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Between a Rock and a Bored Place
by Joseph Omid

I smoked crack. But before all that, I’m sitting here at my aunt’s house watching the days go by. In the morning I wake up and eat cereal with soymilk. Every third day I shower; every second day I shave.

I work on a busy street across from shiny glass buildings and concrete parking lots. I have three bosses. They own my restaurant but I’ve never met them. I hear they sometimes come in to eat and spy and generally feel like big shots. But Vincent Price could eat a 64-ounce steak at table four and I’d never notice. All I ever see are the working mouths chewing, tipping, leaving, chewing...

I feel the dull throb in my head. The one-more-cigarette fix; the masturbatory, just-give-me-one-more-jolt-of-something-to-wake-me-for-the-day panic. I know it’s because I’m nubile. I see the newspaper, the soymilk, the blurred porno on channel 97, the nicotine, and the job only approximately satiate my appetites.

I see the street signs here. The manicured lawns, petite trees, matching mailboxes, and blacktop driveways. I see the serenity. The calm. The ease.

Sometimes I fantasize about walking across the pavement and knocking on my neighbor’s door. She’s a pudgy white woman in her late 40s with a mass of red hair piled on her head. I watch her make breakfast every Sunday for her boyfriend. Sometimes it’s pancakes. Sometimes it’s eggs. He drives there every Saturday night in a blue Ford filed with ladder extensions and chrome toolboxes.

I wonder what she’d say if I told her that I’d come across the street wondering why he never cooks for her. Or to ask why they never eat bacon. I envision she’d be baffled, look at me crazily and show me her teeth before closing the door. "How bored have we become," I’d ask to her Easter wreath.

"How bored have I become that Ioften return Blockbuster videos on time? How bored have we become that you pull the weeds in your yard on holidays? I’m so bored that I smoked crack," I’d say. That bored.

***

My first real counter-culture hero was Neal Cassady: A motor-mouthed machine talking all his womanizing exploits and bigger-than-life mischief into the ground and back out again until the congregation was nodding along. But I only knew Cassady from books and I needed real heroes. But the fascination with attention deprived, run-along-with-the-soliloquy-of-life leviathans stayed with me.

Then I met Darnel. He was a gangly, older black man with a receding hairline and blotchy skin. He wore faded, long-sleeve polo shirts and strange pants–always stonewashed and black or baggy,

puffy and blue. Darnel epitomized the absence of style but he’d tell me–tearing on four-hour monologues about his importance, beauty, charisma–until I believed every damn word.

We met at work. I thought we lived the same blindingly dull lives. Crowed into bar tables obsessing over minutia, we drank beer to dull the mania of waiting tables. Then one night it happened. Like in high school, when I smoked pot at 6 a.m. while crammed in a van then begged my chums to drag my burning torso to the clinic, giddy hero worship led me astray.

"What do you want to do?" Darnel presented the sentence with verve, a touch of sex appeal, eyes to the sky. His pervasive sexual innuendo had long since become a joke. He chased me, tossing arcane one-liners into discourse, and I rebuffed his every advance. I believed he had wisdom to impart, so I remained willing to tag along. And he allowed my adoration, thinking he’d eventually slide into my drawers.

***

Now I’m driving my car, too drunk to operate, hurling toward downtown nowhere at indeterminable paranoid speeds. Winding through the projects. Left, then right, then three rights. Another left. Stop signs, brick buildings, a toddler waddling along the corner, and then we stop.

"Pull over. Lock the doors and chill, my people don’t like white folks too much," he said.

I shrugged.

"Oh, and kind of crouch down a bit. It’s better if they don’t see you."

Darnel got out of the car and wandered between the buildings, shuffling his feet and, eyes to the pavement, disappeared. Fifteen minutes later, my smile faded. Four or five teenagers wobbled around my car on bicycles. Every time I turned my head they roared with laughter, leaving me feeling like an 8-year-old from Arkansas wrapped in a white sheet and wearing a glowing yellow fez.

After a few more minutes, Darnel arrived, apologetic and shaken.

"Sorrysorrysorry. I had a thing. They wanted me to stay...I needed to go...with you and the car and street...waiting...sorrysorrysorry. God, I mean, have you even ever done this before?"

I assured him I had. In reality, all I knew was we were talking about a drug and that we had driven to the projects to get it. Even later, when he showed me the twisted plastic bag and dumped the clumped, crumbly white powder onto his table I was unsure what we were doing. It appeared not unlike damp laundry detergent. I kind of knew what crack was supposed to look like, but who actually smokes crack? Smoking crack is a spoof, a joke among the ranks of "your momma’s so fat." It isn’t a lifestyle.

Later, as the slightly sweet, opium-esque mint smoke filled my lungs, Darnel turned to me and, in what I have affectionately dubbed the crackhead mumble, he asked, "watchawannapaycars?"

Thumped by the over-handed mixture of cough syrup, Superglue, and nitrous oxide, I mumbled back, "uh? wannapaycars?"

"yeahyeahyeah," he drooled. "wannapaycards."

"yamean cards."

"yep," he said, head lolling back into the couch.

"yamean play," I said.

"uhhuh."

"okeydokey," I said. "watchawannapay...?"

I now understood why crackheads moved so slowly; it takes a while for their brains to catch up to the action.

After an hour or five minutes, one of Darnel’s friends scuttled into the room. They mumbled incoherently at one another. We decided to play two-person hearts. Darnel flicked on a fuzzy, black and white television. His friend left. I think I dropped a glass. He had a purple wall and a heating pipe that looked like a sycamore. The couch was scratchy. I smoked cigarettes. Flickering TV humming, we slipped away as playing cards revealed themselves.


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