March 02, 2008

Next to Mama Cass

By Paul McGuire © 2008

Toe. That's what Rex called him in 2003.

"Because he's a fuckin' Toe-head. Damn skater kids from The Valley flocking to the hills. He's a total retard, too," lamented Rex.

Rex did not shy away from showing his disdain for Toe. The root of it all was Jupiter. She was one of my roommates in a house up on Lookout Mountain Avenue in Laurel Canyon. The house was not famous per se, except that it was located next to the house where Mama Cass used to live in the 1960s.

Rex had a crush on Jupiter, but alas, Toe was her boyfriend who moved in after he got evicted from his apartment in Studio City. That meant we had another freeloader in the house drinking up all my beer, or eating Dulce's fruit, or clogging up the toilet, or leaving a mess in the kitchen. Rex was already hoarding two runaways in the garage, so what was another person added to the mix? The house built for four had at least seven or eight people living in it at any given time.

Most of my housemates were twenty-something, with the exception of Rex and SK. They were the two oldest in the house. SK didn't say much and was rarely around. He supposedly worked as a camera man in the porn industry and kept odd hours. SK was a chubby balding guy in his early forties. He had lost his house in Sherman Oaks in a bitter divorce. He was exiled to shared housing with fucked up wannabe artists and other freaks living on the fringe of Hollywood.

"The SK stands for Serial Killer!" Jupiter explained to me on the night I moved into the house. His real name was Greg, and we never called him SK to his face, but we always referred to him as SK.

"SK is a total freakazoid!" said Jupiter. "He totally looks like a child molester. Those evil eyes? Come on! I catch him leering at me all the time. Creepy fuckin' tool if you ask me. Sick. Ugghhh. He makes me sick, it's so disgusting that he masturbates to me. I'm positive that he has a secret camera in the bathroom or shower or in my room. I mean, he's old enough to be my father. Ugghhhh... You know that he disappears for days at a time. I betcha that's when he does his killings. Like the Green River serial killer, he picks up tranny hookers on Santa Monica Blvd., and then slits their throats the dumps the bodies in a dumpster behind the Yukon Mining Company. We should call the fuckin' pigs and bust the sonofabitch."

"And what would you do when they showed up to talk to you and you had heroin, a bong, and god knows how many pills scattered around your dresser?" I said as I climbed up on my soap box.

SK was a world champion weirdo. Jupiter wasn't exaggerating. He was completely sketched out and he appeared as though he was on some sort of medication. Happy pills? Anti-depressants? Anti-psychotic meds? There was definitely something strange about SK. He emitted a dark and disturbing energy. He lacked of a soul and talking to him made your head spin because you could taste all the pain and feel all of the evil and hear all of the vileness sucking out all of the breathable air and you were instantly suffocated by a serious anxiety attack as you scampered off fearing your own life.

We lived with a psychopathic, serial-killing, child molester who worked in the porn biz. He was a ticking time bomb that could go off at any moment. However, he always paid his rent on time and was rarely home. Much to our dismay, he got to stay and we avoided him.

I always pictured myself in front of a frenzied mob of reporters saying things like, "He was a quiet guy. Kept to himself. I'm shocked that this happened."

Then my half-baked housemates would make up juicy fodder to feed the media machine.

"He listened to Tchaikovsky in the dark, totally nude wearing only a pair of rubber surgical gloves while he sniffed a pair of soiled panties."

"He had all these pictures of young Asian boys taped to his wall."

"Oh and did you know? He was a Republican. Voted for Reagan in 1980 he said. And again in 1984."

SK should have been institutionalized. Rex was no angel either. He was a severe pain in the ass and would steal the last dollar out of your pocket if given the chance. He had gotten kicked out of the house after failing to pay over four months of back rent. Instead of leaving the property outright, he holed up in the garage in the form of protest. There was a small sound-proofed room behind the washer and dryer in the garage. Laurel Canyon residents did creative things with their basements and garages. Some turned them into a practice space for musicians or constructed a grow room to cultivate marijuana. Many houses in the canyon did both.

When Rex was evicted, he sold his remaining possessions and used the money to buy a cache of drugs that both Keith Moon and Hunter Thomspon would have envied. He went deep into a wicked coke bender and locked himself in the garage for over a week. He was hallucinating and delusional and incessantly rambled to himself in the darkness of the basement where all the cockroaches scurried about.

Dulce tried to do laundry but Rex chased her out of the garage.

"He's turned into an animal," Dulce explained with a terrified look in her glazed eyes. "It's like Lord of the Flies down there. He's wearing cut off jean shorts and no shirt. He was sweating profusely as he muttered things about the corrupt judges in the government who have illegal written housing laws and how he's taking the owner of the house to court."

Rex sat around and snorted endless line after line of blow while watching an old black and white TV with horrible reception. He was lucky to get two channels up in the canyon. During Dodgers games, he shouted obscenities at the TV whenever the bullpen gave up any hits. In a juiced up rage, Rex viciously attacked the TV after Eric Karros grounded into his second double play of the afternoon. Rex ripped the TV out its socket and ran outside. He hurled the TV and it accidently slammed onto Toe's car.

Toe went apeshit when he found out that Rex cracked the front windshield. He took off his belt and twirled one end around his fist while the buckle dangled. He shoplifted the belt from the Gap (retail value $19.99), but that quickly transformed into a weapon. Toe chased Rex out of the garage and tackled him.

Jupiter stood in shock as her boyfriend whipped the shit out of Rex and knocked him unconscious. The two emo kids who lived next door in Mama Cass’ house were independent film makers. They grabbed a camera, rushed outside, and filmed the incident. One of them shouted directions at Toe.

"Whip his legs some more," the emo kid screamed. "Now back to the head. More blood splatter!"

I was at work and missed the entire incident, but I caught the highlights on video when I got home. Rex was rushed to the ER while Toe spent the weekend in jail. Jupiter did not have enough money for bail and asked to borrow some money. Dulce and I quickly turned her down. She got desperate and offered up a firesale of drugs. My mouth watered at Jupiter’s various pharmacopoeia.

"There's a $20 pile and a $40 pile," she said. "The $20 pile helps you tune out the world. A couple of Valium, four Vicodins, and three Percocets."

"And what's in the $40 pile?"

"Ritalin. That shit will get you fucking high. I only have two though. And then there's the Klonopin. That's a heavy anti-pyscho drug and will fuck your ass up. Like only take that if you're not gonna do anything for a while. Like, for at least five hours. No, maybe seven. Or eight? I took one and went to work and I was so faded and wasted that I almost got fired. They sent me home. That shit was heavy. Something fuckin' fierce. I had to take a Ritalin just to get back to normal, ya know?"

I scooped up both piles and gave her $50.

"What the fuck?" Jupiter screamed.

"Sorry. That's all I had on me. So, where did you get the anti-psychotic drugs?"

"Rex was supposed to be taking them, but he sold them to me. Gave me the bottle for like $20."

Rex was some sort of trust fund junkie. He got a small check every month and his family paid for all of his prescriptions. He would pick them up at the drug store but not take any of them. He sold what he could and used the profits to buy cocaine. When he was short on cash, usually towards the end of the month, he stole things like Dulce's books or CDs to feed his habit. Rex was always hustling to get high.

When Rex got out of the hospital, he met two street kids that were heavy tweakers. They could not have been more than 16 or 17 and said that they were from Fresno. The girl had angelic eyes and nice cheeks. She looked like she hadn't slept in days but there was some semblance of beauty underneath her baggy jeans and dirty tank top. I couldn't figure out why she was with a loser like Skate. Yeah, that was his street name. Skate. Pretty sad, eh? You could easily picture the guy... so stereotypical for a suburban wasteoid... scrawny fucker, very short, with lots of tattoos. He was white but thought he was black and dropped the n-word into conversation as many times as he could. Somehow, he managed to give Rex $100 to let him and his girl crash in the practice space for a week. What they didn't know was that Rex snorted all of their crystal meth.

With three addicts jonesin' in the garage, it was a matter of time before they raided the house and stole everything while we were at work. That made me hyper-Philip K. Dick-paranoid. Maybe it was all the Klonopin that clouded my judgment. It gave me intense buzz but made me think about weird things, like Rex and the tweaker kids were going pillage the house and take it over and make us live in the garage.

Our house in Laurel Canyon turned into a drug den in a very unglamorous way. It was just so matter of fact. Everyone in the house was using and abusing. Pills. Weed. Booze. Coke. Smack. Mushrooms. Ecstasy. Anything. Everything. We were all functioning addicts with service jobs. No wonder the service is so atrocious in L.A., it's because everyone is shitfaced wasted on something. Toe worked in a bar near UCLA that he actually showed up for once in a while. Jupiter worked at a Starbucks in West Hollywood and Dulce held two waitressing jobs.

Dulce was an attractive peppy girl from San Diego. She diligently saved up for grad school and her first job funded her future. Her second job funded her addiction to weed, whiskey, and cocaine. She loved all three when her shift ended at midnight. She'd get loaded with friends or come home and get fucked up with the rest of us and recant horror stories about her customers that day, like the couple from Brentwood that stiffed her or the father of three who grabbed her ass twice before the salad was served.

Jupiter and Toe smoked heroin four or five times a week, and sometimes before they went to work. I mean, a bong hit before breakfast was not that uncommon in our house. No one in Southern California is going to frown upon a little weed tokage before a cup of java. But chasing dragon before your Cheerios was some serious shit. That's a boisterous statement that screams, "Hello, I'm a fuckin junkie! Hope you have a great day."

They smoked H with their doors wide open and sometimes in the common areas. I had to be the voice of reason a couple of times and told them to hide their freak flag and keep the H on the down low. They were either completely stupid or had the biggest balls in the world. Rex was right about something... Toe was totally retarded.

A couple of times Dulce and I would steal drugs from Jupiter and Toe when they nodded out. We snuck into their room. Dulce went right for the coke, while I fed my voracious addiction to painkillers. Nothing in life compared to that warm punchy feeling that you got after you washed down a couple Vicodins with a cold beer. Heaven on earth. I called that the floating recipe. You don't move. You float. On smooth bubble of warmth, calmness, and no pain.

Dulce was a cooler and hipper version of Reese Witherspoon, like if the Tracy Flick character from Election did blow at work. I always had a fun time when we hung out, but sometimes she asked me to tag along with her on a drug deal for protection. I never liked that.

One night, she knocked on my door at 2 AM and asked me to take a ride with her. I was writing and didn't want to leave, but she practically begged me. She was too shitfaced to drive and needed a lift. She met a guy that could get her eight balls of blow for $120. She'd buy me one outright if I went with her. She was worried that she'd get jumped and raped because she got a bad vibe from the guy.

"Maybe because he's not trying to rape you, just trying to rip you off," I said. "For $120, he's probably selling you shit."

Sure enough, we met this guy in an alley behind an apartment complex on Yucca Avenue. He showed up forty minutes late and did the deal in less than a minute. That told me right away that Dulce was getting ripped off. But it was her money, not mine.

Just like clockwork, you will always drive past a cop car if you have cocaine in the car. Always. It's just one of those things that drug fiends have to deal with on a daily basis. It's like the drug gods are fucking with you and laughing their asses off somewhere in the lofty clouds and you're grappling with paranoid demons tormenting you about the cops nearby that know you're driving around a shitload of coke, even if it was cut a million times with baby powder and aspirin. Cops don't care. You have to find the courage to act normal and pretend that there's not an illegal substance in a deflated balloon at the bottom of Dulce's purse.

I drove slower than normal and clutched the steering wheel. My asshole clenched up and my posture got all rigid and stiff because I didn't want to get sent to prison and be cornholed every other hour for twenty-four months straight after I became some gangbanger's bitch.

Dulce got on my case to drive faster. She didn't care about the cops. She wanted to get home and get high.

"Fuck the racist pigs!!" she screamed. "Let's pick up the pace, McGrupp. And stop driving like such a fuckin' pussy!!"

Paul McGuire is a writer from New York City

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