Chapter Sixteen: Casualty of War
“It is just as much a matter of chance that I am still alive as that I might have been hit.”
— Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front
Barbara was on the corner, being Barbara: smoking, drinking, swearing, and verbally accosting any and all she deemed to be dirtbags. I find Barbara Moore highly entertaining. I love Barbara. She’s my friend. She’s really real. Most people don’t know how to take her, but most people aren’t real. She spots a sponge, a phony or a fool with ease and accuracy, even in a crowd of people who look almost identical to the untrained eye. Barbara has a trained eye. She’s seen it all.
I wasn’t drinking — I was just smoking pot and talking with her between rants — when the cops rolled up on us. Barb had just finished hanging her ass off the back of her walker and pissing, a large puddle still streaming off the sidewalk onto Oxford Street. It was Officer Penis and Tex. These two officers weren’t there for either of us, but they did address us.
“You should have seen this lady when she was younger,” Tex said to me, gesturing his thumb toward Barbara. “She was absolutely stunning; a real beauty, a knock-out.”
Barbara blushed and smiled at the cop’s compliments. It was cute. She’s a hard one and I’d never seen her blush before. I looked at her and attempted to perform a sort of mental cosmetic surgery. I could see what Tex was saying; I could imagine it to be true. Why not? Time has its way with all of us.
I’d known Barbara for a few years. I hadn’t known her when she was younger, but Joe Blaze had. I don’t know all the details of the story, but I do know that0 Joe’s wife, Elizabeth, bled to death in an alley lovingly cradled in Barbara Moore’s lap, her skull having been crushed by a cinder block because some dirtbag wanted the half gallon of vodka that belonged to Elizabeth. It’s a story we don’t talk much about, and when we do, it’s mentioned in soft, hushed tones of respect and sorrow. Barbara has seen it all.
Then I saw Officer Penis smile — for the first time. He was smiling at Barbara. He was speaking to her softly, kindly, with gentility. He was looking at her with caring eyes and seemed to express a genuine affection toward her. I had never seen such a sign of his being human before. It gave me pause, and I pondered: Could I have caused the divide that existed between us? Certainly he had done things that were immoral, unjust, unfair; maybe even — probably even — illegal. But this was strange to me. I was fairly certain he was evil, but he didn’t look evil as he talked to Barbara. He looked like a little boy speaking with a neighbor whom he had a crush on. This was unimaginable to me, even seeing it with my own eyes.
After the police left, Barbara, flush with flattery, began telling me how she “loved” the guy. Officer Penis was “such a sweet cop.”
I wasn’t hopping on that train. “I can’t stand him,” I said. “And he hates me. He’s a cop, Barbara.”
James and I walked to the store together. James and Gavin are the two youngest members of the Crew, both being roughly my “elder” child’s age. And they both have their own wounds and their own scars. Neither of these young men’s wounds, particularly James’ scars, are merely metaphorical. They are disfiguring and quite literal.
James was born in Africa, but he would tell you, if you were to ask him about Africa, that he doesn’t know anything about it. “I woke up here” is how I’ve heard him describe it. James was brought to the U.S.A. in a coma. In his nation of origin, just another war-torn African country a world away from this one, he was the victim of an explosion, a bombing survivor, just another casualty of war. It’s strange to me that we attach such words as casual or civil to war. There is nothing civil about war and nothing casual about killing each other.
James had gone into the store to get himself a beer. I waited outside for him with Bonnie, who is Grey Wolf’s girl and who is not a girl, because she’s older than Wolf and I. We were just making small talk about the weekend, the weather, the Wolf, whatever. She offered me a drink and I declined. I had finally gotten some sober time in, and did it on the street, Preble Street, about the only place the cops were likely to leave me be. That’s a really challenging accomplishment to achieve. Anyone on the Block with my problem, addiction, would confirm that fact. Indeed, many of them were looking to me as some sort of Hope. Everyone kept patting me on the back, praising my willpower and looking at me, a wonder to behold, The Great Beast, erect and upright, walking on two legs, speaking. I was a miracle, an inspiration to addicts everywhere. If The Great Beast could do it, you could too! They were raising me up so high that even the Pink Fuzzy Cloud seemed beneath me. But a lot of stars get covered up by clouds that are below them.
“You know what, Bonnie,” I said, “on second thought, I will have that drink.”
And that was it. A shot of vodka and I was drinking gin in less than an hour.
The three of us, Bonnie now having joined James and me, walked to Monument Square to meet the Griz and his old lady, Mary Ann. Griz had a pint of LTD whiskey — Long Term Disability, we called it. We killed that in about two passes and I was aglow with inspiration. I was walking around the Square with my guitar, serenading any sensitive soul willing to hear me out. I was making some money, too. I don’t remember much of the second eight-dollar liter of gin. I don’t recall much at all, period.
The next memory I have is of being half asleep and reaching into No Man’s Land to scratch myself. I realized during the act of scratching that my self was entirely exposed. I was naked.
It was a rather uncomfortable discovery. I immediately opened up my eyes and, fortunately, I was not lying bare-ass in Monument Square. Unfortunately, I was lying in a hospital bed.
I began tearing off all the little things they’d stuck all over me and removed an IV they’d inserted into a vein. I also began hollering for help, or at least someone’s attention. I had a guitar to find. I had gotten drunk and left her defenseless in the Square, with no more protection than a baby abandoned somewhere East of Eden. It was my life and love of life I was seeking, not just a guitar. She was my anchor to the world, my fastener to Reality. What had I done?
My calls were answered not by a medical professional, but by a security guard. He told me my guitar had not been brought to the hospital with me, and he told me to quiet down. I told him I wanted my clothes. I had to go. I had to find my guitar. He told me I couldn’t have my things, that I wasn’t going anywhere. I demanded my clothes.
I don’t know exactly what was said. I do know I was furious, out of my mind with rage. This was crazy. I was crazy. I jumped up out of the bed. He ran for the door and closed it as he left the room.
This was not an ordinary door. This was a heavy, mechanical, sliding steel door, the kind of door you find in a jail. I was trapped, a prisoner, standing there on the cold hospital floor, bare-ass naked, all six-foot-three, 280 pounds of me. And I lost it.
I began pounding on the door. Directly in front of me, the nurses at their station stared in terror through the impenetrable bulletproof glass. My self was swinging with every hit. My balls must’ve looked like the pendulum of some bizarre pornographic grandfather clock as I pounded and pounded and pounded!
The next memory I have is of being held down on a hospital bed by a group of men — some in white, some in security uniforms. I recall one of the ones in white saying, “We were going to cut you loose, but you’re not leaving now!”
I’d obviously had a very disturbing mental episode. There was no rational explanation for my behavior. But I received no psychiatric observation or evaluation. I received no help. I received two felonies and a misdemeanor. I had to go … to jail.