Bradley Mason Hamlin is an American writer, veteran of the United States Navy, and alumni of the University of California, where poet Gary Snyder...read more dubbed Hamlin “The Road Warrior of Poetry!” Hamlin was born in Los Angeles and currently lives in Sacramento, California with his wife, Nicky Christine, and their children, and their wild cats. He is the editor of Zero Percent Magazine and his latest book of poems, The Surf Bum, is available from Black Shark Press.
STAG FINISHED HIS LITE BEER and opened another. He picked up the receiver and pushed the buttons for star 69, the automatic re-dial system.
“Oh, what do you want?”
“I just pushed star 69 to see who called last.”
“Oh …” Bob sighed. “Isn’t that kind of pathetic?”
“Yeah, I thought maybe Agnes needed me.”
“I don’t know, maybe I should just kill myself. Maybe I should swallow a bottle of Aspirin.”
“You know, Stag, when you talk like that it makes me wanna come over there and beat you to death with a shovel. You’re like an injured dog lying in the road, bleeding to death.”
“I know. I know. Maybe I should do something. Maybe I should cut my nipples off or join the Army.”
Bob hung up.
Stag lit a bong-load of weed. Man, he thought, I haven’t worked at the mini mart in days. How am I gonna pay the rent? I wonder if Herdando has any good acid for sale.
The phone rang.
“Bob says he wants to hit you on the back of the neck with a shovel.”
“Got any smoke?”
“Sure, ya wanna come over and smoke a bowl?”
She hung up.
Something like time passed in Stag’s world.
Then a knock on the door.
Stag envisioned the police. He got up, stashed his dope in a Rambo lunch box, then opened the door.
“Don’t call me that. Where’s the weed?”
“You ever shower?”
Stag looked at her and relit the bowl.
“You know, Stag, that ponytail of yours looks like a natty cat tail. Have you ever seen a Persian cat when it takes a crap and the shit gets stuck to the tail and then the cat goes out to play in the dirt?”
“Yeah,” he said. “I’ve seen that.”
Agnes took in enough semi-smokeless air to stand up. “I gotta go.”
The phone rang four times before Stag’s answering machine picked up. The theme from The Brady Bunch came on and the caller hung up.
Stag smoked another load and reenacted some of the “key” Jedi battle scenes with his action figures on his coffee table. Then he decided to take Polaroid pictures of Luke’s light saber, each picture a little closer to the throat of Jabba the Hut. When Stag put them in order and ran his thumb along the edge of the stack, Luke appeared to strike at Jabba’s throat.
He giggled. “Fuckin genius.”
Then he remembered something.
Hadn’t the phone rang during a particularly important phase of the film production?
He leapt up and pushed the play button on his answering machine. He stood very still as the Bradys recited their theme, but the caller had only hung up after the song.
Star 69 …
Bob answered. “What the fuck do you want?”
“Oh, I uh, just star 69’d you, man. Thought Aggie might, you know, might have called me. I heard the phone ring.”
“Are you retarded? Why didn’t you answer the phone when it rang? Do you know it’s costing you like a dollar every time you hit the recall numbers?”
“Dude,” Stag squeaked, “she’s so fuckin fine.”
Bob brought to mind a clear picture of Agnes, otherwise known as Aggie. She had an unusually skinny torso that led up past a flat chest and narrowed into a pencil-like neck. She had something that looked like the wide part of the carrot for hips, rounding her out like deformed saddlebags. Add to that some fucked up teeth and you had a pretty clear picture of the fem fatale of this story. Man, thought Bob, if only some of the meat from those ears could slide down to her chest. “Yeah,” he said, “she’s pretty hot all right.”
“She really there or are you just fuckin twistin with my mind?” Before Bob could answer Stag interrupted. “But say it in Klingon. I just heard a double click and you know my phone’s been FBI’d from way back. I don’t need them using my love life against me.”
“How do you know,” Bob asked, “that the FBI isn’t hip to Klingonese?”
Stag laughed deep, bubbly, gasps of wet air. “Huh-huh-huh!”
Bob hung up.
Stag stood still and thought about seven very precise Samurai movements that could kill Bob with limited pain and liability to his own body.
A knock at the door brought him back to life.
Stag ditched the pail of illegals in a very secret spot and relit the Essence Of Country Cookin’ incense.
A large figure stepped into the doorway. He looked like that piece of raw meat Rocky had beaten on while he trained to fight Apollo Creed, all muscle and mouth and a mean looking beanie wedged onto the rock of his head.
Agnes smiled. “This is my friend, Sabbath.”
“Uh, yeah,” he said. “Cool.”
“I wanted to show Sabbath what a hip guy I know and thought you could maybe turn him onto some of that loco weed of yours.” She pointed a thumb at Sabbath. “He doesn’t believe a guy like you could get a hold of the good stuff.”
Sabbath smiled with teeth that had not been friendly with a toothbrush.
Stag almost wet his pants.
But, he thought, at least I have the goods. The wicked goods. Homegrown from a dark green thumb and a galaxy of mad genius. “Yeah, well,” Stag’s voice had taken on the tone of Barney Fife, that sniffly tone that let you know Barn was full of shit, “let me just check the lab.”
Stag left the small living room and turned the corner to enter his tiny bedroom and opened his closet door. In the living room the phone rang.
No one picked it up.
The theme from The Brady Bunch played and the caller hung up.
Sabbath chuckled something deep and sinister as he and Agnes sunk down into Stag’s beer stained couch.
Stag opened the Rambo lunch box. Hate to lose some of this dingo mind enhancer on that fucking slob out there, he thought, but maybe he would leave and Aggie would stay. I’ve got my own place, he thought. How many guys can say that? I’m not some poor nerd locked inside his mommy’s basement.
Stag stepped back into the living room with one of those ridiculous and overdone big Cheech & Chong joints, had to have taken him ten rolling papers glued together to make the thing work.
“All I could find was this little roach,” he said. “Huh-huh-huh.”
Sabbath smiled and Stag stopped laughing. Sabbath’s uneven lips opened. “Fire it up, stud.”
Stag’s fingers shook as his thumb spun on a cheap lighter, giving off nothing more than fuzzy sparks.
Sabbath growled. “Give it here.”
He took the joint, then pulled a wooden match out of his dirty jean jacket pocket and lit it off of Agnes’s belt buckle. He put the light to the cigar-sized joint and inhaled.
A great billow of smoke ushered out of his lungs. His eyes looked red and full of death as he put a thick arm around Agnes’s skinny neck and let his greasy hand rest on the almost non-existent form of her left breast. The phone rang but Stag didn’t dare answer. He froze inside the horrific image of this monster grabbing his girl. Sabbath took another deep drag then bent down and blew the cloud inside Agnes’s small mouth as the Bradys sang their song.
Agnes looked up at Stag. “Staggy?”
He came back slowly out of a fantasy where he had been chain-sawing Sabbath’s body and feeding the parts to a three-headed dog from Hell. “Huh?” he said.
“Could you get me one of those delicious Lite beers of yours?”
“Sure,” he said, still not wanting to anger her, still hungry for a chance of some sort, even if that dream chased itself in the future somewhere.
As he passed the end table he picked up the phone and answering machine. “I’ll get this out of the way,” he mumbled. He had a long phone cord and very small apartment, so the phone made it to the kitchen with ease, no need to unplug the thing.
Stag hit the play button.
Star 69 …
Bob grabbed the phone and screamed, “What is your fucking damage, hippy? Aggie and I are tryin to get our groovy ghoulie on!”
“Yeah,” Stag whispered, “then why is she over here?”
“Bitch,” he muttered. “She said she was going out for a pack of smokes. We were listening to John Denver and you know what that means, motherfucker, rocky mountain high!”
“When I make love to mi lady,” said Stag, “I’ll be a listenin to the theme from Bonanza and you know what that means.”
“Actually I don’t know, but tell little bunny foo-foo I’m waiting. No, you better put her on the line. I’ve got some chocolate ice cream and a brand new Twister set I got off of Super Auction.”
This time Stag hung up.
A voice suddenly bellowed out of the living room. “Who the fuck is you talkin to? Where’s the goddamn beers?”
Stag let out a little cry.
“Ah, uh, what?”
“Get in here!”
Stag walked back into the living room.
Sabbath’s hand still rested on Agnes’s chest.
“You got anymore of this wacky tobaccy?”
“Uh,” Stag moved a piece of untied hair away from his face, “um, not right now,” he said. “I’ve got to like score some new supplies. You know how it is.”
A welcomed knock at the door cut into the conversation.
Stag grabbed the plate of macaroni Sabbath used for an ashtray. He looked at the lit joint in Sabbath’s hand. “Let me stash that.”
Sabbath put it out on his tongue then stuck the wet roach down inside Agnes’s “A” size bra.
Stag looked out the spy hole, then opened up, and let Bob into the mess. Bob had a brand new, Sears and Roebuck, deep digging shovel in his hand. “Heard it was going to snow heavy tonight,” he said.
They both laughed.
Stag motioned his head to Sabbath.
Agnes waved her hand. “Come in, Bobo. Stag was just about to break out the kick ass voodoo weed.”
“Tahitian hemp,” said Stag.
Sabbath frowned. “Hey fag, thought you said you were out?”
“That’s Stag, and uh yeah, well, you know, if Aggie says you’re cool and shit, I guess I could …”
Sabbath rose up out of the couch. “What did you just call my old lady?”
“Old,” Stag gulped, “lady?”
Agnes laughed like the wicked witch of OZ. She stuck out her front teeth in defiance. “I ain’t nobody’s lady,” she said.
Sabbath looked down on her. “You fuckin incorrectin me?”
“I’ll have you know,” said Stag. “I’m trained in tai chi. I think you’d better leave.”
Bob looked at the shovel in his hands that might have made a good weapon against Stag. He looked Sabbath up and down, turned around, and left.
“Hey,” said Stag, too late, “not you …”
“Isn’t that tai chi stuff,” Agnes pointed out, “that slow motion exercise shit?”
Sabbath laughed. “Where’s the pot?”
“I think you better go.” Stag swallowed hard. He couldn’t remember ever having cottonmouth so bad. “This is really uncool,” he said. “I could have wire taps all over this place.”
Sabbath looked a little uneasy at the mention of wiretaps.
Stag continued. “The cops have been policing this area with dope dogs.”
“Shut up and give me the stash!”
Stag looked down at Agnes. She actually looked embarrassed now. She had only meant to play a joke on Stag by bringing this guy into the house. She had met him at the mini mart while picking up a loaf of Wonder bread and some tampons.
“Come on,” she said. “He turned you on to a joint. Leave him alone now.”
Sabbath shoved Stag aside and went into the bedroom. Like walking into a time machine, little spaceships hung from the ceiling. The bookshelves surrounding the four walls held memorabilia of all kinds, weird stuffed animals and action figures and cereal toys and …
Sabbath froze. “Mr. Gumball!”
Stag entered the room behind him.
“The original,” he announced with obvious pride. “The original gumball machine robot from The Adventures of Mr. Gumball show in the ‘50s.”
“Yeah,” said Sabbath. “Used to watch that show in reruns all the time. Mr. Gumball and his friends, going on adventures, outer space, underwater, wild west, whatever. When they all got back safely …”
“Gumballs all around,” said Stag.
“Yeah …” Sabbath held the thing as if it were a priceless Ming vase. “My dad bought me one of these, and when I was good, he’d give me a shiny Lincoln penny—that’s what he called ‘em—and I’d dropped it into Mr. Gumball’s mouth and he would talk, right? Or was that my fucked up kid mind?”
Stag picked a penny up off of the bookshelf.
“Try it,” he said.
“Yeah?” Sabbath sounded childlike. His eyes lit up as he took the penny and placed it onto the bottom of Mr. Gumball’s mouth. The metal jaw closed, swallowing the money as old springs and gears shuttered, making Mr. Gumball’s metal hands and feet shake.
Sabbath’s bloodshot eyes almost cleared. “He’s doin’ the goddamned gumball dance!”
Then the mouth popped back open and sang a recorded tune:
“Gumball, gumball, gumball, everybody loves a gumball …”
A little red gumball rolled down the hollow arm of Mr. Gumball and onto the metal robot’s palm.
Sabbath picked up the gum.
Agnes joined them.
She didn’t say anything. Like walking in on someone taking communion.
Sabbath popped the gumball in his mouth and chewed slowly. Stag and Agnes watched as tears formed at the corners of his eyes. “I’ve gotta go,” he said.
Just like that, he left.
“Wow!” said Agnes.
“Yeah,” said Stag. “One more fuckin minute and I would’ve busted out the tai chi death move.”
“I’ll make you a deal,” she said.
“Yeah, you take a shower and wash that goddamn hair, and I’ll … stick around.”
Stag came out of the bathroom wearing a very tight set of Batman pajamas. The door rang again but this time it was only Herdando, late with the acid. Stag quickly bought a couple squares and said: “Thanks man, gotta say later. I’m about to go where no man has gone before …”
Herdando shrugged. “Whatever, dude.”
Stag set his phone back up by the couch end table, then got a Lite beer out of the frig. After letting the acid dissolve on their tongues, he cracked the beer open and shared the suds with Agnes. I, thought Stag, am actually drinking from the same can with a goddess, and as Stag and Agnes began to make some form of love on the dirty couch that previously only held a million unanswered prayers, Stag reached for the end table and pulled the phone off of the cradle. “Don’t want to be interrupted, Aggie baby,” he mumbled, his fingers silently dialing star 69.
Bob answered on the other end, but all he could hear was the theme to Bonanza.