Monday, September 2, 2013

Sample Chapter: Chapter 9 - Lost Souls

A Novel by
ISBN: 9781609849290

(BTW: Check out the audiobook, why doncha? CLICK HERE )

Lost Souls

It’s been two months since my Gunfight at the OK Corral with Mr. Controlling. As predicted, Bossman has been on his best behavior and is being nothing short of downright pleasant; it’s as much as I can do to stop myself tearing his head off. Though I have my “New Plan”—cutting back on the workload—the two days I spend in his presence is wearing. I am mono-syllabic and polite, but won’t be drawn regarding his fluffy chit-chat. I believe I’m behaving like a professional. Research Man claims I am acting like a caged animal. A silent one.
Man, I got take this load off my shoulders; how can he be so agreeable, and I’m still so ready to do battle?
I realize I haven’t had a Mirror Man exchange since that evening. In fact, I’ve hardly given it a thought. I must admit I am suddenly curious as to who will present himself if I close my eyes and will them to appear: the Good Guy or the Whacko? I head for the bathroom.
OK. Here goes. In position. Ready ...? Hmh.
Nothing, no-one home. Just me, squinting at myself.
“What are you doing, dude? Expecting someone?”
Well, I was, rather ...
Back into the main room of my single apartment and turn off the lights. The outside lighting is not yet on and we’re in that weird changeover period to Daylight Saving Time—inappropriately coming on at 5 a.m. and checking out at 1 p.m!
Drawing back the blinds, I look through sliding glass doors at the surrounding building. The pool that my unit looks out onto during the day is nothing special, but in the wee hours it is very different. Underwater lighting and the flaky lime green of the pool bottom give it a tropical feel, and though Santa Ana winds are blowing in a ton of debris, all I see under a nighttime sky is a rippling, glowing mass lighting up the complex: a magical image. Gone is the peeling paint, misty green pond-water, and dirty lawn chairs of the daytime. With the glow casting dull shadows in my room, I sit, second or third glass of wine in hand, staring into the luminous body of water. The constant flickering on the surface is hypnotic, soothing, numbing. I see faces from my past; I see the faces of lost souls ...

Rock n Roll Mike

It was the end of an era: The final days of the big-hair bands on the Strip, before grunge, rap, and alternative music wiped the slate clean. Out with the old, in with the new.
I was green, straight off the boat; I’d been moving for two months—working my way through the ranks—and was thrown prematurely into the role of driver. Most of those early rag-tag companies were desperate for drivers. They’d use any face who came in through the front door as a helper, and anyone who showed a smidgen of initiative was promoted ASAP.
I was completely unprepared to deal with a house full of art, or anything really, other than a square-ish piece of furniture or box. Somehow I muddled through it all, though not without my share of freaking-out and damages. Walking into a mansion in Bel Air, knowing that I was the man responsible for the safety of expensive items in transit, took my breath away. Here was no set up the likes of Bossman’s standard in excellence, or even the company where I’d first met him. A truck, a ramp, one 4 wheeler, one box dolly and one appliance dolly—and that’s if you were lucky. Good luck buddy, you’re on your own. There were no A frames, no rolling computer carts, no masonite, no catch-all carpeted moving tubs, no riser extensions for the 4 wheeler—those extra special features that not only make a mover’s life easier, but present that professional snap to the public. This was a cowboy operation that took no time to safely box up sculptures, pictures, and lamps, or prep suede and leather couches. Forget about crating up a long thin piece of marble/oil on canvas 9’ x 11’—whatever the size. I’d never heard of Styrofoam peanuts for packing an ornate glass chandelier ... I was way out of my league.
Peanuts anyone?
Sure, I’ll take some with my pinot grigio. Thanks.
As I said. No idea.
Rock n Roll Mike was my helper, a wannabe guitarist (of an Ozzy type band) in his late twenties. The present company had a relaxed dress code and his “look” at work, was the same as it would have been on stage, I suspect: Long black hair, black baseball cap, black sleeveless T shirt, black jeans, black leather boots ... I’m sure you get the picture. The only difference would have been a crucifix or earring added for live presentation. He would make fun of my lightweight pop music, though offered none of his own for scrutiny, and no-one else in the company had heard him play. He’d spent the last five years getting his look down, Man!
Hmm? Something was not adding up, here. I mean, if there was anything that he so obviously did have down ... it was his look. He showed little motivation at work, but was strong and careful. Performance grading: Adequate.
It was a particularly stressful day for me: Impossible estimate; trying to inspire a helper who’d rather be off somewhere drinking beer; difficult pieces; equipment from the stone age; customer not packed ... I was overwhelmed. I called the office for back up ... extra guys? No such luck. I knew the only concern shown by the suits, would be at the end of the day: D’ja get the check?
Thank you management, for your “concern.”
I felt completely alone, like I had no-one on my side.
Loading a truck is done in tiers. You finish one wall, then build up the next, and so on till the truck is full. I knew that much, at least. In order for each tier to be stable, everything should fit snugly. A secure load is a happy load = no damages while the truck is moving. I was frustrated that I couldn’t complete this one tier, and move on to the next. Nothing seemed to fill the gap in a wall of furniture. It was hot and I had a headache.
“Fuck it.”
With my foot, I started mashing a large box into a space that was clearly not big enough. Regardless of what was inside, I was going to show that box who was the boss.
“What’s ... My ... Name.  There now, how do you like that? That showed you. You Fuck!”
I was ranting at a crushed, inanimate object. I turned to find Mike, behind me, silent and staring.
Oh, Christ.
I was embarrassed at my lack of composure, shamed by my inadequate skill. He was holding his jaw.
“What’s the matter, man?”
“My teeth hurt.”
“What do you mean?”
“They always do when I work with you, Artie. See here. Thith one ... chipped. When you get frazzled, man, I pick up on your stress ... and my teeth hurt.”
It appeared that he was grinding, under pressure from me. In his sleep, too. Because his front teeth were worn and thin, they’d started to crack. Even though he wasn’t much support, I liked Mike and felt bad for him ... and me.
I gotta get this under control.
It was with a huge sigh of relief that I was able to collect payment at the end of the day and head home ... only three hours over the estimate and two damages (they weren’t biggies), and that made it “a good day.” As we were in Mike’s neighborhood, I dropped him off in front of an apartment building. I turned off the engine and sat quiet. I’d been thinking about what he’d said earlier.
“Listen dude, I’m sorry for my behavior at work. I’m gonna sort this out.”
“Hey maaan, I shouldn’a brought it up. Hey. ...”
“No, no. You have every right to. I’m pleased you did, actually. I just feel like the job is too much for me. Really. I know what it does to me; I didn’t realize the effect on you.”
“Dude, forget it.”
“No. Mike, I am gonna sort this out.”
“OK. So, erh, d’you ... wanna come in?”
He was an intriguing character who would not get drawn into specifics. None of us knew exactly where he lived, why personal mail was delivered to the work address, checks cashed only through the office manager, no home phone—something was going on. So when his invitation came, I almost shouted: Are you kidding? Try and stop me!
I tried to sound relaxed, and shrugged.
“Sure, why not?”
We walked to the side of the building and down a ramp. He pulled out a garage clicker. The security gate let us into an area where cars parked under the building, but the driveway was in the open.
“DUDE ... one of these is yours?”
Mike rode the bus to work and hardly ever had two pennies to rub together. As we walked down a line of cars, I could not imagine which was his: luxury saloons, the occasional classic muscle car ... Wow! Who knew? I guessed it had to be the Honda Accord, for we had come to the end. He stopped, scoped the area and turned in between the Honda and Corvette. We came to a wall where storage lockers hung above the hoods of cars, and underneath was a small doorway—a kind of hatch where I imagined gas or electric meters lay beyond. He bent down and I heard the sound of keys against metal.
“Mike, what are we doing?”
He turned with a smile.
“Welcome to my Underworld.”
It was the portal to his domain: a crawlspace behind parked cars, beneath storage units, and under the building. I stooped to enter, but once inside, was able to stand. Just.
“Watch your head, bro.”
He switched on a light and I found myself in a small neat space. There wasn’t a floor or walls as such but a sloping dirt incline, packed down hard and adorned with rugs; it gradually rose to the ceiling. “The room” was sectioned off at each end by a dark sheet. Scarves, bandannas, and paisley patterned cloths hung billowing from beams; three painted light bulbs; and a large sequined floor cushion all gave it a Gothic/Bedouin tent-feel. A sleeping bag and two plastic bowls (one for personal hygiene, the other for kitchenware) were stacked at one end of the space. Here, the ground was almost level, which was where I supposed he slept. An extension cord snaked down from above and powered light, boom-box, and electric razor. A cheapo electric guitar at the other end was plugged into a Rockman (tiny Walkman-like amplifier for guitars which duplicated the sound of a heavy electric). A small stool and headphones lay nearby. Carved into the dirt was a shrine to the hair bands of the Sunset Strip: A guitar pic, leather wristband, ticket stubs, a studded dog collar, beads and bangles all around  the centerpiece—a picture of The Man, Ozzy, mock-eating the head off a bat. On both sides were candles and incense.
“Dude, this is fantastic.”
“Really. Think so?”
“This is way cool.”
“Yeah, I try to keep it nice.”
“This is ... this is like staying at a Vegas hotel, Arabian Nights style. You could bed a chick here, man. This is not shabby!”
I surveyed the scene again, taking my time, drinking it in. Even though it was basic, he’d used imagination to make his hole, habitable. Shabby chic, indeed! I was also relieved to see the guitar, and that all his talk was not just talk, if you get my drift.
Now, if he can just play that. We’re in business.
He fished in the corner and produced two beers from a bucket of tepid water. He gave a smile, “sorry dude.”
“How did all this ... come about?”
He took off his cap, sat on his guitar stool and lighted candles and incense. I was honored—getting the five star treatment. I settled into the cushion.
“I used to live here as manager, five years ago, with my girlfriend. Man, one day, about three years now, she split, never came back. I guess I fell apart. I hid from the world and ran up a bunch of bills. I just didn’t care. The bill collectors came ... so I disappeared. My buddy took over as manager; he let me stay on in a vacant apartment. Then, when it rented, I ... came down here. Hurh! I run a line from my man’s place upstairs and use his bathroom. In return, I keep an eye on the building—security, do a bit of maintenance. I keep a low profile.”
“Surely, people see you come and go.”
“People are cool, here. Everyone knows me, man, they don’t care. ‘Sides, I’m useful. I know how to fix things. I know every inch of this building. That’s how I knew ‘bout this place. I got a lock on the door. If anyone  breaks in, man, there’s nothing I can’t get back within a few days ... ‘cept the Ozz over there.”
He looked over at the autographed picture and back at me with a big grin.
I gestured towards the guitar.
“You play that thing ...? Play me something, anything.”
Before he could object, I put on the headphones.
“I got my beer. I just need me some sounds, Man!”
Over the next few weeks, I gave a lot of thought to my situation. It was obvious I was not qualified to be a driver; in fact, I dreaded going to work. What was next—panic attacks, migraines, medication, self-help books? I decided to make a change.
I got a call one night.
“Dude, how’s it hangin’? Miss seein’ you, bro’.”
“Mikey ... you mean, you miss the teeth grinding? I’m sure you do. I had to get outta there, dude. What’s goin’ on?”
“Man, I was just jammin’ on the axe. I been thinking about what you said a few months ago—”
“Mike, listen, I’m just sitting down to eat. Can you call back in fifteen minutes ... Mike, did you hear me?”
“Yeah, erh, OK dude. Don’t want to bother you ...”
“ ‘S OK, just give me fifteen, all right? Mike?”
“Call me back, right? Right?”
“OK, man.”
I never heard from him again. He told me he was raised in an orphanage. Because of my limited musical success, in England anyway, I think he looked up to me—sort of a big brother thing. I was encouraging; he procrastinated a lot. Too much, I think. Looking to be the perfect player before he went out live.
“Learn by Doing, dude. We’re not talking about the rigorous playing structures of classical music or jazz. This is Rock n Roll. Get out there and make a few mistakes in front of people—most of ‘em won’t know anyway—and I guarantee it’ll teach you more than sitting at home practicing. You’re good enough now. Do it ... and you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.”
Mike was what some say about me—too sensitive. Of course, this is a convenient justification for their inconsiderate treatment of the creative type. In order to create, one has to be open to suggestion and nuance, and that means to be aware ... sensitive. You can’t just shut it off, it’s not that easy; ‘sides, everyone is capable of being too sensitive—you just have to find their buttons.
He was a gentle soul, a lost soul who’d fallen through society’s security net. I mused that in another few years he’d either be in an Ozzy tribute band or pushing a shopping cart through LA’s alleyways. He’d have been perfect in one of those hair bands, unfortunately their days were numbered.
If he could just adapt to the new music ... who knows?

T Man

So, I quit the firm and joined a professional outfit as a helper to relearn the business properly. In a few years maybe try driving again, but at that point, I didn’t even want to think about it.
I watched the crews and learned every move and skill. I made it my business to be the best in the company; if anyone no-show’d at work, I wanted to be the next phone call they made—their go-to guy. I started to get a handle on the way things should be done, and over a period of time I believed I could do a better job than some of the drivers. Maybe I’m ready?
In order not to blow my gig as a helper (I enjoyed working in that capacity), I moonlighted for another company, one day a week. It gave me a chance to try out my driver’s hat, with no pressure if it didn’t work out .... I was much better prepared this time. It was a slight step up from the first nightmare, but compared to the operation I was at, it was still Mickey-Mouse; having said that, I gained invaluable experience, learning all the time—mostly, what not to do.
There was a revolving door of C type helpers and drivers (human flotsam) who did the rounds of moving companies in the area. They got fired from one and moved to the next. It was a small world, so in time they wound up at the start, again. Bygones were usually bygones unless the reason for their dismissal was serious.
All the good helpers were taken by the main guys, so the last minute/relief drivers tended to get the ass-end of the helper pool. As I was low on the totem pole, I got the jobs and workers no-one else wanted. The main crews were dispatched first thing and I was usually scheduled last in the morning. Coming through the back door of the office, I could see who they’d lined up for me. Occasionally, it was a previously fired helper, eager to make a fresh start and had come in early; sometimes I got lucky and found one of the regular guys waiting; the other option: a complete unknown. I never got tired of that experience—seeing who I’d end up with as I came in the room.
Oh yeah ... I remember you. Weren’t you the one who ...?
This was a new guy. Tall, long hair, preppy ... sort of, with glasses. Trevor, the office manager made the intro.
“Hi Artie, late as usual. Here’s your paperwork and this is your helper, Tom K.
I turned and shook his hand.
“Hey, how yoo doin’? Nice to meet you, Tummy K.”
I nodded. Back to the office manager.
“OK Trevor, anything I should know about the shipper? Anything you haven’t written on the docket, that you feel I should be aware of ... Women leaving their husbands/Cash only/Need to get payment before I start the unload/Tenants being evicted by their landlords because they haven’t paid the rent and will they be able to pay us?”
I’d learned a few tricks along the way.
I liked Trevor. He was a Brit from the North of England and the periodic word rang loud and clear in his original dialect. Though he was losing his accent, he’d not lost his dry, understated wit. His analysis of the public was way-off though, especially women.
“Artie, I’m shocked that you should think so little of uz and our customers. No actually, she’s a very sweet and lovely laday—”
“You said the same about the customer last week, who turned into a wailing shrew because we put a crease in her dust ruffle.”
“That was different.”
“Oh, really?”
“Yes. She was going through a divorce. A stressful time. You know, Artie, it’s called moving.”
“And then there was the woman who stiffed us on payment. She had persuaded you to bill her for the move and never sent us—”
“Look ... jus go and do the job, will you? Here’s some mernay for gas.”
“GO, you’re late.” He threw the cash at me.
“All right, all right. Don’t say I didn’t—”
GO!  he mouthed, and pointed to the door.
The Englishman was OK. He did his best within the mean confines of what he had to work with. It was the boss who was a pain. (The man whom Plate Glass Willy had had his legendary confrontation with. CH#1.) He was penny wise and dollar foolish, spending all day hunting down a screw that could be bought round the corner for a few cents extra. He applied this logic to everything, especially the trucks.
A shattered quarterlight or smashed side view mirror was not considered a priority and rarely got fixed, but the broken fan belt and cracked manifold did; the quality of maintenance was basic, though. Oil leaks were common but not a “cause for concern.” Drivers were encouraged to solve the problem with a piece of cardboard. Because so little attention was paid to the trucks—inside and out—they looked like a haven for the homeless, with graffiti occasionally making an appearance. Once, a customer requested that I pull around the back and load through the alleyway, so horrified was she at the state of the truck in front of her Beverly Hills’ home. I forgot the cardboard move, and so, left her with an oil puddle in the driveway c/o Mickey-Mouse Moving Co.
The equipment on board was poor, and the furniture pads were filthy from years of use and abuse. The floors were uneven and unfinished, making it difficult to slide furniture and easy to sprain an ankle. When it rained, some of the trucks leaked, especially the area around the deck (the small box-like space above the cab, reserved for small/light items of furniture) and patches of moisture would appear on an arm or back of an easy chair or ottoman, having soaked through a pad. During a heavy spell, the floor around the doors got warped (more than usual)—dangerous. In warm weather, splinters were a problem; they found their way into the pads, socks, and hands of movers.
All, but one of the trucks were freight or cargo delivery vans, modified for the use of moving because the boss had scored them at a good deal. Moving-ramps should be wide, with a lip that sits flush on the floor of the truck. Problem was, the ramp that comes with this kind of freight vehicle was too narrow to be used safely for moving. They fastened underneath the carriage, so access in and out, meant a step up or down. Carrying a couch off the van and having to “feel” for that step with a foot was a tricky maneuver. A few times I’d seen accidents as a direct result of that missed step.
All four of the fleet were parked behind the office—a driveway, backing onto an alley. This was a bad neighborhood and one of the hot spots during the LA riots of ‘92. Living in the alley were drug addicts doing crack in dumpsters and women doing men for a fix. The one smart move  the boss made was to pay head-crackhead Freddie a small wage to keep an eye on things—security, sort of. Freddie slept in the back of the trucks and washed up in the office bathroom. He was top dog in his world and rarely did anyone mess with him or the trucks. The job gave Freddie a sense of responsibility, though on occasion he’d go on a bender and resurface after a couple of days, looking and smelling like a vagrant. No questions were asked, nor excuses given. On a move, sometimes I’d catch a whiff from a furniture pad that made me wince ... I could always tell which pads Freddie had used for bedding.
The remaining truck in the yard ran on propane gas, and we had to drive way over the other side of town to fill up before we could go to our job. New Dude and I got in. I heard the familiar clicking sound as I turned the ignition key.
“Oh yeah ...” I put my face in my hands “forgot. Will you give me that window winder on your side, Tommy?”
“Window winder?”
“You mean dis vise grip?”
“I mean that vise grip that has doubled as a window winder for the last five years.”
I got out of the truck and went under the engine. I did my business and climbed back in.
Tom K was open mouthed as I fired up.
“What did you do?”
“I dunno. I only drive these tanks. I don’t know how to fix ‘em. It’s a thing called a solenoid. You hit it, apparently. Welcome to the company ... oh yeah. Here’s your window winder.”
We started to laugh. In fact, he laughed about it all day. Surprisingly, the lady was nice. Trevor was right ... this time. We all had a good day.
There’s a great divide between East and West Coast movers. Those from “back east” really fancy themselves as the bee’s knees, the cat’s meow ... the monkey’s nuts!
“You ain’t a real mover unless you learned the business in Noo Yorrk.”
Perh-lease! A good mover is a good mover, regardless of where and from whom he learns the game; it’s definitely some kind of macho thing. Tommy had so obviously learned his English and moving in New York. He adopted their swagger and speech patterns. Originally from Hungary, he came over with a bunch of mates to see what the New World had to offer. Like many folk who come “out here” from the East Coast, he spent most of his time complaining about the place. Our volatile debates concerned his favorite topic.
“LA is full of pretentious nut jobs.”
“Well, go back. Go back Tom, if you don’t like it here.”
“Nah, you need someone who can show you the finer points in moving.”
“And that someone would be ... you?”
“Fuck-kin’ A.”
A graduate from the “Ah-fuck it/just do it” school of life, he applied it to his moving. Never one for any fancy skills, just “bust the move and get outta here.” Finer points? Yeah, right!
Gradually the T Man and I became quite the double act.

T Man’s People Skills

The move we did that day highlighted his beef with Los Angeles. I remembered Trevor’s parting shot about the customer: He’s a nize guy.
... Hmm.
The small man who opened the front door was well groomed and manicured.
“Hi. I’m Artie, this is Tommy.”
“Good morning. Nice to see you’re finally here. You may call me Mr. Cee.”
“Yeah, sorry ’bout that, we had to gas up the truck.”
LIE. We stopped for a spot of breakfast along the way.
“Well, you’re here now. Follow me.”
T man and I swapped a look. We took a quick tour of the condo, nothing difficult, all very straightforward. This Mr. Cee ran a neat and clean household. nice—for movers, that is. As I went through the paperwork with him, Tom set up the truck. Mr. Cee requested that all questions regarding the move, should come to him via one person—me, and that Tommy was not to address him personally.
I snickered slightly.
“You’re serious, right?”
“Quite serious. I only want to speak to one man, and that’s you, Artie.”
I never thought to ask why. I was stunned at the nature of such a request, like I was back in the Old Country where over-formality is rife.
“Oh, and Artie please, don’t use any of the bathrooms except for the one behind the kitchen.”
“You mean the one in the servants’ quarters?”
“There are no servants, here. What do you—?”
My word play fell on deaf ears. I waved the remark away.
“Don’t worry about it. British humor ...  ‘s ok.”
As I came down the steps, I chuckled at the image of the customer in a white robe with the initials JC on his lapel. As he signed the contract, I noticed a gold ring. Two letters. Beginning with J ... ending with C. OH-OH. Whatever next ...? His monogram on every article of clothing, linen, piece of soap and toilet roll dispenser in the house? I mean, you’d do your shirts and handkerchiefs, but would you do your socks? AND, why do it in the first place? I’d love to have found out what was behind all of that. I mean, the neurotic impulse that fed the action. And don’t tell me there wasn’t one, either, Dear Reader! Tommy’s phrase came to mind: pretentious nut job. Right!  Both Mr. Cee’s requests were laughable, but what the hell, he seemed pleasant enough, regardless. It was only a small move; we wouldn’t be there, long.
Tommy was seething when I informed him, as if he was being treated like a 2nd class citizen.
“Like ... a servant?” I smiled.
“Yeah. Fok that and fok him. I know what he’s up to, I only want to speak to one man and that’s you Artie, and the reason is—he’s a fokin faggot. He fancies a little bit of Artie’s “salami.” Dat’s de reason. Dat’s why he only wants to speak to you. Erh? Herhhh? I’m gonna fix his shit.”
As per usual, Tom got straight to the heart of what he considered the matter, in proper East Coast fashion; Noo Yorrk came out large when he got tweaked. I really had no idea what Tommy meant by this. Or what he was capable of. He was 6’2” with a swimmer’s build. His brash show belied a sweet nature, but still, everyone’s capable of snapping if their pain is triggered. I decided to keep my wits about me and monitor the situation.
Back in the house, Tommy and I rounded up stuff for the deck: dining room chairs, coffee table, light boxes, etc.
“Oh, erh excuse me, Ar-Tie? Did you know there’s a chip on the edge of dis glass?”
I looked around to see Tommy holding a coffee table top. I was right next to the customer. He’d obviously heard. I remembered his request; it was somewhat redundant but ...  here goes.
“Did you know there’s a chip in the glass, Mr. Cee?”
“Yes, thank you.”
I turned back to my task. It is customary to point out all damages, so we’d not be held responsible, later.
“And Artie? Ar-Tie. We have another one here, on the other side. Here! Thank you? Thank you.”
It was Tommy again with the same piece of glass. I turned to Mr. Cee.
“You have another on the other—”
“ANNND ... he’s missing one of dose plastic deals that go under the glass top, Ar-Tie?”
“And he’s m—, you’re missing one of those deals that go under.”
Mr. Cee looked bewildered. I was half-smiling but Tom was deadly F’in serious. That was the T Man’s game: Him talking to me, in front of the customer/me repeating it straight to Mr. Cee.  Every knick out of a piece of wood, scratch on furniture, stain on a couch—Tommy was there overly enunciating very-specific damage to me, before the shipper. It was comical, and JC grew weary, but Tommy had an intimidating way about him that the customer was not about to confront. Mr. Cee had set a ride in motion that he could not stop nor get off. I was not about to call a halt to it, either.  It was his just reward for being a pretentious nut job. Besides, Tom wasn’t being rude to him, exactly. It was Tommy’s way of making a point. His pride had been wounded and was out for revenge: the cut and thrust of warm spirited sarcasm. Only, Tommy was not joking.
The move didn’t take long and after settling up the bill, the customer, JC, seemed to slink away ... in his pressed, monogrammed robe. Of course there was no tip. To me a tip was not that big a deal; we made pretty good money from the company. A little extra at the end of a day was always nice, but not mandatory. However, to a mover from the East Coast, Not to Tip is a sin: The Eleventh Commandment. Tommy was fuming.
“You didn’t expect him to tip, did you? Not after the way you treated him.”
“He started it. He drew first blood!”
“First Blood?  You’re ridiculous.”
“Oh am I, we’ll see about dat. I fixed his shit.”
“What do you mean?”
“Never mind about dat. I fixed him. Hah!”
“Whadoyoumean, come on? What did you do ... Rambo. What?”
We were on our way back home in the truck. Tom was slouched down with his feet on the dash, smoking and blowing O rings.
“I peed in every one of his bathrooms at the unload and didn’t flush.”
“You didn’t. Really?”
Tommy was grinning and nodding. Grinning and nodding.
“Oh man, I can’t believe you did that ... hah-hah ... I don’t believe it.”
That was the scene in the cab as we drove back to the yard. Me, lost in thought, shaking my head, the T Man grinning and nodding ... and blowing smoke. I parked, switched off and let out a long sigh.
“Get out of my truck, you animal.“
Tommy leaned across.
“I was joking, Ar-Tie. Course I didn’t piss in his bathrooms. I only want to speak to one man and that’s you, Artie.”
He got out and slammed the door
“You may call me Mr. Cee. Fokin’ Faggot!”
Tommy K was shouting at me through a closed window.
He was a strange mix—a tough nut with a big bark, but underneath ... he was mortified that I momentarily believed he’d actually done the deed in Mr. Cee’s bathrooms.
“Dude, you think I’m a philistine. A caveman. How could you think dat?”
“Look, I dunno what you’re up to. One moment you’re Andrew Dice Clay and the next you’re observing correct social behavior like Oscar Wilde.”
“D’you think you’re any different? We’re real people, we’re not phonies ... we wrestle with issues: The way we’d like to behave, and the way we ought to behave. We’re a balance of head and heart. We’re at odds with ourselves ... all my favorite people are.”
“Hmm. Maybe you’re right ... Animal.”
Though he had no formal training, he read widely. He talked passionately about art, music, and literature. He enjoyed periods of creativity in which he’d start work on a script, usually based in the middle ages with plenty of military and religious symbolism. He loved epic battle movies and tried to incorporate that classical sweep of vast imagery in his screen play. After a show of sensitive, would come the wild and crazy guy display. His one beer after work often became a twelve pack—hanging out on neighbors’ balconies hurling insults and furniture at the world or chasing friends around the apartment complex with a fire extinguisher. We had some fun times.
Eventually, I tired of the restrictions and petty wranglings with the owner of the company and gave up my (what had become) two day a week gig. I was grateful for a chance to test the water as driver, but now it was time to move on. I changed employers many times over the next few years and finally ended up as a driver/helper at the firm where I met Bird Man. And Bird Man beget Bossman.
Tommy went his own way and we lost contact. Over the years, I heard he’d switched gears and made the transition from a job that hardly suited his imaginative skills to a career as a graphic artist. Good for you, T Man. I salute you ... and off you ride into a happy sunset.

T Man II

I got a call one day from a moving bud.
“You heard about Tommy K?
“He’s, uh ... he tried to commit suicide. Cut his throat from ear to ear. Somehow, God knows how he missed the main artery. ...”
I recalled an impression of Tommy. It came out in the drink, at the end of a heavy boozing session when the energy was down. About nine months after he came to the States he was traveling across country on a bus. His visa had expired; he was illegal. The cops pulled him off and he went to jail for 10 days. He’d palled up with some other big white dudes and only his gruff, bold front got him through his time there. Whether the general experience changed him or something specific, I never found out. Whatever it was shook him to the core. After that he felt like a man on the run, a fugitive, always looking over his shoulder, as if at any moment there’d be someone on his tail.
I was surprised to find out that his suicide attempt had occurred a couple of months earlier. Wow! All that time and I never knew. He was recuperating with a friend. I really didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to bother him but I couldn’t pretend it hadn’t happened. I wanted to be there for a friend but wasn’t sure he would still consider me such, after all, it had been five years or so. What would I say? What are you supposed to say after an event like that: Sorry to hear about your ‘accident’/Hope you get well soon? Nah. But I had to do something ...
Eventually, I called. He knew my voice right away.
“Ar-Tie Q, wassup dude?”
“Tommy ... I heard what happened.”
“Yeah, well. I’m better now.”
I’d been told his voice was a little husky. I listened closely to his speech as if there’d be clues that something tragic had happened ... nothing. Same old, same old. He gave no details and I was not about to push it. So there we were, like back in the old days, as if no time had interrupted our rambunctious carryings-on. Tommy was lucky in the sense that he had a close group of friends from Hungary whom he could descend on in case of emergency. This was his family. Like an errant brother, no matter the occasion, he was always welcome to stay ... until he became a pain, and then they kicked him out. They provided a sanctuary when times were tough. After the “accident” he began taking Prosac; supposedly, it mellowed him out a little. He was getting back on his feet and it was time for him to give his friend a break, move to his own place—a shared house with a bunch of guys. Things went well. His design business showed signs of success; he got a few clients.
During this time, we had some pleasant afternoons, making it a regular date to watch artsy European movies while drinking herbal teas. He still had the piss and vinegar of his moving days, though.
Some of my music was being featured in the soundtrack of a movie and in the opening sequence.  OK, it was an independent film with no pay, but it was a start. Credit and possible royalties. Tommy heard some tracks I’d been working on and was inspired. He offered to build me a web site. I couldn’t pay much and he was insulted that I offered. I wanted to show my gratitude, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He did me proud—I loved his design.
“Artie! Artie! Artie! The One Man Party! Party! Party! Come on over dude, got a little somethin’ for ya.”
He was putting finishing touches to the site. He’d bought the biggest monitor they made, a few years before they came out with the flat panels. A 21” screen. I’d never seen anything that big. He was buzzing, a designer at the easel creating a masterpiece:
“Dude, dis is so cool, see how everything is contained within the letter Q.”
“Tommy, I can’t thank you enough.”
He held up his hand.
“Dude, don’t worry. This is a pleasure; I love this site ... tho’ I say it myself. Hah!”
I felt guilty that he was giving so generously and I didn’t have the cash to help him out. I knew money was an issue for him.
“Listen Tommy, let me tell you something. What you’ve done is special, not only the design but the act of giving  without thought of recompense. You don’t think it’s a big deal, but I do. If you saw this quality in another, you’d recognize it for what it is: special. It’s also a great site. Thank you.”
He’d changed a little—wore a beard, for obvious reasons. Now in his thirties, he was no longer the slim dude of yesteryear. As he worked, I was intrigued to see if I could spot the scarring beneath the hair. Human nature. Hah! The crash on the freeway/looky loo syndrome, it reduces all to primeval level.
“Dude, I’ve never said this before. I didn’t really know how to bring it up, but if you ever want to talk about stuff. I’m your man.”
“I appreciate it, dude.”
He knew I was referring to his attempt at suicide, but wouldn’t be drawn. Embarrassment, pride, fear ... who knows what got in the way?
“Wanna beer ...?”
That was it—right there, right then—the slippery slope back down. One beer, six beers, twelve beers ... what was I gonna say: Dude, are you sure you should be drinking? It was one of the few pleasures left. Was I to try and deny him that? You can’t save people from themselves. I remembered a phrase of his from old, “Dude, you goin down!”
You ain’t gonna make it Tom, are you?
“Sure ... I’ll take a beer.”
I felt hollowed out, as if someone had taken an ice cream scoop to my insides, but I kept a straight face to my friend. It was the least I could do ... but what was the most?
You can’t save people ... yeah, yeah, yeah!
The booze canceled out the effect of the medication. Or, heightened its effects. I think. I must admit I’m not sure. I’m a stranger to the pharmaceutical world. He got irritated easily and warred with his roommates. He began worrying about his legality, believing it to be the reason he couldn’t take his career to the next level. The drinking got worse and he was back to a twelve pack and then some, at a setting. He couldn’t stand the guys in the house anymore, so he moved. Actually, come to think of it, more like he’d become a royal pain and was asked to leave, and got a small place on his own. Of course, I offered my professional services since his transition to a desk job was brought about by the onset of a bad back. He didn’t have much stuff. It was like the old days.
“Hey, dude. If you ever need your old job back ... on the trucks. I’ll put in a word for ya.”
I gave him the thumbs up; he gave me the finger. T Man II was in no shape for anything physical. Gone was the animated nimble bounce to his stride, replaced  by the rolling gait of an older man carrying a lot more weight. His face was round with little sign of the prominent full jaw that characterized the youthful, larger than life Tommy. His hair was thinning. He was thirty five and looking twenty years older than the man I’d known ten years earlier.
I visited him a couple of times at his new place. It was a minimally furnished single; it had that industrial type carpet, gray and basic. I liked it, though.
He was re-tweaking something on the site and invited me over. It was late, and he was drunk and loud. We were reliving some glorious musical memories. The Pistols. I love that album, the only real punk record in my mind. We were singing along, mesmerized by the Q on the massive screen.
“You’ll always find me ... out to lunch ... and I don’t like ya! We’re so pretty, oh so pretty ...”
It was midnight and instead of tapering off, he cranked the volume. The windows were open and next door’s building was right there—Apartment City. Tommy had been segueing into classical, recently, but the music that night reflected his mood.
“Can you turn it down, some of us are trying to sleep.”
The neighbor was shouting from across the way.
“Hey Tommy, maybe we should cool it with the volume, eh?”
“Nah, don’t worry ‘bout it dude.”
It was now 12:30 a.m. and Straight Outta Compton was blasting @ volume 10. The little old lady below, began hammering on the ceiling. I began to get uncomfortable.
“Fuck dis shit, it’s my house.”
He was trying to concentrate on the screen but was way distracted.
“Turn the music down, turn it down!” The lady yelled out the window.
He called me the next day.
“Man, I’m sorry about last night. I really must apologize.”
“Yo Tommy, I gotta tell ya. You scared me.”
He’d been shrieking at a little old lady who complained of the noise (and rightly so). He’d said some terrible things to her. Awful. Probably frightened her to death. I’d never seen him quite so belligerent, so brutal. This was another man, and not my friend.
“Forget about me dude, you should make your peace with the lady downstairs. You were out of control.”
He’d already done so.
The movie was not only awful, it was God Awful. I’d not seen it in advance and that was a big mistake; then again, no-one got to see it till the night of the premier. It should not have been shown then, either. Or ever, in fact. The print should have gone from the Lab straight to the trash. I was so embarrassed. I’d talked 40 friends into coming to a theater on Wilshire Boulevard. To watch shit—Shit, with my music in!
Tommy K wasn’t there that night. He didn’t like to go out much anymore. The movie premier was the night of Tommy’s second suicide attempt—this time he hung himself.
T Man, if you feel so bad, let no-one stand in your way.
I had a strange image of him. It was as if in death, he was up on high, scolding my decision, wagging a finger: Dude, how could you let your music be in dis piece of trash!
And he’d have been right.
Analysis: Tommy was a bright spark who blazed his own trail. It was not until I started writing that I rediscovered bits of hidden feeling and incident that connected us. I remembered his spirit: The energy and unwavering support, the heated debates and comic relief.
I know the T Man had a tough start in life: One, full of struggle that persisted in adulthood. His suicide and 1st attempt are indication of huge early pain. He sought refuge in drink and medication. He had some good friends, but essentially felt lonely and alone. The measure of a person, I think, is not how they do when the world is smiling, but what happens when the chips are down. Even though he had little at the end, he was a big hearted man with what he had to give. Thanks for everything, Tommy.
Regarding Rock n Roll Mike, his childhood was bleak. Without a stable parental environment, his needs for security, emotional connectedness and love seem to have been largely absent. He barely took care of himself as a man, as did those in charge of his early life. He lived alone in that crawlspace like a forgotten, neglected child. When I met him, he was looking for the guidance and support he’d never received as a child. He was a leaf floating in the wind, hither and thither, wherever the ebb and flow of life blew him.
Tommy was a type B mover and had he persevered, his creative nature would have made a success of his design company and beyond, I’m sure. Mike was a B as well, with a smattering of the C group, tho’ without the criminal intent. Too gentle a soul for the harsh realities of life. I wonder if he escaped the entrapment of the homeless/shopping-cart lifestyle and made it into eighties-cover band glory? I really hope so.

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