They moved in one day towards the end of 1980’s, during unseasonably hot October, in a dusty red late-model pickup with New Mexico plates, though they were originally from Indiana. They lived next door to my punk crash pad Disgraceland for months, but somehow, the things they’d unloaded – some lawn furniture, a useless washing machine, a dilapidated couch and matching rocker– never left the front porch.
There were four of them: Chet, a sour, middle-aged man who looked like he’d been a ruggedly handsome greaser-type about twenty-five years ago, and his wife Joy. Chet still wore his hair in a thinning, stringy D.A. and was never without cowboy boots. Joy had seventies-style aviator-frame glasses over a cheerful-yet-doughy face. She was kind of spreading across the hips and favored polyester ensembles that looked like Sears or J.C. Penney’s. She was pleasant enough, though, always watering the lawn barefoot and yelling greetings to me over the fence in a husky voice. Her laughter usually turned into a smoker’s hack, but it was genuine. Their kids, a skinny little girl named Vicky and an acne-ridden adolescent Chet whose name I never discovered, used to hang around the driveway in their friend’s cars, listening to Golden Oldies on the radio. The son was surly and looked like what Erskine Caldwell would’ve described as “shiftless.” He was as silent as Chet, and both of spent their days unemployed, sitting amidst the rubble on the front stoop drinking can after can of Budweiser, in graying sleeveless T-shirts and Levi’s.
Vicky, however, was full of chatter. She used to come over to the Disgraceland porch all the time, asking questions non-stop. We’d talk about make-up and cute guys. In the space of a summer, I watched her go from a bony pubescent to a tall, peroxide-blonde teenage dish in tight stretch-jeans and tube tops.
Even though I was barely out of my teens, it was disconcerting seeing her grow up practically over night. She’d crack her gum like a waitress and ask if she could bum cigarettes, then furtively smoke them just inside the front door to avoid parental detection. Pretty soon, she was keeping a Marlboro Red box in her purse, wearing too much Ultra Lash mascara, and showing me pictures of Emil, her low-rider boyfriend. Joy would call her around dinnertime, loudly and frequently, but Vicky would lay on my couch, one leg slung over the arm, yawning with feigned nonchalance. She seemed at home and comfortable with the vast sea of beer bottles covering the coffee table, and the stacks of trashed amplifiers littering the floor.
I began to notice her on Hollywood Boulevard in the afternoons, a sure sign she was cutting classes at Hollywood High. When I delicately broached this subject with her one day, she countered by asking if I had a smoke, and then informed me that if I wanted any “dope or dust,” Emil had some for sale. She had a brand new, tiny cross and c/s (Con Safos) tattooed jailhouse-style in the web of skin between her thumb and forefinger on her left hand. She lit her cigarette with a Bic encased in silver, with a turquoise and mother-of-pearl design inlaid.
In the meantime, the son had gotten some girl who looked no older than Vicky pregnant, and she’d moved into the apartment with him. I could hear Chet and Joy arguing over this loudly, and soon after, Chet, dour as ever, was on the porch drinking straight Jack Daniels, not Bud.
One day, Vicky came over and asked if she could borrow my typewriter. I hadn’t seen her in a while and was pleased that she seemed to be concentrating on her homework.
“What would you like to use it for?” I asked politely, in a tone I hoped was encouraging. Even though it was abundantly clear I was living a degenerate rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, I was trying to be A Role Model.
“Oh,” Vicky sniffed, “It’s not for me, I don’t want it, it’s for Joy.” She’d recently began referring to her mom by her first name.
“She’s writing a book.”
“Really?” I said, more than a little impressed. “What about?”
Vicky sighed long and drawn out, and kind of rolled her eyes.
“Oh… you know… The Lord.”
Two weeks later, the whole clan was gone. The building’s manager, in a confidential moment, told me they’d left in the middle of the night and skipped out on four months worth of back rent.
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