In Which I Burn My Bridges
I guess it is time to write a little about Joel.
When I was about twenty-three or so, I made a jump from New Jersey to Florida. I wanted to escape Morristown partly because the town has a way of keeping you where you are, and I found that unacceptable. My malformed brain told me I was better than my too-familiar hometown scenes and coteries. I certainly wasn’t getting anywhere fast in Morristown; I had a raging drinking problem and was living above a golf club kitchen. I probably decided to flee after, as fate would have it, the golf club’s boss came up the hill from the clubhouse to the pool where I slung hot dogs and sodas to thirsty rich mothers and their children to see how were doing one day. Elliott and I were not sober for a minute of our poolside gig that summer. The head chef was irritated by my perennial hungover act in his kitchen during the off seasons and had probably given the administrator a hot tip that I was stealing and drinking on the job. It was only a matter of time before I got caught breathing cheap beer into someone’s face, ending my tenure. David was kind enough to wait to torpedo me at the end of the season.
It was time to reinvent. I lost everything, and I didn’t have much. I had to take evasive action. Morristown simply didn’t fit me anymore. I had no more moves to make. I had done a shit job at every hustle I ever did there and there were few places to turn. I pretended to myself and others that I had simply outgrown it when in actuality it was done with me.
My father had done an evacuation to Florida under similar terms. He felt that after the divorce my mother had poisoned all of his relations with people around town. I don’t know how true that was-he was also suffering from untreated bipolar disorder. But he fled to Largo, where he could be closer to his mother who would proceed to do the things he could not get another woman to do.
So I went there to be with him. Dad wasn’t thrilled about my arrival, but he did clear the way for me to live in his apartment complex because he sure didn’t want my constant company for long. I found a couple of part time jobs, one at a grocery store stocking the frozen section, and an overnight shift at Target stuffing a few of the household goods aisles. With my first checks I secured the apartment and bought a little furniture, a bike, and a radio with which I would play CDs. That radio would eventually undo me, because the occupant of the apartment to my left had bat hearing and complained about me constantly. Either that or the walls were paper thin.
Our development, lucky for alcoholic me, had a bar a few blocks away. And I became a regular quickly. All the fruit loops from my dad’s community parked their carcasses on a barstool there. I remember Eric, a nerdy guy good with his hands who I enjoyed shooting stick with, and some white dude Jim with a ruddy tan who claimed to be an Indian of some sort. When he drank too much he would become irascible and unpredictable. He told me once that he hated the bartender because she was a “Blackfoot”, and that they were traitors to the Indian cause. You definitely didn’t mess around with him.
It was there that I bumped into Joel for the first time. I don’t remember why anymore, but we hit it off. I think we were talking about books and music and our tastes matched up. He and I began hanging out at my apartment in earnest. We’d stay up all night recording ourselves talking and drinking and playing CDs on that damned box. To make a long story short, the noise got me evicted. I couldn’t win. But Joel said he had a place, a small bungalow behind a house proper not far away. We loaded what little belongings I had out of my apartment into his tiny abode.
Joel told me he was from the West Coast and that he had played as a “hired gun” guitarist in a couple of grunge bands, the names of whom he kept concealed. He had written a few songs which I was not impressed by. He would come to dismiss my writing as “twaddle” (and it was). I think me mocking his art set the course as to how he was going to start treating me. I wasn’t talented, who the fuck was I to run down his stuff? He told me he had a heroin problem too. Yeah, I should have red flagged that, but I didn’t have anywhere to go.
We had one more occupant in the house, a cat he named Zooey-like the Salinger novel. It came and went as it pleased. But I liked to pick Zoe up and pet her, and eventually she developed this habit of licking one spot on my shirt. Zooey was probably not weaned properly.
Joel was disgusted. He said that I “ruined” his cat, and that she was practicing some sort of perversion upon me and that I was loathsome for letting her do that. We began to dislike being in the same room with each other, which was hard since there was only one room partitioned by sheets. The only time we were having a good time was when we were stinking drunk. And even that did not deter Joel from deriding me every chance he got. I eventually lost both of my jobs and we began living on my credit card. It was an amazing card, one that I never had to make payments on and they would just steady keep increasing my credit limit. Joel refused to bring in an income so it was up to me to keep us in food, shelter and booze. He thought work was above him and that is was better for him to drink and read Richard Brautigan all day. Our diet mostly consisted of pressed Cuban sandwiches, Natural Ice and rye whiskey.
Our drinking rituals and run-ins became more bizarre as time went by, because after a time Joel became bored with people and he needed more to amuse himself. We’d get hammered on Cisco and I would yell Tom Waits songs outdoors while he poured alcohol all over me. We’d call up Tennessee and repeat the crooning for her. One night were wasted and we took broom handles to the ceiling of the house. We once got stoned and drunk with some dude who Joel maybe wanted to play guitar with but instead he decided to make fun of the guy. He gave Joel a count of three to vacate the premises then leapt out of his chair like a feral animal and proceeded to kick the shit out of Joel.
Ours was an abusive relationship. When I could no longer stand Joel’s verbal attacks on me, I would break down emotionally and he would change into a penitent creature who didn’t want to hurt me because I was his friend. Maybe he was so myopic that he didn’t realize what an asshole he could be. It’s more likely that succoring his enabler was what he was up to.
After several months of this behavior the cruelty came to a head. He locked me in the bathroom and told me that he had some heroin and he was going to use it because I made him unhappy. I got out somehow to find him on the nod. I used this time to call my father who immediately picked me up while Joel slept. I think I took my tennis racket and that was it, I was out of there. It was at this point that Dad told me to join the Army, a solution he had proffered before but I couldn’t ever see myself doing that kind of shit for a living. I fancied myself as a rebel and wouldn’t conform. But as in Morristown, I had failed to obey the rules in Largo and I had no choice but to take the armed services to the ball. But before that, I had to go to a two week rehab for alcohol, a halfway house where roaches freely crawled on my dinner plates, lose another apartment, and finally share a house with three drama free folks until it was time for me to ship out to basic.
I’ll get to the service someday. There’s lots of stories there.
Weeks later I was out on the town with Dad after I left Joel and spotted him lurking at some bar, so we quickly split the scene. I’m sure he was looking for someone else he could leech onto. Make no mistake, Joel could put on the charm and get you to do things. But at bottom he was a miserable piece of trash. Fuck that fucking guy.