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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Girl Who Secretly Hates Scarves

The smoke from the marijuana rises like an ascending soul.  It climbs the three story warehouse space to join a cloud of party smoke lingering from the night before.  Melo passes the pipe to me and coughs across the slumbering bodies of at least fifty revelers passed out on the concrete floor.  Sprawled out amongst the snoring are Kym and Dev who sleep beneath a pile of jackets.  Surrounding them is a sea of red keg cups, broken glass, fast food wrappers, discarded clothing and cigarette butts.  Last night this place was filled with hundreds of people.  Six bands raged all night and while there were fights, drugs and people taken to hospitals, there were no cops.  A Saturday night warehouse party in Oakland with no cops.  Amazing.

Melo had a new batch of acid we enjoyed.  I tasted the purple light and felt supernova surges of love during the Bacchanal release.  Hundreds of souls joined in dance created a vibrating intensity through the night.  Or maybe I just freebased too much of Dev's microwaved coke.  When the kegs ran out, everyone went hyper dance crazy on the MDMA Melo was selling.  To stay focused, we dosed again.  Around 4am, things returned to their natural orbits.  The last DJ left and people wandered out to their Sunday mornings beneath the remaining moonlight.  

I take a hit of weed and pass it back to Melo.

"Well" chokes Melo, "we should get going.  I gotta return the car."

I still have five hits of acid in my jacket.  Two ankhs and three hearts.  I think about this as I light a cigarette.  After Saturday morphed into Sunday, I stopped keeping track of what went into my body.  I know the substances by name but do not recall the ratios.  Now I have a choice.  I can sink further into the surreal depravity or take this trippy feeling home for at least four hours of sleep before my dish room shift at the university cafeteria.  Hmm.  I look at Kym.  Unlike me, she does not roll into a protective ball when she sleeps.  Arms and legs splayed out and snoring on her back.  A cowboy hat I have never seen before covers half her face.  Dev is fetal next to her with her head burrowed beneath the jackets.  Both danced all night like crazed Maenads.  Kym likes her tequila with MDMA, coke and oxy.  I wonder if she has any more oxy?  I kick her.

"Hey!  Get up!"

"Fuck you!" growls Kym curling into a ball.  Then she looks up and squints at me from beneath the cowboy hat.  "What?  What's happening?  I want some french fries."

"There's no food here.  We gotta go.  Melo's giving us a ride to BART."

"Mmmmrrr" whines Dev with her eyes closed.  She props herself up by pushing Kym back down.

"Bitch!" snarls Kym swatting Dev's arms away.

"Oh hush Khadj" yawns Dev.  She looks at Melo and sleepy smiles.  "VĂ¡monos?"

"Yup" says Melo standing up and cracking his neck.  "VĂ¡monos."


Kym doesn't have anymore oxy.  The coke bullet only has coke in it which she snorts before I can ask for some.  "Fuckin' Juan Valdez!" she winces as she snatches my cigarette and passes the bullet to Dev.

"L’chaim!" toasts Dev hitting the bullet and whipping her head back and forth. I watch her transform into a multi-faced Dev with at least six arms.  "Fuck!" she snorts.

We walk two blocks through what can only be described as an industrial wasteland.  Smashed window warehouses and abandoned factories.  Like giant industrial corpse faces staring at the sprawl.  No plants grow here.  Concrete covers everything but the asphalt road and train tracks.  We trudge by a homeless camp and the reek of human shit mingles with the despair and hostility.  Then through a fence, across a dry culvert and towards the sound of Sunday morning traffic.  P
arked beneath a freeway overpass is an old, diesel Mercedes Benz Melo borrowed.

"Hold up" says Melo opening the trunk.  One of his backpacks is in there and he removes a pack of smokes and a Mexican blanket.  "Put this on the seats."

"Yes.  Do that" agrees Dev.

So we do.  The old Mercedes rumbles to life and belches a bong hit of oily, black smoke into the gray morning sky.  As the car trundles to life, Kym smokes and I lean against her.  Even after dancing on weird substances all night she still smells like myrrh and wildflowers.  We share the cigarette as Dev instructs Melo towards a McDonalds for breakfast.  Then we smell it.

"Jesus fucking Christ Melo!" complains Kym.  "It smells like pussy and ass in here!  Mostly ass!"

"Yeah" shrugs Melo, "this car is used for many, many things.  I'd roll down your window if I was you."


"You sure you don't wanna go to El Cerrito with us?" asks Dev dipping her eggless Egg McMuffin into ketchup.  "MIRV is playing."        

"I wish" sighs Kym tipping her cowboy hat up.  "I got my grandma thing today."

"I gotta work.  Dish room shift" I shrug.

"Oh yeah" says Kym grabbing my arm.  "Babe, we need to stop at Powell."

"Why?" I ask rubbing my eyes.  Powell means shopping.  I hate shopping. I dread the Emporium dome.  I have been abandoned beneath the dome many, many times by this woman.

"I lost my head scarf last night.  I need another one for grandma."

"Is that why you have that cowboy hat?"

"Oh. You noticed the hat?" deadpans Kym.

"Of course I noticed the hat" I say as she leans her thigh into me.  I've had several thoughts of Kym wearing nothing but the hat for almost twelve hours.  "So is the hat like a trophy or something?"

"Ooh la-la" muses Dev.

"I did meet a pretty cool guy" smiles Kym coyly.  "Maybe I'll let you wear the hat tonight.  But I do need another hijab.  So, sorry babe.  I gotta go do a little shopping."

"Mmm" I nod as I fish out the square of paper in my jacket pocket.  I take a tiny square of blotter printed with a heart and pop it into my mouth.  Surrealism uber alles.  Only Melo see's me eat it and winks.

"Have fun" he says.


The BART fills with the moaning of spirits as it descends beneath the ocean towards San Francisco.  Though my girlfriend is coked up, she closes her eyes and sags against my shoulder.  The BART train vibrates a deep bass tone that fill my bones with the Universal hum.  As the spirits mutter foreign gibberish through the transbay tube, I watch silvery Nordic glyphs streak across the black windows.  The acid is opening up the doors and my mind is traveling.  I drape my arm around Kym.  Not sure if the gesture is for love or for my altered state.  When I touch Kym, I know I am still real.  This is comforting because everything around us is a paper illusion.  I inhale Kym's scent to make this revelation go away.

I'm glad Kym's here because I'm starting to peak again.  When you ride BART alone, it is like your life.  A journey with only your own arms to comfort you as you race through the tunnel towards the Light.  The silver studs on my black leather jacket scrape the window where ghosts peer inside.  The BART hum fills the inside of my skull with a whispering voice I can barely make out.  

"It is all a big Nothing..."

Did I say that out loud?  I look at Kym who appears to be sleeping.  I take a deep breath and remind myself that I have taken a lot of psychedelics.  I'm kinda tripping out but it's Ok.  Millions of baby spiders ride tiny webs across the BART train as the Sunday commuters turn into painted statues with animal heads.  A donkey turns to me and smiles.  I look away as the driver announces our stop.  As we approach Powell St. Station, I wake up Kym.

"What?!" she groans.

"I want a coffee."

"Yeah, yeah" she grumbles as the BART moans in a deranged slow motion voice I try very hard to ignore.  "But not from the mall right?"


After the trip beneath the bay, I need to feel the fresh air above the tunnel on Market Street.  We exit the train and follow the crowd to the turnstiles.  I see sleeping wasps between the pipes and fluorescent lights overhead.  Huge, fucking alien looking insects.  I realize I am stopped, staring at the ceiling with my mouth open as people shove past me.  Kym guides me to the escalator and we ride up to the city.  We ascend a silvery staircase surrounded by neon-white, bubbled walls.  A plastic hive made by mutant wasps.  I can feel young larvae pushing against the honeycomb...I let my hand drift across the bubbling wall as we rise to the city street.

"Eww babe!" says Kym.  "Don't touch the fucking walls at a BART station!"

I yank my hand back, look up and see familiar buildings hugging the skyline.  The city.  As usual, I do not want to shop with Kym.  So after I buy my street vendor coffee, we walk back to the mall and I sit beneath the Emporium dome.  Then I wait.  Kym does not disappoint.  Hours pass by.  I open up the square paper and solemnly select a hit of ankh acid.  I stare into the mobs of shoppers circulating like blood cells through the great, advanced Capitalistic beast.  I take a sip of lukewarm coffee as a woman plops beside me in a fur coat.  The squeaking is from the escalators and not from her dead animals but I eye her warily until she leaves.  I swear to fucking God I saw that fur wiggling...A security guard has circulated through this area six times since I sat down.  He probably thinks I'm a homeless junkie.  Well, he's half right.  I wave to him each time but I never mention the swarm of metallic moths above us.  The moths are why I stopped looking up into the infinite sadness of the Emporium dome.  Suddenly, my cigarette is plucked from my fingers.  I look over and see a beautiful girl in a silly cowboy hat.

"Let's go."


When we get back to the Mission, I want to tell Kym about the odd brick patterns I noticed everywhere.  From the BART station floors to the city sidewalks, I have studied the Tetris pattern of brick and deciphered The Message.  But she ignores me and jumps in the shower.  Kym showers to her Jesus and Mary Chain tape.  The heavy bass drone starts to eat into my sanity as I watch carpet crayfish drag themselves across my black boots.  The walls warp with schools of weird white fish.  This particular song seems to be aimed at my sleep deprived mind and moans, 'I wanna die! I wanna die!'  The bass shakes the walls.  Knowing we are alone, Kym puts on her makeup and walks down the hall nude.  I stare in awe as she grabs her lighter, pats my head like a dog and disappears into our room to dress.  Then I hear slow, heavy footsteps plodding up our stairs.  The tread of an adult.  Old people always walk so slowly up the stairs.  I peek through the peephole and see Kym's mom coming.  I slip into the bathroom and wait as the doorbell rings.

"Bye babe!" yells Kym slamming the front door.  I listen to her boots stomp the wooden stairs as she yells, "Meet me by the park at 6pm!"


We huddle beneath the stone alcove of an office building.  It's deserted and the fog has rolled up with the rain.  Our view across the street of a neon-lit Chinese herbalist sign slips in and out of the fog.  I reach my hand out to feel my beloved sea.  I took the Muni out here to meet Kym after my dishwashing shift.  Kym spent the afternoon with her family in Sea Cliff where her grandma lives.  While we wait for our ride, we share cigarettes and chocolate shortbread made with pistachios.  Kym rests against me and exhales the smoke into the gray gloom while I devour shortbread.  These cookies are fucking amazing.

"Finally!" says Kym flicking the smoke into the headlights of her car as it pulls up.  Jason leans out the driver window and belches.

"What up?" he says pointing his Sprite at us.  Then he starts to laugh.  "I wish I had a camera!"

We probably do look odd.  But in the heart of San Francisco, the people passing by could care less.  They see much weirder shit than a guy in a greasy jeans, a stained apron stuffed with PopTarts and a black leather jacket sitting next to a girl in long black pants, a long black dress, long black coat and a deep purple scarf wrapped around her head.

"Kym, I love when you dress like that" Jason laughs, "it's so not you!"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah.  Grandma day so fuck you" yawns Kym as we climb into the back together.

"What am I?  Your fucking cabbie?" demands Jason.  "Kym!  You should drive.  You're totally dressed for it."

"Fuck off" growls Kym unwrapping her hijab and scratching her spiky, dyed black hair.  "Hey you want some chocolate nokodchi?  It's like a cookie."

"I'll eat anything chocolate or cookie-based" says Jason turning around and grabbing one.

I sense competition.  So I take two and shove them my mouth.

"Holy shit!" he exclaims.  "These are amazing!"

"Mmmhmmm!" I agree while grabbing another one.

"Oh we gotta make a stop guys.  Temple of Fuck."

Kym looks at me and rolls her eyes.


Jason is the most bad ass parallel parker I have ever known.  He smoothly backs into a slot barely big enough for Kym's car in one motion.  He has to to walk across Kym's bumper to get to the sidewalk because that is how tight the spot was.  He makes us high five him and then we walk up the hill towards Rondo's place.  The Temple of Fuck is a converted warehouse space.  Two stories high with an office and three bedroom apartment upstairs.  We walk through the fog and rain to buzz the gate.

"I hate this place" says Kym wrapping the scarf back around her head.

I pull up my hood and try to focus through the gossamer hue of a 48 hour LSD trip peppered with cocaine and a rainbow spectrum of prescription pills.  My girlfriend does indeed hate this place.  The heat from Kym's incubating anger is like a violent entity that haunts us.  Once, when Kym was away, Jason threw a party.  A porn star named Madame Fist left an earring in our bedroom.  Nothing happened but...Yeah...try explaining that one.  This was when I learned Kym has clearly defined boundaries.  If she is angered, she will hit you with whatever happens to be laying around.  Bottles, chairs, etc.  And if Kym is sad, she will leave.  Bye bye.  It was a dark time and being in front of this building is doing us no good.  But we need something.  We need heroin.

"Hey Jase" I ask casually.  "They're not working today right?"

"Nah, no porn shoots on the weekend.  Rondo says they're baking bread." says Jason.

The gate buzzes and we walk through.  As we climb the stairs we hear Rondo's girlfriend screech out to us, " Oh my god!  Kymy!  I haven't seen you in ages!  How are you doing sweety?!"

"Fake ass bitch" mutters Kym whose face transforms to a mask of excited happiness.  Then in her hyper-sexualized phone voice, she says, "Cammy!  It's been too long!"

"That was Dr. Jekyll fucking weird" says Jason looking at me.  "I'm gonna try it."

Jason shoves past me and in a booming voice he yells, "Cammy!  Damn you look GOOD!  Hey!  Where's my main man Rondo?"

"Oh my god Jason!" squeals Cammy hugging him.  I walk past them unamused and Jason winks at me.

Rondo is walking down the hall in an apron grinning.  Rondo is a Californian hugger raised by hippy parents.  You can never escape this fact.  He quick hugs Kym because she is shoving past him to get away from Cammy.  Rondo shakes my out stretched hand solemnly and then yanks me in for a hug.

"My brother" he says seriously.  "How have you been?"

"Good" I say untangling myself and following Kym.  

Then he beelines to Jason.  Jason knows Rondo and leaps into his arms with unbridled joy.  After the hug and greetings come questions.  

"Is this the same shit as the Warfield cut?  You get me an oh-zee?" Rondo asks.  His eyes are feverish and starved.  How many eyes like that does Jason deal with?  I mean besides me and Kym?

"Let's go check out your office" says Jason cooly as Cammy walks up to us.

"Oh my god Kymy I love this scarf look.  It's so ETHNIC!  And cool!" she squeals.

"Oh my god!  Thanks!" fake smiles Kym with eyes closed like a pleased anime character.  "Hey!  I'm gonna check out the office too!  So Bye-Bye!"

I fake nothing and stare at Cammy as a V-pattern of blue light strobes overhead.  Goddamn UFOs.  Cammy is a rail thin dyed blond with stripper fake boobs.  Society finds Cammy beautiful but I can't get past her eyes.  Twitchy, roaming rat eyes.  They peer into my unwavering gaze with her horse faced smile.  Oh and the porn.  It would be odd to date a porn star.  I hate social hugging and manly handshakes so her lifestyle kinda freaks me out.  But Rondo has a big heart and is way more decent than I.

"Hey" I say simply.

"Oh.  Hi!" she says sniffing and wiping her nose with the back of her hand like a coke fiend.

Rondo told Cammy I am the Heroin Guy.  Jason is the Coke Guy.  She LOVES the Coke Guy.  But Cammy is all about uppers.  Coke, MDMA and meth.  The Heroin Guy is bad news.  Stupid Cammy.  Rondo is the Heroin Guy, not me.  I turn around and walk to the office.  
Out of Cammy's aura, my friends have dropped their masks.  I open the door, they all look up, see it's me and nod.  I settle on the couch by Kym as Jase explains the price hike.

"This ain't Mexican cut.  Smaller bumps get you skied the fuck out.  You can cut this shit twice and your people will still say it's the best they ever snorted.  Fucking hit that shit dude" says Jason passing the mirror.

"I believe you" says Rondo leaning down with a cut straw and snorting.

"Me!" says Kym reaching out to the coke pile on the mirror with her fake pinky nail.  

She scoops, snorts it and leans back on the couch in a beautiful daze.  Her dark garments melt like smoke into Rondo's black leather couch.  As the energy waves that make the walls breathe wobble by, I can only see Kym's hands and face.

"Damn!  Ok.  This is good" exhales Rondo as he snorts another one.

Jason holds the mirror under my nose so I do a line.  Coke is like a scalpel through the LSD haze.  I lean back into Kym and blink away the moths for a moment.  Then I exhale and snort the coke snot.  The wooden office floor still buckles like a ship at sea as the energy fizzles towards my brain like the sparkling fuse of a cartoon bomb.  In the layers of the 
green ceiling paint are Aztec glyphs and elastic funhouse faces.  The LSD is still winning. 

"You got any H?" asks Kym staring at Rondo.

"Easy Khadja" cautions Jason who is not into help when he does his thing.  "We have something worked out, Ok?"

"We do have something" smiles Rondo.  "But this part stays in the office."

Rondo goes to his desk and takes out a Noah's Bagels bag and fishes around in it.  He pulls out a egg-shaped hunk of tar wrapped in cellophane.

"This was in some poor lady's pussy or intestinal tract from what I understand.  It is seriously fucking pure and heavy.  Not a city cut.  So just do little hits ok?  Exercise caution."

"You got my attention" smiles Kym.  "Any foil in here?"

"Yeah" says Rondo opening a desk drawer and pulling out a box.  Kym rips off a sheet and sits down with the tar and the straw.  She breaks off a sticky nub of euphoria and places it in her foil trench.  Jason and Rondo mutter about cash and I watch them move envelopes and bags out of a floor safe as Kym lights up.  She looks at me so I lean over.  We vaporize tiny balls of tar as Jason and Rondo count the cash.  

"Oh...Oh my" breathes Kym as sour vapor leaves her awed expression.  "Yeah.  Ok."

We both sink into the couch.  Kym reaches into my jacket pocket for cigarettes.  She slides out the Marlboro Lights box as Rondo snorts another line of coke.  He looks over as Kym slips the smoke between her parted lips.

"Cigarettes outside" says Rondo pointing at the sliding glass door that faces the city view.

"Ok" I breathe standing up.  The effort is huge.  No sleep and the weight of euphoria make this couch a truly beautiful thing.  I grab Kym's outstretched hand and help her up.

"Bread's almost done!" comes Cammy voice from a million miles away.  "You guy's come try some!"

Kym groans and lights the cigarette.  Inside.  I smile and shrug at Rondo as I open the slider door and drag Kym into the fog and rain outside.  The city lies beneath us.  The wind comes from across the bay to numb our 
hands and nose tips.  Kym passes me the smoke.  I watch her unwind the new purple head scarf.  She holds it twenty feet above the city streets below.  The wind pulls the scarf into the air towards the Transamerica Pyramid Building.  A deep, purple flame licking the sky above San Francisco.  She lets the scarf go and it dances across the wind forever.

"Whoops" says Kym quietly taking back the cigarette.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Stories From the Moth People COMING SOON

Things are going well and I'm excited for this one.  I originally wanted to do just a Dev collection but quickly realized that presenting pieces of the Universe is way more fun to write.

Like Tracks: Volume 1, I reworked the stories with an editor to paint a more cohesive picture.  Some seem unchanged while others are radically altered.  There are also some new stories I never released and a bonus story that leads into Tracks: Volume 2.

I'll keep you updated as things progress.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Sober Face

Being sober is overrated but being insane is permanently fucked.  I am slowly starting to realize this.  So when my pills ran out, I didn't go back to the doctor.  I went through mini-withdrawals followed some by mini-relapses.  Finally, I told my mom what I was up to.  I demanded she hide her pills better.  

"You steal my medicine?" she asked incredulously.  "This is why I'm going to pharmacy every other week?"

"No!  Well, yeah.  You know what mom?  Just hide them better!  Like not in the bathroom!" I shout watching her shuffle away to the chair where she keeps her handbag.  "Or in your purse!"

So I went through IT again.  This time the drop was longer without mom's Percocet parachute.  Wave after wave of sickly withdrawal.  Naively, I thought it would be easier after kicking heroin three or five times.  While the physical part is easier, the great looming Darkness is what razes my soul.  That vast emptiness inside.  My witchy girl with shiny eyes told me a story about it once.  I can't get it out of my head long after I stopped thrashing and drenching my sheets with sweat.  But it's time for change.  It's not the same moon shining down on me at night.  So I go all in.  I announce I'm quitting my shitty job at Petco and sign up for temporary employment testing one week later.  But this fucking hole inside me...

My mom is a lot nicer to me now that she knows my plan is to get the hell out of her house.  I've started drinking myself silly to fill the hole.  Binge drinking is almost strong enough to hold down my screaming ghost.  Though mom is a recovering alcoholic, she finds it easier to process me as a drunk versus a guy with pinhole arms turning blue on her bathroom floor.  She even lets me have a houseguest over.  Nerina can't actually spend the night due to Rule #4, so she sneaks out at dawn.  Nerina is pure sunshine.  An attractive, well adjusted, normal person.  I find her sober views on life baffling yet pleasant.  I met her on my smoke break in the parking lot at Petco.  She works at Kinko's next door and started talking to me though I was branded with my Petco apron.

Nerina is an exotic looking 19 year old half Spanish, half Chinese girl.  She's smart enough to go to university but chose to study nursing at the local community college here in the sprawl.  I don't get it.  Why is she here?  Can't she sense a college anywhere but here would be good?  Plus the five year age difference hurts.  Nerina's too young to go to bars and I feel like a lecher at her underaged drinking parties.  I'm not exactly the optimal choice for Nerina.  Why she's here is a mystery.  I spend most of my time drunk and consider chain smoking fun.  My room reeks of tobacco and spilled beer but Nerina is ok with it.  Sadly, she is emulating my antisocial tendencies.  For some reason, I have this power where people think what I do is desirable behavior.  So she taught herself how to smoke cigarettes and take shots.  It's cute to watch her wince, but I don't get it.  

Nerina props open the window and makes herself comfortable on my childhood bed while I take practice tests online for the temp agency.  She takes a petite sip of whiskey and passes it to me.  I take three gulps and wince at the nasty, burning belch surging up my esophagus.  Then I light another cigarette with the burning one in my hand, blow the ash off my keyboard and start to learn about some horrible thing call PowerPoint.  The reasons why anyone would want to learn this disgust me.  Nerina rolls off the bed and starts digging through my CD rack.

"You wanna listen to anything?" she asks.

"No.  Don't care.  You pick" I respond while speed reading some Satanic shit about 3D graphs.  

"Can I go on AIM?" Nerina yawns.

"Hold on.  I'm starting a practice test" I respond on autopilot as I answer questions about pie chart construction.

"Ok" Nerina smiles.  "Hey, Ron's having a party.  His parents are on vacation.  Wanna go?"

"Who?" I answer annoyed and distracted as my brain solves inane test problems and comes up with a polite way to say No.

"You know, Ron.  From the San Mateo store?  The guy with that cool NIN robot tattoo?  His parents went camping."

"Nah" I say moving into the final section of the test.

"We never do anything!" complains Nerina.

And she's right.  Besides our golden period which included her watching me nod out from prescription drug abuse, all we do is rent DVDs to watch in bed while enjoying rampant alcoholism.  While we don't do much, her arms around the Darkness is enough for me...but I'm no fool.  This is obviously boring for her.  Whatever it is about me she finds intriguing will get old soon enough.  Suddenly, there are two raps on the door.  Ever since I quit drugs and started practicing these tests, my mom has stopped barging into my room to yell at me.  But I still yell at her.

"I'm practicing for a test WHAT?!" I yell.

"Hi Mrs. S!" chirps Nerina.  

Nerina feels the need to give my mom a nickname.  It confuses my mom but she likes Nerina.  Nerina is normal.  She greets people when she enters a room.  She doesn't stalk in silent, light a cigarette and put her boots up on the dining room table.

"Hello Nerina" smiles my mom.

"What do you want?" I demand.

"Your brother Carl is coming over for dinner" says mom.

"Oh please god no" I hear myself say.

"You stay too Nerina" says my mom.  "We're having lasagne.  Afterwards Carl is gonna fix my shower head.  Maybe you can help your brother?"

"Can't.  We're going to a party" I respond and Nerina hugs my back.

"Yay!" she says.

I sigh and light another cigarette.


"Let me guess" says Carl through a wad of partially chewed lasagne, "you just graduated high school and live at home?"

"Carl, shut the fuck up" I say.

"Oh it's ok.  I like your brother" smiles Nerina.  My mom and I look at each other.  No one likes Carl.

"You like the bony, junkie look right?  Or is it cause he dresses like a vampire faggot?"

"Uhm, I don't know.  He's nice?" answers Nerina who has never smoked pot and thinks the pills I snorted in front of her is OK because they came from a pharmacy.

"Carl, shut up and pass the salad" smiles mom.  "Leave Nerina alone.  She is a nice girl.  Oh and he is sober now Carl.  Congratulate him."

"Sober?" scoffs Carl.  "I can smell the booze on these two from here."

"Hey Carl" I say between lasagne bites, "How's the tribe treating you?"

Carl isn't into drugs but he gambles.  He gambles a lot.  The local tribal casino won an undisclosed sum of money from Carl.  He won't fess up but the land he was eying in Watsonville is no longer discussed.  

"Don't make me beat you in front of your woman.  Mom, pass the parmesan, please."

"Here you go son."

We eat in silence for about two minutes but Carl can't resist.  "Hey, you have any good humus lately?" he smiles at me.  "Say whatever happened to that psycho junkie chick that tried to shoot me?"

"Well, obviously she missed" I respond.  

"She was a looker that one.  Way out of your league but I guess you know that now.  So no more shawarmas for you?"

"Whatever happened to that Watsonville spec house you were saving for?" I ask.

"Didn't pan out" says Carl staring into my eyes with all the malevolence of an older brother who is two seconds away from kicking ass.

The rest of the dinner actually went much easier.  Especially when we slipped out before dessert.


"S'up Ace?" says a drunk Mikey from my old Petco store.  He hold his hand out for a high five.  I sigh and high five a kid who just recently earned the right to die for his country, buy pornography and vote.

"Nerina!" squeals Penny rushing over for a hug.

I like Penny.  One fuck and zero guilt.  Her boyfriend is like me.  Older, clueless and uncomfortable.

"Hey" says Sheldon holding out his hand.

Nerina and I greet revelers, hug and slap hands like primates while slowly making our way in.  Thirty plus teenagers make a swarming, cicada buzz as they shout, pound Zimas, cheap beer and do bong hits.  Nerina is popular and circulates.  I melt into a couch by people I used to work with.  They play Street Fighter 2 on Ron's father's huge TV.

"So your out!" shouts Mikey.

"Audi 5000!" confirms another kid I worked with.

"So what's next yo?" asks Mikey.  The stumbling, screaming teens and sitting in some parent's living room makes me anxious.  Physical withdrawal of opiates hurts but the mental part is the bitch.  I am fiending for the peace of the god.

"Next?" I answer irritated.  Then I shrug, "Testing and job placement."

"Oh dope" says Mikey.  "Hey you wanna beer?"

"Yes please" I answer.  As he gets up I grab his wallet chain and yank him towards me, "You know where to get any tar?  Or oxy?"

"Wha..." he says staring at me googly eyed.  Mikey looks like a little boy in huge denim jeans and a Korn t-shirt.  "Is that like ecstasy?"

"Never mind" I reply letting him go.  

Jesus, what I am thinking?  But I look around for familiar eyes.  Pin-point pupil euphoria.  Holes in arms.  Because of my age, young males feel the need to come up and introduce themselves to me.  This annoys me to no end.  Then there is a hullabaloo.  There always is when alcohol is served to underaged drinkers.

"You fucking bitch!  You got cum on my dad's shirt!" screams a shirtless Ron.  Ah, the host.  I do remember Ron.  He's an asshole.

A crying girl runs out and is encircled by other females who coo at the injustice.  Ron, the guy with the cool robot NIN tattoo is ridiculously drunk.  Beet-faced and screaming about his dad's Calvin Klein shirt.  Eventually he shuts the fuck up and starts playing Nintendo.  Later, three guys get in a scrap over a stolen bottle of cinnamon schnapps.  Man, I hate the fucking suburbs.  When I am asked to go on a beer run, I pull Nerina over.

"Nerina, we gotta go."

"Ok" she shrugs.  "Where?"

And I thought of this.  I can't say I want to leave because I hate everyone.  Socially, this is unacceptable.  "Let's go get ice cream at Stanley’s Sweets."

"But you're lactose intolerant!"

"No problem.  I'll get a cookie or a brownie.  Honestly, I don't care about the food.  I wanna go look at the sea.  And the new moon."

"New moon?"

"Yeah Nerina.  It's just a sliver tonight.  It takes 27 days for the moon to make the Earth trip.  So this is a celestial occurrence.  And my stars will be out tonight."

"Your stars?"

"Yeah.  Old friends.  Let me tell you about them."

"Well...ok" she shrugs though a group of her friends who smirk.  In regards to Nerina's happiness, they know more about me than I know about myself.


We are the annoying couple that slips in five minutes before the guy can lock the door.  But he is a pro.  Though, he hates us, he smiles and says, "Hi!  What can I get you?"

"Mmm" muses Nerina, "mint chocolate chip on a waffle cone."

"And you?" says the guy with one eye on the clock as he locks the door behind us and flips the Open sign to Close.

"Peanut butter cookie."

Nerina pays which is odd, but I go with it.  She puts up with a lot but usually insists on gallant gestures like she'll wait at a door for it to be opened.  She expects all meals, coffee or treats paid by the male.  Or me.  So I pay.  We walk out to the view.  The wind howls over the concrete platform erected over the sea.  Trash, dust, leaves and the ocean spray swirls in the maelstrom.  The weather has turned ugly from the ten minutes we were in the ice cream shop.  When we walked in it was calm and dark.  Now the wind screams and the ocean rages.

"Ahhh!" shrieks Nerina jumping back as a wave smashes into the cliff.  Seawater blasts up the rock face and sprays us like severed artery.   

"Damn" I say peering down.  Ridiculously huge swells march towards the shore.  It's like watching three story structures suddenly rise up in the dark sea and shatter against the cliffs.  We step back to avoid the spray and feel the shudder beneath our feet.

"Are we safe here?  I don't feel safe" says Nerina edging back off the lookout towards the street.

I look at the sky and it is calm.  The sliver of the moon shines in an expanse of exploding suns.  Starlight travels so far to be here at this moment.  I look at Nerina.  "It's ok.  Just a winter swell.  A fucking big one though."

"You know I can feel it" says Nerina staring at the sea that slams against the cliff we stand on.  "Sorry if this dramatic but..."

I look at her and instantly know.  How could it not end like this?

"I meant to tell you this morning.  I got accepted to UCLA.  I'm starting next semester."

"Oh yeah?" I sigh.  

I wonder where my mom hid those Percocets?  Probably her closet.  Her clever shoe shelf where she used to hide bottles of alcohol.  To have a chance of getting a little buzz, I have to get home before she goes to bed.  Oh well.  This won't take long.  It already ended.  The Milky Way shines above.  A glowing path for all things endless.

"Yeah.  Sorry.  It's just...I have been thinking and I need to-" she babbles.

"Don't worry" I say as the world once again crumbles at my feet.  Falling into my hole is a familiar sensation.

"I'm so sorry!" she says as tears come.  We hold each other and she sobs.  "I mean I LOVE you.  I really do!  But...I have to go do this and-"

"Hey, it's ok" I hug her inhaling the scent from her hair one last time.  I close my eyes trying to remember Nerina as the sky and earth suck her away from me.  When we leave, I look at the sea.  

It is calm.


Friday, March 11, 2016

Teenagers From Mars

Substance abuse is like a time machine.  Each buzz whether it be poppy, LSD, alcohol or even marijuana imparts another memory.  When I analyze them sober, I am amazed.  I lived through some bad times and so did my friends.  Amazing considering the news stories these days regarding opiate abuse.  We were VERY lucky.  It's not exactly a secret I was high writing Tracks 1 and most of this blog.  But I do quit now and then.  I want to walk that path.  I suppose my problem is like most opiate abusers.  Once you know euphoria...

So as some of you know, I've been working on another book titled: Stories From the Moth People.  It's almost done.  When the editor and I were choosing stories, I was re-reading all this stuff I never saw before.  Fucking dope is for dopes.  So it got me thinking, which ones I have written sober?  Maybe a few more but these came to mind.

***Shoes Left Behind was written while I was wasted in October but only partially finished.  So it's a hybrid story.

But damn.  I hope to add some more.


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Shoes Left Behind

NOTE:  For those of you familiar with my writing, this is 100% purely a work of fiction.  Just paying some love to /r/nosleep.  I think I wrote this last October.  


"Are you sure you want to go with that?" asks the female detective frowning at me.

"It's what the man wrote" chimes in the other cop leaning towards me.  "Plus we got the tapes.  Playing the crazy card."

"What?" I ask confused.

The female detective shoves something in front of me.  I look up from my hands and see a crumpled yellow notepad with pages upon pages of meaningless gibberish scribbled in ink.  My guts are twisting and the sweat is pouring from my face.  I must look horrible but they won't let me have my medicine.  I am already an hour late.  I just want to go home.

"Alright.  Let's start again.  Where is your wife?" the detective asks again softly.

"Please let me go" I beg.  "I'm sick.  I need my medicine."

They look at each other.  The detective narrows her eyes and the other cop nods.

"Do you want to get out of here buddy?" asks the cop.

"Yes" I answer in a far away voice.

"Then just answer a few more questions ok?"

And I start to cry.


"How can anyone leave there shoes here?" scoffs little Dalton.

A pair of slightly worn, blue Nike boy's shoes lay there discarded.  My wife looks over and shrugs.  "With all the kids playing in the sprinkler...Some kid just left them.  I'm sure the owner will claim them someday."

"Yeah or the owner's angry mom" I say rubbing my face.  

The house is still a mess from Dalton's 6th birthday.  Wrapping present trash, toys, balls, a half assembled bike, empty pizza boxes, ribbons, gift bags and many, many empty beer bottles.  My wife Evita's family is from Mexico.  Every single one of Dalton's milestones from baptism to his sixth birthday is a party.  The family is always present.  I never knew I had so many cousins, aunts, uncles until I said, 'I do'.  Every weekend some kid named Jose or Maria has a party and I'll meet a bunch of new cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents.

"Hey they fit me!" exclaims Dalton jumping up and down in the shoes.

"Please don't" I moan waving my hand like my son is a fly that will buzz away.  "Take them off.  They're not your shoes."

By the time I crawled out of bed, Evita had enjoyed two cups of coffee and fed Dalton breakfast.  I pop in some toast and munch the cold eggs and sausage.  I swallow three painkillers and my wife notices.

"How many did you take Joel?" she demands quietly but Dalton pops up to listen.  I shrug and make sure my son knows this no big deal.

"Don't worry.  Just a little something for my back.  You know" I stop by Evita and whisper growl, "my fucking chronically crushed spine discs."

I walk to the table pour some coffee.  Evita has been taking issue with my painkillers lately.  I've used them for three months and no longer care how long tests take or how difficult it is to schedule MRIs.  I'm pretty patient and really fucking high.  Mixed with weed and a few beers, my back if fine.  I can lift the couch over my head and march around the room.  No pain.  It's beautiful.  But Evita says they make me lazy and stupid.  Kinda true.

"How about we clean this pigsty up, put your bike together and go for a ride?" I ask Dalton who grins.  "Get my tools and find your pads and helmet."

"Yay!" he yells scampering off.  I sip my coffee and ignore my wife's stare.

"Don't forget we gotta go to church later Dalton!" threatens my wife.

"Yeah, yeah!  God!" yells Dalton disappearing into the garage to get my tools.


I take Monday off work and start the paperwork for disability.  Though my back is tweaked, I take enough pills to stand outside while Dalton rides his bike up and down the street.  Mostly I play with my phone but I keep an eye out for cars.  And if he is down the block, I'll take a little hit of weed.  Makes me more amicable when the neighbors walk by.  Dalton comes back on his bike.  His tiny, round face is flushed.  

"I'm done dad." he says.

"Really?" I ask.  He barely made twenty minutes and this kid usually goes nonstop on the bike for forty.  Then you have to yell at him to get him to stop.  "You feelin' ok Dalt?" I touch his forehead but it's not hot.

"I'm just sleepy dad."

I have a vague memory of Evita talking about Dalton's nightmares.  He woke up crying and tried to crawl into our bed.  I don't care.  I like his tiny little hugs but Evita always gets him back to his bed.

"You didn't sleep good?" I ask.

"Yeah.  I heard it again.  The boy that cries all night.  The one that says 'Please.'"

And I feel cold.  This sentence snaps me out of my haze and I think of cats.  Those fucking neighborhood cats making all that noise.  It was so cold last night I refused to sneak outside to smoke weed.  Evita hates this but she was taking a bath so I pushed open the bedroom window for a few hits.  Just enough to make the pills hit harder.  And I heard those fucking cats.  Moaning, deranged, unearthly yowls.  But at one point I thought I heard a cat say 'Please.'  It was so odd, I leaned out the window.  But I heard nothing else.

"It's ok son" I say to Dalton.  "You'll sleep better tonight.  I promise ok?"

"Ok dad" he says.

On Tuesday I call in my pill refills.  To be honest, I don't even take the prescription strength ibuprofens anymore but I dutifully refill them with my narcotic one for appearance sake.   It was a nice night and I feel good on the way to pick up my pills.  No getting awoken by Evita or Dalton.  Just uninterrupted sleep.  The house was still last night.  On the way home I stock up on beer.  My new cousins, uncles and aunts emptied my beer fridge in the garage for Dalton's birthday.  I replenish it with a case of Fat Tire Ale.  In the garage, I can smell my lawnmower and the rotting garbage from the party.  It almost smells like freshly turned soil...Oh yeah!  Spring is coming.  It is nearly time to start my tomato and pepper plants.  I fill the fridge with beer and slip inside as I hear Evita pull into the driveway from her job.

Evita is pissed because she is doing all the childcare stuff from dropping off Dalton, picking him up and helping him with his homework.  I don't go to work or do very much at all since my back went out.  But I do play video games with Dalton and listen to his stories about TV shows.  Also I read to him which makes Evita happy.  On Wednesday morning, it's garbage day and I have another doctor appointment.  Evita drags out the garbage while cursing and grumbling.  I sip coffee and eat an extra pill.  At 10:30 am, I drive myself to the doctor office.  Man, the wind is screaming today.  A bone cold furious breeze.  I'm so relaxed from the pills that the moment I open my door, a cruel gust rips it from my hand and smashes it into the Mercedes next to me.  I get back in my car and find a new spot.  Fucking pills.

"Your MRI came back Mr. Stanton" say Dr. Li staring at a ghostly black and white glowing image of my skeleton.  "Are you in a considerable amount of pain?"

"Yeah.  Especially at night" I answer.  The 'especially at night' part has become my mantra.  As long as I mention the night, they never talk about taking away my pills.

"I am going to recommend you for surgery.  But I'd like a second opinion.  My colleague Dr. Grossmen is an expert in the field and will evaluate.  However, Dr. Grossmen is away on personal leave until the end of the month.  But we can keep you comfortable.  I'm recommending a few changes in your pain maintenance.  I'm prescribing both a long term opioid and an instant release opioid.  The combo should make life bearable until Dr. Grossmen can see you.  Any questions?"

"No.  And thank you doctor" I answer politely.

I hit up the pharmacy excited.  I'm so fucking high and now they are going to make me higher!  I pick up my bottles, pop one of each and drive home.  The garbage cans still linger by the curb so I drag them in.  Fuck these pills are the shit.  I'm all smiles and loosey goosey.  I mean I totally believe the doctors.  My spine is tweaked but I feel GOOOOOOD.  I toss in the garbage cans and Jesus fucking Christ the garage still reeks.  Smells...weird.  Like shit mixed with cut grass and a little...alcohol?  Man I hope it's not a toilet again.  When we moved to this house, we had a loose toilet seal and sewage water bubbled up.  $500 bucks later I can still remember that sweet stink.  This smells like that kind of funk.  I see nothing gross and open the garage door to let the stench air out.  Then I open the fridge and get a beer.  I sip it and have a cigarette.  Fuck, it is cold today.  I go back inside.


"Joel! Wake up!" says Evita shaking me.

"Wha-" I grumble.  The pill crush is on me big time.  I can close my eyes and go byebye...

"I heard something!  Joel!  Get the fuck up!" hisses Evita thumping me.

"Ok!" I say through closed eyes.  "Ok what?"

"I heard bare feet in the hall.  Please wake up!" she says shaking me.

"What?  You mean Dalton is in the hall?" I ask groggily.

"Dalton is right next to you!" my wife whispers.

My eyes open.  I look down.  Dalton is nestled against me.  He is awake.

"Hey kid" I fake yawn.  "Having another nightmare?"

"Yeah daddy" he says snuggling into me.  "I woke up because my room smelled like grandpa's flowers."

"Grandpa's flowers?" I ask stroking his head.  The clock says it is 4:44 am.  "What do you mean?"

"You know what he means" says Evita staring at me.  And I do.  Her father passed away two months ago.  Open casket and way too many flowers.  The tide of floral scent was overwhelming and suffocating.  Poor kid has that burned in his brain.

"Ok, so you had a bad dream."

"Yeah" yawns Dalton.

"Get up and go look" says Evita.  "He was sleeping when I heard it."

"Heard what?" I answer annoyed.

"Bare feet running down the hall" snarls Evita.

"Ok" I groan and get up.  

I walk outside the bedroom and tread across the wooden floors.  The house is chilly because we set the heater at 65.  But still, it feels really, really cold.  I see my breath in the slanted beams of light from the bedroom behind me.  What the fuck?  The thermostat must be broken too.  I listen.  But nothing.  No noise.  But I dutifully check all the doors.  All is well.  I take another pill for my troubles and settle back into our crowded bed.  I stroke my son's head and read my phone until the pills carry me away.

Another weekend comes.  We go to the cliffs to go fishing.  The walk down is long and treacherous but I love this area.  No one ever comes here.  Makes hauling down all of the stuff we need for a beautiful day worth it.  Evita relaxes motionless in the shade while the boy explores tide pools.  I unpack the gear and dig for sand crabs.  I look over at the boy who's peering down into the opening of a sea cave.  It is low tide right now but at high tide, the ocean swell can crash through the hole and fountain into the sky.  It is a dangerous spot.  

"Dalton!  Get away from there!  You know those holes are dangerous.  We lose a tourist every year to a blowhole.  They get knocked over and sucked in.  No one ever finds them."

"Sorry dad" he grins not sorry at all.

"Come here and help me dig for sand crabs.  We need some bait if we're gonna fish."

We fish all afternoon while my wife naps.  I chew on painkillers and drink beer.  We never catch any fish but it is such a beautiful day.  The trip back up to the car is lighter.  I shouldn't be straining my back but man, these pills.  I can do anything.  Evita wants Chinese food for dinner so I stop on the way home and order takeout. When we get home, Dalton rushes in to play video games and I trip over the unclaimed blue Nike shoes.

"Damn these shoes!  Should we throw them away?  Or give them to Dalton?" I mumble as my wife unpacks the Chinese food.

"No.  Someone will claim them" Evita responds.  

And she was right.


When the police came I was paranoid about weed but so high on my pills I was able to look the detective in her eye.  My wife and kid crowded behind me.  We all looked at the picture.  Some kid we are vaguely related to.

"Do you remember when you last saw him?" asks Detective Madison while her partner looks into our home.

"No" I shrug.  But there were like 30 - 40 kids in our house on Dalton's birthday.

"You know who he is" says my wife staring hard at the picture.  "You know too, right Dalton?"

"Right" says Dalton shyly.  "That's why the shoes are still there."

"Oh yeah the shoes!" I exclaim.

"Shoes?" asks the detective tilting her head.

My wife steps forward and points at the blue Nikes.  "Yes these shoes were left here.  We have no idea who's shoes they are."

"Bag them" says Detective Madison as her partner takes a plastic bag from his jacket.

"May we search your house?" asks the other detective.

"Search?" I ask.  "Really?  Who's kid is this?  How could someone lose a kid?  Sorry but I don't-"

"The father has drug issues" shrugs the unnamed detective bagging the blue shoes. "Are you on any substances right now Mr. Stanton?"


"Have you been drinking?" asks the female detective.

"Who are you talking to?" I ask confused.  

"Do you mind if we have a quick look around?" asks the other detective.

I look at Evita and she shrugs.  

"Go ahead" I answer.

Two thoughts go through my head.  My four grams of weed I bought from a friend and my beer fridge. That smell.

"You go upstairs" says the female detective.

"Why is this happening?" I ask Evita who shakes her head sadly at me.

"We'll just have a quick look, sir" responds the detective.  

I rush past him towards the garage.

"Sir!  Where are you going?"

But I am already through the garage door.  Now it smells like flowers on a summer day.  A hot, humid cloying sweetness.  Like perfume with the taint of spoiled meat and blossoms.  A sickly, sepulchral smell.  I walk to the fridge and open it.  Just beer.  But the smell is like a presence pressed up against me.  I gag and look behind the fridge.  The child stands perfectly still.  A small boy wedged between the refrigerator and the garage wall.  A perfect hiding spot for hide and seek.  I reach out and touch his shoulder.  The meat is rigid like he is muscular.  And clay cold.  He does not move and I stumble back repulsed.  But the child stares at me.  Vacant eyes sunken into the face.  Eyes that beg.  Eyes that say, please... 

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Sponsor

I always wake up sad and lost.  All the alcohol and pills that I take to stay sane, crush me come sunrise.  And I always wake up too early.  I should sleep longer.  Let my body and brain heal from this toxic lifestyle.  But I can't.  Come dawn, like demonic clockwork, I have to piss.  I return to bed futilely and try to sleep.  But like shrieking gulls, my thoughts whirl through the room.  My eyes are shut but I can't help peeking at the clock that countdowns my doom.  So I lay there in a layer of mud.  Mud made from cold sorrows and clinging fear.  I think of every horrible possibility in my upcoming day.  From the mundane crap to the tragically insane.  Not having enough cigarettes, being late to my shift, the reality of my pathetic life, etc. etc.  And it builds and builds as the gulls fill the room flapping and screaming.  Fear after fear until I end up with something like dying alone in this room.  Or living painfully with an incurable affliction like AIDs.  So I lay there in my mud.  Sometimes the only thing that makes me feel better is I still own a gun.  I can always put a bullet in my head.

Living at home sucks.

"Of course you can live here!  But remember, my house, my rules.  I have three rules and you need to follow them.  Rule #1 you WILL pay rent.  $200 a month sounds fair considering you're not using that expensive diploma you earned after six years of college!"

"Well mom, I dropped out for a year.  Oh and the whole you know, hospital-jail thing-"

"You just need to apply yourself!  You're not stupid!  Now what else?  Oh, Rule #2 no drugs and no alcohol.  Period!"

I nod.  Mom has let me hang out for almost two weeks.  We both take fistfuls of doctor prescribed medications like antidepressants, opiate painkillers, valium, an array of allergy medicines to make us hyper or sleepy and of course- daily vitamins for health.  We drink Diet Coke all day, watch TV and smoke cigarettes.  No use arguing with this horrible little woman.  Just agree and get on with it.

"And Rule #3!  Are you paying attention?  This one means a lot to me, son.  You have to go to Narcotic Anonymous meetings.  I got some schedules from my AA group by the phone over there.  You need help dear.  I won't support another junkie on my pension.  Disability only covers so much-"

"But mom!  I don't have time to-"

"Make time!  Those meetings keep me-"

"I'm not you!  I have my own life!"

"Not in my house you don't!"

I snarl and ready my response when I realize, mom is right.  And she's twisting me like I'm a ten year old boy again.  So I shut up and go to the meetings.  It's not like I haven't gone before.  But that was court mandated.  To be here, on my own time while lit up on pills is the sound of the Universe laughing.  Fucking twelve step bullshit.  Not much changes in this house but I did notice the cross hanging above the TV.  That's new.  And it's a good crucifix.  The hippie nailed to the wood looks painfully fucked up and cries blood.  You would have to beat the holy living shit out of some miserable fuck to get them to weep blood.  While the Cloaca Maxima was a civil engineering triumph, this 2,000 year old reminder of the Empire's glory makes me respect the ancient Romans even more.

So I got a job.  Petco.  I can walk to work and this is the only reason I applied.  Mom won't share the car with me because of my record.  I tried to explain it was my ex that stole the fucking car but this is like arguing with a tree.  My job sucks.  I work with mostly kids who are still in high school and a handful of older losers like myself.  But they seem to have their shit more figured out than I do.  Like they don't live with their mom.  Petco rotates assistant managers from store to store every month.  I think it's so you don't get too chummy with your boss.  My first boss was Chris.  Nice guy.  But my second boss was Penny.  Penny helped create Rule # 4.

Penny is not beautiful or charming or someone I would want to hang out with socially.  But she has huge breasts and was willing to sleep with me during her monthly store rotation.  So we did.  It was slightly awkward explaining how I don't have a car and live at home but my penis did all the talking.  He smoothed everything over.  We ate at some chain restaurant that specializes in Mexican food for white people.  It was disgusting and overpriced.

"Mmm I love Mexican cuisine!" Penny gushed while wolfing down some baby back rib nachos.  Then we got hammered on cheap cocktails and talked shit about everyone at work.  We drove back to my mom's place as a team and had sex.  It was like watching myself on TV going through the motions.  My penis was the director and called the shots.  I dutifully kissed Penny's erogenous zones and undressed her.  Beneath the work shirt covered in cat hair, there was a lot of Penny.  And she had a lot of tattoos.  Leopard print across her shoulders, giant, wobbly stars on her ribs, some birds and what appears to be two, slightly stretched dolphins around her bellybutton.  

"Wow, you have a lot of tattoos" I say when she notices me staring.

"Yeah.  It's a phase I'm in.  Me and my sister get new ones every time we hang out.  Like this new one on my foot."  She holds up her foot and I see a cherub angel. 

"Cool.  What's it mean?" I ask.

"I dunno" she smiles.  "I just liked it.  You don't have any tattoos?"

"I have one" I admit.  "It's on my chest."

"Well let me check it out" she smiles lifting my shirt off.  There was zero awkwardness.  It was mechanical.  None of that, 'Oh this is too soon' or 'We have to get up and open the store later'.  We just did it.  Twice.

"I have to pee" she whispered getting up and walking buck naked down the hall.  I get dressed and have a smoke on the porch but leave the door cracked open so she knows where I am.  Thinking about it, a lot of the employees have tattoos.  Maybe that's the new thing.  Like instead of dying your hair or getting a piercing, you get some ink injected into your skin forever.  Heh.  Penny peeks through the doorway as she puts on her blue Manager's polo.  

"You know I have a boyfriend right?" she asks slipping through the door to stand next to me.  She's shivering so I give her my jacket.

I had no idea but I nod.  

"Cool.  Can I crash here?  I'm wiped and I have to open tomorrow.  The Humane Society chick will be waiting with all those cute little kitties and puppies.  Hey!  You're on the Opening Team roster!  I'll give you a ride."

"Great" I say flicking the smoke into mom's hydrangea bush.

"Rule #4!" whispered my mom to me as we shuffled out the door hungover for the 9am store opening.  "No house guests!"    

Living with your mom when you're 24 is a bitch.  There is no sanctuary.  My childhood bedroom is a tomb that I seal myself in.  When I returned home, all I owned was one box of personal items and a duffel bag full of clothes.  It was surreal stepping into my childhood bedroom again.  The first thing I did was take down all the posters.  I put all the posters, my box and anything else from the past, in the closet.  Old comic books, plastic airplane models and obsolete video game consoles.  But while I buried the old me, I learned it was not enough.  Too much of the world has changed while I stood perfectly still in a drug haze.

One night I saw a girl
.  She had her hair piled up so people could see the butterfly tattoo on her nape.  The butterfly was hideous but the girl was pretty.  So I smiled at her out of habit.  She looked up at me and smirked.  This was not a kind smirk.  It was a 'Yeah right'-smirk.  We were waiting in line for the ATM and I saw my reflection in the bank window.  The wrapping was familiar.  Same old rotting band t-shirts gathered beneath the wings of a spiked, black leather jacket.  Man, I love this jacket.  It's like a second skin and the weight of the leather reassures me like armor.  But something has changed since I returned home.  My face is different.  Older, wary and puffier.  The face I wear no longer matches this outfit.  So I took the leather jacket and all my old t-shirts and tossed them in the closet.  Discarded husks from a dead beast.  I borrowed my mom's Macy's card and bought ordinary clothes and a very sensible jacket.  When the house heater turns on, sometimes I can smell my leather jacket.  But the closet door remains closed.  Just another symbol of a life gone horribly awry. 

Like my job at Petco.  This is a terrible job.  The only good thing about it is I don't have to be a cashier.  Since I have a college degree, they let me choose between running the fish department or the small animal department.  Small animals include birds.  These poor fucking birds are like looking in the mirror.  Useless, clipped wings keep them prisoner in their cages.  Most of these birds are intelligent and quite aware of their lot in life.  Many are greasy and unkempt and some are completely insane.  Like Champ, the cockatoo with bald patches that gnaws on himself constantly while cryptically whispering, "Picture...picture..."

So fish it is.  Running the aquatic system is a pleasant distraction and I am good at this.  But it drives mom crazy.  In her mind, a college degree means I can walk into any office building, receive a big bag of money and a rewarding career.  She makes this her topic of conversation every time she sees me.  So I start to steal her pills to get away.  Mixed with my chronically fucked up knee pills, I eat a lot of painkillers.  No where near a good heroin head bob, but my skull empties into the void.  And I am sure mom knows I'm in her stash because she keeps moving them.  But as long as mom gets uninterrupted TV at night, she is willing to forgive a lot.  Plus I still go to the NA meetings.  That was where I met Debra.

"No sponsor?  I never see your name on the lists" she remarked to me after the meeting broke up and we all wandered away to our lives.

"Nah" I shrug smiling.  "I think people do whatever they want to do regardless of any sponsor or meetings."

"Very cynical" she says walking next to me.  "I agree though.  NA has good points about missing a lot in life because you're only half there.  But if you don't care...?  Oh, by the way I'm Debra."

We formally introduce ourselves and shake hands.  But we already know each other's names because of the meetings.  So I go with the flow and float out into the cosmos.  This is how things happen.  Casually, we decide to go out for coffee.  Coffee and cigarettes are a few of the drugs NA doesn't shit upon.  Talking with Debra is a breath of fresh air in my pent up, loser life.  But our chemistry is strange.  Every opposite fact that should work against us being chummy makes us click.  But maybe that's because of NA.  One nice thing about NA is you just throw it all out there.  It's like taking a mental crap in front of strangers.  And it's ok because whatever shit you fell ass backwards into, the room has already smelled thirteen times.  We sip coffee and talk.

Debra and I actually went to the same high school but she graduated six years ahead of me.  An older woman.  From her drab, formal clothing I can tell she works in an office somewhere.  She has streaks of gray swirled in with her mousey blonde hairdo and makes no attempt to hide this.  I instantly love that about her.  Even in her bland office outfit, you can see her belly is flat and her form is pleasantly curved.  Something about the way Debra carries herself through the NA bullshit.  Sighing through her nose and looking up at the ceiling whenever God or Jesus was dragged into the discussions.  I noticed her right away.  Most people in NA blindly believe what they are told and share.  And who can blame them?  If I wasn't so fucking jaded maybe I could let my brain wrap around Salvation.  But I don't believe.  And I like chewing Percocets while people cry during circle discussion.  The Believers and Unbelievers are the two tribes in NA meetings.  In the 7:30pm NA Meetings held at Escuela Senior Center, the Believers are the majority.   And good for them.

"I was put away for awhile" I admit vaguely while sipping house coffee.  "Heroin, coke, pills.  Also crack, weed and booze but that was just for fun.  I finished school.  I live my mom and work at Petco.  Which reminds me, I gotta call home to say I don't need a ride."

"Oh...?" her brown eyes twinkle in amusement like a cat watching a bold mouse creep out into the open.

"Um, sorry.  Not like that!" I blush.  "I meant, I'll just take a bus home.  I didn't mean-"

"Oh relax.  NA is the closest thing I have to a social life these days" she sighs.  "Let me enjoy our coffee time ok?  Go make your call."

Her smile is predatory.  And I instantly pick up on that.  I meet her probing stare and nod back.

"Ok.  Be right back."

I look at my watch.  9:08pm.  This is a perfect time to call because my mom won't pick up the phone when she's watching TV.  I leave a message on the machine.  Then I go in the restroom and snort oxycodone out my coke bullet.  I'm checking my nostrils as a man comes in to wash his hands.  He stares hard at me like I'm a freak.  For a moment, I wonder if I'm going to punch him.  Then I realize...I'm really fucking high.  Maybe it's my social nerves.  It's been awhile since I've been with someone I'm trying to impress.  But this guy has a right to stare because I am high and openly displaying this fact.  While he washed his hands, I stood in the front of the mirror wetting my fingers, jamming them in my nose and then licking them.  The water helps my nasal veins absorb the narcotics while I lick my fingers because I don't want to waste any of that precious oxy.  The man leaves.  The face in the mirror looks back at me and winks.  I make my way back to my seat.

"You're good?" she asks.

"Oh yeah...I'm good" I grin and realize my smile is a little too demented.

Debra looks at me.  She knows.  I can tell because her eyes just swarmed over my artificial happiness.  What am I thinking?  Of course she can tell!  I met in her NA for fuck's sake.  Or maybe I missed some powder on my nose.  But whatever just happened, much like a first date fart, Debra pretends all is well.

"Hm.  Let's see" she frowns looking up, "For me it's cocaine and alcohol.  Maybe a slight thing with Valium...Hmmm.  But honestly that was just to get more out of booze after doing coke.  I'm not court mandated but it's the only reason I'm in NA.  I'm doing this is for my son, Tyler.  He'll be four
 in September."

My brain registers this.  This is the first woman I've ever been attracted to with a child.  After 24 rotations around the sun, my outlook on the people of my planet slowly expands.

"Fucking CPS..." Debra mutters as she exhales into the stained glass light fixture above our booth.

"CPS?  What's that?" I ask.

"Child Protective Services" she sighs.  Her eyes grow distant as she continues.  "I gotta a few DUI's.  Did some time at Elmwood.  My husband has custody and so...that's me.  My lawyer thinks NA looks good for the custody hearings."

"You're married?" I ask trying to sound casual.

"On paper.  My husband is...well, he's an asshole.  His parents pays for all the legal fees to keep this nightmare going.  I AM Tyler's mother.  Every molecule in my body was created for this purpose.  I need to be with Tyler and he needs to be with me.  So now I go to fucking religious gatherings to build up the slim chance I can see him on a holiday or maybe his birthday.  You know, the day I gave birth to him."

Debra closes her eyes.  "Sorry.  Never mind my problems!" she fake laughs while wiping away a tear.  "But you?  Heroin?  You're so young!"

I cringe because that fact is evident to anyone looking at us.  "Oh I'm done with that.  I'm only in NA because my-" and I catch myself.  I don't want to say 'mom' anymore to Debra.  Having coffee with a mother who went to jail for coke while I try and defend my loser, living at home status is awkward.  I clear my throat and continue, "Well, I'm in NA for my living situation.  It sucks. But like life, it's only temporary."

She smiles at me and then looks out the window.  Her eyes travel thousands of miles away from our table.  I feel like a fool.  Then she looks back at me.  Like a sunbeam urging me to grow.

"So your not in NA because you're in danger of slipping back into heroin?"

"No.  Heroin is behind me.  I had a conversation with...with someone who helped me see the road ahead."

"Oh?  Well, good.  I'm not afraid of my past" she says crushing out her smoke.  "I know what I did.  And I know why I'm in NA.  If anything, my drug use is like Buddhism.  Enjoy today.  NA is bullshit and just a way to move on."

"Really?" I ask.  I like the philosophy but not sure how it applies to people with insane substance abuse issues.  Quite possibly people like me and Debra.

"Yeah.  Really" she says leaning back and stretching out one arm across the top of the booth.  "Like tonight.  It's barely nine.  I haven't had a drink in four months.  Not even a glass of wine."

I look at Debra.  The formal gray, knee-length skirt, white blouse and gray dress jacket can't contain the spirit.  Her languid pose highlights a body that would be fun to know.  Her dark brown eyes urge me to the edge of the cliff.  They dare me to jump.  I like her eyes and the familiar madness behind her look, so I lean forward and ask,  "Are you hungry?"

"Food..?" she muses while looking at me with just a hint of a smile.  "Nope."

"How about a drink?" I ask.  Then I wince.  Jesus.  What am I thinking?

"Thought you'd never ask" she replies standing up without a smile. Her cigarette still smolders in the ashtray as she walks out the door.  I crush out our smokes, pay the bill and laugh.  The spirit is a funny thing.

We go to an old Navy bar.  I knew it existed growing up, but I was underaged.  Now the Soviet Union has collapsed.  The Berlin wall has fallen.  The US military presence in this town is diminished so there are more corporate suits in the bar than sailors.  But it's still a festive place.  A lot of macho shit like horse saddles and fighter jet cockpits decorate the space.  Pretty much every stupid, drunken thing a sailor or frat boy would steal and nail to a wall is here.  Traffic signs, underwear, animal heads and license plates from all 50 states surround the patrons who meander around pool tables doing shots and eating buffalo wings.  A fifteen foot Wonder Woman statue straddles the bar.  We sit beneath her crotch.

Debra can drink.  Either my presence has let her off her self-imposed leash or she is an accomplished liar.  Either way, Debra proceeds to drink.  It's Tuesday Tea Day.  Long Islands for $4.  She orders a pitcher of beer and Long Island Ice Teas.  My pill buzz is wearing very thin by this point but as a junkie, I carry emergency drugs on me for situations like this.  I sip politely and make conversation.  Her life sucks.  My life sucks.  We drink.

Between drinks, I surreptitiously eat my mom's Percocets and rail a 30 mg Roxi on a toilet stall.  My opiate buzz makes me fall behind Debra who methodically slams her Long Islands and swigs glasses beer.  I nurse my Long Island and ignore the draft beer.  The oxy makes me talkative.  I admit I like being the fish guy at Petco even though I'm wasting my college degree.

"I like, stand in front of the tanks" I grin like a fool, "and hold up my arms.  The fish rise up like I am their god."

"Does that make you hard?" she asks seriously before collapsing into giggles.  She reaches out and touches my thigh and I can feel the fish rise.

Debra tells me about her job.

"Catalog design is as fucking boring as it sounds" she grimaces swallowing half a glass of beer in a gulp.  "And tomorrow morning at 8:30 am I will be there with my smile.  Pretending to care about vacuum cleaner bag positioning for the money shot.  Oh, not what you're thinking!"

She laughs but I wasn't listening.  Some bad joke.  I am thinking about my pills.  I have three Percocets and two oxycodones.  Debra is drunk and touching me with every laugh.  I get it.  But the question is do I have enough pills to survive crashing at her house when I have work tomorrow?  I really don't want to sneak home to resupply myself with pills.  Maybe I'll pretend to be a decent sort who wouldn't take advantage of an inebriated NA friend-

"You know I was thinking about the Buddha" she says through unsteady eyes that laugh at me.  "Like live for today?  The moment!  You know?"

"Sure" I smile and finish my drink.

Debra swirls her finger over her head and yells "Another round for me and my sponsor!"   She is laughing maniacally as another round of drinks appear beneath Wonder Woman's crotch.  The Long Island is ice cold and pleasant on my opiate palate.

"So coke" she breathes into my ear leaning against me.  "You do coke?  We can stop by my girl's condo and hook up!  C'mon!  Let's have some fun."

Who am I to argue this logic?  We toast our friendship between heroic, fiberglass legs wrapped in star bangled boots and slam drinks.  I try to pay but find Debra has a tab here.  We wander out into the night.  I insist on driving when she falls over trying to get the keys out of her purse.  I help her up and we kiss beneath the fluorescent sky of the parking lot.  Her lips seal our bad behavior in a protective bubble.  Finally, sanctuary for what I am.  Fuck it.

"I had nine drinks and you had four" Debra slurs as she slumps into the passenger seat.  "But you're fucking high right?  You're not shooting shit are you?"

"No!" I assure her starting up the car without a valid driver's license.  "I take only doctor prescribed pain medication!" I laugh as I peel out onto the road.

"Too bad" she mumbles leaning her head towards the open window to gulp cold night air.  "I mean not too bad you're not shooting H!  I mean too bad you don't have any needles.  You ever shoot coke?  Man, I love shooting coke at the mall and going shopping!"

I don't know what to say to that one so I nod and pilot her commuter car into the traffic.  We drive to an apartment complex a few miles away.  I wait in the car and chew another Percocet while I smoke and fuck with her car stereo.  Madonna's Greatest Hits CD and the radio.  I end up listening to NPR where they talk about SETI.  Reminds of things I used to actually care about.  I sigh and wonder, What am I doing here?  This is lame right?  But fifteen minutes later, Debra wobbles back out barefoot, smoking and carrying her high heels slung over her shoulder.

She seems less drunk as she slides in, digs around her bag and comes up with a nail file.  She scoops me a hit and I hit it.  BAM.  Cocaine.  Been awhile old friend, I muse as the intensity of the Andes mountain range clears my fuzzy outlook on life.  I sit up straighter and start the car.  Coke is way better than coffee.

Debra's place reminds me where I tread.  Before this moment, my life was purely a party.  Now I walk past children's toys and a wall of framed pictures of a child named Tyler.  No band posters proclaiming your allegiance to some silly fashionable lifestyle.  A few, framed reproductions  by Monet and a collection of houseplants.  The coffee table surface is made of glass.  She dumps the coke on it and proceeds to chop it up with her driver's license.  We do lines with a rolled up five dollar bill.

"Whew!" she snorts pinching her eyes shut and grimacing after a comet trail of coke.  "So?  So?  So whaddya think?"

"Think?" I wonder as the icicles stab my optic nerves and spread numb rivers of silver into my brain.  "Well I'm allergic to milk.  I think if I snort too much of this coke I'll get the shits."

"Oh c'mon!  It's not that bad!  Yeah it's cut but not Mexican cut!"

I think about my old roommate and all the good coke I enjoyed effortlessly and realize this world just keeps turning.  Memories fade and new experiences rotate towards me.  So I I just shrug and do another line.  "Mnnrrr!" I grimace whipping my head up.

When Debra pulls a box of wine out of her pantry, the night grows super blurry.  I watch the news as she showers.  All those people living their shitty existences all across the globe while I chain smoke.  Debra appears in a bathrobe.  She kills the TV and turns on her stereo.  Journey's 'Faithfully' drowns out the world.  She sits next to me and we kiss.  The energy between us is a desperate thing grown from the Darkness.  But we are alone.  All we have is this moment.  Debra does an awkward, air drum solo, we drown in drunken kisses and have sex.  As we do this, I can't help but to think Debra is far away.  And so am I.

The next morning I wake up nude in the harsh light of the day.  A cat I never noticed before sits on the coffee table and watches me cautiously.  Debra snores peacefully on the floor below the couch with her robe wadded up under head like a pillow.  Her hair spills over her face and she is beautiful.  But in the beauty is a soul that has seen more than 30 winters.  The lines around her mouth and eyes are etched in marble.  Debra navigates a life I can't comprehend.  The sunlight stabbing through her blinds illuminates stretch marks around her flat belly where a baby once grew.  Her curled foot with chipped, red toenail paint points at a Thomas the Train sippy cup.

I rub my face.  While the chemical angst of morning is familiar, this morning is world's different than yesterday morning.  As I sit up, I knock over a toy car that lands on Debra.  She rolls over, groans and covers her body with her robe.

"Shit.  What time is it?" she grumbles.

Time?  Oh yeah.  Our society obligations.  I cover my crotch with my t-shirt and look at my watch.  "Fuck.  It's almost 11."

We both make awkward calls to our employers as Debra microwaves coffee.  Vague promises.  Flus.  Maybe be in later?  When the deed is done we sit in the gloom and stare at the TV which is turned off.  The instant coffee and tastes horrible.  We share a plate of scrambled eggs and toast.  We are quiet because once the sun rose, all the naked, drunken, coked out freedom skulked away.  But I learned the cat's name.

"Oh stop pouting Bodhi" chides Debra opening up a can of something that reeks of dead creatures from the sea.  Bodhi half heartedly nibbles at it.

I think of my life waiting for me when I walk out this door.  Questions from mom as I know my boss Penny called the house.  But I do have two oxycodones left.  I could just drift into work and bypass home.  But I would feel terrible by lunch break when the dopesickness hits.  I think I feel it now but we did a lot of coke and I'm definitely still drunk from that awful box wine.  

"You going to work?" I ask.

"Oh" she shrugs.  Debra sit two seats away from me this morning.  "That would be the right thing to do I suppose."

Her response is noncommittal and I think I should just leave but she shakes her head and starts crying again.  "I hate them all!  Watch!  I'll get drug tested and fail!  But the worst part is...we did all the fucking coke!"

True, we did all the fucking coke but I have no idea what she is ranting about.  However, I am no stranger to pain, so I go over and put a hand on her shoulder.  She leans into me.

"I can't go into work like this!" she moans.  "What am I gonna do?"

When she cries, Debra looks so old and frail.  I have no idea what she is so worried about.  We go to our crap jobs and slog through another day.  But her eyes are fragile...

"I have two oxys.  We can rail them and you take me to my house.  I can get more."

"What?" she sniffles.  "Rail?"

"Yeah.  Crush.  Snort.  Here..."

I take a quarter and smash two pills.  I chop it up with her driver's license as the cat watches.  Her picture in the ID has makeup and looks composed.  You have to love girls.  My ID has a homeless guy with a two day old patchy beard sneering.  I give myself the bigger piles and explain this ain't coke.  We do little lines and wait for maximum blood absorption.  But in twenty minutes Debrah has a good idea about my habit.

"Jesus this is sweet" she declares through clear, brown eyes.  "Ok.  Let's get some more.  You know for work.  What is this shit called?"

"Oxycodone.  It has no aspirin shit in it like Vicoden.  So you can snort pure, medical grade opiate."

"Oh my god, it feels so GOOD.  I feel awake and alive and happier than I have felt in years.  Is it like heroin?" she asks.

"No" I sigh remembering the Darkness.  "No.  Not even.  But let's not go there."

She drives me home and I rush in with a mission.  "Oh hey mom!  Just need some stuff and going to work!"

"But!  But!" she complains as I dart into the bathroom to steal her pills.  I flush the toilet and pop into my room to grab my oxycodone.  "But your boss called you!  Penny!  That girl that spent the night!"

"Yeah I gotta go" I assured her rushing down the porch and back into Debra's car.

"Hey!  Who's that lady?" complains mom as we peel away.

We get more coke and order a pizza.  Safe inside, we ignore life happening outside the apartment windows.  "Finally a break" sighs Debrah splayed out on the floor.  She has discovered the oxy/coke combo and enjoys.  "So tired of the everyday bullshit!"  And we go on another apartment bender with Bodhi the cat.  Cheap coke and box wine is one thing but Debra quickly gains a taste for oxy.  My oxy.

"How can we get more?" she complains after I tell her I'm out.  Jesus it's only 6pm.  We are coked out of our skulls and going nuts.  Debra is an 8ball snorter a night while gulping box wine.  She has cleaned the apartment twice while I stared at TV and ripped cheese off the pizza to eat bread.

"But where can we get more oxycodone?" Debra asks me for the thousandth time while coke sprinkles from her nostrils.

I shrug.  "I have a bad knee.  My mom has spinal injuries.  I guess you need a serious doctor thing."

"Like what?" she asks.  I look at her.  Debra's brain is working and planning.

"I don't know.  Chronic, fucked up pain?"

"Ok I have migraines.  Maybe I'll give it a try because this shit is amazing.  Especially with coke!  When can you get more?" her eyes widened.

Did this relationship fizzle because of our age difference?  Or was it because when she turned her laser focus on my oxycodone habit?  I still think about her arms around me and how good it feels to be in the same boat with another cosmic drifter.  But I stopped taking her calls.  I stopped going out for coffee.  I did my NA time and continued at Petco.  But one day I woke up.  I can't be in my childhood home when the dark wings come beating through the endless night for me.  I borrowed the Macy's card again and bought two suits.  I slowed down my usage until my brain started working again.  The temp agency was kind and pushed me towards the buildings that hire fools like me.  But the emptiness is still here inside me.  There is not enough to fill it.


"Hello?  Hellloooo?" says Iona.

I listen for something.  For what?

"Heloooo" she sighs.  "Ok.  Good bye."