Nut Jobs I’ve Known; #147

Mud Shark BluesInterested Gentleman

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I’ve met a few.  Over the years I’ve made the acquaintance of one or two…hundred.  Collected them all.  All brands.  All flavors.  The full spectrum.  Weirdos.  Oddballs.  Freaks.  Colorful crackpots.  Entertaining eccentrics.  Whimsical fruitcakes.  Absent-minded mystics.  Neurotic non-conformists.  Fevered visionaries.  The bat-chain insane.  Deviants.  Sociopaths.  Compulsive liars.  Babbling idiots.  Tortured geniuses.  Paranoid parolees.  Cross-addicted dope fiends.  Chemically-imbalanced cutters.  Klepto-Dipso-Nympho-maniacs.  Bi-polar bulimics.  Dual-diagnosed uni-brows.  Didn’t matter.  If they were haunted or hunted–they swarmed my front door like summer bugs to porch light.

I’m not sure why they sought me out.   Probably felt some sort of affinity or kinship.  Probably sensed I wouldn’t be too judgey.  Probably thought they found safe harbor.

I know I felt compelled to provide it.  I tried to be friendly.  Call it Stray Dog Syndrome, but I’d take them in.  Give them a chance to relax and talk freely.  I figured no matter what Beefheartian parade music they were marching to, or living nightmare they were enduring, they were doing the best they could.  In their own fucked-up way, they were just trying to make it.  Like everybody else.  They deserved a break from the withering blows.  A little breather in between beatings.  They were yearning to breathe free and I would be their Statue of Liberty.

"Looks like Sexy Webster is up early for breakfast duty. Nice! Don't burn my bacon, bro"

Looks like Sexy Webster is up early for breakfast duty. Nice! Don’t burn my bacon, bro

Besides, I knew what it was like to feel different or not understood.  It gets lonely.  Frustrating.  Depressing.  One is more apt to breakout in bad behavior.  Which is different than just flying your freak flag high.  Bad behavior means somebody winds up getting hurt.  And that’s no fun.  Not in the long run at least.  That’s why I did my best to cut them slack.  Made the effort to be respectful.  Tolerant.  Understanding.

But I also hid my wallet and extra beers.  Made sure to stash any medicine or solvents.   Kept the croquet mallet handy.

"Easy there, Sinbad. Watch the bong."

Easy there, Sinbad. Watch the bong.

Things didn’t always go well.  There were the usual misunderstandings, hurt feelings, broken promises, raised voices and violent attempts at physical submission.  But that’s people for you.  Nutty or normal, humans can be dangerous.  Say the wrong thing and you can get a stamp collector to come at you with a letter opener.  Or the onyx statue he brought back from his vacation cruise to Mexico.

Yes sir, a few poorly worded observations and the next thing you know Mr. Mild Mannered is attempting to bludgeon you with it.  15 pounds of Aztec War God head.  Just bringing it down with both hands.  While you cower behind his globe.  Crouching.  Dodging.  Waiting for your chance to tip the mahogany desk on him.

Trust me, angry ape-warrior shit can erupt anywhere.  In a lunatic asylum or a leather-bound library.  Things go down in the real world, baby.  Things you can’t believe.

Especially with the cannons I chose to roll around on deck with.  They were already cocked and tethered rather loosely to the boards.  Even more prone to misfire.  Break a vase.  Put out an eye.  Take off a head.

You learned to watch your step and mind your mouth.  You learned to be a gracious host.  That’s it.  I think hanging out with the emotionally-imbalanced taught me to be more polite.  More attentive to other’s feelings.

"Look Honey, this lovely couple is vending handcrafted souvenirs. Let's be generous."

Look Honey, this lovely couple is vending handcrafted souvenirs. Let’s be generous.

In one rehab,  I had to room with a dweeb in coke-bottle glasses, who as a kid, had stabbed his parents in their sleep.  No bullshit.  He even showed me an old copy of the Newsweek article.  He didn’t kill them.  See?  The article was about the parents suing the shrink that got his med combo wrong.  So it really wasn’t that bad.  And that was years ago.  And he’s better now.  Lots better.  Except for having to come off the massive amount of pharmaceuticals he’d been forging scripts to self-prescribe…

…to dull his desire to kill.

Well, that’s a relief.

Now he was in the bed next to me.  Bug-eyed.  His mole face pale and waxy with Vicodin ooze.  Fidgeting.  Agitated.  Now and then twisting at the crotch of his pajamas.  Telling me bedtime stories.  Stories about things he would like to do.  Stories about what he would love to do again.  Things he knows he shouldn’t do.  But does anyway.  Because it feels so good.  Feels so good to do them anyway.

And because he thinks he has a demon.  One that follows him around.  Everywhere.

Well alrighty then.

Nothing like a cocktail of revenge torture fantasies and disturbing sexual confessions.  Some relaxing thoughts on demonic possession and murder.  And fear.  Before bed.

While trying to kick booze.

Nighty night.

"Dude, I think it's totally normal to want to kill your parents. Chill!"

Dude, I think it’s totally normal to want to kill your parents. Chill!

My new besty.  You bet your ass when he wanted to talk, I’d lend a sympathetic ear.  He terrified me.  I nodded earnestly as he told me his troubles.  Clucked my tongue.   Kicked the carpet.  Periodic pats on the shoulder.  Did my best to keep his spirits up.

“I know, brother, I know.  One day at a time.”

But I also kept a cake knife from the cafeteria under my mattress.  And one eye open.  All night.

Hey, that’s people for you.  Gotta make them like you enough to not want to kill you in your sleep.  Same old dance really.  The Dance of Life.

He never did try to kill me.  So that was good.  I didn’t have to stress too long.  They bounced his ass the minute his insurance balked.  So that was good.

But probably not.

He was one spooky dude.  Clearly a troubled individual.  One I surmised was struggling with impulse control.  Probably in need of some institutionalized assistance.  A Dixie cup full of psych meds.  Some time doing arts and crafts under close supervision.  Special mineral baths.

I tried to convince staff that this gentleman needed to be housed somewhere other than a beach-side rehab.  Maybe somewhere less razor-wire-free.  More Thoraziney.

They didn’t want to hear any of it.  In fact, the folks at administration felt that without insurance, he was as good as cured.  Free to stroll around Laguna Beach.  With all kinds of feelings.  Thoughts.  Desires.  Ideas.

That didn’t seem right.

"Check this place out, dude. They serve Tapas and validate parking.  Looks fun."

Try this place out, dude. They serve tapas and validate parking. Looks fun. You should at least check it out.

I don’t regret being nice to him though.  I really did try to steer his thoughts toward recovery.  Not just out of self-preservation either.  I wanted him to feel better.  If only to defuse any bomb he was building in his brain.  Why not climb in there and see if you can’t stop the ticking?  Clip a few wires.

But then he’d tell me about another “thing” and I’d find myself reeling with revulsion and loathing.  If I had my usual eight to fourteen beers in me I would’ve gone ahead and beat him down.  Just on principle.  Give doctors at the hospital a chance to take a closer look-see.  But this was rehab and the lack of beer allowed me to think my actions through.  Really think about the consequences of striking another patient.

There was jail.  Sure.  But there was also the possibility of coming-to someday, duct-taped to a chair in a basement.  Having to helplessly watch as Mole Man searchs for a blow torch striker.

I decided to apply the love and acceptance thing instead.  Did my best to talk him down.  While maintaining a three-foot safe zone.  And a clear path to the box spring.

Who knows what good it did?  It’s not like I had many answers at that point, coming off my own World Destruction Tour.  But I tried.  Maybe a little harder than usual.

Hopefully,  I bought some time for somebody else out there–some quality time with loved ones– before the calming effects of my loving acceptance wore off.

After that you pretty much have to hope the next person treats him with kind deference, instead of open disdain.  You have to hope some SoCal snotball doesn’t set that mad motherfucker off.

Because brother, you have no idea what kind of hurt that overt eye-roll of yours could cost you.  Not when you roll them at a demon-host like that.  One that doesn’t like you making him feel bad.  One that really likes to feel good.  His kind of good.  And is willing to do whatever it takes to feel that way.  No matter what.

You have no idea.

Yeah, better to be kind to everyone, I say.  As much as you can stand.  And pay special care to those you find odd or strange.  It’s not only the right thing to do.  It’s the best thing.  Because most nut crazies are amazing creatures.  Masterpieces that inspire awe and wonder.  Holy messengers.  You never know what hidden wisdom they might possess.  Or giddy delight they can bestow.

And yes, in some cases,

un-holy wrath deliver.

You really have no idea.

So be nice.

Nighty night.

"Yeah sorry, he was here but they bounced him. You wanna give me your number in case I see him, or just wanna hang out?"

Yeah sorry, he was in here, but they bounced him. You want to  give me your number in case I see him or you just want to hang out?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My Favorite Stripper.

Let me know when you're ready for a lap dance, player.

Let me know when you’re ready for a lap dance, player.

I’ve managed to meet a few exotic dancers over the course of my life, but she holds a special place.  For some reason, I always get to thinking about her around Thanksgiving.  I don’t know why.  Maybe because I was grateful to have known her.

She was a piece of work alright.  Men had no idea what they were in for.  But I did.  That’s what made it so wonderful to witness.  I’d watch some drooling letch walk arm and arm with her to the lap dance booth.  Or in the case of many Japanese business men, getting dragged into the booth by her.  Regardless of how they got there, they were all thinking the same thing.  “What an aggressive and nasty little slut!  What kind of a dirty whore has my good fortune chanced upon me here?  This omnivorous sexual creature, lacking inhibition and moral restraint.  This perfect woman.  At least for the lap dance booth.”

It was that or some variable of the same meme.  I could see it in their faces.  Their wild eyes.  Spinning Japanese eyeballs behind coke bottle glasses.  They were so excited.  Why shouldn’t they be?  This girl seems like someone who will let you get away with a lot.  They sensed a total disregard for boundaries.  A Devil’s playground for their wildest desires.

They were in for a surprise.  A boundary was about to punch them in the eye.  Knee them in the groin.

I was a manager at an L.A. strip club manager.  Stressed out.  Trying to stay sober.  Depressed.  Nervous about a big court date.  No money.  Shitty car.  No girlfriends.  And no, not doing any of the strippers.  Like I said, I was depressed, and maybe still mourning the loss of my drunkenhood.  I certainly wasn’t digging having to deal with things in a responsible and healthy manner.  My recently instilled moral compass had me baffled.  Navigating around the world with all kinds of restrictions and parameters was definitely harder.  No wonder I never wanted to do it.

It sucks ass.

It also seemed like every time I did do the “right” thing, something bad happened.  I was in deeper legal shit, then I had ever been in while drunk.  That didn’t seem like a very happy reward for giving up the thing I loved most.  Seemed like a total gyp, actually.  I was really getting the feeling that maybe it wasn’t worth all the effort, this new sober life.

Things kept coming at me, on an endless conveyer belt of bullshit.  Served continually, with no breaks.  With no beer to take the Nestea Plunge into.  No refreshing refreshments.  No oblivion to crawl into and hide.  Instead, it was Reality 24/7,  hammering and hammering on me.  Beating it out of me.  With no bell to end the round and take a stool.

My job didn’t help.  I was one of three managers at an ancient, bio-hazardous waste dump of a strip club.  I had to police over fifty different damaged bundles of dysfunction that we featured as entertainment.  Besides them, I had an owner to deal with.  He was a total money-crazed lunatic, who drank a lot and was prone to stroke-tempting rages.  Then I had a bunch of semi-retired gang bangers and ex-cons working as cashiers and doormen, a couple of odd-ball, tin-foil hat conspiracy nuts working as DJs, some strippers doubling as waitresses, and a few perpetually pissed-off bartenders, each with their own hornet’s nest of issues.

Then there was the clientele.

It would’ve made anybody want to drink.  It sure made me ready for a beer or seventeen after my shift.  Instead, I’d stop for a Cobb salad at Ralph’s and listen to the AM broadcast of Art Bell’s Coast to Coast on the late night drive back to Redondo Beach.  Coast to Coast is not tin foil, by the way.  Lizard people do exist, and many are in positions of great power.

Anyway, the barrage of bullshit was slowing eroding my resolve not to drink.  Also, the possibility of having to do time was hanging over my head, and that didn’t do much to slake my thirst.

So it’s never with great fondness that I recall those days surrounded by g-strings, glitter and thongs.  Go figure.  No, that’s a time in my life I tend to fast forward through when doing the Total Recall thing.  It was generally a gloomy two years.  I had to work at finding any silver lining.  The fact I could find some from such an unlikely source is note-worthy.  Lynx, the bad-ass, speed-freak stripper.  Oh shit.  There’s a song.  I call copyright.

Anyway, she was this  manager’s personal pet.  Out of the fifty or so girls we had working, she was my Number One.  My sunshine.  My only sunshine.

An attractive-enough little brunette, she wore her hair ratted up in a pony tail, like Pebbles… or Gene Simmons.  Had a pretty nice chassis.  Firm fanny.  Perky little peepers.  Sometimes she wore too much eye make-up and had a tendency to over-accessorize, but so did Gene Simmons.

I liked her because she could always crack me up.  I also found out that like me, she was trying to stay sober.  A fellow traveler on the Trudge Turnpike.

Not many of the other girls were trying to stay sober.  Like none other.  Not that every single one had a problem.  Just that of the many who did, no others were trying to do anything about it, but get money for more.  And while most of the other girls were criminally scandalous in their attempts to rip-off the house, Lynx was always square.  That’s the other thing I liked about her.

She showed me the respect of not making my job any harder.  She was still running game on a lot of the chump customers at the club, but she always rendered unto Caesar.  I appreciated that.  I never had to watch her.  Unless I wanted to.  Just for laughs.

I have to stop and make this clear.  Although she was attractive, I wasn’t necessarily attracted.  One of those strange things.  Like she was my younger sister in some other life.  I never had any pervy feelings for her.  Seriously.  I just got a kick out of her.  She had a loud laugh that made me laugh.  She was also a trip to watch.  She had the wanton whore thing down.

She’d be clomping around onstage in her black boots.  Not really dancing, but pacing back and forth like a caged dominatrix.  Step, step, turn.  Gyrate.  She’d have this look in her eyes like she was searching for someone to rape.  Raw animal lust, pausing only to choose who to violate next.  So many eligible and willing victims.  Step, step, step, turn.  You?  Gyrate.  Gyrate.

Ooh, pick me!  Pick me!

Poor suckers.  She didn’t have trouble snagging customers willing to pay for a private lap dance with her.  Guys were very eager to spend some quality time with her, to share some precious moments, inside one of our semi-private, shower-curtained, ripped couch, “what’s all this tissue on the floor?” suites.

After all, the mark had pretty good reason to believe he had pulled a live-wire.  He’s picked someone who would make his twenty-seven dollar, three-minute dance, worth every penny.  Those dirty fuckers all thought she’d be a pushover for some verboten grinding and rubbing.

I should probably explain how the lap dance thing worked, at least at this club.  Girls would dance on stage for tips, but if a guy really liked a girl, he could pay to take her into a booth and let her bump and grind on him.   He was supposed to keep his hands at his sides and never touch the dancer.  Well, at this club, all this took place in a dark booth, behind a plastic curtain.  I had floor men who would peek in to make sure everybody was playing by the rules, but strippers are a sneaky breed of greed.  If they can get away with earning a little extra, by allowing a little extra, most do.

Well, it turned out, Lynx was not that kind of girl.  She policed her privates to the legal letter of the law.  And she enforced that law with her bony little fists and pointy boots–much to the customer’s chagrin, and my utter delight.  I remember watching her take this excited, chubby business man into a booth.  He was leering.  His sweat glands were salivating.  Oh man.  He’s going to go for it.  Gonna make a grab for the gold.

I listened to the song start.  Sure enough.  After a couple of bars of music, I hear a commotion, and out from behind the shower curtain, Rolly Polly rolls out.  He’s sprawled on the floor, holding his eye.   She comes out of the booth putting some money in her purse, kicks the sorry lump, then steps over him on her way back to the dressing room.

“He touched my tits,” she told me.  I nodded.

The guy came to me complaining, but I didn’t want to hear any of it.  “You don’t touch her tits, dude.  She’s like a sister in a past life to me, you sick fuck, you filthy degenerate?   What kind of place do you think I’m running here?”   I had Danny throw him out.  No refund.

Turns out that guy was with a bunch of other guys.  They got pissed I was throwing out their buddy.  So I threw them out too.  They tried to make a stink, but found themselves surrounded by a bunch of guys right off the post office wall.  Yeah, that’s right.  No refund, you fucking fucks.

That’s what not drinking did to me.  Strung me way too tight.  Especially that first try.  I had no clue what it took to successfully not drink.  Being an asshole is not part of the program.  Maybe embracing your inner-asshole, and making friends with him.  Accepting the fact that you’re an asshole,  and then invoking some sort of supernatural force to run interference.   To mitigate it.  That’s part of my program now.  I’m mitigating.

Back then I was unmitigated.  I was the 100 percent, un-cut, pure shit.  It didn’t make life any easier.

Lynx was struggling too.  She had all kinds of Life problems.  Lots of wreckage.   Legal troubles.  Painful relationships.  Health concerns.  The whole recovery bouquet.  So she was trying to deal with all that and stay clean…while working as a stripper in a dirty L.A. club.  She had a lot on her plate.

I did my best to help.  I’d go to bat for her with the general manager for schedule changes, let her leave when she needed to, take her side in the cat fights, cut her slack for fuck-ups, and basically, tried to look out for her.  She repaid me with her goofy laugh and crazy stories.

One afternoon, during a dragging day shift, I was bullshitting with one of the bartenders.  I had just said, “And that’s when she broke out the turkey baster,” when Lynx walked by.  “Turkey baster!” she shouts, “Were you into those too?”

Here’s the thing.  A long time ago, in some story I wrote, I wanted to imply that something kinky was about to transpire, so I wrote “And that’s when she broke out the turkey baster.”  I always liked that line.  A nice blend of strange and nasty.  I reused it a lot.  It became kind of a standard device of mine.  It really makes a great last line to just about any story.

Anyway, when I came up with it, I didn’t have anything particular in mind.  I just thought the nastiness was inherent, but in an amorphous way.  Turkey Baster Time?  Hmm.  Something weird is about to happen.

So that was it, and I was actually using it that way while talking to the bartender, when Lynx overheard me.  Now she was all excited, asking me about using a turkey baster, and I don’t even know what she meant…what that would actually entail.

“Uh, I don’t…know…what that’s all about…even though…I was talking about it.”

“Oh fuck, that was my favorite way to do speed!”

What’s this?  I had to think about it, but I got it.  Wow.  That’s pretty crazy.  So crazy, my own imagination couldn’t have come up with it.  That’s pretty crazy.  Disconcerting, actually.

“Oh yeah, that way…the turkey baster, ha-ha! Yeah…sure.”

“I used to have different colored ones.  Even had a rack of six different ones mounted by the wall of my bed.”

Okay.  That was too much.   My mind was officially blown.  What-the-mother–?  Is she pulling my leg?

“You’re fucking with me.”

“No Marius, I had them in this thing, like a spice rack, my boyfriend made and mounted for me.”

She was serious.  Turkey basters.  For taking speed.  Via culus.  Different-colored.  Collect-them-all, but keep your best six in a happy rainbow by the bed, in a rack, that your boyfriend made as a handyman shop project.

Wrap your mind around that.

To think I was proud of myself for coming up with a turkey baster being used in some generally implied kinkiness.  Real life had out-weirded me.  Had run circles around me as a writer.  As an artist.  It was humbling.

Even if I could make something like that up, I would never use it.  It’s not very believable.  The reader isn’t going to buy it.  Maybe the shooting drugs in your butt part, but not the spice rack with different colored basters part.  That part, is just too.

And yet, there it was.  True fact.  Stranger than fiction.

I love it.

Lynx was always good for stuff like that.  She was full of surprises.

Anyway, it was only a matter of time before my white knuckles lost their grip, and I was drinking again.  All the stress finally made me snap.  As it started to look more and more like I was going to go to prison for a few years, I caved.  I was scared, and didn’t want to think about it.  So I told myself I could get sober again while inside and started bolting them down.

Then my lawyer beat the rap.  Oops.  Ha-ha.  Jumped the gun there.  Maybe I should have waited a little longer.  Oh well.  Now it was too late.  The genie was out of the proverbial.  I had unleashed The Beast.  Nine months of absolute destruction.  Stepped into the elevator and pushed B.  One more time.  But this time for good.

I was very quickly out of a job, and then an apartment, then a mind.  Made quick work of all of them.  Who needs that shit anyway?

I drank myself helpless, and wound up in rehab for the second time.  This time in North Hollywood.  A place, appropriately called Cri-Help.  Or as we lovingly called it, “Cry Help, Bitch! ”  After detox, I was transferred to residential.  One day I went to the office where they handed out mail.  There she was.  As a patient, but working in the mail room, Lynx.  I guess she couldn’t stay straight either.

“Hey!”

I started towards her, wanting to give her a hug, but she stood back and shook her head.  I had forgot.  The place was strictly non-contact.  As members of the opposite sex, we were not only not allowed to touch, but to talk, or to even make eye-contact.  This place was pretty uptight about it, too.  You’d get written up for even acknowledging a chick in the dinner line.  Of course, everyone broke the rules when they could, but there was a counselor right there in the room.

“Uh, I’m here to see if I got any mail.”

“What’s your name?”

It was strange.  It felt bad.  Not being able to talk to a friend.  Not being able to ask what was going on with them.  How they wound up in rehab.

“There’s nothing here for you.”

“I figured.”

We stood there looking at each other.

“Okay, I guess I’ll check back some other time.”

“Yeah, try again later,” she said,  looking over at the counselor.

One day we did manage to talk.  She had come over with another woman to the picnic bench me and some other dude were sitting at.  They sat at the other end of the table, facing each other.  A counselor was talking to someone at the next table, so we used our friends to beard the conversation.  It was absurd.

“Last I heard, you were going to prison,” she said to the woman across from her.

“I beat it,” I told the guy across from me.  “But I went out anyway.”

“No shit,” she said, poking the woman.

We laughed at our respective conversation partners.  There was that  laugh, loud enough to bring unwanted attention from The Man.

“And you, dude?” I asked, “Did you go back to the turkey baster?”

“What?” My guys asks.

“Not you.  Her.”

“No, heroin.”

“That’s one way to keep off meth.”

Everyone nodded.

“Did you ever wind up dating, Emma?” she asked her friend.

“Dating is hard to define,” I told my buddy.

“Yeah.  I know,” she said to the woman, “You’re a whore.”

We sat there for a while, but it was awkward trying to catch up while pretending to be talking to two other people.  Looking at some dude and asking him if he still plans on stripping when he gets out.

It became really difficult when the two other people started to talk to each other at us.

“Do you think they ever fucked?” the guy asked me.

“I can’t figure it out,” her friend told her.

We finally decided to wrap it up.

“Well, I’m glad you’re here,” she said, getting up from the table.

“Me too, bro. It’s good to see you.”

That was it.  That was the last time we talked.  I’d run into her around the rehab and we’d do the slight nod to each other, then I stopped seeing her. I’m pretty sure she got released before me, because one day she was gone.   I never saw her again.

Too bad.  She was a cool chick.  I wish we could have stayed in touch.

So I guess I’m hoping this entry is like a note in a bottle that I’ve thrown on the seas of the internet.  I’m hoping that she’s alive and well, and will somehow, some day, stumble upon this while surfing.  Even though I changed her stage name, she’ll know it’s her.  After all, how many women have had a mounted rack of multicolored turkey basters by their bed?

If you are reading this, I want to thank you for being a good friend during a hard time, and for entertaining me, and always keeping things interesting.  I really owe you for that.  Let me know if there’s anything I can do.

And that’s when she broke out the turkey baster.

Let's party!

Let’s party!

A Tale of Two Rehabs

My first rehab was in Laguna Beach.  My second one was in North Hollywood.  I could see the ocean from my window at the first one.  My view from the second featured a neon clown in front of a liquor store.  The first time was in July.  The second was in January.  I got a tan at the first one, and a flu at the other.  I could make out with chicks in my room at the first rehab.  I was written up for making “sustained eye-contact with the opposite sex” at the other.  You get it. Very different.  Different results, too.

At the second rehab, my roommate was a Russian gang-banger from Montebello, who had gotten accepted into a hispanic gang.  I’ll let you figure out how.  He was a young guy with a shaved head, baggy pants, and lots of homegrown ink.  His family moved from Russia when he was five, and he quickly adapted to his new environment.  Boris from The Black Sea was a bad-ass little fucker, and as far as I was concerned, an immigrant success story.

Back then, the second place was full of people being diverted from prison into rehab instead.  Most just did what they would’ve done if they were locked-up.  I looked out at the yard while I was still in detox.  There were guys in beanies and denim coats playing dominoes or walking the track, dropping now and then to do burpees or push-ups.  They wore work pants and flannel, either house shoes or white sox and shower sandals, all de rigueur for the perennially institutionalized.  I wasn’t in Laguna Beach anymore.

Boris and I became friends.  He was a funny dude, and we connected.  The laughs worked like Bondo on the more gaping fractures in my soul.  One night while he was sharpening a toothbrush handle into a shank, I told him about the first rehab.

The irony was that while at the second place, I was surrounded by some seriously sketchy characters, it was at the fun-filled, beach condo rehab in Orange County, where I really worried for my safety.  And, the danger came in the strangest guise.

It started with Granny.  They brought her in on my sixth day there.  She was a crazy, white-haired, 80-year-old woman, who the staff told us, stabbed her husband while she was drunk.  “She didn’t kill him, so…”  So what?  So now she get’s to come in here and live with us for a while?  Oh fuck that.  An 80-year-old man wouldn’t get that kind of slack.  His dentures would be soaking on a bunk in Corcoran.  What gives?

“Dude, that’s fucked up,” Boris said.  He took out his lighter and heated up the toothbrush.  After warming up the plastic, he began pulling and flattening it, then went back to sharpening.

“Why don’t you just go downstairs and get a knife from the cafeteria?”

“I don’t know, it’s just something to do. Go on.”

She wasn’t the cute and cuddly kind of old woman either.  She had mean eyes and sneered a lot.  A Madame Defarge.  She was cantankerous and crotchety, but she could put on her grandma mask when it served her.   I saw her smile at one of the counselors and “Yes dearie” him, but as soon as he turned away, her face soured into glaring hatred.  She was working the system, biding her time until…she could strike again.

I watched her carefully during meals.  Why does she need a steak knife for cutlet?  Give her a butter knife, or better yet, a wooden spoon.  If this old bitty decides to go wide-o with a blade, it’s going to be hard to take her down.  You can’t just run up and belt the old broad.  Clobber her with a fire extinguisher, and you’re going to do time, whether she came at you with a knife or not.  No, there’ll be a lot of dancing around, avoiding her swipes and pokes, while trying to grab for the shiv.  I hate to depend on finesse.  Things tend to get clumsy when the shit erupts.  I had decided I would use my food tray as a shield, protect the vital organ, and just play defence until SWAT got there.

“I’d just tip the table on her and bolt,” Boris said.  Crude, but effective.  I had to admit his idea was better.  That was a breakthrough for me, accepting the fact that somebody else might have a better idea.  Of course, this nugget of realization was nestled in some insane thinking, but any realization at that point was a victory.

It turned out Granny was the least of my worries.  I told Boris about Jimmy The Geek.  One day, one of the counselors brought up to my room a google-eyed, belt-above-the-naval, dorkenhoffer with a Vicodin problem.  I’ll call him “Jimmy.”  He was going to replace the snoring pharmacist that checked out that morning.  Good, I thought, maybe now I can get some sleep.  Strange thing was, that although this guy was a Class A, textbook version of nerdhood, my body reacted to him in primal fear.  I swear to you, the hair stood up on the back of my neck when I shook his hand.  I had no idea why.  It just did.

The first thing he did, after shaking my hand and introducing himself, was hand me a piece of paper.  It was a Xeroxed copy of an old Newsweek article.  “You need to read this,” he says.  “Yeah, sure,” I say. “No really, you NEED to read it!”  “Okay,” I tell him.  I didn’t feel like reading Newsweek right then.  It’s old news when it comes out fresh, so a Xerox from the 80’s was really going to be stale.  I glance down at the article.  It was something about a little kid who stabbed his parents while they were sleeping.  He didn’t kill them.  So what?  Who cares?  I folded it up and put it in my pocket.

There was something odd about this bug-eyed dweeb, something beyond his looks, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.  Something menacing about him.  Ah, I was tripping.

“Dude, that’s the guy!  He’s the one in the paper, as a little kid.  He’s the sleep stabber!”  Boris was excited.  He was now listening wide-eyed.  He had his knees up to his chin.

“Yeah okay, you’re fucking up my story, dude.” I told him, “I didn’t snap to this yet, alright?”

“Dense, bro.”

I continued to tell him about how during some of the meetings that day, Jimmy “shared” about some of the bad things he did.  I’d rather not say here what, but they were disturbing.  Even Boris was a little shocked.  Enough said.  The meetings took on a heavy vibe of disgust as Jimmy let us get to know him better.  So, this was my new roommate.  Jolly good.

During one of the breaks, I remembered the article and pulled it out.  It was about some parents suing the psychiatrist that prescribed their son’s psych meds.  The kid stabbed them while they slept, and they had to blame someone.  In the article, the shrink claimed that the kid didn’t show any danger signs before this incident.  In the margin, written in pencil, someone wrote “Oh yes HE DID!!!!!!!!”  Hmm.  There were other annotations, all made by someone with an apparent personal involvement with the events reported.

Okay, this was a little kid…but… the article was almost ten years old.  I wasn’t delighted in the way things were adding up.  I looked at the name of the kid.  It was “Jimmy.”  Interesting.  Same name as the sick psycho fuck who handed me this Xerox telling me I NEED to read it.  Could there be a connection?  Boris started howling.

“I fucking knew it!” he laughed, “No sleep tonight for you!  Your bunky might get stab-happy. Did you stick him first?”

“Dude. I’m in rehab, not Pelican Bay.  I can’t shank the dude because he creeps me out.  I was tempted to puss out and complain to staff, but how would that look?”  He nodded.  “So I tried to become his best buddy, that is, after I secured a huge cake knife under my mattress.”

Unfortunately, as Jimmy and I became buddies, he opened up more.  He shared more, and I got scared more.  Personally, I thought drugs were the least of his problems, although I’m sure they didn’t help.  At lights out, Jimmy informed me that he also had a condition that made him unable to sleep for days at a time, which he warned might make him crankier when he started to kick.  He said he would probably just spend the night sitting up, “trying to maintain.”  Great.

“I’ll be here for you, brother,” I said, my fingers tucked under my mattress.

Neither of us slept a wink that night.  Jimmy was sitting up cross-legged, talking to himself while listening to something over his headphones.  Recorded instructions from Satan, I imagined.  His Coke bottle glasses made him look like a mumbling locust.  Meanwhile, I kept one eye open the whole night.  I remember trying to get God to forgive me- for a lot of stuff.  I was really pleading my case.

“I even prayed,” I confessed, “Oh God, I’m so scared, please help me!”

“A classic.”

“Yeah, standard stuff, but fucking heartfelt. The next morning I was a wreck.  I was still detoxing and raw, and now hadn’t gotten any sleep.  I didn’t know how I was going to go another night with this ghoul sitting up next to me.  ‘Ok God,’ I finally said, ‘I can’t deal with this shit.  If you’re out there, and you’re not too busy, I’d love for you to take care of this thing.’  What the hell, right?  What do I have to lose?  I’m out of ideas at this point.  I give up.  I put back the cake knife, and go to my morning group session.  During that session, Jimmy gets pulled out of group, and I never see him again.  His insurance didn’t go through so they bounced his ass out.”

“Where did he go?”

“He got into a taxi and drove to Montebello.”

Boris laughed.  “Ah man, I would cap his geek ass.”

“How could you?  He only comes when you’re asleep.”

“Do you think it was the prayer? I mean, do you think that helped get rid of him?”

I couldn’t say for sure.  It seemed like a coincidence, but who says those don’t count?  I just know I felt better thinking that it was.  We were getting sleepy and decided to turn out the light.  Boris put away his crafts project.  We laid there in the dark for a while.

“Hey Boris, maybe there is something out there that we can tune into that will help us.”

“I fucking hope so, dude.  Buenas noches, carnal.”

“A ti.”

I turned over and went to sleep.  I slept well that night, the glow from a neon clown bathing us both in its protective light.

Happy, Joyous, and Free

Cuddling Catcus in The Desert of Love

Proceed With Caution

Black Sabbath was playing over the stereo.  On TV, the German 6th Army was surrounded by the Russians, and was freezing to death.  I was drinking a beer and looking at the socks on my feet.  All was well in the world.  The only way it could be better was if there was some female company there to enjoy the perfection of that moment.

There was a knock at my door.  Not a cop knock, or a drunk buddy knock, but a tippy-tap chick knock.  The Universe.  I jumped up and put on some pants.  A lost little girl on her way to Grandmother’s?  Or… just a cop knocking like a chick, to get me to open up.  I paused.  If it is the cops, I’ll just have to pay for the lock anyway.  I slowly opened the door, hoping for a mystery dream date.

It was the biker chick who moved in next door.  It made sense that she’d be the woman The Universe would send.  Great sense of humor, The Universe.

I had already decided I didn’t like her when I overheard her jaw at the two hayseed meth addicts that helped her move.  “Hey Fucker, watch it!  I won that mirror at the fair!”  “Where the fuck is my lighter?  Did you steal my fucking lighter?” “Dalton! I swear if you break that, I’m gonna break your face!”  She was personality-challenged, and she didn’t have the looks to make up for it.  Hopefully she’ll want to drink all my beers, too.

“Got a beer?” she asked, taking off her buckskin jacket and throwing it on the chair that served as my hamper.  She wore a leather vest, revealing a beef jerky-textured cleavage formed by two flattened and freckled breasts.

“Yeah sure,” I said, “But I’m kinda low, I might have to make a run pretty soon, and that’s going to be iffy since my car doesn’t have any brakes.”  This didn’t seem to register.  She stood looking around at my apartment.  She had straight black hair that hung-down like the Land O Lakes Butter maiden.  But unlike the Land O Lakes Butter maiden, who is hot, this woman had rugged features that were probably etched deeper by frequenting smokey and boozy environs.  A harsh life had scoured any softness from her face.  She looked hard.  Prison time and honky-tonk hard.  I don’t generally go for chicks that look tougher than me.

She didn’t waste any time getting under my skin.  “Wow, this place is thrashed! It smells weird in here. Hey turn the music down. What’s this shit you’re watching?”

I looked at her amazed.  Mom, is that you?  I wished the cops had come instead.  I could turn down the Sabbath, they’d run me for warrants, and then leave.  This buzz-kill was going to be a little trickier to get rid of.  I went over and gave a token dial-down on the volume.

“To what do I owe the honor of this occasion?” I asked, getting a beer from the fridge, but not before stashing two in the vegetable drawer.

“Oh, I don’t know. I was bored and I heard the music,” she said, taking the beer.  She flung back her hair and tilted the bottle.  I watched her drain half of it in one pull.  Six ounces in three seconds.  I figured I should just start walking to the store now.

“My name is Toni, but everyone calls me Tehachapi.”  She held out her hand.  I shook it.  It was a firm handshake.  Great.  A cornball handle and a manly mitt.  Sweet deal, all around.

“Well Tony, would you like to have a seat?”  I pulled up a milk crate.  “That’s okay, I’d rather lay down here.”  She flopped on my mattress and started to kick off her boots.  She took out a pack of Marlboro Reds.  They were in a tooled leather purse with beaded suede fringe.  A swap meet purchase, I imagined.  Probably the same vendor that sold her that silver and turquoise lighter holder.  “Do you have an ashtray?” she asked, already lighting up.

“Ah yeah, it’s totally cool to smoke in here,” I assured her.  I handed her an empty bottle to use.

This is so bad, I thought, on so many levels, I don’t know which one I should fixate on.  Maybe I should just focus on the fact there’s some sort of a representation of a woman on my bed.  That has traditionally been considered a good start for me.  Perhaps if I drink a lot of beers, in a very short time, things will somehow improve.  I cracked a fresh one and sat down on the milk crate.  I looked over at the TV and watched troops pull a field artillery piece through the snow.  This was going to be hard.

“My name is…”  Hold it. Real name? Lives next door now. Fake one won’t help. “…Marius.”

“What is it?”

“Marius.”

“That’s a weird name.”

“Yep…It sure is.”

I looked over and saw a German soldier running through the rubble.  A sniper bullet caught him and he went down dead.  If it could only be that easy, I thought.  She pointed to my bookshelf.

“Hey, you got Scrabble!  I loved playing that with my Grandma.”

“Yeah well, I don’t really play it anymore.”

“I’m not very good with spelling, but I’m good at coming up with words.”

“That’s hard to pull off,” I said, “That’s really awesome.”

She killed off her beer, and set the bottle down on the floor.  “That was good. Got another?”

Ok, I need to be called away to some emergency.  What kind of emergency happens at 10:30 at night?  Loads, but I can’t think of one right now, not one that would need me hanging around.  I have eight beers left and that was going to be pushing it even flying solo.  Now this thing happens.  Well, I can’t let her lap me.  I slammed my beer and got up and got two more.

She began telling me about herself, but somehow I already knew it.  Alcoholic parents, abusive marriages, kids taken away, some stripping, some prostitution, drugs, county jail, rehab, bartending, carnival gig, transporting meth to Indiana for her biker boyfriend, state prison, rehab again, and now collecting welfare and selling Mary Kay.  It was a depressing saga, and I was fairly immune to those by then.  Her story curb-kicked anything I had resembling a high into shit-smeared bummer.  Oh, and she’d never even been to Tehachapi.

The liquor store was inevitable.  I told the Old Maiden of the Iron Horse to kick up her heels while I rolled on down to the store.

The car really didn’t have brakes.  I had to rely on the parking brake and my psychic hunches about when lights were going to change.  It was a good thing I was an intuitive, or it would’ve been crazy dangerous.  I coasted to a stop at Owl Liquors, but I overshot the drive-thru and had to get out of the car to order from the window.  The ride back was uneventful, except for the car wreck going on in my mind.

“Where the fuck is your remote?” she asked as I walked through the door.  I told her it was a long story, and that reaching up to change the channel was a good ab work-out.  I put the beers in the fridge and added two more to the vegetable drawer.

We drank and she talked some more.  The drunker she got, the flirtier she became.  The flirtier she became, the drunker I needed to get.  I prayed for a deus ex machina to descend from the sky and save me.  I kept bringing up what an early morning I had ahead, but she kept on yammering and beating her eyelids at me.

“Why don’t you come lay down next to me and make yourself more comfortable?  You’re all hunched up,” she says.

My ass had deep x’s imprinted in it from the milk crate, but I wasn’t about to make myself more comfortable.  It seemed like I couldn’t impair my judgement fast enough to keep up with events.

“I like being hunched up,” I told her, “I think I was a cathedral gargoyle in a past life.”  I started to tell her about how my grandmother spilled an entire pint of cognac in her purse at St. Patrick’s Catherdral, but she interupted with, “Hey, do you want to fuck?”

Oh God. Panic in Detroit.  Things around me began to stretch and distort.  The lines in the room started to point upwards at crazy angles, like in German Expressionist set design.  I couldn’t remember the last time I said no to that question.  I didn’t think I knew how.  I was going to have to learn fast.

“Yeah I’d love to except that I don’t have any condoms, and I’m having an outbreak, and I’m a little confused about my sexuality these days, and I don’t want to rush things, and I’m too drunk, and I have a girlfriend.”

“Well then scaredy cat, just come over here and cuddle with me for a while.”

Could this really be happening to me?  I tried to wake myself up.  No, still here.  The problem was I didn’t want to hurt her feelings.  I know.  I’m lame like that.  Was it time to fake a seizure?

“Oh, if there’s one thing I love to do, it’s cuddle,” I said.  I slowly got up.  I wanted to be a fly, or a pencil in a cup, or a ball of dryer lint, anything but me right then.  I laid down next to her.  She burrowed her face into my armpit, and just like that, she was out cold.  The Universe.  Nothing like adding a little drama with a last-minute save.

I looked down at her.  Her face seemed to soften.  I pictured what she looked like as a young girl, back when she had no idea how bad things would get.  That made me feel even more sorry for her.  I found myself feeling bad because I didn’t even want to love her.  But, I wanted somebody to love her, eventually.  Nobody’s life should be non-stop bullshit, and if it is, they should at least have one partner in crime.  Would it kill me to let her pretend for a while?  Clearly I’m not averse to doing things that could kill me.  Besides, I was drunk.  I had the all-purpose excuse already in my back pocket.

I leaned back. I thought about war on the Eastern Front.  That was hard.  This should be easy, well…easier.  You’re just holding another human being.  Fucking relax. I listened to my clock tick for a while, and then remembered the beers in the vegetable drawer.  I wondered if I could get to them without waking her up.  She started to snore as my arm fell asleep.

“Cry Help, Fool!” The Rehab Revue

I awoke in an unfamiliar room. This was hardly new. There were three other dudes still sleeping in the beds around me.  It was a moldy group, clearly losers I had been partying with, but couldn’t remember.  Then it hit me.  This hotel room didn’t have a bathroom.  This wasn’t a hotel room at all.  This was rehab.  A detox unit.  If there was a party, it’s over now.

There’s an elevator-landing-in-your-gut feeling when that realization crawls into your consciousness.  Major dragage.  Besides all the physical discomfort, there’s the open sewage pouring into your soul.  Ok, this might not even be happening.  You’ve seen a lot of things that weren’t really there, old boy.  This is probably just a bad dream brought on by alcohol poisoning.  You’re probably just dying.  Don’t worry, it’s not really rehab.  Blink it away.  Blink it away.  Blink this fucking room with no bathroom away!

I was still blinking when an attendant came in.  He looked like the singer from Static X.  A reformed one of us, I figured.  He had a clipboard.  “Alright guys, it’s time to get up.”  I got to watch their expressions as they came to.  Some were baffled, others resigned.  We were told to make our beds.  I hadn’t made my bed in 17 years.  It seemed a losing effort.  Eventually, it would get unmade.  Make it.  Unmake it.  What utter futility!  It’s the torment of Greek myths.  In a world gone this mad can you see why I need to drink?  I made my bed, but now I wanted to lay in it.

We were shuffled off to the medical office for a check-up and possible meds.  I rode in this rodeo before.  Meds meant hope.  Meds meant maybe a little better.  Meds also meant it was time to dust off my thespian performance cape.  A tragic Danish prince with serious life issues is one role, but someone who is prone to seizure if not medicated is another.  I intended my Hamlet to be both.  I sat across the doctor’s desk and made sure he could see my shaking hands.

I get uncomfortable when people ask me a series of questions.  Usually, it has to do with the surroundings.  Hospital, crime scene, first date, booking room, shrink’s office, time-share presentation, or job interview.  It’s never where I’d prefer to be at the moment.  The right answers will facilitate me getting out of there the fastest, but are they the honest ones?  Rarely.  My other problem has to do with the Aristotelian nature of so many of the questions.  Yes or no.  Many times the answer is both and neither. “Can I get back to you on that one?” never seems to fly.  I also suck at remembering “when?”  When did the problem start?  When did you first notice this?  When did you leave the motel?  When did you sell this gun to the guy you can’t remember?

“I have to impress upon the court, that my client often has trouble remembering the events of last night.  Only with intense study of credit card receipts, matchbooks, and food stains, can any sort of time line be put together.”

Sadly this time, my honest answers were enough to get me a jackpot of medication. Yahoo!  I’m really sick!  They were right about the truth setting you free. I got my pills and rolled out into the day room to check out the other guests.  Let’s see who else ran out of rainbow.  The tableaux looked like something out of a cheap community theater production. There was the toothless White Trash meth-head, a red-faced street drunk, and a ghoulish heroin addict.  There was also a guy that looked like my Dad.  I found out that he had drank isopropyl alcohol when he ran out of Cutty Sark and almost died. Paaaartay!

Breakfast trays were rolled in on a cart by some trustee with a spider web tattoo across his neck and cheek.  He was clearly someone who understood the benefits of taking a cafeteria job when institutionalized.  I wasn’t hungry.  Besides, I wanted a nice empty stomach to grind up whatever pills they gave me.  Until then, I looked around for any distraction.  There were some dusty board games held together by masking tape.  They had Scrabble.  Hmm.  I scanned the room for a possible Scrabble partner. Forget it.  On one of the tables were some magazines  featuring shit I didn’t care about, like the news, the outdoors, decorating, sports, people, fashion, and health. In jail I’d read anything, but I wasn’t that desperate.  No need to make soldiers out of toilet paper and toothpicks,  just yet.

I hit pay dirt when I saw a  black dude with dreads.  Right away, I just knew.  I got that long-lost friend feeling.  “Welcome to the party,” he said to me.  “I was just about to step out and get more beer and ice.”  I had found a life raft.  It turned out he was a drummer in a famous punk rock band.  More importantly he was brilliant and funny.  He made those first days bearable.  I owe that man more than I can ever repay.

There were others.  Boris the Russian, a 19-year-old gang-banger heroin junkie. Vern, a commercial burglar and speed freak.  Richie, a porn producer from Chatsworth with a bouquet of addictions.  There was also Big Ron, a massive toxic waste dump of a biker, who lived with his mother.  They weren’t about to replace Mt. Rushmore, but they were all good men.  They made me laugh when things didn’t seem so funny, and I was very grateful.  How did I get so lucky?  When I found myself asking this in a rehab in North Hollywood, surrounded by some seriously fucked up social rejects, I knew I was on the mend.

In rehab, good company will take you far, but it won’t let you miss your stop at Bummerville.  Afterall, no matter how deranged and deluded you are when you crash, you can’t help but see a little clearer when the dust settles.  There’s the gnawing fact that what landed you here is also what helped you cope with out there.  Sticky situation.  A doozy of a puzzler.  A motherfucking quandary.  I decided to play along  until I could figure out an angle.  In the meantime, I was discharged from Detox to Residential Stay.  I took a diploma, and was even chosen valedictorian at the ceremony.

It was February of 2004.  It rained non-stop that month.  I was glad.  I wanted my outside to look as depressing as my insides felt.  The place was mostly populated by Prop 36 inmates. They had been offered the choice between prison and rehab.  This was the easier softer way, but they gave the joint a certain jail vibe.  In fact, Boris was grinding down a toothbrush into a shiv on a brick he had found when I moved into my room.  “I would use the brick first,” I said, ” and keep the dental hygiene as back up,”  He laughed.  We introduced ourselves.

Boris was skinny and fluorescent white.  He had a shaved head and wore the Pendleton-Dickies combo so pop with the barrio murder crowd.  His family had moved from the Black Sea to Montebello.  How romantic.  He adapted to his environment and began to gang-bang with the homies.  Because he was Russian, he did a lot of extra stuff to prove he was worthy of their respect.  Some of the shit he later told me,  made my teeth sweat.  Russians can be cruel bastards, but the hybrid you get when you cross one with a vato loco is an exceptionally potent psycho.

Somehow, we hit it off right away.  Because I wasn’t clueless about Latino street culture and protocol, and versed well enough in the vernacular to get myself into serious trouble, we could communicate.  We formed an alliance.  At least I didn’t have to worry too much about him trying to rape me while I slept.  Seems like a small thing, but again, I was grateful.  This was a new habit I was developing.

That first night as I sat on my bed,  I could see a big neon sign of a circus clown advertising a liquor store across the street.  It was a fiendish taunt, and a little heavy-handed in its irony. I hate clowns, but I love liquor.  The rain on the windows made the clown wiggle and dance.  It was like being stuck  in a student art film.  The clown spoke to me.  “Hey there glum chum!” he said, “I’ve got just the thing to turn that frown upside down.”  We weren’t locked in.  I could bug out anytime.  Many others did.  But I knew if I walked across that street and bowed down to that clown, I might never straighten up again.  It was time for the fucking circus to sweep up its elephant shit and get out of town.  I unmade my bed and went to sleep.

"Hey Kiddies, who's thirsty?" Circus Liquor, next to Cri-Help Rehabilitation Center