26 May 2009

Pamela Twining: Sunset Strip

“Rack up, Moselle!” the guard hollered from the end of the corridor. Moselle stepped back into the cell we shared just in time, as the electric doors slammed shut. Nine-thirty: lights out at Sybil Brand Institute for Women. Moselle was an old white lady, awaiting trial for getting drunk and shooting up the sheriff’s car. Luckily, he wasn’t in it at the time.

My best friend, Landru, was two cells down, bunked with a little blonde girl covered in jailhouse tatts, who shot her boyfriend and the woman she caught him in bed with. “Lan! Lan!”, I half whispered, half yelled. “Shut up! Ya wanna get us all in trouble, ya stupid little bitch?” came from the cell between us. If I put my face in the lowest corner of the bars, I could just see Lan’s silver blonde hair and the “V” she made with her fingers, when she saw me. She had eaten two tabs of acid, when the cops came to the rat-hole motel where we were staying and arrested us for distribution of narcotics. She was probably tripping her brains out!

We weren’t runaways. I was 18 and Lan would be 18 next month. Thrown out by our parents, we decided to hitchhike to California, by way of New York City. We worked the streets of New York, panhandling and working in massage parlors, to save the money to get to Cali, at night trolling the truck stops, looking for a ride out of the city, headed west.

Lan wouldn’t work the massage parlors, even though the money was better, because she didn’t want to strip for the clients. You didn’t have to, but the tips were better, if you did. She was a whiz at panhandling, though; I never saw anyone who could talk someone out of their money like Lan! On a frosty night in late January, we finally found a driver who would hide us in the cab of his truck and take us as far as Pennsylvania.

The plains were windswept and frigid this time of year and we did a lot of hitching in the cafeterias of truck stops, drinking coffee and stopping truckers over and over, till we found someone willing to take us the next leg. Including the time we spent in jails for vagrancy, in Chambersburg, PA, Weatherford, OK, and San Antonio, TX, we were on the road for three weeks. A soldier who was shipping out the next day finally dropped us on the corner of Sunset and Vine, handed us each $20 and a carton of cigarettes, said “Pray for me” and drove away.

We crashed at the Free Church and panhandled for food, but the streets of Hollywood were a lot less forgiving than New York. The take for a whole day, for both of us, was only a few dollars. We lived on candy, chips, and soda, because it was cheap. Within a week, we were completely broke and everything except the clothes we were wearing had been stolen. And I had scurvy.

My gums were bleeding and my mouth was full of sores. I could hardly talk. Lan made me go to the Free Clinic, but they just said I needed Vitamin C and sent us on our way. “Don’t worry, Ran!” Lan said. “Look around us. Orange trees, grapefruit trees, lemon trees! Vitamin C for the taking!” The fruit was not ripe. Even an orange tasted as sour as a lemon, and it burned! God! How it burned!

The next day Black Teddy took us to Denny’s for dinner and invited us to join his stable of women. The look in Lan’s eye wasn’t to be ignored, though I was tempted, because the money sounded good. But Lan is the smart one, and I went along with her this time. Black Teddy said

“You’ll come lookin’ for me soon, no jive!”

Then we met Cowboy and Laughing John, who brought us to a hole-in-the-wall apartment they shared with a guy named Bear and a bunch of street kids and runaways. We became part of a crew that went out during the day panhandling, stealing, tricking, and brought all the money home to share. We ate well, for the first time in weeks, and there was always excellent dope. Until we got evicted. Which is how we ended up in that rat-hole motel.

“Hawaiian Woodrose; it’s totally legal,” Cowboy told us. “I can get an unlimited supply. We’ll sell it until we save enough to get a cabin in the hills. Fuck Hollywood! We can grow our own organic food and dope. We’re paid up here for a week, so let’s get out and make it happen!” At that moment, the sound of sirens pierced the air and police swarmed into our room. The owner had taken our money and then called the cops!

“If it’s legal, the lab will tell us,” a disbelieving officer said. “But it’s Friday and the lab won’t be open till Monday, so you all are looking at the weekend, at least, in jail.”

I was still burning with humiliation, after being strip searched, and my fingers were bleeding because I had to file my nails down to the quick. Lan and I pretended to be lovers, protection in jail, against bulldaggers and other pervs. Landru read tarot and told fortunes. Everyone was in awe of her, so they left me alone. And Hawaiian Woodrose was legal, so on Monday they had to let us go.

The cops dropped us off on the Strip. “What do we do now?” I looked to Lan. “Come on!” she said. “Last week, I met a guy named Tex. He said he’d take us out to a place called Spahn Ranch, to stay on a commune started by someone he knows. Manson, I think his name was, Charlie Manson”.


  1. Excellent! I like the cool twist. Didn't see it coming at all. The dialogue seemed realistic, and the way the main character was depicted made her seem real as well. It was a subtle thing, but you caught the 'all over the place' thought processes an 18 year old would have...:). No real quibbles.

  2. Oh wow, I love the twist at the end! I really feel like I'm right there beside them for their journey. I like that the voice is short and to the point, exactly as it should be for someone going through these experiences. You can really understand how one bad decision leads to another.

    You have a couple punctuation issues, nothing major, but this one made me read twice since it was right at the beginning:

    "Moselle stepped back into the cell we shared just in time, as the electric doors slammed shut."

    I felt the comma after time creates an unnatural pause; maybe rephrase, dropping "in time" so it's "shared just as the electric..." But that's just my opinion. :)

    Also, the stand-alone line by Black Teddy needs a comma after Teddy.

    Great story!

  3. Terry, Thanks for appreciating the dialogue. Coming from you, who do it so well, that's a high compliment. Dialogue is one of my hardest things! But I'm having fun working with it.

    Melanie, I made the changes you suggested in my draft, as I'm still playing with this piece just for myself. I totally agree about the sentence you spoke about and the comma was definitely an oversight.

    Thank you both for your input; I value it greatly.


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