May 26. We limped out of the badlands at night. Las Vegas was a million screaming lights. The car almost crapped out at the halfway point, the fuel pump is shot. I was worried that we would break down in the desert and die of thirst. Sand would cover our bones and nobody would ever know. Eryn said I was being childish. She has been talking nonstop about how we’ll both get famous when we get to California. “The planets are aligned for us,” she said. “Your negativity will fuck them up.”
May 28. Tomorrow I have an interview at a print shop. Eryn already got a job as a waitress at a Japanese restaurant. It was the first place she tried. She walked in off the street and they hired her on the spot. Some luck. The place is lit with tiny oil lamps. Just enough light to give you a look at how well she’s built.
May 29. The accident was one year ago today. I didn’t mention it, and neither did Eryn. Our money is gone. It took the last of it pay for a new fuel pump. One thing about Las Vegas is that it is a great town for finding half-smoked cigarettes on the ground. Everything will be fine.
June 8. Yesterday Eryn went to an open audition for models. The ad in the newspaper said models but it was really a call for girls to be in pornos. The guy told Eryn she had potential. “The way things work nowadays, you could star in two hundred triple X videos and still end up costarring in a sitcom,” he said. “The business doesn’t carry the same stigma it used to.” Later she showed me his card—Paul Maul, Eroticist. He works out of a warehouse that contains eight or ten half-built rooms, a couch or a bed in the center of each one and Klieg lights looking down from poles. I don’t want her to do it. I told her I don’t want to share her. But if she’s ever going to be a real actress we need money to get her nose fixed. It will cost $5,500 for a rhinoplasty, which is the doctor-word for a nose job, and another $2,500 to cap her teeth. The plastic surgeons in L.A. are supposed to be the best, but she doesn’t want to wait that long. Paul Maul told Eryn that her body was one in a million, like Ginger Lynn, but they couldn’t use her as is. Back in Okemah people would wince when Eryn told them she wanted to be a movie star. The damage is bad enough that you can’t not see it. She said the guy was a nice guy. He offered her some money. He said he wanted to try her out. I asked if he made her take off her clothes, and she said “Not really.” I figured I was better off not knowing.
June 10. As a show of good faith I pawned my bass and my practice amp.
June 12. I hung around outside the phone booth while Eryn called her sister collect. “It’s called the creepy crawl,” she said. “The Mansonites did it in the Sixties. No, I mean, they killed people but they lived on pretty much no money. Desperate times and desperate measures, you know?” She’s jumbled up Manson and Samsonite but I don’t say anything. It started me thinking about Mansonic lodges cropping up across the country, all those Benevolent Moose and Lions and Elks from Okemah with X’s carved between their eyes. Life would be like the cover of a Black Flag record. I drag Eryn out of the phone booth and we get started immediately on the Mansonite secret handshake.
June 17. Today I said to her: “The Buddha went for a whole year without eating.” I’m not one hundred percent sure about this but I said it anyway. “So it’s like method acting,” Eryn said hopefully.
June 18. The sun in the early part of the evening is like the hot head of a match. Even when it finally gets dark you can still feel the heat rising from the asphalt like a wall of ghosts. You elbow through them. I’m ready to cave in but Eryn is talking about being barefoot on the carpet of an apartment that smells of fresh paint. How the living room will be echoey from no furniture. “We can get a leather sofa,” she said. “When it gets greasy we just wipe it off.” The light caught her eyelashes and electrified them. I coughed a little. I wanted better words but the pause did not let them settle. She had a pack of Winstons in her apron that one of her customers had forgotten on the table. Sometimes you get a break. “One of these days we’ll laugh when we tell all this to a reporter,” she said. I leaned and kissed her lightly behind the ear. We were like regular people walking along. Bums on Fremont were asking us for smokes and spare change. That’s no way to live.
June 20. I stole some candy bars from a 7-11. We had to lick them off the wrappers because of the heat. It’s almost unbearable. Three days of the creepy crawl have passed.
June 24. We need to relocate to a different parking lot. There is a Black Angus down the street and the smell of cooking meat hangs in the air until well after midnight. “God, I’m hungry. I feel like one of Molotov’s dogs,” Erin said. Eryn. I keep forgetting the goddamned Y. Molotov’s Dogs would be a good band name.
June 25. Eryn won’t shut up about this girl Melanie, her shift leader. She says Melanie has been watching her. I have a bad feeling. Neither of us has had a bath in a while and the car stinks like periods and balls.
June 26. The pawnshop sold my bass out from under me. The guy behind the glass shrugged his shoulders.
June 28. At work yesterday I made a pretty good score. There was a grand opening a few doors down, a new cell phone store, and the Hot 99 DJs came down in their party van. I walked over on my lunch break and managed to fill my book bag with a dozen or so bottles of Zephyr water. I also grabbed three bags of Doritos, two prepaid phone cards, and a Hot 99 t-shirt. We had warm water and Doritos for dinner. We’ve been in Las Vegas for three weeks now.
June 29. Just now I was thinking about those old Warner Brothers cartoons where two guys are stuck on a desert island. After a while one of them starts hallucinating that the other one is a Thanksgiving turkey or Christmas ham and ends up chewing on his leg. I stole half of someone’s salami sandwich from the refrigerator at work and wolfed it down in the bathroom. At the staff meeting the assistant manager said, “There is a thief in our midst,” and I felt my face turn red.
July 5. We had our anniversary. We borrowed from the surgery fund and got a room at the Frontier for a couple of days. We had a fight first thing. I was fucking Eryn on the big bed, the air conditioning cranked up. Her ankles were up on my shoulders and she was cursing at Jesus. I got hot. I thought of a bucket tickling the water at the bottom of a deep well. Just thinking about a deep well was enough to trip the wire. I tried to pull out at the end but didn’t make it. She was furious. “You’re selfish,” she said. “You’ll ruin everything.” Down at the slot machines a woman in a wheelchair had this retarded kid who pumped in the coins for her. I tried making jokes but Eryn kept ignoring me. The slots were too slow for Eryn, she wanted the jackpot. She thought she understood blackjack. It cost us $20. Another $20 on craps. I was loafing. The waitress wouldn’t serve me. I kept my mouth shut. The buffet seemed like a good place to hide. There was a couple there who looked like just like my folks, only fatter. I freaked when I saw them. I thought maybe they had come looking. The parent clones did not speak, they grunted at each other. Just like my mom and dad. I made fried chicken sandwiches for later and stashed them in Erin’s (I mean Eryn’s) bag.
July 11. Eryn got a $50 tip today from a professional baseball player whose name I didn’t recognize and can’t remember. I accused her of doing other things for the money. Sometimes I’m an asshole. “It’s all your fault anyway,” she said. “If not for you I wouldn’t look like this.” She’s right, but this only makes things worse. We were both drunk that night. But I was the one driving. It was an accident. You can only say you’re sorry so many different ways. Today I chewed the same piece of gum for 12 hours.
July 17. In the middle of the day we drive down in one of the subdivisions off Oasis Parkway and look for open garages. “You remember how my stepdad had that fridge in our garage he kept beer and stuff in,” Eryn said. “All we gotta do is drive around until we see a house with the door up and no cars in the driveway. We do it fast so no one notices.” To me it seemed like a long shot, but we are backed up against the wall. The surgery fund has grown to $640, stashed under the spare tire. Only about $7,000 short of what we need. The first subdivision on Oasis was called Casino Royale and it was a bust. The only open door we saw revealed a garage completely empty of anything. Just three white walls, two oil stains, and light bulb.
July 18. We tried another subdivision. This one was more like a neighborhood. The houses were older and they weren’t all identical. One of them was exactly as Eryn had described. The door was up and the garage was filled with furniture, bicycles and cardboard boxes. There was no room for a car. I felt kind of bad because I also saw a wheelchair and several oxygen tanks. A fridge stood in the far corner. The street was a dead end, so I told Eryn to go ahead and turn around. “We’ll let this be our test run,” I said. “For all we know that fridge isn’t even plugged in.” I trotted up the driveway, keeping an eye on the house. The windows were open and I could hear a television inside. Bob Barker was making big promises. A bird sang sweetly from above, calling me out. I yanked open the fridge and the whole garage rattled. Inside were cans of soda, hot dogs, lunchmeat and pasteurized cheese slices. When my book bag was full I ran back to the car and Eryn peeled out like we’d just robbed a bank.
July 31. When the manager was up front closing out the register I boosted a can of tuna and a can of sliced peaches from the break room. I think the kit press operator saw me. He gave me a look. “You better come up with an excuse now in case the boss asks you about it tomorrow,” Eryn says when I tell her what happened. She’s distracting herself with the rearview mirror, tilting her head, looking at her nose from every possible angle. Tonight I couldn’t get her to eat anything, even though it’s Friday and the steakhouse is working overtime. The sweet smoke of cooking meat was billowing from the chimney. Her poor nose is so crooked. I wish the sight of it was motivation enough to kill my appetite. There was a noise from my stomach that sounded like a creaky floorboard followed up by a thunderclap. I sat on the hood and ate the tuna, pretending it was grilled salmon that was just a little cold when it came to the table. No big deal.
August 10. Last night a cop caught me digging in the dumpster behind the Food Max. Just as I was climbing out his spotlight landed on me. He jumped out of his car with his gun drawn. “Stop or I’ll shoot,” he shouted, and I was hoping it was a bluff. I ran until I saw flashbulbs snapping in front of my eyes and hid in a ditch off Fortuna. When I came back empty handed Erin and I had a fight. She started crying and would not stop. I slapped her. It didn’t help. I keep writing “Erin” by mistake. I keep forgetting she’s a different person now.
August 16. My boss called me into the office and told me I needed to do something about my appearance. I explained that times were tough, but left out the part about living in the car and stealing food to save money for a nose job so Eryn can become a porn star. My boss said it was out of his hands. The district manager had asked him about “the wino in the stockroom,” meaning me.
August 19. Last night I dreamt we were being chased by Molotov’s dogs. Their mouths were like open furnaces. They were running alongside the car. Somehow I knew they wanted our gasoline. Erin was in the passenger seat, and her nose was made out of blue plastic. She asked me, “How does it look?” and I said, “It looks okay.”
August 21. Things are better. After weeks of washing ourselves in gas station bathrooms, we discovered that the community college has locker rooms in their rehabilitation center, the place where they train physical therapists. The janitor opens the doors at 5 AM but nobody shows up at the front desk until 8. So we started sneaking in to use the showers. I wanted to break into some of the lockers but Eryn said we don’t want to draw attention to ourselves, since we already don’t belong there. She told me the mirror in the women’s locker room is huge and harshly lit. “It makes my nose look like a mushroom,” she said, about to cry. “It shows you everything that’s wrong.” I tried to put my arms around her but she pushed me away.
August 25. Yesterday I’m at work, and Brian tells me I’ve got a phone call. “Sounds like an emergency,” he says. It’s Melanie. She tells me Eryn’s having some kind of breakdown. The same thing happened when we were in high school, and she cut herself up with her brother’s hunting knife. You can still see the scars on her arms like white latticework. The rest of her is tan. I tell Brian my girlfriend is sick. He let me go early. The car is almost out of gas, the fuel light is burning bright in the dash, but I make it down to the restaurant. Eryn’s out front on the curb with Melanie. Melanie’s got her arm around Eryn and Eryn’s eyes are wide and blazing. I realize it’s not a breakdown, that she’s been doing coke. I don’t say anything.
August 27. Eryn is going to stay at Melanie’s apartment for a few days. There’s not room for me, and Eryn says it would be rude to bring me along. She promised to wash some of my clothes. Melanie, smirking, picks her up in a yellow Volkswagen with a fake sunflower attached to the antenna. Eryn gets in without giving me a kiss goodbye. It was 106 degrees today.
August 30. I haven’t heard from Eryn so I went looking for her at the restaurant. They wouldn’t tell me when she was working again and they wouldn’t tell me where Melanie lives. I barely made my shift on time. My beard finally looks like a beard. I trimmed it up with scissors and it looks okay. I wrote Eryn a letter but misspelled her name so many times I threw it away. Why can’t I remember to spell it Hollywood style?
September 13. Eryn calls me at work. She tells me we’re finished and that she wants her half of the money. I can’t really talk because there are too many people standing around listening. I ask her if there’s someone else and she sighs and says: “No.”
September 17. Today on my break I was watching this lady eat a McDonald’s hamburger. She threw most of it away and she was barely out of range before I was digging it out of the trash can. The people at the shoe store were out front smoking and they looked at me like I was a three-legged dog. One half pity and one half amusement. I am the scum of the earth.
September 22. Last night I cut an X between my eyes with a linoleum knife. I knew it would freak people out and it did. Everyone at work stared. At the end of the shift Greg took me into his office. He said, “Well, that’s it. That’s the last straw.” I clocked out.
September 23. The sun was going down. Eryn was waiting at the car. When she saw my forehead she got upset. “What are you going to do now?” she said. I don’t answer because I don’t know. She’s wearing a lot of make-up and a miniskirt made out of pieces of blue jeans. She tells me that she and Melanie have gotten stripper jobs but she won’t say where. They do a baby oil wrestling routine together. I ask if Melanie is her new boyfriend, she just shrugs. She’s about to start crying. I reach out and touch her face. She lets me because she knows this is goodbye. “I’m going to miss you,” she says. I lean in and kiss my baby’s raspberry lips. I see the yellow Volkswagen, and Melanie’s silhouette behind the wheel. Eryn gets carried away; she closes her eyes and gives me her tongue. It’s a sexy kiss, like when you’re balling; I get excited like I never have before. Her eyelids fly up like window shades when I bite down. Then there is a piece of her tongue on my tongue. I swallow it whole. I think I read somewhere that tongues grow back, like lizards’ tails. My baby sounded like she was howling around a mouthful of hot coals, her lips forming bloody words. “See you at the trial,” I said, and Eryn’s face elongates into a pale mask of disbelief. Melanie is shouting from across the parking lot. When I turn to look I see her simultaneously running and reading the directions on a can of pepper spray, a miracle of coordination, her hair blown out behind her like a bleached flag.