by robert e. beer
In 1972, or thereabouts, I took my longhaired, pseudo-psycho weirdness and moved to Hutchinson, Kansas after I got laid off from the Guerdon Trailer factory in nearby Newton.
My brother Jim was living there and said I could get a job at the construction site he worked at, where they were building the new bank downtown. I moved into a wino flophouse, The Rosemont; Jim had a cheap room there also.
The joint was run by Ruby, a sexually frustrated, dried up old hide who made it her business to know everyone else’s. She was a prune-faced, faded pink threadworn-robe-wearing closet-wino herself, with a wrinkled nose, curler-infested, patchy hair and well-earned sour apple constitution. She made the Wicked Witch of the West look downright hospitable. But no one really cared, as long as they could go to their room and drink the cheap wine until they either puked or passed out; all was well in Ruby’s world. The only thing she wouldn¹t approve of was visitors, especially those of the opposite sex.
At my new job, I was what was euphemistically referred to as a “construction laborer,” which meant I swept up the newly built floors’ attendant sawdust; placed it in great piles; separated usable pieces of lumber from schwag; and piled up a small mountain of the short pieces. Later in the afternoon, I was supposed to break down the piles of sawdust and short pieces of lumber, move them across the great room, or even outside on the sidewalk. The next morning, I would repeat the “labor.” This was my first, and hopefully last union job, the privilege for which I had to cough up more than a few bucks from each weekly paycheck to pay the union bosses. But it was steady work and I needed the money.
With that need satisfied, I yearned to scratch another itch. I had been on a long dry spell, sexually speaking, and had long given up the quest. Countless rejections had taken their toll on my self-esteem and I found myself making nightly love to a bottle. But one night, as I entered the Suds and Dolls bar in a dreary part of the city, I spotted this thin blonde sitting on a barstool, apparently alone. I don’t know why I did it, but I just excused myself and squeezed in between her and the cocktail waitress station. I ordered myself a Bush bottle and then casually looked her way. I had only really wanted to get a better look at a pretty face, expecting nothing more than either being cooly ignored or invited to look elsewhere.
But when I looked over, I was met with a beautiful smile, wide-open blue eyes and a come hither look. I checked the mirror behind the bar because I have too many times fallen for that lowly trick, only to discover the real object of primal affection standing behind me. I must have appeared shocked, as she said in a husky voice, “Well hello there;” but I mustered up the courage to mutter some inane comeback. And for the first, and probably only time in my miserable life, I left a full bottle of beer on the counter and walked arm in arm with my newfound fantasy. I didn’t need to pinch myself to see if this were but a lurid dream; she was doing the pinching and I swelled with pride and lust.
She said she wanted to get high; I told her I had a half-gram of some primo hash back at The Rosemont. She squeezed my inner thigh as I cranked over the engine. At my room, we had only taken a few tokes when she came on like a Penthouse letter, animal-like in her heated desire. We grunted like pigs in heat for a few minutes, then she suggested I spend the night at her house. As we opened the door to leave, a red-faced Ruby blocked our path.
“No girls,” she screamed. “Get her out and don’t come back.”
I was puffed up with testosterone juice and felt invincible. “Screw you, you old hag,” I spat. I instantly regretted my outburst, trying to pull back the words; but like a bullet carelessly fired from a gun, they had already penetrated the target.
“You’re outta here, mister.” Ruby wheezed. “By morning I want all of your things packed and you gone.” She wheeled and stomped down the hallway to her shabby apartment, her well-worn blue slippers welling up dust.
After a sleepless night of unbridled lust and a breakfast of steak and eggs, Deanna (we didn’t exchange names until the cold light of dawn, this was the early 70s, after all) invited me back for an encore. “You bet,” I said, leaving for work. But when I got back to The Rosemont, I found out Ruby was a woman of her word. She had three, count ‘em, three locks screwed into the outside of my door. I went, hat in hand, to her apartment but she just hissed at me to get the hell out.
“But I need to change clothes and go to work,” I whined.
“You should have thought of that when you brought that hussy in here last night.”
I was stunned beyond belief: I was locked out and, did I hear her right—hussy?
I spent the better part of the morning hunting down the rightful owner of the flophouse. After a bit of research, I found out that an insurance agent owned the building. I went to his office and told him my story, begging his and Ruby’s forgiveness. He was a thin, kindly-looking old gent with a pencil-thin mustache and a crisp pin-stripe suit. Both were shiny with use.
After I spilled out my confession of contrition, I waited for his answer. It came like a stab in my heart.
“Well,” he said, studying me carefully, seeing only a longhaired, wild hippie sitting before him.
“If you’re not good enough to live there, you’re just not good enough to live there. Move.” Wait a minute, I thought, not good enough to live in a flophouse full of reeking winos? How far had I slid down the slickpole of life?
At noon I returned to The Rosemont and, under the steely glaze of Ruby, packed up what little belongings I had in my world and carried them out to my van. I met my brother in his room as he was eating a sandwich for lunch. I told him of my misfortune and rhetorically asked what else can go wrong?
“A lot,” Jim said, as he tossed me an envelope. “It’s your paycheck, they fired you for not showing up this morning.”
I drove back to the trailer court that Deanna lived in, but since I have the sense of direction of a beached whale, I could not for the life of me find it. I spent several days on the hunt with no luck. Even the Suds and Dolls workers hadn’t seen her.
Later, after spending a week couch surfing, I headed down the open road.
Yellowstone, I noted to myself. I haven’t been there in years.
(Bob Beer is a journalist, editor, writer and songwriter living in Telluride, so he doesn’t appear to be too out of whack when compared to other residents. He apparently got a bit twisted in the 60s and 70s and carries a few social scars to this day).