Chapter 17

My housemate is running some kind of scam involving a lot of past prime but still invigorating strippers he says he knows from when he was a habituee of Dirty Dans, a long-lapsed lap dance bar that was located alongside I-163 on Kearny Mesa. His activities distract me from my work and awaken me at night. Initially, I was afraid. I’m less afraid  since I figured out that his intention was to scare me into moving out.

Photo of Jackie Coogan
Uncle Fester – Jackie Coogan

Things came to a head, when I opened the door to my room to someone knocking and calling my name. His friend, Alberto, a big, light-skinned Mexican-American man of 50 years or so, held a large steel crowbar above his large head, which because he is nearly bald seems round like a pinkish volleyball, a little like Jackie Coogan in The Adam’s Family.

My first thought was he was removing the molding above the door. But a crowbar? Wrong tool for that job. For some reason, the absurdity made me think of Bandon, Oregon. In the next instant I thought he was going to kill me with the thing and my hand flew up to stop it. It was a realistic looking prop, made of rubber.

“What are you doing, Alberto?”

His little blue eyes disappeared in a squint as his face transformed into a grimace or possibly a smile. With a sound somewhere between a snort and a bark, he said, “Its a joke! I’m [naming the roommate]’s friend.”

(For convenience, I’ll call the roommate, “T”.)

“I know who you are, Alberto. What are you doing?”

“Just a joke.” A choppy grunt came from him that might be heard as a laugh or the sound possums make when mating.

“Why do you think that’s funny?”

“I didn’t. I thought it might scare you to death. That’s the joke.”

“Why? To steal my guitar? The piano? What’s the point?”

As he retreated down the short hall, Alberto, snickered, throwing a sinister glance at me as he opened the door to T’s room and slithered inside.

Every day, T is visited by two or three women. Sometimes more. Occasionally, their boyfriends and other men come with them. The men are all working class characters of local vintage between 30 and 45 years old. They all have a Dickensian quality that is typical of patrons in titty bars; characters you’d find in a story by Jack London, John Steinbeck or Damon Runyon, like the guys standing around behind James Cagney. I now recognize some of the men but T doesn’t hang out with them, there’s some sort of transactional relationship between him and each of them. When they are here, they are either getting high with T in his room or helping him in the garage. I’ve gotten to know most of the women by name, since they’re here more often and I run into them coming out of the bathroom or as they come in or make their exit through the kitchen.

About once a week, there’s a new female I haven’t seen before. In some cases, I know they are hookers. He told me he gets great deals late at night midweek. “On a Wednesday night, if they’re not hooked up by midnight, they’ll take $80.” Three weeks back, a dark-haired young woman came to the house pretending to ask me for an $80 donation for an environmental organization. He was hooking me up.

Since it would make me an accomplice if I knew too much about his business, I don’t ask. I’d be an accomplice if I didn’t report it and he could see me as a threat, a potential liability and expendable, hence the fear. Ergo, his business remain his business. I’m describing just what I see here so just in case anything happens to me, someone may figure it out, not that it would help me, so I don’t feel safer but if I go to the police saying that I feel a climate of danger, what could they do? Meanwhile, I’d have to deal with him.

His friends can get, repair or build just about anything you want and they do things for him. He always has cash though but if he has a lot of money, he could have his own house, where he doesn’t have to constrain his activities as he does here, to be mindful of my presence and our other housemate, R., who only comes home to sleep. Maybe R and I are providing the cover he needs?

T says he was laid off his job at a company that does heavy steel construction. To me, he seems an unlikely type to be a gigolo but that may be exactly right. While Hollywood has us imagining a gigolo as suave, handsome, well-mannered, what women want in sexual service is a Calaban, not a Cary Grant and T. fits the former to a scruffy T. Those long, ape-like arms may drag knuckles but serve other purposes.

-to be continued…

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