The Blackwatch is a beer bar on the corner of Alabama street and Adams Avenue, in downtown Huntington Beach. It is an aging bar that only serves beer, no booze. The inside is purely wood, dark mahogany on the walls, floor, and bar. The beer is cheap and it doesn’t cost a thing to shoot pool. Next door is a pizza place and one block away in an anonymous house is Mister Jim, who often makes a brief appearance, then vanishes without a goodbye.
There are four full-sized pool tables and an old jukebox that sits in the corner. Over every pool table hangs a lime green lamp that the players constantly whack with their pool stick—accidentally of course. This gets Dan—a mean old fart who has worked here since the bar opened forty years ago—all fired up. He is tall, what little hair he has is gray, and his ear lobes flap a little when he moves. He spends every waking hour on either side of the bar, and when Johnny Cash croons from the almost ancient jukebox, Dan always turns it off. “Fuckin’ country nasal twang!”
In a perfect world I live in a decent studio apartment.
I have pictures that hang on my black painted walls—pictures by Warhol and artists I know nothing about. The carpet is charcoal grey. There is a window on the opposite wall of the front door that looks out at the light blue sky, until someone or something paints it black like the worst kind of death. I have nice furniture: a black leather couch, maple coffee and end tables—stained a dark warm brown—two antique lamps made mostly of glass that sit on the tables, one red and one green, and a black upright piano that rests in the corner and every day and night I sit in my apartment and write music and literature, poetry and prose. Then, after my work is done I walk to the Blackwatch for a couple of beers. And I always say hello to Mister Jim.
But as you might already know, this is surely not the case.
The truth is, I live in my black van and it is parked on Atlanta Avenue and it is raining; large drops of salty rain slither down my windshield and clean off a year’s worth of dirt. I have been inside of the van all day, working on a story. It is time to walk to the bar to get a beer and on the way I think about what I’ve written: two lovers who drown halfway to Catalina when their forty-five foot boat sinks—what does it all mean? I stop by the liquor store to get some smokes, then walk across the street to have a seat at the bar and order a nice cool drink then sit there for almost three hours and drink four bottled beers.
Mister Jim usually shows every hour.
But today there is no sign of Jim, who is a young white man who doesn’t do drugs, just sells them. But I don’t want to know Jim other than, “Hey Jimbo, thanks for the heroin, see ya tomorrow Jimbo, see ya tomorrow you deadly salesman, you Arthur Miller hack, you, you…never mind…”
Another hour and no Jim.
Just a couple of dirty construction workers and a blond-haired fat lady who wears a black dress, her neck draped with a dirty string of sham pearls. I finish my beer and start to sweat. My eyes drench my face. I have to take a shit for the first time in almost a week. The bloody kind. I practically run to the bathroom and open the door. The wind stings my cold metal skin as I make it to the toilet and gallantly begin to give birth to a rock hard shit the size of a watermelon; a goddamn watermelon being squeezed through my tiny little bunghole with utter vehemence. It rips and tears and I am certain I am going to die.
Just like Elvis.
On the crapper.
Laboring, (if that’s what you call having a baby).
Shitting for my goddamn life!
Oh! Don’t Be Cruel!!
I sing as low and loud as I can and try to push the watermelon out, I don’t want no other lover, Ahhhhhhhhh! Baby it’s just you I’m, thinking….okay here goes….OOOOOOOOOOF!!! I make sure that is all that comes out then bring it down a few notches, serenading a force and possibly the worst pain I have ever felt. I grab my bottle of Xanax from the inside pocket of my leather jacket and take two milligrams: one full pill. I wash it down with a bottle of beer and a half an hour later I feel much, much better.
I repeat this ritual every hour on the hour until the sun goes down—three pills, six milligrams, five beers, but still no Mister Jim.
Another two hours drag on.
I drink three more beers.
The Xanax and beer have helped, but only temporarily of course. The sickness is about to land hard. If I don’t find Jim within the hour, I will have to work extremely hard at keeping the now runny shit inside of my gauntish ass, and not down the scabs of my scrawny legs.
Two more milligrams.
I leave the bar and reach the van.
I try to write a story about a hooker and her vicious slayings all across the state of New York. A brutal tale with a brutal ending. But I am much too sick to write, so I write the idea down instead. I am too sick to do anything, but the idea had been born which holds its significance. Not as significant as the actual writing, but it’s something.
I return to the bar and Dan is gone. He is “sick” and has called in the night girl, Milly. She came in a few hours earlier and now stands behind the bar, putting pretzels into little brown bowls. She is young, beautiful, has long black hair like Pocahontas. Her eyes carry a verdant sheen and are shadowed by eyelashes just as prevailing, hypnotic. I try to hide my sweaty forehead under my black stringy hair that is black black black and I ask if she knows where Mister Jim is, but she says no.
I try even harder to hide behind my black shades as my eyes drip down my cheeks and onto my lips.
Two more milligrams I wash down with a bottled Bud and one stale pretzel that took me ten minutes to swallow. It is now a half an hour later and my condition has vastly improved. The ten milligrams of Xanax (five full pills, a.k.a. “bars”) have finally kicked in. Still I pop another bar, pill, another two milligrams, through the good times and bad, a perfect antidote for a bad case of the “Fuck Its.”
Milly and I talk and share a pitcher of beer. She tells me about her grandpa, how he recently died in his sleep in his black canopy bed, just up the street in their town-home, the town-home Milly was born in. She spoke of her grandpa and how sweet he was. How he raised her since she was a little girl. How Milly’s mother had to give birth to Milly on the living room floor. How Milly’s grandpa delivered Milly and how Milly’s mom died two days after she gave birth to Milly in that same town-home from a goddamn heroin overdose. How Milly’s Dad was some John Doe she met at a Cramps show in 1981. How he wasn’t there at all, for the birth or the funeral.
“My Grandpa always wore the same black hat and played a green violin, and didn’t know any music other than classical artists like Mozart, Beethoven Brahms etc. But he never told me to turn down my records. And it was always the Ramones, The Clash, The Damned. Ya know, the good stuff Jonny boy.”
I sit at the bar talking to Milly for hours. Two more milligrams. The rain lets up but still soaks the inaudible Tuesday streets. Milly and I get a little drunk. We laugh and carry on as the bar remains empty through the late afternoon and into the evening. We finish our third pitcher of beer before I walk her home in the rain. I reach into my pocket—two milligrams—I let the rain hit my face as I walk with my head tilted back and when we reach her pad I give her a kiss on the cheek and say goodbye before she has the chance to invite me in.
The rain continues as I head back to the van.
I keep an eye out for Mister Jim and go one block out of my way to peak in the Blackwatch one last time. The place is dead. Just a couple of locals I know pretty damn well, but not by name. I grab their attention and interrupt their disconsolate stare. They turn to me with dead and super red rimmed eyes.
“Where’s Mister Jim?”
“We wish we knew , we really fucking do.”
Two more milligrams, followed by two dirty tears. One on the left and one on the right. They race like two polluted currents and land in the corners of my dried up mouth.
Two week has gone by and still no sign of Mister Jim.
I spent the first week with no sleep. I popped Xanax like M&M’, before I ran out, then had to kick those as well, (some risky risky business in the seizure world). But the hardest part of my kick is over; and by now the town assumes that our “pal” Mister Jim, is in the county jail—wearing orange, eating soy, listening to inmates lie about their street hustles and how many women they fuck. All the while the Blackwatch fills with laughter and a plethora of yellow teeth and the jukebox plays whatever it plays and it all sounds good. The pool tables run smooth and nobody whacks the green lamps with their drunken pool stick. Milly and I flirt and shoot pool, then our “friend” Marty comes in with an unusual look painted on his yellow-green face.
“Mister Jim’s truck’s been discovered on the bottom of Lake Elsinore!” he sadly and excitedly tells us. “Ya know with the fish and the garbage and that green stuff and…”
“Okay okay calm down,” Milly says. “Slow down Marty.”
“Okay, apparently the FBI went through Jim’s room, ya know, opened his safe and all that and found twenty thousand dollars and over five hundred hits of ecstasy. So Jim didn’t take off for good,” he continues. “Because he obviously would have taken that stuff with him.”
“Jim was murdered in a drug deal. He’d driven his truck to Murrieta to make a rather large deal—larger than usual—and that is also what he told his roommate before he left. Plus, the cell phone calls and texts were relevant as well…” he drops is chin then for a moment the looks at me with a countenance of ambiguity, more sadness. “… somebody jacked him for the pound of meth he brought. Killed him. Dumped his truck at the bottom of Lake Elsinore, thinking nobody would ever find it.”
The body, not so strangely, has not been recovered.
Wet or dry.
Dead or alive.
Just the moss-covered truck with death inside, a couple of curious fish lurking through the hollow wreckage. Milly and I just sit and pretend to listen to Marty, who is now being a little dramatic with the tear build up. I think about it all really hard while Marty carries on:
A man who walks through life and makes money off the mentally sick and tortured souls. Takes our money so the pain stops—physically and emotionally—the same pain he provides for the right amount of cash. Cash that should have paid for my girls’ new pair of shoes, a trip to the batting cages, but instead Daddy needed his medicine, so I could breathe, see, walk, talk, live…
“Sorry to hear that Marty,” I lie. No attempt to sugar coat my lack of compassion for Mister Jim. Marty says goodbye. Milly and I follow him out the door and watch him and his old blue hatchback purr away in the rain. Milly invites me over to her house for more drinks. This time I accept.
We arrive to Milly’s, soaked in rain.
Milly goes into the bedroom and changes into dry sweats and brings me black pajama pants and a green jersey with the number 69 on it. She grabs a couple of beers and sits next to me on the yellow couch and I gaze about the room and look at pictures of her and her grandpa, admiring her cozy pad. Next to the bottom of the stairs is on old white player piano that sits alone in the dark and above the black fireplace mantle hangs her grandpa’s green violin, with all of its strings and not a scratch on it. The fire in the fireplace dances below as we finish our drinks then fool around a little but don’t have sex, (my dick still much out of shape, so I practice the art of altruism).
We fall asleep on the yellow couch and the rain forms a sporadic pulse as the drops slide down the wet, gable roof. Hours later I open my eyes but can’t quite remember where I am but I am alone, which is normal for me, but I don’t recognize the fireplace or the black mantle. I look around a bit and then I do remember that I’m at Milly’s. I peek over the couch and see the white player piano in its desolate world. I get up to take a look at the green violin, but it is gone.
Just then I hear what sounds like the strings of the violin being utterly molested and it makes its way downstairs and into my ears until I can’t bear any more so I make my way upstairs and pass dozens of pictures in the stairwell and piles of dirty clothes and follow the cacophony that still pushes through the spectral air of Milly’s home.
When I get upstairs I approach the only door and it is closed.
I put my hand on the knob and give it a turn and the door opens quickly and a fusty smell crawls up my nose. And their stands Milly. Naked. A little out of breath but not much. She slides through the not even half way open door and shuts it quickly behind her. Without a word she takes my hand and we walk downstairs to the yellow couch.
We lay down again.
It is just past three in the morning.
Milly passes out while I writhe in a sultry sleep. She snores a little and I think of walking home—to the van—but the rain falls harder than before as I reach a deep lulling moment. And in my most vivid reverie I wander through the house—which looks like an elder person’s home, someone born tens of thousands of moons ago, who doesn’t know a thing about social media or The Ramones—climb the stairs to the second floor and sift through the lurid stench the higher I climb. It is the same smell from earlier. I can only dream of rotted cadavers in the walls of what a person might call a morally deprived home. I walk down the hallway and stand by the red door. I reach for the handle. I enter the dark room where the horrible screeches took place. Milly stands in the middle of the room with a candle held close to her heart, the flame leaving a cryptic shadow on her doll-like face. She takes hold of my left hand and leads me to the corner of the average sized bedroom.
And there sits Mister Jim, in an old rocking chair.
His feet and hands tied behind his back and to the chair and he peers at the curdled cheese on the bumpy ceiling, with a green violin expelled from his lipless mouth, and now inside out throat. Milly stands beside him as the flame of the candle lights up the room. Just enough to see this grisly picture—a ruthless murder scene I’ve painted in my sleep, while I dream on this yellow couch, draped with a woman’s flesh.
A brutal tail with a brutal ending.
The story of my life.
Story by Jon Vreeland and Art by Alycia Vreeland