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The Twelve-Fifty by NA Randall

© NA Randall

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I used to be in what dealers called Mint Condition, my friend, made from the finest, chocolate brown suede, with a crocodile skin effect, two buttons, and measurin’ up for a snug 38” chest. If I don’t mind sayin’ so myself, I was one good-lookin’ son of a bitch…even after all those years.

You might’ve seen me and my kind on the streets in the late-seventies. We always made the hippest scenes, on the backs of the hippest cats, in the hippest kind’a places. Back then it was all roll-necks and flares, Cuban-heels and disco glitz. And I rubbed shoulders with some of the finest fabrics in the world. I’m talkin’ ‘bout minks and silks, cashmeres and tweeds, and all that European fashion design bullshit, and I never once looked out’a place.

I guess I was lucky. My first owner, he was one cool mutha. I remember the afternoon he walked into that boutique. Right away I could tell he was a high-rolla, had this foxy blonde number on his arm, and sort’a glided round the place, oozin’ style, with a lil’ of the tough guy ‘bout him. No sooner had he tried me on, admired himself in the mirror, and seen that look in his lil’ lady’s eyes, than he pulled out’a roll of bills, and bought me right there and then. And I don’t think I left his back for the next forty-eight hours straight.

Yeah. He was a high-rolla, all right. You could tell from the Mustang parked outside. When I brushed up against that leather interior, I felt like I’d found my true and rightful home. And that chick of his! Jesus! She couldn’t keep her hands off’a me, she was purrin’ and touchin’ me, rubbin’ her cheek up against my arm, tellin’ me how soft I was, and how nice I smelt.

After a cruise down the freeway, we dropped her outside this fancy-lookin’ condo, and drove ourselves to a bar in Hollywood. Inside, some heavies leaned up against the counter, and a few chicks in hot pants sat on stools, but my man seemed on good terms with everybody. They be hollerin’ his name–Hey, Slick–and givin’ him hi-fives, and the chubby barkeep said that’s one Goddamn helluva jacket, boy…where’d you get that from? and poured him a shot of scotch, and they all huddled round and started talkin’ ‘bout this week’s big score, and how much blow they got’a move to keep the boss man happy.

Then, this wiry character with a scar down his cheek, told Slick that they’ve got’a go do a lil’ business. Two of the broads followed us to a room out back, where kegs of beer and crates of spirits were stored. Scarface sat at a table, tipped a pile of white powder onto the surface, and started cuttin’ out four big lines with a razor blade. Then, one after the other, they snorted ‘em up.

After that everyone started to laugh and joke, and I could feel Slick’s shoulders relax and a real sense of good-feelin’ work its way ‘round the room.

They had a coupl'a more lines each, the broads gigglin’ and gettin’ kind’a familiar, one puttin’ her arms ‘round me, caressin’ my back, before droppin’ to her knees and unzippin’ Slick’s trousers. Jesus Christ, I remember thinkin’ to myself, I’ve only been out on the street for a few hours, and I’m already takin’ these bitches to church.

From that moment on my life became one big round of parties and drug deals, and late-night drives along the freeway.

Every Friday night we’d blow a few rails at our apartment, before hittin’ the streets. Slick was high class, a real pro, with connections all over the West Coast. We met ‘em all in the nightclubs, celebrity parties, and orgies at big mansions in the Hills: Jack Nicholson and Roman Polanski, Tony ‘the hoover’ Bennett, that fucked up brother from The Beach Boys. And the women! Christ! Where the money goes the drugs follow, but the chicks were never far behind. Hollywood was crazy. Everyone wanted to be a star. And when the dream didn’t come true–that’s where we stepped in.

But it couldn’t last forever–nothin’ ever does.

Pretty soon Slick was takin’ the kinda risks he wouldn’t have dreamed of takin’ before. It’s then I realized that that powder can affect your judgment, turnin’ a smooth operator into a half-assed punk. Instead of drivin’ round the block a coupl’a times, just to make sure there was no heat on us, he was pullin’ straight to the kerb, and hammerin’ on the door. Instead of takin’ out just enough blow for one drop, then headin’ back to the apartment for the next, he’d take out our whole weekend supply. He was snortin’ so much of that shit he needed to be sellin’ it faster than he could move it.

Then, one night, we got our asses busted in this big ole mansion just off Wonderland. As soon as we pulled up outside, a bad feelin’ started workin’ its way through my stitchin’. There was music blarin’ out; some long-haired fairy pukin’ in the garden, and chicks runnin’ ‘round butt naked–just waitin’ for the five-0 to come knockin’.

This skinny-lookin’ dude led us through to the kitchen. The moment we pulled out the drugs, the back door came crashin’ in, followed by ‘bout a dozen cops. They took us down to the floor. And I swear that’s the moment I felt most afraid. This fuckin’ cop bent my arm so far back, I could feel myself strain like I was gonn’a rip in two.

After that they read us our rights, and bundled us into the back of a squad car.

In our cell that night Slick took me off, and turned me ‘round like a blanket. In the cold ugly silence we shared a moment I’ll never forget. He started shakin’ and cryin’ so bad and holdin’ on to me so tight, I kind’a knew it was the end for us, that we wouldn’t be seein’ each other again.

A few hours later, some cops unlocked the cell door, took me off’a Slick, and shoved me into a plastic bag, before marchin’ me off somewhere, dumpin’ me in the back of a car, and drivin’ away.

The next thing I know, Slick’s girl–the blonde from the boutique–took me out’a the bag and laid me out on her sofa. It must’ve been quite late at night. The blinds in her apartment were drawn, and some candles burnin’ on a coffee table. When she picked me up and hugged me, I could smell vodka on her breath, and spied the half-empty bottle next to those candles.

Throughout the night, she kept a tight hold’a me, her tears soakin’ into more than just my material. And she kept murmurin’ twenty-five years, twenty-five years, what am I gonn’a do for the next twenty-five years? And she knocked back more and more vodka, and played It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue time and again.

Then she took her works out’a this leather pouch, and put ‘em on the table. I never liked the look of those needles before. Way I see it you should leave that shit to the professionals, the fucks who know what they’re doin’. And even I could tell there was way too much junk on that spoon. Still, she filled the syringe, jabbed the needle into her arm, and pushed that plunger down.

The moment that shit kicked in, she sort’a convulsed and grabbed hold’a me again…but she didn’t last very long, dyin’ in my arms.

As the sun came up, I felt her body turn cold, and her tears dry all by ‘emselves.

After that it’s hard for me to pick up the thread of my story. I guess I got dumped in a wardrobe and forgotten ‘bout. And I swear there ain’t nothin’ worse than livin’ the high life, only to have it come crashin’ down all ‘round you.

Years passed.

Then, one day, some lil’ ole lady opened the wardrobe door, pulled me out, and put me in a refuse sack. Eventually, I got my ass shoved into a crate full of cheap, second-rate fabrics. Damn, I felt contaminated by all that acrylic, polyester, manmade-fibre-shit. It was a big fall for a jacket of my class. I’d been with made people; I’d been somebody.

Now, what happened next was just as fuzzy, but I reckon I must’ve been bought up by one of those big vintage clothin’ outlets on the East Coast–part of a job lot.

I’d never been to New York before, but I heard plenty ‘bout the Apple back in LA. Slick and the boys were always talkin’ ‘bout bustin’ a move out East. But nothin’ ever came of it. And nothin’ prepared me for the cold. Jesus! Even in a store full of transient clothing, that wind cut right through me every time some fucker opened a door.

Those first few months were the most humiliatin’ of my life–havin’ all those grimy hands pawin’ me. But the biggest insult was my price tag–they only wanted $12.50 for me–a $200 dollar jacket! You may as well wipe yo’ ass on a Benjamin.

Anyhow, none of the Greenwich Village set took much of a likin’ to me. That was until this sad-eyed dude with long, greasy hair stopped by. When I saw his dirty fingernails I tried to cower behind this corduroy jerkin–it looked more his style–but he spotted me, and slipped me off’a my rail. And, I’ve got to admit, I fitted him real sweet. That didn’t stop him tryin’ to barter me down to a ten spot, tho’–the cheap bastard–but the Jew workin’ the register looked rightly insulted, and stood firm.

When the full price had been paid, the Jew put me in a bag, handed me to the kid, and we made our way back to what was to be my new home.

The kid, Leonard, rented a partitioned space in a converted loft, with its own kitchenette and shitter. He was a frustrated musician and poet or somethin’…and a tough character to be ‘round. He didn’t take very good care of himself–or me, for that matter. For a start, he smoked a lot of hashish, and would sit at his kitchen table at night, writin’ songs and poems, smokin’ these wiry joints, hot rocks danglin’ over me. How I survived unscathed was a fuckin’ miracle.

That said I did get kind’a attached to Leonard. He was such a loser, but earnest and well meanin’. I could tell he wanted to be one of those big singer/songwriter-types. But whenever I read a little of what he was writin’ or listened to one of the tunes he was strummin’, I could tell he wasn’t all that good. I guess some people just ain’t very talented. Nevertheless, he kept sendin’ stuff to magazines and demo tapes to record companies, and playin’ in bars on the Lower East Side.

But what got me most about him was how quiet and detached his life was. Sure, you could hear the traffic noise and the neighbours arguin’, but he hardly ever saw anybody, and didn’t have no TV–well, I sure as hell never saw one. Only when he strummed his old acoustic guitar did his life contain any sound at all. Even then, he played his new songs so quiet, he almost whispered the lyrics, like he was scared someone might hear.

What really finished him off, tho’, was gettin' in with this chick called Marcia. He couldn’t handle a firecracker like her…’cos that red-head sure was ballsy. How the two of 'em hooked up, I’ve no idea. They didn’t seem like a very good match. Whenever she called round she’d be tellin’ him ‘bout all the cock she’d been gettin’, and he just sat there and nodded his head.

From time to time she let him have a piece of her ass, but he always be shootin’ his load far too quick, and then burstin’ into tears, apologizin’ for it. And I could tell she wasn’t gonn’a be hangin’ round for long.

What I didn’t account for was Leonard gettin’ up one night, right after one of his premature episodes, fittin’ up a piece of rope from the ceiling, and hangin’ himself.

For three days–until the cops came and cut him down–I had to stay on the back of the chair he jumped off, and watch him dangle. By then the rats had got a pretty good hold’a him. Those little fuckers chewed the flesh from his ankles to his knees…poor kid.

Eventually, a roly-poly old woman with alopecia–his mama, I presume–stopped by and started sortin’ out his possessions, and took me back to a prefab in New Jersey.

For a few weeks she kept me in the front room, tellin’ me how beautiful Leonard had been when he was a kid, how happy and proud he made everyone feel, and how she wished he could’ve been happy himself, and even though he was dead now, if she’d have known he’d lived a good life, met a nice girl and fallen in love, had children of his own, perhaps, his death would’ve been easier to take.

Then she’d hold me in her arms, and cry her heart out, big fat tears rolling down her big fat cheeks.

When she got all that grief out’a her system, she picked me up, and shoved me in the back of another wardrobe.

And that’s where I stayed until she died.

It was a long, lonely hustle in there, and it got me thinkin’ ‘bout Slick and Leonard. In many ways a choice item of clothin’ like me becomes part of its owner. Their fate becomes my fate. If they fall over and bloody their elbows, you can sure as hell bet I ain’t gettin’ out unscathed. That’s why my first wardrobe felt like Slick’s prison cell. He did his time, and I did mine. Now, out here in Jersey, I felt like Leonard in that filthy kitchen, all on his own, nobody callin’ round to see if he was okay, or if he be needin’ anythin’.

How long I stayed in that wardrobe was anybody’s guess. One day some repo men cleared out the prefab, and from then on I got moved from place to place. But nobody seemed to want to give me a permanent home. Times change, I guess. As do styles. The kids on the streets were wearin’ clothes I didn’t recognize, and I didn’t seem to fit in anymore.

Then I was bundled up again, and shoved into another big crate. Only this time, I sensed I was bein’ taken somewhere far away from the good ole United States.

The next thing I remember seein’ was a chink of light, and a pair of hands takin’ me out'a that crate. This black guy with dreads and a beard handled me with the kind’a care that’d been lackin’ over recent years. He hung me up and brushed me down, givin’ me a nice long spray with this fancy suede cleaner, that made me feel twenty years younger, like a brand new jacket.

A little later, one of his friends came into the storeroom–a good-lookin’ fella with a Beatle-style moptop–and they start talkin’ ‘bout me, and he be tryin’ me on, and admirin’ himself in the mirror, and thankin’ his boy for keepin’ me to one side, sayin’ he gonn’a be wearin’ me in Camden tonight, when he meets up with this hot chick. And it made me feel like I might’ve just turned myself a corner.

My new man, he made straight for a big ole bar with so many spirits up behind the counter it made my buttons spin. After gettin’ himself a vodka tonic, he took a seat by the window. It must’ve been early, ‘cos there weren’t too many people ‘round, a few couples sittin’ in corners, laughin’ and jokin’, a jukebox playin’ some old Motown hits that made me feel even more at home.

My man was actin’ a lil’ fidgety, tho’. I could feel the tension in his shoulders. Nerves, I guess. Then he shot to his feet and waved to this model-like chick with long blonde hair cut into a fringe. Boy, she was really somethin’, like the cover of a glossy magazine.

He bought her a drink, and they sat down, and he started talkin’ all sorts of mad soundin’ shit, and she be laughin’ and throwin’ back her head, and he be tellin’ her how hot she looked tonight, and she thanked him and touched her hair–which I took for a real good sign–and told him how much she liked his new jacket, came over and gave me a little feel, running her hands up and down my lapels. It was then I knew I was back in the big leagues, back where I belonged, and that this kid was a real player. He had all the moves, and the best Goddamn jacket in town.

An hour or two later, we moved on to this other bar, and sneaked into the toilets to snort up some powder. But from the way they be actin’, I knew it weren’t no blow. They got ‘emselves all spaced out and philosophical, and I don’t know what it was, but the more of that stuff they did, the further away they seemed to be gettin’ from each other, even though they were still in the same cubicle.

When we got back to the bar, it was real noisy–music blarin’ out–and swarmin’ with people, so we could hardly move. These high-rollas started talkin’ to the blonde, offerin’ her drinks and invitin’ her to some fancy-soundin’ club. They must’ve been famous or somethin’, ‘cos all these chicks came over, askin’ them for autographs and tellin’ them how great they were.

And I don’t know what happened to my man. All his swagger and charm disappeared, and I could feel that tension in his shoulders again, as he just stood there and watched those fuckers whisk his girl away–after she be eatin’ out’a his hand. All the time I could tell she was just waitin’ for one word from him, and she would’ve left those other fellas in a flash.

After that he was on a mission to get himself as fucked-up as possible.

We hit bar after bar, only he ain’t lookin’ for action anymore, he lookin’ for the dingiest, quietest places–places he can dip into that powder without drawin’ attention to himself. I couldn’t understand why, and should’ve really known then how my story was gonn’a end.

In one joint this fat chick in a fur coat came and sat next to us, and started askin’ all these stupid questions–if he came here often, did he find her attractive, and did he wann’a buy her a drink. I was sure he was gonn’a answer negative on all three counts–any man in his right mind would’ve done–but he just nodded his head, and mumbled a few words, and she laughed and asked him if he wanted to fuck her tonight. My man looked at her, and whether it was that drug runnin’ through his head still, or all that booze, he said why not.

We ended up on a bench in some park. It was dark, but not too chilly, and you could see the far-off city all lit up, hundreds of orange torches glowin’ in the distance.

Now, I’ve seen some pretty mixed-up shit in my time, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a night turn out quite so badly. It was like my man had his finger pressed firmly on the self-destruct button.

He finished off all that powder, and rolled himself a hash joint. When the fat girl leaned over to kiss him, a big hot rock fell on me, and everything went blank. I could feel that shit sear right through to my linin’, hurtin’ me like I’ve never hurt before.

When my man felt it, he jumped up and patted that rock out, before taking me off and laying me on the grass.

Then he pulled off that fat girl’s clothes, strippin’ her butt naked, and sittin’ her big ole white ass right down on top of me.

I couldn’t believe it.

He started shovin’ his hand up in between her legs, until her pussy be drippin’ all kind’a juices, and she be writhin’ around, and I’m gettin’ caught in the crack of her ass, and covered in grass- and shit-stains–things a dry clean ain’t ever gonn’a put right. Then he got on top of her, pumpin’ away, and when he was ‘bout to cum she started yellin’, tellin’ him not to do it inside her, and he whipped it out and shot it all over my arm. And I’m just lyin’ there all crumpled up, feelin’ violated and disgusted, like this was the end of the Goddamn world for me.

They laid there for a few minutes, not sayin’ a word, before he got up, as if everythin’ had just come crashin’ in on him, and he be sober now, realizin’ what he just gone and done. He mumbled out some sort of apology, and ran off into the night, forgettin’ all ‘bout me.

The girl stayed very still–I could feel her chest movin’ up and down. Then she burst into tears, her flabby white flesh wobblin’ all over the place.

It took her a few minutes to calm herself down.

When she did she grabbed my arm, put it in between her legs, and wiped herself off.

Still sniffin’ and sobbin’, she gathered up her clothes, pullin’ on her dress and fur coat, but she couldn’t find her panties, and this made her cry some more. And without givin’ me a second-thought, she picked up her handbag and disappeared, too.

As the sun came up, I felt cold and real scared. I couldn’t believe I was destined to go out like this, and I guess that’s what my man felt like before he ran off, thinkin’ ‘bout that blonde, and how sweetly his night had begun.

All of a sudden I heard pantin’ and scamperin’ feet, and this big ole dog ran over, sniffin’ and slobberin’, cockin’ its leg and givin’ me a full load of its warm, stinkin’ piss.

A little later, a guy in a fluorescent jacket picked me up and dumped me in a trash can. I landed front-first in a pile of cold key-bab, could feel greasy meat and chili sauce soakin’ into me, stainin’ me, wreckin’ my nap, doin’ the kind’a damage that’d put me out’a permanent circulation. It got worse and worse. Winos dumped empty bottles and beer cans in there, the dregs seepin’ into my ruined linin’. Kids tossed half-eaten ice creams and candy bars on me. I felt sticky and grubby–all the things I never thought I’d attribute to my-slick-cool-self. And I guess I kind’a gave up the fight. I knew there was no turnin’ back, that I’d never be the kind’a player I’d been before. We all run out’a time, baby. The end keeps creeping up on us. We’re just never quite sure when it’s gonn’a come-a-callin’...

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