They come out to the courtyard to be in the last of the October sun; it is an unintentional irony that the name of the building is The Medina Azahara. It’s crumbling, garish, fake Moroccan-Spanish style architecture boasts eight apartments; four one-bedroom and four studios. They are all dumps. Hippie lives there in a studio apartment with Ellen; Dean and Mason are there to buy dope. Hip has twisted a couple up, and the three men pass a joint. When it comes to Ellen she passes it off with a frightened wave.
“Oh no.” she says. “That stuff makes my clothes come off.”
“What doesn’t?” Dean says.
“Aww, m-man. You made me lose my hit.” Hippie says.
Ellen’s eyes narrow in Dean’s direction.
“You’re an asshole, Dean.”
Ellen, arms straight at her sides, fists clenched at her hips, walks with more attitude than purpose into the apartment. The screen door slams.
This is the first time Mason has seen Ellen outside the bar. He is astonished that Hippie could actually have such a beautiful creature with him. Of all people. Scrawny little Hip. Long stringy blonde hair pulled back into a pony tail. All nerves and shattered speech; until he has enough whiskey. Then, flat footed and high stepping, he becomes amiable and quick to offer help carrying equipment for the band. Or to sell you reefer.
“Looking to get high? Need something for the head?” he asks.
Mason stands there, joint in hand, staring at Ellen as she disappears into the apartment and remembering how one evening he had, from the stage, seen Hippie actually throw a drink in her face and storm out of the bar. She had just sat there laughing and wiping her face. Mason remembers what Dean had said about her then; that she someday she would push Hip too far.
“Mace!” Dean says. Then, “Look at him. Spaced out and Bogartin’ the joint.”
“Here. I gotta hit the head.”
Mason hands the joint to Dean and follows Ellen into the house. Neither Dean nor Hippie comment or watch as Mason goes inside the apartment. The courtyard door opens into the kitchen; and past that tiny galley is a living room with a futon. The bathroom is on his right and beyond that, the door to the street is open. Mason assumes that Ellen has gone out, and he pushes the door to the bathroom open.
Ellen is sitting on the toilet, her jeans around her ankles and her face covered by her hands. She is quietly weeping. Mason stands there saying nothing. She looks up at him, red eyed and wet.
“It’s up to you, dude. What are you gonna do?”
She reaches for the toilet paper and wipes herself.
“Mace! Let’s split, man!”
It’s Dean. Mason backs out of the bathroom under the indignant glare of Ellen’s icy blue eyes.
“What is her story, man?” Mason asks Dean as they leave the courtyard and walk over to Mason’s van.
Dean looks at him over the rim of his sunglasses.
“She’s Problem, man. I wouldn’t fuck her with your dick.”
Later that night at the bar Mason watches from stage as Ellen and Hippie shoot a game of pool. Hippie breaks and sinks five of the solids on his first up. Ellen pockets two stripes. Men keep coming up to the table on the pretext of watching Hippie but can’t take their eyes off Ellen as she stands in the shadow slowly chalking the tip of her stick. Hippie misses his shot. The cue ball lay is covered by Hip’s two remaining solids and the eight ball at the foot of the table. What remains of Ellen’s stripes are in the kitchen.
There is not much left. Ellen stalks the table, hunting for a shot. She is all tight corduroy jeans, fringed buckskin jacket and J toed cowboy boots. Already tall at five ten, senselessly beautiful and possessed of an alkaloid-fueled self confidence, her movements are followed by every eye in the bar. Twice she sights along her stick down the green felt table and twice lifts her cue with out finding a shot. She turns in mock disgust and holding the stick at her hip like Patty Hearst’s M-1 she points it at Hippie. Her shoulders are pulled back, her stance wide.
“I’m ‘SLA’, pig. On your feet or on your knees.”
Hippie is sitting; no, more like slumped on his barstool, back to the bar, waiting for her to take her shot. His pool cue bumper on the floor between his feet; he is supporting himself by holding onto the tapered end, his chin leaning on his hands. The corners of his mustached mouth are stained with Skoal. He stares a thousand yards past her. Her allusion creeps slowly into his mescaline and Jack Daniels laced mind as a tale told by an old woman. He remembers his grandmother telling him about the rich people, the Hearst’s, who built and lived in a castle off State Route 1. Once, on the way back to Salinas from visiting his father in Lompoc, Hip had determined to visit the castle, but got lost in the foothills and cutbacks leading to the tourist entrance. Mostly he remembers thinking as a child that he would go there someday and become a knight, but that has never happened.
“That the way Cinque taught you to do it?” he says finally.
Moving toward him Ellen takes the cue stick between his legs and shoves the shaft toward his crotch. Moving her hand down to where the shaft is resting against his rat and badgers, she says “No, this is how he taught me how to do it.”
There is not a man in the bar who would not change places with Hip for the sake of Ellen’s hand in their jeans. As far as any other part of Hippies life; anything else that he has or ever will have; in fact anything that he is or will ever be is of little or no interest to anyone in the bar, inSalinasor anywhere else in the world. Staying high and defending attempts to take Ellen from him are his primary and secondary motivators for living. Delivering pizza and selling a little weed, mostly $15 lids of Mexican dirtball is what passes for a career in his mind.
“You look good tonight, baby.”
Hippie entertains a view of himself as a man of chivalry, and it is this quality in him that Ellen finds so amusing and necessary to provoke.
“Good enough to fight over?” she says, looking down the bar toward Mason, sitting there now with Dean.
It is not an idle inquiry. It is a challenge meant to reassure Ellen and to determine Hippies readiness to fulfill for her what would be, had their union any sacrosanctity, his sacred vow. Twice in the last month Hip had met his obligation with determination and resolve, though not without some cost.
The first, a loud drunk who had snuck up behind Ellen as she danced with a girlfriend and to amuse his friends had imitated doing her doggy style went down hard with a blow from an empty bottle of Lambrusco that Hip threw at him. So hard, in fact, that when he saw the tiny trickle of sticky blood coming from the unfortunate drunk’s ear canal, Hippie was afraid he had killed him. He had not, but Hippie, whose real name is Edward Leon Carter, caught a battery case on that and spent a night in jail.
The last incident did not go nearly as well. At closing time push turned to shove on the way out of the bar between Hippie and a fat young Chicano who Ellen claimed cupped her ass as they were leaving.
Before he entirely realized what had happened, Hippie was on his hands and knees in front of the bar spitting blood, looking for his tooth and telling Hector Perez, “OK, I’m sorry.”
No matter. Win or lose it is the dispensation of gallantry that counts in Ellen’s ledger.
“You love me so much, don’t you?” she said as she knelt beside him on the concrete.