ESCAPING MY SHADOW
All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2015 by Walter Rossie, Jr.
H.S. Publishing Co.
Sherman Oaks, California
Library of Congress Control Number: *
Printed in the United States of America
WALTER ROSSIE, JR.
H.S. Publishing Co.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
|“We got dope!”|
|“He’s such a good kid…”|
|“That boy’s an asshole!”|
|The Red Lumper Incident|
|“It don’t hurt unless you resist.”|
|Mind Playing Tricks on Me|
|Crazy White Boy|
|A Moment of Clarity|
|A New Life|
|Transformation and Leadership|
“Not until we are lost do we begin
to understand ourselves.”
- Henry David Thoreau
“We got dope!”
It was just after noon when I pulled into the abandoned gravel parking lot to pick up Cocaina and the weed. A thick layer of dust rose in the hot desert air making it difficult to see. Alerted by the jackhammer of my leaking muffler, a weathered padre came out to greet me. He waved his arms in the air with a huge smile and directed me to park and wait. He thought he was helping illegal immigrants gain safe passage into the U.S. He couldn’t have been more wrong about the real nature of our business.
I exited the broken-down brown Camaro just as Cocaina strolled out of the building wearing blue jeans and a Hawaiian shirt that obscured his massive muscles. Three ragged looking Mexicans with sun-scorched faces trailed behind. Over his shoulder Cocaina carried the Faberge bag that my dad had given me. It had come free with his purchase of Brut cologne. At one point the bag had contained my clothes and a few toiletries, but now held fifteen pounds of pure grade Chronic.
The first thing I thought of when I saw the Mexicans, was that I sure as hell wasn’t going to drive. I gestured to Cocaina that I wanted shotgun, so everyone piled into the back while Cocaina took the wheel. Immediately it became obvious the man couldn’t drive worth a damn. He kept slamming on the brakes and then flooring the gas while we all lurched forward. As we peeled off onto the open highway back to Tucson, I suddenly noticed we were running out of fuel. “Gas!” I yelled, pointing to the gauge.
Cocaina nodded. We scanned the signs in the distance for a station. While cruising, I noticed a border patrol cop in a green uniform searching the trunk of a vehicle on the shoulder. The Camaro made a racket as we sputtered by, so it was no surprise when the officer yanked his head out of the trunk to look me dead in the eye.
Scared shitless, I gestured to Cocaina by pointing two fingers at my pupils. “He’s seen us.”
Cocaina stepped on the gas and after a mile or so we hit a truck stop just outside the city. Cocaina handed me twenty bucks and I ran inside to pay.
“Seven dollars regular,” I told the attendant, “and a pack of Marlboro Reds.”
I pocketed the remaining ten bucks. I told myself I would need it to buy snacks in jail. When I stepped outside with the smokes, the border patrol cop’s truck backed into the parking lot facing the Camaro. All the blood drained from my face. I knew the jig was up. My heart beat wildly and I had the strong sensation of being watched. I walked over to the pump like everything was normal. I held the nozzle to the tank. It didn’t reach! ‘What else could go wrong?’ I thought.
Cocaina was missing. I got into the driver’s seat and started to turn on the ignition. Just as I cranked the engine, it hit me! If I backed the vehicle up, I would be the driver of the car and responsible for the drugs. I put the car in neutral, got out and pushed the car back the nine or ten inches I needed to start pumping the gas; Gas I knew we would never use.
Cocaina came out of the store and casually looked around. The border patrol cop approached the Camaro. He came up and started speaking Spanish to the guys in the back, asking where they were from.
“Mexico,” they sounded off one by one. Then it was my turn. “Texas,” I told him, trying not to make eye contact. “Do you mind if I look in the trunk?” the officer asked.
I nodded and wiped the sweat off my forehead with the sleeve of my t-shirt. He lifted the trunk and within seconds he zipped open the Faberge bag to reveal the huge brick of weed.
“We got dope!” He yelled to his partner.
“Get on the ground!” He slapped a pair of cuffs on my wrists and pushed the Mexicans down on the concrete.
Cocaina broke away, making a run for it, a border patrol agent on his heels in fast pursuit. Sprinting at full speed, Cocaina dove onto his stomach, slid under a fence and was instantly back on his feet faster than a jackrabbit. I had never seen anything like it. He disappeared into the brush-covered terrain, thick with mesquite trees and cacti, while the border patrol agent barked into his radio from behind the fence.
The four of us who were left behind were loaded into the back of the officer’s truck as he began the search for Cocaina. The cop had no trouble navigating the trails, obviously familiar with the territory. I nudged one of the Mexicans who hadn’t been cuffed and pointed to my pocket. He reached in and got me a cigarette, put it in my mouth, and lit it. Even though we were bouncing up and down, we managed to pull it off.
The border agent shouted, “Are you smoking? You better put that shit out!”
I figured it would be my last cigarette before prison, so I was going to enjoy it regardless of the consequences. I puffed furiously with one side of my mouth and exhaled from the other. Before the agent could stop me, the deafening hum of an ugly bubble helicopter drowned out his warnings. The search for Cocaina now had air support.
After a half hour or so, the border cop got back on the highway and headed for the U.S. customs station. It was a bleak building with long wooden benches that reminded me of church pews. I sat down and immediately noticed a flawless sketch of Cocaina tacked to the wall. I was amazed at the efficiency of the agents: first a helicopter, now this, and all within minutes of the bust. It was Cocaina all right! Big-ass bridge across his nose and everything!
Two agents called me over to the front desk and began to grill me. They had all the information from their computer but they started asking me basic questions anyway.
“What are you doing with these guys?” the older cop asked.
Somehow I had the guts to reply, “I don’t mean any disrespect, officer, but I’d rather wait ‘till I talk to an attorney.”
“No problem,” he said, but he continued to probe me. “Where were you born?”
He smiled. “I know where that is. That’s near Pleasanton, isn’t it?” It was obvious that he was trying to build rapport and that they had done some investigating before they started talking to me.
“Look, I’m not trying to be difficult, but I do need to speak to an attorney before I say anything,” I told them for the second time.
The younger cop told me to have a seat. It was time to grill the Mexicans. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but from their body language, it seemed they were playing dumb as well.
The older cop returned and pulled out the bag of dope a few inches from my nose.
He threw the brick on the scale and remarked, “Wow, twelve pounds!”
‘Bullshit, that’s fifteen pounds!’ I almost spat back.
But I caught myself just in time. That would have been all the proof they needed that I was involved. Those border patrol agents were smart as hell, and I almost fell for it. Unfortunately there were more surprises. The younger agent unzipped the side pocket of the Brut bag and pulled out a picture of my dad and me.
“This looks like you,” he informed me, holding up the snapshot next to my face. He then pulled out my social security card. It was getting more and more difficult to stick to my game plan.
“I don’t want to say anything until I talk to an attorney,” I kept repeating.
I sat down and was overcome by a sense of impending doom. All I could think of was how difficult it was going to be in prison. I thought back to my warrants in Texas and wished I had just faced my legal issues there. Jail time would have been faster and easier than what I was facing now.
I lay down on the bench for about an hour, drifting in and out of sleep while horror-filled images of penitentiary life burrowed their way into my head.
“You don’t look too happy for someone who is going home,” said a voice.
I thought, ‘That’s a cruel joke to play on somebody who just got busted.’ But the agent said, “Let’s go.”
Even as they discharged me from the station, I still thought it was some kind of trick. I was so paranoid that I kept waiting for the agents to recapture me. It wasn’t until I was a mile down the road that I believed I was free. I was still so freaked out at how close I had come to going to prison; it took a while to convince myself I wasn’t dreaming. I walked further down the street to a small bodega, and with the ten dollars I had left I bought a couple of Mickey’s malt liquor forties to calm my nerves. I chugged back one of the forties in about five or six swigs and kept the other one for later. I threw down the bottle, lit up a smoke, and trudged to the nearest bus stop.
As I waited for the bus, I thought back on my path to becoming a criminal. Life hadn’t always been so complicated. How had I wound up helping a drug-smuggling, car-stealing coyote like Cocaina move his dope out of Mexico.
Looking back on my early years, I feel I had a happy childhood. I’m sure some might look at it and say that I wasn’t raised right because I didn’t have a lot of guidance, but I believe that growing up with so much freedom was a wonderful thing for me. Even if I had the chance, I wouldn’t change a thing.
I grew up in Pleasanton, Texas, in a small house with my mom, dad, and two maternal half-sisters. My dad was an Italian-German-Irish semi-redneck who was respected and highly regarded by everyone he came into contact with. He was also known as a great bullshitter. He was a hard worker who always provided for our family, no matter the circumstances. I heard than when my mother was pregnant with me, she demanded that he quit his insurance job. Supposedly another woman had called our home claiming she was dating my father. He quit the job the next day and was soon hired to unload trucks at a warehouse for a large South Texas grocery store. He started as a forklift driver, but eventually became the dock manager. That was the type of work ethic he had.
I really looked up to my dad and always wanted to be like him. In the seventies he slicked his hair back and drove a white Monte Carlo with a CB radio. His handle was Lucky Seven. Later, I earned a similar nickname of Little Lucky after my little league baseball batting average hit .777. This was the highest in the league and it even got posted in the sports section of the local newspaper.
Baseball was one of my first obsessions. My buddy Lando and I played in the street almost every day for hours on end from the time we were five years old. This was why I was able to maintain the highest batting average when I finally played in a league. Lando also become a star. We were a hell of a match and the best of friends.
Some might say my dad had a pretty rough childhood. When he was just a boy, his parents dropped him off with his aunt and two uncles and never returned. The three were hard-laboring working class people who raised my dad on a small farm. The three gave my dad the love he needed, though they didn’t have much in terms of material wealth. In his third grade class picture he was one of the only kids without shoes because his new family couldn’t afford them. Even though he had things rough, my dad always showered me with affection and was involved in my life as much as possible when he wasn’t working.
If you could call my dad the good cop, then my mom was the bad cop and ass-whooper. Mom called the shots in the house, and whatever she said was law. Her looks were much better than her temper though, as she was truly beautiful. Whenever I was with her I would catch men checking her out, and this always bothered me.
My mom had a history of violence. Over the years I learned the family secret of her mean streaks. She managed a beer joint just off the main highway, and it was rumored that she had once stabbed a man at the bar for antagonizing my dad. The man almost died.
I also experienced her cold-heartedness firsthand. My mother’s prized rose garden grew in the shade at the side of our house, and our dogs would often dig trenches there to get out of the Texas heat. Unfortunately for these dogs, my mother loved her roses best. If any of our puppies got caught digging, or did anything else my mother didn’t like, she would take them out to the countryside in the middle of nowhere, and we would never see the dogs again. She called it, “taking them for a ride.”
When my mom played Monopoly with family or friends, they would all drink heavily. She was a great sport when she won, but a terrible loser. Anyone who has played Monopoly knows that losers stay losers for a long time. My mom didn’t like this, so on occasion she would fly into a rage, grab the board and throw it on the stove, burning it to ashes. Nobody dared try to stop her. In a way, I guess this was kind of nice for us, as we would always have new boards to play on and brand new, crisp Monopoly money.
After baseball, my next greatest obsession was donut holes. There was a donut shop on the same corner as my school that sold the delicious fried delights for a dime apiece. One day, while penniless and full of donut hole cravings, I came up with the brilliant idea to go door-to-door begging for dimes. This was a momentous occasion, as it was the first of many entrepreneurial endeavors. One woman whose door I had knocked on ended up calling my mom, who sent my uncle to find me. When we got home my mother was waiting on the porch with a belt in her hand. Whenever I saw that belt, fear would run all the way down my spine and make my stomach turn. She proceeded to whip the shit out of me. This wasn’t my first ass-whooping however, and it would certainly not be my last.
Despite these difficult moments, my mother could also be very affectionate. I remember her always hugging and kissing me, and even though I was never told, “I love you” by either of my parents until later in life, I always felt loved and appreciated.
Another family anomaly was that my mother’s father was a curandero, or traditional Mexican healer. Some curanderos are revered as shaman and witch doctors since they have been known to manipulate forces of light and darkness. I heard my grandpa was paid to take care of people’s problems. He died when I was a kid, but while alive he owned a beer joint with concrete floors and dirty, piss-drenched bathrooms. My grandpa hardly talked to me when I hung out at his bar, though. We were never very close.
My grandfather had a number of children. A few of them lived in the welfare housing projects called The Courts. I would often go visit my aunts there and hang out, but I always felt like an outsider because I wasn’t full Mexican. At the same time, I also felt superior to them because my family wasn’t on welfare and I was half-white. When I hung around my father’s side of the family, however, I always felt like the dirty little Mexican trying to fit in with the white people. I couldn’t win and I remained very uncomfortable.
My uncle Tommy was the one Mexican who intimidated me. He was one of the few who could afford his own place. I thought of him as a high roller because he made good money as an oilrig truck driver and spent it on a new mobile home. Tommy went through an ugly divorce and was forced to pay child support when he split from his wife. I remember hearing that he even quit his job as an oil trucker to make cash under the table breaking horses so that he wouldn’t have to pay as much. After he had become a father, it seemed his life went downhill. He made more than one trip to the slammer for lapses in paying his dues. In Texas, you go straight to jail for that.
Years after the divorce it came as no surprise when I heard Tommy had been convicted of murder for killing his most recent ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend. It seemed a life of heavy drinking and deep resentment finally took its toll. It was a lifestyle I would eventually come to know and understand for myself.
My sisters were five and six years older than me. When I was four or five, I wasn’t coordinated or smart enough to play games with them, and I definitely wasn’t into dolls, so we were never very close. I was considered the pesky little brother, and by the time I was eleven or twelve, they had already moved on to partying and dating.
My sisters both got married when they were around sixteen, so I didn’t see them much after that. Although I don’t remember it, my mom says that the separation left me out of sorts for months.
Our house in Pleasanton was small, with only two real bedrooms. My room was half the size of a regular room and may have originally been intended as a laundry room. Our bathroom had an old fashioned tub that was at least sixty years old, the same age as the house itself. In our backyard we hung wooden swings with cables of rope from a pair of flourishing pecan trees. There were also a few stumps in the yard that we would sit on if we were feeling lazy. Behind our house we had a little shed that housed my dad’s tools and lawnmower. We called it the cuatito. I would often climb on top of it and hang out after school, the hot Texas sun beating down on my shoulders. Behind the shed was a giant garden with a patch of mouthwatering strawberries, as well as two Freestone peach trees that gave us delicious, juicy fruits. My friends would come over often and we would gorge ourselves until we had our fill. There was also a small tree in the front of the house with cat-tongue leaves that produced milk when you broke them. I would often climb on the tree, pretending that I was in a jungle fighting off animals or natives. My mom loved roses, so my dad planted a large flowering bush in front of the kitchen window, blocking the one entrance I used if I ever got locked out.
Pleasanton was home to about 7,000 people, and every year there would be a large town event called the Cowboy Homecoming. This was a big deal for us all and made us very proud of where we lived. In front of the town library there was a bronze cowboy statue with chaps and a cowboy hat that served as a symbol of our values and accomplishments. The plaque under it stated, Pleasanton, Texas, Birthplace of the Cowboy. There was always a big parade and a carnival with chili cook offs and fistfights. Whenever the carnival came to town, I would hardly sleep. It was always a struggle to scrounge up enough money to spend there, so if I didn’t have enough, I would just loaf around inside trying to catch a glimpse of other people having fun. B-list country singers would sing on the tops of flatbed eighteen-wheelers. Cowboy Homecoming was the most fun our town had all year.
I loved the river that ran through our town and would often go fishing there with my dad. There was also a pear orchard across the river by the city park. Every spring, the whole family would go on an outing and load up bags of pears. Even though our house was only a quarter mile away from the river, I was forbidden to go there, as I was only a young kid. Nevertheless, I still made the trip.
The river often flooded over the dam, and once while this was happening, I slipped and slid down the dam into the water. My friend’s big brother dove in and saved me, though I was more embarrassed about falling in than I was scared. Since my dad didn’t want to get in trouble with my mom for not paying attention to where I was, he told me never to mention the incident to her, and I never did.
I was obsessed with a lot of things as a child, but candy was my first love. I consumed it addictively, much the way I later used drugs. I would often cut the neighbors’ grass and then use what I’d earned to buy candy, like Jolly Ranchers, Tootsie Rolls, Jawbreakers and Fun Dip. Nobody ever showed me how to save my money, so right after getting paid I would just spend every last dime on huge bags of sweets, hooked on that intoxicating sugar high.
I also really liked starting fires and I got busted all the time. I would come home smelling like a barbecue pit, and my parents would quiz me, “Hey, were you playing with fire?” I was a lousy liar and a terrible criminal, but I think those early failures trained me in how not to get caught later in life.
When I was seven I had a friend named Luterio, who was a year younger than me. He lived a block away by a Baptist church that had a basketball court and a big roof that I loved to climb on. The church also owned a portable building on the edge of Luterio’s driveway. One day I found a pack of matches, so we decided to burn up some cardboard that was lying alongside the portable building. When the fire started going strong, I kicked an elongated piece into the flames. The blaze mushroomed out of control, and that’s when we took off running to our respective homes.
Minutes later I heard the scream of fire truck sirens tearing down the block. The firemen questioned Luterio. He lied to them, although he must have told them that I was involved, as the firemen showed up at my house later that night asking me questions. I too lied through my teeth and the truth was never discovered.
I was always getting into mischief. I think I got a rush from it that made me do it more. My neighbor was a pastor who would often take me to church and have long talks with me about Being Good. I knew God wanted me to do the right thing, but I could never stack up. There was always a desire to do the wrong thing. Deep inside I carried this guilty belief that I was a bad little kid.
When I was around eight years old I met a kid named Amador. One day he invited me to go see The Jungle Book movie. After the film, he taught me the art of vandalism. Later, his dad took us to 7-Eleven and showed us how to steal burritos and strawberry shortcakes.
Amador and I once decided to write senseless profanity on a lime-green VW van in the neighborhood using permanent markers and my mom’s lipstick. The van was parked on a dirt road, and our footprints led right back to my house. The owner showed up shortly afterwards, and we were busted. After that my mom forbade me from hanging out with Amador. While that ended our friendship, it didn’t end my mischief. I became a good thief after that, and never got caught. I stole lighters, matches, candles, and food.
My favorite toy as a kid was my bb gun. I would get thousands of copperhead bb’s and shoot at anything that moved, including birds, squirrels and rabbits, although the velocity wasn’t powerful enough to kill anything except birds. One day, while hiding behind the shed in my backyard, I spotted my neighbor in her backyard. The lady was very old and moved very slowly using a walker. She would take one step, move her walker, and then take another step. As she was bending over to tend to the eggplants in her garden, I zapped her in the ass with a bb. I could hear the pop of the bullet as it smacked her rear end. She slowly turned around, but she never knew what hit her.
Jaime was another friend of mine who liked to get into trouble. We were often chased by mean, unleashed dogs while we rode our bikes. There was one dog in particular that we hated. We decided to get revenge on it with my bb gun. Jaime pedaled hard, carrying me while I shot the dog in the face. It never bothered us again.
When I was four years old, I brought my uncle’s three-legged dog along with me to school, as well as my mom’s bag of money that she had from work. I decided it would be a good idea to hand out the bills to the first and second graders so that they would like me. It was a very civil event, with the kids politely asking me if they could have some of the money, allowing me to be in control of the bag. I enthusiastically obliged.
I buried the rolls of coins that I hadn’t given away to the kids at school in our backyard. When my mom woke up, she was furious. She couldn’t find the money. She interrogated me, and the truth about my adventure came out. My mom’s eyes grew wide as she listened to my confession. She jumped up, grabbed her belt and began whooping my ass. After the beating, my sisters harassed me, demanding I show them where the coins were hidden, which I did.
My dislike for school started in kindergarten, partially because we always seemed to be going to the school nurse for shots, although I never understood the reasons why. The first time I got a shot at school, we were made to line up and wait with no explanation. I remember hearing some kids in front of me leave the nurse’s office crying and cradling their arms. This caused me to instantly remember the shots I had been given by our family doctor. He seemed to have a fetish for prescribing antibiotic shots at the first sign of an illness.
When I finally made it to the office, the nurse had cotton balls and several large syringes waiting for the next victim. When I saw these dreaded items, I decided that I wasn’t going to be that guy, so I cried and yelled and refused the shots. A short while later, my mom appeared. She had rollers in her hair, which always embarrassed me, and she was pissed. Within seconds the nurse plunged her cold, steel needles into my arm and there was nothing more to say.
After that I was scared shitless every day, anticipating more shots. I remember the depressing feeling I had when I calculated that I had twelve more years of shots and misery until I graduated from school. Often I would go up to the teacher’s aide, who was much nicer than the evil teacher, and ask her if we were going to have a shot that day. I soon realized that she too was treacherous and not to be believed, as she would always give me some bullshit answer, claiming that she didn’t know. She was one of the first of many authority figures that I learned to distrust.
First grade was a new type of hell. Our teacher, Ms. Palmer, had a lake outside of town that was named after her, a fact of which she often reminded us. Perhaps it was because she had her own lake that she felt she was entitled to be mean to us, demanding we sing good morning to her to the tune of Happy Birthday.
Ms. Palmer was a dictator of sorts and she most surely learned this behavior from the principal, Mr. Whitley. Mr. Whitley loved to inflict pain. To my six-year-old eyes, Mr. Whitley was a huge man who seemed built to hurt people. One of my first memories of him took place in the school cafeteria. He expected us to eat lunch in silence every day, but that day he had walked into the cafeteria to the sound of laughter and voices.
“Everybody shut up!” he screamed.
As the cafeteria instantly fell silent, Mr. Whitley singled out a kid in line and accused him of mumbling. Making a beeline for the boy, Mr. Whitley took off his belt and wrapped it into a tight loop. He grabbed the kid by the arm and lifted him high into the air to get a good angle, and whipped the boy on his butt with all his might three times. It was a vicious attack. The kid screamed and cried, prompting all of the other kids in the cafeteria, including myself, to eat our meal in dead silence.
In fourth grade, my teacher Mrs. Ellinger enforced a rule that if you received three strikes on your record for the whole year, you would be sent to Mr. Whitley for an ass whooping. Word was that Mr. Whitley had a custom wooden paddle with holes bored into its surface to decrease wind resistance.
One day at recess, I had run to our homeroom class with two of my friends to get a football. Another teacher, Ms. Broom, heard the pitter-patter of our feet along the wooden floor and popped her head out of her classroom.
She called to us in a shrill, witch-like voice, “Boys, come here right now!”
She wrote our names down on a piece of paper and said the words I had most dreaded for the previous five years. “Go see Mr. Whitley immediately!”
It felt like a death sentence. Ms. Broom pushed the contact button and informed Mr. Whitley that we were making our way to his office to be punished for our crimes.
When we got to his office we sat down on a row of chairs placed next to the office door. My buddy Steve was the first to get called in, which I thought was a good thing, as his dad was a police officer. This, I figured, would surely save us from Mr. Whitley’s notorious corporal punishment. Minutes later I found out that it didn’t make a damn bit of difference. When the door slammed behind Steve, the remaining two culprits, Alex and I looked at each other in pure terror when we heard three rapid, high-pitched pops in a row. Steve came out. Tears welled up in his eyes, but he did his best to not let them spill down his cheeks. Mr. Whitley then appeared in the doorway like the grim reaper and pointed at Alex.
“Come here, young man,” he sneered.
I was last. After three more loud popping sounds echoed from the office, Alex came out bawling. Despair set in. I had thoughts of running home, but decided against it when I realized that my mom would whip my ass too. I picked myself up from my seat and made my way into his office where a chair sat in the middle of the room. He made me bend over the back of the chair and grab the front legs. With the force of a volcanic eruption, Mr. Whitley laid into me three times with his paddle, setting my ass on fire. Initially I was in shock, but later I felt as if a huge injustice had occurred. We were just three kids trying to have fun, but we ended up with welts we didn’t deserve corporal punishment. Somehow I made it through fourth grade with only two strikes, though I think perhaps it was Mrs. Ellinger that protected me from the third, as I always was talking in class.
“He’s such a good kid…”
When I was around ten years old, my family moved to a large metropolitan suburb called Converse. It was seven miles outside San Antonio where my dad worked, and also had the added convenience of removing me permanently from the firing lines of Mr. Whitley’s wrath.
The first thing I noticed at my new school was how all the kids were talking back to the teachers and getting away with it. It was the complete opposite of what I was used to. This school also had a three strikes rule, but you were allowed three strikes a day instead of three a year, and the only real punishment for striking out was being remanded to a time-out box. These new lax policies made me feel as if I had been released from prison, and I took full advantage of it. I wasn’t as bold as other kids, but I was learning fast and I sure liked to joke around. Soon I fit right in and became a bona fide class clown. One of my other initial perceptions was that all the kids in Converse were bigger than me, although I now think that had to do more with how uncomfortable I was in my own skin at the time.
Baseball tryouts were held during our first few months in town. My dad signed up to coach our little league baseball team, and within three short years he led our team to the championship. My dad considered it an honor and a privilege to coach the All-Star team, and he always remembered this achievement with pride.
There were a lot of nice things about Converse: a big lake where we would go fishing illegally, a nice, state-of-the-art park, a swimming pool, and police officers who were really involved with the community. The officers were really nice unless you were speeding, a fact my mom found out the first day we moved there when she got a ticket for going two miles over the speed limit.
Often the family would sit around the dinner table in our new home listening to my dad talk about his days working at the warehouse. I was always really interested in hearing about one man in particular, a Vietnam Vet who went by the nickname Red Lumper. His real name was Ray, but everyone except his wife called him Red. He was called Red because of his hair color when he was younger, and Lumper because his job was unloading 18-wheeler trucks. According to my dad, Red Lumper was someone you did not want to mess with. He was naturally endowed with big, bricklike fists, and on top of that he was in great physical shape from unloading trucks by hand.
I would also hear stories about Red Lumper’s
son Chris, who went by the name of Little Red. At fourteen years old, Little Red had a reputation for being the second fastest lumper around (after his dad). Like his father, Little Red also had a reputation of being a badass. Although he was just a teenager, he was beating up grown men twice his size. His family lived in a really tough neighborhood on the Southside of San Antonio, so it seemed to come with the territory.
Knowing I loved fishing, my dad would often take me on trips since he had a lot of connections with the owners of private lakes. After months of hearing stories about Red Lumper, the day finally came when my dad told me we were going to meet up with him and his sons to go fishing in the San Antonio River.
This fishing trip was the first time I got to hang out with Little Red and his two brothers, Jake and Eric. It was 1982. I was twelve years old, and the brothers ranged in age from around eleven to fourteen years old. While I had met Little Red a few times before, this was the day we really became friends.
From what I remember of the river, it was polluted even though the water looked clear and clean. Although nothing was biting, we managed to have fun anyway. It seemed as though my dad had coordinated the trip just so he could hang out and drink with his buddy without having to go too far away where actual fish were. The two men sat in my dad’s truck “suckin’ on some cold ones”, as my dad would say, and listening to some of their favorites by Hank Williams and Hank Williams Jr. with the volume turned up full blast, both of them singing at the top of their lungs like coyotes howling at the moon. In between songs the two could be heard yelling out their tagline, “Yeaaaaah buddy!” They were a hell of a pair. For us kids, the trip ended up turning into a swimming extravaganza. We took turns diving off the concrete slab in our underwear, splashing each other and laughing our asses off.
I was just a skinny little kid from the suburbs trying to fit in with these tough kids who were already into partying, drugs and alcohol. While I didn’t know it at that moment, they would eventually become like family to me. All I felt at the time was that I was scared. I had been afraid ever since we moved from Pleasanton, which was a small town of about 7,000 people, to Converse, which was just outside the city of San Antonio. I wanted desperately to fit in, especially since I was an extremely thin kid who grew up with no brothers. When I ran into Little Red, Jake and Eric, I finally felt like I fit in the mix, even though I was from the other side of town and was probably viewed by them as somewhat of a pussy. I didn’t yet live their crazy lifestyle, but it sure looked fun as hell.
After the fishing trip, I started hanging out with the guys on a regular basis since Little Red cut grass with my dad for his landscaping business that he did on the side of his regular job at the warehouse. My dad even allowed me to spend the night at their house. I remember Red Lumper as being this really cool, smooth talking, rugged guy.. He would joke with me a lot, but would also share his wisdom with me and give me some valuable advice about life. From the way he carried himself, I knew he was someone that no one could mess with, especially with Little Red by his side. He unloaded trucks, he took care of his business, he took care of his family, and he always had my dad’s back. You didn’t mess with him or you would end up hurt. And even though he was really wild back when I was a kid, everyone who knew him respected him. From the start I always had the highest regard for him, especially since he was my dad’s buddy.
The first time I spent the night at Red Lumper’s place, Red’s sons and I partied outside their apartment building, right across from the Mission Drive-In Theater. The kids were passing around a joint, which scared and excited me. My sisters smoked pot back then, so I had been exposed to weed at an early age. I couldn’t wait to try it, and it was just a matter of time before gasoline met fire. We were all drinking Budweiser quarts, and even at twelve years old I remember thinking to myself that I was going to drink as much as I could to prove myself to the others. So I just drank and drank and smoked and smoked until I was completely wasted.
That night as I got extremely drunk for the first time, all my usual fears disappeared and I was able to be myself, making people laugh by acting like a clown. I remember getting up and falling down continuously that night without feeling any pain. Near the end of the night I remember hearing the youngest brother Eric, who we called Possum, saying, “Snap out of it dude! Come on man, you’re going to get us busted.” It was time to go home and I wasn’t handling my shit very well. I stumbled towards the apartment and ran into their mom who was waiting on the porch. She said to the brothers, “You got Wally drunk, didn’t you?!” These kids were no strangers to danger. They were scolded mildly and then we all filed inside.
Blankets had been laid out for us to crash on the floor. I was really drunk so Red and his wife told the boys to put me under the shower. I remember being totally wasted while they helped me in and out of the stall. When it was all over, all that was left was a wet, drunk, sloppy little kid. I don’t know how I ended up getting dressed, but Possum must have helped. One thing I do recall was how gracious Red Lumper was when dealing with me. He was an alcoholic, and he didn’t seem to hold it against me for getting drunk. I ended up puking on the floor and all over the blankets, but I was still treated like I was part of the family. I had a sense of being taken care of right off the bat even though I was a drunken fool. I woke up with my first hangover ever and missed going to a carnival held in Converse due to my severe headache. That was the first time I ever missed out on something fun due to the ill effects of alcohol and drugs. Little did I know that missing out on all the fun in life would soon become routine for me.
While in Converse I developed some new obsessions alongside baseball: girls, roller-skating at the local rink on weekends, swimming during the summer, and playing video games in between. Trying to have sex also became an obsession even though I was only twelve years old. Whenever I went to the skating rink, my new best friend Jason and I would ask for all the girls’ numbers so that we could try to get them to have sex with us. I learned after awhile that the pretty girls were not into having sex, so I lowered my standards.
I decided that I was ready to have sex, so I started hitting on this girl I heard had let an older high school guy have sex with her. It was just before Christmas when I decided to give losing my virginity the old college try. I went to her house while she was babysitting her two sisters, and she took me to the back room so we could get it on. I couldn’t believe she was going to let me have sex with her. I remember touching her vagina and being a little freaked out and surprised at what it felt like. It started off okay, but I didn’t know what to expect next after putting it in, since I had never experienced an orgasm. So after about five minutes or so of penetration I told her I had enough, especially since her parents could arrive home at any time. When we finished, we went into the living room and I looked out the window as her parents pulled a Christmas tree off the station wagon in their front yard. I ran out of the back door, jumped the fence, and went straight to Jason’s house to tell him the good news.
Jason and I did everything together. We resembled each other in a lot of ways since we both had light brown wavy hair, and even wore the same style of silk shirts and bell-bottom pants. When junior high started, Jason and I decided that we would try to fit in with the rocker/stoner group, as that was the type of group my sisters had been in and I guess I wanted to emulate them. We dressed accordingly the first day with our 99.5 KISS FM jerseys, but once we were hanging out with them, I immediately felt out of place, never knowing the right things to say or do. I wasn’t ready for drugs or concerts yet, but Jason was, and he soon found a new best friend who was into the scene. I felt left out. I started my search for a new group to hang out with at school. I resented having to fit into one group or another. There were the freaks also known as the stoners; the rednecks; the jocks and the geeks; also known as the socials. I really wasn’t feeling any of them. I divided myself among all of them, never spending all of my time with any one group in particular. Once again I felt inadequate, like I didn’t fit in.
That feeling was magnified when I joined the football team. My insecurity over my small size was also intensified while on the team since I was super skinny but put in the position of right tackle. That position is usually played by really big guys. Every time I went on the football field I felt like a skinny loser. The coach of the football team was required to accept everyone who showed up to practice, so I signed up. He would put me in for about thirty seconds every game, and then take me right out.
After joining the team, an unanticipated new insecurity materialized. I didn’t have any pubic hair yet, so for that whole year I would conceal my lower body whenever I was in the locker room. All the other guys would walk around naked with their pubic hair exposed, while I took pains to hide myself from their view. As an added precaution, I started using deodorant even though I really didn’t need it yet.
In 1983 when I was in eighth grade, we moved again to a nicer house in a neighborhood called Bristol Place. My parents wanted something closer to their jobs, and when they went to view the property, it seemed like a nice, quiet place. It wasn’t until after they bought it that they realized the neighborhood was teeming with hoodlums who overran the streets after school and on the weekends. My parents felt like they had been tricked by the real estate agent, but by then it was too late.
Bristol Place was where all of my troubles really started. It was there that I first developed my life-long obsession with drugs. I remember waiting at the bus stop on my first day of school, and staring with disbelief at a group of junior high kids who were smoking pot out in the open for the whole world to see. The neighborhood had a lot of these types of kids who were always in some kind of trouble. I stayed away from them for as long as I could, instead hanging out with my new best friend, Dino, who lived nearby. He came from a military family of integrity. We would occasionally drink his dad’s government beer and get slightly buzzed, but that was the extent of our mischief. Dino was my best friend when I first moved there, but it didn’t last long.
About a year later at age fourteen, while waiting for the bus, I gave in to peer-pressure from a group of kids who were into cigarettes, pot, alcohol, long hair and black clothes. I was intimidated, and wanted to fit in, so I gave into the pressure. My new friends and I would get high before school every day, and from that point on, my grades plummeted. For the first time in my life I started failing my classes. My eighth grade pre-algebra teacher was the first to react to the change. I would just lay my head down on the desk and sleep because I was so high on pot. This was the moment in my life when I decided to give up on any challenges that life or school might present. It just felt too difficult. I was still allowed to move on to the next grade, however, despite failing a couple of my classes, for this was the school’s policy. After I started using drugs, I became mostly a C and D student, but I was able to master basic math after being taken out of pre-algebra.
I hung out with my group of friends, who were mostly Mexican, in a drainage ditch we called the Bridge, where we would paint graffiti, get drunk and experiment with harder drugs like acid. The Bridge, which was on the south side of the neighborhood, was a cool place to chill because there were two shoulder-high concrete walls that prevented anyone from seeing us. It was the perfect hangout. There weren’t too many gangs back then, but if there had been, our neighborhood probably would have had one.
Our group had all sorts of members. Two brothers, Tommy and Dicky, had a mom that would hang out and smoke weed with us. Occasionally a big muscular black kid named Curtis would come around. One of his brothers, Dante, used crack cocaine. He would push us to try it, but I never did. He was a real rip-off, cruising around on his bike selling underweight ten-dollar bags of weed known as dime bags, and for this reason he became our go-to weed guy when we were desperate. He would put on a big show just to sell us one small bag. He would park his stolen Peugeot ten- speed bike, undo a zipper under his bike seat and take out this nearly half-sized bag of weed to sell to us kids. We would all give him a hard time about the small size and he would lay the bag down on the sidewalk and flatten it out in an attempt to make it look larger than it was. He would say, “Come on man, that’s a dime!” Curtis’s other brother claimed to be a pimp and I believed him. I once saw him slap one of his hoes in the middle of the street in The Glen neighborhood which was even shadier than Bristol Place. Curtis always wanted to be like his pimp brother and claimed his nickname was 3P, which stood for Pimping, Playing, and Pleasing, a reputation he never lived up to.
Dante, the crack head drug-dealing brother, had always been in and out of jail ever since he was a kid. He had a baby with his girlfriend, but since he didn’t have a job he would make her give him all of her money, which he then invested in crack. Some of the crack he used and the rest he saved to sell. While his girlfriend was pregnant with their second kid, he made her walk two to three miles in the hot Texas sun to work at McDonald’s. This continued all the way up until she was seven or eight months pregnant.
A few months after the baby was born, while high on crack, he beat the baby to death because it wouldn’t stop crying. The next day he and his girlfriend took their dead child on the bus to the mall and a movie, acting like it was still alive, while Dante figured out a plan. The last I saw of him was on the news when he was showing the police the spot in the park where he had buried the baby.
Once Dante was out of the picture, we got a new connection, a dealer named James who lived on the east side of town and would only sell nickel bags to the kids with bad reputations.
A year later I was in high school. By then, Tommy and Dicky had introduced me to a lot of drugs. When I started hanging out with them I completely stopped hanging out with Dino. Among our group was a half-white, half-Mexican guy named Wedo, and a guy named Pancho. Dicky and Tommy seemed to be using Wedo and me for drugs since he and I came from families with more money. Pancho’s family didn’t allow him to hang around the streets much so he wasn’t as vulnerable and never seemed to get into too much trouble.
One day a kid from the nearby neighborhood of Park Village slashed the tires of a motorcycle that was parked next to our hangout. I didn’t think much of it when I saw this go down, as it wasn’t my bike, but the next morning as we gathered in a circle to smoke a bong before school, a police car rolled up to our bus stop. Pancho and I were facing the street so we were the only ones to see the cops and took off running alongside a water ditch that ran behind the houses next to the Bridge. We made it to my street and jumped the privacy fence to my backyard where I stored my marijuana under the air conditioner unit. At the time I had a system where I would bring five joints with me every day and give them to a guy named Chuck to sell at school. This allowed me to maintain my supply and support my own habit.
I deposited the weed at my house, except for two joints that I kept on me to sell and to smoke. Pancho and I got on the bus on the other side of the neighborhood near Curtis’s house. The bus made a loop back to the Bridge which was our bus stop, and as we approached, all of the kids on the bus stood up and exclaimed with excitement that Tommy, Wedo, and Dicky were getting busted. I prayed that the cops wouldn’t get on the bus, and they didn’t. The bus continued on to school.
Not thinking much of what had happened earlier, I went to our getting-high spot between the band hall and the tennis courts during break. The kids who hung out there usually waited for Chuck and I to show up and sell them weed, as they were all from the suburbs and didn’t have drug connections. The police found out what school us ditch kids went to and informed the principal that we were wanted for questioning. The principal, along with a bunch of teachers and counselors, started a school-wide sweep starting at the smokers’ hangout next to the band hall. They made a human chain with outstretched arms, but like a running back squeezing through a hole in the defense, I was able to slip through and under the line while the bust went down. However, it wasn’t long before they caught me. I had also sold a joint to a kid who later ratted me out for my extracurricular entrepreneurial endeavors. I returned to class after my brief escape, but the principal’s aide came to escort me to the office, making me walk in front of her to make sure I didn’t toss away any drugs. This was fine by me because I had smoked my last joint before the bust and didn’t have anything left on me. I honestly felt that since I outsmarted everyone from the cops to the school authorities that I deserved my freedom. I understood my constitutional rights and felt assured this would be a clear cut case with absolutely no proof against me.
As we entered the main office, I saw all the kids from the bust sitting there, including the kid I would later learn had ratted me out. I then looked up in shock to see my mom standing in the principal’s doorway. She was the first parent on the scene and didn’t look angry, although I couldn’t be sure since I was still high from the joint I had smoked.
“Come on in,” my mom said in a suspiciously friendly voice.
I thought it seemed strange that she wasn’t mad, but I still watched her hands as I got closer, just in case. When I was all of the way inside she told me to close the door. As I turned around and from behind, she slapped me across the cheek so hard that it left a red handprint on the side of my face. She then began attacking me with her purse until she broke down crying. That slap really hurt, but what hurt most was hearing my mom cry to the principal as I was escorted away, “But he’s such a good kid. Why is he doing this?”
The only thing the principal could find in my jacket pocket was burnt weed ash he called residue, but he used that as grounds to threaten me with calling the police. At that point, I decided to quit school and go to work, because the school was only giving me two other choices: probation or alternative schooling in a continuation setting.
After we left the principal’s office, my mom took me home and ripped all of the rock posters and cool stuff I had collected off of my walls. I didn’t know what the future held for me at that moment, but right then, something unexpected and nice happened. Tommy and Dicky’s mom talked to Wedo’s dad and my parents. She came up with what we thought was the best plan ever. Our families decided that they would allow us to get high at our own houses in order to keep us from getting into trouble by smoking in public. Another perk of the plan was that they would also buy us beer so we wouldn’t have to get someone else to buy it. I guess this was their attempt at saving themselves embarrassment, because they really didn’t know how to handle the situation. From that point on, my addiction took off and there was no more need to hide it.
Hoping to separate me from the influence of my friends, my parents moved us to Live Oak, a suburb near Converse. Live Oak was even nicer than Converse, and though I stopped hanging out with the thugs from the inner city, I soon befriended a group of white guys that were also into drugs. I’ve come to believe that if you want to get into trouble, you’re going to find it no matter where you live.
Throughout high school, I had a girlfriend named Leela. She was from India. We started dating right before I turned seventeen, but after the bust we spent a lot more time together. My mom liked Leela because she was a good girl and was on her way to college. Leela kept me grounded even though I was trying drugs like LSD, speed and was always smoking marijuana.
Life in Live Oak grew boring after I left school. The only real excitement was watching Red Lumper come over and drink with my dad until they both passed out. A few times, Red passed out with a cigarette in his hand, which burned three-inch holes in my mom’s carpet as he slept. My mom didn’t like Red too much because all he and my dad would ever do was get wasted. Red would sometimes bring Little Red over and we would get high together in my room, which was pretty much all I did for about a year and a half to kill time. I didn’t have many visitors except Leela, as my friends from the old neighborhood didn’t come by much. It was there that I started drinking 16-ounce beers from my dad’s stash. I hated the taste of beer, so I would lick lemon slices with salt to make it palatable. We were only at that house for a year or so, but this was the beginning of a lot of heartache for my mom. I put her through hell.
Live Oak was where I experienced my first arrest. I decided to take a ride to the countryside with my friends from the suburbs in my Cutlass. We were getting high when the sheriff appeared out of nowhere and busted us. They found the weed I had hidden behind the ashtray right away. Most of the guys with us were younger, but there was one Filipino guy, Robereto, who was over 18 and tripping on acid. They arrested him on a contributing-to-minors charge, and I was arrested for possession of marijuana. None of the other guys were busted, however, because they were only high on weed. As the cops were arresting me I became very dramatic. With fear written all over my face I yelled for my buddies to take my gold chain, thinking I was going down for the count.
They threw us in the drunk tank of the old Bexar County jail. About a year later I would spend time in an upgraded version of the same joint. Robereto was still tripping on acid and there were a few other guys lying in their own vomit. But overall it was an uneventful night and we were released the next day. When the case was brought to court, it was thrown out on an illegal search and seizure clause because I had never given the cops permission to search the vehicle.
My second trip to jail occurred when I picked up my old Bristol Place buddy Tommy in my Cutlass to go get drunk. Tommy was a Mexican rocker with long hair, so in the eyes of the police, he already had strikes against him. We stopped at a 7-Eleven and began drinking outside the entrance. Tommy was urinating on the side of the building just as a cop pulled into the lot. The female cop jumped out of her car, yelling at Tommy. He immediately ran off, leaving me by myself. I figured I would be okay because I was half-white and had a clean-cut hairstyle, but it didn’t matter. She quickly cuffed me and threw me into her car, later booking me on a public intoxication charge that I felt was unjust. Luckily, she believed me when I told her I had walked from my house, because in the front seat of my car sat two open quarts of beer. She drove us around in the squad car looking for Tommy. The whole time she was pressuring me, trying to get information about Tommy, but I played dumb. We never found him, so she took me in and booked me.
I was released to my friends from the suburbs a few hours later, and when they picked me up they had a celebratory joint for me to smoke as we drove away. They took me right to my car, and when I sat down in it, I took a drink of my hot, stale beer before pulling out of the parking lot. Maybe I should have learned my lesson, but as I was pulling out, the damn cop who had arrested me pulled in. I freaked out not sure if she saw me so I made a bunch of quick turns through the neighborhood, all the way to my house. I pulled into the driveway with my heart was pounding out of chest and ran inside. I remember tripping out on the whole situation, having just avoided jail time by lying, and then almost getting caught right afterwards with beer in my car while being high. It was a bad scene, but it wasn’t enough to make me stop.
My seventeenth birthday was the last birthday I celebrated with my parents together. My dad gave me seven hundred dollars as a gift. As had been the tradition for the previous two years, we went to Momma’s Cafe and ordered fried mushrooms with gravy and piña coladas.
I always felt like I was missing out on something if I wasn’t in Port Aransas for spring break, so I rounded up all of my friends from the old neighborhood and we were off. Many college kids were there for a giant party, complete with beer bongs, loud music and fights. Cars would cruise down the sand road next to the beach while people stood alongside, hanging out, drinking and listening to music. Often the people driving would get punched while still inside their car for talking trash or looking the wrong way at someone hanging out along the road. Sometimes an unlucky person would even get dragged out of their vehicle and beaten up.
That year I drove the Cutlass there and brought everyone with me. Tommy, Dicky, Wedo and a guy named Andrew from Park Village, who was a really big kid known for fighting. I paid for everything with my dad’s seven hundred dollar gift. Being a creature of habit, I rented a spot a block from the beach at the same hotel that I had stayed at with my church group when I was fourteen.
I took out all seven of my colognes from my bag and lined them up in the restroom. I was working at the grocery store at the time and had been promoted to the General Merchandise Counter. This meant that whenever a customer wanted to smell one of the colognes, the manager would give me the key to the counter and I was able to steal every bottle that I liked. I was really proud of my collection, but on the last day, Wedo stole them all from me and got a ride back with someone else. It wasn’t the first or last time my friends screwed me over, and I guess at one point in our addiction we were all just using each other. Our bond was based on using drugs, and not much else. These were the only types of friendships that I would come to appreciate.
“That boy’s an asshole!”
My family soon moved from Live Oak to the outskirts of a ghetto called The Glen. While there weren’t many gangs at that time in Texas, there were thugs and drug dealers all over The Glen. One of them killed my friend’s brother when he tried to buy crack there. To give a better idea of our new neighborhood, I was once riding my skateboard with Tommy, who was on his bike. Out of nowhere we heard abrupt popping noises. I turned and saw a dirty white guy chasing us down the street. He looked high and was throwing Christmas light bulbs at us for no reason. I pumped furiously on my board and made a narrow escape.
Our house was on Ballantrae Street, a three-bedroom with a large living room. We finally had a two-car garage, a hot tub, a huge patio and a backyard. On the exterior our family life looked as if we were really going places. I had lost my job soon after moving there, so I needed money. One night while my dad was passed out from drinking, I took his wallet and stole about five hundred dollars, using the money to buy weed and beer for the next few weeks. My father didn’t mention it the next day when he woke up, or ever, for that matter. He had recently retired early from the grocery warehouse, so he would spend his extra time and bonus funds partying, pissing my mother off in the process. The more my dad drank, the more he separated himself from the family. He mostly hung out with Red and Dave, the owner of a local Chevron. They often hung out with their friends at the gas station, but also partied at a couple of bars called the High-Rider and Nick’s Place. These were the main stomping grounds.
I started working telemarketing jobs, car wash jobs, and whatever other low skill jobs I could find in order to keep my parents off my ass. When I turned eighteen, I started selling weed for Adam, one of my friends from the suburbs. He would come over to my house and give me a quarter-pound at a time, but because he didn’t trust me, we would weigh out each quarter-ounce bag. This had no effect, however, as I still pinched out of each bag for my own use, spraying the dry pot with water to make up the difference. Even though I was getting into harder drugs at the time, like crank, LSD, crack-cocaine, and whatever else I could get my hands on, weed was still my staple and I couldn’t live without it.
I started doing more drugs about the same time my dad increased his drinking. There was one incident in which my dad’s negligent drinking got him into serious trouble with my mom. It was when he and his buddy Dave threw a party that involved a stripper. My dad’s coworkers all knew he was married, but supposedly he got loose with the stripper that night in front of everyone at the party. My mom had been working at my dad’s company for the previous few years, so word quickly got back to her about the transgression. Soon after that, my mom kicked my dad out of the house. It wasn’t a big surprise to me, as Red’s sons and I had known for some time that my dad would take Red to Asian massage parlors. My dad moved in with Dave and gave up on his relationship with my mom. My mom was heartbroken, often crying on my shoulder and wondering why he wouldn’t come back to her. The last thing I remember about Ballantrae Street was the divorce, and that the only thing my dad wanted out of the divorce was our teacup poodle, Chula.
I wasn’t spending much time with my girlfriend Leela because she wasn’t into dope. I was heavily into drugs, so I started to hang out with Mike, Adam’s best friend, because he always had a stash, too. It was really nice having sex with Leela, but I wasn’t really into the relationship. I was just going through the motions and felt a bit bored with her. However, I had a sense of ownership over her, as if she were my possession, and I didn’t want to give her up. I didn’t know how to be in a relationship; I was a taker and didn’t know how to give anything back.
One day while I was cruising with Mike on the freeway, we pulled up alongside a brand new white Thunderbird. I looked over to check out the driver, as it was a cool car. At the wheel was a guy quite older than me with a mustache. I laughed to myself, thinking that the guy must have thought he was a stud. Well, it turned out that he must have been, because when I leaned over to check out his chick, I saw Leela sitting in the passenger seat. I thought, ‘What the hell?’ She didn’t notice me, so I didn’t say anything about it to her afterwards. But at that moment I made the decision never to trust women, even the good ones. I had always believed she was a good, solid girl who wouldn’t let me down, but she had.
A year or so later, I finally got the chance to bring up the incident. At the time I was only hanging out with my friends from Converse. One friend was throwing a party with a keg, so we were all getting wasted. There were a lot of high school kids there, including one seventeen-year-old girl from Converse named Kelly. I was really drunk that night, so I started hitting on her. I told her that I wanted to have children with her, saying whatever it took to get her into bed that night. I was with my friend Steve, so we brought Kelly and another girl back to my mom’s house. We got a ride from a woman who was picking up her party animal son and his friends. The lady was hot, and I was disappointed that Kelly was with me when I saw her, but there was nothing I could do about my wandering eyes. Kelly was like putty in my hands however, and I ended up taking her home that night.
For the next few days I would ride my bike to her house to hook up with her. After a few visits, I met her dad and acted like I wanted to date his daughter seriously. In reality I was still seeing Leela, but I was playing the part of the sincere suitor very convincingly. After some thought about whether I should be with Kelly or Leela, I decided on Leela. Not long after this decision, I visited her while she was working at her uncle’s Dunkin’ Donuts shop. She would often give me free samples, so while high with my friends, we stopped by for some treats. I went in to get a few dozen donuts, and afterwards, I kissed her goodbye.
A few days later when I went to pick her up in my mom’s truck, I noticed something was wrong. The vibe just wasn’t right. She would usually give me an intimate kiss, but this time she didn’t. Alarms went off in my head. When we got to my mom’s house, instead of going straight to my room like we usually did, she pulled me to the living room and told me that we needed to talk.
“Who, the fuck is Kelly?” She got straight to the point. Because I was high, I just started laughing. She then said, “Don’t laugh or I’ll slap your fucking face!”
Leela shared with me that while I was getting the donuts a few days earlier, Kelly and her dad had been in the shop. Leela told me that after I had left, Kelly’s dad said, “That boy’s an asshole!” Leela asked him why he’d said that, and he explained that I was courting his daughter. Kelly told Leela what I’d said about wanting to have kids with her and all of the other good stuff I had told her at the party. Everything came out, making me look like the asshole that I was.
This was my opportunity to finally pull out the ace I had kept up my sleeve for so long. I said, “Who was the guy in the white Thunderbird?” Leela was taken aback, but used the defense that she didn’t have sex with him, even though I hadn’t yet admitted to doing it with Kelly. I felt stuck in the conversation. There was nowhere to run so I said, “Ok, I fucked her! But I make love to you…” This seemed to help smooth things over a bit, but a few months later, just when things were getting back to normal, Leela and I were watching Eddie Murphy Raw. Eddie did a skit where he told his girlfriend the exact words I’d said to Leela. I hadn’t gotten the idea from him, but when Leela heard Eddie say what I told her, she looked at me and shook her head in disbelief.
During my eighteenth year, I went back to Bristol Place every now and then to hang out with my old friends. By this time, if we didn’t have anywhere to go we’d all meet at the truck-wash. It was like a self-serve carwash but with higher clearance. It had an elevated mesh platform that allowed you to wash the top of your truck with ease. People would always go to the truck-wash to hang out and drink. There was often trouble there, but always fun to be had.
One day, while high on acid, I climbed to the top of the landing and grabbed hold of the metal hose mount attached to the ceiling. Feeling like Superman, I swung around in a circle, twenty feet in the air. When I was back on the platform, I yelled down to Dicky to get his ass up and give it a try, but he refused. I called him a pussy and to prove my point, I decided to go for one more swing. The next thing I remember I was looking up from the ground, feeling like my back was broken. I guess I was out for a moment because Dicky came up to me and said, “Shit, I thought you were dead,” which scared the hell out of me. The acid combined with the impact made my head vibrate as though I had a powerful electricity surge running through my ears. I was scared out of my mind.
Dicky offered to take me to my mom, but I told him to leave because he was tripping out. Somehow, I managed to walk home. I walked in the front door to see my mom at the kitchen table putting on makeup for the night shift at work. I said to her, “I think I broke my back.” Far from reacting in the sympathetic, nurturing manner I expected, she said, “Goddammit! Get in the truck.” As we were driving, my mind was whirling. I began having morbid thoughts and flashbacks from childhood, tripping out with negative thoughts and emotions. At the hospital I had a bad trip. After wheeling me on my back into the x-ray area, the doctor asked me, “Can you open your eyes?” His voice was slow and weird. The fluorescent hospital lights seemed unbearably bright as my pupils were so dilated, and the bright lights had me shutting my eyes tight. I managed to pry my eyes open as he shined a flashlight into my pupils and gave a “Hmmm.” He then told me he was going to give me something to make me feel better. I was given a shot that made me throw up and come down off of my trip. I felt like a fool since my back no longer felt broken.
Miraculously, I was released shortly afterwards with only a bruised back muscle. I was also given Tylenol 3 with Codeine which I would take for pain, along with smoking pot. The two drugs together were an amazing high while in pain and allowed me to sleep for hours on end. I went back to get more pills when I was finished and the doctor only offered Motrin, but I refused. He told me I had an addictive personality so I left his office feeling resentful.
The truck-wash had a host of characters who would hang out, including one guy named Nunu who was a real asshole. One day out of the blue, he gave his little brother a cigarette to give to Tommy. Tommy got about halfway through smoking it before the firecracker inside it exploded in his face, leaving him shocked with ringing ears and a good-sized blister on his lip. Tommy ran over to the middleman and started pounding away, but the kid claimed he hadn’t known anything about the firecracker. The boy went and told his brother and soon Nunu showed up to give back to Tommy what Tommy had given to the messenger: an old-fashioned ass whoopin’. The fight ended with Nunu choking Tommy unconscious then kicking his head to wake him up. Tommy was muddy from the vicious assault, so we sprayed him down with the spray rinse at the truck-wash.
While both good and bad things went down at the truck-wash, one thing that happened was cool, while hanging out with the guys, I walked around the back to take a piss and by chance I laid eyes on a few marijuana plants just sitting in some weeds. In my excitement, I announced what I was thinking to my friends. We all raced towards the field, but I managed to grab the bigger of the two plants, wrestling it away from the other guys. It was our lucky day.
Months later, Dicky and I decided we wanted to get drunk at the truck-wash, so because I didn’t live in the neighborhood, I volunteered to steal beer from the nearby convenience store. After I’d pulled off the heist, Dicky and I went to the woods and drank six beers each. I then returned to the store and called my mom to pick me up because my car wasn’t working at the time. I decided I should hide up on the roof until she came, so as not to be seen.
With my great luck, the convenience store manager had already called the police. While I was climbing the roof I saw a police car pull in and instead jumped down and ran across the street towards the woods. I was almost on the other side when a motorcycle cop came from out of nowhere. He got off his bike and chased me around a car, yelling at me to stop running. Gasping for air, I told him that I wasn’t going to stop if he was going to kick my ass. He replied that he wouldn’t if I stopped right then and there, so I stood still and let him cuff me and place me in the squad car. That cop taught me a lesson that night. He said, “You can outrun five police officers, but you can’t outrun the Motorola.” Motorola is the brand name of radio used by most police departments.
That night I was able to sign myself out of jail on personal recognizance. The next day, after spending the night at my sister’s apartment, I took the bus to my mom’s house. When I got there I saw a sign taped to the garage window from the inside. It read:
You do not live here anymore,
My mom had filled my Cutlass up with all of my things, but since the car didn’t run, I couldn’t get very far. My dad lived about a mile away, so I called him up and he picked me up to live with him. He had already started a new life with another woman, so I immediately felt like a burden to him.
Around that time I started hanging out with a group of guys who were known as scammers. They would pull off small white-collar crimes for cash. There was a guy in the scammers’ circle named Todd who was basically the mastermind of the group. He had been a year ahead of me in school and was popular with the cooler kids who did cocaine, so because of him I was able to hang out with them as well. It was a big deal for me to fit in so I did what was necessary, which usually involved being used somehow. I always sensed I was being used but the benefits of being a part of the group outweighed that fact. Todd talked about his boss, an older guy named Jim, who operated a scam artist business. Jim wasn’t into drugs, just money, so he was pretty organized.
When Todd broke away from Jim, he stole some of his customers and brought me on board to do the cash pick-ups. We would leave town for a week at a time and run our scam from motel phones. I didn’t care much for the money,it was the drugs that I wanted. I was paid a dime bag per sale. Later on, I stole Todd’s sales pitch and with it his customers, although the pitch was initially handed down to him by Jim. Nobody will ever know how many generations of liars the scam was actually stolen from? As the saying goes, there’s no honor among thieves.
The scam for me was fun and thrilling and offered the reward of instant gratification. However, the price I would pay for committing such crimes would eventually cost me a much greater price tag than that charged by the law of cause and effect. Just like the lesson I learned from the cop who taught me that I could not outrun a Motorola. Cause and effect is a scientific law which cannot be evaded. For each dollar that I stole there was an immediate negative energetic effect occurring against me. It would be this negative effect that would gain massive momentum in my life and have me rolling downhill like a snowball headed for hell… Just like the song from Merle Haggard.
The scam worked like this: First, I would decide which business to target. We all loved Wal-Mart since they paid cash. “Always…” That was Wal-Mart’s slogan. “Always the lowest prices on the brand names you trust. Always…” So I would always call Wal-Mart and they would always pay cash. Some grocery stores also paid cash but those companies seemed to have caught on to our shenanigans because they stopped participating at one point, but Wal-Mart never seemed to figure things out.
Once I decided which Wal-Mart I was going to call on I would first find out what high school was closest to that location, especially since I needed to know which high school I was supposedly with. Sometimes I would be lazy and call the Wal-Mart pharmacy and ask the pharmacist what high school was closest and that would save me some time. When I got my answer I would go one further and ask them if they knew what that high school’s mascot was since I would need to know that information when I made the phone call to the manager, which was next. I became good at disguising my voice as a much older man with a southern drawl that sounded something like Jimmy Swaggart, and was equally full of shit.
I’d call the main number to the store and once I heard, “Thank you for calling Wal-Mart,” it was show time. My heart would start beating faster and I’d say, “Who’s the store manager there?” Unless it was a previously targeted manager I would need to find out the name of the mark. A mark is a name for a potential target of a scam. The person answering the phones would always give the manager’s first and last name but I would only refer to them by their first name and acted as if I knew them. For example if the manager’s name was David Smith, I’d say, “Hello David, this is Mike Thomas calling for Judson High School, how ya’ doin’ today?” They were always fine. Then I’d say, “Good…good…David, the reason for the call, we’re putting together our varsity boy’s 1988 football schedule. You know the big poster in the school colors with the game schedule on it for the season? We wanted to give you a call and see if you’d be good enough to go with the same ad that you had in our last schedule?”
There was already a lot of psychological manipulation that was occurring in the conversation by that point. The fact was, the managers spent a lot of money on advertising that wasn’t theirs. So when I explained confidently that they had a previous advertisement, and since I was a school authority, they had to believe it and they did, and so did I. The next question they always had next was: “How much is it?” And that’s when I knew I had them because I would make it nearly impossible for them to say no by explaining, “Last year it was $98.50 and this year it’s only $88.50. It went down ten dollars.” At that point they almost always said yes.
That’s when the angle came into play. Every con-artist needs an angle which distracts, pressures, bewilders or sets up a position of strength. This scam had it all. Because once they said yes I’d say, “Great! What I can do David, is have a boy stop by with an invoice, and we’ll go with that same ad.” It sounded so simple that they would always agree to it, not knowing that the bait had a big hook in it. First of all, they usually never had a previous ad. Secondly, I just told them that a boy would stop by and drop off an invoice. What I didn’t tell them was that the boy would be me with a new voice and I would do more than just drop off the invoice. I was already eighteen but looked much younger which lent to my award winning performance when I showed up.
I’d arrive dressed like the punk kid that I already was. Before entering I’d have an envelope in my hand that was prepared with official writing on the outside describing the ad type and mascot from the high school. Inside the envelope was one of the bogus invoices I stole from Todd that was meticulously created at a Kinko’s Printing shop. The invoice looked extremely official and had the name of his DBA on top, High School Poster Company. It showed the address and suite number of a location which was of course a mailbox number from Mailboxes Etc. It also had a phone number which I deleted. The format on the invoice was structured to contain important data to each project. It was also designed to do a couple other things.
When I met with the manager I’d shift my voice to a higher pitch and say, “Hello David? I’m here to pick up the ad you ordered.” A request to pick up their ad would confuse them momentarily since Mike Thomas told them over the phone that we were going to use the same ad, and it looked like I was just some dumb kid who had no clue to what was really going on. But that was just another angle and in fact, I was actually the only one who knew exactly what was going on. Usually they would take the envelope with a look of dismay, open it up and realize it’s time to pay up since at the bottom of the invoice it gave an option to check one of two boxes: check or cash, which was the pressure angle. Since a check would take days to generate and the manager already committed to the school authority, the only option to save face was to go into the register and pay cash. They wouldn’t be too happy about it and it showed. They would take the envelope and disappear somewhere in the back where the money was.
The waiting period was brutal and would really test the nerves because sometimes these managers would disappear out of sight for long periods of time. There was no way to tell what they were doing back there. I never knew if they were calling the high school or even the cops. I would inevitably experience an elevated heart rate every time out of fear of getting caught but if I smoked weed before I went in, the internal fear would be so intense at times that I could feel my heartbeat in my neck. But on the outside I was as cool as could be. Fortunately, the scam always went smoothly except that every now and then when I would be asked if I was with the high school. I would answer back confidently, “No, I’m with the printing company.” At the bottom of the invoice there was some small print that was extremely difficult to make out. The type of print you would need to have a magnifying glass to read. I found that by manually copying invoices rather than laser printing, the small print would smudge and be nearly impossible to read. But if you were one of those rare people with above average eyesight and a knack for solving puzzles you would be able to read: High School Poster Company is not affiliated with any school or organization. If the ad copy does not accompany payment High School Poster, Company will choose to make up such ad space.
Those two short sentences were my get out of jail free card. It plainly stated that I was not with the high school and that I could create the ad anyway I so chose if they did not give me an ad with the payment. What that meant to me was I didn’t even need to create an ad and could spend the money any way I wanted to, and I did.
During this time I was living with my dad and his new girlfriend in their home. I found refuge in my friends at the time because it seemed like I was a bit of a burden on my dad, being a grown man with a drug problem. I also hung out with the scammers on and off, when they had work for me. One summer night I found myself doing cocaine in the restroom at my dad’s place. The coke had been a bonus on top of the weed I was paid from Todd and I’d been able to stay high the whole previous week.
While I was in the middle of snorting the cocaine, my dad knocked on the door and asked me to go for a ride with him. In the truck, he asked me if I had stolen his necklace. I had stolen a bunch of cigarettes from my dad and a lighter used for lighting fireplaces because I thought it would be cool for lighting crack with Todd, but I hadn’t stolen the necklace, and told him so. Regardless of what I said, my reputation as the resident drug user preceded me. He asked me repeatedly, and because I was so high, I became really emotional.
Hurt and upset, I called Todd and had him pick me up. We stopped at Red’s house to get some acid from Jake so that I could trip out to get away from it all. We then went to a drug dealer’s house and I snorted more cocaine while on acid. It was the worst mix of drugs I had ever put into my body. My mind was racing with extreme paranoia and hallucinations. I felt lost, and had a really bad trip because of it. I didn’t want to go back to my dad’s house and I couldn’t go to my mom’s.
The next morning I called my mom anyway and told her what had happened with my dad. It had been less than a year since she kicked me out, but she let me come home because I didn’t have anywhere else to go. My mom had moved from Ballantrae Street, back to a house in Bristol Place. From that point on, I started doing more drugs than ever before, especially crack cocaine.
The Red Lumper Incident
It was 1988 and I was eighteen years old. I got a little freaked out about the frauds Todd and I were perpetrating and needed to cool off, so I started working as a porter at a body shop, washing cars, sweeping, throwing out trash, picking up after the painters, driving, and whatever else they needed me to do. It was the shit job of the shop. It sucked, and I hated working there, although I remained there for about a year.
The owner began to target me for petty offences. I was working for peanuts, getting up very early in the morning and generally working way too hard for the abuse I was taking. The detailers at the shop had what I thought were respectable positions, so I wanted the same treatment. Admittedly, I was a lazy pothead, but I always had the ambition to become more than what I was. I’m sure now it was my ego.
Being that I was eighteen, whenever I had twenty dollars to spare from work I would go to Nick’s Place bar with my uniform on, feeling like one of the boys. I felt addicted to the bar atmosphere and I loved shooting pool. Those two activities were all I could think about when I was at work sweeping the floor or washing cars. I just couldn’t wait to get off and go to the bar.
Nick, the owner, was an old Mexican cowboy who wore a white cowboy hat. Since he knew my dad well, he let me drink even though I was underage. The place smelled of cigarette smoke and was musty, but I felt at home there. The beers were cheap and the lighting from the jukebox and the pool tables made the whole place feel like a cave. The floor was cement and the bathroom smelled like piss and toilet bowl deodorizer. I loved the place, which was probably because I pretty much grew up in my mom’s bar in Pleasanton. She had become the manager there when I was four years old. I had shot pool there every day, even though I could barely reach the table.
I felt at home at Nick’s, listening to songs like Hotel California and old country music tunes by legendary artists on the jukebox. You could always count on the same music and the same people being there on any given day. A lot of these people worked at the same warehouse where my parents worked, so I knew them well. My dad, being the friendly bullshitter that he was, had a lot of friends. He had been with the company for nineteen years or so and was well respected. All I had to do was mention my last name and sometimes that alone would get me a drink. It was really satisfying to be treated so well.
One warm summer night, I drove my broken down ‘71 Cutlass to the bar. I was on top of the world that day because I had a whole sandwich bag of high-grade skunk weed, a treat that I only came across maybe three or four times during my entire smoking career in Texas.
I walked into the bar, and was pleasantly surprised to discover Red Lumper there!
“Hey, Wally,” he said in his smooth, cool Texas accent.
He asked me what I was up to, and I told him I was cruising around smoking some skunk. I was super proud of that.
“Smoke one with me,” he said.
This was weird to me because I’d never smoked out with him before and he was my dad’s buddy whom I respected more than anyone. But due to that same respect, I agreed. We went outside and got into my Cutlass. I twisted up a joint for us and gave him one for the road.
After smoking out, I felt like business as usual. However, I didn’t realize that because Red didn’t get high all that often, the weed was pretty intense for him to smoke. For me, on the other hand, there was no real getting high because weed was such an important part of my life, I just stayed high.
Back at the bar, he was acting really chilled out. I was back to being my regular obnoxious self. I always had something to prove to everyone, so by this time in my life I was fighting all the time. I got my ass kicked a lot, but I would get lucky every now and then.
I was feeling frisky, and it began to look like I might have a chance at victory, especially because Red Lumper, the war vet, had my back. As we sat there drinking, I overheard two Army guys in the corner of the bar call the waitress a bitch. Because I knew the waitress and had Red at my side, I wanted to show how tough I was.
“Hey listen. Why don’t you get the fuck out of here!” I said to the two guys.
Nasty words were exchanged, but nothing major went down. Nevertheless, the next thing I knew, the waitress says,
“I just called the cops on you!” ‘You called the cops on me?! What about the guy who called you a bitch?’ I wondered.
Red and I panicked and both decided to get the hell out of Dodge. We took off in different directions and I drove off and didn’t look back. The police pulled Red over in his truck and gave him his seventh DWI. Soon after, Red went to prison at the Texas Department of Corrections for two and a half years. I always felt terrible about that, as though I had been responsible.
Some months later, I was sweeping up at the auto body shop and noticed an electric buffer sitting all by itself looking lonely. While everyone was out for lunch, I thought, ‘Hey, why don’t I see what this buffer business is all about?’ The buffer was next to a blue Dodge Colt that a cranky, dissatisfied customer had brought in for the second time. I took a bit of wax compound and rubbed it on the buffer. I noticed the car’s fiberglass antenna, and remembered that the detailers would always take them off before they worked on a hood. Back then I was always looking for shortcuts in life, so I thought, ‘I don’t know what the big deal is. I’m smart enough to do this without taking it off.’
I started the machine up, trying to get it really close to the antenna. Well, apparently, when these appliances get going, tiny wool fibers stretch beyond what appears to be the edge of the buffer. I soon found out why they took off the antenna. It got caught on the wool, broke off, and went flying down towards the hood. On its own, this might not have been so bad, but at the top of the antenna was a steel ball that caused a nice ding when it came slamming down.
Having made a lot of these kinds of mistakes
in my life, I decided on one of my standard routines for when things went bad: running and/or lying. Nobody had seen me, so I put the buffer down and unscrewed the base of the antenna that was still attached. I then walked over to the back fence of the shop and threw the pieces as far as I could into some weeds. Casually, I returned to sweeping.
After lunch, the shop foreman, approached me and asked if I had seen the antenna. He was worried about how the Dodge Colt owner would react. He asked me to help him so I acted like I was looking for it around the shop but coming up empty, he got a steel antenna from another car, ground it down and jammed it into the hole. The radio still didn’t work. The foreman told the customer he needed to order a new antenna, and he left it at that. Nobody ever noticed the ding, and I was never questioned about it again.
Time went by, and while I didn’t get busted for that incident, I was often reprimanded for other things. The body shop owner had a boyfriend who was a cocaine addicted big-shot welder with a high-tech dually truck. I think he was looking for a cash cow and thought he’d found one in the owner. As the porter, I had to use the water hose often, and one day while high, I accidentally left it in the middle of the driveway. As I pulled into the driveway behind the wheel of the boyfriend’s dually, he came out of the shop yelling for me to stop. I ignored him and ran over the hose head. I got out of the truck and the boyfriend immediately got in my face, shaking the hose as if he was going to hit me with it.
“You dumb motherfucker!” he yelled.
The foreman pulled me aside. He said I had three strikes left before I was going to get fired. I had been working there for over a year, and I was pissed off. I had it in my head that I was underappreciated and deserved a promotion.
There was one guy Fernando who I got along with really well. He had a cool California-style VW bug that was lowered and tricked-out. The guy was a good detailer and a hard worker. He quit the day before the hose incident, and I came up with the idea that I would step up and show them I was ready to be promoted. It was March, 1989 and my nineteenth birthday, so while stoned, I went to the buffer, picked it up and started buffing. The foreman walked over to me and asked me what I was doing.
“I’m buffing cars. I’m a detailer now, dude. I’m tired of being a porter,” was my only reply.
“You’re not a detailer,” he answered. “You’re a porter, and you need to go clean up the restroom. The toilet’s fucked up.”
He walked away, but returned a few minutes later and said, “Hey, listen. I told you to clean up the restroom. That’s strike one.”
“Hey man, I told you. I’m not a porter anymore, I’m a detailer,” I argued.
He wasn’t going for it. “Look, I told you to clean up the restroom. That’s strike two.”
I knew strike three was right around the corner, so I said, “You know what? Strike three! I’m outta here!”
I told Fernando, the detailer who had just quit, what had happened. He felt sorry for me since it was my birthday, and not knowing how irresponsible I was, he offered to rent me his bug for the weekend for twenty bucks. Since I had just collected my last check I decided to take him up on the offer. The next day I headed out to the coast to party at my annual spring break spot in Port Aransas. The new porter, my replacement, came along with me.
I didn’t have as much money this time, so I decided that we’d skip a hotel and just sleep in the car. My new buddy and I parked in a sand lot next to the beach and started drinking. Two guys approached us that really liked the Bug, and because they were old enough to buy alcohol, I pretended to be cool with them. One was a tall, geeky white guy, and the other was a short guy who had a New York accent, which bugged me. These guys turned out to be alright after all, and we partied all day with them. Then, later that evening, a few Mexican ranchers joined us. They seemed cool enough, but we knew immediately they weren’t the type of guys that messed around, and they seemed to be somewhat glum with a negative vibe.
By early nightfall, I was wasted from a day full of tequila shots and beer bongs. Out of the blue, the New Yorker cried out that he had lost his wallet. After we all looked for it, one of the ranchers found it and gave it to him. When the New Yorker looked inside, he yelled out, “All of my money’s gone!”
The next thing I knew, the tall, geeky guy ran over and started kicking the rancher’s ass. The Mexican guy’s brother was right next to me, and because I was always up for trouble, I threw a high kick at him feeling like I was Bruce Lee, aiming for his chin. Being sloppy drunk, I hit his shoulder and fell on my back. Right away the guy jumped on me and started pounding me hard. I covered the front of my face to protect it, but the guy began throwing hooks and landing them on my jaw. The hits were good, solid punches, but they didn’t hurt me. I was too drunk to feel a thing. When the guy finally got off of me, I stood up, stumbled into the car and fell fast asleep.
Soon thereafter, the Mexican guys came back. They opened the car door and woke me up with a nice kick to the thigh. Stunned and surprised I got out and was instantly surrounded by an entire Mexican family standing in a U shape. One guy, who looked like the big brother, now held a knife. They looked at me and realized that I wasn’t the geek who had started the fight, but I was still recognized as his accomplice.
The leader’s girlfriend yelled, “Get him, Pepe!”
Right then, the geek came out of nowhere with a shiny revolver in his hand.
He cocked it loudly and said, “You want some shit?!” The ranchers immediately turned and started walking away. I ran up to the one called Pepe and kicked him deep in his ass as hard as I could, like I was trying to punt a football. I gave it everything I had. He grabbed his ass and moaned as he turned away. His girlfriend turned to me and yelled, “Asshole!” Being the classy guy that I was, I spit in her face.
My porter buddy hid behind the car the whole time, watching everything from a distance, even though there was a bat in the back seat that he could have used to defend us. We got back in the car and drove a few miles to sleep in a deserted area called Mustang Island where elderly people in RV’s would camp out.
The next morning I limped inside a Dairy Queen, but could barely move my jaw enough to eat a hamburger. All of the feeling in my body had returned, and I was hurting all over. The weekend that was supposed to cheer me up from getting fired was a disaster. You never knew what to expect when 30,000 Texas high school and college students got together to get drunk and act crazy. The year before, there had been a mini riot with four victims being stabbed, too many fistfights to count, and a car set on fire, the driver of which later running into a girl and breaking her arm. It was such a big deal, I heard there were police helicopters flying overhead trying to disperse the crowd. Another drunk guy drove off a ferry. His and his passengers’ bodies were taken out of the vehicle after it was pulled out of the Gulf waters. Miraculously, I was able to give the Bug back to my buddy in the same condition I had received it, and got home in one piece.
I was tired of working manual labor jobs, so I got a job at the Texas State Trooper’s Association as a telemarketer, calling people to ask for donations. They trained me to speak with an authoritative voice so that people would think they were talking to a police officer. The job paid about seventy-five dollars a week, so when I was paid on Friday, I would be broke by Monday. I was able to get Dicky a job there as well, and we would often smoke weed during our break in the truck of our co-worker, a thirty-year-old, ex-con redneck surfer named Bruce. Bruce, like Dicky and I, got the job because his parents wanted him to stop bumming around. The only difference was that Bruce’s family was wealthy and he lived with them.
Shortly after I started working for the State Trooper’s Association, there was a big outdoor annual party called La Semana Alegre with live music and a lot of alcohol. Bruce offered to take me in his truck along with one of his older buddies, so I tagged along. I was still on probation for the beer heist, and shouldn’t have even been there, but I thought that the rewards of attending the party would far outweigh any potentially negative consequences. To stay out of trouble, I wore a Town and Country surfer tank top which bore a big Yin and Yang symbol on it to show my peaceful intentions. It said, “Surf for Peace. Make Love not War.”
Pat Travers had just taken the stage when we arrived. Watching the show I got separated from Bruce and his friend, so I asked some older guy and his girl to buy me some beers. I gave him my tickets and turned to watch the concert. I turned around to look for the guy in one of the keg lines and the next thing I knew he was gone. I spotted a guy and a woman walking past me with beers in their hand and figured it must be them. I went up to the guy and asked him, “Bro, where are my beers?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, man,” he replied as he started walking away. I thought, ‘Oh hell no! You’re not going to rip me off!’ “Where in the fuck are my beers?!” I demanded. His drunken girlfriend came up and pushed me. “Get the fuck out of here!” she hissed.
The guy then set his beer on the ground, cuing me that he was going to get physical. As soon as he rose up and before he had a chance to do anything, I nailed him with a hard straight punch to the forehead that knocked him out onto his back. As he began to convulse, the crowd around us let out a terrible, “Oohhh!” I looked at his hand and saw he was gripping a whole roll of beer tickets, so I reached down and grabbed them. As I was standing up, his girlfriend attacked me, digging her nails into my neck from behind. I turned around and laid her out cold with a hard punch to the jaw. When her ass dropped hard the crowd let out an “Aahhh!” My final mental picture of that couple is of both of then napping on the asphalt.
By then, even more people had gathered to gawk at my handiwork. I prepared myself for an attack, but I think the fact that the girl had jumped on me first prevented repercussions since it was a fair fight. I looked up and noticed I had the full attention of two police officers who were looking down from the watchtower overhead. I’m sure they called the incident in on their walkie-talkies, but I left the scene before ground units got there. That time I did outrun the Motorola! I was free and had a handful of beer tickets. Later, after further review, I always felt I had the wrong guy. With all those beer tickets he had in his possession, it didn’t make any sense that he would have needed to rip me off for two beers.
So after that altercation my peace tank top was ripped and now looked like a toga. With a nasty scratch on my bloody neck and blood all over my shirt, I decided that I might as well use the crazy look and the gore factor to my advantage. The crowd let me pass as I plowed through slowly politely saying “Excuse me.” I managed to get all the way to the front of the stage, about ten feet away from Pat Travers which would not have been possible had I not looked psycho. He was singing, Snortin’ Whiskey, Drinking Cocaine. I was in the front row now, watching him jam on his guitar with the wind blowing through his hair. His eyes locked on me and he got a good, long look at the mess I had made of myself, but I was having an awesome time and felt victorious and amped up.
I had to take a piss, so I started towards the bathroom. Miraculously, I bumped into Bruce and his buddy. They looked me up and down and Bruce said, “Damn, what happened to you?”
I replied, “I got into some shit! Check it out! I got beer tickets! Let’s party!”
They looked at each other, shrugged their shoulders, and followed me to the beer. By the time we had used up all of the tickets, I was completely wasted. I was glad to share with Bruce, as he was such a cool guy, although underneath I was still trying to buy friends, much like I had done with Dicky, Tommy and the other guys. We partied the rest of the night and I never got arrested.
Soon after the concert, Bruce got fired after not
showing up to work for a few days. Dicky and I felt bad for him and smoked a farewell joint with him in his truck in the parking lot. When he finally left, his parting gift to the company was to back his monster tire equipped truck onto a big garden of Indian Hawthorne shrubs that was right in front of the office, crushing them all. That was the last time I ever saw Bruce.
Not long after I began telemarketing at the Trooper’s Association, I quit, realizing I was pretty good at the job and could easily earn more money at a place that paid base pay plus commission. I quickly found a new position at a place called AAA Carpet Cleaning. The owner was a young guy named Mike who happened to be a party animal. I was naïve back then, and didn’t know that while most carpet cleaning companies advertised steam cleaning at rock bottom prices, they made their real money by upselling at the residence. This strategy worked well, because steam cleaning doesn’t get the stains out of carpets, a fact the technician would soon demonstrate.
My job was to smile and dial and make cold calls to potential customers whose houses were all located within the same vicinity. This way the cleaners could cover an entire neighborhood at once. With commissions, I quickly found that I could make twice what I was making at the Texas Troopers Association, and this made me really happy. I was a talented and persuasive salesman, bringing in more business than anyone else in the office, so even when I showed up late, or occasionally not at all, they kept me on.
After a month of working there, the building caught on fire and we had to move to the building next door. At our new location we got a new manager, but she wasn’t very good at her job. Before long, the owner came up to me and made a proposal. He told me that if I showed up on time for five days in a row, he’d name me the new manager, which paid more than twice what I was making. This sounded like a good deal to me. I showed up on time for the first four days in a row, but by day five I got cocky, figuring that the job was in the bag. I strolled in late.
“You fucked up,” said the owner, glaring at me. “You blew your shot!”
He was angry that I wasn’t living up to the potential he saw in me. He wanted something bigger and better for me, but I blew it. I became resentful and started looking for a new job.
I found another telemarketing job in the newspaper and lasted there a few months, but I needed to move on. I was tired of working for other people. I wanted to do something with my life, to be an independent man. I was still doing occasional jobs for Todd, but I decided to break away from him and open my own DBA, which is also called a fictitious business name. Mine was really fictitious. I called it H.S. Publishing Company to resemble something aligned with high schools.
To run my scam, I took on my buddy Gabriel. I also hired a guy through an ad I placed in the paper. He didn’t seem trustworthy and acted like he wasn’t on my side. He seemed to be the type of guy that would snitch if we ever got busted, so I soon dropped him, even though it meant Gabriel and I now had to rent a car instead of using his. Despite this setback, I convinced Leela to use her credit card and rent a car for me with the promise to pay her on time for the rental. We ran the scam in cities all over Texas.
One night in Dallas I decided we should drive an hour to Oklahoma while drinking margaritas. Tequila had become a favorite of mine even though it turned me into an idiotic maniac. After driving a ways, we stopped at the Waffle House where we took on their all-you-can-eat menu with gusto. The next thing I remember, I was regaining consciousness near the Oklahoma border. I was later told that the Waffle House manager almost called the cops on me for being obnoxious and talking crazy. I didn’t remember any of it since I was in a black-out.
We arrived in Oklahoma and started running our football team schedule scam. Unfortunately for us, people in Oklahoma weren’t obsessed about high school football like they were in Texas, where it was almost a religion. My sales in Oklahoma were non-existent. Another problem in Oklahoma was that we were supposed to set everything up on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and then do our pick-ups on Thursday and Friday. But because I was so disorganized, it rarely went down like that. My workdays would end early due to my terrible work ethic, and this was reflected in my poor sales, all of which began to depress me so much that I would drink liquor just to stop thinking about what was actually happening. It was a vicious cycle that I couldn’t find a way out of.
Gabriel was driving us back from Oklahoma on Interstate 35, when we were pulled over by public safety officers. They let us go, but once they drove off, I pulled out the margarita mix and tequila and we commenced our serious drinking. I felt like Superman with all the tequila pumping through my veins. I decided I wanted to drive and took the wheel from Gabriel. We made it back to Dallas and were just about to hit Austin when I started driving aggressively, rapidly changing lanes and speeding. That, of course, led to my first DWI. I was arrested and because I was from out of town, the cops wouldn’t release me on my own personal recognizance, and my mom had to come bail me out. The cops let Gabriel take the car home since he wasn’t as intoxicated as I was. He dropped the vehicle off with Leela who then returned it to the rental company where she paid two thousand dollars for damages sustained during my drunken sprees. I was hanging out a lot with Red’s sons again. They had recently moved closer to my mom’s house. I had known them for over ten years, and by now we were more like family. We hung out at a bar belonging to a lumper named Wolfman, so named because of his big beard and wolfish looks. He bought the place after he was T-boned by an old lady while he was tripping on acid. The car accident broke half his body, leaving him with a permanent limp and walking with a cane. After all was said and done, he was paid a large sum from the settlement, which gave him the means to buy the bar.
He was heavily into dealing drugs and planned to set up shop at the bar, making money from all angles. Because he was a convicted felon, however, he couldn’t own a bar, so instead he put it in his friend’s name. The name of the bar was Kimo Sabe’s, or Friends, which was pretty ironic considering the violent clientele. To his credit, Wolfman had hired an artist to spray paint beautiful murals all over the walls, practically turning it into an art gallery, replete with paintings of the Lone Ranger and Tanto, unicorns and naked women. The work was amazing, but the people did not compare, as they were mostly crank-using dopers and bikers.
One night after a profitable week of scamming, I showed up at Kimo Sabe’s all duded up, sporting a new wardrobe. I had a dark-green striped George Straight shirt with a bolo tie, Levi’s 501 jeans, a new belt and black Justin Roper cowboy boots. I also brought a half-gallon of whiskey in with me, as you were allowed to bring your own alcohol if you bought sodas to mix with. Two of Red’s sons, Jake and Possum, were there with me, and I was feeling on top of the world, just like a VIP.
As I placed bets on a game of pool I’d started up with a stranger, the universe conspired to get me in trouble as I drank myself into oblivion. The story goes that all of the following events occurred:
Jake said to me, “Hey, check out that transvestite.” I looked over and saw what sure enough appeared to be a transvestite sitting at the bar with a biker.
The guy I was playing pool with began to agitate me. We were only playing for five bucks, but every time he made a shot I would get more and more upset, calling him an asshole. I was so drunk during the game though that the guy had to tell me whenever it was my shot.
Somehow, I got it in my head the guy was cheating. I had been thrown out of the bar on two previous occasions, so the management always kept an eye on me.
The guy to whom I’d sold my Cutlass was at the bar. The guy was smart, but because he was a bit crazy and had a speech impediment, most people thought he was slow. I had specifically sold it to him because he seemed trustworthy and I wanted it in good hands. My beef with him was that while initially he had held onto the car and fixed it up, he soon let his roommate take off with it. I had an emotional attachment to the Cutlass. I wanted my buddy to have that car, not his friend. So I held a grudge.
I took on the duty of warning the burly biker not to get tricked. I walked up next to him at the bar and said, “Hey man, can I talk to you?” He turned towards me, out of earshot of his companion.
“Hey bro, this chick you’re with is a dude,” I responsibly informed him. In an angry drawl, the guy said, “What the hell you talking about? That’s my old lady!”
I blew him off with no apology and walked over to use the bathroom. Inside I saw the guy to whom I’d sold the car. I vaguely remember exchanging some words with him and roughing him up by his shirt collar. The next thing I knew, the guy stumbled out of the bathroom and landed on a table full of people, knocking drinks over. As soon as I exited the bathroom, Wolfman’s co-owner appeared and grabbed me by both arms from behind to escort me out of the bar. I knew the routine, and didn’t put up a fight, but oddly enough I was led to the back of the bar this time instead of the front.
When we got out back, the biker with the transvestite wife was waiting for me. I don’t remember anything else but I must have been held up while the biker gave me at least three solid hits to the face. A perfectly beautiful black ring formed around my eye with a red eyeball at its center. My nose was busted and he also managed to chip a couple of my teeth for good measure. When I got up off the ground I asked Possum and Jake, who hit me, but knowing it was a battle we couldn’t win, they just said, “C’mon, let’s go!” I ranted the whole way home.
Possum went back to the bar about a week later with another coworker from the warehouse. Possum was underage at the time, but he was allowed in. He later told me that as he was drinking his beer, the biker who had kicked my ass approached to him and asked how my eye was doing. This set Possum off. He had no tolerance for disrespect and this quality had earned him his notorious reputation for hurting people. Possum ignored the biker and calmly told his coworker that they should leave. He then drove to his house to retrieve his .357 Smith & Wesson revolver and immediately returned to the bar to handle the biker on his own terms.
When they got back it was after hours, but Possum still managed to order another beer. He noticed that the biker was sitting at the bar on the other side of the old, frail in-house security guard, Cowboy. He went into the bathroom to check the gun, and when Possum came out he opened fire on the biker. Huge white flashes of fire from his gun illuminated the dark bar as a bullet struck the biker. Possum also accidentally shot Cowboy in the arm, but fortunately the bullet went right through Cowboy’s flesh and there were no complications. The biker was hit in the leg, which was Possum’s favorite spot since he never intended to kill anyone but wanted to make his point clear. After the incident, word spread that the biker left the state in the hopes of avoiding any more trouble.
For the next few days, the police came to investigate, but nobody was talking, not even Cowboy. This was a good thing for Possum as well as the bar, as Possum was underage and drinking after hours. But when the local police didn’t get anywhere with the case, the state picked it up and they were able to link the shooting to another bar-shooting incident involving Possum from a few weeks earlier. Possum spent thousands in legal fees to hire one of the best lawyers in town and managed to get off pretty light, serving only nine months in jail.
“It don’t hurt unless you resist.”
It was New Year’s Eve and Todd had thrown a party. A lot of hardcore drug thugs showed up at the house. Somebody lit fireworks in the yard. Todd drank a lot of liquor that night, and I guess I was pretty wasted too, because the next day I was told that I had yelled, “Fire out front!” before I stopped-dropped-and-rolled to put it out. The guys called me the life of the party and took a liking to me because of my recklessness. I was working for Todd again, and that night I had almost gotten into a fight with Bobby, and other driver, which made a good impression on the guys there for some reason. They were very selective of whom they let in their circle, but after that night they told Todd I was cool.
Another time while we were out of town scamming, I got into a scuffle with Bobby over the last beer in the motel room. At this time I was a full-fledged alcoholic, drinking every night until I passed out. I was also tripping on acid, so that didn’t help the situation. I won the fight, but that night the guys all decided that I had to stay in my own room for being antisocial. After that, there was bad blood between Bobby and me for some time. Once, while he was passed out from drinking, I lit matches between his toes and let them burn out. He moaned and rubbed his feet together, but didn’t wake up, so kept on until he had burns between each of his toes. I then gave him a super-wedgie and pulled his underwear up over his shoulders and made him look like he was wearing very tight suspenders that curled him into a semi-fetal position. I remember Todd and I laughing our asses off at how ridiculous he looked. A week or two later, while fighting to ride shotgun back to San Antonio from Houston, he kicked my ass.
After Houston we hit Beaumont, a town near the Louisiana border, and did about a day’s worth of scamming. While lounging in the hotel room, the guys asked me to drive the rental car back to Houston to pick up a half-ounce of marijuana and a sixteenth ounce of cocaine, all on loan from our dealer. Todd was pushing me to do the hour and a half drive alone, and I felt I needed some beer to get me through it. One of Todd’s money partners was against me drinking and driving and wouldn’t let me take any of the beer. Todd, on the other hand, didn’t care. We made a secret deal that he would buy me a six-pack of 16-ounce beers for my trip, and I was on my way.
Ten miles outside of Houston, I was pulled over for speeding. I hid all of my beer and used a high-tech method that I created to prevent cops from smelling my breath: letting as little air out as possible while talking. The cop detected nothing suspicious and let me go with a speeding ticket.
I went and got the weed, but there was no cocaine. I rolled up a big joint and smoked it in the car while driving back to Beaumont. As I passed through the same city in which I’d gotten the ticket, I was pulled over a second time. I quickly hid the weed and alcohol and showed the cop my other citation. He didn’t care though and sent me on my way with another fine. I finished the rest of the beers and threw the last can out the window.
I had finally entered Jefferson County, where Beaumont was located, and as I passed the 65 to 55 speed limit sign, a Texas state trooper in a 5.0 Mustang pulled me over for doing 90, and started questioning me. I was dressed in slacks and a dress shirt and had a lot of invoices and posters in the trunk, so they might have thought I was a salesman. When they asked me where I was going, I made the mistake of telling them I was going back to my hotel. Where was it, they wanted to know. I acted like I didn’t remember the name of it, and that I wasn’t exactly sure how to get there by street names. They didn’t like this, and started getting angry. I was told to get out of the car.
The trooper looked me up and down and in his thick Texas accent he asked,
“What’s that bulge in your pants.” “That’s my thing, sir,” I replied. He looked me square in the eye and told me,
“That ain’t your Johnson, boy. Why don’t you go ahead and zip it on down.”
Although I was buzzing, I had the sense to ask him what the consequences would be if I refused. He would kick the shit out of me, he informed me. I took his word for it and unzipped my pants. I handed him the bag of weed and was immediately shoved against the rental car with my hands behind my back. The trooper twisted one of the cuffs on the inner part of my thumb, which was apparently a hurtful trick they used to pinch the nerve of the thumb. I started yelling in pain.
The trooper leaned in, and in a slow drawl he whispered something that I will never forget:
“It don’t hurt unless you resist.” For months afterwards, I couldn’t feel part of my thumb.
I didn’t talk much on the way to the jail so the cops never realized I was drunk, perhaps because they figured my eyes were red from marijuana. The next morning Todd and the guys forked over the $250 bail. They never asked me to repay it since I was working for drugs. All the risks I took were due to my low self-worth.
While I was living at my mom’s, I laid low for about eight or nine months. I had a friend named Dion, a dangerous 220-pound young man who had been kicked out of the army due to LSD-induced schizophrenia. One day Dion and I, along with, some recent high school grad, all decided to drink a few quarts of beer next to the local car wash. When we ran out, we convinced the new guy to steal some beer from the same store I had been arrested at. He came through, and as we drank the stolen beers in the alley behind the car wash, sirens began to sound off.
We quickly climbed up a ladder onto the roof of an industrial building next door to watch for the cops, but a few minutes later an officer showed up and drew his gun on us, (a first for me). We climbed down, and when he asked for my name, I gave an alias. While it might have worked, I made the mistake of giving my real birthday, so with that the cops somehow figured out my real identity. They discovered my warrant and decided to book me on criminal trespassing.
On the drive to the station I had to urinate. I told the officer, but he said not to worry, that we would arrive in a couple of hours. He was being a jackass, so I decided that I would be a jackass too and piss in the car. Because I was so skinny, I was able to reach around, unzip my pants and pull out my goods. Dion saw my penis and freaked out, loudly demanding to know what I was doing and alerted the officer who repeated the question. When I announced I was going to pee, the cop’s only threat was that I would have to clean it up. I decided that it wasn’t such a bad deal and let it go before I burst. The warm pee felt uncomfortable as it drained down to my seat bottom. Later when the cop took me out of the car and uncuffed me, my wet pants startled him. I told him it was piss, but he never made me clean it up like he said.
Ineligible for bail due to my warrant, I was taken to the new Bexar County Jail to serve my thirty days before appearing in court. This would amount to what is called time served. After your time served was completed, the judge would usually release you on the spot if you didn’t get into any more trouble while doing your sentence.
Once inside the jail, I was assigned to a work detail in the basement. It was basically one big open room with dozens of cots. Most of the people there weren’t hard-core criminals, so it was low security with a lot of freedom. Nevertheless, since this was my first 30-day stretch in jail, I was a little worried.
To pass the time, like many other convicts, I dove into the Bible and cigarettes, as back then we were allowed to smoke in jail. Most used their hard-earned money to buy rolling tobacco, but if you really had it going on, you would have Marlboro’s with filters.
On my work detail I was made to wear rubber boots and a hairnet. I stood on an assembly line making paper bag lunches for the guys who were going to court. The great thing about the detail was that we were able to steal the food and eat it in the bathroom. It was almost as if we were allowed to steal it, because they never mentioned it, even though there was a pile of milk cartons and apple cores next to the toilet. This was one of the only times I gained weight, and it was partly due to the shortage of alcohol and narcotics. I obsessed about doing drugs often, and sometimes even lost sleep over it.
When I showed up for my court date, I wasn’t lucky enough to be released with my time served. Instead, I was put on hold because of the warrant from Beaumont. The Jefferson County Jail had three days to pick me up, but on day three the kitchen managers approached me and asked to inspect my boots. When they found some food I’d stolen, they ushered me from the basement to the first floor, pretending to make an example out of me. The jeans I had pissed in were waiting for me upstairs along with two really big cops from Jefferson County Jail. I put the clothes on and they felt fine, as the piss had dried up during the thirty-three days I’d been incarcerated. On the way to Jefferson County, the guards stopped at McDonald’s drive thru for one of the best tasting meals I’d ever eaten at that restaurant. I don’t know why, but they bought me a kid’s meal. Maybe it was a psychological manipulation.
Upon arrival at Beaumont, I donned the standard issue dark-green jumpsuit. Just like the first time, they told me to spread my cheeks while they inspected closely with a flashlight. They also gave me sandals, a toothbrush and toothpaste, pencil and paper, a bar of soap, a mattress and a pillow. Instead of going to the holding tank like on my first visit to the jail, I was instead directed to the fifth floor area for real convicts. On the elevator going up, I began to realize what kind of position I was in. My previous time in the holding tank I had heard it was an all-black jail and that they made sure to beat down any incoming white guys.
The jail was old and smelled the part. It was one of the few facilities left that still had bars. I was told to wait outside the guard’s operation control area. In the first cell, a few feet from where I stood, I heard a
“psst.…” I looked down and saw a black guy with orange hair lying on his stomach on the floor.
“Hey man,” he whispered.
I looked over at him and said,
“I’ll give you a Starcrunch if you let me touch your ass…”
He was referring to a Little Debbie snack, and this was not the type of thing a straight guy wants to hear his first few minutes in jail. Fear gripped me, but I knew the rules: you cannot act afraid.
“Just one?” I replied as casually as possible.
The guy didn’t respond. Just then the guard showed up to take me to my cell at the end of the hall. My cell had two bunk beds with four mattresses in total. I then learned that the four beds were all occupied and that the mattress I had been given was for me to use on the floor. Aside from the beds, the only other objects in the cell were a toilet and a sink.
The inmate running our cell had been arrested for using crack in a motel. He called the shots and had us do things like bow our heads and pray before meals. I guess his way of repaying society for his wrongs was to show us all the way. The guy proclaimed his innocence, and apparently the other three guys were also innocent victims of circumstance. As I soon learned, everyone in the entire jail was innocent.
The guys started questioning me, trying to figure out what I was all about. I told them I was a weed addict, and the word spread. Later that day a trustee, someone who had extra privileges like delivering books, came up to me and offered me pot. The guy was known for climbing the bars of the cells from one floor to the next, so I was leery of him and did not accept his gift. It messed with my head, though. I wanted to get high so badly that I was on the verge of smoking banana peels; a delicacy I had heard would do the trick.
In the rectangular-shaped dayroom we were allowed to watch basic TV, except during movie time when the movie 48 Hours, starring Eddie Murphy as an undercover cop, was playing on an endless loop. The other inmates didn’t appear to mind or see the irony. I always thought it was a mind game. There was a buzzer called a snitch button by the front door in the dayroom, which would alert the guards if you were in trouble. To the left of the door was a giant steel table with steel seats and in the corner was an exposed toilet. I vowed to myself that I would never use that toilet.
During my first visit to the dayroom I met a Vietnamese guy, one of the only other non-black inmates. We instantly gravitated towards each other and started talking. Supposedly he knew some type of martial art, so none of the black guys messed with him, and during my stay, he was one of the only people I talked to.
After breakfast on my third day, the Vietnamese guy gave me three cigarettes before going back to his cell. I smoked one right away, and saved the other two for later. As I was sitting in the dayroom, what I had been trying to avoid for the previous two days was becoming a reality. Maybe it was the breakfast, or maybe the cigarette, but nature began to call. Once inside the dayroom, we weren’t allowed to leave until lunchtime, and soon I could no longer hold it in. I had no choice but to use the exposed toilet while the others sat watching TV just ten feet away. A young, spunky Bob Barker was hosting The Price is Right. I put my two cigarettes on the back of the toilet, unzipped my green, one-piece jumpsuit and dropped it down to my ankles, and sat there virtually naked. Looking tough was everything in jail, but this was easier said than done when doing number two in the dayroom.
As I sat there on the can, a door that I had never noticed before slowly opened right next to the toilet, making a strange, mechanical noise. I couldn’t believe it. But an even bigger surprise awaited me. In bounced the guy with orange hair that had offered me a Starcrunch to touch my ass. With him were his three cellmates, all of whom were pumped, breathing hard and sweating, as if they had just finished playing a game of basketball. The orange haired guy, who they referred to as Shorty, appeared to be the leader of the group. Even though he was the smallest of the three, he still ran shit, a phenomenon that I witnessed in many cliques throughout my stints in jail.
“Give me a cigarette!” said Shorty in an aggressive irritated voice as he approached me.
He wasn’t asking, he was demanding. I knew I was in trouble. Not wishing to give in too easily however, I paused, pretending to consider it. I handed the cigarette over as calmly as I could, but it was a façade; inside I was scared shitless.
He grabbed it and walked over to the entrance, deliberately standing in front of the snitch button. It didn’t really matter, anyway, because I wasn’t about to sentence myself to the life of a jailhouse rat. He and his buddies talked amongst themselves in hushed voices, like thieves plotting a bank heist. I finished my business quickly, moving with intention towards the steel table by the wall. Just then, one of the non-aggravated felons started instigating by beating a rhythm on the steel table while rapping a popular song. The lyrics went like this: “Who’s the black sheep? What’s the black sheep?” I knew he was alluding to my skin color, which made me even more uncomfortable, as the tension in the dayroom began to rise.
My back was up against the bars. As Shorty and his dogs came towards me, I noticed that I was a few inches taller than the leader, though he was much thicker. In addition, his two buddies were both taller and more muscular than me, as I only weighed about 130 pounds at the time. I calculated that the odds were stacked against me.
Shorty said, “Say man, give me that jumpsuit!”
‘Uh oh, I’m in big trouble now,’ I thought. I knew there was nothing left to do but take an ass whoopin’.
“Nah, man, I’m cool,” I said.
I was walking a fine line, trying not to aggravate the guys, while still holding my ground.
“I didn’t axe you that! I wanna see the pimple on that ass!” demanded the leader.
It’s always hard to say how you’ll react until shit like this goes down. I was usually the one instigating trouble, so it was the first time I had ever been cornered like this and I didn’t know what to expect when I replied, “Aw man, I can’t do that.”
The moment I uttered these words, he swung at my chin with a fierce right cross. Luckily with the adrenaline running though my veins, I ducked just enough to protect my chin, instead getting hit on the forehead. Unluckily, the force of the punch knocked my head back against the seam of the bars, which hurt like hell.
I intentionally overreacted, rubbing my skull in hopes of avoiding more punishment. As I backed into the corner, I thought, ‘I’m done. I’m gonna catch a major ass whoopin’. At that moment I decided to get real close with God. I suddenly wanted to reconnect with the faith I had completely abandoned. I felt like I was picking up a phone and hoping it would still work, even though I hadn’t paid the bill in months. I asked for strength over and over again, but I didn’t believe it was coming.
It felt like I was in that corner forever. The sound of the guy rapping bounced off the walls of my head, along with Bob Barker’s voice saying, “Spin the wheel!” and the beep-beep-beep of the wheel as it rotated. Reality felt so far away, as if I was detached from the scene. I noticed that all the guys in the dayroom had moved out of the way, allowing the three perpetrators all the space they needed to beat me up, which was courteous of them, I thought.
Amazingly enough, nothing else happened. I felt like maybe my prayers had been answered. About ten long minutes later, the door opened and the dayroom break was over. I waited and watched as the other inmates filed out. After all the aggravated felons left the room, I moved quickly to my cell.
I felt like I had finally made it to a safe haven, although the door remained open while everyone made their way back to their cells. I sat there on full alert waiting for the door to shut, as I knew my cellmates would do nothing to help me should the bullies decide to pay me a visit. Just when I thought the coast was clear, the largest of the three aggravated felons suddenly shoved his arm in front of my door just as it was closing.
“Hey boss! Boss! Say boss, I got to get my commissary. Let me get my commissary,” he yelled.
Apparently he had access to roam around the tier shaking the cons down for food. All the cell doors stopped for a brief moment then started closing again. The big dude moved his arm out of the way, glanced at me, and walked off. The cop working the controls must have known that he was bullshitting, but he seemed to be playing along with the game. I couldn’t believe how close I had come to getting a beat down, and frightening scenarios of violence flashed through my mind.
A few minutes later one of my cellmates let me in on a little secret.
“Aw man, you’re not supposed to go to the dayroom on Wednesdays before lunch. That’s when the aggravated felons get an hour recreation.”
The cell shot-caller added, “Hey, man. You know we wouldn’t have let anything go down in here. Not in my house.”
They explained that I needed to melt a razor into a toothbrush to make a slasher. They said that I needed to protect myself, and that the only way to do it was to slash one of the thugs’ necks if they came after me again. I couldn’t believe what they were saying; what a terrible position I was in!
My cellmates told me that I could go to the dayroom in the evening, as it would be safe then, but the only thing on my mind was getting my mom on the phone to loan me the five hundred dollars for bail I needed to get my ass out of there. I had jumped my previous bail, which is why it doubled to five hundred. I had misjudged the bail amount and thought it would be raised to one thousand dollars, which would have been impossible for my mom to gather. Either way, I knew it wouldn’t be easy, as my mom was no doubt burnt out from all of my previous escapades.
I called her that evening and she answered sweetly. “Hey son, how are you?”
I didn’t reply.
“Son, are you in trouble?” she asked. “Yeah, I need five-hundred dollars, or I’m going to have to kill someone.” “Son, I don’t have the money,” she replied. There was silence on the line, and then she said,
“You know what, I’ll see what I can do, but I don’t think so.”
Despair hit me hard. I told her that I had to go. There wasn’t much to talk about, as everything else was pretty trivial. I went back to my cell where fear and worry poisoned me like noxious gases.
The next morning I woke up for breakfast and we were about to say our prayers before breakfast, when a sheriff showed up and yelled,
“Walter Rossie, ATW! All the way!”
I had never heard the phrase before, so I looked around at my cellmates. “Aw man, you getting out!”
I couldn’t believe it. My mom had borrowed five hundred dollars from her ex-husband, Jeffery, and drove about three hundred miles overnight to save her only son. It was the Fourth of July and I’ll never forget it. I called her seventeen years later to thank her on the anniversary of that day, but all she said in response was, “Son, that ain’t no anniversary.”
While waiting to be taken out of the cell, the shot-caller addressed me.
“Hey man, I just hope you don’t hold this against black people, because you know what? It wasn’t black people doing that; it was just some people who wanted some control. These are people who had no control, and this gave them a false sense of it.”
I found what he said quite profound, and who really knows what impact his amends made. I don’t think his words made any difference in preventing me from resenting black people for that incident. I did continue to resent Shorty but that was personal.
While I waited to be processed, our breakfast was served. The shot-caller, with a confused expression, asked me, “You still gonna eat your food?”
“Yeah man! I’m hungry!” was my answer.
I didn’t dislike jail food, so after we said grace, I gobbled it up. I got released an hour later to my mom and Jeffery. I felt like a refugee reaching land after weeks at sea. All I had on me coming out of jail was my toothbrush, my pants, suede boots and a Texas Rangers tank top. I put all of my clothes on and climbed into my mom’s Camaro. She offered me a smoke and a Coors Light from the cooler. I didn’t like to drink until at least noon, so I didn’t take it.
My mom wanted to stop at Galveston to see the holiday festivities, and although I was more than anxious to get home and change my pants, I didn’t say anything. I was suffering from severe demoralization. Also, Jeffery appeared to have his shit together, and in my pride I refused to give him any opportunity to think less of me.
The Fourth of July in Texas was hot and humid, and there were a lot of people out. We got out of the car and within minutes the heat and sweat fired up my pants, making me very uncomfortable. I asked my mom if we could leave, but she was having a good time and wanted to see the sights. I didn’t want to be a wet blanket as I was so grateful to her for bailing me out, so I said no more and tried to deal with it. After a couple of hours of sweating and rehydrating my pants, we left.
When we got back into the car, my mom and Jeffery quickly rolled down the windows a quarter of the way and cranked the A/C on full blast. Nobody mentioned the smell, but it was obvious that they noticed it, since my mom usually only cracked the windows when she smoked.
When we were home, I jumped in the shower, put fresh clothes on, and told my mom that I was going to Little Red’s house. Jake and Possum picked me up in an old purple Volkswagen wagon that Red had just bought. We sat at the kitchen table and I told them all of my stories while we drank 16-ounce tallboys and smoked some weed. My tolerance was really low, as it had been a while since I’d had a drink, and I quickly got wasted. It was a great feeling being back with the boys, loaded and fresh out of jail.
During the periods when I wasn’t working at a job, or with Todd, I would hang out with Red’s sons, my high school friends from Converse, or occasionally Tommy and the other guys from the neighborhood. I always had somewhere I could be, something to do.
A few months before I went back to hardcore scamming with Todd, there was one last incident that went down. I was with Dicky and the guys, and we were cruising around in our friend Rico’s Oldsmobile Delta 88 getting loaded. There was a new white kid with us who we didn’t really know, and out of nowhere, Nunu started choking him to see what he had in his pockets. We pulled over and the kid jumped out and ran away, which made Nunu mad because he didn’t get the chance to beat him up. This was yet another reminder of how volatile these guys were and how easily they could turn on me at any moment. Nunu was bad news and always had bad intentions.
That same night, while driving past the hookers on Cherry Street, we came upon an idling car sitting at a stop sign. It seemed the driver had fallen asleep with his head resting on the windowsill.
Dicky and Nunu got out with a bat, looking to bust the guy in the head and take his wallet. I followed them, as I didn’t want to be an accomplice to murder. When we were close, I yelled out, “Hey!” The guy woke up, and Nunu and Dicky ran back to the car.
Later on that night, Rico and I exchanged some heated words. The rest of the guys were provoking him to react to what I said, so Rico pulled over to fight me. We jumped out on opposite sides of the car and he immediately came right at me. He spooked me with the aggressive tactic so I tried to flee. We were running on loose gravel, and when I finally decided to fight, I slid to a stop, kicking up a pile of rocks. This caught him off guard and he ran directly into a hard strait punch to his eyebrow, knocking him to the ground. He picked himself up off the ground in a daze and after that, he didn’t want anything more to do with me. He had a complete attitude adjustment. We both got back in the car and drove away while blood dripped down his face. The guys commented on how I fucked him up, but Rico kept quiet. I recognized this shift in power, and took advantage of it until the day I left town.
I was starting to look pretty shaggy. I knew my poor appearance could affect my scams, so I convinced Leela to do the pick-ups for me around the same time that I asked her to elope. Her uncle caught wind of our plan, and on the day she went to pick up her car, there was a lock on it. The family maid caught her at the car outside their house and took her inside. That night her uncle drove her to my house and she picked up her things while crying. I never saw her again and deep down inside I knew it was the best thing for her.
It was then, when I was down on my luck and newly single, that Todd showed up at my mom’s house to invite me to party. We went out that night and discussed running scams together again, and a few days later we started right in town. I got over my resentment and decided we had a mutually beneficial relationship. I was using him for his car and the money he spent on hotels and food, and he was using me to put things in my name and run the scams, which I didn’t mind doing because of my low self-esteem I was also starting to feel especially reckless and self-destructive since Leela left.
I needed to get away from things and Todd convinced me to go on a quick trip to L.A. We pulled some scams en route in El Paso and Phoenix. When we got to L.A., we drove through skid row to check out the scene. Todd predicted that I would live there one day, which I thought was a bit heartless but not out of character. We made a stop in Azusa, bought some rock from some gangbangers, and smoked it in a motel. After that, we did a few scams on a couple of L.A. Wal-Marts, and then headed back home to San Antonio. It was a fairly uneventful trip, but it set the stage for things to come.
When we got back to San Antonio, Todd got connected with his drug dealing buddies and started making big drug deals and we took a brief break from doing business together. After about a month, Todd stopped by my mom’s again and asked if I wanted to run some scams with him just outside of Galveston, where he had just rented a trailer home to set up shop. I decided that I would work with him some more after all, and moved in with him a few days later. It was a bad idea. We would smoke weed every day, and hit the crack pipe at night. My crack use was at an all-time high. I was wasting away, growing unhealthier with every passing day. It was around March of 1992, I was 22 years old, and on top of being cracked out, I had a suspended license for not attending a drinking and driving class.
The trailer was a dump. I’d often go to the bathroom to find a huge rat or two ambling around. Once I freaked out and jumped on the counter, which freaked the rats out and caused them to jump up the walls. I threw a can of shaving cream at them, and eventually they exited through a little crack in the corner.
We never had any trouble scoring crack in the greater Houston or Galveston area, as it was easier to find than weed. In the neighborhood of Dickinson, there was a woman named Kitten who was always high and very paranoid. We bought from her occasionally, but she often shorted us. The last time in particular that I bought from her, Todd asked me if I had taken off the top. I told him that I hadn’t, that I was always honest when it came to dope between friends, but Todd remained suspicious of me.
A few days later we were in a pawnshop and came upon a can of pepper spray. Todd decided to buy it and use it to steal some dope from someone, as we were running out of money. We were tired of Kitten ripping us off, so we decided she was the perfect target for our new toy. We drove to the apartment complex and I got out and went to her place. She opened the door, clearly tweaked out on crack. A healthy gangster-looking black guy stood as a lookout in front of the door, drinking a forty-ounce beer. I asked Kitten for a sixty of crack, trying not to be too greedy. She just stared behind me into space and didn’t answer.
“Hey Kitten, I got this one,” said the gangster in a cool tone.
The guy followed me out to the car. Todd was waiting with the car’s engine turned off, which was the proper protocol when buying, a way to show that you weren’t up to something. I hopped into the passenger seat.
“Hey man, you need a sixty?” the guy asked Todd.
He opened a pill bottle and handed Todd three rocks that were four times the size of Kitten’s rocks when she was ripping us off. He was talking and looking at us, but something distracted him and he glanced behind the car. When he turned back, Todd sprayed him directly in his face with the pepper spray. The guy didn’t say a word. He just stepped back a few feet, covering his eyes with his hands. Todd started the car and put it in drive but kept his foot on the brake, watching the pepper spray take its toll. I was freaking out, urging him to go, but Todd, always calculating, wanted to gauge the effectiveness of our new purchase. After what seemed like an eternity, we finally drove away with the rocks. As was usually the way things went down with Todd, he kept two of the rocks while giving me only one.
Months later, my mom bought me a new pair of shoes for my birthday. My old ones were in bad shape, and I was desperate for a new pair. My mom gave me a receipt that didn’t allow for cash refunds, but Todd showed me a way to get the money back anyway. I wouldn’t have done it, but since one of the shoes was half a size too big, I went ahead and followed his scam so that we could buy some crack.
I had learned from experience that there are two types of rock smokers. Todd was the paranoid type, constantly peeking out of windows, once even bribing me with a pack of cigarettes to peak out of the window for him. I checked and saw nothing, but right away he asked me to look again. So I scanned the peephole with more intensity, but of course once again, I saw nothing.
I was the second type, the optimistic one. I always thought I saw crack rocks on the floor. I would get very serious about breaking up the room into sections to look for rocks, and while I would often find pieces of white debris that I thought were rocks, not once did I find the real deal.
Soon Todd and I began to starve. I was nearly all bone. Todd was fed up with it, so one day he took his Taser stun gun and went out on the town. He came back a few hours later with Arby’s sandwiches, money, and a bunch of crack rocks. Todd told me that he had used the Taser to scare some drug dealing kid. Todd had hustled the kid into his car, where he gave up all of his rocks and money. Todd gave me a few of the rocks, which turned out to be a bad idea. I was starving, but after I took a bite of the Arby’s hot ham and cheese sandwich, I gagged and threw it right up. I craved the crack even more than my favorite food.
One day I decided to go out on my own to make some money. I had started drinking early that day because it made me feel at ease after a full night of smoking crack. Crack made me feel like an empty shell, like ash, so drinking was the best cure I knew of. I drank a 40 oz. and started feeling frisky. I decided to take the pepper spray on a trip in our new red Ford Tempo rental car. I knew drinking and driving was a big no-no because of my suspended license and DUI, but it didn’t matter because my mind was set on getting crack. I decided to go back to Dickinson, the home of Nolan Ryan and a bunch of crack zombies.
I was about twenty-two years old at the time, but I was often told I looked seventeen. This worked to my advantage when I was driving and doing pick-ups for the scam, but it also made me look like an innocent punk at times.
I saw a black guy with a white girl and felt sure they were smokers. They would be perfect, I thought, as crack heads are always hustling to get their next high.
“Hey man, I need to score,” I said, pulling over at the curb in front of them.
“Oh hey man, yeah man,” the guy replied. “Go ahead and make a block. How much you need?”
Make a block meant to drive around the block until you saw them again. I told him I needed a sixty, which was my magic number. He was really excited because he thought he might make some money or score his own rock as a kickback.
“Hey dude, I would give you the money, but I’ve been burned before like that,” I told him when he asked for the dough.
He said, “Naw man, that’s alright,” and the two walked away to get the rocks.
I drove around the block a couple of times until I saw them again, and knowing the rules, I parked the car and turned it off. I also knew that they would try to get in, so I kept all of the doors locked. I was holding the pepper spray in my right hand by my leg. The guy came around to the driver’s side, but he couldn’t get in, so he ran around to my open window. “Aw, man. Come on, man! It’s hot out here! It’s hot out here,” he said, referring to the police.
“Alright, let me check it out then,” I said, imitating his urgency.
As he placed the rocks in my hand, the feeling that came over me was euphoric. It made me want to sing. I had scored, and I was achieving this all on my own. With the rocks in my hand, I pointed the pepper spray at him and squeezed, but nothing came out. In my drunken state I accidentally turned the twist lock mechanism and locked my weapon.
The guy could have easily punched me in the face, but instead, he went for the rocks. He grabbed my hand, but this only catapulted the rocks into the car. While I fought him off with my left hand, my right was busy unlocking the pepper spray trigger. I finally managed to push down on it, and accidentally sprayed my own face from just inches away. Nearly blind, I turned the canister upside down to spray him too. He backed away. I started the car, and blinking rapidly with what little vision I had left, I somehow pulled away without crashing or driving into one of the flood ditches by the side of the road. In the chaos, I noticed a blur of people running in my direction, coming to assist the guy I’d just ripped off.
By the time I made it to the freeway, my vision had returned, though my face was still on fire and looked like a tomato. I felt victorious. I had done it. I drove home and parked in front of the trailer. The lot had loose gravel, so Todd heard me and looked out of the window. “Hey, what the fuck?” he said.
While I ran into the bathroom to wash my face, I told Todd to look for the rocks, which of course I instantly regretted. He claimed he couldn’t find them all, and when we went to smoke, he made me leave the bathroom when it was his turn. He was taking twice as long as usual, so I tiptoed back, (tip-toeing being a crack head’s preferred method of movement), and lightly knocked on the door. “Hey man, I know you found the other rock. Let me get some.”
“Wait out there,” he commanded. Later I searched the whole car and found nothing. I was resentful over that event for a very long time.
Around six months after moving in with Todd, I decided to take our rental car and go cruising around League City where we lived. I was pulled over for some small infraction, and with my license temporarily suspended, the cops arrested me and threw me in a holding tank with two Mexican thugs. They only fed us two meals a day, and on top of that, the meals were extremely small. I was already undernourished, so the two child-sized portions per day were hardly enough to keep me alive.
When chow time came, I’d be so starved that I’d rush to the door to get my plate first. This rubbed the thugs the wrong way; they felt like I was trying to run the show. Even with the language barrier, I knew that trouble was brewing. Had it been one-on-one, I would have been able to hold my own, but there were two of them. I was able to keep things from escalating, and was moved out of the holding cell a few hours later into an empty four-person cell.
The jail was a holding facility. You were only supposed to stay in for a day or so until the county picked you up. In my case, they didn’t show up for days. Locked in solitude with no one to talk to, I grew extremely bored after the first day. I noticed that someone had carved a chessboard into the table. It was a nice board, so I created chess pieces out of the Styrofoam cups that accompanied my meals. I tried to play against myself, but it was boring as hell, as I always foresaw my next move. To make it more interesting, I would take a few minutes off and walk around my cell for exercise so that I could forget what my strategy was. It didn’t work though, and only irritated me. I had never been confined like that before, and I now understand why it could quickly drive a man insane.
After six days, I was finally shipped out to a county jail in Galveston that housed a good mix of black, white and Mexican guys. I was picked up in a big Suburban with a few prisoners from other city jails, one of whom was a crazy white guy who claimed to have heroically taken the fall for everyone in his crack house. He was still drunk and high while telling the story and was having a good ol’ time. We all laughed at how funny and crazy he was.
The police officers made a stop in Dickinson City Jail to get another prisoner and left us in the car. The drunken guy decided it would be funny to pee on the driver’s seat, so he did just that. The cop came back and sat down in the urine. He was angry and knew who the culprit was, but he didn’t do a thing about it. While the drunken guy was all fun and games that night, the next day, while sober, he was all serious and upset, talking to a lawyer on the phone about getting out. Apparently, he no longer thought taking the fall for the guys at the crack house was such a good idea.
Looking back on it, out of all the jails I have been to, this was the dirtiest, oldest, and most poorly run of them all. The first day there, I ran into Todd’s cousin, a guy I had smoked crack with a few times. He was a trustee, so upon my arrival, he gave me an extra sandwich. It was a huge relief after the two meals a day punishment I had just experienced.
I called my mom asking for help again, and although she did bail me out, it turned out to be for the last time. I think she was concerned that because of the dangerous lifestyle I was living I wasn’t going to be around much longer and figured it would be a good chance to spend some quality time together. She and Jeffery brought a bottle of Crown Royal and we all got drunk in a hotel in Galveston. I decided that I knew a thing or two about God, so I pulled out the Bible from the nightstand and started preaching. I was feeling so self-righteous that I even began criticizing my mom for not believing in God the same way I did. I realized later what a fool I was for giving my mom a sermon while I didn’t even have a pot to piss in or any sort of connection with God.
The next day, my mom dropped me off at Todd’s, gave me some money, and cried as she said goodbye. Todd wasn’t at the trailer home when I got there, so I used the money to buy groceries, liquor and weed. I smoked the weed, and then listened to Rick James’ greatest hits on some headphones while walking home from the store and felt on top of the world once again.
Whenever I lacked money, I had a few tricks that worked consistently to make ends meet. At that time, before debit cards were common, you were able to go to a gas station, fill up, and pay afterwards. I had a sale that I had to make, but didn’t have any gas or money to get to my destination, so having run the scam successfully several times in San Antonio, I figured it would work at the Mobil station in Houston and started filling up. A guy wearing a cowboy hat tracked my every movement from behind the counter. He must have read my body language. I knew he was onto me.
I finished pumping, jumped in the truck, and drove away. I made a few turns and without warning, the cowboy sped up beside me in his truck, waving a gun out of his window. I couldn’t believe this dude was hunting me down over ten or fifteen measly dollars’ worth of gas. I pulled over and he pulled up right next to me with both windows down. “I’m gonna shoot you right here!” he yelled, pointing the gun toward my head.
I was scared shitless and begged him not to shoot. “Follow me to the station,” he commanded.
I followed him back, got out, and walked over to him. He grabbed my arm roughly and told me that I would have to pay him or he’d call the cops. Not having cash, I ended up letting him hold onto Todd’s police radar detector until I could come up with the money. When I made it back to Todd’s place, I couldn’t remember which Mobil station it was, and never was able to repo the radar detector.
Money was also affecting our relationship with the landlord, as we hadn’t paid rent for some time and now faced eviction. I started feeling like it would be a good idea to break away from Todd and get a fresh start especially since Todd was not only doing big drug deals but most everyone he came into contact with would eventually get burned. Once again I was sensing impending doom. Besides, I was tired of being on crack and my scam was becoming too well known. I started searching for jobs in the paper and saw an ad offering to fly phone-pros out to Tennessee to do telemarketing for commission and a $20 daily food stipend. I thought it was the smartest thing to do and just told Todd that I was leaving because of the warrant. He seemed cool, but when I asked him if he could lend me ten dollars for a ten-sack of weed, he replied,
“No man, sorry. I don’t have it.”
After all I had done for him; he still showed me no love. We parted, and I returned empty-handed to my mom’s house to say goodbye before my flight to Tennessee the next day. I had a layover in Atlanta, which was where my sister lived, so she came to see me at the airport for a brief visit. As soon as she saw me she started crying at my tattered appearance and dramatic weight loss. All of my clothes were practically in rags, and about the only thing I had going for me was a new pair of Fila shoes I had bought in San Antonio. She took one look at me and knew I was in trouble. Our visit was short and all I remember from it was how embarrassed I was for looking so lowly.
I arrived in Chattanooga later that day, and all I could think of was how badly I needed to smoke some weed. A van picked us new hires up at the airport, and looking at my potential coworkers, I instantly knew some were just like the people I was trying to get away from. The advertisement drew in all sorts of scumbags. One woman was a prostitute fleeing some trouble in Las Vegas. She told me that she had rocks on her, and I found out later that she had given one of the other recruits oral sex in the back seat of the shuttle on the way to our motels from the airport.
The van took a group of us men to the bad part of town and dropped us off at what was clearly a crack motel. It was located right next door to a biker bar full of hillbillies. I later learned that the other men and all of the women were staying at fairly nice hotels like the Holiday Inn that were a far cry from the slum where I was holed up.
The next day I showed up for work at the most interesting office I had ever seen. To enter I had to push a button in front of a giant steel door while someone watched through a double mirror. The door appeared to be bulletproof.
I was pretty good at telemarketing, but it was apparent that the company was recruiting the best in the nation. I was amazed to hear how articulate and sharp the employees were. Interestingly, we were made to fill out disclaimers stating that we were not presently working in law enforcement, nor had we ever in the past. This was the first time I’d come across this type of thing, and I assumed it was necessary because the company was running a legal scam. All the new recruits worked in a separate area for the first two weeks to see if we could cut it and to make sure we were not cops. I wasn’t cutting it and knew that I was going to get fired, so I decided to fall back on my own scams. I was thankful that I decided to bring some invoices with me on the trip. After just one phone call to the nearest Wal-Mart I made an extra $75 in cash.
The first night after work I went back to the motel and straight to the bar. I met two tramps from San Francisco, one much older than the other. One of the bikers gave the younger one some purple crank speed. The guy used it and after a few minutes said it was the best he’d ever tried. It made him so sex-crazed that he began harassing the wife of the bikers’ leader. A live band played a song with the lyrics, Cause there’s a man down there, might be your man, I don’t know… It appeared to be a warning for the guy, but he didn’t catch on. The next thing I knew, the bikers dragged the guy outside and beat the hell out of him. Because he was so high, he came back in afterwards with some nice knuckle bumps on his forehead and begged the bikers to let him party with them some more. They were okay with this, as he had learned his lesson and stayed away from the wife.
After two weeks at the motel, I met a couple of black guys selling rocks, and one asked me if I knew any buyers. I told him that I would be down if I had more than three dollars on me.
“Aw man, give me the three bucks. I’ll hook you up,” he said. To my surprise, he gave me all of his crumbs, which probably amounted to twenty dollars’ worth of crack. Of course he had ulterior motives. He knew I would be back. He gave me his pager number and told me to page him if anyone I knew wanted some rock. I ended up contacting him an hour later in desperate need, but with no money, all I could offer him were my new shoes. He flatly rejected the trade and I was forced to ride out the post-acute withdrawal depression that had gripped me.
The tramps from San Francisco told me I could get beans and rice from a homeless shelter in the neighborhood, so being broke, I went along with them to have lunch. The food tasted pretty good to someone who was starving, so I was happy with it. On the way back to the motel, some cops pulled us over to check us out, and to tell me that I should be careful wearing my Filas and that people got beaten up for having nice shoes. His warning freaked me out, and I started watching my back from that point on.
I then got kicked out of the motel for staying over the two-week limit paid for by the telemarketing company. Before I left, however, every last thing I owned was stolen from my room. The management played dumb, so I gave up on it. I called my sister to tell her my situation and she invited me to stay with her. A priest I had befriended donated a free ticket to my cause and I left Chattanooga.
As I waited for my sister at the Greyhound station, I was overcome by a host of emotions. For one, I had never met her husband and didn’t know what to expect. More importantly, it made me uncomfortable that my sister had her life together when I clearly didn’t. I didn’t want to burden her, but I felt like I had no choice, for the first time in my life I was truly homeless. My sister’s house was beautiful, and I was extremely grateful to her for letting me stay there. It was my only refuge, but I didn’t feel worthy being around such solid people after hanging out with so many thugs, convicts and lowlifes.
On the drive over from the bus station, I thought about how much I disliked Georgia’s landscape, its big trees and orange soil being such a far cry from the dry, urban setting of San Antonio. We arrived at her beautiful two-story house and were greeted by her husband Don, who was outside. Don was an upstanding individual respected by others, even though to me he seemed like a redneck. Don liked to wash his truck, keep his house clean, and at the end of the day, like me, he would drink. On the exterior, you wouldn’t think there was any alcoholism present, but the reality was that he would hit the bottle every night. Of course, compared to me, he appeared to have everything under control. Right away I sensed that both Don and my sister were a bit rigid, especially when compared to my easy-going parents.
My nephew Danny was around thirteen years old at the time. He was born when I was ten, and I remembered him as one of the best things to come into my life. He was cute and fun to play with, and I loved being around him. When I was fourteen, I often babysat him while my sister was at work.
When I first started hanging around my nephew again, I sensed a wall had sprung up between us. We went outside to play basketball and he seemed resentful towards me. It might have been because I looked drugged out and he felt let down, but perhaps he resented me for occasionally being unkind to him when I babysat him years earlier, though I had never intentionally hurt him.
One of the things I had done was cut his sideburns off above his ears, like those of a wrestler he had seen and liked on TV. My nephew had a tan, so when I cut his sideburns, it left two funny looking white patches. I remembered him looking in the mirror and saying, at four years old, I might add,
“Uncle Wally, I don’t think I want to go outside this week.” I had gone to my mom’s makeup drawer and put some makeup base on the tan lines, covering them up nicely. He had been pleased with my work, and immediately went outside to play.
Another time I had seen my nephew and a little kid named Jerry from the neighborhood fighting each other with sticks. I had stopped them and suggested that they put on some boxing gloves that I had. I had put gloves on both kids, and let them go back at it. For some reason, at four years old, the other kid knew how to throw karate kicks. He had landed one in my nephew’s stomach, causing him to double over and cry in pain.
At the end of the round I had taken my nephew inside the house and hid a spark plug socket in his glove. When the two went back at it, my nephew eventually connected the socket with the other kid’s head. The boy had stumbled back in pain, and ran away holding his head crying.
My sister’s home had four or five rooms. There was no extra bed in the house, so I slept on the floor, which was totally fine with me. My sister really had her life together and I definitely harbored a sense of inferiority around her. While I was proud of her for being the first person in the family to live in such a nice home, I was very uncomfortable living there.
I was out of money, but wanted to buy some weed, so the first day she was out of the house, I made some phone calls from her home phone trying to pull off my scam with the few blank invoices I had left. My plan fell through since the only local Wal-Mart turned me down. When I wasn’t able to get high on weed, I would often drink beer until I fell asleep in my bed while listening to music on headphones I borrowed from my sister.
I also borrowed my sister’s bicycle to look for a job and somehow managed to get hired at a nearby country club golf course. The clientele was a group of rich hillbillies with funny accents. Working there turned out to be a nightmare. My coworkers and the patrons were extremely racist, and appeared to have ties to the KKK.
I was talking with a coworker one day when another redneck coworker woman said,
“Walter, you talk like Cheech and Chong,” undoubtedly referring to Cheech Marin’s thick accent in the movie. I was getting paid crap for the hard work I was doing, especially when compared to the other employees, and I resented her remark. My pride and ego were constantly telling me to get back into the scamming business. I hated my job and I hated the staff and members, but the tipping point finally came one day when a group of racists were playing golf. I was cleaning up the edges of a sand trap and had stopped the weed eater to allow one of the guys to putt. He missed and looked back at me, saying,
“Dammit, don’t make me make this a racial thing!”
While the job sucked, there was a little place with a shower that I thought I might be able to make into a home for myself. I asked my manager Jimmy if I could live there and work security at night. He blew me off. He knew I had an addiction problem and wouldn’t hear of it but I was upset he didn’t take me seriously.
I wanted to get my life together so I started attending a DWI class to get my Texas license back, as was required by the state. I soon found out that it was useless because of the warrant that was being processed. Wanting me to get my life together, my mom had promised to give me her tough, souped-up Camaro if I got my license back and could pay for the insurance. Since I could only get a Georgia license, I could think of no other way to get the car but to manipulate her into holding up her end of the bargain. I calculated that I needed $750 to pick up the car and buy some good weed since pot was about half the price in Texas. I planned to make the trip once I had saved up that amount.
I didn’t get out much in that town except for the occasional bike ride or fishing trip to the creek that ran through the golf course. I didn’t have any friends to hang out with, so the only other options for fun were getting stoned or drunk, two of my favorite activities that I did quite often.
When I finally saved up the $750, I bought a plane ticket back to Texas and told my sister of my plan. She looked concerned, but agreed and told me to be careful. I bought a bottle of tequila and jumped on a Greyhound to Birmingham, Alabama, where my plane was waiting.
On the ride over, I met a guy on the bus. I let him have some of my tequila, but afterwards he tried to convince me to pick up some weed with him. I had street smarts, and sensing something fishy, I turned the guy down and instead went straight to the airport where I drank some more at the bar. Outside of the Birmingham airport there were thug looking guys in regular cars pushing people for taxi rides. I’m sure there were many people getting jacked in that town.
When I arrived in San Antonio, I called my mom’s house, but her phone was busy which was suspect since my mom had the call waiting function. I always sensed she took the phone off the hook so I would go out and blow all of my money and be forced to stay. The only other number I had on me was Todd’s. I called and talked to his mom, who gave me his phone number at the strip club he had just started running. He sounded excited to hear from me and told me to come on down, so I jumped in a taxi to his new joint. Todd told me to put my bags down and ordered me two double margaritas on the house. Because of all the drinking I had been doing since the bus ride, the cocktails pushed me over the edge and I blacked out. I learned later that, I went on a cocaine binge that night and blew all of my money. I used so much coke that night I had to stay in a motel two days, one night doing drugs, and the other night just to come down from the terrible high. I still wasn’t ready to go to my mom’s, so instead I went to Red Lumper’s house and hung out with his sons. As I approached their place, a hollow feeling descended on me due to the cocaine binge. But I soon felt whole again after spending the night and watching a Dallas Cowboys football game in the morning with the guys. Hanging out with my real friends and sleeping in a real bed turned out to be just what I needed.
My initial DWI charge came with a thousand dollar fine, but even with an extension, I never paid. I also never showed up for probation because I was away in Tennessee and Georgia. Playing games with my DWI legal issues was a dangerous pastime with no other outcome but a warrant for my arrest. I wasn’t certain if the warrant had been processed yet. However, I was at a point where I didn’t care about anything, and taking care of exterior problems was not my style.
I started working as a lumper with Red and his sons, but quickly found I wasn’t cut out for hard labor, as I was more of a scammer or a salesman. As a way to get a little extra cash, I decided, along with Red’s son Jake, and Jake’s old-time friend B, to drive around stealing loading pallets from Wal-Marts. Technically it was stealing, but no one really took the pallets seriously. We figured that at the worst we would just get yelled at, which we did.
We would load B’s truck to the brim with the reusable oak pallets, take them down to the east side of San Antonio and sell them for $2.50 each. We turned a nice profit after several trips, and though I was worried about the possible warrant, I quickly drowned my fears in alcohol. Jake had a warrant that was more serious because he had stopped reporting to his parole office and was headed to prison if ever picked up.
There were a few close calls with the law during that time, but being drunks, we kept going. I came up with the idea of driving forty minutes to my birth town of Jourdanton to steal pallets from the Wal-Mart there, and off we went. This particular Wal-Mart was a little different; the pallets were arranged by the side of the store instead of in the back, which basically meant that we had to pinch them in the open.
We were loading the pallets at dusk when the cops showed up and arrested us for theft. When they saw the beers in the truck, they issued B a DWI, even though he wasn’t driving at that moment. B got angry and started talking trash to the sergeant during processing, referring to him as a “fuckin’ rookie”! B and I were then processed in Atascosa County Jail’s holding tank, while Jake was taken directly into the jail’s population because of his blue warrant. The holding tank was furnished with a toilet, benches, and complimentary vomit. It was three days before we were taken down to join the general population. In addition to the stench of vomit, we had to endure the sour, musty reek of body odor, as we weren’t allowed to take showers. Being a clean freak, I nearly went crazy.
When they finally moved us, we received pillows and mattresses. Walking down the hallway, I noticed there were glass cells and basic cable TV in the dayrooms, a big perk. I can still remember all the songs that were popular during my visit, the songs No Rain and Creep were stained into my memory forever, as it was the only jail out of all the places I’d been in that had MTV. I later found out that the jail was so nice because it doubled as a federal holding facility. Because of this, we were fed the best breakfast I had ever had in a jail, which included milk, juice and coffee along with shit on a shingle, aka biscuits and gravy.
Late that first night we were escorted to a recreation area that had weight machines and basketballs. B and I started dribbling. A guy in a nearby cell yelled at us to stop bouncing the balls. We couldn’t see him, but we stopped bouncing. He then asked us where we were from, and I told him San Antonio. He responded, “What the fuck are you doing here?”
I said I used to live in Pleasanton, so he asked my name and the names of people I knew. I told him about my brother-in-law, a well-known guy, and a few other family members that were also well respected. He acted like he knew my brother-in-law and then gave us his stamp of approval, saying, “Okay man, just don’t bounce the ball.”
We hung out for a few minutes more before the guard came back. The guard paraded us down a hallway while the inmates inspected us from their cells, giving us dirty looks as we passed by. It was a hostile environment, and I later found out that many of the guys there were being held for a year or two before being sent to a state or federal prison. This was officially a county jail, but being that it was a holding facility for federal prisons, the Atascosa officials would hold prisoners as long as they could to collect the big federal bucks.
One of the inmates in particular had me worried. He was pounding on the window of his cell with a wild expression, his tongue wagging. He pulled his penis out of his pants and was now shaking it at us.
‘Man, that’s messed up’, I thought to myself with a shudder. I started to grasp what a bad situation we were in.
The guard brought us to a big cell with ten or fifteen bunk beds, and about four steel tables. Jake was in the cell, so when I saw him I said, “Hey man, I got to take a shower.”
Without waiting for a response I left my stuff and headed towards the stalls. I was freaking out about being so dirty; it was the only thing on my mind.
Each shower stall was a tiny square booth made of thin sheet steel, barely big enough for one person. I couldn’t believe how cheap it was, but I was happy just to get clean. I jumped in with a tiny bar of soap and started scrubbing. The next thing I knew, I heard a guy mumbling something I couldn’t make out. I wondered what it was about and tried to hurry up, but then I heard him loud and clear. “I said get the fuck out or I’m gonna’ drag you out!”
Unwittingly, I had broken a long-standing prison rule. I had jumped into the shower without proper authorization. I got out dripping wet. Jake was there to meet me. “Hey man, you got to go,” he said with a grave expression.
I soon found out what was really going on. I hadn’t realized it until then, but the whole cell was Mexican. We were put in a cell we weren’t supposed to be in. B, the only white guy, had been told to get out. I grabbed my mattress and belongings and brought them over to the door by B.
“Hey, you got three minutes to get out of here,” said a smaller guy who appeared to be the cell shot-caller.
As instructed, I walked over to the call button and pushed it firmly to alert the guards. I had a clear sight of one, and he came over, looked right at me and hesitated. “Yeah, what do you want?” he scowled. I replied, “We got two minutes to get out of here!”
The guard took his sweet ass time but eventually came to the door. All the while I was freaking out about what would happen to us if we went over the time limit.
The guard escorted us out of the cell into a walkway where he let us sit on the floor. Guys could be heard pounding on the
walls and making riot noises. They must have known earlier that some shit was going to go down the moment they saw B, a white guy, go into the Mexican cell. We sat there for about five minutes, when, to my disbelief, the guard came back and said,
“Don’t worry guys; we’ll get you back in there.” B and I just looked at each other. The guard then put us right back into the same cell! I couldn’t believe what was happening. I knew it was punishment for the shitty comments B made to the sergeant when we first showed up.
After a moment the shot-caller said to B, “Hey, better call your mommy.”
“Fuck you, my mom’s dead,” B replied.
They both raised their fists, standing only a few feet from one another. B was a crazy, skinny white boy, weighing in at about 150 pounds, while the Mexican dude was short, but well built. The fourteen other dudes in the cell got up to help their friend pound on us. B didn’t care about the odds and was ready to fight; I, on the other hand, didn’t see any point in getting a beat down, especially since my mother had been left out of the conversation. Right then the guards came to the door again and took us out of the cell. We were brought to a special cell filled with mostly white guys, though it also housed a couple of skinheads, a few weaker prisoners, and a couple of Mexican child molesters.
I stayed in that cell for about a month. The shot-caller was a real asshole. He created nothing that resembled sanity or order, and was probably just being the same dirtbag he was on the streets. The Mexicans in the cell kept to themselves, watching a popular daily soap opera with Eric Estrada, Dos Mujeres, un Camino, which I really came to enjoy after a while.
All in all, it wasn’t a bad stay for me, even though I would witness other inmates from other cells getting jumped all the time. Sometimes, guys that were about to be released would be beaten up out of envy. I had the pleasure of seeing a couple of guys beat up the tongue-wagging dick-shaker until he was dragged out bleeding.
After about a month I went to court and was put on probation. After court I was sent back to my jail cell and was notified that since I had warrants in Hayes County I would be released to them and extradited to their jail. Everyone in my cell heard I was going to another jail. A few days later I was released. I didn’t know if telling me I was to be extradited was a ploy for my own safety, or if the Hayes County courts missed their pickup date, but whatever the case was I didn’t ask any questions about it.
Upon my release, all my belongings were returned to me, including the money that I made from selling the pallets. I lit up a cigarette and realized that my body had already gone through withdrawal, though my mind told me I still needed the nicotine. I smoked that one cigarette and was hooked once more. Next, I went to the nearest convenience store to buy a quart of Busch beer. I took it to the restroom and slammed down most of it, took a breather, felt the sensation of the alcohol entering my system, and went back to finish it off. Being locked up had lowered my tolerance, but after a few swigs, I quickly felt right again.
Little Red and Possum picked me up and we went directly to the Chevron station to get more beer. The woman who worked there knew me, and when she looked at me, she said,
“Oh wow, you look so healthy.” I hadn’t realized it, but the alcohol, drugs and smoking had really worn me down, and while in jail I had regained some of the color in my face and lost the bags from under my eyes.
I was pretty much living at Red’s house by then, though occasionally I stopped at my mom’s place just a few miles away, to check in, clean up and spend a little time with her. As usual, I was trying to bury my head in the sand through drinking. I didn’t want to face my legal problems.
One night a phone call came in that changed my life. I was hanging out at Red’s house drinking when I heard it ring. I answered, and a lady asked for Roy. I thought she had the wrong number. I could tell that she was drunk, and saw this as an opportunity. I told her Roy wasn’t there because he had gone to get some beer. She admitted she had been drinking.
“Oh yeah? Don’t worry about it because I’m drinking too. It’s no big deal. You sound pretty, what’s your name?” I asked, hitting on her without giving it much thought.
I started using some high-pressure techniques that I’d learned from telemarketing. I pressed the woman hard, telling her I wanted to come over and visit. She just replied that her husband was a Bexar County Sheriff and worked in the jail. Though alarms should have been ringing in my head, her warnings didn’t stop me from putting her through the ringer.
“I could ride my bike over there and be gone before he came home,” I told her.
Finally, she got fed up and said, “Hey, listen. I’m calling you for help and all you want to do is screw me!”
Then she started crying. It was at that moment that I realized she had called the right number. She was calling Red for help because she was drinking. Red was an active member of a twelve-step program for alcoholics and he must have given her his number. When I realized what I had done, I hung up the phone, continued drinking, and hoped for the best.
The next morning Red burst through the door into the garage where I was sleeping and said, “Wally, you know that woman on the phone that you made cry yesterday? Her husband is my friend and he’s a Bexar County Sheriff. He told me to give you a message. Two things: First off, when he sees you, he’s gonna kick the dog shit out of you. And the second thing is that you better not end up in his jail.”
I had never heard Red use that tone of voice with me before. Terror struck, and all I could think of was that I had to get the hell out of town. I feared there were two new warrants issued for my arrest, and knew I could easily get locked up in that sheriff’s jail. I also knew that in jail, it doesn’t take more than a dime bag of weed or special privileges given to an inmate as a bribe to get someone jacked up pretty badly. My mind was playing out every scenario. It may have been paranoia, but anything is possible when a cop sends you a message to not go to his jail.
I bought a fake insurance card from a friend to fool my mom into giving me her car as she promised. I quickly fixed a few small problems with the vehicle and was about ready to skip town. My mom still had no idea that I was taking off.
I was partying and drinking a lot as usual, knowing it was going to be my last week in Texas. I went to our hangout at the Chevron near Red’s to throw a few back with Possum. Little Red had informed me a day earlier that the Bexar County Sheriff whose wife I’d harassed had shown up looking for me. I was concerned, but after more drinking my reasoning skills were greatly reduced and there I was again, partying at the Chevron. With my two probation violations, it was possible I’d have to serve the two years’ probation time in jail if caught by the police and if the judge found it fitting.
Back at Red’s, I was hanging out with Possum, a coworker, and Little Red, who had fractured his ankle while lumping a few weeks before. I was filling in for him at his job so he didn’t have any money coming in, which made him really unhappy. Little Red and our coworker were in the kitchen talking shop when Little Red blew up. He had heard enough of me talking about doing his job.
“You know what, Wally? If you don’t shut the fuck up, I’m gonna get you barred from the warehouse!”
Being a smartass, I said, “You couldn’t get me barred from there if you wanted. I’m a righteous lumper.”
I was a shit-talker back then. I shouldn’t have said it, but I did. Little Red leaned forward and swung at my face, popping me in the nose. Blood splattered all over the place. I grabbed my nose, looked up and asked him why he had hit me. But as I asked, he was cocking back to hit me again! Luckily for me, I caught him with a quick right cross to the nose and eye, knocking him out. It was one of the best shots I ever landed earning Little Red a black eye, bloody nose, and a K.O.
I wasn’t trying to knock him out, and didn’t even set out to hit him in the first place, but the next thing I knew, Possum ran into the kitchen yelling at me. He wanted to know what the hell was going on. Before he could make a move for me, the coworker yelled, “No man, it wasn’t his fault.” It was too late, though, and once again I got hit. This time I got it in the eye, leaving me with a nice bruise. We scuffled a bit, and when we separated, I explained what had happened. We picked up Little Red, and he grabbed his nose. Dazed, he looked around and said, “What happened?”
Possum replied, “Wally knocked you out.”
Little Red then said, “No shit?” He looked me in the eye and said, “Now I can finally tell your dad that you’re not a pussy.”
I had finally earned his respect by knocking him out! We were cool after that, with no bad feelings.
Preparing to leave town, I purchased some two-piece invoices so I could run my scam after I made my move. I purposely avoided the laser jet receipts so that the disclaimer would be even more difficult to read. I was cruising down the highway returning from Kinko’s when a cop pulled up behind me. I drove over onto the shoulder from the fast lane. The cop walked over to me and said I was missing my license plate tags. I told him that I had them on the windshield as required by the new law, to which he replied, “Oh, okay. Well let me see your insurance and license.”
I thought for sure I was done but I kept my cool. My heart was pounding as I took out the fake insurance papers I had just bought a few weeks before and gave him my Georgia driver’s license. He looked at both documents, but his attention was more on his own safety and the cars speeding by. He asked me why I was in Texas. I told him I was just picking up the car from my mom and heading back to Georgia. With one more glance at the papers and then at me, he handed back the documents and said, “Here you go. Have a good day.” As he walked back to his car, I started my engine, hardly able to believe my luck.
I pulled up to my mom’s house and found her in the front yard watering her plants. I got out of the car, walked over to her, and broke the news that I was leaving town for California. Tears began to form in her eyes. Gradually she broke down into hysterics, crying and asking me why I was leaving, begging me not to go. I felt terrible for abandoning her, but I had to split.
Since Jake was still in Atascosa County jail awaiting an escort to prison, we would regularly have him call us at a payphone collect so no one had to pay for the call. It was a jailhouse trick that worked only in Atascosa County for some reason. During the conversation, I had a terrible feeling I would never speak with him again. After Possum finished talking to him I told him, “Hey bro, I’m gonna grow some wings and fly.” Besides my mom, Jake was the only person I told that I was skipping town.
Mind Playing Tricks on Me
I decided to take the back roads out of Texas because I was paranoid that someone I knew might have ratted me out. After driving all night, I made it over the state line to Hobbs, New Mexico. Looking back, it was as though I was a character in the movie Lost Highway, with nothing but the open road, dim headlights, the moon and stars as my companions. Watching the barren desert landscape pass by gave me a sick, lonely and insecure feeling the whole way.
I made it to a cheap motel in Hobbs and drank until I fell asleep, which was my thing at the time. It was the only way to calm my nerves, as I still feared the warrants even though I was no longer in Texas. It was a small town and I had family from my mom’s side there, but I never did visit them because we were not too close.
The next morning I worked my scam at the only place in town I could: Wal-Mart. After I made a little money, I went to score some weed in a park full of gangsters. They didn’t have any pot, but they had rock. I ended up buying some and taking it back to the motel to smoke out. I tripped out from it, which I hated, but I could never say no when it was available.
I had enough money for the bare essentials, so the next day I was on my way to Carlsbad, New Mexico, for a cash pick-up at a Wal-Mart from a sale I had made at the motel in Hobbs. Driving near the Potash mine, I saw a Mexican dude with a thick mustache standing by himself, hitchhiking. His face was reddish brown and he was wearing a long-sleeved black shirt. He was alone in the middle of nowhere, and he looked like a nice guy in need of a ride. I was lonely too and in need of company, so I picked him up.
The guy spoke little English, so with my junior high D in Spanish, our communication was terrible. I had enough of a foundation to understand that he needed a ride to Juarez, but I said I could only take him to El Paso, which was right across the border. We first went to Carlsbad to make the cash pick up. I made the guy wait in the car while I went inside to get the money. When I came out and showed him the envelope full of bills, he freaked out, assuming I’d most likely stolen it. After that, we picked up some beer, bread and potted meat, my food of choice when I was using dope and on a serious budget. The dude seemed in need of all three, so I gave him some of each. He seemed happy as could be.
From Carlsbad, still taking the back road we drove about twenty miles uphill, and then about twenty miles downhill. We drank cheap Keystone Light as I silently thanked God I hadn’t received another DWI, which would have surely landed me in the slammer and cost me everything I owned.
The dude knew El Paso really well, so we found a safe street to drink. We began to drink heavily, and he told me the sad story of his family. I don’t know if he was manipulating me or not, but dammit if his story didn’t touch my heart. At the end of his tale, he told me he had a sister he wanted to set me up with in Mexico.
I guess because of his story I changed my mind and decided to drive him to his final destination, a town called Zaragoza, next to Juarez, that was very dangerous. I fell asleep in the car with the windows down while I waited for him to go into his house. I later learned that I could have easily had my throat slashed for my car. When I woke up, I realized that the dry wind on the road had blown a bunch of sand into my ear and the corner of my mouth. I looked around and noticed that the house he was in was more like a shack; the fence around it was made of the same pallets I had stolen with Jake and B. He invited me in and as I entered, I saw that the floor was made of nothing more than sand and earth. I sat at a table and drank a coke out of an old school bottle he offered me.
His sister came out and he introduced us. The sister had gaps in her buckteeth, so I quickly decided that I had to be on my way. He took me to the roadside market and showed me where he sold cigarettes. On the ride over, I realized that his demeanor had become more abrasive since we had arrived in his hometown.
I dropped him off at the market and he pointed me towards the border, so I drove off. At customs, they pulled my car over, probably due to my appearance and/or the Camaro’s dingy coat of primer. I wasn’t sure if my warrant had kicked in yet. I wondered whether or not the border patrol guards, who were federal agents, would be able to see it. It never occurred to me I might get pulled over at customs, because if it had, I never would have taken the guy into Mexico.
The agents started to interrogate the hell out of me, especially after I told them that I was visiting a friend on my way to California. They noticed the strange invoices and Georgia driver’s license, and although they had no proof of anything illegal, the fact that I looked a bit strung out on drugs while supposedly being the owner of a publishing company made the agents very suspicious.
The agents claimed that they’d found a marijuana seed, and with the zero tolerance law in effect, they said it was enough for them to impound my car. They threw me in a holding tank. I was very respectful to them, almost to the point of kissing ass, because I didn’t want to lose my car or go to jail over a seed of marijuana.
I was in a pretty big cell sitting on a hard bench. The border agent kept looking at me silently through a tiny rectangular sliding door at his eye level that only showed his eyes. He would ask questions then slam the peep door shut. Every time he opened and closed the door it made an abrasive sliding noise. It was extremely intimidating. He asked again if I was sure I wasn’t holding anything illegal, and I assured him I was not.
He then said, “Take your pants off.”
I think he was testing me to see if I would break down before they tore my car apart in the search for dope. He told me to bend over, spread my cheeks and cough twice. An hour or so later, they released me.
I was now paranoid as hell, so as I drove away I stuck with the back roads once again, making sure to shake anyone who might have been tailing me. I quickly arrived in El Paso and rested in a Mervyn’s parking lot where I had once pulled some scams with Todd. I noticed a lady park her car a few spaces away from me. When she got out, she dropped her change purse without noticing. I was always torn between doing the right thing and the wrong thing. I drew the line at hurting anyone physically, but I was in need of money. I got out of the car, ran over to the wallet, and picked it up.
Just then, paranoia kicked in, and I thought that maybe it was a sting operation. I really wanted to keep it, but fear stopped me. I yelled to the lady and gave the purse back. I then headed to a payphone to call a Wal-Mart, pulled a quick scam and went on my way to Tucson, a city I had always hated and thought was ugly. In Tucson I stopped at a Circle-K that would become more familiar a few months later.
I left for Phoenix the next day, knowing there was some serious dope to be had in that town. When I arrived, I got a room at a giant, twenty-dollar a night Motel-6 on Van Buren, which was full of hookers, pimps and drugs. The activity there was blatant, a far cry from the conservative exteriors of the drug neighborhoods in Texas. I had never seen anything like it before, and I really liked it.
I was finally working for myself without depending on Todd or anyone else to give me crumbs, so after pulling a bunch of scams on several new Wal-Marts, I had a good amount of cash. At the end of the day I went to a Circle-K patronized by a lot of scummy looking people. I bought all of the paraphernalia I needed to get high: a lighter, a Brillo pad, a straight-piece glass tube, a pack of cigarettes and a quart of beer for later.
I went over to a white guy hanging around the parking lot and asked, “Hey man, do you know where to get some shit?”
He replied, “Yeah man, what do you need?”
I told him that if he got me a forty of rock, I would give him an extra ten bucks. We walked to my car, jumped in and drove off. I noticed he had a bunch of sores on his skin, possibly from AIDS. It became evident he was a heroin addict.
He took me to an apartment building. Warning me that the area was hot, he went in alone, but not before handing me a tiny ball of heroin, which was probably not even enough to get anyone very high.
He looked at me with a very serious expression and said, “Please, please don’t lose this, no matter what!”
I told him not to worry about it, so he left and returned a few minutes later with my rock. I gave him the extra ten bucks and drove him back to the Circle-K.
“So you’re chasing the dragon?” I asked him on the way. “I ain’t chasing shit, man!” His sour response informed me that I’d used the wrong term.
I dropped him off at the Circle-K, took my rocks into the motel and proceeded to smoke them with my newly assembled pipe. It was some good shit. I often smoked rock very quickly and used the flame directly onto the screen, which is bad for crack pipe because it ruins the Brillo screen and vaporizes the crack. In the past, several people had even accused me of fucking up the pipe.
After smoking forty dollars’ worth within an hour or so, I was back in my car to look for the heroin addict and buy some more. He wasn’t around so I decided to find the crack house on my own this time. I drove through the barrio looking for it but I never did find the heroin addict’s place. I did, however find one pointed out by some hookers that was run by Mexican guys from a big drug dealing gang called Wetback Power.
I knocked on the door, and after an invisible pair of eyes sized me up and let me in, another guy locked the door behind me with a two-by-four. The house was abandoned and dark inside. The windows were boarded up and the only source of illumination was faint candlelight. One young gangbanger that I thought was cool held a pump shotgun, but the others were not so amicable.
I asked the young guy for sixty dollars of rock, and he handed me three boulder-sized chunks. I looked at the rocks in amazement, and my heart started to beat faster, flooding my chest with anxiety. I wanted to get out of the house as soon as possible so that I could get back to the motel room and geek out. An old Mexican cowboy said something in Spanish to the young guy, who then translated to me that the cowboy thought I was a cop and wanted me to take a hit. I must not have looked as strung out as I was, but I quickly and happily put the cowboy’s mind at ease by taking a big fat hit off a pipe they had ready for me.
I let out a huge billow of smoke and all of the sudden, the border patrol incident, the scams, the warrants and everything I was worried about came back with a vengeance to haunt me in the form of paranoia. Once I exhaled, I had very certain knowledge that I was going to get busted by the cops, that around the next corner the cops were waiting to bust my ass and impound my car. That familiar sense of impending doom was overwhelming. I left the crack house without issue, the one hit being enough to convince them I was an authentic junkie.
I got back to the motel, amazed that I made it home without getting busted. Once in my room, I locked the doors and readied my pipe to smoke some more. I went at it, and yet again, I was fucking up the pipe, but I didn’t care. It was the biggest one-man dope party I had ever attended. I realized that for one of the first times in my life I was on my own, making my own money to buy my own crack, paying my own way for a motel, fucking up my own pipe, and not having anyone tell me what I could and couldn’t do.
I had waited so long to be on my own, but even though it felt great, I was also struck with a fear of being all alone. By the time I was halfway done with my dope, I started tiptoeing around the room, which was always a bad sign. Regardless of this I kept at it, never letting the pipe cool down, I resolved to finish the whole sixty. I stayed in the bathroom, crouching over the toilet in case the cops came in and I had to flush down the residue caked dope pipe. If I wasn’t crouching over the toilet, I was sitting behind the bed, watching the door. I started peeking out the window, knowing damn well that peeking was another bad sign. I had already latched the chain lock, but there was also a dead bolt: a vertical lock that twists locked. I was sure it was turning to the right, slowly unlocking itself as I watched. I would blink my eyes real hard to adjust my sight and look again, and it would start unlocking again from the locked position.
Your eyes play tricks on you when you smoke, and that was certainly the case for me that night. There is a song by the Ghetto Boys called, Mind Playing Tricks on Me. The lyrics describe various mental states such as hallucination, delusion, and paranoia. Since I had gone solo I had become a peeker, someone who peeks out of windows and around corners out of paranoia, whereas previously I had just been a carpet crawler, someone who crawls on the carpet while high, searching in vain for crack rocks that never existed.
I then heard dogs barking and was convinced that a pack of police hound dogs were coming down the street on leashes held by cops, about to come up to my room and sniff out the drugs at any moment. I crushed my brown dope-saturated pipe, flushed it down the toilet and jumped into the bed, pretending like I was asleep. I lay still, listening to my heart thump from crack abuse and fear. After I came down, I was upset at myself for flushing the pipe since there had been many good hits left in it. I took a quick nap before having to leave the motel.
It was close to the noon checkout time. I felt so empty and hopeless. I got my few things together and left the motel. There were orange trees all over Phoenix, so before I left I loaded a plastic bag full of fruit and went on my way. I drove off and peeled one, bit into it, and spit it right out, realizing that it was an ornamental orange. There was a big homeless problem all over Phoenix, and all that had to be done to give people a free source of food would have been to plant some real orange trees, but instead these fruits were only for show.
I drove to do a scam pick up, and afterwards I went to another crack house. This time, the door was answered by a dude whose face and arms were covered with burn scars. I asked the guy for a twenty. When he showed me the rocks, I noticed that they were pink. I had never seen pink rocks before, but because I was desperate for a hit, I didn’t care about the color. There were people lying on the couch that I didn’t pay much attention to either, though I did notice that one of the guys looked a little too healthy, almost muscular. Since I had destroyed my crack pipe in the motel, I decided to use the dealer’s pipe. I took a hit, and right away I started feeling funny. I’m not sure if it was some other chemical in the crack that made me feel different or the bad company, but something wasn’t right.
The muscular guy on the couch started talking to a chick next to him that looked like a prostitute. I remember the conversation, because in my post-hit paranoia I thought maybe the guy was so healthy-looking because he was a cop.
“Hey girl, you’re looking good since high school. Whatever happened to that guy you were dating back then?” said the muscular man.
The woman replied, “He went crazy and beat himself up with a chair.”
Instantly, I became suspicious. Her words made no sense. Nobody beats themselves up with a chair. I thought it was a conversation designed to scare me, which is exactly what it did. I fled the crack house certain I was being followed, that the feds were onto me. Every corner I turned I just knew they were using Motorolas to report my whereabouts to each other, so I kept trying to shake them off my tail by driving fast. I started with a full tank of gas, but by the time I finished, I had run out of fuel. Broke and depleted, I pulled into yet another Wal-Mart parking lot.
It was now around four in the morning. I did my best to get a good night’s rest in my car’s uncomfortable, non-reclining seat, but the next morning I woke up feeling helpless, scared, and depressed. I didn’t even brush my teeth when I decided to get on the payphone and burn through the last of the Wal-Marts on my list with my scam. After having no luck and coming up empty, my mind started thinking of what to do to survive. I went inside the Wal-Mart where I was parked, snatched a pair of twenty-dollar sunglasses, took them to the returns cashier and returned them. Wal-Mart allowed this up to three times without a receipt. They would input your driver’s license number and once you maxed out at three returns, you were done. I learned this scam from a guy who stole fishing reels. He would steal them and then return them for drug money using other people’s identification cards.
The twenty dollars I got back was enough to get me to Tucson. At about 10 A.M., I went to a payphone and only had to make one call to a Sonic Burger to land a sale. I sold it cheap for $64.50 to ensure they said yes. The manager told me he would have the money ready for me after 3 P.M. because he needed change in his till, so I had nothing to do and didn’t know anything about Tucson, except that it was ugly as hell.
I read a newspaper in a park, trying to look inconspicuous and not knowing what else to do with myself. I was consumed with fear, wondering what I was going to do next and where. As I sat there, the sound of an old car with a very loud, busted muffler grew louder and louder until the piece of shit Camaro that the noise belonged to pulled into the lot. It parked right next to my Camaro, which happened to be pretty nice. On top of the exhaust leak, the busted car’s paint was stripped off and the doors clanked when the two guys inside opened them.
The two guys stood talking for a minute. One of them was real buff, standing around 6’1”. The dude was wearing a white tank top with Levi jeans and boots, and was way too muscular. The other guy was shorter than me by about five inches, and I stood at 5’11. This made him look like a little shrimp next to his partner. They both had mustaches and goatees, and the big guy resembled a Latino version of McGarret from Hawaii Five-O, he had the same hairstyle but with a big hooknose and large muscles. The little guy was real weasel-like, wearing a black pullover shirt, sneakers, and a cap that read, I love Sonora. I sat down at the table, still pretending to read a newspaper, but secretly watching my back and sizing up and feeling the vibe of the two strangers.
The pair walked over and sat at the table next to me where the big guy rolled up a joint. I was going through serious mental withdrawal from marijuana, so when they started smoking right in front of me, my brain began to race. I wanted to ask for some, but I only had a couple of dollars to spare. Besides, I thought the big guy looked pretty damn dangerous. Nevertheless, the possibility of getting stoned was worth whatever risks were involved.
Because my Spanish sucked, I asked in English if they could sell me a joint for two dollars. The small guy translated to the big guy who agreed and shook his head in a charitable manner. When I went over to get the joint, the big guy told me to hit theirs. It felt like a gift from heaven. Going through mental withdrawal from marijuana was like shivering in the freezing cold rain. When I was finally offered a toke, it was like being wrapped in a warm, heated blanket of comfort.
I was pretty amazed at how it happened. I had been obsessing over how I could get some weed, and then it landed right in my lap. I had no idea at the time, but meeting these guys was going to completely change my world.
The big guy told the little guy something, and he translated it to me. “Hey, he wants to know what you are doing out here.”
I told him I was from Texas and living in my car. They talked some more to each other and then the little guy translated it was dangerous on the streets and that I should go with them to the big guy’s sister’s house. I didn’t know it for a fact, but I had a lurking suspicion that they were setting me up for something. Nevertheless, in my position I figured it was better for me to roll the dice and take these guys up on their offer than to keep living by the seat of my pants. I got in my Camaro and followed them in the worn down beat up piece of shit Camaro they were in.
We went down the street and pulled into the alley behind a row of small, low-budget duplex apartments. The big guy held the door open and told me to go inside. We entered the house from the back and I followed the guys into a tiny kitchen. The little guy then walked across the room and stood in the front doorway, while the big guy barred the back doorway.
I will never forget what happened next. The beefy guy reached into his crotch area and pulled out a big butcher knife. My heart sank. I thought it was the end and I was done for. But he wasn’t holding the knife like he was going to stab me. Instead, he tossed it on the table and said, “Look,” in Spanish.
He bent over on his hands, threw his feet up over his head against the door, and effortlessly executed about ten vertical pushups. I was both impressed and relieved. He stood up, breathing like a race horse. I had never seen such an animalistic individual. Not only did he behave in a primitive fashion, but he also looked the part. He pounded his chest, grunting, “Macizo!” Which meant massive, and he was right.
After the spectacle, we went into the living room. This is when the test came. The Latino McGarret pulled out two bags of weed that each looked to be a couple of ounces. One of the bags had really lime-green weed, while the other held dirt-brown low grade weed. The big guy had the little guy translate, asking me which weed was better. I gave him a look as if it were obvious and replied. I was wondering why they were asking me a simple, common sense question, and I thought that maybe they were checking to see if I was a legitimate dope fiend.
We sat on the couch smoking out for some time, at which point they offered me a Bud Light. I tried resisting, but they kept pushing and finally I accepted. I made it a point to never get drunk before making a cash pickup. Since I was supposed to be with the high school, it really wasn’t cool for me to look wasted. I knew I had a problem with alcohol, but I tried to keep it under control until after I got paid.
It was finally time for me to get the money from the burger place. I explained that I needed to go alone, but they weren’t cool with that and kept pressuring me, wearing strange looks on their faces. I caved in and took them with me, and pulled over at a carwash to explain they needed to wait there. After offering some resistance, they did as I asked, but I still had a gut feeling something was up.
Everything went smoothly even though I was a little tipsy. I made the pickup and got back into my car. As I sat there, I contemplated if I should just take off, get a motel and make some more sales on my own, leaving those dudes at the carwash. But like a planet in orbit, I gravitated towards them, especially because they had a lot of weed and a place to kick back at the sister’s apartment.
I picked them up, grabbed some more beers and headed back to the sister’s place. We all started getting really drunk, and afterwards cruised around in my car. A guy in a Mustang 5.0 was taunting me to race him at a red light. I always had something to prove, so I decided to give him a run for his money. I beat him, but it didn’t make me feel good. I realized how foolish it was for me to risk getting a drunk driving charge while out of state with no extra money to make bail or get my car out of the impound. For God’s sake, I was on the run from my home state where I had a DWI warrant for my arrest brewing, yet there I was risking everything just to show off.
We got back to the apartment right when the sister’s two sons arrived. She had a three-year-old and an eight-year-old. We didn’t know it at the time, but we would soon become like family. The sister’s name was Juana. Juana had a roommate whose mom also lived there. It was after meeting everybody that I finally heard the big guy’s name. They called him Cocaina. Cocaina was the only one who didn’t live at the apartment, which had two small bedrooms including the small laundry room that had been converted for Juana’s roommate. There was also a large console on which Juana played loud Banda music continuously. I had never heard Spanish music like this before, as most people in Texas listened to Tejano music which has more accordion and less trumpet.
After becoming acquainted with everyone, I commenced getting loaded at the kitchen table with Cocaina, as the little guy had already left. I was pretty drunk and tried to explain to him that I needed a place to stay while I opened up an operation in town. It seemed that it wouldn’t take much to open shop and start scamming on a larger scale. This meant no longer relying on the cash-only spots, and to do this I was going to have to open a DBA. I tried to tell him that within a couple of weeks the business would be up and running, and in exchange for a place to stay I would give him my car. He probably didn’t understand much of what I said, and looking back on it, I’m sure he’d already made up his mind about what he was planning to do. I kept drinking and eventually passed out on the couch.
When I woke up in the morning, Cocaina was standing over me. He said something in Spanish that I didn’t understand, but Juana’s roommate, Suzy, translated for me. She said that he wanted my car keys so he could go buy a twelve-pack of beer. Apparently he had understood my foolish offer from the previous night after all, but I started putting my shoes on anyway, acting as if I didn’t fully comprehend his question.
Suzy said, “What, you don’t trust him?”
I had a strong gut feeling that my situation was going south. This wasn’t the first time I’d had a premonition like this, and as usual, I didn’t listen to it. I reached into my pocket and handed him my keys, which included my mom’s house keys from a few weeks prior when I was still enjoying the comforts of home.
I hoped and prayed my fears would not come true, but after about a half hour I started to worry. An hour later I really started to worry. I guess I was still in denial. I wanted to believe that everything was going to be all right. After about four hours the phone rang. It was Cocaina and he was in Mexico with my car. He told Juana to tell me that he was going to trade it for some weed and that he’d let me know when I could go and pick him up. All of my clothes were still in the trunk, so he was leaving me with nothing. I guess he still had a use for me, which was probably why I was able to stay at Juana’s apartment.
That whole day I hung around the front yard of the apartment building. It resembled a small desert where grass tried to grow, but without any luck. I spent a lot of time on an outdoor vanilla colored loveseat because I didn’t feel comfortable being in the house the whole while. I made it into a cozy area where I could sit, worry and feel sorry for myself. I was very depressed and I didn’t have much money left since I always went for broke when I partied. I went out and bought a pack of smokes at the nearby liquor store, quickly returning to the loveseat and my sorrows. I was emotionally distressed about the entire situation, especially the part about having to make myself at home in a stranger’s house because her brother had stolen my car.
Thankfully, Juana’s children gave me some hope of acceptance. The three-year-old, who they called Tonito, was very cocky and funny, and I liked him a lot. He didn’t seem to be afraid of anything. He didn’t speak, but instead cooed and grunted. His eight-year-old brother was starved for the attention that his mom never gave him. Survival seemed to be his main goal, and though I never saw him eat, somehow he was chubby. Juana appeared very young and it was obvious that she wasn’t trying to win any Mom of the Year awards.
I had no weed that day so I got drunk off of Mickey’s malt liquor and passed out on the couch. The next morning I woke up concerned about pulling my own weight. I was very hungry and decided I would apply for emergency food stamps. Juana told me where to go. She knew exactly where to send me since that was her chief source of income. A few hours later I returned with food stamps and bags of food. I rejoiced, feeling like a hunter coming home from the kill, although in actuality I was probably something lower than a gatherer.
The first person to greet me was the eight year-old. He saw me pull out the bag of meat and asked me what it was. I’m sure he had seen meat before, but he wanted to confirm that it wasn’t a mirage. I explained that I had all the ingredients to make a Tex-Mex dish called Carne Guisada. Immediately, the boy’s eyes lit up, as he had been living off of whatever welfare food his mom had around, which he usually had to prepare for himself.
As I started browning the meat and the smell of good cooking filled the kitchen, he began dancing around all giddy, as if it was some festive occasion. I had learned how to cook with my stoner friends back in Texas. We would smoke so much weed that if we didn’t know how to feed ourselves, we’d be risking death by munchies.
I drank a couple of forty-ounce Mickey’s I’d brought home while I cooked. Unfortunately, when I got drunk I would add too much of this or that, and this time was no exception. I added too much chili. I made it so spicy that when it was time to eat, the boy had no choice but to man up. He struggled with every bite, but he wasn’t about to miss out, and devoured the whole thing within a few minutes.
Thus began my acceptance into the family. Over the next couple of days I found myself becoming more and more entrenched. Wanting to contribute more financially, I quickly got a telemarketing job for an air conditioning company. At that point, all I really cared about was my basic security and getting wasted.
My acceptance into the family also meant I had to drink at home and not go out on the town, for on weekend nights I had to babysit while the girls went bar hopping. Almost without fail, they would come home with different men every weekend. Not only did they sleep with strangers, but they would have sex in the next room with no door between us. It didn’t take long to realize I was living with some very promiscuous women.
Suzy was a hardcore bitch, and Juana was pretty vicious as well. They got into fights with other girls on a regular basis. One night I met Suzy’s brother, Meme, a gang-banger who thought he was a real badass. He’d come over to have Suzy shave his head. All he talked about was Barrio Libre, which was the name of the clique that claimed our neighborhood. He also spoke of his upcoming court case, as he was awaiting sentencing on a drive-by shooting charge. I disliked this dude from the first time we met.
While drinking in the front yard I got acquainted with the neighbor, a scraggy, longhaired, skinny Mexican-Indian who smoked low-grade weed. The dude would start drinking early in the morning and go all day. He was married to a half-black chick twice his size, but would always get drunk and listen to Bronco or Los Bukis, crying about his ex-girlfriend. His woman once beat the shit out of him in front of me because she knew he was weeping over the love he left behind in Mexico. The guy was a mess. I would often visit this near-suicidal manic-depressive to drink and get high while listening to sad Spanish music. It would get old quick.
I had a thing for his sister-in-law, who was half Native American and half black. She was ghetto as hell, but very sexy. One night I was working on my third 40-ounce Mickey’s sitting with her on an old couch outside our apartment, when I heard Meme yell something from the street. It was something disrespectful, and it pissed me off. He was talking shit, so I yelled to him to meet me in the street. I was a hothead and on top of that I was trying to impress the sister-in-law.
I don’t remember any of it. People said that I ran outside and tried to jump the chain link fence, but fell down on the other side. After I got up, I walked up to Meme and he swiftly knocked me out with one punch. He then pulled me by my arm to get me out of the street, but let my head drag along the ground. The next morning I woke up with my ear all scabbed and I had a serious black eye. I hated Meme even more after that.
It had been a month or so and I had just about given up on the possibility of redeeming any sort of compensation from Cocaina for my vehicle. Then, one morning, the phone call came in. It was Cocaina. He wanted me to drive the piece of shit Camaro he had left behind to a small Arizona town at the Mexican border to pick him up, because supposedly he had traded my car for fifteen pounds of high-grade weed.
I bummed some smokes from Juana. She gave me twenty bucks for gas and directions to where I was to meet Cocaina. Along the way I smoked a joint and wondered about life as I drove through the arid desert landscape not worrying about adding the gas. Among all my worries, my chief concern was whether we were going to be able to smoke some of Cocaina’s load right when I picked him up. I also thought about the danger involved, but I decided to just roll with the punches. I figured I would get out of any jam that arose. I thought highly of my abilities. Yet this would be the day I was arrested at the gas station with the three Mexicans.
After being released from the Border Patrol jail where I’d been detained for getting caught with the brick of weed in Cocaina’s car, I had no idea where I was in Tucson. I got on a bus and asked the driver how to get to 6th street. I sat on the hard plastic seat contemplating the fact that I was headed back to a place where I might not be welcome, and that once again I was entertaining a future filled with uncertainty.
As the bus drove past the adobe style houses, I replayed everything that had just happened. I thought about what a piece of shit Cocaina was for planting the load with my identification card and picture, and while I usually dealt with this sort of thing using physical violence, he was clearly much too strong for me to take down.
I thought, ‘If I was as big as him, I’d give him a good ass whooping.’
I got off the bus and walked inside Juana’s residence. I explained to her that we had lost everything, and that I was miraculously let go. She didn’t seem to care either way, and didn’t ask me too many questions after I told her I would be going back to work to help out with the rent. As a telemarketer I would soon be pulling in close to $1,300 a month, which was mucho dinero in that house. After the brief conversation with Juana I went back to my comfortable seat in the front yard to finish another 40-ounce of Mickey’s.
I lit up a smoke and looked down the street, there was an unmarked car about three houses down. It was a white car with dark tinted windows and about five different antennas of various sizes. I was already paranoid about undercover cops, so when this car popped up on the scene I went on high alert. With a grin, I looked right at them and took another gulp of my drink. With the same uncomfortable feeling of being watched that I had felt when we were busted at the gas station, I decided to go inside. This was the first time I was aware of being under surveillance.
Just a couple days later, Cocaina showed up out of the blue. He pulled out a 9mm, placed it on the kitchen table and asked, “Eres un rat?”
By then I knew some Spanish, but I didn’t know what he was saying because, while I knew the Spanish word for rat, rata, I had never heard the word rat in Spanish. So I asked, “What is a rat?”
Meme’s sister translated, saying that he wanted to know if I was a rat.
I replied, “Fuck no, I’m not a rat! I didn’t give anyone’s name and I told the Border Patrol I wouldn’t talk to them without an attorney, so they didn’t ask me shit.”
Cocaina began having a conversation in Spanish with Meme’s sister, who then said that Cocaina wanted to know why I didn’t know what a rat was. I started getting nervous because I knew this conversation would need to come out right. I explained that I thought he was speaking completely in Spanish, and therefore I thought when he said the word rat, that it was a Spanish word I was not exactly sure he meant to say. I told them that I know the word to be raton in Spanish so I was confused. I was terrified my answer would not be good enough. He didn’t seem to like my response, but eventually eased off and offered me some cocaine. I told him that I was cool, and that I wanted to smoke weed instead.
Within a couple of months I was the top producer at work and was making upwards of $1,600 a month. Since it looked like I was staying long term, we all moved into a larger three-bedroom house where I slept on a mattress in the garage style room at the back of the house. Even though I was one of the bigger breadwinners, I took the smallest room because my only concern was getting loaded. It wasn’t the ideal living situation, especially because even after two months I still wasn’t too close with the girls. However, we were warming up to each other a bit, and living with them was my best option.
I rarely bought anything for myself except beer, drugs and food. I was able to get the few items of clothing I owned at a homeless shelter the day I got the food stamps. I told my mom that the vehicle and my belongings had been stolen, and she mailed me a box of clothes and shoes that she bought at Mervyns’.
It was a Friday when Juana’s sister came to town from Mexico with her husband, two daughters and son. That night my roommates and Juana’s new boyfriend, Gato, went out dancing. I knew Gato from the old neighborhood. He was having sex with the half-black ghetto neighbor girl that I liked but never got with, and now he was fucking Juana too!? I was extremely envious since I wasn’t having sex with anybody at all.
For some reason, Gato’s younger brother stayed back at the house. I was in the living room drinking Tequila while Gato’s younger brother who was around twenty years old and the ten-year-old daughter of Juana’s sister sat on the couch together talking while I pretended to doze off. Juana’s sister and husband were in Suzy’s room.
While watching the two out of the slits of my eyes while drunk, it seemed to me that Gato’s brother was making conversation and laughing with the little girl. I got up, walked over to the guy and punched him in the face. As if possessed, I continued to punch him in the face over and over again until I knocked him out. Then, when he fell to the ground, I noticed a pool of blood.
The girl’s dad heard the commotion and ran into the room. When I told the dad that Gato’s brother had tried to make a move on his daughter, the man’s eyes widened in disbelief. He kicked Gato’s brother in the head with his boots. I then dragged his body out of the house onto the gravel outside. I was in an alcohol brown out but still remember the horrific image of gravel and caked up dirt and blood stuck to his face.
A couple of hours later, around 3A.M., Gato and the girls returned from partying. They saw Gato’s brother lying on the ground in the carport and immediately rushed him to the hospital. They returned from the hospital and all started flipping out, asking me what had happened. I told them that Gato’s brother had tried to make a move on the girl, and that I wasn’t going to let that shit go down.
“You know what? Your brother’s a piece of shit!” I said with conviction, looking straight into Gato’s eyes. I was justifying and defending my actions. The tension was high and I wasn’t sure what Gato was going to do in response.
Juana’s niece was allowed to sleep a little longer before being asked for her side of the story. She told them what happened in Spanish and it was a totally different story from what I told. I had gone to my room still drunk, to sleep it off. Suzy woke me up and said something that made my heart sink.
She said, “You know what? I think your story is bullshit! I think you were drunk and just felt like kicking some ass so you beat him up.”
‘Damn!’ I thought, ‘Anything but that.’
She had nailed me, for in truth, I wasn’t really that clear on what had happened or why. I honestly don’t know if he was making a move on the little girl or if I was creating a reason to explode on him and release the build-up of frustration and resentment I had inside over his brother. I felt terrible emotionally and physically, the latter because it felt like I’d broken my hand punching the guy.
While confronting me, Juana and Suzy also confronted the girl’s mom, saying there was money missing. She was sleeping in Suzy’s room, so there wasn’t anyone else who could have done it. This was good for me, because it deflected some of the attention away from my situation. Another deflector was the fact that Juana’s brother-in-law was a participant in the beating which made it impossible to pin the beating solely on me.
Nevertheless, Juana convinced everyone to force me out of the house because Gato wanted revenge. Juana, her sister and husband then talked me into going to Mexico to Juana’s sister’s house in a town right next to the border. I didn’t feel like going anywhere because I had broken my pinky knuckle on Gato’s brother’s head and had a nasty hangover, but I was worried what the repercussions might be if I stayed. Also, my room had no door, leaving me very vulnerable. I didn’t want to lose my job, but Juana and her family pressured me hard to leave. They said it would only be for a week, so I said okay.
Hours later, on the way to Mexico, I was writhing in pain from a killer hangover while sitting in the back of Juana’s brother’s truck. I slept most of the way, as I was tired after waking early from anxiety over the previous night’s events. As we approached the border, I woke myself up and tried to reach into my pocket with my broken knuckle, which caused me massive pain.
So there I was again, on the road with another set of strangers. Luckily, the kids helped me feel a bit more at ease, as the two older ones spoke English, while their parents and the youngest girl, who had a crush on me, did not.
We arrived at a small town on the other side of the border, where they took me into their house. Later that night, the young boy translated that Juana said I couldn’t go back to her house because of the problems I had created, and that Gato wanted to kill me. Things weren’t good, as my money was very low and the condition of my new living quarters was poor, with a shower that only ran cold water. Being a clean freak, and loving my showers, I was not happy about the situation. It was right around September, so the temperature was still warm but on its way down. When things got colder, I ended up taking baths in a fifty-gallon bucket with boiled water mixed in for warmth.
They gave me the boy’s room, which I soon realized was because Juana’s sister, Josefina saw me as a commodity. She had thought up big plans for the American white guy. The room was a bit stuffy, so I left the window open while I slept the first night. I quickly learned my lesson about leaving windows open there however, as I must have been bitten a hundred times by mosquitoes. I had bite marks all over even on the bottoms of my feet. The next night I slept with burning mosquito coils which repelled the mosquitos. I soon learned some poorer people in town used burning newspapers in a can.
I was stunned that people lived so differently in Mexico, doing things like reusing old glass soda bottles and eating beans as a staple in their diet, beans often being the only thing we could afford when money was low. We hardly ever ate meat, and when we did it was just a little bit.
I was also surprised by a guy that delivered gas tanks for cooking and a man from a factory in the nearest city that would drive around in his Nissan pick-up truck sounding an anti-theft alarm. It signaled that his fresh, soft, amazing corn tortillas were available for purchase. Back in 1994 the new Mexican money was called Nuevo-pesos. The coins had a gold center, which I’d never seen before. I was even amused at the difference in the matchboxes; the Mexican ones had only a single strike strip and the sticks were made from a different type of wood. I was really enjoying learning about a new culture.
One thing that wasn’t different was that you needed money to survive. I was worried about this, so I told the boy to tell his mom that I was going to start looking for a job. This was her plan all along, as I could easily get work across the border, earning much more than they could.
The next day I went to the U.S. side to find employment, but there wasn’t much there besides a Burger King. I went in and told them of my past experience, but the manager said I was overqualified. I then went to a small golf course and applied for a job. They hired me on the condition that it would be for two weeks maximum, and at minimum wage. My job was to trim the shrubs, pick up trash, and cut the golf course fairways. They treated me like crap, using me and talking down to me.
With my new wages I put more eggs and meat on the table, which was nice, even if it didn’t last long. I had a bit of a thing for the mom, and sometimes considered soliciting her for sex in exchange for money, but I never went through with it. For what she had to work with, she did her best to be a good mom, taking care of her kids and husband at any cost. When my two weeks at the golf course were over, the mom had a job waiting for me with some people she knew. The one condition was that I had to pose as her nephew. Apparently the family had some pull, slight as it was.
The morning of my first day of work, the mom packed me a lunch of bolillo bread with white cheese and beans. I was really excited. A guy walked me across the border where we met another guy in a truck. He drove us to a lot with many workers and a foreman. The foreman spoke English, and, being that I was the only white guy there, I would often shoot the shit with him. I was working as a laborer, building platforms for the other workers who were installing stucco walling. My job involved mixing concrete and pulling it up to the builders on the roof, which was very strenuous. After a few weeks at work I began to feel close to my coworkers and decided to open up to them. They kept asking questions about my family and where in Texas I was from. Tired of the burden of lying about being a part of the family I was living with, I confessed, telling them I wasn’t the nephew after all. The next day I was told there was no more work and was fired.
Cocaina lived in the same town, but it was rare for me to hang out with him. We drank beer together one day. I never really forgave him for what he did with my car, so I was half pretending to be cool with him. There was a barrio nearby where young thugs hung out and got high. I loved hanging out there because the guys were more like me. We went to a convenience store I often hung out in front of, where some of the neighborhood children would play foosball with a rock because they couldn’t afford a real ball. Cocaina went up and put a quarter into a machine that spit out balls for the kids. Apparently, somewhere under the hard exterior, he did have a heart.
Cocaina was drinking in his backyard one day when I stopped by. Out of nowhere he erupted in a dark seemingly evil laughter. Somehow he found my presence in Mexico amusing. After all I had been through it was just a reminder that I couldn’t trust the guy. Cocaina would often cruise around with his 9mm pistol. He had a bad reputation in the neighborhood for being dangerous.
I was once at a bar when a random guy asked me if I was a dedo, which means a finger, or a rat. There were a lot of drug smugglers in town due to the proximity to the border. I told him that my friends were members of Cocaina’s family, and instantly the guy apologized and offered to buy me a beer, which I accepted. I then messed with the guy and made him buy me more drinks throughout the night.
I would cruise around the town with Josefina’s fifteen year-old son who acted as my guide and interpreter. On one of our trips I bought a six-pack of Tecate. We took the drinks to a field near abandoned train tracks and a few very old boxcars that had been converted into homes. Three guys approached us.
One said, “Hey, remember us?”
“No,” I replied.
“We’re the guys you were arrested with by La Migra.”
I then realized that it was the guy who had lit my cigarette while I was handcuffed in the Border Patrol truck. We talked a bit about the incident and laughed at our bad luck. They told me where they hung out, so after that I started meeting up with them occasionally in the barrio whenever I wasn’t at work. They were decent guys, but preferred illegal activities to hard labor.
These guys knew many people, most of whom were gangsters or thugs. I was high one day, walking away from a crowd of guys hanging out at the side of a house, when I was struck in the head with a small rock. It was very painful. I knew the guy that threw it and his clique because they sometimes hung out with the Mexicans from the Arizona immigration incident. This group of thugs loved to throw rocks, and would pass time pitching them at a streetlight near the liquor store. Whenever I was hanging out there, dinging sounds would ring out over and over again.
I looked over and saw one guy inspecting me, laughing and staring as if challenging me. He started in my direction in an aggressive manner. I went over to this nineteen-year-old dude and faked a punch to his face while I kicked him in the balls. He doubled over and nothing else happened. I walked away the victor, and later heard that he pissed blood that night.
A few weeks later, the same guy tried to mess with me again while I was wasted. He started talking shit to me while I was hanging out at the same liquor store. He was with a friend that I thought I got along with pretty well, but just as my sparring partner and I were about to throw blows, the friend blindsided me and busted my lip. I grabbed my lip and started crying like a hopeless drunk, an incident I was told about the following day. I guess my feelings were hurt because I thought I was cool with the friend. The guys in the barrio never let me live it down.
Soon after, I moved out of Josefina’s place and into a rundown house with the three Mexicans from the Tucson bust. In addition, there were a few associates that would come hang out and party with us. The leader’s name was Porky. Like everyone else in the residence, he was into crack, whiskey, beer and weed.
A few days later, I walked passed Cocaina’s house and saw him outside, so I stopped by to see if he had any weed. He had a deep laceration on the inside of his elbow. He said he’d gotten it earlier that day from hopping a fence while running from the cops. He was sitting on a bench sewing up his wound with a home stitching kit. This wasn’t the first time he’d practiced medicine on himself. I had been told that a cop once chased Cocaina while carrying a half-ounce of coke. To escape, he went and hid inside a fortress of cacti, which left him with hundreds of enormous cacti spines lodged in his skin. That night he and his buddies did coke while pulling the plant spikes out one by one. A week after the fence-hopping incident, Cocaina was thrown in jail for stealing a car and I never saw him again.
Not long after that I went with Porky and a few guys to get a haircut from a gay barber that was well known for his work. While he was cutting my hair, I mentioned something about Cocaina to one of the guys. The barber then announced that he was Cocaina’s boyfriend and nobody else was surprised. I thought he was lying, as I knew Cocaina had many girlfriends, but sure enough, it turned out that in a way he was telling the truth. I learned that in Mexico, if you were very macho, you could sodomize a man and not be considered gay. It could actually be proof of how macho a man is. This was a big shocker for me. While I found the barber’s confession interesting, I was not so happy when he told me that I had lice, which I must have gotten from the guys I was living with. The guys got me some lice medication and I was good to go.
Our house had only one bed, which Porky slept in while the rest of us slept on couches. The only blankets we had smelled like feet, no matter which side you switched. It was cold in December in that part of Mexico, so we had to wear our clothes while we slept, as we didn’t have a heater. Being short on money, we also went without toilet paper. Instead, we had a stack of old clothes and a scissors. We would cut a small piece of cloth, use it, and throw it away in a mini landfill in our backyard. In the kitchen was a round hole in the concrete a few inches deep that we would use for an ashtray. The kitchen light, which had no cover over the bulb, was our only source of illumination, and there was nothing on the walls. The house had just the basics, with only a 9mm Uzi for decoration. The backyard had a Chinaberry tree, a little marijuana plant and a tiny garage that nobody ever used. The walls surrounding the house had shards of glass cemented on the top to prevent thieves from climbing over.
Our clique had a lot of people, but I didn’t get along with all of them. There was one tall guy in particular from Sinaloa who was in good shape from eating well, which meant he had money. I was getting fed up because no one seemed to trust me and I was starving. I woke up one morning with a sore jaw, but didn’t know why, so I asked one of the guys and found out that I had mouthed off to the guy from Sinaloa the previous night and he had knocked me out.
One night a fifty-something-year-old white guy who Porky said was cool came over to get high with us. I heard he had a ranch on the U.S. side and was a business associate of Porky’s. He brought some food and we cooked up a big pot of caldo de res for lunch. We all took a ride to the city that day and Porky picked up a larger amount of cocaine than usual. We were passing around a key to use for snorting cocaine when Porky took a large amount and blew it out the window, saying, “That one is for the Devil.” I thought it was a pretty stupid thing to do and say, but it wasn’t my place to say anything. That night, most of us were snorting and later smoking, but the white guy wanted it more directly, so he was shooting it up with a syringe.
After he shot up, the white guy started tripping out with intense paranoia. He took a large butcher knife and went searching into every crevice of the house searching for one thing or another, just scraping and scraping away. It appeared to me as if the guy was checking the place for a wiretap or something. The other guys dismissed his behavior as muy loco.
We ignored him for a while, but after shooting up a greedy dose, he clutched his chest and started convulsing and appeared to have a seizure. Everybody started freaking out, standing around him in a circle and watching him closely. He was able to mumble some words, as if someone were shaking him while he spoke. We figured something might be wrong with his heart, so we applied the most advanced medical techniques that we knew. First, the Sinaloan punched him in the chest as hard as he could. When that didn’t solve the problem, another guy got a big container of cold water from the fridge and threw it on the white guy’s face drenching his entire upper body. Next the Sinaloan picked him up off the floor from around his waist and threw him in the air a couple of times landing him hard on his feet. Porky commanded one of the guys to hold a fan on his face, but after a few seconds, the poor wet guy mumbled, “N-o-o-o m-o-o-o-re f-a-a-a-n!” Eventually he calmed down, and we were relieved but as soon as his heart went back to beating normally, he started looking for his syringe. The guys took the syringe, broke it and threw it over the fence, telling him he had to stop. He was left with the only option we gave, which was smoking it with us.
When I first arrived in Mexico, there was an Independence Day celebration taking place in the streets. A woman told me she liked me, grabbed my arm and took me out dancing. We danced a crazy Mexican dance that I wouldn’t have wanted to do had I not been drunk. The next thing I knew she was gone. I later learned that her nickname in the town was La Loca, or the Crazy One. I don’t remember her real name, but I was digging her. I always looked for her after that, but she eluded me somehow, and I was afraid to ask anyone of her whereabouts because I wasn’t sure if she was truly crazy or not.
The guys and I were so focused on drugs and drinking that we didn’t really look for women, which definitely was the one thing that was missing. The guys were into fast-paced Banda and Norteño music. The favorites were Banda Machos, Banda Zeta and it seemed as if the entire state loved Los Tigres Del Norte, which we would listen to often. We would sometimes be so drunk that we would grab each other and dance. I thought it was pretty ridiculous, but I never mentioned it.
One night, Porky walked in with La Loca. She ran to me all excited and gave me a big hug. She hung out with me for a while, and as the night wore on, Porky realized she was going to sleep with me. He seemed very irritated but told me that I could use his bed. I guess he initially thought he was going to have sex with her, but other than yelling at us to keep it down he seemed to be okay with the situation.
She had me over to her place soon after, but I only went one more time after that. When I did visit her, the neighborhood kids outside her window would make Ohhh sounds, knowing we were having sex. They would sing Las Mañanitas, the Mexican birthday morning song, which we heard loud and clear because she used only sheets to cover her windows. Her house, like many others in Mexico, wasn’t fully constructed. La Loca was wild, but not truly crazy – a lot like me.
I began to really brood over the fact that the guys wouldn’t trust me even after knowing me for over two months. I wanted to prove myself and to be allowed to make money with them, so while drunk I took the tequila bottle that I was drinking from and said, “You know what Porky? You guys don’t trust me, but I trust you, so shoot this damn thing off the top of my head!”
Porky didn’t go through with it, and my stunt failed to earn me the respect I craved. Every time we smoked a joint together, instead of passing it around from person to person, they would pass it around by rank, with me being the last one in on it. This caused me tremendous resentment.
A few nights after that, I was incredibly drunk on tequila. I was so frustrated that I wanted to fight everyone. I punched out our light bulb, but the guys just replaced it in a few moments. Shortly after that, I broke the new bulb. I started talking shit to the Sinaloan. Without hesitation, as if waiting for the chance, he took me by the head and slammed my face into the wall. The impact broke my nose, gave me a black eye, chipped my tooth and made my ear bleed. He probably punched me too, but I couldn’t remember and nobody wanted to talk about it the next morning when I asked. The blood on the wall told the story nobody else would. One of the guys finally told me what happened after we got drunk together.
A couple days later they finally let me in on a run.
“Hey, let’s go for a ride,” said Porky.
A guy was waiting outside for us in a nice SUV. It was obvious he had money and was important. I remembered having seen him at the liquor store about a month earlier. He’d grabbed a case of beers and walked out without paying, casually telling the owner that he would pick up the tab later. The owner happily agreed, but started swearing under his breath and beating the counter after the guy left.
The three of us first went to a restaurant and picked up some tacos. Porky and I were not used to eating like that and since my body was deteriorating from drug abuse and lack of food, it was very satisfying. We then drove until we finally came upon a makeshift campground under some trees. Tequila was the only thing we brought and was the only thing we were allowed to consume. We weren’t allowed to talk loudly or smoke. There were about six other guys already there and one of them was talking intermittently on a walkie-talkie and had a militant demeanor. That night we slept on the hard ground, and the next morning the guy who bought us dinner, took off his Ray-Ban Aviator sunglasses and gave them to me. I’m sure it was to hide the serious black eye I had from my recent ass kicking.
The next morning I went on a ride with 350 lbs. of high grade weed packed throughout the car we drove. I sat in the passenger side with bricks stuffed under my feet and behind our seats. We drank Tequila for breakfast on the early morning drive and smoked four extra-large joints. We made it all the way to Tucson where we dropped the car off to someone at a Whataburger. We walked to a nearby motel and rented a room while we waited. Hours later the car was returned to us empty. We did some shopping for clothes before we made our way home.
I had earned $1500 for just riding along. If we had been caught, I probably would have been sentenced to a solid five years in prison. Doing the math now, it doesn’t make much sense. When I rolled back into town with my new clothes, it felt good to hear people comment that I wasn’t looking as scruffy as I usually did. With such a nice wad of money on my hands, I decided that I would do a lot of partying. I didn’t buy much food, but I did smoke crack for about ten days straight. The guys were on me about using so much, so I pretended to stop, but continued to smoke behind their backs. I would be partying by myself while the rest of the guys slept through the day. Even though we were in some money, we still drank the cheap shit, Ron Palmas Whiskey or Jose Cuervo.
The night after we got back, Porky decided that he was going to cross the border to go to a party. I was drunk and wanted to go too, but I became a little worried when we got to the U.S. side because I didn’t have my driver’s license anymore. It had been confiscated the last time I crossed into the U.S.; the Georgia State DMV had cancelled it.
The officer asked me if I was bringing anything over, so, feeling ornery, I reached into my crotch and pulled out the small bottle of whiskey I was hiding.
“Yup, here it is!” I said.
The officer then asked me for my I.D. I told him it had been confiscated, and he said that I could not enter the U.S. because he could not be sure that I was a citizen. He was probably just harassing me, but with the bar only two blocks away, I became irate. I quickly grabbed my bottle and pointed my finger at the guy, telling him, “Next time I come here with my I.D., you’re going to have to let me come through!” I bolted out of there and went home and drank my anger into oblivion.
The following morning, the Sinaloan invited me to his house, which was extremely odd since we didn’t even like each other. His mother had made fish soup so we sat at the dinner table together and ate the soup with fresh made corn tortillas. As we ate we hardly said a word to each other.
The house sat on an acre lot, and about a hundred feet away, a big hole about chest deep had been dug into the ground. The Sinaloan told me that he needed help digging deeper. I asked him what it was for. He explained it was for an outhouse, but I wondered why since they already had a restroom close to the house. He left me there alone with a digging bar and shovel. As I began to break up the ground my mind began calculating and I soon started to wonder what the hole was really for. Then I started to ask myself who the hole was really for? Once this prospect occurred to me I grew very edgy and paranoid. I refused to keep digging, telling him I was too tired and wanted to head back. I went home and smoked some more crack when no one was around. At that point, I just didn’t care what he or anyone else had to say about it.
In general, my paranoia had mushroomed, especially because I didn’t have any close friends in Mexico like I had in the U.S. I didn’t know who was who and I started to wonder who I could trust. I had also remembered someone saying how having money and selling drugs brought trouble in those parts of town.
That evening, the guys came to get me from the house we stayed at and we went to a strange home nearby, which was not one of our ordinary hangouts. The house was nice, with three bedrooms. We all started smoking some rock in the bathroom, and I remember a feeling of never having enough, of never being satisfied. We went into the living room and just sat in the dark, but by then I was super geeked out, full of fear and paranoia. The kitchen light was on, creating a shadow on the wall of the dining room. It looked like a big sombrero on top of a big round head and I thought it was a huge Federale. I could barely spit it out, but that habitual sense of impending doom spurred me to quietly ask Porky, “Hey man, who’s the dude with the big hat?”
“What dude?” he said.
I replied, “The dude in the kitchen.”
“He’s here to rape you.” Those words set me off. Morbid thoughts closed in on me as I convinced myself I was done for. We went home a few minutes later, and immediately I began to feel uncomfortable around the guys and no longer trusted them. I couldn’t help but think about that big hole I had been digging that day.
Everyone told me that I couldn’t get high in the house anymore, that I had to stop. Again, I didn’t listen to them and smoked some more crack later that day. This time I started hallucinating even harder. While smoking I peeked through the crack in the back door and kept seeing an eyeball looking back at me, moving up and down with me as I moved.
A truck came by every few days to distribute unsold stale bread. A loudspeaker announcement would signal people indoors to come outside and get their share. As the truck rode by, I thought for sure the announcement was ridiculing me in Spanish. I thought the radio station was in on it too. There was a continuous announcement about a contest to win, “One Thousand Dollars!” I felt guilty about the money I had recently earned and was squandering by the minute.
There was a really nice older guy who would cure chilies with garlic and salt and sell them instead of begging. He came around noon, and after reassuring myself that he wasn’t a spy, I begged him to buy me a bottle of whiskey, as I didn’t want to leave the house. He obliged and I let him keep the change. Even though he was usually extremely nice, he appeared to have a displaced look on his face and was no longer jovial.
Next to the front door was a little window that had been broken out. We never fixed it so that we could reach around and unlock the door from the outside. There wasn’t much to steal there, so we didn’t worry about fixing it. Later that night while smoking crack, I saw someone put their hand through the hole, moving the door handle back and forth repeatedly. To this day I’m pretty sure it was real, though it might have been just one of the guys messing with my head so I would stop smoking crack, which I did.
Being ultra-paranoid from prolonged crack use, I was now positive that my roommates were plotting to kill me and I was extremely fearful. I decided that it was time to leave Mexico. I walked to the border where I was let through without incident, and then continued on for about seven miles to the next town. After the long trek, my paranoia evaporated and I realized that I didn’t have anywhere to go. I sat at a bus stop and smoked a couple of cigarettes, and then I turned right back around and walked seven miles back to Mexico.
When I returned, some of the guys asked me where I had gone. I told them that I had been freaking out, so I went for a long walk. I didn’t want to tell them that I thought they were going to kill me. Afterwards they went into Porky’s room and seemed to have a meeting about me. That was the last night I saw them. They soon fled the house, never to return.
After I was abandoned and living alone, I met a few very nice people. One of the neighbors who knew I was starving gave me a few fried bean and cheese tacos. I was very grateful, but it wasn’t going to be enough. I had no money and I was hungry. I decided to head back to the U.S. I walked to Josefina’s house and told them that I needed to go back to the United States. They were understanding and offered me a place to stay until I could get a ride. Winter had set in full blast, and the family was huddled together in one room to keep warm, not doing much during the day.
While I waited outside for an eighteen-wheeler that Josefina said might be able to take me across the border, a family friend of theirs showed up out of nowhere and started chatting with me. He invited me to get lunch with him, so we took off. I didn’t trust the guy’s motives and hoped he wasn’t gay, but I appreciated the delicious fried chicken meal he fed me. Afterwards, he invited me to get some beer and whiskey at his house. The drinking was heavy and lasted all day until he passed out. Once he was unconscious, I inched my fingers into his pocket and stole about seventy-five dollars’ worth of Mexican money and twenty dollars American. I felt bad, but I was desperate. I decided that I would leave Mexico that night. I went and bought a twenty of coke and snorted it all in about two lines, thinking that I would need to be awake for a while to walk back.
At nearly three A.M., the Border Patrol let me through once more, seeing the urgency in my eyes when I told them that I had to get back in and that I was coming to stay for good. Because I was so light from all of my drug use, probably twenty pounds less than my usual 140 pounds, the wind blew me around while I treaded the desert roads.
There was a town drunk back in Mexico who knew English from having lived in the U.S. for some time. He didn’t care about anything; he even let his dog lick him inside his mouth. His name was Hickwiddy, and he was one of the coolest Mexicans I had ever met. Hickwiddy once told me that when I got back to the States I would affectionately remember everybody from the town. Even in his drunken stupor, he was dead on. Living in Mexico for those four months had been an extraordinary experience, but it was time to move forward.
Crazy White Boy
It seemed foolish to head back to Tucson after what I had done to Gato’s brother, but I didn’t know where else to go. I was comfortable there. I sat waiting at the Greyhound Station, full of anxiety about taking the family friend’s money, wondering what I was going to do once I arrived.
When I got there I exchanged my pesos for dollars at a grocery store and started asking people on the street if they knew of a place to stay. A nice man directed me to an address he said would let me stay. I took a bus there and when I showed up I knocked on the door. A man answered and I said,
“Hi, I was sent here by a man who told me this was a place I could stay since I just became homeless.” The guy said, “Sure you could stay here but the people who live in this house can’t use drugs or alcohol.” It was a sober living home for drug addicts and alcoholics. I had hit a significant low point in my life, but I still wasn’t ready to give up my racket. I told the guy, “No thanks” and walked off.
I initially rejected the idea of a homeless shelter, but with no other options I made my way to one called La Primavera. It was basically a big gymnasium style building filled with bunk beds. Almost everyone there reminded me of the types I’d seen in jail or on off-ramps begging for money. The shelter had only one basic rule: you couldn’t be drunk. They had a breathalyzer, and if you were caught wasted, you’d be kicked out for good. Weed smoking, on the other hand, seemed to be overlooked and people often hung out behind the shelter sneaking tokes and getting high.
On the first day I kept to myself, but by the end of dinner that night, I’d met some pretty cool guys who knew the ins and outs of the system. They were professional hobos who harbored a wealth of information about hopping freight trains, receiving food stamps, and receiving general relief checks from the state of California. They also spoke of living in Salt Lake City during the summer and Tucson in the winter. As I became more familiar with the system, I started planning a way to get back on my feet so I could build up my business again.
I befriended a couple of the hobos in particular. One was older with missing teeth, a very negative and agitated guy from California who wore glasses, an army hat, a backpack and a jacket. He looked a lot like a scruffy Vietnam vet. The other man was about thirty, Native American, and from Salt Lake City. The Native American guy was cool as hell and later became my running buddy. He and I got along like two old childhood friends, calling each other Tony because we liked the movie Scarface.
The hobo scene was huge in Tucson, but the town grew even more overpopulated in the winter due to the region’s relatively warm weather at that time. There were many varieties of bums in Tucson. Some, like myself, were called streamliners because we carried Jansport backpacks, were relatively clean and neatly dressed, and were able to fit in with either the bums or the regular people. Then there were the professional bums called hobos, who were train riders. Within this population there was a gang called Freight Train Riders of America, or FTRA, that was comprised of ex-cult members and ex-prison convicts, all of whom were pretty much lowly. I had heard more than a few stories about FTRA members throwing other hobos off of moving trains after stealing their belongings.
The La Primavera staff would drop us off in the morning at Santa Rosa Park, which was full of homeless people, picking us up again at 5 P.M. The bus driver was a really cool old guy, but he had the unpopular job of making sure nobody was too drunk. If someone was wasted, he would bust him and forbid him from riding the bus. La Primavera was on the other side of town, so while it wasn’t required to ride the shelter bus in order to stay there, it was a long walk if you didn’t, and there was a 6 P.M curfew.
That first morning on the shelter bus it all seemed surreal to me. I knew I wasn’t going to be homeless for long, but for the rest of the guys it was a lifestyle. The situation was real for them, but not for me. I looked around and thought, ‘Man, these poor guys. They have no future.’ Reflecting back on it, I see how self-righteous, arrogant and delusional that was since I was in the same proverbial boat they were.
I accompanied a Tony to get food stamps, which I quickly sold to buy some weed. I was able to relax quite a bit that winter, enjoying a free ride, but I was getting too comfortable. There were free breakfasts at the gatherings in different parks, so most of my days were spent being high, socializing with bums and eating. The Law of Association was beginning to take its toll on me and I found myself sinking lower and lower.
When Tony finished his thirty days allotted time at La Primavera, he moved on to the Salvation Army. I decided to go there as well when my time was up. In most cities the Salvation Army, which we called the Sally, has a drug rehabilitation program that is usually very strict, but in Tucson it was not as rigid due to the high concentration of homeless people who are also drug addicts. The shelter had army barrack style rooms with bunks. After dinner they would let everyone outside for a smoke break, though, like at La Primavera, we didn’t smoke what they expected. They knew we had drug issues, and didn’t like it, but they let us be.
It was December and cold as hell outside, but we would still go to Santa Rosa Park during the day to hang out and drink, often in the park’s baseball dugout. Border patrol and police rode around on bicycles in that area, so it was difficult to party in peace, especially because marijuana possession was a possible felony in Arizona because of their zero tolerance law, which I thought ridiculous.
The Sally had a lunch facility separate from our living area. It was sort of a warehouse where all the homeless people in the area would gather for what felt like a reunion of old friends. There were a lot of characters, most of whom were white, and some of whom were white supremacists, fully decorated with lightning bolt tattoos.
If we weren’t eating at the Sally, we ate at another spot close to the park. There was a guy there named Brian who ran the show. He was a hippie activist and really committed to feeding the homeless. Although his place was decent, we didn’t go that often because there were no second helpings like at the Salvation Army where the food was a bit better and the portions were larger.
Two weeks later, Tony and I were drinking a cheap wine called Cisco and smoking weed on a bike trail up in the mountains. I told him that I had planned to buy LSD that day, making him really excited. Just then a bike cop rolled up on us, busting us for drinking. I got a ticket that later turned into a warrant.
Drunk and high, we went to the Sally’s lunch site where I sat down in an abandoned recliner behind the building. I was relaxing there when Tony came over. I told him that I didn’t feel like doing anything else for the rest of the day and shut my eyes.
Apparently he was really planning on tripping out, because he then said in a stern tone, “Well, what about that acid!?”
I said, “Dude, I’m not going to get that shit today.”
Suddenly I heard a noise, like leaves rustling. I opened my eyes to see Tony swinging a big tree limb towards my head. I was able to put my foot up to block it, but he lunged at me. We began wrestling, and the next thing I knew I was hit in the head with a rock that he must have picked up in the chaos. I was dazed, but when I saw him picking up another one, I took off running. As I fled, I dodged more rocks as they whizzed past. I looked back and saw him take his shirt off, yelling, “I’m gonna kill you!” like a maniac.
I made it to the main bus station a few blocks away, and ran into the bathroom to take a look at my head. A big hematoma already formed where the rock had made contact with my skull. I usually avoided hospitals, but I was freaking out. The lump had swelled into a bulge the size of half an egg. As I searched for the right bus to the hospital, I noticed people staring at my head. Finally I found a bus with the words Kino Hospital written on it. I boarded and took a seat.
I was still drunk, which always made my temper worse when something bad went down. I became very angry thinking about what Tony had done, thinking about how the son of a bitch wasn’t that smart and that I should have outwitted him instead of running away. I had asked the driver to let me know when we were at the hospital, but as we approached I changed my mind and said, “You know what? I’m going back. I don’t need to go to the hospital after all.”
“Are you sure? Your head doesn’t look so good.” He said.
I told him I was okay, and we eventually made a loop back to the Sally. I got off the bus and walked back cautiously, on alert for Tony. By that time of day there was a line of people around the building waiting for food. I walked past muttering pleasantries to everyone as if it was just another lovely day.
Like a dream come true, I found Tony lying on his back asleep near the very front of the line. I quickly decided what I would do, but before I had a chance, our other buddy, the older Vietnam vet looking guy, said, “Whoa! What happened? Are you alright?”
Instead of responding, I walked over to Tony. I stood over him, bent down, grabbed his hair and shook his head. His eyes opened really wide and he yelled, “Tony!” as I punched him a couple of times and knocked him out.
On the second punch I hit him in the mouth, cracking one of his teeth in half and cutting my knuckle in the process. Then I stood up and kicked him in the face and jaw a few times before the old guy pulled me back, yelling for me to stop. I then quickly walked to a park down the street, knowing the cops would soon be on the scene.
Sure enough, sirens sounded a few minutes later. I stayed low in the brush for about an hour before going back to the hospital. Once there, they took my social security number, stitched up my knuckle and sent me on my way. Years later, when I looked at my credit report, I learned that I still owed them money for the visit.
I returned to the Salvation Army’s shelter after curfew. The guy in charge, who resembled the drummer from Kiss, asked me what happened to my hand. I told him I’d been in a fight, and he said he had heard about it. He asked if I was drunk and I reported that I hadn’t had a drink since early that morning about eight hours earlier. Unsure what to do, he asked me to walk it off in the front yard. Seeing my willingness to be cool, the guy came out a few minutes later and told me I could come in. I looked for Tony, but didn’t see him.
The next day I was back at Santa Rosa Park. Tony was there drinking a quart of beer, and I saw the bottle as a potential weapon. He was also smoking out with a few guys, and since I was in need of some weed, I went up to them to get a hit. Tony greeted me with, “Hey Tony,” as if nothing had happened. I felt pretty bad for him because his tooth was broken, he had a black eye, and his lip was split.
I said, “Hey bro, I gotta tell you man, I’m not comfortable hanging with you anymore. So take it easy.”
I became a loner for a short period after that, but I felt it was the only choice I had.
I rolled up on two new guys at the park a few days later. One was a sandy blond nineteen-year-old named Jeff who looked like a college kid, and the other was a twenty-eight year-old fat guy named Tom who had a ponytail and whose face looked a lot like a pig’s. I was twenty-four at the time, so just in between. The two hadn’t known each other long, but they got along well because Jeff was a good thief who could steal for both of them while Tom had a Nissan Sentra that had become their home. The general consensus among people on the streets was that if you owned a vehicle you weren’t exactly homeless because you had somewhere to sleep. My two new buddies often joked about how I was better dressed than them even though they had a car. It was true; although I was homeless, I still liked to look sharp wearing decent clothes and the nice pair of shoes I had from the Mexico score.
After we hung out quite a bit, I told them about my moneymaking scam. I convinced Tom to open a fictitious business in his name, and we were on our way. I never entirely trusted them however, especially after they claimed a few different businesses had backed out of deals all on the same day. I never followed up because I didn’t want to rock the boat, but I’m pretty sure they were lying to me and keeping the money.
We went to Phoenix a few days later and made some more sales, but spent all of the money on food, pot and a motel. Before we left, Tom started working himself up, claiming that I had stolen the last joint. He seemed extremely unpredictable like he was going to get violent. While my old reaction would have been to meet aggression with aggression, I really didn’t know whose side Jeff planned to take, so I used my head instead and told him, “I didn’t take it, but no problem. I’ll just make another sale,” which I did.
I decided we should head back to Tucson, so we left that day. I knew Tom couldn’t be trusted, so I tried to get in better with Jeff. Once we got back to town, we pulled off quite a few scams and were actually making some decent money. When the cash started rolling in, Tom bought some heroin. It was an old habit of his he had previously kicked, but as we had extra money and the days went by, he used more and more.
Next we made a trip to Phoenix, and because I was the mastermind of the operation, I had us stay in the large Motel-6 on Van Buren that I liked so much. Once we settled in, we sent Jeff out on the streets to score some crack and he soon returned with some good-sized rocks.
A little while later, a very large black guy and three prostitutes showed up at our door. Jeff had met them while he was looking for crack. The black guy said his name was Crusher. He was just out of prison and very muscular from working out there. I later learned he was managing the three hookers for an older madam. The four wanted to party in our room, which was a big liability for the person whose name the room was in. Being aware of this, I hadn’t put it in my name but directed Tom to put it in his. The room was just the regular, cheap kind with two full-sized beds, and although it wasn’t exactly ideal, we made it work.
Crusher’s name was intimidating on its own, but after smoking some crack, I began to fear him. We were hitting the pipe pretty hard and once again everyone blamed me, including Crusher, for fucking up the pipe. Crusher or one of the prostitutes must have made a phone call, because the next thing I knew, the madam drove up in a new Nissan 300ZX. With the car and a bunch of crack on her, it was clear she was running the show.
One hooker with a thick Southern drawl said, “Momma, can I have a hit?”
Momma replied in a tender voice, “Sure you can. Here you go sweetie.”
A minute later, the same hooker must have bothered Momma one too many times, because Crusher then angrily yelled, “Come on girl, get yo ass in here!”
He took her into the restroom. The sound of Crusher slapping her around flowed out rhythmically with her cries.
When they came back, Crusher threatened, “You better act right girl!”
I didn’t like the scene, so I told everyone that I was going to sleep. I then walked over to the back of the room and laid down beside a coat rack with a pillow and blanket. After smoking crack, it’s pretty much impossible to fall asleep, but nobody questioned me. Morbid thoughts began to cross my mind.
After they all ran out of crack, everyone left except for Crusher, who was still working on a bottle of Strawberry Hill wine cradled under his arm. It was early in the morning, and we wanted him out. We told him as delicately as possible that we needed the room to make some calls. He took one last hit off the empty pipe, downed a gulp of liquor, and went on his way.
A few hours later we headed back to Tucson after making some sales and cash pickups in Phoenix. Jeff was doing a good job picking up cash and stealing food for us, but I was getting tired of Tom. The only reason he was even necessary was because he had the car. He owed me ten dollars and it was really upsetting me. After getting buzzed from some whiskey Tom had, I finally confronted him while in the car in a parking lot.
Before I knew it, he reached around, grabbed my throat and started choking me with both hands. He was in the front seat and I was in the back. I grabbed his wrists and broke his grip while pulling him towards me. Having been bit in the head before, and knowing how much of a painful shock it can be, I moved forward and clamped my teeth down on his skull.
“All right man, you let go of me and I’ll let go of you,” he cried, just like I predicted.
We both let go, and I hopped out. I ran about fifteen feet in front of the car and grabbed a baseball-sized rock. I fast-balled it in a perfect shot at the dude’s head, but the windshield caught it like a mitt. If windshields weren’t built with that plastic stuff inside, I would have cracked that punk right in the noggin. He immediately put his car in reverse and sped away.
The only place I had to stay by then was an abandoned, boarded up house we had all stayed at before. The inside looked ready for demolition and the scent of mold and human urine in the air was awful. There were foam pieces on the floor used as beds and candles for light at nighttime. While they were terrible conditions, I decided it was my best bet for the moment.
The next day I went to the park and saw the two guys. Jeff came over to me and offered me a giant bud of weed as a peace offering from Tom. I took it and began hanging out with them again. A few days after the incident, Tom sold his car, most likely because he didn’t have money to fix the windshield and he was surrendering to his past demons. He got deeper into heroin, at which point Jeff and I began to distance ourselves from him since he was now useless.
As one of the last people I was cool with, Jeff became my road dog. He was good to have around because of his thieving skills. He could snag the exact carton of cigarettes that he wanted at a convenience store, waiting for just the right moment when the clerk would turn his back.
After hanging out with the hobos in Tucson for some time, I became convinced that hopping freight trains was a good idea. While normal people might discuss politics or business, hobos talked about jumping trains, where to get free stuff, getting loaded, and most importantly, collecting welfare. My thoughts therefore began to consist of these exact activities.
A regular from the shelters showed Jeff and I a map of California and told me he was going to Pasadena to a homeless shelter where he could get some food while he waited to collect welfare payments of about $280. He had a full game plan, and I learned there was an option of staying in a government hotel on Skid Row. Once he collected the money, he planned to go back to Tucson to buy some weed and possibly sell it in Salt Lake City or California for much more. It sounded like fun, so Jeff and I decided to make plans for ourselves to go to California by train.
One morning Jeff and I went to the park and I used the restroom. When I walked out, Jeff was smoking a cigarette and a few feet beyond him, stood Gato, the guy whose brother I had put in the hospital before going to Mexico. Gato was with one other guy, and while Jeff probably wouldn’t have backed me up if something went down, Gato didn’t know any better. I greeted Gato in Spanish, “Que onda?” He looked a little surprised that I knew Spanish slang, but replied, “Que onda?” It was the same phrase I had once thought he was using to talk shit to me. I knew better by then, and replied, “Just here.”
I told him I would soon be going to California and chatted briefly like nothing had happened. We then said goodbye to each other and took off. Though he didn’t mention the incident with his brother, I was really worried that Gato now knew where I hung out, which was close to where I lived in the abandoned house. I was more motivated than ever to take the trip to California and decided to leave the following day.
We thought we knew enough about riding trains by then, so we decided to make our move. If I was to give someone advice on hopping trains, it would be to study the details vigorously from another hobo, or do it with a seasoned professional, because Jeff and I soon learned that it was not as easy as it sounded.
We went to a freight yard, and not knowing what type of car to choose, we decided on the easiest target. We jumped into a single stacked, empty boxcar and sat on watch for the authorities who would occasionally drive by in trucks. The hobos had warned us that if these guys caught us, we would get roughed up and possibly arrested. I was also warned about getting locked in a boxcar, since that was almost a guarantee of death via dehydration when traveling through the Arizona heat. To combat this potentially fatal hazard, we would jam a piece of wood in the railing, making it impossible for the door to close.
We sat waiting for about five hours, wondering the whole time why all the other trains were coming and going except for ours. We didn’t yet know one of the most important rules about riding, which was to never jump on a single stacked train. Unfortunately that was exactly the kind we’d picked for our first adventure. The reason for this was that these trains had to make many stops to let the double stacked trains pass by, and in general, they were given a lower priority. We had little money and our supplies were low to start with, but by the time our train left, my gallon jug of water had completely run out.
After a few hours of travel, I couldn’t wait any longer for water. When the train came to a stop in a small town, I decided to take a risk and jump off. I ran to a building with a water faucet, filled up the gallon jug with water, and came back feeling like a million bucks.
It was always extremely windy, so riding trains meant getting dirty. The grit would get in my ears, nose and eyes, and all over my neck and hair. It was definitely not the place for a neat freak like me. I had oily skin on top of that, so after a few hours I was freaking out. By nightfall, hunger started to make itself acutely present.
By the time we arrived in Yuma a few hours later, the landscape had changed. Swirly dunes fanned out in every direction. We hopped off of the train about a half-mile before it pulled into the docking station because we’d been warned that guards would scan the trains for stowaways from overlooking towers. We found a little rest area and I instantly fell asleep, drained from the exhausting ride.
Early the next day we walked to a Burger King beside an extremely steep bridge running over the train tracks. At the bottom, the ground was blanketed with broken beer bottles abandoned by the local bums. After chatting with some of them, it became clear that Yuma was the cheapest place to buy any drug available, which I assumed was because of the easier and more porous smuggling routes from Mexico.
Right before we went into the Burger King, we noticed four Mexican guys under the bridge hiding behind a concrete pillar. I wanted to try out my Spanish so I asked them what they were up to and found out they were waiting to hop a train to Los Angeles. They didn’t know the deal however, and didn’t realize they needed to catch out on the other side of the tower where the trains headed for California would stop for a brief moment before taking off. The guys seemed really cool, so I told them that I would help them get to the other side. I pretended to be an expert, but I really only knew what I had been told. I explained to them that they had to avoid the guys up in the tower.
The Mexicans were terrified of a border patrol agent sitting in his SUV under the train guard tower. I assessed the situation and decided that their fearful demeanor and style of walking made it obvious they were wet, meaning fresh and illegal from across the border. I told them that they had to hunch their shoulders, drop their arms more and bounce a little and walk like they were loco. I commanded they each role-play walking with a loco strut a couple of times. I had to work with the oldest guy in the group more than the others but eventually they all did it perfectly. We made our move and when we were getting closer to the view of the Border Patrol I noticed fear creeping into the walk of the older guy so I barked, “Mas loco!” A minute later we slipped past border patrol without a hitch, probably being mistaken for a homeless gang.
We walked over another bridge swathed with artistic graffiti and made it to the west side of the Colorado River. It was getting dark by this time, so Jeff and I stayed with the other first timers while they waited for a train. As we sat there, one of the guys handed me a twenty and told me to go get some burgers and beer. I looked at him in amazement and then set out on my mission. I picked up six forty-ounce beers and a handful of burgers and chicken sandwiches from the Mini- Mart, but when I got back Jeff was in the same spot all alone.
“Where did they go?” Thinking maybe the Border patrol got them.
“They’re on their way to California.”
“Really?” I couldn’t believe they had made it, and at that moment I felt a great sense of brotherly love. I was truly moved and that warm feeling inside stayed with me through the night.
We wanted to get the hell out of Yuma too, as it was ugly, hot, and full of scumbags. Green as we were, we jumped on the first train we saw, which, yet again, was single stacked. The train was filled with gravel and other industrial fixtures, and our car had a tiny cubbyhole that we had to crawl into one leg at a time. The train pulled away from the station, and we were on our way. Or so we thought. We went a half-mile and the train stopped. I began to freak out, thinking that we must have been spotted from the tower. A few minutes later the border patrol showed up. In an official-sounding bark, one of them commanded we get out. As we were being questioned, I began to suspect one agent was high on cocaine. He constantly drained his nose and sounded a bit too alert and sharp. They were looking for illegal immigrants, but upon realizing we were Americans, they let us go.
We were made to walk across the tracks, but when the border patrol parked on the other side of the train, I contemplated jumping back on. Sadly, I couldn’t muster up the balls to do it. No more trains came that night, so Jeff and I slept under some mesquite trees in the middle of the desert.
The next day we made our way to town and walked toward the eastside Burger King. We met a dirty hobo with sunburned skin, matted hair and yellow and brown broken teeth, a man clearly content with his current state. He owned a chow puppy with a chain around its neck that he exploited for panhandling purposes. Searching for weed, we struck up a conversation with him. He was pretty cool and told us how to panhandle for cash, which he said would be easy because Jeff looked so young. I was not okay with panhandling, but Jeff gave it a stab. He had done it before and didn’t mind. He quickly made some money and we ordered some grub from Burger King.
The hobo told us about Yuma, as well as his activities as a member of the Freight Train Riders of America. The guy was a troublemaker, which we learned later that night while drinking with him and another man in the sand dunes. The FTRA hobo got mad at the new guy over some small slight. The FTRA guy attacked him and as they were rolling on the ground, Jeff threw a beer bottle trying to hit the new guy, but missed. At that point the struggle turned ugly. The new guy bit the FTRA guy on the lower lip and damn near bit it off.
The biter ran off, but because nobody wanted to exert energy chasing him down, we let him get away. Jeff and I ran down to some sand dunes about a half-mile from the railroad, as we were worried the situation might get worse. Sure enough, a helicopter appeared and we were told over a loud speaker not to move. There was no place to hide in the desert. Foot patrol cops descended on us and we were escorted to the police station. The officers interrogated us and I told a bunch of half-truths, a technique I often used to sound more believable. I hated telling cops anything, but I learned from my dad that being polite and respectful was the best way to keep from getting messed with. I told the cops we had just met the two men, and that once they started fighting we had split. They bought it and we were on our way.
The next day we caught a train out of Yuma early in the morning. At first the train’s wheels screeched from the metal-to-metal contact, but once the train got moving, the noise lessened. We rode parallel alongside a freeway and cruised next to a sedan full of curious onlookers. For a few seconds we watched each other as the sun’s brush strokes painted the sky orange and pink, an unforgettable moment.
We were headed for the Colton Railroad Hub, a station on Interstate 10. We passed some awesome lakes, one of which was the huge Salton Sea. Hours later we got off the train before it pulled in at Colton to avoid getting caught. I was dirtier than I had ever been.
With the little bit of money we had, we purchased some food and water. Jeff thought it would be a good idea to hitchhike the rest of the way. A woman in her thirties picked us up pretty quickly, she told us how ripe we smelled as soon as we got in. She was as honest as they come. We exchanged cordialities and told her we were on our way downtown to collect welfare checks and stay in a hotel on Skid Row while performing unsupervised clean-ups during the day. This really meant that we would be able to chill out on the beach all day. The lady told us that she was a heroin addict, though she probably just said that to make herself unattractive to us. Nevertheless, my distrust kicked right in. I wondered why she said it, and feared she might be an undercover cop.
Jeff and I applied for benefits right away. We explained that we had no place to stay, and they hooked us up with some bus tokens to get us to a check-cashing place where we could get our food stamps. After my stay in Mexico, I was trying to look as Mexican as possible by growing a baby mustache and wearing a cholo shirt with women in sombreros on it. I don’t think it really mattered much though, as Jeff was very Caucasian, definitely blowing my cover.
We took our food stamp vouchers to Nix Check Cashing and just as in Tucson, there were guys waiting outside to trade cash for our food stamps. There was a really big intimidating black guy middle-man probably around 6’4 who cupped a tall boy beer and led us to the buyer. These dudes were really aggressive and paid about 60 cents to the dollar for the face value of the stamp. It was a good deal and made us feel as if it were payday. There was one little hyena-like man who moved and spoke rapidly, pressuring us. We sold to him. Everything went fine that day, but a problem was soon to arise.
We had some cash again and were finally back in the game. We went to our hotel on San Julian, which was right around the corner from a big homeless shelter called The L.A. Mission. I thought back a few years to when Todd had predicted that I would be living on Skid Row one day. He had been right, and it bothered me. It was an odd thing to see so many people with either serious mental, drug, or alcohol problems or some combination of the three, living in cardboard boxes all along the sidewalks. It was an ugly scene.
Since my first time there, Skid Row had haunted me. I think because I almost dwelled on it, my thoughts led me to seek out the one place I feared being most. Nobody wants to live in a slum like that, but because I hadn’t yet learned the importance of protecting my mind from negative influences, I think Todd’s suggestion had lingered in my head, festering until it became a reality.
We hit up some El Salvadorian gangsters for rocks and brought them back to the room, which was as close to a prison cell as anything I had ever lived in. It had an old, dirty bed that, like the rest of the furniture, was made of heavy-duty steel. I sat down and took out my glass pipe, loading it up with the semi-opaque white rocks. I then went to town, sucking the smoke off the crackling chunks, feeling the old familiar rush of euphoria as the vapors filled my lungs. I quickly started hallucinating severely, diving into another dimension, which I imagine resulted from additional chemicals the gangsters had mixed in to prolong the high and increase sales.
The room had a really small window. I decided I should look out of it to see what was around and spied a building facing us from across the alley. It appeared as if a bag of M&M’s was sitting on a camera bolted to the ledge. I was convinced that I was being watched again, so I lay down on the floor and smoked some more. I broke out in a sweat and my heart started beating so quickly and loudly that I thought the noise emanated from someone running down the hallway coming for me. I pushed the heavy steel dresser behind the door to block it. Jeff started knocking on my wall. I whispered to him to lock his room and hide. I then tried to sleep without luck, tossing and turning all night in my bed.
The next day Jeff told me that he’d been robbed and had no money, which really pissed me off since we then would have to live off what little dough I had. He called it being robbed, but in reality he had just given his money to a street person who never came through. Jeff had tried to buy an ounce for seventy-five dollars, a large amount for a white guy to be buying on Skid Row. I was fed up with all the dumb things he did and told him how I felt.
To remedy the situation, he got on the phone and had his foster parents wire him some money right away. We picked it up from another check-cashing place near Spring Street. When the clerk announced the money was coming through, Jeff got excited and gave me a high-five, a dumbass thing to do in front of the bunch of observant, jail-trained criminals who watched us from outside as if we were two goldfish in a bowl.
The thugs figured out what was up. The big guy from Nix Check Cashing, who just happened to be there, went right up to Jeff and grabbed his arm, asking how much he had been wired. He rifled through Jeff’s pockets, not realizing that Jeff was gripping the cash in his hand. Finally Jeff told him that he would give him half of the money if he let him go. The big guy released his grip. At that moment we broke into a run and gained some distance. He tried to chase us but quickly gave up when he realized he didn’t have the legs for the job, and would never be able to catch us with our fear driven turbo boosters on.
We ended up in a long tunnel with a shiny ceiling on Second Street near Broadway. We wanted to see what was up with McArthur Park. It sounded like a carnival for addicts, so we made our way in that direction. We went to Alvarado Street and McArthur Park, where we scored some easy weed that the dealer had stored in a utility pipe in the ground. It really impressed me how open the whole operation was. It was much different from Texas where everything was more secretive. We went to the park’s lake to smoke, but the product was only average and not as good as in Tucson. Bummed about getting robbed, I told Jeff that we needed to get out of L.A. This meant that we weren’t going to wait around for our general relief checks.
We took a bus from downtown to Colton, and hopped a train back to Yuma Arizona. We had an easy ride, and slipped off the train right before the station. Yuma had a lot of scummy inhabitants because they could live on the Native American reservation campgrounds for about a dollar a day and get fish from the Colorado River for food.
We found out about reservation life from a big, sunburned, hair below the ears, white guy. He was sitting in a super-clean red El Camino drinking a quart of beer and smoking a cigarette near the place we had jumped off the train. His ride had a glossy red paint job and was really nice, but he wore shorts, flip-flops, no shirt and had a big tattoo on his back that said, Crazy White Boy. He was parked next to the guard’s watchtower, and while I don’t know how we started talking to him, I do remember that his toenail was casually hanging off his toe. He grabbed his pliers and yanked it off, instantly embodying the phrase tattooed on his back.
He had just gotten out of prison and told us he was hiding a revolver in his car, but we seemed to be getting along so it didn’t worry us. We gave him our sob story about hopping trains and being broke. We cruised to the reservation where he was living, and met some of his friends who were fishing in the river. After that he told us that since he had nothing else to do he would drive us to Tucson. We got in his car, and although he was drunk as a skunk, he started up the engine. Jeff and I had also been drinking and continued to do so in the car. After getting a grand tour of the reservation, we headed out towards Tucson. We first had to drive through a checkpoint, but somehow we all got through even though we were buzzing pretty hard.
The crazy white guy started talking about prison, and things got weird. He started talking about how horny he’d get in prison, but that it was pretty easy to get used to having sex there. I read what was coming next, and sure enough he asked if he could give us blowjobs. Jeff agreed to it while I declined the offer. We pulled over and I took the driver’s seat. Next thing I knew these guys were going at it. I was disgusted with the scene, but since I wasn’t involved, I just kept my mouth shut.
I couldn’t believe what was happening. It was repugnant sitting next to them, hearing the sucking sounds, while the crazy white guy orally pleasured Jeff. After this act, I really started to resent Jeff. This was just one more incident on top of the other things he had done. Once we arrived in Tucson, we switched drivers again. I told the crazy white guy to drop us off on the side of the road by a sandy creek bed next to a suburban neighborhood. It was far from where we needed to be, but I was pissed off and didn’t want him to know where we hung out.
The dude drove off down the snaking road. When he was pretty far away, I picked up a rock, timed it, and threw it as hard as I could. Although it was dark, I heard a loud “Boom!” Unbelievably, I nailed it! He came to a screeching stop and turned right back around towards us. We took off running in the creek bed and hid in bushes. Since it was dark already, he never found us, but I’m sure that if he had, he would have shot us both.
After we were sure he was gone we walked a few miles home to our abandoned house to sleep. I was extremely irritated at Jeff for all of the dumb shit he was doing. The next morning I told Jeff it was time for us to go our separate ways. I explained to him that I wouldn’t mind if he used the abandoned house if he needed it. He didn’t say anything, and then just walked away. I never saw him again.
That evening I laid back at the park for some time before heading back to the abandoned house. The people we had initially chilled with had all had taken off. Tucson was like Woodstock for bums in the winter, but by March, it cleared out. Not only had most of the homeless people disappeared, the harvest was all gone, so the weed there was really bad.
I had met another streamliner who looked Brazilian, though he was really Mexican. He was a lot like a border patrol officer but for homeless people, watching out for the real border patrol and police. I had drunk with the guy at the apartment I lived at before my Mexican adventure, but we never really talked much because my Spanish had sucked. Now, my Spanish was much better, so we started chatting. I had lost a lot of weight from riding the trains. He told me that my face had gotten skinny, which tripped me out because I thought I was already really skinny before I left. He also said I looked content being homeless, a statement which had some truth to it.
On March 18th I told the Brazilian looking guy that my birthday was the next day. He went and bought an eighteen-pack of Milwaukee’s Best Ice that we took to the dried creek bed to drink. I went right to work hammering down the beers. After we finished drinking, I went back to the park drunk and fell asleep under some oleander bushes on the other side of the baseball field’s fence. I woke up after pissing my pants very early in the morning and felt like I was catching the flu. I remembered that there was a shelter handing out free food and clothes that day and headed there to change out of my pissed pants. Unfortunately, all that was left in the box were shorts and long johns, so not having much of a choice, I took off my cold, wet pants and put on the long johns and then the shorts. I went home and fell asleep on a foam slab.
When I woke I was sick as hell with a fever from the flu so I took my sorry ass to the 7-Eleven, planning to get arrested for stealing something. I figured that if I was caught, I was at least going to be able to get a shower and some clean clothes for a while in jail. I went to the cooler and grabbed a liter of Sunkist, stuffed it down my crotch, and then went right up to the clerk and asked for a cup of ice. Required by law to give it upon request, he obliged and I went on my way.
After drinking the soda I figured I had better make my way to the only shelter left in the area, which was the original facility I had gone to for clothes when Cocaina took my car. They had given me a TB test, but I never returned for the result.
I was hoping to stay at the shelter for some time to regain my health, but an employee told me that I had to get the TB test first and that the results would take three days. I told them I had taken the test once before, but wasn’t able to come back for the results. Since I had never proved that no TB infection existed, I was treated with suspicion and was told I needed to take another TB test. As a matter of fact, if I hadn’t taken the initial test, I would have been able to stay while the results were pending. I still had a chip on my shoulder about being told what to do, and since I had the option of staying at the abandoned house, I left, angry as hell.
I was walking back feeling like shit. I had a massive hangover, the flu, the stupid looking long johns and shorts on, I hadn’t taken a shower in days, there was no weed in the town, and I had used up all of the shelters in the area. I was very, very depressed and it was all hitting me on my birthday.
I went back to the park and sat by this guy I didn’t like so that I could bum a smoke from him, but it was just my luck that he only chewed tobacco. It had been the most uneventful day outside of jail that I’d ever spent. I went to the abandoned house and lay down on the foam, lit some paper and set it burning in candle wax. Then, for the very first time, I began to feel a new sensation: I was tired of the street lifestyle.
Staring up at the ceiling for what seemed like hours, I decided that I was done with defiance. I turned over and buried my face in shame, asking God to please help me. I felt unworthy of asking God for anything, but I didn’t know what else to do. Finally, I drifted off to sleep.
A Moment of Clarity
I woke up the next day still lying on the foam slab in the abandoned house. I walked to the park nearby and started talking to a guy I had seen on the scene for quite some time. The dude’s name was Rich. He was quiet, with a beard and huge muscles. Ever since I had first arrived in Tucson, I’d seen him wander in and out of sight every few days to smoke weed with us. Rich was very cool, and seemed to fit in without trying too hard, but because I was at the peak of my paranoia from all of the scams, warrants, and drama with the border patrol, I didn’t trust him at first. At that time, all I wanted to do was to make sure he wasn’t a cop. In order to protect myself, I always searched for the true intention behind peoples’ words, wanting to be sure they weren’t undercover cops or snitches.
Rich had been to prison and was a real standup dude. At first we were just acquaintances, but a few weeks later we became partners. We hooked up with a plan to roll to L.A. and collect California General Relief welfare checks, using the money to buy weed in Tucson and resell it. It was really important to have a reliable road dog, as riding solo was dangerous and lonely. This guy was everything that Jeff wasn’t, so I had high hopes.
We left Tucson for California on a double-stacked forty-eighter and stopped in Yuma. It was smooth sailing the whole way. We hopped off the train before the guard station and went to the same steep footbridge that I had hung out at the last time I was in town. We arrived under the bridge, and who did we see but the FTRA guy who had been bitten on the mouth. I wasn’t sure exactly how much Jeff had told the police after the fight, but I acted like everything was cool, and Rich and I even smoked him and his buddies out. We were smoking right at the top of the incline directly under the bridge, so if the dude had gone crazy and pushed me, I would have fallen in a giant bed of broken glass. However, I think that Rich’s size alone deterred the FTRA guy from even thinking about doing anything stupid or acting crazy.
The next day we met a couple of older guys who were Dead Heads. Dead Heads are like hippies from the Woodstock era that still follow Grateful Dead concerts around the country. These guys seemed cool so we jumped on board with them in their old Volkswagen bus. They sat in the front, while Rich and I sat in the next row behind them. Rich was a dedicated smoker and always had some weed with him, which we shared with our hosts. Their demeanors were cool at first but once we got high things began to get a little weird. We had just finished smoking while driving down a very secluded road in a rural desert area when the driver started making homosexual innuendos. I started thinking, ‘Aw fuck, here we go again!’ Rich caught on to what he was saying and made some innuendos of his own, explaining that when he was in prison he and his friends would hurt anyone who tried the type of thing the driver was hinting at.
Rich was a buff dude, and he was no one to mess with. Had I been with Jeff, I wouldn’t have taken the ride, but I knew this guy could keep me out of trouble. Nevertheless, muscles are no match for weapons, so there was always some danger. Rich told the guys to drop us off at the next town which thankfully was on the train route to Colton. We waited all day and we had to catch a single-stacked train, which meant a slow ride.
We finally rolled into Colton with very little money and no food. We ended up going straight to the downtown L.A. Welfare office to pick up our food stamp cards and sign up for General Relief checks. After that we went directly to the check-cashing place to get our stamps and some dope, the latter being abundant in the area. We were somewhere around 4th and Spring Street. Outside the check-cashers, another big black guy (possibly the one that tried to steal Jeff’s money) stood holding his 16-ounce in the very same manner. A group of Latino gangsters selling rocks were also present. Just like at the first check-cashing store, the black guys would buy food stamps from people and then introduce them to the Latinos so that they could score their poison of choice. I sold my stamps to a little black guy that hooked me up with the rock-holding Latinos. I thought my transaction was over, but as I was walking away, the big black guy said something peculiarly poetic. He said, “We take turns around here, and my turn never ends, so break me off some, dog.”
I assume that the guy said it quite often, being used to taking advantage of feeble drug users. Being underweight, I was faster on my feet than ever, and I had other plans. After hearing his poetry, I inched away, and then took off jogging. I turned around and yelled at him, “Naw man, it’s cool!”
“Bitch, don’t never let me see yo ass around here!” he yelled back.
Rich acted like he didn’t know me and walked away from the guys without any trouble. I met up with him across the street and we filed into an alley to smoke the crack. We started hitting the pipe hard, which was a dumb thing to do in Downtown L.A. with all of the dangerous people and cops around there, and with crack use being a felony.
You can lose track of time on crack, so I’m not sure how long we were downtown, but everything and everybody started to appear dangerous again. Rich then started smoking the rock at a bus stop where we waited for our ride back to Colton. There were people all around us. Paranoid from the rock, I started freaking out, worrying that we were going to get busted.
My problems from Texas, Mexico and Arizona started catching up with me. All I wanted to do was get away from the people on the streets, the people out to get me, and especially from the police. I was tripping pretty hard and wanted to destroy all the evidence in case we got busted. I took the last hit off the pipe and threw it as far as I could, not knowing that Rich had more rock hidden. When he saw me do this he was surprised, then got really pissed off and went looking for it in front of all of the bystanders.
We got on the bus shortly after, and when we arrived in Colton, we jumped off and walked into a store for some liquor. We waited for a while for a train and got right onto a double-stacker headed for Arizona. It was really cold that night, so to keep warm we started drinking from a liter of vodka we had bought. In true form, I blacked out and don’t remember what happened next, though Rich and the big welt on my head told me that I had jumped from one car to another while the train was moving. The car I jumped to was hauling the cab of an 18-wheeler truck, and apparently I had hit my head on the truck’s hitch and fallen unconscious. Had I misjudged the jump or gotten snagged with my trench coat, it would have been sudden death.
The next day we passed Yuma while I was still asleep in the open. I hadn’t even bothered to hide from the guards in the tower, but somehow I wasn’t seen lying out on the trailer bed. I imagine the fact that the train was a double-stacker allowed me to slip past with impunity.
Once in Tucson, we scored a small amount of weed with the money we had left from the food stamps. We didn’t spend much time there, instead turning right back around and going clean through Yuma, straight back to California to get our GR checks.
A hobo had given Rich a map showing a shelter in Pasadena. It was close to a welfare office and nearby was the Fair Oaks Bridge and Raymond Hill, areas sometimes used as campgrounds by homeless people. The shelter was called the Union Station Mission and they had a really good breakfast and lunch, which was very impressive compared to what we were used to eating.
We chose not to check into the shelter because we would have had to talk to a counselor before being admitted for a shower and clothes. Instead we camped out at Raymond Hill. During the days we chilled out a lot at the park, killing time and figuring out what to do.
The first day we arrived, we bought some weed and hung out at the Rose Bowl. Either our tolerance was really low or the California weed was a lot stronger than what we were used to. It was two days before Easter 1995 when we set up our cardboard boxes. Having no pillow, I rolled up my rubber, linen lined trench coat. After only a few weeks, it was covered in dried drool and smelled terrible. I was super dirty, so the next day we used some of Rich’s shampoo and took a half-shower with a water hose we had found near a bathroom. I realized that I was becoming more and more disgusted with my living situation.
We stole a few logs of firewood from a wood dealer and went to the Rose Bowl that day, cooking up some turkey legs we’d bought with our food stamps. Later that night we returned to Raymond Hill and as we slept off our little feast, it began to rain on us. We ran under Fair Oaks Bridge for shelter and because I was tired as hell, I laid down on my cardboard and fell right to sleep. The next thing I knew, I was in a drainage bed as the rainwater had come barreling through like a one-inch tsunami, soaking my back through the cardboard. We then went up the wash a bit and leaned against a pillar for the rest of the night.
Morning finally came and the weather was still wet and cold. It had been a long, painful night, and I just kept thinking how bad our situation was. It was Easter morning, so we went to the shelter and got free food. The shelter was serving a special ham and turkey dinner for Easter. We took two plates each for lunch, and then to get away from the elements, we snuck into a warehouse we had seen on the walk over. There was a staircase with an empty, bare room with a concrete floor. Finding a good place to sleep isn’t easy while living on the streets, but this was the nicest spot I’d ever found while homeless. We ate some really good mashed potatoes, gravy, turkey, ham, and pie. It was a wonderful feast. We finally had a chance to let our guard down and relax. It was good living compared with the previous night.
When I woke up the next day and walked outside, I was greeted by the shining sun, glorious after a cold day of rain. There was a good view of Altadena’s snow-capped mountains to the north, and in that moment standing there on Arroyo Parkway, I had what alcoholics call a moment of clarity. I had been thinking about getting my life together since my birthday, but when I saw those beautiful mountains, I was moved to the depths of my soul. I made a decision right there where I stood to stop being a criminal, to stop drugs and alcohol, and to go to rehab. I called my mom and told her I was going to change the way I lived my life.
The payphone I called from was right next to a liquor store, so before I dialed her, I went inside to buy a pack of gum. The clerk turned his back, and I had a clean shot at stealing a pack of cigarettes. I thought about it for a split second, but since I had committed to getting my life straight, I walked out of the store with only my gum and a strange new feeling of integrity and possibility.
That day I had an interview with the counselor and qualified to get a shower and change of clothes at Union Station. I finally chose to give in to their system, as I just couldn’t go another day without a shower. Rich decided it wasn’t worth it to take a shower, so he took off to do some things around town, leaving me to watch his bag.
My name was called and I walked into this big black guy’s office. He looked like a giant Ice Cube, the rapper, although maybe an Ice Cube who had smoked a little rock back in his day, which indeed turned out to be the case. His name was Les, and he told me right off the bat that he used to use drugs heavily. He then said, “Damn man, you out on the street?”
I told him I was, and he asked me if I did drugs. I told him that in fact I did, and then I listed the drugs that I was using, which were the following: weed, crack, acid when it was available, and alcohol, which I drank just about every day.
“Man, you’re a drug addict, but you don’t have to live like that. There are people who will help you if you decide to get clean and sober,” he told me.
I was surprised by how much I related to him. He told me that I could go to rehab and then live in a sober living home. I had never, ever considered getting sober in my entire life, but there’s kind of a miracle that happens when one alcoholic relates to another in a conversation especially when the sober alcoholic shares his experience. I thought, “Wow, Les really knows what he’s talking about because he’s been there.” I left the place thinking really hard about my life and getting sober, as I was getting burned out with struggling on the streets and always being malnourished.
I tripped out when I learned that there was a society of people just like me who would accept me just as I was: a twelve-step program for alcoholics. While I did want to get sober, I kept resisting it, especially when Les told me that I needed to go to rehab. I didn’t want to have to do all of that, as I was sure that reading the Bible was enough. I had an unwillingness to learn anything new because I thought I knew enough, an attitude that caused me a lot of trouble and is a hallmark of an alcoholic.
There were no beds available at the shelter, but there were bunks at the affiliated church, enough to house some twelve extra people. I was told I was going to have to wait a week for rehab if I really wanted in, at which time a bus would pick me up and take me to the mountains of Acton. When I saw Rich again at the shelter, I didn’t say anything to him about my new plans because he had asked me to watch his bag and was pissed off at me for allowing it to get all wet in the rain. I waited a few hours for him to cool down, and then shared with him that I was going to sober up and go to rehab. He stood up looking even angrier than before and walked right out the door. It was the last I ever saw of the guy. Because of his reaction, as well as a prison I.D. picture that didn’t look anything like him, I always suspected he was an undercover cop or snitch.
I didn’t know where to go, where to crash or what to do next while waiting for a bed, so I ended up sleeping in a half-built restaurant that night, full of loneliness and fear about my future. As I laid there on a piece of plywood, I prayed to God again, asking Him to please help protect me. Out of nowhere, I felt an unexpected overwhelming sense of confidence that everything was going to be okay, as if a warm blanket of love had been wrapped around me. I was deeply moved and couldn’t believe what was happening.
The next day I went back to the Union Station Mission and was given a bed in the basement of the church. I slept there with a bunch of people, mostly drug addicts, but some who just needed social help. The church would take us all to breakfast at Union Station, and it was there I started feeling really optimistic about my life, even going so far as to think that if I stopped doing drugs, I might be able to pursue my dream job as a car salesman, a lofty dream of mine that seemed unattainable at the time.
During the week or so that I was living at the church, I was mostly just hanging out and not doing anything productive except for staying sober. I did manage to go to the Salvation Army where I bought a four-dollar white wool suit jacket that I thought looked really sharp. I bought it because I thought it would be nice to wear when I got out of rehab and looked for a job.
Space opened up at the rehab center and I headed up the mountains of Acton to start getting my life in order. The facility was in a beautiful location, and could have been mistaken for a resort, as it had tennis and basketball courts, a golf course, a gym, and a big cafeteria. It was an L.A. County program, so it was quite a surprise to see such nice accommodations.
Right away I knew that my counselor, Tony, was awesome. He was a cowboy hat-wearing ex-gangbanger from El Monte who really inspired all of us and had many years sobriety. While we thought he was outstanding, somehow he was fired from the job while I was in the program. Unfortunately, shortly after being fired, he went back to using heroine. He either thought he could still handle the same dose he’d ingested years before, or he meant to take too much. Whichever it was, he overdosed and died. During my ninety days stay I would hear of many addicts leaving and dying soon thereafter. I even took a photo with one such man. He was so full of light while in rehab. It was sad to hear that he succumbed to the darkness and died on the streets of Los Angeles.
To call me closed-minded towards recovery would be an understatement. I knew I needed to stay sober though, so I went through with the program and ended up having a lot of fun in the mountains, exercising and playing softball. I earned the nickname Birdman after rescuing two baby birds and nursing them back to health. One of them died, which I suspected was at the hands of one of my asshole roommates, but the other I released. The day after I let him go, I went outside and whistled the special signal I had taught the bird to recognize me. Sure enough, the little guy hopped over to me from a nearby tree. I corralled him to some water, but he just flapped his wings rapidly, over and over. He soaked himself, so I decided to catch him while he was wet and take him back to my room for one last night.
It was pretty cool being sober and understanding other people who were overcoming alcoholism with me. I didn’t realize how big my ego was at the time. I was calling myself the owner of the softball team, deciding who was going to be on it and who would play which position. Later on, I learned that striving for control only leaves alcoholics dissatisfied because the show never goes the way we want it to. In the twelve-step program book, the authors talk about the way an alcoholic thinks, how he wants to be the main actor, control the lights, and direct the show, but that somehow, when the show doesn’t go well, he’s sure someone else is at fault. That description pretty much sums up the way I used to think and act unknowingly, before I completed the entire twelve steps years later and learned to apply the principles behind the steps into my daily life as well as in moments of upset.
I did learn a lot during my stay at rehab, but not enough. I was closed-minded and thought I was an exception to the rule, that a lot of what the program taught was bullshit and that the Bible was the only truth I needed Besides, I was different and nobody understood me. I thought that everyone was confused except for me. I had no need for their false teachings. I believed the only way to get to heaven was through the Bible and thought the twelve steps program was a lie from the Devil.
I was excited to start my new life after rehab, but I still had some doubts about reaching my goals. There was a guy in rehab with me named Roger. While I never confirmed it, he said that he had played drums for Tina Turner when she did the remake of John Fogerty’s Proud Mary. I went with him on a hike in the mountains one day and we got to talking about life after rehab. I told him that I wanted to live in Pasadena and sell cars, which as it turned out, was what he used to do at one time. He told me that he thought I could succeed at it, and while he said nothing special, it struck me that this line of work was a distinct possibility. All it took was that faint hint of his confidence in me.
It was a huge change of pace being up there for ninety days, but it really helped. My new counselor handed me a list of sober living homes where I could move after I finished up, but I chose to stay in Pasadena, as it was familiar to me. Rehab was a good experience to start my recovery, but it was only
the beginning. Things had really changed, including my weight. When I went to put on the jacket I had saved from the Salvation Army, I found it was too small.
A New Life
I moved into the sober living home in Pasadena and although I attended the twelve-step meetings, I didn’t take their suggestions to do the steps and get a sponsor. I had the Frank Sinatra syndrome and thought, ‘I’m going to do this my way. All I need to do is stay sober. Drugs and alcohol are my problem; there’s nothing else wrong with me.’ I had a lot of control issues at the time, as well as a lot of fear. If I had taken the time to go through the steps, I would have been shown these were both symptoms exhibited by most addicts quitting their drug of choice.
I slept in a tiny room that reminded me a lot of a cell. I was renting it for $275 a month from Dale, who was a man of the cloth at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena. To this day, All Saints in Pasadena has been my favorite church because of the great sermons and all the hard work they do for people in need of help, including alcoholics and the homeless. Jesus was a shining example of love and compassion, and I liked that this church really stayed true to this ideal, especially since they not only accepted homosexuality, but defended gay marriage and gay rights.
I really wanted to get my foot in the door of the car sales industry, but I needed some money to get some nice clothes. Dale put me to work around the house doing carpentry, laying concrete and stones for a walkway, and setting tile. He was paying me about eight dollars an hour, and while the money was adding up quickly, I wouldn’t let him pay me until I worked off a couple months’ rent.
When I finally received my first paycheck of a couple hundred dollars, I misplaced it the next day and it was never found. Dale got upset because he wanted me to go forward with my car business plans as there wasn’t a lot more work left to do at his place. After that, I think he really just created extra work around the place so that I could make the money I needed.
As soon as I got paid, I went to a department store and, not knowing any better, bought some shoes and clothes at full price. When my wardrobe was sound enough I finally went for an interview at a dealership in Pasadena. At the interview, I told them that my biggest concern was working at a job where I could be honest, as I was changing my ways. They assured me that they wouldn’t ask me to lie and I took the job. It turned out to be one of the worst professional experiences of my life.
I had a lot of fear when it came to selling cars since I had never done it before. The closer, Kevin didn’t train me at all, and whenever I failed to get a sale, he blamed me, as if I should have known how to sell cars without ever having been trained. After about four months of struggling, a situation arose where I wanted to be honest and wouldn’t lie. Kevin pulled me aside and said, “Walter, it’s time. We’re letting you go. You’re not a salesman. Find something else to do with your life.” I believed what Kevin said and thought my failure was due to lack of personality and skill. I’ll never forget that day. My dreams were shattered. I walked out of that dealership devastated and depressed.
Instantly all of my hopes of doing something positive went out the door. I got on the bus headed back to the room I was renting. On the way home I decided to give up on my dreams as my mind kept replaying the words of the manager, ‘You are not a salesman…’ You are not a salesman…’ You are not a salesman…’ At the time, I didn’t realize that there were hundreds of other dealerships in the surrounding counties willing to give me a try. I got on a bus and headed to the sober living house full of self-pity, thinking that I would never sell cars. I went home and moped, deciding to give up on the car business and go back to the telemarketing game.
Right after I got fired I saw an ad in the paper for a telemarketing job, so I took it. During that time, whenever I saw a vehicle with a new car registration paper in the window, I pitied myself. At the telemarketing company the manager handed me a book by Zig Ziglar titled How to Be a Winner. I started reading the book and my positive mental energy and attitude began to gain strength. Before I even finished the book I had the realization that success in the car business was my choice, not Kevin’s or anyone else’s. I made a decision to get back in the game.
I searched the LA Times newspaper and saw an ad that said something to the effect of, If you care about your customer, come work for us. We treat people differently. I got really excited seeing that ad because it was a change from the way we treated people at the last dealership. I decided to go in and take a look. The dealership, Southland Mazda, hired me even though it was in the midst of folding.
My first day there I saw my buddy, Elbert, who I had worked with at the previous dealership. He was a nice guy, and he gave me rides to and from work. Though short lived, the job was somewhat of an oasis for me as it built up my confidence. I think it also helped because while I was in between dealerships, I obsessively replayed the mistakes I had made at the first one so as not to repeat them, and I didn’t.
I had made friends with a homeless guy named Candido while walking through Pasadena’s Central Park on Mexican Independence Day in 1995. He had been a big-time alcoholic, even going so far as to drink cologne if he was out of booze. After a few heart-to-hearts with him, I convinced him to go to rehab. When he got out he stayed at Dale’s for a while, but because he never looked for a job, he was under severe pressure from Dale. My mom didn’t like that I had been living in the sober living home for over a year, so she left Texas and moved to California for a short period, and the three of us got an apartment together. Things fell apart very quickly.
Candido finally got a job as a busboy at a Japanese restaurant, but started complaining to me about people drinking in front of him. I didn’t take his complaints too seriously. One day he came home from work drunk and started talking shit to my mom, which almost led to me kicking his ass. When he was sober he was as nice as could be, but when he was drunk he became a real asshole. He had become the alcoholic version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. We all scattered and left the apartment after a month. I ended up having to go into collections over it as we broke the lease. I then moved to Monrovia into a place of my own. My mom left to Texas and Candido decided to go back to the street life.
I saw him a couple of times afterwards in Pasadena pushing a shopping cart with a swollen alcoholic face. On another occasion I walked past him as he was yelling in a violent rage at people passing by on a sidewalk in old town Pasadena.
At work, I finally started seeing signs of success in the car business. I wasn’t doing great, but I was able to make some sales, which was reassuring to my self- esteem. Then, just as everything was improving, the dealership shut down. On the bright side, Elbert had snagged a job at an Infiniti dealership in Monrovia and told the manager about me. The manager, an English guy named Jack C., hired me the moment I told him I’d been fired from my first job because I didn’t want to lie. He told me in a thick London accent, “Walter, you don’t have to lie to sell motor cars. That’s why we’re going to hire you.” He was an eloquent gentleman who really knew what he was doing. I really admired him and wanted to be like him.
He made me write down everything I did each day so that I could review and learn from it, and he was the reason I was able to improve at selling cars. Thanks to Jack C.’s training and all of the sales training books I read and the tapes I listened to, I was really on fire. I started buying suits and dressing conservatively. I felt like I had reached a new plateau in life by working at a luxury car dealership. I grew a lot while working there. I was able to wean myself off public transportation and buy a little $350 salvaged title Honda Civic, as well as purchase a new front veneer for my mangled tooth. While I was extremely grateful for the suits, the little car and the new earning potential at Infiniti, the most important thing I found there was confidence, something that I had never experienced in the car business before.
It was May of 1998 when I hit top sales for the first time. Since I had arrived in the auto world, and since I had quit going to alcoholic meetings, my mind convinced me it was a good idea to reward myself by going downtown to Alvarado Street to buy a forty of crack rock. I bought it, brought it back to my air conditioner-less apartment in Monrovia, and smoked it. Paranoia hit me harder than ever, and I thought the cops were going to kick in the door at any second. I also imagined that the wind blowing on the tree limbs outside was really the police reeling cameras down to get a better look at my position before kicking the door in. I went and hid behind my sink and began sweating profusely, thinking it was doomsday and asking myself why I did this.
My phone rang and the caller I.D. read Jack C. It was my day off, so I instantly thought that he was calling to tell me to turn myself in to the cops. I was terrified when I picked up, but Jack simply asked about a customer’s paperwork. I froze and didn’t respond, so after a few seconds he hung up. I then hid in my house and drank for the next few hours until the paranoia subsided. This was the beginning of a full relapse back into alcohol and marijuana, just as the twelve-step program’s book had foretold, although fortunately I was able to leave crack alone after that.
This happened in May, and by December my whole world at Infiniti was crumbling. Due to a collapse in the used Infiniti market I now earned a mere fifteen hundred dollars a month, whereas previously I was making four to six thousand. Even though I loved the company, it was time for me to go.
I was unemployed and feeling down on my luck, so I decided to go downtown to Alvarado Street in one of my nice suits to buy some weed. I would often cruise around Alvarado Street and hang out with the hardcore street people and drug dealers in an attempt to get a feeling of the old lifestyle.
I parked my car next to a pawnshop, thinking I was pimping big in my 1983 Honda Civic and fancy suit. I crossed the street towards the dealers and waited for them to stop acting like they were talking on payphones. In Spanish, I asked one guy I was familiar with if he had weed. He sent me walking up towards the action on Eighth Street.
“Federales!” someone yelled, just as a dude handed me a nickel bag.
As I took off towards my car, a Camry pulled up next to me with a man and woman in it. The guy said, “Hey, man. What’s up? Let me see that license you just bought.” Alvarado Street was known for its counterfeit California driver’s licenses, the buying and selling of which are both big crimes. Oftentimes business people would go there for fake I.D.s so that they could hire illegal immigrants. This was probably the offense I was being targeted for.
I replied, “I have a license. I didn’t come here for a license.” He then said, “Oh yeah, then what did you come for, dope? It’s all right, you can tell me.”
I shook my head no.
The lady officer slammed the car into park and shouted, “God damn it! Get up against the car!”
They searched my pockets and found the nickel bag I had just bought. “I ought to take you in just for being stupid! Get the fuck outta here and don’t ever let me see you here again!”
A law had just been passed making marijuana legal with a prescription, which meant possession was only a petty crime. I guess they were conducting a sting and didn’t want it to be a total loss, because they let me go without a ticket.
I was pretty resentful at the cops for taking my weed, and still wanted to smoke. I figured the cops had nabbed me because I stuck out like a sore thumb in my suit. If I went home to Monrovia to change into a T-shirt, khaki pants and sunglasses, I reasoned, I could score without being recognized. Sure enough, it worked no sweat.
Soon after, being desperate for a job, I decided to stop by a Nissan dealership in Duarte, which was only a couple of miles from my apartment. When I pulled up in my Civic, my old friend Elbert came out to greet me. He told me that the used car department there was a gold mine for good salesman. After a few interviews and a marijuana masking product, I was back in action. It was great working with Elbert again. For some reason everywhere I went, there he was. He was an old school car dog and really knew the ropes so it was great that he was around, since at the new dealership there were a lot of young, aggressive salesmen that were like a clique. Though the competition was tough, the second month at the dealer I became top salesman and made some fierce enemies there because of it. It felt good knowing I had a friend there like Elbert watching my back.
There was one sales manager named Larry Culeto that I never got along with. Larry seemed to enjoy making life difficult for everyone. He was a man of short stature with a very unpleasant personality. He resembled Butt-head from the Beavis and Butt-head cartoon sitcom. He often talked down to me and took pleasure in calling me a weak suck, an old-school term in the car business for describing someone without the courage and confidence to say and do the things necessary, to be an effective salesman. I never liked Larry and it seemed as if I was one of his favorite targets to project his insecurities unto. There were several occasions where he intentionally sabotaged extremely high profitable car deals of mine, by being uncompromising over one dollar in negotiations, therefore ruining my deals that I worked very hard on. One unethical rule he implemented, was to impose a penalty on the sales staff if they left a customer’s trade-in vehicle in the customer parking area overnight. The written rule was, if a trade-in vehicle is left over-night in this prohibited area, the salesman who discover the customer’s trade-in and take the initiative to park it in the appropriate area, would receive half of your commission. Salesmen would often leave their customer’s trade-ins parked in the customer parking area and if another salesman notice a trade-in left there over night, the sales manager on duty would never demand a salesman give up half his commission, since it was too harsh of a penalty. The manager on duty would simply request we move it to the appropriate parking lot. No one was ever penalized for this action, until one day I left my customer’s trade-in out and this gave Larry the golden opportunity to be malicious. When the other sales manager Ronnie heard that Larry had me give up half my commission for this error, he was appalled. Especially since the reason I forgot to move the vehicle to the appropriate parking area was because Ronnie had invited me to the movies with some of the other salesmen and in my excitement and rush to leave, I forgot to move the car to the back lot. Ronnie had a heart of gold and Larry was cold and malicious.
On Thanksgiving Day 1999, all of the salesmen were scheduled to work. Elbert was extremely edgy that day and expressed his frustrations to me about having to work on Thanksgiving. We were scheduled to work until 5pm but since the sales manager on duty Larry Culeto had already let some of his favorite salesmen go, Elbert was bent on leaving. When Elbert revolted at staying behind while the other’s left, it turned into a standoff. Elbert picked up his brief case and walked halfway toward the exit and said with urgency, “Larry, I gotta go! I gotta go be with my family, man!” He was looking for Larry to give him approval but instead Larry said, “If you leave, you’re fired!” Elbert left to be with his family and Larry fired him. Nobody understood at the time why Elbert did what he did. But just a month or so later we all heard Elbert had died of a brain tumor. I continued to dislike Larry for a long time for firing my friend that day.
By 2000, I was focused mostly on work and joined a public speaking club called Toastmasters. One of the sales books I was reading suggested it as a way to boost confidence, and I wanted to improve my public speaking ability. I also thought it might help me to do standup comedy. I had tried to audition right after starting at the Nissan dealership, but froze and couldn’t remember my lines. I ran off stage after all the other comedians laughed at me. I wanted to feel secure on stage, and Toastmasters helped somewhat. I excelled at Toastmasters, and after helming a fundraising toy drive, I was voted to be the president. Yet even though I was President, I was grateful to have Henry Ochoa the Immediate Past President and founder of Visioneers Toastmasters Club #8837 on my side. He really had my back and I’m eternally grateful, not only for his support in mentoring me, but for his willingness to step aside and give me the reigns. He was an amazing example of true leadership.
I often felt lost and insecure during board meetings, so I knew I wasn’t completely where I wanted to be. Though I lacked confidence in the procedural duties as Toastmaster president, I honed in on the skills I did have and used my selling abilities to convince every member of the club to step up and complete their speeches, as well as officers completing their paperwork and duties on time. I led by example and completed my speeches as well to become a C.T.M or Competent Toastmaster. Due to this, I managed to lead the club to its first President Select Distinguished Club Award, highest honors from Toastmaster’s International.
Soon after, I purchased tickets for a public speakers’ series that included Texas Governor Anne Richards, Colin Powell and four other speakers. Soon after, I heard about some guy who was going to speak at All Saints Church, and I became acquainted with one of my favorite public speakers of all time, Rafer Johnson. He amazed me with all of his life accomplishments, and then moved me to tears when he spoke of his experiences he had while working with Special Olympics children. Afterwards, I was able to shake his hand and get my autographed copy of his book, The Best That I Can Be.
I thought his book was amazing. Rafer had an extraordinary coach who really did a lot to make Rafer the best he could be. I learned a powerful lesson in coaching from Rafer’s story. In his speech, he mentioned a child who had come up to him after one of his engagements. He said the child was so impressed with Rafer’s accomplishments that he said he was going to pursue a gold medal as an Olympic athlete. Rafer then asked the child, “Who is your coach?” to which the child replied, “I don’t have a coach.” Rafer said he knew right then and there that the kid was not going to the Olympics unless he had the proper mentoring, which is true of all high level performers.
I started dating a lot, having a lot of fun while making up to ten thousand dollars a month after being promoted to closer. For years I had dreamt of driving a new sedan while dressed nicely in a suit and tie, and there I was doing just that on a sunny day down a broad Los Angeles highway. I realized that I was living my dream, and it was a really fantastic feeling. Having received a trip to Las Vegas as a top salesman bonus a few weeks after that, I took a pretty girl with me and had a blast. I finally felt like I was arriving in life.
Transformation and Leadership
Around that time, a buddy of mine suggested that I do a cutting edge transformational seminar called The Landmark Forum that he had taken, and that changed his life for the better. I then learned that the owner of the dealership and many managers, including my general manager, had also taken the seminar, so the owner went ahead and paid half of the tuition for me, which I thought was incredibly generous. I gave the seminar a shot, and must say that it was probably the most life changing seminar I’ve ever participated in. I remember that at the first Toastmasters meeting I led after the seminar, instead of gently tapping the gavel to announce the start of the meeting, I slammed it down confidently. I noticed that my fear had completely vanished. I experienced many other breakthroughs as well, including reestablishing a relationship with my dad, who I hadn’t really talked too much in seven years.
It grew easier for me to talk with women as well. One powerful distinction I got after doing the seminar was there is no meaning to anything except for the meaning we create. If I drove a luxury car or a bicycle, it didn’t necessarily mean anything. Losing the meanings that I would create about situations gave me a certain power and freedom which I liked. So, I did the Curriculum for Living which consists of three seminars in total: The Landmark Forum, The Advanced Course and The Self Expression Leadership Program. After the first and second seminar I felt much empowered, but didn’t deal well with the third, which lasted six months. It was bringing up some insecurities and I noticed I was drinking heavily to avoid feelings I was experiencing. In this particular seminar one assignment was to look at an area of our life where we had a pretense or were being inauthentic. I had trouble seeing it, but it was my drinking that I was being inauthentic about. I was acting like everything was okay when it really wasn’t. I had a problem with alcohol but was refusing to see it, a flaw that seemed to be my blind spot.
Even though I was battling my demons in this particular seminar, there were some things that happened that were very positive and inspiring. One of the pretenses in my own life that I was able to see clearly for the first time, was the impact having warrants for my arrest was having on my life. Being fearful and secretive drained my vitality and totally suppressed my self-expression. Upon this realization, I decided to stand up in front of all of the participants and share with them my issue. I essentially told the group that I was wanted in Texas, and I saw the cost and impact on my life living with that burden. It was a huge relief to acknowledge that especially since I had been hiding this fact about my life from everyone I knew, yet I still wasn’t ready to do anything about it.
Just a few weeks before the seminar ended one of the participants, Jamal asked to make an announcement. He grabbed the microphone and said, “My coach has directed me to make an unreasonable request. I need a kidney. I’m reaching out here to my community to ask, will someone give me a kidney?” A woman named Pat, who I knew was a Buddhist stood up and said, “I’ll give you a kidney.” I couldn’t believe what I had just witnessed. Two weeks later when we returned to the seminar the leader asked Jamal to take the stage to share what had transpired during our break.
Jamal took the stage and the microphone and asked Pat to join him. Pat made her way up to the stage as well. Jamal then said, “Pat and I went to the hospital to take a blood test to see if we would be a match. The doctor met with us and explained not only was our blood a match, but the only better match would be a twin.”
It was January 2001 when I completed the seminar. Even though I stuck it out and made it through the end of the seminar, I felt like a loser through most of it because each participant was instructed to create a community project that inspired us and would impact our community. I couldn’t seem to come up with a project and while other people were sharing their inspiration, I was stuck in a rut. I had a sense of smallness throughout the seminar and continued to drink heavily. I ended up with my second DUI and a night in the Glass House jail in downtown L.A. Yet again, my whole life was being turned upside-down. I lingered at my job at Nissan, but was eventually fired when the court papers came through with the DUI charge.
The day I was fired I was in shock. France, my boss, saw the surprise on my face. He told me he was sorry to see me go, and offered me a five hundred dollar loan if I ever needed it. He then told me to go say goodbye to Ronnie, a good friend I had made there, and mentioned they were going to have a bawling sales manager on their hands. I didn’t understand what he meant, but when I went to say goodbye, I looked down the hall and saw Ronnie just staring down at his desk holding back his emotions. I walked over and after seeing his sad eyes I got choked up and gave him a pound. His eyes started to fill with tears, which made me cry, too. I hastily left out the back door in tears. Two and a half years had passed for me at the Nissan dealer in Duarte, and it was the best memory of a car dealership I’ve ever had, and the best group of people I had ever worked with. There was a lot I would miss.
While collecting unemployment, I thought I was enjoying life, but I was really just getting into debt, smoking a lot of weed and being irresponsible. The truth was that I was devastated after being fired, as I really loved working for the dealership and wasn’t sure how to move on. Shortly after that, I had my day in court for my DUI, where the judge mandated that I attend the twelve-step alcoholics’ program again and I decided to get clean and sober.
At the end of the Self Expression Leadership Seminar I had a futures meeting with the leader about what was to be next for me with Landmark Education, and was interviewed and asked about my experience. He brought up my legal issues in Texas, and if I did the Introduction Leaders Program I would feel compelled to get them taken care of. That idea scared me, and I told him that if they were going to make me do that, I wouldn’t register. The man responded that they wouldn’t force me, but that I might be drawn to take care of any unresolved integrity issues.
I had always wanted to do Introduction Leaders Program because it was supposed to be the company’s most powerful seminar, guaranteeing huge results in performance, public speaking, and leadership skills. It was the most rigorous training program they offered, and, it was one of the only ones that required being interviewed along with a thought-provoking online application. During my interview, they mentioned that at some point during the six-month program I might want to quit. I thought the idea of quitting was preposterous. I decided it was a good opportunity for me, as I had just quit drinking and this was the first time I had enough free time to devote to the program.
I decided to move to El Segundo, near LAX, which was located close to Landmark’s offices. I moved into a beautiful two-bedroom apartment for $1500 per month, which created a problem since my income had been cut in half. Also, I was spending a lot of money on a girl named Vicky whom I had been dating. Whenever we hung out I would pick her up, drive her to my place, and then drive her home another 30 miles. This, combined with my high rent and cut income, contributed to me racking up even more credit card debt that plagued my life for the next seven years.
The Introduction Leaders Program had begun and on the first day I arrived early and happened to sit next to Pat from the last seminar. The leader directed us to partner with the person next to us to do an intense being exercise which involves standing and gazing into your partner’s eyes without smiling or making facial gestures. It’s a very powerful exercise and allows you to clearly hear your own self-talk, and gives you power to look people in their eyes and be present with them. Many people avoid the experience of being with others by not being present and avoiding direct eye contact.
I followed the instructions and stood up for the exercise with Pat. I noticed she was a bit slow to stand and braced herself to get up by grabbing the seat bottom with her right hand. She then grit her teeth and held her left side in pain as she lifted herself from the seat. She stood up straight and let go of her side where her kidney used to be. She then took a deep breath looked me in the eyes and smiled. We stood there being with each other for some time. I never asked why, but tears started rolling down Pat’s cheeks during the exercise. Something interesting happens during a being present exercise and you experience an affinity toward your partner after gazing in their eyes for a few minutes. After that exercise I felt I knew who Pat was beyond words and form.
The official coach assigned to me for the Introduction Leaders Program was a doctor, but we never became close. Every week, assignments were given that would create a foundation of integrity and workability. One assignment was to wash my car and to clean my trunk. In the middle of washing it, my new neighbor cracked a joke and told me to wash his too. When he went inside, I did just what he had suggested. When he returned he was very surprised. I went back to the program and shared my story with everyone. I also shared that I was feeling better than I ever had, as I was drinking fresh juices and exercising a ton. Afterwards, some participants came up and told me how inspired they were by my story and for the first time in my life I felt a strong connection with my humanity. It was during the program that I took a hot dog break at a store across the street. As I was eating my hot dog, I saw a sparrow on a trashcan outside the store. I held out a tiny piece of bread and it flew over and took it from my hand.
There was a girl named Elisa who I had met in the program. She was a beautiful, twenty three year old Latina who I really wanted to get to know better. I made the excuse for us to work on our homework together to get her over to my house so I could get to know her. Soon after, we started spending a lot of time together.
I made a close friend named Margaret in the program who knew I was trying to clean up my life in Texas, so we came up with a plan. She suggested that I should take care of the incident with the sheriff and his wife, the DWI, the warrants, the tickets, and any other loose ends. I started by calling my dad, who could hardly believe that I was ready to take care of my responsibilities. He really wanted to help me out and get me back to Texas to see him. My dad hadn’t talked to Red for some time, so he did two weeks of research, and finally got Red’s number through his ex-wife.
It was a tough phone call for me to make, but when I finally picked up the phone and talked to Red, his voice was very warm, calm and receptive. I told him about moving to California, about the DUI I had recently gotten, and how I quit drinking and was in the same alcoholic program as he was. I explained that the DUI was kind of a blessing for me because it got me to finally quit drinking. I told him that the reason I was calling was because I wanted to clean up my warrants out in Texas, and to apologize to the sheriff and his wife. He told me that I didn’t owe him any apologies, but when he said that, I was reminded of the night at the bar. I told him, “Red, something is in the back of my mind. I’m thinking about that night at the bar when I started a fight with those guys, and how the waitress called the cops on me. Didn’t you go to prison because of that night?” He said yes, and I continued, telling him that I always felt like it was my fault.
Red replied, “You didn’t make me drink and you didn’t make me drive. I did that on my own.”
“Well you know what? I’m sorry,” I said.
“Wally, I love you. And when we get all this stuff behind you, we’re going to have a big BBQ for you out here in Texas. I’ll tell you something else. Just like you said your DUI was a blessing, because of that night with you at the bar, I’m going on thirteen years of sobriety. Thank you.”
Red and I talked for a little while longer. He talked a lot about the alcoholics’ recovery program and how he dedicated his life to the service of helping other alcoholics, spending all of his time working with them. He even told me that he had lied all those years about being in Vietnam. He said, “That’s what we alcoholics do. We lie.” He then told me to give him a call the next week and that he would have the phone number to the sheriff. I thanked him and told him that I would call him back.
The next day, my mom called me. She told me that Red had passed away. He collapsed from heat stroke while mowing the lawn in the Texas sun. Sometimes I think about how many days passed between the night at the bar in 1988 and the phone call to Red in 2001. One of the twelve-step principles I’ve learned and try to live by is that we’re not in charge of the results in our life. God is. We are responsible for taking action, and the results are left up to God. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to clean up my side of the street with Red. From this experience and others I’ve had, which to me are no less than miraculous, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to practice living by spiritual principles that Red and I had talked about that day on the phone. Red also mentioned that in his Texas alcoholic meetings they used to say, Put your boots under your bed at night so you won’t forget to get on your knees to pray in the morning.
Red became a generous and loving man who was committed to helping other people. In my worst state, he never once told me I should seek help, even during those times he stood nearby watching me self-destruct as a young man. He knew I wasn’t ready, and instead lived his life sober as an example. He had become someone with great compassion and humility. That was his life. That was what he had become: a channel to do God’s work. Even though it only lasted for a day, I’m truly grateful that I was able to create that new relationship with Red and complete the past.
After Red passed, I dropped the immediate plans to fix my Texas issues. During this period, I felt off, like something wasn’t right. I wasn’t used to being responsible. It felt as if it wasn’t me. I had a farce going on in my head, an act I put on about the person I thought myself to be. I covered up my insecurities by becoming a top salesman, showing outwardly that I was a success. I wasn’t dealing well with the seminar program and the issues it was bringing up. There were many sections of a home introduction all participants were to memorize then get signed off, by reciting each section in front of three graduates before moving to the next section. The particular section I was stuck on was pertaining to getting unstuck in life. It’s ironic how that happens and I was told that the home introduction would mirror my life, and it was doing just that. At the section I was at in the introduction, I would either grow beyond the mental limitation or succumb to it. I was stuck in this section for a week and decided to shrink back into the comfortable self of who I knew myself to be. I went and bought a water bong and some marijuana, and I started checking out, so to speak. Even though I never completed the program to become an introduction leader like I had wanted, I still got a lot out of it, like the courage to face my warrants years later.
I dropped out of the leadership program since I had been so far behind and now under the influence of marijuana. I knew my chances of finishing the program and becoming who I wanted to become were dwindling. I gave up on being a leader and public speaker. I moved to the San Fernando Valley and got a job in Mission Hills at a Nissan dealership.
Elisa and I had begun dating pretty seriously, and I was really into her. She moved in with me after a few months. Elisa and I had a really strong connection, and I fell hard for her. Some six months later she became pregnant, but not being ready for a commitment like that, I manipulated her into getting an abortion. She agreed to it after I scared her into thinking that I might not be there. She set it all up and went in for the abortion on my birthday. As I was driving around Pasadena near Planned Parenthood, I had a moment of clarity to do the right thing and keep the baby. I called the doctor’s office to tell her not to go through with it, but the receptionist told me she was on the operating table. I didn’t say anything, and the fetus was aborted. To this day I still wonder what would have happened if I had told them to stop, and it has been one of the biggest regrets in my life. I felt as if I should have told them to stop the operation even though she was on the table.
A few weeks later I went to Starbucks and got a drink with two extra shots of espresso. I rarely drank espresso, so this practically had me tweaked out. Afterwards, I pulled out of the driveway like a mad man, not looking to see if cars were coming, and sure enough, I smashed into a speeding car which then hit another car. When I got home and opened the mail, I read a letter from my insurance company saying that my policy had been cancelled. I was already close to $25,000 in debt, but this set me back another $15,000. I was really freaking out, but Elisa was there, guiding me like a lighthouse in a storm, helping me feel better about everything.
I had a stronger connection with Elisa than any other woman, but my ego kept me from committing and from moving forward with her. I never recognized my ego for what it was and I feel it caused me to break up with her many times, but I always asked her to return. My ego and negative self-talking mind would give me a target I needed to hit to be happy, but once I hit the target, it would then move. Shortly after the accident, I broke up with her and asked her to move out. She did, and never came back, which I knew was because of the power she had received from a support group for loved ones of alcoholics. If I knew then, what I know now, I would have had a chance to accept her and give myself fully in the relationship.
I left the Nissan dealership in Mission Hills and went to work as a closer at a Toyota dealership in Simi Valley. One of my passions was to develop and train people. I really enjoyed working with people who could be coached to achieve great things. There are issues that block people from learning, a situation that I encountered a lot while in the automobile industry. Bringing out the best in people can be very inspiring, and it became a passion of mine.
There was a guy named Joe at Toyota who I had trained from the start. After using some sales training techniques successfully, I told him he was going to be Salesperson of the Year, but he didn’t believe it. I left that dealership to work elsewhere but when I called to see if he made it, I was told he received the honor at the company Christmas party. I had helped him move outside of his comfort zone and he went on to sell more cars than anyone at the dealership. I gave similar accolades to many other people as well.
One such person was a woman named Nina who was selling six or seven cars a month until I started pushing her. She quickly started selling up to fourteen cars a month, making her the top salesperson three months in a row. After some time, she decided that she didn’t like the pressure I put on her to succeed, so she convinced the managers to get her off of my team. She never came close to selling as many cars after that.
Because I excelled on my team, I was promoted to the finance department and earned the confidence of my General Sales Manager, Ron. Unfortunately, when Ron left, the new guy demoted me, so I left.
I started selling cars with Ron at a Nissan dealership in a nearby city and was offered a sales manager position, but in order to get the job, I had to take a mandatory drug test. I tried to drink a marijuana masking solution, but they found it in my urine and watched my every move after that. I quit trying after the third attempt, realizing I wasn’t going to pass the test, or quit using. I got a job nearby at a competing dealership that didn’t test for THC. I worked as a salesman at the new place, and produced good numbers again. After making top sales my first month, I was promoted to floor manager. A few weeks later, I saved a sale and was able to make the dealership $7,000 in profits, of which I received only $50. I was livid, and let the management know it.
The next morning, hung-over and angry, I decided to skip work and lease a brand new Nissan 350Z sports car so that I could peel out of my employer’s parking lot if he refused to give me a large pay raise. That frame of thought is acutely described as alcoholic thinking. I went to purchase the new vehicle from my previous manager Ron and was able to get a decent deal with him after trying at a few other dealerships. At every dealership I went to, I talked trash about my employer, and told them why I wanted the Z.
When I went to work the next day, I talked to the general manager and told him what I wanted. We got into an argument, and I ended up getting fired. To further rob me of any pleasure I might have squeezed out of the situation, my boss, who must have been tipped off, said, “All right, so now is when you’re going to peel out of the parking lot, right?”
Deflated, I walked to my car and left without peeling rubber. The next day I went to a twelve-step alcoholics’ meeting at a clubhouse in Sherman Oaks, desperate for some comfort and help. The meeting started and the leader asked that anyone who was there in their first 30 days of sobriety to please state their name. I stood up. At the end of the meeting a black guy with cornrows named Tom came up to me, gave me a hug and welcomed me. I hadn’t known it then, but I later learned that he was a fairly well known actor. I really needed to talk to someone, so I opened up to him because he seemed really cool. I told Tom I had a problem, but that I had an idea of how to handle it.
I told him that I wanted to call the bank that gave me the loan and tell them I lost my job so that they wouldn’t fund the deal and pay the dealership for my loan. At that point, the dealer, and my old boss Ron, would be forced to take the car back because I couldn’t afford it, which would screw him pretty badly, but I wouldn’t look like the bad guy.
Tom then said, “Man, can I tell you something? Why don’t you get the fuck out of the way…and let God do something for you?”
I replied, “What do you mean?”
He said, “Why don’t you do this: Go home tonight and pray, and then I want you to go ahead tomorrow morning and ask God what he wants from you. Don’t give anybody this number, but call me afterwards and I’ll answer.”
I did what he told me, but I heard nothing but my own thoughts continuing their whirlwind in my head. I called him up, like he said. Unlike what he said, he didn’t answer the phone. I was a little perturbed that I followed all of his advice like a trusting fool, but he didn’t follow through with his word. I left a message saying that I did what he had told me, though I left out that I was angry. I sat there on my couch in silence which was rare, and then, out of nowhere, a voice said, “Go to the people you love.” I instantly thought about the Nissan dealership in Duarte, as I had loved the people and my job there.
I had already tried twice since the DUI to work there again. Unfortunately, their insurance company wouldn’t allow me to be employed there for three years because of the DUI. I didn’t know this the first two times I asked them for my job back, creating a story in my mind that it was because they didn’t like me, or thought I was a liability due to my drinking. Three years had passed and I was eligible again but was unaware of it. I thought for sure that I was wasting my time even going there. However, I did really miss them, as my old boss France and my old buddy Ronnie were still there. I decided to follow through with the voice I had heard, and went to the dealership. While driving I called Tom again and left another message telling him what had happened to me and what I was about to do regarding my old job.
Minutes later, Tom called me back and said, “Hey, that’s great news. That’s what this program is all about — finding that power greater than ourselves. That’s awesome, dude. Go in there and have a great interview and then call me when you’re done.”
I got to the dealership, and when I saw France he rushed out of his office and said, “Walter, perfect timing! We need a closer. Listen, fill out this application and give the new managers here a good interview.” He didn’t even ask if I was looking for a job.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. France started walking away but then stopped, turned around and said something that really topped it off.
“You know we love you here, don’t you?”
I started filling out the application, and for the question, “How did you hear about us?” I wrote, “Prayer,” as I really knew that something in me, greater than me, was working on my side.
It’s now 2005, while back at Nissan in Duarte, I was still running off of the courage I’d gained in the 2001 Introduction Leaders Program, I contacted an attorney and asked how much money it would take for him to represent me in my D.U.I. probation violation case. He told me he would do it for one thousand dollars. I asked when he would go to court and he told me he would go to the courthouse once he received the money. I told him I would drop the check in the mail immediately and he asked me to then call him the following week. I called him and he answered his phone. I said “Hello, Mr. Rascoe? This is Walter Rossie in California. Did you get my check?” He started laughing and said, “Yes I did, Walter. As a matter of fact I went to court today. Yesterday they dismissed your case.” I was happily shocked. I then asked, “Do I get my money back?” He said, “I’m mailing you a check back for $775.”
I was so excited that I called my buddy Ronnie from Nissan and told him the good news. I’ve always felt this power people refer to as God has revealed Himself to me in this sort of way. I used to think I was special, but I’ve come to realize and witness that this power can be found by anybody who can get out of the way and ask for help, though that’s not what I was taught growing up as a child.
After being sober for about a year, I went to the HaHa Cafe and performed stand-up comedy, which I attribute to the courage I found in the original Introduction Leaders Program in 2001. I did a lot of psycho-sexual jokes, and while I was performing I noticed that the other comedians were laughing their asses off, even though some of it was the same material I had used previously without getting any laughs. It was all in my presentation, and finally the clamoring noise in my head about needing to go back to finish what I had started stopped, even if I wasn’t going to pursue it beyond that one show. Afterwards, I felt a sense of completion, and didn’t feel as if I needed to go back to prove anything to anyone, not even to myself.
I was back at Nissan in Duarte, everything was going very well, and I had everything my mind told me I should need to be happy. That year, 2005, I made six figures, yet one day I decided to smoke weed and I relapsed back into the world of addiction. I also was doing a lot of drinking and ecstasy, and I was miserable.
Twice I had Introduction Leaders from Landmark Education come and give introductions at the dealership, but I felt a bit envious because they were one hundred percent effective, meaning each and every introduction participant registered for the seminar. These guys were doing what I had wanted to do, but had failed at. I was feeling like something was missing in my life, and I began to think of other possibilities outside of car sales. I pondered the thought of becoming an Introduction Leader.
During this period I sold a car to a counselor at Duarte High School. After talking with her about my past experience in Toastmasters she invited me to speak at a function at the Duarte City Hall. I decided to start writing an inspirational speech that incorporated an anecdote about Nelson Mandela spending 27 years in prison while never giving up on his ideals. It was about his efforts to help his people fight for freedom, about setting goals and never giving up on dreams.
A couple of weeks later, I was the Keynote Speaker for the Groundhog Mentor Day at Duarte City Hall, to give a speech to about one hundred Duarte High School kids who were there for America’s Promise program, the mayor of Duarte, and twenty local business owners and managers, one of whom was my buddy Ronnie from my own dealership. The speech went alright even though I was suffering from a bad hangover, and afterwards I felt like a fraud because I was telling the kids not to give up, and yet I had given up on something very important to me — being an Introduction Leader. I went back to work and France asked me how it went. I told him what I was thinking, and that I felt like I needed to go back and finish the leadership program. He told me that they didn’t have that type of schedule flexibility at the dealership, and that the only way that I would be able to do it would be to resign. I told him that I was aware of that and would quit, but he then convinced me to stay on, implying in many ways that I was up for the next sales manager position and I shouldn’t miss out on the golden opportunity. After some misgiving I decided to continue on, but a few weeks later, the position was given to another employee with minimal experience. I couldn’t believe that France had led me on like that, but I learned the lesson that people are fallible — that no matter how much you may admire someone, they are imperfect.
Because France kept me at the dealership for the extra three weeks, I missed the first preliminary class during the week at the seminar company, though this wasn’t a big deal as I had done the seminar before.
The first weekend we participants were mock participants in an introduction with the leader. Like introduction participants, we made a list of all of the areas of our lives that were working, and all of the areas of our lives that weren’t working, or not working as well as we would like them to. For some time, I had recognized that drugs and alcohol was an area of my life that wasn’t working, so I put it at the top of the list. We then invented a possibility that inspired us in that area of our life. I had heard something that I really liked from another leader about the possibility of being a man of honor, so I created that for myself. Every participant was told to pick a partner, the person sitting next to them, to share the new possibility they invented for their life.
The leader then proceeded. “What if you had that possibility not only in that area of your life that isn’t working, but in all of the areas of your life? What would that be like for you?”
When I shared the new possibility with my partner, tears began to fall as I thought of how amazing life would be if I wasn’t drunk or hung over all the time but instead was able to do all of the things I wanted to do, and be all of the things I wanted to be. That day forward I got sober once again.
My coach in the program who helped me through this was a stockbroker from Beverly Hills named Janet. We became extremely close after I saw how committed she was to me and my life. She was an amazing person and coach, going from being a troubled alcoholic to a successful, high-powered stockbroker and leader. She provided me with leadership second to none, and reinforced the possibility of me becoming a man of honor, which meant living a life of high integrity. She held me to a higher accountability than anyone had in my whole life. I love her, and feel that she is one of the greatest influences in my life.
I went into the leadership program with a different frame of mind, giving up my six-figure income for it. I really got to see some things about myself, like why I was not willing to give myself fully in a relationship, and I got present to the conversation I was having in my mind about thinking I was worthless, which was stopping me from reaching my goal as a public speaker and an author. Thanks to Janet, I finished the leadership program within three quarters of the time allotted, became an effective Introduction Leader, fulfilled all of my intentions, and had a total sense of completion and satisfaction. However, I wanted to do my own public speaking with my own agenda: I also became very clear that I wanted to write a book.
My first inspirational talk went really well at Mount Olive’s Alternative Education School, which is part of Duarte High School, thus beginning a new chapter in my life delivering workshops and inspirational speeches, while also teaching classes about sales. I was invited back to speak several times, including for the Power Man’s Lunch, at which I had the privilege of speaking to two large classes, alternating with a retired Los Angeles Dodger. I’ve also had fun speaking at Birmingham Charter High School, to the Special Education Department and to their Intervention class.
More and more, I find that there is a higher power working in my life. I have been able to recognize that there are no coincidences in my life. Things have just worked out too perfectly for me to believe that. I now understand that what people perceive as miracles are incomprehensible functions of the laws of nature, and usually happen when I am open to receive them and give space for them to come into my life.
I traveled to my old Pleasanton, Texas neighborhood in 2009 to see the old house I grew up in. Across from my old home was my baseball buddy Londo’s house. I walked over to see his house and recognized the silhouette behind his screen door as his mom and called out her name. She couldn’t believe her eyes when I told her who I was. I sat down and talked with her, and she told me that it was a miracle was able to catch her at her house that day as she had moved to San Antonio and only stops by once every couple of weeks to water the grass. She insisted I called Londo and I did. Londo was surprised I was calling. He told me he had been to my father’s old job to look for my dad so that he could get in touch with me. I learned that Londo had also become an alcoholic, but had gotten sober on exactly the same date that I had.
We met for lunch, and it was a great experience sitting across from my old childhood friend and enjoying a great Tex-Mex meal together. He told me how he had become very involved with the church and was happy with his new life. While we didn’t talk much after our first meeting, he would often send me text messages quoting different Bible verses.
These days my life has been completely transformed. I don’t talk like I used to, think the way I used to, or even walk like I used to. I haven’t been in a fistfight since being homeless in 1995. My thinking along with my total attitude towards life and humanity is very different from how it used to be, and I truly feel the only reason I am still alive after all of my experiences is so that I can share my experience with others.
One of the biggest differences made in my life is a twelve-step meeting called Primetime where alcoholism, ego, and self are discussed. I never knew how much I listened to negative self-talk even though it was exposed to me at the Landmark Forum seminar I had taken. Until I was able to see it alive and active in my own mind, I was always going to the dark side of my mind for a friendly conversation. After being in and out of twelve step alcoholic meetings for over fifteen years, and becoming clean or sober numerous times, I have a newfound freedom from my own mind. Once, when I was alone in the shower, I noticed myself talking to myself about some people who pissed me off earlier that day, so I used a prayer from Primetime. I did what people from Primetime suggested I should do and I prayed a simple prayer: “God, please protect me from my mind?” I never expected anything to happen, but after I got out of the shower, the fierce feeling of anger had vanished.
Before Primetime, I wasn’t able to separate myself from this negative, fault-finding, self-talking mind of mine. I just thought the voice was me, because it came from my own mind, and in my own voice. I never really took inventory of my thoughts, ego, or self like I do now. My ego has gotten me into so much trouble in my life but I wasn’t ever aware of it, and the bondage of self has been extremely painful. Now having the ability to see these things and how they operate in my life today, I have a sense of peace and serenity like never before, and can at least recognize my mind when it’s mugging me. Primetime has also shown me The Golden Key by Emmet Fox, which has taught me the power of scientific prayer and practicing the presence of God. These things, along with the Kundalini yoga I now practice are all wonderful gifts that I picked up on this path, which has been illuminated for me.
Thanks to yoga, I now have a sense of being in touch with my inner spirit, something that was always missing for me in the past. The state of mind I experience after yoga and meditation is the closest I come to the spiritual encounter I had when I was homeless and prayed to God for help, then experienced that warm blanket of love that covered and protected me.
I’ll never forget the first Kundalini class I attended. I had been dealing with a great deal of anxiety, which was a gift from the Universe, because that pain I experienced allowed me to be open minded enough to seek a solution and try yoga. After doing the breath of fire, which is a powerful abdominal breathing technique designed to warm up your body, we did almost an hour of rigorous yoga exercises.
We were then told to sing the first verse of a song in prayer for ourselves, the second for someone else, and the last verse for the Earth. The song is called The Longtime Sun, and it’s very simple: May the longtime sun shine upon you, all love surround you, and the pure light within you, guide your way on … While singing the second verse for my father, I was moved to tears and had a deep sense of connection with my spirit.
I left the yoga class much different than when I entered it, and have since made yoga and meditation a regular practice. Whenever I feel off track spiritually or mentally, a yoga session is a sure way to realign myself because that’s when my mind, body, and spirit are nourished. It has become clear to me that many people’s suffering can be alleviated by yoga and meditation, yet so few are willing to try it. I’m grateful to have been in enough emotional pain to have sought out these two treasures I have found, and the very group of people I once made fun of, the 3HO Organization (Happy, Healthy, and Holy).
I never got married, even though I have had some wonderful women in my life. There is however, one relationship I’ve been in for over five years, which has provided me with an opportunity to have love in my life. The love of my life is a five year old Yorkshire terrier named Romeo. I always say he’s my teacher and the “world’s greatest lover,” because he loves everyone and everything and he does it for fun and for free. Because of the unconditional love he provides to me, he has been instrumental in helping me maintain my sobriety and my sanity. We’ve gone through a lot together and have developed a wonderful friendship. Romeo does not belong to me, I just have the privilege of having him in my life and taking care of him. I do not attempt to control him and he’s not trained to follow commands. As a matter of fact, not only does he mostly do what he wants to do, but he tells me what to do! He’s my companion and my best friend.
In 2010, I began working at a Nissan Dealership in Van Nuys as a closer. The General Manager was an old car dog named Charlie, who when I got hired, looked at my resume and asked, “Why the hell have you had so many jobs?” I responded by saying, “I realize now that my ego has caused me a lot of problems in my life. If I would have known this before, I would probably have stayed at many past jobs and in personal relationships with women also.” He said, “Ahhh the ego. It will fuck you up! You can have the best woman in the world, a good cook, beautiful heart, she’s a squirter! She can be 99% perfect, but the ego will focus on that 1% and not let you accept her.” I was like, ‘Damn, this dude knows what he’s talking about!’ Then he said, “Let me guess…You’re forty years old, you live alone in an apartment, and you drive a $500 car.” I said, “You’re mostly right, except for the $500 car.” This guy was the wisest and most down to earth general manager I ever met, and after this conversation, he had my highest respect.
There were two teams of salesmen and each team had a closer. I was the closer for one team and the other team had a closer named Ronald. One day Ronald came to me and complained about a salesman on his team that he was fed up with. The salesman was Louis. Louis was a giant teddy bear of a man, standing over six feet tall and was one of the nicest people in the car business. Louis sold a total of ½ a car (A split commission with another salesman) for the entire month and was about to get fired. I asked Ronald if I could take him, and he said he would be happy to see him go. I then talked to Charlie who had a heart of gold, and he agreed that he really liked Louis since he was so likable and wanted me to help him to succeed.
The first thing I did was have a Come to Jesus meeting, as we call it in the car business. I asked him to come have a talk with me in an office and I flat out told him that since he only sold half a car in an entire month, his manager wanted to fire him. I told him I saw potential in him and if he was willing to follow some simple steps that I would outline for him, I would put him on my team and do my best to help him succeed. I used many of the things I learned in the Introduction Leaders Program to have Louis look at how he was being that had him fail, then I had him look at a new way of being that inspired him. Once we got to the new way of being, Louis was lit up with possibility. During this conversation I was extremely surprised at how well Louis was not only graciously accepting my coaching but showed complete willingness to apply what I was telling him to do. After we agreed to work together closely, I took him out onto the car lot to show him how to tell a customer to get into the car for a test drive, instead of asking. After the simple coaching and training session, Louis went on to sell two customers in a row that day and became salesman of the month his first month on my team. He was a pleasure to work with and a true inspiration. What was most inspiring was the acknowledgement Louis gave to me when he received a $10,000 bonus check for selling over twenty cars in one month. He thanked me and said he wouldn’t have been able to do it without me.
Charlie was impressed with me and the results I was producing by this time, and he made time to stroke my ego by calling me, “Big boy!” I knew what he was doing but still liked it. I did well there but since the economy was still suffering I was making about half of what I was used to making as a closer. I had heard that Ronald was planning on leaving, so I decided to try and see if I could convince Charlie to let me have the other team and run the entire sales floor. I popped my head in Charlie’s office and asked him if he was busy. He asked me what was going on, I sat down and said, “Charlie I really like working here. You’re really cool and I like the managers and sales staff, the environment here is great, but I’m not making enough money.” I kept my eyes on the floor but I could see him squirming uncomfortably in his chair. So I said, “I need to know, if Ronald were to leave for any reason, can I have both teams and run the entire sales floor?” He quickly and enthusiastically stated, “I was considering doing that anyway!” One week later Ronald quit, and I had the entire floor to myself. I was making twice as much as my sales managers and they didn’t like that at all, so I was forced to pacify them by buying them lunch every few days.
One summer day in 2011, Larry Culeto walked into the dealership. He saw me and walked over with his intense, non-jovial demeanor and asked me in his stern, uptight manner how I’d been, as if he cared. I told him I ran the sales floor for the General Manager and pointed to Charlie’s office. I was in the sales office hanging out with the sales manager on duty and after Charlie interviewed Larry, came in to tell the sales manager to talk to him and see what he thinks. Charlie said, “He seems ok to me. He says he used to work with you. What do you think about him Walter?” I said, “He’s kind of a jerk.” I then commenced to tell them both the Thanksgiving Day story, and the sales manager said, “I don’t wanna work with an asshole like that!” Charlie turned to the sales manager, “Well at least go talk to him.” The sales manager came back to the sales office with a scowl on his face. I never saw Larry again.
Also in 2011, I was given the opportunity to expand my consciousness and awareness even more. A friend of mine, who had been a longtime staff member at Landmark Education, contacted me to let me know he was holding a workshop called Higher Ground. After he explained the benefits of the workshop I said I would attend, not knowing the impact it would have on my life. A small group of eight participants met once a week for six weeks. At the first week’s session we looked closely at the negative functions of the human ego, versus the many positive ways of being when connected to our spirit. Though I had been looking at my ego at Primetime meetings, the work we did in the workshop gave me a more acute awareness of my own ego and its devastating consequences. The homework assignment for that week was to notice when we were in our ego and when we were connected to our spirit. We were also instructed to develop a meditation practice, and although I had experienced meditation and yoga, I never had a practice. I had experienced gong meditation at yoga, which I really enjoyed but now I would venture to develop a practice with focus on the breath in pure silence.
I remember going to work the day after the workshop and noticing some things that I hadn’t seen before. I meditated that morning before arriving to work. I walked into the sales office and sat next to one of the sales managers on duty and immediately noticed how mean and neurotic he was being. As I sat there next to him observing, I was extremely present to the negative energy he was emitting as he screamed at a salesman, telling him to, “Get that fucking asshole out of here!” He was referring to a customer in the showroom. Before taking the workshop, things like that didn’t bother me, but I started to notice why, after sitting next to this particular manager for some time I had developed a nervous twitch on my forehead.
I couldn’t stand to be in the room any longer so I walked through the showroom outside to get some fresh air. One of the salesmen on my team was outside smoking a cigarette. He asked me how I was doing and I explained I wasn’t doing too well, and needed to share, so I told him what I was experiencing. I told him I had started a workshop that had me look to see when I was connected to my ego and when I was connected to my spirit. He put his cigarette down, looked at me in disgust and said, “What the fuck are you talking about?” I started to feel like I was a naked spirit standing in an arena with a bunch of gladiators with thick armor and weapons forged out of their egos.
I felt uncertain and insecure, and I really wanted to call my friend who led our workshop but didn’t want to bother him. Everyone I visited that morning was full of ego; it was all I could see. Miraculously, my friend who was leading the workshop emailed each participant and said he was making himself available for anyone who wanted to talk. I figured he must have known what we may have been experiencing so I called him immediately.
He asked how I was doing and I told him flat out I was having a bad time and I shared with him how I felt like I was in the gladiators arena and all I could see was people’s ego. He said, “Congratulations. You’re finally seeing yourself.” At that moment, I wasn’t ready to accept that entirely, as I was resisting looking at myself yet still projecting and judging others, which is an ego function in itself. I said, “Even if that’s true, I don’t feel I want to be in this environment.” He then explained to me that when people began to awaken spiritually, sometimes the things they do, or the environment they’re in, doesn’t work for them anymore. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do since selling cars for sixteen years was all I knew.
As I was driving to week number two of the workshop, I was inquiring to the Universe what I could do next, when I received an unexpected and surprising call on my cell phone from Ronald, the closer who worked at the Nissan dealership with me. In the past we didn’t like each, but on this day I meditated and when the call came in, I was open and receptive, unlike before. I greeted my old foe warmly and he shared that it was a surprise to him that I still had his number in my phone list, since he knew we were not friends. I explained to him the reason was because I had been working on my ego and I realized some things about myself. I then asked him what he was doing and he explained to me that he was selling solar electric systems and that he was making four times more money than he was making in the car business. I got excited and asked if he could get me an interview and he said he didn’t think they were hiring. I insisted that he ask the manager for five minutes of his time and he did. A week later I had left the car business.
Selling solar was a challenge for me at first since I was used to being a top producer in the car business, and now was learning something entirely different. I was able to see my ego and how uncomfortable it made me to be at the bottom of the sales production board in the meeting room. The awareness of my ego allowed me to be in a state of acceptance while I did my best to learn and grow. Even when the owner of the solar company mocked and ridiculed me anonymously several times in sales meetings, in front of the sales force, for making rookie mistakes, I was able to accept it whereas before, my ego would not have stood for that. My sales managers didn’t express much confidence in me either and would usually talk down to me in various ways.
Ronald kept telling me I was going to evolve and do great in the solar business as I continually watched his name being placed on the top end of the sales board. I always appreciated his support and he has become one of my best friends, on the polar opposite from which we began. I did evolve and do great just as Ronald projected, but as I reached top sales for the month my first time, not one manager even let me know. Ronald went into the office and saw I was on top of the sales board and called me to tell me.
After my second year in solar, the owner sold the company, I rose to the top of the production board and was awarded Salesman of the Year for 2013. I sold more solar than any other salesman at the company that year and the new owner awarded me with a bonus check and an expensive bottle of champagne. The new manager acknowledged me at the annual Christmas party and said, “I want to congratulate Walter Rossie for most sales production for 2013 with the highest closing ratio at 48%. Walter’s closing ability is an anomaly, and I would rank him in the top one percent of solar closers nationally.” I left that party feeling grateful.
I’ve continued my commitment to expanding my consciousness and awareness. I’ve taken classes at Centers for Spiritual Living, which has reinforced my meditation practice as well teaching me the importance of affirmations and having an abundance consciousness. As a matter of fact, it was after I attended the Abundance Workshop, that I achieved top sales in solar. And it was there during the Spiritual Practices class that I received my core inspirational talk during meditation practice. While meditating, I was receiving information of what to talk about. I would have to stop meditating and write down the information that was coming to me in flashes of inspiration.
I’m grateful for the tremendous growth from the classes I had taken at these centers, as well as from reading and listening to audiobooks such as, Journey of Awakening by Ram Dass, The Power of Now and A New Earth, by Eckhart Tolle. These books have stretched my consciousness and awareness exponentially. I am currently taking Kriya Yoga meditation classes offered at the Self-Realization Center Lake Shrine, founded by Paramahansa Yogananda. After attending the center, I’ve recently committed to the weekly lessons which take a year of preparation, at which point I will be ready to experience the deep meditation described in his book Autobiography of a Yogi.
Meditation practice has become one of the most valuable treasures in my life and has given me peace of mind as well as space between my thoughts and reactions by allowing me access to be the observer of my thoughts. I’ve gotten so much out of meditation that I’ve learned a guided meditation to lead others to go within. I’ve seen amazing healing not only in my own life but in the lives of the people with whom I’ve been led to share my treasure of meditation. Something miraculous happens when we call on the light within, and go home to that sacred place. It’s deeply rewarding to see people heal from anxiety and many forms of fear by quieting the mind and connecting to their own divinity through meditation.
I’m in awe at the totality of life today, and it’s becoming more and more apparent that things are not exactly as I’ve been led to believe they are. Awareness and open mindedness have allowed me to see life with a new pair of eyes. Upon awakening spiritually, I began to look closely and pay attention to what I was holding in my consciousness and why, and I found that I believed blindly in a fear based premise of God which had been engrained into my developing mind early on.
After my exposure to people like Ed Bacon at All Saints Episcopal Church, Emmet Fox’s Sermon on the Mount, and listening to lectures by Allen Watts. I am in agreement with Mark Twain’s statement: In religion and politics people’s beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, whose opinions about them were not worth a brass farthing.
I’ve been given insight and I’m extremely grateful for everything that I’ve endured and experienced in my life, as all of it has forged me into the person I am today. All the people who’ve come into my life, whether their intentions were positive or negative, have put me on the path I am destined to be on. I truly believe I am exactly where I am supposed to be, and exactly who I am supposed to be in life. I’ve come to realize that the experiences I thought were negative were the best things for me and my spiritual growth. I’m considering that maybe there is no positive or negative experience that is separate or apart from one another. Maybe it’s all part of a whole experience and a bigger picture. I haven’t been an angel by any stretch of the imagination. Today I have good-orderly-direction (G.O.D.). The road has become narrow since I now live a life where I seek a spiritual solution.
I’ve found that I can’t live in the spiritual world and do the negative things I used to do before I became conscious. I’ve tried it and it’s very painful. I can’t get away with doing harm to people in any fashion, or wishing ill will toward others; because I now know that what I do to them I also do to myself. When I act this way, I pay a price and become very uncomfortable. So I now do my best to live by spiritual principals and try my best not to break spiritual laws and when I do this I feel connected to all.
To allow these spiritual forces to work in my life, I keep my lamps burning, as Jesus put it, and stay conscious to the thoughts and emotions I’m carrying in my mind. I affirm and take certain actions while still getting out of the way and letting go. The mightiest power in existence is equally available to anyone and everyone. It’s my experience that the powerful force that created us all is there for us if we just ask. When we can set our ego to the side and reach for the power, it responds. There is that power and it’s within us all, and it’s there waiting to be recognized. That’s my experience.
While I am far from perfect, I realize today that I don’t have to be perfect or even strive for perfection. There is nobody in the world that I need to be better than and I am content just being me. Today, I do my best to be kind, loving and accepting of myself and compassionate toward others. I have done regrettable things and now take responsibility for them, but that is the thing that makes me human. I have fallen short, but it’s in recognizing it, making amends whenever possible and living in the light, I can find solace and be the man I want to be.
My coach Janet gave me this letter and told me to read it if I ever forgot who I was:
Walter Rossie Jr. you are a man of power, strength and sobriety.
You are a brilliant, blazing and passionate light, full of enthusiasm, contribution, and transformation. You walk into a room and leadership is present. You are someone who possesses the ability to inspire others.
All the difficulties that you have experienced in life have been for the purification of your soul such that you might become someone with the compassion and humility required to stand for those who few would be willing to stand for, to be with those who few can be with — the beleaguered spirits that have perhaps even been unable to be with themselves and perhaps have given up on themselves. You have become their champion, the Man Who Fell but Picked Himself Up, the brave soul who transcended his own difficulties and humanity to fulfill his dreams, and became the possibility and greatness that his soul was made manifest for — the man whose courage, discipline, and commitment inspires faith in those who have lost all faith.
You are the possibility of being a loving, faithful husband and partner. You are the possibility of being a loving, patient, and committed father.
You are someone who is looked up to and respected by your colleagues, community, classmates, family members and friends. You are someone they turn to for leadership, support, strength, and friendship.
You are a Man of Honor.