Saturday, January 17, 2009

MY HONEYCOMB HIDEOUT

“Top Dog, I am in the house and the game is on.  We can burn the candle at both ends.  First, I’ll set up shop here.  We’ll need 4 or 5 pigeons.” 

A pigeon is a person who gets food stamps or some kind government check but is in need of booze or drugs.  I would front them what they wanted and put them on my books.  When their check came in at the end of the month, damn near all of it would go to me.  During this time, food stamps were distributed in books.  Each book would contain stamps of different monetary values, totaling about $120.  I would buy entire books at about 50 cents on the dollar.  I knew some older ladies who would buy these food stamps from me at or near cost.  You can avoid paying taxes on your groceries when using food stamps, so these women trusted me and saw this as a deal.  I would use the rest of the food stamps to buy groceries for us, like pork chops, steaks, and hamburgers.  I would also buy large boxes of chicken quarters and bread.  I’d take the cash I made from the old women to buy cases of cheap beer and liquor.  On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, people knew to come by the rooming house to get a hot chicken sandwich and some cheap drinks.  Jewel would be cooking up the chicken, Top Dog would sell the drinks and I’d be inside cooking up coke and bagging it.  We would always close shop around midnight.  Lots of people would come to us because I would sell to them on credit.  I knew how much everyone got paid and I would never credit them more than they would make.  I’d collect as soon as they got their checks and I never had any problems getting my money.  Some people like to go to a place where everybody knows your name, but here at the Honeycomb Hideout nobody gave a fuck what your name was, as long you had your dead presidents at the end of the week or the first of the month. 

On a typical Friday or Saturday we’d make around $500-$800.  We made a little less on Sundays, because I absolutely would not sell coke on Sundays.  I was just getting back in town and I thought I was doing some kind of justice by not selling on Sunday, but in reality I was hiding out from the law…and myself.

In no time at all, I had made enough money to set up shop in New Jersey.  I would have to go up there and wait for 3 or 4 days until Mr. Speaker contacted me with a new job.  Before I went, I wanted to make sure I had enough money to give the appearance that I was doing well.  I didn’t want my former employer and coworkers to know how low my life had become.  But of course, I couldn’t bullshit Speaker; he knew. 

Nonetheless, I was able to get my same job back with the same benefits and all.  I was moving cars from city to city during the week, while Top Dog was handling business at the Honeycomb Hideout.  I was always tired.  Everything was foggy.  I would sometimes get to my destination, not remembering a damn thing from the trip there.  Not because I was high, but my mind was someplace else.  I’d throw 80’s soft rock into the CD player, and listen to Kenny Loggins, George Michaels, the Eagles and of course Rick James as I drove from state to state in a trance.  Even though I would be on the road for 10 to 12 hours a day, it was as if time stood still.

I was making money, but I was still lonely.  Why did I keep Shy Shy around?  What was I running to or running from?   I wanted to go home.  But where was my home? 

Some weekends I would drive out to the country to visit my family.  I would always go alone and never bring any of my business with me.  Money never really did me any good, but maybe it would help my brothers and sisters.  But I knew I would have to tell a lie, because I could not tell them where or how I was getting this money.  Not only was I ashamed but I also wanted to protect them in case anything went wrong.  As far as they knew, I was working out of town for a contractor. 

It was good to go home.  This was my place to escape.  I would take long walks through the woods and reflect on what I was doing.  Could I build a paradise like Mr. Speaker from a run down rooming house?  Or did I really want this life at all?   

Back at the office it was business as usual.  Top Dog and I would always have these heart to heart talks.  Sometime it was good business strategies, and sometimes it was intellectual bullshit.  The money of course was good, but he kept reminding me that my black ass was still hotter than a two dollar pistol. 

“Ricky, you need to think about getting the hell out of here and starting a new life.  You know you can always go underground in Florida or Jamaica.”

I took a long sigh and said, “Yes, I knew this day would come.  Instead of Florida or Jamaica I was thinking about going out west.  Maybe something like Oklahoma where the land is wide open.”

“What about your job with Speaker?”

“I’m thinking about getting out of all this shit, man, and just sitting back on my ass for a while.  And the best I can really do for Shy is to get out of her life and leave her some money to go to college or something.”

“Hell Dog, you’re not a cowboy or a buffalo soldier!”

“Fuck that shit.  I’ll be free.”

“How would I contact you out there?  Or how would you contact me”

I smiled and said, “Hell, I’ll send you up a smoke signal.  I think it would be best if I left in a couple of weeks.  I think it would be good for you to start thinking about leaving as well.  Let’s take the money and run.”

With his head hung low like an old mule, Top Dog said, “Yeah, I guess your right.  We’ll no longer be in the criminal business I guess.  We’ll become upright citizens.”

“Hell, it’ll be more boring than a Sunday night in Raleigh.” 

“Be the change you wish to see in the world,” said Eddie.  “Do you know who Gandhi was?”

“Some old white man from some damn where.  Fuck a Gandhi.”

“Rick, the man is dead.”

“Okay, I understand, but back to business.  In a couple of weeks I’ll be making reservations to head out west.  I’ll wrap things up with Mr. Speaker.  Maybe I’ll get a bonus for this and I’ll give some of this money to my family.  I will see if he can contact his people out west and maybe there I can go underground and start over again.  I want to live a normal life again.  But hell, what is normal?”

“Have you saved enough to live out there for a while?” 

“Yeah, I’ll be fine.  I’ll move from reservation to reservation until things cool down.  I can always come back and visit my family.  Eddie, I don’t know if they have a statute of limitations, but let’s keep it real.  If I am caught, the most they can give me is two or three years.  They can lock me up, but they can’t eat me.”

But in my heart I knew that this lifestyle had already eaten away a big part of who I really was; a simple country boy caught in a game of cat and mouse.   

Saturday, January 10, 2009

PRIVATE ENTERPRISE

That afternoon, I called Mr. Speaker.  I told him that I needed work.

Mr. Speaker was an old, white man with plenty of money; dirty money.  I met Mr. Speaker in 1989 at a restaurant bar.  Like myself, he also grew up a farm boy.  From that we connected in many ways.  Mr. Speaker used to be a stock investor.  He also owned several car dealerships in New Jersey.  He lived out on a big farm in the country and had a single engine plane.  One day he invited me out to his farm to fly with him. 

“I would love to fly, “I told him.  “It has always been my dream.”

“Dang,” he said.  “Not many country boys want to fly.” 

“I don’t like being called ‘boy’, ‘homeboy’, ‘my nigger’, or any other bullshit.  Call me by my name, please,” I told him. 

“I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean anything by that.  I like you, Rick.  I can call you Rick, right?”

“Yeah.”  Smiling, I said, “And you can call me for that plane ride too.”  

“You have my word, Ricky.  I don’t tell lies.  I don’t lie to you or anyone else.  Maybe I can show you around the farm, and show you some ways to invest your money.”

He called me the next Thursday, as he promised.  “Can you meet me Saturday morning to take a flight around the farm?”

“Sure,” I said, not knowing where this flight would lead me. 

On Saturday, I met him at his large house.  He told me that he owned about four hundred acres of land.  Some he inherited from family, some he had bought himself.  We talked about stocks and how to make money.  I told him that I knew very little about stocks.  He said, “Rick, you are a very smart, young man because you listen very well.  Would you accompany me outside?”  We walked out to his large pool and patio.  “Look Rick, I made all of this happen,” he said as he waved his hand over his property, “because I believed in myself, and I worked hard.  And sometimes a man has to take a risk in order to succeed.  I’m coming to you straight, Rick.  I made some of this happen with dirty money.  And with that comes some heart ache and pain.”

“I don’t read you,” I said. 

“I didn’t think you would.  I have one son who you will meet today.  He’ll do the flying, I’ll do the talking and you’ll do the listening.”

One day I would crash and burn, but that day I was going flying.  Speaker’s son, Pete, flew us over and around the farm.  It was my dream come true.    As I looked down at his beautiful home and large farm I thought, damn this is nice.  I knew that getting involved with Speaker was wrong, but as I gazed at all he had, I wanted the same.  Maybe I could get into this for a little while, make a little money and move on.  I didn’t know what kind of plan Speaker had for me, but I knew it would change my life, and on this day I was excited but confused.  I was faced with so many questions but I couldn’t deny this opportunity for wealth and power.  Where do you draw the line between right and wrong?  Between dreams and reality?   I felt like I was putting a price on my own head; a very high price that I wanted there.  If it meant taking a risk, so be it.  The greater the risk, the greater the reward.  And Batman was wrong: crime does pay.  But at what price?    

After about an hour in the sky, drinking brandy and sniffing cocaine, I had to come back down to reality.  After landing, Pete and I walked into his father’s office.  There, I met a Spanish fellow named Rafael.  He was a car salesman and drug dealer.  Pete and Rafael explained how I could get involved in their business.  Pete would make the connections for the hot cars.  Raf would do the fake paperwork, the drug deals, and the logistics.  My role was to transfer the cars.  It was the most successful job interview I had ever had.  No resume, no background check.  I immediately had a part time job.  I still had my regular 9 to 5, but now I would be transferring cars on the weekends.  And the pay was great:  $1,500-$2,000 every Sunday with fringe benefits.  Not the kind of benefits you’d find at IBM, but crime benefits; enough drugs and women to keep the employees sufficiently entertained and sufficiently locked in.  How could anyone turn this down?

This was my weekend job for the next year.  I would drive hot cars to and from Florida, New Jersey and North Carolina.  At first Rafael would follow me in another car with drugs, money, and usually what Rafael referred to as his “hot commodities”.  These weren’t the chicken heads you’d find on the streets.  These were high end prostitutes; girls who would make about $1,200 a night.  Mr. Speaker would transfer these girls around from city to city to keep things fresh for his clients.  Eventually, I worked my way up to driving and delivering on my own.  It was a job I took very seriously.  The only thing I ever touched on the car was the steering wheel.  You never touched the drugs, the money, and especially the “hot commodities”.  It was all business while on the road.    

Once a delivery was made, and the drugs and money were in Mr. Speaker’s hand, you’d get paid immediately.  Some of the other drug runners would take off.  Mr. Speaker would always ask me to hang around and make overtime to learn more about the business.  The compensation for his overtime would always be the fringe benefits hard for any man to turn down.  Hell, Mr Speaker and I were like Hugh Hefner and Rick James partying it up at the mansion.

“Are you saving any of this money, or investing in stocks like I told you to?”  Mr. Speaker asked me one night during overtime. 

“Yes, maybe next year I’ll buy a small house and a farm.”  He knew I was bullshitting my money away.  “I’m only buying small things right now.  Hell, you know I have a regular job, and I don’t want to raise any suspicion.” 

“I know.  This is a business, not a fucking game, Ricky!”  Whenever Mr. Speaker called me Ricky, I knew he was serious.  “Save the money, you will need it one day.  You are not looking at the business aspects of this, Ricky.  You are gambling, drinking, and smoking that shit too much.  Just take some time off both your jobs.  I’ve got a place in the mountains and you can stay there.  You have to learn where to draw the line.”  I did take some time off, but the only line I ever drew was another line of cocaine. 

I had a lot of respect for Mr. Speaker and the game.  He’d call and check in on me.  Of course I would tell him a lie, saying that I was doing fine.  I was fucking up everything I touched.  My drug addiction had taken over my life.  I felt like I had let Mr. Speaker and many others down.  I was too ashamed to go back to this man who had helped me so much. 

“I’ve been there, Rick,” Mr. Speaker told me one time during one of his phone calls.  “I’ll pay for you to go to a treatment center.  You need help.  Ricky, I feel like it was my fault.  But I can’t help you unless you allow me to help you.  Call me Ricky, if you ever need me for anything.  I’ll always be there.” 

I should have taken the treatment, but pride and addiction got the best of me.  Years went by and I never called him.  But now I was a fugitive on the run, hiding out in a fucking, cramped rooming house, calling Speaker for help.  Like a child running back to his parents.  A hard head makes a soft ass.  

Sunday, December 21, 2008

THE JOKE'S ON ME

“Fuck that so called justice system and equal rights! It’s all just political bullshit,” I thought.

Someone came and knocked on the door. I jumped to my feet quickly and moved towards the window, for a swift escape. I heard a voice say, “It’s Shy Shy. Top Dog told me you were here. What’s going on? Open the door!”

Shy Shy was a lady I’d been seeing. I met her at a popular soul food restaurant near the University where she worked. Shy Shy was very na├»ve, and we all knew her by her nickname that she deservingly earned with her bashfulness. Unknown to me or her at the time, her brother was my drug connection. I had him known for years. He came to sell me some drugs one day and Shy Shy drove him out to meet me. I stood in the parking lot and said, “Damn, is that Shy Shy?”

As he walked up to me he said, “How do you know her? That’s my sister.”

“No shit. I’m dating her.” We were both very surprised to learn this. Shy Shy was even more surprised because she didn’t even know her brother sold drugs. She knew I lived on the streets, and she knew about my drug use. She asked me many times to move in with her but I refused. I didn’t want to drag her down into certain parts of my life. I felt like I was no good to myself, and certainly no good to others. I asked her not to get too close to me because of my lifestyle, but she was always there for me, and I tried to be there for her.

I opened the door and let her in. I told her about my jail time and my escape.

“You can’t stay here,” she told me. “Come stay with me.”

“I can’t. I must go underground.” I knew some people who would protect me, as long as I worked for their criminal business. This would mean anything from moving hot cars or merchandise, drugs or even prostitutes across state lines. “I’ll call Mr. Speaker tomorrow.”

Mr. Speaker was my high stakes crime connection. He would give me jobs moving cars and drugs back and forth from Jersey to Carolina. The money would be good, and I would be moving at all times. This would make it difficult for the police to ever catch up with me. I had nothing to lose.

“You’re driving hot cars without a license,” she told me. “And Speaker always has coke in the car, or some bitch with coke on her in the car, and you know this! So how in the hell can you sit here saying that you’ll be safe?”

“Fuck that, Shy. If I’m going to prison, I’m damn sure not going there broke this time. I barely made it in county jail. You need money in there just like anywhere else.”

“You hard headed son of a bitch, Ricky. Can’t no one tell you shit? You’re going to do whatever the fuck you want, regardless of who you hurt.”

“Listen here. I didn’t want to hurt you, Shy. But this is the hand I’ve been dealt and I’m going to play it out. I know you care, and I care for you. But this is not a fairy tale with a house and a picket fence. I’m in a fucking rooming house, running from the law! That’s the reality of it.”

“I understand what you are going through,” she told me. “I will always be there for you. But you don’t have to try to protect me; I’m a grown ass woman.”

“Okay, this is how it’s going down,” I told her. “I need money to get to Jersey, and to set up shop with Mr. Speaker once I get there. It’s going to take about a week to get this. I’m going to need your help, Dog’s help, and not to mention Jewel’s cause I’m going to have to stay here to make this cash.”

Top Dog knocked on the door. “Hey, it’s me. Let me in.” Shy Shy opened the door and Top Dog walked in with beer, a set of bolt cutters, and a fifth of Bacardi Gold. “I know you like tequila, but I thought Bacardi would go better with this bag of powder.” He threw about 2 ½ ounces of powder cocaine on the table. “We need to cut this down. Jewel, go in the kitchen and bring a jar so Rick can cook up some rock. Here Dog, let me cut those cuffs so you can drink and smoke with me as a free man. Hell, you might pass out, Dog. You’re fresh out of jail.”

“Hell, no he won’t,” said Shy Shy. “If he passes out, it’ll be with me. We need to spend some time together.”

“I know that’s right, girlfriend,” said Jewel. “His black ass interrupted us with that escape bullshit today. You owe me one nigger.”

“Fuck that. Let’s play a game of Jack rock, Chicago style,” I said.

“I’m not feeling up to that tonight, Rick,” Shy Shy told me. “You need to lay your ass down and get some rest.”

“Okay, shit. Me and Eddie will play,” I said. “You down, Dog?”

“Hell yeah. Jewel, are you in?”

“You know I’m in for a game of Jack rock,” said Jewel. “So let the game begin. Don’t talk about it, be about it.”

We cut up a twenty of rock cocaine for each of us. One of us would take a big hit, or a mega blast as we said, followed quickly by a straight shot of Bacardi Gold. Before taking the shot of Bacardi, you would pass the crack pipe, stem, or bazooka, to the person to your left and they would immediately take a hit. Hit it, pass it, drink it. Hit it, pass it, drink it. The game was really intended to be played with at least four people. With only three, the bazooka made it around the circle quickly. The game continues until someone passes out. On this night, I of course lost. Fresh out of jail, we all knew this would happen. I was fucked up! I hardly remember playing in the first place.

The next morning I woke up and my mouth felt as dry as the Sahara Dessert. It felt like some son of a bitch was banging in my head with a jack hammer. I was the last one to wake up. Jewel was standing in the narrow hallway waiting for Shy Shy to come out of the bathroom. She said, “I think Shy is throwing up from smoking so much hydro.”

“Hell, that ain’t nothing new,” I said. “Didn’t you see her smoking like a Navaho chief last night? She smoked over half your bag of weed.”

“Hey man,” yelled Top Dog. “If you gotta piss, you better bring your ass out on the back porch with me.” I stumbled out to the back porch to piss. “Good morning, jail bird. How are you feeling?”

“Like shit,” I said.

“Are you really going to work underground for Speaker? Or were you just poppin shit out the side of your neck?”

“Hell no,” I said. “I don’t have any other choice. Now can I piss in peace without having to listen to this shit?”

“Have a drink of this Ol’ E, Dog,” he said as he tried to hand me a forty.

“Fuck you very much,” I said. “I don’t need that shit. What are you trying to do, kill me?”

Top Dog smiled and said, “Have I ever told you this joke?
One night this man came home drunk. His wife had fed the dog, but had left the dog food on the table. The drunk man ate the dog food. The next morning at the breakfast table, he told his wife that he wanted the same thing again for supper.

“Oh no dear, that was dog food,” she told him.

He said, “I don’t care, I want the same thing.”

This went on for weeks. So the wife went to the family doctor. She told the doctor that her husband was eating dog food. The doctor said that the dog food wouldn’t harm him at all. But just to be on the safe side he agreed to stop by her house and check in on her husband. The next week, the doctor drove up to the house. To his surprise, there was a wreath of flowers hung on the front door. He quickly knocked on the front door. The wife answered the door, crying, and said, “my dear husband.”

Surprised, the doctor asked, “What happened? A heart attack? A stroke?”

“No. One morning he went out to get the newspaper. He returned to the front porch. He raised one leg to piss, but slipped and fell and broke his neck.

I smiled. “What’s the moral of this story?”

Top Dog quickly turned and while I was still pissing, pushed me clear off of the porch. “Just be careful and don’t break your neck.”

Thursday, December 11, 2008

ESCAPE TO NOWHERE

After two days in jail, Top Dog came to visit me. “Damn Dog, I told your ass to stay out of the Bermuda Triangle.” The local hang out in the park downtown was known as the Bermuda Triangle. From the center of the park, you could head in any direction and find food, shelter, drugs, alcohol and not to mention, the local jail. “I put $150 in your jail account.”

I needed this money so I could buy cigarettes, soap, toothpaste and a toothbrush. If you didn’t buy these items, the county jail would provide you with the Bob Barker bullshit brand supplies. Bob Barker toothpaste tasted like medicine and the soap would dry your skin like a baked pretzel. Back then, you could still buy cigarettes, but the catch was you couldn’t get matches or a lighter. Lighting a cigarette took a little ingenuity and a little bravery. You had to take the cellophane from the pack of cigarettes and stick a small piece in both the left and right side of an electrical outlet. Then, with a piece of tissue paper, you’d connect the two pieces of cellophane. An instant 120 volt spark would light up the tissue, and allow you to light your cigarette. The trick of course was to do this without touching the cellophane, or your ass was lit up. That’s a mistake you only made once.

Top Dog asked me, “Are you okay? Shy Shy came by the other day looking for your ass.”

“Hell, these couple days have been a cake walk,” I told him. “Shit, I needed the rest. I have to appear in court this Friday. I’m hoping to get out on Free the People Day.” This was a designated day when homeless people who had spent a few nights in jail on bullshit charges such as trespassing, open containers, or panhandling would be released with time served.

“Man you can’t get out on Free the People Day, you have a probation violation,” Top Dog told me.

“I know the system has cracks in it, so I’m hoping that they fuck this up.”

On Friday morning, I found out that the system did have cracks in it. The judge gave me probation again, not knowing that I already was on probation. That afternoon, at about 3 o’clock, the detention officer practically walked me to freedom, so I thought. I was dressed back into my street clothes, but handcuffed and walked to the probation office. I was hoping to get a different probation officer, because if Mrs. Jones saw me there, she would send me right back to the jail.

In a small waiting room, the officer sat me down in a wooden chair. He removed the cuff from my right wrist and handcuffed it to the armrest of the chair. I sat in the room by myself for just a few minutes. The door opened and to my disappointment, Mrs. Karen Jones walked into the room. I said to myself, “Damn, there goes my last crack in the system.”

“I knew we would meet again. You have two charges. One is probation violation, and the other is trespassing,” she told me politely. “Mr. Caldwell, you’re going to the D.O.C.”

“What’s the D.O.C.?”

“Department Of Corrections. In short terms, prison,” she told me as she walked out of the small room, leaving the door open.

“Fuck the D.O.C.” I said to myself. I looked down at my left wrist, which was cuffed, and the other cuff was locked to the wooden chair. I thought, “Shit, just as there are cracks in the justice system, there will be a crack in this chair.” I broke the wooden armrest off with my free right hand. I jumped to my feet quickly and ran to the door. Looking to the right and left down the hallway, I saw that the coast was clear. I wrapped my jacket around the handcuffs that were still on my left wrist, just incase I met someone in the hallway. Swiftly, I walked to the nearby elevator and pushed the button for the 8th floor to confuse any pursuers as I went and ran down the stairwell. As I opened the doors to freedom, I smiled and said, “Pop goes the weasel.” Never looking back, I gave them the finger as I walked away.

Running in and out of alley ways, watching for cops, I headed south out of downtown. I reached the tracks that ran close to Top Dog’s lady friend’s rooming house. About ¼ of a mile down the tracks, I reached her house. I walked to the side of the house and tapped on the bedroom window.

“Hey, who the fuck is tapping on my window? Ain’t no drugs here!”

“Jewel, this is Lead Dog. Open the damn window.” I leaned against the side of the house next to the window. It was like time had stopped. My heart felt like it was beating a mile a minute. All of a sudden I heard scuffling and the window opened quickly.

“What the fuck? Oh shit, my Dog!” it was Top Dog. I quickly stepped in front of the window, out of breath. Not saying a word, I showed him the handcuffs. He reached and pulled me in the window. He pulled so hard that he almost dragged me across the hardwood floor. I fell on top of him, knocking Jewel to floor as well. “Damn, what are you doing with these shackles on?”

“Well, I didn’t get Free the People Day, but I did get probation,” I told him.

Top Dog shoved me. “Get the fuck off of me. And Jewel, get your ass in the kitchen and get me a small knife.” We walked over and sat on the couch. Looking confused, Top Dog asked, “You got probation again?”

“Yeah, remember, I told you the system had cracks.” Jewel walked in and handed him the knife.

“Okay, okay. Explain these fucking shackles then,” he said as he grabbed the cuff. “Jewel, go back in the kitchen and grab us a couple beers.” He attempted to pick the lock on my hand cuffs with the kitchen knife. “This shit won’t work. I need some bolt cutters.”

“I broke a wooden chair and simply escaped,” I told him.

Shaking his head and waving the knife, he said, “I should cut your damn wrist off. What in the hell were you thinking? Jewel, bring us some damn beer! Damn, that girl is slow as hell,” he yelled angrily.

“Calm down. Calm down. Man, this shit ain’t that serious.”

Jewel walked back into the small, cramped room. “Here are your beers,” she said as she handed us each of a forty of Ol’ E.

“Damn, Ricky. You are like a brother to me. Man, they will lock your ass up and throw away the key. You got warrants for probation violation, trespassing, and now an escape charge.”

“I know, Dog,” I said as we embraced.

He took a deep breath. “Okay, let’s get those cuffs off.”

“What’s the damn hurry? Hell, I’m not planning on going anywhere.”

“Yes, the hell you are. You’re getting the fuck out of here.” Top Dog stood up. “I’m going to Ray’s Body Shop down the street. I’ll cut those silver braces off and we can mail them back. Cause you don’t need another charge; stolen property.”

Smiling, Jewel said, “The two of you mother fuckers are crazy as hell. What about damaged property?”

“Bring your ass on Jewel. Let’s go get some more beer and some bolt cutters. Relax, Lead Dog. I gotcha.”

“Thanks man.”

“Anytime. Now lock the door,” he said as the two of them left the house.

I locked the door and sat back down on the couch, thinking to myself, “Damn, did I do the right thing? Did I fuck up more? Dog was right. What in the hell was I thinking?” I couldn’t go back and I couldn’t stand still. I could only go forward. I needed money and lots of it. I reached in the ash tray pulled out a wooly and lit it.
I was out of jail and out of my mind. But I wasn’t free.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

SELF DESTRUCTION

Top Dog and I walked down a set of old railroad tracks, passing under 2 or 3 bridges. We stopped at his cat hole under the 3rd bridge to hide his bike and to get his shooter. A shooter, or a stem, is a glass or metal pipe about 3-4 inches long with brillo packed snuggly in one end to smoke crack. Some people use beer or soda cans to smoke crack by punching small holes in the side of the can with cigarette ashes on top of these holes. “This will take the edge off for the day,” said Top Dog as he often would. Under the bridge there were clothes, blankets, and broken beer and wine bottles. “This is my cat hole and you are welcome any time.”

“Thanks, but let’s go take this fucking edge off. I need a blast.” We walked to this abandoned building. About 15-20 guys were hanging out, drinking and smoking crack around a fire barrel. They were burning anything in site: old furniture, clothes, small tires, etc. I was introduced to 7-8 guys around the barrel, everyone loud and high. Some couldn’t speak because they had the mush mouth. I could understand Flipper better than I could some of these guys.

Someone drew a circle on the ground. If you had money and wanted to drink, you threw it in the circle. This was called pitch in. If you wanted crack, you bought your own. There was a slim guy who said he had no money to throw into the circle. A fat bellied guy called him on it. “You’re bullshitting, man. You made money last night fucking or sucking that pump.”

“You’re crazy as hell,” said Slim.

The big bellied guy said, “That punk drove around several times looking at you.”

I took a drink of my forty and said, “That sounds like a shitty deal to me, man.”

“Who the hell are you, nigger?” said Slim.

I smiled and replied, “Does your momma know you talk to your father like that? I’ll put so much of my foot up your ass, you’ll shit shoelaces for weeks. I’m Lead Dog, mother fucker.”

Top Dog said, “Oh, let that punk ass son of a bitch live.”

“Can’t we all just get along?” said the big bellied man. “Hey, that OJ is a stupid son of a bitch for killing that white woman.”

“How in the hell do you know?” said Slim. “If it was one of us, they would have locked us up for so damn long that if we had gotten out, our clothes would be out of style.”

“Here comes your boyfriend, Slim,” said the big bellied man. As he said this, a big, strong, gay guy walked up. He looked like a lumberjack; a black Paul Bunyon. He had on a long, black wig, make-up on his face, tight blue jeans and a leather jacket. He looked just like the crypt keeper from ‘Tales From The Crypt’.

The crypt walked up to Slim and in a soft feminine voice said, “Where’s my fucking money? You smoked it up, didn’t you!”

Slim said, “I’ll pay you tomorrow.”

“Fuck that! Pay me my way or the highway.”

We all was laughing like hell. Slim said, “Get the hell out my face, bitch!”

The crypt pulled his long hair out of his face and spoke in a deep, manly voice. “We can do this the hard way or the easy way.” Before Slim could speak, the crypt body slammed him to the ground on top of the warm ashes from the fire barrel. Slim jumped up with his shirt smoldering with smoke. The crypt grabbed him by the back of the shirt collar and dragged his smoking ass to his car. I laughed so hard I almost pissed on myself. Slim had this look on his face, like a little puppy who had been beaten with a newspaper. I was crying laughter as they drove away.

The big bellied man said, “I told them fools about trying to sell themselves on that block up the street. Why don’t these so called international tramps go to the Catch Out Corner.”

Still laughing, I asked, “What’s the Catch Out Corner?”

Top Dog said, “The Catch Out Corner is where we sometimes stand to make money by people picking us up for work. You make more money than you would at a labor hall, but sometimes you get bullshitted and won’t get paid.”

“Damn, fuck that,” I said.

“You can always get a panhandlers license downtown for free, I think,” said big belly.

“You can get a panhandlers license? I don’t understand this shit,” I said. “Why give a man a license to beg? Like that old saying, ‘Give a man fish, and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, he eats for life.’”

“Speaking of eating, let’s go downtown and eat fellas,” suggested Top Dog.

“Hell no!” said the big bellied man. “I’m tired of eating that same ol’ food. It gives me the shits.”

I said, “It don’t look like you miss many meals.”

“Oh, he’d rather drink a Flat Man,” said Top Dog, referring to a cheap wine. “Let’s blow this joint, and smoke this woo on the way downtown.” A woo is like a blunt. You cut open a cigar, toss out the tobacco and fill it with weed and crack cocaine. “We’ll be good and hungry by the time we get there, so it won’t matter what they’re feeding us.”

When we got down there, the line was very long, but it didn’t matter. We were high as hell. By the time we got our food, I couldn’t even eat.

We walked back to Top Dog’s cat hole to sleep for the night. I’ve camped out many times in the country, but never in the city, not to mention under a damn bridge. I was a little cold, afraid, and a lot of things were going through my mind. I couldn’t sleep.

The next morning Top Dog and I went to the labor hall around 5 AM. I went with him, not to work but to get out of the cold and to wait for my appointment with my probation officer. I met with Ms. Karen Jones at about 10 AM. I told her that I lost my job and that I couldn’t pay the probation fees.

“I understand, Mr. Caldwell, but if you don’t pay your fees and visit me on a regular basis, you will go to prison. You understand, this is a supervised probation. So if I were you, I would pick up beer cans or do whatever to pay these fees.”

“Ms. Jones, you have no idea. I’m already doing time right now on these fucking streets. Give me a couple days to think about it. I just may do the time.”

She looked at me with a sad look because deep down she knew, and so did I. If she was ever to see me again, I would be hand cuffs.

A week later, on a Friday, Top Dog and I whipped up a quarter of an ounce of powder cocaine to sell to make extra money. I had lined up cliental at a local park. We sat around a pick-nick table, selling and smoking crack. I was taking a blast from a can when Top Dog nudged me, giving me warning that a park ranger was heading towards us. I tossed the can, Top Dog hid the crack under his hat and the other guy we had just sold to, hid his crack under his cigarette pack.

The Park Ranger approached us. “You guys are too fucking old to be down here smoking that shit.” Smoke was still coming out of the cans we had thrown on the ground. We denied that we were doing anything. “You’re a damn liar. All of you were smoking like Navaho chiefs. Everyone put your hands on the table.” He began shaking us down, one by one, asking us for ID. He checked our bags, and found a few unopened forties. He picked up the cigarette pack on the table and found the rocks hiding there. He threw the crack on the ground and crushed it with his foot. “Follow me guys, I have something fun for you.”

Once at his cruiser he made us all stand with our hands on the hood while he made a call on his radio. A few minutes later a truck pulled up. “Okay guys, the fun begins now. Grab those trash bags and rakes. Pick up all the trash and make sure you get those damn cans that are still smoking over there!” He told us with a smirk. After picking up all the trash, he said, “Good job, and don’t let me see y’all asses again.”

We started walking down the trail in the opposite direction as the park ranger. The guy whose crack had been found said, “Fuck him! Sell me another fifty, Dog.”

“Didn’t you hear that guy, man?” I said.

“Shit, I’ll sell him another fifty,” said Top Dog. “Hell, and I’ll even break you off good. We need the money.”

The guy went off into the nearby woods to smoke his crack as we continued to walk downtown. Just a few blocks later, to our surprise, we heard a siren and a horn blow. We turned around quickly. It was the park ranger honking his horn and waving at us, pointing to the backseat of his cruiser. In the backseat was that clown who had just left us to smoke his crack in the bushes, pressed up against the window. With a huge grin on his face, the park ranger was letting us know that he wasn’t bullshitting.

“Damn, pop got his ass,” I said. “That was close.”

“How in the hell did that stupid son of a bitch let him get him? I told you this shit is good,” said Tog Dog, referring to the crack. “I cooked it myself. His dumb ass was stuck on stupid.” We smiled and continued to walk downtown.

There was concert going on in the streets, and we partied the rest of the afternoon, drinking and smoking pot, selling twenties of rock here and there. Later on, Top Dog said he was going to the penthouse to party with some other homeless people.

The penthouse was a three story parking deck, our new cat hole. Each Friday and Saturday night, homeless people would party on the second and third floor of the parking deck. This Friday night, I wanted to hang out in the park, but Top Dog advised me to hang with him and go to the parking deck party.

“You go ahead. I’ll stay here and drink and smoke with Michael.”

Top Dog said, “You know that you have that probation shit hanging over your head. Keep six Lead Dog,” letting me know to watch my back. We didn’t quarrel because Top Dog knew that once my mind was made up, that was it, for better or for worse.

I drank heavily with Mike the rest of the night. In the wee hours of the morning I was woken up with a tap on my shoulder. Mike and I had passed out on the stage where the concert was earlier that night. I opened my eyes to two bicycle cops standing over us.

“Hey guys, you can’t sleep here. Have you both been drinking?”

We looked around to see if our wine bottle was still there. I said to myself, “Damn, somebody stole the wine.” But that was the least of my problems. The police officer asked for ID. I was fucked.

Michael was released without a charge. I on the other hand was hauled to jail, and there was no way in the hell I could talk my way out of this one. I was arrested for a probation violation for not meeting with Ms. Karen Jones. As predicted, this dog was back in the pound.

Monday, December 1, 2008

LOVE. HATE. PAIN

Kim at the Sandwich Shop introduced us to the waitress, Big Brenda. Brenda gave us each a forty. After drinking two forties, the restroom was calling me. I staggered to the small, cramped, dirty restroom with a chipped commode. There inside I found a drunk guy lying on the floor, soaked wet with piss. I helped him up, and leaned him against the wall with one hand as I fought to piss with the other hand (guys, this is something you would only try while you were drinking). Afterwards, I helped this guy to a corner in the bar. Top Dog and a few guys were playing cards.

“That fucking Beatle Juice is drunk again!” yelled Top Dog. I pulled up a chair and introduced myself to the group as Lead Dog.

A gentleman named Count, who earned his name with his two teeth, red eyes and light skin, said, “looks like you’re fresh out the pound, Lead Dog.”

“Yeah, more than you know.”

“Keep that to yourself, Lead Dog,” said Top Dog. “You’re talking too much. And Count, you’re talking out the side of your neck, you filthy tramp.”

A girl came over and sat on one of the guy’s laps. Unknown to me, she slipped him not only a kiss but a pocket rocket, a rock of crack cocaine, off of her tongue. One of the guys said, “Bitch, you are into everything besides a casket. Take your dirty dealings to the rest room.”

“Kiss my ass,” she replied. “You smoke so much your two back pockets are touching together. Get a fucking job!”

I looked at Top Dog confused at what just happened and he said, “That shit just went right over your head, you missed it. She just gave him some drugs.”

She turned to me, asking me my name. I almost told her my real name, Ricky, but instead replied, “Lead Dog.”

She asked, “Where are you from?”

If I knew not to give her my real name, I knew not to tell her where I was from. So I told her the first thing that popped in my mind, “Canada.” I proceeded to explain to her that I was French Canadian. “My mother was French Canadian and my father was African American.”

She said, “You have beautiful, smooth black skin. I knew you wasn’t from around here. Can you speak French to me?”

I looked into her eyes and with a deep, romantic accent, said something like, “Le fork le vay, jest te.” The closest I had ever been to France was a damn French fry.

She smiled and asked, “What did you say?”

I could have said, “Your breath smells like stale beer, and you’re uglier than homemade soap,” but instead I chose to give the lady a compliment. “It means you are beautiful.”

After a few more beers and a lot of lines of bullshit, Top Dog and I decided to leave. On our way walking to God knows where, he told me, “That’s pretty smooth the way you handled yourself in there, especially with that chicken head.”

“Thanks, but that’s not where my heart is.”

“I suppose you can leave your heart where you want to, but your ass is on the streets with the rest of us. So if I had to guess, I’d say you loved someone and fucked up. You don’t look like you belong on the streets, so what brought you here?”

I stopped and looked at Top Dog and lit a Newport. I took one deep pull and blew the smoke out slowly, because I knew I would never speak of this again to anyone. A big part of my life had already gone up in smoke, more than you could ever know. I once had that all American dream: a job, a car, a home, a lady and even a pup named Brandy.

I met Lisa late one night at a shot house, a place you can drink after the bars close. She was being harassed by a drunk, so I walked up and gave her hug, but whispered in her ear, “I’m just trying to help save you from this guy.”

“Thanks,” she said. I asked the bartender for a couple of drinks; a Heineken and a double shot of tequila. After a game of pool, she went to the lady’s room to freshen up and I went to the men’s room to freshen up on a few more lines of nose candy. I was shit faced. I asked the bartender for a half pint of vodka to go. She offered to drive me home on the north side of town. I passed out on the ride home in her car.

The next morning I woke up on a couch, wondering how I had gotten there. On the coffee table next to me, I saw a line of cocaine and an empty bottle of vodka. I staggered to turn on the TV, my head throbbing like a tooth ache. Out of nowhere, Lisa came and said, “Let me help you with that. Would you like a cup of coffee?”

“Yes,” I replied. “I’m sorry I passed out.”

She said, “That’s okay, you were a perfect gentleman.”

Lisa was a beautiful lady with pecan brown skin, jet black hair, and a body that was truly a magnificent work of art. She was not the kind of lady you’d expect to meet at a shot house, she was totally out of place. Seven years older than me, she was very intelligent, independent and even had a nice paying job. She was the total package.

After freshening up and drinking some coffee I told her that I must leave. I called a cab to take me back to my car. I asked her if she would like to go out to dinner some time. She said, “What are you doing this Friday?”

“Spending my day with you, I hope.”

She smiled and handed me her number. “I hope to spend my day with you as well.”

Over the next few months, my clothes would slowly accumulate over at her place. Eventually I moved out of my apartment and into hers. We sold coke and crack at our jobs, the local colleges, and to our friends. This took a toll on our relationship, and on our lives in general.

One night at our place, we sat around with our drug buddies sniffing coke, drinking beer and some of my money went missing. I confronted one of her friends. I thought she took it, Lisa thought one of my friends took it, but who knew; we were all high. I asked everyone to leave. Lisa and I began to quarrel, she threw a lamp at me and I threw an ash tray at her. She called the police, and I was arrested.


After 72 hours in jail, I returned home. We kissed and made up, and decided not to go to court, thinking they would drop the charges. I found out the hard way that the charges were not dropped. On a Saturday morning I was robbed by knife and wounded with several cuts on my left arm. I had to go to the hospital, where I told them what happened. They in turn reported this to the police, who showed up and took a report. Unknown to me, there was a warrant out for my arrest for failing to appear in court a month earlier. They put my bandaged wrist in handcuffs and drove my sore ass to jail, where I was placed without bond for the next month and a half. Could this get any worse? -Damn right. I got out on a year of supervised probation. I lost my job, my home, my dog, Lisa decided to move on and I was denied unemployment benefits. Within just a few weeks of staying in hotels looking for work, all my savings were gone. I was on the streets.

I took the last pull of my cigarette, threw the butt on the ground and stomped it out. I think that Top Dog could see I wanted to cry or scream with anger, but with a smile he said, “Tricks are for kids, silly rabbit. Put that shit behind you, because these damn streets can eat you alive, Ricky.”

I took his advice, and that was the last I thought about that part of my life. But the demons and the pain would plague me on the streets more than ever.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

EVENING TIME EXTRAS

Warning:
The following stories contain information that some may find offensive, vulgar and graphic. The path which I took was dangerous, lonely and cold. Some of the names of people and places used are fictitious in order to protect the identities of those involved.


One morning I woke up from my cat hole at about 5:30 AM. It was winter, and the weather was cold and breezy. I was shaking like a dog shitting raiser blades, it was so cold. I went to the labor hall to warm up and find some work for the day. Feeling like shit after running the streets all night, I walked inside across the chipped grey paint of the dirty concrete floor and sat on an old wooden bench, waiting for work. The labor hall was an old brick building and inside there was no real heat. Thank God, because the funk of foot, ass, and dirty clothes was enough to knock out Mike Tyson in the first round.

A labor hall is a place where the homeless go to find work for the day. People who need temporary labor workers will call and request workers and pay the labor hall something like $15/hour per worker. The labor hall will then pay anyone with a warm body and a pulse $7/hour to go out to the job site and work. These jobs include anything from digging ditches to working in warehouses, anything that is manual labor. The work is first come first serve, so in order to get a job, you have to show up between 5 and 5:30 in the morning. If they call your name for work they’ll ask if you are capable of doing a specific job. They might ask, “Can you fly a jet or a space shuttle?” You damn better say, “Yes,” even if you can’t spell jet, otherwise you may not work that day.

On this morning, a guy was late for his repeat job and I was given his work ticket. About 15 to 20 of us, packed like sardines, were trying to squeeze ourselves, along with our bags of clothes and food, into a van when this guy showed up. He didn’t like that I had taken his job, so he started poppin shit to me.

He said, “I’ve been working this job for 2 ½ weeks. Don’t get on that fucking van. That’s my job!” I just ignored him and continued to walk towards the van. “I’m talking to you, tramp!” He yelled angrily as he approached me.

I turned back to him and said, “I understand, man, but you need to talk to the clowns inside.”

A tall, slender man stepped between us and said, “Get this shit over with, cause I can’t be late to work. I need my damn hours.”

The other guy replied, “Fuck you!”

The tall, slender guy snapped back quickly, with a smile, “Bitch, can I get on top?” which we all found to be funny.

The guy turned to me with anger and embarrassment, but before he could speak I said, “Sounds like a personal problem to me. Yeah, we need to get to work, so you’re holding us up with this miscellaneous bullshit.” He cursed and walked away.

On the work van, the guy who stepped between us gave me his name, Edward, as he handed me a grey box cutter. “You’ll need this on the streets.”

Edward was about 6’ 1”, 190 lbs, with a long face and high cheek bones. He was a veteran who had never fought in an actual war. The only war he fought was the demons inside and the streets to survive. Unknown to me, at that time I too was also fighting demons which brought me and many others to the streets. We worked at the same job site. He worked inside doing carpentry, while I was outside using a Chinese backhoe; the name for a shovel. That day, Edward had no lunch, so I shared my lunch with him. As we ate, I learned that I wasn’t the first person he had tried to get food from. “These guys wouldn’t give a crippled man a crutch to walk across the street if they owned a lumber yard”, he told me. “Son’s of bitches.”

Working outside that day reminded me of working for my schoolmate’s father, clearing farmland and cutting firewood for his home and mine once the tobacco was harvested and the potatoes dug. This taught me how to operate heavy equipment. But it was this farm where I also learned to use a much smaller shovel. Not a Chinese backhoe, but a shovel that held a powerful, white substance; cocaine.

After 8 hours of hard work, Edward and I returned to the labor hall where we picked up our checks and his bike. Edward asked me, “Do you have a bike?”

“NO! Damn sitting down and walking at the same time.”

He smiled and said, “Can you sit down and drink a forty at the same time?”

“Damn straight! If you’re buying the first round.”

We stopped at a local downtown hang out, the Sandwich Shop. I remembered as a child, my family would come here to enjoy hot dogs, chips and water. As Edward and I entered the old, battered building the smell of hot dogs and fries was replaced with the smell of cheap perfume, Black & Mild cigar smoke, and stale beer and wine. Cakes and candy on the counter were substituted with ash trays, pickled eggs and pigs’ feet. The place was packed; corn freaks (black women), pink toes (white women) and of course chicken heads. With loud music on the juke box, a few people were trying to dance. As Ton Loc sang “Funky Cold Medina”, Edward introduced me to the owner, Kim, an Asian woman. She asked us what we would like to drink. Edward replied, “you.”

She said, “Stop staring at me like dogs. Now, what would you like to drink?”

Edward said, “These two dogs would like to a have a forty a piece.”

“Coming right up, Top Dog, and Lead Dog.”

From that point on, this is what Edward and I would be known as on the streets.