392. Baltimore Up

Gravel roads led to a rutted dirt cart path. The taxi bounced. I could see the headlights of a tow truck coming at us out of the low sulfurous landscape. ‘Maybe this guy does know something after all.’

“Sunzofbitches goin to make another $200. Someone ought to stop this.” He pulled slightly out of the truck’s path but with palpable reluctance mowing over the hip high river grass. We bounced. The gun bounced. Nevermind. My sense of reality had long ago dribbled out of bounds while jogging earlier in a sketchy neighborhood. Here we were in a modern day “gunslinger versus cattle rustler” story where the cows and horses had been swapped out for cars and vans. A showdown at the AAA corral lay just ahead. Someone’s gonna die tonight in Baltimore, I just know it.

In the headlights’ beams I saw an outpost, a double wide trailer surrounded by a fence that seemed to be 14 feet tall. Unscaleable. On the other side of this monstrosity I saw my van, an innocent victim in a concentration camp. An old Asian man squatted in front of the gates, a mysterious gatekeeper who could have been in Vietnam or Cambodia guarding POW’s. Deniro again came to mind, The Deer Hunter. We were going back to Saigon to rescue our Pennsylvania village buddy from a final game of Russian roulette.

“That’s my van,” I uttered, hardly believing that this whole taxi experience was real.

“Want me to ram it?” my diligent but deranged driver asked. I was sure he’d do it.

“No, I want to do this legally, ya know. The cops are not on my side already.”

“Suit yourself, man.”

I got out and walked up a half flight of stairs to the skanky trailer. Cheap paneled walls on three sides of a small room forced you into the fourth wall, two inch thick bullet proof glass with a silver speak hole. Many signs  were pasted there. The only one that mattered read, “CASH ONLY”. A large woman in a sparkly black cocktail dress came to the other side. Her hair was too black, jewelry too big, and she had only a few of her own teeth.

I tried to contain my rage. “You stole my van and I want it back.”

“Thir, there’sth no need for hosthtility. I justht need two hundred dollarsth cash and you can have it. Thimple.”

“This is piracy. You are thieves preying on baseball fans…”

“It’s $200 tonight. If we sthore it for a day, it’sth thhhhreee fifty.”

My head was exploding with rage. I thought I’d maxed out but apparently my earlier rage had carved out new caverns for extra rage capacity. “Aaaghggrafrickinshashkamuffinboogerschnatzelcrimeneay!!::”

“You won’t take a VISA?”

“Nope. Cash only.”

“It’s after midnite and I’m paying a cabbie to hunt for my car that you stole…”

She gave me absolutely dead eyes heavily caked in mascara and blue eye shadow. Even in my rage I knew this woman was a permanent resident in this hell. I was merely visiting.

“I’ll be back. Don’t sell it while I’m gone cuz I’m sure that’s totally legal too.”

“No need for tharcasm, thir.”

I got back in the cab. Marty was incensed and feeding off my bad energy. “I can shoot that lock off the gate. Nobody’s gotta know. I got nothing to lose.”

“No. Let’s go back into the city and find an ATM.”

“Okay, man. But I could…”

“Do it!”

We bounced back out of the swamplands and back toward the orange mercury vapor lights of Baltimore.

“Shit like this is why I’m going to Denver. It’s getting harder and harder not to kill someone. I think there’s an ATM on the other side of these warehouses if I remember correctly. I’m turning the meter off by the way. The rest of the ride is on me.”

“Thanks, Marty.” Suddenly that woman’s speech impediment was stuck in my head and I wondered if I should have said, “Sanks”. My joints were coming unglued. I wondered if I could even remember my security code, 3791, the four corners of the pin pad. Okay, I can do this.

Mercifully we found an ATM that only charged $2.50 per transaction. I withdrew 100 times that to cover the pirate extortion, Marty’s incredible ride, and expenses along the way home. Actually, after I got back in the cab, I realized that I’d have no cash left, but it was going to finally end.

We drove back to the swamp land auto concentration camp. I tried to not speak to the cocktail ostrich woman behind the bullet proof glass. I can understand why they need it now. It had crossed my mind to borrow Marty’s .45 and drop some lead, but I reeled my rage back in.

“Show this receipt to Kwang Lei. He’ll unlock the gate for you.”

Utter contempt beamed back and forth between us to no avail.

I started my van and slowly drove out of the compound as Kwang Lei locked it behind me. Marty wished me well and led me back to Pratt Street, then he honked his horn and was gone. I was exhausted as I  pulled into the hotel at 2:10 a.m. My wife was awake. We scooped up our three sleeping girls and settled them in for the two hour silent ride home.

I composed an incendiary editorial in my head on the way home. Eventually I did type and mail it. I retold the sad tale of modern thievery and concluded almost Biblically, “I tried to find even fifty good men in Baltimore, but I could not. So I’m gathering Brooks Robinson, Eddie Murray, Frank Robinson, and Boog Powell. We won’t look back as God sodomly nukes Baltigomorra to nothingness.” I don’t think they published it.

The sun was coming up as we pulled into our driveway. I looked behind the yew bushes for No Parking signs and went to bed. The waking nightmare was over.

 

 

 

 

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139. Running with Jimi

I had an intense nightmare last night. I was being chased by FBI agents while running through my old geographic area, Alexandria, Virginia, with Jimi Hendrix. Jimi was wearing a bright yellow embroidered suede jacket over purple corduroy pants and blood red boots. He had his afro pulled back into a frizzy, semi- dreadlocked mullet, held in place by a shiny moss paisley bandana. No hat. He did not talk to me as we ran from car trunk to alleyway to open streets, ignoring traffic signs. I recall being jammed up where a street dead-ended into an alley and a garbage truck was picking up a dumpster. Panic rose in my belly as I realized then that we had to walk out in the open park pathways while a traitorous informant who had never heard Jimi’s music ratted out our location to J. Edgar Hoover, curiously long dead. Jimi breathed quietly through his nose, unperturbed.

I looked in all four compass directions, scanning for uniformed cops or undercover guys in detective gear. My heart was racing. I had no idea why we were being pursued, especially since Jimi had been dead for so long. But you know how dreams go, there is no logic to them, just a racing visual documentation of methamphetamine intensity. I know I kept thinking that we needed to get into the woods across the street from my childhood home. We’d be safe there for a while. I knew we could hide in those familiar old overgrown woods.

Running with Jimi Hedrix is not an easy thing to pull off in broad daylight. He’s an iconic figure who is easily recognized even by folks who have never heard his music. Like Che Guevara. I never heard one of Che’s songs, but I could pick him out in a police line up in the 1960’s. A handsome totalitarian, murderous Marxist rascal, he was perhaps the polar opposite of Jimi, the love machine. “Peace baby.”  Che’s face emblazons many a tee shirt today just like Jimi’s does. Overlap. Boom! I awoke when my real life dog whimpered to go out and pee at 3:00 a.m. My heart was fluttering. I could not forget the stroboscopic scenes in my mind. I felt a sociocultural duty to save Jimi. I let Johnny the dog out in the darkness, trying not to confuse the unconscious with the semi-conscious.

Now how does one get into such a psychological pickle jar, dodging sweet gherkins and dill chips, pearl onions and bits of garlic while swimming through greenish vinegar?  (I went to the bathroom also. I know what you’re thinking.) I wonder about Freud and his cocaine use at times like these. I tried to reconstruct my recent history to uncover links to the bizarre narrative of my dream. I had been watching the movie Chaplin the other night. It was very well done; Robert Downey, Jr. did a heck of a job portraying Charlie Chaplin. There was the political back story of J. Edgar Hoover who set out to ruin Chaplin and anyone who was not a pure American, whatever that may be. And in some odd way, Chaplin’s Tramp is a comic-tragic iconic figure like Jimi. The ugly, fear-gorged Americans in Chaplin’s day made him out to be a communist Jew. He was neither. They were just rabidly stupid. Jimi was viewed as trouble too, I think. If anyone scared the conservative silent majority of Richard Nixon’s imagination, it was Jimi “Burn Your Guitar” Hendrix. Like Chaplin he was a sex hound, I think. So there is sufficient overlap between Hendrix and Chaplin for my dream.

Image result for j. edgar hoover pictures

And then I ingested an hour of CNN overcoverage of the bomb blasts in Boston last night before going to bed. All those swarming bodies shifting from exultation to disaster in a split second. Runners lost their footing and the limelight as two explosions took center stage. Cops turned into runners, their focus switching from the sprinters in front of them to the splinters behind the police barricade. In the blink of an eye terrorism visited the U.S. again. And a corps of reporters larger than the entire Homeland Security and CIA combined began their smothering overage, saying the same damn things over and over. Interviewing new faces and officials who said the same thing over and over and over.

Perhaps that is where my tired brain left reality and went to sleep for some rest. And lo’, what awaited me in dreams?  A Jimi Hendrix/ Charlie Chaplin/ Richard Nixon/ Che Guevara/J. Edgar Hoover marathon chase. The Tramp was a lovable rascal who was always in trouble, chased by cops or immigration officials, child services officials or landlords. He was anti-authority in a good way, since Authority in Chaplin’s films was always fat and pompous, easy to hate. Without words every gesture had to be exaggerated. Now it seems audiences want nuanced close ups and lots of yakking. My dream had no words, not one. However, if I ever make a soundtrack for this dream, I’ll be sure to include Crosstown Traffic….”so hard to get through to you“. And All Along the Watchtower…”two FBI riders were approaching, and the wind began to howl”. And The Wind Cries Mary...
“The traffic lights they turn up blue tomorrow
And shine their emptiness down on my bed
The tiny island sags downstream
‘Cause the life that lived is, is dead
And the wind screams Mary

And finally, Fire… I have only one burning desire, let me stand next to your fire“.

Good night, Jimi Hendrix. Let the cat out and turn off the television, man. Peace out.