SPOTLIGHT: Squirrel by Jay Passer

(First 7 pages)

Squirrel woke up suddenly out of a crazed dream. He hated it when he couldn’t remember the source of the madness. He got up off the futon in his old boxer shorts and looked around for his glasses. Squirrel hated wearing glasses. At the tender age of eight, that’s when they first noticed he was half-blind. Great, his father thought, half-blind as well as a half-wit. It sucked for Squirrel, for not only was he the smallest kid in his class, the most hyperactive, the most sullen, the most unpredictable, but now he had the added appendage of ridicule, ugly plastic specs that made him look like a kook. But it sucked for his father too, since Squirrel was not only getting in trouble at every turn, but was more accident-prone than any one person had the right to be. The repairs and replacements cost a small fortune, and damn it, money didn’t grow on trees.

                Squirrel stood in the bathroom of his 1930’s tenement-style apartment, admiring the flaking, peeling walls, the rusty exposed pipes, and the holes under the sink where the mice had chewed through. It was the tub that had been the saving grace of the place, absolutely huge, with claw feet. Squirrel hadn’t lived in a place with a working shower for years. He took pride in saying I haven’t taken a shower in years. The girls looked at him funny, but the girls always looked at him funny. He contemplated taking a bath. He smelled under his armpits. He decided he could pass with a smear of Speed Stick. He shaved his funny face, he stood on his funny feet, and holding his funny dick, he pissed into the toilet. What a scream.

                Mirrors never lie. Average in a million ways, peasant stock, slave-stock, with big hands, feet, and bones. Squirrel moved with an awkward fluidity, like a three-legged cat. He kept his receding hairline short and slicked back. Heavy Ray-Bans, clear lenses, black electrical tape mending the bridge.

                Squirrel considered himself punk rock from the old school. Which meant he was purposely irresponsible, rigidly apolitical, got drunk a whole hell of a lot, and generally spent his days and nights going crazy, if not berserk. The code was to not give a good goddamn. It made him happy, and gave him stamina. It was his reason to live – on the edge. Punk rock wasn’t about the clothes and the attitude, for Squirrel – it was the very essence and core of his existence. So he didn’t have the dyed hair, the rivets and spikes and studs, the ripped clothes and anarchistic slogans and frayed and faded beer label patches stitched haphazardly to black leather motorcycle jackets. He wore the same togs he’d worn since he was a teenager. T-shirts, flannels, khakis, solid black Vans slip-ons. It was a uniform for him too. Anachronistic. Down to the stingy-brim fedora. It reminded him of the Latinos from back in high school. Not the skinny punks in the street, but the gravely serious cholos, sitting behind the steering wheels of bad-assed low-riders.

                He wasn’t so punk rock that he didn’t have a job. There are reasons for maintaining employment, he reasoned – one must procure enough funds for getting ripped, the occasional snack, and rent. Of course, women demanded their fair share.

                Squirrel turned the radio on low to SportsTalk 950 while finishing his domestic morning, before the walk downtown. He got dressed, closed all the windows, and loaded the bong. He kept his stash in a kitchen cabinet. Smoking pot in the kitchen at eight a.m. was as natural to Squirrel as making a pot of coffee. Instead of coffee, Squirrel loved a delicious slurp or two of cheap sake. As natural as the birds in the trees, the stars in the sky. During this pastoral reflection, Squirrel took an extra-deep toke off the bong, which resulted in a lung-infuriating coughing spasm. As the saying goes, the more you cough, the higher you get. He took another gulp from the bottle of sake in the fridge, thought twice, and took a last gulp for good measure. He left the radio on to keep the mice, cockroaches, and flies company. Grabbing his keys, his hat, and his phone, Squirrel walked out of his apartment to the glare of a bright Seattle morning.

                The streets on Capitol Hill had little traffic, but Squirrel still preferred to cross Cal Anderson Park on the way down the hill. His apartment, on Twelfth and Hamlin, was only a half-minute away from the two-block long renovated expanse, complete with ball fields, tennis courts, water features, jungle gyms and meandering paths through grassy knolls. For what was once a dirty concrete reservoir surrounded by chain link fences, host to scurrilous drug-dealing and perverted night excursions, it was now an oasis. Squirrel took a secret indulgence, imagining his band playing a show in the park, blowing away all the posers, hipsters, perverts, and freaks that came for the occasional alt-radio sponsored summer concert, gentrified family-types sitting on the grass and coddling their babies, their dogs, their alt-lifestyles and wine coolers. He would personally blow them out of the air, wounding and deflating them like fabled zeppelins of old. His rant would resound like a bugle blast of acid rain. He would

                Squirrel! Hey bastard!

                Squirrel swiveled from his reverie to take in the disheveled appearance of Hunt Davis. Hunt was on his way home from an all-nighter at the Nova. Hunt was a lean white kid with long dreadlocks,   six feet five inches tall, who played drums like a wild dog on steroids. Squirrel, crashing a University District frat party, found him in the basement, destroying somebody’s drum set. Neither of them remembered whose kit it was, since Squirrel grabbed him and jammed his ass out of there before the kids in the house could discover the mayhem. Not before a couple beers off the keg in the backyard, however. Hey! Must keep up appearances, even when you’re trying to lay low.

                What is going on, Hunter? You look like shit.

                Hunt stopped short and swayed, a totem pole during an earthquake. His eyes were hugely dilated. He had been snorting coke and drinking stout all night. He smelled like a wrestler after a bout with a Neanderthal.

                Squirrel! Where you going? Innit bedtime?

                Some of us have to work, Hunt. Some of us don’t live in a condo with our girlfriends. Some of us don’t have girlfriends! Some of us

                Shut up Squirrel! Your woman is hot. Your woman, she’s, fine, y’know? She’s…

                Hunt. I got to go. I got to get to work – see you later, okay?

                That’s right! Practice! Tonight, right? I will be there.

                Hunt made his best attempt not to appear he was staggering away, in vain. Squirrel chuckled, knowing there was no practice that night. Else he would’ve already got a call from Ian. Ian was on his every move. Ian had the world to conquer, and Squirrel was his recipe for success, or maybe just an ingredient in the recipe, but what did it matter? A guy’s got to have a backer, somebody to lend a bit of moral support, and Ian had always been there – would always be there. At this point in the morning, Squirrel was glad he wasn’t there, that no call had been made. Because Squirrel didn’t have a clue what day it even was. Other than a day he had to go to work. Ian kept him privy to such professional details. Day off? Ian calls with the pragmatism of the Swiss Guard. But it’s the days off that Squirrel dreads the most, as he is called to duty most diabolically, at the earliest hour, since Ian likes to awaken at five a.m., screw his wife, walk his dog, and get on with his day when normal people are still passed out and happily snoring. Progress! How will we ever keep up with the Chinese? The Kiwis? The Muslim rabble, even? It’s not like they don’t have electrical outlets in Islam, my friend. I hear their guitars double as machine guns. I kid you not. Up and Adam!

                Squirrel didn’t have the heart to tell Ian to fuck off. They’d been pals for twenty years. Somebody had to get him out of bed on the days the band had to hash it out. It certainly wasn’t going to be his girlfriend, because he didn’t have one. It wasn’t going to be his alarm clock, because he always threw the godforsaken contraptions against the nearest wall the first time they ever rang. Trying to program his phone to ring at the desired hour, well, that was secretary’s work. If Squirrel wasn’t able to keep a girlfriend, then how the hell was he supposed to keep a secretary? Ian didn’t necessarily volunteer for the job, but he did have his own interests at stake. Conquering the world, for one. As long as he didn’t have to get on the stage his own damn self.

                Squirrel took his time rolling on down from Capitol Hill. He liked the respite afforded before the daily grind. He did not listen to his MP3 player, however. Squirrel was old school enough to attach importance to his surroundings as he passed through them, even if they were, to his mind, trivial and meaningless. There was a certain calming effect to the rudimentary action of walking from one place to the next. Even though it was a pain in the ass. For the same reason, he did his best to avoid cars, and buses, and taxis, and trains. Squirrel liked best to be left alone, to do as he chose on his own terms, and the subversion of mass transit insulted his sense of self-reliance. Plus, he liked to look at the pretty girls walking all around him, once he got past the freeway bridges. Once he hit the Pike Place Market. There was gash galore down there, every single day of the week, shop girls, office help, tourists, you name it, and it seemed a crime to him that he couldn’t simply revel in the absolute carnal melee of his mind, and what’s more, to be paid for it, accordingly. Squirrel thought that one might busk on a street corner, equipped with nothing more than a hat upturned for dollars and change, a set of roving eyes and a heart to bleed over the potential love fest. A cappella.

                As Squirrel walked through the dappled sunlight, he pondered the idea of life in another city, starting afresh, perhaps donning some pitch-dark sunglasses and hitting the street, croaking along with the blues in the air, the town, the dire consequences of living. Hell, he could make a buck or two, all he needed was a cheap-ass guitar. He could beat on that cat-gut vessel and croak like a frog, warning the good folk of Armageddon to come. As if he knew a rat’s ass about Armageddon. Squirrel passed by the Lusty Lady and hit the top of the Harbor Steps, thinking of the small fortune in dimes he could accrue in a decade of disillusionment, sitting Indian-style on some alien American street, and it made him want to stop, turn around and head back up First Avenue to the Turf, where he could get a good strong double shot of well vodka cheap. Squirrel fumbled around in his pockets for a minute before coming to the conclusion that perhaps he didn’t even have enough cash on him for a single shot. Hopefully tips would be good today, he decided, as he descended the Harbor Steps two at a time, on the diagonal. Then he hit Post Alley and headed south a block, pulling at his keys. The place was bathed in perpetual darkness, being situated directly underneath the Seneca Street viaduct. At the entrance Squirrel halted in his tracks. There was a mound of blankets piled on a sheet of cardboard blocking the big glass door to Clown Town Pizza. It was a mound of sleeping homeless person. Squirrel made the requisite noises.

                Hey! I got to open up here.

                No response.

                Hello? CAN YOU HEAR ME? I need you to wake up now! Squirrel hated dealing with these people – people probably only one rung below on the ladder that barely supported his own sorry ass. But he had to open up shop. There was a faint itch in his stomach as he nudged the mound of blankets with his toe. The ammoniac stench was sickening. Squirrel reached over, put the key in the door, opened it, stepped over the human mess, and closed the door behind him, locking it fast. There had been no movement amidst the blankets. He looked through the glass door. Maybe the fucker died, he thought. What a pain in the ass.

                Squirrel had a routine. First thing was head to the mop closet where the stereo equipment was kept in a disarray of abandoned clothing, cleaning supplies and an exposed, jumbled electrical situation that had to be a fire hazard. One of the many hazards of working, or even eating, at Clown Town. One day, Paula, the owner, caught Squirrel examining the rusty-dusty fire extinguisher, which was kept in a cubby underneath the cash register.

                This fire extinguisher looks like it was made back in the Gold Rush, Squirrel announced.

                Several customers looked up from their slices.

                Ha ha, said Paula, what a kidder!

                Squirrel investigated closer, fingering the Fire Marshal card with the expiration date. Jesus, he exclaimed, this thing hasn’t been serviced since 1995!

                Squirrel goddamnit!

                That’s what, fifteen years? Lucky for us this building is made of solid concrete. Unless, of course, in the case of, say, an earthquake…

                Squirrel will you shut the hell up?

                Right, right, this is a place of business, sorry, sorry.

                Paula was used to Squirrel and his mad outbursts. In her mind, to a certain degree, it actually lent an air of punk authenticity to the place. For she was of the same ilk as Squirrel, ran in the same circles, knew all the same people. The difference being Paula, a single mom, had two young kids to support and a business to maintain. There was a certain line drawn where the fun and games became a potential liability. And Squirrel didn’t walk on lines, he trampled on them.

                Next to the stereo were several boxes of old cassette tapes. Squirrel gave them a cursory glance and opted, as usual, for his MP3. In the technological revolution he was a complete and total convert. The day he bought his MP3 player, Squirrel performed a righteous little jig, right at the counter of the University Bookstore. He loved the fact he could store more crap than he would ever listen to in one tiny machine the size of a cell phone. Furthermore, he wished it could be implanted in his body. Squirrel hated buying extraneous shit, and music was on top of his extraneous shit list. Music ought to be free, was his reasoning, like back in the days of the wandering troubadours. At best, you ought to be able to get whatever you want in a library, like books… Squirrel often postulated on the finer points of how to revolutionize the music industry, usually after several rounds of drinks, and never recognizing the signals, that again, he’s the last person left, the party’s over, it’s closing time.

                After transferring his entire collection to a digital format, Squirrel rid himself of every trace of recorded media he possessed. He frowned on all the compulsive maniacs combing the used record stores for rare, coveted memorabilia. These eggheads, he thought, all they do is sit around smoking pot in their bomb-shelter basements, arguing about whose collection is coolest. He had no taste for nostalgia. He wanted people to come to his shows, get wasted, warp their hearing, rip their shirts, lose a shoe, insult other guy’s girlfriends, exchange blows, and stagger away a better person for it.

                He flipped through his titles, landing on James Brown, Live at the Apollo, and cranked it up.

                Something caught the corner of Squirrel’s eye. The homeless guy had arisen and was at the door, waving his arms wildly. Aw, did I wake you up, princess? Then the phone started ringing. Another day of starving lawyers making unreasonable demands. Squirrel walked over to the ovens and switched them on, listening for the roar of the gas jets inside.


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