I laid the gun on the counter. ‘Buddy’ counted the ‘E’s.
“Hmm.. three ‘E’s” he said at last.
“Yup, a ‘Triple E’, easy to see.” I added, trying not to overwhelm.
We were in Eugene, Oregon, me’n Negro O, my drummer. At the Buddy Holly Hock Shop on Gore Ave. Buck-less-ness had caught up with us, and pawning the Tripoli Gun seemed to be the difference between sleeping in the car or across the street at the Hillbilly Holiday Inn
“You Gene?” Buddy-the-Pawnbroker asked Ollie gruffly, looking at the license papers.
“That’s Oliver ‘One-gin’ Eugene to you, buddy!” Negro O answered in that Barry White voice of his. I loved the guy. Me’n him had been tight since the ’60’s, playing together in a string of bands, drinking significantly more than the ‘One gin’ I’d started to call him lately, both of us being.. which is it, I forget: “on the wagon“, or “off the wagon?”
“We are not alchoholics“, I’d told him a while back, “We’re.. um.. ‘wagoneers‘.” On-again, off-again, and from that grew the nickname ‘Onegin’. Ollie understood the importance of letters. He trusted them almost as much as me. And now it looked like the pawnshop owner had decided to trust us, possibly because of Ollie’s impressive muscle tone.
“I’m like, ‘a black Schwartzenegger’” he loved to say. We took the 5 crumpled up twenties and walked across the street to get a cheap room.
Although the place looked technically ‘open‘, the door didn’t respond, not to my tentative pull, and suprisingly, not even to O’s patented “Pushkinetics” ™. “If you push something long enough and hard enough, it will fall down.” Ollie was fond of announcing to obstacles. I usually preferred the soft approach, like, in this case, reading the crude sign scotch-taped to the window. “See Jean next door for service.”
Next door meant, I guessed, the “Inn” part of the Billy Holiday Complex. A matronly woman at the bar looking out of place with an unreadable name tag eyed us up as we entered.
“You Jean?” I asked, cheerfully enough. She just pointed out the door and took a sip of some thick grey slurpy drink.
“That’s where they put it, last I checked” she laughed. “Eugene, Oregon. You all want some ore-nog?”
“Ore nog?” I asked, wondering whether it was free, as O’s cell phone rang, “Lover Man” suddenly competing with the muzak in the joint,
“Yeah, you heard of egg nog?” Jean was already pouring us each a glass.
“What’s in it?” I needed to know stuff like that for some reason.
“Oh, vodka, kahlua, and… galena.. but you hardly taste it when there’s enough Kahlua.”
A little perplexed I was.. wasn’t that Lee Harvey Oswald’s wife? And why do psychos always have three names? And who the hell was Ollie talking to? I was hearing scraps of conversation, like “…no Gore in Oregon..” and then “..No, Roger, free beer!” Ollie hung up mad, calling the guy an ‘ogre’ either before or after hitting ‘end’, I wasn’t sure. I handed him the drink, which he almost dropped.
“What’s this shit, lead on the rocks?!” He blurted out before slyly changing course when he realized it was a gift from our hotelier/femme de chambre-to-be,
“Sweet” was his comment after finishing it, which he did as usual ,in a heartbeat. Seeing that it wasn’t his last I carefully took a sip myself.
“So who’s the guy on the phone?” I asked, dying to know.
“Some goofball selling ‘golfball insurance..”
“Selling what?” I set my half-finished drink heavily aside.
“Golfball Insurance, You know ‘just pennies a day and you’re covered in the event you are struck by one of the millions of deadly golfballs flying through the air.. blah, blah.’ If you die you get, get this, a ‘free bier'”
“You sure of that, O?” I didn’t need to remind him of the potential there for ambiguity.
“Of course, you’re dead, man, what the fuck you gonna do with a ‘free beer'”
“Give it to your next-of-kin?” I looked up at him mock-adoringly, adding “Dad“.
“You got us a room?” Ollie looked beat, or maybe just ‘over-ore-nogged’.
“Yeah, room 6, first floor, breakfast on the house at 7:00.”
“And a sconce-lamp, and a clear wall across from it?” Ollie drove a hard bargain for a guy with a half a pocketfull of change to his name.
“Probably, but we ain’t doing that shadow puppet thing again till 4 in the morning, O. I mean, there’s a limit to cheap entertainment.. makes you feel, I dunno, ‘impotent‘ after a while.
“It was your dumb invention, Solbird, went with the ‘free beer’ you was so proud of.”
“Hey, didn’t we agree that refilling beer cans with tap water gives, what, ten, fifteen percent of the real experience at no cost? Hand puppets is down there in the two-to-five range, even if you’re good at it, which I ain’t admitting.” I was feeling heavy myself from Jean’s odd concoction. She handed me the keys, I gave her a twenty, and we lumbered out the door, out into Eugene, Oregon.
ADD: I asked Ollie at breakfast if I oughta write something like “OREGON=NO GORE=NEGRO ‘O’” or “EUGENE= EEE GUN“, he just held his phone in my face with the new ringtone: Billy Holiday, ‘Don’t Explain’. “Pushkinetics, but sometimes you just gotta let it fall over of its own weight.”