Imagine every division below exists as its own entry. Excerpts from a journal. And by journal I mean handfuls of scrap paper, receipts, the back of my hand, self-sent texts and anything else I can jot down meaninglessness on before I wise up and forget.
Imagine I’m schizophrenic and that I see things… on my own terms. Imagine I’m temperamental, and too emotional, and self-destructive. “Imagine all the people”, haha. Haymakers, people. I’m still throwing haymakers.
I was staring, I couldn’t help it. He wasn’t moving, everyone else was yelling, running up and down apartment stairs, or walking down the Sunrise Hills to get a good look at the witness stuffed in back of the cop car. And that guy ain’t saying a word. So I could stare and not feel awkward, no need to explain, no one to explain anything to. Face down in a parking lot, him not me, I kept staring. A thin creek of blood sloped down the asphalt, un-ironically arrowing toward the cop car and the silent witness, and I just stared.
I spent the night there once, in Sunrise Hills, on a 1988 New Year’s Eve. Elizabeth Somebody’s mom was out on the town, which meant a handful of Outsiders and yours truly were crashing on the floor. All those guys had a thing for Zeppelin and Hendrix, while my tastes ran… a little angrier. Warzone patches and Public Enemy t-shirts accompanied an everybody-is-my-enemy lifestyle. I wanted to rebel against everything, anything, nothing. I was very good at it.
And I still am, sort of. Kerri says I’m born a rebel and to not even try to explain my tattoos to anybody else. And he told me this outside of an $18 a night hotel, in front of a domestic assault call. A “no ID, no credit card needed” kind of place. Then…
Then Harley quit. Harley quit standing over dead bodies, molested children and burning skin. Harley quit sleeping when he grew sad over what mankind does to itself. Two little girls and a wife at home, he paced the floor all night long, in constant fear of the horror business outside their front doors. And Harley was the real thing too. Patching up bullet holes, shocking hearts back to life and delivering babies. Dive in head first every single night.
Family first though, and I get that. Defending the Bay comes second to something serious. Flesh and blood is that kind of serious.
I had to stop writing when a man called 911 and 911 called for Engine 19. He told the operator he’d be waiting for us on the front porch with a knife.
Still staring at Birmingham murder victim #endless, I leaned down and watched the blood and brains slow from the hole in his mouth. I do the math. He was two years old when I was rebelling against the inevitability of 1989, Sunrise Hills.
Hope called me at midnight in hysterics, in the 1990’s, to meet her in the Southside streets so she could kiss me. And it seemed like that was what life was supposed to be like. Hopeless moments, romance nights and loud, too loud, songs on the radio. Not the Bay.
No, no one died, no one was raped. No, I am not okay. That last call got to me baby. Shook me up good… I’ll tell you about it soon enough.
I can’t stop listening to Billy Bragg. I can’t stop wanting to do something stupid. My next essay will be a document of 24 hours of self-destruction, one bad thing after another, with the hopes that I make it out alive. Billy Bragg is punk rock’s answer to Bob Dylan, so what better soundtrack for it all.
Another tonight, and there are too many kids in the house and I don’t want to leave it, what with the violence and all, but there’s a word for it. The word is “protocol” and I hate it but oh well, a lot of people dig ditches or sit on a shelf for a living. (Against Me borrowed line). The house is sick with kids, not enough men and a 14-year-old girl in a red bandana. “He’s beating on her… again”, she says emphatically.
Police showed up in a pack, and the violence spreads like plague from the bedroom to the living room to the streets of Oporto-Madrid. Kerri ushered the children into a back bed room and told them not to look. People in the street went separate ways… jails and hospitals and other homes in the Bay. I went back to the station and threw up.
Leaving is not what superheroes do.
And I missed a 17-year-old hanging himself on my off day, Grandmother finding him in his room, next to a ladder, the blood pooling with gravity, lower and lower inside his body.
The Queen collapsed behind the SOS Lounge off 1st Avenue, open for business just a few feet from where the streets of the Bay bleed into Roebuck. The Queen looked dead, face down in the gravel, one arm awkwardly twisted behind her back. Unconscious drunk in the 1pm sun looks a lot like death. The back door of the SOS Lounge read “No Bums Allowed” and “English speaking customers only”. Kerri told me the locals call her the Oporto Queen. Fat, drunk and sunburned to hell she scraped to her feet, and the cops told her to shake it off, and wait it out at the Krispy Kreme. They’d give her a ride home (somewhere) later.
Taylor Swift’s “Fifteen” is the last song I should think of… but I do anyway. Roaches are everywhere. And trash. And kicked-in or punched-out holes in the wall. And roaches. And yelling. There was a lot of yelling, threats, and obscenities. And children. There were a lot of children. In their underwear, and dirty, and not shaking off the bugs crawling over them.
“And you're dancing around the room when the night ends”…
This is the house that God has abandoned. The father won’t quit screaming and the grandmother’s neck is tattooed, she’s chain smoking. They are overly polite to us, as if they’re talking to prison guards, but they really just want us to leave. Four little boys and two little girls in the living room, I wandered through filth and found another girl asleep on a back room floor in a pile of garbage. One boy, six, is heading to a downtown hospital. The children seem to have a consensual fear, but it’s masked by the filth and the screaming, their sad acceptance that this is life.
This? This is something called life? No, no one died, no one was raped, no one was burned alive, But no baby… I am not okay.
This is the house where I renounce God, Heaven, and Hell, those kinds of things. Because no God exists that would allow these children to wake up this way every morning.
Life? Life is running so fast it burns. Life is superheroes and pretty girls, muscle cars and cut-off sleeves for summer parking lots.
Life is living fast, dying young and living forever.
My sister Carol lives a hundred yards away, a fence-hop and short cut through the neighbor’s backyard. She has a daughter and she worships her ground too. No baby, I just can’t…
I cant let it go.
I was fighting off a steroid rage, tears, and an uncontrollable wave of helplessness when Kerri told me you can’t save them all. He said it twice in the bay of Station 19. “You can’t save them all.”
Save them all? I’m not saving anybody. I just hope I can sleep. Again. Someday. Ever.
I closed my eyes, and thought of the missed hanging. And I saw these kids… the ones growing up wrong in the Bay. And how I no longer believe in prayer.
That is not what superheroes do. They don’t let go.
Back down Oporto-Madrid, it’s 2 am, and a woman furiously digs through the bushes of an empty lot, flashlight in hand, down on her knees. Kerri says she’s looking for baggies that dealers have hidden, or discarded in fear of the police. We pass the Oporto Queen, alive and well just down the strip, one drunken step after the other… down Division Avenue and out of sight.
And I called Harley and he said it was okay to write about him.
“Flesh and blood, flesh and bone, save us. Save us all”, is what I keep hearing.
I took an ink pen and wrote on the back of my hand “You are so fucked up”.
Can’t… save… them… all.
Goddamn you Kerri, I’m going to try.
“There was this one time, back when I could steal the show…” – The Takers