A False Sense of Security

Riley Mansfield, stoned in his store-bought cowboy hat. (Monte Dutton sketch)
Riley Mansfield, stoned in his store-bought cowboy hat. (Monte Dutton sketch)

This is the sixth episode of this short story about the character, Riley Mansfield, I created for my first novel, The Audacity of Dope. The first five, in order, were “Seven Years If It’s a Day,” “Like Old Times,” “High in La-La Land,” “Far, Far Away,” and “Melissa, Under Water.”

Riley Mansfield had no sixth sense, at least not any more. Whatever intuition had guided him back in 2008, when he had been pursued and hassled and damn near killed, wasn’t anywhere near Los Angeles as he bided his time, waiting to tape yet another late-night talk show. He felt wonderful. The Hollywood party hadn’t exactly been his preferred way to spend a Thursday evening, but he’d managed to avoid the various destructive temptations placed strategically and randomly in his path. He’d sipped a little wine, which he could take or leave. He’d smoked a good bit of marijuana, but, hell, Riley didn’t think it was bad for him. It was good for him, creatively, which was why he was up relatively early on Friday, ordering room service, sipping coffee, enjoying one of the joints that had been courteously provided him by his short-term friend and chauffeur, Boris Nitschke. He had a tune in his mind and his electronic cocktail napkin, his iPhone, to record some lyrics as he hashed out a song with his guitar.

Round and round and round she goes / Where she stops nobody knows / Tends to all his wants and needs / Empowers all his works and deeds / Uh, huh.

              Too much of life is superficial / All can hum but some can’t whistle / One turned water into wine / Happens to me all the time / Uh, huh.

              It’s ordinary / And quite contrary / Just who I am.

Riley enjoyed allegories. They weren’t often that successful. Most consumers didn’t really pay that much attention. They might learn all the words, but, half the time, they didn’t really consider what they meant. At the same time, he was writing about Melissa, but he was also writing about the weed he had just smoked. It didn’t make him lazy. It made him creative, as long as he was doing something he loved – writing a song, reading a book, watching an old movie – and it helped him focus on what he was doing as long as it wasn’t something tedious like balancing his checkbook, or washing dishes, or folding clothes, or emptying the trash. Weed made Riley love what he liked and hate what he didn’t, and, for the second day in a row, time, which he didn’t much like, slipped away, and he had to stop abruptly when Boris sent him a text message saying he’d be by to pick him up in thirty minutes.

He needed two more verses, but he wanted those verses done by Saturday, when Buddy Lugoff, his best West Coast friend, and he were supposed to get together and allegedly write, but what would really happen was that each would listen to the other’s latest tunes and help hash them out. That way he’d get a credit on Buddy’s song, and vice-versa, and it would be legitimate because both would have participated in making each song better, unlike all the songs that were supposedly written by four or five, one of whom was the star who recorded it, another the big-time producer or record executive, and out here, quite often, the man or woman in charge of soundtracking a film. In one sense, it was a well-oiled but corrupt system that had been in place so long it wasn’t deemed corrupt anymore.

By Monte Dutton
By Monte Dutton

Riley tried to keep a safe distance. He’d told himself and others he was going to pitch some songs, but he just never got around to setting things up. Buddy was a pal, and how he managed to thrive out here seemed like a miracle to Riley, who thought Buddy was about as hardheaded as he was. He loved sitting in Buddy’s garage, though, which hadn’t had room for a car in at least a decade, and just get high and swap songs. Hollyweird was different, but, in its way, it was liberating. Yesterday, he had taped the Passineau show wearing sneakers, a tee shirt he purchased down the street, and a once-fancy jacket that was now too old to wear except he found it comfortable, familiar and, quite possibly, lucky. In Nashville, he would have made sure he had on a flashy pair of cowboy boots, a western shirt with pearl snaps, and jeans that didn’t have holes in them. In Hollyweird, it didn’t matter. Shabby was fashionable. His shabby was especially fashionable because it had been imported from the South. Back there, it would have been simply shabby.

His shave was once over with his Remington electric. He wouldn’t have shaved at all, but his neck was scratchy, and he hated that. The shower was wonderful in a way that was only possible with a nice weed buzz still coursing through his bloodstream, speeded up and reinvigorated by the rush of water almost as hot as he could stand.

Riley didn’t have his boots. They were too heavy to put in checked luggage and too hard to get on and off to take through airport security. He decided he wanted a cheap straw hat, though, and got Boris to find him a boutique where he could buy a real shabby one for less than a hundred dollars. He bought a denim shirt, too. He was spending too much money. He didn’t care. He was high. He was happy. He’d gotten a good start on a song. He had something new to spring on Buddy Lugoff. There weren’t any dishes to wash.

Riley hadn’t been to any of the states – Colorado, Washington, Alaska, D.C., Oregon on the way – where weed was legal, at least not since the referenda had passed. He couldn’t imagine it being any freer than California, where it was only legal for medicinal purposes but it appeared almost everyone had a qualifying condition. He wondered if California was better from a consumer’s point of view. All the legalization programs had been passed, at least in part, because those states could tax the hell out of marijuana. California was missing out. Buddy had told him that it had failed to pass in California the most recent time because the weed dealers turned against it. Riley thought about how similar it was to Southern states where counties stayed dry because the preachers ran campaigns the bootleggers bankrolled.

He watched people, standing on street corners. Half of them were high. Hardly anyone smoked cigarettes, but it seemed as if an inordinate number had little instruments that looked like fancy pens, and Riley figured they must be vaporizers, similar to e-cigarettes, and there wasn’t any smell. It was another sham, like medicinal marijuana, and for everyone, it was just another example of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” They had “don’t ask, don’t tell” in South Carolina and Kentucky, too, but it was unreliable when the Sheriff was up for reelection. If, in California, it was a sham, well, it was a better sham than other places. Hell, in Texas, they even picked on poor Willie Nelson from time to time. It wasn’t right. Out here, Hollywood wouldn’t have been so bad if it hadn’t been so weird.

Riley broached the subject with Boris, his loyal squire, his Sancho Panza. Boris said he’d never smoked it. He said he liked to drink but seemed to have less and less time for it.

“Is not that harmful, I think,” Boris said. “Most people out here, they do it. Is just not me. I don’t know why.”

Riley almost said “good for you,” but it would’ve been insincere.

He was looking forward to For the Love of Night because he loved Kristine Carlton. She was too irreverent for prime time, another Jewish comedian with a Gentile name, an iconoclast who was defiant and unexpurgated. She kept a bong on the set, hit it during commercial breaks, made no secret of loving weed, and derived a goodly portion of her material from defending it and poking fun at those who were against it. No one appeared on her show without being “outed,” whether for being a pothead, gay, radical, or controversial in a wide variety of other ways. Kristine was aggressively heterosexual herself, and she liked Riley a lot, too. He thought she had a space reserved for another notch on her figurative belt. His. She wasn’t devious. She was straightforward. When he declined, she accepted it, but he didn’t think she’d ever give up her aspirations. It was tempting because, he knew, no strings were attached. Promiscuity was almost Kristine Carlton’s religion.

It was okay. She loved to get high with him before the show, shoot the shit with him on it, and he could play two songs if he wanted, as long as one of them was funny and saturated in weed. Riley’s periodic appearances on her show were enough to keep him edgy. Riley loved her for her bubbly personality, her courage, and, perhaps most, her wondrous boobs. She had his favorite titties. Melissa was number two, there. His wife’s were just the right size. Kristine’s were larger, rounder and bouncier. If he had been of a mind to cheat on his wondrous wife – and he wasn’t – Kristine Carlton would have been his first draft choice. He was confident, but not completely secure, every time he felt the opportunity to succumb. Faithfulness was a chore for sinful Man. Another of Kristine’s assets was that she was an unapologetically sinful woman. Perhaps Riley would reach the age where thinking of Kristine Carlton didn’t give him a boner, but he wasn’t there yet.

On Johnny Passineau’s show, Riley had rehearsed his number with the band, and much of what was on the show seemed spontaneous but really wasn’t. That was Passineau’s great gift. Kristine didn’t care about that. She threw caution to the winds and thought it belonged there. They spent a half hour talking, but the talk wasn’t as significant as the fact that they got positively stoned. Riley liked a buzz. He preferred not to get fully faded. It wasn’t an option with Kristine, but when they got through blazing, it was half hour before the taping, and it gave the both of them a chance to find Earth’s orbit again. Riley was almost speechless while the makeup woman was doing her magic. All she had to say was that every man who appeared on the show seemed to be wearing the same cologne.

“Eau de weed?” Riley asked.

“Ain’t no other kind on this show,” Rosemary said.

Riley watched her laugh. She couldn’t have any name other than Rosemary. She was more a Rosemary than anyone had ever been. Riley decided her last name was O’ something. O’Mara. That must be it. If he’d asked, and she’d said her name was something else, he wouldn’t have believed her.

“Everybody always asks me why I love to have Riley Mansfield on my show,” Kristine said to the audience. “It’s because he’s No. 1 in all the rankings. He [bleeping] brought Sam Harmon down. They tried to kill him. He’s, like, really and truly bold and brave and warm and caring, and, like, humble, and the only reason he even comes on my show is that I always make sure we can smoke some really good weed beforehand. I love talking with Riley. And toking with him, you know? That’s where he’s, like, a hero. He’s the positive role model who, by just his being there, who he is, he’s, like, the number one stoner. He, like, needs to start a football team and play Oregon, man.

“He even played football. I love his songs. He’s going to sing a couple of them. Now he’s going to come out here all embarrassed. And high, and that’s why I love him, ladies and gentlemen. Some people think, like, whatever happened to that dude, man? He’s just out there, minding his own business, writing cool songs, staying out in the country with his woman, Melissa, and loving life. We all should be so lucky. He doesn’t get out often, folks, so enjoy my great friend, Riley [bleeping] Mansfield.”

Kristine’s band, which wasn’t but three pieces – lead, bass, drums – and made up of apparent Rastafarians, rolled into their funky version of “This Land Is Your Land,” and Riley strode out, stopped on the way to place his guitar on the stand next to the stool that had already been placed onstage for his performance. Any other show would have had it placed there for his convenience, but Kristine’s wasn’t any other show. It was amazing shit ever got done, and Riley, in his pleasant disorientation, thought, Well, I bet the fucking trash never gets taken out around here.

Riley waved to the crowd, bowed, embraced Kristine, and sat down.

“So … how you feeling?”

“Pretty good.”

“That was my impression backstage,” she said, drawing a smattering of laughter.

“Kristine, Kristine, you don’t know what this does to me when I get back home. My truck gets stopped by the cops more than the freight trains coming through.”

“If everyone in the South was like you, I’d move there.”

“Then the whole South would be, oh, like Asheville, North Carolina,” Riley said.

“I’ve heard that’s a cool, trippy place.”

“Yeah. I’ve heard that, too.”

“But, what, I understand you’ve moved to Kentucky?”

“It’s just a little cabin up there in the hills, a place where me and Melissa can get away. I can hole up and write songs. It’s beautiful. The people are nice. Not as many people know who I am. I love it, but I love Henry, too. We’re going back there in the next few days.”

“That’s Henry, South Carolina.”

“Yep,” he said. “Lived there all my life, except when I was in college. You know, I grew up with kids who couldn’t wait to get out of town and see the world. I travel all over the country but still live at home. It’s the best of both worlds.”

“So, Riley, you got some new CD for us to, like, publicize?” Kristine asked.

“No, Kristine, I wouldn’t besmirch your show for something blatantly commercial. What? Do you think I’m just some shameless whore? I came out here to see you, because being on your show is real thrill, and I’m going to try to sell some of my songs to the stars of stage, screen, and Hollywood. I’ve been in Hollywood the last two nights, and tomorrow, me and my songwriting buddy, coincidentally named Buddy …”

“Buddy Lugoff. He’s so great.”

“Next time I’m out here, you should have the two of us on.”

“Does he love weed as much as you?”

“Oh, more, Kristine. He lives out here, and he doesn’t have to worry about the local sheriff hassling his ass. Buddy has a permit. Buddy must have lumbago or something. … What were we talking about?”

“How, uh, you don’t have a CD.”

“Oh, I had a CD out five years ago. I made a little money off of them when I was recovering from being a national hero. Now they just sit in boxes. Where I make my money is when others record my songs, or when, you know, they put my songs in movies. That’s a tidy way to make some money.”

“So your CDs, they’re just …”

“Yeah,” Riley said. “Weed money.”

They both laughed.

“So, what are you going to play for us when we come back from break?”

“Uh, you’re a big fan of animals, right? You love dogs.”

“Oh, I love dogs,” Kristine said. “I got the most beautiful Saint Bernard.”

“We had a Newfoundland when I was a little boy, and that’s pretty much a black Saint Bernard. Newfoundlands are always getting busted, man, but, anyway, I, uh, I’m always traveling, and going from Henry up to Kentucky, and Nashville, and out here, and I just don’t have time to have a dog anymore. I’m too mobile, but I do love dogs, and so, well, I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s just a little novelty song that compares a dog to something else.”

“Your penis?”

“No, but it’s a bold stab, Kristine.”

“Folks, we’ll be back after these messages from two different prescription drugs that are bound to get you laid if you don’t grow a third testicle and start hatching dinosaur eggs, so stay with us. The great Riley Mansfield my favorite person on earth to get high with, will be back to entertain you, so burn one at home and get ready to rock.”

Kristine pulled out her bong and lighter.

“Why do you not just do the show straight through and have them insert the breaks?” Riley asked, off air. “It’s, like, four hours before it goes on, right?”

She exhaled, directly upward and slid it over to the edge of the desk along with a little bag. “Want some?”

“I’m good,” Riley said. “I’m exactly where I need to be in order to perform a couple songs with the delightful absence of tension that marijuana provides, and, yet, I don’t lose the facility for remembering the lyrics to songs I, myself, have written.”

“Didn’t you forget a verse one time here?”

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “I made up two lines off the top of my head. They were better than the original ones. They’re the ones I sing now. It was, remember, the line was, uh, let me see, ah’ight, I got it. The line I remembered was, ‘Sometimes folks like to buy me shots, most of the time I’d rather they not,’ and then my mind just went black, so I sang, ‘Some folks sneak outside to smoke pot, you can tell when you see ‘em ‘cause their eyes are bloodshot.’”

“See, if you’d hit this bong right now, honey, you could have that kind of creativity again.”

“Thanks, darling, but I think this song’s, like, already good enough, and, besides, I’m getting more mature as I age.”

“Say that again and I’ll fucking kill you,” Kristine said.

“No, you won’t. Weed doesn’t make people murder. I better mosey over there to my guitar.”

Riley was glad he bought the straw hat. It kept the spotlight, one that was beaming downward, out of his eyes. He hit a “D” chord.

I got this dog / She’s good to me / Always helps me watch TV / Never keeps the remote control / I never leave her in the cold.

The only time she barks is when I touch her wrong / But when I pet her right / She tags along / Doesn’t mind it if I want to take her far / All my dog really is is this guitar.

When I’m down / She smiles at me / Continues to act cheerfully / When I want to raise some hell / She harmonizes very well.

When my old lady’s / Mad at me / I take me dog and leave her be / When I want to drink some beer / Tells me when the coast is clear.

The only time she barks is when I touch her wrong / But when I pet her right / She tags along / Doesn’t mind it if I want to take her far / All my dog really is is this guitar.

She don’t brag / Ain’t got much hair / Just requires loving care / Only howls at a shooting star / My only dog is this guitar.

The only time she barks is when I touch her wrong / But when I pet her right / She tags along / Doesn’t mind it if I want to take her far / All my dog really is is this guitar.

When the applause subsided, Kristine, still sitting behind the desk, either wasted or acting like it, yelled, “[Bleep] that! I want to hear a [bleeping] stoner song.”

“It’s your show, Kristine, my dear.”

“Oh, [bleep],” she said. “This little bug in my tells me we got one more commercial break. We’ll be back, and my bud Riley Mansfield’s gonna sing about some bud when we come back.”

“Good,” Riley said as the band cranked some blues. “That’ll give me time to remember one.”

 

Later that night, after Riley and Kristine had gotten higher and gone to dinner at a Beverly Hills bistro, Leeds McCormick and Kurt Hasselbeck watched For the Love of the Night with Kristine Carlton.

“Can you believe this?” McCormick said. “I didn’t realize shit like this was on TV.”

“World is changing,” Hasselbeck replied. “It’s unbelievable.”

“This’ll be over in a little while. I’d say our Mr. Mansfield will be getting back before much longer, and, this time, he hasn’t got a clue we’re waiting for him.”

“He’s probably stoned out of his gourd right now,” Hasselbeck said.

“You think?”

If you’re enjoying Riley Mansfield’s latest adventures, and you haven’t already read The Audacity of Dope, you can buy it here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

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