Rickey Done Lost His Number
by Todd Brendan Fahey
Finishing off my second pitcher at Grandma Gertie's--a lunch/beer joint in the hollow of Isla Vista, in the rich white student ghetto near UC Santa Barbara--I was feeling on the creeping side of wild, which experience has revealed to me is a good time to head home and load in a favorite CD...mebbe call it an early evening. But I was not afforded the luxury. Instead, I was beholden to score a goodly batch of psychedelics for a group of old friends promising to set me up with a brunette who knew of my needs.
What can I say? I'm a weak man, and the bone separating the space between my ears is abnormally thick and somehow fails to prevent me from bringing unnecessary harm into my life. So I traipsed through Dogshit Park, where I spotted a junky friend looking very much like he might benefit from the half-dozen Flexaril that I was willing to trade straight across for some information.
"Dun you ga no Codeens, mon?" he moaned, holding his back and scratching a grizzled beard, three years into the gray. He flashed a big con-man smile and fiddled with the knit beret that covered his afro. "Ah jess come from the VA, and it got me kind of strung out, mon, with all that aspirin bu'shit that dun nothin but gib me a stomach ache."
"Here, pop these all at once," I told him, ignoring his feeble complaint, and held out a palmful of outdated muscle-relaxant/painkillers left over from a full-contact softball tournament several years earlier.
He hoisted the remainder of a Mickey's Big Mouth and flushed three of the tablets down his throat, smiling, and wondered: "All right, brutha, what can I do you fo'? Yeh. I feel better in no time," he nodded. "You a good boy, know it? Been buyin' me beers for I dun know how long?"
"Four years," I answered, reflexively, remembering very clearly the first time I met Preston on a scary jaunt through Dogshit Park as a freshman, when the drugs had run dry in the dorm and the brave and desperate were forced to take a Walk on the Wild Side, as it were.
As a narcotic smile crept across Preston's face, I felt safe in asking the standard questions: "Seen any acid around?...Mushrooms, maybe?"
While most of my cronies were content to wallow with the worm at the bottom of a flagon of Mezcal, I felt the need to grapple with the Philosophies...unravel the kink in my frontal lobe, which made a young man with presumably Everything Going For Him feel compelled to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon in the company of known degenerates.
He scowled at me. "Mon, you know us niggahs dun mess with that shit."
I quickly reminded him of the drugs he had just swallowed, and the cases of beer and probably two hundred dollars I'd given him in close to half a decade, possibly out of guilt for being a Rich White College Kid, but more likely because a six-pack of Mickey's usually translated into something that I wanted. And I was willing to part with the change just to avoid having to switch connections--some of whom were a tad more...edgy than my friend, the Jamaican-American junky.
"Why you white boys dig them psy-kee-delics so much, anyway? They jess make me nervous. I get you some sticky-green ganja right now too-day!" And then he laughed. "But I guess you ain't hurtin' for that, neither, elst you'da come right out and ast for it."
"What's it gonna be, Preston?" I said, looking at my watch.
"Go see Rickey," he said. "He dun got none, but he know where it hide. Rickey the man."
I slipped Preston a slick, three-part handshake and headed out of Dogshit Park toward the Red Barn--some shag-house overhang, where Rickey was reportedly killing off a fresh pint of Jim Beam.
I was brimming with confidence at this point: Rickey was a toothless old darkey who owed me a couple dozen favors in the just shy of two years I had known him. His diet consisted of Jim Beam and popcorn; anything else, he claimed, would render him ill. He was totally dependant on the good nature of the local college students and grocery store hirelings, having entered the Korean War at age fifteen and then booted out at seventeen for something he never liked to talk about--without benefits or much of a future beyond walking the tracks from Philadelphia out West, where maybe he could at least shed a few pounds of clothes from his pack.
The last time I'd seen him, a brutally cold fog had crept through Santa Barbara, sending most of the Park People to local missions--a fate just south of shingles, where they were forced to get religion once a day and stay sober, or be tossed back into the weather like common farm animals. I would stop by to see Rickey after finishing the requisite round of pitchers with some college buddies on the six-year plan, and find him waiting like the family Dachshunds I have known over the years, smiling, knowing I was about to bring him an old coat or some mittens and fill his cirrhotic gullet with a major bag of popcorn, because I refused to contribute to the delinquency of an elderly black man whose whites of the eyes were now the shade of liver bile.
So I was feeling a bit wistful about seeing the old hobo and maybe feeding him--with or without the contraband. I was walking out of the park, when a bloated white drunk wearing three layers of clothing staggered to his feet and muttered: "Brother, whatcha need?"
I already had one foot in the crosswalk, but stopped short, not fully knowing why. "Acid," I said flatly.
"Blotter or 30cc?"
I stared at him for a few seconds, his moustache crusted with either morning's breakfast or the residue of it coming back up. "You can get liquid?" I mumbled.
"Man, you see this?" he snickered, a dry, rasping slur, fixing his two thumbs together to expose a small greenishblue dot on each. "Twenty years in Folsom, brother. If you're a narc, I'll...I can't go back to the joint," he said, staring at the sidewalk. "61-years old, brother. Another hitch would kill me."
"Nevermind that," I said. "What about the liquid? Where I come from, the stuff's just a myth."
"Heh heh," he cackled, "you don't know the Man. I spent time with the Man Himself."
I started to turn around and walk to the Red Barn and take my chances with Rickey.
"Leary, brother!," he yelled. "Ask him about Filthy Phil. You got wheels, we can be back seeing trees disappear inside an hour."
I had a tough decision at this point: Transport a stone-drunk convicted felon around town to hook up with a form of LSD I had only ever read about, coming supposedly from the High Priest Himself; or turn around and cross the street--forever burning that elusive bond of trust--and try to score with an equally-drunk old black man, who had probably experimented with nothing stronger than bourbon since 1971.
"Ahhhh," I moaned at the sky. "Why is this always so fucking difficult?"
He hopped into my car and immediately demanded that I pull over for a pack of non-filtered Camels and a bottle of Thunderbird, which I found myself paying for.
Two hours had elapsed since picking up Phil--most of which was spent driving fruitlessly around Santa Barbara and listening to stories of Tim Leary, and how the whole of Folsom Prison took him for a Mafia hit-man, as Dr. LSD had checked in under an assumed name, courtesy of the Federal Witness Protection Program, sporting an unnaturally deep tan and flashing a thousand-watt smile, courtesy of Sandoz Laboratories. The other few minutes were wiled away in the company of a Highway Patrol officer, after my cohort found it suddenly necessary to tip up and guzzle from his bottle of Thunderbird, just eighteen inches from the driver's side of a black and white.
I explained to the good officer that my Master's degree program in Transactional Psychology demanded that I spent some time with these people; get to know them...a matter of valuable Social Research. Yes. And, as I was instructed to study them in their natural foetid habitat, I let the poor drunkard slug off his bottle of gut-rot...but that I, officer, was as sober as a Baptist at Easter.
The cop seemed to understand, ordering Phil to pour the bottle into a curbside trash can--an act that pained him down to his rotten DNA.
As the cop sped off, Phil insisted that I drive to MacKenzie Park near La Cumbre Plaza, so that he could refuel and "make contact" with whomever might be toting this vial of Liquid Vision. When we got to the park, I saw two drunk blacks and a Mexican who stirred the contents of what would soon become dinner. The next few details remain hazy.
I smoked the dregs of a joint and, being neighborly, slugged down a half bottle of ripple, and then drove Phil and his two "partners" to Miratti's Liquors near the Fig Tree--another bastion of Santa Barbara homeless--to score an ounce of magic mushrooms. And was when Phil began verbally abusing his two friends in a manner that I thought might get him stabbed through the back of the passenger seat. When I tried to make peace between them, they broke up laughing.
"Ho ho...he's a kick," one of the black men howled. "Where'd you find this boy, there, Fi'thy?"
Phil leaned over and started to explain, when the other man cut in. "We calls ourselves niggahs 'cos we is. Means one's just lower'n a snake's belly," he nodded, smiling. "Filthy, here, is the biggest niggah of us all."
My brain was beginning to go soft. I skidded into Miratti's parking lot and fronted $75 for the hallucinogens, fully assured that they had been weighed, sealed and Quality Tested, whereby I could leave these beggars to their own meager devices and join up with the eight former college buddies who promised me a brunette of varied carnal persuasion.
Of course, it never came to pass.
After loitering around Miratti's, the police showed up and urged me to "keep clear of this kind of neighborhood, son...it's not safe."
I nodded, knowing a friendly piece of advice when I heard one. Besides, a half hour earlier, in my state of bilious rage, I'd begun using some fairly heavy racial epithets that I normally don't express aloud, and found myself on the business end of a Gerber mini-mag that I know could dice me into a fine pate in a matter of seconds. I licked my sodden wounds and headed back to Isla Vista, to see if Rickey might still be around.
Driving into the college town, I was forced to pull over by the numbing blare of a siren. I hung my head, resigned to spend an evening in the drunk tank, when the cop passed, followed closely by an ambulance. The street was crowded with gawking onlookers, so I slipped into the parking lot of Grandma Gertie's, where the shameful saga had begun earlier that afternoon.
Preston was sitting on a wooden table outside the sandwich shop. He smiled. "Got'ny mo' of them pills? They work real good on this back."
I shook my head, beginning to shudder with cold and a general guilty feeling. "What's all the heat about?"
"You dun know?" he frowned. "They try to wake him, but he don't move. You know how he get after too much whiskey. So they let him sleep it off. Only, he dun slept too long. Po' Rickey," Preston smiled. "I guess thas jess what happens to some niggahs."
Todd Brendan Fahey's collection of short stories, Dogshit Park & other atrocities, shall appear in print as another Far Gone Book in October 2009. $15.00/signed (excluding shipping). Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org