In the tradition of Henry Miller and Charles Bukowski, Brian Bradley's Highland Avenue is a jolt of reality, a slap in the face, a fierce assault on middle class sensibilities. A blow-by-blow account of life in the drug-fueled nether world of lower class Los Angeles, it is the story of a man under the influence, addicted to a life of drugs and sex, falling out of control. Highland Avenue holds up a cracked mirror to glamorous Hollywood and reflects back the ugly realities that teem just under the glittering surface. Lee's style rocks with the lingo and rhythm of the street, and his wild characters and situations will make you laugh out loud. Highland Avenue is a riveting tale that cannot be put down.
Excerpts from HIGHLAND AVENUE
All excerpts copyright©1999 by Brian Michael Bradley
Last night I dreamed I was at my friend Nick's new house, standing at the front door, looking at a pool. I was wondering when he had moved, where his crazy old lady was, and why the fuck there was a pool in the front yard. The next thing I knew a weird-looking dog walked up and came into the house. I started to run because I thought the damn thing would bite me, but it lay down on the floor and rolled over onto its back to get its belly rubbed. I rubbed the damn dog's belly. I rubbed that motherfucker's belly until the damn thing started jerking and spewing spunk all over the carpet. It was disgusting. I was looking around trying to figure out how to get the spunk off the rug when somehow the damn dog turned into a bird. Or something. Maybe. Next thing I knew the damn bird? dog? was a beautiful woman and she wanted to be my weekend cooze because I was so good with my hands. No way. I tried to run but I was lost in Nick's new place.
I woke up sick to my stomach. I stumbled into the bathroom for a puke, then went into the kitchen and put on some water for instant coffee. I was safe, now; in a world where Nick and his crazy girlfriend lived in a dump like mine and I didn't jerk off weird shape-shifting changelings. I tried to remember what the hell had happened last night, but my brain was wrapped in a blanket of black static. I went into the living room and turned on the TV but all I got was fuzz. That made me remember one thing from yesterday: I had told the cable company to go get fucked. I'd had cable for three fuckin' years and I missed three lousy fuckin' payments and they had the fuckin' nerve to cut me off. Fuck them.
There was a pair of panties on the floor by the couch and an empty bottle of rum peeking out from under it, but I couldn't remember shit. Another day in fuckin' paradise. I'd lost my stupid job the week before and had been on a pretty good bender since. 'Course, that's why I lost my stupid job in the first place.
I finally got the instant coffee made and sat down at my little dinette in the kitchen. I had a glass of tomato juice, a cup of instant coffee, and some stale potato chips I found in a bag wadded up on the floor by the stove. I tried to think.
The most pressing problems were the missing occupant of the panties and the empty rum bottle. My hands were shaking so bad I had trouble making the instant coffee, but I couldn't get a drink until the liquor store opened.
I was mainly a drug man, anyway, and only drank in emergencies, like now. I looked around the kitchen and found some white powder in a twisted-up baggie laying on the counter. I reached over, picked it up and snorted it. I wasn't sure what it was. It burned like hell, but took out the cobwebs and killed the shakes. Now on to the big problem. The pussy. That was a tough one. I didn't have a clue.
Walking down Hollywood Boulevard early in the morning is kinda creepy. It's like a deserted battlefield of tourism. Movie posters hangin' everywhere, trash, and guys in weird space suits cleaning the sidewalks. I turned south on Highland and walked down to my spot, the happening place.
"Hey Winslow, you happening?"
"That last stuff was shit, man. You fucked me, dude."
"So this stuff is the shit, huh?"
"Dude, this shit will smoke your ass."
I couldn't remember what kind of shit I had whipped up, but I was doing business. It didn't really matter anyway. I had taken a taste on the way here to clear out the cobwebs. I felt OK. These fuckin' losers were gonna get higher than a cow's ass. My head was still ringin' like a bell from the bathroom door, and my eyes were kinda fuzzy, but the taste was keeping me together, so I knew this pinhead would get real. I spent the next few hours doing business, then headed back to my pad.
"GIANT . . . REDHOT . . . MOTHERFUCKERS . . . BIG . . . HARD . . . GIANT . . . REDHOT . . . MOTHERFUCKERS . . . REDHOT . . . BIG . . . HARD . . . GIANT . . . MOTHERFUCKERS."
Leon was walking down the street for his daily sojourn. Leon was a crazy old man with burn scars on his bald head. He wandered around yelling as loud as a man could possibly yell. Leon held his hand up to his mouth like a megaphone and every time he shouted out "Giant Red Hot Motherfuckers" he counted on his fingers. When he got to four, he started over.
Leon showed up in the mornings, yelled his way over to the liquor store, bought a beer, stood out front taking a jerk, then yelled his way off down the road. Not a bad life, really, all things considered. I'd tried talkin' to him a couple of times but he was too far gone to make much sense. I tried the yelling one time, too. I got drunk and walked down Highland yelling "Giant Red Hot Motherfuckers." It really set me free. Leon was on to something, that was for sure. When I got old, and crazy from life, Giant Red Hot Motherfuckers was gonna be the way to go.
"Winslow. Hey, Winslow. Wait up."
Crazy Eddie and some young chick were coming up the ally. They came over to me. I eyeballed the young chick. Not bad. I couldn't figure what Crazy Eddie was doing with her, since he didn't seem to care about pussy, but he was crazy so you couldn't ever tell.
"Dude, you got that front?"
"Hey, no problem babe." I gave Crazy Eddie the cash I owed from the eight-track and watched the babe for any suspicious moves.
"So Winslow, how long we been friends?"
"Come on, Winslow, you know, how long we been hangin'. You know. Friends."
"Shit, Eddie, I didn't know we was friends. I thought we was just business associates."
"OHHH no man. We friends. You think I front these other cats?"
"Shit. I'm honored Eddie. I'm mean I never knew. Dude, I'm...I'm overwhelmed." If Crazy Eddie thought we were friends, we were friends. No way was I gonna fuck with that crazy motherfucker.
Eddie grabbed me in a big hug and squeezed the ever lovin' shit outta me. I had never been that close before and I sure didn't want to be that close again. The guy smelled bad. Like garbage and old sex mixed together. I also got a real close look at Crazy Eddie's eyes, too close. It was a bad place to be. I could almost hear the doorbells ringin'. Eddie gave me a big kiss and held me with his hands on my shoulders and looked into my eyes. I think that was the most scared I'd ever been in my short young life.
"Winslow, I knew I could count on you."
All I have to do is get through this, I'm thinking, and then I can move to Florida, or some other warm garden spot. Maybe I could get a job or go to school and get away from people like this, and this kind of life. I looked over to the girl, to see what she was up to.
She was looking down on the ground, trying to be invisible. Trying to stare a hole in the earth. Maybe if she stared a big enough hole, I could get away, too. I looked back to Eddie.
"Hey, dude, you got it."
"Thanks, Winslow. This here is Gretchen. I need ya to look out for her for a while. I got some shit to do. She's not my girlfriend or anything but I try and take care of her, so you watch out for her while I'm gone."
"Sure, Eddie." Florida started to look pretty good. We both looked over at Gretchen. She was still trying to see China, but I could tell she was a sweet young thing. Maybe after a shower and some new clothes she'd clean right up. Then again, maybe I should go to Florida. I had a bad feeling about the whole thing.
"Eddie, does she talk?"
"Yeah, I talk, you...you fuckin' asshole."
I wasn't expecting that so I jumped and looked over at Gretchen. She was staring at me with tears in her eyes. Her lower lip was trembling and she was starting to sniffle. I looked back over to Crazy Eddie.
"Hey, man, you sure about this?"
"Yeah, Winslow, I'm sure. I got this thing to do and I need ya to help me out. Here's some scratch, to keep you right for a while."
Eddie handed me a wad of money. I didn't count it, but I could tell it was a bundle. I looked over to Gretchen again, but she was back to China-hunting.
"OK, Eddie, if you're sure, I mean if this is what you want. Sure thing." I figured I could dump the chick and get to Florida with this wad before anyone got wise.
"GIANT . . . RED . . . HOT . . . MOTHERFUCKERS . . . BIG . . . HARD . . . GIANT . . . RED . . . HOT . . . MOTHERFUCKERS . . . RED . . . HOT . . . MOTHERFUCKERS . . ."
Leon staggered by while we all stood there feeling awkward. After he got far enough away, I looked over to Eddie. He nodded. I took Gretchen's hand and started up the alley. She came along like a feather drifting on the wind.
Russ is a full-on sadist and his old lady works as a dominatrix. When I got there Russ was dressed in his full leather kick-ass suit and his old lady was hangin' by a rope from a hook in the corner of the ceiling. The other end of the rope was tied around both of her wrists. Russ's old lady was a fine lookin' woman, except for the fact that her nose had been broken more times than Tarzan fucked Jane, and she was always blabbing about something or other. Not now, though. Now she was naked, wrapped in Saran Wrap. She had a leather mask over her head with the mouth cut out and a rubber ball gag stuffed in her mouth. She wasn't talkin'. She dominated for money, but at home, Russ was God.
"Hey, Winslow. What's up? You want my old lady to suck your dick?"
"Wow, dude, how cool, thanks, but I'm kinda pressed for time." Nothing I wanted more than some head, especially after last night, but I didn't want anything to do with Russ's old lady. Guys like Crazy Eddie were dangerous because you never knew when their doorbells would start ringin' or who would answer the door. They would be perfectly fine one minute and then suddenly be fighting Viet Cong the next. Guys like Russ liked to hurt people. That made them all the more unpredictable. Deep inside Russ's head, way up under that fucked-up haircut of his, (seemed like sadists most always sported a fucked up 'do for some reason I couldn't figure) he was looking to hurt you. He was always searching for a reason to go off. To cause pain, damage and suffering. The dude already had seriously loose wires and I wasn't gonna shake the nuts and help him find a reason to hurt me.
"Yeah, what's up Winslow?"
I came on in and sat on the couch while Russ's old lady hung in the corner. Russ brought me a beer and went back to work on his home improvement project. A nice cold beer was just what I needed. It seemed to put everything back in perspective. Maybe I wasn't fucked after all. Maybe the world was right and just. Maybe God did love me, Peter Pan did live in Never Never Land and Superman was faster than a speeding bullet and maybe I, too, could win the lotto.
I sat there and sipped my beer while Russ wrapped more Saran Wrap on his old lady. When she looked just right, Russ started wrapping tape around her. Next, he screwed a couple of hooks up in the ceiling next to the hook his old lady was hanging from. He then tied ropes with ping pong paddles hanging from 'em on to the new hooks. They hung next to his old lady, about two feet off the floor. Every now and then, Russ would look over at me and giggle. I giggled back. Yes, life was truly grand.
"Russ, you got some smoke I can use for a while?"
"How much, how long?" Russ kept working.
"A couple of ounces for about three days." I knew whatever I said would be set in concrete. I was liable for it. I didn't want to make any mistakes with Russ. I'd seen him when he wasn't giggling. I still had bad dreams about that.
"Tell you what, have another beer and chill while I finish with baby doll and I'll see what's up." Russ acted like a goof sometimes but I knew better than be fooled by that shit. Russ knew exactly what was up. I went into the kitchen and got another beer, then back out and sat down on the couch. I didn't ask about the blood on the kitchen floor. I sat there, kept my mouth shut, drank beer, waited and watched while Russ gift-wrapped his "baby doll."
I could hear someone banging around inside and walking up to the door. The peephole opened. I saw this bloodshot eye scopin' me out. The door cracked open and all I could see was wild black hair. The air that came whooshing out smelled stale and rank like babies, rotten sweat socks and cigarettes.
"Hey Mike. It's me, Edds."
"Yeah, Mike. Edds."
"Oh yeah, Edds...hey man, come on in. Long time no see. What's up? How you doin', bro?"
"Damn, Mike, what the hell you been doing with your dumb ass?" I looked around as I walked in. I couldn't see shit. All the windows and blinds were closed tight as a drum. He even had tinfoil on the windows in the door. I could hear a kid cryin' in the back somewhere.
"Hey man, you know. The same old, same old. Workin', playin', fuckin'. What 'bout you?"
We walked into the living room and Mike sat on the couch, I pulled up into a big, overstuffed chair. It was dark as hell, but real cool. I guess Mike figured on locking out summer. Hardly any lights were on, and no sunlight got in at all. Period. I saw a skinny young girl with long, brown, dirty hair and dark eyes scurry by. She was holding a baby.
"Edds, that's Pauline, my wife, and my boy Noah."
"Hi Pauline, Noah." Pauline didn't even slow down. She whizzed down the hall with Noah's thin wail trailing behind her like some forgotten bill collector. I looked back over to Mike. He was dicking around with a little brown bottle. He pulled the cap off, poured some powder onto a piece of mirror on the table, and pulled an open razor blade out of his pocket.
I took a closer look at Mike. His fingers were cut to shit. His hair was dirty and his eyes looked strange, kinda glassy, or maybe even demented, or just lost. One thing was for sure, he was wide-fucking-awake.
"Edds, you ever try this?"
"Beats me. What is it?"
I took a closer look at the powder. Damn, it did look like little pieces of ground-up glass. Mike started chopping like some mad precision German machine, or maybe more like some gizmo out of a Clive Barker movie. The whole time he kept muttering about how it was expanding, and damned if it wasn't, too. Just a few shattered granules were turning into fat chunky lines. Mike pulled out a straw, took a big fat line in his nose, grimaced and gave me the straw. Well, when in Rome...I snorted up the line he had left for me.
"WHOOOOOOOOOOOOO...GOOOOOOOOOOODDAMN. What is this shit?" The inside of my nose was dying a quick, painful death. It felt like I had snorted Drano. Now I knew what that old rotten sweatsock smell was. My eyes were pouring tears like I was a heart-broke teenage girl. Then something happened. I could feel the top of my head start to crawl off and I could have cared less about my nose or eyes. Life was beautiful and I was too. I was interesting, charming and loved. Me and Mike had a big laugh, because we were the greatest guys in the world. Life was fun and easy. We spent the next six hours talking and talking and talking and talking and talking and being wonderful.