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My memoir: Gun Needle Spoon begins with the last years of my heroin addiction, my consequent descent into crime, primarily armed bank robbery, and my eventual incarceration. My final arrest was June 25, 1997, and I look back at the person that I was then and wonder who that person was. He certainly is not who I am today. Over the last 18 years I have worked hard to instigate such an internal psychological change. If you had told me then that I’d become a recovering drug addict, a published author and a college instructor, I would have laughed and told you, “no fuckin’ way, dude!” Heroin addiction’s mental and physical stranglehold combined with the junkie tunnel vision of procuring the drug at all costs, mentally altered me from the person I was meant to be and the direction I was heading. In 1977 I was an artistic kid at art school right as punk rock hit the radar and the music world exploded, flash-forward twenty years later, I was a semi-illiterate career-criminal facing a 25 to Life Sentence under California’s Three Strike Law, and wondering how the hell it had all turned out so wrong. Patti Smith said, “I never thought I was gonna make 30.” Well, I never thought I was going to make 21. It has been a long road to get to who and where I am now, and it makes me wonder what the “1997 Patrick” would have to say to the Patrick of today.
San Francisco, June 25, 1997
Chunks of the doorframe fly through the air and fall on either side of me. I stand there, immobile. A hundred cops outside, some in uniform, some not, guns drawn, faces and bodies tense. A tall, heavyset blonde police officer steps forward through the doorway and smacks me in the face with the butt of her shotgun as more cops push past her and into the apartment. I lie on the floor, a foot across my throat, a knee in my groin, a shotgun and a 9mm leveled at my head.
In Edan Lepucki’s California, a novel about life after widespread economic, political, and ecological collapse, a main character regards herself as a performer without appreciators. This character, Frida, lives in the woods after cities have crumbled due to all manner of human weakness, and she realizes that here, “No one was looking. Her audience was sucked away.” It’s one of the stranger promises of the end of the world: should you somehow survive it, no one will see you anymore. If, however, you’re inclined toward narcissism and an unmet craving for attention, you might already have experience with this heightened sense of yourself surrounded by little else.
The idea, I thought, was a simple one: rent for a night the West Hollywood motel room where Jim Morrison lived on and off for three years, hold a séance with a few friends, and afterward throw a party. It seemed a fitting homage to Morrison, a party-hardy mystic who believed himself possessed by the spirit of a Pueblo Indian he had seen as a boy while traveling through New Mexico and happening upon the aftermath of a deadly accident. Indians scattered on dawn’s highway bleeding, he famously wrote of the incident in “Newborn Awakening,” his poem set to music by his band, the Doors, seven years after he died. Ghosts crowd the young child’s fragile eggshell mind.
In the winter of 1976, I committed the professional and personal faux pas of giving a poetry reading with Rod McKuen. It took place at the Veterans Auditorium in downtown San Francisco and was supposed to be a benefit for the San Francisco State University poetry program.
January 23, 2013
There’s no doubt that with the California state legislature passing a bill to ban therapies aimed at trying to “change” the sexual orientation of minors, “reparative therapy” is once again going to make headlines. I was in a form of reparative therapy in British Columbia, Canada, for six years, after which I filed a medical malpractice suit against my former psychiatrist, “Dr. Alfonzo,” for treating my homosexuality as a disease. If this new law in California is to be criticized, it is because the use of “change” therapies on people older than 18 should be prohibited as well. I was 24 when I met Dr. Alfonzo, 31 when I left his therapy, and almost 40 when the lawsuit ended in an out-of-court settlement in 2003.
At 3 a.m. on the morning before Independence Day, I drove six hours from Santa Cruz to Los Angeles on a mission to seduce my closest male friend. Nathan and I had been buddies in high school but drifted apart afterwards; it was only recently that we’d rekindled our connection. We’d spent the past year logging long hours in online conversations laced with a potent combo of flirty chemistry and neediness. Our chats were late-night confessionals on crushes, love, and sex; I was his virtual wing-girl. We were building a strong friendship too, but I knew I was falling for him when I wanted to stay up past midnight basking in the twin glows of my laptop screen and my newly minted role as Nathan’s confidante, instead of crawling into bed with my boyfriend of six years, who I lived with.
I drove en route to a one-bedroom cabin set off a lonely road from a remote highway in the north Georgia mountains where I’d have no cell phone reception. The cabin came with a mini-fridge, a shower and kitchen sink, a twin bed, a desk upon which I’d perch my computer, and the chair in which I’d sit to write. The windows looked out on a swath of mixed evergreen and deciduous forest that, in the duration of my stay, would blend into a kaleidoscopic of green and the yellow, orange, and red of fall.
Karl Taro Greenfeld’s NowTrends (Short Flight/Long Drive Books) is worth reading simply for the exotic locations and unique settings, but there is much more going on in this collection. A layered sadness permeates these stories, often soliciting sympathy for the main characters. At other times, a sense of entitlement causes the reader to become frustrated and even angry at these spoiled people. And still other stories allow us to understand the uncertainty that life offers up, even amidst important events and epic moments, unsure of how to take these revelations, unable to change—even when willing.
November 07, 2011
(The Merry-Go-Round is Beginning to Taunt Me)
1. Author As [not circus] Dog Trainer (Cris)
You can’t lie to a dog. Or you can’t lie badly. While training dogs, you need to be “telling” them, with both body-language and voice, that they are the center of the universe to you, and that what they do for you—and what you’re doing together—makes you happier, and means more to you, than anything else in the world. They can tell if you’re lying. If you’re unconsciously communicating to them that you’re disappointed or upset because you’re thinking about something else, something offstage—whether your life’s true dilemma or your most current disappointment—they take it on as stress. To dogs, it’s all about them. So the trainer has to be able to convince the dog of that, whether it’s true in the trainer’s larger life or not. Problem is, the dog can usually tell. A good trainer doesn’t have “a larger life.” It’s never “just a dog” and therefore easy to lie to.
For years I lived in fear of the monster that I believed emerged from a pond in the movie Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte. I could hear the eerie song echoing in my head from some movie preview seen in childhood…visions and memory scent of the Grand Lake theater in Oakland or the Oaks in Berkeley…scenes and shadows seemingly cast on the cavernous walls of Larry Blake’s restaurant where everyone in the family ate salad but me. I see the old decaying house and the long spiralling staircase from the monster’s point of view as it climbs the steps, dripping leaves and mud…some awful shape of nightmare curiosity…
When I finally saw the movie all the way through many years later, I realized it wasn’t a pond, but a creek, and the monstrous shape I’d been imagining all that time was really Joseph Cotten. He and the crooked Olivia de Havilland are trying to drive Bette Davis mad. What I’d been seeing in my mind and dreams was a supposedly drowned Joseph Cotten come back from the dead.
Flashback to a summer night in Tahoe…
My father’s friend Bill with the deep smoky voice, his ballerina wife and their two children, Wade and Wendy, are there. Bill is going bald and his skin has a stained leather look. I think he has liver spots. The wife’s hair is pulled back tight into a bun, her body is slender and petite, her face vaguely Spanish looking. My mother never knows what to say to her unless they’re beating the men at bridge. She dislikes them because Bill and Dad disappear off to Stateline or Reno and gamble all night. Bill plays blackjack and has won as much as $5,000 in a weekend. Wade is a weird kid and Wendy wets her pants and cries. We go to the movies. The drive-in in South Lake Tahoe. (My God, there are still drive-in’s.) A Hammer horror film is showing, The Mummy’s Shroud. I cover my eyes throughout, only glimpsing up at the most terrifying moments which two decades later I realize are actually quite ludicrous. It’s a hot dark August night full of bugs thick like fog in the light, and far outside the glow of the giant screen and the cinderblock snack bar the stars are trembling.
I see now that it’s Bill I’m really afraid of. But back there in the car before the shining screen I don’t know why. I only sense it. A darkness taking shape. I think what I’m afraid of is his deep smoky voice and the curling lip of his laugh which I never know how to take-and the way he always says my mother’s name as if it’s a question. It’s not the colors of the movie that I close my eyes to hear…it’s the way he wants me to look, the way he likes that I’m afraid. The way he eats his Good n’ Plenty with methodical calm.
Wade whispers about penises and ladies’ things. Wendy sobs softly and the stars dissolve over the Sierras. The smell of popcorn and steamed hotdog buns fills the car and for years I’ll be afraid of a bad movie, not knowing why.
There was a Big Bang, Elvis died, and then Obama tripled the deficit.
My ears scraping across a birth canal.
One that pays.
Continued from here
We woke up early the next morning to check the surf. It was smaller than yesterday and all blown out.
“Looks pretty shitty out there,” Marty said. “And the tide’s low. Maybe we should head south and get our morning session in someplace down the road.”
I agreed. I’d break my neck on that reef if the waves any shallower than yesterday.
I arrived at Steve’s house early in the morning. Our plan was to hit the lake early, catch some fish, and get out before the wind gathered up and froze us out. On the drive we counted four cars sporting Jesus stickers on their bumpers.
No Jesus? No peace. Know Jesus. Know Peace.
He died for me…I’ll live for him.
Have a Nice Day with Jesus!
I was raised Catholic and the first chance I got to ditch Father Lopez, his unholy stink-eye, and his evil band of moody Sisters I did. I was in the 5th grade. After three years of fear sermons I’d seen and heard enough and told my parents that I quit. Even at that early age there was something about Christianity that didn’t jibe with me. I found it depressing. I found it negative. I found it cruel and unsettling. And the people that packed Our Lady of Guadalupe on Sunday mornings with their cut-out smiles and scripted greetings? I thought they were professional hypocrites and full of shit.
Despite my skepticism towards the credibility of his followers I liked Jesus and his message. As a kid I prayed to Him constantly. Prayed that my family lived peacefully. Prayed that my father would stop drinking. Prayed that I’d finally kiss Anna Hernandez.
“And Jesus maybe tomorrow you’ll allow me to kiss Anna. Just one kiss. You know how much I like her.”
That prayer never was answered.
In fact, a lot of them were never answered.
I told Steve about my Christian background. That I went to some old church in LA called Our Lady of Guadalupe. That I hated it and wanted out. That the people that attended the church judged and fucked people over for six days and on the seventh day they clutched their worry beads and mumbled like babies. I told him that over the years I’ve mellowed my feelings towards Christianity. That I tried not to think of their bloody history or their blatant hatred of all things non-Christian. I told him that religion rarely crossed my mind but when I think of Christianity these days I think of Jimmy Swaggart, the insular musings of Rick Warren. I told him I think of naughty Ted Haggard and Stephen Baldwin.
“Baldwin? Isn’t he an actor? The one who called his daughter a pig?”
“No, that’s another Baldwin. There’s like ten of them.”
Steve and I have a system when we go fishing. It’s very simple. He fishes and I sit on my ass looking for wildlife. When I grow bored of that I read. And when that runs its course I take a stab at writing some fiction that’s void of plot and structure—all that technical business I learned in the stuffy English rooms of UNLV. At that time I was putting together a collection of creature stories. Snakes. Insects. Dogs.
A giant hog named Benny that lives in Barstow and dreams of eating.
A rattlesnake that kills a bartender.
An aging flying squirrel that takes his last flight.
Two stinkbugs that get pissed on by a dog.
A donkey that shits money.
A scorpion that sings.
Steve is a master fisherman. Has all the gear. Has a beautiful boat loaded with gadgets and blip machines. He reads the water, knows all the tricks. On this day he’d catch five beautiful big-mouth bass. Gorgeous fish painted in greens and golds. This was our first fishing trip since my return from my spiritual retreat where I ditched my cell-phone, truck, the Internet, all that. I was to pay attention to my damaged heart and soul and not my addictive mind that wanders in bad places. So that’s what I did. I hunkered down and returned to the desert bright-eyed and clear. I returned to the desert a better man.
Sometime in the middle of the day the Dr. Peppers got to me and I had to piss. Steve pulled us into a cove. After I was done I walked around lifting fallen tree limbs and rocks looking for lizards and whatnot. Then something caught my eye. It was a knotted sandwich bag that contained two stones and a folded piece of paper that had Bible passages typed on it. I picked it up and read the typed messages. I’d never seen anything like it. Whoever put it together wanted someone to find it. I was that person. I looked to see if anyone was around. Nothing. Nada. I raised my eyes to the sky. Just like I did when I was a kid. Blue skies running from the San Bernardino Mountains to Barstow.
But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name. John 1:12
Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28
Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. Acts 4:12
I showed it to Steve.
“Seems like Jesus is always around,” he said.
I sat on the shore, memories spinning up and over the mountains and sloping down into Rancho Cucamonga, Ontario. Here I was again. Back in California, my birth state. Here I was again twenty-five minutes from the desert where it all began. I came full circle. Jobs and girlfriends. Old songs and new ones yet to be named. Dog-eared books and divorce. Poems and rejection slips. From Jesus to Buddha. Sand and scorpions.
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. Ephesians 2:8
I came home and put the bag next to my Buddha and my jade Trickster. They make a good team and look beautiful on my desk. The Buddha and Trickster a gift from a beautiful friend with a big heart. The “Jesus bag” a gift from a stranger that I will keep forever. Everyday before I leave the house I smile their way and open the door with the best of intentions. It’s easier that way.