Monday, January 27, 2014

Time Magazine Saves Me From a Horrible Fate (Twice) Part 1

It was ten years ago. I was summarily banished from the couch I'd been sleeping on for several months and once again found myself homeless on the streets of The Big Easy. Living outdoors is difficult in any city, but New Orleans presents a unique set of problems for the  prospective vagrant. Squats with hidden dangers, a harsh, unsympathetic police force, drug crazed maniacs around every corner, and the constant threat of sudden, spontaneous drunkenness, all serve to make street living in NOLA a dicey affair.

Plus, back in those days, I had yet to develop my superior homebum survival skills. I had an innate talent for it, yes. I had been planning my path as a bum since childhood, but was, nonetheless, lacking in the kind of practical wisdom that only experience can bring. All I had was a cheap, beat up guitar, a quarter-bag of weed, and a two month old copy of Time Magazine.

I wandered aimlessly for a long time. I tried to ground score some daiquiris on Bourbon St., went up to the river and climbed around on the rocks, all the while growing more and more tired. Sleep deprivation is one of the homebum's greatest enemies. Public sleeping is strongly discouraged  in New Orleans, and there are very few, truly safe, nooks and crannies. The rare good spots are guarded with lion-like ferocity and missionary zeal by their long time inhabitants, who'd sooner die than be displaced by some would-be usurper. As the night wore on, I began to get confused and desperate.

Sitting on a bench in Jackson Square, I had an idea. I remembered this guy I knew who had an apartment on Burgundy. He'd never let me sleep there, but maybe I could sneak into his courtyard and find a hidden spot to curl up in. I knew if he discovered me he would be angry, but I also knew he probably wouldn't call the police. It hardly mattered, since if I didn't find somewhere to crash fast, I was going to fall out in public and go to jail anyway.

It was four in the morning when I arrived at the apartment, a shotgun affair with slave quarters in back. Quite typical for the neighborhood. There were no lights and no signs of activity. I knew that the inhabitants were hard partying Quarter Rats who could be out getting fucked up in the early morning hours, or long unconscious, so I figured my chances of avoiding detection were pretty solid. I quietly checked the door to the courtyard, and sure enough, it was unlocked.

After walking down an alley that ran the length of the house, I was in the courtyard, a fenced in oasis in the heart of the Quarter. There was a coffee table covered in empty beer cans, surrounded by folding chairs, and assorted detritus from many a drunken gathering. In the rear of the patio was a small stone building, the slave quarters, which is exactly what it sounds like. A throwback from Antebellum times, these particular slave quarters were larger than most, with a rickety stairway leading up to a small, unstable looking balcony.

I felt at home on this patio. My stint as a salesmen of rare, and exotic, hallucinogens had made me quite popular with the tenants, and I had spent many nights there presiding over bizarre, psychedelic rituals, conducted with gutter punks and teen runaways. I had a seat at the table, kicked up my feet, and began rolling a joint on my copy of Time Magazine.

Not two minutes had passed before I heard voices, loud, drunken voices, coming down the street. My blood turned to ice as the latch of the gate clicked open.

Now, the guy who rented the apartment, let's say his name was Anus Lips Murgatroyd, was not my enemy, and was not negatively predisposed to me, in general. He was a drama queen, however, and I knew that if he found me on his patio, it would become a minor scandal in our insular, little world. I looked frantically around the courtyard for a place to hide. The voices got louder as they came walking down the alley. With mere moments to spare, I threw my weed back in the plastic bag, rammed the bag in between the pages of Time Magazine, crammed the magazine into my back pocket, and ran up the stairs to the balcony of the slave quarters. I put my guitar on the ground and lay down next to it. I pressed myself as close to the wall as possible and tried to shrink on the thin strip of dilapidated wood. I prayed for invisibility.

I heard the voices come into the courtyard. It was Anus Lips and Lula, the teen runaway from Monroe who was sleeping on his couch. They sat down at the coffee table. They were very drunk.

"Have you ever had sex with a girl?" asked Lula, with what I imagined to be wide eyed fascination.

"Oh sure, I've had lot's of girls. Once me and ten other guys had a pool party and invited all our female friends to come. Let's just say, after the party, the girls had trouble walking home."

"Wow. That's so amazing."

"Have you ever had sex with a girl?"

They went on for hours.

"I think quantum physics is really interesting." opined Lula.

"Actually, I know everything there is to know about quantum physics. Don't tell anyone, but I have an IQ of 250." Anus Lips replied.


"Jesus Christ, What a horrible fate!" I thought, "How do I get myself into these situations?" I decided that if they spotted me, I would give my best war cry and jump down from the balcony onto the coffee table below. Then, in the ensuing panic, I'd run off down the alleyway and make my escape.

Fear transitioned into boredom. They discussed their sex lives and the implications of quantum theory on Yoga, all in great detail. The minutes ticked by. Finally, as the sky was turning red with the first light of morning, Lula said, "Hey, lets go have breakfast at Deja Vu."

"That's a great idea!" Anus Lips replied. I secretly agreed.

As I heard them getting up to leave, relief washed through my system. It seemed I had evaded detection. But just as I was popping Champagne corks and lighting the cigars in my mind, I heard Lula say, "Hey look, it's a copy of Time Magazine."

Oh Fuck! The magazine had fallen out of my pocket in my rush up the stairway. My weed, the only thing creating a buffer zone between me and total despair, was now in grave danger of being found. Even worse, I was in no position to do anything about it. I would have to lay there listening to them, smelling them, smoke my weed.

I heard someone pick up the magazine and flip through the pages. I knew any second I would hear Anus Lips sing forth with great rejoicing, "Holy shit, there's a bag of weed in here!"
But that didn't happen. What happened instead was, they threw the magazine on the table and started walking down the alley, "I wonder how it got back here." said Anus Lips, nonchalantly.

After their voices disappeared down the street, I waited for ten minutes to make sure they were really gone. Then I grabbed my guitar, ran down the stairs, and grabbed the magazine off the table. I flipped through the pages and, within seconds, my bag of weed fell to the ground. Somehow, they hadn't found it. It was a miracle.

I snatched my bag off the ground, stuffed my magazine into my back pocket, (securely this time) hurried down the alleyway, and out onto Burgundy where the morning sun loomed large on the horizon.

But that's not the end. The dawning of a new day was to bring fresh dangers, and my copy of Time Magazine was to save me from blacker fates still. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Mad Mike Goes to Court

I had to go to court today. A few weeks ago, while crossing the street mid-block, I was jacked up by bike pigs who materialized out of nowhere and wrote me a ticket. I sensed no malice in them, just mindless functionaries in a system designed to make the hardest men weep, "Do you know where the courthouse is on 6th Street?"


I ate lunch at the soup kitchen (Some kind of meat based glop with green beans stirred in.) and had a quick shave in the bathroom so as to make myself presentable for the judge. I hid my drugs in an aluminum can, stashed it behind a dumpster, crossed 6th street illegally, and made it to the courthouse with time to spare.

A likely looking assortment of bums and vagrants milled about the waiting room. I checked my bags in with the indifferent security guard and had a seat.

There were two model-gorgeous UT students sitting in the corner, trying to look as inconspicuous as possible. A particularly grizzled old bum hocked some phlegm into the waste basket and sat down next to them, "What did yall pretty ladies do to end up in here? Huh? What did yall pretty ladies do? Public intoxication? Jay walking? I know yall pretty ladies didn't commit no crimes." They giggled nervously and tried to dematerialize into their phones.

Then a guy came in dressed completely in blankets and towels. He looked like a pile of laundry that had been animated by an evil wizard and ordered to become a Buddhist monk. He had so many blankets wrapped around his head that they formed a giant ball with only his eyes and nose sticking out. He went up to the receptionist and asked her, "Do you have a list of the places I can do my community service?"


"Do you have a list of the places I can do my community service?"

His voice was muffled by all the blankets and towels so he had to ask her several times before he finally got the list. I tried to imagine that guy helping out at the recycling plant dressed in his bizarre costume. After he left, the security guard got up and sprayed some Lysol where he had been standing.

At one o'clock the receptionist told us to go into the courtroom and wait for the judge, who was running late. I had a seat in the front row so I could hear all the details of the other cases, and also because I didn't want the judge to think I was afraid of him.

We waited a long time. I noticed the judge had a stuffed elephant on the shelf behind his desk. A lady with googly eyes kept looking at me.

Finally, after keeping us waiting for forty five minutes, Judge Coffee arrived with a perfunctory apology and got right down to business. No standing for the judge, no robes.

Now, Judge Coffee, who I've met before, is as charming and avuncular an old man as I've ever laid eyes on. He reminds me of Ronald Reagan. He has perfect white hair, piercing blue eyes, and the practiced but easy smile of a natural politician. If he doesn't have a trophy wife and a well trained house-boy, it's because he doesn't want them.

But he is also the fulcrum around which a deeply evil system operates. All the people who get ticketed for sitting on the sidewalk, sleeping in the park, crossing the street, or just not looking right in the city of Austin, must eventually pass through his courtroom. It is he who sentences the poorest in society to work for free, doing community service, while real criminals fly around in private jets, sipping Cristal. I was eager to tell him what I thought about my case, and also about the way traffic laws are enforced in general. As for the diabolical system he represents, I figured I'd leave that part out.

The first case was a guy who was in for fighting. That pissed me right off the bat. How can crossing the street be considered the same class of crime as attacking another person in a public place? If I'd lost control of myself and actually punched another person, I'd feel bad about it, maybe even like I deserved to be punished. This stands in stark contrast to my don't-give-a-shit attitude regarding my "crime" of crossing the street.

There were a few more cases, nothing worth talking about. Everyone, including the bruiser, got either a fine or community service. It was three o'clock by the time the judge called my name and I went up to his bench to face justice, "You are here today for the crime of crossing the street mid block. Would you like to enter a plea?"

"Yes, Judge. I'm guilty."

"Do you understand the blah blah blah blah blah?

"I understand."

"Ok, I'm going to sentence you to 10 hours of community service to be completed within the month. See the receptionist on the way outside for a list of places where you can do your community service. And look, what's the best reason not to cross the street mid-block?"

I knew the "correct" answer to the question but what I gave him was, "To avoid the potential legal ramifications."

"No," he said slowly, "It's to avoid being hit by a car."

"Well, it was seven o'clock on Sunday morning when this happened, there was no one on the road except for me and the tumble weeds, and, of course, APD, who I didn't notice. But if I may speak personally..."

"Sure, go ahead."

"If you guys are going to have a zero tolerance policy on jay walking and crossing mid-block, I think you should also have a zero tolerance policy on speeding and failing to use your turn signal. I know you guys have a problem with pedestrians getting hit, and I think the way folks drive around here has just as much to do with that as the jay walkers you go after so aggressively."

What could he do but agree, "Well sir, that is a very valid point and it's something you'd have to take up with the enforcement end of things."

I saw an opening, "I'd love to Judge, but I don't seem to have much pull with APD."

Everyone in the room; the judge, the interpreter, and, of course, the bums, laughed at this joke. Even the court deputy gave a chuckle. Knowing that the ideal time had come to make a graceful exeunt I said, "But I know what you mean Judge, thanks for listening."

"Sure, don't forget to get a list from the receptionist."

And I was free. I got my list, got my bags from the security guard, and was out the door to retrieve my can of drugs from the dumpster across the street. I felt like I had done my civic duty. I told the judge what I thought, and even caught him with a zinger. My only regret is that I never found out what those pretty ladies did.

UPDATE--- March 12, 2014: The man who I described as a "pile of laundry that had been animated by an evil wizard" has become a fixture around skid row, and is, perhaps not surprisingly, something of an enigma. I frequently see him on the fringes, tooling about with his collection of junk, and writing things down on torn pieces of cardboard. He radiates intense concentration, but also gives the feeling of great serenity. I get the impression that he's on some kind of Eastern Philosophical, religious trip.

I've been trying to make contact for several weeks, but every time I talk to him, he clams up, acting nervous and frightened. Hilariously, his voice is almost impossible to decipher through all the towels wrapped around his head. It's like trying to talk to Kenny from "South Park." Finally, this morning, I made some progress. He was sitting behind the homeless shelter studying his mysterious cardboard texts when I walked up and said, as calmly and non-threateningly as possible, "Hey, how are you doing today?"

"Hmmm mmm hmmh hhhmmmm."

"You're doing well, you say?"

"Mmm hmm."

"Say, look man, I'm kind of curious what your deal is. You seem to be on some kind of unique trip, and I can't help but be curious where you're coming from."

He made a sound kind of like R2-D2 makes when he's feeling forlorn. I could tell he was slightly freaked out by my interest in him. He had always reacted this way in the past, and I had always backed off immediately, figuring it would be wise to lay off and gain his trust over time. This time I decided to press a little further and state my case, "See, the thing is, I'm a writer, and I'm trying to do some freelance street journalism. I can tell you're on to some heavy shit. Am I right in guessing that you are religious man? Some kind of monk?"

Reluctantly, "Mmm hmm."

"Well, I don't pretend to be a religious person myself, but I'm interested in what you're doing. I'm not trying to fuck with you or make fun of you, or anything like that. I understand why you would be wary of people in this neighborhood. I don't trust them either."

He made a few noises that seemed to indicate he was picking up what I was laying down, so I decided to try my luck, "So---what are you writing on those pieces of cardboard, there?" He held up the cardboard to show me that they were covered with symbols, charts, and Asian writing of some kind.

"What does it say? I mean, I know you can't read me the whole thing, but will you tell me the gist of it?"

"Mrrr hmmmphh ppprrr mmmmm hrrrr." he said.


At this point he shocked me by pulling a layer of towels from his mouth and speaking in a clear, but barely audible whisper, "The Stages of Guruhood. There is Goat Fox, Daffodil Salamander, Lion Ibex, Groundhog Stinkbug, and Tortoise Monkey"

After listing The Stages, he pulled the towels back over his face. I said, "So that's your goal huh? To progress up The Stages of Guruhood?"

"Mmm Hmm."

"That's awesome, dude. I knew it had to be something like that. I'm pulling for you."

"Ank uuu."

"Well, thanks for telling me. I've been dying to know what you're writing down. Maybe you can tell me more about The Sages of Guruhood some time."


And with that I went back to the business of looking for drugs on the ground. (We each have our own path to follow, you see.) Because I was patient, and didn't push the guy too quickly, in the end, he was willing to talk to me. As a result, we now all know The Stages of Guruhood, and are, at least aware, that there is a state of being called "Groundhog Stinkbug" that we can strive to attain.

Also, I feel compelled to point out that I never did end up doing my community service, so I now have a warrant out here in Austin. It doesn't bother me. I honestly don't feel normal unless I have warrants for my arrest.