These Mean Streets

mean streets
Down these mean streets a man must go who is himself not mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. — Raymond Chandler

The Man says these are mean streets. He should come down here tonight. The rain washed away the stench of smog, sweat, and stale whiskey. I smell the aroma of the ocean. The song of cicadas turns the sultry night into a soft caress. The wet air ends the war between Led Zeppelin on Daly’s juke box and the acid jazz the girls at the Atlantic dance to, and transforms it into a sweet tango. The lights remind me of Christmas morning.

I grew up in this neighborhood. My old house is a parking lot two blocks over. This was the kind of place where World War Two sergeants raised their kids. Now, it’s threadbare. Like the souls of the folks here, it’s seen too many nights. The people here do what they can with what they have. Some work the margins of the law, but I don’t carry a badge.

What I do carry is a PI license. I went to college to be a newspaper reporter, but typewriters sound too much like machine guns. Oh, I also carry a bullet in my left shoulder, and a hurricane in my head, both gifts from Charlie in ’68. I’m still a nosy busybody, and this gig lets me sleep late, drink too much, and allow the roar of the surf drown the roar in my brain. If this area has gone to seed, then these people are wildflowers, if you look deeper. Somebody has to work pest control, just so the dandelions can see another sunrise. I reckon that’s me.

Speaking of dandelions, Ronnie waits in the stairwell for her next client, who may be the mid-life crisis with his ass parked on Junior’s Camaro. Ronnie calls herself a masseuse, but we all know what she does. We don’t care. Horrible day when her mother was killed in a car wreck. Ronnie dropped out of high school to take care of her brothers. All she has is her body, and those two brothers in school. It’s none of my business who she takes, but she is like a little sister to me. I make sure she goes home at sunrise with all her cash in her pocket and a few less bruises on her face.

Liz doesn’t like our knight in shiny green plaid, either. He better not ask “what’s your sign.” She’s the last nurse for the neighborhood’s last doctor, so her sign reads Hospital. It’s to his credit that Doc Reed trusts her with a syringe. Liz hitchhiked all the way to New York for Woodstock, and hitchhiked all the way back. Part of her stayed behind, drifting in the clouds of an acid trip she never fully came home from. She thinks Jim Morrison’s ghost is her roommate. All of us on this block have bugs in our heads. Hers are just more colorful. Speaking of which, I see she parked her Bug in front of the fire hydrant, again. Like I said, I don’t carry a badge.

Oh, not again. I swear, if Becky and Wayne, or the Happy Aquarians, as they call themselves, play “Seasons in the Sun” one more time, I’m going to bust some guitars! Think I’ll offer them a cigarette to play something else. Anything else! Surely, they know some Dylan or Cash. Now, why isn’t Becky helping her dad in the bar? Right, she’s celebrating. I don’t feel like celebrating, even if I did vote for McGovern.

Max and the crew are working late at the station. They’re still broadcasting the events from Washington. Nixon resigned earlier tonight. Surfer Max, the best news man in town, even if he does say things like “Dude, the Braves were tubular today.” Not many listen to old 1310 anymore. They’ve switched to FM, so they can hear John Denver in quadraphonic sound.

I can’t remember the last time Daly let me pay for a drink. He came home from Korea missing a right leg. He can handle fights and knives. Once a Marine, always a Marine. I’m his unofficial bouncer, in case some jackass pulls a gun. All he has to do is shout my name, although I wish he wouldn’t call me Roger Trent, sergeant first class, retired. That wasn’t my idea! My old man owned that bar, until Dad had a heart attack. Daly did us a favor when he bought it. The cash let Dad retire.

Rosie at the Halifax keeps me on retainer. I walk through the place a couple times a night. If I find a patron at the theater doing more than just watching Kitten Natividad’s tits, I tell him to go next door and rent a room. I saw The Ten Commandments at the Halifax when I was a kid. Nice irony. Steve at the Bon Ami keeps me on retainer, too, but he takes it out of my rent. Mostly monthly tenants or hourly guests these days. The ambulance chaser next to me fights with his wife, and the nudist couple below practice their free love vibes until dawn. The walls and floors are thin, but it’s a decent pad.

I forgot how many names the Electric Grape has had in my 30 years. Mom took me there for milk shakes back when it was Barbara’s. When I got home from Nam, I washed dishes there, but it was Chuck’s Cafe. Jack and Bobbi, a hippie couple, own it now. Seriously, their names are Jack and Bobbi. They probably have a cat named Ted. Having lived through Tet, I “dig the flower power.” They don’t care that I’ve worn olive drab, especially since the night I decked the junkie who ripped off Bobbi’s shirt. Not many places offer spaghetti, tacos, burgers, and chow mein on the same menu. But, damn, even the coffee tastes like reefer.

Mike and Angie are out in his old man’s old car, I mean, Mike’s new rod. Mike’s dad owns the Volusia Pharmacy. Angie doesn’t even know who her father is, and her mom stocks old books at the Masonova. That makes them the neighborhood rich kid and poor kid. Mike’s money, and that’s a relative term in this part of town, doesn’t define him. His you-just-want-to-knock-his-face-off optimism does. Angie’s Goodwill clothes don’t define her. Her hands do. She keeps this street clean of litter. Angie takes the Crying Indian seriously.

Here comes Penny, Mike’s big sister. I see she has a new boyfriend. Looks like Tim, Steve’s son. Penny just turned nineteen. I know where they’re going. She’s fixing to flash that drivers license all over Daly’s.

I better keep an eye on the kids. Saw some gorgonzola in the Atlantic earlier. They looked the type that rob teenagers like Mike and do other things to girls like Angie. Never mind. The Dragons rode up. Bubba and the boys will run off those punks for me. Bubba flew choppers in the army, came home, got bored, and started riding a different type of chopper. You don’t mess with Bubba. You don’t mess with Bubba’s friends. You don’t mess with Bubba’s turf. Besides, he’s Angie’s uncle.

Dandy Don is terrified of the Dragons. He should pay more attention to those heads downing bennies with beer behind his back. The Atlantic used to be a hopping jazz club. Trane and Miles stood on that stage. Then, things changed. The bands stopped coming down. Then, the people stopped coming down. He does what he has to do to keep the doors open. Don had his waitresses put on bikinis, then take them off. At least, he doesn’t pimp the girls out like Buster does over on Seventh.

Who’s that talking with Lady Anne? Oh, that’s Vera. I almost didn’t recognize her with her clothes on. It’s later than I thought. She’s finished her shift next door. May as well chat up the local psychic while waiting for her main man to close up shop. That would be Junior.

Fifteen years ago, I bought Mad and Archie from Ed. When he died, Junior took over. The store carries Playboy and Penthouse now, and that’s the tame stuff. There’s no money in comic books anymore. Nobody likes to laugh. As this block proves, everybody likes to look at skin. Sex sells and small store owners don’t have pensions. Junior also loves that car of his, as Mr. Green Plaid is about to discover. I’m not burning my shirt to smoke Junior off him.

It’s time for tea with Lady Anne, if I can call flowers and weeds in hot water tea. Yeah, I’m seeing a psychic, and not for professional reasons. We like each other’s company, in more than conversational ways. She came down from up north a few years back. Anne calls herself a Gardnerian. I thought it meant she grew petunias. I found out otherwise. She knows some really scary shit, but she clears the spiders out of my head. Tonight, I may ask her to help me. I’m hunting a rat. I know who he is. Being a psychic, Anne may know where he is.

That rat robbed Rook’s pawn shop today. Rook takes broken Telecasters and dinged up surfboards from guys who need a Hamilton to hire Ronnie for an hour. The cops don’t have time for him, what with uptown and the northside drowning in hot and cold running speed, and a gang of pedophiles working the Boardwalk. Like I said, I’m local pest control. I felt sorry for Rook, so I slashed my rate. He and I played baseball together in high school. It’s a fair trade.

DAZ Studio 4.6 Pro -> Reality 4 -> Luxrender 1.3 -> GIMP 2.8. Preliminary work in Shadermap 2, Hexagon 2.5, and GIMP.

This is a little different for me. I wanted to do a night scene, and it just evolved from there. The more I worked on it, the more it reminded me of Daytona Beach in the 1970s, so the names come from Daytona and DeLand circa 1974. The Morphing Business Suit for Genesis was my friend (and yes, they did wear colors and patterns like that), although the bellbottoms aren’t near wide enough. To pull this off, I fell back on my old kitbashing skills from my model railroading days. Not a single building in this scene is stock. They were all highly modified in Hexagon. For the short story, I wanted to say that folks are folks, even if they live in a part of town our mothers told us to avoid. I think Mom was just afraid I’d like what came packaged inside a bikini.

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4 thoughts on “These Mean Streets

  1. Nice writing, but I don’t think they used the term, Dude, back then. I would be interested in seeing the rest of the story, although there are a lot of characters to try keeping track of. Beautiful writing, brings visual images to mind.

    • Actually, a surfer would. It was purely a surfer term until around 1982 or thereabouts. It’s amazing how many surfer terms entered the mainstream lexicon of slang. Almost as many as old jazz terms.

  2. Pingback: Learning from Frank Frazetta |

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