All posts by nelsonloskamp

Stories from the Arms 1986

I came out, still in a towel with a pair of bicycle handlebars swinging them over head clanking against the walls of the hallway just to scare them off.  

The skinny doped up girlfriend of Darnell came out in a robe soft fro, singing love mmmm mmm love. The boys took off down the hall. “I’m just scaring them out of my room. I’m not gonna hit them.” 

I went back in, slammed the door that was so broken now that it wouldn’t even stay shut. I tied an extension cord around the door hole opening and looped the other end around the drawer pull, more like a trip line than a closure. I was pissed at Sam. 

Two weeks down in LA, hospital visits and rehabbing at my folks. They sent me to a shrink who was making brain waves with a cassette tape and the head phones had little medal screws instead of speakers you soak the little foamy ends in water sprinkle on some salt and the headgear secured them to the bone behind your ear.  I knocked on Darnells door. I’d never done that before. He was known as a big time dealer, one to be feared. He wasn’t a big guy, but you knew he was a kind of king pin and nobody fucked with him.The kids were his they were only around once in a while. Mainly him and his woman. “I need the tape, they can have the radio.” I said at the unopened door. 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about”! That was the first time I’d heard Darnell’s voice. 

“The kids took my radio… I know it looked like the place was abandoned but I need my tape it’s a special thing and you can’t record over it.” I pleaded. 

“They don’t have nothing!” I left.

Oh fuck now im screwed. A few minutes later she came by, dangled the cassette tape off her long fingers towards me with the look on her face like well, so what? I thanked her. She said nothing and sashayed in slow motion back down the hall to Darnell’s. 

I didn’t know how to move back into the city. I’d been living in Burlingame at the Burlingame Hotel for the better part of 6 months I didn’t know anyone in town to stay with, unless I met a girl. Sam had a room in a hotel from time to time there in the Mission. I didn’t want to be right on Mission Street because there was too much drug traffic there and the Royan Inn caddy corner to the projects seemed too sketchy. Some of Sam’s tweaker friends lived there and I didn’t want to be too close to that. The Valencia Arms looked nice enough and not too close to the action. They asked me why I wanted to live there, I guess I looked like a pulled together white kid and they gave me a room at the back of the second floor with a window to the back alley. The interior was shaped like a big U. I was on one end and the wide staircase at the middle lead to the manager’s Reception and the door out to Valencia Street. Next to me a fire escape and a staircase to the next floor that no one used, except Sam to wait for me to get back from work or school. Sometimes he had been up for more than a few days on speed and needed to crash and come down somewhere safe so he’d wait for me on the steps wild as a lunatic  or completely passed out. The super would let him in the person at the desk in the front door where the manager’s apartment was and you could kind of look in to see a glimpse of what the life of a slum manager looked like. In the beginning the folks were nice enough. Sam had convinced them that he was my brother and he was allowed to come over at any time day or night which he did. He didn’t have a key to the room though so he could get inside. Therefore the stairs was the next best thing. He could also pop out the fire escape if he needed to. It was the perfect home away from home, if he had a home to begin with. Mostly Sam would stay with a friend, strong arm sell them drugs, leave his shit, take off with money to cop and come back hours or days later with less than the count, or a long sob story of a rip off that, if you cared to follow, might take days to tell. There was always a bag and a long drawn out unpacking and the offering of gifts. After a while I came to find out where those gifts came from. Once all his shit had been spread out all over your apartment and in this case hotel room and you’d had enough of young Sam, it would take several hours for him to pack his shit back up and some of yours would get packed up with it. Hence the future gifts to the next crash pad. There was one time when he absconded with my antique bicycle. I let him take it just to get rid of him. I even gave him a lock that he promptly lost and when I contacted the guy whose house it allegedly was at, he demanded some of his property in exchange for what was left of the frame of the bike. “Sam is a sociopath” my mother informed me years prior “you know he stole your brother’s sunglasses and his linen pants and I don’t appreciate that. Will you tell him I want it back? Do you think you can do that?”  

Years later she’s still asking about the pants and glasses. 

At the Arms there was Johnny, a skinny toothless biker in black leather or a withered clone. Johnny liked speed, his old lady liked speed, so Sam was in quick with him. He slunk around the hallway getting into everyone’s business; fixing stuff, sort of, a quasi mechanic and handyman, case your place motherfucker. “My Ol’lady….” he was always talking about his old lady. “My Ol’lady she likes speed. Is Sammy around. I don’t do a lot of speed but my Ol’lady she plays guitar, she was in a band.  She likes speed. She was kinda famous. No one around here ever has any speed but your brother Sam, he gets good speed. “Will you have him come by my place when he gets back?” he says to me. No one ever sees his old lady and I get to thinking that she doesn’t really exist. 

“Sam doesn’t really live here he hasn’t been around in a little while, but ill let him know you’re looking for him.” I says.

“I’m not looking for him, really. I just need to see him. When he’s back you know.” Biker fucks, rednecks, racists, they all like speed.  Sammy said that Hitler invented the shit for his soldiers. Marching powder he called it. Somewhere up the dark trail of distribution led to some white power underground, powered by the go fast and cash it brought in. Sam could finagle his way through these dark passages and get to the source then come back into the nice realm of his artistic friends to supply them with the inspiration they so desperately needed. And for a price beyond the cash, a long series of favors and courtesies that he could reclaim like markers later. I didn’t do the shit any longer.

 I use to do some speed in the old days with Pam. We’d go down to Long Beach and stay up for the weekend, do a marathon yard sale in some suburban neighborhood, with shit she stole. Then we’d go back to our warehouse in downtown LA and come down with a bag of dope. Dope, like dope! Don’t ever call weed dope, it ain’t dope. Pam had a pretty good business going turning Mexican dope to the punk rockers she knew. She’d been around in the early days and everyone knew her. They’d call up from the street and shed run for them out to the grand central market place where she knew all the dealers. They’d hang there with me, play guitar, show me some licks or watch Gem and the Holograms on TV. Anxious, dope sick, anticipating, but being creative nonetheless. I traced the outlines of shadows on the wall formed by the wavy imperfections of the cheaply made or just old factory windows, one foot squares divides by rusted metal. Light  hit the wall at wild angles. I traced swooping lines confined in a grid of rhombuses and at the hour, lined up light and drawing. I watched it nightly like a clock and kept a memorial moment. But that was a lifetime ago. 

Sam had ruined  speed for me. It was fun when I’d come up to visit and at a party drawing all night and going off with a girlfriend of his exploring the early morning streets of a mysterious city. Or photo shoots in the rumble of downtown buildings where Nordstrom now stands; like when we were kids in LA, wanna be models in industrial decay. 

Now I was in school at SF City College. Studying anatomy, astronomy, physics and algebra. Sam and I rendered diagrams of the lymphatic system, he guided me on Krebs cycle. Excited by the possibilities, Marina, a black 21 year old mother of two, listened to stories we made up off the cuff as she bleach mopped the floors, doors open to her room across the narrow hallway. “White boy is crazy!” 

“We like to fuck together, one chick, one underneath and one on top and our balls go flop flop flop against each other. Cause we’re really fags. And that’s the kind of Fagotry we are into. What do you think? Wanna mess around?”

“Hell no!” She said but liked the story and always chatted us up as she mopped every day and changed diapers and real life shit. 

This story was in fact bull shit. When Sam’s girl Yevette came over, I made a play for her and she dug through her purse as if she was in a constant state of looking for something. He flipped out and threw her purse out the window. I held him back when he pulled a knife on her once. This time she ran out of the room to the back ally, to get her stuff before some bum snatched off with it. “She’s a speed whore, spoon trick and she has chronic hepatitis and probably Aids too. You want to fuck her? You want to defend her honor?” He spit a little as he screamed in my face. I let it go at that. She came back up and slammed at the door with her bag just to let him know she got it back and screamed out some vile slur. I’d hardly heard more than a mutter from her before, but this was what it was all about. This was like fucking for them. She’d sweet up to a guy in front of him and never a cuckold, Sam would loose his shit in a jealous rage boner and she’d cum when he slapped her. This time I was the audience. So I didn’t take it too kindly when I was sick and Chloe came to visit. She was always dressed so nice in a long expensive black leather trench coat out of place in our shithole, with cigarette butts everywhere and piss in the sink. I was sick, it was the beginning of the illness. I’d gone off to the bathroom and came back to Sam on top of her under the green foamy blanket. He reached his hand out to me in a sweet  kind of join us gesture. She had brought over a Merlot, something good. She was that way and it made my head pound. Sam had always said we shared the same girlfriends but I was always after him. I was fakely pissed. “Let’s all go get out” I said. All told he’d either couldn’t get it up or already came anyway. “Wait up here for Sam and I headed out to Mission St. to cop. Came back and shot up in front of her like punishment. She didn’t want any. And was weirdly ok with the whole scene. As bourgeois as I made her out to be, she was up for almost anything. I felt better except the headache that I blamed on the wine. We always said “Dope, the cure for the common cold.” But dope and wine as I did, the headache just got worse. Two weeks, maybe three, I could hardly stand the light of day. I went to Lise Swenson loft on Clarion Alley. It was the temporary home of ATA and she made me chicken soup. And told me to go to the hospital. But that was the end or nearly. 

Knocking at my door… Is Sammy here? The desperate up all night voice of the super. It’s early I’m getting ready for school, I don’t know where he is. Crashed out sleeping with a friends girl. Sam was good looking back in those days and the element of danger always provided an appeal to girls in the art crowd. He wasn’t boyfriend material, but he seemed to be the side guy for many a board house bitch. 

“My ole lady she really needs some speed.” He had the desperation of a guy that had been up all night on coke and couldn’t get more and couldn’t come down. “I don’t know where he is but he’s not doing no fronts, you know Sam.” I knew he was broke too. 

“Just let me talk to him. My ole lady…” he held his fingers about an inch or so apart, “my ole lady she’s got a dick, but its just this big.” She needs some speed, you know what i mean?” 

I really didn’t. But somehow keeping his ole lady off the street meant getting her speed. In the time i lived there i only saw her once, a tall storm of hair and makeup blew through the hotel hallway, too fast to make out the details. She knew who I was. The punk rockers, that’s what we were called even though Sam and I never looked punk, no liberty spikes or chains, no dog collar, nothing like that. I wore a sports coat for god sakes and carried a vintage doctor’s bag, but we were always branded with that title. Besides, we were the only young whities in the complex. It was making more sense to me that she was kept, but he, by hook or crook, had to keep keepin’.

It was some kind of weird sexual setup that involved speed too and in short time Sam had become his main man. Now i was in between. No one else sold speed in the Arms, it was a whitey drug. I told him I’d send Sam to him as soon as he came back, then took off to school.  Masheila was mopping, she waved, I had my doctor’s bag, “See ya for dinner honey!” “Ok bye bye!” 

Sheila? She corrected me Ma- sheila. I broke in to Prince ‘O ma shela…da da da. Da da da da. Sam joined me as she did a little pole dance thing with her mop)

Lisa has been living in the Royan Hotel, where the real dopers lived, there right across from the projects. Sam brought her over one night to appease me for something. She wore her short mousy blond hair pulled back in a band and always looked like she was about to put on makeup or cold cream ready for bed. All black clothes to blend into the night like a burglar, but she was a diver. A dumpster diver. The tweakers took this to a new art form in San Francisco and grew in numbers to a subclass. They didn’t go to the bars or clubs they hit “put out”. Sunset Scavenger, the company in charge of garbage collection and disposal in the city, arranged a night in each neighborhood, that allowed people to clean out their garages and put all the stuff out on the curb, which was collected no questions asked. There was a calendar that those in the know used as a bible in order to know what neighborhood to hit. Speed fueled divers descended as night fell onto the chosen blocks. Ramshackle vehicles with shit piled 2 or 3 times their height crept from pile to pile like ants or Okies escaping the dust bowl. There was a gang that rode bicycles outfitted with vintage kids rocking horse for a seat and sparkle fringy ribbon coming out the handlebars. There was a kind of sport to put out, you had to beat out the other divers and there was on the spot trading, you knew what the other divers were into and could trade for other things or go fast. Or to simply appease more senior divers with a gift. Sam on stolen or borrowed bicycle could thread through the blocks selling speed making choice pics and trading for that shiny object or curiosity.  He never possessed more than a backpack, but left one as a marker at every crash pad he stayed. The divers  might not like each other, but they all knew one another. Rider was a known guy I heard a couple young wanna be divers next to a dumpster talking about a 5 night run that they had witnessed. I thought shit you should see Sam after 11 days, a complete lunatic. 

Lisa hung with me for a night then left to join the divers and get back with Tone, a tall pimple faced tweak with greasy dark waves slicked back and a schnoz. He always had the look of being caught with something, wronged or just trying to get over with a sad look. She lived with him at the Royan. It was his place and I was like a tryout for a new place to stay. I wanted to lay in bed and nod for the night her by my side. Sex was no good now, he wants to cuddle, how irksome, so back to the street and an action guy, Tone. All I wanted to do was to be loaded with my eyes closed and the girl next to me dreaming a thousand visions. Then the dope wore off, daytime hustle, work, school, have to get high again and start over. She was gone, but still hanging at my place. I promise it can be better… I could see she’d moved on, she’d cut the neck out of my favorite black turtleneck and was using it as a hair band, picking her face in the mirror with the door wide open. I took too big a hit. I wasn’t like that, I didn’t like to get too high. It was scary but it happened, like the time Pam and I went down to Long Beach, did their 10 dollar bags and crawled around the floor in someone’s hotel room, wind in our minds, woosh woosh. blowing our souls right out of our bodies. Breath. I have to keep breathing, crawling, keep moving, keep breathing. It’s not the dope that kills you but it does turn off the reflex to breathe and the heart forgets to pump while you off in dreamland. That’s all I wanted, to feel good and be in dreamland. Pam and I crawled around for the better part of the day like a marathon crawl. When she came too she wanted more. I convinced her to go home where the dope wasn’t so fucked up. There was a fentanyl scare going on, homemade synthetic stuff really strong, kill you, give you Parkinson’s. This shit was too strong for its own good. “Let’s go back and get the purple stuff.” Mexican dope cut with baby laxative and Kool Aid. 

I bought two Rumba clumps, one for now one for later. That’s what they called the Salvadorean stuff, the best on Mission Street. A little damp or warm when they pack the tar dope mixed with some kind of cut that makes you shit. How nice of them, it takes care of the dope constipation and gets you high at the same time. 

Stretched into colored water balloons so all the air gets out, tied, doubled back and tied again. That way you could swallow or suitcase them and they’d be fresh later, if the situation occurred. They came out in little black and light brown balls that plop in the spoon. They take a moment to dissolve but do so without a residue, golden brown when you heat them with a match under the spoon. Not too much water, that will give you the shakes. Drop a piece of fuzz in and draw it up with your fit. I cooked up one and a half for me and Sam. I took most of it and left Sam with a wash. He wasn’t happy about it. I stood with my face down leaning on a pile of clothes on the dresser, door wide open to the hall, a dead nod, couldn’t move. Sam was pissed at this issue and left with Lisa wearing her trophy band. Some picking, a big dumpster down Valencia Street in front of the Carl Hotel, someone had died, those are the best, they just huck it all. The winds blew woosh woosh, door open, come and rob me. I think something left the room. I was fine to die there. Fuck them all. I tried to tell Sam I did too much, but it wasn’t audible, I forgot how to talk. 

“I’m a wanker!” Sam said at the jack off booths when some creep wanted to join him. Foot on the changer, rubber band tourniquet around cock and balls, blown up, speed needle into his cock hitting and jacking at the same time. The quarter dropped and the movie stopped and he’d have to start over again till he gets the dance just right and a creep keeps knockin’ on the door, hello hello can I come in…

One time in a panic he rode up to my place in the garage, the Arc I called it, I was there painting early in the morning. “Good you’re here. He shut the door, pulled an Exacto knife out of his back pocket, brought it to his mouth and bit down on the makeshift cap he had fashioned out of a ballpoint pen cap, blackened and gaffers tape decorated, camouflaged. I thought he’d cut me right there, couldn’t think of what I’d done this time. Reached a filthy hand down into his own pants with a wild grimace on his face, stretched a length of natural rubber band between his fingers and with the other blade hand, made a flourish and severed the tourniquet to a head back mouth open, howl, pain, as the blood rushed back into his balls. He subsided winded by the ordeal. “It was on so long I was afraid I’d inadvertently castrated myself” he confessed. 

“Isn’t that the point?” Unfazed by this kind of behavior. He thrives on shock value but he’d never get it from me. “How many days? Why did you have to wait to do it in front of me if you were scared?” 

“They were following me.” He put on a sad face. 

“They don’t give a shit what you do. You’re a small time speed freak dealer and you’re not very good. And you’re a wanker!” “Did it turn black? Does it look like a truck ran it over? Let me see pull it out” I nodded, show us the goods.

“I’m not gonna show you nothing.” Pissed now that I wasn’t a little disturbed by the scene. 

“Show me, I’m a doctor and I think you need at least 3 to 5 days to lose your balls maybe more.”

“Your not a real doctor, you don’t know shit about it. I was in real danger, you’re supposed to be sympathetic.”

“Oh Fuck that did you cop yet? Sidney our on the block.” 

“You know he’s a rip-off. “

“Ya but seeing him you know he gives me that look. You got another man?”

Lights! A fluid stream of red orange and green streaking and colliding in the darkness of black like a tiny bloodstream of headlights, or the electrons racing across a circuit board, a crossing gibberish of talk and language, dissertation of speech to ride. Momentary and meaning transmitted, simultaneous awareness, a ripple of motion and the separation is the self from the body, woosh woosh, and swept off. Now flying ten feet high above that useless body…. then the vibration molecules reconnecting, electrons back into shells…PAIN… back to long waving undulations faster and faster and shorter in height to a hard vibration, paralyzed for an instant, reconnected….

“Are you there? Not sure you were breathing…”

“I think I was out

Did I say anything?” Hoping for some grain of wisdom from beyond. 

“The perfect painting 6-5,4…

“6-4,5 what does that mean?”

“How the fuck should I know it was your fuckin’ dream.”  

“Ew him double dipped” came from the chorus of opening doors along the hallway. Sam was wild on three nights of speed, enough to make him a lunatic, kind of fun, jaunty, active, not like another night or two a catatonic wailing mess. Bouncing like Tigger in a flash of free exuberance he took the hallway. He’d donned a light colored flannel pajama top, backward and cinched, button up tight around his throat, collar up like a preacher, like a strait jacket that couldn’t hold him back. He spun pirouettes with a glass of water in his hand, balancing overhead, suspended on spring like fingers. Spotting as he twirls off balance in a falling dance without spilling a drop. “Ew he’s really done it this time. Call the paramedic. White boy double dipped. You punk rockas vile!” The chorus chimed in as I tried to balance the nut by the other hand as he went into a crescendo of twirls falling down the stairs spotting on a nicely dressed black couple talking to the manager seemingly trying to rent a room and him, the manager, downplaying the fact that the Arms is one fucked up place and Sam spotting mouths “cock sucker!” The look of terror bewilderment on the faces of the prospective tenants. Two more stumble steps and out onto Valencia street water glass still intact. 

The cock sucker was a new manager and in fact a kind of new protocol for the Arms. which had been purchased by a holding company and was being ramped up to gain a resale value. They were painting the outside and had hired a new manager. It was still rotting from the inside, nothing was going to change that but a face lift was underway. And with it a more prison like heavy handed management, gone was the nice middle aged Spanish lady, that cooked nice smelling food from her office reception annointed apartment. A kind of Mexican grandmother who would tell me your brother’s not well, I think he has a cold, he’s waiting for you upstairs. You know I’m not allowed to give him a key and let him in the room, but I couldn’t leave him out on the street, not in that condition. I’m worried about him. I know you’re a doctor, you have to see if you can help him. 

“Yes, please don’t let him in my room. And I’m not really a doctor.” I said to her. 

“You’re the closest thing we have here. So please take a look at him. He’s so yellow.” 

Lemon head, Slammy, Slambo, whatever they call him, had Hep most of the time. And a sob story to get into the door. Once at the Arc he drew up from the toilet tank, an old stupid junkie trick, “IT’S STERILE!” 

 “Sterile my ass, that tank has been sitting there stagnant for at least 10 years. They never turned the water back on and they just pour a bucket down the shitter, when they take a dump. You would be better off draw up from the gutter or piss into a cup and draw up from that.” 

“I got the worst case of hepatitis, it was really bad.”

“It amazes me that you’re not dead. How the fuck do you do it?  Shit you do on a daily basis will kill most people.”

Anyway the cock sucker was a big ugly toothless jail bird or corrupt guard sent in to whip the place into shape. From the open door to his room half naked black men lounged in repose. Sweaty, he spit when he talked, toothless, lips sunk, fat tongue swimming aimlessly in his pink orifice. 

He and Sam shared a kind of prison love dirty talk. Racism, shame and debauchery swirled in a melange of insult come-ons.

“N-lover, had your teeth pulled out so you could suck a bigger cock. Want that big black dick in your face, your pussy.” I didn’t know if he wanted to punch Sam in the face or kiss him. Now he held none of this against me. He was always kind and friendly to me, fatherly. “You know your brother has real problems. I’m not sure, medically, you can help him. I know you’re a fine doctor. But these things… I don’t know. Anyway, I got your back. We have to look out for one another.” (A whitey thing, like we’re both white we should look out for one another, which usually meant, I’m about to fuck you over right about now.)

Sam had convinced people of a lot of things that weren’t true or that stretched the truth so far it was unrecognizable. Sam and I had some kind of relationship we weren’t lovers, we weren’t brothers. it had been 5years since we sat in a stolen Audi drinking my dad’s wine in the American Burger parking lot across from the Odyssey1, me with a bandana and eyeliner, him already AWOL from the Marine Corps. We thought each other gay. Now I was studying anatomy and my professor was going to get me into Stanford premed. I was the brightest student she’d had. She took me aside and told me not to worry when we did a urine analysis on ourselves and I was the only one in the class with golden brown piss. Like people, she was black, there is a range of colors, she waved her hand describing the spectrum in a poetic gesture. It wasn’t that, I’m pretty sure that meant I had hepatitis. 

“Theres two guys looking for you… they kind of look like cops.  I don’t know to me, they look like cops. Yeah cops, there is two cops looking for you! 

“Like Cheech and Chong?” I ask him. Cheech and Chong were two bumbling undercover cops that worked Mission Street. One Asian, one Latin and everyone on the street knew who they were. “It’s Hot! Cheech and Chong down the block swallow your bags”, the guys would say. 

“No, two real cops! One said he was your father. I don’t believe him. Is your dad a cop? Are you a cop?” Just then appeared a great shape back lit in the hall, overhead lighting scrawny Johnny backed out as drawing into focus my dad. And boy did he look like a cop just then and my brother too. Old cop young cop feel alright on a warm San Francisco night. Dad had on a maroon leather sports coat, gold chain, with eagle spray styled sandy blond hair, 6’3” in boots, 245, the fluorescent lights in the room played lines across the clean lens of his gold framed glasses. And Pow-Wow a man now, young cop lookin in fresh bomber jacket and wayfarers, strawberry GQ hair the same height, but slimmer at 185. The two of them took up the entire hallway. I was sitting then as they towered above me my head still pounded from the meningitis and I too wore sunglasses from the photophobia. The humming of the electrons in the fluorescent tube, as they exchanged excited by the flow of current, bonds producing light tuned and untuned into a warbling ruckus, as dad sat with me and said we came to take you home. 

“Dude, don’t blow it” Powell said, “come with us!”

I had no choice I felt and what the hell, it be like a vacation, except I felt so fucked up. The door to my room never closed and I could feel a chorus of doors open and close down the hallway as this was all going on and as they took me away, Sam emerged in the hallway and although wearing the grubby uniform of a three day tweak dumpster diver, straightened up and drew a salute and Yes Sir to my father the Captain. To him military rank was still upheld by Sam, as I flipped him the room key and said hold down the fort. 

“Is it the doctor or the other one?”

“I can’t tell they all look the same”

“Oh no the bad one’s still here”

“They both prolly cops”.

“I don’t trust no white people, and punk rockas, they especially fucked up.”

And can you blame them? Whitey has been fuckin’ them over forever, that’s the nature of Whitey. Whitey only sees whitey. What’s in it for me? Fuck those other people. 

You see the dope world is like the straight world turned upside down. Blacks and Mexicans run the dope world and whitey is the nigger. Difference is blacks and Mexicans are stuck there, born into it. Whitey can clean up, put on a suit and join the straight world, no questions asked. 

So now for me the question is, do I join the straight world or die in the dope world? We fly down to LA, back home where I’m just the family punker to everyone else. A series of hospital visits, USC and some psych friends of my mom. “They’re very good at USC, it’s not Stanford but they are very good there”, although they are losing a little credibility with my mom trying to convince her that where I went SF general is not only a real hospital but a very good one. They got my records and confirmed my diagnosis. Ran a few more tests then the head of neurology excused my mom. 

“There is something else here, I understand you are a heroin user?”

“I’m clean now” after detoxing in the hospital at Sf general it wasn’t too bad they gave me enough pain meds to get me through the worst part then I was too sacred to start up again when I got out. 

“This is going to kill you! Take this opportunity to stop now. You see what’s happened it only gets worse from here.”

I nodded “yes you are right.”

“Okay, you need a little rest get cleaned up and stay that way.”

I spent 2 weeks or maybe a month there living on the couch. I hung with 3balls and Kim from down the hill. It was like joining my old life for a little while. A little wild but nothing life or death. People drank and smoked weed and there was no talk of needles or junk, normal strait world stuff. My mom had contacted my professors while I was in the hospital. Dr Warren told her she wasn’t worried about my performance. I had memorized most of the anatomy book, knew all the bones and could describe the workings of all the systems. I was never particularly good in school but I finally hit on a subject that seemed natural to me. At night loaded, laying in the darkness of my hotel room, Sam would quiz me on the connective tissues of the knee, the placement of nerves down the leg and all the bones in the face. Krebs Cycle was a favorite. Cellular respiration! Nomenclature is very important, he’d tell me. We’d draw the bones of the hand from his dog eared copy of Grey’s anatomy. If I became a doctor it was like him becoming a doctor and he took it very seriously. That is any time he hadn’t been up for more than a couple days on speed, then all bets were off and the looney bin was open for business. Psychiatry I thought, I have the perfect test subject for schizophrenia here with me. Maybe I can find a cure if I study Sam hard enough. I began to take notes on his behavior, appearance and how many days he’d been up. I had the sharp end of a protractor that I’d poke him with to test his reaction to pain. It was all very scientific. 

She’d help me get into Stanford premed to finish up. Yes I could clean up, put on a pair of scrubs and join the strait world. She was so excited. She was ready to call the head of psychiatry to arrange a residency for me. You know I’m not even in school yet. 

“I’m sending you to Dr Shair, he’s doing ground breaking work with addiction, he’s using brain frequency to retrain the mind not to need the dope. My mom knew all about dope. Her uncle was a dope fiend. Grammies baby brother broke his leg back in the 20s. They gave him dope for the pain and he never got off it. They’d tie him down in his room like a man with rabies. She was a kid and they told her not to let him out cause he was lying and just wanted dope while she went to the store. She couldn’t bear it, he cried and cried she was only 10 and let him out. He bolted to the closet high up on the shelf, where her mom had hid it from him and fixed there in front of her. The horror never left her. And then when her mom wouldn’t let him drive the big Buick Roadmaster, he sat crying in the back seat eating a whole bag of candy bars. 

Some times I’d say I need a snickers. 

“Only a dope fiend need a candy bar!”

Her uncle died young only 44. Sometimes on a know these stories came to life. I could see the wooden floor boards of the house in White Plains, feel the paper bag filled with candy bars and I was certain that I was the reincarnation of her favorite tragic uncle. Is there a choice or is it just a recurring cycle, generation after generation? 

Dr Shair had fashioned a Walkman into a brainwave emitter. At his office in Westwood he showed me how to soak the little spongy ear pads into salted water. The cheap metal headphones slightly crimped, provided enough pressure to hold the electrodes onto the bone behind the ear like Frankenstein’s monster, the tiny shock waves enter the brain from that point. On an endless tape like the kind in answering machines had been recorded a frequency suitable to the recovery for heroin addiction and another one for speed and yet another for those addicted to valium or prescription drugs, which was becoming very prevalent at the time. This was a prototype and because of my mom and my interest in psychiatry he was willing to let me take it, if I kept records and reported my findings back to him. It would be helpful and he would note me in his paper that he was preparing. 

One hour twice a day I wore the cold wet electrodes, tasting the metallic flavor of brainwave or placebo in the back of my throat. Either way this thing was going to fix me.  

“Welcome back. We thought you were gone. Your girlfriend was here and moved all your stuff out.” Charles the cock sucker said to me at the reception of the newly painted  Valencia Arms Hotel. Above him it said “Sunrise Apartments”. The rebranding was underway. 

“What about my brother? Sam?”

“I sent him off! Your girlfriend said he wasn’t you brother and not to trust him.”

“Where is Pam?”

“Oh she’s gone now.”

Word has gotten out through unknown channels through the dope trade through Mission Street and back down to LA that the punk rock doctor had gone to jail. Pam having never been to the Arms found the place and as only she could convince Charles that she was there to move me out and that I had moved to LA, which could have been code for I was going to do some time. She lived there pawned all my shit with the help of Johnny and his old lady. My line erase typewriter, that was as close to a computer as you could get in those days, guitar and effects pedals all gone.  She connected with dealers, sold dope and speed there out of my room. then when all the natural resources were spent left the place in the disheveled heap, that I found when I went upstairs to my room. The door handle broken off, door open blocked by trounced school papers, clothes and rubble all the built in drawers lay on the bed, striped mattress off the caster box spring, window wide open to the alleyway wind, the remnants of a bicycle chop shop, greasy chains, handlebars, tires and empty cans of spray paint. On cardboard, the reverse image of painted frames and someone or a dog had been pissing on the floor. I pushed a path through the rubble lay my bag down and slept in my clothes. In the morning, Sunday, I fashioned a closure to the door and went down the hall to the bathrooms to shit and shower. 

When I returned two black boys were rifling through the rubble on my floor


I scared them and they bolted. But they had my Walkman. 

Nelson Loskamp 2020

Sam and shit 1983

 Certain people have the kind of maladies, mental or physical, that can be traced back to a specific cause, some event or situation that mars one. May it be a burn or an alcoholic parent; there are often signs that are common among the victims. This is not the case with Sam. His causes are so complicated that one of them may have produced some behavior in another person but in Sam has only added color to an already existing ailment. But saying so, I think it is still necessary to give you some background into his complex personality. First of all, I do know that he was born in San Francisco SF General. I recall that his mother and father broke up shortly after the birth of his younger brother. Her ‘ 65 Corsair hydroplaning over the wet surface of the Golden Gate bridge, I imagined an Ice blond like Hedrick from a Hitchcock, careening on the edge of control, unsafe at any speed; the two frightened boys in tow, returning to their home in Corte Madera. She committed suicide when Sam was 13. Mr. Haycraft, a retired marine sergeant, a skinhead leatherneck, had given up his exotic bird trade and started a trucking company in Saigon. He thought that it was best to keep the boys close by, to keep them out of trouble. They arrived in Vietnam in 1972. Mr. Haycraft remarried a Vietnamese woman, and they had a daughter together. The kind woman became Sam and his brother Bevin’s Vietnamese mother.  Sam had many stories of Vietnam, he told me that his father shot bats in the house and didn’t allow the boys “poky bait”, military for candy. So to get around this embargo the boys employed a round about tactic. They stole New Port cigarettes from their father and Sam the elder, traded the smokes to the US GIs for hand grenades .The boys then traded the grenades to the Vietcong (our enemy) for heroin, sold the heroin to the GI’s for cash to buy poky bait. Some of the grenades, however, went for pleasure fishing. They’d throw a couple of them into the lake then paddle around plucking the dead fish that float to the surface. A couple of Vietnamese kids showed them how to hook up to the power lines and charge the lake, killing even more fish, thus saving the grenades. The brothers never got around to this new technology, because two days later their friends ended up in the newspaper, electrocuted, dead. They’d stick to the grenades. 

At the fall of sign they ran down the streets to catch the planes out many were left behind and for his step mother and that was certain death  they ended up in Hong Kong where, for a prank Sam stole some jewelry from a woman who had entrusted the brothers her home, because he said, he could. He planned to give them back. The woman, who was of high position In the Hong Kong government, didn’t take kindly to the joke. Sam got arrested. He spent time in the Hong Kong  jail where he read the Shogun trilogy, some thousand pages, on the stone floor cell. He was later offered the choice of deportation or indefinite incarceration. From there, strait to Orange County, Santa Ana, the home of P. K. Dick, a later hero, living part time with his father, part time on the street. Hanging out at the Cuckoo’s Nest, an OC punk club, where for a summer he was the bouncer or squatting in the dilapidated glam hotels popular with the punk LA scene. Sam was not a big guy, but he lifted weights. His father had returned to the exotic bird trade and used a drug called Ketamine to knock the birds out in order to determine their sex for breeding and sales. Sam began shooting the ketamine ten years before it became a club drug and described to me in detail the intense ten minute hallucinations that would be later known as K-Hole. Bored with the Orange County punk scene and sure that Ronald Reagan would start a war with Iran, Sam joined the Marine Corp and was stationed at the facilities at 29 Palms, some hundred and fifty miles out into the desert from LA, back from which he would traverse after slipping out after night call to take pills and amyl nitrate and dance like a fiend at the gay new wave night club the Odyssey. I met him in the parking lot at the American Burger, one of the spots that we would drink, since it was an under aged place that officially only sold Calistoga water and locker room. We both thought each other gay. He had short greenish hair and wore eyeliner. I can’t imagine what I looked like, but I’m sure it was not a straight look. We drank sitting in a Saab owned by who knows whom. He was at the wheel listening to British Electronic Foundation. Later that evening upon arriving at the base, he was forced by his Sergeant to scrub his head with Clorox, till the green came out and was wire brushed on the face to remove an asphalt scar from a motorcycle accident, that the Sergeant thought was makeup. Several demerits did not discourage young Sam and he returned to the Odyssey for more. Then there was the time while tripping somewhere near base, he had to take a dump and bumbled into someone’s house, sat on the crapper and fell asleep. The lady of the house came home found the strange crapper, freaked out and called the cops. Sam was arrested and spent several days in the can where he traded some of the acid that he had hidden in the fifth pocket of his Levis for cigarettes. “I don’t like to trip in jail, it’s a bummer.” He showed up at court in his Dress Greens, they read the charges: “Breaking and entering and possession of Amyl-nitrate, commonly used by homosexuals to facilitate anal sex.” The charges were eventually dropped and so was Sam to buck privet.  With in a month he went straight-up AWOL and became a staple drug dealer at the Odyssey, specializing in Sodium-Nembutal. He came a few times to my folk’s house where we’d drink coffee with vodka in the morning and lift weights on the upper deck. My mother was quickly annoyed with Sam for his trying to empress my father with gun talk at the dinner table. And it was the gun talk and the fact that he stole my brother’s brand new linen pants, that had cost her one hundred dollars, that my mother never forgot and always asked for whenever his name was mentioned. She concluded from these two facts, disregarding all other transgressions that he, Sam, was a sociopath. The pants in question he had worn off one day, only to fuck off some hours later at another friends house, an incident he hardly remembered. Sam wasn’t so much a thief but a borrower, misplacer, fucker-offer. It was around this time that Sam ended up with a ziplock baggy full of codeine #4, he hid them in a coat pocket of one of my suits in my closet. Preparing to borrow the coat at another time, but it caught his eye for the moment, enough to serve as a marker for the drugs he would later retrieve. He did a lot of ditch and recovery and in time seemed better at the ditch portion of the maneuver. Robby a friend of ours from the Odyssey had a job working for a Mom and Pop corner drug store. Mom and Pop were convinced that Robby was a clean-cut nice boy. They had no idea that the style had changed and that because he had short hair and looked straight out of the fifties, that he wasn’t a drug addict, queer and would steal the roof off the place. He would, Robby, pocketed any left over pills and pinch from the bottles of the good stuff. He got bold and nabbed a bottle of the codeine #4s, a restricted substance that required a triplicate prescription, meaning that the state knew when a doctor prescribed the drug. Even the biggest quack would never give you a script, unless you were on death’s bed. So the little corner pharmacy never sold the stuff, hence would never miss it. Robbie nabbed the drugs and had them in his possession only a few hours before Sam strong-armed him out of them. The drawback of codeine #4 is that they give you an intense upset stomach. Sam and I went to the Anti-Klub to see the Outer Circle and Nervous Gender. I was making a video of the Outer Circle’s Blind Venetian at the time with Xavier Harrison. I was playing the Blind Venetian. Sam and I hung out in front of the Anti-Klub, the toughest punk club in town, drinking milk.  Inside Sam got roughed up by Maylan, wearing a flop over Mohawk. I thought the tall lanky singer from the Nervous Gender might be a man, but she had the kind of gawkiness and hips that only women had. Then during the Outer Circle show, Spit Spin-dose-a, the singer, who had been hitting on me during the shooting, had a tattoo on his shoulder I tried for three songs to make out, finally I saw that it was “Mother”. Later, Sam picked a fight with a couple of guys in camouflage. He took offense to the wearing of military equipment for fashion. We had to leave. Sam also hated me to wear all black; he said that it looked like the VC (Việt cộng). After several days of codeines while driving on La Cienega, Sam went into violent convulsive hick-ups. I was scared for him and was threatening to take him to the hospital. When I really wanted to freak Sam out I’d threaten to take him to the hospital. In fact within a month of us hanging out he made me promise to deliver a hot shot to him, if ever he was in a serious condition in the hospital. So, instead we went to Donnie’s, an older gay guy, that lived in one of those 60s styled apartment complexes, that have a pool in the courtyard and balconies around overlooking the pool. The long slab stairs cut diagonally across the landscaped front, grass and arched cutout dirt hills with palm trees coming out of them and split by the glass front doors, the stucco facade with some kind of slogan or metallic star. Once inside, the brightness of the sun was amplified by the chalky white stucco of the inside walls of the court yard, like one of those reflectors that people use to put up to their faces to get the most out of the sun’s harmful rays, rendering the features of the patio distant and hard to see, as if it was a kind of brain washing between the outside world and the inner sanctum of ones apartment. The chlorine smell from the pool also served to facilitate this effect and no one ever swam in  it, unless blasted on ludes. Then it was either naked or fully clothed and only once per each resident, because the gossip that it would inspire would keep one forever more a recluse. Donnie was Sam’s kind of older drug brother, he could shoot as much speed, stay up as long as, and take as many pills as Sam, maybe more. He also had some big time connections. He worked in a shack of an antique store on Melrose Place that was primarily a drug front. Donnie was there and he had Valium to trade for some of the Codeines. For Sam even the sight of something new he could swallow, halted his hiccups and relieved me, not only because this was a dynamite drug combo that was like a poor man’s “Load”, the popular street pill cocktail of four 4’s and two doors, that produced a better than heroin high, but that I wouldn’t be blowing my high by having to hang out in the hospital with Sam, as they tortured him off the hiccup producers.

At this time I was in beauty school by day, the Odyssey has lost its appeal, a new place called the Seven Seas had opened and some of the Odyssey kids were trying to start it up as a new place. There was also an upstairs place called Geno’s, that almost nobody went to, that we could hang out at, because they’d play what we wanted. Sam was not the only guy I was hanging out with, Tony and I were going to Marigo-go, that’s what we were calling the beauty school Marinellos in Reseda, because it was like a daytime discotheque, across the street from the Country Club. Xavier and I were making a video with the Outer Circle. He described himself as the liaison between black actors and the entertainment industry. He was my manager, or agent or whatever. Durell had moved in with his dike girlfriend, who thought I was too fem for him to be hanging out with, so I saw less and less of him. I spent the time, after I finished beauty school and before my exam, working for the Barron. I was mainly hanging out in the black color department, with Richard the same guy that convinced me to get into hair, kind of my mentor. The flamboyant Barron scared me. Besides I was always stoned and extremely shy. Randy, the street hustler and angel dust smoker friend of Tony the drag queen from the Odyssey, who had been hired to do shampoos along with me, also scared me. I clearly didn’t get the Job. Sam and I had a regular meeting at the scream parlor Wednesday night at the Grandia Room on the sleazy side of Melrose, east of Highland. They played the bat cave kind of death rock that some years later would be known as Gothic, Bauhaus, Southern Death Cult, Sisters Of Mercy & Specimen. It was a very small scene but it was like our own inside group.

My mom was my model for the state board of cosmetology, the exam to get my hair license. It was almost a joke how easy it was. Mom tried to help me along, as if she knew the proper application for a dye back to natural. It was cute anyway. The exam took place in an old fifties LA bureaucratic building off Hollywood Blvd.. In fact the whole affair seemed to be a throw back from the fifties, the examiners hair styled in two-tone bouffant and glasses and the antiquated stations. It was also strange to be hanging out in washed up Hollywood early Sunday morning, within blocks of where I’d be boozing by night. Sam met me, as they let me know I passed the practical and we had a smoke. It was the first time I smoked in front of my mom, she noted it but didn’t make a big deal. “You’re smoking, Nelson, don’t smoke. Ah Sam, light my Cigarette for me please.” She almost mechanically gave me advice. I left mom and the state facility to celebrate with Sam.  He hurled like a violent faucet into a striped metal trashcan in the vacant theater parking lot. It was a vomit I was unfamiliar with, but would soon know intimately.  It was at that moment that I entered a new phase in my life, Sam by my side. That Tuesday I showed up at the Beverly Hills salon of Allen Edwards. I had heard the posh high-end salon was hiring assistants and landed the position with Dalee, one of the top black hairdressers in LA, and began working the next day. One of my duties was to make arrangements with Robert the photographer for hour or half hour sessions (code for blow). One evening after work, Dalee and I along with Sam went to Robert’s West Hollywood Studio. The two men were about ten years older than me and Sam and asked us questions, like what would our style be like if it wasn’t a matter of money. Sam and I agreed that forties suits were what we’d be wearing. We spoke of some future photo session and what I needed to get loosened up for some good shots.  Antique guns came up in conversation, a subject Sam and Robert were quite interested in, but Dalee and I had no interest in whatsoever, in fact, I nearly blocked out the whole conversation. By the way we did lots of blow so I don’t remember much of the night, but Sam seemed to be working Robert for something; I thought was more blow. Sam often worked older gays for drinks or drugs. I guess we all did, something we learned at the Odyssey, but some were more obvious than others. I had been working at the salon for what seemed to be a month or two and decided to take an apartment in Hollywood, my first and it was surprisingly easy to land. I was getting ready to spend my first night there, still at my parents, when Sam called. He wanted to know if I wanted to see the Sisters of Mercy at the Alexandra Hotel in Downtown LA. Sam had friends at Golden Voice, the punk rock show promoters that were putting on the show, and could get us in for free. I agreed and was excited to see the British band. It was late afternoon when I got the call from Sam to pick him up. Ray snatched the other end of the line, “You gotta come get Sam right now!” Ray, a kind of meek guy who lived with his grandmother, was flustered and couldn’t handle young Sam.

 “Ray, you going to the show, I’ll drive?” I asked him. But he was in no mental condition to go, and made it clear to me that it was imperative that I came to relieve them of Sam as soon as possible. When I arrived at the house of Ray’s grandmother, down in the flats of Burbank, it was still daytime, still hot out. The crazed image of the red faced Sam, after a day in the summer LA sun and ingesting much of the grandmother’s reserve of Valium and pain killers, that she carelessly left in the bathroom medicine chest, being chased out the door holding a cocktail of sweet liquors, by the equally red faced Ray, who, although shared the same color as Sam, wore an expression complete opposite. Sam, jovial and joking In his freshly shone Hitler Bob, wearing one of Ray’s stolen suits and a pair of flip flops as if just leaving the greatest party of the summer and Ray, the brunt of his joke, with the seriousness of someone who had just witnessed his cat being murdered. Being an optimistic pessimist, I opted to read the situation as laying somewhere in between, realizing that Sam had indeed worked Ray’s last nerve, but that it wasn’t all that bad. Ray being a Nelly queen was acting for company, namely me. I squelched the action with a few calm words and let Sam into the white Camaro that I was driving. Ray said, still flabbergasted, to let me in on horrors that had transpired, “He took all my grandmothers medication!” He seemed to care nothing for the suit that was a couple sizes too big, the pant leg looped over the back of his heel serving as a partial sock. On Sammy the get up gave him a kind of kid brother just escaped from the psych ward look.

“Oh, he’ll probably be OK” I said, ironically insinuating that Ray was concerned about the health of young Sam. ”You shouldn’t leave drugs laying around.” We tore off. The Camaro has a way of leaving one situation behind and beginning another as soon as you hit the gas. Nothing like a 350 Chevy to get you out of a jam, and even though the white disco era Camaro was out of character and almost a joke car, it had quite a bit of power and with the T-tops off the wind and speed seemed to sober Sam up almost instantaneously. He handed me a pill.

“Complements of Grandma!” Sam said, still in good humor and I tried to swallowed it dry. As we rode out of the Valley, Sam went into great detail about the thwarted robbery attempt night before. With full flailing arms and gesticulating fingertips he spun pirouettes and expounded pure reason from the blue tweed bucket seat next to me, all the while, holding steady and upright as if from some mysterious outside magnetic force, the cup of whatever he had taken from the liquor cabinet of Ray’s grandma. It was hard to drive. 

The story went something like this; Sam was staying at Jova’s ground floor apartment in the flats of Hollywood, one of many places that Sam would crash at. He was loaded, taking to a good nod there on the couch, peacefully. That part I seriously doubted, but I’ll go on. It was a hot night so he had the window open. The curtains blew the cool desert air into the smoke ranked flophouse room. He heard some kind of noise and came to, to find a large black man rummaging around, there in the room. Sam leapt into action, this is where the arms really start going, sometimes leaving the car, I’m hoping there’s no cops around. A scuffle ensues. Sam talked like that and used a lot of big words like nomenclature to mean pussy. Somehow the lights went out and the black man grabbed a ceramic lamp and smashes it over Sam’s foot then escapes back out the window that he came in. When the dust settled Sam, the new flophouse hero, had ‘shards of ceramic’ as he called it in his left foot. For his services he was granted full tenants rights, at least in his own mind. Now did he, or anyone else bother to remove the foreign objects from the appendage? No, they doused it with Bacardi, gave him a pair of flip-flops and filled young Sam with pills, which is exactly the way I received him a few days later. Then he let a holler, “Fuckin’ NIGGER!” There was a long silence after that. Then Sam, to change the subject, warned me about making eye contact with people while we were Downtown. He always found it necessary to inform me about proper street etiquette when entering a rough area, of which he was an expert and we nearly got our asses kicked every time we went out. And god knows he was no prince inside anyone’s house.

I parked in an unmarked lot. The Santa Ana winds blew the dust and corruption down the desolated streets of Downtown LA. We were past the high rise office buildings and not as far as the bridges that crossed the LA river and lead to the endless projects of East LA. This part of town was the outskirts of skid row, home to abandoned buildings, dope houses and an occasional wandering bum, that had strayed from the cardboard city, that served as a line in front of the Rescue Mission soup kitchen. It was nearing dusk now and shadows cast by the old brick tenement structures darkened the fast expanses between them making each block look like the next. Sam made long strides and swung his arms with joy as if we were kings of this wasteland.  Then out of nowhere and nothing burned the fluorescent glow of the promise of alcohol. A liquor store, one of those thick, scarred Plexiglas numbers with a walk up window, so that you can’t go inside. The kind Hollywood movies used, as a ploy to make sure you knew that you were in an extremely rough neighborhood. There was a vacant lot next to the building that housed the alcoholics filling station, where proud weeds had broken the pavement and were imitating trees. Sam cocked his head to the side and spoke through the exchange slot, then turned to me and said pay the man. I poked a ten dollar bill at the window, the man inside, rendered only a shadowy image from the graffiti marred plexi, stickered booze ads and ill flattering backlighting, snatched the cash and disappeared to the back of the shop. He reappeared and slid a flat bottle of Popov vodka through the slot, then rolled a bottle of Tropicana orange juice, the bitter kind from concentrate, through the dirty hole of commerce, as I wondered what his regular customers were like. Sam broke the seal of the hooch as I took and dumped out half the OJ, with a drop he baptized his swollen foot. I held the Juice container steady as Sam poured the booze into it, then in turn he held the pint bottle while I carefully blended the yellow and booze together. Once more and we completed the delicate two-man operation to each others satisfaction, there standing on the curb in front of the liquor store. Sam took the OJ container for himself and I was left to hold the pint bottle. “I have a record”, Sam said to explain the switch. We drank and walked enjoying the wind through our giant strides and the sour nastiness of our jerry-rigged cocktail. We passed no one until we hit the marquee lights of the Alexandria Hotel. Night fell just then as we took our first step onto the once plush red carpet, gum stained and dingy but still boasting and mocking the wiry sidewalk that it lapped over. A girl in a bride of Frankenstein get-up brushed past and pushed open the Victorian mahogany double hung door, as if our escort. We followed her in, assured that we were in the right place and that we’d have less explaining to do, since she looked way more punk than we did. Not that she or we were punks, at least not to ourselves, but to the outside world that was their only way to understand or dismiss us. Once inside the place that was crawling with them, there was white face and black eyeliner everywhere. There was not a brown or tan article of clothing anywhere! As we approached the ornate front desk, the little old lady clutched the public address microphone with forced fingers and In a shaky voice announced, “All PUNK Rockers, Please report to the third floor.” Then a roar came from the depths of hell! Like pirates taking a ship, we had taken the hotel. Punks had taken it on the chin for years now beaten by the cops, fag bashed and nearly driven from every club in LA, but finally in the derelict unwanted hotel of skid row, we had taken a stand and the revolution had begun. And we, Sam and I, were just in time to see it all, as we mounted the stairs. 

There, on the third floor, under the hundred-year-old chandelier, atop the sweeping staircase was the door, an entrance to the new society. Sam made his pleas to the doorkeeper, a parody of what a punk rocker looked like, leather stud jacket, liberty spikes, chains, the whole shebang. Nobody really looks like that anymore, maybe if you went to a so-called hard-core show like — but that was all second generation shit. Punk was dead, we all knew that and even if the outside world couldn’t differentiate between this bouncer guy and say someone like me wearing a black suit with messy hair, we were post-punk. In fact, I was too young to be a punk anyway, that shit all ended when Sid died in 1979, it was now 1983. Anyway, this guy had never heard of Sam, and wasn’t going to let us in. The person that Sam knew, someone infinitely more important, had gone to the back stage for some kind of arrangements with the band, probably was getting high, so Sam and I retreated to the girls bathroom that was across from the ballroom door, to finish our drinks. Once inside, we set up camp along the lavish lengths of mirrors were girls were reapplying makeup. There were plush waiting chairs and none of the girls complained about us being there. The place was downright comfy. We offered swigs and talked, I even teased out one chick’s hair. If there was a heaven in this world it was there, in that girl bathroom at that night. But it was not to last, Carry Favor had returned, loaded, to her post at the front door and Sam was anxious to get us in. After a little finagling and the passing of a few Valiums, Sammy and I slipped through the door and by the out of place gray tweed Merman Miller office and the cubical dividers that served as a blind, so you couldn’t see the band from the front door of the ballroom.  The ballroom was setup in the classic cathedral style in other words like a cross laid down, aps, transepts all that. The stage was only a couple of feet high and was at the head of the cross. There were wings off either side, arms, were banquet tables had been set up, but were vacant. Under the left arm at Christ’s waist was a long dark wood bar and under the other arm was the door that we had just entered. The carpet was red like the rest of the hotel and there was a huge pattern on the floor directly under a stunning chandelier at the absolute cross. This spot would serve as the pit when the band started, but was now a kind of a picnic floor. Groups of kids were gathered, sitting in little circles of friends on the red floor. Sam headed strait for the bar and I made my way through the picnickers saying my hellos and catching up with would be girlfriends. I went over to Sam, now in a wild state of intoxication, who was working some older poof for Black Russians and offered to have the man buy me one.  At least he was sticking with vodka and not mixing his booze I thought to my self as I declined the drink. I left him and his new friend to continue my socializing.  After a while Carry Favor came to me in a frantic state of having too many things to do, to inform me that Sam was having some kind of problem at the front door and had passed out. Then, while staring at me, she went into achieved full sleep for part of a moment, then snapped completely back to frantic state again, as if she, when not occupied to capacity, would herself be passed out. Everyone always exaggerated Sam’s state, so I was in no hurry to see about him. I slowly made my way to the door, where I found Sam In the precarious position of having the top half of his body sticking our from under the Herman Miller office blind and the other half, from the waist down, forming a stomping pad for each of the new entries to the club to trample. Remember, he was in flip-flops and had ceramic shards still in his foot. Not only unconscious and unfazed by the fact that he was being stomped, Sam was unmovable and had a kind of pleasant glaze over his face, like sleeping on the beach. As I tried to pull him out from under the divider his body recoiled to its previous position. Fuck It. I left him there, and went back to what I was doing, making the scene. I checked on him from time to time, no one else gave a shit. After a while I noticed he was no longer there, so I started asking around to see If anyone had seen him, this also gave me a change to check back In with everyone. No one had seen him and I was getting a little worried that he had gotten kicked out or something. I asked Carry if she had had him kicked out. She said no. “If people are into gang bang trampling that’s their trip”. She also said she saw him wandering around over by the side of the stage, which I didn’t really believe and was beginning to think that she had her fake punk kick his ass for being mouthy or something. I headed over to the stage, still asking about him. “Sam is here, he’s having some food off the side of the stage.”  Lia said nodding her head as If talking about a young child, leading me to think there was something funny about it. And there he was, when I got over to the right arm of Christ, where the banquet tables sans chairs had been set up, Sam had positioned himself directly under a spotlight, sitting on the Formica folding table with a Chinese box of rice to go. Twinkling under the light as he threw handfuls of it into the air, the rice bounced off his face, his mouth open to the sky, gnashing wildly for it. Much of it ended up on the carpet beneath him further enhancing the reformative aspect of the feast by creating a spotlight ring around his little show. He reached his hand into the box, pulled out a handful of rice and offered It to me with a grunt. I was not about to participate in his little show and stopped him, “SAM! Where did you get that rice?” He gave me another full-mouthed grunt. I asked again putting the emphasis on different parts of the sentence this time, as If to slightly alter the meaning, to make It more understandable to the maniac before me. Finally he spit out something about down stairs in the basement. I knew that he didn’t even have enough money for rice and he had to have stolen it. The thought came over me that I’d now have to hide Sam from the Chinese restaurant people and that there was no restaurant anywhere close to where we were. Just then he hopped off the table dropped the box on the floor and was instantly back to normal, determined now to go downstairs where the men’s bathroom was. I picked up the box, tried futilely to brush the rice into one concise pile and followed him out the door. He took a header down the first flight of stairs, thwarted by his comical pants and flip-flops, all the while retaining the mask of amusement. The apparent pratfall didn’t sit well with one of the bouncers stationed to guard the steps. He noted the insolence and put me In charge of watching the lighthearted drunk. The tile and marble men’s room in the basement had not seen much action as of late and was now flooded. I waded along with the other guys over to the urinals and while Sam got into a heated discussion about how straight American men were afraid to kiss each other, with another bathroom guy. He then had to take it one step further and pulled out his thing, dispensed with formalities and pissed into the middle of the floor. It’s all going there anyway was his rationale. The other customers weren’t buying it and we nearly got our asses kicked right there on the flooded piss-room floor. We left unscathed but were rapidly building a reputation.

I lead Sam back up the stairs as the band had just gone on. I had already hit the landing when Sam, just steps behind me, misjudged the treader and toed it. His flip flop balked and in a cowardly gesture betrayed him inverted and rolled into a ball beneath his right foot, which he rode face forward like a roller skate, back down the flight of stairs, his greased hair lurching up and back into semi place with each step, taking innocent victims in his wake, all the while retaining a casual expression.

“Okay, that’s It. You guys are 86ed! YOU”, he pointed to me, “take your fucking friend and get the fuck out of here”. I didn’t argue ‘cause I new things could get much worse, make a punk into a cop and you’re fucked. Besides, I heard chatter, “That’s the guy… was pissing on the floor!” as if none of them ever pissed on a floor before. We retreated.  About the time we passed the concierge’s desk, Sam lost balance and decided to play possum. I grabbed him by the two arms and started pulling him, fearful that someone would take advantage of his wounded state and attack us. Just about the time I got him out the door, he found it somewhere in his semiconscious soul to yell out, “Fuckin Niggers”. I stopped, “Sam shut up” don’t say shit like that, you wanna get us killed? He piped down, I grabbed his arms again and started back peddling away from the hotel. Crying from the pain of his dirty swollen foot dragging against the wrecked pavement, he mustered strength in his belly and let rip “FUCKIN NIGGERS”. It echoed through the night streets. ”SHUT UP!” I stopped and hit him on the head, hoping to knock him out. I lifted him from the chest and slammed him back to the ground, but to no avail, he was now bawling. My only course of action was to keep him moving and yell back at him to shut the fuck up, as loud as he was yelling fucken niggers. We made it about a block and a half away from the hotel when I could see a black man coming from across the street. Oh shit, I thought, he stopped us. A white guy seemed that to be with him passed by and kept going.  

“I’m the police, let me see your ID”. I didn’t buy it , but I did know that I’d have to talk pretty fucken fast to get us out of this one. 

“ Look, he was robbed by a black guy and they got into a fight and now he’s got glass in his foot. I’m just trying to get him home. I’m really sorry I can’t get him to shut up”. 

“Is it this foot?” he pointed to the one without the flip flop. “

Yeah.” Thinking that he could see how mush pain he was in and maybe excuse the situation. The man then lifted his boot high and laid a fully accentuated stomp onto the foot in question. 

“WAAAHAA!!” Sam let out an eyes to the sky, full open mouthed bellow. Then another. Then another howl, as the man walked off across the street and disappeared into the night. 

“That’s what you fuckin get! Come on you asshole let’s get the fuck out of here.” Sam had made it to his feet during the episode and was now able to walk on his own, although a little rudderless. I guided him for blocks, now fully convinced that the car had been stolen. We had passed so many lots, they all looked alike in the dark.  Finally, there it was and intact, looking as if glowing from beneath, salvation, bearing the confident Camaro smirk. I can get out of this shit, no problem. I was almost surprised that the key fit, but it did and we were out of there. Throbbing gristle’s United played on the car, as I found Wilshire Boulevard and flew through Korea Town. It was then when Sam woke up and started crying for food, fuck I thought where am I going to get food at this hour, I pulled into a Seven-Eleven. “Sam, I’m going to get you a burrito, I want you to stay in the car, you hear me? Stay in the car!” I went inside grabbed a couple of frozen burritos and went to the microwave in the back of the check out. I just got them in, when Sam sounders in the front door, goes straight to the wine section and grabs two jugs of Taylor California Cellar’s Chablis, turns around and makes for the door. Already in action the cashier meets him at the door nabs the bottles and in one motion pushes him out. I say nothing pay for the burritos and leave. We make it to my new pad. I open the grandma styled folding couch that my father helped me take there two days earlier and we crash. Sam tries to grope me a couple of times in his sleep. I shove him off, knowing he is under the happy delusion that somehow he ended up sleeping with a girl.  In the morning I perform the necessary surgery on his foot with nothing to dull the pain. Then I leave for work, Sam stays with me for a couple days. I’m just about to tell him he can’t stay with me and he’ll have to make the rounds, when I come home to find he’s not there. I spend my first night alone in my new place then go back to work the next day. This is when my boss Dalee sits me down and explains how Sam has shown up at the photographer’s house the night before with stolen guns and tried to force him to buy them. When the guy declined there was a little blackmail attempted and something else that he wasn’t going to talk about. He makes it perfectly clear that I have to get rid of this Sam guy. He even rehearses with me what to say. When I get back home he’s still not there, so I relax a little. 

The next morning about an hour before my alarm goes off, Sam walks in the door. “Get up”, he says quietly. He’s waxy in the face and smells like house paint.  He’s wearing someone else’s black Levis and two brand new white t-shirts inside out and backwards, helping to overcompensate his posture to the point of restraint. He’s managed to clip the tags off and would have looked less crazy had It not been for the way his eyes moved back and forth considering every object In the room, then jumped back to check the window while he spoke to me In an almost Inaudible tone, with his tongue shifting position from one side, hitting the extreme corner of his cheek behind his molars, to the other like doing some kind of tongue yoga. There was a little white portion of gunk that collected In the corners of his lips that would reappear as soon as he wiped It away. He prefaced the spiel by recounting a night some weeks ago. “Remember that night I broke into the antique store?” Of course I did.  I was driving Sam around, we had taken Nembutals and really had nothing to do. He directed me to Melrose Place, to the driveway of a shack of an antique store. “Wait here a minute” he said to me, hopped out of the car and went around the back of the shack I thought he had stashed something there behind the place when the alarm went off. I started the car and said to myself I’ll give him one minute then I’m leaving. Sure enough he popped out the side door and got into the car. “TAKE OFF!” he said.

“No Shit, why don’t you tell me when you’re going to rob a place so I’m a little prepared?” He swore up and down that he was only checking It out up on the roof when the boards gave way sending him splat on his ass In the office, alarm sounding. Later, he wanted to go back and finally convinced me to just drive by, then to just stop for a while across the street from It where we sat and fell asleep in the car till dawn.

“Well, I left my calling card there, when I fell into the store.” he meant that his cigarettes fell out of his pocket. He smoked either Players Navy Cut or Gitanes. It was the Gitanes, nobody smoked those kind of cigarettes back then, except Sam.  “They knew about that and every thing else.”

“Who?” I said confused, remembering that I had to get rid of him.

“The cops, it was their coke I was after, I didn’t know It then but It belonged to them.”

“What?” knowing I was In for a long story.

“Donnie and I and this big black guy that’s fucking him went last night to the antique store, the one where Donnie works. Anyway he told me that they had a whole bunch of coke there and that’s why we went there that night.  The cops were watching us and knew we didn’t have anything. But the three of us got It and went back to Donnie’s to fix. The black guy was greedy and went first, then I shot up Donnie. They both went out and I was resuscitating them for hours. It was hard work and I never got my hit, but I nabbed a little.” He pulled about three grams of blow from a slot that he had cut behind the waist band In all his jeans, unwraps the plastic and poured out an eyeball quarter gram on to the kitchen counter. “Take a little of this quick and lets get out of here. We got to go somewhere public where they can’t fuck with us.” 

“Look Sam, first of all why did you bring then here? You’re getting me in total shit at work with the fucken guns.” “You can’t stay here anymore.” “That’s It!”

“I know I got to get out of town for a while until this all blows over.” he told me and I was thinking that this was way too easy, there had to be a catch. Then we went to Burger King and ordered breakfast, sat In the hard bright orange fiberglass booth, as he leaned Into me whispering the rest of the story and we took turns going to the bathroom to take hits off the stolen cop blow. “Then the cops broke Into Donnie’s, tied us up, beat the fuck out of us and forced us to snort coke. ” 

“Sounds terrible.” I said joking about the thing.

“No! We were fucken terrified, I thought they were gonna kill us, the black guy almost had a heart attack.”

“So they finally let you go?”

“Yeah, after six hours of torture. and you can’t say anything about It to anyone!”

“Who am I gonna tell? I’m not even sure I even understand. Besides they don’t know me, I wasn’t there.”

“They know all about you they know about the break in, about Dalee and even the coke dealer photographer. They know everything and they’ll kill us all If we say anything.”

“OK, I wont say a word.”

“You have to swear to me!”

“What do you mean, that’s ridiculous you don’t believe in god.”

 “Just give me your word.”

So I did and I’m breaking It right now telling you all this. We did some more blow and went our separate ways. I caught the Santa Monica Line to Rodeo and went to work reeling from the coke and conversation.

Sam headed north for San Francisco. He called me from there a week later to tell me that he had made a new scene for himself and was hanging out at Theater Artaud and the Art Institute. And that I had to move there.

Salt n Sea

Salt n Sea

Walking the highway, night time, the lightless desert off to either side of no man’s land. From the distance headlights fire up the blackness of the road, approach slowly at first, calm and quiet, but coming closer, louder, faster. Fear taken up from my feet rises, blowing through the top of my head. The car whooshes past, pushing waves of space lost in a million directions, large and small. They hit my body with overwhelming confusion and light up the new road with yellow stripes so bright. Looking away from the oncoming vehicle I see the power  lines off the road, the tan earth and the fuzzy dry bushes, whose black shadows dance a semicircle around them. I want to run and pull away, but the hand of grammy, softened and scented by Jergens lotion and counterbalanced by her large black purse in the other hand, can more than hold me back. “Nelson!” she snatches me and my mind snaps back….’and the Wichita Lineman is still on the line’.

‘My thumb goes up, a car goes by, oh won’t somebody stop to help a guy’, the narrow of the road has widened and we’ve crossed, now facing the oncoming cars. All I can think of is that hitchhiking song, how weird and wonderful and lonely hitching must be, but I’m under 10 and too young for that. 

We’ve taken the dusty Greyhound out of LA across the desert to Salt n Sea, where a trailer sits off a lonely strip of highway, yellow-tan corrugated aluminum, like old Coors cans tossed from some giant’s car. I’m alone with grammy “I don’t hitchhike and I don’t take riders.” She said when I asked her about it. “Ah hate a Hippie!”

I know they smoke pot I can tell by the little red marks on their faces at the gas dock and in the market by the boat launch, I think. It’s plain as day, I can’t understand why the police don’t arrest them. I don’t like them either. One stole my change when I came out of Dale’s Market. He wanted to see my receipt, took it and my change out of my hand, looked at it for a minute, held it up to the light like you might check to see if a bill was fake or not, then handed it back to me with one dollar and kept the other five dollar bill. I said you have my Five. He went into an explanation designed to confuse a 6-year-old on his first trip to the market by himself. Another time daddy caught a hippy couple in our house and chased them off down Satsuma Drive where they disappeared into the night. A week later Sharon Tate was found dead. 

Approaching now. The sun bleached cinder block cube, a sign said “Kon-Tiki” in neon colors, hung rakishly adorned with spider webs gossamer flutter in the imperceptibly hot breeze. Grammie’s white hair turns clown colored in the anticipation of something cool and wet for her and for me the colors are somehow vacant and promise much more. 

Once inside, colors, small spots of them refract on glasses, dinging of pinball machines. I’m too young to play or be there for that matter, but I’m with grammy and the rules don’t apply to her. She’s from a time before any of that as Rob Roy and Roy Rogers appear. “Belly up!” she says. The stuff is sweet and cold with ice and there is a fancy straw to stick in between my teeth. 

We’d come a long way, waiting on the fixed fiberglass chairs, white lanolin echoing floor, shiny, reflecting a smear of fluorescent light from above, a faint layer of dust moving across all, a precursor to what was to come, as if that Greyhound station, there on the edge of the desert, where we were changing buses to the one that never touch any place like Los Angeles, could come and go, the desert didn’t care. The Desert Line went to places like Death Valley, Vegas, Palm Springs, 29 Palms, Joshua Tree, hopefully oases on the treacherous edge. Communion with the desert was and still is some kind of strange attraction to the Angelino and as it is with the need to hoard water by having a swimming pool; the bodily knowledge that LA is a desert is a subliminal drive that governs all. But a lake in the desert, what could be better. At that time, Salton Sea, formed by some kind of farming disaster or water grab debacle, was being sold as the nearest and newest boating resort for Angelinos. It was quite popular. I walked barefoot on the hard dirt road between the market and the marina cracking salt crust with my toes, the sunlight coming in from over my shoulder like some western movie. Clint Eastwood in a poncho, humming the words “Tijuana Smalls, it’s new baby, for you maybe, you know who you are”

Dad talked about how they dumped old engine blocks into The Sea, that’s what we called it, to make fish grow like some kind of junk reef and mossy little pies rose up around me, dislodged from the bottom or having enough of those reef, found their way to the surface, blossoming muck like lily pads around me while I, in that warm, tried to learn to water ski. Dad has a pop-side trailer parked there on a lot alongside the main highway that dead ended into The Sea at an old yellow hotel, that looked to be from a western movie called Helen’s Salton Sea. Hell On The Sea as we called it, a mile or so further along; but somewhere between the pop-side and Hell-On’s was the Con Tiki. The Con was half a bar, half liquor store with a selection of magazines, playing cards, church keys on cardboard display, the pull tab, although already littering the beach and a serious concern for kids my age for having been foot cut more than once, was not universal and some hold out beers still came in tin cans, not aluminum, and required these devices to open them. There you could also buy block ice for your cooler, bottled Coke, RC, Orange Crush, Bubble Up, Beer, just the American kinds, Big Sticks, frozen candy bars, Beer Nuts, Slim Jim’s and Snappy Tom, along with a low metal isle with assorted and sundry items. Since grammie and I had no car ,”Ah hate a freeway” she’d say when asked later why we had to take the surface streets clear across the valley to school. “I’ve driven across the country. Many times! I drove big cars, I like a Buick Road Masta, the biggest! And  Ah neva put a pinscrarch on it”. There was somehow an incident  on the Al-Can when I was a baby up in Alaska where I was from,  when she drove their “Vee-Dubya” off the permafrost Highway and into a snowbank and sat there. “That’s it I’m never driving the highway again and Ah hate a tiny car”. Daddy dug it out and she never again drove a highway again. Hell on The Sea was too far to walk to in the heat as the wind was blowing. We went back that first morning to the Con to get some Jergen’s. Grammie’s hands were dry from the desert, a few treats, a TV guide. We had no TV in the pop-side, there wasn’t any reception there anyway and besides as dad said, we were there for the peace and quiet and we didn’t need no squawking idiot box. A kid crossword activity book and a girly magazine, She bought me a big stick popsicle, the kind daddy likes. We headed back along that highway to the pop-side. No one else was there yet. Uncle Harry who snored so loud it shook the whole Trailer. In my sleep I imagined it breathing like a big iron lung in this case aluminum. Cousin Ed who was older than me and had a real Honda Trail 70, red orange with the white step in flairs, no mini bike like I had. Alvin, who could climb up the inside of the door like a spider, made lizard catchers out of an old fishing rod and a nose of wire. There were other trailers along the road spaced out in uneven increments. The one next to us was dark green with a pile of wood along its side, where we looked for lizards. Someone said look out for Copperheads they hide in the boards. I imagined a snake made wholly out of pennies and thought of course you could see them coming. Daddy said there were no Copperheads in California, but there were ants, red ants that swarmed our trash.  Afraid of them I would not take out the trash. Daddy showed me how  to do it. He held the can out away from his body, clinched his chin like he was lifting weights and walked fast but stiff legged, not a run, while they bit him, all the way out to where the cans and the propane tank was. “Put it down IN the can” they’d tell me and place the tin lid back on it.  There was a selection of rocks there by the cans that you could put on the lid or into the empty can so that they did not blow away. 

The rest of my family were to come another day with my Kit Kraft go-kart with off road knobby tires that were great for the sand dunes off to the back of the pop-side, on top of a small plateau where trails carved by dirt bikes that now no one rode and there under my helmet for the first time I felt totally free. They would all be coming later in the week or the next night or some far off time in the future. Time goes slow when there is nothing to do. 

“Ah can’t go outside. The wind is blowin’!” Grammy said and wouldn’t let me go out either. 

I didn’t want to look at nude girls with her so I went into the spare room where the fishing poles clanked against the ancient water skis, warped from the heat with a dry splintered finish, to look into the army bullet box from Alaska, where I was born, from the time daddy was a captain. I imagined that it was a very strange ship that he sailed in the frozen darkness of Fairbanks. The banks of that sea although frozen were fair, not quite good. I had no actual memory of Alaska, just the images from the stories that my folks told and the knowledge that I was different than everyone and from somewhere else, where they carved little happy faces into the tusks of walrus and it was cold all the time. They lived in a trailer there, maybe even this one. In that green heavy metal box that once opened I could not close, were the fluorescent eggs of fish in a jar, two sizes, green and crusty dry and orange pink. Hypnotized by the rainbow sheen of oil I had to taste them. Yuck! That was bad! I wouldn’t try the man made worms or the little funny wooden fish things that were painted to look almost real, with a triton of hook prongs coming out of their bottoms. There were the little balls of soft metal I wedged my fingernails into and the red and white plastic balls that were called floaters, that bounced so strangely across the floor and under the bed, not to be found again.

The wind torqued the mobile home like a can that was about to be squished. Like a triple bent beer can as Daddy would do as a show of strength. So bored, I went back out to the pop out living room, nothing but the air conditioner sound blowing tiny strings straight out attached to the leavers, as if that were the only way you could tell it was on. Deaf people must use that, I thought. I thought a lot of the deaf and the blind, they were different too and how they got on.

Back home at the Golden Mall there was a blind couple that wore dark sunglasses and played music with a jar for you to put money into. Their white canes feeling the earth as they lumber along leaning into one another. Neither seemed to be in charge of direction. The two of them, unusual in the difference in their size. He was a massive wrestler type whose head had been squished into an odd expression of monster wonderment and dressed for a long past funeral. And she was pretty, tiny, wore wide pleats in her skirt that pinched in at her waist and went out wide and down toward her knees. Tanless both of them, like they spent most of their time in the dark. She wore the hairstyle of a much older lady and both seemed to be groomed long ago and were kept in cold storage. I didn’t want to look at them, but they had this light shining down on them like they were actors on stage and I could not look away. While they were playing their strange and haunting music, Jimmy said they were fakers, so I looked into the side of their dark glasses and in fact they did have their eyes open. He had big balls that swum around without a fixed direction and she had one little slit that was notched out, like some doctor tried to cut them open for her. Jimmy waved his hand in front of them without a flinch. The whole thing made me feel terrible and confused. “These people have a very hard time, you must show them some compassion, be kind to them. Could you imagine going through life not being able to see or hear anything? You are very lucky to have all your senses. They wear the glasses so the sun doesn’t hurt their eyes and that they might not like how they look to others so they cover them.” Is what Daddy said about it when I asked if they were fakers like Jimmy had said. These things always came to mind as they did looking at the air conditioner, the rattling tin foil that covered the other part of the window where the unit sat. The wall made of bleached wood paneling, the western kitchen chair covered with a pattern of measuring cups, spoons, a skittle, a place setting and an odd chicken printed into vinyl naugahyde on the seat and strangely cinched into a stiff dress that hung over its wavy stubby legs, fat old cowboy lady chairs. Everywhere faded to the color of dust and little whistles came from the almost airtight door. Grammie stretched up to fasten something up along the window, her big butt right in front of me and I was tempted again to sink my teeth into it. “He bit an absolute plug out of my fanny!” She held her hand up, fingers an inch or so apart, to describe the dimension of the wound that caused her to turn and backhand the child and with its blow a tooth went sailing never to be found. No evidence I had to verify my claim. Grammy was mean, tough and a liar. Knocked my tooth out and made like I was making it up. But I loved her. It was not the only time that what I said was not to be trusted, she’d snatch my little arm up and drag me out of the back room at the market, where I had been wandering through the big wheels and fan belts of the immense air conditioning system. “Ssshutup! or I’m gonna knock the stew out of ya!” I resisted the urge to bite or maybe I had, “learned my lesson”. I did not trust grammie all that much. She was from a time when it was normal to back slap a kid if he was out of line and I was the kind of kid who wasn’t bad but just got a little daydreamy, like the time, sitting under the tree staring into the dapple spots of sunlit ground, plucking one by one the teeth from the antique ivory comb that was given to my father by a friend who had traveled to China and how I cried when he chose the new wind up cable car, that he’d given me from his trip to San Francisco, to destroy in front of me like he’d triple bent a beer can. Powell and Mason. 

The wind picked up. There was going to be a storm and the rest of the people were coming, daddy in his Eldorado, Uncle Harry in his silver Coupe deVille. 

We must have had a radio, but I don’t remember how it looked. It must have had a silver face with a black and sparkles screen over the speaker, a big knob on the side for tuning, a red line that marked the stations, a handle attached to the side of the box and could flip up so you could carry it easily. Some station from Modesto or 29 Palms or Barstow or some other desert outpost of a town warned of high winds, 70 miles per hour, maybe more. Stay where you are, the highways are closed and we’ll play more of the hits you want to hear. Dragging aline, dragon a line, I feel fine, talking ‘bout a pizza mine, I’m gonna take my time. I’m having a good time. Dragon a line. Dragin’ a line.  

“I hope Uncle Harry doesn’t try to come through the wind.” I said to grammie. 

“Uncle Harry nothing! Your daddy’s a plum fool! He’ll try to come out. They got that baby in the car.” Pow-Wow wasn’t  really a baby anymore, even though she had taken him up and moved him into her house that was next door. “Me and my grammie we got a good thing going” she’d trained him to say and everyone would laugh. It was like something out of a commercial or a hit song at the time. I kind of did hope they’d come though, four days alone with grammie and now this wind, she wouldn’t let me out the pop-side. It’d be good to have another kid around.

That night neither of us slept, the radio was on and a light on in the kitchen. Grammie couldn’t sleep without the TV on Channel 4 was all she’d watch.  “Cut-it on Fowr! My pro-gram is on!” she’d say. She had a small, red, black and white where we’d watch Huntley and Brinkley flicker across the screen, a little grey line floated up the picture, then it’d start again over and over, never fully keeping in tune. Floating off until it was unwatchable and you’d have to adjust the knob to bring them back into focus. That lasted only a few minutes till the line started up again. “My next TV’s gonna be a Magna-Vox! “ she’d say at the crappy reception. But that was back home, here in the desert there was no reception at all, that made it impossible for grammie to sleep. Now that I’m Grammie’s age, older, I understand. I can’t sleep without a picture to drown out the thoughts in my head, maybe that’s what she had. The pop-side lurched and twisted, creaking and pulling at the moorings.

Reflections quiver and bulge like a carnival mirror in the sliding glass door, as a gust at once sucked the glass out then back in, like the trailer was a big aluminum lung. 

We heard a rustle outside, a can blew over and rolled like a tumble weed out towards the highway, then daddy and Pow Wow appeared all blown about behind glass. They were knocking like they had to wake us up. For safety, grammie had locked us in from the inside, as if that would help. I banged up against the sliding glass door to open it to a flurry of excitement while grammie cursed with worry.  They came in and my moms hair up in a scarf and green eyes rolling wild from the trip.

“Nah, you got bat-shit for brains, Al, you really do! Taking a baby out in that wind”, grammie said, but daddy gave it no mind. Pow-Wow was at least five and was on his way to becoming the epic kid he would be. He was still a little chubby, not having yet begun his swimming career and become svelte by hours of training. But to grammie he was her baby, she had taken him away to live with her at her house in the back of the nursery school that my mom owned. Our house was next door and connected by a fence and a trail that led past a chin-up bar, where my father would pull off 25 at a go. I had famously said “daddy is strong as a bull”, and I thought about it a little, “and smart as one too”.

Grammie, the voice of reason, went on while Daddy described how he was pulled off the highway by the CHPs road block. Even then the wind blew the desert dust across the black asphalt strip, only the yellow line was faintly visible. The CHP pointed back along the Highway to a Motel 6 or a Travel Inn with the sleepwalking bear with a nightcap on. “You’ll have to stay there for the night, we’ve closed the road in either direction, we’re expecting 100 mile per hour winds and it’s unsafe to drive.”

“Well ok then” my daddy said to him with no intention of stopping. He headed off, flipped around and got on the oncoming on-ramp. The copper penny colored 73 Eldo hunkered down and cut through the gale, while Pow Wow slept stretched out on the maroon leather back seats, where no armrest was down to divide up no man’s land, separating he and I from beating at each other. And daddy didn’t once have to swat at the seat to get us to hush. The Eldo was the only car on the road, so he turned on the brights and drove right over the double yellow line. “Cause that was the only thing I could see”, the desert had reclaimed everything else. 80 miles an hour felt safe enough, he had to make good time because the storm was just getting worse. 

The trailer lurched and buckled as the story went on. It was as if by opening the door and letting them in we had also let in too much air and the pressure from the inside out was at an imbalance. It felt like the inside of my head was going to come out of my ears, but I kept listening. Pow Wow slept through the whole thing and my mom cried out, “Oh Al we are going off the road” but the most streamlined of Cadillacs hugged its giant carcass to the road as it knifed through waves of sand and rumble weeds. “We were the only ones that got through”, daddy said, proud of his accomplishments.

“You really need to have your head examined”, was Grammie’s conclusion. 

After all that excitement we were sent to bed while the grownups sat around the country styled kitchen table on the plastic covered chairs, drinking beer from pull top cans and Harvey Wallbangers. I remember the toothpaste had shrunk and hardened in the tube. And the feel of dust as I walked across textured linoleum, bleached tan and sanded down by the constant desert grit, as I walked to our room. There were two old twin beds in our room that came from some old house where we used to live before. I couldn’t remember, but they were familiar, the way the springs creaked till you settled in. There was also a sliding door closet made of the same paneling as the rest of the pop-out. And inside it stored an old dusty army coat, heat warped water skis and ancient fishing poles, bakelite tackle boxes of green and gray and a big green 50 caliber army bullet box, now demoted to holding jars of day-glow fish eggs and oily plastic worms. 

The next evening uncle Harry, aunt Ingred, Ed and Alvin all arrived, complete with Ed’s Honda and Alvin’s lizard catcher. And that night Harry drank scotch and snored so loud that it turned the pop-side into a giant iron lung. 

Nelson Loskamp 2019