I fell in love with a writer featured in the June 2009 Sun Mag (more on that later) and got stuck into planning a long short for ESC that spins off of one of his stories. This piece here is just a practice run at imitating his style and I tell you I’m cured. I’ll still to do the spin-off but in my style. And I would ask any of you if you’ve ever tried to imitate another writer’s style exactly, and if you did, how in heck did that go?!
© Jackson West
I fly into San Fran on business as usual, and as usual I make plans to hook up with my buddy John in Frisco for some off-hours shenanigans. John and I met at a writers’ conference a little over a year ago. We clicked—similar backgrounds, practically identical writing styles. The big difference is John’s a full time writer now and I’m still a wannabe with a day job.
I get done with my client around six and drive the rental over to John’s place on Vallejo Street. Parking’s a problem as usual, and as usual I have to walk back nearly a block to John’s. I climb the two flights of stairs and knock on John’s door. The smells of all the people who live there mix in the hallway with years of spilled beer, and the smell of pizza coming up from the shop down below. John opens the door and gives me a tough-guy hug and a slap on the shoulder. We have a couple of beers, catch up on shit and then we hit the street.
We walk over to the Grant Street Saloon for serious drinks, maybe some food, depending. Everyone in the place, old school Irish-Italians, most of them, they all know John. They all holler something or other at him and a couple of them get up and kiss his cheeks European style. John introduces me. This here is Dean, he says to them. They make a big fuss over me, shake my hand, slap my shoulder, ask if I’d let them buy me a drink. Sure thing I say. The bartender, Paulie, he gets the Jack Daniels Single Barrel down from the shelf and pours us all one over ice that looks like it’s been dragged around the block in a dirty sock. And before you know it we’re shooting the shit, buying each other drinks, singing along with the Sinatra tunes Paulie put on.
Then close to closing time I see this average-height, dark-haired guy come in for last call. His hairline’s receded a bit and a few grey hairs are coming in at his temples. He looks to be in his late thirties, but he looks all washed out and friendly with death, like he couldn’t give two shits about being on the planet and wants off bad. From a distance he looks like he used to be good looking, his face does anyway, even as gaunt as it is, but his body looks sad, like it used to be two or three sizes larger, like it used to be tough, athletic and now it’s sucking into his bones. His aura’s troubling, and on top of the look of him, it’s all too creepy a combination.
Frank and Mario, the only guys left hanging with us, and John, they know this guy, call him Doug, give him the hugs and all. John asks me if I remember Doug. I tell him I don’t guess so. Sure you do, he says. He tells me I met him at Tony Nick’s on one of my trips out here. I do remember meeting a guy named Doug maybe six to eight months ago or so, but this guy doesn’t look like him, not like I remember him anyway. I look all uneasy at the guy’s face, and in the split second his haunted eyes meet mine I recognize him. Oh yeah, yeah, I say, and I shake hands with him. I tell him sorry about that, man, and he gives me a quick nod, tells me not to worry about it. Then he sits himself down at the far end of the bar, lights a cigarette.
Paulie starts to get the Old Crow down for Doug and Frank hollers to Paulie to give him a Jack Daniels and to put it on his tab. Doug nods at Frank, downs his drink, and Paulie pours him another. Doug takes this drink slower, and then Frank and Mario go down and bullshit with him some, pat him on the shoulder and sit back down near John and me. As soon as they do, there’s a big racket over by the pool tables. Seems some college kid has gotten pissed about something and decided to punch a hole in the wall. I see Paulie nod at Doug and Doug gets up from the bar and starts walking toward the kid like the grim reaper. The kid’s built like a nose guard and I’m thinking Doug’s no match for him. I start up out of my seat to go back him up, but John holds me down. Leave it, he says to me.
No one moves a muscle to give Doug a hand and I don’t get it. Then I do. By now the college kid sees what’s going on and starts to swagger toward Doug. He seems to think there’s going to be a trading of words before fists. And that thought costs him. Doug jabs him quick and hard as hell in the gut, knocks the wind out of him. Then he drags the kid toward the back door. He kicks the door open so hard it slams with a big, hollow bang against the outside wall and he shoves the kid out into the skinny side street. He blasts him out there so hard he hits the pavement and rolls up against the wall of the next building with a thud and Doug’s all over him messing him up good.
My eyes must be the size of quarters and it’s like I haven’t blinked in days. I’m staring from the bar out the back door not believing what I’m seeing. This vision of death, this Doug guy, he’s one super-human son of a bitch. I look at John, ask him what the fuck that was all about. John tells me that’s what Doug does. He says Doug’s got issues, says it’s not just one thing, but everything, and the violence stops the world for him for a moment, puts everything into perspective for him. I ask John how it is that Doug’s down to the weight of a girl practically. He tells me Doug’s on one of his self-destruct trips, that he won’t eat, just drinks, fucks his stripper girlfriend whenever she’s not pissed at him, and works for his buddy Pete painting houses when he needs some cash. Jesus, I say.
John goes to the shitter for a piss and a snort and I go out onto Grant Street to look for Doug. I catch a whiff of the ocean and then the smell of coffee blows down from the all night joint up the street. I find Doug around the corner still in the side street down by the back door. His knuckles are bleeding and he’s sitting on the curb blowing smoke rings, staring straight ahead. The college kid is lying face down in the street, not moving. I say hey to him. Hey, he says. I ask him about the kid. He tells me oh, he’s alright, just needs a couple of stitches and some recovery time. I ask him if I can be straight with him. Sure, he says. I ask him how it is that he’s lost so much weight in the last several months and looks like so much shit. He laughs and tells me how you know, man, living’s tough for some of us. I tell him I know.
We sit there for a minute or two and then Doug decides to talk. He tells me to watch my back with John, tells me to be careful that I don’t get on his bad side. I ask him what he means by that. He says about a year ago he knew that a mutual friend of theirs was banging John’s girlfriend behind his back but he didn’t tell John. John found out about it and found out Doug knew but didn’t tell him. I tell Doug that’s insane. You did the right thing, I say. He nods, blows out the last drag off his spent cigarette and flicks the butt into the gutter. Yeah, but John never forgave me for it, he says.
Then Doug tells me that’s when it all began, him losing weight and falling down fast to what he is now. I ask him what he’s talking about. He says all that happened when John began using him in his stories. I ask him what the fuck. You know, he says, giving his protagonists my character, my ways, and sticking them in all these loser roles. He tells me the bad shit that happens to them, happens to him, more or less. I tell him now I don’t know who the insane one is. He laughs and tells me that’s not his problem.
He lights another cigarette, blows the smoke out hard, straight in front of him, looks directly at me and tells me to listen. He’s been put through the wringer in John’s stories, he says. To name just a few things, he’s been a small-time drug dealer, a bookie, and a pool shark and he’s been busted and hosed down and left freezing in the corners of jail cells; he’s been a crazy drunken painter tasered and hog-tied by the cops for making a scene outside a bar; he’s run a fight club and about got killed; and he’s been a loser on a self-destruct trip, drinking his life away, not eating, and waiting to die while he has an off and on relationship with a stripper that lives above a bar.
I went white on that last one. Wait, wait, man, I say to him. I ask him to entertain the possibility that maybe it’s his issue, that he’s psychologically identifying with John’s characters and it’s dragging him down. All he says to me is there’s no way, that he knows what he knows, and it’s up to me if I want to take all this seriously or not.
I sit there with nothing more to say. I don’t believe him or disbelieve him. I ask him for a cigarette. He takes one from his pocket, sticks it in his mouth, lights it off his own cigarette and gives it to me. I try to blow smoke rings. I’m having no luck. He looks over at me, gets all impatient and tells me I have to hold my mouth like this, rounded and out a little and to lock it in place, in that O-shape. He tells me I have to pulse air out gently from the back of my throat, not to blow it out. I work at it until I get it. Doug smiles, gives me a slap on the shoulder.
About then John comes up to us looking all nervous, says he thought I’d taken off without saying good-bye. I tell him that’s insane. He asks what all we’ve been talking about. Fiction, I tell him, to see what he does. Now he goes white. I tell him how I was just telling Doug, here, about a story I’m planning to write when I get back. John recovers, asks if I don’t mind telling him. I tell him I don’t mind at all and I give him some bogus story line. John smiles, tells me he likes it. What I don’t tell him is what I’m really planning to do and that’s to write Doug healthy again, stick him in some winner roles in my stories. It’ll be John against me. May the best man win.
from Jackson West’s photostream at http://www.flickr.com/photos/jacksonwest/
Missalister’s “Prescription writing,” copyright © 2009, was spun off the Sunday Scribblings prompt “#168 – Vision” Click here for more on prompt #168 from other Sunday Scribblings participants.