A HOLIDAY HITCH
by Carl Watson
Here's a Christmas story for you. It was 1974, New Orleans. I don't
remember the name of the hotel exactly, but I woke up about 3 am to
find my girlfriend screwing the guy in the bed next to mine. It was
that rocking Joy-to-the-World noise the bedsprings made that tipped
me off. She said she was really drunk and that she thought it was
me. I guess I couldn't blame her for being confused. It was a double
room but there were three to six people there at any one time. Anyway
that's when I decided to head home for the holidays. I looked at the
calendar. It was December 22 already, so there wasn't much time.
After they had their cigarettes and fell asleep I packed up my gear
and split. Since it was early and still dark, I figured I'd kill time
and pick up some spare change to boot at the plasma center. Eight
bucks a pint was the rate for a plasma whore to get his vein popped
by that thin steel cock; that's how Tebo put it. Cheap, but you could
eat on it and pay for a bunk at the Dixie if you were desperate. Most
of the people there were. The nurses were only one or two insults
away from being desperate themselves.
I arrived predictably early. Kyle was already there too. Kyle was
a pool hustler I knew from Shakey Jakes and he dressed alright in
pressed double-knits and new wing-tip shoes. If he'd had a bad night
he'd still be the nattiest boy standing on the plasma line the next
Us plasma whores got our kicks counting the bandages on our arms,
over and over again in the hot sun while we passed around pint bottles
of sweet wine. "Jes puttin' a little sugar back in the old dick,"
Erwin said, scratching his balls and taking a long pull off the Richards
Funny things would happen at the plasma center all the time, especially
close to the holidays. That morning some guy had been walking up and
down between the cots trying to sell some cans of sterno he had in
a pillow case. And he walked like Tiny Tim, on crutches, with this
high squeaky voice. "Get high," he said, "you get higher than shit
when you're down on juice. Now's the time. Merry Christmas everyone!"
I imagined old Walter Cronkite himself wishing Merry Christmas to
the world, from the picture tube in my stomach that would suddenly
appear if I lit a match near my mouth after drinking that shit.
So I collected my dough, drank my free orange drink and had my thumb
hung out by midday. The skyline of New Orleans slid away as I waved
goodbye to all my friends. The first driver dropped me at the railroad
yards off the side of 55 north--told me the freights were easy and
I could be home the next night, no problem.
I ran into a couple of kids down in those yards. One wore a sheepskin
coat and was kind of retarded. The other kid pretended he knew what
he was doing. They were going somewhere, too, someplace to soak up
the season's greetings. They both sucked red candy constantly so that
their mouths always looked bloody. And they were always arguing. Finally
the three of us jumped a boxcar, but it only went two miles out of
the yard then backed up. I said, "I'm tryin' the highway again. This
sucks." So I did. Later that night some gals picked me up in a blue
Chevy with one headlight out. Lisa and Alameda. "Headin' home for
the holidays?" they inquired. I nodded affirmative, then climbed in
the back seat. They drove slow, made a couple stops along the way,
a liquor store, a bar, a chicken joint. We were working on a bottle
of Ole Riverbottom when they started hinting around that since we
were almost there anyway we oughta all go on over to their place and
drink some more and maybe do crazy naked things, especially since
it was Christmas and all. Yeah, all three of us. And it sounded like
it might be fun, too. But I lost interest when Alameda said, "Hope
my husband doesn't come home though, you know, he'd kill us for sure,"
and they both started laughing as they tore off down the road after
dumping me at some god-lost intersection at about 4 am, and there
I was stranded 'til the next afternoon, and I hadn't even crossed
the Mississippi line yet.
Then a guy named Izzy picked me up in an antique Skylark. Izzy seemed
like Christmas Spirit incarnate as he yammered on about robbing people
with a shotgun down in New Orleans. Of course he always gave some
of the bread to his down-and-out buddies. It was just the right thing
to do, he said. Anyway we were nearly 100 miles away from N.O. by
that time but Izzy was ready to swing that Lark around and head the
hell right back. He still had a box of shells and he thought I could
be a good partner. I thought about it a second but decided against
it when Izzy said, "Only ever got plugged once, in the leg with a
.45, weren't no cop though, shit the cops are fools too."
Then Izzy said, "Come on man, let's say you and me just head on back
and rustle us up some fat. Them suckers in Jack Square got it. It's
cake. By the time Jesus is 10 hours old, we'll be lickin' the gams
of the hottest tricks on St. Ann." Then he slammed on the brakes and
the car skidded to the left shoulder just in front of a turn-around
and the lights were facing off west and Izzy looked at me with a wildass
gleam in his eye and a soft glow on his green teeth and said, "Well
what you say, babe? What you say? You with the program?"
And I just said, "Man I got things waitin' up north, if you know what
I mean." "Woman?"
"If you know what I mean. Ain't had any in days." And maybe Izzy did
know what I meant. They always bought that line, you only had to say
there was a woman waiting somewhere for ya, it was part of the code,
a man never wanted to turn that one back on you.
"Know what you mean," Izzy said. "You got money, babe?"
I said no, but I had about 30 bucks in my watch pocket. Izzy let it
slide. But 10 minutes later he said it again, "Sure you ain't got
no money, man?"
I said, "I'm broke, man." So we drove on in silence for a spell, taking
note of the Christmas decorations on the shopping malls and franchise
restaurants we passed. Darkness was soon upon us.
Suddenly Iz pulled off on a sideroad sayin', "Just a minute man,"
like they always say, and he got out of the car and opened his trunk
and I was pretty sure by then he really did have that shotgun back
there and I pulled my knife out figuring this might be it, better
get ready, like a knife was somethin' against a gun, but I thought
I could maybe stab out the guy's eye or somethin' before I got shot;
it was one of those crazy ideas that go through your head when you're
graspin' at straws.
I looked around me at the landscape, and there was nobody around where
we were at all. I did see what might have been a tree or a reef twinkling
in the window. Then I heard the click of the door handle. I turned
slow to the left knowing that this was finally the climax of the bad
movie I'd somehow paid to be in. But Iz just got back in the car and
said sorry he just had to piss so bad he could taste it, and that
damn taillight was out again too, and then he flashed his green grungy
Well we kept on riding and talked about crimes we had done. Izzy did
anyway. I wasn't a criminal, least I didn't think I was. Izzy had
about 50 women in about 50 towns apparently. And he talked about them
as much as he could, too. Just to make sure, as if he could maintain
their ephemeral existence that way. "Seems like I can always get it
up," he said, "For muff, when it's starin' me in the face like a big
ole black bear, you know. No problem. Yes, I do love that deep sea
divin' little brother."
"I know what you mean," I kicked in man-to-man.
Then Iz said, "Baby, you got to have some money, you can't be on the
road like this without no money, come on now, tell me what you got."
"Ain't got but three bucks," I said, and we drove on.
Well after a while we got up by Jackson and Izzy swung into this place
called the Blue Dove Diner. "Well then I guess I'm just gonna have
to buy you some grub. Hate to see a guy on the road without no grub
money, especially on a day like today." So we went in and Iz seemed
to know all the waitresses in the joint, and he sat me down and told
Sal "Give 'em whatever he wants, I'm paying. Merry Christmas Emma."
"Merry Christmas Iz," Emma said.
Then Izzy turned to go. "I gotta run babe, I'm
in a hurry. You get yourself a feed on." Then he slipped me a card.
"If you need a place to land," he said, "she's alright. And this
being Christmas Eve and all I know she won't be busy."
And the waitresses were real nice too, even though
they wanted to close early, and they said, "Eat all you want, son,
might as well get your belly full. Izzy's payin'." And they brought
me lots of coffee and I had catfish and grits and sausages and some
little Christmas cookies shaped like bows and frogs. And I walked
out of there with a buzz on. I carried my duffel out to the shoulder
and stood there for a few minutes with a toothpick in my mouth,
lookin' up and down that highway whistling "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem,"
figuring to be maybe 10 miles from the Jackson, Mississippi outskirts.
I checked on the card Izzy had slipped me. There
was a woman's name on it, a woman in Jackson. "Maria Delores Alvarez.
Say Izzy sent you," the card said. And I thought I would. Then I
changed my mind 'cause I remembered that story about the Gary, Indiana
whore taking a dump on my friend Buddy's chest after taking his
wallet, and how the next morning Buddy said to me "You think you're
gettin' a treat but you're only gettin' beat. Nobody ever loves
you but your mother."
About half an hour later a car stopped, a purple
Firebird. There were three Chinese guys in the front seat, triplets
I figured. They all had the same cigarette hanging from their lips
when they turned around, and they spoke with perfect American accents
too. "Merry Christmas Jack, Memphis Express is now boarding," the
driver said. They were all drunk as hell too. They had a bottle
and a case of empties rattling around in the back. I got in anyway,
figurin' I still had a chance to catch some holiday bird with the
clan. It was about 8 pm.
Somewhere around 11, I was seeing little skulls
in the trees and watching the wild white line of the highway snaking
in front of me. The little skulls were teasing me too, with little
voices saying things I didn't want to hear, words about death and
wasted time and neglected families. It was one of those feel-guilty
Christmas messages and I didn't want to hear it. I hadn't slept
in two days, so I closed my eyes. I didn't want to bear witness.
Who would want to watch the future unroll into the darkness the
way it does sometimes? I thought about watching it for a second,
then I changed my mind.
I didn't know how much time had passed before the
two blue lights on the road shoulder started spinning but they were
the coolest blue lights I ever seen. The bulls found the gun under
the seat. There must have been something in the trunk too 'cause
they were talking serious. Something stunk too. I couldn't place
the smell. Then another squad arrived. Colored lights were flashing
everywhere and the radios were going. The sky was kind of cloudy
too but I actually thought I saw a star in the distance, just one,
up north, pretty far off. But things were kind of blurry by then.
It could have been an airplane. Then one of the cops interrupted
my reverie. "Got any identification, mister?"
Of course, things are different for me now, as
they are for everybody, but that was Christmas Eve back in the Year
of Our Lord, 1974. I don't have any snapshots to show my kids, but
that doesn't mean America's not a goddam great country either. So
Season's Greetings to you.
(I recently discovered writer Carl Watson.
I actually knew him many years ago, on the streets in New Orleans.
He currently lives in Brooklyn, New York. S.J.
This piece is copyright by the author. It may be
forwarded electronically, provided this notice is kept with it,
but may not be otherwise reproduced without permission. Thanks.
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