A Confederate General from Big Sur(10)

By: Richard Brautigan

I found three pictures that were the right flavors: a monster picturehelphelp, a cowboy picturebangbang and a dime store romance picture I love you, and found a seat next to a man who was staring up at the ceiling.

The girl stayed for three days with Lee Mellon. She was sixteen years old and came from Los Angeles. She was a Jewess and her father was in the appliance business down in Los Angeles, and was known as the Freezer King of Sepulveda Boulevard.

He showed up at the end of the third day. It seems that the girl had run away from home, and when she had used up the last of her money, she called Poppa on the telephone and said that she was living with a man and they needed money and she gave her father the address where he could send the money.

Before the girl’s father took her away, he had a little chat with Lee Mellon. He told Lee Mellon that he didn’t want any trouble from this business and he made Lee Mellon promise never to see her again. He gave twenty dollars to Lee Mellon who said thanks.

The Freezer King said that he could build a fire under Lee Mellon if he wanted to, but he didn’t want any scandal. ‘Just don’t see her any more and everything will be all right.’

‘Sure,’ Lee Mellon said. ‘I can see your point.’

‘I don’t want any trouble, and you don’t want any trouble. We’ll just leave it right there,’ her father said.

‘Uh-huh,’ Lee Mellon said.

The Freezer King took his daughter back to Los Angeles. It had been a fine adventure even though her father had slapped her face in the car and called her a schicksa.

A little while after that Lee Mellon moved out of his room because he couldn’t pay the rent and went over and lay siege to Oakland. It was a rather impoverished siege that went on for months and was marked by only one offensive maneuver, a daring cavalry attack on the Pacific Gas and Electric Company.

Lee Mellon lived in the abandoned house of a friend who was currently Class C Ping-Pong champion of a rustic California insane asylum. The classifications of A, B or C were determined by the number of shock treatments administered to the patients. The gas and electricity had been turned off in 1937 when the friend’s mother had been tucked away for keeping chickens in the house.

Lee Mellon of course didn’t have any money to get them turned back on again, so he tunneled his way to the main gas line and tapped it. Then he had a way to cook and heat the place, but he never quite got the energy to put the thing under complete control. Consequently, whenever he turned the gas on with a hastily improvised valve, and put a match to the gas, out jumped a six-foot-long blue flame.

He found an old kerosene lantern and that took care of his light. He had a card to the Oakland Public Library and that took care of his entertainment. He was reading the Russians with that certain heavy tone people put in their voices when they say, ‘I’m reading the Russians.’

There wasn’t much food because he had little money to buy it with. Lee Mellon didn’t want to get a job. Laying siege to Oakland was difficult enough without going to work. So he went hungry most of the time, but he wouldn’t give up his PG&E security. He had to scuffle for his chow: panhandling on the streets and going around to the back doors of restaurants, and walking around looking for money in the gutters.

During his extended siege he abstained from drink and didn’t show much interest in women. Once he said to me, ‘I haven’t been laid in five months.’ He said it in a matter-of-fact way as if he were commenting on the weather.

Do you think it’s going to rain?

No, why should it?

Susan arrived one morning over at Leavenworth Street and said, ‘I’ve got to see Lee Mellon. It’s very important.’

I could see that it was very important. She showed how important it was. The months had gathered at her waist.

‘I don’t know where he’s living,’ I lied. ‘He just left one day without leaving a forwarding address,’ I lied. ‘I wonder where Lee Mellon is?’ I lied.

‘Have you seen him around town any?’

‘No,’ I lied. ‘He’s just vanished,’ I lied.

I couldn’t tell her that he was living in Oakland in terrible poverty. His only comfort being that he had tunneled his way to the main gas line and was now enjoying the rather dubious fruit of his labor: a six-foot-long blue flame. And that his eyebrows were gone.

‘He’s just vanished,’ I lied. ‘Everybody wonders where he went,’ I lied.

‘Well, if you see him any place, you tell him I’ve got to see him. It’s very important. I’m staying at the San Geronimo Hotel on Columbus Avenue, Room 34.’

She wrote it all down on a piece of paper and gave it to me. I put it in my pocket. She watched me put it in my pocket. Even after I had taken my hand out of my pocket, she was still watching the note, though it was in my pocket behind a comb, beside a wadded up candybar wrapper. I would have bet that she could have told me what kind of candybar wrapper it was.

Also By Richard Brautigan

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