I am the god of hell fire, and I bring you
Fire, I’ll take you to burn
Fire, I’ll take you to learn
I’ll see you burn...
–The Crazy World of Arthur Brown
The window opens to the freeway. As the sun slips behind a hill, I lean forward and breathe in. The air, still unseasonably warm, foreshadows a chill, the specter of the diminishing year only hours away.
2001 Ivar Street, our space odyssey.
A drab, stucco apartment building next to the freeway, end of the line for a few acid heads, speed freaks, heroin addicts, prostitutes, and crazies with guns. At first, living here was kind of fun, but now I’m tired of dealing with these marginal people.
I’m scared. I’m afraid of getting killed by Rudy, an old freak with no front teeth; he lives downstairs and always packs an iron in his bell bottoms. I’m afraid Tessa, that spade chick a few doors from Rudy, will end up stabbed or shot to death. I’ve never seen so many mean-looking dudes going in and out of the apartment next to hers. Tessa’s so strait-laced, and those creeps bug the hell out of her, pounding on her door, baiting her. Maybe I shouldn’t care what happens to her, but I do. I’m not that stoned.
Death is too final, too real.
I’m so tired; I drop five bennies, just to get pumped up for the New Year.
Ever since he dropped yesterday, Stoney’s been acting weird. Thirteen tabs of STP. I thought he was going die; he slipped into unconsciousness, face twitching like an epileptic’s, head puffed out like a balloon. I was afraid to call the ambulance, there was so much dope in the place–still is–so I watched until he opened his eyes. I can’t put my finger on it, but he hasn’t been the same since. He keeps talking weird shit, like spreading his wings and flying out our second-story window.
He scares me.
There’s going be a big blowout at the Mission Hotel tonight. Free dope. You name it, someone’ll have it. As we leave for the party, Stoney’s face is still puffy, his eyes dull. Like, maybe his brain was sucked out of his head–like a yolk from its shell. We haven’t made love in days, and at first, we made love all the time. My first time, three weeks ago; imagine, an 18-year-old virgin. At first, I thought Stoney loved me, he wanted me all the time. Then he started shooting Horse and dropping tons of acid and whatever else he could get his hands on. It doesn’t matter what he drinks, smokes, drops, snorts, or shoots, just so he’s on another plane. Now just another broken down freak, gone out of control. He zips up his jeans.
“What’s going to become of us?” I ask.
He looks up at me, his eyes half closed, mouth hanging open, drool running down the corners. “Huh?”
I want to throw up.
Maybe I’ll meet some friends at the party–too bad Jeff’s not here, but maybe Eleanor or Mel will be there. I could use a good friend now, a shoulder to cry on.
I can’t depend on Stoney anymore.
We hitch a ride to the Mission Hotel. A straight couple from San Jose picks us up. The wife tries luring me away from Stoney, promising me a hot meal and warm bed, salvation. Sure. Like I really want to spend New Year’s Eve with Perry Como and his old lady. She assumes I’m 14; if I keep my mouth shut, maybe she’ll give me some bread.
Just before we hop out of the car, the woman does slip me a twenty.
“Get yourself some help,” she whispers.
I stash the money into my pocket and calculate how much weed it’ll buy.
The Mission’s a joint, but it’s happening tonight. Every room’s filled with at least four people. The two-dollar rooms are five bucks ‘cause of New Year’s, but we know just about every freak here. I’ll find a place to party and crash.
Stoney’s on his own.
On the first floor, we stop off in a room; heroin addicts shoot up. As Stoney ties off a rubber strap around his arm, makes a fist, and taps for a vein, I leave. He’ll be out for the rest of the night. I go from room to room, taking a toke here and a toke there, keeping my eyes open for familiar faces.
On the second floor, I find Mel, Eleanor, and Julius Caesar, an old freak decked out in a Roman soldier costume appropriated from 20th Century Fox.
We sit on the bed, rapping. I admit I’m sick and tired of all the dope and heroin addicts crashing at the pad; I just want to go home, maybe even back to Iowa…
We’re still rapping as smoke fills the room–I start coughing and gagging.
The damn place is on fire!
“Let’s get out of here!” I scream at Mel, Eleanor, and Caesar as they disappear into the smoke.“Where are you? Help me, I’ve gotta get out!”
Just a chorus of screams.
Somewhere, I find my last bit of strength; I jump off the bed and run blindly around the room. But I can’t see anything now; the room is dense with stinging smoke.
I’ve got to get out!
I stick my head out the window and take a deep breath. The clammy air feels good, but fires spread fast, like that Chicago fire that killed 99 school kids when I was seven. Firefighters found the little kids, dead and stiff in their desks, still holding pencils above charred pieces of paper; will they find my charred body in this room, stretched out on this grungy bed?
I don’t want to die! Will I have to jump?
The concrete slab below looks far away. How many bones will I break? Could I even die?
People scream and cry as they grope their way through the hallway. I start out the window, but halfway out, something clicks–maybe that guardian angel I’ve forgotten–
I’ll take my chances in the hall. As I grope for the door, I trip over Caesar. I kick him. “Get the hell up!”
He groans and raises himself up, so I figure he’ll be okay, and why should I care anyway?
My so-called friends left me here to die.
In the hall, blinded by smoke, I drag my fingertips along the wall as I navigate toward the stairs; I can’t get air into my lungs. Stumbling down the stairs, I hold my breath. The walls don’t feel hot.
Where are the flames?
Suddenly, I’m outside; I can’t get enough of the cold L.A. air into my lungs, and my chest heaves back and forth. My lungs, hurting like hell, fill with air; I hack and cough, and everyone’s coughing up their guts. On the street, Stoney is passed out, flat on his back, and–
–But he moans. Caesar, Eleanor, and Mel stand over him, cajoling him to get up–how did he get out, drugged up like that?
“You made it,” Eleanor says–as if my escape were of minor consequence.
Cops, hundreds of them in gas masks, rush into the Mission Hotel, their guns drawn.
“What the fuck?”
The Preacher Man, who, an hour ago, was shooting up heroin with Stoney, says, “Tear gas, Jennifer. A goddam police raid. Can you imagine such stupid shit?”
I’m relieved no one’s burned up, but then I’m goddam pissed off because of the window. I would’ve jumped out the goddam window, the goddam fucking window....
Excerpt Copyright 2008, Jennifer Semple Siegel
Text may not be republished or reposted without author's permission.
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