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Trouble In Paradise 

They Say You Write What You Know

Wednesday, Feb 25 1998
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Echoing screams drip into my head like molten lead dripping into water, sizzling, steaming, then hardening and taking shape, morphing into distinct sounds and words. The different voices meld into a harmony straight outta hell. The institutional odor of piss and disinfectant mixed with the smell of adrenaline-loaded, fear-inspired sweat hits my nose, then fills my lungs, and I know that if I open my eyes this particular dream might not go away. That the chances are this is not going to be a real good day.

My head is all fucked up, swollen like a goddamn balloon, and when the body it's attached to swings its legs off the bunk and gets its bare feet planted on the concrete, everything hurts, from my fuckin' toes to my broken nose. My left eye will open, barely, the right is swollen all the way shut. The bunk I'm on is bolted to the floor in the middle of an isolation cell. The screams of certified madmen are echoing through the block. But here's what's really scary - see, I know I'm in jail one more time, I know I got my ass beat one more time, nothing new and no big deal, right? Wrong.

Two facts: The last thing I remember is trying to kill myself. Took a bottle full of a nasty prescription sleeping pill called Restoril, another full of Xanax and a third of Dalmane to insure that the job got done. Chased all the pills with a quart of vodka. Lights out, right?

Guess the fuck not, 'cause not only am I still breathin' and hurtin', I'm locked down and can feel that my brain is broken. Thoughts won't form. I got a gift for gab, but trying to describe what it feels like when you know that your mind has crashed and burned is tough to do. I'm unsure not just of my name but of my identity, I'm having trouble with object identification, images are swimming around behind these baby blues that have no frame of reference in reality, and voices and sounds are twisting through my head like demented banshees.

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I realize I'm wearing a yellow pajama-type uniform. What ya gotta understand is that in L.A. County Jail regular inmates wear dark-blue jump suits, they got other color uniforms for trustees, gay guys, etc. The yellow pj's are for fuckin' dings, the lowest rung on the ladder. A ding is a guy who is so whacked out that mentally he's past Pluto, all the way gone, Jack. And I'm in yellows. My broken brain is trying to tell me there's gotta be some mistake. Maybe I caught a case, but I know what's up. I couldn't be a ding. Could I?

The next thing that filters through what's left of my brain is that I got a weird wristband, not the gray-white band that you normally get, but a fucked-up off-color purple band that means you're on your third strike.

I'm wearing stylish Easter-egg colors in an isolation cell with the screams of the mad echoing from the cells around me. And it hits home, I'm a ding who just struck out.

I'm writing this in my little teeny bachelor pad, where I got my own kitchen and shower, where I lock the door when I leave. Not my cell, where the door locks when I enter it.

The word grace is defined as undeserved favor, and for this minute and day my existence is a state of grace. I'm getting by all right - a long, long way from high-rolling but also a long, long way from where I was a little over a year ago. I see my daughter on weekends, we go to the gym and kickbox. I got wheels and a gig at the Weekly, doing Outlaw L.A. columns. A book I wrote back when I was in jail came out last month, and Larry Clark is shooting a movie of it - it's called Another Day in Paradise. They say write what you know.

Undeserved fucking favor.

I come from a long line of people who were all the way wrong, or in the wrong place at the wrong time. Starting with Irish revolutionaries and Scottish cattle rustlers from the Liddell River Valley, my ancestors were driven out for making poor political decisions and having sticky fingers.

Both sides of the family migrated to the land of the free and the home of the brave, where they went on to become heroes of the Confederacy and, in the family tradition, died fighting forces that outnumbered them by almost 4-to-1. Their homes were burned to the ground by the good General Grant, who went on to become president after applying the torch to everything standing in his way and after his soldiers gang-raped my great-great-grandmother and all other available females of all colors from ages 8 to 80. A few failed entrepreneurs and drunkards later, and a long line of bad choices, have resulted in yours truly.

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