The Makings of a Book. . .
I spent my first days in Los Angeles with Ashley and Slater, migrating back and forth between Reseda and North Hollywood. I paid for two nights’ sleep at the community house where they both had bought rooms for the month. (The only nights I’ve paid for sleeping in a year or more.) There was a big backyard with a fire pit, hammocks, and basketball hoops above the garage door. Inside the garage was a pool table, radio and paintings of Audrey Hepburn, James Dean, and the New York skyline. That’s where ‘most everyone hung around– all sorts of people occupied the house. A beautiful mix of races and colors.
One fellow was a white kid (with some hints of Italian), just older than I was, with a wide, watery mouth and eyes tender from epilepsy. He wore his baseball cap backwards and carried a butterfly knife in his pocket. For protection, he claimed.
“Play pool?” He asked.
I was sitting on the couch below the skyline reading Oscar Wilde. “Indeed.”
We put oldies on the radio and shot round after round of billiards on into the night. People came and went and watched and smoked. He spoke endlessly about his life back in Chicago with a cigarette clung to his lips. The smoke spiraled in the lamplight above the game.
“I use’ ta get caught up in the pool halls in back home. Real sharks play there and they serious. They always be bettin’ money, too. I’d bet, but only ‘bout ten dollars, y’know? To be anybody, though, y’gotta bet four digits or more. And if y’don’t follow through on y’bet, if y’chicken out or scram, y’ll get y’ass whooped! Killed! They get goddamn serious ‘bout it there. I just played for fun, though, y’know’?”
He went on and on about Chicago as he bent over the table. He was born into organized city crime and had always been part of it in some way or another throughout his life. His father was a top man in the Mob, and his mom was a whore who trafficked drugs and brought women to his father. So he said.
“After m’ dad died it was just me and m’ uncle.” He knocked in the 6 ball cleanly. “He was part of the Mob, too; but he was the only one who took me in, y’know? M’ mom was too strung out and fucked up to notice me anymore; so it was just me and m’ ‘unks. I lived with him for a while ‘fore I scrammed.”
He’d recently fled for LA because Chicago was getting too dangerous for him. “S’a fucked up life, man. I had to get out. Money fell into m’ hands like rain; I was swimmin’ in it. But it was a dirty daily risk to stay alive, I’m telling y’.” That’s why he always carried his knife. “But y’know, now, if it came around it, money and all, I wouldn’t be opposed to being a cop.”
“A cop?” I asked, surprised, knocking in the 13 ball. But I miscalculated the math of the 11 ball, missing the corner pocket.
“Yeh. Special Victims Unit, probably,” he said, lining up his next shot. “Know why? ‘Cause I fucking hate rape.” He paused his stroke to make his opinion clearly known to me. “That is the worst crime. Rapists deserve to be mutilated in front of audiences. Shot, stoned, tortured like beasts.” He was very adamant about this. “But I don’t think I could be a cop that worked against drug crime.”
He smiled. “I got me a soft spot for drug dealers,” he said.
Written in North Hollywood, CA. 2012