You were the sunshine, baby,
Whenever you smiled
But I call you Stormy today
All of a sudden that ole rain’s fallin’ down
And my world is cloudy and gray
You’ve gone away
Oh, Stormy, oh, Stormy
Bring back that sunny day
–“Stormy,” Classics IV
Stoney pulls himself together and announces he’s hitchhiking to New York City to sell 500 tabs of acid–minus the 13 he dropped on New Year’s Eve.
I beg him not to go–hitching cross country is too dangerous. Cops, rednecks, thieves, killers, all just waiting to arrest, beat up, roll, or even kill someone careless like Stoney.
Devil-may-care Stoney. I’ve never met anyone who was so slapdash with dope.
“This shit’s so hot on the east coast,” he says. “And I can make a killing.”
“I wish you wouldn’t go.”
He sighs. “I have to.”
I cry as he sews 487 tabs of STP into the lining of his coat.
He kisses me goodbye. “I’ll see you in two weeks.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll be back.”
I wish Stoney would make money a safer way. Is acid really more profitable in New York?
Stoney’s dealer friends scare me–they’re either narks or connected with bikers and the mob; they throw around a lot of bread, a bit too cocky for all the dope they hold.
I want nothing to do with those bozos, told them up front they’re not welcome when Stoney’s away. So far, none of those bad-asses have showed up. No way do I want this pad turning into a flophouse for drug addicts and felons.
After Stoney leaves, I start hanging out with Rudy–nothing sexual; he’s too old, two front teeth missing. I love Stoney and would never cheat on him.
Rudy, Pam’s occasional old man, lives downstairs, his apartment always filled with chicks lounging around. Some of them live there, but most just hang out. Some of them earn bread by turning tricks.
I’d never do that; I’d find a regular job first.
Someone pounds at the door; I glance at the clock: 9:00 a.m.
“Go away,” I mumble, rolling over and burrowing deeper.
“Rise and shine, Sunshine Girl!”
Who else but Rudy?
“It’s too early. What do you want?”
“I want to show you something.”
Right. I hope Rudy doesn’t go perverted. He’s got nothing I’d want to see. “No way!”
“C’mon, Jennifer, let me in. It’s cool. I’ll explain.”
“Okay, okay. I’ll be there in a minute.” I roll out of bed, grumbling, and quickly jump into my bra, socks, jeans, shirt, and shoes. No way do I want Rudy leering at me in my pajamas.
I open my door. Rudy’s not his usual disheveled self; he wears pressed, though faded and worn, brown slacks, and a gray flannel shirt. His long hair is hidden, tucked into a cap, his beard neatly trimmed. He wears a bridge–Rudy with front teeth.
His pistol, hidden in the cuff of his right sock, bulges slightly. “Let’s go,” he says.
“What’s with the straight dude act?” I ask.
“You’ll see.” He leads me down the steps, into the street, and underneath the freeway overpass, toward Hollywood Blvd.
An old man, dirty and disheveled, pisses against the concrete wall leading into the overpass tunnel.
“Where are we going?”
“You, my chick, are going to help earn us some bread.” He steers me through the tunnel.
“Like hell I am.” I pull away.
He laughs. “I don’t mean balling johns–that’s much too tacky for the likes of you.”
“I’ll explain over coffee; no one should toil before their morning fix.”
Over coffee, eggs, and doughnuts at Cecil’s Stand, Rudy explains that I have the right look: pathetic waif.
“You should take advantage of your gift, earn mucho bread.”
Why does this sound more and more like a variation of turning tricks?
“Most street chicks look so tough they could hard boil an egg just by staring at it, but you...,” he says with genuine admiration, “you could part straights from their dough just by batting those baby blues and giving those saps a sob story. Hummm...you might not even need the sob story.” He stares into space and rubs his chin. “But the story can’t hurt.”
New Year’s Eve: the woman from San Jose who slipped me a twenty when I hadn’t even asked. “I see.”
“You’ll need a way to earn some dough–that loser boyfriend of yours isn’t going to be much help.”
“He’s coming back,” I say. “And he’s going to have over $10,000.”
“If he doesn’t get busted.”
“Jennifer, we both know that Stoney’s a one-way ticket to the slammer. He’s careless with his dope and reckless about the characters he hangs with. You want to go down with him?”
Rudy’s right. “No.”
“Okay, then. Let’s get started.” He stands up, hikes up his slacks, and rubs his hands together.
“What are we doing?”
“We’re going to hitchhike for money.”
“You heard right.”
He leads me to a crosswalk, where cars stop a lot, and sticks out his thumb. Immediately, a middle-aged couple in a lime-green Pontiac with tail fins stops.
“Ah, perfect, a married couple,” Rudy whispers as we head for the car. “Just observe and listen–you’ll get the hang of it.”
“Howdy, folks,” Rudy says. “A fine day for a ride. How far you going?”
“Farmer’s Market,” the man, a small dude with big round glasses and a flattop, says.
“Good, good. I have to pick up some oranges for my wife here.” Rudy nods toward me. “Jenny has leukemia.”
The woman, large and round like a beach ball, turns around and studies me. “Oh, my,” she says, her face going flush.
I droop and sigh.
“The doctor at the free clinic says she should eat plenty of fresh fruit. Takes the edge off the chemo.”
“Well, you’re going to right place,” the woman says.
“It’s been rough, being out of work and all–”
The man’s face–dubious and wary–reflects back to me from the rear view mirror.
Yes, we need the sob story, after all.
“–But things are looking up, finally,” Rudy says with relief.
“Oh?” the man says.
“Yes, on Monday, I start my new job at McDonnell Douglas. Good money and benefits, $3.47 an hour to start.”
“Long Beach,” the man says.
“That’s right,” Rudy says.
“Good employer. You’ll get back on your feet fast.”
“Well, that’s the plan. But here’s the deal. The job starts on Monday, but I won’t get paid until the following Monday.”
“If you asked, maybe they’d give you an advance,” the woman offers.
“I asked,” Rudy says mournfully. “But they don’t give advances to new employees. Too many con artists landing jobs, getting advances, and then not reporting for work, so honest folk like me suffer.”
“Look,” the woman says as she digs through her purse and pulls out two twenties. She wiggles around and hands them to me. “Take this money, and buy yourselves enough groceries until your first payday.”
“Thank you,” I say in the tiniest voice I can muster. “God bless you.” Tears run down my cheeks; although our story is a lie, I am sad, because, somewhere in the world, it probably is true, and maybe I’m taking money from a real cancer patient.
The car pulls up in front of Farmer’s Market; we hop out.
“Thank you, folks,” Rudy says, giving the man a firm handshake. “You’ll be rewarded in the hereafter.”
We blend into the crowd, putting distance between ourselves and our benefactors.
“You’re a natural,” Rudy says, hugging me.
We spend the next three hours hitching for money; not everyone bites–one guy even orders us out of his car–but it doesn’t matter; we’ve cleared $75.65, an amazing $25.00 an hour.
As a reward, Rudy takes me to the Tick-Tock Restaurant for a late lunch, where I order a Coke, cheeseburger, French fries, and an ice cream sundae.
But he gives me none of the bread.
“Good job, Jennifer,” Rudy says as he inhales a chunk of sirloin steak. “But never hitch by yourself–too many rip-off artists and perverts out there.”
I’ll try to remember that.
Excerpt from I, Driven: memoir of a teen’s involuntary commitment (Part I: “Going to Cherokee,” Chapter Eight)
(Text copyright 2008, by Jennifer Semple Siegel)