Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Young Guns

It was unfortunate that the monthly staff meeting fell 2 days after Toby decided to steal a vehicle and say fuck it to the last two years of employment. It was his choice, I knew that, but it was still depressing. Unfortunately, this mode of so-called resigning was common.

Everybody was aware that he wasn’t at work and that something happened. They asked me but I held the party line: “He called in sick.” It was all I was giving them; it was all I could give them. They knew it was bullshit. Rumors were swelling and everybody had opinions.

In private, with certain staff, I would reveal a little more information: “He’s not coming back. He’s ok, but he’s not coming back.” For somebody with a very big mouth, this was not easy.

At the staff meeting , the inevitable came early. I knew it would. Nobody cared about my reiteration of phone policy, cleaning vehicles after use and the proper way to fill-out an accident report. They wanted to know about Toby.

“Greg, so what happened to Toby?” a driver asked. I looked at him, smirked, raising my eyebrows and said, “I’m sorry. Really, I’m sorry, but I can’t tell you. All I can tell you that he’s not coming back.” Revealing that he wasn’t coming back – information that was private at this point, was too much information. I stopped and tried to retract what I said: “Well, he might be back, I’m not sure. It’s not up to me.” I like to use “It’s not up to me.” It implies that decisions are made upstairs and were out of my control.

Instead of moving on and talking about a required Sexual Harassment training, I told them this:

“Do you remember Young Guns II? You know, the one with Keifer, Estevez and Lou Diamond Phillips?” I paused. They were still paying attention, holding out hope that this would somehow lead to more information. I continued, “The producers of that movie wanted to use Bon Jovi’s Wanted: Dead or Alive for the closing credits.” With the mention of Bon Jovi, I immediately lost them. They knew me well, having attended these monthly meetings. They knew that I liked to deviate from the business at hand.

Last month, after seeing Crass (band), the king of all dogmatic, anarchist punk bands, I answered all questions at staff meetings with: “Well, what do you think Crass would do?” Most knew the band so it went over well. At least I felt it did.

The time before that the first words out of my mouth were: “I’m not in a good mood. I’ve been listening to Shania Twain all morning.” It was a lie – not the Shania part, but the being in a bad mood part. I was in a fine mood and it was because of Shania. Her feminist anthem That Don’t Impress Me Much sparked rich images of 90’s girl power, which I relished and drank from. But fantasy was not enough. Before the meeting, I snuck into the meeting room and wrote That Don’t Impress Me Much” on a whiteboard. I closed the doors to the whiteboard (oddly, it had doors). At the meeting, I baited staff to question what I was saying. When one of them took the bait, I slowly got up, walked over to the whiteboard and dramatically opened the doors. I pointed to the song title and in my best No Scrubs TLC affect, wagging my finger, said, “That Don’t Impress Me Much.” My look was sassy and I was very proud of myself.

I continued on about Jovi: “They approached Jovi about using Wanted: Dead or Alive and he came up with a better idea. At this time, remember, Jovi was very into the western/cowboy/native thing, wearing Native chest plates and donning cowboy hats.” I said this like Jovi history was common knowledge. Some were paying attention, wondering where this was going, and the others were staring at the table.

“Jovi had a better idea, though. He told them that he’d write a new song that sounded exactly like Wanted: Dead or Alive.” I waited to see if they knew the song I was talking about. The story was coming to an end and I was excited.

“And that song was…Blaze of Glory!” Like most of my stories, it was met with blank stares. They’d forgotten what the story pertained to. I had to remind them.

“And Toby went out in a Blaze of Glory.”

Monday, June 6, 2011

When He First Got Out by Tom Pitts



When he first got out he enjoyed the mundane. It was the little things, he told himself, that made every day worth living. He would walk slowly down the aisles of the grocery store, taking in the sounds and smells, the peaches in the produce, the bread in the bakery. He would hear the nostalgic music being pumped into the store and whistle out of key as he stared absentmindedly at sale prices on stuff he had no intention of buying.

He would take long walks along the beach. Listening to the surf hitting the beach, he’d wonder about God and the vastness of the universe, ponder the passage of time. He would try not to morn the loss of his own time by making little promises to himself. He promised to live in the moment and read more, eat more, see more, do more; to slow down, but to never stop living.

Reflection was his watchword. He was a quiet man now. When he did speak to people, it was with an apology or an “excuse me.” Mild mannered. Unassuming.

For a while it worked too. He could appreciate a cloudy day as much as a sunny one. He took in the bitter with the sweet. He would drink in all of his emotions, good and bad, like fine wine, savoring each individual flavor. His time without time had truly taught him to live.

Inside, monotony was all he knew. It was like a poison slowly killing him. On the outside, monotony was like a drug, keeping him stable, keeping his head straight. It was the little things, he told himself. That’s what he told himself inside too, that he’d never forget to appreciate the little things.

He worked his job, stocking giant shelves in a giant warehouse that shipped restaurant supplies. He learned a little Spanish from his co-workers, a little bit of Chinese from the customers. He already knew about patience, about drudgery. He practiced those each day like they were ancient arts.

He felt as though he’d found the secret. It was in a simple life, simple acts, simple needs, and simple dreams. Those barefooted Buddhists had nothing on him. Solitude was a reward, not a punishment. Silence was golden. Patience did have its own rewards.

It was almost two years after he got out before things began to unravel. It was on the number 14 bus, on his way home from work. He watched a young man tell an elderly lady to fuck off. The young man didn’t want to give up his seat on the bus. The kid just sat there, selfish, self-absorbed. He stood up and surrendered his own seat. It was further back in the bus. The elderly lady walked back, thanked him, and sat down. That was it. Problem solved.

The next day, he woke up late. He made it down to the restaurant supply store on time, but he was rushed, had no time for coffee. When he got on the bus, it was later than normal, the rush hour. The bus was full; he was forced to stand. The business people that closed in around him stank of colognes, perfumes, and hairspray. The air was claustrophobic and damp.

People on the bus looked at him, looked at him in the way that people looked at him after he got out, when they knew where he had been. They looked at him like he was different, wrong. His face felt hot and feverish; he got off the bus three stops early.

He was relieved to get off the bus into the morning air. Immediately his head began to cool as he strolled quietly toward his work. He reached the front door and slipped in without saying hello to anyone. He walked to the stockroom refrigerator and put away his lunch. Carlos told him Eduardo called in sick so he would have to do most of today’s inventory by himself. Semi-trucks would be in that afternoon to pick up orders that needed to be pulled and inventoried. It would have been a tough two-man job, but with only one, the task seemed insurmountable.

He knew that Eduardo wasn’t sick. He was hung-over. Eduardo drank like a fish. With his eyes bulging from a thyroid condition and his puffy lips hanging off his face, he thought Eduardo looked a bit like a fish too. They both knew today was going to be tough. Four Semi-trucks heading to the northern part of the state were to be packed and loaded before three p.m. Eduardo picked a hell of a time for another mid-week bender.

Dumb fucking Mexican.

Eduardo was from El Salvador. Or maybe it was Nicaragua. Carlos told him to do the best he could. He wondered where the fuck Carlos was from. No one ever asked him where he was from. They all assumed it was right here, that he’d been here all his life. He felt no need to tell them otherwise.

The day was long. The trucks were early, the shipments late. Carlos yelled at him in English, he yelled at him in Spanish. Every time he moved it seemed he crushed his thumb, smacked his knee, bumped his head.

The trucks were finally gone. His day was finally over. He felt older than he ever had his whole life. He nodded a goodnight to Carlos, who stood speaking Spanish to a small cluster of his co-workers. Carlos ignored him and kept on talking. It didn’t bother him. He wasn’t here to make friends.

It was later than usual when he left. The sweatshops had let out and the bus was full of loud-speaking Chinese ladies who were just as anxious to get home as he was. He sat in the back of the bus trying to rest his head against the window. He sat, staring out into the darkness, head bouncing against the glass, not thinking of anything.

To him, the Chinese ladies sounded as though they were fighting. Every few minutes he would open his eyes and check to see that they were still smiling. He was beginning to block out their volume when a young white girl sat down right in front of him. She had a toddler with her, a snot-nosed little boy who immediately pulled himself up on the seat back and began coughing in his face. The mother ignored the child. He wanted to say something. Cover your mouth. Turn around. Take that fucking whore of a mother of yours and get the fuck out of my face. But instead, he just sat silent. When the child upgraded the cough to a sneeze, he got off the bus.

He was six long blocks from home. Home was a residential hotel. Two years busting his ass and he still lived in that shithole. He was better off in the half-way house.

He unlocked the door to his room and sat down on the bed. He felt like a cigarette. It had been years since he smoked. He gave it up when he went away. It was easy to quit inside. A bottle of Kentucky whiskey sat unopened on the dresser, left over from a date that never happened. He wondered if it would make him feel better, or worse. Instead he lay back and closed his eyes. He fell fast asleep with all his clothes on.

He slept without dreaming and woke up feeling like he hadn’t slept at all. He sat up in bed, unfocused and bleary, staring into space. The first thing he thought of was a cigarette. The second thing he thought about what day it was. It was Saturday. This week had gone so sour; he thought he’d never see the weekend. He got up, pissed in the sink and went back to bed. The fucking roses can stop and sniff themselves today.

When he woke up it was almost four o’clock. He decided he was going to open that whiskey. He cracked the seal and spun open the cap. The burn in his chest was warm and familiar. For the first time in a week he felt good. He felt like he deserved a little more than this shithole room and his shithole job. He took another drink. He felt like he deserved some of the most basic comforts. A little bit of what everyone else was already getting. He felt like getting laid.

He could still feel the warmth in his chest when he hit the street. He was hungry, horny, and he had seventy dollars in his pocket. There was a diner just a few blocks away, the old fashioned kind, with mediocre food and high prices. He spent seven dollars on a burger that tasted like shit and another three on a beer that went flat before he finished the burger.

He looked down at the remains of his burger and felt unsatisfied. Maybe he should just go home. Getting laid suddenly seemed like a stupid and expensive idea. He didn’t have the time or the money, or, most of all, the energy to play at mating rituals in a bar somewhere. He was too old and too ugly for the singles’ scene; they could sense that he was not okay. He was creepy and he knew it. Whores were the way to go for him. He pushed his plate away, calculated his tip and threw down some cash.

The wind had picked up, blowing in the San Francisco night, making the air sting his face. He hiked through the Tenderloin, zig-zagging upward though the streets toward the track, the two or three blocks where the whores still had cunts. He passed liquor stores with small crowds of bums outside, each with his hand out asking for change. They asked for cigarettes while one dangled from their mouths. He stepped over unconscious bums on the sidewalk, quietly regretting not choosing that path in life. True freedom. From responsibility, from working, from the man, even from consciousness. What a quiet joy it must be not to have to think these thoughts, to maintain this body, to bother with the effort of life.

“Choo got a big dick?” a transvestite called out to him from a doorway. He stopped to look at her, squinting as though she were a mirage. Fake tits squeezed together in a leather bra, fishnet stockings pulled over her cartoonish wide hips. She wore no pants, but he dared not look at her crotch. He knew she was a man. He knew from where he was, what block he was on. He knew she was a man because, in this town, the whores without dicks never looked that good.

“Nah, I got a regular sized dick. Sorry, sweetheart.”

“Choo wanna date me? Choo ever fuck one of us?” she said and, without missing a beat, showed him two perfect breasts. Surgically altered perfection. He thought about the rest of the walk up Polk Street. He was tired. Those bitches up there were mean. They’d go through your pockets while they sucked your dick. Did he really need a pussy? Wouldn’t a blow job be enough?

She could see him hesitate. It had been a long dry spell tonight. Too much competition. There were more trannies on the street than Johns. She hadn’t turned one trick all night.

He was looking right into her eyes, past false eyelashes, gobs and gobs of mascara, into her eyes, into her soul. Trying to check the gender there. He kept his eyes leveled at hers and decided.

“Let’s go.”

She walked ahead of him. He watched her surgically enhanced fat ass shift from side to side as she led him down Ellis Street and up Larkin to her hotel. It was a shithole just like his. They passed the front desk and the East Indian gentleman with the sneer on his face.

“That’s another six dollars,” the man called out after them. “I’m counting you. I’m counting you.”

Just another statistic. He followed the fat ass up the stairs, his CDC inmate number rolling rhythmically through his head. J-58624. Jay dash five eight six two four. She led him into her room. The walls were covered with sheets like some cheap harem tent. Christmas lights added a soft red orange light. The smell of mildew, lube, and incense choked the air. She went right to the clock radio on the nightstand and turned up the volume on some anonymous disco and the beat throbbed into the air.

She turned to him and said, “What you want me to do, pappy?”

“You got a cigarette?” he asked.

“Choo nervous? It’s okay; I only bite you if you want to be bited.” She smiled revealing one immaculately shined gold tooth.

He sat down on the bed and watched her wiggle across the room, moving her hips to the tinny sound coming from the clock radio. He tried to let himself go. To forget where he was; the sheets pinned to the wall, the implants shaking at him, the thick pancake of make-up, it was the worst fa├žade. He wanted that Kentucky whiskey.

“You like some party favors?” she said, pulling out a tiny square plastic baggie.

“No,” he said, and watched her pour just a little into a glass bowl no bigger than a grape on the end of a glass stem. He’d done meth in the old days, before he went away. A line here and there, punk rock nihilism, when losing a night of sleep felt like getting away with something. Industrial strength stuff that would keep you up way longer than you wanted to be. He’d never seen anyone smoke the stuff. It seemed half the new guys who were getting sent up said it was behind someone smoking meth. He watched her lips wrap around the glass stem. Her lips looked good. He liked her lipstick.

She stood still as she inhaled and then began to dance again as she exhaled and turned toward him.

“You wanna touch them?” she said, squeezing her breasts together. He shook his head, but kept looking at her tits, then at her eyes, and then at her tits. She danced a little closer and bent down and touched his knees. He fell back and let her do her job. She did her job well. He tried to focus on some fantasy that would take him out of that room, that situation, but couldn’t; the sucking was too intense, too focused. His mind wouldn’t let him think, it was all instinctual sexual reflex. He unloaded with ease. Long and satisfying.

Afterward he watched her go back to the pipe. He noticed for the first time the tiny whiskers on her lips, how the pancake-make up really didn’t cover her acne scarred face. He thought of those bitches in the joint. Kool-aid make-up, charcoal eyeliner, knotted shirts and no eyebrows. He felt a little sick.

She motioned for him to join her by holding out the glass pipe. He didn’t even think, he stood up, reached out and let her hold the Bic lighter under the glass bowl. He inhaled, held it in, and felt nothing. He exhaled and felt the euphoria rush up to his brain. He was instantly regretful. His mind began to race and he wanted to get out of that hotel room.

“What’s wrong, pappy? You no like the tina?” She smiled at him with those big metal teeth. He could feel his lip quiver. He wondered if she could notice it. He shouldn’t care. He needed to leave. “Do you have a cigarette?” The sound of his voice was far off and tinny, he wondered if he had said it out loud.

“Choo wanna stay? Choo wanna smoke this?” He noticed her thumb run lightly over a bulge in her panties. Her attitude had changed; she was bolder now, teasing him. He felt his teeth clamp together.

“Do you have a fucking cigarette or not?” He knew he said that out loud. The smile disappeared from her face. Slowly she pulled out a pack of Benson and Hedges Menthol. He might as well be sucking dick, he thought.

She glared right at him while he took out one of the long white-tipped cigarettes and, with the lighter she was using for the speed, lit it for him. He watched her. He could feel his heart beating. For one quick second, he saw himself on top of her, knees pinning her arms, holding her eye open with one hand and holding that cigarette against her eyeball with the other. He felt goose bumps all over his body. He could almost hear the sizzle of the cherry pressing up against the white of her eye.

He took a long drag off that cigarette. Menthol. He needed to buy some real smokes.

“Thanks,” he said. “I gotta go. I gotta be at work in the morning.” It wasn’t true. It was still Saturday night; he didn’t have to be in till Monday morning. He wasn’t sure if he’d ever go in again. But if he did go in Monday morning, that fucking Eduardo better not be hung-over.

The sights and sounds of the Tenderloin night assaulted him when he hit the sidewalk. He took a right on Larkin and walked through little Saigon. Homosexuals, hobos, fish markets, massage parlors. He stopped into a small market and bought more cigarettes.

“Matches, please.”

The clerk stared at him like he had no idea what matches were. There was strange music playing in the store. It was like having an insect buzzing inside your ear. He reached across the counter and grabbed two packs himself. The clerk recoiled and wrinkled his noise like he had smelled something bad.

Outside, he stood in a doorway and lit his cigarette. He stood looking out into the street, the night, and tried to separate himself from the person who was just in the room with that whore. He thought again about those freaks in prison, the blue shirts tied in a knot, the high-pitched whine of their voices. He shuttered. A car slowed down in front of him. Then it stopped. The tinted window did not roll down; the car sat in front of him.

“Fuck off,” he said to the window. He was staring right into his own reflection.

The car pulled away. They were cruising. They were cruising him. He had stopped too long in the wrong spot. Fucking freaks. He kept walking. He walked up Polk Street, up and away from the Tenderloin.

He was all the way to California Street when he saw her. She was beautiful. She was alone. He wondered what she was even doing out here. She didn’t belong. He saw her look up and down the street and watched the wind blow black her shoulder length blond hair. He knew she wasn’t lost. Was she working? Who was she looking for? Her pimp?

What was wrong with him? She wasn’t a whore. She was too good looking to be a whore. Too smart. She looked as though she would talk to him directly, speak her mind, be opinionated.

Suddenly she turned and walked up toward Van Ness. He looked across the intersection and saw a police cruiser. Is that why she is on the move? Or was it him, standing across the street, staring?

He started walking right after her. He didn’t even think about it. He wanted to know her. He wanted to talk to her. He wanted her to make him forget this day, his life up until this moment. He wanted her to be the one to invite him back in to world, into society, the one who would say, “He’s all right, he’s with me. He’ll be fine.”

He could hear his own footsteps. The rhythm quickening, coming up on hers, overtaking them.

He didn’t know what he would say. He wasn’t sure what he would do. He just wanted an opening. He reached in his pocket for his Marlboros.

“Excuse me. Do you have a light?”

She stopped, turned and looked directly into his eyes.

At first he thought that she’d recognized him. There was a glimmer of warmth. Perhaps they did know each other. That was why he saw her, connected with her. What did they call it? Serendipity? She was relieved that he’d finally spoke up.

But the warmth in her eyes cooled fast. She was smiling now. Laughing. She knew this approach, knew he has matches in his pocket. Heard this line before, heard them all before.

Is that all you got?

She was no whore. No whore would have laughed at him. She was a stranger, a bitch. He’d never seen her before in his life. There was no way she knew him. Yet she kept smiling right at him. She knew where he’d been and she wasn’t afraid. It made him feel like a child. She could never be with a man like him. Hardly a man at all.

“No,” she said. When he didn’t look away, she offered him a polite smile.

He reached into his pocket and felt his keys. He held them tight in his fist. He could feel a key between each of his fingers, the key to his mailbox, the key to the front gate, and the key to his room. He pulled his fist from his pocket and, with one quick motion, punched her on the side of the head as hard as he could. She went down instantly.

She looked up at him, confused; blood had started to flow from her hairline. He gave her no chance to respond. He got down on top of her, pinning her arms with his knees, and began to hit her, again and again. He hit her in the head, but his fingers began to hurt from the keys hitting the bone. He switched to her neck. There he could feel the keys puncture her skin. Her body was done fighting; she’d already lost consciousness. He could hear shouts and screaming. Now he could hear sirens. He kept punching her, keys fixed in his hand; no one was stopping him. There were no heroes tonight. His hands were hurting. Part of him was outside his body, wanting him to stop, pulling on his shirt, urging him to run.

It was too late. The sirens were now drowning everything out. He could hear the shouts of police commands, the crackle their radios. It was all over now.

Let’s see how that fucking Eduardo likes packing those trucks by himself.