As i walked down those stairs of the Mexican restaurant i thought i'd never see Veronica again. She was due to leave in less than two weeks and in my head it was goodbye. But it wasn't... and so it was that just a few days before she left i ran into her in the Little Corner Bar. It was something of a send off for her and Veronica and a few of her friends were tucked in a corner laughing and carrying on. I took my seat on the far end of the bar but the place was basically one room, and not a very big one at that. The bar was in front by the main door with the pool table and jukebox towards the rear near the door that lead to the little back deck.. I was near the front door and the party was near the back by the jukebox. As i sat there drinking my beer i watched her.... she was fucking gorgeous. The sting was still there. We pretended not to watch each other but when we finally locked eyes there was a venom in her gaze, a fuck you, directed squarely at me. And so of course i walked over to the table to say hello.
Approaching their table the banter began to die down. Fact was i was still hood famous and known as "the man", the weed kingpin. I said hello and tried to make conversation, asked when she was leaving, was she packed? how she was getting out to L.A.? She was in full vamp mode, affecting a horrible accent and blowing me off as she played to her audience. She was the queen of this scene and she could sense the shift of power, that she was in control. Her new best friend and sidekick, who apparently was going to L.A. with her, joined in on the act. They were in full actress mode and they were both horrible actresses. I stood and watched for a few minutes as they carried on, accents that were vaguely Brit combined with what they thought was high society. It was a shit show. I didn't say much i just stood there like a fool, like the shy kid i was back in junior high, watching as the girl i was smitten with acted like an ass. It was hard to watch. There was a point where i almost got pissed enough to mouth off, to use that famous acid tongue of mine, to let her know she was going out west to be another bad actress in a town full of bad actresses and that the only film she'd be doing was porn... but then in one of those moments of lucidity i sometimes have i stopped myself. There was no use. Things had fallen apart, mainly because of my doing, because i loved the game more than anything else. I understood that and i understood she had a right to be pissed. I had jilted her. As her and her sidekick did their routine, drawing out their words daaaarling, i finally wished her good luck, told her to take care of herself and excused myself.
Back at the bar i sat down and lit a Parliament. Fran the bartender was looking at me, she walked over, leaned in and asked, you okay? I gave a wry smile and said, you know me Frannie, i'm always fuckin' okay. She looked at me, reached in the cooler and opened another beer. On the house, she smiled and walked down to the other end of the bar where one of the minions was getting ready to order another round. I pulled out a $100 and laid it on the bar as Fran turned and started making the drinks. The minion had shuffled back to the where Queen Veronica was holding court. I motioned to Fran, she came over and i slid the Franklin to her. Use this to buy their drinks until it's gone. She looked at me. You're a good guy you know that Kono, you may be fucked up but you're alright. We both laughed and i told her not to tell anyone then i peeled off a $50 and slid it across the bar, in case they forget to tip i smiled. Then i drained my beer and took one last look back at the table... Veronica was watching me, i nodded and walked out into the cool fall air of the Ave, as the hoodrats called it. And that was the last time i saw her.
Fast forward -two years later - a hot and humid early evening in the Rust Belt. It was a Friday night and it was hot and sticky. The ring that had once resided on my left hand had been placed in a box in a drawer. It's still there actually. While not giving too much away the happily ever after between our hero and the waitress was more of a fucking disaster than anything. To be quite honest most sane people would have gone their separate ways by now but we're getting ahead of ourselves. These days i had a new mistress and her name was Charlie or Charlie Baltimore or Ricky, all of which was the code words we used when referring to coke. Yes when the world kicks you squarely in the nuts, when one goes from riding high, from occupying the throne, to being nothing more than a jester, a laughingstock, the best thing to do (see worst) is get yourself a crutch, a crutch that easily becomes a habit. Nothing quite masks the hurt and pain like an eight ball in the pocket. When one is coked up everything is wonderful. How do you fight loneliness? you smile all the time... (as Mr. Tweedy once sang.)
And so there i was, driving to my weekly meeting of the maniacs, where we would blast lines, drink copious amounts of beer and play foosball. Sometimes we'd head to the bar and sometimes we'd never leave my friend's house. It was a lovely distraction for me, mainly because i loved foosball and because i was the one who had the Ricky connection. For a guy who was used to running the streets it gave me something to do. I always loved scoring... call it another of my many addictions. The soundtrack for Friday night, which now started before 7pm and usually ran straight through to sunrise, began with the Happy Mondays record Pills, Thrills, and Bellyaches. Yes the album was around 14 years old at this point but much of the lyrical content of said album was quite pertinent to my life at the time. Hence nothing like jumping in the car, keying up a few bumps, and heading to the hangout. I was already working up a fine layer of sweat due to the heat and the blow when my phone began to buzz... it was a number that i didn't recognize and as i drove down Butler St. towards 54th i pondered picking it up, normally i'd have blown it off but with the beginnings of the buzz starting i thought i'd fuck with whoever it was. I answered.
Hello? i said. There was a slight pause and then i heard the voice... Hello Kono, do you know who this is? A smile crept across my face. Yes, i know who this is, i said, do you think i'd ever forget that voice? Hello Veronica, how are you? I could hear her friend in the background, it wasn't her original sidekick from the bar but another girl who she had apparently developed the same routine with, i'm doing maaahvelous, she drawled and then there was some horrible accents bantered about between her and her friend. She then began to fill me in on her life to this point. She was in L.A. and living with her new friend, they were actresses!, they had auditions lined up and were waiting to hear on callbacks and things were just splendid. I asked if she'd gotten any parts yet and for a brief moment i could sense that flicker of vulnerability, the old Veronica. Not yet she said but it was only a matter of time, her and her roommate were taking some classes with a highly regarded teacher... or at least that was the story, but so far nothing had come to fruition. In short, two years and no gigs. I didn't point this little fact out though it hung in the air like so much stale smoke in a Butler St. dive bar. Instead i told her i'm sure it's coming and that i was quite confident she'd have her choice of parts very soon. I lied.
I had pulled over on a side street and extricated my baggie from my pocket and was busy both holding a phone and clandestinely trying to key up another bump or three. She told me she had gotten to go to Puerto Vallarta, taken by a guy she knew, nothing like it was with me she added, he was just a friend she said, and though he wanted it to be something more she wasn't interested. I didn't believe her but i played along. I thought of Henry Miller, of The Rosy Crucifixion and of course of June, the younger woman who had enthralled and bewitched him, who he chased all the way to Paris. How June used her admirers for her gain and i thought well done Veronica, play the game, you may not ever be an actress but take advantage of that youth and beauty and lovely way you possess. But as i listened to how absolutely fabulous her life had become, how wonderful L.A. was, i couldn't help but sense it was all a ruse. That she wasn't nearly as happy as she claimed to be and that the cold reality after two years never scoring even a bit part was settling in. She wasn't going to make it, the question now was what would she do? The options made me wince.
After 15 minutes of listening to how brilliant things were going she asked me how things were with me. I'm okay, i said. She asked how married life was treating me and my answer was it's alright, i can't say it's been great in fact it's been a bit of a disaster. I then apologized for the night at the Mexican restaurant, that i didn't mean to be a dick and i don't know why i even went there that night. That maybe i was questioning everything i had done to that point. She very bluntly stated that it could have been different. That i could have moved to L.A. with her and then she was off on another diatribe of how much i would love it out there, how the people are faaabulous and how i could have made some connections and been writing for the movies, i quietly muttered i never wanted to write movies but the verbal train had left the station and she just kept on going. I half wondered if she wasn't siting in front of a plate of coke the way she was talking. I could tell she'd definitely been partying but i wasn't sure with what, i'm sure there was booze, possibly blow or MDMA, who knew? and did it matter? to the guy parked on a side street and keying up coke? and then she threw the haymaker.
For a moment the verbal train stopped and there was silence, i sat in the sweltering heat of my car on one of those breezeless and humid Rust Belt summer days. Then she said it. You know you ruined me don't you? For a second i was stunned silent, i did i stammered, i didn't mean to i said. She went on, well you did you know, i mean it's fine i'm glad you did and i want you to know i haven't been with another man since i was with you, don't get me wrong there have a been a few women i've slept with since then but you were the last man. What about Franco? i asked, what about the guy who took you to Puerto Vallarta? No, she said, i didn't, they wanted to but i wouldn't let them, Franco was just a boy, he did whatever i told him. I laughed and jokingly said, i taught you well. You did, she replied. The trip to Mexico wasn't anything like our trip to London, i think he wanted it to be and he had heard about London but it wasn't like that, i just wanted to see another country. There was another lull and then she began again...
I was in love with you... i still am... you know that don't you? she said. Yes, i said. She continued, her veneer slowly fading, i didn't understand what was happening, i didn't understand why you didn't want me? i mean i know you did but that girlfriend of yours, must be one helluva woman... or you were afraid to leave? i've thought about it a lot, you were the one, if there is such a thing, i wanted to be with you, i wanted you to come to L.A. with me, you showed me so much, i don't know how to say it but you were the one i wanted to wake up next to... she trailed off... so yes, you ruined me and i'm glad you did.
Sitting there in the heat, to gear flooding my system, i was dumbfounded. It was the last call i ever expected to get. There was a part of me that thought maybe she really could act? maybe this was a con and it was her turn to dig the knife in, i mean my history with women was like take a number in the dig the knife in department, many deserved that opportunity but the fact was i understood this wasn't that at all. This was Veronica telling me the truth, a truth that hurt, a painful realization of what i did and now as i sat on that side street, the heat bearing down, little did she know how fucked my life currently was... and of course i didn't want to tell her, didn't want to tell her that i thought about her all the time, that maybe the biggest mistake i had made in my life to that point was letting her walk out the door, not having the balls because i was afraid of her, scared of what she could do to me, because i was that in love and that very fact scared the fucking shit out of me. Call it misguided American machismo, watching too many gangster flicks and reading too many books and quite possibly missing the point, yes i lived but i needed to love, Henry Miller would have told me that, because that was an integral part of living.
And as usual i didn't tell her any of what was in my head... my fatal flaw... so i sat there and mumbled that i often feel i made a mistake but what could i do now? a weak and feeble acquiescence to what i knew to be the truth. My head was swimming, i'm sure the Ricky didn't help, and as i listened to her for a few more minutes, she had gone back into vamp mode as her friend had come back from somewhere and they were now back to playing their roles. And so we said our goodbyes... again... we wished each other well, i told her i still hoped to see name in lights someday, she told me that sometimes she'd walk into a book store to see if i'd written that book i used to talk about. I smiled, this woman knew how to pull my strings and i loved it, i loved her, i didn't want to tell her i hadn't written anything. In the end neither one of us wanted to get off the phone but we had to... there was nothing left to say... yet there was everything left to say... and so she finally said she needed to get going and i told her the same, the crew was waiting for me, it was Friday night and i had the gear, she laughed and said it made her feel good to know some things never change... and then she said, Goodbye Kono, take care of yourself... and that was the last time i ever heard her voice.
After we hung up i sat there for a minute. My shirt was soaked. The Rust Belt heat like a steel mill furnace, i needed a drink and a proper snort. My head was swimming, i wanted to laugh and smile, i wanted to bawl my fucking eyes out, baking in the heat of early evening and seeing the world crumble and melt around me, what a fucking mess, i took a deep breath, put the car in gear and drove up the hill.