Running From the Law
Image by Steven Joseph McCrystal
Prolonged anxiety has a tendency to make me sleepy, and I was in the midst of a troubled mid-afternoon nap when I heard the doorbell ring. I stumbled off my futon, which rested on the floor underneath a mound of blankets. As I staggered to my feet, the doorbell rang twice more, sharply, like the report of a shotgun.
I lived in Chicago in an apartment building that a group of sadistic urban planners had erected directly beside a busy el station. To compensate for this disadvantage, and to encourage the occupancy of responsible renters, the building's owner had remodeled the apartment to within an inch of its life-including track lighting, two huge and fully functional stone fireplaces, and an island kitchen that faced the tracks.
For the past two months, I had shared the apartment with two men, Dirk and Ken, neither of whom interested me even remotely as romantic prospects. Dirk was a wood-worker, house painter and drunk, who would have been more at home in the wilds of Arkansas, except for the fact that he had been raised by wealthy parents in Wilmette, and Ken was an alcoholic high school buddy of Dirk's. Although Ken seemed incredibly stupid, he had a surprising affinity for Miles Davis, and owned every commercially released recording that Miles had ever made. He often stayed up past the break of dawn in a stupor, drinking and intently listening to “Bitches Brew.” Occasionally, his attention was diverted by a sudden urge to grope drunkenly at me or some friend of mine, but these efforts were always met with derision.
The most horrible thing about Ken was his treatment of his two stunted white German shepherd puppies, who had spent most of their young lives barricaded in the kitchen. Ken's drinking schedule kept him busy until at least 6 AM, after which he collapsed into bed until roughly 3 in the afternoon.. During this extended sleep period, his two dogs, imaginatively named “Whitey” and “Snow” spent their time in the kitchen, with a limited amount of food and water, and no access to a yard. We didn't really have a yard, since our back door opened directly underneath the el tracks. Dirk and I had tripped on mushrooms behind our building two months beforehand, after Dirk had scored a fabulous rent deal on the apartment. We sat in the snow at two in the morning, and waved at people as they climbed the stairs to the platform, welcoming them to our yard. Most of them found it funny, or so it seemed through our psilocybin goggles. All three of us were in our mid-twenties; we had no need for a yard anyway.
The doorbell rang three more times before I reached the front door. I knew exactly who it was; the very source of my anxiety. The door had a couple of locks on it, and a curtained window—through that window, I could make out the gaunt form of my mother, a cigarette in one hand, and a dark, bulging garbage sack in the other. “Hurry UP!” she implored me through the glass. “It's fucking cold out here! How in the hell can you live in weather like this?!”
Polly was conveniently forgetting that she had spent her first forty-eight years in the Midwest, until a series of cataclysmic events, including the suicide of my stepfather, had caused her to flee for a warmer climate. Though her decision to move to Mexico after Gil's death had seemed insane on the surface, it actually made a certain amount of pragmatic good sense. With her monthly social security check and VA benefits, she was able to rent an attractive hacienda with maid service in San Miguel de Allende. Still, once the money was spent, it was gone until the first of the following month, and there could be a long stretch of time in between, when cash was scarce.
My mother sought to bridge that gap with the contents of her garbage sack, which she triumphantly hauled into my living room as soon as the door was open. She hurled the sack onto the floor as if it were a dead antelope. “Two pounds”, she announced. “Extremely fresh—harvested just last week. Cured in crème de menthe.” She opened the sack, which had not been secured by so much as a twist tie. “Smell” she commanded me.
I took a quick, apprehensive sniff. Sure enough, I could detect an overpowering odor of mint, mixed with the trademark, herbal scent. “There's hardly any seeds” my mother announced proudly, as if she had just given birth to the contents of the sack. “And there are nine more sacks just like them, waiting outside in the spare gas tank.”
My mother had warned me a couple of months earlier that I should expect such a visit from her, but I honestly thought she was joking. Although her entrepreneurial drive was undeniably strong, her ability to act upon her schemes was spotty, at best. Even when she announced that she had purchased an old Chinook camper, with a handy spare gas tank, I felt certain that she intended to use it for camping. My mother was a terrible camper. She camped with the family out of a grim sense of maternal obligation, combined with a stubborn refusal to spend money on a motel, but I still did not believe that she actually intended to haul twenty pounds of high-grade marijuana across the Mexican border.
Three days earlier, she had called me from a pay phone in Laredo, Texas, announcing that she had made it across the border, without so much as a second glance from the guards, and was headed in my direction. Could I call all of my friends, and let them know she was on her way? Did I know anyone who was interested in a few pounds of killer Mexican pot?
The question, of course, was not whether I knew anyone who was interested in a few pounds of pot—all of my friends would be extremely interested—but whether I knew anyone who could afford to buy more than a dime bag at one time. I stared at the garbage bag, and tried to mentally calculate how many months it would take us to sell even the contents of that container. There were sixteen ounces in a pound; I remembered this from grade school. Therefore, half a pound equaled eight ounces, and a dime bag was slightly less than a quarter of an ounce. Of course, I would have to multiply everything by two. My mind began to bend over backwards upon itself; I was too terrified to be able to calculate. Math has never been my forte anyway.
“Where's your roommates?” my mother demanded. “I'm gonna need some help bringing those bags inside.” As if on cue, Ken's bedroom door opened, slowly at first, then with increasing velocity as he took note of the new addition to the living room. It had been a late night for Ken; he had finally made it to bed around 8:00 AM, and, although it was already dark outside, he had just awakened. Ken tottered slightly on his knobby, oversized feet, and pushed a hunk of greasy hair out of his eyes with his fists. He blinked, and then blinked again. “Is that what I think it is?' he asked, gaping at the open bag.
Ken was so astonished that he did not indulge in his usual waking ritual of staring into the kitchen at the numerous excretions left by his dogs. This ritual always made Ken profoundly unhappy, since the kitchen floor was coated with a layer of feces and urine. The dogs, upon hearing Ken's voice, ran to a corner of the kitchen and cowered there, anticipating their master's hangover-fueled rage. Ken was prone to disciplining his dogs violently, while screaming such phrases as “I can't BELIEVE it! Piss and shit—every day!” This would have been hilarious if the scene wasn't so hideous. The beatings would continue unabated until either Dirk and I put a stop to them by yelling, “Ken! That's ENOUGH, man!” Ken would then drop whatever dog he'd been working on, and stare at us with a sheepish expression on his face.
The dogs whimpered in the corner and then began to thrash their tails around wildly, amazed by the fact that they had miraculously escaped a beating. For once, Ken was focusing his early-evening attention on something other than retribution. “Jesus”, Ken said, still rubbing his eyes. “That's the most reefer I've seen in my entire life.” He did not look happy. “There's nine more bags”, my mother said, loudly. “You're a strong man, right?” Her eyes darted around the apartment for a frantic moment, then she asked, “You got an ashtray? I wouldn't want to get ash on the floor. Not that it would matter. It might actually be an improvement.” I easily located an ashtray, and shoved it in her direction. Relaxing slightly, my mother continued, “You've got another roommate, right? Where's he? The job will go faster with two guys.”
From long experience, I knew that when my mother ordered a person to do something, that individual would almost always comply. It was easier than listening to a long diatribe filled with a strange mixture of gutter-level profanities and bizarre literary allusions. My mother had never finished college, but she possessed an imperious certainty that she was intellectually superior to everyone—a trait I both loathed and admired.
“Dirk?” I called out, tentatively. “My mother is here. She wants to meet you.”
Dirk pushed open his door and entered the living room. I had warned him of my mother's imminent arrival, and he was neither pleased nor surprised. Dirk was also nursing a hangover, but unlike Ken, he possessed gainful employment, and usually arose at a reasonable hour. To facilitate his timely awakening, Dirk had requested the bedroom closest to the el tracks. Every morning, his alarm clock rang promptly at seven-thirty. It continued to ring, punctuated by the shrieking sounds of the el train rounding the curve outside his window, until I pounded on his door and screamed at him to get his ass out of bed. This process usually took no less than half an hour. I had a job in Evanston, working as an intern at a Montessori school, so I was always up early. Often, I functioned on less than three hours of sleep, but I possessed a grim, Germanic sense of responsibility, which made it possible for me to drink beer until four in the morning, and still be up by seven.
"You must be Polly”, Dirk said laconically, extending a filthy hand. Dirk had been enmeshed in his woodworking project, a bust of a rather demonic-looking troll. “Leah has told me so much about you.” He snickered slightly, and my mother stared at him, trying to gauge the reasons for his amusement. “I'm sure she has” she said, dryly.
Polly paused for a moment, tossed her cigarette into the ashtray. “Gentlemen, I have a problem” she announced. “I have eighteen pounds of marijuana in my truck. It needs to be brought inside NOW. The truck is parked underneath the el tracks; I'm not sure whether that is legal.”
What a skewed sense of reality my mother had—she had driven two thousand miles, across two nations, with more pot than most people buy in a lifetime, and she was worried about having to pay a parking ticket. I waited for Dirk and Ken to snap into gear; they did not. It hadn't quite dawned on them that they were being recruited to haul garbage sacks out of my mother's truck, in full view of the evening's commuters, and house the bags in our apartment for an indefinite period of time.
Both of them wandered, in a daze, out the back door, towards the camper. Another couple of minutes later, the first four sacks arrived, and then four more, and finally, my mother herself entered the apartment again, carrying the last bag. The sight of ten garbage bags stuffed with buds in the middle of my living room floor filled me with a strange combination of glee and fear. “I can't believe you got all of those sacks inside the spare tank”, I said. I was being invaded by a growing horror. I knew no one who would have the faintest idea what to do with the contents of those sacks. It was preposterous, as close to the exact opposite as it could possibly be from my usual state of affairs, drug-wise. This was the first time in my life that I'd ever seen too much pot, accustomed as I was to scraping for dime bags of the cheap stuff. Chicago was a very financially-stratified city, and I was not in touch with anyone who made significantly more money than I did.
Off the top of my head, I was only able to think of about ten friends who were in imminent need of marijuana, a group whose combined worth was about two hundred dollars. Of those ten, two lived under the same roof as I, and the others were unlikely to be home at 6 PM on a Friday, even if it was the dead of winter. I ran to the phone and began dialing frantically.
The first person I called was Pete, a friend from Artist in Residence, a building I had recently vacated in favor of my current living arrangement. Often referred to lovingly as “Alcoholics in Retirement”, the AIR building housed some of the most interesting people I had ever met, including Professor Eddie from the Mighty Joe Young blues band, Bethany, a former Miss Chicago (who, close-up, had a severe acne problem), and a transvestite named Trevor who performed in local clubs with chains and garbage can lids.
Pete was a budding pianist, who would often play the theme from Snoopy when we were hosting parties in the downstairs performance space. This was appropriate, because his personality was quite similar to Schroeder's—he was melancholy and sarcastic, traits that never fail to attract my interest.
“She really did it” Pete declared. “Well, I might be able to spring for a half ounce—just to help you out. And to meet your mom. I think it might explain a lot of things about you.”
I did not care to delve too deeply into the similarities between Polly and me. Such a distinction had been made many times, although it was usually followed by the statement, “Well, you seem calmer and more reasonable.” The fact was that my mother had such an overpowering personality that it had been impossible not to have it rub off on me. I had spent most of my early adulthood attempting to purge myself of my mother's influence, and I resented her for it. It didn't help any that she expected my idiot roommates and me to be accomplices in her drug trade.
Pete assured me that he would be there in an hour. I furiously dialed my other friends, most of whom still lived at the Artist in Residence building. My old next-door neighbor, Brad, told me that it would take him a couple of hours, and he would only be able to spring for a dime bag. This was typical of him. We'd had an affair the previous summer, which started one night when we drunkenly began to enact a scene from “Cat's Cradle”--a book neither of us had actually read. We were intrigued by the idea that people could make love by pressing the soles of their feet together, and finally, having lusted after each other every night for a week, we decided to see what would happen if we tried boko-maru for ourselves. The results were surprisingly positive, and I had hoped for much more, but Brad already had a girlfriend.
Brad also had a hot Camaro that I secretly admired, since I was more of a Volkswagen van sort of gal. Dirk had a Volkswagen van, which he could barely drive, but this held no interest for me at all. I had ridden beside Brad in his Camaro only a couple of times, but it was a thrilling experience. Brad was accustomed to driving his own automobile, so the experience definitely had more meaning for me than it did for him. This precisely summed up the balance of power between the two of us—he had what I considered to be an unfair advantage. The last time I had seen Brad had been only a month beforehand, when he made a surprise appearance at my twenty-fifth birthday party. I asked him for a birthday ride in his Camaro, but he refused, saying that he had to get up early in the morning for work. I wasn't sure what had prompted him to show up in the first place, despite long, frustrating experience in trying to second-guess his motives.
Pete arrived in forty-five minutes. He must have left his apartment seconds after hanging up the phone, and his jaw was agape before I even opened the door. “I can smell it” he announced as he entered the apartment. Wordlessly, I gestured towards the living room, and the sacks. One of the sacks was bursting slightly at the seams—it was just like my mother to try to save money by purchasing cheap garbage bags for her drug haul. A huge clump of buds had disgorged itself from the hole, and rested on the floor. I estimated that the clump represented at least three ounces, which would be more than enough for all of my cheap-assed friends. “I've never seen anything like it” Pete exclaimed, with such awe that it was as though he was standing before a work of art.
My mother stepped forward. “You must be Pete” she said. “How much do you want?”
Pete was unflustered by her directness. “Well, I'd like at least a pound, but I'll settle for half an ounce” he said coolly, pulling some bills from his wallet. My mom snatched them from his outstretched hand without so much as a glance at him. She grasped the bills in one hand and rifled through them quickly like a syndicate moll, counting out loud. “You owe me five bucks” she announced. Pete hesitated for a moment, and then silently extracted a bill from his wallet and handed it to her. My mother reached down into the exposed pile of marijuana, grabbed a large handful, and stuffed it into a small baggie. “That should about do it” she said.
Pete stared at her. “You don't own a scale?” he asked tentatively. Pete realized intuitively that he needed to tiptoe around my mother as if she was a minefield loaded with caps of nitroglycerin. However, my mother was in a forgiving mood. She gave a dismissive shrug. “I know what a half-ounce looks like” she said.
“No complaints” Pete said, unzipping his backpack. My mother looked at him for the first time, appreciating his lean frame and purposeful movements. “Nice-looking man” she said loudly. “Really, Leah, you could do worse than him.”
The doorbell rang, and I sprinted from the room. I knew who it was before opening the door—Brad, who smiled lewdly as soon as he saw me. Brad seldom let more than a couple of seconds pass before complimenting me on my appearance, but today he had more important things on his mind. His gaze shifted immediately from my breasts to the pile of sacks on the floor. “Holy mother of God” he said. Brad was Catholic. “No, this is the work of my mother” I said briskly.
Polly stepped forward. “You said you just wanted a dime bag?” she barked. She reached down to the pile, and extracted a small fistful of buds. To my eyes, it looked as though my mother was being uncharacteristically generous, perhaps as a gesture of goodwill towards my closest friends.
Brad, however, immediately begged to differ. He accepted the bag, and stared into the contents with a vague sneer on his face. Pushing one forefinger into the plastic interior, he prodded the buds. He shoved his nose inside the bag, inhaled deeply and then re-surfaced, looking very unhappy. “There are seeds in here” he finally whined.
Pete glared at him with such contempt that Brad was taken aback. “Well, man, sometimes you have to take the bitter with the sweet” Pete said venomously. Brad wordlessly handed a ten dollar bill to my mother, and shoved his purchase into the rear pocket of his jeans. My eyes traveled to Brad's ass appreciatively for a moment, but then Brad broke the spell. “I have to go” he announced. “Nice seeing all of you.” He strode to the front door, flung it open, and was gone.
“What a dipshit” my mom said dismissively. “Do you know him well?” I shrugged. “Sort of” I muttered, looking at the floor. Pete placed a comforting hand on my shoulder. “Some people just want more than they really need” he said.
The evening limped on, and a few other people from Artist in Residence showed up with small bills. After several hours, the three ounces that had spilled onto the floor were completely gone, but the garbage bags remained full. My tiny bedroom was saturated with the heavy smoke of marijuana and my mother's cigarettes. I pried open a window, which caused blasts of arctic wind to waft into the room, rippling the bags slightly. “Is that it?” my mother demanded. “I'm afraid so” I whimpered. “You don't know anybody else?” she persisted. I shook my head. “Jesus Christ, Leah” my mother exploded. “What the hell am I going to do with these bags?”
It was a terrifying query, and I stammered an answer, without thinking. “I suppose I could call my ex boyfriend Alec tomorrow. He's the only person I know who has the ability to traffic in this much pot. He's not really a dealer, but he knows dealers, and I think he could unload the stuff rather quickly.”
As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I knew that I had made an awful mistake. “Ex boyfriend” was a more grandiose term than Alec deserved. It was more accurate to say that we'd had sex for about three months, and then he dumped me for Melody, another woman who lived in the AIR building. I had repressed my emotions about this betrayal with copious amounts of alcohol. Finally, one especially drunken evening, I burst into Alec's apartment with a six pack, bent on reconciliation, but instead I encountered Melody, who was in the process of disrobing. At this point, I flew into a shrieking, whiskey bottle flailing rage, which culminated with the arrival of two policemen. Alec had called the police himself, which was ironic, because the previous week he had decorated his walls with original cartoons of the CPD, festooned with the thick necks and pig ears that were typical of such artwork. I pointed out Alec's drawings to one of the cops, who shrugged dismissively. “Yeah, sure, everyone hates the cops” he said. He had the stereotypical, nasal accent of a working class guy from the Bridgeport neighborhood. “Come on, now, you need to leave, or we'll have to arrest you.”
The cops led me downstairs to my own apartment. “What do you do for a living?” the other policeman asked. “I'm a.....preschool teacher” I managed to sob. The two men looked at each other, raised their eyebrows, and shook their heads. “You can do better than him” the second cop insisted. “I mean, the guy draws on his own walls.” Even in my disturbed, inebriated state, I knew he had a point, and I nodded. The cop snickered mirthlessly. “But you love him, right?” he said.
After I entered my apartment, the police retreated, warning me that there would be dire consequences if they had to return. There was no way I was going to go back to Alec's apartment, I was utterly broken. As I stumbled towards my futon, I noticed that Dirk was passed out on my floor, wearing one of my skirts. Earlier in the evening, several of us had dressed him up in some of my clothing, and then giggled when he suddenly collapsed onto the floor and lost consciousness. He had not moved since then.
I knelt on the floor and shook Dirk until he awakened. This took a long time, and I was awash with tears by the time he finally opened his eyes. “It's Alec, isn't it?” he asked. I nodded. “I'm sorry” Dirk said, throwing his arms around me. He rocked me back and forth on the floor as I sobbed. “It really hurts, doesn't it?” Dirk asked. It was one of the most compassionate gestures I had ever experienced from anyone. I would never have thought that Dirk was even capable of such empathy.
Two weeks later, Dirk announced his plans to move out of the building, and the same month, Alec and Melody exited as well, for a basement apartment in Humboldt Park. I had not spoken to them, but tales of their debauchery had reached me through mutual friends. The two of them were unemployed, they were drinking every day, and there were rumors of frequent cocaine and even heroin use. This behavior was not unusual for Artist in Residence alumni, but it had reached epic dimensions which caused me to feel rather glad that Alec had dumped me. I was in no mood to see him, however, and now it was too late for me to rescind my offer.
“Well, let's hope THAT leads to something” my mother said. “I mean, I can't just take this stuff back to Mexico.” She glanced around at my room, with its minimalist crash-pad decor, as if seeing it for the first time. “I can't sleep here” she said, to my immense relief. “I'd better just go and stay in that hotel on Sheridan.”
My mother was referring to the Sheridan-Chase Motel in Rogers Park, a squalid dump whose in-room televisions, when turned on, immediately belched out the grunting sounds of people having sex, since they were always tuned to porn stations. Other channels existed, of course, but were rarely watched. These were the days before pay-per-view, when porn channels were offered for free by enterprising motels of a certain caliber. My mother liked the motel just fine, because it was inexpensive. I had the impression that actual nightly rates were beyond the comprehension of the management, accustomed as they were to an hourly clientele. Therefore, when put on the spot for a nightly rate, the bewildered desk clerks would simply blurt out whatever number popped into their heads, and this figure was always open to negotiation.
I sighed with relief when my mother left the apartment, promising to return the following morning. After her retreat, I locked the door and returned to my bedroom. The sacks of marijuana remained on the floor. Pete was sitting on the edge of my futon, staring at them intently, as if anticipating their escape. He appeared to be permanently dazed. “I still can't quite take it in” he whispered. “Are you hungry? You want to order a pizza?”
The ingestion of THC had failed to have its usual appetite-enhancing effect upon me, and I wasn't hungry at all. Still, I nodded vigorously, as if pizza was what I wanted more than anything in the world. I wandered back into the living room, dialed the number of a local delivery place, and went back to my own room to wait. It was almost midnight, and I was tired. I placed my head delicately on Pete's shoulder, and he put his arm around me. “I guess you're not too thrilled about talking to Alec tomorrow” he said with characteristic understatement. I shook my head. “I'll do what I have to do” I said grimly. “If I don't get rid of this pot, I'll never get rid of my mother.”
Pete stroked my face tenderly with his free hand, removing a small hunk of hair from the corner of my mouth. “This has to be difficult for you” he acknowledged. His hand traveled slowly to my shoulder, and then to the top of my left breast. “I can't even imagine it” he said soothingly. He removed his other arm from my shoulder and started to massage both of my breasts, eyes downcast.
“So frustrating” I said, as though nothing unusual was happening. Since the incident with Alec, Pete and I had spent almost every day together, cooking stir-fries and drinking beer and listening to music, but neither of us had broached the topic of sex. We had an unspoken understanding that sex would ruin our friendship, and so we shied away from discussing it openly. Perhaps Pete was just showing compassion by caressing my breasts, but I was inclined to doubt it.
With impressive deftness, Pete unbuttoned the tiny buttons on the front of my peasant blouse, and my breasts fell out into his hands. I had large breasts, and I didn't wear a bra, so my breasts were always spilling onto something. Pete inhaled sharply, then composed himself and stuck his tongue into my mouth. He sucked on my tongue while gently squeezing my breasts, and I felt peaceful for the first time that evening.
Suddenly, I heard the sound of maniacal laughter, and my bedroom door burst open, revealing the drunken, swaying forms of Dirk and Ken. In one hand, Ken grasped an oblong box, which dripped a small amount of grease onto one of the garbage bags. “Your pizza's here!” Ken yelled. This caused both men to collapse onto the floor in fits of laughter. “You owe me ten bucks” Dirk said, almost apologetically.
I reached into my purse, pulled out a ten dollar bill, and handed it to him. “SO sorry to interrupt” Ken yelled. He stumbled to the door and exited, leaving the door open. Dirk stared at my breasts, a curiously benign smile on his face. “Enjoy your pizza” he snickered. He staggered from the room, slamming the door behind him.
I was livid, but Pete was undeterred. Pushing me onto the futon, he pressed his groin against me. I shimmied out of my shirt and moaned as his hands found my breasts again. Pete grabbed my hand and pulled it towards the bulge in his pants. I always loved it when guys did that, and I began to rub his member through the fabric. Quickly I unbuckled his belt, then tugged on his zipper, freeing him from his jeans. Pete's dick was long and slender and eager-looking. It had been my experience that men's penises often echoed their body types. Pete's member, thankfully, was no exception to the rule.
I shimmied out of my underwear, and Pete pushed his dick into me, moving quickly until I suddenly had an orgasm. It seemed to come out of nowhere; I had never climaxed from coitus before, and didn't understand why my body had chosen that particular moment. Perhaps my senses were heightened by the emotional intensity of the evening. Pete seemed to be in his own world; his eyes were closed and he moved as though he had a train to catch, somewhere other than in my room. Finally, he collapsed onto me and smiled. “That was a nice surprise” he said.
I didn't have a handy response. As far as I was concerned, the experience had not been surprising at all. It had been, simultaneously, disappointing and profoundly erotic. This duality was to be a hallmark of many of my future erotic encounters, but at the age of twenty-five, I was just beginning to grasp its complexity, and I did not have any words to describe it. I was too exhausted for thought, and rapidly fell into a deep sleep.
When I regained consciousness, I saw that Pete was already awake. He lay on one side, facing away from me, staring at the bags with a disoriented expression on his face. I reached over to touch him, and he sat bolt upright, as if suddenly terrified. His right foot kicked the previously untouched pizza box, causing an odor of rancid grease to rise suddenly into the room. “I think I'm already late for work” he said. He glanced at his wrist. “Oh shit, I am. I'd better go.” Swiftly, he rose, leaped into his pants, and strode across the room. “It was nice seeing you” he said, tentatively. “I'm certain that we'll see each other soon.”
I had a strong intuition that it would be at least a few days before we saw each other, but I didn't say so. My hands were full with my new responsibilities as an associate marijuana saleswoman, and undoubtedly Pete would be a distraction. The innocence of our friendship was forever sullied, and neither of us had the faintest idea what the new rules might be. It was best for us to avoid each other for a while.
Pete bent down, kissed my forehead, and raced out of the room. I rolled over to face the wall, desperately trying to will myself back to sleep. It wouldn't be long before my mother would be at my doorstep, Benson and Hedges cigarette blazing away in her right hand, demanding that I get my ass out of bed.
To my amazement, it was nearly noon when my mother appeared at my door. She stomped on the porch for a couple of minutes to dislodge the snow from her cheap Sears-Roebuck sneakers, then rang the bell, but only once. “I rented a studio apartment for you” she announced as soon as I opened the door. “You can't possibly continue to live in this hellhole. Besides, the bags of pot won't be safe around Dirk and Numbnuts.” My mother had ceased to refer to Ken by name, preferring the moniker “Numbnuts”, which was fine with me. Shaking her head, she wandered over to the stereo and plucked Ken's copy of “Kind of Blue” from the pile of records. “I just can't understand it” she said, shaking her head. “How can someone so stupid have such good taste in music?”
This had always been a mystery to me, and I had no explanation. Even more inexplicable, however, was my mother's sudden act of generosity, which had involved an expenditure of cash that must have set her back several hundred dollars. This was a woman who had once stood next to a cash register at Denny's, refusing to leave even when the police arrived, because the cashier had shortchanged her by ten cents. “Where is this apartment located?” I asked tentatively. “Oh, just up the road from the hotel” Polly answered breezily. She jammed a cigarette into her mouth, inhaled, and then exhaled explosively. “It's right on Sheridan” she explained. “I was driving around and saw the for rent sign. It's a month to month lease, I forged your signature. The owner didn't seem to mind.”
My doubts about the questionable legality of this arrangement were overshadowed by a tremendous sense of relief that I would be no longer be subjected to Ken's dog training rituals and marathon drinking sessions. The few objects that I possessed would fit in the back of my mother's camper, facilitating an easy move. “Have you called Alec yet?” my mother demanded. I sprang immediately to action, found the number on a matchbook cover that Dirk had tossed beside the phone, and dialed furiously. Alec picked up the receiver on the sixth ring. His voice was groggy and hostile, as if he had just awakened, and deeply resented the intrusion.
“This is Leah” I stated flatly. “I'm not calling to chat, so don't worry. My mother has twenty pounds of high-grade Mexican pot. I want to bring it over, and see if you can help us unload it. There will be some money in it for you, of course.”
There was a long silence. Finally, in an overly casual tone, Alec said, “That's a hell of a lot of reefer. There might be a few people I could call. Could you bring it here right away?” He gave me an address on Humboldt Boulevard, and I hung up, promising to be there in an hour.
Forty-five minutes later, my mother and I pulled up in front of a dingy two flat, with four of the bags in tow. In her infinite wisdom, Polly had determined that it was best to start small, with only eight pounds of marijuana, rather than overwhelm Alec and Melody with the task of unloading the entire bundle. Humboldt Boulevard was teeming with street life. Clusters of young Puerto Rican men sat on the stoops, even though the temperature was only in the mid-twenties. The boulevard had long been a hotbed of gang activity. The predominant gang was the Latin Kings, whose ornate graffiti adorned the sides of many of the boulevard's residences and business establishments. The Latin Kings' supremacy was constantly being challenged by the Insane Unknowns, a rival gang who claimed nearby Wicker Park as their turf. These disputes were often settled with gunfire.
Ignoring the appreciative whistles of a couple of males who couldn't have been more than sixteen, I strode to the door of Alec's basement dwelling. There was no bell, so I rapped on the door, with as much velocity as I could muster. My mother stood behind me, clutching one of the garbage bags. We waited patiently as Alec rustled around the apartment, had a brief coughing fit, and then opened the door.
It was the first time since the cop incident that Alec and I had been in the same room, and we stared at each other for a long, uncomfortable moment. Alec was dressed in his trademark outfit—ragged jeans with long underwear protruding from the knee rips, a sleeveless tee shirt bearing the snarling visage of Sid Vicious, and black motorcycle boots. Alec had never actually ridden a motorcycle, but he didn't need to do so. He was the sort of man who could appear regal and composed even when dressed in rags, at least as long as he didn't run out of cigarettes.
My mother and I stepped into the apartment. A strong odor of unwashed dishes permeated the air, mixed with the smell of ashtrays and spilled beer. I shoved a pile of clothing from one end of the couch to the other, and sat down carefully. At that moment, Melody emerged from the bedroom, looking terrified. Refusing to look at me directly, she smiled at my mother. “You must be Polly” she said. Her eyes traveled to the sack on the floor. “I guess this must be the goods, huh?” She giggled nervously.
Melody was prone to nervous giggling, which, all by itself, was enough to make me dislike her intensely. She was slightly over five feet tall, with a tiny waist, enormous breasts, and an unruly head of dark hair that made her look strangely like Betty Boop. She had a tendency to lean perpetually to one side, as if she was in danger of toppling at any moment. Several months earlier, when we had all been friends, Alec had told me that Melody had been born with various internal abnormalities. The most notable was the fact that she originally emerged from her mother's womb with three kidneys. One of them was surgically removed, and the other had simply expired, leaving her with only one functional kidney. It was a wonder, really, that she was still alive.
“I brought three more bags” my mother announced. “They're in the camper.” Melody's eyes became huge. She and Alec glanced at each other quickly, and then leveled their gaze on my mother. “Eight pounds” Polly explained. “Extremely fresh. I just brought it across the border from Mexico two days ago.”
Alec strode across the room and peered into the bag. He had a way of moving that was at once both feral and languid, as if he could pounce on something and devour it, if only he could find the energy to do so. “There's really two pounds in here?” he asked. My mother nodded. “I think I can unload it. Let me make a few calls. It might take a couple of days for me to reach everybody, and for them to come up with the money. But I'm sure that at least one of the people I know will be very interested in this.”
“There will be a twenty five percent cut for you” my mother announced. She tossed her truck keys to Alec. “Bring in the other three bags, and we'll be on our way.” Alec sprang suddenly to action and strode to the door. A minute later, he returned, smiling slightly, clutching the other three bags. “That was easy” he said.
Back in the truck, my mother suddenly became pensive. “I do hope he can sell the contents of those bags” she said fretfully. “I really don't want to hang around Chicago in the meantime. It makes me too nervous, and this is costing me a lot of money. I think I'll drive up to Grandma's for a couple of days.”
Polly was in the habit of referring to her own mother as “Grandma” for reasons that I did not entirely understand. There was nothing even remotely grandmotherly about Mildred, a woman so formidable that she often reduced my mother to a mute, quivering puddle of acquiescence. Mildred was several inches shorter than my mother, but she was capable of commanding an entire army. She had made decisive gains in the material realm, marrying a wealthy dentist in Racine, Wisconsin shortly after the Depression ended. Mildred had been Harry's receptionist, and the combination of her Danish looks and her drive for financial supremacy attracted his attention.
Harry was actually Mildred's second husband. My mother's biological father was a charmer who was never at home, preferring to roam the highways of the United States and Mexico in an ancient, dusty car, smuggling contraband goods and impregnating women. My grandmother certainly was never going to make that mistake again, and her later life was a testament to clever planning and the restrained enjoyment of wealth.
During the summer, she tended to her enormous flower garden, allowing herself exactly one hour of leisure in her outdoor pool when all of her tasks were completed. In the winter, she stayed busy with indoor duties. Her house was filled with artifacts from her international travels, including many chairs that were off-limits for actual sitting. My grandmother often proclaimed that the reason why she had possessions was because she took care of them. There was no denying this, and the best response was always to smile meekly and agree. Obviously, Mildred felt that both my mother and I were extremely deficient when it came to caring for our belongings, and because of this, we would come to nothing.
It puzzled me that my mother wished to subject herself to Mildred's scrutiny, but I wasn't about to argue. Undoubtedly she would construct an elaborate excuse for her visit. Perhaps, for a moment, Mildred would believe that her daughter's devotion was so strong that she was willing to drive to Wisconsin from Mexico in February on a mere whim, just to be in her presence. None of it was any of my concern, of course. I was just glad to be rid of Polly for a few days.
The next four days passed swiftly and pleasantly. I spent my mornings at my preschool job and my evenings selling dime bags to Artist in Residence occupants. My avocation added a new dimension of strangeness to my life, one to which I adapted readily. Brad called at midnight one evening to request that I come to visit him, emphasizing that he would make it worth my while. I told him that I was preparing to go to bed, but I would be happy to have him visit me. Brad balked at my offer, explaining that he had scored a good parking spot in front of the AIR building, and he didn't want to leave it, since it would surely be gone when he returned. I hung up the phone, telling him to find himself a blow-up doll.
Possessing nearly twelve pounds of pot had filled me with a strange arrogance, which enabled me to choose my friends according to whim. The power was intoxicating, and I used it to its fullest advantage. I turned down an offer from an ex-neighbor named Erik who called to request a dime bag and a back rub. He had recently dislocated his shoulder while skateboarding, and wanted me to help him with his pain. I laughed loudly, both at his pain and his request, and slammed down the receiver. Erik had undoubtedly burned through his stable of women at the AIR building, after impregnating one and chasing another down the hall with a knife. He was both an idiot and a sociopath, and I had never understood his popularity.
The strangest call came from a fellow named Joseph, an old high school buddy of Brad's, who had lived down the hall from us. He was engaged to be married, and the wedding was only a week away. Joseph wanted to come right over and buy some pot from me. He also wanted to watch “Reefer Madness” which was scheduled to air at two o'clock in the morning. I told him that I didn't own a television, and he promised to bring one with him when he came to my apartment.
Four hours later, at 1:45 AM, Joseph appeared at my door with ten dollars and a tiny black and white television. We plugged the TV into a wall socket, fired up a joint, and stretched out on the floor in front of the screen. As the images flickered, we passed joints back and forth. When “Reefer Madness” ended, Joseph collected his television and his marijuana purchase and left my apartment, as mysteriously as he had arrived. I strongly suspected that he had promised himself a final fling before marriage, and for some reason, I had come to mind. When faced with an actual opportunity, he was too terrified to follow through. This was fine with me, since I had barely noticed him when I lived in the building. I was certain that sex with him would have been both guilt-ridden and mediocre.
The one person who did not call was Alec, but I assumed he was busy rounding up connections, and I didn't want to pressure him. Finally, on the fourth evening following our delivery visit, my phone rang suddenly. I was in a jovial mood, even when I discovered that it was Melody on the other end of the line. “Hey, it's good to hear from you” I said expansively. “Any luck?”
“I have terrible news” Melody said in a tiny, choked voice. “I don't know how to tell you this, so I am just going to say it. Someone broke into our apartment this afternoon. All of the pot is gone. We weren't able to sell any of it. Alec and I don't have any idea who might have done such a terrible thing. I'm so sorry.” She gulped abruptly, as if suppressing a sob. “Oh God, it's so awful. You don't know how bad it makes me feel to tell you this.”
For some reason—perhaps it was the barely concealed hysteria in her voice, or a genuine note of contrition in her tone—I immediately knew that Melody was telling the truth. The possibility existed, of course, that she and Alec had simply sold the pot and kept the money, then made up a tale about a robbery—but somehow I realized she wasn't lying. Alec was an excellent liar, but Melody was a poor one—she was too nervous and transparent for subterfuge. If there was a lie to be told, Alec would surely have been the one to call. “All of it is gone?' I managed to ask. “All of it” Melody affirmed. “We'll be asking around, of course, and we'll try to get the pot back, but I don't hold out much hope that we'll find it.”
I was in a panic when I hung up the phone. My mother was due back from Wisconsin in a couple of hours. Though the situation was not my fault, I felt somehow responsible, and knew that there would be hell to pay. I paced nervously around the apartment, then wandered over to my refrigerator and opened the door. Since the move, I had been storing the pot in my refrigerator, hoping that it would stay fresh long enough for me to sell it. There was no additional room in the refrigerator for food, so I had been eating all of my meals in restaurants, paid for by the proceeds from my ill-gotten spoils. The bags appeared to be just as menacingly large as they had looked when I first saw them. It was going to take a long time to unload them at my current rate of three dime bag sales a day.
An hour and a half later, my mother pounded on the door. I opened it tentatively, fearing that she would pounce on me before she even heard the bad news. Polly was tired from her drive, and intent upon serious relaxation. In one hand, she held a six pack of Schlitz malt liquor; in the other, a cigarette that had burned down to her fingers. “Anything to report?” she demanded.
I felt certain that she already had grasped the bad news by means of telepathic divination, a method of communication at which she excelled. I shook my head, looked directly into her eyes, and said, “Yeah, there's plenty to report, and the news isn't good. All of the pot is gone. Someone broke into Alec and Melody's place today and stole every bit of it.”
There was a long silence, during which my mother gaped at me with an expression of incredulous fury. Finally, she broke the silence. “BULLSHIT!” she sputtered, slamming the six pack onto the floor. “You don't believe that, do you?!”
There was no way for me to explain my utter certainty that Melody had been telling the truth. My conclusion was intuitive and faith-based rather than logical, and I didn't understand it myself. “I'm....not sure” I stammered. “She sounded so upset. I think it really did happen. They live in a terrible neighborhood, you know.”
My mother emitted a high-pitched wail of frustration, collapsed into the apartment's only chair, then buried her face in her hands. “You certainly are naive” she said bitterly. “Jesus Christ, you've always been such a sucker for a bogus sob story.”
This was an immutable fact, there was no denying it. My mother ripped the top off of one of her beer cans and took a huge chug. She glared at me and shook her head in fury, then abruptly burst into tears. “I don't know what I'm going to do now” she sobbed. “I put all the money I had into purchasing that stuff, and now almost half of it is gone. I don't know what the hell I'm even going to do with the other half.”
I stared at my mom, and for the first time, I allowed myself the luxury of compassion. The poor woman was in her mid-fifties, and possessed neither the grim patience of her own mother, or the entrepreneurial shrewdness of her father. She had been a failure as a wife, and a worse failure as a mother, having given birth to four children, none of whom were able to tolerate her existence. Now, she had failed at marijuana sales, a field which had appeared to be a slam-dunk, given the popularity of the drug. There was nothing left for her except a life of social security checks and squabbling with the Mexican street vendors over the price of bruised avocados.
My sympathy, however, was short-lived. My mother was just warming up verbally, and she lit into me with everything she had. It was all my fault, she claimed. I had been a disappointment to her from the very beginning, since she had thought I was somehow special, and destined for wonderful things. With this in mind, she had given me everything she could, but I was not appreciative. I hadn't even bothered to clean my room before she arrived in Chicago the previous week, that's how little I thought of her.
None of it was true, of course. I'd had a miserable, Dickensian childhood, filled with deprivation and abuse. Despite frequent attacks of pneumonia and other, assorted illnesses, my mother had spent the majority of her money on beer and cigarettes. I had often gone without Christmas or birthday presents as a result of her indulgences.
Finally, after Polly tucked into her fourth beer, she excused herself and went into the kitchen. I heard the refrigerator door open, and then slam, followed by the flushing ot the toilet. A minute later, the toilet flushed again. A high-pitched wail arose from the bathroom. My mother was simultaneously weeping and yelling, a terrifying combination that I had experienced many times during my childhood. “What a terrible mistake” she sobbed. “I'm just going to get rid of it. I don't even care any more.”
Suddenly, I was invaded by an awful suspicion. I tiptoed into the bathroom and stood near the doorway, peering at a scene of carnage that left me paralyzed and incredulous. My mother upended one of the garbage bags over the toilet, and marijuana cascaded into the bowl and onto the floor. Polly paused to scoop up some spilled buds. She tossed them into the swirling toilet water and flushed again, sobbing louder as they disappeared.
I felt a strange, calm detachment as I watched the clumps of marijuana make their way into the building's ancient plumbing, where they would be treated with chemicals and swept from our lives forever. This detachment was tempered with the knowledge that I still had half a pound stashed at Dirk and Ken's place, awaiting my return. For some reason I no longer remembered, perhaps an unconscious intuition, I had placed some of the pot into a smaller bag and stashed it in the closet of my old bedroom, shortly before I had moved. The contents of the bag would ensure that I would be able to pay the rent on my new place, at least for the next couple of months.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” I asked my mom. “I'm absolutely sure” she stated calmly. Then, quite suddenly, a new wave of hysteria overtook her. “It was all just bad karma” she sobbed. “I'm getting rid of the bad karma.” She snatched another bag from the floor, and resumed her ritual of dumping and flushing.
The concept of karma was never one that my mother had explored in much depth, and I wasn't entirely certain that she was able to grasp it now. “You're going to be sorry you did this” I said simply, and I left the room. It was her pot, after all, she was entitled to do whatever she wanted with it. I had merely been her reluctant accomplice.
After several minutes, the flushing stopped, and my mother staggered back into the main room. “Now I really have no idea what to do” she sobbed. I stared at her without expression. “What do you think I should do, Leah? This is all your fault.”
With as much calmness as I could muster, I replied, “You can leave my apartment immediately, get in your camper, and go back to Mexico. I don't want to hear any more of your diatribe, and I certainly don't want to concern myself further with a problem that is not of my own making. I'm sorry, but I no longer have time for this discussion.”
My mother heaved herself to her feet and grabbed her remaining two beer cans by the plastic ring. She gathered her purse from the floor. “I knew you were just the kind of ungrateful piece of shit that would say something like that” she stated. She sounded almost calm, but with a deadly undercurrent that I remembered from childhood; it was the same sort of calm that usually preceded a physical attack with a hairbrush or other small object. “I don't ever want to see you again” my mother said. She sounded oddly haughty, as though I was an ex-lover who had dropped in on her unexpectedly. “As far as I am concerned, I am no longer your mother.” She strode to the door, drew herself up forcefully to her full six foot height, and then was gone.
This wasn't the first time my mother had said something of that nature, and I had no reason to believe it would be the last. If Polly's and my argument bode poorly for our relationship, I was unconcerned. She would go away for a few weeks, and then one of us would call the other and pretend that nothing had ever happened. It had always been that way, the rules of our interaction were set by a director who would permit no variation. In the meantime, the Chicago winter was blisteringly cold, and I had to get through it with a half pound of marijuana and my minimum wage preschool job. I sank wearily into bed, and fell into a deep sleep.
Fortunately, the following day was Saturday, and I was able to sleep for a full eight hours, for the first time in many days. When I awakened, I dialed Dirk and Ken's number and waited for one of them to stagger to the phone. Ken answered on the eighth ring. He sounded surprisingly sober and well-rested. “Yeah, the reefer's still here” he assured me. “I'll be around all day. You can come by for it whenever you want.”
An hour later, I stood on the stoop of my old dwelling and rang the bell. The dogs barked briefly, and Ken yelled at them furiously to shut up. I could hear him shuffling to the door in his bare feet. He fumbled with the locks, swearing under his breath. Then the door abruptly flew open, and Ken stood above me, leering in a friendly manner.
I greeted him briefly, and strode into my old bedroom. Throwing open the closet door, I peered inside anxiously. To my immense relief, the garbage bag was right where I had placed it, several days beforehand. In an organizational fit borne of emotional distress, I had divided the garbage bag's contents into eight more-or-less equally sized freezer bags of pot. Each bag contained roughly an ounce. I plucked the eight freezer bags from the larger bag, and placed them into the pockets of my down coat, four in each pocket. I owned an absurdly huge and puffy winter coat that fell to my knees, with a hood so large that it almost covered my eyes. There was no way of telling that my pockets were stuffed with marijuana.
Ken stood beside me as I prepared for my departure, shaking his head. “I'm sorry things didn't work out for us” he said, sounding genuinely contrite. “Really, in spite of everything, I don't think you were a bad roommate at all.”
Ken's sense of reality was as skewed as my mother's—he had convinced himself that I was at fault, but since he was in a magnanimous frame of mind, he was willing to forgive me for everything. I wasn't in the mood for argument, so I just smiled. “Yeah, I feel the same way, Ken. Thanks. If you don't mind, I'll be going now.”
Ken shook his head. “You're going on the subway with your pockets full of marijuana?” he asked. He sounded genuinely concerned. “I don't think that's a good idea. Let me drive you home. It's the least I can do.”
I briefly weighed the risks of subway travel against the perils of Ken's driving, which I had experienced on only one occasion. Ken owned an ailing twenty-year-old Buick, but he drove as though he was auditioning for “Death Race 2000”, weaving in and out of traffic while honking his horn and laughing maniacally. My new apartment was five miles away, however, and my subway transfer had expired, which meant that I would have to scrounge in my wallet for my last dollar. “All right” I said. “Can we go now? I'm in a hurry.”
“No problem” Ken assured me, smiling broadly. Five minutes later, we climbed into his car, which was parked in the same illegal spot where my mother's camper had once stood. Ken turned the key, and the engine sputtered briefly, then roared to life. Ken pulled into the alley with a squeal of tires and accelerated through the stop sign onto Sheridan Road, narrowly missing a van that was unloading a shipment of groceries. “What's your address, again?” he yelled.
I calculated that we had nearly forty blocks to go before I would reach the safety of my own apartment, blocks that would seem interminable, despite our speed. “It's right on the border of Evanston and Rogers Park” I said nervously. “Could you slow down a little, please? I'm not in THAT much of a hurry.”
Ken emitted a scornful, dismissive laugh. “I have everything under control” he assured me. He swerved in front of a small foreign car and surged forward, causing the needle on his ancient speedometer to jump to sixty. The speed limit was 35, but it was not rigidly enforced. I gripped the edges of my seat and stared grimly at the road in front of me. At the rate we were going, it wouldn't be long before I would be home, and Ken would be out of my life forever.
Suddenly, Ken began to pump the brakes frantically. His face assumed an expression of abject terror. “Oh my God, it's the Feds” he managed to choke out. “Look at the car next to us. We're in big trouble now. I'm going to have to pull over.”
I had no idea how Ken knew that the car next to us contained agents of the federal government, so I swiveled my neck for a closer look. In the left hand lane, a medium- sized navy blue car had pulled up so that it was directly adjacent to ours. The car twitched slightly, as if the driver was throwing a fit and could barely hold the steering wheel in his hands. A man who looked to be in his mid-thirties sat beside him. The second man pressed an open wallet to the window glass, revealing a large, star-shaped FBI badge. His face contorted with rage as he yelled at us repeatedly to stop the car.
Ken pulled to the side of the road and cut the engine. Both the passenger and driver doors of the agents' vehicle flew open, and two men raced over to Ken's car. The driver yanked open the door on Ken's side and pulled Ken from the seat, hauling him onto the sidewalk. Ken fell heavily onto the concrete, but the agents heaved him to his feet. Then they threw him up against the hood in a no-nonsense manner that I recognized from cop shows on television. “You worthless little asshole” the driver said, running his hands down the sides of Ken's grimy trousers. “Who the hell taught you to drive like that, asshole? Your senile mother?”
The badge-wielding man was on a mission of his own. He popped the hood latch, ran around to the rear of the car, and threw the contents of the trunk into the street. Returning to the front of the car, he groped behind the seat cushions, but found nothing of interest. Finally, he reached around my knees and tore open the glove compartment, shoving the contents around furiously while cursing under his breath.
It was obvious to me that the agents were in search of two things—guns and drugs. Up to that point, for reasons I couldn't fathom, they had acted as though I wasn't in the car, but that wouldn't last forever. Finally, the driver let go of Ken, came around to the passenger side, and stared at me for a long moment.
The two agents had unconsciously saved the best for last, because I was the one who had half a pound of marijuana in my pockets. I envisioned a stiff prison sentence, with iron beds and pale, malnourished women fighting over institutional food. If I wanted to avoid this fate, I would have to speak fast. “I'm so sorry that we gave you this trouble” I said, as calmly as I could muster. My voice seemed to come from somewhere outside of myself, as if it was a wise, disembodied entity that was inexplicably intent upon saving my foolish ass. “Ken isn't really a bad person. He's just very irresponsible.”
The agent stared at me quizzically. He looked almost sympathetic, so I continued, “I used to be his roommate—not his girlfriend or anything, just a roommate. I was reluctant to get into the car with him, because he's a terrible driver, but it's so cold outside, and he offered me a ride home.”
An expression of calm relief flooded the agent's face, then he smiled. “It's okay, miss” he said. “We'll let the two of you go on your way now.” He turned towards Ken and resumed his former, stern expression, but only for a moment. “You watch your driving, son!” he barked. Ken nodded mutely. The two agents climbed back into their car, pulled into traffic, and were gone as suddenly as they had arrived.
Ken paused for a moment, then strode to the side of his car. The contents of his trunk remained in the gutter, half-submerged in a filthy snowbank. Ken tossed his possessions back into the trunk and returned to the driver's seat. Shaking slightly, he pulled his vehicle into the traffic. “That was a close call” he mumbled. “I could have gotten into a lot of trouble. Good thing I knew how to handle those guys.”
I stared at him incredulously. “What the hell are you talking about, Ken?” I hissed. “I got us out of that mess. I have half a pound of marijuana in my pockets, so I'm the one who would have gotten into trouble.”
Ken snickered. “Well, you have a point” he said. He jammed his foot onto the accelerator, and the car roared forward. It picked up speed quickly. Ken gunned past the cars in the left-hand lane, tore through a light just as it turned red, and continued on his way at sixty-five miles per hour.
It was impossible for me to fathom the depths of arrogance that would cause a man to resume the same behavior that had attracted the notice of the Feds only minutes beforehand. “Ken, what are you doing?” I cried. “You almost got nailed by the FBI, man! Why are you still driving like this?”
Ken seemed astonished that I would even ask him such a question, when the answer was so very obvious. He turned his head and looked directly at me, narrowly avoiding a parked school bus. “Well, they're gone” he said calmly. “They won't pull me over a second time.”
Suddenly, all of the events of the past week welled up inside me, and I came dangerously close to losing control. The velocity of my emotions was so great that I felt as though I was in danger of being propelled from the car, so I took a deep breath instead. “Ken, pull the car over right now!” I screamed. “I'm not riding with you for another minute.”
Ken continued to gape at me with amazement. “Why not?” he asked. “There are still about three more miles to go before we get to your apartment.”
“I don't care!” I shrieked. “I'd walk to Topeka now if I had to. Let me out of this goddamned car.” Shaking his head sadly, Ken jerked the vehicle to a stop, and I threw open the door. I slammed it furiously and stormed onto the sidewalk, which was, fortunately, completely devoid of other pedestrians. Without looking back at Ken, I began the long walk to my apartment. I could hear the sound of his engine revving, and then receding, as he drove away.
It had been a long cold season, but at least it was half over. February was a short month, and March would bring the spring thaw, which always made me feel grateful that I had managed to make it through another Chicago winter. I still had half a pound of pot, and three remaining months of employment as a preschool teacher before the school year would come to an end. Despite my obstacles, my luck could easily have been worse; I could have been on my way to federal prison, rather than making my way up the sidewalk on a sunny winter afternoon. I reached into my pocket and squeezed the bags of pot, just to make certain that they were still there. Only three miles to go; then I would be home, where I would finally have the luxury of relaxation, and the opportunity to think about what I was going to do with the rest of my life.
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