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or not.... We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. - Joan Didion
by Alwyn Martin
I am not a woman you would look at now and imagine with a half-pound of heroin shoved in her panties, driving a Hungarian drug dealer’s minivan as she pulled away from the Mexican supplier at a McDonald’s in Koreatown. hasn’t been that way for a while. It
These days, I drive a
minivan of my own, filled with children and soccer gear, water bottles and grocery receipts. My hair is expensive
blonde; not the out-of-the-box red from those days of living in Hollywood motel rooms and the cops looking for me. My bras are not too big now, since I eat. I have a
husband who is a lawyer.
There is a pool, and a garden,
and we concern ourselves with the school board and recycling.
I’m done with the van now.
It has proven its point.
Many factors led me to choose one in the first place, even against the protests of my other stylish friends, who could not imagine me wanting to drive such a piece of machinery. I didn’t care. Maybe I wanted it because it was new and These are things that I am
clean, average and unassuming. not.
The Hungarian dealer’s minivan was the first I ever drove. Even with my home-dyed hair, I still looked more
polished and sophisticated than him; a rotund, bearded, menacing character who spoke with a thick accent and smelled of rarely-laundered polyester blend clothing. When I became indebted to him, I acquired the job of Driver, which I gratefully accepted, as the unspoken alternative seemed to be Cock Sucker (at the very minimum). I do not
make a good whore, and he probably sensed that I would be more trouble than I was worth in this area, what with all the crying that would most likely take place. He acquired the maroon, American-made vehicle from some suburban junkie in the Valley who owed him money, and decided that it would be the perfect cover for a guy like him. Pete was his name, and he had been in and out of jail He was in his
since he came to the U.S. as a young man.
50’s at the time I knew him - a soulless, frightening
product of streets and incarceration; practically illiterate, foul-mouthed, suspicious, crafty and connected to the small-time underworld. His previous vehicle was a
small camper that he drove around LA, making deliveries with two dogs: a Greyhound named “Iggy” and a Chinese Very inconspicuous.
Hairless named “Poo Poo Pee Pee”.
Pete needed a new image, and he liked the fact that I looked honest and innocent. Even after having been up for
a couple of days on a blow run, I could still walk into any situation feeling confident, speak articulately, and calmly handle the business at hand. I was a product of private
school and being a music business child; learning Latin coupled with fielding advances from inebriated record executives at my father’s parties. dark times, too. There had been poor,
It all came in handy.
The arrangement was that I would drive Pete around to wherever he needed to go. Most days, this was just making
the rounds amongst his customers; some of whom were functioning addicts with “normal” lives, others who were pathetic and shriveled dope fiends who did nothing but get high and scheme their next fix. Pete got impatient with
the fiends, as they always seemed to want more than they really needed. He never did drugs, but he understood that
there was a difference between doing just enough to keep
someone from getting dope sick and doing so much that they were gowed to the bone. Gowed equaled greed.
“Lee-dee-ya,” Pete would say, drawing out my name like an exhale of smoke from his generic-brand cigarettes, “Thee greedy ones are what you need to look out for. peegs. Pathetic
They deserve it when they end up OD’ing.”
There was a particular client, Ramona, a stripper from Los Feliz, who always wanted more than she needed. She
worked for one of those clubs in East Hollywood, the ones in what is now called “Thai Town” (a city council’s attempt to mask sleaziness with cultural value). At the time, all
I had known of East Hollywood was from what I’d read by Charles Bukowski, who had managed to make being a degenerate alcoholic seem appealing to a nice girl from the Valley. It seemed a fitting (if not cliché) setting for
taking off one’s clothing in front of an audience equally mixed with the pathetic and dangerous. I would try to
appear robotic when I entered the place, so as not to attract human attention. “You need to go get Ramona at eleven,” Pete would say every night, predictably, as if it were a new request. I would usually be in the middle of examining the inside of my nose for fresh sores, or trying to apply more concealer to my increasingly darkened undereye circles,
knowing that my early-evening break would soon be over. Pete and I lived together, moving around to different cheap motels in Hollywood; never staying longer than four or five days, always paying cash. I didn’t ask him why we kept
moving, but assumed that he knew better than I about these things. Having me with him, minivan and all, was just as useful when checking into the motels as it was when parked outside an apartment building on St. Andrews Street, waiting for Pete to complete a deal. People saw me - well-
dressed, good posture, nice manners – and assumed that I wasn’t smoking heroin and snorting half a gram of cocaine off the chipped, yellowing bathroom vanities in their motel rooms. “No problem,” I’d say cheerfully in response to his orders, grateful for the time I’d get to spend alone, driving the van, high off the new bag he’d give me each night. “You know I always get the money from her.”
Ramona was usually into Pete for week’s worth of product that she’d already consumed. “I know you geet the money. That’s why I send you.
She can’t pull that stripper sheet on you, like she tries with me. And her blow jobs are bad, anyway.”
“It’s not that she doesn’t try to manipulate me, Pete, but trying to play that game with me is like trying to beat…”, I paused, searching for a sports analogy that he would understand, “ …well…ummm…it just doesn’t work on me.” Although I’d never stripped, my manipulation skills were equally as honed; the result of one parent being an alcoholic and the other one, emotionally unstable. I was amused by these tactics when directed at men for the purpose of opening up their wallets, but easily annoyed by attempts to ply my own will. Pete got a kick out of my past, or what I let him know about it. “You went to nice schools, but that’s not what A girl like you,” he’d grin, stroking his
makes you smart.
beard and raising an eyebrow like a philosophy professor, “she has to be a good faker to stay alive.” He could be wise like this occasionally. “What will you do when I go back to grad school?” I would ask him. His laugh could sound evil sometimes. get the money for school? “How you gonna
You spend it all on the brown He’d pat my hand with a I know a
and white before I can pay you!” sweaty, callused paw.
“Eets no good, Lee-dee-ya.
guy in Eagle Rock that owes me, and soon I will take his
house,” For a moment he’d seem like a kind person. live there and then you can kick.”
“I told you, Pete,” I’d smile weakly, “when Brad and I get back together I am moving back in with him. clean, I can go home.” “He has another girl now. The fleeting kindness was gone. Everything was gone. Brad asked me to move out not She’s not a dope fiend.” Once I get
long after my brother died. Shortly afterward, a poorly timed incident involving painkillers and vodka had me leading the conga line at a wedding reception; a wedding to which I’d been uninvited by my stepmother (the bride) and my father (the groom). I decided that I should be there anyway and, after sneaking in and asking the band to play the theme from “The Godfather”, began passing out “favors” to the bride’s Italian relatives from Brooklyn: cigars, plastic pinkie rings, and small cans of hairspray. I carried the items in
a shopping bag from Saks and would reach into it and toss them to the crowd, as if I were Rip Taylor scattering confetti. The only guests I actually got to follow me in the conga line were a middle-aged hooker in a revealing dress (the date of my accountant uncle) and a seven year-old boy.
To this day, I maintain that the party was just getting started, before I was abruptly escorted away by a couple of stoic meathead cousins in ill-fitting suits and too much Hugo Boss cologne. Then came cops. And criminal charges
brought on by my own father and the Hotel Bel Air. When Brad came to pick me up from jail the next morning, he was driving my car. The back seat and trunk Wedged in
were packed with all my clothes and books.
between the driver’s seat and the stick shift was the orchid I’d been tending for months. It was a species that
smelled like chocolate, which was usually intoxicatingly sensual and exotic. That morning, with my mascara-streaked
cheeks and foul breath, its scent struck me in the gut as Brad unlocked the car door. I vomited at his feet. He drove me to our regular coffee shop, gave me $100, and told me that he hoped I’d get help real soon. When he
walked inside the restaurant, I saw him slide into a booth with a girl we knew from our AA meetings. She was clean
for eight or nine years, as I recall, and wore an expression of sympathy. Even from the distance of the
parking lot, I could tell she was hiding a self-satisfied grin of victory.
When the money ran out, I sold my designer clothes for more, and was getting to the last of it at the time I met Pete. The model/actress friend upon whose couch I’d been
sleeping had been cut off from her coke dealer and been given Pete’s number by a busboy at the restaurant where she waitressed. We were both going through a couple of grams a Within a
day each, so the new contact was a godsend.
month, I had sold my car and blown through those funds, which gave birth to the Driver arrangement with Pete. fed me and kept me safe. He also introduced me to the He
tarry brown stuff that would help me come down when I was too wired. I sucked back tears from his last statement and lit a cigarette, though I really wanted to smoke more junk. “When you leave to geet Ramona tonight, you weel drop me at Tracy’s house” Pete grunted, satisfied that he’d crushed any hopes I had of returning to my old life. “Again? morning.” too. stuff. Pete got the look on his face that scared me, though I wouldn’t show it, like you have to do in jail. problem with this? “You got a She needs more? We were just there this
Tracy wanted my job and was willing to fuck him,
Sometimes we used her place to cut and package the
She is making me dinner and likes to
play with Iggy and Poo-Poo Pee-Pee; not like some people who just want to get high and drive all night going god knows where.” Trying to calm him, I offered, “If we get that house in Eagle Rock, I can cook for you every night, Pete. I’ll walk the dogs, too.” He snorted. It was silent in the car that night when And
I drove him to Tracy’s. “I veel call you ven I am done,” he said when he got out of the van, “Ramona owes me two hundred. you something to eat, too. making you ugly.” He let the dogs out, slammed the door and walked toward the duplex, where Tracy was waiting outside wearing a flowered dress with her boobs pushed up. She bent down Make her buy It’s
You are too skinny.
and squealed as the dogs rushed up to lick her face, then looked up and waved at me as I pulled away. replaced by the end of the night. Ramona was not on the floor of the club when I arrived. The manager, a middle-aged Chinese woman with I could be
dragon-lady nails and hair extensions, eyed me suspiciously from the end of the bar. She said something to one of the
nearby security goons, while her gaze followed my movements
around the club as I searched for Ramona, making my way toward the dressing room. The goon met me at the door.
“She’s getting her shit packed,” he informed, “Got fired tonight. Rita found out she’s tipping off vice, but
one of the guys owes the owner so he made a call.” I didn’t flinch. “Did she make any money tonight?” He stared straight ahead. get out of here. “You’d best just help her
She’s done dancing and tricking in LA.
Nobody’s gonna touch her, especially not that skanky ass.” I found her sitting on the floor of the dressing room, frantically searching for something in a wastebasket. was wearing a thong and a tank top, and I could see her cellulite clearly in the unforgiving fluorescent light. The only other person in the room was a half-wasted Mexican girl who was intently aiming for her eyelashes with a mascara wand. “C’mon, Ramona. We’ve got to go. Now.” For an She
Ramona looked up, terrified and weeping.
instant I glimpsed what both of us must have looked like before all this - before we had to pretend like it wasn’t this bad. “I can’t find my rig and my pouch. it away! Or they hid it! They fucking threw
I’m gonna be sick soon, Lydia.
I’m gonna be sick.”
“It’s okay, honey,” I consoled in a whisper, “We just have to leave. I have some in the car.” I need my rig!” I need you to be strong
“But you don’t shoot.
“We’ll find you one, Ramona. right now and GET UP.
Neither one of us can afford for I helped her off the
anything more to go wrong, get it?” floor.
There was a fake silk cheetah-print robe hanging off of one of the chairs. The Mexican girl glanced over as I I shot her a
picked it up and draped it around Ramona.
look that made her go back to her make-up, then flung Ramona’s stuffed duffle bag over my shoulder while my other arm shepherded her out the door. Once in the car, Ramona started begging for the heroin. foil. I reached inside my bra and slipped her a wad of “Get in the back of the van while I drive and put There’s an Exxon station with a good I’ll stop there and you can have five
some clothes on.
bathroom on Western. minutes.
Then we’ll go eat.”
While I waited for her at the gas station, I thought about going back to the motel and packing my own bags, but realized that I didn’t own that much anymore. I imagined
Pete, getting lasagna and a blow job from the Tracy in the
I could see her driving this van the very
next day while I was dope sick and alone. Ramona got back in the car, slightly more relaxed but not as loaded as expected. She handed me back the wad of I
foil, as well as the lighter and straw I’d given her. refused. “Don’t you wanna go in?” she asked.
I just shook my head, pulling out of the parking lot. “I think I am finally hungry.” “I didn’t make any money tonight, Lydia.” “I know, Ramona.” “Pete’s gonna cut me off.” “Probably.” We drove for a long time that night, passing restaurants but not stopping. Every time I’d slow down,
thinking that something seemed appealing, I’d look inside and see sad people. Their eyes were as vacant as mine had Ramona seemed content
become, and I couldn’t look at them.
to just ride along, not caring that we weren’t talking or hadn’t stopped. After what might have been a couple of hours, she said, “Do you miss your old life? Pete told me about it.
The rich parents, the school, your boyfriend.”
I waited a long time to answer, then I drove into a coffee shop parking lot and turned off the car. don’t miss my old life. though.” She seemed to understand, and smiled a little. this where you want to eat?” I nodded and handed her the keys to the van. I’m ready to eat. Take care of yourself, Ramona.” “Yeah. “Is “No, I
I miss the one that I know exists,
“Do you want some company?” “No thanks, hon. alone.” As I watched her turn left onto La Brea, I hoped she’d pull over eventually, just long enough to find the panties I’d left in the back seat. I pictured her discovering the If she was They know me well here. I won’t be
package that had been duct taped to the crotch.
the least bit clever, it could buy her some temporary freedom. Me, I was looking forward to pancakes and coffee.
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