When I was a kid I did whatever I could to stay out of my mom’s way, especially when she was altered, which was a lot. When she was drinking she yelled and hollered nonsense, which turned into a fountain of tears and her curled in the bed. Other times she’d be subdued from the Valium, but she’d be on the phone slurring about her sex life. “I know he stayed with me because I’m better in bed than Karen.” (Gag me with a serrated edge.) Or she’d be flopped out on the sofa with glassy eyes and a vacant stare. Either way, I didn’t want to be a part of it, so I spent a lot of time outside making mischief.
At the start of my second grade year, we were living in the XXX scary doll warehouse. The rooftop of the warehouse was covered with dog feces but I didn’t mind, I still played up there, strategically dodging the piles. I’d race Ken’s pink Corvette from the slanted angle of the roof off the sides of the building. Ken went sailing, with stiffened arms, through the air as the racer tumbled over the edges. I’d watch until the dust settled, pressing my body firmly against the roof to see the landing. Skipper always drove topless, but Ken remained in his baby-blue oxford and disco-tight, white pants.
The warehouse was accessible from the upstairs deck of our building. At the time, our second Doberman, Queenie, used to leap from the deck to the roof whenever she needed a break. You could see her from the street walking around on the roof looking for just the right spot. I’d get off the bus, running down the sidewalk shouting, “Queenie, girl, are you up there?” Sometimes she’d appear after hearing her toenails, like a pair of pumps, walking on the shingles. One day she went missing. “Shannon, I think someone stole Queenie.” I never questioned my mom about how the thief got her down, or out of the apartment without anyone noticing.
In the unit below ours lived a man with fierce red hair and a matching beard. He wasn’t home much, but I was intrigued because of what my mom told me. “ Shannon, he’s dirty. He has lice, crabs and bedbugs. Stay out of his apartment.” I was interested. “Momma, what are crabs, lice and bedbugs?” “They’re little blood-sucking insects that live on your body when you’re nasty.” “Ewe, How do they get there?” “From sleeping in too many beds with trashy women.” “I was scared to death but curiosity is motivating. My determination to see a vampire like body-insect had me spying through exposed windows for hours. I’d stare at his dirty clothes heaped around the room waiting for something bow-legged to start walking down his Levis. However, most of my investigation focused on his floor based mattress. I’d slant my eyes hard to see the crumbled ball of white sheet as if expecting an army of crawlers to surrender. Sometimes I’d even watch him drool. He’d come home drunk and pass out face up. Whenever he stirred to scratch himself, I’d cottontail it out of there in fear of getting caught. I think he was on to me.
I was a nosey child, (and adult) so much that my fascination actually opened a door that took me inside a strange man’s apartment. I wanted to know more about what my mother called; “devil-worshiping wiccan’s,” and I knew one lived nearby.
Behind our building was a long gravel driveway, on the other side of it was a wooded area followed by a dilapidated apartment. My mom’s boyfriend at the time owned it and rented it out to the spooky looking man. He was the tall, slim, gray-skinned warlock that lived in our unit before us with the witch and other warlock. There was a pack of cats that lived in and around his shack. The front door, which opened to the kitchen was solid on the bottom but lined with equal square windows on top. I could easily view the opened cans of cat food on the floor and counter space. There were more opened cans than I’d ever seen before. I had to know what, if anything else was in his fridge.
I stood up on my toes trying to see if warlock- man was home. I wiggled the doorknob and it opened. I cracked it just a sliver so that I could squeeze by without the sound of rust. My olfactory was overloaded with the smells of stale-fishy cat-food and earthy spices. The white linoleum floor was filthy, and month-old dirty dishes and cans spilled out of the sink.
A scrawny black cat rubbed by me, and a calico sat watching, bored, from the counter. I was amazed by how many caked on cans of Fancy Feast, Tender Vittles and generic shrimp and gravy, cat-food cans, there were in one kitchen. It was like hoarder’s gone wild. When I opened the refrigerator there was nothing but more cans, except for canned tuna, which could be confused for cat-food as well.
Through the kitchen I could see the den area and a slightly opened door. In front of the salvation-army-covered in cat hair-couch, was a low table filled with 1970’s throwback-ashtrays and rolled bags of dried greenery. The sandwich bags were rolled tight like oregano filled tootsie rolls. There were seeds, beer cans and ashes all over the place. I was a drug savvy kid, even at seven, I knew the difference between camel cigarette ashes and burnt marijuana remains.
I scanned the rest of the room looking for anything I else I could find to prove his devil-worshipping status. I didn’t find anything other than an eye-widening piece of electronics. It was the first VCR I’d ever seen and I was captivated. I walked over to it, but thought I heard a noise, and it wasn’t coming from the machine. It sounded like a rubbing sound. I looked towards the parted door and saw the form of a person in the bed. My stomach all but left me as I backed out of the room and into the kitchen. I turned direct, crashing into an unfamiliar white cat, which bitched, as I went out the door. I closed it gently and took off with my heart in my throat, and my hair following me. I knew I’d left the door open and let the white cat in by mistake. I just hoped creepy man didn’t notice, but I always felt like he knew.
A few weeks later I came home from school and saw his VCR, and a stack of tapes next to our television. He couldn’t pay rent, in lieu, he gave my mom’s boyfriend the VCR and boy was I beside myself. I watched Sean Connery, James Bond movies, and my favorite, Roger Moore, as James Bond movies. I saw Clint Eastwood’s “High Plains Drifter,” “skin” vampire and zombie movies, and a porno, all while my mother napped.
I loved having the VCR, between it and the junked up white Mercedes Benz in our gravel-driveway; I thought we were big on the block. I’d climb in the car, and over the bench-seat to the back. I’d sit there pretending to ride while talking to my driver. “ Sir, I’d like to go to the circus today and get me some of’em Circus Peanuts.” One time while climbing over the seat rubbed me in a funny, tingle sort of way. I spent the afternoon trying to find that just right spot again. Who knows, maybe Susan’s right, maybe certain cars really are, “Panty droppers.”?
A year later, when we were living in the citrus flavored neighborhood, the devil-VRC-man came over for a visit. He spent the afternoon in our kitchen making marinara sauce with his special oregano, and spinach spaghetti noodles. I didn’t much care for the taste so I went upstairs to dance naked in front of the bathroom mirror. I stood up on the counter and wiggled my stuff until weed-man walked in unannounced. It surprised us both. He left. I guess we were even.
On the other side of the street from our dry-cleaning building/ XXX Scary Doll Warehouse was a 1920 circa, small, dirty white cottage with wood-rot and peeling paint. My friend Lisa lived there with her older brother, mom and dad, and greasy uncle Randy. The house looked like an old farmhouse with an inviting front porch, (if you didn’t notice the missing planks.) The front door opened to a living area filled wall-to-wall with a pool table. I’m not kidding either when I say, “a velvet picture of bulldogs playing poker, hung next the cue rack.” Next to the rack was a big stereo that knew the likes of Juice Newton, Hank Williams Senior, and Elvis Presley.
Lisa’s parents were bona fide stoners, and Christians. Her mother believed that Elvis Presley’s death was a hoax and that he just wanted out of “the life.” She spoke as if she personally knew his mother and often wrote letters to his estate. “I wrote to Elvis’s mom today asking if she needed anything.” She was a kind woman but she always smelled weird because of the Nair she used on her legs. She liked to talk about Jesus a lot too, especially when she was high. “Praise you Jesus, Son of Nazareth, I luve youu!”
Her father and uncle were never dry of a Budweiser, and openly smoked joints hanging from feathered roach clips. Sometimes her uncle would pass out and her mother let us pass ammonia beneath his nostrils for fun. She’d be right there with us giggling and passing the bottle. “Don’t leave it there too long, it might hurt his brain.” The uncle would be so wasted he wouldn’t even notice other than a turn of the head here and there.
Her father drove a Baja-bug, and her mother drove a van with bubbled side windows and a blue wave down each side. The inside was barebones except for the driver and passenger seats. We used to ride in the back, sitting in neon-green lounge chairs from Eckerd Drugs. Once when they took us fishing we slept in the lounge chairs and thought it the greatest thing ever, which started a new phase of sleeping in them at home as well.
We spent most of our time playing at Lisa’s house because she was scared of my mom. On night I convinced her to stay at my house for a sleepover. She was frightened but had to pee so she peed in the humidifier instead of risking bumping into my mom by going to the bathroom. We left the humidifier running as it sprayed out the urine/water mixture all night. We were kids, what did we know?
My low-rent uncle happened to be “staying” with us for a while too. He was in his early twenties but had probably committed more crimes than his age. Like my mother, he had that “mental patient” look in his eyes. Or, as my ex Jack, liked to say, “Lights are on, but nobody’s home.” They certainly grew up in the same orchard.
When my friend was over, my uncle came into my room while we were sleeping. It was dark but we could see what he was holding in our faces. “Ha, Ha, Ha, who wants some Deviled Ham?” He was shaking a can of Deviled Ham. It was a tiny, round can covered in white paper with a red dancing devil on the label. “Canned ham anyone?” “DEEviled HAM?” My mother came in, laughing behind him. “Shannon, do you and your friend want some Devil meat?” They were devilishly standing over my bed in the haze of pee humidity. I guess they really were the “marked ones.”
Needless to say, Lisa never spent the night again, but I stayed at her house plenty. Find out next time what sort of trouble I got in with her stuffed panther.