Judge Santiago Burdon

The Twice-Killed Cat

We became acquainted in a Mexican prison, where I was a guest for eight months. I make it a policy to never associate with people I’d met in prison once I was back on the outside, but in Johnny Rico’s case, he was the exception to the rule. Sort of like a mild virus you’re unable to shake, you know you’re infected, but you just learn to live with the malady.

Always with a bandanna around his neck, and most of the time its color clashed with his shirt. He says it serves as a fashion statement, but I’ve never been able to figure out what exactly he was trying to say. Then there’s his common practice of always wearing mismatched socks all the time. I’m sure he’s colorblind and I’ve tried to demonstrate the fact with simple a test numerous times, but he’ll never have any part of my experiment.

He’s very egocentric and will never admit to making a mistake or having a disability, but he’s my carnal and has always been there for me. My proverbial Colombian guardian angel. I gave him the last name Rico, which fits his personality hand in glove. Commonly translated as “rich” or “wealthy”, it can also mean exceptional, and for better or worse, that is Johnny all the way.

Cartagena, Columbia. A place so beautiful that even God couldn’t believe he’d created it with his own hands. If he vacations, I have no doubt this is his destination. Gorgeous women, true angeles sin alas, obras de arte (angels without wings, works of art). If god created a woman more beautiful than these Colombianas, he must have kept her up in heaven for himself.

Cartagena also happens to be the hometown of my lunatic sidekick, Johnny Rico.

There I am relaxing by the pool, working up an appetite for dinner with twelve-ounce curls, letting the sun have its way with me while recuperating from the night before.

“Excuse me, Mr. Bigotes,” says Raul, the concierge. “There’s a call for you. Would you like for me to bring the phone poolside?”

I’d made a request that I was not to be disturbed, interrupted or bothered in any way, but I guess the call must be important enough to disregard my request.

“Do you know who it is?” I ask.

“No, Mr. Bigotes, but he said it was an emergency.”

That’s all I needed to hear; instantly the mystery was solved.

“I’ll take the call on the phone in the lobby.”

I reach into my wallet and give him a healthy propina (tip), informing him that he never took this call for me. He nods to indicate his understanding.

“Diga me! Quien es?” says the voice on the other line. “Bigotes, I am very sorry to bother you…”

Which of course, he was not.

“It’s Johnny,” he says. “I have a big problem, and I really need your help!”

At first, I can only detect a faint quiver in his voice. Then, all at once, he starts crying uncontrollably. In all the time I’d known the man, I’d never known him to cry, and we had seen enough shit together that would have warranted it.

“Okay Johnny, find some huevos and meet me for dinner at Tesoro del Mar, 7:30 sharp. Entiendas pinche?”

“Okay Bigotes, gracias carnal.”

“Don’t thank me yet.”

Later, at the restaurant, I wind up dining alone. Wiping my mouth, I take a look at my watch. 8:15 pm. I swear, Colombians are more proficient at tardiness than even Mexicans. It’s a common and even accepted practice in this country to be late.

Just as I’m about to pay the check for my dinner and wine, in strolls Rico, looking as though his dog had just been run over.

“Did you order dinner already?” he asks dejectedly.

“Not only did I already order dinner, JR. I ate dinner, drank a bottle of wine, and tipped the bartender, the cook and the waiter. Now I am on the prowl for some of Colombia’s finest cocaine, an angel of the evening, and an orgy of such depravity and lewdness it would make a porn star blush. A night I won’t remember. Are ya in, carnal?”

“I thought you were buying me dinner?” he whines.

“That was at 7:30. It is now close to 8:30.”

“Are you going to start with that ‘gringo time’ again, carnal?”

“Okay,” I relent. “Have a seat, I’ll buy ya dinner. Como pasando contigo? Que haces dime?” (What’s going on with you? What are you doing?)

He begins to regale me with the tragedy that has caused him so much pain of late. His lower lip quavers and his hands begin to tremble as he speaks. From the way he is acting, I’m sure he has either fucked up big time or fucked somebody over, earning him a spot on their list.

“She’s cheating on me with some cabron at work!” he finally blurts out. “She’s fucking someone else, I’m sure of it. My heart has been killed twice!”

Son of a bitch, I thought, it’s about a woman this time instead. This coming from a guy who would fuck a bush if he thought a snake was in it.

Over dinner, I note that his heartbreak sure hasn’t affected his appetite. Two plates of pescado frito, arroz, salada, sopa, and cuatro cervezas later, finally we are ready to commence this mission of restoring my carnal’s manhood.

As we exit the restaurant, Johnny is still talking rapidly, crying, and flailing his hands in the air.

“Johnny, shut the fuck up,” I eventually tell him. “So, what’s this master plan of yours?”

“Come on,” he says. “I’ll show you!”

I’m already sure I’m not going to like this. If I must be shown and not told, odds are it’s another one of Johnny’s demented schemes, one that I would never go along with if explained properly beforehand. Trust me, I’d been witness to and participated in enough of his adventures in the past, some of which would make a schizophrenic’s actions seem normal.

We reach his car and I slide in the passenger side, immediately noticing the odd assortment of items in back. Bottles of tequila, beer (undoubtedly warm), rope, flashlights, and what looks like a box trap of some kind. It’s similar to what my grandma used to catch raccoons in her attic.

Why I’m even entertaining the thought of assisting this lunatic in whatever he has in mind this time is far beyond me.

It is in this moment I have to admit, Johnny Rico, insane though he may be, is my friend. That’s a word I have never used lightly, and while my standards of friendship are extremely high, I reciprocate by the same set of standards.

In other words, guess I’m in.

“First, we are to stake out her house,” he begins at length. “Then, we will wait for her cat to come along and trap it. Then, we are going to stab that son of a bitch until it’s dead TWICE and hang it from her door. When she comes home and sees it, she will know that no one disrespects Juan Villanova Johnny Rico and gets away with it!”

Johnny always had to kill something twice. I’d never understood where that ritual originated from, and I’d never though to ask until now.

“Uh huh…” I say. “So, you think the best way to win her back is by mutilating her cat, killing it twice and hanging it from her door. What is this, some sort of Santa Muerta ritual, or an ancient Indian ritual kinda thing?”

“No, this is all my idea,” he confesses proudly. “I thought of it myself!”

Like I never would have guessed.

It is then that Johnny pulls out a bag of cocaine the size of his fist, gleefully shoving it in my face. It’s not like he has to force me to partake. I open the bag and snort a healthy amount through his silver coke straw, and he does the same. I pop open a warm beer for me and one for my carnal, take a large hit of tequila, and pass the bottle over to Johnny.

Together we speed off into the night.

It is 9:20 pm when we run out of gas three blocks from his girlfriend’s house. We have to walk two kilometers to a gas station, through a barrio I was not very comfortable strolling about in at night. Johnny, meanwhile, seems oblivious to the danger, trudging ever onward without fear. He assures me he has earned safe passage through almost every neighborhood in the city. I doubt his dispensation but don’t express my disbelief.

Finally, we return to the car and gas it back up.

Slowly we creep down Johnny’s girlfriend’s street, lights off, but for some reason he has got the radio blaring.

“Johnny, the radio!” I yell. “Turn it off, pendejo!”

“Si si,” he complies, “I don’t like this song either…”

For Christ’s sake, if he’s going for stealth, it’s a lost cause already.

He parks the car across the street, in an alleyway with a perfect view of her house.

“I see that you’ve done this before,” I observe. “How long have you been stalking her, JR? This is not a healthy activity, carnal.”

“Only four or five times,” he confesses. “How else to make sure she’s not fucking around on me?”

Stepping out of the car, we quickly get the trap set up, and Johnny puts an unopened carton of milk inside.

“Johnny,” I laugh, “that’s never gonna work! Have you got any fish, maybe a can of tuna or something?”

“No, but that’s a good idea,” he says. “Come on, let’s go get a can of tuna…”

Half an hour later, we return with the tuna, bait the trap, and resume our surveillance mission.

“You know Rico, wouldn’t it have been easier to just send her a box of dog shit, like you did to that prostitute you were so madly in love with? What was her name? ‘Laura the Zorra’ (slut), if I remember correctly?”

“First of all Bigotes, she wasn’t a prostitute! That was a rumor started by some bitches, chismosas (gossipy women), only because they were jealous of her. So don’t you call her a zorra! Also, that pinche gato got into my Toyota and pissed all over inside. I could never get the smell out and had to sell the car for pennies, do you remember? So, the gato deserves what he has coming to him!”

“Isn’t that the car you sold your sister? And Johnny, with all due respect to working girls, she was a prostitute whether you want to believe it or not!”

“Ya, yo se carnal, I know she was a prostitute. And my sister never did figure out what that smell was, either!”

I start laughing uncontrollably and Johnny joins in, unable to catch his breath. There’s snot running from my nose, and the sight of it sends Johnny into complete hysterics.

There we sat laughing, smoking cigarettes and joints, drinking beer and tequila and snorting cocaine well into the night. We’re telling jokes, lies about women we’ve had, and exchanging stories of close calls experienced on dope runs. All while waiting on a cat that may or may not decide to show up.

Two hours later and it’s close to midnight. My speech has become so slurred, it is practically incomprehensible. I’m talking fast without punctuation, Chicago style, speaking total cocainese. I could run a marathon with a beer in one hand and a joint in the other, with Johnny on my back, I am so coked up by this point.

It is then I look outside the window, noticing the mountain of beer cans and cigarette butts that has accumulated on the ground beside the car. That’s when it occurs to me how bad I need to piss. Opening the door, I stumble out over the mess, and Johnny follows suit.

“Bigotes, mira playo (there’s her cat)!” he says, before I can even get unzipped. “Venga gatito, venga bebe…”

The cat walks right up to Johnny and start rubbing against his leg. What happens next isn’t pretty. I immediately grab the bottle of tequila, guzzling a monstrous amount.

“Now, I kill this fucking cat twice!” he screams, raising his knife yet again.

“Johnny, that’s enough!”

I almost can’t believe the sheer level of the brutality I’ve just witnessed. I never thought he’d actually go through with it. I nearly double over and start puking right then and there, but somehow I manage to maintain my composure.

Next thing I know, we’re standing on his girlfriend’s porch. Grinning maniacally, Johnny does the deed as promised, tying the poor creature’s carcass to her door.

“Okay,” I say, “let’s get the fuck out of here!”

“What!? No carnal, I want to see her reaction…”

My friend has proven himself to be a total psychopath, but I am far too tired, shocked, and fucked up by this point to offer much by way of resistance.

Johnny hands me a joint. I light it, take a hit, cough and follow him back to the car. He hasn’t even attempted to clean the blood off himself.

It is now close to dawn, and soon the sun will be shedding its light on Johnny’s heinous crimes, to which I have become an unwitting accomplice.

It isn’t long before a car pulls up to his girlfriend’s house. She climbs out and Johnny smiles wide, poking me in the ribs to make sure I’m still awake. He wants us both to see what happens next.

Meanwhile, an old woman is sweeping the sidewalk in front of the house next door. She looks up as a scream pierces the stillness of the morning. Abruptly dropping her broom, she hurries over to where Johnny’s girlfriend stands screaming on her porch.

“My cat, my cat!” the old woman begins to shriek. “My baby! Oh, my poor little Tito…”

Johnny just stares straight ahead with a blank expression on his face.

“Wrong cat,” he says.

Judge Santiago Burdon

Where in the World is Johnny Rico

I’d been living in Costa Rica, bored with the passive lifestyle I’d adopted in my retirement. I thought a remedy to my melancholy might be a short vacation away from this paradise. In any case, there had been too many rises and falls of the tides since I had last buried my toes in the sand of a Colombian beach.

Cartagena was beckoning me to become a willing hostage of her casual elegance, comforting charms, and the soothing touch of her ocean breeze. It had been close to eight years since I’d last seen her, back when I’d finally bid farewell to the “business”, and to my friend and former running partner, Johnny Rico, as well.

Upon my arrival, I hailed a taxi for the short ride to Hotel Caribe, an elegant five-star inn with a friendly, accommodating staff, nestled on the Boca Grande peninsula. Before I knew it, I was comfortably settled into my suite with a millionaire’s vista of the city.

Back in the bold reckless days of my youth, I’d be wired, revved up and ready to take on the night. But, owing to my advancing age, I’d decided to relax in my room for the evening instead. It was close to 7:30 on a Saturday night, with nothing much on the agenda.

I enjoyed an almost-hot shower and ordered room service, which was delivered much more quickly than expected. I focused my attention on the television, hoping to find something I could fall asleep to.

As I flipped through channel after channel, I was excited to discover several adult options. My excitement quickly dwindled, however, after thinking I might be charged a ridiculous fee for this service. Checking my hotel receipt for a possible clue produced no information, and referencing the brochures in the room ended with the same result.

Heading downstairs, I took a seat at the bar. I order a Scotch, neat, which the bartender pours with a generous hand.

“Thanks, carnal,” I say. “Appreciate your generosity. Kind of dead in here tonight, wouldn’t ya say?”

“Usually like this, early in the evening,” he replies. “Are you staying at the hotel?”

“Yes, I am. Tell me, how long have you been working here?”

“I think almost five years now. I like it very much. The people are very nice and always have interesting stories.”

“Bet you meet many new faces,” I tell him. “Let me ask you a question. I noticed on my television I have access to all channels, including certain pay channels. Do you know if this is included with the cost of my room?”

“If you have a suite on the top floor, I believe they are all free. Also, spa with massage and breakfast is included. Would you like me to ask the front desk to make sure?”

“Thank you, but that won’t be necessary. Say, what’s your name, so I won’t have to call you bartender?”

“Sergio, but everyone just calls me Serg. What is your name?”

“Santiago, but you can call me Santi, or Bigotes, if you’d like.”

“Bigotes, I like it. I could tell you were Mexican because of your Spanish, but you look very Italian as well.”

“I’m from all over. I live in Costa Rica now, but I have spent much time in Mexico. I lived here in Cartagena for quite some time as well, back eight years ago, right here in Barrio San Diego.”

“Bigotes, you have a face that is familiar to me… Where did you hangout, back when you lived here?”

“Everywhere and anywhere there were women, wine, and song. My friend and I had a favorite spot, right near my old apartment: Tu Candela Bar. Looking forward to going back there, maybe tomorrow.”

“Before I came here, that is where I worked, only as a waiter not bartender.”

“Really?”

“Yes. I remember you, Bigotes, always with another guy who laughed real loud. Rico was his name, I think. You both holler at each other and fight all the time. I remember you were the thinner one, and your hair was much shorter.”

“Well spank me with a spatula, that’s incredible. Johnny Rico, that’s him! You have a strong memory, my friend. Those days were quite some time ago.”

“You came to Cartagena to see your old friend again?”

“No, I haven’t been able to find him in years. I’m just on a mini-vacation, a short change of scenery is all. You have a great evening, Serg. I’m going to head back up to my room now. I appreciate your help.”

“No problema. I’ll be here until around 10:00. There is a wedding reception, here at the hotel tonight. Glad I’m not working the bar! See you around, Bigotes.”

“Nos vemos, Serg.”

Suddenly, my room somehow didn’t seem to fit the size of my temperament anymore. There wasn’t a movie on that interested me, and even the adult channels failed to capture my attention, despite them being free.

Damn, Serg had remembered Rico and me after all this time. I’d tried to get in touch with J.R. on several occasions in the past, but without success. His mother had long since died, and his sister didn’t want anything to do with him anymore, leaving me with nothing but a string of old memories and disconnected phone numbers. But that’s life.

Putting these thoughts aside, I make the decision to head out into the night, hoping to revisit some old familiar haunts. Mothers hide your daughters, Santiago is on the prowl!

I hail a taxi, and within minutes I’m back in Old Cartagena. The city’s quaint charm sparkles in the salty evening air.

After accomplishing my 4 D’s for the evening (dinner, drugs, drinking, and dancing), the mission bell rings once, signaling 1am. I chase down another taxi for the short drive back to the hotel, only this time with my companion, Valeria, now in tow. We had met earlier in the night, enjoying each other’s company at Cafe Havana, where a ten-piece salsa band had been playing.

My girlfriend de jour is an absolute vision of loveliness: humorous, compassionate, reasonably priced, and a talented dancer to boot. We were both pleasantly high from all the booze and cocaine chasers. By all appearances, she appeared ready to wrestle with the anaconda.

We arrive at the hotel, deciding first to enjoy a cocktail at the bar. Surprisingly, the room had filled with a large crowd while I’d been out, everyone dancing to a DJ spinning reggaeton, my newly adopted favorite genre of music.

We were fortunate to find two seats at the bar. It was then I recalled Sergio mentioning a wedding reception at the hotel that night. Generally, I make it a rule to not attend weddings, because I always feel so helpless to stop the proceedings. As I always say, marriage is what happens when dating goes too far!

I ordered our drinks, and Valeria headed off to the ladies room to do a bump. When she returned, I excused myself to use the restroom as well, peeking into the adjacent banquet hall as I walked past. There I observed a fair-sized group, dancing in celebration of the two willing victims of love.

That’s when it suddenly hits me.

Above the noise of the reception, my ears perk up to the sound of that old, familiar laugh. It rings out in my heart like a song from long ago.

Could it really be? The lunatic laughter of the only man I’ve ever called a friend?

Stopping for a closer look, I peruse the guests inside. And sure enough, seated at none other than the bridal table, is the man I suspect to be “His Riconess” himself.

He was grossly overweight with long, stringy hair and a short, scruffy beard. He wore an all-white suit with dark sunglasses, despite us being indoors at night. His overall look was one I’d call “Neo-Italian”. I watch him as he takes a long drink of wine, then erupts into another one of his crazed cackles.

There can be no mistaking it. After years of searching in vain, I have finally stumbled upon the one and only Johnny Rico.

I watched as the large, unattractive bride sat down beside him, kissing his stubbly, blubbery lips as the guests all applauded, clinking their glasses with flatware. It must have been a cold winter in Hell, if a storm of this magnitude had breached the Devil’s compound.

Rico got hitched. He was now a married man. I should really congratulate this hostage of love, I thought, then pay my condolences to the wide bride on her fine choice of a husband.

I returned to the bar, where seated on my stool was some scoundrel trying to woo Valeria away from me. He makes a hasty exit as I walk up, planting a kiss on my rent-a-date for the evening.

“Don’t go anywhere,” I tell her. “I’ll be right back.”

Flagging down one of the waiters, I asked if I could borrow his blazer, tipping him generously for the rental. Next, I draped a white towel over my arm, donning my reading glasses for effect. My look now complete, I set out on my ambush, returning to the banquet hall as a hotel employee.

Walking briskly past the bridal table, I came around the back of it, completely unnoticed by my old friend. Standing behind him, I slowly leaned forward, whispering just loud enough for others to hear.

“Excuse me sir, but you appear to be very drunk. We won’t be allowed to serve you any more alcohol this evening. In addition, your guests have purchased drinks from the bar, with a bill almost four hundred dollars. We will need you to pay it immediately!”

He begins to stand, but I force him back down, pushing down hard on his shoulders. He whips back around at me, ready to strike, but that’s when he sees my face.

In an instant, his expression of rage dissolves into joyous disbelief.

“Un milagro! Milagro a Dios! Carnal eres tu?” (A miracle! Miracle my God. My buddy, is it you?)

Leaping to his feet, he wraps his arms around me, squeezing all the air from my lungs.

“Someone told me you were dead,” he said, as I attempted to extricate myself from his grasp. “Killed in Mexico, they said, by enemies of your cousin.”

“I was killed,” I replied, “but they made one mistake – they didn’t kill me twice!”

“I am so happy to see you are alive, carnal.”

Meanwhile, Valeria is now standing near the entrance of the banquet hall. I signal for her to come and join us. She smiles and walks over, every man in the room fixated on her beauty as she graciously glides across it.

I order a bottle of mescal for the table to help get this party started.

“Thank you, Santi!” Johnny screams. “Now we get drunker than a hundred Indians!”

Half a bottle and several lines of coke later, we were both up onstage, singing together our karaoke favorite:

I GET BY WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS
I GET HIGH WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS

We finish our little number and Johnny immediately starts taking off his clothes, asking the crowd if they want to see an obre de arte (work of art). He whips out his dick and starts prancing around the hall like a ballerina, causing quite an uproar in the process.

His bride doesn’t seem to find his little performance quite so funny, however. Her attempts to intervene are met with an inebriated Johnny completely ignoring her pleas for him to stop.

It was then that I asked the DJ to play Satisfaction, by the Stones. I sing and dance in my best Mick Jagger impression, my spastic moves sending Johnny into hysterics along with the rest of the crowd.

Finally, we settled back down around our table, slamming more mescal as Johnny apologized to his bride and their guests for his antics. Meanwhile, our fans had raised their applause once more, clapping and demanding an encore.

Retaking the stage, we then sang our other song, I Shot The Sheriff (Marley version), only changing the lyrics to where we shot both the sheriff and the deputy.

During the lead break, Johnny pulls out the same .38 he’s had since I’d first met him, firing off rounds into the ceiling like a drunk cowboy in a saloon. In response, the wedding guests hit the floor, some taking refuge under tables, others fleeing screaming for the exits.

Now, I know my reaction should have been to disarm my lunatic sidekick immediately. However, I’d found myself in such a state of disbelief, all I could do was laugh, completely unafraid of the danger.

Within minutes, two security guards storm the banquet hall, demanding that Johnny surrender his pistol immediately. Knowing him, I knew their request would be met with defiance.

As they reached the stage, Johnny tossed the pistol over to me, thus diverting their attention. As they passed him by, he swept up a nearby chair and slammed it into the back of one of them. Meanwhile, I pointed the gun at the other, ordering him to stop.

I added that I would blow his fucking balls off if he didn’t.

Side note: Threatening a Columbian with death is not always a successful deterrent, but  living without their dick or balls is a fate they consider worse than death.

He stops as ordered, standing motionless with is hands out before him. He tries appealing to my sensibility, which has been all but drowned in tequila by this point. Acting on the tequila’s advice instead, I kick him straight in the balls, connecting with the force of a punter. He drops to his knees like a nun at mass, grabbing his crotch in pain.

Meanwhile, Johnny is punching the shit out of the other guard on the floor, his porky wife literally on his back, screaming for him to stop. She obviously has no idea of the man she’s just married.

And here I am, standing over my own victim, still pointing the gun at this terrified man.

“Bigotes todo bien carnal? No el mata! No el mata!” (Mr. Mustache, everything good? Don’t kill him! Don’t kill him!), Johnny yells.

“Why not?” I yell back. “He tried to hurt you, mi hermano. I can’t let that type of behavior go unpunished.”

The guy starts crying, begging for his life. I tell him I don’t understand Spanish, and with his life on the line, he chooses to argue that he heard me speaking Spanish earlier, accusing me of lying with a gun pointed at his head. I am so overwhelmed by his stupidity to argue with a crazed gunman, I burst into another uncontrollable laughing jag. My buddy joins in, his wife still riding him like a bucking bronco.

Meanwhile, some of the guests have returned, watching the situation intently. The DJ, for his part, seems totally unfazed by the fiasco. He puts on Street Fighting Man by the Stones, and I resume my Jagger dance over the security guard on the floor. Everyone begins laughing and applauding once more.

Eventually, I extend my hand to help the security guard to his feet, which he accepts.

What he didn’t know was that I’d folded two hundred dollar bills into my palm. He inspects them surreptitiously, then walks over to his partner, passing him one in like manner. Suddenly, they are both grinning like game show winners.

Our celebration is cut short, however, by the arrival of six or seven Colombian police officers with rifles, some of them adorned with helmets and shields. Valeria comes up from behind and slowly takes the pistol from my hand, pulls up her skirt, and tucks it away in her panties. She whispers that I can retrieve it later, kissing me on the cheek.

The cops scream at the DJ to turn off the music, pushing through the crowd without apology.

They immediately confront the security guards, demanding an explanation.

“Lo que está pasando aquí y solo tener un informe de que alguien está disparando un arma a la gente. Diga me!”  (What’s going on here? We had a call that someone was firing a gun shooting at people. Tell me!), a large military type demands to know.

“This is my wedding party,” Johnny interjects, “and the only guns here are those you brought yourself!”

“Hey Johnny,” I tell him, “how about you let the guards answer and shut the fuck up? Use those lips to kiss that new wife of yours, instead of inciting these officers just doing their jobs.”

“We thought there was a problem when we heard screaming and came to investigate,” one of the security guards informs the police officers. “It was this one,” he says, pointing at Johnny. “He was acting all crazy with his Mexican buddy over there, pretending to shoot each other.”

“The song had gunshots in it,” the DJ explains. “Everything is good. Solo bueno, solo bueno.”

He puts on some narco-corrido song, Sangunarios del M1 (Bloodthirsty Men of the M1), demonstrating the realism of the gunshots.

The cops appear unconvinced, however, ordering Johnny and I to stand against the wall. They start frisking me, asking us both over and over where the gun is stashed. Some of the other guests continue to explain to the officers there was no gun.

“Where is the gun, Bigotes?” Johnny starts joking. “Just give them the fucking gun so they’ll leave us alone!”

“Are you for real, bufo?”  I scream at the bastard. “What the fuck is wrong with you? Are you fucking insane?”

“This is my wedding reception,” he sneers at the cops, “and I would appreciate it if you officers either left or joined the party!”

“I see you found your friend!” a voice rings out from behind us. We both turn to see Sergio approach. “There you both are, arguing and yelling the same as I remember in the past…”

“Officers,” he continues, “I know both these gentlemen very well. What you’re accusing them of is not at all what happened here.”

“Who are you?” a cop barks at him. “Do you work here?”

“I am Sergio Mendez Ortiz, the Bar and Banquet Manager,” he answers. “I appreciate your quick response to what you thought was a dangerous situation, but whoever reported the incident was incorrect.”

“And how do you know that? Did you witness the event?”

“I did,” Sergio tells them, “and I can assure you there was no gun.”

Eventually, by some miracle, the cops begrudgingly accept Sergio’s explanation. As they start heading for the exit, that’s when Johnny decides open his big mouth again, spewing out comment after comment of contempt.

“You should apologize for ruining my wedding party!” he calls out after them. “Aren’t you even going to say sorry? You disrespected my wife, my friend, and all our guests.”

The commander turns to Johnny with a none-to-pleased look on his face.

“One more word out of you,” he warns, “and your bride will be sleeping alone tonight, while you become a bride to some convict. Understand?”

I run the short distance over to my carnal, literally clamping my hand over his mouth. He tries to spit out another smart-ass comment regardless, prying at my hand in an attempt to incarcerate himself.

“He understands, officer,” I assure him. “Thank you for your…”

The DJ cranks the music back up to a deafening volume, and suddenly everyone is dancing once again.

I walk over to Sergio and shake his hand, passing my remaining money to him.

“Sergio, we appreciate you rescuing us from being arrested.”

“No problema,” he says with a wink. “Just don’t let me see that gun around here again.”

“What gun?” Johnny asks, laughing.

It is then he gets his first taste of married life with a pissed-off Latina. Without missing a beat, his bride starts in on him in front of the assembled guests.

Completely ignoring her, Johnny turns to me instead, drawing me into a tight embrace. He still can’t stop laughing, tears running down his face.

“I’ve missed you carnal,” he says sadly. “You are more than family to me.”

“I know, Johnny,” I tell him. “Let me toast to your wedding. Do you have any money on you? Lend me a bill till I can get to a machine. I gave everything I had to the security guards and Sergio, and I want to tip the DJ for giving us an alibi as well.”

“No money?” he asks, his bride still yelling in his ear. “You aren’t even going to give us a wedding gift?”

“Wedding gift?” I cry in indignation. “I just spent three hundred dollars paying off people for your stupid antics! Wedding gift? I sincerely hope your screaming wife has the patience to put up with your mental illness.”

Finally, she gives up on her rant, exhausted by his utter lack of recognition. She quickly walks away with an older woman I  assume to be her mother.

“Johnny, I think she is crying,” I tell him. “Go and apologize, and tell her this type of behavior is likely to continue over the course of your marriage.”

He stumbles off after her, and I go to find an ATM.

I find Valeria waiting for me at a table, being hit on by every guy at the party. When she notices me walking toward her, she stands and extends her hand for me to take.

Walking arm in arm, she accompanies me to an ATM down the street. Along the way, she slips her hand into my jacket pocket, depositing the gun within.

“Santi,” she says, “I am ready for sex with you. Do you want to go to your room soon? You already payed for everything, and I need to call my mother to tell her I’m okay. Should I tell her I will be home Monday? I like you very much, Santi, and want to spend some time with you…”

Now, this isn’t my first initiation with a prostitute. I’d learned long ago just to fuck ’em, not fall in love with them. But Valeria is young and still hasn’t learned.

Finally, we reach the ATM, withdrawing four hundred dollars in twenty dollar bills. Meanwhile, it is 3am in a Colombian city, and I know better than to just stand there flashing my cash. After being victimized, gringos have no idea why they’d been robbed. Why? Because you deserved it for being fucking stupid, that’s why.

We begin to walk back the short distance to the hotel. You can smell the aroma of bread and donuts baking from the shops nearby.

It is then that a homeless street junkie confronts us, large rock in one hand and what appears to be a steel bar of some type, maybe a curtain rod, in the other. He demands that I turn over my money, my watch, and the gold ring on my left pinky finger, which belonged to my daughter.

I first attempt to reason with him, offering a small donation to his drug fund instead. The suggestion is received poorly, and he displays his anger by swirling the curtain rod like a lightsaber, as though he were a Jedi master.

“Santi, give him the money!” Valeria says, clinging close. “I am afraid Santi, please! Tranquillo, senor, I will get it…”

“I’m not giving this carapecha (dickface) a fucking peso!” I scream.

Next thing I know, Valeria has Johnny’s gun back in her hands, pointing it directly at Skywalker.

“First of all,” she says to him, “you didn’t say please. Now I’m going to shoot your fucking balls off, you hijo de perra!”

At this, I instantly got a monstrous erection. What a woman! This demonstration of foreplay on her part had aroused me to a point of near ejaculation.

The wannabe Jedi scurries off, and Valeria returns the gun to my pocket once again, giggling as she softly puts a finger to her lips.

“Valeria, that was awesome, baby. Damn, you really are the total package! We have got to get back to my room…”

She grabs me by the head, pulling me in for a kiss.

“No! No!” I protest. “Don’t touch me! I’m so excited right now, I might just cum right here!”

She laughs and grabs my crotch anyway, giving it a loving squeeze.

We return to the hotel, and I immediately start pulling her toward the elevators.

“Bigotes! Bigotes!” Sergio calls from across the lobby. “Wait, I have a message for you, from your friend. He’d asked for your room number, but it is not our hotel’s policy to give out personal information.”

“A wonderful policy, Serg,” I say, taking the note from him. “Thank you.”

Johnny’s phone number was scrawled inside.

“Santi, venga,” Valeria urges. “Please, let us go!”

“Buenas noches, Serg!”

He smiles and waves after us as we enter the elevator.

“You shouldn’t have called Skywalker’s mother a bitch,” I reprimand Valeria on our ride up. “She may well be a very pleasant woman.”

I had just enough time to finish this little lecture before she grabs me and kisses me with her tongue, telling me I was in for one passionate night.

And yes, folks, it was a good night indeed. So I actually wound up staying in after all!

The following afternoon, I call Johnny’s room, and a housekeeper informs me the guest has checked out. I try his cell phone instead, and a recorded message informs me the number is no longer in service.

“Perfect, Rico,” I sigh. “Now what am I supposed to do with this gun?”

“What gun?” Valeria asks.

Nos vemos, Johnny Rico!

Brian Rosenberger

Killing People and Calories

Hello All,

This group is KPC for short. If you are psychotic, a psycho, neurotic, have issues with parental/authority figures, and/or suffer from religious oppression or oppression in general, have anxiety problems, have a love of sharp objects and the outdoors, are an outsider, looking to shed a few pounds personally and shed/carve pounds from others or feel the need punish or be punished, this group might be for you. Have problems with your diet, we also offer high protein recipes. Trim the fat. Your way and Our way. Teamwork works. We provide you with knife sharpener kits and professional tips from professional butchers. Cut calories? We dismember them.

Nothing burns calories like fear. It’s been scientifically proven!

Look into the mirror. This group is probably is for you. Don’t be shy.

We do not judge. We accept You for You.

Our goal is to cultivate an emotional, physical, and spiritual attachment between those with a desire to hunt and lose weight and those who want to be hunted and lose weight. A Win-Win for both, if you survive. But what’s life without challenge? Boring. Are you tired of being bored?

We provide the tools – knives, chainsaws, axes, machetes, spades, body bags, bottled water, chopped fruit and fresh vegetables before and after every session. You provide the running shoes.

Welcome to KPC. Get ready to run. Get ready to get on with the rest of your life.

Joseph Farley

Butterflies

It was a week into refurbishing of the 5th and Market Street station of the Blue Line, also known as the Frankford El. The El runs above ground for most of its route, but in Center City, the downtown section of Philadelphia, it runs underground. 5th Street Station was the jumping off point for Independence Mall, the Liberty Bell, and Constitution Center. This made it one of the busiest stops for tourists coming to Philadelphia. It was also the closest stop to where I worked.

I worked in the Curtis Building at 6th and Walnut Street. Once the home of the publisher of Jack and Jill and the Saturday Evening Post, it now housed offices, upscale bars, and expensive condos. I would have had to work three jobs to afford the cheapest condo. I lived much farther north, in Holmesburg, where the rents were much lower. It was a short walk across the Liberty Bell plaza to the El stop which could take me close to where I lived.

Signs had been up for a few weeks warning of a “Deep Cleansing” of the underground station. It certainly needed one. Despite the red, white and blue silhouettes of Independence Hall on the walls, it was a dismal place. It had the usual smell of urine associated with all El stops, along with the typical herds of rats, mice, and various six legged creatures. It was not clear why there was a sudden desire to clean. There was a rumor a high profile politician had complained. I doubted that was the cause. Politicians were not known to ride the El. There was a rumor reporters had uncovered a massive bedbug infestation. That sounded more plausible. Bad publicity can get results.

During my daily trips I had seen the red, white and blue placards come down, and the spraying of some kind of foam on walls, ceiling and support beams. Cinder blocks were exposed. Pieces of paint and other materials hung from steel beams and the cinder block walls like peeling dead skin. I wondered why the station had not been closed during the cleansing. Whatever made the walls and metal peel could not be good for human lungs. I considered using a different station a few blocks away until the project was done, but that would have cost me at least 15 minutes more travel time each day. The thought of spending more time on my commute was enough to keep me using the 5th Street station. I would try to hold my breath.

As I said before, it was a week into the “deep cleansing.” I was waiting on the platform for a train to take me home. The station was darker during the construction. A gloomy place had become gloomier. I missed the red, white and blue walls. They had brightened things up a bit. I stared into the tunnel looking for lights from the next train. I saw movement. One or two objects fluttering. They were large and reddish brown.

“Butterflies”, I thought. “Now that’s pretty fucking amazing. I’m standing here thinking how lousy this place is with the poor lighting, the chemicals, the weird smells, and the sense of decay, when along comes some butterflies. One of God’s miracles. Some nature, the nice kind, underground at 5th Street.”

I stood and watched and smiled to myself, until the butterflies landed on a wooden board covering a construction area. As soon as the wings were folded, I knew I had been wrong. Cockroaches. A pair of them. Each as big as my index finger. Not God’s miracle. God or the devil’s joke on me.

I vowed to get on and off at the 8th Street station starting in the morning.

But I didn’t. 15 minutes was still 15 minutes.

And butterflies are free to fly.

Just don’t look at them too closely.

Judge Santiago Burdon

Johnny Rico And El Oso Rojo

There’s a persistent knocking at my door. Actually I would characterize it as more of a pounding than a knocking.

It’s 2:19 a.m. and I don’t have to guess who would be so rude, so impatient as to disrupt and disturb me at this hour. I’m sure of the identity of the intruder AND of the fact that he must be off his meds. I open the door without even asking the person outside to identify himself.

“Oh good Bigotes, you are awake,” says Johnny Rico as he pushes his way into my apartment. “I hope I am not interrupting anything. Listen, I need your help to get revenge on the Jamaicans who ripped me off last month. I know where they are staying.”

I stand there dumbfounded as he makes his way past me and to the refrigerator.

 “Ya got any beer?”

“Are you for real, fuckstick?” I ask. “It’s almost 2:30 in the goddamn morning and you want me to head out on some revenge-capade to get back at some Jamaicans for a couple hundred dollars? Are you fucking insane? Of course you are, what a ludicrous question.”

“So what do you say, Bigotes?”

I keep asking myself over and over whatever possessed me to become an active participant in his deranged and demented acts of psychosis, time and time again. To this day, I’ve still never been able to find a good answer.

“Hold on,” I say, my initial reluctance giving way. “Just let me get some clothes on and do a quick bump before we head out.”

“Hey carnal,” he calls after me as I head into my bedroom. “Grab your Glock as well, just in case things get out of control. Ya know, some insurance.”

“Hey JR, I’m really starting not to love this whole scenario,” I call back to him as I step into my pants. “Guns? What exactly are you hoping to accomplish? And I want a rational answer. Not your usual off-the-wall psychobabble bullshit.”

I can see by the look in his eyes that he’s currently riding The Bipolar Express.

“I just want those Caribbean chulos to know who they’re dealing with!” Johnny screams in response. “They can’t come to Colombia, my country and disrespect me. These Rastamen need to be taught a lesson!”

“So now you’re a teacher giving lessons? In what, Johnny’s brand of street justice? Listen, I will accompany you on this mission of restoring your pride, but no killing anyone, or anything twice, do you understand? “

“I don’t want it to come to that either, but if does, I gotta do what I gotta do. Remember those two fucking Dominicanos I took out for you? It’s time for you to pay me back. Now let’s go! They have a house in Barrio Los Lomas.”

Reluctantly, I follow him outside and climb into El Oso Rojo (Red Bear), a truly monstrous automobile. Immediately I am swallowed up by its crimson plush interior.

***

Johnny had bought this 1974 Buick LeSabre from some corrupt Federal Police at an incredibly discounted rate. It’s blood red with a white convertible top. You’d have a difficult time going unnoticed in this oversized pimpmobile.

He’d had a Dodge Duster prior to this impulsive purchase, which wasn’t nearly as high profile and drew very little attention. Unfortunately, however, the Duster became a victim of one of Johnny’s psychotic episodes after a three-day cocaine binge accompanied by a case of scotch and a variety of prescription drugs he’d pilfered from his last stay in the psychiatric hospital.

He’d resided there for only one week. After that, they’d asked him to leave, having finally had enough of “His Riconess.”

He drove the Duster into a concrete retaining wall near the beach. Then, in some bizarre ritual to an ancient God, he set the car on fire.

After that, the Duster was left beyond restoration and never arose from its ashes. There was just no resurrecting it. He simply left it right there in the middle of the highway and never looked back.

***

“So carnal, what’s the plan?” I ask along the way. “You must have some idea how you’re going to address this offensive, don’t you? “

“Not really,” he says, “I thought I’d leave that to you. You are always very at good figuring how to attack a problem.”

We arrive at the house where the suspects reside and surprisingly they’re still awake.

We can see them partying inside through some large sliding glass doors. The music is blaring and you can hear them laughing, talking, and see them dancing around.

“What is that music they’re listening to?” I ask. “That’s not ABBA, is it? Is that fucking ABBA? You said these were Rastamen. Big, bad Rastamen who ‘set me up and ripped me off, Bigotes’. That’s what you told me, JR.”

In a rare moment for him, Johnny Rico has nothing to say.

“That’s how you described what happened, Johnny!” I continue. “Where’s their dreadlocks and Bob Marley reggae music, huh mon? No self-respecting Rastafarian would be caught dead listening to ABBA! Ya know what I think, Johnny Rico? I surmise you met these cabrons at that gay disco club in downtown Cartagena and attempted to rip THEM off. That’s exactly what happened, isn’t it? But they got the drop on you instead.”

“Callate cabron!” Johnny finally shoots back. “That’s not what happened at all. Don’t you think of me being gay. I go to the club for the music. It doesn’t matter how it happened. Those pinches stole my money, my coca and my watch. You’re making me angry, Bigotes. You better stop making the fun of me. I thought you were my friend, carnal?”

He’s irritated and truly upset. For all his goofing around, Johnny isn’t one for being the subject of ridicule himself.

“Well, how are we going to lure them outside?” I begin to laugh. “It’s not like they’re going to invite us in for cocktails.”

“Still think this is funny?” he asks. “Well, I’ve got a way to get inside. Hold on, Bigotes!”

Before I am able to ask him how, Johnny backs up El Oso Rojo, revs the engine and, with all tires squealing, we careen toward the glass patio doors at an accelerated velocity.

“Johnny you motherfucking psychopath!” I scream. “You’re going to get us both killed!”

“Invitation”? Johnny screams maniacally, “we don’t need no stinking invitation!”

Within seconds, El Oso Roja smashes through the glass doors and into the Jamaicans’ living room. I watch them all jump up at once and quickly vacate the room.

“Come on, Bigotes!” Johnny yells.

He immediately pulls out his 38 special and starts firing off rounds after the fleeing Jamaicans. In all the years I’ve known my lunatic sidekick, I’d never once seen him shoot that antique revolver.

“Bigotes, cover me!”

Mamma mia, here I go again
My my, how can I resist you
Mamma mia, does it show again

This bizarre soundtrack accompanies us, still playing on the undemolished stereo, only adding to the already surreal scene.

In the meantime, my own gun has found its way into my hands. I squeeze off a few rounds of suppressing fire as Johnny charges ahead.

Next, I take aim at the stereo and kill the fucker.

“I hate that fucking song!” I scream.

Meanwhile, Johnny is screaming insults in Spanish, demanding the Jamaicans show themselves.

In response, they begin throwing out money and a few gold watches through the door to the other room.

Just to make sure they don’t try anything stupid, I decide to blast the large mirror covering almost the entire back wall. Shards come crashing down on top of Johnny as he’s crawling crablike on the floor, snatching up all the loot.

“Cabron que haces pendejo?”

Scrambling to his feet, he swipes a brass lamp off a table for good measure as he comes running back to El Oso Rojo.

We hop inside and I fire off a few more rounds at a painting of women carrying baskets of fruit on their heads.

“Let’s get the fuck outta here, Rico!”

“Wait, there’s something I want…”

 “Johnny, what’cha doing? Come on, venga!”

Exiting the vehicle, he runs back over to a picture hanging on the far wall. It’s one of those grotesque velvet paintings of some busty woman, Marilyn Monroe or possibly Madonna or someone else. He shoves it in the back seat carelessly, breaking its wooden frame in the process.

“Johnny Rico has left the building!” he screams, grinding the shifter into reverse.

Back out on the street, I observe the neighbors on their porches and watching through their windows. I smile and wave at the gathering of spectators.

“Those are very bad people,” I shout at the assembled crowd. “They molested my cousin when she was only just ten years old!”

At this blatant falsehood, some folks actually start applauding our dirty deed.

“We didn’t see or hear anything!” an old man yells out. “God bless you!”

***

Burning rubber on our way back to my apartment, an idea pops into my head.

“Hey Rico,” I say, “why don’t we grab some beers, put the top down, and watch the sunrise from the beach. Sound like a plan?”

“What did I say earlier?” he replies. “You always know how to make things better, carnal. Always suggesting the perfect solution!”

We reach the beach and sit together in silence, not saying a word.

Johnny lights up and passes me a joint, and I take a giant hit for mankind.

“I love you carnal,” Johnny eventually declares. “You are more than family to me.”

“Ya man, I know, I know.”

“Hey,” he says, suddenly remembering, “I haven’t counted all the plata…”

Plunging his hands into his pockets, he slowly fishes out wad after wad of bills, piling them up on the center console between us.

“Hijo de puta!” he cries. “Look Bigotes, we got a lot back!”

After he finishes counting up the booty, he lets out a hoot that I’m sure could be heard in Bogota.

“There’s over $1,700 here!”

“That’s in Colombian money, Johnny. It converts into what, about $23.68 in gringo plata?”

“No carnal, that is in gringo money after the exchange!” he insists. “Here hermano, take some. You’re always with me when I have no other friend! Here tome, I want you to have this!”

I accept his generous offer, later discovering that he gave me over $750.

“Thanks carnal, much appreciated,” I say, raising my beer to his. “A toast to a friendship to last long after forever.”

We clank our cans to the declaration.

“Hey Bigotes, you can have the lamp too,” Johnny says. “It would look good in your home. I think maybe in your bedroom to replace that ugly lamp with all the flowers. And a watch for you and a watch for me, to remember our aventura en El Oso Rojo.”

“Thanks carnal,” I say. “I’m just relieved we made it out alive, ya lunatic son of a bitch.”

“Son of a bitch? Yeah, I never knew my mother. Mi abuela (grandmother) says she was a bitch though, so maybe you are right.”

“Johnny, I’ve met your mother on several occasions and she’s a very pleasant woman who loves you despite your insanity. So stop with the compulsive lying. This is me, Bigotes, remember?”

I take a closer look at the watch he’s given me, a Louis Moinet, an incredibly expensive timepiece. I strap it on my wrist and stare at its second hand, seconds of my life ticking past.

We stayed until the sun had bled every drop of crimson-colored dawn from the morning. Just two displaced souls in search of a destination that neither knew for certain existed.

Little darling it’s been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling it seems like years since it’s been here
Sun, sun, sun here it comes

Oh, in case you were wondering, the grotesque velvet painting..?

…Madonna!

The Architect, By Steve A. Champion & Craig Anthony Ross

The Architect

The Architect, By Steve A. Champion & Craig Anthony Ross
Palewell Press, London UK
September 2019

A radical social treatise about African American gangs in the 21st century. This book is more than just a blueprint for self-transformation and the reconstruction of gang culture. It is also a unique step-by-step guideline that shows gang members themselves how to do it. Ross and Champion’s analysis builds upon – and expands – the work that Crips gang co-founder and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Stanley “Tookie” Williams was committed to before his death. The Architect seeks to change the narrative about gang members by providing them with an independent and self-sustaining plan of action and empowerment.

This book is the first of its kind. The authors are two well-respected Crips emeritus from Los Angeles, who are now prominent in the criminal justice reform movement. They also reside on death row at San Quentin State Prison. Ross and Champion’s street and prison experience enables them to offer in The Architect authentic, honest dialogue about the problems gang members face and the potential solutions to those problems.

The Architect was written for gang members. But anyone working for real community change should read it. The triumph over violence requires extreme responsibility—not just from gang members, but from everyone.

https://www.sacredeyeofthefalcon.com/the-architect—how-to-transform-yourself-and-your-world.html

Contact: enquiries@palewellpress.co.uk

IMG_3287Steve A. Champion

IMG_3288Craig Anthony Ross

Benjamin Blake

IMG_6510

The Night I Drank with Charles Bukowski’s Ghost

I stepped into the bar.

It was dark, cave-like. Barflies lined the wooden counter, hunched over cans of beer and glasses of whiskey.

I walked over to the bar. “Scotch and water.”

The bartender, a tall man from what looked like Arab origin, fixed my drink and took my cash. On my left was a rotund black man, balding and mustached. To my right, was a pair of elderly men, white of hair and pale of skin. Off in the shadows sat a cagey negress, her once jet-black hair streaked with gray.

I sipped my drink. The fellow to my left spoke.

“Hey, brother! I’m Pancake!” He extended a hand, which I shook.

“Ben.”

“Hey, Ben. Pleased to meet you! We’re all musicians here! Do you play?”

“Yeah, a little guitar and bass.”

“What you riff on, man?”

“Huh?”

“Fender, Gretsch, Gibson, Epiphone?”

“Epiphone. I have a real nice acoustic I got for cheap.”

“Alright! Let me see you play that bass, Ben!”

I took a sip of whiskey, and started playing air guitar along to the bluesy track coming over the speakers. Pancake near shit himself with excitement.

“Yeah, Ben! Rock that bass, man! Ooooh, yeah, brother!”

The place came to life from that moment on. The patrons started chatting, people introduced themselves to me, the bartender was all smiles and efficiency. It was like I had passed some alcoholic test and was welcomed into the ranks of the booze-pickled regulars.

The bar was The King Eddy. Situated on the edge of Skid Row in Downtown Los Angeles. Infamous former watering hole of Charles Bukowski, John Fante, and Tom Waits. I was in the City of Fallen Angels for one night only – I had a flight to catch from LAX the next day, so what better way to kill the time than downing drinks in a dive bar.

Despite its initial apparent seediness, The King Eddy was a friendly place. It felt like home. I was welcomed like family and everyone was friends. Conversation burst and bloomed amidst laughter and endless drinks.

“You chose a good day to come here,” Joel, the bartender stated once I finished my first drink. “Second round is free on Tuesdays.”

The King Eddy swiftly became my favorite bar.

I reached into my messenger bag and pulled out a paperback copy of Bukowski’s Portions from a Wine-Stained Notebook.

I turned to Pancake, handed him the book. “You ever heard of this guy. He used to drink here.”

Pancake looked at the cover, smiled. “Yeah! Bukowski! He’s here, man. I knew it when you walked in. He’s here with you, man.”

Shit. This was really something. A strangely wonderful moment.

I drank up.

Pancake and the old guys left. Joel and I started talking about the history of the place. How it was a speakeasy during prohibition (there’s still a tunnel beneath the building that was used to smuggle liquor into the basement), and how one of the old guys who was there before had remembered Bukowski drinking there. He was handed a photograph, and after staring at it, had said: “Yeah, I remember him. He sat at the far end of the bar and wouldn’t talk to anyone. No one liked him.”

The one woman in the bar had moved from out of the half-light and taken a stool next to me. She introduced herself. Her name was Joyce. Her voice was like silk. Soft and smooth and demure. It was incredible. I’d never heard anything like it. I was taken aback by the absolute tenderness of this woman. At first glance, she had seemed callous and standoffish. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

A Hispanic guy walked in, took the stool on my left. He ordered a beer, sipped from the can, and sighed.

“I came right from the coroner’s office. My little brother was hit.”

I turned to him. “Shit. Like he got shot?” I asked, indelicately making a gesture of a pistol being fired several times from a jaunty angle.

“Nah, man. He ain’t no gangbanger – well, not anymore – it was a hit and run.”

“I’m sorry, man. That sucks.”

“I can’t go home. I couldn’t handle it. Here, no one gives a shit about me. It’s good.”

Manny – the brother still shuffling around this mortal coil, quickly started a game of sorts. Favorite movies, favorite bands, etc., etc. You could tell he was trying to take his mind off what had happened.

We all drank on.

The drinks were interspersed with sidewalk cigarettes. I smoke like a goddamn train when sober, so when drunk I’m a veritable fiend. Joyce joined me. She bummed a cigarette and I lit it for her with a match from a book Joel had given me.

“You know,” I said, leaning against the outer brick wall, “you have the sweetest voice I think I’ve ever heard.”

She smiled. I kissed her. I had escaped from the clawed clutches of an ex-girlfriend that morning. Came down on the train from the Central Coast.

I was making the most of my newfound freedom.

A young Mexican girl walked into the bar, took a stool and ordered a drink. She kept to herself, enjoying her can of PBR.

Joel said his relief was due soon, and ten or so minutes later a black guy strutted in, went behind the bar and started messing around with something. Joel’s back was turned as he leant on the bar, talking to a regular.

“Hey, Joel,” I said. “Is that your relief?” I nodded to the black guy.

“Yeah, man.”

“Alright. Just checking.”

All sorts of down and out types had come in during the evening. Tweakers, bums, crazed women, middle-aged men searching for Percocets. I had already bought an 1801 silver dollar off a crack head for three bucks (unfortunately, it was a counterfeit). So I was already pretty wary of new patrons. I had formed a swift kinship with the place, already feeling somewhat responsible for it. As it turned out, the guy wasJoel’s relief. I think the black guy wasn’t terribly fond of the fact that I had considered otherwise.

How the hell did I know.

Someone mentioned that is was an open mic night that night. I was drunk enough to want to participate. On a whim, I decided to approach the Mexican girl.

“Do you write poetry, by any chance?” Of all the fucking lines in the world.

Surprisingly, she said she did.

We checked out each other’s work, and were relatively impressed. I tried to convince her to read later. She said she was too shy to do that.

I told her to drink up.

It neared 10 p.m. I was only planning to stay for a couple drinks. Initially, I was supposed to be meeting an old friend of mine at 5. A Filipino guy named Joe. Joe never showed and I never left.

The problem was, that I had checked my suitcase at the Amtrak luggage storage at Union Station, and had to collect it by 10. So I walked the several blocks to Union with Joyce, and got to the luggage check kiosk just as they were locking up for the night. Talk about good timing.

We took a cab back to the King Eddy.

The place had changed with the shift in shift, and not for the better. By the time Joyce and I had gotten back, the vibe was oppressive.

The relief bartender said something about thinking I had left. I told him I had only gone to get my shit. He was a weird son-of-a-bitch.

I had a feeling he had it in for me.

Joyce stared at me from across the bar. I smiled, an arm around the Mexican girl. What a fucking guy. One woman wasn’t good enough for old Ben, oh no. He had to have two! He had to pick up every female in the fucking place.

The bartender turned and told me he was cutting me off. I asked him why the hell would he do a thing that.

“You’re too drunk.”

“How am I too drunk? I’m not slurring, or stumbling around, or spilling my goddamn drink all over the place.”

“You’re holding on to the bar.”

“I’m fucking exhausted. I just walked to Union.” The truth was I was leaning against the bar because I had an arm around the Mexican girl’s un-clothed midriff, but I wasn’t about to tell him that.

“Alright. One more drink. But that’s it. You go after.” He poured my Jack & Coke, slid it over to me.

I took my time drinking it, more interested in that moment, in wooing my little Mexican Princess. A couple minutes later, he noticed I’d hardly sipped from my glass. He was incredulous. I guess the fucker wasn’t used to anyone standing up to him and arguing his point. He lost his shit. Snatched my drink, tossed it in the overflow bucket, strode out from behind the bar and grabbed me by the back of the shirt.

“I fucking told you to leave.”

“Hey, man. What the fuck are you doing?”

He dragged me to the door and threw my ass out on the sidewalk.

My suitcase swiftly followed behind.

Guess they didn’t like me either.

IMG_6505

Thumper Devotchka

Don’t you know who I think I am?

“I don’t think this wedding will go ahead and that’s sad,” I mumble through tears and smoke. She doesn’t say anything, she doesn’t usually say anything, this is not shocking to me but it is hard to comprehend.

I say everything, not really for her or I but because I have always had this mouth on me and a historical need to fill silence, often with emotion and, as she kindly tells me before bed, drama.

“I don’t know what to believe?”

“Listen, neither do I,” I respond as I’ve responded for the past 5 years. My emotions are loud, intense and manic. We live together in semi harmony and to be reminded again that all of it is too much lonely, predictable and ultimately boring.

This whole life, if I am honest with myself, is deeply boring. Even with the theatrics I struggle to feel connected. Interested. Here.

I tell a friend, “I could pack my life into a suitcase and leave.”
I think I read that somewhere but I use the material as my own.

Often when I feel like nobody I paint the walls with somebody before me. Idols. Villains. It isn’t important as long as it fits the script.

Some lyrics remind me I have been used for my body a few times while in blackout. I try to swallow the psychological reminders. She notices. Asks me what’s wrong.

I am honest, mostly to my detriment. Honesty makes people uncomfortable. Crying even more so. I am honest, and I cry. She doesn’t like this.

People make very little sense to me.
Fragments of them touch my heart and then I fall out of love (if I’d ever been in it) and return to myself. My selves.

It’s all about me still when the cards are down.
I have an escape rope and an internal off switch, perfect for times like this.

No one else can keep up with the rings I run around myself. No one asked them to.

Everyone in my hallucinations plays the marching drums. We go to war all the time. I am not scared of overflowing. There is beauty in my intensity. There is wisdom in my ability to flit in and out of states, timezones, love affairs and sadness.

And there’s carnage. Blood. Guts. Dust.
I’d be alone if I knew how to but I am a child every second day and children… need looking after.

Morning is here. My eyes roll back. It’s happening again. Life. It sneaks up on me and I swallow it like a badly manufactured vitamin. It doesn’t taste nice but everyone tells me it’s good for me.

I feel even less invested in further altering who I am upon waking. I stare at her in bed and think, ‘I don’t like you anymore,’ a strange mantra considering it may not be real.

Spitefully, I make some noise getting my things together and leave without saying goodbye. If I’d have said “have a good day” it would have been dishonest, something I’ve learnt people do not like. I weaponise my authenticity as a way to disarm others when they feel upset with me.

“I am honest.” Now what?

“I don’t know what to invest in!” she half shrieks at me from under the covers. It makes me sick and angry and un-attracted to her. All side effects of the idea she may leave me before I leave her. ‘Get in quick’, I think.

Investment. I’m not meeting my end of the bargain. I am a pyramid scheme who got what I was asking for and never really returned from it. My body is still in the old apartment. Another house haunted. Another ghost formed out of circumstance.

I eat the flashbacks and the bathroom. I blame myself again and move on to the next thing.

Tonight, it is her disappointment and the fact that my battery won’t charge. Fuck! My battery won’t charge.

My priority is distraction, especially after this skull fuck of a conversation.

I piggyback myself home from a free course I was granted due to my Government Standard insanity. I talk my way out of a 10 grand debt and simultaneously force a toothbrush down my throat and pat myself on the back.

My love will destroy you.

Brian Rosenberger

My Therapist

She says I’m depressed.

No shit. Really? No PhD needed for that diagnosis.

Even my Mom says the same and I only talk to her once a week on the phone.

My therapist suggests making new friends, trying new things… Maybe joining a book club or a wine tasting group.

I tell her it’s a Kindle age. I have no time to read and George Thorogood summed it up pretty good already, when he sang “I drink alone.”

I tell her I drink to make the day taste better.

She makes a note in her always handy notebook.

Long fingers, short strokes. Always a pencil, never a pen.

Sometimes she licks the graphite.

She favors green nail polish. Like the skin of some endangered rain forest frog.

I’ve noticed. At $35 bucks an hour, I’m paying attention.

She asks if I’m seeing anyone. That’s therapist code for dating/fucking/sharing my thoughts and feelings with another human being while NOT being charged at a professional rate.

I respond truthfully and say only my co-workers, who are all male, one step up from Neanderthal, and herself. I point out that she’s paid by the hour but so are most of my co-workers.

She looks at her watch, scribbles in her notebook, brings the pencil to her lips.

I’ve never seen what’s in her notebook. Never asked.

Therapy session over, we shake hands. She has a very delicate handshake, like her hand is made of porcelain or egg shells. Then she smiles, all pearly whites, saying I’ll see you next week.

I pay at the desk. The receptionist is young, 20-something, about 10 on the cuteness scale, and always smiling, always friendly.

Maybe she realizes I’m clinically nuts and doesn’t want to provoke negativity.

She’s attractive, knows it, and should be selling worthless products on late-night infomercials in a bikini, or else involved in local politics. I’d place an order and/or vote.

After paying for my session, I stop at the bathroom on my way out. I jerk off in the stall, imagining my therapist, her green nails carving into my hips as my cock fills that pearly white mouth.

I think the therapy is working.

 

Jason Lachlan Christopher

Those Are People Who Died

1988. I’m six. My first funeral. Never met Mike or his parents. Mom is crying and hugging other relatives I’ve never come across. They talk of things from previous decades, remembrances of a time before I existed. I go up to the casket. Overheard the “napping against the tree” story from Mike’s dad. Still looks like he is napping. This is the first dead body I have ever seen.

Mike was mom’s cousin. Was in his early-30s. Been out fishing with friends all day, drinking beers on the boat while they tried to catch walleyes. Sun went down. Mike and friends went back to shore. Friends hitched the boat to their truck and said goodnight to Mike. He climbed in his truck and drove home. Country road twisted and turned back in on itself. Mike, still boozy, going too fast, went off road. Front right end of his truck struck a tree. Mike wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. He burst through the windshield, bounced along the ground and slammed into a different tree. Old man that came upon the accident later said it looked Mike had sat down with his back to the tree and taken a nap.

Mike still has the brown bushy hair and moustache that he has in pictures next to the casket. Pictures from before he died. He wears the kind of glasses friends and I will later in life refer to as “Jeffrey Dahmer glasses.” He’s smiling in all his pictures. Friends hug him. Parents lean on him and give him kisses on his cheeks. Redheaded woman named Roxanne poses next to Mike, her right hand on his chest, her head on his shoulder. Someone told me they were dating. I don’t see Roxanne at the funeral.

***

Grant Medical Center. 1989. I am seven-years old. In a waiting room on a floor high in the building, reading a book called Eating Ice Cream with a Werewolf. Uncle John is sitting next to me, watching a baseball game. Keeping me company while my mom, dad and aunt Cathy go back to my grandfather’s room. Grandpa Jack has cancer. Will be years before I learn that he developed cancer only a year or so after I was born 1981. A period of remission happened, so no one ever told me he was ill.

Aunt Cathy comes out. Takes me by the hand and leads me down the unusually dark hospital hall. It is April. It is spring. Sun blasts through the windows at the end of the hall. Lights above us are turned off. I smell urine, medicinal creams, bleached fabrics and an odor I will later come to think of as the “stink of death.” Smells like rot, like a body being eaten from the inside out. In my older years I consider it the smell of fear.

The stink is making me sad. Cathy leads me into my grandfather’s room. Mom and dad are there. Uncle Pat and his wife are sitting in the corner. Didn’t even know they came. Cathy’s sons, Brian and Andy, are standing next to the large hospital window. Both older than me. Andy graduated high school last year. Came up from Miami University to see grandpa. I think Andy is cool.

Grandma sits at the end of the bed, watching her husband.

Stand in front of my parents. Mom puts her hands around my shoulders. Grandpa talks to Pat about something when he notices me.

“Jay!” He pats his hospital bed. Mom helps me up and I sit next to him. Tubes all over him – coming out of his arms, from under his gown, one hooked to his nose. Rubs my back, asks me how I’m doing. I talk as a little kid would talk, still unaware of how heavy the whole situation is. Grandpa laughs at my stories, wants to know how school is going, asks me why anyone would ever want to eat ice cream with a werewolf.

He points to the state office tower. Columbus spreads out below the window. I follow the aim of his finger.

“See that? I helped build that.” He was a pipefitter, a loyal union man, took pride in his work. Navy guy in the 40s. Drove one of the Higgins boats during the invasion of Normandy in WWII. The opening scene of Saving Private Ryan? He went through that.

Talk a little bit longer before mom says it’s time to get me some lunch. Hug grandpa Jack. He kisses me on the cheek. I leave not knowing this will be the last time we speak.

Weeks later. Lunch. Mom, aunt Cathy, grandma, me. Eat hospital food in the hospital cafeteria. Grandma is crying. Grandpa is unresponsive, on life support. Mom says he looks like he’s sleeping. Time to let him go. Pneumonia has settled in. His cancerous body, too weak to fight anymore, breaks down and allows pneumonia to win the war.

“I can’t lose Jack,” my grandma whispers.

At the funeral, I think he is smiling. Lay my hand on his. My first-grade teacher, Mrs. Kantner, comes to the funeral home to pay her respects. Mom bawls when she sees her, hugs my teacher tightly. I sit on Kantner’s lap later and she rubs my arm, tells me things will be okay.

As they bury grandpa, a bagpiper in a kilt plays “Amazing Grace.”

***

Someone banging on our apartment door. 1994. It is summer. I am twelve going on thirteen. Mom opens the door. A neighbor girl, Ashley, is screaming and crying.

“Jeremy! Jeremy!”

She points to the backyard. Mom and me step outside. Her older brother Jeremy has fashioned a crude noose and is hanging from one of the hook-steps embedded in the telephone pole. His body thrashes. The hands are pulling at the rope around his neck.

“Oh, Jesus! Oh shit! Jason, call 911!”

I run inside, grab the cordless phone, call for a squad. As I’m on the phone, I step back out on the front porch. Mom tries to climb the fence separating the apartment’s backyard from the glass factory behind us. Jeremy’s arms are looser, his body only twitching. One arm gets too weak and falls away from his neck. Mom balances herself on top of the fence and is about to climb the hook-steps when the rope breaks and Jeremy falls roughly fifteen onto the factory parking lot.

Mom jumps down. Woman on the end of the phone says paramedics are on their way, that I can hang up. Run to the fence. Other kids from other apartments have come outside, are spilling over and through the broken fence. Shimmy through an opening. Mom has pulled the noose off his neck and tossed it aside. She gives him mouth-to-mouth and pumps his chest with her hands. Ashley is weeping. There is clear snot rolling out of both of her nostrils.

Mom keeps giving him CPR until the squad arrives. They go to work on him. Mom corrals us kids away from the scene, moves us back to the other side of the fence. Fire truck arrives, and they try to help the boy. Seems like days but is only maybe five minutes when one of the paramedics calmly says, “Call it.” They mean call the time of death. Saw that in some movies. While the others load Jeremy onto a stretcher, two paramedics jump the fence to talk to everyone. Mom tells her story. I tell mine. Ashley says parents are at work. She says Jeremy talked about killing himself every day. They thank my mom for trying to help. Ashley goes with them to the hospital.

Jeremy was only fourteen. Mom and me don’t talk much for the rest of the day. Jeremy’s parents never come around to ask mom what happened. I recommend going over to their place and talking to them. Mom says they probably don’t want to talk.

***

My second grandfather is dead. Dad is sitting next to me in the funeral home sobbing, stifling moans of sadness. It is only maybe the second or third time I’ve ever seen him cry. Once was when we went to see the movie Sling Blade. Billy Bob Thornton’s character has a moment where he berates his abusive, bigoted, now-disabled father. Dad cried at that scene.

It is 1999. I am seventeen, almost eighteen. It is June. Ralph Sharon is dead. He was 84. He was a mean sonnavabitch, meaner than my dad ever has been. He was more physical, more willing to fight, somehow even crueler with his words. He talked of burning his neighbor’s house down in the 70s, when a black lesbian couple moved in. He tolerated them, sometimes even stood in the driveway and talked to them. I think he didn’t burn the house down simply because he didn’t want to go to prison. Had there been no risk, believe he would’ve happily torched the place. Lifelong attitude wasn’t far removed from David Duke, presidential candidate and former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

But he’s dead now, and I feel nothing. Don’t care. Mom kept me away from dad’s side of the family for a reason. Room is filled with sniffles and weeping and hugs and reminisces of the other grandfather I had. The one I barely had any relationship with. I have to be a pallbearer today. I think about dropping the casket on purpose and claiming it was an accident. Nah, too risky. Don’t wanna deal with drama. Just want to get this day over with.

Dad grabs my hand, squeezes tightly. Don’t know if this is legit or part of a show. Hold it for as long as I can stand and break away, venturing toward the casket. Ralph is inside. He is frowning. He looks miserable. The funeral people couldn’t even work their magic to make his dumbass face look faux-pleasant. He is angry, even in death.

We bury him. I go home, play Mario Kart 64 with my friends.

***

January 2004. I am 22. Terrible snowstorm moved in. Have to go to work. I despise snow. I despise winter. Driving is a treacherous, time-consuming. Back end of my car sways if I go just a smidge over 25 mph. Going to take forever to get from Canal Winchester to Pickerington, to my job at the movie theater. Call one of my managers, Zack, tell him I might be late. He says to be careful and take my time.

Crawl down High Street, heading toward Route 33. As I get closer to the freeway, I see a couple cars parked alongside the road. Fucking wonderful. What is going on?

A van is blocking our lane, preventing us from crossing 33. Passenger side is facing us. It is smashed in. Notice another car parked on the opposite side of High Street. Its front end is crumpled, and black smoke is pouring out of the hood. Two teenage girls and a man who looks like their father are standing upwind from the smoke. Man is holding a shirt or a towel against his mouth. A woman, who doesn’t look like she was involved in the accident, is talking to him. Teen girls are crying. One has squatted down, is plugging her ears, body heaving. Man removes the shirt or towel and talks to the woman. His mouth is a bloody void.

I pull up behind one of the parked cars and head toward the van. An older man, probably in his sixties, is pacing alongside it. He looks frenzied. Winter wind is blowing his thinning hair all over the place. His pupils are enlarged. A different woman is trying to keep pace with him, rubbing his back and trying to calm him.

“Oh, god! She’s dead! She’s dead! What—what am I gonna—” Guttural howls erupt from deep inside him.

A guy close to my age comes around from the other side of the van. He is on his cell phone. Moves the mouthpiece away, nods at me.

“Hey,” he says.

“You need any help, man,” I ask.

The guy shakes his head. “We got help coming.”

“What happened?”

“That car—” he points to the car with the man and teen girls, “came off Bowen Road way too fast and broadsided this dude.” He thumbs in the direction of the frazzled old man.

I see the old woman in the van.

I didn’t see her walking up. She was too quiet. Man with his girls and his blood. Older man hollering in terror. They got my attention. Old woman is sitting in the passenger seat. Window is gone. She is wearing her seatbelt. Head leans against the door, like she’s napping. The right side of her face is covered in blood. Never seen so much blood in person. My stomach drops. I’m lightheaded. Could pass out right now, vomit, shit myself.

“You can go on, man,” the guy on the phone says. “Thanks for stopping. A bunch of motherfuckers just kept driving by before these two women stopped.”

“Yeah,” I say. “Yeah, I’ll get out of the, uh, way. Hope everything is okay.”

Everything isn’t okay, you fucking moron. Woman is dead. What a jackass thing to say, Jason.

Get to work. I’m in the projection booth today. Eight hours in a gray cinderblock hallway with no windows. Can’t stop thinking about the old woman. Call mom, tell her what happened. When I get off work, she tells me the local news had a brief story on the accident. The old woman did die or was dead on the scene. News doesn’t specify, nor do they give any names. Just that the woman was 67-years old. Guy with the teen girls did blow through a red light on Bowen Road, couldn’t stop because he was going too fast on the snow and ice.

I despise snow. I despise winter.

***

July 4th, 2011. I am twenty-nine. Driving home from shit-ass job. After midnight. Pull up to my friend’s place. As I walk, my phone rings. Mom.

“Grandma is gone,” she says.

Broken hip sent her to a nursing home. Miserable. Lonely. Unhappy. Still missed Jack. Quit eating. Nurses tried to get her to down some kind of food. Woman was stubborn. My belief is she willed herself to die. Was 84. Knew her body was almost done. Didn’t see any reason to stick around at a party she didn’t enjoy.

Leave my friend’s. Meet mom at the nursing home. We’re the first ones there. Grandma is under a blanket. Looks like she is just asleep. Nurse explains she checked on grandma at 11:30. Things were normal. Half-hour later, she’s dead.

Nurse leaves us alone with her. Grandma’s dentures aren’t in. Jaw hangs open. I try to push it shut, give her some dignity. Jaw drops back open. Uncle Pat shows up. Wife he had when grandpa died at Grant is no longer around. Divorced years ago. Cousins I haven’t seen in years show up, too. Aunt Cathy and uncle John come. All discuss what happens from here. Mom, Cathy and Pat talk with the funeral people who show up. They will transport her to the home in Pickerington.

July 7th. Service, then burial. I am a pallbearer. Tighten my grip to make sure I don’t lose grandma. Watch her casket lowered into the ground. She was the last grandparent I had. Dad’s mom died before I was born. This was the only grandmother I ever knew. She is in the ground next to Jack.

***

I am 35. June 2016. Mount Carmel East. Uncle John is hooked up to a breathing machine. Still wide-awake. Still struggling to breath. Arthritis has limited his mobility. Two strokes have limited everything else. Body winding down. Aunt Cathy sits next to him. Mom and I stand beside him. Keep crying quietly, keep wiping my eyes.

This was bound to happen. All knew John’s time was limited. Last few years have been hard on the man. Maintained his cheerfulness, though. Never felt sorry for self or lashed out at anyone. John is smart. John knows the deal.

He was the main father figure I had growing up. Don’t know if he knows this. He can’t talk because of the machine. I can’t talk because I will fall to pieces. Peter Jackson’s King Kong is on TV. Watch the scene with Kong and Naomi Watts playing on the frozen pond. Scene made me cry when I saw it at the theater years ago. Stomping on my heart now.

Nurses and doctors come in. Time to clean and change John. Cathy, mom and I got to leave. John takes ahold of my hand, squeezes tightly. We lock eyes for a moment and I kiss him on top of his bald head. His other arm wraps around me as tightly as possible. Does the same thing to mom.

Cathy gets the call in the middle of the night. He passed quietly in his sleep. He is cremated. The box is heavier than expected. John was a smaller man.

***

Mom is 70. Older than her father when he died. In good health. In good spirits. I worry about her passing. But maybe I get to have her around for a long time. Cathy is nearing 71. Had a mastectomy years ago. Still smokes, especially because she misses John. Talks about being lonely. Tries to remain happy.

Dad might be dead. Don’t know. Google his obit from time to time. Nothing comes up. Don’t know what I’d do with this information. Satisfaction? Sense of closure? Dunno. Need to stop doing it. Best to continue life as though he’s already gone.

Doesn’t feel like I’m a few weeks from turning 37. Presumed life would be a bore at this point. Thought I’d be nothing more than a husk of a man, with a dead-end job, a loveless marriage and kids that annoy me. Don’t feel old, despite most of my classmates being born when I was in high school. I’ve remained unshackled. Free to bend myself anyway I wanted.

I think of Mike, though. And grandpa Jack. And Jeremy. And grandpa Ralph. And the old woman. And grandma. And uncle John. Their lives stretched before them once, just as mine does. Just as yours does. I saw them in their twilight, sometimes after the light had completely left them. Someday, someone will see me in my twilight. Hope it’s not soon. Hope there aren’t many regrets. Hope I look like I’m only sleeping.