Static shock. Can’t touch the phone. Haven’t been able to touch phones since the madness began. Grab crumpled toilet paper out of my oversized pants pocket. Wipe down the phone. Lean back. Close my eyes. Do my damnedest to recall the one number I know by heart. Dad. Got it. Follow a series of voice recorded prompts far easier than paying a utility bill and wait. Hope he accepts the call. He does.
Things aren’t good. Best lead I can think of. Need a lawyer.
Dad is an achiever of the highest order. Never let me spend more than a night in jail. I’m the reluctant rebel. Never wanted to follow in his footsteps—despite being his namesake. Passively sought approval by following that old artist idiom of one for me and one for him. Acting, writing, and film for me. Sports, military, and business for him. Conflict. Torment. Sadness. Warm blanket that’s kept me interesting to myself. Public defender at the prelim told me to waive time citing need for review. Said most people go to prison with my charges. Want him fired. Twenty days until the next hearing. Dad agrees to get a new lawyer. No bail.
Been in jail over a month waiting on Dad to find a lawyer. Strange how childhood entitlement works. Fact that I called my old man for help is more about hubris than love. Came close to killing him weeks earlier. Don’t think he’ll ever know how close. Flew into town with my European girlfriend to stage an intervention. Second time flying to Los Angeles. First time he showed up wearing a wool hat and suit looking like Father Merrin outside Racheal McNeil’s home before her exorcism. You’ve seen the poster. Knocked on the front door with police in tow. Wellness check. Safe to say—I was outta my fucking head. Ex-wife recorded me talking to my daughter. Posted it to YouTube. Video made its rounds. Not sure when it got to Dad. Mind was unspooling. Stopped picking up the phone. Went for an ill-advised drive. Law picked me up—took me to get my head checked. Hospital placed me on a 5250 hold. Harpooned me with sedatives. Could see Dodger’s stadium from my window. Fourteen days without reporting to work. Job called Dad trying to get a hold of me. Emergency contact. Used to be anyway. Got fired in the middle of my stay. Cashed out my 401k to make up for lost pay.
Most of that money was gone when Dad first knocked at my door. Triggered me. Pops bringing the law with him felt like the greatest betrayal. During my teens, a cop saw me sitting in my garage having a beer. Crept by slowly. Stopped in front of the house. Never put his lights on.
Hey boy, what you doing in that garage?
Didn’t answer him. Ran inside screaming for Dad.
Dad! Cop called me boy. Racist ass cop just called me boy! Boy was one of the worst things you could say to me back then. Still bristle when I hear it.
Old man collected himself then stepped outside. Cop was off balance when he saw Dad.
Officer, what’s the problem, he said.
Saw the young man in the garage. Wanted to make sure everything was alright.
He called me boy.
Whole thing bothered my beer buzz. Went back inside. Somehow, Dad worked it out. Never knew how that conversation ended. Remember him chuckling to himself.
Fast forward. Now Dad’s got cops at my fucking door. Nerve of the motherfucker. We’re Black. Need I remind him of that. Maybe he’d grown affluent enough to trust them—or perhaps they have the same secret handshake. Could be that I was so sick he had to. Either way. Didn’t go well. Roots of resentment planted in namesake soil that day. Trust in Dad be damned. Dodged him—and them. Stayed in town a week watching me. Saw the unraveling of my mind firsthand. Must’ve broken his heart. Same way he’d broken mine day he brought One-time to my door.
Got evicted two months later. Homeless. Running out of money. Met Dad again by happenstance. Friend of mine on the streets had my phone for safe keeping. Saw a message come through. Read it to me. Gist was my old man would be at the Holiday Inn in Burbank with my girl and his wife. Meeting up with them wasn’t a hard decision. I’d take advantage of the hotel room. Do laundry. Get some much-needed rest. Weed and cigarette money. Possibly pussy—and be on my way.
Another friend from the streets made the trek with me. Italian. Loved the bottle. Came to LA via Jersey. Connected. Figured him for Bruce Willis. Might’ve been the accent. Never told me different. Sometimes he’d morph into Bill Murray in the middle of a conversation. Kept me laughing. Kinda tricks living close to Hollywood plays on a troubled mind like mine. Got to the hotel after a full night of lugging a wheeled box filled with blankets, clothes, and worn bus schedules. Lost my buddy along the way. Said he’d catch up with me. Had the concierge place the blankets and box in a storage closet upon arriving. Gave a clerk my prized passport along with my birth certificate to protect in a safety deposit box behind the counter. Plugged my phone into a nearby wall to charge and waited for check in.
Saw sadness wrestle the light out of Dad’s eyes when we met in the hotel lobby. Sight I was—withered to bones after forty days on the streets. Hair and beard unkempt. Clothes soiled from sleeping on cement. Far from the liberated all talented celebrity my mind told me I was. Farther from the out of touch Ray Ban wearing manic materialist I’d been when he’d first knocked at my door months earlier. Even further from sanity.
Tried to reason with me. I don’t know how to help you, he said. Offered me a pre-paid credit card. Two hundred dollars. Idea of it offended. Paranoia gripped me. Figured he figured I was on drugs. Couldn’t be trusted with cash. Rejected the card—and him. Gave me a twenty instead. Went to a brewery across the street to clear my mind. Had a couple drinks. Ginger ale and aromatic bitters. Stepped outside on occasion to smoke my Clipper Cigars. Looks like a cigarette wrapped in brown paper. Only tobacco I could afford. Made my way back to the hotel room. Bumped into my European girlfriend when the elevator stopped on a different floor. Talked me into meeting up with Dad and her for dinner. Intervention was afoot.
Vinny was buck naked doing laundry when I returned from the bar. Tub full of clothes. Balls swinging. Varicose veins bursting out his legs. Looked like blue and red neon spider webs tattooed on jaundiced skin. Some shit you really can’t unsee.
Put some clothes on you fuck.
Doing laundry, asshole, Vinny said, already slurring.
Then wrap two hand towels around your nuts, mother fucker.
That’s how Vinny and I communicated. We’d become close. Guy was brilliant. Financial genius. Rain Man with fifty extra pounds at least. Built a successful finance company. Rode Ducati’s. Made millions in the eighties and nineties. Partners pushed him out. Lost it all behind the bottle. Met in the hot shower line at the old Ocean Park Community Center. Took me on a metro bus to Malibu. Intersection of Corral Canyon Road and the PCH where his mansion used to be. When we got to what was once his beachfront property, his neighbors remembered him. Still carried himself with pride in their presence. Neighbors let us stay on the beach that day. Only ask was we take the pup tents other homeless squatters pitched on the beach with us when we left.
One of the best days of my life was being on that private beach in Malibu. Feet bathed in cold whitewash from the Pacific Ocean. Sun kissing my back. Free from my predicament. Forgot I was lost in LA. Homeless. Penniless. Laughed all day. Scored some of the best weed I’d ever smoked with my last five dollars. Taught me more about being homeless in three days than I’d learned in three months. By nightfall, Vinny became my best friend.
Made us a drink of Aromatic bitters and ginger ale while he finished his laundry. Sipped on mine as I rested indoors for the first time in weeks, before dinner.
Taste of steak ignited my body with memories of better days. Dopamine receptors exploded with pleasure as the marbled ribeye melted between my teeth. Euphoria. Lasted maybe ten seconds. Serrated knife scraping the plate coupled with chewing of sinew pierced my eardrums placing me in a state of hyper vigilance. Could hear every sound. Girlfriend awkwardly giggling. Dad’s wife made small talk while watching me out of the corner of her eye. Pops sat quietly eating. Didn’t utter a word.
Power of PTSD is that the walls close in on you. Fabric of your underwear clings to your ass. Feels like someone’s trying to rape you and give a wedgie at the same time. Spidey sense screams. Fight or flight? Nah, fight and flight mixing like baking soda and vinegar in a paper mache volcano at an elementary school science fair. Neurochemical reaction. Clockwork Orange. Molten rage. Could see in HD. Welcome to the ultraviolence. Read every wrinkle on Dad’s face. Not sure if he could sense the thought land—or notice the knife strangled in my hand. Flood of hate washed over me. Each betrayal. Cops at the door. Him not helping me fight for my young daughter. Insistence on having a relationship with her mom’s new husband. All his fucking achievements. Footprints too large to fill. Gripped the knife tighter contemplating where to stab him. Vein in his neck bulging with each bite. Remained quiet as if he could sense that one word would end his life. Steak went sour on my tongue. Urge to murder replaced by an even stronger craving for a cigarette. Dropped the knife. Left the table. Went to buy cigarettes with the twenty Dad gave me hours earlier. Wish I had those cigarettes now. Twenty wouldn’t hurt either.
Smeared shit on the walls. Eight hundred dollars of damage. Key wouldn’t open the door anymore. Note said, Come to the front desk. Stood my ground. Argued with cogency. How could I have trashed the hotel room? I’d been at dinner with Dad. Thought that it was my buddy never occurred to me. Hotel manager called the police. Waited. Pleaded my case. Demanded my passport and reentry into the room. Officers took me to retrieve my things. Found Vinny passed out on the pavement outside the Holiday Inn. Tried to move him to the bus stop before he got a public intox. Kissed him on the lips before the cops cuffed him. Only man I’ve kissed on the lips. Fucking drunk Italians—know how to make a friend and trash a hotel room.
Weight of homelessness returned as I watched from a nearby bus stop Vinny being stuffed inside a police car. Rolled a joint. Contemplated my next move. There was an offer on the table. Intervention was laid out by Dad’s wife and my girlfriend over dinner. Gist of it was they’d fly me to Houston. One way ticket. Girlfriend would go with me. Hold my hand. We’d meet up with my goddaughter. She’s the closest person to me next to my daughter. Main motivator for the phone call to Dad was getting her number. If I still had trust in anyone it was her. I’d get some R&R away from LA. Regroup. Return to LA at an unspecified date. Only problem was I’ve never known anyone who left LA for Texas and returned. No job. No apartment. Car impounded. Chances I’d come back were next to nil. Living in LA was a dream of mine. Been so since I was eighteen.
How I got to California twenty years later was beginning to look like an act of martyrdom. Told myself it was love. Daughter’s mother moved her here. First time I visited, my baby girl broke into a fit of tears so heart wrenching I quit my job in Texas. Took the first thing I could find near Los Angeles. Loaded up the Nissan Chariot with a flat screen. Tossed in some clothes. Headed out west. Ex-wife gave me three weeks’ notice when she moved her away again two years later. Couldn’t process it. Should’ve taken the therapist instead of the Adderall when my primary care physician gave me the choice. Took the blue pill. Things didn’t go well. Homelessness and incarceration followed. Brought on by a spiritual psychosis aided by pharmaceutical grade amphetamine. Swore I never abused it. They weren’t buying it.
Went as far as the Southwest departure terminal with them. Couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d be shot out of the sky. Didn’t trust my girlfriend. Almost killed her on the way to the airport. Felt like she and the Uber driver were flirting. Hell, maybe they were.
Slipped Dad, at the airport. Hopped on a blue bus back to Santa Monica. Got arrested less than a week later. All Saints Day.
Feels like I’m underground. Suffocating. Racial asphyxiation. Weight of the California criminal justice system burying me. Blue death to the Black body.
About the Author:
Nicholas Cormier III (BIPOC) is a veteran of the United States Air Force. Spent several years as an Air Traffic Controller. Graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington. Studied Art with a concentration in Film and a minor in Theatre. Holds a Masters Degree in Business Administration from Texas State University. Actor. Writer. Director. Nicholas owns Runner Films, a film and video production company. Volunteers for Veteran-centric service organizations. Regularly advocates for mentally ill veterans, including those with substance abuse issues—living on the streets of Los Angeles. Nicholas is the Homelessness Liaison on the Community Veterans Engagement Board and serves on the Veterans Patient Advocacy Council for the GLA VA in Brentwood, CA. USC Warrior Bard and longtime member of the renowned UCLA Wordcommandos Creative Writing Workshop for Veterans. Nicholas’ flash fiction and short stories were accepted for publication by MAYDAY Magazine, Lolwe Magazine, LEON Literary Review, Black And…, As You Were, Jupiter Review, the Good Life Review, OneBlackBoyLikeThat Review, and Solstice Literary Magazine. Nicholas’ short story “Salome” is nominated for 2023 Best of the Net.
*Featured art by Walt Ward