Such is Life…

The Saturday crowd was rushing about the famous fisherman’s wharf. The gulls called and the salt air was filled with lovely scents of fresh seafood and sourdough bread.  The Halloween decorations were everywhere and there was a bit of urgency as people hunted down the various accessories that they would need to fulfill their costumes.

Joey and Mike walked to the very end of the pier where Joey had stood only a few days before debating his righteous ending, but it was very different this time.  He wasn’t alone.

He noticed several pay-to-use binoculars that looked like oversized parking meters. Through the slots, one could look at the magnified views of the bay including, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz. He hadn’t seen them before. It was dark then, but it wasn’t the dim light that kept him from seeing everything.  He was in a fog of anger and depression that was blinding him. Standing here in the daylight, his own self, bright shining as the sun, he felt far from that incarnation.

“My grandfather did a stay on Alcatraz,” Mike said.

“Your grandpa was a criminal?”

“Hey, I just said he did time on Alcatraz. He wasn’t a criminal; he ran booze. You drink booze don’t cha? That doesn’t make you a criminal.”

“Was he arrested because of abolition?”

“Prohibition. America thought she could function without something to wash down the dirt,” Mike said.

“I think I saw a movie about it.”

“I wonder what prison they’ll put me in?” Mike asked himself.

“Why would you go to jail?”

Mike scoffed, shook his head, and then said, “I am not a good man.”

“Good to me,” Joey replied.

“When I wanna be, I am,” smiled Mike.

“I think you have a lot of love inside you.”

“Joey… I’m complicated and I play dangerously.”

The wind picked up, and the harsh October chill rolled over as the afternoon began to wane.

“Joey, you’re too young to know what love is,” Mike said as he rustled Joey’s new hair, “We need to head back to the Castro. I have a place for you to stay.”

“Can’t I stay with you?”

“Whenever you want, but I have a place for you to call your own too.”

“I don’t want to be alone,” Joey frowned.

“I didn’t say alone. This house comes complete with family— some assembly required. It might be missing a few screws too.”

Mike refused to explain beyond that and the two made a quick trip back to the Castro.

Joey was still amazed at the towering structures of the city. The skyscrapers and concrete canyons drew his eyes, and he was pressed against the glass of the taxi for the whole ride. This was the world that he had dreamed of in those dark moments; this was the life that he had always wanted. He was a prince in a new kingdom and the cost was less than zero.

The cab let them out in the front of a small bar named ‘Arcadia’. The bar was painted black, with a pink and blue neon sign.

“From this point on, you never enter the bar through the front door. There is a back entrance, and you’ll have to use that; do you understand?” asked Mike.

Mike bent over and looked at Joey eye-to-eye. His demeanor changed to the strange look that he had when he attacked Joey. An empty moment in an otherwise full and complicated face.

Joey nodded.

The door opened and there was a dank scent of liquor, sweat, and cleaning supplies. It was the kind of smell that only came from a bar during the day but could never be smelled at night. Mike left the door open, walked in, and with the snap of a switch, dim flickering lights slowly revealed the interiors of the bar. There was only one counter and behind it sat a mirrored wall with shelves. Upon the shelves sat several bottles of liquor. Joey had never seen so many different types of booze. Everything was painted black from floor to ceiling with a far wall that was covered in tiled mirrors.

“This is my bar, but it’s only half of my business,” Mike said as he crossed to a doorway at the far end of the large room.

They crossed a doorless threshold that led to a kitchen, though nothing looked as if it had been used in years. Old stoves were covered with boxes of bar supplies and a walk-in fridge was open and stored hundreds of bottles of booze. It was a conflicting catastrophe of a kitchen made into a storeroom.

“When I got this, the restaurant was already closed, but it was owned by Russians. A very old family; they had been here for nearly a hundred years,” Mike said, then turned and walked up the stairs.

At the end of the kitchen was a metal door with warnings about being open during business hours and a large staircase. Joey noted that the rails, though old and worn, were crafted and detailed. He imagined an old Russian man carving them out a hundred years ago.

The second story was a narrow hallway, with several doors, and sloppily painted, top to bottom, with black paint. Black lights lit the passage and gave an eerie, unnatural feel similar to the entrance to Mike’s home. Handprints and graffiti, made with fluorescing paint, glowed in the dark. Joey looked down and his skin was a deep purple. Mike looked back, smiled at him with glowing teeth and otherworldly eyes, and said, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

“What does that mean, Mike?”

“It means you need to read more, Joey.”

The two went to the end of the hall and to another set of stairs that led upward to the third story. Once at the top of the interiors looked more inline with an older building. No black lights or weird paint, just peeling wallpaper and flickering wall-mounted lights. There were several doors, all closed on one side and a single door on the other.

“Welcome to the Loft,” said Mike as he opened the single door.

A massive open space emerged from behind the boring, non-descript, door.  It was a huge room with all the walls taken down, and only steel support structures remaining. Raw brick showed through, and the windows were painted black on the lower halves. The light could come in, but unless you were flying by you could not look in. The walls were lined with posters of rock stars, rap bands, and filled with more graffiti.

There were four couches, all different styles. Seven TV’s sat stacked upon one another and each was hooked up to a video game system and a VCR. There were magazines strewn about and containers from various fast-food places with half-eaten food in them. More clothes than Joey had ever seen littered the remainder of the room and hid the floor completely. It was as if a department store opened the roof and dumped its entire stock into the Loft.

The smell was like a locker room with a distinctly sour scent. It was mixed with cigarettes, air fresheners, and incense and was just as chaotic as what he was seeing.

In the corner of the room was a stall, similar to what you would find in a public bathroom. Next to it was a shower area with no walls. There was a shower head, tiles, pony walls, and a drain, just like a locker room shower, but there was no curtain or anything to make the event private.

A dildo stuck out of the wall, near the faucet handles, attached with a suction cup. to the tile. A small rubber duck sat next to several bottles of Shampoo on the tile floor. Next to the shower was a sink with a huge mirror that had a crack across it. Several stickers of ponies, unicorns, and little colored bears were around the edges.  Hundreds of polaroid photos and magazine clippings were pasted on the walls.

The counter of the sink was littered with a variety of expensive gels, mousses, and hairsprays. There were four hairdryers, a set of curling irons, and a wig on a Styrofoam head.

To the left of the entrance was a kitchenette complete with a refrigerator, stove, and piles of dirty dishes. An island counter separated the kitchen from the rest of the room. On the far end of the room, underneath a menagerie of Christmas lights, was a huge king-size bed with four people interlocked like kittens in a litter. They were all asleep, snoring, and completely oblivious to the intruders. Above the bed was a canvas flag with “Punk’s not Dead” hand-scrawled with a pen.

“These are my little angels; my go-go dancers and this is your new family.”

“I can’t dance,” said Joey snapping back from the overstimulating room.

“You’re one of them now,” Mike gently nudged him in the door.

“I don’t know any of them.”

“Hey!” Mike shouted and pounded on the side of the wall.

Joey jumped.

Two of the boys rolled over and one with a collapsed blue mohawk sat up and mumbled a question.

“Joystick; this is Joey. He is taking Diamond’s place. Everything that belonged to Diamond now belongs to him.”

The spiky blue-haired boy seemed unimpressed, yawned, and went back to sleep clutching a pink teddy bear.

“Well, this is where we part, Joey. I’ll bring your things tonight when I open the bar.”

Joey’s eyes didn’t tear up. He wasn’t hurt, or at the least, he wasn’t going to let himself feel hurt. Mike was pawning him off into some personal harem and he didn’t like it.

“Kiddo, don’t worry about it. The boys will take care of you. Watch TV or something. We have HBO and Showtime,” Mike turned and then stopped at five paces, “One last thing. You can leave whenever you want, but all I ask is that you let me know so I can replace you in the line-up. Just give it a shot Joey. And remember, I love you.”

“Are you coming back?”

“Yes, I own the building, these boys work for me, just like you do now.”

“Mike, no.”

“Don’t worry about it.  Tonight, you can hang with the boys and if you hate it tomorrow, I will personally pay for you to go back home.”

With that, Mike was gone.

Joey walked up to the bed to see if ‘Joystick’ was up. He lightly shook the boy’s leg and noticed an oily sheen and glitter on his skin. The sleeping boy moaned an unintelligible reply and another boy farted.

Joey looked at the door then at the chaotic circus he stood in. This was better than the street, but was it better than going home?  He was starting to miss his grandparents and his friends.  Burning red hate came over him because he knew he could never go back.

“Well blue-boy, I guess we’re going to be best friends,” Joey said to himself, walked over to a dirty couch, and slumped down to pout.


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