Janey fell asleep to the hum of the air conditioner and I kept driving, church sign after church sign of clever sayings and quotes; the backroads of Alabama creeping into Florida are overboard with them. She slept, I drove, one of us with a lot of living to do and the other with a lot of living to write down. I was eleven years old the last time I passed through the same two-street Southern towns, riding with my Dad to the ocean, 1985. I bought stapled comic books from used bookstores, Dad bought 1960’s Playboy magazines where the centerfolds still wore bikinis. Back then I was the one sleeping to the a/c, occasionally woken up by songs on fm radio. “We Built this City” by Starship did it more times than I care to remember, but that was then.
Now, any vacation getaway I take is haunted with daydreams, voices planning a “new me” when I get back within Birmingham city limits. A stern tone voice barks for me to work harder, workout harder, type harder. A shoe gazer slur asks me daydream-away questions; life summary meaning problems and adrenalin fixes as shallow sounding as fortune cookie philosophy when said out loud. Too vague, too complex and … well too boring. Then… a gritted-teeth dare grounds me. A voice said, “eat the fix”. Adrenalin meets worthless ancient history.
Prove the past actually happened.
Childhood haunts, Neighborhood urban legends.
Prove they were ever there at all.
break in to Banks High School.
Eat the fix.
Banks High. My mom graduated a Banks Jet in 1969, along with one of Charles Manson’s flock and a handful of NFL quarterbacks. I went there for two years in ’88 before they closed it, covered it with a middle school, and then closed the whole thing for good a few years back.
Tall chain link fences run the school’s near half-mile length, put up originally to keep out drug dealers, remaining up present day to keep out homeless.
I had to see. I had to go back.
I was not the first one to return. Trophy cases were smashed, tables and chairs burned. The walls were coated with spray paint marks of 14-year-old Crips and Black Gangster Disciples. I went in classrooms where I’d once stared at the clock/at the walls/at girls waiting on 3:00. (I was a pretty crummy student) The administration offices waited on trespassers (read: me) with silver fire graffitied on the walls, accompanied with a typo greeting:
“Welcoem to Hell”
I walked down halls too abandoned for echoes, finding the standing spots of nothing memories, but memories nonetheless. First kisses, teenage wishes and the Outsiders I called friends. I walked through the auditorium, still amazingly sound after a 2000 fire, three years of abandonment and 50 years under rule of the Birmingham Board of Education. I read nicknames and adolescent scratchings in those wood chairs for two lifetimes.
Someday I’m going to write a book about abandoned Banks High School and call it “Misspelled Greetings from the Afterworld”
On the way home I passed Crazy David’s house, an East Lake urban legend that disappeared into thin air. His house sits undisturbed in the middle of East Side suburbia and has remained unopened since he… vanished over a decade ago. But that break-in would have to wait for another day.
“Another day” was a week later.
Let the nightmares begin.
David, crazy David. Crazy David lived in the lungs of East Lake through the 70s, 80s and 90s. I think he spared society from the brunt of his “capabilities” for the first two decades but in the nineties… duck and cover.
The tourists, and by tourists I mean everyone that lived off the block yet drove by on a regular basis to see the house of the crazy man (read: me), were only allowed minimal insight to the madness. A tree outside covered in political agenda nonsense, windows boarded over with the same. No power. No utilities.
One night a naked, bleeding woman ran out of Crazy David’s house screaming. When the trial began he served as his own lawyer. He made it back home on probation but still a free man.
Only now he was living with a vengeance.
And no sanity, until
The G-men came for him. Two cars full, in dark suits and matted down hair. One TOO MANY death threats to President Bill Clinton, 1997. And the house, a mystery to me and a nuisance to its neighbors, sat vacant for 12 long years.
For me, the best approach to criminal activity is a direct approach. Mid-day I parked out front, smiling and waving to neighbors as I prepared for the break in. Flash light, gloves, camera and shaken nerves.
Both doors were clamped down with locks and bars, covered over in garbage and losing an eleven-year battle with Mother Nature. Through windows I could see a path stream lining through the books, boxes, clothes and craziness but could not figure out how he came and went. Then it occurred to me…
He didn’t. In the end he never ever left.
I found a loose baseboard under a rear window and yanked it out, exposing the top row of bricks. One by one I pulled them down until I had enough of an opening to kick my way in. I felt like the Juggernaut (X-men) and Andy Dufresne (Shawshank Redemption) all at once. A pack of feral cats resting on the inside of a broken window, eyeing me the whole time, was almost enough to scare me off.
Heart beating painfully and sweat pouring profusely I walked the small house, stepping over the clutter of an interesting, albeit insane, life. Clothes in disarray next to a meticulously documented file system of conspiracies and grievances to society. Un-open medication next to cans of cat food and stacked books. Everything surrounded by the artwork and messages of representing madness.
“People need to feel:
1. Cared for
In 97, the law had had enough of Crazy David’s antics. The front lawn, again, covered in political outrage toward local politicians, police officers, and neighbors. Again, one too many death threats against President Clinton.
“People need to feel:
2. They belong”
That late late night, the two dark sedans, the G-men in their dark suits. Pouring out, knocking twice before opening his door.
Bye bye David.
Years from now, when they loosen my straitjacket straps, I’ll get a box of crayons and write a book about crazy David and the crusade. I’ll call it “Stumbling into the Mouth of Lunacy” and I’ll sell a million copies.
The day dreams I have leave me wrecked, adrenalin leaving, and always pushing pushing pushing. When I do run away from it all, the voices, this city, this so called lifetime, I’ll walk down lost-hearted highways and scour the America for every abandoned idea and broken window town. I know right outside of Chicago is an empty insane asylum with an underground tunnel system to transport patients from one building to the next. Lobotomy 101 and I’m not kidding.
I know of an abandoned town in Pennsylvania…
I blue-printed both break-ins in a Florida hotel. I slept to the thump thump thump of an eight-year-old’s beating heart. The adrenalin, man, it was a rush, and I ate the fix.
At the risk of exposing multiple personality disorders, the concerns never go away. Self-destructive-challenged worry and questions, all the questions. Fortune cookie philosophy at it’s most meaningless.
Why are you so worried?
About a heaven?
About god and country and everything that’s lost in between?
Why are you so damn worried?
People need to feel:
I want to live in moments that last forever. Close your eyes forever. Tragedy in beauty and violent-perfect visions. I don’t want to be scared of my own daydreaming, I don’t want to be scared of forgetting.
And I’m going to write a book about every single moment that mattered.
I’ll call it “An Account of Nothing”.
“We’re just a million little gods causing rain storms, turning every good thing to rust. I guess we’ll have to adjust.” – The Arcade Fire