Monday, November 27, 2006

A Zillion Years Ago...Tenneessee in NOLA.

It was mother’s day. I remember, because it was the first (and only) day that the restaurant at which I worked was open for brunch. It had been set up far in advance, lots of food was ordered, we made drunken plans for everything to run smoothly. Skip, bon vivant, boss extroirdinnaire, sat me down along with RA (my best friend, surrogate mom, and co manager. She's only one year older than me, but at the time she was the most "together" person I knew) and Stevie Z. For some reason, he loved to blow smoke up our collective asses. I remember thinking that I knew and loved him so well. We watched him get drunk. We watched him snort smoke eat pills and every other damn thing. He watched us do much of the same, but did that mean he really knew us? I adored the man, but I was too stupid to realize that I didn’t know Skip, I knew the show that he put on; the act that he wanted us to see.

And I liked him the way I knew him: flawed, a fuck-up, but a self-aware fuck-up that I oddly looked up to. I couldn’t strive to be someone that made a lot of money, woke up in the morning, kissed their kids and went to work. That wasn’t going to happen for me. But I could aim as high as Skip: a fuck-up that somehow made it work. A happy go lucky jovial fuckup, who paid his bills and whose parents loved him. Now I know there ain’t no such thing, really.

The three of us were regularly smart people, I swear. But when it came to Skip, we became bobble headed idiots, “sure Skip, right Skip, totally Skip, we’re in this with you.” He’d tell us it was because we were the only three people he could trust--business wise, and with everything else. I still want to think, even now, that that wasn’t all it, though. That a teensy bit of him didn’t just pick out the three of us because we were suckers, but because he really did want to give back to us if he ever could. That he would have made us four equal partners in something he really thought would be great. That he didn’t just need someone to pick up his ever-increasing slack.

Of course, on that early early Mother's Day morning, what wound up happening was that Steve, RA and I were the only ones that showed up. I’m not even sure we had any customers…maybe it was packed. Maybe it was a giant disappointment of an afternoon, money-wise. I do remember that it was a no-nonsense time for RA, though. That it was one of those days she was genuinely pissed to be there, she did her work, and she left. I bitched, but I secretly loved every minute of it.

We banged out brunch; we cleaned up. RA left. Steve and I hung around afterwards and probably had a drink or two to celebrate finishing up. I sort of loved Steve at the time, so I’m sure I was in no rush to get out. He probably had no where else to be, anyway.

Before we opened, and all through brunch, we tried calling and calling Skip. He didn't show up, and we had no money in the register. Steve actually sent me to the nearby casino with 20 bucks to make a little cash to put in the register before opening. I'd be lying if I said that was the only time this happened. Skip never picked up his phone.

When he finally did call back, I'm sure he knew we were done for the day. It was no coincidence. His back had been bugging him for weeks and weeks. The man needed surgery. I know he couldn’t afford it; probably had no medical plan, and his parents, though dripping with money, had no interest in helping him out, (if they even knew at all).

But right in the middle of our drinking, the phone rang. It was Skip. He did, in his defense, sound miserable.

“I’m sorry, hook," he said to me when I answered. "Can’t even get out of bed today, my back’s terrible. Lemme get Steve-o real quick.” I was so mad at him, but it still hurt a little that he wanted to talk to Steve, not me.

Steve rolled his eyes and took the phone. Unlike me, his annoyance was genuine.

As I smoked my cigarette, I half paid attention to Steve, scrambling for paper and a pen, exasperatedly sighing, jotting down some information and slamming down the phone.

“He needs Vicoden. Tennessee’s got some.”

“So what does that have to do with you?” I wanted to know.

“Apparently, I have to go to Tennessee’s hotel room, the one he lives out of, in god knows where, get them, and bring them to Skip.”

“For what?” I meant reciprocation.

“For nothing. Out of the goodness of my goddamn heart. For the 25% of this shithole that he’s always promising us. For a part of this business that he’s driving into the ground, anyway.”

He was so annoyed, but all I wanted was to be asked to go, too. An adventure. He wouldn’t ask, though, I knew.

“Want me to go with you?” I caved.

“Well I was going to just ask to borrow your car. But yeah. Come take a ride.”

So without questioning why he was going to ask to borrow my car for this excursion (he had his own vehicle which was, if not "perfectly good," then at least sufficient), I happily trailed behind him, practically skipping out of the building.

Tennessee was a recent hire at the restaurant. I was never sure exactly what his deal was. I think he was brought on as a dishwasher, but he wound up being a general maintenance dude, possibly due to his drug connections. No one was ever given any other way to address him except for “Tennessee,” and no one really questioned it. At this time, it was news to me that Skip even knew where Tennessee lived, nevermind talked to him outside of the restaurant. Like I mentioned, I was a little slow on the uptake back then.

Tennessee lived in a run-down, scary motel in a part of the city I had never been to. Actually, it was outside of the city, in Chalmette, and why or how Skippy even found him is beyond me. We were really in the middle of nowhere.

Steve, long haired, dirty Steve, liked to sit in my car and smoke with the windows rolled up. I never asked him not to, though in a show of great passive aggression, I always made sure to roll down the windows whenever I had one. Not just my window, but all of them. We barely spoke on the ride out to the motel. I knew he was aggravated, so I didn't push it.

There was a pair of blue jeans hanging from the balcony outside Tenneessee's room, like a flag directing us where to go. It was a good thing, too, as this was not the type of establishment with a uniformed front desk attendant, and even if it was, what was I going to do? Ask if he knew where Tennessee was?

His room smelled musty, but I have to say that I was expecting to be hit with a stench much worse upon walking in. He was just lying there like he expected to see us. Of course he expected to see us.

“Y’alll ready?”

I was confused, but I figured I just wasn’t down with the lingo. I was beginning to realize that this shit probably went down all the time. Without me. “Yeah, we’re ready, man, we’re ready,” Steve told him.

Tennessee nodded. “Well, y’all sit here for a minute, let me go take care of this.”

So he left. He left Steve and me in this room in the middle of Chalmette. Steve didn’t seem to think it was strange, though, so I’ll be damned if I was going to act like I did. He picked up the remote control to the tv, and started flipping channels. I think we settled on a nature program with wildebeasts or some such nonsense. I watched for a while, but I’d been up since seven in the morning, and probably had been out until four the night before. I dozed off pretty quickly.

Steve, apparently dozed off himself. I know this because we were both simultaneously woken by someone bursting into the room. Had we locked the door? Had Tennessee?

We woke up slow, but there was suddenly a ball of energy in the room. A scraggly white chick, probably coming in at 90 something pounds, had flew in, notably un-shocked to see us. She was talking so fast. Was she talking fast, or had I just not fully woken up yet? Did Steve know her? She was telling a story. Did I miss the beginning, or did this chick just not know/care that she started in the middle?

“And I was banging on the door all last night. I don’t know if he didn’t hear me or what, do you know where he was? I think he was here, and just didn’t answer the door. Did y’all hang out with him? I bet y’all hung out with him. I’m not blaming you, I’m sure he didn’t tell you he was supposed to be with me. Were you here then? Oh, shit, y’all heard me banging on the door, didn’t you? I feel like an ass. See? He makes me always feel like an ass.” She spat questions and statements at us through the gaps in the front of her mouth; she was missing a considerable amout of teeth. Steve looked at me and smiled a little, raising his eyebrows, and I felt comforted. At least he didn't think this shit was normal.

“Well I’m gonna go after I fix myself for a sec, just hold on,” she went on. I’d never seen anyone shoot up in front of me before. I swore I wouldn’t make a sound. I was wide-awake now. She looked like a crack whore, but she shot up like a pro. I guess one wasn’t exclusive to the other. Or maybe I was too young and knew nothing, which was becoming abundantly clear as the day went on.

She did nod out for a second. I didn’t think it was weird at the time, because I was so tired myself. But just for a second. In another minute, she was up and zipped out of the room as fast as she came in.

Steve looked at me, with that clowny smile that he had, and his laugh, his perfect ‘ha’s that he made when he laughed. Genuine, though..

“What the fuck are we doin’, baby.” Not a question. Just a statement. This is why I loved him. For moments like this. He didn’t find this shit any more normal than I did, and I loved him for it. I looked at him and smiled.

At the time, I never thought "wow. How did this happen with my life, that I'm sitting in a motel waiting for a dude with no name, to give my boss Vicoden. " I didn't question working at a job that required me to go to the casino just to be able to open up. Steve was older, though, and I'm sure that shit ran through his head like a motherfucker. Maybe.

More later.

The sad thing is, I sorta miss that time in my life. Even though I was a moron.

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