Saturday, July 17, 2010

Chapter Three (Untitled Collaboration)


I’ve wasted a lot of my life sitting on my ass in front of a TV. Well, I personally don’t consider it wasted, but most people would. I can always reference something in life to some small exchange of dialogue in some B movie where I learned a lesson in Technicolor courtesy of MGM or the like.

I end up saying shit all the time comes straight out of a movie. Hardly anyone else has the particular talent to pick up on the fact that I am a total plagiarist. A couple of years ago, I had a lengthy exchange with a young woman in Overton Park. She told me I had helped her understand her mother’s problems better than any therapist she’d seen and that I should take the twenty bucks she offered me.

I took the money but have felt guilty ever since. Everything I said to her I got verbatim from The Courtship of Eddie’s Father. I gave her nothing but a rehashed page from a 30-year-old TV script, and she gave me genuine gratitude and enough money to eat on for over a week.

I am a plagiarist. Even my Quixote-esque move to the streets is a cliché. The noblest thing I have ever done is a damned after-school special.

Now what am I doing? Waiting on the dude that ruined my life so I can cathartically avenge myself in some ridiculous way?

“I vow to be original this time!” I say, much too loudly. People steer wide around me and quickly cut their eyes at me and then away. Crazy homeless dude talking to himself. Cliché.

I fucking hate myself sometimes.

I’m cracking. I know this. But there’s still time. Time to get Bob. Time to wall his ass up in some dreary passage way. Shit, that’s from Night Gallery, 1967, via the old Poe story. How do I kill this prick in a way that is uniquely me?

I pull in a drag on a Swisher Sweet I lifted from the Exxon as I make my way back downtown. I am at the crosswalk across from Autozone Park, in full sun. Right where Bob came by. Feels great on my busted face. Bob is a creature of habit. That burger he had was not some miserable squashed thing from Burger King. It was a diner burger with a nice little wrapper to hold in all the toppings. Got to be Hueys-to-go.

TV taught me how to pay attention. There are no mistakes or accidents in TV. Every damned thing happens for a reason. For a reason, dammit.

I blow smoke as the wind shifts and feel my eyes turn red. I flick the ashes and stick the thumb of my other hand in my one unbroken belt-loop in my jeans. “Anyone have the time?” I say to the 11:15 crowd, as casual as a Delta lawyer.

“11:16, Punchy,” says the police officer who is suddenly in my face. Same craggy old beat-cop that was so helpful yesterday. “Time to get movin.’”

“Officer,” I say as obsequiously as I can manage, “I’m meeting someone here in a few minutes.”

“Oh, no shit,” he says as he takes my arm, “Elvis?”

Considering the fact that just yesterday I saw a formerly dead, bloated guy at this intersection, the notion of running into The King gets me tickled. Suddenly, I’m laughing. Hard. Real genuine soulful guffawing.

“Elvis!” I say nearly doubled over and feeling a head rush that’s affecting my balance. “Oh, damn that’s funny….”

“So what’s in the cigar, friend? I’m not that funny,” he says while holding me up with one very powerful arm and reaching behind his back with the other.

My laughter abruptly stops when I feel the cold steel on my wrist.

“Other hand, Punchy,” he says as casually as if he’s asked me to pass the salt. “You seem a bit too out of it, even for out here. You’ll scare the tourists.”

I’m terrified. Not about being arrested. That happens occasionally. It is an occupational hazard in my line of work. I have made a spectacle of myself a bit, and I am tired enough from lack of sleep to appear inebriated. I get his concern. But I am terrified that I’ll miss Bob.

“Seriously, man, I really am meeting someone. Here, let me walk the line, touch my nose… Z, Y, X, W…”

He has one hand securing my cuffed wrists behind me and the other on the collar of my light jacket.

“I’m arresting you for public drunk,” he announces, a little louder than I think necessary. “Let me tell you your rights.” He Mirandizes me as we move down the street.

I strain against him enough to see the street but not enough for him to interpret me as resisting arrest, hoping to catch a glimpse of a black SUV. Total time since I was cuffed is about twenty seconds, and we are already in a fairly unused alley with no patrol car in sight. He hasn’t radioed anything about what he is doing or who he has arrested. In fact, he doesn’t have a radio.

I’ve watched enough television to know something is not right. Not right at all.

“Hey, Officer,” I say, as conversational as I can with my feet touching the ground every third step or so. “I’ve been here awhile, and I don’t think I know you. Transfer from somewhere?”

We “unroofed” tend to know the local law enforcement fairly well. New faces show up downtown only rarely. I look at his shirt and finally notice that there is no pin with his name on it. I get a sour feeling in my stomach.

He turns me around against the sun-warmed brick of the alley with his hand on my throat.

“Yeah, transferred,” he says as his free hand goes to his pistol, “from Phoenix.”

I hear the schick of metal against leather as he pulls his pistol, then a dull sickening thud that seems to shudder through both of us. I may have pissed myself a bit.

He lurches forward and his grip on me loosens. Suddenly he’s hugging me like a lost brother. He slumps to the ground like a sack of wet sand, and I see Brennon smiling behind him, a length of re-bar in his hand.

“Brennon, you stupid fuck!” He cowers and the light goes out of his eyes like a scolded puppy who’s piddled the floor. There is a distant sense of pride I feel for him, but I can’t acknowledge it right now. “He wasn’t gonna kill me, Brennon!” I say this because it makes sense, but my pounding heart tells me I don’t believe it.

“Do you…” Brennon says, a mixture of fear and awe in his voice, “do you think I kilt him?”

I make myself look down. I have seen dead people a few times on the highway or frozen in alleys but am unacquainted with the freshly deceased.

The guy is at least in his fifties but powerfully built. Like a boxer from bare-knuckle days. I’m still bothered by the fact that he doesn’t have a radio. What kind of cop goes out without the ability to call the cavalry?

Glancing around to make sure no one has followed us to investigate, I crouch down and begin searching him. Attached to his belt is a cell phone. I pocket it and continue looking. By the time I’m done I have found the phone, a wallet, a small bottle of white pills. No sign of a badge or anything identifying him as a police officer.

“C’mon, Bren, we gotta head out before the real fuzz show up.”

“You won’t tell will you? You won’t tell that I hit him?”

“I’m not telling anyone shit. Let’s go.”

“I’m a cop killer. They’ll kill me… they’ll…”

He begins to convulse, doubling over into himself sobbing. For someone with absolutely no sense, he sure has a sense of mortality.

I turn and face him, grabbing his shoulders with my hand.

“Look, Bren, he’s not a real cop. He’s pretending. You were defending me, so no one is going to arrest you.”

Not that you’d ever convince a jury to convict him. One look at Brennon, one word out of his mouth, and you know that this kid couldn’t maliciously hurt anyone. Half mental kid takes out a thug posing as a police officer? At the worst, he’d end up in a psych ward with three meals a day and a bed.

We make our way back to the street, blending in the best we can with the lunch crowd. It’s hard to blend when no one wants to stand within ten feet of you, though. I try to decide where we should go from here. Somewhere safe, somewhere I can piece my thoughts together and figure out what the hell is happening.

Sammy’s. It’s not far and by the time we get there, the lunch crowd will be finishing up. Maybe he’ll even offer us something to eat. Sammy’s good people. Real good people.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Chapter Two (Untitled Collaboration)

Chapter Two (Untitled Collaboration)

V.Cassidy/A. Guthrie

“Hey, man, hey, where you been?”

Brennon’s standard greeting. Always concerned that I’m having fun without him. Or that I won’t come back.

It seems I’m the only person who really gives a shit about him. Sadly, a shit is about all anyone would give. Brennon may possibly be the most pitiful human being I’ve ever encountered.

And I worked in L.A.

I first crossed paths with Brennon about a year and a half ago. He looks to be in his early to mid twenties, but he says he’s sixteen. The guys who know him say he’s been sixteen for at least three years. No one knows what happened to him around the time of that magical birthday to put his brain on a permanent age loop.

DHS removed Brennon from his parents’ home when he was in elementary school sinc they were running a meth lab out of their trailer. They would sometimes use Brennon as a guinea pig, testing up their new batch of goodies. Shits and giggles.

He claims to have three sisters, none of whom he has seen since. From what I’ve pieced together, he’s been in at least eight different foster homes and state facilities. Each one with new rules, new schedules and inevitably a new shrink.

But there was no name for Brennon’s condition. Med school doesn’t equip doctors to treat sheer fucked-upness. Nonetheless, the list of diagnoses turned into a laundry list of mental illnesses. Depression. Anxiety. Borderline personality disorder. PTSD. ODD. ADD. And with each diagnosis came a different set of pills, a new regimen of treatments. What was left of Brennon’s fragile, meth-ridden mind and psyche was eradicated along the way. The road to hell, you know?

I found him after a couple wannabe-gang bangers beat the shit out of him behind a Piggly-Wiggly after school one day. He couldn’t tell me where he was living at the time.

No one came to look for him. No one seemed to care.

Now he’s living on the streets where a real diagnosis isn’t necessary. Everyone out here just falls somewhere on the crazy spectrum. Treatment? Booze.

“I’ve been out Brennon.”

“I brought you a fruit.”

Ah, the cantaloupe.

“Yes, Brennon, I know. Thank you.”

“It was a big fruit.” He drops his voice and looks at me seriously. “And dangerous.”

“The fruit was dangerous, Brennon?”

Brennon’s lopsided smile, a hint of mischief.

“No, getting it. Getting the fruit. That was dangerous.”

It’s getting dark and I’m too tired to even ask, though I’m sure he’ll elaborate

“I’m sure it was Brennon.”

I unpack my blanket and fold it out on the ground. Lying down, I close my eyes as Brennon continues to talk about his “big fruit” adventure.

Behind my lids, a carousel of images revolve.

Hannah. Angie. A house. A car.

Round and round the faces go, where they’ll stop…

But the prevailing image is that of a man—-Bob. Bob smiling, sneering, laughing, screaming. The Bob I knew and the Bob from today.

A thousand memories rush over me, accompanied by a wave of nausea.

Airplanes. Women. Cars. Whiskey. Cocaine. Hotels. Lights. Camera.


I sit straight up on my pallet, fighting for air. I have fallen asleep. My clothes are soaked in sweat and my nose is bleeding again.

Brennon is snoring, sleeping what I pray is the dreamless sleep of the innocent. I jab him gently.

"Hey, Brennon, what's the date?"

He is the easiest person to wake I have ever seen and the most placid when jarred from sleep.

"You got a date?" he says, soulfully interested, bright-eyed with an unruly mop of sandy brown hair. He could be just some regular kid rolling over in his own warm bed and waking to exchange secrets in the dark with his brother.

"No shit-for-brains," I say mock-harshly. "What is the date of the year?"

Since I tend to lose track of days, I’ve bestowed the honor upon Brennon of keeping up with a small calendar. Brennon takes his job quite seriously. Pretty handy, when your days are only divided by the traffic and the specials in the deli dumpster. He sits up, rubs his eyes and digs the calendar from his pocket.

“Is it after midnight?”

“Pretty sure.”

"Then today is June 7th," he says, beaming. He gently puts the calendar back in this pocket and lies down. He is out again within five seconds.

I vomit, profusely, managing to get a few feet from my friend before I do.

The swirling miasma of the bizarre that is my life comes sharply into focus. The shitstorm swells to unload my guts on the stained alley way beneath the early Summer stars.

"Five years," I say through spit and undigested pieces of pasta. "Five years."

I sit, Yoga-style, not even bothering to wipe my mouth of the mess, real Hollywood homeless-crazy-like.

"Bob," I say, fearful that this is the next stage in my march toward true, unredeemable, whacked sonofabitch talking to himself, living in the past, rubbing food in the hair, burnt-brained raggedy man homeless. "Bob, you motherfucker, you've got some explaining to do."

You see, one undeniable talent I have learned from those who are unwashed and unroofed is never, never doubt what your senses are telling you—too cold to go to sleep, cops are coming, don’t eat the salmon. And never take false security in the idea that you’re just insane. That crackhead standing over you while you’re sleeping off a whiskey bender may not be your imagination.

I cover Brennon with my blanket, hoping it will offer him assurance that I’ll return. I grab my Wal-Mart bag and begin walking

I make my way out of downtown, up Union Avenue. After I cross over the Interstate, I find myself in front of the Methodist Hospital. I don’t really know where I’m going, I just need to walk.

The traffic heading out of the city picks up a bit. The drivers mostly appear young so I assume things must be winding down on Beale. It’s around 3:00, 3:30 maybe. I can only hope that I’m killed if I’m mowed down by a drunken frat boy. Then again, a wheelchair might make this gig easier. Everyone loves a cripple.

I hear a noise. A helicopter flies above me, heading for the regional trauma center a block away.

Tragedy in southern California today. A helicopter crash has claimed the lives of three people. Early accounts say that two adults and a minor were killed when the helicopter in which they were riding crashed during high winds. No additional information has been released at this time.

My hands are over my ears and I am running against my will. It takes a moment for my brain to make my legs stop. I look around, struggling to catch my breath and orient myself. A gas station. Fast food. Doctor’s office. I’m almost four blocks away from the hospital now. And at some point I crossed in front of traffic to the other side of Union.

Jesus, seven years and I still lose all semblance of sanity when I hear one of those giant metal mosquitoes.

I can still feel the wind ripping at me, the sand in my eyes.

I can still hear Bob’s bark, see him sneer.

Goddammit, either he flies lower or I’ll hire another pilot who can follow orders! Tell him to do it!

Once again, it all comes back to Bob.

Numb, I sit down on the sidewalk outside of the gas stations front door.

I strain my mind, trying to remember each detail from yesterday. SUV. Black. Not your run of the mill Chevy or Ford. Mercedes maybe?

I try to remember Bob’s face. Bob before he was swollen and blue. Pasty skin. Dark thinning hair. Jewish nose.

No, not this guy. This guy looks like he retired from the pages of a Calvin Klein ad circa 1997. Older and lined, but blonde, tan and still slightly chiseled. Perfect teeth between sneering lips.

But there was something, something about the way he shook his cheeseburger with one hand and gripped the steering wheel with the other. Something about the way he wore his sunglasses low on his nose. Something about the way his mouth twisted when he said “dipshit.”

There are some traits, some characteristics that no amount of surgery or therapy can change. We are who we are. Kabbalists refer to it as a “soul print.” It is the essence of who we truly are, that which make us each unique. Some believe this spiritual fingerprint connects us with other souls on earth. For Bob, it is just a brand that makes it easier to distinguish him from the other assholes in the herd.

Yes, the Aryan poster-child behind the wheel of the luxury SUV was my old friend Bob. My old dead friend Bob.

On the sidewalk, cradling my head between my knees to focus, I try to wrap my brain around this seemingly impossible conundrum. How does a guy that I watched die end up in my city, 1,500 miles from the hole he was buried in? And why the fuck doesn’t he look like Bob? I recognized him but why didn’t he recognize me when I look pretty much the same?

The door behind me opens into my back. I wince and turn around. A young man with a thick accent asks if I’m planning on buying anything. I say no but offer to sweep the parking lot in return for a hot cup of coffee. He disappears briefly and returns with a broom. He says something in his native language and tosses the broom at me.

As I sweep the lot, I try to remember how many times I used a broom in my old life. I never helped Angie with the housework. My mother was dead before I turned five, and my father hired people to clean our house. And while this task should remind me of my humble stature in life, I find a sense of pride. I am bettering my world. I am returning order. I am the broom god, determining the destiny of my garbage minions.

Fuck, I just need some coffee.

Dawn is arriving, and I make a decision. I will find Bob. I don’t know how I’ll find him. The city is full of assholes in SUVs. But it’s not like I have anything else to do with my time.