Skeletons (A Poem About Breeze Vincinz)
“I have always hated Halloween,” says Breeze
Vincinz “for a couple of different reasons.”
Skeletons were the worse.
Breeze Vincinz onstage, the cuffs of his oversized
jeans folded up to reveal dirty, worn
His hair shorn close to the scalp revealing a pink,
scaly map of a psoriatic rash.
Onstage, instead of a spotlight, a movie fragment:
Various shots of the high rise public housing
buildings that used to
litter the Chicago skyline.
Children play in cement playgrounds with
steel jungle gyms and slides.
Onstage stands Breeze Vincinz, scratching the
dried skin of the map on his head with
Reading text messages on his cell phone
in the other.
He says, “My whole neighborhood would get so
excited about wearing a costume.”
But I always thought it was a betrayal of
who you really were.
Something close to a lie. Counterfeit.
And to be a skeleton. To be dead.
You volunteer to be your own murderer,
pall bearer and caretaker
His face crowded with children, playing, yelling,
Breeze Vincinz says, “You pay money to play dead.”
To fit into the zeitgeist of cultural norms,
you kill yourself every year.
Even as a kid it just didn’t sit right with me.
“Although as an adult I better understand the
inclination.” Breeze Vincinz says, “I’ve
loosened up a little bit.”
But the skeletons still bother me.
I don’t think kids should ever be skeletons.
And I think there should be a holiday
the opposite of Halloween in which you
receive money to act like you’re alive.
And a map that always tells you where you are.
Saturn and Venus (Keeper of the Vineyards Epilogue)
There is a holding area for rideshare drivers near LAX; just a big parking lot where all the drivers go to rest their eyes, shine up their cars, have a smoke. In the corner of the lot are three porta-potties whose insides are covered in so much excrement that many us forgo the pain of holding onto a night’s worth of coffee in our bladders until we’re able to find facilities slightly less pestilential. This is where I met him, the both of us deciding to enter into our respective blue columns of waste covered plastic with shut nostrils and squinty eyes hoping to relieve the pints of coffee and water and red bull that were just building up in our systems. Neither one of us could stand more than five seconds of the intense meaty smell inside the makeshift humidors and jumped out coughing and gagging. When we caught a glimpse of each other while simultaneously bent over and walking away from the canisters, trying to inhale as much of the fresh night air as possible, neither one of us could deny the humor of the shared experience despite its vulgarity. He laughed with his whole body as if someone were tickling him, and it spawned even more laughter.
“That was disgusting! People are animals!” I coughed through laughter.
“No. Animals would cover that up. That’s us. It’s all us,” he exhaled while hunched over with his hands on his knees. “But what do I know, I could be wrong.”
We each agreed to keep watch while the other watered the roots of a thick tree near the porta potties.
His name was Basil. I never got his last name, but many people joked about how we looked like brothers, despite the fact he was in great shape, had a head full of hair and was about ten years older than me. We were about the same height, had similar eyes and after a while, I did unintentionally adopt his laughing style. He was my buddy. That parking lot near LAX was a defacto high school lunchroom where different cliques of guys clustered together for camaraderie and fellowship. There was not necessarily a hierarchy of one group having more social cache than the other, but there did seem to be cache in just being in a group. And much like high school I pretty much stayed to myself. Then Basil came around and started chatting with me and other drivers just flocked to us and after a while, every night, there I was, surrounded by drivers, a cloud of cigarette smoke and horrible music with unintelligible mumbling and heavy bass pounding from someone’s speakers. I didn’t particularly like the attention, but it made the night go faster. And I very much enjoyed Basil’s company. I liked the platonic qualities of it. He was a very handsome guy and we were good friends solely for the sake of being good friends and it’s been such a long time since I have had that; a male friend without any annoying sexual agenda looming above us. I could never place his sexuality anyway. Although his demeanor was always calm and low key, he was also very opinionated, had a wide range of knowledge and commented on everything. You couldn’t really label him to be homosexual or heterosexual more so than you label him to be a misogynist or a feminist or a racist or a pacifist, he was just all over the place. The only thing that was consistent with him was his deep rusty voice as it ended every one of his conversations with, “but what do I know, I could be wrong.”
One night my car wouldn’t start. The battery was dead. Later on, I would find out that it was an old battery that actually needed to be replaced but on this night I was just guy without his buddy or his clique in need of a jump start. Despite asking around I couldn’t find one person with jumper cables and I wound up having to call my insurance company for assistance. I pay $225 a month for car insurance and as it turns out, it doesn’t come with roadside assistance. I was relaying all of this to Basil when he eventually drove up and wondered why I was in such a foul mood. By this time, I had already paid the insurance company $85 to send a tow truck out to spend all of 30 seconds to charge my car battery.
“$85 for 30 seconds worth of work. I am in the wrong racket.” I declared with no small amount of frustration, putting my head in my hands. “Something has to give. I can’t keep this up. I’m two behind on my rent. My bank account is negative and the little amount of money I’m making driving is just going to go in that pit. The only way for me to get out of this situation is to drive more but I’m so depressed I can’t get myself out of bed half the time. I’m just getting older man. My body is failing me, I have no money, I’m just, I’m just venting man. I’m just frustrated.”
“I know what you mean man,” Basil offers. “I drive through skid row. Have you been to downtown Los Angeles? The blocks and blocks of tents on the sidewalks where the homeless people live and all that garbage? You know I would do anything to avoid living like that?”
“They’re in Hollywood too now. Around the block from my apartment. It’s just a rough time to live. For all of us.” I say before dramatically stretching my back then looking up at the night sky. “I would do anything to avoid living like that too.”
“Anything?” Basil says flatly.
I deter my attention from the stars and find that he is looking directly at me with a look of seriousness that I don’t recognize.
“I’m not robbing a bank Basil. Well. No. Maybe. Well. No. I’m not robbing a bank,” I say.
“Nothing like that. Do you smoke weed?” he asks.
“A drug mule. Really? Has it come to this?” I laugh.
“Breeze I’m not asking if you want to rob a bank or transport drugs, all I asked, is if you smoke weed,” he says calmly.
“No. Not really. I like edibles every blue moon.” I say.
There is a stretch of quiet between us that becomes more uncomfortable and electrifying with each passing second. I finally fill the space with, “What? What is it?”
“It’s worse than robbing a bank or transporting drugs.” He lights up a joint and takes a toke. “But what do I know, I could be wrong.”
I’m not sure if he was wrong. I think the truth is where your morality lies. Personally, I have rationalized my participation in the whole scenario to a shiny white gleam. I have had to. Otherwise so many ghosts would have haunted me. And at this point I would have to imagine ghosts to be real… also. All things considered.
I usually pick the “Type A” personalities; the high-strung ones, the ones refusing let go of just a little control, even for a ten-minute ride in a ride-share car. The phone call is usually the tip-off. It usually goes something like,
“Is this Breeze my driver?”
“Yes, yes it is.”
“On the app it says you’re 2 minutes away. Are you coming?”
“Yes, yes I am.”
“Ok, I’ll see you soon!”
“Yes, yes you will.”
And say for example I arrive and no one is there. And right when I’m about to cancel the trip, let’s say a couple shows up, a guy and girl, mid-twenties, and let’s say of Armenian heritage. And let’s say I am picking them up 60 miles outside of Los Angeles and they are in need of getting to LAX in 20 minutes. And let’s say the guy says very politely, “And can we please get there as fast as possible. Please.” And let’s say they pile their luggage into the trunk and they sit in the backseat. And let’s say I drive down the block and the girl says, “I have to get my hat, I can’t travel without my hat. You have to go back.” And let’s say that I do, and she gets her hat, gets back in the car and says, “We need to get there as soon as possible, fast, fast, fast.” And what if the guy pulls out his cell phone and enables his Waze app to find the quickest route and the girl pulls out her cell phone and enables her Google Maps app to find the quickest route and when we get to the first intersection her app chirps, “Make a left at the intersection”, at same time the guy’s app chirps, “Make a right at the intersection” and my own rideshare app says at the exact same time chirps, “Go forward for one mile.” And when the light turns green and I go forward and she yells, “Make a left at the next intersection! Fast! Fast! Fast!” This is when I know I found the perfect candidates.
I turn on the radio. At first static, but then Cher. The guy politely asks to turn off the radio, he prefers silence. The portly gentleman wearing all black sitting beside me in the passenger seat interjects, “But this is classic Cher. ‘Take Me Home.’” He turns the radio up a little louder.
“It’s just very distracting!” the Armenian guy says. “And we’re in such a hurry!”
“Have you always been sitting there?” The Armenian woman asks incredulously.
The gentleman laughs and says, “My name is Saturn.”
“But I don’t remember you sitting there? Was he always there? Are you supposed to be there?” The Armenian woman asks with increasing fervor.
Saturn sings full-voiced, “Wrapped in your arms tonight! Just makin’ love! Music and candlelight! Stars up above!”
“Sometimes it’s Rihanna. Tina Turner brings him too. But Cher, for sure Cher. But what do I know, I could be wrong.” I remember Basil telling me that starry night.
“And his sister, Venus,” I ask.
He laughs a little and says, “Yes, Venus. Venus is partial to Madonna.”
In a dark empty field, a dozen or so college-aged kids are creeping low to the ground encroaching upon an old wooden house a few yards away. Unbeknownst to them, a tall lanky woman with long stringy black hair and glowing eyes stands behind them. Madonna can be heard singing the four notes needed to make “Express Yourself” as the woman swipes the air in front her, the kids ascend into the air and remain trapped in the atmosphere like fruit pieces in a Jell-O mold. Their heads painfully rip from their spines.
“But that’s a little later,” he says.
Back in the car Saturn sings, “Take me home! Take me home! Oh can’t you see I want you near!”
The Armenian guy in the backseat catches a glimpse of Saturn’s eyes in the rear-view mirror as he sings. They are hollow and glowing. Horrified, the Armenian guy can only get out a panic-stricken whisper of, “Dakhanavar.”
“They go by many different names but it’s all the same bloodline. They all come from Lilith.” I remember Basil telling me.
“What?” the Armenian woman says as she looks out of the car window and realizes that the freeway they are on is now a lonely road surrounded by acres and acres of dark, barren desert. Trying to contain her panic as she too sees Saturn’s eyes, tears begin to stream down her face. She finally says, “What is going on, where are you taking us?”
As the car grooves down the lonely stretch of road, the Armenian couple can see a tiny little wooden house far in the distance and what looks like doll parts suspended in front.
Saturn sings, “I’m in heaven! Seems like heaven! So much in heaven!”
“Eve wasn’t Adam’s first wife. It was Lilith.” I remember Basil saying.
“Oh, I know this story! I love Sarah McLaughlin! That’s what she based Lilith Fair of off. Because Lilith was so strong and independent Adam got all weird and self-conscious and had God throw her out of the Garden of Eden. That’s when he made him Eve who was all submissive and cool and Adam liked all that. You know up until the whole apple and snake thing,” I said taking a swig of coffee and eyeing the tree that has since become the “Piss Tree” since everyone found out about our little space and found it to be more hygienic than the porta potties.
“Yeah. But when Lilith left, when they threw her in the forest, supposedly she mated with the animals. And those offspring are just as real as Cain and Able.” He takes a long drag from his joint an expels sloppy smoke rings into the night air. “And the same way we are all descendants of Adam and Eve, they are descendants of Lilith and those beats.”
“So what exactly is that shit you’re smoking laced with anyway?” I say laughing.
“I’m HIV+ Breeze. I have been since 1982,” he says wistfully.
“Wow. And… wow.” I say dumbfoundedly.
“It attacks them. It burns them alive. The virus burns them alive. They’re not like humans. It’s instantaneous for them.”
“And that’s why they don’t attack you. Because it would kill them.” I say.
“That, and I was in love with their brother.”
“What happened to him?”
He takes another long drag from his joint and speaks into the Milky Way, “I’m how they know it burns them alive.”
He hands me what’s left of the joint. I hesitate to grab it.
“It smells like weed. The virus, it smells like weed to them. Even if you’re undetectable, they smell it a mile away.”
I grab the joint. I hesitate to take a toke.
“So nobody high. They’ll never go for anybody high. And nobody drunk. Liquor thins the blood. They’re vampires after all. Other than that, it’s your discretion. But it’s best to keep that in your blood. So they don’t go after you.”
“And you expect me to drive high?” I say.
“It’s Sativa GC.”
“Green Crack. Nevermind the name. You’ll have to do a little research and find a strain that works best for you, but few other strains can give you as much energy and focus as that.”
He hands me a lighter.
“And you expect me to believe all this.”
“But what do I know, I could be wrong.”
The car is parked in front of the tiny wooden house. The corpses of the college kids stay suspended in air above the car. Pale and weak, the Armenian couple cowers together on the backseat, touching each other’s bloody wounds on the sides of their necks. Lethargic, the man whimpers, “You knew what he was.” The woman moans,
“We’re not going to make our flight.”
“No, I don’t think so,” I say while lighting up a joint. Indica True OG mixed with Harlequin. I found my blend.
“Did he leave?” the woman asks?
“No. He’s just over there, by the side of the house. He’s talking with his sister,” I say while taking a toke.
“We can give you money. If that’s would you would like,” the woman says with her eyes closed. Her companion wearily hands me the wallet from his back pocket as well as the woman’s purse.
“I want the hat. Give me the hat.” I command and with the last bit of strength, the man slides the hat off of the woman’s head and passes it to me. I slide it over my head and take another toke.
I turn on the radio. “After All” comes on the theme song from the film
“Chances Are”. Peter Cetera croons over the light and airy piano riff.
“Why aren’t you driving? Why are you doing this to us?” the man asks before closing his eyes.
“Well… it all started at the holding area for rideshare drivers near LAX; just a big parking lot where all the drivers go to rest their eyes, shine up their cars, have a smoke…
Cher begins to sing, “I still remember when…”
In the distance a figure of a man and a woman with glowing eyes looks over in our direction.