‘The Hustler’ and ‘Slim’ (excerpted from ‘Death Powder’)

A wide orange sun was rising; slowly oozing over the horizon of the pavement and reflecting from the hood of a rumbling golden Cadillac. Knobby knuckles rimmed the leather steering wheel which was just beginning to burn.

I switched a hand from the wheel and slammed the dashboard. The air conditioner buzzed and spat- puttering out a worthless puff of cool air. Hot air blasted through the windows. Sweat was beading around my forehead, lips and into my damned eyes behind black glasses.

Summer’s were oppressive and steadily growing more so with each year. And the sun kept climbing. Rays toasted the pavement, early morning dew receeded quickly, burnt up and over the curb and off the grass running along the highway. I could smell it in the air; singed grass. The highway was unkempt, everything was unkempt. Dust and stone spiraled under the caddy’s wheels. Yellowed newspapers and cigarette butts kicked up along the curb.

The highway was still mostly empty and the air still mostly dead.

In the rear view mirror I pushed back glasses and thought of earlier that morning, well before the sun had begun to cook the earth.

Tiny hands and feet were pressing upon me, jumping up and down. I resisted bleary eyed frustration from lack of sleep; from nothing left to give, and smiled. Or tried to; my face felt taught, unbending.

The kids still smelled sweet; were still coated in the remnants of foggy dreams. The girl, with her pigtails askew and scratching blue pajamas and the boy, stark naked, both blinking back at me expecting something, expecting everything.

I had scooped each under each arm and swung them into the kitchen for breakfast.

The house was a mess. And it was as hot as everything else. It was narrow, leaning between a shitty bodega and an abandoned apartment building. The apartments had been long boarded up. Mostly, junkies used them to get off and sleep, but for me it was a money pit. Strange noises filtered in and out.

The house was the only thing I owned and the only thing still rooting me to that damned neighborhood. I remembered dipping hands and dishes in and out of some kind of murky green water; absentmindedly watching ants running up the cracks in the yellowed kitchen walls. They were coming out from a hole behind the coffee pot, pouring out as if there was something to get at. Black sludge ran around the sink. It smelled something awful, like an old trashcan left sitting out all through summer.

There was mold too. That gooey black substance rimmed everything; corners of the tiles and dotting the ceiling edges. And there was always this dust collecting in small piles in the corners of the rooms. It felt infested and so it probably was.

We had rodents in the ceiling. Water stains stretched out wide across and little holes poked through allowing falling rat droppings from time to time. I wished the ceiling would cave in already and swallow us all up.

Poverty is weighty. The kind of weighty that sags shoulders and forms lumps where the neck slopes down and out. The kind that seems to forever crane the neck, curve the back and drag the limbs. And especially so when you had two pairs of eyes watching you.

Someone else would have deemed the place unlivable, filed some sort of paper work and whisked themselves off somewhere better; somewhere that was clean and smelled nice. They would have dug deep and drug up some kind of optimism, some kind of silver lining, but that was someone else. My mind was bogged down; clogged with sludgy concern over affording food or over keeping the water on or over what it was I was supposed to do for these kids. I almost didn’t hear them behind me.

“Dad, when’s mommy comin’ back?” and it had been the boy. He was at the age of asking questions and I was running out of excuses.

“She aint.” Something hardened in my stomach.

Quick raps on the door and I turned wiping hands on my chest. I had left the door open in a stupor last night so I could see through the screen it was Slim. She was early.

“I’m sorry man,” she began, tweaking and scratching elbows with chewed fingertips. Tension creased along her forehead. Her hair fell in a stringy mop around bony, high cheek bones and wide, perhaps at times sensitive and intelligent dark eyes. Mostly they were cloudy when she was high on the stuff or flicking anxiously back and forth when she was waiting for it. Her lower lip was forever protruding outwards impatiently.

“I know I’m early,” she was nervous, afraid I would turn her away. I let the screen door slam behind me, “my fuckin’ phone died- I’ve been walking all night. You uh, you got anything?”

“Yeah, Slim.” It was best to use nicknames. There wasn’t much sense in getting to know the junkies beyond that. Mostly, they’d end up stiff and six feet under. Like Old Head. I used to serve Slim and Old Head together, and for a moment I wanted to ask- started to ask; started to feel sorry for the kid left running around alone… and stopped. It didn’t matter.

I could feel her eyes on my back, watching me turn the corner down the hall and imagined she caught sight of the kids in the kitchen. Maybe they locked eyes for a moment and she had felt suddenly strange; like an intruder, and took a few steps down the stoop. Anyway, that’s where I found her when I came back with the rolled bundle of waxy blue bags in my hand.

“Is it still the same stuff?” she could not resist a few toes forward. And by that she meant the same stuff that put her friend down a few days before. The same fetanoyl laced dope. Junkies were like that, once they got a whiff of some overdoses, they all came scrambling to whoever had sold the dead the stuff. It meant it was a dirty batch. It meant it was a good high.

They were unconcerned with the prospect of death. Let those who were really alive worry about it, junkies seemed half dead anyway. They barely clung to any kind of scrap of existence with that pale, rotting skin and unwashed hair.

I never touched the stuff. Mostly because the ones who did had this lingering darkness about them. The reaper followed their every sloppy step. I could almost smell the funeral flowers and embalming fluid on ’em.

After I nodded, she had taken the bundle greedily. A shiver ran under her skin and rattled her bones. Crumpled bills were pressed into my hand with a wide serene grin, and then she was thanking me. I was turning and flattening the bills, but I caught her nearly skipping down the crumbling steps and back into the hood.

That was this morning. And that was mostly how each morning went after my wife left. I remember the first few days afterwards. All the colors outside seemed to dim just a shade. Everything went a little grayer, a little more rotten.

My mind returned to the highway. At the next exit I spun off. It was the same exit I came on.

And once around the bend again, the inner slums of Camden rolled back out before me.

Sweat was running in rivers down my neck pooling at my lower back. The city always had some kind of desperate and gone feel to it.

Side walks under the blue and yellow awnings of the bodega’s and abandoned buildings were littered with faces no matter the time; just gone faces roaming aimlessly.

You could always tell how poor an city was by the amount of people walking around during the day, without work, and without anywhere to really be. And the smells on the blocks, the intermittent waves of old piss left out under the sun and fried food.

Out of the masses streaming along the sidewalk, a particularly grey faced man spotted me as I shifted into park and cut the worthless air. The rest of the heads continued wandering, tilting chins upwards and moving lips as if asking for something from the hot sun.

His feet cut left without loosing speed and swung into a full sprint across the street to me. His jowl swung low and loose. The nearer his feet drew him the nearer that stench of death reached me. I hated it. I hated them.

Other stone grey bodies began heading over. It was noon and it was a busier day than usual on the streets. The heat seemed to add frustration, more madness to it all.

All these clammy hands were pressing towards me, crumpled bills falling and collecting like puddles around my feet. I reached to scoop and headily pass bags back out. Their skin hung loose like sacks around bones. And they kept coming.

The emptiness, that death poured towards me and they were pressing into and leaning on the damned Caddy.

“Ay! Don’t scratch the thing!” I yelled with force over the fear I felt bubble in me, in my stomach and in my toes. Something felt off today. Something felt sloppy and too hasty. I was distracted, I was too hungry and I was passing out and collecting frantically….


 

SLIM

I was staring with intent, fucking leaning into the damned thing; expecting something to happen. Perhaps a fluttering of eye lids or a scratch at the welts in the creases of the inner elbow… Nothing.

The room was stuffy with silence and dying flowers. It had those low hanging amber lights with cobwebs caking the things, so it was dim. The ceilings were low and domed, carrying conversation high and pitching it back down for everyone else to hear.

I sensed an irritated line forming behind me. I was clogging the flow of impatient mourners. They all wore suits, ties, long black  and lacy dresses and their best jewelry. They got dressed up, fuckin’ dolled up to take one last peak at the dead.

I looked down, my jeans were ripping at the seams and my shoes had holes all over the bottoms. I wiped some kind of white powder from my chest, and ignored the line.

I was the only one left who really knew the guy anyhow. Everyone else was dead, or in jail. I recognized none of the faces attached to the tapping feet around me.

I leaned back into the casket and scrutinized “Old Head” one last time. That was his nickname, I never even knew his real first, or his real last name. I always just called him that because he was old, because he knew everything there was to know about dope and which was the best block on any given day, at any given hour.

He was my connection. And now he was nothing, just some kind of pale skinned shell with bloated cheeks and stuffed into a suit like some kind of Christmas goose.

It was surreal. I was just staring at the back of his very live neck from the back seat of his crusty old rust boat. Someone else, some other faceless junkie had been driving and Old Head was rapid fire chattering directions.

He was an idiot when it came to anything else; how to spell how to do basic math and I was convinced he didn’t know how to read. But the sets, he knew the sets like the chalky gnarled and blue veined insides of his forearms and each he would follow; in stone and in blood to find the center for that drool worthy high.

He was the man to have on your side if your pursuit in life was only to crumble into a nest of oozy, doped up warmth.

He was a city kid so he talked fast and with his fists. He was tall but appeared shorter, somehow stockier. Maybe the dope was weighing him down. Etched all over his arms ran these black and turning green jail tattoos. I never knew what any of them were for or how he got pinched- I always just assumed drugs.

In another life he would have worked at some lumber yard, would have taken a quiet wife with a plump face, raised a family and fell to drinking and violence. Instead he lived and breathed the streets. He lived and breathed dope and now he lived and breathed nothing.

Anyway, the drives, those drives we would take together in and out of the slums were a blur. I never payed attention to where we went I just kept my fingers crossed and kept my eyes low, praying it would all go smoothly. No cops. No guns.

The leather seats were nice and cool under clammy palms. I could feel the stitching bumping under my finger tips until the moment after getting off. And then everything went numb, my finger tips buzzed my voice buzzed and everything was alright. It didn’t matter where we were going or where we would find ourselves after it all wore off. For those first few minutes there was nothing just feeling good and wheeling around the highway, chain smoking until our skins were as yellow as that damned sun.

We used to say it was the only thing better than sex, and it was. But that was in the beginning and beginnings only last for so long. After, nothing would ever be enough. After you’d have to get pretty close to meeting the reaper himself to get the same kicks.

But I was still in the beginning. And Old Head had been shooting up yesterday and he had been educating us.

“The best combo- hey! You listening?” he had been looking at me in the rear view and I had lifted my head drowsily from my lap.

“Yeah man, what’s the best combo.”

“I don’t like your tone kid. That’s what’s wrong with your generation you know- ain’t got any respect for your elders.”

“Oh please do carry on, sir, teacher- is that better?” I sneered and rolled down the window. The wind was blowing hard, I remember hair whipping against cheeks and that it was begining to drizzle. But I didn’t mind, I was feeling good.

“Anyway-” he would talk for hours whether or not anyone listened, “it’s any kind of upper, like coke or adderal and your downer. It’s like shooting out of a rocket but real smooth and just staying even- soaring high and steady.” And then he winked his last wink.

I had still been looking at the back of his neck. Acne bubbled around stubby black hair follicles and his skin was so pale and riddled with crusty scabs from picking until he bled.

And then, suddenly he wasn’t firing chatter at me. Suddenly something blue, some kind of blue hue like a broken television was coming over his flesh.

By now we were nearing our block. It was a winding hood with row homes slouching against one another. And he was still quiet. I was getting anxious and wanted him out of the car.

When he spoke again his words were full of too many s’s and none of it made any kind of sense. That damned beast though, he still managed to lift himself from the seat when we pulled up. His palms gripped the seat and the door panel. He was steadying himself with all his might, but now I saw his lips were purpling and he was kind of sliding out of the passenger seat.

The blue was rimming his face, crawling across his body and he squeaked against the car as he slid further.

I knew then that I was watching him die.

I was rubbing my second bag between my thumb and my forefinger and his mom was running out the front door.

The driver, upon seeing this was already using his foot to push Old Head away from the car so we could peel away and I was glad.

Old head was stumbling back on his heels and his mother was swooping in behind him, tiny arms spread to catch him. She was kind, she was frail and her son’s drug use was probably killing her. As the door swung shut, right before the gas was hit, I caught the look of fear, of pure terror in her eyes and she had been mouthing “Why?”

The sky was grey and air brittle. My eyes were fuzzing now and I caught glimpses of the houses tall and narrow as we passed.

His face still looked the same I decided and left the casket.


 

 

 

 

 

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Tolerance.

“Are you going to stack the other table too?”

“I mean, not if you were planning on sitting at it.”

“Oh no, well I mean I can’t just stand around and watch a woman work- not that you couldn’t do it yourself,” with a condescending wink.

Well then why are you out here doing it? I was seething behind a fake smile and a tossing a thoroughly used fake laugh. A laugh which is preserved for use on such occasions and one that is always leaving my lips without so much as a thought.

To be a woman means to have tolerance. Tolerance for an annoying stream of chivalrous put downs. Tolerance of being nothing more than a dainty object  existing only to be rescued; even if it means to be rescued from duties of a job in which we are employed, in which someone hired us believing us to be fully capable of performing said duties. And even if we perform said duties daily with ease and without aide from our chauvinistic customers.

But there he was anyway, doing my job for me, flipping tables and stacking chairs that weigh no more than ten pounds a piece and completely unaware of the seething and pissed off energy I was beaming at the back of his neck.

I have become so tolerant of these instances that it is factored into my day. It is to be expected. And it is to be expected someone will say something about my body, about my physical appearance to my face and I will be expected to be flattered. I have become so desensitized that as my knee jerk reaction of fake polite smiles and chuckles fall from my mouth, I am immediately carrying on, moving on without much thought.

Sometimes, perhaps, it simmers just under the surface, perhaps later it boils over into a violent outburst. Sometimes I successfully (for the time) seem to bury it along with the rest. And this we, as women, have learned is the most appropriate response; to dig a trench and shove the frustration way, way down. Any outburst has the potential as being written off as hysterics, or uncontrollable feminine emotion.

Perhaps this is partly why we are so damned emotional.

Tolerance can only hold for so long. A smoldering fire tends to catch flame in a consistently dry breeze.

I do not know at what point we ceased being human and became the weaker sex, though I believe it to be shortly after consummation. Before we have gulped our first breath of air, we will be expected to enjoy playing with dolls and the color pink, which I in fact do not enjoy. And I only do not enjoy the color pink due to my feeling that I am supposed to like the color, instead I wear black.

We are learned to be tolerant of what is to be expected of us. That as we grow and take interest in the opposite sex, we will be reminded repetitively of our subconscious desire to marry and have children with every man we meet. And we will scratch our heads sighing “I guess” and wonder why nowhere within us do we feel this desire at such a young age. And we must expect many men we date will treat us with distance because of this. And we will scratch our heads again and begin to believe we deserve it.

As birthdays pass, relationships begin and end and we approach a certain horizon, the cusp of our lives in which it will no longer be acceptable to be single and without child, we must accept the nagging disappointment from others around us. There will be floating questions of whom are we dating and unwanted attempts  to set us up on blind dates or questions of why our significant others have not yet ‘put a ring on it’.

Television shows, and glossy magazines will preach of our expected desires for marriage and children to us. And if we do not comply with the mold in which we are to fit into, we might be labeled as in-feminine. And we will always be told “well, that will change one day.”

I have, at times, felt ashamed for not being feminine enough. I have wondered what it means to be feminine enough.

We might allow these protuberances into our own lives skew our own judgments, wonder why we are not married, why is there no ring on it? Why do I not look forward to giving birth? Why am I in fact terrified of the idea of it?

We might allow this disappointment to leave us feeling lost, without goals, empty and strange.

Or we might overcome.

We may recognize our lives are own, and only our own. That even those with the best of intentions can be perceiving an incorrect path for us. We may learn that no one can truly place limitations on us; allow us to feel inadequate, unless we allow them to.

And on a grander scale, perhaps men and women will learn to recognize our differences lie only in reproductive organs and some physical capabilities. For I have met men physically weaker than women and I have met women physically stronger than men. For I have met men with wide emotional capacities and found some women to be emotionally stunted.

In every aspect of our lives, in the personal and in the universal, there will always be divisions, there will always be assumed roles and there will always be those of us brave enough to break them.

I believe (and hope) there will be a day in which we are no longer divided by categories. A day when we will be looked upon, across the board, as equals, as humans. Though I believe we have a long road ahead of us, for we are not too far from a time when women were simply looked upon as property.

It is a long road that begins in ourselves, with our own self respect and in our own will.

*Note: I was lucky enough to be born into a family in which my parents expected me to be nothing other than what I wanted to be. Lucky enough to have a father whom although only had daughters, was never disappointed and taught each of us to play baseball as kids. For this, I am forever grateful.*

 

Notes on the working poor and dignified exits.

“I don’t understand the point of living in a Capitalist society if the people aren’t happy. And you know, I’m old I remember a time when you didn’t have to work all of the time to make ends meet, just to pay the rent and get by…”

I did not remember a time when things were not exactly as they are now, although I wish I did.

Generally, I attempt to avoid extensive conversation with any customers, and yet he was touching on something very personal to me, and something that can be heard rather often if we choose to listen.

Fluorescent lights were beaming from his bald head. He is lanky with thin, nearly translucent, skin and white eyebrows which rise and fall with each word. He is a soft spoken man. He visits nearly daily on break from long shifts at a grocery store across the street from our store.

He nearly always orders the same thing and nearly always reads the same motor vehicle magazine.

And he is kind. The type of kind that is derived only from years of weathering; years of the humbling kind of experience I generally (and not always only) find attributed to the working poor. I cannot tell exactly how old he is, but he is old enough to invoke pity for having financial insecurity, for still having to pull double shifts at a grocery store. And he is certainly educated as our conversation turns to Europe, their two hour lunch siesta’s and the idea that one should be able to live freely, happily, comfortably; and that perhaps this is the point of our existence.

I smile as we exchange ‘take it easy’s’. I suddenly feel an anxious welling in my stomach as I turn away.

I cannot help but picture his nights toiling between financial insecurity and the question of existence. I find myself pondering over what is to come at the end, attempting to wrap my consciousness around what exactly happens when we no longer exist, now, in my mid twenties. I imagine the more birthdays that come and pass, I will become even more so painfully aware of time.

It becomes a vile question when coupled with something as trivial as money.  It is something that invokes terror while sinking to our belly’s in our darkest most vulnerable moments, as we lay our heads against our pillows to sleep. It is a degrading fear that one can find no clarity for, no comfort from and a question we inevitably will all face, violently as we may attempt to shake it.

If we must (in this society) work our youth’s away, I believe we should be allotted our closing wise years to spend however we wish and without the burden of money troubles. At the very least, that is.

I once found myself even angry over the idea we must work our energetic and adventurous years away to only be given a small chunk at the end in which we would be too exhausted, too aged to fulfill our prior youthful dreams. And now I find myself squeamish at the thought of my own future, of my own last chunk. Are most of us fated to work until our last breath?

There is an ever present concern for social security today, there is an ever present wealth gap that becomes wider and wider each year. And nearly all of us fall on the unstable side of the gap. Twenty percent of Americans make just little enough to qualify for food stamps (‘Gaza In Crisis’ Ilan Pape and Noam Chomsky from “Interview with Noam Chomsky”). That is roughly 65,353,349 people with insecure presents and even shakier futures.

I do not believe there is anyone, anywhere that perhaps has a better grasp on what it is we should do with our precious existences. And I cannot offer a solution to the many issues we are bitterly faced with in the age of avoidance, of social media, of pollution and of financial inequality, I wish only to draw attention to and to open a stream of thought.

I believe the question of our existence is a struggle we will all face. I believe we deserve a humane and dignified final chapter; regardless of our class, one in which we are free to pursue life’s wondrous qualities, enjoy the relationships we have crafted over many years and to be allowed to leave this world in peace and without stress.

I believe the fear that this man may not, and the rest of us scraping by paycheck to paycheck may not, may keep me awake tonight.

STATES OF MIND: ‘ABOUT ME’

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How do we define ourselves? How do we summarize the snippets of memories, encounters, relationships and pieces of ourselves sufficiently?

And who are we?

Who are you?

It would be easy to prattle on about our habits, our likes and dislikes, our experiences and even our darkest moments which have perhaps shaped our conscious beings most, but is that enough?

What is this conscious being anyway, where does it begin and where does it fall off?

Are the finger tips pressing keys aware of their movements and is the mind behind the body aware of it’s existence? And if it was what would it say about itself?

Are we simply the frames of our lives; the day jobs we work, the things we enjoy passionately, our beliefs or are we more than this- are we the lives existing within the frame?

My answer to the question of who I am varies on my state of mind, on the amount of sugar in my coffee, the amount of sunlight beaming me awake in the morning and the amount of nightmares toiled in the night before. I struggle to define myself because I cannot finger point exactly where this self is.

I will however tell you where I am at this exact moment, and where I was just prior to it. I awoke with hot air balloons on my mind and began a painting of one, though I am unsure what this says about me.

Now I am sitting in front of a computer at the Huntington Beach library. Though I do check out books from time to time, I am one of those whom cannot afford my own and drags myself to the library daily to use the public system.

I am using station 203. There is a mouth breather sitting to my right slamming the keys entirely too hard. The fluorescent lighting is reminiscent of a doctors office and the buzzing of the machines is unnaturally soothing.

My inability to afford much of anything is largely due to my wandering path. This path from New Jersey to Florida, back to New Jersey and over to California (Los Angeles for three months, Huntington Beach after and by the end of next month Long Beach) is perhaps a detail that defines a large chunk of my life today. As of late, I have begun to feel, somewhere in my bones I think, an urge to remain in one location for a normal amount of time; perhaps renew a lease on an apartment. Yet with this feeling, in the back of my mind I wonder if perhaps I have wandered for too long and would only get bored, desire new scenery just at the moment I penned a signature on a second year lease…

Perhaps we can define ourselves by what we carry along with us.

Today I carried with me:

two lighters

a pack of menthol Newports

a cellphone

one single macchiato

at least twenty pens

three broken pencils

Fyodor Dostoevsky’s ‘The Ididot’

six notebooks

Musical Theory for Beginners and Essential Musical Theory

an EZ to Play guitar chord book

one Nirvana guitar chord book

and one shredded cloth wallet, which I never use.

INTO LA: “MANY STRANGE FACES”

Los Angeles is composed of many strange faces.

Some are the many cultures that have squeezed in and beam with energy; Vietnamese, Hispanic, Korean and the multitude of transplants from within the country. And on the surface, you can feel it all. Taco stands jumping on every corner with steam sizzling and elote’s passed out over massive vats of pico de gallo, the bronze skin and sun crinkle cut eyes perched outside of grocery stores with card board boxes full of fruits, vegetables, dvd’s and clothes swaying on racks in the burning air. The distinct LA graffiti hanging on the wall behind it all. Sweet smells and music float into every open window and there is always an ever present sense of a family party gathering on every block.

But there is also something else; something slipping just below the surface. It exists only under moon light.

There are nightclub’s which do not open until after two am, until the surface bars have closed up, after the normal has toed it’s way home and tucked itself into bed. What is left awake and twitching underground is the tainted, the freak-ness and the taboo.

The first I wandered into, resembled a tent from the outside. Thick body guards rimmed  flaps snapping in the wind. Entry is fifty dollars per person a broad chinned man with a sinister smile informs us. Sin licks everything here.

Though this fee is a farce, played only on the new saps. Nervous and excited, they will scratch deep into their pockets and throw up anything to get in and away from the body guards. Fortunately, we arrive with a seasoned after hours night club attendee.

His look is ripped from a ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’ movie. One long and frizzled strawberry blonde braid hanging low between wide plushy shoulders. Tattoos creep across his entire body, including the taboo places such as the face and the neck. A silver bull hoop dangling below his fat nose. When he turned to us over his shoulder and smiles, his teeth are gray green. I smile back.

Tonight, he dons a ripped tank top and spoke with a sloping southern accent.

“Nah, fuck that. Where’s —–?” (I cannot recall the name dropped; the secret pass code used that enabled us to enter at a much lower fee) the unnamed man appeared quickly and I scanned the crowds, jittery and anxious, behind me.

They were all so high on cocaine by now, control of facial expression was completely lost. Everyone looked angry, confused and sick.

The large cover charge is in place as an insurance, or rather assurance that one can do  whatever drugs inside as they please. Bathroom sinks and toilets are covered in a white dusting. Some however, chose to do their drugs in the middle of the so-called dance floor.

Along the walls, hang long red velvet curtains and flashing lights bounce around with a deep bass toned beat. Short modern leather couches were strewn oddly about.

The inhabitants were perhaps what some may call “freaks”. A few dance in clusters and in similar robotic jerking movements. Others, stand in other clusters holding keys up to each other’s nostrils and inhaling deep. And then sniffling and sucking around the room until returning to the same spot for another round.

These are the kind of places that have long halls with many doors and with many mysteries lingering behind them.

Another club was in fact a diner. Rather, when the sun shone high it was a diner, perhaps a Chinese one. Once the sun slipped from the day and the night would be rendered over for most, it morphed. It changed into the discreet and safe hideout for the underground. Pale faces crowd the doors from nights spent awake and days lost asleep.

Again, stiff guards at the entry and stiffer entry fees. Inside there is no dancing and I do not recall hearing much music. It is a small, square roomed diner with hideous small square pictures dangling crooked. And the walls are coated in vomit green paint. A man stands behind the long counter, which doubles as a fish tank. Or so I believe there to be fish in it (completely indiscernible for the water is nearly as green and fuzzy as the walls).

We are told to order something, anything and “sit the fuck down”.

The attendees here have more pained and more pinched expressions. They sit just on the edge of sticky chairs with taught shoulders and lean over sticky tables. Some drank, most slipped in and out of the bathrooms.

“What were you in for?”

“Grand larceny,” our after hours guide is bellowing above terse and barely audible conversations. I notice his nose is covered in tiny brown freckles. I imagine he is not the minority here. I imagine this is where many of those whom have experienced a darker, grittier shade of reality are found. Perhaps it is why they are drawn to the night; come alive in the darkness.

Outside a man has been banned, yet he lingers around the smokers by the door. How  one gets banned from a place such as this, I want to ask him. I listen carefully to his rantings to other smokers (or perhaps to no one as he looks directly at no one) and realize his words have blended into English and Spanish. He seems eager for a fight, to release some kind of tension. Perhaps it is from being exiled. How awful it must be to be rejected from a place that houses the strange, that welcomes the underbelly of society…

 

I no longer live in LA. It was a short three month trip in which the city, the energy and the cultures, managed to seep into my bones until I loved Los Angeles. I loved it even after all of it’s faces were presented to me and even when it turned sour, which nearly everything always does.

 

 

INTO LA “THE MAN AT THE COFFEE SHOP’S STORY”

“There is Cartel money in Downtown LA, and it is a well known fact-”

A Russian man of about forty interrupts the start of his story and the owner of the coffee shop turns to collect at least three hundred dollars for lottery tickets from him.

The man shifts to prattle away on his blue tooth phone clipped to his ear. He marched into the shop daily, dumping nearly the same amount on tickets with a smaller miniature version of himself at his elbow.

I learned later this man is what one would call a ‘booky’, and that not only does he have a few hundred clients, the owner of the shop is one of them.

I wonder how heavily drowning in gambling debt this short chipper man is, and why he is sharing this information with me.

Russian guy spins on his heels, with his miniature in tow and the story continues.

Through a thin language barrier this is what I understand:

A business, of some kind, had been caught laundering money nearby. It begins with one cartel man asking the shop manager to create a product worth twenty thousand dollars. The shoddy manager/owner obliges without hesitation and having created said product, Cartel man returns and washes his hands sufficiently of the dirty, blood stained money.

This seemed enough to condemn the store, to leave a morally sound human lying awake at night and dodging mirrors. However, they take it another step farther.

They physically remodel the business in order to hide Cartel money in the damned walls.

 

I found this from The Business Insider “How the Sinalca Cartel Reportedly Laundered Drug Money with Clothing and Footwear” by Christopher Woody:

A forty year old man had been arrested attempting to smuggle about $189,300 through Nogales. This cartel is one of the largest players in the drug trade and through a Free Trade Agreement between the US and Columbia; Los Angeles became a port for the cartel. Various companies were installed in order to launder the money.

 

INTO LA “THE LOTTERY”

I arrived in Los Angeles and I was broke. So broke that I was unable to feed the meter for over twenty-six minutes for a job interview and received a parking ticket. Which I never paid.

The job was working for a Korean couple at a coffee shop in Downtown. The shop was small and pressed between an International Music House and a bridal shop that appeared to have white and pink fluff thrown up all over it.

The wife was illusive and anal. When she did appear I would continuously pick up coffee cups, tea jars, syrup bottles, the register,  anything,  and wipe under it so as to look busy.

On smoke breaks I found myself across the street in an open and sunny courtyard. Savory scents of other restaurants sizzled in the air. I chomped on butts and watched water running down a pole and wondered how many homeless had pissed on that pole the night before.

I had my first experience working with the lottery here. I first learned the lottery was owned by the damned government here. All I knew of it prior were the Pennsylvania Lottery commercials from back east. The ones with the furry rodent squeaking about how it benefited older Pennsylvanians every day.

After my first week at the coffee shop, I couldn’t see how anyone was benefiting from the lottery, except the government.

A small percentage, the husband informed me, with dark humor pinching dark eyes, went back to the shop. Yet, it was such a minuscule percentage it wasn’t even worth counting.

The line for the lottery, as we had two lines, two separate registers and two types of people in each line- was always longer. It stretched out to the side walk with pigeons swarming at their shoes, and their shoes were mostly beat, and their clothes were mostly beat.

The coffee line’s attire was prim and always fashionable. The guarantee of this lines existence was slim. The lottery line, however, would always exist.

It was difficult to tell the homeless and poor from the lottery liners. They were a sad vision, all with bad skin, bad teeth and over sized bellies from drinking booze and eating rot.

And the elderly, the citizens that apparently benefited from the lottery, made up the majority of the line. I was pained to see a band aid wrapped around a gnarled index finger wrapped around a gnarled cane, purchasing over forty dollars worth of scratch off’s paid with forty dollars won from other scratch off’s. The man hobbled to the table, wrapped the knobby knuckle around a nickle, scratched and then dropping it dejectedly to the floor and hobbled out.

The lottery is feeding off them. It is creating an addiction and then supplying the addiction all the while getting rich from their nearly empty pockets. And the recycled addicts will be reused daily, swinging in and out of the door, winning a pittance buying more and then loosing the pittance.

Scratchers dropped from hands and rolled into the gutters as the penniless patrons filtered out each night. Yet they would always return the next morning. You got to see the same faces, know the names of the faces and their lottery purchasing styles.

The names of the tickets are sickening. “Set For Life”, the disturbing pink square, pissed me off the most.

Here were souls near the end of the road, and either distracting themselves from our bitter reality or desperately attempting to win millions to leave behind which was entirely intangible. And wasted what little dollars, what little time they had in that god forsaken line.

I pictured plastic IV’s everywhere, from blue veined pale skin, squeaking and twisting up nostrils, into pockets, in and out of wallets and into the lottery register.

STRIKING MATCHES (pt. 2)

Almost exactly a year prior to that grey morning, had someone told me, I would never have believed I would make it to the journey west.

Almost exactly a year prior, on a soggy bitter fall evening- around 2am, I was lying on the bathroom floor, unconscious and with my pants around my ankles. EMT’s were just arriving, and to my later dismay- ripping me back to life with Narcan. It was the tail end of a decade long feud with opiate addiction and thoroughly worn from the battle, I was methodically working on leaving the living.

I recall shaking violently, with images electrifying through me in bright bursts; my living room, someone asking me about the damned drum set; whether or not I played, my boyfriend’s soggy clothes from shoving me into the shower in a desperate attempt to wake me, the apartment building’s stairwell as I bounced down on a white stretcher, and the ambulance’s doors swinging shutting on blue eyes flecked with gold and sorrow.

I wouldn’t come into full consciousness, would not recall fully what I had tried to do, until well after IV’ed, white gowned and left alone in my private white curtained and phosphorescently lit cubicle. But when it did, when it all came screaming back…

The feeling was a mixture of shame and thin, very thin bare skin. I was viewing a day I had never expected to. And witnessing the inflicted pain I never planned to witness, all over the faces I had anticipated on leaving in my cowardly misery.

I could tell the story composed of why’s; why I struggled with substance abuse and my own existence, yet this is not that story- I am not that story anymore.

This is a story of after’s, of waking up and choosing to stay awake.

Of walking, one damned foot after the other. The story of recognizing one’s own ill fated path and forcefully stepping from it.

For me, to remain meant to remain in the vicious cycle of addiction that would inevitably end miserably.

Instead I chose to move- hell, to run and plunge into the void.

In Kansas, on the side of the road, I was closing my eyes and inhaling deep. I knew if I wanted to leave my opiate soaked cocoon far behind, I was going to have to learn to breath through the anxiety, because it was to stay. I knew I could have the good; all of the good that life has to offer, but not without taking massive gulps of the bad, of the scary.

INTO LA “MISSING PERSON”

somewhere between 10/5 and 12/1

 

Elizabeth Olivia is missing. Elizabeth Olivia had greasy blonde hair tucked under a black or dark colored beanie. She had a cherub tattoo on the inside of her arm. She was young, though how young I cannot tell, and Elizabeth was last seen gathering clothes from her apartment before slipping silently into the abyss.

I wanted to know who she was, the girl within the grainy black and white photograph.

Did she always brood?

Or was she happy at times, allowing an inner light to reach heavily black lined blue eyes?

Was she lost before she disappeared?

I wondered who had typed the flyers in a panicked hurry. With blurry vision and shaking hands, slapping flyers from street posts to corner store buildings, anywhere and everywhere their desperate and fogged minds could think of.

Did this park on Alavardo street bear any significance to her?

Though park may not have been the appropriate title for the wasted plot of land I stood on skimming the flyer. Perhaps in another time it was covered in rolling green grass until sinking low to stone sidewalk encircling a crystalline lake. The fountain springing up from the center, perhaps once spat fat water jets high. A time when the water was not riddled with trash clusters and bubbling toxic brown water. When homeless tents had not sprung up everywhere.

Someone on roller skates was whizzing by, lifting yellowed newspapers up and sending them sinking back down. Today, cigarette butts sprinkled the ground. Brown shards of glass twinkled under shoes as their inhabitants quickly shuffled by eyes glued to cellphones and wholly unaware of the hungry eyes peeking up at them from tent flaps.

Pigeons fluttered and fed on the rot, along with the homeless and each looked plump, precancerous from consuming it. A trash can next to Elizabeth’s street post was empty. The world was a trash can now. Black gum stuck in spots to the pavement.

The pair seemed united, lost and forgotten. Left to be but another piece of trash left behind in a much vaster wasteland.