I’m standing at a bar. I’m sixteen. It is a teen club. Eighteen and under only. I am the bouncer. The man in the Pimp Yellow suit looks in his late twenties, and that’s generous. He is eyeing the faux cocktail waitress’ ass as she walks away. She is little my sister.
It is 1975 my siblings and I run a teen disco. My best friend Tad and I had visited a place called the Cherry Pit, an under age joint; and in a very Mickey Rooney moment we all convinced my mother to back us in building one ourselves. She had single-handedly raised our family fortunes from broke ass ‘no you can’t have a name brand soda’ to ‘yes kids I can help raise some money for a disco,’ she and her boyfriend Perry each ponyed up.
To mom’s credit she hoped having a mission would stop the hard drug use, violence and inappropriate sexual liaisons. To her downfall she lived in a Doris Day fantasy world with a suit of ironclad denial. But really how was she to know we were building a clubhouse for all kinds of debauching.
“There is an age limit. Have to be under eighteen.” I know he knows; I just don’t have any better lines up my sleeve.
“Fuck your age limit bitch.” His voice is soft, like he doesn’t even need to add edge to deal with a punk like me. His eyes roam the room sliding over every girl on the dance floor. He’s a pimp on a scouting trip.
“You really have to go.”
“Really.” He smiles flashing a gold incisor.
He moves his hand up under his jacket. My heart stops. Fucked. “You know what I got up in here.”
“Smith and fucking Wesson .357. Wanna’ see it?”
“No, I so don’t. Really.”
“Think I’m lying?”
“I pull this shit out, I will start blasting. You go first white boy.” I look at my brother working the door, my sisters serving drinks, Tad chatting up a bounce-able bunny. I don’t want any of us dead. It would really fuck up the night’s vibe.
I start to ramble, moving my lips and hoping words will come, “I believe you have a piece. Believe you will use it. Maybe you’re going to leave. Or you’re going to pull out the .357 and try and shoot me.”
“Ok, follow this down, just logic it out. You take out your .357 and shoot me. A white boy in Palo Alto? Dude you’re done. No way you hide from that. They take you in and after years of appeals they fry you. Or, you pull that .357 and I pull an amazing kung fu move, disarming and bitch slapping you in front everyone. It could happen, not likely, but it could. Or the waitress calls the cops, I mean there is just no way this will work out for you.”
“Man you talk too goddamn much. Bitches are nasty, no booze selling punk club. Fuck this noise.” I watch him walk out. Only when he is out of sight do I take a deep breath. He made me feel like a child. He bitch slapped me without ever raising a hand.
What does that memory have to do with writing? Everything. Violence, the hint of it, the fact of it. It runs though all I write. I grew up in a chaotic violent home. Children were choked and slapped and tossed around. Violence. Ghetto high school, violence. If I was the inflicted or the inflictor of violence it always left me feeling sick and weak. I have never felt the desire to raise my fists over my head and let out a Stallone style yell. Then again I also don’t believe that jumping in slow motion will keep a fireball from singeing off all your hair.
I’m not a huge fan of Tarantino, I mean I dig his style but it feels shallow. Give me Peckinpah, give me The Wild Bunch, where bullets rip flesh and men die screaming each other’s names. Deal is, we all, writers and civilians alike carry our own scar tissue, like tattoos from a life well lived, they make us colorful and different. I read Ken Bruen because his personal scars mesh with mine. Jack Taylor is as dark a character as you’ll find, and yet I get him. Reading about Jack Taylor makes me feel less alone. I read Charley Huston because I get his fucked in the head dark world view. Shotgun Rules could have been written about my brother and me. I read James Crumley because no one this side of Chandler can paint pain so poetically. I don’t read Cozies, not because they are bad or poorly written, they just don’t speak to the voices in my head.
“Son, you write about what you know, right?” Mom is speaking to me from her almond ranch in Northern California. “ Do you go to strip clubs?”
“Yeah, I go to strip clubs. I also hang out with mobsters and criminals and I interview hookers. And I read a lot. It’s the job.” I’m slipping across LA in my Mini Cooper.
“So have you ever gotten a lap dance?” My mother’s has no sense of personal boundaries. But she is not the only person to want to know if I do fuck or have fucked strippers, she’s just the only one unfiltered enough to ask. Why doesn’t anyone ask if I shot someone in the face? Moses does that too. I suspect Mom doesn’t ask about that because she knows the root of the violence.
A shrink told me that I write about violence as a way to relive and learn to conquer it. True or not, doesn’t matter. For whatever reason, Moses McGuire’s world is blood soaked and smells of resent fornication. I write about what I know, not what I’ve done and I know some fucked up shit.
Back to the bitch slap. Thing about a bitch slap is, it says ‘I don’t even need to punch you, you are that ineffectual, bitch.’ It makes you feel small by intention. Violence works the same way. And sometimes a person stands up in the face of it and acts, knowing the internal price. Those are the people I write about. Moses is damaged good, but he is willing to rise above it to try and do what must be done. So where the hell was he when the pimp fronted me? Probably off getting a lap dance from a smoking hot Russian stripper.