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Vampire Love

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Vampire Love

I was bitching with my friend Jimmy the other day over publishers' reluctance to publish my memoir, Junkie Love, since the writing has universally been hailed, the subject matter proving the sticking point.  Seems ever since James Frey made up his bullshit junkie tome publishers have grown weary of the "junkie memoir."  Jimmy, who is nothing short of a genius, suggested that since the book industry continues to be inundated with shitty novels about vampires, I should simply do a find and replace on my manuscript, swapping "junkie" for "vampire," "blood" for "heroin," etc.  With minor tweaking, here is the result.  Maybe now they'll publish the fucking thing.



HEPATITIS HEIGHTS                                                                                                         

We call this place Hepatitis Heights.  It’s a feeding gallery on top of 23rd Street, Potrero Hill, San Francisco.  I guess you could say I live here.  It’s where I drink my blood and feast on corpses when I’m not in somebody’s trailer under the freeway or at the music studio off Third Street.  The Heights is where I keep the few things I still own, an extra tee shirt, toothbrush, some cartoons I’ve drawn, but I don’t pay rent.  Nobody does.  It’s been almost a decade since I left my small hometown in Connecticut to follow the lead of my heroes, Lugosi, Burroughs, Vlad the Impaler, the call of the bloodsucking drifter.  That was 1991.  I was twenty-one.  Now I am stuck here.  It’s 1:30 p.m. and I’ve switched on the TV show Cops.  I have a tiny black and white television they will not take at the pawn shop, despite my numerous pleas.
Hepatitis Heights is a flat, with three bedrooms and a bathroom on the right, boxed in by a spacious kitchen and quaint breakfast nook at the end.  The fading pastel exterior resembles many of the Victorians you find in San Francisco.  Except this place is filled with vampires and werewolves.  We don’t allow crackheads here.  Even among the undead, there is a hierarchy.
When Hadley, my wife, and I first moved in, we got dibs on the front room, the one with the big bay windows overlooking the winding hills of San Francisco and its shimmering bay.  Hadley has schizophrenia.  We painted the room hospital green to remind her of home, and for a while it really was home.
But she’s gone now.  
These days, people trade goods and services to sleep in the bathtub.  There is no telephone or running water.  We have no electricity.  An extension cord hangs out my window, hooked up to the basement apartment of the guy living downstairs, an old transvestite named Gary, who lets me use his.  Months-old trash is piled up in our hallway because the city will not pick up your garbage if you don’t pay your bill.  All through the night, vampires crawl around inside the walls, rummaging through the busted vacuum cleaner parts and gasoline-soaked rags, inside cubby holes and storage spaces, searching for anything to suck.
I’m still in the front room I once shared with my wife, the bay windows now lacquered black.  Long velvet drapes snatched from the thrift store on Valencia and 16th, slightly stained with grease and cum, give the room its majestic, low-budget-adult-film feel.  I’m not sure of the players in the company today.  We have a rotating cast.  At any given time there can be over twenty desperate, addicted vampires in this place.  I lock my door at night.  But that doesn’t stop the mice from crawling through my hair. 
I am mostly a vampire at this point, having been turned a while ago, moving through the ranks, like snorting to the needle, but I will feast on anything, women, men, fetuses fished from the dumpsters behind SF General, whatever you put on the table.  I like to believe I’m still more lucid than the average undead.  Call me the One-eyed Zombie.
I’ve found a vein in someone’s big toe for my wake-up fix.  I sucked out the big veins.  All I have left are the tiny ones in their fingers and toes, and of course I have the cock.  But they warn you about feeding there at the blood bank, where graphic pictures of black, necrotic tissue scare me off. 
I’ve mined a few cigarette butts from empty beer bottles in the trash, and am drying them out in the dirty white microwave I keep in my room.  Waiting for the bell to ring, I see on TV that the cops have raided a werewolf den in the garage of a house belonging to an old woman.  Her adult son is being interviewed.  His jaw slings low and responds unnaturally when he tries to talk, as if it’s unattached from the rest of his face.  This is a common werewolf phenomenon, the result of constant teeth grinding, a precursor to wolf mouth, which is what happens when the werewolve’s acidity corrodes the gums and rots the teeth to little brown nubs. 
As I watch the wolfman on TV struggle to speak, a piercing scream echoes throughout Hepatitis Heights, followed immediately by the jarring sounds of kicked-in doors and shattered glass.  Then come the sirens and stomping boots, the bullhorns and shouts of “Police!”  German Shepherds bound up the steps, barking angrily.
An M-16 aimed at my head, I am ordered out in the hall and against the wall.  The cops rouse the two smelly girls that each paid me a dollar to sleep on my floor and tell them to do the same.  Sunlight streams through the open front door, bright yellow beams clogged with the dead cells of the dying, causing the other vampires to shield their eyes and hiss. 
The blood I shot up navigates my arteries and veins, filtering through my liver and striking pay dirt in the receptors of my brain, optic nerves tingling in a morphine dream.
United States Federal Agents and the San Francisco Police are everywhere.  They’re swarming the place, breaking down doors, popping up through cracks in the floorboards, sliding down shingles and swinging through widows.  And this will only piss off our neighbors more; they’ve been trying to get us evicted for months. 
Out the front door, a dozen squad cars and a big black S.W.A.T. van are jacked up the curb, officers crouched behind, two-fisting their firearms, which are pointed squarely at us.
Inside, police drag werewolves and vampires from rooms and closets, out from under tables and into the hall; they don’t put up much of a fight.  They seem paralyzed, faces frozen, locked in the grimace of a nightmare.  This is the day they pray isn’t real.  Being undead produces intense paranoia, so lupines and bloodsuckers must convince themselves on a daily basis that the government is not stalking them with video cameras, that no one is taping their phone calls and there are no monsters living under their bed.  So you can imagine how difficult this moment is for them, this melding of fear and reality.
The officers keep shouting, “Get down!” or “Get up!” or “Up against the wall—now, asshole!” and I can’t tell whether it’s coming from the TV or the ATF or if it’s all in my head. 
I am having a tough time keeping my left arm up.  I got out of SF General yesterday.  I fell off my bike and broke my collarbone on my way to score, and my arm is in a sling.  As soon as I got back to Hepatitis Heights, a guy I’d ripped off for twenty bucks came by and picked a fight with me, and the collarbone separated again. 
The door to my room is open, and I see tourniquets and used needles and littered dead bodies, the bite-size packets of antibiotic they hand out at the blood bank, scattered about the floor.  One of the cops sees this, too. 
He asks if he can search for contraband. 
I ask, “Can I say no?” 
He says, “Yes, you can say no.” 
So I say, “No.”
See, they are not after me today.  Nor most of my other roommates.  They are after this one werewolf who lives in the back, an ex-con named Lonnie who has warrants out.  Most of us have warrants out.  But ours are for little things, like stealing paint from Home Depot or buying needles from an undercover cop in the park.  Lonnie’s crime involved guns and mauling police.
I look down the hall and see some of the new tenants for the first time—dirty, scary, whacked out of their skulls.  Everybody stinks.  Nobody has shoes. 
            And this is my life.  I am thirty years old.  I don’t know where my wife is.  I have lesions peppering my face.  My arms are riddled with abscesses.  I am six feet and one inch tall and I weigh one hundred and sixty pounds.  When I first became addicted to blood shortly after arriving in San Francisco, I told myself I was just a white suburban kid playing the part of a scumbag vampire.  It will give me material for an album or book I’ll write someday; I am not like these other people.  But today as the ATF drags Lonnie away to San Bruno Prison over the din of television theatre, and as the rest of the Heights’ death sentence kids drag themselves into their respective dark corners to cook up a fix or just beg for a twice-pounded artery, I realize I am not playing a part anymore; I really am a scumbag vampire.  And I don’t know how I am going to get home.


At February 15, 2011 at 11:07 AM , Blogger Justine said...

Awesome! Love it!

At February 15, 2011 at 11:45 AM , Blogger Joe Clifford said...

No shit. Because you are the sort of person who reads said crappy vampire books! ;)

At February 15, 2011 at 6:01 PM , Blogger esther said...

a FAIL of vampiric proportions.

At February 15, 2011 at 7:25 PM , Blogger keely said...

heeeel-ariooooos Joe! I have an undying urge to flap down and join the Undead!

At February 16, 2011 at 3:04 PM , Blogger Jess Gulbranson said...

Wow, this is pretty bad. When we hit Peak Phosphorus, our descendents will say "Damn, we'd have had five more minutes of phosphorus if Joe Clifford hadn't ever existed. And we wouldn't have to listen to his whining about being a failure, either!"

At February 16, 2011 at 4:08 PM , Blogger Joe Clifford said...

Geez, Jess, kinda harsh, no? may have a point.


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