Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Everybody loved Dennis

July 10, 1980
(Recollection of an event from June, 1974)

I thought about it all day – that moment when my new boss threw me the keys and told me to drive.
I blamed my old boss for getting me the job.
This wasn’t like before; when high I drove my uncle’s GTO down the middle of Route 80 at maximum speed, unaware of anything but the thrill of speed, or the putt-putt-putt of the VW van up on side of the Rocky Mountains and then a rollercoaster-foot-on-failing-brakes-ride down the other side.
This was a job. I was supposed to be responsible, and I didn’t like the idea at all, knowing that I was ending one job I knew how to do to start a new job on Monday that I didn’t.
The warehouse stuff I could handle; the pickup and delivery stuff, the traveling through crowded streets in somebody else’s vehicle, I dreaded worse than dying.
“And don’t forget,” my new boss, Donald told me during my interview, “You’ll be carrying tens of thousands of dollars worth of cosmetics.”
 Lock the truck and be careful.
This, of course, made me shiver even in the intense June heat.
At which point I thought about Dennis, and I stopped thinking.
I was in my room on the third floor with a crowd of people around me, all of whom alternatively looked at me and the very stiff corpse on the floor.
I had seen dead people before, in the hospital in the army, on the streets of New York, and L.A., but not one that other people thought I had killed.
“I found him that way,” I told the collection of police and others.
My room was a mess as usually, filled with boxes of papers, scribbled on in my desperate attempt to write. The room dripped with three different shades of green from the three different cans of paint Meatball had stolen when he had lived here before me.
The job and the van slipped through my mind like a memory I hadn’t yet had a chance to live, while I relived one night – that night – over and over again, about how hungry I’d felt after playing with my new tape recorder and how I had trotted up the hill from the house on Valley Road to the White Castle at the edge of Verona for a snack between tapings, and found Dennis there in the dirty white interior as if he had already passed away and gone to a tarnished heaven.
Everybody loved Dennis – even though he tended to be a loner. Maybe that’s what made all the women want to run their long fingers through his curly brown hair while their stared into his cute brown eyes, admiring the innocent face that hid what he was really about, he always able to melt the world with just a smile.
The world loved him; but here was there alone.
His eyes, however, lit up when he saw me and he made his way through the crowd to reach me.
But he seemed nervous and kept looking around.
When he got close enough I noticed how red and strained his eyes looked, the look I remember from one of my neighbor’s kids who was regularly beaten by his parents.
Around us, the beast fed, mean, street-savvy, brutal men for the most part, who glared through the thick glass of the serving window at the clerks, who in turn tried to fill the orders quickly so as to make the beasts go away. In the midst of these, I saw a few dreamy junkies who floated around, probably more lost than hungry.
Dennis greeted me but his voice sounded wrong, and I asked him if he was all right. He lied and said yes and asked me about my new job, and I told him I was scared.
The large detective in my room later demanded to know what I had given Dennis, meaning what drug, and how much, and did I know it would kill him.
Mike, my immediate neighborhood and a kid from my old neighborhood growing up, shoved the cop out of the way and told him to leave me the fuck alone.
All I did was offer him a place to stay for the night, I told the cop. I didn’t even know Dennis would show up until he knocked on my door.
The Doors were playing on my tape deck. I thought he was drunk, but then noticed the pink dots on the inside crook of his elbow.
The big detective told Mike to butt out of he’d go to jail along with me.
That scared me. I was already on probation. I already had some drugs in my blood. I hated the sound of the closing jail doors and the snap of their locks.
All I did was give Dennis a place in the corner to sleep.
I didn’t know he would never wake up.
The photographer snapped some pictures. The EMTs came in, lifted the body onto a stretcher, a body already very stiff, with a face that no longer looked like Dennis anyway.
The detective told me to hold out my hands. They shook as he snapped the cuffs on.  Many hours later, I got back home more weary than when I’d left, knowing that I would be in no shape to start the new job. And wondered if my new boss would read about me in the newspaper and decide he couldn’t trust me to drive tens of thousands of dollars of his cosmetics around.
I kept thinking of Dennis, and wondered maybe he knew he was going to die, and didn’t want to do it alone, and wanted me to be there when the end came, and for some reason, this thought made me feel better. I don’t know why.

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