Chapter 1: Cassiopeia

Chapter 1: Cassiopeia

The Showcase Special was a red brick building complex on Main and 6th in Corona, California.  A concrete and metal sprawl jungle built in the mid 70’s.  The shopping center the Special stood in housed a variety of Mexican botana markets selling treats, chile mangoes, pinatas and fire crackers.  The Showcase Special bordered its north brick wall with a Coin-Op laundromat, next to that was a Chinese apothecary and foot massage day spa called the Jade where a 1 hour full body massages cost 20$ plus tip.  The Chamber of commerce for the city was not sure what do with the plot of land, originally opening up the building area for venturing entrepreneurs and white businessmen, the shopping center became a mishmash of Central American check cashing and call centers, Chinese herb medicine women, an alcoholics anonymous coffee center, tweakers, prostitutes, punk rockers and skaters.  So the city officials slowly let the line out on the potential for an upper crust shopping center and let it become the community hub of poor immigrants and transients nesting a run down strip mall with what little comforts they could establish from their former countries.

“Eso es un ‘gang bang’”

Armando, one of the taquero cooks on the flat-top grill of ‘Taco Super’ explained to Carl, the handicapped kid that frequented the strip mall daily. Armando laughed and looked over the dirty sneeze guard separating the clientele from the sweating cooks.

“How many friends you want for ‘gang bang’? Aguas Carlitos?”

Armando chuckled as he looked at Carls face trying to make out the sexual situation he described in detail.

“That’s gross Armando! Ewwwwwww!” Carl was starting to picture all the naked and perspiring bodies hovering over a taco and doing nasty things to it.

“Este pinche Carlitos ni sabe tetas!” Ener Montez, the chubby Mexican handling the boiling pots in the corner said without looking up from his slow and steady stirring.

Carl slapped his hands onto his thighs and kept a slowly burning yowl,

“How could you do that? EwwWWWWWwwwWW!”

Carl grabbed the neck of his tamarind soda and walked out the back exit of the taco shop as Armando and Ener continued cackling. The fly shield above the backdoor was old and blew loudly without providing the protection from the pestilent insects hovering above the hot pans of beef maws and tongue and carnitas and roasted serrano chiles and Carl walked out to the dumpster area where Moony was rolling a cigarette in his right hand and clasping a paper-bag wrapped bottle of whiskey in the other.

The Special was split into two businesses, by day the front foyer below the marquee served as a soda stand and record store, peddling beat up demoes in brown paper bags recorded in hot garages by shitty local teenage bands.  The marquee lit up at night, blue fringe lining the white marble incandescent panels with stock black lettering displaying the weekly touring bands coming through town.  The second business was a nightly affair, an all ages music venue that had no prejudice on what kind of weird and violent teenage angst was going to be screamed through the sound system.  They had to constantly book acts, and the only way to pay for the overhead was to let them all play.  Crust punks, smelling of plastic bottle, bottom shelf vodka would sew black and white patches to the only pair of jeans they owned around 5 o’clock in the evening, always with a dirty styrofoam cup begging for loose coin.  The pyscho-billy kids walked around dripping of pomade and indifference that they had not been alive in the Greaser scene of the early 60’s, cuffed denim pants and smoothly combed hair that crested in an oily pompadour high fiving the sky and American Jesus in the clouds.  The goths hated god, yuppies and nice cars, and made sure their eye-liner and black t-shirts reflected this sentiment on the off chance that a chipper ass soccer mom with a tight ass and a stroller full of impressionable toddlers crossed their paths.  All the different kinds of metal kids hated being labeled a sub-genre of Metal that they were clearly not fans of.  The Black Metal kids hated being associated with the drunk assholes that came to thrash metal shows, and the death metal kids never really said shit but hated all of the tools in the shed the same.

The gutter punks were friendly, usually playing a beat up guitar with 2 out of tune strings for money in front of the 99 Cent store so they could get a one of the many colorful homeless folk to buy them a 40 oz of Mad Dog or King Cobra. The homeless had their own rites and rituals and hierarchy of law on who slept in which dumpster lot and who would go to Cupids on Tuesdays to buy a bag of 99 cent hamburgers for the group, and who would suck a dealers dick for some smack and who would share the drugs, and who would keep a look out for the cops when they were using at the park or in the loading area behind the Special. The Cholos and Crazy Vatos Locos wore tight, sweat stained wife beaters and sagging baggy khakis and they were constantly seeking wandering eyes from a punk or metal kid so they could take his wallet or her purse and beat their ass. They carried around rolls of quarters they usually stole from the coin-op, they would hold the roll of quarters in their fists when they jumped some one, it was like getting hit in the face with a plank of wood, and cops couldn't confiscate it because it wasn't a gun or a blade. Most of the gangster Mexicans were kids, trying so hard to be hard, between the ages of 9 and 19, the older vatos were the scarier ones, old school cholo gangsters that got shit-faced on the weekends at a homies house, making carne asada and “pistiando” with chelas. There was an unspoken truce between the Mexican gangsters, the homeless drug addicts, the punkers and scenester kids, a mutual understanding of each others lot in this lower class social strata of suffering for scraps, they were in an accordance with one another, they hated the cops and rich yuppies.

Then there was Jay, an employee of the The Special record store and Soda stand. Working almost everyday from 10 in the morning until 5 at night, donning faded band shirts, glasses and a smoldering quiet demeanor, Jay stocked records, tapes and price tagged products and ran a paper printed cash out at the end of every shift. The Armenian owner of the Special, Rendy Smith Sami, was a kind man and a good boss, employing Jay for over 5 years and providing the only all ages venue and record store within a 100 mile radius. Jay would open the record store everyday, 4 aisles of halogen lit shiny plastic and vinyl, and everyday at 5, the daily sales button was hit on the register and the machine would buzz and chirp for 20 seconds carbon printing the haul for the day. Jay would wrap the cash out receipt around a small stack of 20 dollar bills walk up the stairs to Rendy’s office and drop it in the cash box outside his locked door. Everyday for 5 years, Jay would do this routine, with the carnival of characters and action right outside the doors of the special. Watching kids driving in from Anaheim and Los Angeles for a show that night, Jay watched them vigilantly, making sure they didn’t steal a secondhand Rick Springfield “Jesse’s Girl” single or a Donald Duck Pez dispenser.

Rendy was in the record store today, in the office, doing his weekly sales on a tattered spreadsheet, it was 4:55 in the afternoon and Jay was wiping down the soda counter and pouring a coffee for later.

Rendy came down the stairs from his office into the main aisle of records, pensively looking at the wooden display stands and holding his chubby chin with one hand, a look of frowned pondering wriggled its way onto his bushy eyebrows like a frightened caterpillar.

“We sell more CD discs than tapes Jay?”

He spoke a little louder than usual because the Addicts record that Jay had put on was still droning away on the store speakers.

“Just the older used ones, no one likes those new CDs you put out there. Shit is lame.” Jay didn’t look up from the cash register.

Rendy still had a puzzled look on his face, staring directly at the new Petunia Cooke albums he bought from his distributor. Petunia was hot, young and what little clothes she wore on the front of her Cd cover left his testosterone saturated Armenian imagination reeling.

“You no like Petunia?” Rendy asked with his eyes still fixed on the display stand and the pretty blonde pop-star on the front cover.

“She is sexy as hell, but i would rather put my head in the trash compactor than listen to that bullshit. It probably sounds the same.” Jay quickly glanced at the Petunia display stand.

“Sounds same? She sounds same as what?” Rendy was still imagining slow dancing with Ms. Cooke on a hill in the Armenian village he grew up in, under a gentle moonlight, the aroma of roast goat permeating the cool night air.

“She sounds like some one put her head in the trash compactor!” Jay held back a smirk and a giggle.

“Oh she sound like she dying, like she in the compactor.” His pronunciation of compactor sounded more like protractor, “she go ahhhhhh ahhhhh ahhhhh” partly screaming in pretend pain and trying to hit the high falsetto Petunia sings on her hit single “Candle Shade Babe”.

There was a ring of the bell above the front entrance door and a woman with slicked, crunchy hair sauntered briskly to the front counter where Jay was standing. She placed her briefcase on top of the glass counter without any regard to its flimsy and shitty craftsmanship.

“Where is your brother?” she said as she looked down into a yellow steno pad, scribbling nonsensical scratch.

Jay pushed the cash drawer of the register in until it made a click and rang a bell.

“He is out back with Moony, I mean Ronny I think…”

The staunch businesswomen slowed her writing and leered over the brims of her glasses with here piercing pupils and stared condescendingly at Jay,

“He is out back? Jaimie I need you both in here, I need to talk to Carl and his closest living relative and that is you, his sister.”

Rendy knew when the social worker for Jay and her brother Carl was here and when she meant business so he slipped out the fly trap of the back door and went to find Moony and Carl.

Ronny Maine was a 50 year old homeless man trapped in a 70 year olds’ decrepit body, resembling a leather bound book with pages hanging out the sides and corners. The years of amateur title boxing in Scotland had caught up with his rattling bones and stretched his sinewy tendons into a gelatin mush of heavy breathing and hand rolled cigarette juice. Everyone called him Moony because his big, puffy cheeks would get red and full when he drank and he looked like a smiling full moon.

“It is a pretty day when you stop blaming things and people for who you are.  Stretch your arm.”  Moony shook his left shoulder from the base and jiggled like a dying fish, “Your right arm as far as it can go.  Go ahead.  Take your right arm and stretch it out. Ain’t got a right arm?

Use your left arm.

Ain’t got arms anymore?

Use your legs and your toes.

Ain’t got legs no more?

Use your nose, or your eyebrows or your goddam tongue.”

Moony wasn't looking at anything but the sky behind the dumpster.

“I know you got a right arm, I see it right there, your right arm is right there boy!”

Moony’s own right arm pointed down ecstatically at Carl’s right arm, buried and sheltered by his black sweater and hunched right shoulder. Moony’s eyes spoke as loudly as his slow rolling mouth,

“Take your arm and shove it out straight like this

and point your finger straight at anything you want.” Moony kept pointing and building a louder voice.

“It’s not their fault, it’s not your fault, its nobodies fault, stop trying to put that weight on someone else.  That weight, that shame, that pain, that twitch and tick was always there my boy.  And you gonna have it until the good Lord Jesus calls you home, and you might even have it still there up in heaven.”

Carl slowly slid both of his arms from his bottom and dragged them on the concrete. He wriggled his fingers and wiggled them like it was the first time he had seen his own hands. Carl and Moony stood there by the dumpster for the better half of 3 minutes.

Carl made a maddening fist and then slowly let it go.

The red and strained skin released as veins fed to the rest of his appendages and bled into an off white color of skin he could recognize as normal. Moon took a swig off the brown bag in hist left hand and wiped 3 beads of slowly creeping sweat from his left eye brow without winking or squinting.

Carl became vocal and interjected loudly,

“This is not me and I am not me or you Moony… I am me” Carl proclaimed as he watched his hands.

Moony smiled.

“That’s exactly what Paco said to Harvey when both him and Harvey landed on the planet of Mandoloids.  Tired and angry at one another.  Being a bunch of assholes.”

Moony looked off at the wispy heat of clouds rising into evaporated nothing.

“Harvey and Paco had been in that junk heap of a space ship for the better half of 7 months, floating around out there in the Cassiopeia constellation system.  Lots of big bright super nova’s and swirling and quiet space dust and they were stuck in this greasy sail ship of the sky.”

A wiry and subtle smile started to take shape at the right side of Carls mouth, “They were flying out there? They were flying out there in outer space huh? Moon? They were making dinners in the spaceship?”

Moony smiled with the bottle in his mouth and spilled cheap, bottom shelf whiskey on his chest.

“Hell yeah they were making all kinds of food on that spaceship, thats why it was so greasy.  The both of them were on a mission, but the space council made sure they could eat all the things they liked.  Plenty of helpings of canned beans and sauce and freeze dried pork bits and crispy plantain chips and banana mush.  They had onions and potatoes and Paco would cook one night and Harvey would take kitchen duties, they ate really well, probably better than they would eat here on earth.”

Carls smirking mouth changed from a half built smile to him licking his lips,

“They eatin’ bananas and fried pork?”

“Not just that, they had 9 barrels of flour and oil so they could make tortillas and breads and they were eating a finer way than any of the kings and presidents and emperors here.”  Harvey finished the last 2 sips of his whiskey,

“They had to eat well on the count of them searching for the Mandoloids and the bomb they were making. Harvey needed at least 8 hours of sleep and Paco couldn’t disarm a thing if he wasn’t eating good, wholesome meals.”

Rendy was standing to the left corner of the dumpster that Moony was standing and listening with a dumb smirk.

“When NASA disbanded and they became the Solar Security Agency, they were trying to protect our little rock from all the riffraff and space trash trying to hurt us.  They sent these hunks of steel out from every part of the globe with two men, one was the Captain and the other was a disarmer.  The Captain was older, seen some shit.  The disarmer was younger, usually a Mexican, Black or Chinese and they were there to help the captain and cook and when the time came, they were there to disarm the Mandaloid planet bombs.  Harvey and Paco were sent to the Cassiopeia constellation to hit every planet orbitting a star.  The Mandoloids were vultures up in the desert sky but they killed planets and life before any other living thing could get to it.  That was the real Space Race, that was what they were doing, they were protecting our futures.”

Rendy had a drawn out smile of a fool. He slid past the corner of Moony and gently placed his hand on Carls shoulder. Moony gave one nod, walked behind the green, beat up dumpster and Carl followed Rendy inside.