I live and work in Indianapolis. A city Kurt Vonnegut Jr. once called the Prague of
the United States. Maybe once. When a kid I made my mother...read more buy me a She-Ra doll. Why? He-Man
needed a lover. I did not know He-Man and She-Ra were siblings.
FELIX AWOKE in his bathtub. He wore stale blue boxer shorts over his thin legs. A musty white tank-top covered his adult, yet child-size torso. He rubbed his stiff neck and exclaimed to himself a phrase he often said, “A.” His head swam with the pieces of memory from the prior night. He saw himself standing, again, at the end of the bar by the drink-well; toppling jiggers of Jameson and drinking bottles of Heineken. As a regular, he kept himself concerned with the goings-on of the little pub that he frequented most nights. He enjoyed the stories created. And the stories he told.
He maintained himself upright most of the night and drove home. This was nothing new for him. As Felix aged into his early forties, alcoholism gripped his life with a careful hand. “Hold on, little buddy.” It told him. “I’ll help you through the rest of the way.”
He put on an olive-green cotton sweater that hung from his bony shoulders and arms like a bed sheet on a tree branch and walked into his kitchen. He opened a bottle of beer and took a big, thirsty gulp. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “A.” He said aloud. In the sink lay his keys and empty wallet. His non-slip and worn-out work shoes rested on top of his television tray kitchen table. He stared at the pale linoleum floor; worn with a yellowed path to the refrigerator. Last night was another night he told a story that nobody believed.
He stood against the bar, his eyes fixed on a woman seated at a corner table. She wore a hairstyle that reminded him of Clara Bow. Her purple pastel dress covered her knees. She looked to be generations removed from the present. She pulled out a cigarette and slowly lit the end as she nodded along with her tablemate’s conversation. He wanted to tip his imaginary bowler to her.
“Nice night for a drink, ma’am.” He’d say to her.
“Yes, yes it is indeed.” She’d respond.
A few guys at bar stools nearest him erupted in laughter. They were attempting to make fun of him. Felix often became the default punch line for jokes. One of them, a regular, spoke to him.
“A?” Felix said. He rubbed the razor-stubble on his cheeks.
The regular said, “What about it Felix? You ever gotten a good ole fashioned b.j.?”
“Who talks like that?” He replied. “Of course.”
“From a chick?” The fellows giggled.
“Yuck, yuck, yuck.” Felix said and slapped the bar-top.
He drank a fast one from his bottle of Heineken.
“I was gettin’ it when you cadillacs were still pissin’ yourselves.”
The regular rolled his eyes.
“Listen,” Felix said. “I was about seven or eight at the time. No. Wait. Was I? Maybe I was older. Fuck’n A.”
Albert Elvis McElroy, ‘Felix’, was the age of nine when his stepfather, Frank, took him to a burlesque club in New Orleans. Felix’s mother was in jail, (a story unto itself), so Frank seized the opportunity to cut loose. Little Al would just have to come along for the ride. They took the highways to the south in a mustard-colored Dodge Dart; a car that Frank borrowed from a neighbor—in the middle of the night. Along the way, Frank stopped in Kentucky to visit a friend. Felix waited in the driver’s seat of the Dart and pretended to drive. He made race-car noises and imagined the little road ahead to be a grand speedway. He had turned the wheel so hard it locked; so he sat there running his hands around it, taking every turn to its apex. After some time, Frank burst out of the house from a side window and ran down the yard. He yelled at Felix to turn the key. “Turn the key! Turn the key!” The key wouldn’t turn. Frank’s friend came out of the front door with a bolt-action rifle. Frank opened the driver’s door, pushed Felix over so hard that his head cracked the passenger side window. He had a little scar to prove it. “Goddammit kid!” Frank yelled as he eased the wheel and turned the key. A rifle shot clanged into the side of the car. As the Dart sped away, another rifle shot shattered the back window.
Felix cowered in the front seat and urinated.
Some hours later, Frank stopped the Dart in Nashville at a pawn shop. As he went inside, Felix, still curled fetal in the front seat, peeked his head above the side window. The city of Nashville hummed along to an unheard twang guitar and a steady boom-chicka-boom drum. A Kris Kristofferson clone wearing a frilled suede jacket and carrying a guitar case strolled past. A periwinkle 1944 Mercury drove by. Felix felt at unease. Nashville seemed false to him. A city that operated along phony country rhythms; as if no other way existed, and a change of pattern would create chaos. He wanted to get out of the Dart and yell, “Stop!”
Seated on a bench down the sidewalk, a grey-haired man wearing a black and white, dairy-cow patterned silk button-up shirt tucked into yellow polyester trousers spotted little Felix peaking his eyes above the car window. The man approached.
He knocked on the side window.
“Where’s your old man?”
The man knocked again. “Hey, I said, where’s your old man?”
Felix cranked the window down enough to spit on him.
Frank exited the pawn shop to the man berating Felix from the sidewalk and attempting to open the locked door. Frank smacked him in the back of the neck. The man turned and Frank smacked him across the mouth.
“Your boy spit on me!”
Frank raised his hand again. The man with the dairy-cow shirt beat it.
“Why did you spit on him?” Frank later asked.
Felix shrugged and said. “I dunno. He wore a stupid shirt.”
Later, he asked Frank, “Why did you smack him?”
Frank shrugged and smiled. “He wore a stupid shirt. Looked like he needed smacked.”
“Only time I’ve ever been to Nashville.” Felix told the group at the bar.
The bartender placed a rocks glass of neat Jameson in front of Felix. He considered it carefully. He took half in a gulp and lit a cigarette. This process was as practiced to him as was unzipping his fly before pissing. For a moment he was lost in thought. The fellows and the regular at the bar had forgotten that he did not finish the story of the time Frank took him along to New Orleans. They were engrossed in their own discussions. He inhaled a long stroke of his cigarette, and stared again at the Clara Bow girl as she stood to leave. Her sleeveless dress revealed a colorful and integrate left arm tattoo. Felix could remember when he lived in L.A., the only women there with tattoos were thrashers or shot heroin. Nowadays, it was chic. He pinched off the rest of the Jameson.
“Hiya,” he said to her as she pulled a maroon Cashmere shawl over her shoulders.
“Hello,” she said to him.
“You know, I noticed you from over there and just thought that I had to come over here and tell you that you remind me of an old actress.”
“No! A! Not an old actress! An actress from long ago. She’s dead now. A! She was beautiful!”
“Thanks,” she said. “I’ve gotten go.”
“A!” Felix tunneled smoke from his nostrils. “Clara Bow,” he said after her. He returned to his place at the end of the bar. “Or Greta Garbo, Hedy Lamarr, Lana Tuner or someone. A.”
An avid community player when he lived in Milwaukee—a city he retreated to following a break-up to his teenage love, Hazel,(oh ain’t that the way it goes), Felix tuned the role of Stephano in an outdoor production of ‘The Tempest’ to modest theatre claps and hearty chuckles. He also did a student film for a group from Marquette. They filmed him in a morning routine of waking, using the bathroom and reading the paper over a bowl of Smacks! He was supposed to return the following day to act a conversation with himself, but that night he drank white wine and Sambuca well into the morning with a bar-tramp named Nadine.
“Nadine?” He asked her. “Is that your real name?”
“Of course, sugar.” She said to him. “Do you want to go back to your place or grab a room?”
“Depends,” he said. “How much will it cost me?”
“Just get me good and loose, sugar.”
While bussing tables at a bistro in Milwaukee’s Clarke Square, by way of a friend of a friend of a coworker, Felix flew to Los Angeles on a whim for a chance to audition for a B-movie horror film. He won the audition without speaking a line.
“That’s him!” the director exclaimed. The role was to be a small, dull farm boy. Felix stared at the director with blank eyes. The director seemed so excited when he approached to shake his hand that Felix cheered.
“Hey! I’m happy too!” he almost shouted; not sure why, but nonetheless going along.
The film, entitled Soul Harvesters, followed a destitute farm family that made a deal with a demon for a good year of crops. In return they had to spend an eternity harvesting souls. By way of highway trickery, they would lure wayward travelers to their farm. The family would take them in and feed them hallucinogenic bread before taking them underground to the demon. The demon then raped, ate or caged the souls to keep as pets. (On film, the rapes were filmed more as illicit pornography then brutal demon rape.) Felix’s role was that of the farmer’s son, Juthcote. In the script, Juthcote was described as a dull-witted little guy, but quick with a scythe.
In the final cut of the film he had three speaking parts. “Yes, pa.” “I’ll gitum!” and “Noooooooooo!” He also had a flurry of grunts, nods and a cackle of evil laughter. During a hallucination scene, he wore an imitation fox skin toga and swung a paper-mache club. Later in the same scene he was behind a stuffed billy-goat, thrusting like a madman. For all of this, Felix received $250. He was also put up for free in the producer’s garage.
In this time, Felix found regular enjoyment in the bar and club scene of Sunset Boulevard. He became a fixture. A small, harmless man that liked shots of Jameson and always wore a scarf and an over-sized sweater; he was never denied access. The doormen looked after him much in the same way pack dogs look after their young, weak pups. It was the doorman at Union that gave Albert the nickname of Felix.
“Why do you call me Felix?” He once asked him.
“You look like a Felix.”
“Do you know my name?”
“Nope. That’s why I call you Felix.”
From that moment, Albert introduced himself to others as Felix.
He found work from time to time helping bartenders and servers clean up after close. They normally paid him in alcohol or a handful of cash. He took this money, along with wired funds from his mother, for his daily expenses. Things like bus fare, Kool cigarettes and his two meals a day. He never had enough money to eat more than twice a day, this habit continued well after his L.A. days. He ate following awakening; normally a bowl of cereal or white bread with butter. Occasionally he ate a banana or a clementine orange. He only ate clementine oranges. His second meal came late at night. He ate refried bean burritos, pepperoni topped slices of pizza, nacho cheese steaks sandwiches, whatever he could afford. Often times, gas station snacks and cola. He liked iced honey buns, classic potato chips and cherry soda. His only issue with eating like this was his disdain of being watched while he ate. He hated it. He often got carryout and had to find an empty sidewalk, ledge or alleyway where he could hide and eat. He ate his meals quickly and without much consideration to cleanliness. He resembled a starved lunatic. His hatred of being watched while eating resulted in his crazed style of eating, which in turn, he refused to let people witness. He cannot pinpoint the origin of this super-self-consciousness. He just shrugs and continues the routine.
Felix drank the bottom of his Heineken. He held on to the bottle. He wanted to keep it warm, so that possibly it would hatch another full bottle of Heineken. He didn’t have enough money to keep drinking. Maybe he would wipe tables and stack the chairs at the end of the night.
The bartender pointed at the empty bottle.
“No, I’ll close out.”
The bartender furrowed his eyebrows at him. Felix waved the bartender in close for a quiet talk. He leaned on the balls of his feet and put his wiry arm around the bartender.
“Well, I will help tonight. If you need it.”
The bartender popped a cap off a fresh bottle and handed it to him. Felix nodded and took the first drink with equal parts satisfaction and gratitude. He stared around the pub. Two men seated down the bar-top with their hands around Miller Lite bottles talked loudly near him.
“My grandpa, man. The old man is stone deaf without his hearing aids. He sleeps with a goddamn loaded chrome .38 revolver on his bedside table every night, but he takes out his hearing aids so he can sleep. He couldn’t hear anyone breaking into his house to use the thing anyhow!”
Felix laughed to himself. He imagined the irony of a deaf old man getting robbed while he sleeps with a loaded gun next to him. He suddenly wanted to be the burglar, except he wouldn’t burgle the home; instead he would sneak into the old man’s bedroom and laugh little giggles while he considers the irony. Then he’d shoot the man dead with the chrome .38 to complete the story.
On the night of actor River Phoenix’s death, Felix stood on the sidewalk against the Viper Room’s wall. He stared with wonky eyes toward the street. That’s that guy from that movie, he thought. What happened to him?
He stood there for another hour, smoked eight Kool’s and talked with a man who played drums, but wasn’t in a band.
“Why aren’t you in band?” Felix asked him.
“I don’t want to be.” The drummer said. “Bands are full of bullshit.”
“Well, maybe you have to find the right mix of musicians, personalities.”
“Nah,” the drummer said. “That just ain’t gonna work.”
Felix shrugged and puffed a Kool.
“I did the same speedball,” the drummer said. “Coulda been me on that sidewalk.”
Felix stared at the concrete.
The drummer grabbed Felix’s shoulder with some strength. Felix jerked back and braced himself for a fight.
“I ain’t no fag!” Felix yelled.
The drummer gave Felix a confused look through his dark sunglasses. “Just because I’m wearing a leatherjacket doesn’t mean I want to have sex with you.” He said to Felix. “Keep it casual cadillac.” The drummer patted Felix’s head and walked away.
The regular and Felix shared a look and a nod. The bartender noticed the action while washing glassware.
“Hey,” he nodded to the regular. “Felix over there tell ya about the smack he sold River Phoenix?”
The regular laughed a little and Felix looked on.
“That true?” he said to Felix.
Felix shrugged. The bartender placed another neat Jameson in front of him. He gripped the glass, then released.
“A.” he said. “I was there when River Phoenix died. True story.” He gripped the glass again and brought it to his lips. “I didn’t sell him the speed. I didn’t even know him.” Felix drank half.
“But where was I about my trip to New Orleans when I was a wee little guy?”
“Felix, you’re still a wee little guy,” responded the bartender, fading off to take another order.
“Let’s hear it,” the regular said.
In New Orleans, at the burlesque club—a dilapidated mansion called The Wink Wink—they entered through an alley door and walked into a dressing room. The buxom women were elated to see Frank and his little companion. Pearlee, a plump woman with a crimson wig pulled Felix close and buried his light bulb shaped head in between her plentiful breasts. She planted heavy lip-stick kisses all over his face and playfully patted his crotch.
“Do you know what this if for baby?” She said with a nefarious smile; a gap between two corner teeth.
Felix shyly nodded.
“Well do you know how to use it?” The dressing room erupted in laughter; including his stepfather who was in the corner necking and groping a dame with raptorial black hair.
“That’s when,” Felix exclaimed with a cracked voice, “she took me upstairs and put my little dick in her mouth!”
“Did you get it up?” asked the regular.
“What do you think?”
The regular shook his head and look confused. “Well,” he said after taking a drink of his St. Germaine and gin, “if you were able to get an erection at such a young age it would make for a better story.”
“Then I got an erection.” Felix said.
“Way to go,” said the regular.
After his first morning beer, Felix grabbed another one and stepped out onto his fire escape. The city made its normal afternoon paces. A well-dressed bicyclist rode by on an old metal cruiser. She wore grey slacks, a cream cardigan and a polo helmet. Felix saw her often. She became part of his routine and someone he considered to be a friend; though they never spoke more than casual ‘hello’s’. He believed her to be a lawyer. (Although, during the time of day he often saw her, most lawyers were well into their workday. This fact he casually disregarded.) In his head he referred to her as ‘Snazzy Bike Lawyer.’ While at the Lockerbie Pub, not the one he frequented, a belligerent man struck Felix across the face with a broken piece of softwood lumber. While he lay on the ground and held his face he thought of the bicycle lawyer. He could get her to represent him when he sued the belligerent man. In court, to the jury, she would paint Felix as a harmless, good-hearted sprite while the belligerent was a heartless, ruffian whom needed to taste the effects of his nonsensical actions. Seated beside her, her breathy confidence would make him feel comfortable. Maybe, after the trial, she’d cook him a full meal. As the belligerent man was shoved outside and the man’s wife grabbed their things and yelled after, Felix perked up and said, “It’s all right. I have legal counsel. Hit me again, you brute!”
He let his legs dangle from the fire escape ledge. He rested his forehead against the rusty iron. The sun broke through in streaks against lacy clouds. He squinted down at his pick-up parked with a front tire on the sidewalk. He left the windows down and had a ticket.
“A.” He said through a sigh.
He set his beer down and made a move to walk down the fire escape, when he saw something he’d never seen before. Stalking down the street was a tan wildcat. Puma concolor. Its taut tail whipped back and forth like a sly antennae. A delivery truck driver slowed to get a good look. The beast lurched at the driver with an open paw. The driver sped ahead. Felix stopped on the ladder, just a few feet away from the sidewalk. The wildcat spotted him. It slowly trotted across the street; its movements clever and delicately feline. Scooter stared with eyes as wide as half-dollars and waited for it to make a move. So did the wildcat. It stared at him. A lowly growl-purr emitted somewhere within its hungry belly and a dry pink tongue flipped around its snout.
“Here kitty kitty,” Felix said.
A lull remained in the air as if two big, badass heavyweights with a life-long feud were about to fight during the pre-fight press conference. (In reality, there was an escaped and hungry mountain lion about to attack a small, drunk man dangling from a fire escape ladder.)
“Here kitty kitty,” he repeated. “Come and get your milk!” He yelled at the instant the wildcat came for him. He grabbed the nearly full beer bottle and threw it. His deftness was remarkable. With one hand he held on to the ladder, with the other he chucked the beer bottle at an angle just right enough to strike the wildcat on the head. It cowered and back-tracked, shocked by the blow. Felix swung himself back upon the fire escape and into his one bedroom apartment. He closed the window as the cat looked up at him. It growled in defeat and ran away. Felix stared into the street. The city moved along without recognizing his encounter.
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