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That hazy blurred photograph was all I had to go on. I’d come all the way up, deep into the Valley, onto that vague carpet of suburbia some hack town planner blindly kicked off into the distance, just to get this photograph. I hate it up here. Awful little fauxdobe terracotta topped building blocks as far as the eye can bear to see all lined up waiting for the Big One to come and spare them the shame of their own crass form. Inside these cubes lies a community that all suddenly decided to tune in, get fat, find God, and sit in front of the tube allowing their bodies to congeal and wilt, and their brains to pickle and stew. They want to prune their little lawns and protect them with obnoxious sprinklers that spray onto the sidewalk preventing you from passing. Like they’ve hired some huge drunken dick to piss through a sieve. Going into the San Fernando Valley was like wading up to your knees in the Mid West.
The photograph in question was an amateur portrait of some soldier. Some handsome young military buck who probably knocked up some young thing and left Pasadena under the mask of the evening, leaving his poor old lady behind to fend for herself. Part of me doesn’t blame him. I couldn’t allow myself to recede like a dying house cat into this tragic gorge, and the tone of voice on the message his old lady left me was pretty God damn irritating. Nasal. I can’t stand a nasal woman, particularly when she’s getting on my wick about something. But the other part of me says that you don’t sneak out like some piece of shit coward. You go out like a man, and take whatever scorn she throws at you on your chin.
She’d left a message around 2am last night. I was snuggly incubated by a near quart of some cheap blushed rye that had left a thick film on my tongue and rasp in my throat. I was out. I might’ve appeared dead from ten feet had it not been for the pungent scent of a good, hard second-hand drunk that filled the air. I woke up at 10:15. My mouth tasted like brined old leather and my head felt like it’d been tumble dried with an ashtray full of loose change. After months of little tastes here and there, the odd stumble and slur, there was now a solid case to convict me of falling haplessly from the wagon.
I saw the answer machine blinking its red light at me through a gap in my fingers. I rolled over and slapped the buttons hoping I didn’t hit delete again. Her nasal voice started up like a tiny little leaf blower. I’ll spare you the peas and carrots and get to the meat and potatoes. Her husband was gone and she needed someone to find him. She looked in the phonebook and that ad I told those pig fuckers to remove caught her eye. She called me crying, scared, and explained what she needed me to do.
So here we are. Driving back from her ghastly place with nothing to go on but this blurred image she left for me in an envelope under the plant pot on her porch. No sign of nothing else. I decided to stop in at the liquor store and buy another quart of that rye. I thought it best to go home at once, wonder at the blurred image of this young cadet while I throw out a towel, kick back and marinade in the petri at the base of this here bottle of sweet, sweet rye.
Ahhh, to be back.