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 colorful, noisy mass of people every Tuesday evening. Flanking the street were two long lines of canopies selling commodities of every kind: food, art, clothes, soaps, flowers. There was a farmers market, petting zoo, mechanical and inflatable rides, and street performers and live music at every intersection. It was also the only time locals came out in as many numbers as tourists. It was a smorgasbord of socialization a lonely person needed on occasion, and Walter was going to miss it dearly.
The label’s advance was at an end, and although they allowed him to stay in the beach 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 all the free samples he could get as he moved through the food vendors and farmers market. By PCH, he was pleasantly full.
Crossing PCH just before sunset, he walked onto the Huntington Beach Pier, his 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 Ruby’s waitresses was why he never tired of walking the pier. Every day it was different. And instead of going out into the world, the pier brought the world to Walter.
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 they rounded the end of the pier, almost all were nuzzling couples, still drunk on the idealism Valentine’s Day and sunsets seem to bestow on lovers.
Loneliness is such a bitch, Walter thought, but it’s the bitch I love.
It was an apt encapsulation 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 now to some stranger cauterizing his solitude. However, 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 life thus far had been solely dedicated to nothing else. Fame was great when Quinn Quark was perfect. It was a living hell as just Walter Huxley.
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, he turned away from the people and back to the ocean. His ship bow was now sailing the cosmos. Black sky sat upon black sea, creating an artifice of twinkling space to wonder and wander 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 someone.
“Happy birthday Quarky!” a voice roped Walter 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,” she 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 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. I know it’s also your last day at the house. I’m sorry it had to land on your birthday . . . But still...” she pulled his chin and eyes back to Earth, “…I would like to know what’s going on? I’m worried about you. You haven’t returned any of my calls or texts in the last week, and I haven’t actually seen you in over a month. Look at this beard you’ve grown.” She stroked his face. “I just needed to make sure you were at least living.”
“Well...” Walter said, his hands gesturing over himself, “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.”
“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?”
“Fine,” Lola said to Walter, discreetly wiping her eyes. “I’ll go.” But now he wanted nothing more than for her to stay. Fame was much easier to handle when she was by his side. But out of pride, he let her leave.
The fan asked for a picture again.
“Um... sure, of course,” Walter said to him, his eyes still on Lola. He then held a smile while the fan’s girlfriend fumbled with her phone for thirty seconds before finally taking the picture.
“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 man—Your voice was one of a kind…” the fan sawed on and on.
“Um… I’m really sorry,” Walter said, watching Lola grow smaller and smaller, “but I’ve got to go.” He didn’t want to be alone on his birthday anymore.
“Lola!” he shouted running after her. 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,” he said catching up to her, then kept moving. “Come on, let’s walk and talk . . . I am glad to see you, but you know, it’s…”
“Complicated now? Complicated because I represent your enemy? Yeah, it hasn’t been easy for me either Walter.”
“Quinn! Quinn!...” a group of teenage boys and girls accosted them from the front. Even though he had just left the fan, Walter’s paranoia told him the fan must’ve broadcasted his location online after posting their picture together, 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 him. He cowered to the pier’s 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! Quinn Quark is dead.” Normally he could keep it together better than this, but the inside of him was so fractured, it was getting harder all the time.
Lola’s mouth suspended open. She had never seen him reject fans, and especially so brashly. The crowd looked dumbfounded at one another.
“Walter Huxley?” one of the teenage girls said. “What kind of weird name is that?” People said this about his real name a lot. Like him—and like his stage name for that matter, 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 shorter, and he’s got a beard, but that’s him . . . 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.
Seized 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 him.
“Yeah—thanks,” Walter 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.”
She began laughing. “First, you gave rock n’ roll the middle finger by quitting,” she said. “Second, although Quinn Quark may have told every reporter that’s why he wore bellbottoms, in truth, Walter is just insecure about his cankles. I know Walter Huxley and Quinn Quark far too well for you to try and bullshit me. I guess Quinn Quark isn’t dead yet.”
Walter had 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,” he said deflated. “I’m sorry.”
“I forgive you,” she said, and pulled him into her arms. “But only because it’s your birthday. And oh yeah, here’s your birthday kiss.” She lightly kissed his cheek. “Everyone deserves at least one kiss on their birthday.”
“Yes, but I’m sure you have much more than just one kiss in mind for my birthday.”
Lola laughed again. “If you’re thinking birthday sex, ha, but no.”
“Not birthday sex,” Walter said smiling. “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 Hagerman far too well by now to be bullshitted also.”
She cleared her throat. “I do,” she confessed, “but it’s only 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?”
“I knew it,” he said gritting his teeth. “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 is 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. “Ha, but no,” he said, and smacked the crosswalk button at PCH. “No way I’m going back. Quinn Quark is dead.”
“And he can stay dead for all I care,” Lola said, “because I don’t need him. I just need you. I don’t give a shit who you are onstage, Quinn, Axl, Ziggy fucking Stardust. I’m just asking Walter for one show—and maybe three-four rehearsals. Is that really something you can’t handle? It’s not like Squids was your best friend like he was to your bandmates. Think of what they’re going through. They need closure and so do you. And if you won’t do it for them, do it for me. You realize how much of a slap in the face this all is to me, right?”
“Why?” Walter said. “Because of 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 then. 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 for the album, 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 through a fucking text message a week ago that you not only haven’t finished the record, but you’re quitting music altogether. Then you up and ghost me without any further explanation. If you can’t see why that’s slapping me in the face Walter, how about you come closer and I’ll put it another way?”
He 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 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. “I know, I’m a piece of shit.”
She grunted and stomped her black army boot into the ground. “No,” she said, “you’re just an asshole. Well, if you’re not going to do the show, I guess I have no reason to be here since you think that’s the only reason I came down here.”
“It wasn’t?” he said.
She grunted again. “I’ll see you in court,” she said. “I won’t intrude on your birthday with yourself any longer . . . BYE!” She then grafted herself into the passing crowds.
As Walter watched her colorful fin swim away, guilt rose like a slow-motion upper cut. “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 around, unable to hold back a grin.
“But I want you to know,” he said as he rejoined her, “I’m not doing it for the band, the label, or because of the lawsuit. I’m doing it for you. You’re right Lola. You have been so much more to me than just a friend, and really, you’re my only friend other than my grandma. I’m so sorry. I love you. 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.”
Lola sighed, still grinning. “Our kind of love is kind of hard to pin down,” she said. “Somewhere between friends, enemies, family, fuckbuddies, business partners . . . But I do love you Walter,” she said clasping tight onto him. “No matter how much I sometimes hate you. But also, thank you. I know this isn’t easy for you.”
“Like I said,” he said into her ear as they kept holding, “I’m only doing it for you.”
“And it’s a good thing you are,” she said, “because that envelope is full of mostly blank paper. You can’t serve papers for a case you’re involved in.”
Walter made a long groan.
“You’re turned on, aren’t you?” she said feeling some added bulk pressed against her leg.
He pulled away and nodded.
“You’re a sick freak, you know that?” she said pulling him back in, then bit his ear. “But so am I. I guess that’s why we love each other so much.”
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 her more than he thought. 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 going to do now?” Lola asked once the radio went to break.
“Now what?” Walter said.
“Now that you’ve quit music. You must’ve quit it for something.”
“Do we really have to talk about this right now?”
“Sorry, but 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.”
“Okay,” Lola said, “but that still doesn’t answer my question. Are you going back to physics?”
“No . . . I’m going to be a writer.”
“A writer? Like a songwriter?”
“No, like an author. I want to write a novel. However, I’m finding it a lot more difficult than I even imagined.”
“A novel Walter?” Lola said shaking her head. “Is this because of Amber? Look, I understand the incredible guilt you feel, but throwing away your dream for hers isn’t going to make it go away.”
“You’re right,” Walter said, “and that’s not why I’m doing it—well maybe a little. Amber always said I should explore my talents in writing more. However, the real reason is I’ve come to realize writing is the only medium that can truly satisfy me as an artist and as a logician. I think that’s why neither physicist or rock star worked out for me. Both only satisfied one aspect of me. But a novel, it can be a platform for both theory and creativity.”
“I don’t know,” she said still shaking her head. “It doesn’t make much sense to me because I’ve never thought of you as a ‘writer’—well, outside of a songwriter. But I suppose there might be some crossover. Have you written anything yet?”
“Just half a page.”
“Want to read it to me?”
“I’m not sure. It’s really rough. 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.”
Walter sighed, then got up and went to the kitchen. He pulled a gray spiral notebook out of one of the drawers, then laid back down beside her.
“It’s called, Who is Walter Huxley?” he said. He took a few deep breaths, then began:
“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.
“Call me arrogant, promiscuous, sexist, reckless, irrational, contradicting, insecure, indecisive, self-loathing, self-loving, or just down right confusing, and at times 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 the available masks life presents them. And while I always try to wear one that is my own, I often find someone wore me better before me. However, it’s always welcomed to know I’m not alone while looking in the mirror, and that I’m always welcomed to break it also. Great philosophy lies in the brilliance of broken mirrors, not in the reflections of them. But still, once you piece broken mirrors back together, mask or not, it’s still only you staring back.”
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 a little nonsensical and narcissistic? I suppose. However, it had moments of promise too. But regardless, of course you’re going to feel like a failure in the beginning Walter. Success is nothing but the accumulation of failure.”
“I know,” he said, “but it’s been a long time since I’ve been at the beginning of accumulation, and I just wonder if it’s too late for me, or if this is a big mistake. But no matter how hard I try to quit, something keeps telling me writer.”
The waterworks began, 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. Twenty-five is supposed to be the prime of my life, but so far, there’s nothing prime, silver or bright about it, only 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…”
He then tore his injected and lacquered piece of shit from his notebook and began shredding it in a puerile fit. “Why-why-why-why…”
Lola held back a smile while waiting for his fit to subside. “Because maybe silver years are for silver linings,” she then said. “After all, you haven’t even been twenty-five for a day yet. You don’t know what this year has in store for you. But seriously Walter, you need to stop beating yourself up so much. I think this show will be a healthy distraction for you.”
“Or it could just cause me another breakdown,” he said.
“Yes, but I think it’s more likely going to save you from another one at this point. I can see you’ve been alone with yourself for too long, and like you always said, you’re not very friendly to yourself. But don’t worry, I’m going to do everything in my power to make this as least stressful as possible. Oh, and I completely forgot to tell you the venue. I was keeping it in my back pocket along with another thing in case the fake court papers didn’t work. It’s the last stop of the tour we never made it to.”
“The Berkeley Greek?” he asked. The Berkeley Greek was Walter’s favorite venue.
“Yes sir,” Lola said. “And for bass, this studio guy named Jason agreed to fill in. I think you might know him from some of his previous work, some band called Metallica.”
“No... No you didn’t,” Walter said breathing heavy.
“I did,” she said smiling.
“I’m going to be playing The Greek with Jason Newstead?!”
“You are—that is if you don’t chicken out.”
Unable to contain his joy, Walter stood and began running around the small house, still naked.
“Oh Quarky,” Lola said looking at his cute little butt, “I can’t tell you how happy this makes me.”