I awoke in an unfamiliar room. This was hardly new. There were three other dudes still sleeping in the beds around me. It was a moldy group, clearly losers I had been partying with, but couldn’t remember. Then it hit me. This hotel room didn’t have a bathroom. This wasn’t a hotel room at all. This was rehab. A detox unit. If there was a party, it’s over now.
There’s an elevator-landing-in-your-gut feeling when that realization crawls into your consciousness. Major dragage. Besides all the physical discomfort, there’s the open sewage pouring into your soul. Ok, this might not even be happening. You’ve seen a lot of things that weren’t really there, old boy. This is probably just a bad dream brought on by alcohol poisoning. You’re probably just dying. Don’t worry, it’s not really rehab. Blink it away. Blink it away. Blink this fucking room with no bathroom away!
I was still blinking when an attendant came in. He looked like the singer from Static X. A reformed one of us, I figured. He had a clipboard. “Alright guys, it’s time to get up.” I got to watch their expressions as they came to. Some were baffled, others resigned. We were told to make our beds. I hadn’t made my bed in 17 years. It seemed a losing effort. Eventually, it would get unmade. Make it. Unmake it. What utter futility! It’s the torment of Greek myths. In a world gone this mad can you see why I need to drink? I made my bed, but now I wanted to lay in it.
We were shuffled off to the medical office for a check-up and possible meds. I rode in this rodeo before. Meds meant hope. Meds meant maybe a little better. Meds also meant it was time to dust off my thespian performance cape. A tragic Danish prince with serious life issues is one role, but someone who is prone to seizure if not medicated is another. I intended my Hamlet to be both. I sat across the doctor’s desk and made sure he could see my shaking hands.
I get uncomfortable when people ask me a series of questions. Usually, it has to do with the surroundings. Hospital, crime scene, first date, booking room, shrink’s office, time-share presentation, or job interview. It’s never where I’d prefer to be at the moment. The right answers will facilitate me getting out of there the fastest, but are they the honest ones? Rarely. My other problem has to do with the Aristotelian nature of so many of the questions. Yes or no. Many times the answer is both and neither. ”Can I get back to you on that one?” never seems to fly. I also suck at remembering “when?” When did the problem start? When did you first notice this? When did you leave the motel? When did you sell this gun to the guy you can’t remember?
“I have to impress upon the court, that my client often has trouble remembering the events of last night. Only with intense study of credit card receipts, matchbooks, and food stains, can any sort of time line be put together.”
Sadly this time, my honest answers were enough to get me a jackpot of medication. Yahoo! I’m really sick! They were right about the truth setting you free. I got my pills and rolled out into the day room to check out the other guests. Let’s see who else ran out of rainbow. The tableaux looked like something out of a cheap community theater production. There was the toothless White Trash meth-head, a red-faced street drunk, and a ghoulish heroin addict. There was also a guy that looked like my Dad. I found out that he had drank isopropyl alcohol when he ran out of Cutty Sark and almost died. Paaaartay!
Breakfast trays were rolled in on a cart by some trustee with a spider web tattoo across his neck and cheek. He was clearly someone who understood the benefits of taking a cafeteria job when institutionalized. I wasn’t hungry. Besides, I wanted a nice empty stomach to grind up whatever pills they gave me. Until then, I looked around for any distraction. There were some dusty board games held together by masking tape. They had Scrabble. Hmm. I scanned the room for a possible Scrabble partner. Forget it. On one of the tables were some magazines featuring shit I didn’t care about, like the news, the outdoors, decorating, sports, people, fashion, and health. In jail I’d read anything, but I wasn’t that desperate. No need to make soldiers out of toilet paper and toothpicks, just yet.
I hit pay dirt when I saw a black dude with dreads. Right away, I just knew. I got that long-lost friend feeling. “Welcome to the party,” he said to me. “I was just about to step out and get more beer and ice.” I had found a life raft. It turned out he was a drummer in a famous punk rock band. More importantly he was brilliant and funny. He made those first days bearable. I owe that man more than I can ever repay.
There were others. Boris the Russian, a 19-year-old gang-banger heroin junkie. Vern, a commercial burglar and speed freak. Richie, a porn producer from Chatsworth with a bouquet of addictions. There was also Big Ron, a massive toxic waste dump of a biker, who lived with his mother. They weren’t about to replace Mt. Rushmore, but they were all good men. They made me laugh when things didn’t seem so funny, and I was very grateful. How did I get so lucky? When I found myself asking this in a rehab in North Hollywood, surrounded by some seriously fucked up social rejects, I knew I was on the mend.
In rehab, good company will take you far, but it won’t let you miss your stop at Bummerville. Afterall, no matter how deranged and deluded you are when you crash, you can’t help but see a little clearer when the dust settles. There’s the gnawing fact that what landed you here is also what helped you cope with out there. Sticky situation. A doozy of a puzzler. A motherfucking quandary. I decided to play along until I could figure out an angle. In the meantime, I was discharged from Detox to Residential Stay. I took a diploma, and was even chosen valedictorian at the ceremony.
It was February of 2004. It rained non-stop that month. I was glad. I wanted my outside to look as depressing as my insides felt. The place was mostly populated by Prop 36 inmates. They had been offered the choice between prison and rehab. This was the easier softer way, but they gave the joint a certain jail vibe. In fact, Boris was grinding down a toothbrush into a shiv on a brick he had found when I moved into my room. “I would use the brick first,” I said, “ and keep the dental hygiene as back up,” He laughed. We introduced ourselves.
Boris was skinny and fluorescent white. He had a shaved head and wore the Pendleton-Dickies combo so pop with the barrio murder crowd. His family had moved from the Black Sea to Montebello. How romantic. He adapted to his environment and began to gang-bang with the homies. Because he was Russian, he did a lot of extra stuff to prove he was worthy of their respect. Some of the shit he later told me, made my teeth sweat. Russians can be cruel bastards, but the hybrid you get when you cross one with a vato loco is an exceptionally potent psycho.
Somehow, we hit it off right away. Because I wasn’t clueless about Latino street culture and protocol, and versed well enough in the vernacular to get myself into serious trouble, we could communicate. We formed an alliance. At least I didn’t have to worry too much about him trying to rape me while I slept. Seems like a small thing, but again, I was grateful. This was a new habit I was developing.
That first night as I sat on my bed, I could see a big neon sign of a circus clown advertising a liquor store across the street. It was a fiendish taunt, and a little heavy-handed in its irony. I hate clowns, but I love liquor. The rain on the windows made the clown wiggle and dance. It was like being stuck in a student art film. The clown spoke to me. “Hey there glum chum!” he said, “I’ve got just the thing to turn that frown upside down.” We weren’t locked in. I could bug out anytime. Many others did. But I knew if I walked across that street and bowed down to that clown, I might never straighten up again. It was time for the fucking circus to sweep up its elephant shit and get out of town. I unmade my bed and went to sleep.