You may wonder why, with so much life to draw on, I choose to devote another chapter to this particular part of my life. It would be easy for me to say that Jeff remains the single greatest influence on my life, or that Dr. Patterson introduced me to a new perspective of my own visions. Had I recorded this memoir in my forties, I would have said the same thing and stopped there. However, at my advanced age, I am able to make more admissions, so I would also like to add that I find great pleasure in the undertaking. The memories I have from adulthood lack innocence and wonder, and on their own could jeopardize the very mission! Therefore, the indulgence of revisiting this time in my life reveals two purposes: to entertain myself and create empathy in the reader. If this is obvious, please enjoy your knowing.
I fumbled out of Dr. Patterson's office in a state of euphoria, and he remained behind—a demoralized slump spilt over his desk. I feel he, too, realized I would not be back, could not be reached, that he failed to sell me on psychological salvation.
An empty lobby awaited me, so I shambled out of his door and down the stairs to the street.
"Any breakthroughs today?" Jeff asked, standing in front of Patterson's office building with an unlit cigarette sprouting from his lips.
"Yes." I said this in a tone similar to Jeff's, flat and lacking in any emotion.
"I'm all ears."
"I realized I'm done here, so I fired him."
"Really? Just like that?"
"Think you're ready? Could be bad for cats everywhere if you stop coming."
I shrugged my shoulders and said, "yeah, I think so."
Jeff pulled a pack of cigarettes from his pocket, flipped the top down and shook it so that a single cigarette popped up. He held it out for me.
I remember taking the cigarette as many might recall taking a vow of silence or enlisting in the military. I had never smoked before, but I took the cigarette as if my entire future rest in the tobacco wrapped inside. Little did I know at the time that I did have a future with tobacco, but not as a consumer.
Jeff fished a lighter from his pocket and fired it up in one swift movement. After lighting his own, he offered the lighter to me. As I rotated it in my hand, I could see a word etched into it.
"Thorn?" I asked.
"Thorn." I repeated, lighting my cigarette.
I inhaled deeply and did not cough. Immediately, my mind went numb, and I almost lost my balance. I stumbled and regained my sense of equilibrium.
"Not a smoker?"
I shook my head, steadying myself on the brick building.
"Something else I'll have to live with," he lamented, sounding a bit bored.
"You could quit."
He smiled and nodded as someone might who was weighing a decision between desserts.
"My whole family smokes. It's a tradition."
"No, you could quit Dr. Patterson," I corrected him, hoping he would do so right then and there.
"No, I can't. Not yet."
He looked away, down the street, and inhaled deeply from his cigarette. He then arched his head back and blew the smoke upwards.
"There's a deal with a judge. I have to go for another five weeks."
"And then you're done?"
"Not according to him," he replied, pointing back to Patterson's office. We both smiled and nodded, knowingly.
"My dad left," I offered, needing to fill in any gaps in the short time I'd have with him.
"Oh yeah? Looks like we have that in common."
"It's my fault."
"I fucking doubt that."
"Everyone thinks so. It's why I'm here."
"I thought you were here on account of the cat."
"Oh, yeah. That, too."
"The doc would probably say my dad is the reason I'm here, too," Jeff offered, his tone broadening from acute boredom to mildly interested.
"Why are you really here?"
"Anger. I punched a teacher. He fell and hit his head. He has problems remembering things now."
"He thought I stole a calculator from his class. He grabbed my arm and tried to look in my backpack."
"Did you steal the calculator?"
Jeff smiled. I sucked up a mouthful of smoke. I held it in my billowed cheeks for a moment and then puffed it out.
"Gotta go, man. Stay sane." Jeff started walking away.
"I can fix anything!" I blurted.
He turned and looked irritated. "I know. You told me, already."
"Yeah, but I'm really good at engines. I can fix your car."
Jeff stopped and turned, glaring at me.
"Have you been following me?"
"Why would you tell me that?"
"I don't know."
"That's just weird."
"I know..." I admitted, looking ashamed. Jeff eased his glare and snuffed out his cigarette on the sidewalk.
"But, can you fix cars?"
"Yeah, probably. I mean, definitely."
Jeff smiled again. He took a piece of paper from his backpack and wrote on it.
"Here's my address and number. Want to come by and take a look at my dad's old car? It hasn't run in six years."
"Yeah. I can do that."
"Okay, then. Call me tomorrow. And check yourself out in the mirror, Charlie. Your face is bleeding."
I held that paper as if it contained secret instructions from God, clutched it in my hand so tightly, it began to moisten and wilt within hours. I folded it neatly and transferred it to my wallet where it lived for years, until a fire took it and most of my other treasured objects away from me. At dinner, I couldn't eat. At night, I couldn't sleep. In the morning, I was positively vibrating with anticipation. Nothing in my young life outside of a vision rang my bell to this degree. I felt no sexual attraction to Jeff, as some of you will try to suggest. I physically felt the potential, mentally craved the possibilities.
Ditching my afternoon classes I arrived at Jeff's house early, of course, and found it to be a poorly-made track-home in an undesirable neighborhood. From a distance, such a street as his would appear idyllic, with its mature, heavy-limbed trees, its wide lanes, and the solitude of a street that provides no pass-through for any traffic other than its inhabitants.
Up close, a more familiar eye would detect a different class. One might notice the peeling paint on many of the houses, the windows covered in foil, indicating the presence of a night-worker or a drug den, the ripped sofa in a front courtyard propping up a red-eyed war veteran with a 48 ounce coffee mug glued to his blistered paw, or the numerous broken-down vehicles, rusting into another form in more than one driveway.
A 1969 Dodge Charger was one of these vehicles. Not yet rusted, the driver's window was broken and haphazardly covered in plastic that had since given way to the weather, allowing spiders, cats and occasionally a passer-by to take refuge. The tires were half-flat and the paint was the faded yellow of ancient wallpaper. On the door, barely visible, I could see a hand-painted "01."
In my vision, Jeff emerged from this very car. In my hand, I felt again the mallet's weight, the warmth of its wooden handle.
"What happened to it?" I asked him when he finally arrived home.
"Waiting here long?" He asked, his voice quiet, nearly a mumble. He pulled his headphones off of his head and flicked his cigarette into the gutter where it hit a tiny stream and hissed.
"Nah," I lied. He gave a nod towards the car.
"I came out to start it one day, and it wouldn't. Been here ever since."
"Why haven't you had it fixed?"
"Can I have the keys?"
"Here," he said, tossing them to me.
I slipped inside of the car and put the key into the ignition. The battery still held a charge as the lights came alive. I turned the key, but the car did not respond.
"Can you fix it?" Jeff inquired, sticking his head in the car. I removed the key and stepped out of the car.
"Do you have any tools?"
"No," answered Jeff. "But he does." He pointed across the street and a few houses down, to a house with an open garage door.
We strolled up and down the street, looking around to see if anyone watched our movements. After a couple of passes, we darted into the garage and to the giant red toolbox inside. I rummaged around and found the necessary wrenches.
I stuffed the tools into my pant pockets, and we exited the garage just as quickly as we entered. We walked away from Jeff's house and then made our way back on the other side of the street, just to see if anyone had noticed us. No one had!
Once we felt comfortable making our return, we sauntered casually back to his house like a couple of gentlemen out to take in the air. Jeff opened the hood of the car, and I immediately began pulling the starter motor. Jeff cleaned up the interior while I worked, removing the debris and pulling down the thick spider webs.
Once I had the starter motor and relay out, we went inside his house and set them on the kitchen table. A man with long, blond hair, a sleeveless shirt and no pants was watching television in the living room. He was drinking a tall beer and scratching his genitals.
"Who's that?" I quietly asked.
"This is Todd," Jeff replied. "He rents a room from my mom."
"What's that?" Came the abrupt question from Todd. "You assholes talking shit?"
I was mortified, and waited for Jeff to respond.
"Shut the fuck up, Todd."
"Har har," Todd replied, not laughing. "Fuck you, little shithead."
I kept my focus on the parts and inspected the starter motor. The starter was heavily corroded, and the terminals were barely intact. Jeff found a wire brush, and I scrubbed off the points.
"This might start the car, but you'll need a new starter eventually."
"Okay," he said, his face brightening.
I replaced the starter and relay into the car and instructed Jeff to start the vehicle. The car struggled, but finally sputtered to life.
"Hell yes! The General Lee is fucking back in business!" Jeff yelled, and gave me what I would later learn was the heavy metal hand gesture. "Get in."
When I think of this first day with Jeff, I see myself finding my first friend, fixing my first car, stealing for the first time, and, as you will see in a moment, getting high and really listening to music for the first time. If life really does happen in waves, this day had me tumbling in the surf like few others!
In just a few hours, I realized that I could use my talent again to garner favorable attention from people, I learned I could exist in the world without any discernable morality, and I found that certain drugs could alter my mind in pleasant ways, twist my gift into something else, entirely.
We drove to a gas station, filled up the tank, inflated the tires and washed the windshield. Jeff went inside the station and came out a few minutes later with a brown bag. He dropped into the driver's seat and tossed the bag into my lap.
I did, and removed a pack of cigarettes and a small sleeve of rolling papers.
"What are these for?" I asked, holding up the papers.
"Dope," he answered, patting his shirt pocket. "You ever smoke weed?"
"Not really." Although I consumed prescription drugs of every flavor, I had never smoked pot, but I couldn't bring myself to say so.
"Not really?" he asked, dryly. "Give the papers here," he continued, pointing to the rolling papers. I handed them over. He removed a paper from the sleeve and a baggie from his shirt. With one hand, he held the paper in a V shape and with the other, massaged a chunk of marijuana from the bag. The baggie went back into his shirt with one hand while the other ground up the nugget in the paper until it filled the crevice in the V. In another movement, the paper was rolled over and his tongue ran across the top. He twisted it with his teeth and fingers and gnawed off the very tip of the deftly crafted joint. Thorn was retrieved from his other pocket and the slim cigarette set ablaze.
Jeff elicited several small puffs of smoke from the joint and then a much larger one, which he held in his lungs. He passed the joint over to me.
Does one forget the first drug one is handed that does not come from a doctor? Is it possible to recognize the transaction not simply as a friendly gesture, but as an invitation into another life, one that doesn't assume the law is the highest form of rule? Surely a side-effect of my gift, I experienced full knowledge of what taking the joint would mean to me as I put my fingers on it. I knew that I was embarking on a life that did not require me to quell my talents, a life that would put me in contact with others like me, with strange and sordid tales of their attempt to live within the boundaries of the current morality.
As I brought the joint to my lips and began to slowly inhale, I saw my life in the future. I did not cough. I held on, envisioning myself shaggy, bearded, bent over the hood of a car, cigarette dangling from my mouth. I was in a garage, working on cars, a mechanic's uniform pressed to my lean, adult body.
I let the smoke out, and felt my hair growing, my body swelling, my mind bleeding out of my ears. The car was moving. The music was loud and thrilling. The air rushed into the windows and blew the moisture from my eyes. I turned to Jeff. He was rocking his head to the rhythm of the song, grinning like a thief who had recently eluded the police.
"I had a vision of you and I." I yelled.
"Oh yeah," he shouted, his eyes slim like two eroding crescent moons. "Do fucking tell!"
"At Dr. Patterson's office, I had a vision of an open road. You were there. You gave me a hatchet and held a big hammer, like a mallet!"
Jeff turned the volume down on the stereo.
"You dreamt about me? That's pretty gay, man. Pretty damned gay."
Normally, hearing an evaluation such as this would instantly engorge my anxiety, but the effect of the marijuana prevented me from doing anything besides laughing at Jeff's reply.
"You're gay!" I screamed through my pathological giggles.
"I think you're fucked up, man. Totally fried." My condition infected him, and he could no longer contain his laughter either. Tears ran from my eyes, my lungs searched for breath. Jeff swerved off of the road into the gravel shoulder. The thick old tires crunched through the stones, popping larger ones out into the thickening cloud of dust.
"Oh shit!" He exclaimed, dragging the car back onto the road and knocking the volume down on the stereo. "We better chill, man. I'm going to end up getting busted."
We stifled our laughter and concentrated. The world continued to bubble and moan.
"What else happened in your dream?"
"Besides the hammer and axe. What else?"
"Oh, yeah, that. It wasn't a dream. You were getting out of this car. You helped me up and gave me the hatchet." My sober self knew the risks of telling Jeff about my visions, but I was not sober. "Your car was in the vision. That's how I knew."
"What do you mean, it wasn't a dream? You knew what?" Jeff slammed on the brakes of his car and skidded off of the road into the dirt. He smashed the tiny remains of the joint into the ashtray.
"You fucking knew what, man?" He leaned in as he asked, finger poking my chest. I felt the heat of his anger rising.
"I knew your car was broken," I answered, softly. "And I knew I would fix it."
Jeff stared at me. His emotional state melted from anger into disbelief. Then he erupted in laughter.
I laughed, too.
When I consider my personal evolution, I find it hard to find a more pivotal term. I'm referencing the past right now; I'm referenced in thousands of publications; I could not get a personal reference now! I'm constantly in a state of reference, and I always have been. Even though I pull ideas from the ethos, they are but references to possibility, to certain points in a nebulous of other ideas.
What I don't possess is the ability to gather external references easily. It requires concentration on my part to understand what happens around me. I collect evidence. I move it to my warehouse. I take inventory. Had I any inclination to self-diagnose, I would place myself on a functional band of the spectrum, but such a recognition is merely a reference to something else, something that can be explained, and therefore, made real.
This lack of reference in me is simply the way things are. Can you help yourself if a sad movie moves you? Should you be expected not to experience it that intensely? Of course not. So why should I, then, be expected to consider anything more than how the movie's plot devices are used to create the artifice of emotive fantasy? I trained myself to absorb such devices, such personal ‘scripts,' to acknowledge the role of emotion in society, and I was able to pretend I could relate to it like I really felt it all.
I hope you understand that I have feelings, desires—a conscience, even. However, where you might be 80% involved in social concerns, I am only 49%. The 51% that casts the majority vote is built on logic and philosophical references. You may ask, ‘Charlie, don't you care about Jeff?' I would answer yes, and I would feel good saying so, but in my mind I would be listing the various ways in which Jeff's presence benefits me rather than some abstract notion of brotherly love.
Jeff gave me references. Jeff gave me scripts. Jeff gave me a perspective of the world that was more forgiving, more enlightened to our disparate natures. I did care for him, and I owe him credit. I owe him many more than the few chapters you'll find here. A mirror to my character would reveal many aspects of his, from my speech to my flexibility. I am pieces of him. Even now, as I type these words, as I finish my life, I find it hard to distinguish him from me.
Jeff taught me to roll a joint, gave me cassette after cassette of music. Jeff showed me tits. Jeff pointed out ass. Jeff taught me about popular culture, the power of subtly, and how to talk to others in a manner that would disguise my own insecurities. I could certainly say that he was my only true friend, but he was more a brother and a father to me. When my own father left, he put his hand on my shoulder, said goodbye, and disappeared. I saw him on a handful of occasions after that, and then again after initial successes put my name in the news, but he made no attempt at custody or custom of any kind. Bit by bit, his things were removed from our house, until all that remained were household tools once used by only him, now used by me, to keep up the yard.
We sold the house the following year and moved into a rental not far from Jeff's. Another tree-lined street with broken-down cars in front, the social status of the relocation was difficult for my mother. As for me, I was delighted to be closer to Jeff, both in proximity and class.
My mother, forced into employment to supplement the child support, took a job with an insurance broker, leaving me to spend all of my free time with Jeff. That is, when Jeff would allow it. Unlike me, Jeff indulged other acquaintances, and he was able to communicate effectively with girls.
At one point, he said, "I'll call you from now on. You come over too much, man."
I obeyed. What else could I do? Although I didn't understand it, I did recognize that in order to get what I wanted, I must abide by certain constraints. Another lesson from Jeff.
I entered high school the following year. My hair had grown out and a tiny dusting of beard covered my purple, pock-marked face. I wore black t-shirts adorned with names like Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Suicidal Tendencies. I had a chained wallet tucked into skin-tight black jeans. Little did I know, this particular wardrobe would be both a burden and a god-send during my high school years.
Other miscreants gravitated towards me, and straight-laced kids moved away. I became, if not popular, accepted by a fairly tight group. And my access to Jeff, now 21 years old and something of a local legend, made me necessary. (Jeff was not only capable of acquiring any brand of controlled substance; he also seemed to know more about music and the world outside than anyone else.)
Girls avoided me, romantically. My beard was still too thin to cover my badly scarred face, and my personality too foreign to capture them conversationally. However, a few gothic and rocker girls did befriend me, and treat me as one of them, or at least a harmless guy with an older, cooler friend. This furthered my status with the other boys, and made me more of a commodity to Jeff, who would always remind me to invite my girls over to his house when we'd hang out. He had intercourse with many of them, cementing further his god-like status over the other boys.
Although I'd never struggled with school, I began to do better than I had previously. Once again, I credit Jeff for his influence. Unlike many of the fringe students, who plotted out a course of personal and scholastic destruction, Jeff took learning very seriously. During the day, Jeff attended classes at the junior college, and at night, he sat behind the register at the Waldenbooks in the mall.
The contradictions I soon recognized in him only deepened my devotion to emulating him. He read books and less colorful periodicals, he wrote a column for the junior college newspaper—and, at the same time, he smoked mountains of marijuana and attended every rock concert in the greater bay area of San Francisco. Soon after we met, he stopped visiting Dr. Patterson, citing that his ‘debt had been paid,' but he never chided my continued visits to other psychologists in my teenage years.
"You should keep going," he once said. "You're seriously fucked up."
"No more than you."
"I can survive in the world. You can't."
Jeff would on occasion remind me that he was aware of my preoccupation with him. I believe he took pride in molding me into a ghost of himself, but what he didn't know was that he was saving me from a world of indifference, of indulgence in base instincts.
"Why don't you sign up for auto shop?" He suggested, one summer day before I entered high school. I was lamenting the lack of a class on pot and music. "You're wasting your talents just tinkering with the General Lee."
"Yeah, maybe," I replied with forced disinterest.
"Yeah, maybe you should, dumbass."
"Alright, dude. Easy."
"Fuck would you do, man? Fuck would you do."
We had many conversations like that. I would reply to something in a way I thought Jeff might appreciate, and he would return with a completely practical response. Even in the depths of a marijuana haze, he would pop up like a prairie dog and shame me with my own stupidity.
One night, as we lay on the hood of the General Lee outside of the Oakland Coliseum, high on pot and listening to a Pink Floyd show we could not get into, I went into a long description of the perfect life.
"And I'll get a boat. I can get a houseboat, you know, and I'll live on it. On the river. I can fix other people's boats for space in their docks and live free-style. And I'll own my own little auto shop, too. I'll just fix fucking rad cars, like the Lee. And we'll have big bags of the most insane weed. We'll smoke it on my boat, and float down the fucking river. Just like that. Easy and shit."
"Count me out."
I felt a sensation in the back of my head, a tingle different than the one brought on by the weed.
"Well, I'm not asking you to live on my boat, dick. You can just come by and smoke some shit and enjoy the company of one of my many ladies." Even I could detect the concern in my voice.
"Count me out of all of it," Jeff said, turning away from me.
"Okay. I was just thinking out loud, you know."
"I don't know. And I don't want to know. You think my fucking grand plan is to smoke weed on a houseboat? You think I go to school and work for nothing? Man, I'm already bored with smoking pot. Do you think I'll still be interested in getting high in ten years? I have got to get on with it."
"My fucking life, man." He held his arms up, cradling the sky.
"What could possibly be better than getting baked and listening to kickass tunes on a houseboat?" I grinned at Jeff, hoping to sway him back to the moment I was imagining.
"How about traveling the world? Or doing something important with your life? Like being a doctor or a scientist. Maybe something as mundane as having a wife and kids? I want all that shit. I want it all."
"Well, duh, dude."
"So you want that too? How are you going to get it? Put wings on your houseboat?" The anger in his voice shattered my persona.
"I don't know. I just thought I would work on cars."
"You can fix anything, and you want to fix cars. That's it? That's your life? Go fix the fucking space shuttle, man! Go fix something that means something!"
"Calm down, dude."
I sat silent for many minutes, listening to the cacophony of sounds that came from the other parking lot partiers. Many of them would have celebrated my grand scheme, hopped on board my party boat and floated on into the smoky end of the world with me.
"Sorry, Charlie," Jeff said, finally.
"Me, too," I replied, although I didn't know for what. I suppose I felt sorry for almost losing him, even if only in a vision of the future.
"When I'm in town, I'll stop by your boat and smoke a bowl with you, okay?"
I felt a great relief come over me. Jeff did not plan to leave me, at least not permanently. My future, and whatever it brought with it, would contain a friendship with him.
"Okay, man. I'll keep one packed and ready for you."
I did sign up for shop, and within weeks the teacher, Mr. Sayer, made me something of an intern. I helped the other kids, even helped him diagnose issues with cars donated to the school auto shop. In my junior year of high-school, Mr. Sayer got a job cleaning the floors at a car dealership's garage through his brother-in-law, who worked in the parts department. The only condition of my employment was that I cut my hair and not dress like the devil, as the manager put it. I agreed and toned down my attire at work.
It didn't take long for the manager to see that I could fix any engine, for any pay. He began giving me the worst jobs they had, from repacking axles to complete teardowns and rebuilds. Being a former mechanic himself, he gave me access to his tools, provided that every night, I would still mop the floors and pull the cars into shop.
The mechanics, observing my prodigal nature, accepted me quickly as one could hope. Typically, the hazing would have lasted months, maybe years. For one portly mechanic named Tommy, he would always be Tubs. For our one black detailer, he would suffer accusation after accusation of theft: theft of food, tools, jobs, anything. It's a testament to the abuse suffered by minorities that they continue to suffer it. If any of the white mechanics endured the slightest offense, or even a sub-optimal raise, work would come to a stand still in the shop.
Soon the mechanics came to me with questions about their own tickets, and I almost always diagnosed the problem correctly. I had found another home, another group that adopted me, another language to speak. Although none of them knew of my visions or past, they did know what I could do for them. Unlike the ribbing another new mechanic would have received, my was given with a smile, which essentially disarmed any legitimate attack.
I was called shithead, stoner, Satanist, Satan, Chuckie, Upchuck, Fucknut and my favorite, Deadhead. Although the Grateful Dead were not in rotation on my walkman, I liked the sound of the title. Perhaps my future endeavors and philosophy were projecting into my young subconscious!
The shop manager's name was Brad. An oafy, keen-eyed man with a silver, military flat-top, he was universally despised by the mechanics from a distance, and universally adored by the owner of the shop, a rarely seen man named Larry. Brad ran the shop like a brothel, giving minimal service for maximum profit, all the while making the customer think that they needed him rather than the other way around.
"Charlie," he yelled from his office one day. "Come in here."
I put down the flywheel in my hands, washed them in solvent and walked towards his office. The other mechanics hissed and said things like, "tough break, bitch" and "tape your asscheeks together" and "he always chooses the young ones."
The mechanics all snickered at each others jokes, and I just smiled and walked through this gauntlet of harassment.
Randy, the eldest mechanic and a living incarnation of 70's rock ‘n roll, occupied the front bay. His shoulder length hair and perfectly cultivated beard gave him the appearance of a biker, and his spindly body had survived more drugs than anyone I knew. He was the unspoken leader of the mechanics and would not let me pass without comment.
"Try not to use your teeth, he doesn't like teeth," he said, pointing at me with a wrench.
I ignored them all and leapt up the three stairs to Brad's tiny office. Inside, the giant man sat like a stuffed pepper in an old office chair, a mountain of completed job tickets waiting for processing.
"It's your mom," he said.
"Your mom. She's on the phone."
I picked up the phone and felt a jolt of cold air rush through me. Brad went back to punching keys on his calculator and writing down numbers while I stood there with the phone in my hand. Not really a vision, whatever I felt at the moment indicated that nothing good was going to come from speaking with my mother. She was calling me at work, something she never did.
"Are you going to talk or what?" Asked Brad, ready to have the entirety of his office back.
I put the receiver to my ear, and I heard two voices: my mother's and my own. We spoke simultaneously, saying the same thing.
Jeff's mother called.
Jeff wrecked his car.
Jeff was at the hospital.
I put the receiver down and looked at Brad.
"You okay?" He asked.
I walked out of his office and back to my stall. The mechanics harassed me, but I could not hear their words. All I heard was my own heartbeat inside my head.
This feeling—this was new. Even when my father left, I felt left behind but okay. I knew that I would be with my mother.
I felt deceived by my visions. Charlie and Jeff were supposed to be a team. Charlie and Jeff were going to take it apart and put it back together. Jeff was leaving me and my visions couldn't be trusted. I felt completely demolished.
I sat down on the stool in front of my work bench, put my head in my hands and screamed.