Monday, April 18, 2016

Padding the Pushke

I’m out. I’m new to The City, I don’t have a hookup. I’m planning my day and mention it to S. She says the cat she’s staying with can get me some. I’m already wary. She’s mentioned mold in her room and various characters that sound somewhat sundry, no details. I roll up. I look for the most ghetto house on the most ghetto block in the Heights. When it’s super integrated you know it’s bad. One house Caribbean, one house Hasidic. Tiny little houses and brownstones split up all sorts of ways. Tight grid - these streets, these blocks.

Though I know of S’s past I don’t expect Hasidic until I hit the actual house, which is most visibly the most ghetto in that it’s just a bunch of trash bags taped together that make up most of the front wall. S sits on the steps smoking one of her trademark rollies. She’s there with some Hasidic guy, a cell phone to each ear. I don’t yet know much about Hasidism, but I suspect the trappings do not include a bandolier made of padlocks, which this wears. Everything else seems legit. I’m about to buy drugs from a Hasidic drug dealer.

S greets me, whispers “don’t touch him” and introduces me to A. All I see is beard and payot. A doesn’t look in my eyes and says something in Hebrew. I smile. I realize I am only being welcomed into this experience because I am Jewish. “Come, come” A says, while pulling out a pager and checking it, dialing a phone, and speaking into it in Yiddish. His other phone is ringing.

Inside, I see S’s room from the front hallway, with trash bags making up one of the outside walls. Waist deep in clothing, both dirty and clean, art supplies, art, pizza and takeout boxes, and various found objects - It reminds me of a teenager’s punk rock room from my hometown, usually the result of absent parents allowing a level of neglect only immaturity could conjure. 

S later tells me that A is trying to get her to move into the Mitzvah Tank - a 25' bus with Rabbi Schneerson's face wrapped across both sides, conspicuously hooked up to the house by cabling. I think it's a healthier choice but she doesn't want to be sleeping in a vehicle on the street. When I ask where A got a Mitzvah Tank, an official vehicle designed to take Chabadim out into the community to do good deeds and convert people, she shrugs and tells me someone paid off a drug debt with it.

There are half a dozen men in the living room. Some wear the dress, some don’t. Some speak Yiddish, some don’t. Later I will learn the lines in Chabad aren’t so thickly drawn. Later I will learn the punchline: that A is a convert (yet earnest - as his piety means his survival). Later I will learn that one of the things that sets this sect aside is proselytism, and the results of that on the streets of the The City can be shielding from the law in exchange for profit criminals or the mentally ill. Or both.

A and S lead me through the house into the kitchen. His phones are both ringing. I see piles of computers on the dining room table, A has a repair business as a side, or a front, or a hobby. There are safes and padlocks on these as well as on every door. By the kitchen door there is a mini-fridge with a glass door full of soda, and a rack full of chips and junk food. Scotch taped to the wall near this is a yellowing half-sheet of paper, a homemade sign typed on a typewriter: a price list for the snacks. I chuckle at this.

In the kitchen, faded wallpaper and an expensive scale on the table, A turns again and greets me in Hebrew, he asks what I want, and then - beaming at his donation-based drug-dealing - he asks how much I want to pay for it. I name my price, and it is fair. At this point I want not to be in this house or around anything this depressing ever again and would pay just to be away from this and am hoping I don’t get padlocked into anything. A smiles and nods and uses some keys on his bandolier to open a padlock on a door near the kitchen and goes into a back room. I hear him rustling around as well as answering the phone, in Yiddish while listening to his voicemails on his other phone, mostly in Yiddish but some in English. Each time he hits save, next, or delete within seconds, producing loud, unsettling beeps that he just talks over as though there is no one there to hear the content.

I take out my money and turn to S. I hand her $20 and tell her to never tell anyone I was here. She says “Oh, I’ll take your money,” slowly taking it from my hand, “but…” she points up at the corners of the room. It’s then that I see the security cameras, mounted everywhere. Every angle of every room is covered. I mumble “Fuck” under my breath as A comes back into the room.

A short discussion about containers ensues wherein he makes me pay an extra fee for the containers in which he sells it to me. Again I’m just ready to bolt now so I pay it without haggling. He weighs it out, deftly. The stuff looks horrible. I ask if he ever gets any shatter. “This is Shatter”. I laugh, somewhat uncontrollably. S looks horrified, eyes wide. A looks at me calmly, and tilts his head. I say by way of explanation or apology “I’m from California.” I see him get excited “What do you know Shatter to be? Can you get a larger amount by me, I can get you a discount if you can organize bulk transfers?”

As he rattles on, I pay him, though he won’t take the money from my hand and motions with his eyes to the table. I place the money on the table. I look at S with a pleading look. She catches it and earns her $20 by bustling me out quickly. I make vague promises to A to hook him up with some people while also denying that I know any people. His phone ringing saves me from conversation. It’s clear he’s bipolar if not a paranoid schizophrenic if not using stimulants. If not all of the above. It’s also clear he’s wanted, on the run, and does serious business.

I make it outside, relieved my car is not too far, and still there. I breathe deeply and am into my car, squeezing out of my spot without denting the Mitvah Tank, and gone, S waving from the stoop sadly. I feel sorry for her but mostly I just want to get home and take a hit.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Magic Bob

At the turn of the century I’m honing my hustle.  I find practice and $400 a day after taxes in California’s unique voter driven ballot initiative system.  I am a paid petitioner.  Human nature and how it relates to politics and the entranceway of grocery stores becomes my study.  I find that my put-on-airs intelligent tone inspires authority and trust in people around policy.  I learn to size up and box down opinions.  When it comes to sales, you either have it - or you don’t.  The first day of this gig I learn I’m in the top percentile.

During the presidential elections the work becomes my life and I make serious money.  I’m promoted to manager within a week and train the troops each morning - taking a cut off of the few that return at the end of the day, and the even fewer still remaining by the end of a week.  This job pays every few days in cash for verified voter signatures. It attracts anyone eligible to be a registered voter who wants a quick buck, and only keeps those willing to hustle for it.  In California, as I learn to educate so many men of color, once a felon is off probation they are eligible to register.  Many tell me their probation officers have told them differently.

We are a motley crew, the Professionals.  Corner dealers from South Central, telesales guys from Mission Viejo, a ghetto white kid who wears a Jewish star, toothless ex-methusingbikers from the Valley, superobese activists, safety pinned punk rock kids in squats downtown - anyone who can learn a script or riff on political themes at any level in any neighborhood.  We all have our specialties in Los Angeles County.  We all have the places we do the best.  They call me a “switch” because I can be put almost anywhere.  

I have trouble with white upper class liberal neighborhoods.  When I drop Jamil there he makes bank on white guilt. Raised in Compton now we carpool from Hollywood to West LA together smoking blunts and shooting the shit all the way.  Like a sitcom of race relations we learn things from one another that we’d never have otherwise.  One day he asks me how I like his weave and I think he’s asking me how I like the weed (he insists on providing it even though mine is better, he won’t take a free ride).  A good eight minutes of hilarity ensues before we figure it out.  

The funny bleeds out of that story days later, when I see him for the last time, with his pregnant wife.  He pulled that same weave out of his hair behind a dumpster while running from the cops, guessing correctly they wouldn’t be able to distinguish him if he just changed his hair and shirt.  His first babymama was having alcohol and crack issues and when he visited he scooped up his undiapered child and began taking photos of the condition of the house he found her in.  High on crack, seeing he meant to take their child,  she met his eyes, tore her clothes off, scratched a rake in his arm, and ran through the halls of the public housing screaming “RAPE”.

I wrote Jamil a professional character reference.  By that point I know he is the son of Muslim booksellers and his wife has converted.  She is from a middle class black family and is happy to realize that I am someone she can converse with.  Despite his lifestyle matching any hip-hop song - he is no rapist, only dabbles in drugs, art, sales, and territory - and he is a good man and an excellent petitioner.  I’ve never seen him or his wife since.  Jamil was facing his third strike, and no one talks about it but I know he is going away for life at just 23, no matter how many letters we all write.  Yet another example of how the criminal justice system ignorantly swallows the lives of black men.

It’s an interesting job for a while, and I often gladly, sometimes sadly have to accept the coworkers in this field will always come and go.  Part politics, part sales, part coming to terms with how few citizens want actual democracy, yet at the same time no one trusts their representative government. For a while I’m being paid by the Republican Party $1 for every Republican registration, which I sell to the democrats with:

“Take a dollar away from the Republican Party!”

I take pride in my origin, the reason I’m there in the first place.  It’s the last job I ever get out of circling newspaper classifieds with a pen.  The listing reads “FIGHT THE WAR ON DRUGS AND FATCATS IN WASHINGTON!”.  My leading petition for my first round is Proposition 56: Non-Violent Drug Offenders to Rehab Instead of Prison.  I’m wooed at the training with the superobese activist’s statements:

“You are the frontlines of democracy.”  

There’s fire in my presentation for this one more than any other and I feel the difference I make at the Shadow Conventions focusing on the War On Drugs months hence.  I’m still proud of it.

I keep the petitioning skills after I’ve left the crew and after having an affair with one of the other managers, a toothless ex-methusingbiker who confesses through tears to me in a hooker motel that he once cut someone’s hands off and left them to die and still wonders whether they did.  I am fascinated by his street stories and his cock that won’t fit in any of my holes.  Once this bores me and consequently blows up in my face - that crew is never the same.

Fortunately there are endless crews and I can use my chops anywhere in California - and once the word gets out that you are good you get calls.  One day I do.  I honestly cannot remember the issue in question on the petition, or any of the arguments I used to get people to sign it.  I remember the place, the methods, and the people.

The place is El Segundo, California.  I am called in from Los Angeles to work a local petition that someone was desperate to get signatures for.  El Segundo is dominated by oil interests and I’m sure the petition was paid for by them.  El Segundo is named thusly because of Chevron’s second refinery built there.  It’s a small, blue collar company town within spitting distance from the westside of Los Angeles.  Now that massive industrial cleanup is finally happening, the town attracts corporate headquarters of all kinds.  With these come a corporate elite that are pushing out the old breed of locals.  These are middle Americans that have resettled here from everywhere, to live out their days breathing in solvents from a brand new building of steel, glass, concrete, and carpet.  They’re ready to rest at the top of the corporate ladder they’ve dutifully climbed, clocking in to be ignored and let time pass.  They and the refinery workers, who value back-breaking work for a lifetime, do not see eye-to-eye.  I contend daily with the tension around this.

El Segundo is a maze of new corporate stores, but the customers of these are not the voters that are our target.  For this I have to hit the local joints, and stay away from anything chain.  Because I am not a resident of El Segundo - I am assigned a Witness who is.  I am paid per signature, and this initiative doesn’t pay much.  I’m lucky if I make $250/day.  My Witness, however, will make $15/hour regardless.  Theoretically he could - but he never makes more than I do.  I’m relentless.

The only requirement for a Witness is that they be an El Segundo voter.  I show up at the grocery store parking lot.  The organizer and the Witnesses are lined up in front of the store waiting for adoption.  They give me first pick.  I thought I couldn’t be shocked, but the selection of Witnesses terrifies me.  Conveying and convincing seems impossible with one of these leering over me.  Anyone can be paid to watch. At the very end of the depressing barrel-scraped lineup, an older man with sun damaged skin, stubble, and greasy grey hair under a faded baseball cap reaches out and shakes my hand.  He wears white clothing, stained, and mismatched.  Paper white pants and a cream shirt.

“Hi!  I’m Magic Bob.”  There is a faint hint of alcohol on him, but I can tell it’s not from today.  

“Hi Magic Bob.”  Something about the twinkle in his bright blue eye makes me say this smiling.  “I’ll take this one!” I call out to the organizer.

“Awesome, she picked ME.  Do we get to have sex now?”  he trots alongside me like a puppy.

“No, Bob, we don’t.” I am signing paperwork.  “What makes you Magic?”

“I’ll show you.”  He’s beaming at me.  “Do you have a deck of cards?” He asks this assuming that I am in his world, a world of cards and sleight of hand and scarves and birds.

“No, I don’t.”

“Well, I do.”  Suddenly there is a deck of cards in his hands.  I swear I didn’t see him produce it.  The organizer takes my paperwork and hands me a 50lb box of petitions to start.  I head towards the car while Bob pockets the cards.

“That’s it?” I ask.

“That’s not enough magic for you?  You can’t have it all at once you know.”  He shakes his head.

We race towards the best local spot and claim it for the duration.  During 6 weeks of working 12 hour days together, Magic Bob and I become very well acquainted.  Much to his chagrin, we never have sex.  

Bob is homeless, alcoholic, sex addicted, and a bonafide, practiced, and brilliant magician.  He never drinks when he works, and he works construction or handymannery or anything he can get his hands on that will pay him daily cash.   If he can get crack or cocaine on top of alcohol and sex he’s happy to add that into the mix.

I choose the first two weeks of the petitioning time to try out the Master Cleanse for the first and unfortunately not last time.  The benefits and drawbacks of fasting aside, that one has no advantage other than understanding the mindset of a trend.  Bob puts up with my manic clarity under the influence of starvation quite well, and never gives me any shit.  He supports and bolsters any behavior that I choose.

He entertains me and the marks all day long with magic and jokes, tirelessly.  Everyone in town knows him, which almost always makes my job easier.  He is always smiling, always eager.  At the end of the day, we stop by the organizer, drop of the petitions, and get paid.  I then take him to the strip club, opposite a hotel.  He drinks himself blind and spends all of his money.  At first he has enough to buy a hotel room and a prostitute after the club.  By the end of the gig he sleeps in the gutter or park outside the club and has a tab that I refuse to pay off for him.  

He asks me for money incessantly, yet never holds it against me when I refuse.  The only thing that makes him mad is when someone calls what he does “magic tricks”.  

“What’s the difference between magic and magic tricks?”  I ask.

“50 years of practice.” he says sternly. I get that he takes this seriously.

“Have you ever worked magic professionally?” I’m driving him to a construction gig he’s working after a half day of Witnessing me petitioning.  It’s the first time I’ve given him anything, despite his constant asking.  It prompts a tourettes-like episode of him petitioning me for sex, calmly and patiently denied.

“I’ll tell you if you have sex with me.”  It’s his last try of the day.

“No, Bob, I’m not having sex with you.”  I retort almost automatically at this point.

“Well okay then I’ll tell you anyway”  You’ve got to hand it to him for taking rejection as well as he does.  “I did work the clubs for a while here.  Vegas is where it’s at though.  A buddy of mine, I was working on his house out in Agoura Hills and his agent stopped by one day we did a private show.  Then he came see me at the club.  I had a good night, too.  They offered me a deal.”  The corners of Bob’s mouth are no longer smiling.

“A Vegas deal?”  I try to encourage him.

“Yeah.”  He says listlessly.  

“Whyn’t you take it?” I ask.

“Well, there were strings, you see…”  he trails off.  I think of all the strings it could involve except the one it does.

“Sobriety?”  I ask.

“Basically, but no.  I’d have to lose 30 pounds for the deal.  Clean up my act a bit for the stage.  They don’t care what I do on my off time, but… I can’t lose 30 pounds.  I’d have to cut out the booze to do it.  Million dollar deal, too.  1.2 a year.  Still stands, ya know.”

“Bob, if I were you I’d take that.  I’ve lost 30 pounds.  Even on this cleanse I’ve lost 10 already.  It’s not that hard, really.”  I rarely give him advice, and he smiles at this piece.

“You ain’t me, sweetie, you ain’t me.”

The next day he meets me brighter than usual.  “Good morning Bob!”

“Let’s go the park!” he says “We can register all the bums to vote and get them to sign.  It’ll be like 25 signatures.”

“I can’t argue with that.” I say, despite being sure he’s come into some cocaine and wants to sell off as much of it to them as he can before he himself blows through it.  Alcohol and sex are far more important to him than cocaine or crack, and maintaining a steady work rhythm for 40 years is how he’s kept himself in both. Still, we'll be registering people to vote. On our way he makes me think of a card.

“BUT DON’T TELL ME WHAT IT IS.” he says.  His intensity under the influence scares me a little, but Bob and I are so accustomed to one another’s rhythms by now that we still find a stride.  I think of the 8 of Hearts, but keep it to myself.  He shuffles the deck as we walk towards the library, the back lawn of which the local homeless crowd refer to as “The Park”.  

I tap the deck at Bob’s request and he flips the cards over and the backs of them have turned from red to blue.

“How the…?” I trail off, still slowly walking.  He offers them to me again to tap.  I do it again.  They change again, in front of my eyes.

“Do you want the red pill, or the blue pill?” he asks, again with that twinkle in his tone.  He goes into his pocket and hands me a folded leather case with a snap that I’ve never seen him have before.  I unsnap it and inside are two compartments, one empty, the other zippered.  In the zippered compartment is one card.  The 8 of Hearts.

“You really are magic, Bob.”  I am flabbergasted. He puts his hand on my shoulder.

“I know.”  He leans in. He's positively magnetic. “Will you have sex with me now?”

“No, Bob, I won’t have sex with you.”  I laugh.

That day we get tons of signatures from Bob’s homeless friends.  Under his instructions, I sit by the sidelines while Bob collects them and sells cocaine.  I’m grateful for the day off, as collecting has become more and more difficult.  We’ve had to frequent smaller and smaller stores to the point of standing outside of corner convenience stores, we've gotten creative about where people congregate, and now literal and have resorted to churches.  After today we’ll spend the final two weeks door-to-door canvassing before the campaign is mercifully called to a close.  

Bob proves less useful on the canvassing grind, the grueling walks and odd pace interfere with his magic.  Still, he hangs in until the bitter end, and we hug goodbye in the same parking lot where we met as though we’ll see each other again, but both with tears in our eyes - knowing the underlying reality.

But I do see Bob again, one more time.  

It’s a few years later and the first time I smoke DMT.  Hours after this experience my friends are called to El Segundo for strange, unrelated reasons.  Despite an intense and dark first DMT experience I’m euphoric at comedown and all day, and I ride along with them just to experience memory lane in my current state.  We park at a meter on the main drag just as I’m finishing telling my friends the story of my tenure in the town.  We’re just down the street from The Park.  I get out of the car.

“So, I hope I see Magic Bob...”  I say, and looking up he comes walking around the corner.

“HEY!” he runs at me and gives me a hug.  I introduce him to my friends and he does a little magic for them.  He seems worse for the wear physically, better at his magic - yet same as ever.  “What are you doing here?” he asks me incredulously.

“I just did DMT for the first time and I wanted to see you and there you were.” I blurt out.

“No shit.”  He grins at me like a partner in crime and then sobers “That stuff’s a wild ride.  Be careful with that shit - it fucks with your magic.” he looks more stern than usual.  I nod.  We talk for a while and then I’m called back by my friends to leave. As a final goodbye I take his hands. "Hey wait, you know those bums we registered that day?"

"Yeah, I remember."

"They voted you know. Every one of them." His face beams with pride. So does mine.

“That's fucking awesome. Frontlines of democracy." I smile, and massage his hands. "Take care of yourself, Magic Bob.” I mean it.

“Ok, I will.  You take care of you, okay sweetie?”  He looks deep into me.  “Can we have sex now?”  he asks, as though he never has before.

I lean in and kiss him on the mouth.  “No, Bob.  We can’t.”

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


The phone rings.  I answer it thinking it B, we’re supposed to meet and discuss work and he has packages for me.  He’s my first contact in Miami.  He is generous to a fault.  I never ask anyone for anything, but somehow feel comfortable enough asking him.

“Hi B.”

“You wish it was B.  It’s M, B’s secretary.” His voice is brilliant.  I feel outclassed.

“Hi M, B’s secretary.”

“We’ll pick you up.  We’re outside The Flamingo.  Come down to the gate”


I've developed a love-hate relationship with this reality show-calibre place that is The Flamingo. It's South Beach distilled. All the young and (augmented) beautiful on the hunt for sex and money. It definitely feels like home - but at the same time there's something deeply disturbing (and moldy) woven through the walls. It's a luxury slum, impoverished and extravagant all at once.

I jump on the train knowing that I won’t be able to get off, I don’t ask where we are going or what I should wear, I just throw on a loose dress over some tight-legged pants and figure it’s best to be comfortable.  Also better too warm than too cold, so it’s the white disco fall jacket and I’m off.  The elevator takes forever and they call again as I hit the gate.  It’s good they did as I realize I’m a million miles away tonight when they do.  Out of it and fully present all at once.

In the car I meet M, not actually B’s secretary, and N.  We’re all veteran Burning Man folk.  B claims to have organized the night to maximize that.  B’s driving through the streets of Miami and it’s obvious in seconds that M is 5-star brilliant and insightful.  I can’t figure out what I feel about him but am drawn to him like a magnet.

We’re driving South on Alton into the heart of South Beach.  M is mumbling a mile a minute and when I ask for him to repeat himself he does so without being self-conscious.  Some of the first words out of his mouth are “Would you like some K?”

I’m out of context and have been travelling so long that I have to ask “Did you just ask me if I want some K?”


I pause.  I think about it.  First time drug experience, here and now?  Not sure. 

“No, but thank you.”  I am still thinking about it.

I can tell that M and N are high, but I’ve never been around smart people on K and have no context for the high.  Having no context becomes a theme for the evening.  I realize how depressed and reclusive I’ve been.  I realize that Miami isn’t bringing out the best in me – I’m not taking care of myself.  There are destructive forces here and I don’t have defenses for them yet.

We arrive at Monty’s – where people are eating raw shellfish and other seafood both indoors and out, around a pool illuminated in dark blue.  There is a thatched roof on one of the bars and we head there, I drink a double shot of tequila which M buys.  He questions my choice of tequila, neat, no chaser, no lime – in much the same way I questioned his offer – wanting to make sure he heard me right.  There are many people, burners mostly, the Miami young and creative elite.  I talk with all, but mostly B and M.  B is advertising me and my Burning Man accomplishments.  I am proud and embarrassed and distracted from my other conversations because of his introductions.

“I want to get in the pool” says M.  I do too.  I want to throw off all my clothes, bare my socially unacceptable body, and jump in with a huge splash.  M shows me photos of his motorcycle accident.  Cigarettes and motorcycles.

There is a matchmaker.  B talks about the Russian ballerina that she found for him for $500.  He says he was with her for four months – which is a long relationship for him.   She is now asking $1500 for a Thai woman.  I smile and ask if she can find me a man – an eccentric genius that treats me both like a princess and a partner in crime.  B nods in M’s direction and winks at me.  I take the hint and open myself.

With some liquid courage I confess to M I said no to the K because of not wanting my first time experience to be here, at this random crappy alcohol-infused place.  He lights up at my virginity.  He is charming and brilliant and holds my hand through my arguments without pressure – and then holds my nose as he ramps me up on a timer he sets on his phone for every eight minutes.  I am tickled by his handling of the situation.  He gifts me with care and accuracy.  I haven’t done a new drug in almost a decade.  The drip tastes pure. 

“Just the tiniest amount” I say nervously as he preps my first bump.

“Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you” is his response.  I wonder if he knows how intently I am listening to him.  I can’t help it.  Everything he says shows deep understanding of me.  Is it accidental?  He seems so much like me.  Irreverent.  Defended by a huge brain.  Above the law.  Self-destructive.  Distracted.  I don’t know whether I like these in myself or him.

K unveils itself as a social lubricant and I feel myself getting high and expressive and outgoing.  I dissociate a hair more, but I’m also more keenly aware of how dissociated I am at baseline – so it plugs me in as well as distances me.  I turn out to be a hardhead as I am with everything.  I wish I weren’t.  I hate how needy it makes me seem when I ask for more.  I think of the descriptions that people have given me for the experience over the years.  None of them apply. 

I watch myself analyzing myself analyzing.   Who is this M?  Is he good news?  Is he bad news?  Does he like me?  Do I like him?  Do I want to fuck him?  Does he want to fuck me?  Could I marry him?  Does it matter?  What about this drug?  Do I like it?  Is it making everything slightly non-linear?  And what about Miami?  What about this place of constant celebration?  What about these party people?  What about the complete lack of consideration, the rudeness, the third world mentality? Could I live here?  Could I live here for part of the year?  Is this just a vacation spot?  Why am I drawn here?  Viva la fiesta!  But what goes up must always come down.

I am stretched.  M asks me if I have taken a walk yet.  I walk to test the process of walking.  It doesn’t feel much different from having some alcohol in my system.  It takes some concentration.  My muscles feel relaxed, but the connections aren’t dissolved.  I am glad for yoga and my trained meridians.  I walk over the hole without falling in.

I watch B leaning on a post.  There is something open in him that was closed before.  I want to give him a hug and thank him for all he’s done for me, but I know we’re bros and that’s not cool.  He confesses he is high as fuck.  I wonder if he wants help.  I don’t want to be his helper.  I tell him that I’ve heard it’ll all be over in an hour.  I tell him that I couldn’t have told he was that high if he hadn’t told me.  I watch him relax.  He doesn’t want people to know he’s out of control.  I understand that.

I’m a little out of control.  I spout off about illegal drugs in ways I shouldn’t, not to strangers, not in Florida.  It feels good to pull myself out of my cocoon and be loud and opinionated and unapologetic.  It feels like being a teenager.   For a moment I am unconscious of myself.

All too soon the experience begins to fade.  The rest of the night is sad and sinister – seems as though we are chasing something.  We are invaded by the timbre of Miami – everyone on the move for the next parade, the next party, the next pussy.  We head to a Ted’s Hideaway for no ostensible reason.  I don’t think they are drunk enough to chase their buzz.  I am not drunk at all.  I’m not high either.  I want to be. 

The bar is loud, and useless.  It’s a dive bar in South Beach, but not divey enough for me, nor classy enough for me. It inhabits that uncomfortable mid-zone where I can’t enjoy myself.  It’s full of the runoff, not the riffraff.   B and I talk about work and money and investments and real estate.  We walk there and cab back, just blocks.  We compete for the cab against a group of women in high platform heels.  M says they are called “Bambis”.  I chuckle.  I am unsure why we are doing any of what we are doing.  It would be more fun to be in a comfortable place, nestled in conversation – or on a dance floor covered in sweat.  That’s not what they want though – they want to chase the dragon.  It’s the weekend, it’s the WMC, it’s Spring Break. 

Soon enough we are back in B’s penthouse on floor 15 of The Flamingo, where your floor number determines your status.  I stop on the 8th floor and bring up my vaporizer and have some weed for the first time in weeks.  The weed is nice.  It wrings the vulnerability out of me.  I’m back behind the wall.   N goes on and on about my Burning Man contributions.  I accept the flattery, smiling.  I don’t know what else to do.  He’s drunk and high, and a nice man.  It feels like Burning Man.  All I get there is praise.  I don’t even hear it anymore.  Instead I chase the ones that don’t praise me.  N leaves and it’s me and B and M.  They talk of The Flamingo and buying vs. renting and vacation rentals.  Real estate is a common topic in Miami.  Landlords and ladies abound. 

I have no control or say and don’t try to voice any.  M wonders about a female friend of his.  He brings it up until I can’t help but have heard about it, then he gives it context by saying “I’m not invested”.  I get it.  He doesn’t want any ties and wants me to know that.  There is talk of women.  I see they want to fuck the women they can’t talk to.  B talks about double booking any arrangements with women because we can’t make up our minds.  I mull that over and realize that he’s right, and that it’s profound.  I want to pick that apart, but the conversation moves on.  They talk about meeting up with two young women M has been texting at a strip club.  M feels guilty for discussing them like objects.   I remind him that feeling guilty for being honest won’t get him anywhere.   M asks me to accompany them.  Twice.  I decline the invitation.

“You guys can go though, have fun”

“Oh, can we?  Thanks for the permission Miss D.  Will you stamp my pass?” M’s teasing shocks me.  It’s not gentle.  I like it, I like that he gives me shit – but at the same time I don’t like what it says about my personhood.   I’m not one of the guys, nor am I a young slim girl they would design an evening around.  I’m extraneous.  I’m a novelty, I’m not a priority.  

I want more of the drug just to get more personal attention.

Fuck that.  I’m out.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Lucifer in Los Angeles - Chapter Three - Murder

I peer out of the tunnel to see the overcast sky match the river’s fixed course concrete bed in tone.  A burst of color wheels by, purple spandex and early-morning motivation atop an expensive and relatively new bicycle.  Young, taut, fresh, fit flesh shines out in the morning light, diffuse though it is.  I suddenly realize that I am starving.

Innocently exercising to extend her life - Sally never suspects that she’ll end it in the river.  She’s left Jed at home in bed, sleeping peacefully.  She likes to be gone in the mornings, because that’ when he wants sex - and she doesn’t want sex.  She never wants sex, she just wants to keep moving - so she doesn’t have to think about anything.  Thinking about things lead her down bad roads.  Scary roads.  

Jed paid for her bike though, that’s nice of him considering she only lets him have sex with her once a month.  She tries to time it so that he doesn’t realize it’s once a month, though - but let it average out that way.  She hopes she isn’t damaging her vagina with even that much.  Jed is an agent and she knows that he will soon get her a good part, because she takes care of her body better than anyone else.  She knows that if she just lets Jed have it once in a while he’ll put her on a pedestal, so she pretends to be one of those kind of girls.  Deep inside that’s not how she feels though.  Deep inside she doesn’t ever want to be penetrated by anyone.  She wants to cage off anything deep inside.  She makes sure her body knows who is boss.  *fsk fsk fsk* that’s the sound her pedaling makes.  It keeps her centered.  She needs to be centered.

All of this flashes before me in a blur of purple spandex.  A flash of my former power gives me such hope, but it is crushed by the smell of her sweat and the contents of her mind, heart, and soul.  Before I’ve realized what’s happened I am devouring her body.  I shudder at the animal instincts and yet take deep pleasure in them.  The metallic taste of her blood bothers me so I dig into her organs. I am feasting on her intestines when Janine finds me there, blood and entrails dripping off of my chin, grinning and slurping.  Muted sunshine glinting off the blood covered bicycle beside me. Sally’s face frozen in shock.

Janine crumbles to the ground sobbing.  Before I know it I am at her side, I want to soothe her, to take her pain on with my own - still throbbing in my head and temples despite the sleep and food.  I want to suck it out of her, to relieve her, to save her and protect her.  I sing to her a lullaby with no words.  She tries to push me away but my rocking and cooing relax her and she leans into me crying.  

“I was hungry, I didn’t know. That’s the most action Sally will ever see.  I won’t do it again.   I have to leave.”  I try to say something to get her to stop crying, and the promise not to repeat the murder is what does it.  She calms and nuzzles into me.

“So do I, motherfucker - the police on they way for a nice neurotic white girl like that in seconds.”  I am surprised to see her know what kind of person Sally was.  It makes me wonder whether my flash of information was psychic or just human intuition.  Janine races to her hole to pack her belongings.  I see that she is used to doing this.  It is unceremonious and unsentimental.  I am glad I have not put her out.  I walk to her and put my hand on her shoulder.  

I realize I have true emotion for her.  “Janine I will give you money, when I have it.  You will have all the drugs you need.  You will never fight again.  I will find you in the river”  She shakes her head, I am not sure if out of disbelief or incredulity.

“No shit Sherlock, I live here all the time.” she says.  Then she smiles at me and puts her hand in mine.  “Good luck, Angel.  You definitely not human, don’t think I don’t know.”  

“I wish that were true.”  I admit.  “I am not sure what I am.”  

As she walks away I realize she has left in my palm a balloon containing 200mg of black tar heroin.  I reach up to my face and find it wet.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

San Francisco

I fall in love with San Francisco over the course of a two week stay in October, 2012.  

It is not love at first sight.  I lived in the Bay Area for 6 years and never loved any part of it.  I’ve always appreciated it on a theoretical level - as the end of the spectrum and the pinnacle of progressive, leftist civilization in the United States.  I never liked it close up though.  It always felt to me like that over-achieving, note-taking, well-put together, charming and strikingly gorgeous hot girl in college that you wish you could be like until you get close and realize she’s a diet-pill using bulimic virgin except for the rape.  

San Francisco pokes holes in the veneer of leftist theory by having more street people than any city I’ve been to.  I have to frown as I watch hundreds of people and cars passing a homeless beggar, a black man in an oversized army coat resting his back against the cool stone of a downtown San Francisco building. Those that want the government to take care of people are the very people that won’t take care of each other and so I, the tourist, stoop to drop a dollar in the hand of a grateful man.

This visit, though - my perspective shifts.  I realize that this person and so many others that can’t make it without assistance flock to San Francisco as a testimony to the city’s tolerance and generosity.  As are all the other populations that are celebrated in San Francisco and not elsewhere.

The food is fresh, nutritious, and conscious.  More so than any other city in the United States.  I can eat everywhere I go - refreshing after being accustomed to bringing my own food everywhere.  I happily stick to a restricted diet and still enjoy new flavors and combinations at the hands of Bay Area chefs both gourmet and everyday.

It is over tapas in Mountain View with my friend translating his Russian supervisor and my English questions that the deal is struck where I will sell Chinese-made robots for a Russian company.  It is over tea in the Castro that me and my friend of many years and few in person hangouts agree to write a book about using nutrition and therapy to manage cyclothymia.  The Bay Area affords fractal expansions of opportunity.

I am in a fancy medical marijuana dispensary in the Mission that also provides alternative healthcare counseling to patients seeking cannabis for their maladies.  The product is lovely, the packaging is amazing.  The design speaks to the Asian influence in San Francisco - it is zen, vaguely Japanese.  The products are stacked in removable boxes that are color-coded by their drawers - seems to me each would have room for about a pound of weed, or a few dozen brownies.  They form an ever-changing mosaic against the back wall, where they live on shelves.  There is a rolling ladder like you’d find in a library affixed to a layer of the shelves so the budtenders can reach the top of the stack.  Everything is made from wood, the lighting is bright but subdued, and I am smiling as I’ve just passed a lesbian security guard so confident and dominant it made me tingle even though I don’t like the women.

A stagehand nearing his 60th birthday whispers to me while my rec is being validated that if I say he referred me we both get “free pot”.  I go along.  He tells me about his life, and how he found a ticket to Maui for $150 online and is going there to relax for a bit as he lived there for seven years.  He is writing a book on the history of rock’n’roll and he doesn’t stop talking to me, to the budtender, to anyone that will listen.  Until he gets his “free pot” - then he’s off like a rocket.

He tells me and the remarkably patient, tuned in, and supportive budtender stories that skirt the lines of what I know is legal to recount in a medical marijuana dispensary.  I smile as we are not hurried, mentioning that I have given up on not getting a parking ticket.  They both ask if I should run and feed the meter.

“No worries.  It will be my gift to the City of San Francisco.”  They both react negatively.  I smile - you never appreciate what you have.  I’ve been told a number of times in meetings this visit that San Francisco is in the midst of another boom - people are flocking here at an alarming rate.  It is very difficult to find housing in San Francisco, and when possible it’s shockingly expensive.  

As a tourist, I find this pressure produces pleasing results - high-end everything, grateful newcomers, and status based on how long someone has been living in the community - these aren’t bad things.

The stagehand tells a story about how he was rolling a joint in the park and a police officer asked for his recommendation and then ran his name.  Beaming with pride at having no priors at age 59 - he smiles as he delivers the punchline:

“The cop told me to watch out, my pot was blowing away.”  In his face is such gratitude, this man that’s been smoking pot longer than I’ve been alive and now - for the first time in his life - can hardly believe that he’s free to do so.  

I’ve seen that look before, on a man’s face at the Vapor Spot Bar at a rooftop Hollywood benefit for medical marijuana that I won tickets to from a dispensary.  He looked the same generation, in his early 60’s - but clean cut and clearly closeted about his use.  And on another man, about the same age, late 50’s, early 60’s - as I was smoking a joint in the neighboring lane in traffic waiting to enter the freeway - he leaned out of his SUV so overcome with admiration for my open and carefree use he couldn’t quite get out the words to communicate that, but I caught his gist. It’s a beautiful look to see on a man’s face - the joy of bringing something once hidden and shameful out into the open to be shared, sometimes even with pretty young ladies.

I order a gram of Dutch Flowers, a gram of SFV OG, an outdoor OG Kush pre-roll, an indoor OG Kush pre-roll, and a Space Queen pre-roll, and as testament to the luck of the stagehand - we both get a free pre-roll of Maui Wowie.   I do not fail to notice the digital Volcanoes, three of them, sitting on three tables with benches on one side and simple, Japanesey wooden stools on the other.   At one of the tables sit three people with two mouthpieces and bags, playing a simple children’s board game, a giant stack of which sit in a basket by the desk next to the verification counter.  One of them is in a wheelchair, and obviously using medical marijuana for a serious condition.  I smile as I hand my ID over for Volcano fixin’s to one of the staff.

15 minutes later the Dutch Flowers gram is gone, and I’m pleased to no end to have a Vaporizer high after weeks of smoking.  The packaging for the medicine is pleasingly sleek but non-medical.  I am tired of the medicine bottles and happy to see something less wasteful.  Even the rolling papers are branded.  On my way out the man who trades me my ID for the Volcano Easy Valve Set that I decide is preferable to the ancient one I own that now resides in a storage space in the San Fernando Valley tells me that he likes my hair.

I get lost on the way back to my car and consult Google briefly, then figure it out on my own.  As I approach I see the traffic cop entering the ticketing info.  I know I’m fucked, so I slow down and smile.  

“It took longer than I thought.”  He turns and looks at me, a young black man with braces on his teeth.  “I know, I get it.  I’ll pay, no worries.”

“No.  Just go.” he says as he turns and is in his cart and off faster than I can thank him.  

I grin.  Thank you San Francisco.

Thursday, May 3, 2012


I am 9 and it is summertime.  Beautiful, humid, upstate NY weather with the cicadas and soft breezes.  Naked outside weather, not too hot to sleep weather.  It is an early night for us all - I am in my bed and hear my parents snoring - my father a roaring drone, my mother softly on occasion.  I know they are asleep and I rise from my bed still in my favorite navy blue sports shorts and red tank top trimmed with navy.  I put on my socks and shoes quietly.  

My shade is open as I am prepared.  This is premeditated.  I know what I’m doing, and where I’m going.  I planned my escape by leaving my shoes in my room, my shade open, my clothing on, my pockets full.  I make little noise as I slip out of the open window.

My belly is already heavy as I scrape across the sill and let my feet to the ground.  It’s never comfortable, but I’m proud to be strong enough to still get in and out silently.  I keep to the shadows as I cross the lawn - it’s a full moon tonight and the streetlights are on even though there is still light in the sky.

Once I hit the road I am free.  A wave of pleasure crosses over me.  I’m unseen, untracked, and can do as I please.  I know I still must be wary of neighbors spotting me so I hurry quickly down the street and listen for sounds from yards.  I am getting away with it.  I pass the neighborhood friend’s house and note that their lights are out - they are asleep too, all six of them.  I am out of risk of their prying familiarity with me, and their numbers baffle me.  I’m an only child.

After the big fir tree is between their house and mine I slow down.  I savor the time alone, breathing deeply - trying to inhale a store of this uncaged being.  I feel oppressed by childhood.  Moments alone are the only time I do not.  I desperately crave to have adult experiences so that I can feel that increased level of choice and independence.  It never goes away.

At the bend in the road I take a left through the cul-de-sac as I’ve finally found a big shortcut.  Usually it scares me to do it at night, but tonight I feel infused with courage.  And power.  I walk through someone’s lawn to a path through a dense patch brambles and junipers. At the end of that path the grassy, dark field behind the police station.

Here my policy is to walk to my destination with purpose.  Even when officers have noticed me, I’ve never been questioned.  My heart quickens every time, with the danger of the cops and the nearness of my journey’s high point.

The convenience store shines flourescent light on my desires.  It is designed to be what it is - a beacon.  I go straight for what I want.  The clerk recognizes me and smiles his enabling smile.  

“Thanks champ!” he says to my exact change. I wonder whether he knows that I am a girl.  People often make that mistake, or simply can’t tell.

On the way home I quickly eat one candy bar after another, until the 2 Zero bars, 3 Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, 2 Twix, 4 Peppermint Patties and the giant Hershey’s bar are gone, gone with the $12 in smaller bills and coins I’ve had in my pocket all day.  Scrounged from the couch, borrowed and stolen from my parents and friends’ parents.  By the time I hit the path again, all of this is gone.  When I pass the police station I transfer my remaining loot to one hand and give it the finger with the other.

I’m high all the way home.  Ecstatic, flushed, warm, filled.  In the present moment feeling no anxiety of time passing. As I clear the final stretch a pacified numbness sinks in.  Regret sings when I haul myself back into the house, but I’m too apathetic to listen.  I don’t want to be back here.  Gone is the freedom.  What’s left is the teasing I’ll get tomorrow for my body.  This thought crashes me, and I hit my bottom bunk bed and am asleep to escape the gas and discomfort and self-flagellation.  

Tomorrow, or maybe in a couple days - or maybe, maybe even a week I’ll chase the dragon.  My grownup quest with the rainbow's end proving my identity as an eternal child.