No new movies or television shows for a while? How about binging a new book, my new book, the Silver Year! Yes the day is finally here after a long eight years. For those of you who know me, especially those who’ve known me since this journey began eight years ago, it will be immediately apparent this is a story inspired by my life. I can’t deny that. However, although inspired by my life, this story is far separated from the original sources of inspiration and is truly a 100% fictional story. This in no way expresses my true feelings about any such persons in my actual life. Becoming comfortable with the uncomfortableness of this was one of my biggest hesitations about releasing this book to the world. But since the theme of my book is the Buddhist principle of enlightenment through suffering, this is me becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable, a message I think we could all use right now. But I also hope you can learn, love, but most of all laugh at this message too. Enjoy everyone, and as always, stay curious my friends!
P.S. I prefer to go into a book as a tabula rasa, but if you insist on knowing what you’re getting yourself into, you can find a synopsis here.
There it was, that cross. It haunted Walter’s Tuesday afternoon like the empty drink that sat beside him. “Nothing lasts forever, even my muthafuckin’ birthday,” he drunkenly sang to the tune of “November Rain” on his front porch while picking his backpacker guitar. It felt fitting as he imagined Slash kicking down the door of the old Catholic church across the street from him, wielding a guitar in a grand solo like the “November Rain” music video. Reality, however, was less dramatic: the door opened peaceably and a wedding procession filed out, while that t-shaped shadow kept creeping ominously closer.
The bride’s wedding dress was a luminous white against her dark Hispanic skin. Her hands were tucked under a bouquet of red roses, her figure shaded in an aura of fragile purity. It was her last still frame of innocence and the crowd excitedly snapped away to capture it. As she edged the sidewalk, her face met Walter’s eyes. The crimson lips were flared like the rose petals above her hips; a rich river of black hair rounded her face like a stone, the smooth curves advertising an age of still-budding beauty. She smiled at him. The shadow of the cross affixed to the top of the church then at last touched his feet, and for a pregnant moment they were alone in that shadow. In his polluted perspective, she looked like a slave on an auctioning block.
“Mon Amour,” he whimpered as the bouquet was cast to the crowd behind her. She smiled again, turned, and abandoned him.
Walter’s heart crumbled as he watched “Amour” climb into the back of a limousine with a groom twice her age and size. As the car honked goodbye, Walter waved to them with a dumb smile and tears on his cheeks. He’d been left alone with his madness for too long and it was beginning to devour him.
The day began as almost all days began with a banana and peanut butter bagel sandwich called “The Elvis” at the Sit n’ Stay Café, half a block north of his home. There, the previous night’s scribblings were deciphered into a more legible and cohesive being, but there was still nothing of meaning. He’d lifted every stone within himself in search of a story and thought a bag of mushrooms might find some he’d missed, however, the only stones and stories found never should’ve been lifted or put on paper, as drugs, depression, and desperation can reveal a person’s sickest perversions. Around eleven, the first wedding began, and by four, he’d fallen in love with three brides and wished he’d been carried off in one Hearse. The day was February 14, 2012. It was Walter’s twenty-fifth birthday—and of course Valentine’s Day—and he was miserably alone.
Walter had a simple home in Huntington Beach, California within earshot of ocean waves on the city’s best and most historic intersection in his opinion: Tenth and Orange. Within a few blocks were his favorite restaurant, bar, and café; catty-corner from him, the houses of the city’s first mayor and judge, and directly across from him, a hundred-year-old Catholic church whose attendees always seemed oblivious to the singing lunatic across the street. Families, college students, vagrants, and billionaires lived harmoniously around him, and more bicycles and surfboards fed past his porch than cars, along with year-round posies of half-naked people so long as the sun was out. There were Sunday drum circles by the pier, Tuesday night street fairs, and the largest Fourth of July parade west of the Mississippi. Huntington was a beach city, tourist destination, and small town swaddled into one. It also had crime, seedy citizens, and plenty of assholes, but that only added to its charm in Walter’s view. It wasn’t as pristine and out of touch with reality as so many Orange County coastal communities were. It had attitude, authenticity, and just the right amount of gravel in its gut to stay grounded.
After the last wedding of the day, Walter began cleaning up the empty beer bottles and snubbed-out joints festering his porch. He’d been on a rampage since the night before. It started innocently enough with a few marijuana joints and a full bottle of merlot, but when he went back to the liquor cabinet for more, that’s when he discovered the shrooms stashed away for a special occasion, however, there were no more special occasions, so he ate them all. The remainder of the night was then spent in nudity, surrounded by candles, Jim Morrison spoken-word poetry, and crumbled up pieces of his manic thoughts. Other than this, his two-bedroom cottage was bare except for a camping cot, a patio chair, and a portable stereo. All his furniture had been sold, and anything remaining was in his grandmother’s garage awaiting his arrival. Tomorrow he was handing in the keys.
Feeling the onset of a headache, Walter set out on his regular walk to flush it, a stroll down Orange to Main Street, then to the end of the pier. He was going to miss his walk. It had been midwife to many ideas and decisions, including his recent one to become a writer—although he hadn’t told anyone yet. No one would understand and most likely no one would be happy. Not even he was happy. But writer is not a vocation most people choose; it’s an incurable affliction, only made worse by the tragedies of life.
ENDEAVOR RENTAL CAR LAX AIRPORT RETURN LOT, CHRISTMAS DAY 2010
Walter hated Christmas. It was why he didn’t mind spending the first eight hours of it on graveyard shift, isolated from the world in his unheated green, glass and metal booth just large enough for him and a backed-barstool chair. He’d also managed to sneak in his backpacker guitar as he would be free to fondle her most of the evening undisturbed. Filled with unwelcoming florescent light, his booth burned like a ghostly lighthouse on the black bitumen plane supporting a sea of sleeping rental cars. There was something holy about being in a place normally inhabited with crowds and noise. The LAX holiday rush had already swarmed and was now at their transient homes with their families, or with their intoxicants to forget their families, or tucked into bed with gleeful thoughts of Santa Clause and Christmas morning presents in their head.
Walter only had depression in his head. Not because he was depressed beyond his normal draping of it, but because it was the subject of his new, half-created song. While depression had often been motivator, this was its first time as subject.
Walter always wrote best alone, and alone he was. He hadn’t seen another person since his shift had started at midnight. It was now three. No one was returning a rental car on Christmas, especially at this ungodly hour. But ungodly hours were when Walter’s imagination reigned supreme; the hours of mischief, mystery, and romance. In the night the world becomes much more imaginary, and what’s dark in the day can be seduced by the strangeness of the night. Darkness was his greatest friend and worst enemy.
“Yesterday I felt like I could do anything…” he sang softly into his booth, its flimsy, metallic materials shaking with the perfect tinny reverb. “But today I’m just struggling not to kill myself. But if tomorrow I feel like I, I could do anything, it only would be to escape, escape this hell, without you baby blue.”
That was as far as he’d gotten in articulating his feelings perfectly. Even in expressing his flaws, he wouldn’t accept anything other than perfect. Nothing was immune to his perfectionism, which was why it was also catalyst, trigger, and savior of his melancholic schisms. But this ouroboros was also his creative core, churning like a pulsar star’s, crying out from the cosmos not wanting to be forgotten before it spun out and died.
“Nice singing,” a female voice scared Walter out of his head and back into his body, however, it was too late to save the former as it bashed against the back of his glass and metal capsule. He had had his chair leaned back and the unexpected voice sent just enough of a tremor through him to tip it backwards.
“I’m so sorry!” the voice said, then bent down to meet him, but its face was blocked by his crotch as his legs had folded over himself, wedged between the chair and the backside of his booth.
She carefully pulled the chair away and his legs unfolded, revealing the kindest face he’d ever seen. Even in the harsh light of his booth, it shone softly, reminding him of the church girls of his youth. The full contours of her plush lips and cheeks embellished this glow, and drew him into her button nose, so lovely he wanted to lick it. Her deep set eyes and long, wavy hair were earthy brown, accented by her pastel pink business coat and dress.
“Are you okay?” she said, her left hand reaching to the back of his head with a diamond wedding ring so protruding it nearly clawed his eye.
“Yeah,” Walter said. “Luckily this shack isn’t well-built and the walls are deceptively lenient.”
“Well, there’s nothing deceptive about this bump on the back of your head. I’m so, so sorry.”
“It’s okay. If it’s anyone but myself, I’m very forgiving.”
“That’s a strange thing to say to a stranger . . . It’s also very brave.”
“Not brave. I just have a bad habit of being overly honest in situations I shouldn’t.”
She smiled and it only further melted Walter. It had the gentle quality of both the caring mother and the caring lover he’d always wished for but never had.
“Bad habits are in the eye of the beholder,” she said. “I think it’s admirable.”
“Well, you’ve never been the victim of my bad habit . . . Are you new here?” Walter realized she was probably his coworker here to lunch him. No one else around his age in formal business attire—a requirement of Endeavor—would have reason to be there. His coworkers came and went so much and there were so many that an unfamiliar—although not always unwelcoming—face was nothing new.
A four-month term at the airport was required of all new executive-trainees in the greater Los Angeles area, and although Walter had never participated in Greek life in college, he envisioned the “Executive Training Program”, Endeavor’s official name for their LAX corporate labor camp, was something like a co-ed semester of it. After all, that is where Endeavor funneled most of its employee base from. Forty to fifty recently-graduated twenty-somethings exposed to only themselves, exhaust fumes, and their customer and management overlords—many still naïve adults themselves, working ever-shifting ten hour shifts five to six days a week to ensure no consistency of sleep, and the holiday schedule of a Jehovah’s Witness. Not only were they always physically and mentally strained, but micro-managed, dress-coded, and fucked in a three-way formation resembling the Eiffel Tower. While forced to live in the crotch and ass of their supervisors—some doing so literally, they also had to hand their own asses to frustrated business travelers, as rental car agents were a favorite target for them. Relief only came in the form of uncommissioned brownie points during the few times they succeeded to dupe unsuspecting tourists into buying often-times overpriced and useless upgrades and insurances. The carrot at the end of the stick was to someday hold the stick itself. The stick became their entire meaning, but what many failed to realize it came at the price of their soul, health, and youth. Simple street-gang tactics, just dressed in neckties instead of colors.
“Yes, it’s my third day,” she answered.
“What a shitty time to be called to the ETP,” Walter said.
“I know, they never give you any warning beforehand. Needless to say, my fiancé wasn’t happy. He actually told me to quit over it, but he’s been telling me to quit since I started. But where else am I supposed to find a job right now? This one was hard enough to get. Secretly, though, I don’t mind so much. I’ve never been a fan of Christmas. When you hate most of your family, it’s not a pleasant holiday.”
Walter smiled. “That’s a brave thing to say to a stranger,” he said.
“Hi. My name is Amber,” she said shaking his hand firmly as he still sat. “Amber Evans-soon-to-be-Sinclair.” She then helped him to his feet.
“Hi. My name is Walter, Walter Huxley.”
“Walter. That was my late grandfather’s name, one of the few family members I love.”
“Yeah, I get that a lot. Not too many Walters under sixty.” Walter was again rewarded with a smile.
“What were you singing before I interrupted?” Amber asked.
“A song I’m working on.”
“Oh,” she said her eyes shifting to the side. “You must be the guy in the band.”
“So you’ve already heard about me? That’s been happening a lot with the new people lately and I’m not sure how I feel about it yet.”
“It’s mostly about your band’s shows and what a party they are. Although a few women have had some choice words.”
“None of them bad I hope.”
“Not exactly. But I wouldn’t call them flattering to a woman who has a fiancé.”
“Well, I don’t intend to flatter women with fiancés.”
“Just sorority girls who don’t mind you’re sleeping with them all simultaneously?”
Walter cleared his throat uncomfortably. “I’m always safe,” he said. “We’re just trying to find a little fun in this hellhole.”
“I’m not judging you.”
“Sure doesn’t feel that way.”
Now Amber became uncomfortable and looked away. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Anyway, I’m here to lunch you.”
“Hard to call it a lunch at three o’clock in the morning,” he said, “I’m not even hungry.”
“What are you going to do then?”
“The same thing I was just doing, but in one of those cars out there.”
“What’s the name of the song you’re working on?”
“It doesn’t have one yet. Just a verse and a chorus.”
“Can I hear it?”
“I don’t know. It’s not a happy song.”
“It didn’t sound unhappy from what I heard. In fact, it sort of cheered me up. Not that I was sad exactly, but my mood’s always more vulnerable in the winter.”
Walter grinned. “You must’ve not heard the words then,” he said, “because the song’s about my depression.” Her pink-shadowed eyelids flexed open, the whites of her eyes looking like headlights of an oncoming car. “Sorry, my bad habit again,” he said.
“Don’t apologize,” she said. “Again, I wish I was brave enough to be so open.”
“Because you also suffer from depression? Vulnerable isn’t a word most people use to describe their mood.”
Amber gasped and closed her eyes, then turned away to reopen them out of sight. “You’re awfully perceptive Mister Huxley,” she said, “but that’s not something I think we should be discussing. However, I’d still like to hear your song.”
Walter began, and by the end of the first chorus, a perfect second verse somehow magically formed on his lips from the phrases and words he’d been plying over all night.
“And today I woke up thinking you, you were my everything. But by tomorrow I know you’ll be somebody else. And I know it’s just me, me and my imagining, that you and only you can save me from myself. All of you, baby blue.”
Once finished, the air in his booth had become much warmer, the windows now noticeably fogged. Heat was radiating from them both like arms that couldn’t be held, only intensely yearned.
“I thought you only had one verse?” she said.
“I thought I did too,” he replied.
ONE MONTH LATER
“Pucker your lips as if you’re going to give a baby’s belly a raspberry kiss and blow while humming like this, bebebebebebeee… Now hum the scales with me…”
“bebebebebebebebe . . . bebebebebebebebe . . . beb—” Walter’s phone vibrated in his pocket. A text from an unnamed number.
Are you in your car now?
Be there in two minutes. I can’t see you after the show, so I want to see you now.
He still had an hour before he needed to be onstage, so he put his vocal warmup CD on pause, a CD that had not left his car changer since his first and only vocal teacher had given him it three years earlier. Despite his band’s once-a-month gig at the Hollywood House of Blues providing a green room, before he had green rooms, he only had his car, and his car was still the only place that could calm his preshow jitters and where he could practice his preshow rituals uninterrupted. But for her, anything could wait.
Walter switched his stereo to the auxiliary channel, then scrolled through his iPod to On The Beach, their favorite album to have fun to. Soon, she appeared out of the clusters of cars around him in the parking garage, a few blocks away from the venue. He was careful to park on the basement floor, somewhere not too obvious but not too suspicious, not too crowded, but also not too empty. He wanted his 2002 unwashed, plain-gray Prius to look even more inconspicuous than it already was.
“See The Sky About to Rain” was playing as she opened his passenger side door.
“Ah, you queued up my favorite song,” she said as she sat in the seat and closed the door.
“Only because the sky is about to rain.”
“I know. Hopefully I’m not walking back in it.”
Their lips then went for each other’s. Walter reached over her waist and grabbed the side seat adjustment, leaning her back while his body floated over the center console, landing softly upon hers. He wanted to hide their actions below the window line.
“I don’t think we’re going to have time for a full meal tonight,” she said. “I’ve got to go back soon.”
“That’s okay. This is enough.”
“Enough to get you off?”
“If I focus hard enough, maybe.” He smiled.
“Here.” She pushed him up and back into his seat, leaning his seat back as he’d leaned hers. “Were you doing your raspberries?” she asked.
“Yes, but I put them on pause for you.”
“Don’t do that. I want you…” she undid his pants, pulled them and his underwear to his knees, then firmly squeezed the base of his penis, “…and your vocal cords to be relaxed and ready for the show . . . Let’s start the song over and we can raspberry it through.”
They began raspberrying together—she performing while also sliding up and down his shaft, but a minute in they were laughing so hard they could no longer focus.
“I’ll just finish you with my hand,” Amber said. “The key to a good BJ is the handwork anyway.”
As she did and as they kissed, Walter couldn’t help but think what a blessing and curse she was. He’d never been happier, yet never felt more ashamed. The one person he could finally share his body and darkness with was practically a married woman. But this was the only woman who did not shy away when he showed her his black dog. In fact she had a black dog of her own, and they were the greatest of playmates. Amber’s depression was beyond the comprehension of her fiancé Greg, so she began sharing it with Walter. But such shared secrets can only grow larger, less concealable ones.
“Oops,” Amber noticed he was going and swooped down to swallow the seeds of her sowing. He groaned and bit his lips while his hips arched as her mouth and hands worked to get every bit out of him.
“Thank you,” he said after. She rested her head on his lap with one eye looking up at him and half a smile. “Mind if we just lay down in the backseat together for a few more songs?” he asked.
“I can’t. I left Greg back at the venue with his friends. I said I needed to get some tampons.”
“You brought him?”
“How couldn’t I have? Plus, he’s a big Guns N’ Roses fan.” Walter raised his head above the window line. “What’s wrong?” she asked. He took a while to respond.
“Nothing,” he said, and brought his head back down. “I just wish I didn’t always have to meet you like you’re some kind of hooker. I just wish . . . I wish we could have a real date together.”
“Walter, you know that wish can’t come true. This has to stay just fun.”
“I know, but this is becoming more than fun for me. I… I think I’m falling in love with you.”
Amber’s face became mute, its muscles tensed in-place as if someone had pressed her pause button.
“Amber? . . . Amber?” He caressed her cheek, but she remained paused. “Amber!”
“What?!” she came to life.
“You just froze like someone turned an off-switch.”
“I what? . . . You what? You… you love me?”
“Never mind. I think something’s wrong. You don’t look right. I’m taking you to a hospital.”
“What?” She brought her head up woozily. Walter adjusted her seat to catch it with the headrest. She rested against it and closed her eyes. She took a deep breath, and when her eyes reopened, they had a new sobriety. “No, that’s not possible,” she said. “I haven’t had one in over ten years.”
“You haven’t had what in over ten years?”
“A starring spell. I used to have them as a kid, but I grew out of it . . . I need to go.”
“No, I’m taking you to the hospital.”
“No you are not! I’ll be fine. And even if I did need to go, that’s my fiancé’s responsibility, not yours . . . I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it like that.”
“But you did.”
She looked away as tears began streaming over her cheeks. “Fuck, my mascara,” she said. “Do you have any tissues?”
“There’s some napkins in the glove compartment.”
She slid open his sun visor mirror, and began dabbing her eyes to stop the flow of black tears. “We can’t keep doing this,” she said to her reflection. She then clicked the cover closed, and with no further words, left.
Onstage with his guitar, Walter looked out to the crowd he was tasked with entertaining. It used to be a lot more scarce during their first set, but in the last two years of playing, it was now nearly as full as their second set. His band, Perfect Crime, began as a Guns N’ Roses tribute, and because they weren’t middle-aged men like the six other Guns N’ Roses tributes in the greater Los Angeles area, they quickly became the go-to reincarnation in absence of the real band which was not Axl’s cut-rate version. Walter soon realized, however, that he could turn this counterfeited notoriety into real notoriety if his original music became the opener.
So now he had everything he wanted: just as many people there to hear their music—which in all but name was his music—as the icons they were later imitating, and all he could think was: Where is Amber? During his lifeless performances of the first two songs, he’d been scanning every corner of the venue for her, but it was becoming obvious she wasn’t there.
“Um,” Walter said to the already unenthused crowd, “this next song is a new one.”
“Walter, no!” his bassist Brain “Squids” Squibbs said from the side. “We are dying right now and that song will kill us. Skip it. Let’s do Minerva.”
“No Squids. I need this song right now. It’s the only thing that will save this set.”
“I’m not playing it.”
“Fine! Then get the fuck off stage. This is my music and its mine to kill if I want to, not yours.”
“Fine,” Squids said. He then turned off his amp, unplugged his bass, and walked offstage. Walter’s other bandmates didn’t try to stop him as spats between him and Walter happened pretty regularly, and Squids always rejoined them eventually.
“Um,” Walter said again to the unenthused and now also confused crowd. “I guess without further ado, here’s ‘Baby Blue Part 2’ . . . Y-yesterday I-I felt like I c-c-could d-do anything, b-but, but today I’m just str… str… kill myself—or shit. Um, I’m sorry. Let’s start over.”
But when the band did, he couldn’t sing a single syllable and he sure as hell couldn’t get in a wig and perform as a singing stripper after this. So he left, going out the backstage door, then back into the safety of his car.
He began driving, driving just to be driving. Not a heavy but not a light rain began falling, his wipers wiping across the coppery street lights and glowing green signs of Sunset, Santa Monica, and eventually PCH. He stayed on PCH, driving south with nothing but 100.3 The Sound quietly on the airwaves.
I’ll drive to midnight, he thought looking at the blue-green digital clock on his dashboard display reading ten-fifty-six. But when the clock reached its destination, time continued to flow south until just a little before one when Tom Petty’s “You Don’t Know How It Feels” came on. Being a station staple, he thought nothing of it until the line of the song it was named after cut into him.
His eyes began to moist. He grimaced and cleared them, but they only grew more saturated, rapidly filling his eyes and dressing his cheeks. No longer able to see, he pulled alongside a parking meter on the side of the road, just inside Huntington Beach city limits. There he surrendered to sobbing. It was the first time he’d let himself since he could recall. As a child, he’d learned to hold in his tears, but now he was repaying for those lost years.
Walter opened the door still crying and stepped into a heavy rain. He ran from the car onto a large grassy knoll, over a beach bike path and onto the sand, where he continued running until he reached a lifeguard tower. He hoisted himself onto its slippery, plastic banks and tucked under the rattling eves of its empty turret. Facing the dark ocean and tempestuous sky, he began taking deep breaths, his lungs moving with the crush of the waves until they at last they washed his tears away. The rain then lightened and he allowed himself to smile. He was still mostly unhappy, but he’d found peace with it. But again he was interrupted by his cellphone.
“Oh my God, it’s Amber,” he said recognizing her unrecognized number. “Hello? . . . Hello? . . . Amber can you hear me?” the call then ended. His phone screen having been unshielded from the rainwater soaking his pockets, immobilized, then shut off, Walter failing to resuscitate it. Accepting it was a good sign she was reaching out to him, again his heart had hope.
After driving to his home in Torrance which was also his grandmother’s home, having done this to his cellphone before, he made a bowl of dry rice and dunked it and its battery in, hoping for the best in the morning.
When morning came, it came with success as his phone powered up as normal. There was a voicemail notification from the unrecognized number. He pressed play. First, he heard only crying, then a threatening male voice.
“Who is he?” the voice said. “Tell me who he is!”
“A-a-a friend from work, that’s all.”
“What’s his name?”
“What does it matter?”
“It matters because you went to see him when you were supposed to be getting tampons, but you’re obviously not even on your period.”
“I started earlier, b-but it was just light, so I took it out before we got home. I swear.”
“Amber tell me who he is!”
“Walter. The singer of the band. I just wanted to wish him luck, that’s all. I swear it’s the truth.”
“Why wouldn’t you tell me?”
“Because I knew you’d react like this. You react this way with every male friend I have—or had.”
“Have you slept with him?”
“What? No. Never. Our wedding is three months away.”
“Amber, I’ll ask you again. Have you slept with him?” There was a silence, then: “You have? I want you to tell him because he can’t hear you nodding.” Another silence. “Tell him Amber! Tell him who’s been fucking my fiancée . . . Say it you fucking slut!”
“Walter! I fucked Walter Huxley! Okay?”
“Thank you,” he said. The call ended.