I am not a rebel by nature. Or who knows…maybe I am. However, life has seemed to dictate what my nature could and could not be, and rebel was one of those things that I could not be. Not after what my parents had gone through. I could never yell, lie, sneak out of the house, talk back. None of that. Therefore, leaving behind my mother and father on that late April afternoon was by far the most rebellious thing I had ever done in my twenty-eight years, and honestly it left me feeling cold. Poor Mama Cass with her thick coat must have hated me on that fifteen hundred mile journey, because I was freezing cold the whole way and I cranked up the heater in my van, even through Arizona at eighty degrees. It was the kind of cold that you can feel on the inside—that only a real hot bath combined with a hot tea, and then a tuck between the covers can cure.
I wasn’t sick. No sore throat. No aching body. Nothing like that. I was just cold.
And then, after three days of driving and staying in cheap motels, I took the 10 West all the way into Los Angeles. The first thing I did was head to the ocean—Venice Beach to exact, and yes L.A. has plenty of blonde, beautiful people and then some, but let me just say for the record that there are a ton of freaks in L.A., especially Venice beach. I saw one guy with hair that I can’t even describe the color, kind of that baby food like green pea color. I shudder to think about it, because not only was the color bad, but it was almost down to his butt and twisted and gnarled. Gross. He wasn’t wearing a shirt and his shorts were well beneath the boxers. Not an attractive picture and then there was the iguana he had wrapped around his neck. Never saw that before. Mama Cass went totally berserk yapping away at him and the iguana. I had to yank pretty hard on her leash to get her to move on with me, while the guy snarled, “Get your mangy piece of shit mutt away.” Um, okay. Excuse me? My dog, mangy? Look who was talking. I decided best to keep my mouth shut and move along, tugging on Cass the entire way.
But once we got past that we took in the ocean color—silvery blue--the smell—fresh, oceany, minus the cigarette smoke and tanning oil that occasionally wafted it’s way toward us--the crashing waves, the sandy beach like a picture postcard—and then, we people watched for quite some time. Cheapest entertainment in the world. All I’m saying is, bring a lawn chair, a bag of Tostitos and a six pack of sodas and the movies have nothing on Venice Beach. When I have to get away from anything famous and dead, I head to Venice Beach. The way to beat crazy I figure is to go and see even more crazy.
Cass and I shared a couple of slices of pizza and a Coke (yes, Cass drinks Coca-Cola, too, but none of that diet crap) and I figured we needed to find a place to stay for the night, because the next day would be apartment and job hunting day. Frugality is something my father prides himself on and it’s sort of worn off on me. I knew that five thousand dollars was probably not going to go far in the land of glitz and glamour.
I found a Motel a few blocks from the beach and decided on it. It was fifty-five bucks for the night, which seemed like a lot but we were tired and I thought being close to the ocean might be cool because I could take Cass for a walk in the morning. Problem was that they had a no animal policy.
“You gotta stay in the van girl,” I told her. She thumped her tail slightly and looked at me with her big dark eyes and I swear she looked sad. I then whispered in her ear, “Just kidding. Only for a little bit. Soon as the coast is clear, I’ll come get you.” She thumped her tail even harder. I know the dog gets me. I may sound a bit biased here, but Cass is the smartest dog ever. She is. “You be a good girl and I’ll be back.” And I was after a shower and a change of clothes. I snuck my half coyote, half lab—possibly some border collie pooch into the dingy motel room that smelled of stale cigarettes, pesticides and mildew. She jumped up on the bed with me and we fell fast asleep.
A week later, and Cass and I were still at Motel Venice without any future prospects. We had driven around the city a few hundred times, only to find that fifty-five bucks for a motel room was cheap, and so far no one had caught me sneaking Cass in and out. I had applied for a variety of jobs from Subway sandwiches, Gag in the bag (take your pick as to which fast food joint to fill in here), to a receptionist at a variety of nail salons. I even took a chance and went out on a limb and applied for a position at Nordstrom in the cosmetics department. I figured what the heck—Mama is a beautician—and I did sell Mary Kay for two weeks.
Then Betty LaRue’s words played over in my mind. “Go live your dream. Go sing wherever you can. Sing.” I sighed and reached my hand over to pat Cass on the head, her big eyes staring at me. “What do I do, Cass? What should we do?” I’d already gone through almost a grand between the gas, food for the two of us and the motel. Time was running out.
“I need a singing gig,” I said. Cass lifted her head and studied me. “What to do?” I clucked my tongue. We came to a red light cruising North on La Cienega. The cross was Fairfax, close to The Beverly Center where I’d applied for the Nordstrom job. Decent area.
Cass whined. I looked over at her. “What? What would you do?” She tucked her head under her paws. And as if lightening struck and my daddy was standing up on his pulpit in front of me, I got it. “Pray? Right. Why didn’t I think of that?” I smirked. Being raised by a Southern Baptist minister prayer was talked about and done a lot in my house. As a kid I was all about prayer and miracles and trusted that God knew best and that there was even a God taking care of all of us.
But when your twelve and your older sister runs away and is later found murdered, and you prayed and prayed for three months for God to bring her home and He didn’t, well losing faith in the power of prayer just sort of happens.
Mama Cass kept her head tucked under her paws and whined again. “You’re serious? You been listening to Daddy way too much. Great. I got a little Billy Graham in my dog.” She lifted her head and glared, then tucked it again back under the paws. “Okay. Fine. I get it.” I took a deep breath. “Okay. Hi God, Evie Duncan here…” I said feeling very much like Margaret in Judy Blume’s young adult novel “Are You There God? It’s me Margaret.” “Yeah, so anyway. You must know what’s going on here with me. You know everything. Right? At least Daddy says you do. So, the singing thing, yeah I could really use a break right about now. I don’t want to disappoint Betty LaRue and I honestly don’t think You would either because well, you know Betty, so could you help me out a little? Thanks. Amen.” I know it was weak, but like I said, it’d been some time since I’d prayed.
Cass sat up and as we rolled up to the next light at La Brea, she let out a yelp. “What now?” She was looking at the window. A chalkboard sign on the sidewalk read “Two dollar tacos and two dollar beer.” I licked my lips. The place didn’t look like much, considering the area. A big green neon sign on top read “Nick’s.”
“Lunch time,” I announced. I found a meter and parked the van, cracked the windows and rolled back the sun roof. “Stay put girl. Doubt dogs are allowed.” She gave me her totally offended look, where she sort of pens her ears back and cocks her head to the side. “I know. It’s stupid. I’ll bring you back a taco and a Coke.”
The atmosphere inside Nick’s was needless to say—lacking. The place was a dive, which didn’t bother me because being a Texas girl I’ve been in a few dive bars. God forbid my father ever find out. He’d probably disown me. Elvis was belting out Blue Suede Shoes from the corner jukebox. The carpet was the color of reddish mud with black smudges here and there. I’m sure that at some point it had been true red. The bar was long and narrow, a row of stools covered in cracked brown vinyl facing a mirror lit up by dim light bulbs across it (with a few burnt out) that covered the back wall. Liquor bottles sat displayed on the back counter. A handful of patrons who looked as if they’d been glued to those chairs for a number of years sat in silence nursing their woes. On the other side of me were four rows of booths with the same cracked brown vinyl seating. A younger couple sat in one of the booths playing grab ass and giggling while downing a couple of beers and noshing on tacos.
A middle aged guy that looked older than he probably was walked toward me—tall and skinny. He had longish graying blonde hair that skimmed his shoulders and wore a worn pair of jeans that were too big for him and a red polo shirt that also looked too big. The name Nick was stitched in black across the right side. He semi-smiled and his green eyes although sad, cast a little light in them with his smile. “Welcome to Nick’s.”
“Here for lunch?”
I nodded. “Two dollar tacos and beer can’t be beat, but I think I’ll have a Coke instead.”
He laughed. “Anywhere. Take your pick.”
I chose the back booth, away from the grab assers and settled in to think a little more about my predicament. I noticed photos lined the walls of various celebrities. Many of them autographed and signed personally to Nick.
Five minutes passed since I’d last seen Nick. He apparently was host, owner, cook and bartender. He appeared and sat three tacos and a beer down in front of me. “Oh no. I haven’t ordered yet. And I wanted a Coke.”
He sat down across from me. “You’re not from here.”
I shrugged. “It shows that much?”
He laughed—warm and hardy. “Look I serve Tuesday two dollar tacos and hands down I know I make the best tacos in town. You got chicken, steak and pork there. You have to have a beer with it. Tacos without beer is like sacreligous.”
Now I laughed. I don’t think my father would’ve agreed with Nick, but to each his own. “You must be Nick.”
“The name on the shirt sort of gives you away.” I took a bite of one of the tacos. Mouthwatering. “Oh my gosh. These are amazing.” I looked at the taco and then Nick and then took another bite.”
“Told you.” He winked. “Where you from?”
I set down the taco and wiped my hands. “Sorry. I’m Evie Duncan. I’m from Texas.”
“You don’t have much of an accent.”
I shrugged. “My father is from the Midwest. He’s never had a southern accent and my mom, well she is from Texas and she definitely has a drawl, but I guess I take after my dad.”
“I can hear it a little. Not much. What you brings you west Evie Duncan? Let me guess—actress or singer?”
I took a sip of the beer. He was right. Tacos and beer did seem to make a perfect match. “You’re good. Singer, guitar player.”
“I dunno. I thought actress for sure.”
“What do you like to play? Sing?” He stood and went behind the bar, grabbing himself a beer and came back to sit down.
“I like it all. I’m partial to the blues, I like folksy, kind of I don’t know, I think Sheryl Crowe is great, I love Pat Benetar if you’re going for some old school rock and Heart is awesome, too. Um Amy Winehouse as far as a little more contemporary but then she’s a bit whacked.” I realized he was older and might not even know who Amy Winehouse was.
“What makes you say that?” He laughed again. “Heroin, jail, lowlife husband, maybe?” He was up on his music. Cool. “Evie Duncan wants to be a singing star. Huh?”
I nodded, feeling heat rise to my cheeks. “Yeah. I guess I do.”
“Okay. You got your guitar?”
“That’s what I was thinking.”
“Great. See that spot over there in the corner next to the juke box?”
“Grab your guitar and sing some songs. I know a few show business types and I wouldn’t mind having live entertainment to bring some people in. That is if you’re good.”
“Wow. Okay.” I stood. “Can I get another taco?”
“You’re hungry, huh. Usually three fill my customers up.”
“It’s for my dog. She’s out in my van.”
“Bring her in. She doesn’t bite does she?”
“Oh no. Not even.”
“I love dogs. Go get the dog and the guitar. “I’ll make her up some tacos while you do that.”
I slid open the door on the van. Cass was curled up in the back. She lifted her head. I kissed to her. “Hungry?”
This word always prompted her to quickly follow my lead. We headed into Nick’s with me wondering if playing music in this dive bar would be the answer to my prayers.