I Saw a Deadhead Sticker on a Cadillac

“I want food,” I say from the backseat of my girlfriend’s luxurious car. I don’t know what kind of car it is except expensive. I always want food. Luckily, they do too.

“Let’s go to Freeway,” I suggest to Tammy and Annie who are in the front seats.

Tammy is all for it, she is from the east side and knows all about Freeway. It is the spot for breakfast after bar close. My other friend, Annie, is not from the east side. She lives waaaaaay across town in what is called the Sanctuary. And it is a sanctuary away from the hard and dirty life most of us live. I am in the car with two of the most polar opposite people you could ever imagine.

“Ok, just tell me how to get there,” Annie says. I met Annie many years ago when we worked in the same office. She was a legal secretary then. Now, she is the wife of a wealthy man. Who actually meets a millionaire on a dating site and marries them? Annie. One of her rings probably costs more than I make in a year and her heart is solid gold.

“Man, I’m so fucking hungry,” Tammy says in between drags of her electronic cigarette. She is truly one of a kind. She is covered in tattoos, always dressed like a hippie and smelling of patchouli. She is quick with a peace sign, a smile and a hug. She had a bad drug addiction for many years. She works hard at maintaining sobriety and helping other addicts. This is the first time my friends have met in person.

“I really want you to teach me yoga, Tammy.” I say trying to set up something healthy to make up for all the fattening food I’m about to eat.

“You know yoga?” Annie asks.

“Yeah, I taught that and tai chi in prison,” she replies.

“You were in prison? Oh my god, let me out of the car,” I say in mock horror. Of course I knew she had been in prison—a couple times. Annie doesn’t say anything. I can’t remember if I told her about Tammy’s past and I am trying to keep it light. Not that she would judge, she wouldn’t.

“Fuck you, bitch,” Tammy says, turning around laughing and trying to swat at me.

We arrive at the restaurant and sit down. Tammy gets her change purse out and counts her money. I tell her I got her if she’s short.

“No, I got money. I just want to send some to my old celli. Just making sure I can still do that.”

“Your celli?” Annie asks.

“Yeah, the girl I shared a cell with in prison. She’s been in there for forty years. She got life, youngest female to get life in the state of Ohio.”

“What did she do?” Annie asks as I scan the menu. I always get the same thing; I don’t even know why I look.

“Nothing. She’s innocent,” Tammy replies.

“Of course she is,” I say dumping five sugar packs into my coffee.

“No, for real. Her dad was a really rich doctor. She fell in love with a black guy. Her parents didn’t dig it, told her to break up. She decided to run away with him. He came over in the middle of the night so they could steal one of her dad’s cars and run away.”

“But…” I say.

“She waited in the garage. He told her he was going to go inside to get something and she should wait there. Well, he ended up killing her mom, dad and brother. He came back to the garage and they took off. She didn’t know nothing about it. They got caught a couple of days later. She doesn’t have anybody to put money on her books.”

“Yeah, cause she fucking killed them all!” I say exasperated.

“Even if she did, people get caught up. Then before you know it, some shit you never intended is happening. Like when Tony spent my bail money. He didn’t mean it,” Tammy says.

“Tony?” Annie asks me.

“Her ex husband,” I say.

“Your husband spent your bail money?” Annie asks turning back to Tammy. She looks like she wants to hug her.

“Only half. He got the money back together though. Got me out a few days later,” she says shrugging.

“Love is letting your wife kick heroin in jail for a few days while you’re out running the streets,” I say.

“Heroin?” Annie asks looking back at me.

“So, how’s Abe doing in soccer this year? What college is he playing for? Annie’s son plays college soccer,” I tell Tammy, trying to steer the conversation away from murder, heroin and prison.

“I love soccer,” Tammy says with a big smile while pouring syrup on her pancakes. “I got a soccer outfit for Chico.”

“Chico?” Annie asks.

“My Chihuahua. I got pictures.” Tammy says reaching for her phone.

Floating East Toledo Queen

As I am sitting on my porch smoking my after work cigarette I see Ro coming across the street. Her walk is usually impaired by alcohol, but today she is definitely favoring one foot. It’s more of a limp than the usual swerve. She stops repeatedly on her journey, throwing her arms up and looking back at her house muttering cuss words. I know she is on her way to the store to buy another beer. And I also know she will stop at my porch to tell me why she is walking worse than normal. It takes her an entire cigarette to cross the street. She finally leans against my porch railing breathing heavily.

“I broke my foot,” she announces.

“How you do that?”

“Fucking Teddy did it,” she says raising her voice and looking in Teddy’s direction. He is standing on the porch looking back at us.

“Oh yeah, how’s that?”

“His mom come and took us to Aldis to grocery shop. I was in the back of the minivan. When I got in the back to sit down he slammed the big ass sliding door on my foot.” She turns again to look at him and yells “asshole” in his direction.

“I know that hurt.”

“Yeah, it did the first time and the second time.”

“Second time?”

“The door wouldn’t shut ’cause my foot was there. So this mother fucker swings it back and slams it again. Harder.”

“Why didn’t you tell him your foot was there?”

“It hurt so bad I couldn’t make no sound. He finally looked down the second time and saw it there. Doctor says it’s broke, but they can’t put no cast on it ‘cause of where the bone is on my foot.”

I look down at her foot and see a dirty Ace bandage wrapped around it.

“Why are you walking around? Shouldn’t you stay off of it?”

“I wanted a beer and ASSHOLE,” she yells across the street, “wouldn’t go get me one. Said I can’t drink with pain pills. Those pills ain’t doin’ shit and I need a beer.”

“What are ya doin’, telling her your life story?” Teddy shouts from their porch.

“Shut up, I’m resting ’cause my foot got broke by some blind dipshit and he won’t go to the fucking store for me,” she retorts.

“I’ll go. Come on and sit down,” he says.

“Give me a piggy back ride so I don’t have to walk.”

“God damn it,” he says jumping off the porch.

She turns to me and says, “It’s his fault I can’t walk anyway, he scrapped my crutches.”

“He what?” I ask.

“He took my crutches to the recycle place and scrapped them. He only got three dollars.”

Teddy comes and she gets on his back. He heads across the street to their house.

“Where you going?” Roe asks him.

“I’m taking you home and then I’m going to the store to get your damn beer.”

“No, take me up to the store. I want to see if Kim is working, I need to talk to her,” she says hitting him on the head.

“Alright, stop hitting me.” He turns to walk to the gas station.

Ro looks back at me, smiles and waves good-by.

The East Toledo Queen on her float.

Cops Squared

“Wouldn’t it be weird if you were watching Cops and the cops bust into your house with the Cops filming crew?” I asked Mr. Sierra #2 as I passed him a joint. (I will refer to Mr. Sierra #2 as DA or dumb ass for ease of writing from here on out.) We were sitting in the basement watching Cops. He took the joint, hit it and appeared to be pondering my question.

“Huh?” he asked as he handed the joint back and exhaled heavily.

“I mean like, we’re sitting here watching cops and smoking a joint. Wouldn’t it be crazy if the cops showed up, busted in our door, came in and the Cops show was with them filming? We would be on Cops watching Cops, like Cops superimposed on Cops. Cops squared.”

“That wouldn’t be weird that would suck,” he said. As soon as he finished that sentence we heard pounding on our front door. It wasn’t someone knocking on our door. It was three hard, precise and demanding blows. We looked at each other and spoke at the exact same time.

“No fucking way,” I said.

“That’s the police,” DA declared.

If you have ever heard the police knock on a door you know what I am talking about. I actually wished it was Jehovah Witnesses at my door for once. I would even listen to them if it would make the police go away.

“Go answer it,” he said jumping up from his chair.

“No, you go answer it. Why do I have to?”

“I got shit to hide,” he said while sticking the rest of our weed and a scale on top of a heating vent in the basement ceiling.

He was in a panic because he was on probation and already had a six month suspended sentence hanging over his head. I was in a panic because it’s real easy to get high, but getting sober on demand isn’t. The police pounded on the door again.

“Go,” he yelled.

As I walked upstairs and to the door I kept trying to focus and act normal. Then I started thinking, which is never good. I was home, DA was home and Pumpkin was home. Oh my god, Ruby isn’t here. What if something happened to Ruby? My high mind grabbed a hold of that thought and intensified it while I walked to the door. By the time I opened it, I was in a complete panic. I swung open the door and looked at the two police officers standing on my porch. Ruby wasn’t with them. I looked at their squad car, she wasn’t there either.

“Where is she?” I practically screamed at them stepping out on the porch.

“Who?”

“Ruby. Is she hurt?” I was in tears now. I forgot I was high, the hysteria took over.

“That’s what we are here to check on,” one of the officers said.

“She isn’t here. Where is she?” I repeated.

One of the officers took a pad out of his pocket.

“We are here to do a safety check on Elizabeth. I don’t know who Ruby is,” he said.

“I’m Elizabeth. I’m fine. Why would you check on me?” I asked as I wondered how the hell they knew I was smoking weed and they should check on me. Now I remembered I was high and I was confused.

“Your mother called and said she called you. She said when you answered the phone all you did was moan. She said she thinks your husband is trying to kill you. Are you ok?”

Before I could answer his question, Pumpkin came out on the porch.

“What’s up?” he asked me.

“Boy, do you have my phone?”

“Yeah,” he said as he got my cell phone out of his pocket.

“Grandma thinks DA is trying to kill me so she sent the cops. What the hell is wrong with you?” I ask as I punch his arm.

“I was just messing around. I answered it and started making noise just to fuck with her,” he said laughing.

“So you are Elizabeth?” one of the police officers asked me.

“Yes.”

“And you are ok?” he asked uncertainly.

“I’m fine.”

“No one is trying to hurt you?”

“Not unless you count mental anguish.”

That’s my boy, he’s his own man.

“Everybody here thinks I’m gay,” my son says incredulously. I’m shocked by this statement even though there was a time I thought he was gay, too. But, that was eleven years ago. He was five years old and all he wanted to do was play waiter. He didn’t want to play cowboys and Indians or cops and robbers. There were no Match Box cars strewn across my floor—just him walking up to me with a dish towel hanging over his slim arm demanding I “order”. Regardless of what I requested, there was always a look of disdain on his face. To me, this was a sure indication he was gay, but this phase only lasted about six months.

If there is a family to be gay in, ours is it. His Father is gay (that’s another story), I’m a bleeding heart liberal, his Grandmother is a writer and his Grandfather is a painter. We are virtually a gay incubator. Since his waiter gig, he has displayed nothing but heterosexual tendencies, such is life.

“Why do they think you are gay?” I ask. I wonder if he has demanded his fellow inmates order their food from the jail’s cafeteria through him.

“I watch the Golden Girls on Sunday mornings while I sweep the day room,” he replies.

“And that makes you gay?” I ask.

“Well, I sing the song,” he confesses.

“Oh,” I say and look down. Maybe I was wrong. I have mixed emotions. On the one hand I might have a lifetime shopping buddy, but I’m not sure jail is the best place to be thrown out of the closet.

“I like the song, it’s a good song,” he is getting upset. I don’t like to upset him during visits.

“Of course it is, Trey,” I reassure him. “It’s catchy.” I snap my fingers to prove it and start singing, “Come and knock on our door, we’ve been waiting for you…”

“Jesus, stop it,” he says, looking around the visitation room to make sure no one has seen my performance. “That’s the Three’s Company song, Mom. That one sucks,” he is getting that disdained look again.

“So, what did you say? Did you tell them you aren’t gay?” I ask.

“I told them my sexuality is none of their business,” he says in his ‘duh mom’ voice.

That’s my boy, he’s his own man.

Trey, if mom was black you’d be dead.

From where I am sitting on the porch, I can see Pumpkin walking down the sidewalk. He stops, turns around and just stands there. I am about to yell and ask him what he’s doing, but he turns and starts heading for our house again. When he gets to our driveway instead of coming up to the house he walks into the middle of the street.

“Boy, what the hell are you doing?” I ask him.

“Nothing,” he says. He keeps looking down the street. I look, too. I spot three teenage boys coming down the sidewalk.

“Damn it, why did you come home? You know better, now they know where you live.”

He doesn’t respond. I walk to my car in the driveway and grab my security system. It’s a short yellow bat. It’s also a flashlight and there are about four D batteries inside, it packs a punch. I sit back down on the porch with my little friend beside me. The three guys get to our house. They stand in a semicircle around Pumpkin. One of them says, “What’s up?” Pumpkin doesn’t respond. He isn’t a talker. I have seen him fight before. He won’t talk shit and he won’t throw the first punch, but he will respond accordingly. The boys continue talking trash and start walking around him. He changes position to keep an eye on them. Neighbors begin walking to the edge of their porches or stand on the curb. No one says anything. I hear a noise behind me and before I can turn around I hear Ruby yell, “That’s my brother,” as she pushes open the screen door and runs toward the street while biting off her fake nails. You can’t make a fist with long acrylic nails. She will throw a first punch.

Now that she’s out there, Pumpkin has another person to keep an eye on. One of the boys moves in her direction. That’s when I hear myself yell, “That’s my baby, don’t touch her,” as I grab my bat. Before I know it, I am in the street, too. Now we are all moving in a circle looking at each other, like some slow motion square dance.

“No, she’s not. I’m the baby,” Pumpkin says.

“Really? You want to do this now? She’s the girl, she will always be the baby,” I say. The three boys are looking at each other now.

“Just shut up, Trey,” Ruby says. “Come with it, what ya’ all here for?” she asks the boys. Not only will she throw the first punch, she will also talk shit. The boys start looking around and notice the neighbors silently standing around. Teddy, from across the street, is standing very close on the curb sipping a tall PBR.

“Come on, before someone calls the cops,” one of them says to the other two.

“Oh, we don’t call cops here,” Teddy says before taking another swallow of his beer.

“Naw, I don’t want anybody to call the cops. I didn’t just ruin my nails for nothing. What you gonna do stand there all day?” Ruby says in the direction of the three boys. “Trey, don’t do nothin’, that way you can say your momma and sister whipped their asses,” she says laughing.

“I can see why she’s the baby. Such a fragile little female,” Pumpkin says. He always thinks she’s my favorite.

“She wouldn’t be out here acting like this if you hadn’t brought these dumb asses to our house. Now it’s a whole other level. You just don’t think half the time. And she’s out here sticking up for your ass, so shut up.”

“I didn’t know they were following me till I was right here. Do you think I want more charges? I’m not trying to go back to jail. But I will,” he quickly added looking back at the stalkers.

Lowering the bat to my side, I turn, put my hand on my hip and look at Pumpkin, “Then stop doing stupid shit.”

“Trey, if mom was black you’d be dead. She always lets you get away with stuff. You need discipline,” Ruby says glaring at him. Before we realize it, we have our own circle and aren’t even paying attention to our would-be attackers.

“How many times did you get suspended from school this year? Oh that’s right, EIGHT times,” Pumpkin retorts. We all begin bitching at each other.

“Man, let’s get out of here,” we suddenly hear. We turn our heads back to the boys, at the same time remembering why we’re in the middle of the street to begin with. The three boys begin to back away, facing us the first few feet and then they turn and walk down the street. We head back up to the porch.

“You owe me a set of nails. I didn’t even get to punch anybody,” Ruby says to Trey, while inspecting her bloody fingertips.

“I don’t even know who the hell they were,” Trey says, still watching them.

“If you can’t beat them, confuse them and they will go away,” I say sitting down on the steps.

“Oh, I coulda beat them,” Ruby says.

“I know, baby.”

“She’s not the baby!”

You gotta go deep..

“Where, IN THE HELL, have you been?” I ask Pumpkin when he finally comes home at exactly 9:42 am.  He is on house arrest. The thing with Toledo house arrest, that everyone knows, is there are only three people in the Community Control Department who actually go to the houses to make sure the kids are really staying home. We usually have someone check midmorning and then again in the evening. They come to the door with a book the offender must sign and then they leave. That’s it.

The other thing about Toledo house arrest is they don’t work third shift. That means if they don’t show up by 10:00pm, they won’t be back until the next morning. Pumpkin waits till the magic hour and then he is gone. He won’t leave right in front of me, he waits until I am in another room and then he leaves. In theory, I am supposed to call and report that he has left. That would mean a new charge and I have a hard time snitching on anyone, let alone my kid. I tell him not to break the rules, I can get in trouble and he will get in more trouble, but he doesn’t listen. He says if they do catch him he will tell them I didn’t know he left, that I was asleep or something, and only he will get in trouble.  He is usually home by the time I get up. This morning I was getting really worried he wouldn’t make it back in time. But, here he is and he looks like shit.

“Are you going to answer me? Where have you been and what the hell happened?”

He falls into the couch face first, legs hanging off the edge. He smells funny. His clothes look wet. This is gonna be good.

“Ma, I’m just happy I’m alive. That was some crazy shit,” he says into the upholstery.

“What???”

“I went with Brandon over to his house.”

“Who the fuck is Brandon?”

“Some rich white kid in my group therapy,” he says.

“Why is a rich white kid going to Compass? It’s for poor brown kids.”

“His parents caught him drinking and they are trying to scare him straight by making him go to rehab with us.”

“That’s brilliant. You smell funny.”

“Yeah, lake Erie is fucking nasty.”

“You were in the lake?”
He sits up. Puts his hand to his head and rubs it.

“I think I’m still tripping, he says as he lowers his hands and wiggles his fingers. “Tracers,” he says smiling.

“I hate you.”

“What happened was, I was just going to go out to where he lives and we were just gonna drop some acid and chill.”

“Acid? Why the hell would you do that?”

“That’s the only thing they don’t test us for. He’s been taking like a box of Dramamine and hallucinating during group. I told him, that ain’t shit, you need some LSD. So, I got some. He lives out in Perrysburg. His house is by the water. We were gonna drop and hang out by the water.”

“But,” I say knowing this is where it all went wrong.

“We were sitting on their deck. His parents didn’t know I was there.”

“No shit.”

“We started talking about the collective unconscious and how it’s represented by water and if you really want to figure out what’s really going on, you got to dive in.”

“Of course, and then you jumped in that disgusting water?”

“No,” he answered and stopped like that was the end of the story. I waited at least ninety seconds before I yelled, “What did you do?”

“His neighbor had this boat.”

“Had? Oh, Jesus.”
“Yeah, it crashed. It was dark, the hallucinations and the waves really fucked with me when I was driving it.”

“You don’t know how to drive a boat!”

“I thought: how hard can it be? Well, it’s trickier than it looks. At least tripping, that is.”

“Why didn’t you just go swimming in the water? Why did you steal a boat?”

“It sounds stupid now, but we really wanted to get into the human psyche and you can’t do that in shallow water, you gotta go deep.”

“Is the white kid ok? What did his parents do? What did you hit?”

“Yes. Nothing, they were asleep.  A thicket.”

“A thicket?”

“Yeah, trees and bushes and shit, that’s what I hit.”

“Go and wash up before they get here. What are you going to tell Mr. Rodriguez if he finds out?”
He pauses going up the steps, turns to me and says, “I got that all worked out. Know how he is always trying to get people to believe in God? I’m going to tell him I keep trying to believe, but my mind won’t let him in. So, I thought I would use LSD as a spiritual tool so I can feel the love of Christ and change my life. I was taking the boat out to baptize my new life. Huh, huh? Pretty good?”

“There is something really wrong with you.”

“Duh. Did you make coffee?” he asks.

“Duh.”

“My name is Billy Rodriguez, I was born in New York City, I believe in God and I ain’t afraid of you.”

“What’s up?” Pumpkin says over and over with a quick nod of his head to the teenagers walking past us. They nod in return, some calling him Dough Boy, some call him Young Blood.

“Do you know every juvenile delinquent in Toledo?” I ask.

We are waiting to meet his new probation officer. There is a lot of traffic in the courthouse today. Lawyers, parents, offenders, clerks of court, probation officers and police officers run from one counter to another. Some are huddled in groups, talking before going into court. Every now and then you hear, “Boy, what the hell?” hollered right before a mom smacks a “boy” who stands taller than her and is covered in tattoos. Most of the parents are hearing the full story about their kid’s charges for the first time from court appointed lawyers. Kids sure don’t look like kids anymore. They say hormones in factory farmed milk causes eleven year old girls to have boobs and hips. What I want to know, is what causes these boys to have tattoos, attitudes and beards?

Finally, after forty-five minutes of waiting, a bald Hispanic man wearing a stripped suite with a matching handkerchief in the pocket and Stacy Adams shoes calls Pumpkin’s government name. We get up and walk toward him. He immediately looks Pumpkin in the eye and extends his hand. Pumpkin mumbles, “What’s up?” as he shakes his hand. Without letting go of pumpkin’s hand or breaking eye contact the man says, “My name is Billy Rodriguez, I was born in New York City, I believe in God and I ain’t afraid of you.”

Oh, shit. This man takes his job seriously. He won’t just push Trey through the paces and release him from probation. Trey does not do well with authority, obviously. As we follow Mr. Rodriguez to his office to go over the terms of probation, people greet him saying, “Hey, Preacher.” He nods and shakes a few hands.

“Preacher?” I ask.

“Yes, I am also pastor. Attending my services counts towards community service hours,” he says.

“She doesn’t believe in God,” Trey announces, trying to move the focus to me.

“I was talking to you. She didn’t break the law, she doesn’t have community service hours, you do.” I mouth the word asshole to Trey. He shakes his head yes, pointing at Mr. Rodriguez’s back. I shake my head no and point back at Trey. He smiles.

We get to his office and sit down. As soon as Mr. Rodriguez shuts the door Trey begins, “I was thinking…”

“Let me stop you right there, young man. I don’t care what you were or are thinking. You have a thinking problem, that’s why you are here. And I am here to tell you what you are going to do. Understand?” he looks at Trey waiting for him to acknowledge that he indeed does understand. Trey stares at him. I know what he is doing; he is running through all the possible responses he could give and the possible outcomes. Leaning back in his chair, Trey simply says, “Yes, Sir.”

This may appear as a victory to Mr. Rodriguez, but I know what it really is. Pumpkin needs more time. He needs time to watch him and decide the best way to handle him. Once that is done, he will always be three moves ahead. Mr. Rodriguez turns to get Trey’s folder. Trey looks at his back coldly. When the officer turns to us, with folder in hand, Trey’s face is smiling.

“Ok, we have burglary, drug abuse, truancy and fighting. Your drug of choice is marijuana? I never heard of a pot head robbing houses. You sure that’s your drug of choice?”

“Yes, it is,” Trey says.

“But, I see here you’ve also done cocaine, heroin, mushrooms, acid and all kinds of pills.” He says referring back to the file. “Now, it makes sense. So, what’s your drug of choice? I think the real answer is, whatever you can get, whenever you can get it, however you can get it,” he looks up. Trey doesn’t respond. Mr. Rodriguez sits the file down and continues. “You are on probation. In order to remain on the outside you must comply with the program I am about to outline. You are on house arrest. You may not leave your house, not with your momma, your sister or your boys. If your neighbor is cookin’ out and you want a plate, you better have someone bring it to you. And they better not be a felon. You may not associate with felons or known gang members. If you have a doctor’s appointment your mom will call and get it approved. You will attend intensive outpatient drug treatment five days a week. You will have family counseling twice a week. You will drop clean urine three times a week. You will also perform 85 community service hours. You will call, not your mom, this list of approved facilities, set up your service hours, have this sheet signed when you go and return it to me. I will be dropping in to see you. Sometimes at home, during counseling or when you are performing service work. Any questions?”

“No, Sir.”

“If you have any questions, Ms. Sierra, call me at this number,” he says as he hands me his card. We head out of his office and he walks us to the sidewalk in front of the building. As soon as we get outside Trey asks me for a cigarette. I unzip my purse to fish one out.

“What are you doing?” the Preacher asks me.

“I’m getting him a cigarette?” I say, suddenly unsure of what I am doing.

“You are going to stand in front of a court house, next to your probation officer and ask your mom to break the law?” he asks Trey.

“What? She knows I smoke. She doesn’t care,” Trey responds.

“It’s a law. You are a minor. No cigarettes. You got that, Ms. Sierra?”

I say yes, even though I know I am going to hand him one as soon as we get in the car. He’s been smoking since he was ten years old. I’m not gonna fight him on this when I have bigger battles to wage.

“Be back here next week, same day, same time. You might see me before then, you never know,” he says walking back into the courthouse. Trey watches him and says, “You ain’t afraid of me, huh?”

“You better not mess with that man,” I say, knowing damn well that’s exactly what he’s going to do.

“Come on, mom. I need a cigarette.”

Yeah, this is gonna go great.