Jane's high school graduation was on a Friday. Her parents arrived Thursday. They flew into Lindbergh Field, rode the courtesy van to pick up the rental car we'd reserved in their name, drove up to La Jolla Village and checked into the Marriott (room billed to L. and B. Schneider), then headed for our place.
We had a general idea when they'd be there, so I'd left Inana a bit early. Jane was home from school, lounging around naked like always. I walked in, saw her, and said, "Remember what we were discussing a couple weeks ago? I think some mixed signals may be sent if you're undressed when your parents get here."
Jane stared at me, then the shock of realization swept across her face. She said, "You're totally right, Lenny. I'll be back in a minute." She returned in jeans and a Circle Jerks t-shirt.
Around a quarter of four, the doorbell rang. Bekka went down to the door, returning moments later with a couple in their mid-forties behind her. Mom, who I also knew as Joan, was Jane's height, and had Jane's build earlier in life. Now she was far more padded. Dad, whose name I didn't know, was about an inch under me, slope-shouldered, a gut, and a Colonel Blake fishing hat covering his bald spot. Better than a comb-over, at least. The two looked around like they'd wandered into a fun house by mistake.
I stood to shake hands, Jane standing up as well. They introduced themselves with the same nervous, formal smiles usually reserved for meeting either one's old priest or new parole officer. Dad turned out to be named Newt. His handshake was disturbingly damp, and he rattled my hand like he was shaking down a thermometer. Jane stepped forward and got formal, loose hugs from them both. I invited them to sit, and offered drinks. Both accepted Johnnie Walker over ice. Joan's was gone before I had a chance to sit back down.
"So.... Jane.... You're looking well," said Joan.
"Thanks," Jane replied. "Lots of sun, lots of swimming, and Mexican soul food is a basic staple for me now.." In response to her parents' blank looks, she said, "I eat taqueria food at least three times a week. A good carne asada burrito can mend bones and cure cancer."
"You're thinking of menudo," I told her. "Carne asada just improves the blood flow and gives you better karma."
"And I'd love to try menudo some day," Jane smiled at me. "The problem is, I know what it's made with. There goes that idea."
"The last time you called, you said you were making the honor roll again," Newt commented.
"Yep. Every semester here, I've made honor roll. I could have taken the last two weeks of school off and probably still made it."
Newt continued, "We've been worried about your schooling, what with you being, uh, where you are."
Jane gave her father a genuinely confused look. "Um.... You've lost me, Dad. Being where I am...?"
"You know.... Being in a public school in California," Newt said with a prodding look.
Jane was still confused, as were Bekka and I. "Uh, yeah? Why would I have trouble with school in California that I wouldn't in Florida?"
With a sharper prodding look, Newt said, "Well, California schools tend to have a lot of problems. Lotsa troublemakers and drugs and things. Gangs, and fights."
Bekka and I gave each other looks. With her I'm-humoring-idiots smile, she said, "Mr. Osborne, this is North County San Diego. an upper middle class area. We are not in Whittier, East Oakland, or Stockton...."
"Or Modesto," I said quietly.
"Carlsbad High is a safe place," Bekka continued. "We're lacking in gang-bangers and knuckleheads. Jane did get in one fight last year, with some football player who had a bad attitude. She defended her honor. Beyond that, she has had a very quiet high school career."Newt frowned at Jane and exclaimed, "Why did you pick a fight with a football player?"
"He picked one with me, Dad," Jane responded. "I'd never seen the bastard before. I was walking down the hall, and he grabbed my ass. I turned around and asked him what his problem was. He told me that girls who ride putts are all whores, and he'd pay me to.... Um.... Anyway, he tried to grab for my chest, so I punched him in the face. He punched me back, and I went after his face with my nails and clawed him up, he was on the ground. Then a couple teachers grabbed me and pulled me off of him. Two days of detention. But he got the same, though, for starting shit to begin with."
Newt paused briefly, then scowled, "Aw, he was just teasing you...."
I gave Newt my wolf's grin and asserted, "You know, sir, I"m pretty sure that California and Florida have a lot of common basic social rules. Like, I'm willing to bet if I went to Gainesville and grabbed some woman's ass I'd never met before, she would have a very negative reaction. Especially if I also asserted she was a prostitute. If I'm wrong, I'd love you to correct me."
Another pause, then, "Well, you know, sometimes football player gotta feel their oats, you know?"
"I don't know, sir. They can feel each other's oats, in the locker room, where they'll have some privacy."
"And the coach will get it all on video," smirked Bekka. "He'll make a mint."
I responded, "Nah. There's not much of a market for gay porn starring the borderline retarded, no matter how fit they are."
Joan presumably saw the subject being dragged out way too long, so she quickly said, "So, Jane, you ride a motorcycle now?"
"Uh, yeah," Jane answered. "I've mentioned the Sportster to you a few times, in letters." There was no response. Jane pressed, "You were reading my letters, right?"
"I'd skim them," Joan said in a clipped voice.
:"All three of us ride," said Bekka. "Jane has a nearly new Sportster, stock. Lenny and I also ride Sportsters, but they're both a few years old and customized. There's plenty of places to go cruising on weekends, just pick your terrain and head out."
Joan gave Jane a judgmental look and stated, "Jane, you know what people say about women who ride motorcycles."
"They find parking a lot easier?" I suggested.
Her expression switching from judgmental to annoyed, Joan snipped, "No. If people see Jane riding a motorcycle, they will think she is, uh, interested in other women."
Her meaning being clear, Jane said, "And in my case, Mom, they're about fifty percent right."
"Mom, I'm bisexual. I like boys, but I also like girls. Maybe I should paint my putt a nice frilly pink, and put lace on the seat. That would make my interests more clear."
"And just when did this happen?" Joan demanded.
"When I was thirteen," Jane stated cheerfully. "I realized that I thought boys were cute, but I thought girls were cute, too. And before you say something ignorant, no, I wasn't molested, abused, seduced, or subject to lesbian mind-control rays from space. It's just how I felt, and how I still feel. It's part of who I am, no big deal."
Joan had shifted into full-on scowl. "Do you share this with the world at large? Aren't you concerned for your reputation, how others will feel about you?"
Bekka stepped in with, "In any urban area of California, the reaction from almost anyone else will be little more than thinking, 'Oh. Okay.' One's sexual preferences are not a cause for judgment by others, so long as you're not involved with children or animals. I'm guessing by your statement that o
ther residents of Gainesville would be shocked and offended by the presence of a lesbian, or even a part-time lesbian. Isn't Gainesville a college town? Are the minds of the residents really that closed? Surely there must be a gay scene, however small."
Gainesville is a college town," murmured Jane. "The the thing is, it's all about football. The jocks rule in Gainesville, it's not like Berkeley at all." She paused, then chirped at her father, "So Dad, how many people were injured at the big bonfire this last year? Did the wood pyramid collapse, or was it just drunks stumbling into the flames?"
"Don't you sass," said Newt. Then he deflated a little and said, "Just a few. People who got too close, weren't paying attention."
"Yes, the drunks," said Jane. "Maybe nest year they can hand out Roman candles, and hand out free Everclear. They'll have an evening no one will ever forget.... Although the memories will be a bit blurry."
Before Newt could tell his daughter to not sass again, I asked, "Do you work for the college, sir?"
"I do," Newt responded. "Part-time assistant coach, and faculty for the athletics department. I help keep the Gators a lean fighting machine!"
"What other sports does the school have?"
This question blew Newt out of the water, it seemed. "Uh.... What do you mean?"
I pressed, "If there's an athletics department, that would imply there are multiple sports activities at FSU. Who else is active?"
"Uh.... Okay, there's track. Ah, and basketball. Got some of them Euro-trash wannabe types that play soccer. Uh.... swimming, I guess." He stopped, and an amused look came up. "Aw,. hell! You know who was petitioning the department for inclusion? Them skateboard kids! Wanted the college to build them one of those big ramps. We put the nix on that idea, real quick."
Newt stared, and replied, "Hell, that 's not a sport. What kind of a sport is riding a skateboard?"
"One that requires incredible dexterity, agility, strength, balance, and a willingness to take risks. Why is football considered a sport?"
"What sorta question is that? It's a team sport! What do you mean?"
I gave an innocent smile and said, "Well, it just seems to me that abusing steroids, standing in a ling with a bunch of other guys, then running head-first into another group of guys doing the same thing is a bit silly. No real panache. A vague sense of machismo, some group bonding, the inevitability of being crippled.... Seems like a really empty endeavor to me. I always figured the people who like watching football are the same ones who watch auto racing hoping for a wreck/"
Newt was now pursing his lips and jutting his eyebrows downwards. "Son, just where are you from?" he asked.
"I'm a San Diego native," I answered. "Born and raised."
"Don't they have high school football where you grew up?"
"Yeah, they did. The team at my high school sucked shit all three years I was there. I mean, really? If I'm gonna watch sports on TV, I'd rather watch golf. Then I can sit there and admire all those gorgeous lawns."
Once again, Joan jumped in to deflect the current line of conversation. "So Jane, you've been accepted at Berkeley University. That's very nice.... I suppose it's too late for you to transfer somewhere else."
Jane's expression showed she was looking forward to some nice, cathartic sarcasm. "Where did you have in mind, Mom?"
"Well, FSU, of course. It's your home school."
"Sorry, Mom, it is far, far too late for me to go to FSU. There is no way I will ever be able to enroll at FSU, for any reason.... Although, I can't think of any reason to ever enroll at FSU. No, I'll be attending a college --- it's name is the University of California at Berkeley, or just UCB --- with an incredible scholastic pedigree and very high standards. At Berkeley my intellect will be sharpened, and strengthened. And as I've mentioned, I've been accepted into the Haas School of Business. If I was a medical student, it would be like acceptance at Johns Hopkins. Getting my diploma from UC Berkeley will show to people I am educated, I am intelligent, and I work hard." She aimed a pointed glare at her father and said, "Getting a diploma from FSU will show I delayed entering adulthood for an extra four years. And I can really hold my beer."
I snickered, "Gosh Jane, you make FSU sound like it's a bit light on academic excellence."
With an extremely sharp grin pointed at her dad, Jane informed me, "Florida State University is the sort of institute of higher learning where, if the elevator breaks down in the library, there will be a delay of three weeks before it is fixed. However, it the water heater of the spa in the football locker room stops working, it will be repaired within two hours, certainly before practice is over. The science labs have thirty year old equipment, but the gridiron gets new sod every spring. And if you enjoy examples of creative writing, you'll find nothing more creative than the massive adjustments made to football players' grades, so they can make their minimum GPA to stay on the team."
Newt was pouting at his daughter like an angry four year old. "You can't say that," he graveled.
"Well.... I already have. And if you're questioning my veracity, I'll be happy to find the find the articles I read that information in, and make you copies." Jane sighed. "Really Dad, college football is an expense, a waste of time, a distraction, and succor for every alumni whose lives are currently so empty that they have nothing else to attach their egos to. They should just turn the damn teams professional, and stop trying to kid people."
"College football raises a lot of damn money for their schools!" New declared.
"Which is all poured back into the football team," Jane responded. "I defy you to point to any striking improvement or modification at FSU and say, 'Football paid for that.'"
"I can!" her dad shouted. "The new scoreboard!"
Jane stared at me and said, "Now you know what you bought with the cost of the airline tickets and room. Feeling buyer's remorse yet?"
"The hell sport should people be watching?" Jane's father blathered on. "Basketball? You wanna watch a bunch of niggers running back and forth?"
I heard both Jane and Bekka gulp slightly. A glance showed they were both looking over at me with wide eyes. I said in a calm voice, "Excuse me, sir, what did you just say?"
"I was asking if, instead of football, we should just watch a bunch of niggers run back and forth all night."
"Yeah. That's what I thought you said." I stood up and looked down at Newt. "I am going to say this slowly and simply, in the hopes is is absorbed into your dumb fucking inbred cracker mind. You will not drop another N-bomb while you are under my roof. If you do, your wife will be transporting you home in a series of jars. Am I clear enough, or should I have put it to the tune of a Charlie Daniels Band song?"
He looked up at me, his face battling between annoyance, confusion, and fear. Joan quickly leaned over and began whispering in his ear. He turned his head and shot a look of amazement, then said, "Oh." Joan returned to her position. Newt's expression lost the confusion. He still didn't say anything.
Jane clapped her hands and said, "Well! Why don't we get some dinner? Mom, Dad, I'm sure you're both eager to return to your room. You've had a long day."
We rode up to Evelyn's in relative silence. Mostly it was Jane trying to explain to her mom what Haas School of Business was, and why being admitted was such a big deal. Her mom either had a hard time processing new information, or was being willfully obstinate. Jane kept being forced to break down her explanations into simpler and simpler steps. Joan asked, "So who is Walter Haas?"
"Um, the founder of the school, I guess," Jane answered. "I haven't asked."
"Will he be one of your teachers?"
I nearly ruptured a lung trying to keep the laughter in. Jane patiently explained that people who have their names on the sides of university buildings are usually long dead.
"So what will they be teaching you there?" Joan asked.
Jane stared at the floor, shook her head, and said, "Business."
"What will they teach you about it?"
:"Well.... What all does that entail?"
Drawing in air, Jane said, "All right. Let me put it this way. The Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley could take a Pakistani brick-maker with the literacy of an emu, and within four years he will be capable of sitting on the board of directors of any Fortune 500 company you feel like naming."
"What's the Fortune 500?"
Jane stared out the window for a while, then said, "So, how are the neighbors doing? I know the Dunns wanted to buy a new motor home..."
At Evelyn's, we had to wait a few minutes to be seated, not enough time to drop into the bar. While slouching around in the foyer, who should enter but Rita, in the company of a hipster-looking dude. Apparently one of the local piercing studios had been running a "Buy One, Get Seven Free" offer, judging by the impressive amount of surgical steel in his face. Not the sort of guy I'd imagine Rita hooking up with, but who am I to judge.
Inana's favorite Mexican minuscule bombshell saw me and launched herself at my chest for a hug. "Lenny, Lenny!" she crowed. "¿Cómo estás, cariño?"
"Bastante bien," I answered. "What brings you all the way up here for dinner? Who's your friend?"
"This is Oliver. He DJs at Cerebrum downtown. He's a sweetie, linda y sexy."
"You're going to Cerebrum now?" asked Bekka. "Your tastes are definitely changing."
Oliver realized that Becky Page was, like, standing right there, but he kept his cool and simply put out a hand to shake. "Good evening, Ms. Page."
Rita tapped Bekka and said, "Oh, novia, you hear? The club Inana used in Good Girl/Bad Girl, the Lead Pilot Club, it may go away. No one see the owner for almost two weeks now, you know him? El hombre, parece que ha muerto, he's not been around, no one knows what happen. Him and su coche, both gone. The DJ and bar manager, they say they keep it open, they keep the bills paid, but.... ¿Quién sabe?"
Newt had been vaguely interested in these new arrivals, now he was thoroughly absorbed. He said to Rita, "Excuse me, are you an alien?"
Rita took a second to process Newt's question and its connotation, then affix a patronizing smile and her honey-dripping voice. She said, "No, I not an alien! I get here in Oliver's Mazda, not in flying saucer."
Sensitivity to condescension was not a strong point of Newt's. He pressed on. "You're talking in Mexican, what for? Why ain't you talking in English?"
Jane stepped right in her father's face. In a very loud and clear voice, she said, "Dad, shut the fuck up, now."
I chucked in my own two cents. "Funny thing about border towns, Mr. Osborne. People on both sides of the border pick up the languages from the other side. It's tradition, not treason."
"Surely hearing Spanish being spoken in a town named San Diego can't be too confusing for you," purred Bekka.
Newt looked around at all of us and saw a whole lot of nonplussed people. He changed targets, but doubled down. Looking at Oliver, Newt said,"Why did you do that to your face?"
Oliver struck me as someone who would have little patience with being hectored. He replied, "Well, obviously, to annoy strangers in the lobbies of restaurants. Why else? Oh, by the way.... Nice hat." Everyone except the elder Osbornes began loudly snickering.
Rita leaned against me and quietly said, "¿Quién es este idiota?"
"Jane's dad, from Florida. He's been a real fucking joy since he got to our place."
Newt had the awareness to realize when he was being shut down. He turned and scowled at the wall. Moments later, the hostess told us our table was ready, please come this way. We were seated and ordered drinks. We sat in brief silence, which was interrupted by Newt. He said, "I tell ya, I can see why California is going to hell."
"Dad, shut up," hissed Jane.
Bekka said with her sucrose smile, "Please, Mr. Osborne, enlighten me. I would love to hear from a man who has been here four hours why my home state is going to hell, and how."
"Well, my God, you got Mexicans running around everywhere, that's a big problem. And you got crazy freaks like that trash in the lobby, running around looking like that. What the hell is the point? What is the damn point? And he wants to date some alien girl? Not to mention the state is run by liberals...."
I couldn't help but laugh at this last comment. "Really? You think governor Pete Wilson is a liberal? So is Ronald Reagan a socialist?"
"I don't give California two years to live," Newt said with finality. "Between the Mexicans and the crime and the gangs and the homos, California will be a wasteland."
In a voice that was both soothing and sarcastic, Bekka said, "Well! I congratulate you, Newt, on your fortitude. The degree of bravery it must have taken just to get off the plane when you landed here is laudable. And now, at this point, you've actually directly spoken to a Mexican and survived the experience. You've driven on a freeway in Southern California, but managed to avoid being shot or crushed by other motorists. The men hitting the beach on D-Day have nothing on you when it comes to backbone and fortitude."
I was more to the point. "Okay, so what the fuck is your problem with Mexicans? I know Florida has Puerto Ricans, and Cubans. Is there a large Mexican population I'm unaware of, and are they somehow a menace? Enlighten me."
"All the Cubans and Puerto Ricans are down in Miami," Newt said proudly. We don't have any troubles with 'em in Gainesville."
"What trouble would you have with them if they were in Gainesville?"
"Oh.... You know. Drugs. Cars getting stolen. Houses broken into. Gangs. What you'd expect."
"And I guess the same problems will exist anywhere there's Mexicans," I posited.
"Yes!" Newt said with pride.
"Gosh, Newt, it's quite a life you've led."
"What do you mean?"
I expanded, "Well, most people base their fears and prejudices on personal experience. Apparently, in your lifetime, Latinos have burglarized your house, stolen your car, made you develop a drug habit, and forced you to join a gang. That's the only sensible rationale I can come up with for your biases." I turned to Jane and asked, "So were you witness to any of this calamity in your dad's life?"
"No," Jane answered. "None of that probably happened. I think my dad believes brown people are icky."
"I certainly hope he doesn't feel that way. Being married to a Mediterranean girl, I've have to take issue with him. And having spent my life in San Diego, his paranoia of Mexicans must be the result of a fever dream that never quite ended."
"Maybe his father's village was attacked by Puerto Ricans," suggested Bekka.
"A Mexican stole his girlfriend in junior high," Jane put in.
"All you have to do is watch the news," Newt grumbled. "They're pouring over the borders.... Over your border, right here! They're all broke, they've got nothing...."
"Which is why they want in the U.S. so bad," I pointed out. "They want to work. Spending all day picking crops in a field for shit pay will still be a better life than what they had. They immigrate because they want better lives, and the legal technicalities don't matter much when you're as hungry as they are."
"So they cross the border and start stealing and robbing and raping...." Newt started in.
"Bzzt!" said Jane. "Wrong. We studied that in Sociology. The statistics show undocumented immigrants are far less likely to commit a violent or property crime than anyone else. Why do you think it's hard-wired into a Mexican's brain to steal cars or burglarize homes or whatever? There's no information to back that up."
Newt looked down his nose at his daughter. "So, you're out here not even two years now, and you think Mexicans are just fine. They're just all wonderful people."
Jane snorted and said, "Why would a Mexican be any bigger of a dick than anyone else? I get along just fine with the Mexicans at school. Some are vatos, some are just.... Mexican. They're still good people.... And yes, they're here legally."
"That reminds me, is that guy Beto still gonna do the airbrush art on you gas tank?" I asked.
"Yeah, he should. I went over to his place a few weeks ago, to check out some of his stuff. He's damn good, he's done eight different trunk lids so far, and they're gorgeous. Mind you, I'm not going to get a Jesus Christ or an Aztec warrior on my tank, but it's obvious he can put down any image I give to him. He told me $400 for both sides."
"I figured he did a great job putting the Inana logo on the camera truck, so why not use him again?" I said. "I'll give you the cash for the work. How long will it take?"
"He said he'd keep the putt overnight. That way he doesn't feel rushed, the paint can fully cure, and he can spray a sealant over the work."
"What are you two talking about?" asked Newt.
"Jane is getting some custom artwork done on the gas tank of her Sportster," I explained. "He's already done work for me. Last year, I was hanging out in the lot of the school, A vato in a slammed '71 Chrysler rolls in and stops near me. He's got some really sweet airbrush work on his trunk, so I get off to take a closer look. I asked the guy at the wheel who'd done the work, and he says, 'That's my little brother Beto, I'm picking him up right now.' Does he think Beto would be interested in making some extra money? Hey, who isn't?"
The bell rings, here comes Beto. I gave him a business card and told him I wanted him to put the Inana logo on the side of a big van. His only question for me was if I had a bigger image of the logo than on my card. Then Jane shows up, turns out her and Beto are in History together. Beto came over to the studio with his stuff and his girlfriend on Saturday, he started around ten and was done by two, including the sealant. He's up on a stepladder all the time, and his girlfriend stayed on the ground, adjusting the compressor and handing him tips and paint jars. It was worth the $500 I gave him, the van looks sharp."
Jane laughed. "Me and Beto and Juana, his girlfriend, and a few other guy hang out sometimes, at lunch or at the taqueria. After a while, Beto confessed he was scared shitless of me for a long time. I was the crazy white girl in class, who didn't seem to understand the meaning of the word 'subtle,' with the blue hair and hot rod and putt." She said to Bekka, "You know him and Juana have been going steady since eighth grade?"
"I believe it quite easily," said Bekka. "It's sort of a cultural thing. With a lot of Latin cultures, you find someone you sync with, and you stick with them. And if you meet them when you're both only thirteen, well, that's the way things must be meant to be."
"Hold on a second," said Newt. "Some guy had spray-painted a picture on the trunk of his car?"
"Not spray paint, airbrush," I corrected. "Yes. A lot of lowriders will have artwork put on the trunks of their scrapes. What caught my eye was the quality of the work. Okay, the image wasn't terribly original, it was yet another picture of an idealized homegirl, reclining in lingerie, with the feathered hair and big tits and the chola bands around her wrists. But the airbrush work most cruisers get always has this sort of soft focus look. This image was obviously airbrush, but it was really sharp and crisp. As an example of cruiser art, it really stands out. So I figured I wanted the Inana logo on the camera van anyway, why not hire locally?"
"Depending on what neighborhood you're in, you'll see a lot of trunk art," said Bekka. "As images, you're seeing the same things over and over. Sexy homegirls, Aztec warriors, religious images, portraits of a dead parent or abuelo, desert-scapes.... The quality of the work can vary widely, though."
I started laughing. "Oh yeah! I swear, if a piece of cruiser art is done well, it's great. But if it's done not so well, it will totally and completely suck shit."
"So my daughter comes out her to California and starts hanging around with Mexicans," Newt complained. "Those lowrider types, too."
In a patronizing tone, Jane replied, "Uh, yes Dad, I was hanging out with fellow students from my high school. I also hang out with the punks, and the headbangers, and the computer geeks. Whatever. I like being around different people."
"Why didn't you hang around with the athletes, or the pep squad?"
Rolling her eyes, she said, "Yeah, right. First off, I was hanging out with at least one athlete. Lance was on the track team, remember? And I play --- played --- varsity volleyball. And.... You've gotta be joking. What would ever compel me to hang around with the cheerleaders? Why would I subject myself to the company of a bunch of snotty, empty-headed bitches? And there's no way they would have put up with me, anyway. 'Ew, she has funny blue hair and rides a motorcycle and wears leather pants. She listens to awful music and smokes cigarettes.' We reached a state of detente: they hated me, and I hated them. And they knew I could take any of them, or even a few at once, so they left me alone."
Jane shook her head. "They weren't all bad. There were a couple who actually talked to me on a few occasions, when we were alone. They'd ask me about the Sportster, or what living with Bekka was like, or what being emancipated was like. But they'd never talk to me in the halls or the cafeteria, or hang out with me after school, 'cos they knew their friends would give them shit for talking to the weird girl. It's actually kinda sad, they felt that much social pressure, and they couldn't openly talk to someone without being shamed, or whatever."
"But why not get to be friends with the football players...." Newt started.
"Dad, do not even start," Jane shot at her father. "I've made my feelings about football players, and football in general, very clear since I was thirteen. Are you still tutoring those morons from the team, trying to get their grades high enough they don't get cut? Some of those slabs of meat should still be getting held back in fourth grade. They shouldn't be anywhere near a college campus. Not a real one, anyway." Jane turned to me and said, "I totally forgot to ask about that when we went on our campus visit. Do you know how big football is at Berkeley? The team isn't worshiped like teams are at some schools, right?"
I said, "Naw. As a team, the Bears are just sorta.... there, you know? They're no champs, but they don't totally suck, either. The general impression I've got is games are viewed more as social events. Yeah, everybody cheers and shit, but no one's heart is broken if the Bears lose. Honestly? I think the Bears are used as a fund-raising tool by UCB, fleecing alumni. Rich alumni will get nostalgic for their college days, come see a game, and are in a good enough mood to donate ten grand or so to the General Fund. Sure, you can buy Bears sweatshirts and pennants and shit like that, but the team isn't a real major commercial commodity for the school." I gave Newt a smirk and continued, "Not like at some schools."
"Oh! One thing though. I've been warned: the weekend of the big Homecoming game? Don't be there. Like, get the fuck out of Berkeley for the weekend. Arrange a ride and get a nice motel on the water in Marin, go to the City and party with Chromewagon all weekend, whatever. But the entire city of Berkeley is a fucking mess on Homecoming game weekend. You've got alumni from two different goddamn colleges converging on Berkeley, from all over the country. I heard the city closes off, like, three blocks of Milvia Street, so the cops have someplace to put all the towed and impounded cars, from people parking illegally. It's not just the usual frat boys who are drunk in public, you've got all these yuppie alumni wanting to get wasted too. Unless you want to do some sort of anthropological study of what well-off white people are like when they're drunk and not around the kids, find someplace else to be that weekend."
"At Florida State, our Homecoming game is a big event," Newt stated with aloof pride. People come from all over, it's a city-wide event."
Jane gave her father a pitying grin and stated, "Yeah, it is a huge city event. The paddy wagons from both the city and the county never stop moving. What a source of civic pride the FSU Homecoming game is. The smell of beer and whiskey puke everywhere, people passed out on the sidewalks, women being groped, the dozens of fist fights.... And of course, the car wrecks." Jane said to me, "On Homecoming weekend in Gainesville, it's fairly safe to assume that fifty percent of drivers at the wheel are drunk. Two drunks will get into a crash. They get out of their cars, realize they're both hammered, and agree they'll both just run for home and leave the cars where they are, for the cops to deal with. That way, neither of them get busted for DUI. And this shit will happen all damn weekend.
"So Dad, how many reports of rape and sexual assault were taken by the police last year? Did we set a new record? Had enough hookers been brought up from Orlando and Kissimmee to keep the players entertained and distracted, or were they forced to double up? How many first-string players failed their drug and steroid tests this year? How much did doping all the players the morning of the game cost the school this time around? Who did...."
Newt cut off his daughter. "Don't you slander the team like that!"
Jane laughed and said, "Oh, please. You told me about all that shit yourself, when I was fifteen. We'd gone out to dinner, and you and Mom were both pretty blitzed, like usual. You were bragging about an assistant defensive coach, and his assistant, spending five days in Orlando rounding up and arranging transportation for all those hookers. You were saying how the players needed to blow off steam and keep from getting stressed, and what better way than having a crew of hookers available? You also told me about the urine-swapping for the drug tests, and every player, even the third-string losers, getting shot up with anabolic steroids before the game. You were so proud the team had got one over on the school, FSU paid for everything, the team budget was never touched for all that action." Jane looked at me. "I tell ya, Lenny, how can anyone not take pride in their local college athletic programs?"
Before Newt could respond to Jane, his wife Joan suddenly slumped to one side, her head landing on Bekka's shoulder. She was out like a light. I'd halfway noticed that her purse had been in front of her on the table, lying on its side, and she always seemed to have one hand inside it, fiddling around. I hadn't given it much thought. When she slumped, her hand slid, and pulled some junk out of the purse. The hand was holding something. Bekka pulled the item from Joan's hand, looked at it, rolled her eyes, then handed it to me. Well. A prescription bottle. The label indicted it had held, upon sale, 75 Dilaudid, 10mg each. The big ones. Since Bekka, Jane, and Newt were busy fussing at each other, Joan had probably been palming them and knocking them back without us noticing.
I started to stick my hand across to hand the bottle to Newt, but Jane intercepted me and grabbed the bottle. She read what it was. When she looked at her father, she looked as angry as I'd ever seen her. In a truly feral voice, Jane said to her father, "You said she'd kicked. You both said she'd kicked. What the fuck is this? What the fuck is this shit, Dad?"
Looking at a spot to the left of Jane's head, Newt replied, "She, uh, she renewed her scrip about four months ago. She's been doing better with them, really, she'd actually have a few left over at the end of the month...." Newt suddenly looked truly contrite. "Look, she slipped. She slipped, okay? She's been fighting those things since before you were alive. She's not perfect."
"She must have been snacking on them like mints while we were in the car, and sitting here," observed Bekka. She felt Joan's carotid artery, then her chest. "Her pulse is strong, her breathing is deep and steady." Bekka rubbed her temples. "Fuck it, let's get her out to the car, we'll stretch her out in the back seat. Flag down a waitress and have her send Wayne over. We'll tell him she had a little too much to drink over the course of the day, he can deactivate the alarm on the side door, we'll get her out that way. I don't think Wayne wants us carrying an unconscious woman through his foyer. We'll have her dinner wrapped to go, she can eat when she comes to."
This sounded like a plan to all of us, and we put it into action. Joan ensconced in the Fleetwood, the rest of us ate our meals in relative silence. When we left, we propped Joan up against one door, so Jane and Bekka would have a place to sit. (Jane refused to share the back seat of a car with her father.) The Osborne's rental car was in the beach lot, so I pulled in there. We got Joan into the rental. Newt wondered how he'd get her up to the room. I advised him that the Marriott would have a wheelchair sitting around, get her into that and wheel her up.
Newt looked at his daughter and said, "Hey, little dear, why don't you follow me to the hotel in your car? We can talk for a while...."
Jane fixed a look on her father and said in a metallic voice, "No, Dad. I won't be alone with you ever again."
"But your mother will be...."
Jane gestured at the semi-comatose woman in the shotgun seat and said, "We would be alone. I will never let that happen again, anywhere, any time, for any reason." She gestured at Bekka and me. "They know. I told them about you and me. They were worried about certain.... behaviors.... I had when I first got here. After a while I told them the truth. Lenny already suspected what was up, so it wasn't too big a shock for him.
"But.... No secret is forever, Dad. You had a big part in me becoming the person I am, and when people ask me why I say the things I do, and act how I do, and think the way I do, I'm going to give them an honest answer from now on. It's probably going to creep a lot of people out. In California, fathers and daughters don't do the shit we did, at least not nearly as much. So people will think I'm warped, and they'll think you're a really fucking awful person. They'll be right. Goodnight, I'll see you at the graduation. Take care of Mom." Jane sat back down in the Fleetwood.
Newt slouched over to the driver's side of the rental car. He got in, and went to close the door. I was standing there, and grabbed the frame of the door, holding it open. He looked up at me from the driver's seat with fear in his face.
I stared down at the incestuous monster in the fishing hat, and said, "Mr. Osborne? May I be honest with you? My personal opinion of you is very, very low." I continued the stare in silence for about five seconds, then said, "See you tomorrow at Carlsbad High. You will be there. You'll watch your daughter graduate from high school, you'll give her a hug and talk a bit, then you and your wife will be free to do anything you wish in San Diego until your flight on Saturday. But your plans will not involve you seeing or speaking to Jane. Am I clear?"
He swallowed, nodded once, and just said, "Yeah."
"Goodnight, sir. Drive safely." I let go of the door, which was immediately slammed shut.