It makes a man watchful, and a little lonely. The long days watching Sarah cross and uncross her legs, the parents walking into my office, like cattle in the slaughterhouse, me with the sledgehammer, waiting to put ’em out.
The halls know me well, at least I think they do. I carry my bayonet, in the afternoon, rattling it along the locker faces, watching the students, watching if they make any eyes at me.
“Principal,” says Susie.
“Susie,” I say.
“Why don’t you get a fucking job?”
“In my office, Susie.”
“You want me to call your parents or should I do it? You skirt’s too high, your top’s too low, and you’re headed for juvenile hall about as fast as you can crack that gum. Take it out of your mouth.”
I put out my hand.
She leans forward, looking me in the eyes, and then opens her mouth slowly and drops it into my palm.
I hand her my phone.
“Time to call home Susie.”
She crosses her legs and dials the phone and I watch her.
In the desert, every man is his own oasis. Every word you speak has to be careful; you only have breath for so many. I live alone, on Santa Monica Boulevard. I stand on the street corner and I crack my gum and watch the sun set. The cops even let me drink a beer there, they know I’m the Principal. Sometimes they join me, and we tell jokes.
Some day, I’m gonna go to Cuba. Get me a sweet piece of Cuban ass. But not today. Not this year. Maybe next year. Or the year after that. The desert is my home; it’s where I gotta stay.
At night I talk to God in my house, I shout at him, about all the things, all the things that I got to shout about.
Some people say therapy is good for you, and I agree; only, what is therapy? It’s not sitting around and talking, but action.
In my office I speak on the telephone, to the superintendent, and I kiss his ass and fill his ear with the right buzz words, and the juked stats, and I think about Susie’s legs, and about Sarah’s, and I dream about them both underneath my desk, arguing about who gets to cook me dinner. Catfish, and risotto.
The super’s voice is like a little bee in my ear, a little insect that I want to crush, that I want to eat, for the protein, fry him up in my pan, with some olive oil, watch him crisp, tasty crunch on my molars.
Sarah sits down across from me, I’m dictating a letter, only I can’t get the words right.
“Come here, Principal,” and I go over to her, and I put my face between her big breasts and I cry, and she holds me. For an hour, with the blinds down, and the music on, I cry between her breasts, and she holds me, with the Enya on.
I gots to juke me some more stats. We’re going under. This semester they have me teaching remedial reading.
I tell too many jokes. Not all of them speak English.
“Why did Vardamon say his mother is a fish?”
Why was Vardamon’s mother a fish? They swam away, into the long dark. Under the ocean, the ocean beneath the desert, the secret ocean. I need a vacation.
I decide to take a day off and I take Susie with me.
I mean Sarah, I take Sarah with me.
We’re sitting on the beach. And she’s got her daiquiri, and I’ve got my jack and coke, and I’ve got my Finnegans Wake. And she’s combing her hair, with her sunglasses on, looking like a movie star.
Last night I thought about shooting myself, with my gun. But I didn’t do it. Didn’t even take it out of its box, to look at it, like I do sometimes. PTSD goes on forever, I know that.
But boobies make it easier. Sarah’s boobies. And Susie’s. Susie’s boobies are smaller, but they’re younger. But Sarah has the older woman’s wisdom, the quiet that I like. She just looks at me so I know when to shut up.
“I’ll refill you.”
And the waves roll in, on my life. I am the Principal.
The principal actor in our traveling show. The principal informant in a massive street arrest. A principal error in a city under a slow corporate siege, as we watch the barbarians invade.
I don’t follow politics because I have trouble following myself. I still have the paddle under my desk, old wood, polished, like a beautiful scepter.
I hit her with it, on her ass. At night. To keep the voices away. I hit her again and again, and it’s almost better than fucking her, watching her ass turn red, and then redder.
Under the slow sun, and under the long night, I am a man who needs help, but I gotta be Ben Franklin, and help myself first. I gotta escape their cyclotrons.
Four weeks later she’s looking at me, peering through the grating. I’ve lost my job.
“There’s not gonna be any cyclotrons, honey, I promise!” She looks so pretty, Susie does. I mean Sarah.
“No cyclotrons, okay!” And she coaxes me out from under my house. I like it down there sometimes.
We’re going to Vegas, where creeps go to die. Renting a convertible. I’m still an American goddamn it, no matter what they say.
“Open the top, Sarah.”
I watch the lights, penetrated by the Hoover Dam. I mean powered by. Powered by the Hoover Dam, I am powered by Hoover himself, by his big brain, lodged in concrete.
I’m going to sell my gun.
I loosen my tie and let the desert wind wash over me, wash over my face.
She lies on top of me, covered in sweat.
“Where are we gonna go, Big Daddy?”
From the desert to the jungle makes sense. Both got a lot of oil.
“Well teach English there, okay Susie?”
“Sarah, we’ll teach there, okay?”
“Okay, Big Daddy.”
She rolls off me and lights a cigarette and I watch her smoke, watch her dark eyes and her red hair.
“Give me a drag of that.”
Some nights I dream of my old office. The old green desk lamp. The curve of the grain on the drawers. The light of Los Angeles pouring in, its beautiful nuclear radiation, filling me with painlessness.
My tie is a symbol of Croatia. The cravat. Why did we ever start wearing them? And why did we keep wearing them after those fucks assassinated the Archduke?
I burn it in the street, and I scream, I scream at the desert Western night, not the last man to do so, not the first.
And Sarah’s laughing, and dancing, watching me watching the burning tie.
In the jungle their faces are beautiful, under the trees, in the schoolhouse. The violence is given new meaning in my blood, the old urge to kill even more fascinating here, swept by the humidity into a kind of dream I’ve never felt.
And the loneliness seeps out of me along with the sweat.
Sarah complains about the heat, and the mosquito netting.
Sometimes I call the superintendant, long distance, just to hear his voice. I say nothing, but I’ve got a smile on my face.