Hirsch was a great basilica of a man who moved about the few busy city
blocks of his existence with a magnificent resistance. He seemed to
stutter as he walked, which was, to those who saw it, equal parts
fascinating as it was sad, giving off the overall impression, as he came
lumbering around corners and into the liquor store, that here is someone,
with a longshoreman's cap pulled down tight over his ears, with a
corduroy blazer, patches burning at the elbows, who is trying to inflict
upon himself the past with the least amount of effort. That is, by
ignoring the present, and existing merely for himself in a time and a
place of his own making and thought.
The Gaylord Hotel, the lonely, stone pensioner's palace he called his
home, was in the 1940's a lively spot, but had, in the intervening
years, decayed into something a little less spectacular. In fact, it had
come full circle, as things in the city must do given the close quarters,
and the bar downstairs, the mighty HMS Bounty with its feckless Reuben
sandwiches and mercifully priced well drinks, had become hip and chic yet
From his eighth floor apartment, where he'd lived since 1969, he liked
to think he had seen it all, or enough anyway. He once saw a bank robber
fleeing up the sidewalk, red dye hissing out of his pocket, hundred dollar
bills falling like a ticker tape parade. He saw Sophia Loren being helped
out of the back of a chauffer-driven Rolls Royce by a man with a patch
over his eye. Lucky pirate. On St. Patrick's Day, 1978, he saw a nude
girl run into the middle of the street, stopping traffic with her body,
and screaming in a beer-doused voice, "I'm not wearing any green!"
And then there was the car accident, and the woman's body that was
thrown thirty feet and her head that was only tossed twenty, its eyes
still open when the ambulance came. He could see it clearly from his
perch. Eight stories. Eighty feet. Less than a football field. With the
right binoculars it was a negligible distance.
The knock at the door roused him from his trance and he turned from the
window to open it. It was Louis, his younger brother, fifty-two, if you
can call that young. After fifty the age status of siblings flitted away.
There was really no advantage to being younger or older, wiser or not.
They were just brothers. That was all.
Louis entered without a word and took off his jacket. He looked around,
the same room for more than thirty years, and thought to himself that
after this long it was more remarkable that nothing changed than if Sidney
had decided to paint the walls lime green or had installed a stripper pole
against the far wall. There was something to be said for consistency even
though it depressed him like hell to think of what that something might
"Brother," Louis doffed an imaginary cap in greeting.
Sidney sneered at him and noted with glee that Louis' hair was really
starting to go. In a few years he would be as bald as their father was at
sat down at a small table by the window where they resumed a chess game in
progress. They played like this often, slowly, carefully moving the pieces
and the conversation, fulfilling familial duties that neither one had the
heart to let go fallow.
"You didn't move any of these pieces, did you?" Louis scratched his
scalp, staring at the board.
Sidney shook his head. "No,
my dear Louis. You know I wouldn't do that to you. You know I don't
have it in me to cheat you."
Louis laughed. "You used
to, though, you know? You remember, Sidney? You were always a terrible
cheat when we were kids. Remember when we would go to the house in
Sarasota and we would play that game with the stones in the backyard? You
know the one where you threw..."
interrupted him. "Louis,
you know how I hate to talk about that stuff. The past. I'm at the age
where all reminiscing does is tire me out. And yes, I do remember that
game and I do remember cheating you. It built my self-esteem to no end, by
the way, beating you in everything all the time. I think that more than
anything else helped me get into Harvard. I put it in my college
application and circled it with red ink. Did you know that? It's got me
where I am today, in fact."
Louis laughed and moved his queen. A strong move for him this early in the
game, Sidney thought. Challenging and aggressive.
"Ooh," Sidney mocked him, "little Louis exorcising his long lost
demons. Come get me, Louis. Let your queen fornicate all over my front
line of defense."
Louis laughed again and looked at the poster on the wall over the bureau.
It was an old campaign poster from Robert Kennedy's '68 campaign, the
one that ended across the street from Sidney's apartment at the
Louis clicked his teeth and started to say something, but Sidney
"Are those false teeth? Jesus Christ, Louis, how shitty have we
"No, I was going..."
Sidney interrupted again, "Don't say it. I don't want to talk about
it. I don't want to talk about anything. Can't we just play chess?
I'm tired, I feel old and part of the charm of that is I don't have to
care anymore about why anything happened." He sighed and grumbled.
"Fuck it all." He stood and walked over to the window, lit a
cigarette, let the sun hit him head on.
"Ok," Louis said as he leaned back in his chair, hands folded behind
his head, "we don't have to talk about it, Sidney. We don't have to
ever talk about it."
"Thanks," Sidney turned back to him, sat at the board, and moved
After Louis left, Sidney sat in an easy chair by the window. He lit
another cigarette, twisted a few strands of his thick gray hair around his
finger, and then sighed heavily. He sucked on the cigarette as he
stretched his legs out, putting his large bare feet up on the windowsill.
He stared down at his rounded belly that was finally starting to stick out
coquettishly over his waistline. Stan, the bartender, had called to tell
him that a bunch of hot, blonde twenty-year old PR ass had just come in
and did he want to come down and have a look. He patted his stomach and
picked some loose tobacco off of his tongue. Actually, he couldn't think
of anything he'd rather do less.
He cracked the window a little, just enough to feel the cool fall breeze
and to hear the TGIF traffic down there going all frantic, and thought, as
he had almost every single day over the past thirty-eight years; how do
you win a staring match with a building?
for one thing, you don't go chasing hot PR ass whenever you feel like
it. Staring at a building takes time and dedication, an almost obsessive
belief that your opponent is not inanimate, that it's real, and if you
were to get up and buy a round downstairs in hopes of a drunken handjob, a
Friday night girls' double-dare, if you were comfortable with the
humiliation of that best of all possible outcomes, then you were
guaranteed to lose. That's blinking first.
If you listened to your brother, a successful CPA with a family in the
Valley who still wasted every Saturday afternoon he could be out at the
batting cage with his son, or at the park with his daughter, or even
making love with his wife in the cool shade of his air-conditioned rec
room, if you listened to the good sense he tried to pour into your ear,
because he thought there was still some hope, because he remembered how
you used to be different and has been trying to tell his wife that for
years, but had since given up and told her he came into the city every
weekend to volunteer at the Children's Hospital on Sunset. If you
listened to him and gave in to compassion, then that was blinking first.
How do you win a staring match with a building? He took a sip of water and
creased his forehead. The building, the Ambassador, across the street was
quiet, too. Boarded up, like him, lonely and losing track of time. They
watched one another again, and Sidney, while he waited for his enemy to
crack, thought once more of 1968...
...Sidney and his girlfriend, Katie had been full time volunteers for the
Kennedy presidential campaign in '68. They believed in Kennedy with all
their heart and soul, thought that this was a man who could change the
world, a man who embodied, in a real and practical way, everything their
liberal educations had taught them to love and cherish: human rights for
all, kindness, fairness. Here was the enlightenment brought back to earth
in human form and they were at the core of it, traveling on the second
bus, the one with the campaign staff that trailed RFK throughout the
country, supporting him and the legacy of his brother in every way they
But really what drove Sidney, what really got him moving, was Katie.
She was the one, as a cute Radcliff political science major, who caught
his eye at an anti-Vietnam rally, who smiled as she handed him some
literature about the CIA killing babies by throwing them out of
helicopters and other equally soul-stirring atrocities. They talked
forever that day in Harvard Yard, leaning against an old elm tree; about
politics, love, and art, and how sometimes those things were the same and
reveled there in the crispness of fall until dusk settled, sharp and
filtered, more a sound really than a change in the light.
What he remembered most about that day was thinking that for someone so
sincere and optimistic she had the saddest eyes he had ever seen. She
could break the heart of any day, and to prove it, he took her home at
seven and was in bed with her by nine and in love with her by the morning
and forever after that.
That first night, as they lay pressed together, sweating and resting
from their exploration of one another, she told him in a soft voice that
all she wanted out of life was to make the world a better place, and that
a lot of people said it, but she meant it. She told him that she was
leaving school early, dropping out to campaign for RFK and did Sidney want
to come with her. It was an easy decision for him to make because from the
moment he had laid eyes on her; on her skinny runner's frame and her
sandy brown hair that looked like desert shrubbery, he was already gone.
Life in early '68 was perfect. Seeing America from that bus filled to
the brim with youthful optimism and idealism made it all seem not only
accomplishable, but also inevitable. Their hearts overflowed at rallies in
Iowa, coffee shops in Rhode Island, bowling alleys and union meetings
throughout the Southwest. Everywhere they went, people thought like them,
believed in the things they believed in, and seemed to be in love with
life for the same reasons they were.
But secretly, in his heart, Sidney loved that life because it brought
him closer to Katie, and the closer he got to her, the closer he came to
knowing himself and know where in life he belonged. If it was possible to
say that a person could be a home, that a warm pair of arms and the smell
of a wool sweater, fabric beading and cuffs fraying, if it was possible to
live in those feelings and stay close to a delicate, exhaled breath, then
Sidney had his peace and thought of nothing more than their life together.
She could have her campaign as long as he could have her.
All that changed, though, in June. They had just come off primary
victories in South Dakota and California. Los Angeles was supposed to be
their victory lap before sweeping up the nomination. A new world was upon
them. RFK spoke a little after midnight. He was being interviewed as he
walked through the kitchen. When you listen to the tapes you can hear RFK
talking to the reporter and then another man suddenly cursing him. You can
hear the shots. Play it over and over, as Sydney still did from time to
time, play it and rewind. The building stares back, unflinching. Play.
Rewind. Hear the end of everything.
Katie went to pieces when RFK was killed as Sidney knew she would. They
were already back in the bus getting ready to move on to the next city,
but saw people running as the word trickled back to the staff. "Oh,
no." "Not again." "It's happened." It was pre-ordained, he
later understood. There was no other way to explain it, to rationalize it
to one another as they lay shaking and scared two days later in a motel
room on Sunset Boulevard. By that time the campaign was already a distant
memory, the man a body, the grave a monument. Two days. That's all it
took to immortalize a man, to fossilize a life.
They never saw RFK lying there in the kitchen with the halo that was a
trick of the light hanging fragile around his head, but they got close.
Sidney could remember being in the lobby of the Ambassador before the
assassination, the chandeliers casting down crystal light like soft summer
rain, tuxedos and evening gowns, plush carpet designed in a way that tried
to represent a forest, but only made them laugh when they had first walked
in, contemptible of the middle class and its moribund allegiance to the
status quo. Those were the things he remembered about the hotel, about
Afterward, he held Katie tightly as the report came over the radio and
then later as Walter Cronkite caught himself repeating history and went
white as a sheet on the evening news. Life wouldn't be the same, Sidney
told himself, Katie wouldn't be the same.
And she wasn't. He began to lose her after that, bit by bit, piece by
piece. Her once straight body was now stooped and curved, her eyes
accented by large dark circles above and below, the ellipses of
exhaustion. She didn't eat or talk for three days, and when she finally
spoke to him, it was to tell him what he already knew. Crying in a cheap
diner on their last morning together, her hands shook around a hot cup of
coffee. She wouldn't look at him as she explained that she was drawn to
a better world like it was a calling from God. She didn't expect him to
understand, she said, forgiving him, or maybe just helping him try to
forgive himself. In another age, he would have driven her to the monastery
gate and bid her farewell, told her to pray for him and to think of him
when there was time, and that would have been that.
Sidney tried to make it work. He plied every trick of the trade,
including self-pity and anger, venom and all manners of triteness.
"I left everything for you," he hissed at her.
"Don't," she begged him, her voice shallow and nearly lifeless.
Their food lay there, cold and rubbery, as he tried to be justified in
his anger, tried to summon up a reason to hate her and be glad that she
was leaving. But it wouldn't come.
He drove her to the bus station and she bought her one-way ticket to
Andover. Sidney cried and begged her to reconsider, to take him with her,
to not hurt him as she'd been hurt. She cupped his cheek before she
boarded the Greyhound and gave him a smile, her first in a week, since the
"I told you, Sidney. I told you what I wanted out of life. I wasn't
just making that up. Those weren't just platitudes and emotion and a
girl being all weak and silly. I told you what I wanted to do, Sidney, and
now I have to go and do it."
She walked a couple of feet toward the exit door and then turned
around, a thought creasing her forehead, leaving a dimple like a toe
"You never told me what you wanted, Sidney. What do you want?"
"You," he answered, unhesitatingly.
She shook her head and smiled as she shifted her heavy bags.
"Uh-uh," she bit her lip, "that isn't enough."
And then she was gone. Through the gate. Gone. Just like that.
Later that week, Sidney, just back from lunch and a beer, stretched out on
his crumb-filled bed to meet his destiny, a mid-afternoon nap, and
listened to the voice on his radio ramble through the local news. There
was a liquor store holdup in Koreatown, a report on the best haunted
houses to visit this Halloween, and then, right before the sports, a story
that made him sit up suddenly, quietly, so as not to miss a word. He
picked up the radio in his big, dry hands and held it close to his face as
the voice spoke to him about the Ambassador, giving him a clue as to how
he might finally win that staring match.
Later that afternoon Sidney made a quick call to Louis to let him know he
was leaving. He told him he was sorry for being grumpy for thirty-five
years, and begged him not to say I told you so.
"I wouldn't do that to you, Sidney," the voice on the phone sounded
tired and relieved, the voice of someone who just got a call saying their
lost dog had been found. "But why now? I mean after all these
"Something I just heard on the radio. They're thinking about tearing
it down. The hotel. They're talking about tearing it down and turning it
into a school," Sidney was holding the phone cord so tightly that his
knuckles turned white, wishing it was his brother he could squeeze, hug,
hold. "Can you believe it? After all these years they're talking about
tearing it down." He paused. "I feel like I'm waking up for the
first time in thirty-five years, Louis. I feel so stupid."
Louis cleared his throat.
"Where are you going?"
Sydney shrugged his shoulders as he moved in front of the mirror above his
cheap bureau. He touched the circles under his eyes and gingerly patted
his gut like it was a twenty year-old child he was meeting for the first
"I've died a thousand times in this room. I need to get out. That's
where I'm going. I'm getting out."
He hung up the phone and then made a few calls to friends from a different
life, a lot of quick explanations, excuses, promises to stay in touch. All
for a little information.
All in all, it took about 4 hours to track her down. He half expected,
talking to Judith Rosenberg, an old friend from the campaign trail, to
find out that Katie had never really left L.A., that she was living two
floors below him in the Gaylord, that she too couldn't get the whole
thing out of her mind, but for different reasons, and oh, how they'd
laugh when he showed up at her room pretending to be room service with a
steaming hot Reuben sandwich and a Hallmark card that said Sorry this
century has us beat. And Judith. What of her? Another dedicated
Kennedy girl. She had been with the campaign longer than Katy and he put
together. How had she managed to keep it together? How had she managed to
invent a life for herself in the suburbs, children, a career in maternity?
She was glad to hear from him. She didn't talk to many people from those
days. She told Sidney that last she heard Katie was living in Arizona. She
had a number and an address. She didn't offer to stay in touch, though.
He understood that happiness is very susceptible to the gravitational pull
The next day he packed his bags, rented a car and set out for Arizona.
The freeway was a sunset all of its own; red, glowering, a myth of
geographical proportions. It was its own horizon. The 10 West sunset. He
stared ahead, far ahead, dimly aware of the time, fully aware that it
didn't really matter.
The car radio was tuned to NPR, and when he couldn't stand it anymore,
when all that self-congratulatory nonsense got him so mad that a migraine
would have felt like a blowjob, he switched on some country music because
it made him feel like he was traveling, not just headed toward a
destination, but really moving around because it felt good and he was
It was a repetitive landscape, but maybe that's what people found so
soothing about the desert. Here and there, along the highway, there were
fast food restaurants and truck stops and he wondered, looking left and
right across the dusty plateaus that seemed to dead-end into nothing but
granite horizons, where the hell the people lived who worked at these
places. They had to live somewhere, but then he imagined that perhaps the
shoddy restaurants were their homes, the truck stop gift shops their
schools and churches. People have made do with less.
He pulled the Chevy Impala off the road at a nameless exit. It just had a
number, as if the destination didn't even merit a name.
At the top of the off-ramp he had to make a choice between going left
toward a Wendy's or right toward Burger King. He was stumped, because he
had actually never eaten at either one of them before, never eaten any
fast food at all, for that matter.
He finally decided to make a left. Wendy's. The little girl on the sign
looked so much friendlier than the words "Burger King" getting crushed
between two hamburger buns.
Inside, the restaurant was nearly empty. A few bored employees chatted to
one another behind the counter as they dumped bags of stringy French fries
into enormous vats of yellowish grease. Hamburgers popped and sizzled on
the grill and the shake machine groaned from either too much use or not
enough action. It was hard to tell which. The smell of the place was heavy
and sickly. Over everything was the plaintive voice of George Jones,
crooning for a city he loved more than he could any woman.
"May I help you?" the woman behind the counter asked him. Her nametag
"Yeah...uh, what do you have?"
She looked at him, sizing him up to see if he was putting her on or not.
"You shitting me?"
"No," he said, matter-of-factly, "I'm not. Do you have a menu?"
She pointed her finger up above her head where the huge full-color menu
loomed like the Ten Commandments.
"Oh," he stepped back, crossed his arms, and read the menu.
After a minute she laughed and stretched her bright pink chewing gum out
of her mouth and began to twist it up around her finger.
"You really don't know what you want?"
"No, I've never been here before. What do you recommend?"
Her short blonde hair bobbed up and down as she laughed at his question.
You serious, sweetie? It's fast food. It's all the same. Just close
your eyes and pick something."
was a pretty, young woman. No more than 25. Her eyes were blue, but
crusted up with too much eye shadow and mascara. Her lips were full and
when she smiled they made a perfect semi-circle around her teeth. Her face
was very symmetrical, round, but not pudgy. She was not the type Sidney
usually found attractive, but then he remembered that he didn't really
have a type. That to have a type you needed options. To have options you
needed to get out now and again.
he said, putting his palms down on the counter and leaning over a little
to see if he could smell her. He inhaled and caught something vanilla-ish
and young. It made his head spin, "funny thing is, I've never actually
had fast food. This is my first time eating any of it."
She looked at him askance and then smiled that pumpkin smile again.
shitting me, mister?"
the second time you've asked me that, and no, the answer again is no."
"You're so weird," she almost squealed and looked around for a
friend to tell. "Ok. Have the Bacon Cheddar Double Melt and some French
fries. Um," she looked back over her shoulder at the menu, " and a
strawberry shake. That's my favorite."
"Fine," he said, slapping the counter. "Sold." He reached for his
wallet and paid her $7.54. "That's not a bad deal."
"Uh-huh," she said, still not fully believing that she wasn't
having an out-of-body experience.
When his meal was ready she slid the tray over to him and told him to
enjoy. He smiled at her, noting the way her small breasts heaved with the
effort, as if they too were straining to serve him, and took the stuff
over to a table not too far from the counter where he could keep an eye on
her, which, as it turned out he didn't really need to do, because almost
as soon as he had taken the wrapper off of the hamburger she came over to
his table and slid onto the seat facing him. She put her chin in her hands
and watched him with a scientific interest as he prepared to take the
"Sorry if I'm bothering you, but I want to see what you think. I've
never met anyone who's never eaten fast food before. To tell you the
truth, it's pretty weird. Do you mind if I sit?" She talked so quickly
he imagined he could see the actual words shooting out of her mouth.
he said, "I don't mind at all."
She took a sip of his shake and stared at his lips, waiting for the show
took a bite of the enormous burger and caught himself sucking at the
juices as they ran down his chin.
she looked at him anxiously, as if she had prepared the recipe herself,
"what do you think?"
he held up his index finger for her to wait a minute as he struggled to
swallow the big bite that was still steaming in his mouth. Wendy offered
him back his shake, which he accepted with a garbled "thank you."
she could barely contain herself.
"Tastes like dog shit."
"Ew," she squealed again and he thought it was all squeals and
laughing with her. "That's so gross." She cupped a pale hand over
her mouth and he noticed delicate blue veins swirling there in snaky
stared at one another over the leaking heap of gray meat and moist fries.
"I want to ask you something if you don't mind," Sidney said. "Do
She took back the shake and stirred the straw through the pink and
murky sludge of it.
don't mind. Just so long as you don't make some stupid joke about my
name being Wendy and me working at Wendy's. I've heard that a million
"No, it's not that. I was wondering, as I was driving along the
freeway, where everyone lives around here."
do you mean?"
"Well, it's just that there's all these fast food joints and things
and I didn't see any houses or hospitals or any of that stuff. I mean,
how do you send mail? Where do you sleep?"
"You want to see where I sleep?" she said it without any irony
at all, and he almost coughed up a wad of hamburger bun.
She narrowed her eyes at him and considered him carefully.
"Meet me back here at six o'clock. Will you do that --" she waited
for a name.
"Sidney," he told her. "I can meet you here at six, Wendy."
"Good," she smiled again. It really was a beautiful smile; banal but
suggesting a full range of unfathomable gestures and behavior, both the
obscene and the angelic, and a healthy combination of the two.
He went back to his car where he promptly fell asleep and dreamt he was a
repo man for a prosthetics company. In the dream he had a family. Wendy
was his wife. She had a hook for a left hand. They were deeply in love.
He awoke a little before six, confused, with the high afternoon sun of the
desert cascading through the window onto the side of his face like a fan
A few minutes later, Wendy came out of the restaurant, saw him, smiled and
waved. She came over to his car window and told him to follow her.
used handlebars to climb into a tall, Chevy pickup truck, the kind Sidney
had only seen in commercials, with an extended cab and a deep bed for
carrying tools and furniture and enough raw meat to last a winter. She
gunned the engine, stuck her hand out the window, gave him a little wave
and peeled out of the parking lot, up the highway, back the way he had
He followed her, heading back west on the freeway, past vacationing
families in wide SUV's, kids peering out the back, alternately flipping
him off and waving, schizophrenic prophets of the road. He flipped them
off and waved back, even added a few more obscene gestures from the deep
reservoir of obscene gestures he had accumulated over the last three
decades of his reckless loneliness.
He followed her off an exit and they began to travel down a long, dark
road that was by now lit by an open sky and a full moon, the stars raining
light down on them from the full collection of its menagerie. He imagined
he saw centaurs and bears there spread out on the vast, dusty floor, both
major and minor, the constellations blessing this forsaken piece of earth
with a shower of blue light, a cocaine slideshow projected on to the
dying, vast, dusty floor.
His Impala was a steady animal, hardly breathing as it matriculated down
the blue screen highway. The road was loose underneath him from the steady
Mojave heat that could melt anything.
With no warning, the taillights of Wendy's truck suddenly disappeared,
and before Sidney could speculate about alien abductions or sink holes the
size of swimming pools, he felt the road dip down and then open up on to a
new vista, many feet lower than the highway, dotted with speckled light
from a trailer park that wasn't visible from the road. They slowed down
and took a turn-off, cruising into a clutch of campers and makeshift
structures, something like a traveling carnival, except that all of the
campers were up on cinder blocks, rusted all around, decaying in a gentle
way from immobility.
he got out of the car she took his hand, held it firmly, and then squeezed
it, hard, like she wanted to let him know how strong she was, that he
shouldn't even try to fuck with her.
They walked past old Airstreams and dilapidated RVs, once beasts of the
road, now quaint domiciles of the stationary kind. She pointed to a squat
Winnebago with a German Cross painted on the side, votive candles in the
shape of Elvis burning in the bedroom window. Inside, he imagined track
lighting and a creaky ceiling fan, a crime scene waiting to happen.
"This one's mine."
He loved it in an instant; felt this could be a home. Not just in the
comfort of this metallic whale, but here, in this town, folded neatly into
the belly fat of the land, out of sight from the rest of world, and with
no view of the past.
introduced him to her mother, Anne Eyestone, who lived in the next trailer
over. Anne sported an eager fashion, a look that lurked somewhere between
Pocahontas and Adolph Eichman; militaristic, but with an adventurous
flare. Abalone jewelry flashed dull blue light everywhere like an
ambulance running low on batteries.
Anne was gutsy, but devout. The three of them talked until midnight,
spinning yarns on topics ranging from politics to god, eating hot wings
and drinking the weird hooch Anne clung to like a GI on VJ Day.
as Wendy walked Sidney back to his car, she pressed her breasts against
his shoulder and stuck her tongue in his ear.
"I've got to be honest. I actually brought you back here for my mom,
but now...why don't you stay with me tonight. I like you, Sidney."
I'm so much older than you, though."
okay," she said, taking the gum out of her mouth, tossing it somewhere
into the darkness. "I like 'em old."
"You're not just drunk, are you?" But she was already grabbing him,
hooking her arm around his neck, drawing him in to her breath, to her
"No. I'm more than just drunk."
He grabbed her and kissed her hard, raced his tongue around the inside of
her mouth, across her teeth, recognizing intimacy for the first time in
many decades, finding a simple relief in this clamoring of flesh.
couldn't stay, though, and told her why. Explained how he had wasted the
last thirty years of his life keeping vigil over a forgotten monument,
holding a torch for a flame long dead. He had to go on to Arizona to see
for himself. It was him or that building. He didn't expect her to
understand and told her so. Asked her to forgive him with that. The
weather started to get cooler and soon the desert changed, became its
winter self, blasting them with cold winds that whipped sand across their
faces and howled with a deep animal sadness.
They lay down on the hard earth and continued kissing and groping with
urgent lust. A cactus in the background felt like a peeping Tom. He could
hear animals out there scurrying around, the tall hills casting a shadow
even in the night, their presence just that strong. Heavy petting in the
desert made him feel like an exhibitionist.
forced himself to stop. He propped himself up on an elbow and traced words
on her back, making her guess what they were.
have to go," she said lightly, guessing correctly.
wish you wouldn't leave," she said, sighing lightly. "We don't get
to meet many nice guys around here."
laugh at me," she shoved his arm and started to get up. "You've got
no right to laugh at me."
"I know. I know. Come back," he pulled at her, gently, holding on to
her hand until she folded back into the nook of his arm like a hose
recoiling. "I wasn't laughing at you. I was laughing at the
circumstances. You know, me being all old and fat, and..."
She interrupted him with her lips, kissed him full on like a train wreck.
"You don't get out much, do you? You don't know what kind of people
are out there."
He laughed again, but caught himself before she could get upset and ruin
"I've got to go, but I'll try and come back."
"I've heard that before."
"Really?" He started to get up, for real this time, and wondered to
himself if all that country music had made them all sloppy
"No," she admitted. "I just felt like saying it."
He twiddled his thumbs
behind his back, wishing he had a cigarette, wishing he wasn't such a
nervous wreck of a man.
"I'll never get over anything," she moaned, slumping over, huffing
like a spoiled child.
And he thought she was spot on, but didn't say it, only hugged her as he
turned and walked back to his car.
he as about twenty feet away she called to him from out of the
"I like you, Sidney. But I don't like you like you, if you know
what I mean. Come back some time if you want to. I'll show you where we
get our mail. It'll amaze you."
watched him from the side of the road as he pulled away, waving forlornly,
and then shoved her hands in the pockets of her skin tight jeans when it
got too cold to have them hanging out. Jesus, she looked good to him. The
way a woman ought to. He started to regret all that time keeping watch
over that dead hotel.
Blue moonlight flooded the desert floor as he merged onto the highway,
taking his place in the fast lane beside a never-ending line of semis and
Barely 15 minutes since leaving the trailer park, he began to wonder what
Wendy was doing. Was she thinking of him? Was she sleeping? Was she on the
Internet trying to figure out who the hell Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy was?
To distract himself, Sidney switched on the radio, scanned the dial for
news. No more country music. It made him feel weak and womanly.
man's deadpan voice read the sports scores with past-midnight
enthusiasm. Then it was 2:00 am. The voice started over with the news
headlines from that day. He talked about tension in the Middle East, a
serial rapist on the loose, and a human-interest story about a dog that
was addicted to malt liquor. Then, in the same droll voice,
"And today in Los Angeles, the City of Los Angeles Redevelopment Agency
has decided in a 6 to 1 vote to go ahead with the planned demolition of
the Ambassador Hotel, a site made famous by the 1968 assassination of
presidential candidate Robert Kennedy. Current plans have the land going
to the Los Angeles Unified School District, which will build a badly
needed high school to relieve overcrowding in the District."
He pulled the car over to the shoulder. The anchorman droned on, but it
was more a noise now than a language, blood thumping in his ears and
through his temples. He turned the radio down and clenched the steering
wheel tight, trying to make up his mind in that split second whether or
not he felt like salvaging the rest of his life.
"I'll never get over anything," he murmured, and then turned the key
in the ignition, pushed down on the accelerator, and pulled a dangerously
illegal u-turn in the middle of the freeway. Truckers honked their
longshoremen horns at him, flashed their lights, rained down empty Big
Gulp cups and used tissues on his windshield as he sped west again, toward
a relatively less landlocked destiny and a fervent hope in his heart that
he could find that turn off once again.
work is copyrighted property of Adam Greenfield.