Michael was over 50 years old and owned multiple pocket protectors. Michael favored the short sleeve button up with a striped tie look. Michael wore thick lens glasses. His silver hair was meticulously combed and he only wore the most sensible of shoes. Michael loved cocaine.
We both worked at the Pizza Hut in a dying strip mall at the edge of town. The only businesses left around us were three sad bars, a store stacked floor to ceiling with broken electronics, and the only porn shop for miles. I was a 19 year old snot nose kid working 6 nights a week to pay rent and tuition. I hated my job. Michael was my boss. And he hated that I always showed up late and high as fuck.
This is about the night Michael told me about his garden. This is about the time I learned that some gardens can only grow in the past.
The first time I sniffed cocaine with my boss was right after the first time I smoked weed with him. I’ve done drugs with kind-of-strangers in parked cars before. Not a big deal. What made that moment feel wonky for me was not entirely because he was my boss but more so that Michael, a buttoned-up man I’ve known for over a year, decided it was okay for me to see him like that. It was an act of intimacy I didn’t expect from him. Albeit, a self-destructive and illegal act. This was a man who would clock out and no one would notice. A man who sat in the same quiet bar as me, for hours, slowly sipping blackberry brandy and not saying a damn thing to anyone. His world was always no more than a few inches in front of him. He, in a degenerate way, decided I was of the same ilk and reached a muddy hand out. And it all happened in the parking lot in front of the Parkway Lounge.
(Parkway was my bar of choice. The main reasons being that it was next door from the job and that it was the only place that would serve a 19 year old kid.)
After Michael and I gummed the last speck off his dashboard we walked inside.
Big Eddie, the correctional officer who always called me “kid”, sat in his usually spot in the corner. Big Eddie was the most monotone man I have ever met. You could never tell if he was one drink in or 10 sheets to the wind. If he hated your guts or was about to let you borrow money. If I could guess what Big Eddie’s spirit animal was, it would be a straight line. The wife of the owner was bartending. The owner was belly-upped and playing a dice game on the bar as his wife watched. My friend, Jimmy, was hustling someone I never saw before at one of the pool tables.
Michael grabbed his blackberry brandy and I took a shot of whiskey and we walked over to the tables and watched.
The game is called 3-ball. Three balls racked to start. The break counts as one shot and from there whoever takes the least amount of shots to sink all three balls wins the pot. If there is a tie, the pot rolls over to a new game, and new bets are placed.
Jimmy would allow the new guy to shoot first every time. In that way, he could keep tying the score for as long as possible- which in turn, grew the pot. And when the pot was big enough, Jimmy, sucking his teeth like a predator, would take the money in two shots. He would then lament how lucky he was that he dropped two balls on the break and how perfectly the last one sat and how sorry he was that it had to end that way…
The last part- the Jimmy’s laments, and coupled with the multiple ties, was the genius of the hustle. The new guy would think he didn’t just get beat- he’d think he lost. Big difference. Then they would go again. And again.
Michael and I played on the other table for a cool minute and decided we should save our quarters for booze. Around last call, Ron and Scottie stumbled in. Scottie immediately challenged everyone to a fist fight outside. When no one took him up on his offer, he snatched Big Eddie’s beer and broke it across the door frame. Within the hour, Scottie was passed out on the bar’s back cot.
Michael and I sat quietly at the bar. We didn’t talk about much of anything really. The usually bullshit. We just drank for the rest of the night. When it was time to leave he asked if I could drive him home. I said I would. The drive was quiet.
When I pulled into the trailer park my heart sank a bit. All those times the delivery drivers at our job complained about coming to that area- how they called the people who lived their “trash” and “losers” and “cheap fucks” and how Michael never said a word but would hear it all nonetheless.
“Life gets tough sometimes, you know? You’re heading in one direction, something unexpected happens, and there you are, living in a trailer park.” Michael said. His words were slightly slurred. His face stared out, towards his front door. He didn’t say anything for a while after.
“Yeah, Michael, shit gets nuts.” I responded, eventually.
“She gambles. She gambles with more than we have. But I love her. I really do. I’ve loved her longer than you’ve been alive.” He said slowly. It was like the first words accidently stumbled out so he had to finish it.
“That’s shitty that she gambles that much. But I’ve seen her come around a few times. You guys seem good together. She seems nice.”
“We are. We are good together… You know, we met in Germany? I was in the Air Force and she worked at the commissary as a civilian. I would go to her job, all the way across the base and past a couple of mini-marts, just to buy a candy bar from her. And no matter how long her line was, I stood in it and waited. And I did this for a few months until she noticed me. I’m a pretty shy man, you know? So by the time she noticed me, my room looked like Willy Wonka’s Factory and I was practically a diabetic.”
“Apparently, that worked.”
Michael drifted away again and then he went silent. He stared out my window and from the corner of my eye I saw that he was shaking his head.
“Look at that tiny, piece of shit, garden.”
“It ain’t so bad, Mike.”
“…Man, oh man, you know what? When I was kid we had a tree in our backyard that was huge. I loved that tree. I would always climb it and carve my name in it. You know, kid shit. And when spring came along, it became this big thing of gold and brown and it felt so alive. And when I would climb up as high as I was brave enough to go, and when I was surrounded by its branches and leaves, which made it seem like the tree covered the entire sky, it felt like I was in another world and that I never wanted to leave it…”
“That sounds great, Mike.”
“…Her hair, it’s always been this big thing of gold and brown…”
“Get some sleep, man. I’ll see you tomorrow. And I’ll probably be late.”
“Jaylee. Make sure, when you got the space, that you plant a garden. It’s important. Bye.”
I was a 19 year old shit head. At the time, I could tell you about the world but I wouldn’t know anything about it. I worked with Michael for another year after that. We drank more but never indulged in anything heavier. I never brought up what happened that night. On my last shift, he shook my hand and said good luck and that was it. Later that evening, after his shift, he walked into Parkway. I was still there. He said one thing and then sat quietly and sipped his blackberry brandy until the neon signs stopped buzzing.
“Remember what I said that night? Don’t wait until you have the space.”
This is about the time I learned that every garden has a story and that some garden don’t need the sun.
Chico is a strange place.
Its tiny square footage, snug against butt fuck towns and slow roads, harbors the weird magic. It’s the desolation that brews it, I think. Everything that it holds, stays and lingers over it like a low hum chant. It’s the air as well, maybe, filled with the pheromones of the new school drunks. Maybe it’s the crisp bright scent of nature that blooms at dawn and dusk. How it calms, at least for a moment, the worst of Chico’s citizens. It might even be the clanging music of cash tills during the forever happy hour that infests the place. The big weed smoke in the air definitely plays a part. And the tension, that smells like copper, between “them” and “us”. The locals and the not-from-here. All of it lingers above Chico’s occupants like a strange cloud. And that cloud is always chanting- disguising its spell between gusts of wind. It says the same thing over and over again…
“Weird shit is about to go down.”
How do I know all this? Because the second to last time I was in Chico, in the dead of night and with my dick in my hand, I was almost attacked by a Llama.
A friend of ours asked us to read our poems at his show in Chico. Josh, Jason, and I agreed and made the drive up from Oakland. By the time of the show we were all drunk. By the end of the show we were all drunk and high. Chico-style.
We drank more at a bar nearby and discussed deep shit while slightly swaying. We took off before last call before someone either peed themselves or dropped their pants again (that is all me). We carefully, and illegally, made our way to our friend’s home. We arrived at his non-descript street and home. Our friend lived in the “guest apartment”, a converted one-car garage, in the rear. As soon as we left our vehicle he warned us, “The folks in the house don’t like me having guests so we gotta be quiet”.
His room was filled with failed business attempts and future hustles. Every corner and open space covered in investments. T-shirts stacked as high as a 10 year old kid. Piles and piles of DVD’s he plans to sell one day. Boxes of books, waiting to be read, pockmarked the walk ways. His apartment was the embodiment of the artist’s grind.
We thanked him for his generosity. We made makeshift beds on the floor with the sweaters and T-shirts for sale and got cozy. Then I had to pee.
“Where’s your bathroom at?”
He told me a convoluted plan of attack that required multiple directions and a training manual. He then handed me a mini key chain flash light and sent me on my way into the pitch black darkness of the backyard.
I was still drunk and high.
The mini flash light was acting wonky. It stayed on for a half a second then would black out until I clicked it again. At this point, I was full on pee pee dancing. He told me the guest bathroom was somewhere in the storage space in the rear of the yard. I wanted to piss right then and there but the “no guests allowed” rule and the idea of the landlords finding a large colored man they’ve never seen before urinating in the middle of their kids play set, shot that idea down.
I kept searching. I kept suffering. I kept walking funny. I kept clicking that damn flash light.
The next minute or so went like this:
A giant beast was 5 inches from my face and frothing. I shoved the girlish scream down. I didn’t want to wake the landlords or be a bitch. The only sound that escaped me was a soft sound of pure terror, “aaahhhhhhhhhhh”, for about 20 seconds. Then I manned up and click the flash again. Above, head shoved over the fence and chewing on itself like a mad man, was the mutated horse, the off-planet ungulate.
Llamas are large.
If an animal can sprint at full speed with a 200lb man straddling it then you should either fear it, or marry it.
I remember it snorted with rage. And if I know animal physiology, which I do, this fucking Llama was coked up. It wanted my flesh and to chew on my skull like a plush toy. I did what came naturally; I pulled out my dick and peed on the fence while frantically clicking the mini flash light. Once I was relieved I ran/tip-toed back to the apartment.
“Hey, homie there is a Llama back there”
“Yeah, that’s the neighbors pet. I should have told you.”
P.S. (The third to last time I was in Chico I was pulled over for speeding. The cop refused to hand me the ticket because my eye was leaking pus and alien matter due to a vicious case of Pink Eye. So the cop let me go with a verbal warning…that was almost shouted about 15 feet away from my window.)
P.P.S. (The last time I was in Chico I got drunk at a pizzeria and passed out in a motel room. So sometimes shit is just regular.)
It wasn’t supposed to happen but there I was, last Friday, 4p.m., walking into work, high as fuck. The kind of high where you think if you stare hard enough you might be able to see…air.
You shouldn’t be this high at the work place. Ever.
I took an hour long train ride to one of the outer shiny suburbs to get legally fucked up. I know, I know, I could get whiskey, beer, cigarettes, and a citation for public intoxication in Oakland but what I can’t get in Oakland that I can get in the shiny suburbs is a sense of undeserved entitlement. I don’t know about you but when I’m fucked up I like to feel like the world owes me a few fucking favors and a bigger expense account.
I should have known things were going to get wonky just by the groups of friends I was going to drink with- Poets, teachers, and a cancer patient. All types, historically, who like to puff-puff pass.
Most of the night was typically- Liquor and conversation, beer and dirty jokes. There was a point where the discussion turned to literature but that was quickly shot gunned in favor of a pro/con debate over the merits of female to male asshole licking. That was my bad and I apologize. It’s just that I’ve never finished Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer” and I didn’t want to feel like an idiot.
At the end of the night our group of friends had thinned and the only ones left were the cancer patient and I. Two beasts of men sitting at dinner table trying to punch sleep and sobriety in the fucking face.
One of the beasts, my friend, was going through a heavy episode in his life made easier by a great wife, supportive friends, and thankfully prop. 214. The other beast, handsome ol’ me, was just shit faced drunk on a Thursday.
At 5 a.m., and after a half a day of drinking, no one makes rational decisions.
My friend can no longer smoke the yurp because of the chemo. It’s just been weed food for him. I personally don’t touch the stuff, in any variation, for years now but for some reason, there I was, chomping down on a piece of toast generously lathered with a very potent form of butter procured from the local cannabis club. God Damn. I said, God Damn.
I passed out from the drink moments after eating the toast so I didn’t feel the effects. When I woke up a few hours later to catch BART back to Oakland the only word that could describe that ride back was….cartoony.
I lay in bed for hours waiting for the effects to dampen. It didn’t. I drank water. I even did some motherfucking jumping jacks but that didn’t help either. It just made me giggle and wheeze.
I got dressed and made my way over to the job. I tried not to panic. Stared at my hands and thought about the science of clapping. It made me feel better but not sober. I walked into work and said hi to my boss and, with much might and self control, I resisted the urge to ask her, “Hey, is it just me or does the air look beautiful today?”
I stumbled into you like runaway clock, Brooklyn.
Like I always do…
This trip was short but bursting. The last time I grabbed your hips, Brooklyn, it was wet from fall. You still had the rumble in your wrought iron bones like you usually do, but this time around; you were at the birth of spring- shaking winter from your dance.
Brooklyn, baby, sometimes you move me like the seasons.
I arrived with a bag full of poems and back pocket brimming with swagger. Kingston Ave. stand up. I stayed in a friend’s apartment- a friend who talks in the language of knife fights and sunshine. Real talk. I already miss her.
My first night I got drunk with the coolest folks on the planet.
Later that evening, I found myself lying in the bed of a Nigerian woman I met two hours earlier. It’s not what you think. Her place smelled like fresh paint and hella weed smoke. I asked her, “who painted that one, over there?” She said, “Everyone.”
At 4 a.m., in a dark bar, we were belly up’d. We were a family for one booming night. We swigged our whiskey like heartbreak and every conversation began with “one day…..”
I was reminded how much I love Oakland and the right now.
Brooklyn, on my second night, I left you. I hopped on two trains to get to Manhattan. Apparently, it was $27,854 drink night and I couldn’t miss it for the world. After I read my poem in a slick bar, a friend who has a heart like drum, asked me “I manage a bar, you feel like drinking for free?” I wanted to marry him on the spot but his fiancé was standing next to him.
That night I’m served big fat drinks. We talked big fat shit. We laughed big fat brilliant. Brooklyn, we lived broke. Brooklyn, we lived big and fat. Brooklyn, we lived.
Baby, the third night I did it again, I’m sorry. Manhattan, you siren.
Before the sun slept, before dusk painted the concrete something sexy, I was already drunk. I get to the venue and it was my last night with you. I read to a packed bar soft and vulgar poems. Whiskey was my lover that night. You, Brooklyn, were my lover that night. I wasn’t surrounded by your avenues the entire time but you were my long afternoon walks. You were my compass in the spider web of streets. You were my quiet moments, my stoop, my church…, in which I prayed with cigarette and good book.
Brooklyn, you were always there for me to rest my head after a long night of howling with the moon. I will be back, Brooklyn, because true love doesn’t know any better.