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Only Fools Die of Heartbreak: Stories by Thor Garcia

Only Fools Die of Heartbreak: Stories by Thor Garcia

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Only Fools Die of Heartbreak: Stories by Thor Garcia

Length:
439 pages
5 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Apr 15, 2013
ISBN:
9780957121348
Format:
Book

Description

From Thor Garcia, author of the monumental The News Clown—whose "flashy, satirical style keeps the narrative fresh, entertaining and eminently readable throughout" (Publishers Weekly)—comes a compelling collection of interlocking stories, Only Fools Die of Heartbreak.

The hellraising, nightmarish genius of Thor Garcia has returned in this explosive collection of sordid, hilarious, gut-twisting tales.

Meet the infamous Lenka, the mournful cripple who never met a penis she didn't want to chop.

Or Cleo Blump, beaten and raped from an early age, who rises to lead the Blond Revolution.

There's father Ernie, the athletic standout who never did care much for being a man. And George P., the poet and ex-boxer who finds it all floating out of his grasp.

Meet Halingwhorst, the drunk, once-scorned writer, as he edges toward unimaginable triumph. And the anonymous man ruined by divorce, who runs into a dangerously un-smooth criminal on the day Michael Jackson died.

Jump on and let Thor Garcia take you on a hard-drinking, hard-living drive. It's a no-holes-barred assassination of our world today.

The horror, madness and humor – along with the impeccable dialogue and fast-moving prose – of Only Fools Die of Heartbreak will leave you breathless.
Publisher:
Released:
Apr 15, 2013
ISBN:
9780957121348
Format:
Book

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Only Fools Die of Heartbreak - Thor Garcia

LBC

The Apocalypse of St. Cleo (Part I)

In which we meet our heroine, her family, and are instructed on how rats are best brained for profit.

Times were tough, oh they were hard. The people were poor, afflicted and drug-addicted. The soft piano played. William Blump and his wife, Magda, had five children and no money. And then, quite suddenly, the eldest daughters had turned into teenagers.

The blond was delightful, bouncy, of a relatively good disposition. Yet stubborn, defiant, with an unfortunate tendency to be outraged by the injustice and corruption which thrived everywhere. Milky smooth skin. Milky plump breasts, swollen with nature’s natural nectar.

The redhead, a year older, was stockier and plumper, a trifle nasty. Her face oily and well pimpled, she was always seeking a handout or something to eat. Stubborn and defiant as well – yet more than willing to let the injustice slide, so long as she was eating or getting a leg up.

They had no money. The pottery kiln had cracked and no one could find the repair manual. Father Bill had lost the rest through drinking and a bad tulip investment. So there was no money. There was no food. What money they had they used to pay the ship captain, Ol’ Nicklestone, to sail them the 60 nautical miles to town in his barge.

Before leaving, the old man Blump got drunk in the truck stop, dancing around and singing Jolly Good To Meet You as Ol’ Nicklestone bought whiskey sours and slapped his thigh, giggling at poor Blump. Everyone in the truck stop – truckers, mainly, and prostitutes – had such a grand time laughing at Blump. It was the night’s jolly good show. Blump had a fantastic time too, he was sad to leave. He could have stayed all night – it didn’t get better than hanging about with drinking folk, and Blump so did love to dance. But leave Blump had to. They had a boat to catch. He and Ol’ Nicklestone had a last round of three shots and bid the truck stop adieu.

The ship sailed through stormy seas. About an hour in, it was discovered that six-year-old Jeremy had smuggled aboard a puppy in his coat. He had found the little mutt snuffing around in some mildewed boxes in the alley, and thought it best to smuggle him aboard the barge. A sweet brown puppy! Jeremy was pleased. Mother Magda, however, became sad and angry because they hadn’t brought any dog food. They would have to give the pup some of their people food during the long voyage, and they already didn’t have enough. But it seemed nothing could be done.

As they were arguing about the dog, Father Bill discovered that the eldest daughter, the redhead Shamela, was missing. Where had she gone? They sent the blond daughter, Cleopatra, to find her.

Who would have thought? Cleopatra, wandering the barge decks, firm young breasts swelling, pulled open a dank hold – only to find old Captain Nicklestone’s grizzled buttocks confronting her. Drunk Ol’ Nicklestone was delivering everything his hardy maleness could muster into the moist mouth of that redheaded nymph Shamela! Mmmm, and Ol’ Nicklestone was lovin’ it. His grizzled little dong eased in and out as nice as you could imagine, with a fine amount of squeezin’.

You’re an awful mean man! screamed Cleo, tears streaming down her cheeks. That’s my sister!

Ol’ Nicklestone looked up, stunned but quite drunk and full of lovin’.

Why, you’re next, he growled. Slutty blond wench! C’mere!

Ol’ Nicklestone’s grizzled paw shot out to claw Cleo’s face. But Cleo, flushed with outrage over the injustice, was fast and brave. Before Ol’ Nicklestone could grab her, she clouted him on the nose with a copy of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Ol’ Nicklestone fell to the side, howling.

No good whores! he growled. Hate y’all!

The sea wind screamed. Cleo pulled Shamela to the deck, handed her a tissue and hustled her down the gangway.

Witch, why’d you do that? said Shamela, yanking up her frilly panties with regret. Cap’n Nicklestone said he was gonna give me a box of Pop-Tarts. Don’t you know I’m so hungry? All he wanted was to shoot off in my mouth so I could have some Pop-Tarts. I would have given you one, sis.

Cleopatra had no good answer.

You stupid, Cleo, I hate you! yelled Shamela.

The sea was red, the sky was grey – the wind screamed mercilessly. Cleo drew her tattered sweatshirt around her shoulders and shivered, looking out at the heaving black water. Grey storm clouds, choked with the bitterness and injustice of the eons, piled up on the far horizon.

Cleo had to admit: She was as hungry as Shamela. She felt herself go dizzy as she thought of warm blankets and coffee-crunch doughnuts, macadamianut sponge-cakes, caramel-filled baguettes and lemon meringue cupcakes, butterscotch pies and raspberry tarts, vanilla cream puffs and creamy chocolate-filled peanut waffles…

Three weeks later, the barge finally steamed into harbor. Ol’ Nicklestone unwrapped a bottle of new Kentucky Molasses whisky and shared a few farewell slugs with Father Bill.

Ol’ Nicklestone laughed.

Good luck to ye, Bill, ye gonna need it in the big city. Tell you what, though – you put those sweet-booty daughters of yours to work, ye shall make a pretty penny. Aye-aye, that I do maintain, Bill, that I maintaineth. Ol’ Nicklestone winked, knocked back another whisky. The big city do appreciate talents of the kind your gals be possessin’. You hear me what I’m sayin’, Bill? I have so enjoyed their company, lo these weeks adrift. Especially that squat one – what you call her? I’d just as soon call her ‘Tits,’ if I don’t mind sayin’.

Aye-aye, Cap’n, said Father Bill, holding out his cup for another belt of moonshine. They are marvelous daughters indeed, do a father proud. Methinks we’ll do jus’ fine.

The family dragged its few meager suitcases from the dock down to the poor area, as required by law. Eventually, Father Bill discovered the old basement of an abandoned barium processing factory. It was cold, very cold, down there, with only one half-working light bulb. But it was something. A smelly old toilet sat against the east wall – no doors or nothing. Spiders and rats and several varieties of greasy worms ran for cover between the overflowing barrels of barium carbonate effluvia as the family clunked in. But yes – well, it was something.

Don’t worry, me troops, assured Father Bill, who was wishing he had asked Ol’ Nicklestone for another belt of smooth Kentucky Molasses. We won’t stay here long, I reckon. This is the big city, streets made of gold and Corinthian leather. Shouldn’t be long before we’re wiping our behinds with silk and taking our baths in Jim Beam.

And as for this dog, said Bill, picking up little Jeremy’s pup, why he’s a cute lil’ feller, if I do say so. How’s about let’s put him in this little old drawer here by the ground? That way, he’ll stay out of our way as we go about our business. Also, it’ll be warm in there and the spiders and rats won’t get him.

O.K., said little Jeremy.

During the night it rained. As the family slept, water poured in through the open window slats, flooding the basement. They awoke in the morning to find that Jeremy’s little puppy, whom he had named Max, had drowned in the wooden drawer.

The little boy Jeremy held the limp, drenched pup, screaming in agony.

Ha ha ha! laughed Shamela. She seized the deceased dog and whirling it over her head. Your puppy died, ha ha! That’s life, chump.

That’s not nice! said Cleo, whose sense of justice was once more aroused. Rushing forward, swollen breasts swinging, she slapped Shamela.

Horrible witch! screamed Shamela.

The eldest daughter tossed the dead pup aside and counterattacked, driving the luscious blond Cleo to the flooded floor. The sisters thrashed around viciously in the brackish water as Father Bill squeezed his head in his hands, not sure what to do but accurately feeling that a glass of 150-proof Tennessee Molasses right then would be a sure gift of goodness.

It wasn’t long before the Reverend Dirk Dinwoodie Mathers O’Tully of the Rich Men’s Beneficent Society turned up at the door.

Well, well, there, said the Reverend Dirk, setting upon the table a loaf of bread, three kopecks and two pennies.

Reverend Dirk’s black, menacing eyes looked the family over. He jingled the change in his pocket as he used a thumb to inspect Father Bill’s gums.

Shave your beard, Bill, he told him. I’ve got work for you in a men’s prison.

And you, he said, turning to Cleo with contempt. You shall go to work beating and skinning rats.

And you, he said, sizing up Shamela. Yes you, my squat, delicious dearie. Me shall buy you the finest dresses, me lovely… As for the rest of these slime-nose ankle-biters, get them in the street begging and stealing! At once! And don’t forget to worship the Lord, for it is He and He alone who hath given you your bounty of generosity. And no stealing or taking the Lord’s name. Or fornication! he instructed before walking out the door with Shamela under his arm.

A barefooted Cleo showed up as instructed the next morning at the rat-braining factory outside town. The boss man looked her over and was pleased. Cleo signed the required employment contract. It called for 15 hours per day, seven days a week, with only 20 minutes each day permitted for snacks and a toilet break.

It was a bad deal, but Cleo signed anyway. She was naïve, after all, and the family needed money.

The other women in the rat-skinning complex were nasty and cruel and suffered from anxiety and self-doubt. They spent most of the day drunk. In their jealousy, they called Cleo a whore and made fun of her blond hair. Tears streamed down Cleo’s face as she donned her cloth apron and entered the new world of rat beating and skinning.

Eighty rats had to be beaten and skinned per hour, or they were entitled to cut your pay, according to the contract. After a rat was beaten and skinned, the hairless body was tossed into a vat, where it was blended before being sold to dealers who would place it for bid on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. The more valuable skin, meanwhile, had to be cleansed in a tub of acid for re-coloring before export to Singapore, where it would be blended with extract of tiger testicle and sold illegally in China, Russia and Newport Beach, whose citizens believed the mixture, if taken in the appropriate amounts, reduced knee blotches.

Cleo’s fingers began to bleed. To beat a rat, one first crushed the head with a small hammer called a flintoff, then sliced downwards through the belly with a special blade known as a damocles. It can take months or even years of practice to perfect the maneuver, and Cleo’s soft hands were not accustomed to the intensity of the work.

Tears streamed down her face. The other women laughed and called her a whore.

There’s blood on your skins, you get your pay docked! jeered one toothless woman.

Where’s your shoes? said another. Huh? Ain’t ya got no shoes? Ain’t ya?

It’s not, it’s, it’s, stammered an ashamed Cleo. My-my-my daddy burned ’em. But, but… it was for the good of the family!

HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA!

Cock-mouth whore! shrieked a woman with fourteen moles on her nose.

The boss man, Dengue Pieter Mike de la Gaulle, walked in and immediately whipped the row of women closest to the door. No talking, ya drunk whores! he yelled. He turned and lashed the other row. Get back to work or I’ll fire you all! There’s thousands of girls who’ll beat and skin rats for free, me tells ye!

During the 10-minute break, the other women jeered Cleo, calling her a whore and demanding to know how many penises she had accepted into her mouth in order to win the highly coveted job in the recession economy.

None, oh! protested the innocent Cleo. None, I tell you! Oh, I don’t know what you’re talking about!

Here, here, said one sympathetic woman, Yahnice, coming forward to comfort Cleo. ‘Tis no crime to suckle the odd spare cock and testicle in the interests of the family economy, my sweet darling. ’Tis the way of the world nowaday, for food, yes. Verily, it is done the world over, ’tis the way of the species…

As Yahnice and Cleo shared a brief hug, one of the other women grabbed Cleo’s bread and threw it into the rat acid.

Oh, no! That’s all I have to eat today! Cleo wailed.

The proud, defiant blond attacked the bread-thrower, wrestling her around as the other women cackled. The offending woman was burly and blocky, but Cleo was tough and brave. She slammed the woman against the tub, grabbed hold of her head and pushed it into the frothing acid.

Everyone screamed. They pulled the lady out. Smoke rose from her face.

I’m going blind! she screamed. I’m going blind!

The boss came in and beat them all.

Get this useless whore out of here! he said of the one who had been blinded. Turning to Cleo, he said: And you’re fired! Get out of my sight!

Cleo appealed to his sense of justice, which, however, was very small. But she stole my bread, Cleo said. I was only defending myself.

A twinkle flashed in Dengue de la Gaulle’s eye.

"My then, well, you have got a little spirit, methinks, said Dengue de la Gaulle. Capitalism could verily abuse such an asset. Come with me, me lovely, we’ll see what we can do. Perhaps methinks we may find something in the back office. You never know – but yes, aye, perhaps. Perhaps ye wasn’t cut out for rat-skinning. Perhaps, me dear, your true talent lieth elsewhere…"

Dengue de la Gaulle, who had not been laid by his wife, Pernicious, for several years, led Cleo to the back office.

One of the things, me dear, he said, appearing quite jolly and pouring them each pear brandies, is there’s always one thing people do that weighs them down for the lot of their lives. They cannot maneuver in their own best interests because of the burden. They screwed their sister or they murdered their father, or they smoked too much pot and lost the plot. You like that, yes? – too much pot, lost the plot? Yes, me dear… And one thing always leads to another, but the thing to remember is: Ye must kill all ye friends before they kill ye. And yea, ye they will attempt to kill. Told me that a mockingbird with a heart of glass once of a midnight tinkling. Yes, do you know the song? Drink up, me little aardvark.

Cleo downed her pear brandy. She stared at Dengue de la Gaulle with a deep-burning revulsion.

Now then, said Dengue. Methinks I may be in a position to offerest a job wherein the candidate needeth to possesseth good strong legs. For pushing, me dear – but solely in an administrative capacity, I assure you. We must work with many boxes here in the back room, aye, to pay our taxes according to the letter of the law. Now let’s see your healthy specimens, if we may, me wee lassie. It is, in fact, a legal requirement that I so inspect, for technical reasons, otherwise I cannot offereth – thus saith the law. Bendeth over, as you will, me lovely…

The beautiful blond Cleo spat at him. Filthy lecher, disgusting pig!

She ran off, pink bare feet plodding painfully against the cobbles, back to the flooded basement, where the Blump family continued to survive wretchedly.

San Diego Weekend

At some point in the 1980s, I got mixed up in a drinking, drugs and sex racket down around the San Diego area. From what I understand, that sort of thing was fairly common in those times, but it was a real shock for a guy like me to find himself like that. That these events had a profound impact on me, however, cannot in any way be doubted.

I’m still not sure where they were from, not exactly. The name Imperial Beach rings a bell. Mutterings about La Jolla would make a certain sense. In any event, my best friend from junior high school – let’s call him Rog – had moved into that area to go to an all-boys military high school. (Why, you ask? Mainly, Rog’s dad thought it would be easier for Rog to get into the West Point Military Academy that way – which it was. Rog ended up graduating from West Point and having a career in the U.S. Army as a leader of a tank division out of Fort Drum, New York. Without question, Rog’s dad was a gigantic believer in the purity and goodness of the military lifestyle – and he made sure we all said we believed in it exactly as much as he did. God and country and Reagan and Vietnam and the contras and bombing little brown people and the holy sanctity of the national security state and – you know the rest, this is how we got here today, that’s what makes our country great!)

In any case, through some convoluted scheme or quirk, Rog had wound up with a girlfriend – or so he had claimed. Kera, I think her name was, was a senior in high school, while Rog and I were still in our junior years. Kera’s senior prom was coming up, and while she and Rog were a go on the date, about a week before the bash he called me and said one of her friends needed someone to go with her – that someone being me.

Really? Ah, wow. Well, so what’s she look like?

She’s not bad, said Rog. You know, she’s nice.

"As in, ‘She’s in a wheelchair and has burns over 90 percent of her body, but she’s really nice’? Come on, man. You know I don’t have money to take some girl I don’t even know to the prom… To her prom."

No, said Rog, it’s all free! Free everything, even your tuxedo. Her parents’ll pay for it. These people are rich. You just gotta show up. You don’t got to do nothing. We’ll get real drunk. It’ll be great.

Well, all right.

The next Saturday I found myself with Rog’s dad in a tuxedo shop. I’d never been through anything like that before, and Ernie, who still lived with Rog’s mother in the town where we grew up, had been assigned to help me out.

It should go almost without saying that Ernie was a tormented man, a self-punishing man mad about any dozens of things – the Democrats, mainly, but also the cowardly and corrupt Republicans; the schools and the police; the blacks, Mexicans, Japs and Vietnamese; the hospitals, the traffic lights; the pro and college sports leagues; the taxes, the churches, the city of San Francisco; the garbage trucks and the garbage men; the sloth and laziness of the waiters and waitresses at the restaurants; the people who watered their lawns on days they weren’t supposed to; the incompetence of the post office personnel; the communists and the Russians (especially the Russians); the Chinese, the Germans in Germany; the liberal newspapers, the pretty boys on the television news; the heat, the rain, the wind; the airport noise; the Christian Scientists, the Mormons, the atheists, the homosexuals; the serial killers, rapists and child molesters; the drug addicts, the punk rockers, the homeless, the tree-huggers – you name it. All these people were really screwing things up.

Ernie was a big tall ethnic European guy, hailing from somewhere in Russia or Yugoslavia (I was never really sure which) by way of Allentown, Pennsylvania and the Vietnam War. He had a head full of bushy black hair and a cruel streak that was hard to top. He really got a kick, for example, out of throwing glasses of cold water on Rog and I when we’d be sleeping Saturday or Sunday mornings – just to wake us up so we’d watch the TV sports pre-game shows with him. Then, after soaking us, he would start screaming.

Get up you stupid rats, Mushburger’s on! he would shout in reference to his favorite sportscaster. Mushburger, Mushburger! Hey, Mushburger’s on! Stupid rats, get up! Mushburger! Mushburger! Mushburger!¹

Ernie was an active vodka and cigarette addict and sometimes seemed confused about whether he should celebrate this fact or deny it. As early as nine in the morning, Rog’s mom would bring him a vodka tonic and bowl of almonds as he sat in the big recliner and watched the sports games. Ernie would talk to us about the health properties of vodka, about how it was pure and didn’t give you a hangover and was good for the heart and circulation, and you could drink as much as you wanted without having a problem the next day… Then, a few minutes later, he might launch into a rueful and scornful talk about the drunks he had known back in his Pennsylvania hometown – how they had drunk themselves into heart attacks and comas or died after falling asleep in the snow or been hit by a train, and how he would flay us into a million pieces if he ever caught us with booze.

It could be great fun when, after drinking for a few hours, Ernie would want to take us on in basketball on the hoop in front of the house. Ernie had been selected All-State in high school – an ornery, elbows-flying forward, from the looks of it. ² He loved to show us the black-and-white photos of his glory days, talk trash about how great he had been, talk about how he was deep personal friends with Billy Packer,³ and how Rog and I weren’t crap as athletes compared to him.

Ernie would light a cigarette and stand wobbly and drunk in the center of the driveway, all long legs and arms and protruding belly, holding the ball over our heads, moving it from side to side as we jumped and tried to knock it from his grasp, his laughter booming across the neighborhood. When it came down to the game, Rog and I together would usually beat him, but not without Ernie shoving the ball back in our face a few times, or ferociously swatting our shots out into the street and covering us with his spittle as he roared out another laugh.

Ernie worked at the nearby Seal Beach Naval Weapons Base. I never got a clear bead on what Ernie did there, and Rog never had much of a clue either. Ernie, of course, had been in the Army in Vietnam, and afterwards had earned master’s degrees in communications and mathematics from Southern Cal. At one point, I knew, he had also worked in some capacity for TransAmerica Insurance. All I knew was that he didn’t have to wear a uniform while on the base, he was apparently part of the civilian contingent. I once asked Ernie about his job, and he laughed and said: If I told you, I’d have to kill you. Another time, he said: We do experiments on boys like you. We make sure they do what they’re told.

I loved going over to Rog’s house, and did it as much as I could. Rog and his family lived on the richer side of town, on the other side of El Dorado Park, not far from where they held the archery competition in the 1984 Olympics.⁴ It was quite a contrast to the little wood shack where I lived with my mother, brother and sister, who was still a baby girl at the time.

Rog and I became friends after we found ourselves seated next to each other in eighth-grade typing class. We were not a natural fit as friends, if such a thing exists, but one thing we shared was that we were both oddballs – strange and nerdy kids who were treated like outsiders by the rest of the students. We seemed incapable of finding other friends. Also, though, and mainly, there was boozing – Rog and I both loved it, it ran strong in both our families. We seemed to sense it from the very beginning, and maybe that was why we were pals – sometimes, I do believe, there is an unspoken communication that can occur between drinkers of a certain talent. That was certainly the case with Rog and I. We weren’t drinkers when we met, but it soon became the basis of most of what we did together.

At the beginning, though, it was all about the typing. Rog and I were the most accurate and fastest students in the class, by far, and we thrived on that supremacy. The other students could say what they wanted, but nobody could touch either of us when it came to typing (we were also among the handful of students who got A’s in all the classes – Students of the Honor Roll and all of that). Both of us had taken piano lessons, and we attributed our typing brilliance, at least in part, to our finger dexterity honed on the keyboard.

I could usually nip Rog on a typing test, but he was the more practiced pianist (mainly because my mother was so poor, unorganized and looking for a husband that piano lessons for teenage boys would necessarily have to be on the list of things easily ignored). Rog, in fact, won the school’s eighth-grade Talent Contest with his instrumental version of Lady by Styx. I remember the crowd in the Library watching mesmerized as he laid it down on the peeling blond wood stand-up. Nobody quite expected it from him – I guess it was just another part of the oddity.

There was the military side to Rog and the Styx-playing piano side – and eventually, I believe, he abandoned both.

There was always lots of food and TV action at Rog’s. Ernie and Shirley together could apparently bring in the bucks. Rog’s house featured a swimming pool and pool table, white baby grand piano, basketball hoop and ping-pong table. It was always fried chicken and french fries, hamburgers and hot dogs, popcorn and twinkies and ice cream, and sometimes they would take me out with them to Hof’s Hut or all-you-can-eat Mexican (whereas at my house, it seemed we lived mainly on toast, peanut butter and 10-packs of frozen burritos).

Ernie would have a few vodkas and start popping off. He’d ask where were our girlfriends, what did they look like, how come we hadn’t brought them over to meet him? He well knew we didn’t have girlfriends – he just wanted to rub it in. He’d talk up girls, talk about what a ladies’ man and big drinker he’d been when he was our age. We’d have drunk a case of vodka by now and been in and out of the sack two or three times! With three or four different girls! was the sort of thing he said. Then suddenly he’d do an about-face, turn all serious and severe, deliver a stern lecture about the dangers and drinking and drugs – all the while holding a big glass of vodka in his hand. Several times he told the story about how when he was in Vietnam, one of the guys in his troop started a fire while dozing off on heroin – smack, Ernie called it. Ernie claimed that after waking the other soldiers, he picked up the guy by the scruff of the neck and kicked him in the ass so hard his balls hit the roof of his head… That guy almost burned down our whole camp. He could have gotten us all killed.

The extra bonus was Rog’s sister, Laura, who was around two years younger. When I was fourteen, and Laura was probably getting close to thirteen, she had begun to do things like calling me into the bathroom to ask about something when she was half-undressed. She’d stand there like she didn’t know one of her nipples was poking out from her tank top… Or she’d just happen to leave the bathroom door open, letting me have a look, as she’d be standing there naked after taking a shower, looking at herself in the mirror. She would smile awkwardly, as though embarrassed, or look away and giggle… I don’t think she was embarrassed at all.

It seemed I caught a glimpse of Laura’s boob buds at least once each time I visited… and for a few months there, whenever I would spend the night, after everyone was in bed, she would quietly open the door to Rog’s room and slide into the sleeping bag next to me. She’d be wearing a flimsy gown, panties on underneath… I vividly remember the smoothness and warmth of her back and armpits, how soft and sweet were her thighs and breasts, the sharp angle of her hip bone… How she smelled like an overdose of candy, from a strawberry lip gloss or mint toothpaste or something…

It would generally take around ten minutes of cuddling and tongueless kisses before she’d open her legs to my hand… and pretty much as soon as we’d done that, she would get up and tip-toe back to her room. She never really made much of an effort to touch between my legs, which was fine by me, because I wasn’t sure what should or could be done. The most she ever did was a few moderate sucks on my neck – and that was beautiful, just the right thing. Anything more than that, I think, would have been too much.

The next day, we’d act like nothing had happened, like we didn’t even really notice each other’s existence. Rog never mentioned anything about it, and thus I assumed he was asleep when she came in – though sometimes you might hear him rolling around on the bed, or the rhythm of his breathing would change. Later, when we were older and he was getting ready to leave for the Point, he told me he knew all about it – that he knew Laura had come into the room. He said he would listen to us, but that he didn’t want to interrupt or say anything because he didn’t want me to think he was weird or a jerk. He thought it was okay, nothing bad and no harm done – and he didn’t think it had anything to do with what a slut Laura eventually became.

Every so often, when there wasn’t a big game on, Ernie was liable to be overcome by the moral turpitude, perversity and degradation that was killing society and twisting children’s minds and decide it was time to take everyone to Sunday mass at St. Maria Goretti on Palo Verde. We’d sit in a row on the wooden pew, listening to the Catholic ritual and sermon before Ernie’s reward of a big all-we-could-eat restaurant afterward.

There did seem to be a large amount of societal filth running rampant, and I remember several occasions when Ernie blew his top and could not seem to stop ranting. It was everything, yeah, everything – from guys cutting corners with their expenses in Ernie’s office, to Congressional approval of $3,500 toilet seats on aircraft carriers, to a colleague’s tale about a friend of a friend who’d heard about some mother screwing one of her son’s teenage friends… to say nothing of the blockbuster criminal cases that burned the media oxygen at that time and absolutely fried everybody’s mind.

No doubt, at times it must have seemed that Southern California was drowning in a cesspool of murder, rape, molestation and Satanism – as if the earth had cracked open directly beneath the Hollywood sign and devils had emerged to rampage through the cities and townships, dancing on the bodies of dead girls and gobbling up the innocent…

A few years earlier, when I was just beginning to pay attention to the news, I remembered the airwaves crackling with the Hillside Strangler case, which was apparently the most terrifying thing to hit the Southland since Charlie Manson and his huggable crew of free-lovin’, talkin’-peace killer hippies had gone to the top of the charts in 1969. The Strangler, as it turned out, was actually two stranglers: The freewheeling cousins Angelo Buono and Kenneth Bianchi – just a couple of offbeat mustachioed pimps and car upholsterers who had scooted around Southern California on a merry mission to kidnap, rape, torture and kill as many women and girls as they could.

When the news came out that some of the victims included two girls ages 12 and 14, whom the Stranglers had allegedly lured into their car near Dodger Stadium, the parental panic surged to altogether new levels of hysteria. Kids across the state were locked inside houses and instructed to never, ever talk to strangers. Thousands of women, meanwhile, signed up for self-defense classes, eager to learn how to kick an attacker in the testicles and defend themselves from the kidnap-rape-strangle… Rumors ran wild, including that the killer was a police officer or was posing as one, and thus even the average cop came under suspicion.⁵ The biggest Strangler legacy, though, was that the societal mood turned decidedly sinister, the message evermore dark: Trust no one. Be aware of your surroundings. Anyone – anyone! – could be a killer. The official Strangler body count: At least twelve.⁶

But things, alas, were only getting warmed up. It wouldn’t be long before the stage was seized by the Wonderland murders spectacular, in which the porn-movie star, drug addict and compulsive liar John Holmes was charged in connection with the alleged murders of four crooks in the Laurel Canyon area of Los Angeles. The media inferno blazed long and bright over a case that had singlehandedly achieved the grand slam of Los Angeles sleazebaggery – porn, cocaine, thievery and murder. The television screamed: PORN ACTOR MURDER PORN COCAINE HOLLYWOOD CROOKS PORN

Holmes, who at that point in his career (according to the video evidence) was having chronic problems maintaining an erection because of his drug use, claimed innocence – of committing the killings, at least. Somehow, despite what seemed to be a massive load of evidence suggesting guilt, the gangly, wasted frame of the actor formerly known as Johnny Wadd ended up limping out of court a free man. There was

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