Popeye didn’t accept change of any kind. You kept things consistent and did it his way or there was hell to pay.
Several times Popeye slipped in through the front door of the bar and leaped onto the cigarette machine to keep an eye on me. He knew my binges, didn’t approve of my over-imbibing.Popeye’s realm
You only get one cat like him, if you’re lucky
By Dell Franklin
By Dell Franklin
I moved to Shell Beach from Manhattan Beach in October of 1986 and brought with me only a station wagon full of second-hand clothes and furniture and an eleven-year-old cat named Popeye. Unlike most cats that cower inside for weeks upon the culture shock of new surroundings, Popeye bounced immediately into the street and went exploring. During the ensuing week, while I moved things around and acclimated myself to new digs after seventeen years in L.A., Popeye strutted and sniffed up and down the street that connected the bluffs overlooking the ocean with Shell Beach Road, staking out turf and occasionally stopping to eyeball a fellow feline perched on a fence or windowsill or lawn furniture.
The man a few doors down, a retired school teacher and principal from Whittier named Harry, wandered over to make acquaintances.
“That stump-tail cat belong to you?”
“Oh yeah. That’s Popeye. Lost his tail in a fight.”
“Popeye…good name. There’s a couple cats that run this street, but he’s already got ‘em cowed. He’s got an unusual style for a cat. He doesn’t hiss or make those awful sounds. Just sits down flat, so nonchalant, and gives ‘em that stare. Quite a stare. Reminds me of Sonny Liston, the boxer, when he fought Ali. I wouldn’t want old Popeye staring at me like that.”
“He wants everybody to know who he is, right off, Harry. Down in Manhattan Beach, I had two signs in my window—BEWARE OF CAT, and DOG FIGHTER ON PREMISES.”
Harry laughed. “Everybody’s feeding him, too, ya know. He doesn’t say please or thank you, just gives you that look and folks give him something to nibble on, and then he moves on.”
“He doesn’t believe in begging, Harry. He demands.”
I landed a job as banquet bartender in a new luxury hotel in San Luis Obispo. I’d been a neighborhood and nightclub bartender in dives in Manhattan Beach and wanted less action and fewer patrons who knew me. I needed a change of scenery, a new routine. So, I left a girl, too damn many drinking buddies, as well as various female friends who’d caused friction in all my relationships, and found a quiet place in Shell Beach. I wished only to write, be celibate, drink less, ride a bicycle through surrounding foothills and along the fine, new coastline, and have Popeye as my only companion, a situation he welcomed.
The working class folks across the street, Allan and Candy, took a liking to Popeye, who occasionally used their lawn chair to warm himself when the sun receded on our side of the street. Neighbors complimented me on Popeye, because his quickly won dominance of the entire street prevented other cats from fighting over territory, since it all now belonged to Popeye and there was no use fighting over it. He liked swaggering down the middle of the street, ignoring dogs barking at him from behind fences and windows, while the other neighborhood cats crouched in hiding.
Up the corner from my cottage was Alex’s Bar-B-Q, with the only bar in the area. Since this establishment was only eight doors away from my one-bedroom beach cottage, Popeye often followed me up and waited outside. Women in the bar felt this to be cute, which made conversation easy. A few local blue-collar workers warned me that their tied up dogs might attack and kill Popeye, which provoked laughs all around.
Several times Popeye slipped in through the front door and leaped onto the cigarette machine to keep an eye on me. He knew my binges, didn’t approve of my over-imbibing, though he stayed out all night every night and came through the front window around four in the morning, chattering, snoozing at my feet and then swatting my ankle angrily the moment I was up and about, demanding food.
And so, Popeye and I settled into our new home.
Rocky was a plasterer who lived in an apartment across from Alex’s with his girlfriend and ninety-pound black lab Doberman mix, “Blue.” Rocky was a strapping, bearded, good-natured, boisterous macho guy who liked to watch the closed-circuit boxing matches between fighters like Tyson and Duran and Sugar Ray and Hagler on his big screen TV. He’d invite everybody who drank in Alex’s and lived on the block over to his place to watch the fights with him. A hunter and fisherman, he scoffed at tales of Popeye’s heroics in the neighborhood, and especially at my sign in the window, DOG FIGHTER ON PREMISES.
One night, while sitting at the bar with my neighbor, Bob Muñoz, we jeered at Rocky. “Listen,” I said. “D’you notice a few weeks back, when Blue had a swollen, gashed nose?”
“What about it?” Rocky asked testily.
“Popeye did that.”
“Yeah, Pops and me, we were sitting on that sofa I got out front of my place, when Blue came bounding up in attack mode, like he was gonna eat Popeye, and Popeye swatted him clean on the snoot and poor Blue yelped and went whimpering away, his nose bleeding, like a scuttling cur. He won’t come near the place any more.”
“Bullshit. Blue’ll eat that mangy cat of yours for an appetizer,” Rocky said, laughing.
“Ha ha ha,” scoffed Bob Munoz, a pipe-fitter. “I tell you what, Rocky—Popeye don’t take no shit. I never seen a cat like that. He follows Dell up and down the street…he’s more like a dog.”
“You two are so fulla shit. No cat can take a dog, especially an ass-kicker like Blue. Blue got into it with a big ol’ pointer and nearly killed him. He’s got no quit in him.”
“Fighting dogs is one thing, but a cat, that’s different.”
A week or so later, early in the morning, I set out to fetch my L.A. Times at the liquor store down the road from Alex’s. Popeye followed. He usually waited for me in the small parking lot behind Alex’s. This morning, Rocky was preparing to go to work, driving his gigantic pickup with all the tools and ladders. Blue was out, standing alert, glaring across the road at Popeye, who lay down flat, very nonchalant, issuing his Sonny Liston glower. I went and got my paper, and when I returned they were still engaged in their stare down.
“Blue, go get that mangy fucker!” Rocky shouted.
Blue wouldn’t budge. I started home, Popeye at my heels. Blue loped across the street and trailed us, at a safe distance, Rocky imploring him to attack. A house or so down the block, Popeye stopped suddenly and turned to hiss at Blue, who froze in his tracks.
“Goddamnit, Blue, get that fucker!”
“He’s afraid,” I told Rocky. “That ninety-pound dog’s afraid of a twelve-pound cat. Popeye bloodied his nose and has him buffaloed.”
Popeye and I started out again. Blue followed. Twice, until we got to my place, Popeye stopped Blue cold with the same act. Rocky was cussing Blue now, ordered him back to his truck, ashamed, calling Blue a wuss, and from this point on Rocky kept his mouth shut about Blue and Popeye, not wanting to be the laughing stock of the bar and the block.
Around the holidays, I became very busy at the hotel, working banquet after banquet. Meanwhile, a Siamese cat in heat kept perching on my fence, cozying up to Popeye, who was fixed and had no use for females. Like me, he had too many other things going on to be bothered by women. And, the fact was, the more ornery he behaved, the more female cats flocked to him.
I found the owners of the Siamese and pleaded with them to keep her in the house, because she was squalling and caterwauling all night on my fence, begging to be laid, and it would not be long before toms were in my yard, and I didn’t want my old cat fighting a bunch of young toms who’d kill for a whiff.
These people were haughty, both doctors, and ignored me, gazing at my dilapidated 1950 Chevy parked out front. I thought about keeping Popeye in at night, closing the window, but such a move would, no doubt, provoke him into tearing the place apart and hating me. Popeye didn’t accept change of any kind. You kept things consistent and did it his way or there was hell to pay.
So I went across the street and asked Allan and Candy if they’d keep an eye on Popeye when I went to work for a big banquet on the night of a full moon, because I had a feeling something bad was going to happen over this damn heated Siamese cat. They vowed to help as best they could, and my other neighbor Harry also vowed to stay up with an eye on things until I got home.
I was very busy that night—from four in the afternoon until midnight. I stopped at Alex’s for a nightcap, and when Popeye didn’t show up at the door, like he usually did, I hurried to my cottage. Popeye, who usually greeted me with loud, angry squawking, was curled up beside the door, making no move to greet me, issuing a wee, plaintive meow. I opened the door and turned on the lights, and discovered he was totally swathed in mud, water, and oil, which drained down the gutters from Alex’s. I picked him up and took him into the tub and spent an hour and a half scrubbing him, picking the oil off him, and he was quiet and still as a clam, looking me straight in the eye as I checked him for cuts, gashes and various injuries. But he was fine. I toweled him off and he climbed onto the foot of my bed, as exhausted as I’d ever seen him.
In the morning, he stayed in bed, and I went outside to find Allan, Candy and Harry pawing at patches of fur—brown, yellow, black, white…. They were all eager to tell me what had happened.
“It was like that movie, ‘Demetrius and the Gladiators,’” Harry blurted, all excited. “Popeye took on five cats! One after another! Until he was the last man standing.”
“I had the hose out,” Allan said. “I kept hosing them down. There’d be hissing and squalling, then a ball of fury, fur flying, splashing in the gutter and in the street and in your yard, and then one of those toms would take off…”
“One went up a flag pole,” Harry said. “Another scampered off into the bushes.”
“I’ve never seen the likes of it in my life,” Allan, a locksmith, went on. “That Siamese, she was just begging for it, but Popeye wouldn’t let anybody near her, because it was his yard, his fence.”
“He didn’t want her,” Harry said, moving around his false teeth, clicking them. “But by God he wasn’t going to let anybody else have ‘er. That’s the goddamnedest cat I’ve ever seen.”
“We kept hosing those cats,” Candy said. “But they wouldn’t go.”
“They had the scent.” Harry said. “He was pretty pooped fighting the last cat, a big black one named Dracula, lives two blocks over on Leeward. I know the owner—he’s got to fix that bastard. Popeye chased him over the fence. Better than any movie I’ve ever seen. Sorry you missed it, Dell. A real show—better than Leonard and Hearns.”
“Oh, I’ve seen him in action before, Harry. Down at the beach, it was a cat jungle, and he took many a beating before he learned to take his lumps and retaliate and use new tactics.”
“He was very economical,” Harry went on. “I did some boxing, in my younger days, and if you watch the great ones, like Ali, and Joe Louis, Sugar Ray, they don’t waste energy, or motion, they cut right to it. Popeye, he knew just how to go about mauling those cats. He used a different strategy, a different technique for each opponent. Simply amazing.”
“How’s the poor thing doing?” Candy asked, looking distraught.
“He’s resting. No nicks, just pooped.”
“We tried to help him,” she said. “We wanted to clean him up, and check him out, maybe take him to the vet, but he wouldn’t let us near him. He hissed and swatted at us when we got close to him.”
At that point, Popeye, moving slowly, stiffly, materialized beside me, swatting my ankle, and went into the house, and I shrugged as everybody laughed and then I went inside to feed the warrior.
In January of 1989, as Harry, Allan, Candy and I stood gabbing in the morning, a teenager in a hotrod ran over Popeye right in front of us as he zigged when he should have zagged. I went numb with rage, ran down the car, pulled the kid out and was prepared to kill him when Allan and Harry pulled me off of him.
Back at the cottage, Popeye went through the last writhing death throes and lay still as Allan herded me into the house. He kept a bear hug on me, sat me down on the couch.
“Dell, get in your truck and drive,” he said. “Drive south, find a place along the beach you’ve never been to, and walk. I’ll bury Popeye in the back. I’ll dig a deep, deep hole. Go on now. Get out of here.”
I did as told, returned hours later to an empty house, tossed all reminders of Popeye in the trash, went to work as a cabbie that night, asked for three days off, and went on a monumental binge, unable to shake from my mind the vivid sight of my cat writhing in his death throes in the middle of the street that was his realm—until I passed out and began drinking again.
Everybody at Alex’s was sympathetic, buying me drinks, joining me in a personal wake. Rocky gave me a big, long hug and told me Popeye was the greatest cat he’d ever seen, and had the bartender back me up with beers and shots.
Allan and Candy kept an eye on me. Neighbors kept showing up and telling me new Popeye stories. None of it did any good. I could not live there anymore. I went and found a place in Cayucos and a month later was out of Shell Beach. I’ve had cats since, good cats, owning three at one time, but they’re not Popeye, no, they’re amusing and sly and mostly sleep and eat and lay around…you only get one like Popeye in a lifetime, if you’re lucky. §
Dell Franklin is publisher of The Rogue Voice. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Washing windows across America
Without warning I’d been sucker-punched by a hot, ghostly dread. Now here it was again, for no apparent reason, following me like a bruised cloud.
Johnston Street is psychosis on asphalt. There are no crosswalks and the rare crossing light or two are contemptuous with their short, daring intervals between WALK and DON’T WALK.
By Ben Leroux
In the summer of 2003, I discarded all I owned and loaded a troubled 1975 Plymouth with clothes, books, a guitar, a cat named Reggie, and $17.94 worth of window-cleaning equipment. I drove across the United States, stopping in nowhere towns, pail and squeegee in hand, cleaning windows for another day’s pittance. Free of any attachments, I floated vaguely east, wandering in a private stratum without itinerary or expectation. I became a true outsider, a fugitive from the banal, suffocating cycle of madness that passes for a “normal life” today in America.
By Ben Leroux
Johnston Street is four lanes of lunacy in the rising morning humidity, an atrophied artery flushing a continual stampede of cramped, volatile vehicles back and forth between the downtown and outer sprawl of Lafayette, Louisiana. From the green of sparse, quick stoplights cars shoot off and quickly reach 40 mph, then 60, then 80. Bumper-to-bumper, they push and shove to the next red, where they wait to start all over again. The traffic isn’t the worst of it. Johnston Street isn’t meant for pedestrians. There’s no sidewalk, bike lane, or shoulder, only the sloping apex of a grassy embankment to the right, and traffic to the left. It’s a Range Rover in the ass or somersaults down the bank of the hot, soggy gulch where some water moccasins probably live.
I come to a small cluster of medical buildings, cross a driveway that spans the gulch, and go into an orthodontist’s office. I lay on the pitch for the windows. Fifteen dollars.
“Whatt?” says a petite, attractive brunette in mauve scrubs. She sucks in her cheeks and one of her eyes goes astray. I repeat the deal about the windows. She scrunches her nose like she’s just tasted something bad.
“Hawwn,” she says through her nose.
It makes me wonder how effective I will be at communicating while in Cajun country. I was introduced to the dialect earlier in the public library. The words spewed out as if strained through dry, narrow nasal passages, producing a startling English, sounding part Ozark, part Bronx.
“Hawn much gone do’em fo?”
“Fifteen dollars, like I said.”
“Whaaah-waw. Why you don’t do’em fo five-fifty?”
“Five-fifty? How do you go from fifteen to five-fifty?”
“OK!” says the woman, slapping the counter, three of her co-workers gathered around watching seriously. “Fo-sempty-five and do blinds! Come on, bargain.” She glances reassurance around the room. Like the people in the library this morning, her scrub-clad co-workers show a buttery French bronze to the skin, soft-angled noses and lips, and the outward self-satisfaction that French actors and politicians sometimes carry themselves with, utterances commonly followed by hacking, throat-clearing or dry mucus being sucked back through the sinuses.
“Goodbye,” I say. “You’re bargaining backwards.”
“Whaw? Scared to do blinds?”
I pause at the door and look back, wondering how blinds had gotten into it.
I go back to the dangerous walk along Johnston Street and quickly get five dollars at a hot-tub dealer. Afterwards though, it’s a flat “no” from every business on the south side of Johnston Street. They aren’t the kind of no’s you like. They’re the kind that somehow add weight to your pack as you walk away. As they begin piling up, my interactions start to get saucy and I lose the ability to tell whether it was the people of Johnston Street that were being difficult or if it was me. The Cajuns were known for their hospitality and letting the bon temps roll but I’d gotten nothing but guff so far from a Lafayette workforce of perfumed, well-dressed receptionists and retailers.
After a couple hours on Johnston Street, I start thinking back. When was the last time I had, besides a passing transient, encountered a fellow pedestrian? Not since central Texas. No matter how beautiful a day or night, it seemed you never saw anyone out just walking.
Continuing to shamble unevenly along Johnston Street, one sandaled foot clinging to the bank, the other to the sliver of crumbling asphalt, hobbling like a troll with leg-length discrepancy, the clamminess of a 90-degree day begins to weigh heavy over Lafayette and with it something like worry starts to shadow me. It had happened a couple weeks ago too, while walking a busy street in Copperas Cove, Texas. Without warning I’d been sucker-punched by a hot, ghostly dread. Now here it was again, for no apparent reason, following me like a bruised cloud.
It had to be the repeated rejection, I tell myself. Rejection piled upon rejection can’t be good for the human spirit. But I was a pro at rejection by now. It couldn’t be money either. I had eight dollars on me, which was a lot for this time of day. It couldn’t be loneliness, as I preferred loneliness. It seemed to happen at times like this, when there was a vacuous stream of activity droning pointlessly past me. Whatever it was, I had to spar my way out while trying to side-scale the perilous Johnston Street.
Eventually I have to switch over to Johnston Street’s north side, and it is the first time I am hesitant, afraid actually, to cross a street. Johnston Street is psychosis on asphalt. There are no crosswalks and the rare crossing light or two are contemptuous with their short, daring intervals between WALK and DON’T WALK. Also, I’d seen nothing to indicate that anyone would slow for me, nor bother to scrape me off the road once I’d been flattened. I figure my best chance is some random point mid-road where people least expected it.
“What about getting in the present?” I ask myself while backtracking along Johnston Street. Getting into the present had gotten me out of the shit many times. I had learned it through some Buddhist reading materials. Here I was in Louisiana, a state I’d always wanted to visit, and I couldn’t appreciate it. I hoped to spend about a month here.
I look at store signs hoping to find the present. Cajun Cutlery, Bayou Bridal, Gator Gold & Jewelry. Yes, I’m definitely experiencing something. I focus on those signs—the here and now. It works for a minute, until the letters start to liberate themselves from the words. Now I’m out of luck. Jumble those letters up, slap them anywhere on the wallpaper of artless facades and erections across Texas, New Mexico, or Arizona and no one would really notice or give a shit. The thing about the present is it isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. Some days the past or future is preferable.
I find a spot, place my toes over the dimly painted white line, and for five minutes wait for an opening. I watch the rhythm of traffic with the warmth of hot metal blowing across my knees. There is no median to speak of so it has to be one shot straight through the four lanes. I try to catch a beat or a pulse. The terror comes and goes. Since the Buddhism doesn’t work, I try to conjure up something from the West. There’s one by Kierkegaard that’s foolproof, but I cannot summon it. Johnston Street is a bad place to be going into philosophy.
Neck slightly craned, I use peripheral vision to look both ways and get ready to make my move. Were anything bigger than an SUV to come along, say a city bus or a semi, I would be decapitated, plain and simple. With one morose stream of traffic after another, I go into a sort of timeless trance during which I am, at some point, sprinting through a clearing in Johnston Street, duffel bag of squeegees and rags slapping mutely against my back. Cars, as expected, speed up when they see me, but my foot speed isn’t bad so I make it safely to the other side of Johnston Street to a symphony of horns and resentful engines.
Overheated from the mix of malaise and adrenaline, I duck into an air-conditioned Wendy’s and sit down and drink water and try to get a hold of things. I watch and listen. The Wendy’s is filled with Johnston Street workers on lunch break, some of whom I recognized. Now that I have these Cajuns all here in one place I can get a better read on them out and work up compassion or a good bitterness. Maybe there was a reason they’d been run out of Canada, and fled down here to the swamps. They had a way of giving you a dirty look that made you feel transparent. All morning they’d been practicing a sort of detached, conspiratorial disdain. It shouldn’t get to me but it does. Maybe because I’m part French-Canadian I was expecting them to roll out the red carpet.
Two loud women a couple tables over are making it hard for me to think. I can’t see them, but judging by their nasally drawls I imagine them as a couple of real sows. Even discussing such domesticities as dey bey-bey’s (their babies) and dey hose-bones (their husbands), they yak and honk like hens with laryngitis. I can’t wait to get a look at the ghastly viragos. So when the tables between us clear, I glance over.
Again, it’s another pair of petite Lafayette receptionist-types in sharp dresses that fit them like store mannequins. Though vulgar as sailors, they look much like French actresses, with pouty lips, long clean necks, and slender noses. When they catch me staring, they narrow their little skunk-eyes and scrunch their noses.
“Whatt he lookin’ at?”
Returning to their Wendy’s salads, they laugh and cough like flooded engines.
I go back outside to the tightrope walk along my favorite street. Waiting are further successions of no’s from more repelled Cajun office and retail personnel. All they have to do is see me and their noses furrow into prunes, their lips curl into dying worms, and their spines writhe in utter detestation. I don’t even need to get a word out. The north side has an equally deep gulch alongside it, and the continual ridge walking starts to send brittle stabs through ankle and knee cartilage. A little work would be nice, just so I could stand on level ground.
Cars keep blasting down Johnston Street, emitting a sticky gray exhaust while I keep one eye on the mucky ditch below and the cottonmouth moccasin bastards that may lurk down there. I had researched them in the library. You see, I like to know the venomous creatures of the region I’m in. It makes me feel better. Water moccasins (or cottonmouths) don’t care for humans, and don’t necessarily need a bayou or a pond. They do just fine for a while in shallow dampness like what is below. After sinking their chompers into you, they slither away, leaving you with such pleasantries as uncontrollable vomiting, hallucinations, and loss of sphincter control. Make it all the way to loss of sphincter control, the research says, and you needn’t worry about further symptoms. It all depresses me. Where is Kierkegaard when you need him? Kant? Schopenhauer?
I catch a break at a busy salon owned by beauty slaves too engrossed in facials and permanents to quarry sufficient contempt for me. For fifteen dollars they hire me to clean their outsides, which have a row of upper panes over lower ones. There is shade outside their store, and through some act of grace a slight wind tunnel blowing from where I don’t know. Unzipping the duffel bag, I am reminded of my independence and resourcefulness and my ability to survive without the things that most people need. It’s about 3:30 when I reach into the duffel and decide that for a morale-lifter I will quit after this job and get in the air conditioning of a library, a book store, a McDonald’s, or a Wal-Mart.
Still trying to beckon Kierkegaard, I grab for the poles and not feeling them right away, go over and peel the lid from the bucket. I come back to the duffel bag, feel around, and still not finding anything like a pole, my world begins to crumble. If I were a girl, I might cry.
I turn in circles, look up into the awnings and into trees then down into grates and gutters. Some Cajuns stop and watch me. People will always stop to watch a person’s world crumbling. It draws them together. I look into their eyes for the poles. I want to grab one of them and shake some answers out. Their smirks remind me that they wouldn’t be interested in anything I owned, least of all a warped black plastic pole and one wooden, splintered. Leaving bucket and duffel behind, I run back onto Johnston Street.
At a lopsided jog, I retrace my afternoon steps with Johnston Street growing muggier and more frenetic. When it comes time to cross to the south side, I again wait. It’s every man for himself now—a dogfight for every inch. When I finally do make my move, no one is too happy I’m trying it again, and they let me know with their horns and their incensed engines.
Once on the south side, I begin going into places I’d been in that morning. Breathless and dripping, I run in to face some of the secretaries I’d mimicked earlier and gotten into pissing matches with. They now contort their faces with pleasure as I describe to them the two extension poles—one wooden held together by a band of duct tape, the other black and plastic, bent in a sort of corkscrew fashion.
I keep moving along and asking. For clarity’s sake I stop referring to the poles as extension poles and call them what they really are—broomsticks without brooms. Only to me were they extension poles and only to me were they worth running after. This only seems to disgust the Cajuns more as I barge in to their work environs to interrupt sales and phone calls with my blabbering demands about broomsticks.
As the jog becomes a run and I work up a nice gluey coat of slime over the body, and the knees no longer feel much, I start to notice the great number of stray rags, buckets, brooms and rakes left lying around that nobody wanted. Usually the bucket handle was bent or the rake was too rusty. I could easily stop and unscrew the handles from a rake or two. No one would care. But I must have my poles—the poles that had made it from Arizona to Louisiana with me. I start running faster, out in traffic more now than before, catching swerving horns. I would flip people off, but I am focused on my broomsticks.
After a half hour of running along Johnston Street, I spot the poles leaning against the side of the hot-tub store where I’d started that morning. I scale down one side of the embankment, wade through the hot little pond of stinking water, and climb up the next side. I grab the poles, run back down the bank, through the moccasin pond…whee!…and then I’m back on Johnston Street.
Like a spear-toting bushman, wet mucky sandal straps scraping raw the back of my heels, I run well into the street, achieving a good pace. When it comes time to cross, I simply hold out my spears and step into traffic. Horns blast and bumpers stop a couple feet shy of me while some motorists take to flipping me the bird. I take my time walking through the halted traffic and pick out a guy in a black sports car and envision him being impaled with one of my spears. A good javelin lob with a little arch ought to cleanly pierce his windshield then sternum. He yells at me ferociously behind his windows and since I can’t flip him off while holding the poles, I raise them and yell back. I bet he’s not used to seeing a guy like me on Johnston Street.
The beauty salon girls are trying to close up when I get back, so I slip unseen over to one side of their store and quickly attach my brush to the pole and resume cleaning. They turn off their neon OPEN sign and come outside and try to strong-arm me into returning tomorrow. They say they don’t have time to wait for me to finish the windows.
Lucky for me, I’m good with the lies and the stupid questions. I play like a man with marmot-brains and stall them while cooking up a fib about having to run back for special equipment. Swooning, I clear the last of the upper panes. While the girls debate over what to do about me, I buzz through most of the lower ones. I hear them discussing my paleness and profuse sweating. One of the girls goes back into the shop and comes out with fifteen dollars and a bottle of cold water. They tell me that when I’m done I need to get in the shade or something because I don’t look good. They leave me to finish the last of the panes and their glass door. Nice girls.
I walk back to the Plymouth, drinking the delicious water. Surging endorphins have filled the soggy emotional gulch of earlier, and I feel very much sure of myself and where I am, which is nowhere. The Kierkegaard quote comes to me but it doesn’t matter now. “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom” was how it went. More interesting was the way I ran after those poles. I hadn’t run that far for anything in a long time. §
Ben Leroux continues to ply his trade as a window washer and writes from his home in Morro Bay. He can be reached at email@example.com.
No going back
It was not uncommon most mornings to see men brushing their teeth and rinsing with the front yard garden hose.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of metal that was the size and shape of a roll of quarters. He wrapped his right hand around it and hit me in the face so hard I began to black out.
By Hannah Day
I became disenchanted with my job and purchased a used motor home, withdrew my meager savings, and hit the road for a sabbatical of undetermined length. I brought my dog, clothes, and my motorcycle. My roots, if you can call them that, are in the Conejo Valley. Nostalgia brought me back, as I pondered what the next chapter in my life should be.
In the middle of town, stands a city park called Camelot. The park’s name reflects its history because at one time the land was home to a wild animal park that included camels. The theme park closed in the late 1970s, but the camels remained until the early ‘80s. So I took a walk on this former camel lot and passed by a 30-something Hispanic man who said, “Quieres coka.”
“I don’t understand,” I said.
“No, no, I don’t want any cocaine,” I replied.
“Tu pinche…” those were the only two words of his ensuing tirade that I understood. I left quickly, not thinking much more about this strange encounter.
A few days later, I drove past a house I had rented during my late teens, one of the first places I lived outside of my parents’ home. Thinking back, those times, although lean, were thrilling, full of adventure and new experiences. I rented a room in a house I shared with two men. Two other men lived in campers in the front yard. I had been the only female in the place and my roommates were always very kind to me. It felt good to be back here. Most of my former roomies had moved on years ago, and one had died. So here sat our home, empty, and I wondered who owned it and why no one was living here. The sun began to set and I thought there was no better place to settle in for the night than to park here across the street from my vacant former home.
I lay down, closed my eyes and remembered the good times. The house had been built long ago when people were smaller. The doorframes were less than six feet high. We had to repair an interior wall once and had marveled at the home’s primitive construction. The wall frames were made from old fence posts and scrap lumber. Outside there were no sidewalks, curbs, gutters, or driveways. We had a fire pit in the front yard where neighborhood folks would gather to drink beer and visit. It was not uncommon most mornings to see men brushing their teeth and rinsing with the front yard garden hose. They’d spit to the dirt and climb back into their campers to finish freshening up. It was a simpler, less sophisticated time.
As I thought of days past, I fell asleep and must have been sleeping for hours when I heard noises at the door of my motor home. Someone was turning the knob back and forth. As I began to move around to see what was happening, I sensed struggling and tugging so hard on the door that the whole vehicle was moving from side to side.
“Let me eeen,” moaned a creepy voice from outside, “Let me eeen.”
Oh my God, who is that and what am I going to do? I didn’t have any weapons to defend myself but remembered I had a BB gun someone had given me that looked like a real revolver. Maybe I could bluff my way out of this. Terrified, I held the smooth, shiny, black revolver up in the window as a show of force, hoping the intruder would think I had a real gun and that I’d shoot him if he tried to enter. Then I heard his voice again in a low, deep moaning drawl, “I don’t keeeer, I don’t keeeer.” The voice terrified me. This can’t be happening, I thought. Why did I park here? What was I thinking? What am I going to do?
Eventually, the man with the creepy voice stopped struggling with the door and all was quiet. Did he leave? Is he coming back? Is he still here? I ran out of ideas for how to defend myself and bolted to the driver’s seat, turned the key in the ignition, and waited what seemed like an eternity as my nearly dead battery struggled to turn over the large engine. After a few revolutions, the motor started and I drove off in a panic barely able to see. I headed to my friend Ann’s house.
Ann was in her 70s now, a tired old woman who bore eight children by the local drunken appliance repairman. He had long since died, but not before molesting their four young daughters. Some time during the last few years, Ann must have suffered a stroke because she slurred her words and struggled to communicate. I asked her grown kids if they had taken her to a doctor lately but none of them had noticed her failing. Ann had been through so much; she had seen the worst life has to offer. Her hard-fought wisdom had always made me feel safe in her home. We hadn’t seen each other in many years so I stayed for a few days and we reminisced.
Super Bowl Sunday came and it seemed as if the whole town was glued to its television sets, either at home or in local taverns. Football just wasn’t working for me this year so I took a walk, leaving my aging hound dog with Ann for safekeeping. The streets were empty and the town that had once been so familiar, as if it had been my own, seemed more serene, like it used to be.
When I was little, the asphalt ribbon of Ventura Boulevard stretched west through the San Fernando Valley through Calabasas, up over the hill and down into Agoura. It was one of the primary east-west thoroughfares and meandered across rolling hills of chaparral past sheepherders and fruit stands into the little town of Thousand Oaks. And then, one day, Ventura Boulevard became U.S. Highway 101. Our former two-lane highway had grown to more than 10 lanes over the last couple decades. Housing had popped up everywhere, and the once-plentiful open space I had grown up with was hard to find. I walked down to the first apartment I had ever rented. It was still there, occupied now by some other poor fool who was no doubt battling the cockroach infestations I had battled so many years ago. Still, looking back at my time in that apartment I felt a loss—a loss for my younger self, so new and full of ideas and adventure. In hindsight, my earlier life seemed romantic and all I could remember were the good times.
In my dreamy state, I hadn’t noticed the person approaching me from behind. I looked into the distance and couldn’t make out who it was; then he got close enough for me to see. It was the man from the park. My heart began to race; what was he doing here? He was riding a bicycle this time. I kept walking and pretended not to notice him. He approached quickly and threw his jacket over my head. As I struggled to remove it, he pounced, knocking me to the pavement in the middle of the street. We wrestled frantically and he pinned me underneath him. He was much stronger than he looked. I was fighting for my life as a car approached and slowed to take a look at what was happening. I screamed and he covered my mouth with one hand while stroking my hair with the other, as if comforting me from a fall. Looking back. I realize this was not his first attack. The passers-by fell for his ruse, and actually steered their car around my desperately struggling body. My would-be heroes drove away—my rescue foiled. I could not believe this was happening in my town, on my street, in broad daylight with motorists passing by.
He sat on my stomach and straddled my body. He held my shoulders down with one hand as he searched my wallet with the other. I had very little cash. He smelled of alcohol and sweat. I thought he was going to rape me so I kicked him hard between his legs. That just enraged him. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of metal that was the size and shape of a roll of quarters. He wrapped his right hand around it and hit me in the face so hard I began to black out. Somehow I remained conscious as he ripped the earrings out of my ears, jumped back on his bicycle, and rode away. He was peddling as fast as his little legs would take him. He looked back at me and in the falling darkness, all I saw were the whites of his eyes. I screamed for help but no one came.
Dejected, head throbbing, I picked myself up and stumbled the few blocks back to Ann’s house. “What happened to you?” she asked.
“A man jumped me,” I replied.
“You know your lip is split wide open?”
I must have been in some kind of shock because I didn’t realize how injured I was. “Should I go to the hospital?” I asked. I figured Ann knew everything.
“You don’t have any medical insurance, do you? And besides, sometimes when they sew up your face, it can end up crooked and you’ll look worse than if you had left it alone,” she said matter-of-factly. She continued, “I’ll bet he was the man who tried to get into your motor home.”
Now I was really scared.
I needed to get away. This was not the town I remembered, where I felt safe and knew all my neighbors. I left Ann’s house feeling almost drunk. That punch in the face really got me good. I drove across town and parked in a vacant lot that was quiet and dotted with oak trees. It was situated across the street from my old friend Tattoo Mike’s house. Mike worked and lived in his aunt’s garage. A few years earlier he had been hired to work for a prominent outlaw motorcycle club in their tattoo shop. His job there ended quickly after he called the president of the local chapter an “asshole.” I crossed the street and knocked on Mike’s door.
“Look what happened to me.” I described the ordeal. “Do you have a mirror?” Mike produced a small mirror that he used to show customers their new tattoos. Back then, I had a reputation as a pretty tough Harley ridin’ gal who could take care of herself. But when I looked in that mirror and saw what that man had done to my face, I began to cry. “What did I do wrong, Mike? Why did he do this to me?” Mike was a man with too much time on his hands. When he didn’t have customers, he would use his tattoo gun to doodle on his own arms. He must have favored green because both his arms were full of ink drawings that had bled together to form long green appendages. I looked to my friend for an answer but he had none. He seemed embarrassed as he quickly wiped the beginning of a tear from each of his own eyes and bid me good night. Back across the street I trekked to the motor home. My mouth hurt, I felt woozy, and I lay down to rest.
Next thing I knew there was someone at the door…again. I jumped up but was forced back down by the radiating pain in my head. The knocking continued steadily.
“Open the door; it’s the police,” the voice barked. I wrapped my arm around my head hoping to keep it all together as I wobbled to the door. I looked through the peephole and saw that the sun was up and a man in blue was there. A chunk of something was coming loose in my mouth. As I reached in to pull it out, I realized it was my tooth. This white cop started in on me just as disrespectfully as my attacker had been the night before. Who am I? What am I doing here? What do I have in my pockets? What’s in the motor home? He continued to interrogate me. His questions were not born of compassion but were intended to trap me or uncover some covert wrongdoing. I explained what had happened to me the night before and why I had decided to park here to convalesce. He seemed unconcerned and poked fun at my bloody appearance.
“Looks like your boyfriend had some fun with you last night,” he snickered. The cop ran my name to see if I had warrants. I could barely remain standing from the pain in my head but I was not going to let him see me cry.
He badgered me on and on with questions about everything from my birthplace to my plans for the day. He harassed me for 45 minutes and could find nothing that I had done wrong. He looked discouraged when he couldn’t find a reason to arrest me and I began to feel sorry for him. He was determined as he pulled out his ticket book and wrote me a citation for sleeping in a vehicle on city property. I accepted his ticket as graciously as I could and watched him walk back to his cruiser. He slid into the driver’s seat, radioed back to the station, and looked my way one last time. As our eyes met, I feared he would not be willing to let me go. His nature required him to haul me in. I held his stare for about a minute and felt peaceful relief as he drove away. Exhausted, I sat down on the step of my motor home and realized that what they say is true; you just can’t go back. §
Hannah Day writes from her home in South SLO County, Calif.
Abdul, Elijah and the Great White Hunter
Professing deep belief in a Jewish seer who had become known as the Prince of Peace, the Great White Hunter was elected as President of the United States.
Each day, more evidence proves, and more people can clearly see, that the Great White Hunter is either dishonest or stupid, or both.
By Jean Gerard
In a perfect frenzy, God had been busy for centuries, blowing streams of bubbles out into empty space where they took on a life of their own and spun off into the night. On this earth, some years later, the brothers, Abdul and Elijah, were born from parents living in the Garden of Eden, in the Tigris Euphrates Valley not far from Baghdad.
Like the first brothers, Cain and Abel, Abdul and Elijah disagreed about almost everything, and each longed to dominate the surrounding territories. Sometimes they managed to live together peaceably, but frequently they fell to fighting over land, camels, wives and daughters—and above all, religion.
After years of struggle, Elijah’s family was forced to travel abroad, and by exposure to people in other areas of the world they engaged in commerce and industry for profit, dodging prejudice and envy and building banks and skyscrapers and symphony orchestras. Abdul’s people remained in the Valley, farming and herding sheep and camels, and living in tents. At one point, the two brothers practically lost track of each other until near the end of World War I, when several of the most powerful nations in the world decided that it would be in their interest to separate Abdul and his close relatives permanently by creating a homeland for Elijah and his entire extended family right in the middle among Abdul’s often quarrelsome relatives.
Elijah’s people were happy to receive this free land. Immediately some of them saw the possibility of creating a modern state in defiance of the ancient agricultural mores still prevalent in what had been known for centuries as Palestine. Pieces of land right next door to Israel, smaller, less unified, were given to the Palestinians. It was assumed that fair agreements would later be worked out as to water rights, ownership, sharing the capital city, and so on.
Soon thousands of Elijah’s relatives, the world-wandering remnants of Hebrew tribes, returned to Israel to take up residence and escape from centuries of vicious persecution culminating in Hitler’s Holocaust. The energy and devotion they put into building the new homeland were not surprising considering the circumstances, and within a few years they had created a prosperous, highly educated way of life, taking full advantage of their knowledge and experience.
Abdul’s people looked on with apprehension, being particularly disturbed by the support the new nation received from rich nations like Britain, France and the United States. At the same time they supported Israel, these benefactors betrayed promises they had made to Abdul’s people, who over the years became more disunited, with huge differences in economic status developing between them due to the fact that some of them possessed huge oil fields.
Professing deep belief in a Jewish seer who had become known as the Prince of Peace, the Great White Hunter was elected as President of the United States, which had become the richest, most powerful nation in the world. The Great White Hunter was a man of prodigious ambition. Others may have preceded him in floating the idea of world domination, but he excelled in this peculiar madness, claiming he had access to supernatural advisors. Conveniently, a horrific disaster in New York brought down two skyscrapers in less than ten seconds, which gave the Hunter an excuse for conquest. He saw the disaster as a heaven-sent opportunity to extend war in the Holy Land and obtain control over oil, much of which was owned by Abdul’s rich relatives.
Having fuelled the Industrial Revolution for one hundred years, the oil supply was beginning to run out and the Hunter thought it expedient to get what was left. Therefore, using the New York disaster—said to have been caused by a handful of Abdul’s radical relatives—he decided to go to war, first in Afghanistan, and then in Iraq. Of course he did not say the war was for oil. No. The war was for “freedom” in the Middle East, dominated by tribal chieftains, kings, princes, dictators and religious authorities of one kind or another.
The Hunter then proceeded to spend trillions of dollars on the manufacture of expensive weaponry, thinking to create a prosperous “permanent wartime economy.” This drove his country into deep debt and caused a radical shift in the people’s civil liberties due to hysterical fear of Abdul and his relatives.
The Hunter’s war continues until this day, and is not going well, and he has found that it was much easier to get in than to get out. It is anybody’s guess what will happen next. The Hunter still insists that he can “turn things around” if only we give him and his generals more money and send more of our inner-city youth to fight.
But each day, more evidence proves, and more people can clearly see, that he is either dishonest or stupid, or both. So many resources are spent on the war that there is nothing left for education or health care. The price of oil goes up instead of down, housing and interest rates are out of sight, and the sainted stock market has the willies. Even Mother Nature seems to be on a rampage, having suffered years of domestic abuse. It would appear that, short of Divine Intervention, the plans of the Great White Hunter are doomed.
Sic transit gloria…as someone has said for the umpteenth time. Abdul and Elujah are still at each other’s throats, fighting their hundred years’ war even as one more “peace conference” is being held under the Hunter’s dubious aegis. The writer of this sad tale is only one of millions who wish the two brothers would sit down quietly together, blow a few bubbles, and find it in their beleaguered souls to kiss and make up. §
Jean Gerard is a writer and poet who lives in Los Osos, Calif.
‘I noticed immediately that you are a troubled man. I feel a deep compassion for you, son. You are a drinker and a carouser, are you not?’
‘You know where my monthly contribution goes? To a slush fund, so the corporate fat cats who use our operation as a write-off can get sloshed in a luxury hotel and bring in call girls.’
Working with the railroad
By Dell Franklin
I got a call from our dispatcher at five in the morning at my Shell Beach bungalow, which meant I had a Southern Pacific run.
We had a contract with the railroad to transport its employees—mostly brake-men, engineers and conductors—all over the county, from Salinas to south of Santa Barbara. Nobody knew why they were spending money to drive these guys around, but for a cabby it was usually a long easy run out of San Luis and a good fare, though we never received tips.
I showed up at the railroad station in San Luis at the appointed time—6 a.m.—and two guys were waiting with lunch pails and overnight bags. The third member was late, so we sat in the encroaching cold dawn and waited a half hour until a tall, slender guy in his 30s showed up. He took the shotgun seat beside me while I stashed his baggage in the trunk. A western type guy with mustache—he did not say hello like the other grim, quiet men—just sat there while I took off toward Santa Barbara via Guadalupe, a little produce center of a town by Santa Maria, 35 miles away, inhabited by mostly Mexicans.
The sky didn’t lighten until I was around Arroyo Grande. I kept the radio off and the heat on and nobody had thus far said a word. Fin-ally the man beside me began talking to the men in back, twisting his neck to look at them. He bitched about the inconvenience of their job, the long, erratic hours, the pay, the demands. Half asleep, the two in back went along. They mentioned the old days, when the railroad was bigger, there were more employees, and things were booming. Now they worked more and made less money, like everybody else in the country.
One guy in the back mentioned that he didn’t have enough money to build a rec room in the back for his kids, who were very active in sports. He bragged about their accomplishments. The other guy in back stayed mum.
“How’re your kids, Mel?” asked shotgun, who had sideburns, a poorman’s Clint Eastwood.
“Oldest boy got a ring in his ear, Roy. Daughter has green hair one week and pink the next. They play that music so loud I can’t think straight. I can’t do a thing with ‘em. The old lady deals with ‘em. Don’t make any difference if I punish ‘em or spoil ‘em. I’ve done both, given that kid everything my dad never gave me. Now I cut him off. It don’t matter. Nothin’ you can do with kids these days.”
“My boy gets outta line,” Roy said, “he’ll pay dearly. I’m boss. Dottie knows that, so does Roy junior. He’s captain of the football team. Gonna play high school next year.”
“Well, that’s good, Roy. Say hello to Dottie.”
Roy glanced at me. “Got any kids?” he asked.
“Nope. Only a cat.”
“I hate cats,” he said, sizing me up. “What good are they? You can’t train ‘em. They aren’t like dogs. A dog can herd sheep and cattle, go hunting, and get your paper in the morning, and learn to do tricks, if you train him right. What can a cat do?”
“My cat does what he wants,” I said. “He shits in other peoples yards. Kills birds and bugs and lizards and mice. Tells me to fuck off when I tell him to stop shitting in yards and killing things. Tells me to fuck off when I tell him to stop fighting cats and dogs. Swats me in the ankle when I don’t feed him on time, He spends all his time sleep-ing and eating and shitting and being a scavenger and a wise ass, a totally insubordinate prick, I love that cat.”
“No goddamn cat better fight my dog, Mac. He’d kill that cat of yours. He’s a pitbull.”
“Popeye don’t care if he’s half bear. He’s fearless. Walks down the middle of the street like king shit and everybody, including neighbors, kiss his ass and treat him like royalty, like he’s the heavy-weight champion of the world. Like Mohammad Ali.”
His neck corded up. “I hate fucking Ali. He’s nothin’ but a draft dodger—too chickenshit to go to Veet Nam.”
“You serve in Nam?”
“No. I was too young. But I would-a.”
“I don’t blame Ali for not going. He’s my hero. Ali and Popeye. I admire their independence and courage.”
He clammed up. He was brooding, clenched. When I pulled into the tiny depot in Guadalupe, Roy got out immediately and sat in the back seat while a new guy got in front. I took his satchel and put it in the trunk. Then I took off across flat celery, lettuce and broccoli fields on the two-lane blacktop that would eventually lead to Highway 101 and Santa Barbara. I stood to make over $100.
The new guy in the front seat was older, with a wire-brush gray mustache and a big, cracked, jovial face. Right off he smiled and asked how I was doing. I’d been picking up railroad guys for over a year and they were generally grim and taciturn. This guy wanted to talk. He was still glowing over his vacation, from which he and his family had just returned. He got a really good deal. The railroad managed to get him a cut-rate flight and hotel in Las Vegas, and Vegas comp’ed a lot of other stuff. He took his kids. They swam in the pool, saw shows. His wife hit a slot. They went to Hoover Dam. Everything was great.
The three guys in back entered the conversation, talking about the deals they got on THEIR vacations. One guy took his family to a lake and they stayed in a cabin and swam and fished and water skied and barbecued. This other guy took his wife to some resort on the Costa Rican shore, where they lived like kings, the natives waiting on them hand and foot. Roy had a cabin in the mountains. He hunted and fished with Roy Jr. Went every year. They all started comparing the deals they got on vacations. Then they talked about the deals they got on their homes. The subject of deals got them onto money in general, and how there was never enough with kids and insurance and so on eating everything up, and the wives maxing credit cards, and it was a good thing they had medical and a few benefits with the railroad, though they weren’t satisfied with that either, felt they were getting a good screwing compared to other transportation industry corporations, like the airlines, who were spoiled rotten yet bitched and went on strike all the time anyway.
“I got nothin’,” I said, as we cruised along the coast near Gaviota. “I make a pittance. Got no medical, no nothin’. They made us pay monthly dues to join this chickenshit union. A national corporation owns our outfit, a subsidy. Know what my sole benefit Is? If I get killed driving this unsafe beast they’ll give my mother $100 toward my goddamn burial. Big deal. A hundred bucks! Hell, it takes a grand to bury a guy like me who’s got nothing! And you know where my monthly contribution goes? To a slush fund, so the corporate fat cats who use our operation as a write-off can get sloshed in a luxury hotel and bring in call girls. I’m paying for some exec’s romp with paid-for pussy, cream of the crop.”
The new shotgun guy, Vic, smiled at me. “Makes yah sick, huh? Could be you rompin’ with those beautiful high-class call girls.”
“You got it, pal.”
“Back in the day,” he responded, “before I got hitched, I was chasing after everything in a skirt. Sometimes I think about those days, but I don’t for long because it would just get me in trouble. You can’t have both.”
“Sometimes you don’t have either one, and that’s not so hot.”
He smacked my shoulder with his heavy hands, which were attached to monstrous forearms, showing me his cracked grin.
We got chummy. He told me where he’d done his tramping around and sewing of wild oats, and I told him of some of my juicier exploits as a bartender in Manhattan Beach, a really degenerate area he knew all about. The guys in the backseat grew quieter and grimmer, almost morose.
When we reached Santa Barbara, their train had not come in the station yet and I had to wait to pick up two guys who were coming in from San Diego and needing a ride to Lompoc. We had an hour wait and decided to go down the street to a coffee shop and have breakfast. The five of us found a big table. We all ordered quickly, though Roy made a big deal about ordering from the busy, middle-aged waitress, whose worn demeanor made me think she was one of those unfortunate grandmothers who had to raise her children’s kids. Roy wanted his eggs scrambled so they weren’t runny, yet not dried out. His bacon was to be well done, but not burnt, and no grease. He wanted tomatoes and cottage cheese as a substitute for home fries.
When our plates came, Roy was served last. He gazed at each of our meals as they were placed before us, looking deprived and then gazing at his own meal while the waitress refilled our coffee cups and placed our toast all around. Roy got her attention and complained that he could not eat his bacon, which was greasy and underdone and told her to take it back, which she did, silently, without expression. We all dug into our food while Roy picked and diced his up and ate methodically and looked around for our waitress and muttered about the whereabouts of his bacon. When it finally came he bitched about how he never ate out because nobody could get it right, which was why he trained his wife to cook things exactly the way he desired them to be.
When the check came, Roy wanted separate tabs, but Vic and I grabbed the check and we all guessed as to what we owed and donated bills, Vic and I flipping in a few extra bucks to sweeten the old gal’s tip, Roy and the other two not wanting to leave so much. When we got up to leave and were halfway out the door I turned and saw Roy snatch a couple dollars off the pile of money we’d left on the table, and I quickly went back, Vic right behind me. I asked Roy what the fuck he thought he was doing, and he said the food sucked and the service sucked and over-tipping employees in this kind of place just made them expect too much. I yelled at him that he hadn’t left a dime and quickly snatched the two dollars from his grip and tossed them back on the pile and he started to make a move on me and I had my fists cocked when Vic with his huge forearms stepped between us and then the other two were between us and they led Roy out of the coffee shop while Vic held me back and told me to cool off, that Roy was an asshole, not to let him get my goat.
That was last I saw of Roy. The train came in from San Diego and two new railroad men jumped into my cab as I placed their baggage in the trunk. I couldn’t calm down. My heart was surging with adrenaline and my hands were trembling and the more I thought about Roy the more frustrated I became. The prick represented everything I hate and I’m sure he felt the same about me and the best thing for both of us would have been to duke it out in the parking lot of the coffee shop. As I drove onto the freeway and headed south, I entertained vicious fantasies of beating Roy to a pulp.
Meanwhile, one of the two men I picked up sat in the front seat while a younger guy stretched out in the back, yawning. The guy in the front seat was around fifty, with glasses, and he was staring at me, turned toward me, as if studying me.
“You OK?” he said, finally.
“Yeah. I’m fine.”
“You seem disturbed, son. Are you disturbed?”
“Aren’t we all?”
He nodded somberly, a glint in his eyes. “But we don’t have to be.” Then I noticed the Bible in his lap. “You’re not a Christian, are you?”
He nodded, very knowingly. “I noticed immediately that you are a troubled man. I feel a deep compassion for you, son. You are a drinker and a carouser, are you not?”
“I am. A cocaine user as well, though I can’t afford it driving a cab. When I tended bar I was a first-class sinner—succumbed to all the vices—drinking, whoring, gambling, among other sins.”
He nodded. “I was once like you. I cheated on my best friend’s wife. I tried to screw everybody’s wife. I was selfish, a user, a taker, and a bad man. I abused my wife and family. I was terrible to every-body—a liar, a cheat. Then I found Jesus. Five years ago. I have re-frained since that time from all evil vices and thoughts. I am a happy man, at peace with myself for the first time ever. I do not live for myself. I live for my savior Jesus Christ and for my family and fellow man. I have dedicated my life to helping others.”
I nodded, my breathing evening out. “To make up for all the bad, destructive things you did to others and yourself?”
He nodded. “I’m a whole person now. One of Jesus’ children. And so are you.” He handed me his card. He was a preacher at a church in San Luis. He urged me to come to his church on Sunday and pray with him and meet his congregation, where he would introduce me to everybody. He would save my soul and turn me around as a human being. I would be surrounded by good, and Jesus, and I would be good. He would get me on a drug and alcohol rehab program. He kept rattling on. I nodded, glancing into my rearview, where my other passenger continued to yawn and squirm around. Then my new friend, the preacher, an engineer named Lloyd Addison, began quoting scripture. I can’t bear to hear scripture. It grates at me like Country Western music and makes me a little crazy if I cannot turn it off, but there was no stopping this noble-minded fanatic as he rattled on, until I finally tapped his wrist lightly, so that he paused, and I said: “Lloyd, do you think if Jesus was around today, and he had to walk around San Luis Obispo and see all those sexy college girls in their skin-tight spandex shorties, that he could resist fantasizing eating their pussies?”
Roaring laughter burst from the back seat as the young guy came unglued, thrashing around, kicking up his heels. “Oh yes!” he gushed.
“If he didn’t, he’s a damn fool,” I told the guy.
The smile disappeared from Lloyd’s face and his eyes looked men-acing and inflamed behind his glasses. He pounded his Bible. “You!” he growled. “YOU! You will suffer eternal damnation! You will burn in hell….”
“Well,” I interrupted. “Like the man said, I think it was Mark Twain, ‘at least I’ll run into some interesting friends in hell, and not a bunch of gospel-quoting bores in heaven’.”
His eyes gleamed. He continued to face me, Bible clenched in his hands, while the brakeman in back continued to chortle, winking at me as I spotted him in the mirror. I waited for Lloyd to continue his tirade, but he was mysteriously quiet.
“Lloyd,” I said, trying to be reasonable and compassionate. “Man is mortal. Genuine lust cannot be complicated by guilt and sin. A man can’t be blamed for drooling over gorgeous, fully developed, prime young women teasing us all life long. For God’s sake, have mercy!”
He remained quiet and still, staring at me, starting to give me the creeps. I decided to shut up. We were about ten miles from Lompoc. During the next ten miles, Lloyd continued to study me. Then he said, “Jesus loves you. He forgives your sins.”
I nodded. “I know you’re right, Lloyd. Thank you.”
We pulled into the motel where they were staying. It was easy to see that both men had been working without sleep for at least 24 hours. The railroad was no easy path. I got out and took their baggage from the trunk and placed it on the ground. Lloyd stood before me.
“You’ve got my card,” he said. “I’d like you to be at my church on Sunday. I’m counting on you.”
“Well, Sunday mornings are rough, Lloyd. I’m usually hungover.”
I winked, and we shook hands, like good friends, and he hugged me good bye. And I hugged him back, meaning it. §
Dell Franklin is publisher of The Rogue Voice. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Life in the cage
When an overwhelming number of inmates get sick, the Health Department is called in to find the source of the epidemic, which is often linked to high levels of bacteria in the water supply.
Pissing in the cup had been an agonizing ordeal; I felt a few razor-sharp pebbles pass through me and drop into the cup.
Pssst! Don’t drink the water!
By Tito David Valdez Jr.
Growing up, I recall many people talking about the beauty of Mexico—the women, the food, the countryside—but they would always offer this last bit of advice for those who ventured to go there, “Don’t drink the water!”
American vacationers would come back to the states with diarrhea or other stomach ailments, so naturally they blamed it on the water.
In prisons statewide, employees will privately tell you the same thing about water supplied to prisoners. “Pssst, don’t drink the water.”
Everyday, prison staff brings its own bottled water to drink. I noticed this early on in my imprisonment, and knowing that something was wrong with the water, I have chosen not to drink it.
Some of the older prisons in California, such as Folsom, San Quentin, and Soledad, have outdated pipes that are extremely rusted, full of calcium, iron and lime deposits, and it would take a lot of money and time to replace them.
When an overwhelming number of inmates get sick, the Health Department is called in to find the source of the epidemic, which is often linked to high levels of bacteria in the water supply. Administrators usually opt for a quick, cheap fix, just enough to bring the bacteria levels down to a safe level. As far as I know, rarely has the government replaced the entire system of pipes, or built a new well.
Many inmates boil their water, which they get from the faucet, before drinking it, hoping this precaution will filter out potential contaminants or disease-ridden bacteria. I’ve tried my best to not drink the water for the last twelve years. I stock up on lots of canned V-8 juice and sodas from the prison commissary and drink those instead.
I woke up one Saturday morning at 6 with a serious pain in the left lower quadrant of my back. Excruciating. I knew it wasn’t a pulled muscle. It felt like a constant sharp stabbing, like someone was squeezing my kidney. I lay in bed for an hour, thinking it would go away, but the pain persisted. It was a three-day holiday weekend, so I knew that the prison clinic was closed, but I felt that I had to get help; I had to do something immediately.
I started to sweat, to tremble. I felt like crying. I got up and called the cellblock officer to the door.
“Can you write me a pass to the clinic?” I asked him. “I’m dying man—extreme pain in my kidney.”
“Yeah, I’ll write you a pass. Just wait till we finish serving breakfast. I’ll come back for you,” said Officer Lopez, who was cell-feeding inmates because of a prison lockdown.
While I waited for the officer, I drank a V-8 juice, changed into my prison blues, and began pacing, hunched over in pain. Twenty minutes later, Officer Lopez arrived at my cell door.
“Valdez, you ready?” he asked as he opened the cell door. He could see that I was trembling, and that I couldn’t even stand up straight. “Hey man, do you need me to call the gurney?”
“Nah, I’m all right. I’ll just walk up there.”
We Latinos, we have pride. We don’t want other inmates to perceive us as weak, so if I had been seen carried out on a gurney that would show a sign of weakness. I took the walk to the clinic, which was about four hundred yards down a long corridor, wincing with pain, but holding onto my sense of pride.
When I arrived, there was an elderly white guard wearing bottle-thick glasses at the entrance to the clinic. He moved with a snail-like pace. I waited about ten minutes before he came to the door to open it for me. I handed him my emergency pass and my prison I.D. He looked at me, concerned, speaking with a raspy voice of a veteran smoker.
“What’s your problem, son?” he asked. “You know we only take emergency cases today.”
“Man, I’m in pain. I need to see a doctor. Can you get me in to see someone now?” My tone of voice must have shown my desperation.
“All right, come on in. Sit over there in the cage. I’ll get someone to see you.”
I waited in the cage, a large rectangular chain-link structure that resembles a dog kennel. I tried to lie down on my back, but it didn’t help; the pain persisted. I was getting angry because the old man was taking his time to get medical staff.
Finally, a half hour later, I was called to see the head emergency RN, a Filipina lady in her fifties who wore trendy Gucci glasses.
“Mr. Valdez, I don’t see you are having a heart attack or other serious emergency,” she said imperiously. “You need to go back to your cell.”
“Look at me…I need help!” I said anxiously, yet smiled, hoping that a positive attitude would help the pain go away.
“Look at you! You are laughing. You must be faking. You aren’t in pain. What do you want? What are you trying to get from us?”
“Please, call a doctor! I’m in pain!” I begged.
“OK, sit right there. Don’t move out of that chair. I call the doctor.”
As angry as I felt toward her, I understood her reasoning. She was trained to show no compassion towards inmates because some inmates try to manipulate medical staff for shampoos, laxatives, lotions, and other personal goods, to sell to other prisoners. How does prison medical staff differentiate between the hustlers and those with genuine medical problems?
I sat there for another thirty minutes as she prepared paperwork for me to fill out. I could hear her gossiping with another nurse. “This guy thinks he’s sick, coming in here on my time, trying to get something. He probably wants pain medication to get high…. So, what did you think of this week’s Desperate Housewives?” she asked her co-worker, taking a sip of bottled water.
“Girl, I think I really like Teri Hatcher’s role. You know, she came out on the cover of Vanity Fair. She shared a dark secret that she was molested by an uncle growing up.”
“Really? She is a survivor, for sure. She is an angel.”
Their conversation continued for another ten minutes as I was falling off my chair. I couldn’t sit still; I whimpered like a wounded animal, gnashing my teeth, frustrated to have to listen to them talk about mundane subjects while I was in dire need of medical attention.
“OK, Mr. Valdez, come here. Fill out this paperwork. We can’t do anything till you fill this out.”
“You got to be kidding. I can’t even stand still and you want me to hold the pen and fill out paperwork?”
“Yes. No paperwork, no service.”
I frantically scribbled my name and prison number, jotting in my reason for requesting medical care. Then she called me over to an exam room to check my blood pressure and temperature.
“OK, sit right here,” she ordered. “Why are you shaking? It’s not that bad. Be a man.”
At that moment, I felt entirely hopeless.
“Your temperature is high. Heart rate high. Come here. Sit here again. I call the doctor.” I could hear her phone conversation from the next room: “101 temperature…very high heart rate. What do you want me to do?”
I couldn’t help but look at my watch, a couple hours had gone by, and still no doctor.
“Mr. Valdez, the doctor will arrive at 10:30,” the nurse announced as she re-entered the exam room. “Here are three Motrin pills for the pain.”
I got up and walked toward her. She handed me the white pills and a small Dixie® cup with water. They were horse pills, too large to swallow with the scant amount of water she offered me. I chewed the first one to get it down.
“Come on, why don’t you swallow them? You never take pills before?” She spoke mockingly. “Go sit in the cage. Wait for the doctor to come. In the meantime, here’s a cup. Go pee inside it, and bring it to me right away.”
After following the nurse’s order, I walked the long corridor, hunched over still, and found a place to sit on a bench. In a few minutes, the pills were kicking in and I felt the pain fade away. However, pissing in the cup had been an agonizing ordeal; I felt a few razor-sharp pebbles pass through me and drop into the cup.
As the morning passed, new arrivals came in for emergency care. First, a fifty-something overweight Hispanic man who resembled porn star Ron Jeremy.
“So why you here, man?” I asked.
“Look at my eye. It’s infected. I got up this morning and it had blood in it.”
He was right; a large red vein was exposed underneath his eyeball. “Can you see out of it, man?”
“Nope, I am having trouble seeing anything out of this eye.”
To pass time, we talked about prison life. Then the next man came in, a forty-something buff white guy, complaining to the old man at the door that he got bit by a spider on his hand.
In prison, many men are bitten by mysterious insects of unknown origin, bites that develop into large tumor-like injuries, like bites from the brown recluse spider that can cause necrosis of the affected area. Growths have to be removed quickly or else develop into huge scars. He walked over to us to join our conversation.
“So why you here,” I asked him.
“Shit man, I got up this morning to take a leak and the entire right side of my body was numb. I thought I was having a stroke. I looked at my hand and saw this gnarly lump. Look at it, man. My whole hand is swollen.”
“Damn, I hope that isn’t your beat off hand,” I joked.
“Nah, man. I use the other one,” he answered seriously. “Shit, where is the doctor?”
“Won’t be here till 10:30.”
All three of us talked to pass time until another inmate arrived, a forty-something bald black man, limping on one foot. He was arguing with the old guard at the front.
“Motha fucka. I gots an emergency, look at my damn foot. I can’t even put my shoe on. I don’t know why my foot is swollen, but you gots to let me see the doctor.”
“I’m sorry. This is not an emergency,” the old guard replied. “You have got to go back to your cell.”
“Look old man, I limped my ass up here, took a long time to get here. You go get me some medical help or I’ll file a complaint on your ass.”
The Filipina nurse came rushing to the scene, having heard the man’s angry voice filling the entire clinic. She was in charge of the clinic for the day.
“What’s the problem?”
“Look at my foot! That’s the problem.”
“This is not an emergency,” she insisted. “You need to sign up for sick call.”
“What? Sick call will take three weeks to see a doctor. What’s your name? I’m going to file a complaint.”
Perturbed and probably scared, the nurse gave in. “OK, come here. I see you now.”
In prison, credit has to be given to black inmates. They are the most outspoken and fearless when it comes to expressing a complaint. They cuss out staff with no fear of reprisals. Latino men like myself, we are timid; we let things go. We don’t want to bring heat to ourselves. Our pride gets in the way.
Minutes later, the black inmate walked over to us and sat down.
“Damn, what is going on around here? Can’t even see a doctor. Shee-it.”
At 10:30, the doctor arrived, a tall white Jewish man in his fifties toting a plastic bottle of Evian water.
“Mr. Valdez, I’ll see you now.”
I walked over to his office, where I sat in a chair and he listened exclusively to my problem. He offered his opinion on the matter, while taking a sip of the bottled water.
“You urine has crystals in it. Looks like you passed a kidney stone. Your file says you are thirty-five years old. That is uncommon for a man of your age. Do you drink an average of eight cups of water daily?”
“No, I don’t drink water,” I answered. “Just sodas and V-8 juices.”
“Oh. That is a problem. You need water. Sounds like you’ve got buildup in the kidneys. I’m going to run some more tests later this week, but for now, I’ll prescribe you some pills to break the stones and some pain pills. You need to drink a lot of water this week to flush out the stones. Your pills will be delivered to you after chow, due to the lockdown. Here, this is a plastic strainer. You need to urinate through it for a week. Any stones that come out, keep them. I want to take a look at them under a microscope.”
“All right. Thanks, doc.”
As I walked toward the exit, I asked the old guard for my I.D. He searched his work area clumsily at his usual snail-like pace, but couldn’t find it. He took a sip from his bottled water, which was perched on shelf.
“I can’t remember where I put your I.D. Are you sure you gave it to me?” §
Tito David Valdez Jr. writes from the minimum security Correctional Facility in Soledad, Calif. Listen to his radio segments on prison life on the nationally syndicated program, “The Adam Carolla Show.” Visit www.adamcarolla.com. David can be reached by email at email@example.com, or by mail: Tito David Valdez Jr. J-52660, CTF Central E Wing Cell 126, P.O. Box 689, Soledad, Calif., 93960-0689. Visit www.inmate.com for information on David’s case.
Why torture is OK
In essence, we have an exhibitionistic and voyeuristic culture that likes to spy and be spied on.
Americans now generally disagree with the morality of eaves-dropping on citizens and the torture of suspects, but have become complacent, accepting them as part and parcel of the Bush administration.
How Americans learned to accept the unacceptable
By Max Talley
I was a kid in the 1970s in the midst of Nixon’s Watergate meltdown, but I remember my dad’s anger toward “Tricky Dick” at the time. Historical record reveals that Democrats and Republicans alike were outraged by White House wiretapping of political enemies. It smacked of Kremlin Cold War-era tactics, fascism, totalitarian 1984 Orwellian nightmares—not America, the land of freedom and inalienable rights for the individual.
When teachers discussed World War II, the Korean War or other recent battles in schools in the ‘70s, the countries that abided by the Geneva Convention were held in high regard, while Japan, China, South America and others were condemned for the use of brutality and torture against their prisoners of war. The idea was that America stood for a higher standard, and that if we broke with the Geneva Convention, then other countries would do the same with American prisoners. We may have looked away when Third-World regimes favorable to our leadership tortured rebels or opposition party members, but the U.S. never [OPENLY] promoted or instigated such horrors.
No, the watchdog media, the Congress, who served the will of the people, and the vigilant public who’d protested the Vietnam War, racial bigotry and Nixon’s scandals would not allow such atrocity to occur. Nor would they stand for a government conducting vast wiretapping and “data-mining” operations brokered through the communication and telephone companies.
Flash forward thirty odd years to our “enlightened” present, and things are much different. Nixon’s gang seems like flaming liberals compared to the Bush mob. But sadder, with all the knowledge we have gained from past mistakes, all the sense in our collective conscience that something is very wrong, there seems to be a jaded, apathetic response to the scandals of our current White House and government.
So, when some brainless ass-clown makes fun of the tacky mood- ring, pet rock, disco-era ‘70s, remind them that at least elected Democrats had gonads back then. At least Republicans knew to break with their unpopular president and urge him to resign before he was impeached. At least the public took to the streets in giant numbers when they disagreed with leadership and were not slumbering in a hypnotized stupor from entertainment gadgets.
Americans now generally disagree with the morality of eaves-dropping on citizens and the torture of suspects, but have become complacent, accepting them as part and parcel of the Bush administration.
“It’s all about 2008,” I hear from Democrats who have given up fighting or caring about the latest assault on civil liberties.
“Everything changed after 9/11,” is the mantra of Republicans still scurrying under the skirts of their leader. Actually, plans for wire-tapping U.S. citizens were well in place months before 9/11. It’s just part of the government-by-control that won the 2000 election by a single vote in the Supreme Court.
Why is our populace open or indifferent to this? Perhaps it’s our “everybody’s a star” culture, where you can find out everything about any celebrity in tabloids, on TV, or on the Internet. A culture where people march around in public bellowing into their cell phones about yeast infections and removing polyps, about one-night “hook-ups” and their depression medication. They don’t want privacy, anonymity. No, the world must know all the trivial, boring details of their lives. And if they can’t trumpet it on their cell phones in restaurants, planes and banks, then they write excruciating daily blogs, emails, text messages and fill online dating sites with the blather and minutiae of their existence. Because someday they’ll be a star, a lottery winner, millionaire, a billionaire. Or at least the first jerk to be thrown off Survivor or American Idol.
People obsessed with celebrity, with showing all and telling all, could not possibly be offended by the government listening in. If American exhibitionists shouted their personal secrets any louder, they’d hear them on fucking Mars! Maybe the NSA or FBI or CIA will overhear them and get them an acting gig or a book contract, a screenplay. The more other people know about you, the more you’re a true celebrity, like Paris, Britney, Lindsay and Justin. In essence, we have an exhibitionistic and voyeuristic culture that likes to spy and be spied on: so like what's the big dealio about warrantless wire-tapping, dude?
You’d think torture would be a bigger issue to our God-fearing, moralistic, “what would Jesus do?” populace. I’ve lived in New York and San Francisco, but I never met anyone who wanted to be tortured, and never want to. So why the relaxed attitude to something that even clueless wing-nut John McCain realizes has major consequences for American standing in the world, and for U.S. prisoners in the various wars our government is conducting abroad? Look around. One of the most popular TV series is 24, where torture routinely saves the country, government and president. In movie theaters there have been two Hostel movies and we’re up to Saw 4 with no end in sight for that franchise.
Yes, torture and brutality franchises. You don’t have to be a Michael Medved, morality police kind of guy, to know that when torture is the central theme of movies, TV shows and computer games, and in a country where athlete-sponsored dog-fighting, Ultimate Fighting, cage-fighting for men and now women is all the rage, that something ugly is afoot.
Then there is the terminology: water-boarding. How safe and docile. It could be a new outdoor hobby. It sounds like some new kind of inland surfing. “Hey, bro, I’m going long-boarding up at Half Moon Bay, then I’ll be waterboarding on Lake Tahoe over the weekend.” Righteous…. Yes, simulated drowning doesn’t have the same pleasant ring to it.
But the argument is, if we Americans torture suspected terrorists, or even just suspects, it is essential because 9/11 changed everything and do you want to see more skyscrapers come down? On the other hand, if Middle Eastern countries torture Americans or Europeans, they are inhuman animals who disregard the Geneva Convention, wipe their asses with their bare hands and spit on civilization each waking day when they’re not reading directions to build nuclear bombs out of the Koran.
So unless a draft or an economic panic occurs where Americans put down their iPhones, iPods and latest toys to wake up to what is being done in their name, then torture, wire-tapping, vote-caging and worse will continue until they become as American as mom, home and apple pie. §
Max Talley is a writer and musician in Santa Barbara.
Tips for finding kitty
There are people in your neighborhood with a considerable amount of debt, and they’re not above holding your kitty for ransom. Just pay it and consider yourself lucky.
A ROUGE VOICE PUBLIC SERVICE MESSAGE
Some have written the Rogue expressing a perception that somehow we harbor a negative view of the community, and the modern urban lifestyle in general.
These spurious sentiments hurt our feelings, and we feel bad when we hear this kind of thing. But, out of our typical magnanimous sense of esprit de corps and high-mindedness we’ve decided to put our expertise to work, and pass on some useful, authentic urban survival skills to better equip the community for life in the “new” America. This is the first in a series of helpful public service anecdotes that we might publish from time to time in a concerted effort to educate our readers and keep them up to date on latest techniques:
WHAT TO DO IF YOU LOSE YOUR KITTY
Saddest thing in the world is to walk past a light-post or bulletin board and see the pathetic little face—the heartbreaking picture of somebody’s kitty pasted between “LOST KITTY” and “REWARD!!!!” These are even more pitiful accompanied with the message: “The kids are heartsick.” I hate seeing these things, particularly since in most cases it could have been avoided had the now-despondent owners been versed on a little animal psychology. Here are a few things about Feline you should know:
• Like any human, kitty has to eat. There may not be enough wild stuff around where you live, so make sure you supplement with food and water. The kitty has a mind of its own and its prime concern is its belly. Make sure you’re feeding the kitty or you’ll be putting up posters to no good effect because the kitty’s gone to look for greener pastures.
• Also, like humans, kitties are created equal but they don’t all come with the same number of functioning brain cells—there’s everything from A to Z. Make sure you choose your animal well to begin with, because you always have to ask yourself why the kitty is lost to begin with. The kitty might just be witless, and stupidly wandered off. (This type is usually a “house-shitter” and, hate to say it, may be better off let go.) Of course, the kids might raise a fuss and want you to do something, so, by all means, put up a poster, and if the kids are young enough to be fooled, leave the address and phone number off or write a phony one. (That A to Z scale overlaps between felines and humans, making some humans actually smarter than felines.)
• Unless it is the extremely rare very stupid kitty, it’s almost impossible for a cat to be “lost”—the kitty’s sense of “place” and direction is more developed than in any human. The cat always comes back unless: a) you’ve mistreated the critter in some way or a number of ways (you’ll have to wrestle with this one yourself), or b) somebody has swayed or captured your kitty and is keeping it for themselves—this happens, and in this case it might help to include the amount of REWARD you are offering on those posters you’re tacking up all over the neighborhood, and the more the better—the better your chances of ever seeing your kitty again. Believe me, there are people in your neighborhood with a considerable amount of debt, and they’re not above holding your kitty for ransom. Just pay it and consider yourself lucky.
Here’s the thing, kitnapping aside, there’s only one way it can happen ;-) You lost the cat. That’s right. Provided kitty hasn’t met with an accident crossing the street or fallen victim to a homicidal pit bull attack or mean neighborhood kids experimenting with firecrackers and clothesline—you are at fault. Bottom line though: if the kitty is physically able, it will always return. I repeat: The kitty will always return. Unless you left it somewhere, say, across town. And this has happened to me a couple times—and I ended up getting my kitty back because I know what to do. And what you need to do is leave an article of your clothing right at the spot where you last saw your kitty (or doggy), something imbued with a lot of your body scent. The best thing, of course, is an undergarment. Yes, an undergarment—shorts, panties (especially panties), bra, etc. Any of these will work. You want your kitty back…right? Just do it. The “lost” one will eventually return to the spot, and if the critter smells your scent (provided you’ve been putting on the feed-bag) it will stay in the area. Keep driving by checking the underwear (placed discreetly under a bush) and you’ll have a good chance of locating your loved one curled up on your soiled shorts.
More effective than leaving your underclothes under a bush in the vicinity, is actually camping on the spot where you lost Puffy, and this is what I do, this is guaranteed to bring them home. I offer it as an anecdote because it gives me a chance to tell you about my kitty. He’s a clever one. Smarter than any dog I’ve met and he proved that right out of the box when I dropped the piece of chicken between him and the Dachshund. Shultz is no slouch, let me tell you—he is a scheming, spiteful little devil and friend to no cat. He’s stinky, and Germanic, born knowing the rules, and has delegated himself the law-enforcer of the household, with a particular mission to police the cats. That is, until he met the new cat. (Rescued kitty from Death Row at the pound.) I recognized this one as an exceptional kitty. Thought it might be a match for the pesky Dachshund. So, like I started to say, soon as I got the cat home from the pound I dropped a piece of chicken between him and the dog because I have a curious streak and wanted to see what would happen. When the meat hit the floor the Dachshund rushed the kitty—and the kitty, sitting like a sphinx on the linoleum, executed the coolest move I ever witnessed a sentient being perform when, without taking his eyes off the meat, without a hint of alarm or fear and with blithe disrespect for Shultz, quick as lightning raised his right paw to deliver a backhand swat to Shultz’s chops that stopped him in his tracks, spun him around and sent him scurrying off dragging his ass under him. With sublime grace, without skipping a beat, the kitty bent his neck and picked delicately at the contested meat, taking his own sweet time with it while Shultz obsessed under the rocker.
After establishing himself in the family pecking order, the kitty started riding with me in the car. Unlike most cats this one likes to ride in the car and goes everywhere—but I have to make sure to roll up the windows or he’ll jump out and go exploring. So, one day we went to the store for something and I forgot to roll up the window and he jumped out and took off. I was thinking about other stuff, forgot about the cat, drove off and left him. About seven hours later I wonder where the cat is, it’s not like him to be out of sight for so long. So, shit, then I remembered he was with me when I went to the store….
It was almost 11 o’clock at night, but I had to suck it up and swing into action if I ever wanted to see my kitty again. Like I said, I know what to do. I threw my pillow and a sleeping bag into the back seat of the car, raced down to the store and parked alongside the Korean guy waiting for his wife who was in the process of locking up the store for the night. I figured I’d ask them if they’d seen the kitty—got out and walked over to their car, and when the guy saw me coming toward his window he must have thought I was a robber, and I saw the look of panic on his face as he scrambled to get his window rolled up, saw the door locks click down. And now he’s left his wife locked outside the car to deal with me, the potential robber, by herself… she recognized me, and I told her about the trouble, me losing my kitty, and asked if it would be all right if I spent the night in their parking lot. I could tell by the look on her face that she thought I was an idiot.
“Cat have mind of its own. You never get cat back staying here. You never get cat that way. He long gone. You make a paper, and I put it in the window for you tomorrow. That all you can do.”
“Well…OK,” I said, “I’ll just hang for a while though, see if he shows….”
I turned to walk back to my rig and heard her firing some angry Korean at her hubby as she got into the car.
I rolled the window down on the driver’s side, climbed in the back seat and got myself situated with the pillow and sleeping bag. I couldn’t stretch my legs all the way out, but didn’t want to get too comfortable because I was expecting the cops any minute.
A faulty floodlight mounted on the side of the store fluttered a continuous mind-slicing strobe that I could still see with my eyes closed. The thin pillow wasn’t enough padding to keep the door handle from digging into the back of my head, and my neck was bent at a sadistic angle over the armrest.
But, I must have fallen asleep, because a subtle weight traversing the length of my compressed body woke me up at about 12:30 a.m.—and there was my kitty nonchalantly licking a paw and purring like a cement mixer. When he saw my eyes flick open he rushed my face and mashed his mug against my mouth. He’d gotten into some rotten fish somewhere, his breath smelled. When I reached to pet him he grabbed my hand with both sets of claws, flipped onto his back and rabbit-kicked my wrists to shreds with his cruel back feet while biting one of my fingers hard enough to draw blood, purring loud as he could all the while. He’s pissed because I left him, but at the same time he was glad to see me.
So there it is. Stay right where you lost your kitty. Don’t let the trail go cold.
And to all the detractors and naysayers, we extend a big wet kiss and a breathy thank you for goading us into throwing a shoulder to community service. It does feel good. See. We might be a little unpolished, but our loyalty is a rock. We’ll go to any length for our little friends. Thank you. §