Spiro's living room is darkened by a couple layers of blackout and security curtains that block the front window from letting in sunlight or any other kind of light that might give someone a sneak peek into the artist's lair. A huge monitor with a screen taped to it stands next to me in front of the window. The monitor faces a long couch and heavy wood coffee table. Countless cords string out of the monitor into several boxes on the floor. A keyboard and a tablet sit on the couch next to a pile of blankets.
Spiro dashes over and moves them onto the coffee table. The coffee table is covered in empty Mirco Mojito cans. Spiro grabs a trash bag off the floor and pushes all the cans off the table into the bag.
"I like to... keep them out... for the spirits, you know," he says, finding one that is only half empty, and downing it. "Do you want a drink?" he says, his eyes wide on me.
"I'll go get us two," I offer and head to the kitchen.
"Right! And I'll get the drugs!" I hear him shuffle off into the hallway.
I move back through the empty dining room to the kitchen. It's perfectly clean. The counter is completely clear aside from a handheld that's plugged in next to a bottle of red wine vinegar and a tin box of olive oil. I open the refrigerator. There's a storage box of greens with blinking green light. I should get ahold of one of these some day. They help your produce last longer. Usually I don't keep fruit or vegetables long enough to go bad, but it would be nice to be able to keep some herbs. There are a few jars half-full of unidentified dusts but most of the fridge is crammed with Mirco Mojitos. I grab a few and head back to the living room. I plop down onto the couch, and set them down on the coffee table. I take off my backpack and drop it down next to me. Spiro walks back in on his toes carrying a cardboard box. He sits down on the couch next to me and snatches up a can and replaces it with the box. His feet flap up and down against the floor under the coffee table where a small pile of socks have been growing. He takes a loud gulp of the can and points to the box, can still in hand.
"It's just a regular supply to Leopard, but hey so like... Check this out..." He reaches for the tablet and navigates to the internet browser where he enters a url for a blog I haven't heard of before.
Images start to fill the screen that look like advertisements for a product called breVita. "I've been doing some marketing," he giggles, slurping his can.
"breVita. Life is Short," they all say. There is a pale woman driving her car past the scene of a collision. She is smiling sincerely at the viewer. Another image shows a similar woman standing next to a dying person in a hospital. breVita. Life is Short. She is smiling at the camera with that same bizarrely sincere grin. Her eyes are soft and it feels like she is looking right at me.
"I've been making these memes to help promote breVita. I mean Onyx. I'm calling it breVita now. So I'd appreciate it if you... did too? Just start calling it breVita?" He plants his heels up on the couch and giggles at me from behind his knees.
"I don't understand," I say. "Why would you want to change the name? Everyone knows what Onyx is." Normally drugs will flit around a few different names before everyone agrees on one. The meantime is an unstable time for drug producers. Name recognition is important especially when most consumers are buying at parties and aren't really in touch with the market.
"Drugs get underground names, code names- it's a long tradition in illegal goods to have code names. So why shouldn't I decide what the new name for Onyx should be? Especially now that it's getting all this bad press about it being dangerous. I figured I might as well just go with it, make lemonade. Trippers know it doesn't shorten your lifespan so maybe if we just play along it won't... I dunno. Life is Short? Right? Funny right?"
"Yeah um. Why did you pick a white woman?" I ask.
"That... that's what the original breVita ads are like. Always this white woman. I think you are supposed to think like- this is my friend, this beautiful lady. I want her to enjoy herself during her short time on this miserable planet. And I want to do it with her..." He trailed off. "I don't mean I want to do it with her. I mean... I mean I want to like... enjoy life, you know? Before it's over... kuz it's short."
"Right..." I nod.
"So like- when you deliver it to Leopard, call it breVita and when he's all confused say something like 'Oh I mean Onyx, it's just like, what people in the underground have been calling it to throw off the police. You know, make it sound like it's a small group of people calling it that, not a big deal. Just in niche memes.' That'll get him interested. He'll definately want to start calling it that if you make it sound real underground to call it that. And he's got the most contacts to say it to so he'll be the best place to start."
"I can do that," I say, drinking my drink. It's minty as hell and not very sweet. My mouth is cold with the menthol. I realize the room isn't being cooled. "Did you lose your air, Spiro?" I ask.
"Oh yeah... I... um... I know I should call someone to fix it but... I just... I'd have a lot to hide away. I don't know like where they get into the walls to fix it, you know... I don't mind the heat so like... I just... it's fine for me." He smiles nervously.
"Your position includes paying for the house, doesn't it? I'm sure if you ask, they'll send someone," I say. I really don't think it's about moving boxes of illegal stuff, I think he just doesn't want to write the request. "I can write the request for you," I offer.
"No, really..." he says, "I have a lot of stuff... it's a lot, Sugar. And I don't have anywhere to hide it. It's like... a lot."
"Oh," I say. Should I offer to help him move it into storage until the air repair can come and go? "I could help you move it. If you let me know when they were coming."
"I'm worried that If I write to them now, they'll come right away and then I won't have enough time to move everything. But if I move everything now and then send the request- well what if they don't come for months? I have business to do, after all." His eyes are wide, darting back and forth over the coffee table.
"They won't be here faster than like an hour- you don't think two of us could move everything in an hour?" I ask.
"I only have that little car out front." He points towards the covered window.
"Could you just save some of it- and hide it under your bed or something? I mean how much do you need in a month anyway?"
"Ehh..." he moans. "I don't really have a bed..." He seems embarrassed. "Wait! Yes I do! There is a bed in there I think! Under the boxes!" he exclaims. "It's really a lot..." He laughs nervously. Can I ask him to see them?
"Can I... see?" I try.
"Uh... Yeah I mean um..." I can tell he is trying to decide if he actually trusts me. "Yeah okay." People usually do.
We walk down a short hallway to a series of three doors. He opens one to reveal a small room stacked high with cardboard boxes. "Yeah I think there is a bed in there. I forgot all about it. I've been sleeping out here for years. Heh." We move down the hallway. We pass a very dusty bathroom with yellow streaks dripping down the walls. The other door reveals a room piled with cords and black plastic boxes and electronic equipment. "I don't know if this is legal but I just assume it probably isn't..." he explains.
"Oh, I don't know I mean don't you need all this stuff for your artwork?" I ask.
"No, I mean not anymore. I mean I mostly just let the spirits play on it. I think I sold everything that was valuable in it. Heh."
"Well I mean people don't really know how you make those compositions and I mean the Air people certainly won't know so I mean, I wouldn't worry about this. It's those boxes of drugs that really look suspicious," I say.
"Oh they aren't all drugs!" Spiro exclaims. Then he laughs and nods, "But a lot of them are."
I doubt that the repair people will snoop around but I understand Spiro's nerves. He's worked really hard establishing himself in the underground and I get the feeling that becoming a drug dealer was a bit of a dream for him. The whole "my day job allowed me to fulfill my dreams" story is pretty powerful. Most of us don't get to have that. I'm getting a small slice of it right now in my own way but really I'm just getting by. Spiro is set for life with that MoMA position. All he has to do is crank out another demon composition when they ask. And as long as these spirits are buzzing around his house, that shouldn't be a problem. He spoils them but they really don't need all the extra care that he gives them to stick around. They live here now and they aren't going to leave unless someone steals them. Or the house gets destroyed and they have to catch a wind out of here. But there isn't much wind in LA these days so spirits have to depend on people and animals to move them. If they are lucky enough to be noticed.
"I'm sure they will take a while to send someone over to fix it. You have my contact?" I ask.
"No. Of course I don't. If I did, then I wouldn't be having you come through the directory."
"If I contact you directly though, won't they find out?"
"Well I just meant like- so you can tell me to come over and help you move those boxes."
"I don't really like talking about work stuff over messaging. I just like to play it safe, you know."
"Right! Well there's nothing suspicious about a non business friend asking a non business friend to help them move some boxes... right before I have a repair done.... Hm..."
"Yeah..." this is starting to get hard.
"You see why I just deal with the heat now?!" he laughes, wiping his forehead. "It's really not that bad," he claims.
I wonder if the spirits notice the heat building up in the house. Maybe they are used to it. I know 2 of them came from the same power spot in the desert. He worries they don't get enough wind in the city but wants them to at least get some sun. He brings them outside every day to let them sit in the terra cotta pots outside the house and bake in the sun on top of the small collection of succulents that were planted there. But it's the soursop spirit that first gave him the idea to walk them out to the lemon tree across the street. They all love minty drinks but Soursop kept trying to get into his vinegar bottle. One morning Spiro woke up to a broken bottle of red wine vinegar on the kitchen floor and one very sick Soursop, its face stained pink. And once he started bringing Soursop out to the lemon tree, the remaining two spirits were feeling left out. They would cry and cry while their spirit siblings got to play outside and they were stuck sucking weakly alcoholic mint sodas.
So now Spiro walks them across the street every day. He also walks to the local grocery store to pick up their every whim. Some people would say that he gives too much of himself to them but he loves them so much I don't really see a problem with it. Other than the fact that they will inevitably outlive him. Oh well.
In the meantime, they keep each other company and they help him make his compositions. I don't really know exactly how they do it but Spiro told me one time that they had crawled into his computer while he was napping and tried to start doing his work for him. He was working on some short animations that he was going to show at a local digital art gallery. The gallery took submissions digitally and just displayed your work for one night while they had a party. It isn't the best scene for an artist, but it pays decent and Spiro was used to standing next to a screen while drunk people swayed by and making himself look serious and important.
I reach into my bag and pull out the paperbacks.
"I've got to get rid of these, preferably in the valley, but I don't know any book buyers up there. Do you know anyone, by chance?" I ask.
He picks them up and looks at the cover and smiles. He flips through the pages and gives them a sniff.
"In the valley? I mean, no. I know someone in Los Feliz that might take them or know someone who would."
"Sounds good to me."
"Yeah um his name's Horace. You'll find him at the Philisophical Research Society. It's basically an occult library. I don't know why they call it that. It's been around for... forever. Anyway yeah I mean this isn't the kind of thing that he would want to sneak into the collection but I was trading yellow books for drugs back when I was living at the church."
"I used to live at this art-collective-type thing that was in a church. It was converted in some parts but it still had a huge chapel room and little secret rooms for storing shit and hiding out. We put on shows there, had all kinds of art events... I worked with a lot of really out-there people, if you know what I mean. Like people who I couldn't hold a candle to artistically, that haven't gotten anywhere near the recognition I have..." He finishes his can and fishes in his pocket for a cigarette.
"Horace is his name? Can I say you referred me?" I ask.
"Oh no. Oh god no. Don't do that. Hah. Yeah I mean he... If he works in the underground at all, it's covert. I'm sure he doesn't think very many folks know he does anything illegal and I mean he will probably freak out if you say that I sent you. Like the cats out of the bag or whatever."
"But you think he'll know someone I could sell these books to?" I ask, confused if this guy is connected or not.
"Oh yeah, he will. I mean he had to have gotten those books from somewhere and I can tell you- it wasn't from the library collection. Kuz they were... well... ah..." He sucked hard on his cigarette. "...Not the kind of thing they would have in that collection you know."
No, I don't. But by the way he is waggling his eyebrows at me, I'm going to just assume that he assumes that I do.
"And I mean he is for sure an occultist and you know all those Luciferians and Satanists are in the valley so he prolly has his hands in those Satanic Valley Stews."
I imagine the entire valley filled with bubbling blood.
"Thanks!" I say. "It's been hard to find a place to bring these damn things. My contact was basically like, just drop them wherever. As if I know where that would be? Sometimes I think people who don't work in the underground just think that we all know each other, you know? That I can just show up in any neighborhood and know who deals in every single type of contraband, like come on!"
"Hah! Yeah... people are idiots." He laughs through a cloud of purple smoke.
"Hey do you want to try this new drug I'm about to release? It's a clone of breVita but with a narcotic for maximum chilling. It's really nice to just relax and watch visuals with."
"That sounds great but I really should get going. These books are burning a hole in my backpack. I already had to stash them from the police once. I just want to get rid of them, ya know?" I say, standing up with my backpack full with his box of Onyx, I mean breVita. breVita. breVita. breVita.
"Yeah, it's cool. Another time. But you say it's okay if I get ahold of you to help me move these boxes?"
I'm surprised he is actually considering calling to get the air fixed. "Definitely. You can message me at this number..." I hunt through my backback for my notepad. I pull out the CASH machine and hand it to him to confirm. "I guess do this first one second." He enters his number and hands it back to me. I scribble out my direct message number and tear it off for him. He lets out a nervous laugh.
"That sounds good. I don't know if I'm going to contact them to fix it... but like... I dunno... maybe I will?" He laughs nervously.
"Yeah, I gotcha man," I say, heading to the door.
"Oh! I gotta go get the lil guys," he says. "Peace and quiet is over for Spiro!" He walks outside with me and heads over to the lemon tree, and then backs back up to the stairway again. I wave.
"Bye Spiro! See ya later!" I call to him, but he is already deep into his crossing the street ritual.