You know what they say about the wilds of America: Get your gun and strap on your knife, we’re going to hunt beasts! There were people like that, you know. They wanted to destroy everything and everyone not them or theirs. They maimed and killed. They’re still around, everywhere now, not only in the demimonde.
Back then, Bobby read and reread Nelson Algren’s short story collection The Neon Wilderness. Bobby couldn’t shake from memory the last words of the gang kid Lefty Bicek, condemned to die as a murderer, in "A Bottle of Milk for Mother." "I knew I’d never get to be twenty-one anyhow." There was a lesson here.
Beasley lived down there. He came from Minnesota where he’d been an altar boy aspiring to seminary when a nun raped him and changed his mind about who he was, or would be. First Avenue was the location of Beasley’s hangout with the blonde queen Dee and the lithe redhead hooker Angel. Beasley wrote stories when he wasn’t looking to make it. It was for money to pay rent and buy food and have a few drinks before closing time, when he mimicked the queens and opened his backside to get his job of work behind him. Otherwise, you’d meet him up on Jackson Street, "slumming there" he liked to say with his characteristic irony. See him above his usual habitat, you’d think he was someone you missed in writing school, a guy who was developing a story based on Hamlet when you met him and you realized he was taking from the Bard what Shakespeare lifted from Holinshed or whomever, a cool black dude who didn’t have to convince you any other way than show you a story or two, some of which were published in magazines Bobby had never heard of and would never see again.
Jim took Bobby along, though Bobby should have been taking Jim there. But Bobby only knew the streets, he didn’t always know the people, it was bad manners to insinuate yourself down there, and besides Jim knew Beasley, whom Bobby should meet, Jim said, them both being writers. And Bobby couldn’t pass up meeting this black Shakespeare doing a Sam Peckinpah Hamlet. That’s how they met. First, the nameless bar up from the waterfront, Jim and Bobby sitting one side of the booth, Beasley and Angel the other side. Angel pulled a wad of bills from her brassiere and announced she was having a good night so far, she would have an Old Fashioned. Beasley passed. Dee was sitting by himself next to a window; when Beasley motioned him over he came to the table. Sure, Bobby wanted to tell him, I know you, you’re the guy with the sister lives in the House of Usher, what you doing in the city? At least Bobby thought it, he minded his manners. Dee didn’t talk. Angel said, You come over here, honey, I’ll give you a hand job. Dee said nothing. He stood by the table primping his blonde hairdo, checking his mascara by peering into the mirror back of the bar. Beasley said, "Dee’s getting ready to work now, it’s near closing time."
After closing, this being Friday night, the boys and girls were attending The Dance, they called it. You turned a corner and negotiated the five or six steps down to the door of the ballroom, where the homosexuals and lesbians danced together under colored lights to LPs of Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald, say. Angel and Dee were off doing business, Beasley said. Bobby and Jim stayed an hour and got to tell the people "I’m sorry, I’m straight" several times as they sipped beers and watched as the others watched them. That was one night. Another night Earlene went with Bobby to The Golden Lion, the bar on Second Avenue featuring the female impersonator with her python whose coils provided their own curves and Earlene said, He could work in N’Orleans anytime. That night Bobby saw Beasley for the last time. No, he wasn’t writing, he was dying. It’s my liver, he said quietly, too much hard living. He didn’t smile. Earlene thought he was a perfect gentleman. She couldn’t believe he worked as a prostitute, adding, I’d probably be whoring if I didn’t have a kid whose father would do anything to take him away from me. Before she left Seattle for New Orleans again, she asked about Beasley, and Bobby told her that the last he heard Jim said Beasley was still dying. She remarked something like: It’s good he had his stories to remember him by. What he didn’t tell her was the likely fate of the stories. There were no literary executors living where Beasley was dying.
Maybe I’ll die like that, too, Bobby told Earlene. She didn’t want to hear it. He said, At least Algren gave Simone de Beauvoir a ring she wore instead of Sartre’s when she went to the grave. Earlene said, Don’t worry, honey, I’m here. Then, a little later, she was gone, back in New Orleans, to stay.
(15 March 2012)
copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander