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You get used to Mexico pretty fast, way faster than I would have thought. Things are quieter here, and slower. Maňana culture, that’s real. Everybody takes everything easy, and they’re so relaxed. After the way things were in Washington, to come here, it’s a relief.
Got some friends down here. Kid that sort of reminds me of Peter, and this other guy. A maricon (what they call fairies down here), but not girl-y… I remember when I first met Lok, it felt so weird, but I got used to it so fast. Now I sort of miss it. Like the best of both worlds, he was a woman when you wanted one, but then he could turn around again, and be all man. This one’s not like that, he likes men, but he’s not really obvious about it. Sort of like me.
What I want? Want to get my family down here. I want Loki, I’ve got a nice house, and a little plot of land. I could farm down here. We could farm down here. Imagine, me a farmer? Or Loki?
We’ll make the kid do the farming. Little Peter, that I used to call Jackie Coogan, because of the cap. God, he lost that newsboy cap in a hurry. I remember him wearing it… First time I met him, I think that was. He got a proper hat later on, but when I think of him it’s always with that cap on, and that little face of his, peeking out. That little, skinny face, and those big, big eyes. Would he like farming? I think he’d like farming, probably would love it. It’ll be spare time pretty soon, because he’ll get a newspaper-job, I know he will, once he’s not… Once he’s where… Never mind. Small plot of land, he can farm it in his spare time, after he gets off work. But no drinking, the drinking is always what kills you.
Hell, exchange rate is still pretty good, and I managed to squirrel away a fair bit before I had to leave. I’ll hire some men to do the farming for us, let Peter go off and have the news career he’s been dreaming of. Just if he comes back, sometimes. Just a weekend now and then, come back and say hi to Daddy Tony and Mama Loki.
Mexico: Never where I thought I would end up. Not all that different from where I grew up, California, cactuses, etcetera. And rattlesnakes, can’t forget the rattlesnakes. And the scorpions. First morning I was here, I woke up, saw one of those sons of bitches on my pillow, thought I must be having the DT’s.
There’s something I’ll try: AA, really give it a go this time. Wonder if they even have AA down here, but they must have, AA is everywhere.
You know what I really feel bad about? My old life. Not the recent one, me, and Loki, and Peter, and that nice house we got toward the end, in that suburb where you could almost forget about where you were, and what you were supposed to do there. Really old life is what I’m talking about, and all my old, friends. Pepper and Happy, and especially Rhodey. I walked away from them… why? Jesus, after all this time, I don’t even know.
Where it all started? That would have to be my first news-job. Pasadena paper, I don’t even remember the name anymore (proof, if you needed it, of what alcohol does to the brain-cells). I was this fresh-faced kid, still wet behind the ears… What drew me to Peter the first time I saw him? It was that I saw myself in him.
...Where was I? That’s right, my old life. Apropos of nothing, you know I haven’t had a drink in almost a month? Peaceful out here, you don’t need it. Hell, maybe if the farming doesn’t pan out, that’s what I’ll do. I’ll open a sanitarium, take in all the drunks and help them dry out. Tony Stark’s Elite Rest Home, for Reforming Dipsomaniacs, I’ll make a fortune, ha. Only could I trust myself around all the paraldehyde? Wonder if you can even buy paraldehyde here in Mexico. Probably call it something else: El Paraldehyde-o. Es muy bueno!
I’m doing it again, I’m losing the thread. Too many years of hard drinking, I have literally pickled my brain. No need for me to wonder why I started drinking, I know: It was because I sold my soul. ...No it wasn’t, it was before that. Way, way before that.
Number one: I was just this little kid, maybe 14-16 years old. Or in other words, I was Peter’s age. The age Peter was, when I first met him. I was that age, back… When was it? Twenties. The Roaring Twenties, the good-old-days, god, what a time to be alive!
Me, in the 1920’s, and I used to have this itchy feeling. All the time, this itchy feeling, and sort of restless. Because I knew that Hollywood was just a few miles away, and I wanted to go there so bad. Used to take Pop’s car. His Pierce Arrow, it was getting old, and I’d say to him, “Don’t you want something newer? A Chrysler, Pop, a Cadillac, or maybe a Stutz Bearcat.” He’d say, “Well Toshi takes such good care of the Pierce...” Which he did.
Toshi drove too. Try being a Flaming Youth, a Big Man on Campus, with the raccoon coat, etcetera, and you’re riding around in a big old Pierce Arrow, built the same year you were born, practically, and the Japanese chauffeur up in front. Why I took that job at the Star to begin with? It was so I could buy my own car.
Because I never wanted to work in Pasadena, are you kidding me? I was counting the days until I could leave. Wanted a job in L.A. Los Angeles Times, Hollywood’s paper, wanted a job there, so I could be in on all the action. There was this bar… I went to this bar, it was the first bar I was ever in.
Do you even remember the speakeasy days? God, hard to know anymore, everyone’s so young. Well, nowadays… -- Last time I was in the States, anyway.-- These days there’s all these age-restrictions in place. You have to be 21, or I think it’s 18 in some places. Not sure, I was already way past both, by the time Weak Roosevelt got rid of Prohibition.
But in the speakeasy days, it was all so wide-open. If they let you in at all, you could have a drink, or you could have lots of drinks, and it didn’t matter how old, or how young, you were. And there was this bar, it was a newsman’s bar, downtown L.A., over near the Times office. And at first I was just going over there, I was mooching around, and then one day they let me in.
It was never the booze, not at first, not back then. That wasn’t the point, see? I mean, I drank it… Well, you had to drink something, right? Or why would they let you stay?
Thing to do, you’d say, “Give me a ginger ale.” Give me a ginger ale, give me a near beer, give me a cup of coffee, maybe. I can remember standing there at the bar. Fresh-faced kid, all of 14 years old, and I was standing there, all these newsmen around me everywhere. “Give me a ginger ale,” I said, and I wouldn’t even have cared if it really was ginger ale they gave me, just being there, then, that was all I needed.
Back then you never knew what you were getting. Grain alcohol, or the denatured stuff, had been run through this cleaning process, or that one. Or it would be something made by some bootlegger somewhere, and you didn’t know what kind of place they made it in, or what they put in it. Just the smell alone on some of it: You did not want to get a smell of that stuff, before you drank it.
A story: I’ll make it quick, I promise. I was in the middle of telling you my story, but now I’m getting sidetracked. Oh well, who’s ever going to read this thing? You know what’s funny? I thought I was going to be a spy, or maybe a double-agent, when I left the States. Thought there’d be people all lined up, eager to hear all the dirt I could tell them, all about Windrip, and Lee, and the whole bunch. But nobody wants to hear anything. I might just as well have stayed. Oh well. But I am going to tell you my story, just first this little anecdote.
Anecdote: One bar in town here, Los Tres Panchos, everyone goes there. I went there this one time, right after I got here. I was feeling down, lonely. I drank a lot, right after I got here, just felt like I was going crazy. And I go in one time, there’s this guy. A big guy, Gordo they call him, big, fat guy, sort of a jokester. I go in, there’s good old Gordo, and he sees me. And he thought he was going to have some fun with the gringo, see? So he brings over this bottle. Stuff they have down here, it’s called mezcal, has a worm at the bottom of every bottle. And old Gordo, thinks he’s going to have fun with the gringo, and he offers me some of that. “This is what the real hombres drink down here,” he tells me.
I’ll never forget the look he got on his face, when I drank it all down, worm and all. But what’s a nice clean worm, compared to what we used to get during Prohibition?
...Okay, where was I? I was going to tell you about my first job. Not sure why, I don’t even know what this story is supposed to be about. It’s me, trying to explain, I guess that’s it. Because once upon a time, there was this fresh-faced kid named Tony. How did he grow up to become part of a regime like Windrip’s? It seems like it was just overnight, like one day I’m that little boy, bellying up to the bar near the L.A. Times office, drinking needled beer, and the next minute? Or maybe I’m trying to understand why I stayed in Washington for so long. I knew what Windrip was right from the start, so why did I stay? Why did I let myself stay?