Hot car and hot girl after two hot nights. Pushing the pedal, I sped my new girlfriend’s blue Mustang down the Bay Area Autobahn. I could hurtle for miles at a buck twenty—if it wasn’t for the CHP. San Francisco’s Interstate-280 was dreamy smooth but below the surface was the shaky ground of San Francisco’s earthquake fault. On this road trip, that would prove to be a fitting analogy to Melody’s and my relationship.
My live Led Zep bootleg cassette cranked. The song kickstarts strong on drums, then flanging harmonica, building force like a train a’comin’ for you, before the guitar haunts us with its echoes. Plant’s searing vocals thrust deep down inside and tore at my very soul. The passion rose to a crescendo, “Don’t it make you feel bad when you’re tryin’ to find your way home You don’t know which way to go?”
Matching the intensity, I pressed the gas to 110.
The year was 1977 and I was not quite twenty-three. The ‘70s were truly the golden years for the young and reckless. The camaraderie and quick bonds that youth had back then is difficult to fathom if one was not a part of it — living free and easy in the moment, the casual sexuality, the sense that we were so different from previous generations, that “We” were in it together. In that decade, our spirits were filled with curiosity, idealism and the urge to do something. Except many of us did not know what that something was — except to rebel and feel good. We thought the Seventies would last forever. In fact, they would last ten fast years.
122 MPH. When the Levee Breaks. Melody’s slim bare foot still tapped rhythm on the dash. This girl was tougher than she looked. I backed off.
Just days before, I had picked up on Melody at Hamburger Mary’s. She told me she was nineteen and went to SF State. I told her I had a PL degree. She asked, What’s that, Political Law? I said, From the Public Library. She asked, Are you here with someone? I told her, Yeah, you. But if you’re here to meet a nice gay man I can introduce you. She asked, You always this cocky? I told her, Only with somebody I am afraid of. She scoffed, Me? Why would you be afraid of me? I said, I don’t know, that’s what scares me.
Hamburger Mary’s was South of Market, semi-gay, and the haunt of women who adored gay men. The gays termed these women endearingly-derisively as “fag hags.” Mary’s fag hags had not quite made the plunge across Folsom Street to the medium-core gay sweatbox, The Stud.
I lived in a Victorian house in the Haight with three young gay guys and a bi with plenty of comings and goings of both sexes. I was straight but liked partying with the gays because they lived with such ecstatic intensity—like there was no tomorrow. Sadly, many would prove that to be correct.
I admit it—I was a Bad Boy. And it’s time to tell some of the escapades. Back then, most straight boys either steered clear of “homos” or wanted to beat them up. When we went out, our arrangement was good for all. I could scare off the gay bashers and my macho straightness attracted gays for my roommates. My roomies attracted “fag hags” for me. My roommates teased that I was a “fag hag” bagger — my prey of choice—easy pickings, with little competition. I was neither moneyed nor a model-handsome studly dude. I had to work what I had. What I had was over-confidence, cleverness, and “Eveready” battery sexual energy.
Our black, intellectual roommate, Billie, told me: “Your appeal, Jack, besides your bulging, tight-ass pants, is that you’re dichotomous—you are sweet Bad Boy. Sure, women want a nice, normal career-oriented man with looks and money, but nice is not exciting, normal is not a challenge. Women desire Bad Boys. The appeal of a Bad Boy, to some, ahem, is like a flame to a moth. Irresistible. I think that is one reason why fag hags like us gays (besides our hair, make-up, sartorial advice, and that we listen to their bitching about boyfriends) — gays are the best of both worlds: non-threatening Bad Boys. Bad because we embrace the most forbidden counter-culture: outlaw same-sex. So, you’re a Bad Boy hanging out with gay Bad Boys attracting fag hags. The big difference — you will fuck them in a New York second.”
Billie was right. I found the nicer I was, the less I held a woman’s interest. When I was a prick, they paid attention, and seemed to enjoy complaining to their girlfriends what an asshole I was. But it’s tricky balancing hot and cold. One has to be sensitive and understanding, but a bit unpredictable and crazy. That had become my forte.
Melody Anne Vollan was a vivacious, cover-girl blonde Norwegian who had teen-modeled for Neutrogena. Melody pre-qualified on looks alone, but had matched my aforementioned criteria—she lived right in the heart of the flamboyant Castro District next to Moby Dick gay bar (thar’ she blows—the Great White Dick!) After sex at her flat, I baited her about it. Melody protested that she was not a fag hag, that in the Castro she didn’t have to deal with horn-dogs constantly hitting on her.
Melody told me that her dad was an internationally known doctor who had recently returned from Norway to her childhood town in Southern Cal. She wanted company on her drive down to visit. And for me to meet him. I was reluctant, as I had never met a chick’s dad that couldn’t immediately see me as the pirate that I was. Yet, a road trip for this carless dude? As wild gay Oscar said, “I can resist everything but temptation.”
From Santa Cruz we hit coastal Highway 1, a true slice of heaven with crashing Pacific waves, salty breezes and sheer rock cliffs. Having been bred on the dreary plains of the Midwest I found it comforting to have my back to open water.
Just north of San Simeon, we swallowed the MDA caps, known as the “love drug” for its enhancement of physical sensuality, i.e. an aphrodisiac. I timed it for about thirty minutes out so when we stopped to tour the mind-boggling Hearst Castle, we would be just getting off. Melody had never been there although she was a native Californian, while I had visited twice and only been in California a few years.
I told Melody about the cinematic masterpiece Citizen Kane, how Hearst was so rich he had a bunch of grown palm trees imported and planted at great cost, then days later, had them dug up and moved over a few feet to align with his favorite balcony. The newspaper magnate was even more rich, powerful and successful than all the averagely rich, powerful and successful movie stars and celebs that flocked to freeload on his estate. His much younger mistress, Marion Davies, called the much elder Hearst, “Pops.” He was the ultimate “Big Daddy”
Against this opulent backdrop Melody oozed star quality herself, and MDA and I began to notice the little things about her… her skin was tanning into a gorgeous gold…. her hair was not just blonde but golden blonde. She projected a gilded aura of comfortable sexuality and her dazzling Sagittarian smile could light up the dark rooms of my mind. I pulled her into me and my pulse beat below my waist. And above. I shook my head, no, no, no—the love drug was for her, I was just in it for the sex.
We dodged the tour group by darting onto a balcony where we shared a joint to mellow out the rushing sensuous waves of the MDA. The pleasant thing about MDA is that everything remains real as an enhanced lush reality. On the other hand, reality on LSD can get away from you until you really don’t know what is who or why is how. The day was glorious and as we heated up the plan came to me that I should take my golden girl to see the castle’s breathtaking Roman Pool. We sneaked out to the gardens and into the pool house. Marble statues seemed to welcome us and the million tiny, cobalt-blue mosaic tiles shimmered with real gold. Gold crabs caught my attention with trippy foreshadowing. With our clothes on we “tripped” into the pool. Going off-tour was not allowed and swimming in the pool was, of course, strictly forbidden. But wait, there’s more…
“Catch me quick!” Splashing in the water, Melody jumped straddling me. This had become her pet game. With her athletic legs wrapped around my waist, I reached down and fondled her “Rosebud” —what Citizen Kane’s object of desire actually was. One small thing led to a big thing and her moans must have attracted attention. An older, mustachioed Mexican uniformed guard appeared a little too quickly. What appeared to be a black cape draped over his shoulder. “Zorro, you have come to save me,” Melody gushed.
We pulled ourselves apart and reluctantly…leisurely…swam to climb out. The tall, dark and handsome Zorro eyed Melody as he brusquely escorted us out. His cape was actually a towel which he handed to her. I explained to him that our San Francisco debauchery would look tame compared to the revelries carried on at Hearst Castle in the twenties, and that Charlie Chaplin and Marion Davies had done the same thing as us, behind Hearst’s back, which led to Hearst shooting the wrong man in a jealous rage.
The guard gave me a look like he wanted to shoot me. “You look like Zorro,” Melody kept repeating. My chatter was an attempt to ventilate the almost visible vibes between Melody and Zorro, which I saw as Chaplin-esque cradle-robbing mutual attractions with my love-soaked, wet-tee-shirt jiggling, giggling friend.
“Zorro. I challenge you to a duel.” I cried. “Sabers at three paces.” We went through a gate. “No, I know, whips at ten paces. Do you have a spare whip I can borrow?”
Melody giggled hysterically but I was only half-joking. Zorro held out his hand and Melody mistakenly black-slapped it. But he only wanted the towel back. He gave Melody a last leer and slammed the iron side gate behind us to march away.
86ed from Hearst Castle! At least I could scratch sex at a castle off my list. We wandered the parking lot, waves of mirage-like heat rising, until we found our trusty steed and just sat in it, both of us sighing in the cozy cocoon of the Mustang. I considered beach-hopping on down the coast but when I pulled onto the highway I decided I would like to go someplace more intimate before we ran out of high. “Going for Plan B, babe,” I said and we headed over the mountains.
“What? The heck? Is that?” Melody asked when we eventually pulled into San Luis Obispo’s surreal-pink Madonna Inn.
The Madonna Inn is a Baroque Barbie Doll dream house, seemingly designed by a Disney Princess Marie Antoinette inspired by a 1962 Reno casino. The landmark inn’s themed rooms seduce guests into altered states and alternative sex, which in our case we were already primed. If I hadn’t been so high I would have told her that.
Our sensibilities overloaded at the garish decor. We entered the gift shop where Melody picked up a black kerchief mask, cape and toy sword kit, and a latigo strip for a “whip.” We checked in with Melody’s Daddy’s credit card and selected a room, I called the Flintstone’s Cave. We ate my disco-biscuits, aka Quaaludes, or in this case fitting with the theme, Mexican Mandrax, that a sailor-boy lover of one of my roomies sent up regularly from San Diego. With that smooth finish from the MDA hangover, we never left the room and spent the night in loony luxury.
Late the next morning we neared the L.A. smog. I had enjoyed two years of Diamond Dogs excess of L.A. before things got a little too hot for me and I had to leave town. I didn’t tell Melody that story, but I did tell her that I had poached film classes at UCLA, by walking in like a registered student. She was impressed with my experience as an extra in a couple of films and that I had met super-cute Goldie Hawn on set and asked her out and Goldie responded with her famous giggle.
We parked the ‘Stang under an ancient palm tree by my old place near the Hollywood Bowl. I told Melody that Wolf and I had sneaked in over the side fence for an Elton John concert. The show was the most spectacular I’d ever seen before or since and I saw Led Zeppelin, the Stones, Pink Floyd, and The Who in their prime. Everyone’s mind was blown when he released one thousand white doves from five white, grand pianos. I told Melody, “When I got rich I’ll release one thousand doves for you.” She loved that. I continued, “When I had lived in Hollywood, it was a real eye-opener to this country boy. Being in strutting distance to the then-burgeoning Hollywood Boulevard transvestite scene (spot them by Adam’s apples I was warned). The glitter/glam rock scene and standup comedy was making inroads on the Strip while hippies and disco types still held some turf. Crazy.”
We danced up to the apartment and I introduced her to my ex-roommate, the pony-tailed, side-burned Wolf. To stop him from drooling over Melody, I fired up a hash pipe. While Melody took a shower and prepped for Daddy, he bought half an o.z. of my black hash but passed on the foil blister packs of Mandrax. That kind of pissed me off because I was counting on his cash and that would leave me holding a lot of product in Orange County. Wolf was preoccupied telling me what a fox Melody was and how is she? I told him I don’t kiss and tell, at least the current chicks, but I would tell him this:
I was working the felt at The Trophy Room bar on Haight Street. I beat the three challengers, mostly running the table. You know what my secret was? I had discovered that a Mandrax would relax me and make me a steadier shot. I was so hot, no one else in the bar would play me. Until a well-dressed type walked up and asked, “What’s the bet?” I said beers as usual, and he said, “I’m thinking bigger.” He leaned toward me and asked, “How about my wife?”
I laughed because I thought it was a joke, especially since he seemed fey, but he didn’t laugh so I looked around. He said, “No, she’s at home a few blocks away and she’s worth it, I promise.” I said, “Why not.” I bet him a foil of Mandrax and we shook and played. I was a couple beers past my prime, but sunk the eight ball in a sweet, table-long, bank corner shot, and he said, “Damn, I blew that one.”
At the entrance to Golden Gate Park he led me on a path through the dark trees. I was becoming suspicious but we soon emerged on Fulton Street and he pointed at a beautiful Victorian mansion. Inside it was dimly lit with multi-colored walls, filled with antiques, trippy artwork and sculptures—it was like a scene from a Fellini movie.
“It sounds like the fuckin’ Starship House!” Wolf interjected.
We go upstairs to a sitting room where I sit. Soon, the wife makes a grand entrance wearing a blue see-through black negligee with the works—garter-belt, fishnets and the highest heels I had ever seen. She was older than I hoped; good face but better make-up, with black hair up in a ponytail, and… How old? Maybe thirty-five, but lookin’ good for her age. She sits across from me in a wingback chair, giving me a great view. The guy has been hovering in the doorway and she orders him to, “Make us all a drink,” although it was obvious she already had a few, not that I was in any shape to judge. We all drink White Russians and I keep looking at her high-heeled legs.
Her husband sits quietly and after she leads some small talk she tells me, “You should see my bed. It’s handmade,” and I go into the bedroom, which is adjacent, and as I do, I notice her reaching behind her husband. She tells him, “Stay! And don’t touch anything,” which seemed kind of weird, turns off that light, and follows me into the bedroom, but leaves the door open. The bed is magnificent— a mammoth artsy four-poster with gauzy bed curtains hanging down. She immediately strips off my clothes while we’re still standing.
There’s a small light hanging from the bed and through the part in the curtain, I see his figure still sitting faithfully just through the doorway, but she tells me, “Don’t mind him.”
Anyway, afterwards she asked for my number, so I gave her a fake phone number, but a couple of real Mandrax. As I was leaving, she stood over the little panting hangdog and ordered him to get down on his knees. Different strokes I guess. It was pretty out there, even for me.
“Damn,” Wolf muttered. “She dominated her husband into a real cuckold.”
“This stuff’s not for everybody.” With a flourish I put the Mandies back in my bag. “You know, maybe you’re right. She did look a lot like Grace Slick…”
My friend Wolf said, “Hold up, partner.” Just as I had expected, he pulled out some cash from his left sock and bought six foil packs.
Melody emerged from the bath still wet and shimmery and really, really young and innocent looking without her makeup. Wolf, wound up from my story howled, “Wow!” When we headed out he hugged her the long goodbye, appearing ready to hump her leg, so I peeled him off.
Melody and I did a quick sightseeing drive-by through Hollywood, out Sunset Strip past the Whiskey a Go Go and Barney’s Beanery, where I had honed my pool skills. As we passed colorful Venice I told her about the time I was hitchhiking back to Hollywood late one night and was picked up by a long black limo. There was a single black guy in the huge car and he got me high on some Thai stick. He extolled the good life of whoring. “You take a bitch on a date, and spend all your bread with no guarantee to get yourself laid. With a whore? Fucking guaranteed.” I didn’t disagree, so he told me that he ran whores. I was shocked. Not really. He bragged about the huge amounts of money to be made with Hollywood fools and eventually suggested I go to work for him. I told him I didn’t know nothin’ about no pimping. He grinned a gold tooth and explained, No, man, not as a pimp. I be the pimp. You be a gigolo. This time I was shocked. I told him I’d consider that, took his card, and had him let me out nowhere near Wolf’s and my place.
What I didn’t tell Melody was that I had been itchy for a while down below. I started wondering if she had given something to me, but I refrained from scratching in front of her just in case. I stopped for gas at a Terrible Hearst.
From the standing phone booth outside the men’s room, I called my roommate Billie. Shy Billie had just got over the clap from the only guy he had ever picked up at the Stud. We all had tried to warn him against the guy wearing butt-less chaps. Billie had promptly researched at the library and now held the dubious distinction of being our in-house venereal expert. Billie agreed to “examine” me by phone. He instructed me to pull my dick and balls out while he ran some diagnostics. He had me prod and squeeze for any discharge, and then pull out a pubic hair by the roots, which made me yelp. He said, “Stroke your penis very fast to see if the head turns red,” just as Melody came out of the lady’s room. Luckily, she didn’t spot me. I told Billie to quit fooling around; this was serious.
“Not so serious, just crabs,” he chuckled. “Probably not your new Goldilocks. Most likely it was that shrieking violet who kept everyone awake the other night.” Which one, I asked. “From The City disco. That nasty brunette bitch.”
Oh, right. It probably was. Crabs are a bitch, too. This was my first experience with crabs and I had just given them to my fuckin’ new girlfriend, right before I was to meet her Daddy. Billie told me, “Shave all the hair off your genitals.” “No way in hell,” I protested. “That’s way too gay for me.” He said, “You gotta’ get some Kwell, either way.”
I ran into the men’s room, picked off all the critters and nits I saw and flicked them into the stained toilet. Shit. Too late for Melody but I couldn’t tell her now and ruin her trip. I’d fess up later and we’d shave and Kwell each other. Make it fun. The irony of catching my first crabs in San Francisco, known for Fisherman’s Wharf crabs, was not lost on me.
In less than an hour we hit quaint-but-ritzy Newport Beach where Melody grew up. She gave me a little tour. At “The Wedge” I lit one up and we watched the surfers and bikini show for a while. Everybody sported my favorite colors, blonde and tan. Beautiful. I thought I was in heaven and that I should move there—until Melody told me how conservative and expensive the place was.
We drove to her dad’s place in the even ritzier part of Newport Beach with its self-proclaimed aristocratic subtitle, Corona del Mar. “Crown of the Sea” was quite a contrast from the livestock-infested corn-and-soy town where I grew up. Melody’s parents were separated. I was relieved that I would not have to be inspected by her mother. She was visiting relatives in Wisconsin.
Doctor Vollan chugged up in his diesel-fumed, massive Mercedes and as I suspected, he was very Euro, a traditional pipe smoking, pedantic, conservative professor type. He was condescending to me, and what would later be termed “passive-aggressive” to her. This pissed me off because he had already done enough damage to the girl, who despite going out with me— a self-admitted asshole, she was surprisingly sweet and naïve. Like many girls I went with, she had major daddy issues, but worse for her because her Daddy was as cold as a fiord. He asked what business I was in, and I told him that I was “independently poor.” He looked confused but I assumed properly sized me up as a near-do-well rake, with no visible means of support, if you know what I mean. Seeing that we of the Generation Gap were not exactly chatting it up, Melody broke the fiord ice by telling Daddy that I was a good chess player, to at least give him some semblance of a good impression about me. The Doctor immediately challenged me to a chess game, apparently anticipating and eager to draw first blood.
Now, my blessing and my curse was that many men underestimated me. I retained a Midwestern drawl and an initial politeness that was misinterpreted as a lack of cerebral sophistication. This underestimation could be annoying, but often was to my advantage.
This direct daddy competition was a little new to me. He pushed his Staunton box away and pulled out a large, hand carved, modern set that I could barely recognize one piece from the other— Mandarin? Aztec? Yaqui?—his home field advantage. As I expected, he was quite good in a by-the-book, Good-Norwegian-Wood-Gambit way, and he promptly took control of the center and sat back and filled a fucking scrimshaw pipe. I was out of practice, being burned out on chess from playing too many games in exotic locations such as a cave, amphitheater, graveyards, on top of Half Dome, and the bottom of the drained San Francisco’s Fleishhacker—world’s largest saltwater swimming pool. After it had been drained. I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid. Burned out, not so much from the playing of chess, but from playing while on acid.
I have beaten better players than me with ballsy moves that intimidated them into thinking I have more “game” than I do. I have never been afraid of risk. I’d rather have a challenging fair game I lost, than winning a boring Hoyle’s-Rules-of-Order game. For me, winning was dessert. An interesting and unique experience was the main course. I mean, isn’t the point of games to have fun? In life, some were resentful or nervous of my overconfident nature, while others, like Melody, loved it.
I quickly make three illogical moves with dedicated purpose, changing up the flow of the game. He became agitated. The Doctor started puffing on his pipe and blowing the sickly-sweet smoke in my direction. Crossing my legs, I gently kicked the board as I stared into his eyes, unblinking. As I hoped, he was rattled—grasped for a powerful defensive response. He moved his queen to centerboard. The square just happened to be covered by my knight. A soon as he moved his fingers off, I grabbed for my knight, too-hurriedly, which tipped him off, and he suddenly moved his queen back.
I protested, “You let go!” but he quickly moved a pawn, shook his head and sat back, suddenly absorbed in tamping his pipe. I look at Melody, who shrugs. What was I supposed to do? I concentrate, because my other strength is as a come-from-behind player. In a few moves I managed to take one of his rooks. I’m back on my game, and glance proudly over at my “Queen” sitting on the loveseat pretending to read one of Daddy’s Medical Journal articles, and she winks. On my next move, as I touch my queen for a brilliant move, out of the blue he casually asks, “So tell me, Melody, my dear…” she looks up smiling from the attention, “…are you sleeping with him?”
Time stops and my hand hovers over the chessboard. She freezes her smile and finally says, “Daddy, don’t be silly!”
To this day, I think that was the ultimate evasive answer I have ever heard. However, I am distracted just enough that I move my queen into danger, and I swear I have my fingers still on her, but he quickly moves his bishop into my queen, ramming my fingers so I did let go, as he practically knocks my piece over, and has her in his evil clutches before I know it.
I whine, “Hey, how about a tit-for-tat?” He just shrugs and stares at his embarrassed daughter, and with a smile, blows an amazing smoke ring around my queen in his hand.
The clever bastard had stolen my queen! My game was all down hill from there, and he avoided my stalemate trap, finally cornering my king, and waited a few moments to gloat. And gloat he did.
The good Doctor took us out to dinner at some fancy dark-wood place which I was underdressed for; He wore a suit, Melody had leftover clothes in a closet and shone in a figure-hugging strapless dress. The maître d’ made a show of matching a loaner tie to my jeans, with a lingering look at my crotch. The Doctor politely insisted I choose the wine from the portfolio-size, leather-and-brass-clad list. Well, I was a tequila man. I know it’s hard to believe now, but back then, most people didn’t know shit about wine. It was years before Orson Welles touted Paul Masson Wine as “No wine before its time,” and fine wine to us was Mateus or Lancer’s, especially compared to jug wine and Mad Dog 20/20. We drank wine to get drunk and laid, not to pair with food. The best part was when your gal was drunk enough you could stick a candle in the emptied wine bottle, as a type of romantic rite of passage or something. So, I figured he was hoping I would order one of those so he could ridicule me, but I took a chance and ordered the Blue Nun Liebfraumilch—which turned out to be another stupidly sweet wine. Of course it didn’t go with anything we ate, except dessert, and he made sure I knew it, and I lost another “chess game” with the Doctor.
Plus, the Doctor didn’t seem to mind his baby girl drinking illegally, which made me wonder if she was older than her claimed nineteen. Maybe lying about one’s age was a model thing. Hell, maybe she wasn’t a model at all. I was paranoid now. Or was I? Probably shouldn’t have sneaked off and smoked that hash before dinner. I was already mad at Melody for putting me through all this anyway and an idea formed on how to get back at her. I wanted to hurt Melody and I was going to do something truly mean to her.
After dinner I extricated Melody away from Daddy. I had seen a flyer for a special showing of a movie at some mansion cum hotel in town. It was The Magnificent Ambersons—Orson Welles’ misguided masterpiece butchered by the studio. It is about a rich family; a family member with father abandonment issues who tries to sabotage the romance between another family member and the man she loves, and has a scene of drunken humiliation.
I insisted we attend. I enjoyed how she fidgeted and suffered through the B&W film. As cut, the film is still brilliant, but it meanders and is ultimately disappointing. “Kind of like me,” I told Melody. I wouldn’t let her leave until it was over. But it wasn’t over, it was more like the ending was missing and it was just finished.
Back at his place, the Doctor was waiting up for us and continued to be supercilious and arrogant while Melody did her best to appease him. He promised that he would take her out to their “special place” in the morning so they could catch up. I didn’t like the way he said that. She slept in the guest room, me on the sofa. I hate sleeping alone and had a hard time sleeping. I dreamed of surfing which was pleasant until the sky darkened and a giant wave thrust me under.
At dawn, I prowled over the few blocks to find beach access with the sound of the breakers hitting the brine-smelling seawall. Sitting on the sand, I looked up at the sky and thought wistfully about a recent fling with a more even-keeled girl named Star, who never, ever mentioned a father. I felt better. Then I sold a quarter ounce of hash to a couple of surfer types and felt even better.
That sunny morning, the Doctor said, in effect, he had to go lord over some of his minions at the UC Irvine med center most of the day. It was Sunday and Melody was quite upset that he ditched her. I was upset that she was upset, but hey, more Melody for me. I got her in the Mustang and we just drove around. My initial attraction to Newport Beach had worn off. Now, the town seemed a perfectly contained vanilla ecosphere—manufactured reality, appealingly superficial like nearby Disneyland. Or more like in The Village in the old Brit TV show, The Prisoner. And I was #6. I wondered when the residents would realize that I was an outsider, an imposter, and all attack me like zombies, only with great tans, calling out, “Not one of us, not one us.” As they cornered me, they would chant, “He has taken our finest female. Destroy him!”
I needed to strike the zombies first. Melody was so down, I told her we would do something exciting to cheer us up. Game on! I cruised by a liquor store, checking it out through the plate glass, and kept going to check out another, which I liked better: young clerk, counter toward the rear.
“Are you crazy, Jack? Are we really going to rob a liquor store?” she asked. “Do you have a gun?”
I laughed. “I don’t need a gun. I have something better.”
Around the corner I parked and leaned over like I was going to kiss her, but pulled the rearview towards her instead. “Look. We have you.”
I told her my plan. “Baby, all you do is go in and pepper the clerk with dumb questions about liquor requirements for your, say your 21st birthday party for twenty-one.’” I helped her “doll up” and she applied lipstick, slipped off her sandals and into some pumps. She tied her peasant blouse high and I pulled the top a little more open. “If anything goes wrong, you don’t know me, and walk away in a huff. I’m leaving the keys here.” I gave her a warm-up lingering French kiss. “Just be yourself.” Off she strutted.
I thought, shit, Melody could probably just go in and ask for a free sample and the clerk would let her pick a bottle. I made sure my pockets were drug free, loosened my belt and leaned into the shadow of the building. I felt the hardness in my pants and for reassurance, patted the big Buck knife concealed there. I waited until another customer entered to add to the mix and I strolled in.
Melody was doing great. She was so irresistibly fucking vivacious. She must have sold a lot of Neutrogena. I pretended to keep checking out her perfect legs in her short shorts, because the other customer sure did, but I was making sure the clerk was focused on the world-class cock tease in front of him. I chose the most expensive tall bottle of convenience, which was Remy Martin, and stuffed it neck-first down my pants and I walked out, pushing the door with both hands, showing that they were empty.
Melody exited shortly after. I waited a moment to see if we needed to ditch the car and run, and then we drove off. Melody was re-animated and I knew that she had enjoyed the thrill—the intense high of crime, of doing something you know is bad. We didn’t have to nick the booze, because she had plenty of money and I had the bread from my drug sales. For me, selling drugs was as much of a high as doing them. Then, I’m a Bad Boy.
I’d never had cognac before, but my modus operandi was that if you were going to risk lifting something, you might as well lift something expensive. Same crime, same charge—at least up to 500 bucks, when it becomes a felony, but that’s a lot of leeway.
The town was so rich that they owned their own island. We drove onto the car ferry to Balboa Island and took a few chugs of the burning liquor. We got out of the car and stood at the railing for the short trip.
“Catch me quick!” Melody jumped me, straddling my waist with her bare legs as I spun us around. Her acrobatic exhibitionism was typically titillating for me, as it was for innocent bystanders. I put her down as vertigo struck me. Perhaps it was the water. She happily babbled on about the island as I became moody and silent.
I flashed on the ferry crossings back home on the Illinois and Missouri Rivers. Here, the air smelled salty instead of like dying catfish. My mom always had the oldest, rustiest junker on the ferries. When I was a kid I mistakenly thought rich people stared at us because we were poor. I glanced around at the ferry passengers, some in and some out of the cars. The way men kept checking out Melody reminded me of the way men’s eyes would hunger for my mother. Only my mom enjoyed it. Melody either ignored it or was simply used to it. Pangs of jealousy shot through my guts about Melody like I used to feel with my mother. Like I did then, I almost wished now one of the men would come over and say something to her so I could give one a quick elbow in the gut and he’d be gasping like the damned catfish. No blood, no mess, no proof, just an “accident.”
“Where’d you go, cowboy?” Melody asked.
I slowly turned to face her. “I was just thinking…I should probably check the oil in our ole’ Mustang.”
“Umm, sounds serious,” she teased. Dang women’s intuition. After no response she started singing that Donovan song, “Any trick in the book now, baby, all that I can find. Everybody’s hustlin’ just to have a little scene.” She ignored the stares and took my hand and danced around me. “I’ll pick up your hand and slowly, blow your little mind, ‘Cause I made my mind up you’re going to be mine.”
My cocky grin returned. She had a sweet voice but mixed up the lyrics and I kissed her face in a star-shaped pattern ending with an extra kiss on her waiting lips.
On cutesy Balboa Island we drove off the ferry, in a few blocks parked, and I helped Melody tone down her looks. I bought some Cokes from a machine, poured in some of the complimentary cognac. She raised her pinky and called my inventiveness, “Brilliant.” We walked around sipping from the bottles, getting a buzz and all was good. Except, I had made one mistake—alcohol emotional exacerbation. Melody began letting loose on her dad and how he had never paid her enough attention, had always been gone, etc.
Soon the Remy wasn’t the only thing flowing. I led Melody into a gardening nursery to mop up her tears, where I got her off topic by pretending to be fascinated by the names. “That’s a rhododundant and over there is sunnyhuckle and a Japanese maypole. What a plethora of flora.”
We sat on the $800 teak bench and watched a couple, not much older than us, with a kid in a stroller, argue over which overpriced exotic plants and accessories to buy. We looked at the couple, looked at the kid, looked at each other, and drank steadily.
“Daddy cheated on Mother, you know,” Melody informed me. “I was fifteen. My mother was so mad. I’d never seen her so mad.” She took a drink. “You know what she did?”
“She ran over Dad’s King Charles spaniel.” I laughed; she didn’t, so I stopped. “On purpose.”
I didn’t know what to say then, and she laughed so I laughed and then she cried some more. “That night, he took Mother’s best Italian leather suitcase, put the poor dead dog in, and left us.” Melody looked vulnerable and miserable and reached for me.
“Is that why you have to fake fucking orgasms?” I asked.
She reeled back like she’d been struck. “Wha-at?”
I leaped up and like a flash grabbed the tall plant the cozy little family had been considering. “I can tell, Melody. I’m not stupid.” I held my opened Buck knife up to the plant’s stalk.
“Jack? What are you doing, Jack?”
“If I cut this beanstalk or hypochondria or whatever it is, in half, that perfect couple can get it for half price.”
I strode back, held her head in one hand. I looked into her salt-watery violet eyes. She stared at the knife. Her eyes widened. Her mouth widened.
“Tell me something. Did that bastard hurt you, Melody?”
She shook her head emphatically no. “No-o.”
“You know, ever try anything…”
“Oh my, of course not.”
I jammed the knife blade into the bench. I let her go and paced. “Then you’re goddamn lucky.”
Melody looked at me funny and stopped crying. She took my hand and pulled me onto the bench. “Oh, Jack. Your dad?”
“My dad? No. He made what you could call an abrupt exit. A permanent one. He did leave me all alone.” I drawled, “Alone with… my very… lonesome mo….mmy dear…est.”
She let out her breath. She started to ask me something, so I asked quick, “What’d you do when the old man left?” I yanked out the knife and put it back in my pocket.
“Oh. I started drinking. A lot.” She giggled.
He sure did fuck her up. I discreetly poured the Remy bottle from inside her purse to stiffen our drinks.
“Maybe I’m not goddamned lucky. If he had, at least he would have been giving me some attention.”
I digested this. I shook my head no.
She continued, “But I did screw my Driver’s Ed teacher. In the back of that car. You know, the one with two sets of brakes.”
“Magnificent,” I joked to lighten the mood. “Two for one. I heard Driver’s Ed teachers often double as Sex Ed.”
She giggled. The giggles didn’t last long. Melody started really bawling now and I knew that it was the perfect time to tell her. The truth about myself.
Maybe not. I would at least confess to her about the crabs. No, just kidding, not about that either. Tell her that a parent’s psychological cruelty was worse than physical. Tell her that I was so perfectly comfortable with her. Tell her that I was absolutely awed by her beauty. Tell her that I loved her desperately. Tell her that I would do anything for her, and hell—that I would even cut my hair and get a job.
Of course I didn’t say any of those things. I just said, “Maybe you’re better off that your dad wasn’t around much.”
She considered that and shut up her crying. Then Melody gave me that wanting, needy look again and said, “Jack?”
So I said, “Look, baby, what do you want from me?”
“I want…I want to teach you how to love.”
I snorted and got up again. I felt like saying, Love? Love? I loved my mother and my fucking mother was the only woman who ever broke my heart.
But I didn’t. “I have a plan,” I said.
Her curiosity perked up at that. I always had a plan. I tried to play three moves ahead.
We drove back to the house and I led her into her dad’s bedroom where I jerked his Norwegian red blankets off his big brass bed. Even though she protested in pretext, I put on Dad’s robe, and pretended to puff on his pipe. I told her she was a good daughter, and stripped off what little she was wearing, and pulled her into Daddy’s bed.
She pulled back. “You shaved down there! Sexy.”
Yeah, I had taken my roommate’s advice. Being in her father’s bed certainly gave us both some perverse excitement and lo and behold Melody finally had a real orgasm. In fact we had a simulgasm. I was so turned on that the milk train came back and I screwed her sideways, on the pillows, upside down, and shoving the mattress out of the way, even on the box springs. We had three more.
I lay there rubbing my face on her stunning face, somehow drunkenly hoping I would absorb some of her astonishing beauty. I was in awe her resilience…her adaptability… I gave her butterfly kisses and I felt so…when it struck me that this little girl woman of a lady reminded…
Melody sweetly French-kissed my ear and murmured, “I think that… that I…”
“Hey!” I told her, jumping up. “We should just give him the same treatment he gave you; ditch him and leave a day early.” Meaning right away. Like now.
As she packed up, I carefully remade his bed. Her father. The loins of her fruit. Why would I do this to him? Why did I dislike the old fart so much? Was it because I would never, ever measure up to him? Never be him. His degrees, his money, his success. Fuck me. How could I even compare? By my burnt offerings of love and sex, high times, and my mad poet’s soul? I found the good Doctor’s favorite tobacco pouch, and carefully crumbled in the last of my Afghani hash with his tobacco. That should loosen up the Doctor’s tightly wound Norske hairs.
As we drove out, Melody gave a wistful wave goodbye to sunny Corona del Mar. We felt good, back in the trusty blue Mustang, our little home away from home. Where she was all mine. I reached for the Exile on Main Street tape but she beat me to it and stuck in Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. “Never Going Back Again” played. “She broke down and let me in. Made me see where I’d been…”
I felt good having helped her work through her Daddy issues. I had contributed to our relationship. The piano eased into “Songbird” lyrics, “For you, there’ll be no more crying. For you, the sun will be shining…” Except now, Melody kept giving me those dreamy looks and was apparently making her own plans.
When “Oh Daddy” played, “Oh Daddy, You know you make me cry…” I knew what I should do. I must say, with Melody blissfully tear-free and dozing like a child next to me, that it was particularly satisfying—knowing the bastard would come home, futilely call out his daughter’s name, puff curiouser and curiouser on his newly-magic pipe. In a few days he would discover the little creepy-crawly-crabby presents his daughter left for him.
I would do right by this girl. I wanted the best for her. Once we got back to the City I would break up with her.
Passing through L.A. Melody said she wanted to take over the wheel, which kind of surprised me. What didn’t surprise me is that she started itching. After a straight shot up numbing Highway 5, seven hours later we rolled back into the foggy precipitous contours and painted ladies that were San Francisco. Safely home, road trip over, I finally told Melody the truth. I tried to break it gently to her. I told her, “I wish you hadn’t given me the god-damned crabs.”
Melody got so pissed that she slammed on the brakes in middle of the busy corner of Haight and Masonic. She slapped me. She literally kicked me out of the Mustang so hard I was afraid she’d break a bare toe. My bag sailed out the window. As hippies and hucksters gawked and shook their heads, she peeled out leaving me and bag standing under the streetlight.
“I’m done,” Melody screamed out the window. “It’s over. Jack, you are such an asshole.”
I trudged through the dark park’s Panhandle thinking, The girl had beaten me to the punch. And added a slap and a kick.
Back at the big Victorian, my roommates had another party going on, this one involving cans of Reddi-Wip, Red Vines and dart guns. Billie was out, so I brought the three of my sweet fairy roommates into his bedroom and informed them we’d had a fun run but it was time for me to move on down the line. One started crying, one was happy, saying, “that means if we’re not roommates we can have sex, right?” and another told me, “good goddamned riddance because you are such a slut.”
Hmm, an idea… A couple of days later I called Melody and told her that we must have caught the crabs from some slut in Daddy’s bed. Which was not really a lie, because I had been in his bed. I’m pretty sure Melody only pretended to believe that story. The Doctor?—no doubt he figured it out. 12 to 14 days later Melody asked me to move in with her at her little flat in the Castro by Moby Dick.