By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
When he tired of putting the boots to me I was coughing up blood and looking up at him from the beer- and blood-soaked floor just in time to catch his mouthful of spit in my face.
There was a Budweiser longneck lying on the floor, a and whether I grabbed it or it teleported into my hand I got no idea, but I do know that one second I was on the floor and the next I had his shirt bunched in one hand and the bottle in my other. When it hit him in the forehead the bottle broke off, leaving the neck and long slivers of razor-sharp glass in my hand. It felt like something ripped in my brain, like lightning was dancing behind my eyes, like my whole nervous system shorted out. I shoved the broken bottle into his face, and we both started screaming as my hand and the bottle went to work. The pain and fear and humiliation had combined to send me all the way over the edge. The guy's face before and after the amateur plastic surgery still haunts me.
The cops came and ambulanced us both to Mass. General for our injuries. I got charged with attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, etc., and cuffed to my hospital bed. After my arraignment I ended up in Bridgewater State Hospital for the Criminally Insane for observation. It was not a nice place. I'd spent some time at and finally escaped the Indiana Youth Center, one of the last juvenile facilities in this great nation of ours to use corporal punishment, but Bridgewater was something else. The huge brick-and-granite wall that surrounded it seemed older than time.
My first day in population, a guy was sitting and rocking back and forth in the day room, mumbling to himself and struggling to rip off the football helmet that had been tied to his head. I had my back to the wall, just watching my fellow nuts. Some were dangerous guys, killers. Some were alkies and dope fiends. Some of 'em were just motherfuckin' crazy, looney tunes. I was trying to figure out who was who when the guy that was rockin' and mumblin' succeeded in getting the football helmet off. Stood up and howled triumphantly, spiked the helmet into the floor, then lowered his head and ran full tilt into the brick wall. Boo-ya, just like goddamn Humpty Dumpty. Brains and blood all over the place.
Nobody even broke stride - card games continued, chess pieces were moved, sentences finished. I kept my back to the wall and watched the body twitch.
The lights of L.A. were like magic - I fell in love before the plane landed. It was Oz waiting to fall into the sea, the Sunset Strip, dope and broads and exotic cars, a land of limitless fucking opportunity.
They said go west young man, and I did. Hitting the Whisky and the Rainbow, slippin' and slidin', trippin' and glidin', life was a ball and a gas, livin' in free fall right up to the crash. Ate it on my Harley, crushed my right leg from the knee down.
Life became a drag. I had no dough and no way to make any. If you can't spell or count too well it's tough to get employment other than of the manual type. Sadly, not many people want to hire a crippled guy to carry shit or dig holes. And if you can't run, stealing is not a good idea. I was full-on homeless, crashing where I could, shoplifting when I got so hungry I didn't care if I got busted or not. And lonely like a motherfucker - for some reason when you're on the bottom people feel no need to socialize with you. One day I picked up a newspaper. Read the Help Wanteds to pass time, not because I thought I'd find anything. Saw an ad. It said: "If you can talk on the phone you can make big bucks."
Went to Santa Fe Freight Salvage Co. Met the owner, a little old Jewish guy I'll never forget, tellin' me a way to survive. "Oy, who gives a fuck if ya know from drill presses and hand tools, sell 'em. Sell drill bits and tape, shove it down their throat. Nem di gelt, get the fuckin' money, schmuck. If dey answer da phone they're alive, if they're alive they need whatcha sellin'. Whatever it is! Close da deal! It's all dat counts, kid. You starve or they starve. What's it gonna be?"
I hopped on my trusty crutches to the nearest phone and started dialing for dollars. Didn't know shit about tools or sales, had an East Coast accent so thick ya could cut it with a knife, talking to rednecks about floor jacks and band saws, lathes and milling machines, drill bits and tape by the fucking pallet load, slamming terrible Taiwanese trash all over the country. If Elmer answered the phone, he had tools on the way, period.
They had free bagels at this place. I lived on the phone and in the parking lot, surviving on bagels and coffee till I got my first paycheck. This was a brand-new way of life for me, and I dug it, earning an honest buck, paying for my $50- to $100-a-day habit without stealing, causing no damage to anybody but myself. This place had insurance too, and three years after I broke the leg a doctor at Cedars put it back together. I still limp, but it works just fine. So I had a new Beemer, a nice pad in West L.A., a couple girls I liked who liked me back, I was walking without crutches and as proud as a guy can be. Thought I was the American Dream in person.
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