Tom Pitts & Hepatitis Heights Pt. II
Got another piece of flash fiction taken today over at my current favorite ezine, Shotgun Honey (http://www.shotgunhoney.net/). 700 words or less. Their tagline: a blast of fiction to blow your mind. They published my short story "Chain Reaction" a few months back, which led to my Bullet Award (http://tinyurl.com/44gymlb), a recognition of short crime fiction on the web. It might not come with a paid fellowship or booth at AWP. But it gets my name out there and seen by the writers I admire most these days, a list of modern noir's who's who (Todd Robinson, Thomas Pluck, Paul D. Brazill, et al). When I got the e-mail that SH was taking my latest "Copperhead Canyon," I wrote my former partner-in-crime, best buddy, and fellow aspiring writer, Tom Pitts, who just read (a record third time) for my non-fiction reading series, Lip Service West (where we believe firmly in nepotism), at this year's Litquake Litcrawl. I usually don't read at these things myself, since I produce the event, but this was a special occasion (http://tinyurl.com/439pp85). Though I was careful to separate Tom and I. Like I told the packed house on Saturday, we tell the same story.
If you read this blog regularly, you know that Tom and I were junkies together up at Hepatitis Heights, the decrepit ol' crumbly house high on the hill above SF General. But I always thought of us more like brothers in a shared, trapped misery, like a Billy Joel song (that works on so many levels).
And when I say Tom and I tell the same story, I mean it quite literally. The story he read on Saturday night involved injecting mice feces, something I myself have done; and if you are finding yourself shaking your head in disbelief, asking why on God's green earth would anyone do that, all I can say is, you'd understand if you lived the way we did. Not that I'd wish that on anybody.
When I texted Tom that Shotgun was taking another story, he texted back, Congrats, Fuck You. Tom had been trying to get into that same magazine but no luck. Until today. Because he wrote back a few minutes later, saying to never mind the "fuck you"; he'd just got an e-mail from SH telling him they are taking one of his stories, too. I asked him, Did you ever think all those rotten years when we living up at Hepatitis Heights that some day we'd be clean, have kids, and getting stories published in the same magazine?
This sort of shit never ceases to amaze me. Like running into someone from your hometown while backpacking through Europe. It was like when I went back for my 20th high school reunion. I'd see these people I knew all those years ago, especially the girls, only now they were women, with kids and shit, but you could still see that girl inside you were crushing on at 12 (Hi, Anne & Tracy), and I wanted to be ask, Can you believe we're the same people? But I didn't. Because they'd think I was as weird as I was when I was 12. Which I am. But it's like we traveled in a time machine, or it's some sci-fi alternate universe. It's a goddamn John Woo film.
Where I am you, and you are me (and who the fuck is that?) Because so much changes, and yet so much doesn't.
Of course, you have the regret.
I know Tom does. Just like me. I hope you'll forgive an old man a little moment of melancholy and nostalgia.
Tom wrote a song a while back with his band, Short Dogs Grow, which was pretty big in the '80s. The band. Not so sure about the song. But I love this title. Or maybe it's just a line. "I don't want the money back. I just want the time." We wasted a lot of both. The first time I heard the song was a few years ago at the Eagle, when Short Dogs reunited for this DVD that had just come out, a documentary about the Chatterbox, a punk bar in SF. I went to see him play with my then-fiance/now wife, Justine. It was surreal, running into so many old faces, in such an old scene, everything the same yet somehow radically different.
I'm not being overly dramatic when I say I really thought we were both going to die back then. And the tragedy of that is, it was no big deal. Like, hey, it might rain later, or we're out of milk. Oh, well. Those times have been reduced to a series of anecdotes that both Tom and I tell, ("Hey, remember doing coke with David Bowie's drummer in that motel?"), but each time we tell them, we do so with less conviction, almost out of obligation, like when ex-Army pals get together over beers and reminisce about the old platoon, because, goddammit Charlie Finnegan might've been an asshole, but he was a good man and a fucking patriot. And in many ways, there lingers this almost PTSD aftereffect. Whenever something goes wrong these days in my life, however seemingly small, my mind can immediately spiral out of control back to that place. If I bounce that check, then the bank will close my account, and I'll get a a disease, and eventually it ends with my living back under the bridge.
Not that I actually ever lived under a bridge. That's just a euphemism. Though I doubt it could've been worse than that shitburg on the hill. No running water. Overstuffed black trash bags, reeking in the hall, because garbage men long ago stopped collecting our garbage. Which is what happens when you don't pay the bill. We didn't pay any bills. We didn't pay rent, either. We squatted, even if we couldn't actually take a shit in the house, fucking toilet so clogged with Lord only knows what. We'd have to walk all the way down to the hospital to use a bathroom. The place was crawling with mice. They'd get in your hair, in your clothes when you slept. There was always some ex con du jour crashing there, and as reprehensible as some of the people I'd hang out with, they were seldom dangerous. But you'd get these monsters just released from San Quentin, who'd come up there, beat the shit out of anyone holding, maybe rape a girl, y'know, a typical Wednesday. And this was my home. All I really had was Tom, who'd disappear for long stretches at a time, but he'd always come back. Like a Yo-Yo. Or a foot fungus.
I remember I'd find Tom, holed in the corner on this beat-up desktop computer he hauled around with him everywhere he went, which contained all his stories, furiously typing away. Made no sense to me at the time. I still played music, but I'd long given up on its being anything more than a hobby. My life was scamming, stealing, scoring, repeat. But I think Tom actually believed he'd get out one day, and that he would be a writer.
When I cleaned up and got my degrees, I was far from San Francisco. I just assumed that like Junkie Jason and so many others, Tom was probably dead. The odds were certainly against both of us making it out of there. That's what he said when I finally tracked him down (and I do mean "tracked"...). I got his email address and typed him a message, something like "This is Joe from Hepatitis Heights." He wrote back, "Oh, I see you made it out too."
Now we both have families, kids, and are getting stories published in the same magazines. Life is some trippy ass shit. But it sure is a nice feeling to know we both made it home. So here's to my brother from another mother...