Dirty Laundry

“Either you go to rehab or move out,” said Blue. This was in July, 2005, four years before I tried getting sober for the first time. It was the morning of my birthday. It might sound malicious on Blue’s part to threaten me like this on my birthday, and it probably was, but in her defense, I deserved it, staying out the whole night before and not calling, crawling in about eight a.m. with a coke nosebleed.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“I care less and less with every apology,” she said.

Then she went to work, telling me we’d talk more about it when she got home.

Blue had quit the restaurant biz to be an acupuncture assistant. Blue binged still but now only on tinctures, tilting cocktails of herbal extracts and water. We had a huge shelf in our kitchen that was dedicated to all her murky herbs.

The drunker my lifestyle became, hers swirled with healing beverages. No more coffee in the morning but a shot of Siberian ginseng. No pills to sleep but Valerian root.

Sometimes when home alone, I’d cut lines of blow or heroin out on her special herbal section, thinking I was proving a point, but what would that even prove? That I was petty?

I guess the only point that mattered was that Blue was evolving into something new and vibrant and better, and I stayed one species behind.

Even if I knew she was right, I wasn’t going to rehab. I was under the influence of something else, too: being obstinate. Every junkie knows it well, all our friends telling us to get some help, get our shit together, but hell no, we’re holding out. This ain’t closing time, Jack. This ain’t the bottom. This life can get much worse and we’ll show you, thank you very much.

So once Blue left for the acupuncture clinic that morning, I packed my favorite clothes, which were all dirty, fishing them from the hamper and filling a yellow duffel bag and bolting. Went straight to the dive bars on 16th street, hell bent on celebrating my birthday with or without Blue.

Years later, she told me she didn’t think we were splitting up for good that day—thought we were only having a fight, that yes, she issued an ultimatum but it was only to scare me, to get me to come to my senses and sober up so we could be right.

She said, “I cracked the door and you ran through it.”

That was the end of our three year marriage.

*
I plopped my yellow duffel bag down on the stool next to me, like a drinking buddy. Let’s call her Josephine because I needed some female companionship, even if she was chock-full of stinky argyle socks and plaid pants.

She and I had picked the Kilowatt for our first stop because it was easy to get drugs there in the afternoon. Any bar would have access to narcotics once the sun dipped down, but at the Kilowatt, you could see people from noon on with cocaine running around the rims of their noses like salt on a margarita glass.

Since this was a birthday bash, Josephine and I decided to get an eight ball.

Spare no expense!

We needed an ample supply of party favors to do the job right.

The Kilowatt was a narrow room, a weird maze of tables and booths with spilled liquor and tears smeared all over their tops like condiments. Rock and roll always piped, and dogs scurried between tables looking for handouts.

Really, we were all looking for handouts at the Kilowatt.

On that day, the bar was all men—a bunch of testosterone pouches hunched over one spirit or another, in various stages of spoil. We could have been lined up for a time lapse educational video on the ruin of alcoholism. There was a young, skinny, speedy punk sitting at the bar, tapping both his feet and talking mach syllables, his Mohawk pasted to such jagged tips it could have been a throwing star, and there was me, around thirty, still sort of handsome but carrying that doughy drunkard’s weight in his face and neck, and at a table was a couple forty-ish fellas reeking of alimony, botched rehabs, kids not bothering to text dear old dad on his birthday, and finally our crown jewel, our destiny, a raving broken pathos machine, somewhere in his sixties, nose a mosaic of fissured veins.

Josephine and I didn’t want to be around them anymore so we had a couple shots, a couple beers, and decided to troll.

Went to Delirium next, the joint with my favorite sign in the city—the one behind the bar that said Service for the Sick—and again, not much in the department of the fairer sex, so Josephine and I made our way to Zeitgeist, sitting at a picnic table out back on the patio with a pitcher of wheat beer, sneaking bumps of coke off my house key when no one was looking.

There were groups of other people like me—tattooed hipsters, artists—congregated at other picnic tables. Social D played. I was the only one alone, the only one snuggling up to a duffel bag.

I needed to fix that and fast.

“Listen,” I said to Josephine, “I like you, but I need to find an actual person to hang out with today.”

My friends, all growing increasingly absent when I went on a binge, even Shany, had plans when I called and told them that Blue kicked me out on my birthday and I needed their assistance to bender properly.

They knew what was coming and excuses sprouted like a rash.

Root canals.

Tax audits.

Vasectomies.

Boob jobs.

Anything so they didn’t have to meet me and watch what they knew was going to happen.

I brought the duffel bag closer to me. “The plan,” I said to her, “is to find somebody to go to dinner with me tonight. I want to keep that reservation.”

Earlier in the week, Blue and I had made plans to go to a fancy seafood restaurant. I was going to go there that night and eat overpriced fish and drink overpriced champagne and I was going to blow out the candle stuck in an overpriced dessert and I was going to have a great birthday.

“Where should we go next?” I said to Josephine.

*
Her name was Sadie. I met her at… well, I don’t actually remember where I met her. Maybe Benders. Maybe the 500 Club or Doc’s Clock or Mission Bar or The Attic. Could be the Lone Palm.

Josephine and I were thorough explorers that day.

All I know is that I saw the lovely Sadie sitting at a bar by herself. She was black Irish, and I was a sucker for that mix of dark hair and blue eyes. She sipped whiskey on the rocks by herself.

I slid Josephine under my barstool and sat a couple down from Sadie.

I knew how to seduce her because I’d done this many times. I wouldn’t talk to her directly at first, chatting with the bartender so Sadie could hear. I’d be funny, charming, and when Sadie finally initiated eye contact—like our interaction was her idea—I’d offer to buy her a drink, and anybody nipping whiskey by herself in the late afternoon would accept, and that was exactly what happened.

“It’s my birthday,” I said.

“Bullshit,” she said. “That’s just a line.”

“I wouldn’t lie to you.”

“Show me your ID.”

I did. She spent thirty seconds analyzing the information.

“Should you really be an organ donor?” Sadie asked.

“I’m in tip top shape.”

“You’re old, too.”

“I’m twenty-nine.”

“That’s old.”

“Would you like a bump?”

Pretty soon, we huddled in the little girls’ room, in a stall, and I cut a couple rips on the back of the toilet, handing her a rolled up dollar bill and saying, “Ladies’ first.”

“Prince Charming, huh?”

I waited until we were good and loaded and told Sadie the truth: Blue kicked me out, and I had a dinner reservation that I wanted to keep.

“No strings attached,” I said. “Come to dinner with me. Let’s drink champagne and then you go your way and I’ll go mine.”

“Don’t you want to take someone who actually knows you?”

How could I tell her that people who knew me hated me?

How could I tell her that she was my only chance?

“That’s the last thing I want,” I said to Sadie.

“Why?”

“Are you hungry or not?”

“Of course I’m not hungry,” she said, “and neither are you. We did a gram of blow. But I’ll come to your weird birthday party.”

*
We walked in the restaurant and I told the hostess my last name. She didn’t know my wife threw me out. Didn’t know that my dirty laundry was crammed in the yellow duffel bag over my shoulder. All she knew was that a bleary-eyed guy showed up in the company of a beautiful young woman, and there was nothing wrong with that.

I ordered a $75 dollar appetizer, a tower of shellfish and oysters and Dungeness crab and lobster. Of course, I couldn’t stop blowing lines, so each expensive bite tasted terrible—a cocktail of saltwater brine and cocaine drip—but that wasn’t going to stop me.

I choked down every gluttonous forkful, every tine shuttling new meat to my mouth was the promise of feeling better.

I was distracted. Thinking about Blue, thinking about what it would mean if we got divorced. Thinking about my parents’ marriage. It was hard not to compare these two failed affinities, and such an examination would have broken my reserves, forcing me to fall to my knees and beg a palsied world for forgiveness, but I had company. I was entertaining. Sadie sat across from me swigging champagne and shaking her head.

“I’ve seen drunks do oddball shit,” she said, watching me cracking meat from a crab claw, “but you are your own animal.”

“I’m not my own enemy.”

“I said animal.”

I accidentally kicked Josephine under the table. “Oh.”

“And you can’t argue with that, can you?” she said. “Aren’t you an animal?”

These weren’t the things I wanted to be talking about. This was a birthday party, and I was the guest of honor and I wanted to feel like an ecstatic pirate, finally standing on the X that marked the spot after years of hunting, following a map on blind faith, poised to dig up the buried treasure, and I was about to open the chest and find happiness.

Of course, the only chest I could open to find that was my own. I needed to pry my shell apart like that crab or lobster I had devoured, but I wasn’t going to do anything that proactive. I was going to baste in my own bad brine.

Sadie called me an animal, so I meowed—the nerdiest, girliest meow I could muster, channeling my inner eight-year-old girl and getting a good one right in Sadie’s face.

Meow!

We laughed. We made a toast: to kitties the world over. We kissed. And for a moment, it worked. I completely forgot who I was.

“I want you to fuck me,” said Sadie.

“I’d like that.”

“Now,” she said. “I want you to fuck me now.”

*
We moved toward the back where the restaurant had two unisex bathrooms. Both were locked, but we were the only ones in line so we made out. A woman walked out of one of them, startled by how we were going at it, but we couldn’t care about that.

Once the door was locked, Sadie ripped off her jeans and panties and hopped on the sink, balancing herself, holding up her shirt to play with her nipples.

I still stood by the door and pulled my cock out, and I stared in between Sadie’s spread legs, her pubic hair cut to a buzz, and I licked my lips, started salivating, aching to kiss her pussy, and I slowly moved toward her, only two more strides and I’d be there, with her, I’d be there with her and I’d be far away from all my mistakes and far away from my conscience and far away from anything or anyone who could judge me.

Two strides and I’d fall to my knees to taste her.

But I never made it.

I couldn’t make it.

I couldn’t make it because everything changed.

One minute she sat on the sink with her pretty pale legs spread wide, and the next minute the sink ripped from the wall, water spraying everywhere, Sadie landing amidst the shattered porcelain.

We looked at each other, and Sadie started laughing like crazy, lying on the ground. It was a small miracle that she didn’t cut up her ass, but thankfully she was fine. I put my dick away and helped her up, knew that the sink had made a crazy loud noise and soon workers from the restaurant would be there wanting to know what had happened, what had I done, what had I done now, what was the latest thing I busted?

*
After giving my phone and driver’s license numbers to the manager of the restaurant—“You’re going to pay for the damage! You’re going to pay for what you did!”—Sadie and I went back to the Mission District dive bars. Back home. We didn’t belong in that posh place.

The cocaine had been the pre-dinner drug of choice, but now it was time to go down, getting some pills to finish the job, finish me, bury me.

Finish this birthday boy off.

And that’s what happened, or what must have happened because next thing I knew I startled myself awake in the morning. I was so thirsty, having no idea where I was, whole body throbbing for some sugar.

Sadie was passed out next to me, and I snuck out of her room with Josephine. Found a bottle of beer in her kitchen, brought it into the bathroom, locked the door, turned on the shower, watched the room fill with steam, while I stood there naked sipping that beer.

A shower would make me feel better—that was what I tried to tell myself—but even I didn’t buy it. Much more than some hot water flying from the wall was necessary to make me feel anything except dread. I knew I was killing my life, I just couldn’t stop.

I closed the toilet lid and set Josephine there, unzipped her to change my clothes, and the waft that escaped her maw, the stench of me, the sweat and secrets and shame from all that dirty laundry, it was a sucker punch and I retched.

Taking a deep breath, I leaned over and stuck my head right inside Josephine’s guts, shaking my face around in there, burrowing as deep as I could.

I was a nude homeless drunkard hiding in a duffel bag.

 

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Joshua Mohr

About Joshua Mohr

JOSHUA MOHR is the author of five novels, including “Damascus,” which The New York Times called “Beat-poet cool.” He’s also written “Fight Song” and “Some Things that Meant the World to Me,” one of O Magazine’s Top 10 reads of 2009 and a San Francisco Chronicle best-seller, as well as “Termite Parade,” an Editors’ Choice on The New York Times Best Seller List. His novel “All This Life” was recently published by Counterpoint/Soft Skull.
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