Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Serendipity Jones

Check out this great travel story website. It's a great way to go places without ever leaving the comfort of your computer. And I'm not just saying so because my Miami Beach story is on it.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Little Known Biblical Fact No. 9

Putting Jonah in the belly of a whale was actually God's last resort to get Jonah to do his bidding after unsuccessfully putting Jonah in the bellies of other animals, including:

The belly of a manatee

The belly of an elephant

The belly of a moose

The belly of Mrs. Goldstein

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Simple Math

Time: 1992
Place: Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

Have you ever taken a trip with a friend thinking what fun it would be to travel with this person, but once the journey began you realized what a huge mistake you made because you and your friend were not suited for traveling together? I made that mistake. I went on a week long vacation with a friend from work. We visited Seattle and Vancouver. I will call my friend Vivian.

The trip was not a complete disaster. We managed to have some good times along the way and we were still friends when we got back. However, most of the time we argued or were just plain pissed off at each other. Vivian and I were not romantically linked so our fights were not lovers’ spats or the result of sexual tension. We simply didn’t mix well.

The week ended with us at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport AKA Sea-Tac Airport. We returned the rental car and Vivian paid the bill.

“The bill for the car was $100.00,” Vivian said. “So now I only owe you $25.00.”

“$25.00?” I asked.

“That’s right,” Vivian said. “From the $125.00 I owe you.”

We had agreed to split shared expenses 50-50. In Vancouver, I had paid $250.00 for one night in a fancy hotel room. We could have found a cheaper hotel, but Vivian wanted to splurge, even though she had lectured me on being frugal and the need to “rough it” when we were planning the vacation.

“No, now you only owe me $75.00,” I said.

And that’s when our biggest argument of the trip began.

“What is your fucking problem?” Vivian shouted. “You can’t even do simple math! 100 subtracted from 125 is 25. I only owe you $25.00. Stop trying to rip me off.”

“I am using simple math,” I said. “You paid $100.00 for the car, but I only owe half of that. Add 50 to 25 and you get 75.”

“Where are you getting this 50 from?” she demanded. “I can’t believe you can’t do simple fucking math.”

“50 is how much you paid out of the 125 you owe me,” I said. “And the difference is 75. Look, let’s take out a pen and a sheet of paper and work it out. You’ll see that I’m right.”

“Never mind,” Vivian said. “We need to get to our terminal.”

We had been arguing in the rental car office and we still needed to get to our plane. As we made our way through the airport, Vivian decided to prove I was mathematically inept. She just needed to find a non-partial outside source.

“Excuse me,” she said to a man who was going the opposite direction. “I need your help to settle a problem we’re having.”

“Leave me alone!” the man shouted as he ran away from us.

“Could I get just a moment of your time,” Vivian said to a woman in a business suit.

“No,” the woman said. “You cannot.”

Vivian was getting agitated, but I was having a lovely time. It was if she were doing a performance art piece and I had a front row seat.

“I’ll tell you what,” I said to Vivian after a janitor ran away from her. “I’ll give you the fifty bucks just for acting so crazy.”

“Don’t you dare be condescending to me!” Vivian barked. “I am going to prove to you once and for all that you are wrong!”

Vivian was finally able to stop an airport employee. She was a tall woman in a crisp dark uniform and a fixed smile on her face.

“Excuse me,” Vivian said. “We need some help.”

“Certainly,” the woman said. “I work for Sea-Tac. Do you need help finding your terminal?”

“No, we know where it is,” Vivian said. “I need someone to prove that my friend here is wrong about an argument we’re having.”

The Sea-Tac woman looked confused, but bless her heart, her smile never wavered.

“Well, he might not be wrong,” she said. “Tell me what the argument is about and I’ll see if I can help.”

“Okay, here’s the deal,” Vivian said. “We just took a vacation together. I owe him $125.00 for a hotel room and then I paid $100.00 for a rental car, so how much do I owe him now?”

“And we’re splitting everything 50-50,” I added.

“Oh, you owe him $75.00,” Sea-Tac woman said.

Vivian’s mouth dropped open. She looked from Sea-Tac woman to me, trying to figure out how I had tricked Sea-Tac woman into saying the wrong amount, because there was no way in hell Vivian could accept that she had been doing the math wrong.

“Thank you for your time,” I said to Sea-Tac woman. “Come on, Vivian. We need to go or we’re going to miss our plane.”

“I hope that helped,” Sea-Tac woman said.

“More than you’ll ever know,” I said.

Vivian waited until we got to our terminal before she spoke again.

“Fine. I’ll give you the fucking $75.00,” she said.

“Fine,” I said.

Vivian gave me the silent treatment until we boarded the plane and she realized that we weren’t sitting together.

“Did you move your seat away from me?” Vivian said. “Why did you do that?”

“I didn’t make the airplane reservations,” I said. “You did. If anybody moved, it would have been you.”

“Well, I did move my seat a couple of days ago,” she said. “They should have moved your seat too since I made the reservations for the both of us at the same time.”

“Not if you call back later and tell them to just move your seat,” I said. “The airline wouldn’t know to also move my seat unless you tell them too. So, what happened is, you moved your seat away from me. I’m sitting where they originally put both of us.”

“Well, what do we do now?” Vivian asked.

“You go sit in your seat and I’ll go sit in mine,” I said. “I’ll see you in Atlanta.”

Vivian went and sat in an aisle seat, one seat from a window and I sat further back in the middle of a four seat middle aisle. It was a lousy seat and I could see why Vivian wanted to move.

A perky blonde woman sat next to me.

“Would you be willing to do me a huge favor?” perky blonde asked me.

“Depends on what it is,” I said.

“See that man over there?” she said, pointing to a handsome young man sitting in a nice aisle seat, one seat from a window. “We just got married and we’re on our way to our honeymoon. Would you be willing to switch seats with him, so that we can sit together?”

A better seat and a chance to do a mitzvah? How could I say no?

“Of course I will,” I said.

As I started to get up and switch seats with the handsome young man, I glanced over to the front of the airplane and saw Vivian. Her head was bobbing like a pigeon as she tried to figure out what I was doing.

“See that woman over there,” I said to perky blonde. “The one who keeps staring at us?”

“Yes,” perky blonde said. “Who is she?”

“That’s my wife,” I said, “We’ve been married for seven years and we made a point of sitting as far away from each other was we possibly could.”

“Really?” perky blonde asked, her voice trembling.

“No, I’m teasing you,” I said. “I’ve never seen that woman before in my life. By the way, congratulations on your marriage. I hope you guys have a great honeymoon.”

“Thanks,” perky blonde replied. “I know we will. We travel together really well.”

Friday, May 15, 2009

Misfortune Cookies

I know I am not the first person to think of doing misfortune cookies, but that's no reason why I can't come up with a batch of my own.

He’s Not Your Son.

Expect A Call From the IRS.

Rice Doesn’t Move By Itself.

You Will Meet Your Spouse’s Lover.
It Will Not Be A Pleasant Visit.

Soon Your Mailbox Will Be Filled With Get Well Cards.

Your Date Put Something In Your Drink.

Hangovers Are Never Pretty.
Nor Is The Person Who Wakes Up Beside You.

Pulling Out Is Not An Effective Method for Birth Control.

That’s Not a Cold Sore.

In The Morning You Will Discover
That It Hurts To Pee.

A Large Sum of Money Is About To Leave Your Life.

You Will Lose Your Car Keys.

What Was Once Your Favorite Shirt
Will Be Transformed Into A Rag.

She Is Not A Woman.

It Is Rare For One Such As Yourself
To Survive A Cough Like That.

Oh, never mind.

A special something that is large and green is stuck in your teeth.

You parked WHERE?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I Won't Say A Word

Time: 1986
Place: Chattanooga, TN

We called her Tante (Aunt) Bessie because there is no Yiddish word for step-grandmother. My paternal grandmother died before I was born. I never saw Tante Bessie as a replacement. She was my grandmother. Whenever we visited my grandparents, she squeezed my cheek and offered me mandel bread.

My maternal grandmother’s name was Tessie. So, my grandmothers were Bubbe Tessie and Tante Bessie. BT and TB. This doesn’t have anything to do with my story; I just thought it was funny.

When Tante Bessie was in her eighties, she was diagnosed with colon cancer. She received chemotherapy that weakened her to the point that she slipped into a coma. Her family gathered by her bedside, knowing there was little chance she would ever come out of the coma.

Zayde and Bessie were both widowed with families of their own when they got together. Zayde loved Bessie very much, so this was very hard on him. He was watching his second wife slowly slip away.

I was not among the family members hovering around Tante Bessie in her hospital room. My father was. He is the one who told me this story.

Days crawled by while Tante Bessie’s family waited for either a miracle or the eventual. Tante Bessie’s oldest daughter, Betty, was there with her husband. He had some business to take care of in Florida. After much coaxing, he convinced Betty to come with him. He explained that they would only be gone for two days. Tante Bessie’s condition had stablized and was not expected to change one way or the other any time soon.

Zayde didn’t care much for Betty. I only saw Betty a few times and from what I remember, she was a pill. Her leaving for Florida gave him an excuse to bitch about her.

“How can she leave at a time like this?” Zayde groused to my father. “Her mother is sick and she just leaves.”

“Now Pop,” Dad said. “She’s only leaving for a couple of days. There’s nothing she can do sitting around here.”

Zayde waved off Dad as if he were an annoying fly and continued grumbling.

Late that night, Tante Bessie came out of her coma. Everyone, but Zayde, had gone home for the evening.

“What time is it?” she asked Zayde in Yiddish.

Before he could tell her, she slipped back into her coma. A few hours later, Tante Bessie died.

Zayde called Dad. Dad called our Rabbi. Dad and the Rabbi rushed to the hospital to help Zayde make the necessary arrangements for Tante Bessie’s burial. Dad called family members to tell them the news, including Betty in Florida.

Along with all the details that had to be worked out to get Tante Bessie to her final resting place, there was one detail Zayde wouldn’t leave alone.

“Can you believe that Betty?” Zayde said. “She abandoned her mother when she needed her the most.”

“What abandonment?” Dad argued. “Bessie was in a coma. She never really regained consciousness. There was nothing Betty could have done.”

It wasn’t that Dad particularly liked Betty. He thought she was a pill too. Dad just couldn’t stand it when Zayde let his emotions take over logic. Also, Dad was hoping to prevent Zayde from saying something inappropriate to Betty.

“You’re right,” Zayde said. “There’s nothing she could have done. I know she loved her mother very much. She is suffering now, so I won’t say a word.”

“Good,” Dad said.

Like a teapot with a steady flame, it wasn’t long before Zayde got steamed up again.

“But can you believe the nerve of that woman!” Zayde said. “She runs off to Florida while her poor mother is in a coma and isn’t even here when Bessie died. But I know she’s suffering, so I won’t say a word.”

“Good,” Dad said.

Each time Dad thought the subject of Betty’s flagrant betrayal of her mother had finally expired, Zayde would breath new life into it. After each outburst, Zayde would end with the same promise that he would not say a word about it to Betty. The woman was suffering enough.

When Betty arrived at the hospital, she was a wreck. Her lips quivered. Her eyes were wet with tears. Anyone could see that she was one step away from a complete emotional breakdown.

Betty grabbed Zayde’s shoulder and asked him in a strained whisper, “Did she suffer?”

Zayde sadly looked into Betty’s eyes and said quietly, “She asked for you all night.”

Dad’s mouth dropped open in shock. He couldn’t tell Betty, who was sobbing loudly, the truth. It was too late for that. And besides, Zayde had done exactly as he had promised. He didn’t said a word to Betty about how angry he was at her.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Atlanta, Part Three

Time: Late February/Early March 1974
Place: Atlanta, Georgia

Background music:
“Beware of Darkness” George Harrison
“One Too Many Mornings” Bob Dylan

In the twilight hours between Saturday night and Sunday morning, I got a ride from a young trendy guy driving a red sports car. I asked him if he knew of any place where I could crash for the night.

“There’s a bar called ‘The One.’ It’s a gay bar,” he said, “I could give you twenty dollars and you could go in there and maybe make friends with someone who would take you home for the night. You might find it a interesting new experience.”

I had noticed the bar he was talking about on my endless Peachtree Street marches. I thought back to my experience the week before, in the car with the nice man who had adjusted my seat belt. I remembered his disappointed sigh.

“No, I don’t think your plan would work for me,” I said, “You can drop me off at the next light.”

All I wanted was a warm place to sleep, even if it was only for one night. My cousin Abby lived in Atlanta. She was an elementary school teacher. I looked her name up in the phone book and called her late Monday afternoon. She had just come home from work.

“I’m just passing through,” I told her, “I’m on my way to New Orleans. For Mardi Gras. Dad knows I’m doing this. He’s totally cool with me taking the week off from school.”

Abby knew Dad would never have let me take a week off from school. Abby also knew Mardi Gras had just ended. She said I was welcome to stay as long as I wanted.

Abby lived in a two-bedroom apartment. Her roommate was also a teacher. Their apartment was in a complex on Buford Highway. There were miles of apartment complexes on Buford Highway. The apartment complexes all looked the same and had names like Tempo Majestic, Epic Gardens, Regency Woods I and II, and Monaco Station. Many of the residents were upwardly mobile Jewish singles.

“There are so many Jews living here,” Abby explained, “that we’ve nicknamed it ‘Jewford Highway.’”

Abby’s apartment was clean, compact and generically stylish. Potpourri blanketed the air. She cooked a nice pasta dinner. She pointed out the jar of fruit she and her roommate were fermenting into something sweet and alcoholic.

That night I slept on the couch. In the morning, Abby and her roommate left early because they had kids to teach. Abby gave me instructions on how to lock up the house if I decided to go out, and about the time they would be home to let me back in.

Once I was alone in the apartment, I took a scalding hot shower and made myself a large breakfast. I left a note thanking her for everything and that I was heading on to New Orleans. I locked the door as Abby had instructed and headed back to the streets. It wasn’t safe to hang around. I was sure that Abby was going to call my parents, if she hadn’t already. And I didn’t want to abuse her hospitality.

A few days later, I was on a downtown street at about three in the morning. I was resting against a street lamp when an expensive car drove past me, turned the corner and parked. It was obvious the driver of the car was waiting for me. I realized that the way I was leaning on the street lamp, with one leg raised, was exactly the way the stereotypical hooker stands in cartoons I had seen in men’s magazines.

I had nothing to lose, so I got into the car. The driver was a pudgy bald-headed man with round glasses. He was wearing a polyester suit. He was smug and effeminate.

“Well?” he asked.

“I just want a place to sleep,” I said. The desperation in my voice made me feel foolish.

“I know a place you could stay,” he said, brushing invisible dust off his pants, “It’s run by a man everybody calls Uncle Rooney. Now, Uncle Rooney expects certain favors from his guests. He is very strict about this. Are you willing to grant Uncle Rooney the kinds of favors he might be asking of you?”

It wasn’t a matter of willing or unwilling, I felt incapable of doing any of the things Uncle Rooney might want me to do. I felt helpless and lost. I got out of the car and walked away.

After wandering around downtown for almost two weeks, I found a temporary employment agency. If I had spotted it the first day I was there, my time in Atlanta would have been much easier. The agency was an old storefront with one huge open room, a desk by the back wall, and a row of chairs against a side wall. They hired men to do simple labor jobs and paid them at the end of the day. If you wanted work, you had to get there at the crack of dawn. I discovered the place in the afternoon, so I hung around an alley across the street until they opened the next morning.

They had me fill out some forms. An hour later, I joined a group of men in a van that took us to Atlanta’s growing suburbs. We were taken to a construction site where rows of wooden skeletons that would soon be upper middle class homes lined muddy lanes. Our job was to clean up messes left by the building crews.

We stacked leftover two by fours, gathered errant nails, and stuffed garbage into bags. At noon, we were fed sandwiches and sodas. At the end of the day, we were herded, dusty and tired, back into the van.

On the ride back, the men talked about how they were going to spend their money. Most planned to drink their earnings, others had food on their minds. I decided to spend my pay on a bus ticket back home to Chattanooga.

If Dad gave me a hard time for coming home, I would point out that I had proved that I was capable of living on my own. What I wouldn’t point out was that I could see now that was no future for me out here. I had to go back. I was too tired to fight anymore.

I slept as best I could on the bus ride to Chattanooga. When I arrived it was early Friday night. I still wasn’t quite ready to go home, so I called my friend Tim. He agreed to let me stay at his house that night.

Tim arrived at the bus station with his dad. I was surprised to see Tim’s dad since Tim had his own car. I would have preferred it if Tim had come alone, but I was asking to stay in their house. His dad didn’t ask me any questions about why I ran away or how to get in touch with my family. He only asked me if I was hungry.

Tim had bunk beds in his room. He gave me the lower bunk and he took the upper bunk. I told him about most of my travels on the streets of Atlanta. He was mainly interested in the Mothers of Invention concert because he was a huge Frank Zappa fan. I lied and said it was the best concert I had ever seen.

“Which songs did he play?” Tim asked.

“I can’t remember them all,” I said, “but ‘Penguins in Bondage’ was outstanding.”

Saturday afternoon, Tim drove me home. I asked him not to drop me off at the front door. I got out two blocks away and walked through neighbors’ yards to the house. I opened the front door as quietly as I could. Luckily, I made it to my room without anybody seeing me. I stripped down to my long underwear, got under the covers of my bed, and went to sleep.

I didn’t wake up until Monday morning. A few times I lifted my head and thought about waking up, but then fatigue drove my head back into my pillow. I heard the bedroom door open a few times and hushed voices outside the room, but no one came in to disturb me. When I finally woke up, I took a shower, ate breakfast and went back to school.

The memory of what my parents said to me about disappearing for two weeks is long gone. I know they didn’t say much. My parents and I avoided direct confrontation with each other, unless it was about something too big to ignore. I went back to my normal routine as though I had never left.

My big brother told me that when I was gone, Dad had decided to let it slide, my running away and missing school, because I needed to blow off some steam. That led me to believe that Dad knew that I was upset and was as unwilling or unable to talk about my problems as I was. We both found it easier to run away than to confront each other.

The End

(I drew this when I was in grade school. The Generation Gap was big news back then.)

Monday, May 4, 2009

Atlanta, Part Two

Time: Late February/Early March 1974
Place: Atlanta, Georgia

Background music:
“No Quarter” Led Zeppelin
“Penguins in Bondage” Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention

I stopped a homeless man and asked him for directions to the Atlanta Union Mission. Someone had once told me that the mission gave homeless people food and a warm bed to sleep in at night. I was a homeless person, which felt liberating. Anything was possible. I didn’t have to go to school. I didn’t have to be in bed by a certain time. I didn’t have a bed, but the mission would fix that problem.

When I saw the line of sad men wearing shabby clothes standing in front of a red brick building, I knew I had found the mission. I went inside and looked for the first person who didn’t look like he’d been sleeping in the same clothes for a year. That and the nametag clued me in that the gentleman with the Coke bottle glasses and slicked back hair worked for the mission.

“I need a place to sleep tonight,” I told him.

“I need to see some form of I.D.,” he said.

I thought about my learner’s permit sitting in the desk drawer back home. I felt like he knew I had left it behind, and now I was in real trouble.

“I don’t have I.D.,” I explained, “I’m only sixteen.”

“You can’t stay here without some kind of identification,” he said firmly and then he turned around and walked away.

I couldn’t fucking believe it. I had to have identification to stay at a mission? Wouldn’t most people who were destitute, homeless, and without any worldly goods would also be without proper identification?

I needed something to cheer me up, so I went to The Strip and visited the head shops. I loved head shops with their black light posters, drug paraphernalia, underground comic books, and lazy strands of patchouli incense smoke in the air.

I had discovered underground comic books at the one and only head shop in my neighborhood. They were so different from the regular comic books I had been collecting. Instead of superheroes, underground comic books had hippies getting high, explicit sex, and gory violence. They were windows to exotic worlds that I wanted to visit.

One of the head shops on The Strip had a stack of underground comic books with titles I had never seen before. You could always find multiple copies of a regular Batman or Spider-man comic book on a drug store spinner rack. With underground comic books there was usually only one copy of The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers or Mr. Natural in a head shop and once someone bought it, it was gone forever. As tempting as that stack was, I didn’t dare buy one. I couldn’t eat a comic book.

The Mothers of Invention concert wasn’t until Friday. I had an entire week to kill. I was afraid to stay in one place because the cops might pick me up for loitering, so I walked and walked. When I got tired of walking, I hitchhiked. Most of the rides came from hippies driving Volkswagen buses who were more than happy to share a joint with a fellow traveler. I never gave a specific destination. I would wait until we drove for a few miles and then I would point to an intersection and say that was where I needed to get out.

During rush hour that first day in town, I was hitchhiking from downtown to the affluent neighborhood Buckhead on the other end of Peachtree Street. A middle-aged white man in an old sedan picked me up. He was very polite. He told me I needed to put on my seatbelt. I remember thinking it was awfully nice of him to be concerned about my safety. I reached for the seatbelt strap but had trouble finding it.

“Here, let me do that for you,” said the nice man.

He reached over me, grabbed the strap, and pulled it around my waist.

“It clicks right in here. It’s important that you be safe.”

Such a nice man I thought. Then the nice man’s hand moved down between my legs and he started to massage my crotch.

I went cold inside. My body shivered. My legs bounced up and down. And my dick got hard.

“Let me find some place where we can have some privacy,” he said.

He drove around back streets. There was a lot of traffic, but the nice man was determined. While he drove with one hand on the wheel, with his other hand he continued to roughly massage my erect penis through my jeans.

I felt helpless to stop him. I could hardly breathe, much less speak. I surmised that he wanted to suck my dick. Nobody had ever done that before. Part of me was scared to death and another part of me couldn’t wait to see what it was like. The homosexual aspect was scary and enticing too.

It was more than I could stand and I came about the same time he found a place to park. He unzipped my jeans, peeled down my long johns and my underwear, and found that he was too late. He leaned back in his seat and sighed. It was a sigh of disappointment. All that trouble for nothing. I felt so ashamed. Ashamed that I was willing to go along, ashamed of my premature ejaculation, ashamed for being in that car in the first place. I zipped up my pants myself.

“Can you give me some money for this?” I asked lamely.

“But we didn’t do anything,” he said.

“Couldn’t you give me something?”

He didn’t look at me. He sat silently and waited for me to leave. My face was red hot when I climbed out of the car. It was the perfect ending to a hellish first day in town.

I spent my first night in town walking from downtown to Buckhead and then back again. I waited until daytime before I hitchhiked again. In the afternoon, I got a ride with two hippies in a van. They were also in town for the Mothers of Invention concert. The driver was thin and had long brown hair tied into a ponytail. The other guy was fat with a tangle of frizzy black hair. We were having a great time driving around, passing joints, and shooting the shit, until the fat guy asked me where I was from.

“Philadelphia,” I said.

I had never been to Philadelphia. I couldn’t even find it on a map. I chose it because it seemed far away enough that no one in Atlanta would know anything about it. The two guys became very excited because they were also from Philadelphia.

“Which neighborhood are you from?” the fat guy asked me.

I tried faking it by asking him to remind what were the names of some of the neighborhoods. He rattled off some names and in desperation, I picked one. The neighborhood I picked just happened to be full of people he knew really well.

“Do you know Craig Grogan or Jill Snyder?” he asked. “Surely you know Bobby Wilkerson if you’re really from Philadelphia.”

I told them that the next intersection was where I needed to get out.

After I was back on the road, I realized the fat guy had done all the talking. The skinny guy was probably the one who decided to pick me up. He probably got all kinds of shit from the fat guy. I decided that I was no longer from Philadelphia.

The days were hard, but the nights were brutal. The temperature would drop and my teeth would start chattering. I asked all the homeless people I ran into if they knew of any shelters specifically for teenage runaways. I always got the same answer. There was one place, but it was full. There was no way they could fit one more runaway into it.

Most of the homeless would suggest I go the Atlanta Union Mission for a free meal and a warm bed. No thank you, that place was fucked up.

One homeless man suggested I try sleeping in Piedmont Park.

“Be careful,” he warned me, “the park is closed at night.”

During all the trips my family took to visit Atlanta, not once had we ever gone by Piedmont Park. I imagined a park surrounded by a high fence that was locked up at closing time. I didn’t know that the park was an open space and that I could have easily hunkered down under a bush.

I walked at night until I became so cold and so exhausted I could barely move. Then, I would go into an empty downtown alley and lie on the hard ground. I would sleep for about an hour before jerking awake, afraid that someone would find me and hurt me if I didn’t keep moving. As the days crawled by, my body became dirtier and my mind grew cloudier. I wanted desperately to find a place inside to clean up and sleep. I don’t remember what I did when I had to shit or pee. I remember one morning sneaking into the Greyhound Bus Station bathroom along with another homeless man. He warned me that if the bus station employees saw us, they’d toss us out.

The hot water from the sink stung my hands as I scrubbed the grime off. The clean toilet was so shiny and white; I had to squint my eyes. The bathroom was so warm, I wanted to curl up in a corner and live there.

Even eating only once a day, my twenty dollars dried up fast. I had even burned through most of the six dollars I had put aside for my concert ticket. I managed to make a few dollars giving out pamphlets at the entrance to Underground Atlanta, a downtown historic site with popular bars and restaurants. I don’t remember what the pamphlets were for; I just remember that nobody wanted them. I couldn’t get paid until I had given them all out. I solved that problem by waiting a few hours and then stuffing all of the pamphlets into a trash bin.

I waited until Friday, the day of the concert, to buy my ticket. I hitchhiked to Lenox Square shopping center because I saw somewhere that tickets were being sold at Rich’s Department Store. I had managed to hang onto four dollars, but I still needed another two dollars and fifty cents. I panhandled shoppers in the mall until I had enough. I should have continued panhandling until I had enough to cover a meal, but I felt so disgusting and dirty and Lenox Square was such a nice place that I wanted to get the hell out of there.

The concert was a midnight show, and since I had nothing but time on my hands, I arrived at the Fox Theatre six hours early. I was the first one there. I curled up at the entrance and napped. I was exhausted and finally I had a place to sit where I didn’t think anyone would run me off.

Around seven o’clock, probably after school and a quick dinner at home, the hardcore Zappa fans began to trickle in. A couple who looked to be in their early twenties befriended me. They were amazed that I didn’t know the title to a single Mothers of Invention song.

“Mark, if you don’t know anything about Frank Zappa and the Mothers, why are you here so early?” asked the girl. “Mark? Mark?”

“Who’s Mark?” I asked.

“You are,” the girl said.
The problem with my alias “Mark Davis” was that I kept forgetting that it was my name.

“Well,” I said, “I always heard that Zappa puts on a great show.”

“That he does,” said the guy, “That he does.”

“Prepare to be amazed,” said the girl.

Sometime around eleven, the theatre doors opened and I joined a wave of people as we rushed to grab the best seats we could. The couple made sure I sat with them. We managed to get fourth row center seats. My seat was easily one of the best seats I’ve ever had at a live event.

After waiting outside for most of the day, the seat felt so comfortable and the temperature was so nice and warm. The only song I remember Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention performing was “Penguins in Bondage.” I remembered it because the song had the line, “she’s just like a penguin in bondage, boy.” The way Zappa sang the word boy, pronouncing it boyeee, stuck in my head.

I was so tired from walking day and night and the seat was so comfortable. I couldn’t help but close my eyes for just a minute. The next thing I knew, the couple I was sitting with was waking me up because the concert was over and everybody was leaving. All that trouble for nothing. Everything I went through to get to Atlanta and get to that Zappa concert, and I slept through most of it. I wondered why I had bothered to go to such a stupid place like Atlanta where homeless people had no place to stay without an I.D. and gay men fondled you if you accepted a ride with them.

I lost the couple once I got outside of the theatre. I studied the crowd thinking I might see someone I knew from Chattanooga. Some friends had mentioned that they might drive down for the show. I later found out that they had indeed done that, but I didn’t see them. If I had, I probably would have gone home with them.

I left the theatre and continued my march up and down Peachtree Street. With the concert over, I had no reason to stay in Atlanta. I considered moving on to New Orleans or maybe even hitchhiking to California. Lack of sleep made it hard to formulate any long-term decisions. I kept marching because I couldn’t get myself to do anything else.

End of Part Two

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Atlanta, Part One

Time: Late February/Early March 1974
Place: Atlanta, Georgia

Background music:
“Midnight Rider” Allman Brothers Band
“2000 Light Years From Home” The Rolling Stones

I was never good at talking to my parents. So, when I became so frustrated with them and with my life that I couldn’t take it anymore, I ran away from home.

I wanted to escape Chattanooga and go someplace where nobody knew me. I wanted to go to New Orleans. I wanted to celebrate Mardi Gras and see girls expose their breasts in exchange for beads, but going so far away to a place I’d never been before seemed like a huge step. I decided that I would be better off going somewhere that I was familiar with, and then work my way up to New Orleans.

I decided on Atlanta, Georgia. I knew how to get there; I had been there many times on family trips. I knew there were lots of hippies in Atlanta. Hippies were a strange and alluring tribe to me. I dressed like a hippie, though I didn’t think of myself as one, because certainly hippies didn’t live at home with their parents.

I had another reason for going to Atlanta. Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention were giving a midnight concert in Atlanta on March first. I wasn’t a huge fan of the band, but I’d heard they put on a great show, and if you ever had a chance to see them in concert, by all means do whatever it took to go.

I waited until after dinner to run away. Dad was in the den watching “Columbo.” Mom and my little brother were in my parents’ bedroom watching the Sunday Night Movie. My sister was in her bedroom doing her homework. My big brother was a neighbor’s house, getting high with friends.

I went into the bedroom I shared with my little brother and quietly closed the door. Behind our matching single beds was a double-sized picture window. I slid it open, pushed aside the screen, and climbed out. I had a short drop from the window to the ground. I landed behind a row of bushes, so I didn’t think anyone would notice me, but I found out later that the neighbors who lived directly across the street witnessed my escape. Why they were watching our house on a Sunday night I’ll never know. Maybe they spied on my house instead of watching TV.

I hadn’t been sure how to dress for my trip. I didn’t pay attention to weather reports. The days were still cold, but not freezing. I was sure warmer days were just around the corner, but to be safe I wore a pair of long johns. Over that, I had on jeans, a flannel shirt, and my winter coat. I had twenty dollars in the pocket of my jeans. I wasn’t worried about money because I figured I’d pick up odd jobs here and there as I traveled across America.

I made a point of leaving behind the only piece of identification I owned; my learner’s permit. I didn’t want my identity known in case a cop stopped me. I was sure my parents would alert the authorities that I was a runaway. I was certain that a description of me would be sent to all the police stations across the country. I would make sure I looked the other way whenever a police cruiser drove past me.

To be extra careful, I decided to go by an alias. I settled on the name “Mark Davis.” It sounded like a much cooler name than Mickey Dubrow.

The night sky was clear. The air was cold and crisp. There were few cars on the road. I walked a little over three miles through familiar neighborhoods before I reached I-75 South. I was too paranoid to stand at the top of the entrance ramp with my thumb out. My family might have discovered that I was gone. Dad or the police might be out looking for me. I wanted to put as much distance as I could between myself and home. I hiked down the entrance ramp and then I walked backward on the emergency lane with my thumb out. When no cars were in sight, I turned and walked forward. Anything to get me closer to Atlanta.

Every time a car sped by me, a cold rush of air whipped me, but it was nothing like the blasts of frigid air I got from the trucks. There seemed to be twice as many trucks as there were cars on the road that night. The trucks drove by so fast and the wind in their wake was so extreme, it pushed me from the emergency lane to the grass.

I had felt this cold or colder in the past, but I always had a warm place nearby where I could go inside and defrost. On I-75 that late February night, there was no inside, just freezing outside. As I trudged on with my thumb out, my legs started to feel heavy. I looked down. Below the knees, my jeans were sparkling white. The grass I was walking in was wet. The wind from the passing trucks had frozen my damp jeans. I reached down to feel my pant legs. The fabric was stiff.

As much as I hated being out there, I didn’t give up on getting to Atlanta. I just couldn’t go back home. To go home after only a few hours would be terrible. I would look like a complete fool. I had to keep going.

Finally, a bobtail truck stopped to pick me up. The driver was thin and wiry. He had long frizzy hair and his wide-eyed stare made him look like he’d been washing down speed with coffee for three days straight.

“Where you going?” asked the bobtail truck driver.

“Atlanta,” I said.

“Get in,” he said.

I climbed into the passenger seat and he floored it.

Usually the only reason someone picks up a hitchhiker is because they want somebody to talk to. My attempts at small talk were ignored. The driver wanted quiet. I had no problem with that. He drove fast. With no trailer to slow it down, the truck hauled ass. I wouldn’t have had a problem with that either, except the windows were open and the heater was off. It was colder and windier inside the truck than out on the road.

I asked if I could close the window, at least on my side, but the driver refused. He offered no explanation. I didn’t press the matter because I was afraid he’d make me get out. It was then that I noticed that he was only wearing a t-shirt. I hugged my coat around me as tightly as I could and watched the road.

It was still dark when we reached downtown Atlanta two hours and a hundred miles later. The driver dropped me off at the Varsity Drive In Restaurant. The Varsity is an Atlanta landmark. The restaurant was closed when the bobtail truck drove away that early Monday morning. Everything was closed. Most alarm clocks wouldn’t begin to ring for a few more hours.

I walked a couple of blocks to Peachtree Street. I had been to Atlanta many times on family trips, usually to stock up on Kosher food. Even though I had only seen Atlanta from the back seat of the family station wagon, I knew that Peachtree Street was the city’s main street. Since I had no better plan, I walked along Peachtree Street.

I walked past the hippie part of Peachtree Street known as The Strip. The head shops and record stores were closed. I promised myself I would come back later and check them out.

As I walked, the sun rose and the city slowly woke up. The empty street began filling with cars. It wasn’t as windy in the city as it was on the highway. Thanks to the sun, I thawed out some, but I was still very cold. And I was hungry. I had walked about four miles when I decided to stop at a Burger King for breakfast.

After paying for my food, I realized my twenty dollars wasn’t going to last long. A ticket to the Frank Zappa concert was six dollars, six fifty the day of the show. Even if I watched every penny I had, I was going to need more money to survive. As I devoured my hamburger, I came up with a brilliant plan. I would get a job at the Burger King. Working there would provide money and food. I walked back to the counter and asked for an application.

When I got to the part of the application that asks for an address and phone number, I realized I had neither. Burger King wouldn’t have been able to reach me if they had decided to hire me. I made up a street address and a phone number and handed in the application. The manager told me that if they had an opening, he’d give me a call. I thanked him and left as fast as I could.

End of Part One

(photo from Atlanta Journal Constitution)