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. 

Tear gas, for the uninitiated, really does make you cry.

And not in the gradual fashion of an organic cry, with the palpable build-up of liquid emotion that your body ultimately can’t contain and spills out onto your cheeks, your shirt, your lover’s shoulder.

Out of Focus

By Paula Younger


Two years after my wedding I stood behind bulletproof glass searching evidence tables piled with pictures of smiling brides and grooms.  Jenny, the police officer assigned to photo viewing day, led me to the Misc. box, a cardboard beast overflowing with pictures and negatives.  She warned, “This might take a while.”  A blond woman flanked by her husband and her parents said, “Can you believe we have to do this?”  She rifled through boxes for a glimpse of the dress she had so carefully picked out, her husband’s smile, photos of friends and family.  I was looking for those things too.  But I was also looking for something else.  In that police basement I was searching for the last pictures ever taken of my mother and me.

Young men in purple bandannas stare at us, younger mothers with toddlers draped like minks over their necks glare while pumping their worn fists into the air. Who the fuck are we, indeed. In the stomping of countless feet, caught somewhere in the middle of this river of people, our hearts are clobbering our chests, hearts that have seen Chicago, and are now seeing this. An old man so clean-shaven his cheeks bear the sheen of a newborn puts his arms around us, we novelty gringos, and tries to shout something into our ears above the roars of the mob and the megaphones. He fails. His voice reaches us all creaky basement door, wordless and unoiled. His arm feels damp like snakeskin on my neck.

We can’t quite see beyond the crowd now, walled in by scarred bare shoulders and flailing bronze forearms. The sky flashes its body above us, indecent, pleading for beads. Behind us, a strange commotion, panic, defiance, and I pray no one has died. Louisa pulls her blonde hair into a ponytail with her right hand, holds it a moment as if a life-raft, then lets it go. The crowd behind us begins to part, fissured as if by a series of barges with flashing red lights, sirens calling like wounded crows. The police cars charge into the belly of the protest, and a family of twelve, each in straw hats of varying sizes rushes toward the curb to make room for them. Others, behind the squad cars, kick at the slow-going tires, spit onto the rear windshields.

Defender la educación pública! No a la militarización!

At set intervals, the cop cars discharge teams of officers in riot gear, machine guns raised in their hands. They begin to line the sidewalks, facing us, trapping us, their guns at us, black-gloved fingers on the triggers. Their heavy boots, jangling belts, underscore our chanting with some evil bass note, dissonant, threatening to kill the song.

Defender la educación pública! No a la militarización!

“This is not good,” Louisa says.

She’s seen her share of death in South Africa, narrowly escaped two attempted carjackings, guns held to her head both times. The cops’ faces are hidden behind plastic facemasks, pulled down from their helmets. The sun, still above the rooftops, reflects from them. They are faceless, balls of light atop torsos. Their machine guns remain dormant but poised, and I feel nauseas. I burp a quiet breath of pig brain into the wet rear hairline of a middle-aged man in a denim button-down, his cardboard sign bowing forward in the stench, his hands wrapped tightly around the tree branch upon which it’s mounted. I can see the black hairs on his thumbs dance. Alive.

Defender la educación pública! No a la militarización!

Miraculously, the crowd ignores the police presence, the machine guns merely baleful par for the murderous course. Tonight, these people—protestors and police alike—will be sopping beans with corn tortilla, sipping bottled beer and fresh watermelon juice and life will go on. This is what I tell myself, but I have to be honest with Louisa.

“No,” I say, it is not.

“We should get out of this,” she says.

But how? The cops have boxed us in, human velvet ropes with bullets inside. This is terrible potential energy, and I try to take momentary refuge in a memory more benign—my junior high penchant for flinging rubber bands against the back of Amanda Berman’s head in Social Studies; the sweet joy of the band stretched back, held, ready, not yet released. Strange how these things amplify. Today, in the emancipation of this potential, we will be machine-gunned. I am not ready to be Amanda Berman, watch people fall like trees; hear shouts morph into screaming. There’s no one here to report these guys to the principal’s office, to call their mothers at work to tell on them, to punish them with a grounding, a ban on T.V. and chewing gum for a full week.

“I know,” I answer, but panic about the how.

The protest takes a right turn and we are obliged to turn with it, part of something larger now.

Defender la educación pública! No a la militarización!

“And I’ve got to take a shit,” Louisa says, and in an instant, all perspective seems to shift away from the probable danger, and toward the celebration of all human things. We are still alive in Mexico City, young, stupid, bidding some—albeit misguided and overzealous—goodbye to the shell-selves we became in Chicago. We are being filled up again, injected with lead. Yes: Public education should be defended without military-lead recompense. An old woman waves her colorful sign in our faces and, as she pulls it back, holds it over her head like some digesting pelican, whistles what sounds like the Beatles’ “Let it Be,” barely audible over the crowd’s incantations.

And when the broken-hearted people living in the world agree,

there will be an answer…

As she passes, disappears into the sea, I see, plastered to the stone of streetside building, the blue sign depicting our location. Avenida Cinco de Mayo. And up the street, perhaps a mere 50 feet away, the shabby black and white beacon: Hotel Rioja. The river has led us home.

Taking Louisa’s hand, slick with marching sweat, we jump the line, push through the protesters, fragments of hair-bun, orange shirt sleeve, bedsheet corner, sandal, hat brim, moustache, young breath, wrinkled hand, and make for the curbs, lined with the police, and the promised land of sidewalk beyond, now larded with onlookers.

Por favor, por favor, por favor, por favor, lo siento, lo siento, gracias, con permeso, por favor…

When we approach the police blockade, we don’t think, just move.

Hola, hola, por favor… Gringos coming through…muster your dumbest smile, wave, even… Hola, hola, gracias, por favor…

We push between two flashlight-faced officers, the ample butts of their machine guns tapping our triceps. They are heavy and cold, but we are through, into the realm of the sidewalk spectators, one of whom is Juan Pérez. He sees us, and waves both hands over his head. He is in the Rioja’s doorway, one of his cinderblock feet on the inside tile, the other on the sidewalk, split. Louisa and I rush to him. He is today, our grandfather. While Louisa runs into the sepulchral lobby for the stairwell and our tiny room, her steps resonant and yawning, I stand with the man watching the crowd pound past, on and on and on, all of the earth collected into this one street now, oozily deist, and, perhaps it’s only because we’re in front of a hotel, and because we’re leaving, but something invisible that once surrounded us, warm, but suffocating, lifts, evaporates, checks-out.

The little girl is five.

She has fine blond hair

in two narrow braids.

She is delicate and


in her flimsy sundress.

She wears


pink sneakers

that light up

in back

when she walks.

She is petting my dog.

I love your dog,

she says.

She is so soft.

I do too,

I say.

Her tail is so pretty,

she says.

The fur

on this kind of tail

is called


I say.

My sister

stabbed my brother,

she says.


I say.

That must have

upset you.

Were you


Oh no,

I was happy!

she says.


I say.

You were happy

that your sister


your brother?

She used a steak knife,

she says,

My sister is so smart.

She hid it in

our bedroom

under the mattress.

She did?

I say.


she says,

she stabbed him


over and over,





There was

blood everywhere.

He screamed like a baby,


momma heard him


she came in


she called the police.

Momma was


Now my


can’t hurt us


she says.

My brother is in

jail now


my sister is so


We have to go to


then he will go to


Jail and prison

are not the same,

you know,

she says.

Prison is better

because they

keep him away

a long time,

she says.

What do you do

in court?

I say.

I don’t know,

she says,

the lady here

is going to tell me

about court.

She said not to


She knows

because my sister is brave

that now


will be okay.

My brother

can’t hurt us


she says.

I love your dog,

she says.

She is so soft.

Marijuana. Mary Jane. Reefer. No matter what you choose to call it, I have never been able to smoke pot. What for some people seems to be a relaxed good time has always been for me a paranoid journey to the center of my mind, where I sit shivering in a cerebral corner, wondering if I’ll ever be able to think normally again.

In college, I reluctantly got stoned with the happy party people around me. Most of these attempts ended with me feeling lost, floating in the universe, indefinitely wondering whether or not I had to pee. Time crawled by thick as resin as I tried to decide if I looked as crazy on the outside as I felt on the inside. If I was lucky, I found a bed to pass out in, mercifully ending my hyper-analytical mental anguish.

It seems like a wonderful ride for most, so for years I tried to stay on the bucking bronco of marijuana before permanently passing the reins to the other space cowboys. Abstaining from pot, combined with my love of exercising and rising early, eventually conspired to make me the least rock and roll chick to ever play guitar in a band. I am decidedly not cool; I’ve made my peace with this fact.

Throughout high school, however, I was still trying to smoke the stuff. My older sister and I would sometimes hide behind one of the many outbuildings on our farm to do it. We’d sit in the grass, leaning against the hay barn; two teenage girls smiling into the summery blue Missouri sky, giggling about nothing and everything. When my parents took the family to Disneyland, she and I got stoned in the It’s a Small World ride. It was there I learned that hundreds of creepy animatronic children singing a repetitive song about the world closing in on me do nothing to ease my pot smoking paranoia. Noted.

On family vacation in Las Vegas that summer, my sister and I quickly tired of the little kid games inside of Circus Circus where we were staying. There were only so many stuffed animals a teenager wanted to win. Bored and seeking fresh entertainment, we left the pink ponies and casino to walk the streets of Sin City. Ducking into an alley, we decided to make our stroll more interesting by smoking a joint she had brought along. Standing next to a ten-foot-high concrete block fence for privacy, by the dirt road that ran between buildings on either side of us, we proceeded to smoke marijuana.

We’d taken a few tokes and I was just starting to feel blurry when a car turned quickly into the alley, about fifty feet away. I brought the joint down from my mouth and held it at my side. I was hoping that the person turning into the alley would think I was only smoking a cigarette, stupidly forgetting that as a non-smoker I looked awkward smoking anything I tried. As the dark blue car drove by and I clumsily passed the joint, we realized in our dulled awareness that it was an unmarked police vehicle. So of course we did the worst thing possible. We panicked.

“That was a cop!” she squeaked as he drove past.

Get rid of it. Get rid of it. Get rid of it,” I whisper-screamed at her.

She frantically tried to toss the joint over the wall next to us. It backed up to a neighborhood, so there was no convenient way around to retrieve the contraband. If we could just get it over the wall, it would be out of sight and virtually unreachable.

My sister has always been petite, and she was unable to throw it over the high fence. The joint bounced off of the wall, rolling futilely back toward us on the dusty ground. We jumped away in fear, as if it was a spider. I grabbed it out of the sand where it sat mocking me like a turd in a litter box and tried to clear the concrete wall again. I’m taller at 5’9″ with greater reach, and it went over this time.

This all happened in the span of a few seconds, so before we could feel relief to have ditched the incriminating evidence, we saw brake lights. No doubt tipped off by our frantic chicken-like scrabbling and obviously guilty behavior, the officer turned around and drove back in our direction while we watched in mute terror. There was nowhere to run, as we were trapped in an alley and didn’t know the area. We both turned our nothing-to-see-here knobs up to eleven, and then he was getting out of the car. Meanwhile, the pot we’d smoked was the kind that creeps up on you, and I was feeling exponentially freaked out by the second. I quickly realized an intimidating police officer was even more paranoia-inducing than soulless puppet children singing at me en masse. My world of hope was quickly becoming a world of fear.

“Did I just see you two girls smoking a joint?” the officer demanded.

It was do or die time. Time to sell it like I’d never sold it before. If we got busted by this cop for pot, there would be no end to the trouble we’d get in. We’d be grounded until I started college for this one, and rightly so. We’d fucked up, big time. I summoned every bit of acting ability I had in my dumb fifteen-year-old body, and tried to push the part of me growing fuzzy from the drugs to the back, working hard for a moment of ass-saving clarity. I put on my best shocked and appalled face at the mention of pot, because pot was awful, and oh my gosh, how could anyone think I’d been smoking pot?

“No officer! I would never smoke pot. But I was trying to smoke a cigarette,” I replied, shame dripping from my voice, eyes cast downward in good girl humiliation. “It was the first time I’ve ever tried it and I didn’t even like it. It was so gross!”

“It looked like a joint to me, whatever you threw over that wall, young lady. If I drive both of you around to the other side, are we gonna find marijuana? Do you think your parents are gonna enjoy having to come pick you up from jail today?”

Shit. If I didn’t pull this off, we were going to end up in a cell, the weak teenage bitches of hardened Las Vegas prostitutes. I silently hoped my prison mistress would at least have a heart of gold. In full self-preservation mode, I quickly realized that my best psychological tactic would be to act so distraught about being caught smoking a cigarette that the pot thing would be downplayed. If I seemed truly disgusted about the cigarette, he might believe me innocent of the worse crime.

“Oh no, please, don’t tell my parents I was smoking a cigarette! They’ll be so mad at me because they hate smoking! This was the first time I’ve ever tried it and I thought it was so nasty. I’m never gonna smoke a cigarette again, I swear it,” I pleaded.

He asked again that if he went to the dreaded other side of the wall, would there be marijuana waiting? I repeated the Please Don’t Tell My Parents I Tried a Cigarette monologue, as if he hadn’t mentioned pot at all. I was working it. Totally owning it. I had the big, tear-filled eyes and the quivering lip; I epitomized the scared young girl gone astray. I was a living, breathing After School Special, begging for a second chance. Before I knew it, even I believed my lies. I was the innocent babe trying those yucky gosh darned cigarettes for the first time. And please don’t tell my parents I was smoking a cigarette, yes cigarette, can I say cigarette one more time? Because it was a cigarette and totally not marijuana, you know. Cough-cigarette-cough.

It finally worked. I couldn’t believe it, but it worked. The officer admonished us one last time with some sort of you kids stay out of trouble speech, got in his car, and drove away. Chastened and shaking like rabbits unexpectedly released from a snare trap, we headed back to the hotel, officially ending our stint as teenage streetwalkers. We walked dazed and confused into the pink nightmare of Circus Circus. Sad clowns and desperate elderly gamblers were definitely preferable to horrified flop sweat and handcuffs.

I never really gave myself much credit for my actions that day, always assuming the cop took pity on me, or had bigger fish to fry. But recently my mom mentioned to me that my sister had told her about the incident. I’m old enough now that my mom has heard most of my naughty stories, and I can only be grounded by myself, so this didn’t bother me. What shocked me was that my sister said my performance for the officer was amazing. She was blown away by my acting ability, and gave me full props for getting us out of what might have been the only arrest of our lives.

She also told my mother, “After I saw Tawni lie so convincingly that day, I knew I could never trust her again!”



By Simon J. Green


Train Wreck

Two senior citizens, women with a slow drawl to their aging voices, I watched as they scrabbled for information. They were desperate for it. The pair strained their ears, they were actually standing in their seats, trying to find the best angle to capture the snatches of detail. A train conductor was the one speaking, his voice being carried intermittently on the air and around the train’s door. I was interested, not in the story of the injured boy on the train track, but why these two women, completely unrelated to the whole scenario, were so desperate for information.

Rubberneckers. The train wreck you can’t look away from. The gaggle that gathers around an incident, all without shame, barefaced curiosity seekers apparently anonymous among their brothers and sisters. You see it all the time. Should a police car pull up to the curb and the blue shirts inside get out, you’re guaranteed at least one curtain will open and its owner peer outside. People love to stick their noses in. The train station I was at with the old women wringing their hands to find out what was going on, that was a non-event. I don’t know what happened, but two ambulance officers, a St John’s officer and two members of the police were poking around the train line on the other side of the station. Two young girls who seemed to know the boy were sobbing and consoling one another, “He’ll be alright, he’ll be OK,” while a policeman interviewed them. Another took photos. I bet you’re dying to know what happened. I’m sorry, but I can’t tell you. I didn’t find out. I looked though, snuck a peek. You’d do the same. You might be like the fellow who walked over to the other side of the station and looked over, right above the officers doing their work. He just strolled up, hands in his pockets, and looked over the edge.

I thought it was kind of rude.

I saw another incident involving a much larger gathering. Swanston Street in Melbourne, and a large crowd, about thirty or forty regular people crowded around the side of the road. This bulge of humans meant I had to walk around them to continue travelling. Unfortunately, the friends I was with detached and went to join the group. I sighed and sat down on a park bench nearby, waiting, watching as every person in that horde tried their hardest to get a better view. Like the pulsing swarm of punters at a music gig, squeezing and pushing to get to the front row. The main event here on Swanston Street was an act of violence, the aftermath, the punters hoping to get a little glimpse of the tension. At a gig you hope to get a guitar pick or drumstick to take as a souvenir. The gathering of rubberneckers were hoping for a mental photograph of the pool of blood, a broken jaw or a mashed in face. I know what happened in this scenario. Are you dying to find out? There was blood. There was a broken jaw. The police were involved. Tantalising, isn’t it? As a consequence, we were late to where we were going.

Why do people have such a macabre hunger for these sorts of events? Don’t they feel weird about it, standing over an injured boy or an arrested vagrant, staring down at them with no pretence? It’s clear they are there out of interest. I feel rude. Making it obvious I’m having a good hard look makes me uncomfortable. It seems like none of my business. The police are there, the ambulance officers are there, someone’s being treated or arrested, they’re probably a little embarrassed, or will be when they look back on it. I don’t imagine I’m helping that situation much by standing not but two feet away, staring like an open mouthed idiot. Maybe it’s just me.

Whatever the reason, all these people want the information. They want to go home and tell their friends the story that sparked up their otherwise average day. They want to store away the moment to bring out again at a party, when the conversation turns to recounts of similar stories. It’s really a purely selfish interest, a crowd of spectators without a sport.

I had not been a good king. The people were gathering to throw me from the castle and perhaps kill me. I was doomed.

Fortunately for me, this was only a dream. Unfortunately, when I woke up from the dream, I didn’t really wake up all the way from the dream.

I had such an incredible fever that I didn’t know my dream from reality. This sort of thing is tough when you look out your window and hallucinate a massive mob of angry citizens marching through your backyard to get you. I took it upon myself to freak out.

Am I alone in believing I can pick off-duty police by sight alone?

It’s not as if this is a super-power that I’ve developed as a result of exposure to cosmic rays or nuclear radiation, or anything like that.

I’ve just noticed that there are a bunch of guys who are regular users of my local sauna, as I have become myself over the last few weeks, and as soon as I set eyes on them, my instincts said Those guys are totally police.

Also, it’s hot in here.

These guys have a certain build and a certain walk. Heavy across the shoulders, arms, and chest, close-cropped hair, and a solid, self-possessed way of holding themselves. They’re basically variations on a theme of this guy right here, the state’s Police Commissioner.

A bit younger and broader, maybe, but about the same. His name is Simon too. He occasionally goes to a cafe I also go to, and believe me, I don’t think I’d want to bump into him walking down a darkened alley. He’s a big dude.

It’s not that I think all police have a certain look, I just think that all people with this certain look are likely police. I could be wrong.

But I’m going to be very careful not to accidentally clip any of their cars in the parking lot.

I used to have a tree house. Not as a child, mind you, but as an adult. Let me explain. I had an apartment for a while in a complex owned and managed by an ancient woman that hardly knew who lived in her building, much less what those tenants were up to. There weren’t exactly a ton of restrictions on what you could or could not do in the complex, and even if there had been there was no one to enforce them.

I became good friends with several other residents there. I was living with my girlfriend Brittany at the time and was constantly looking for a reason not to be in the apartment with her. The less I was there, the less chance of setting off an emotional explosion, so I spent a good bit of time hopping around and getting to know a quite diverse group of neighbors.

Dan was your typical Southeast Texas redneck. About six foot four, he drank cheap beer by the case, drove a pickup truck, and ate weird things if you dared him. I personally watched him consume a raw shrimp and three wrinkled dollar bills one night simply because someone said, “I bet you won’t.” Dan lived across the street from Chuck, a gun collecting Texan with a bit more intelligence. Dan was the kind of guy that would beat his chest and tell you what he was going to do. Chuck would just do it.

And Chuck happened to live next door to Henry. Henry was a stout and stocky black guy. Always high, he was the kind of person you couldn’t help but like. He was Ice Cube in Friday.

Over one particular summer, a group of teens happened to choose our neighborhood as a target for a string of car burglaries. My car was hit twice, along with eleven other incidents over the course of a few weeks. Despite our attempts to keep watch individually, we were unable to catch anyone in the act. For that matter, the only information we really had been able to get at all was the occasional neighbor’s half remembered account of an older, brownish colored car with a bunch of suspicious looking teens.

The obvious solution, we decided, was to band together. Strength in numbers made sense to us, and we fell in love with the idea of standing in unison against a common enemy. Not only would this be productive, this could be fun.

We recruited whoever else we could from the neighborhood and met at Henry’s house. Six adults in all, dressed in black and carrying whatever makeshift weapons we could find. An old forgotten Louisville Slugger from under Chuck’s bed, Dan’s slingshot, a chipped and slightly bent samurai sword with a blue rope wrapped handle. We were completely unprepared, yet one hundred percent willing, to go to war with a gang of street savvy thugs.

Over the next hour we discussed our plans. Who would cover which shift each night? What would we do if we actually caught someone? I had read enough Spider-man comics to be elected leader, therefore I was the one forced to veto the most extreme game plans as they were presented.

“So if one of us can catch ‘em in action and chase ‘em towards the others, we could hog tie ‘em, gag ‘em, and leave ‘em laying in the field over night,” Dan suggested. “The fire ants and them bat sized skeeters oughta finish ‘em off.”

“No, Dan,” I said. “Let’s try to come up with something… maybe a bit more legal.” Talking to him was a bit like trying to explain to a retarded child why he couldn’t have a balloon. And it wasn’t just Dan; no one was really helping.

“So I guess pumping them full of arrows and hanging them from a tree like little ghetto-porcupine-piñatas is out of the question?” Chuck chimed in.

“You a damn fool, Chuck. You know that?” Henry laughed. “A damn fool.”

“Completely out of the question,” I replied.

When the meeting – if you could call it that – adjourned, the only decision we had come to was that we definitely needed a place to mount our defense. We needed a secure location. We needed a fortress. I volunteered the tree next to my apartment, suggesting that we might be able to put some sort of platform halfway up. Everyone agreed and construction started the next day.

What began as a 3×3 perch soon became much larger. Dan started bringing home truckloads of grocery store pallets and landscaping timbers. We added each one to the rest and before long had erected a two story, two-hundred-plus square foot citadel. Over the next few months I forgot all about the ring of thieves and concentrated my efforts on increasing the size of the tree house. Two old couches were acquired and hauled up into the branches. Electricity was run from my back porch via extension cords. Chuck had an old TV we could drag up there when it wasn’t raining.

I fabricated a roof above the first level, leaving the second floor open to the sky, a perfect place to lie at night and watch the stars scroll by. I was twelve years old again, and oblivious to the fact that I had absolutely zero construction skills. I used twenty screws where one would have sufficed. My lack of building knowledge aside, this thing was never coming down. We built on into the summer.

* * *

With our attentions focused on the newly erected wooden castle, the dark brown Oldsmobile that came creeping down the street late one night almost went unnoticed. I got a call from Henry, who just happened to be out late adjusting the tension on the makeshift zip line we had installed a few days before.

“These fools are behind the building, man. You in?”

“I’ll meet you outside. Give me two minutes.”

The building directly across the street was empty, and had been since Hurricane Rita ravaged the area a year before. I knew there was no reason for anyone to be back there at all. It could only mean trouble. Despite Chuck and Dan’s insistence that we attack, cooler heads prevailed. I made the case for calling the police and twenty minutes later a squad car came cruising down the road. It pulled behind the building and we circled around the other side to watch the action, certain that we were about to witness justice occurring live and in real time.

Two officers ran up to the car across the dark parking lot. Their flashlights bounced along the rusted body and then one of the doors creaked open. Smoke poured from the inside of the vehicle, the flashlight beams becoming solid yellow rods as they shot through the billowing clouds. My first thought was that something was actually on fire, and then the realization hit me that the occupants of that car were just really, really high. It looked like the Cheech and Chong van.

What minutes earlier had seemed to be an open and shut case was about to turn shockingly sideways. The five teenagers were taken from the car, searched, and then handed back their keys with instructions to leave and not return. As the beat up Cutlass rattled away, the police car followed them. Seconds later, both were gone.

“Are you motherfucking kidding me?” asked Henry.

And it wasn’t just Henry. We all stood there completely slack jawed. Clearly the cops weren’t in the mood to write up a report. Though we had no solid evidence, we were convinced that this was the same group of kids that had lifted our car stereos and CD collections. As we stared at each other in silent disbelief an even more shocking thing happened; the car came back.

It cruised down the street through the darkness like a battle worn shark, pulling in the drive headed back behind the building.

Henry didn’t waste a second. He picked up Chuck’s bat and started out across the street. “Man, fuck a bunch of these motherfuckers, yo.”

The entire group of us was now ready for war. As we turned the corner behind the building, we could see one of the kids clearly retrieving something from the grass next to the car; most likely something tossed when the police had shown up earlier. The teen sprinted back to the car when he saw us. “Go, go, go!” he yelled, and the car started to back up as he dove inside.

There was a wicked crack as Henry’s bat connected with the windshield. The driver couldn’t seem to get the car in gear, and Henry connected with two more shots, shattering the passenger window and caving in the hood. “Damn, man! This is my Mama’s car!” a voice from inside cried. “Then your Mama better have insurance!” Henry yelled back as he smashed a brake light. There were a few more glancing blows before the terrified kid managed to shift, and then finally the car sped off, leaving us standing amongst the wreckage.

“Umm, maybe we should finish this inside,” I said, figuring the police were certain to return soon now that a somewhat violent crime had been committed.

We didn’t even make it back across the street before the red and blue flashing lights rounded the corner. Chuck and Dan sprinted for home and Henry tossed the bat into the bushes. The car rolled to a stop in front of the two of us.

“I don’t suppose one of you fellas want to tell us what happened here, do you?” the officer asked as he stepped out of the car.

“Actually, we just walked out ourselves,” I replied quickly. “Sounded like some glass broke or something. Is everything okay?”

The officer looked at me dubiously, but I wasn’t breaking. Henry wasn’t so calm however. “That car came back, man. Why didn’t you arrest those fools the first time?”

“What Henry means is -” I started to say.

“What I mean is, if y’all ain’t gonna stop these motherfuckers from coming over here, then we will.”

The cop replied, “Sir, you can’t say the word the word ‘motherfucker’.”

So I said, “No, Henry. Apparently he is the only one that can say it.”

“Are you trying to get smart with me, son?”

And it really just slipped out of my mouth before I could stop it. “Smart? God no,” I said. “I’m not trying to confuse you.”

“That’s it. Turn around, son, and put your hands behind your back,” he said, pulling out his handcuffs. I was laughing as he clicked them shut around my wrists. Not only was I amused by the sudden turn of events, but I was also incredibly curious how talking to my neighbor was being considered a threat or a crime. “What exactly did I do?”

“You were inciting a potential riot,” was his reply. “Watch your head.” I ducked as I was placed in the backseat of the car. If that was a riot, I would have hated to see how he handled a group of Irish soccer fans. The officer sent Henry on his way and then got into the car. His partner turned to me as we pulled off.

“I suggest you keep it down back there,” he said. “We’d hate to have to tack any more charges on.”

And that was probably where things went south. I knew that technically I was going to get a Disorderly Conduct charge, and I figured that if I was going to get one, I might as well earn it. My tongue took on a life of its own, and I emptied both barrels.

“Oh really? Because legally I don’t think I have to be quite at all.  If you don’t like it, let me out.  Or why don’t you just turn up the radio, Captain America?  I bet your wife is really proud of you…  bringing down the scum of society!  How scary it must be!  Ooooh, does it feel good Kojak?  You solved the crime! Yippee ki yay, motherfucker!  Oh wait, I can’t say that, can I?

“You know, the last time you guys were out here, we pointed out a kid that had driven up in a stolen car and tried to break into my neighbor’s truck. Then he ran from you guys and when you caught him he had a fourteen-inch screwdriver in his pocket.  And what did you do?  You let him go.  I’ve seen the detectives on Court TV put a guy away for life based on a piece of lip DNA they pulled off of a half-eaten apple core they found in a dumpster two counties away from the crime scene, and you couldn’t piece that mystery together?  Yeah, you’re on fire, Commando Rabbit.

“Why doesn’t FOX TV ever follow you guys around for COPS, huh?  Maybe it’s because you fucking suck.  You ever think of that?  Maybe it’s because dragging a guy to jail for standing in his own neighborhood is just shitty TV.  What a hero.  You’re the worst policeman ever.  I hope your little radar gun really does give you ball cancer.  Are we there yet?  I’ve gotta pee.  Come on, man!  Speed!  We already know you’re a hypocrite, what’s it gonna hurt?”

I kept my face as close to the partition as possible, throwing each sentence directly at his ear as he drove. I was determined to earn every minute of my stay in a holding cell. When we arrived at the jail the two officers couldn’t get rid of me fast enough. The ride had put me in a heightened state of amusement. Already resigned to my fate, and the misdemeanor charge, I committed myself to making the most of the experience. No one was going to be safe.

They asked a million questions when they booked me in, all for what I could only assume was my “permanent record”. Once I realized that no one was there to determine the veracity of my answers however, I began to lie. Even the simplest question was an invitation to mislead.

The woman in charge sat in front of her keyboard. “Height?” she asked.

“Six eleven,” I answered with a straight face.

“No you’re not,” she said.

“If you already know then why are you asking me?”

She growled a bit and then continued, “Do you wear corrective lenses?”


“What color are your eyes?”

“Do you mean with or without the contacts?”

“You just said -”

“I was kidding. Next?”


In all honesty, I wanted to answer her correctly. The thought of having “comedian” next to my name in a file somewhere kind of made me happy. The Bullshit Train had left the station however. I couldn’t stop. I contemplated my answer as she repeated the question. “Sir? Occupation?”

And with the most serious expression possible I replied.

“Dragon Slayer.”

I arched my eyebrow mysteriously as I said it, as if that would somehow add authenticity to my claim.

“What?” she asked.

“Dragons. Large reptilian creatures. Did you not have a childhood, lady?”

She cocked her head sideways, baffled. “And where do you do this?”

“Caves, meadows, wherever the need arises,” I shot back.

She still didn’t know how to process what I was giving her. She had a blank to fill in on a form and the words coming out of my face confused her. “And… people give you money for this?” she tried.

“Sometimes money, sometimes a virgin or a goat. Whatever the village can afford. I have a calling, lady, and I won’t stop until all of the dragons are dead.”

Exasperated, she stormed out on our interview. Eventually, especially once I knew my friends had arrived with my bail money, I cooperated. I managed to keep a maniacal little smile the entire time though, which did a phenomenal job of keeping the other people in the holding cell convinced that I was at least a little bit insane.

“What are you in for?”

“Killing lizards. You might want to back up a little bit.”

* * *

The tree fort lasted longer than I thought it would. One day a letter arrived at my door from the landlord. Apparently a makeshift platform of thirty-eight pallets suspended 15-20 feet in the air was an “insurance risk”, and news of the tiki torch someone had drunkenly dropped on one of the couches had made its way back to her as well. It must come down the letter said.

Getting it up had not been a problem. Getting it out of the tree was a different story entirely. I pulled on the beams, I hit things with a hammer, and I jumped up and down. Nothing phased it. “Damn, I’m good,” I thought to myself, then I tied a rope around one of the support struts and pulled some more. I even went so far as to ask myself “What Would Jesus Do?” Then I remembered that Jesus was a carpenter. He could probably dismantle the entire thing in an afternoon.

Eventually I gave up. It stood stoically in that empty lot for another two years after I moved out. Even after my relationship ended, I still snuck back to visit it, hoping against hope that my ex wouldn’t be home when I did. Ultimately, I heard that time took its toll on the untreated lumber. Pieces fell one by one over the following months until, exhausted at last, the final section surrendered itself to the elements.



… I’d find myself chasing a hedgehog through a cemetery…

That’s right. I have chased a hedgehog over the graves of my Victorian ancestors.

I have to walk through a cemetery to get to the center of town. I was walking back home one night, at about 6pm, after watching the shambolic Christmas Lights ‘switch on.’ As I walked I saw a strange shape moving behind a headstone. It was shuffling towards the path. I just assumed it was a bird or something, but no! As it moved ever nearer it became clear I was face to face with a fucking hedgehog.

I’d never seen a genuine hedgehog before, and frankly I was excited. Not only was I looking at a wild hedgehog, it was moving towards me, no doubt attempting to establish ‘first contact.’

Its decision to flee came suddenly.

The prickly bastard realised that I was quite theoretically a threat to his survival, and he changed course immediately.

I didn’t hesitate to follow him.

I don’t know if I’m proud or ashamed of that fact. I like to think it was some wild instinct, but I suspect it has more to do with my own innate childishness.

I really didn’t know hedgehogs could move so fast. I was quite out of breath, and I really needed to cough; as soon as I did the ‘hog reverted to stereotype. He rolled himself into a tight little ball.

It was adorable.

I could have left it at that, but I hadn’t had my fun with him yet. I had not had my fill of hedgehog hijinks. I wanted to touch him, but I couldn’t find a stick anywhere. I threw a bit of grass at him, to no avail.

So I sat and waited; I’m a university student, I don’t have anything better to do with my time.

My patience was rewarded. Slowly, two beady little eyes peered out, blinking at me. I sensed we’d made a connection; he began to relax. The human-hedgehog gap had finally been bridged.

Until I coughed again; the hedgehog recoiled in terror, and I began to wonder if hedgehogs suffered from weak hearts. I hoped not.

I decided to leave him be, and I haven’t seen another hedgehog since. Although earlier this evening I found myself chasing a kitten across campus: best Saturday night ever.

… I’d find myself trying to win drinks off Swedish businessmen at 3am…

The people I was drinking with that night had been my friends for little more than a week. It was the night that really cemented a lasting bond and has unanimously been voted the best night we’ve ever had living here.

The night actually started at about three o’clock in the afternoon at Buddy’s, which is this awesome American-style diner in the middle of Winchester. After a bottle of Miller Genuine Draft and a burger we headed down to a pub on the river and had a few good pints of ale.

By seven o’clock we’d gradually become drunk on cheap Bulgarian wine with our Student Advisor at a get-together for older students, and had found ourselves locked in the lecture theatre.

This was especially awkward in the wake of a recent spate of thefts from the lecture theatre. We were almost hoping we’d have to spend the night there, and had quite a lot of fun with the microphone; we performed our version of ‘Rape Me’ by Nirvana.

We got out via a fire exit, and fled the accusing glances of a university official in the car park.

We finally got the pub venue for our Department Social at around eight; this was pretty uneventful, although good beer and good times were had by all. The fun really started after we got thrown out just after eleven pm. Nobody wanted to go home, and there were five of us who still fancied another drink.

This led us to a bar none of us remember; it may well have been a figment of our collective imaginations.

I had to borrow money to buy a pint. There was a guy standing on the bar with an acoustic guitar singing Bob Dylan songs.

How we got talking to the Swedes I vaguely remember. I think it had something to do with Curt (although I knew him only as ‘handshake guy’ at the time) and his drunken handshaking. Before we knew what was going on we were talking to a group of Scandinavian businessmen who worked for IBM. They bought us free gin and tonics and I got a bottle of Peroni.

However, the gravy train stopped, and conditions became attached. First we had to find them pretty blonde girls to talk too, which was unsuccessful— even pretty girls don’t like being pimped, apparently.

Then it was just a simple language challenge: speak Swedish, win beer.

The bitterness of failure was heightened by the fact that I actually know several Swedish phrases, but they’d all been submerged in free Italian beer and gin…

… I’d end up making the Centurion from ‘The Life of Brian’ laugh…

One of my modules here is taught by a guy named Bernard McKenna.

He wrote for several vaguely well known British sitcoms and acted in a few of them too.

More impressively he has worked with Douglas Adams and all of Monty Python. The man had two roles in The Life of Brian and began his first class with ‘I was having dinner with John Cleese last week…’

It became my goal in life to make him laugh. This was sort of awkward, as I got the distinct impression the man wasn’t used to competition in his classes. I don’t want to come across as boastful or biased, but I’m pretty sure over our three classes I got more laughs.

And in the last class, his feedback on my script was ‘you should have written a comedy; I think you’ve got a talent for it.’

… I’d find myself lying to the the British Constabulary…

This was especially surprising given that about four hours earlier I’d claimed that the most likely person to complain about our house party to the police was me.

I had a bad feeling about the house party, and the forty-plus people that would be turning up. I spent the week envisioning myself homeless after being evicted from the property. I’d planned my escape route over the fence if the worst came to the worst.

It did, but it seems there is a big difference between the sober James D. Irwin, and the James D. Irwin who has been to the pub, had three pints of Guinness and was now onto somebody else’s warm lager.

I guess I was relaxed. The one person I’d hoped would show up did indeed show up, and when the rozzers arrived I was standing outside with her and a man dressed as a minister (it was a fancy dress event). I saw a wheel pull up and wondered who hadn’t arrived yet.

Then I saw the police hats.

As we were outiside, we were approached first. I was being very British about it— keeping calm, stiff upper lip.

I’d forgotten that I was dressed as Magnum, PI.

”Are you residents or guests? We need to talk to a resident about this party.”

I was indeed a resident, but they couldn’t prove it! They’d never make it stick! It’s not a crime if you believe it to be untrue! (That was going to be my defence if I got arrested; I was going to plead inebriation)…

”Oh no Officer!” I said, raising my can of beer. ”Just good honest guests!”

I didn’t stop there…

”A damn menace is what this is! I tried telling them about the noise— I said someone would call the Old Bill! No one ever listens to me!”

The police officer had stopped listening to me.

Seizing what seemed like the perfect opportunity to impress the girl I leaned toward her, covered my mouth before loudly whipering ”I JUST LIED TO THE POLICE!”

Rather than being taken like the bad-boy-rebel-who-plays-by-his-own-rules that I thought I was, I was scolded like a naughty child.

I don’t understand girls.

… I’d find myself dressed as a policeman in an alley and scaring young children…

I recently had to make a short film for an assesment.

We never wrote a script.

We just did it.

I met with my co-worker, Nick and Liam, to scout a suitable location to stage the murder of a baker.

The shoot was more troubled than Apocalypse Now.

The camera kept running out of power, people kept getting in the shot— it was set in 1911.

Our first choice location was covered in market stalls… we couldn’t find a toy gun… and fake blood started at £3.50.

We hustled into McDonald’s to steal ketchup, only to find they had run out.

We had to make do with BBQ sauce.

Finally, we were ready.

Then all the batteries died.

Nick had to run off to buy more; I was left in an alleyway wearing a toy police helmet. I was standing next to a guy holding what looked like a huge knife.

A young child stared at us as he came up the street. He got within a foot of us and decided he wasn’t taking any chances: he crossed the road, watching us all the while, ready to flee at any necessary moment.

Nick came back, we got all the shots we needed; we wrapped.

As we strolled up the road I felt Nick nudge me.

We’d walked about five yards.

He was pointing at house with a painted sign above the door:

C. E. Matthews

Family Bakers

Est. 1901

We got the camera out again.

It started to rain.

… I’d find myself struggling to find a good way to wrap up a post…

I guess this will have to do.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have more small mammals to chase.

Which reminds me: a few weeks ago I had a great time watching a mouse trying to vault over the edge of a flower bed.

It was like watching Point Break: hilarious and yet strangely inspirational.

Vaya Con Dios, Brah.


I was pulled over by the French police today.

I suppose it was only a matter of time before it happened.

Every time I see the police here I actually physically cringe because I’m so afraid of them.

But this morning I didn’t see them. I didn’t know they were there.

I also didn’t know I’d done anything wrong.


I had just gone through a yellow light, only to go about one car length to the next yellow light where I stopped.

Yes, there were two stop lights one after the other. About 10 meters (yards) apart, if that.

So I’m sitting here at the light when I see a cop walking toward me.

My stomach sinks. I begin replaying the last scene in my head. Was the light red? Did I forget to signal? Was I driving too fast? What’s he doing?

Oh no! He’s knocking on my window.

He doesn’t even wait for me to finish unrolling my window before he demands that I pull over across the street.

“OK,” I say.

But I continue to wait at the red light because I have to do a u-turn to pull over to the spot he’s pointing to.

“You ran a red light back there. Did you see all the other cars stop? Why did you keep going?” he asks me (in French of course).

“Oh. I didn’t realize it was red. I thought it was a yellow light.”


“Are you trying to be smart with me?! If you’re going to get smart with me I can be a real asshole! Is that what you want?”

“Erm. No. I’m sorry. I’m not trying to be difficult.”

“Well, why are you driving if you don’t know your colors. If you can’t tell the difference between green and red you shouldn’t be driving. Now pull over across the street.”

“I am. I mean, I’m going to. I’m just waiting for the light. Oh, there it is.”

So I pull over across the street where he had indicated. And at this point I have absolutely no idea what I said to upset him so much. My hands are shaking and my eyes are tearing up.

Once I’m pulled over he starts in on me again.

“Garbly, garble, blah, blah, garble, the bus … récoule.”

“What? I’m sorry. I’m not trying to be difficult but I really don’t understand.”

“Garb-ly, gar-ble, BLAH, BLAH, GAR-BLE, THE BUS … RE-COULE!” he says it slower and louder, as though I’m in some kind of comedy show where they’re making fun of people who do this. Saying it louder does not help me to know what the words mean, it just scares me.

Now I’m really crying. I have no idea what he’s asking me to do. I pulled over where he asked me to. I don’t see a bus in my rearview mirror.

I am parked in a bus stop area though, so maybe he wants me to back up? Yes. Let’s try that.

I begin backing up and I say, “Like this?”


He instructs me to continue backing up. When I finally am told to stop, he asks me for my license and registration, which I give him.

The registration cards here are in fancy little plastic blue billfolds and I didn’t know I needed to take it out for him.

He throws it back through the window and demands that I take it out of the plastic, which I do, hands shaking.

Everything I do seems to only make this situation worse. I know I’m not trying to be difficult, but for some reason he’s convinced that I am.


He looks at my license and asks me where I’m from.

I look at him confused. Did he really just ask me where I’m from? Or did I hear him wrong? Because it says right on my license in all caps: CALIFORNIA.


Again, with the slow loud talking, he asks me where I’m from.

“California, is that it?!” he asks.

Oui. Je viens de Californie.

At this point a second officer comes and I think I’m saved. He must be here to translate for me.

The first cop turns his back to me and speaks in the direction of the translator cop.

Il faut faire attention ici,” he says.

Il faut vraiment faire attention ici,” translator cop repeats.

Il y a des piétons partout ici, et les véhicules d’urgences aussi.”

And again translator cop repeats IN FRENCH.


At this point I’m really beginning to feel as though I’m on candid camera or something.

This looks like a comic sketch.

It goes on for several minutes: The first cop lecturing me, and the second cop repeating the lecture word for word, translating it from French into … French … as though hearing it twice will suddenly make me understand French better.

The imaginary bus I left space for should drive up right about now and hit both of them. Or maybe someone will come running down the street with pies for me to shove in their faces.

Are they going to break into song and dance next? I wonder.

“Is this really happening right now?” I’m thinking, when suddenly something translator cop says catches my attention.

Meme si le feu est orange il faut arrêter.

LIGHT BULB! Ah, so the first cop thought I was being smart because I called it a yellow light. Well, how was I supposed to know it was called an orange light here? Aren’t orange and yellow pretty much the same anyway?

“Sorry officer. I didn’t realize I had to stop for orange lights as well,” I say through my tears.

“Well, driving in Paris isn’t like driving in Provence. There you may be able to do that, but here it’s much more dangerous,” says translator cop, who is the only one talking anymore.

The first cop hands me back my papers and license.

Then translator cop smiles and says, “This isn’t the United States. We aren’t as severe as the police in the U.S., are we?”

In my head I say, “Well, in all the times I’ve been pulled over at home I’ve never been yelled at by a police officer, nor have I cried.”

But I say, “Erm. I don’t know.”

“No, we’re not so bad,” he says.

And then they take a few steps back from my car and begin pointedly ignoring me.

What is going on here? Does this mean I get to go?

“Can I go then?” I ask.

“Go ahead.” they say. “Just make a left at the next street and a left at the following light and you’ll end up back where you were headed.”

“OK. Thanks.”

I wipe away my tears and begin slowly driving away, unsure whether they’d suddenly change their minds and begin running madcap after my car, holding onto the bumper as I drag them behind me.

P.S. I looked for the word “recouler” in the dictionary when I got home and it wasn’t in there. I guess it means “to roll back” but I can’t be certain. I do know it doesn’t mean, literally translated, “to back up,” nor does it mean “to move in reverse.”