Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Excerpt from "The Moleskin Checklist"

A rough, first-drafty teaser sample from my forthcoming pulp-noir novel that may or may not be titled Body of Work, The Tract of Blood, the rather Harry Stephen Keeler-scented The Moleskin Checklist, or none of the above.

The mailboxes in my office building are in the lobby, ensconced in a little kiosk. Each of them was about the size of a box of buttermints, and if you got a package that didn't fit, then you got a little cantaloupe-colored slip from the post office notifying you that you have to trudge down there to get it.

On this day, something slightly larger than the size of a box of buttermints must have arrived, because I got the aforementioned slip. Great. Now I have to drive across town to pick up something that's most likely junk mail anyway. Every time this happens, it turns out to be nothing worth the trek. Especially now that I no longer have a subscription to Hustler.

It was already hot out. Going to be another scorcher today, I can tell. I got into my beat-up 1981 Cadillac Eldorado and rolled down the windows. I have decent air conditioning, but the engine often cuts out at stop signs when I have it running.

When I got to Sappy's apartment complex, he was standing out front with a middle-aged barefoot woman in daisy dukes and, strangely, a woollen turtleneck sweater. She was furious and screaming at him in such a shrill and loud voice I could hear her before I could see her, driving into the parking lot. Sappy was comically feigning aloofness, staring resolutely into the distance and acting as if she wasn't there. If I hadn't rolled up when I did, she might have started getting violent in order to get his attention.

She was still screaming as I backed out. Sappy and I exchanged nods. "Sappy."


"Who the hell is she?"


"Uh huh. She doesn't look like a nobody."

"Trust me, she is."

Traffic near campus was constipated as usual, so I took a right on Linden and headed down Maxwell. Sappy reached down and helped himself to one of my cigarettes, as he always did.

"Would you like an Old Gold, Mr. Sappy?" I said mockingly.

"Yassss", he groused in an imitation of William Burroughs. "Let no man say you are parsimonious with your favors."

We pulled into Bicentennial Liquors. I told Sappy I'd stay in the car while he went after his usual bottle of Wild Turkey. Sometimes Sappy gets distracted by all the booze, though, and you have to go in and tug at his sleeve to hurry the fuck up. Problem is, sometimes I get distracted too and we both end up strolling around the liquor store for the better part of an hour, picking up every other bottle and speculating on all the different products. Even though I've never known Sappy to drink anything besides beer and bourbon. And sure enough, as I sat there starting to sweat in the hot car, I started to get a little hypnotized by the displays in the window. I started to get a hankering myself for a little something. I got out and went in and stood around staring at obscure brands of Cognac. I say obscure, but I don't know a thing about Cognac. What is it, anyway? It's in the Brandy section of the store, but you know, now that I stop to think about it, I don't know what Brandy is either, really. All I know is, I had some Cognac at my sister's wedding and it was some mighty fine stuff.

What the hell. I deserve a treat. I took the fancy Cognac to the counter, where Sappy had already bagged his bottled bird.

Twenty minutes later, having retrieved some padded manila envelope with no return address from my P.O. Box, we pulled out of the post office parking lot. I heard the sound of Sappy's bottle being opened. "Aw, man, here we go again," I said. "You never learn, do you? You lost your license and now you want to take away mine." Sappy said nothing, but raised his open bottle and smiled a wide grin exposing his tobacco-stained teeth. Then he turned the radio to an oldies station playing Led Zeppelin and made exagerrated mock "rock and roll" thrashing gestures. God, I hate Led Zeppelin.

People often wonder why I hold such a disdain for so-called "classic rock". My answer is always that old music is old and it's played out.

"But isn't most of the music you listen to even older?", some ask, confused. Well, yeah, but the difference is that it's old music that I've never heard before, or at least haven't heard often, such as "Ghost of the Mayor" by the Edison Symphony Orchestra. I grew up with "classic rock" before it was classic, and was as thoroughly immersed in it as anyone else at the time, of course.

Therefore, I can have long detailed conversations about Yes, Styx, Dire Straits, Led Zeppelin, Krokus, Cinderella, Fleetwood Mac, Elton John, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Wings, Rush, Cheap Trick, April Wine, Nazareth, REO Speedwagon, .38 Special, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Billy Joel, Van Halen, Angel, ZZ Top, Head East, Average White Band, Foghat, Blue Oyster Cult, Quiet Riot, America, Earth, Wind & Fire, Chicago, Atlanta Rhythm Section, KC & the Sunshine Band, Allman Brothers, Linda Rondstadt, Black Sabbath, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jimi Hendrix, Bad Company, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Thin Lizzy, Mountain, The Eagles, The Grateful Dead, Steve Miller Band, Kansas, Prince, Carly Simon, Hot Tuna, Eric Clapton, The Doobie Brothers, Rod Stewart, Abba, Grand Funk Railroad, Jefferson Starship, Air Supply, Bee Gees, Aerosmith, Grass Roots, Badfinger, James Taylor, The Guess Who, John Cougar Mellencamp, Poco, Jimmy Buffett, Queen, Boz Scaggs, Aldo Nova, The Carpenters, Foreigner, Traffic, Mahogany Rush, Carole King, Hall & Oates, Olivia Newton-John, Anne Murray, Motley Crue, Joe Walsh, Captain & Tennille, Genesis, Toto, Pink Floyd, Kenny Rogers, Seals & Crofts, Journey, Jethro Tull, Steely Dan, King Crimson, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bob Seger, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Phil Collins, Madonna, The Police, Heart, Pat Benatar, Robert Palmer, Firefall, Supertramp, Boston, etc. and sound very knowledgeable and even enthusiastic about them - and yet at the same time, I don't really have a desire to hear most of the songs by most of these bands in my life again. Ever. This is a cause of considerable confusion for some.

Do the math: Led Zeppelin IV came out in 1971. By the mid-seventies, its songs had already been overplayed, run into the ground by radio. By decade's end, the horse was pretty well fully flogged to death. And yet throughout the 1980s we were still bombarded by these songs at every turn. And throughout the 1990s, it continued. And then again through the oughts. It's now the teens of the 21st century, folks. I have been subjected to the likes of Led Zeppelin for four decades now. Enough is enough.

I didn't rant about this to Sappy, however; he's heard it all before and doesn't give a damn. He seems happier in life than I am, so who am I to bitch at him for having the same taste in music as he did when he was in elementary school? Right now I just wanted something to eat. I knew some heavy drinking lay ahead of me in the hours to come, and I should probably bulk up now if I plan on getting any nutrition in me. I steered the Caddy into the closest drive-thru and fumbled with making the sharp turn even as I tried to open the envelope that came in the mail.

"Get me some fries", Sappy said. "I'll pay you back."

"You still owe me for that bucket of chicken."

"Uh, dude, I paid you back for that."


"You know, awhile back. We were drinking at Nelson's and I gave you twenty. Then you bought us all a round."

"I don't believe you. But even if I did, you shouldn't pay me money you owe me when I'm too drunk to remember it. And we haven't been to Nelson's in 3 months!"

The loudspeaker crackled. "May I take your order please?"

I was caught off guard while opening the envelope. "Hang on. Ah, I'd like a.... Pally Burger... and..."

"And an order of large fries," Sappy chimed in loudly.

"One Pally Burger, One large fry", said the loudspeaker. "Anything to drink today, sir?" I turned and glared at Sappy. He shot me a stained grin again.

And that's when the severed ear fell out of the envelope into my lap.

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