Welcome back to the seventh installment of The Adventures of Tequila Kitty. The previous chapters can be found here and on the soon to be launched website.

Chapter Seven was written by my good friend Mike Hancock. A former commercial fisherman and outdoors and wilderness guide, Hancock currently teaches English and writing at Southern New Hampshire University, where he received his MFA in Creative Writing. If Cormac McCarthy, the author of bleak western novels No Country for Old Men and The Road, were to handpick a successor, Hancock's name would be in the running. But don't take my word for it. Read some of his published fiction in Xenith, Red Fez, the front view, and The Tower Journal to see for yourself.

All that said, if you ever drive across Oklahoma with him, be sure to print out directions first.

Picture
Me with Mike Hancock in Eureka Springs, Arkansas
            She opened her clenched fist, a handful of white sand blowing away with the heavy winds. A child’s hands. She stood barefoot on the beach, the wet sand wedged between her toes, staring out at the serene expanse of the Pacific, running wide, azure blue, the sunset reflecting its rays in a highway of gold, the dull rhythmic roar of the tide coming in. She glanced back, and there, perched under a palm tree, was a black cat, its tail curled around its haunches, gazing with yellow eyes. She smiled, and the cat meowed, strolled up to her, rubbed against her skinny leg. She bent down, scratched behind its ears.

            “What’s the answer, Tequila Kitty?” she whispered.

            The cat looked up at her, its eyes intent.


Chapter Seven - Mike Hancock

“Nice story,” Kitty said.

She smiled, the sharp smell of his whisky breath burning her nose, and she fought the urge to sneeze. Least it wasn’t bad breath, or B.O. That shit was the worst. It was usually her luck that the smelly bastards wanted a lap dance during the long ass hair band songs. Jesus.

“Crazy, right? One big fucking epic dream. Couldn’t wait to tell you.”


Weird kid, thought Kitty. Been at the club every weekend night. Couldn’t be more than twenty-one, twenty-two years old. Pale, glasses. Came by himself. Only a few years older than her son, she realized. But he always asked for her. Mommy issues, she thought.

“So why was the cat a guy?” she asked.

His cologne, which Kitty thought he practically bathed in, gave her a headache.

“Dunno. I guess in the dream, I was Sarah the dog.”

He laughed, Kitty pranced around, then straddled him, willed herself not to breathe in the clash of odors. Her hands gripped his bony shoulders, felt the growing bulge in his pants. She wondered if he had ever been laid. In between gyrations, she discreetly checked her watch. Good. Almost closing time.

The song wound down, the deejay’s booming voice thundered through the dim lights.

“And that was Lusty Laura on the stage. Give it up, gentlemen! Lusty Laura!”

A short-haired, petite blonde gave one final twirl, shook her butt, and bounced down the stage stairs, plastic smile, and equally plastic tits. Kitty had hers done, too. She called it “overhead”.

***

She parked the ancient Buick in the gravel driveway, got out, slammed the door shut. Dropping the cigarette butt, she trudged to the rickety front porch, hearing the usual voices on the television. Her mother in her decrepit recliner, her head tilted, mouth ajar, asleep. Kitty turned off the t.v., silencing that goddamn Pat Robertson and all of his “700 Club” minions. Her mother adored him.

In her bedroom, she kicked off her heels, reaching between her mattress, pulled out her gear. Second nature, could do it in her sleep. Shooting up, getting a guy off, all the same. Tourniquet wrapped tight, she crushed, added water, heated, let cool, drew it out with the syringe. There. Oh yes.

Carefully putting everything back, she lay down, tapped the vein, injected.

Euphoric rush, the day flashing briefly, then gone. The kid and his epic, two-song long blabbering about that stupid cat that some dumbass gave her stage name: Tequila Kitty. She couldn’t remember how many shots she had to down bought by the horny fuckers thinking she actually liked tequila.

But all gone now, all the mistakes, her bigot mother, her gay son who kept getting his ass kicked in school, her uninterested boyfriend. Sweet nothingness. She stared up at the ceiling, flat white, blank slate. Nothing mattered now.

***

“Mom.”

The hazy image of her son, David, sharpened as Kitty opened her eyes. Her mouth dry, felt like a cat shit in it. She half-smiled at the irony, grunted.

“Got any cash?”

He leaned against the open door, the long bangs of his thick black hair obscuring one eye. Tight orange t-shirt, belly button exposed, jeans.

“You can’t wear that to school.”

“They can’t tell with my jacket. Money?”

“For?”

He sighed, rolled his eyes.

“Ever hear of Valentine’s Day? My boyfriend expects something, you know. Well, besides other things.”

“Fornicator!”

Well, Mom’s up, Kitty thought.

“In my purse, twenty dollars. That’s it.”

David left, and Kitty groaned as she rose out of bed, noticed the empty syringe still lying on the rumpled sheets. Turned to the dresser mirror. Thin, bloodshot blue eyes reflected back at her through disheveled brown hair. Crow’s feet, lines forming around her mouth. She traced the wrinkles with her finger, and walked to the shower.

***

“What?” Tuna asked.

Kitty put down her cell, blew out a stream of cigarette smoke. She and her best friend, Tuna Tartar, were having lunch in downtown Beaumont, oyster po’boys and fries, oil-stained men in coveralls around them, stealing glances.

“Didn’t call. Didn’t text.”

Tuna peered at her, her chocolate brow furrowed.

“Don’t know why you mess with that fool. Can have any man you want.”

Kitty gazed out the cracked window, pickup trucks whizzing by, the feed store, the looming hardwoods beyond.

“Not any man. Ever want a different life? Be a different person? Somebody that would be in the same league with the man you want?”

Tuna cocked an eyebrow.

“Girl, you trippin’. Ain’t no other Tequila ‘cept you.”

Kitty laughed.

“What better friend can a Kitty have than Tuna?”

“Yeah, but watch out, because mess with me, and I’ll get tart on that ass.”

“Like sucking on a lemon?”

“Tarter, sugar. Like biting into a lime right before a shot of…”

“Tequila!” they said together, giggling at the old joke. Gray-haired men turned, glanced up and down, back to their food.

***

Back at the house, Kitty sat on her bed, gazed at the empty screen of her phone.

“Fuck it,” she whispered, and dialed the number.

“Hello?”

“Misael, it’s Kitty.”

“Hey you. Just finished a video conference, en route to a two o’clock meeting with a client. What’s up?”

She inhaled deep.

“Just wanted to hear your voice. And wish you a happy Valentine.”

A pause.

“Damn. Yes. I for…what? Okay, yeah.”

“Huh?”

“Sorry. My partner just reminded me about a phone call I need to make. Listen, babe, can I call you back?”

“Sure.”

***           

Another mix, heated up, injected. Blissful burn. Kitty walked outside, careful not to wake her napping mother, went around to the back, came to the edge of the hardwoods that lined the creek, the oaks, the elms, the magnolias. She wore jeans, but her sandaled feet were tickled by the thick grasses, the bluestems, the needlegrasses. Following a narrow game trail, she made her way to the water, just a meandering trickle over sandy bottoms, crowded narrow with the vegetation.

Finding a soft cluster of bunch grasses near the bank, she sat, lay back, the hardwoods on either side of the creek forming the sky into a wide, cobalt blue road, spotted with cotton clouds. Kitty gazed up at the spectacle, hands behind her head, imagined floating through the cool air above the tops of tallest oaks, high enough to see the vast expanse of the gulf waters to the east, and the miles of dense forest to the west.

“Mom?”

Kitty laughed. David made his way through the grass, holding a ziplock bag of crackers and a water bottle, plopped down next to her.

“At your place again. Now what?” he said.

“What nothing, my love, what nothing.”

David brought his knees to his chest, stuck a stem of grass between his teeth, stared at the slow-moving water.

“You got to get off that shit, Mom. I’m not going to always be around, you know?”

“I will, baby. Just need it to get through some stuff. I will.”

“No, I mean now. It’s been close to six months since you started. The drinking and weed was bad enough. Tired of protecting your ass.”

Kitty turned to him.

“Protect?”

“From grandma. You left your shit out in the open bunches of times. How do you think it gets back under the mattress?”

He spat out the grass stem.

“Here. You need this.”

Taking the water bottle, he gently brought her head up, held the edge to her lips. Kitty sipped gingerly, her eyes cast away from him.

“We’re going to sit you all the way up, okay?”

“Don’t want to.”

“Have to, Mom. You need to eat something.”

She turned to him, placed her hand on his shoulder.

“I’m sorry, David. So sorry.”

He brought her upright, handed her the crackers, stared at the ground.

“It’s okay. I want you to get better, that’s all.”

Kitty began sobbing, tears dripping from her cheeks, sprinkling on the blades of grass.

“You’re not going to leave me. Can’t leave me.”

“Not until I get out of high school. But I’ll be back to visit.”

“I need you.”

David sighed, kept his eyes lowered.

“Eat your crackers, Mom. Then we’re going back inside.”


***

They hiked back, David holding Kitty steady, telling her to step over the occasional exposed root, half-submerged rock, guiding her around the low-hanging limbs. Reaching the front porch, he opened the door. His grandmother sat in her chair, the television blaring. She lifted the remote, turned down the volume.

“Kitty, what the hell happened to you?”

“Not now, Grandma. She’s having a bad day, that’s all.”

She took off her glasses, wrinkled face scowling.

“Bad day my ass. She’s drunk, or on something.”

“Leave her alone. Go back to your religious shows and cheer for the murdered gay people in Uganda,” David said.

“What they get for sinning. They want to go against natu…”

David stopped, quickly turned to her.

“Shut the fuck up, you stupid old bitch.”

Grandma gasped, her mouth tightened. Realizing she still had the remote in her hand, she hurled it at him, the remote glancing off his shoulder, hitting Kitty in the mouth. She let out a cry and ran to her room, slammed the door.

“It’s my goddamn house, you little faggot!”

David turned away, walked back to his room.

“Why don’t you just die, and take your ignorant shit with you,” he said, closing the door.

Grandma got up, ambled over to the remote lying on the floor, grunted as she stooped to pick it up.

In her room, Kitty lay on her bed, face buried in her pillow. She thought of David’s father, out of his life for sixteen out of his seventeen years, god knows where now. Dead or in prison, probably, while he was around dishing out beatings in between gulps of whiskey and sporadic employment. David, for years having to deal with one guy after the next. And then Misael, beautiful, kind Misael. The first white-collar man David had ever been around, Misael accepted him without prejudice, spending time with him, taking him shopping, out for pizza. First man that really paid attention to him.

Kitty tried for weeks to keep where she worked a secret after meeting him in a chance grocery store encounter, telling him she was a waitress. After repeated requests that he visit her there, last week she finally relented and told him the truth. And now, the distance, the stifled emotion, the invisible wall.

He’s as good as gone.

So do something else, dumbass.

With what skills? Where else can I make that kind of money? Mom’s social security doesn’t cover shit. No. Gotta make sure David has what he needs. Because I need him.

You need him? How normal is that, bitch?

After a few minutes, she closed her eyes, fell asleep.

She opened her clenched fist, a handful of white sand blowing away with the heavy winds. A child’s hands. She stood barefoot on the beach, the wet sand wedged between her toes, staring out at the serene expanse of the Pacific, running wide, azure blue, the sunset reflecting its rays in a highway of gold, the dull rhythmic roar of the tide coming in. She glanced back, and there, perched under a palm tree, was a black cat, its tail curled around its haunches, gazing with yellow eyes. She smiled, and the cat meowed, strolled up to her, rubbed against her skinny leg. She bent down, scratched behind its ears.

“What’s the answer, Tequila Kitty?” she whispered.

The cat looked up at her, its eyes intent.


“This isn’t your life,” it said. “Go find it.”

“How do I…”

“Mom.”

Kitty opened her eyes, momentarily dazed.

“Huh?”

“I told Rafael that I’d meet him at the movies. We’re going to see Spiderman, and oh my god, Andrew Garfield. Know him?”

She lay there sideways facing him, her hair strewn over her cheek.

“Yes, David. I’m not blind yet.”

He smiled, his eyes dancing.

“So beautiful. That hair. That body.”

She slid her legs from under the blanket, put her feet on the floor, rubbed her eyes, yawned.

“Awkward. Tell me about your boyfriend, sweetie. We’ve never really talked about him. How long have you two been dating?”

He sat on the bed next to her.

“Couple of weeks. Sixteen days, actually. We try to be cool about it at school. Nobody knows except my best friend Janell, and she won’t tell anybody.”

“Rafael. Cute name.”

“I know, right? He’s got dark hair like ours, about 5’8, broad shoulders, but not muscle-ly, you know? Gorgeous brown eyes.”

Kitty got up, put on jeans, high-heels.

“What kind of guy is he, shy or no?”

“Oh my god yes. He kind of gets annoyed with my rants.”

“Tell him to join the club.”

“Whatever. But he’s into the political thing like I am. And tumblr. My man has to love tumblr.”

Kitty glanced at the mirror, put her hair up in a ponytail, faced him.

“Well, all right, you little shit, you ready?”

“Of course.”

She grabbed her purse, slung it over her shoulder.

“Hey,” she said. “I’m proud of you. And I want you to be happy. Always.”

David grinned, stared at the floor.

“I know, Mom.”

***

She drove the Buick quietly through town, past the mall, grocery and hardware stores, café. David had his finger to his lips, thinking. He finally turned to her.

“Hey Mom, you said you need that shit to get through some stuff. What stuff?”

Kitty stared at the road ahead, sporadic cars and trucks chugging by. She took a long drag on her cigarette, exhaled slowly.

“Told you about me growing up, remember?”

“Yeah. It sucked. Said your dad killed himself.”

A pause.

“Can’t blame the guy, being married to the wench.”

“C’mon, David. A little disrespectful. She IS my mo…”

“Who hates your son.”

“I don’t think she hates you. She just comes from a different time, you know? Can’t understand that you didn’t have a choice.”

He shrugged his shoulders, gazed out the window.

“But that’s beside the point,” she said. “I never told you how he did it.”

He turned to her, an eyebrow raised.

“Well?”

She sighed, another drag, stubbed the butt out in the ashtray.

“I was in high school, not too long before I got pregnant with you. It was at night. Dad had been drinking, of course. Through the walls I heard them get into it. Mom’s yelling something about him sneaking around on her. Could hear him tell her it was bullshit. Usual stuff. I just turned up the radio, like always.”

“Let me guess, Bon Jovi, right?”

“You gonna shut up and let me finish? And piss off, not that old.”

“Okay, okay.”

“They’re going back and forth, and I hear him say ‘No you’re not’, then I heard what sounded like a light bulb breaking, a little pop, and then a scream.”

Kitty turned off the main drag, onto the two lane.


“Should’ve never left my room,” she said.

David sat, wide-eyed, arms crossed. The overcast skies turning to an angry gray, thick droplets of rain began to pelt the Buick. David quickly rolled his window up.

“So what happened then?”

“I ran downstairs, and there was my father, slumped over the kitchen table. Blood on the walls, all over the table. Saw the pistol lying on the floor next to him.”

“Jesus,” David said. “Why did he do it?”

Kitty gulped, cleared her throat. Should I be telling him this now? Is he old enough? Screw it. He deserves the truth. And you started the damn story, might as well finish it.

“Your grandfather was touching me, David. In a bad way. I never spoke with your grandma about it, hell, she wouldn’t talk about it, but that night I think she threatened to turn him in to the police.”

“Mom, I’m sorry.”

“So that’s it. Guess it’ll be with me forever.”

Kitty pulled into the theatre parking lot, parked.

“There’s other ways of dealing with it, you know,” he said. “We’re going to make you better.”

“Okay, sugar. Now get that out of your head, and go have some fun with Rafael. I love you.”

“Thanks, Mom. Love you, too.”

David quickly got out of the car, slammed the heavy door. Kitty watched him dart across the lot, behind the dozens of parked cars and trucks, shielding his head from the pouring rain.

He didn’t see the van coming.

Kitty burst out of her car.

“David!”

It hit him head-on, David flying forward, crashing into the concrete, a crumpled figure. The van stopped, a group of teenagers got out, rushed toward him.

Kitty sprinted toward the small group gathered around. Felt like she was watching all of this from above, like she was somebody else, no feeling, no thought. Numb. She tried to scream, tried to wail, but there was nothing.


She shoved past the cluster of kids, saw the blood welling up, the rain carrying it away. David, curled up, one leg twisted, his head split open.

“911! Call 911!,” she heard from somewhere far off.

Kitty fell to her knees. The world around her spinning, the gray clouds, the red concrete merging, all the people hazy, distant voices, hands on her arms, trying to lift her up.

And she fainted.

Head raging, Kitty half-opened her eyes to the searing sunlight. Bad dream. Just a bad dream. The events from yesterday, sirens screaming, the paramedics placing him on the stretcher, she riding with them as they sped toward the hospital. And later, the words she knew was coming from the start from the doctor: He was pronounced dead at…

“Bullshit. Bullshit, David.”

She jumped out of bed, threw open her door, stormed down the hall to his room.

“Quit fucking with me!”

Opening the door, she inspected the room. Empty. Unmade bed. Rumpled jeans on the floor. A sock. Posters adorning the walls, a laptop still on, tumblr on the screen. Like someone swung a bat at her stomach, all the air gone. She picked up the sock, lay on his bed, cradled it to her face, sobbed.

Voices through the walls. Her mother talking to somebody. The voices getting heated. Drumming footsteps, louder. The door opened.

Tuna didn’t speak. She walked over to the bed, got in, curled up next to her, slid her caramel arm around Kitty’s waist.

“I love you, my sweet angel,” she whispered. “I’m staying with you through this. And after, we’re heading west. Getting you out of here, Miss Kitty.”

Kitty held Tuna’s arm, thought back to the dream the day before while David sat in class, his whole life ahead of him. She was a little girl, staring at the ocean’s horizon, a cat by her side, with all the knowledge to take away the problems of the world, to make her whole again.

So what’s the answer, Tequila Kitty?

 
 
Welcome to the resumption of The Adventures of Tequila Kitty. I would first like to apologize for the break in action in our chronicles. Tequila Kitty was away for a family wedding and, on his way back to Vegas, he was sidetracked by a twice in a lifetime opportunity (this cat has been and seen places) to see Mount Rushmore.

This week's chapter is brought to you by y0urs truly. As the creator of the idea, I still wanted to participate, and I held myself to the same rules as the other writers involved: as such I did not know where the story was going until I saw the third chapter by Brian Lepire. For those new to the novel, Chapters One and Two by Christopher Chik and Aimee Hamel can be found by clicking on the links.


Without further ado, here's Chapter 4:



It was never supposed to be like this. I was raised in a normal household, just one in a litter of six. How I got to this point...how I became known as Tequila Kitty (Tequila is not the name my owners gave me); where I got the sombrero that seems to be stapled on my head like Fozzie’s hat...well, I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t believe it. But everything I’m about to tell you is the tequila-soaked truth.
-excerpt from Chapter 4: How I Started, by Darren Cormier

Tequila Kitty Ch. 4: How I Started

It was never supposed to be like this. I was raised in a normal household, just one in a litter of six. How I got to this point--the most unwanted cat in Vegas, scrambling to maintain my six remaining lives, with just 24 hours to somehow track down $5500 to prevent getting killed by a Zuckerberg wannabe, and former protégé who wanted to be oh so much more, with my ribs almost broken, bloody whiskers, and my tail between my legs...well, I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t believe it. But everything I’m about to tell you is the tequila-soaked truth.

Just like everything in this town, it’s all due to a dame. That plastic, feline version of Joan Rivers--Hello, to be specific. But that’s not where it began… and I haven’t started drinking enough today to tell you that story just yet.

Where to begin… How I got involved in the mixed-up criminal underworld? how I became known as Tequila Kitty (Tequila is not the name my owners gave me); where I got the sombrero that seems to be stapled on my head like Fozzie’s hat? Poor Fozzie: tried to make it on the strip as a comedian and when he couldn’t bring in the crowds like he used to—after a certain point “wokka wokka wokka” can only carry you so far—he just ran out of material…fast—the owners of the Palace kicked him to the curb. Got hooked on speed. When he couldn’t pay his debts, they reinforced the brim and stapled the hat to his head. He can never remove it. This town is a cruel, dysfunctional mistress. You might try to leave, it might be what’s best for you, in your best interests, best for your health, but you can’t. Once you’ve tasted it once, you’re here to stay. They say if you can make it in New York you can make it anywhere. But with Vegas, once you’ve made it once, you don’t want to make it anywhere else. Everywhere else is just being a shnook, or in my case, a mangy alley cat.

Anyway…

As I said, I was one of a litter of six. Once ma had us, we lasted a few weeks before the owners tried to find us better homes. And before you try to pin all of this on the fact that my mother didn’t love us, all feline mothers are the same. After two weeks, you stay out of their way or you get whacked. Feline moms are a mafia of one.

Those first few months, though, were a kitten’s paradise: races up stairs, red laser lights, marbles and yarn, and ma carrying us around in her mouth. Unlike my brothers and sisters, I was born with opposable paws, so I had better grip, faster reflexes. Yeah, I was a prodigy cat. But I still hadn’t developed the ability to talk or walk on my hind legs yet so I was at this point just a very advanced feline. After three weeks all my brothers and sisters were gone, except me and Paulie: the runt. He had one folded over ear, a lopsided eye, and when he ran, he tripped over his back paws. He looked like Sasquatch sat on his head. One of our brothers once pinned him down, but after I took care of him… don’t ask what happened: I’m not proud of that day. But let me tell you this: if you ever messed with Paulie, you messed with me, too, I think the Newmarks realized Paulie wouldn’t survive without me there. Really, it was the other way around. And I don’t think they tried very hard to find a home for him. They felt bad for us. So there we stayed with the Newmarks.

The first few months were fun: exploring the house, exploring the giant barn at the far end of the yard. To us it seemed like it was a farm, but we’re cats: we’re one foot long, 18 inches tops. What perspective do we have on distance? Obviously now that I’ve been around the world and flown in the nicest private planes you can think of, hell, I jumped off the freakin’ top of the Eiffel Tower once (bad catnip experience, that’s all I can say, but I did land on my feet), since I’ve done all of that, I have a better idea of what the distance is, but at the time me and my nearsighted brother, we had no idea about size. But what he lacked in ability, he made up for in smarts. Smart as a fuckin’ tack, that Paulie. (Yeah, mixed metaphor. Who cares? I just had my ribs kicked to shit, okay? I’m sleeping under a dumpster at the far end of the strip. Far cry from the penthouse, okay? Give me a break.)

Paulie had the brains, I had the ability. We would chase down anything in that yard: mice, moles, squirrels, foxes, birds, deer. Yup, deer. One time. We had a system. I’d patrol the far area and swipe their faces with my claws, immobilizing and temporarily blinding them. I’d then corral them towards Paulie at the far side of the shed, who was waiting underneath the ramp for them to stagger by. Never underestimate how vicious a cat who can’t run well can be. Talk about somebody with something to prove. But, like I said, he had the brains. He’s the one who helped me figure out how to use my paws to my advantage, how to climb into the best possible places for food and jumping onto unsuspecting mice. If Paulie could have talked, there’s no doubt we’d be running the strip right now. He’s the one, who when I first got involved with the Dice Kids, taught me the best strategies for playing poker. And had Paulie not been there to teach me chess, I wouldn’t have been able to get out of that den in Chinatown. Chess roulette they called it, a combination of exactly what it sounds like. If you were checkmated, you held the gun to your temple. My paws, although I was able to hold the gun, were not strong enough to pull the trigger, but that’s a different story. I still wasn’t about to lose to Fingers Johansson. Dude was born with seven fingers on each hand. And after every move against him, he would just point and laugh. Yeah, yeah. I get it. I’m a talking cat. It’s a freaking novelty, I know. Get over it and play the game already, Fingers. The look on his face when I dragged him into an Accelerated Dragon…

Anyway… I’m getting off topic again.

That lasted a few years. We mostly stayed out of ma’s way, and she mostly didn’t try to rip our tails off. It was a mutual understanding. On a good day, she’d just give us the stink eye when we tried to eat a little too much of her food, and on other days, she’d let us get on the same couch as her. I can remember once, when ma was sitting on the youngest daughter’s lap, we each jumped up as well, sitting next to her and rubbing up against the sides of her legs. Now granted, the mom and older daughter were there so ma didn’t have to share the petting—we were each getting petted—but ma didn’t try to shew us off. Didn’t even hiss once. I think Aimee had a lot to do with this.

The Newmarks had three daughters: Erin, Michelle, and Aimee. Aimee was the youngest, and each daughter kind of warmed up to each of us: Erin had ma, Michelle had Paulie (Paulie would purr like a freight train when she picked him up); and Aimee chose me. What can I say? The girl had good taste.

This is how it was for a while, though: Paulie and me running around and killing anything in the yard and staying out of Ma’s way. Over time we’d get into more trouble, as he realized what my double paws and leaping ability made me capable of. We would start taking time in the barn and, instead of eating the dead mice or bringing them inside to Ma or Erin or Mr. Newmark, Paulie would hide them on the top of a landing that was just out of reach for me to jump to. He wanted to see how far I could stretch and see if I could start walking like Napoleon. He had heard Michelle talking about this book she was reading about a bunch of talking animals and one of them was a pig who by the end could walk on his hind legs. I don’t know how he knew what they were saying, but he did and he would scratch out things for me or, as he heard them say something, he would point to it in the house and told me to listen more. I owe everything to Paulie and if he were here now, I’m sure he could help me figure out a way to get that asshole Craig his $5500. Which isn’t even his debt. He stole that from the Dice Boys. It’s them that I owe the money to all because of that bitch Hello. (I know a cat can’t be a bitch, but you know how trustworthy dames can be. I’d say I trust her as far as I could throw her, but if I ever found her again, I could throw her a helluva far way, so that metaphor’s moot.)  I know the Dice Boys, I grew up with them, they and Paulie made me what I could have been, and I know that they wouldn’t care about the debt.

Anyway… back to Paulie. He’d have me hide the mice on these landings and wouldn’t let me jump. He couldn’t do anything to me, so he didn’t intimidate me with beatings or whacks and he was just as nervous about Ma as I was, but if Paulie asked me to do something or if he had an idea, I would run through a brick wall for him. He’s my brother and he’s so much smarter than a talking cat like me could ever hope to be, and vice versa. I know that if Paulie could trade with me he’d do it. Over time, Paulie would put the mouse in higher and higher places, and over time, in that barn, at least, I was able to balance on my hind legs and even to walk a little on it. The first time I was able to hold it without falling, I thought Paulie was going to mate with the wheelbarrow. That was where we’d nap in the barn. Mr. Newmark was a very neat and tidy guy: everything had its place. But one day after mowing the lawn, I think he was beat tired, more tired than an alcoholic cat sleeping under a dumpster, and didn’t feel like bringing the rest of the grass to the woods in the back of the yard. He wheeled the barrow into the shed, and left it there, instead of standing it on its end. Paulie and I saw the grass and jumped in, slept there until Michelle and Aimee came out looking for both of us, late at night, crying, clutching her doll to her side, the same doll whose hair she’d dangle over my head.

The Newmarks were a crazy card playing family, too. Every Saturday night, they’d have some friends over, and they’d all sit around the table, bottles of whatever being passed around, glasses clinking, ice spilling over the side, more and more alcohol staining the tablecloths as the night wore on. As the girls got older, they’d join at the table.

One night, Paulie had been in a particularly needy mood. One of the dad’s friends—Jonesy, loud, large, and stupid—commented on “what an ugly looking cat that is.” He usually would run and hide under Michelle’s bed on these nights. She had lots of furs and think white carpets in there. He’d sprint at full speed in there, stop on the carpet, and there he’d slide underneath the bed, curled up on whatever part of the carpet would slide under with him. Michelle had heard this, though, and since they were adolescents now, they were allowed at the card table. So she and Aimee grabbed each us (Erin was out with a boy, and ma didn’t want anything to do with them at this point) and brought us to the table. You know that moment when you finally do something that you’re destined to do, like how a chef feels the first time he’s in the kitchen; or that moment when you meet the love of your life. That’s how I felt when we sat at that poker table: the blur of the cards folding into each other after someone made a bridge shuffling them, the whirr of the colors, the secret code language; the lower sound a quarter makes when hitting a dime, the roar of the guys as someone decided to throw a five dollar bill on the table, chips slapping against each other. And it didn’t matter who you were: everyone was equal on the poker table. They all just wanted you to play, and play well, so they could take your money.

So Paulie and me became members of the Saturday night crew. But one night Jonesy said something particularly nasty. I was already on thin ice for the last time he said something. It had been a summer night and he was wearing shorts, so I treated his leg like it was a scratching post. He never came over in shorts again. But because of that night, I had to be on behavior or out in the barn I would go, no matter how much Aimee cried. So this one night after he talked about Paulie’s ear, I waited to strike. Jonesy liked his drink and nobody was going to get between him and his drink. One of the friends once tried to dump one of his beers when there was still an inch left in it. You would have thought someone had slapped Jonesy’s mama they way he reacted. Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, but he sure found a way. The color in the glass this night was deep amber, and the reflection of the ice made Jonesey even bigger, if that was even possible. So when he got up to pee, I jumped off Aimee’s lap, walked across the table and dipped my head into his glass, lapping up all of. Damn it tasted good. That’s the day I stopped being Mittens and started being Tequila.

***
           
On weekends and during the summer, Aimee would ride her bike to her friend Mitzi’s house. (Mitzi was the younger sister of The Dice Boys.)


“Aimee? What are you doing?” I heard Mrs. Newmark ask.

“Nothing.” Aimee was chasing me around the house with a cardboard box. She had cornered me onto the couch and was trying to put the box over my head. I was swatting at her, claws in mind you.

“Aren’t you going to Mitzi’s? You aren’t bringing Mittens with you on your bike.” Not everyone had taken to calling me Tequila yet, just Mr. Newmark and the Saturday night poker crew.

“That’s not what I was doing.” Aimee dropped the box on the couch and went to gather some other things to go to Mitzi’s. With everything relaxed, I pulled myself out from between the couch cushions. I had squeezed myself in there to make it harder for her to pull me out. If she did start pulling me out, I would have used my claws, or bitten her on the arm.

While I could hear Mrs. Newmark talking to Aimee in the other room, I climbed in the box and curled up. Can’t explain to you why I love boxes so much: the walls muffle the outside world, we can’t hear it as much, so it’s much easier to fall asleep. Okay, maybe I can explain why I like them.

Moments later I heard Mrs. Newmark’s keys rattling, and the box was picked up. We were going to the car! What the hell had I done to deserve such a fate as this? I just wanted to sleep, dammit! Apparently, Mitzi had a cat and she and Aimee wanted the two of us to play.

On the way over, Aimee kept trying to put me on her lap, thinking her petting would comfort me. You pulled me from my box sleep, kid. There’s no comforting me now.

I don’t know how long we were in the car (I’m a cat. I don’t tell time. I might be able to talk and walk and drink tequila like nobody’s business, but there’s a reason I don’t wear a watch) but when we got there, I still didn’t want to come out. So they pulled me out in the box. Mitzi was on the front steps, hair in braids, bow on the left side of her head, wearing a pink and black dress. She had a small cat in her arms that was dressed up the same way: a pink bow on the left side of her head, and wearing a pink and black dress. I don’t know if it was the car ride, my half-wakened state, or the fact that I had never seen a cat dressed up like a human before, but I was frozen.

Aimee held me in her lap. I inched my head closer to this new fine feline. I didn’t know what her name was, but I kept hearing Mitzi and Aimee, in high-pitched voices, as if speaking on behalf of us, saying, “Hello, Kitty. How are you?” Each would in turn grab our paws and gesture to the other one with them. People can be so stupid sometimes. Just let us cats do what we want.

I wanted to jump off and lick her face. I wanted to put my paw on top of the bow on her head and spin her like a ballerina in a music box. I wanted to run across country with her, she in her dress wooing people over to me to try to beat the cat at poker; and me taking all their money, a cat version of Bonnie and Clyde, but without the gunfire: Teqs and Hello, Hello and Teqs. We could be a vaudeville act, a mom and pop catnip shop,  traveling snake-oil salespeople, gypsy cats with patches over our eyes sailing on makeshift rats on the ocean, all the fish we could want. We sat like that for what must have been hours, staring at us each other, not moving, not saying a word to the other, just quietly assessing the other, wishing we were away from our human masters.

After some time, Mitzi’s mom came outside. “Aimee, your mother just called. She wants you to know she finished grocery shopping and is on her way to pick you up.” We left shortly after Mrs. Newmark pulled into the driveway.

Every time after that day when Aimee would go to Mitzi’s, I’d mewl and chirp and rub on her legs, trying to get her to take me over there. Never happened again. I don’t know what I did that day, either, but Hello clearly didn’t want to see me. She didn’t look like she does now. Her eyes were wide. Her legs were normal cat size. She could move; man, could she move. I don’t know how she made it over to Japan, but she did. Forgot all about us, about me, about her roots. Stepping stones for some dames wild dreams of fame, fortune, and the grand catnip in the sky.

Haven’t seen a cat like her since. Dames. Every dream we have, they manage to take our snow-globe world and trash it on the ground, porcupines in our world of bubbles. You end up sleeping under a dumpster with your ribs kicked in and owing some jackass $5500, lapping up leftover tequila from the broken bottle of someone else’s shattered dreams.

Dames.           

 
 
Brian Lepire is a man of many hats: editor and contributing writer to the online pop culture zine Junkyard Arts; poet; lyricist and lead singer of a rockabilly band; playwright and actor; sous chef; student for a degree in publishing; and an aficionado of all cool storyteller music: think Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, Sex Pistols, etc.
He also hates cats and tequila. Which is why his authoring of the third chapter of Tequila Kitty (found here) seemed so appropriate. And, lastly and definitely not least importantly, he's also a friend. I sat down with him recently over a glass of his hated tequila to discuss books, writing, and his own process. 
Picture
Brian Lepire, looking mighty skeptical about his tequila.
Q & A with Brian Lepire

Q: Tell me about what your writing. You write in a lot of different genres: poetry, prose, songs, drama, film criticism. Do you think they all feed each other, or do you have one particular genre that you consider your calling more than the others?

I view writing as a form of expression. It allows me to tap into my various thoughts, beliefs, and experiences. But there’s not just one genre that lets me expose all those elements. Some things I feel are better said through a poem than through a story, a three act play rather than a three verse song.

Then there are the articles and music reviews and film critiques. That’s my thirst for knowledge and new experiences coming out, as well as the desire to share that information with people. I would say my background is definitely in creative non-fiction and I derive a great amount of joy from writing a well-research, well-executed article.

Q: What would you say are your strengths as a writer?

I’d like to think I turn a good phrase here and there and pull together a coherent storyline with relatable characters. When I write, I spend a good amount of time making sure my characters are familiar enough so the reader doesn’t have to work excessively hard to see things from the character’s perspective. Another strength, and perhaps my greatest weakness, is I’m known for writing too tight sometimes – my sentences and paragraphs flow in such a way that editing can be a long and tumultuous project.

Q: What are you working on now?

I’m currently piecing together a collection of short stories, tentatively called THE PEOPLE WE MEET. I’ve spent a good portion of the past decade focused on my poetry and journalism, so writing short stories has been an exciting challenge. It’s forced me to dive deeper into the themes that surround my writing and my life.

Q: What publications has your work appeared in?

I’ve spent the past three years as a contributing writer and editor for Junkyard Arts, an online magazine aimed at exposing the masses to what’s happening in the art world and what’s worth paying attention to. You can also find my work at SalemFilmFest.com, where I am Online Media Editor.

My work has also been featured in Thirsty Magazine and several newspapers.

Q: Who are your primary influences, or inspirations, as a writer?

My influences are as varied as the genres I write in, but at the core they all seem to share a knack for packing great description and wit into crisp, memorable lines. Writers like Gay Talese, Leonard Cohen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Neil Simon, and Hunter S. Thompson have masterful styles that I keep returning to for guidance.

Q: What inspires you the most (e.g. music, landscape/nature, written word, life, etc.)?

More often than not I pull inspiration from real life experiences, especially when writing poetry.

Q: Do you find there’s a difference in writing poetry or prose? Which comes easier to you? Which do you enjoy writing more?

There’s a definite difference for me between writing poetry and prose. Poetry has always been easier for me to write. My best poems usually come from brief moments of inspiration that turn into a feverish writing session that can last anywhere from 20 minutes to three hours. Prose takes more time and development, which is fun, but is more of a commitment for me than poetry.

Q: What are you reading right now?

Right now I’m catching up on Jack Kerouac’s THE DHARMA BUMS because I should have read it a while ago. I’m also reading BOOK BUSINESS: PAST, PRESENT, and FUTURE to prepare for my summer at the Denver Publishing Institute.

Q: What authors, when you read them, make you think, “I’m giving up writing because I will never be as good as them?”

Breece D’J Pancake. He was able to capture so much emotion without having to become overly verbose. His writing at times is very stark and completely captivating.

Q: I know this is the hated and borderline unanswerable question, but it has to be asked. Why do you write?

Because when I don’t write, food is tasteless and my blood is quick to boil. Writing gives me purpose, fuels my ambition, and allows me to express the world that I see. But most of all, writing is what I’m meant to do. I get very frustrated when I can’t write for long periods at a time.

Q: If you weren’t writing, what else would you be doing?

Publishing. Managing an independent press/independent bookstore. I want to provide an outlet to great writers who might be intimidated or feel burned by the big publishing houses. There are too many poems and stories and books that have never reached the public because the writers have been turned off by the whole process, and I think that’s a shame.

Q: Name your top five favorite books and/or top five favorite authors?

Oh man…why did you have to ask? My five favorite books, in no particular order: The Rum Diary (Hunter S. Thompson); On the Road (Jack Kerouac); Stranger Music (Leonard Cohen); The Prophet (Kahlil Gibran); and CASH: An Autobiography (Johnny Cash w/ Patrick Carr).

Q: What is your non-writing claim to fame?

Officiated the wedding of Sarah Murray and Liam Walker. A pretty big accomplishment in my book.  

And now we get into the non-writerly, more silly-ish questions of the interview, as paraphrased from James Lipton of Inside the Actor’s Studio:

Q: What is your favorite drink?

Coffee

Q: What is your favorite curse word?

Fuck…it is such a versatile curse. Good for any fucking occasion.

Q: Favorite food?

Hot Dogs from Coney Island in Worcester, MA. And cheese. Man, I love cheese.

Q: What is your most vivid memory?

The night I met “The Man with the Bomb”. You’ll have to pick up the book when it comes out to find out more.

Q: What is your favorite sound?

The excited greetings of friends when I arrive to the party.

Q: What is your least favorite sound?

An unattended, screeching fire alarm.

Q: If heaven exists, what do you think god will say upon meeting you at the pearly gates? What would you want it to say?

I would want God to say “I hear you have some questions. Want to talk?” But It will probably say “How did you get in here?!”


 
 
I’d made it to the motel parking lot when I heard the footsteps. A sombrero may make me look good, but it does shit for my hearing, so the bastards were able to scoop me up real quick. The first one gave me a hard slap on the top of the head with an opened palm. The bottle crashed to the ground, shattering like so many dreams do in this city.  While I was still reeling, another one came up from behind with a burlap sack. The last thing I saw before they cinched the sack closed was an oversized neon cowboy wink at me.
- excerpt of Chapter 3 by Brian Lepire

Welcome to Chapter 3 of The Adventures of Tequila Kitty. (Chapters 1 and 2 can be found here and here, respectively.) When we last saw Teqs he was getting kicked out of the house of a kind-hearted, lovelorn woman who had fallen for him and taken him in. But, just like you can't teach an old dog new tricks, you can't domesticate a wild cat. Chapter 3 was written by my friend Brian Lepire, who has written for Junkyard Arts, the Salem Film Festival, plays, and songs for his previous incarnation as the lead singer of a rockabilly band.

So, without further ado, (and because Teqs getting rather restless and we want to tell this story before he bolts the country...again), we bring you Chapter Three of The Adventures of Tequila Kitty.


Chapter 3

I promised myself I would never come back to this city.

After my last trip to Vegas, I knew the only thing this city had to offer me was trouble and bad credit. I told myself it was time for a fresh start. I’d put down the tequila and put away the sombrero.

But here I was again, with a bottle in my paws and women by my side, making more bad decisions.

I had come back to town to wish an old friend good luck. She was a good woman who didn’t deserve the hell I put her through when we knew each other, so when I heard she had run away to find a better life, I wanted her to know I wished her only the best. The fact she ran away to the place I was running from was an irony that tasted like a bad omen, but I went anyway.

She was giving everything she had to be a comedienne and had managed to get a show at the Venetian lounge room. After her set, I decided to bolt out before she had a chance to corner me. Awkward moments smell like rotten mice – I can smell them for miles. I was also hoping that no one recognized my tail. The last time I was at this particular casino, I hadn’t left the best impression. Probably because I didn’t leave as much money as I owed.

The place was crowded. There was a convention of seniors in town playing the slot machines and a poker tournament that was getting some national air time, so I thought the staff was busy enough that a cat wearing a sombrero minding his own business could go unnoticed. The girls and I walked quickly, careful not to make eye contact with anyone who might give a damn that I was back in town for a one time occasion.

There’s a trick to walking fast across the casino floor. The joint is set up so that you can’t get ten feet without stopping to spend more money, but you just have to keep the slots to your right at all times and keep your eyes out for old timers. They’re the ones who usually get blinded by the whirring cherries and sounds of emptying machines and might accidentally step on your tail, then keel over from the unexpected sound of a cat screeching and clawing their ankles. Blind fools have it coming though.

We were almost to the doors when I thought I saw someone swing their heads around for a second glimpse. I was hoping it was just someone getting a better view of the beauties I had picked up earlier that night at the bar down the strip. Or did I meet them at the bar this morning? I think their names were Tina and Emily.

The fresh air tasted cool and sweet. I took a fresh swig of my tequila.

“Where to now, Teqs?” asked Emily, the brunette in a perfect blue dress.

“Oh, oh, oh, let’s go to the Palace! I haven’t been there yet,” Tina exclaimed. She was obviously new to town.

“I think this might be where we go our separate ways, girls. I think I’m gonna call it a night.”

“What? It’s still early though. There’s still so much trouble we could get into,” Emily said in a way I’d heard so many times before, like a lady who expected me to keep her warm tonight. Damn if she didn’t look good in that dress though.

“Yeah. I wanna go to all the nice places,” Tina said.

“First off, the Palace ain’t as nice as you might think. Be careful over there. That place can shed your fur.  They especially like to ruin blondes, Tina. And Emily, I’ve had my share of trouble in this town. I’m ready to call it a night on Vegas. Give me a call tomorrow.”

They pouted a bit, but when they realized I’d made up my mind, they headed off towards Caesar’s.

I didn’t want them around when trouble came.

I was holed up under a dumpster outside a cheap motel at the end of the strip; a far cry from the penthouse apartments and ritz’d up houses I usually worked my way into when I was in town. Lonely ladies had a thing for taking me in, and I didn’t mind taking advantage of their desperation every now and then. But this time I chose a place further off the radar, away from the lights that might give me away to any of a number of people who I didn’t have time for.

I’d made it to the motel parking lot when I heard the footsteps. A sombrero may make me look good, but it does shit for my hearing, so the bastards were able to scoop me up real quick. The first one gave me a hard slap on the top of the head with an opened palm. The bottle crashed to the ground, shattering like so many dreams do in this city.  While I was still reeling, another one came up from behind with a burlap sack. The last thing I saw before they cinched the sack closed was an oversized neon cowboy wink at me.

***

Dried blood on burlap has a weird smell to it.

Whoever had sent these goons to pick me up had forgotten to mention I didn’t have all my nine lives anymore. They’d gingerly tossed me into the back of their van and laughed as the sack bounced off the interior walls. By that time I was so groggy I didn’t know how long we drove for. I assumed we were just going out to the desert to dig a well, so it didn’t really matter how long it took.

At some point I had finally passed out and didn’t wake up until the van door slammed open. One of the bastards stepped in to grab the sack. I let my claws peek through just enough to give him a nasty surprise when he wrapped his hand around the knot.

“Sonofabitch!” the unlucky one said.

“What’s your problem, Joe?”  

“Bastard clawed me!”

“Haha. Pussy.”

“Shut up, Brad!”

I chuckled a bit too, until Joe’s boot met my ribs. I passed out again.

The next time I woke up the bag had been opened and I was surprised to find I wasn’t in the desert next to a fresh grave. Instead, I was in a large room without windows. It was covered in blood red wallpaper, which did nothing for the lack of light in the place. Shadows danced around the room from hanging incandescent lights.

There were two men standing behind me making sure I didn’t try anything stupid like bolt for the door. Joe was a bit shorter than most guys in his line of work, but had shoulders to make up for it. I could tell it was him from the fresh blood still speckled on his hand. Brad was a bit taller and better off in the looks department. It’d looked like someone had busted his nose at one point, but the damn thing gave his prep boy face even more character.

At the other end of the room was a glass desk that reflected the weird blue glow of twelve computer screens mounted to the back wall. There was a chair facing the screens, but I already knew who had picked me up.

I coughed up a hairball and some blood.

“Is that the infamous Tequila Kitty I hear? It can’t be. I thought he was long gone by now, especially after the shit he pulled last time he was here.”

The chair spun around to reveal a young guy who still dressed like he was in college, even if he did have more money than most actors in their prime. Craig Irvin had a specific look: zipped-up hoodies, jeans, and sandals. Didn’t matter where he was or who he was meeting with, whether it was the Prime Minister of Russia or the founder of the world’s largest tech company - he always wore sandals. He also had a nickname to match his curly red hair, but I refused to call him “Big Red”.

“It’s nice to see you again, Craig,” I said, trying to hide any signs of pain.

“Oh, it’s nice to see you too, Tequila. I assume you have my money.”

“Your friends there picked me up in the parking lot of a motel I couldn’t afford a room in, so, no. I don’t have your money at this moment.”

Craig wanted to kick me himself, but couldn’t because of his sandals, so he looked at Joe. A familiar boot met my sore ribs and I let out a loud yelp.

“Who the hell do you think you are, you mangy alley cat?!” Craig was on his hands and knees, pushing his beat red face against mine. Spit sprayed my eyes as he spoke. “Do you think the rules don’t apply to you? I want my money!”

I felt as good as I could in a situation like that. He wanted his money, which meant I might be able to walk out of this room if I could promise I could give back everything  he’d lent me during my last bender in Vegas.

“Or maybe I’ll just make myself a new pair of fur-lined sandals. What do you think, Teqs? Those sound nice.”

I didn’t feel so sure about this anymore.

“Craig, I think I can-“

Joe stepped on my tail, twisting his foot as if he was crushing out a cigarette. I hissed and took a swipe at his ankle which caused him to jump back. He started to wind up for another kick.

“Not yet!” Craig said. “Little runt was about to say something. Hopefully he was about to tell us the code to his bank account, which conveniently has the $5500 he owes me, plus interest.”

“Craig, if you don’t mind me saying, what’s $5500 to a guy like you? Don’t you make $5 million a day from your websites alone? Is it really worth killing me over?” Probably not the best thing I could’ve said at that moment, but I had three broken ribs and a concussion. I was doing the best I could to figure out how to give him what he wanted.

“Vegas is an interesting place when it comes to debt,” Craig said, letting the anger on his face transform into malice. “Did you know they found a body in the desert last week of an old gangster killed over $50?”

Craig sat back down at the wall of computer screens and began pulling up files.

“Tequila, let’s summarize what’s going on here so you and I are on the same page. You came to town a few months ago driving a nice looking Corvette and swigging straight from the bottle. You and your loser buddies start playing the tables and you’re having some luck. You hit a couple places around town, running tables until they get cold.

Things taste real sweet as you rake it all in. Then, like pretty much everyone in Las Vegas, you overstay your welcome and lose it all. You think you can still win, so your friends hook you up with a pretty well-off guy: me. We hang out for a bit. I think your hat is weird, but like you enough anyway to front you some money; exactly $5500. 

You head back to the tables and lose it all over Vegas. Then, instead of doing what you agreed to do and hand over the keys to the car, you jump in the Corvette you probably stole from someone and drive back to whatever dirty litter box you came from.

Does that sound about right to you?”

“You’ve got a good memory.”

“And you have a lousy memory. I want my money back. How are you going to get me my money, Tequila?”

When your universe starts to collapse around you, time stands still. The imminent sense that there is no way to avoid a death you are unprepared for makes the world’s axis grind to a halt and all you’re able to do is remember the most random moments of your life. As I listened to Craig layout my dilemma, all I could do was remember the most obscure things: my first sombrero, the first time I caught a mouse in Tijuana, the smell of a woman as we laid under the covers on a cold morning.  Craig and the others must have seen a drooling cat, because Craig slammed his fist on the desk.

“Tequila! How are you going to get my money?! Better yet, I don’t want to know. I just want it back. And I want it back in the next twenty-four hour.” Craig swung his chair back to the screens. “And  now for some added incentive. You know you weren’t the first one we picked up last night, right?”

Craig pulled up a live camera feed of a small empty room, save for two chairs back to back. There were two beautiful women handcuffed to the chairs. Luckily, it looked like Joe had been kinder to Emily and Tina. But their faces were etched in fear.

“You bastards! What have you done to them?!” I spun around and made a quick dash towards Joe. He must have been expecting it though, because as I jumped up to claw his eyes, he reached out and swatted me down. I fell on my back, which took the wind out of me and reminded me I should be in a body cast.

“Calm down. They’re fine,” Craig said. “You’re the one we want, not them. I only had Joe and Brad ask the ladies to join us so that you don’t get the idea to run off again without paying back what is mine.”

Craig walked over to the spot of floor I was sprawled over. Another bloody hairball came up as he looked down at me.

“Tequila, you don’t know me very well, but you should realize by now that I’m a man of certain principles. Kind of like how computers and science have unbreakable rules, I believe that there is no debt too small worth forgetting. And not only do I value my money, but I value my time. I took the time to help you out of a bad situation, and now I’m taking the time to address this little problem we have. So, basically what I’m saying, if you don’t get me my money, and if I feel like you’ve wasted my time, I am going to be very angry. And Joe likes it when I’m angry, because that means he gets to be angry too, and Joe really likes being angry.”

Joe took a step forward, but Craig raised a hand.

“Tequila, here’s the deal: you get me my money in the next twenty-four hours, or else the young ladies are not going to win big in Vegas. And please, for their sake, and yours, don’t try to leave town. I’ll know if you will, and I’ll still come after you. Is any of the unclear?”

I gave Craig a big smile, wide enough to show all the pointed teeth I still had, and nodded.

“Be back here tomorrow at 10 am with my $5500. Joe, Brad, get him out of my sight.”

I thought I was going to end up back in the sack and was prepared for an extra kick from Joe for good luck, but instead Brad came over and ran his hand across my back.

“Alright. Grab your sombrero and let’s go.”

I dragged myself onto all fours and tossed my sombrero on. Joe and Brad escorted me to the elevator. Brad hit the button for the first floor, and the three of us rode down twenty floors in a weird silence normally saved for funerals or in-laws.

“I’m guessing that hat ain’t your lucky one,” Brad said.  

“Ha! Nope. I guess not. Hopefully I can change that though,” I replied.

“I doubt it,” Joe said with a smirk.

The elevator doors open and sunlight burst through the glass-paneled walls of the reception hall. Brad pointed to the door and gently pushed me towards the exit with one foot.

“We’ll see you in the morning, Tequila Kitten,” Joe said. He waved as the elevator doors closed.

I stepped out the door and realized we’d never left the Vegas strip. I felt lost.

 
 
Last week a new literary project (phenomenon?) was launched: The Adventures of Tequila Kitty. Thirteen writers were recruited to write one chapter each, only being allowed to see the chapter written before them. There were no limits on scope, style, or plot line. The only mandate was that one of the main characters of their chapter had to be a tequila swilling, alcoholic, sombrero wearing cat: Tequila Kitty, or Teqs. Chapter One: The Tequila-Mockingbird Incident can be found here

As part of this project, an interview will be posted within days of each author's chapter.

Chapter Two: Confessions of a Crazy Cat Lady was written by my good friend, the bartender poet, Aimee Hamel, who recently received her Bachelor's in Creative Writing-Poetry from Emerson College in Boston.

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Aiimee and me moments before our mandatory Tequila shot.
Q & A with Aimee Hamel

Q: Tell me about what your poetry collection. When did you originally start it? How did it evolve? Was there a theme in your work you intended, or is it more just a collection of your works?

I actually started it a couple weeks before freshman year of college when I was talking to a future peer and he asked to see my work. I didn’t have anything to show so I wrote a poem in like 5 minutes to show him. An edited version of that poem did end up in my final poetry Thesis.

There was no intended theme, but as I went along it was pretty clear there was a theme forming. Each poem sort of had something to do with the trials and tribulations of being in love, and I ended up titling the collection after one of the poems: This Is Why I Choose to Be Alone.

Q: Give me a brief bio of your life:

I’ve been a New England girl all my life: grew up 40 minutes south of Boston, went to school at Emerson in Boston, and bartend in downtown Boston now. I’ve always been active in dance and sports, and in my older years am now heavily into fitness. I have always had a California state of mind and am currently saving up to move out there in a year or two.

Q: What would you say are your strengths as a writer?

I think my stuff is pretty easy to read, and I like that. I like that my poetry is complex but still understandable to most people, I think. I typically am drawn to write dramatic, depressing stuff, so once in a while when I attempt to write comedy (like this chapter in TK), and it’s actually funny to people, I definitely feel a sense of accomplishment.

Q: What are you working on now?

After taking almost a year off from writing after I was burnt out from writing my Thesis, Tequila Kitty got the ball rolling and I’m excited to start writing again. I’m going to try to publish some or all of my poetry collection, and I’m thinking about writing a short story.

Q: How has your upbringing influenced your work, if at all?

I don’t know if my upbringing really influenced it at all... I just remember as a 9 or 10 year old kid, always coming up with make-believe scenarios in the back yard with my neighbors. I also acted in middle school. I love a good story I guess.

Q: What inspires you the most (e.g. music, landscape/nature, written word, life, etc.)?

I’d say life. Weird stuff. Every time I see weird or creepy person, I want to write about him/her. A lot of times the weird stuff is the depressing stuff, so that’s why I think a lot of my writing is depressing, but I love it. This world is so strange and I just want to talk about it.

Q: Do you find there’s a difference in writing poetry or prose? Which comes easier to you? Which do you enjoy writing more?

I really do like them both. Lately i just love that you can tell a whole story in a couple of lines, with poetry.

Q: What are you reading right now?

As weird as it is, I managed to go all of high school and college not having read The Great Gatsby, so now that the movie is out I feel like I finally have to read the book. I literally don’t even know the story line, haha, so I’m interested to check it out.

Q: What authors, when you read them, make you think, “I’m giving up writing because I will never be as good as them?”

Q: I know this is the hated and borderline unanswerable question, but it has to be asked. Why do you write?

Unlike what I think a lot of people would say-- some nonsense along the lines of “I get the urge and I just HAVE to do it,”-- I don’t really feel any urge to do it. Half the time I convince myself I’m not that great of a writer. But then I eventually write something and at the end I find myself liking it and it’s always a pleasant surprise, like WAIT I actually am good at this, cool!

Q: If you weren’t writing, what else would you be doing?

Well over the past year that I wasn’t writing, I have been bartending and working out. Both of those things make me happy, and I’ll be continuing them even as I get back into writing.

Q: Name your top five favorite books and/or top five favorite authors?

Books: We Were the Mulvaneys, The Lovely Bones, Oryx and Crake, The Virgin Suicides........ Fifty Shades of Gray! I had to...

And now we get into the non-writerly, more silly-ish questions of the interview, as paraphrased from James Lipton of Inside the Actor’s Studio:

Q: What is your favorite drink?

Alcoholic: I don’t drink sugary drinks anymore since my diet, and I miss them!!! But technically my favorite would be Tequila Sunrise.

Non-Alcoholic: Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m obsessed with milk. Room temperature and drunk straight from the jug.

Q: What is your favorite curse word?

Cock sock

Q: Favorite food.

Clam chowder. I have to moderate my intake.

Q: What is your most vivid memory?

I’ve suppressed most memories before the age of like 14.

Q: What is your favorite sound?

Cat’s purring.

Q: What is your least favorite sound?

People chewing loud crunchy things. Like that one person in class who would bring carrots or a bag of Fritos during a lecture. Close your damn mouth or go away from me.

Q: If heaven exists, what do you think god will say upon meeting you at the pearly gates? What would you want it to say?

I hope that I will get enough done before this life is over so that he says “well done.” I hope he does not say, “#fail.”


 
 
He took off his sombrero and playfully placed it on my head. “And really, don’t be upset. You’re fine. There’s nothing wrong with loving your cat.”

He was right, there is nothing wrong with loving your cat. But there is something wrong with owning a different cat-print sweater for each day of the week, and there’s definitely something wrong with your kitchen floor being completely hidden beneath enough cat bowls and litter boxes to feed an army of cats, which I basically had. I had a problem, and that problem was all thanks to Tequila.
- excerpt from Chapter Two: Confessions of a Crazy Cat Lady, by Aimee Hamel

Welcome to the second installment of The Adventures of Tequila Kitty. The first chapter, written by Christopher Chik, introduced us to the hard-living, heavy-drinking, womanizing lifestyle of Tequila Kitty, or Teqs as he likes to be called, meow. (Chapter One: The Tequila Mockingbird Incident can be found here or here.)

Chapter Two: Confessions of a Crazy Cat Lady was written by my friend, the bartender poet, Aimee Hamel. And now for the continuation of the exquisite-corpse novel, The Adventures of Tequila Kitty...
Chapter 2: Confessions Of A Crazy Cat Lady

It’s always the dumbest, most obscure and unexpected little things that spark the long-awaited realization your life has become completely unreasonable. And it never happens early on, at opportune times when your dignity is still very much salvageable-- it just doesn’t work like that. You only receive that unforgiving jolt to your ass bone courtesy of the first jagged stone to greet you at Rock Bottom when you’re already way too far gone. I had that same jolt handed to me personally tonight by, of all things, vegetables.

I was sitting at my dining room table. Alone. Again.

Because, as usual, Teqs was three hours late for dinner and I’d resolved that I wouldn’t wait any more than an hour and a half for him this time.

I stared at his full bowl of Fancy Feast beside me as I pushed cold food around aimlessly on my own plate. I was thinking how I wasn’t going to put in the effort of getting him the good stuff anymore-- back to dry food he would go. I jerked my hand back from the table when my eyes settled over the edible art I’d created: Three slices of steamed carrots made for two eyes and a nose, with six string beans lined up on either side marking long green whiskers.

Just then Teqs crawled in through the front door cat flap with a guilty look etched on his muzzle.

I immediately got up and ran toward him like a mad woman, yanking my shoe off and chucking it at him.

“Tequila Kitty, what the hell have you done to me! Look at me! Waiting around for you like.. like I’m some pathetic little pet of yours! Whose owner clearly doesn’t give a shit about her! You’re the pet, goddamnit. You should be the one waiting on me! Oh my god, listen to me. What the hell am I saying?” I dropped to my knees and tears began to fall.

Teqs walked cautiously over to me, his claws defensively exposed.

“Don’t cry, meow. I’m sorry I’m late. Boss had a couple of mice at his house he needed me to take care of before I came home, ” he said.

He took off his sombrero and playfully placed it on my head. “And really, don’t be upset. You’re fine. There’s nothing wrong with loving your cat.”

He was right, there is nothing wrong with loving your cat. But there is something wrong with owning a different cat-print sweater for each day of the week, and there’s definitely something wrong with your kitchen floor being completely hidden beneath enough cat bowls and litter boxes to feed an army of cats, which I basically had. I had a problem, and that problem was all thanks to Tequila.

          
                                                                    ***
                                       
I wasn’t always this way. It feels like just yesterday that I was on top of the world, one of the most smoking hot blonde knockouts California had produced, and not afraid to let you know I knew it. I was living in Barstow and working in L.A. as a model when I met Tequila. I had been invited to a punk show in Corona by a friend of my agent who claimed he wanted to meet up and discuss a potential “business” deal. After he made a pass at me within the first fifteen minutes of my arrival, I had him swiftly removed from my vicinity and I decided to stay and enjoy the show by myself.

That was until I saw the most adorable little striped cat in a sombrero curled up in a seat at the bar. Cute animals were my kryptonite-- the only thing to make a no-bullshit independent woman go soft. I waited for him and his friend to leave the crowded bar and head for the door when I stopped him and suggestively asked him to come home with me, knowing I always get what I want. But I do love a challenge, and he declined, saying he and his friend had to leave for Vegas. He asked for a ride and I couldn’t say no. I ended up having him drop me off at home, and I let him take my Corvette the rest of the way. I wanted a reason to see him again, and I had such an expendable income then, it wasn’t much of a loss either way.

He did come back, about two weeks later. I had just gotten home from a photo shoot and was about to take a shower when my doorbell rang. I opened it to find Teqs, by himself, swaying drunkenly from side to side.

“Meow, I managed to keep the ‘Vette in one piece. You’re welcome,” he purred, tossing the keys into my hand. He started hiccuping and I took the bottle of Cuervo from his paws before it smashed all over the front porch.

“Tequila, are you okay? Where’s your friend?” I asked.

He brushed me off with a wave of his claw. “He’s got a thing. Look, meow, I’ll be honest with you. Vegas didn’t go so well for me. I was up about $5,500 for a good while, but I lost it all on a bad hand. I’ve got nowhere else to go. Do you think...?”

I cut him off, finishing his sentence for him. “Would you like to stay with me for a while? I could use some company around here, honestly.”

“You sure, meow? I wouldn’t want to impose.” Just as the last words left his little lips he started dry heaving and I ushered him inside.

“C’mon, Teqs, the bathroom is this way,” I said.

“I’m fine-- meow. It’s just-- a hairball.” he managed to choke out.

                                                                                   ***           

That night we went out and purchased the “bare” necessities-- Teqs insisted he needed nothing more than these: litter box, food and water bowls, and a big jar of catnip. Toy mice and laser pointers were of no use to Teqs. As long as he had his ‘nip and a handle of tequila handy at all times, he was stimulated and happy.

I had come up with what I thought was a suitable arrangement for us: he didn’t owe me any money for the room and board. It was on me. In exchange, he would sleep in my bed at night, playing up his cutesy-cuddly-kitty side to my satisfaction. He was still allowed to drink and smoke; he wouldn’t be Tequila if he didn’t. But he would have to stop the gambling and partying, starting immediately. I was going to do my best to make Teqs a good house cat. My house cat.

He agreed without any objections, and the first few weeks were great. I continued modeling, and Teqs scored a job promoting some brand of tequila, going around to different liquor stores in the area as a spokesperson and giving out samples. It was the perfect job for him; people got a kick out of taking free shots from a cute little cat in a sombrero. The stuff went fast. And Teqs was always home at night to greet me when I walked in the door, nuzzling my leg then jumping into his chair at the set table, ears perked waiting for dinner time. I poured some turkey gravy cat chow into his bowl while he rambled about his day.

“I’m tellin’ you, they love me over there, meow. Boss is telling me I’m in line for a promotion within the next couple weeks, whatever that means.” He dove into his bowl face first, going on when he came up for air. “Yeah, he says it’s time the rest of Cali, maybe the world, got a taste of the animal promoter craze we started. I don’t know if that means I’ll be traveling? We’ll see I guess.”

“That’s awesome, Teqs,” I said.

I was genuinely happy for him, at first. But three weeks later, when his boss did offer him the promotion, things started going straight downhill.

The first problem was all the cats.

Now that Teqs’ job required him to travel to bigger liquor stores around the state, and sometimes to other states, he started being inconsistent and coming home later and later. Some nights he wouldn’t come home at all, and the next day I’d see him in pictures online, out partying and drinking.

When I asked him what that was about, he went on the defense. “Meow. It was for one of the promotions I was doing. Boss needed me to work the crowd a little at a club. Do you want me to succeed at my job or not? I thought you supported me getting my life back on track.”

“I do,” I said. “But I’m not sure that partying and drinking all night long is helping you get your life on track...”

Before the conversation could go any further, he changed the subject. “You know what I think we need? For both of us?”

“What,” I said.

“Another cat. Maybe a kitten. As much as I care about you, and as great of a roommate as you’ve been, I’ve been craving more feline interaction. I think it’s instinctual. And it would be great for you when I’m out working late nights. You’d have another little buddy to keep you company--keep my spot on the bed warm for me,” he said.

“I don’t know about that, Teqs. The upkeep and everything... I still have a job too you know,” I said.

“I know you do,” he said, “but I promise there’s no more upkeep involved than there is having just one cat. Trust me.”

So that weekend, I went to the shelter, and I got myself another cat. In keeping with the liquor theme, I named her Ginny, Gin for short. She had a beautiful white and black coat with a brown belly. Teqs continued on his late night work grind, making it home in time for dinner maybe four nights out of the week. And for a while, Ginny filled that void just as he said she would. For me, that is. Him needing another cat for his own personal reasons was bullshit; he was never home and he never paid attention to her when he was.

After a another couple weeks, Ginny just wasn’t doing it for me like she was at first; I missed Tequila. I called him on a break at work and told him how depressed I was feeling. He seemed to know just the fix.

“Meow, I know you might think this sounds crazy, but I think you need another cat. Everyone I know who has three has never been happier.” It did sound crazy, but so was I. So I took his advice.

From that point on, it became a cycle. The more Teqs stayed out partying and doing God knows what, the more cats I brought home. One night Teqs came home with a diamond encrusted collar, I assume given to him by another woman, and the next morning I went out and bought three more cats. I truly believed that when I reached a certain number, the pain would go away. But it didn’t. And before I knew it I was a former model turned shelter volunteer. After so many visits to the shelter, I couldn’t stand by and watch so many neglected cats with no home. I figured if I worked there, I could take home a majority of them and no one would try and stop me.

That was the first way in which Tequila made me crazy. The second, and maybe even worse than the first, was Tequila’s jealousy issue.

For such an outgoing and flirty animal, he was extremely overprotective and jealous when it came to me and guys. My reassurances only angered him more.

“Tequila,” I said one night after I’d told him a customer at the shelter had given me his phone number, “you know no man--or woman-- could ever replace you. You’re my baby. But a woman has... needs. Which I’m sure you’d like to fulfill but it just doesn’t work that way. You understand what I’m saying right?”

Teqs was already popping the lid of his second straight bottle of tequila; liquor could either calm or worsen his nerves--we’d see which one it was this time.

“Frankly, meow, I don’t think I do. I protect you, I love you, I keep you warm at night. If some shmuck wants to take my place, he’s gonna have to do it over my dead carcass,” he said. “I’ve had enough of these guys trying to steal you away from me; it’s time I put a stop to it.”

“What guys?” I interjected. “Teqs, you are aware I used to be a model right? There were guys back then. Now... I haven’t been on a date in almost a year! No guy wants to date a girl who wears cat sweaters!”

“Hold on,” he said. “You don’t like the sweaters...?”

Teqs was referring to the sweaters he’d had printed for me for every holiday since he’d been living with me. Each one was an obnoxiously bright knit with a silk screen of him in his trusty sombrero. When he first starting gifting them to me I tried not to wear them, but he caught right on and got upset with me. Since then I’d worn them at least once a week. At least.

I knew that was just one more of his ploys to keep me from dating. As if the other issues of me having a house full of cat condos and a repertoire of conversational skills that started and ended with my cats names and respective quirks weren’t already achieving that goal.

It wasn’t until I actually landed a date, and endured the humiliation of Tequila showing up in the middle of said date and ruining everything, that I officially decided the jealousy thing had to stop.

I met a guy by the water cooler at my gym, as cliche as that sounds, and we got to talking. I ended up asking him over to dinner at my house--I don’t know why I ever thought that would be a good idea-- and he accepted. I didn’t tell Teqs for obvious reasons, and I planned it for a night I knew Teqs would probably be staying over his friend’s house after a post-promo party.

The guy--Adam, his name was-- showed up right on time, flowers in hand, and I was swooning. I couldn’t help it; it’d been too long. Everything went perfectly all night; I’d managed to hide all the cat paraphernalia in the garage so he wasn’t freaked out. He had just finally put his arm around me during a movie when Teqs strolled in through the flap, pupils growing as soon as he saw a male was present. It was quick, what he did, but the impact of it was lasting. He didn’t even say a word when he saw us-- just continued his stroll over to where Adam’s shoes were beside the couch, squatted over one, and did his business. When he finished, he looked straight at Adam and said, “Come back any time, dude. Love to have you.”

If looks could kill, every one of that cat’s nine lives would be used up when I was done with him. I threw him out that night. I couldn’t stand to even look at him and his smug little face. Even when he was being an asshole he was cute, and that pissed me off the most.

I don’t know where he went after I kicked him out-- maybe to another girl’s house, maybe he walked the streets like a stray for a while to see how much he could milk out of people. All I know is I didn’t see him for a while, and he dodged all my efforts to contact him. It wasn’t until I ran into him at--where else-- a liquor store when I was buying wine for a work holiday party. I had been bumped up to management at the shelter, and I was in charge of the beverages.

Tequila was in line with a handful of nips of assorted types of liquor. I knew he couldn’t be doing well financially if he was going for the mixture method. He tried to pretend like he didn’t see me, but I chased him down in the parking lot.

“Tequila, stop. Talk to me. Where have you been? Why won’t you talk to me?” I demanded.

“Meow, I don’t have time for this... I gotta be somewhere,” he said.

“Where. You don’t look like you’re dressed to ‘be somewhere,’” I said.

“Just leave me alone. Look. You’re better off without me. I deserved what I got for treating you that way after all you’ve done for me. Look at me, roaming around like a stray, I probably have fleas I don’t even know about yet. This is the life I should be stuck with.”

I couldn’t stand to see him like this. I didn’t even respond. I simply walked over to the dumpster behind the store and picked up an empty beer box, tipping it sideways and gesturing for Tequila to climb in.

“C’mon Teqs. Get in, we’re going home,” I said.

“No... I don’t think so. I can’t,” he mumbled.

“You know you can’t resist a nice empty box,” I waved the box around a bit more and he hopped in, our feud resolved at least for now.

 
                                                              ***           

He continued to stay with me, but not much more than a week later I was already regretting it. He came home even less often than he used to, and he never gave me any information on where he was. Every night I was back to moping around in my deep depression, right up until that moment at the dinner table when I had the vegetable-induced revelation that I had reached a frightening level of crazy.

As I sat there kneeling in my foyer being consoled by my cat, I realized I couldn’t fix my problems by sending him away. I was the one that had to get away. From all of it.

I packed my bags that night and left for Vegas. I had no idea at the time what I would do out there, but things fell into place quickly. I started waitressing at a club on the strip, slowly breaking back into the modeling industry since underneath all those sweaters, I still had my looks. I also started doing a stand-up comedy side show, which I named “Confessions of a Crazy Cat Lady,” because if I couldn’t laugh at myself and all the ridiculous shit I’d gotten myself into, then I was seriously in trouble.

One night, in the middle of one of my shows, I noticed a small sombrero floating somewhere in the middle of the crowd. It moved to the front row to take a seat and I realized Tequila was beneath it, with a pretty girl on each paw. He winked at me, and I was genuinely glad to see him happy, doing the things he did best.

If pressed to deduce a moral of the story from all of this, I’d probably advise anyone who spots a furry little cat in human garb sitting at a bar to look away, and never look back. But at the same time, should you really be taking advice from me? I mean, I shared milkshakes with my cats for god’s sake.

 
 
"So what's the Tequila Kitty project about?"

Enough people have asked me this question lately* so, since today is the official launch of the project, I figured an introduction was in order.

(*Actually very few people have asked me this question, but I wanted an excuse to write about and shamelessly promote the project. Pretending that people have asked me about it would give me an excuse and make this post sound much more conversational in tone. Anyway, I digress...)

The Tequila Kitty Project is an 'exquisite corpse*-type project involving 14 writers. The main character will be the cat in the above photograph.

(*I explain below what Exquisite Corpse is. I mention this technique as it allows me to be slightly pedantic**, and perhaps attract greater readership to this blog since I'm trying to sound all smart and literary and stuff. But I'm digressing again...)

(** Didn't you just say you wanted to make this entry more conversational in tone? Now you're saying it's going to be academic so you can introduce the 'Exquisite Corpse' technique and, by extension, show off how much you've read? Make up your mind!)


Picture
The Exquisite Corpse was a technique introduced by the Surrealists in the 1920's by founder Andre Breton. One artist would start a drawing or a story and send it to the next artist/writer, who would add the next part, without being allowed to see what was written before it, or only being allowed to see the last page or paragraph, or, if it were a drawing, the last section. (Examples of surrealist Exquisite Corpse drawings can be seen here.)

(Okay, the pedantry/digressing* is over. This now returns to the little-read blog it has always been.)

(* "You just used the word 'pedantry'!"
"Actually, I thought he said, 'peasantry'."
"Peasantry?! That's class warfare. **)

(** Sorry, dear readers. I keep digressing. Welcome to the Tristram Shandy of blog posts. Back to the explanation of The Tequila Kitty Project...)



Picture
Each of the 14 writers, myself included, will compose one chapter. We will only be able to see the previous chapter written. Each writer will have one week to complete their chapter and send to the next person on the list, but they will have full autonomy to create whatever they want, so long as it involves the cat above.

Also, over time, an interview/bio sketch will be posted with each participant of The Tequila Kitty Project in order to introduce each talented writer to a greater audience. *

(* "What if the project doesn't generate as much interest as you think it's going to? What if you don't follow through on your intent to post an interview of each participant?" **)

(**Hey, interior monologue! I'm not going to let you bait me into a hypothetical argument that will prevent me from finishing this blog post. It's not going to happen this time... Oh, damn. It just did. Anyway... Back to the subject.)

As the project progresses, I will be making more public updates to keep people interested, without exposing any of the work-in-progress. It
is scheduled to be completed in mid-February with dissemination of the final product yet to be determined. Some ideas have been proposed and, perhaps, we'll even pull in external/audience suggestions, make it a fully interactive project.

Stay tuned for more news on the Adventures of Tequila Kitty.


As always, thank you.


 
 
I took a quiz on Facebook recently telling you which author you wrote like. For the quiz, the participant pastes a copy of his/her work into the space provided and an algorithm analyzes the text and determines what author (of those that had been decided upon as possible outcomes by the programmers) you write like. I decided to test it out. I chose the first section of my novella "I'm Hoping This Work", from my MFA thesis I Am My Own Nemesis. (I have included that excerpt below.) The result: David Foster Wallace.
Having had a love/hate relationship with the work of the unfortunately late Mr. Wallace I was a little suspicious of this comparison, so I tested another piece: the first section of a short story told in a more traditional narrative form than the novella. (The novella excerpt is admittedly told in a more stream-of-consciousness, run-on sentence style). The result: David Foster Wallace.
"This can't be," I said. "There must be a glitch in the program. Let me try one of my flash fiction pieces." Copied, pasted, analyze button clicked. Result: a David Foster Wallace trifecta!
I tried another. Same result.
I finally received a different result when I attached the first section of yet another short story: William Gibson, and with another piece from my thesis I received JD Salinger. (Apparently I'm in good company, but it took five tries to not get David Foster Wallace. That's like trying to kiss someone four times, and each time they pass you off. The fifth time you try, they're exhausted, half-asleep or drugged up to the point where they think you're David Beckham, so they give you a go. You finally got the kiss you wanted, but only under the strictest circumstances, and only after you were the last person left and they thought you were someone else.)
I resigned myself to this fate. And decided to analyze the decision to see how far off, and to see whether my initial reaction was justified.
My former disdain of Foster Wallace dates back to my early-to-mid twenties. During this period I suffered from a near-fatal malady known as pretentious hipsterism. Symptoms include a disdain for anything popular and loved by the masses, regardless of the artist's former hipster credibility; an obsessive love of anything and everything espoused by Harper's magazine; an embrace of obscure films, music, and books, the more arcane and confounding the better; this aspect naturally adheres to a love of David Lynch, Thomas Pynchon, and John Cage or Einsturzende Neubauten. Those suffering from pretentious hipsterism will maintain their love of these seemingly inscrutable artworks and artists in an effort to maintain status and based on a sense of inflated self-worth and general disdain for everyone else. If they genuinely do not understand it, they will latch on to the artist-in-question for fear of being exposed and being lumped with those he/she is trying to be isolated from. The fact that other people don't understand the work is a sign of their inferiority, despite the hipster's inability to objectively justify and explain their avowed understanding of the work. Common phrases to be heard are, "I totally get what he was trying to do. Well, it's hard to explain. You just have to get it" and "Oh my god! You didn't get it? It's like" followed by an explanation peppered with other obscure references with the hope of baffling the person asking what it meant while never getting around to explaining or even answering what the person who "didn't get it" was asking.
Other symptoms include unkempt appearance, flannel shirts, permanent three to four day stubble on the men, an adoption of affectations in the form of headwear (i.e. fedora, bandana, driver's cap, etc.), and a reticent air of superiority.
Foster Wallace met all of these criteria and more. His work was defined by long run-on sentences, bloated, over-inflated page lengths for stories, an obsessive need for footnotes in most of his work, including fiction, an overindulgence in scientific and mathematical references (an effort to show how much he had read), and a general reputation that the more convoluted and inscrutable a work, the more he would be regarded as a genius. His most heralded work is Infinite Jest, a 1088 page novel about so many topics, the novel has its own reference set and its own cultish reading groups dedicated to it. In his author photos, Wallace wore a bandana over long scraggly hair that hung to his lower neck. He possessed permanent stubble. He also has a cult-like following and his work has routinely been referred to as erudite, inscrutable, confusing, and among the most talented writers if his generation.
After hearing so much about him and the ubiquitous Infinite Jest, I decided to read some of him. I went to the library and took out his short story collection Girl With Curious Hair, and his essay collection A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never do Again, an edited version of the title essay having appeared in Harper's. The short stories were okay, some being amazing, including "Everything is Green," one of the greatest examples of how power shifts being two characters in a story, sometimes without one of the characters saying a word. Some were a bit more obtuse and show-offy (e.g., "Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way").
The essay collection is where I truly developed my love/hate relationship with him. In the title essay "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again" Wallace travels aboard a Caribbean cruise and examines what life is like for seven days, what the behind-the-scenes are like, the people, his own reactions to being on the cruise and having to write about it, and his ultimate views on what supposedly being pampered and treated like luxury really is like. The essay is extremely funny, absorbing, and frustrating, just like the majority of his work, riddled with self-conscious irony and an awareness of his growing detachment from the rest of the staff. He stated in an interview (which I am still trying to find the link to) that he regretted his detached and forced ironic depiction of everyone on the cruiser and, had he not been on assignment for Harper's, he may have been able to enjoy himself, but felt he had to put on the detached ironic air for the magazine. Whether he would have voluntarily boarded a cruise liner had he not been reporting is up for debate, but pencil me as skeptical that he would have done so.
However, the essay "David Lynch Keeps His Head" is where I really began to loathe Foster Wallace. Although I always acknowledged his talent, I sometimes referred to him as overrated and a pretentious ass: let me explain. In the essay he details Lynch's Lost Highway almost shot by shot, analyzing the movie to a ridiculous degree, believing the movie is a misunderstood masterpiece. I had recently seen Lost Highway and can safely say that it is, for the most part, the most ridiculous of all Lynch movies; it is routinely, and rightfully so, I believe, referred to as one of Lynch's worst movies, almost universally as panned as his Dune was, and as inscrutable as his Inland Empire. (For the record, I don't consider Inland Empire to be his worst movie, just easily the most baffling film in history; baffling isn't bad, it's exactly what it is: confusing, headache-inducing, and possibly good, but I can't be certain.) To me, for someone to be waxing poetic in masturbatory fashion about the virtues and genius of Lost Highway, was to me like saying a deep-fried Twinkie was good enough to be served at a five-star restaurant; it was like saying Michael Bolton should sing opera; that Nicholas Sparks should not only win a Nobel Prize in literature, but also the Nobel Peace Prize as well. It is, to put it simply, a fucking stupid idea. And Lost Highway is just bad. It was one of the first movies I rented and didn't finish and did not feel bad about not having finished it. I have no intention of returning to Lost Highway either to see if maybe, just maybe my previous viewpoint was wrong. It is also around the time when I began to cure myself of pretentious hipsterism. The movie wasn't misunderstood and genius because I didn't understand it. It was hard to understand because it made no sense.
This began the long slog out of pretentious hipsterism. All those bands and movies and TV shows I used to rail against (mostly soft rock, anything with a popular following, and uplifting movies) I began to give a second chance. I didn't hold peoples' tastes against them; if I thought something was bad, if someone listened to latter-day Stevie Wonder or Michael Bolton or Celine Dion, I didn't hold it against them just because I didn't like it; I didn't consider that person inferior because they thought Olivia Tremor Control was weird if they had even heard of them; because they thought Aphex Twin and Autechre were inscrutable and the name of the latter was deliberately unpronounceable. (I have recently been the victim of my previous mentality, receiving the same condescending correction from someone when I mispronounced the name of Autechre, although I knew who the band was and could discuss their music. How obnoxious hipsterism is, I thought? How I hope I never treated anyone with such sneering superiority?); just because someone liked Phil Collins or read Danielle Steele or thought Tori Spelling was a good actress does not mean they were intellectually inferior to me. It just meant they had different tastes. I began seeing the talent level of bands I didn't like; could see their appeal to others and maintain my own aesthetic tastes. Because ultimately that's what tastes in music, books, and movies comes down to: aesthetics. And aesthetics aren't better or worse: they're just aesthetics.
Having developed this new found acceptance, I decided to give David Foster Wallace, the king of hipster lit, another shot. And I began to like him. Not all of his work: I will probably never read Infinite Jest, but I won't hold it against him, and I won't hold it against anyone who wants to read it: it just doesn't appeal to me. And I began to realize that his essays were quite brilliant. I read some of his essays from Consider the Lobster and began reading some of his interviews. I saw at a bookstore in New York that he had written a book on infinity (Everything and More) which appealed him to me even more: he was omnivorous in his interests.
I recently discussed Wallace with a professor of mine, in discussing this essay/entry I was writing, and in discussing the Facebook test I had taken. She mentioned a few of his essays from Consider the Lobster I had not read. I look forward to reading them now.
In my second semester we had to read the craft book Why I Write edited by Will Blythe and write a brief essay on that book. Twenty-six writers were asked why they wrote including Norman Mailer, Pat Conroy, and David Foster Wallace. The Wallace chapter "The Nature of the Fun" really impressed me. I responded to it immediately and decided to write my essay in the same fashion Wallace did, and while trying to mimic his style in this essay, in discussing why I wrote, I probably had more fun writing than almost any other time. Wallace, stated that, a story in progress was like:
"a kind of hideously damaged infant that follows the writer around, forever crawling after the writer (dragging itself across the floors of restaurants where the writer’s trying to eat, appearing at the foot of the bed first thing in the morning, etc.), hideously defective, hydrocephalic and noseless and flipper-armed and incontinent and retarded and dribbling cerebro-spinal fluid out of its mouth as it mewls and blurbles and cries out to the writer, wanting love, wanting the very thing its hideousness guarantees it’ll get: the writer’s complete attention.”
And he's right. It is like that. I decided to paste the entirety of that essay in this blog, but since this entry has gone on long enough, I will paste it as another entry. Probably tomorrow.
After taking the I Write Like test, I commented on the post, "I'll take that." I meant it.
 
 
Since this is only a short run, I can afford to go out a little faster.

Now let me start concentrating on what I think, so I can write that essay when I get home.

I've been wondering lately how many books, how many stories exist about running, and I don't believe there are a lot. On the contrary, I believe there are hundreds, nay thousands of books about running, non-fiction books, essays, etc. But I don't know how much fiction has been written about running, in which running played a major role in the story itself. "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner" by Alan Sillitoe, (I should probably re-read that, perhaps even re-read that before I finish this essay, before I name-check it in the middle of this entry for it, but it's already been packed. I could go to the library and check it out, but that would make too much sense, and I'm too lazy.) There's Chariots of Fire by Vangelis. No, that's the soundtrack. Chariots of Fire was written by.... actually it wasn't a book. It was an original screenplay. And I'm sure there are other stories or novels out there written about running, but I can't think of any.
(Maybe I should deliberately write that there isn't much fiction written about running so that I can then get people to correct me in their comments, a deliberate ploy to get readership and comments directed here. Feign ignorance, or let others do my research for me. Or by admitting that that is my intent, will people feel aggravated and put-upon and not make any suggestions at all? Or perhaps I'm just writing about how I'm going to write this essay, and what I thought about while running today to keep with the meta-narrative subtext and theme?) (Or maybe I could just make a list of books that deal with running and do a little research and stop being lazy?) (Or is that last statement a way to get people to think that this self-conscious exercise about writing about writing about running is charming?) (Or is it?) (Ahhhh.... the obnoxious charm of post-modernist, self-conscious meta- writing. When pulled off correctly it's charming. When not, it's obnoxious.)

But seriously, I really can't think off the top of my head of many other stories or novels that deal with running. Perhaps I should read more or do some research. But would that be cheating?

I continually read about Murakami's memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running when reading other running blogs and about memoir in general. And I continually wonder if I should read it or not. And I think I should, but is that the Murakami book I want to start with?

I talked to a classmate and friend a few weeks back about wanting to read Somerset Maugham and I asked her what Maugham she recommended I should start with. (I asked this knowing that some authors' works are more inaccessible than others, and I wouldn't recommend Finnegan's Wake for someone who wants to read Joyce.) Her reaction was that if there was anything our MFA program had taught her was that we shouldn't put arbitrary limits on ourselves for what you want to read, because then you'll never get around to reading it. If you want to read something, read it, regardless of how other people have felt about it, or regardless of how "difficult" the work might be or how "unlike" their other works this might be. Just read it.

Perhaps I should take her advice and just read the Murakami memoir on running. And get to his other books later. If I want to read that one book now, I should.

How long do I plan on making this essay? I obviously haven't kept up with the once-per-day regiment I had intended. And if I do intend for this to be published in a semi-serious journal at some point, I should revise it drastically and have an arc and an endpoint in mind. Maybe I could set it up as a marathon, each entry could be a mile marker. However, that does not mean that each entry is what goes through your head as you are running a marathon. But it could be a nice structural gimmick in which readers would know when and where it stopped. Nice idea. (Let's hear it for the cool-down walk.)

When did that song leave my head during the run today?

I should go back and add hyperlinks to this tomorrow or later in the week. But I won't right now. It's pretty late. And I want to get this posted.
 
 
Start slow. Don't go too fast. You don't want to burn out your pace and be walking by the end. Start slow.

                             ***                                                  ***                                                  ***

Before I started running again in November, I encountered that problem frequently: after not running for months, sometimes years, I would start out trying to run at the same pace that I had run when I was running competitively, when I was 18 years old. But I'm not 18 years old anymore. And I would give myself nasty, tear-inducing shin splints, that felt a large serrated knife jabbed into my calf, turned sideways and pulled up and down.

                             ***                                                 ***                                                   ***

A sign of maturity and of personal acceptance is admitting that we aren't who we once were, accepting who we are now, and having the foresight to know what we want to become.

                             ***                                                ***                                                   ***

All these things that I have done (Time truth and hearts)
If you can hold on
If you can hold on, hold on

                          ***                                                  ***                                                    ***

Let me try to make that maturity line sound good so I can include it in this essay when I get back.

                       ***                                                      ***                                                   ***


And how many anecdotes about running should I include? And should they be redeeming, uplifting, melancholy, or ironic, like the fact that Jim Fixx, the man who popularized running and writing about running, died of a heart attack after returning from his daily run? And how many books about running should I read to contribute to this essay to make it seem more scholarly, learned, and less like a jumble of fragmented thoughts?