It had been two weeks since the party - two weeks since that fag, Ishmael, stated how lost I looked. I guess he was right. But, the main question was - what was I going to do about it?
I have had enough. My fucking addiction had devoured everything I held dear - friends, personal effects, my health. Paranoia had set in. And, I had hit the end of the road.
As my emotions reeled in contempt, I hopped off the trolley in downtown San Diego and trudged to work. I stood outside the theater and finished a cigarette - my stomach was hurting. I contemplated on turning around and not coming back.
Putting the cigarette butt out with my foot, I entered the office ten minutes before my shift began. Bill stood there chomping on garlic and stupidly glaring at me through his grimy, bottle thick glasses.
“Hey! There ya are - man! Bob is pissed at you. He says he’s been getting bad comments about you from the patrons. Says that you’ve been treating them badly and he’s losing money.”
I ignored him and began silently to count out the register - my head spun from the amount of garlic that wafted through the air.
“I wouldn’t worry about it, though.” He continued chewing. “Bob’s just mad ‘cause he can’t control Keith and he’s taking it out on us.”
Us? I thought. What’s this us shit?
It was an all-out effort to dump his frustrations on me and me alone.
Mercifully, Bill left right at the hour and didn’t hang around like he usually did. It was a relief - I really couldn’t take anymore. My mind was crisp in contempt and hate for the place.
A moment passed and the phone rang, it was Bob.
The heavy-labored breathing, “How’s everything going?”
I knew this was going to be bad - he always started with the buttering up routine before he dropped the axe.
“Things are fine, Bob.” I croaked flat, toneless, dead.
“Now listen to me, ya goddam motherfucker.” Bob blubbered out those words rapidly.
I stared into nothing, zoning him out.
The attempt at abuse continued, “If you wish to continue to be in my employ, you had better get your shit together. I am getting far too many complaints about you.”
A long pause for dramatic effect.
“Are you listening to me? Do you understand what I am saying? What? What, you have nothing to say? You are spineless, you know that? I should come down there right now and throw your ass out! You are lucky - damn lucky - that I have to look for Keith or I would be there right now and throw your ass out into the streets. Are you listening? Are you there?”
Long pause. I was seething with contempt.
“Say something if you want to keep your job, asshole!” He bleated with the firm assurance that he was in total control.
“I’m here.” I finally said.
“You act as if you don’t even care what I am saying to you.” Thank you for stating the obvious. “You can be damned sure that I will be there first thing in the morning, you worthless fuck, and when I arrive, we will talk in length about this shit! Got me?”
He hung up before I could answer. I was livid. That was it - I made the decision. I ripped out a strip of aluminum foil and smoked the last of my dope. Anger and meth do not mix; any addict can tell you that.
As the night dragged, I paced uncontrollably back and forth in the office. Grudgingly admitting patrons at the box office - emitted waves of toxic hostility to the ones who dared to bother me at the concession window.
Started to think - my mind spun in a vortex of self-loathing.
“I have to stop, I have to stop!” Was all I kept muttering as I walked back and forth the length of the office.
Nostalgia passed before me, all the friends that are now dead or incarcerated, all the money that had been plundered and pissed away to support my addiction, all the crap that I had put myself through. I was done. Done!
It was then that I had made the fantasy of leaving into a reality. There is nothing - nothing - better in the world than committing a crime and getting away with it. I decided to take what I could from this place – purely from spite - and leave for Texas as Diego had suggested.
I looked up at the clock on the wall; it read 3:47am. In the theater all was quiet except for the grunts and moans of the movie - the still of the night.
I casually walked over to the cash register and emptied it out. Just the bills and left the coins. It was an okay night and the count came to just a little over six hundred and fifty dollars. I knew that if I was going to take this trip - I needed all I could muster.
The movie in the theater ended, so I cued up the next on one of the two VCR’s that were in the office. With the other one, I disconnected it and placed it onto the blue recliner. I decided to take that, too.
However, I needed more! And, I knew exactly where - on the opposite side of the entrance hall was a service door where inside lay the safe. And I knew, and Bob knew, over half the time that damn safe wasn’t even locked. I frowned inward, I didn’t have the keys to the safe room, but that didn’t stop me.
When the building was converted into a theater, the contractors must’ve built this small room quickly. Though it was solid with wood panels and frame, it didn’t quite reach the high ceiling, leaving the top open.
I grabbed the folding chair sitting at the cinema’s entrance and placed it by the door. Hoisting myself up, I scampered over the wall - my stomach was scratched from the splintered wood frame, shirt smeared in dust and old, flaking asbestos. I flipped myself over the top and landed hard on my feet inside the cubical.
There lay the safe - dusty and impregnable. That filthy fucker Bill had closed it this time! I tried pulling on the lever in the hopes that it was only closed and not locked. It was shut tight.
Paranoia at the very act of what I was committing ran cold up my spine. I had to split now before some nosy friend of Bob’s wandered up to the concession stand and noticed that I must “Be Up To Something” and warn Bob before I could get away.
I returned to the office, grabbed my jacket, snatched up the pilfered VCR and headed out the door - not even bothering to lock up the office.
Delusions of fiending sugar junkies doing unspeakable acts in the concession area - frustrated crackheads grabbing handfuls of porn to sell on the streets - wild eyed tweekers disassembling the office of every electrical component - Bob arriving in the morning to an office stripped bare. These crazy, meth induced comedic images spun through my mind as I darted out of the cinema and into freedom.
My heart raced. There I was - tweeked out of my gourd as I strutted down the dark and misty morning street to the nearest trolley station carrying a stolen VCR - wires dangling in my arms like entrails.
Sniffs of disdain and loathsome glares from fellow passengers as we silently waited in the pre-dawn night. I shifted my feet, averted my gaze and waited - sweating and shaking. It was nearly 5am and the train had already begun running.
Realizing that there were no patrols this early, I hadn’t even bothered purchasing a ticket.
Jumping the train - weary, paranoid, the amped state of being reeling in my head, the rush of what I had just committed and the thrill of what I was going to do - I sat and listened to the clakclakclak of the rails as we raced down to the Mexican border.
I made a mad dash across the border and hailed a taxi. I wasn’t about to walk to my apartment - not with me tweeking, clutching a stolen VCR, and a load of cash in my pocket.
I reached my room full of angst and apprehension. As I tossed the VCR on the bed - I acted fast – grabbing my dusty duffel bag, I crammed my ratty clothes and few personal items into it.
The general impedance of what I was doing and why began to sink in and stopped me in my tracks. I sat on the corner of the bed and looked around the dark, musty room.
A kaleidoscope of images swarmed in front of me - I thought of Mario. I thought of the times we had scoring for dope, crazed late-night drinking, the times at the theater. I was hoping to at least see him before I cut out of town. I wondered how he would turn out in the months to come. Jail? Death?
I thought of the parties and the people of this mad, insane city that I had gotten stuck in - what would life be like in Ciudad Juárez? Hell, I only had a vague idea where it was. I began to think on how I was a meth addict and what that entailed. A fucked up mess, that’s what.
I remembered the over-exaggerated, tweek-fueled rant Mario once went into when I asked his opinion of an addict.
We lay naked and next to each other on a sagging bed in a dark, sweltering hotel room. Crumpled foils of scorched aluminum and an empty bottle of Patron on the night stand.
I lay wracked in laughing jags at Mario as he gesticulated wildly, sputtered his crazy tirade out like a faux PSA announcement, “The common meth addict will kill and die for their dope, and can never be cured! They will want it every day for the rest of their lives! They start by doing lines, then smoke it, and eventually they graduate to ‘slamming’ using needles. They never want to see anyone, unless they are tweeking. They are afraid of everything, except death. All of their friends are parolees, and they ‘ain’t shit’ until they have been to prison at least once. They steal everything in sight, draw sexually explicit pictures, talk shit, disappear for days or even weeks, will physically assault the people they love, slash their own wrists and arms. They will lose up to 100 pounds in a few weeks. They will have spent all of their money and lose any job they might have once had. They are unemployable. They hate themselves. They will spend 5 to 40 hours straight beating off and sticking things up their asses. Some will steal panties from the apartment dryers and wear them. Damn tweekers will eventually accomplish self fellatio! Anything is possible with speed!”
I chuckled inward at the nostalgic path my mind raced into - a funky, alternate reality.
Because nothing was real, everything was permitted. Yes, anything was possible from here on out.
I grabbed the VCR and walked down to the corner café to wait for the pawn shop to open. After two coffees, I sold the machine for one-hundred pesos.
By mid-afternoon, I was standing in the cavernous, aircraft-hanger of a bus terminal in Tijuana and waited for my exile eastward - leaning against a large, white column, smoking.
A flat, tinny voice squawked over the speakers in a language I didn’t quite get as sullen, brown skinned locals milled about, a baby cried, a fat man in a red t-shirt that read Happiness Is Coming! stood in black, wraparound sunglasses - everyone silently staring at everyone else. I purchased my one-way ticket to Ciudad Juárez, a Mexican city on the opposite side of the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas.
A fat steward announced to board our bus. I filed on with the other passengers - mostly elderly. I stored my bag in an overhead compartment and hunkered down in a seat to myself and waited to be thrown into the unknown.
With a squealing of gears and a fart of black soot, the mighty bus pulled from the station. I stared out the grimy window - saddened and bitter. Yet, I had no regrets. Leaving a place in which no one would care that I was gone.
I started east, knowing from here on out, I was a marked man and must keep on my guard. I saw my ravaged reflection in the window - with those tired, paranoid eyes of mine as they gazed back and I admitted to myself - I did look truly lost…