“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?”
"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.