The night of the last Monday of October, Rowley Fair was in the back alley of The Purple Panda fist to fist with an Englishman who had told Wan to “get her rice-picking-*** an English beer and not any of that ***** stuff”. Rowley had never understood racism. He was also out of money and knew if he won, Wan would let him drink for free. Rowley was not a hero. He didn’t understand what that was. Rowley reacted, perhaps skimming the surface of the ideal when forced to do the hard thing to get what he wanted, but never on purpose. Also, he liked Wan and drinking. Mostly drinking.
He threw his fist up into Terry’s (the Englishman’s) chin. They both heard a loud crunch – Terry clearer than Rowley. Terry lurched his head back. It fell in between his shoulders, dangling there like a meat-filled apple about to fall from its branch. Rowley tapped Terry’s chest with the toe of his boot and down went Terry onto his back. Cody Horn handed Rowley a shot and a beer. He threw back the brown, finished half of the suds, and poured the rest on Terry’s face. Everyone laughed. Someone shouted, “Give’em another! Put tea time to bed!” Rowley swung his right foot back and brought it up into Terry’s jaw, feeling his bottom teeth smash and split into his top ones. There were a few scattered, lazy claps from the drunken hands that had been watching, but soon the coliseum fell away, leaving only the victor and the defeated. A seagull called out.
“Another round, Wan,” Rowley said, gently touching the crown of his head, “****** punched me on the top of my head. Who does that?” He looked around for Cody. He was talking to K, the local bike. They were leaving.
“Beer and a shot,” Wan said disinterested, placing the drinks in front of him. “You clean up the mess back there?”
“Good.” Wan took a rag from somewhere and cleaned blood off the bar.
"Place slow tonight," Wan noted, "Why?"
Rowley shrugged, "Cold out there."
"How you know?"
"I was just out there fighting that englishmen," Rowley reminded her. He took a sip of his beer and noticed blood leaking into the frothy gold.
"Oh yeah," Wan nodded, "I forget. Where he anyway?"
"Who? The englishmen?"
"Yeah," she snapped, "Who the hell you think I talking about?"
"****," Rowley snorted, "Probably still back there. He called you rice-picker."
"I been called worse."
An hour passed and the englishmen still hadn't come back into the bar. The crowd had thinned. It was only Wan, Rowley, and a few college students that looked too soft to be there. Rowley contemplated following them out the bar, down an alleyway, and robbing them, but told himself he'd already had enough blood on his hands for one day. A seagull screeched outside as a distant police siren wailed over a few blowing fog horns from ships bobbing along in the bay. Everything was still and crisp, close and far away, silent and precise.
"One more, Wan," Rowley ordered, putting up his hand, "Another Anchor."
"You put on tab?"
"I thought I was drinking for free?"
"Why you think you drink for me?" she sneered, "Cause' you always ******' here?"
"Cause' of the englishmen, remember?" Rowley was getting tired of reminding her of this.
"I didn't ask you to do nothing," she countered, "Why I gotta' pay for something I don't even want?"
Rowley knew this was going to be an argument he would eventually lose, so he threw up his hands and pushed the stool out away from the bar.
"You leaving?" Wan asked, suddenly desperate.
"I'm broke," he admitted, "I got nothing left on me. Been broke since my first drink."
"Sit down. I get you beer."
Rowley looked towards the door, then down at the bar. He sat down.
She cracked the beer and put it in front of Rowley. "Don't tell no one. Next thing I know, I got every ******* *** in San Francisco coming here to fight foreigners for free beers."
"Lock and key are safe with me."
"Good." Wan waddled back to the far corner of the bar, slipped on her extra large reading glasses, and re-opened her Chinese newspaper. Rowley read the headline: KIDNAPPING SCARES CHINESE. He couldn't read anything else. It was all in Chinese. He looked down into his beer and watched the bubbles build up and explode. He finished that one, had another, then another with a shot, and then another. After that, Rowley had one more, noticed the college kids were gone and that it was 3AM. Wan was asleep with her bare feet up on the bar. Rowley shook her awake, where she instinctively attacked by swatting for his neck. She caught him in the arm pit and was going for another, but Rowley somehow drunkenly caught her hand and looked her in the eyes.
"******* Wan," Rowley blurted, "It's me!"
"Me who?!" she yelped.
"Rowley you little demon!"
"Oh..." she said, calming down, "I'm sorry. I can't see a thing in these glasses. They only to read."
Rowley let her go slowly, making sure she wasn't faking it, and took a few groggy steps back towards the door. "I'm heading out..." he gasped - He was surprisingly out of breath. "You'll be alright?"
"Huh?" Wan asked, startled, waking up, "Yeah! I be fine! What time is it?" But Rowley was gone, already out onto the streets trying to catch the last 1 bus to the outer sunset, which he caught just in time and rode alone until his stop on 44th. He nodded to the bus driver who sat motionless staring out the windshield, a cigarette dangling between their lips. The fog above was still rolling in thick and heavy as he walked to his apartment and entered. He undressed at the foot of his bed, leaving his clothes strewn on the ground, and climbed in to sleep a few hours before he'd have to get up in the morning to go to work.
The phone rang, startling Rowley out of his sleep. He rose out of bed, blinking into the morning sun that came in through blinds of the window. He looked at his nightstand clock. It read 4:45 AM. That left him with exactly two hours of shut eye. He moaned and rolled over, clapping his one extra pillow over his ear. The ringing stopped, but then, did a very curious thing: it started again. Rowley mumbled something to the affect of motherfugginleftbrainedhalfwitteddonkeylizardblowjobaskinforeskinwearingcamelbackeddrunkpedderassmangocravingfreeeek out loud as he got up, but just as he reached the phone, it shut off again.
"Are you ******' kiddin'?" he asked out loud. He went to the bathroom to *** and poured himself a glass of water from the kitchen faucet. He lived in an in-law. Everything was conveniently near by.
As he started for his bed he calculated that if he slept one more hour, he could get a good three hours in before work. Sleep was of little importance to Rowley. As long as he got two, two and a half hours, he could do his job without killing anybody. He sat on the edge and started to finish the glass of water he'd poured, but the phone rang again. It startled Rowley so much that his hand shook, pouring water all over himself.
"*******!" he screamed, "WHO THE HELL IS CALLING ME RIGHT NOW!?"
He darted toward the phone and ripped it off the receiver.
"YES?!" he howled into the phone, "WHO IN THE HELL IS IT? I JUST POURED COLD WATER ALL OVER MY ******* MEMBER BECAUSE OF YOU!"
There was silence on the other end of the line.
"HELLO!" Rowley shouted again.
"This is an automated message for Rowley Rubens. If this is Rowley Rubens please press one."
Rowley viciously pounded the one key on the receiver.
"You, Rowley Rubens, are not required to come in to work today. If you have any questions, please contact..." Rowley slammed the phone down on the receiver.
"*******..." he moaned, "Another pass."
And with that, Rowley threw himself on the bed and slept as long as he **** well pleased.
In the morning, Rowley rose at noon and made himself a cup of strong, black coffee. There was a single piece of bread and a single egg in the house. No milk. He couldn't remember the last time he went grocery shopping. He scoured his pantries for some form of food, be it crackers, moldy fruits, or canned goods, but there was nothing but soy sauce packets and half empty bottles of hot sauce. Dust lined the pantries where food should be and the plates he did own already looked *****, though they hadn't been used in weeks. Rowley gingerly took down a cup and placed it near coffee maker. Soon, he told himself.
There was a Splenda packet in the back of his tool drawer which consisted of: a baggy of rusted bobby pins, a tin of very old Pomade hair gel which he pocketed immediately, loose change of nickels and pennies, year old utility bills, old unpaid parking tickets back when he owned the 75' GMC truck (he was forced to sell it to pay rent and has been regretting it ever since), an empty pack of Marlboro Red's, a pocket knife, and various other tools and electrical wiring he picked up on the street thinking he'd use one day, but never did. He ripped open the baby pink Splenda bag and poured its chemically goodness inside.
"Now," he spoke aloud, "For the entrée."
He cracked the single egg on a lightly oiled skillet and tossed the egg shell in the garbage disposal. The single piece of bread sat there on the counter to the side. Rowley watched the egg as it popped and sizzled on the pan underneath the heat. He craftily flipped the egg over with a fork and watched and waited as the other side cooked. Once he believed it was finished, he took the pan off of the heat, turned it down, then placed the piece of bread on the burner. Dark circular burn marks quickly started to form, along with tiny trails of smoke. Rowley flipped the bread, let it sit for no more then 15 seconds, then placed it on a plate. He slid the egg from the pan to the plate and smiled.
After breakfast, he took a shower to wake himself up and threw on the clothes he had been wearing the night before: a slightly wrinkled plain white t-shirt, loose blue jeans that were two sizes too big, a clean pair of knee high socks, fresh boxer shorts he'd found in the back of his dresser drawers, and his work boots because they were the only pair of shoes he owned. Yet, once Rowley was dressed, he was at a loss of what to do with himself for the day. He checked his wallet. He had five bucks, which would get him lunch and a cup of coffee, but he thought he'd like a drink on his day off, so he remembered to reserve the five for a loaf of bread and a drink. He'd already had coffee today anyway. Anymore and he would get all jumpy.
Rowley walked down the hill to the Sutro Baths. Once a destination for the people of the city to swim and socialize, now it was just another tourist mark and outlook to the great expanse of the Pacific Ocean. There was a great diner on the edge of a cliff that Rowley loved to go, but since he'd already had his breakfast, he passed it by with a wistful indifference, breathing in the ocean air while the sun hit the back of his neck, warming it. He felt good trotting down the hillside toward the ocean, listening to the rumble of the waves and screeches of the seagulls overhead. For a moment, any worry he may have had dissipated like the morning fog and all was clear.
There was a large boulder, 30 yards wide and 25 yards in length, that sat at the edge of the water in the middle of the beach. The surface was made of jagged rocks and was very difficult to climb. Seagulls and young men stood at the peak of the boulder while Rowley stood looking up from the bottom. Behind him, European tourists snapped photos of their fit children, laughing and flexing with the blue sky with streaks of white clouds behind them. Behind the boulder, loud claps of the ocean slapping against the rock wall echoed across the beach. A dog ran down the length of the beach chasing a tennis ball while a young asian couple nervously asked a man who was walking alone to take their picture with the water behind them. The man begrudgingly snapped their photo, handed their camera back, and continued on to wherever he was going. Rowley watched this exchange and worried he had seen himself in the man in later years. People like me, he told himself, I'll never be a man alone on the beach wondering where to go next.
On the right side of the boulder, he watched a pair of two young boys make their way down along a narrow path. Rowley waited until they were on the beach, then clambered up the steep side from which they had came. There were other ways to go up the boulder, and Rowley had done them all, but this one to Rowley's surprise, was definitely the easiest. He was at the peak gazing out at the great Pacific with the Cliff House restaurant to the right of him in no more than three minutes. It usually took him ten if he went his usual way. Out of shape, he coughed and realized he was out of breath. He found a small rock that doubled as a seat on the edge of the boulder. In front of him was a great drop down to the ocean. He sat down and tried to catch his breath. After a minute or two, he wiped his brow, patted his pants pockets, and was elated to discover he'd remembered his cigarettes and lighter. He took one out and smoked.
He inhaled and exhaled and watched the grey smoke get caught in the wind. The knife edged waves rose and fell with an easy flow. A large oil tanker puttered behind the skipper's line like a great big dumb dog. Rowley thought it funny that sometimes there was such personality in man-made things. Why were they like that? The line connecting the skipper to the tanker looked so thin to Rowley, that he thought it should snap at any minute, but then, he remembered that he was very far away and that the line was much bigger than it appeared from where he was sitting. A "V" of pelicans drifted by Rowley. He followed them until they flew out of sight and out of his mind. His cigarette was nearly finished, so he decided to punch it out on the dry rock where he sat, proceeding to flick the **** out over the side. The cigarette soared from Rowley's hand as if leaping from it and dove down towards the cold ocean. It slid for a moment against the jagged edge of the rock until it finally landed softly onto the surface of the water. For a moment, it rocked back and forth with the ocean waves, but quickly, the filter became water logged, heavy, and sunk to the ocean floor. Rowley, unconscious of what his discarded cigarette **** was doing, looked forward and wondered what time exactly the sun would be setting and if he had enough time to get lunch, take a nap, and get to The Purple Panda before nightfall.
Rowley walked back up the hill to the cafe that overlooked the water. He ordered a coffee with an everything bagel, butter on the side. As he sipped his coffee, he watched the waitress toast his bagel on the skillet. She wore a simple red dress with a floral pattern and had her hair up in a tight bun. Rowley already knew her name from her name tag, but asked it anyway.
"Nora," she told him, "How's your coffee?"
"Very good," he nodded.
The waitress eyed him, paused, and then asked, "You're that Rowley guy, aren't you?"
He looked down into his cup of coffee, then up into the waitresses eyes. Rowley didn't say anything.
"I've seen you before," she nodded, thinking where, "You live around here?"
"Kinda," he muttered.
A bell dinged. Rowley's food was ready. The waitress swiveled around on her heel and walked to the cook. The cook said something under his breath. The waitress smiled uneasily and shook her head. Rowley could see he wasn't wanted, at least wasn't wanted by the cook. He had no idea why. The waitress arrived back at Rowley's table with his order: a plain hamburger with everything on the side and french fries. She placed it gently in front of Rowley.
"I know where I've seen you," she smiled, "The Purple Panda."
Rowley looked up again at her grinning face, trying to remember it. He noticed how her crows feet on the outer edge of her eyes squeezed together tightly and her bright red cheeks were pushed up into a little ball. He had never seen her before in his life, but she seemed to think he was some kind of celebrity.
"Yeah," she started again, a twinkle in her eye now that she saw that it was him, "You're the guy always getting in fights at that place? Didn't you beat a guy up there just yesterday?"
"Had to," Rowley shrugged, starting to dress his hamburger, "******* called Wan a rice picker."
"Thats terrible!" she gasped.
"Yeah," he said, "I guess it is. I just don't like