No Good for Coffee

Mustang Sally's Club 64 East

I'm immediately greeted in the most extroverted way by a strung-out coquette. Her plastic mouth laughs so close to my face that her squinty eyes go vertical.

There's no way out. There'll be no looking around for me; conversation takes on the rosy feel of minimum-security imprisonment. Can she have some coffee too? Sure, have some terrible coffee.

She reminds me of a woman I met at the King's Motel on Valencia Street in San Francisco. She'd stand in her doorway draped in a threadbare bathrobe and ask, "Got a cigarette for me today, Blondie?" No one at the King's Motel was ever awake before noon. Those were days carved out of futility and horror.

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Minutes pass without incident. Talk of prison, her ex-boyfriend, growing up with chickens. Finally she realizes I'm a dud. "Listen," she says. "Gimme twenty bucks." Practically demands it. She just needs the twenty bucks. I don't have twenty bucks. She'll take whatever I have. She'll take fifteen bucks.

"Let's see what I have here," I mumble, fingering through my wallet. "I have five dollars. How about I give you three?"

Look of disgust. Smoke from the accident still rising off her carcass. She takes the three bucks. I can feel her disappointment. We're both swimming in it.