II. HANDSOME DAN.
Somewhere between finding out he was home alone and lighting a cigar on his stoop I guess Ted got the idea to pick up his father.
It was almost five o'clock and Ted didn't feel like the night was over. He invited me to his house, I presumed with hunting in mind, but I started to figure out. Ted wanted to kick the summer off right; so did I, and what was wrong about starting with guns and tobacco and finishing with yet more adventure?
So to cap off the afternoon he handed me my cigar and stepped outside. For some insane reason he had something against smoking indoors which didn't run in the family. If his dad wasn't busy getting something twisted chemicals, he would have been eating smoke and puking it into the basement.
He handed me a match. I struck it on the floor.
"Dad's in Boston," he said.
"Yeah." I let my cigar burn.
"Maybe we should go get him."
"At Handsome Dan's?" I asked.
He nodded. My cigar sent up a little tendril of sweet smelling smoke. I kept thinking about my parents, what they'd do to my balls, and that hook in the burning end of Ted's dad's finest cigar which had somehow found its niche in the part of my brain reserved only for movie stars and slogans. The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, I thought. Quite the poet, I was.
"You going to touch that, or just let it burn?" he asked.
I brought it back. Going to find his dad would mean more smoking. Smoking was cool. Finding his dad, by association, was cool.
"Yeah," I said. I choked on some more cigar. Ted looked shocked, I looked blue. He didn't shake his head at all.
"If we go find my dad," he said, "we'll probably get some shit."
"If we go find my dad, we'll find my dad."
This sounded ugly. "Don't you have any weed in your house?"
"It's all in the basement," he said. "Basement's locked."
"What about in your room?" I said.
"I always just steal it from my dad," Ted said.
There was really only one course of action to take. Weed would be at Handsome Dan's; so we would be.
I called my parents and said I'd be sleeping over Ted's house. They said yep.
Now all we needed was some extraordinary luck.
Good for us, a guy in a pickup truck gave us a ride at the center of town. He said he'd get us as far as Groton. He talked a while about landscaping, and I guess that makes sense because his pickup reeked of sour shit. He seemed pretty cool, though.
He dropped us off on 495 near Littleton, and by then I was scared shitless of getting lost. I had never even seen a map of this part of Massachusetts. I didn't know Groton from a hole in the ground.
When the car came to an idle, Ted said thanks and I felt panic bite at my ass. What in God's name was I doing on 495, when my parents thought I was a stone's throw away? I didn't know Handsome Dan from Spiro Agnew. Why was I here? Fuck that, man, where's here anyway?
I asked Ted in a more agitated way and half expected him to spit out a Zen koan in response. A Zen koan was what I needed. Something to cool down on, meditate on, chew on and ponder the universe.
Instead he walked to the edge of the breakdown lane and stuck out his thumb. I pointed to the horizon in protest; twilight ate away at my chances of getting home with my ass connected.
We got our ride from a Pullman gray Cadillac Sedan de Ville, driven by an old man with white hair. We both got in the back, and the old man started talking about the Red Sox. He said he was alive to see them win in 1918. Ted said he was too.
The Sedan de Ville brought us into the North Shore. On the way in, we went over a bridge. Toll was three bucks. Ted made me cough up a buck to pay my share in the toll.
I realized I had left my wallet in my other pants. Other pants? I didn't even have a wallet.
I said I'd pay Ted back a buck as soon as I got the chance, and the old guy laughed a wheezy little sick-man laugh, said don't worry about it, boys, he'll take care of the toll.
How was I going to survive in Boston without anything but change in my pockets? I counted it all up; no more than a dollar, probably less. Boston is an expensive town. I felt my stomach growl; I hadn't eaten anything in hours.
I was absolutely, positively, irreparably boned. Without enough money for a cab, or even a payphone. Capture was inevitable. My parents were going to find out about this, there were no two ways about it. This would be my last night as a free man.
But the night was young. When we stepped into the Caddy I made an effort to quit worrying, cool down a little. I mean, what could I do at that point? I had seven whole hours to worry about that shit, anyway.
I realized that any complaint I had about being in Boston would be made in vain, because, after all, we were in Boston, and Ted didn't look like he was ready to leave yet. I couldn't go home without Ted, and Ted wasn't leaving until sunrise. I'd signed on when I hitched it over to Groton. I figured, buy the ticket, take the ride.
After the guy in the Caddy let us off, we walked.
I didn't ask how the hell Ted knew where he was going. I imagine he'd been to Handsome Dan's before, maybe picking up his dad like we were now. He lead the way, through traffic and the city; I was so shocked to be suddenly in Boston USA, on a day that I otherwise planned to sit on my ass and fatten, that I hardly noticed how fast we were walking or that Ted never stopped to rest.
We must have gone two miles in twenty minutes. We stopped in an alleyway, a picturesque trashy alleyway; cats picking fish bones from garbage cans; stinking vomit-like heaps and valleys of homogenized waste; flies humming like fluorescent lights. All the trash stayed away from a doorway, I supposed it went to Handsome Dan's.
Ted walked up to it and knocked twice.
"Who you want?" somebody asked.
Ted said: "Langley."
The door swung open to a man on stilts. "Ted," he said, "your miserable degenerate of a father is a discredit to the race he somehow conned his way into joining. Good to see you in one piece." His smile covered the bottom half of his face, the moustache wrapping around like it was pinned to his face with thumbtacks. He turned to me. "Who the hell are you."
"This is a friend of mine," Ted said.
"Does he have a name?" he asked. Ted froze, gulped. It was the only time I've ever seen him freeze up.
"Jack," Ted said.
"Jack," the man said. "I can't say I was expecting more than one of you, but since my vision is doubling it don't make a shit of difference."
I smiled. The man shook my hand.
He said what I had guessed: "I'm Handsome Dan."
We went inside.
"Oh Danny boy ... " The sound of horrible singing.
"Shut the fuck up!" somebody screamed.
Handsome Dan's place was something out of Oliver Twist. There was one lightbulb, held above what had been a kitchen; this lightbulb was a fifteen watt, good for penlights and about nothing besides; this fifteen watt bled out a five foot aura of piss-yellow light, in which I could make out a stove covered by a whole galaxy of hypodermic needles, stoppers, salt shakers, dirty glass bottles.
The place reeked of old age, though Handsome Dan was still a young man. It was like a retirement home gone to the Sunset Strip. Shuffling junkies who wore Macs and talked about how the government had fucked them over.
In a couple corners there were useless trash cans, overflowing with petulant stuff that looked like it belonged in the picturesque alley dump we had just passed. Behind these there were small animals, I imagine, living on what edible things there were in those cans that would not give them visions of hotel maids crawling up their asses with knives.
Some of these small animals, I noticed, were not animals but half-dead men with monkeys on their backs.
"Disregard the folk in the gutters," Handsome Dan said. "They couldn't hear you if you shouted at them."
One of these sick bastards could be Ted's father, I realized.
"Ted," Dan said, "you're a good man to come down here. You know I was placed in a similar position several times in my glorious youth ... scraping your father off the barroom floor is not a pleasant experience, no?"
Handsome Dan smiled big; it was the kind of smile that calmed and reassured, a kind, grandfatherly smile that must have made Dan one hell of a businessman. "A friend of mine is driving him back safely home as we speak. They say servants of the greater good seldom are rewarded. I say bullshit."
"Ah, Dan," Ted said, humbly.
Bag of weed, I thought.
"The stars are bright and twinkling!" Horrible singing again.
"Shut the fuck up!" someone called.
"What is that?" I asked.
"Nothing," Dan assured. "Ted, you're a good man. Step into my office."
Office? I thought. Is any room in this place different from the rest?
Handsome Dan brought out a bag of weed and some paper. We rolled joints.
"To the green stuff," he said, and I assumed he was talking about money because the weed was brown.
I have mixed memories of those following hours, most of which centered around Handsome Dan lighting shit-smelling handmade reefers and Ted screaming at the man singing Danny Boy.
Once the weed started to wear off, I guess this must have been three or four hours after the end of rational thought, I was sitting in a beanbag chair with my shoes off and my socks pulled up to my knees. It felt good. Handsome Dan was lighting another joint and Ted was pacing and sermoning.
I think I was the one in the safest state of mind, but I couldn't really say how Handsome Dan was holding out; I also had no prior knowledge of the relationship that existed between Ted and weed, so that was a shot in the dark, as well... but considering the amount of blabbering he was still doing at that point I'd say on terms of sanity he was the craziest, then Dan and finally me.
"Boys," Dan said, "I think we've come to an important conclusion."
"Uhuh," I said. What had we been talking about? It didn't matter. Handsome Dan had the wisdom of age. He was probably right.
"Yes it does," Ted said. He took a sip from a beer that came from a mini-fridge in the corner.
"I make good money on weed and coke," Dan said. He shook his joint at me. "Respectable income. Filthy money but respectable income. Now say you scrape the shit off a big corporation's shoes."
"Uhuh," I interjected, the way you're supposed to when somebody's telling a story.
"For all the good work I do I'll only ever make six-fifty an hour."
"Yeah," I said.
"And shit, you probably loose half that paycheck on the gas to get you there before you see any of that."
"Not to mention taxes. Taxes cut off the half that's still there."
"Place's goin to shit," Ted said. He sniffed, spat into a trashcan and took a pull of beer.
"Damn straight," Dan said.
"You know what I think we should do?" I said. What I was going to say would probably sound stupid, but I was past caring by then.
"What," he said.
"I think we should just print more money," I said. "We have all the paper and ink we need to kick the national debt, don't we?"
"That wouldn't work," Ted said, "it's not paper money that national debt is about, it's capital."
Handsome Dan opened a desk drawer and got a pen and paper. "Look at it this way," he said. He scratched on his pad and turned it over to me.
CAPITAL/ PAPER MONEY, it said.
"Capital is how much wealth a country has," Dan told me. He pointed to the PAPER MONEY part. "That's how much money is in currency. Increase the currency and all that happens is the capital gets divided into smaller parts."
"So it's like dividing a one, like if one was your capital worth, by bigger and bigger numbers," Ted said. "Meaning what goes into your pocket gets smaller as you print more money."
I sat back into my beanbag chair, certain of little else than the facts that I felt like an idiot, and I was stoned.
"It's like cutting up a pie into smaller pieces," Ted said, "you only get one piece in the end."
I paused, mouthed a couple nonsense words, counted a couple fingers. "So the currency is like the little grooves between the pieces?" I asked.
"Yeah," Ted said.
"And we're the pieces?"
"Essentially, yes," Dan said, "more precisely the pieces are what we work for."
"Oh," I said.
We all nodded in unison.
"So money is the only thing between me and my fellow man," I said. Quite profound, that was; I felt like I had graduated from the vanguard of autistic savantry to the realm of the eminent junkie.
We kept nodding, this time with a common sentiment: Heavy shit, man.
"Heavy shit," Ted said.
"Heavy shit," Dan agreed. He started nodding and nodding. "Yeah, heavy shit."
Ted kept panting around and I went back to what I just realized I'd been doing for the last few hours, staring at my hands and thinking happily. Handsome Dan went to the chair by his desk, sat down and put his head in his hands.
"Jesus, Jesus, Jesus," he was saying. Ted kept walking around, only slower than I'd noticed before. My eyes worked over to Dan, very slowly, but I couldn't move them any faster.
"Jesus living Christ," Dan said. His moustache was stretched again over his entire face in a tight and agonized and contorted look. "What the fuck am I doing here? Jesus ... "
Ted stopped pacing and looked at me.
"Jesus ... "
Ted slapped himself in the face and blinked a few times and stopped sermoning.
"What ... Jesus," Dan kept on going like that.
I looked at Ted and we had an odd kind of certain vibe going through the space between us -- we both absolutely knew, without either of us having to say it, that now was the time -- Right Now -- to get the hell out of Handsome Dan's place.
"Oh, Jesus, God ... "
We walked out and through to the picturesque dirty alleyway and Ted heard one last triumphant line of "Danny Boy" before closing the door.
"What the fuck was that?" I asked.
"I don't know, Dan's usually a pretty solid guy. I don't know what set him off," Ted said.
He turned into the street, and I followed. In the east the sun was rising. Boston is a different city at five in the morning. The street vendors look like they're living the American dream. Dog-walkers and marathon runners steal into the roads without pissing off whatever hyperborean wanderers are in cars at sunrise. Cops on duty sip coffees and smile at you, even though you might be half-stoned and stinking of marijuana; even the hobos look benevolent in the light of streetlamps and the rising sun.
A cab was parked on the other side of the street, outside a delicatessen that hadn't opened yet. Inside the delicatessen there was a blonde girl tidying up the shop before opening time. She smiled and waved at me. I waved back.
I felt like tearing my pants off and running through the window, but Ted was there.
"I love this town," Ted said.
"I like New York," I said. New York has a similar vibe at five a.m., but a bit more beaten-up. The looks from a native delicatessen sweetheart at five a.m. in New York turn you on, but at the same time they make you feel like a soft-boiled egg.
Ted looked like he could punch me. I felt like I had blasphemed, and after staying the night at Handsome Dan's that was no mean feat.
The door to the cab opened from across the street and a guy walked out. He started running towards us. Ted looked much, much cooler than I did.
"You just come back from Handsome Dan's place?" the guy said. He had a winter jacket on and a bloated look to his face.
"Yeah," Ted said.
"You're Gordon's kid?"
"Well, my cab's over there."
He ran back to the car.
"Dan's paying for him to wait?" I asked.
"Yeah. This is one fucked up night, man."
"No shit. Seriously, what's the matter with Handsome Dan?"
"I have no idea. Look, if he's paying for the cab to stay, it ought to stay, right?"
"What? Are you saying we aren't going home?"
"Think back to the place we just came from," Ted said. "A guy that sketchy asks me to stay in town for another hour, I'd stay put."
"He can tell if we didn't stick around?"
"Ask the cab driver."
I breathed in some fresh air. I'd forgotten how good it was. Of course, it was Boston, hard to tell.
... To be continued ...