Authors: Kinky Friedman
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Novelists, #Humorous, #Authorship
KILL TWO BIRDS & GET STONED.. Copyright ® 2003 by Kinky Friedman. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information address HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022.
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Designed by Shubhani Sarkar
Printed on acid-free paper
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Kill two birds & get stoned / Kinky Friedman.-1st ed.
p. cm. ISBN 0-06-620979-X
1. Fiction-Authorship-Fiction. 2. Novelists-Fiction. I. Title: Kill two birds and get stoned. II. Title.
K55 2003 813'.54—dc21
03 04 05 06 07 WBC/RRD 10 98765432 1
This book is dedicated to Steve Rambam, whoinspired and guided it; to Dwight Yoakam, whobelieved in it; and to the memory of Iru Rubin,who lived it
It is a better thing by far that the lad should break
his neck than that you should break his spirit.
—Robert Louis Stevenson
Dripping faucets, farts of passion, flat tires—are
all sadder than death.
There are two good things about living in a basement apartment. The first is that you can't kill yourself by jumping out the window. The second, and this is an important one, is that whatever you do and wherever you go, you know you're always going to be on the way up. The bad thing, I suppose, is a matter of your point of view. All you ever see are people's feet walking by in the rain. Unless, of course, the sun is shining. You can't always tell, however, when you live in a basement apartment.
I suppose I ought to introduce myself. My name is Walter Snow and you probably never heard of me, which is not an especially good thing because I like to think of myself as a novelist. In fact, for the past few years I've been working on a project I half-tragically refer to as
The Great Armenian Novel.
I am not Armenian, though I once had an Armenian girlfriend, which at least qualifies me to write about what I know. Unfortunately, for years I hadn't written one word of the book. I suffered from writer's block. Or spiritual constipation. Or whatever you want to call it. And there is nothing worse in this or any other world than staring down at a blank piece of paper and realizing that it's as empty as your life.
All this, of course, was before I met Clyde Potts at the bank, and before she introduced me to Fox Harris. Even after all that has happened, I still think of both of them with a smile. I'm looking at that smile right now in the bathroom mirror. It looks a bit ragged, maybe a bit confused, but it's there all right. It lacks the innocence of a small boy at Christmas, and is probably a little closer to the sick, sweet, evil smile of the serial killer, redolent of charm and danger. But it
a fucking smile— and they say if you smile when you think of people who are gone, you loved them.
But let me redirect the conversation back to myself for a moment. I
a published novelist. Seven years ago I wrote a mildly successful, quirky little book about a man coming of age in a New Jersey nursing home. It was entitled
The Rise and Fall of Nothing at All
and its publication killed just enough trees to keep me in Camel filters and a basement apartment for seven years, which is saying something in today's market. But now I've moved from looking in the mirror to looking at the blank page again and I don't know which is worse. Both seem to somehow relate to those soulless attenuated feet that keep sliding silently by my window in the rain.
It's a dark and stormy day today and if you don't live in New York you might call it gloomy but if you do, you get used to it and a few other things. The only spot of color is provided by Fox's tropical fish, of which, I suppose, I am now the guardian. I don't know much about tropical fish except that bad things always seem to happen to their original owners. They're not too good for spiritually constipated novelists to have around either. They keep diverting your attention when you're busy staring at a blank page. But they're crazy and colorful, just like Fox: you never know what they're thinking, or if they're thinking. Also, they kind of hypnotize you if you look at them long enough. The bubbling sound takes a little while to get used to, but once you do, it blends right in with the sirens and the car alarms and the occasional junkie on the sidewalk shouting scripture. I haven't bonded with these fish, of course, and I don't think I'm likely to. But I intend to take good care of them. Sometimes late at night when I watch them swimming around in their aquarium I forget I'm in a basement apartment in New York City. At those times I think of the fish as little pieces of Fox's soul and the world seems like a bigger and brighter place. It almost feels good to be alive.
When I stop to reflect upon it, it was probably Fox and Clyde who deserve the credit, for better or worse, for knocking me off the wagon forever. Before that morning, when I first met Clyde at the bank, I'd had almost six and a half years of sobriety. I attended a secular rosary chain of AA meetings where I declared to the brainwashed and the unwashed of the world that my name was Walter and that I was an Alcoholic. My life had become an endless series of tableaus in which I would hold a Styrofoam cup of bad coffee—I never found out if the cup was half full or half empty—smoke an endless caravan of Camel filters and provide an ever-changing army of supportive strangers with my standard three minutes of superficial charm. If I had to talk to the same individual for much longer than three minutes, I could actually see the lines of ennui forming on his or her face and the undeniable presence of pity in his or her eyes. Speaking of his or her, I discovered that, as an alcoholic nondrinking non-writing writer, I could extract more natural empathy from men than from women.
That, of course, was before I met Clyde at the bank.
I remember that morning surprisingly well, considering everything that's happened since. It was only about nine months ago but already it feels like two lifetimes interwoven like the careless arms of doomed lovers: the sweet, grievous lifetime of the saint mingling with the pregnant, existential lifetime of the sinner. And pregnant is the right word to use, for out of this dalliance have arisen three unique human entities, a trinity of bastard spirits destined never again to meet in this mortal world.
As I was saying, I think I was catching up on my masturbation that morning or maybe I was just standing by the window drinking a cup of good strong coffee from a real coffee mug, smoking a cigarette, watching feet pass me by in different directions, all going somewhere important, hurrying along into the cold and sun-splattered mosaic of the city. The morning was all kind of a blur until I left my apartment on Tenth Street and walked the few blocks through the Village to the small bank off Sheridan Square. I'd like to say I had a premonition of some sort, but it wouldn't be true. I was just another bank customer, trying to keep my balance. I was standing at one of those small tables they have, trying to reconcile meaningless numbers in my little bankbook, when I felt a presence from across the table. (There were no candles on the table, of course, but perhaps there should have been.) She had a gorgeous mass of golden storybook hair. She had a beauty mark on her right cheek. And when she took off her rather lavish sunglasses, she had the eyes of a slumming angel.
Her gaze lighted upon me with a graceful impudence that caused me to quickly look down at my bankbook. I have never thought of myself as a shy person. I think I'd just realized that one of those rare green flashes of insight that occur maybe once or twice in the lifetimes of the lucky was now taking place in a fucking bank. It was not love at first sight. That happens every day and usually results in a hostage situation. It was a far rarer, more sacred, more inherently animal experience than love often is. Here, I thought, for reasons yet unknown to me, stands a kindred spirit.
"Can you help me?" she asked, leaning forward conspiratorially across the little table that was the world. Our faces were suddenly very close together.
"I can do anything," I said, "except balance a bank account."
"I don't need an Einstein, Sunshine. Hey! That rhymes!"
"Yes. It does," I said nervously. The woman was obviously more than a little bit stoned, and yet she seemed in total control of herself, and me, for that matter. This could be quite dangerous. My name is Walter, I thought, and I'm an Alcoholic.
"My name is Walter," I said.
"I'm Clyde," she said, extending her hand in a surprisingly firm handshake. She was a tall, rawboned, sensuous-looking girl with an aura of country cool about her. At the time, I recall thinking that she was not quite beautiful. "Handsome" was the word that came to mind for her then. Now, of course, I realize she was beautiful. But then, a kindred spirit is bound to change your life. If you have a life.
"I've got something I need to keep in a safe-deposit box," she said, "but I don't have one and apparently there's a waiting list until the cows come home."
"That could be a long time in New York."
"I know," she said ruefully. "But you look like the kind of person who might have a safe-deposit box."
As a child, I thought the last thing I wanted to do was to grow up and look like the kind of person who had a safe-deposit box. I wanted to be Robin Hood or Jesse James, the kind of people who dedicated their lives to robbing safe-deposit boxes. I never in my wildest childhood dreams believed I'd be the kind of person who could be defeated daily by a blank page or the sort who'd stand around holding a Styrofoam cup baring his human soul to an army of the ambulatory wounded. Unfortunately, I did have a safe-deposit box. And do you know what was in it? Nothing. That, I reflected briefly, was perhaps worse than having one in the first place.
"As it happens, I do have a safe-deposit box," I said.
"Yippee!" she said, a little too loudly for inside the bank, I thought. "Let's go."
"Not so fast," I said. "Just what are we putting in my safe-deposit box?"
"Oh, it's nothing illegal," said Clyde. "It's my grandmother's heirloom silverware set from Russia. She was a Gypsy and she carried it with her all over Russia and then gave it to my mother who lives in South Dakota and she sent it to me because she's afraid her boyfriend might steal it."
"Why would her boyfriend steal it?"
"He's a Gypsy."
"No, you don't really. Nobody ever does. I think that's the main problem with this whole damn town."
"And I always thought it was finding a parking place."
"I don't have a car," she said. "And I don't have a damn safe-deposit box and I'm afraid Fox will steal my grandmother's silverware and sell it to buy drugs or something."
"He's the king of the Gypsies. He's also my roommate. I'd trust him with my life but not my grandmother's silverware. Now can I store this stuff in your box or not? Remember, I'll have to trust you at least as much as you have to trust me."
And so we did.
The bank officer walked the two of us into the vault like any conventional little married couple. Then, with his master key and my key he unlocked the two locks on the box and discreetly left the room. Clyde extracted a wrapped parcel from the large purse she was carrying. She had her sunglasses back on but I didn't think anything of it at the time. She handed me the package and I dutifully placed it into my empty little safe-deposit box.
"Thanks," murmured Clyde, dangerously close to my right ear. "I know Granny's silver will be safe now."
I was beginning to have a few second thoughts by this time, but I didn't let them go anywhere. For one thing, Clyde did have to trust me as much as I had to trust her. If the contents of the box were anything other than her grandmother's heirloom silverware, she would still require my help to ever gain its possession again. I, on the other hand, had to take her at her word. If this was some kind of con, it was certainly a strange one.
The bank officer took the master key and the box and filed it away in its secure little cranny and the girl and I left the vault and walked out into the sunny chill of the city. On the back of a bank-deposit slip Clyde wrote her name and phone number. I gave her my card. It'd been a while since I'd given anyone my card and I needed the practice. She put the card in her purse and then leaned over and kissed me softly on the lips. She'd get in touch soon, she said. I watched her for a long time as she walked down the street and finally disappeared into the subway.
You've got to trust somebody sometime, I figured. The whole world isn't always out to screw you. That's what I thought at the time. That was, of course, before I started collecting tropical fish. Bad things seem to happen to people who collect tropical fish.