It was 1998. 99% sure. That was a qualitative time. I am done with numbers.
I was in London, because my folks lived there, but it was coming up on New Years. I had amused myself whilst in London by strolling up the street to the pub, drinking whiskey, and then going to home to eat a sandwich and pass out. It was grand times.
The first time I went into that pub, I walked up and ordered a bourbon and the barkeep (pubkeep?) got all stoked and said, "Alright! Cowboy!" Then, he did that every time I walked in. Sometimes, I just wanted a pint. But I felt obligated. We had this thing. It was cultural coercion. It was damn near subversion. He was teaching the yank a lesson, and the lesson was: drink son. You're not in Kansas anymore. Or whatever.
A few days after Christmas I hear that an acquaintance of mine is going to be in London, playing a gig. Only met the guy once and it was a wine-drunk, hash-tossed hippie jam; I didn't remember him that well, but I knew we were on the same wavelength and that we would have a ball in London. I went back to the pub, then to Newcastles in my Mum's kitchen. Ad infinitum.
This dude whose name I can't remember (I might not have known it at the time!) comes over to my parents' house. I hated coffee due to many, many hours as the neighborhood yuppie crank dealer. Many stories in there, FYI. Anyway, no one hated kids enough to invent energy drinks then, so I made a pot of tea with like thirty tea bags and added milk and sugar and we got twisted. And we hit the streets.
And every. Single. Goddamn Bar. Was reserved seating only. Everywhere.
Now, knowing me at 19, we didn't leave the house until we were both a little drunk, and I think I'd purchased some good hash on the streets of Merry Ol' as was my wont. Usually from a hooker. Preferably a transsexual hooker. Always figured they were a little more honest.
Now, the streets of London on New Years Eve was the biggest drunken debauchery I had ever seen or been a part of. It was fantastic. Within minutes, we'd been passed bottles of champagne, scotch, gin, beer. It smelled like a reggae festival. Good vibes and all. There was one Indian man who asked me if I wanted to buy a woman. I thought he was joking. He looked real serious and intense about it, though. But we said thanks anyway, and rolled on.
So, we're bouncing drunkenly through the firecrackers and hooligan shouts. I'm hoping it stays positive and no one starts brawling or raping or colonizing or any of the other shit you can expect across the pond. We stop at every club, pub, and restaurant and I do my cute southern boy routine and they do NOT give a fuck. They laugh. All the fancy people in all the fancy clubs and pubs and bars? They're just laughing. But we don't even care; we're just laughing, too, having a ball.
Midnight comes and goes. We're stumbling, when we sea a goddamn oasis in the cold, drizzly night. There is a canopy entrance with a bouncer, yellow light and warmth spilling out of the doorway. Gotta figure that's a hallucination, but there it is. Neither of us know where we are. Not at all. England. Safe to say we're still in England. There is nothing else on this soaking, deserted street except this fucking magical oasis. You do what you do.
We step into this place and there is a full wooden bar along the back wall. The side wall on the right has a full cheese and crackers and probably mutilated goose parts spread. Grapes. That kind of scene. And. And fucking AND. EVERYONE in the place is either a big dude in a fancy suit, or a gorgeous twenty three year old eastern European beauty in a slinky dress. Not bad. I swing up to the bar and order two bloody Mary's and it's like thirty pounds, which breaks me, but I hadn't spent any money yet, so rock on. I bring the drinks back and we're sipping, smoking, watching the barlights and bottles do that blinky dance they do when the liquor finally catches up with the smoke.
My friend, whose name I don't remember, but whom I have fond memories of... He starts to walk toward the food. IMMEDIATELY, a big dude gets between him and the food and says, "This is not for you!" Fair. We reconvene, and I start looking past the blinky lights. Homie is swaying a little. I am starting to think we came into the wrong place. Or the right place? We came into a place, no doubt. And it was time to leave. They are definitely starting to stare at us. All of them. Especially the women. The women are fucking pissed.
I want to leave, and homie agrees. He just has to hit the bathroom. So, he goes to the bathroom and it's just me and the remnants of my shitty drink. And a million eyes, half of which I want to have sex with, but none of whom I trust. I light a cigarette because Jesus, you need to light a cigarette. I would have turned into a cigarette if I could have. And my boy is lagging. I'm smoking and the bar is staring daggers and I'm done, so I turn to follow my buddy into the bathroom. I push the door, and there's resistance. Shoulder in, I can see that the two sinks are filled with vomit. Nice. I shove the door all the way open and the floor is COVERED in blood. Thick; like half an inch thick and making small waves from where the door opened. And there's my buddy, whose name I can't remember, standing in the middle of the bathroom, white as a ghost and frozen.
I'm pretty slow on the uptake, but I took this in real fast. I grabbed the homie and pushed him in front of me through the door. The men were congregating, but not fast enough that I couldn't football by them, using my boy as a battering ram. Into the street, where it's run, fucking run. And we have that burned into us, there's no need for conscious thought any more. Just fucking run, man.
I have no idea when we parted ways that night, and I never talked to the homie again, but I swear to fucking Christ he was alive and well when I left him.
And he still owes me a drink.
Thursday, February 6, 2020
Scratch the paper, leaving darkness. Carve your ideas and images out from the white expanse before you. Don’t like it? Scribble it out, tear it up, snap the pencil. You hold in your hand a tool … you can use it to create truth or fiction, burn it, stab it into a yielding neck. No one cares, man. You think you’re digging yourself out, but you’re just going deeper.
Smudge the edges; the world is too clear already. It’s making me anxious. Fay was right about those straight lines, got Charlie all messed up. Don’t get me started on Algernon.
Stick a stub in your pocket. Give it away. Hell, pencils are cheap. And they can excavate revolution. Pick it up, and don’t put it down until you have created something. Until you have carved meaning from the darkness, perverting purpose. Your truth. That’s all we want. That’s all I ask for.
Girl, I’m standing at the bottom of this tower for a minute now … what you gonna do? Don’t act like you ain’t up there. I know you’re locked in. Me? I’m just a nice guy looking to do a nice thing. Go ahead and throw that hair down; let me come up.
Rapunzel? I know you’re up there. Ain’t no place I got to be. Although I am getting hungry.
Yo! It’s getting cold out here. I’m ready to help you, dig? All you gotta do is throw those golden tresses over the wall, and I’ll scramble right up. Hey! I’m talking to you.
Alright, you know what? Forget it. I’m just here trying to rescue you. That’s fine. You stay in that tower. I never wanted to see your straggly hair anyway. I never wanted to rescue you. I got places to be. There are plenty of women want me to climb their hair up to a tower.
The car is moving, desert rushing by, when the boy realizes that Apple Bear is gone. The realization is like a kick to the chest. Frantic scrabbling of fingers ensues. Heartrate escalates. The interior of the van is becoming smaller, warmer. It feels like being at high elevation. It is hard to breathe. The boy tugs on his mother’s sleeve. She will help him.
She looks, but cannot find the bear. The last time they saw it was at the last rest stop. That was hours ago. That was maybe in another state. That’s gonna be a tough sell for a Dad that wants to make time. Let me think about it. Let me ask.
No. Just no. We’re not turning around, and I don’t want to talk about it. This is your fault. Your bear. You should have been taking care of him. Stop crying. It won’t matter. In a few days you’ll be at your new house. Your new school. You won’t even remember that damn bear.
Or, you’ll be writing about him when you’re 42.
The night is long, and there are so many things to think about. You better think about all of them. You better not forget one. You better not waste too much time thinking about the things you’re supposed to be thinking about or you’ll never get to sleep. You better not worry about not sleeping; it’ll only stress you out. Be logical. Think about the things you need to think about in the right order, but not too little or too much. Don’t overthink it. Just think about it the right amount. Don’t think about the things that are distracting you from the things you’re supposed to be thinking about. Don’t give them your time. Allot your thoughts rationally or you’ll never fucking sleep. I TOLD YOU NOT TO WORRY ABOUT THAT! Great, now you’re agitated and you’ve opened the worry floodgates. Are you ever worried about the right things? The things you worry about are so small and inconsequential. Shouldn’t you be worried about your wife? Your kids? OH MY GOD, WHAT IF SOMETHING WERE TO HAPPEN TO THEM AND YOU WERE LAYING HERE WORRYING ABOUT WHETHER YOU’D REMEMBER TO GRADE PAPERS AND GET A SMOG CHECK! No way you’re sleeping now. You’re going to be tired tomorrow; you never teach well when you’re tired. Maybe you’ll get fired? Then, how will you pay rent? Oh shit, what if you forgot to send the rent check last month? Landlady would have called, right? Well, good job, champ! Now, you’re inventing worry. You better not worry about inventing worry, or you’ll never get to sleep...
Thursday, January 30, 2020
Josh, Kale and I had been tripping for roughly two months straight. Acid, for the most part. It was cheap and it was everywhere. Hell, we could get it for free without much effort. And I was determined to figure it out. Which is a fools errand, but I hadn't realized that yet. So, we were coming down, and it was past three in the morning and our lower backs were throbbing. No benzos, no painkillers, no muscle relaxants. It was a very shady scene for three skinny, tweaked out motherfuckers with nothing but cigarettes to rely on. We needed weed.
San Diego is not San Francisco. It's not that straightforward, getting weed in downtown San Diego in the middle of the night. But we were game. Game as in desperate and chemically insane.
We drove until we saw a likely dude on a likely corner. He was in his late twenties, black, with dreadlocks. And he knew exactly what we were looking for. Said he could get it and to meet him back in ten minutes. So, we circled the block, smoking cigs, waiting for the weed fairy to reappear. But he didn't. And then, as we were about to give up, we see a dude. Different dude. This guy is also black, but dirtier and sketchier looking. But we were tripping. What are you gonna do. And I'm focused on race mainly because this is the most epic example of White Privilege I have ever experienced.
So, we roll up and I ask dude if he is with other dude and he says: "Yeah, man. Yeah. I got what you need." So. Josh parks with the motor running. Kale and I get out to talk to the dude. He nods toward some bushes and we make our way over there. My spidey senses are going fucking crazy, and I can tell Kale doesn't like this either. Then, the dude reaches into his underwear and pulls out a bag of dirty crack rocks.
"Nah, man. We're looking for some bud. Not crack."
Dude slaps a rock into Kale's hand before we can think of a way out.
"Hey, man. We're cool. We were talking to another dude, and..."
And then. And fucking then...
The whole fucking silent, blackened San Diego evening turns red and blue. Like a goddamn movie. It's like the lights are inside my skull. And then the cop yells over the speaker:
Now, this next part makes me seem hella shady, but let me tell you the rules. The rules are when you're buying illegal drugs at three in the morning from a stranger on a corner, it's every fucking man for himself. So, I turn and the cop walks toward me. Crack dealer bails. I point in the direction of the fleeing man and say, "I think that dude threw something over there." And then we are in the car. I'm telling Josh to fucking drive, just fucking drive, and we're pulling away; I can't believe we're not getting arrested. Both cops went after the dude. The black dude. Cue White Privilege.
So, we're driving and we're tripping hard again. We're laughing that desperate, relieved laughter of the damned when Kale says, "I still have the crack rock."
Now, there were many options at this point. We'd just stolen crack from a crackhead in front of two cops. We did not have any downers or weed, and we DESPERATELY needed sleep. I hadn't had real sleep in weeks. So, we did what you do. We went to park. We put cigarette ash in a metal bowl and broke the rock up on top. And we smoked it. And I have never felt worse as a human being. They say crack feels like pure power. This was not my experience. I spent the next two hours trying to convince my friends to let me kill myself. And we never did get weed. Probably dropped more acid. I can't remember.
I don't know if the dude went to jail, but it wouldn't surprise me.
Thursday, January 23, 2020
The air is thick and warm, and the sand is impossible to look at; so white, it reflects the sun, blinding you. Keep your eyes closed to a slit. Don’t let the whole world inside. Look up into the sky and watch the birds just glide. I don’t know about time, but, man, Florida is on your side.
Florida ain’t gonna judge you. We grow ‘em weird, and we know it. We’re not concerned about your old life, let it go. You’re in Florida now, which means your life has finally started. Or ended. Really, it’s irrelevant.
The humidity will straight murder you. You will question your life choices. You will cower in the shade, but the shade don’t love you. The shade is a mirage. Humidity don’t care nothing about shade.
Your skin will burn, and your feet will become calloused. You will turn into a sea creature, an abandoned seashell. The sun will baste you and prepare you for your final sleep. But don’t worry; Florida don’t care which promises you keep.
He pulls another tissue from the box, crumples it, sends it to the corner of the room where the trashcan lives. He is not using the tissues anymore. He’s just pulling ‘em. Like he’s at a carnival, and if you pull enough tissue, you win a prize. He’s working on his jump shot. He’s killing time dead. He’s got all kinds of thoughts in his used-up head.
The tissue hits the trashcan and BOUNCE. It’s gone, man. That tissue is a memory. It fell into the cracks of the physical world. Right now, a Leprechaun is using that tissue as a pillow. Sure as shooting.
The voices are audible, but the boy does not listen. Out in the living room, it is all crying and casket. It is black cloth and bad coffee. It is too big for the boy to wrap his mind around, so he doesn’t. He pulls another tissue from the box, crumples it, and throws it to oblivion.
The light is in flux, and the room is dark one second, light the next. The passing cars strobe across the walls and explode in the corners. There is life and death in this room. There is steady breathing. There are twitching eyelashes that scrape the soot from off the night.
There is peace in this room. Gentle silence. Softer than the absence of sound. Sit down and soak it in. Let it pour through you. Open yourself, drink it through your skin. Let the calm become you. Or you become the calm.
This is what happiness sounds like. This feels like tranquility and hope. This is a brief and blinking moment of optimism. Grab it. Appreciate it. Feel it in your chest when you close your eyes. Surrender to it because it is truth and beauty. It is art, not made by man. It is honest.
Beneath the wavering boughs, under the robin egg sky, twisted in the sounds of the trickling water, a girl sits, reading. She is covered in shade, and she is smiling softly to herself. There is a breeze that licks the treetops back and forth against the sky. This girl closes her eyes sometimes. She likes to picture the world of words. She is stepping through the closet to Narnia, to France, to history. To the future.
The sun is warm on her skin, and the shadows dance through the high limbs, shifting with the coming night. She hears birdsong and smells the pine trees, sap softening in the summer afternoon.
The trees will watch over her, as they did her grandmother and her mother. As they did countless generations of birds and snakes and bugs and lizards. The tree is a sturdy Mother. No one is going to chop this tree down. No saw. No industrial logging machinery.
When the world explodes, the tree will smile, watching its legacy in the rear view. Sated.
Thursday, January 9, 2020
You need to back up off me. You need to recognize, fool. This is my side of the sidewalk, and you can’t have none. This is my box full of repurposed air I’m breathing, get your own. This is my show and my friend and my place to do what I want. There’s no room for you. I need it all. Every bit of it. It won’t ever satisfy, and I’ll just keep wanting more, chasing that feeling of freedom. That fear.
I don’t need it, but you can’t have it. Look. There is a boy playing in the grass. He is frightened because the big people are yelling. His eyes are stained and smeared and his breath is ragged. He wants to bury into the rich dirt and dig until he is submerged. And you want to take that from him. Understand? Do you get it?
Back up off me.
Taste this. It tastes weird. You’ve got to read this article, it’s going to make you so mad. I have an unpopular opinion that everyone actually agrees with, can I beat you to death with it? Let’s talk about my mortgage. Let’s talk about professional sports teams. Your sister’s not here? Let’s talk smack about her. Let’s wrap ourselves in dogma until we drown, choking on our misconceptions. Let’s set our imaginary saints against each other and die sinners. Let’s take more than we need just because we can. Let’s be loud for no reason. Let me hide inside this cheap fortress of lies and innuendo. Let me hate because it feels good. The anger is so cleansing. Let me throw myself against this immovable object, just to feel the thud. Let me make assumptions. Let me deliberately misunderstand. Let me put my me-ness over you. It’s the only way.