back at him.
Lonnie spun down the road, all of LA glittering in front of him. His hands tapped the wheel. The freeways were still packed. All those people. He looked at the clock and it was almost midnight. So close. A street sign read El Camino Real. He grew up off El Camino up north. Had lived off the southern end of the road down in San Diego. The El Camino had always been in his life. And here it was again. But he couldn’t count on roads. He could drive on them but he couldn’t count on them to do anything for him besides take him somewhere.
He put the Postal Service CD back on and turned the stereo up, rolled the windows down and sang along to the same song that he had been singing to the night before but it wasn’t working so he turned the music up louder and louder until the whole car shook. He realized that what he thought had been an electronic beat the night before was actually the word alone being repeated over and over. So he drove down the highway, his car shaking, alone reverberating inside his head.
He pulled into a gas station and sat on the hood of his car filling up his tank under the bright floodlights. His phone rang. He pulled it out. It was almost midnight. His mom shouldn’t be awake. She shouldn’t be calling him. She shouldn’t. He held the phone in his hand and felt in his pocket for the coke, but it was gone. He pictured it, spilled out on the vanity at the house in the hills. He stared into the floodlight until his eyes burned. Then he answered the phone.
“Oh, Lonnie baby.”
Lonnie watched the dial on the gas pump dial climbing higher and higher. He ran his tongue over his teeth. “It’s late, Mom.”
“Oh, I’m glad you answered. So how are you?”
A homeless man walked over towards Lonnie with a wiper and a paper towel. Lonnie reached into his pocket and fired a quarter at him. The man grabbed the quarter off the ground and disappeared into the shadows.
“You sound tired, Mom.”
“You called me.”
“Only a few more minutes till midnight,” she said. “Only three more minutes. I’ve been trying to get you all day. Stay on with me at least until it’s over Lonnie. Please.”
“I don’t like that, Lonnie.”
“Well, fuck, mom. There’s a lot of things I don’t like. Doesn’t mean I can fucking stop them from happening.”
“Lonnie,” she said. She started to cry. He wanted her to say more but she didn’t. She just cried. Lonnie tried not to listen. He squeezed the phone so hard he felt like he was going to snap the plastic. The digital numbers on the gas pump stopped climbing. His mother kept crying.
“It doesn’t matter, mom. None of it matters,” Lonnie said finally.
“You don’t believe that,” his mother said. “You can’t.”
“I got to go.”
“No, Lonnie. Wait. One more minute.”
“I’ll call you later.”
He snapped the phone shut. He sat on the hood of his car in the hot night air and stared at the clock on his cell phone until it clicked from 11:59 to 12:00. Then he climbed back in his car and gunned it down the road.
An infinite number of red tail lights shimmered and collided with each other across the log-jammed freeway, and in the rear view mirror the bright white headlights danced like hundreds of weakened suns. It was past midnight now, well into the next day, into Sunday, and the cars all flowed west towards the unseen ocean. Lonnie hadn’t been to the ocean since he’d moved to LA. He hadn’t had a reason to go there but now all he wanted was to get as far west as possible. He wanted to get away from his apartment, from Cherie, from the dead old folks, from Collapse. He got off the 10 at Lincoln and drove up into Santa Monica. At Wilshire he turned left towards the water. He crossed Fourth and then Third and people spilled in and out of the Santa Monica Promenade. A drunk couple fell off the sidewalk and Lonnie swerved. Someone yelled at him to slow down but he just pushed down on the accelerator. The light at Second was red but Lonnie didn’t stop. The road was empty ahead of him and the palm trees marking the edge of the cliff stood firm against the night sky. Ocean Avenue approached and he breathed deeply, and out beyond the never-ending ocean rushed towards him but then he turned a hard right, tires squealing, and headed north, staring dead ahead at the half- lit road, not looking to his right at the bright lights of L.A. or to his left at the ocean, far and deep and wide and solid black.
Copyright © Jeff Cretan