Trust in the ghetto

Bob Marley knew growing up in Trench Town (the ghetto) that on the street BMW stood for Break My Windows. So, when he was successful enough he said No, I think BMW stands for Bob Marley and The Wailers and he bought one. He never locked it. Everyone knew it was his car. His windows were never broken.

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Simple Man

I was sitting at a café on Sunset Boulevard. It was an early, cold morning. I sat in the sun and drank coffee. It was a simple moment and absolutely perfect. A man rode by on his bicycle playing very loud music from some kind of music device. It was 1920s New Orleans jazz. I thought there was a certain irony to his musical choice. I knew he thought the same thing as he pulled on his suspenders, looking in his mirror a half hour ago.

People go to great lengths to put themselves on in the morning. I remember playing guitar on a goth tour of Europe. Everyone had makeup and mohawks to attend to every morning. I was often just too tired to get it together. I only wore eyeliner anyway. I stopped taking it off and would just add to it each night before the show. It turned out to be a look I could sustain. People have often said, “You’re such a simple man.” I thought they were busting my balls. But as I sit in the morning LA winter sun, I think that maybe they are right.

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Hope again

The elders stand on street corners. With an extended arm, they say, “Everything is changing.” Thirty and forty years they’ve lived in this neighborhood. Now they drag their possessions out into the street and place price tags on them. What they don’t sell, they drag back inside. The rent keeps going up. The scene reminded me of something I saw in India. But of course, India is a third-world country.

I was feeling a little down so we ordered Thai food to go. When we went to pick it up, a man had passed out drunk in the restaurant’s driveway. The parking attendant brought an orange cone over and put it in front of the unconscious man’s feet so no one would run him over.

I felt hope again.

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The Architecture of Indecision

Everyone knows what’s behind the door… subconsciously, at least. But it takes the free thinker or the bravery of the artist to push the door open for all to see. There’s a price, of course. Just ask Galileo (the world is round).

But once the door is open, after the artist has paid the price, everyone goes inside as if the door had always been open.

  1. Go through the open door.
  1. How do you know the open door does not lead to the same place you think the locked door is keeping you from?
  1. Maybe the room you’re in was only meant to be a hallway.

 

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Photo by: Susan Overberger

Who’s there?

There was a knock at the door, which was strange because so few people knew where I was living. I had this one-room apartment on a street lined with 30-foot pine trees. It was dead center in the town of Hollywood.

I had no cable/satellite, internet or computer in the apartment. Often, I sat for hours on end doing nothing. Well, not nothing, exactly. I searched the depths of my mind with no ulterior motive. I floated like a plastic bag on a windy street.

The times I wasn’t doing “nothing,” I read books, played guitar and taught the occasional yoga class. I had had a vision of this lifestyle when I was in India in 2006 doing exactly the same thing.

Oh yes, but I said there was a knock at the door. It was a friend who lived in the building. He was the kind of friend you knew you could definitely count on if you needed to dispose of a body. But he was also the kind of friend who would be most likely to ask you to help him dispose of a body.

He was standing in the doorway, holding a refrigerator door. I didn’t ask. I opened the door further so he could come in, with his refrigerator door under his right arm. He was very cautious not to hit it against any of my stuff, of which I had very little. He leaned it against the wall. I sat back down on the edge of my bed.

My friend says, “Hey man, I have this refrigerator door I’m going to use for an art installation I’m thinking about. But I’m out of room in my apartment. Can I store it here?”

I wanted to say no, but I didn’t. Even though I had only a one-room apartment, I had a lot of open space. I had brought a girl back to my place once and she said, “Jeez, there’s nothing here. Is this just some place you bring girls to?” I don’t remember my reply.

Anyway, he left the refrigerator door and said thanks and good-bye.

I sat for a long time looking at it leaning against the wall. I got up and moved it into the kitchen. I leaned it against the wall in there and stared at it a little longer. Then I started putting the bottled water I had on the floor on the shelves of the refrigerator door that now leaned against my kitchen wall.

I was startled by another knock at the door. It was my friend again. He had another refrigerator door. It was the top half that closed off the ice section.

“Can I store this here, too?”

“Sure,” I said, “put it in the kitchen.”

He saw what I had done with the first door and commented that he thought it looked very cool. He also said, “Don’t get attached to it because I’m going to want it back.” Then he left.

After he left, I turned off all the lights and lay in bed. It was only 8:00pm. There was another knock at the door. I didn’t answer it.

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Rain

I could sit for hours watching the Los Angeles rain out the windows of my rented room. Sometimes even the sound is enough to transport me back five lifetimes, when I lived alone in a cave. I was a woman then, and was the first of my kind to learn how to sharpen a stone. I never said I was non-violent. The few who had tried to mess with me limped away if they were lucky. The price of solitude was the muscle of knowledge.

A fire sits only slightly back from the entrance of my cave. Smoke billows out of the opening and into the tall trees. In the downpour, I am safe to show my location to the other tribes who have all settled in for the storm.

A wolf crosses the entrance of my cave. Fur wet, he looks in on me with ears down and back. I throw the remains of my rabbit dinner to him and he jumps as if being attacked. He then smells the rabbit, puts it in his jaws and runs off. Today we are friends.

The rain stills my mind with its uneven tempo. I sleep and dream of the sun.

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Karma

In 1964, my father went to the World’s Fair in New York. I’m guessing it was one of his last outings as a single man. He was a smoker. He quit many, many years later and is one of the few people I know that has pulled that off. He did it cold turkey and my mother says he did not speak for three days. My father says if he gets diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, he’ll take up smoking again.

While at the World’s Fair, he bought one souvenir: an ashtray.

He eventually married my mother and had children. He put the ashtray away thinking the little kids running around the house would surely break it.

When I was 12 years old, we moved to a better part of town into a bigger house. I didn’t want to move. My sister said she was going to stay in the old house and live in the attic. My parents said that would be okay. So I said I also was going to live in the attic of our old house and they said, “Absolutely not.” That entire summer, I rode my bicycle two hours to our old neighborhood every day.

It started to get strange.

I would just be standing in the street, waiting for the neighbor kids to come out and play. They would all go in for lunch and I would hang out alone again. As it got dark, I would ride my bicycle back to our new neighborhood.

One day my father announced to the family that the children were all old enough now and he was going to put out his ashtray from the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. The next day, I got up off the couch to go to the kitchen and hit my hip on the table with the ashtray. The ashtray jumped off the table and smashed into several pieces. My father came into the room. I said, “Do you think we can glue it back together?” He said he didn’t think so, picked up the pieces and tossed them in the trash. That was it.

This is going to sound dramatic and I don’t mean it to, but later in life, when I’ve thought about life and death or the couple of times I thought I was really close to the flame, I’ve thought about that ashtray. It’s like some kind of ghost. My father has long since stopped smoking and if I ever said anything about it, he and my mother would both say, “We have too much crap anyway. You’re gonna need a giant dumpster when we die.”

But that ashtray is haunting me. When I’m in surgery in a doctor’s office. When someone crashes their car into mine. And sometimes at night.

Yes, I was just a kid. Yes, my father doesn’t care and yes, it’s just a thing. But today I bought him a replacement ashtray from the 1964 World’s Fair on eBay.

Karmic debt paid.

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Surgery

I laid quietly on my right side, shirtless. My shoulder ached from holding the position so long. There was a blanket over my head. I heard sounds in the numb pressure that rose around me.

My breath was shallow like a man hiding in the dark.

I only saw the blue of a blanket as the man I had hired to do so pushed down on my neck with razor-sharp force. It seemed like a long time under that blanket.

I thought about death and made attempts not to panic. Breathing deep and thinking of Van Gogh flowers and sunshine. My hands were cold and clammy from the injections when I realized I was not afraid of death but terribly afraid to get there.

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I thought again of Van Gogh’s flowers. I thought about his ear as the blade weighed into the numbness of my sedated flesh.

I asked, “How much longer?” as the pain in my right shoulder started to get wild in my mind.

“Only a moment,” he said.

I know the length of a moment. This was the longest one I had ever felt.

They took the sterile blankets off my head and the room was bright. I rolled onto my back and rubbed my face with my hands, loving the freedom of mobility.

“Do you want to see it?” the doctor asked.

“Sure,” I replied.

He held a small jar over my face with a strip of flesh in it, shaking it like a martini. He said, “It was bigger in the affected area before I cut it out. The water has left it now. You know we’re 70% water, don’t you?”

I said, “Same as the earth.”

He paused, still holding the specimen jar in front of my eyes and then said, “I never thought of that.”

I looked one last time at that piece of me that had been removed. It was no longer me. The separation made me uncomfortable. Me, not me. Where does it start and end? I didn’t know. But I felt different, like a man who has experienced something he could not explain.

The body’s ability to eventually heal itself is amazing. Of course, the doctor did a good job, too.

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Five months ago, I was bitten/stung by a bug. “A bug, you say? What kind?” you might ask, in a tone that says, “Is it possible to stay away from such a bug?”

I was standing in Griffith Park and a bug flew into my neck and sat trapped between my shirt and my neck. I slapped it. All I can say is it had wings like a moth and it probably only bit me in self defense.

The bug bite hung around for months, waking me every night at 3am to be clawed at. I finally went to see a doctor. As it turned out, the stinger or the biting mechanism had broken off inside of me. My body, in an immune system overreaction, had tried and tried to push it out, to no avail. This caused a larger lump of scar tissue. They told me I would have to have it cut out.

Most people I tell this story to seem most worried that it will happen to them. It was a fluke accident. It won’t happen to you. But as one of my friends said, there could be worse things you need cut out of your body.

Any Given Sunday

It was Superbowl Sunday, which is like some kind of holiday and religious festival in America. People were out in the LA streets in T-shirts with 12- and 24-packs of domestic beer under their arms. To these people, the American Dream is not a dream … it’s a reality in rented rooms with 42-inch high-definition televisions on their walls.

I walked in the sun to the 99¢ store. My shadow was cast long in front of me and I thought about groundhogs, weather forecasters and sun worshippers. I could be happy as any of these.

I see a woman standing next to a shopping cart. She yells out, “Hello! Fine day!”

I see her everywhere in town. She walks the streets picking up old blankets and clothing and then redistributes them to the homeless population, which seems to be growing and growing. I can sense that she is probably near homelessness herself, but I once heard her talk about the luxury of having both a ceiling fan AND a window fan in her home, so I know she has something.

I told her I was going to the store and could pick her up something if she needed. She said that she was hungry and would like some bread. I said, “Bread? What kind?” And she said, “White bread! And can you get me a cola?”

I thought, “My God… white bread and cola. That should just about kill someone.” But I only told her I would get her the stuff. I believe there is way too much unsolicited advice in the world already. Disagree? Take a look at your Facebook news feed.

At the store, I couldn’t help myself and also got her a jar of peanut butter. White bread and cola? WTF? I’m definitely putting some peanut butter in the mix. She was super happy to get it.

On the way home, I stopped at my local pizza place. I don’t have to tell them what I want. They know me. My favorite cashier was wearing his football jersey. He was very happy since the owners allowed him to watch the game at the restaurant while he worked.

When I handed him my money for the pizza, he looked at me a little funny. Then I remembered that time I told him I didn’t watch sports. I was NTBT. Not To Be Trusted.

The pizza was good. I sat and watched a little of the game so I wouldn’t seem un-American. I got to see the Christopher Walken commercial. Another perfect Sunday.

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Vampire Bait

My nerves twitch like roaches in hallways of fumigated apartment complexes.

In the 1960s and 1970s, government trucks roamed the streets spraying DEET into the neighborhood trees. My mother called us inside and shut the windows while the neighborhood kids ran after the trucks laughing and playing in the fog of chemical death.

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That Cleveland summer and every Cleveland summer, I got eaten alive by mosquitoes. Fourteen bites in one night is my record. My father may have me beat but he’s a stoic man who never talks about such things publicly.

If only I could make a deal with the insect vampires of the world. Every night I would gladly leave them a half pint of my finest blood if only they would stop biting me. These things, sadly, are not arrangeable. Some have said money can buy anything, but it is not true. These insects are clumsy degenerates that will compromise all to get just a tiny taste.

It’s like that show Monkey Thieves, where a monkey and his tribe find food in the city and they all run over and go crazy eating it while they spill 90% of the proceeds of their conquest all over the floor to be wasted. We cannot make deals with such vagrants. So I lay under a mosquito net covered in DEET in the tropics with my socks on, knowing full well that I will wake up with three to four new bug bites in the morning. I guess this is what rum is for. I’ve heard it also called acceptance.

I worried often about the mosquitoes, but alas, I was being bitten by sand fleas. The price of paradise for those of the sweet blood tribe.

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