An Abundance of Bourbon, or, “Whiskey River Take Me Home”
On Wednesday morning, I woke up in Los Angeles, forgetting that I was still on East Coast time. I stumbled outside in search of coffee and couldn’t understand why it was still dark. Then I fumbled for my phone and glanced at the time and saw that it was only four in the morning. The only people awake were the homeless—and they weren’t nocturnal by choice. They were just out to beat the heat.
Los Angeles is a city that runs on automobiles. Seriously. You can’t get anywhere in Los Angeles without a car, and in truth, because of gridlock, you can’t get anywhere with a car, either. I’m told that the city offers public transit, but much like Bigfoot, Chupacabra, and Dean Koontz novels that don’t feature a dog, I have never seen it. There are reports of subways and trains and buses, but they remain mythical at best. One of the city’s newest skyscrapers downtown is offering a giant slide, but that doesn’t seem very practical—especially if one has simply ventured outside to retrieve a cup of coffee. Rocketing six stories down a giant slide while holding a scalding hot beverage doesn’t sound like a good time to me. The slide itself doesn’t seem like a very good idea, either. I mean, what’s wrong with elevators and good old-fashioned stairwells? Is the slide supposed to appeal to the same infantile adults playing with toys at age thirty and still clinging to the desperate hope that Marvel and DC Comics stories still somehow “matter” rather than being nothing more than churn for the corporate intellectual property farms?
It occurred to me that DC Comics had moved to Burbank. I could have paid a visit and asked co-publisher Dan DiDio, except that I didn’t have a car, and public transit was missing in action, and also because—according to friends of mine still at DC Comics—Dan doesn’t want to talk to me because a) I have a bad habit of expecting to be paid the same amount as other writers, and b) I refused to sit next to Superman editor Eddie Berganza when I attended the New York City premiere of Man of Steel. And who could blame me for that second thing, really? Let’s conduct an experiment. Google “Eddie Berganza Sexual Assault” and tell me you’d want to sit next to the guy. Seriously. I’ll still be here when you get back.
See? I’m perfectly content with my decision not to sit next to that guy in a darkened movie theater filled with comic book industry professionals.
Another reason I couldn’t drop by the DC Comics offices was because it was four in the morning and I hadn’t yet procured coffee. Resolving to fix that, I redoubled my efforts—hiking seven blocks before I finally found a convenience store that was open. Supposedly they served coffee, although it looked more like tepid brown swamp water and tasted like the inside of a baboon’s stomach. I bought four of them. The cashier didn’t have a carrier tray, so I had to hike the seven blocks back to my hotel performing a juggling act that impressed even the most laconic and taciturn of the homeless who watched my progression. Soon enough, I offered two of them two of my cups, thus freeing me to better carry my caffeine fix and also getting bonus karma points.
“Hey,” one of the homeless shouted at me, “this tastes like the inside of a baboon’s stomach!”
I was back in my room by five in the morning, and I wrote until my first appointment—a breakfast meeting with a film distributor. Over the last two years, I’ve served as Executive Producer on a feature length film called I’m Dreaming of a White Doomsday. Written and directed by Mike Lombardo, it’s a movie that should easily be seen in theaters, as well as pay-per-view and other on demand outlets. To make this happen, we need a film distributor. The folks I was meeting with bought me $40 waffles and coffee, and also ordered a round of bourbon for the table. When I questioned this, they said they were big fans of mine and of the horror genre, and they’d heard that I liked bourbon.
“Sure, I do,” I replied, “but not at…” I glanced at my phone. “Eight o’clock in the goddamned morning.”
“Relax,” advised a smiling Millennial whose clothes cost more than the Jeep I’d reluctantly left back home. Then he asked if he could take a selfie with me.
Several more rounds of bourbon and coffee and selfies followed, and no business was being discussed. Finally, in no mood for nonsense, I pushed ahead with my pitch: “I’m Dreaming of a White Doomsday is a post-apocalyptic The Babadook.”
Everyone blinked at me. Apparently, the Millennials who love the horror genre and distribute movies had never fucking heard of The Babadook, despite it being one of the most successful and talked about horror films in recent years. You remember this when you’re sitting through yet another Nightmare on Elm Street reboot in a few years.
I stumbled to a cab and back to my hotel, where the girl at the desk informed me that another film distributor had sent me a package while I was out. The package turned out to be a bottle of bourbon.
Around eleven, author Hal Bodner showed up. We sat in my hotel room and recorded an interview which will air on my podcast, The Horror Show with Brian Keene. I drank the bourbon, because there were only two bottles of water and Hal was drinking those.
Wednesday evening, actress, author, director, and screenwriter Laura Lee Bahr showed up, and we went over to author John Skipp’s house, where we ate wonderful artisan pizza, and watched the sun go down from Skipp’s rooftop, painting the sky with fire. Skipp produced a bottle of bourbon he’d bought for me. When it got dark, I recorded another podcast interview with Skipp and Laura. They drank beer. I drank the bourbon. We talked long into the night, and Laura and I didn’t leave until the bourbon was gone.
Thursday morning, I did the coffee walk. This time, the homeless people avoided me, perhaps warned about the strange middle-aged man from Pennsylvania who was handing out fetid cups of swamp water the day before. Then I had an early lunch with some executives from a Hollywood production company who were interested in optioning my novel, The Complex. We had steak and bourbon. After fifteen minutes, I’d divined—using an arcane and mystic process that twenty years in this business has ingrained in me—that these guys would never get The Complex made. I ordered more bourbon,
That afternoon, Jamie LaChance and I drove out to Orange County to visit with J.F. Gonzalez’s parents. Jamie is an attorney and a long-time reader. He’s been a good friend to me, and was a good friend to Jesus, as well. Jesus’s parents seemed happy to see us, and in truth, I was happy to see them, as well. They’ve always been very kind to me, and visiting with them brought about some closure and connection that I didn’t even know I needed. They insisted on buying Jamie and I lunch. I was very grateful the Mexican restaurant where we went to eat didn’t serve bourbon.
On the way home—which is what Southern Californians call “sitting in traffic”—author David J. Schow called and summoned me to dinner in North Hollywood. Now, I was stuffed to the brim with steak and Mexican food and bourbon, but when David J. Schow asks you to do something, you fucking do it. I would drag my balls across six miles of broken glass for David Schow and John Skipp if they asked me to. Luckily for my testicles, David was simply asking us to meet him and his partner, Speedy, for dinner. So we did. It was a very nice Italian restaurant. I had lasagna and several glasses of bourbon.
On Friday, I had three business meetings. I was offered bourbon at all three. For lunch, I stopped at a food truck, desperate to get the taste of bourbon out of my mouth. I ordered three tacos. By two that afternoon, I realized that the tacos had been a very bad idea. I ended up skipping a birthday party for singer, songwriter, and editor Kasey Lansdale because I couldn’t get more than five feet away from the toilet. Most of Kasey’s friends are singers and actresses, and I was certain they wouldn’t appreciate me shitting myself while trying to make small talk. I ended up finishing the bottle of bourbon the company had sent me, because I was too sick to leave the room and buy replacements for the bottled water Hal Bodner drank.
On Saturday, I did a signing at Dark Delicacies in Burbank. Proprietors Del and Sue Howison have supported me for twenty years, and I am always honored to return that loyalty and support them, as well. My first ever book signing was at their store back in 2001. It felt good to be signing there again. Sales were excellent. There was a pretty sizeable crowd at the beginning of the signing. They winnowed down into the second hour—right around the time Hal Bodner arrived. Cause and effect? I was thrilled that so many friends came out to show their support. Hal, Skipp, Schow, Speedy, Laura, Kasey, Jamie, my friends Paul and Shannon Legerski, author Cody Goodfellow, and Cartoon Network’s Dick Grunert, just to name a few. Thanks to all of them, and all of the readers and fans who showed up, and made it such a success. The store sold out of their copies of The Complex, and Pressure was their best-selling hardcover for the week.
I should also mention that during the signing, I was given two bottles of bourbon by two different readers.
I am not making any of this up.
Jaimie gave me a ride back to my hotel after the signing, where the front desk informed me that there was another package with my name on it. An actress friend, currently on location and sad that she wasn’t in town, had sent me a bottle of bourbon.
Later, Schow called and suggested I blow the hotel and spend the night at his place instead. I did. We stayed up late, sitting out on his balcony and looking down upon the city of Los Angeles and discussing everything from movie remakes to Lost Tales of the Splatterpunks, and do you know what he offered me to drink?
Not bourbon, but ice cold, refreshing beer.
There is a special place in Heaven for puppy dogs and baby ducks, and a spot right between them that is reserved for David J. Schow.
Before going to sleep, I repacked my bags. Kasey Lansdale and I were heading out for San Diego early the next morning, and I didn’t want to make us late. I ended up having to borrow a canvas tote to pack all my bottles of bourbon in.
Brian Keene writes novels, comic books, short fiction, and occasional journalism for money. He is the author of over forty books, including the recently released Pressure and The Complex. The father of two sons, Keene lives in rural Pennsylvania.