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Sunday, April 15, 2018

First Chapter



Hello, 101 readers,

I'm sorry I haven't posted anything in a while. I've been spending day and night working on my book, and no longer have time for much else as I want to finish it within three years. That is my goal at least. I don't have anything new so I thought I would post some of what I've been working on. This is the first chapter again, but it's been changed a lot - hopefully for the better.




THE ROGUE SCHOLAR

The plane that flies under the radar is the one that makes the kill.

          There I sat in a dingy, poorly lit, Greek restaurant. A delicious, well-stuffed gyro oozing tzatziki sauce lay on my plate like a bleeding gazelle just waiting to be devoured by a predator, which in this case was myself. My dad had kicked me out of his apartment for good at the tender age of nineteen years old just a few hours prior. As much as I was aware of how frighteningly unprepared I was to face the world, there was no situation food couldn’t instantly make better. How a Greek restaurant managed to survive in a Southern California barrio is beyond me. Usually the spectrum of ethnic food ranged from taco shops to pupuserias with not much in between. Brave new world I guess. Facing me on the other side of the table sat a massive 6-foot 2-inch Mexican powerlifter named Lumpy. He had a bic’ed head, a sleeve tattoo, and arms as big as most people’s legs. It must have been quite a contrast to see him sitting across from me, a shorter mostly fat, somewhat buff, white kid. Once he finished saying grace, I was finally able to do my thing.
          “Damn, Brick, you ever actually chew your food?” Lumpy asked me as I power-ate my gyro.
          “No,” I replied.
         I stared at him, assessing him mentally as I shoveled food into my mouth. There sat a man different from me in every way possible - a lighthearted, sharp-tonged, jock who was shallow albeit kind. True he must have faced adversity growing up on the mean streets of National City back in the 80’s, but as the center on his high school’s varsity football team, he was given much love and leeway for his physical talents. That’s what gave him his shallow jokester nature, I assumed. He would never know what it was like to be a hated reject like myself. The beautiful, happy people are incapable of reaching the depth of thought that those of us with tragically painful childhoods could obtain. We became deep thinkers by reflecting back on the suffering, becoming amateur philosophers as we sought to give meaning to it all.
          And while I appreciated the fact that he took me out to dinner to cheer me up after getting kicked out, the truth was, outside of a gym, this man had nothing to teach me. In fact, that’s where we had met a few months prior, at Kegrice Gym, a hole-in-the-wall powerlifting gym on Fourth and Vine in downtown San Diego. I had finally found that spot after a months-long search. Powerlifting gyms aren’t like Zumbas - they can’t be found on every corner.
          I still remember my first day walking into the gym. A symphony of clanking weights and random grunts greeted my ears while a mixed aroma of rubber and sweat assaulted my nose as I shook hands with Kegrice, the guy who ran and named the gym. The smell was one that I came to love believe it or not because lifting weights at Kegrice’s was the highlight of my day after dealing with the tension of living with my abusive father.
          The place was filled broken men like myself though most of them were a bit older and way more badass then I ever would be. Many of them had funny nicknames too like Don “Shopping Cart” Rodriguez. He got his nickname because he once got in a fight with an Asian guy over a parking space at a strip mall. The Asian guy whipped out a butterfly knife and got all fancy with it. To defend himself, Don grabbed the nearest weapon he could get his hands on. As you may have guessed, it was a shopping cart. Then there was a guy they called Tri short for Triathlete. I always figured they called him that because he must have participated in Ironman competitions. Silly me. One day he alluded to the fact that he hated running.
           “But you’re a triathlete?” I asked in confusion. The whole gym busted up laughing.
         “Tri ain’t a triathlete,” Kegrice explained. “We call him that because one time he was riding his bike at night on the beach and he cops pulled him over. They searched him and right as the cop felt the package of meth in his jacket, Tri made a run for it. He ran to the ocean and jumped in. The cops were pissed. They even had a helicopter fly over the ocean to look for him but he was hiding under a pier. So since he rode his bike, ran, and swam all in one night we call him Triathlete.”
         Kegrice himself was called “Carp.” Something to do with being a bottom feeder when it came to his choice in women. But of all the characters in the gym, Kegrice paired me up with Lumpy as a lifting partner. He thought we’d be a good match even though I was much weaker than he.
          Back at the Greek restaurant Lumpy began to advise me.
          “I know things are rough right now, Brick. It feels like this is the worst it’s ever been. But it’ll get better.”
         I paid no attention to his Hallmark spiel. Instead I wondered how long it was going to take before he hated me like everyone else I met eventually did. Because while I did have a certain amount of charm, it always only ever lasted so long. Whether it was five minutes, five months, or even five years, it would inevitably wear off. At that point my likable fa├žade was exposed as fraudulent, and I had to move on and find myself a new friend, or scene, or crew as the case may be.
         “I know you think I’m too cool to get what it’s like to be you,” he continued. “But you’re wrong. I bet right now, you’re not even listening to a word I’m saying. Instead you’re worrying about what I think of you, and you feel distant.”
          The thoughts that were running through my mind stopped in their tracks. I felt the blood drain from my face. Woah, did this meathead just read my mind!? I thought to myself. His dissection didn’t stop there.
          “You probably moved around a lot as a kid,” he observed.
          “Yup. Eight different cities, two states, and even another country, and I’m only nineteen.”
          “Another country? Which one?”
          “Germany.”
          “You speak German?”
          “No, but I’m fluent in French.”
          “Of course; makes perfect sense,” he quipped. “Your parents don’t love you much, do they?”
          “That obvious, huh?”
          Despite my nonchalant replies I was in shock. I couldn’t believe he managed to figure out so much about me in so little time. We had never even hung out outside the gym before that night.
          “Oh, I could tell you had abandonment issues the second you walked into the gym,” Lumpy continued. “I knew exactly why you were there too. You think if you’re strong on the outside it’ll make up for your lack of strength on the inside. I’m guessing you don’t have a lot of friends.”
          “Do you count?”
          “Yeah, fuck it. Why not?”
          “OK, so that’s two.”
          Lumpy cracked a smile at my joke, but I was still in awe. All those workouts he spent messing around, incessantly cracking jokes and seeming as if he was incapable of taking anything other than his powerlifting career seriously - all that time he had been paying attention, analyzing, sizing up. However I was a very private person, and was as horrified at being exposed as I was impressed at his ability to do so.
          “Let’s get out of here,” I said, wanting to end this most uncomfortable conversation.
          “There’s a park down the street. Let’s go spark a joint,” Lumpy replied.
          We loaded into my ’92 hatchback Civic which now served as both my car and home. I started her up and gave the engine a couple minutes to get warm.
          “I gotta admit, bro, I never thought you were this perceptive. You see who I am. I thought you were too much of jock to understand.”
          “Thing is, Brick, that pretty girl who wouldn’t give you the time of day back in high school, she had her struggles too. Just cause you didn’t see them doesn’t mean they weren’t there. And her pain is just as real as yours.”
          His voice was slightly high pitched – not higher than a normal one I guess just higher than what one might expect from a muscle-bound powerlifter. It always had a slight tinge of sarcasm he could never quite shake even when speaking about serious subjects. No doubt a result of having been a smart-ass his whole life.
          “Maybe, but I’m still way more messed up in the head then she’ll ever be,” I replied as I put my car in reverse and finally pulled out of my parking spot.
          “And it’s good that you’re aware of that, but don’t forget, the world will not forgive you your shortcomings just because there’s a good reason that you have them.”
         “That’s so true. Dude, you should be a preacher,” I said as Lumpy began guiding me to the park. He cracked a smile in response.
          “You know I used to be a drug smuggler.”
          “Really?”
          “Yeah I used to run product from Mexico to Vegas and I used to cook meth too. Make a left at the light. Other left.”
         “Wow, that’s crazy,” I said almost more to myself than Lumpy.
         “I am a powerlifter after all. Watch out for that guy riding a bike.”
         “He’s on the other side of the street!”
         “Yeah, but I seen how you drove on the way over here.”
         “Whatever. So what’s you being a powerlifter have to do with drug smuggling?”
         “You ever seen a powerlifter working at McDonald’s?”
         “No.”
         “Right, because powerlifters either have degrees and real careers, or they make money getting hired for protection by mafia and kingpins and whatnot. Plus, we get in on the drug trade through our steroid connections.”
         We soon pulled up to the park. Finding a tree to lean up against we watched the sun slowly sink into the horizon, giving the sky, willow trees, and everything else directly in its rays’ path a warm, orange glow. Children’s laughter off in the distance - more an expression of joy to be alive than an expression of finding something humorous - provided the soundtrack to this postcard-worthy scene. It would have been a beautiful evening to enjoy had I not just been made homeless. Lumpy pulled a joint out of his pocket. He tilted his head down and slightly to the right as he lit it up cupping his hand to shield the cherry from the breeze that threatened to extinguish it.
          “So you said, ‘used to’ be a drug smuggler. What do you do now?” I asked him.
          “I pan for gold,” he replied passing me the joint.
          “What the fuck!?” I took a hit, held it in, slowly blew it out. “Where you pan for gold at?”
          “Can’t tell you.”
          I laughed. “You afraid I’m gonna to get in on your racket?”
         “No. But where I go isn’t exactly a public location. The people who own the land wouldn’t be happy if they knew what I was up to.”
         Lumpy was often mysteriously vague, I came to find out, which only elicited the very curiosity he was trying to avoid.
       “You’re an interesting individual, I’ll give you that. So you must have some stories from your drug smuggling days.”
          “One or two.”
          “Tell me some. I have nowhere to go.”
       He obliged my request and proceeded to keep my mind off my new-found hardship by recounting some of his stories. They ranged from the funny to the serious. There was, for example, the time he dropped his ecstasy pills while gambling at a craps table. “Oh no!” he exclaimed, “my aspirin!” as he got on all fours and scurried around the floor in desperate search of his pricey pharmaceuticals.
          There was also the time he and a friend were doing lines of blow off a toilet tank in a bathroom stall of a casino. They were by themselves when they went in, but by the time they finished snorting lines, the restroom was packed. They waited in the stall for the place to clear, but people kept rotating in and out.
          After losing patience, his friend said, “Dude we can’t spend all night in a bathroom stall. Let’s just walk out. We’re big-ass powerlifters; what’s anybody gonna say?”
          “After you,” Lumpy replied. So his friend walked out followed by Lumpy who then zipped up his pants.
          “What are you doing?” his friend asked, noticing him zipping up his fly.
          “If we’re gonna be a gay couple, I’m at least going to be the pitcher not the receiver.”
          There were serious stories as well of course, including the one that made him turn away from it all. It resulted from things going sour with a kingpin in Vegas named Big Smooth. Big Smooth had his start in the Army where he ran a drug ring while stationed in Germany. Though he was “just” an enlisted man, he was the most powerful person on base. Even his commanding officers feared him. Though there was no concrete evidence of the crimes he committed, they lived in anticipation of the day they could discharge him. One day they believed their prayers were answered.
          Big Smooth lived a big life, making money, selling and using drugs, and eating and drinking to his heart’s content. But all this living big made him big, literally. The day came when he was due for a physical and there was simply no way he was going to make weight. His superiors knew it and so did he. Smooth laughed as he recounted to Lumpy how one of his commanding officer’s face dropped when he took off his shirt for the physical revealing liposuction scars on his belly. The magnificent bastard had made weight by getting cosmetic surgery.
         Anyways, at one point Lumpy somehow managed to cross Smooth. Not one who stood for being crossed, Smooth and his goons ambushed Lumpy in his own apartment. The goons held Lumpy down while Smooth pulled out his knife and held it to his throat. He stared Lumpy dead in the eyes. “I’m not gonna kill you today,” he said. “I’m gonna let you go. I want you to live with the torture of knowing that one day I will come back and murder your ass.” On that day, Lumpy moved back to San Diego and moved back in with his parents. He never returned to the drug trade.
           And with that story our night came to an end.
           “It’s getting late, dog. Take me home, yeah?” Lumpy asked.
           “OK.”
          We chatted a bit more on the ride back to his house. Then I let him out and I watched him walk to his door. Suddenly, I was hit with a wave of loneliness. I tried tuning it out by turning on the radio. Finding a well-lit strip mall, I parked my car, and did my best to get comfortable and fall asleep but too many thoughts were swimming through my head. It was a bittersweet day. I lost a home but gained a friend. And not just any friend - one who was deep, experienced, and though I didn’t realize it at the time, one who showed me a lot of love. Funny how friendship can sometimes come from the most unexpected people.



Lumpy and I posing at Scottish Games






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