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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

BREATHING TOGETHER: DRUNKS, DEGENERATES, JUNKIES AND WHORES

    To conspire: from Old French and Latin, meaning "to breathe together."

   Suppose you had to rob a Lyft driver. The reason doesn't matter: rent, drugs, a dare, boredom. Who cares? The point is that you know this is something you are going to do. Once you  concoct a false credit card identity to avoid subsequent capture, your next concern would be choice of weaponry. You want to persuade the driver to turn over whatever cash he or she might be carrying. Granted, this operation might prove meager in the sense that--unlike taxi drivers--Lyft drivers do not necessarily have hundreds of dollars tucked into their wallets. But you are feeling lucky, so you now determine what level of force to bring upon the presumably unsuspecting ride share facilitator. Unless you are prepared to whip out an unwieldy yet intimidating Philippine barong, a knife is an unwise choice, as would be powdered explosives or a garrote. After all, you are riding in the backseat and if you kill the poor bastard, you may find yourself in an accident which would discombobulate your escape. The presence of some type of firearm would be the probable persuasion of choice, the idea being that merely pointing the barrel at the driver's head would be sufficient inducement to get the Lyft person to disgorge his or her lucre post haste.
   My passenger, on the rainy pre-twilight day in question, chose none of these options. This unkempt, indeed proudly shabby little man whose  moniker declared himself Doug, attempted what might be called a barter. Ghosts whistled through the window.
    He spoke in an amphetamine rush. "Listen, bud. I'm robbing you. I don't like robbing people. I want you to know that, okay? I'm robbing you all the same. Just hand over your money and you can let me off up at the next freeway exit. But hey, don't worry. I'll give you five stars."
   I had seven hundred dollars in the wallet on my hip, having cashed out from the week just ended and the banks not being open for several hours. This rain-soaked puke sack behind me expected me to just hand over what I'd worked a week to earn.
   Before I could quite grok what was happening, he made me an offer. "I want to be clear. I wouldn't do this if things were different. But if things were different, then they wouldn't be the same. That's not your problem, bud. I get that, okay? So you hand over your goddamn money and I will make it worth your while. Nobody gets hurt, understand?"
   "I'm reaching into the glove compartment," I told him, feeling with one hand while keeping my eyes on the rear view mirror. "Just relax."
   "That's fine. If your hand comes out of there with anything but a billfold, I'll blow your fucking head off, just to let you know."
   I snapped the latch and my hand came out with my alternate wallet, the one with only twenty-two dollars in it, the one I keep for just such occasions. Twenty-two dollars is a loss I can afford, and while it isn't much in the world of armed robbery, it is a believable amount. I handed it over the seat. He shoved it in his pants pocket without looking inside.
   The freeway exit was another three miles. Doug sighed, looked as if he might smile, reconsidered it and said, "Just so you'll know, I don't have a gun. Makes me nervous, tell you the truth. But I said I'd make this worth your while and I'm a man of my word."
   My foot tapered off the gas. I said, "No gun? You don't have any weapon at all, do you?"
   His made with a tired, reluctant grin. "You got me there, bud. Oh, I used to be quite the terror, messing guys up just because some Sicilian thug told me I had to, or maybe because I was drunk and just feeling mean. But these days I'm a man of peace, you see. Now before you go getting yourself all heated up and thinking you might kick my ass and get your loot back, just ask yourself if twenty-two dollars is worth that much trouble."
   I did not know how that little weasel knew the exact amount I had given him, but as I would later learn, Doug knew lots of things that he had no reasonable means of knowing. 
   My GPS lady spoke. "In one mile, take exit 178, signs for the VA Hospital, then stay in the right lane."
   "I said I would make this worth your while," Doug interrupted. "When it's all over, this little transaction will make the sale of Manhattan look like genius on the part of the Indians. When I get out up ahead, I'm going to leave a business card on the seat here. The person on that card will connect you with a man who will name once and for all the identities of the people who killed John Fitzgerald Kennedy. And no shit about it, bud. You gonna solve that case, be famous, maybe even rich, and what's more you will have performed a public service. Here, don't miss that exit."
   I pulled over into the pothole-ridden parking lot of a Jack in the Box (which, even if the head of the health department was leaning up against it, I would not eat there), splashed rain water all over a transient who did not appear to mind, and stopped the car. Doug edged open the door. "It's right here, bud. That card. Now you call this gal, Bobbie, and she will hook you up with the info you need. Savvy?"
   He shut the door with some delicacy, called over to the transient, and handed the derelict my alternate wallet. The two men shook hands and walked off in different directions as a rain squall came up out of nowhere. Daybreak was still a couple hours away. I ended Doug's ride on the Lyft app. My payment came to seventeen dollars. He forgot to tip.

   The business card read:
                  Bobbie Shields
                    Bar Manager
               Centerfolds Cabaret
                   602.678.4664
   On either side of the text stood the silhouettes of bushy-haired buxom babes who, one might infer, had spent their formative years in joyful expectation of that glorious day when they could first shake their firm yet tender bodies for the delight of drunken businessmen who had just hit town and were in dire need of lascivious entertainment.
    It might be assumed that Lyft drivers would not be excluded.

    Looking into the eyes of a Scottsdale ho is like looking into the eyes of a goat: no soul, no emotion, just total sociopathy. They feel rudimentary sensations which they amplify on the outside, but the reality is complete superficiality. 
   "Hi! You're going to 1313 North Scottsdale Road?"
   Grunt.
    "I'm sorry. That was a question I was asking you."
   "Whatever. You know how to get there?"
   "I can manage."
   "This car smells awful."
   "I stopped at a pig farm on the way here."
   "Just drive."

   A drunken Indian can ruin a driver's day. As I pulled up to the ghetto shack, I saw Joseph emptying a can of Natty Light down his gullet with one hand while tossing aside the carton into a pile beside the dumpster. 
   "How the fuck you doin', dude?"
   I hate it when a stranger asks me how I'm doing. I hate being called dude. And I don't much care for people who are bombed at ten in the morning. The revulsion is similar to that experienced when in response to my own insincere "Have a nice day" the speaker replies "To you as well." Self-generated human robotics.

   "Janey swears she's holding."
   "Girl, that bitch is never holding."
   "Well, she swears this time she is."
   "Janey is such a liar."
   "Oh, driver, you can turn here. No, to the right. Yeah, we'll just get out here."
   "You ladies have a nice day."
   "You as well."

   "Hey, sexy. Just pull in here, make a left and then we'll go right up the stairs to bliss."
   "That's all right. I'll just let you out."
   "Don't know what you're missing."
   "I have a pretty good idea, pal. Have a nice day."
   "Ooh, I'll have to rate you one star."
   "I don't care."

   After days, weeks, months of this idiocy, the prospect of having Bobbie Shields use me as Centerfold's driver of choice looked like an oasis of sanity.

   "You met Doug? How much did he rob you?"
   That was Bobbie Shields, sitting across from me at her desk tucked into a soundproofed office down one of the subterranean corridors beneath Centerfolds Cabaret. Her eyes betrayed no sparkle of hidden knowledge. Quite the opposite: she asked the question as if she were asking about the weather forecast.
   "Since you're asking, I guess he must be a thief."
   "What he is," she replied while signing off on a waitress' time card, "Is a whale. The biggest fucking whale this club has ever had. Comes in here three, four times a week. Never drops less than ten thousand a pop. Always cash."
   "He steals that well?"
   She grinned a tenth of a second. "I believe Doug has other sources of income. No, the word is that he thinks he's fucking Robin Hood. Steals from somebody everyday, gives it to some junkie or drop-out. He was in earlier. Told me he thought you and I should work something out."
   "Yeah, he said I should talk to you." I expected her to say something about the Kennedy assassination, even though she would have been too young to have known about it. Her parents would have probably been too young. But she surprised me.
   "We think you should be the club driver. We have girls coming here--dancers, waitresses--from eleven in the morning til, oh, no later than ten at night, and in between they go home, or go out, and our thought was that you could be their wheel man and make sure everybody gets in and out safe. Flat fee. Fifteen bucks a head. Double up, triple up, however many you can carry in your--"
  "The Durango will hold eight passengers."
  "Right right right. The club pays you direct. It'll come out of the girls' house fees."
   "How many girls a day on average?"
   "Most days it will be less than a hundred. Figure eighty to ninety. Fridays Saturdays--probably one twenty-five. You'll be busy, put it that way. Deal?"
   "You'll let the girls know?"
   "Yeah yeah yeah. It's a sweet deal."
   "When do I start?"

   This started on Labor Day weekend and Lord did the money roll in. I picked up the first load of entertainers at ten thirty in the morning and dropped off the last of them at four the next morning. I brought in at least fifteen hundred dollars every day and was far too exhausted to spend much of it. Before Halloween I had made a similar pitch to two other clubs owned by the same group that owned Centerfolds, gave those deals and my Centerfolds business to three other moderately trustworthy drivers in exchange for twenty-five hundred apiece weekly and by Thanksgiving I was stashing my money in a safety deposit box at US Bank. 
   For reasons still curious to me, I continued driving for Lyft.

     "You like driving for Lyft?"
    "Sure! But then again, I like jock itch."

    "You like driving for Lyft?"
    "Why? You have a better offer?"

    "You like driving for Lyft?"
    "Yes, but only since my lobotomy."

   The monotony--slow, numbing, paralyzing monotony of the same questions and answers from people with whom any type of meaningful relationship is at best an abbreviated symbol in the spellcheck of existence bothers drivers more than anything else. That may be one reason why fifty percent of all Lyft drivers throw away their keys during their first year on the job. Lyft does not need to care about this. With their brazen version of community ride sharing, they have attracted the cheap fast and easy of all socioeconomic levels. Many is the time I have driven ten miles to arrive at a five star resort where scowling taxi drivers were wasting away in the pull out zone only for me to find some cheapskate millionaire standing next to his luggage, pretending to look at his watch so that I would not get the mistaken impression that he was some typical degenerate. And in between spoken voice texts and observations about how hot it is in the desert, the untypical degenerate would be sure to inquire: "You like driving for Lyft?"
   "Absolutely! But then again, I like thermonuclear war."

   A couple days after the Super Bowl, Bobbie Shields rang me up. I was sure there had been a problem with one of my drivers, but as usual, she surprised me.
   "You remember Doug, our little Robin Hood whale? Well, he says he wants you to pick up a friend of his. Guy named Boggs. By the way, that driver you gave us? The girls all think she's the best."
   "I'm glad. Who's this guy Boggs supposed to be? Wait. Nevermind. Just tell me where he'll be."
   "Fuck if I know who he is. All I know is in an hour Doug wants you picking him up at the Residence Inn off the 101 and Bell. Oh, and Doug says after this, the two of you are even. That make sense?"
   "I'm on my way. Bobbie, tell me something. What else do you know about our friend Doug?"
   "You mean besides the fact that he usually does not go home alone?"
   "Besides that, yes."
   "He thinks you should ask me out."
   "Right. It's just that my wife--"
   "Oh."
   "--died and I haven't--"
   "Oh."
   "I probably should. Maybe I will. But what else?"
   "Pretty sure he used to be mobbed up. He's got plastic under different last names and licenses that match. He's also apparently got leukemia. But as far as you're concerned, he did tell me this Boggs guy, whoever he is, is gonna make you rich. Or famous. I forget which. Either way, when we going out?"
   "Soon. I promise."
   "Cool. I gotta run. We're packed, as usual."

   I introduced myself. Boggs slumped into the backseat. “Can I trust you?” he asked as we roared off.
   I told him I thought so.
   Watching my expression in the rearview mirror, he asked, “Do you know the name Cokie Roberts?”
   I told him I did. “ABC News? National Public Radio?”
   I watched him nod. He said, “I’m her father. I find myself in a bit of trouble. The man who recommended you swears you are reliable. Do you think you can help me?”
   I know my share of history, even when I’m delirious from lack of proper sleep. “Cokie Roberts’ father, you say? That would make you Hale Boggs?”
   “Correct.” Pure charcoal, no soul.
   “Congressman Hale Boggs from Louisiana?”
   “Indeed.”
   I adjusted the mirror and gave my passenger a long, soft stare. “You disappeared back in 1972, you and a guy from Alaska.”
   “Congressman Begich.”
   “Your plane was never found.”
   “I see.”
   “And yet here you are in the backseat of my car.”
   “Here I am.”
   The man plopped into the rear of my Durango with only two briefcases for luggage certainly looked old and crafty enough to have been a politician. I smiled into the mirror. He smiled back. I said, “Hey, you know, a lot of people have been worried sick about you! Where the hell you been?”
   The normal ride to the Airport took twenty minutes. This was not an ordinary ride. So I shut my sarcastic mouth and listened. He told me that he had made trouble for himself a year before he officially disappeared. “I’d been in World War II. I’d met dignitaries and the hoi polloi. So when that pipsqueak Director of the FBI tapped my phone, well, young man, I was mortified. I marched right into the House Galley and called for the resignation of J. Edgar Hoover. Only two people had ever done that before and both of them were dead: John and Robert Kennedy. Shoot, I’d been on the Warren Commission. I knew what these FBI snits were capable of doing. Well, the excitement died out after a while. I calmed down and after a time I didn’t give the matter much more thought. Then one day I had a visit from a fellow in New Orleans. A public figure there. He gave me information that linked the then-recent break-in at the Watergate with the assassination of JFK. He wanted my help.”
   I liked this. It was much more interesting than the guy who told me he was Paula Abdul’s illegitimate grandson.
   My passenger pointed to the Freeway exit, which was not the way to the Airport. I followed his instructions. He continued with his story.
   “October 16, 1972. I was scheduled to board a Cessna 310C in Anchorage and fly to Juneau. My friend in New Orleans called my hotel and said I should miss that plane. I learned later that night that the plane disappeared. The Coast Guard and the Air Force searched for thirty-nine days and never did find it.”
   We hopped on Route 60 westbound towards Wickenburg. I was getting uncomfortable. I asked where he had been all these years.
   “I took up with an Inuit woman and we muled for some Chinese heroin traffickers. Well, we did until Sak Red—that was her name—until she burned one of the Tibetan juice guys. Since then I have been holed up in Nogales, biding my time and watching a lot of TV.”
   “That’s some story,” I said, following his instructions by taking the 303 Freeway southbound. “How may I be of service, sir?” This was where I expected to be asked for a donation.
   He patted my shoulder. “I’m old, son. May not have a lot of spare time left. I want you to take this Route over to the I-10 and go east. That’ll take us to the Airport. Long way around. I’m going to leave one of these two briefcases in your car. Cokie’s at the Biltmore tonight. You bring her the briefcase. Tell her it’s from Tom.”
   “Tom?”
   “She’ll know. Do not ask her a truckload of questions. Don’t go into any detail. Just do this for me. Here, take this.”
   He folded four one hundred dollar bills into my hand.
   “I’m not happy about this,” I said.
   He again patted my shoulder. “We’re public servants, young man. Happy doesn’t enter in to it.”
   I dropped him off at Terminal 2, the United Airlines ticket counter. He left the briefcase with me.
   I floored the gas and shot over to the Biltmore Hotel. I parked alongside the jogging path and examined the case. Oxblood, fake leather, not too heavy. I pictured myself getting arrested by federal agents for handing Cokie Roberts a case full of anthrax and dynamite. I pictured myself screaming at the TSA guys, “Wait! You don’t understand! This belongs to Hale Boggs, the missing Congressman!” That did not fill me with courage,  so I flicked open the dual locks and looked inside. All I saw was a manila envelope. I took it in hand and tore it opened. I found some photographs and a note that read: “Come to my garden at Trenton and Main where the crows and the alligators stick in the drain.” Dr. Seuss had nothing to worry about. As for the pictures, there were seven of them, all shots of Cubans, all of them with the faces circled in red ink.
   It was very much out of character for me to buy into a lunatic’s delusions, having more than enough of my own to consume my time, but this was so bizarre that I wondered if any of it amounted to anything. While wondering, I parked the Durango, walked by the smirking valet and into the old world hotel. I approached the front desk, placed the briefcase on the counter and wondered what to say.
   I read the name tag of the brunette behind the counter. Jennifer asked how she could help me. I told her that one of my passengers had asked me to drop off something for a guest of the hotel.
This Jennifer’s face took on the wide-eyed stare of teenage mania. “Oh my God! Is this the package that’s for Ms. Roberts on that TV show on Sundays?”
   I told her it was.
   “Oh my God! I could get in like just so much trouble for telling you this.” She stopped to breathe. “Ms. Roberts was delayed or something and she won’t be here for like hours. I can put this in the hotel safe for her.”
   So surprised was I to learn that Cokie Roberts was actually staying at the hotel that I stuttered out my answer that what she’d said would be just fine. I gave Jennifer the briefcase. She inventoried the meager contents, placed everything in the hotel safe, and gave me a receipt. I tipped her twenty dollars. “Oh yeah,” I said, over my shoulder as I walked away, “Be sure to tell her that briefcase is from Tom.”
   I watched the evening news every night for a month, read the local and national papers, and even called a guy I barely knew at CNN. There was no news on Kennedy, Watergate, a long-missing Congressman, or anything else besides a raging war and a booming economy.
   The truth is that I probably would not remember all this in such detail except for three things. First, I looked up Hale Boggs on the Internet and there was a faint resemblance to my passenger if you added thirty-five years and used your imagination. Second, it turns out the Congressman’s real first name, which he seldom used, was Thomas. And third, a black Mercedes 450 SLC stayed in my rearview mirror for a solid week. After that it reappeared on and off for another seven days. One morning it was simply gone and I never saw it again.
   The day after I dropped off the briefcase, I called the Biltmore to make sure Cokie Roberts had picked up the item I’d left for her. The front desk person sounded bewildered and transferred my call to the assistant manager, a fellow named Jeffrey. This Jeffrey told me it was against hotel policy to discuss guests with anyone and certainly I could understand that, couldn’t I? He reckoned thus even though I was obviously confused because they did not have anyone named Jennifer working at their hotel and as far as he knew they never had.
   I hung up and grabbed my wallet, where I’d kept the hotel receipt. It had apparently fallen out during one of my financial transactions.


    The date with Bobbie fell somewhat short of what she had in mind.
   She printed out all the names and addresses on the driver's licenses Doug had used since first materializing at Centerfolds more than a year earlier. A third of those addresses didn't properly exist. Another third were dumpy hotels. And a third had possibilities.
   "Phil, just in case you need me to remind you, it is after three-thirty in the morning."
   "You think he might be getting ready for church?"
   "No, I think he might be up to his wrinkled old dick in Monica, Kati or Beth. Or all of them. Who the fuck knows?"
   "I think he's at the house on Baseline. Don't you want to know why?"
   "I'd like to know why I'm on this so-called date with you."
   "That's easy. In spite of the fact that I am light years from what you would call your type of guy, you can't help but be intrigued by this situation and to a lesser extent by me."
   She removed a vial of cocaine from her shirt pocket, sprinkled a bit on the dash, asked me if I wanted some, and when I shook my head, she  removed a straw from her slacks and plugged both nostrils.
   "You're right on all counts," she said after washing the blow down with my bottled water. "Now it's your turn. Why are you out with me?"
   I was ready for that one. "Truth is I do find you attractive. But the bigger reason is you're part of the mystery."
   I pretended to ignore her question. "See, I wouldn't mind owning a strip club. What you have to understand is that all drivers have some kind of weakness. Most of them, it's either gambling, drugs or booze."
   "With you it's strip clubs?"
   "With me it's women. I hate being alone and that's how I have spent most of my life. Because I've been alone, I've read a lot. And a lot of what I've read has been about the JFK assassination. Most of it's bull. But not all of it. So if what Doug told me is true--"
   "And we don't know that it is."
   "Correct. If it is, then I could get enough money to buy my club and live happily ever after."
   "You'd need a bar manager."
   "Bobbie, you can run the damn place."
   She leaned up against me. "Let's get over to that house on Baseline."

   The house on Baseline sat nestled into the side of South Mountain. At times we had to drive nearly straight up winding roads with sharp turns. Abruptly we approached what looked to be the end of everything. You simply could see nothing but space beyond it. I looked over at Bobbie and said, "What the hell? You gotta die of something," and hit the gas. When we pulled into the end of the driveway, Doug and a girl named Kati were sitting on the porch smoking cigarettes. Kati squinted until she recognized Bobbie riding shotgun. Doug looked at Kati, sighed, and waved at us as if we had been expected.
   While Kati showed Bobbie the inside of Doug's house, the strange guy and I talked on the porch.
   He looked a lot worse than the first time I'd met him several months earlier. His eyes sunk into his face. His face sat pale on his thin neck and if he weighed 130, I would have lost a bet with myself.
   "Leukemia," he confirmed. "Had it for years. What the hell. Let's talk about you."
   "You aren't surprised we found you?"
   "Wondered what took you so long. How's our friend Boggs?"
   "Mysterious."
   Doug laughed. It was the first time I'd heard him do that.
   "He give you that cock and bull about the Eskimo broad? Yeah, sure he did. Truth is he was scared to get in a relationship with anybody, but a man his age has his pride. Speaking of which, I'm sorry about your wife. What's it been? Two years?"
   "Almost. No sense in me asking how you know about that. I never talk about it."
   "That's okay. Cubans."
   Where did that come from?
   "I don't mean Fidelistas, okay? I'm talking about anti-Castro Cubans. Every rotten thing that's happened in this country can be connected with them in some way. Who bugged the Watergate? Cubans. Who supplied the means for Iran-Contra? Cubans. Who killed Kennedy? You see the pattern, bud?"
    "Lot of stories have gone around for years. Never quite offers proof, though, does it?"
   "Proof? I picked up that package at the Biltmore. I picked up half a dozen  packages from Boggs over the last year. FBI documents. HSCA classified files. Everything but pictures. Now I've got those. More than enough to put dead men in jail. Now you're gonna have them. Kati!"
   She called back from inside the house.
   "Will you please bring those two briefcases out here?"
   She said she would.

   "How you doing today?"
   "Sitting on a rainbow."
   "Haw! I never heard that before."

   "How's your day going?"
   "Any better I'd have to kill myself."
   "Well, I don't know what to say."

   "How are you today, Phillip?"
   "Just fine, Marge. Just fine."

  Before I had written the first letter of the first word of the first sentence on the first page of my book, I received from the Special Agent in Charge of the Phoenix office of the FBI an invitation to arrive for a friendly interrogation.
  Even sitting behind his desk, Special Agent Martin Winters was a big man, although not much larger than your standard gas guzzling sports utility vehicle. His gun metal blue eyes never quite made contact with my own, giving the impression that he could look right into the person he addressed, or that he couldn't quite be bothered with whatever presumed lie that person was telling. His dark blue suit hung just about one size small, amplifying his considerable muscularity. His tanned face and hands declared a recent vacation and the gold Annapolis band on the ring finger of his left hand suggested advanced intelligence training. 
   "I suppose you know why we've brought you in this afternoon," he began with a booming resonance that would not have been misplaced in an opera house.
   I made a quick scan of his office, then turned my nervous smile back to him. His use of the first person plural struck me as quaint.
   As he continued, he occasionally made use of the drumming finger technique, suggesting that he was both impatient with these proceedings and trying to appear disengaged. He said, "Some difficulty exists in assessing the potential damage you may present to the continued legitimacy of our national institutions. You see, Mr Mershon, it is not the moral superiority of a country's institutions that are of concern--right and wrong being a matter of perception. It is the view of the people living in a given country that their institutions have a legitimate right to exist, that their elected and appointed officials are looking out for the best interests of the commonweal, as it were, rather than merely feathering their own nests, so to speak. Are we clear so far?"
   He did not wait for me to answer.
   "If this were any other time in our history, sir, within the context of thousands of books and articles published about various conspiracies to assassinate President Kennedy, the appearance of your book would be less than a minor distraction. However, this is not any other time in our history. This is now."
   Again I began to speak, but he waved me off.
   "Do you see the man in the photograph on the wall behind me?"
   I observed a framed picture of the President of the United States and nodded.
   Winters continued. "This man has done much to blur the once stark distinctions between reality and, shall we say, cartoonism. Should our country be in Vietnam, Panama, Iraq? Heretofore, reasonable Americans could disagree about such matters and could even express their disagreements with violence, give or take the consequences, for the simple reason that the underlying premises were never in doubt, i.e., we actually were involved militarily in those countries. But today CNN could report that our country was carpet bombing the penguins of Antarctica and one-third of the people wouldn't believe it, one-third would be suspicious and switch to a more biased cable news outlet to reinforce their suspicions, and another third would swear the penguins had it coming. Critical thinking, my good man, has become an anachronism. And now you come along prepared to publish what I may say to you in confidence appears to be the unvarnished and long-awaited truth about the Kennedy murder, the proceeds from which I understand are to go toward the financing of the fulfillment of some adolescent fantasy of yours. We in this office, and our colleagues in D.C., are, to say the least, concerned."
   I sneaked in a question. "You seem to be on the brink of making me an offer?  Or is it a threat?"
   His fingers drummed out a bit of Gene Krupa. "The Bureau does neither, my good sir. We do, however, and on the rarest of occasions, make arrangements. You are of course familiar with a man named Douglas Summers?"
   I admitted what he already knew.
   "Then you may have surmised that Mr Summers operates as a contract agent for various intelligence agencies, including this one. Oh, I know that in the old days our office would have arranged some type of witness protection operation for Summers. But due to the value of his continued, let us say, ambiguity in any number of extra-legal matters, we find it advantageous that he handle his own security. Summers possesses a degree of, shall we call it intuition, that has been of considerable value to our operations."
   "He is quite the intuitive fellow."
   "Yes. In any event, very much against the wishes of Mr Summers but nonetheless in keeping with the aims of the Bureau, we are prepared to facilitate the financing you would require to obtain and operate your, uh, gentlemen's club."
   "In exchange for?"
   "You agree to wait three years before publishing the information you have collected. We know you will publish it eventually. What we require is that you wait three years. By that time--"
   "The cartoon network will be off the air?"
   "Quite."    
   I said that I would pass.
   Krupa sat out.
   
   Between 1940 and 1956, George Metesky, a pissed off former ConEd employee, planted thirty-three bombs in New York City. Of those, twenty-two actually exploded, and over the course of those sixteen years, fifteen people suffered serious injuries. Police Captain James Cronin enlisted the services of a friend named James Brussel. Dr. Brussel happened to be a psychiatrist. The headshrinker studied the history of the bombings and came up with one of the first known criminal psychological profiles. He correctly predicted Metesky's age, religion, motivation, and even the fact that when apprehended, the suspect would be wearing a fully-buttoned double-breasted suit. Brussel's profile read in part: 
Male, as historically most bombers were male. Well proportioned and of average build, based on studies of hospitalized mental patients. Forty to fifty years old, as paranoia develops slowly. Precise, neat and tidy, based on his letters and the workmanship of his bombs. An exemplary employee, on time and well-behaved. A Slav, because bombs were favored in Middle Europe. A Catholic, because most Slavs were Catholic. Courteous but not friendly. Has a good education but probably not college. Foreign-born or living in a community of the foreign-born. A loner, no friends, little interest in women, possibly a virgin. Unmarried, perhaps living with an older female relative. Probably lives in Connecticut, as Connecticut has high concentrations of Slavs, and many of the bomber's letters were posted in Westchester County, midway between Connecticut and New York City.

    Metesky was arrested in early 1957 (wearing a fully-buttoned double-breasted suit), was sent to the Matteawan Institution for the Criminally Insane, which released him in 1973. He died in 1994, still angry at ConEd, but relatively harmless.

   One need not be a mad bomber to have a behavioral analysis run by the Criminal Profiling Division of the FBI. As the result of a Freedom of Information Act suit against the Bureau, I received a copy of my own. Here are some of the interesting parts:
    Subject attended Jesuit school education between ages of six and fourteen, after which time he transferred to traditional public high school. Impertinence towards authority likely stems from strictures of early education, yet subject expresses what might be termed a "quiet pride" in his knowledge of Greek and Latin.     Charming, though not gregarious, subject makes use of his considerable learned social skills to enhance personal aggrandizement while remaining a somewhat devout under achiever. Work history bears this out. Tested IQ of 165. Employment history more appropriate to that of high school drop out. Prefers working alone due to the psychological stress experienced while interacting with colleagues, many of whom he considers intellectually deficient. Subject has had above average number of sexual liaisons, though only two known long-term relationships, both of these resulting in marriage. First marriage lasted two years, ending when wife died in traffic accident caused by drunk driver. Second marriage duration was seven years. Interestingly, demise of second wife deemed due to alcohol abuse. Subject himself not known to abuse alcohol or drugs. Expresses a certain self-righteousness in this regard.    Overall assessment is that of a bright, urbane individualist who is facile in switching with chameleon-like skill to the embodiment of the very opposite. Literate, art-oriented, superficially apolitical, quick-tempered, sentimental--he enjoys the approval of others and dismisses as ignorant the values of those who would withhold their approval. While not opposed to criminal activities, potential loss of freedom serves to deter subject from major felonies. 
  As Rick Blaine said to Major Strasser upon reviewing his own dossier, "Are my eyes really brown?"

   Leverage. The FBI did not care about the revelations in my forthcoming book. What they cared about was getting someone close to Doug Summers. While I sat at my computer writing out the names of the JFK assassination conspirators, the FBI busied themselves with my list of clients from a few years earlier when I had worked as a private detective, mostly those who had been on the receiving end of a screwing by the mortgage divisions of banks and other financial institutions. 
   While many of those same clients still had outstanding monetary obligations to me, I had stayed afloat in those years by accepting work from a handful of nefarious types who were suspected of channeling funds to certain anti-fascist organizations within the United States and abroad. I soon began appearing before a seemingly endless series of grand juries. The Assistant U.S. Attorneys would invariably ask me to name names, something I resisted unless my former clients had agreed to it, which most, but not all, graciously did. 

   Defending myself against possible obstruction of justice charges became an expensive process and soon enough the funds in my safety deposit box dwindled to pocket change. 
   Leverage. Jail time and pauperization are two of the most effective.
   I approached Special Agent Winters about making a deal.
   He was happy to oblige.

   If you are going to have the FBI finance your nightclub, you might as well have it be the kind of nightclub you would enjoy yourself. So in addition to the abundant quantity of female entertainers on five stages and a prodigious top tier bar and full service kitchen, Fun also offered our guests a game room with billiards, snooker, tailgate toss, bocce, and darts. We made available an impressive (if seldom used) sound resistant library that featured hundreds of current and recent fiction/nonfiction bestsellers, along with American and English classics. We even had a ninety-seat self-contained movie theatre on the third floor where classic movie fans could enjoy the works of Altman, Kubrick, Spielberg and others. 
   My job was to run the place, which I did, mostly with the help of Bobbie Shields. My other job, my real job, was getting close to Doug Summers.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

THE ANARCHIST MEETS THE GANGSTER

    I am not writing this on a Sunday afternoon to bitch about such petty matters as how often things stink on ice. The reason I am writing it is to convince you to engage in the violent overthrow of the capitalist system. I might be joking, but only if the justice department gets tired of pursuing the gangster class. I'm no gangster. What I am is a revolutionary mofo, a dashing daredevil of a roustabout who thinks "Wild Thing" by the Troggs represents the complete and total spirit of life on this madly spinning orb, who believes in love as the ultimate force for change, who had the unearned privilege of spending the important part of his life with Lisa Ann, who has squandered most of his other privileges over the years (including some--let's face it--considerable writing talent, long-winded though that magnificent gift might be; never met a sentence yet I couldn't elongate with a semi-colon or two), and who loves those he loves with a sacred intensity and mentally disembowels those who cross him with evil intentions (and if you doubt this last point, check with a former high school English teacher, a former manager at American Express and a former Hertz employee, to name only a very few). 
   To repeat, I came from some degree of economic privilege, perhaps not in the same stratum as a well-known real estate fraud turned politician, but until I blew my largesse on wine women and song, I never wanted for anything. Being a proud underachiever, if not a card-carrying pragmatic anarchist, then certainly a member of a shrinking group of fifty-somethings whose liberal arts education led them to suspect that everything everyone from Walter Chronkite to Lester Holt ever said was nothing more or less than a meaty tranquilizer, I have come to have faith in the concept that each woman and man has a responsibility to prove John Donne's meditations correct when he wrote 

Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.    

The bells are clanging in all their tintinnabulating glory. Open your windows, play Woody Guthrie, bring Robert Altman back from the grave (little bit of danger in that last point because it was the Lazarus miracle that got Jesus killed, after all, and as Bob Dylan pointed out, you ain't Him) and in essence wake the fuck up. The bells are going mad. It's just hard to hear them over all the purposeful distractions the gangsters bang in our ears.
    I haven't the time to worry over symbolic bullshit such as Trump and Putin because real as they very well may be, they remain figureheads for a more severe malaise and its name is gangster capitalism, a term coined and misapplied by Michael Woodiwiss in his book by that name. Admittedly, as figureheads go, these two wield more power than Queen Elizabeth, a lovable and simpleminded wretch if ever one lived. But Putin and Trump, murderers both, are just freaks of nature, soulless imps whose skins hold back mountains of puking maggots. 
   The real gangsters are not on cable news. The real gangsters are cable news. The real gangsters own the music business. The real gangsters own your favorite ride sharing company. The real gangsters own the GMOs and drugs you buy to get healed from the effects of the GMOs. They own the trees and the water and the air that we breathe. 
    I should say, they think they own these things. The reality is that we own them by virtue of our virtue. They own them by right of their wealth and the limited smarts to know how to use it. We own them by virtue of our virtue. 
   But virtue is not virtue unless from time to time it slams up against vice. 
   That is where I come in quite handy.
   You reading this (for which I do thank you--these words mean nothing without you perceiving them, and while I'm about it, thanks to Descartes as well) know which camp you live in. You may have been imbued with the glow from whatever brand of spiritualism caught you in dire need. You may have inspired yourself from readings of suffrage or the Wobblies. You may tell jokes in a nightclub act while wondering if anything matters. You may have lost everything in this stinking rotten sinkhole of a world that ever mattered to you and wile away the hours trying to decide between a Phil Ochs hanging and a Marilyn Monroe overdose. I have done all of those things and more and I'm not even half as good as you. 
   But as you lie back loving the shit out of such pathetic self pity, you could decide which side of the battle you are on. As I see it, three sides exist.
   Side one: The virtuous side, those whom I presume will inherit the earth after sides two and three have wiped one another out. These are the adherents of the non-revisionist New Testament Jesus, of Gandhi, of King, and of thousands more whose names have washed away with the changing of a TV channel.
   Side two: The vice side, those who will perish in whatever conflagration comes from such beauty as the repeated bombing of Chicago's Haymarket statue (the city finally had to hide the damned statue to keep people from blowing it up); the early labor organizers who beat the bile out of the white cops who were doing their job even though their job was against their own best interest and therefore in these parts had every stitch coming; the women of the early 20th century who defied their own fears and faced down unimaginable ridicule for the right to vote in meaningless elections; the Nat Turners, the John Browns--in short, the people who make the work of the Jesuses and Gandhis and Kings possible. 
   Side three: the people whose souls get gobbled up by the gangster capitalists. Around here we call these people idiot consumers, those who fight for their right to party, those who may be irked by the status quo but who, when the rubber meets the diaphragm, will sell you out for a prime spot in line at Wal Mart on Black Fucking Friday.
   You have some kind of special talent yourself. You can do one or more things better than other people. That's great. Congratulations. What matters is using it, be it virtuous or vicious in its implications. While you're deciding, Exxon is melting the ice caps. And they think it's funny.

Monday, February 26, 2018

SELF ASSESSMENT

Pro: Very kind and gentle with women, children, dogs, cats, horses  and birds.
Con: Is not super fond of reptiles, amphibians, mountain-dwelling felines and rats.

Pro: Knows more about American movies released between 1939 and 1992 than both Siskel and Ebert ever did.
Con: Will prove this point if permitted.

Pro: Extraordinarily hard worker.
Con: Wants you to know this and occasionally praise him for it.

Pro: Has memorized every popular song recorded between 1954 and 1985.
Con: Struggles to insert this knowledge into inappropriate conversations. A wop bop a lu bop a wop bam boom. 

Pro: Can learn new things quickly.
Con: Has not bothered to learn most advantageous things such as driving a stick or most other automotive niceties.

Pro: Will try any kind of new food.
Con: Obsesses over this.

Pro: Remains an excellent writer. Considers himself one of the best.
Con: Tends to snipe inappropriately at other excellent writers.

Pro: Does not smoke. He vapes.
Con: Rather intolerant of those who do smoke.

Pro: Can make damn near anybody laugh without effort.
Con: Can piss off the very same people without trying.

Pro: Has survived horrific life experiences which would have killed a normal man.
Con:  Brought many of those horrific experiences on himself.

Pro: While he eschews the label "intellectual," he is very much an analytical and critical thinker who can apply historical antecedents to contemporary scenarios.
Con: Does not  give a shit about most contemporary matters, except for the fact that he is zeroing in on sixty years of age, a fact which distresses him.

Pro: Is faithful.
Con: Remains unrealistic in expecting reciprocity in matters of the heart.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

BABY BLUE EYES

 Baby Blue Eyes

by Phil Mershon

i. Overhead establishing shot of a city darkened by an impending storm. The nattering of crickets far below is shattered by a lightning strike that coincides with the lights twinkling on in a large hospital. The word "Dignity" flickers an obscene orange that attempts to brighten the smattering of cars in the parking lot.

ii. A Dodge Durango swings into the drive-up in front of the hospital. A man of about fifty emerges, rattled, worried, confused--yet with a determined pace. As he emerges, he kills the engine, uses the fob to lock the door, double checks it, then checks it again. We follow him as the electronic glass door slowly opens. The man, with some impatience, grabs the edge of the door and tries to force the door to open quicker. Match-cut to:

iii. PHIL entering hospital in considerable haste. The overly bright lights inside the building jar us a bit in contrast to the darkness outside a few seconds earlier. We follow PHIL from the front as he ignores voices that inquire "Sir, may I help you? Sir? Sir? Someone call security." He pulls himself one way and another, finally finding an elevator, then disregards it for a stairwell. He slams open the stairwell door which slams back at him. He responds with a violent kick and huffs up the stairs, disgorging himself into a hallway replete with nurses who are speaking into telephones. No doctors are present. Seeing someone he recognizes, he stops.

iv. BETTY stands outside a patient room with her husband JERRY. Both carry the weight of exhaustion borne of prolonged fear.

                                   PHIL
Have either of you seen her doctor?

JERRY shakes his head;  BETTY does likewise.


                                  BETTY
Her nurse talked to her. Lisa didn't want us in there, but you know me.

                                    PHIL
They're kicking her out?

                                    JERRY
They say now that she's stable--

                                   BETTY
She's still sick, Phil.

                                   PHIL
I was just here two hours ago. This is crazy. Who is her nurse?

                                   BETTY
Her name is Sheila. She's over at the station.

We follow PHIL as he spins and approaches the nurses' station.


                                  PHIL
Which one of you is Sheila?

All three nurses look up. From the left we see the shadow of an approaching security guard. 

                                  SHEILA
You must be Phillip. You will be taking Ms. Terzo home this evening, I understand?

                                  PHIL
She's not going anywhere. I don't know if you noticed, but there's one hell of a storm outside--

                                  SHEILA
Her doctor has already signed her discharge papers. We were just waiting for you.

                                  SECURITY GUARD
Everything all right, Sheila?

                                  SHEILA
I think so, Carl. Phillip, Ms. Terzo met with our social worker a few minutes ago and they discussed the post-release options available to you--

                                  PHIL
We--I have been through this bullshit half a dozen times at other hospitals. She comes in close to death from alcohol withdrawal. You give her benzos and monitor her until you think she won't die, then you kick her out, she comes home and she has two choices: she can start drinking again or she can start having seizures again. Which would you pick? 

                                   SHEILA
As we explained to your wife, if she does begin to seize up, you should call 911 immediately.

                                    PHIL
Or you can write her a script for some kind of benzo so that doesn't happen.

                                   SHEILA
Only her physician of record can do that and since he has already signed her discharge--

                                   PHIL
Get him out here right now.

                                   SHEILA
I can page him. He has left for the evening.

                                   PHIL
We're not going anywhere. You page that bastard. I want to see you page him.

                                  SECURITY GUARD
Sir, maybe you should try to calm down.

                                 SHEILA
I'm paging him right now.

                                 PHIL
Looking at Security Guard: We're not going anywhere.

v. PHIL, BETTY, JERRY enter LISA's room together. We see a woman in her mid-forties, very groggy, but trying to sit up. 

                                 LISA
Well, babe, here we go again, huh?

                                 PHIL
I'm going to try to get you some medicine so you don't get sick after we get back to the house.

                                LISA
Mom says it's raining?

                                 PHIL
It aint dry, that's for sure.

                                 BETTY
She still cant walk.

                                 JERRY
We called a bunch of facilities to see if we could get her some help, but they won't take her--

                                 LISA
They say I'm not ambulatory so they wont take me.

                                 PHIL
Cocksuckers.

                                 DOCTOR NELSON
Someone here asked to speak with me.

vi. DOCTOR NELSON is a human poster for the word "no."

vii. Inside Durango, PHIL drives as LISA rides shotgun, clearly in some discomfort. The wipers sweep the torrential rain, wind buffets the large SUV. Both PHIL and LISA are smoking.

                                   LISA
Are the dogs freaking out?


                                   PHIL
I dont know. It hadnt really started raining much when I left. They're fine. It's you I'm worried about.

                                   LISA
I can get to the house. 

                                   PHIL
Hey, if I need to carry you, that's what I'll do. Dont worry about that.

                                    LISA
You cannot carry me.

                                    PHIL
No, probably not. 

                                    LISA
We'll be okay.

                                    PHIL
Yes. Yes. We will. 

                                    LISA
I'm very sorry.

                                    PHIL
You dont have one damned thing to be sorry about.

                                    LISA
I have to quit drinking. It's killing me.

                                    PHIL
You're doing more than your share. These doctors are all just scum. All they care about is their insurance payments. Keep little Blue Eyes til she's stable, then kick her to the curb.

                                    LISA
The dogs are okay?

                                    PHIL
They're good. They missed you.


viii. Twenty-seven years earlier. LISA emerges from an old orange El Camino and steps into a vast parking lot that surrounds American Express. She sports a snazzy purse over one arm and carries a briefcase from the other. She looks at the enormity of the building she is about to enter and sighs. 

                                     LISA
Well, kiddo. This is the first day of the rest of your life.

ix. Interior. Human Resources office. LISA meets with DAHLIA, the HR manager.

                                     DAHLIA
I am confident you will be impressed with the professionalism of the Credit Authorization's department here at American Express. As you and I discussed during your orientation, this is a very high pressure job. You will learn to make decisions that directly affect our Cardmembers and Service Establishments at the point of sale, but despite the pressure, you will learn to appreciate the value of a professional demeanor. 
                     
x. Interior--Credit Authorizations Department. Ten trainees, including LISA, are seated in front of CRTs awaiting instructions from a long-haired young man wearing a bright red sports jacket, James Dean necktie, jeans and sneakers. His wardrobe contrasts wildly from those of everyone else in the large room.

                                         PHIL
All right, fellow babies! It is time to get wild with those phones and computers. I'm sure we have lots of customers waiting--(shouting) Jeff! How many calls in queue?

                                        JEFF
(From control desk across the room) Thirty-seven!

                                        PHIL
Good God in heaven. Well, everybody key in those magical numbers--Who remembers the numbers to make yourself available? Lisa?

                                        LISA
Sixty-six?

                                       PHIL
Oh yeah! Give that woman a gold star! Who has the gold stars?

KAREN comes running from across the room and sticks a gold star on LISA's computer.

                                        PHIL
I know you're all scared and that's good! Let's rock and roll all night--

                                       ALL TEN
And party every day!

                                      PHIL
God, that's why I love you! Sixty-six those bad ass machines!

xi. Interior. PHIL's apartment. JEFF, KAREN, LISA and PHIL drinking beer from cans.

                                      JEFF
I was monitoring some of your calls yesterday.

                                      LISA
Mine? Why?

                                      JEFF
Part of the job, schweetheart. Part of the job. Like I told Karen and Phil, you just let everything slide off your back. Listen, she was picking up a card from some deadbeat, ninety days passed due, guy had been told not to use the card ten minutes earlier. She's very nice to the guy: "Sir, I have no choice but to have the merchant return your  card to American Express." He screams at her and she just listens politely and finally the guy wears himself out and hands the phone back to the sales clerk. Lisa just smiles and gives her the address. Anybody else just starting out would have freaked.

                                         KAREN
She had a good trainer.

                                         PHIL
Naw, there's something special about our Lisa Ann. You really are amazing. You just never get rattled.

                                         LISA
If I don't get home soon, Brian is liable to get rattled and I don't need to come to work tomorrow with a black eye.

                                        KAREN
Of course, you're joking.


                                        LISA
Of course, I'm not.

                                        PHIL
Well, Jeff. What do you think?

                                        JEFF
She definitely doesn't need a black eye.

                                        PHIL
Let's break her out of there.

                                        JEFF
I don't know.

                                         LISA
Break me out? What're you talking about?

                                        PHIL
You like being a prisoner in your own home? You like being scared all the time?

                                        LISA
I don't have any place else to go. How would I move my stuff?

                                        JEFF
You could move in here with Phil. Right?


                                        PHIL
Um. . .Yes! You could move in with me.

                                        KAREN
Or with me.

                                        LISA
Do you know karate?

                                        PHIL
Is that a prerequisite for cohabitation these days?

                                       LISA
Brian does. He's a black belt. So are his friends.

                                       PHIL
Okay, so while I distract Brian, the three of you can sneak her stuff into the trunk.

                                       LISA
How are you going to distract him?

xii. Tight shot of BRIAN punching PHIL in the face, knocking him down the outdoor staircase. BRIAN's friend, who resembles a sumo wrestler, lifts PHIL under the arms and BRIAN delivers a series of blows to PHIL's chest and face. A car horn honks and we pivot to see LISA and KAREN inside LISA's car. They are motioning for PHIL to hurry up.

                                     PHIL
I'll--be--right--there.

BRIAN gives PHIL a couple more love taps and we cut to:

xiii.  LISA dabbing iodine on PHIL's face. He winces. 


                                     LISA
You know, I have to go back.


                                     PHIL
That's. . . insane.

                                     LISA
I didn't get my cassette tapes. I have to get them back.

                                     PHIL
Tapes? What are you talking about?

                                     LISA
I left my Cheap Trick tapes. I need them back.

                                     PHIL
I will personally buy you everything Cheap Trick ever recorded. I'll get you a meeting with Bun E. Carlos. You are not going back.

                                      LISA
Are you sure about that?

                                      PHIL
I am positive.

                                      LISA
Okay. If you say so. Now, what about the sleeping arrangements?

                                      PHIL
If you have to ask, that means I'll be sleeping on the couch and you get the bed.

                                      LISA
You don't mind?

                                       PHIL
I'll just take another in a series of cold showers. It's fine.

                                        LISA
Karen has a crush on you, you know?

                                       PHIL
It's never gone beyond the "crush on me" stage.

                                       LISA
If you say so.

                                       PHIL
I do say so. 

                                      LISA
But you have dated other employees.

                                       PHIL
I have not, however, invited any of them to live with me.

                                        LISA
Or rescued them from an abusive relationship?

                                        PHIL
Correct. Now, if you don't mind, I'm going to collapse now. Over there. On the sofa.

                                        LISA
Good night. I do love you.

                                        PHIL
Love you too, Baby Blue Eyes.

xiv. A few days have passed. Interior PHIL's apartment. Evening. The walls are plastered with Cheap Trick posters and"Surrender" is blasting from the stereo speakers. LISA and PHIL are dancing. LISA is  holding a beer, PHIL a Coke.

                                       PHIL
Did I tell you about the Lead position that's opening?

                                        LISA
Isn't that your job?

                                     PHIL
They're adding another one. I was talking with Jeff and he thinks you'll get it if you apply.

                                      LISA
No kidding.

                                       PHIL
I never kid.

                                       LISA
You kid all the time.

                                      PHIL
I thought you'd be more excited.

                                      LISA
I'm sure it's a great opportunity. Did I ever tell you about Greg?

The record ends, as does the dance.

                                       PHIL
You did not.

                                        LISA
I thought I did.


                                       PHIL
I think you didn't.

                                        LISA
He's this great guy I used to know back in Iowa. 


                                       PHIL
I hope you're not moving back to Iowa.

                                        LISA
He's moving here. He got a job with Sprint. 

                                        PHIL
Well, hey, well, hey.

                                        LISA
We were, you know, good friends in Iowa.

                                        PHIL
I see where this is headed.

                                        LISA
You and I agreed when you let me stay here that this was just temporary, that we were going to be just friends.

                                       PHIL
I'd say the "just friends" went out the window a few nights ago.

                                       LISA
Phil, that was just--

                                       PHIL
Yep, that was just--

                                        LISA
You didn't let me finish.

                                        PHIL
What I know is that once in a life time, if a person is very lucky, he meets someone who makes him understand himself, who gives him a reason to be better than the day before.

                                        LISA
Look, you already know how great you are. There are so many girls at American Express who would--

                                        PHIL
And none of them come close, dammit. Okay. Look, no strings, just like we agreed. No strings. When does this Craig person get here?

                                         LISA
Greg. His name is Greg. He got here two nights ago. He signs the lease on the apartment tomorrow. I'm giving notice to the company the day after.

                                        PHIL
Wow. Well, the mature thing would be for me to wish you all the best.

                                        LISA
Thank you. I know you'll like him. I've told him all about you.


                                        PHIL
But I never was all that mature.

We hold on LISA as she studies PHIL's face. FADE.

xv. Exterior. Rocky Point beach front. Evening. KAREN, JEFF, LISA and GREG are sitting around a campfire laughing, drinking beer, except for LISA, who is sipping a Coke.

                                         GREG
How are things at American Express these days?

                                         JEFF
Forty in queue, deadbeats screaming, everyone needs an emergency card replacement yesterday.

                                           KAREN
And we all miss Lisa Ann.


                                        LISA
I am quite content being a house wife.

                                       GREG
Technically, a house girlfriend. But that will be changing.

                                       KAREN
Oh really? Do I hear wedding bells?


                                        LISA
You may have noticed I'm not drinking?

                                        JEFF
I noticed.

                                       KAREN
Yep. Noticed that.

                                      GREG
You're dying to tell them. Go ahead.

                                      LISA
Greg got a promotion.

                                       GREG
And. . .

                                       LISA
And we're having a little baby.

                                       KAREN
Wow! Congratulations! That's great!

                                        JEFF
Better than having a grown up. Damn, that would hurt.

                                      KAREN
When?

                                       LISA
End of October.

                                       GREG
Right. We're hoping not on Halloween.

                                       KAREN
That would be scary.

                                       JEFF
I was gonna say that!

                                        KAREN
A baby! That s just wonderful.

                                        LISA
So we are getting married and you all have to promise to visit us all the time.

                                        JEFF
I just love babies.

                                        LISA
Don't say anything to Phil, okay? I want to tell him myself.

                                        KAREN
Greg, have you ever met Phil?

                                        GREG
Yeah! He used to visit once in a while. Haven't seen him in a few months, though.

                                         LISA
How is he doing?

                                        KAREN
Still hyper. Still crazy. Just. . .

                                        JEFF
He's fine.

                                        LISA
I thought since he hasn't been around that he might be seeing someone.

                                        JEFF
No. He tells me whenever that happens. Nope. Just working lots of  overtime. Pissing off the bosses.

                                        KAREN
Do you know if it's a girl or a boy?

                                         GREG
We want to be surprised.

                                         LISA
We were already surprised.


                                          JEFF
Yeah. Hey, let's have some more hot dogs. I'm gonna be an uncle, I'm gonna be an uncle.


xvi. PHIL's apartment. Dining room table. DAHLIA and PHIL are drinking coffee.

                                             DAHLIA
 I wanted you to hear it from me. The company is bringing in some new leadership. Management leadership. Three women who worked together at Nabisco. They call them Change Elements.

                                             PHIL
You don't look all that happy about it.

                                             DAHLIA
I'm HR. It won't affect me.


                                             PHIL
You're saying it will affect me?

                                             DAHLIA
I'm saying they will find your approach to authority discomforting. These three women--they favor leaders with jackets and ties.

                                             PHIL
I wear a jacket and tie.

                                              DAHLIA
They like things a bit more conformist. 

                                              PHIL
I will need a new career, it seems. You know, if I could be a thing instead of a person, I'd love to be a train. You know, taking people from one city to another, connecting long lost lovers, commuting people to work.

                                             DAHLIA
How do you know you wouldn't be  a train taking Jews to Auschwitz? 

                                               PHIL
What  the hell do you mean by that?

                                               DAHLIA
What I mean--What you need to understand--is that the present management has been using you. Sure, they've turned a blind eye to your eccentricities. But only because your weirdness gets people to work harder. The employees work hard for you because they think you defy authority. The bosses let you get away with it for just that reason. These three women--they just won't care about that. They would rather tank the department than suffer your insolence.

                                               PHIL
I hate them already. (Phone rings. PHIL answers)

                                               LISA
How have you been? I've missed you!

                                               PHIL
Me too. Where are you?

                                               LISA
We are packing. Greg got transferred to Michigan. Lauren and I are meeting him there first of the week.

                                              PHIL
I need to see you.

                                              LISA
Why don't you take us out for pizza?

                                              PHIL
Remember that place on 7th Avenue?

xvii. This scene is a montage of current and then-future images that bring us to a new present tense. [Note: While the sequence and details of these events are not necessarily chronologically accurate or specifically accurate, it is hoped that they retain the proper flavor of real events.]1. LISA, LAUREN (age three) and PHIL in a pizza joint. LISA and PHIL are eating pizza, laughing, as LAUREN playfully looks on with some contentment at how comfortable the two grown-ups are together. 2. LISA in a hospital giving birth to  GERRIT, her second child. 3. A nine-year-old LAUREN learning to play the violin; a six-year-old GERRIT watching the movie Wayne's World, while LISA and GREG argue in the background, while BETTY and JERRY try to ignore the argument. 4. A teenage LAUREN taking karate lessons while GERRIT rides his skateboard. 5. LISA and GREG signing a divorce settlement. 6. PHIL being walked out of American Express as "the three women" nod with smug approval. 7. LISA starting a new job at Red Rock--the people there nodding in delighted approval. 8. PHIL driving a taxi with confused and not-altogether-happy passengers in the back seat. 9. LISA getting the keys to her new home. 10. LISA reading dunning notices from the mortgage company. 11. LAUREN marrying ADRIAN at an Elvis chapel in Las Vegas with LISA,  GERRIT, BETTY, JERRY, GREG and others in attendance. 12. PHIL getting assaulted by several men outside a  closed coffee shop on Christmas Eve. FADE.

xviii. Hospital room. PHIL is waking up badly bruised from the attack. We see his confused reaction as he recognizes the person standing beside his bed: LISA.

                                       PHIL
Blue Eyes! What--

                                        LISA
The hospital called me. My number was in your wallet. You've been--The nurse says you're going to be in some pain for a little while. Christ, man! You were beat up.

                                       PHIL
I was--

                                       LISA
A police officer was in to see you an hour ago. You were out of it.

                                       PHIL
I don't really hurt.

                                       LISA
You're on a morphine drip. You probably don't feel much. 

A social worker enters.

                                      SOCIAL WORKER
Mr. Mershon! I'm Gladys, a social worker from Maricopa County!

                                       PHIL
Why are you shouting?

                                       SOCIAL WORKER
Your nurse made our office aware of what happened to you and I am here to guide you through the process of receiving the services you need to better understand what happened to you.

                                       PHIL
No, thank you.

                                       SOCIAL WORKER
Excuse me, is this Mrs. Mershon? (Indicating LISA)

                                        LISA
(Starts to say "No" but is cut off)

                                        PHIL
My wife, yes. You may speak freely.

                                        SOCIAL WORKER
According to the police report, you were last evening sexually assaulted by an undetermined number of men at 8211 West Union Hills Drive. Is that correct?

                                         PHIL
And if I were, what makes you think I would want to discuss it with some trainee who won't even be in this job in two years? Get out of here.

                                        SOCIAL WORKER
Sir, I certainly understand--

                                         PHIL
You don't understand anything. Sal de aqui. Sors d'ici. Raus hier. Get out of here. 

Social Worker exits.

                                          LISA
So I'm your wife, huh?

                                         PHIL
You always were, Blue Eyes. You just didn't know it. I want you to come live with me.

                                         LISA
You don't know what you're offering.

                                         PHIL
Sure, I do.

                                          LISA
No, you don't. I have a big dog, two parrots and rooms full of stuff. Plus, I drink.

                                         PHIL
Okay, so maybe I don't have room for all that. We'll get a new place together. 

                                          LISA
Did I mention the dog and the birds?

                                          PHIL
You did.

                                           LISA
All my stuff?

                                         PHIL
Yep.

                                          LISA
I'm an alcoholic.

                                         PHIL
I don't care.

                                         LISA
I can't even work. I hate to leave the house. I'm--not in great shape emotionally.

                                        PHIL
I won a suit against American Express for wrongful termination. Got myself a pissed off attorney who eats corporate fucks for breakfast and picks his teeth with rusty chains. Don't get me wrong. I'm not rich, but I've got about twenty-five grand saved up.

                                       LISA
We could rent a house.

                                       PHIL
Absolutely.

                                       LISA
Lauren could help us find a place.

                                       PHIL
Then that's a yes?

                                       LISA
I guess it is.

                                       PHIL
Whoo-hoo! Then get me the hell out of here, will you?

xix. Tight shot on sign that says Quartros 2. As we pull back, we see this is an old town home community that has likely seen better days. Down a winding road we see the Durango pull in with LISA at the wheel, Cody the Dog to her side, as if guiding her, and boxes of belongings in the rear of the vehicle.

xx. Moving van is already  parked in front of the Durango. Two men are unloading a piano, hope chest, two cages of parrots.

xxi. Interior of their town home. PHIL carrying boxes up the stairs, LISA arranging the bird cages, Cody sniffing everything.

xxii. LISA and PHIL sleeping in sleeping bags next to the front door. He is dead to the world. Her eyes are open wide.

xxiii. LISA on telephone with a prospective customer.

                                         LISA
Yes, Mr Remington, I agree. But that has nothing to do with building your website. Our staff will have your beautiful new website up, running and ready to make money for you within forty-eight hours. Pardon me? No! No, those other companies are ripping you off. We only charge ninety-nine dollars for one full year. What I need to get from you now is the Visa or Mastercard you will use to pay for this. Pardon? I see. Would you prefer oatmeal or chocolate chip? Well, since you are being childish, I thought cookies might be good before your nap time. What's that? Okay. Your number is 5426. . .

PHIL enters room and he and LISA exchange a high five.