I only barely had a phone. This apartment I was living in was a liminal place, between being homeless and living in my (now) in-law's driveway in their RV. It was a crappy single bedroom corner unit in a single-story twelve unit complex that was shaped roughly like capital U with a tree in the middle of the U where you'd try to park your cheap ass car and have it crapped on my a million pigeons.
I paid $185 a month for that apartment, and that included gas but not electric. I got a phone with no long distance and "locally metered" service that cost me .25 a call after I'd exhausted 90 minutes of call time. I had zero credit, zero savings, a checking account with roughly $35 in it, and a full time job as a Netware system operator / system admin / GIS operator / database admin / jack of all trades / master of a few. That job paid me $8.25 an hour, which was roughly twice what I'd made previous to that moment in time. As soon as I got the job, my roommate moved to Anthony NM to live with his aunt and go back to school, and I moved to this crappy little aprtment next to Apodaca park in Las Cruces. I was the only person in my 'hood without a family to care for or a criminal record to care about.
I'd been living there about three months. Furniture provided by my mom (stuff they didn't care to throw away...stuff that meant less to them than the work it would take to dispose of it), a requisite Killer Stereo, an Epson x86-based PC (it may have been a 8086), and a kitchen with one pan, one pot, one kettle, one plate, one bowl, one set of silverware, and nothing else. I lived as directly and as frugally as possible. My life was, in my estimation, finally pulling itself together. I was on the Path.
The call came at dawn, the edges of the sky turning pink over the jagged Organ mountains. It was early summer, so a little chilled....I had a waterbed (my brother's via my mom) and the heater was dodgy, so I was mostly cold. Crawled out of bed to answer the damn phone, thinking maybe it was my boss...I'd been working 16 hours shifts every single day except Sundays for the better part of six months.
"Yeah?" I'd found the receiver under the couch.
"$technician, is this you?" a female voice, some noise in the background. I couldn't identify it.
"Uhhh, yeah...who is this?" My brain was kicking over coldly, mumbling to me.
"Lisa! Its Lisa, you jerk," she said. Lisa. Blond, perpetually in romantic drama, sometime sex fiend, often more trouble than anyone I knew, Lisa was only recently back in the country after living in Mexico with some guy who owned a tile company.
"Leeeeeessssaaaaa," I whined, "it is seriously not even morning yet. What the hell?"
"I'm, uh, I need some help. Can you come to the county jail?"
I'd been a runner and file clerk for a law firm for three years. Lisa had been one of the secretaries. Not that you'll think any more or less of me, but those secretaries passed me around like a decent high for those three years. I was 18 when I'd started, mostly single, and most of them were the definition of cougar divorcee. Learned a lot during that time, including how to keep my goddamn mouth shut. Lisa wasn't a divorcee...she was in her mid twenties, on the run from an abusive alcoholic past in Florida. She looked...well, you'd not believe me. Natural blond, small round face, huge blue eyes behind glasses, a bikini-model body, she was a master of manipulating men, but was as prone to disaster as her karma implied. She'd been a longtime fascination of mine though we'd long since stopped fooling around. She was like a shipwreck with islands of men in her wake.
I was dressed and into my first Marlboro before I even realized I'd agreed to pick her up at the county lockup. By the time I got there the sky was an indigo-going-on-purple, the edges of the mountains in black stark silhouette. The desk deputy at the county jail knew me from search and rescue; he'd lived for a while at a BLM ranch where I'd spent an ungodly amount of time.
"Lisa? She's just spent an overnight. Must have some kind of lawyer," he said when I told him who I was there for.
"Yeah, she's got a few. And a judge or two," I said, half-serious. "What was the charge?"
"Drunk and disorderly," he said.
No surprise. Lis was charging hard toward a young and pretty corpse, and partied like her life was about to end. Her mid-twenties looks would be mid-seventies looks in a few years. At that second, though, walking out of lockup, shoes and belongings spilling from her grasp, all that golden hair a mess of beauty framing a perfect face? Three guards stood by and watched as she fished her earrings out of the county-provided envelope, her head tilted just-so, lips a natural pale pink, tongue caught between perfect teeth in an unfocused moment of balance. The guards looked at me...me, 22 looking like a combination of Jesus and a meth-addled biker, reeking of Marlboro and stale coffee. They looked at me and I could see the hope in their eyes. You too can score a hot mess with work and diligence.
She turned and squealed my name, rand across the small room in short 'putting shoes on while walking' steps, and hugged me like I'd been locked up for years. "Let's get the fuck out of here and get some food! I am completely famished." She spoke like this with me...her accent tilted slightly.
"Sure, Lis. You can fill me in along the way."
The why she had been locked up was uninteresting. How she'd been locked up, also not very interesting. It was a typical Lisa story: in a bar with her ostensible and long suffering primary male companion, she caught the eye of another guy, who apparently sent a drink her way, which made his (wife? girlfriend?) angry enough to pour the drink (after Lisa had a sip) on her lap and try to knock her off her barstool. The fight quickly escalated to screaming and someone grabbed someone else, they were ejected from the bar and continued to yell and throw things and then got into it again. "She just wouldn't let it go," Lisa kept saying. I knew enough to know that Lisa certainly hadn't done anything to discourage the results.
She told me a bit more about being locked up, meeting two of the apparently very small number of drugged out prostitutes in town. Being at the cross roads of two major interstates, Cruces has always had a seedy underside. It's an underside to scale with the population, though. The women in the holding pen with her debated about whether she was a DUI or a nut case. Lisa didn't talk much to either of them. She told me that the inside of the cell smells like sweat and Pine Sol, that the corridors leading to the more populated mens side were noisy and seemed to be breathing an orderous hot breath. She was very glad to be out of there. I asked her how she'd arranged it so quickly.
"Oh, you know," and she winked. She kept her favors secret; no need to let on what she may or may not be able to do. Odds were pretty good it was a judge that owed her for something he'd done that his wife maybe shouldn't know about. New Mexico politics works.
We got to the 24 hour coffee and breakfast joint, the sun now streaking the sky, just above the mountains. The parking lot was filled with Buicks and Oldsmobiles; the place was jammed with old people. We got a small two person booth in a corner in the smoking section. I cracked the seal on a new pack, and Lisa held her hand out for one. I lit it for her, and we stared at one another quietly for a bit.
"You know, you should be someone's boyfriend. You have a lot of those boyfriend qualities," she said, eyes slightly unfocused. She often did this, told me how desirable I was. It was her way of returning whatever favor I'd done for her. She'd convinced me once to drive her Porsche to pick up my off again - on again girlfriend and go out for some drinks...with Lisa. I got to hear about how great I was for twenty minutes, both the girlfriend and I squirming in the odd attention.
"Yeah, I know Lisa. I know. Someday, I'll find myself a woman who doesn't require me to pick her up from jail," I said.
"Boooooring," she said as she scanned the room. Her eyes narrowed a bit. "Is that your roommate's dad?"
"I don't have a roommate anymore, but..." and I looked over to where she was gesturing. "Yeah, that's him." My ex-roommate's dad. He was a senior partner at a law firm, and one of the more powerful men in the state. His wife, my roommate's mother, had killed herself a few years before, and he'd sort of closed himself off, writing a book about Thomas Jefferson and researching colonial warfare.
"Huh. He looks so...sad, really. He used to be this major presence, a force in the courtroom, you know?" Lisa had been his secretary for 18 months. "He was just this high horsepower intellect, one of those nerd revenge fantasties. Like you'll be some day, sweety," she said, winking. "Hrm. I'll be right back," and she got up and started off toward him. I thought about stopping her...alcohol-soaked clothes now dried in the muggy heat of jail, hair a bit of a mess, makeup gone, she looked like some hollywood idea of homeless chic. She'd give the old man a heart attack.
I watched, sipping my coffee as she said hello. He went from inward reflective scowling to just....beaming. Instantly. She had that effect on men. She sat down and they started talking, and I started talking to the waitress, who I'd gone to school with. Twenty minutes or so later, Lisa walked back over.
"So, I'm going to get a ride with him," she said, glancing to him and smiling. He looked like he'd just won a major award. "We used to be pretty close, the way we worked. I was the only secretary that he could actually stand," she said. It was true...most of them lasted a few months, some only days. Lisa looked at me. "Don't give me that look," she said. I wasn't aware of any look. "He's lonely. He needs someone to talk to." She'd gathered her stuff and my cigarettes. "I'll owe you, OK?" she asked, pack raised in her hand. "OK?"
The morning was bright yellow and blue-white. She walked arm in arm, he in a polyester suit and spit-shined shoes, she in last night's clothes and you know? She just glowed there.
Years later, I was living in California and got an invitation to her wedding. She was marrying a retired golf pro, a guy called Paul that I'd met several times, a friend of the attorney she'd left with that morning. There was a twenty year difference in their ages, and several million dollars difference in their incomes. In the invite was a note. "Don't look at me like that," she had written. "I really do love him."
I toasted her from the beach that night.
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