america the damned - 003
chapter 3: america, go fuck yourself
and god bless
san francisco 2003
america was returning to The City over the Golden Gate when the cheese caught up with him.
Stopping at the first gas station – a Chevron in the Marina – he asked politely for the restroom key. The attendant, a rotund bald man with a pair of blue Dickies drooping around his lower ass region, sighed audibly while fiddling with a radio on the counter. Without looking at america, the fat man casually pointed at a cardboard sign hovering high above his head.
Tapping his fingertips nervously on the counter, america beseeched: “Come on man, it’s an emergency! Please, I’ll buy something. I swear.”
His focus remaining on the radio, the attendant ignored america’s plea.
Defeated, america lurched back outside and scanned the area for other possibilities.
There were none.
His gastrointestinal system growling, america broke into an awkward sprint towards the nearest alley. Pulling napkins out of his briefcase and squatting against a dumpster that reeked of used motor oil, he tried to shit discreetly.
While it was not the first time that america had been forced to excrete publicly in broad daylight, it nevertheless troubled him immensely that even his body’s most basic functions were not working properly.
With a quick wipe, he stepped gingerly out of the alley. He felt awful for whomever would go dumpster diving that evening, but he let the feeling pass as he just couldn’t deal with his own shit anymore.
Casually adjusting his clothing, he returned to the gas station – where to his dismay he discovered that his MG had been booted.
america rushed back inside to confront the attendant.
“Excuse me, but um, there’s a fucking boot on my car.”
The fat man – still twiddling with the radio – merely nodded his head towards a sign dangling from a string on the station’s glass front door.
VIOLATORS WILL BE TOWED
AT VEHICLE OWNER’S EXPENSE
america pounded his fist on the counter as he barked: “Give me a fucking break! I was just trying to take a shit, man. My car was only there for like two minutes. Half of which time, I was fighting with you about using the restroom.”
The fat man sat mute.
Exasperated, america exhaled loudly and grabbed the nearest candy bar.
“Alright, I’ll fucking buy this Snickers if that’ll satisfy you.”
america thrust the candy bar at the man behind the counter.
Finally looking up at america, the fat man smacked his lips together as he proclaimed: “I don’t run no charity here, chief. I can take the boot off. But it’ll cost ya.”
Rubbing the unruly stubble on his chin, the fat man smirked – revealing a mouth with plenty of gum but few teeth.
“Fifty bucks. And that’s cash. Seventy, if it’s credit. No checks.”
america nearly leapt across the counter – hollering: “Seventy dollars! That’s fucking highway robbery. I’ll call the cops on your ass.”
“Go right ahead there, chief. This here’s private property, I got the law on my side. I can have that vehicle towed and then you’ll have to pay one-fifty to get it back.”
The fat man cracked his knuckles noisily.
“Those are your options. Either way, you lose. One way, you lose less and I win a little. It’s just good business. What’s so wrong with that?”
“I’ll tell you what’s wrong with that! You’re an asshole. That’s what’s fucking wrong with that. Dickhead.”
america threw the candy down on the counter and stormed outside – slamming the door behind him.
The fat man squealed after him: “You’ll be back, stinky!”
“They always come back,” he spat as he returned his attention to the radio.
Pacing the parking lot and occasionally kicking his tire in frustration, america was so pissed off that he was afraid that he’d go back inside and throttle the motherfucker. So he decided to go for a walk. To calm himself down.
Taking one last angry look at the boot, he resigned himself to dealing with the car later.
He walked for a mile and a half – uphill – before he began to feel winded.
Catching the MUNI at the corner of Lombard and Gough, he felt strange – like everyone was staring at him – as he made his way to the rear of the bus.
Then he smelled it. Shit.
Contorting himself to look at his backside, he saw that he had crap all down the back of his pants. It was like summer camp all over again – with that big bully Tommy Torkleson punching him in the arm and calling him, “poopy pants.”
america wanted to cry, but he just stared out the window and acted like he was nuts – muttering gibberish to himself. Ultimately, everyone just ignored him. Crazy people were like billboards in The City. Ubiquitous.
Nobody sat within ten rows of him.
As it neared downtown, the bus gradually filled up. With the bulk of the riders gathering near the front, the driver eventually stopped and walked towards the rear – approaching america.
“Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
america put up no resistance. He simply walked the last ten blocks back to the office. No one even asked him for spare change. He felt like a bum.
After a long hot shower, america tossed his soiled pants and underwear into a plastic garbage bag. Like a ten-year old who’d wet his bed, he plotted to covertly discard the evidence of his humiliation by leaving the bag in the building’s public restroom later when no one was around.
He couldn’t believe that this was the point he’d reached in life – coming up with elaborate ways to secretly dispose of his own shit-stained clothes. He was falling apart. Imploding.
Looking in the mirror, he asked, What the fuck’s wrong with me?
Unable to answer his own query, he put on his robe – never wanting to wear clothes or go outside again – and started to read over the documents that Texas Joe had sent.
The phone kept ringing, but america chose not to answer it and, instead, muted the machine.
The documents contained scant information. Nothing america didn’t already know. There was a brief synopsis on Sirhan Sirhan and the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy.
Sirhan was a loner. He was angry and he was Arab. Like the disenchanted communist Oswald, he was another perfect patsy. Allegedly, he became convinced that Kennedy was part of a Zionist conspiracy to put down the Palestinians and decided it was his solemn duty to eliminate the Senator.
Kennedy was killed just after giving his victory speech for the key California Democratic presidential primary at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. It was June 5, 1968. Two months and one day after Martin Luther King had been gunned down in Memphis.
Bobby had given a speech full of hope and promise for a better tomorrow. Then – as he was exiting the hotel’s convention room – he was shot dead. It was a tumultuous scene, yet the consensus of the witnesses was that the brown man nabbed in the kitchen had been the one who’d done the deed.
Officially, this version of events has never been disputed. However, Sirhan has consistently proclaimed his innocence.
And there has long been conspiracy theories about what really happened that day. The most popular theory – as is often the case – being based on disturbing evidence that undermined the official story.
america knew this theory well.
The coroner concluded that Kennedy had been shot from very close range since there were powder burns on his wounds. Also, the entry wounds were on his back. Contrary to this physical evidence, the witnesses all agreed that Sirhan never got closer than a few feet from RFK and that he’d shot the Senator from the front.
It had always been Sirhan’s contention that he had no idea what happened that evening. Thus, the theory postulates that he was in a dissociative trance – and that anyone who’d seen The Manchurian Candidate was keen to the fact that the CIA had been toying with the idea of hypnotized covert assassins for years via its top-secret MK-ULTRA program. Sirhan was just a pawn used to distract the crowd while the real killer did his job and escaped unscathed.
A lesser known theory was that Sirhan really was the killer and that the contradictory evidence can be attributed to the fact that the crowd was hypnotized. Somehow, either through trance powers – or possibly some type of magical weapon – Sirhan managed to perform the hit and convince everyone in the room that they saw something else entirely. He only erred in his escape.
Texas Joe had not included any documents as to this alternate theory. An omission that america found to be rather peculiar. If someone wanted the gun bad enough to frighten Joe, then it had to be for some reason beyond the kitsch value of owning a piece of assassination history. No one gave a shit about RFK’s murder anymore – even the Kennedys thought the Ambassador Hotel should be torn down. Nope, this unknown client had to be someone who believed that the gun possessed mystical powers. Why else would they want the fucking thing?
america was beginning to sense that Joe wasn’t being entirely truthful, especially in light of the bullshit dossier that he’d sent as to the identity of the client. It claimed the mystery man was a Mike Hunt Hitches – an old alias that a he-hawing Joe would always use for code reds back in the day – who claimed to be a Holocaust survivor that had made a fortune in computer chips and vowed to use his massive wealth to end gun violence in his lifetime.
america found this bunk story to be insulting to his intelligence.
Rubbing his eyes, america set the documents down and wondered why Joe was acting so disrespectful to him.
Too many questions and not enough leads. america felt like giving up, and telling the crazy Texan to go fuck himself for real.
He could call Annetta and ask her to run away with him to the South Pacific, where they could live out their remaining days walking barefoot on the sand – staring at the ocean. Samoa sounded ideal.
No more sleepless nights. No more investigating why people kill. No more drunken stupors. No more loneliness. No more shitting in alleyways.
Run away. That’s exactly what he should do – he knew it deep inside – but he kept reading regardless.
The amount of money being floated by this Mr. Hitches was truly impressive. The dummy corporation already had over a hundred thousand dollars spread throughout a maze of bank accounts in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands. One FedEx package alone contained ten grand in small bills. Whoever this client actually was, he most certainly was not fucking around.
Overwhelmed and unsure what else to do, america decided to start drinking early. So he took a wad of cash and headed off to the bar.
Paddy’s Pub was hopping that evening. The place was completely packed.
After shooting the shit and buying a few rounds for the regulars – and more than a few for himself – america finally felt at peace enough with his body to have something to eat. He ordered a grilled cheese with french fries. As was his custom, he sat in a corner booth to savor his food alone.
Some sporting event was on the television and everyone was blurting out their expert opinions as to what the home team should do to win. america never paid much attention to such games.
Leafing through Texas Joe’s documents, america tried to figure out why his old friend was being so furtive. It began to dawn on him that he’d need to come up with a plan of his own if he was ever going to solve this sucker.
Back in the day – with his penchant for conspiracies – america would’ve jumped whole hog into the hocus-pocus-magic-gun angle and never looked back. But his legal experience had taught him that the best strategy was often the simplest. Occam’s razor.
The most likely explanation was that some grunt had sold the stupid fucking thing. Or that it had been lost in storage. america liked these results. He wanted them to be true as he was too tired for anything else.
So he decided that he’d just do the basic legwork and see what records LAPD still had on the gun. If all went according to plan, Lynn Weather would show up momentarily and provide him with her research – helping him avoid any unpleasant chats with a police department that did not look kindly upon him.
“What’s up, Paddy?”
“Sorry, pal, I forgot to give you this earlier. What with the crowd and the game and you having that big wad to spread around and everything.”
Paddy, the old Irish barkeep with the ruddy cheeks and the robust belly, handed america a folded napkin with a note scrawled on it.
Go fuck yourself!
“The Misguided Reporter”
Shit, muttered america as he balled up the napkin and angrily tossed it onto his empty plate.
He really didn’t expect Lynn to be so upset. Sure, Genet said some harsh words about her to the jury during the Garrett trial – including that she was a “lazy, misguided reporter who’d rather make sure her scurrilous stories got on the front page than check a fact or two.” But she knew america, and she knew he’d never intentionally fuck anyone over.
Depressed, america sank deep into the booth’s cushions. He had a few more shots, gave Paddy a friendly tip, and left the boys to their game.
He needed another walk.
When he stepped outside, it was far later and darker than he’d expected. A low fog had moved in and the sky was covered with a dense mist – lending an eerie quality to the lights lining Van Ness.
As he meandered back to the office, america was whistling the chorus of a tune that he had stuck in his head – though he couldn’t remember what song it was from – and passing out the change in his pockets to the homeless folks dotting the sidewalk.
He could’ve swore that he heard one of the recipients mumble, “Thanks Digger” – which he found mildly amusing as he wondered how Garrett was doing now that he knew he’d get to live out the rest of his days in prison.
Then – suddenly – he heard a flurry of footsteps.
“america, you son of a bitch! You stepped in something you really shouldn’t have this time.”
“Yeah, asshole. Go fuck yourself! Better yet, we’ll do it for you.”
A tall guy in a red ski cap nailed america in the back of the head with a rusty pipe.
america crumbled to the ground.
The other assailant – who america presumed to be a little shit based on his tiny boots – kicked him in the ribs repeatedly as he lay prone.
america’s mind drifted towards darkness. He heard screaming from the opposite direction, and he didn’t like the sound of it. Not one bit. The void seemed far more peaceful, so he didn’t fight the tide. Floating in a sea of blackness, he was content.
america came to in a pool of his own blood.
It had started to rain. A steady San Francisco rain – the kind that keeps at it for hours at the same constant rate.
Drenched, america leaned up against a nearby wall and took a swig off his flask. The whiskey burned. Massaging his jaw, he rolled his tongue around inside his mouth and spat out a tooth.
As the alcohol hit his belly and dulled the ringing in his head, he asked himself, What the fuck just happened?
Two shitheads had obviously jumped him. But why?
They could’ve been opportunists who caught a glimpse of him with the wad at the bar. Or when he was doling out money on the street.
He checked his pockets. The money was still there.
Anyway, the fuckers called him by his name. They knew who he was and they wanted him to know that fact.
It could’ve been angry cops or vigilantes upset about the decision in the Garrett case. They did say something about fucking up this time.
But unless he’d misjudged the city’s mood, people were not that pissed off at the verdict. And why would anyone go after the lowly investigator?
Still – just to be careful – america decided that he would check in on Genet and the rest of the gang later.
Though, the local cops may’ve just been letting him know that they were no longer professional associates. It wouldn’t be his first such friendly greeting from the boys in blue. Walter Crenshaw’s forlorn face passed through his mind.
Or maybe it was Lynn. Her note suggested a deep anger and the thugs specifically quoted it when they told america, “Go fuck yourself.”
However, it just didn’t seem like her style to be involved with something violent like a beatdown.
Goddamnit, get a grip, america told himself as he attempted to stand – bracing his arms against the brick wall behind him.
The answer wasn’t in some crazy conspiracy. This was San Francisco in the year 2003 and he wasn’t Sam Spade looking for some stupid bird. He was a legitimate investigator.
It was probably just that fucking gas station attendant. That’s the most likely explanation. The guy was pissed off that he didn’t get his money – didn’t like the way that america had stood up to him.
The douchebag probably had the car towed and greased someone’s hands to learn the identity of the owner. Then he sent some goons to tail america. That’s it. Straightforward, petty bullshit. Happens all the time. america would go file a complaint, get his car back, and have Genet sue the bastard.
But why go to such lengths for a lousy couple of bucks? Hell, the dickhead probably made that much on one SUV fill-up alone.
Maybe something more was happening here.
The code red?
Motherfucking shit, america mumbled to himself as he got back down on
his knees to crawl around in the muck of the gutter – looking for the documents that he’d brought with him to Paddy’s. The ones Joe had sent about the gun.
No such luck.
The papers were nowhere to be found.
Were things really getting this fucked this fast?, wondered america as he staggered back to the office.
Sipping frequently from the flask, he cursed out his imaginary assailants. Growing paranoid, each and every passerby became suspect to america.
He was waiting for the light at Bush and Powell when he was startled by a guy resting against a nearby wheelchair.
The bearded man was sprawled out on the steps of a closed restaurant – futilely attempting to stay dry in the rain. He had stumps instead of legs.
“Hey there, mister. Ya mind giving an old vet a swig? It sure is cold tonight.”
america froze in place. Staring at the crippled man, he felt tremendous guilt. Having lived in The City for so long, the downtrodden had become commonplace to him. He couldn’t remember the last time he really looked at the human face of the so-called “homeless problem.”
He met the grizzly old man’s eyes – which told a story that america didn’t want to hear.
The man’s face was covered with pus-filled scars. Some were open and bleeding. america immediately thought, “meth addict.” His legal work had taught him so much about all the fucked up shit that people did in their desperate lives that he constantly found himself making such kneejerk diagnoses.
Still staring at the man’s eyes, america realized that this habit of judging people was just as bad as ignoring them. Shamed, he handed over his flask to the man and joined him under the leaky roof.
“Here you go, man. Enjoy.”
Coughing, the man smiled a toothless grin.
“Thanks partner. Sure could use it tonight.”
The man took a long pull.
“Goddamn! This is some good shit. Thanks. Thanks a lot. Name’s Jenkins, but my friends call me, Hap.”
The man extended his hand. It too was covered in open scars.
america caught himself before he started inventing Hap’s experiences again – and, instead, simply leaned forward to shake the man’s hand.
“Nice to meet you, Hap.”
“Shit partner, watch out! That there’s my sleeping cardboard. Soggy shoes’ll ruin it.”
america felt like an asshole. He’d absentmindedly stepped on Hap’s flimsy bed.
“Don’t worry about it. So what’s your name there, partner?”
america often lied about his unique name when it seemed easier than explaining his life story.
“Well shit, Joe, what a fucking night we got here! What a fucking life. . .”
With a distant look on his face, Hap trailed off momentarily.
“It’s like Nam all over again. Rain and piss and misery.”
“Did you. . .”
Hap answered with pride before america even finished his question: “You’re goddamn right I did. United States Marine Corps. I was drafted right out of high school. Went through basic down at Pendleton and was sent over to that shithole before I’d even gotten laid properly. A couple weeks later, my whole unit got ambushed by them VC bastards. Motherfucking Tet, never saw it coming.”
“I was lucky though. I only lost my gams over there.”
Slapping his stumps with the palm of his hand, Hap explained: “The rest of the fellas in my unit, well, they lost everything. Shit partner, at least I got the fuck out of that hellhole.”
Hap shook his head from side to side as he took another long pull.
“It wasn’t til a couple months later that the rash showed up. I was over at the VA in Livermore recuperating, doing therapy, ya know the drill. There were thousands of us. Former killing machines now gimpy as all hell. I don’t need to tell ya bout all that. Everyone saw the movie with Tom Cruise.”
“They thought it was bed rash at first. But they just kept doing tests. No one ever did officially tell me what was up.”
The man offered the flask back to america – who shook off the request.
“Though one nice young nurse, god bless her soul, did eventually confide in me. It was probably that shit they were dropping on the forest over there, that’s what she told me. A-gent Orange. But goddamnit if the Pentagon would say fucking boo about it. Who gives a shit about the veterans? Ya hear what I’m saying. Just give us our checks and forget.”
Hap wiped the snot gathering under his nose with the back of his wrist.
“It was alright, though. My family was cool, they took care of me and everything. And I got home in time to enjoy the seventies. Free love and hard drugs. Just what I needed to take my mind off things. And so here I am.”
Shrugging his shoulders, Hap bowed his head and took a few more swigs before shoving the nearly empty flask back into a stunned america’s hands.
“The only thing that I cannot forgive. I just won’t. And I think this is why that nurse felt so bad for me. . .”
Shivering, Hap blew on his hands. america could see his breath linger in the cold, night air.
“Ya see partner, it’s my fucking dick. I mean, all things considered, I was lucky. A lot of the other amputees and spinals that I was in with, they lost feeling down there. Completely.”
“No more fucking for them! Thank you very much, Uncle Sam.”
Hap giggled awkwardly.
“But my little fella, he can still do his dance. Shit, if anyone gave him the chance, he’d do it all fucking night long! But you see, the rash. . .”
Covering his face with his hands, Hap exhaled deeply: “Well, the rash just ravaged the fucking thing. I mean, I was the one who got de-foil-iated.”
“It’s almost like that science cat. Ya know the one I’m talking about?”
america said absolutely nothing.
“It’s like I’m aware that my dick’s alive in my pants, but I’m so scared to let anyone see the hideous thing that it’s essentially dead for all intents and purposes. Totally useless. At least, that’s how I feel.”
Embarrassed, Hap turned away from america’s steady gaze.
america began to cry. All day long, he’d been wanting to – so he just let it all out.
He wasn’t sure whether it was for Hap. Or for himself. Or for the whole fucking miserable shithole of a world. But he absolutely lost it. Tears tumbled down his cheeks.
He tried to play it cool. Like it was just the rain gathering on his face.
“Schrödinger! That’s the fucking name. I’ve got Schrödinger’s cock,” exclaimed Hap – before stretching his hand out and casually asking: “So yeah, anyway, ya think maybe ya could help a veteran out there, partner?”
“A few bucks’ll get me a nice hot meal. A few more will get me a warm place to stay for the night. This Newsom fuck’s Care Not Cash bullshit is about as helpful as the VA’s job placement center. Which is to say, they both look nice in the papers and hurt like hell when they fuck us poor folks in the ass.”
america couldn’t stand it anymore. He dropped the whole wad on Hap’s lap and ran down Powell in the opposite direction of his office. He just needed to get away.
Waving goodbye with his newly acquired stack of cash, Hap hollered after him: “Hey, thanks partner!”
“And god bless America.”