Five “life sentences”, six counting the title.

I know what I want to be when I grow up.

Pine Tree cliff was 110 feet to the water and don’t let anyone ever tell you different. Legend was the locals, Trussville hoodrats in cut-off jeans shorts and stinking of cheap beer, would climb the pine tree at the top and let their weight bend the bark down until they dropped 110 plus feet into the fake blue water of the quarry. I never saw anyone attempt this, and I never talked to anyone that saw it attempted, but I did meet a lot of people that knew someone who saw the Pine Tree bend. This was miles before Trussville became the white-flight Christmas shopping paradise it is now. Trussville was a one road town with train tracks and rednecks and no Best Buy.

The news crews were there when they found the horse trainer’s body at the bottom of Pine Tree. Neck broken on impact and under a shopping cart that his lifeless body disturbed on his descent to the bottom. A drunk dive gone bad, I was surprised that he was the only body they found that day, underneath swarms of fat starving catfish, sweat soaked mattresses, and Food Max shopping carts.

By my count I jumped Pine Tree six times. Each time I’d wear black high top Converse to deaden the impact of the… impact; shoes similar to the ones I’m wearing now only I’ve “sold out” and gone to low tops. I watched Channel 6 news when they found his body and I swore to my unborn children that I’d never jump Pine Tree again.

Part I
I’m writing this with scar torn arms from not minding my own business. The blood poured from multiple windshield glass wounds, thinning out in the rain of last week’s storms. Reminders of my nosiness consist of small shards of glass that I’ve found hidden in my hands all week long. I stood out in the middle of Highway 31 and thought of a 110-foot cliff and how far I can fall still smiling. Granted, I’m a little crazy now, but I was REALLY crazy then. I should have tried to bend back the pine and fall further.

Her friend came running into the Mill crying and grabbed Charlie, or should I say Officer King. Officer Charlie King and I went back a ways to an era of me waiting tables at Chili’s and him working the graveyard shift at an all-night grocery. I bought skim milk from him every night until the day he quit, graduating from the grocer’s life to being a cop. I soon followed suit and graduated from waiter to bartender, still at Chili’s, where I’d suffer for three more years. I still have nightmares about that goddam corporate restaurant. I didn’t cry when it burned down.

Her friend came running into the Mill crying and grabbed Charlie, both of us working our assigned life slots, police and bartender, only now we’d escaped the melted streets of Irondale for the one-way circles of Southside.
I went outside with the two of them, fearing a purse snatching, a bar fight, or something equally as trivial. The image would be a lot more… severe. Her friend pointed at the car, fifty yards ahead, headlights lit, windshield shattered, and a girl’s chest beating short fading beats, life-leaving rhythms. A year later I sat in the courtroom staring back at her father, my role next to insignificant, a time and place witness of the accused. Her father’s eyes on me paralleled the 110-foot fall into a water black abyss. What else am I supposed to say? Young girls’ fathers are left on this earth to fight their wars for them. The emptiness of his losses, his daughter and her war, is a long way down. An abyss of untouched photos and high school annuals. Cheap flowers left by anonymous friends en route to the rest of their lives.

Part II
So I write these haunted memories with gasoline soaked hands. The gas burned every single cut that hid shards of broken glass. The pickup truck was still on fire with a five-gallon canister in the back that I didn’t feel like watching burn. So I snatched it out. The plastic container had melted across the top and fuel spilled all over my arms. “Throw those fire gloves away”, Archer told me. “That gasoline will never really come out.”

I told Chris where I was going and he showed up to have a beer, passively aggressively trying to stop me. No one ever jumped Pine Tree at night. And no one did it in 15-degree weather. The swim from the bottom to the gravel shore wouldn’t be that far, in the daytime, in a normal swimming environment. But in the quarry, full of stolen cars and concrete-shoe corpses, at night, in the frozen cold, it might be akin to breath strokes in a pool filled with razor blades. It got late and I got tired and I had somewhere to be in the morning, (I always have somewhere to be in the morning). Get a black marker. The excuses keep coming.

When I grow up...

I want to be someone’s memory when I grow up. I want to be a folded over photograph, kept in a wallet or on the dresser. A bookmark. Taped in a locker. Tucked in a fire helmet. Crumpled up and thrown away in the most frustrating of moments, only to be dug out of the trash and taped back together. My dad, the other George Cowgill, made front-page papers fighting like mad in ’76 to save the life of a young black girl crushed in a car accident. I found the paper folded over in a stack of documents, none so memorable as that article. At least not to a seven-year-old boy that would grow up to fight the same wars as his father.

I want to be someone’s ghost when I grow up. A silent nod, a smile. A memory of craziness and laughter. “Hey remember that time George…” My ghosts wake me up at the same time every day, regardless of the sleep deprivation from all-night car crashes, heart attacks or drinks poured.

Sonny Kincaid left his father on a front porch in North Birmingham to stop the Japanese aggression in the Pacific, circa 1943. Until the war’s end he would call the USS Otus home, a ship sailing the war-torn seas to assist submarines and wounded vessels. In 1945 he came back to Birmingham to marry my grandmother, put flowers on his father’s grave and, 37 years later, take me to Rickwood Field to meet Mickey Mantle. I was wasting away in college when I found a handful of black and white photos, “Kincaid” etched in pencil on the back of every one. Photos of the celebration of the Japanese surrender. A corner ripped shot of Sonny leaning against a beach boardwalk railing, smoking a cigarette with the arrogant swagger of a yeoman. Another picture in the handful has been permanently scratched into my shoulder, black and grey ink.

Fathers’ sons (and grandfathers’ grandsons) are put on this earth to continue to fight their wars for them. So if you ever wonder where I’m coming from, or why I do this… Now you know.

No Part III
I’m NOT writing this shivering from a 3am fall in the black sky of Trussville into the black waters of the quarry. Feet and arms bruised from the impact. Soaked Converse. Nose running, swimming in a panic to get to the gravel. I just couldn’t go. Responsibility of job one and job two, and it just got too late. (Get that black marker)
Oh and, thankfully, Chris stopped by for a beer.

Please remember all of the things I never got a chance to say.” – Rocky Votolato

I come from down in the valley, where mister where you’re young, they bring you up to do like your daddy done.” – Bruce Springsteen


Ian Curtis was 23 (June 7, 2008)

I want to write fiction. I spent the year of 2007 writing a book called CLARITY- 75,000 words of my imagination. I’d find myself writing in the weirdest spots at the most unusual times. Holed up in the once called Scrushy Library waiting for Janey to get out of first grade. Or in a casino. 3:00 am in East Lake after I saw my first hanging. I’ve pulled off I-65, I-20, and 459 to jot down some inane plot point or character flaw. I told the few people with knowledge of the book that I didn’t care if anyone ever read it. Just as long as I got through it. Finishing CLARITY, back in March, made me feel complete. Accomplished.
For a day or so at least.
Within a month I suffered a serious drought of depression.
More specifically, I felt empty.

God, I wish I could write fiction.
Small hotel rooms.
The second room was walking distance from the Upside down Plaza. The old man, I guessed 80 but he was 53, was having a hell of a time breathing. And, since breathing is a necessary skill to sustain life, they called us.
I was a guest, riding with Engine 3 out of Southside, a company known for having the best scenery of any fire station in Birmingham, Alabama, or the Southeast. All day and night the boys of 3 will sit on “the wall” off Highland Avenue watching pretty girls jog by or women in evening gowns wait for the valet to retrieve their Mercedes as they smoke cigarettes outside Botegga. “The wall” at 3 is an easy distraction. I never got much writing done on CLARITY at 3.

The hotel room was a pay-by-the-week affair and the size of a walk-in closet. There was a cot’s mattress on the floor and a legless couch. The 80-year-old-looking 53-year-old man lived there with his daughter and her boyfriend. The young couple was well on their way to over aging too. I used to see the boyfriend at shows, in pool halls… somewhere, but back then his face wasn’t covered in open sores, and his legs weren’t punctured pincushions for needles.

I’d never seen the daughter before but she’d been a looker… once. Not now. For every sore her boyfriend had she had two. Blacken her eyes and loosen her teeth too. The life had bled out of her blonde hair and her dead white skin exposed blue-sick veins. The track marks were one on top of another and looked more like broken bottle wounds than evidence of brown-liquid syringes.
If her dad looked three decades older than his age then she looked four. She was a walking corpse, waiting on the undertaker and her headstone.
The old man’s part-time nurse told us outside that the boyfriend is holding them hostage in that small hotel room. The old man’s medicine, delivered weekly, was divided among them like food for castaways. When the pills run out and the makeshift street drugs they obtain are sold or snorted the mood turns into frustration.

And despair.
Engine 3 was getting called to that room on a regular basis; the man’s failing health demanded it. One day the calls stopped. I hate to think the worst… but I do it anyway.
Eventually bruises don’t go away. Teeth are knocked out or rot out and they aint coming back either. Don’t hold yourself, or anyone else, hostage.

The business of selling a novel is a foreign language read backwards. Trying to “sell” anything makes me feel like a bottom feeder. Be the sell, believe the sell etc. Whether it’s cars or gold or encyclopedias, salesmen all possess some gift that I do not have and cannot truly comprehend. Maybe that’s my problem.
But damn, I want to write fiction.

The first room was in the darkness of East Lake and the crummiest room in the dirtiest hotel on 1st Avenue North. The room used to be a storage room, until someone got wise to the idea of putting down cheap carpet and renting it out monthly. I was the only firefighter in the windowless room, the rest of the guys standing out in the hallway to avoid the roaches and blood-vomit stains.
Besides the couple’s 12-year-old son I was the only one in the room not HIV positive.

He was a bounty hunter and he couldn’t breathe or, more accurately, was having a hell of time trying. (Please read above on breathing and it’s vital role in sustaining life). A bounty hunter, 100 lbs and rail thin, wearing all camo. Guns were neatly holstered on a chair. The mattress was a grey stained cot and on the floor pushed against cheap wood paneling.

The bounty hunter found his breath eventually. His wife, 200 lbs heavier than him, cried her eyes out, cheap mascara smearing her face. The 12-year-old never blinked, leaning against the wood paneling in mis-matched shoes and too big jeans. I grew up during the discovery of AIDS, and HIV, so standing in that room I tried, and failed, to fight off my own misguided worries. Her tears…


I took a big step back, out of the room. Eye contact with the bounty hunter as he nodded, happy to breathe. The 12-year-old never blinked. The 12-year-old never blinked. The 12-year-old never fucking blinked.

I tore a sign off a broken coke machine that said, “If you need coke, see manager”. I thought it was funny.
We ran a call to the hotel months later and I went by their room. The door was open and the room was vacant. They were long gone.

I want to write fiction because I am, admittedly, a control freak. I like everything to tie in together and make sense at the end. I love plot twists that, while unexpected, fit. I love writing characters that people hate to love and hate to hate. Fiction makes me feel alive, and driven. Writing fiction makes the author a god.
Writing on the reality of this world doesn’t always give me that heightened sense of existence. On a good day I see myself as a passenger, observant to the details of a world many of us do not know exist, at least existing so close to ours.

Then on a bad day…
I feel meaningless.
More than ever.
So I fight to remember the lessons learned in small hotel rooms. Never let anyone hold you hostage, even yourself. No one can tell me what I’m capable of.
Because I don’t know myself.

Who’s going to tell you things aren’t so great? We can’t go on thinking nothing’s wrong…” - The Cars

Nothing punk, nothing nineties. (May 21, 2008)

(This blog is part of a book that I’ve said I was going to write for the past four years, tentatively titled “My Dad’s Badge”. So, if years from now you’re reading any of these words in some other form of ramblings – a book, a magazine, or written in crayon on the walls of an insane asylum… don’t complain. This is also a letter to the boys of Station 2, minus the words that would only make sense to them.)

She was wrapped in a blanket and lying on the ground. The first thing I noticed was the church parking lot, full, the service not yet concluded. The call came in during lunch, but that’s okay because it was the first one of the day. She was wrapped in a blanket and lying on the ground, nose broken and face bloodied to all hell. She hadn’t been beaten unrecognizable, but only because the swelling hadn’t started.
She was 18.
He was her boyfriend.
The reasons? There are no reasons and you know it.
Her shoes were gone and her legs were covered in small insignificant scrapes, most of them bleeding. The real problem was her nose, because it was in a dozen pieces and she was having trouble breathing.
She gave the police a fake name.
She refused to go to the hospital, or press charges, or stop the cycle of re-occurring violence.
What little we could do for her on a Sunday afternoon in the shadows of Legion Field was not enough. She needed serious medical attention.
In the middle of having that explained to her, she stood up and ran off.

Engine 14.

For the past year I’ve put in transfer request after transfer request to get to 14. I begged and pleaded to anyone with “pull” that would listen.
Well I’m here now.
“I hope you’re not disappointed, Cowgill. We’ve already killed everyone off and burned everything down,” said my lieutenant on day one. 24 hours later my head was filled with memories of chaos and tragedy.

Day one.
A biker gang surrounded one of their own that’d crashed hard. They made sure to empty his pockets before the hospital ride. A gun, two knives, and brass knuckles.
A hooker ran across four lanes of busy traffic, blood streaming from her head, to tell us she’s fine and that the warrant on her record would land her in jail, not the hospital.
A woman, in a fit of jealous rage, blows up her boyfriend’s car. Molotov cocktail.
The reasons? They have theirs.

Day five. 1:00 AM.
We were wrapping up on a harmless medical call when the fire call came in. Our driver missed his turn and put us at the back of the house, but that worked out perfectly. The rear of the house was lighting up the sky. I was out of the engine before it stopped, nozzle in hand. Two hours later I was a mess. Face black, nose running, soaking wet filthy.
I couldn’t stop smiling and you know it.
3:00 AM.
He was wrapped in a hotel bed sheet and laying against a hotel door. We were watching Scarface when the call came in, but that’s okay because I’ve seen it a million times. The first thing I noticed was the blood; the blood emptying out of him from various wounds, soaking the white bed sheet and pooling on the walkway. He was wrapped in a hotel bed sheet and laying against the door to Room 6, half a dozen bullet holes in his stomach and both arms. He clutched the worst wound over a punctured artery. When he uncovered it blood sprayed wildly. The door to Room 6 opened and a man carried out his five-year-old son, pulling his face tight to his chest. Prevent him from seeing. He stepped over the injured man and his blood and disappeared into the black, keeping his son safe, if for just one more night…

Ask me on my deathbed and I’ll remember that father protecting his son.

When word of my transfer came down the pipeline everyone warned me about 14. 14 is a rundown disaster of a station, infested with rats and roaches. The neighborhood is unappreciative and will label you the enemy. Just like cops.
Well I hate roaches, and I’m deathly afraid of rats.
But I belong at 14. I belong in the middle of chaos and tragedy, a rundown firehouse in a bad neighborhood. I often joke that I should never work at a station my wife isn’t afraid to visit.
The reasons? I have my reasons.

And in this unstable arena of what’s left or become of my America, I’m asking for this dance so come take my hand…” – Gaslight Anthem

The Places I have come to fear the most (May 13, 2008)

Joe Steele should’ve been a movie. When he was five and six-years-old he’d show up at house fires in East Lake, holding his grandmother’s hand, dressed in a plastic firefighter jacket, boots, and fire hat. Telltale signs, sure, but everyone has great hindsight. He wouldn’t begin stalking firefighters for another 15 years.

My earliest memory of Joe Steele was him just standing there. Standing in his grandmother’s yard and watching cars go by, blank eyes, an eerie smile on his face. That look on his would follow me all the way up Ridge Road and out of sight. Everyday his sanity faded further and further…

Coggins, a firefighter, got hit first when Steele called to inform him that he’d planted a bomb in his garage. After a solid hour of panic the police found a paper sack full of bricks tucked behind a van, the word “BOM” written in blue marker. Coincidentally, two friends of mine would later make national news for a similar stunt that attracted the ATF and FBI. Their incident was a prank with poor timing, taking place a little too close to Eric Rudolph’s Atlanta bombing, 1996.

My timeline of events with Joe blurs at this point. I became a quick and popular target for Joe Steele’s psychotics, being young and dumb-looking and bearing my dad’s firefighter license tag on my gold Mazda 323. Joe began leaving me notes pinned on trees on Ridge Road wanting to “party” or “get high on weed”. He began calling the police to our house, complaining that my dad was beating up my mother (He wasn’t). He called the fire department, saying that I was burning my own house down (I wasn’t).

Then he showed up with a butcher knife. My parents were out of town and I was on my way out the door when I saw him. Standing at the top of our driveway, the blank eyes and eerie smile in place. And a butcher knife in his hand. He was just… standing there. Joe wasn’t very intimidating physically. Average height, too skinny, and short black hair that he cut himself.
But damn that knife, and damn that look on his face.
Needless to say the situation resolved itself, very anti-climatically I might add. He laid down in the street, arms crossed over his chest vampire-style for about an hour, then went home for dinner.
That incident, and others similar, had been enough for the neighborhood. A petition was drawn and honored to have him placed in “learning facility where he could get the help that he needed.”

My dad was called to testify.

The event was nothing short of a circus. For some reason, that escapes all bounded logic I’ve harvested from a lifetime of Law & Order, LA Law and Night Court, Joe Steele’s attorney thought it would be a good idea for him to take the stand.

ATTORNEY: Mr Steele, in this police report they claim you are planning to kill firefighter Buddy Wilks. Is that true?
ATTORNEY: Thank you. (Attorney turns his back, walks to his table)
JOE STEELE: I’m going to kill George Cowgill’s father.

My dad said that’s when the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. It took the judge approximately seven minutes to rule that Joe Steele did indeed need help and placed him in an institutional learning facility, i.e. away from society.

I eventually moved out of Roebuck, on to the high hills of Sharpsburg Manor. I didn’t travel down Ridge Road as much so I’m not really sure how long Joe Steele was “away”. I did eventually see him again, years later, once again standing out in his grandmother’s yard. No faux bombs, or invitations for drug use. No butcher knifes. He had put on at least 50 pounds of bad weight, and it looked like he was still cutting his own hair.
He still had the blank look in his eyes.
But the eerie smile was long gone.

I was in my room and I was just like staring at the wall thinking about everything. But then again I was thinking about nothing.” – Suicidal Tendencies.

Only 1% succeeds by the way. (May 6,2008)

Show her self-destruction. The two sides of the story share the following facts: It was late, 3 am late, and she was slightly drunk and I was brutally sober. They would also agree that it happened in a townhouse off Highland Avenue that I was renting from a slumlord named Michael Barry.


She’d wanted an argument all night so she bided her time. Picking her moment, waiting to strike, and smiling the whole time in public. The front door hadn’t been shut behind us for more than a minute. I think we’re alone now.

More words.

Berating each other turned into vicious screaming. And threats. And crying. Our relationship had been over for a really long time and we had NO business being alone. Not now, with her slightly drunk and me brutally sober. She was the best at bringing out my worst. And there’s just something about a door slamming in your face. I heard something in the back of my mind, I don’t want to say a voice for fear of sounding dumb, or worse yet, crazy. But there was something… and it said “let go”. The color in my eyes melted into shades of crimson. I felt everything go numb. I let go.

The last time I came close to letting go was in 1988. I was 15 and furious, shaking upset over a crisis too meaningless to repeat. I found my dad’s gun in his top drawer and slumped down against the living room wall. I called my mom and said goodbye. But I held on. I came close, but I held on.

I crashed through the slammed door, the wood splintering around me, scraping small tears in my arms, my neck. The look on her face wasn’t fear or surprise. The look asked “What took you so long?” More words. We were both juggernauts of misplaced anger, driven on emotion, and armed with the hatred of our situation. Nothing was going to stop us now. She found the knife on top of the dresser and slumped down against my bedroom wall. A Spyderco knife, black handle.

A year and a day earlier a friend of mine took the same model Spyderco and stabbed another friend of mine to death. The courtroom transcripts said he’d stabbed her over 50 times. The murder ruined fond memories of straightedge and Sharpsburg Manor. Bands driving all night to play Unity 1605, a dozen punks sleeping on my living room floor after a show.

She pressed the knife against her wrist, and then it really got… strange. I rushed across the room and yanked her hand away from the radial artery she’d aimed for. “Show her self-destruction”, something, not a voice, said in the back of my mind. Her hand around the knife and my hand clamped over hers I pressured the blade’s edge down on my left forearm, dragging the knife for about three inches. The skin tore open and blood poured. And poured. We both dropped the knife and I stood up, marveling at the damage. A calm sobering moment followed and we agreed that I probably needed medical attention. I was losing a lot of the red stuff. Amber, my roommate, came home minutes later to the carnage of broken furniture and blood-pooled hardwood floors. But I was already gone, en route to Montclair Hospital.

It’s funny to say now but I’m glad I bled so much because it stopped us, or more importantly it stopped me. My initial idea, when I’d charged across the room and took her hand, was to press the knife under one ear and drag it across my neck to the other.
I haven’t heard her story in a long time and I don’t remember how it goes. I’m sure there are people in her life that have heard it more than once, and I bet they have incredibly interesting opinions on George Cowgill. Hell, maybe they’re right.

And that’s ok. I’ll be the villain this time.


Three dots, three pauses, & three more dots (April 14, 2008)

I’m a pretentious snob,

The front yard was dirt behind a three foot fence. Assorted car pieces, pieces not parts, sprawled across the ground. The front porch was a foot shorter than me and a wheelchair ramp rolled around and around to the dirt. The house was easy to find because the address numbers were two feet high. That and the inflatable moonwalk. There were dogs, there’s always dogs, and one of them was blind.

Our host had two older brothers. The oldest was in jail, the other condemned to a backroom in a permanent vegetable state. “No one knows what happened,” our host said. We just found him on the side of the highway. Blunt force trauma to the head.”Our host just got out of jail himself. The love of his life now lives next door with his ex-best friend. His son’s mom keeps threatening to sue for custody of his 8-year-old, but the judge told her she leads too much of a “nomadic lifestyle”. The five kids at the party jump up and down on the inflatable moonwalk. One of them is Janey, who I would go to war with God over.

I pass judgment,

The world is divided among people that believe they’re owed something and those that have given up. My ideal philosophy is to fall in between the cracks of the two.
Destroy the stars and burn down the sky but don’t expect anyone else to help.
All the world owes you is a fighting chance and a lot of people don’t even get that much.

A 13-year-old girl wearing an Avenged Sevenfold hoodie kept to herself and her I-pod. I don’t know if the rips and holes in her shirt are stylishly-inflicted or financial positioning. I don’t like not knowing.

and I’m an emotional wreck.

Our host’s mother insisted we meet her bedridden son. I follow Janey into the room, ducking down on the porch. His walls were covered in photos, one on top of the other, none of which I could bring myself to look at. I know what they are. Better days. Days when he could walk and talk and understand his surroundings. Two weeks back I came home to find my neighbor beaten to death with a hammer. I didn’t blink. Damn if I couldn’t look at those photos. Janey didn’t understand why he wouldn’t get better. I had no answer.
I felt less than zero.

“Seen the carnival at Rome. I had the women, I had the booze. All I can remember now is little kids without any shoes.” - Pogues

Concerns (December 31, 2008)

I’m going to get a black marker and start writing the excuses down my forearms. Personal difficulties and chemical imbalances. Self-destructive confusion and sudden, suffocating, lapses of paranoia. I used to write Candace’s name down my arm in black marker, and she’s dead now. And I miss her when I think about her, now and again.

But I still need a black marker.

Run with your wrists slit until the blood loss gets you. The head spinning, the nausea of… consuming demise. I could see what’s next being a long straight road I’m supposed to just… run. Eternal back streets and dark alleys, past buildings and stores left for dead. I once gave Red Cross a pint of blood and went straight to a treadmill for sprints. It was as close to drunk as I’ve ever been, short of the early nineties when GHB was an active ingredient in bodybuilding supplements. I'm just as curious as you on what comes next. Heaven and hell and the fictional places in between. You want a heaven? Well I do too, and when I go (checking watch now) picture your best memory of me, that rare time you saw me smile and mean it. The time you saw me cry I was so happy.

And that’s all there is. And a song.

I need a song. Rule out Ian Curtis and Joy Division… too cliché. Rule out Iggy Pop… it’s already been done. (See: Ian Curtis)

I saw my millionth dead body last shift. Eyes on the ceiling, cold uncolored-touch skin. It was in an assisted living house, a building where nightmares of growing old are born. A place where so many are cared for by ghouls that work their temporary jobs with no effort or empathy or humanity. Because life is temporary. The man had calmly stopped breathing and he wasn’t coming back. I read the cards on the wall, the same handwriting and words scrawled on the bottom of every one. “I love you- Mary”. Each card written in the same bend with the same pen and the same positioning. It could’ve been a rubber stamp. Christmas cards, birthday cards, and Valentines Day cards, get-well cards. I counted 45 cards in all.

The paramedics ran the tests to prove his heart was through and I read the walls.

“I love you – Mary”

The narcissist in me truly believes I could give Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” a run in muckraking on the assisted living houses of Norwood, East Lake and Elyton. Peeled paint walls, rotten furniture, and rats and roaches under the floorboards. The “caretakers” will leave for hours at a time and the residents will sit mindlessly in circles, dripping of bitter resentment toward the family members that are long gone, or that have come and gone and left them behind. So many of them beg to be taken to the hospital, not because they’re sick, but because it will be somewhere else. Have I ever let on how much I hate rats?

Is Don Henley and the “Boys of Summer” too corny? How about Simon & Garfunkel’s “I am a Rock”? I really like that line “I never will forget those nights, I wonder if it was a dream”. It plays over and over in my head like a broken… Damn, again the wording is too predictable.

Maybe that’s what growing up really is. Predictability. Brush your teeth the same number of strokes, the same time of day, in the same spot. Spray paint an X on the bathroom floor in front of your mirror if you're scared you’ll forget. But you wont, and I know I won’t either.

I’m just too predictable.

When you find my body I’ll be in front of a mirror, a predictable narcissist to the very end.

Swing from the rope until the oxygen-lessness becomes too tiresome. I can see the sunset skylines from my desk, as well as a picture of Ian Curtis holding his face in his hands. Outdated CDs cover my walls and a City of God poster, still rolled, sits on top of the stack. Pretty far from the slums of Brazil aren’t we? The homeless pre-teen gangsters of South America would call the Tragic City a paradise.

The woman wasn’t topless but her shirt was soaked with so much blood that’d she’d tried pulling it off, unsuccessfully, because of the stab wounds. Maybe the one in her neck, or the ones in her back or the ones in her arms. It’d been two men with two knives and the wounds seemed personal.

“I think she’s dead,” a cop said as we stared down at her, face down, in a pool of red.

“I’m not dead. I’m just scared to move,” she said

Minutes later we pulled up at UAB, everything blood stained. Clothes, equipment, memories.

Life isn’t always fantastic.

And someday I’ll believe in life after death. But not today.

Is it bad to stand over the dead and dying and pray for fire? The click of the printer and the address, the ear crushing tone, the dispatch operator reading out the initial responders of the first alarm. Maybe you can see flames or smoke billowing across the highway, tearing down Richard Arrington Blvd or in the turn lane of Arkadelphia heading into 18’s territory. If angels never answer then unheard prayers have to be acceptable, even if it’s for fire. I no longer JUST want to matter. I want to burn as well. I know I'm a broken fucking record.

I think it would be too ironic to go with ‘Last Goodbye” from Jeff Buckley, who drowned in the waist deep waters of the Mississippi River. I carry my daydream memories of him in dirty New York coffee shops, playing for pocket change, singing bleeding emotion, and dying too young…

As for a heaven…

My best memory of me will be at the beach with Janey. News crews were on the shore for something insignificant, a puff piece on tourism or a shock story on sharks, and I told her it was for a kid’s surf contest. She rode wave after wave, belly down on the board, smiling for the cameras and laughing, HARD. She was so… proud, if five-year-olds can feel pride.

I stood out in the waist deep water of the Gulf, her name recently inked across my chest. I watched her make it to the dry sand of shore over and over. Waving at me, waving to the camera crew and beaming. The sunlight fading too fast, the salt in her mussed-up brown hair… That’s where I’ll be when they find me. Cause that’s all a heaven is, or needs to be.

This may sound too late eighties re-hashed interest, tie-dye shirts on skateboarders with long dark hair and red-stoned eyes. But I think it will be Pink Floyd, and I hate Pink Floyd. The nostalgia of East Lake, two decades gone, and leaning against junkyard cars in 2 am parking lots is too much to resist. That, and the lines of “Wish you were Here” haunt me. “Did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts?” or “Did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?”

Life is not always fantastic but it can be, even if just for a second in the waist deep waters of the Gulf; a pretty brown-haired girl waving at you from the shore, her name stinging ink in your skin. The sun fading away, far too fast...

(Half of this I wrote six months ago and hated. In the time that’s lapsed the woman I mentioned who had been the victim of a brutal stabbing came up to me outside Station 14 and thanked me for helping her. I didn’t recognize her at first, without the blood and wounds, but she pointed down 8th Avenue West where a cop mistakenly pronounced her dead and I remembered. And I’ll never forget.)