copyright © 2002 Arlen Lawson

Beach Bum, Motherfucker, Friend

By Arlen Lawson


The table is turned on its side, top facing the audience, placed to hold an opening in the curtains above it. Lights Up.  Jack  enters down center aisle with grocery bag full of dried Jell-O pudding, reclines on the stairs in the center of the audience,  and opens a box of Jell-O, dumping the powder in his mouth periodically as he speaks. 



   The best friend I had in my life, better than the kid in gradeschool who would kiss me on the hand for sharing my sandwich, who I guess I still count as my second best friend ever, even though he got us branded Fags For Life… The best friend I had in my life went by the name of Motherfucker.  As far as I was concerned.  It wasn’t ‘til the last time I saw him that I gave him that name, right after he took off with my pinky finger in his mouth.  Before that, I think I spoke in total ten words to that vicious, little, yes, well, motherfucker.

   What I’ve been eating the last five years is Jell-O pudding.  Vanilla.  Sometimes chocolate.  I don’t really have a choice.  Ever.  There’s a guy works down at Lucky’s, which I don’t even like to be in.  They play Top 40.  Do you listen to Top 40?  It’s sick.  It’s written by stalkers.  There’s a lot of fucked up shit, creepy, you’ll-never-get-away-from-me things, pronounced (sings) “You’ll never get away from me.”  This is what America hums along to while buying 2-liters of Pepsi and TV-dinners.  Even if they don’t really want to, they’ve got to absorb it and make it a part of their brains’ chemistry for as long as it takes them to decide ultimately on the products they’ve seen on TV.  And it’s what this kid who works at Lucky’s has to listen to for eight hours a day, for at least the last five years, this kid who, like I was saying, one time I was eating Jell-O pudding mix I dug out of the dumpster out back, because fuck you, alright, I’ve got my own disorders that make it as difficult and disgusting and wrong for me to work a normal job and live a normal life as it would be for you to lift your wheelchair-bound grandmother out of her chair and release her down the tunnel formed by the hospital stairs, and nowhere near that rewarding, and the Lucky’s kid, who was, I hear tell, taking the placebo acne cream, said, “Oh, you like that Jell-O pudding?”  And I said, “Oh, you bet!  It tastes great to me.  Dry.  I love to eat it!  Dry.  I would hypothetically eat it for sustenance.”  So now every time I go by Lucky’s, the kid, who also takes the placebo How-to-Understand-and-Be-Appropriately-Chastised-When-a-Homeless-Man-Uses-Sarcasm-to-Point-Out-Social-Injustice pill hands me a bag of Jell-O pudding.  And I say thank you for it every time, because it is, after all, food and he is, after all, probably risking his job, but the thank yous have never been incredibly sincere, because I , after all, never really liked Jell-O pudding.

   I spend most of my time on the beach, looking at the ocean and thinking that, even though there’s plenty of other things I could be doing, mostly nobody’s got anything better to do, whether millionaires, pastry chefs, or that janitor at the pornography store who socializes with the clientele like he didn’t just come from mopping up their semen back in the arcade, than to distract themselves from how one day they’ll die and for me the beach works.  And it’s free, so I don’t have to spend my days mopping semen which, come to think of it, is a much better analogy than throwing your wheelchair-bound grandmother down the stairs, because, there, you could afterward pretend like that wheelchair was your own personal rocket chair specially equipped with Urine Stink, but you could not pretend that mop was anything not encrusted with the tears and semen of lonely, self-loathing, and ultimately horny souls.

   So I’m still on the beach right?  And it mostly passes the time on its own, like I said, the level horizon, the sea as concealing something bigger than you or I will ever see, totally separate from and infinitely superior to our land existence.

   Sometimes, to pass the time, I write in my journal.  The entries are sporadic, which maybe somebody who found it couldn’t tell because there are no dates.

   “Today found green bottle. Note inside. Said ‘Help! The pirates gots me!’ Written in marker on wide rule paper. Stained with coffee to look old. Broke bottle with rock. Broke shards into green sand. Ripped note to tatters. Threw tatters into ocean.”

   Here’s the interesting one: “Today saw dolphin in ocean.  It looked at me.”

   Then: “Today dolphin came closer. Threw it some Jell-O. It ate it.  Think it wanted me to talk.  Too tired.  They say dolphins are smarter than people.”

Throws a box of Jell-o behind the table, through the opening in the curtains.

   Kept coming back sometimes.  I would always give it pudding.  Sometimes it would do tricks.  Sometimes we would race back and forth down the beach.  Sometimes we would both laugh at each other for being stuck on a planet that was obviously breathing its last.  I never had a hoop, but I think if I had one, it would have jumped through it.

   One time it threw a fish at me.  Hit me right in the face.  Another time I was mad about it throwing a fish at me, so I threw the Jell-O pudding at its face. (Throws a box of Jell-O, striking the table)  Hit it right in its eye.  It stayed gone for a week.  When it came back, it was all squinty in that eye, and I don’t think there was an eyeball in there.

   Another time I thought it threw a fish at me again, and I was gonna yell at that fucker that it should’ve learned its lesson on its first eye.  Except it wasn’t a fish.  It was a piece of a man’s head.  A scalp half salt and pepper half blood-slime.

   Then there was a man in a business suit floating like so.  There was money in his wallet.  And before you could say, “Thank you, god-creature whose existence is at best controversial, for this kind blessing of $800,” there was that dolphin, dragging in a lady in a soggy velvet dress.

   He kept coming back with bodies, some with wallets and some with purses, which I gathered in my Lucky’s bag, some doctors, some businessmen, some lawyers, some suburban teenagers dressed like West-Coast gangsters circa 1989, until I ran out of places to stack the bodies, the beach being as crowded as this theatre is now.  And the dolphin just floated there, a 10 yr. old boy held by the scruff of his neck in its beak, looking at me with its puppy dog eye.  But what could I tell him?  Nothing.  There was absolutely no room left.  After moping a bit, he let the boy go and together we watched him float for awhile.

   There came a moment when, a police car having pulled up and, having neither the desire nor the ability to explain myself, I dove into the water, held tightly to the dolphin, and we submerged not to be seen.  And to stay down long enough to escape, we shared the air held in our lungs, breathing in and out through his blowhole and through my blowhole, for as long as this would keep us conscious.  Down there, with open eyes, in the green-brown, grainy light of the sewerage tinted Pacific Ocean, I saw the capsized luxury cruiser, and the underwater marionette fate of its passengers.

   When the dolphin dropped me off on the beach, I extended my free hand to pet his head, told him:

   “You have been the best friend I have ever had”

   To which, he ate my finger.


Lights Down


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