The liquor store clerk looked bored and dejected this afternoon. He looked like he wanted to be out chasing pretty girls in the sun. I have that option. But I only go outside to get back inside. And I don't chase anyone.
And I was hurrying back to secret motel, bagged bottles tucked beneath my arm, when I saw a grey sports car tear past me on Choke Street. And I had a sudden vision of me being 21 again and being tasked, by a rich man who owned a grocery chain, to drive his pretty daughter in his swank sports car to LA. I never learned how to drive a stick shift, so he would've given me a brief lesson in a deserted parking lot on a summer Saturday morning before his daughter and I tore off through the dying vineyards and dry farmland of the Central Valley. The only reason I can think of for him giving me such a task would be that he didn't like the crowd she hung around with and that he trusted me--a quiet, well-mannered obscurity handpicked from his very own staff of blond and bland bagboys and checkout clerks looking at the big wide world with our bright but uncomprehending blue eyes.
So his daughter and I would launch from the Central Valley in search of I-5, she smelling of swimming pools and suntan lotion and smiling vaguely while I stammered out stories of escaping an old woman in an old house who dressed in shadows and ate nothing but soups made of webs and flies and rodent hair and then tales of hillbilly cousins who disappeared hitch-hiking in the druggy heartbroken haze of 1960's America, in search of LA and some new clue or promise rising, invisible, from the Pacific Ocean and leading them further west into some transcendent oblivion.
And the rich daughter and I would arrive safely in LA. I would drop her off at a house hidden among trees and high white walls in the Hills. She would thank me insincerly and disappear, with bigger men who had bigger arms and bigger wallets, behind the glare of sliding glass doors. I would drop the car off at a garage downtown, then use the remaining funds my boss had provided to purchase a ticket on Amtrak or Greyhound for the ride back home. And I would stare out the window on the trip north, wondering about the puzzle of missed opportunities, that there's never a missing piece but always a few extra pieces that seem somehow integral even when I've convinced myself the puzzle is already hopelessly complete.
Yes, even my goddamn daydreams and fantasies are bitter-sweet.