Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Popcorn Girl, Chapter 20: Rebirth

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Perhaps I’m being paranoid, but I don’t want to leave a cyber-trail. I head for one of the computers at the library and sign up for an email account under the name jeffersonpaine76. I de-crumple the evil flyer, take a picture of it with my cell phone, send the image to my email and immediately erase it from my phone. I take a card from my wallet and write down the flyer’s phone number, adding two to each digit (0591, for instance, becomes 2713). I’m beginning to feel like a secret agent. I fold the flyer twice and stow it in my pocket for later disposal.

The phone number is from Western Montana, the big counties around Helena and Great Falls. A search for Kelly Copper reveals random associations: Gary Cooper (a Montana native), an actress in New York, a guide to copper mining and an industrial supplier in Helena. Then I try the daily papers for both cities, imagining some “missing girl” piece, but I get more of the same – plus a male Kelly Copper, shortstop for the University of Montana. I am beginning to wonder just how badly the Coppers want to find their little girl. Still, I am not about to try that phone number. It feels radioactive.

A half-hour in and I’m already at a standstill. I’m stalling for time, trolling my Facebook page, when I get an idea. I return to Google and search for “Sass Hunter Minneapolis.” Jackpot. An article from the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Former Prostitute Helps Inner-City Teens: New Youth Center Opens Today

“The attack was a sign,” says Sass Hunter. “A sign that I needed to remake my life.”

The attack came from one of Hunter’s johns, and landed her in the hospital with a broken jaw and several deep bruises. The resultant scar – a jagged scrawl along her left jawline – gives the 28-year-old instant street cred among her new clients, the at-risk youth who come to her New Beginnings Youth Center. Clearly she has been there.

The accompanying photo shows a broad-faced woman with a medium-dark complexion and a beaming smile that belies the mark across her jaw. I head for the New Beginnings website, find Sass’s email address and send her a message with the heading Jasmina Contrevic/Kelly Copper. Then I kill another fifteen minutes at Facebook. When I return, I have an answer:

Dear Paul: I am delighted to hear that Jasmina is okay. Before I answer your questions, however, could you please send some verification of your identity and relationship with her? Sorry to be so cautious.

Peace be with you – Sass

 I send a reply telling her that I’ll think of something, and then I head out for a walk, hoping that I’ll think of something. I spot a city garbage can with an ashtray built into its lid. I position the flyer at its center, pull out my lighter and reduce it to cinders.

We’re touring the grand strip of Van Ness Avenue between the opera house and city hall. Tonight, we are doing a very city sort of thing: a warehouse party in the South of Market Area (SOMA). I picture those trendy beer commercials in which masses of young people writhe and sweat amid techno music and flashing lights. Jasmina is talking about her sessions with Molly.

“You’ve seen Anna’s studio: X-Acto knives, scrapers, skewers. But Molly says hiding the ‘sharps’ is the last thing we should do. The real danger is inside, in the way that my mind is mis-handling crisis situations. So we’re working on ways to cool down my circuits when they get overloaded: writing exercises, breathing techniques. My favorite is painting. Anna gave me an easel, and a canvas, brushes and paint. Anytime I’m getting the urge, I’m supposed to simply apply paint to canvas, no forethought, just focusing on the action itself. Very… meditative. Paul? Do you mind that I’m telling you all this?”

“Of course not.”

“It’s good to have one other person I can tell. Just to reinforce everything.”

What is bugging me is all this secret information I’m carrying around. For instance, the resurrection of Sass Hunter.

The warehouse is smaller than I envisioned, but I like the accoutrements: a small stage with lighting, a dance floor framed by long bus-station benches, and a balcony sound booth. A worker stands on a ladder, drilling screws into the balcony’s support beams. I set down a pair of cymbal stands and wrap an arm around Jasmina’s shoulder, careful of the bandage beneath her sleeve.

“Look, honey, they’re almost done building the place.”

“That’s good.”

“I predict we go on at two in the morning.”


“Just kidding. Maybe.”

The party begins with a round of karaoke, dominated by a drunken troll with big glasses and a beard. I gesture at him with a burrito. “That dude is trouble.”

Jasmina laughs. “Oh?”

“Yes. Also, this karaoke is trouble.”


“Not sure.”

At midnight, Scott the birthday boy takes the stage to administer a self-inflicted mohawk, using a trimmer equipped with a micro-camera. The screen behind the stage offers follicle close-ups resembling the decimation of a rain forest. Troll Boy decides to offer accompaniment by playing my drums with a pair of ballpoint pens. “Hey!” he calls. “Anybody got drumsticks?”

I take to the stage and skip the preliminaries. “Hi. Get the fuck off my drums.”

He gives me a look of wounded innocence. “But I… couldn’t find any sticks.”

“I don’t care. Get the fuck off my drums. Now.”

He teeters upward and knocks over a cymbal stand. Fortunately, it’s my ride, which can take a beating.

“Dude, I’m so sorry. I’ll pay for any damages.”

“Sure you will.” I straighten the stand and take a protective posture on my stool. When I look back, Troll Boy is wearing Smeeed’s bass.

“Take that off.”

“It’s cool, bro. I’m a musician.”

I stand up. “If you were a musician, you wouldn’t fuck with other people’s instruments. Now give me that, and get the fuck off the stage!”

This catches the attention of Scott, who looks back from his trimming. Pamela escorts Troll Boy from the stage, and I return the bass to its stand. When I get back to our table, Jasmina’s wearing a concerned expression.

“Are you okay?”

I laugh. “I told you he was trouble. Sorry for all the barking. With guys like that, you have to make a lot of noise. I hate drunks. And I love my drums.”

I only hope you feel the same way about me.

“Honey, if he was messin’ with you, they’d be taking him out on a stretcher.”

She gives a little shiver and ruffles my hair. “I think I like Macho Paul. Hey, follow me.”

She takes me to the far side of the room, where two guys in bowlers are posing for pictures in front of a blue screen. The photographer is an automated booth. We take a seat on the posing bench, and Jasmina presses a flashing button. A video screen shows us a five-second countdown plus the background image that will appear on the photo.

“Now kiss me,” she says.

We collect our photo-strip from a slot on the side. The kiss appears before a postcard from Cape May, New Jersey; a cuddle-shot before a fireworks display, a back-to-back before a ‘70s orgy, and a final pose in which Jasmine is fondling a well-endowed anime girl. At the bottom of the strip is a website where we can download a digital version.

“Hey, Yaz? Wait here. I’ll be right back.”

“Oh, okay. I…”

I kiss her on the cheek. “Right back.”

I race outside and turn left for the corner gas station. I find the stacks of newspapers and grab a Chronicle, featuring a headline about the recent uprising in Egypt. When I return, Jasmina is drinking a beer with Pamela and Landa. I rudely yank her away.

“Okay. I got us a prop. For the first shot, I’ll pretend to read the paper, and you can point at something on page three. We can improv from there.”

“You are really into this!”

In our final shot, we hold the headline between us, offering a hearty thumbs-up to the Egyptian protesters. The DJ’s voice booms from the booth.

“Okay, we’re going to cut off the karaoke so the band can play…”

A dozen wannabe singers groan and complain. I start laughing. “And there’s the reason the karaoke is trouble.” I look at my cell phone; it’s 1:30. “But look! We’re ahead of schedule.”

Photo by MJV

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