Friday, December 26, 2008

Excerpt from UNIQUE Chapter 1

Walking into the makeshift den, which was now simply a playroom and recording studio (okay, it’s not much more than a closet), Shao Kahn shouted “Finish Him!” from the Mortal Kombat II arcade cabinet. I kept the thing as a relic from my glory days. I found it in a flee market in Dundalk, and it was actually more expensive than it was worth, but that game had kept me out of quite a bit of trouble during my stay at Patapsco High.

I headed to the workbench and turned on the power strip. I turned on both of the turntables, the synthesizer and mixer, and just in case things were to go well, the recorder. Flipping through some records in a box next to the stand, I pulled out Method Man’s Tical and popped it onto the left TT-1. I was working on a mix of “Mr. Sandman” for a Mid-skool tape. This was a collection of hip hop from the 90s, the stuff that we grew into men with.

My wheels of steel were new Numark TT-1 turntables, and they weren’t nearly as good for scratching records like my old Technics, but I found them on sale at a discount that I just couldn’t pass up. Technics were usually known for reliability—apparently Numark was not. The belt drive on one of them snapped earlier in the week. For some reason, I’ve never had much luck with machines and reliability. . . .

Behind me Raiden let loose a banshee-wail of a war cry that startled me, and finally I had had enough. I pulled the plug on the Thunder God. Seemingly dismissing my attempt to shut him up, a sizzling crack of thunder echoed through the house. “Huh,” I grumbled, as I stared out the window. “That was close.”

Beneath the workbench, I fished out another album. Placing it on the other ‘table, I picked a beat off the drum machine and placed a pair of headphones over my head—then quickly removed them as I heard some more loud rumbling outside. I looked to the window, and a flash of lightning lit up the street like a heavenly strobe light. I looked to Seth and Sam lying on either arm of the sofa like little furry gargoyles, and said, “Looks like God’s ready to do this.”

They were fast asleep—I doubted they cared.

Placing the headset back on, I rubbed the record, finding the right spot to scratch with the beat that was playing. Turntablism wasn’t new by any means, but it was fairly new to me. I was, at this time, familiar with mixing records and creating new sounds, but cuttin’ and scratchin’ was a new park altogether for me in which to explore the beat-juggling sounds of hip-hop’s sacred breaks. It just so happened that even I could tell I had something of a talent for it.

Something came over me, for a moment, which was sort of like a cold sweat and dizziness. The hot flash made me feel uncomfortable and agitated. I tried to concentrate on the beat, but I was getting nowhere.

After several mistakes that made me blush there was another boom of thunder, and the lights flickered momentarily. I decided that I had had enough scratchin for one night, and flicked the power off all the equipment, save for the turntable—I wasn’t trying to get fried. I pulled Bill Wither’s Ain’t No Sunshine and let it play.

Something caught my eye on the table, a letter from my bank. In short, it read that I was so far behind on rent that they were going to foreclose on my shop if I didn’t ante-up. And it got better. Beneath that letter was another one; this one, however, from the woman I was supposed to spend the rest of my life with. Not only was my home and business being taken from me, but so was my heart:

I never meant to do this with pen and paper, but you’ve left me no choice. Obviously your motorcycles and records and drinking mean more to you than I do. You and I both know it’s not meant to be. Right? We’re both too young to make any life-altering decisions. Don’t you agree? For Christ’s sake, I have to force you just to have a conversation with me. I’ll always love you, but I’m sorry—we’re going to have to stop seeing each other.
With love,

At least my home would be left intact—albeit over someone else’s head, I figured. I crumpled Ali’s letter in my hand and tossed it across the room. It’d had been months now, but I couldn’t get over her.

There was a third letter beneath this pile of goodwill and happiness, but I didn’t dare read that one again. Not now. That one was the hardest to swallow, believe it or not. Life changed in a completely different way with that piece of paper, and there was no going back.

Would Ali have left if I had told her about it?

I felt like I was about to vomit, so I grabbed the papers and shoved them into a desk drawer. The sickening feeling in my gut told me that I needed to be somewhere else; somewhere far away. There was only way to get there, and it wasn’t on a plane, bus or train. I looked to the syringe atop a Motocourse book on the coffee table . . .

. . . I fell backwards, my head hitting the edge of the sofa. I took several deep breaths. I was shaking. It felt as if my soul was being pulled from me—directly from my chest.
Dropping the needle, I was ready to leave it all behind. . . .

My palms were sweaty, and sweat trickled down my forehead, too.

There was a buzzing sound.

—And in the corner, there was something. Almost a shadow against the wall, except there was nothing there to block the light of the lamp—or was there? Perhaps it looked more like a blur, a fuzzy image of a man-shaped figure or something.

I was quick to ignore the blur, however, as the feeling of separating from my consciousness ensued. I felt like two persons: one was me, my body; and the second was my mind. We were in a battle to control each other. But the buzzing!

“Stop the buzzing,” I shouted.

Though it continued, and it grew louder, and more decipherable it became.

“It’s not buzzing,” a voice said. “It’s the sound of voices—billions of them.”

I looked to the blur against the wall; I figured it was the voice. “I know,” I said. “What are they saying?”

“Everything. And in every language and every emotion. They are conversations from this reality, the world over, and they are conversations from the reality where you are going. Don’t be afraid, Evander. It’s a place that is very similar—eerily similar, in fact—to this one.”

I stared at the figure, for a moment, with my eyes wide in deliberation. With a deep breath, I said, “That’s intense.” I wiped my face, and picked up the needle. “Maybe I should stop using this stuff.”

“For this task,” the blur continued, “you’ll need to be pure of heart. Are you pure of heart, Evander?”

I tossed the empty syringe to the figure’s shadow. “Does it look like I’m pure of heart?”

“Everyone deals with loneliness differently. You’ll overcome this, eventually. You and I both know this; we both know that you are not addicted, save for the pain it brings you—which is stronger than that of the loneliness.”

“You think you have me all figured out, don’t you?” I stood up, a little wobbly, and kicked a crate of records over in my stumbles. My breathing seemed to be normal—which is to say no longer shallow and erratic, and the cold sweat was gone. Outside, the storm was present again, and the thunder had eradicated the buzzing. It seemed to be gaining on intensity to match my growing irritability. I was so confused. I wanted answers. As I stared outside, I asked the figure, “Who the hell are you? And could you not be so ambiguous this time?”

I turned around, and the shadow, or blur of the figure, was gone. I looked around, but I saw nothing. I jumped on the couch. I was fatigued, and the night hadn’t even started yet. “I need to get out of here for a while.”

It wasn’t always like this for me. I wasn’t always this bad off. My world evolved into one of chaos before I truly knew the definition of the word. I pushed myself to the brink of death habitually out of necessity and curiosity. I used to be much more innocent. From the beginning:

I was born Evander Cambio to Alan and Marie in sunny Florida, at Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, on December 6, 1977. I wasn’t long in America before I was flown overseas with my mother. My father was stationed at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa just weeks after my birth. It would be four years before I would come back to the States. During the short years I lived in Japan, a lot of its culture was instilled in me; more than any three-year old should probably assimilate. Gojira, Denjiman, Kaman Rider, and Ultraman—these pieces of Japanese pop culture were a part of me long before King Kong, X-MEN, Knight Rider and Superman. My most memorable fixation about Japan was the sense of loyalty and honor. It was everywhere, almost palpable, but on the television, mostly, which is where I picked up on it first. I couldn’t understand the language, but I had an idea of what was going on. The samurai—relegated to the history and fiction books and Kurosawa films, which I collected in earnest—was still a figure of great prominence. And though I surely didn’t recognize it as a youth, the religion of life in Nippon stayed with me as I grew into an adult, and I began to realize what I was emulating.

I remember looking up to the pale blue sky one day and seeing fighter jets practice air-to-air intercept maneuvers, my fathered had called them. The F-15s—called Eagles—took off daily from the base as the new defender of American interests in the Pacific. I remember the first time I heard one streak past at low altitude; I jumped an inch off the ground I’m sure with the boom that rattled windows and sent dogs barking.

Another thing I remember falling in love with in Japan was the motorcycle. Behind our house was a motocross track. My mother would walk me to the fence, and through the links I’d watch—with my mouth open wide and eyebrows atop my head—the bikes jump as high as the Eagles soared, or so it seemed to me then. Amalgamated with American might and style, Japan—even in the early ‘70s—was a technical wonderland.

My mother would often prop me on my rocking horse, and there I’d stay for hours, listening to probably unhealthy doses of The Village People and Pink Floyd. Was it your intent to get me into drugs, mother? While I’m sure that wasn’t the case, music was etched into my soul at an early age. Rhythm and beats became the backbone of my life, and luckily, my parents came home with a pair of turntables.

Before I could say konichiwa we headed back home to the States—to Baltimore, Maryland. This time we weren’t joined with my father. He left my mother for some low-life. I was too young to feel my mother’s pain, but she was strong. She concealed it well. She was also pregnant. In March, my little sister popped out. With the help of my grandmother Mom Mom, my mom raised us as best she could while working multiple full-time jobs. I don’t remember that much of my Mom Mom while I was a toddler, but I do remember faking sick so that I could miss school and stay home and watch the news and talk-shows with her. When her talk shows were over she’d let me watch cartoons like Voltron and He-Man while she cooked scrapple and eggs for breakfast, and then take me to the corner 7/11 for my monthly doses of Spider-Man and Batman comic books and Cycle World magazines—what more could a kid ask for? I was a Hulkamaniac. I idolized Tony Hawk and Bo Jackson and Jeremy McGrath, and vowed to rule the world like Darth Vader ruled the galaxy. I shared my Sega with the neighborhood and my only worry as a kid growing up was if I’d scuff my Nike Air Jordans. I simply cannot complain about my youth. It was as an adult that I would experience challenges that were overwhelming in scale.

For instance . . .

The barmaid smiled as I walked in. She propped a bottle of Budweiser in front of me as I took a seat at the bar. Night Shift was about as comforting as a strip club could be: it was cold, dark and clinical. A machine hissed and spewed milky white fog across the ceiling, turning blue under the black lights. Crystal Method’s She’s My Pusher was the soundtrack of the moment as the next woman to catch my eye was Jen. She was drop dead gorgeous but quite empty of anything I’d ever consider worth fighting for.

Her face lit up and she began crawling along the bar towards me, her long blond hair draped down around her shoulders. The barmaid smiled at me with arched brows as if to say ‘lucky you’. Man she’s already naked. . . .

“Hi there, hon,” she said. And then she whispered seductively close to my ear, touching my chest, “You back to blow more coke off my stomach?”

See what I mean?

“Maybe later,” I said, sliding a couple bucks into her g-string. “I just need a drink right now to loosen up.”

“Who’s your pusher, baby?” she said, nibbling my ear lobe.

I only nodded. She winked and crawled to the next lucky victim. I watched her crawl away— why am I leaving again?—and walked back out the door after her song was over. I tapped the pocket above my breast. She didn’t let me down.

Leaving Night Shift I headed to Hellfire Club in the lightning-wrought atmosphere. There, all my worries usually went away. They were forced away. Drowned in so many chemicals and poisons that nothing could exist in my mind save for the woozy absolution of numbness.

I cruised along the harbor, alone, and enjoyed the scent of the water in my last few minutes of sobriety for the night. The rain seemed to be gone, for now. The thumping beat of the Ducati 916’s twin Termignoni exhaust hummed away at low RPMs beneath me. The street lamps, reflecting through my helmet visor, churned up a feeling of dizziness, and thunder echoed the growling in my stomach.

Rolling down Boston Street the bike shut off; I pulled the clutch lever in and drifted to a stop. I turned the ignition off, and then back on, and pushed the starter button.


I flicked up my visor and looked to the sky in emotional fatigue.

A shooting star flew through the sky. But then it suddenly changed directions, as if deflected from its original trajectory, or realized it was heading in the wrong direction. And then the star stopped. It sat there, bright and twinkling, perhaps realizing that it had been spotted doing something it shouldn’t have done.

Back to the bike, I pulled off the right fairing. There along that trellis frame sat the rectifier. I neglected to replace it for years now. I tapped on it a few times, and tried the starter button again; this time she jumped to life.

Thunder rolled across the city with each fierce flash of lightning. On several occasions it was so close that I heard the static electricity discharge and I nearly felt the heat; the hair on my arms and the back of my neck stood up, as if trying to embrace the electricity. And with another boom of thunder, my heart jumped in my chest. It was getting nasty, and I actually thought about heading home. The harbor to my left was like a mirror that echoed the sheets of lightning that flickered and danced all over. The drugs were making me quite emotional. As I bolted the fairing back on, I found some time to think . . .

Why did you have to utterly shred my heart, Alison? All that I wanted was to share everything with you, to come home at night to you, to sleep next to you. Did you lie about your happiness? The time we spent together seems only like a dream. . . .

Ali was only memories to me at this time, but the pain—I did a good job of suppressing it, usually—was there, hidden under layers of thick self-loathing and insecurity. She had led me to believe that I was in love—that she was in love with me too—but that was lust playing tricks on my mind. She forgot about me in what seemed like only a moment, so I had made myself do the same. I let her fade away.

I felt guilt on top of the depression. Here I was, discontented; when in another part of the world countless men, women and children were dead and dying. And my sister Rose—stationed at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska—was possibly heading to hostile Iraq; my uncle was already there, and there was a chance that my dad was going to be re-enlisted and shipped out, as well, if the war made a turn for the worse. But currently, the war was going as well as the Pentagon expected, though hundreds of thousands of Americans were still being deployed continuously to the war effort.

Sitting there in the silence between rumbles of thunder I began to feel queasy. There was this knot in my stomach forming, and then I saw something disturbing. The city all around me was in flames, and the buildings were blown away around me, and a mushroom cloud erupted in the center of the city.—Vivid doesn’t even come close to describing the hallucination. Or daydream. Or whatever the hell it was.

I looked down the street and there was this guy standing there staring at me. I thought he looked peculiar because he was wearing sunglasses. But he turned and started down the opposite end of the sidewalk. And here I was ready to kick some ass. . . . Meanwhile the bike stalled out again, though this time undoubtedly due to lack of fuel in the tank.

I thumbed the starter once more, and the engine fired to life in a throaty roar in lethargic double beats. I kicked down into first gear and slowly headed back onto the empty street.

Anytime I was riding on a fairly straight road I naturally felt the need to pull a wheelie—it’s quite obligatory to most sportbike riders, especially in front of people—so while shifting into second I dumped the clutch and opened the throttle; I began what was probably the ugliest wheelie in history. I felt the rear wheel slide over the wet pavement and I had to dab the rear brake because I had used too much throttle. I went completely backwards once, landing hard on my back and head and obliterating the bike—and I wasn’t going to go there again.

A flash of lightning startled my inebriated senses, so I brought the bike’s front-end down abruptly. A tree was blasted by a bolt of white lightning that slithered blindingly through it instantly, stopping at the moist earth mound of roots at its base. Organic shrapnel hit me in the visor and chest as the tree came toppling down, landing in my path. I narrowly avoided a massive chunk of the trunk, pushing the bike to lean and swerving around it in a quick right-left juke maneuver. I remember the tires losing traction on the slippery pavement, but I don’t remember losing control of the bike, and I shut my eyes tight . . .

. . . I opened my eyes, and there was a bright light. I blinked several times while trying to regain some semblance of what had just happened. I leaned forward and looked over at where the light was coming from—it was the Ducati’s headlamp. The bike was lying just under a truck, the front tire still spinning slowly.

I remembered avoiding the tree. My helmet was lying beside me, rolling back and forth. I must’ve hit my head, because I simply didn’t remember falling off or hitting anything. I did remember, however—which could probably be attributed to hitting my head—blacking out, sort of, and seeing stars, thousands of them, which seemed to rush at me at all angles; and seeing total darkness and infinite color at the same time.

I made to get up, but felt back down again, feeling like the wind was knocked out of me. Trying to get up once more, a hand was outstretched in front of me, and I looked up to the one offering. The first thing I noticed about him was that he was wearing sunglasses—this was the guy from earlier, down the road. Light blue lenses hid his eyes from meeting mine directly, but I took his hand anyway out of appreciation. “Welcome back,” he said.

“What?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, with his hand still holding on to my arm in case I would fall over again. “You were out for about fifteen seconds or so—the time it took me to run over here from down the street. You just lay in the street, not moving a muscle. I saw the lightning strike close by, and then heard your bike hit the ground. I thought you were dead.”

Still feeling woozy from the fall, I clumsily picked the bike up—lord was it heavy—and noticed that it was all banged up on the right side. The mirror had snapped off, and the foot peg was shaved down a bit, and the fairing was sanded down past the paint.

“Ambulance should be here in a moment,” he said.

I looked at him, and then quickly hopped on the seat. I wasn’t trying to hang around for a free DWI ticket.

“You’re planning on riding again? You really should wait for the paramedics. You may have seriously hurt yourself. Even though you don’t feel too bad now—”

“I’m fine,” I said, while simultaneously thumbing the starter button. Over the exhaust I yelled, “Thanks for your help, though. ‘Preciate it.”

A block later and the damned thing died again. I pushed it a block to Hellfire.

In the parking lot, I jumped back on the seat again to catch my breath. I pulled out the small baggie of cocaine Jen had slipped me and cut-up a line on the fuel tank with my license. “White Lines,” I sang, “blowing through my mind.” Inhaling, I was hit with a burst of euphoric serenity that transcended the accident, taking me above it, where only this feeling could have given me the carelessness to do such a foolish thing in public, I realized as a few guys walked by, staring in amazement. “White Lines . . . blow away.”

My throat tightened, making it barely able for me to swallow. My teeth felt as if I could pull each of them out of my mouth without any sort of pain; it was as if they were asking for me to remove them because my jaw, which wouldn’t stop moving, wanted them gone. I rubbed my tongue along my gums and the roof of my mouth like it was a woman’s breast.

After pouring a few drops on the ground, I sipped the whiskey in my flask to wash the poison down. With the flask in my hand and the white powder on the tank, I said in a moment of realization and with a bit of laughter in my voice, “Jesus Christ, man—you’re turning into a fuckin’ junkie.” I put the flask back in my pocket, and continued: “You better straighten yourself out—and real quick. You’re stronger than this.”

I looked up at the small orange Hellfire sticker, and felt that out-of-place feeling; the strange one where it feels like something isn’t quite right at all, and it wiggles uncomfortably around your insides. Something isn’t right . . . I don’t belong here came the feeling again.