LITTLE RED DEVIL
Excerpt from the forthcoming memoir MINDSWEEPER
by LEE BRIDGERS
Clayton Street at Haight, San Francisco, 2003.
ago opened the door with a rat on his shoulder, gazed past me at the entourage waiting on the sidewalk, pointed to a pile of human feces on the threshold and said, “Watch your step. They do this all the time.”
This guy hadn’t changed much in ten years, hadn’t bathed, still wore the same homemade leathers and still smelled like that cheese that grows in a fat man’s butt crack. Add a spritz of burned crankcase oil and you have Dago’s aroma. He was missing a few more teeth, the foreseeable result of being gun-butted in the mouth three decades before.
“So what’s happening?” I asked.
“Still rotting and falling into the dirt,” he said. “You can come in, but remember, this isn’t my house. This is Ester’s place and she hates company . . . I don’t have any say-so about who visits, so she’ll be pissed if she finds you here.”
I’d met Ester when she was a teenager just off the plane from Germany and the gang rape and beating that had destroyed her trust in mankind. Ester was a beautiful creature with funky facial tattoos, the craziest, angriest, scariest punk I’d ever met. Now she was a street artist and Dago, as it seemed, had given her a bit of hope for the goodness of humanity. She was still crazy, though, because anyone who would adopt Dago as a live-in lover had to be totally nuts.
“Dago, you’re living in a house . . . the world is coming to an end!”
For as long as I’d known him he’d lived in a car or a truck or under a car or a truck or in the great wide open. This was something new: a basement apartment with doors, walls, a toilet and a shower. I couldn’t imagine Dago sleeping in a bed, which was impractical to say the least, considering that he never removed his dirty clothing or torso-mounted accessories. Dago felt like he had to be ready for anything at any given moment, so he attached as many tools to himself as is humanly possible and carried gear equivalent to his own body weight around as a manner of living.
“Ester’s out shopping with her mom. They’ll be back anytime,” he said as he backed into the building, repeating the warning to everyone, “Watch out for the shit and watch what you say around Ester and her mom. I’m on thin ice around here. Me and Ratzo are just pets.”
“I like the rat, Dago. He goes with your outfit.” Dago’s clothing was as it always was; bare feet covered with black grease, filthy leather loincloth and leggings, dirty ragged thermal underwear top, leather vest, black leather cowboy hat and those tools that had multiplied over time, attached to his body with clips, straps, hooked to the ammo belt around his waist with carabiners and velcroed to every limb and lapel.
He even used his pierced earlobes to carry tools around.
“Ratzo is my good buddy,” he said. “Don’t try to touch him. He bites everybody but me. He was going to be snake food, but the snake died, heh, heh, heh.”
Ratzo was perched on a towel laid over Dago’s right shoulder, sniffing the air, gripping the terry cloth tight as Dago spun around and led us down an exterior hallway adjacent the garage past a panhead Harley Davidson hardtail scattered in parts on the cement floor. At the back of the garage Ester had partitioned a tiny makeshift apartment that included a kitchen/workshop and bedroom. Both rooms were decorated with her paintings of dragons and demons and colorful paper mache and plaster sculptures of little red devils.
“This is all Ester’s art. She’s really into this little red devil guy.”
“How long have you had Ratzo?”
“Since last fall.” Dago showed me his thumb. “See that scar? The little fucker tore the top of that knuckle right off.”
“Ouch, he really did some damage.”
“Like a can opener.” He rotated his fist, held it in front of his face, staring down an imaginary Ratzo in his grasp, acting out the scene: “The first time I picked him up he bit me and I just let him chow down on my thumb. Then I yelled NO and squeezed him harder and harder until he stopped. When I loosened my grip, he bit me again, so I squeezed him so hard his eyes popped out and all his joints started crackin’, then I yelled, NO! . . . He’s a fast learner. He never bit me again. He’s a good rat now, aren’t you Ratzo?”
Ratzo was looking at Dago like he’d heard the story a thousand times.
Dago put his thumb and forefinger on either side of Ratzo’s mouth and pulled back his jowls to reveal a set of very impressive sharp teeth. “Now he lets me do anything with him. He trusts me completely. He knows I could have crushed him and he knows who feeds him, heh heh heh.” Dago lifted Ratzo by his tail and in one swift movement swept the towel from his shoulder, placed it on the kitchen dinette, and rolled Ratzo inside. Then he draped the tubular terrycloth burrito around the back of his neck under his hair. When he lifted the end of the towel there was Ratzo’s little nose.
“He likes this . . . and he’s always with me this way,” Dago said, “and most people don’t even know he’s around . . . my neck, that is.”
“It looks so . . . Ivy League.”
In another deft demonstration of precise and practical acrobatics, Dago unrolled Ratzo from the towel, lifted him by his tail and draped the towel back over his right shoulder then set Ratzo down under his hair again. Dago turned and Ratzo sat up, sniffed and fondled Dago’s nose with his front paws.
“He’s one smart rat,” he said proudly, then sniffed the air like Ratzo and said, “Ester will be back at any time, so, really, watch out what you say. Her mother doesn’t like me. They’ve been on my case lately. Don’t mock them. I’m glad you brought a guitar, but . . . let her ask you to play. Okay?”
“Dago, you’re so domesticated. I’m definitely going to mention the Nazis.”
“Hey! I’m not kiddin’! No messin’ around. You can make things bad for me. We’re in Ester’s space and if you make her uncomfortable, she’ll blame it on me.”
Ester’s cave-like nest was intriguing with its strange folk art and meticulous attention to every weird detail. A large red paper mache demon sat on the kitchen counter. Dreamcatchers constructed from leather, feathers, cat bones, crystals and barbed wire dangled from the ceiling and hung from the walls. On the kitchen counter and dinette she was in the process of constructing leather clad boxes and gothic leather garments with flames and spikes designed to make the wearer look like a red devil. Flaming red demons were painted and constructed everywhere—in corners, hanging from the ceiling and supporting lamps on the night stands on either side of her bed. The ceiling in her bedroom was painted in swirls of deep blue and brown, sparkle and fire with the red demons flying around above the bed like Michelangelo’s cherubs on the ceiling of a Sistine chapel.
Resting behind the artsy funky living quarters were Ester’s party digs, her outdoor retreat; a large redwood deck with a Jacuzzi tub, barbecue grill, tables, benches and umbrellas. My entourage timidly scattered into the backyard as each person found a place to sit on the benches next to a patch of green grass shaded by an exotic and beautiful Brugmansia tree.
Then it hit me. “Well, I’ll be damned, look at that!”
“What?” Dago asked.
“I’ll bet Ester sleeps under that tree.”
“I don’t gamble . . . but she sure does. You knew that because you saw the mattress.”
“No, that’s not what gave it away. This is really amazing. She sleeps with Kieri!”
“She sleeps with who?”
“Kieri . . . from Mexico. See that tree? That’s Kieri. He’s a little red devil like Pan . . . or Loki or . . . Kokopelli. He’s a trouble maker, sometimes a mentor and teacher and healer, too, and some people might think he’s an Indian fairytale, but Kieri is as real as you and me, as real as that tree is. And if I ever had any doubt, Ester proves it. Kieri is a little red demon associated with the datura tree . . . that tree right there. See the wilted flowers?” I pointed to the Brugmansia’s faded drooping flowers of orange and amber, shriveled as if they were dead, dried and about to drop off. “That’s an angel’s trumpet, a moonflower tree. White people put it in their gardens without knowing what it really is and their kids end up in the nut ward. Depending on your perspective it’s either a powerful hallucinogen or a deadly poison. White people don’t believe in or respect spirits, but they still get Kieri on them and wander through life having nightmares about a red demon. He sabotages the host.”
“A little red demon? Really?”
“Yep, a little red demon. Kieri looks like a red skeleton to some people and some people see him with a tail and horns. Kieri gets into you if you sleep under that tree. See how the flowers hang down. They’re wilted now, but they inflate during the full moon and swell up like beautiful bells or trumpets pointed at the ground and they emit an aroma like a mint cough medicine. A human being sleeping under a moonflower tree is like a fly resting on the leaf of a Venus fly trap. Kieri is a leech that sticks to your dreams and never goes away.”
“Ester sleeps under that tree whenever she can. She prefers sleeping there. She slept there last night. I sleep on that air mattress here on the deck and I’ve seen that little fucker in my dreams. How do you know about this guy?”
“From the peyote meetings, the Native American Church. I was told by a roadman to study up on the ceremony and to read about the Huichol Indians, the tribe that maintained the ceremony for thousands of years. The Huichol are descendants of the Toltecs, one of the oldest advanced cultures on Earth. They’re the source of the werewolf myth. Other tribes base everything on the four directions, but the Huichol have five directions and five sacred mountains and five sacred teaching herbs. Datura is the herb used in the fifth mountain ceremony where a man transforms into a wolf. It’s also called Wolf’s Bane. The wolf teacher ceremony takes five years. It’s like a doctorate in becoming a teacher who performs and teaches the ceremonies.”
“There are seven directions,” Dago injected with supreme certainty. “Somebody’s forgetting up and down and into. Little red demons and werewolves, huh? Heh, heh, heh . . . You watch too many horror movies.”
“It’s true, but Kieri is no horror movie. Kieri is an intelligent parasite. Some Huichol people actually seek him out because they’ve lost family members or they’re lonely and need a companion. But white people don’t know shit about this, even when they catch a good dose of Kieri at somebody’s garden party. White people don’t have a way to understand what’s happening to them, so they just go crazy and act weird and think they are perfectly normal.”
“So is Ester going to go crazy and eat me?” Dago asked.
“Damn! I was hoping she’d eat me.”
“Try washing your dick.”
“It fell off a long time ago. Heh, heh, heh.”
“Speaking of Indians and little red devils, where’s Tosh?”
“He’s around. Give him a call. He has a stolen cell phone.”
I punched in the number Dago gave me and Tosh Alcala answered, “Yo!”
It had been almost ten years, but Tosh instantly recognized my voice like it was yesterday and I was calling him to go on a bike ride, “Damn, Dink, where the hell are you?”
“I’m at Ester’s place with Dago.”
“Oh shit. I’m parked on the Panhandle. But Ester doesn’t like me very much.”
“She’s not here right now. Quick, come on over.”
“I’ll be there in no time. I’m on my way.”
“Alright. See you soon.”
“Yarrrrr,” I hollered back.
As if on cue, Ester emerged with her mother and her geriatric Great Dane, Sick Bastard, wobbling alongside. My family and members of the Mindsweeeper fan club were sitting like intruders in the yard, fish out of water in Ester’s underworld, contemplating the pile of shit on the doorstep, feeling ignored and like the uninvited guests they were. My daughter, her husband and my son were validated in their belief their father was totally nuts.
Tall and wiry Ester was dressed in punk S&M regalia and a tall spiky red candy corn Mohawk. She could only be described as red and demonic, a Teutonic troublemaker. Chrome steel spikes protruded from her red and black leathers and through the chain mail wrappings on her neck, shoulders, arms, calves, belt and knee high boots. Sick Bastard wore a matching spiked collar.
In contrast, Ester’s mom looked completely normal; a stiff, nervous menopausal German tourist who’d given up on men.
“Vould anybody vant ze cup of coffee?” she asked.
“What kind of coffee do you have?”
“It’s German coffee. Iz wary good,” she replied.
Dago leaned into my field of vision, trying not to shake his head side to side too much, silently mouthing, “Don’t do it. Don’t say it.” He knew I was self-diagnosed with a form of Tourettes Syndrome that caused me to say exactly the wrong thing to precisely the wrong person. “No. Shut it. Sh-h-h-h-h,” he whispered.
It helped. I said, “Thank you, I’ll take a cup of that . . . German coffee.”
Sick Bastard, the wobbly old Great Dane was an old man on stilts with his balls, ears and lips swinging in different directions. “Watch out for his balls! He could knock you out with those things swinging like that,” I joked and Ester instantly pounced on me.
“You’re making fun oft the old man, huh? You’ll be an old man some day and you’ll find out what it’s like. Old people don’t die fast enough for you, I guess.” Ester had adopted Sick Bastard years ago as protection from rapists and thieves, but now his black and white coat had wintered to shades of gray and Ester found herself protecting the old dog from any exertion that might break his feeble bones or blow up his fragile heart.
It was then that Tosh arrived like a belch with Fanny, his English bulldog, low and wide and extremely friendly, a wriggling wrinkled stinky fart and slobber machine. She shot into the yard like a badger, so happy to see everybody, swinging her ass around, knocking over lawn furniture, stepping on toes and thrashing into ankles.
Sick Bastard was on Fanny’s tail like a fly on shit.
“She’s in heat right now, so I have to watch her like a hawk,” Tosh said as he hobbled into the yard. “I have to take her everywhere with me or I’ll end up with another litter of mongrel puppies. If I knew Casanova was here, I’d a left her in the van.”
“Oh shit,” Dago whispered in a singsong way, “Ester is not happy about Fanny in the yaaaa--aarrd with Sick Bassss-tard.”
“You stupid fucking idiot!” Ester viciously shot toward Tosh, spikes bristling, eyes on fire. “You can’t leave your dog in a van in this hot weather, you fucking idiot. You’ve got to leave and take the goddamn bitch with you! Get her hot little cunt out of here, right now.”
Fanny ran across the deck, dragging her stainless steel chain leash, with Sick Bastard loping after her, whining horribly as he attacked Fanny’s rump like a giant stick insect, falling over himself, a nervous jumble of unstable bones, balls, lips and ears, licking Fanny all over. Fanny smiled wider than the Golden Gate Bridge and Sick Bastard whimpered like he’d been hit by a car, crying out as his arthritic joints snapped and popped in painful attempts to squat low enough to mount Fanny, who was a moving target nearly two feet below his enormous protruding penis and swinging wrecking balls.
“Get that goddamn whore out of here,” Ester commanded. “Look at her! She’s all hot and bothered, the cheap little slut. She’s going to kill him, the horny cunt. Get her the fuck out of my yard, RIGHT NOW!”
“He doesn’t look so old with her around,” I said.
“And you! Shut the fuck up!” Ester spit at me. “How dare you invite Tosh and his horny dog to my house.”
Tosh Alcala didn’t do anything fast anymore. In the seventies and eighties he sped around on skateboards and bicycles and in hopped up cars, setting speed records and breaking a bone every now and them, but currently he was addicted to morphine after he’d nearly broken his body in half falling thirty feet trying to hide sixty pounds of marijuana in a tree. Inspired by Ester’s fury and the fear of having to raise another mongrel litter, Tosh feebly chased the pair and instantly regretted every lurch and leap, just like Sick Bastard, whose agonizing yelps and shrieks woke the neighborhood. Fanny whined like motor, yelping in delight. The cacophonous percussion of the yard furniture accompanied Tosh’s pitiful groaning and moaning as he struggled in futility to corral his bulldog. People in the surrounding buildings were at their windows.
It took the combined effort of five people to separate the oddball lovers amid the overturned tables and chairs. Ester held Sick Bastard by his collar, scolding him, weighing him down with her body as Tosh finally pulled Fanny’s leash taunt and slowly dragged her off the deck into Ester’s kitchen, limping and shouting as he vanished down the hall, “Dink! Stay in touch. Damn it, I’m crying again.”
Ester threw cold water on the goodbyes with a growl, “You assholes just took a year off of Sick Bastard’s life. Get that fucking bitch out of my house.”
Minutes later Sick Bastard was lying comfortably under the Brugmansia and Ester’s white hot temper had cooled to blue. She rarely showed a soft side and it was usually when she regretted something she’d said. “I’m sorry for exploding like that, but Sick Bastard means a lot to me. I have to keep him calm so he doesn’t get hurt.”
“I’m sorry. I gotta love Tosh like I love you. He takes really good care of Dago.”
“He uses Dago and gets him into trouble. I have two old men to take care of around here.”
“Dago says you sleep under that tree?”
“Yes, I do, whenever I can. When I go to New York and stay in my room at the Chelsea, I dream about that tree. It’s my favorite spot on Earth. I want to be buried in that spot and when the meat on my body has been eaten by the worms I want someone to dig up my bones up and make art with them. Will you play guitar for my mother? She’d like that.”
I took the funky resonator guitar I’d bought on ebay for a hundred dollars from its cardboard case and played the few songs I’d composed over the winter. When I was done, a smiling young man leaned out of the window of a flat two stories up and said, “Hey man, you can play guitar in my backyard anytime you want. That was beautiful. Thank you very much.”
Lee Bridgers is an author and fine artist living in Moab, Utah. He works in film, video, painting, music and the written word and has MFA and BFA degrees from the San Francisco Art Institute and BFA from the University of North Carolina. He has taught and directed film schools and worked in the film industry, had one man art shows in Europe and the USA, published three books and numerous articles and builds custom bicycles and leads cycling tours for his business in Moab, Dreamride LLC. In 1992 Stan Brakhage read one of Lee's memoirs and made him promise to dedicate himself to writing these stories of his life as art. Lee has currently written three volumes in a series entitled, THE MEMOIRS OF A TARHEEL GUITAR PLAYER. Volume #1, THE SPY FROM WEIRDSBORO, a collection of twelve short stories, is now available as a Kindle book. It follows Lee's life up until 1973, documenting the effects of the Vietnam War, the pill, recreational drugs and the cultural shift toward consumerism on his generation. Lee is currently seeking a publisher for MINDSWEEPER, volume #2 in the series, which includes the story sampled above. MINDSWEEPER is about life as a musician in the Haight Ashbury leading up to and through the AIDS epidemic. Volume #3 AMSTERDAMNED will be ready for publication in 2016. A selection from Lee’s memoir, THE SPY FROM WEIRDSBORO, What Daddy Did appears in the August 2014 issue of HelloHorror and The House on Highway 13 appears in the Winter 2014/2015 issue.
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