After 11:00 on any uneventful night, the bicycle ride to Circle K takes maybe 10 minutes, tops. And that includes stopping, avoiding eye contact with the crack dealers and the panhandlers and purchasing the beer.
The return trip, though, is a bit trickier. First, it is slightly uphill. Second, both leverage and balance are thrown off because you have to steer with one hand and hold the beer with the other. And these poorly lit back streets can be littered with broken furniture, beer bottles, wandering kittens and toys squeezed of every last drop of joy. Hitting any one of these objects can send the pavement rushing to your face and the beer bottle exploding in the street.
Sometimes deranged dogs with vicious teeth and pups to feed dart out of the shadows unexpectedly, fated for the flesh of your calves.
Even more problematic are the gangs lurking about, though most of them know me by now and usually just laugh at my hair when I ride by. There are the Ninth Streeters--erroneously dubbed the "Mexican Mafia" by some--who deal tar, rock and automatic weapons. A portion of my street, which doubles as a drive-through meth mart by night, is watched over by some suitably armed honchos. Some proceeds from said "drug store" go to mothers to feed their children.
Then there are the tragic ones who are actually living on meth and rock, the one stuttering inventions about needing money for gas because the car containing his homeless family of six is stranded nearby. On the outset, these gangly urchins float about like ghosts, faceless and unconsidered, with the temperament of tornadoes and crazy as the son of Superman.
But none of that stuff got in the way the other night. No, the other night was worse.
Around midnight, when riding home from the Circle K with beer in hand, contented and enjoying the stars, the cops pulled me over. I did nothing wrong.
I'll repeat: While innocently riding my bike, the cops pulled me over!
Soft, skinny white boy riding bicycle = Serious Fucking Danger to Community.
I didn't hear them roll up behind me. It was the abrupt ripple of fresh road kill--like blues and reds rushing my worl that scared the shit outta me--colors that had me thinking for a brief moment that a stray bullet had just parted my skull. Predictably, I wasn't all that relieved to see it was only the cops and not some solemn-looking gent wielding a scythe.
I pulled the bicycle over and dismounted. The cops stopped a few feet away. I stood there, waiting stupidly, one hand on my bike and the other around the beer. I was wearing black sweats, Mexican sandals and a white tee shirt that said "Jeff Dahl? LAMF" on the front.
A cop with a humorless, round face climbed out of the patrol car's passenger side. He looked at the 40 of King Kobra I was holding and said, "That stuff'll kill ya. I wouldn't touch that stuff if ya paid me."
Who asked you? I thought, then said, "It's legal, ain't it?"
The other cop stepped around the front of the car and stood in front of me. "What are you doing in this neighborhood?" he asked. "You don't look like you are from around here."
Obviously I was a suspect for being a guy with white skin in a brown-skinned neighborhood who happened to look like a drug addict. Both of these cops were white.
Not saying anything, I guessed his next question correctly. "Do you do drugs, are you on drugs?" Taller Cop asked. He was staring unsparingly into my eyes. He looked older than the other cop, maybe 45 or so. His eyes were tired and dark. "Are you here looking for drugs?"
A beam from a flashlight stung my eyes. Round Face had to see my pupils, were they dilated?
I said, "I live up the street, and no, I ain't on drugs."
"Are you sure?" they said in unison.
"I drink. That is still legal, you know."
"Can I see your driver's license, please?" asked Taller Cop.
"Don't have one."
"Any ID whatsoever?"
Round Face kept his eyes on me and moved his head slightly back, as if to add a sense of drama to the scene. Taller Cop kept the questions coming.
"Do you even drive a car?"
"How do you get around?"
"I don't, except for beer and food. If I'm feelin' lazy, I got a bike."
Together the cops looked down at my bicycle, then back at me. They were clueless.
"Bill, what's your social security number?"
"Easy, I never use a social security number. Haven't since '90 when I worked in a yo-yo factory."
"Then what the hell do you do for a living?" asked Taller Cop. "Deal drugs?"
"Not much. Listen to records, Clash and Ramones mostly. Do some drinking on the side."
"What about taxes, don't you pay taxes?"
"Don't really think about it. If you guys think I ain't payin' my fair share of your salary, I'll gladly cough up the 32 cents I have in my pocket. That would probably square us for a while."
"What kind of weirdo are you?" snorted Round Face derisively.
"A free one."
It didn't occur to them that some people define success by successfully avoiding work. Like myself.
Taller Cop turned and walked back to the squad car. His get-up when he walked made that leathery sound, just like the cops on Cops. He slid into the driver's side, kept one foot on the street and bent forward for the radio. A few seconds later he poked his head up from the car. "Do you know your own date of birth at least, Blake?"
I nodded and told him. He went back to the radio.
"Can I split now? I got a goldfish to feed."
Round Face just stood there looking. He was pudgy, with small eyes located too close together. He probably has a wife who keeps him well-fed. Before that, he likely had a mother who did the same. Or maybe he still has the mother. He looked too taken care of to be a crime fighter, or to be anything worthwhile for that matter.
"What's the LAMF on your shirt mean?" Round Face asked turning his head slightly to read the sideways lettering.
I looked down and back up, and said, "Like A Mother Fucker. Like A Mutha Fucka. Why?"
But then I told him I was only kidding.
I got home from jail the next day thinking there is no greater absolute than home. There is no greater couch, stronger breed of cockroach or happier sounding gunshots. Even the lump on my lower back from Round Face's nightstick seemed soothing and warm. Stretching out on the couch felt good.
Flipping on the TV, I switched channels until I found one of those shows in which nearly all concerned have managed through breeding to metamorphose down to some grotesquely lower form.
On this show a man was sitting with his mother on a small stage in front of a studio audience. The overweight mother and son say they have been sleeping together on and off for three years. They say they enjoy it and won't change for anybody, not even the big man, God.
Somebody then asks the son if he had been after his own mother since puberty. The mother and son look at each other, grab hands and just start laughing. They laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh.
Just a pure and ugly laughter.
Recently I had a dream in which Eddie Money was in my living room performing a pud just for me called "Ready to Rock" from his most recent return-to-formula CMC bowl-clogger. With much verve, hand quivering, and head shake, shake, shakin', Money garbled forth lyrics of the so-dreadful-you-gotta-hear-it-to-believe-it variety through an unnerving right jowl tick and wandering lower lip in a manner that upholds the honor of Buddy Hackett stylists everywhere: "I'm ready to rock/And I'm ready to roll/Rockin' so hard now I'm losin' control/Takin' a ride are you ready to go?/You know I just can't stop/I'm ready to rock."
And backing Money was that familiar cast of swivel-chinned session goons with too much visible body hair and overactive sweat glands that always seems to be chugging along behind zips like John Mellencamp or Billy Joel on tumescent cable programs designed for the moribund "rock 'n' roll" set. The band was wanking on Jefferson Starshipized AC/DC chords, grinning at each other in that bug-eyed, thick mid-riff "yeeaaah, we're rockin' now" way of theirs while the songs shat Money's "You Gotta Believe" sentiments all over hell.
I pulled a ridiculously sized machine gun from beneath my bed, with which I happily blew all their heads clean off. And that put a stop to the excruciating pain.
In '93 Linda Perry of 4 Non Blondes won the Rolling Stone readers' poll in the category of best new female vocalist, and the band was nominated for best new band. They toured the U.S. with Aerosmith, Europe with Neil Young and played with Prince in England. That same year they won an MTV Video Awards nomination. Then 4 Non Blondes blessedly tossed in the towel, and the song that launched the sale of more than six million copies of the album and 10 times that in upchucks on anyone with taste was thankfully (and miraculously) never to been seen or heard from again. That is, unless one worked the CD bins at a local used CD store where six million copies were traded in circa '94 and '95. Recently I saw a CD of Bigger, Better, Faster, More going for a quarter.
A plastic jewel box costs a buck. Linda Perry's first solo record (In Flight) came out in '95. I recently saw it for a quarter as well.
This is her new record on her own label. In "Let Me Ride," Perry mimes Axl at his despicable heights, lyrically and vocally ("I want to be your lover/I wanna do you in the back of my car"). In "Jackie," Perry nicks Reed's "Rock 'n' Roll" on the verse, both in tone and melody, then lifts the chorus hook, line and sinker from Marshall Tucker's "Can't You See." Shan't forget the Joplin quandary in "Fly Away."
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Then, there are lyrics matching diametric opposites Zep with Styx!: "Here at the whimsical gardens/Where everyone dreams/Grand Illusions are freed/From the constant poisons that we breathe."
Contact Bill Blake at email@example.com