Smile And Dial

It is dark in the desert. It is so early in the morning that the black predawn sky shows no hint of blue. Streetlights shine, illuminating row after row of tan colored houses, all almost identical, as they line the smooth asphalt curve of a suburban street. I have to walk a mile and a half to catch the only commuter bus to Phoenix that leaves every day at 6 am. Its cold outside, but not for long, soon the scorching sun will rise and make the day oppressive with heat. I am thankful it is cool as I make way on foot through one identical housing development after another till I hit the main drag of grocery stores and fast food restaurants, John Wayne Parkway. The development stops to one side of the Parkway, and once I cross it, and head on up a windy road with no sidewalks, the neighborhoods turn to dilapidated trailers and saggy Spanish looking houses made out of cinderblocks.

The bus picks people up in a gravel parking lot, that also doubles as the parking lot for the local police station. I think I am the only person who walks to this bus, everyone else parks their car here or is dropped off by a family member. They’re all dressed “business casual,” slacks and dress shirts, messenger bags, and Blackberrys (iPhones had just come out and were not ubiquitous yet). I am 22 and still look like a high school kid, in baggy khakis and oversized Polo shirts and fitted hats. The collar on my shirt is blown out, and my Air Jordan’s are beat to hell.

The bus crosses 30 miles of open desert before depositing all of us off at a single stop in Downtown Phoenix. Somewhere along the way the sun has started to rise, and the palm trees stand out against a pale dark blue sky. My journey isn’t over yet. I have to walk another mile to get to my job. The only people who walk in Phoenix seem to be the destitute; the down and out; the downtrodden. The city was not designed for walking, 4-lane boulevards extend into eternity lined on either side by corporate chain stores and small businesses. McDonald’s Arches, and Mexican delis with hand-painted signs, strip malls, nail salons, and giant gas stations.

Cars whizz by at high speeds, and I trudge on. My place of employment is in a  nondescript strip mall on a nondescript street full of nondescript strip malls. I don’t remember the name of my work, I think it had marketing somewhere in the title. A few of my fellow employees were lined up outside, although they looked more like they were in line at the unemployment office then in line to get into work. Everyone smelled like cheap tobacco, the women smelled like cheap perfume. A lot of the men had the hard lean look, body language, and shaved heads of men recently released from prison. There were two hispanic transexuals, both fighting an uphill battle with their apparent masculinity. There were people with the telltale sores and scabs of drug abuse. There were more normal looking people my age, and they like me were adrift in life.

The owner would pull up everyday in his Mercedes. He was tall and obese, with dark hair and a swarthy complexion. Him and his wife both spoke in thick New York accents (Long Island?), the wife was pretty in a way, and was probably quite good looking in her heyday. He would waddle from the car balancing a file folder box with one hand, fumbling with the keys with his other to let us in.

Inside the office was about 60 small cubicles, each with a telephone. There was a white board on the wall displaying the top performers for the week. I was on the list, it was something I took a perverse pride in, even though my job sucked. I was good at it, and better than these other people. The walls were covered with motivational sales propaganda. Each cubicle was decorated by the individual that occupied it. You were supposed to put up a list of goals, and maybe cut out from magazine the luxury car you wanted. Whatever got you motivated to sell.

You’d have a stack of paper “leads,” that had peoples name and phone numbers on them, and they only gave you 15 new ones a day. If you made lots of sales they’d give you more. I think if you did bad enough, they’d give you even fewer, but it never happened to me. There was a script you would follow if you ever managed to get a live human on the phone long enough to deliver it. The whole point of the script was to get the customer to listen to a 4 minute prerecorded advertisement. This was called a roll, you got paid $8 for every successful roll. Once the roll was over they’d get transferred to a closer, that is, if they hadn’t hung up during the prerecorded advertisement. I’d say at least 50% of people hung up during the ad, and thats a generous evaluation.

The closers were not as downtrodden as the rollers, and some of them were downright amazing at conning people out of money over the phone. In my brief tenure as a roller, I aspired to be a closer. Because they seemed to actually make money.

I averaged 13 rolls in a 8 hour day.  Of those 13 rolls anywhere from 4 to 8 stayed on the line to talk to the closer. If the call was closed Id receive a $300 dollar commission. I usually got one of those a month. But on average I was making $40 dollars a day. The bus I took everyday cost $8. Although there was no hourly pay, the owners did provide lunch everyday, and I know for a fact that there were people working there who made no money at all. All they got out of the day was a free lunch and a place they could tell there parole officer they worked at.

The whole business was a sham that sold get rich quick schemes…I think the owner preferred the term “investments,” and I’m fairly certain the whole business existed in a legal gray area which was probably illegal in some states. “Smile and Dial” was the mantra, the more you dialed the more chance you had of making money. People would scream at us to stop calling them. Threaten us. Pretend not to speak English. Inform us that they were on a no call list. Smile and Dial. Smile and Dial. Smile and Dial. Smile and Dial. The majority of people dumb enough to make it to the closing stage were usually broker than us, making them a waste of time.

I began to obsess over the leads, deluded myself into thinking that if only I could get some hot leads, my whole life would change and that I would be rolling in dough. This was during the height of the economic recession, with no college degree and no car, this was the only job I could find. Luckily, I wasn’t paying rent at my brother’s house, or I would have been completely destitute.

The best closer was a sandy hair man addicted to meth, who spoke with a slow country drawl. He was quite possibly the greatest liar I ever met. The sandy haired man managed to support him and his wife’s substantial drug habit solely by lying to people over the phone. He probably made around 2 or 3 grand a month and lived in sleazy weekly rent hotels. I would watch in amazement as he would sweet talk people out of money, if any of these people could have seen the hollow-eyed skeleton on the other end of the phone, I don’t think they would have trusted him as much.

It repeated like this day in, and day out. Smiling and dialing, eeking out a meager existence. Watching people come and go. No one ever got fired they simply left or didn’t show up. Some people left the first day, some people left after a week, some people stuck around. Desperation hung heavy in the air. Everyone smoked Bugler roll-your-own cigarettes, because the pre-rolled kind were too expensive. I came to think of pre-rolled cigarettes as a luxury on par with a steak dinner.

The only time I ever saw someone get fired, it was because the local mugshot newspaper had posted him on the Sex Offender page. It wasn’t even a recent arrest, it had happened years in the past. Someone at the office had seen the paper in the morning, and by mid-afternoon the whole office knew and was avoiding the guy. The boss came by his desk before lunch and fired him.

Myself and the few people I was friends with at work, were all too poor to go out for drinks. So we would meet up after work on Fridays to drink rotgut St Ides 40-ounces of beer on my coworkers sister’s porch. I would spend the night on the couch, because going out meant missing my bus home, but it was worth it to break the monotony of the week.

The first time I got a check with a commission on it, it was a check for $600. Normally my checks had been $100-$250. I was so certain they had made a clerical error, that I rushed to the bank to deposit it before they figured out the mistake. My boss came over to my desk the next day, and I was certain he was going to ask for the money back and fire me for stealing money. The hair on my neck stood up. He said, “Congratulations, on the big commission Joe, great work!” I breathed a sigh of relief.

The fluorescent lighting began to feel like it was burning a hole in my soul. The well deserved verbal abuse I received on a daily basis from the people I called relentlessly was wearing thin on my ego. The heavy smell of desperation that hung around each cubicle in that office grew more unbearable by the day. I despaired at the thought of this being my life. I asked myself, “Is this the best I can do?”

Obviously, it must be, I thought, because its the only place I had been able to find work, not for lack of trying. I  had filled out hundreds of applications and dropped off tons of resumes. I was so desperate for a steady paycheck I had even applied for a job at an industrial chicken farm and been turned away. I wasn’t even good enough to work there. Despair turned to depression, magnified by the heat of the omnipresent Arizona sun. Watching people drive past me as I waited at bus stops.  The worst would be when I’d see a pretty girl, and knowing I had absolutely nothing to offer her. My clothes shabby and falling apart, holes in the bottom of my sneakers.

One day about 8 months after I started, I woke up, and I just didn’t go to work that day.



Jay had heard that you could buy fake IDs in New York.  All that he knew was that you could get them on Canal Street. Jay remembered Sloppy Sullivan showing him the one he’d gotten while on a trip to New York with the Roosevelt High School Jazz Band. It said in small print on the back that it was not a real ID and that it was for “entertainment purposes only”, but other than that it looked pretty legit.

“You think the clerks at a corner store care if it’s real or not? Not a chance, they just want something to look at, so if they do get hemmed up they can show the cops on camera that they checked an ID. Plus it’s a North Dakota ID, how is he gonna know what a real North Dakota ID looks like?” Sloppy Sullivan explained to Jay.

New York City was a mecca for Jay. All his favorite rap songs took place there. It was the birthplace of hip-hop and graffiti, or so he thought at the time. Every magazine article he read seemed to sing its virtues. Jay had never been there, so he decided to go with his friend Allan Lee for midwinter break.

Both Allan and Jay held down part time jobs as “courtesy clerks” (more commonly known as bag-boys) at neighborhood grocery stores. Jay worked at the QFC by Roosevelt, and Allan worked at an organic food co-op near Bryant. Both lived at home, so they had no “real” expenses. Drinking was a cheap pastime, a keg cup cost $3 and you could drink as much as you could refill before the keg ran dry. Then you’d throw some money down on an18 pack with a friend, and you’d still have spent under $20. Of their friends, only Allan and Jay had jobs, so they had the disposable income necessary to plan and go on trips. The year before, they had flown by themselves to Hawaii and they’d had a blast. Jay convinced Allan that their next trip should be New York.

It was easy for Jay to convince Allan to go to New York City. They were both avid fans of VICE Magazine before it became a major media website. It was a free magazine given out at all the cool, edgy places on the Ave and Broadway.  The articles in Vice seemed to glorify a decadent New York lifestyle that was much more exciting than drinking in parks around Seattle.

Because they were young and didn’t know any better, Allan and Jay’s hotel room was nothing more than a shitty cubicle two blocks off Time Square. It was the smallest hotel room Jay had ever seen in his life. The room was dominated by two beds that were pressed against opposite walls, a nightstand wedged between them, and a TV and chest of drawers. Their suitcases took up the majority of the floor space, and both had brought only one bag. You couldn’t open the front door and the bathroom door at the same time or the doors would bang into each other.

It didn’t matter though. They were young, unstoppable, and they’d brought their own liquor from Seattle. They bought overpriced twenty ounce sodas from the vending machine in the lobby, poured out half, and filled the other half with Jack Daniels whiskey. Then they went out to roam the streets of Manhattan.


 Jay and Allan headed to Canal Street to buy the fake ID’s.  When they got there, they walked around looking for where they could buy them.  A black dude on the street came up to them shortly after they had begun looking and asked,

 “You boy’s looking for fake IDs?”

 It was like the guy had read their minds.

“Yeah dude, how did you know?”

The guy laughed.

“You guys just had that look about you, I’m your man, here, fill these out.”

The black dude looked around furtively. He produced two Xeroxed forms from his jacket that had blanks next to all the information one would need for an ID and handed them to Jay and Allan, who filled them out.

“Follow me.”

Allan and Jay followed him to the front of a Chinese furniture store. The man looked around nervously.

“Alright this is the place. I’m going to take your picture, you each give me 60 bucks and then I’ll go in and get your ID’s made for you, then be right back out.” He pulled out a digital camera.

“Wait dude, why can’t we go inside with you?”

“You kidding fool? The Chinese folk don’t want kids walking in and out of their spot, that would be a dead giveaway.  Here, stand against the wall.”

Allan looked at Jay. “I don’t know dude.”

“Why would he take our picture and fill out these forms if he wasn’t going to give us ID’s?”

“I guess you’re right.”

Allan and Jay forked over the money.

“Alright, stand next to that wall right there.” said the man, pointing at neutral colored section of wall.

First he took a picture of Jay from the neck up of, then Allan.  Then he said,

“You guys wait right here, I’ll be out in 20 minutes.”

Allan and Jay watched him disappear into the Chinese furniture store. Both of them knew that they weren’t going to see the black dude again, but they didn’t want to admit it.  They had been wrong yet, so they waited, holding on to the idea that their gut feeling might be wrong.

“Fuck this, I’m going in.” Said Allan, before walking into the entrance of the store, Jay followed.

The store was filled with Chinese-themed junk, it looked like a store where owners of Chinese restaurants went to buy decor. A Chinese lady sat behind a counter, she stared at Allan and Jay blankly, the black dude was nowhere to be seen. At the end of the store opposite the entrance was a door, the neon green letters above it read EXIT.

“FUCK!!!”  Screamed Allan “THAT MOTHERFUCKER!!!”


My khakis sagged low, lashed at a downward angle from above my crotch to beneath my butt with a woven leather belt. Grey Timberland sweatshirt over a blue Oxford shirt. Red cup clutched to my chest. A Milwaukee Brewers hat perched precariously on top of my head. Jerry Spinelli had bought the hat thinking it was a retro Mariners hat. When I’d informed him otherwise, he no longer wanted it and had sold it to me for only five bucks. I was quite proud of it. Older boys kept trying to steal it from me at the party, playing keep-away with me. ‘Mal was the worst of them. He had come to the party with a very pretty girl. Brunette hair tinted red. Tan Skin. A necklace of light up plastic chili pepper beads flashing on and off around her neck. We kept making eye contact throughout the evening but I thought nothing of it. I was terrified of Mal, but at the same time I wanted to be like him, albeit less of a douchebag. When I say I wanted to be like him, I mean that I wanted to command respect like he did. I guess I confused fear with respect at the time, but it was a moot point.  Whatever “it” was, it afforded him the ability to get what he wanted, when he wanted it. I craved that more than anything ; to walk through my life without fear of being picked on. Not that I was picked on in the classical sense. People just didn’t respect me the way I wanted to be respected. I wanted desperately to prove them wrong.


Mal pulled a blank CD from the vertical chest pocket of his puffy, black down jacket. “Tupac” was scrawled on the CD face in black Sharpie. The music stopped abruptly as he hit the eject button on the CD player. He removed the CD and set it on top of the stereo sans case before replacing it with his Tupac CD. The opening notes of “How Do You Want It” blared from the speakers.  Mal screwed up his face in a goofy manner, biting his lip and said,

“Oh yeah, that’s what I’m talking about!”

Mal proceeded to mouth along to the lyrics of the song before sitting down on the couch and carefully splitting open a Swisher Sweet cigar with his bare thumbs. A friend of his had already broken down sticky clumps of marijuana into a heaping, crumbled pile on top of a magazine on the coffee table.

I was very drunk, and I careened from group to group, though I was trying very hard to maintain my composure. The whole point of getting drunk was to get drunk and stay as composed as possible; at least that was what I thought at the time. That was being savage, wasn’t it?  In addition to the beer, I had been taking swigs of Bacardi Limon, which from our perspective was the height of a classy drink. I had tunnel vision, but I was nowhere near the puking stage. I could avoid that if I made the switch back to drinking only beer, which I did.

It seemed that none of the girls my age were interested in any of the boys my age. They all were interested in the ‘03 boys. Except for Veronica, who blew Allan Lee in the shower, but that happened at every house party so it didn’t count. Plus Veronica blew everybody at one point or another; my own encounters with her were still a distant two summers away. This just seemed to be the way the cookie crumbled for me at this stage in my life, and I did not let myself become resentful in the way that I would deal with rejection whilst inebriated in the future.

Fag Brandon, who everyone called FB even though he was not gay, sat behind a flat of Natural Ice 16 oz tall cans, grinning and drinking from a can of beer. He’d inherited his nickname from Fag Andy, his older brother, who also was not gay (I think), just unfortunate enough to have that nickname bestowed on him. He nodded his head to the music. He had his arm around a girl from my class. Her body was pressed against his side and she looked up at him with wide eyes. Fag Brandon indeed.


Rob Lutz had an older brother named Trevor Lutz, nicknamed T-Bone. Unlike Rob, T-Bone had not been fortunate enough to receive the benefit of Seattle public schooling. Compared to us he was quite country, although to someone actually from the country, he would’ve surely seemed quite urban having grown up in a large suburb north of Seattle. T-Bone wore lots of Fox Racing clothes, and if he did not have any tribal tattoos at this point, he would be sure to have some in the near future. Bad ones.  The fact that he was a Golden Glove boxer kept coming up in conversations throughout the night. I think this started with Rob bragging about his brother and progressed to people asking one another in hushed tones “Did you hear about Rob’s brother? He’s a Golden Glove boxer.” I did not know what a Golden Glove boxer was at the time; in fact I’m not sure what it means to this day. I thought it to mean he was a champion of some sort. Cody was 19 and seemed infinitely older than anyone else at the party, at least to me. He had a small entourage of friends his age at the party, and they held court with him and his mother by the keg in the kitchen, occasionally escaping to the porch to smoke marijuana.

The majority of the partygoers were Roosevelt High School students who were only there because it was a place to drink on New Year’s Eve.  They were arranged on a spectrum that ranged from preppy future collegiate types to full-blown wiggers; a spectrum on which I rested somewhere in the middle. Even the more straight-laced kids affected African American slang and mannerisms as they became more intoxicated, which in retrospect is pretty offensive. Mal held court over the wigger faction, singing along to the rap lyrics booming from the stereo. T-Bone walked over to change the CD on the stereo.

“Don’t touch the fucking stereo!” Mal barked.

“It’s my fucking house, fuck-o, I’m sick of this crap!” Said T-Bone

“Well that’s my disc, and if you touch it you’re going to have problems.”

Mal stood up. The partygoers froze in anticipation.

T-Bone ignored Mal, took out the disc, dropped it on the ground and crushed it beneath his foot.

“What the fuck, fag?”

Mal said, as he made a move towards T-Bone. He didn’t make it far. T-Bone and Rob’s mom ran screaming from the kitchen “NO FIGHTING!”.  Too late, T-Bone was a whirl of punches.  Before I could tell what was happening, Mal had fallen butt-first into the plate glass coffee table, shattering it. He sat on a pile of a broken glass with his legs sticking awkwardly out the top of the metal frame. He looked confused, his hat had fallen off and his hair was sticking up in places. T-Bone stood over him and said,

“Now get the fuck out of my house.”

“Alright, dog, give me a second.”

“GET THE FUCK OUT OF OUR HOUSE!” yelled Rob’s mom.

“I’m moving.”

Mal gingerly picked himself up off the broken coffee table.  He brushed away any stray shards of glass that may have been clinging to his clothing. None of the glass had injured him. He picked up his hat from the floor and slouched angrily towards the stairwell to the door, he shouted at the beautiful red head girl,


She stood with a group of her girlfriends, red chili pepper beads flashing on and off, and said,

“No, I’m gonna stay, I’ll get a ride home with one of my friends.”

“Rachel!  I said LET’S GO!”

“I’m not the one who got kicked out of the party.” she said, pointing an accusatory finger at Mal. They stared each other down. She cocked her head as if to say “Now what?”.  Mal shook his head before pointing from the bottom of the stairs at T-Bone and saying,

“This ain’t over, Dog.”,  before walking out the door and slamming it behind him.

T-Bone and his friends cracked up laughing, mimicking Mal.


I thought the whole thing was hilarious myself and spent the last few hours of 2002 explaining drunkenly to anyone who would listen about the irony of a kid from the city named Mal getting beat up by a kid from the country named T-Bone. Lynwood constituted “country” for me at the time.

“Don’t you see the irony, dude, it’s like two clichés colliding with each other.”  I would finish up, laughing.


Fag Brandon started the countdown to the New Year, rising from his seat at the table, now littered with empty beer cans, girl still entwined in his arms. The party shouted back with him.


I was standing in the kitchen. Rachel, the girl Mal had brought with him, was standing directly in front of me, her red chili pepper beads flashing. We made eye contact.


She looked very pretty, even sensual with her midriff exposed. Her dyed red hair was pulled back at an angle in a pony-tail. I couldn’t read the expression on her face, but she was still staring me dead in the eyes.


I smiled at her. The corners of her lips twitched slightly upwards into a barely perceptible smile.


I didn’t know what to do so I smiled broader and stepped towards her.


I now stood directly in front of her. She was a private school girl a year or two older than me.  Fear flashed through my brain. Fear of the ribbing I would get if I were to have misread Rachel’s body language and were to be coldly rejected in front of everyone. Fear of repercussions from Mal in regards to kissing (or trying to kiss) his date for the night, even though he was long gone.


Fuck it.


I moved closer and took a sip of my beer.


I put my hand on her hip. She did not brush it away, or recoil in disgust.


In fact, she moved closer.


I leaned in and kissed her, and she kissed me back passionately. Then it was over. She gently wiped her lips off, smiled, and walked away.

I stood there, elated. I felt like a king. It didn’t even occur to me pursue it any farther. It did eventually, but not then. It was a perfectly formed moment in time. I looked over at Fag Brandon sloppily making out with the girl from my class. Rachel was back with her friends already. I cocked my head at her, and she made eye contact with me again briefly before looking away. I didn’t know what to do, so I walked up to the keg, and filled my cup.


Interstate 5 was dark. Tall trees loomed large on either side of the freeway. Rows of silent sentinels hanging over the tops of the gray sound barriers. Off-colored marks of buffed-out graffiti marred the ridges of the cold gray walls. Flashing blue lights illuminated a state trooper and the car he had pulled over. DUI patrols were out in force on New Year’s Eve. We zoomed onward. A man on a crotch-rocket style motorcycle raced past me, his clothes billowing back on his body. Recklessly, he careened on. Allan sat shotgun navigating from directions printed out in black and white from MapQuest.

“Take this next exit.” He said, pointing.

I guided the car onto the off-ramp into the “city” of Lynwood. The darkness of the freeway was no more.  I looped under the freeway onto a broad thoroughfare gaudily lit like a shrine to American Consumerism. McDonald’s. Shell. Chevron. Taco Bell. Babies’R’us. Toys’R’us. G.I. Joe’s. Best Buy. I followed this road awhile until Allan directed me again to turn, and the broad road gave way to dark, windy streets with no sidewalks and streetlights and mailboxes dotted here and there. Houses strung with Christmas lights sat back from the tree-lined roads at the end of gravel driveways. We drove a little while longer before Allan spoke again,

“We’re about to come up on it right now.”

The verbal directions proved to be unnecessary. Cars packed the driveway of Rob Lutz’s house and the street in front. Dead giveaway.  A group who had arrived right before us was unloading beer from the trunk of their car. Another trio was walking up the driveway,18-packs in hand.


Students stood clustered on the front steps of Roosevelt High School. School had just let out for winter break. Rob Lutz walked from cluster to cluster flanked by two of his friends giving verbal invitations to his New Year’s Eve party. Rob was skinny and slight.  He had acne that he covered up with girl’s make-up. He wore baggy jeans with a loop that in theory was made to hold a hammer; in reality the loop was purely aesthetic. Rob wore his stringy, greasy brown hair combed flat and forward, the bangs pressed flat hanging over his forehead like a helmet. He wore a puffy black South Pole jacket and clunky Timberland-esque Lugz.  His friend Latoine, a multiracial kid, wore a dingy yellow doo-rag with the raggedy ends of his fuzzy cornrows hanging out the back, adorned with white and yellow beads. His skinny frame was engulfed in a yellow FUBU sweater many sizes too large, covered in cartoon characters. The sweater had been worn too many times and was covered with minute balls of lint. He was the kind of boy wiggers enlisted to be their black friend. Rob’s other friend was a stocky boy who sported similar ill-fitting garb.

What a bunch of goofy-ass motherfuckers I thought. An open house was an open house though. My friends and I were long in the habit of befriending people solely for the purpose of using them for their house and then forgetting about them after. Rob Lutz would be no different. I imagined that he thought having a house party would make him cool. I’m sure his primary motive was that he thought having the party would get him laid.  He was right in thinking that having a party would be a surefire way to get a ton of girls to show up at his house, whether or not he could successfully woo any of them was another story altogether. I wouldn’t bet on it. It made little difference to me. I was completely caught up in the world of “kicking it” and nothing delighted me more than the prospect of open houses, and in the winter it was an attractive alternative to drinking beer in a park.


The front door of the house opened into the landing of a stairwell. One set of stairs down to the left, and another up to the right, a layout I have found to be common in the suburbs north of Seattle. Bumpy amber-colored window panes surrounded the door and extended up to the ceiling of the main floor. The living room sported a L-shaped sectional couch; its back against a large picture window that stared out into the darkness. A large fireplace was on the far wall of the room. There was no wall separating the living room from the dining room, and at the edge of the dining room the carpet gave way to linoleum into the kitchen. A sliding glass door led onto a deck crowded with people smoking cigarettes. A keg of beer in a garbage can full of ice sat in the middle of the kitchen. A blonde lady in her mid-30s held a bag of red plastic cups. This surprised me. I assumed it was Robert’s mother, though he had failed to mention this to us.

“Car keys.” She barked at me, holding out her hand.


“You gotta give me your car keys if you want a keg cup. I don’t want any of you kids driving drunk.”


I gave her my car keys and she handed them to a man in his early 20’s in a grey Seahawks hoodie who put them into a bowl he appeared to be guarding. They were both holding cups of beer. Rob’s mom handed me a red cup.

“Here ya go, sweetie. I’m Rob’s mom. Tammy. This is my husband Phil.”

Husband? The guy was not much older than us. Tammy was pretty young to be the mother of a 16-year-old, but Phil was still at least 12 years her junior. Weird.

I filled up my cup and began to drink.


Visions of Morgan


We walked the same aisles

where we’d never been before.

duffel stuffed under the rack

back left corner of the store.

Visualize my happy place,

walk calmly out the door,

like high dives and roller-coasters

terrified you yearn for more.

Hit I-80 on-ramp east

Another successful score.


Pop tags off brand new clothing,

taking showers in the sink

Black-eyed waitress tells a lie

‘cause she knows what people think.

The men all sip their coffee

and politely nod their heads.

Next time might not be as lucky,

She’ll pro’lly end up dead.


We leave and head towards Reno,

as quickly as we came.

To see his boy from ‘Quentin,

who’s shacked up with a dame.


Nightmares on the sofa,

The demons on my chest.

Keeping me from moving,

and spoiling all my rest.


Oxygen tanks at Circus Circus

They smoke and feed the slots.

Remove the mask and puff their cigarettes,

the geriatric sloths.


I lose twenty on the “penny” slots

I’ll never play again.

Morgan at the sports book,

Seahawks for the win.





Illustration by FONSE D30

My first car was a maroon 1991 Buick LeSabre. It had been my dad’s car before he died when I was fourteen. It was the last car he had ever owned. He had owned many cars in his 40 years of driving. The Buick was a monster. It had maroon pillow-top leather seats. The back seat was large and spacious. The whole car was a couch on wheels. I could control everything in the car from the driver’s seat. Power everything.


Illustration by FONSE D30

A silver DiscMan rested in my lap. A long cord ran from the headphone jack into a tape deck adaptor, the kind you bought at Bartell’s Drugstore. Apollo Kids by Ghostface Killah was playing. My burned copy of Supreme Clientele stayed in heavy rotation on my car stereo.

Late at night I would drive in a long loop around the north end of Seattle for no purpose other than to listen to music, alone with my thoughts. I would drive fast on Sand Point Way. I would zoom up and down the hills of 65th, loving the feeling as the car swooshed over the dips. Right on 20th. Right onto 75th. Left onto 35th to start the circuit over again.


It was a Friday night around 9 P.M. Allan Lee sat next to me on the passenger side of the front seat. He turned up the heat to 90 degrees. He cupped his hands around the heater vents in the manner of warming his hands on a fire. A 40 ounce of Old English was balanced between his knees. He closed his eyes and let the warm air run full blast over his face. He looked not unlike a purring cat.

“Ohhhh yeah.” Said Allan.

“Yo fool, cut that shit out; you’re wasting gas.”

“Chill out, dude.”

In theory, the Buick had dual climate control. Allan had negated this duality by turning his heat up to 90 degrees. The drivers side of the car had grown unbearably hot. It was not particularly cold outside. The exterior temperature read 55 degrees in sea-foam green digital letters on the black screen in the center console. A mild Seattle night.

“Yo, for real. Turn that shit off. You’re being hella gay,” I said.

Allan shot me an annoyed look.


Allan turned the heat down. I asked him,

“What’s the cross streets to this party?”

“I’m not sure yet. I’m waiting on a call from Tim. Its some Garfield kids. Madison Park I think. Head that way.”


Husky Stadium slipped by on our left. Over the Mountlake Cut. Past the iconic Hop-In grocery that stood as my mental marker for the end of my territory. The Hop-In was the edge of my adolescent universe. Not that I was not familiar with the City south of the Hop-In; I was. It was just a different world, and I treated it as such, carrying myself there in a guarded manner. Nor was leaving my universe an unpleasant experience, I relished these excursions. It was exciting to leave my North End world. The kids that inhabited this other world seemed to me infinitely more cultured. I wanted their respect. I wanted them to see in me a kindred spirit. I wasn’t really a North End kid I reasoned, I was from the U-District. My neighborhood had sidewalks. I wasn’t from one of the quasi-suburban neighborhoods one associates with the North End of Seattle.

With these thoughts in mind and the Hop-In in my rear-view mirror, I drove onward, up the hill and through the CD towards Madison Park.


The hardwood floors of the house were marred with dirty footprints trekked in by party-goers. The floor was sticky beneath my feet with spilled beer and dirt. The walls around the fireplace in the living room were lined with built-in bookcases full of books and family photos. Odds and ends. Knick-knacks.

I Got 5 On It by the Luniz blasted at full volume from the stereo. No one was dancing though. Boys stood rigidly clutching 40’s to their chests; trying to look hard. If not clutching 40’s, they stood with a beer in one hand, and an 18-pack of beer with the top end ripped opened in the other hanging by their side. A few held fifths of hard alcohol they sipped before chasing the liquor with sips of juice or Coca-Cola.

The boys dressed in North Face Jackets, fitted baseball caps, and khaki pants that sagged below the belt. The girls wore North Face jackets and tight jeans. I wasn’t drinking. I was driving that night. I still clung to the idea of not drinking and driving, an idea I would eventually abandon for a while before coming back to it.

I struck up a conversation with a pretty girl a grade below me named Margot. She was a brunette with an olive complexion. She was what we called a butter-face. Everything about her was hot “but her” face. Her face wasn’t bad at all, but it wasn’t anything special either. She had a large nose and brown eyes. Her body was amazing. Her tight jeans made her large posterior look great. Butter-face or not, I was definitely interested in getting to know her intimately right away. We talked and flirted. Margot laughed at my jokes. She looked up at me into my eyes. I felt fairly confident that she was somewhat interested in me. I kept trying to play it cool.

Somebody yelled,


The mood of the party shifted instantly to confusion and panic. Everyone ran out the back sliding glass door and started jumping the fence. It was like rats escaping from a burning ship. Margot and I followed. The fence was wooden and old and slimy and wet. The force of people jumping it had it leaning forward. My car was parked a half block away from the front of the house. I thought to myself “This is retarded, I haven’t been drinking, I don’t want to fuck up my gear on this slimy ass fence. I’m just going to walk out the front door. Plus that’ll make me look hella badass and savage to Margot.” I took a deep breath.

“Margot, let’s just walk out the front door and get in my car and bounce.”

“But the cops…”

“Fuck the cops, I haven’t been drinking or smoking. I’ll just put my arm around you and we’ll walk right by them.”

She didn’t say anything. She just nodded, trusting me with her pretty brown eyes. I put my arm around her and we turned away from the fence and walked back through the sliding glass door and through the living room to the front door. I took another deep breath and said to Margot,

“You got this.”

But I was really saying it to myself. We walked through the door arm in arm. I shut it behind me. We were on the porch. Two cops stood by their cars double parked in the street in front of the house. One was a fat middle-aged male cop in glasses and one a buff-looking lady cop with short hair, anything feminine about her disguised by the thickness of her bulletproof vest. I clutched Margot closer to me. I imagined myself being a hundred feet tall. We walked down the steps, I nodded at the man cop and we walked right by him down the block to my car. Once inside the car Margo looked at me and said,

“That was amazing.”

And then we kissed. Her lips soft against mine in the front seat of a Buick LeSabre.


I was sitting shotgun in the cab of Anthony Chung’s black Toyota pick-up truck. We were in the parking lot of the dorms at Central Washington University. We sat together in the truck as it idled. Anthony turned and spoke to me,

 “You sure you want to go back to your dorm room, Flowseph? You’re hella faded, you can crash at my pad.”

 “Nah homie, I’m good. I’m about to head straight to my room and curb out.”

 “Aight. Try not to run into any RA’s or Campus Police.”

 “For sure. I’ll holler at you tommorow.”

 We exchanged daps and I hopped out of the cab. It was a cold fall night in Ellensburg, Washington. I was wearing a black Polo Ralph Lauren sports jacket over a vintage Tommy Hilfiger black and white striped polo shirt and Brooks Brothers khakis with a sag – the front cuffs tucked behind the tongues of my all black Timberland EuroHikers. I topped this off with a black sweatband with a white Air Jordan logo, the faux diamond earrings in both of my ears hanging out from underneath. Years of listening to hardcore Gangsta Rap mixed with growing up in the Seattle public school system had warped my sense of self. I thought I was some kind of a gangster.

 I walked through the deserted parking lot back to my dorm. I sniffled. Cocaine was dripping from my nose down into the back of my throat. It tasted like gasoline. I sucked in through my nose and spit out a massive loogie. My breath tasted like cheap wine.

 “You got this.” I said out loud.

 The front rec-room/lobby was painfully bright with fluorescent light. A group of boys sat by the foosball table eating pizza out of the box. They all were dressed like 1999 had never happened. Cargo shorts and sandals. Puka shell necklaces. Abercrombie t-shirts printed with sexual puns styled like vintage advertisements. They were from places like Yakima, Spokane, or the Tri-Cities. Bumfuck nowhere. I knew them all vaguely.

 “What a bunch of lames.” I thought to myself.

 I knew one of them from orientation and from around the dorm. I guess he was their leader. I’m pretty sure his goal in life was to be the most cliché ” College dude” ever. He’d tried to give himself the nickname “BMOC” during the first week of school. Big Man On Campus, yeah, right.

He had definitely watched every single American Pie movie in existence way too many times, as well as a healthy dose of direct to video National Lampoon movies. It’d had a detrimental affect on his already dismal personality. He looked up at me and held out the pizza box.

 “Hey Paul Wall, you want a slice of pizza?”

 They all laughed at his joke.

 The cocaine had worn off, and now I was just drunk. Really drunk. Pizza sounded amazing.

 “Yeah, I’d love a slice. Thanks homie.”

 In my inebriated state I had failed to see the set-up. After I’d eaten the slice, BMOC said to me,

 “We all put up money on that pizza, and you just walk in here and try and freeload on us?”

 They all laughed again.

 “What are you talking about dude? You just offered me a slice of pizza.”

 “Nah, you just came up and started eating some pizza you didn’t pay for, you fucking fairy.”

 The east-of-the-mountains set was convinced I was a homosexual because I wore Burberry raincoats and had a fake Louis Vuitton wallet. They had been trying to spread rumors about me being a gay dude. I knew this because one of the girls I was sleeping with at the time had told me so.

 “You’re tripping on a slice of pizza?”

 “Yeah I’m “tripping” on a slice of pizza.”

 I took a twenty dollar bill out of my wallet and crumpled it into a ball.

 “Money is paper, and paper grows on trees, BITCH.”

 I flicked the wadded-up twenty at his face. It bounced off his forehead.

 “That’s it! You asked for it now FAG!”

 He ran towards me and threw a punch. I ducked the punch and tackled him at the waist. I took him to the ground and straddled him with one hand holding him by his shirt, the other hand punching him in his face.

 “Whatsup nigga?! Who’s the BMOC now, bitch!” I said between punches.

 Someone came up behind me and I turned and punched the guy in the face.

 Big mistake. It was an RA. The douchiest RA there was to boot. I instantly realized my error. Blood gushed from the RA’s nose. The sight of the blood had a sobering effect on me. I quickly got up and off BMOC. I even helped him up off the ground.

 The RA addressed us, his head tilted back as he pinched the bridge of his nose to stem the flow of blood.

 “I want everyone to go back to their rooms right now! I’m not mad at anybody, no one is in trouble. We’ll all have a meeting about it tomorrow!”

 “Yo, my bad, dude. I’m hella sorry. I thought you were some dude trying to jump me.”

 “We’ll talk about it tommorow Joe, go to your room.”

 We all went to our dorm rooms. I fell asleep pretty fast but I was quickly awakened when my door came crashing in. Two campus police jumped on top of me in the bed. There were two more cops in the hallway. I struggled, mostly because I wasn’t quite sure what was happening. They had kicked in my door and jumped on me with no warning.


 One of the cops tased me. I stopped resisting.


 “I’M NOT…”

 The cop tased me again.


 He tased me a final time before securing my arms behind my back with zip-ties.

 I should have stayed at Anthony’s.