“What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.”
Randy's Mix Tape
(Soundtrack to Falling Down : Part Two 1996)
Molly - Sponge
Ocean - The Cure
Thirty Three - Smashing Pumpkins
In the Meantime - Spacehog
Only Happy When it Rains - Garbage
Pretty Noose - Soundgarden
Caught a Light Sneeze - Tori Amos
Trippin' On A Hole in a Paper Heart - Stone Temple Pilots
Peaches - The Presidents of the United States of America
Free to Decide - The Cranberries
Big Me - Foo Fighters
Bare - The Cure
Crazy Life - Toad the Wet Sprocket
Don't Look Back in Anger - Oasis
Bodies - Smashing Pumpkins
Goodbye Cruel World - Pink Floyd
Hey You - Pink Floyd
Mother - Pink Floyd
Goodbye Blue Sky - Pink Floyd
The Trial - Pink Floyd
A Pink Dream - The Cure
Grace - Erasure
Nobody Knows - The Tony Rich Project
Counting Blue Cars - Dishwalla
Something Changed - Pulp
'Til I hear it from you - Gin Blossoms
Dredd Song - The Cure
(by Mary Oliver)
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do –
determined to save
the only life you could save.
On New Year's Day I woke up to the sound of the motel room phone ringing; I was laying in bed with my clothes still on, and the room looked like a tornado had blown through it! Bottles and chip bags lay around the place like the wreckage of a trailer park home. I could remember most of the night before and some time after the New Year came in, and I vaguely remember calling a taxi cab and walking Amy and Tracy out. But then everything went dark. Now the sound of the phone ringing was echoing around my brain like my head was stuck in a belfry!
I rolled over, picked up the phone, and half expected it to be Tracy. Instead it was the voice of a man – a familiar voice, but not my father...
“Yeah, may I ask who's calling?”
“This is Dr. Underwood.” The voice said.
Dr. Underwood? How the hell did he know where I was? I sat up straight and had the twinge of a headache.
“I'm calling to notify you that we are aware of the credit card you stole, and I'm informing you to not return to school. You have been expelled and it's final this time. You will not be allowed back on campus and if you try to return or ever show up on this campus again, you will be arrested.”
My heart sank and I didn't know what to say. I couldn't even form a coherent protest or plea...
“How do I get my stuff?”
“You can have us send it somewhere to you, or your brother can take it for you. Let me know. I haven't told your father – that's up to you. You have disgraced the school, the people who have helped you, and the Lord. We expected better of you.”
“Thanks,” was all I could say. I hung up the phone with a thousand thoughts rushing through my head. Where was I going to go? The apartment in Lexington was gone, the time in the motel almost up, and I had no money left. What do I tell my parents? What do I tell my friends? What a way to start the New Year!
I began cleaning things up in the room, throwing the bottles and chip bags into a plastic shopping bag. I took my clothes off and jumped in the shower, and as the water ran over me I felt like I was having an out of body experience...I was in the shower, I could feel the hot water on my skin, but my mind was a thousand miles away. I really didn't have any idea what to do.
I turned the faucet off, grabbed a towel and got dried and dressed. I wanted to see if Amy and Tracy were functioning, and meet up with them. When I called, Amy answered.
“Hey,” I said.
“Hey,” Amy replied.
“Where's Tracy?” I asked.
“She's still sleeping it off. I think she was the most drunk of the three of us.”
“Yeah...Well, when she's stirring do y'all want to meet up? I want to talk to y'all about something.”
“Okay...I'll let her know and we'll come up to your room.”
“Thanks, Amy. I had fun with you last night. It's a good feeling to be friends again.”
“Yeah, it is...bye.”
I hung up the phone, took a deep breath, and called home. Usually my parents would be in Florida or Alabama for the holidays, as was our family ritual, but for whatever reason this year they decided to stay home. The phone rang a couple of times and my little brother, Jimmy, answered.
“Hey, Jimmy!” I said.
“How was Christmas and Chanukah this year?” I asked.
“I got lots of stuff!” He said, excitedly.
“You'll have to tell me about it. Is dad or mom there? I need to talk to them. I love you.”
“I love you, too!” And off he went calling for my parents.
“Hey, Randy. Happy New Year.” My dad said.
“Hey, dad...Happy New Year.” I said, flatly.
“Any reason why you're calling?”
“Yeah...I'm in trouble again. I'm surprised no one has called to let you know.”
“What did you do this time?”
“I stole a credit card from an ex-teacher – the Ks.”
“Okay...” My dad said.
He didn't sound angry or surprised.
“Dr. Underwood just called me and told me I was expelled as well.”
“Where are you now?”
“I'm in Louisville.”
“Louisville? I thought you and Tracy broke up?” My dad's voice was tense now.
“We did....I was just hanging out as friends, and with other friends too.”
“Where are you going to go?”
“I don't know...probably back to Lexington?”
“Now do you see why I thought it was a bad idea to go back to OBI and close your apartment? I'll talk to your mom about it, but I think we can take care of your bus ticket back. Let us know.”
“Okay.” I said, hanging up the phone.
Well, that went better than I thought! Although, it was very hurtful that my dad half expected me to screw up massively again...It was as if he was just waiting for it to happen.
I turned on the T.V. and watched the news and the weather report. A massive snow storm that could potentially turn into a blizzard was heading towards Louisville. My hotel room was paid up to the Wednesday when we were supposed to return to Oneida, and if this storm hit we could be stranded. To quote one of my most favourite Star Wars lines, “I have a bad feeling about this.”
Later that afternoon, Tracy, Amy, Jim, Joe, Amber, and now another friend, Courtney, all showed up to my hotel room! I was surprised to see Courtney, but it was nice to be around one of the only other Jewish students from OBI. Everyone piled into my motel room, and I had a panicky feeling at the thought of telling them about being expelled from school. I had only expected to break the news to Tracy and Amy, but now it seemed like the entire Barnum and Bailey's Circus had gathered in my motel room.
Everyone sat on the edge of the bed telling me about New Years Eve and what they did. I reached into my pocket and pulled out the ZIMA cap, looked at it, and shoved it back in. My heart was pounding, and when Jim was done talking I just blurted it out, “I got kicked out of school again.”
Like a truck slamming the brakes on hot concrete, everything stopped! All eyes were on me...“Look...I screwed up again. Credit card fraud. It turned out to be nothing – I'm only going to have to pay a fine.” I wasn't exactly certain about that, but I wasn't in jail either, so I suppose I felt safe in saying that at the time.
“What are you going to do?” Amber asked.
“I don't know...Go back to Lexington? Get a GED? I don't know,” I said, on the verge of tears.
Jim suggested we go to the mall and just like that the conversation was over with. Not even Tracy said anything after that. We left the motel room and headed up the street to the mall; it was evening time and I was surprised to see that the mall was even open. We passed the mall theater and I looked at the posters and noticed a mysterious one with a ring of monkeys spray painted in red, and the number 12 under it. I'd have to check that out!
We entered the mall and there was a few people milling around here and there. Tracy led everyone to a Target store and at first I thought we were just walking around browsing, but soon I noticed that Amy, Tracy and Courtney, were slipping items under their clothes. Jim and Joe had disappeared with Amber, and I watched as Tracy stole a negligee. I grew increasingly uncomfortable...If they got caught and I was with them, it would only make matters worse for me! Even if I hadn't been stealing anything – and I hadn't!
Soon, two Police Officers near the cash registers, caught my eye; they were talking to a manager who pointed in our direction. I was sure we'd been fingered! “We need to get out of here now!” I told Courtney.
Courtney told Amy and Tracy, and we walked quickly to the store entrance parking lot. Jim or Joe must have seen us exiting because they followed quickly behind. Courtney grabbed my hand and told me to split away from everyone else and act like a couple. With our fingers interlocked we walked in a different direction to Amy and Tracy...We kept walking, everyone else catching up, until we reached a bus stop.
Relieved that the police officers didn't follow us, everyone broke out laughing. I feigned a smile but almost shat myself! I was shaking like a leaf. The DART bus arrived and we jumped on it and rode it back down to near Tracy's house, got off in front of the Chinese restaurant – Nan King – and looked for something open. It felt like the already very cold temperature had dipped another 20 degrees – it was freezing!
We noticed that the KINKO's office supply store was open, and we went in just to warm up. There was a coffee machine in the back by some copying machines, and we all grabbed some styrofoam cups and had some coffee. Tracy, thinking it would be funny, stuck her ice cold hands up my shirt and over my nipples and I jumped at how cold it was!
We left the store after we had the coffee and I walked everyone back to Tracy and Jim's place. Jim told me he might have some acid in a day or two so we made plans to meet up. They were all going to come back to the motel room on Tuesday and we'd go from there. As I walked back to Bardstown Inn I took the ZIMA bottle cap out of my pocket and stuck it in the inside pocket of my coat; then I pulled my coat tightly around me as the wind picked up and flurries began to fall.
I got back inside my room and felt so emotionally exhausted I fell asleep instantly, only to wake up in the middle of the night with the phone ringing again...I rolled over and answered.
“I'm looking for a strong and handsome guy to fuck...” A sexy voice said.
“Umm...I think you might have the wrong number?” I said, shaking off the sleep.
“No...I don't. Brown hair, green eyes, tall, and fine as hell,” the voice continued, and then another voice chimed in, “Yeah, we want to give you the ride of your life...”
I thought I heard a giggle after that and said,
They exploded in laughter! I wasn't in the mood for it and said, “I'm trying to sleep!” And I hung up the phone.
The next day everyone showed up again and I was surprised that no one had once mentioned anything about me being expelled. I had caught the weather report and told everyone that a snow storm was expected to hit that night. “They never get bad enough to stop anything. We'll still have to go back to school on Wednesday.” Jim said.
Jim wanted to meet the guy who was going to sell him the acid, so we all bundled up and walked out. It had been snowing and showed no sign of stopping, and the wind was heavy. But we headed out and down the side walk, back to the Douglas Blvd area. A guy approached in a car and Jim ran out to greet him. Something was handed to him and the car drove off as Jim came bouncing back with something wrapped in tin foil. Inside the foil was a whole sheet of acid – a total of about one hundred hits!
“Jesus!” I said, “How much did that cost?”
“Only 75 bucks.” Jim answered.
He tore off a square for each of us and we stuck it on our tongues. As we waited for the acid to kick in, we walked up and down the street. I remember Jim grabbing a chunk of ice and snow from a gutter, and as a nearby car passed by, he threw it. As it hit the car it made a loud THUMP! The car swerved, then drove away.
“Fuck, Jim! Shit like that would get you shot in Texas!” I yelled.
He just shrugged and said, “I think we got gipped! Is anyone feeling anything?”
We all shook our heads and said “No”.
It had been well over an hour now and none of us felt even a slight tingle. We walked around for another hour and when it became too cold and the wind was howling like a freight train, we cut our losses and went back to my motel room – my last night there.
The acid was bunk!
Reading about a blizzard, or even seeing one on T.V., compares very little to witnessing the actual thing. When I woke up to that first Wednesday of 1996 I should have been heading back to Lexington and returning to Oneida with my friends. Instead, when I looked out the window and into the motel parking lot, everything was buried under about five feet of snow! I could hear the wind howling angrily outside of the room and somehow someone had been brave enough to clear the side walks in front of the rooms. But snow was building back up, and quickly.
I had nowhere to go and I was expected to check out of the motel, but to expect that any person could reasonably and safely travel out in that storm was insane. Hoping the management would understand, I called the lobby.
“I was expecting to check out today, but surely in this snow storm I'm not expected to leave?”
“Well, you'll have to pay for any extra time.”
“Even if it's out of my control? I can't leave in this!”
I called my parents up.
“Dad, I'm in a blizzard! The motel is saying I have to leave today, and I've got no money to pay for any extra days. I've just got a few bucks left!”
“I'll pay for your bus ticket back to Lexington, and give you a few dollars to help you out until you figure out what you're going to do, but I'm not spending a penny on any time you spend in Louisville.”
“It's a blizzard, dad! I'm stuck!”
“Maybe you can get to the bus station...get there and I'll help you.”
I slammed the phone down and paced the room for a few minutes before calling Tracy's house. Jim answered.
“Jim...man, I'm stuck and I need y'all's help. The motel is telling me to leave unless I can pay for more time, and I'm practically broke...I need to either get to the Greyhound bus station, or find a place to crash fast. Can you call the Naders up and see if I can stay there until the storm clears, and then I'm gone?”
“Alright. Give me a few minutes and call back.”
I walked to the window and looked out. Some huge snow ploughs were lumbering up the street, pushing the snow away like huge beasts from the ice age. The snow was drifting however, and for a few seconds the side walks would be completely clear of snow. But before long there would be hills of snow gathered again.
I called Jim back and he answered.
“Yeah...They'll let you stay with them until the weather gets better. My mom just told me we don't have to return to OBI until the weekend, so everything should be okay. You'll have to figure out a way to get up to the Nader's though...Nobody is driving in this shit.”
“Guess I'll walk. It's only a mile and a half...I can handle it.”
“Bundle up!” Jim said, and hung up the phone.
I didn't have a cap or gloves, so I wrapped a long sleeved shirt around my head and face. I grabbed a pair of socks, put them over my hands, and then put everything else in the suitcases and headed outside. The second I stepped out of the motel room and into the arctic wasteland, a wave of cold hit me like an 18-wheeler! The wind pushed me back and I angrily yelled out with defiance, ”You won't stop me!” I moved forward, determined to get through the blizzard, and walked as far as Bardstown Road, quickly realizing I was no match for Mother Nature...My hands were stiff, I couldn't feel my feet, and I was travelling in inches as the wind and snow whipped around me. A passing snow plough moved slowly by and the driver honked its horn as if to say, “Good luck, kid.”
I was sure I'd fall over dead, frozen and frost bitten. I stopped and was ready to give in when suddenly salvation was in sight! Through the snow I thought I noticed the silhouette of a lone taxi cab – one brave soul just trying to put food on the table. I waved my arms frantically in the hope that he could see me though the white out. Headlights grew bigger and brighter, reflecting off the blowing snow like the twin suns of Tatooine. Soon, I could see the entire blue body of the taxi cab and shuffled stiffly towards the car. I pawed at the door but couldn't get it open, and the driver reached across his seat to help me. I pulled the door open, shoved my suit cases in and said, “Thank you!”
“I can't drive far...where do you need to go?”
“Can you get me just a couple of blocks away?”
“Yeah, but I need the money. I'm having to charge extra, you know?”
My heart dropped again...I didn't have enough money. I guess I could hope that Jim and Tracy would cover it? I had just enough money to at least get me to Douglas Blvd so I told him to drive there and let me get the rest of the money from my friend. “Don't stiff me, man. I'm putting my life at risk out here.” He said.
He drove very slowly and what would've normally been a five minute drive took almost thirty minutes. It seemed like every five feet we had to wait on a snow plough to open up another patch of road that was safe enough to drive on. The cab stopped in front of Tracy and Jim's house and I jumped out and ran to the front door.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Jim asked, after answering the door.
“Man...I need about 20 bucks to get to the Naders. The cab is right there waiting! I'll pay you back, I swear. I can't walk in this crap, man!”
“Okay, hold on.”
Jim closed the door and disappeared. He came back and stuck the bill out the door and closed it quickly. I didn't even get to thank him! I ran back to the cab, gave the driver the money, and he got me to the Nader's.
I had survived the Blizzard of 1996. Maybe the universe was on my side.
The following day the weather was just as bad, but by Friday things were looking much clearer. I stayed with the Naders and while it was still cold, it was decent enough to venture back outside.
My friends weren't returning to OBI until Sunday, so I asked Mrs. Nader if it was okay for me to stay until they left and I'd be gone on Monday. Once she said it was okay, I called my dad up and he told me he'd arranged a bus ticket and $60 I could pick up at the station. “This is the last time we're helping you.” He said.
I was still short of money. I owed Jim $20 dollars and I needed some food money. I didn't know what to do. Before I left to meet up with everyone I saw a camcorder out of the corner of my eye, in the Nader's living room. A small thought popped into my head and I tried to push it out before my mind could entertain it any further. But then, this same thought took hold of me like some idiotic urge that persisted in the same way a bad itch would do.
Before I knew it I was telling myself that there was a pawn shop just up the street. I could pawn it off and then when I got back to Lexington I could get a job, go back to Louisville, pay the pawn off, and return the camera to the Naders. They wouldn't notice if I was careful about it and no-one would be hurt over it either – or so I naïvely thought.
I snatched the camera up, jogged up the street, and pawned it off in my own name - I think they gave me close to $180 for it. I put the ticket and the money in my pocket, and then met up with my friends. When I saw Jim I gave him the $20 I owed him, and puzzled, he asked how I got the money so quickly...I told him my dad had helped me out.
By Saturday, all of the snow had melted, and we all spent the day together. I really enjoyed the time with them, although I was extremely sad because I wondered if it would be the last time I'd ever see them again. I started to think about the other friends at school who I knew I would never see again, and it made me even more sad.
In the evening Jim and Tracy had to do something with their mom, and Amy asked if it would be okay to walk around Bardstown Road with me. It was strange at first because it was our first time together alone since our split in May the previous year. Soon, her arm was locked into mine and she leaned into me. I told myself it was just the cold, so I let her do it. To kill time we walked up and down the road a few times and stopped in front of the Krogers grocery store. Then she unexpectedly hugged me tightly and said, “I'm afraid I'll never see you again and since we're on good terms now, I think this is the least I could do. We never had a proper ending.”
I looked at her and old feelings from our relationship stirred back to life and I was suddenly sad. A part of my mind told me that had we not split I wouldn't have gotten so wrapped up in Tracy, and wouldn't be in the mess I was in now. I'm not going to lie, I wanted to kiss her right there and then and see what it would bring, and I half way think she was inviting me to do so. But then an overwhelming sense of guilt washed over me and I pulled away. “Yeah...I'm sure we'll be able to hang out again. I'm happy we're cool," I said. Then I walked her back to Tracy's house and went my own way.
As I was waiting for Tracy and Jim to return and say my last goodbyes, I decided to walk up to the movie theater by Bardstown Mall. I was still curious about the monkey poster, and I had some money...Why not go in and see the film?
I paid for a ticket and had my mind blown! It was a post-apocalyptic-time-travel-is-it-real-or-insanity-film! It was so good that as soon as the movie ended I walked out of the theater, bought a ticket for the next showing, and watched it all over again. When it finished I walked back to Tracy and Jim's place and everyone was out on the porch. I couldn't stop talking about the film, but trying to explain it only made the movie seem more confusing. “Well, all I'm saying is it's badass!” I said, feeling this was the only way I could truly sum it up!
We all said our goodbyes and Tracy and I split away from everyone else. We stood by an old tree, bare and twisted up by age and weather. “I'm really sorry about everything and I just want you to know I love you, and wish you all the best.” I told her.
She kissed me quickly – just a peck on the lips – and said, “I really hope you can get it all figured out, Randy...You're a good guy. It just isn't the right time for us and I'm not sure it ever was.”
Well, that hurt...“Yeah, we can still hang out, right? I asked.
“Of course! But us...that has to end.”
She pulled away from me and I watched as she went back into her house. I took a deep breath and walked back towards the Nader's, my head full of hurt and confusion.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
When it was time to get my things together on Monday morning and get down town to catch the Greyhound bus, the house had erupted into chaos. “Where is the goddamn camcorder?” Mr. Nader yelled.
I could hear Mrs. Nader yelling something back, and they began to search all over the house. My adrenaline spiked and I started to panic a bit. I didn't want them to find my extra cash or ask me about it, so I hid the money in the tape deck of my cassette player.
“I know you did something with it! Nobody else would have!” Mr. Nader yelled at me.
“I don't know what you're talking about!” I lied.
“Let me see your wallet...I'll know if you've got money you didn't have.”
I pulled out my wallet – there was just a few dollars inside.
“I swear to God, if you stole it, I'll beat your ass!” He said.
“I didn't! I don't even know what's going on,” I lied again.
I heard them talking about checking pawn shops, so I ran to where they kept their phone book and pulled out the section that had the information for pawn shops on Bardstown Road. Then I flushed the torn up pages down the toilet.
Soon after that the storm quietened down and they began to talk about people they had over for New Years, wondering if one of them had stolen it. I seemed to be in the clear...“If everything is good here, I need to be going.” I said.
Mrs. Nader said bye to me and I quickly left, suitcases in hand, and headed to the DART bus stop. I caught the #17 back down town and walked the rest of the way to the station. I decided to call Emma and make sure I could crash at her place.
“Yeah, but just for a few days.”
“That's all I need.”
“Okay. I'll see you then.”
When the bus arrived back in Lexington I took a cab down town and then walked the couple of blocks to Emma's place. Her dad answered the door and let me in. I told her what was going on with being expelled and she offered to make the drive to Oneida to get my stuff. I thought this was incredibly kind of her but I told her I'd just give it to Wesley.
“Want some pizza?” I offered.
I called Poppa John's Pizza and when it arrived we went to her room and settled in for the night.
I woke up Monday morning, one week after New Year's day, having no idea what I was going to do. Emma said she had to get to work, so I decided to look around down town and see if any one was hiring. I rummaged through my clothes for something decent to wear and decided on a pair of khaki dockers and a tan and blue Eddie Bauer sweater. Then grabbing my tape player and popping in one of the tapes from Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, I put my coat on and headed out.
Walking down town I noticed a SUBWAY with a 'Hiring' sign and because the place was familiar to me I decided to apply for a job with them. I talked to the manager and she had me fill out an application, but when I couldn't list an address she told me that they needed to hire someone with a stable living arrangement. “Okay,” I said. “I understand.”
Across the street was another small, privately owned, fast food place with another 'Hiring' sign. The sign on the outside of the building said 'Steak Fest' and there was a picture of some Middle Eastern food, as well as Greek gyros, taped onto the window. I went inside and saw a beautiful Middle Eastern lady cleaning tables, and behind the counter was an older man of similar ethnicity.
I walked up to the counter and told the man I was looking for a job, and he reached behind the counter and pulled out an application form. I filled it out and this time I put Emma's address on the form. When I finished I returned it to the man and then he asked me if I was a college student.
“No...In between high school and college.” I said. I was being honest!
“When can you start work?” He asked.
“I can start right now. Whatever you need me to do.”
“Maybe not right now,” he replied. “Come again tomorrow at 10am. I'll get you started then”
“Thank you so much!” I said, and left the restaurant.
As the cold air whisked around me, I pulled my jacket tight as the song Thirty Three began to play on my Walkman. It's so strange still hearing that song on the radio now after all these years. I'm always taken back to that very moment in time whenever I hear Billy Corgan sing, “So I pull my collar up and face the cold...on my own.”
I decided to walk around down town for a while, and to escape the numbing of the cold I went inside the Civic Center where I felt at peace in the upscale shopping center. There was a small figurine shop and I went inside and looked at the shelves lined with tiny porcelain dolls, fairies, and crystal animals. The fairies made me sad to look at because they were one of Tracy's favourite things, and the crystal animals made me think of the ones we had on our bookshelves back home in Arlington, Texas. I was suddenly hit by a wave of loneliness and depression.
I walked out of the store and found the food court. There was a bunch of small fast food counters and I noticed that one of them had a sign that said, 'A&W Hotdogs'. I was puzzled...I didn't know the root beer drink had a fast food place and sold hot dogs. “Man...Kentucky gets stranger and stranger.” I muttered to myself.
I was actually quite hungry so I decided to give it a try. I ordered a mug of root beer and their famous hotdog loaded down with fixings, and sat at a table. The fixings spilled out of the hot dog and onto the paper plate as I took a bite...Surprisingly good! It picked my spirits up a little bit and I nursed the ice cold root beer in solitude. This is my life, I thought. Alone and trapped in Kentucky...and I've got no sense of direction. Well, it can only go up from here! Right? “Cheers!” I said to myself, and took another sip of root beer.
When I was finished I picked up my garbage, returned the mug, and left the Civic Center. I decided to walk down Versailles Road, but stayed clear of the K's place. I remembered seeing a small medical center across the street from a gas station near the K's apartment, and I vaguely recall reading a sign about donating or selling plasma. I wanted to check it out. Hell, I'd sell my plasma and get a few bucks in my pocket!
When I reached the medical center I read the sign on the front. They did indeed buy plasma but their payment plan was strange - $35 for the first time, $15 for the second time, then up to a steady $25 for several weeks, and you could give twice a week as long as there was 72 hours in between donations. After a couple of months they would give you a bonus of $75.
Now, I was no medical expert but hearing my parents talk enough about medical insurance and the sky rocketing of health costs, I was fairly certain that with every donation made the medical company was making hundreds of dollars selling peoples' plasma to hospitals. However, in my time of need I couldn't afford to be picky and decided to go in and find out more.
When I entered the clinic there were several stations of pre-screening to go through before you began giving your plasma. I went up to the sign-in desk and the clerk asked me if I was old or new, and I said, "New." She handed me a clipboard with paperwork and told me to fill it all out and then they'd go from there.
I took the clipboard over to a chair and sat down filling it out. Questions about my medical history, drug use, needle use, sexuality, and other questions, littered the paperwork. I filled everything out and handed the clipboard to the clerk who said, “We'll call you when we're ready and you'll have a check up.”
I sat back down and waited. After about 20 minutes my name was called and I was told to go to one of the stations. My blood pressure was checked and it was a little high, but okay for me to give plasma. Then, my finger was pricked and a little blood was drawn up in a small tube and dropped into a liquid. “This is to check your iron levels and make sure they're okay,” I was told, and I nodded to show I understood.
After that the nurse went over my medical history and then I was ushered to a larger section of the clinic. There was a series of chairs with strange machines hooked up to them and I sat and waited as another nurse came up to me.
“First time?” she asked.
“Okay. Have you ever given blood?”
“No...I tried in '94 but I had high blood pressure.” I replied.
“Well, what I'm going to do is stick this needle in your arm. The machine is going to pull your blood out and cycle it through this machine. The blood will then return to your body with a saline solution. It'll feel a bit cold but that's natural. Once this bottle -” and she pointed to a large clear bottle - “fills up with your white blood cells, your actual plasma, the machine will beep and I'll come back over and unhook you. You'll be good to go and can claim your cheque at the front on your way out.”
When she was done talking she swabbed the large vein in the crook of my arm and stuck a giant needle into it! She taped down the needle and clear tube to hold it in place and told me to pump my hand open and closed. Then she told me to try not to fall asleep. The machine came to life and I watched as the blood ran up the tube and into the machine.
I remember a couple of televisions hanging from brackets on the ceiling and there was a re-run of Dukes of Hazzard playing. When I was a little kid I loved that show; but watching it now at 18 years old I found it incredibly boring and blatantly racist with its proud waving of the Confederate flag, and the car they called The General Lee. I was starting to doze off when the nurse came back over to me and rubbed my shoulders.
“Hey, you need to stay awake!”
“I'm sorry. I just remember this show and being so excited about it as a kid, and it's horrible watching it now!” I said.
“Yeah, well, the boss loves it so...try to stay awake.”
It was kind of cool watching the blood travel through the machine and the bottle fill up with my white blood cells, so I focused on that. Once the bottle was filled completely the machine beeped and another nurse came over to me, pulled the needle out, and put a bandage on my arm.
“You'll get your cheque as you leave,” she said.
“Where can I get it cashed?” I asked.
“Well, there's a gas station across the street and they'll cash it for you for just a couple of bucks. Have a nice day!”
“Thanks!” I said, and exited the medical center.
I walked across the street to the small gas station and asked the attendant if they cashed cheques. He said they did and told me to sign the back and then handed me the cash – a few dollars short of the total. I was a bit thirsty and decided to buy something to drink. A soda I had never seen before caught my eye. It was in a bright yellow bottle, almost like Mountain Dew. It was labelled ALE8ONE and below that it said, 'A late one!' I paid for the drink, twisted off the cap and took a sip. I was hooked immediately! I noticed on the bottle that it had a 10cents return deposit, and was made in Kentucky.
Walking back down the road that led me down town, I finished the drink and tucked the bottle back into my coat. I'd be damned if I didn't get that 10cents return! I headed back to Emma's place and knocked on the door, and when she let me in we went to her room and I told her I found a job.
“Where at?” She asked.
“Steak Fest down town. It's only a couple of blocks away and I start tomorrow!” I said, excitedly.
I also told her about giving plasma for the first time and offered to order pizza again for us.
“Well...” She said, as if hesitating to tell me some bad news.
“Yeah?” I asked.
“My dad is only giving you a couple more days to stay here. Then you're going to have to leave.”
“A couple of days? Seriously?” I said, incredulously. “Emma, I've got a job. I can pay rent and y'all do have that extra room. Will you talk to him and maybe just let me stay until I've got enough money saved up for my own place? Please? I've got nowhere to go!”
She said she'd talk to him and then I ordered pizza and we watched T.V..
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I woke up the next day excited about my new job. I took a bath as Emma's place didn't have a shower, and then I got dressed. I put on some decent clothing and went into the kitchen to eat some Pop Tarts that were left out on the table. I told Emma I was going to head out and she wished me luck.
I walked to the Steak Fest restaurant and they were barely opening when the owner let me in.
“You came a bit early!” He said, surprised.
“Yeah...I want to get to it.”
He had me sign some papers and told me that I'd be working a minimum wage at full time hours, but once I started to make deliveries he'd allow me to keep the tips. He showed me the back of the place where they prepared the food; there was a large machine with two huge stones on it and a shoot, or slide, of some sort. "You drop the potatoes in, they move through the stones and the skins are ground off.” He said, noticing my puzzled look.
I nodded my head to let him know I understood.
He showed me a large metallic sink where they washed the vegetables, and other contraptions that cut the vegetables and potatoes. Then we walked to the large steel freezer that contained meats and vegetables – each container was labelled and there were boxes of various meats as well.
“Can you cook? Have you ever used a grill?” he asked.
“No, not really, but I've watched my dad.” I replied.
“Well, you will learn. I want to get you on the grill as quickly as possible. You will learn the menu in full. We will show you.”
He went over the entire menu with me. Most meals were combos – a sandwich of some sort, or a gyro and deep fried potatoes. “We don't call them French fries here!” He said.
There was also fried jalapeño poppers, cheese sticks, and lots of other items. The combo came with a drink as well and it all seemed quite simple to remember. “The most popular items are the steak Philly and cheese sandwiches and the lamb gyros!” He told me.
Before the store opened he told me to go to the freezer and grab some chopped up steak. I grabbed a box and brought it to the grills. In front of the grill were silver pans of green bell peppers, some other peppers, shredded cheeses, a dish with butter, and a pan loaded with buns. “This is going to be your lunch, so how well you do is how good your meal is! When the lunch rush hits, you want to be quick!”
He clapped his hands together several times as he said this, and I watched his face take on the serious look of a master artist teaching an apprentice. “Now! Grab the buns, butter them quickly, and put them face down on the grill! Quickly! Grab some of the steak meat, and the bell peppers, and throw them (clap clap) onto the grill! Grab that thing that looks like a cement spreader and chop up the meat and peppers. Let them both turn golden brown, and when they do that, grab a big pinch of Swiss cheese.”
I did exactly as instructed but I obviously wasn't moving fast enough because the buns on the grill were starting to burn. “Quickly! Now scrape it all up and grab the buns, spread it across them and put the sandwich together!” He then showed me how to wrap up the sandwich and put it on a paper plate.“Put that to the side. Now I show you how to use the fryer!”
He asked me what I wanted to try, and I told him the jalapeño poppers sounded good. He instructed me to get a handful of jalapeño peppers, already breaded, and stuffed with cheese. “Do not tell anyone but these are pre-made!” He dropped them into a frying basket and turned a timer, then lowered the basket into the vegetable oil. “Normally, you would do this before you made the other food and when the timer goes off, your sandwich should be made.”
The timer beeped and he pulled the poppers out of the oil and placed them on a paper towel. Then he wrapped them and told me to put them with my sandwich. “You will learn much more over the next few days. For now, you clean tables, mop the floor and watch! Watch everything we do.”
“Yes sir.” I said.
He wasn't lying about the lunch rush – it was insane! College kids, police officers, and business people poured into the tiny restaurant. Not even SUBWAY had a rush like this during the summertime! As each patron ate and finished I would quickly wipe the tables down and clean up any mess.
A little before 1pm the crowd died down and my boss said I could reheat my lunch that I made earlier, and have something to drink. I settled on a lemon iced tea and sat at a table to eat. A man and woman entered the shop and I looked at the boss...He told me to just enjoy my lunch, which I did. Yeah, it was a little over cooked, but a damn good Philly steak and cheese sandwich! I was proud of myself!
As I was sitting there I realized that the man and woman who had just entered the restaurant were the same two people who processed me when I was arrested.
“Hey! What are you doing here?” The counsellor asked.
“I work here now. School kicked me out.”
“Yeah, I didn't want to tell you that, but I already knew. I'm sorry.”
“It's okay. I'll figure something out.”
The guy asked me what I was doing when I got off work and I said, “Probably headed back to my friend's place. Why?”
Well, how about I take you out to get something to eat?”
“You don't have to do that.” I replied.
“Nah. It'll be on me.”
I looked at the woman and she didn't say anything, so I said, “Sure. Okay.”
“Alright. I'll pick you up after work.”
“Cool. Well, speaking of work...I better get back to it. Enjoy your food – it's pretty good here!”
I think it was around 3 or 4 in the afternoon when I finished work, and true to his word the guy swung by the place. He drove a pretty nice car and told me to hop in.
“Where do you want to eat?”
“Anywhere is fine.” I said.
“Well, how about a change of plan? I could get us something to drink, and we can hang out and watch T.V. at a motel for a while and catch up on things?”
Now, I had never been in such a situation and I was a bit naïve at the time. Instead of feeling like anything was odd, and because of his job working in the Justice system, I assumed he was straight-laced and above board. My guard was down and I interpreted the situation as nothing more than a kind gesture. I wasn't sure what he meant by 'drinks' though...“Do you mean sodas or something else, 'cause you know I'm underage?”
“A couple of beers won't hurt you. I'm just fascinated by your story and want to get to know you a bit better.”
“Okay...Is it cool if I drink ZIMA? I really don't like the taste of beer.”
We drove to a small liquor store and he ran in and brought a bag back out. Then he drove to a small motel off Winchester Road, next door to a Kentucky Fried Chicken place. “Here,” he said, handing me a $20 bill. “Go in and grab us something to eat.”
I ran inside as he got a motel room. Once I had my order I ran over to the motel and he was standing outside of the room waiting for me. We went inside and I put the food down on the bed as he handed me a ZIMA with the cap already taken off. At first the conversation was topical...
“What kind of music do you like?” He asked.
“Alternative Rock. The Cure, Smashing Pumpkins, things like that.”
“Ever heard of the band, Rush?”
“Yeah...Not really music I'm into.”
“They're phenomenal! They'll be in town soon and I already have tickets.”.
“Cool,” I said. “Hey, do you mind if I call my friend and let her know I'll be a bit late home so she doesn't worry about me?”
“Sure, that's fine, but I thought you might want to crash here for the night. It's already paid for. It'll give you a break and you can clear your head.”
“Oh. Yeah, that's cool. 'Preciate it!”
I called Emma up and told her.
“You don't think that sounds a bit odd?” She asked. “You don't even know the dude.”
“Yeah, I'll be fine!”
I began to drink a bit and had a light buzz. Soon, the conversation turned on hypnosis which I thought was a little odd.
“No, it's real. I can try it on you if you'd like.” He said.
Suddenly, it dawned on me what was happening! “Hey, just so you know, I'm straight, man.” Feeling my head clear...
“Oh...well, that's fine! Just enjoy yourself.”
After that he quickly left. But I felt really uncomfortable about what just happened and I wondered what he would've tried had I been completely drunk.
When I woke up the next morning I showered and got dressed in the same clothes I had on the previous day. I needed to get back down town and to my second day of work.
After a couple of days at Steak Fest I had everything figured out and they soon had me taking orders. They kept talking about me doing deliveries, but no one had sent me out to deliver anything yet. I enjoyed the job and the people who ran the place were kind and warm. If I made my own lunch I could eat for free, and I was usually finished work for the day around 3 or 4 in the afternoon.
One day after work I headed back to Emma's; she said she needed to talk to me, and I could tell it was kind of important by her body language. She looked really uncomfortable and closed the door behind her when we got to her room.
“My dad wants you to leave tonight,” she said.
“What? Like right now, tonight?”
“Where am I supposed to go, Emma? And I thought you were going to talk to him about letting me rent the extra room?”
“It's not happening, and I was just invited to move in with some girlfriends from work...We're going to rent the space underneath us.”
“I know, I know, but it's my dad's choice.”
“What about moving in with you? I can pay rent.”
“It's a girls only kind of deal.”
This was crazy talk...She knew I had nowhere to go.
“Emma, where am I going to go?” I asked.
“There's a place called the Hope Center. It's a homeless shelter.”
“No! No fucking way am I going to a shelter. I'm not a hobo!”
“Did you really just say that? Homeless people aren't hobos!”
“I didn't mean it like that. I just...I can't live in a homeless shelter.”
There was a pause between us for a few minutes, and then she spoke. “I'm sorry, Randy. I've helped in every way that I could. This is your mess, not everyone else's.”
I started gathering my stuff. Somehow Emma had my soccer bag from the summer - I didn't even remember leaving it with her, so instead of using my suitcase I shoved everything into it, and it was large enough for all of my things. Then I picked up her phone and called a taxi cab.
“Don't forget, please pay me back the money I loaned you.” She said.
“I will.” I replied.
The taxi cab showed up and I grabbed my coat and put it on. I went down the stairs from her apartment and opened the door to the back seat, throwing my soccer bag in and climbing in after it.
“Where are you going, kid?” The driver asked.
“The Hope Center.”
“Really? What happened?”
“You don't have another place you think you could go?”
“Alright. Well, let me get you there. You've got money to pay the fare, right?”
The drive to the shelter took about ten minutes. It was much closer than I thought it was and I figured a walk from there to my work place would only take about twenty minutes. We pulled into the parking lot and saw cop cars everywhere. Outside of the building they were trying to calm someone down, and the scene freaked me out. Without even thinking I asked the driver to take me back to where I was.
He turned the cab around and took me back to Emma's place. She was surprised to see me outside on her front door step.
“I'm sorry...I got a bit freaked out. There was police everywhere and some guy acting crazy. Please, just let me crash here for the night and figure shit out.”
“Fine.” She said.
I don't remember us talking very much that evening before I went to sleep. The next morning I went off to work, but when I came back her dad made it clear that I had to leave. He didn't let me inside and just handed me my soccer bag.
I decided to walk the rest of the way to the shelter. I remember the night was pretty cold, and the walk and everything happening so quickly seemed to make things feel colder. I felt sick to my stomach but Emma was right – this was a mess of my own making.
When I reached the shelter it had started to snow again. I was waiting outside for someone to open the doors when a security guard appeared and said, “Sorry. Can't let anyone in after 6pm.”
“Seriously? I've got nowhere to go.”
“Policy. I'm sorry.”
“Dude! It's snowing outside!”
Just as I said that a really pretty black woman stepped into view. She was dressed in a sweater and blue jeans and looked like she was in her mid 20s.
“What's going on?” She asked the security guard.
Before the guy could say anything, I blurted out, “It's snowing and I've got nowhere to go right now!”
“Let him in. Now!”
He opened the door wider and let me in. She told me to follow her to the lobby where I could check in, and she introduced herself as Pam. “What's your story, guy?” She asked me.
I gave her the abridged version about getting kicked out of school (without saying why) and staying with Emma until her dad said I had to go.
“What school did you go to?” She asked.
“OBI, a Baptist boarding school in Onei-”
“Oneida! I went there!” She said excitedly.
“You did?” I couldn't believe it.
“Yeah, got kicked out for smoking pot. Is Dr. Moore still the president?”
“He passed away in 1994.” I said.
We made small talk and she asked me if I was hungry. I told her I was and she gave me a couple of bucks to run up to a nearby Sonic fast food place as the kitchen in the shelter was closed for the night. I told her I was okay and had a little money myself, but she kept insisting. About that same time another homeless man showed up to the door, and they let him come in as well. “I just can't let y'all sleep out in the snow like that. It's not right.” She told me to get going and pick up the food for me and the other guy to eat, and off I went to buy hamburgers and tater tots.
They let me back in and she took the food from me. After she checked the other guy in, she told him to go back to the cafeteria area and grab a mattress to sleep on for the night. She explained that the cafeteria was for the new incoming people; they had a dormitory for people trying to save up money to get a place, but first they had to prove they had a job.
“Oh, you'll be able to get a bed pretty quick then!” She said, when I told her I worked at Steak Fest, down town. She explained she was a night time counsellor and worked four days a week, 12 hours each day. We talked a little more about Oneida and then she told me to grab a mattress and head off to the cafeteria. “I'm going to talk to the morning crew and if I can get you a permanent bed, I will. It'll be hard to turn down someone young and cute, like you.”
I felt a bit embarrassed at the comment, but I thanked her anyway.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Sleeping in a homeless shelter for the first time was a strange experience. The cafeteria was littered with dozens of blue mattresses. There was a T.V. mounted to a wall, and several men were huddled underneath it. Others played cards and some were already fast asleep.
I noticed there was a stand up piano in a corner and it called out to me! I hadn't played anything since I went back to school, so I walked over to the piano and sat down to play. It was slightly out of tune but I liked the sound it had. As I played I noticed a small crowd gather around me and soon guys were asking me to play songs – mostly classic rock songs that I didn't know. “Sorry, I don't know that one.” I said over and over.
One guy asked if I knew Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb and whilst I had heard it several times, I'd never tried playing it. I worked out the chords and played it the best I could. “That fuckin' kid is good!” The guy who requested the song yelled.
I pulled the lid over the keys, walked to my mattress with my stuff, and sat back down. I was hit with a sudden sadness and decided to get some sleep.
The next morning we were all told to wake up, put the mattresses away, and get the tables ready for breakfast. A few volunteers were preparing the chow line and several of them looked like they were around my age, probably college kids. I was suddenly awash with shame and embarrassment. As I went through the line to grab a tray of eggs, bacon, and some oatmeal, it felt like each eyeball was focused squarely on me, and I could hear imaginary whispers of, “Look at that guy – he's a kid! What a shame!” I dropped my head and made my way through the line.
After we ate, a counsellor came into the cafeteria and told us that unless we were enrolled and became residents of the shelter, we had to leave the premises until 6pm. When he was finished speaking I told him that I had talked to Pam and could prove I had a job. He told me she mentioned it and if I showed back up at 6 that evening, they could properly enrol me.
“I'll check with your place of work and if they verify that you work there, we'll let you get a bed in the dorm.”
“Is there a place I can store my stuff until I get back from work?” I asked.
He told me there were some pay lockers I could use and if I made it to the dorms I'd be assigned a locker of my own. I went to the pay lockers, put in a few quarters, and locked my soccer bag in before leaving for work.
I finished work at 4pm and had two hours to kill before the shelter opened back up. I decided to get dinner at the A&W Hotdog place before walking the mile and a half back to the shelter. When I arrived I noticed some of the guys from the night before, but also some new faces. There were two guys that looked like they were in their mid 20s, a little rough around the edges, but still young. They were sitting on a picnic bench just talking. They looked at me and nodded their heads, so I nodded back to them but didn't bother going over to meet them.
When we were let into the shelter Pam was at the desk and called me over to her. “Good news, Randy. We've got you a bed in the dorm. You're in good shape and it'll help you get your footing and hopefully into your own place. There's some resources here so take advantage of them and definitely get your GED. There's a night class you can attend.”
“Thanks, Pam,” I said. “So, what do I do? I was told I'd get my own locker.”
“Yes. You'll have to get your own lock though. Also, the shelter reserves the right to cut your lock off if they think you have drugs or alcohol.”
I went and retrieved my bag out of the pay locker and she walked me to the dorm area. “You still need to check in by 6pm every day. Not everyone is going to let you in after that time, so keep that in mind.”
“What if I want to stay out late?”
“Call the shelter and let the desk know. Always, always tell them you are working late. If you say you're out partying they're not going to let you in.”
“Thanks for letting me know. Not that I think I'll be out partying...I don't even know anyone here.”
“Well, just keep it in mind. By the way I've been meaning to ask you, do you have a girlfriend back at school?”
“Yes,” I said, “Uh, no...I mean..I don't know. It's a bit confusing right now. I guess I don't...Why?”
“I was just curious. You seem like a guy who has a girlfriend. Well there's plenty to get a hold of up by UK! You'll be fine.”
“Thanks.” I said
She showed me to the dorm areas and let me in. It was a large open spaced area, sort of like a warehouse. There was about ten rows of bunk beds, and she told me to pick a bed out that was empty, and that number bed would be the same number for the locker. “Always keep your stuff put away. Don't leave anything out in the open or it won't last. If anyone back here gives you trouble, let one of us know, okay? Some of these guys are a bit on the rough side and some are criminals. We don't do background checks, but they do have to hold jobs.”
She left me alone and I picked a top bunk and put my stuff in a locker. The two guys I had noticed outside came up to me. One of the guys was wearing a denim jacket with the sleeves cut off. He had a loop earring in his left ear and a mullet hairstyle. The other guy had short black hair and his teeth were rotted and crooked. I tried not to react or show that I was slightly grossed out. The black haired guy introduced himself first.
“Hey, I'm Bill. This is Danielle. What do they call you?”
“Randy,” I said.
“How'd you end up in this dump?” Bill asked.
“Ha! We all got long stories,” Danielle said.
“Well, if you need someone to hang out with, we're your guys. Just thought we'd say hello and welcome you to the homeless club.” Said Bill.
They walked away and left me there. I realized I hadn't called my parents in days, so I walked back out to the hallway where there was a payphone. I called home collect, and fortunately my dad accepted.
“To what do we owe this occasion?” My dad asked.
“I just wanted to let you know I wasn't staying at Emma's place anymore. I'm at a homeless shelter called The Hope Center.”
“I don't want to know how you got there. Are you okay?” My dad asked.
“Yeah, I'm fine, dad. I hope to be here for just a short while. I've got a job working down town at a place called Steak Fest. I'm not making much but it's a job at least, and they're nice people. Is Jimmy or Kevin around? Is it okay if I say 'hello' to them?”
“They're in the games room watching T.V.. You can talk to them on another day.”
“Sure. Fine. Just let them know I wanted to talk to them. I'll stop bothering you now. I just wanted to let you know where I was at.”
“Randy, you got yourself into this mess. It's nobody else's fault but yours, and you're not going to get us to feel sorry for you.”
“Everyone keeps reminding me, but that isn't why I called. I was just trying to be a son...You know, tell his parents where he was so you wouldn't worry. Sorry for bothering you.”
I hung up the phone.
For some odd reason I wanted to hear Tracy's voice. I thought it might comfort me, so I reached into my pocket and dug out a few quarters to cover the initial long distance charge. There was an old trick to get the school to pick up the cost of the long distance calls by reversing the charges. I called the girls dorm at OBI and found myself talking to Mrs. Garret. I knew that the money would run out fast, so I hoped that Tracy would be on quickly. Just as she picked up the phone the digital operator's voice told me I had to add a certain amount of money to continue the call, but to reverse charges, I could push the # symbol on the dial and a live operator would come on. The operator asked Tracy if she'd accept the reverse charges and just like that, OBI was covering our call!
“Hey,” I said.
“Hey, you. What's up?”
“I just wanted to hear your voice...and tell you that I'm no longer at Emma's.”
“Where are you?” She asked.
“A homeless shelter. I'm officially a hobo!” I joked, trying to make light of the situation.
“Are you serious?”
“Yep. I hope I'm not here long, though. I've already got a job and I guess I'll save enough money to get a place. What else can I do?”
“I hope it works out for you. I'm going to get back to my room. I left my girlfriends hanging.”
“Alrighty. I love you.”
“Love you, too.”
“Just 'love you'?
“Sorry...Old habits are hard to break”
“Yeah...you'll be okay, right?”
I heard the phone click and I hung up on my end. In that moment I'd never felt more lost in my life. I was homeless, had no friends around me, and no one seemed to even want to talk to me. It wasn't that I was expecting a pity party, I just wanted someone to care – anyone! But all I kept being told was this was my mess and I had to be the one to figure out how to get out of it. I knew this, I just didn't know how I was going to do it.
“Why did you not tell us you were homeless?” My boss asked.
I had just shown up to work after only a few days in the shelter and instead of the typical greeting of 'hello', I was hit upside the head with this question. I froze...unsure of what to say. Was he about to fire me? Was he angry? I couldn't really gauge his temperament or body language.
“I, uh, things happened unexpectedly. It's kind of a long story.”
“Is it going to keep you from coming to work?” He asked.
“No. And as soon as I get enough money saved up I'm going to get a place of my own.”
“Okay. Well then, grab an apron and start getting the grill ready.”
I grabbed a hat and apron, washed my hands, prepped the grill, and loaded the various trays with peppers, butter, buns, and pitta bread for the gyros. A few customers trickled in and I took their orders before beginning their meals. I had everything down to an exact science and got better at making each meal.
Sometimes I would day dream about when my dad would cook at home. He was a good cook and I'd watch in wonder and awe as he'd whip up a meal for the family. I couldn't help but think he'd be a little proud of me watching me whip up a lamb gyro during the rush of a lunch break.
Around noon a couple of cute college girls came in and I took their order. “You go to school at UK or Transylvania?” One of them asked me.
“Neither. Trying to figure out what to do.”
I went to the grill and made their order, then took it to their table. One of the girls slipped me a piece of paper with her name and phone number on it and I put it in my pocket. I couldn't help but feel a little happy like, WOW...She noticed me!
Shortly after they left, my boss yelled out,
“Randy! Come here!”
I thought I was about to get yelled at for flirting with the girls, but instead he said,
“You ready for, what do they call it? The big boy leagues?”
“The big league?” I corrected.
“Yes. That! The professionals!”
I smiled at his use of the English language.
“Sure. What do you need me to do, boss?” I said.
“I'm going to let you make a delivery. First, make each of these items...Bag them up in a 'to go' bag and go grab the change bag. You're going to make two deliveries to two different places. If they tip you, you keep all of it. I don't even need to know how much...It's yours. Just don't mess it up!”
I jumped at the chance and started making the meals. Once they were all ready to go, I grabbed my jacket and everything else and headed out.
“Take off the apron! Only wear the hat!” My boss yelled.
He handed me a slip of paper with the addresses on and instructions about which order went where, and off I went. I found the office building and went inside, walking right up to the marble desk where a secretary was working. I told her I had a food order and she directed me to take the elevator to the 3rd floor. A couple of guys dressed in business suits stepped on with me.
“Sure does smell good...Where do you work?” One of the men asked.
“Steak Fest. Stop on in some time.”
“Oh, I think I will. I didn't know you guys do deliveries.” He said.
The elevator bell rang when it reached the 3rd floor and I stepped off, walked to the office number and knocked.
“Finally! How much do I owe you?” Said the woman who answered.
“$22.50,” I said.
She handed me some money and I gave her some change. Then she gave me a ten dollar tip! I thanked her and took off to my next delivery.
As I was walking back to Steak Fest, Bill and Danielle from the shelter, passed me by.
“Dude!” Danielle said.
He was still rocking his sleeveless denim jacket, only this time he was wearing a headband as well. He kind of looked like Bruce Springsteen from the Born In The USA album cover!
“What's up?” I said, stopping to say 'hello'.
“You work?” Bill asked.
“Yeah...I don't plan on staying in that shelter. You don't have a job?”
“Yeah, we work, man...But we contract out. We ain't tied down and can take as many days off as we want to!” Danielle said.
I was a little confused. My dad had worked with his fair share of contractors and they were usually driving around in nice trucks and looked well to do – not a little scrappy and homeless.
“Alright. Well, I gotta go. I'll see y'all back at the shelter.”
“Right on, man!” Danielle said, and gave me a fist bump.
“Well that was odd”, I muttered to myself as I walked back to the restaurant.
They did seem friendly enough and I couldn't help but kind of admire Danielle's laissez faire attitude; he reminded me a lot of Matthew McConaughey's character in Dazed and Confused. Anyway, I needed to stay focused and on top of work! My first goal was to recover the camcorder and return it to the Naders, then I'd focus on getting a place to stay.
When I returned to the Steak Fest I handed the money bag to my boss and he counted the money before dropping it into a floor safe.
“Good job! You need to be just a little quicker, but I know this is your first time, so you did good.”
“I talked to some business guys on an elevator and told them about this place. Hopefully they'll stop in or make an order.”
“Excellent!” He said, clapping his hands. “Keep that up and maybe I'll give you a raise.”
After work, I headed back to the shelter. I tucked the tip money into my wallet and looked at the phone number and the name given to me earlier in the day. I was overcome with a sense of insecurity and it kind of felt like I was cheating on Tracy, even though we weren't together. I crumbled the paper up and tossed it in a trash bin I passed on the side walk.
When I reached the shelter Danielle and Bill were already sitting at a picnic table, and when they saw me they waved me over. I walked up to them and they asked me how work was. I told them it was 'work' and they said they understood.
“Man, what do you do for down time? When do you get days off?” Danielle asked.
“It kind of rotates. Why?”
“Well, we figure you might want someone to hang out with when you're not working. You ever hang out by UK?” Bill asked.
“I've been by, and I've gotten CDs at Cut Corners and something to eat at that place right next to it.”
“Tolly Ho's! Man, their fuckin' chilli cheese fries are ridiculous!"
And they give the homeless free cups of coffee.” Danielle said, excitedly.
“And other things as well!” Bill said looking at Danielle.
“Definitely other things.”
Okay...there was some kind of inside joke I wasn't in on, but seeing their excitement did make me curious. I felt like I was watching two guys out of a movie. The banter between the two was intoxicating and I thought, what the hell? They don't seem crazy, so maybe I will hang out with them.
We went into the shelter as it opened and headed to the cafeteria to have dinner, again served by volunteers. I told Bill and Danielle that I was from Texas, and a little about going to school at Oneida, along with the short version of how I came to be in the current mess I was in.
“Well, dude, trust me...life is an adventure. I'm of the sort that lets the winds of destiny take me wherever they blow,” Danielle said.
“That was pretty fuckin' profound, man.” Bill said, shoving a spoonful of mashed potatoes into his mouth. “Winds of destiny...Isn't that a Bette Midler song?”
“Wind beneath my wings. From Beaches.” Danielle corrected.
I poked at my food as they went back and forth. I couldn't help but laugh! Bill seemed to have a lot of street smarts and experience, but he wasn't hardened like you see in the movies. He didn't act like a criminal, gangster, or thug. More of a vagabond. Danielle was very zen, calm and peaceful. He lived life day by day and dealt with whatever came at him, one problem at a time. “No sense in getting worked up about shit beyond your control, man. If life wants me in a shelter, that's where I go. If life puts me in a mansion, I can dig it. Rags to riches, or vice versa. I've been the pauper and I've been the piper.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I got to know Bill and Danielle over a series of days, just walking around after work and them showing me parts of down town Lexington that I'd never seen before. Not once did they ever try to use me or take advantage of me – if anything, at times they seemed to be like big brothers and a little protective of me. I appreciated it and it was easy to hang out with them. It meant a lot to me when they started to wait outside of Steak Fest for me to finish work. One particular day they were both covered in mud. “What's that all about?” I asked. Bill told me they were out working on a construction site, clearing wooden pallets and other things piled up in the dirt and snow.
“''Bout froze my testies off, dude!” Bill said.
“Yeah, contracting can be a bitch, but hey, it gets us to the next meal!” Danielle offered.
“What do you mean by contracting?” I asked. “What I'm seeing doesn't jive with the stuff I grew up around.”
“Labor Ready...We show up early in the morning and if there's a job for us they send us on it. Then we return to the place to pick up our cheque, and it's pay guaranteed for every single job. There's a Labor Ready on Winchester Road.”
“Oh...,” I said, still unsure of exactly what they were talking about. “So, I'm off work for the next two days, what do y'all want to do?”
“I don't really plan things, man.” Danielle said.
“Okay. Let me be a little clearer...I just got paid and I'd like to have a little fun. I really want to find some acid and just explore Lexington whilst we're tripping. It was something I used to do with my friends in Louisville, and it was a lot of fun.”
They looked at each other...
“Okay...let's get back to the shelter, clean up, and then we'll slip out. Gonna be a long night!” Bill said.
We walked back to the shelter and when the doors opened, we grabbed our hygiene stuff and hit the shower. It was a group/communal shower, and I'd gotten used to it. We showered quickly, and we all put on decent clothing, but Danielle still wore his sleeveless denim jacket and head band.
“Man...you know it's 1996, right?” I said.
“Yeah, but these are my digs and always will be. I'll be rockin' this jacket 'til I die, brother. Didn't anyone ever tell you that rock 'n' roll is forever?”
We headed back to the entrance of the Hope Center, and the security guard told us that if we left we couldn't come back without a work pass.
“It's all good, Rusty! We're headed out!” Said Bill.
Pam wasn't around either, but I wasn't really thinking about that. I had my mind on getting some acid.
We went a different path this time to get down town. Behind the shelter were some train tracks and a fence. We crossed the train tracks and went up the side of the hill to where the fence was. Bill pulled a weak part of the fence up and told us to crawl under. “We're gonna cut through the Ghetto...It's faster!” He said.
“Is it safe? I mean, we're all white.”
“That was racist, man.” Danielle said, scolding.
“No it isn't! I didn't mean it like that...It's just, you know, we're really white.”
“White people live in the ghetto too, dude.” Danielle told me.
They both told me to shut up and follow them. It was funny how they walked through a neighborhood full of government housing apartments like it was nothing! A few black people were sitting on their porches or hanging out in the street, and all eyes were on us. There was no doubt in my mind that we were severely out of place, but Bill and Danielle walked through the place like they had lived there all their lives. They were even saying 'hello' to strangers, and waving at kids.
We took a turn down a street and walked by some run down houses. The street lamps flickered like creepy lights from a horror movie...Another turn and we were right down town! It definitely was a shorter route by about 10 minutes, and I set it to memory for when I needed to get to work quickly.
We walked a few more blocks to where Tolly Ho was and there were two cars parked in the small parking lot. I had some money on me for the acid but the record shop next door was calling my name. Danielle told me to stay focused on the mission at hand, and we entered Tolly Ho.
“You don't want to eat...I'll get us a pitcher of beer while Bill handles the rest.”
“I'm underage, man.” I told Danielle.
“Don't be a sissy. Just pour the shit in your cup. They're going to give you a red cup, but they never check. That just means you're under 21.”
I watched as Bill went to a table with a guy wearing a newsboy cap. He looked over at us and then they both got up and left the place. What the hell? I thought. They jumped in a car and drove off while Danielle went to get a pitcher of Natural Light beer and two cups – one was red.
“If the cops come in, drink it as fast as you can...they will check the red cup,” he said.
“Thanks.” I replied, feeling a little paranoid.
Danielle said Bill was going to the hook up point, whatever that meant. About 30 minutes had passed and Danielle had drank most of the beer himself. It tasted like cat piss to me and I could only sip one cup of it very slowly. Then Bill returned and sat down with us.
“Thanks for saving me some beer!”
“That thirsty bastard drank it all!” He said, pointing to me.
“Bullshit!” I said, and he laughed.
Bill told me and Danielle to meet him in the bathroom at the back, so when he got up and left we followed. When we got there Bill pulled out something wrapped in yellow cellophane, and it was a ten strip (ten hits of acid) with a purple and orange background and music notes on it.
“Give me 40 bucks.” He told me.
I dug the money out and he handed me the acid.
“Now, I'm not saying you have to give us a hit, but I did go through the trouble and it would be mighty righteous of you if you did.”
“Come on man...You already knew I was going to give you and Danielle a hit. I'm not doing this shit alone.”
I tore off two tabs each for them and said thanks to Bill. We all put a hit on our tongues at the same time and walked back into the restaurant dining area like three guys walking into a Quentin Tarantino film - Reservoir Dogs came to mind.
“Why do you spell your name like the female version of Daniel?” I asked, as we sat back down in the booth.
“I don't,” Danielle said.
“Yeah, you do. My dad's name is the same as yours, and it's one 'l', not 'lle'.”
“French...It's a French spelling,” he said.
“I took French at school...That's the feminine spelling.”
“Are you always a know-it-all?”
“I'm just saying...It's a chick spelling, dude.”
“A know-it-all and a sexist!”
“Shut up, man...I'm not sexist, Danielle,” I said, saying it like a girl's name.
And we all laughed as we waited for the acid to kick in.
Once the acid began to work its voodoo, I sat in the restaurant booth and watched as college students poured in and filled the place up to its capacity. Towards the front of Tolly Ho there were several round tables where some geeky looking people began putting boxes of some kind of card game on the table.
I watched and listened to them begin to shit talk and argue about the rules; then I looked at Bill, puzzled, and asked what all the fuss was about. It didn't look like an ordinary card game, and from what I could gather, there seemed to be fantasy-like paintings on the cards.
“Magic,” he said.
“Huh?” It doesn't look like magic tricks to me!” I laughed.
“No, retard. Magic: The Gathering. It's a game where you collect cards and sort of like Dungeons and Dragons, you fight each other. I might see if someone has a deck built up that they'll let me play with...I wouldn't mind whooping up on someone tonight!”
“Whatever,” Danielle said, and looked at me. “The last time he played he didn't have any cards and they wanted him to put money down because they play to win cards. Those cards have a monetary value; dude loses a card and he could be losing hundreds of dollars. This man has no disposable income, lost every bit of coinage he did have, and ended up bumming off me until we could get back to work.”
“The guy's deck was bunk! How was I to know I'd been had?”
“That, my dear man, is why you best stay away from that table,” Danielle said.
“Yeah” I said. “I don't think that's my cup of tea...I'm more into sci-fi. Now, if they had a Star Wars game, I could see myself getting into that.”
They both looked at me as if broccoli was sprouting from my head...“What? You don't like fantasy?” Bill asked in disbelief.
“I mean, I guess it's okay. I've just been more of a sci-fi person growing up.”
“Do you like any fantasy?” Danielle asked.
“Umm...Sure. The movie Legends is cool, and Dark Crystal, and Labyrinth.”
“All righteous movies, indeed!” Danielle said.
“What about The Black Cauldron?...Disney classic, bro!” Bill practically screamed.
“Hell, yeah!” I said. “Disney's darkest animated movie, and very cool. I'm surprised you know that one.”
“I'll give you a run for your money on movies.”
“I doubt that.” I said, matter-of-factly.
“Wanna wager a bet?”
“Be careful, Randy...This dude is good on his movies. I'll give him that.”
“What's the bet?”
“Loser has to spring for the porno booths at The New Bookstore.”
“What the hell is that?” I asked.
“We're going there tonight. Just trust me.”
“Okay...I'll take that bet!”
“Here's how we'll do it, then,” Danielle said. “You'll throw out a title and the other person has to give the major plot point of each film. Let's keep it to '80s and early '90s specifically, and that way neither of you try to throw in some obscure art film bullshit. The first person to get ten strikes, loses...I'll flip a coin to see who goes first.”
As Danielle was digging in his pocket for a coin, I felt an intense rush as the acid took hold. Still, I was hyper focused, and certain this was a game I could win...I knew my movies, and Bill had no idea what he just got himself into.
“Heads or tails, Randy?” Danielle asked.
“Ahhh! Switching it up. Good call!”
Danielle flipped the coin and it clinked across the table. The light hit the coin in a dazzling brilliance as we watched it spin for a few seconds, and then it landed on heads.
“Boom Shackalacka!” Bill exclaimed. “Okay, I go first...Let's see...Firebirds.”
“Really? You're going to start with that?” I asked.
“Just priming you up. Plot point, please...”
“Nicholas Cage. Tommy Lee Jones. Cage is a helicopter pilot with a bad eye, but wants to fly Apache helicopters. Tommy Lee Jones trains him by taping a pair of panties and a telescope to his face, around base...He passes the test but fights at the end with a rogue pilot they call 'the Scorpion.' Need more?”
“Okay, hit me with what you've got,” Bill said.
“We can do animation, right?” I asked, to make sure.
“Cool. All dogs go to Heaven.”
“Little girl, lost, taken in by a dog named Charlie – voice of Burt Reynolds.”
“Shit! Didn't think you'd get that one.”
“I'm full of surprises, my friend. Heavy Metal.”
“Dammit”, I thought...I should know this one. It sounded familiar. My senses were becoming more intense as the acid was in full effect, and I couldn't focus with the noise of the music blaring. I didn't want to concede, but I didn't know...“I don't know.” I said.
“Ha!” Bill said, slapping the table. “That's a strike.”
“Okay. Okay. Let me see...Killer Klowns in Outer Space.”
Bill looked at Danielle, then looked at me, and I could tell I got him.
“Is that a strike?”
“Yeah...” he said, dejected. “Tales from the Dark Side.”
“Do I need to give every short film in the movie?” 'Cause I remember the story about the mummy, the gargoyle, and a cat...I think it started off with the kids and the witch, and she's trying to cook them, kind of like Hansel and Gretel, and then they push her into the oven at the end of the movie...”
“Alright. Your turn.”
“Tales from the Crypt – the movie.”
“There was two – one with Jada Pinkett, and one with Dennis Miller, about vampires...”
“What was the one with Jada Pinkett? Demon's Night?”
“Oh...dammit! I only know the one with Dennis Miller.” Bill said.
We went back and forth for a while and were equally matched. Danielle told us we were at 9 strikes each and it came down to one more movie. By now I was fully tripping, and we were all giggling. I noticed a couple of strangers had joined us in the booth, listening in on our game. I didn't even remember them joining us.
“What if we tie?” I asked Danielle.
“You keep going until the first person loses.”
“Alrighty.” I said, thinking of the most improbable and obscure movie I could imagine. “Island of the Blue Dolphin.” I said.
“Do you think because I'm homeless I didn't go to school? We watched that, My Side of the Mountain, and Where the Red Fern Grows...All based on books!” Bill said.
“That's fine, but you've got to tell me the plot point...And because it's a movie based on a book, I want a little detail...”
“I...Come on, man!"
“Danielle?” I asked, hoping he'd side with me.
“He's right...Everyone has read that book!”
“Fine. You got me. I didn't read the book either.”
“Bam!” I yelled.
“Whoa. Whoa...It ain't over yet, dude. Let me think...Dusk 'till Dawn.”
Now, normally I would've had this. Anything written or directed by Quentin Tarantino, I'd know. But it was a brand new movie and I hadn't had a chance to see it. I was kind of surprised he threw out something so new – it was quite a chance to take, but he had me.
“I don't know. I haven't seen it yet,” I said.
“What? I thought you'd surely have seen it...I was trying to get this game over with.”
“Okay. I'll take a chance on a new movie...12 Monkeys.”
“Dude, I just saw that a couple of weeks ago! Bruce Willis, in the future, living underground because earth had been ravaged by a virus...There was a time travel program, and they offered him early parole if he'd go back to 1995 to discover the mystery of the 12 Monkeys, and see if it was related to the virus. But he doesn't know if he really is time travelling or just going crazy...”
“Yep.” I conceded.
“I've got to go obscure on you now, dude. Sorry. I'm ready to blow this place and get on our quest.” Bill said.
“Okay...” I replied.
And just like that, Bill won because I hadn't the slightest idea what movie he was talking about.
“That's your win. I don't know.” I said.
“Porno shop time, baby!” Bill shouted, pushing people out of the way as he exited the booth.
We slid out as well, and headed outside. A light snow had begun to fall and it looked magical – like tiny little fairies dancing around in the light.
“How are you feeling?” Danielle asked.
“Pretty fucked up!” I said.
“Come on, let's go into this 7-11 and I'll buy you a beer. It'll take the edge off 'cause we've got a long night ahead of us.”
We walked into the nearby convenience store and he asked me what kind of beer I wanted.
“ZIMA,” I said.
“That's a girl's drink! Let me get you something better.”
He picked out a giant bottle of Heineken, paid for it, and as we left he handed it to me.
“Don't let the cops see you swigging on a big ass bottle out in the open. There's a reason why people drink out of a paper sack.” He told me.
Bill lead us back down town, down another road, and then we were on Winchester. I was in the same area I lived in the summer before but I didn't remember any porno shops. I noticed a strip club or two but not a porn shop.
“That's why it's called The New Bookstore. You know, discreet, for the pervos.”
Sure enough, there was a store called just that. The outside looked unassuming, but when we entered there was a man sitting in a caged booth. He asked if we were 18 or older and in unison we said,
Bill told me to hand over a ten dollar bill, and he took it to the man in the cage and exchanged it for quarters. Then, Bill divided the money equally amongst us.
“Go flog the dolphin 'til you're spent, or run out of money!” He said.
“Where?” I asked.
All I could see were shelves of magazines, dildos, sex toys and videos.
He pointed to an area with curtains and said,
“There's a row of private booths back there.”
We passed the curtain and I saw the booths...Crossing the threshold I felt like I was entering into a forbidden realm. I picked a booth, went in, and latched the door. I noticed there was a small hole near the T.V. monitor, but paid it no mind. There was a coin slot and a switch next to the T.V., and when I dropped the quarters in, the monitor came to life and a porno was already playing.
I began to flip through the channels from one movie to the next...I was tripping pretty heavily and not one of the movies was getting me hard. I just played with the T.V. until the timer on the screen ran out and then I left the booth. I held onto the rest of my quarters. Still, I thought, I'm coming back here some other time when I'm sober!
I walked back into the main area of the store and Bill and Danielle came out shortly after.
“Couldn't get anything to work.” Danielle said, sadly.
“Yeah, me too.” Bill said.
“Glad I wasn't the only one.” I added.
We walked out of the store and headed back down town. I don't remember much else about the night except when we were crossing back through the ghetto, a car pulled up next to us. I noticed when it stopped that the windows were tinted, and a young black man inside the car asked us where a certain street was as he was trying to get to a party. Bill knew the area he was talking about and gave him directions. Suddenly, and without warning, his head dropped down and we froze! We were all but certain he was going for a gun...“Don't shoot us man!” Danielle screamed.
The man's head popped up and he looked confused...“Man, we ain't all gangsters! I just wanted to thank you,” and he pushed a six pack of beer out the window. “You boys enjoy yourselves.”
Relieved, we all thanked him and apologized. He saluted us, rolled the window up and drove off.
“I thought we were done for. I really did,” Danielle said.
“I did too.” I replied.
“Racial stereotyping...I'm ashamed to be with you two.” Bill said.
We continued on back to the shelter and walked around the area until we could get in for breakfast. By then I was exhausted and just wanted to sleep. When we walked in Pam was there, and as Bill and Danielle walked to the cafeteria area she stopped me.
“Where the fuck have you been? You look like death warmed over.”
“Please don't lecture me. I just want to sleep.” I said, walking past her.
“Okay, sleep. But when you get up, I want to speak to you.”
“Yeah, sure.” I said, and went to bed.
I thought I would sleep for a whole day! But after only a handful of hours I woke up and felt revived. I had a shower and headed back out to the lobby area where I saw Pam behind the counter. When she saw me she motioned for me to come over to her.
“What's up?” I asked.
“Randy...look, I know you're young and you're trying to enjoy yourself a bit and I get that. I just want you to take advantage of the resources we have here to get you back on your feet. We've got a GED program, and I don't want you to waste your time running around with people you don't know. I'm not judging anyone, and as a counsellor it's my job to treat everyone equally and see everyone through the same lens. But those guys are going to lead you down a road that's going to be difficult to find your way back from. They are wanderers. They'll never settle...They don't want to settle, and YOU are not that guy.”
“It was just a night out. I'll be back at work tomorrow...I'm not out partying all of the time. I'd rather just take the GED test than go through a program. I don't need the program...I'm not stupid.”
“Well, you can't take the test unless you go through the program. Let me talk to the instructor and see what I can do.”
“Okay. I do want to get out of this situation. You're right.”
She leaned in to hug me and I said, “Thanks.”
“OBI really did a number on you, didn't they?”
“I'm fine. I did it to myself.” I said.
I walked back towards the cafeteria area and Bill and Danielle were gone, so I decided to walk down town and clear my head at the library, maybe read a magazine or something. The library was often a place of solace for me; my own fortress of solitude. I didn't cross the train tracks, opting instead to walk the longer route. On the way I passed a gas station and noticed a pay phone, so I decided to call Tracy.
“Hey.” She said.
“You will not believe the night I had! It was crazy...A whole lotta fun, but insane!”
“Really?” She said, excited to hear my story.
I told her I had tripped and went out with these guys I had met at the shelter. After I was done with the story she asked if I could send her some acid in the mail...I said, “Yeah...but I don't know how safe that would be to do.”
“Well, what about the event at EKU next week? Can you make it there?” She asked.
I had totally forgotten that when I was back at Oneida I had signed up for an open house event at Eastern Kentucky University. They were inviting all seniors from OBI's music programs to attend, and because I was a piano student I qualified.I should still be on the enrolment, I thought.
“Okay! I'll just take the Greyhound bus out there. We'll meet then.”
“Love you!” Tracy said.
“You too.” I responded, and hung up the phone.
I'd never been to Richmond, Kentucky where EKU was located. The thought of spending some time with Tracy lifted my spirits and instead of going to the library I decided to take a bus to the Fayette Mall. I was beginning to learn the Lexington bus routes better and it made moving around the city much easier for me – I didn't feel stuck in any one particular area.
When the bus stopped at the Fayette Mall I hopped off and headed to the food court to get something to eat. I grabbed a bite at Burger King and then walked around the mall for a bit. I'd heard about a new music store that had just opened in a nearby shopping strip across from the mall, and it immediately piqued my interest! It also happened to be right beside the Cinemark movie theater, so I left the mall and walked over to the window with the movie schedules to see what was playing. Nothing really caught my interest so I walked across the street to check out the music store.
The place was huge! Rows and rows of records, cassettes, and CD's lined the store. I noticed something new in music stores at this time – listening booths! You could listen to music before you committed to buying it. Two albums caught my attention as singles from the bands just started to play on the radio. No Doubt's Tragic Kingdom and Goo Goo Dolls' A Boy Named Goo. I grabbed them both off the shelves and took them to the booth. I was impressed with the No Doubt album (not so much with the Goo Goo Dolls) and made a mental note to buy it when I had a little extra cash to burn.
I also noticed there was a small stage for bands to play within the store and asked the store clerk about it. “Yeah, we get bands that do store pop ups all of the time, and we also highlight some local music.” She told me.
“Anyone big supposed to be coming?” I asked.
“Oh, we're never told. Otherwise it'd be pandemonium! But, there's a rumor that the Goo Goo Dolls might come through. I know they're going to the new alternative radio station in the city. They might stop by, you never know! Do you know the band, Sponge?”
“Yeah, that song Molly is great.”
“They were here just last week. They were pretty cool, but I fear they may just be a one hit wonder. Their set was pretty weak.”
I thanked her and went to wait on the bus to take me back to the shelter. When I returned it was barely 6pm, and Bill and Danielle were sitting at the picnic table waiting on me.
“Where in the world did you go?” Bill asked.
“I looked for you and y'all were gone, so I went down town and then to the mall.” I replied.
We entered the shelter and headed to the Cafeteria to get something to eat. Again, I felt shame as young volunteer eyes looked at me. I thanked them for the food and found a table. We ate and I listened to Bill and Danielle drone on and on, and I couldn't help but think back to what Pam told me earlier. In fact, Danielle was talking about leaving Lexington in the next week or two, and was trying to talk Bill into going with him.
“I don't know, man,” Bill said, “I'm kind of digging this town; I like the college scene.”
“Well, the whisper is back in the wind, dude...It's telling me to head on out. We'll see.” Danielle said.
I told them I had to be back at work the next day and was just going to chill for the night and get some extra sleep. They thanked me for the adventure and off I went to the back where the dorm area was.
I still didn't have a lock for my locker, so I checked it over to make sure everything was there, then I laid down on my bunk to think. Pam was right! I needed to be focused and not get caught up in those two guys. As if to put an exclamation point on that thought, a drunken guy started becoming belligerent towards some of the other men, and a guy I'm assuming was his friend was trying to calm him down. I sat up to see what the commotion was all about and as I did the drunk man turned his attention to me, shouting, “Lay the fuck back down, kid.” I stared back at him like, “What's your problem?” And again he ordered me to, “Lay the fuck down.”
I could feel my adrenaline spike and my heart beat faster. I'd not been in any kind of physical confrontation in over a year since OBI. Still feeling like I was outside of the action instead of a part of it, I just looked at him when, WHAM! A fist, hard as a mallet, hit me in the temple of my head. I jerked back and was about to kick towards him when his friend grabbed him. “What the hell is wrong with you? Do you want this place to call the Police?” He screamed at him.
My whole body began to tremble and I could feel anger welling up inside of me. I stared at the man as his friend began to apologize to me. “Don't snitch, man. He's just drunk. I'll have him apologize in the morning.” He ordered his friend to lay down and fortunately he listened this time. He apologized to me again and I told myself, “I'm outta here as soon as possible.” Some time later, I fell asleep.
The next morning the side of my head was a bit tender, but I was more rattled than anything. I took a shower, got ready for work, and checked to make sure I was still wearing my Star of David after the events of the past couple of days. I was so used to it I often forgot that I even wore it, and I was about to tuck it into my shirt when something told me to just keep it on the outside of my clothes that day. Maybe I thought it would offer extra protection or just keep me focused. Regardless of what I felt about religion at that time I was still connected very deeply to my sense of being Jewish, and today was one of those days I wanted the world to know.
When I arrived to work my boss was busy setting up the restaurant. He asked me how my time off had been and I told him I'd had fun. His eyes gazed at my Star of David, but he didn't say anything. His being Palestinian and Christian didn't bother me, so I had no reason to think that my being Jewish would bother him. I was a good worker and that's what mattered, I thought.
When the lunch rush hit we threw ourselves into it and I busted my butt. After things tapered off and I was cleaning up, my boss began to talk to me about the conflict brewing in Israel. He told me how he and his family had passes for work inside of Israel, and how the Israeli government treated him like, “A dog...Less than human.”
I was 18 years old; I knew nothing about politics or the situation over there, and I grew up in a fairly liberal and reformed household – what did I know about what was going on in Israel?
“Well, listen to me,” he said. “Something is brewing, and it will get worse before it gets better. I did not know you were Jewish.” He said.
“I hope it isn't a problem?” I replied.
“No. You work hard, and that's good.”
Feeling relieved that I'd avoided a problem I went back to work, but over the next few days my role had been severely diminished. I was suddenly told to do more food preparation in the back. On one particular day I was asked to scrub the skins from potatoes using a steel brush. I asked about using the machine that could do this much more effectively and faster, but the only response I got was, “It's broken.”
I was no longer at the grill, I was no longer asked to do deliveries, and I started to grow suspicious that this treatment had everything to do with my being Jewish! When I told Bill and Danielle about it they believed it was all in my head.
“Man...I went from working up front to right at the back, like some kind of red-headed step child. It's weird...I don't know how much longer I can take it.”
“Just wait it out. Talk to your boss about it if it bothers you that much. But don't accuse them of anything until you know for sure.”
I was surprised at how reasonable Danielle sounded, and I agreed that the next day at work I'd just let my boss know how it felt, and ask why it was suddenly happening.
After our conversation Pam called me to the front and said she wanted to talk to me. I brought up the situation with my boss, and she told me the same thing. “Just talk to him. It's probably in your head.” She said, reassuringly.
“You wanted to talk to me about something?”
“Yeah. Firstly, I talked to the instructor and she said you had to take the class. I'm sure you could probably pass the test right out of the gate, but she said something about State law requiring you to take the class. She'll talk to you about it, if you want to.”
“I also wanted to let you know that I'm leaving as counsellor. I've accepted a job in another state, but we're getting some new counsellors and they're about the same age as me. I'm sure they'll like you. I also asked our two security guys, Ronnie and Rusty, to keep an eye on you and take care of whatever you need. You have problems, just let them know.” She hugged me and said, “Remember our talks, 'kay?”
I wished her luck and hung out at the front lobby for a while, then went to bed.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The very next day I showed up to work and I knew exactly what I wanted to tell my boss. I had it all worked out in my head. I'd be respectful, of course, but I had to tell him how I felt. When I entered the restaurant his wife and son looked at me and then quickly turned their heads. Something felt off about everything, and my defences went up. Before I could even say 'hello' my boss told me he needed to talk to me, so I followed him to the back and he closed the door between the preparation and dining areas.
“We need to cut your hours.”
“What?” I said.
“Business is slow-”
“That's bullshit.” I said, cutting him off.
“That's bullshit. Every day we are jam packed! Every single day. This is one of the most popular places down town.”
“Do not talk to me like that in MY place. I am your boss!”
“Stop treating me like garbage because I'm Jewish...I have nothing against you, and could not care less that you're Palestinian.”
“You either accept the cut in hours or you can-”
“Quit? Fine. I quit!” I said, turning my back on him and walking out of the restaurant.
I walked down a side walk and up the street to the Civic Center, went inside, and found the restrooms...Then I broke down crying. I couldn't believe my luck and was upset at myself for losing my cool, but I did feel like I was being punished for what I was and what I believed in. Again, like at OBI, I had nothing against any religion...Nothing against anyone, whatever they believed in, or wherever they came from. Why did people seem to hate me?
After calming down, I left the Center and headed back to the shelter. As always, Bill and Danielle were sitting at the picnic table. “I quit,” I said.
“You did what, now?” Bill asked.
“Quit. Guess I'm going to be a contractor like you guys now.”
“It's not bad work.” Danielle offered.
“Yeah...What sucks is I'm going to have to return and demand what they owe me. I wasn't supposed to get a cheque until next week.”
“Cross that bridge when you get there. Tomorrow, we'll take you to Labor World and show you how it all works. 'Til then, let's go inside and you can sit down and play that piano...Blow off some steam,” Danielle said.
Labor World was a pretty ingenious business model. They acted as the middle man between the laborer and the employer, and in return they received a small percentage of your pay cheque for finding you a job.
When we showed up at the building the guy working there recognized Bill and Danielle, punched their names into the computer, and told them to sit in the lobby. I had to fill out a job application and get logged into the system, and then he told me to wait in the lobby with Bill and Danielle.
There were vending machines in the lobby along with a microwave, a T.V., and a coffee pot and donuts, all laid out.
“I think I'll have a few of these,” Danielle said, snatching the remaining donuts.
“So, does Labor World send us out to a job? What are we doing?” I asked.
“No...A company, contractor, or anyone who has a contract with Labor World will show up and let them know they need 'x' amount of people with a particular skill set. If we fit the bill we go to the job site with them and they return us here after the job is done, and we get our cheque. But you're not always guaranteed a job for that day. We usually give it a few hours...Have coffee and free food, then leave.”
Just as he said that the man who checked us in asked if we wanted to pull up carpet, and Danielle spoke for all of us. “That'll work!” He said. We were told a truck would be by in 20 minutes to pick us up; we'd get 8 hours of work, then return. When the truck pulled up we hopped in and it took us to a law office of some sort, and there was a professional carpet crew already at work when we arrived. “Alright guys...I need you to go into the empty offices and start pulling the carpet up – the foam underneath as well. There'll be rusted metal and tacks, so be careful and wear gloves. If you cut yourself, notify me immediately.” The boss told us.
He gave us some box cutters and another small device to pull up the tacks, and we got to work immediately. For the first two hours Bill told us his life story. His father and step-mother both beat him when he was a child and after having enough at the age of 15, he left home. Danielle was moved to tears. “Sorry, bro...I didn't have a bad life; I just couldn't be constrained or tied down...I wanted to see the world.”
Both of them looked at me and I told them about being adopted, living a nice life, and the events of 1995 leading up to the present. “Your dad's an ass-hole,” Danielle said. “I could go home anytime right now, and whilst I know my parents are upset with me, they'd accept me.”
“Yeah...But I love them, you know...?” I replied.
The job went by surprisingly fast and in what seemed like no time at all, we were returned to the Labor World building to pick up our cheques. “You know...We could hit Tolly Ho's!” Bill said. We all agreed, and stopped off at a gas station to cash our cheques. Then we caught a bus to down town and walked the rest of the way to Tolly Ho's. When we got there Bill disappeared with the same guy as before and returned 30 minutes later. We all went into the bathroom straight away and he handed us three hits each of acid. “On me.” He said.
We stuck a hit on our tongues and headed back to the dining area. I walked back to the juke box, flipped through the discs, and settled on Pearl Jam's, Why Go? “Great choice, my man!” Danielle said, as he walked up to the ordering counter to buy a pitcher of beer.
I don't know what it was about this particular batch of acid, but it hit fast and hard, and the entire establishment exploded with colors...I was laughing uncontrollably! I suddenly had an urge to go see a director's cut playing at the Old Kentucky Theater, and Bill and Danielle agreed it was a good idea. We headed back down town and passed the Steak Fest where I saw my old boss cleaning the front of the shop. I waved with a big smile...“Thanks for setting me free!” I yelled to the glass. “Fuck you!” And I flipped him off.
“Calm down, man!” Bill said.
“Screw him.” I said. “I don't get it...I was a good worker.”
“Yeah, well...Onwards and upwards!” Danielle said.
“Like fuckin' Mary Poppins!” I laughed.
“Exactly! Man, imagine how better this world would be if Mary Poppins came down on her magical umbrella and sang to us.”
Bill laughed, and said...“Wasn't she doing the chimney sweeper dude? Dick van Dyke?”
“Huh?” Both Danielle and I said, in unison.
“Well, whatever...The world would be better.” Danielle replied.
We reached the theater and Blade Runner was about to start. We bought our tickets, and rushed into the fairly empty theater. We watched the movie and Danielle said, “So...was he or wasn't he a replicant?”
“Who? Deckard?” I asked.
“Most definitely a replicant,” Bill said.
“Man...I don't know. Sometimes I think if he wasn't, when he had the confrontation with Rutger Hauer, he at least empathised with them, like, 'who am I to take their lives'?”
“Pretty deep shit...Great movie!” Bill said.
“A sci-fi movie,” I added.
“Yeah...Could've used a dragon or two.”
“What the hell ever!” I said.
We left the theater and decided to head back to the shelter and see what adventure might come on the way.
“Should we call and let them know we're coming?” I asked.
“Nah, Rusty will let us in.” Danielle said.
Even though it was our intention to return to the shelter, Bill ended up taking us to a building to see some people he knew. He knocked on the door and high-fived the person who answered. Inside, the apartment was almost completely bare except for a mattress covered in sheets thrown haphazardly on top. Someone called us into another room and there was a guy laying on another mattress with a girl. They had the sheets pulled over the top of them. “Don't mind me, I've just been fucking the shit out of my girl.” The guy said.
The girl averted her eyes and I could tell she felt embarrassed. I immediately felt uncomfortable about the situation. What was I doing here? I could sense that Danielle felt uneasy as well. We tried to ease back out of the room, but the guy told us to stay. Then he began to talk to Bill and Bill told him we were on acid but cruising the area and wanted to introduce us. “Well since you picked a time I was fucking my girl, the least you could do is give me a hit or two.” Bill told him we didn't have any to spare and then the guy looked at me...“Sell me what you got left,” he said.
I didn't know what to say so threw out that I was saving hits for my girlfriend when I met up with her. Then, the other guy came back into the room, and he was a bit more belligerent towards Danielle and I. “We let in some strangers and this is the thanks we get?” He said.
Sensing that things were turning bad, and clearly realising we made a mistake, Bill gave them the acid he had and quickly got us out. When we were safely a block away from the building, Danielle turned to Bill and said, “Never, and I mean never, ever put us in that situation again!”
“I didn't think they'd be hostile to us. I'm the one who lost out, man!”
“We didn't know them. They could've robbed us, dude! I saw a fucking gun in there!” Danielle yelled.
“I didn't. Come on...It wasn't like that. Did you see a gun, Randy?”
“I didn't.” I said. “But still, that wasn't cool. They didn't want us there and you still haven't told us how you even know them.”
“You know, acquaintances of an acquaintance. It was a bad choice. I'm sorry! Jesus...!”
We cut through the ghetto and back across the train tracks, which brought us to behind the shelter. When we got to the front Danielle rang the door buzzer and Rusty, the security guard, came to the door and spoke through a speaker. “You guys didn't call.”
“We were at work!” Bill said.
“Sorry...I'll let Randy in for Pam, but you guys have to stay out.”
Without saying anything, Danielle and Bill walked away leaving me there. I wasn't sure if I should walk away with them or stay, but Rusty opened the door and let me in. “You're messed up, aren't you?” He asked.
“Well, you look hungry. Want something from the Cafeteria?” He asked.
I was hungry. I was still buzzing pretty hard and normally on acid I had no appetite, but I needed something to calm my nerves. We walked through the Cafeteria area and around the men laying there on mattresses, and when we came to the kitchen he pulled out a key and we went inside. “I'm keeping the light out so we don't get in trouble.” He said. Then he turned on his flashlight and walked me to a huge refrigerator. “Go on and make a sandwich, hurry!” I pulled out bread, turkey slices, lettuce, and mustard, and made the biggest sandwich I'd ever had. Rusty sat and watched me as I wolfed it down. “Can I get a hug for that sandwich?” He asked.
I froze...what was it about being young and vulnerable that adults seemed to pick up on and exploit? My mind was racing! He put the flashlight on the counter and moved towards me. “Hey, man...I'd prefer that we didn't. I'm straight.” I said. I couldn't care less that he was gay, this just felt weird and exploitative.
Rusty stopped in his tracks and just looked at me...“Oh well. You can still have the sandwich.” He laughed and apologized, and said he thought I was gay.
“I'm not.” I said firmly. Still unsure of how else to respond.
He told me to hurry up and finish so he could close up, and then we walked out of the kitchen and he locked the door behind him. I walked back to the dorm area and grabbed my Walkman out of my locker; then I settled down to listen to music until early in the morning. Bill and Danielle came wandering back in at some point after I dozed off, and they woke me up. “Come on...let's hit Labor World for a job.”
I told them to go away and let me sleep. But they forced me out of my bunk, and off we went again.
Pam had left the Hope Center and just as she had said, some new counsellors began working and they all seemed cool. I also began to talk to one of the security guards, Ronnie, and mentioned I would be going to Richmond for the open house at EKU. I wanted to know if there would be any problem with me getting back to the shelter later, considering it wasn't 'work'. He told me he'd let me in regardless.
I talked to Bill to try and get some acid to take with me and he said he couldn't do it on short notice. Then he began to grill me about my trip. “Want us to come along?” he said.
“No. Absolutely not!” I replied.
“Come on, man...You ashamed of us? We'll behave. You won't even notice we're there!”
“Man...I'm not ashamed of y'all! But it is a day I just want to spend with my girlfriend, and I don't need any distractions.”
“Funny...I need to get away from all of...this.” I said, waving my arm around the shelter. “I need a break and this is the perfect opportunity.”
I left early in the morning and took a bus to New Circle Road; I got off near my old apartment and walked the rest of the way to the Greyhound Bus station. I tried to buy a round trip ticket, but they told me they only did one way trips to Richmond and I'd have to buy a ticket back to Lexington. They had just one bus that left at 7pm and if I missed it, I'd be stuck until the morning. It made little sense to me, but I purchased the ticket and waited for the bus leaving for Richmond. I didn't have the acid that Tracy wanted, so to make up for it I quickly ran across the street to buy a couple of bottles of cough syrup from the grocery store, and made it back in time to hop on the bus.
It took only about an hour to get to Richmond and I was in awe of how beautiful it looked! Rolling hills thick with evergreen trees as far as the eye could see, and Eastern Kentucky University nestled in the middle of it all.
The bus pulled up in front of a small SUBWAY sandwich shop; the driver told me that I better make the 7pm bus back because a snow storm was moving in. If I didn't make it I could be stranded for days! I looked at the grey skies and almost on cue, the wind picked up and the clouds turned a charcoal grey color.
I headed towards some college buildings; there was an administrative building right ahead and I went in and asked the secretary where the open house was being held. She told me to get to the common area and I walked a block or two until I saw some school buses pull in – they were from surrounding schools in Kentucky. I looked around to see if I noticed a familiar OBI van, but didn't, so I went inside the Cafeteria and waited.
At 10am I walked back outside and noticed a familiar van pulling in. Amy was one of the first out of the van, followed by Tracy and some other students from OBI. My piano teacher, Mrs. Cushman, and her daughter, were also there – her daughter was a pro-level pianist. I ran up to them and they seemed surprised to see me. Mrs. Cushman asked me how I was doing, and I told her I was hanging in there.
Tracy and Amy walked up to me and I hugged them both, then we all went off to check in to the Open House. The college gave us an itinerary as well as a tote bag with a school sweatshirt, some stickers, and some other items. We were told that we'd first be introduced to the school choir and participate in singing a few songs. It all felt a bit awkward to me because I was acting like a student, even though I wasn't one.
Around lunch time we all filed back to the Cafeteria and I bought lunch for the three of us. Tracy asked about the acid and I told her I couldn't get it, but that I'd bought some cough syrup instead. She grabbed my back pack and rummaged around in it, feeling for the bottles, and then told Amy to follow her to the bathroom as she left with my back pack. I sat there feeling odd until they returned.
“Please tell me you'll get some acid for my birthday. Just send it to me!” I began to feel like that was all she cared about, and I wondered why I had bothered coming at all. We hadn't kissed or even held hands, and when another student referred to me as 'Tracy's boyfriend', I was left in no doubt about the situation. “Oh, we broke up a long time ago! We're just friends.” She said.
Once the cough syrup took effect Amy and Tracy giggled and ran off together. I was left spending time with the other Oneida students and I vaguely remember a conversation with Mrs. Cushman's daughter about drugs. I remember her telling me she was curious about trying drugs and I told her not to mess with them. In hindsight it was hypocritical of me, but maybe a part of me was warning her.
The end of the day came and I felt like it was all a waste...I walked everyone back to the van and kissed Tracy on the cheek. She told me to call her and they climbed in and the van pulled away. A few snowflakes fell from the sky and the wind picked up a little. I hurried back to the SUBWAY and went inside to purchase a ticket, and waited for the bus back to Lexington. The bus arrived at 7pm on the dot and I climbed in as the flakes turned to flurries. When the bus stopped in Lexington at 8pm, a snow storm was in full effect. “Shit!” I said, out loud.
It wasn't quite a blizzard, but the roads were soon covered in snow and I could see no traffic. I decided to call a taxi cab to take me back to the Hope Center. “Everything is suspended right now,” the operator told me. “We're not sending our drivers out there in that mess until they clear the roads up.”
“How long do you think that'll be?” I asked.
“Not tonight. The storm is supposed to get worse.”
Great...I was either going to have to spend the night in the lobby of a Greyhound bus station or walk back to the Hope Center. I decided to walk. It wasn't the worst decision I'd ever made but the snow was coming in hard and I could barely see. My face was frozen and the cold was seeping into my feet, but at a certain point I was on automatic pilot and all I could think about was what a waste the day was. My sadness numbed me...It was as if the universe was telling me, “You have to let go of Tracy or you'll keep getting into these situations.” I deserved this but still I wasn't listening. Instead, I continued to plow my way through the road blocks the universe always seemed to put in my path to get my attention.
I finally made it down town by taking the short cut through the government housing, crossing the train tracks, and arriving at the Hope Center. When I rang the buzzer at the front door a new female counsellor saw me half frozen and shivering. “Oh my God!” She mouthed, as she quickly opened the door. I was so cold I couldn't even talk. She went down a hall and came back with a blanket that she threw around me.
“Jesus! Are you okay?”
“Y-y-y-y-e-e-e-e-ah.” I managed...Teeth chattering together.
“Holy shit, man!” Said Ronnie, as he walked into the lobby area telling me to follow him.
He took me back to the Cafeteria where some guys were playing cards and watching T.V., and there was coffee and soup still out from earlier. He helped me get a bowl of soup and poured me a cup of coffee. I sat down at a table and began to defrost. “When you feel better, come out to the lobby and talk to me,” Ronnie said.
When I could finally feel my feet I grabbed the styrofoam cup of coffee and headed back out to the lobby. The woman who let me in was there, along with Ronnie. Everyone was very concerned and asked if I was okay.
“Yeah, but the trip to EKU was a bit of a bust. It's cool though.” I said.
“Well, when things settle down a bit and they turn the lights out I want to talk to you.” Ronnie said.
“Okay...Hey, so you know-”
“Rusty told me about it and he felt bad. This has nothing to do with that. Rusty would apologize again, but he's on vacation. I want to talk about something else.”
“Okay.” I said, and headed back to the dorm area.
Bill and Danielle were chattering in a corner, and both ran up to me. “Dude! Your face is cherry tomato red!”
“I had my 'Luke-on-Hoth' moment...Nearly froze to death.” I responded.
“See, you should've let us come with you. How did it go?”
“A bust...Waste of time.”
“Well, it goes to show that no woman is worth all of that. Definitely not turning into a popsicle over,” Danielle said.
We caught up and I asked what they were going to do for work with the snow storm and all. “Can't think about that, man. If there's work to be had, it'll come.”
Danielle said. “I'm probably jetting after the storm clears anyway...It's time to go.”
“Seriously? I asked.
“Yeah. Bill is trying to get me to stay, but I can't. Y'all are more than welcome to tag along, but I'm flapping my wings. I'm headed somewhere warm...I've had enough ice and snow this year for a lifetime.”
They decided to call it a night, climbed on their bunks and went to sleep. I laid in bed with my headphones on until everything was settled down, then headed back out to the lobby area where Ronnie was.
“What's up?” I asked.
“You want to leave this place?”
“Of course,” I said, confused.
“I'm not supposed to do this...I could get fired...but I need a room-mate, and I've been watching you. You don't seem like a trouble maker. I just got a place off New Circle and I know you don't know me, and I don't know you, but I hate to see you here. If anything, you can stay until you save up for your own place.”
“Okay...What's the catch? And just so we're clear, I'm straight.” I didn't want there to be any doubt.
“So am I. The catch is you just pay half of the rent. Utilities come with the apartment, so we're good...I'm going to be getting cable soon, and I'll cover that.”
“If I can get my cheque from Steak Fest, I can pay half for the first month right now. I just don't want a confrontation with the guy who runs the place.” I said, remembering my drug induced antics from the last time I did some acid.
“I've got your back on that. Once you get out of here, we'll go together.”
“So, we leave tonight?” I asked.
“No...let the snow clear and give it a day or two after. I'll tell you when. I can't have you getting into my car from here, so I'll tell you where to meet me then take you to the place.”
“Don't tell anyone on staff, okay? I don't want to get fired.”
I headed back to the dorm area with a renewed sense of hope. Maybe this was my shot to get back on my feet and get everything back on track. The next morning I told Danielle and Bill what happened. They seemed to be surprised, but were happy for me. “Well the fun couldn't last forever.” Bill said.
“This is definitely destiny telling me it's time to leave,” Danielle said. “Too many signs...”
“What about you, Bill? You going to head out or stay here?” I asked.
“I'm staying for a while. I'm loving the college scene too much, and I'm deep in an MUD campaign online and don't want to disrupt it.”
We spent the rest of the day hanging out at the shelter. Later that night the skies cleared and Danielle told me he wanted to talk to me in private, so I followed him to an empty hall in the shelter. “I'm leaving tonight. Don't tell Bill 'cause I don't want him to try and talk me out of it.” He said.
“Sure. Where are you going?” I asked.
“Not sure yet. But I did want you to know that it's been an honor and a pleasure meeting you, and I don't tell just anyone this, but you touched me, man. You've got a good heart and I can see your soul. This isn't the life for you...You've been given an opportunity and I'm telling you to take it and run with it! Your parents will come back round...You're a good dude.”
I felt a bit uncomfortable but was touched by his words. Then, he reached to his left ear and pulled out his white gold loop. “Take this, man. I've seen you eyeballin' it, and you can take out that rinky dinky loop in your ear and have the real deal Holfield. Sterilize it first, dude...I don't want your ear lobe falling off and being remembered for that!” He forced it into my hand as he spoke.
“Thanks. It means a lot.”
“Bill is a good dude, too. Just a bit lost and distracted. Tell him I said I appreciate the times.”
And just like that, Danielle walked away.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Another day passed and Bill was upset that Danielle had up and left. We went to work throwing roofing shingles into a large trash bin, and then headed back to the shelter. “I lost Danielle and now I'm losing you. Man...getting attached to people really sucks.”
“We can still hang out,” I said.
“Yeah, I doubt Ronnie wants someone of my ilk hanging around though.”
“So, we meet down town. I'm still going to do Labor World until I get a real job.”
“Nothing is changing?” Bill asked, unsure.
“Man, you're my acid connection for one, and two, there are still adventures to be had!”
“Right on. Right freakin' on, man!” He said, smiling.
We walked back to the shelter and when it was time to go in, Ronnie came over to talk to me.
“I'm working overnight. Meet me at the Thortons gas station in the morning at 6am...I'll pick you up there.”
I went back to the Cafeteria to have dinner, and then spent the rest of the night chatting with Bill, and listening to my Walkman. The next morning I pulled everything out of my locker and shoved it all in my soccer bag. I needed to 'check out' of the shelter, and a counsellor had me fill out some paperwork and said, “Good luck!”
I walked about a block away to the gas station and waited. Ronnie's car pulled up and I quickly got in. We drove through down town, down Winchester Road, and onto New Circle Road. As the car drove closer to my old apartment, I realized I'd be living in the same area I used to, and I told Ronnie I used to live in Continental Square.
“I thought you went to school in Oneida?” he said.
“I did, but I'll tell you the entire story later.”
We ended up pulling into the apartment complex right across the street. I was a bit relieved it was an area I knew fairly well, and within walking distance of down town and the University of Kentucky campus. I wondered if I could get my old job back at SUBWAY?
We got out of the car and walked to the apartment. Ronnie told me to grab the empty room. “I still need to get some groceries for the place, and there's a Winn Dixie right behind the building,” he said, reaching for his wallet and grabbing a hundred dollar bill. “Go get some groceries while I sleep.”
“Sure.” I said.
I looked around the apartment and it was almost bare bones...He didn't even have a T.V.! There was a couch and lamp on the floor, and he had hung a few pictures up of his family, but that was it. I went into the kitchen and sure enough the cabinets and refrigerator were empty. I decided to go outside and walk around for a little until Winn Dixie opened up.
When I went to the store, I grabbed a shopping cart and began to load it up with food. It felt extremely good to be doing something normal for a change. I felt like it was a new beginning!
Ronnie and I talked a lot over the next couple of days and I told him my story and what had happened from the summer of 1995 onwards, including the credit card theft. There was no judgement from him whatsoever and I was happy that we seemed to click. He told me he would soon be leaving the shelter to work security at night somewhere else, so for the most part our schedules would be different. I asked him if it would be okay to have people over and he said he didn't care.
I met up with Bill at Tolly Ho and caught him up on everything. “You are truly one lucky bastard.” He said. “So, I can come over at times?”
“Sure. I mean, I'm paying rent as well, so it is just as much my place.”
“Cool. I'm going to store some liquor there since I can't bring it into the shelter.”
“Alright.” I said.
Time seemed to melt away. I was saving up a little money here and there, and in the back of my mind I kept telling myself I need to take care of the Nader issue as well as Emma, but I kept putting it off. In the middle of February I had my court appointment for the credit card fraud, and the night before Bill talked me into going to a new club in down town Lexington called 'The Heresy'.
It was a strange night. The bouncers at the club asked us for IDs, and when he noticed I was underage he stamped my hand with a clear ultraviolet ink to let the bartenders know I wasn't 21. We went inside and noticed how small the place was, and the pulsing techno music. I could tell Bill felt out of place 'cause he really didn't know what do to.
We stood in the middle of a small crowd who were bobbing and swaying to the music, and we just looked at each other. In the lounge area several couples were making out on the many couches, chairs and bean bags; Bill sat down on a bean bag and I stood there awkwardly until a female came out of nowhere, grabbed my hand and pulled me back into the crowd. “You go to UK?” She yelled.
“No!” I shouted, over the music.
“Your hand is glowing!”
“Your hand is glowing! You're not 21?”
“Oh...That! No...I'm 18. Just moved to Lexington on my own.” I said, making up a story on the spot.
"How old are you?” I asked.
“22! I'm enjoying my last night of fun because tomorrow I'm probably going to be on probation!” She said, laughing.
“For what?” I asked.
“Pot...found it in my car.”
“That sucks.” I yelled.
“Yeah. Hey, do you fuck around?”
“Drugs! I've got some X...Want a tab?” Before I could say anything else, she shoved something into my mouth and held my lips closed. “Trust me...Just swallow it.” She said.
I swallowed it and she started laughing like a crazy person. I'd never done ecstasy before, and as we danced I could feel a warm fuzzy sensation move through my body. I began to feel euphoric, and had a heightened sense of awareness; I felt bubbly and more outgoing than I ever had before. The girl grabbed my hand and pulled me back into the lounge area...I hadn't forgotten about Bill, but I didn't see him anywhere either and thought, “Fuck it.” She pushed me onto a couch where another couple was still making out, climbed onto me, and said, “Kiss me.” I leaned in and got lost in the moment. I hadn't even realized that this was the first girl I had kissed since Tracy. Time just melted away and the next thing I remember is Bill pulling me out of the club.
The next day I woke up in a daze and panicked thinking I was late for my court appointment. I jumped into the shower and quickly threw on some decent clothes before catching a bus down town. When I arrived at the court building I approached a clerk and asked which court I needed to make it to – she gave me a room number and said a lawyer would come to meet me.
The court room was packed with people standing in line; an attorney was talking to people as they passed by, and then they'd sit down. When he got to me, I gave him my name. “Okay...It'll be unrestricted probation. When the court Bailiff calls your name, stand up. The Judge will ask you a couple of questions, and then give you the probation.” He told me.
“That's it?” I asked, incredulously.
“That's it. Sign a few papers and you're done.”
I went and sat down in the gallery and scanned the crowd as people's names were called one by one. They'd stand up as the judge cited their charge, then give them their sentence. A woman's name was called and she stood up. I immediately recognized her as the girl I had made out with the night before! “Possession of marijuana...How do you plead?” The Judge asked.
“50 hours community service.” He said, and off she went. She didn't even notice me!
When my name was called, I stood up. “Fraudulent use of a credit card, under 200 dollars. How do you plead?”
“You plan on paying the 200 dollars back? Don't answer that – you don't have a choice. I'm giving you a 200 dollar fine and unrestricted probation.”
I walked away and signed some papers. I was relieved that I had gotten off with what amounted to a slap on the hand, but panicked a bit over owing more money. It was adding up. As I walked out of the court room I looked around to see if I could find the girl, but she was long gone...So, I left and headed back to my apartment.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I needed something more stable than temporary labor work, so I began to hunt for a permanent job. SUBWAY wasn't hiring and I wasn't having much luck anywhere else. Bill and I had figured out that we'd work during the week for Labor World, if a job was available, and then party at the weekends.
I wanted to get the camcorder taken care of but began to get paranoid about travelling back to Louisville. I decided to call Mrs. Nader up, come clean about everything, and ask for forgiveness.
“Hello?” She said, when she answered.
“Mrs. Nader. Hey, it's Randy.”
“Oh, hey.” She replied, not sounding too thrilled.
“I don't know how to begin this, but I'm in the process of trying to make things right with people and straighten things out a bit. I wanted to come clean about things.”
“Okay,” she said.
“I stole your camcorder and pawned it. I was desperate and didn't think. I had – have – every intention of getting it back. I've still got the pawn ticket and I have the money.”
“Are you going to come to Louisville?”
“Well, I can't right now, but I was wondering if I can mail it to you?”
“I'm really sorry...Please forgive me.”
“Look, Randy...I wasn't always perfect. I understand. I pretty much knew and I was just hoping that you'd be truthful about it. You'll have to tell Jim and Tracy though...they had their suspicions, but you need to tell them. That's my only condition.”
“Okay. I'll do that. Thank you...Really, thank you.”
I took the money and the pawn ticket and put it into an envelope to mail to her immediately. I only had to worry about Emma and the court fine now. I waited a couple of days before I called Jim and Tracy at school, and by then they had already heard from Mrs. Nader. I was upset that she told them before I could, but I understood. I first called Jim...“Hey, man.” I said.
"Why are you calling me? Jim said with hostility in his voice. I was immediately taken aback.
“I wanted to come clean about the camcorder.”
“Yeah...I already know. You know, I may steal from time to time, but I don't steal from friends. Don't ever talk to me again.” He responded, and hung up the phone.
The call shook me up a little bit and it wasn't the reaction I expected. But I convinced myself he was upset in the moment and would eventually forgive me. I went ahead and dialled the girls' dorm room and asked for Tracy. “What do you want?” She asked. Again, hostility I wasn't prepared for.
“I want to apolo-”
“Shut up. You're a piece of garbage, Randy. I tried to help you, talked them into letting you stay on short notice, and you did that to me? Do you know how it made me look? My friends are thieves and can't be trusted? You are not pulling me down with you!”
“You and others steal all the freakin' time, so don't play holier than thou!” I said, feeling defensive.
“It doesn't matter. I'm done with you. Never call me again...Never talk to me again...If I see you I'll spit in your fuckin' face!”
“Give my ring back! Give that and my CDs to Wesley!”
“The ring is gone. I gave it to Amy's mom. You're not getting your CDs back! Goodbye and good riddance!”
“Yeah? Well fuck you!” I said yelling to the phone before I heard her hang up. I began to shake, and decided to call Wesley. When I started talking to him I was sobbing.
“Calm down, what's wrong?” He asked.
“She's gone! I've lost her for good! Get my CDs back...You hear me? Get them back!”
Wesley tried to calm me down and then put my friend, Jason, on the phone. I told him what was going on...“You have to understand, man...This is of your own making. I'll always be your friend, but you did this, dude,” was all he could say to me.
“You're right,” I replied, hanging up the phone.
Bill had some of his liquor in the apartment and I went to the cabinet and grabbed a bottle of 'Hot Damn', a cinnamon tasting schnapps. I guzzled the bottle in its entirety and sat on the couch. The next day Bill dragged me out of the apartment and told me to lose myself in some time on an MUD. “Man, create a messed up character and take it out on the other characters.” It lead to the creation of a mischievous elf named 'Tumbleweed'.
We spent hours in the University of Kentucky's library online and I was successful in getting half of the players mad at me. It didn't make me feel any better though. “That didn't help you get your stresses out?” Bill asked.
“Not really.” I said flatly. “I'm not trying to piss off half the world, but it seems I'm doing a good job of it.”
“Okay then, there's only one thing left to do.”
“What's that?” I asked.
“Get your dick sucked.”
“What?” I said, not believing what I had just heard.
“It's time to stop being a pansy.”
We left the library area, and headed back down town. Soon, I realized we were walking in the direction of the government housing...“I'm not going back to the shelter, man.”
“Just shut up and follow me.” Bill replied.
Before the government housing there was a series of streets with low income houses, kind of run down. We walked up on one that had garbage bags covering the windows. “This place looks abandoned,” I said.
“It's not. There's some meth whores in here.”
“What?...No, man...I don't want anything to do with that.”
“Look, there's a chick inside that'll do anything for money, or dope. You don't even have to give her anything! Just imply it.”
It seemed like a horrible thing to do. Part of my mind was like, “Get the hell out of here.” But then another part of me was on auto pilot...Not fully functioning. Before I could think straight I found myself some time later receiving oral sex. When it was over with I was ashamed and disgusted with myself. When we left, Bill was acting like he was proud of me but it felt like another step down a path where the light was fading.
It was strange seeing Bill without Danielle; in a lot of ways I think Danielle acted as a moral compass for Bill and kept him more restrained. Without that guidance I was beginning to feel like we were in a car with no driver, and we were inching closer to a cliff.
March arrived and things seemed to settle down...I hadn't heard from Bill since the incident at the meth house. It made me feel weird and I let him know, but he acted like his feelings were hurt and he disappeared. I hadn't been able to find a permanent job either, so I continued to do temporary labor and I was also still giving plasma at the medical centre off Versailles Road. I'd give Ronnie money to cover my half of the rent and for the most part I spent my time alone.
On those really lonely days I'd hop on the city bus and head to the Fayette Mall or to the Cinemark movie theater, sometimes stopping off at the music store to listen to some good music. On one particular day I noticed posters promoting a new Cure album that was to be released in May, and I immediately became excited. There was a new guy working at the store and I asked him if he knew when the release date was, or if a single from the album had dropped. “There's nothing yet, but I'm pretty excited about it too.” He said.
We talked about music for a bit and I noticed the in house performance stage was set up with some instruments, so I asked who was going to play. “Oh, that's my band.” He said. “I'm looking for a keyboardist and singer. We're going to have some auditions a little bit later and jam out together.”
“I play keyboard!” I said, excitedly.
“Can you sing?” He asked.
“I think I can...but then, everybody thinks they can sing, don't they?” We both laughed.
“Can you be here at 5pm?” He asked.
“Sure. I'm just killing a day.”
“Cool. Show up and we'll see what you have.”
I left the music store and headed back to the mall to walk around for a while. The more I thought about trying out for a band the more nervous I became. I was never good at performing in front of people because I'm naturally shy and introverted. A part of me was trying to convince myself to not even bother, but another part of me felt like this was my chance...to be in a college town, to be able to do what I love most. I'd be stupid not to go for it.
I headed back to the music store...The closer I got to the entrance, the more nervous I became. I went inside and the guy I met earlier was standing around with a couple of other guys – all in their early 20s. He waved me over and I introduced myself. One of the guys wished me luck and I said, “Thanks. I'm pretty freakin' nervous.”
“Just be yourself.” Said the guy who introduced himself as the guitarist.
Another guy asked me if I had my own keyboard and I told him that I didn't because I was in a bit of a transition in my life at that moment. “We'd really need you to have your own,” he said. “I don't mind letting you use one of ours for now, but if you make it, you'll need one.”
“I can save up enough money.” I assured him.
They took to the stage and began to warm up and tune their instruments. There was a few customers in the store who didn't seem to be interested in what was going on, but I watched as the guys played around and jammed for a bit.
The drummer asked if I was ready and I took a deep breath, stepped up to the stage, and got behind the keyboard. The guitarist handed me a sheet of paper with a set list and I scanned it, relieved that they were all songs I'd heard or played, except for Plush by Stone Temple Pilots. I'd never put keyboard to a grunge song! I could sing the crap out of it – that I knew – so I decided to just sing for that one when it came time.
We played through a couple of songs and I nervously sang, but my confidence became stronger when they didn't stop me. Then there was a brief pause and the drummer spoke to me. “Man, you sound great, but try to take the Robert Smith out of your voice. You're not British...Be yourself.” He was right...I tended to mimic some of my favourite musicians when I sang; it was a bad habit and something my guitarist in my band at school would sometimes get onto me about.
We got to Plush and I let loose, completely lost in the moment. I remember standing on the small stage, away from the keyboard, eyes closed and singing like I hadn't a care in the world. The band were pretty good and I imagined myself with them, travelling from town to town, realising my dream. The drummer asked me if I'd be able to make it to Richmond on a regular basis to practice, as well as regular trips to towns in surrounding areas. My stomach dropped...“I don't have a car.” I said.
The looks they gave each other...I can still see them in my mind, and I knew it was going to be a problem. “Tell you what, dude,” the drummer said, “let us talk about it, and come back in a couple of days and I'll let you know. Maybe we can work something out.”
I shook everyone's hand and thanked them for the opportunity before leaving the store. I went back to the store a couple of days later and the drummer/store clerk was there. I was hoping I had been just good enough for the car thing to not be an issue. I could take a Greyhound bus to Richmond...I could save up money to buy a cheap car...I was willing to do whatever it took.
“What's up, man?” He said, as we made eye contact.
“Hey.” I replied.
“Sooooo, we talked, and it isn't going to work, man. If we were based here in Lexington you'd be a perfect fit, but we really need you to have your own equipment and your own car. You're good...I'm not going to take that away from you, and with some work your voice would be phenomenal...Sorry, dude.”
“I completely understand. Do you know any bands in Lexington who are looking for anyone?”
“Not really, not right now.” He said. “Good news, though...The Cure's album is going to be called Wild Mood Swings and the first single drops next week! We should have it early in the morning if you want to hear it before the radio starts to play it.”
“Cool.” I said, less excitedly as I normally would be with such news.
I left the store and hopped back on a bus to take me to my apartment. When I got home I was surprised to see Ronnie up. “How did it go?” He asked.
“Didn't make it. They want me to have my own keyboard and car.”
“That sucks. But not totally...I might have some good news for you.”
“Okay.” I replied.
“I was working security at the old mall and the manager at the dollar theater told me she was willing to interview you for a possible job. You'd only be working part time and minimum wage, but it is better than that temp labor crap you've been doing.”
I perked up immediately! I loved movies, and working at a theater would be great, if only for the free movies! “When do I need to be there to see her?” I asked, excitedly.
“I told her you could show up tomorrow. Is that okay with you?”
“Want to go out and get something to eat? It's on me,” Ronnie said.
“Yeah. Thanks, man”
We left the apartment and he was telling me that someone new had moved into the apartment across the hall. “She said she won the lottery, but from what I can tell she looks like a lush, and not a lottery winner.” He laughed.
We ended up eating in a cafeteria, and then headed down town. “They're playing Dusk 'til Dawn at the Kentucky Theater, wanna go see it?” He asked.
“Sure.” I said.
We parked in the SUBWAY parking lot across the street and walked over to the Kentucky Theater. I looked at their 'Coming Soon' posters, and noticed they had a pre-sale for tickets to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show. My friends – especially Tracy – had always boasted about how fun the movie was, so I decided to go ahead and buy a ticket and see what all the hype was about.
There was also a poster for a director's cut (for the 20th anniversary) of the animated classic, Heavy Metal, another movie I had not seen. I bought a pre-ticket to that as well, and if Bill showed up out of the blue I'd take him to see it with me.
Dusk 'til Dawn was fantastic! Quentin Tarantino's character was the funniest. It was a movie that stuck with me for years...Dark, but extremely funny. We got back to the apartment and while Ronnie got ready for work I decided to call my friend, Jason, at school. Spring break was approaching and even though my friends were all angry with me I still wanted to know what was going on with them.
“Next week, man!” Jason said. “Then the last stretch until we graduate. Time is flying by!”
“Yeah...” I said. “How is Tracy?”
“She's okay...You know, she's seeing someone now?”
“Wesley told me. Dude's a douche! A preppy ass dude?”
“Well, you know...She's probably trying to shake off the last vestiges of you. You cool?”
“I'm cool. I'm over it all.” I said, not really meaning it.
“You cool, Motha Fucka?” Jason said, parodying Pulp Fiction. We both laughed!
The next morning I got up, showered, and put on some decent clothes for my job interview at the Dollar Theater. I took the bus to the old mall, and arrived there around lunchtime. There was a Kenny Rogers Chicken Restaurant nearby that was new, and I smiled when I saw the sign because it was a place my family frequented when I was back home in Arlington, Texas. The image of my little brother Jimmy covered in mashed potatoes and gravy made me laugh to myself. I really missed them all so much. After lunch I entered the mall and found the movie theater. There were two teenagers about the same age as me, standing behind the snack counter. “What movie do you want to see?” One of them asked.
“Ummm...I'm here to talk to the manager about a job?”
“She's out on a lunch break...she'll be gone for a while. Sure you don't want to see a movie? Jumanji just started.”
“Okay.” I bought a ticket and watched the movie. I actually liked it a lot. It did make me a little sad though, because it reminded me of sitting on my brother, Jimmy's, race car bed late at night and flipping through the book with him and Kevin.
I left the theater and went back out to the snack counter and the manager was there. She smiled and waved me over. “Ronnie said you were looking for a job?” She asked.
“Yes, ma'am,” I replied.
“You were kicked out of school?”
This question caught me off guard. What had Ronnie told her? “Yes, ma'am.” I answered, truthfully.
“Yeah...So, I called the school and they told me it was credit card theft, which made me check on some things. You were arrested and are on probation?”
“Sorry...I can't hire you.”
“Okay. Thanks.” I said, dejected. Then I walked away.
I strolled around the mall feeling depressed, and headed back home later that evening. Ronnie hadn't gone to work yet. “How did it go?” He asked.
“Man, why did you tell her all of that about me?”
Ronnie looked surprised. “All I told her was that you had been kicked out of school and I was helping you get back on your feet.”
“Well, dude, she decided to do a full background check on me. This has been a bad fucking week. I can't catch a break!”
“I'm sorry, man.” Ronnie said, and I knew he meant it.
“It's okay. Guess I'm headed to Labor World tomorrow. On the bright side, I won't be forced to watch Water World a thousand times.” I said, trying to make a joke of the situation.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Spring break for the OBI students came around, and Jason came by my place with his father. We went out for lunch and then his dad dropped me off at my place before they headed for Ohio. I was relieved that winter was almost over...The mornings were cool, but the days were warming up to the 60s. On one of those days I headed to work and was sent out to a horse farm after a spring party for horse breeders. We spent the day cleaning up the fairgrounds and pulling stakes out of the ground. I was covered in mud and horse crap at the end of the day, but I didn't care. It was a good pay cheque and I had a little extra spending money, so I decided to head down town and get some chilli cheese fries at Tolly Ho.
After I got cleaned up, I took the bus down town and bumped into my friend Emma. I expected it to be a pleasant exchange as I hadn't seen her since she moved into her place with her friends, so when I asked her how she was doing, I was surprised that she snapped back at me. “Do you have my money yet?”
“What?” I asked.
“My money. Come on, Randy. You keep putting me off.”
“You know, I'm pretty much living pay cheque to pay cheque?”
“That's not my fault. I need my money.”
Now, I had what I owed her in my pocket and could've been done with it right there and then, but it upset me that she came out attacking me.
“I've only got a little right now.”
“Just give me what you've got then.”
“You get 20 dollars...I'm going to eat, or do you want my dinner money too?”
“Fine. Give me the 20, but I want the rest later. I will find you if I have to.”
I reached into my pocket, pulled out my wallet, and handed her a 20 dollar bill.
“Thanks for being an understanding friend,” I said, sarcastically, and kept on walking.
I made it to Tolly Ho and to my surprise I could see Bill through the window, sitting at a table alone with a pitcher of beer. I went inside and he looked up at me and smiled, waving me over to his table. “Dude!” He said as I sat down.
“Where did you disappear to?” I asked.
“I left town for a bit. I lost Danielle, and I thought I had lost you as well. I'm sorry. That's the second time I put you in a situation you weren't comfortable with and I was wrong. I'm not going to goad you into doing something you don't want to do, but...are you opposed to going to a strip club with me?”
“When?” I asked.
“Like, tonight. You don't have to spend a dime!”
“Well, I came here for dinner, so let me grab some fries before we head out.”
As I waited for my food, I told him I was hoping he'd pop up because next week the Kentucky Theater was showing the directors cut of Heavy Metal and I had bought him a ticket. “Unbelievable, my man! Un-fucking-believable!” He said, laughing.
I ate my fries and we headed out. “Where exactly are we going?” I asked him.
“That place on Winchester Road, Paradise Island.”
When we arrived I couldn't help but notice how rundown the place looked. We went inside and the entire place was empty. I'd never been to a strip club before and the only ones I'd ever seen were in movies – this didn't look like anything I'd seen in a movie, and there was nothing fancy or exotic about it.
Bill ordered us both a drink and I was surprised that no one asked me for any ID. I was sipping the drink when a pretty Asian woman entered the room and climbed up on stage. Music began to play and I just stared as she took her top off. What was I supposed to do? Whistle? Clap? I sat there staring at her breasts, feeling slightly aroused...“She doesn't do it for me, man.” Bill said. She danced for about ten minutes and with neither me nor Bill moving to the stage to throw money at her, she grabbed her top, cussed at us, and walked off.
“You know how to really piss off the bad ones?” He asked me. I shook my head...“Throw quarters on the stage. They hate that shit.” A few minutes later a blonde female went to the stage and Bill got up. “That's more like it.” He said. I sat down and watched as some more patrons filled the place and the vibe of the room livened. More women poured into the viewing area to work the men, and as Bill left the blonde dancer I watched him approach a gorgeous brunette. They looked at me and he walked back over. “Got you a little birthday surprise!” He said, excitedly.
“It's not my birthday, dude.” I replied.
“It is today!”
Just as he said that the guy in the DJ booth spoke into the microphone and began to yell. “Everyone put your hands together for the guy over there who has just joined the 21 club! Happy Birthday, RRRRRAAAAANNNNDDDDDYYYYYY!!!!”
A few guys clapped and then the brunette walked up to me, took her top off, and began to dance in front of me. “Lean back in the chair.” She said, whispering into my ear. I obeyed, and she climbed into my lap grinding on my leg. “I just turned 21, too.” She said, as she was giving me a lap dance. It lasted for another minute or two and then she kissed me...I tasted something similar to strawberries. Shortly after the experience, we left.
“Man, I need to go and whack off somewhere! I feel like I'm going to explode!”
He pointed out the fact that we were right across the street from the New Book Store...“You're on your own, man! I'll meet up with you in a day or two...I'm working on finding a place to stay and I might be out of the shelter.” He slapped me on the back and said, “Happy Birthday” and I ran across the street to the porno shop.
When I entered, the guy in the cage asked me if I was 18 and I said, “Yeah.” I had some loose change in my pocket, and headed towards the booths. A couple of guys were standing around and they looked at me and smiled, so I threw out a “'Sup?” and entered a booth. I put some coins in the slot and the T.V. monitor came to life. I flipped through the movies until I found something I liked, unzipped my pants, and began to masturbate.
Again, I paid no attention to the hole by the screen until I had the unsettling feeling that I was being watched. I looked at the hole and could see an eyeball gazing at me! “Psst! Put your cock in the hole!” A voice said. I freaked out, pulled my pants up and left the booth area as fast as I could.
After leaving the shop it dawned on me that the guys hanging out around the booth were looking to 'hook up' and it was a gay hang out place! I walked back to New Circle Road, crossed the street and headed back to my apartment...This night was a bizarre experience I'd never forget!
During my time at OBI I had a casual friend named Vee. She had gone out with a couple of my friends and was teased behind her back for being a prude. Before attending OBI she'd lived a very sheltered life – her family being extremely strict to the extent she wasn't allowed to wear make-up when she was home in New York. She had a natural beauty though, and I think it made some of the other girls at school a bit jealous because guys would stumble over themselves to be the one who 'got her'.
I was sitting at home one afternoon watching MTV when the phone rang...I answered straight away and it was a complete surprise to hear Vee's voice on the other end! I hadn't spoken to her since I left for Christmas break and it was so good to hear from her. “Hey! How'd you get my number?” I asked.
“Jason gave it to me, but I had to work up the nerve to call you. He told me your apartment is near the Greyhound bus station, so I was wondering if you wanted to meet with me before I go back to school?”
“That's going to be on a Sunday, right?” I said.
“Actually, I'm coming in on a Friday and staying at the Red Roof Inn off some road...New Circle I think. Then I'll go to the Greyhound station to take a bus to school on Sunday. Do you know how to get there? Is it close enough?”
“It's right across the street from where I live! I've stayed at that hotel,” I said. I suddenly had an idea and I didn't think she'd go for it, but I asked anyway...“How about you crash at my place instead? It'll save your parents money, and I can take you to some places I hang out...Show you around.”
“I don't know...”
“All they can say is no...My room-mate, Ronnie, is a security guard and is almost never home. You can stay in my room and I'll sleep on the couch. I don't mind. Just ask them.”
“Okay. Let me see and I'll call you back in a bit.” She hung up and I didn't think I'd hear anything again, but as I was watching an episode of The Real World, the phone rang!
“You're not going to believe this! I'm shocked!” She blurted...“They said I could stay with you!”
“Wow...” I was surprised.
“I've got to check in a couple of times and they weren't sold on the idea until I told them your room mate was a security guard. That did it...I guess they feel safe with the idea.”
She told me she'd be flying into Lexington Airport on Friday afternoon; and before hanging up I told her I'd be there to meet her and we'd have a blast!
“Well, you're extremely lucky because I'm going to my parents' house over the weekend, so the place is yours.” Ronnie said, when I told him my plans.
By the time Friday came I had gone grocery shopping, cleaned the place up a bit, and told Bill I'd be hanging out with a friend from school over the weekend. “Stay away?” He asked.
“Well, just here. I'm going to take her to Tolly Ho and if I see you there, I'll introduce y'all.”
“That's cool. I'll stay away. Don't want to mess up your romantic weekend.”
“Dude, we're just friends...If you knew her you'd know there will not be any hanky panky. Hasn't even crossed my mind.”
When it was time to meet Vee I took a taxi cab to the airport and I helped her with her things. “My room is yours. I'll sleep on the couch.” I told her, when we arrived at the apartment.
“Are you sure? I don't mind sleeping on the couch.”
“Nah. Go ahead, get comfortable. I like to stay up late and watch Alternative Nation on MTV anyway.”
“Are we going to do anything tonight?”
“That's up to you. I had stuff planned for Saturday, but wasn't sure if you'd be tired from the trip. By the way, you better call your parents and let them know you're here!”
She made a call, talked for a bit, and hung up. “I'm good. Let's do something.”
“Wanna go see what's playing at the Kentucky Theater?” I asked. She asked me what that was and I explained it was an old 1920s era theater down town that had been renovated. She sounded excited about checking it out, so I told her it was in walking distance. She told me she wanted to freshen up first, so I sat on the couch and watched T.V. until she was done. When she came back into the living room I was surprised that she had put on a touch of make up. She looked gorgeous! “You ready?” I asked. She said she was and off we went!
As we walked down town, we chatted. There were a lot of rumors about why I was kicked out of school, why Tracy and I broke up, and the general state of my life. “Well,” I said. “It's not where I really want to be in my life...I wanted to graduate. There are things I wanted to do, and I feel a bit lost and upset at myself, but I'm trying. It's just hard when you feel like no one has your back or supports you. Yeah, I messed up, but it wasn't that bad! I'm confused and hurt about all of it.”
We walked up Winchester Road and I told her the story about the gay hook up spot in the New Book Store. She fell into me, laughing! “I can't believe they have places like that!”
“Oh, believe me they exist.” I said.
“When we walk back I want to see it!”
“No...No way! You're not going in that place.”
She pushed me and said, “C'mon! Let me just go in there and look around. I've never seen one of those places.”
“We'll see...” I said.
We got down town and walked by Steak Fest...It was booming with business! “Ohh, let's go there and eat!”
“Nope. Anywhere but there.”
After telling her the story she couldn't believe it. “Yeah...I mean, maybe the situation could've been handled better, but they were wrong!” She said.
We reached the Kentucky Theater and the next showing for Dusk 'til Dawn was the midnight feature. But a movie called, A Clockwork Orange was starting in a few minutes. I had vaguely heard about it.“You want to see that?” I asked her.
“Sure. It looks kinda old, though.”
I bought the tickets and we went inside. In the lobby I asked her if she wanted a snack and she noticed that they sold 'Clearly Canadian', a flavoured seltzer water, and asked if I'd buy her a bottle. I got us both a cherry flavour, and a huge bag of Sour Patch Kids candy. “How can you eat those?” she asked, scrunching up her face.
A Clockwork Orange was not a 'date night' kind of movie! It was violent, misogynistic, and bizarre! We left the theater and I apologised. “I'm sorry...I didn't know it was going to have rape and all of that craziness in it.”
“Yeah, well, we can say we've seen it now.” She said, shaking her head.
It was getting late and my instinct was to walk up towards Tolly Ho, but I decided to put that off until Saturday. Instead, we chose to head back to my place and call it a night. We were nearing the New Book Store and again, she insisted on going inside. “Okay...but we are not going where the booths are. Just the front of the store!” I insisted.
We walked in and the guy in the cage asked his customary,“You guys 18?” Vee was only 17, but I answered "yes" for both of us. I could've sworn he winked at me like, “You dog, you...” for bringing a girl in.
She looked at the shelves with porn videos, magazines, sex toys, and God knows what else, in pure amazement! “People are into strange things.” she said. “Yeah...I think I'm ready to go.” We left and walked back to my apartment. When we got in I asked her if she wanted something to eat. “A sandwich will be fine.” She said.
I pulled out some cold cuts and made us some turkey sandwiches; then I carried the plates into the living room where we sat on the couch eating and watching T.V.. After Vee finished eating, she told me she was going to take a shower and go to bed, so we said goodnight and she headed off. I had been watching MTV for about an hour when she came back and asked me to come to the room...I got up and stood at the door. “Yeah, what's up?” I asked her.
“Will you come and cuddle with me?” She asked. My heart started to beat crazily...Was I hallucinating aurally? “Nothing crazy...just lay next to me. It's always seemed like a nice thing to try.” I stood there, wondering if she was messing with my head...“I'm serious!” She said.
“Sure,” I replied. I climbed onto the bed, still fully dressed, and eased up next to her. She threw an arm around me, nuzzled into me, and quickly fell asleep. I laid there thinking this was a strange experience...Nice, but strange.
The next morning we woke up and got ready for the day. I told her we were going to the Fayette Mall for half the day, and then I wanted to take her to Tolly Ho's. We left early in the morning on the city bus and when we got to the mall we spent time walking around and talking. When we were eating at the food court she started talking about me and Tracy...“You know, after you and Amy broke up there were three girls vying for your attention.” She said.
“Three? I knew about Angie...She was kind of obvious about it with the mix tape and everything. And of course I knew about Tracy. But who was the third person?” I asked. She only stared at me...“No, seriously, who was the third one?”
“Me!” She said. “You never even noticed me!”
“You were a friend!” I said, practically spitting my food out!
“Yeah, I don't know...I just get a bit sad thinking about it because I wonder if you'd be in this messed up situation had you been with Angie or me.”
“I never really gave it any thought concerning Angie. I mean, I was attracted to her, but I don't know...It just feels like I've always been with Tracy. Even having been sexually involved with Amy, it just feels like the only girl I've ever really known is Tracy.”
“Yeah...” She said, quietly.
“Eh, never mind. Let's change the subject.”
We finished eating and I told her we needed to hop on the bus to take us back down town – I told her we were going to walk up near the University of Kentucky campus, and then on to Tolly Ho's. We passed Cut Corner Records first and she wanted to go inside. She looked around and picked out a few CDs, bought them, and then we left. When we got to Tolly Ho's it was packed! “This place is a bit bonkers, but the chilli cheese fries are incredible!” I told her.
The magic card players were at a round table and yelling at each other, music was blaring from the Juke Box, and the place was jumping. I scanned the tables and booths to see if I could see Bill and I was relieved he wasn't there. “Pick a table” I said. “I'm going to go order us some plates. Want something to drink?”
“Pepsi.” She replied.
I went up to the counter and ordered two plates of chilli cheese fries, a Pepsi, and a Mountain Dew for myself. I came back with the drinks and told her they'd shout my name when the food was ready.
“All of these people are college students?” She asked me.
“Yeah. I think most of them are. I usually don't like a lot of noise and crowded places, but this place has some magic to it. I can't explain it.”
Just as I said that, Bill entered the restaurant with someone – obviously a guy, but he was wearing make-up. He noticed us and waved, making his way over to our table. My heart dropped and I thought, “Dear God, Bill, don't make a spectacle!” He quickly introduced the person with him as his new room mate, Kristy, and I noticed Vee give them both a strange look. “I'll tell you where I live in a day or two. Enjoy yourself!” Bill said.
Vee looked at me and said, “Was Kristy a dude? There was like, five o'clock shadow going on there.”
“I've come to find that Lexington is a very strange place, and it's wise to never make assumptions.” I said, and she laughed.
My name was hollered and I went to pick up our food. When I came back, Vee looked surprised. “That is too much food!” She said.
“Well, just eat what you can and as my dad would say, 'We'll put the rest of that shit in a doggie bag'.”
We ate, talked, and had a really good time. I didn't want it to end and I think Vee could read my mind when she said, “You know, I'm half tempted to say 'Screw OBI' and stay here with you."
“You'd never be able to do that. Your parents would come and drag you back to New York, and probably try to say I kidnapped you or something.”
“They definitely would do that!” She laughed.
I got a styrofoam box to put the rest of the fries in, and we finished off our drinks and left. Bill saw me and threw me a thumbs up, waved, and I waved back.
“What time do you want to leave for the bus tomorrow?” I asked her.
“I don't know, three or four?” She replied, as we walked back home.
It was around 9 or 10 when we got in; Vee went to take a shower and I put the food in the refrigerator and turned on the T.V.. The movie, Little Giants, was on and I was watching that until she came out in a long t-shirt with her hair pulled back in a scrunchy...She sat down and leaned into me as we watched the movie together. “That was pretty funny!” She said.
“Yeah, it was better than I thought it would be, but you know, Rick Moranis has never disappointed me. You should see that movie with him and Steve Martin, My Blue Heaven. It's great!”
She told me she was going to bed and we said goodnight...But before she got up she kissed me on the cheek and my heart skipped a beat. “Goodnight” she said.
“Goodnight,” I replied.
I can't remember the next movie that came on, but just like the night before, Vee called me into the room. I stood in the doorway and asked what was up and she asked me to cuddle with her again. I crawled up on the bed expecting her to throw her arm around me, but instead she said, “Under the covers, this time.”
When I pulled the blanket back my heart stopped...She was completely naked! My mind raced...“I, uh...are you sure about this?” I asked.
“I think so.”
“You think so? Vee, I need you to be sure...I don't want this to happen if you're not comfortable.”
“I'm totally comfortable with you...If it's going to be with anyone, I'm choosing you.”
I told her I needed to get a condom and hopped off the bed. When I came back I expected her to change her mind as I was undressing, but instead she fumbled with the condom and tried to put it on me. I helped and began kissing her...Before I pushed inside her I asked her again and again if she was comfortable. “I'm sure.” She said.
When it was over she laid on top of me and then she said she wanted to take a shower to clean herself up. I laid there, trying to convince myself that all of this was a dream. Vee...Vee! The shy prude girl from school! I jumped out of bed and went to knock on the door of the bathroom...I think I was trying to prove that this really happened. “Yeah?” She answered.
“Can I come in with you?” I asked.
We washed each other, dried off, and climbed back into bed. The next morning I woke up and she was out of bed and watching T.V. in the living room. Her eyes were puffy and red and I was worried she was regretting the night before. “I really don't want to go back.” She said, when I asked if she was okay.
“You have to...”
“You do...” I said, sitting next to her and pulling her onto my lap.
I stroked her hair and convinced her to get ready. I was going to take her to lunch and then we'd take a cab to the Greyhound bus station. I helped her pack her things and then we walked to a nearby shopping center and ate at Woolworths. They offered an all day breakfast, so we had a brunch. After we ate we headed back to my place and I called the taxi cab.
When we got to the Greyhound bus station I told her my brother should be showing up any moment and I needed to spend a little time with him. Other kids arrived and began to fill the station up and shortly after Wesley arrived I hugged him, asked him how he was doing, and he seemed to be okay. He had no time for me, however, and ran off with his friends to stir up mischief. The kid was a train wreck, yet I was always the one getting into trouble!
I went back to where Vee was sitting and she grabbed my hand. A couple of people looked at us curiously – a look that asked, “Are you guys a thing?” But neither of us said anything. I don't remember us saying much to each other that afternoon, but when it was time for her to board the bus she said, “I love you.”
“Love you too!” I replied.
“No you don't,” she said. “I mean, I'm in love with you.”
“I do love you.” I said.
“You still love Tracy. That's okay.”
I looked down at the ground. She was right...Even as fantastic as the weekend was and how it seemed like the possibilities were endless for us in that moment, Tracy still had my heart...“I love you as a friend.”
“I know. It's okay...I can love you in my own quiet way.” A tear rolled down her cheek.
The bus driver yelled for the students to get on the bus and she held my hand for a second and kissed my cheek. “Please stay in touch with me.” She said.
“I will.” I replied, and I watched as she climbed on the bus alone. Other kids followed after, and my heart sank as the bus pulled away.
I never saw her or spoke to her again...I look back at that moment in my life; one of those 'sliding doors' moments where another choice, another path, could've taken me in a different direction. I had many of those and have a couple more, but I do often wonder where Vee is in her life...Where we could've been had I only kept in touch.
But I chose to ignore the whisper of the universe, and just kept on falling.
Bill wanted to meet me at Tolly Ho and take me to his new place from there. After I spent the day at work picking up litter on the side of a highway, I cleaned up and headed to the UK campus. Through the window I could see Bill sitting alone at a table with a pitcher of beer, and I walked in and ordered a Mountain Dew, before joining him. “Where'd they send you today?” He asked.
“Picking up litter. They let me listen to my Walkman while I was working, so it wasn't all that bad. You going to take me to your new place?” I asked.
“Yeah. There's a couple of things I wanted to give you a heads up about first,” he said, pulling a long sip from his beer.
“Alright. First, the place is a bit on the rough side, but it only costs me 80 bucks a week, and 80 from Kristy, so I can't complain about that. Kristy is not good on tidying up, though.”
“It can't be that bad, right?” I said. Bill looked at me, took another sip, and chuckled a bit.
“Second,” he continued, “Kristy is a dude-”
“That's kind of obvious,” I said, cutting him off.
“Don't judge, man.” Bill chastised.
“Let me finish...She's going through a sex change. Right now,she's on hormones.”
“She's going to get her junk cut off?” I said, reeling at the thought.
“You're judging, dude.”
“No...it's just strange, and very new to me, that's all. No judgements, I promise. What does she do for work?”
“That's the thing...and if I let you come over we both need an absolute assurance that you'll not say anything. Nothing to Ronnie, your parents, or any people you talk to.”
“She's a dealer. Nothing serious, mostly college shit – acid, X – stuff like that. The money is going to be what pays for the sex change.”
“Wild...” I said, feeling like Lexington, Kentucky, had blown my mind again.
“Not a word, man. Promise.”
We finished off the last bit of the pitcher and left. We walked for about 20 minutes, to a part of Lexington I'd never been by before. There was some houses here and there, but mostly a small subsection of first floor only, low-income apartments. We approached a section that had a row of five apartments – the building was painted Pepto-Bismol pink! In the grass was a lone picnic table, the wood rotting away from weather damage and age. Bill pulled out his key and let us in. When he flipped the light on I could see trash everywhere – as if a trash compactor had blow up in the middle of the apartment! Beer cans, pizza boxes and God knows what else, were strewn all over the place.
“Good God almighty!” I said, feeling dirty just looking at the mess. “This is insane!”
“I tried to warn you.” Bill said.
“Not for this...It looks like something out of Mad Max.”
“You'll get used to it.”
Bill went into the kitchen, stepping over some beer cans, and pulled out a couple of Old English beers, handing one to me. I popped the top and took a sip thinking, “Why does beer this cheap taste so nasty?” I put the can down on the counter.
“Kristy should be back at any minute. I gave her a heads up that you'd be coming over.”
“Does she have weapons here? I'm really not comfortable around things like that.”
“I don't think so...She only deals to college kids. No rough shit.”
I don't know why, but I suddenly had this image of a cross dresser pulling a gun on me and saying,
“Get the hell outta here, mother fucker!” In a baritone voice...I started to laugh.
“Get the hell outta here, mother fucker!” In a baritone voice...I started to laugh.
“What's so funny?” Asked Bill.
“Nothing. Just my imagination,” I said, still laughing.
Bill turned on the T.V. and we sat on a beaten up old couch, waiting for Kristy to come home. It had to have been about an hour or so later when she arrived...I heard the keys in the door and we turned to see her. “Hey guys.” She said, and put a bag on the table. “Randy, right?”
“Yeah. Cool to meet you.”
“Same here. Bill told me about you, but I wasn't expecting to see a clean cut guy – I thought you'd be a little rough around the edges. You look like a child!” She came over to the couch and told me to scoot over. “You don't mind if I let my tits out, do you?” She asked.
“Uhhhhh. No?” I replied, not really sure what to say. She pulled off her shirt, and sure enough I was staring at small breasts in complete fascination. My brain was saying, “This is insane!”
“I just bought the movie, Tank Girl. Y'all wanna watch it?” Kristy said.
“Sure.” I replied.
She got up and put the movie into the V.C.R., asked me to grab her a beer, and we settled down to watch the movie. It was a bit corny, and I wasn't super impressed; I didn't know that it starred Lori Petty, but I thought she was hot back then – especially in the movie, Point Break. She was definitely the best part of this movie. When it was over she said she was going to head to bed, and then she offered me a bit of acid. “On the house.” She said.
Bill looked at me and said, “Perks, dude.”
“Sure.” I replied.
She reached into her pocket, pulled out some cellophane, and tore off a square from a ten strip. “Enjoy! I'm working on getting some new stuff making the rounds – gel tabs – much more potent. I'll give you a discount when it rolls in.”
“Great!” I said, excitedly putting the hit on my tongue. “You're going to do some, Bill?” I asked.
“You're on your own tonight, dude. I've got to work tomorrow,but have fun!”
They said goodbye to me and rushed me out the door...For a second I thought maybe they were a thing, then thought, "Nahhhh...That'd be crazy!" I walked out and tried to remember the way back down town. It was pitch black and very few street lights were on. As the acid kicked in I began to feel like I was in a horror movie, and walked as fast as I could. I finally reached the road that would lead me by Tolly Ho and felt relieved by the familiarity of the place as I walked by. There was a few people inside and I decided to go in and buy an orange juice and regain my bearings.
After a few minutes, I walked over to the Juke Box and programmed some songs into it. Just then, the acid hit me full force and the music sounded other-worldly! An older black man went up to the counter and ordered a cup of coffee; he was wearing a brown leather jacket, blue jeans, and a head band. I remember thinking, “This is one cool cat!”
Once my songs had finished on the Juke Box he pulled out some coins and made his choices, and as he walked back to his table, ZZ Top began to play. He sat down, lit up a cigarette, and began to flick the lighter in rhythm with the music. Then, as the music hit the guitar, a giant flame shot out of the lighter and I yelled, “Hell yeah!” Laughing! People turned to look at me and I pointed to the man and said, "That guy is fucking cool!” The man looked at me, gave me a thumbs up, and went back to his cigarette.
I was tripping pretty hard when a random girl sat down at my table. She introduced herself and I tried to explain my situation, when she asked if I went to UK...“No...I live in Texas, but I live here.”
“I can explain it with my ID,” I said, sticking my hand in my pocket to grab my wallet. My hand felt like it was going down an endless tunnel, and I freaked out, jerking my hand out quickly. “I'm just here!” I said.
“Ooooookay. You are really messed up, so I'll leave you be.”
At that point I decided to leave Tolly Ho and walked out into the night. I wandered around aimlessly until it started to rain. There was a fancy hotel down town, so I thought it would be wise to go into the lobby until the rain stopped, but when I walked inside, the police – or at least I thought they were police - were inside. It could've been in my head, but they were wrestling with a guy as he yelled, “I'm just trying to see my wife!”
I panicked and ran into the restroom, not wanting to be beaten up by the police either. When I looked into the mirror I couldn't recognise myself...Instead, I saw what looked like a glob of shifting colours...“Who are you?” I asked myself. I splashed some water on my face and left the bathroom.
When I went back into the lobby I was relieved I couldn't see police anymore, but at the check in desk there was a beautiful red-head shuffling some papers around. The light behind her made her look ethereal, and I stood there and stared. She looked up and said, “Can I help you?”
“Ummm. Not really? You're just the most beautiful woman I've ever seen in my life.” I said, matter-of-factly.
“Well, thank you for that, but I'm going to have to ask you to leave if you don't have any business here.”
I stood there for a second longer, and then I said, “Okay, have a nice day!”
“Bye bye,” she said, waving, and I headed home singing the Smashing Pumpkins song, Lilly.
A few days later I met up with Bill and we hung out at his place while Kristy was out. I hadn't worked in a few days and really needed to get back to it because I was overdue in paying Ronnie his rent. “I need to do something with my life, Bill. I feel like I'm starting to lose myself.”
“How so? You seem pretty level headed to me.”
“I don't know...Don't get me wrong, I have fun going out, doing acid, but I feel empty. I'm not happy when I'm sober, and that scares me.”
“Typical teenage angst. It's just growing pains...You're fine.”
“Am I? I ache to go back home.”
“You're just down 'cause you lost your girlfriend. You'll get over her.” He said.
“I don't know...” I said. "I think I'm over her...I threw away this ZIMA bottle cap I had been holding onto since New Years. It's not that...I miss my parents...I miss my little brothers. God, I miss them so much" I started to cry. “I want to go back to Texas,” I said.
Bill pulled me to him, arm around my shoulder. “You're fine, man.”
I pulled away and said I was going to take the bus to the mall, walk around for a bit and clear my head. “Want to come with me?” I asked.
“Nah. Go on ahead...I'll catch up with you some other time.”
I grabbed my headphones, put them over my head, and left. I walked around the mall listening to a soundtrack from the movie, Empire Records. There was a song on the tape by Toad the Wet Sprocket, and I kept rewinding the tape and playing the song over and over.
After I had enough, I pulled another tape out of my jacket, a B- side from the Cure's first single on their upcoming album. The song was called Ocean and it began with the lyrics,
"I don't feel I'm any closer now than I was at 15. I still don't know what I really want. Or how I really feel. Sometimes I think I've seen too much and sometimes nothing at all. Times I feel I just forgot what I've been searching for...”
It was one of the of the most emotional songs I'd heard from them in a while.
When I was headed out of the mall, I cut through a store called, 'Lazurus'. There was a few people in front of me and it didn't really register with me why they were suddenly moving to the left and right, out of the way of something...I was lost in the song and kept walking straight ahead when I felt something squish under my foot...I froze in place, and a few people stopped to look at me...A man's voice spoke to me and said, “You piece of shit!” And a woman yelled, “What is wrong with you?”
I pulled the headphones off and I could hear a bird frantically chirping – it was sitting perched on the store sign. There was a nest! I looked down and saw a baby bird, featherless, with a tiny orange beak...My heart dropped and I said, “God, no!” My legs buckled, and I fell to the side walk where two people ran over to me. “I swear, I didn't see it! I promise!” I started to cry. The two people helped me up, and I kept saying, “I didn't see it...I didn't see it”
The woman reached into a bag and pulled out a napkin or a paper towel, gently picked up the bird and put it in the trash bin. The guy looked at me and said, “Kid, you need to pay attention to what's going on around you, or you're going to hurt someone, or yourself.”
They walked to their car and I went to the bus stop. When I got on the bus I sat there alone, in silence, except for the hum of the diesel engine powering the bus. When I got near my apartment, I made the decision to call my parents. I wanted to ask them if I could come home, but as I was talking to my dad, I was seized with a sudden fear...A voice telling me they wouldn't allow me to come home, even if I tried, seemed to be ringing in my ears.
After only a brief conversation, I hung up. In that moment I decided that I was going to apply for the military! Maybe if I had something solid behind me - something to show I was making the effort - they'd see I was trying and maybe even be proud of me again. I first called the Job Corp office and talked to someone to set up an appointment for me to come in and see them – I could show up at any time, and the guy I spoke to said that if I met the criteria he could have me enlisted within days. That sounded promising! I decided to leave for the office immediately and practically ran down town. The office was still open, and when I entered, the guy I had talked to on the phone was in the lobby. “I called earlier.” I said.
He gave me some paperwork and I filled it all out honestly. When I returned it to him he read it all and began to ask questions...“Probation?”
“Yes, sir, but it's unrestricted. I don't have to report to anyone.”
“Fines to pay?”
Crap! I'd totally forgotten to pay the 200 dollars court fine the Judge gave me! “Yeah. I still haven't paid it.”
“Well, I will need to get permission from the Judge; I can't send you off and have someone issue a warrant for your arrest. It'll take a few days. What about drug use? We have a zero tolerance policy.”
“I've done some acid, but I'm not an addict or anything.”
“Yeah...We'll need you to take a drug test and again, I can't enlist you until it comes up clean.”
“What about the fact I haven't graduated?”
"Oh, you'll get your GED before anything else. We offer classes, and from there a counsellor will help you find the skill you want to focus on.”
“Before any of this can happen, I'll need to talk to your Judge and have you take that drug test. Come back and see me in a few days and we'll figure out what's next.”
I shook his hand and left. I walked past an Army recruitment office and decided to enter. The recruitment officer looked up at me from his desk, and said, “Fresh meat! Come on in, boy.” We went over similar ground, but when I told him I didn't have a high school diploma or a GED, he stopped me and said, “Before you can go any further, I'll need you to get that GED. It's a must have to enlist. Sorry son.”
I left feeling a bit deflated, and passed an Air Force Recruitment Office...It was a long shot, but my dad had been in the Air Force and I thought I'd rather be there than anywhere else. But when I entered, I was shot down immediately! It looked like my only chance was going to be the Job Corp.
When I got home I made a T.V. dinner, and sat in front of the T.V.. I'd never felt more lost in my life, and I decided to call my parents again...To this day, I don't know exactly why I did it, but I told my dad I'd been accepted into the Air Force. His whole demeanor would change towards me in the coming days, and he'd call me regularly, even allowing me to talk to my brothers which I wanted more than anything else in the world. Deep down inside I knew the lie was not sustainable, and when my dad figured out I was lying, it would probably irreparably harm our relationship. But in that moment it felt good to be a son again.
I made a decision to skip out on the Job Corp plan altogether. I'm not sure why, because I think I could've made it and told my parents something conceivable about why I wasn't going into the Air Force. But I carried on, looking straight ahead, and not heeding the advice of the man outside the department store when the bird accident happened.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Bill was still dragging me out at night and I was skipping out on work more often. I don't know how I was able to pull off the facade of preparing for the Air Force and having a normal life...I really don't. Each time I lied, each time I went out, I knew I was losing myself more and more. My wounds were self-inflicted, but I couldn't stop.
Ronnie began to get irritated with me, but I think he genuinely liked me, so when I'd miss out on paying the rent, he'd say, “Man, I want to help you, dude, but you gotta be willing to help yourself too.”
I knew I had his trust and respect when a friend from his home town was sexually assaulting a woman in the apartment across from us, and I prevented it from happening. He'd invited the guy to stay over for the weekend, and this person found Bill's old liquor stash and decided to drink everything he could. I'd just come back from seeing the Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Kentucky Theater, and I was still on a natural high with how much fun it had been. When I walked down the hall I could hear the commotion...The door was slightly ajar, and I heard the woman's voice drunkenly say, “Get off me!” But she was giggling as well, so I pulled out my key and was about to enter my apartment when I heard her let out a shriek, and I could tell she was scared about something...The giggle was gone! I turned and pushed the door open and she yelled out, “Help me!”
My adrenaline spiked as the guy was pushing himself on top of her, and I grabbed him by the shirt collar and jerked him back. “She wants it, man! She grabbed my cock!” He yelled.
He came back towards her and I remembered a Taekwondo move that my dad's best friend had taught me when I was just 13...I spun around and pushed him on the ground. “Stay there. Don't move!” I said.
I asked the woman if she was okay, and she said she was. Then she started to scream for us both to get out. I grabbed the guy's shirt when he refused to move, and began to drag him out of the apartment. He laid in the apartment doorway like a petulant child, and refused to move. I opened the door, dragged him into the living room, then called Ronnie on his cell phone...“Man, you need to come home now before your friend gets arrested.” He said he was on his way.
The guy just laid on the ground and began to cuss at me, drunkenly. “You faggot! I know Ronnie is fucking you in your ass...You're a faggot. Faggot. Faggot. Faggot!!”
“Yeah, yeah...Shut up and lay there until Ronnie gets back.” I walked to the kitchen noticing the bottles everywhere, and thought, “Geeze, Bill is going to go nuts with this dude.”
When Ronnie got home, his friend had fallen asleep on the floor. I explained everything to him and Ronnie told me, “Man...I don't know how many people would intervene like that, but you did good. His ass is out of here tomorrow.” Then he walked across the hall to check on the woman, and even asked if she wanted him to call the Police, but she said, "No".
That night I tossed and turned in bed, and thought to myself, “I'm 18...I shouldn't have to deal with this shit. Why can't I have a normal life? Why won't my parents just love me for me? I hate that I'm lying! I hate that I'm partying to fill an emptiness...Why am I allowing this to happen to myself...WHY?”
Bill and Kristy asked if I'd stop by their place one early morning for some news. So I woke up, showered and shaved, and shoved some pop tarts in my mouth to get the day going. Ronnie asked if I was headed out to work and I told him, “Nah, gotta be somewhere.”
“I really need you to pay your rent, Randy. Lately, I've been doing groceries and rent and it's hitting me hard in my pocket.”
“I got you, man. I'll hit up Labor World first thing tomorrow.” I said, leaving the apartment.
I caught a city bus down town and walked the rest of the way to their place. When I reached the apartments and knocked on the door, I was surprised when Danielle opened the door...“Dude!” Danielle said, pulling me into an embrace.
“What the hell, man?” I said, surprised. “I thought the winds of destiny had carried you away?”
“It's a funny thing, my friend...I was on the Greyhound Bus, headed to the east coast from a little trip in Washington – just seemed like the place I was needing to go to now that everything is warming up. As fate would have it, there was a brief stop in Lexington and I thought, 'What the hell...I'll stop in, maybe hit up Tolly Ho, and then continue on'...I literally walked right into Bill! See what I'm saying about listening to the winds? This was MEANT to happen.”
“Still rocking the sleeveless jean jacket too.” I said.
“Rock and roll, my man...Rock and roll.”
I entered the apartment and Kristy still hadn't cleaned the place up like I kept suggesting. I thought to myself, I'm going to have to do it for them, because it was getting ridiculous. Each time I showed up, the trash pile had grown...It was starting to freak me out. Bill walked up to me, handed me an Old English beer, and said, “Drink up.”
“Come on, man...It's too early,” I said.
“Don't be a sissy.”
I popped the top and begrudgingly drank it. “Where's Kristy?” I asked.
“Said she needed to take care of some early business. She left us some acid if we wanted to enjoy the day. You game?”
I looked at Danielle and he nodded his head, so I said, “Sure.” We pulled it out, unwrapped three hits, and we all placed it on our tongues at the the same time. “So, what's the game plan for the day?” I asked Bill.
He reached to pick up some papers off the counter, shuffled them, and pulled out some tickets. “Some kid gave these to Kristy. They're having an electronics convention down at the Civic Center, and, if you remember, Heavy Metal is tonight!”
I had completely forgotten about it. The ticket sat in my wallet for weeks. “That's a long day, man...We've got to make it to midnight?” I said, dreading how I was going to feel the next day, and worse for the fact I promised Ronnie I'd go to work.
“Don't fret, I've got Mini Thins!” He said, shaking a bottle on the counter.
“Not me...I don't like speed,” Danielle said.
“What the hell are 'Mini Thins?' I asked.
“They're diet pills, but if you take enough, it's like doing crack. Trust me, it'll get you through the night.”
“We take these now?” I asked.
“Later. Much later. Let's head out.”
It was a beautiful spring morning...As the acid took effect the sun was up and morning dew glistened on the Kentucky blue grass, giving it a greenish-blue tint. We walked a few streets and listened as Danielle told us about his weeks in Washington. “I thought you wanted to go somewhere warm?” I asked, laughing.
“I can't control fate, man. It told me to go to Washington, and that is where I went.”
“I've always wanted to go to Seattle,” I said. “You know, when I was kicked out of school the first time, my dad said I could go anywhere in the United States except Texas and Louisville."
“Why were those places excluded?” Bill asked.
“Cause my parents didn't want me at home, and they didn't want me with my girlfriend either.”
“That's cold, man.” Bill said.
I shrugged my shoulders. “Well, with how everything has turned out in my life, I should've gone to Seattle.”
“You ignored the voice of the winds, dude.” Danielle said.
“On the upside, you would've never met us!” Bill said, giggling uncontrollably as the acid hit him.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
We reached the Civic Center, looked at the marquis advertising the convention, and walked in. I had a sudden memory of when I was a kid...My dad would travel to Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Convention, to see what new products would be coming out that he could sell to customers. He always brought back a bag of freebies he would collect from different booths – markers, pens, key chains with built in tools, stickers, and even video game samplers for PCs. We'd get excited when he came home, just to see what he brought us.
Danielle looked at me, “What are you smiling about?” He asked.
“An old memory of better times.”
The convention was on the floor of Rupp Arena, so we handed our tickets to the man at the door, and entered. I'd been to Rupp Arena before when I was at OBI, and our school's basketball team made the Sweet 16 tournament. Wild Cats banners and jerseys hung from the rafters, and I looked around at all of the booths set up. I wasn't really hallucinating, but with the bright lights of the arena and the noise of the electronics and stereo equipment, new televisions, and other things going on, I found it hard to concentrate on anything. My senses were super-enhanced and it was overwhelming!
We went from booth to booth checking out new technologies, and Bill said, “Whoa!” incessantly, to the point where it became so annoying I split from the group. I wandered around the floor until I was standing in front of a projection screen and projector. An Indian man began to talk to me in a heavy accent...“This is the future. Soon, televisions will all be replaced by these screens and projectors. No clutter. And here – you see these stereo equipments? No more two speakers for your stereo! 5.1 surround sound will give you the true cinematic experience!” He boasted. Then he pressed 'play' on the V.C.R., and a movie began. The screen came to light and I'm not sure if it was the acid or the bright lights of the convention floor, but the images seemed a little washed out to me...I stood there as the music began to play for the movie, and I recognised it as Pink Floyd...Then, The Wall began.
I'd never seen the movie nor listened to the album in its entirety. I knew songs like, Another Brick In The Wall, and Comfortably Numb, but Pink Floyd was never on my radar...I thought my friends talked about them just to be cool.
As I stood there, the music enveloped me and I became transfixed, not just by the music but also by the themes of isolation, losing yourself, building up a wall to separate your true self from those just wanting to hurt and take advantage of you, and ultimately wanting to return home to where you came from and find yourself again. It was some of the greatest music I'd ever heard. The film's climax, an animated psychedelic trial, blew my mind.
I hadn't realised that I'd been standing in a single spot for almost two hours, and as the film ended, the Indian man waved his hands in front of my face and said, “Hello there...Are you on drugs? If you are on drugs, sir, I will have to ask you to leave my booth!” I nodded my head, trying to make sense of his words, and walked away.
I suddenly became obsessed with the idea of buying the album. It wasn't something I wanted, but needed – no piece of music had affected me on such an emotional and personal level since The Cure's Disintegration album. Just then Bill and Danielle found me and both asked where I had been for the past couple of hours. “I need to get to Cut Corner Records,” I said.
“Huh?” Danielle said, obviously confused.
“You don't want to see all of the free swag we scored? It's like we were trick or treating!” Bill said, holding up a plastic bag filled with God knows what.
“I need to get to Cut Corner Records.” I said, again.
“What is going on that is so important?” Danielle asked.
“The Wall,” I said.
“Dude...every place has a wall. You are seriously messed up!” Bill laughed.
“No...not A wall, The Wall. Pink Floyd...The album. I need to buy it right now.”
I walked away towards the exit, and they ran up behind me. I wasn't even sure I had the money to buy it - I definitely couldn't afford a new copy! They tried to convince me to stay, but it was pointless. I was a man on a mission!
We left the Civic Center and the sun was shining brightly. It seemed quite warm for a spring day. We walked the few blocks to get to Cut Corner Records, and I entered. I went to the counter and asked a guy if they had any used copies of Pink Floyd's The Wall for sale, and he pointed me in the direction of the used CDs and cassettes. There was a double cassette tape set of The Wall for $10.99...I checked my wallet and I was down to about $15. “Screw it..I want it!” I said to myself. I bought the tapes and we all left.
“You happy now? You don't even have a way to listen to it!” Bill shouted.
“That's fine. I'll listen to it later.”
We walked next door to Tolly Ho, and Danielle bought a pitcher of beer...“I can dig it, man,” Danielle waxed, poetically. “When music touches the heart of your being...when good music really hits the soul, it's like being possessed. I'd have done the same thing for some Metallica or Anthrax. I don't expect Bill to understand though. Good music to him is hair metal – that ain't the real shit, man.” Danielle finished.
“What? You're telling me that Rat, Quiet Riot, or Cinder-fucking-ella isn't good? That's madness!”
“They had their moment. I won't take that away from them. But 20 years from now, will they still be around? I think not! Metallica will. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if The Cure is still around, and I don't even really get them.”
“You got that right,” I said. "Robert Smith will be old and still rocking that crazy hair and lipstick. I can't imagine a point in my life where they won't be around. They're that good!”
We rambled on about music for what seemed like hours. Bill and Danielle finished the pitcher of beer and then Danielle said, “Y'all enjoy yourselves...You've got that movie to hit up and I'm going to wander about. I'll see you back at Kristy's, Bill.” Danielle said, patting me on the shoulder before leaving.
“You got a pen?” I asked Bill.
“I've got a hundred of them in my swag bag! I tried to show you...”
“Let me get one. I've got an idea for a song, floating around in my head, and I want to write it down.”
He reached into the bag and handed me a pen with a company logo on it, and I started scribbling words onto a napkin...
What's it like to feel
so empty inside
when nothing fills
Your broken vessel
When the flowers all die
No sunlight to let in
Bill looked at my scribble and said, “That's fucking depressing!”
“It's how I feel, man. Watching The Wall back at that place, brought it all out.” I picked the napkin up, shoved it in my pocket, and we got up to leave. “What are we going to do until the movie starts?” I asked.
“I don't know...walk around?”
We actually ended up in a computer lab on the University of Kentucky Campus, playing an MUD until quite late. I browsed the internet, checking out new sites as well. When we got up to leave, Bill said we should use the bathroom first and we walked into a stall. He pulled out the bottle of Mini Thins, and told me to hold out my hand – he poured about 20 pills into my palm!
“You want me to swallow all of these? What if I overdose?” I asked.
“Aw, dude, you can't overdose on these! Over amp, maybe, but you'll be fine. Just swallow them!”
I looked at him, then shoved them into my mouth before walking out of the stall to the sink, and taking in some water to wash them down. Then we went outside and headed down town to the Kentucky Theater. By the time we got there I was feeling the pills...A surge of electricity and energy shot through my body, and I let out a “Whew!” The acid was waning, but the Mini Thins made my body feel alive again.
We pulled out our tickets and entered the theater. When we settled into our seats, the previews began, and there was an advertisement for Hell Raiser Part 4. “We are sooooo seeing that!” I said to Bill.
I kept wanting to talk but he said, “Just shut up and watch the movie! It's going to blow your mind.”
It was impossible for me to sit still...For my entire life, it has been impossible for me to not shake my leg when I'm sitting down. I don't know why I do it, but more often than not I do it absent-mindedly. But now, my leg was in overdrive and I kept knocking it against Bill's leg. “Cut it the fuck out!” He whispered angrily.
“I can't help it, man!” I said.
The movie was great and I focused on this glowing orb that killed everyone it made contact with. I kept asking Bill, “So, if that orb thingy killed everyone who touched it, why then did it turn the girl in the end into a bad-ass warrior chick? That makes no sense!”
“I don't know, man. You're overthinking it...It's just a cartoon!”
“What now? I'm wired up and it's 2am! I've got to go to work tomorrow, and I don't know what to do...” I said.
“Well, let's get back to your place, watch some T.V., and if you're up for work, we'll go to work.”
“As good a plan as any.” I replied.
We walked all the way back to my apartment, and when I got inside, I pulled the cassettes out of my pocket. I was suddenly quite tired – over exhausted! I told Bill I didn't feel good. “I think I'm going to sleep.” I said.
“Whatever. I'll just watch some T.V. if that's cool with you.”
I suddenly had the cold sweats, and felt bile in the back of my throat. I ran to the bathroom and dry heaved. I suddenly rememberd that I hadn't had anything to eat except the Pop Tarts I ate for breakfast. Bill followed me into the bathroom and asked, “You okay, man?”
I dry heaved again..."Yeah...Yeah...I just need to rest. I feel like shit.”
“Drink some water. Get some fluid in your system.”
Bill went to get me some water, and I drank it. “Thanks," I said. "I'm going to lay down. When Ronnie gets home, tell him I'm in bed and still plan on getting to work...Just wake me up.”
I left the bathroom and collapsed on my bed, fully clothed. When I woke up it was well past noon, and I could hear some noise in the kitchen and thought it was Bill. I got up to see what all the commotion was, and Ronnie was was cooking lunch. “How are you feeling?” he asked.
“A bit better.”
“Bill told me y'all had a long night...He also told me to wake you up for work, but I let you sleep.”
“Maybe you can work tonight? I'm sure Labor World might have a night job open somewhere.”
“Yeah. I'll check. Where's Bill?”
“Asleep on the couch. Look, I'm not going to lecture you, Randy...I know you're enjoying yourself and being a teen, I get it. But, man, you're getting out of control with these nights out...I just don't want you to hurt yourself.”
“I know.” I said. There was a brief silence between us as he kept cooking.
“Oh, I met a girl. You'll never believe where she works.” Ronnie said.
“Is she a security guard?” I asked.
“Nope. The Hope Center. She's a new counsellor, and her name's Becca.”
“Cool. You like her?”
“I do! She's really nice, and we really hit it off.”
“Well, if you need me to disappear for private time, just let me know.” I said.
We sat in silence eating lunch, and then Ronnie told me he was going to bed. I told him I was going to head to Labor World and see if anything was available, but I might head to Versailles to give some plasma as well. “I don't want you to not have some money from me.” I told him.
I left Bill asleep on the couch and headed out to catch the bus down town, walked the rest of the way to Versailles Road, and listened to Pink Floyd's The Wall while I earned $25 dollars for my plasma. As I was walking back, Danielle was walking down the side walk. “Where you headed?” He asked me.
“Just gave some plasma, and now I'm going to Labor World. Where did you go last night?”
“Just walked around. Didn't even bother sleeping at the shelter. Found an old building and crashed there. I'll go with you to Labor World.”
When we got there we checked in and the guy said nothing was available at the moment but he might have a janitorial job cleaning a KMART overnight, if we stuck around. We grabbed some donuts and two styrofoam cups of coffee, and sat around as he told me some travel stories.
“When are you leaving again?” I asked.
“In the next day or two. Is it me or does Bill seem to be getting a bit out of control?”
“I think it's both of us. I'm listening to The Wall, and the reason I can relate is I feel like I'm losing myself...There's this song, Comfortably Numb, and honestly, I'd never paid much attention to the lyrics before. But now I know the song, it was always on my periphery, if that makes sense. So, when it gets to the first chorus David Gilmore takes over and he says...
'There is no pain, you are receding. A distant ship smoke on the horizon. You are only coming through in waves. Your lips move, but you can't hear what you're saying. When I was a child I had a fever. My hands felt just like two balloons. Now I've got that feeling once again, I cannot explain, you would not understand, this is not how I am. I have become comfortably numb...'
Listening to that, Danielle, I mean, really listening to that...and then Gilmore sings again, '
When I was a child I caught a fleeting glimpse out of the corner of my eye. I turned to look but it was gone, I cannot put my finger on it now the child is grown, the dream is gone...'
And I'm saying to myself, 'This is me...this is my life'. I could see my dreams and what I wanted to do with my life, and the things I wanted to share in...To be in love with my girlfriend, and build a life together, to be a musician...And then I looked away and it was gone...I've gotten used to this, I'm comfortably numb...I'm okay with it, I'm not myself, but I'm too numb to really care. I mean, right now as we speak, my parents think I'm going into the Air Force, and just to have their love, just to have a false sense of them being proud of me, I'm lying to them! I care, but I don't care because they're proud! It's not right that their child has to lie to get their love, and yet, if that is what it takes, I'm okay with it – even if it's only temporary. How fucked up have I become? Now, I don't know what's going on with Bill, but he's all I've got right now, here. When he's not trying to put me in questionable situations, we have a bit of fun.”
Danielle sat there listening to me and nodding his head as we waited. I guess it was around 6pm when a work truck pulled up and a guy jumped out and came inside. He told us he needed some guys to work all night long, replacing tiles and cleaning up a KMART. We told him we'd go with him, and we grabbed another cup of coffee before we left. As we drove to the KMART he explained everything to us. “Any of you ever replaced vinyl tiles before?” Danielle said he had but I hadn't any experience in anything. “It's pretty simple...I've already got my own crew there, and they'll explain everything. We have to work fast because the employees of KMART start to arrive at 6am, so we need to replace the sections of flooring that need it. Then, clean the entire store floor – stripping, waxing, buffing. You can't BS around! Work hard, move fast, and you'll be paid well. Oh, some of the perks of working in the big stores is you can pull snacks off the shelves, but let me know what you get so we can tell the manager. Don't get crazy...A bag of chips, a candy bar, liter of pop...Keep it simple!”
We both told him, “Yes, sir,” and when we pulled up at the KMART we climbed out of the truck and entered the store. We were told to follow a couple of his crew men and they explained everything as we walked through the store to the section we were placed in.
One of them handed me a red over-sized hair dryer. “This is a heat gun. You'll blow it over the tiles, melting the glue that binds the tiles to the floor. The other guy – you with the sleeveless jacket – you'll start by peeling up the tiles and then someone will follow behind and lay a new tile. You guys have to move fast 'cause we have a lot of tiles to replace. Get to it!”
I turned on the hot air gun and began blowing it over the tiles. I guess I was taking too long on a tile when another guy says, “That is super hot air – a quick pass over that tile is going to melt the glue. Hit it and move on to the next one!” I began waving the gun over the tiles, and Danielle began popping them up and down the aisle. After a couple of hours, we took a break and I grabbed a liter of Mountain Dew and some Cool Ranch Doritos from the shelves. Danielle ate out of my bag, but chose nothing for himself.
We went back to work and it was actually a lot of fun! The crew were all kind and friendly, telling jokes, playing trivia, and asking us questions. When we finished the tiles, we began stripping the entire floor, waxing and buffing. Before long, the KMART manager arrived to check everything out. He talked with our boss and then it was time for us to leave. On the drive back to Labor World, the guy in charge of us said, “You guys were pretty impressive, and the crew seemed to get along with you both. I like it when my crew gets along – we work better as a unit. Now, I'm not supposed to do this, but I'd like to offer you two guys a job. We work 12 hours a night, four on four off, with good pay. Stay with me for a year and we'll get you some benefits.”
Danielle shot him down immediately...“I'm just passing through, but I really appreciate the offer. I work for myself.”
The man looked at me and I couldn't believe my good fortune, but the idea of working 12 hours a day and having to work at night – nights! I liked to go out to Tolly Ho, do my acid late at night...I couldn't fathom sacrificing that. Had it been in the day time I would've jumped on that immediately, and I stupidly found myself shaking my head and saying, “I can't work at nights.”
The boss looked at me in disbelief, “How old are you kid?”
“Eighteen.” I replied.
“You'll be making more than a minimum wage, and you'll have health benefits. Do you know when a golden goose has just shit in your lap?”
“He's right, Randy.” Danielle said, encouraging me.
“At night? I can't do that!” I said, with no good reason to justify myself...
“Think about it. I'll give you my number, and if you don't call back in a couple of days, I'll move on. It's a good job though, and we do this all over Lexington and surrounding areas. I'll pick you up every day – you don't even need a car.”
“I'll think about it.” I said, pushing the business card with his number into my pocket.
He dropped us off at Labour World and we got our pay checks...I made almost a hundred dollars that night, and that was after Labor World took their cut! I'd never made that much money in one single day. Danielle told me that was enough for him to get moving. He hugged me and said he was headed to the east coast, and told me to keep Bill straight. “Take the job, Randy. The winds are blowing heavily...Listen to them.”
I watched as Danielle walked away, his own winds of destiny pushing him along. I walked to a nearby Kentucky Fried Chicken to get some breakfast biscuits, and then headed back to the apartment. Ronnie was in the living room and I gave him the money I owed him, and told him about the job.
“Sounds like you should take it.”
“Yeah...but it's at night man. I like doing other shit at night.”
“Take the job.”
“I'll sleep on it. I'm going to crash. I'm exhausted after the past couple of days.”
I took a shower, went to my room, and fell fast asleep. When I woke up, I got dressed and headed back to Tolly Ho for dinner. I listened to The Wall on the walk there, and another song – Young Lust – spoke to me. As Pink Floyd's transformation continues in the album, he seems to embrace the rock 'n' roll lifestyle...
“I am just a new boy. Stranger in this town. Where are all the good times? Who's gonna show this stranger around?” He sings.
I reached Tolly Ho and through the window I could see Bill sitting with Kristy, drinking a pitcher of beer. Seeing them laughing together and enjoying themselves, made me smile. I said to myself at that moment, "Give this up? Work at night? No way!”
I pushed the door open, singing as I entered the restaurant...“Oooooh, I need a dirty woman.”
May was approaching fast and I was acutely aware that whatever friends I still had at OBI would be graduating in a couple of weeks. Each year the senior class would go on a celebratory field trip, so I decided to call Jason up and see where they were going, thinking it might be close enough to meet up with them. Of course that meant dealing with Tracy, but at this point I could not care any less...I just wanted to spend time with friends I'd probably never see again.
Jason was surprised when I called...“You haven't talked to me since spring break!” He said.
“It's been crazy times, man,” I replied.
“Since when do you talk like a beatnik?”
“I'm just enjoying myself, man. Where's the class trip this year?” I asked.
“King's Island,” Jason replied.
“Only King's Island I know.”
“Man...I was hoping it would be closer so I could meet up with you guys. Well, I'd obviously have to avoid Amy and Tracy, but that wouldn't be hard.”
“You didn't hear about Tracy?” Jason asked.
“She was expelled.”
“Get off the bullshit!” I practically yelled. “What for?”
“Something about witchcraft, but that sounds stupid. Something some girls are gossiping about...Stupid rumors. Jim said she's still getting a diploma because she did finish her credits.”
“I shouldn't be happy about it – and I'm not – but there is some comfort in knowing I'm not the only screw up around here.”
“Yeah, you say that...But both Jim and his mom blame you..”
“Why am I not surprised? Whatever. I won't be able to get to Cincinatti though; and with my luck I'd get stuck in a city I don't know. Have fun on your trip and give me a call and you can stop by my place.”
“Hold on...gotta clear up a rumor!” Jason said.
“You and Vee...is it true? Some people saw you holding her hand at the bus station after spring break.”
“She hasn't been the same since she came back. Call her up...I can tell you're lying to me. Something happened, didn't it?”
“No...and yeah, I'll call her up,” I said, feeling myself redden with embarrassment.
“Call her!” Jason said again.
“I will! Give me a heads up after graduation, and stop by.”
I hung up. I should've called the girls' dorm up right there and then, but I didn't. I don't know why I was afraid to call, and I felt like a real jerk. Maybe I was afraid of getting attached when my life was so unstable. To this day I'm still not sure why I avoided her.
That evening, Ronnie brought his girlfriend over and it was nice to meet her. She had a black Labrador dog with her, and said she was giving it to Ronnie to train – it was a beautiful dog! I remember sitting on the couch when she ran up to me, put her paws on my knees, and as I moved in to scratch her ears, she licked my face. I laughed, and Becca asked me some questions about where I was from. When I told her I was from Arlington, she said, “Holy cow! I'm from Arlington! Which high school were you supposed to go to?”
“Arlington High. Where did you go?”
“My friend, Mindi went there. She said it was full of stuck-up students.”
Yeah, it's known as a wealthy school. How on earth did you end up in Lexington?”
I was surprised Ronnie didn't tell her the whole story, but I gave her a short version. Then, I suddenly became mindful that they would want some private time, so I left. I scratched the ears of the dog one more time, and got another lick in response, before heading out. I walked to Bill and Kristy's place, but only Kristy was at home; she invited me in, and I noted the trash pile had grown since I'd last been there. “Why'd you stop by?” She asked.
“Had nothing else to do so I thought I'd see if Bill wanted to go to Tolly Ho for a bit.”
“I'll go with you,” she said.
Outside of hanging out at their apartment I hadn't ever hung out with Kristy alone, but I knew it would be fun. “Sure,” I said.
“Let me get cleaned up and put some make up on.” She replied, before heading to the bathroom.
I sat down on the couch and waited. There was a pizza box in front of me and I kicked it out of the way with my foot, so I could sit down. As soon as I moved it, hundreds of tiny cockroaches scattered everywhere! “Jesus Christ!” I screamed, and ran out of the apartment. I've always been afraid of bugs, and I know it's an irrational fear, but while I have never had a problem camping out in the outdoors, if a bug just lands on me I scream like a little girl!
Kristy came outside to see what the commotion was, and I was still shaking...“Dude...Dude! Please, please, please! Promise me you will clean this place up...I can't come in here anymore...A million cockroaches just shot across my feet! I'm serious...I will not come here again until this place is cleaned up. I just can't do it.”
“Okay. I'll get it cleaned up. I'll hire someone to do it.”
“You gotta do more than that Kristy. You gotta nuke the fucking place! Raid bomb the shit out of it! I feel filthy now!”
“Calm down...I'll get it cleaned.”
“Okay, let's get the hell away from here. I'm going to have nightmares for days.”
We walked to Tolly Ho and entered. Kristy offered to buy dinner and I didn't argue. It was nice to just sit and talk 'cause our interactions always involved Bill, or were in the context of buying acid, so I began telling her a little about my life and hearing about hers. Never did I feel like I was talking to a guy. There was no doubt in my mind she was female, and it helped me to understand the world of transgendered people. They deserved to be treated the same as anyone else and from that moment forward I always did my best to defend and support their struggles.
On the walk back to her place she had to use the restroom, so we stopped in front of a discreet building...There were no signs, no markings – nothing that indicated the building was anything other than a storage place or warehouse. “Stay here. I need to go inside to pee.” She said.
“I don't mind coming in.”
“No. No...Trust me. You'll be eaten alive in there...It's a hook up spot for guys. Stay out here and I'll just be a minute.”
“Oh, okay.” I said.
When she came back, I said I was going to head back to my place. She told me she'd get her place cleaned up in a couple of days, and that some special acid would be in soon. I didn't want to miss it. I thanked her and walked back to my apartment.
When I was outside the building, Becca's car was gone, so I went in. The dog barked and ran up to me, trying to climb up my legs. “Hey, girl.” I said, grabbing her paws and shaking them a little before dropping to the ground to wrestle with her. She licked my face and I said, “I'm pooped, girl. I'm going to bed!” The dog cocked her head and looked at me strangely, following me to my room. I threw myself on the bed and she jumped up with me and I fell fast asleep.
A few days later, Ronnie said my dad had called and was upset. I was gone for the day doing temporary labor, helping to dig a ditch for new plumbing at the University of Kentucky. I was covered in mud, and exhausted. “Did he say what he was upset about?”
“No, but he did want you to call him back.”
“Yeah, I'll get right on that.” I said, sarcastically. Talking to my father was the last thing I wanted to do at that moment in time...I just wanted to get showered and go to sleep. “Where's the dog?” I asked.
“Back with Becca. Hey, listen, get cleaned up and when you're finished we need to talk.” Ronnie said.
"Okay...” I said, picking up a strange vibe from him. I went to the bathroom, threw the clothes in a basket and jumped in the shower. When I finished, I went to my room and threw on some clean clothes before joining Ronnie in the living room. “What's up?” I asked.
Ronnie looked at the carpet and then back up at me...“I'm gonna move in with Becca.”
“Okay,” I said, surprised. “So, in a few weeks? When?”
“In a couple of days.”
“In a couple of days? What about this place?”
“I talked to the manager and she said she'd allow you to take over the lease, but you have to put up the two hundred dollar deposit and pay the rest of this month's rent.” Ronnie said.
“I don't have that kind of money right now, Ronnie!” I yelled.
“I know you don't and I've been trying to encourage you to save up, but you're always out.”
“Ronnie, man, where am I supposed to go? And please don't say the shelter, dude, 'cause I do not want to go back there!”
“I know you don't, but unless you come up with four hundred dollars, there's little I can do.”
“That's insane! Man, Ronnie...please, just stay here for a little bit longer and let me save up some money. I'll get serious about it. I swear!”
“I've got a life to live, Randy. I gave you an opportunity to get things straightened out and get back on your feet, and it isn't my fault you squandered it. I talked to Becca and she's going to get you back in the shelter, assuming that is where you go, and she'll get you a bed in the dorm 'cause she knows you are doing some work.”
“This is fucking bullshit!” I yelled, and stood up. I was shaking in anger.
“Come on, man, this is YOUR fault, not mine! I've been good to you, and you can't say I haven't been, Randy.”
He was right. I could only be angry at myself, but I didn't want to admit it. “Screw you!” I said, and stormed out of the apartment.
I walked up the street, and then headed up Winchester Road and down town. I wasn't sure where I was headed...I just needed to blow off some steam. I reached down town fairly quickly, and as I walked down the side walk, passing by my old work place, a car full of girls sped by and they honked their horn and yelled, “Heeeeeyyyy!” out the window. I remember flipping them off and kind of laughing to myself. My life was ridiculous! I was going to head on to Tolly Ho but stopped, turned around, and headed back to my apartment.
When I got home, Ronnie was watching the movie Judge Dredd and I sat there next to him. He handed me his bag of chips and I grabbed a handful. The movie was horrible! One of the worst films I had seen in a very long time. At the end of the movie a song began to play and it was clearly The Cure...The song was amazing, but I couldn't believe they had allowed their music to be attached to such an awful film.
“That was your favourite band, right?” Ronnie asked.
“Yeah...Geeze, what was Robert Smith thinking there? And who the hell thought it would be a good idea to cast Sylvester Stallone as Judge Dredd? There wasn't a lick of Britishness to that movie!” We both laughed.
“I'm sorry, Ronnie,” I said apologetically. “You're right...This is my fault and I guess I'm going back to the shelter. I was going to hit up Kristy for a loan, but I don't want to be in debt with anyone and I'm not in a position to even make the next rent payment, even if I were to pay this one. I'm screwed.”
“Becca is going to look out for you. Just please...start saving up money and stop partying. Ask Becca to hold it for you or something.”
“Yeah...I will” I said.
I was dropped off in the shelter with more stuff than I had the first time – including a considerable collection of cassettes and CDs I'd accumulated during the time I'd been earning a wage from Labor World. Rusty was still working at the shelter, and I noticed a couple of other familiar faces that looked at me as if they'd seen it all happen before. A guy in the lobby said, “Randy, right? Becca told us you were coming in and we've already got a bed assigned to you so you don't have to sleep in the Cafeteria tonight.”
“Thanks,” I said, deflated. I walked back to the dorm area and found my assigned locker where I could keep all of my stuff, and made a mental note to buy a lock. When I was done unloading my stuff I went to the Cafeteria and sat alone as I ate dinner. A few other homeless people looked at me, and then looked back at their trays.
The next day I went over to Kristy and Bill's place, and Bill answered the door. “I hope it's been cleaned up a little?” I said, half afraid to walk in.
“You wouldn't believe it! It's like a whole new place...She even got the walls painted and shit!”
I entered the apartment and my jaw hit the floor! It still had the same beaten up old furniture and the old refrigerator, but other than that, the place looked immaculate. “Where's Kristy?” I asked.
“Out. Hey, I heard you moved back to the shelter and we were talking, and there's a place for you here if you want it. No strings attached.”
I had wondered to myself if that would be a possibility but I had a couple of fears...One was living in a place where were drugs were sold – what if there was a bust and my parents saw me on an episode of COPS? And, as much as I liked Bill and Kristy, I just didn't think I could spend every single day with them. Bill was better in small doses...I'd live a very short life if I spent every single day with him! “I'll think about it," I said. "The good thing about being at the shelter is that everybody knows me there. Ronnie's girlfriend said she'll look out for me, and there's the pity factor, you know, the sweet kid in the homeless shelter...Why not play it up? I'm tired of playing by the rules.”
“Hey, man, I've been doing this shit for a long time. Some would call it manipulation, but you gotta take any advantage you can take, and you have that face.” He said.
“Fuck off.” I said, laughing.
“So, guess what?” Bill asked.
“Kristy's got the new stuff.” He said, wiggling his eyebrows.
“The gel tabs?”
“Yessiree,” Bill replied.
“How much does it cost?” I asked.
“Well, you've got to keep in mind that this shit is two, three times stronger than the normal acid. So, she's charging a bit more. She can't cut us a discount either because this stuff comes from a different source. We're going to be the guinea pigs, but she assures me it's grade A shit!”
“How much?” I asked again.
“She'll give us five hits for forty bucks.”
“Forty bucks? That's insane!”
“Quality, man...Quality! You don't pay ten bucks for a pair of Girbaud jeans, you pay sixty, seventy dollars.”
“Get off the shit, man. You've never worn a pair of Girbauds in your life.”
“Oh, excuse me Mr. Fancy Pants...I forgot, suburbs kid. My point is you pay for quality.”
I let out a sigh...“Okay. I'm not buying yours, dude. I've really got to start saving money up. I don't want to stay in the shelter any longer than I have to. I'll go to work tomorrow, we'll buy it from Kristy, then do it on Friday?”
“Sounds like a plan to me. Look at you! It's usually me making the plans.” Bill said, slapping my back.
Bill and I both went to work together the following day, and then decided to meet up at Tolly Ho around noon that following Friday. Bill said he'd bring the gel tabs to me at the hang out. When I left the shelter on Friday morning, the woman who was trying to get me to take the GED class stopped me on the way out. “You know, once you take this class you'll have more opportunities.”
“I'll think about it.” I said, heading out.
I went to the library for a little bit, noticing on the way that the morning was quite warm for the first week of May. I pulled a copy of Rolling Stone magazine off the shelf and sat down to read it. The Cure's album was due out in a week, and I wanted to see if a review was out. Sure enough, it was, and if I remember correctly, they gave it three stars. It wasn't the best review, and while they said it wasn't a bad album, it didn't compare to previous releases. I just shook my head because it seemed like the critics were always trying to compare their more recent albums to Disintegration. Didn't they know that no two Cure albums were alike? That was what was made them so great...They could move styles seamlessly, while still holding on to what made it a Cure album. “What the hell do critics know?” I asked myself, knowing I'd make up my own mind when I heard the album.
I headed back out of the library, squinting in the morning sun, and saw someone walk by with fire engine red hair. It looked really cool and the thought struck me to dye my hair. I stopped by Cut Corner Records to rummage through a new batch of used cassettes in a bin, and came across a copy of The Cure's album, Top. I'd never heard this particular album because it's always been difficult to find a copy in more mainstream stores. It was five bucks, so I quickly bought it and shoved it into my pocket.
When I got to Tolly Ho's I ordered a Mountain Dew and sat down in a booth waiting on Bill. Before long, I saw him come through the door and order a pitcher of beer before joining me. “We good?” I asked.
“Indeed. Indeed.” He said. “Need that sweet cash first.”
I reached into my pocket and pulled out the money. “Order some chilli cheese fries,” I said, thinking I was slick as I handed him the money.
“Gotchya. Hey, wanna top off that Mountain Dew?” He asked me.
I went to hand him the plastic cup but he stopped me and said, “I'll get one to go...I'll be right back.” When he returned he handed me a large white styrofoam cup with a plastic lid, and on the lid were five little red squares. They were about a third the size of a normal acid hit. “Careful. You don't want to lose those babies,” he said.
I touched one with my finger and it stuck, so I licked it off...Bill did the same. Normally, acid takes about 45 minutes to start working its way through one's system, but depending on the strength of a hit, it could be much less time, or sometimes even longer. So, after 45 minutes passed I asked Bill if he was feeling anything. “Not yet, but give it a bit more time. It'll hit.”
More time passed...It should've been working by now, I thought angrily. “This is bullshit, man. We were sold some bunk shit.” I said.
“Kristy wouldn't do us like that. Trust me, it'll work.” Bill said. He stood up, walked over to the Juke Box, and programmed it to play some music. Peaches by Presidents Of The United States of America, blasted out! It was a silly song, but a good one.
“I didn't think you liked alternative music?” I asked Bill.
“It's a good song! That video with the ninjas and shit? Wild stuff, man...Wild stuff.”
“Are you feeling it? 'Cause I don't feel crap!”
“Not gonna lie, dude, I'm feeling it. Pretty strong. Pretty strong.”
“I'll take one more and see if it helps. Otherwise, I want my money back.”
“Don't take more than two, dude. Truuuuuuust meeeee.” He said, giggling.
I didn't want to be paranoid, but I started to wonder if Bill had ripped me off and kept the good stuff to himself. I decided to not accuse him of that because he was a friend and I didn't want a conflict. He got up and ordered a pitcher of beer, dropped it off at the table, and said, “Keep an eye on that, buddy. I need to make a run outside but I'll be back in a few. Don't go anywhere!”
Bill was gone for more than a few minutes...In fact, 30 minutes had passed and I still didn't feel a single bit of the acid. I got angry, grabbed the other three hits, popped all of them in my mouth, and decided to confront Bill about it – if he ever came back.
After another 20 minutes passed, Bill came back into Tolly Ho, grabbed the beer as if he'd only been gone for two minutes, and poured a cup. He drank it down quickly and said, "Nectar of the Gods!”
“Still not feeling anything.” I said, fuming.
His eyes snapped wide open in disbelief. “Seriously?”
“It doesn't make any sense. I'm fucked up right now, like, really fucked up. I don't want you to think I ripped you off. Give the rest back and I'll give you your money back.”
“I took them all.”
“You did what?” He said, suddenly sober with a look of real concern on his face.
“If they don't work it doesn't matter. I swallowed them. Fuck that 40 dollars!”
“Dude...listen to me. If those end up working, you just took the equivalent of 15 hits of acid. People don't come back from that kind of shit, man!” He said, genuinely worried.
Just as he said that I felt the first rush of the drug move through my system, like an electric current. “Whoa!” I said. “I feel it. Shit, Bill, I messed up...What do I do?”
“You can't do anything...Just ride it out and whatever happens tell yourself it's all in your head. Nothing is real.”
As the feelings became more intense, I could feel every single nerve fiber in my body. I was vibrating, and sounds became unbearably loud...I had trouble distinguishing each one – forks scraping across plates, the music coming from the Juke Box, laughter, electronic beeps from the cash register, and video game machines, were all mixed up in my mind.
More and more people came into the hang out filling it up completely. I watched as cars rushed by outside, their tail lights trailing away like lasers. A police car passed by and I watched as it crumpled in on itself like something out of the movie Terminator 2: Judgement Day.
“Shit Bill!” I gasped. “They've come to kill us, dude!”
Bill looked at me, amused...grinning, “Who has?”
“The robot cops, man. They're fucking right out there!” As I said that, the cruiser had parked in front of Tolly Ho and two police officers stepped outside of their car.
“It's cool, man. Just stay cool.”
I was on the verge of freaking out. I could clearly hear the music from Terminator playing in the background...dun dun dun dundundun...dun dun dun dundundun...The officers entered and I held my breath as they walked by our booth, scanning the place with their robotic vision. When they passed me I let out a “Whew!” and told Bill, “They must not be able to read us on their scopes. We're good.”
It seemed with each minute that passed, my hallucinations intensified. The memories I have of that night passed by in quick 'cuts' – music playing, and each song picked on the Juke Box was a different emotion: anger, happiness, love, sadness.
A group of rednecks sitting at a table playing poker, but all looking like cinobites from the movie, Hellraiser.
A girl coming up to me and tried to pull me out of the booth, but I couldn't get my legs to work. “I'm stuck, man. There no use. Go on without me.” I said to the girl.
At one point I was convinced that the place had inverted itself, and we were outside, and the outside was actually the INSIDE of the place. When I piqued around 2 or 3 in the morning, I had felt the most intense and euphoric feeling of my life. An orgasm passed over my body and I was flooded with a rush of information and sudden understanding of the universe. I knew everything, and as it passed through my being, I yelled, “I KNOW!!!”
Someone who had joined our booth – probably amused by me – said, “Know what?” And in the blink of an eye it was all gone, and I knew nothing. I felt crazy...Legitimately insane. I had made everything up and none of the people around me were real; I was probably sitting on some park bench talking to myself as people passed by.
“I know I'm crazy. None of you are real. This whole thing – this place, all of it...Just make-believe. I'm crazy. I'm crazy. I'm crazy.” I said over and over to myself.
I don't know what Bill did or how he brought me back, but I remember being outside, on the side walk, and he was shaking me violently. “Dude! Look! Look at all this! You're here...You're fine, man. YOU ARE FINE!”
I looked around me and suddenly came back to my senses. I wasn't crazy after all. Some other people huddled around me and asked me if I was okay and a police officer started to approach us, probably wondering what was going on. We all kept walking and made a turn onto another block, and he stopped following us.
Someone said there was one last showing of a movie at the Kentucky Theater, and invited me and Bill to go along with them. I was still a little confused, but happily trailed along. It turned out that Hellraiser 4 was playing, and so we all bought tickets and entered the theater.
I felt thirsty, so I went to the counter to get a drink while Bill went to find a seat for us. I asked for a bottle of cherry flavoured Clearly Canadian, and a box of Jujyfruits. I don't know why I picked that particular candy as I had never had them before, but it seemed like a reasonable choice. The guy told me how much it all cost and I dug into my wallet and pulled out a few bills. As I stared at George Washington on the dollar bill, he began to wink and smile at me, so I started to laugh uncontrollably. “Dude!” I said, “Did you see that? George Washington! Our first president, just winked at me!”
The poor guy...He'd probably dealt with his fair share of stoned or high college students, but he smiled back at me and laughed, “Well, your movie is about to start. Enjoy!”
I thanked him and entered the theater. Everyone was sitting at the front row – I hated the front row! Anyone watching movies like I did, knew that the optimal viewing spot in terms of eye/screen ratio and perfect sound, was to sit in either the center middle or center back rows. Bill claimed to be a movie fanatic like me? For shame! I walked to where everyone was and sat down next to Bill. “For shame, Bill. For shame.” I told him. He looked at me oddly.
I opened the bottle of Clearly Canadian and took a long swig, then tore open the box of Jujyfruits candy, popping a few in my mouth. I could feel every chewy strand in my mouth and it felt disgusting, so I spat them out in front of me. “Dude! Don't spit in the theater!” Bill said to me in an angry whisper. Then the screen went black and the next image we all saw was the face of Pin Head screaming back at us. I freaked out! I screamed at the top of my lungs and Bill threw his hand over my mouth. “What is wrong with you?” He said, as everyone laughed.
I calmed down and we watched the movie in relative silence. By the time we left it was early Saturday morning; I was still tripping but had come down quite a bit and could function again. Bill suggested we go to a computer lab on the UK campus and play some MUD, so I followed. When we got there I was fully down, exhausted, and ready for sleep. We were closer to his place than the shelter, so we went there and I remember falling asleep on the couch. When I woke up, Kristy was eating a bowl of cereal in the kitchen, and offered me some. “How was it?” She asked. I shook my head still trying to process everything from the day before. “Yeah...that seems to be the response from a few other clients. You gotta respect that shit.” She said.
When The Cure's new album Wild Mood Swings was released, I started my day with excitement! I jumped out of bed, grabbed some shower stuff, and went to get cleaned up for the day. I stopped by the Cafeteria to eat a quick breakfast, and got ready to head out. Then, realising I had forgotten my Walkman, I ran back to my locker to grab it before heading to the music store – I wanted to be there when the doors opened.
There was lots of people on the bus – obviously headed to work at that time of the morning, and I noticed one really cute girl about the same age as myself, sitting alone with headphones on. I turned my ear to hear what she was listening to; she had Lexington's new alternative station playing, and I noticed her lips were moving to New Order's Blue Monday. She caught me looking at her, and smiled. I gave her a shy wave and held my Walkman up to show her I was listening to the same thing, and she nodded. I wish I had had the nerve to introduce myself, but instead I sat there jamming along to the music.
The bus dropped me off at the Fayette Mall, and I crossed the street to the music store - it was just opening and the stereo system was already playing The Cure album. I could feel goosebumps spread across my body...I felt alive with excitement! I noticed that the guy I normally talk to – the guy whose band I tried out for – wasn't at the store, and when I asked another girl I routinely talked to about music, she said he quit to travel with his band. I couldn't help but feel a tinge of sadness thinking had things been different with me, I could have been with them. “That's the new Cure album playing, right?” I asked the girl.
“Yep. Sounds pretty good so far. Let me guess, you want to go to a booth to listen to it?”
“Hell yeah! I've been waiting on new music for a while,” I said.
She pulled out a copy that had already been opened and handed it to me. I looked at the album art – yellow, with a toy clown on the front – and took it to a booth to listen to. I took the CD out of the jewel case, popped it into the disc tray, and pushed 'play'...Went was the first song on the album and it had that classic Cure building intro. The next song, Club America, was a bit different; an obviously political song with Robert Smith channelling David Bowie on vocals. And there was a 7 minute song called Bare that was heart breaking.
I listened to the album at least three or four times, and then went to buy my own copy. I walked back to the check out area and handed the girl the CD when I noticed there was also a new album release from the Cranberries. “I didn't know they had new music out too! May I listen to that?” She grabbed an opened disc and handed it to me. It was a fantastic album, and the track, Free to Decide hit me the hardest. Sadly, I didn't have enough money to afford two cassettes, so I handed it back to her and just bought the Cure album before thanking her, and leaving the store.
I stopped by the Cinemark movie theater to see if they had any matinee features and there was a showing of James and the Giant Peach that was done by the same people who created, Nightmare Before Christmas, so I decided to go in and watch it. I really enjoyed the movie and it was a very faithful adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic.
I left the theater feeling like it was turning out to be a perfect day. On the bus ride back I listened to my new cassette and felt in such a state of zen that when I got off down town, I decided I was going to stop by Steak Fest, apologise to my old boss, and wish them well, but at the last minute I chickened out and instead headed to Tolly Ho. The place was empty so I bought a plate of Chilli Cheese fries, enjoying the food as I listened to my new cassette.
I'd been there a while when a punk rocker dude came into the hang out and his spiked hair tipped with colours of green, blue and red, caught my eye. He nodded to me and I nodded back, then he ordered some coffee and sat alone. I remember thinking, “I'm dyeing my hair today!” I finished my food and left in a hurry. I had some sugar free Kool Aid in my locker back at the shelter, and I remember at school hearing that you could use that as cheap hair dye...It was worth a try.
When I went to my locker I pulled it out, looked at the plastic jar and thought, “Here goes nothing.” I hadn't the slightest clue as to what I was doing but it didn't stop me from trying! I washed my hair and began to rub in the dark red drink mix. It ran down my face in thick red streams, and I looked like a victim in a slasher movie! I continued rubbing it into my hair, my hands blood red, when from behind me I heard,
“Good lawd almighty!” I turned around and a guy was there, hip cocked to the side, and hands resting on his hips. “What on sweet earth are you doing?”
“Dyeing my hair?” I replied.
“Whoever told you to use Kool Aid needs to be slapped from here to California!”
Feeling embarrassed I became defensive and said, “How the hell would you know?”
“Because, I'm a professional hair stylist. Just fell on some bad times, sweetie. Wash that horrid stuff out of your hair. I've got some professional stuff in my locker. We'll do it the right way.”
I squirted some shampoo into my hand, turned on the sink and rinsed the drink mix out of my hair, but I still had stained red streaks down my forehead. “Idiot!” I told myself in the mirror, drying my hair.
When I walked into the hallway, a chair had been set up and a black leather bag was sat next to it. “Sit down, honey.” The guy said. I sat down and he draped a black cloth over my body and fastened it around my neck. “First, I'm going to have to trim your hair a bit. It's a little unruly.” He grabbed some scissors and began to snip away the ends of my hair. It was a little past my chin in length. “I'm gonna keep it right at your chin, but thin it out a bit. You do have some really gorgeous thick hair. You sure you want to dye it?”
“Yeah,” I said.
When he was done cutting it he grabbed a bottle of peroxide and rubbed it into my hair. “This will help lighten it so the dye will really stick. What color do you want? I've got red, green, purple, blue...”
“Green!” I said, thinking of myself looking like the Joker.
“How about green streaks? It'll look really good when your hair darkens back up.”
We waited quite a bit to let my hair lighten and then he told me to rinse it again. When I came back to the chair he pulled out a green bottle of Manic Panic! Hair Dye, and started separating clusters of my hair and running the dye up and down each part. Then he wrapped the clusters in foil pieces.
“Just sit here for a while and then we'll take this foil off and you'll be good to go!” He said.
As I was sitting there a counsellor came up to me and said, “A friend of yours is here.” I was thinking maybe Bill stopped by but then Emma was standing in front of me. I was livid. The shelter had a policy of protecting the privacy of the people staying in the shelter; they wouldn't even tell the police unless there was some kind of warrant or someone was acting up or violating a rule.
“Who let you in?” I asked.
“It doesn't matter.” She said.
“Yes it does! Why are you here?”
“I want my money and don't tell me you don't have it! People see you all over the UK campus partying it up. If you've got money to do drugs, then you've money to pay me back.”
I became angrier...“Don't freaking get all holier than thou like I'm some kind of junkie now. You know what, just leave...You're not getting shit now. Screw off!” I said.
Emma stood there for a second and then turned around to leave. The hair stylist came back and could see I was upset. “You okay, hon?” He said.
“Sure. Is this ready yet?” I asked.
He took the foil pieces out of my hair and said, “Looks good! Go and wash your hair and tell me what you think.”
I did as I was told and when I looked at myself I looked and felt like a new person. “Screw everyone.” I said, and walked out. Over the next few days I received a lot of compliments on my new look. At Tolly Ho I had more people gravitating towards me and I began to put on an air of confidence – losing myself even more in the process. I even began drinking more, despite the fact I couldn't stand the taste of beer.
When I returned to the shelter one afternoon, a counsellor at the front desk told me my dad had called and said he wanted me to call back immediately. I was a bit confused because I hadn't even told my dad I'd returned to the shelter. That meant someone close to me had to have told him. I could've ignored the request but instead walked to a payphone and called collect. My dad answered and accepted the call.
“How did you know I was back in the shelter?” I asked.
“I can find you anywhere you are.”
“So, you're spying on me now?” I said, getting upset.
“You lied to me and your mother. You're not going into the military...When you disappeared I called every recruitment office in Lexington and I couldn't find a single person who could confirm you had enlisted.”
I felt ashamed. I thought that the only way I could get his attention and feel like he loved me again, was to tell him I was going into the military – that's why I tried to enlist. I wanted with all of my heart and soul to tell him that was the reason I did it, but instead I remained silent until he said, “You didn't even work at a place called Steak Fest.”
“What? Who told you that, because that is bullshit!”
“I called the place up and they said they never heard of you. Are you ever telling the truth?”
“That is such bullshit, dad. I worked there but I quit because they found out I was Jewish and treated me like crap after that! I've got pay cheque stubs to prove I worked there and if you want me to fucking mail them to you, I will!”
“It doesn't matter. I also heard you're running around doing drugs. Doing LSD.”
“Who told you that, dad?” I said. Immediately thinking it was Emma. Was this her revenge?
“Do you know that out of all the drugs you could pick to do, LSD is one of the worst? It never leaves you...You could have a flash back years down the line!” He lectured.
“Great! That means I won't have to pay for it!” I said, sarcastically.
“We don't even know who you are anymore, Randy. You don't act like a Halprin.”
“Yeah? You don't act like a dad!”
I hung up the phone, and headed back to the dorm area. I wanted to grab my Walkman and some tapes so I could get out somewhere for a while and cool off. When I got to my locker I noticed it was slightly open. I thought I must've not closed it all the way, but when I opened the door and looked at the shelf where I kept my tapes, CDs and Walkman, everything was gone! All of my clothes, shampoo, and cologne were all there, but the things that mattered the most to me were gone!
I slammed the door and began to scream at the top of my lungs...Almost everyone in the dorm was asleep and I woke them all up. “WHERE THE FUCK IS MY SHIT?!?!? WHO FUCKING STOLE MY STUFF?” Someone I woke up told me to shut up and keep it down, and I said, “Fuck you! I want to know who took my shit? Someone saw it, I know they did!”
I went to empty beds and began to flip mattresses off the bunks. I went to lockers with no locks and began to throw peoples' stuff out of them. Some guys ran up to me to restrain me, and I struggled with them until they had me pinned on the ground and some counsellors and a couple of security guards came in...Rusty was one of them. “What the hell is going on in here? he asked, telling the guys holding me down to let me go.
“He's doped up out of his mind! Probably crack!” A homeless guy yelled.
“I'm not on crack. I'm not on anything! Someone broke into my locker and stole my stuff.”
“Call the cops and have him arrested!” Another homeless guy yelled.
One of the counsellors said, “No one is getting arrested. Randy, go up to the front so we can figure out what is going on.”
Rusty stood in between me and some other guys, and walked me to the front. I was all but certain they were about to kick me out of the shelter, but we stopped at the check in desk and everyone began to ask me what happened. “I just got off the phone with my dad and when I went to my locker, my tapes, my CDs, my Walkman, were all gone.” I said.
“Did you have a lock on it?” A female asked.
“No. I never got a lock.” I said, feeling like the most stupid person on the planet.
They told me to stay at the front for a bit to calm down, but I knew the only thing that would settle my nerves would be music. “Can I just go and play the piano in the Cafeteria for a bit? It'll calm me down.”
Rusty stayed with me and walked me to the Cafeteria. I sat down at the piano and began to plunk the keys, and it did help me to calm down. As I was playing, an older lady I'd never seen before came up to me and said, “You play pretty good.”
“Thanks.” I replied.
“I'm Nancy, one of the directors here.”
“Okay...” I said, not sure where this was going.
“How old are you?” she asked.
“Tell me your story. How did you end up here?”
I stopped playing and told her about being expelled from school, problems with my parents, and how I just wanted to go back home and start over. She said, “How about you help me out with some things?...You're on the ground floor with these guys and know what their needs are and we want to change some things around.”
“You aren't going to kick me out?”
“Why would we do that? I can see you need a bit of guidance, that's all. Let's help each other out. What d'ya say?”
“Okay,” I said. Feeling a little bit better.
Over the next few weeks, Nancy really took me under her wing, and she even talked me into taking the GED classes. “Just an hour or two. It'll be good for you.” She said.
She wanted my advice on things like hygiene products, clothing for homeless people, better food for the Cafeteria. We made trips to Sam's Club, a wholesale warehouse, where we bought better quality toothbrushes in bulk, as well as shampoo kits, soaps, and other hair products. Often we'd stop off at Dairy Queen and she'd buy me a Butter Finger flavoured Blizzard, an ice cream treat. She never once judged me, and even though I still had that pull to head to Tolly Ho and party, she was trying to steer me in the right direction. I started to feel like I needed to change my life. To seriously get back on track.
This double life – normal in the day time, partier at night – wasn't sustainable for me. Deep inside I knew that if I continued on that trajectory, I'd have an explosion far worse than tearing up a dormitory over stolen tapes...I knew I had to figure out a way to get back home.