Cliche City by Becky Johnston

BOMB 7 Fall 1983

New York Live Arts presents

Marjani Forte
Nov 15-19


Nancy Reese 001

Nancy Reese, Nightclub, 1983, oil and enamel on canvas, 37 × 59”.

You are about to enter a story where the characters speak like those in cheap novels and smutty magazines; where events and the points of view from which they are told shift in and out of strange voices; where the outlines of things are drawn and redrawn: the picture may get blurry. You may think we’re traveling in another world, but not sure where we’re going. Were on a journey to Babble On. We’re headed toward the language zone. Fasten your seatbelt; this is a world where the ephemera of ideas have been replaced by the tangibles of notions and mental bric-a-brac, sold for modest sums at roadside stands. Where learning the ways of the world means learning to drive a car.

GET INSIDE MY ALPHA, ROMEO.

I’m going to take you for a ride. We’re going to blast past some characters, cruise through some stories, and if we like them—we’ll pick them up. If we don’t, we’ll run them down.

HOP INTO MY HONDA, FONDA.

Then, at some point, I’m going to kick you out of my car. Find your own wheels, sucker. This is my story.

 

Part 1:

Entering the Story

Los Angeles is a desert town—all open spaces and air. Even with more tons of water than it can consume, its elements have dried up, petrified like beechwood; nothing grows there. The landscape—so flat and slippery you can slide and drift over it—refuses to let anything take hold. It’s a city full of moments suspended in eerie isolation; using its beauty to crystallize and then wipe out memory. A fog sets in, whole histories vanish, the immediate is celebrated as the only measure of truth; clouds roll over the hills, slowly erasing whatever small blemishes have been made on an ahistorical monument to immortality. At whatever cost. Nothing grows because nothing dies. Nothing dies because it’s already dead. Los Angeles is an opalescent jewel fallen from its setting; instead of sinking, it floats … hovers over the surface of things without getting too close. It’s a city where action is the exertion of one’s imagination, all events shimmer with the touch of dreamt phenomenon.

It’s the only place in the world where you can have an address and still not know where you live.

* * *

“Hello Los Angelenos! It’s a gloom and doom day in the Sun State. The weather forecast for this afternoon is cold, wet, and gray. Temperatures hugging the mid-50s. Perfect day for a murder. Expect a few light showers tapering off to a drizzle, and a dip into the chilly 30s tonight. There are dead bodies all over the city … you just can’t see them in the fog. Baby it’s cold outside! The sky looks like you could cut it with a butter knife! By midnight it could be raining cats and dogs!”

THIS IS LA: A BRAND NEW CITY OF WORN EXPRESSIONS.

* * *

Melva Harrington snapped off her car radio and made a face. “If it rains, I’ll wreck my new hairdo, and I paid 15 dollars for it! At that those prices I could buy a Dolly Parton wig.”

She made another face and pulled a card out of her genuine plastic handbag.

She read the card aloud, savoring the pretty sounds:

JERRY CARERRA
Dick for Hire
274 N. Cahuenga Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Number listed in phone book

“I wonder why Sam had this in his toupee,” she said as she continued to stare at the blood stained business card. Her curiosity had a rather short life, however, so she tucked the card between her two handsome mammaries, then turned her attention to the lone office building at 274 North Cahuenga: a simple brick and plywood construction bearing a remarkable resemblance to a cube, surrounded by stunted palms and landscaped in swirling mounds of gravel and dirt—part of the Post-Modern miracle sweeping the entire West Coast.

“Golly, I just love this new architecture style. It reminds me of a matchbox or something,” said Melva to herself. She laughed, pleased to be so up on the new trends and styles of her native city.

Melva’s famous 30-second attention span timer went off and she tried to think of something new to ponder. It was a difficult task, but she decided to look at herself in the rear view mirror. This kind of activity could generally hold her attention for up to five minutes.

“Not bad,” she thought as she gazed at her reflection. “Not bad at all. That Nairobi doctor did a real good job. I’ll have to send him a Christmas card this year.”

Hard to believe, but three years ago, sexpot Melva Harrington was a putz named Melvin Peters, and has a color photograph to prove it.

But that’s all water over the dam, as Melva’s late husband Sam was fond of saying. Now she’s Melva and she’s hot as a jalapena. Melva Harrington. Thirty years old. Some say older, none say younger. A walking volcanic eruption—ripples and waves of heat emanate from her body; tides of steaming lava rise to the surface and recede; men are drawn like supplicants to her warmth, they linger, wait, hope for an explosion … POW … and then Melva oozes and slides her way down their stomachs and between their legs. It burns. A slow pain that starts as a knot in the groin, rips its way up to the stomach, jabs the shoulders, and goes straight to the brain. Seismic shock waves. It hurts. But it’s a pain so pure and distilled they feel cleaned and purged afterward. Melva glistens. She’s all wet, slippery, musky. Melva is all woman.

Melva has just senselessly murdered her third husband, Sam Harrington, a 64-year-old dead man. If corpses had emotions, Sam Harrington would no doubt feel hurt and betrayed by Melva’s shabby treatment of him. If only he had known the dark side of Melva’s nature and her stormy unpredictable moods.

Melva has a history of murdering her husbands. All three of them.

IT ALL STARTED WITH SPIKE HELLMAN … .

“Gosh, I wonder where Bunny is. Gee, I sure do miss our little girl talks. I hope she’s not dead or anything,” thought Melva.

This thought depressed her. She had to think of something on the light side to get out of her funk.

“Let’s see … I’ve been married to three husbands in three short years,” she reminded herself, as she chewed gum and rearranged her bosoms. “That’s more than a lot of girls get in a whole lifetime. And I’ve been a girl for such a short time!”

This thought buoyed her flagging spirits.

Melva gathered her belongings—a pearl handled, diamond inlaid .22, a sterling silver ice pick, a set of gold plated razor blades, an Abercrombie and Fitch hunting knife, her lipstick, chewing gum, and breast cream—tossed it all into her purse and gaily stepped out onto the streets of Los Angeles.

“I feel like a new woman.”

 

2.

Jerry Carerra lounged in his office. The big “Dick for Hire” sign hung lazily from the door, every so often a breeze would pick it up, the sign would seem suspended in space, and then drop—kerplunk—against the door. Jerry watched this with no particular interest; his mind was reeling with Bad Thoughts (the content of which will be revealed later on). He shook his head in an effort to clear the air, admonished himself for letting his reveries trail off into such moody terrain, and returned to the more important thought that had previously occupied his mind, or what Jerry liked to call his “Thinking Structure.”

“I wonder how much money Leroy Neiman makes a year.”

He smiled, leaned back, grabbed a Tiparillo from the box on his desk, propped his feet on the table and glommed the brand new Leroy Neiman poster he purchased for $12.98 at the Safeway supermarket.

Jerry Carerra is no ordinary detective. He’s got class. He’s got style. He’s got culture. Jerry gets Abrams History of Art books, cuts out the pictures, frames them and hangs them on the walls of his office. He is a theater hound. He knows all the words to The Sound of Music. He loves music. He goes for good books and conversation. If he were ever invited to a Hollywood party, Jerry would walk past the rowdies and jokers, past the women in important jewels, and head over to the Intellectual Corner. This is Jerry in his element. The world of ideas. Beautiful things. Where people know what’s good and what’s bad and what’s okay and what’s totally disgusting. Where people speak his language. In the Intellectual Corner, Jerry cuts loose and talks about the meaning of life itself.

In his spare time, Jerry is working on a new theory of the universe. He calls it, What Makes the World Tick.

Jerry Carerra is a class act. He’s got that certain something. He’s quintessential swank.

 

3.

We’re in a white Mercedez Benz that I paid $50,000 for. At those prices I could live in a five bedroom house with ten acres of landscaped gardens in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. But I don’t care about five bedroom houses. Or Chapel Hill. Or gardens. I’m a devil in a blue dress head out on the highway looking for adventure born to be wild I’m a man of action a woman of my word I’m on the move and I’m moving in my Mercedes.

It’s a dank, cold humid day in Los Angeles. Perfect for a murder. From the windshield, we can barely make out the Bonaventure Towers eerily gleaming through the mist like revolvers spinning, looking for a target. We’re driving down Third Street, listening to the soundtrack from “One From the Heart”. In spite of the weather, we feel just fine.

We stop at a red light. An orange and purple Trans Am with matching shag carpet interior pulls to a stop next to us. We look inside and see a greasy Mexican outfitted in green and blue plaid. He looks at us and winks. Then revs his motor.

The light turns green. The Mexican goads us into a drag race.

Do we run him over or let him go?

We let him go.

Good. That was Jerry Carerra.

We shift from neutral into first gear.

 

4.

JERRY CARERRA IN FIRST GEAR:

I didn’t know what to expect that day. A fog hung over the city like a dirty grey blanket. A languid wind lapped at the thickness. A chill had set in, or maybe it was the existential torpor in my bones. I get all cold and clammy when I think about Death. Especially my own.

Thoughts like these don’t have a right to exist, I said to myself. A Thinking Structure should be full of beautiful thoughts, like “The hills are alive with the sound of music.” Thoughts of a pessimistic nature generally rub me the wrong way; that’s why I was so surprised to find myself wading in the cesspool of gloom. I imagined Death as a bad smell in the air. She was a caped, hooded, toothless wench who had BO and athletes foot. Her nails were dirty. Her breath stunk. She was slowly, slowly pulling forward, drawing me to her stench.

That’s when Melva Harrington walked into my office.

* * *

“Who farted?”

“Who the devil are you and what the Hades do you want?”

“I’m Melva Harrington. I found this card somewhere.”

“That’s my card. It’s got blood all over it.”

“Sorry. I’m having girl troubles.”

“A foxy dish like you could never have girl troubles.”

“Gee whillakers, Jerry. It’s real sweet of you to say so. I’ve been down in the dumps all day. I don’t know what’s the matter with me.”

“It must be the fog. I was just back there wading in the cesspool of gloom.”

“That’s no place for a suave person like yourself.”

“Hey, cupcake. Swell of you to say so.”

“Call me Melva.”

“Okay, Melva. You know, you’re making me feel a heck of a lot better than I did before that smell hit my nose. Maybe we should exchange telephone numbers and chat on the phone every day; keep us from getting the blues.”

“Oh Jerry. I don’t want to talk to you. I want to bend over so you can bore me to death.”

“Melva, you don’t even know me!”

“But I have your card: Dick for Hire.”

“Don’t take that card the wrong way, Melva.”

“I can take it any way. Honest, Jer.”

“Melva, I’m not running a meat market on Cahuenga, I’ll have you know. Dick is a metaphor … or maybe I should say a simile … hmmm … . I don’t know … maybe a paradigm … for a lot more things than a male protuberance.”

“I don’t want to talk about symbolism and such.”

“You’ve come to the wrong place, kitten. Shove off. I’m a detective and a philosopher, but I ain’t no stud.”

“In that case, my husband has been senselessly murdered and I don’t know who did it.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, Melva. What do you want me to do about it?”

“I want you to find the evil brute who did this ignoble deed.”

“Give me a hint, a clue, a hook …”

IT ALL STARTED WITH SPIKE HELLMAN … .

 

5.

So, I took the job.

She wasn’t kidding. Poor Sam Harrington had been shot in the head with a .22, slashed with razors, stabbed in the back with a hunting knife, and poked like a pin cushion with an ice pick. This was the work of a psychotic murderer. I was worried about Melva, a sweet dame like her shouldn’t see such ugly things. Its bad for your Thinking Structure. Funny about Melva: she took it all in stride.

I like a gal who doesn’t get squeamish at the sight of a mutilated corpse

* * *

STANDING IN THE HARRINGTON LIVING ROOM, LOOKING AT THE MUTILATED CORPSE.

“Tell me, Jerry, who do you think murdered my husband?”

“Well, let me think. Hmmmmm. Do you have a maid?”

“Why yes, I do.”

“What does she look like?”

“She’s tall, with red hair and millions of freckles, if you want to know the truth.”

“What’s her name?”

“Bunny O’Sullivan.”

“I logically guess that it was the red-headed maid, Bunny, who brutally murdered your husband because I can’t think of anything else off the top of my head.”

“Jerry. What a terrible thing to say about somebody you don’t even know.”

“Let me meet her.”

“You can’t talk to her. Bunny is no longer in my employ. She came to me yesterday, sobbing into her silk hank with the initials S. H. on it, and said she couldn’t work for me any more. If the truth be told, it was Sam who got on her nerves. Just think, if she had stayed on for just a few more hours, she wouldn’t have to work for him anymore.”

“Such is life, Melva.”

“Listen to me, Jerry. The maid is innocent. Beyond a shadow of a doubt.”

* * *

The maid did it. Any fool could see that she was having mental problems compounded by a severe inferiority complex and took it out on Sam Harrington. Using my suave charm, I got Melva to blurt out her name.

I’m looking for Bunny O’Sullivan. If you find her, call me at (phone number listed in book).

 

6.

Bunny O’Sullivan is a whore. CALL HER FOR A GOOD TIME. 936-0078. We can dispense with formalities like physical description or some evocation of her state of mind. When speaking of Bunny O’Sullivan, nothing could be more apropos than the familiar adage, “Actions speak louder than words.” For Bunny has seen a lot of action, and has been, like the predicate in an intransitive verb phrase, the object of a lot of action. Bunny O’Sullivan is a human rag. She’s been tossed on more beds, rugs, floors, movie theater aisles, couches, davenports, chaise, lounges, and beach blankets than a lifetime supply of Kleenex. After so many years of falling backward, Bunny has developed an instant reflex: the minute she feels the slightest hint of disequilibrium, the smallest pull of a backward movement, she drops down on the ground and throws her legs in the air. Hers is a perpetual state of sexual agitation. Stand close, put your ear to her belly, and you’ll hear a low hum. It’s the motor in her pussy. It’s the center of her soul. It’s her engine. For some people, their engine is in their heart, for others, it’s in their brain; but for Bunny, it’s right there between her legs—a kind of rasping purr, a subtle vibration, slow burn. Her engine propels her forward, keeps her in balance, gives her a center of gravity. Everything emanates, from between her legs, all sense perception and cognitive powers are located deep within the vaginal walls. Her engine stores material like a memory, keeps itself in tune by idling, and when Bunny decides to go for a ride, that engine will take her around the world. Bunny O’Sullivan is a whore. 282-9967. Call her for a seat on the space shuttle. Get inside and start the engine. YOU’RE FLYING TO THE MOON MISTER AND YOU CANT GET OFF.

* * *

Bunny met Melva when Melva was serving time in the slammer for her 20th shop-lifting offense. Bunny was there on a prostitution rap. The two dames chit-chatted about life, love, and their favorite author, Virginia Woolf. Within days, they were inseparable, and after they got out, Melva helped Bunny go straight by hiring her as her personal maid.

 

7.

We’re cruising down Santa Monica Boulevard in our Los Angeles County Police Car. Number 913. We’re the Black and White boys. We pass through fag town in Hollywood—block after block of male prostitutes mincing and swaggering, strutting and posing. Last night we arrested 20 of them and ended a grueling day of police work with a relaxing blow job. We’re LAPD goddamnit motherfucker. I’ll hang you by your toenails and pour hot wax down your throat.

​Nancy Reese 002

Nancy Reese, Sleeping Giant, 1983, pastel and pencil on paper, 20 × 34”.

We learn to talk that way by watching Charles Bronson movies at the drive-in.

We get bored with the boys and head up to Sunset Boulevard. Tonight we’re in the mood for a quick job by one of the girls on the strip.

We amble down Sunset at a leisurely pace, checking out the merchandise. We’ve screwed them all before. This job is boring. Why don’t they get some new whores on the street? Its enough to make a guy want to quit the force.

Then. We spot a rookie. A redhead with freckles, and a pair of knockers that could kill you if you got too close. We slow down, sidle over to the carrot top. She spots us and starts to run. Faster. We speed up. She’s a blur in the windshield. You pull your gun out. You aim. She’s running down Sunset faster than we can drive. You pull the trigger.

BLAM! The whore is dead.

We drive away and decide to go to the barrios to get an enchilada.

 

8.

Bunny O’Sullivan woke up in the intensive care ward at Cedar’s Sinai two days later and didn’t remember anything. She didn’t remember killing Sam Harrington. She didn’t remember convincing Melva to check out the Mexican detective whose card they found in Sam’s toupee. She didn’t remember leaving Melva’s house at six o’clock in the morning on that cold foggy day and checking into the Saharan Hotel on Sunset Boulevard. She didn’t remember dressing up as a prostitute and cruising Sunset Boulevard at night.

She didn’t remember that six years ago she used to be Spike Hellman until she got a sex change.

“Golly, my memory is so bad. I guess it must be all those Black Russians I drink,” she said as she looked around her hospital room.

“I wonder what Melva’s doing. Gee, I sure do miss our girl talks, they were so informative. I hope she’s not dead or anything.”

THE TELEPHONE RINGS.

* * * * * * *

“Bunny, is that you? It’s Melva!”

“Melval What a coincidence! I was just thinking about you! How’d you know I was here?”

“I read in the Herald Examiner that a red-headed hooker was shot on Sunset Boulevard, and I just knew it had to be you!”

“Oh my gosh! I made the papers!”

“That’s why I’m calling, honey! You’ve just got to get out of there! I hired that Mexican detective to find Sam’s killer!”

“But Melva, you killed Sam!”

“I did not! You did!”

“Don’t get all defensive! We both did!”

“Okay!”

PAUSE

“Can I ask a personal question, Melva?”

“Of course!”

“Why’d you hire him?”

“I was confused by the semantic meaning of the “dick” on his business card, if the truth be told!”

“Melva, you’re not cheating on me, are you?”

“Spike, I could never cheat on you, even if you’re Bunny!”

“Are you going to kill him, honey?”

“Of course!”

“What does he know?”

“Nothing! Nada, as his people say!”

“I just wonder about that Melva! I just get a funny feeling in my buttocks about it all!”

“Why do you get that feeling, Bunny?”

“Because Sam had that card hidden in his toupee and you know how much importance he attached to that toupee!”

“That’s why I hired him, if the absolute truth be told! I suspected Sam of suspecting me and I suspect he suspected you, too. You know, Bunny, suspicion can ruin a marriage. Cary Grant made a movie about this very thing and I think it’s the final statement on the subject.”

“I’d love to talk more about it, honey, but I see the Mexican detective getting out of his car in the parking lot, and my female instincts tell me I should probably get off the phone and get out of here!”

“That’s why I’m calling, if you want to know the truth! He told me he was going up to the hospital to force a confession from you!”

THE LINE GOES DEAD.

 

9.

Women frighten and fascinate Jerry Carerra. He sees them as creatures from another planet, with a suffocating, mystical web of secrets, codes and customs that, like ancient Indian rituals and ceremonies, become less fathomable the longer one investigates their nature. Jerry is a rationalist, an empiricist. His philosophical speculations, instead of soaring out of earth’s reach and spiraling through the heavens, tumble to the ground and mix with real earthly bodies. Jerry knows only that which can be proved, but the sole standard for proof rests upon himself. Thus, his universe is egocentric, like a young child’s who cannot understand that events outside himself have an existence not controlled by him. Jerry stands at a distance from the world, an impassive observer who relegates all unknown phenomenon to the tricky terrain of fantasy, imagination. Life often feels to him like a movie which he can turn on and off at will.

* * *

FLASHBACK, EXTERIOR. SUNSET BOULEVARD. DAY. 1950.

It’s a hot, sultry day. Steam pours off buildings. People float through the vapors like specters. We could be in the jungle. We could be in heaven. We’re in a movie.

A CADILLAC CONVERTIBLE rounds the bend on Sunset and Doheny. We HEAR Benny Goodman’s band playing “Moonlight Sonata” on the radio.

PULL IN CLOSER TO REVEAL that MARGE CARERRA and her four-year-old son JERRY are cruising at top speed in the car, looking like the heat could never touch them. Marge Carerra is an astonishingly beautiful Spanish woman. A soul on fire. She looks at her son and smiles. They’re the only two people in the world.

This is a moment preserved in vivid detail in Jerry’s memory, and with this image come a flood of contradictory feelings: love, euphoria, grief and loss. It’s like a visual talisman, charged with all the strongest feelings of a lifetime. So much so, that whenever Jerry hears “Moonlight Sonata,” or rides down Sunset near Doheny, he re-lives this moment and is transported to another time.

SLIGHT TIME CUT: EXTERIOR. STANDARD OIL STATION.

The Cadillac glides into the gas station and stops. A handsome dark haired GAS STATION ATTENDANT comes out and stands a distance away, surveying mother and child. He refuses to come to the car, gesturing that he’s got no time for the kid. Marge Carerra gets out of the car, walks over to the man and smiles nervously. He grunts a greeting. They walk into the office.

ANOTHER ANGLE—JERRY’S POV.

He watches as the man gives his mother some money and the two of them disappear.

The man is Jerry’s father, Herman Carerra.

 

10.

WHAT MAKES THE UNIVERSE TICK: INTRODUCTION

Who am I and where did I come from, you might logically ask, in this cesspool of confusion in which we live. I might have an answer for you.

If you are like me, you came out of your mother’s big toe. You don’t have a father. A father is an unnecessary thing because, as I intend to prove in my book, What Makes the Universe Tick, women have babies all by themselves. Many books have been written on the subject and a lot of scientific research backs this theory up. I do not have time to cite it all, so I ask you to take my word for it. You do not have a father.

How do I know this as an absolute fact of life?

Because I don’t have a father. My mother made me all by herself, just like authors make up characters in short stories. I defy you to find my father. He doesn’t exist. If you think he does, and if you find him, I will give you three thousand dollars.

His name is Herman Carerra. He goes under several other aliases. One of them is Solly Weinberg. Another is Mel Hanson. Another is Spike Hellman.

Let us now move on to Chapter One: The Search for an Unidentified Lying Object.

* * *

There is only one passion in Jerry Carerra’s life: A deep, profound, unremitting loathing for his father. Whoever he is. Jerry only knows fragmented shards from his mother’s piecemeal story of their fateful meeting in the men’s room at a Standard Oil Station on Whittier Boulevard. Of the few embellished facts that Jerry is certain, he knows the man’s name was Herman Carerra and from the moment Jerry was born, he was cursed with the name of his and his mother’s nemesis.

Nancy Reese 003

Nancy Reese, Cat, 1983, Pastel, pencil, paper, 28 × 34”.

11.

ENTERING THE LANGUAGE ZONE:

Jerry Carerra grew up in the East Los Angeles barrio where gang warfare and violent crimes are part of one’s everyday existence. His mother was a fullblooded Mexican. The ethnic (and actual) origins of his father, Herman Carerra, remain questionable, but Marge Carerra repeatedly asseverated that he was a randy, rakish Irish raconteur. Perhaps, but the dominant features figuring in Jerry’s overall appearance are unquestionably Hispanic. He has the sloping undulated features of a pre-Columbian ceremonial mask; dark porous skin given easily to over-perspiration and small, black onyx-like eyes. His hair is a welter of indigo hemp. At one time these features were physical proof of great cultural and spiritual strength; they bespoke the bloodline of the Mayas and Aztecs—civilizations with inscrutable mystical powers and a resplendent, ordained perspicacity. A civilization blessed by the Gods, whose inhabitants existed by divine right, and in whose hands the language of the Gods was spoken in changing yet timeless forms. These same features, once thought to be the apotheosis of physical beauty, with faces serenely composed in stone to remind one of the magnitude and depth of that beauty, have been superseded by features so sharp they look grafted onto the face: aquiline noses, patrician chins, jutting brows. Sapphire-agate eyes, fair hair, and white poreless skin that keeps the contaminated air out of their sleek hard bodies. In Los Angeles, Mexicans have been designated the lowest form of human species by the white evolutionists who run the city out of Beverly Hills, parts of Hancock Park and certain desirable sections of Hollywood. Mexicans frighten the white population because they are dark, and when one’s color and moral spectrum covers the dizzying ranges between black and white, the closer the scale tips into the dark regions of the scale, the less familiar the world seems, and unfamiliarity is another form of terror for them. Mexicans confuse and upset the balance of their morality because many of them remember from history class that the land on which they have built fortunes once belonged to the people whom they now employ at sub-standard wages to make them richer; make their pores smaller, make their bodies sleeker. But Los Angeles is a city without memory, since it is a city without history. The Angeleno plutocracy seems to regard the entire Mexican population as a vast plateau beyond the river that one day just emerged into existence as a barrio. The Mexicans anger them because they possess their own language and use it as their survival weapon. Their language is theirs and theirs alone. It cannot be appropriated, divined away of stolen from them. With the power of their own language, Mexicans know that they will never be fully absorbed into a culture that so blatantly despises them, thus giving them the ability to remain outside pre-emption, while amplifying the decibel level of the derision hurled at them. No matter. All that gringo, rigamarole goes in one ear and out the other. The Mexicans enjoy flaunting their special brand of private property—the communal sharing of a privileged, secret code. They know something we don’t know. Mysteries of language. Mysteries in language. Even if you speak it, you won’t understand what they’re saying.

* * *


You’re in a car. You’re by yourself. You’re a white man. That car cost you $50,000. The radial tires alone cost as much as your daughter’s braces. The Blaupunkt stereo system could have paid Jerry Carerra’s rent for four months. You listen to Julio Iglesias, a Spaniard who could be a dentist from Orange County. You are proud of your culturally diverse tastes. You travel down Sixth Street, and as the guitars and Julio’s voice swell to a climax, you drive into the downtown Los Angeles’s metropolis: a dying urban center with the only real street life in the whole city. You continue east on Sixth and glide through the loft and warehouse district, pleased that so many young artists have moved downtown and cleaned the area up. You pass through several blocks of Los Angeles’s version of skid row—a claque of bums sunbathing on a bar stoop. You cross the bridge over the Los Angeles River and drive into the outer perimeters of East Los Angeles. What had been Sixth Street on the other side of the bridge has now become Whittier Boulevard. You enter the barrio. Mexicans surround your car, pipes and bats in their hands. You speed up, hoping your car’s famous pick-up won’t fail you now. The Mexicans jump on the hood of your car. They smash the windshield in. They rip the chrome off. They slit the tires. They smash the doors. They drag you out of the car . . 

 

12.

FLASHBACK. 1968. WHITTIER BOULEVARD.

At two o’clock in the morning on April 18, 1968, Jerry Carerra woke from a troubled sleep full of sullen, desultory dreams. He got up and went to the bathroom of the modest adobe bungalow he shared with his mother, turned on the light, and rubbed his eyes purely out of habit. When his foggy vision cleared, he saw the image that has burned a hole through his retina and left a permanent impression on his cortex. Marge Carerra lay in the bathtub submerged in a pool of her own blood. The razor blades had been thrown across the floor. Blood covered the surfaces of the floors, walls, and fixtures like a spume of liquid rubies.

He closed the door. He didn’t bother to get dressed. He walked out of that apartment and never returned to get his clothes, books, records, money.

Marge Carerra was the sum total of Jerry’s life up to that moment. The idea of having his own life and claiming it for himself did not enter into his somewhat prismatically deluded self-identity. For Jerry lived by association—through his mother, whom he believed created him as she told him God had created man with multi-colored clay from the earth. Until the age of 20, Jerry had never thought in tangible terms about what he wanted to do with himself. The dull realities of choosing a profession, deciding what he wanted to do instead of be, joining a workforce, all remained dim but cozy abstractions. He imagined himself a Man of Ideas, a relentless pursuer of the truth, a man whose world was limited only by the absence of imagination. This intensely cerebral if not hopelessly affected posture was reinforced by his doting mother, who stoically provided for the two of them in order to give Jerry time to develop and refine his intellect: something his mother believed would give him entry to the white world to which she so ardently aspired.

After his mother’s suicide, Jerry orbited the earth one last time, re-entered the stratosphere and joined the real world. He abjured his former chimerical existence and adjured to live in the world of real things and time. And in so doing, to give his life a mission. He vowed to vindicate his mother’s profoundly unhappy life by finding the man who had taken her soul. Herman Carerra killed the spirit that breathed life into Marge Carerra’s body. After she got pregnant, her flame began to sputter, then smolder, and when she gave birth to Jerry, it was as if all the life in her drifted away like the last whispers of smoke from a loud screaming fire.

Jerry Carerra blames Herman Carerra for his mother’s death—spiritually as well as physically. For this, Herman Carerra must die.

Of course, this was why Jerry decided to become a detective.

* * *

STAY TUNED FOR PART 2.

 

If you want to know what happened to Bunny O’Sullivan alias Spike Hellman alias Herman Carerra, call me at (213) 445-9900. I think the rest is self-explanatory.

Becky Johnston by Betsy Sussler
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