Maybe I should try to be still for a minute – just sit my ass down on one of these long wooden benches lining this cavernous hallway inside the Criminal Courts Building over on Temple. But I’m nervous – scared actually, so I’m walking back and forth trying to look casual amid all these hundreds of gang members and lowlifes, many of whom, despite finding themselves in such a forbidding setting, have tried to dress in a way that bridges the criminal/citizen divide. They’ve abandoned baggy shorts and tank tops in favor of too large dark plaid shirts and tan khakis that they believe engender both servility to The System: Yes, your Honor; and threats to Everybody Else: You lookin’ at me, bitch? There are tons of lawyers too, who are waiting for their clients to show up, as well as what appear to be truly saddened and befuddled family members of the recently arrested. And the DA – or I guess not the DA, but one of his assistants because I’m not like involved with Charles Manson or anything – I’m just a guy suffering a mid-life crisis of sorts – and not like a regular run-of- the-mill mid-life crisis because those are pretty much codified as bouts of unregulated spending on stuff like sports cars or other non- age appropriate vehicles, which, to me, isn’t really a crisis, but whatever.
Anyway, I’m pacing this hallway and this Assistant DA calls my name: “Albert Sykes?” And there’s a question mark at the end because he’s putting a tired-sounding query out into the air because he doesn’t know what I look like. We’ve never met and he’s subpoenaed me to be a witness in this theft case. My truck was stolen and I’m supposed to testify for the prosecution – for this Assistant DA. And this is kind of ironic because my mid-life crisis is different than most. I’m like this middle-aged guy with a slight drug habit who’s always having sex, like you’d think I’m trying to wear out my dick, trying to have so much sex that I eventually become asexual like a sloe-eyed steer who’s burned through his allotted number of lifetime ejaculations so he can spend his golden years munching cud while not being particularly bothered by memories of how vibrant life used to be before his organ went permanently limp, or, god forbid, before he developed a prolapsed asshole, which is a condition – I’ve heard – that isn’t that uncommon among certain members of society. I’m also a dealer of methamphetamine, so you’d think I’d be on the other side of the scales of justice thing. But my truck really was stolen during a midday sex party by a couple of strangers from Central America. Meth makes me feel really fucking horny, as well as it’s a drug that fits me better than heroin, because that was actually the drug I started with. But the thing about heroin use – especially overdoses – is that you’re not really awake to enjoy the experience, unless being really fucking sleepy is your vision of moonlight, but whatever. All I remember about this time I used heroin is this girl with long red hair – Betsy Ross – no shit – that was literally her name – gave me a shot of dope in my armpit. She’d been a registered nurse at one point in her life, so I was assured by her boyfriend, this bisexual guy named Duffy, that she knew what she was doing so there was no risk, and it would hit me faster than it otherwise would if a vein in my arm had been used. Her hair kept falling in front of her eyes, so she was constantly shaking her head so she could see better as she probed the flesh of my armpit with her delicate fingers before plunging the needle in. Apparently armpit veins are surrounded with essential nerves and other important biological stuff, which non-nurse folks might not know about. And I didn’t know about Duffy’s sexuality firsthand, meaning that I never had sex with him. I didn’t, not because I didn’t like guys. I’m 100 percent queer – “queer” in this case meaning homosexual – not some vague academically-inclined “other” clutching to some theoretical category of rebel/outcast while brandishing a theoretical middle finger to some real or theoretical status quo. And I’m not saying that academics are wrong – it’s just obvious to me that dope fiends are the real queers if you think about it. Dope fiends – homo or hetero or whatever – I’m laughing right now thinking about it – even the most normal acting dope fiends – I’ll talk about meth addicts, because, you know, that’s my thing – I’m trying to imagine what a shit storm a meth addict’s baby shower would turn out to be. Addicts may allow themselves a grand total of maybe twenty-five minutes of ennoblement for the realm of baby- dom – certainly not enough time to become gainfully employed so they can buy baby formula and baby clothes – and – I can hardly breathe the word – nurture – a newborn human being so he or she can fit into some preplanned societal arc that includes Stanford or UCLA – or even Mordor, just for variety’s sake. But the meth addict, it would take maybe three seconds before a newborn will become just another ass-brained art project where Daddy or Mommy will smear little four- week old Amanda with white glue and then roll her in glitter just because it looks pretty. So I guess I’m an authentic queer: I shoot dope and I suck cock.
It’s just that Duffy wasn’t really my cup of tea. He looked like a six-foot-three vampire with powder white skin and he had this enormous red mouth that, no matter what expression he was emoting, his lips and mouth always seemed to look like they were artificial, kind of like they’d been painted onto his face. I never even fantasized about the size of his cock, which guys pretty much just assume that they’re huge on guys as tall as Duffy. I just wanted to learn every bit of drug lore he had, so I guess I strung him along. I’m pretty good at cock teasing, so we went along like that for months and months, me getting high for free and him getting frustrated as anything. But this night I used heroin, all I really remember is the needle going in – there was this great ritual quality to the whole thing. Duffy and Betsy had lit all these candles and they wore these Asian sort of slinky silk robes they’d stolen from one of the costume houses in Hollywood – there’re millions of them in all these different little garages in alleys off Fountain Avenue. And Betsy had me lie flat on my back and raise my arms above my head, and then she swabbed my armpit with alcohol, which to this day, even at the doctor’s office, every time I smell alcohol being swabbed before I get a shot or have blood drawn, I get this memory of that night way back then. But all I remember about using this heroin is waking up – or coming to, really, and I was all constrained inside a pretty small sleeping bag – only my head was sticking out. But I woke up and I felt really good, like I’d just had this great night’s sleep, and I couldn’t understand why I was inside this sleeping bag. “What’s going on,” I said, which kind of startled Betsy and Duffy. And she came over and said something like, “Man, you’re really lucky,” and Duffy concurred. They said they thought I died – overdosed – because I turned blue and they couldn’t tell if I was breathing or not, so they zipped me up into this sleeping bag so they could wait until it got late enough so they could take me over to Echo Park and dump me into the middle of this huge lotus patch on one end of the lake there, which I’ve since come to learn was a pretty common method for disposing of unwanted corpses, which sort of makes you wonder about corpses of the wanted variety. Anyway, that was when there were actually lotuses in the lake. People used to travel from all over the world to see these lotuses because it was supposedly the biggest lotus patch in the northern hemisphere. The City of Los Angeles actually put together a lotus festival in Echo Park every August ostensibly to celebrate the beauty of these lotuses and the size of the lotus patch, but really it was just an excuse to make a few bucks off selling burritos and tamales. And really, the lotuses were pretty magnificent. They’re these really beautiful gigantic blossoms that kind of float in the shallows and they’re surrounded by these huge dark green leaves that form pretty much an unbroken membrane over the surface of the water. And it was these huge leaves that made Echo Park Lake so attractive for dumping bodies, because you could throw anything into the lotus patch, and these leaves would immediately give way and part, swallowing up whatever it was you threw in there – something small like a bowling ball or big like a body – and then they’d snap right back into place like nothing at all had happened. It was perfect for a couple of reasons: First, Echo Park Lake was a lot closer than having to drive all the way to Griffith Park, which was the traditional dumping ground for dead bodies – and Second, you didn’t really even need a car. A lot of local folks just used shopping carts to wheel the recently deceased over to the lake late at night. And after they dumped their bodies, instead of returning the shopping carts to where they found them, they would just leave them there around the lake because the local supermarkets would drive around every morning and collect them. But then some Parks and Recreation employees, in the process of discharging their parks and recreation maintenance duties, had waded into this lotus patch one morning and discovered a dead body, which caused the wheels of government to shift into high gear, and they called in these earth moving tractors that really tore the shit out of this lotus patch looking for more bodies, and they found about twelve of them. Anyway, since then, the lotus patch is just this tiny single lotus plant all alone at one end of this lake. Sad. They’re trying to grow them back, but not having much success. It makes you wonder if it was the bodies that provided the nourishment that made the lotus patch so successful in the first place. But the Lotus Festival still goes on every August, but it’s not the same as when there were actually lotuses there to celebrate.
So after I walk up and introduce myself to this Assistant DA, I explain to him that I really hate the name Albert, that I go by Bert now, even though I’m not in love with that name either, but it’s better than Al, which, to me seems pretty red-necked; that I would have preferred to have a cooler name like Shane or Curtis instead of Al- Bert, because that’s such a clunky name. I sense there’s a certain level of skepticism in the ether surrounding him and his minions, like they’re not exactly sure how I’m going to come off on the witness stand because it’s pretty obvious that my mind wanders sometimes. And my value as a believable witness is shrinking right before their eyes. “Tell me what happened,” the lawyer says.
So I let loose. I don’t try to varnish anything. I just say that these guys who stole my truck had showed up with a friend of mine who was visiting me because I was trying to put together this crazy sex party in the middle of the day. And these two guys were visiting from El Salvador or something – anyway, they weren’t exactly 100 percent gay, which made the whole scenario just that much more exciting – to me, not the Assistant DA, but who knows. I mean there’s these two dudes who only speak a couple of words of English – and they’ve got a bit more fat on them than I’m used to, but whatever. Once they started getting high on meth, the clothes flew off and everybody jumped into the bed like a bunch of horny monkeys.
And one of these legal minions pipes up and says: “HIV positive or negative?”
And this creates an immediate dilemma. If I say negative, I’m thinking it won’t be too difficult to find out that I’m positive, even though I’m not sure that checking some Health Department database is something they’d even do, but if they did, my declaration might be used to show a certain level of deviousness, which could, right away, be placed into the prosecution’s quiver of legal strategies known as “an act in furtherance,” which locates any fucking behavior at all – blowing your nose, ordering a burrito, nodding your head – into the realm of intent. So I answer truthfully: “Positive. HIV positive.”
And this admission puts the brakes on the whole line of questioning, because the Assistant DA and minions kind of get together and whisper for a bit. And then the lawyer just straight up asks me: “Do you want to acquire legal counsel before we continue?”
And I know exactly where this is headed, because I didn’t mention any kind of forewarning to my what’s assumed to be HIV negative sex partners from Central America, even though they’re the ones who stole my truck, so you’d think, because of my standing as a victim, I might be entitled to at least a little bit of slack, but whatever. So right away my brain starts some unplanned-for heavy lifting, testing theories and their plausibility quotients. I could say I just don’t remember if I told them I had HIV or not, but that gets the nix right away because I’m not a complete idiot. I’ve seen tons and tons of cop shows, and not remembering never amounts to anything. I could say I just assumed the guy these thieves showed up with – my “friend,” that it was common knowledge around town that he had AIDS, so I just figured that he spilled the beans. And me being a pretty efficient guy, I didn’t feel like needlessly repeating this information, which actually may or may not be what I was thinking at the time. I honestly don’t remember. And the lawyer can see he knows what I’m thinking, because he just says, “Yeah, you could be charged with attempted murder.” But he doesn’t want to get into this at all because all I have to say is that I didn’t actually have sexual contact with these guys; I was more of a spectator; that I just sat on the sidelines and watched all this crazy sex, which to me seemed more twisted and weird than if I participated. And he seemed totally relieved by this admission and says that he’ll call me on the day that I’ll be needed to testify at this guy’s preliminary hearing. He doesn’t extend his hand or anything, just nods his head and says good-bye.