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Mark Thorson

Final Delivery

It was the third time the Domino's man had been back to the same address; it was also the third time he had received no answer at the door, and the third time the two Mexicans across the street had sat outside their house and laughed. The residence in question looked like a gang house or a drug place. The yard was infested with weeds and filth—with cancerous vegetation, litter and junk. There were parts of an old stove tipped over into a bush—a rusted sink, a diaper, an old couch wrecked and rotting in the sun.

The Domino's man stood on the broken front steps trying to retain his composure as the laughter and remarks continued across the street behind him. He focused on the door in front of him—on the peeling paint and fungus—then took several deep breaths, as if he were about to enter the starting gate of a grueling athletic competition. Then he turned with the pizza—a large Extravaganza—and walked back out to the street towards his pickup—a Chevy half-ton with Minnesota plates and a plastic Domino's sign mounted on the roof. He had bought the pickup while in college in Fargo and had used it while working construction during the summers. He had then taken it with him when he'd come out West five years ago to write for the movies—a decision his father had told him was foolish.

It was beginning to dawn on the Domino's man now—as it had been for some time—that his father may have been right. As he reapproached his vehicle now, he wondered what might have happened had he listened to his father and stayed in Minnesota. By now, he most certainly would've been a supervisor in his father's company, and would probably be living in a house of his very own—probably on a lake—and probably with a wife and kids.

Instead, he had decided to change directions in life. He had decided to take a road of greater risk—to aim for higher goals, loftier ideals—and become a writer. He had chosen to take a gamble and play the game—to go to Hollywood and tell his stories. He had placed all of his marbles on this endeavor and now he had failed—and he had become humiliated in the process. After five years of unwavering commitment, the road of dreams had essentially landed him here, at this specific point, in this particular predicament—in a silly blue and red Domino's smock, carrying a large thermal bag with a toxic Extravaganza inside, returning to his pickup which was parked along a derelict street in Burbank, California—which he had been summoned to once again by the two taunting thugs from across the street.

Yes, maybe his father had been right. Maybe what he had chosen to do with his life had been foolish. It had amounted to five years of frustration, five years of failure. He had been struggling in an industry full of hustlers, fakes and nepotists—trying to compete with other writers who, unlike himself, brought no real-life experience to the table. The other writers hadn't grown up as he had—in a real place, up north, in the outdoors—hunting and adventuring, trapping and fishing—doing real things, real work. They didn't understand real life—real stories—and the people above them; the agents, producers and development people, they didn't seem to understand it either. The entire industry was made up of the same people—transient Hollywood suburbanites who had learned life by watching television and by going to the movies—soulless, pseudo-artistic quacks who had grown up in the safety of their bedrooms where they had taken refuge from the world by reading books and indulging themselves in masturbation.

The reason these people became writers—or came to Hollywood—was also deficient; it was shallow and misguided. They had come because they merely wanted to be writers, not because they had anything significant to say. They came because they wanted to be a part of Hollywood, part of the movies, not because they had anything to offer the world, not because they were filled with any great passion to speak some new vision, or to reveal some new found truth.

As the Domino's man stepped off the curb now, one of the Mexicans said something in a belligerent tone—something about white, about All-American. The Mexicans were sitting in the shade in front of their house—or somebody's house—near a car that was parked too close to the front steps. The car looked hostile. It had big tires and dark windows and had hot orange flames painted along the fenders.

The Domino's man continued past his pickup and crossed the street, walking towards the two Mexicans, the pizza perched against his left shoulder in a classic, deliverytype posture. One of the Mexicans was wearing baggy, sloppy clothing with a flannel shirt tied around his waist, his hair dyed blondish red and dangling out from under what looked to be a backwards L.A. Raiders cap. The other wore sunglasses and an earring with slickedback hair, a white tanktop undershirt showing off muscles and dullcolored tattoos.

"Hey Domino boy—you bringing us a pizza?"

The Domino's man continued towards the two, crossing over the municipal grass and sidewalk, then onto their driveway. "You guys order this?"

"No, the asshole across the street did, man—but he don't fuckin' hear too good. You gotta knock louder."

The Mexican with the L.A. Raiders cap flicked down a cigarette and stood up. "Hey Domino, let's see what you got in the bag, man."

The Domino's man kept his course, walking directly towards the two until he was within only a few feet. Then he stopped. He stood alongside the hostile car with the orange flames. "Did you guys order this or not?"

The Mexican with the sunglasses and slickedback hair also got up and started lazily towards him. "What if we fuckin' did, man?"

"Then you pay for it."

The Mexican with the Raiders cap moved to the Domino's man's side. "You gonna take money from us, Domino boy?"

"Hey Domino, you talk pretty fuckin' brave, man. You fuckin' proud?"

"Not really," said the Domino's man, then pulled out from under his smock a Colt .380 auto. "How `bout you?"

The Mexicans stopped. The one with the reddish hair and Raiders cap put up his hands and began backing away, "Hey, hey—fuck, man—take it cool."

The one with the slickedback hair and sunglasses put his hands on his hips and lazily stood his ground. "Hey, you got some sort of fuckin' problem, man?"

"Yeah, I sure do," said the Domino's man, and with that admission, he abided by a creed that he had been taught as a boy—taught to him by his father. A creed concerning firearms:

1. Never point a gun at anything, unless you intend to shoot
2. Never shoot, unless you intend to kill.

The Domino's man abided fully, completing the accord with five quick pulls of the trigger. When finished, he stood blinking for a short time, his ears boxed in from the noise, his heart pounding heavily in his chest. He was disoriented for several seconds, unable to hear, and his balance was somewhat off. He looked next door to the neighbor's house, expecting to see chaos—faces in the windows, people screaming . . . but there was nothing. He looked to the other side—to the other house—expecting to see people emerging or stirring, but again there was nothing. He turned and looked across the street, then looked both ways, up and down the block, expecting hysteria, a gathering crowd—a mob—cops, people looking from windows, rushing out into the street. . . . But again, there was nothing. Nothing odd, nothing unusual. The only person in sight was at the far end of the block, at the cross street—a jogger passing by with a dog following behind—in view for only a second, and then gone.

The Domino's man waited. He listened for sirens. Surely there would be sirens—and helicopters too—there were always sirens and helicopters. But the only noticeable sound was the quiet. He'd never heard Burbank so quiet. . . . Then there was some low thumping music somewhere, coming from down the street—an approaching car, a brightly polished machine with flashing dingo lights and smokeblack windows. The car passed by without looking—kids—then faded down the block and disappeared.

The Domino's man looked at the two Mexicans again. The one with the blondish red hair was twitching—his leg and foot—and a long hiss was seething out of the other, sounding like the life being let out of an air mattress. The Domino's man turned away from it and walked back out to the street, still holding the warm pizza against his shoulder and the warm Colt along his side. He looked up and down the block again, then tucked the Colt back under his smock and crossed the street to his pickup, his eyes scanning the houses, up and down, looking for somebody, anybody—an old woman peering out from behind a curtain perhaps. . . .

But again, there was nothing.

The Domino's man got into his pickup and set the pizza on the passenger side, then started the vehicle and let it idle for a minute. He thought about the pizza, considering for a moment what he should do with it. He considered the normal routine: return to Domino's with it and report it as a no-show. Then he considered keeping it for himself—but immediately rejected the idea. Then he considered throwing it into a dumpster and paying for it himself, and saying nothing about any of it until he was asked.

He chose the latter.

Then he quit his job.

After which, he went home to his studio apartment, sat in his director's chair and waited. He did not turn on any lights, or turn on the television. He did not turn on his radio. In the distance he could hear the sounds of sirens and helicopters—which he thought surely would be coming soon, coming to arrest him and to take him away. He had expected them to show up at Domino's when he had turned in his smock and hat and the plastic sign off the top of his pickup, but again there had been nothing.

As the Domino's man sat waiting, he scanned his studio apartment, staring at the tangibles that remained in his life—all collected before him now in one room. There was the card table with his word processor on top, his notes and his Colt .380 automatic. There was the final draft of his latest screenplay, A Brush With Fire, a story about two guys smuggling Indian artifacts out of Canada through the woods of northern Minnesota—a great tale about smugglers, Indians and FBI agents—which he had been told was not believable, not commercial. On the floor was his mattress, and against the wall—on blocks and planks—were his books and plants and some remaining personal items.

As evening came, his apartment slipped into silhouette, then into darkness, and when morning arrived he went for a walk.

Upon his return he expected to be greeted by flashing lights and sirens, but again there was nothing. He even stood outside his door—on the stairs—and listened for a minute. . . . But the only sounds were of an argument next door—a neighbor slapping his girlfriend or wife, the woman screaming profanities in retaliation. A baby was crying somewhere, and there was a helicopter off in the distance, but nothing out of the ordinary.

During the next several days the Domino's man remained mostly in his apartment. He did not turn on any lights or turn on the television. He did not turn on his radio or plug in the phone. He did not buy a newspaper or look at one. He talked to nobody.

On the third day, maybe the fourth, he began to sing. He sang only one song and sang it repetitively. It was an old Elton John tune that he knew from high school called "Good-bye Yellow Brick Road." He stuck mostly to the same verse, and especially to one line—

I should've stayed on the farm
I should've listened to my old man . . .

He sang quietly at first, internally—almost in a whimper—like a patient in a home for the mentally unbalanced. Then his voice began to evolve, gradually becoming louder and more passionate, then expanding into other verses—and soon he was singing like Elton himself, standing in front of the bathroom mirror, pouring all his soul into the barrel of his .380 Colt.

From the bathroom he went to his window, an upperlevel perch that overlooked the rooftops of Burbank, where he sang to the periodic sounds of sirens and helicopters—singing out to them with open arms, as if welcoming them upon their late arrival.

I'm not a present for your friends to open
this boy's too young to be singin'
the blue-oo-oo-oos
ah-h-h-h-h-h
ah-h-h-h-h—

He then stripped himself naked and grabbed an Indian belt off the wall that usually hung as decor and strapped it thinly around his waist. He lay down in the middle of his apartment, lying spread-eagled on his back on the dirty brown carpet, and stared up at the smog-soiled plaster and continued to sing—singing with introspection again, singing with depth.

You can't plant me in your penthouse
I'm goin' back to my plow.

He later added a pair of socks to his attire, which he pretended were boots, then changed voices again and moved back to his director's chair. He sat with his legs crossed, a glass of L.A. tap water in hand, and began taking a very intellectual approach to the composition. The belt that he wore had been purchased on Melrose Avenue from an Indian named Light Spirit, who told him that the colorful beads were mystical and that the belt would keep him spiritually centered, keep him balanced—and that it was a one-of-a-kind deal for $135.00.

With his newly assumed position, the Domino's man began searching for additional depth in the piece—for further meaning—occasionally interspersing it with an emotionally charged segment which included rising up and prancing across to the window, where again he would sing to the sirens and helicopters—belting out a couple of verses especially for them—

maybe you'll get a replacement
there's plenty like me to be found
mongrels, who ain't got a penny
sniffin' for tears just like you
on the grou—nd
ah-h-h-h-h-h—
ah-h-h
so goodbye yellow brick road. . . .

That last part he started to love. He reassumed his spread-eagled position on the floor and began doing harmony on that last part with Nigel Olsson. Nigel Olsson was cool. The Domino's man remembered the first time he'd seen him—on the back of the Honky Chateau or Greatest Hits album or one of those. Everybody thought he was a girl; he looked just like one—the way he was sitting there with that long black hair and those Indian fringed pants. Then it turned out that he was a guy, so next, everyone thought he was an Indian—a Cherokee or something. Then they found out that he was exactly what he was supposed to be—just a very cool British drummer in Elton John's band.

The Domino's man couldn't stop thinking about Nigel Olsson. He hated the thought, but he remembered jacking off to Nigel Olsson when he was in about ninth grade—when he still thought Olsson was a girl.

Now he wondered what Nigel Olsson looked like naked. As he lay there on his back, spread-eagled on the floor, he wondered what it would be like to have Nigel Olsson in his apartment with him, lying next to him on the carpet, lying naked with him . . . touching him. . . .

When the next morning came, those same thoughts made the Domino's man want to throw up. He tried to induce vomiting by sticking a finger down his throat, but it didn't work, it only gagged him. He felt sick. He felt empty and weightless.

This was on the seventh day, and it was on this day that he stopped singing. On the ninth day he got dressed. And on the eleventh he left L.A.

He bundled his belongings into a tarp in the back of his pickup, then took the 10 Freeway east to the 15, and then followed it north to Las Vegas, where he pulled off and cruised the strip, going past the Flamingo, past Caesar's and the Mirage—looking at all the people, at all the losers from all parts of the country, and at all the girls. Girls. He suddenly wanted to see one naked. He wanted to see one up close, so he kept cruising, watching for signs that said girls. He eventually wound up on the other side of the freeway at a dirty little lowslung place that looked like a roadside store on one of the Indian reservations back in Minnesota, except this place had a flashing sign on top—pink and green—that said: TIPS & TOTS NUDE DANCERS.

The Domino's man went inside and started to drink. The place was scattered with old men in cheap suits and toupees, and a few younger guys who looked as if they worked in science labs—and one guy who was right out of a time warp, right out of Saturday Night Fever—John Travolta with the white suit, gold chains and poofedup hair.

The first few dancers were a little rough, but after a few beers they got pretty good. The Domino's man walked over to John Travolta and asked him if he knew who he looked like, and Travolta ignored him. The Domino's man sat down at Travolta's table and Travolta said something rude in a New York accent that sounded to the Domino's man like some sort of gangster talk. They sat together at the table and drank and watched the show, and then Travolta asked the Domino's man what he did for a living, and the Domino's man told Travolta that he was a screenwriter, and that he was under contract with United Artists in L.A.

Travolta suddenly became friendly. He told the Domino's man that he produced movies. He told him that he was looking for new scripts and that he would like to hire a new writer; on spec.

The Domino's man had suddenly had enough of Travolta. He left Travolta's table and went over and talked to one of the toupee men, who told him that he was the guy who had invented in-flight refueling for jets, and that he had a new invention that was going public—Fortune 500 or something—and that he was looking for a new partner. Then the most beautiful girl the Domino's man had ever seen in his entire life came out on stage. She was stunning. She was young and gorgeous, and was a good dancer too, and her body was near perfect. Some of the old men in toupees and a couple of the scientists reached up and tucked dollar bills in through the dancer's G-string—the refueling man among them, giving her a buck. The Domino's man dug into his money and counted it, while Travolta sat down at his table and smoked a cigarette. The Domino's man did some adding and subtracting, figuring out how much money he would need for the remainder of his trip; then he staggered up to the edge of the stage and started sticking money into the girl's G-string—one hundred dollars' worth in crumpled twenties, tens and fives—yelling up to her over the music, telling her that she was amazingly talented and that she should never give up her dream, because she was going to be a star. The starlet smiled at the Domino's man while dancing in place. She pushed her hair back and flicked it, mouthing the words thank you to him several times.

Soon after that the Domino's man left. He started up his pickup and got back onto I-15, and when daylight came he was in northern Utah. When he finally sobered up, he was in Wyoming, and when he got out into the middle of the state and was cruising at a steady ninety-five miles per hour, he began to feel hungry. He couldn't remember when the last time was he had eaten. He had no money for food—only for gas—and now he was beginning to regret giving the last of his money to the dancer. He became frustrated and wanted to rebel. He wanted to strike at something, but didn't know what, or how. The day was hot and dry and there was nobody in sight, just himself and the big sky, and an endless scape of barren planet. He thought of his Colt .380 on the seat alongside him, thought of it down inside the canvas bag. He thought of putting it to his head and pulling the trigger while doing ninety-five mph—and the thought of this made him smile for a moment. He liked the idea and wondered if anybody had ever tried it before—wondered what the whole scene would look like, what the crash would be like. He suddenly reached over and dug down into the bag and pulled out a small cardboard box—a Maxell floppy-disc box—with a piece of sticker paper across the front that said A Brush With Fire. He threw the box and its contents out the window, then reached into the bag again and rummaged around some more, pulling out the final draft of A Brush With Fire. He laid the manuscript on his lap and pulled out the brass clasps from Charlie Chan's copy shop, then threw the manuscript out the window, watching it explode in his side mirror—blowing into a turbulent puff of white—a hundred and twenty-two sheets to the wind. Gone. Next he reached down and unbuckled his $135.00 mystic Indian belt that he'd purchased from Light Spirit on Melrose Avenue, jerked it out of his waist loops and threw it out, too.

Then he took several deep breaths and put both hands on the wheel.

He focused on the highway.

He followed it further east and further north, backtracking the same path that he had taken five years earlier—retracing his way on the Yellow Brick Road. He was tired and hungry but he ignored it. He stopped only for gas and he spoke to no one. As trees began to reappear and the terrain around him became slowly familiar, five years of life began to drop behind—quickly becoming distant—as if a great gravitational pull was lapsing it off into memory. He suddenly felt aware of everything around him—of clean air, of color, of sounds—of the humming of the motor and of the wind whistling near the tops of the windows. He switched on the radio and there was a song playing that he hadn't heard in years—"Sister Golden Hair." He had never really cared much for the tune—it reminded him of getting ready for school in twelfth grade—but right now, for some reason, it sounded pretty good. He listened to the music with an odd pleasure and even started to hum with it. Then he began to sing. . . .

His focus, however, remained on the road.

. . . the Yellow Brick Road . . .

. . . which he would follow back to his beginnings—back to his place in the woods—where he would pick up where he had left off and allow the dreams of his youth to slowly fade, until one day, any recollection of what had happened would no longer linger, no longer exist, but would slip off into darkness, and become forever gone.

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