Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Pioneers pt. 6

                Being broke meant making serious changes to my life style. For one, I couldn’t afford to eat on campus anymore. Eric’s mom would bring him some canned goods every couple of weeks and there was always left over pizza in the kitchenette but I wasn’t going to be paying five dollars for a turkey and cheese  at the deli in Red Square anymore no matter how delicious they were.  I couldn’t afford the captive audience mark up.
                Fortunately, cheeseburgers were two for a dollar at Burger King. Throw in a Whitman’s chocolate bar from the Pay ‘N Save and I could live off of a buck fifty a day. It wasn’t ideal but when it comes right down to it calories are more important that quantity or quality.
                I was at the Burger King the next time I saw Gina. She came in with her whole crew. I was standing in line and she spun me around. Her eyes were dewy wet from tears and she gave me kissed me. I knew she felt bad about how she had acted but I didn’t care. I was just happy to see her.
                Public displays of affection are only embarrassing for the people witnessing them. I knew everyone’s eyes were upon us. My girl loves me. They can stare all they want.
                Gina made a point of introducing me to everyone. Billy was there, as were Rachel and Sandy. I got to meet Jimmy and Kevin, who went to Ballard High occasionally, and Travaris who dropped out of Garfield his sophomore year. When Vince, a metal head who sold weed at the Space Port, came in later, the nine of us took over a whole corner of the restaurant.  
                Gina and I sat on one side of a booth across from Billy and Travaris. Billy was the de-facto leader of the group. He was deliberate and earnest in his speech. I could tell he was trying to suss me out. The conversation insignificant, mostly just small talk although I was asked to recall my misadventures for everyone’s amusement, I knew my words and reactions were being measured. He was protective of his friends and he wanted to be sure that Gina was with a good guy. Gina wanted us to like each other and I wanted him to like me too if no other reason than to please her.
                Travaris couldn’t care less. He was Billy’s best friend but they were completely different people. Billy was punk rock serious blond uber mensch. Travaris was tall skinny black peroxide afro trench coat effeminate with one dangling ear ring. He looked like Ranking Roger and was flamboyant like Prince. I thought there might be something about extremes reaching around the spectrum to come together but the truth is they were both genuine souls. There was an honesty in who they were and they recognized in each other a struggle that they shared in common.
Everything made T laugh and T made everyone laugh with him. While we sat there he drew his name with condiment packets on the wall. Billy saw this and he reached over to dip a fry in the ketchup cursive letters. T jumped up, standing on the plastic bench and yelled “Don’t fry my T, B! Don’t fry my T, B!” until a worker came from behind the counter and asked us to quiet down. Billy plopped the fry in his mouth and bit down with great aplomb. These were my people.
Thanksgiving was less than a week away and Eric was going to be staying with his mother. I would have the room all to myself and I asked Gina if she would stay with me. She said she’d try but gave me a wry little smile that meant yes. I was so excited at the thought of having her alone to myself, were we didn’t need to steal our moments. I told her to come by Wednesday night. Eric was not expected back until Sunday.
Eric had figured out that there was something going on between Gina and myself but how much he knew was a mystery. We never approached the subject. The three of us had been friends so long it felt awkward
I wonder if he felt me mentally pushing him out the door. I all but packed his bags myself. Eric did not want to spend Thanksgiving with his mom in Burien. He didn’t want to meet her environmental sciences hippy professor boyfriend. His dad was going to bring whatever teaching assistant he happened to be sleeping with to dinner. The whole lot of them were going to prove how adult they could be in the messed up world of post marital madness.
Eric used to say that he hated his parents. He didn’t. They were two people so absorbed in their own lives that they never bothered to think that their actions affected others. When they got divorced each of them kept stressing to Eric how important it was that they find their own happiness apart, as if making oneself the center of the universe was the key to successfully navigating through life. Both of them were selfish and Eric felt sorry for their ignorance and shallowness. His real obligation to his parents was to be a witness.
Eric’s mother hated me but, then again she hated all his friends. Of course, I was nearly all his friends. Whenever she would come by I’d take off. She would not have approved of me living here. Fortunately, she always called first. That’s why it took us by surprise when she knocked.
Eric rushed me into the closet. We had been sharing a cigarette so he threw out the window and stuffed the ashtray in a desk drawer. Luckily my bed was made and the room was clean, the way Gina likes it, so there was very little trace of my occupancy. Music was playing so I doubt that she heard us rustling about.
Peering through the slats in the closet door I saw her enter the room.
“Hello. Are you ready?” She asked Eric.
“I’m good to go.”
“Is there someone in here with you?”
“Have you been smoking? Your face is flushed.”
“I burned some incense, sandalwood. I think it was old. Kind of musty. I live in a dorm full of guys. It stinks if you don’t try to mask the smells. I was doing sit ups when you knocked. I’m trying to stay in shape.”
Eric could always think fast on his feet. I was nervous watching her pace back and forth.
“Okay.” She said, buying the ruse. “I brought some groceries for you. Do you want me to put them away?”
“Nah. Leave the bag on the table. I’ll put it away when I get back. Right now, I just want to get on the road.”
When they left I gave out a loud gasping groan. I had been hiding in the pantry. It was too close for comfort. I rifled through the bag. There were cans of soup, cup o’ soups, saltines, and a jar of peanuts. It was plenty of food for Gina and me.
I was so excitable I couldn’t sit still. I showered extra thoroughly. I picked and preened and shaved and clipped until my body was near flawless. I even used mousse in my hair. I rearranged to room multiple times to create the perfect look, leaving out the right albums and right books and then changing them up in different combinations. I was all about atmosphere.
Eventually, I ran out of things to do. I needed to keep myself preoccupied. I picked up an abandoned copy of The Idiot someone left on a bench and started to thumb through it. When it got dark I lit a tea candle I’d stolen from a bistro to add a little ambience on what was supposed to be a very special night.
Russian literature is dense and it kept my mind from wandering. Every time I put the book down I’d ask myself, “Where is she?” and I’d go back to reading. I didn’t want to obsess. Anticipation turns to poison if it builds up. I fell asleep fully clothed on top of the bed while the flickering flame suffocated in melting wax.
It was early when Gina showed up. She could tell from my crumpled attire and solemn expression that I had been waiting for her.
“Happy Thanksgiving!” She said.
I tried to shake off my sleepiness and break out of my mope with a smile.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t make it last night. I told you I’d try. Sandy’s mom thinks I’m at my folks, like that would happen. Anyways, I gotta go back Saturday.  The lady is crazy. She’s got some huge Jesus bug. I went to church last night. Can you fucking believe it? I don’t think I can stay there much longer.”
As she spoke she started to undress and before long was standing in front of me completely naked.
“I know you’re bummed about last night.” She continued. “I think the best way to cheer you up is for us to do it otherwise you’re going to spend all day looking at me wondering when we’re going to have sex. So, let’s get it out of the way.”
I was awestruck by her paleness. The grey winter daylight cast muted shadows across her smooth skin. Her edges were softened by the filaments of small hairs nearly invisible to sight.
“Hurry up and get naked. It’s my turn to stare at you.”
We slid under the covers of my bed together and spent all morning there. It wasn’t like the first time. We weren’t fucked up. We took our time. It was slow and deliberate and beautiful in all the ways I expected it to be.
Afterwards we laid there for a while. She let me be the big spoon for a change. I was enchanted by the smell of her hair and the deep curve where her neck met her shoulder. She held my hand to her chest and I could feel the rhythmic beating of her heart between deep sighing breathes.
“What’s for dinner?” She asked.
“I think I have more stuffing.”
“You are so stupid!” She pushed my hand away and sat up.
“We have chicken noodle soup or chili. And, I think there is a cheese and crackers somewhere around here. You know the kind with the little plastic stick. I like to eat the crackers separately and then just scoop out the cheese. We can split it.”
Gina looked at the clock and started to get dressed.
“Put your clothes on.” She told me. “We don’t have much time.”
I did as she asked and together we rushed out the door. The Safeway was on the other side of campus and closed at 2 pm on Thanksgiving.  We got there just in time. The store was packed full of people buying last minute items.
Before we went in I stopped her and confessed, “I don’t know how to tell you this but, whatever you have in mind I can’t afford to buy much. “
“We’re not paying for anything.” She said in a little devil voice. “They are way too busy to check for shoplifters. When we go in we’ll split up. I need you to get bread and maybe some fruit. You’ve got a big coat so you should have no trouble hiding it. Just be subtle. I’m going to head to the other side of the store, pick up some things, and meet you by customer service.”
She gave me a quick Kiss and said, “Be cool.”
I’d never shoplifted before. Growing up I knew plenty of kids who did. Sometimes they’d steal right in front of me but, I wasn’t one of them. I always assumed I’d get caught. I have a nervous personality that tends to give me away. This wasn’t lifting a pack of gum or a candy bar. I didn’t know how I was going to pull this off.
Fortunately, everyone was too wrapped up in their own business to pay attention to me. I’d take an item, hold it in my hands, and then when the moment was right I’d tuck it into one of the deep inner pockets of my trench coat. Then I’d grab something else off the shelf quickly. That way if someone did look at me it seemed like I was still carrying it.
In no time at all I had my stuff and met Gina by the front of the store. We walked out together and no one blinked an eye at us, just like she predicted. We walked a couple blocks away before we stopped and took stock of our bounty.
“How’d it go?” She asked.
“No sweat. I got a package of dinner rolls and a bag of grapes.”
“Perfect! I got a bottle of wine, real cheese, none of that fake crap, and a summer sausage.”
I was amazed she got away with it because once she told me all the things she took it was blatantly obvious her shirt was full of contraband. She reached in and pulled out a two pound sausage and waved it in front of my face.
“Mine’s bigger than yours.”
“So are your balls.” I countered. “I have one other thing that wasn’t on my list.” I reached into my coat and pulled out a can of whipped cream.
“I don’t know what you had planned for that but I’m not getting all sticky, pervert.”
“Maybe, a little sticky?” I inquired.
She snapped it out of my hand, shook it, pulled of the top, and took a big hit of nitrous and handed it to me. I sucked the last of it out and she took the can and threw it in a trash can.
We took a minute, leaning on each other for support and then once the rush passed we went home, and had a proper meal. It was the best Thanksgiving I ever had. It was perfect.
Eric came home the next morning. Gina and I were still tucked in when we both arose to see him at the foot of the bed. What’s worse is that his mother was standing right next to him.
“I should have guessed this was going to happen.” He said with a drolly when what he really wanted to say was “Oh, fuck.”
His mother took a furious look at us and marched back into the hallway.
 “Eric, I want to speak with you, now.” She said in a stern tone that echoed through the empty building.
Eric hung his head and walked out the door, shutting it behind him. Gina and I raced about getting dressed. An empty win bottle lay on its side on the table along with a smattering of uneaten food and the ashtray was in clear view.  We cleaned as quickly as we could.
We could hear Eric getting yelled at. I heard her say clearly, “I don’t want them here.” I couldn’t make out what Eric was saying but I felt bad for him. I felt bad for us too. Why is it when good things happen they are immediately followed by shit, I kept asking myself. Why does God always have to even the score? Why can’t I just have one in the win column for change?
Gina and I were packed and ready to leave when Eric walked back in.
“Where are you going? He asked.
“Getting the hell out of here.” Gina replied.
“Don’t worry about it. She’s gone. She’s not coming back. I told her it was my business if I let my friends crash at my place.”
“She’s okay with that?” I asked.
“No. She is really pissed. But, she’ll get over it. Or, not. I don’t care.”
Eric reached into the back of his bottom desk drawer and pulled out his bong.
“So, what’s new with you two?” He asked.

We got high and spent the next couple of days hanging out until Gina went back to Sandy’s. Eric teased us a little. Gina and I would steal kisses when we were alone but we kept the sexy stuff to a minimum. There’s a time and place for everything and it can change in an instant.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Pioneers pt. 5

                Eric and I could not stop talking about the trip. It was Disneyland and Vegas and the super bowl combined. It was a life changing event. We desperately wanted to go on that journey again. I made several trips to the avenue during the next week to look for her. I told myself it was just for the acid but every time I saw a punk rock girl loitering in a store front my heart would flutter.
                Gina was nowhere to be found. I hadn’t seen her since that night. It was just as well. I would have made a fool out of myself and proclaimed my love for her. However we felt about each other, she didn’t want to hear it.
                After a week of frustration, Eric and I struck upon a plan that would satisfy a couple of our needs. We’d become dealers. If we could get a hold of a couple sheets of acid we could sell the individual hits for a profit and get high ourselves. Plus the extra money would come in handy for me.
                As much as I enjoyed crashing at Eric’s neither of us had any illusion that it could last forever. I needed to get my own place eventually and this was the best option available, short of getting a job. It was a stellar idea and practically foolproof. The resale market was all around us. All we needed was the product.
                The Space Port was alright for buying grams of weed but if you wanted exotic items in bulk you needed a professional.  We’d have to go to the Market and find someone to help us out. In our exuberant naivety it seemed so damn simple.
                Eric insisted on wearing dark sunglasses because they made him look cool even though it was cold and overcast. It was my job to make eye contact with all the wrong people, which I did as we wandered aimlessly through the fish market and underground shops. You can’t just ask strangers for drugs.
                We were standing on First Avenue foot sore and bored when a middle aged black guy walked by me and said, “Cola?”
                I shook my head no but Eric who had enough of the game spoke up. “We need acid.”
                “Acid?” The man asked.
                “You know, LSD.”
                The man looked us over carefully. “How much?”
                “Fifty hits, two hundred dollars.” I said. I had it all figured out. If it was good I’d sell for double. If it was weak I’d sell for five dollars a hit and at least make my money back.
                “I can get it.” He said. “But, it’s not here. We’ll have to take a cab.” He waved his arm and a yellow cab pulled up. The three of us piled into the back seat and headed east towards Madrona.
                Halfway there the man leaned over to Eric and asked, “Are you blind?” Eric still had his shades on. “Take them off so I can see your eyes.”
                He complied and the man reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a short metal pipe that he handed to Eric.
                “Smoke this.” He said and looking at me said, “You too.”
                We both smoked weed all the time and it was nothing new to have a dealer offer us a toke during a transaction. I’d be rude to refuse. When I took my turn though, I noticed right away that this was not marijuana. It seemed to have no taste at all and my mouth and throat felt numb to the smoke. The feeling I got was stunned not high.  A fog descended on my senses.
                The taxi came to a stop in front of a well-worn house on a street of tired residences. It might have been either Olive or Pine Street. I could see the lake at the bottom of the hill.
                “I need to make sure you two aren’t cops.” The man said. “I need to see your wallets.”
                We handed them over without argument. He reached into each and took out all the money then handed them back to us. He leaned over to the driver and whispered something into his ear and slid him a couple bills.
                As he opened the door and proceeded to step out I asked, “Are you going to get us our acid now?”
                “It’s in this house. You wait here. I’ll be right back but do not come looking for me. If it takes a while, it takes a while.”
                I watched as he bounded up the steps. Instead of going in the front door he walked around the side to the back and he was gone. Once he was out of sight the cabbie kicked us out onto the sidewalk and drove away. Eric and I stood there patiently, just as we’d been told, clueless and oblivious.
                Time passed inconsequentially. We both wondered what was taking so long but the truth of the matter escaped us completely. Eric squinted as the afternoon sun peaked out through a blanket of grey clouds.
                Just then, a large woman with huge breasts wearing a tank top and no shoes in forty five degree weather rushed towards us with her hands cupped in front of her as if she were carrying water.
                “Here.” She said to Eric who accepted her gift which turned out to be several dollars in dimes, pennies, and nickels. “The guys up the street have guns. You need to leave.”
                I don’t even know if we thanked her. Our addled minds were so susceptible to instruction we just took the money and walked away. She might have saved our lives but we couldn’t appreciate it at the time.
                Reality began to sink in once we got a couple blocks away. It never once occurred to us that we might get ripped off or that we didn’t know what we were doing or who we were dealing with. We were total amateurs.
                We started the long walk home. At first it was just to find a bus stop that would take us back to the U but we needed cigarettes and we only had enough change to do one or the other. We could either ride or smoke.  We smoked.
                Inside the first bodega we could find there were limited options. They had penny candy and forties of beer and fortified wine and two brands of cigarettes.
                “Do you want Kools or Newports?” I asked Eric who was beginning to grasp the severity of the situation we had put ourselves in and found no humor in the foolishness we had displayed.
                “Does it make a difference?” He asked.
                “No it doesn’t.” I replied.
                Hardly a word was spoken as we travelled along busy roads, the whirring of traffic created a constant din in ears that were polluted by exhaust pipes and inner dialogue. The journey up the across the bridge took forever on foot. Occasionally, we’d stop to have a smoke but we couldn’t talk about it.
I was gutted by the whole experience. I’d lost half of all the money I had in the world. Eric lost a good chunk too but he could always ask his folks for more. My mistakes cost me much more dearly.
It was dark and we were overly tired when we got back. Eric groaned as he turned the key in the door. The last few yards had been the hardest. I collapsed on my bed while Eric filled his bong with clean water.
We spent the rest of the night getting high and listening to music. Every time I tried to bring up what had happened Eric cut me off and changed to subject.
“I can’t believe any of this.” I’d say.
“Blue Monday is a dance record and I don’t know how I feel about that. Joy Division was great and so was Movement. I liked Power, Corruption, and Lies but I don’t want New Order to become a pop band. What’s your opinion, Ryan?” He’d offer in reply.
The only acknowledgement I got was once after a particularly strong rip that caused him to cough like he was choking on a tinker toy he stood up and yelled. “That son of a bitch stole my Ray Bans!” We all deal with tragedy in our own way.
The next day I was napping alone when a sturdy knock struck the door. It repeated and grew louder. I panicked and thought it might be the police. I ran around the room hiding anything that could be considered incriminating and nervously turned the lock as the door pushed in on me.
It was Gina and as soon as she saw me she shoved me hard in the chest. She had run into Eric who after some coaxing told her the whole story and it made her mad, not at the guy who ripped us off but because we were so careless. After lecturing Eric she stormed over to give me a piece of her mind.
“What the fuck?” She cursed at me. “You are so fucking stupid. You could have been fucking killed. Do you know that?”
“We weren’t.” I said and she shoved me again for being smart.
“Why didn’t you ask me to help you?”
“I couldn’t find you.”
“Well then, you fucking wait. You don’t ask some stranger to get you drugs. Fuck!”
Her fists were clenched. She wanted to take a swing at me. I should have been remorseful or at least prepared to duck. Obviously she cared for me and was worried about my safety but she was so cute when she was mad. Her face was red and her blue eyes turned beady black. Her body shook like a cat in a box. I was so turned on I wanted to squeeze all the rage out of her.
“You are so fucking lucky.” She said.
 “Say fuck again.” I grabbed her and held her tight.
She pushed me away so hard I fell over backwards.
“Not a fucking chance.” She said and walked out the room slamming the door behind her as I lay on the floor.

I knew I had a lot to learn and I’d made some pretty big mistakes and took some unnecessary risks but I was sure I still had a chance.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Pioneers pt. 4

                Eric stood in front of the mirror in wearing a dark blue three piece suit. He dipped his comb in a glass of water and slicked his hair back giving it teenage mafia don appeal. I watched the whole thing oblivious to his intent. The stripped tie around his neck was alternately cinched tight then loosened as he struggled to find the right look.
                “Funeral?” I asked.
                “Booze.” He replied with a scheming grin.
                When you are underage and you don’t have fake identification your options for getting alcohol are limited. You can pay someone to get it for you and we have used bums before but it is always a tremendous headache. Anyone coherent is going to rip you off and the ones who are out of it need their hands held otherwise they will forget what they are doing.
Or, you can buy it yourself in which case you aren’t going to get a case of Rainier from the grocery store. You need to find a run-down bodega, owned and operated by immigrants who will let you purchase one of two six packs of their oldest dustiest import brew for a premium price. Personally, I’d rather drink bong water.
Eric had decided on a third way. Washington State only allows liquor purchases in state owned retail establishments. They always card and no one under twenty one would even think about trying them. Eric though had huge balls.
We waited until 5:45 then walked to the store. Eric carried the leather briefcase his father bought him for graduation. It was completely empty but added perfectly to the illusion. Along the way we practiced faces, serious or angry or distracted. I watched from the sidewalk as he confidently entered the store went to the shelf and took what he needed as if he had been there a hundred times before.
 A bottle of vodka in his hand and a bottle of whisky tucked under his arm, he strode about like a man with a purpose. Periodically he would raise his wrist to look at his watch showing off the brown leather case he clutched while he waited in line for his turn at the register. He stood before the girl in her orange vest and acted. His demeanor said, I’m busy don’t bother me, I’ve had long week at work and now I’m going home to an empty house where I will drink myself to oblivion while I relive all the bad choices I’ve made in my life. We developed an entire back story.
She gave him a quizzical glance but even though she had just carded a bald man with a greying beard she let Eric pass. He handed her the money. She gave him his change. He thanked her in the monotonous perfunctory way a person does when they’re polite but not enthusiastic.
Eric was so into character that he hardly spoke to me until we were far out of view. His head hung like the beaten man he portrayed. His jaw was clenched and his gaze cavernous.
“Are you gonna snap out of this?” I asked.
“I don’t ever want to do that again.” He gave out a deep groan and doubled over.
“What? Buy from a liquor store? It was a brilliant move.”
“Pretend to be someone I’m not. I don’t care about the alcohol.” He handed me his briefcase and clutched the bottles tight to his chest. “I felt like I was outside myself and inside this vision of a person I’d created. I think that’s how people lose their minds. They get lost in make believe.”
“That’s some deep stuff. Let’s get drunk. You earned it.”
We were all smiles after that. In fact we were exuberant, especially Eric. Getting away with it is the sweetest reward.
Eventually, I’d grow to resent alcohol. It’s such a stupid drug. It smells bad and it makes you smell bad too. It tastes like poison and if you do too much you lose total control and make an ass out of yourself. It can chase you down dark rabbit holes. It can make you feel like crap. When you’re young none of that matters and no amount of lecturing will make you shy away. It’s a way to get out and get lost for a moment. That’s what everybody wants and everybody needs.
We had the whole dorm to ourselves on the weekends. Freshmen always go home. Eric didn’t see much of his folks when he lived with them so there was no reason to sleep in his old bed. We sacrificed every quarter we had to the vending machine for mixer and acted like juveniles. We played music loud with the door open, smoked in the hallway, and rode skate boards inside. Best time ever.
When I woke up my mouth tasted sour and my brain throbbed like a second degree burn. Gina was standing in the middle of the room with a look of amused disgust. Eric puked in the trash can the night before and was deep in a coma. Gina jumped on him once, twice, three times until he rolled over.
“What the hell happened here?” She asked.
“Some Seagram’s Seven and Vodka.” I replied.
I cracked open a can of Coke, took a big swig and then in the empty space filled it up with whisky swirling the contents gently to mix.
Gina pinched Eric’s cheeks firmly and said in a sweet little girl voice, “You look like shit.”
Eric pushed her away. “I’ll kill you. How did you get in here?”
“Your door was open. I have a surprise for the three of us, but I don’t know if you two can handle it.” Then she held out her hand and inside of it was a tightly folded piece of tinfoil.
“What’s that?” I asked. My curiosity was piqued.
“Just the strongest, purest LSD in town.”
Eric sat straight up. We had talked about tripping for years. We’d read the literature. Eric was somewhat sure he could make it in chemistry lab if only he had some privacy. Gina had done it but we were virgins.
“I’m in.” Eric held his hand out.
“I am not getting high in this hellhole.” Gina closed her fist. “You guys need to clean up first. I want this place to be spotless. Beds made. Both of you need to take showers and put on fresh clothes. And…,” she snatched the drink from my hand. “No more drinking.”
Eric and I snapped out of it quickly. We had a mission to fulfill. Gina played disc jockey while we folded, straightened, and wiped down. She made us eat cold pop tarts because we shouldn’t trip on an empty stomach. Then when we had met all of her demands the three of us sat on Eric’s bed and she unwrapped her magical gift.
Slowly, Gina pulled at the corners of the foil until it spread open revealing three red windowpane squares. We each took one and put it in our mouths.
“Now what?” Eric asked.
“Now we get out of here.” Gina stood up and pulled us to our feet.
“But, we just cleaned the place. Aren’t we going to trip here?” I asked.
“Later.” Gina said. “We’re going to be high for at least the next ten hours. Right now I want to go to the movies. You two are going to treat me. I want to see 1984 on acid. It’s playing in about an hour. We should be just starting to fry when it starts.”
You can’t argue with logic. The three of us crossed the campus in the crisp November air. The conversation was light, quips about the night before interspersed with exclamations of excitement about the day ahead. We were explorers on a journey full of anticipation.
 I first started to feel it while waiting outside the theater. A woman in a red coat stood in front of us in line. It was the brightest red I had ever seen. It filled my senses. A giddy murmur swelled in my stomach. I looked to the other two to see if they felt what I was feeling and the warmth from their beaming sunny faces made me squint.
I lost the point of the movie almost as soon as it started. I’d read the book and knew it well but I couldn’t recognize it on the screen before me. I was too busy listening to the hum of the walls as they took deep breaths in and out. The heads of the crowd in front of me bobbed like flotsam in a tidal basin.
I was completely lost in my own thoughts when Gina gave out a loud guffaw that she tried to stifle by putting her hands across her face. It startled both Eric and I into momentary clarity. I thought she had it under control but then she stood up and ran out of the theater. I didn’t know what to do at first. Eric grabbed me and we went out to find her.
We found her outside on the sidewalk laughing hysterically. I think Eric asked her if she was okay but all she could say was “Holy shit” over and over again. Before long all three of us began giggling. Tears ran down our faces. Whatever it was must have been the funniest thing ever.
When we got our heads together we decided to head back. Red square was vast and cavernous. Shadows danced across bricks in the dark night. Gina thought the statue of George Washington had turned into Beelzebub and I saw it too. Horns grew out of his head and a spade shaped tail swished in the air behind him. We all snickered about U of Devil U until passing strangers made us self-conscious and we moved on.
Walking through the Quad it started to rain ever so lightly. I saw the droplets fall as pastel colored umbrellas. They disintegrated into colored puddles creating a giant mosaic floor. It was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen and I wish I could have taken a picture if only it was real.
When we got back a dance was taking place on the ground floor between the two dorm towers. Hundreds of preppy kids mingled about to the sounds of Duran Duran and Adam Ant. We let ourselves get swept up in the crowd of button down collar boys and sweater girls gyrating in syncopation.  
Eventually, it got too hot and claustrophobic. The three of us decided to make a run for it but were stopped at the elevator by a muppet faced girl named Andrea. She had a class with Eric and might have been trying to pick him up but the look on his face was sheer terror. Gina and I huddled by the elevator waiting for her to swallow Eric whole with her giant felt mouth.
After a brief conversation Eric walked over to us and asked us to follow him to her room in the north tower. Apparently, she wanted to get us high or more precisely she wanted to get Eric high but we were a package and he was too polite to say no and she was too accommodating.
“You gotta do this for me.” He begged us.
“I don’t know. I’m getting a serious muppet vibe from her. I’m afraid I’m going to freak out. Besides we have our own weed.” I was dead set against it.
“Don’t say that because I will see it too and I think she’s alright. If I get that image stuck in my head it will always be there. We don’t have to stay long. Besides, you already have Gina. I need to get myself a hook up. Please.”
I hadn’t told Eric about me and Gina or the kiss but he was a perceptive fellow and I don’t think I was very good at hiding my feelings. Gina, who no doubt assumed I blabbed to Eric about everything, elbowed me in the ribs.
“Sure.” She said. “Let’s go.”
She squeezed my hand tight as she dragged me behind her. Only when I let out a howl did she ease up on her grip.
Andrea’s room was hippies’ dream, tie dyed bed sheets and Escher prints. The cornice of the wall above her bed was inhabited by dancing Grateful Dead teddy bears. It looked like our room but reversed and fifteen years ago.  She put on some jammy space rock and passed around joint of B minus ganja. Eric, Gina, and Andrea were talking to each other but I couldn’t understand a thing they said. I sat there nodding my head to a cacophony of noodling guitars and parrot squawks. I began to lose myself in the never ending staircase leading to nowhere.
I don’t know how long we were there but it seemed like forever and I couldn’t take it anymore. I stood up in the middle of the room and announced. “I need to go.” With that I left. I had peaked.
I thought Eric and Gina would be mad at me for bailing on them like that but soon enough they followed me out into the hall.
“I’m sorry. I was losing my mind in there.”
“Thank God.” Eric said.
“I was really freaking out.” Gina added.
We went back to our room as quickly as we could. As soon as the door closed behind me I relaxed. We were back on the right course. It seems everyone wanted to leave but no one knew how to extricate themselves.
The next few hours were spent acting like genuine idiots staring off into space and looking for patterns on counter tops. And, we got back to laughing which we did until the early morning hours.
When Eric fell asleep I assumed Gina and I would do the same but instead she led me to the stairwell. I was still pretty high and the neon light accentuated that so I was not expecting it when she started to make out with me. Her aggressiveness was a revelation as hands began to explore beneath loosening clothes.
I hadn’t thought about how far we were going to take this. I let her lead. I was just happy to be there. My hands reached up to her breasts and she pushed me away. I thought I’d gone as far as we were going to go.
Then she said to me. “I’ve never done it on acid. I’ve always wanted to.”
A bomb went off in my head. I’d never had sex on acid or any other way. Doing it was all I ever thought about. The only word my addled mind could form was yes and it repeated it over and over again rolling like thunder.
I was frozen as I watched her take off her jeans and white undies with little red flowers. I marveled at her half nakedness. Then she undressed me pulling my pants to the floor and perched herself against the metal railing.
I was awkward and clumsy but she guided me. Instantly I knew what this was for, why we are all so driven by madness to copulate because if I could have frozen time I would have stayed in that moment forever. She wrapped one leg around backside while we rocked back and forth on a precarious edge.
Gina clung to me tightly and buried her head deep in the nape of my neck. Her rhythmic grunting hot breath made an animal of me. I struggled for firm footing. I was trying to carry her as I climbed primitive, primate.
When the end came it was sudden as a rushing wind. The gust had robbed me of all my strength. I was made helpless by what we had become and the vulnerability had evoked in me a gentleness I had never guessed at.
Gina was so tender afterwards. We dressed in silence but continued touching throughout, communicating in an unheard language, fingers to fingers, fingers to skin. Once back in my bed I was the little spoon again. I liked being the little spoon.

She got up early to leave and woke me briefly. We were alone. She whispered to me. “Don’t tell Eric and don’t get weird.” Then she kissed me and I drifted back to sleep.  When I finally awoke properly I could tell by the light in the sky it was late afternoon. Eric was doing homework at his desk. I wondered, to myself, if I had dreamt the whole thing. 

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Pioneers pt.3

                I woke up just as Eric was walking out the door. Gina was long gone and Eric had class so I had the place to myself. I smoked a bowl and tidied up the room. I spent a weird minute with the bathrobe Gina wore the night before. It smelled like her and I found it intoxicating. After a couple deep breaths I threw it in the hamper. Perversion can get you from all kinds of different angles. It’s best to turn away before the strange becomes permanent.
                Sitting alone in solitude it occurred to me that I was a high school dropout with nowhere I had to be. I didn’t need to go home. I’d severed myself completely from my past. No one was looking for me. I was a blank sheet of paper, crisp and unsoiled, fresh from the pack. I had no plans or intention to make any but I felt I had unlimited possibilities.
                Eric got back from class and I was sitting in a dark quiet room like a robot waiting to be powered on.
                “What did you do today?” He asked.
                “Jesus. Are you depressed?”
                “A little. I’m an illegal. I don’t want to get caught coming and going when you’re not here.”
                Eric put one hand on my shoulder and the other on the door handle which he twisted to open and then pushed me out into the hallway right into the hulking body of the future marine who lived across the way.
                “Sorry about that, Jimbo.” Eric apologized. “This is my friend Ryan. He lives over in McCarty. His roommate sucks so he’s going to be spending a lot of time over here. Cool?”
                “It’s nice to meet you.” I shook his hand and observed from his unnecessarily firm grip and massive hand that if he wanted to Jimbo could end my life without making any serious effort.
                “Roommates are hit and miss. Both Chaunce and I are going into the corp but if I had some Navy or Air Force pussy living with me I’d be climbing the walls.” I smiled wide and knowingly as if I understood the varying degrees of meatheadedness.
                “What’s your guy’s problem?” he asked.
                “Foreigner.” I said. “From Yugoslavia. I don’t even know if he’s supposed to be in this country.”
                Jimbo responded with a scowl. Red meat Americans hate foreigners and despise communists.
                Eric was loving this exchange and had to join in. “Plus, he smells like a goat. He eats raw garlic and doesn’t bathe. Then he goes on and on about Marshal Tito and Stalin. You can’t talk shit like that.”
                “I’m sorry brother. Ryan, you are welcome here.” Jimbo was deeply sincere.
He soon changed his train of thought. “If you guys are interested we are having study group in the commons Tuesday and Thursday nights, eight till whenever. We all get together put in a couple of bucks towards pizza and share notes and best practices. Ryan, you don’t live here but I’ll vouch for you.”
“Anyone taking quantum mechanics?” Eric asked.
“I don’t think so.”
“I’m going to have to pass.” Eric hated group activities.
“What about you, Ryan?”
“Eric and I are study buddies.”
With the awkward encounter concluded we retreated back into the room.
“Now you can come and go as you please. Problem solved.” Eric was pleased.
“I guess.” I said. “Let’s go to the Hub and get some grub.”
“Are you kidding? Why would we buy food when we can have free pizza?”
At 2 a.m. Eric’s alarm went off and the two of us got up and snuck into the kitchenette. There on the counter sat several half eaten Little Caesar’s pies. We took what we thought we could eat and left the rest. We did this every Tuesday and Thursday from then on.
I got comfortable with my new found freedom. It was easy to fit in. I was the right age. I looked the part of a college freshman. No one ever questioned me or asked for student I.D. I always had my back pack with me. It was filled with copies of the Rocket and a notebook to doodle in.
I explored every inch of the campus. I laid out at Drumheller fountain, which was always strangely vacant like a neutron bomb went off and all the people were gone except for me. I plumbed the crooked dark hallways of Suzzallo Library for vacant corners where I could be alone with my thoughts. I wrote a bunch of crap poetry, drew a sketch of my naked foot propped up on a window sill, and dreamt of being in a punk band.
I had to venture to the smoke shop in the U district to get my Egyptian ovals. They were so strong that two cigarettes would last all day and they were also space proof in that if you forgot about them they’d go out by themselves. Their freshness was always suspect in that they had to travel five thousand miles in a rusty container to make it to Seattle but that never seemed to matter.
I was walking down the sidewalk with my nose buried deep in the yellow box taking in all the mustiness when a voice behind me asked if I had any change. It was Gina. She was with a group of friends making the trek from downtown to the U panhandling along the way. Rachel and Sandy were thrift store punk girls with an abundance of ear rings and pretty blouses covering concert tees. Billy on the other hand was the realest deal around. He sported a big blond Mohawk, leather jacket, thigh high Doc’s, and was menacing as hell if you didn’t know him.
“My God, you look like one of them.” Gina sized me up, taking note of my outward preppiness.
“I’m trying to blend in. I’m undercover.”
“Is that a Member’s Only jacket? No thanks.”
“I borrowed it from Eric. His mother bought it for him but he never wears it.”
“No shit.”
“When the revolution comes I will be hung as a spy.”
“I hope so.” She punched me in the shoulder to accentuate the point.
“When are you coming around again?” I didn’t want to sound needy but I had to ask.
“Soon.” Gina knew exactly what I meant and her sly smile made me blush even though I didn’t want to. “We’re headed back downtown right now. Sandy’s mom has been taking me in so I don’t want to piss her off by staying out all night or coming home loaded.”
“Sure.” I said even though I wasn’t sure. It’s not that I was jealous or possessive or anything like that but I was suffering a nervous butterfly thing where it’s hard to breathe and you can’t imagine spending any time apart that won’t cause pain and discomfort. Maybe she felt the same way because when everyone had their backs to me as they walked to the bus stop Gina turned around unexpectedly and holding me by my wrists pulled me towards her and kissed me firmly on the mouth.

She left me there paralyzed and slightly delirious as she ran to catch up with her friends. The setting sun was starting to cast shadows amidst golden ribbons of light from the western sun. I lit a cigarette and walked towards the darkness.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Pioneers pt. 2

Pioneers pt. 2

                I’ve been attracted to big cities since I was a child. Skylines awe me the same way pyramids must have stunned the Egyptians. I kept looking out of the back window of the bus until the last red light on top of the last tower blinked out. I felt a sense of loss as I hunkered down for the ride.
                I didn’t feel like looking anyone in the face so I stared at their feet. I’d try to guess the person that belonged to the shoes. Then I’d look up to so how right or wrong I was. I didn’t know these people. I didn’t know their lives. I stopped the game when I realized we are all going through our own shit. I better figure out my shit before I worry about anyone else’s.
                The sign on the bank said 7:24 when we passed by. I was in so much trouble. I walked very slowly towards the house. If I could have turned and ran into the woods and never come back I would have done so but I needed my bed. I needed a roof over my head. I needed to endure whatever bullshit was waiting for me on the other side of that front door.
                My hand had just started to turn the knob when the door swung open. Mom was standing in front of me with her arms crossed in front of her chest in an effort to appear squat and immoveable. I could see Jenny and LJ in the hallway behind her. Their faces told me this was bad. They looked panicked like they were being forced to witness a great tragedy. I could see Todd sitting in chair in the living room. He didn’t look at me. He stared off into space. He was listening for his cue to jump into the fray. The stage had been set.
                “Where do you think you’re going?” Mom was almost smug when she asked this. I am quite sure I saw a smile emerge from the corner of her mouth. She knew something funny but she was waiting for the set up before delivering the punchline.
                “I’m going to get something to eat, watch a little tv and go to bed.” I chose to act oblivious but inside I was churning.
                “No you’re not.” She was milking it for dramatic affect. “You don’t live here anymore.”
                I know that made her happy. She had been thinking about it for a long time and was waiting for just the right moment. Here it was. I saw it coming but chose to ignore it as a real possibility, probably because I could think of no alternatives. Even so I thought I had until graduation or at the very least my eighteenth birthday in March. I needed to plead for time.
                “Why are you doing this?” My voice cracked and chirped. I could feel seventeen years of frustration and anger well up inside me.
                “You are a bad kid. You have terrorized this family long enough. We had a talk and we don’t want you here anymore.” She wanted to make it seem like a group effort but it was all her. Jenny and LJ were crying now. They didn’t want any part of this. Todd’s opinion didn’t count.
                I rationalized, “I need a place to live. I’m still in school. How can I go to school if I’m homeless? I’d planned to move out in the summer. Can we wait until then? Please?”
                She was hearing none of it. “I talked to the school today. They called me at work they said you hadn’t been going. You don’t go to school.”
                “I skipped today because I was upset and I left early a couple other days. I won’t miss anymore. I need to graduate. I’m going to focus the rest of the year. Maybe get into college.”
                “You are not smart enough to go to college. I sure as hell am not paying for it.” That was nasty. I couldn’t win this fight and all she wanted to do was stand there and insult me until I left. The realization of this took the wind out of me. I gave up.
                “Well, let me get my things.” I needed clothes and I had five hundred dollars stashed in my room. I wasn’t going leave without my money.
                “You don’t have any things here. I own everything in this house.”
I suppose the first thought I had was that she was going to steal my money. She might have stolen it already. Either way I wasn’t going to tell her I had it. “I can’t wear the same jeans forever. And shirts. I need shirts too.”
Her demeanor was imperious. “I will decide what you can have and what you can’t have. I am your mother. I make the rules. Not you!”
I was furious. I felt like had had put up with just about enough this. “It’s eight o’clock at night. It’s raining. It’s bad enough that you’re kicking me out and probably fucking up my life in the process because you have anger issues but I now I don’t even get clean socks and undies. I may be a bad kid but what did you do? Did you help or did you make it worse? Do you really think acting like a mean bitch is going to make us a happy family? Everybody in this house is scared of you. I’m scared of you and I will leave and never come back but I am getting my shit first.”
Todd had heard enough and he jumped in between us. “Don’t talk to your mother that way. She told you to leave. I am going to make sure that happens.”
I put two hands on Todd’s chest and threw him out of my way. He fell back and crumbled on the floor. I think everyone thought there was going to be a fight. I thought there was going to be a fight. Todd was all talk.
I turned to mom who was cowering behind Jenny and LJ. “I will be out of here in two minutes.” I walked quickly to my room. I emptied the books out of my backpack and started stuffing it with clothes. I reached under my mattress and much to my relief I felt a wad of cash that I quickly tucked in my front pants pocket.
I could hear mom talking to Todd. “Oh my God! Are you okay honey? Should we call the police.” I guess when he decided to be her guard dog he never thought he’d get bit.
I walked back into the living room. Todd was back in his chair. Mom was at his side. He tried to get up. I was hoping he would.
“Todd, if you get out of that chair I will kick your ass. You are a fucking pussy and I am gone.”
Mom defended him, “You hurt his back. He may not be able to work anymore.”
“I don’t care.” I don’t know what response she was expecting.
“LJ, Jenny, time to say goodbye to your brother. You won’t ever see him again.” It’s weird that she tried to make me feel guilty like I was turning my back on them. They both hugged me and asked me to stay. I told them it wasn’t my choice and made my way out the door.
Before leaving mom took one last shot, “You are no good just like your father.” This was supposed to hurt me and in the past a comment like that would have such is the horrible picture she painted of the father I did not know. I couldn’t let it drop this time.
“Did you kick him out or did he leave you? If you kicked him out then yes I am just like him. And, if he left you then you should know I wish I’d left with him.” Then I poured it on. “I may be the first kid you’ve gotten rid of but after me it‘s gonna be Jenny and then you will turn on LJ because that’s what you do and you can play the sympathy card with your friends and they’ll believe all the outrageous crap you will say about me but when you run out of kids to blame for all your misery they will know it’s you and it’s always been you that was the rotten one in this bunch.”
There was no reply. There were no protestations. There were only eyes staring at me in the awkward silence. I wasn’t upset or even concerned. I walked away exuberant. I was under my own power for once. I felt ten feet tall.
I went out into the night, past the 7-11 and the strip mall. The rain stopped and I felt as if the whole universe was on my side. Whatever happened now, I wasn’t going back. I couldn’t go back. I had to go forward.
I started to sing to myself, “Fuck ‘em all I won’t go back no more, no more, no more.” It was a variation on a Ray Charles song. I sang the refrain over and over. I’d change it up, fast and slow, lounge singer or Judas Priest. No one could hear me over the sound of the cars speeding by. I leaned back on the bus stop bench and howled into the night.
I wondered if I’d ever see this town again. It was great when we lived near Seahurst. Every day I would ride my bike to the park. I’d leave in the morning and come back at dark. It was idyllic. Now I just had Fred Meyer and millions car lots. Neon lights make everything look pale and sickly.
I’d swiped a pack of mom’s cigarettes off a table on my way out, Eve Ultra Light 120’s. They were disgusting. You had to rip the filter off to even hope of getting any nicotine. I chain smoked them. A pile of little white filters gathered on the ground before me.
I got the same bus driver as before and he recognized me. I wanted to tell him all that had gone down since last we met but he wouldn’t want to hear it. Everyone has a crazy story. I’m just like the rest. “Fuck ‘em, fuck ‘em, fuck ‘em all I won’t go back no more”.
I should have been more upset. I’d always been a very emotional child especially if I felt I was being treated unfairly which was often. This time tough, I felt wholly righteous. I wanted to punch the air, kiss a stranger, to dance without music.
I had my next steps figured out. I’d crash with Eric that night. I’d start looking for a room to rent the next day. Then I would find a job. That was the plan.
Jubilation gave way to reality. I needed shelter. I felt exposed wandering around with a backpack full of all my belongings. A shirt sleeve poked out of a seam where I could not close the zipper. I rubbed my hand on the wad of money in my front pocket. The less you have the more precious what you have becomes.
Eric was asleep when I got to his place. He stumbled around looking for a cigarette while I told him what happened. I held out an Eve ultra-light but he knocked it out of my hands. I asked if I could crash at his place till I found my own. Eric pulled open a drawer and threw a shiny key attached to a purple Husky key ring at me. Then in the back he found a box of Egyptian ovals.
He put one in his mouth and handed me my own. They were wide and flat and smelled soft to the nose like sandalwood. They weren’t harsh and sweet like American cigarettes or harsh like the French. Ovals were deep and smooth and loaded with nicotine. I always got a head rush smoking them.
 Eric lit his and took a drag. “I hate it here.” He paused to exhale a big cloud of smoke that he let out with a sigh. “I live on a floor full of meathead ROTC guys. They’re useful if I want to start a USA chant but I don’t know them and don’t want to. I don’t know anyone on any of the other floors. The people I know from class all live in faraway dorms or off campus. I don’t have any study groups because I don’t trust anybody else’s notes. Basically, I have the same number of friends I had in high school except I only see them occasionally. Stay the whole year if you want.”
I was greatly relieved. I never doubted Eric would come through for me but I didn’t expect the invitation. A sense of ease returned to me. It had been a roller coaster of a day and I felt tired. We smoked a little weed and finished our cigarettes.
While I unpacked Eric named off all the secret places he thought we should get high. We weren’t potheads. We didn’t own Camaro’s and listen to AC/DC. The purpose of getting high was not to party it was to experience. It was to change perception. That’s the lie we told ourselves. The truth is we smoked pot for the same reason everyone else smokes pot. It feels good and it makes it easy to laugh and if your life is full of crippling bullshit you need to find a way to smile.
It was getting late and we were kind of loud so when Gina knocked on the door we obviously thought we were busted. Eric grabbed the air freshener and started spraying it wildly around the room. I didn’t know whether or not I should be there. Eric pushed me into the closet and shut the door. He turned off the light in the room and opened the door slowly. “Hello?” he mumbled like a man woken from a deep sleep.
“You are in so much trouble.” As soon as I heard her voice I knew who it was. I stayed hid until she was completely in the room then sprung forth. She screamed, which everybody must have heard at 1:45 in the morning, and gave me a big hug. She whispered in my ear, “I miss you.” I could have stayed just like that all night and did not want to let go.
It had been weeks since I’d seen Gina. She’s died her blonde hair Sunkist orange and was wearing a new army jacket but otherwise it was the same Gina. The back of her coat had a Dead Kennedy’s logo that she had drawn herself. She let me hold it while she made herself comfortable. I admired her craftsmanship.
I gave her an abbreviated version of my story. I wasn’t in getting deep about it. She was really excited about me staying with Eric. The universe was conspiring to keep us together. Maybe getting kicked out of my house was a good omen.
Gina reached into the oversized bag she brought with her and pulled out a forty ounce bottle of Old English. “You guys can drink this while I take a shower.”
Eric grabbed the bottle and cracked the screw top slowly to draw out the hiss as long as possible. “Bathrobe’s in the closet along with the towels. If you’re doing laundry too I have many quarters.”
Living on the streets is something of a misnomer. Gina always had places where she could crash but sometimes the power would be turned off or there’d be too many kids packed into too small of a place. Eric’s had become a refuge for her. She would drop by every week or so. It had become routine.
I will admit I was a jealous of Eric where Gina was concerned. He was a funny good looking guy with a bright future. I could never take care of Gina the way he could, the way I wanted to. Then again, I don’t know if she wanted someone to take care of her. She never had before.
Gina came back with her wet hair dripping water.
“I stole some bitch’s shampoo and conditioner.” She announced. “It was the good shit. I couldn’t resist. Here, smell it.”
She shoved her mop head in my face. Eric laughed and she got him too then shook like a dog until little droplets covered everything in the room.
I was still trying to catch my breath when Gina sat next to me and perched a leg across mine.
“I shaved too. Check it out.”
I tried to not let my hand tremble as it ran down her calf. I know this was flirting and she was fully aware how it affected me but if I ever called her on it she’d cut me off. The tease was an end unto itself and she liked to see if she could break my cool. I let my hand linger a little too long and she pushed it off. Game over.
We spent the next couple of hours smoking weed, drinking, and getting generally twisted. The three of us talked incessantly about nothing really at all. Good conversation is not about things, it’s about tone, rhythm, and shared breathing. We achieved synchronicity.

Once her clothes were done Gina got dressed and folded everything that went in her bag. I assumed I would be sleeping on the floor. There were only two single size beds and Eric was already passed out in his and Gina had claimed the other. I started to look for something to put on the hard linoleum floor but instead she pulled me next to her and lying on my side she spooned me with one hand draped across my chest. It was the best sleep I ever had.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Pioneers pt. 1

                I needed a pen, a goddamn fifty cent Bic either blue or black. My whole life turned on a fucking pen.     
                I was late. For some reason borrowing a pen is a huge pain in the ass even though they float around like air. Teenagers are so possessive of their things. It’s because they think the things they lose will never come back to them. There was no way I was going to ask half a dozen kids to borrow a pen only to be reluctantly borrowed a click pen stolen from a dentist office. I do not like my peers. I do not like their bullshit.
                I worked myself into a complete panic. Time was running out and I had to leave. The only writing utensil I could find in the whole house was the one my little brother LJ was using to scribble on a notepad in the hallway outside mom’s room. I could knock on her door and ask for a pen. I knew she had a least fifty of them in her purse but I could hear country music playing from her clock radio. The smell of perfume and cigarettes leeched under the door.
                She might not be alone. Either way, I knew she was getting ready for work at the senior center. Bothering her in anyway was just going to piss her off which is why I had to catch the bus and not ask her for a ride to school.
                It was a no win situation but I made up my mind. In one continuous motion I grabbed the pen out of LJ’s hand slipped on my coat and walked out the door. LJ erupted behind me like a hand grenade. He was seven years old but he cried a like a toddler. The baby of the family can always get away with crap like that. The rest of us were told to shut up as soon as we learned to talk. LJ was milking it. You would have thought I’d just kicked his ass.
                All this noise punched mom’s rage button hard. She swung open her door and upon seeing LJ crumpled in a heap before her wailing saw red. I took one step outside before she swung me around. She stood before me with in her bathrobe. Her eyes were small and furious. Her hands were raised in fists before me.
                “Why don’t you beat me up too?”
                This moment right here is where my heart breaks. I hated everything about my life and I resented my situation. I had been pissed off for a long time and did not try to hide it anymore. Even so, I would never hit, kick, bite, maul, or in any way assault anybody. You just don’t do that. It meant our expectations of each other had synchronized.
                Standing there, I felt the blood drain from my body. I could hear LJ in the distance, hysterical gasping to catch his breath. My mother bobbing before my like a boxer, robe akimbo exposing bra and panties in the cool autumn morning. It was so absurd I was going into shock.
                My voice was calm, without affect. “I needed a pen for school.”
                I held the clear octagonal no cap chewed end black ink pen before me. She swiped it from my hand. Then I just walked away. I didn’t look back. Nobody said anything. I made it halfway down the street before I completely broke down.
                I could not stop crying. I tried to fight it and it overwhelmed me. I couldn’t see and started to stumble. I eventually stopped alongside the road and crouched down until my face touched my knees then buried my head with my hands. It was so embarrassing. I couldn’t control myself. I was a seventeen year old boy balling his eyes out on Euclid Avenue at 6:30 in the morning. I prayed no one would see me.
                All I could think was, “Damn her! Why does everything have to be a fucking crisis? Fucking Defcon 5?! Fucking nuclear?! “
                I didn’t always hate my mother. I used to fear her. Things were alright when it was just the two of us and I was small. She wasn’t affectionate but she was attentive. She could always see me play by myself from an adjoining room. Occasionally she could be cruel. She told me I was the reason my father left. That one stuck with me. I remembered it. Otherwise, I behaved myself and we got along fine.
                When I was seven she met Larry Senior. When I was eight they got married and when I was nine Jenny was born and a year later Larry Junior. Larry Senior found my very presence annoying but he was too polite to ever make a big deal out of it. He was much more interested in his own kids. I get that.
                Jenny was a good kid. She hardly made any noise didn’t stink and stayed out of trouble. LJ was gasoline, noxious, highly flammable. When he got mad he would fly into screaming tantrum rage fits. LJ stayed with mom.  Jenny hid. I watched television. I thought about running away all the time.
The problem was that there was only so much mom had to give of herself. LJ used it up. She was constantly tired and angry. It was best just to avoid her all together. Hardly a day went by without some drama. The routine became unbearable. Usually it was just small stuff but whoever was closest got it.
Once she cornered me in the hallway. I hadn’t done anything even remotely wrong in weeks. Still, for a half an hour she screamed at me like I was some great evil she had to exercise. I didn’t crack. I was a champ at taking it. I can’t tell you what happened the rest of the day. I don’t remember.
                Then, one day I stopped giving a shit. Mom decided to start fucking some married guy who lived down the street. Larry lost it but he didn’t want to leave. She kicked him out anyways. He stalked us for a year then vanished. Mom thought her new beau with his fancy accountant job would leave his wife and make her his number two but he was just screwing around.
By the time she figured that out we were living in a damp moldy shithouse in a shitty neighborhood. Every couple of months we’d get to have breakfast with different beer soaked loser. Each of them was a potential serial killer. Eventually, drinking would lead to fighting which led to retraining orders. Before the ink was dry she’d be on to her next dream date.
I lost it. I stopped being nice. I could not, would not lie about what a godawful mess we were living through. I was defiant and I was miserable.
Lately, things had been bad. Mom’s new boyfriend Todd was a total asshole. He painted cars. He thought he was hot shit. He threatened to be beat me up at diner over a piece of fried chicken. Mom loved it.
Now I had to deal with the fallout from this pen bullshit. I didn’t know how I could have fucked up so bad but nothing about that morning should have come as a surprise. It was always going to be something.
I missed the school bus which meant I had to take the city bus which meant I was going to be late to school. That would make three violations along with two early outs since the start of the year. They were going to call my mom. God, I would have killed for a fucking break.
I thought about it and decided that if I was going to get into trouble no matter what I did I might as well do whatever I wanted. I got on the city bus and after three transfers and ninety minutes I got off on NE 45th street. A quick walk past George through the quad and I was in Haggit Hall getting stoned by ten thirty in the morning.
Eric was my best friend from high school. He graduated last summer and was living in the dorms at the University of Washington. His roommate killed himself a week into class so Eric got to keep the double room to himself to help with his pain and suffering. As morbid as it may seem the situation was kind of awesome. The kid hadn’t moved in. He checked in took a look around went home and offed himself. He and Eric never met..
I know it is a sin to delight in the suffering of others. This was delighting in the unanticipated byproduct of someone else’s suffering.  We laughed like ghouls about it. That was probably wrong.
I met Eric when I was a freshman in high school. He had just transferred in from California. All the cliques had already formed and he was left out in the cold, not that he minded. Eric thought that his fellow students were and most people are ignorant amoral jerks who lead lives guided by self-obsession.  I couldn’t agree more.
The bully alpha male from my old neighborhood thought it was hilarious that my mom was a whore. I told him to fuck off so. He wanted to kick my ass so bad. But, he had to catch my ass first. Donny was twice as big as me and a couple years older. There was no way I could beat him so I avoided him. He was a stoner so he spent all his time at the smoke tree or in metal shop. Most of us kids smoked pot but vast majority of us knew not to draw attention to ourselves. Stoners didn’t care. As long as I didn’t go near the gym our paths wouldn’t cross.
The safest place was the library. It’s where I met Eric. He would spend his lunches in the back chewing on a sandwich while reading a sci-fi novel. I could care less about space dragons but we got along.
His parents were college professors at different schools.  Burien was middle ground and made sense before his folks got divorced immediately after moving to town. His dad moved to Tacoma and his mom kept the house. There was no drama. They were just so matter of fact that Eric had to wonder if anyone really cared about anything other their own pursuit of happiness.
We had solitude in common. Both of us had very little supervision or interaction growing up. It’s always easier being alone. He was just about the only person who didn’t feel like a stranger.
Lunch was the time I didn’t feel like a catatonic zombie. I was doing horrible in school. I couldn’t concentrate surrounded by so much stress. I worried that others could sense my insecurity so I became aloof, bordering on invisible. My greatest goal was to go unnoticed. Lunch was all I had.
When Gina joined sophomore year our triumvirate had achieved perfection. She was loud and rambunctious. Teenage girls are bitches and Gina was the poorest of the poor white trash. When a girl in Algebra told her she could smell her va-Gina. Gina glared at her. When she told Gina to take a bath Gina beat her with a text book. It was legend.
She wasn’t a beefy softball player type. She was a little pixie with a self-styled haircut, but she was wiry like a featherweight.  The three of us were inseparable in and out of school. Even after Donny dropped out (Thank God, what a fucking prick. Jesus hates you Donny. You piece of shit) and I could once again walk the halls in peace I spent all of my free time at a wood table behind the magazine stacks.
I think instinct brought us together. The same way you can meet someone and not like them before they even utter a word you meet people you like the same way. Whether it’s chemical or some sense of psychic compatibility I do not know but we all clicked.
Then Eric graduated and Gina dropped out over the summer. Eric was real smart. He was into quantum physics and experimental mathematics. I did not even pretend to understand any of it. For him to go to college was a forgone conclusion. Gina wound up on the streets squatting with a bunch of kids. That always seemed likely. I didn’t know what the hell was going to happen to me.
Eric was at class so I camped out in the hallway. He let his Reaganite dad fill out his housing application and as a result found himself on a floor full of ROTC meatheads. Apparently he does not know that his son is a super nerd anarchist. They grunted when they passed by.
 I began to wonder if they found me offensive and if so what part me bothered them the most.  My hair was long but not stoner heavy metal long. I wore a trench coat covered in punk rock buttons that expressed my inner beliefs. Maybe it’s because I didn’t tuck my legs in and they had to step over me.
I was relieved when I saw Eric and stood up to greet him. He looked me in the face and I am sure he saw a man who had been through hell. “Wanna get high?” he asked.
“If I say I love you out in here in the hallway will your neighbors think we’re lovers?”
Eric laughed and pushed the door open. “Shut up and get in the room.”
The whole floor thought Eric was weird. He was so obviously out of place. They didn’t drink, smoke, play music, or party in any way. They studied and did pushups. They were god fearing republican uber menschen. As best we could figure they thought Eric was a satan worshipping homosexual who most likely has taken part in at least one ritual sacrifice. I think they were too afraid of him to fuck with him.
Eric tucked a towel under the door and cracked his window. He turned on the stereo and the Thompson Twins filled the room with an accented moan. Eric had a conniption and reached for the tuner.
“That was awful. I’m sorry you had to hear that.” Eric apologized and slapped in a cassette. “I can’t listen to the radio anymore. It’s all fake. New wave is the worst. They’re so serious in their artificiality. It seemed smart but now it’s just corporate.”
Bauhaus droned out of the speakers. Eric loaded his little green plastic bong took a big hit and passed it to me. There with a lighter in my hand while smoke slowly curled around lip of the pipe, I took the opportunity to reply.
“First of all, this music is the reason your neighbors think you kill cats. Secondly, most new wave sucks but what are the alternatives? Top forty? Have you forgotten about Toto? Do you want to go back to that? Do you want to bless the rains down in Africa?”
Eric was waving at me with his hand and motioning to the bong. “Smoke.” He was trying to hold his breath but squeaked out a word. “You’re letting the smoke out.” He knows priorities.
I got high and told Eric all about my morning. He knew I was dealing with a lot of bullshit and let me vent. Eventually I just threw my hands up in the air and I was done. I couldn’t dwell on it anymore.
Changing the subject, Eric mentioned that Gina had spent the night at his place the day before and had done so a few times. I had often worried about the two of them hooking up. I convinced myself it was because I was concerned about the whole friend dynamic. Actually, I had an enormous crush on Gina. She was the only girl I ever thought about. I felt a green streak of jealousy when I asked jokingly if they had done it and was relieved when I found out they didn’t.
Neither Eric nor I would ever make a move on Gina. It was against the rules. Then again, if she were to choose one of us it was understood that we would both go for it. I’m sure Gina knew it too. I hoped it would be me.
Mid-morning drifted into early afternoon and I asked Eric if he had class to go to. I didn’t want to leave and was hoping I could stay awhile.
“I have a pointless class at,” He strained his neck to look for the clock, “now.” He slumped back into his seat. “I’m not going. It’s an English class. I see no reason why I should have to take it. I came to school to do science things. An engineer need not be an essayist. A violinist need not dissect a frog. Obviously, I already know how to read and write. I got accepted here after all. Other than to reinforce skills I already possess it is a complete waste of my time. Also, they don’t take role. I just have to turn in a paper a week and I’m good. “
Then in an abrupt change of thought Eric asked, “Do you want to get nachos? I know where we can get nachos. Let’s get more high and get some nachos.”
We both giggled like little girls which made us laugh like maniacs. We shuffled to the hub like blurry eyed fools. I don’t even remember getting food but there is was before us, salty tortilla chips and ultra-processed fake orange cheese. It was so good. I used the sharp edge of a chip to scrape the congealed sauce from sides if the carton basket.

It was getting dark and I knew I had to leave. My buzz was wearing off. As it was it’d be a least seven o’clock before I got home. Everyone was already pissed off at me. I shouldn’t make it worse. I figured I’d plead my case. After all, the whole scenario is ridiculous. I’d apologize for everything including missing school and promise to do better. I’d convinced myself that even though the tension at home would be unbearable for a minute but it would fade.