I’ve never told anyone this story before, other than my father when he was dying. He had asked me why I had always dated so many “crazy women,” and I had given him some crass-as-fuck answer like – “because they fuck better” – so, late one night when it was just me, him, and the morphine – I told him this tale. He was halfway out the door at that point, but raised an eyebrow and said “Sean, sometimes you are the dumbest motherfucker I have ever known – but I love you anyway. Stop being so stupid” – and then he fell back into Morphine Dreamland.
Running away was always the easiest thing for me.
I was living in a very dark and smoke-filled apartment across the street from the main campus of the University of Arkansas. Fayetteville was an interesting little town, although I very rarely ventured outside of my cave. Smoke runs. Odd-houred journeys to the laundry room of the apartment complex down the hill behind me. One very ill-advised and spontaneous joyride in a running car that was left idling out in front of my tiny apartment building.
I left it at the Denny’s off the highway – I‘m not a fucking savage. I really wanted a Grand Slam and a bottomless coffee. I wanted to see other haggard and restless night-time faces.
Most of my days were spent with me sitting on the floor, either devouring a book or trying to write one, depending on how I was feeling that morning. Some days were Writing Days, others were Consuming Days. Most days were Who Gives A Fuck Days, spent in a haze of discontent and loud music.
When I was leaving Brooklyn to head down that way, I made some sort of deal within myself that I was going to force myself to get well in some way. Being smarter than the average payaso, when I shipped my belongings down ahead of me, I stashed a decent amount of the strain of marijuana I was smoking daily into a few of the boxes – so as not to upset my innermost system. I promised myself that I would not buy more – what was there was what was there, and that would be that.
There were a fistful of reasons as to why I had run down to Fayetteville – a friend and mentor I had just connected with deeply had been killed in an accident, the finalities of my Grandmother’s passing were set into motion, as the home I spent large portions of my youth within was sold to a neighbor, and the tumultuous and terrible relationship I had been in when moving back to Brooklyn from Phoenix had finally imploded into a fireball of deceit and indiscretions that made even the druggiest and sleaziest parts of me shudder.
So I ran away.
A friend of mine from the Internet had lived down there her entire life, and she and I spent a ridiculous amount of time talking about how I just needed to get away from the lunacy of the situation I was living in, so that I could heal and write. She certainly didn’t lie to me about her town – she told me it was small and basically nothing more than a college town. What we did talk about was how low the crime rate was, and how cheap it was to live there. According to her, it was the most liberal town in the entire region – which was a huge selling point for a cat like me.
I stayed with her, her ex-husband, their five year old daughter, and their roommate for about a week to ten days, and then I landed the aforementioned apartment right off the campus. The rent on this place was retardedly cheap – less than four hundred duckets a month. I paid the landlord for three months in advance so I wouldn’t have to worry about anything other than getting my head together. I borrowed a car and went over to the truck yard where all my stuff was at, and started bringing it on over to my new Secret Hideout.
The friendship between my friend and I was already horribly strained – not for any other reason other than the two of us both being very headstrong people who were set deeply into our own roles in our heads. She was a very strict vegetarian who was trying to align her mind and body into some form of healthy, and I was a very strict carnivorous hedonist who was hell bent on self-destruction. It wasn’t good for me to be staying over at their place – my presence was creating a lot of tension within their household, as I found myself really getting along with her ex-husband, which I’m pretty sure wasn’t good for her at the time. She and the roommate and I would go to the gym together, and I’d watch with awe and respect at the level of commitment she had for getting herself healthy.
It almost matched my level of self-loathing that I had brought down to The Ozarks with me.
I think it was my second or third day living there when the police knocked on my screen door in the middle of the afternoon. I was very set on getting myself back on a Spiritual Path of sorts, and had set up an altar on top of my refrigerator – nothing too fancy, but somewhere that I could burn incense and focus during my daily meditation. When I opened the screen door, one of the cops, the younger one, asked me if I was “one of them Satanic-type of people,” which made me laugh in a way that didn’t translate too well. I mean – who thinks a statue of Buddha is Satan?
“Is there something I can help you with, officers?”
The other cop had decided it was okay for him to walk past me and enter into my apartment, and he was walking into the other room where I had music playing. The younger cop was sort of standing in a way where he was blocking the doorway, with one leg jutting across the threshold as he leaned into the door jamb all casual-like.
“We came over here because we got a complaint about loud music. You wanna come on in here and turn this racket off?” – the older cop was obviously not in a playful mood.
I realized in that moment that I probably wasn’t someone these gentlemen were used to – a Yankee covered from head to toe in tattoos, with strange incense burning in front of a statue of what they thought was Satan, blasting Public Enemy in the middle of the afternoon on a Tuesday. As I started to walk into the bedroom, I saw that the older cop was using his baton to lift the flaps to the cardboard boxes that I had yet to unpack, as if casually looking into my belongings was part of the call they had received.
“You looking for something specific there, officer? I just moved in two days ago – I still have plenty of unpacking to do.”
He just gave me a twisted look as I turned the volume down. His younger partner was now standing in the doorway to the bedroom – in the exact same position he was standing in the main doorway to the apartment not two minutes earlier. It must have been part of the Fayetteville PD’s training program to block doorways from possible perps or something.
“Just try not to play your music so loudly – your neighbors will be less likely to call us and complain. If anything, turn down all that bass. My idiot nephew is your downstairs neighbor, and his mother has been calling me since you moved in bitching about some scary guy covered in tattoos who listens to loud rap music upsetting her half-retarded baby boy who’s trying to get a degree in some bullshit. My sister annoys the shit out of me, so can you do me that favor?”
I smiled and told him that I would do my best.
After they left, I looked at the top of my bathroom counter and realized I had left out a pipe with some weed in it, so I took it as a sign that I should be thankful and try and honor what the older cop had asked me. There was no sense in dicking around with fate or jail time any more than I needed to. I also went out of my way to go downstairs and apologize to his mouth-breather of a nephew, who looked like he was going to shit his pants when opening the door wearing his favorite WWE t-shirt – I even shook the kid’s hand and told him if he needed anything to just come on up and ask me.
Because I was all about being neighborly and shit.
After a couple of weeks of hiding out in my cave, I decided to venture out to the main drag and have myself a few cocktails. I figured that since it was a Thursday night in a college town, the odds of me getting into trouble were pretty slim. What I forgot to factor into the equation was that this was The South, and trouble can be found anywhere if you didn’t fit.
I spotted a place that had some Harleys in front of it, and went inside and plopped my ass down on a stool at the bar. The bartender couldn’t have been more than twenty-five. She was pretty in an awkward way – jet-black hair pulled into a side ponytail, pale as fuck, wearing a black tank-top and a schoolgirl skirt, and flashing a couple of really shitty tiny tattoos on her bare shoulders. She was doing that whole I’m-over-here-cleaning-glasses-pretending-you-ain’t-sitting-at-my-bar-even-though-I-keep-on-staring-at-you thing, so I called her over and asked her for a Jack and Coke.
Now – I had developed myself some terrible habits after spending most of my adult life working in the service industry. I was always respectful toward bartenders, servers, and the like – but I’ll be damned if I didn’t say something if something was wonky. I always tried to temper it with a little humor, because I know I always appreciated complaints that were at least presented in a funny light.
“Excuse me, Miss? Would you mind if you actually put some liquor in my glass – I mean, if it’s not too much to ask and all?”
Elvira, the Mistress Of Dickson Street made her way over to where I was sitting, picked up my glass, and then dumped it right into the sink – all while staring me down in a way that I wasn’t able to decipher – it simultaneously said Fuck and Fight. I heard one of the big gruff boys at the end of the bar make some smart-ass comment to her, and she shot him a steely glance. I then watched her as she poured me a Proper Cocktail – again, while she stared at me intently.
“What’s your name?”
“Where are you from, Sean?”
“Well, Sean from Brooklyn – my name is Emma. I’m from Little Rock. Came up here to go to college a few years ago, and then I never left. You ever ask me to put liquor in your glass again, and you ain’t gonna leave here neither, okay?”
I let a real slow smirk move across my face and lit up a smoke. Emma smiled and giggled a little bit, and then went back to pouring drinks and polishing glasses. Every now and then I’d look up from the notebook I was scribbling in to see her glaring at me some more. There was a group of extremely drunk kids hanging out over by the pool tables, and a few of the local bikers hanging out at the other end of the bar. They were all taking turns glaring at me, too.
One of these things is not like the others. Obviously.
After downing my fifth Proper Cocktail – which I surreptitiously used to choke down a Lorazepam, I decided it was time to march my crooked ass back down the hill to my cave. I called Emma over to thank her and to settle up the tab. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught one of the bikers giving me the hairiest eyeball I had ever seen, so I decided to keep my flirting to a minimum, so as not to suffer the wrath of the natives.
“So – where do you live, Sean from Brooklyn?”
Emma was giving me the are-you-man-enough eye, while leaning herself over the bar toward my position, lots of exposed and glowing flesh billowing out of her black tank top, like a Siren Call, only without melody.
“742 Taylor. The bottom of this hill. Apartment number one.”
She then leaned in even further, reaching with her still-wet hands from washing all of those glasses to grab at the back of my head, kissing me gently in the middle of my forehead.
I really hadn’t planned on this little exercise taking place. Hell – I just then remembered I didn’t even have a bed. Whiskey always made me do dumb shit. This was definitely in my Dumb Shit Sean Does wheelhouse.
Fast forward an hour and a half or so, and I am now not only still buzzed from the benzo/whiskey treat I’d allowed myself, but I have smoked a bowl of my NYC red-haired reefer. I was sitting at my computer, listening to some Miles Fucking Davis(Miles and I had reconnected and our love affair was getting mighty goddamn deep down there in them Ozarks), trying to uncoil some sleeping literary ambitions out from under my nervous system’s warm little blanket of drugs and hooch.
I realized that my intoxicated ass had left my front door open when I felt Emma’s hands rubbing my bald pate as she cooed some ridiculous nonsense at me. I tilted my head back in my chair, and she was leaning down, grinning at me. Things are a little hazy from there, as there was a lot of grunting, pushing, and pulling going on – lust and alcohol always made me an odd beast.
Laying around in a pile of clothes and blankets on the floor, smoking and replaying shit in my head as Emma slept softly – I was watching how her back would rise and fall as she filled her lungs with air when I noticed something shadowy move in the other room near the front door.
I noticed it a little too late, actually.
It only took a matter of a few seconds before the gun was planted firmly in the middle of my forehead. It only took half a second after that for Emma to roll over and start laughing her ass off. It took less time than that for me to realize I’d just been burned something fierce.
“Alright, Sean from Brooklyn – give us everything you got. Money, weed, whatever else kinda drugs you got stashed up in here. You do that, and we won’t kill you, understand?”
Emma was still laughing while she was pulling on her clothes. The big greasy biker guy kept on calling her “Baby,” but she never said his name once. I had about a quarter pound of that marijuana stashed all throughout the apartment, and gave them about half of it. Homeboy rifled through my wallet, and got pissed off when he saw there wasn’t any money in it.
“You’d best cough up some motherfucking cash or I’m gonna put a hole in your head, Sean from Brooklyn. I’m not fucking around here – GIMME THE CASH!”
I stared at him for a good long second – this was the same dude at the bar who had muttered something to Emma – and in that good long second I thought about taking him down. I mean – what good was all that military training if I wasn’t going to use it, right?
“I’m from New York City, man – nobody keeps cash in their wallets unless they’re a fucking tourist or a target. The cash is in my front right pants pocket over there – it’s about three hundred – just take it and get the fuck out of my goddamn house.”
As I watched him pulling the cash out of my jeans, Emma walked over to me all sassy-steppin’, as if this little home invasion/strong-arm was no big deal or anything. I took a step back away from her, and she started to laugh again.
“Oh, Sean from Brooklyn – I ain’t gonna hurt you, honey. This is just your Southern Comeuppance, that’s all. Y’all Yankee motherfuckers always think you’re so fucking smart and slick, but just like we seem like yokels and morons to you – you do to us down here.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. What the fuck else was I supposed to do – she had a point. I let my guard down, thinking that my regular sense of reality would help me out in an alien world. I was goddamn wrong, and I was man enough to laugh at it.
Emma gave me another long and weird kiss as I watched homeboy count the cash he snatched as he put the pistol back in his waistband. Again – a fleeting idea to tackle him and put the gun to his head popped into my head, but I realized that was fucking stupid. No sense in me getting shot or roughed the fuck on up when it was all over now.
“Okay Sean from Brooklyn, we’re gonna leave now – but don’t you ever think about coming into that bar again, you got me? You show up – you disappear out in the woods. And don’t you even think about calling the cops, okay?”
I just stood there like a big dummy.
I watched them walk out the door, Emma looking back at me through the screen door with a look on her face that said “I’m really sorry, honey.” As soon as they were down the front stairs I kind of collapsed on the floor. I was half-laughing, shaking, and half-crying. What the fuck? Nothing like getting set up by some fucking hillbilly motherfuckers – but they were pretty goddamn smart. An old con, one I shouldn’t have fallen for but did. Lesson learned.
After that, I rarely went out while still living down there in Fayetteville. I made nice-nice with the two kids who lived upstairs – I never told anyone what happened, but positioned myself as the neighbor who kept his eye out for everyone – hoping it would be reciprocal.
The one time after that when I did go out was after my father had already been diagnosed with cancer and I was already gearing up to go and take care of him. My friend Carole rolled into town from Louisiana with Fruity Jim and Crazy Wayne.
We had us a hell of a ball – but that’s another tale altogether.
I do still feel guilty about jacking that car to go to Denny’s, though.