I like words. Having lived for the last five years in a grow room gave me the opportunity to reconnect to words. It was a non-functioning grow room but it was well lit and well ventilated. I like putting words together so they hit you like a soft leather pillow. AC also likes words. He did not have to re-connect to words in his non-functioning grow room as he had his choice of many rooms to indulge his like of words. AC's words have a more abrasive quality like a shotgun blast containing rock salt and nails. It serves him well yet AC and I pale in comparison to the Master of all words, the Godfather of road rage, the Sultan of Slamming, our father. One of my earliest memories is watching The Honeymooners" on our B&W Motorola, seeing the antics of Ralph Kramden and thinking, "That's my dad." His skills as an orator or a motivational speaker were untouchable and best capsulized when I had just turned 16 and asked him to take me to the DMV so I could get my drivers license. When I flunked the written portion of the exam, thus turning the day into a total loss, he looked at me, knowing how disappointed I was and asked, "Are you fucking retarded?"
Such irony in those words as it was determined sometime in my early elementary years that I was a prodigy. My discovery of this fact arrived upon me in the hallways of Jefferson Elementary as I was on my way to the bathroom and came upon my teacher from my prior year, Mrs. Howlett and our Physical Education teacher, Mr. Baljoe and what was meant to be an honest greeting of "Hello Mr. Baljoe" that might have had a melodious intonation that may or may not have sounded like "Mr Bojangles" and Mrs. Howlett coming unglued at my impudence. "Blah blah, smart aleck, blah blah and I have yet to see any evidence of this HIGH IQ!" The unbridled disdain of which she screeched the words high IQ stuck with me long after the tears of contrition for the hallway humiliation and when I got home that very afternoon, I asked Joan of Arc, my other celebrity parent, "What was my IQ?" Shame is not an emotion that a 10 year old child sees from such high-profile parents, but I could sense something more than embarrassment come over her at my query. After an awkward pause she tactfully countered with,"Why?" and I proceeded to tell the hallway story focusing on the totally innocent angle when she stopped me and offered," We were going to enroll you in a school for the gifted but your father blah blah.." which became family speak for dad's drinking. When this incident occurred, Ms of Arc and Mr Kramden had been divorced over two years and I moved on and put little stock into the decision not made. Later I would realize that IQ was another word for potential and the older I got, the less tolerance I had for my potential. So it all worked out. It stands to reason that this mythical IQ would have manifested itself in some fashion but the only aptitude I have for anything is a savant-like ability to recall any song I've ever heard and aptitude means disorder but sounds nicer. There is no reason to turn on the radio since there is a tune knocking around in that chasm that sits upon my shoulders 24/7. It can be a ruthless soundtrack as the most inappropriate tune will cue up at the most inappropriate time like when my daughter Elsie was born and the Ramones Beat On the Brat kept chugging through my skull. I have thousands of these little chapters in my life but like everything else in my life, I've learned to ignore it. Debt, pain, memories. Just push it aside and wake up. As long as the windshield is clean, I'm good. If there is anything that moves me from outside my tiny world it might be the process of eliminating myself off the grid. If not for the sticky issue concerning DSHS, my existence would not matter but because of some distorted once removed Catholic guilt, I am current on my responsibilities as I navigate through the rainy streets of Seattle, cloaked by my Brown Cab. A graceful ghost. By ghost I mean a fat guy with a twin sheet draped over his head with eye holes cut out by a box cutter and graceful like a 351 Cleveland engine block falling down a flight of stairs. Suffice to say that even at the age of 52, I'm still a work in progress.
Spare me the racist jokes, I work for Brown Cab. Even though 95% of all the employees are either Somalian, Ethiopian or Indian, that is not why I call it Turds on Wheels. I use that sunny moniker because the vehicles suffer from shoddy maintenance. Ethnicity might seem an obvious entendre but I don't have the time for that nonsense. The 95% are out trying to make a buck like me, trying to stay afloat, feed the kids and keep the rats at bay. I will offer that any team-building exercises would go for naught. This isn't a work force that would benefit from a company picnic. I don't see any cross border mingling happening, more like 3 big cliques encircled upon themselves with the strong serving as lookouts. Just like it is when we are staging at the airport. I can't waste my time hating on these folks but I do see and hear things. Most of the people who climb into my cab are happy that I'm Caucasian and that most of our driver's road manner scare the shit out of people. I have seen that they attack the road with nary a concern about personal safety or the physics of two masses occupying the same space at once but it makes perfect sense when you come from an unregulated and unrefined country. Some of these guys come from villages. The only villages in the US are those deemed by real estate developers. Actual third world villages have more concerns than teenage vandalism. I believe that if you came from a village where large carnivorous mammals roamed the outskirts, you are likely to drive with the constant fear that a large carnivorous mammal is going to leap out from the backseat at any moment. Same holds true with war-torn communities where the sound of distant gunfire and roadside IED's are the norm. How can one be bothered by the trivial inconvenience of using a turn signal or observing a speed limit when the chance of dying every time you leave your house or hut or leanto is measured by low odds. The beauty of this job is I don't have to worry about anybody but my guests and myself.. I must admit that I am good at this job and the job is good for me. Having a connection with humanity has its upside. When I started working here I was coming off my second hiatus from life and there is a slight chance that I might have been a bit raw for the public. Probably a tad effusive. A cabbie crying over his divorce is not an experience most people want on their way to the opera, unless they wanted a warm up act for Pagliacci. I did correct the sad clown performance and realized that its best to speak only when spoken to and that I didn't need to show off my degree in Speech every time someone climbs into the backseat. Sorry Shakespeare, All the world is NOT a stage but I was, at one time, an applause whore, or so I've been told. I honestly don't remember about 5 years of my life. I call it my first hiatus but for those who will no doubt chronicle my life, it might be titled The Drunken Period. There are glimpses and faces and situations that will show up at some still moment, like a traffic light or waiting in line at a 7-11 but for the most part, everything from that hiatus is just a hazy dream and dreams are WAY over -rated.
Recently I have been having a recurring dream, the kind where I wake up drenched in sweat and on the floor. The dream has a couple of variations yet the premise is the same. I'm on my sleeping table in the grow room. I've just woke up and I can't move. I'm accepting of the fact that I've had a stroke, my arms and legs frozen. I can't tell if I'm screaming into the void but I'm trying like hell to move, the movement coming from my torso as I squirm to the edge of the table, trying to throw myself to the floor, hoping to break the paralysis. Sometimes my ex comes in, looks me over and leaves. Sometimes my son Michael or what I assume is my son , as I haven't seen him in over four years, will come in and stare at me from the doorway. He seems frozen as well and I always wonder if it's from indecision and not indifference. Last time, an old girlfriend came in, laughed at me and left. Just like her. I always wake up as I've managed to throw myself to the floor. The dream scares the bejesus out of me, mainly due to the family history of strokes, heart failure and system breakdowns and my own psychosomatic hypochondria. The cinematic shock and reality of this dream doesn't seem to change any part of my current lifestyle, except for those early moments when I'm picking myself off the floor and thanking God for another chance. Another chance for what I'm not sure but in those select seconds between dreams and the cement, my discarded Catholicism always comes back. I picked up a son and his father the other day and took them to the airport. Son about my age and the father, probably late 70's. Father not so agile or cognizant as it was a major labor to get him into the cab. As we drove out of the neighborhood, the father would bark out a landmark or something. "Denny's" was one blurt I could make out which told me the old man had something left as we drove by a location where a Denny's ONCE stood but had been razed for high rise condo's. The son was encouraging. "Yes, Dad. That used to be the Denny's. Remember the time Mom ordered a BLT and they brought her an omelet?" This sentimental passage in somebody else's carousel of slides left me bitter as I knew that no such memory would ever exist between me and my own son. Fucking Bitch. At this point it is a day to day, hand to mouth existence, where I wake up, pray like hell for the kindness of strangers, go to bed and imagine another uneventful day where the highlight might have been making it through a long yellow. I don't seem to spend a lot of time envisioning the future. Too much responsibility with little return. I know I ought to put effort in finding my own roof that has a mailbox where the junkmail marked for TENANT and OCCUPANT would actually be intended for me, Greg Snowden. Whether this fabled Shangri La has carpeting, hardwood floors or running water or a working toilet is immaterial since there is one person who wants me to have my own address more than he would want a cure for cancer. That would be my older brother , Aaron Clayton Snowden, aka AC. It is his grow room that I'm inhabiting. A grow room that is hidden behind his auto mechanic's wet dream of a garage. A room that is climate controlled, professionally vented, extremely well-lit with a 3/4 bath and a washer/dryer. Not owning a smart phone or a laptop excludes me from utilizing it's Wifi. A room I've been inhabiting since AC pulled me off the side of the road where I was living in my van and busking at the end of a freeway ramp, holding a sign stating,"college educated. just updating my resume" A freeway ramp that had been the approximate address of where I had spent most of that wonderful summer where I collected over 800 dollars, umpteen bottles of water and warm soda, the equivalent of 4 packs of cigarettes, some apples, some energy bars and a few quarts of expectorated snot. None of this gifted treasure went toward my post-divorce obligation and it was one day prior to AC pulling me off the road by my frayed lapels that a car approached and beckoned me by rolling down the window.
"Aren't you Greg Snowden?"
"Give this to him if you find him."
The driver handed me a large manila envelope from the King County Court System, explaining that I was no longer allowed visitation with my child nor was I allowed to step foot on what was once my own property. As the car drove away, I couldn't help but marvel, albeit briefly, at the accuracy of the much-maligned U.S, Postal Service.
It was a typical March afternoon as I returned from another mind-numbing day from behind the wheel. The ground was saturated by a constant drizzle that had started around Thanksgiving. The autumn leaves still littered the compound that was AC's property. I knew something was up as AC greeted me. Stepping out of the garage, I could see my belongings in boxes and large garbage bags behind his huge frame, resplendent in his sleeveless denim, showing his ink-covered ocean cable like arms.
"It's your lucky day. I found you a new place to live.",He gruffed through the chain saw whine of a voice, His generosity bouncing off the walls as to call this MY lucky day.
"Uh.. where is it?", knowing full well that it didn't matter where it was as long as it was off his property.
"Not far. Rat City. I know the guy. He owes me."
Having a debt to AC was not a hallowed position in any society. How one acquired this debt was of little importance, rest assured, it would be settled.
"Here's the address and here's your money."
"YOUR money! I gave you a little graduation present as well."
I'm pretty sure I spotted the image of Jesus holding a chainsaw on his forearm as he handed me an envelope, bustling with cash. There was no point in feigning outrage that he found my shoebox serving as my safety deposit box that had every penny I'd been able to save after I caught up with my child and spousal support. After throwing my meager belongings back into the van, I headed out to my apparent new address. The drive gave me a chance to realize just how lucky I have been to be able to live rent-free for the last half decade. My brother was the only relative I had contact with, save for my sister, Denise, who I had not seen since I was 12 years old and her whereabouts and/or existence was anybody's guess. Finding my new neighborhood wasn't hard but finding the exact spot proved more problematic. I reached a corner lot that was half covered by a huge overgrown laurel hedge. The adjoining property was a basic two story with garage and huge driveway. that was framed by tall maples and cedars that extended beyond the house. I went to the porch that had the address and before I could knock, the door flew open and the largest head I'd ever seen atop a set of shoulders that wasn't a team mascot, greeted me with more than an air of apprehension. "Are you AC's brother?" I acknowledged my bloodline and he told me the house was in the back and the access was the break in the hedge. He then shut the door. Armed with these crystal clear directions and friendly banter, I moved the van out of the driveway only to find the break in the hedge to be about a foot wide and unable to accommodate the van or any sort of four wheeled vehicle. I walked down the easement and eventually found the 600 square foot Mother-in-law, with about a foot of moss covering the roof, which must have softened the landing of a huge branch that had separated the gutter from the front of the house. Out of a dark shadow that must have been the path to his house came my new landlord.
"So this is it. One bedroom. Furnished. 650 a month."
"I'm Greg, by the way. And you are?" I said, extending my hand. He shook my palm as if it hurt.
"Jack Paddon." He kept looking around as if he expected Ninja's to come flying out from the thick forest that surrounded my new Casa. "So, uh, AC didn't come with you?"
"No. Was he supposed to?" I'm not sure he believed me but his shoulders dropped about six inches, which was considerable when you took in account how hard it must have been to keep his Macy's Day Parade of a cranium upright. "Anyway, can I take a look inside?"
"Oh yea. It's open. I can't find the keys."
We stepped past the large branch that was becoming part of the porch, and walked inside.. The decor, ambiance and essence of the house was Old Old Woman, circa 1955. We stood in the only clear area where two people could stand. It was explained to me that in lieu of a deposit, I could clean the place to my liking. a very gracious offer, considering that the prior tenant saved everything they ever acquired, horde probably being a more apropos word than save and as I dreaded the upcoming work that would start as soon as this big headed jack-ass left, I couldn't help but think that this place was perfect for me.
"It's a great little place. Can't hear the neighbors. You can't hear me and I can't hear you." I think he was smiling but it was hard to tell with his face so close to my eyes.
"Hopefully, I won't have to scream for help. What happened to the last tenant?"
"Oh, she died. Right in the bathroom. We found the poor gal sitting on the crapper." Touching
I handed over the first months rent and he left, letting me commence on the arduous task that was set before me. I soon discovered that I had dishes, pots, pans, cutlery and some small appliances that I would not have to secure later. I started organizing things to throw away, to take to Goodwill and to sell on Craig's List then remembered one needs a computer to sell on Craig's List. I was catching a groove on the labor as the bass line of the Temptation's Ball of Confusion rolled through my happy head. I was sweaty and covered in dead old lady dust with my head underneath the sink when I heard a knock on the door. "Hello?", a woman's voice echoed. I crawled out from the sink and a fairly attractive woman stood in the doorway.
"Hi, I'm Monica. Jack's wife." Her head seemed appropriate to the rest of her fairly attractive body.
"Oh, c'mon in. I'm Greg." She stepped inside and looked around.
"I'm sorry you're having to do all this. I was going to get out here and clean up this place but I never got around to it. Jack just told me about an hour ago you were moving in." she smirked.
"Well at least you got the body out of here.", I returned with a smile. She lost her smile
"That body was my Aunt."
'Oh. Sorry. Jack didn't mention she was a relative. What was her name?"
"Iris Kuhn. What are you planning on doing with this stuff? There are some family heirlooms I would like to keep."
'Of course. you have right of first refusal. I keep running into things that don't seem appropriate to throw away or donate. I haven't started in the bedroom but I can tell already that her clothes wont fit so if you need to go through the closet, please do." I couldn't tell if she intentionally passed on my cross-dressing joke or she thought I was serious.
"Oh yeah, I need to check the closet as well but I was thinking of the other stuff. I'm going to bring the the truck around tomorrow and load it up."
"Okay. I won't be here tomorrow until after two.'
"That'll be good. I'll come by when you're gone. Leave the door open." She mumbled thanks as she walked out the door.
I started back under the sink and started sorting soaps and chemicals when it occurred to me that she might want the 3 half-cans of Wasp Killer. I realized that I was now stopped from my cleansing enema so I went out and found some pruning shears on the side of the house and cleared out the street access. It took much longer than it should have as the shears were either decorative or never sharpened.and completely useless by the time I finished. I threw them on top of the raked pile and realized there was no garbage can to put the debris in. So I just moved it off the easement and drove my van in. I returned to the house and set up the bathroom as to make it functional in the early morning, which included giving the hanging bath towel the smell test and running the hot water in the shower to drain the brown sediment that always collects in pipes that haven't been run in awhile. I laid out the items for the morning ritual and then returned to the living room where I set up my alarm clock next to the five foot loveseat, laid my six foot frame upon the loveseat and wondered for most of the night, why I didn't just lay on the floor.
I returned the next day with hopeful anticipation as to what items I would not have to move myself but upon initial inspection, I found very little had been removed. The family photo's and the television were most noticeably absent from the living room. The bedroom was minus some of the the porcelain figurines but as far as I could tell, not one item of clothing had been poached. In the bathroom, the Iris Kuhn killing toilet remained. That was not that much of a surprise as I could understand the thought process in leaving such an important family artifact based on the sterling first impression I made on Monica but after using the throne, I had surmised that it wasn't that much of a threat, though it did wobble. Walking out to the general area and kitchen, I stood meticulously scanning for something, anything that was missing. Wasn't a dishrack there yesterday? I couldn't remember but a little womanly voice whispered something clearly into my deaf left ear and that word was "Cupboards" and without shock or fear, I opened the cupboards and found that the dishes, the pots and pans, the cutlery and the small appliances were gone. The wind outside had kicked up and a branch started rubbing against the house but at that moment it sounded more like laughter.
So without delay, I proceeded with the cleaning and purging of the house, Opening boxes, moving things into piles. It was not orderly but sufficient. When it came time to start the elimination of Iris's wardrobe, I took pause. Why was I deemed the Grim Reaper of some dead woman's delicates? Of all the things that family ought to take care of after the passing of a loved one, the handling of someone's night gowns, bras and granny panties should be tops on the list. Should this act be carried put by some aloof stranger? Apparently there is no written code on this but it sucked just the same. I started in the closet, brimming with passe overcoats, outdated blouses and unraveling sweaters, more than likely hanging there since Nixon was in office. I grabbed the first coat off a hanger, a calf length classic, primarily gray with flecks of red and yellow woven into the fabric that Iris might have worn to the airport or a February night to Bingo. I started to fold it when I heard a jingling. I reached into the pocket to find a set of keys and some change. I could feel something else , something loosely attached to the side. It felt like paper but it had a crispness to it. It seemed stuck so with a little effort, I yanked on it and pulled out a 20 dollar bill from 1987, missing the right hand corner where it remained inside the pocket attached by a safety pin. Staring at Andrew Jackson for a solid ten seconds, I became suddenly grateful for Monica's laziness and that old tune, covered by many, including the Beatles and the Flying Lizards started percolating through the old two eared radio band, "The best things in life are free, but you can give them to the birds and the bees..." In the process of discovering over 200 safety pins of varying denominations, I also came to appreciate Iris's exquisite taste in romantic literature and a new love for her flawless taste in vinyl music. Her squirrel-like tenacity netted this renter over 4800 dollars and an additional 150 in loose change. This house-warming gift came with some apprehension as I knew that to place this money into a bank account would only result in me losing it.