When the granite clopping cops and the crevice snorting bomb dogs left the booze store, I asked Ad if he did it.
He just gave me that John Denver grin.
With bent wine teeth. And vein owned eyes. All presented for your consideration. Under the auspice of a pair of humble spun spectacles. Beneath the clearly drawn border. Of a dirty blonde bangs county line.
Ad’s face was always an odd mixture of all our gentle infancies and the ever eternal decay.
I didn’t do it. But Tyler did.
He said. And gave a shrug born somewhere south of a sigh.
And that’s my last memory of Ad. And that’s my last memory of Cape Cod.
People move to the Cape because of the light.
Every evening, for fifteen minutes or so, the world is spun mellow orange. And your life feels filtered through some quiet eternal womb. As though you can run your fat fingertips all down the line, and steal away some residue from the world’s silky heart.
People move to the Cape because they’re rich. And/or famous. And/or old. And/or white.
And they want to buy a sliver of seashore and summer. And they want it nestled in the turgid curve. Of the preeminent north east coast geological priapism.
And they want that summer wrapped in a compound with walls surrounded by endless waters. And they want to be in a community of compounds. To be dropped off to the next soirée by limo or sailboat or underground escalator or roof deck monorail.
They want their oceans filtered from the riff raff. They want their horizons valeted from the hoi polloi. They want their beach buffers buffered by buffers.
They want to make a chocolate fountain from the world’s silky heart.
People move to the Cape to work for the Season.
I should explain.
I came to the Cape in the heart of winter. Actually the heart of the worst winter in the couple hundred years or so of the most recent evening news weatherman collective memory.
I arrived with the woman I lost my virginity to. With whom I had enjoyed, and not enjoyed, a ten year wandering relationship. A relationship I was about to fuck up spectacularly. Because I didn’t know how to end an end.
(Some houses you abandon to quiet afternoons of the turn. Some you smoke and burn.)
We occupied the only extra room of a modest house owned by the soon to be lost love’s nurse sister and local radio celebrity husband. We were not totally broke, but not far from it.
It was 2003. The era just before everyone became a digital blobby bopping from gig to gig. When, to secure a job, you were required to do beggy legwork. In the actual physical plain. With smiles and handshakes and the proper attire. Or you were a communist and lazy.
So I, dutifully, would traverse out into those columned snowbank sidewalks and roads. And do my best to present myself as a decent citizen.
There was a “Help Wanted” sign in nearly every other business window. Yet, when I would enter every other said business, to inquire every other owner about every other window sign, the response would always be:
That sign’s not for now. It’s for the Season.
I’m sorry, the Season?
I would ask.
Come back in a few months.
They would say. Apparently Cape Cod was a gulag from which you survived a winter term.
And so. “Looking for a job”. In those frigid months. Quickly morphed into sitting in my car. Listening to the radio or the snow. With the engine off because I couldn’t afford to let gas just drift into the air.
Rather than go through a beg legged pantomime in front of the next white dude for a gig that was months deferred. Rather than sit in the house of the corpse of first love all day.
But I also selfishly needed to not seem communist and lazy. Because I am not a decent citizen.
From late spring to late fall, the two highways that trail down the length of Cape Cod match rush hour in any metropolitan thoroughfare.
Locals abandon their homes. Go live with methadone clinic cousins. Rent extra rooms in homeless shelters. Go live with Mom and sleep on couches and the bunkbeds their ten year old selves pleaded for and won.
Because in the Season they can rent out garage attics for the price of a Manhattan loft.
Because sacrificing a glorious golden Summer can subsidize the rest of the entire year. In your home town. From which you do not wish to move.
Irish college kids fly over in their months off from school, for the “American experience” of working the shit jobs businesses can’t find anyone else that speaks the Queen’s english to do.
In the sweaty dull white basements of hotels, Brazilian doctoral thesis candidates are folding pillows and bedsheets. Colombian beauty queens tuck their ample assets in extra large t-shirts, sit in lifeguard chairs and watch teenage oil ducts clog pools.
Ecuadorian poets unclog toilets.
Because they’re being paid shit. But properly budgeted. That shit, back home, buys everyone and their mother a fucking house.
People don’t move to the Cape. They rent time on the Cape. Whether by a few months of upper crust luxury, or a few months of bottom town labor.
Or they already live there. As did their parents, and grandparents. And so on and so.
And the people that already live on the sweltering curve of a bountiful priapis bend. Rarely leave.
Ad lived on the Cape.
And he would tell you that the first thing you need to know, is that there’s a giant top secret radar at the base of the peninsula, that polices the entire Atlantic for threats against the freeland. That bathes residents in the warm glow of an elevated cancer rate per capita.
The second thing Ad would tell you you need to know about the Cape is that there used to be fucking horse ranches there. And the population used to be mostly composed of hard ass fishermen and labourers and sailors.
Ad’s family was fucking horse ranchers. For generations and generations. His family poured their blood on the land. And watched that land grow fertile. And coveted. And sold.
As a youth, Ad worked in stone. He worked in wood and brick. He tore down or constructed the spaces comissioned by others that were closing him in. And that made him a cantankerous sort. The kind of asshole that burns bridges.
So when wood and stone work dead ended, Ad fell into wine. Not just the consumption but the selling. Not just the selling but the study. Not just the study but the love. A sommelier behind the counter underneath cartons of cigarettes.
Which was a damn good thing. Because, the last thing Ad would tell you about the Cape, was that deep down in that dark ocean. Past the roaming Great Whites and the cake layers of various food (humans are the sprinkles). Past the midnight gaps of cold and unknown. At the salt worn bottom. Are two pebbles upon which it all holds.
And Ad would lean in.
Do you know the names of those two pebbles?
Yes I do. You told me yesterday. And every day I’ve known you.
Drunk. And fuck. The names of those two pebbles are drunk and fuck.
I’d say. And turn back to the blank faced septuagenarian widow across the counter. Grandfathered into a life of luxury with no current capital. Just trying to complete the purchase of a cheap gallon of wine.
In my first weeks on the Cape, in the winter of record breaking snow, the drifts and fields piled so high that they seemed only a stage for the lights of night. The gaps between houses and woods and roads shimmered as though lit by some extra subterranean moon.
In those late hours, behind luminous windows, I would see specters and nomads wander in the silence outside.
A man stumbles through the hallway of a snow-banked road. As though to the peak of some immense rise.
A snowplow pauses in a self centered turnabout. The driver downs a stolen sup from some subtly tucked poison.
A coyote, so skinny and tall that at first I mistake it for a wolf, shuffles between a backyard and the forest. As if his feet are cursing him. As if they were just recently removed from an ice tray. Thoroughly confused by the arctic terrain.
A perfect still frame locked in the fore of my mind.
Ad tells me, later, that coyotes are common on the Cape. That in an odd way they thrive in the gaps between landscaped civilizations. Snagging the scraps of a fattened paradise. Just waiting for us to go.
On a long enough timeline the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.
Ad says with a quick giggle. It’s a quote from Fightclub. The movie, not the book. I know this because it is his main source for sermons. And I am in his church.
It’s late spring on the Cape. The yellow spun days stretch a bit longer. The beaches are stunning and serene. They make you want to wait patiently for the end of all days and also immediately snuff the light out of everything everywhere.
Of course no one knows that except the early bird penny pinching tourists. And the cordoned off compounders that take an elevator escalator to sofa the ocean.
Because the rest of us have been blindsided by the Season.
I have two jobs. A liquor store clerk and a hotel front desk person. I work two concurrent shifts a day, six or seven days a week. The liquor gig is a mile from where I’m staying, the hotel is about five miles down the way.
Ad works at the liquor store. We share the evening shifts when I work them. He is the assistant manager even though there is no such position. The first day we worked together, at the end of the day, he passed me a pint of Jack Daniels off the shelf and said,
You’re probably broke. Pay it back when you can.
In fact, Ad has three churches. The Liquor store is his pulpit. He can intertwine a conspiracy theory about how the government doesn’t put calories on beer labels because beer is too damn healthy. With a Master class on which region of Italy or France is the most reliable for classifying good wine. With a quick diatribe about how all our lives are equally meaningless and without any cosmic foothold. All in the space of a three minute transaction.
He tells the frat boys which wine bottles are better for hitting people over the head and doing actual damage and he flirts with the underage high schoolers as he escorts them out of the store. He makes little old once rich ladies feel adored.
Ad’s second church is the collection of local bars in the region. He works them like a Mormon mission. Passes through them some measure of prophet and pariah. Pouring on the charm that makes people unfold their secrets while never truly trusting the vessel they pour them into.
His sole purpose, as soon as he walks through the door, is to hump the hell out of any that accept the offer. My days at the liquor store are filled with lurid tales of mother and daughter and cousin and twin tag teams. The myriad of sexual absurdities and little windows into all our peculiar kinks. I would be hesitant to believe these yarns if Ad weren’t so unbothered by the depravity of it all.
He is a Lothario of the low. And in his travels, he just wants to leave a map of the land.
Ad’s prayer chapel, his third church, is his home. A ranch house studio apartment. The only of its kind I’ve ever encountered.
His bed is the centerpiece of the single room. Not far away is a giant television of yore – the kind that occupied the same volume of space as a manatee. The kitchen and bath and other amenities accent the outer frame. It has the feel of a fishing hut tricked out and expanded.
The television is always on. But Ad doesn’t have cable. He watches two movies: Fightclub, and a Japanese anime that is equal part science fiction and porn. He switches from one to the other on a continual loop.
The T.V. is jerry-rigged to an almost impossible amount of expensive speakers. He points this out with pride. On the nights when he can’t land a lovely, or preferably a pair of lovelies, he roams the woods. Sometimes he roams the lake houses or garages of the absentee part time property owners. And pockets what shines his eye. Which are speakers, mostly.
His ranchstudio is remote enough that he plays the two movies at ungodly volumes. He stands in the center of it all, arms orchestrating the waves that accompany each nuance in the flicker from scene to scene.
I know all this because I am one of the rare souls allowed into the chapel without sacrificing at the altar of his dick.
For a single night, some months after knowing each other. Ad took me on a tour of his life. To the bars where the bartenders would roll their eyes, and the buxom slur slowed dainties would call him an asshole but prop their cleavage to full capacity. To the woods where we borrowed a canoe for a quiet cruise on the inland seas. To his home. Where we watched Fightclub and the hentai sci-fi in the last morning hours of consciousness.
And he stood amidst it all with his arms stretched to opposite horizons. And shouted:
You know – He IS Tyler Durden.
I know. I’ve seen this movie before.
NO. HE IS TYLER DURDEN.
He shouted. Over and over. To everything in that chapel as well as I.
I am standing in front of a firing line of perfectly staged tits.
There’s a Hooters training convention at the hotel, and I am currently in tense negotiations to open the whirlpool past hours. Three or four women have descended on me en masse. And laid down their breasts in a row atop the edge of the front desk bunker. My only and last line of defense. A not so well fortified front.
Oh come on.
Says the spokesperson of the group. A wizened elder of twenty four.
You can join us.
She says. She leans closer and lets a look linger and slide down to my admittedly bothered nethers. Her fingertips trace the smooth surface of the desk between us as though they dance lightly upon some giant swollen member. The row of breasts undulate and swirl before me even though they are relatively motionless. The subtleties of small shifts. Glow as though aurora borealis in a glass of ice.
Sorry. It’s a liability thing.
I say. Because I am a company man. But also. Because I am a flaccid noodle cast overboard. To sink limp at the altar of the pebbles drunk and fuck.
I landed the liquor store gig in early spring from a friend of a friend of the local radio celebrity husband. It was a Godfather favor.
I got the Hotel front desk gig in late spring because I am white and I speak English.
Meanwhile things were deteriorating between myself and the lost love. I moved into the basement of the nurse sister and local radio celebrity husband’s home.
Well, specifically into a tent in the basement. And I know how that sounds, but it’s actually a pretty sweet pad.
I have an army cot with a thin cardboard liner that makes the whole situation a cloud land thing. I have a Swank State of the Art Personal Compact Disk Player! For my desk I use an old school cardboard box from the Second World War that is quite possibly lined with lead fibers. I have a laptop stolen by a buddy from a top tech company that I make lame ass beats and pretend to write on. I have a crap easel and some shitty canvases and dirt cheap oil paints on which I pretend to create abstract works. Second degree murder of time. By triangle.
Needless to say I am as far as a body can be from a pebble named fuck.
I am not getting laid. To speak plainly. The possibility of getting laid is not an option in the dimension this version of me currently plays a role. I am a monk with the monastery on his back.
That is not to say the cock of my soul is cold.
I am a flash field fire in a tent in the basement. I have to bring a change of clothes to work because I sweat through everything. Everyday. My dick is a half mast Hindenburg brat. On my breaks I sit on the beach and bounce hard shell crabs off it, into the sea.
And even though I don’t see the returns, some noxious pheromone mixture pours from my pores.
At the hotel. Women I meet for one impersonal business exchange leave me notes with their numbers and home addresses in neighboring states. The unbelievably busty sixteen year old whose assets you have to pretend not to see. That happens to be the daughter of the South American ex-paramilitary maintenance man. Visits me two or three times daily.
All my boyfriends are older.
As the Colombian Reina lifeguards dull down to their XXL t-shirts. They shoot poolside looks that make me need to bounce more crabs into the sea.
Also. I am straight up in love with two women.
My boss. A Vietnamese-American from upstate New York. Who hired me because I reminded her of the goofs at the art department of her business school. Whom with I dance, when the house is slammed and we’re checking people in and out and taking reservations and booking whale tours and facing pissed off overbooked overcharged consumers and trying to keep the Russian tour guides from stealing the lobby chairs. In the tiny space behind the front desk counter. We slide by and through and under. We use the house phone cord as a form of plausibly deniable foreplay. We finish each other’s lies.
She is engaged and perhaps not blissful about it. We have moments that in another context would be accompanied by kisses.
My other love is the Brazilian queen of the laundry and housekeeping department. She’s been at the hotel ten years. She is younger than I am but she is older than I am. She has already saved and sent home enough money to buy her mother, her sister, and herself a house. She will have a retirement nest egg in another five.
She emerges from the nethers of the hotel with a sweat shine. She works literally at the lowest level off the hotel and yet is the general of it all. She is beautiful like an impossibly angled flower. You are staring at after a night of ungodly drinking. Wondering if you are on the shore of die.
We have short conversations that linger long. Usually in the couple hours in the evening exchange of shifts, when we are the sole pilots of the 164 room ship hotel. And have to wear all the hats, from salesman to manager to custodian.
There is a granite, infinite bond you form with another soul. As you watch a fire log sized turd. Sail slowly. Across a flooded bathroom floor. While the source of the turd. A cherub German ten year old. Grins like he ate all the chocolate canaries. And their wrappers too.
There is an implicit compact between us. That if she asked me to leave right now and forever. I would. But also. That she will never ask.
And in these ways, and so many others. My turgid bitter member slow rolls off the altar of the pebble fuck. And wedges itself. At the very base. Of that damn pebble drunk.
I drag both pebbles fuck and drunk like just married cans. Down one of the two main roadways of the Cape. On a bicycle the liquor store has gifted me. Which is swag from some giant distributor. Solid Russian steel. Fashioned after an obnoxiously green beer. A color usually reserved for poison.
It’s one mile to the first shift. Six to the next. Do the work. Sell the sales. Lie the lies until the customers buy the buys.
The winter’s frozen stockpile of snow melted in the spring but never dissipated or ran to the sea. It all waits fat in the air for the opportunity to borrow any other shape. It collects heavy on my chest and face as I pass through. Bathing in the summer bake.
I talk non-stop through my day.
Well, personally I like to pair my roast duck and pears with a nice chianti.
You haven’t really seen the Cape until you’ve experienced the magic of a whale tour.
I’m sorry sir, I don’t know what could have happened to your reservation. Allow me to offer you a free drink in the restaurant while I find you the best accommodations available. Are you sure you and your family wouldn’t prefer a smoking room? Or I have an opening for a unit where the previous occupant deceased himself. But that was well over ten hours ago.
I feel like a stretched moan latched to the turn of the world.
I’m relieved by a night audit shift composed of a single person. A genial silver bearded dark cola skinned guy named Harold. He holds a couple degrees in various mathematics. He is retired.
Harold doesn’t mind if I take a swim in the after hours locked off pool. I float there with the night hanging outside the floor to ceiling faux Cathedral windows.
On my ride home I stop at an Irish as Irish can Irish bar run by an ex-national heavyweight boxing champ. He moves as a stone and speaks in burps of rubble. By the time I arrive there are usually only two regulars left. Barking passionately about tiny things as only those who share many hours may.
I order a well poured Guinness and a whiskey. I drink them quickly and order another. I speak to no one ever. I just want a moment where the shit doesn’t pour from my holes.
Then I head to a late night shack party. A garage, where people who are too old and have too much money chug forties of malt liquor with each other. Or to the beach to watch giant creatures make disturbances in the waters under the sky. Or to my basement tent cot and lame ass beats and the eternal pint of whiskey tucked away.
And on and on to the certainty of the next day. Until one day that day is suddenly no longer the one before.
My train from the Cape took me straight to Grad school and chasing the academic version of the middle class American dream. Which, best case, is lifelong debt and a middle management Ad agency version of indentured servitude.
Ad’s train from the Cape was to ten years in a max facility somewhere on mainland Massachusetts. Away from the sea.
As far as I could piece together later it was. All. Some combination of.
One night of the many in which he spent hunting lovelies to hump (and if possible a genetically similar version as well).
When he was in a church where he lectured often. In which he assumed he had some pull. That the glide and shine of his words had purchased a consecrated space.
And the lovely he was loving wanted a bump of coke before worshipping at the altar of his cock.
And he thought going up the only dark staircase at the end of the dark bar. To the coke dealers apartment. To knock and bang. And ask for coke. In the wee. Made perfect sense.
Because these were his fellow citizens. Parishioners. Congregation.
And when the coke dealer said.
Fuck off I don’t know you.
And Ad said.
Of course you know me man. We see each other all the time.
And the dealer said.
I don’t know you for shit. Fuck off or I’ll fuck you off myself.
And may or may not have have flashed the dull but sharp butt of a pistol in the belt of his pants. Ad went back down those stairs. But by the time he reached bottom, he was no longer Ad.
And so Tyler left the bar without his waiting lovely to hump. And Tyler stewed in dark juices. And Tyler bathed himself in loud painful sound.
And Tyler returned later to that sleeping locked down church. With all of its tinder and booze and coke and coke dealing carbon forms. And tried his very best to burn it all. And ash that rejection to the morning sun.
Well. Even a small failure of a fire leaves a smell. And a dog can smell a smell.
And a trained dog can smell a smell that is the same smell. Even if it is far away. And days later. And on a shitty pair of sneakers. Of someone I shared time with. And called a friend. In a Cape Cod liquor store.
And when I think about him, even now. I think about the time he told me about the coyotes on the Cape. And how he once found one dead. Young. And small.
And lifted it into his arms. And carried it to a place he knew, where he might like to be buried. If circumstances permitted. And dug a simple but elegant space to lay it in the quiet ground.
He was a heavy little bastard. All muscle.
I said. Silver grey shadows on the snow top. Just waiting for people to go.