Please read part one first
I woke early the next morning, before the sun, hoping that I could get out of the house before anyone noticed. I walked half a block to Cortez’s where I knocked on the pane of his window. It was California cold, that is, cold enough for a jacket, but not necessary. A plaid red button down shirt and blue jeans were all that protected me from the world.
His house was old, but not as old as mine by decades. The foliage outside was overgrown from lack of care, the paint peeling from the trim, stucco crumbling into piles along the perimeter. His window was the only open one facing the street. He wasn’t asleep. Doesn’t anybody sleep around here anymore?
Inside his room the walls were white, littered with the tags of all of his homies, their gang names prevalent all over the walls. It was the standard massive black marker hieroglyphics detailing a world that I only walked into from time to time, and only when I needed something, in this case a drink.
“Hey big D,” I said through the open window, “what’s up man?”
“What up mutha fucka,” he said over his water pipe, the earthy smell of pot filling the air. “How you been esse, you look like shit?”
“I’m alright man, long night.” I was feeling fidgety all of the sudden. “You feel like going to get some booze?” I shifted back and forth on my Doc Martens, hands in the pockets of my blue jeans where I fiddled with a lighter.
“Hell yeah bitch,” he said through a smile of partially broken and metallic teeth,”As long as you gettin’ me a little suthin’.”
So we made our way down the craggy avenue to the corner store for a drink. All the streets were overgrown, bows hanging in the canopy over our heads as the sun broke the mountains defense against the day and began its lazy path across the sky.
Big D looked across the avenue, nudging me with his elbow as we walkied. “That mutha fucka,” he said as he pointed. The guy he pointed to was from a rival gang; a black guy with cornrows halfway done made his way down the opposite side of the street.
“Looks like Snoop Dogg can’t find the dog pound,” he said Making an imaginary gun with his fingers outstretched, “bitch be talkin’ bout West Coast ‘n shit. Fuck that 3rd street faggot.” he flipped him off, which he didn’t see. I think that was lucky for me – I knew that Cortez was carrying. He never left the house without a gun at least never that I knew of.
Our relationship had always been curious – he was friendly enough to me and never gave me any problems, neither did anybody from his clique, but that didn’t mean that we were necessarily friends. We served a purpose for each other, which I guess is the way that most relationships work in life. I bought him booze for buying me booze. Occasionally, he would sell me a little pot but that was only when she wanted it.
See it was her vice that I needed, and she likes to drink way more than me. When your vice is on two legs like mine was, you’ll do anything to keep it happy. Cortez walked through the doors of the A&D liquor store his starched oversized pants creased very neatly his wife beater clean as well exposed arms showing all the gang ink that was the trademark of the one three – the name (or rather the number) of his crew.
A few minutes later, he walked out with a paper bag.
“Pretty good Eh?” He handed me the fifth of 101 peppermint, and took his own bottle out to take a drink.
“I went with that fuckin’ Night Train today,” he said as he took a long swig from the bottle. His short black hair was covered by a piece of pantyhose that was tied at the end very short to make a cap to hold his hair down, the smell of three flowers hung heavy in the morning air.
I don’t remember walking back home, or what we talked about. I guess it didn’t really matter, we both had what we wanted, so the transaction was complete. Knowing full well that my dad would realize I was not home, I slipped through the gate as the morning light shot razor blades through the winter mist and the pine needles that blanketed sky where the two sentinels of the Avenue guarded the gate to my house.
I lifted my usual brick on the planter, the one no one knew was detatched, and slid my bottle inside the void in the bricks. The sound of stone on stone was slight, and I was grateful for that. I looked up just in time to see him walk up to me.
“Where did you go?” he said. The stubble on his cheek surrounding a fresh sore that he’d obviously been picking for a little while.
“I just went for a morning walk just trying to get my head clear.” He’d already won, so the tone of his voice although contrite was more subdued and less angry.
“You want to go to that thing with your friends tonight, you know what you’ve gotta do.”
Of course I knew, it was the same punishment I always had- sanding wood. It wasn’t that it was a really hard job, and it wasn’t that I didn’t take some pride in the finished work, but it was the fact that it was going to take the whole day that really bothered me.
We were cleaning a burned up cabinet that was in an RV that he’d planned to restore. There is always one such a project or another taking up real estate in the yard it did not surprise me that this new one, a Holiday Rambler that I caught fire at the frigerator was going to be my punishment for the day.
When I was being punished, I couldn’t use an electric sander I had to do it by hand my fingerprints being worn away by the hours of tedium scraping back and forth against the burnt wood.
I would do what he wanted of me though, knowing that tonight I would see my sweet little pusher and get the fix I so desperately needed.
I sanded the wood quietly to myself for hours thinking how much I needed to get out, how much I needed to go find my own way. I hadn’t said a word to anyone at home since I got in there this morning, not really sure if anyone besides him knew that I was gone.
That’s exactly the way I liked it. In the burned out Motorhome, the Sun cut blades of light dust created by the sander, which was in this case me. Those blades highlighting points on the burned wall past the window spilling the dirty secrets held by the dark. I didn’t hear him walk in the room as my face focused on the task at hand, my mind in the clouds.
“Hey bud,” he said, “sorry about jumping your shit last night, I just worry about you. I don’t want you to make the same mistakes that I have.” His tone was quiet, kind, and surprisingly sober. I was not sure if he was high, or coming down.
“Don’t worry about it Dad, we’re cool,” I said as I continued on my project never meeting his eyes.
“Are you and Burns still going out tonight?” He said as he placed my keys on the counter next to my project.
“Yeah we bought tickets already,” hoping that this wasn’t some sort of game, I took the keys and put them in my pocket replaced my used piece of sandpaper with a fresh one and looked at him.
“Here,” he took his hand from his pocket and handed me a wad of bills. “You’re doing a good job. I wish I had more to give you. This is good for now, get cleaned up and you can go.”
“Thanks,” was all I could manage. He was so back and forth, so volatile that I never knew who I would encounter. As he walked out the small RV door, I thought back to a time in the not so distant past when he was sober, and we were close.
We used to do everything together, but the pressure of work, of life and loss had taken its toll on him. I wondered if it would ever be that way again as I clean up the mess I had made removing the surface of the wall, the steady “shhhh, shhhh” of the sandpaper playing in my head like a dirge for a dead loved one.
I didn’t say goodbye to anyone when I left, not my sisters, my mom, no one. It was easier that way – sometimes you just want to go.
I pulled out of the driveway, onto the quiet avenue, and off to grab Burns. We had been best friends since junior high, doing our thing every chance we got.
In seconds, I pulled up to his house, and only seconds later he slammed the passenger door and looked at me with wide excited gray-green eyes.
“Dude. You won’t believe what I got last night.”
He was right. I had no idea.