by Matthew Licht
There are worse jobs than booze delivery. Many Beverly Hills Liquors’ customers who ordered in were movie stars reluctant to venture out into the human world. Once, I delivered ten cases of champagne to the Playboy Mansion.
The store’s warehouse manager was a friendly leather man. He had a lush mustache, and didn’t care who knew that he enjoyed being pissed on. “Wooh!” he’d say, “today I’m gonna send you to Lana Turner’s place.” As though famous names made the cardboard boxes lighter.
Lana Turner had ordered a shipment of good gin. She was tiny, still seductive at seventy. Instead of giving me a tip, she looked up and eyelashed me to within an inch of my life. I would’ve become her slave in a second. Stars aren’t stars for nothing.
That’s how I met Cyd Charisse, Fred Astaire, Barbara Stanwyck and Yvette Paradise, who opened her door dressed like the bikini genie she played on TV all those decades ago. You barely noticed the wrinkles and dentures behind the turquoise veil. Her fairy cocktail was sweet white wine.
The only thing I learned from the job was that showbiz people are lousy tippers. In fact, they don’t tip at all.
One smoggy day the warehouse boss said, “Wooh! Today’s the day you get to meet Giggles Gowanus.”
Never heard of her. “Far out,” I said.
“Word is, she’s a real good tipper.”
We had to load the crates for delivery, which made for back-aches instead of bulging muscles. Miss Gowanus, whoever she was, drank bum-grade swill. The address on the invoice was in old Hollywood, a bad place to park. Delivery drivers had to pay their own tickets.
I wasn’t expecting anything good, but that dump was worse. One of the handtruck’s tires had developed a flat, and felt like it weighed a ton. The doorbell quacked like a goose.
“Come on in, it’s open!”
Nobody ever left their doors open in Hollywood.
The place stank. The damaged dolly barely rolled on the mud-colored wall-to-wall. “Hello? Here I am, with lots of good stuff to drink.”
“Oh heaven be praised. In here. In here.”
A fat old lady with pitch-black hair was sprawled on a ruined sofa. Her worn-out bathrobe barely covered her.
“Where would you like me to put all this nectar of the gods?” I wanted to help her out. I wanted a tip.
“Thanks, you’re a sweetie,” she said. “Go on in the kitchen. Then, when you’re done, I got another favor to ask you.”
“Sure, no problem.”
The kitchen was worse than the living room. I stocked the dirty fridge with bottles of white wine, filled the shelf over the sink with red wine squeezed from worms.
I went back into the living room to unload the cases of hard liquor. I thought she’d be spread out nude on her ratty couch. The things you do for a measly tip. Instead, she said, “Sorry, but I can barely walk, and anyway I’m not as strong as I used to be. Would you mind …”
She pointed at a plastic tub on the carpet. I hadn’t noticed it on the way in.
It was a sort of aquarium.
I picked up the basin, did my best not to slosh on the way to the bathroom. The toilet obviously didn’t work and was near to overflowing, so I dumped everything in the bathtub, which turned out to be clogged too. I went back to the kitchen, got a wooden spoon. There wasn’t any soap to wash your hands with.
“Thanks honey,” she said. “C’mere, I wanna give you something.”
As long as it’s not a kiss, I thought.
She handed me a dollar. “Thanks,” I said. “Not necessary, but greatly appreciated. Anything else I can do for you?”
“Wanna see something?”
I thought I’d already seen plenty. “Sure,” I said.
She pointed at a silver frame on a cabinet by the door. There was a picture of her in it, nude under a fluttering toga, dancing away against a backdrop of Santa Monica Bay. She had an hourglass figure. Maybe I whistled.
“I sure was pretty, huh.”
“But I also knew how to tell jokes. I made people laugh, honest. You wanna hear one?”
“Shoot,” I said.
She was funny for real. I thought I’d piss myself.
“They only gave me walk-on roles, though. Never let me talk, or dance. Had to find other ways to make dough, and here I am.”
“Here we are. Listen, I gotta get back to work.”
“So long. You sure are young, strong and handsome.”
She laughed like a nut while I was on the way out. I shut the door pretty hard, but I could still hear her.
Matthew Licht promotes travel by bicycle. His latest story collection, Attenzione Cacca Dappertutto! (Bookinmotion), is for mature adolescent readers.