We got off the Lear jet around 6:45, walking down the steps towards the charter terminal. An attendant opened the cargo hold of the jet and grabbed our bags, scurrying to catch up to us. Inside were desks and offices for the major local charter services, courtesy phones, pay phones, a concierge.... But no lines of people, no security screening, no tourists, no bawling kids, no gougers selling six dollar hot dogs. Complimentary coffee and a couple vending machines were the only concessions that people might have to kill a few minutes in this place, not all damn day like at the commercial terminal. If you were chartering an airplane, it would be ready when you were, no delays.
Bags in hand, we stepped out front. Sitting in the white zone at the curb was a grey AMC Eagle wagon. Leaning against it was a rather narrow girl with a pixie cut and a sign in her hand saying "Becky Page." We approached, and the girl's eyes got huge. Her mouth fell open. She straightened up and warbled, "Ms. Page? Becky?"
"Live and in the flesh," smiled Bekka. "I will start to correct you on something, though. My real name is Bekka, Bekka Schneider. Becky Page is my stage name. Friends call me Bekka, I wish you to call me Bekka too."
The girl nodded vigorously and said, "Okay, I will try to adjust and remember. Um, I'm Mallory Ollafsen. This must be your husband."
I stuck my hand out and shook hers, confirming that I was indeed Lenny Schneider. Mallory smiled and nodded politely, then went back to gaping at Bekka in a stunned manner. She finally said, "I can't believe you're standing right here in front of me. Even as I was waiting out here, I was telling myself it wasn't really going to happen. It was someone's horrible practical joke, you'd change your mind, your plane would crash, something. And, uh, now I don't have a clue what I should say or do. Poop."
Bekka set her suitcase down and stepped directly up to Mallory. She said, "I know what to do. I want a hug. Hugging breaks down barriers, and we will no longer be complete strangers. You can be Mallory, and I can be Bekka." She held her arms out.
Mallory stepped into her arms with a look as though she'd spotted the last remaining lifeboat seat while leaving the Titanic. They hugged tightly; I watched the tension drain from Mallory's face as she did. Once again, a Becky Page hug seemed to have curative powers, soothing the psychological ills of the recipient. Breaking apart, Mallory stepped to me and gave me a more chaste, formal hug. She still smiled, though.
"Well! Welcome to Minneapolis, I suppose. So you said you were bringing dinner, and we need to go to my place to have it?"
I replied, "Precisely. We'll need to use your oven to reheat things, maybe twenty minutes at three hundred. We have carne asada burritos, quesadillas, Mexican rice, pickled vegetables, and plenty of green sauce. We imported what amounts to be San Diego's particular take on comfort food. I hope you enjoy."
"Remind me of what carne asada is again?" asked Mallory. "I went to a Taco John's to see if they had it, but they don't, and that's the only Mexican place I could think of."
Bekka smiled politely. She said, "I've heard of Taco John's, and no, you would not find carne asada there. From the descriptions I've heard, I would be loath to call Taco John's Mexican food at all. Besides, there is no standard of Mexican food, just like the regions of Italy have their own styles. NorCal and SoCal styles of Mexican cooking are different. Things are also different in Arizona, and New Mexico, and Texas, and Baja, and Chihuahua, and on and on. But to answer your question, carne asada is basically marinated steak. The marinade, when made correctly, could make a manhole cover tender. Also, the marinade helps protect against spoilage, it has lots of spices and beer. We picked up from one of our favorite places on the way to the airport, packed the food in ice, and now it all just needs to be reheated."
While Bekka spoke, Mallory and I got our stuff in the back of the car. Her place wasn't too far away from the airport, she lived in a rather funky neighborhood named Tangletown, south of downtown. Her apartment was a block off the long, thin Minnehaha Creek Park, which she claimed was the scene of what was technically crime, but was too surreal to make the place seem scary. Where the creek and trail passed under I-35W, someone painted on the wall in luminous paint, "MORRIS DAY EATS THE SOULS OF THE LIVING." For a while, an unknown assailant was attacking women on the trail. He would knock them down, steal one shoe, and run off. That's all. Maybe he had a thing for watching women hop. Another criminal, who Mallory said had appeared sporadically for years, would step out of the bushes with a knife, telling his victims he was robbing them.... Unless they could tell him a joke, right off the top of their heads. It didn't even have to be a good joke, the most pathetic knock-knock gag satisfied the man. On receipt of the joke, the assailant would thank the victim and run off into the trees. Mallory puzzled over whether these last two criminals were engaged in highly conceptual art projects, or whether the stoic, passive-aggressive behavior which seems ingrained into Minnesotans had caused their brains to rupture.
Mallory's car was a piece of shit. Years of snow and road salt had corroded away at the exterior sheet metal. The automatic transmission shifted with the subtlety of a fist to the head. The six-banger engine had the guts of a marshmallow Peep. And the entire dashboard was covered in deep wide cracks from being frozen and thawed out, over and over, during the car's life in Minnesota.
I asked Mallory about it. She said, "Yes, I know. However, the four wheel drive still works, and in Minnesota Eagles are ubiquitous. I once read an article about why Land Rovers are the vehicle of choice in Africa. The answer was that thanks to decades of British explorers and colonialists, the continent was covered in Land Rovers. If the Land Rover you were in broke, you could always find another one to cannibalize. Okay, a Toyota might be more dependable, but if something did break, you could be sidelined for weeks and weeks waiting for a part. So it is with Eagles in Minnesota, they're everywhere, and while they do break often, it's also easy to fix them again."
We parked and went into a building, a two-story, eight unit place with ornate tile work at the entrance. Mallory led us to her apartment, a rather hip-looking place on the second floor. One of Becky's posters stared at us from above the stereo. She had three functioning lava lamps sitting on top of the TV. In a large aquarium, a ball python slowly gyrated against its electric heat rock. And sitting front and center on the coffee table was a bottle of lube and a sex toy whose size would be best described as "challenging."
Mallory squeaked and grabbed the two items, running off into a different part of the apartment. She returned shortly, bright red and holding her hands over her face. Bekka and I both smiled and made "doesnt' matter to us" faces and gestures.
I said, "No need for embarrassment. Remember, our careers are based on the human urge to masturbate. I'd only be shocked if, I dunno, you'd driven wood screws into the damn thing." I held up the small Igloo cooler containing the food. "Relax, take me to your kitchen."
The foil-wrapped burritos and quesadillas went in the oven, the rice being transferred to an oven-safe bowl. Mallory examined one of the lidded plastic cups containing green sauce. "You might find it a bit spicy," I said. "Take a taste before pouring it on your food."
Mallory dipped a pinky into a cup, and tasted. Her eyes got big. "Oh.... Goodness. Yes, it is spicy. You enjoy it?"
Grinning, I opened up another cup and downed the whole thing like a shot of vodka. I explained, "I'm a San Diego native, I grew up with the stuff. To me, it adds a bit of kick and some good flavor. Now, a habanero sauce, that stuff is dangerous.
Bekka drifted into the kitchen and grabbed the bag of pickled veggies, jalapenos and carrots. These were also spicy, but I didn't give it much thought, figuring the presence of the jalapenos would provide warning. Her and I began snacking on the veggies. Mallory grabbed a carrot chip, put it in her mouth, started to chew.... Then turned bright red and gasped for air. She bolted to the fridge, removing a bottle of Grain Belt beer and chugging desperately. She stopped, still red, and said, "How.... What was done to that carrot?"
"They're pickled with the jalapenos," replied Bekka. "Yeah, the carrots can collect a bit of heat, depending on how long they've been sitting around. These aren't too bad, personally. I'm sorry, I'm like Lenny, I grew up on food like this. Don't worry, the burritos are very mild, so is the rice, and the quesadillas are just cheese and tortillas, no seasoning at all."
"Those green things are jalapenos, huh?" said Mallory. "I thought they were really big okra." She handed us each a bottle of Grain Belt.
Returning to the living room, Mallory apologized again for the presence of her tools of personal enjoyment. We assured her again it meant nothing to us, we honestly didn't care. Feeling candid, Mallory got a bit pink but said steadily, "I won't lie, I was watching one of your videos last night. I, uh, was looking forward to meeting you, I hope it doesn't bother you that I find you so, um, highly attractive."
Bekka responded, "People becoming aroused by looking at my videos is how I earn a living. I am truly flattered, and I thank you. I know there seems to be some idea that Becky Page is some sort of groundbreaking erotic thespian or whatever. I say bullshit, I'm a damn porn slut, and the whole idea behind what I do is that a person watches my videos while getting themselves off. Period. As proud as I am of my roles in Inana's features, my overarching purpose is to help viewers bust a nut."
"It's just.... Please don't call yourself a slut. You're like a sexual magician, you weave spells that convey both physical pleasure and strength of femininity. I think I told you before I don't really get off watching straight porn, but I will watch yours, because you captivate so deeply. It's like you show sex isn't just a biological drive, it's a form of magic, and you alone are capable of fully harnessing that magic, then demonstrating its beauty to the world. You're not a slut, you're an enchantress."
Bekka looked at Mallory with her eyes wide. Then she said, "Okay, I'm not really a slut. But I am not an enchantress, either. I'm just some chick from Southern California who performs sex acts for a living, and has a sufficient amount of acting talent to make my scenes look sincere, make them look like I really do care about the proceedings, I'm not just going through the motions of intercourse.
"The thing is, I've heard about how I captivate and entrance for a while, and I'm still mystified. Really, honestly, whatever it is they see in my sex scenes, I have no idea how it gets there. My only goal has been to not have my fuck scenes look hokey and flat, lifeless, like I'm just going through the motions. So much sex in porn is contrived garbage, with performers whose histrionics wouldn't fool a child. I want my scenes to have a feeling of honesty and passion.... But that's all. Whatever it is I do to enthrall people so, I don't know what it is. It's really scary, I will meet fans who literally idolize me, they think they see great wisdom in the roles I play, and I've never been able to figure out where the get that shit from. I'm not an icon, I'm an exhibitionist bitch from SoCal."
There was a knock on the door. Mallory got up to get it. We heard a man's and woman's voice from the doorway, then two people entered, guided by Mallory. The woman was in her twenties, but appeared to have rolled a post-menopausal old maid librarian for her clothes. She was accompanied by a guy who looked like he'd stepped out of 1968: sandals, flared jeans, a baggy sweater, and long, slightly stringy hair parted in the middle and hanging straight down. He had a tuft of a beard on the end of his chin.
"These are my neighbors, Kelly and Brian," said Mallory. "Brian, Kelly, this is Becky Pa--- Bekka Schneider,and her husband Lenny Schneider. They're visiting from San Diego."
The two new arrivals laser-locked on Bekka. Kelly said, "Are you Becky Page? If you aren't, you're the spitting image of her."
Bekka smiled and said, "Becky Page is my stage name, yes. Bekka is my real name."
Wide-eyed, Brian said, "This is fully amazing. Like, what are you doing here? How do you know Mallory?"
"Mallory is a fan, one who sent me one of the most intelligent pieces of fan mail I have ever received. She included her phone number, so I called her, then Lenny and I decided we'd take a few days break from the studio and visit Minneapolis. Very graciously, Mallory has agreed to show us around. Really, it comes down to the fact that between her letter and talking to her, Mallory intrigued me, and I decided I wanted to meet her face to face. I'm at a point in my life where I can give into whims, be impulsive. So here I am."
Brian gave me an unfocused glare and said, "And who's buddy here?"
"This is my husband, Lenny Schneider. He also produces and writes all the features I appear in,and is COO of Inana Productions, my studio. If you have a favorite role of mine from one of my features, Lenny is the man who created and helped refine that role. He is ultimately the reason why Becky Page is famous."
Light slowly dawned on Brian's face. He said, "Wait. Dude.... Buddy.... You're the guy who made the movie 'Succubus'?"
"More or less, yeah," I replied.
He freaked out. "Oh my God! Dude! That is the most awesome movie I've ever seen! 'Succubus' is the full-on dank! Jumpin' Henry J., I've probably watched it forty times and I still love it! Wow.... Buddy, you're a genius."
"Well.... Thanks. A lot of credit goes to my director, Steve Stillman, it's his cinematic vision that made the film so visually stunning. And I have incredibly talented performers to work with. You know how loony the pirate girls were? A lot of the little quirks and affects they had were created by the performers themselves, they helped mold their characters into individuals. I created the structure of the characters, and my girls added the details."
"Actually, I was wondering about one of the babes in that movie. Um, that one chick, Itsy, who always rides with Lila --- Becky. Dude, how old is she? Was it legal for her to be in that movie? She looks like she's about fourteen."
I laughed. "Yes, it was legal --- barely --- for her to appear. Feather's eighteenth birthday had been about two weeks previous to the start of production, she was just barely legal."
"Whoa," commented Brian, scratching his neck.
Bekka added her own laugh. "Yes, Feather had been agitating to become a performer for months, long before we could do anything with her. She would show up at the studio, trying to hang out,and we'd have to run her off. She set up her interviews for the three days following her birthday, then plunged straight into work, making loops. As you saw in 'Succubus,' she's a naughty little thing, but she's a skilled actress and a fantastic performer, so it all worked out okay. Just because of her size and build, she will always look young. Inana doesn't really cater to those with a Lolita hangup, but Feather does fill a bit of a niche."
"Good lord, barely eighteen, and her goal was to work in porn?" queried Kelly. "What's her deal?"
"Feather is very sexually aggressive, an exhibitionist, highly theatrical, and wanted to make the kind of money that women can earn in porn," I said. "Without going into detail, she had a very unhappy home life and knew she could move out of her house in short time with what she earned working for us. I daresay that having watched her work, she was probably scaring the shit out of her boyfriends in high school, she's so aggressive. She got her GED and left school just so she could work for us, which upset me when I learned, she was literally weeks shy of graduating. But she works hard, takes the job seriously, and is an amazing performer, so I can't complain too loud."
"The fact that she's an anal queen is almost frightening to me," added Bekka. "She's this tiny little thing, and takes a porn stud's dick up her ass with a smile. Like I said, she's a naughty little thing."
Kelly looked horrified. "Oh my God. You mean, girls in porn who look like they're taking it in the butt.... really are? I always thought it was a camera trick, or a special effect. How can they do that?"
"Not all of them do. I don't do anal, I don't like it. Some girls like it, or at least not mind. Feather claims to love it in the ass, so does Susan Black and Jackie Chance.... Although I've always wondered how a girl figures out they dig that to begin with. I'll have to ask a few of them."
"Isn't it, like, totally gross and messy, though?"
I interjected, "No. Anal in porn is clean, clean, clean. The girl won't eat for twelve hours before a scene. Also, we go through a lot of those Fleet disposable enemas around the studio. Not to put too fine a point on it, but when girls do anal in porn, their rectums and colons are as pure as the driven snow."
"And these girls don't mind having a guy stick his thingy up their butts," scowled Kelly.
"Like Bekka said, most of the girls who do anal swear they enjoy it. And they are lubed, we also go through a lot of Astroglide around Inana. But now Bekka has me curious, too: how does a girl find out she likes anal? What event happened in their lives where they'd make such a discovery?"
Brian said, "Okay, this is getting weird. Um, you two being here is really awesome, though. You smoke weed? It would be so killer to say I got blunted with Becky Page."
"We do," answered Bekka.
Reaching under his baggy sweater, Brian produced a cylinder bong, then pulled a baggie of.... something.... out of a pants pocket. There was some green, but also plenty of brown. He loaded the bowl of the bong and stretched over to hand it to Bekka, saying, "Ladies first."
With a cocked eyebrow, Bekka began firing the bowl. She blew out her hit with a frown, then aimed the frown directly at Brian. She patted my knee and said to Mallory, "Could I get the keys to your car? I need to get in my luggage for a moment."
Mallory produced her keys and Bekka trotted out. Both Brian and Kelly's faces were masks of confusion. I knew where Bekka was headed. From what Mallory had said about the dismal state of marijuana in Minnesota, I figured we'd bring a bit of our own, something Mallory could share with her friends that smoked. Angel had used the courier service to send me a half pound of his prime Sierra weed.
Bekka returned momentarily, cupping a fairly large bud in her hand. She held it up to Brian, saying, "Why don't we try a bit of what I brought along? I believe you'll find it more agreeable."
Brian took the bud, frowned at it, then smelled it. His face registered shock. He handed it to Kelly, who did the same things. Borrowing my Leatherman, Bekka used one of the 164 tools it contained to poke the rest of the load in the bong down into the water. Then she gestured at Kelly to hand her the bud. Once the bowl was loaded, she gave it to Brian, saying, "Hit slowly. This stuff expands."
With some rather theatrical coughing, Brian burned through the bowl. Handing back the bong to Bekka, he said, "I've tasted stuff like that maybe twice in my life. Where the hell did you get it? Although I dunno, I'm not really feeling it very strong."
Bekka snickered as she loaded the bowl. I grinned and said, "Just wait a few minutes. This stuff creeps up on you. Believe me, you'll be fine with one bowl."
Kelly accepted the bong next, and burned through her bowl with a bit more dignity than Brian. Bekka asked Brian, "So uh, where did what you have come from?"
"Probably either Wisconsin or Illinois. Farmers will drop some plants in among the corn and wheat, pick up a bit of extra money. It's not great, but it's available and it's cheap. Whoa, your stuff is coming on, you're right, it does sneak up on you. Wild."
Bekka loaded up again and went to pass it to Mallory, who waved it off. "I get paranoid when I drive after smoking grass, and I still have to get you to your hotel. One time I went through a yellow light that was just turning red after smoking. On the far side of the intersection, I pulled to the curb and sat there, waiting for the cop. There was no cop, but in my head I was so sure I'd blown it I already had the ticket filled out. I just sat there like a fool, waiting for an invisible cop to walk up to my car. Speaking of cars, are you going to rent one?"
Bekka was firing her bowl, so I answered. "We are. I called the hotel this morning and spoke with the concierge, told him I would be checking in tonight and needed to rent a car for four days. He asked what agency I preferred and what style of car. I told him Enterprise, a luxury model, and gave my name. He said the concierge desk would have the keys waiting for me by nine tomorrow morning. Piece of cake."
"It was that easy?" asked Mallory. "You just called a hotel you hadn't even checked into yet, told them to get you a car, and they did?"
"Well.... Yeah. First, I do have reservations, I'm not a complete stranger. Next, when you're paying what we are for our suite, management assumes you're used to getting very good service, and acts accordingly. And last, I spoke directly with the concierge, not the front desk or guest services. In a good hotel, the concierge is the real go-to guy, for anything you want. Need a car, or a limo service? The concierge has those numbers memorized. Dinner reservations? Name a type of cuisine, he'll get you in the door. An eight-ball of cocaine? Give him fifteen minutes, he'll have an ETA and a cost, it'll come directly to your room. Two Latvian amputee prostitutes, an iguana, and a trampoline? His only question will be if the iguana should be male or female. A good concierge can make anything happen. They are tipped accordingly, as you can guess. A good concierge can change the fate of nations."
"I'm guessing to find a concierge, you need to be staying somewhere besides a Day's Inn," quipped Mallory.
"Oh yeah. And mid-range places, like Marriott, will have employees with the title of concierge, but they're just shallow imitators. No, the concierge in a high-end hotel can accomplish anything with three phone calls and a smile, regardless of morality, legality, or basic human decency."
The timer for the food went off. I jumped up and got it out of the oven, Mallory grabbing plates and forks and napkins. Armed with fresh beers, we sat back down in the living room. Having already been burned twice that night by Mexican food, Mallory took a tentative bite of her burrito. Then a larger one. Then a huge one. "Oh my gosh, this is wonderful," she said. "What all is in here?"
Bekka answered, "It's pretty simple. Just carne asada strips, avocado, some pico de gallo sauce, and wrapped in a flour tortilla. Pico de gallo has onions, tomatoes, a bit of spice, a bit of vinegar, it's pretty basic. This is basically Southern California's version of soul food. Damn, we should have brought a six pack of Tecaté with us...."
Brian and Kelly didn't have anything to eat, we hadn't expected to feed more than the three of us, but they didn't care. At that moment, I could have set them on fire and their concern would only have been minimal. Angel's weed had claimed two more victims. The two of them simply sat there with pleasant expressions on their faces, vaguely observing the three of us eat. Kelly finally said to Bekka, "What are you doing?"
"Um.... Eating dinner?" answered Bekka.
"Oh," said Kelly, nodding wisely. She then sat and watched my wife chew like it was a water ballet.
Observing the condition of her neighbors, Mallory said, "Um, is there anything in that grass you have?"
"You mean is it laced?" queried Bekka. "No, not at all. It's just how they do things in California. I'm sure someone who really knows their marijuana could explain about this stuff's strain and phenotype and breeding, we've never cared. We just know it kicks ass, it took us two weeks to acclimate when we first started getting it. In fact, given the sorry state of affairs you made out Minneapolis's weed market to be, we brought out a half pound for you to share with friends. I didn't want to cause a scene by bringing in the whole bag earlier."
"Is that.... Food?" Brian ad-libbed.
I muttered to Mallory, "Tear him off a chunk of quesadilla, that'll keep him busy."
Twenty minutes later we had finished eating --- Mallory having declared our taco stand burritos an experience somewhere between a thrill ride and a ten minute orgasm --- and were elaborating to Mallory about just how difficult it was to perform for Inana. It wasn't because of what was requested of you, either. If a girl didn't do anal, fine, she didn't do anal. If a girl was uncomfortable with doing girl/girl scenes, she would not be put in them.... Although in nine years, Bekka said that had only happened twice, and long before I'd even shown up. We explained that not only did Inana girls (and guys) have to have genuine acting talent, they had to be able to seduce through a camera lens. Not even in our loops would anyone just write off what Inana did as run of the mill suck and fuck.
Brian and Kelly returned to a lower orbit, Kelly asking what the hell it was we'd made them smoke. Just very, very powerful marijuana, we explained. it caught us off-guard at first, too. "So it wasn't dusted or nothing, huh?" Brian asked suspiciously.
"Nope, just a very high-quality strain," said Bekka. "I take it you don't want the rest of this bud?"
"Oh.... Well, yeah, I'll take it. I'll just need to remember to take a single hit of that stuff, and leave it alone. Thank you." He and Kelly drifted out.
"We should probably get to our hotel now," commented Bekka, yawning into the back of her hand.
"What time shall I pick you up tomorrow?" asked Mallory.
"Uh.... We're gonna have a car in the morning, either a Lincoln or a Cadillac," I said. "I'm hoping for a Cadillac. I figured we'd just come down here and get you. Around ten, then breakfast?"
"That works. Let me get you to your hotel."
Fifteen minutes later we pulled up in front of the Raddison downtown. The doorman and the valets were not impressed with Mallory's car, and even less impressed by the sight of me pulling our stuff out of the back. We hugged Mallory goodnight and went in. The doorman, apparently a former headwaiter, hesitated in swinging the doors open for a fraction of a second, enough to throw us off stride. He gave me a pointed glare, so I crossed my eyes at him as I went past.
To the front desk. Schneider, suite, smoking, until Monday, reserved with my Visa card. The desk clerk was also unimpressed with me, but handed over keys while a bellboy got our stuff on a cart. We followed him to the elevators, going up to the fourteenth floor. While we rode, the bellboy asked, "You are Becky Page?"
"Not legally, but yes," replied Bekka.
"In Minneapolis for long? Are you here to work?"
"Just until Monday morning, and no, I'm not working. While we would have to check, I suspect the blue laws at both the local and state levels would prohibit me from getting any of my normal work done. We're just visiting someone, meeting a pen pal in person for the first time."
"Working on any new movies?" asked the bellboy.
"Not at the moment, no," answered Bekka. "We've already released four features this year, so we're just coasting for a little bit."
I continued, "There's a few drafts of scripts knocking around on my computer, but nothing has gelled yet."
The bellboy gave me a suspicious look, as though I'd dropped in through the roof. He said, "Sir, why are you on this elevator?"
I got mad. "What?"
"I just realized, you got on with us, but didn't choose a floor. Where are you going?"
"To my fucking room, you cretin. Where the hell do you think I'm headed?"
Speaking slowly and loudly, like she was talking to a dog, Bekka said, "This is my husband, the man I love, the one who brings joy into my life. You didn't notice us sharing the counter at the front desk?"
"Um...." was the reply.
I said, "Okay, first the doorman, then the desk clerk, now you. Sorry I'm not about to impress Mr. Blackwell with my fashion sense, but what the fuck? If I can walk into the Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco and be treated with respect, why can't I get it here?"
The bellboy was studying a random panel of the elevator wall. Bekka stepped next to him and said, "Answer my husband."
Still staring at the wall, the bellboy said, "You look like a crusty. Sir."
"A what?" asked Bekka.
I knew what he was talking about. Crustys were a sub tribe of punk and hardcore, they tried to emulate European squatters by taking over abandoned buildings and making half-assed attempts at turning them into living space, a difficult task when half your crew don't know which end of a hammer to hold. Crustys tended to latch onto any left-leaning or "progressive" political activist group, like the Animal Liberation Front or the Revolutionary Communist Party, whoever would give them an excuse to vandalize mindlessly and pretend it was for a cause. (Demonstrating just how clueless they were, crustys thought communism and anarchism could be cohesive forms of organization, and not the antithesis of each other.) A few tried to join Queer Nation, but were stymied by their own heterosexuality. Because of supposed interests in animal rights, leather jackets and boots were rejected in favor of denims and cloth slip-ons. Collectively, crustys seemed to enjoy passing the time by drinking themselves into a literal paralytic state. And if I remembered correctly, Minneapolis was lousy with these chowder-heads. Minneapolis fanzine Profane Existence had started out as a witty little publication, and devolved into a mouthpiece for the crusty "anarchist" mindset. Their claims to be anarchists always cracked me up, as anarchism demands action and self-sufficiency. Crustys considered spare-changing all day and eating at the nearest soup kitchen heights of dynamic endeavor. Lazy, foul-smelling, drunk, filthy, obnoxious, loud, entitled, and in my fucking way. That sums up crustys to me.
The elevator stopped at fourteen. I stepped forward and blocked the door, one hand on the luggage cart. I waited until the doors closed again, and reached over to press the button for twenty-six, the top floor. Stepping closer to the now-nervous bellboy, I said, "Tell me, do I smell?"
"Am I stumbling drunk?"
"You see a fuckin' hammer and sickle anywhere on my jacket?"
"So why do you think I'm a goddamn crusty? Because I'm wearing a denim?"
No response, the bellboy seemed to be staring at the luggage cart as if to select which bag or suitcase would make the best weapon.
Bekka said, "You seem to have offended my husband. I don't understand what the insult was, but I know my husband is not a man given to temper, unless is is provoked. In other news, I am full-blooded Sicilian, and we place a high value on honor. You have challenged Lenny's honor, and as his wife, that is good as challenging mine. I suggest you choose your words very quickly and very wisely. Otherwise, you will be dead in seventy-two hours, and your body will never be recovered. You have thirty seconds to speak."
And the bellboy did something that took a lot of balls. He looked directly at Bekka and said, "Ms. Page, I sincerely apologize for insulting your husband. But to defend myself, I would need you to understand how I insulted him. I initially believed he was part of a, uh, social subset prevalent in the area known as crustys. Your husband knows what a crusty is, and took offense at being called one. He was right to be offended, on a closer look I realized I was wrong, and I am truly sorry for my mistake...."
"You gotta learn to make a complete assessment of someone before pigeonholing them, Spanky," I said. "I mean, come on, not only can no crusty afford Doc Martens, they'd never wear them because they're leather. And I'm wearing a damn John Coltrane t-shirt. None of them gutter punks even know who he is. The devil is in the details."
"So just what the hell is a crusty?" asked Bekka.
The bellboy and I explained. The bellboy had a lot of incorrect information. For instance, he believed they were an organized gang of homeless youth. Bullshit, crustys couldn't organize a rock fight if they were standing in a quarry. He also believed they were heroin addicts. Maybe a couple, but a habit requires money, and crustys were too lazy even for petty crime, to help pay for a habit. No, they drank whatever was dirt cheap, and would drink until they were comatose. In observing loaded crustys staggering and flailing down the street, the bellboy had confused alcohol poisoning with heroin abuse.
When we reached the twenty-sixth floor, I pulled the luggage cart out and gestured them into the elevator alcove to talk. That floor contained a snooty restaurant and an even snootier bar, and I was sure the bellboy was overjoyed to be someplace with other human beings besides us. I elaborated on the crusty ethos of obnoxious behavior, cultivated social alienation, and entitlement: a crusty would refuse an offer of work in exchange for pay, as that meant someone was their "master." Dude, employment is slavery. Totally. While individually crustys probably all were coming from fucked up situations like abusive parents, they were all still white and of middle class stock, and if they'd drop their "victim of the system" bullshit they wouldn't live as miserably as they did. I filled in the bellboy on who I was, what I did, and my current position in life, plus how much work had gone into getting where I was. To me, suggesting I had anything in common with a crusty was like saying Lyndon LaRouche was just a bit misguided: there was no evidence to support the hypothesis.
"Fuck the crustys if they're all wearing metal-spiked denims. Hey, maybe they stole the look from me. I couldn't say, I don't believe they exist at all around San Diego. There's probably a few in LA, there's some in San Francisco and Berkeley, but nobody gives a shit about them. So why are they such a big deal in Minneapolis?"
The bellboy replied, "We got plenty in this town, dozens and dozens. They all seem to hang out in big clusters, like fifteen people grouped together, and they'll roam everywhere. Here in downtown, a mob of them will land on a busy street, slouch down against the wall of a building, and stay there all damn day begging for money. Turn them down, you've got some little asshole yelling that you're a capitalist motherfucker and he hopes you die. The sort of crap that makes you want to have a private talk with the guy, you know? But there's fifteen of them and one of you, so you gotta let it go. I have no idea why there are so many in Minneapolis. If the crustys are all essentially homeless, this is a really bad town to be in during the winter. Yeah, beats me."
After apologizing to me several more times, Bekka and I decided to let it drop. We all rode back to the fourteenth floor in silence. In our suite, the bellboy turned on some lights, pointed out the location of the mini fridge, and wished us goodnight. I gave him an utterly average tip. After he left, I suggested Bekka dig into the hidey-holes of her suitcase, so we could take a few hits off the glass pipe and then visit the hotel bar.
Bekka looked at her watch and said, "Dammit, that won't work. They close in half an hour, Minnesota liquor laws suck."
Glancing at my own watch, I averred, "No, you're thinking of the hours for liquor stores to be open, they all shut down at ten. Bars can stay open until two. I knew Minnesota had some jive-ass liquor laws, so I looked them up. Mind you, if we want a bottle or a six-pack on Sunday, we'll have to drive to Wisconsin to get them."
We each took three hits, just a little pick-me-up, and headed out the door for the rooftop bar.