Angelina at the Serrano

This is from a book I’ve given up on in the same milieu as Jet Set Desolate. Say no to drugs, kids.

San Francisco: 2004. I first met Mira after hours at The Rosetta Bar, my regular Saturday night haunt since I moved to San Francisco in 2000. The bar had just closed. Big Al shut the doors. The remaining few gathered around the bar for a last drink or several for friends of the bar staff and select regulars. I was one. The stalagmites on the ceiling shone blue like an ice cave. Stabbing down as I sat on a leather sofa. Sipped my gin. A blonde head rose by the right armrest and began to talk, fast.

“Hey, do you have a skate key?”

“A what?”

“I brought these roller skates and I’m about to lose a wheel. Hey, what’s your name?  I’m Mira.” She was short. Bleached-blonde with sharply threaded eyebrows and expensive cosmetics on her round face.

“I’m Lena,” I said.

“Cool.” She had shoulder-length blonde hair that flipped as she talked, frenetically. Her lips smooth peach tint lacquered on and cracking. She wore no jewelry, but had on pink-wheeled roller skates. She was short. Maybe 5’1. She wasn’t drinking, but she seemed electrified. I figured some powder or another. A black beaded evening bag that seemed incongruous with her casual dress hung from her left wrist. She kept switching it from left to right nervously. I didn’t know it was stolen. Yet. I didn’t know a lot of things. Yet.

It was dark in the bar. The neon cobra hung over the bottles. The only light. I took a drink. Considered what to say.

“Do you want to come to the bathroom with me.” It was worth a try.

She smiled and followed. Gripping my shoulder cautiously so not to fall on the skates. I wondered how she had made it around the club the whole night. Bodies packed tight together perhaps they had been enough. In the bathroom, I pulled out a small plastic bag. Dipped in a key. Offered it to her. She tilted her head. Her nostrils flared, sucking up the cocaine. Her eyes snapped open.

“Oh, but do you know what’s even better? Do you know what’s even better than this?”

“Shit, what?”  I said, taking my bump.

“Speed!  Go-fast. Have you ever done it?”

“Maybe once in a while.” I would inhale pretty much anything that was put in front of me at this point. Once I moved to San Francisco from collegiate Portland, no drug was off limits. It just felt like adulthood. I did what I wanted.

“This stuff’s a little different. Here, I’ve got a little bit, I’ll share.”

“Cool!  Yeah, I’m up for it, sure.”  The dirty mirrors sparkled a little brighter. The red chandelier hung half-kilter above the sink. A lot of people peed in that sink. I had peed in that sink.

My new friend laid down two tiny lines on the vanity counter. They looked like salt, or a larger crystalline substance.

“Here, here, do you have a card?”

I passed her my Wells Fargo credit card. She took it. Laid it against the crystals. Ground it in a circular motion so that they became fine powder. She lined them up again, this time using the flat of the plastic. There was suddenly a lot more there then had been there before. She rolled up a dollar from that small purse. Passed it to me. I snorted one line. Clutched at my face as the pain slammed claw-like through my nose.

“What the shit, Mira?”

“It’s okay. It’s supposed to do that. It’ll go away. Here.”  She took the dollar from me.
Bent to take her line. The powder vanished with a deep influx of breath.

Her eyes snapped open. “You’re going to like this, I think.”

I did like meth. I liked it a lot.

Mira called me the next morning at ten am because, as she said, “When I meet someone cool, I just have to call, I hate that three day thing.”  She also still had my credit card.

I was still awake. I had been rearranging my room. Painting. Making outlines for projects. Typing gargantuan plans and sparkling ideas into my old PC. I was glad to hear Mira had my card, I had completely forgotten about it and her. We made plans to meet for lunch.

We met at Cafe Encore on Post Street, between Union Square and the Tenderloin. That space that landlords on craigslist called “Lower Nob Hill.” I called it “TL, bitches.”  I stood before the chalkboards. Tried to figure out what kind of panini to get. My stomach ran circles around me. I settled for a chocolate croissant. I didn’t have very much money.

“Ooh! An elegant croissant!”

“Yep. What are you getting?”

“Oh, just a macaroon. That’s the specialty here. They’re delicious. And coffee, of course.”

“Yes, Oh, could I have a coffee, too. Iced. Large. Thanks.” I smiled at the guy behind the counter. He had plugs in his ears and a dour expression. He put a lid on my coffee. Passed me a straw.

There were three tables inside. Since it was a Tuesday morning, two of them were open. We sat.

“So, Mira. I’m going to ask that big question you’re not supposed to ask, but I’m dying to know. What do you do?”  

She fiddled with the lid of her coffee cup. Hot.

“Oh, God,” Mira said. “That’s hard. Like, I guess you could say I’m a housewife?  A muse?  My boyfriend has a job. He works at Goodwill now. Oh my god, there’s so much I have to tell you. My boyfriend, my love, he was caught with other people’s mail in his backpack. Like on his bike. Got in trouble. Then we got evicted when he went in jail. I’ve been staying in weeklies and on people’s couches. My friend has been really cool about letting me stay for a few months, but yeah…”

“Oh, wow. I’m sorry. I had no idea. God, I totally didn’t mean to upset you.”

“Yeah, it’s okay. I mean, he works at Goodwill as a condition of his parole. It’s cool, like he gets first pick at the best records. I don’t get to see him all that much anymore. We used to have this awesome place together in the Mission. Had parties all the time. It was amazing but the landlord hated us.”

“I think I went to a party at your place once. I remember doing E with this guy and taking off and having pretty great sex I think, of what I remember.”

“Oh yeah, that was Angelina’s boyfriend.”

“Who’s Angelina?”

“She’s my best friend. You’ll meet her. You guys will totally get along, oh my god, pretty girls. Just don’t tell her you’re the girl that did E wither ex. She wouldn’t like that.”

I pulled the chocolate out of my croissant and sucked on it. This had the makings of a total shit-show.

I liked Mira, though. There was something about her openness, her manic energy, and the way she so readily took me into her life that I really liked. People in San Francisco were so often caught in little poses. Delicate arcs of conversation like minuets. They rarely confessed bold details of misfortunes unless drugged. Even then the etiquette was to forget it all, even the intimacy, especially the intimacy, in the morning. Here we were in the bald light of day and she had just told me things most people would hide like the bloodstains on their pillow. 

A few days later when Mira called to invite me out with her and Angelina, I was pretty excited. I was going through a friend drought, having alienated my last party BFF Audrey by seeming too obviously in love with her.

“I think you want more out of this friendship than I prepared to give you,” were her last words. Toss of hair that she only had blow-dried in the salon. My type of woman was very high maintenance and very unavailable. Stone high femme? Does that exist?

 So I showed up at Angelina’s Tenderloin apartment. Right at the border of Union square like so many things. We are all just looking in. It was an elegant building with a massage parlor next door. It was ten o’clock. I tried to remember her apartment number, than called Mira.

“Oh, hi! You’re here, great!  I’ll buzz you in.”

The gate squealed. I opened it and the inner door as well. The lobby was small and utilitarian. Brown molding over beige walls with a small portrait of Louis XIV on the far wall. A succession of mail slots. I realized I still didn’t know the apartment number. A head popped out of the first door. Apartment 1. Angelina was beautiful. Long chestnut brown hair, flowing sideways past a face tilted with a querulous smile. 

“Are you Lena?”

“Yes, hi.”

“Come in.”

She pulled up. Opened the door. Let me into a studio apartment with a Murphy bed tilted at a 45-degree angle from the wall. The walk-in closet bulged with fabulous clothes. The rest of the apartment was strangely bare. There were no CDs or records. No TV. Simple furniture. An abundance of band paraphernalia on the walls. Most of it was for her boyfriend’s band. 

Angelina was wearing tight black jeans and a sequined tube top. So was I. That was my regulation going out look. We laughed. She said, “Well, I should change something about this outfit.” She disappeared into the voluminous closet. Came out with a blouse and a leather jacket. Mira and I went into the kitchen while she changed. I thought about her long, pale arms. I thought about the marks on them.

We went back in. Mira said, “Does anyone want a line before we go?”

“Oh. I brought some coke if you’re interested.” I said.

“You girls go ahead, I’ve got something to finish up in the bathroom,” Angelina said. She picked up a make-up bag from a low table. Walked down the hall.

Mira said, “Speed and coke cancel each other out. You want to do one or the other and speed lasts longer. We can do your stuff at the end of the night if people come over, because social people, they don’t usually like to do speed. Oh, I forgot to tell you. Don’t tell people we’re doing this. It’s our secret. Speed’s sort of less socially acceptable than coke.”

“Ok, that’s cool.”

 She laid out tiny lines and we did them quickly. Waiting. Talking. We waited longer.  Angelina took what felt like an hour. 

“Is she okay in there? I said. “She looked great already, I don’t get it.”

“That’s another secret,” Mira said. “She’s shooting up in there.” 

At the Cat Club, Mira swirled in and out of the dancers. Angelina and I sat clustered close and talked. We did a little coke and talked some more. She told me about her ex.

“We were the most beautiful couple. People would see us in restaurants and come up to us and ask us if we were famous. I felt famous with him. Like we were Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithful. His band was doing so well for awhile. And we were going to get married. He told me he was shopping for rings. I loved him. I loved him so much. We were doing heroin every day. His parents had given him a credit card for food and band expenses. Everyday we would go to the ATM and cash advance $100 from it for heroin for the day. It was like a dream. I was high all the time. We wore beautiful clothes. Rolling Stones every day.”

“Is he here tonight?”

“No. No. Let me tell you what happened. It’s horrible. It all went wrong. It’s sort of my fault, or his family thinks it’s my fault. They found out, of course. his parents  noticed the credit card was being bled dry. Called him up. Were like, what the fuck. He tried not to tell them but his brother found out from one of his band-mates. Told his parents. They came down. Had an intervention with him. Told him he couldn’t see me anymore. I died inside. I was practically living with him. The band had bought a house in the Sunset with the money from their first advance from the record company. I was over there every day. Then suddenly, no Sunset house. Back at my apartment. And I noticed little things were missing. I gave Mira a key to just look over things. You know…”

Angelina leaned closer. Whispered in my ear. Her perfume intoxicating above the sweat and beer. “She pawned things. Things were missing. You can’t trust Mira. I know you asked her what she does. I know you guys are friends now. That’s great. She needs good friends. You seem like a good person. But watch out. Don’t be too naive with her. She does credit card scams. She does gift card scams. I do too. I had to once I lost my boyfriend. I haven’t worked in years. He used to support me and before that my mom did. Lately I’ve been scraping by on pawning things, boosting and scamming stuff. You can steal things from department stores and return them for a lot of money. It’s called boosting.”

“Here, have another bump.”

Without getting up, I fed it to her on the edge of my key. There were so many people pressed tight around us that no one noticed. She kept talking, “It’s nice to talk to someone who isn’t in the life. What do you do, like how do you make it?”

“I temp, here and there. It’s alright. I don’t make a lot of money, but it’s okay.”

“Yeah, that’s good.”

“Where is he now?”

“Oh.” Her face crumpled. “He’s either in rehab or he’s back in the Sunset recording with his band. He’s not allowed to contact me.”

“I’m sorry. We don’t have to talk about that.”

“Let’s not. Let’s dance, Lena. Didn’t we come here to dance? Of course we didn’t, but let’s dance anyway.” She grabbed my hand. We blended into the mass of people cramming in small dance floor. Hands raised. Bodies writhing. Her body against mine. Pulling away and then close and then away again.