Very early in the morning–when the sun was not yet hungover, but still fully drunk–the Poet Laureate would walk to the Verdance, where everything grows. Mist crept waist-high, with occasional gusts to the nipple, and dew drops magnified the stalks of grass that signs commanded you not to walk on. The feral cat colony, bold and scrawny, prowled the underbrush and regarded joggers with contempt.
When viewed from the air, the Verdance is oval-shaped with three paths cutting through, black against the green: the Thoroughfare and two transversals. This shape: ≠. Shrieker’s Corner in the little slice to the northeast, and the Pasture in the expanse next to it–that was where they had concerts–but in the southwest corner, the little pie-slice bottom left, there were never politics and no parties and when summer came there wasn’t one sunbather.
The southwest corner was a cumuloliminal zone: the weather was always about to turn. You were either going to need to take your sweater off, or put it on; if there were a forecast, it would be “Fixin’ to do something out there.” It was a great mystery; various documentarians have investigated right up until the moment their cameras were stolen.
The National Association of Meteorologists had issued a statement to The Cenotaph that the area was a “vestibular stratosphosphic hitchback resulting in a picoclimatic fundibulacative quasi-marsh.” Little Aleppians were fairly certain that was all made-up nonsense, especially Mr. Venable, who had called The Cenotaph pretending to be from the National Association of Meteorologists and made up some nonsense at them.
A soccer ball placed on the ground in the southeast corner of the Verdance would roll, if kicked; a glass of soda pop left out would go flat in hours: it was a weird place.
Immediately off the Thoroughfare, there is a large and roundish footprint that has not been fixed from the last turtlemonster attack. A half-assed attempt to ring it off was made with wooden stakes and police tape, but the stakes were stolen for arts-and-crafts purposes, or maybe sex stuff. Possibly sex/arts-and-crafts, which is when you build a birdhouse out of popsicle sticks, and then fuck it.
Nothing else then, just grass sloping off towards the Main Drag, gently. The rest of the Verdance thrumped and poked with little hills, and sudden drops, and giant blocks of schist bursting out of the grass like movie studio logos. There were groves of poplars, and stands of oak, and a 6,000-year-old redwood that towered over all of Little Aleppo named the Old Bastard. There was a Weeping Willow that teenagers in love sat under, and a Groping Willow that Creepy Ernie sat under.
An attempt was made by the Little Aleppo Society of Horticulturists (LASH) to transplant Joshua Trees into the Verdance; people in the neighborhood identified with the misshapen things, but it turns out that the reason Joshua Trees only grow in one place is that if you plant them anywhere else, they start screaming–
“WHERE THE FUCK AM I? BULLSHIT! BULLSHIT!”
–and Joshua Trees have very loud voices, and folks who lived nearby could only take so many nights of that kind of behavior; there was a spontaneous uprising, followed by a spontaneous uprooting. The experiment was not repeated.
There are food trucks that line the Verdance, and fully-mobile vending machines that chase you down the street, corner you, and then refuse to take your dollar. You can get whatever American food you want: Italian ices, and French fries, and Korean tacos, and German pretzels, and Cuban sandwiches. At six, all the transistor radios go on, and their dials are already set to KHAY and Frankie Nickels is on the air.
“It’s early. Little Aleppo, I will not lie. It. Is. Early. Rough night? Was it long? Maybe it’s still going on, maybe you’ve got your sunglasses on, maybe you’re still thirsty and heading down to the Morning Tavern.
“And the church bells ring down on Rose Street.
“Where will the morning take you, my neighbors; where did the night leave you, my friend? Are you raring to go? Maybe you’re out there, you got the Frankie Nickels Show on KHAY–Hey!–right here at 107.7 on your dial, and in your headphones. Maybe you jogged by me while I slogged in to work. Maybe you’re a mover, could be a shaker, quaker, heartbreaker, I don’t know.
“Maybe this’ll be the day you make that million dollars. Phone could ring at any second.
“Asian markets are closed; American markets are open. These facts affect you, and also don’t. This morning’s traffic report does not apply to the unemployed. Today’s weather is entirely dependent on your location. Rain is possible, somewhere.
“There were no irregularities in the head count at the jail or zoo this morning.
“Good show this morning, Little Aleppo. You know Frankie takes care of you. Besides the music, I’m talking–you know I’m gonna play some tracks for you–we got a lot to do. Busy bees, you and me. Phone call scheduled with the Town Fathers! How ’bout that, politics on KHAY–Hey!–and I look forward to speaking to the intern who’s gonna be calling in to say the interview has been cancelled.
“In the studio later will be a petulant band, and then a comedian who enjoys describing his bowel happenings. If you’re listening to this broadcast for hidden messages just meant for you, then they’re coming up in the nine o’clock hour.
“But our morning starts in terror. Horror! Madness and frenzy, I tell you: I just can’t take it. In our studio, in our humble little studio that still smells like the smelly intern five months after we fired him–”
“Is that what that is?”
“–is the Mistress of Midnight! The Doyenne of Darkness!”
“Ooh, I like that one.”
“The Nabob of Nightmares!”
“I think you mean naboob, Frankie. AAAAAHhahaha!”
“It’s Draculette, everybody.”
“Thank you, thank you.”
“You look fantastic, Draculette. So odd to see you out in the daytime.”
“I’m loving it. So many more victims. I mean fans. AAAAAHhahaha.”
Draculette did not look fantastic, due to not being there. The woman who shoved herself into the Draculette getup and made fun of terrible movies on teevee was there; her name was Tiresias Richardson, and she was wearing a rust-colored hoodie with a stain on it and gunmetal-blue sweatpants with stains on them. One of Draculette’s giant fake eyelashes was stuck to the right side of her neck, and her headphones were almost mostly straight.
Last night’s movie was Amphibimen: The Nipple-Knifing Knaves, and Tiresias said the title right precisely no times during the broadcast. She had for several weeks after her hiring harbored a suspicion that the guy who picked the movies–KSOS’ owner, Paul Loomis–was deliberately choosing the most unpronounceable bullshit, but he was picking at random from the lot of horror films he had purchased on the cheap, and they were all apparently named by lunatics.
It should at this point go without saying that there neither amphibimen, knives, or nipples featured in the plot of the movie: it was about a giant duck that eats Culver City, and the only reason to not call it the worst movie ever made is because you were wary of tempting fate. Amphibimen: The Nipple-Knifing Knaves has no effects, let alone special ones: the “giant duck” is just an extreme close-up of a (presumably) normal-sized duck, followed by a white person screaming in terror. This is the whole film:
CLOSEUP – DUCK
CLOSEUP – DUCK
Three hours of that. (Hour and forty-five minutes of commercials.) Tiresias did not have much to work with, but she made do; she hadn’t been KSOS’ Horror Host for long, but she had already started herself a universe inside the teevee. Her cameraman she called Bruiser–and he deserved the nickname for the size of him–and he was her loyal henchman, enthralled muscle, whatever the joke required; the skeleton left by Mortuary Mindy had become her ex-husband, Fatty. Tiresias had also painted a frog statue purchased at the Half-Dollar Store black and christened it Prince of Flies, and it played the Satan character.
Tiresias hadn’t–and she would deny this to her mother, even if she didn’t regularly lie to her mother–quite yet figured out who Draculette was. There’s gotta be some vampire in there, she figured. Witch, too. Maybe a succubus? (Or an incubus: whichever was the lady version, Tiresias thought.) She had so far been putting a small amount of growl in her voice and coasting on cleavage and dirty jokes; she wondered how long she could keep it up; she suspected that she could do it for quite a while.
But she couldn’t do this morning bullshit for much longer. Or any longer, if Tiresias was honest with herself, which she was when she was drinking, which she had been. She had been drinking too much, in fact.
“Tirry, you’re drinking too much,” Big-Dicked Sheila said.
This was last night in the office Tiresias had claimed as her dressing room. She had made Paul Loomis buy her one of those actor mirrors, the kind with lightbulbs ringing the perimeter. Bruiser, trying to be nice, had even bought her a star to hang on the door, but he got a six-pointed one; Tiresias rolled with it, and christened the room Masada.
“You’re one to intervent.”
“I have good reason to drink.”
“The only one, really.”
Sheila had done all the Draculette makeup on Tiresias’ face, and it was time for the dress: it was like putting an astronaut in the spacesuit. There were three separate points in the procedure that required Sheila to brace herself against Tiresias with her foot. Then the tight cap to hold down Tiresias’ lazy curls, and the sweaty wig with its uncooperative center of gravity and bobby pins, and then Draculette at last lived, Sheila rolled her down the hall in a wheelchair that Precarious Lee–who was still on her shit list for stealing that car–had procured.
(Sheila fell in love too easy, and too often, but she would never love anyone like she loved Precarious, and a big part of it was that if you asked him to get you a wheelchair, then he didn’t ask you stupid questions like, “Why?” She also liked the way he would raise his hand to block his eyes from the sun, palm out, and he would squint and cock his head. When Precarious did that, she wanted to kiss him.)
And then it was midnight and Draculette was on, she was the Horror Host, and she watched terrible movies with Little Aleppo’s insomniacs and drinkers and people who were going to change tomorrow. The lonely and the lonesome all together one by one, on their couches beds floors cots, and the weather outside was getting weird and the streetlights were on strike. Best to stay in. Watch the Late Movie.
There was no doorman, she thought, no velvet rope or clipboarded giant and anyone could pull up a chair. In a married couple’s separate bedrooms all the way Upside in Taker Heights, and in the lobby of the Hotel at Salt Wharf when one of the sailors fed a quarter into the teevee. She got sent into the air, rebounding off the ionosphere, and back again–less time than you could bat an enormous fake eyelash at–and anyone at all could catch her. I guess that’s what they mean by “broadcasting,” Tiresias though. And I’m the broad. AAAAAHhahaha!
It was fucking exhausting.
By three in the morning, when the bulb on top of the camera turned from red to indifferent, Tiresias’ brain was crackling like cloudy ice in early spring, dangerous and unpredictable. She was more awake than a cup of coffee that had drunk itself. Sleep was not the answer; in fact, it was out of the question. But there’s not much to do at three am, and Tiresias was a people person, but the only people out at that hour are the damned, the doomed, and the fun.
“Good habits take work; bad habits take over,” Frankie Nickels said.
“What? Right. Yes! Yes, right,” Tiresias responded cleverly. Her mind had wandered.
“The best. Just the best. Draculette, ladies and gents, she’s here and we’ll be back in a jif. You’re listening to the Frankie Nickels Show on KHAY–Hey!–which is situated way up on the tippy-top of your radio, 107.7 on the dial. Next three minutes, though, we got some music. It’s the New York Dolls, and you got a Personality Crisis, baby.”
Frankie Nickels stubbed at the OFF-AIR button–she ran her own board–and took off her headphones, and there were no red lights for a moment and David Johansen yowled like the best-hung cat at the orgy.
“You all right, sweetie?” she asked.
“All right? No, not all. Some right. Just some. AAAAAHhahaha.”
All the food trucks’ radios are tuned to KHAY, and they line the ring road around the Verdance, and the air is filled with Johnny Thunders. The Poet Laureate has gotten out of the turtlemonster footprint, and not even lost a shoe doing it, for which the Poet Laureate was grateful. So much is lost to service.
The Poet Laureate was in the Unknown Tomb, the cemetery with no stones, the one no one knows about, the one no one wants to know about, secret graveyard by accident and design and preference. Those that weren’t fit for proper burial. A pit was dug, and reopened, and reopened, and reopened; there were no coffins, just a man at the ankles and one at the wrist, and swing two three, hurl. Just bodies, no names.
Very early in the morning, when the night has just lost hold, the Poet Laureate will stand in the southeast corner of the Verdance and recite names, the ones that were not buried, the names that were left lying on the ground while their bodies stumbled and flopped, naked and dirty and not fit for proper burial. The Poet Laureate does not yell, just say, and no one is around, and the food trucks all have their transistor radios tuned to the same station, which is playing rock and roll music as the sun comes up on another day in Little Aleppo, which is a neighborhood in America.