A rollicking account of a paralyzed Gen Xer coming of age in the oft-times sordid Hollywood rock scene of the 1980’s
Shortly after 1982’s first hangover subsided, Ma’s kind friend, Robin, let me have her super-cheap, street-level, one-bedroom apartment. Three days before my seventeenth birthday, I got my own pad to come and go as I pleased. The place was a block from Los Angeles City College, in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood littered with small, independently owned businesses, such as tortillerias, panaderias, and carnicerias. I have no clue what the vegetable shops were called, because I don’t eat ‘em. That would be cannibalism. I enjoyed the neighborhood’s culture far more than the corporate chain bullshit we got littering the cityscape nowadays. But I do love me them Walmarts. They got everything, so I don’t have to drive around searching for shit. The ultra-low prices are just an awesome bonus, and the money saved is spent on learning to speak Chinese.
I registered at Marshall High School, housed in a seventy-five-year-old building. In the early twentieth century, no thought was ever given to wheelchair accessibility during construction, so I only attended for a day before transferring to the nearest wheelchair-friendly school. My fifth school for tenth grade was Fairfax High, located on the corner of Melrose and Fairfax. That school boasted an impressive who’s who of celebrity alumni. Besides every imaginable music genre clique representing loud ‘n’ proud, there were stacks of authentic punk rockers that stood out from the crowds. I’m not talking preppy wannabes like Newport Harbor High. Those Fairfax High punks had Mohawks, safety pins through whatever, and they donned punker threads imported straight from London. My favorite visuals at Fairfax were the hundreds of hot chicks of every size, shape, and color.
Every morning, a bus rolled up to my house, tooted its horn, and waited till I made it out. At school, I had an elevator key for classes on the second floor, and a few hot ‘n’ sweet young ladies were kind enough to smooch in there with me. It never evolved to love in the elevator stage, but was far more entertaining than going to class.
The Friday of my first week, a long-haired dude wandered into English class late and sat directly behind me. Moments later, a vice principal walked in and barked, “Michael Jagosz!”
As the administrator began scanning the room, from behind I heard a gym bag slide my way. He then looked right past me and pointed to the late-arriving hippie. “Mr. Jagosz, come with me. Bring your bag.”
I knew the sound of free drugs sliding my way, so I said, “That’s my bag.”
Mike returned shortly after the bell rang and immediately retrieved the gym bag from my lap. He smiled. “Thanks, I got a half ounce of shrooms in here.”
Although I was disappointed about missing out on a free stuff opportunity, I smiled and shrugged. “No problem, dude.”
After that day, whenever he showed up, he’d sit next to me and we’d talk throughout class. Except for him disliking AC/DC, we dug the same heavy metal bands. When he told me Ronnie James Dio was his favorite singer, I bragged about having Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell LP autographed by Tony and Geezer.
A smoking-hot chick who usually sat two rows away often had us speculating about how magnificent a sight her nude body must be, and that she probably tasted sweeter than Marry Ann’s legendary coconut cream pie. One day, Mike told me, “I got tickets to Mob Rules,” and then pointed to the babe. “I’m going to take that chick.”
I was fully impressed that Mike had scored a date with such a fine honey, and pointed her way just to make sure. “That chick’s going to Sabbath with you?”
He had yet to invite her, but seemed to believe any babe in her right mind would sell a kidney to be with him. Right before class ended, Mike said, “Watch this,” then went to her desk, tapped her shoulder, and nonchalantly said, “I got tickets for Black Sabbath, you wanna go?”
She looked quite annoyed, while offering a snarky, “I don’t like Sabbath,” before turning away.
I chuckled and busted Mike’s chops a bit, but he shrugged it off. During the times we hung out, I can’t recall many chicks rebuffing his affections. He was a six-foot-tall, light-mocha-complexioned, green-eyed hunk with shoulder-length brown hair. Add a charming smile, pleasant laugh, quick-witted intelligence with supreme confidence, and the girls swooned. To me, it seemed like Mike could have had anything in this world he set his mind on and worked for.
Not long after we met, Mike invited me to see his band rehearse. At first, I thought he said their name was Pie-Crust, but it turned out they were called Pyrrhus. After school, the band’s guitarist, Tracii Guns, picked me up in his dad’s plumbing truck. I sat in the back and held on tight all the way to Mike’s Hollywood Hills house, a bitchin’ old Victorian in the shadow of the Hollywood sign that must’ve been majestic in its day. In the backyard was an out-building shaded by a towering, generous avocado tree. Inside, the band’s gear was set up ready to rock.
As Tracii warmed up, I was immediately impressed by his mad skills riffing of the Van Halen licks “Mean Streets” and “Eruption.” He established the band’s volume by cranking his Marshall 200-watt combo three notches past ear-bleed level as drummer Robbie Gardner pounded his Ludwig oyster pearl maple drum kit vigorously, trying to keep up with Tracii as well as Dani Tull’s bottom-slapping Ampeg bass gear. The crappy Peavey powered mixer with matching dilapidated speaker towers were no match, so Mike turned his lungs to full hurricane force aggression to be barely heard.
Pyrrhus opened their set with the intro riff to “Heaven on Their Minds” from Jesus Christ Superstar, then proceeded to burn through several Zeppelin covers, Sabbath’s “Children of the Grave,” Ozzy’s “I Don’t Know,” and a few originals. Along with his blazing guitar, Tracii was quite the showman, bobbing his head, shimmying, shuffling, and stomping around like he owned rock ‘n’ roll. Dani moved and swayed to the music in a hypnotic, mellow, laid-back groove while Robbie kept a solid energetic backbeat.
My first impression of Mike was that he was only in the band because he owned a PA and studio. Not that he was a bad singer. That boy possessed great power and range. I was just thoroughly bored by his uninspiring – 100 percent lack of – stage presence. If the singer doesn’t love his band enough to rock out, why should anyone else? It was easy to see that Pyrrhus was something special, and I went to their rehearsals to party, sing along, and headbang every chance I got.
Mike’s brother, Dave Anthony, was also a great singer. His band, gayly named Shire – “It’s all over, Frodo” – would soon head into the studio to record a demo produced by Don Dokken. But one particular late-spring afternoon in 1983, Mike warmed up the band for Shire’s show at Providence High School later that evening. They ran through several original songs, as well as covering Def Leppard’s “It Don’t Matter” and UFO’s “Rock Bottom.” Their bass player, an older dude named Izzy Stradlin, was by far the coolest member of Shire. He grooved, rocked out, and shuffled around the entire space in time with the solid drumming monster on double bass, Johnny Kreis. Alan Santalesa, on guitar, got a decent tone and could shred quite tastily, but stood boringly in one spot. I can never sit still while good music plays, so I chair-danced, grooved, and goofed with Izzy as the others impersonated solid-rock statues.
After Mike finished, the band played on while he and I beer-bonged a gallon-ish of deliciously cheap beer. Wasted drunk from nine beers in an hour, I went to drain my piss bag on the side of the building, then stayed there for some fresh air and a nod. Time passed, I sobered up a bit, and went bleary-eyed to find Mike. But the fucker had left me behind, so I rolled a mile to the bus stop on Hollywood and Bronson, luckily all downhill. I just realized something – getting to Heaven requires a stairway, but there’s a “Highway to Hell,” with on-ramps everywhere. Plus, the added convenience of a downhill journey makes it the obvious choice for gimps. But either way, few buses had wheelchair lifts back then, so sometimes I’d wait several hours until an accessible bus showed up. That day was one of those, and I eventually made it home around midnight. I hated the bus.
Even though I often ditched classes, I never missed PE. That was where I took Drivers’ Ed. It seemed unfathomable to me that I was seventeen and still had no car or license. Shit, I’d been driving since I was ten. But GTA is tough for a quadriplegic. About a week before summer vacation, our driving instructor took the class to the DMV, where I passed my driver’s tests with flying colors.
Four weeks later, I received my license in the mail, but couldn’t afford a car.
Luckily, Rancho Hospital had hooked me up with a power wheelchair, just in time for summer freedom. Dani quit Pyrrhus, so the band went on hiatus and into search mode. I still dropped by Mike’s a few times a month to score killer bud for old friends who’d drop my pad to buy my marked-up herb and drink till dawn. I never got carded, so we always had plenty of buds, beer, and booze, in a space with no nagging, buzzkill adults. We enjoyed a variety of suds, but tight times sometimes required the blue-striped plain-wrap “BEER,” for a delicious $1.49 a sixer.
We’d rock out to the Police’s Ghost in the Machine or Black Sabbath’s Paranoid recorded from the “Seventh Day” program on KLOS. That was a Sunday night program, when the station played seven albums in their entirety. My favorite tape became the Stones’ Beggar’s Banquet. I just couldn’t get enough of the slide guitar on “Jigsaw Puzzle,” or its brilliantly crafted lyrics about strung-out tramps, outcasts, and outlaws.
I began roaming far and wide in my new cruiser. Due to looking older than my seventeen years, people often asked if I was injured in Vietnam. I’d smartass, “Broke my neck diving from a two-hundred-foot platform into a glass of water, but I missed the damn glass.”
When I finally got around to explaining the true circumstances, some would ask, “Was there water in the pool?”
Apparently I look like a total fucking moron!
The power wheelchair allowed me to wash my clothes at the laundromat and sing along with the top-forty station’s “Jack and Dianne” or “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll,” without my friends knowing. The other direction on Vermont was a kick-ass urban record store, when it was still okay to say “black music.” I’d head over there several times a week and listen to new and old stuff alike. One day, I rolled in as the owner hung promotional posters for Prince’s 1999. I studied them momentarily before inquiring, “Who’s that Morris-Day-looking motherfucker?” Little did I know that Prince would be the biggest thing out of Minnesota since the Mississippi River.
Until taking delivery of the power chair, I only ventured as far as the arcade at the end of my block. It seemed like Bataan-Death-March distance to this one-armed quad, but compelling enough to occasionally take the solo journey for pinball, Ms. Pac Man, Galaxian, Kangaroo, or Dig Dug in climate-controlled comfort. I stuck to the simpler controlled stuff, because complexly controlled arcade games require dexterous finger control of both hands. While folks video vegged, the arcade’s sound system blasted out KROQ FM’s cool new music: Stray Cats, Madness, Romeo Void, The Clash, Billy Idol, Devo, Lords of the New Church, and occasionally a loud ‘n’ obnoxious heavy metal band, Mötley Crüe, who I dug from the very first note of Mick Mars’ awesomely gross guitar tone. When Crüe plastered posters around town to promote the release of their first album, I was shocked upon discovering what a bunch of freaks they were.
Those were the days when rebel me got my ear pierced, just like them dudes on MTV. It was utterly important that straight males only got their left lobe done, because a right ear piercing might subject one to random offers of BJs from dandies. Then curiosity might have one getting sucked into a whole different lifestyle. Once the starter stud came out, I became fond of dangling crosses or little beaded chains to compliment my semi-mullet. I counted the months until eighteen, when I would get tattooed to show the world what a true outlaw I was.
I had applied for SSI shortly after moving into my place, and three months later, Social Security sent me retroactive money from the day I applied. If I wouldn’t have been stupid enough to let Ma cash it, I would have had enough money to buy a car. Along with SSI came Medi-Cal healthcare, which was sorely needed due to my supposed Cadillac health insurance plan getting cancelled when the asshole insurers claimed going to school meant a person was not totally disabled.
Even with insurance, Rancho still would not entertain my notion of walking. So Ma arranged some charity physical therapy at White Memorial Hospital. My therapist was an open-minded, positive woman, and on the same page as Ma and me. If a person could stand, walking was entirely possible. We were all correct. After two months of therapy and diligently exercising at home, I was able to take a step while holding onto parallel bars. But to travel further required a leg brace, which ain’t cheap. Without Rancho writing me a prescription, Medi-Cal would not pay. Undeterred, I continued working out and going to therapy, all the while strategizing a way to score a leg-brace on the cheap.
Fredo moved back from Oregon and in with me. I hipped him to SSI and, a few months later, instead of paying his back rent with the retro check, he bought a sweet 1972 Camaro. I started out angry, but got over it right quick because my roommate owned a car. We’d drive all over the place, rocking AC/DC, oldies, or new stuff like Grand Master Flash, Rick James, Kool and the Gang, Gap Band, Dazz Band, Mary Jane Girls, Prince, and Morris Day.
Late nights often had me and Fredo cruising Sunset Boulevard. Back in the day, along a three-mile stretch from Western to Crescent Heights, there were prostitutes thicker than raw honey on a queen bee’s cooter. For us, it was mostly voyeuristic stuff, but once a nice lady of the night made an offer, it was hard to refuse. When you’re seventeen and a slightly haggard harlot says, “I’ll fuck you both for thirty bucks,” I say, “Fredo, find an ATM.” Even though hookers had been around forever, ATMs were a new-ish phenomenon that in a blink of an eye became an integral element in providing last-minute party funding to a new generation.
After seeing a TV show showcasing desperate teenage runaways who had hopped buses for Hollywood, we sometimes drove downtown to the Greyhound station at 6th and L.A. in search of stray girls fresh into their search for fame and fortune. The television told us that many arrived penniless, homeless, and hungry, causing some to offer short-term rental of their privates while waiting to make it big in pictures. We hoped we might-could do some compassionate outreach and save ourselves thirty bucks, but the bus station was overloaded with pimps who swooped in well before we could even say hello to those future-former sex workers. On one of those midnight trips downtown, I met a redheaded dude fresh off a Greyhound out of India-no-place as he politely declined an offer from a black gentleman selling gold chains. Nah, psych.
Fredo’s 18th Street homeboys were so cool to hang with, I began ironing creases in my 501s and saying stuff like, “Hijo de La Chingada” and “Odelay, Holmes,” amongst other assorted slangs. They’d drop by the pad to kick it and drink forties, or party down on a double-dip Super Kool. The fact that I really didn’t dig the ”I-can’t-feel-my-arms-wait-do-I-even-have-arms” PCP buzz seldom stopped me from taking at least a hit or seven.
On the two-year anniversary of breaking my fucking neck, I celebrated by dropping acid and was tripping pretty hard by the time the gang arrived. We pounded some Olde English forties and someone lit up a celebratory Super Kool. Later, one of my coke-wielding buddies gave me a quarter-g as a gift. I did that blow in about three lines. I know I was tripping, but I swear I moved the fingers on my paralyzed right hand at will. By the next day – could have been two – nothing but a hangover and paralysis.
We’d get our checks on the first of the month, but by mid-month, we’d be broke. Fredo and I developed a little routine for conjuring up funds whenever we felt like eating. With both of us in wheelchairs, on opposite corners of Santa Monica and Vermont, we’d ask almost every passerby for a quarter for the bus. It was extremely rare to receive just a quarter, many times folks generously gifted us some folding money. So much so, twenty bucks could be scrounged up in less than twenty minutes. Then it was off to the store to utilize the “don’t stare at me” technique, perfected in rehab, to load up our backpacks with all the expensive grub. Think cheese, butter, steak, etc., and pay cash for stuff like plain-wrap white bread, ramen, and beer.
Once, with at least a hundred bucks’ worth of grub stashed away, and moments after checking out for less than fifteen bucks, Fredo rolled away and I noticed a loaf of French bread sticking halfway out his overstuffed backpack. Then my worst fears – the security guard yelled, “You two, hold on!”
Have you ever had that oh-shit, sinking, knot-in-the-pit-of-your-worried-stomach feeling? I’m thinking to myself, “Fucking Fredo, just had to have French bread.”
The guard jogged toward us, then moved around front and smiled. “Let me hold the door for you guys.”
Fredo kept on rolling while I chatted with the friendly guard. From the corner of my eye, I watched as the loaf of bread shrunk smaller and smaller, till it was safe to catch up. Fredo learned a valuable lesson that day – a bag of French rolls will not stick out of a backpack.
Down on the corner by the arcade, a couple of guys occasionally sold tiny dimes of mediocre weed, which I’d sometimes buy out of sheer desperation. With a car in the immediate family, we were able to shop the “dime store” at Pico and Hoover to receive twice as much weed for five bucks as the itty-bitty dimes at my corner. One Friday night, we scored a couple of those nickels, rolled a few joints, then made four dimes with the leftovers and sold them on our corner in a very short time. The easy money inspired us to do it all again the next day, and so on and so on. After other young entrepreneurs followed our lead and seized the opportunity, in less than a month, the corner of Burns and Vermont was a full-time “dime store.”
With all the competition undercutting me, it soon took hours to sell out. Plus, my margins went to shit, so I changed my business model to only selling premium weed during set business hours. I preferred Thai, and so did my customers. I began making some decent money, and never worried at all about legal issues. As a minor, if I were to get busted, the cops would just call Ma to pick me up. My plan was to make as much money as possible, buy a car, and then shut it all down upon turning eighteen. Another thing that put me at ease: whenever LAPD raided our spot, everyone except me got lined up against the wall. I would then roll home with my weed, only to return a short while later to enjoy far less competition
When school began again in the fall, my new bus driver would leave immediately if I wasn’t outside waiting. Non-morning-person me only made it to class twice the first week. Then, the first weekend, I came down with a flu that rapidly developed into some serious bronchitis. I’m pretty sure weed and Marlboros had nothing to do with the prolonged lung issues. Either way, it took almost two weeks to get better. On Monday of the fourth week, Fairfax High School informed me I had too few credits, thus I was still in tenth grade. At four months shy of my eighteenth birthday, I found that shit totally unacceptable and dropped the fuck out. Even though not a military brat, I ended up attending twenty-one different schools and never went to prom. All in all, it was a fairly normal and highly recommended educational experience.
As a pot dealer and dropout, I had zero motivation to work or learn a marketable skill, especially due to the expected large stacks of cash to soon be sent my way. My lawsuit against the place where I broke my fucking neck was at the stage where they needed to depose me. So, six lawyerly types and a semi-cute stenographer set up in my living room to grill me about the events of a fucked-up 1980 summer night. My shysters and their opposing chasers of ambulances interacted like old pals, laughing, joking, and carrying on. I remained serious, as to not be taken out of context and have my satirical words used against me at trial. When they came to the sexual function question, up or down, I answered, “No can do.” It’s more complicated than yes or no, but I figured a jury would give me far more money if I had lost my baby-making magic. Is that perjury?
Seeing pictures of the swimming pool where I broke my fucking neck sticks out the most in my mind. Right up until that very moment, I felt completely responsible for my injury. I dive, my neck go crunch, me float. But the photos took me back to shortly after arrival in Hawaii, the first time seeing the pool and thinking, “Nice diving platform.” They repeatedly claimed it wasn’t intended to be one, but it slanted toward the shallow water and jutted out over it. In tort terms, that spa’s ledge was a textbook example of “design flaw.” Other pool-goers thought the same, because lots of folks dove from the hot tub’s textured, sloped protrusion toward the cool blue water below. The summer before I broke my fucking neck, someone severely fractured their leg merely jumping from that same ledge. And then another dude broke his neck a few months after my accident. Soon after producing its second gimp, someone finally took a sledge hammer and removed the “diving platform.”
Even though my weed business was semi successful, I hadn’t managed to build a bankroll larger than what it took to score another ounce. After expenses, pinching bud, a little blow, and occasional downers, it was not uncommon to be cash-poor by the end of the month. One of the biggest reasons for the lack of cash was my love of barter. Weed enthusiasts would bring a car stereo, gold jewelry, or other valuables that they “found,” and I’d give them pennies on the dollar amount of bud.
One night, regulars Pepe and George dropped by seeking to trade an extremely valuable car stereo for two dimes. I was expecting an ounce in the morning, but had no weed on hand. I wanted that deck something fierce, so hit up Fredo for a ride to Pico and Hoover to grab some bud as a down payment. He already had plans for my last eight dollars. Gas money to cruise Sunset Boulevard and pester prostitutes until they flashed us boob or a quick peek at a well-used vagina. We compromised on scoring a nickel and using the remaining dollars for gas.
Along the way, Fredo tried to convince me that all we need do was ask to see the weed, then speed off without paying. I was against it, telling him, “Dude, we’re in the same business. Remember when those Gypsies ran over my feet doing that same shit to me?”
Fredo kept trying the whole way, but finally relented about a half block from the dime store. Up ahead, along the sidewalk, for at least two city blocks were mas hombres con mucho marijuana. When we pulled up to homeboy primero, he asked, “Quanto?”
From the front passenger seat, I said, “Un nickel, Holmes.”
In order to discourage Fredo from attempting any bullshit, I offered the five dollars first. Homeboy weed slinger began dumping out a generous quantity of some decent-looking weed, on top of the five-dollar bill that lay across my outstretched palm. What happened next is difficult to think about. To this day, I occasionally get flashbacks, picturing it all unfolding. I see Fredo slapping his car into drive. I hear the Camaro peeling out and feel getting slammed back into my seat. We fishtail away and there’s a quick, dull thump from homeboy punching me in the shoulder. Weed flies everywhere as homeboy shouts toward the amassing bad dudes up the street, “He’s the guy!”
A sea of angry hombres hurled shit as we sped past, and a stream of blood squirted from me onto the windshield. Prick puto stabbed me over the five bucks that I still clutched in my hand. He couldn’t grab the money, due to the other hand hidden behind his back holding a long, sharp dagger. Fucking Fredo had done that shit to them already, and when they saw his car, they laid in wait. As we sped through the gauntlet of flying bricks and bottles, I ducked an incoming bottle that sailed past me to smash onto the side of George’s head. A brick caught Pepe pretty good, but Fredo came out of it unscathed.
Clear of the immediate danger, Fredo’s head was bouncing left, right, up, and down, frantically searching every direction while squeakily repeating, “Where do we go, where do we go…?”
“The closest hospital,” I said.
From the backseat, I heard, “Go to County.”
With blood pouring out of me, I had no idea how long I would remain conscious. So, worried but calm, I took control. “Fuck County, I’ll die there. Go to Hollywood Presbyterian.”
With its 350 cubic inch V8 and four-barrel carburetor, that Chevrolet Camaro made one fine emergency response vehicle. We were at 101 and Vermont within minutes. Approaching the off ramp, I began seeing double. By the time we screeched up to the ER, I struggled to stay alert. A minute later, they were loading me on a gurney to rush inside so doctors could hook me up with drugs and blood. Getting stabbed in my lung required another cut, this time by a skilled professional using his knife to cut an opening between my ribs, insert a drainage tube, and remove the blood pooling up in my collapsed lung.
That knife-wielding pot dealer missed my carotid artery by millimeters, or this book would end right about here. Luckily, I don’t believe in death. They call a collapsed lung a pneumothorax, and they called the cops, too.
Ma got there right after the officer began interviewing me. The cop refused to believe that I had no idea who stabbed me. So I repeated the whole truth, causing the officer to stop scribbling into his little notepad. He peered at me for a few seconds, then said, “You can’t tell me you just drove up to a guy on the street, that you don’t even know, and purchased marijuana.”
Right about then, I realized the cop was a moron. After I offered my assessment, he threatened, “If you keep lying to a police officer, you will be arrested.”
I gave him a smirk. “As soon as someone brings my wheelchair to the hospital, you can roll me off to jail, buddy.”
He looked puzzled, until Ma told him, “My son is a quadriplegic.”
The cop’s demeanor changed to semi sad and, in a kinder tone, he proceeded to deliver my all-time favorite line from my life’s movie. “You mean you’re in a wheelchair – why are you doing drugs? You should do art or something.”
Right about then, Ma called him a “blithering idiot” and he went away.
An hour later, I was stable and aboard an ambulance headed for the L.A. County Hospital ER.
Another Friday night in the city of angels meant waiting eighth in line for a doctor, right behind a guy who had been shot multiple times. And apparently in a slight bit of discomfort, or he just liked to moan and sob nonstop.
By the next morning, I was in a room with five other dudes, all in various stages of recovery from lung stabbings. After several days of recovery, the tube that drained my lung was removed. But my doctor expressed concern about my slight ongoing fever. I explained a fever was normal for me when stuck in bed for long periods, which I had experienced several months of just two years earlier. Nevertheless, he insisted on ordering an angiogram to make sure an artery was not nicked during the knifing. I wasn’t cool with that type of dye and argued a bit, but never said the magic word, “allergic.” He seemed to get his panties in a bunch and stormed off after I refused the test, suggesting he might find the required info by doing a blood-gas.
The next morning, before the crack of dawn, two orderlies began wheeling my bed toward the elevators. When I found out where we were headed, I spoke like a boss, angry, loud, and clear. “I refused that test.”
They kept me rolling, like the powerless underling I was, while the doctor whose intelligence was insulted by a seventeen-year-old pothead seemed to derive some smug pleasure as he told me, “You’re mother gave consent.”
I yelled, “I’m an emancipated minor. I refuse this test.” After fifty yards of a rolling temper tantrum, I realized it was no use, so resigned myself to tough it out, figuring it would be over soon enough.
In the surgical X-ray room, a different doctor explained the procedure as he prepped me: a little slice to insert a catheter near my hip, then feed it all the way up the artery to my shoulder, release dye, take pictures. Simple as pie.
Milliseconds after a shitload of dye got unleashed, my entire right side felt like it had been dowsed in napalm and set afire by an H-bomb. The excruciating pain made me bellow, “Aaaahhh – I fucking told you motherfuckers I didn’t want this fucking test!”
As the medical crew began calmly freaking out, I glanced to the heart monitor to discover my heart fibrillating. The hospital’s PA blared, “Code Blue, surgical X-ray room #…” echoed throughout the corridors as the doctor barked out, “… cc’s lidocaine, stat.”
Half a second after that wicked shit got pumped into the piggyback on my IV, my head was pounding harder than a bass drum being angrily kicked by Keith Moon. As the frenzy continued, I screamed out, “Just let me die, motherfuckers! Let me die. Let me die…”
With defibrillator paddles charged, hovering inches away, ready to shock my heart back to its normal, boring rhythm, the anti-allergen drug they sent along with the lidocaine resolved my issues. But, just to make sure everything was cool, I spent a night in a cardiac ICU before getting back to my room full of lung-stabbed comrades.
After being hospitalized for eleven days, I arrived home to discover everything I owned of value – weed, gold jewelry, silver coins, electronics – was all gone. Fredo denied knowledge of the missing items. Wanting to believe him, and needing his help, I allowed myself to overlook him ripping me off. The stabbing left me weak, barely able to get out of bed, let alone leave the house to sell weed on a corner. To add to that, I was dead broke. So when dudes showed up trying to trade stuff for weed, I did the next best thing and became a middle man. Seller and buyer would meet in my living room, and then they’d both give me a little juice from the deal. It was quite lucrative for little effort, and over the course of a month, I regained strength while building a bankroll.
Two of the most prolific providers of previously owned car electronics were Jorge and Steve. A few years earlier, Jorge fled Cuba during the Mariel Boat Lift, with dreams of becoming a pro baseball player. But he settled on being a felon. His partner in crimes was Steve, a tall, light-skinned brother who I’d never met before he showed up with Jorge and five high-quality car cassette decks. I made the call, and by nightfall, they were a couple hundred dollars richer.
That scenario replayed itself a few days in a row, and then, one night, they had a big pile of blow delivered to my place. Instead of snorting the cocaine, they prepared it in a way called “freebase.” Those two were semi-generous, and each one would give me a hit after taking two or three for themselves. It didn’t take me long to realize the first hit was always the best, with diminishing returns thereafter. Either way, I liked it a lot, and told them dudes, “If they ever start selling coke already cooked up, it’d be popular.”
We held those cocaine cookouts a few nights a week. On off nights, they’d drive around nice neighborhoods, smashing luxury car windows and ripping apart interiors to remove stereos. A thousand dollars’ damage to get seventy-five bucks for a deck with an amp. It seemed like such a waste, but it didn’t stop me from smoking their drugs. Fredo also got in on the action and would drive them around to do their dastardly deeds. That is, until he figured out the real money could be made by selling Jorge and Steve far superior blow. Unfortunately, Fredo developed an unrequited love affair with rock cocaine. Within weeks, he was locking himself in the bedroom for extended periods to get high on his own supply, while hogging the cocaine all to himself. When he quit paying rent, I sent him packing.
When the phone rang on my eighteenth birthday, the first thing I heard was Pops saying, “Happy birthday, my son.” Even though I was steamed at Ma for giving him my number, it felt sincere when he told me, “Now that you’re eighteen, my job is done, so we can treat each other as friends.” I did not entirely believe he meant it, but agreed to reconcile because I missed my little brothers a lot. Probably never would have spoken to Pops again if it wasn’t for them. Turning eighteen meant I was an adult, and the stakes had changed, literally overnight. I followed through on my plan to quit doing things that might land me in jail, like being a fence, selling weed on the corner, or stealing puppies.
I tried to lay low, but the coke was compelling enough that I allowed Jorge and Steve to keep coming over. When not smoking coke, at times as I lay in bed trying to sleep, I pictured the preparation process, or heard the beckoning sizzle of coke rock melting in pipe. I tried avoiding the dudes by pretending I wasn’t home when they knocked. Then I’d get weak and let them in when they came back around. It was worrying how much I liked smoking coke, so one morning I decided to end the cycle. When they showed up, I put on a brave face and told Jorge and Steve to quit coming over.
Jorge got angry and said, “You can’t kick me out. I own you.”
So despite my objections, he and Steve kept selling hot stuff and freebasing in my living room.
I went to work fortifying my doors and windows so I could lock them out. About a week later, when Jorge knocked, confident my place was impenetrable, I yelled through the door, “Go away!”
He beat and kicked on the door a couple of times before shouting, “Puto!” Jorge then tried opening windows one by one as he worked his way around the building. My wheelchair couldn’t fit in the back bedroom, but I had someone check those windows before locking the door with a skeleton key. It’s like the old saying, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” From the hallway right outside the bedroom door, I heard the window sliding open and figured it was time to call the police.
In a whisper, I told the dispatcher, “There’s someone climbing through my window.”
Moments later, a police chopper buzzed overhead, its spotlight turning my street from night to day as patrol cars screeched to a halt and policemen poured out. When I greeted the cop on the doorstep, he asked if I had a description of the burglar. I told him I knew exactly who it was and explained the situation, minus the fencing and cocaine.
The cop’s attitude changed in an instant. He then turned and hollered at another officer standing six feet away, “He’s just fighting with his friend.”
A few minutes later, all the cops were gone, leaving me vulnerable to an enraged Jorge. I broke the code by calling the cops, a grievous crime in the hood, and was in double-deep doo-doo. I knew if I were to survive, I needed to arm myself posthaste.
A .357 for a hundred bucks was readily available from Fredo’s hood in a same-day deal. Knowing a gangbanger was my background check. So, early the next morning, I left several messages, but worried Fredo wouldn’t call back soon enough. Around lunchtime, I remembered my rifle at Pops, so I called, chatted a bit, and then asked, “Hey, dad, you still got my Remington .22?”
After a positive reply, I said, “Can I have it? I got a little situation over here.” I left out lots of details, but gave Pops the gist of my dilemma, emphasizing that the cops left me to fend for myself. I told him my solution. “Next time that fucker climbs through my window, I’m going to shoot him in the face.” Cuba libre, motherfucker!
I was pleasantly surprised when Pops said, “I’ll bring it right now.”