“Panty-Stuffed Snakeskin Shoe”
A Vic Valentine Vignette
by Will Viharo
There’s a lesson in this somewhere, one I doubt I’ll ever learn. I should add that due to my prolonged series of fugue states (more or less self-diagnosed), I can’t even verify the veracity of this vignette. I rely mostly on muscle memory to navigate this fever dream called Life. The trouble is my brain isn’t very muscular.
I will provide as many incidental details as possible to prove I was at least paying attention.
For a fact I was at Fenway Park, during a recent trip to Boston with my magical wife Val, short for Ava Margarita Esmeralda Valentina Valdez. If you know my history, it seems improbable that a brilliant, sensuous Latina bombshell with a PhD in Basically Everything would even notice much less marry a washed up ex-private eye who learned everything he knew about his profession from old movies. I guess I got lucky.
I’d been to Boston a couple of times as a kid with my parents. Those were some good times before all the tragedies hit in slow succession: My old man was a dirty cop found dead in an alley (murdered by someone I loved), my old lady a mentally disturbed beauty who died in an institution, and my depressed older brother jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge as a teenager. I didn’t get this way by accident. It’s divine design. I was meant to be a mess.
This trip to Boston was the latest in a series of therapeutic measures my patient wife took to treat, if not cure, my ongoing mental malaise. She also had a speaking engagement at Harvard, which I skipped while exploring Cambridge for the first time. As a high school dropout I felt out of place in the highfalutin collegiate environment, pleasant as it was. My favorite spot there was a tiki bar called Wusong Road. That was our first night. The next night we had Asian food and Mai Tais at the legendary Kowloon down in Saugus, an old school exotic restaurant with giant tiki statues and fountains and the ambience of 1950s tropical resort. It was another place I’d visited as a kid with my family. Now Val was my family. She was also my only friend, ever since Doc died. He was the owner of The Drive-Inn, a combo bar/video store back in San Francisco, where my so-called career started. Doc is still with me in spirit, though.
At the Kowloon, Val and I talked about her personal history in the area, particularly Salem. She’d once lived there for a brief time, which was news to me, and wanted to look up some old friends that “dabbled in the dark arts.” I was game.
The following day I agreed to see a ballgame with her at Fenway as a token of my gratitude. Our pricey seats right behind home plate were totally wasted on me. As I’ve said before I was never a sports fan because I’m not athletic, competitive, or tribalistic. But my wife liked baseball. No particular team but in this case she was rooting for the Oakland A’s, just to piss off the Red Sox fans. I wasn’t worried. If she got into a fight, she could take care of herself. She was an expert martial artist on top of everything else. I was just tagging along as a gofer, not a bodyguard.
Soon after getting seated I left to buy a couple of meatless hot dogs (we’re both vegan) at the one concession stand that advertised them, waiting in a long line before being told they were all out. Story of my life. Maybe it was because I was dressed like a Rat Pack reject, not just another conformist Clyde marching lockstep in the parade of banality. I asked this guy wearing a red shirt where I could score vegan food. He gave me a quizzical, condescending look and told me to try this open air area where kids play, which I’d normally avoid like a toxic dump. I checked it out and didn’t see any vegan options on any menus around there.
Next I asked someone else in a red shirt (they’d all be dead soon if this was Star Trek, fine with me) and he sent me to the “Information” booth. There I was told about a stand called MingsBings that offered vegan dogs and other plant-based bullshit two flights straight up, on level four. I went up, looked all over, and didn’t see any MingsBings. I asked around and no one had heard of it, not even the elevator operators. I even checked on level three. Nada. So I returned to the Info booth. They swore it was there and to try again. I did that. It still was nowhere to be found and still no one had ever heard of it. I asked some old guy at the nearest entry gate and he said it was back by home plate, where I came from. Tried again, still couldn’t find it. For some reason the vintage instrumental “Moon Mist” by the Blue Jeans was blaring inside my head throughout this entire experience. It was so loud I wondered if anyone heard it but me.
I went back to the original concession stand that allegedly sold vegan dogs and asked someone there if they knew of MingsBings. Nope. But then this person asked her manager, who had actually heard of it and tried sending me back to Fenway’s version of the Twilight Zone department store on level four. I told him I’d already been there and not only could I not find it but no one working in that section had ever even heard of it. So he called someone up there to confirm. I saw him nodding and then he hung up and told me to go back to the Info booth and ask for some joker named Jake, who would personally escort me to the mythical MingsBings. I did.
No one there knew who the hell Jake was.
Whatever. Back in Seattle, we often had vegan hot dogs when Val dragged me to a Mariners game. I missed Seattle, even if the residents were both the worst dressers and worst drivers in the world.
The upshot was I had to go back to Val empty handed.
When I got back to our seats, she was gone. I waited a while before I called her cellphone. Someone answered that wasn’t her and told me I had the wrong number. My stomach clenched into tumorous knots.
“Have you seen my wife?” I asked the people sitting around me, all wearing unfriendly Red Sox gear. Everyone shook their head. Val looked like a Russ Meyer Supervixen, hard to miss or forget. Everyone insisted I’d been there alone the entire time. I figured they were messing with me because she’d been cheering on the opposing team.
I waited until the game ended, but she never showed up. There had to be an explanation. Probably not a rational one.
I walked back to where we were staying, The Verb Hotel on the immediate outskirts of the ballpark. The decor was very colorful and midcentury retro, like a ’60s Batman villain lair, with a vintage LP theme and pool that made it feel like you were in Palm Springs. Lots of hip bands stayed there. I was half hoping to run into Debbie Harry in the hallway. Before I lost my wife, that is. Good to have backup though.
I went into our room and found none of her clothes or makeup or toiletries there. Just a single high-heeled snakeskin strappy shoe. For some reason, her leopard print panties were stuffed inside of it. But that was it. No signs of a struggle. No note. It was like she was never there, in that room.
Or on this planet, outside my own head.
Of course, the private eye ghost inside me considered the worst, that she’d been abducted or worse, she’d abandoned me. If she’d been kidnapped, I’d go into my former crime-busting mode and this would be a thrilling adventure ending in a triumphant reunion. If she simply left me, which seemed more probable given my unworthiness, it would be just another soul-crushing, heartbreaking coda to a lonely, pointless existence. I could’ve just called the cops, but the problem was I had no photos of Val on me, or any tangible evidence of her existence. Except this shoe.
Anyway, my experience was I was better off tracking her down myself. After all, I became a private eye to find a long lost love, years ago. I didn’t find her but she found me. It didn’t work out. Her name was Rose by then, but when I knew her back in the day, it was Valerie. I called her Val. Coincidence. If you believe in those.
After the desk clerk told me I’d checked in alone, which was a lie, I began wandering aimlessly around downtown Boston, looking for a woman who was my wife, at least from my point of view. I carried the snakeskin shoe under one arm and stuffed the leopard print panties inside my sharkskin jacket. I was on existential safari. As long as I had these physical items, I knew she had once and still existed outside the dimension of my own dementia. I needed to see her again, even if no one else could. She was my only connection to everyone else’s reality, the one I allegedly inhabited.
After walking up and down the brick sidewalks of Beacon Hill, wondering what it would be like to live in one of those cool old row houses, ensconced in vivid history and shadowy tree shade, I followed the Freedom Trail, starting at the Common and winding up at Quincy Market. I dug all the dinosaur statues. Reminded me of being a kid, when the benevolent dream world you envisioned in your mind felt just as real as the one that you physically felt, that hurt and let you down. At a Mexican cantina called Mija in Faneuil Hall I sat at the outdoor bar and ordered a Margarita. One of Val’s many middle names.
Then I remembered our conversation back at the Kowloon.
I took a cab to North Station and caught a red line train directly to Salem. It was twilight when I arrived. I was immediately intrigued by the innate Halloween atmosphere. I walked along Essex Street checking out the spooky shops and monster museums, lost in a nostalgic haze, remembering all the horror movies I’d watched with my brother as kids. I figured I’d get the tourist crap out of the way since I was probably just chasing down another delusion anyway.
The crisp, early autumn breeze sweetened my senses. I strolled past the famous witch cemetery without whistling since I can’t whistle and walked up Derby Street. There I saw a retro neon bar sign that read All Souls Lounge.
This reminded me of something someone sad once said to me, “No refunds on souls.” Though when I told Val about it, she revised it in response as “All souls are final.”
Taking this as a cosmic clue I went inside. It was a dark, cozy joint with hardwood floors and brick walls. I sat down at the bar and ordered a dirty Martini. Sinatra was singing “Witchcraft” from the eclectic jukebox. Despite my despair I felt at peace for the first time in ages. This was a good place to disappear.
That’s when I looked down and saw a single snakeskin shoe, the companion to the one sitting on the bar next to my drink. Inside of it was a mustard-stained paper wrapper that read “MingsBings.”
I asked the bartender if he knew who belonged to the shoe and he had no idea, but he figured it was mine since I had the other one. I didn’t get into it. Instead I asked for a recommendation for a place to crash while in town. He suggested the nearby Hawthorne Hotel, which was apparently haunted. Like me. I finished my Martini as Frank sang “That Old Black Magic.”
Walking through the grandiose, chandelier-illuminated lobby past a beckoning wood-paneled tavern, I looked into an ornate mirror on the far wall. I saw Val’s reflection following me, but not my own, like I was a vampire, though her floating shoes and panties were visible. She was wearing only her leopard print bra, nothing else. No one but me seemed to notice. I didn’t care. At least neither of us was alone anymore.
She sat on a plush sofa as I put both snakeskin shoes on her feet, then she stood up and slipped on the leopard print panties. Everything was back in its proper place. My universe was once again complete.
That’s when it all made sense. I hadn’t conjured her. She’d conjured me.
Will “The Thrill” Viharo is a freelance writer and the author of several “gonzo pulp” novels including A Mermaid Drowns in the Midnight Lounge, Freaks That Carry Your Luggage up to the Room, Chumpy Walnut, Lavender Blonde, Down a Dark Alley, and the “Vic Valentine, Private Eye” series, the first of which, Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me, has been optioned for a film by Christian Slater. For many years he was a professional film programmer/impresario and live music booker, hosting and producing the popular “cult movie cabaret” called “Thrillville Theater” in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond.