It’s 11:11 PM, July 2, 2002, Hollywood. It’s a bright light. I wince, I rub my wet face, and shield from the glow that spills onto me from the source where brick wall meets brick wall. A truck horn honks. My knees hurt. I’m wearing my kilt, revealing bloody scrapes. I hear the distant rumble of cars. I feel the festive emanations from around the corner of this dark littered-alleyway-pit in the back of The Power House bar, on Highland Avenue, where the strains of Merle Haggard sing out, “I’ve got swinging doors, a jukebox, and a barstool” trickle through the back door, ajar.
I’m coming to consciousness in a blackout, near Highland Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard, and I have QUESTIONS. I see that I’m with my guitar player, Derek, who looks like a pasty scarecrow with a crooked Dracula smile. From what I can gather so far, I’m sure we’ve come to Hollywood for drugs, no mystery there. I know it’s the middle of the driest year since 1877, and I wonder how long I’ve been standing in this rain. I’m pretty soaked, but it’s refreshing. I’m happy about the downpour.
I’m starting to get a feel for the gig. I recall, we’ve been on about a 3 day run, so I’m unaware of exactly where I’ve been and most of what I’ve been doing for the last day and a half or so. I glance at my watch, to see bloody hands pointing a gun, not a pistol, a rifle. The hands looks like mine. They are mine. What the fuck are my hands doing with a gun pointed at anyone? I hear yelling and crying.
Derek’s shouting at a teenage Mexican boy, who’s crying on his knees with his arms up, his tears seem pretty forced, but what the hell am I doing with this rifle? I’ve never aimed a gun at anyone in my whole life, that I know of, I don’t even know if it’s loaded. I hope it is, considering my situation.
I struggle to get a feel for the game and what play I might be running now. I remember now, I left the Fraser Clan gathering at the family ranch east of San Juan Capistrano a couple of days or so ago, with my little white poodle, Bela. We’d spent last weekend as a family, with members of The Clan Fraser Association For California. I was turning this very anticipated imminent scene over and over in the back of my mind through catch up conversations about the weather, the environment, etc. I sped up here from the Ortega Hills in full Highland dress, in record time, kilt and all, and couldn’t waste time changing clothes before coming out here on this conquest. I’m sticking out like a misplaced time traveler and paranoid about it, as i haven’t changed since.
The hunger spawned plan comes back to me. I brought my ranch rifle to town, and met Derek. I recall that our design was to rob a drug dealer of his drugs, a crime we could easily get away with, because what dealer would report that? I think Bela must be waiting in the car, so if anything happens to me here, she’s fucked.
The kid’s telling me the rest of his drugs are in the drainpipe of the building and Derek goes to get them, telling the kid to just be careful, don’t move, he won’t get hurt and he shouldn’t have tried to rip us off. I hear that and now I’m pissed. I don’t even know what happened, or if Derek’s just making it up, but if someone tried to rip us off I’m angry about it. I don’t care if I did just get here. I start screaming, “You motherfucker, you stupid fucker, stupido, peligro de muerte, you could die, nobody tries to fuck me!!!”
There’s a wad of money painted with blood on the ground next to my heeled black logger boot. We take the drugs, about a half ounce of rock cocaine, pick up the money and split to the car, Derek knows where it is. Bela is there jumping and wiggling around, happy to see me. I could throw up. I’m shit. It makes me gurgle a sad laugh.
We hit the freeway, and the pipe, and I page Jose, my regular dealer, on our way downtown to trade some of the stolen crack for heroin, for Derek. We did it, we won. I have to laugh the whole time, I have to or cry and top myself, through replaying the insanity of the scene that is not lost on me. I cover my horror. It’s an adrenaline riot. I pull off the freeway and we try to compose ourselves as we pull up near MacArthur Park.
I think we’re fucking crazy going downtown for drugs, I hate it down there. Derek went down there all the time for heroin, but I rarely went downtown, it’s way too fucking nuts down there. I would when I had to. We’re hanging around MacArthur Park waiting for Jose to meet us. He lives near the park and when he was not already up in Hollywood, he would only meet down there.
I see Jose’s car, full of his homies, pull up to let him out, he’s kind of looking around nervously and walking a fast pace, chubbing and jiggling. I’m pretty sketchy as it is and we ready the drugs for trade and start our looking-the-other-way-wander up to him. I glimpse the confusion regarding my appearance on his face turn into a sort of sneer as he hangs under the dripping streetlamp, looking disinterested and innocent. I am aware that I must look pretty peculiar in my Highland getup, but one of the great things in this underworld is that is no one needs an explanation.
“Ain’ you cold in a thkirt, man?” he asks with his thick Mexican lisp.
I show him how much I’m holding for the deal and say, “It’s a kilt not a skirt” to a face with no recognition. I hand the crack, he spits a number of heroin balloons out of his mouth, and he drops them into Derek’s hand, telling me to put the rest of my crack in my mouth. I hate that, because it’s probably been in some dealer’s mouth at one point, just like the heroin. Then with his usual, “Jou page me when jou wan more, Alastdare.” Out here I’m “Alastdare” and they always know the good customers.
Another car comes over the hill, lights off, cruising slower than it should be. It looks bad. Jose turns to see the slow cruiser approaching as his homies duck in their vehicle, and he motions and yells to Derek and me to dive behind an ivy bush that’s draped covering a brick wall. As shots ring out, hitting the wall and sidewalk nearby, the lowrider peels off with shouts in Spanish, warning death. They’re such a cliché. I can’t figure out if the attempt has anything to do with our stick up job in Hollywood just about an hour earlier, or not, but either way we have to get the fuck out of here.
I ask “what the fuck was that?”, like I could not know, and Jose laughs saying, “Jou just been in a drive by, man, jou can tell all jou friends.” his lisp impeded by a wry smile. I have to admit I’m a little self satisfied, but at the same time disappointed that we can’t really brag about this adventure to anyone who matters.
Derek decides to shoot up right there behind the wall and has his rig and a bottle of Evian with him to do just that. I’m sweating and wired with adrenaline. I love it. I love the fact that SOME THINGS are happening. Things out of the ordinary in the shit that rolls by, day in, day out.
I hop back over the wall and I’m about to head back to the car to wait for Derek and get smoke, as Jose rounds the corner out of sight, when a fucking police cruiser rolls up. Derek stays behind the wall and I figure since he nearly overdoses every time he shoots up, this must be the time he’s finally killed himself and I’m about to be stuck with that mess. It’s one of the only times I took Jose’s warning to put the plastic wrapped cocaine pebbles in my mouth, for just this reason.
I swallow the rocks, hoping we don’t get so hung up with the cops that it keeps us beyond the time I can throw them back up. The police come up to question me. Two officers. Crew cuts, muscled like gay guys. “We heard gunshots come from around here. You seen anything?” I know they know I have and just want to see if I’ll walk into a trap.
“I thought I heard it. Didn’t see nothin’.”
“What’s a white boy in a skirt doin’ out here at this hour? You buying drugs down here?”
“It’s not a skirt, it’s a kilt. I’m uh, homeless, looking for a place to sleep.”
“Come over here and put your hands on the vehicle, please.” It’s always a “vehicle” with cops. It’s never just a car.
I comply with the hands on vehicle drill, and the cop from the passenger side starts to search me. I’m thinking I’m going down when he finds my car keys, but they are no longer in my pants’ pocket. He looks at my ID for an address. It’s my old license.
“Bel Air. Fancy neighborhood, Mr. Fraser”, he says, sounding like as big a backward dumbshit as anyone does who uses the word fancy that way. I explain that I haven’t lived there since my ex and I broke up and I’ve ended up downtown through a bad chain of shitty-luck events. It’s such a predictably full of bull story, but they can’t find squat.
The driver cop tells his partner I must have swallowed my drugs. I’m thinking, “So what if I did? Too late now.”
“Is that right?”, he asks me, “Did you swallow the drugs?”
“No way, you guys are crazy. I don’t do drugs.” Yeah.
“Don’t wise-ass me. We’ll take you downtown.”
“We are downtown” flies out of my mouth before I can suck it back in.
“Look Mr. Fraser, unless you can throw up and prove you don’t have drugs in your stomach, you’re going down. You better start puking”, says the Village People reject.
“Oh man. I don’t believe this. You really want me to stick my fingers down my throat and chuck?”, I ask to their already nodding heads.
I hunch over and start the process. I’m moving my fingers all around and twisting them and pushing them farther down, over acting it. Nothing’s happening and I fear that if I don’t produce some puke, I’m locked up, if drugs come up, I’m locked up.
Finally, some spew comes up and triggers a little more on its way. I can feel some pieces of crack in it and I think I’m successfully disguising choking them back down, I don’t look at the cops. All I can think as the driver cop starts to inspect the vomit is how hard it’s going to be when I really want to get the stuff up and out of me. He pushes through my yak with his shoe and finds nothing. They both say I didn’t try hard enough through my solemn oath that I have swallowed no drugs.
“Don’t sleep here, go to a shelter. Get off the street. You could get killed out here.” They get in the cruiser and drive off as I thank them, wanting to assure them I would have no idea how to find a shelter, even if I wanted to, but I zip it.
I turn like I’m leaving until they round the corner, then I double back and hop over the ivy wall to see if Derek is still breathing, he’s laying down and looks up at me with a peaceful grin. I’m feeling around, wait, I think, got them. My car keys. I hustle back to the car for my flashlight, then hustle back over the ivy wall. I chug down the rest of the Evian water. Now the tough part. I get down on hands and knees and revisit the gag technique, going rougher, no acting, burying my fingers deeper than I did for the cops until I’ve thrown up everything in me. Derek starts to get a sort of contact urge to vomit.
It’s like a workout. I’m dripping now, dizzy, most of all disgusted at my third eye view what I’m doing. I start to cry, picking all the pieces out of the watery vomit and dirt while Derek tries to comfort me. We hustle back to the car to huddle and smoke, and laugh at my tears. Relief. Glad the pipe and bloody money were in the ashtray, not my sporran (satchel), or I’d be in the clink. The caboose. The tank. The cooler.
We start peering 360 degrees, around the outside of the car, checking for those cops. Suddenly the idea of crouching on the car’s floor seems ridiculous. I see something and begin to ask Derek what seems like a coherent question, “What is that crawling around under the seat, a coffee bean? No, a coffee bean couldn’t crawl, I know that, but there it is crawling around like a beetle. . . which turns to. . . Four score and seven. . . to the flag of the. . . pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon. . . Scotch Buy, it’s not fancy, but it sure is good. . . da do ron ron. . . fuckin’ can’t say that to me, I’m the fuckin’ president of this star ship. . . oh God, how could you, how could you. . . looka him, he’s bleedin up-ova-ere-ma. . . er fuckin’ said that, nev. . . we’ll be busted for sure.
We decide it’s best to hit a motel, and know just the place. We have enough shit to carry us for the night. We head back to Hollywood and get a room in a shit hole near Sunset and Highland, and like flies to dung the dwellers there start knocking on our door not 10 minutes after we settle in. My mood has shifted. I want out of this whole fucking scene. Out for good.
While traversing between to be or not to be, but without the personal moxy that a glorious suicide requires, a sickly 134 pound shell of me sits cluster fucked in the dark corner of our cracked-out-Sunset-Boulevard-trashy-hovel-motel sucking on a glass pipe in complete languor over sweet lie exchanges with our lower-companion-shot-out-low-rate-lipstick-smeared hookers and their amateur-played-out-no-game pimps, depressing needle plungers into bruised arms, vomiting out the bathroom window into the alleyway, all of us clammy and blissfully near death, or on the nod, Derek, in the corner opposite to mine, fluttering between flat line and vegetable and, which is worse, all while my tiny teacup, Bela, shivers nervously, waiting in the car for me to drive us home to the family ranch. We do that until just before dawn, then crash on pills, for about an hour and fifteen. I wake up pretty early no matter what, usually. I shake Derek to awaken him and tell him we have to go. We gather shit and split, leaving stragglers from the night’s doings.
– excerpt from “A Highland Heart” ©2010 brent david fraser, all rights reserved