Who is Walter Huxley?
VALENTINE’S DAY/ WALTER’S BIRTHDAY 2012
Walter turned from Orange onto Main Street and into the Huntington Beach Street Fair, which filled Main Street with a colorfully noisy mass of people instead of vehicles every Tuesday night. The street’s squirmy, people-colored center tentacled across PCH and onto the pier, spilling a third of a mile into the blushing blue ocean view and orange cream sky.
Flanking and serving the people-colored center was a farmers market and two long lines of canopies selling commodities and skills of every kind: food, art, clothes, soaps, flowers, animal, mechanical, and inflatable rides, portable and live music, massages, psychic readings, professional and homeless street performances. The street fair was also the only event downtown bums and locals came out in as many numbers as tourists. It was a smorgasbord of socialization a lonely person could get high from, and Walter was going to miss getting high a lot. Grandma didn’t allow weed or booze.
Regardless, Walter didn’t have the budget for them. The label’s advance was at an end, and although they allowed him to stay in the house, they stopped paying rent two months earlier. Now with less than two hundred dollars to his name and soon to be living with Grandma again, Walter felt no shame doubling up on free samples of food as he moved through the street fair.
By PCH, he was full enough. Crossing the road, he entered Huntington Beach Pier, Walter’s favorite part of his walk and home to his “spot”.
The pier was the largest in Orange County and buoyed a full-size Ruby’s Diner at the end. With surfers crisscrossing its pillars on near-constant swells, the pier was Surf City’s centerpiece and attracted travelers from all over the world. This daily washing of faces mixed with the fixed tides of cute Ruby’s waitresses was why Walter never tired of walking the pier. Instead of going out into the world, the pier brought the world to him.
Reaching the pier’s spear-shaped end, he was happy to find his “spot”, the most seaward-facing tip, vacant. Wedging into it, he imagined himself on a ship bow heading out to sea as waves bowled in beneath. He stayed imagining until the last splinters of the sun were pulled into the horizon. He then turned to people watch.
As his foci rounded the end of the pier, almost all were nuzzling couples, still drunk on the bleeding idealism Valentine’s Day and sunsets bestow on lovers.
Loneliness is such a bitch, Walter ruminated, but it’s the bitch I love.
It was an apt calculation of his creative muse. Without loneliness, creatively, he was dead. Loneliness was his admission inside his head, a reality as real to him as the one outside of it. But as of late, his only pure repository of loneliness was his home. It was why he’d hardly left it the past two months. Outside, he was always vulnerable to some stranger cauterizing his solitude, but isolation was costing him his sanity, the very thing solitude was supposed to save. How any artist survived being famous was beyond him, yet his whole life this was all he worked for and wanted.
Although Walter killed Quinn Quark—arguably after he killed two other people—two months earlier, Quinn was becoming more famous in death than ever. His sharp rise and fall was the stuff of urban legends, and it only fed more interest about the man behind him. It also didn’t help Cirkus wouldn’t confirm any details about Perfect Crime’s breakup, hoping the threat of a lawsuit would change Walter’s mind.
Once the day committed to night, Walter turned back to the ocean. His ship was now sailing the cosmos. Black sky sat upon black sea, creating an artifice of twinkling space to wander and wonder about. Lady Stardust—his pet name for the night sky—was the only remedy for a mind as awash in death as his; she transcended it. While nothing compared to her, the same laws that governed her governed him, and the same matter that made her made him, and knowing this calmed him for the same reason prayer calms.
“Happy birthday Quarky!” a voice roped him back to Earth. He didn’t need to turn to know who it was. There was only one person on Earth who called him Quarky: Lola.
“I thought I’d find you in your spot,” Lola said, snuggling into his side. “For someone who supposedly hates routine, you sure are predictable at times.” In the faint glow from the Ruby’s Diner behind them, Walter noticed some new leopard spots painted into the buzzed sides of her bright, pink, swordfish-like mohawk.
“Everyone needs the support of some familiarity in life,” he said, his face not happy or unhappy to see her. Their meetings were always double-edged now.
“Well, most people find that with family and friends,” she said, “not walks and thinking spots.”
“I like my solitude. It’s important to my creative process.”
“Oh really? I never knew. So glad we got you that beach house. Does this mean we’re finally getting that album you promised back in December then?”
He ignored her and craned his head back up at Lady Stardust.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “It’s your birthday, and if you don’t want to talk about it today, that’s okay . . . But still...” she pulled his chin and eyes back to Earth, “…I would like to know what’s going on? You haven’t returned any calls or texts in the last week, and I haven’t actually seen you in well over a month. Look at this beard you’ve grown.” She stroked the sides of his face. “I know today is your last day with the house—sorry, not my fault it happened to land on your birthday, so I just had to make sure you’re at least living.”
“Well...” Walter said, his hands gesturing downward, “je pense, donc je suis. Thanks for checking in, but I was enjoying being alone, especially since that’s becoming less and less of a privilege lately. So please, just go.”
“Quinn Quark!” A passerby shouted.
“Fuck,” Walter said under his breath. Lola’s flamboyant fin must’ve attracted eyes that otherwise would’ve missed him.
It was an awkward intrusion as a teenage boy forced his way between them. “Holy shit! You’re Quinn Quark,” he said. “I’m sorry to bother you, but do you mind if I get a picture with you? You’re like my idol man.”
Walter looked cynically at the fan. Growing up, he never wanted to meet his idols, fearing he’d find them too human.
“Fine,” Lola said, discreetly wiping her eyes. “I’ll go.”
But as soon as she did, Walter regretted telling her so. His fame was much easier to handle with her by his side.
“Please?” the fan asked again. “It would mean so much.”
“Uh… sure,” Walter said, his eyes still on Lola as she moved swiftly down the pier. He forced a smile while the fan’s girlfriend fumbled with her phone.
“Is the album still coming out?—What’s it sound like?—Do you have a new bassist?—Perfect Crime’s gonna stay together right?—You gotta keep going—Your voice was one of a kind man…” the fan sawed on.
“I’m sorry, I’ve got to go,” Walter said. He didn’t want to be alone anymore. “Uh… thanks for the support,” he said and chased after Lola.
“Lola!” he shouted. She glimpsed back and tried to continue, but couldn’t.
“What?” she stung back. “You obviously don’t want to see me. I’m sorry I ever cared.”
“That’s not true . . . Come on, let’s walk and talk,” he said catching up to her. “Look, I am glad to see you, but you know, it’s…”
“Complicated? Complicated because your former fuck buddy now represents your enemy? Yeah, it hasn’t been easy for me either.”
“Quinn! Quinn!...” a group of teenage boys and girls accosted Walter from the front. His paranoia told him the other fan broadcasted his location and now sharks were swimming in from everywhere. The commotion drew in the rest of the pier’s traffic, and soon everyone was halted around Walter, whether they knew Quinn Quark or not.
Walter cowered to the railing as the crowds closed in armed with cellphones. “FUCK OFF!” he lashed back. “I’m not fucking Quinn Quark! I’m Walter Huxley—Walter fucking Huxley!” Normally he could keep it together better than this, but the inside of him was so fractured and the pieces so fine, it was getting harder all the time.
Lola’s mouth suspended. She had never seen him reject fans, especially so forcefully. The crowd looked confoundedly at one another.
“Walter Huxley?” one of the teenage girls said. “What kind of weird name is that?” Walter received this opinion about his name a lot. Like him, it was a bit odd.
“No, he’s Quinn Quark,” one of the teenage boys said. “Look, he’s got the bellbottoms and everything. His hair’s just shorter, and he’s got a beard . . . Hey Quinn. Is it true? Did you go crazy and kill Squids?” Obviously this wasn’t a fan, but a heckler, something Walter had a growing number of.
“Do you think if I killed Squids . . . Do you think if I killed Squids . . .” …I’d still be walking the streets? was what he was trying to say, but couldn’t, because in exactitude he had been a pivotal actor in Squids’s death.
Frozen by frustration, he fell into one of his newly infamous “fit-o’-fucks”, uncontrollable, arm-throwing, fuck-laced freak-outs that began shortly after Squids’s death. This was the show everyone came to see Walter perform now. A video of one he had two weeks earlier went viral, and since, his number of tantrums and taunting teenagers had exploded exponentially.
“Ha-ha, there he goes!” the instigating teenager said. Some people scolded the hooligan, but just as many laughed with him and started filming with their phones.
It was the first fit-o’-fuck Lola had witnessed in person. Sure she’d seen much worse in private, but to see him boil out of control for cheap entertainment was a heartbreaking revelation of his degraded state.
“What the fuck’s wrong with you?!” she yelled at the crowd, shrouding Walter in her arms. As she took him away, some genuine fans tried to follow, still pleading for pictures, but her ferocious “HE SAID FUCK-OFF!” kept them back.
“You okay?” she asked Walter.
“Yeah—thanks,” he said, still slightly prideful. He pulled up his sweater hood and tightly pulled the draw strings.
“You know you can’t hide behind a new haircut and beard,” she told him. “Your most recognizable attribute is your pants. You’ve got to lose the bellbottoms.”
“Never. The bellbottoms have been a part of me long before Quinn Quark was—since high school. They’re my homage to rock n’ roll’s classical heyday.”
Lola began laughing. “I know Walter and Quinn far too well for you to bullshit me,” she said. “First, you gave rock n’ roll the middle finger by quitting. Second, although Quinn Quark may have told every reporter that’s why he wore bellbottoms, in truth, Walter is just insecure about his cankles.” He’d forgotten he confessed that to her one night on tour after they had too much wine.
“Now, do you really want me to stay,” Lola said, “or do you just want to continue to bullshit me?”
“Yes, please stay. I’m sorry.”
“I forgive you,” she said, and pulled him closer, “but only because it’s your birthday. And oh yeah, here’s your birthday kiss,” she said and lightly kissed his cheek. “Everyone deserves at least a kiss on their birthday.”
With her kiss came back many warm memories into Walter’s head of that brief but happier past when he was standing on top of the world instead of crushed beneath it. But that’s right, she was with his enemy: his past, and Walter just couldn’t get past his past.
“But I’m sure you’ve got other things in store for my birthday,” he said.
“Like what?” Lola said smirking. “Because if you’re thinking birthday sex, ha, but no.”
“No. I’m talking about the laundry list of items you’re hoping I will pay courtesy to as soon as you no longer have to pay courtesy to my birthday. I know Lola Roxy and Josepha Gutierrez far too well by now to be bullshitted.”
She cleared her throat. “I do,” she confessed, “but it’s just one item. I’d say we could talk about it tomorrow on the phone, but since you never pick up, I have no option but to disgrace your birthday with it. So you want it now or later?”
“Now. Otherwise I’ll be wondering all night.”
“Fine,” she said, reaching into her purse and pulling out a manila envelope. “Here, you’ve been served.”
“You’re suing me?!”
“I’m sorry, but you left the band and Cirkus no other choice. It’s not like you didn’t see this coming . . . However, there’s another option they’re willing to entertain, and believe me, it’s more than generous on their part.”
“They want a farewell show to make a live record.”
Walter laughed. “No,” he said, smacking the crosswalk button at PCH. “No way I’m going back. Quinn Quark is dead for good.”
“That’s fine,” she said. “Because I don’t need him, I need you. I don’t give a shit who you are onstage, Quinn, Axl, Ziggy fucking Stardust. I’m just asking Walter for one fucking show, and maybe three-four rehearsals tops. Is that really something you can’t handle? It’s not like Squids was your best friend. Think of what your bandmates are going through. And if not them, think of what I’m going through. You realize how much of a slap in the face this is to me, right?”
“Why? Because our personal relationship? The way I remembered it, there was a strict divide between our personal and professional relationship.”
Lola closed her eyes and swallowed what looked to be a scream.
“Well...” she said once she composed herself again, “...I guess I broke that rule from the beginning, because I obviously let my personal relationship with you—even before we started fucking—influence my professional one far too much when I put that record deal together for you. Even when the label—along with your own band—pressured me to convince you to rerecord some songs from the EPs, I told them no, to trust you. But here we are, seven months later, after I also convinced the label to let you stay in the house two months longer than they wanted, and you tell me in a fucking text message a week ago that you not only haven’t finished the record, you’re quitting music altogether. Then you have the audacity to just up and ghost me without any explanation. If you can’t see why that’s slapping me in the face, how about you come closer and I’ll put it another way?”
Walter looked straight ahead and gave no comment as they crossed PCH and rejoined the crowds of the street fair.
“I trusted you,” Lola continued, “fought for you, believed in you so goddamn much that I didn’t realize just how much I set myself up to be fucked over by you. But I never fathomed you actually would, because of all things I thought you considered me, a friend would be one of them. But no wonder you complain about having so few real friends Walter if this is how you treat them.”
He remained silent, but instead of looking forward, his head went down.
Lola stopped walking. “Are you really just going to continue to ignore me and say nothing?” she asked.
Walter shrugged. “What do you want me to say?” he replied.
Lola grunted and stomped her black army boot into the ground. “Fucking asshole,” she said. “I guess I’ll just see you in court then. You can ignore me and my phone calls, but you can’t ignore a lawsuit. I won’t intrude on your birthday with yourself any longer . . . BYE!” She then grafted herself into the passing crowds and was gone.
Guilt rose like an upper cut as Walter watched her colorful fin swim away.
“Lola stop!” he cried, and again chased after her.
“Only if you agree to do the show!” she shouted back, her fin still swimming.
“That’s not fair! Can’t we talk about it?”
“Oh now you want to talk. It’s too late Walter. There’s nothing else to talk about, unless you’re doing the show.”
“Fine, I’ll do it,” he ceded. She stopped and turned, unable to keep herself from smiling. “But I want you to know,” he said rejoining her, “I’m only doing it for you, not the band, the label, or the lawsuit. You’re right. You have been so much more to me than just a friend, and you’re really my only friend other than my grandma. I’m so sorry. I love you Lola. And you know not in an ‘I love you’ sort of way, but in a… well, I’m not sure what kind of way, but I do.”
She hung her arms around him. “Yes,” she said, “our kind of love is kind of hard to pin down, isn’t it? But it’s there, somewhere between friends, family, fucking, and business partners . . . I love you too Walter. But also, thank you. I know this isn’t easy for you, believe me. Also, it’s a good thing you’re not doing the show because of the lawsuit. That envelope is mostly blank paper. You can’t serve papers for a case you’re involved in.”
Walter sighed and shook his head.
“You’re turned on, aren’t you?” Lola said noticing some added bulk pressed against her leg. He sighed again and nodded. “You’re a sick freak Mister Huxley, but so am I. I guess that’s why we’ve always worked so well together.”
“Can you kiss me again?” he asked.
She grinned, then leaned in, her lips hovering over his. “Yes,” she said. “Everyone deserves at least a kiss on their birthday.”
Back at Walter’s place on his living room floor, cuddling atop his crippled camping cot which had collapsed under the heft of their lovemaking, he and Lola passed a whiskey bottle and kisses to each other while “Night Moves” rolled out softly from the radio. He had missed this dearly. Nothing was more healing to a man’s sanity than the soft hold of a woman who knew him well, even if she couldn’t hold him forever.
“So what are you doing with your life if not music?” Lola asked once the radio went to break.
“Do we really have to talk about this right now?” Walter said.
“Sorry, I can’t get it off my mind. Plus, I think I deserve to know why you’re abandoning the dream I worked so hard to help you reach; the dream you also worked your entire life for. I understand Squids’s death was tragic, especially right after Amber’s, but still, there has to be something else.”
“I just realized rock star is not who I am, okay? Yes, it’s what I thought I wanted to be when I was eleven and what everyone has expected of me since—with the exception of a few college professors, but I didn’t realize being famous would be so... so intrusive on my art. It’s great onstage, but I don’t want onstage following me offstage. I need offstage for life and art.”
“So what, back to physics then? You always said if you weren’t a musician, you’d be a theoretical physicist.”
“No. I want to be a writer.”
“Like a songwriter?”
“No, like an author. I want to write a novel, however, I have no clue where to begin.”
“Then why are you doing it? Because of Amber? Walter, I understand the incredible guilt you feel, but throwing away your dream for hers isn’t going to make your guilt go away.”
“You’re right, and that’s not why I’m doing it—well maybe a little because she was the inspiration. I just realized I’m as much a logician as I am an artist, and I need a medium that can satisfy both, and the only forum that came to mind was a novel.”
“I don’t know. It doesn’t make much sense to me because I’ve never thought of you as a ‘writer’—well, outside of a songwriter. I supposed there might be some crossover. Have you written anything?”
“Just one page.”
“Want to read it to me?”
“I’m not sure. It’s really rough, and I probably won’t even use it for my novel. It’s just an exercise I found online for new writers that’s supposed to stimulate the creative process. You’re supposed to introduce your writing as if it were you, but obviously I’m still trying to figure out who that ‘you’ is.”
“Just read it.”
“Fine.” Walter got up and went to the kitchen and pulled a gray spiral notebook out of one of the drawers. “It’s called, Who is Walter Huxley?” he said laying back down beside her. He took a few deep breaths before beginning:
“I'm sometimes hard to understand because I unconsciously speak in metaphors. My train of thought talks to me with them and often has to wander in the dirt before it can bloom into meaning, but I promise it always will, there’s just a lot of dirt in my mind. On the rare occasion my train does derail itself from too much momentum or dirt, I apologize for the casualties, but my train was never intended to carry passengers.
“Call me arrogant, promiscuous, sexist, reckless, irrational, contradicting, charlatanic, satanic, insecure, indecisive, self-loathing, self-loving, or just down right confusing, and I’m sure you’d be absolutely correct because at one time or another I probably was. But in choosing an identity one must try on all of life’s available masks. While I try to wear a mask that is always me, often I discover someone may have worn me better before me, and for the sake of sanity, it’s always welcomed to know I’m not alone while looking in the mirror, and always free to break that mirror, for great philosophy lies in the brilliance of broken mirrors, not in the reflections of them. But still, once you piece mirrors back together, mask or not, it’s still only you staring back.
“I am Walter Huxley, and I am one of the loneliest people on Earth; I am a writer. But there’s something sacred in a writer’s loneliness: sanity, hence why so many of us writers end up sacrificing our own for our readers’ sake.”
Walter’s eyes came up from the notebook. The look on Lola’s face was not one of satisfaction or dislike, but confusion. His eyes fled back down.
“It’s horrible!” he cried. “It’s nothing but a clusterfuck of nonsensical narcissism. That’s what you do when something sucks, inject it with ego and lacquer it over with pretentious, meaningless nonsense so nobody can look into it and see the piece of shit it truly is.”
“That’s not true,” Lola said. “Was it nonsensical and narcissistic? A little. But it had moments of great promise too. Regardless, of course you’re going to feel like a failure in the beginning; success is nothing but the accumulation of failure.”
“I know, but it’s been a long time since I’ve been at the beginning of an accumulation, and I just wonder if it’s too late, or if this is a big mistake, but no matter how hard I try to go back, something keeps forcing writer on me.”
The waterworks began at this point and Walter’s voice strained somewhere between a whine and scream—a wheam.
“Two-thousand-twelve just wasn’t supposed to be like this,” he wheamed. “This wasn’t how I imagined my silver year going. This is supposed to be the prime of my life. But there’s nothing prime, silver or bright about the silver anniversary of my life, only unending darkness. But I guess I just like being miserable because every time I manage any sort of stability, I have an irresistible urge to take the legs right out from beneath me. Why do I always do that? Why-why-why-why…” Walter took his injected and lacquered piece of shit from his notebook and began tearing it in a puerile fit. “Why-why-why-why…”
Lola waited until his fit subsided before speaking. “Because maybe silver years are for silver linings,” she said. “But seriously, you need to stop beating yourself up so much. You’ve been left alone inside your head for too long, and like you said, you’re not very friendly to yourself. I think this show will serve as a healthy distraction. Oh! And I completely forgot to tell you because I didn’t think the fake court papers would actually work and I was holding it in my back pocket, but the venue is the last stop of the tour we never made it to.”
“You mean the Berkeley Greek?” The Berkeley Greek was Walter’s favorite music venue.
“Yes sir. And for bass, this studio guy named Jason agreed to fill in, but you might know him from his previous band, Metallica.”
“No! No fucking way! I’m going to be playing with Jason Newstead at The Greek?”
“Yes—that is if you don’t chicken out.”
Unable to contain his joy, Walter stood and began running around the small house with his family jewels flapping openly about.
“Oh Quarky...” Lola said her eyes welling up with tears and laughter “...I can’t tell you how happy this makes me.”