I swim in twilight, a society I neither understand yet understand all too well. Going through the motions of genial hospitality, the nod of an imagined fedora to the couple passing arm in arm on the lazy suburban avenue; the neutral expression and tension of readiness in the dark streets of the eastside-evening menace, strangers pass, ready to fight, each of us avoiding the precursory direct eye contact which often initiates combat to the death.
I carry no belief in charms or spells. Ghosts, goblins, ghouls or wraiths – only the clear abiding knowledge that the people I pass are predators; the most successful and dominant species ever to ravage the earth. You might think that under the circumstances I should be armed to the teeth when I walk, ensconced in the latest Kevlar body armor with reinforced ceramic plating, suitable to stop a .30 caliber armor piercing round, the standard ammunition for serious and connected dealers. That would be a mistake. It would make me a target, a trophy, or a hastily avoided paranoid psychopath, depending on whether I was travelling the inner urban sprawl of Denver or taking a lazy stroll in the burbs of carefully manicured lawns belonging the Cleaver’s, the Nelson’s and the Petrie’s of north Colorado Springs
I don’t don body armor or carry weapons despite my anxieties or experiences. I don’t wear crosses, sacred stone charms or faith in Gods. What I carry is rather simple, I suppose, and not something I think about that often, I don’t know why, I just don’t despite my not being able to leave the house without them.
There’s a ring, for instance, large and gold plated with a silver carrack on one side and the seventeenth century Portuguese crest on the other. The ring serves as the mount for a silver coin, quite old and resurrected from the São José, which sank off the coast of Mozambique in 1622. It is worn, the 24K plating having faded from use, first by my father, then by me. The whole of it is heavy and uncomfortable and in the summer, when I walk miles through the city it begins to smell like a fat man’s belly button. When the weather turns cold, I have to work to make sure it doesn’t fall off my finger.
My dad wore this ring on his pinkie while I wear it on my left index finger. My dad is shorter than I, but he grew up hard and has hands that belong to a hard worker.
I carry a small flat owl figurine, one out of a set I bought. It rests in the small pocket of my jeans – the one no one uses. I never forget it rests there, and I can feel it each time I reach for my keys or loose change. I don’t know if she still has its counterpart, but it doesn’t really matter. This one is for me. I don’t know what it is a reminder of anymore. Pain? Love? Perhaps I harbor my pain; hold it close as a reminder – some self-flagellating attempt to hold on to what will never be. Hope is dangerous, futile and sometimes the only thing that keeps me alive.
The owl rattles in that small pocket next to a Xanax and an Ativan. The three don’t come out often, only for washing or in the case of the pills for emergency use. And although I could switch the pills from time to time, I do not. After a time the figurine breaks the medication to bits; eventually churns it to dust, so that when they are needed, all that can be retrieved is the fading remnants or powder – pink and yellow and utter worthless when my heart beats fast; when pain shoots through my arm. I picture myself like Superman’s dad in the original movie with Christopher Reeves, collapsing on a dirt road with endless corn fields around me, though I would likely be on a sidewalk or bookstore, at work or on the toilet. I don’t want to die on the toilet, straining to pass a stool only to collapse on a 1950’s linoleum floor due to myocardial infarction because I forgot to drink my prune juice, or my mind created a fictional death and I panicked.
I carry the weight of mistakes I can never remedy.
I have the same black leather wallet I bought twenty-two years ago at the PX at MCRD in San Diego. Within, a metal EGA, faded, but meaningful remains visible on the inside. It was with me when I slept in the park for weeks, when I married again and again. Ironic that the leather has outlasted fidelity and eternity. Fickle and indeterminable, the hearts of lovers, beaten by an old piece of leather. I trust it not to leave me. Someone tried to take it with a knife and I think now the scar was worth the wallet – if not its contents.
I carry the smell of Joshua trees in the sandy wind of the Antelope Valley where I grew up as a boy. It was there that I rode my bike among the tumbleweeds and fields of rabbit shit, miles from any house at a time when that was possible. The antelope are all gone now, along with the haunt that was my daily bike path.
I went back and visited it, in person this last decade. The small wood-pallet fort Tommy and I had built, was gone, the peaks and valleys along the trail I rode then, the dirt and sand I raced along, had now become a single story rancher on La Mancha ct.
I wonder if the stack of porn magazines Tommy and I found dumped in the desert still lay entombed beneath that street, buried like treasure long ago in a large garbage bag, my first glimpse of the nude female form preserved like a time capsule.
I think it was good for me to be exposed to porn age of nine. Women in poses, some artistic, some lewd, me learning of the baseness of sex. Although it opened my eyes to an aspect of adulthood I had little considered, I knew later when I dated that I didn’t want the wanton submission of a woman. I didn’t want a mindless plaything that readily capitulated to my whim, sexual or otherwise. I wanted someone equal in will, different than me, that I could argue with and lose because their argument was better than mine. Someone damaged, like I was damaged. Maybe like Mary Anne, the Sweetheart of Song Tra Bong, only I want to be the whole damn Green Beret unit – not Mark Fossie.
People are vicious and fascinating creatures. Everyone complains about traffic. Accidents, from fender benders to full on blazing shrapnel laden lanes of destruction and twisted metal, stall traffic for miles to a crawl. Everyone labels it rather comically as rubber necking, complaining that everyone else is doing it. The truth is, everyone is doing it. Looking to the side, watching the yellow lines slide by like serpents, eyes searching the black asphalt for splatter marks and pools of blood; some justification for being inconvenienced by the delay. We want the carnage, the reminder that it wasn’t us that died today, we are invincible for another day, we get another chance to earn money at the job we hate or love. The church lady, old and pious looks for blood as she makes the sign of the cross. The children peek through cracks in their fingers when their parents tell them to cover their eyes. The parents look, the store clerks, the college students, the drug dealers, the rich, the poor. I look. You look.
The dogs don’t look, the ones in the back of the family SUV, the wildlife avoids the congruence of massive human attention. The birds only look once all is quiet again; curious if there are morsels to be had.
It doesn’t stop there. People return, driving the endless loop from work to home and back again. The scene of the accident is passed the next day, and we look again, wondering if there are still stains on the road. And there are. Always – even if they are only shadows of memory and thought. They don’t go away. Rat Kiley would tell the story of the accident better than I can. He would make you believe he saw the cyclist get hit by the drunk. “Drunk as an Irish Wedding reception, totally blitzed out of his gord, ya know, so drunk he couldn’t see a hole in a ladder kind of drunk. He hit the poor gook on that bike so hard, his head exploded on the windshield. Like a water balloon, SPLOOSH! Pink Mist. And the funny think about it was that the drunk guy had this bumper sticker, the one that says ‘God is my Co-pilot.’ Makes you wonder what the cat on the bike did to piss off the almighty. I heard the guy had to ride his bike to work because he lost his license for drunk driving. Drunk Driving! Now that’s fucking Irony!”
Everyone carries something; secrets, objects, faith, memories, pain, regret, hope – it’s universal. It’s real to them and it’s real to me.
I’ll tell you a story that’s true and I know because I was there. It was about fifteen years ago when I started school and I was homeless, living on the street. I was taking a full load of classes all financed. I worked a full time job but just didn’t have a place to live. This guy I knew, Brian Banks, lived in the basement of his parent’s house along with varying friends he tripped acid with regularly. Jasmine, Rocky, Seth and his sister Melody among others whose names and faces faded with time.
Brian told me to crash at his place for a while, and even fed me with the large supply of canned food he had in a large duffle bag in the corner of the “living room” next to the litter box that serviced what I thought was a mentally retarded cat named Tweak.
I was straight edge with respect to drugs, so most times I wound up doing my homework on the couch I slept in while everyone around me drank or tripped or got high. Tweak slept on my stomach sometimes, for short bouts. I learned that some in the group had found the cat and fed it a quarter sheet. When they got really fucked up, they would trip the cat for fun, although they stopped once it showed permanent signs. The cat’s right eye was always “off”, looking in a slightly different direction than the other and constantly watery. Maybe that’s why it always walked with its head at a slight angle and down. Occasionally, while walking, its front paw would shake three or four times before stepping down in the dirty wood floor.
One night, I sat on the couch doing my Calculus homework and Brian came downstairs with every friend he had, which was considerable since he was always willing to share his drugs with his friends. Fifteen people at least sat around and devoured about a sheet of acid each, about twenty hits. An hour later, everyone was tripping balls, Brian sat in the closet with Seth, afraid to come out, Melody, fifteen was having loud sex with her boyfriend in her room with the door open and Jasmine, a stunningly beautiful goth girl of eighteen stripped completely and ran through the basement giggling while everyone laughed. Rocky, always intimidating with an Italian stare and foreboding demeanor, swirled in whatever hallucination his mind conjured, still managing to look intimidating even through LSD induced smiles.
There I sat, on the couch, a Native American girl passed out next to me, with my TI-89 running calculations on integral word problems like the most uptight dumbass in the world, only looking up occasionally to admire Jasmine.
Brian came out of the closet with Seth and announced that they had to get out and see the stars while driving. I knew this was a bad idea and also knew there was nothing I could do to stop them, I told them I would drive.
We piled into Seth’s shitty, rusted four door white Buick and started off. I took back roads to get to the highway south, with Seth next to me and Brian and Rocky in the back seat. We never got to the highway. The guys were tripping hard and talking the only kind of philosophical nonsense that can be conjured with hallucinogens.
I hadn’t noticed that Tweak was in the car. Someone had scooped up the underweight cat on the way to the car. As we rolled down a long stretch of road, I heard Rocky from the back open his window.
I looked back to see if he was going to go out the window and saw that he held Tweak in his hands. I was about to say something, about to do something, but Rocky did it first.
“This cat is fucked up!”
With that, he leaned out and threw the cat under the rear tire of the car. I felt the car run him over. I was travelling at forty miles per hour. It was 2:38 am. I think I remember a shrill cat sound, part scream, part confusion.
I stopped the in the middle of the road, wheels squealing in protest, acid tripped humans lurching forward into seats and dashboard. I rushed out of the car and got out and looked. I looked at the crushed cat, I looked at the blood. The guys got out and stumbled toward the mess. Brian was sad, Seth looked confused and fascinated. Rocky just shrugged and walked away, slurring his way through the sentiment of how it was good that the cat was dead now.
I turned and walked away. I regret I didn’t bury the cat, not for its sake – it was dead. I wasn’t.