Mac – The Junction – Medium
Here it comes…
Each man is strengthened and preserved by actions that correspond to his nature…
The Asshole came walking down the street that morning with his wife’s dog. I like the dog. An English bulldog mix. Very ugly and very friendly. When the Asshole’s very attractive wife takes him for walks, the dog, she will let him stroll over. He’ll climb up my leg and we’ll chat for a minute until they move on. The wife.
Anyway, he walks by. The Asshole. I noticed him glance at me. Then I saw him smirk, then break out in a kind of laugh. I wondered. It had been especially dry for several days. Not unusual these recent years. The seed husks were seamier. I was wearing the “bug mask,” the industrial-style breather my pulmonologist insisted I use when doing heavy house and outside work. That schmuck was laughing at my mask. He was laughing at me.
I ran over to him. I stood in front of him, breathing a little harder. I took my glasses off and with the same hand, holding the broom in my left, pulled the top of the mask down from my head and pointed my index finger right into his nose. “You don’t know who the fuck you’re laughing at, shitface. The next time you laugh at me I’m going to shove this broomstick so far up your ass you won’t ever be able to laugh again, motherfucker. Now take your nice dog, and your shitty assumptions walking, and don’t fuck with me, ever, or you’ll regret the day your mother was born.”
He was whiter than he’d ever been. Now he looked like one of those Japanese eggplants. I’d never noticed how much taller he was, either. But he walked around me, with a frozen glaze, eyes wide, mumbled “sorry,” and kept walking away. I waited until I was back in my driveway before I put that damned uncomfortable mask back up. My body was buzzing, head shaking and jumbled like Xanax withdrawal. Several minutes crawled by before I stopped automatically sweeping.
I said to myself, “Shit, maybe I’ve still got it. Thanks, General.” Then I recovered. “No, no you don’t.” I felt myself shaking. “Asshole.” This time I was referencing myself. Lost it again.
Most of us are born to be nobody. We used to live in a world where this condition was implicit, but that was ruined when some loud-mouthed squire had the impractical idea to spread the word about the Magna Carta to commoners. People started taking that rhetoric literally. Before long, you had this Rousseau-Voltaire split and the whole of Western Civilization was falling apart. And don’t get me started on the Cartesean-Voltairian thing about animals.
Christ, what a mess.
When you examine the matter closely, we were never formed to be more than crude oil in a pipeline. Or imagine us a parade of worker ants serving a thimbleful of queens. That cartoonish image does makes things easier for most.
If anyone had the misguided notion of trying to refine us all into an individualized, elevated status, they neglected to project forward into the future what to do with the refuse from all that work or how to deal with the environmental pillage and spoil that work would engender. Worse, they never counted on their blatant failure. The plethora of trophies for doing nothing. Because everybody is too self-aware now.
However, there are special people out there. Many, many queens. I’ve known a lot of them.
I’m not one of them. Like most of you, I am a failure of the system. As a product of that failure on several levels, a failed and unreformed Romantic Wobbly, a defeated crier into the well about how it never can and never will happen, I finished sweeping, showered, dressed, and dragged my idiot carcass into the BART station, rode that decrepit train, while I looked around at the forlorn trash heaps and hurting masses, and walked across Market Street through more tons of it towards the lights of the once singularly magnificent Embarcadero Center.
All around in that great sanctuary city were the results of that failure. The immigrant, homeless junkies wandering around the plazas of what used to be one of The City’s architectural highlights. The tourists. Nope, not going there. Also, the dim-witted, noxious, Ecstasy-hitting, jellybean eating, tower-dwelling dingbells who now inflate this city in every possible way and make it a worse hell than those poor, unloved, junkie immigrants ever could.
Sad. Somebody said that.
A friend of mine came down here to lunch with me the other day and said, “If you can’t do this right, should you really be doing this?” I was afraid to ask what he meant; afraid it wouldn’t make any sense at all.
My fear had to do with a hangover of impressions from an article I’d read that morning by this kid who had spent a few years dealing cards in a corporate casino. He reminded me of what William James wrote about participating in the lives of others like a background figure. After a while it starts to wear thin, and then the process continues, your own life starts to lose all sense of meaning. The sizzle turns to fizzle, and the fizzle turns into a quick snap at the end of a rope. Self-inflicted.
That was then. And that then and this then started to mingle. If you have your head on straight, which most people don’t, and I rarely do, time plays this political game and mashes two or more unrelated items correctly in a gamely compromise. These competing, opposing propositions come together in your consciousness and you have an idea. Or, if you’re an ape — like me — a feeling.
I had a feeling. A feeling deep inside. Oh, yeah. It wasn’t involved with gambling. It didn’t seem that way to me at the time.
It was a queer feeling, about Tre Donaldson and the whole silly poisoning scheme. Today I wasn’t at Embarcadero Central for lunch or a stroll, or to mix it up with immigrant junkies, Googleheads or tourists, but to visit the offices of Rogers and Stein, international private investigations, security services and bicycle messengers.
Into The Womb of Success, whoop-ti-doo.
Thirty-seven floors above it all, against the backdrop of my favorite view in the Universe, given they don’t change it with, say, three more bridges and some Elon Musk, bless the ground he walks, idea of a billion flying cars.
The image that had haunted me blissfully for most of my life, but the one I often had to stare at through the pillowed midriff of Richard McIntyre, my mentor and the holder of that life, legally, for the present, the man who, at my late wife’s request, engineered the procurement of my silly private detective license, the sense of humor that was my gun permit, and a secure living, for whatever it was worth. The man who held the key to my bank account and most of my other financials. The man my wife made executor to her estate. Her cousin.
It gave me pause. When I bothered to spell it that way.
He had a large, too round, flattened, too white and too serious face. I often stare at it in wonderment and remember that it is from this distaff side of Robin’s family. Not Corsican but that Joisey thing. Never lost that accent, either. That day, thankfully, he was not blocking the view. Instead, he was sitting at his beautifully carved desk, reading The Chronicle.
“Did you look like that before you were a Marine, or did Lejeune do it to you?” I asked, dancing into his gorgeous, enormous office unannounced, past the smiling and ever-friendly face of Millie, his secretary. Cha-cha, I recall. I don’t always dance in, but, when I do, I dance exquisitely.
“Always the needle. You know, some people consider me quite handsome.” He didn’t bother to look up.
“Some dogs, too, I’m sure. Woof-woof, baby.”
“You aren’t as attractive as you used to be, shithead.” He turned a page.
“At least I don’t look like a cop.”
“No, you just look like an eighty-year-old rabbi.” He lowered the paper a little, so he could watch me twirling. I guess.
“Fuck you, for me dear mother’s sake,” I sang, sweetly, in my best brogue.
“Maybe that’s why people don’t take you seriously.” He dropped the paper completely, allowing him to say that to my face.
“The rabbi look, the brogue, or the fuck you?”
“The mouth, Frank, the mouth. Just like that, you start the needling. Everywhere you go, everyone you meet, you start the fucking needling.”
“What are you saying? I’m Mr. Personality. And I was defending my poor, Yiddisher mother…”
“Yeah, you and Daffy Duck with that old hat. Wear the new one, for Christ’s sake…”
“Duck? Duck? That’s reedickulossh…” I stopped dancing and stood, arms akimbo.
“When you take that stupid baseball hat off, Supergirl, you look like you’re wearing a fucking fright wig.” He was almost screaming.
How do you get so defensive over a baseball hat?
He practically screamed. “When you gonna get a goddamn haircut, huh?!?!”
“Shhh. You’ll scare Millie. And, hey, I prefer it this way. That’s why I don’t take the hat off unless I’m with people better than you. And I did used to look natty, didn’t I?”
“Yeah. Take the ‘to’ off of ‘used’ and what’s left?” He raised the paper. “Jesus, seen this about those Confederate monuments being blown to shit?”
“Your grammar makes no sense sometimes. No, I haven’t. Good riddance. They should take out that trash more often. And you should sit down more often. I don’t like having to stare at your belly.”
“You’re keeping it off.”
“I don’t drink like some.”
“Shove it up your ass…”
“No can do, sweetie, too small. Now, yours maybe…”
“Yeah, very funny. Maybe you should drink more. Would get you out like a normal person and soften you up a notch. Hey, maybe you should get a fucking boyfriend, huh?”
I went into my best Bob Fosse freeze. “Hey, let me tell you why I’m not gay…” and resumed dancing, this time a fox trot.
He threw the paper down on the desk in desperation. “Oh, Christ, here it comes…”
“I mean aside from the biological part…”
“I’m sorry I opened my fat mouth…”
“That’s probably the crucial factor. The fat mouth. It’s because men are dull. And backwards. They’d rather sit and fart, watch TV. They are glued to the couch. Women would rather go out to eat, see a movie, go to the theater, to a museum, to an art gallery, for a walk, go anywhere. They like to move. Get away. Now, on a side note…”
“Can you stop dancing while you talk…”
“…you know me, I was never a big get away person. Robin had to get away on her own a lot. I was less on the macho side in that regard, you’re right. And I had to pay a price for it. Women are better than men, unqualifiedly more interesting. Not all women are interesting, but women are more interesting. Unlike men, they will not talk about themselves.”
“What the hell was I…”
“They talk about whatever comes up. They talk about other people. They talk about…whatever. And when you talk about yourself, which men invariably do, they become interested, they’re involved in what you’re talking about, which is you. Another man doesn’t do that. You talk about yourself, and he talks about himself. It’s very emasculating. You talk to a woman about yourself and she talks to you about you. Why don’t all men talk to women more? It is very satisfying. I cannot fathom why there aren’t more happy marriages. But I guess it’s because men are not merely dull, they’re also very stupid.”
“Great, all this and you’re calling me stupid. Are we done?” He shot me the same dirty look I’ve been seeing since we first met in Tennessee, when I thought he thought I was marrying Robin for her money. This time he went back to staring at his desk. “Why…do you piss me off so much? Why can’t we be good friends? I loved Robin.”
I stopped dancing to catch my breath. “Geez, Mac, I appreciate that, but you never responded to me. I offer to dance with you…” I put out my hand, wore my sincerest smile. “Hey, Mac, would you like to dance, right now?”
“What is it about you? I see you and…”
“I know, I know. You’re one of that type.”
“Yeah. I get along famously with everyone. Except that type. Your type. My father was that type. They look at me and they feel uncomfortable. I open my mouth and they hit the roof.”
“That’s it exactly. Thank you for expressing it perfectly.”
“Hey, I don’t share this with many people, but since we’re close…”
“Please spare me…”
“Oscar Wilde had this same problem…”
“Oscar fucking Wilde?”
“And, wait, you’re, like, Oscar Wilde, now?”
“No, I’m not saying that. I’m saying, since we were on the subject, and I was thinking about this the other day… I mean I would never compare myself…”
“Well, we both knew that.” It was quiet for a moment. I looked around, never being able to help myself when I was in the magnificence of his office. Durable luxury carpeting the color of Arabian sand. Real wood paneling across every inch of exposed wall, and there were walls galore except for the massive picture window exploring that glorious view overlooking the Bay and Telegraph Hill. “You should have given me a job here, instead of me chasing dogs and cats south of Market.”
He smiled. “Now. Now you’re starting to make me laugh, at last. Thanks.”
“Yeah. Whatever. Why did you send the Donaldson girl to me?”
He squinted. “I didn’t. Never heard of her.”
“Tre Donaldson. Corey Donaldson’s daughter.”
“She said you did.”
“One of you is either lying or mistaken. My money, always when it comes to either, is on you…”
“Don’t play games, Mac, c’mon. You’re Chris Martens’ stooge and she came straight from his parlor talking about you…”
He cleared his throat in a demonstration of annoyance, reached down and pulled an envelope from his desk drawer. “I’m sitting here, and I see you walk in my door. Excuse me, dance in my door…”
“I say to myself, I’m about to call this schmuck and he walks in my door. Why? Now you give me this story. After the academic prelude, natch. Are you sure you aren’t Oscar Wilde, today?”
“Yeah. Strange, isn’t it?”
“Strange?” He had an odd scowl. For him. “You wanna hear what’s strange, other than I was getting ready to call you over here? It’s why I was going to call you.” He raised his hand, with the envelope in it. “Are you absolutely sure you are not fourteen years old today, Spanky?”
“Hmm, I don’t think I’ve been there for fifty years or so, Alfalfa.”
“Huh. Okay, then, sink your teeth into this.” He tossed the envelope into my chest.
I caught it on a bounce, opened it and read the note inside three times. It was cryptic and written in a nearly indecipherable scrawl. “What the…”
“What the is right. When I saw that I told myself there’s no sense not being too careful. I wanted you to see it before I passed it on to anyone else. Like Homeland Security.”
“But this is Donaldson. Like I said. Didn’t you… Did you talk to him at all?”
His mouth dropped open. “Talk to him? The guy’s a mummy! I couldn’t talk to him with an interpreter and an astral projection standing there.”
“But this is…”
“Yeah, buddy, it is. And I would like an explanation how it is,” he growled.
“It never ends, brother.” I sat down.
“Fuckin’ A, it doesn’t. But what, exactly, is it, Frank? And, yes, please, do have a seat. Take two if you’d like. We have a discount today.”
I didn’t laugh because I wasn’t paying attention. And, yes, it never was an exceedingly funny line. I could have taken two, three or any number up to twelve, including the eight surrounding the enormous Admiral’s planning table to the far side of the room. “Yin and Yang.”
“Yin and fucking Yang?”
I ignored him. “’Paid twice’?”
“That’s what it says. Why ask me what that means? I showed it to one of my computer kids, see if it might have a weird hipster angle to it. Wanna hear what he said?”
I tried to continue ignoring him, but I could hear the air whistling through his nostrils. His blood pressure began to rise, waiting for me. “I’m all ears.”
“He said, ‘Who leaves notes nowadays, anyway, Mr. McIntyre?’ Like it was Sherlock Holmes. How about that? Huh? Brainiacs. I asked you what this has to do with you.” He was walking around the front of the desk, rambling.
“It’s obvious, isn’t it?” I was speaking more to myself.
“Don’t play me stupid, sonny boy.”
“I’m going down there. This isn’t a coincidence.”
He loomed over me, with a goony smile. “Now that’s my Gould. Dumb as a post. Don’t go yourself. Send Henry.”
“It’s Paula, now. It has been for a while. She had the…you know, the thing done.”
He was unwound, stood up, walked around and virtually collapsed back into his chair. “Paula? Holy crap. Since when?”
“You need to keep in touch.”
“Shit, he had the thing done? Then, he won’t be going back…”
“No, she, and not any time soon, I don’t think. That’s what she told me.”
“Staying on extended leave, huh? No paycheck for a long time. That’s a big hit for a GS-12…”
I threw my leg over the arm of the chair. “Yeah. You and I need to figure that out. We can’t let her starve.”
He gave me a “make yourself comfortable” stare. “And that badge does more in five seconds than what I do…”
“No kidding… On the other hand, that’s Paula. She opens a lot of doors with a smile.” We laughed. Good old Mac, never shaken, never stirred.
“He’s been doing that since he was a little kid back in Richmond.” We both laughed a bit more.
“She, Mac. She.”
Mac stopped laughing. “Yeah, but… Don’t you think, with this, people will get squirrelly? I’m feeling a little squirrelly. Those doors will start closing, maybe, just a little?”
“You need to get over it. Everyone needs to get over it. She is who she is now.”
“But maybe just a little…”
“Get over it, Mac.”
“I’m not talking about me.”
“Then drop it. If she has a problem with anyone else, she’ll handle it. She’s been handling it for forty years. She won’t have major difficulties overnight.”
He was silent, looking at me. You could see when his brain was working. He’d known her a long time. “No. Not Henry.”
“Paula. Paula. Get used to it.”
“I’m glad his mother isn’t around.”
“It’s her mother, now, and you’re right.”
“You think they’ll take her back? It’s one more strike…”
“Knock it off, Mac, they can’t not take her back.”
“Hmm. You missed my birthday last week.”
“No kidding? I’m sorry. Did you die? Yet?”
“Seventy years old, you cocker spaniel, and you didn’t say a word.”
“Oh, here’s a word. Happy. Here’s another word, you old dickhead. Note? In my hand?”
“Yeah, that’s funny. Okay, Paula, just don’t go yourself.”
“But, if it’s true, I can’t send her.”
“If it’s true, Henry… Paula, will figure it out and let you know. You’re not equipped for that kind of digging. I mean, for that kind of emotional jolt, are you? If it’s true. Geez, Henry went and did the thing?”
“Yes, Paula did, for Christ’s sake. And I don’t know if it will be a jolt and I don’t know if I am. Am I?”
“Besides, what connection would Corey Donaldson have with Terry Blankenship? And, what’s yours, Frank? Tell me or I will knock the everfucking shit out of you.” And he could, too.
“You wouldn’t hit a wabbit wid glasses, wud you?”
He puffed. “Will you tell me, or is it time to get rough?”
“What are you going to do, Mac, beat it out of me?” I stood up, huffing and puffing myself, in a non-threatening, Tasmanian Devil way.
“No. But I push this little button right here and my old friends at Homeland Security are on your skinny butt this fast.” He held up his fist in a little pincer. “If this is real, if you know about Terry, if you know that he’s alive for instance, you tell me, first. I’m going to pass this on to them, anyway.”
No, he wouldn’t. Not when he’s being paid by Martens or Donaldson or anyone else.
“Now, get the fuck out of my office. And stay the hell out of LA.”
“Do you think there’s any truth to this poisoning crap?”
“What are you talking about? Get out of here…”
“But, wait. Have you ever taken a close look at the Dodgers’ logo? I’ve been pondering this one for a long time. Those red streaks coming off the baseball? Blood, man. Maybe it is La Cosa Nostra. The Black Hand came out of Brooklyn, too, you realize that? Maybe poisoning isn’t past them.”
“If I had a gun right now…”
I shrugged. “You don’t? Shame on you.” I tipped my hat and opened the door. “Semper Fi, pal.”
“I told you never to say that, asshole. Go fuck yourself, walking out the door, you draft-dodging, wiseass schmuck!”
“I’m resenting that remark. I never dodged a draft in my life…” bowing and tiptoeing as the door slammed. “But, wait…” I banged on the door. This upset Millie. I flashed her a carnival smile. That calmed her down.
Opening the door. “What the hell do you want now, Frank?”
“The daughter, dummy. Did you talk to her or not?”
“What daughter? What are you talking about?”
“Corey Donaldson’s daughter.”
“The guy doesn’t have a daughter.”
I stared at him.
“What is your major fucking problem? Why don’t you go away…now?”
“We need to talk…”
“What have we been doing, lap dancing, asshole?”
“I don’t remember… Who was on top?” I pushed him back inside his beautiful office.
Thank you for reading. This is part of a series. If you’d like to catch up…here’s where it all begins:
Alan Asnen copyright 2019