Saturday, April 25, 2015

Louie

About a dozen years ago the girl and i were standing in some shelter looking at cats, debating actually if we should get another one or not, i am an unabashed cat guy, William S. Burroughs was one too, but we were standing there looking and truth be told we weren't even looking at Louie but at a different cat but for some reason i kept looking over at the cat who would be named Luis Garcia Shinobo Diego Rivera Marquez and every time i did he'd meow and stick his paw out of the cage at me and so i said to the girl what about that one? and so we asked to see him and we sat and played for a bit and when it was all said and done i was smitten with the cat i'd give six names, seven if you count a nickname, Louie as he'd become known...

He was the clumsy and had a penchant for landing on anything but his feet when he'd attempt to jump on or off something and yet i had rarely seen a cat so skilled at getting exactly what he wanted out of the garbage, of course that might mean tipping the wastebasket over and then pulling out everything inside until he found what he was looking for but he'd find it and then swiftly marshal it away to eat his fill, sometimes leaving the remnants for his large hairy people friend to find, he was a lap cat who loved laying around and i'm hoping he enjoyed his time laying around with me, he was a damn good cat, vocal and loving, he'd walk around loudly meowing when he was looking for you, i'd hear him wander from room to room and i'd call his name and he'd keep right on yapping and as soon as he'd see me i'd hear his motor start and he'd purr and jump up on my lap, lick my hand or arm, in a nutshell he was just a laid back cat, in fact i don't think i ever heard him hiss...

But he was old and things were going south and so last night as the girl and i watched him we knew it was time for a second emergency visit in the last three weeks, (not counting a couple of regular ones), his head was cocked from an ear infection and his ear was bleeding as well, he wasn't really eating and he seemed to be losing weight by the hour, after letting our boy Pablo go to long because neither one of us could pull the trigger we had learned our lesson and didn't want it to happen again... and so i took him and told the boyos to say goodbye because there was a good chance Louie might not be coming back and they did and i put him in his carrier and made my way to the vet... i sang to him, the little song i used to sing to him years ago, talked to him about how beautiful the night was, he meowed weakly and looked at me, i knew i was probably talking more for me than for him but it felt like it made him relax, he always hated the carrier and the car and if it was his last ride i wanted it to be a pleasant one, the night was creeping in and as i could see him turn his face to the cool night air as i took him out of the car, i stood for a moment and let him sniff the air...

I could list the myriad of things that were going wrong but i'll just leave it at what amounted to a quickly failing liver, the doctor told me more things but honestly i barely heard him, i knew what was coming and so i told them what i wanted and they told me to call them when i was ready, once again i talked, more for me i'm still guessing and told him i was glad he got my attention that day so long ago and that i loved him, kissed his head a dozen or so times and then he turned and licked my hand twice, i'll just say at that point it took a moment for a very tall and unshaven man to get his shit together, a few minutes later there was an knock and i nodded to the nurse and whispered okay, kissed my boy Louie once more and called it a life well lived...

Luis Garcia Shinobo Diego Rivera Marquez or Louie as he was known, was somewhere between the ages of 13-15 years old, he was a damn fine cat and i'm much better for having known him, like his younger brother Pedro i tend to think i'm gonna see him in all his usual places but when i look he isn't there... i miss him...

Epilogue: If anyone is really taking this hard around here it's little Nick Disaster, he's a bit awed and confused by the whole concept of death and this is the first time it's hit this close to home, sometimes he starts crying and asks if Louie is just asleep somewhere and that maybe they gave him the wrong shot and that he wishes he didn't die, i'm doing my best to help the little dude, talking to him and letting him know it's okay to grieve, to be sad, but i can see his almost six year old head spinning as he tries to comprehend it, i want to tell him that it's hard for the living to explain death for the sheer fact that we're alive and know nothing about it really other than how it effects us but i figure we'll wait for the teenage years for the really deep shit, now i just sit and talk and try to take his mind off it, as he sat in the tub today he looked at me and told me he wanted to get me a cat for my birthday, one that looked a bit like Louie cuz then i'd have a cat again, i smiled and told him that'd be great, tried to hide the mist coming up in his old man's eyes, then he smiled and went back to playing in the tub...

Friday, April 3, 2015

What's in a Name?

We now take a brief detour from the Wilderness Years to ponder the Wilderness Years, well not exactly, they say the past can be a grotesque animal or it can be a beautiful view or it can be a bitch slap, depends i guess really on where point A (past) collides with point B (present) and every so often out here in the lily white the old crashes into the new and i'm always left shaking my head because maybe if i've learned anything in the last 20 odd years (which is highly debatable) it is that i'm much more self aware now of my actions and ramifications thereof than i had been in my wayward youth, or maybe if i'm being brutally honest, once i was a narcissistic asshole and now i'm old, wasn't it Oscar Wilde who prattled on about the beauty of the young flower? i could be completely fucking wrong, somewhere there's an old photo i took of Oscar's grave the day i wandered around Pere Lachaise looking for Celine's grave (only to find out later that Celine was buried in Meudon), covered with flowers left by his adoring fans, but where was i?

In the very un-Wildean setting of a suburban hockey rink, watching Nick Disaster work on his skills, i had run into an old acquaintance who also had sons in the class, a guy i had known and hadn't seen in close to 20 years, we had recognized each other a few weeks back and since he was freshly divorced he was there every other week, in his younger days he had always been a bit of an uppity prick but the failure of his marriage had seemed to take the prickliness off him, he was a bit softer around the edges shall we say, not that we were going to be exchanging numbers and grabbing beers any time soon but we had mutual friends and so we sat back and watched the kids skate and listened to the sound of pucks cracking into sticks and i for one spent a good deal of time ogling the one instructor who reminds me of the girl in the Dragon Tattoo movie, (Rooney Mara i believe) though i've seen roughly 15 minutes of the movie and never read any of the books...

And so it happens the next time i see him he's with his new lady friend and we sit on the same bench and say hello and he introduces me to her, he uses my "Christian" name as they say in some parts and let's just say that my actual name is bit white trash, a nickname for an actual longer name or the kind of name that could be dignified on an adult but that a mother would worry about kid's making fun of  growing up, all shit that was taken into consideration by my doting and worrying mother... i'm also named after my old man whose roots are in the south and it's name more common below the Mason/Dixon line than above, also i'm not a junior... still with me? and so it's not a common name like Joe or Jim or Bob but it's not an exotic one by any stretch of the means, most likely you meet one or two over the course of your lifetime, so she says hello and shakes my hand and a moment or two passes and this look of surprise comes over her face and she says to him, Kono? like is this the Crazy Kono i've heard about? and he smiles a bit sheepishly and says yep that's him... she turns to me and smiles as if i'm a C-list movie star she's just met at the auto show, a cross between mildly impressed and somewhat fascinated as if i'm a side-show freak... i smile back and let out a cross between a sigh and a laugh and explain that these days i usually just go by Kono and try to avoid the whole "crazy" part, she then looks at me and asks why? she states very matter of factly that a nickname like Crazy is not handed out to just anyone and shouldn't be taken lightly, that i should be proud of my old moniker, embrace it, they just don't call anyone the King or the Boss and like that Crazy is a name hard earned and one to be respected... or perhaps more aptly it's given to fucking nut cases who drink way to much and take any narcotic put in front of them and then generally go out and cause trouble or do stupid fucking shit that should get them maimed or killed or incarcerated...

Of course i smiled at this and knew that part of what i thought  was a beautiful and brilliant explanation was because they both had thought they offended me and this being the lily white it was bad decorum to do so, i smiled back at her and told her that her rationale was a fine thing and after her having explained it i whole-heartedly agreed and the evening continued on pleasantly enough as we watched the kids skate and pass and shoot and we discussed the usual non-sense of music and books and old friends... i wasn't offended in the least...

Later that night as i sat in my flannel pajamas bottoms eating a bowl of Frosted Flakes, stoned outta me bejesus and petting my cat Louie while watching shit telly with the sound practically off i caught myself grinning maniacally as i thought about exactly what she had said, all the hard work that went in to earning that name, the aforementioned woman's new flame had known me some 20 odd years ago, there was another guy i knew who i hadn't met until about a decade later, he used to tell a story about how he came to know me, part of it was how he was in our favorite dive one night watching a local band and how suddenly this enormous ruckus came barrelling out of the corner, he said he turned to someone and said what the fuck is happening? and the person replied, oh it's just Crazy Kono raising hell it happens all the time, the other part was the night supporting the local futbol club where i did my best to piss off and antagonize the local law enforcement for what i believed was unjustified harassment, how was i supposed to know you weren't allowed to drink or smoke or take leaks in suburban high school parking lots when the local shite footie team called it their home ground, the low-life crew and i had been doing it for two years running and never had a problem, funny how a few years later i would move to that section of the burbs from my hipster city hood... but there was the evidence, two of many instances where my name would be prefaced with the word crazy, two guys who had never know each other and that i'd known some ten years apart and here they knew me by that name...

And don't fucking think for a second that i introduced myself that way, somehow it just followed me, there were bartenders and strippers and busboys and local drunks and pizza shop owners and of course customers and friends who had dubbed me such, many times they wouldn't say it in front of me back in the day but when it did come out they'd laugh and i'd laugh and they'd say you are fucking insane most of the time, the most of the time being my favorite part for apparently when caught in more contemplative moods i was quite a pleasant chap to be around... and when i was caught in Crazy mode i was fun but much the facilitator of bad habits and influence or in case this becomes a movie, fucking daring and roguish and handsome and brave... or maybe just lucky to not be dead or in jail... i didn't say no to much and i realize now i was hell on wheels almost every time i walked out that door and sometimes even worse if i didn't walk out that door... and so yes dammit i embrace the nickname, it was hard earned through actions and intake and blood and sweat and i realize now that for going on almost two decades a good many people in this town referred to me as crazy, i'd like to think more Randall Patrick McMurphy crazy but crazy nonetheless... at least it makes for a few good stories when polishing the mahogany...





Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Wilderness Years- One Small Step for the Man's Kind (pt. 2)

A few hours of fuzzy sleep in an absolute blinding stupor... i didn't feel as if i'd slept at all and when the alarm went off it felt as if someone had hit me in the side of the head with a monkey wrench, then said wrench swinger took a good look at me and decided one right between the eyes would do as well, i stumbled to the bathroom and attempted to brush my teeth, i splashed water on my face, dry heaved, and then went to my room and carefully sipped some water, then i packed up a bong and blasted a couple few bingers to the head, at which point i almost passed out, then i dry heaved again, sipped some more water, made my way to the kitchen and attempted to eat a piece of toast and then stumbled down the steps and out the front door... it was at this point i realized i was gonna be about five minutes late, not much but definitely not making a great impression at the new gig..

The great part about being able to walk to work is that you can walk to work, the shitty part is when you're late and only live about 7 minutes away and if you ran you could just make it but on this particular day you are so fucking hungover that even attempting to run would most likely result in projectile vomiting and loss of consciousness, in fact you are so hungover that it takes you 15 minutes instead of seven and by the time you get there the sweat is pouring out of you and you have an intense thirst and fear that anything you do drink will come spurting right back up, the weed had helped with the dull stabbing and thumping pains but what i really needed was to jack off and go back to bed, sleep for a good 10-12 hours and then, maybe eat some solid food and begin to feel vaguely human again, unfortunately this would not be the case, I was also still weaning myself from the hour on/hour off Fry Boy schedule, a schedule that was much more amenable to hangover management, i knew at the Fry Hut that all i had to do was get through each hour before i could go pass out of for the better part of the next one thus with each passing hour feeling a bit better until by the end of my shift i was damn near perfect and ready to go to the bar and do it all over again, this 2-15 minute break shit and a half hour lunch? it was patently uncivilized to my current tastes...

I bumbled down the stairs and bee-lined it towards the time clock, in the hot sticky warehouse heat of mid-September you could see the jet wash i was leaving behind, a trail of fumes heavily laced with alcohol, i apologized to Ron who laughed and  told me no problem just don't make it a habit, understood that i was just back to town and probably having a bit too much fun, i see the faint scowl and nodding of Augie's head and his look of just one more fuck-up in a long line of fuck-ups who've come through the door... and fuck up i did, every task i set to i managed to mangle, fucking up counts and tickets and dumb shit that a trained monkey could do let alone a college graduate and grad school flunky, but alas in my present state i could barely stand erect, Milo told me that i kept swaying, i couldn't tell really, i did know that if i stood still it felt as if i was on the deck of a fishing vessel amidst choppy seas, fucking hell, the bargaining in my head had already started, i needed this gig and it was close to my place and i had no car and it paid shit but really it was just something to show the tax man until the real job started, i told myself to make it until lunch and see how i felt post sandwich, until that point i had had nothing but water and Gatorade, my shirt was soaked in sweat and each five minutes felt like an hour but finally lunch arrived...

Now before the local monster medical conglomerate started gobbling up all the spare land it could get it's hands on Baum Blvd. was loaded with absolute ass burning places to dine, there was Rally's (remember them), Burger King, Taco Bell, KFC and a lovely gas station/mini-mart that served up death dogs and other assorted greasy specialties, of course when coming down off a ripping drunk and smack dab in the middle of the Bataan death march of hangovers one must be all Indy Jones and choose fucking wisely, now looking at the choices one could also quote Dr. Falken's computer and robotically say "the only-way-to win- is- not to- play", but i needed food, at least i thought i did and so i rolled the dice and ran for the border...

Now what i should have done was walk back to my place and eat a bowl or two of cereal but i was so fucked that though Taco Bell was roughly the same distance from my place of employment (in the opposite direction) as my apartment i opted for the Bell, perhaps the subconscious knew that if i went home i wouldn't go back to work and i figured soft tacos would slide down easy and any sane and rational person is laughing heartily and calling me an idiot... and i would concur... and so i slowly ate a taco and a few tortilla chips, sucked down some sugary soda to appease my detoxing cells and then sat back and breathed very slowly in and out, in and out, hoping to keep down what i had just ingested, in and out in and out, i could tell that my co-workers were giving me sidelong glances, occasional smirks would pass quickly over their faces, then my stomach made a horrible gurgling noise and i sprinted to the bathroom where a hot liquid jet of what felt like battery acid and Tabasco sauce came hurtling out of my ass at such force that i stifled a scream, the sweat beading on my forehead, i cursed the gods of liquor and fast food, my ass felt baboon raw and red, i'll never do this again i told myself, and you know at the time i was young enough to really believe that i'd meant it though even then i could recall myself promising myself the same thing a good half dozen times before, but there was still a half day left to get through and after cupping water in my hands and splashing my face repeatedly for five minutes or so i walked back toward some pallets getting ready to be loaded on a van and delivered...

Luckily i hadn't been cleared to drive the vans yet, though i don't think Ron would have let me drive one if i had, to drive one i would have either had to quit or risk a DUI because judging that it'd been about 12 hours since i had quit drinking and the amount of alcohol consumed was easily more than the recommended amount per hour, in fact quite likely 4 or 5 times that much, i was still very much the definition of fucked... it was at this point that while standing near a large pallet stacked with shit that i nearly fell over, as if suddenly the room just tilted i went stumbling sideways, the sweats started and the mouth watered and as i righted myself Ron came walking over and suggested that maybe i should take the rest of the day off, he smiled and said it was no big deal, i'd had a good first week and then he looked at Augie and started laughing, Augie looked at me and barked, surprised you made it this long you fuck-up and then starting making kissing noises and gyrating his 78yr. old hips and warning me to stop chasing the pussy until the weekends, i stood there sweating and shaking and told Ron i was sorry about today but for some reason did not add it wouldn't happen again, talk about the subconscious huh? and i shuffled over to the time clock and punched out and then headed towards the steps, have a good weekend you fuck-up, i looked up to see Augie in the aisle next to the door, i sheepishly smiled and said you too Sir, see ya Monday... the corners of his mouth turned up ever so slightly and he winked...

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Wildnerness Years - One Small Step for the Man's Kind (pt. 1)

From the sevenfivenine (over time the apartment would be dubbed as such and serve as a reference point for those of us who lived, worked and played there as well as the countless number who scored there) to the North Oakland hub was roughly a 10 minute walk give or take, across the street and down an alley, past the fire station that was catty corner to the sevenfivenine, from the alley you walked across a vacant parking lot and behind a set of dive apartments, there was a huge mystery warehouse on the opposite side of the parking lot, a cavernous building that seemed mostly empty except for a large space crammed with video poker machines and even after years of living there we never knew if it was the cops or the crooks who owned all those machines and ran it, guys would drop off and pick up machines and not Fred, Thelma or fucking Daphne knew where they came from or what they did with them, from the parking lot you cruised up the side of the dive apartments and crossed Baum Blvd., Anthony's Lounge, a strip club was on the left along with another of Andy Carnegie's libraries, this one for the blind hence why it may have been so conveniently located next to a strip club, down the alley towards Centre Ave and past what was then the new CVS, bust a right on Centre at Sweet Georgia Brown's, a bar that no white man went in unless expressly invited, past a run down barber shop and the House of Sauce, a chicken and rib joint run by an old black woman with graying hair who radiated voodoo, i was one of the few white guys who actually frequented the place getting ribs or quarter chickens, every order coming with two pieces of white bread to sop up the sauce, sometimes i'd add greens or get the BBQ beans, the voodoo lady's voodoo sauce working magic, from there it was across the busway, a worn dirt path on the right led to six or so row houses on a hidden street that would serve as headquarters for one of the Glimmer Twins, past the check cashing store, the state liquor store, a bodega that sold mainly lottery tickets, a greasy spoon and then an ancient pharmacy, across the street another flop house apartment building and a laundromat... and at that point you could smell the stale booze, see roaches scurrying up and down the sidewalk, a sidewalk decorated with cigarette butts, broken beer bottles, vomit and crushed plastic liquor bottles, Banker's Club and Nikolai Vodka, and of course the buzzing lights of the bars, fluorescent and neon mingling with the hum of humanity...

The North Oakland hub circa the last half decade of the 20th century was a soon to be boarded up and vacant Giant Iggle grocery store, Mitchell's Tavern on the corner of Melwood and Centre, and another half block up near the corner of Centre and Craig another trio of dives, Thirsty's which was a Deadhead bar on the corner, Chief's which was a rock and roll dive/old man alcoholic joint, it was one of the old school Steel Town places and opened at 6am, Pennsyltucky being the proud commonwealth boasting some of the most antiquated liquor laws in the country opening that early gave it special status, the morning crowd was often wilder and more lively than the night crawlers, there was a beer distributor sandwiched between the two and across the street on the other corner was the Luna, named after Pittsburgh's old Luna Park, roughly standing in the same spot as the entrance to the old amusement park, an old painted moon on it's faded marquee... each bar served cheap drinks and was populated by petty criminals, college kids, hard core drunks, the brothers and sisters from the Hill and East Liberty, low level dealers, basically the working poor all lit up and popping quarters in the jukebox and singing and arguing and dancing and crying their lives away... it was a beautiful wreck of humanity and i'd learn more on these streets than the average white kid who grew up in the suburbs should ever learn, but here i was and it was hard to wipe the grin from my mug...

And so here was week one of the rest of your life son, whachyagonnado? On Monday i got up and tied back the dreads, showered and rolled on down to the new gig, there was the formality of the usual paperwork and meeting my boss, a guy who was excited to have another college graduate in the warehouse so he'd have someone to discuss "things" with, of course as i sat there smiling and nodding my head as politely as i could, the muppet in front of me was a pudgy short guy wearing those tiger striped Zubas pants with a matching top, and by tiger striped i don't mean orange and black or what one would call like tiger-like colors, it was more like aqua and purple and black and white, he had the makings of a mini-mullet going and the sides of his head where shaved and the top tips of his tight white man's afro dyed bright blonde, if ever a train wreck i ever did see, that first day just looking at him made me feel as if i'd eaten a massive dose of LSD, he couldn't wait to ingratiate himself to me, explained that he was into wrestling and in his spare time aspired to be a wrassler, like 4th rate WWE shit or something, the kind you find on television very late at night in strange apartments while very drunk and high on a number of substances, already the shit was doing my head in, the beautiful and absurd existence of the grunt lumpen-prole... his name was Ron...

He led me down a large flight of steps to the warehouse... the building i would be working in was once an old Ford Motor Car factory from 1914-1932, underneath years of city grit and grime you could see the old ornate architecture, it was situated near train tracks and the story is that back when it was hopping they would use a crane to lift the cars onto the waiting trains and ship them all over the country, the stairwell was stifling in the late  summer and by the time i had reached the bottom of the steps i could feel the sweat dripping down my back, like most places of it's ilk it was shitty-hot and sticky in the summer and cold and crappy in the winter, a fine cloud of black dust rising up every time something fell to the floor, a more poetic type would have made some shining metaphor about the fine, black dust being like the souls of the lumpen-prole gone before but i'm not that poetic and i knew it was nothing more than dirt and diesel exhaust and an old building crumbling slowly over time, it's cement floor worn smooth like marble from years of use, the space itself was filled with flimsy metal shelves piled and stocked with useless crap, shit trinkets from China bought for pennies a gross and sold for .69 cents a piece, pallets of plates and napkins in a myriad of colors... pinatas, tablecloths, decorations for birthdays and anniversaries, graduations and divorces, all shit designed to be used once and fed to the landfill so that next party you were right back here buying more shit, it was the locally owned party haus and would stay that way until the national chains did it in, and on this day, the day marking my 25th year upright, it was my new place of employment...

I was introduced to the rest of the crew, there was T. Rex, a local glam rocker who was between bands and knee deep and sinking into a smack habit, there was Milo, a quiet guy a few years younger than myself but he'd end up being one my favorite people i'd ever work with, at the time he was the senior grunt having been there all of a year and change, there was a tattoo down his forearm and his musical tastes ran to some indie/punk bands that ran parallel and sometimes intersecting to mine, still it was a reference point from which a conversation started, then there was Augie, the owner's dad, an old Jewish guy and an absolute fucking gem, he worked a couple of days a week and was boss when Ron was on vacation, these were my new co-workers and looking around i couldn't say it wouldn't be an interesting crew, maybe not the nut cases and wastoids of the Chemical Crew but it was still early and the fry boys were still fresh in the mind, that was damn near a brotherhood and one could have easily swapped out the suits in the opening of Reservoir Dogs and cranked up Little Green Bag while a bunch of sweaty, grease-covered drunks and drug fiends came rolling out of work and toward the bar...

I'd spend the next few days starting to learn the in's and out's of my new gig, it wasn't quantum physics and like most manual labor jobs there were just enough tedious procedures to memorize and annoy, the kind of shit you had to think about until you got it and then you went about it in a state of semi-consciousness, Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday went by smooth and then my first Thursday night back in the North Oakland Hub rolled around...

And i got smashed... proper fucking smashed...

There are few things more enjoyable in life than a mid-September night, the waning days of summer when a coolness seeps into the heat and humidity of the nights, that first Thursday back and the sun dipping blood-orange over the Hill and i was gonna have it, walking up the street towards the Hub with the Engineer, the sky bruising from blue to black and the stars shining down on my own little barrio, the smoke of Mitchell's changing colors in the blue and red neon as it floated towards the ceiling, quarter beers and double shots, up the street to Chief's to laugh and cut up, junkies to the left of me queens to the right, then the scent of perfume trailing the from the packs of co-eds all heading to the Luna, following the nose and talking shit to pretty girls who wanted nothing to do with this dread-locked lumpen prole beast spouting off indie bands and avant-garde authors, drinking vodka and 7-up, drunk enough for three men... but oh those pretty things, trekking into the shit side of Oakland for the cheap drinks of Ladies Night, the teeth so white when they smiled, the curve of their breast in those fashionable blouses, the clean sheets they slept on, the expensive cars of their fathers, it was like an overload after having been locked up in Podunk and then working like a dog at the shore, i was back in North Oakland, months removed from the world of academia and i was drunk, on booze and lust and on the crickets and the streets... and as i stumbled home that gorgeous night, the clock grinning towards 3am, having lost the Engineer a couple hours ago, i smiled my way through the last call drunks and thugs and college kids and towards my new home, stopping once to throw up, laughing about it and then heading off towards a blanket on the floor and the swiftly approaching sound of the coming alarm clock...



Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Wilderness Years - Hit the Ground Runnin' Part 2

There were two things that i intended to do straight away once all was unpacked and i had settled in, of course first i bid adieu to the Crown Vic, my fellow fry boy was none to pleased with me and could i blame him? he wanted to head back to tourist town right off and once i had the car unloaded i shook his hand and quasi-apologized, i'm not sure if he thought we were gonna go all Thelma and Louise or some shit and have some deep bond over the course of the trip back, the funny thing was if i had known i could have dropped the car off across the street at the rental place that picks you up cuz they had an office not 30 feet from my front steps, a ghetto office where the local hoods could pick up a rental to sling out of, helping to throw the Five-O off their scent, we'd spend endless hours on the front steps drinking beer and watching the parade of gangsters drop off and switch cars... i handed my fellow fry boy some dough, money for gas and a motel room if he needed it, i thought it was crazy to turn around and drive back but the reality of it was i didn't give a shit, and so off he went, he'd call the next afternoon and tell me he got the car back and all was cool, i thanked him again, i should have been cooler but when you are a young and arrogant prick you don't worry about shit like that, still i should have been...

Now having spent the last two summers and part of the one before that sweating out the drink and drugs into America's favorite boardwalk fries and having only called off one time in those last two summers for being fucked up, a fact my boss said amazed him because i was fucked up alot and because most guys called off once or more a week until they got canned, my boss had handed me an envelope at the end of the summer with 12 one hundred dollar bills in it, a bonus for being able to handle my acid and my booze and still work, a bonus that came in handy for a guy who had just two months before been down to his last $4, along with the staggering number of hours i worked, usually 3-4 sixteen hour days a week and 8 hours all the other days, i managed to dig myself out of a hole and have a month or two of extra rent sitting around, a grand and change was like hitting the fucking lottery and so while i knew i couldn't run out and blow it i did earmark some of it for special projects and now that i was back and settled it was time to get down to it...

You see i was going to write the Great American Novel, sound familiar? i was so fucking wise and brilliant and cool at the age of 25 that the world was going to listen, i was gonna take Hank's blueprint and spend the next few years working shit jobs and fucking and drinking and drugging and when it was all said and done there would be this magnum opus shining up at my ass, a bit like that briefcase that Vince Vega opens in some other shit apartment, i was convinced, problem was my typing was still more than a bit rough around the edges and paper and correction tape cost money and ate up time... so i took 3 of those Ben Franklins out of that envelope and headed down to the local office supply store and bought myself a brand spanking new word processor... yes you read that right and for any millennials that someday might read this a word processor was like a glorified typewriter, it did what the old Word Perfect program did just not as well, but it stored shit on floppy disks and i could revise and correct without having to print it out and re-type whole pages, in my mind it was fucking genius, hell it didn't look much different than the PCs around back then it was just cheaper...

and so i brought it home and took a good two weeks before i ever bothered to take it out of the box and for the first few months i would sit in my room and attempt to crank out stories or poems (back when i still wrote them), i'd stuff envelopes and send my precious little poesy out into the world, most of it getting returned but some of it finding homes in little mimeo'd or xerox'ed magazines, the sort found online these days, most days i'd turn on the machine and get stoned and listen to music and gaze out my window, the little cursor flashing, the leaves rustling outside, i'd sit waiting for genius or inspiration to strike cuz that's how it works right? then turn off the machine and head to the bar or fall asleep reading on my bed, that was of course when i had the time because there was one other thing i needed to get done when i got back, the most important thing, get shit up and runnin', $6.40 an hour and my meager savings wasn't gonna keep me afloat forever...

And so since i was living in the land of opportunity i decided to take all that i had learned in the halls of higher and lower education and put it to use, because really what were Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Mellon, Edison and all the other captains of industry who have graced our fair nation? the short answer is criminals and i'm not much concerned about the long answer cuz this is my fucking tale and i will bend the morals when i see fit, only the best ones do you know and so i took another 4 or 5 Franklins out of that envelope, back when the picture of Ben was still small, i picked up the phone and called the Frat boy Finance guy and arranged to meet, you see the first time i lived in the city of iron, a scant two blocks from where i was now, i had been gifted an opportunity that had been cultivated during the end of my undergrad days, back then a friend and I had taken over the market at Podunk, not really taken over but filled the gap left when Cowboy Dan (see old post) went off the deep end and shut down operations, a friend of mine had a friend (isn't that how it always works) who was in the enviable position to scratch a lot of backs and so he fronted stuff to his friend who in turn looked for other guys to help him move it, turns out i ended up being really good at that and soon was getting two pounds on the front to swing, at the time we thought we were having it, i did most of the leg work and the good Doctor would answer the door and fetch beers and lay low but it worked out well and we had money for the boozer and groceries and pizza, now it didn't last long and about the time it went tits up i split for the beach but it had laid the groundwork...

Now the biggest worry was the year in grad school and the loss of customers cuz as we all know weed dealers are a dime a dozen, problem is they disappear at an alarmingly high rate due to the fact they are stoned and easy-going and tend to fuck up the money and smoke away any profit, of course the other variable in the equation was the product and how it stacked up to the rest of what was floating around, and so i rubbed my lucky rabbit's foot and patted my jade Buddha's belly and hoped that Frat Boy Finance guy had some better shit than he was shovelling while i was flunking out of grad school... the good news was that he did, three different grades, the bad news was he was a tight motherfucker whose prices were a bit steep thus eating into the profits cuz as a former consumer turned entrepreneur i realized i needed to be fair or even better than fair, cheap, to build up a clientele, i had about three months before the lovelies from the student loan gestapo started mailing me payment coupons and i was nothing if not an honorable fucker, i would pay the bankers back on time, ahead of time hopefully so i could fuck them on the interest if possible, so really you could say that this whole operation was started to pay off the debt i had accrued bettering myself in the halls of higher education, and you'd be right, it was exactly the reason i got into it... that and to still have enough money to eat and keep a roof over my head and from where i was sitting the straight and narrow wasn't gonna even come close to doing that...

And so i was back in my hood and back in the game, it started by pulling out a small, beat-up notebook, a notebook with the pages stained and water damaged and with a page or two with a myriad of phone numbers and symbols or codes next to them, this wasn't fucking James Bond this was the low rent district and before long once things got going a bit more i didn't even use a notebook, new numbers would be written down for a few days and committed to memory, even now i grin at the amount of phone numbers i kept in my head, fuckers today use their fucking smart phones, this was old school, wastoid was the smart phone... and so i got on the horn and began calling around, a conversation that went usually like this: El Kono- hey man what's happening, Potential Customer- nothing much man, EK- hey just wanted to let you know things are back to normal, PC- Normal? EK- yeah like the old days over on Melwood, i'm back living here again so if you needed anything let me know, PC-Oh, cool yeah, i gotta guy but i'll definitely keep you in mind, EK- great yeah man just keep it in mind, nothing crazy but decent, decent price too, PC-cool man yeah, i'll be in touch, EK- alright later, PC- later... Now i made this same call about 20 times and did a little leg work and talked to some other people face to face, had them spread the word and all,  of course this new character, a tall man with  large sideburns, a crooked goatee and long natty hair, would become a card carrying member of what he would loosely call, the North Oakland Players, it was long before he had earned that title but he was back and shit was about to change... even if he nor anybody else new it then... 








Monday, March 2, 2015

The Wilderness Years - Hit the Ground Runnin' Part 1

As the rented Crown Vic wound it's way back over the flat fields of eastern Maryland and towards the hills of Pennsyltucky our hero was slumped and comatose in the passenger side of that rented car, fucked would be a bit of an understatement, the Jager and weak junk still kicking it's way out of his system, occasionally our hero, or more correctly moi, would sit up and suck down some Gatorade or water, attempt to eat a peanut butter cracker, check on the driver and then pass right the fuck back out, of the 8 or so hours it takes to drive from the cesspool of tourist town to the city of iron i was out for a good 6 plus of it, finally pulling it together enough to drive the last hour or so in and wind my way to my new home, my co-pilot or more correctly pilot on that trip was a fellow fry boy and friend of mine, in fact he had helped get me the job there a few summers back, a good guy who i can only imagine was more than a bit pissed at having to drive almost the whole way back while i snored and drooled and twitched like the derelict i was, i myself was oblivious and like the selfish prick i was i concerned myself more with getting back and getting my shit settled cuz on that Monday, September 11th 1995, my 25th birthday i would start my new gig, humping boxes and delivering useless crap for a party store, another stint in another warehouse cuz that's what the derelicts of the world do, we move shit from point A to point B and make sure it's in the correct spot on the shelf or in the system, we are the neanderthals of the lumpen prole, i was to make a whopping $6.40 an hour...

Under the shimmering streetlights of late summer i pulled to the curb in front of my new place, an old three story brick house with worn red oak doors, a set of cement steps with the weeds thriving in the concrete followed by a set wooden steps and a small porch painted baby shit brown and peeling from top to bottom, my place was on the second floor and i hit the buzzer and waited for the good Doctor or his woman to let me in, it was two city blocks from my old place and there were two bars within spitting distance, a classic transient neighborhood, a place where most people lived for six months to a year, until they could find something better, or they never left, shuffled from one dump to another, a neighborhood populated by halfway houses, immigrants, foreign exchange students, low-lifes, thieves, con-men, in short just what i needed, as i stepped out and watched the sky turn dark blue in front of a fading pink sun, a sun that was dipping behind the hill that was home to the biggest hood in the city, downtown just beyond that... but it didn't matter, it could have been fucking Pluto over that hill far as i was concerned, i was back in North Oakland, the first place that felt like home since mine had went poof and tumbled over like a straw palace...as i climbed out of the Crown Vic i could feel the sweat drip down my ass and stink radiate off me, i was a fine fucking mess after the last 48 hours or so but here i was, standing in front of a run down old brick house and smiling...

When the good Doctor opened the door he grinned and handed me a beer, he was my best friend in those days, a brother, we lugged all my shit up some creaky steps with threadbare carpet, the place had old stain glass windows that had begun to buckle just a bit and a wooden banister worn smooth by decades of hands, at one time it had been a single family home, back in the big steel boom town years, but now was divided up into three units, with us in the middle, a mixed-race gay couple on the first floor, and forty-something sister on the third floor, the apartment door led straight into a living room with a small kitchen on the far right, two bedrooms to the left, one for the good Doctor and one for his lady, a step in and there was a hallway that ran behind the living room, oddly it had a powder room right next to a small full bath and in the very back, behind a heavy, old wooden door was my room... the door was a good two inches thick, it had to be the only door in the whole place that was still original, they didn't make doors like this anymore or you didn't see doors like this in the shit holes i'd been living in, it was big and thick enough to break fingers if they were unlucky enough to be caught and on the other side was nothing... a 9x6 rectangle.

It's an odd habit i have, the memories of the rooms i've lived in, some seem a blur and some hold this place of almost mythic proportion, for the next three years i would live essentially out of this room, it was a sanctuary, an office, a fuck pad, a library, a studio, it was a carefully organized shambolic mess, a rectangle with two small nooks cut by the chimney that ran up the side of the house, on this first day there was nothing in it but a beat up, tiny three-drawer light brown wooden desk, a desk that looked lifted out of the late 50's, it was set between two windows that looked out onto a small backyard that was bathed in the shade of urban arbor, there was an ancient armoire that had been left, it was the first thing you saw when you walked in, the door being all the way left and the room going right, it was the armoire where i'd tape up the flyer i ripped off a bulletin board at CMU after seeing Allen Ginsberg read one night, it was the armoire where the triple beam would make it's home, but i'm getting ahead of myself, a rickety white nightstand sat pushed into the far right nook, for the first few weeks i slept on the floor until the good Doctor told me to grab the mattress and box spring out of his room, seeing that he and his lady didn't need two beds, it was promptly tossed on the floor and pushed against the wall where it would stay the whole time i lived there, i could actually walk into my room and fall into bed and over the next three years that would come in handy...

Now having been living as a student and then a migrant tourism worker for the past few years i had a habit of attempting to travel light, the funny thing was all my clothes, winter-spring-summer-fall were packed into a trunk and an old suitcase, the rest of the my possessions amounted to a decent sized portable stereo, a few boxes of books, my old electric typewriter and a few plastic milk crates of CD's, i had always listened to music but over the last 6 years or so had cultivated the habit of voraciously reading... i set the trunk under the left window and put the stereo on top of it, kept the desk where it was in the middle, the armoire was a such a giant old beast it was not to be moved and it sat near the left window with just enough space to cram my suitcase and a few boxes of shit next to it and out of the way, i wasted no time in stealing some bricks from a building site and grabbing a few wood slats and making myself a make shift bookshelf that sat up against the outcrop where the chimney ran, i snagged an old chair from a junk room near the main door of the apartment building and bought a nice window fan to put in the left window for the hot months, in a matter of weeks it was my own little slice of heaven, separated from the rest of the place it gave both the good Doctor, his woman and myself the space we needed...

The best part was it felt like mine, like my own little home, it was just the space i needed and my best friend was right down the hall and the bars were close by and i worked a block away from the place, a main artery ran a 150 feet or so away from the apartment but with my room in the back i mainly heard birds chirping and neighbors laughing or screaming or sometimes screwing, and the sound of Baum Blvd. would ebb and flow and sound almost as lovely as the Atlantic surf i had just left, but the real cherry on top was the room itself, when you're broke and living in poor places as the song says, the rooms are stifling hot in the summer and freezing in the winter, in the summer the sun would rise and and pass over my room before noon, the windows had these natty, thick curtains that looked almost quilt-like and let in just enough light when the sun was shining but by noon my room and the backyard were bathed in shade, with the window fan sucking in the cool air my room would be ten or fifteen degrees cooler than the rest of the place, in the winter it was just the opposite, i lucked out and the heat blew strong through my vent and i could shut my door and the room would be ten or fifteen degrees warmer than the rest of the apartment, no space heater needed, and so why so much about the apartment? the room? because they were characters in and of themselves, they gave me a foundation, a base in which to build from, besides like Jarvis once said about the supermarket, i had to start it somewhere... so it started here...












Saturday, February 14, 2015

Last Thursday after dinner, listening to the radio

William S. Burroughs once stated that the closest you can get to junk is being really stoned on hashish, having walked down both those roads i can tell you that Bill was pretty spot on and while they are not the same by any stretch of the means there are some distinct similarities if you know what you're looking for, and so it was that last Thursday after i was done cleaning up the dinner dishes and before taking Nick Disaster to the rink for hockey school that i heard this song on the radio, it was the first time i'd ever heard this version, i'd heard Warren Zevon's original version years ago but this one fucking smacked me in the face, the symmetry of a warped history coming back up the pipes like so much mental backwash... so i'll connect the dots cuz it entertains me...

A long time ago i wrote what i consider one of my favorite pieces called August and Everything After, about how i used to sit in a bar on Wicomico round the corner from the Fry Hut, a scant three blocks from a fried chicken stand and also the place where i heard the album in which that piece was titled after, an album i've gone on record as admitting to loving though the indie rawk kids of the world would revoke my hipster card for admitting so, but fuck those indie rawk hipster kids, all hair gel and no substance and more likely to develop a habit than a disciplined low life shambling through a life that at the time was part Munch and part Monet, soft and fuzzy around the edges, hard and terrifying and beautiful in the center, and so while sitting on a bar stool or tucked in the corner and watching the tourists walk by i came to study and appreciate that record and what it meant to me at that time of my life, a topic that's been well covered over the years here from my stool at the lounge...

Of course that post may have been the first piece to introduce to the story our lovely Heroin, it was first obtained and taken in that little place by the bay off of 2nd St., so imagine the look on my face while i watched the snow begin to blow in and my youngest boyo run through the house taking imaginary slap shots with his curly mop wildly flying about, i was a bit dumbfounded listening to the voice of the guy i sat and listened to that summer as i stared into a beer or through dilated pupils, singing about my old new bad habit and though i was strung out back then it wasn't on smack but more life in general... but as i stood watching the small specks of cold and biting snow fly through the air i was suddenly back to that hot apartment with the little windows where if you sat right next to them you could catch a decent breeze, of sitting in that room pinned out and listening to the sounds from the park and the birds from the bay, my beer getting warm and leaving wet rings on the old hardwood floors, a poorly rolled joint sitting in the ashtray, it was the first place i'd lived in five years that had cable tv, every now and then i'd roll out and watch the weather channel for a bit but mainly i hung about that room with the typewriter and my various drugs and drink, our Heroin was just the latest sweetheart to show up...

Now if you were to ask me if there was ever a drug i had respect for i'd smile and say all of them of course, and you'd have the definitive right to smile right back and say bullshit, and you'd be right, but i'd spent too much of my youth reading drunks and speed freaks and tea heads and particularly junkies, what's that saying about knowledge being power? and so i had strict rules when it came to Lady Day, i knew her voice was warm velvet and so i had to be disciplined no matter how many sweet nothings she whispered in my ear, and so the rules were laid down and for someone as undisciplined in most aspects of his life as i was at the time (and most likely still am) i maintained and did not break, never two days in a row, preferably three or four between tastes, be cautious when trying new gear, and above all respect her power for she do not fuck about dig? and so i got on with it...

When i'd left my fair city of iron in June of 94 i was more than a bit tuned in to the happenings in the East End when it came to the topic of contraband and when i left that horse wasn't even on the track, not for the kids anyway, yes it was around but it wasn't as easily obtainable as when i'd return just over a year later in September of 95, in what i'd call the first wave of good cheap smack, the years from 95-99, suddenly it became easier and easier to obtain, hell even the kids from the burbs could get it and the media hadn't yet started it's crusade,  i had scored a job in a warehouse a block from my place when i got back and right off there was a cat who had more than a little habit going, within a week he had scored for me, i stuck to the rules, the gear made the stuff at the shore look like dog shit, this had the classic marketing of stamp bags with all the names and flavors, the local weed game still lacked that, there was dirt, brick, middies and kind, every now and then you'd get a name for a strain but mostly it was classified as one of those four, it was a study in need when i used to ride around with my co-worker, he'd have us rushing through deliveries so that he could cruise his local haunts to try and score, the worry and need rising every time he struck out and couldn't cop, the worry and need rising when he had to lift money off his girl or his mom, his total jubilation every time he scored, his whole spirit lifting and him laughing and joking and singing...

There was the Burger King two blocks from my apartment where you could cop in the parking lot, there was a occult/record store in South Oakland where you could score from the sinister minister with his own wicked habit, there was Mitchell's Tavern in North Oakland, my old haunt, where the junkies sat nervously biting their nails and waiting for the pay phone to ring back so they could slip out and score a half block from my old apartment, the place where i'd meet Maggie and Martha aka the Glimmer Twins, there was the bathroom at Chief's, clandestinely passed stamp bags under the bar at the Luna, my hood was awash in places to score, when i felt like scoring i saved myself the trouble of doing it myself and helped out my co-worker, when dealing with people with habits you know they're going to fuck you a bit, it just depends how much, and i knew T. Rex (my co-worker dubbed so cuz he loved glam) was tacking on a tax but i didn't mind, he knew i knew and i knew that in this game nothing is done for fucking free, i'd usually toss him a bump as well cuz these were the days of the snorters and smokers, the shooters were out there but it took awhile for most to graduate and for some the hassle of scoring needles just added to the mess so they stuck with what was easy, so T. Rex would get a cheap bag and i'd get mine, his would be gone by morning, mine would last a week or two, discipline my friends discipline...

And while the song was playing i kept thinking of the education that i received, the up close and in-depth look at what people would do when in need, the loose collective of the hooked, how they spent almost all of their time trying to find places to score, alternate places to score, cheaper places to score, how if one could cop when it was dry they'd help each other out, to a point of course, they'd do what they could for their pals who had cash but whoever the lucky dope fiend was who found the gear got to tax everyone they scored for, usually enough for an extra stamp bag or two, then they'd try to pinch some from the other bags, try to weasel a bump out of the "friend" they scored for, hell even when it wasn't dry it was like that or if someone was short it was the usual game of bag now getcha back later, this wasn't like the weed dealer running out, this was a physical and psychological need and as the clock ticked you could watch them slip deeper, the sanity stretching with each nauseous tick of the clock, i watched Maggie's boyfriend one day, he was sitting and gnawing his hand as the ice melted in his drink as he waited for the Glimmer Twins to come back with the gear, the sweat beading, the eyes jumping around the bar, the promise of relief and the smiling monkey making him hand over his car keys knowing full well these two might be gone for hours, without the discipline, the respect, it was a full time job, and frankly i already had two full time jobs back in those days, i didn't need another...

And the truth is there are alot of people from back then who didn't make it, in those days it seemed every week or two you'd hear of someone dying, some i knew, some i knew of, some i knew well and one i knew really well, the only one that i had any emotions about, sad and bummed but not shocked when i got the call, but that cat and others will show up in the Wilderness, now it was just hearing that song sung by that guy, and going back to the end of that summer and a rented Crown Vic and winding my way back to me barrio and a set of unpainted, rickety wood steps and  the beginning of everything else... then the I-mac aka Stretch came bopping by and hugged his old man before bopping away and behind me i heard Nick Disaster make a whooshing sound and raise his arms in the air as he scored another imaginary goal...