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The Wallet

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Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Wallet

I read about a study recently regarding stories and how retelling them can impact your memory, how every time you tell a story, the memory of that story is altered so that the next time you tell it, you remember the facts differently.  Tell a story enough times and you’ve literally changed the past, like a solo game of telephone.  It’s how two lifelong friends can have completely different recollections of the same event, like my friend Rich and my recalling Dave Righetti’s 1983 no-hitter for the Yankees against the Red Sox.  Rich, a Sox fan, says we were hanging out by the pool at my house in Berlin when we heard the news; I remember our being at the shore, at his relative’s cottage.  I vividly depict seeing his youngest cousin in diapers,  even though it isn’t possible (she’d have been around eight years old at the time).  It doesn’t matter.  We each have integrated the game into our psyche, filed it away, lock, stock, our own individual truth; and this has become our reality.
            It’s the same reason lawyers and the courts like to rely less on eyewitness testimony and more on hard, irrefutable-CSI-forensics.  It isn’t a lie if you don’t believe it’s a lie, which can make sifting the truth from the deceit all that much harder. 
            I am not writing about yesterday, which was mildly eventful I suppose (I found out our offer on a house was accepted and my son discovered his feet).  You need time to reflect, events to steep nostalgic, if you want to write anything worthwhile about them, and by then it's all fucked up.  Because you’ve told the same story so many times you have altered events, and now you can’t really trust what you think happened.  And if you’re mentally ill or a recovering addict full of shit, well, then accurate reporting simply isn't possible.
             Which brings me to...the wallet.
             Somewhere around 1996 I may or may not have stolen my friend Jason's wallet.  Here's the scene, as I remember it.  I have a truck, which I took from my brother when I was visiting back east, saying I'd make payments on it but never doing so, driving cross-country to San Francisco.  I believe this is the trip in which I pick up a hooker in Minneapolis.  And, no, she never sends me a Christmas Card.  I am really strung out.
             I sleep in the truck under the 101 freeway by the SF Bay or out by the 3rd Street music studio.  Jason gets in my truck somewhere in the Tenderloin on a warm spring day.  And when he gets out, I find his wallet on my truck floor.  Them's the facts.
             Now why Jason was in my truck beats fuckall out of me.  We didn't have cell phones in those days.  I must've run into him on the street, I guess.  I don't remember where he was living, and I'm sleeping in the back of a fucking truck (it had a camper shell) down by the river.  In this recollection, I have to just run into him at a traffic light, or he flags me down, and already we are on shaky logistical ground. 
            I didn't even know I had been accused of stealing his wallet until years and years after the fact.  Heard about it through the grapevine about seven years and gallons of hardcore narcotics pumped directly into my bloodstream later.  But, yeah, I sort of remember, sort of remember looking at the truck bed, seeing a wallet, checking to see if there was any money.  Maybe.  Or not.  What did I do with the wallet?  I don't know.  All I know is that I didn't steal the fucking thing!  
             Or did I?
             If I were not me, for one, I'd probably be happier, but for two, looking at this from a detached POV, knowing the weaselly prick I was, it would make sense I'd have stolen the wallet.  I mean, if I am on a jury, and you present evidence and testimony, put my skinny dope fiend self on the stand, I am convicting me.  It seems pretty clear.  Wallets don't just fall out of people's back pockets.  The more I think about it, the more fucked up my mind gets, because synapses have fired so many times, who the fuck knows.  I start remembering thinking Jason left the wallet because he cared about me, or that we are in LA when I pick him up, shit that simply isn't feasible.  
           Because by now you can't rely on your own recollections.  You are not an authority on the events that have transpired and have helped shape your own life. What you think you remember, you don't.   Never happened.  
           If you hooked me up to a lie detector machine right now and asked, "Did [I] steal Jason's wallet?"  I'd say no.  And I'd love to see what that machine said.
           I'm thinking about all this now because I am writing another memoir.  I want to start at the beginning, with my childhood, try to set the facts straight.  I have to remember my father, my mother, my brother.  I have to tell the truth about what happened.  It is non-fiction.  The fights, the violence, the anxiety, what turned me into me.  I am the writer.  I am the authority here.  And clearly I cannot be trusted.


At February 13, 2011 at 5:38 PM , Blogger Jason said...

My memory says I was walking down Market street, it was starting to rain, a familiar but long since I heard it voice calls out from a teal colored Ford Ranger.

“Hey Jason you need a ride?”

Joe Clifford!

We spend two blocks catching up and then Joe says he’s sorry but he has to drop me off because he’s picking up “a guy”. I get back out of the truck and by now the sky has opened up. I realize immediately that my wallet is missing. I track Joe’s truck as it heads down market and I start running after it. The car ahead of Joe forces a slow right turn giving me the chance to catch up to him, which I do as he is pulling over for “The Guy” to get in.

I’m soaked through and winded and I’m yelling “Joe!” The Guy is immediately on guard and I can tell from the first instant that he is the type to take it to death. He and Joe have a similar sick appearance.

I tell Joe I left my wallet in his truck and he begins to search in way that doesn’t feel earnest and he shoots a look to the Guy which I see registers as “I gotta go along with this charade” So, no wallet found and The Guy says something to me with the kind of aggressive tone that means “time for you to move on” This is going nowhere and I start giving the benefit of the doubt and the benefit of my own social paranoia, so I move on in the pouring rain…with no money and no quick way to get it.

The most important thought at this moment is not,

Joe has my wallet,
it is;

I will never see Joe Clifford again and when I hear of him it will be very bad news.

When my stepfather beat the hell into me as a child I would stare at the bulldog tattoo on his arm with the words Semper Fi under it. Later, when I looked up the meaning, the picture became crystal clear. Always faithful…go ahead laugh…a sometimes necessary response to the same driving point…

the same principle of survival;

dwell if you must but take something away, clean, and understand.

In that two blocks of driving time, Joe told me how fucked up his life had become and it was clear it was going to get worse. Joe was sick. He asked me for a mutual friend’s phone number and I pulled out my wallet to get to my address book. I placed the wallet on the seat of his truck to access the phone number he needed and write it down for him. The urgency for me to get out of the truck came right after this.

Part of what I take from this is my responsibility in it. Joe had just shown me his shot to hell arms and I willingly pulled out my wallet in front of him and placed it out of my view.

Sometimes people tell bums they won’t give them money because they don’t want to contribute to that bum’s death. I despise this kind of thinking because, how the fuck do they know what will happen as a result of giving the money to the bum?

There was forty dollars in my wallet. I can easily imagine what happened to it in the future immediate to that moment but, things are the way they are because of everything that happened before and who am I to say that the event of my wallet and its contents falling into the possession of my friend Joe was a bad thing? Sure I had to replace my ID and other cards and the social security administration has still not been able to track down the guy using my social security number. (I used to carry it in my wallet until this incident then someone told me that it was a bad idea)

That particular wallet was the first expensive thing of its kind that I had ever bought myself because I had cleaned up and gotten a good job. But that is obvious folly.

Regret is the realm of the emotionally retarded.

The outcome for Joe is the best that I can imagine, Beautiful wife and child, a home, chickens!

In the spirit of action versus regret, I am retracting my apology to Joe for accusing him of stealing my wallet and in its place I would just say,

I have always enjoyed our friendship, even when “junkie Joe” was passively ripping me off.

Semper Fi

J Douglas Carlson

At February 13, 2011 at 5:50 PM , Blogger Joe Clifford said...

I thought we were in the Tenderloin? Now my head is all fucked up.

At February 13, 2011 at 5:55 PM , Blogger Joe Clifford said...

Oh, and BTW, kick-ass writing on that response. I love you, too.

At February 15, 2011 at 6:37 PM , Blogger esther said...

I believe Jason.

At February 16, 2011 at 7:00 AM , Blogger Joe Clifford said...

Thanks for the support, Esther.


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