Hard Times at
The It'll Do Tavern
Part I
I don't know if you would like Vivian. Fortyish. Big. Not fat --- just structurally large. Dynamite student of humans, though: knows, instinctively, why you and I do the things we do.

You might not care for her taste in clothing. I sure don't. Canary-yellow blouse, puce pants-suits, shoes with too much glitter, California jingle-jangle jewelry.

She doesn't paint her face, that's for sure. Simple, plain, direct, easy to smile. Blank, too, at those times when I say, as I often say, something that's particularly cutting.

I wasn't impressed by her nor her clothes nor her house when I first came through the door --- especially those yappy miniature poodles. I know from poodles: my neurotic, why-must-you-do-this-to-me? mother always had four or five (or six) around. Names like Fleetie Belle and Tinker Belle, if you'll believe it. She'd always talk to the dogs when she was mad at us children, when she was doing the silent thing on us.

She, Vivian (not my mother) probably saved my life. That was her job and that was how I met her. I had become unraveled, needed someone to put me back together.

It came to a head (or into my head) in 1977. My business, the one I had so faithfully nursed for so many years, collapsed. Sleep disappeared, as did my appetite. I rattled around in my rent-a-house for a few weeks after the business flopped, but when the antique-grille wall-heater began to send out mysterious rays (in the middle of the summer!), I figured it was time to get out. I loaded everything into my flower-power VW bus with its exquisite German-made hand-controls --- brake, accelerator, and clutch --- and headed west.

I took along a change of clothing and a pocketful of pills and a quart of my favorite brandy. These were to tide me over in case a boogie-man came riding out of the desert to eat me up. You think I'm kidding?

On the road, I doused my fears with pain pills and my soul with brandy. Now there's a breakfast for you: Hennesey Coñac with Darvon on the side. And here's the strange thing: no matter how much I drank, no matter how many pills I put in my system, nothing changed. I didn't get happy. I didn't get drunk. And the spooks wouldn't go away.

Somehow I made it to the airport at Midland, Texas. Need I tell you it was awash in funny-looking midlandish people with big hats, squinty eyes, and leathern faces. Most of them sat hunched together, looking at me over their shoulders, gossiping about me, ready to call the nut police down on me if I made a wrong move.

I rang up friend Benjamin in California, asked him to come rescue me. "Is something wrong with the car?" he asked. "No," I said. "There's something wrong with me." Somehow he got to Midland in no time at all, don't ask me how (Thanks, Benjy!) and managed to smuggle me onto a passing plane before the Midlandians could shoot me full of Thorazine and lock me up.

When we got to San Diego, he settled me in the perfect place: a house filled with misfits and nut cases just like me, including an Anthony Perkins lookalike who carried a teddy-bear in his arms and vented his rage by lying on his bed, screaming into his pillow. It was a mad-house there on Third Avenue and I felt right at home.

Meanwhile, Benjy went off to find a brain doctor who could put me back together. And who did he come up with? Vivian. Viva Vivian! I love you!

She was a strange one --- and it wasn't just the California clothes and jingly jewels. In our first session, I was telling her that my life had turned strange: that after twenty-five years of realtive contentment, school, traveling around the world, writing --- all had ground to a halt, things had gotten quite dicey. So much so I didn't think I could take it much longer: this beast that had settled in on me wouldn't let me read or write or work; at times, it created monsters in the desert, monsters at the airport.

As I was going on (and on), I saw a solitary salty tear work its way out of Vivian's left eye, roll down her left cheek, drop off into her lap. And I remember thinking, what kind of nutty psychologist is this?

"I have a hunch," she said. She didn't tell me what it was just then (I wouldn't have paid any attention) but sooner or later it came out. She suspected what was happening to me had something to do with my loss of body from so long ago. I knew better. I hadn't survived in the world for twenty-five years for nothing --- but these days and weeks of waking up helpless with intergalactic rays beaming at me out of the wall-heater had brought my resistance to zero.

After a few weeks of sessions where I told endless funny stories (even in the midst of lunacy I could be quite a charmer) and no progress whatsoever, canny Viva inveigled me into an hypnotic session with one of her psychotherapeutic buddies. Dr. Mesmer was a plump, pleasant fellow with a calm voice and a steady eye. When he arrived at Viva's office, he sat down next to me, asked me a few questions and then without a word, reached over, took hold of my wrist, let it drop --- and I was gone.

Don't ask me what he whispered in my ear --- I wasn't there, remember? --- but I do know that later in the afternoon, as I was driving home, there came a strange and powerful vision. It was of a bird locked in a burning room, beating itself against the walls and the ceiling, frantic to escape. My own pale body lay in state below, moveless atop a bier of stone-white marble.

In our next session, as I started to recount the vision to Viva, the room disappeared, geologic plates started moving, and my world (and I) began to melt.

--- L. W. Milam
Go on to Part II

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