Pumpkin’s Arrival

Pumpkin was plucked from the patch 19 years ago today. Nobody knew I was pregnant, except my best friend Diane. I already had one child born out of wedlock to my undereducated and therefore underemployed self. I survived on Aid to Dependent Children (welfare), under the table wages from a cashier job, food stamps and Section Eight housing. I was the “first” in my family, first to have children while unmarried and first to be on the welfare rolls. I was the first to do anything shameful that the general public could easily witness. I have no illusions, my relatives were not perfect, they were just very good at not leaving a trail of illegitimate children, tattoos and Newports in their wake.

The plan was to give birth, finish my associate’s degree in accounting—I only had six months till graduation—and then tell my family. How could they get mad if I had a college degree and the ability to support myself and my children? It wouldn’t be hard to hide a baby for six months, I thought. After all, I hid the pregnancy and they see me every day. This was going to be a walk in the park.

It wasn’t. I had a four year old that was very excited to have a baby brother and wanted to tell everyone. Also, I am a very bad liar that cracks under the smallest amount of pressure. A week into my supposedly leisurely walk my mom called. I was extremely tired, stressed from school and Pumpkin was awake lying next to me on my pleather Rent-A-Center couch. My heart started beating very fast as I picked up the phone. “What if Pumpkin cries while we are on the phone? What if Ruby comes in and says something about her brother and my mom hears her?” I thought, sweat forming on my forehead. So, I did the only thing I was capable of—I started crying.

“What’s wrong?” my mom said.

“I can’t tell you, you are gonna get mad,” I blubbered.

“It’s ok, what’s wrong? You can tell me,” she said.

“I have a son,” I said, pointing at my son as if she could see him. She paused for the same amount of time it took me to crack, about four seconds.

“What?”

“I have a son.”

“Where?”

“Right here, next to me,” I said between sobs.

“When? How? I’m on my way.”

I hung up the phone, leaned my head back on the couch and waited for her to come cuss me out. It didn’t take long. She walked into my apartment, looked at Pumpkin and then at me and said, “Well, we have to show grandma.” Great, she was going to tag team me off to grandma. My grandma who talks of walking five miles to buy a pound of hamburger, walking five miles home and realizing the store gave her three cents too much in change, walking five miles back to the store to return the money and then five miles home—during the depression when  sometimes all she had was three cents. My grandma, who never accepted charity of any sort and does not use credit cards because, “If you can’t pay cash, you can’t afford it.”

“No, not today. I am too upset to deal with her right now,” I said.

“I already called her, she’s expecting us.”

“Fuck.”

“Evidently,” she said, looking at Pumpkin.

I was terrified on the car ride over to her house. When we arrived she was sitting in her big recliner in the sunroom, her hands folded in her lap. I walked over and placed the car seat in front of her, moved the blanket so she could see him and stepped back. It was like placing a sacrifice before the Goddess of Self Reliance’s shrine, bowing your head and slowly backing away. She looked at him for few minutes without touching him.

“There’s another one for welfare to take care of,” she said.

“I graduate in six months, grandma. I will take care of him.”

After I accepted my diploma and walked off stage she gave me a hug.

I did support my family from that day forward.

Pumpkin came into this world with a Maury Povich worthy back story and he has continued to keep it going for 19 seasons. I adore him; he is one of the funniest people I have ever known. He views the universe in a way that is very unique and I am always excited to hear his take. I love you, Son.

 

Just Like Picking Apples In Nebraska

“Does this t-shirt look like it fits me?” Pumpkin asks rubbing his belly. I turn from the sink to look. I have to chuckle. It’s the middle of November and he has on tennis shoes, a Bob Marley t-shirt—that fits him well—jeans, a tie-dyed bandana wrapped around his head and a Rastafarian skull cap.

“Yes,” I say, chuckling.

“What?” he asks, looking down at his clothes trying to pinpoint the source of my entertainment.

“Nothing. Why don’t you have a coat on? Aren’t you cold?”

“No, I need some socks though,” he says, slipping his tennis shoes off while walking to a bowl of grapes and grabbing few.

“There’s a pair in there on the shelf,” I say referring to his shelf. That’s where I put the clothes he leaves when he showers here about once a week. We recycle: he leaves dirty clothes, I wash them and put ‘em on the shelf.

“Alright cool, I need them for Georgia,” he says walking past the bananas on the counter and picking one up.

“Georgia?”

“Yeah, me and Simba are going.”

“Simba and I,” I correct him.

“Why are you going to Georgia? What about your job? You don’t have any money. I’m not going to another state to bail your dumb ass out. He doesn’t have a driver’s license. What if you guys get pulled over and the car gets towed?” my worry overflows into a verbal waterfall.

“Moooom, chill,” he says, leaning into the open fridge and coming out with a container of hummus.

Are you hungry!? Jesus, stop eating. I have stuffed peppers in the oven, they’ll be done in 15 minutes.”

“We are going to Georgia to get Simba’s crazy ass baby momma and his daughter. She has a lot of money. It costs sixty dollars in gas to get there. She’s gonna pay me back my sixty dollars when we get there and pay for the gas home. As far as my job; I’m in sales, I set my own hours, no big deal if I miss Monday and Tuesday.”

“So, why you doing all this? Why don’t you just loan him the money and stay here? This sounds like picking apples in Nebraska if you ask me.”

“Mom, trust me I’m not gonna end up having a nervous breakdown in a Burger King parking lot.”

He’s referring to my brief career as an apple picker. When I was eighteen I left an apartment in Chicago, attended a Rainbow Family gathering in Texas and came to a rest, for a while, in a commune in Oaklahoma. The commune was deep in the woods, no bathrooms, no showers, limited electricity and one land line phone.

The standard of living was the least of my worries. The men had total control of the community. They were the only ones allowed to go into town and work. Women had to stay behind and cut wood for the fire we used to boil water. We pumped the water from a well by hand. We needed a lot of water to wash dishes, do laundry and fill the barrel used as a bathtub. We also had to figure out what to make with the mishmash of food they brought back from dumpster diving at grocery stores.  The “foucalizer”, Gypsy, had the final say on all decisions made during our weekly meetings. I had no money and my ego wouldn’t let me call my parents for help. But, I wanted to get out of there very badly and immediately.

So, the day Michael Bird and High Plains—I know, hippies and their goofy ass names—told me they were leaving to go to Nebraska to pick apples, I begged them to let me go, too. They were all for it and we set off with just enough gas money to get there. Once there, they said, we would make thousands of dollars. I don’t know why I thought I could pick apples. I had never been in an orchard, let alone did orchard type shit.

The trip there was crazy. Of course we had to panhandle because we ran out of money. We stopped at shelters along the way to shower. All my jewelry was stolen at one of them. In order to use the shelter’s towels you had to give them something of value to hold. I gave the girl behind the counter my silver rings and she took off with them. We slept under picnic tables at rest areas. One morning I woke up to a whole Mexican family sitting around my picnic table eating. They were talking in Spanish and laughing. I knew they had no idea I was under the table. I tried to ease unseen from the table. When I stuck my head out they all stopped talking and looked down at me. I smiled, said hi and stood up with as much dignity as I could muster. As I turned to run back to the truck I heard one of them say, “Loca chica.”

When we finally arrived at the orchard we walked into an office that was located at the beginning of a long driveway. It led to the shacks pickers lived in and further down was the orchard. There were two young men standing in the office. They stared at us for a few seconds before they asked if they could help us. We were quite a sight. I had dreadlocks with crystals woven into them. I was wearing a white Indian shirt, with no bra of course, and a long tie-dyed skirt. My companions were long haired, bearded and tattooed. We told them we were there to work.

They turned and looked at each other with more wonder than they had eyed us with. Finally, one of them turned and said, “There are no apples. There’s a drought. Don’t you guys read the paper?”

I was heartbroken, tired and pissed off. Why the hell didn’t Michael Bird know there was a fucking drought before we came all this way? We stood in the parking lot and tried to figure out what to do. We decided to just go back to the commune by panhandling our way. What choice did we have? We got back in the truck and started the return journey.

Once we were close to the highway Michael Bird pulled into a store parking lot. I figured they were getting water or something for the truck. I waited outside. Ten minutes later they came out laughing carrying a bottle of Jack Daniels. They spent every last penny we had on whiskey. I was so pissed I refused to drink any as they drove down the highway passing the bottle back and forth in front of me.

It was a small old truck and all three of us had to smash onto one long seat. It was a stick shift too, which meant I had to keep my legs bent toward the passenger side of the truck. And there was no air conditioning. Within an hour they were trashed. Michael Bird was swerving badly. Until that point I had managed to conceal my anger. I couldn’t take it anymore. I started screaming for them to pull over. It scared the shit out of them. They almost dropped the bottle mid pass.

We pulled into a Burger King parking lot. I kicked High Plains out of truck with my fringed moccasin boots and got out as fast as I could. He stood leaning on the truck bed with his hands in his pockets looking down in shame at the ground. Michael Bird turned off the truck and slunk around the truck bed and stood next to him. I had my hands on my hips and stood before them glaring.

“A fucking drought? You didn’t check or call or anything? We don’t have any fucking money and you go and buy fucking whiskey and almost kill me? This is bullshit. I am not getting back into that truck until you two sober up and we figure out what the fuck we are going to do,” I was looking at them waiting for them to acknowledge that they were assholes. They weren’t talking and they weren’t looking at me. Instead, both of them were looking out of the corner of their eye to the left. I slowly turned my head to see what was more important than the situation we were in.

I turned and there stood a couple in their sixties just a few feet away from us. The woman had white hair, she was wearing light blue polyester pants and a matching blue shirt. She was clutching her big white plastic purse against her stomach. Her husband was holding onto her elbow trying to steer her into the Burger King. She was obviously stunned and dumbfounded. She was looking at me like I was crazy! Didn’t she know I was the voice of reason? I was the responsible one? So, I did the only thing that seemed appropriate at the time. I screamed, “What the fuck are you looking at?” as loud as I possibly could. The sheer volume of my voice visibly jolted her out of her stupor and into Burger King.  I turned to the guys and calmly said, “Let’s get outta here. “

They quietly got into the car, drove back onto the highway and I never saw the bottle of whiskey again.

“Okay Pumpkin, here are your stuffed peppers. Eat good. Just make sure you call me.”

“Eat well,” he said, smiling.

“Yes, I hope there are many apples.”

I see your dreadlocks and raise you a cat…

“Why does he act so weird?” Ruby asks me. Ruby, Trey, Stan—my husband—and I went to brunch together that morning. I’d noticed her glaring at Trey throughout the meal.

“Who?” I ask stalling for time.

“Trey. Why does he act so weird?” she asks again.

“He isn’t acting.”

“He didn’t use to be like that.”

“When has that child ever been normal? You remembering some shit I don’t?” I ask trying to remember one normal day with Trey.

“He wasn’t that weird when he was little,” she declares.

“Oh, you mean when he was little and refused to wear Nikes to school? He had to have wingtips. Or when he wouldn’t wear t-shirts, only dress shirts? Or when he wouldn’t play with toys, but chose to copy the dictionary instead. Or do you mean when he wouldn’t play sports and was obsessed with chess? Yeah, I remember his normal period now.”

“Well, I want to have some kind of relationship with him and I can’t when he acts like a retard,” she says walking back into the bathroom to finish putting on her make-up. She posted a picture on facebook earlier today and got 362 likes in forty-eight minutes. Ruby is “normal”, but exceptionally so. She is the most beautiful normal thing this family has going for it.

“Then you don’t want a relationship with him, you want a relationship with the person you want him to be. When he isn’t that person you get mad at him for being who he is and not who you want. That is unfair.”

She doesn’t respond. I didn’t think she would. They are different. They have to love each other, but they don’t have to like one another. That is easy to say, but a difficult concept to actually practice. Especially when you are a beautiful princess and people pretty much do what you want most of the time.

He usually stays at our house on weekends. Then, on Sunday night, he will say, “Well, back to my real life,” and he will head out for another week. He will stay at his dad’s house, which is closer to his job, or at a friend’s house. When he arrived this Friday he said he paid rent to stay at a new place. His friend Simba lives with a couple who has a baby and they said he could crash there, too. Trey sells siding, roofs and windows door to door. He sold a lot this month, he is a great bullshitter, and thinks he will have enough money to rent a studio apartment soon.

So, on Fridays he comes to my house and I wash his clothes, he eats well and rests up for another week of survival. I am always worried when he leaves. I worry if he will have enough to eat and a safe place to sleep.

It’s 10:00pm on Sunday. Stan and I are watching TV. and relaxing. I hear a banging on the front door. It is loud and demanding, it almost sounds like a police knock. My husband gets up and opens the door. Trey comes bounding in the house. I am shocked, he usually doesn’t come back till Friday. He says hello and rushes past me. My husband and I both watch him as he walks to a closet where he stores his extra clothes and books.

“What are you doing?” I demand.

“I just need to grab a few things. Well, four things actually,” he says. He walks back into the living room carrying three pillows and heads to the front door.

“Wait, stop…WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”

“Basically, I am going to live in a car,” he says smiling.

I look at my husband. He folds his arms, sighs and leans back against the wall. He is getting comfortable. He knows this is going to get weird. Either I am going to cry or yell or try to talk him into letting Trey move back in.

“What? I thought you already paid rent to stay somewhere this week. What happened?”

“I did pay. It’s about freedom really,” he says. Janis Joplin’s song goes through my mind; freedom is having nothing left to lose.

“Freedom?”

“Yeah, Simba and I are going to live in the car until I can get a place. No rules. I only sleep for short periods of time anyway. We got the cat in the trunk. That’s the only problem. Simba doesn’t want to leave it. But, I hate it and don’t want it in the car, so we cleared out the trunk for him. He keeps meowing, but we’ll figure something out.”

“Where are you going to park?” I ask. I can’t believe he’s serious.

“In the country so we don’t get robbed,” he says, walking out the door with the pillows. I look at Stan, he looks at floor and doesn’t say anything. Trey walks back in and heads to the closet. He grabs a comforter and starts to head out the door again.

“Umm, no. That was grandma’s comforter. Hell no, you aren’t taking it,” I say.

“Really? It’s cold.”

“Really.”

He walks back to the closet and returns the comforter. He grabs some sheets instead. I sit down in the chair and start laughing. I laugh from my gut. I snort laugh. He looks at me surprised.

“What are you laughing at?” he asks, smiling.

“You. Ok, good luck, son. I hope it works out.”

“Thanks, I love you,” he says, walking to the door again.

“And I love you,” I say. And I do, I love him. Every insane part of him.

I sit and I think. What was I doing when I was 18? I was living in a commune in Oklahoma. My parents had no idea where I was. I took off with a backpack and no plan. I had dreadlocks and crystals in my hair. I was high on acid and pretty much anything else. He has a hundred bucks, a cat, three pillows and sheet—he will do just fine.

Strong Armed Confusion

“See? That’s what the fuck I’m talking about,” Pumpkin yells as he throws his cell phone onto my dashboard. His phone bounces and hits the windshield. He tries to get out of the car before I’ve completely stopped in his Dad’s driveway.

“Will you wait till I stop? What’s wrong?” He doesn’t answer me. He exhales loudly while I stop and put the car in park. Once it’s stopped, he springs out of the car and heads to the halfway house next door.

I watch him as he walks and then I see what’s gotten him so pissed. Jim, his ex roommate, is standing in front of the halfway house talking to about four guys who are sitting on the porch smoking. I think he has on Trey’s leather jacket. I sit in the car and wait for him to handle it. I am not too worried. Pumpkin can take care of himself. The residents of the house won’t get involved, they have enough problems. If they do decide to play hero, I have my miniature yellow bat tucked under my car seat.

My son met Jim while he was a resident at the house. Jim ended up there after he got out of rehab. He lost everything he had to heroin. Anyway, Trey and Jim became friends. Jim would complain to Trey about living in the halfway house. He said they had too many rules. Unlike some of the men there, he wasn’t court ordered. If he could find somewhere to live he could move out.

My son, the other hater of all rules, talked his dad into letting Jim move into their house. Trey thought they could share his room and split the rent he pays his dad. Like most things, it looked like a good idea on paper.

Their friendship immediately went to hell once Jim moved in. Pumpkin said Jim stopped taking his meds and that he was for real crazy. He further clarified the crazy as “not the fun crazy kind either.” Pumpkin said Jim turned out to be a slob, he wore his clothes without asking, he ruined his computer battery trying to cook meth and he played bongos all night. I can understand how a crazy meth head playing bongos all night could be irritating.

Pumpkin told him to move out a couple of days ago. And yet, here he was. I recognize the coat Jim has on. Pumpkin had it on a few weeks ago. I know my son is doubly pissed; Jim still hasn’t moved out and he has his coat on? Yep, it’s all bad.

I watch them exchange words for a few minutes. Jim is nodding and Pumpkin is yelling. Then, my son turns and starts to walk back to my car—without his coat. What the hell? My momma bear instincts come out and I’m not about to let Jim’s crazy ass keep my son’s coat. So, I get out of the car and start walking over to him. As soon as Pumpkin sees me get out of the car he stops and says, “Mom, no.” He has seen my bear instincts before. I ignore him and walk over to crazy.

“Is that my son’s coat, man?”

“Huh?”

“You heard me,” I say as I move closer. I repeat my question louder and slower. He looks at the coat and doesn’t say anything. Then he starts to remove it. Pumpkin is by my side.

“No mom, just come on. You don’t know what I got going on. I took care of it.”

“No, fuck that. Is that your coat?” I repeat, still looking at Jim who has suddenly frozen with the coat halfway down one arm. He is looking at us, waiting to see what he should do.

“Mom, just come on. Jim, get the fuck out of here and don’t come back,” Pumpkin says trying to turn me around toward the car. Jim takes his escape quickly and walks away.

“Your just gonna let him take your shit?” I ask as he propels me by my arm to the car. Pumpkin’s Dad must have heard the commotion and came outside. He is standing in the driveway watching us.

“What are you two doing?” he asks as we approach. He asks us that often.

“He let that goofy mother fucker take his coat,” I announce squirming out from Pumpkin’s grip on my arm.

“It’s not my coat, Ma!”

“I saw you in it last week.”

“I borrowed it from him. You always do that, get involved in shit when you don’t know what’s going on. I just wanted him to leave. I told him before; if he comes around here I will beat his ass. He almost blew up the fucking house trying to cook meth. I don’t want him here.”

“Wait, that’s not your coat? Jesus Christ. Then why did he start to take it off?” Pumpkin doesn’t answer me. We just stare at each other thinking what a moron the other one is.

“I told him to come over,” Pumpkin’s dad says breaking our staring contest. We both turn and look at him.

“Huh?” we ask in unison.

“Yes, I called him. I told him he still had a few things here he needed to move and if he ever gets hungry to stop by and I will feed him.”

“Fucking Buddhists,” Pumpkin says walking into the house and slamming the door.

“So, you told him to come over and when he does Pumpkin threatens to kick his ass. Then I demand he gives me his coat. He probably thinks we were setting him up in order to beat his ass and take his coat.”

“Yes.”

“If you aren’t crazy when you get here, you are when you leave,” I say getting in my car.

If your family counseling takes place in a jail, it’s an automatic fail, right?

“What do you and your mom do for fun, Trey?” the counselor asks.

We are in her office. My son has already been incarcerated for about six months and not making progress. They thought family therapy might help him become engaged in his rehabilitation. So, we are all here: me, my son Trey and his father Andy. His father isn’t his biological father. He’s Trey’s say so father; he’s his father ‘cause we say so. But, mostly he is because he has been there day in and day out since Trey was three. Doctor appointments, open house at school, school plays, chess lessons and temper tantrums at McDonald’s play land. Andy has voluntarily stuck around through times I would have really thought about bailing if I could. I have the whole “he’s a minor, you are his biological mom and it’s against the law to bail” thing going.

“We go to the abortion clinic.”

“That’s what you do for fun with your mom, go to an abortion clinic?”

“I go on Saturdays to help escort clients into the clinic. The anti-choice demonstrators are very aggressive. Sometimes Trey comes with me,” I say, giving Trey a look.

“Those Christian’s are nuts. I’ve seen them,” Trey adds.

“We also watch movies, talk about books and go for coffee. Tell her that part, too.”

“Yeah, we do. You ever watch Barfly?” Trey asks the counselor.

“Barfly?” she asks looking at me. Trey answers before I can.

“It’s about my mom’s favorite author, Charles Bukowski. He was a drunk, never kept a job and is really ugly. He had a column in a paper too, Notes of a Dirty Old Man. You hear of it?”

“No,” she says faintly. “Ok. Now who lives with who? You are divorced?” she asks, trying to get to a safe subject. It doesn’t work.

“My Dad’s gay. They were never married.”

“Jesus. Will you stop already?” I ask Trey. He’s making us seem so fucked up. I mean we are, but not like he’s making it seem.

“What? He’s gay, right? What’s the big deal?” Turning to the counselor Trey continues, “I don’t care that he’s gay. Do you care that he’s gay? I mean if you do, that might be a conflict of interest. That’s all I’m saying.”

“Trey, shut up,” Andy, Trey’s dad says.

“No, I don’t have a problem with it. So, you and mom live together. Anyone else in the house?”

“My sister. Her dad’s straight.”

“Ok, and Dad lives by himself?”

“No, Uncle Jim lives with him. He’s a crack head. Oh, and my co-mom. She’s a heroin addict, but she’s clean now.”

“Co-mom?” she asks turning to Andy.

“She’s my domestic partner,” Andy answers.

“But, you’re gay?”

“Yes.”

“And she’s a she and your partner?”

“They have a Costco membership that says domestic partner. It’s legit,” Trey volunteers.

“You’re doing this shit on purpose aren’t you? Just stop for Christ’s sake,” I say hitting Trey in the arm.

“She is my partner, but we don’t have a sexual relationship,” Andy replies.

“See, I really didn’t stand a chance. You’re getting that right? I mean really, out of all of them, I am the most sane one. I think this will help me get out quicker, don’t you? I’ve done pretty well considering,” Trey says gesturing toward his father and me.

“Sanest,” I say.

“Huh?”

“You would be the sanest, not the most sane. That’s incorrect.”

“I do have really good grammar. I can communicate, express myself well. You can put that down. I’ll give ‘em that,” Trey says motioning towards her pad, encouraging her to give us credit for one thing.

“I think our time is up for today. This has been a great first session, such honesty. I will sort through… this, come up with some ideas. Next time we meet maybe we can list goals you feel are important for your family.”

She looks frightened.

I’m sure Cindy is a very popular name in Vietnam

I’m sitting in the massage chair at the nail shop getting a pedicure by Cindy—why do they always pick American names? I know, I know, to make it easier for us. But, that isn’t her name: I know it, she knows it. The charade makes me uncomfortable.

Anyway, Cindy is talking away. I have no idea what she’s saying. I can pick up a word here and there, but mostly I just smile and nod. I really don’t want to smile because I sat in the chair for about twenty minutes waiting for her to start my pedicure. It’s the same every time.

“How long is the wait?”

“You sit in chair now. You no wait.”

Liar! I sit here for a half hour before you start every time. It’s waiting whether my feet are in water or not. Now, my water is cold, I have a headache from trying to figure out what the hell she is talking about and there is no Wi-Fi. I am in first world hell and starting to get pissy about it. Then, an even bigger bitch than me walks into the shop.

“I would like a pedicure.”

“Ok. You pick out polish, sit in chair,” Marie (yeah, right) tells new level bitchy.

“This is supposed to be relaxing. I don’t want to look at all that polish. Can’t I just tell you what I have in mind?” she asks. Her shoulders droop from—I don’t know, exhaustion of impending decision making?—her Coach purse comes dangerously close to touching the floor as a result.

You have got to be kidding me. I fucking love her.

“I want something not too bright, absolutely no pinks. It’s almost fall. Something a little earthy, but not too dark. Certainly not coral.”

I laugh out loud despite myself. It wasn’t a problem because Cindy was laughing, too. Evidently, whatever she was saying at that moment was funny.

“Ok, I carry purse. Sit station 7,” Cindy says, helping me from the pedicure chair.

I sit down as instructed. She comes to the table and starts my manicure. She has the polish off the thumb and pointer finger of my right hand. She notices  yellow discoloration on the acrylic.

“I know what you do,” she says loudly. I look around to see if anyone heard her. Are you now, or have you ever been, affiliated with any drug enforcement agency? I ask silently out of habit. If only that shit worked. Geez, how you just gonna throw me out of the cannabis closet like that?

“What color do you want?”

“I want the same as it was. Turquoise on every nail, but one. I want one red.”

“You want turquoise on each nail with one red nail on each hand?” she asks me.

“No, I want all the nails turquoise except for one. I don’t care which one.”

“That no balance.”

“I know, that’s the point.”

She looks at me puzzled, so I explain.

“Indians used to weave beautiful rugs. They were perfect, except for one red thread that would run through the middle of the design. The Indians didn’t want the rug to be perfect. They thought it would anger the Gods. Like the rugs, we aren’t perfect but we are beautiful. I paint one nail red to remind me that even with my faults, I am beautiful.”

She looks at me for 15 seconds and says, “You weird.”

“No, more happy, happy Earth,” bitchy says as she rejects her third not bright absolutely not pink it’s almost fall little earthy not dark certainly not coral polish.

Yeah, I’m weird, Cindy.

 

 

 

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.