The Starlight on Idaho
Dear Jennifer Johnston,
Well, to catch you up on things, the last four years have really kicked my ass. I try to get back to that point I was at in the fifth grade where you sent me a note with a heart on it said “Dear Mark I really like you” and I turned that note over and wrote on the back of it “Do you like me or love me?” and you made me a new note with twenty hearts on it and sent it back down the aisles and it said “I love you! I love you! I love you! I love you!” I would count there to be about fifteen or sixteen hooks in my belly with lines heading off into the hands of people I haven’t seen since a long time back, and that’s one of them. But just to catch you up. In the last five years I’ve been arrested about eight times, shot twice, not twice on one occasion, but once on two different occasions, etc etc and I think I got run over once but I don’t even remember it. I’ve loved a couple thousand women but I think you’re number one on the list. That’s all folks, over and out.
Cass (in 5th grade you used to call me Mark – full name Mark Cassandra)
PS – Where, you might ask, am I? Funny that you asked. After all those adventures I’m at an undisclosed location right back here once again in Ukiah, the Armpit of Northern California.
- - -
Dear old buddy and beloved sponsor Bob,
Now hear the latest from the Starlight Addiction Recovery Center on Idaho Avenue, in its glory days better known as the Starlight Motel. I believe you might have holed up here once or twice. Yes I believe you might have laid up drunk in room 8, this very one I’m sitting in at this desk writing this letter, which is one of the few I’ll actually be mailing because I need a few things which are in that box in your closet, anyway I hope they’re still there. I think there’s a pair of jeans and I think there’s a few pairs of socks, and in fact if you would just bring the whole box. If you did that you would increase my holdings between six and seven hundred percent. I’m down to one of everything, except for two of these socks, which are both white, but they’re not the same brand. My good old boots collapsed, but I have been given an excellent pair of secondhand running shoes here, but I am writing to tell you this—that I am not running anywhere, I am standing my ground, I intend to do the deal and here’s why. Because the last four years have positively kicked my ass. In the last four years I have been shot , jailed, declared insane, etc. . . and even though I’m just thirty-two years old I’m the only person I’ve ever met who’s actually ever been in a coma. I have repeatedly been told by medical people who probably know what they’re talking about “You are lucky to be alive” and “Nobody around here has any idea why you aren’t dead.”
Wow, I think I just took a nap. They’ve got us on Antabuse here and sometimes, blip, you just fade out and dream. In a few days that’s supposed to pass.
They won’t let me call you but I’m pretty sure they’ll let you come to Family Group, which is on Sunday, two to four. Before I mail this I will check if it’s OK for you to come. I’d sure like it if you did. I wouldn’t mind seeing a friendly face in the circle there.
I’m not the type to trudge along, I’m the type to come shooting off the block, get twenty yards ahead of everybody else, and go stumbling and sprawling off onto the sidelines with a collapsed lung. And pretty soon I hear the others, here they come, I hear them trudging steadily along on their Road to Happy Destiny.
I’ve got to have somebody reminding me to stay in my lane and take it easy, that’s where my buddy Bob C comes in, he’s my sponsor in the AA, but the thing about your sponsor is you’ve got to call him. I don’t like to call him. He’s always got something wise and reasonable to say.
So if he turned up with my box of stuff and two cents of input for the Family Group discussion, what a relief.
- - -
Dear Old Dad and Dear Grandma,
I’m sitting here in this room at this desk at the Starlight Addiction Recovery Center writing letters to everybody I know. I’ve got about a dozen hooks in my heart, I’m following the lines back to where they go, I hope somebody up there knows I’m sincere about this, I could certainly use a little help, but I might as well announce right here that I’m not about to get on my knees, because I’ve never been that way, and if your pal Jesus is waiting around for somebody like me to do something like that before he comes down off the cross, I’d say he can quit waiting. Damn this place and everybody in it, I mean I have just about had it with rehabilitation, the thing is group therapy has just made the kinks in my mind all that tighter, it’s basically a circle of terrified bullshitters kissing this guy’s ass named Jerry, if you’re late to a session they lock you out, late to a second session you’re expelled back on the street, I mean let’s all just step one step back and take a look at the fact that I was never in the Army because I cannot stand exactly that kind of discipline. Oh yeah. I am just pissed off, and that’s about it. I have to spend two hours every single night in this room at this desk considering these hooks in my heart and writing down my life history, which we each go up at the two-week point and read to them, read to all the others, sit there in a chair, read your history of the downfall of your pitiful self to a circle of ghosts. I may or may not get around to doing it. Right now I’m just filling a notebook with jazz, waiting for my handwriting to improve itself. Like I say though -- I am I am I am sincere. I am sincere. Here’s some pretty good evidence -- this is my third time in rehab, but my first time to make it past four days. I’ve got my legs locked and I am staying on this one for the entire ride, those who think otherwise are entitled to their mistaken opinions, fuckem all, I hope they put down money against me, because if so then somebody’s walking home broke. Excuse the swearing, Grandma.
Well Grandma that was entertaining what you pulled in Family Group last Sunday but ridiculous. Come on back sometime but keep a lid on it, Okay?
I’m through being the one to explain this family to each other. Grandma I know how in your eyes it’s like every one of us is the runt from a litter of geniuses, we just need extra feeding and we’ll sprout. But the total number of times it adds up to that the jail has clanged on us is pretty impressive Grandma, and those are the statistics, they speak for themselves. Whatever these people in this rehab are doing to help me I think we should pause and consider it. I’m shocked to hear myself say that, but the last four years my habits have drug me behind them over some pretty rough ground and now I’m teachable. Let’s set our ideas aside and just listen. I thought you were listening at the Family Day group session on Sunday but I’m sorry, it turned out you were more like laying in wait to pounce like a slobbering cougar on poor Jerry, who I happen to despise, but he’s the one clean and sober three years while meanwhile I’m the one drunk not a week ago. I’ve just got nothing left to say. I get around a mirror and it isn’t pretty.
I mean to say you can’t just wipe at my snot and hand me a sno-cone. I don’t need grandmotherly help, I need trained and certified counselors to point a few things out. And I can’t have my Grandma at Family Group red-dogging the whole discussion and preaching about Jesus Christ and Satan, or anyway the last thirty minutes of a two-hour group, that’s how much time you took up jiving on Heaven and Hell, thanks a million. Luckily Jerry has a sense of humor. Thank you for representing the Cassandra family in a most stand-out way. I am not surrounded by demons here. These are trained and certified counselors.
I am through explaining this family to each other. It’s G-damn ridiculous is what it is. I guess I can swear here as you won’t be receiving this as I won’t be sending it. Do you remember when the Starlight was a motel? I remember when it was a motel and whores used to sit out on the bench at the bus stop across the street, really miserable gals with blotchy skin and dents in their head who’d been run out of San Francisco, you have to be pretty down on your luck to get knocked off the market in the Tenderloin. I mean you wouldn’t cross the street for them, but I guess once in a while some desperate character from one of these rooms in the Starlight would make the journey. Do you know what? I’ve had one or two minutes here when I might’ve done it myself. But no more whores, the bus-stop benches are empty. As far as I know the benches aren’t even there any more. I don’t think the bus runs past here no more.
I mean this is not a family to get their coat of arms tattooed on your chest. Do you remember when Bro broke his girlfriend’s nose in the living room and said “There, I rest my case.” Do you remember when Dad scooped his hand down in his soggy cereal and just sat there staring at nothing for about twenty-two minutes with a glop of it in his hand? Do you remember when John got his picture in the papers in Dallas being arrested, and he sent it to us in the mail like it was really something to write home about? You know what I remember most about that picture? The borders were all ragged because he had to tear it out of the page with his fingers. My oldest brother is somebody who the state of Texas won’t let him possess scissors. That’s your litter of geniuses, jailhouse geniuses in orange jailhouse overalls, rammed full of sin and picking up trash by the road. Stuffing trash in white sacks along the Interstate.
Incidentally, if this rehab program works and if I get it together, if I reach a point of balance, I will enroll in college. That’s not what I started out to say, but if I get so I can look people in the eye, get so I can make change and carry on conversations, I will get a part-time job and enroll in college. But as for my Grandma, as for last Family Group day
- - -
Dear Pope John Paul
Do you have two first names, or is Paul your last name, like you’re Mr. Paul.
And I know it’s not just dumb luck, I know I ordered the circumstances.
At first I was interested in getting high, I liked the feeling, I liked to laugh at nothing and get my feet crossed and go down on my ass. Then later it wasn’t fun, it was torture, but it was a button I could push to destroy the known world.
I mean it’s like I get that glass as far as just touching against my lower lip, and next thing I know I’m on the Ghost-Bus to Vegas, there’s a certain power in that you know, it’s like if you don’t like the movie you’re in you just grab this jug going by and it takes you and flings you into a completely different story.
What do they feed you when you’re the Pope? Try the stuff around here sometime. For lunch they give you a marshmaller and a coffee bean. It’s a salvage yard for people who totaled their souls called the Starlight Recovery Center in Ukiah, California, on Idaho Avenue. Ah hell what’s wrong with me? I won’t be sending no letter to the Pope.
But I’m telling you I think I’ve been dealing with the Devil and I could use some expert coaching. There really is a Devil, he really does talk to me, and I think it might be coming from some Antabuse giving me side effects, but be that as it may I need to know the rules. So far I think I’ve found out that I don’t have to obey his orders, I can just ignore him, sort of, but if I keep pissing him off is he going to get after my people?
- - -
Senor Mr. Business, you are one big fuckin bubble and I’d hate to be there when you go POP because then I’d get a lot of really rank stuff on me.
I mean I’m here to change or die trying but all I can think about is if this was still the old Starlight, the Motel Of Bad Dreams, I’d scrape together a couple hundred dollars and lay up here drunk until they smelled my corpse and broke the lock. But everything changes, and the Starlight’s all new and different, and I’d better get different too, and find a different way of filling up than alcohol. I like the thing this guy Wendell was saying in group, he put out the idea of pouring in the right thoughts into our poison thinking, -- like pouring good water into a glass of dirty water -- until I’m filling up and spilling over and just keep going like that till I’m running clean.
My Grandma puts it that Cass if you keep drinking your babies will come out crosseyed, and you’ll end up buried in a strange town with your name spelled wrong on your grave.
- - -
Here I am. Yep. Again. Same old story –
But this time I swear it’s feeling different. You’re the one person I’ve never jived, so that’s as far as I’ll go with that one. It’s feeling different, that’s as much as I’ll swear to.
If you want to come to Family Group you can. I have had one Family Group but nobody came but dear old Grandma and that led to an incident. I realize you’re stuck in Dallas but if you come home for a vacation, I wouldn’t mind seeing a friendly face. And if it was my sister Marigold, I’d be smiling. Marigold, sister Marigold. My noble young petunia. It’s every Sunday, Two PM. You’ll do better than Grandma I’d lay odds. She didn’t have a word to say, not until about three-fifteen. Family Group goes for two hours -- the wives, husbands, children, any close people, they all come for group therapy. Mostly sitting with rods up their butts and every face pulled tight, nobody knows if they’re about to get ratted out, get their covers pulled. Playing it close, in other words, as far as their twisted little games they play with their loved ones. Jerry asking “What would you say to your loved one,” and they say, “I don’t know. I pass” like that. But this one guy Kevin who’s been in these places plenty, he looks at his wife when it’s their turn and just comes out with it – he looked at her -- “I love you,” he was looking straight at her and he was sniffling, crying. She looked at him and went “I - I - I -” she looked at him like he was trying to get her to jump from a high-rise fire to save herself, but she just couldn’t quite say something real. “I don’t care about these people” Kevin said “I don’t give a damn about anything except that I love you.” . . . “I love you too,” she said, “Baby I love you too!” and while we all watched, and I mean Grandma too, this couple were embracing and crying for about five minutes. I don’t know how much long-run good it does to be doing that, but I tell you this, it certainly livens up the Family Day when you see that kind of thing happening, it just keeps the whole thing fascinating. So I was going to tell you about Grandma. So Jerry there, they call him the counselor or facilitator, Jerry, at the start of the session, he comes out with a pretty harmless lecture about how the booze isn’t anybody’s fault, it might be in the genes, in the blood, inherited. Grandma’s sitting there like Sunday school with her hands in her lap for I’d say one and one half hours, never a peep until I notice she’s cutting her eyes at Jerry, I mean they’re down to burning slits, man, and right in the middle of somebody else’s stuff she just lays into him with something to the effect of “Jerry if that’s really your name I think you’d climb a tree and tell a lie before you’d stand on the ground and tell the natural truth.” Jerry’s going wuh wuh wuh and she just draws up another lungful of this good old California air which she always claims is poison and says “Do you mean to say you’re going to pin all this on me his grandmother and on my ancestors too when we are good Nantahala Mountain people who never should’ve left North Carolina and my husband wrote speeches for the Mayor of Odessa Texas and our blood’s as good as yours and you say it’s passing down alcoholic generations like the sins of the fathers?” and rolls right along with a whole bitter lecture of her own about “you’ve got to stand on your own two feet and not blame your relatives for your own miserable mistakes” with her face three inches from Jerry’s. He looked like he was ready to go out and hang himself. I enjoyed that.
Needless to say, the subject of Jesus came up in this discussion, right about thirteen seconds into it. “The Alcoholic Anonymous is an arm of Satan, you might as well get that through your head, and shut your trap, and so on.”
Like I say, they hold Family Group on Sundays at two pm. Two to Four PM. And I’m required to be in attendance like I say, and if I don’t have any family at Family Group, what’s the point? I’m sort of pointlessly there. So you’re invited. I mean if they ever let you out of Dallas.
Over and out. Over and out. They give us Antabuse in here, and it makes you sleepy. Over and out.
- - -
I got too near the edge of the ride and flew off.
I am done done done man. Yeah, get out your fork.
You know it will be my 33rd birthday next October but in just the last couple years I’ve had at least three of those experiences where afterward you wake up and remember nothing and some medical expert is attaching back on various parts of you and saying “Son you are lucky to be breathing.”
Sitting on my bed hugging my own self, trapped in the arms of a moron, look, I know the one place I can’t be hunting for solutions is in the mirror.
But did you ever think that maybe there actually is a devil and he actually does get his claws in certain people and they actually do get dragged through the garbage of an evil life on their way to actually going to hell?
Here’s the thing, Luke. Last year I told you how I went to Texas. Houston, Dallas, Odessa, all of that. But I didn’t tell you that since then, since the last time I saw you and you behaved like an atomic shit-bomb in the harmless home of our dear old Dad and Grandma, since that night when you broke your girlfriend’s nose in the living room in front of the whole family and calmly said, “There, I rest my case,” I went to the good old prison in good old Gatesville to see good old Mom.
Yeah. I went to see our mother.
She shrank to a dot right while I was looking at her.
I’d take a nap and at some point I’d wake up,
Because I’d hear a dog whimpering, and I’d wake up,
And the dog was inside me, a puppy
Was crying to break its little heart inside me.
Your father rose a little bit above my origins
But I sank you all back down to my level
Fujiyama Mama, that was her song. Remember?
I’m a fujiyama mama and I’m just about to blow my top.
and when I start erupting
I don’t know when I’m ever gonna stop
Is that a real song, or did she make that up?
This is so fucked. So fucked. I’m full-up from my anus to my eyeballs. Excuse me, I have to burn this page and write a letter to God while it’s on fire. Question is, God, where are you? What the fuck on earth do you think you’re doing, man? We are in HELL down here, HELL down here, HELL. You know? Where’s Superman?
When Grandma showed up here for a demented visit she took me aside and says, “You are surrounded by demons, God has his hand around your guts and he is dragging you out of Hell.” Well, this is the longest ride out of Hell I ever heard about, and if I’m out of Hell, whose meat is that I smell frying? God has put his feet up and screwed the head off a Bud and has drifted off into a nap while I sit here burning and stinking on the barbecue.
- - -
Dear Melanie, -- you know, I’m glad I met you and heard the story from you in group about your daughter dying, and your purse. It would have made me even sicker if it was just a story about some person I could only think about. Like somebody I could only imagine. But it isn’t as hard since I got to really meet you. And hear about it in person. Because you have a sweet sincere quality, you’re bouncy, smiley, young for 61 years, and no matter how hard you’ve been knocked around I saw you in a light, you’re beautiful.
These last four years have chewed several giant holes right through me. I thought I was finished before. But that was minimum damage compared to this.
Your fellow inmate
Mark Cassandra (Cass)
- - -
I did not enjoy it at your Jamboree last night
- - -
I’m gonna roll a cigaret and I’d like to light it and get through the entire thing in a state of sanity.
I did see the Devil one time.
- - -
To continue, this woman in group, Melanie, she’s old enough to be an old lady but she’s not, she’s sweet, soft, very easy in her soul, it seems like. She starts off talking pretty matter of fact -- then it’s getting to be a regular thing, somebody who starts out like that suddenly breaks down, full of tragedy -- she, Melanie, lost her daughter and two grandkids in a fire last year. -- “My daughter was a Good Christian girl. Two fine good beautiful kids, she raised them right, raised them Christian.” Lost them in an apartment fire. Now. Here’s one for you Doctor --
While she, Melanie, slept in the waiting room at the Burn Unit and her daughter died, somebody snuck out their hand and stole her purse. Took the money out and threw the purse in the trashcan. She found it in the trashcan later, after they told her that her daughter and two grandkids were dead.
In group the other night a guy just like me, said “I Woke up in Vegas sticky, broke, and confused” -- a perfect description of that place, I’ve never GONE there, just WOKE UP there. That guy was funny. Reminded me of Gary Cooper, a real cowpoke down on his luck in the smelly cities that ate the prairie. How long was he around, two days? I heard he went to the Aces Motel two blocks east of here at the corner of Fourth, and he’s shacking up with some Mexican kid, not a girl, a boy, I mean that’s the trouble inside him, he’s got two acts going at once, he’s a rope-em ride-em cowboy and he’s a happy little sodomizer, and it’s shorting him out. That’s what we gotta do is get down to just one story, the true person we are, and live it all the way out.
I’m getting depressed. Depressed. I think this Antabuse is going wrong on me. You said we’d feel run down or sleepy two or three days to start with, but you forgot to say prepare to fall down through a trap door in the bottom of your soul. I mean when I lie on my bed in this room by myself I get dragged down to a black place. I’ve heard people talking right outside my window who aren’t there when I go look. Around other folks, I mean real folks, folks who are really there, I feel absolutely fine. They talk, I talk, everything appears as normal. Get in this room and shut the door behind me and I’m alone with somebody who’s not there. It’s a feeling I don’t like, as if somebody’s lurking.
- - -
Dear Friends and Neighbors in the Universe
Dear Rolling Stone and TV Guide
I think I need to tell you I am totally out of Kools. Some kind person has donated a whole can of Bugler that we can roll out of, but I tell you what, Bugler smoke burns like fire from your lips on down to the pit of your lungs. So -- if you brought me a couple packs of my brand. Know what I mean? Kools.
I have written thousands upon thousands of these letters and the reason I don’t run out of ink – I don’t think I’m actually writing too many of them down. Or any of them. I think I’m just wandering hiking marching all around this room like it’s a small tiny mental institution hallucinating. Writing letters on imaginary paper.
Don’t tell me to tell them about it. Didn’t you hear me telling them about it.
Shut up. I already told them. Hey about this Antabuse. I think I’m Christ. I hear the Devil. And so, “Get back in your room.” Stupidest thing I ever heard.
That is so Eddie.
That is so Eddie, man.
They are the Eddiest most ridiculous people that if you pull this letter up to your ear you can hear me laughing at them like a ciyoot.
They are a bunch of Eddies and so ridiculous
flat faces and flat minds.
Or as they say down over in along through Texas, Fuck all y’all.
These last four years. Sometimes I wonder if I didn’t die. And I’m really dead, and this is Purgatory, Heaven, or Hell. And it’s up to me which one.
One thing is you don’t get me to do things. I don’t listen. Might as well shut up.
I am not a slave.
Where I just was. . . was the Road of Hell. Black boiling dirt and burning diesel smoke. Nothing burns hot as diesel. People by the side runover squashed killed and dead. Devil laughing so close I saw the veins in his teeth. You don’t get me. My ticket says to Texas. He rolled the stone aside and in the cave the mysteries flitted like bats and insects, here are the answers to everything, said the Devil, like UFO’s and life beyond the grave. Like what was elvis thinking, what was elvis thinking and feeling in those last dark days? Like just who masterminded JFK? And the cave was his mouth like a bathroom full of stink and his tongue popped with cheap sweat. Yeah boy he dragged me down to his jamboree. Dragged me down through the toilet formerly known as my life. Down through this nest of talking spiders known as my head. Down through the bottom of my grave with my name spelled wrong on the stone. Standing on his stump shouting jive. Jest get a whiff of sulphur and wet fear!
Come breathe these rank aromas for the purposes of course
Of scientific inquiry alone! The mayor is inside already! Come! It’s all respectable! Satan says The gamblers shake the dice, And shake I the gamblers, Snake eyes in Paradise! Satan shouts You know who Judas was? He worked for me I run the jamboree, and Hollywood and Vegas, and start all the wars, vampire breather of the baby’s breath, I the worker of the strings to jerk the fools dancing at my Hellhole Hoedown jamboree, Glue-huffers, jelly-rollers, paint-suckers, Bikers, truckers, cowboys, teachers, preachers, About a million hipsters hooked on dope, Shaky alkies with their nerves burned up, Hey God where is you you ain’t nowhere, We search for some faint signal from your power. . . All that just now, right now, while I’m writing it down.
Not yer boy,
- - -
Dr so and-so
I forget your name. Listen to me. I can’t get this across to anybody in this ridiculous pathetic excuse for a rehab but I have to tell you I think this Antabuse you gave us is backfiring with some serious side-effects. I lie on that bed over there and my mood goes black and then I can feel my mind, my actual mind, pulling itself in two. I hear the Devil laughing, and I hear him ordering me to kill people. Don’t worry, he’s been running me all my life but he can’t tell me straight out what to do, there’s no way I would ever take a direct order from anybody, that’s why I never went into the military. But if you read the papers you see every day where somebody just jumps up and chops the baby’s head off, and I have to tell you there’s been some of that in my very own family. My mother when I was four years old went psycho herself and has been in prison for twenty-eight years in Gatesville, Texas, and prison has not in any way reformed her. She should’ve gotten out by now, but she won’t behave and they just keep adding on.
Last week here in Number 8 I had a train-jumper wino roommate with slashed-up shoes and a tattoo on his arm said Eat Fuck Kill. That was his complete statement. Never said hello, never said good-bye. Never took off his shoes. Here two days and then up and gone. He was all hate. I’ve got to get sober or I’ll get that way where every breath you breathe just stinks and it only takes one minute in a new town before you’re mad enough to leave. Hang out one solitary day and then you’re off again on a freight car waving your middle finger in the air. When the Devil gets that last hook in your heart, then he starts yanking you town to town. My grandma tells the truth about the Devil. Well, all right, when she says “the Devil’s pulling on you” it sounds like somebody’s grandma babbling, but when it’s happening to you it’s snakes crawling into every orifice, and you can’t move to stop them getting in.
My sponsor Bob Cornfield dropped around finally with a box of my stuff, not much, a small box and the contents inside still rattled. He gets his cigaret going standing here in this room, room 8, looking around like he invented the place. These AA guys are faking about eighty percent of it, but let’s just hang on to the truth, they’re clean and sober and I’m the one woke up moaning with his head in the toilet not two weeks back. I think to see me here made him sad, but he won’t show pity. Not allowed.
I told him I feel like I might be Jesus Christ and the Devil is sending me messages, and he said “You can’t be the Second Coming, cause I am.” I think it was a joke, but I’ve lost my talent for humor, it scared me when he said it, everything they say sounds very deep. Their voices sound like they’re echoing out of eternity.
Let’s just face the music and the facts. Somebody’s going out of my mind.
Your patient at the Starlight,
Mark Cassandra (just call me Cass)
- - -
To dr in charge of antabuse complaints: Meanwhile, all these people in group, I hate them. Maybe oh well some of them aren’t so bad, I don’t know which ones though. OK I like so-and-so. First several days I was here she was like a robot in group. Carolina that’s her name. Changed her shirt and pants but never varied her stuff otherwise. This was Linda’s group, afternoon group, each time Linda says how do you feel Carolina, what’s your story Carolina, and every time she gives back the same speech, you could make it into a song, same thing over and over the first five days, not bad looking, about 40 or 45, kind of chubby but in a sexy way, made herself up just right, like a doll, every morning. Like this is the Riviera Rehab, man. And she wore these middle-age type big-enough shorts, but these white little-girl patent leather shoes. Singing her song, “My husband left me fifteen years ago for a woman from the firm he worked for, just left me flat, and every morning for the last fifteen years I wake up and think about those two and I get sick way way down inside my stomach. Every morning for fifteen years. Most mornings, to tell you the truth, I have to vomit about it.” Woman in charge, Linda, says “You mean you feel angry.” “No, I’m not angry, I’m just a little disgusted at the behavior.” Every day Linda says, “You mean you feel angry.” “But I’m not angry, Linda, and I don’t believe you’ve heard me, for you keep on asking that question.” Finally she says “Linda, I AM NOT ANGRY LINDA YOU FUCKIN CUNT-FACE BITCH WHORE” and so on, screaming to bring back Elvis while ripping out of the room. Down the hall and clear across the courtyard screaming like an F-16. She’s gone, and we’re all sitting there in that room shocked deaf dumb and blind like it was lined with foam rubber, it was that silent, I’m telling you, I mean we were as shocked as if she’d just blown herself to bits before our eyes. Well, I assumed we all assumed what I assumed, that she’d never be back, she’d keep marching through the gates and out to the first bus to come along or stick her thumb out, one of those, and be gone gone gone. Like my roommate Eat Fuck Kill. But the very next morning here’s Carolina sitting in her usual chair, acting oblivious, and I have to say, her eyes were so much light, like somebody’s put two suction cups on the sockets and sucked out all the dark and sadness, she looked like a normal human, “Now to get to the truth” she said, “Hey everybody, I was a whore in Denver before I got married, at Madam Lafayette’s, for almost six years, for five years and seven months, till technology and the Mob ruined the business with credit cards and massage parlors, and then I got married, and now I’m divorced, and I don’t know what else to say. I didn’t want to face how I felt about my husband and that bitch of his. I feel a lot better now that I know I hate those two for running off and sticking me with the tab for the rent and phone and the whole middle class life. I think they live in Mexico. I hope they get a few diseases that make them miserable.” Big smile. Having fun. Ready to cut the cake. You just figure she’s gonna do the deal and make the program and she’s turned all around.
I mean that’s how it is. Group therapy isn’t some gigantic mystery. We alkies are just a tangle of lies like the insides of a golf ball. You start cutting into one little rubber band in that mess like how do you really feel about your husband shafting you, and the whole ball starts unraveling and whizzing around the room.
Next thing you know, “I was a whore if you want the damn truth.” Giving us the uncensored story without any masks. “I worked in madam so-and-so’s establishment of sinful delights.” She spent her whole twenties in this old-fashion place in Denver with a piano and a Madam strolling around joshing with the clients.
Now look look look look look. I know we’re here to get honest. And I feel I’ve been doing it the last few months, even before I landed here again, but I still don’t see Mr. AA Breakthrough in the mirror. I see something lurking over my shoulder. You know who it is. Devil been talking to me. Telling me to kill everybody in here. Laughing. I hear these things clearly but I still feel sane, sane. Do you get me? I AM SANE. OVER AND OUT. like I know I shouldn’t be hearing these things, so what is the cause? Am I torching out on Antabuse? Why do I think I might be Jesus Christ and I’m supposed to come here and suffer, really suffer, suffer past your most excruciating fantasies of torment and why do I think everybody’s looking at me because they know this about me? Why does the radio seem to know what I’m thinking and pick up the conversation right in the middle of my thoughts when I pass the window in Jerry’s office and he’s listening to the news? I say “I’m not killing anybody, Satan,” and the radio says “The President’s order has been disobeyed.” If I am Jesus and I’m going to Hell, then I want you to say so, you’re the one I’m asking, Dr. whatsyername, and if I’m not, then I want you to get me off these pills because they’re obviously running me the wrong way. They’re supposed to make me shy of alcohol, not completely unable to think.
I don’t feel like MR. AA Breakthrough. I don’t feel like Hey now give me a great big hug as we trudge that Road To Happy Destiny they talk about at the meetings.
But I do feel kind of pleasant contemplating that woman Carolina. I feel like my mind is quiet at least for a couple seconds, at least for the last few puffs off this roll-em. I’d like to get through a whole cigaret without thinking crazy. I don’t remember my previous goals but the goal right now is to get through this cigaret man without starting up Satan’s Jamboree.
Still me, still in here, still your patient so what’s the problem,
Mark Cassandra room 8
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Dear Dr Cusa,
Thanks for taking me off the Antabuse. Every hour I feel more down to the ground. I don’t know why I didn’t have the balls to just stop taking it without your say so. It’s like I know I don’t know what’s good for me. The last four years. Wow. Thanks for taking me off that stuff. The world has been saved.
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You think I didn’t recognize you that time?
It was outside of Harold’s Tavern downtown about three-four minutes ago. Come out onto the street right after Happy Hour exactly at the moment the sun descended.
There he is. Guy leaning up against the wall in an alley with his knee bent back, sole of his foot against the wall like we used to do, we kids who thought we were so tough.
What do you want? I said.
All of you is mine already, he said. So what difference does it
make what I want?
I said, Are you a messenger of God?
Worse, he said.
I asked him, What could be worse than a messenger of God?
Basically the problem was I knew I had done things I would have to pay for. I felt I had done things I would have to pay for.
Then I went inside the monster hotel and the desk clerk was complaining to some people. He showed us the money that guy had just paid with. He’d pasted the corner of a twenty onto a one-dollar bill. And Satan that was you. I mean, that’s who Satan is, you’re a phony, can’t even come up with twenty bucks for a box and a bunk at the Savoy.
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Yeah, they took me off the Antabuse. That Antabuse was your last thing. Well it didn’t work. Everybody thinks you’re just this amazingly cool cat in a striped suit in a ragtop Caddy suckin on a cellphone, licking fire from your fingers, plotting the downfall. Pulling on the strings. But you got no strings. Not one of these strings from my heart-hooks lead off into your evil hands.
These hooks leading out from my heart to the hearts of people who you don’t deserve to hear the mention of their names. Leading out from my heart to the hearts of people I love. So get outa my Caddy, Daddy. Ain’t neither one of us driving this thing. Who’s driving it is and I feel like a genuine pussy saying it but a Power Greater Than Myself.
Mark Cassandra, a more or less Christian
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Dear Brother John
John I’m gonna come and see you – are you in a regular prison yet? Or do they have you drooling on a ward somewhere?
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Dear John the Strangest Of All us Cassandras,
And oh say there incidentally I do mean it – you’re the strangest of all us Cassandras, more strange than Dad, more strange even than Mom in prison. More strange than me too don’t matter how many times they shoot me. More strange than Bro, but just by a hair.
I’m writing letters to everybody I can think of. You and Bro are getting a little ink here. May the cops never catch him, and now that you’re caught, may they treat you gently and release you in the near future. I’m writing letters to each one of you lucky winners who has a hook in my heart [[and a string leading into yours.]] Every time your heart beats I can feel a little jerk, just a little something. Whether you like it or not, that’s love. Love for the idiot Grandma. Love for the medicated Father. Love for the brother on the run and for the brother and the mother in prison in Gaitsville and Huntsville. May the visions of your heart be blessed. That’s what I heard a preacher say on TV the other day. May the blessings of the sun and the rain find us out.
Love for the sister who should divorce us all. Love for sister Marigold who should divorce us once and for all.
Not sitting down, not writing with paper and pen, just pacing back and forth like a wolf in a zoo, just writing with the fire in my mind.
Spent a while there thinking convinced believing that with the proper induction of chemicals I can be a cross between James Bond and Jesus Christ.
I believe you and Marigold were the two of us not to get mixed up seriously with substances. She’s turned out so golden. Then you on the other hand. Well, it’s not like the induction of chemicals is required. A few bad days on Planet E can warp you just fine. And Mom. Whew. She sucked in enough stuff to count for the whole family’s warpage and plenty more. I was tiny but I remember . She used to sit there in her blue recliner, snorting glue or sucking Sterno through a sponge or whuffing spray-paint through a sock. And failing to understand the television. And praying to strange hallucinations. And getting results. That’s about all I remember. To me she wasn’t so much of a mother, really, John. More of a sort of a story or fairy tale. Kind of a legend. Mom in Prison in Texas. Kind of a myth. Mom. Prison. Texas. Finally I went to see her. Had my birth certificate and everything, they couldn’t keep me out. Guard takes me through to a room says wait a while son, comes back in twenty minutes and he says, “Your Mom’s inside,” and yeah, That’s what brings me here today, to see the famous unremembered person face-to-face. Nothing happened. I didn’t feel a thing. I got no relief. She’s a flumpy Mexican gal in a white uniform looks like she cleans rooms. Gray hair with a couple black streaks. medicated to keep her mind off suicide. It worked too well. She was deeply content. A freight train bearing down on her wouldn’t get a response. Being around her relaxed me. Like resting in the shade by a wide, flat pond. She thought Dad was dead. What, no, Dad’s not dead! He’s not? No, Mom, he isn’t dead, he’s just upstairs. Mostly crying and watching television. She says Yeah he never was much good around the house. Which wouldna been so bad, I guess, except he never went anywhere else. Just hung around making up poems and never writing them down. What’s California like?. . . Mysterious, Mom. All filled with shiny mist. And foggy sunshine. . . . God, that sounds nice, but oh well, I’ll never get there. They say that heaven’s a lot like California. What is the problem with you boys? Problem? -- Maybe you notice I’m a walking talking Piece of Shit. She leaned close and looked at my face. You could see her mind wiggling right through her eyeballs. Then she had this flash of clear light. Said Sorry doesn’t get it, I realize that. I said that’s what I come for. [I said [Lady], that right there is what I come for.]
Old Bro came back to Ukiah last summer sometime. Brother Luke hisself with his ass showing through the pockets of his jeans and still putting everybody else down. I wouldn’t have recognized him on the street. I’d need a flashlight and a map to find Luke’s eyes in that poor sick mean sad face. Came back to make trouble for his old girlfriend, did you ever know her? Susie? Bro says “poking around in her stool for my broken heart.” Lives in mud and gonna bring the whole world down to taste it. He wants the world to realize how for some this life comes hard, it’s all uphill, they just get tired, they just get so weary, they just want the cops to carry them away to that sweet land called jail and tuck them into their trundle-beds. What I wish is that he could come to a place like this and hear a couple people tell the truth. You hear the truth and you remember it was always there. It’s inspiring, Brother John. It’s fantastic how men and women come out from under these lifelong lies. Roll them off their backs and say phew, whoosh, long time carrying that mother. And the things they tell. The shit they’ve done. The blood they’ve swum through. The fool moves, the lucky chances, the wins and losses, all the burnt down houses, all the children wailing in the storms, the lucky hit at the last minute, or turning their back on the hearts they broke over and over, or getting busted on their birthday, or thinking they’re dead then waking up with the sun all warm on their face, and hitching home cross-country in the rain just in time to say that one important thing before their father takes his dying breath, or getting there too late and saying it to his grave instead. This one speaker Howard had us all frozen up, we listened to him stock-still for forty-five minutes. He started out simple, comes out of high-school, tries the infantry, finds the service kind of boring without a war. Drinking on leave and weekends. Gets his discharge, goes to Santa Rosa Community College. Going for a business degree. Drinking on weekends. Itchy and discontented. One night, he has this friend who’s a cop in SR, guy says, ride along with us and get a taste. He says two hours into the ride I’m feeling like I never felt. These guys tell a citizen what to do, he better do it. They give orders and they’re obeyed and I never knew how bad I wanted that. Zip into the Santa Rosa police training program, then I’m a cop, got three girlfriends, one black, one Asian, one white, cruising in a squad car all night long, kicking ass, busting heads, top of the world, man. One year in I’ve got a sweet little wife and a six-week baby daughter. Two years in they put me on Narcotics and Vice, undercover. My job is to hang out in bars and party like Nero. Can I do that? Hell, what do they think I’ve been doing every free minute anyhow? And will I buy drugs? Gee, okay, I’ll give it a shot. And Howard, they say, listen, sometimes in the course of your duties you will have a line of coke laid out before you and in the course of your duties you’ll just have to put your head down there and suck it up. It’s part of the ride, okay Howard? Yeah, I say, part of the ride, and inside of six months I’m the biggest coke-head, the biggest dealer, and the crookedest cop in Northern California. I did armed robberies on dealers and drugstores up and down Highway 101. I had seven girlfriends and I was pimping every one. My sweet little wife divorced me and took my daughter and I never even noticed. The force gave me a thousand a month to buy coke in little bags and turn them in, and I had thirty thousand under my bed in a shoebox next to three or four kilos of coke the force would never see. I’d wake up in the afternoon and fare forth and wreak havoc. I murdered three guys I still claim the world is better off without, but I’m not the judge though, am I? But I sure thought I was. I took the lives of other human beings. I thought I was God. I looked in the mirror and said so -- looked in the mirror and said, You are God. When God decided to prove me wrong, it all came down like a mountain of dogshit on my head. They rolled me up and socked me with so many charges, including at one point second degree murder, that if they stacked them up and ran me through I’d be doing time a hundred years past my natural death. I’m lying in jail and that cell is sucking the drugs and the fight and the soul right out me and giving it to God and God is squeezing it in his fingers, man, every last fiber of my soul in the almighty grip of the truth. And the truth is that everything I’ve done, every thought I’ve thought, every moment I’ve lived, is shit turned to dust and dust blown away. God, I said, fuck it, I’m not even gonna pray. Squeeze my guts till you get tired, that’s all I want now, because at least it’s real, it’s true, it’s got something to do with you. So then I think I died. I think I died in jail. My life itself just left me, and who you see before you now is someone else. So I wandered like a ghost through the court system and came out with a sentence of ten years. Did seven, one day at a time. Prayed every day and every night, but only one prayer: Squeeze till you get tired, Lord. Kill me, Lord, I don’t care, as long as it’s you who kills me. Just got out eight days ago, and rehab is part of my parole. And nothing to show for thirty-six years on this earth. Except that God is closer to me than my next breath. And that’s all I’ll ever need or want. If you think I’m bullshitting, kiss my ass. My story is the amazing truth.
And me too, me too Brother John. My life is the amazing truth. Like Dad says “I put down one foot on the road of regret. And set out on my journey.”
Just to sketch out the last four years – broke, lost, detox, homeless in Texas, shot in the ribs by a thirty-eight, mooching off the charity of Dad in Ukiah, detox again, run over (I think, I’m pretty sure, I can’t remember) shot again, detox right now one more time again. Might’ve been one or two more detox trips and humiliating vacations at Dad’s in there. Shot twice by the same guy, first he just grazed me when I was stealing his money and coke, second time he looked me up and got me in the shoulder with a twenty-two derringer. Those twenty-two long-rifles HURT. I pity the folks who get the experience of the bigger calibers. Guarantee you a forty-four would take the arm right off a wiry sort of guy like me. More than once woke up with some medical professional saying, “You should be dead.”
That’s what it’s gonna say on my gravestone --
“I Should Be Dead.”
Your Brother In Christ,