@

There are two major bookstores in the world, City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco and Shakespeare and Co. in Paris.

Last week I read and discussed my novel at City Lights Bookstore. It was a dream come true. I’m not sure how my literary career can move forward from such an honor. I could die today with bragging rights for my future in the eternal nothingness.

Let me back up…..

***

In 1994 I went to Paris. I was 24 years old. I brought all of my handwritten poetry and expected Shakespeare and Co. to be ecstatic and celebrate an unpublished poet from San Francisco. I had visions that I’d be ushered to an upstairs room and given bottled water while they read over my petit opus, my generous contribution to literature. Bottled water would switch to Absinthe and I’d get a buzz on the smells of the spirits of authors past that also graced Shakespeare and Co. with their greatness.

I had recently discovered Henry Miller, Charles Bukowski, Jack Kerouac, Louis Ferdinand-Celine. I knew I was next on the list of these greats. My delusion was squashed when I asked about poetry readings and fumbled my papers onto the counter. I can’t exactly remember the reply of the clerk, but I remember my dreams crushed. Who are you?

Customers breathed down my neck as I picked up my papers from the counter and the few that fell to the floor.

It was 1994 and I went to Paris to stretch out my literary wings that were still soaked and unsuitable for flying even in my hometown of San Francisco. Why would Paris embrace me?

Because my last name is DuShane. I’m one of you.

I walked long hours alone in Paris, with my notepad, and a strict budget since the French Franc was strong against a weak US Dollar. I slept in a closet space of a friend of a friend in the suburb of Nanterre. It was understood as only a crash pad, during the day, I had to be out and about. With no one, going nowhere.

I tried to say hi to women, but I didn’t even get kissed. Four weeks in Paris and my lips touched no one.

…..End flashback interlude of my 20-something naivety.

***

Last week I fulfilled a dream. One of the greatest bookstores in the world actually hosted a night where I was the star. It only took 16 years from my Paris disappointment to spread my dry, literary wings in my hometown of San Francisco.

City Lights. Kerouac, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti.

I feel blessed and lucky. I worked hard on my novel. I wrote it in blood. While loosely based on my fucked up life growing up in a cult, I actually have to acknowledge that without that experience I couldn’t have created the characters or have written that book. My novel, endearing, funny and tragic, is a homage to the human condition. Of people standing by their belief systems and making decisions from hearts they feel are pure. Decisions that might damage themselves and others.

I was able to read at City Lights….to discuss these topics….to read and have the crowd laugh and have them in utter silence when I discussed tragedy. A woman asked me if the world would be a better place without religion. I don’t have the answer. I know some people need religion. I know some exploit religion. I know some people are truly good, whether religious or not. I’m not religious, but if I started a religion, I’d called it, Just Don’t Be A Dick.

Without flaws, our stories, our novels, would suck. Without conflict we can’t embrace our human condition. I used to think I was unique as someone who grew up a Jehovah’s Witness….while there are some things I’ve gone through that 99% of the world didn’t have to go through, I know my story isn’t so unique. Most of us are doing our best. Even the assholes. Even the Jehovah’s Witnesses who have spewed hatred at me and personally attacked me for writing a novel that exposes situations they’d rather not have made public. One such Jehovah’s Witness tried to reason with me the only way he knew how, I know your book is true (regarding doctrine and situations), but why make it harder for us to preach?

Then I heard the same thing again. Why make it harder for us to preach?

They don’t even realize they want recruitment numbers over truth. When my book deal went through, I received vicious phone calls and emails from them. They’re human.

It hurt at the time. It still hurts a bit, but my peace is knowing they’re misguided. My peace is knowing that my novel is out there. They don’t have read it if they choose not to, but they can if they like.

……This is the part where Tony realizes he went from funny to grateful to serious to reflection.

***

….Wait, he doesn’t….

Where would American punk rock be without Reagan? Would Henry Rollins have turned into some type of Gallagher, smashing watermelons into a crowd because America actually decided not to be dicks for oil?

Let’s back up further. Would we have Louis Ferdinand-Celine if he wasn’t injured during World War I? Without Celine, could there be a Kerouac?

What? You would like to go back centuries? What if Cervantes never went to war, was never captured and had a posh life? Would we have Don Quixote?

I really don’t know any writer or humorist or comedian or artist that hasn’t suffered. I read them, I listen to them, and they speak to my soul.

I don’t have the answers. We suffer and we can sometimes laugh about it, at the absurdity of the human condition. At the flaws of ourselves.

Last week I read and discussed my novel at City Lights Bookstore. It was a dream come true.

As the police car turns into the driveway, I notice the station looks like my elementary school without windows. The concrete has been freshly painted a two-tone brown, tan on top and chocolate on the bottom, just like Uncle Kevin’s van.

I wish someone would come and spray paint a sunset on the building and make things all better, but I know once we drive through a gate with razors along the top that I’m fucked.

I check the doors and wonder if I can roll out like Steve McQueen, but there aren’t any handles. Probably a good thing. Flying down LBJ Freeway during midday traffic, I feel pretty sure my head would get squashed like a watermelon on a hot day, my seeds sizzling on the asphalt.

It’d be cool if Sam Fuller was around. He could shoot it with his 16mm camera.

I sink into the shredded leather seat. I’ll be a watermelon anyway when my dad finds out I’ve been arrested. He’ll probably drop kick me into the creek behind the house. The kids who smoke pot down there will find my body and flick cigarettes at me while they jack off to Black Sabbath.

At least I’ll be listening to killer music.

A girl cop with enormous cock-eyed boobs waves to our car as we park in a loading dock. I wonder if she knows how retarded she looks.

She winks at me.

“Whatcha got? A couple of girrrrrrrrls?” she asks, stretching out the word the way I know she wants spread my legs.

“I’m not a lesbian hooker, that’s for sure,” I snap as I get out from the back seat, though maybe I should have rethought the fishnets that morning.

“Just a couple of juvi’s,” the cop who drove says, slamming the door.

“Look like pros to me,” Old Cock Eye says with a shrug as she presses a buzzer that opens a metal door.

The police station smells like drywall and tuna fish sandwiches, but no one’s eating lunch. The place is a classroom in summer though all the empty desks have mile high stacks of papers on them. A cop near the window opens a filing cabinet. The squeal of it opening rips a hole through the unexpected quiet.

They must all be out chasing bad guys.

No hookers or pimps, either.

I’m a little disappointed. I was secretly hoping for a carnival of sinners and lunatics.

“Is Kerry Von Erich here?” I ask, hoping that his recent coke bust brought him here.

No one answers me.

I wonder if I’m supposed to be quiet now since I’m going to prison. Paul Newman didn’t say too much in Cool Hand Luke. Of course, Paul Newman doesn’t need to say too much. Coolness doesn’t need language.

I wonder if I’ll have to work a chain gang the way he did, and I wonder if they’ll give me nail polish to fix my nails when I get a chip in them, and I wonder if I can listen to The Pretenders while I hammer.

Probably not.

Probably, I’ll have to wear stupid striped pajamas.

Probably, I’ll get fist fucked by a girl with bad acne.

The handcuffs hurt. I try to wiggle my wrists, but they slice into me like cat claws no matter what I do. I surrender to the pain and shuffle alongside my sister, Michele, who was arrested with me for stealing a felony’s worth of clothes from the Joskes Junior section.

Since we weren’t even smart enough to take the clothes off the hangers before we shoved them into giant paper sacks we snaked from an unattended register, I figure we’re looking at some hard time.

Michele’s mohawk starts to wilt. Mascara tracks splatter her face, and I can’t help but laugh, thinking she looks like a sad stegosaurus. If only she would get really pissed off the way she does on the school playground and bulldoze our way out of this place.

We might stand a chance.

One of the cops gives me the devil eye for laughing, so I shut my hole. No sense starting trouble with The Boss. I might need cigarettes later, even though I don’t smoke.

The fingerprint ink stinks like licorice. I have a marker at home that smells the same way and sometimes I sniff it for so long my head gets all spinny. Sometimes I get ink on my nose. I wonder if the ink on my fingers will be as hard to come off.

Probably.

Michele starts to cry when they separate us. I guess they don’t want us planning a big escape or anything. Probably smart since Michele and I tend to bring out the crafty in each other. We both like action movies, and sometimes we practice being Bruce Lee.

(Usually though, we just throw stars against the garage door.)

We might need more practice if we’re going to prison.

“Don’t be scared,” I say to Michele as they take her into a room that looks like a normal office.

But I can tell she is:

Scared.

I’m scared, too.

I don’t want to get fist fucked by a girl with bad acne or cock-eyed boobs.

“I have a Milky Way in my purse,” I say to the cop who takes me into a small room. I hold my breath, hoping she’ll take my bribe, but she opens a notepad instead, clicking her pen a hundred times.

“I don’t feel so good,” I say listening to the dizzy rhythm of her Bic.

She leaves and comes back with a Dixie cup of water. I drink it in one gulp, but the fire in my throat rages. I wonder if she’s slipped me a mickey, even though I don’t know what a mickey is, but since I heard it on TV, I wonder anyway.

I think about asking, but I catch her staring at me.

I stare back.

Staring always works in movies.

Clint Eastwood has the best stare. I channel him.

A year passes before she says anything. She gets uglier by the day. My blood starts to curdle. Fear morphs into contempt. I’m sick of grown-ups who play games.

“How old are you?” she finally asks.

“I already told you,” I snap, slipping into the role of prisoner without an understudy.

“What’s your name?”

“You already know. You have my paycheck.” One of the many things she confiscated after she took me down, including my Bonne Bell lip-gloss, which I want back. It’s hard to find in root beer.

She asks for my phone number.

I hesitate.

“Which one?” I ask.

“Whichever one you want me to call so I can explain this mess.”

“My mom,” I blurt. “Call my mom.”

I give her my mom’s phone number. She stands. I’m so relieved she’s calling my mom that I don’t realize I’m smiling.

“You’re a disgrace,” she says. “Look at you. Guess you feel pretty proud of yourself.”

I examine myself. From my patent leather go-go boots to the fishnets ripped during the big chase sequence through the mall to my snakeskin miniskirt. I felt like a rock star this morning, but now I just feel like a sad old country song.

“Am I going to prison?” I ask.

She laughs then leaves me to worry about my future.

I think about all the prison movies I’ve seen.

My hands get cold. I stick them under my arms, but I start shivering allover nonetheless. I think about all the fucked up things Billy Hayes suffered in Midnight Express. I remember how scared I was just watching the movie. Could I survive such brutality?

My feet fall asleep and my teeth start chattering. I wonder how I’ll ever be able to defend myself from a fist fucker if I can’t even feel my hands and feet.

Why am I so cold?

I keep thinking about what the cop said. Her words boom in my head like a bass drum.

Disgrace. Disgrace. Disgrace. Da-dumph.

Disgrace. Disgrace. Disgrace. Da-dumph.

I write a quick rock song in my head before my thoughts turn to my mom.

Her words will gut me.

“I’m disappointed in you,” she’ll say as she leans back in our yellow velvet couch. I’ll stare at the cranes in the Chinese screen above her head in order to avoid looking at her face.

Anything to avoid that face.

It’s a face that means what it says. A face that never lies. A face that can tell your fortune and bless you on your journey in life. A face that can cure loneliness and slow time. A face that will rain an ice age because of what I’ve done and crack every time it remembers until there’s nothing but canyons of grief and rivers of disillusion.

The Japanese believe suicide is a virtue.

I think about Seppuku, the sword plunging into my stomach with a quick jab. No hesitation. No regrets. I think about the back and forth slicing motion of the blade. I wonder if it hurts.

Of course, it hurts.

I think about downing a bottle of St. Joseph’s aspirin (they’re so good), and sitting in the garage with the car on. (I got this idea from an after school special.)

I think about putting a nail gun to my head and chewing on Oleander leaves.

Cliff diving. Bull fights. And San Antonio enchiladas.

After forty-five minutes of sweating out the shivers and daydreaming about death (and occasionally food), the cop finally returns.

“Is it too late for you to call my dad instead?” I ask as she walks through the door. I’d rather take a beating than endure my mother’s broken face.

“You’re Mom’s already here,” she replies.

My heart quickens as we walk down a long hallway drenched in sour apple light. I can see Michele standing with my Mom’s boyfriend, Larry, a fireman we really like because he convinced my mom to let us go see The Rocky Horror Picture Show every Friday night (probably just so he could make out with her on the yellow couch, but it was still cool of him.)

I’m guessing my Rocky Horror days are over, and as soon as I see my mom, I know I’m right. There won’t be birthdays or camping trips or sleepovers or television for fifty thousand years.

If I live that long.

She doesn’t utter a word.

Instead, she watches me approach.

Dead Man Walking.

Her face burns a hole in me,

and I am reformed.