PrintLast Day

San Francisco, June 25, 1997

Chunks of the doorframe fly through the air and fall on either side of me. I stand there, immobile. A hundred cops outside, some in uniform, some not, guns drawn, faces and bodies tense. A tall, heavyset blonde police officer steps forward through the doorway and smacks me in the face with the butt of her shotgun as more cops push past her and into the apartment. I lie on the floor, a foot across my throat, a knee in my groin, a shotgun and a 9mm leveled at my head.

Screen Shot 2014-07-09 at 7.37.52 AMEdan Lepucki’s characters in her debut novel California are living during a time of duress. When I met the author, so was I. Cal and Frida coexist alone in the woods after the collapse of civilization. When Frida gets pregnant they go in search of others, but the community they encounter is full of secrets and peril. My catastrophe occurred when my writing mentor committed suicide. Personally, I was devastated, and professionally, I was lost, until a friend led me to Edan. She gave me a safe place to write again. I signed up for classes with Writing Workshops LA, the company Edan founded and runs from her home in Berkeley. A staff writer at The Millions, she previously published the novella If You’re Not Yet Like Me and her stories have appeared in magazines like Narrative and McSweeney’s. While being smart, witty and outgoing, she is kind and generous to emerging writers. I promised Brad Listi this interview would entail “two blonds talking about death and destruction,” since California takes place in a post-apocalyptic world. He was all for it. Don’t tell him, but when Edan came over to my place for Brown Butter Peach Bars (like Frida, I like to impress people with my baking skills), the conversation never grew dark. In fact, we hardly quit laughing. This is that interview.

Picture the scene:

I was twenty-four. My San Francisco band was on tour. The night in question: we’d just finished playing the 7th Street Entry in Minneapolis, opening for The Celibate Rifles. The show had gone extremely well. Me, manning drums. Dave on guitar, Jim on bass. A great big rush and blur of wailing voices, whiskey and heartache-strung guitars, adrenaline drumsticks. Think thrashy folk music: the bastard lovechild of REM and the Violent Femmes after a long night of ecstasy and crank snorting.

Post-show, I hardly knew what to do with myself. Like other nights when we’d played well, I had so much energy, so much elation that I could hardly contain it. At the time, I knew only one way to calm my emotions, keep my environment in check.

I started drinking.

A S.W.A.T. team of teetotalers couldn’t have torn me from the bottle. Beer after beer, my body weather grew calmer. A little less tornado; more sweet, sudden summer downpour.

A guy approached me. Compared to others in the crowd, he was quite conservatively dressed—Polo shirt, Dockers shoes, khaki jeans cinched up with a brown leather belt. Think Robert Chambers; less the murder rap, more punk rock. “Great show,” he said.

“Thanks,” I replied.

“If you guys need a place to stay tonight,” he said. “You can crash with me.”

The guy turned out to be pretty cool. Lee was his name. Was an environmental lawyer. Knew the Hüsker Dü and Replacements musical catalogs inside out. Could recite all the words to the Dead Kennedys’ “Stars and Stripes of Corruption.” He bought my band mates and me numerous rounds of drinks and shots, then we headed to his place.

Once there, that’s when all the beers and tequila I’d pounded performed their weird juju on me. Within minutes of my arrival, I was in Lee’s bathroom, puking my brains out. I was so shit-faced that if you’d said the word “Jägermeister” my stomach would’ve dropped through my ass. After my intense ralphing session, I was so physically spent and head-spun I couldn’t move. I crashed right there on the cool porcelain tile floor.

Lee popped his head inside the bathroom. “You okay?”

I nodded weakly.

“Can I get you anything?”

“I’m fine,” I uttered. “I just need to stay by the toilet.”

He considered that one, then said: “I think I know exactly what you need.”

Next thing I knew he was leading his beautiful Irish setter, Daisy, into the bathroom. She lay down next to me. Smelled like baby shampoo and fresh hay. Her eyes: bright as lightning bugs sparking dark. She licked me on the ear; right over the scar I’d earned after a safety pin piercing back in high school.

It took all my strength and concentration to stroke her deep red coat. It was silky smooth, a vibrant pulsing of warmth and life. Lucy licked me again. And again. Each tongue-touch was slightly more soothing and life renewing. Think Florence Nightingale; less medical pioneer, more Canis lupus familiaris.

Lucy stayed with me throughout the night, through my numerous rounds of puking and groaning. Every so often, she’d lick my forehead, my cheek. I’d groan a thank you, and offer a coat stroke. Come the next morning, when Lee’s other dogs, and everyone was up and about eating breakfast, talking music and politics, Lucy was still in the bathroom. Right by my side.

Had I not already been familiar with the words that would’ve been my first object lesson in true devotion and healing.