Untouched PART 1

King of New York Magic BagUntouched: Heroin Bag Graphics as the Last Great Folk Art

PART 1

In a world where individuality and uniqueness is increasingly compartmentalized, marginalized and homogenized, it seems as if there couldn’t possibly be the slightest hint of expression that hasn’t been exploited for one purpose or another. The exponential growth of technological prowess promises an even more muted sense of expression where conformity is pimped as hyper-individuality. Within the massive die out of flesh and bone there rises a simulation of the self where breath is replaced by code. But before this extinction began art was being stripped of all its humanity for quite some time.

There hasn’t been an art form that has remained untouched and unscathed by the greedy little fingers of the machine. I once sat back in awe watching powerful and expressive colors cascading by me on subway trains and city streets. Mesmerized by the sheer free quality of this exciting new art form, I too joined as many other inner city teens did. We felt like we were doing something real, something different, something that the mainstream had nothing to do with. We could not be bought.

Fast forward to now. Graffiti has become cheap, blasphemous commodity; kitsch. It has been robbed of its essence and as soon as it obtained artifice and was created with an ulterior motive, it lost all credibility. It started with taggers doing there work on canvass and selling it to the art world elite and morphed into the post graffiti world where the likes of Banksy and Obey have made truckloads of cash from clothing lines and coffee table books. Nothing is sacred and the saddest part is how seemingly subservient the artists allowed themselves to be taken.

There is however, I claim, one true, untouched, folk art that is alive and well, existing right under the noses of the power elite, yet still to this day unravaged by the filthy hands of the money man. It flourishes beneath the underbelly of the city and stands proud within the shadows of the economic strain, laughing at the swelling and contracting of the stock market. This art is heroin bag package graphics.

I feel safe in saying that there is an even more compelling allure to this art form within the fact that the movers and the shakers of the art world have either overlooked, neglected, or simply were unaware of its existence at all. This black market expression runs on the back of an artistic branding that is not only unique and stylish, but is socially relevant.

To move further here we need to define folk art in itself. Generally the criteria for the definition is as follows: folk art encompasses the collective expression of a certain indigenous people and revolves around a certain trade. Folk art is usually utilitarian and has a naïve and unschooled style. Traditional rules of aesthetic, proportion or perspective are ignored and the look is usually a reflection of the surrounding milieu.

Unbeknownst to outsiders, the heroin market has many intricacies which I will briefly cover here for the sake of a better understanding of the art form alone. Latin or black dealers generally do not use the drug. Its an unwritten rule. Whereas the white dealers usually do. The people designing the graphics that identify each heroin brand therefor are not users. In turn the images tat are chosen for the bag branding are usually of cartoonish proportion. Assuming what addicts will equate with a strong batch, the artists exploit certain obvious imagery. References to overdose, death, medicine and sickness are typical.

“Poison”, “Dead Man Walking”, “Red Line”, “Body Bag”. These are examples of a few very popular brands that I have seen. The advertising was simple. A potential buyer, ie:junkie, would be walking down a block known for its drug trade and street dealers would call out the name of whichever brand they were carrying. If the addict knew this brand was reliable and potent, he would then approach the dealer and the sale would go down. Names would gather reputations at times and certain brands would become so popular that copy cats would pop up all over the place. This is where turf wars would ­emerge. With every name there would be an image, crudely stamped on to the wax paper bag in red, blue, black or green ink. Once in a while you would come across a purple or orange inked stamp, but for the most part the colors were basic and limited.

Narcotics enforcement were well informed of the branding trade and whenever there would be an epidemic emergency room explosion of addicts who were overdosing from a certain brand, the cops would find out who were running that name and then all involved with the brand would go to jail for the damage. At times homicide would be charged to guys who had nothing to do with the actually overdose, but a conspiracy charge would stick using the bond of the street brand to tie all together. For a while name brands seemed to die off because of this.

With the rise of cell phone dealers, the need to call out name brands in the street became less and less of a phenomenon, but the presence of brand art is still quite alive and well.

Artistic branding is unique onto the heroin trade and does not exist in the world of other drugs such as cocaine, crack, meth, cannabis, and so on. With this being said, its odd to think about how present drug culture imagery is in modern day visuals. In any mall across America you will see hip hop kids wearing shirts with pot leaf insignias, imprint wording “Coke Boys”, dollar bills and lines of cocaine, and other text referencing “addiction” or Junkie. Where is this going? And why is there such an allure grafted onto the fabric of this subculture? To think there exists a drug identification which has not been thrown to the wolves seems unlikely but it is in fact exactly that. Perhaps it is simply an esoteric world to which so very few are exposed to that the select initiated feel an affinity to the spirit of purity, even as undercurrent and unconscious, or perhaps it is much simpler than that; where being that no pop icon has exploited it as of yet, therefor there is no immediate need for the ‘goods’.

END OF PART 1

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The Tiny Red Ape that Lives in my Stomach

A small red ape.

He lives inside of me.

He always wins. He is strong and I am weak.

The tiny red ape wants things and makes me do things. He is always in communication with me. No words. Its beyond that.

He likes to feel my ribs rub against the surface of his ribs. He feels it sometimes when I walk or when I’m having sex. It makes him feel alive. His favorite is when my ribs rub against someone else’s rubs and then he can feel his against as well. This is always a goal of his. 

Its because of him that I am an addict. When I use heroin or crack he feeds off of the intoxication. When I don’t use he feeds off of the sickness, the cravings. I opt for the high. It makes things tolerable. Even if its temporary. At least he doesn’t hurt me then.

Alcohol makes him very agitated. Benzos make him forget.

He hates the sound of running water. I get punished if I leave a faucet on for too long. He bangs against my stomach and it gives me a belly ache. 

He always wins.

And he doesn’t like me telling you this. Wants me to stop now.

When he gets really mad he turns into a white spiral and spins faster and faster. This hurts a lot. Its almost like a tiny tornado in my solar plexus.

I do what he wants.

In my dreams he manifests as a man and makes me do horrible things. A shadow eclipses his face wherever he walks. The light never seems to make it on to his face.

He was satisfied with dream states for a long time. Until one day he came to me while I was awake and made me do bad things. 

He doesn’t like me writing about him.

I don’t want him to get angry so I have to stop now.

He always wins.

He is strong. I am weak.

He wants me to stop now. 

I dont want him to hurt me again.

 

 

 

 

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Relativistic Time Trajectories

In my slightly larger than life obsession with relativistic time dilation in regard to the just below consciousness, cusp-riding reverie, I have come across a wide variety of reference material which may or may not have led me to any kind of solid conclusion. An inverse square application has a most promising route. However, it just may take me a lifetime to either prove or cast aside. Not being a student proper of theoretical physics or theoretical cosmology leaves me in an awkward position as well. A position of distrust regarding the very findings I stumble upon grinds at my confidence upon every ‘eureka’ moment. Speaking to a few learned folk and referencing various physics forums, I feel I just might be able to someday come to an understanding in this area. The area of time fluctuation in varied states of consciousness.

This bring us to muons.

Cosmic ray muons are produced when cosmic rays collide with nuclei in the Earth’s upper atmosphere. Cosmic rays are high-energy extra-terrestrial particles. Hydrogen nuclei (protons) make up most of the incident cosmic ray flux, but helium nuclei (alpha particles) and other light nuclei also are present, as are high-energy gamma rays. Nuclei that enter the atmosphere will eventually collide with an air molecule and initiate a hadronic shower—a cascade of particles (mostly pions) that may undergo further nuclear reactions. Neutral pions (π 0) immediately decay into two gamma rays, which in turn generate electromagnetic showers (e+, e−, γ) that are not very penetrating. Charged pions (π±) that do not undergo further nuclear reactions will decay in-flight into muons and neutrinos: π+ → µ+ + νµ,π− → µ− + νµ. Both the muon and its corresponding neutrino are classified as leptons, particles that do not participate in nuclear reactions. The neutrinos have an extremely tiny capture cross-section, and thus typically passthrough the Earth without any further interactions.

The life span of a muon is roughly around 2.2 microseconds. They decay at a velocity along a trajectory toward the Earth’s surface at close to the speed of light, but even if they were to travel at C (186,000 mps) they would only be able to travel about a kilometer. Logic would dictate that these particles, beginning at the top Earth’s atmosphere and again decaying toward the planet’s surface, would never actually reach the surface. But they do. A great number of them are detected at the surface of the planet. This, without going off on another tangent, is proof of Special Theory of Relativity. Muons are also used (taking into consideration the stopping power of muons traveling through solid objects along with angle randomness and decay as well as a great number of variants) in detecting inner surfaces of natural and man-made structures. Not too long ago muons were used in location experiments in trying to find inner chambers within the Khufu Pyramid.

So here we have a tested method in relation to a theory who’s very nature is counter intuitive to say the least.

In the work I am in the process of recording here (in this blog/book preparation)one will notice many instances of a unexplainable time-fluctuation in relation to the relative consciousness within the event.

The only explanation, well satisfactory explanation at least, is that at such speeds there is an extreme time/space dilation, a compression of distance.

The question then is, if there is a compression of space/time with velocity and mass in real space/time, then where does consciousness exist in terms of time being an entity onto itself. Time as seen as a separate dimension (as M-Theory, String Theory and Super-Symmetry will agree t some extent) would give time a dimension specific trajectory. Here is where I sense time may be something running concurrent within a hyper consciousness, along side with this conscious time perception. Mathematically time can run forward or backward without consequence depending on rates on entropy.

States of glossolalia, amplified visual velocity, and the strange compression of knowledge present in dream reveries, especially the short lived reveries which I would classify as running for only a few seconds, cannot simply be explained by phycological states and simple perception. After scouring book after book on the non local and oddly entangled whereabouts of consciousness I believe strongly in a separate time stream independent of the ‘here and now’ which exists within a relativistic exponential equation yet to be uncovered.

And so I set my sights on finding something coherent wrapped up within the folds of mystery.

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Journal Cover roughly 2004

Journal Cover roughly 2004

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Open Arms (A more in depth version will come out of this I’m sure)

I enter the lives of others on horseback. I tightly grip the reigns, arch my back, which in turn forces my head to angle upward and my eyes to cast down through thinned slit eyelids; I then spur my mount, and haughtily gallop around my subject in effort to control the dynamic from the get go. These precision movements and gestures have been wrought into my very being and at this point in my life effortlessly usurp my gait when meeting someone for the first time. A childhood that was pitifully exposed to unfortunate circumstances has coarsened my soul and forced me into a state of perpetual defense, so much so that this has turned into, by default, an offense. There wouldn’t be anywhere else to turn but toward this harsh and un trusting approach to life and to love. Armed with this realization I can perhaps find it in myself to make a conscious change in a different direction. I had a friend a few years ago who stated that I was much like a comet, I seldom came around, but when I did I blasted in on a great ball of light and soon left a trail of dust behind. Patrick was his name. His mother Cynthia was wealthy and would pay me 1,000 dollars a pop to date her daughter. Her and her daughter were estranged and she had some fantasy about the two being reunited through me. I simply took the money and did the very least amount of work that I could get away with. Which amounted to basically nothing. Friendships like this are forged in blood and smoke in the world of hardcore drug addicts, especially in the wealthy drug circles on which people like me prey upon. But I am so weary of those dark feelings, those nothing gestures. One day I just may take a giant leap of faith into the frighteningly unfamiliar void of unguarded human trust and love.

A chance encounter of the most unusual type offered me an opportunity to approach this very challenge and in turn I failed miserably. Awkward and clumsy with rough angular gestures, this man who has seen so little of the world of kindness and companionship was shaken to the core by a fragile little beast. It seems that the smallest and most unthreatening of creatures can grab the tightest hold on brutality, force it to its knees, and with a tender touch, crush the tyrant in an instant. Although relatively quick in time, this encounter made an incredibly strong impression on my sense of humanity, or rather, lack thereof.

A woman was speaking to a colleague of mine at my company’s showroom while doing business with her and had brought her little boy with her. Women bringing their children to the showroom isn’t very unusual in itself and I even saw the boy from a distance and thought nothing of it, but when I got a closer look I realized he was in fact quite unique, he had down syndrome. Those unmistakeable eyes set onto to an angelic face screamed out into the judgmental world that this child would remain on the outside. He would remain, for all of his days, a hostage to special treatment and to obligatory pity.

There were about six people in the office all together and the kid was not really paying any attention to anyone, that is, until he saw me. I walked into the front office to ask someone a question about some mundane detail regarding some basic graphic imprint I was creating (that’s what I am doing for a living at the moment, art directing in a corporate branding environment).

The first gesture he made was striking in its brashness. He ran straight up to me, ignoring everyone along the way, and stopped dead in his tracks when he got to me. He looked me dead in the eye and held his arms up and out making a clear request for me to pick him up. For a man with conscious and constant boundary issues where even riding on a crowded subway makes me uncomfortable, I began to panic.

“What do I do…pick him up?” I thought to myself

I looked around the office and saw that all eyes were on me and I’m sure they were as surprised as I was in what was transpiring. I lifted him up from under the arms feeling his bird-like frame, warm and foreign, as it met my wretched hands. From the meeting of these two polar opposites, hands that have broken bread with the devil and a frail soul that hasn’t ever known a shred of evil in any way whatsoever, there seemed to arise a lightening bolt of crushing humanity. I felt at that very moment that it must be moments just like this that inspire works of art. As I set the child down onto the ground after mimicking some basic movements I had seen in movies where a grown man holds a child in the air and spins them around once or twice while making some silly airplane sound, I felt a awful nausea. Then I thought of that marvelous reminder of crushing humanity which Michelangelo has given us, The Pieta. It was certainly feelings and human interactions just like this one that were impetus for greater expressions of artistry. We all too often forget how tragically beautiful it is to be what we are, human beings. In our darkest hours, in moments of passionate love making, life taking, during times of hardship and times of elation, the essence of what we are intrinsically is all too often washed away by the monotonous frivolity of ridiculous routine and perhaps even in the shame of any kind of realization of these sparkling fragments because of societal conditioning. However I saw myself as if watching from some ceiling perch, that I had arrived at such a moment and that it was still transpiring.

The little boy’s mother had now begun to call out to him because she was apparently going to take him off to his day care. He silently refused and when coaxed with an assortment of learned commands he grabbed my arm and with mute tongue begged for me to be taken along with him. This kid was transfixed, it seems, on something about me, on me or on something I represented. Still frozen in uncomfortably awkward compromises, I at times, tried to hide behind other workers who were scattered around the office. But this did not work, for this little boy was not having it. He was clearly running the show and I would have to bend to his will. His mother began apologizing to me but of course I said everything was fine as all in the room were trying there best to smile and bury all of it under nervous laughter.

Eventually his mother managed to tear him from my waist, which was where he was docking himself in the end. As he walked out the front door with her he turned and watched as I faded from his view which followed by wails of hysterical crying. A deafening silence hovered about the room and it wasn’t until I had walked away that the spell was finally lifted and conversation as usual commenced.

Again another riveting work of art shook my soul. Those shimmering notes Ravel plucked from the ether and set down as a work known as Noctuelles (Night Moths) scampered about my ears as if played by some ghostly apparition in some far off auditorium of which only I had psychic privy to and now was presented to me from that other dimensional beyond. The highly chromatic pianissimo ran bare breasted through fields of charred memories and freely walked past the ghouls and denizens of abuse without incident. It was as if an otherworldly director had set this event to music ahead of time and now with a simple nod of the head had given the order for this beautiful music to be played for me.

My chest heaved with the strangest feeling. A lump in my throat followed. I fear this more than anything, the confrontation between sorrow and spirit. Crying. That tear streaked reminder of one’s vulnerability. Not this.

To think of this child’s future truly made me sick. Sick at how I had treated him. But what was I to do? It was as if I felt I had missed something, some kind of gift, a chance perhaps. Now it was gone. Gone with his silent whispers. My filth, my nightmarish life with all of its sinning and controlling and tortures of the flesh had touched a child who walked with the angels. From this I felt somehow horrible. Although in all actuality I know that there is nothing behind or within that would touch this child’s humble soul, I still felt an air of wrongdoing around me. Wrong also because there was something missing deep inside of me. I would never reach my arms out to another human being in unadulterated celebrations of love or union. The women who I had claimed to love throughout the years were all, each and every one of them, denied by me at some point. Whether they had eventually been lied to, abandoned, or flat out emotionally destroyed all were torn from the shores of sentiment and from paths of familiarity until my heart knew nothing of them.

This child’s purity had brought it all to the surface and the anguish of this deep a self reflective contemplation was and is unbearable.

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Journal Page from 2008

Along with writing intended for future publication all based on true events, I figured that including some actual journal entires along side the writing would be well suited if not somehow necessary.

Journal Page from 2008

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Excerpt from Blueschild Baby, reflections on a recurring dream I had as a child.

Memories are a funny thing. Looking back through the years I notice one very strange thing when it comes to them, and that’s the fact that quite often my dreams leave lasting images and imprints that are stronger than conscious and waking moment events do. At times when a random face or action that I took part in finds its way into my head I don’t recall right away if it were a dream or an event. For me the lines become blurred beyond distinction and it has been that way from an early age on through the present. As clear as I recall any other memory there was one recurring dream I had around the same time as the aforementioned took place, so again I was around six or seven. I had this dream fairly often and any time I reached out for answers regarding the oddness of the imagery and meaning I got nothing but blank faces and silence from the adults around me. I’m sure now that they were just puzzled as all hell as to why and how a little kid would be conjuring up that certain kind of dream in the first place so an interpretation was far past the scope of what they assumed I would understand.

The entire dream takes place from my point of view, so I don’t actually see myself. I mention this because in some dreams I do see myself, sort of like hovering above, looking down at what I’m doing. It begins with me looking out on to a huge church or cathedral from the center pulpit where I am seated in a beautiful, ornate Victorian chair made of wood and baroque style upholstered red velvet that moves in waves while still being tightly bound to the wood at the seat and top parts of the arms. To my right there stood my entire family in rows, just like you would see at a wedding. To my left there were the same amount of people but I didn’t recognize any of them, although in that dream I knew them all intimately and just as well as I knew each and every one of my family members. It was that instant recognition that takes place in your head when you suddenly see someone you know real well but haven’t seen in a long time. In fact it was just like that. It seemed as if I hadn’t been with these people for a while and they were melancholy about it, wearing their sadness on their faces quite plainly.

All the while throughout the dream there was an undercurrent of this gradual elevation of tension and time. Everything was slowly starting to speed up and I could feel, each and every time I had this dream, my little chest heave with wicked excitement as the spectral blight was running its course again and again. Both groups of people stood there motionless, waiting for something to happen. When the dream came the first time I had no idea what to expect but as it became a frequent occurrence I began to expect the flow of events right with my anxious audiences. There were two beautifully ornate doors off in the distant center and at some point they opened up, seemingly on their own almost like one of those obvious ghostly guided movements in a rate b horror film. From the light beyond the opened space outside of this church appeared two children. There was a boy and girl and they looked as if they were twins. Both had porcelain white skin, flawless and glowing, cherub-like curls of blond hair and eyes as wide as those tearing children in those kitsch paintings executed on black velvet I used to see in the seventies. The two of them seemed to be holding something, balancing it ever so carefully between them both. As they got closer to me I could finally at certain point make out that what they had in their tiny hands was a platter, almost like a serving tray one would use only on special occasions. The tray held on it a baby lamb, propped up on its side and clearly wounded. The poor creature seemed like it was in pain and when the two children finally got right up to me they placed the creature at my feet. This beautiful lamb had a broken leg and seemed as if it were slipping into death because of it. Not at any time were any words spoken either by me, the audience or the child messengers but I knew the moment the animal was laid down that they were all to witness a miracle. I was to heal the beast and this was what it was all hinged on, as if everything depended on the healing, all life, all hope. Like some great ancient ruler I held within my hands the very gift of life or death and at the instant I recognized this I began to swell with pride. Knowing certain what all were breathlessly awaiting I exploded with lustful fury and I rose and came down on the animal with a fist so destructive and I tore the other leg from its socket, and with a sharp and deafening snap I broke for certain the bones within. Then one by one I did the same to the remaining two. The helpless creature cried out in pain and I echoed the screams with maniacal laughter. The entire audience rose like a perfectly conducted crescendo of horror and all began to wail, cry, fall to their knees, begging and simply collapsing. The speed got faster and faster and I then turned from my confidence to something of a seizure of cardiac arrest and I too then broke down and crumbled upon the now dead lamb and looked up at everyone who was now surrounding me. All was twirling round and round and spiraling out of control and it was always at this point that I would break into consciousness and scream with a gasp of air that must have been held in apnea for quite some time before hand. Needless to say, every night I would have this particular dream things were not so easy in my household. I would wake whoever happened to there that night, shaking them from peaceful bliss and tossing them into what was only the introduction to the hailstorm that was becoming, bit by bit, my life.

 

 

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Hotel California. North Hollywood, 1994

“Young, Kenneth Young.”

My name cut through some random dreamscape and my body automatically jumped up, casting my sleep self to the side, crashing back into reality; a reality which I was soon to discover was as unavoidable and as unwanted as a blistering desert sun. Having no recollection of where, how, or why, it took me a few minutes to process what I was struck with upon opening my eyes. I was in a bull pen. Asking some of the men around me where we were I discovered I was in a North Hollywood police precinct holding cell. Only one clue as to what had gotten me there escaped the previous day into this one and that was a wrinkled piece of pink paper in my pocket that I happened upon. It read that I was charged with narcotics possession, having been arrested on a street that I was pretty sure was somewhere near my apartment.

Oh yeah, and I wasn’t wearing shoes, but never mind all that I thought to myself. All I wanted to do was claw my way through the throng and find my way to the corrections officer who had been calling out my name so I could get down to what I was truly facing.

Half awake, and light headed from the dense stench that was making its way though my system, my body was unsteady in its every movement and tried its best to obey each command I ordered from it. It was becoming clearer that this particular bull pen was the final cell that the accused would wind up before being shipping off to the courthouse in order to see the judge to make a plea on your particular case.

“Young, come on. I don’t give a shit, you can stay here till tomorrow if you for all I care.”

There must have been forty guys in this cell, which most likely held twenty comfortably, so it was dense and hard to navigate. Correction officers aren’t known for their patience and this one was especially short. I wasn’t coming to the gate quick enough and when I finally made it there I almost missed him, but luckily I made it just as he was turning his back and ready to call another. He was putting my sheet at the very end, and if I hadn’t have caught him I would have had to wait another whole day for my name to come up again.

“Hey, that’s me, Kenneth Young.”

He reluctantly turned back towards me and slipped the dated, almost fake looking key into the lock and pulled me out of the cell and motioned for me to stand against the wall facing front.

“Date of birth.” Going through the routine with coarsely robotic auto-motions, he confirmed my date of birth when I replied to him.

After he called all the names of the guys who were scheduled to see the judge he gathered us all and had us follow him, in single file, through a number of corridors and long faceless hallways until we eventually arrived at a large spacious room with about four small holding cells along each of the walls and a sort of control center in the middle of the room where officers would do whatever it is that they do. I stayed in one of these cells for about another three hours until I was finally called out for transport. I would soon be on my way to court and most likely would be released right form the courthouse and home within an hour from that. This was the first time I was caught with drugs in Los Angeles and all I had was two balloons of heroin, a mis- demeanor that didn’t carry time, especially as a first offense. 

In this cell, the last of which before heading downtown to the courthouse. I had never been through this process in L.A. so this was all new to me. For the most part I was the only white guy in any of the cells. Their were two other white guys I had seen. One was an older man who must have bee in his sixties, and the other was a guy who looked to be about my age and who seemed truly shook from this ordeal. He kept to himself and stood out of the way of anyone else, usually in a corner or hugging a wall, never mixing it up in the middle or near the bars of the cell. One couldn’t help but feel his worry when looking at him, he wore it so blatantly, so pivotal it seemed in his every move, he must have been facing something horrible in terms of time. Tall and sickly looking, hair black matted with grease, and what seemed to be a since abandoned rock-a-billy look. Perhaps I thought to myself, he was at one time a rocker but due to drugs or some other tragedy he’s lost faith and adopted the look of the lost, a cross between a well traveled Carney and an aging juvenile delinquent.

Two hours in this small cell and names began to cut through the

constant monotonous murmuring. When names begin to be called one is literally on the edge of his seat waiting for his to be called. Although there are so many stages to pass through, at times feeling like an endless series of fire hoops, each time you get put in a new cell you feel that much closer to court, and thus freedom.

“Young…”

I was standing right at the gate and saw my face on the paper work he had in his hand before he began to say my name. I then heard the unmistakable rattling of chains and handcuffs in the distance meaning our transportation was here. A tremendous officer came over towards our group and was handed a pile of paperwork I assumed was our information, all of our individual files. These files follow each and every one of us as we travel through the system. I remembered this from when I had to go through the whole booking process in New York, at 100 Center Street and then being shipped off to Rikers Island for a little thirty day bid. The officer began to cuff us one by one and in pairs by the ankle and the wrist. This officer struck me as odd. Although he fit the stereotype, being a tall, well built man who you could picture quite easily playing football in his younger years, drowning in the glory of the game, he gave off a slight malcontent and it was apparent he was not happy at all. A veneer of self loathing glossed over his by the book actions.

When it was my turn to be cuffed to a partner I couldn’t believe who I was being matched with. I had seen this guy a few cells ago and was in awe of his size. He had to be the biggest Mexican I have ever seen. Still with all his size, which was simply goliath, he wore his worry on his sleeve, and when I looked closely the face of a frightened child broke through the intimidating facade exposing his vulnerability for anyone who took the time to really look. The officer had to fasten a special double handcuff to my partners wrists and because of his towering height it was ridiculously uncomfortable for me to hold my wrist in place. He was hanging his right arm down naturally, but I was forced to lift mine up to my stomach level in order to meet his hand parallel comfortably. If I would hang my arm loose I would be tugged up and stopped by his and the handcuff would dig into my wrist. He and I made short steps, almost hobbling ahead out the door. Once more there was a role call. We lined up along side the corrections bus and one of the two officers that were to take the trip with us called out our names before we got on the bus.

Again the whole name/birth date confirmation thing was used and with reluctant obedience, in cuffed pairs, we got on the bus and took to our hard plastic seats.

As the bus fired up and began to back out of the police precinct’s parking lot I realized that this was going to be one very uncomfortable ride. The sweltering heat made it all the more miserable and judging from the morning Los Angeles traffic I can make out ahead of us, we will be frying in this bus for quite a while, without any kind of relief whatsoever. We were in the bus for only a couple of minutes and the sweat was beginning to stream down my forehead and gathering at the tip of my nose creating a little collection that became tiny beads that dropped off and on to my lap. Looking around me I could see I was not alone. Great ovals of discoloration grew on the backs of almost all the other prisoners, the only exceptions being the ones that wore dark shirts, and the correction officers who hid their sweat beneath layers of t-shirts, uniforms, and bullet proof vests, and who in all probability sweat far more than the prisoners, but through years of routine learned how to deal with it. Misery filled the thick, putrid air, and with each man writhing in their individual circumstances, the feeling was as dense as lead. A few guys found the ability to make conversation, but most of us simply sat as helpless as lambs on the way to the slaughter house. Of the few conversations I managed to make out clearly, almost all were defense 101, ex-cons playing lawyer and telling younger guys what they were in for in terms of sentencing and whatnot. Bull pens are full of these guys, in fact I’ve never been in one without there being at least one guy, usually an old timer, looking at other guy’s paperwork and telling them, matter of fact, what was going to happen to them.

“That ain’t shit. It’s a bullshit case.”

“You out. You goin’ home.” Stated as gospel through toothless faces with scratchy vocal chords half destroyed by cigarettes and cheap alcohol. Catch phrases like these echo through the bus as they did through the bull pens. The heat demanded lethargy of all of us, and we complied with our tails between our legs. I was expecting some relief once we started moving but as if fate had it in for me, the heat only rose as the day pushed on.

Monotone murmurs and occasional coughs made the organic audio landscape, and the jangling of steel and rumbling engine sounds completed the abstract totality of it all. Surveying this tin box of societal cast offs I can’t help but feel the pangs of defeat vibrating throughout my entire body, and at one point it felt as if I were going to have a panic attack. Sliding slowly into dope sickness, my body was wide open to any sense deviation. Vertigo spun me round and round until I was at the very door of having to vomit, but taking one look at not only my three hundred plus pound cuff-partner, as well as the twenty some odd other maniacs, I held back all my urges to puke or do anything else that would bring any attention my way.

When driving up the ramp that led to the Hollywood Freeway I took a look out the window and because of the curve of the road and placement of my vantage point, was able to see the hellish abyss we were about to enter.

As far as the eye could see, without a single sign of relief, were cars, cars dead, cars stopped, in park, not moving. Drivers standing outside their vehicles, conversing with each other, and with a common enemy there seemed to be a solidarity rarely seen in this city. Unlike New York or cities similar in geography and transportation, citizens of Los Angeles are never really forced to interact with each other if they don’t want to. The wealthy drive by the bum with the spare change sign by the off ramp, and cruise by poor folk waiting at the bus stop. In a city like New York the citizens are confronted on a somewhat equal level when it comes to most commonalities. Rain, snow, subway delays, obnoxious cabbies, all are dealt with by the rich, poor, and middle class. A penniless drug addict sits right beside the wealthy stock broker on the downtown six train every single day, without even the bat of an eye. To see white, black, brown and all in between shouting out at a common foe was somewhat heart warming, although in the state I was in, I don’t think anything short of an angel reaching through the top of the bus and plucking me out from that seat and setting me free immediately, could put a real smile on my face. Thoughts racing through my head drove me bats. What if I get a hard ass of a judge? What is Stephanie doing right now? How long will it be before I get a shot of heroin into my veins? Sickness, sickness. All consuming dope sickness began to rattle me like it’s never done before. Downtown was finally in sight as I could see a few steel shards breaking into the blue sky and palm tree skyline occasionally catching little bits of sunshine which danced about the cracks in the windshield, peeking out above the dashboard that I could barely see through the bars that separated the front of the bus, where the officers were, from the bulk of the vehicle, where we all were. All was quiet and most of the guys were asleep at this time, except for me of course, what with my dope sick body cringing at every movement, every pothole, every sound, everything…basically everything and anything. It looked like the officer who wasn’t driving got bored reading his newspaper and suggested to the driver something that I couldn’t make out. I watched as he received an okay from the driver and reached over towards the dashboard. He twisted the radio dial and began searching through the stations for something listenable. I assumed he was going to put on some hip hop station, because from my experience any time a radio came into an jail type atmosphere, without fail it went directly to hip hop. I braced myself for the inevitable sonic barrage, fearing that this would most certainly make matters much worse and potentially send me into virtual delirium.

As the officer skipped past station by station I noticed he wasn’t stopping at any of the dance or hip hop songs I heard as he skimmed along. He stopped eventually and at first I couldn’t make out exactly what was playing, but then the undeniable melodies pierced the black heart of this grim space. It was The Eagles’ “Hotel California”, and as I looked around I didn’t really see any immediate responses, but a few seconds into the second verse I noticed an indefinable vibe coming alive and felt slight elation coming from the collective head that was the archetypical man. Then, as the chorus kicked in something truly amazing happened, something I wouldn’t have ever expected from such a varied group of rejects, something not so short of a miracle. In perfect time and on cue the entire collective of criminals joined in perfect pitch, timbre, and timing and sang the chorus with an uproar that shook the metal walls ferociously.

“Welcome to the Hotel California…”

It was beautiful.

“such a lovely place, such a lovely face…”

As if controlled by an invisible puppet master I sang as well, at the top of my lungs.

“plenty of room at the Hotel California…”

Voices of all types, and notes that ran the gamut were sung with a passion rarely witnessed, even in within the most prolific singer, and all grew as one into a triumphant crescendo that gave a sense of purpose to this miserable moment in all of our lives. Smiles widened, bodies moved left and right, feet stomped, and looks of gleeful confirmation were exchanged with any malice or ill intent.

We had our metaphorical fists held high our heads in the form of song. A fist that pointed straight towards the heavens. For those few moments I forgot about dope sickness, about my possession case I was facing, about my crazy girlfriend and the insanity I would return to once I got out, I forgot about all of it.

Free? Not quite, not in body at least. But as far as my spirit goes, a moment of complete abandon such as that one on that blistering hot day, with all the world caving in on me, is as close to the be here now as I have ever been. The instant dissection of the self. The expulsion of the ego. Letting go. All of us. Without even the vaguest notion of the Zen, the Tao. No Guru. No master.

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Chapter Seven, Burning Down The House

CHAPTER SEVENImage

BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE

NYC, 2010

 

There are so many tell-tale signs that give a drug addict away. Whether it is wearing long sleeves every day in the blistering heat of summer, disappearing into rest rooms for extremely long periods of time, making money yet not having a dime on you and in turn asking friends for loans on a regular basis, the list goes on. There are obvious signs and there are more subtle signs, those signs that only intimate exposure can recognize. Obnoxious in my confidence regarding the absolute certainty that up to this point in time I had managed to fool an entire household about my drug use shifted in a split second in the wee small hours of near daybreak as I nearly gave myself away by almost burning down my girlfriend’s parent’s home.

At the time I had been dating M for a little over a year and things had developed into a domestic comfort zone where I was welcomed into her parent’s house with open arms and would spend weeks at a time there, sleeping there, eating there, basically living there. Because of this I had to hide my drug use with the diligence of a navy seal. It was a constant game of cat and mouse with her parents; at least that was what I had deduced taking into consideration all the variables and dynamic of M and mine’s relationship.

First there was the age difference. I was 43 and she was 22. This alone would have most parents balking and flustered in disapproval. I had this feeling at first, but I think that being that M was a basket case and any day was as fragile as an average nervous breakdown, they accepted me for the sake of keeping the peace with their daughter. The other thing was them knowing that her and I met through mutual friends at Alcoholics Anonymous. Alarm bells were sure to be ringing when I first came into their home due to these details, and perhaps more, I don’t know.

Being the seasoned professional crack smoker I was, I never stopped smoking although everyone thought I had given it up for sure. M was on such a high dosage of Klonipin, as well as about five other head meds aimed at subduing her “anxiety disorder” or her “sympathetic nervous system condition” and when she would fall asleep an 8.0 earthquake right at ground zero couldn’t rouse her from her coma-like slumber. So easy to take advantage of, this situation was, that I would play private games in a toe in water type of chicanery by smoking crack right in front of her, a few feet away, blowing the smoke out of her window through a toilet paper center that I would stuff with fabric softener (a crack smoking staple), knowing she wouldn’t wake up and knowing her parents were sound asleep as well upstairs. Daring myself at first was a riotous hoot but like all things in my life, all challenges, all women, all the constant benchmarks of those conquered; like every one of them fell short of the joyous return I expected. Not one thing has ever given me the impetus to go further into whatever that venture might be at some timeless moment of non-historical value.

On this night we are recalling she was sleeping unusually light, tossing and turning, mumbling incoherent sleep babble, so I had to go to plan B. I had gotten a fifty piece earlier that night from Lydia, who at the time was my favorite dealer, and friend, later fuck buddy-mark-victim, and I planned on smoking the rest of it through the night; no way was I going to save it for the next day. It was about four in the morning and I had a few hits left. I would go into the downstairs bathroom, which was windowless, and I would take the hits and exhale them either through the air vent, which was almost at ceiling level, leaving me no other access than having to stand on the toilet in order to catch it right; or I would blow it very slowly into a fragrant towel, sometimes moist as well. This worked fine but did a number on my chest because of how long I had to have in my lungs before all of it was forced into the fabric. The last hit I took on that particular evening was at again, approximately four Am. I say last because what immediately followed that monster of a hit was of the utmost severity in destructive potential. I had bent down toward the back of the bathroom by the toilet and I didn’t realize how close I was to the towels and doilies. I take my hit and as I was about to grab something to blow the smoke into I noticed a sort of shimmer in the doorknob, an almost glittery be-dazzled type of thing that, for a second, reminded me of Christmas tree lights, but my guy spoke otherwise and I reluctantly spun around to see what this was a reflection of. Much to my surprise I see right away that the doily is ablaze and the towels next to it were catching. The torch I was using had about a two inch flame that jetted out from the nozzle, which is most long time smoker’s preference above standard Boc lighters and the like. This was sure to be the end of me as far as M and her family went I thought, not to mention a distinct possibility of the fire catching on and setting the entire house up and into an inferno of doom. Millions of thoughts ran through my head as I scrambled on what to do, which is a trying feat being that I had just taken an incredibly large hit of crack seconds before this hellish mishap had been on its destructive way.

This is it’, I thought, ‘the house is going up in flames. And Judith will forever say her daughter’s crack head boyfriend burned our apartment down.’

What if someone gets killed?’ I thought while thousands of speed demon thoughts exploded onto my head palate as to remind me of everything that could be from this. The outcome will not be pretty and will involve many people’s suffering; all brought on by one man’s insatiable drug lust. I saw clearly, as I have in other tight spots I’ve gotten myself into, that my need for drugs is by far the single most important thing in my life.

Somehow through the electrically angular haze of the crack buzz I quickly grabbed the items that were ablaze and tossed them into the toilet. Seeing how much smoke was coming just from that alone I got every kind of fragrant toiletry and dashed spritzes about the tiny room in hopes of extinguishing the smell somewhat. Luckily I caught this thing right in time because only God knows what could have happened had I not done so, or even worse, what if I had not seen it at all. It was, after all, the beginnings of a nightmare scenario that every home owner, every family dreads and consciously tries to avoid above any other potential disaster. Here it was, that very thing which destroys and kills more than anything else when it comes to house bound hell rides.

After the towels and the doily were reduced to charred, wet rubbish I had a few problems remaining. The fire it seemed had blackened the wall above the rack on which they were festooned and it rose up to inches below the ceiling creating this abstract dash the likes of which Yves Klein would have fancied. The smell was the other, even more so, threat and dead giveaway. Also I thought to myself, where will put the rags that were sopping wet reminders of the travesty at large? I took them and rinsed them out thoroughly and set them aside. I then climbed on top of the toilet and scrubbed the wall with hand soap and astringent. The real cleaning materials were in the kitchen and I wasn’t about to leave that bathroom until there were no evidence of my foolishness, so I had to make do with anything available. Frantically wiping the wall down and at the same time trying not to make a sound was quite the challenge. Of course the whole thing was a challenge and the hardest thing was yet to come and that was how to replace the burnt towels. I knew that the bathroom pantry was upstairs, right next to her parent’s bedroom and I had seen in the last that for some reason they didn’t keep their door fully shut. I assumed this was a left over habit from when the children were young and as a cautionary measure they kept the door slightly ajar in case of late night mishaps.

This crack head got to work and diligently set his self into motion with deft swiftness. Scrubbing, wiping, cleaning, and eventually concealing the towels in his backpack to take outside and dispose of properly, sneaking up the stairs and grabbing new towels from the closet pantry thing not three feet away from the folks. With cunning and steadfast attention to every detail a high as a kite man scurried about the place spraying perfume and under arm spray all over the surrounding areas to mask the moldy sweat-like stench that now encompassed the entire downstairs.

By the time I had all of it cleaned up, with my heart beating out of my chest mind you; it was going on five thirty which gave me only an hour, give or take, until the house began to wake up. I retired back into M’s room and resolved to silent prayer hoping that nothing would noticed and I hadn’t made any noticeable blunders along the way.

I must have fell into a fast and deep sleep when I was awoken by her father who knocked on the door, as he usually did, reminding me of the time which was a tremendous help in getting me up and out the door and on my way to work. I washed up in stiff anticipation of the worst but not a work was said. I myself could smell a dank note of burnt wet fabric but it seemed I was the only one. To this I was greatly relieved.

As I was walking out of the door and out onto the hallway I overheard her father calling into M’s room “Would you please stop smoking in your room, this time you’ve stunk up the entire house”.

Kenny?” He called to me, “can you please try and make sure she doesn’t do that inside anymore? Do you smell it in here?”

Yeah, I do.” I calmly replied, “I do my best to get her to stop but I can only do so much you know.”

I guess your right Kenny. Have a good day at work and bring an umbrella, it’s going to rain later on.”

Thank you. Have a nice day.”

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