photo of the inside of a convenience store

Two Flash by Paul Corman-Roberts

The Beta Male’s Survival Guide to New Port Towns

We don’t get the fabled view we were promised near the end of our pilgrimage, rolling into town in my 1952 Ford Foo Fighter, hating the wanna-be beatnik talking and smoking shit in the backseat. Chattering teeth and the smell of something dead and amphibious as we drive by the crumbling ruins of some long-dead evangelist’s coliseum, I let the punk kid out in questionable quarters and head North, top down, trying to leave the stench of Mexico behind, looking for God in the heart of a tabula rasa Gomorrah.

The ancient gravity-defying vehicle is assaulted by a cleaner, crisper rain than it knew in the Mojave, as it spills me out into a hulking apocalypse of mist-strewn monoliths. This brave, plucky vessel, once prepared to die, now smothers my possessions and I in warmth and dryness. My destination is somewhere within these dark giants. I see some kind of a sign:

Mission

This is the wondrous alien nightmare the evening news sang of in my precocious youth. A landscape belonging to pedigree uniforms by day, and the trolls I was warned about as a child by night. Every person, brick, or edifice is packed snug against the next disproportionate and poorly lit spectacle.

THE Mission

Just sounding out the name is simultaneously beautiful and horrible. Is this how Native Americans originally thought of missions? Sanctuaries with promises hung in the storefront every bit as fragile as their framing?

The only thing keeping night at bay, keeping it from swallowing my worldly possessions and me is D’s phone number, which I can barely make out in the light of the neon graviton dashboard. The only working lifeline I can find is cradled in what looks like a broken eggshell.

I see no one, yet utterly feel all of no one’s eyes upon me.

Ring, Ring

Please answer.

Ring, Ring

Please give me sanctuary.

*

Walking down the middle of a major avenue in my miserable bare feet at three thirty in the morning while a northern squall strafes the city, I duck into a twenty-four hour convenience hardware store selling spade shovels across the street from a twenty-four hour convenience graveyard where some rotting bastard’s socks will now warm and dry my feet.

Once I have dressed myself in a corpse’s clothing, my essence gets sucked through every mirror on the sidewalk only to wind up back on the same hallucinogen-saturated couch, the same rutabaga packs of dog leeches snickering at delusions of gorging on someone’s sexualcidal fantasy, mine no doubt, probably because this is the same couch I walked in on you gang banging all three of my succubae. You, my word lather, most borne to bleed here as a sweet garden love devours our melting fingers in purple diamond embrace. Probably because this is the same couch you convinced me to swallow the red pill on, within a storm of translucent smoke music and ferocious coffee drive leaving us with hot honey champagne licks, a fever squirm smelling moist inside our deep star pool.

I picture glass candy in the rain hole and remember slow, steamy raw gift pie, our love growl in Sensaround (All Rights Reserved) luscious joy. A sordid show of sad summer child lust beauty above the surface and then gone.

And you know I will always love you for that.

*

Sixteen hours later, I’m drunk with victory and champagne, standing on the edge of a four-story brownstone surveying the hustle of storefront bodies in the light drizzle. After a while you can tell who’s who; the females wear haggard defeat; the men have the hottest legs. Above, the monuments of robber barons anchored in paved sand. Wrinkles occasionally emerge from indiscriminate rivers of fog, free-flowing rivers which radiate more spiritual clarity and life than anything moving below. For some time now, there has been the mirage of a shared affinity.

The voice of the mattress tag authority blares down from unseen public address systems strategically planted on the tops of steely gray sixty-story denials and fair weather foundations inhabited by a handful of Axl Rose clones directing a hybrid disaster-porno flick in the tunnels. These voices don’t come from disembodied spirits, but from disembodied bodies.

Except that one time when the old stranger whispered in my ear as I passed, “How’s that play you’re working on going?” Or when the lumped woman with the backpack sticker that says, “JESUS HATES SEX” asked if I could see “Him” crucified on the bottoms of 767s overhead, and why, yes, look there, I can clearly see the savior now, arms strapped to the bottoms of commercial airline wings, flapping his dick out all over the city, blessed semen and urine sure to rain down upon our hungry mouths at any moment.

It stops becoming “them.” You and I are no longer an “us.”

Listen, no one here thinks I stand a chance, but after I eat my beautiful roommates for dinner I’ll kick back with a smoke and start working on a plan, because this has been my home turf all along. I just haven’t been able to recognize it for a while. Yet I still get a kink in my neck whenever I smell fish or a hophead firing up some kind of musty that reminds me of the feeling of feet walking down my calcifying spine.

The Serv-Well

It all starts with me coming home from the telemarketing gig, off the BART station at eleven every night per always, and then on up the Hyde Street wind tunnel for six blocks to the Serv-Well corner liquor pusher for an overpriced quart of milk and a can of raviolis at Ellis Street when a brother in front of me the size of a brick shithouse strolls five, maybe six paces out into Hyde, then whirls one hundred and eighty degrees on a dime at the sound of some shit talk and the bark of a forty-ouncer smacking off the sidewalk; another brother a quarter of the block down Ellis is throwing down the corner liquor store gauntlet; two young men about to get it on in the heart of the one and only Tenderloin and adrenalin ripples out from the intersection, pushing uphill, rolling downhill and crawling toward the back of every alleyway evenly over a three-block radius and it’s all going down in front of the Serv-Well Market and I gotta go, yessiree, I gotta get myself right the fuck across this here traffic, right across this here street, and never in my life have I been so happy to see the gorgeous desolation of O’Farrell Street while pistol shots don’t sound like they do in the movies (PA-CHEW! PA-CHEW!) but are a pop popping percussion that leaks around street corners and boxes in my ears while I hole in against a cleft in a brick wall only to find myself with an older, darker sister with canyon deep wisdom etched in her handsome jawbone croaking out “Awshit, fools is gonna be dealin’ out they dyin’” right before taking a gi-normous hit off a tiny glass pipe, then gripping my shoulders while throwing her left leg around my waist and thrusting her tongue deep into my tonsils, allowing her coke-washed, E & J-flavored crack-hale to roll into and overflow my sinuses, leaving me heated, swollen and eager; leaving me wanting nothing more than to pull this smooth slab of loving neuroelectric carboplasm deep inside of me until my wet has somehow consumed her wet, but my ears pulse with the bastard cosmic hum of the ether and the distant pop-pop-pop, which caresses me warm, safe, and sexy in the piss-baked concrete smell of O’Farrell Street, where I dream the creamy dreams of the sacred getting off of neurons and nerve endings and understanding why entire communities so willingly prostrate themselves at the altar of Freebase, but I only ever end prone and alone in front of the stark, steely gray judgment that is the entrance gate to my apartment building…miraculously with keys, wallet and change somehow still in place…miraculously with my cock still dry and comfortably secured inside still zipped up Levis…miraculously with the sickly orange streetlight pall of O’Farrell Street completely abandoned, and every storefront bolted down and tucked snug against each other ’til the coming daylight, including, I am quite certain, my quart of milk and can of raviolis safely ensconced within the Serv-Well market.

Paul Corman-Roberts once invited Jehovah’s Witnesses into his home to study scripture and offered them bong hits. They never came back. He edits fiction for Full of Crow magazine and is the founder of Oakland’s Beast Crawl Literary Festival.

Lead image“Convenience Store” (via Flickr user gullevek)