have trouble sleeping in the place now. I keep having crazy
nightmares about cockroaches chewing on my eyebrows. I wake
up disgusted and confused, trying to brush insects away from
my face that may or may not be only dreams.
Iíve tried sleeping on the roof a couple of times. It
wasnít bad. It was cooler up there, and the bugs werenít
as intense. But you canít sleep very late. It gets bright
and the city starts groaning to life pretty early in the summer.
I try to crash elsewhere as often as I can.
For all that, the rent is $420 a month (utilities included),
which, thanks to a check I just received and deposited two days
ago from Read Me (a week late, the jerks), I know I
can just barely cover if only I can find my checkbook. Itíll
leave me almost broke (once again), but Iíll be able to
There is a loud series of knocks at the door. Before I can even
respond, I hear, "OPEN UP. LANDLORD." Itís Victor.
I leap for the door and open up so as not to keep him waiting,
which makes him ornery. And here he is, big and mean, with Julie
smiling beside him.
"Hello Matt," says Julie pleasantly. "Today's
the 10th." Victor doesnít say a word. He just stands
there with his massive arms folded in front of him. Theyíre
almost as thick as Samonne's, but an entirely different kind
of thick: thick with bad intentions.
"I know," I blurt out. "Sorry. Iíve got
it. Iím just looking for my checkbook now."
"Weíll wait," says Julie.
I stand there a moment looking at the two of them and nod, understanding
that theyíre not going anywhere, then turn around to resume
looking for the checkbook, a little more frantically this time.
I move through the tiny apartment in a wave of panic, checking
every conceivable surface for the checkbook. I look under things.
I open drawers and find nothing but cockroaches.
It hits me like a brick wall. I know exactly where I left the
damn checkbook. In my bag. But, unfortunately, my bagís
not here. I turn around nervously to face my visitors.
"My checkbookís not here," I tell them as calmly
as I can.
Victor shakes his head back and forth feigning disbelief, his
giant, dangerous arms still folded across his barrel-shaped
chest, a slight frown beginning to show.
"Can you go to an ATM and take out cash?" Julie asks
I swallow hard, because I know that neither one of them are
going to like my answer. "My wallet isnít here either.
Theyíre both in my bag. I left them at a friendís
house." Jeeze. It sounds suspicious as soon as itís
out of my mouth, but unfortunately itís the god's honest
truth. Except for the friend part.
"Where?" Julie asks.
"In her bedroom I think," I tell them.
Julie and Victor turn to look at each other, then look back
at me. "I think she means, whereís this fuckin' place
yo dumb-ass left all yo shit at," Victor clarifies for
"Oh. Itís in Lakeview. An apartment."
There is a moment of silence as the representatives of my landlord
consider. Then Julie speaks: "So youíll call your
'friend' and tell her that you and Victor are going to stop
over and pick up your bag?" Itís phrased as a question
but itís clear that there is only one answer.
Had to Know I Wasnít Going to Name a Character
Constance Whalen and Not Bring Her Back
Most of the things that happen to us are of our own doing. Fate
is for cowards and losers.
Of course, there are exceptions to that. I mean, obviously.
Terrible things happen to people who by no means deserve it.
I donít mean for this to get twisted into some awful attack
on all of lifeís little unfortunates. Christ, I can just
see the parade of shattered lives picketing outside my apartment,
hurtling inane rhyming epithets up at me from the depths of
(Jesus, I probably shouldnít have said that either. Iím
just making it worse, arenít I?)
Look, I donít want any trouble here. All I meant is we
control an awful lot of what happens to us. More often than
not we put ourselves directly into the shit we get in. Itís
cause and effect everyday. If you take a hard honest look at
what led to the successes and the failures, the good times and
the bad, youíll see that there were things that you either
did or didnít do that brought you to it.
Iím sleeping with Ms. Constance Whalen.
Sure, I could bore you with excuses. Rationalizations. I could
tell you that the mid-thirties rocker brunette features editor
in question fed me drinks and came on to me to the point where
I really had no choice but to sleep with her. I could tell you
that sheís 10 years my senior and used her well-seasoned
feminine wiles to lure me into an extremely superficial and
predictable relationship. I could also tell you that I have
a sneaking suspicion that she only publishes my stories because
Iím sleeping with her, and that Iím not exactly
confident sheíd continue to throw work my way if I werenít
constantly throwin' the hot sexy lovin' her way. I could tell
you, in my most pitiful voice, how much I need the small amount
of money which that work brings me.
But thatís all bullshit. Some of it more so than the rest,
but bullshit nonetheless.
This relationship, if you can call it that, is easy and convenient.
It fell into my lap (so to speak). Extricating myself from it
now would undoubtedly cause inconveniences. Iíd have to
find another shitty newspaper to publish my work for the less-than-enough-to-subsist-upon
wages I make now. Iíd have to go back to living full-time
in my substandard, cockroach-ridden, one-room apartment, rather
than being able to spend nights in the splendor of Constanceís
clean, rather gothic-looking loft apartment in Lakeview. Iíd
have to find someone else to have sex with me.
So I continue my ridiculous relationship with Constance Whalen,
a crude, nymphomaniacal woman 10 years older than me; a woman
with absolutely baffling taste in music and an unfortunately
edgy hairstyle; a woman who has a fondness for sitting around
naked, smoking cheap cigars, lazily touching herself.
Constance answers the door barefoot in shorts and a black sports
bra. Her hair is still wet: sheís just gotten out of the
I step into her apartment with Victorís ominous presence
behind me. "I gotta get my bag," I tell Constance
simply. "This is Victor."
I advance toward the screened-off section of Constanceís
loft that constitutes her bedroom, leaving the two of them behind
me without another word. I want to get this over with as quickly
as possible. I locate the bag and return to find Constance opening
a Heineken and handing it to Victor, who is sitting casually
on the couch. This does not please me.
"So Iíll just write you and check and weíre
done?" I ask Victor hopefully.
He looks at me without a word and takes a long pull from his
beer. Constance pops open a beer for herself and sits down on
the couch next to Victor. "Why donít you go on and
get the cash, so's there no mistakes," says Victor. "Run
yo skinny ass down to the ATM and bring it right back up here."
He takes another long draw off the beer, then looks me right
in the eye as he puts an arm around Constance, who doesnít
seem to particularly mind. "And you better come right the
fuck back, yo. Know what Iím sayin'?"
I retrieve the wallet from my bag and flee for the nearest ATM.
As I walk hastily down the street to the 7-11 around the corner
(I buy condoms there sometimes, I know they have a cash machine),
it suddenly occurs to me that I should just take out all the
money I have and split. Just go as far as my 500 bucks will
take me and forget all about Victor and Constance and my awful
little apartment. None of it matters to me. Why am I hustling
around trying to maintain this?
Even as Iím punching my code into the ATM Iím still
thinking about it. Why not? I could jump on a bus and go anywhere.
California. Mexico. The mountains. I could be rid of all of
it. Start over.
But this is all bravado and bullshit, and as the cash machine
starts spitting out $20 bills Iím brought back to reality.
I get my cash ($500) and receipt from the machine (remaining
available balance: $17.20) and head back to Constanceís
to give my money to Victor.
When I get back there Constance has got Poisonís "Every
Rose Has Its Thorn" playing on the stereo. I can hear it
before she even answers the door. She leads me in to Victor,
jamming out on a little air guitar along the way. Victor is
drinking what I perceive by the empty bottle next to him to
be a new beer.
"SO I'VE GOT THE CASH," I yell to Victor over the
He shoots me a scowl, then turns his sights to Constance. "TURN
THAT SHIT DOWN FOR MINUTE!" he commands. She stops her
head bobbing and looks at us both. Then she shakes her head
and, with her best pout, thankfully turns the music down.
"Get me another beer, would ya Constance?" Victor
asks in a deep voice.
"But I just got you one," protests Constance. "You've
barely touched it."
Victor looks at her hard enough to make the smile fade off her
face. There is a moment when I think heís gonna blow.
Then he says calmly, "I gotta conduct a lil' bidness wit
junior here. I was just tryin' to be discreet. Give us a minute,
The smile reappears on Constanceís face. "Sure thing,"
she says flirtily, and bounds off unconcerned.
Victor looks at me from his state of repose on the couch. "Pay
I count out the required money and hand it over as graciously
as possible. He shakes his head with the first smile Iíve
seen on him, and starts counting $20 bills. "Ol' girl's
got some crazy taste in music, huh?" he asks me almost
jovially without looking up from counting.
"Yeah," I manage to mumble as I watch him methodically
count almost all of my money.
"She's alright, though." Victor informs me. "You
hittin' that, huh?" he asks me.
I donít answer. He gets to the end of the money and looks
back up at me. "There's only $420 here," he says.
"That's the rent."
"Yeah, thatís the rent," says Victor mockingly.
"But there's a 20 dolla' late fee, mothafucker."
Fine. I hand over another $20. What am I gonna do about it?
He snatches it deftly away from me.
"Now why donít you beat it," he suggests. "You
off the hook for now." As he finishes speaking Constance
immediately returns to the picture, as if she was listening
the whole time and knew exactly when the conversation was over.
"You boys through with your business?" she asks a
little too innocently.
"Yup," answers Victor. "Matt was just leavin'.
I buy a six-pack of Miller High Life (cans), go to the lake,
and drink. I walk up and down the lakefront. I lie down on my
back in the sand and fall asleep. I slumber there until sometime
after sun-up, when I am awakened by a police officerís
shoe poking me in the ribs.
"Whatchya doin' here?" the gentleman in blue asks
I look up at him sheepishly. "I'm sorry, officer. I must
have fallen asleep."
"Where do you live?" he asks skeptically.
I give him my address.
At this point he decides heís going to be kind enough
to give me no more trouble than a mildly threatening, "Better
head off that way then," and sends me along.
I begin walking back in the direction of the dreaded apartment.
I find that I had rather impetuously traveled quite a ways the
night before, and am now a good distance from where Iím
I notice for the first time that itís nice outside. The
first comfortably cool day in a while. I decide to continue
walking, rather than hop on a bus or the subway. I am in no
hurry to get back to close quarters with the cockroaches.
For nearly an hour I walk along the lakeshore, just enjoying
the fine day and not really thinking about anything more than
the sunshine. Finally I reach the point where I must turn away
from the lake and begin heading west.
As soon as I get a few blocks from the beach itís a totally
different scene. Gone are the serenity and peace of the lake.
The city is awake and stirring. Itís all wild commotion,
traffic, commerce, chaos. Millions of people trampling through
the streets at once, beginning their days.
The whole thing is quite taxing. I walk another six or seven
blocks, then, spent, I duck into a greasy little coffee shop,
sit down at the counter, and order a cup black. I manage to
kill a couple of hours there, drinking black coffee and reading
and rereading the sports, until the flow of humanity on the
streets slows to a tolerable level. Then I pay for the coffee
and resume my walk.
It takes me about another 20 minutes to reach my apartment.
When I arrive I find an eviction notice nailed to my door.
I tear it down, unlock the door, and enter to find that everything
I own has disappeared. Thereís nothing in my room except
for me and the cockroaches. I un-wrinkle the eviction notice,
still balled up in my fist, and inspect it.
I am being evicted for lack of payment, which I find strange
since I seem to recall paying dearly just last night. I continue
reading until I come across a number to call, then storm out
for the pay phone in the lobby of the building.
"North Central Incorporated," says a womanís
voice at the other end of the phone.
I pause. "This number was on the eviction notice I found
on my door this morning."
I give her the address of the building and my apartment number.
"One moment please."
I wait a moment and then there is another, more familiar voice
at the other end of the line "This is Julie."
Great. "Julie this is Matt McCarthy. What the fuck?"
I decide to go for the straightforward approach. "I show
up this morning, thereís an eviction notice on my door,
and all my stuffís gone."
"Well what did you expect us to do after you gave Victor
the slip last night?" asks Julie.
It takes a moment for her question to register. "What the
hell are you talking about?"
"Victor told us that you ditched him last night on the
way to go get your checkbook."
Is for Cowards and Losers
I walk away from the building, homeless now, with nothing but
the clothes on my back and about $60 cash. Julieís henchmen
moved my few meager belongings out into the alley behind the
building, but I donít even bother retrieving anything.
Thereís nothing there of any value anyway. So I just split.
Fucking Victor. He got me, and good. He took my money, which
I was foolish enough to give him in cash without asking for
a damn receipt in return, and, just to add insult to injury,
he probably also slept with what for all intents and purposes
is (was) my girlfriend. Heís ruined me, the goddamn evil
With nothing better to do, I head for Sal's Hotdog Shop. Iíve
ingested nothing but coffee and miles of shit so far today,
so a couple of hotdogs should be just what I need. I arrive
there after a few minutes walk, order my standard two dogs with
fries (and a Coke), and take a seat at an empty table near the
Iím there for a long time, picking at my free food, staring
out the window, still trying to sort it all out. Trying to figure
out what to do next. Pondering where Iíll sleep tonight.
Iím lost in thought, staring out the window at the early
afternoon traffic, when I hear a voice from above. "What'sa
matter, kid?" It's Sal. "You look lost."
I look up and smile. "It's been a rough day, Sal."
"Tell me about it." He plops his rather large form
down on the white plastic chair across the table from me. "I'm
shorthanded here as of yesterday and itís been busy as
hell. One of the fucking Mexicans quit on me," he says,
referring to his behind-the-counter staff.
"That is rough," I sympathize.
"Yeah," Sal wipes his dirty hands on the front of
his apron, fishes a pack of cigarettes out of a pocket, and
lights one up. "So whatís got your dick in the dirt?"
I tell him the whole story. About Victor, Julie, and even Constance
Whalen. About the terrible building I live in and the cockroaches;
about being conned out of nearly every dollar I have and, as
a result, about being evicted. Sal sits across from me in complete
silence, nodding sympathetically at the appropriate moments,
taking in every word with the sort of patience usually attributed
to priests or bartenders, until Iím finished.
We sit staring at each other for a moment. "So Victorís
got your money?" Sal finally asks.
Sal gets up out of his chair and stands over me. "Hang
out for a minute," he says. "Have a Coke. Iíll
be right back." Then he turns and leaves me sitting there
Thatís great. I spill my goddamn guts to the guy and he
gets up and leaves.
Maybe I can ask Sal if I can stay with him for a few days. He
might let me do that. Salís a pretty stand-up guy. Iíll
bet heís got a pretty alright place too -- he probably
makes a killing selling the dogs all day. Iíll bet Salís
He returns as Iím working out in my head how to ask if
I can stay at his place a while, and says simply: "You
got your apartment back. They're gonna spray for bugs and move
your crap back in."
I look at him in utter amazement. "How ... what did ..."
is all I can manage to stammer.
He smiles. "Let's just say that Iím one of the partners
in North Central Inc., the owners of your building." Iím
speechless. Sal chuckles and sits back down. "You're paid
up 'til the end of the month."
I canít believe it. Fucking Sal. "What about Victor?"
Sal looks serious for a minute. "I'll make sure he leaves
ya alone from now on, but I canít do anything about whatís
already happened," he tells me. "What's done is done.
Heís not my responsibility. And he didnít know you
were a friend of mine."
I donít know what to say. "So I can just go home?"
(Or, Congratulations, You Made It to the End)
Iím working on a new article. Constance, though no longer
sleeping with me, is still giving me some work. Sheís
with Victor now, and the two of them seem happy together.
Anyway. The new article. Apparently Read Me is trying
to get the theater crowd to advertise in the paper, because
I now have a list of drama people to go interview. Tonight Iím
supposed to go see a militant lesbian play called Suck My Dick,
about a dyke private detective.
I asked Samonne if she wanted to come along. I figured it would
be quite a coup to show up with my own lesbian, but unfortunately
she declined. So, this evening Iíll be attending the lesbian
theater by my lonesome. Wonít that be a hoot?
My only concern is itís not going to be easy working Salís
Hotdog Shop into an article about a militant lesbian stage show.
But Iím gonna give it a try.