Thursday, August 21, 2008

Grateful to be hitting 30 (1)

My birthday’s coming up. I’m turning thirty this year and while most people would have an issue with that number, I don’t. The way I see it, some of the things that have happened in my life, I’m grateful to be thirty.


I was a freshman in high school. I was raised in Florida, Miami to be exact, and I ended up going to an inner city school. In my neighborhood there were two high schools. One was an all Latino high school; most of the Cuban kids went there. It was right at the border with Coral Gables, which is a some what posh area. To go there meant that you had some status. When you told people that you went to Miami Senior High, they took you seriously because they knew that it meant you had money.

The other school was Miami Jackson Senior High. It was a school that was located right in the middle of nothing. There was nothing but small businesses in the area that were working out of warehouses. There was a 20 MPH speed limit but we were on a main drag and no one slowed down for the kids. The population was about 95% black, 4% Hispanic and 1% white (That poor white kid). You went to that school and you weren’t up to snuff you would more than likely get your ass kicked on a consistent basis for the four years you were there.

My hope was to go to Miami Senior High but alas it wasn’t my fate. I ended up in Jackson. My mother freaked when she found out. She was a bit of a racist and didn’t want me hanging around with ‘black folk’. She tried to fight about it with the school board but because of how the district was cut up, she didn’t have a leg to stand on.

So here I am, straight out of being a big fish in my middle school to staring up at the competition in high school. All of my friends had gone to Miami High which left me stranded.

Jackson is still an imposing school to this day, the original building was three stories tall, and they expanded and added a few more buildings that were also two stories tall. Open air hallways so you could always see the weather and it was open campus at the time I was there. I had a couple of strikes against me when I walked into that school. The first, and the most widely understood, was that I was a pudgy kid. I had been fighting with my weight my entire life and in high school that’s like having a big ass kick me sign on your back. I also wore glasses. I have bad eye sight and have for as long as I can remember, some people call the glasses that I wear Coke bottles and I can tell you that to this day I’m incredibly glad I didn’t have the triple threat of having to wear braces as well.

I tried to wear clothes that I felt were ‘hip’ at the time but when you’re overweight and wear glasses, even if you’re plated in gold you’re going to get mocked.

I’ve always been into comics and one of the first things I found out when I got into school was that there was a comic club and of course I joined. This was at the height of the X-Men craze, so everyone was talking mutants and powers and when I walked into the comic club that very first time I made fast friends with a guy named Abel.

Abel is what could be considered in this day and age as a bit of a poser. At the time of the story however he was the baddest bad ass that I knew and we made fast friends and started hanging out. He had a car, was a sophomore and didn’t mind having me around. We talked a lot about nothing and drove to lunch on a regular basis, he always had a gangsters roll and usually paid for lunch. The kid was rail thin but wiry. Bushy black hair and a pock marked face, he did have a winning smile and a good sense of humor, he just thought more of himself than he really was.

About a month into our friendship he started dating Sandra. Now Sandra was quiet the catch in my estimation. She had green eyes, long brown hair, full lips and curves in all the right spots. She was sweet but aggressive. She liked him because he had an air of danger to him. On the weekends the three of us would go out to the mall and hang out, maybe catch a movie, maybe just go and do nothing but there was a very big difference between Abel and myself.

I’ve already told you how I was raised, so I did all of the things that I was taught I was supposed to do for a woman. I’d open her door, if she got cold, I’d give her my jacket. Now it’s not that I was putting the moves on her, it was that Abel didn’t know these little things. He didn’t know that a girl wanted you to walk next to them instead of in front of them. It was all that little stuff that ended up forming our odd little love triangle.

They hadn’t been dating long when Sandra would just call me to talk instead of him. At one point, I remember this, I was at the top of the stairs on the third floor and Sandra caught up to and planted one right on my mouth. I headed back into class and one of the girls noticed that I had lipstick on my face. The good thing about high school is that there were so many different groups that people didn’t really talk to each other.

Still I knew that I had just crossed some invisible line that couldn’t be uncrossed. The three of us kept hanging out but I have to admit to being weirded out knowing that my friend’s girl was making eyes at me while hugging him.

Eventually our little group broke up. Some of it was due to life and the rest of it was just due to burn out. You hang out with one person too long in high school and there’s that possibility. So Abel and I burned out on each other, Sandra burned out on him and somehow she and I ended up hooking up.

There are two stories that I think should be told in this instance that I think reflect my gratitude for hitting 30 and being where I am in life.

Miami has a train system, not a MAX like Oregon, but a genuine train system that connects the important parts of the city together. Sandra lived right off of one of those stops. It was a four block walk to her house from the station if you cut through some backyards and avoided some not so friendly spots.

I had cut class one day to go see her at home because she had missed school. This is the age of pagers and everyone had one, me included. She sent me whatever code meant come over (fuzzy on that one) and so I did. When I got to her place the house was dark. I had been there once before with Abel and knew the layout of the house. The front yard was totally paved over; there were a couple of cars in various degrees of repair lying out. The front porch was barred in, with tile on the floor and two windows one that looked into the living room and one that looked into one of her bother’s bedrooms. In Florida, everyone has potted plants and nine times out of ten, you’ll find a spare key there. That’s where I was told to look, which I did, and go inside and make myself comfortable.

Imagine my surprise when there was another guy already sitting in the living room, in the dark, wearing dark clothing, waiting for her to come back.

Ulysses was his name. Very non-descript. The type of guy you want with you when you’re pulling a heist because everyone will have a different description of him, because he looks like everyone and no one. Just a nameless face in the crowd. Sandra, like the majority of my school, including the Principal, was 420 friendly and this guy was a runner.

While Sandra was somewhat of a catch she also came with a catch 22, three older brothers who were all involved with the Latin Kings. So they knew enough to get in trouble but weren’t well connected to be trouble, at least in my mind.

So he’s waiting to make his delivery and I’m just sitting around waiting for her hoping to get some tail when I notice there’s a rifle sitting out in the open of the living room, leaning up against the television set that was staring out at us like a blind eye. I picked it up, it wasn’t too bad, it felt nice on the hands. I’m staring at it thinking how it had gotten a lot of use out of it. I lift it up and put a bead on Ulysses, “BANG!” I say.

My finger was on the trigger this entire time. I had a mind to pull it to hear that dry snap of dropping the hammer on an empty chamber but something told me to think twice so I didn’t. After my moment of silliness I brought the rifle off my shoulder and popped the chamber, it was loaded.

I had come a second away from becoming one of those statistics about violence at home without meaning it. I could’ve been sent to Juvie since it more than likely would have been manslaughter to some degree. I remember the strength leaving my legs and my knees buckling when I realized what I could have done t the guy. Dealer or runner, it didn’t matter, I would have taken another life.

The second story I have about this girl is the infamous story.

Another day where class was cut, I swear I spent more time cutting class than in class itself during high school, and she was home alone.

In Florida, even when it’s cloudy it’s hot. Most places have central A/C but she lived in an older house and they only had one window unit in one of the bedrooms, so that’s where we went. We had been going at it for about forty five minutes when the door swung wide open on us. One of her older brothers stood in the doorframe looking in on us.

“Get dressed.” Was all he said. She and I laid there for a second just staring at each other, coming to grips that we got caught with our hand in the cookie jar. We were unsure of what was going to happen.

“God damnit I said GET DRESSED!”

We hopped up out of bed, got our clothes on and I bee lined it for the door. I kept expecting to hear a car start revving looking to make me a splatter on the road, perhaps the slider of a gun as a shell was loaded into the chamber but I didn’t hear either of those things, not that day.

Instead I got an unexpected visit four days later. Like I said earlier it was open campus which meant that when the lunch bell rang you had the chance to go out and get food from wherever. On this day I was going across the street from school for some chicken and fries when a Green Accord with tinted windows came screeching to a halt in front of me. Out piled four guys, all of them looking incredibly pissed and one of them is the brother that caught me with Sandra.

He came within two feet of me and pulled out a .38. He points it right at my temple.

“On your knees.”

While I would love to say that I stood up to a guy with a gun, let’s be real, I was a freshman and there was a guy with a gun pointed to my face, you know I got on my knees faster than a five dollar hooker being offered a ten spot.

His boys huddled around me, covering what was going on, the rest of the student body just kept walking like it was something that was seen everyday and they couldn’t be bothered with something so mundane.

“So you and your friend think you can run train on my sister, is that it? You figure your boy got a piece so you can too?”

For the record, anytime you’re faced with a gun, an angry brother and questions that no matter how you answer him are going to get him more angry, keep your mouth shut.

That’s exactly what I did.

He pressed the muzzle into my skin a little more, “I don’t want to see you near her again. The only reason why you’re not more hurt right now is because she likes you and doesn’t want you hurt. Next time I catch you with her, I won’t be as forgiving.”

He put the gun away, nodded to his buddies, they piled in the car and drove off, leaving me on my knees on the sidewalk, watching the student body pass me and look at me like I picked the worst place in the world to say a prayer.

You know what I learned in that situation? Don’t mess with girls named Sandra and don’t pretend to be something you’re not.

/End flashback

Monday, August 18, 2008

PTI part 2

It appears that I’ve become more verbose recently, you’re either enjoying it or you’re annoyed by it. Time will tell.

I wanted to take a moment to talk about someone who was in my life who recently passed on, Dr. Clare Koznek. You all know that I work at a health clinic and Dr. K was one of our providers. On Aug 8th, as I began my trek to Eugene I received a call from one of my co-workers to inform me that he had passed on. None of us saw it coming, sure we knew that he had health issues but we had just been talking to him the day before, he was still full of piss and vinegar and the last thing we expected was to get that call.

It shook me and it still does. The man was in his prime at only 61 years young. He touched the lives of so many people that it’s incredible. His appointments were only supposed to last fifteen minutes but always lasted at least thirty because he cared about his patients, wanted to know more about them than their health concerns and just liked to talk to people.

His funeral was last Thursday. It was a celebration of the man and his life. There were over 150 people there, standing room only and the stories that were told about him, his life and his family really brought home the type of exceptional person he truly was.

I just wanted to take a moment and write this good bye. The man wasn’t a saint, he had his issues like we all do, but he was true to himself, his patients, his family and his friends.

I just wanted to say, Thank you.


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