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.

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!”