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Jonathan Ashley
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actionmovies.jpg
Art by Mr. Byron 2010

Action Movies

 

Jonathan Ashley

 

 

For Amadea Schenk and Fred Fischer

 

          No matter how bad it got, or how angry she became at him for letting it all happen, my mother never took down my stepfather’s black and white college photograph. She always kept it on the floor, upturned so she could look down from the couch or pull-out bed, wherever she was sleeping, and admire his shit-eating grin and his fleshy dimples. They had foreclosed on the house and all that was left to her was seven hundred dollars and his rusty truck after the step-vultures had finished their feeding frenzy.

First, she moved north to Cincinnati to live with Joy, her best friend from college, a big-boned and mercurial asthmatic lesbian with brightly dyed blonde hair who I was always convinced was in love with my mom. I would have relentless and draining nightmares about what kind of rent this terrifying woman would require of my destitute mother.

          South, in Louisville, I worked at a coffee shop in the East End, guilt ridden that I couldn’t rescue her and that I didn’t even make enough to save for a deposit on even the most revolting of apartments, much less enough to send anything north to Cincinnati to help my mother. I was also sleeping on a couch, this one belonging to a heroin addict, my best friend from high school senior year. He was a rich kid named Fritz whose parents, for the first half of his life, had ritualistically abused him with canes while his grandmother who parceled out the punishments to the children, watched. Then, they messed him up more by enabling him when he turned eighteen and discovered the white horse. They’d bought him a black BMW 5 Series, a nice house in St. Mathews, a big screen T.V., an arsenal, and even, for reasons I never understood nor inquired about, a tanning bed.

          Whenever he was clean, Fritz and I would lift weights in his basement, beat each other with bamboo sticks amped up on endorphins and adrenaline, and sometimes fire off his HK P-7 out the window of his beamer doing ninety on I-64 at four A.M. when the highway was empty.

          Fritz would pour cold water on me while I showered, walk right into the bathroom with a Big Gulp full of ice cold tap water—it was the middle of January—pretending to have to piss and just dump the thing on my head. He often let me sleep in his bed when it was late and he wanted to stay up and watch action movies on the couch.

The next morning, he would, more often than not, come running into his room, jump into bed with me and tickle my armpits and feet, screaming, “Wakey! Wakey! Hand off, snakey!”

          The way I met Fritz again, when I found myself twenty-one and homeless, was through the coffee shop. I walked in for an application and he was standing behind the counter. He was the assistant manager and convinced his boss to give me a job on the spot. We were the only men who worked there, and we were at all times surrounded by savage, ruthless lesbians. Some had facial hair. Some had pink Mohawks. They all smelled musky, like unwashed loins.

Yet, if Fritz or I arrived to work with even a hair out of place, the general manager—drum roll—also a lesbian, dread locked and pinch faced, would reprimand us loudly and in front of our fellow employees. First the lesbians take my mother, I would often think, now they’re threatening my already pathetic and questionable job security.

          Fritz spent half his time high on oxy, heroin, or various other opiates, his face skeletal like the winter branches, thick with stubble like his brown hair he washed once a week. When he wasn’t nodding off or sleeping for days, he was either detoxing in his basement, shifting the focus of his addictive personality to work which he never missed despite his demons, or paralyzed with depression, laid up on the couch that I was supposed to be sleeping on, watching Terminator 2 or Predator, something violent and mindless to which he could veg out, movies where there are no nasty questions about forgiveness and salvation, the things with which me and him were grappling.

I would drop cups of coffee often. I would make the wrong drinks and get bitched at by, for the most part, sheltered suburbanites and Christmas and Easter Christians who mailed in checks to the mega church down the street so they could feel okay for cheating on their taxes and spouses, for people who’d never had to wake up and pray for thoughts of suicide that had become instinctual to abate if only momentarily.

Clusters of them came in after the services. There were two or three a day, usually one at eleven A.M. and one in the early evening, between six and seven. I got to know their names and faces of the regulars pretty quickly. Some of them left good tips in the glass vase to the right of the register. Some of them were angelically grateful at all times, smiling even when they took their first sips of espresso drinks I knew damn well I hadn’t made right.

But I still couldn’t shake the suspicion that if they’d had to live in my head or Fritz’s for two minutes, they would’ve immediately jumped off the Kennedy Bridge. When you’re depressed, you get clumsy and forgetful. I have read about the symptoms of psychotic depression since and all of them applied to both me and Fritz. Sometimes, since I couldn’t defend myself from their verbal abuse which they always delivered politely and with a smile, I would calmly excuse myself to the bathroom and weep until I had gathered the intestinal fortitude to return to the espresso machine.

I finally got fired on my twenty-second birthday,  

The place was empty and I was working with Paula, the kindest of the lesbians. She was barely eighteen, skinny, and seemed to wear the same clothes for weeks at a time, usually snap-button western shirts, blue dickies, and a toboggan which she never removed.

Despite her poor hygiene, her musk was less potent than Lyska with the Mohawk or Annette with the shaved head. In fact, I had developed a rather intense crush on Paula, had even eclipsed my social anxiety and awkwardness to flirt with her whenever we worked together. She always flirted back, but I knew she had a reputation to earn and uphold in Louisville’s lesbian community, so I never made any real romantic overtures.

Fritz was in Columbus with his parents visiting his sister who worked as a professor at the University there. He was supposed to return that evening, but I would get the house to myself for a few hours. I was looking forward to getting off work and having some alone time to masturbate with the assistance of Fritz’s laptop and internet.

A woman, probably in her late forties or fifties, walked in and approached the counter. Her face-lift did not hide her age. She also seemed to have mistaken her expensive makeup for house paint and her face for a three-story mansion. She was short, frumpy, and hideous. She exuded malevolence.  

“I’ll have a skinny latte with a Splenda,” she told Paula who ran the woman’s credit card while I began making her drink.

While the woman waited, she examined the list of charities the coffee shop donated to which was taped on the counter. Her eyes stopped moving and as best as she could with her mannequin face, she grimaced.

“The ‘Fairness Campaign’?” she said.

The Fairness Campaign championed gay rights.

“Yeah,” Paula said, handing the woman her credit card and receipt.

“Who would give money to those people?” The woman met eyes with Paula who honestly looked like she was fighting with all her might to avoid either crying or resorting to physical violence.

I stepped over to the counter, the bitch’s latte in hand. I offered it to her and she took it, smiling, or should I say, barely upturning her frozen lips, while still holding Paula’s wounded gaze, satisfied that we couldn’t respond, that she was the customer and she was always right.

“Take your fucking drink,” I said. “And get out of here and never come back.”

“Excuse me?” The woman stopped smiling.

“Get the fuck out,” I said. “Before I drag you by your hair and kick your goddamned teeth in. Maybe that’ll change the expression on your face for once, you bovine pig bitch.”

“You can’t talk to me like that.” She started to back away.

I removed my apron and started toward her, moving around the counter.

That’s when the pinch-faced general manager walked in.

When I got home, lucky to have avoided jail or criminal charges according to my GM, I lay down on the kitchen floor and wept.

I had left the CD player on shuffle, and Jim Delancey and Catherine Irwin kept coming on, making things worse with their hard-luck ballads. At least Paula had stopped me to kiss me on the cheek and thank me as I was walking out to my car, her eyes wet with tears.

I hated that job, but it was all I had. It made me get out of bed in the morning and shower every once in a while and interact with other people besides Fritz. It kept me busy. What was I going to do now? I knew Fritz wouldn’t kick me out. I only gave him fifty bucks a month and he didn’t need it. But the thought of watching Lethal Weapon and Volcano in a dark house, waiting for Fritz to come home and entertain me . . . the thought was almost as bad as thinking about my mother eating alone like so many old women I would see, having Caesar wraps and turkey sandwiches at the coffee shop, wondering how much loss and subsequent loneliness one person could take in a lifetime.

When Fritz came home and found me in the kitchen, he ordered me to get up. I cried so hard, I could barely balance myself on his checkerboard floor, shifting my weight back and forth between legs. I cradled my stomach with trembling hands as if my entrails would spill out at any moment. I was embarrassed, ashamed because Fritz never cried, even when detoxing, even when his father would come over to the house and tell him how much shame he brought to the family.

And although Fritz didn’t cry and made fun of lesbians and let me hit him with bamboo sticks with all my strength without so much as a flinch, he motioned for me to come closer. He said, “Come here,” quietly.

I collapsed into his arms and he held me in his kitchen. He held me while I wept and ran his hands through my greasy hair. He held me until I was done, until I was strong enough to stand again.

 

Jonathan Ashley is a reporter and columnist for LEO (or Louisville Eccentric Observer). He has worked as a screen printer, a private investigator, a counselor for adolescent orphans and a coffee shop Barista. His stories are soon to appear in A Twist of Noir. He has a BA from Indiana University and is currently seeking and MFA from Murray State. He lives in Louisville, Kentucky.

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