Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Fundamentalist In the Pigsty

Catch up with the series here.

Sitting in my car, while waiting for the rich kid from The Cliffs to come pick up his pizza, I lit a cigarette. The gas station that I was parked at off of HWY 14 in Blue Ridge was the appointed pick-up place for those who lived outside of the delivery area. Everything about the late-model SUV that pulled into the gas station and parked near my vehicle irritated me – the fact that it was new and expensive, the fact that it was being driven by a rich, college kid, and the fact that I wanted to be irritated. As the college age kid walked towards my car that was adorned with the embarrassing pizza delivery sign, I casually propped my feet up on my open door; leaned my head back; and smugly blew smoke in his direction. Stopping short, he looked taken aback by my smirking glare and the fact that I was obviously blowing cigarette smoke at him. After a few seconds, he haltingly and agonizingly said, “I ordered a pizza.” I replied, “Yeah? Well, you’ll have to wait until I finish my cigarette.” He stood there with his eyes trained on the pavement as I slowly smoked. I wasn’t counting on a tip. I didn’t care. I was after a moral victory. The selfish yuppie tipped me anyway.

That childish display of douchiness is a fairly innocuous example of how I took my anger and confusion out on mostly strangers during the spring of 2004. Unfortunately, many of my activities that spring were not innocuous; but were increasingly self-destructive and criminal in nature. Throughout that time, I ping-ponged back and forth between confronting my own confusion and trying to escape it. I began to get high before doing anything or going anywhere, including going to work. I needed something to quiet my thoughts. Ironically, that spring, many of my most honest conversations about God, religion, and life in general happened while I was high. There were some[1] conversations, however, that I’m not sure if “honest” is the correct term. Not that “dishonest” is a better term, but, well, for example, one night on the back porch, a few days before moving to California, I told my roommate and good friend Joseph that if he ever heard in the future that I was some sort of preacher, to know that I was doing it for the money and the women.

By that time, for almost four months, Joseph and I had been living with another co-worker who lived just outside of Greenville. It was a three bedroom apartment, and at any given time there were up to eight or ten people staying there. It was hard to keep track. Since I was one of the four actually paying rent, I had my own room. Our co-worker had one of the other bedrooms; and, the master bedroom was occupied by a twenty-six year old and his seventeen year old girlfriend. Joseph slept on the couch, I guess. The people who were in and out of that apartment included a stripper and her hard-core punk boyfriend who had been rumored to be some sort of enforcer for a gang in California, a couple of guys who were good candidates for shooting up a building full of people, and a guy nicknamed Tan-man who went to jail before I moved to California. Our co-worker friend decided that it would be a good idea to throw Tan-man a going away party the night before he was supposed to turn himself in for incarceration. Our co-worker was quite offended the night of the party when Tan-man wasn’t in the mood to have fun.

The most disgraceful thing about that apartment was that there were also frequently two young kids in the apartment. Those two kids would sit and play videogames, seemingly oblivious to the drugs that often seemed to be everywhere. I was bothered a little by the presence of drugs and the use of drugs around kids, but not bothered enough to do anything about it. For one, most of the drugs were there because of me. You see, I had discovered an easy way to make some extra money – selling drugs.

I want to be careful here; I don’t want to overplay it; but, by the same token, I don’t want to underplay it, either. I wouldn’t classify myself as a drug dealer, but I did sell drugs, and I enjoyed it. Besides the money, as an actor, I had fun playing the “role” that came with my new side business. One memorable night, as I lay on my makeshift cot, I overheard my name mentioned among the frantic voices coming thought the wall that separated my room from the master bedroom that housed the creepy old guy and his overbearing teenage girlfriend. She had only one rule for the rest of the apartment’s occupants. Well, only one rule that we mostly obeyed. She didn’t want people smoking inside. We didn’t mind being banished to the porch to smoke; the apartment was too crowded anyway. Beyond telling me her rule, she rarely spoke to me; and, it appeared to me that she actively avoided making eye contact with me. In fact, she barely attempted to mask the fact that she did not approve of me, Joseph, or pretty much anyone else who wasn’t her and her lecherous loser of a boyfriend. So, that night when I realized that whatever they were arguing about involved me, I turned my record player off[2] and sat up. The crux of the argument was that they were both worried that they were going to end up being arrested along with me and Joseph during the inevitable police raid. She was almost hysterical about it. To calm her down, the boyfriend volunteered to confront us and ask us to stop selling drugs out of the apartment[3]. To which she, with all the dramatic earnestness that a seventeen year old girl can muster, exclaimed, “No! You can’t! They’ll have you killed!”

That bit of comic absurdity was obviously not true; but, that didn’t stop me from having fun with that misguided perception of me from that point on.

Not everything about my foray into the world of selling drugs was comically dramatic, though. I also interacted with the stereotypical movie seedy side of the business. That acted as a sort of brake on my intentionally headfirst plunge into the mire of the pigsty.

The quickest and best way that I know how to describe the business of drug dealing is as a pyramid scheme, but without flip-charts[4]. Joseph knew a guy that, on the pyramid, was directly below the wholesale distributors; I had the necessary capital. The first time we went to meet with the guy, Joseph told me to stay outside while he went in and vouched for me. No lie. And for good reason. As street-wise and world-wise as I thought I was, after this experience, I realized how na├»ve I was about certain spheres of society. Anyway, after several minutes, Joseph came back outside and got me. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I wasn’t mentally prepared for the level of depravity that painted the entire atmosphere inside that dark, murky house.

The front entrance led directly into a living room. The living room, at the time, was occupied by three individuals – two guys and one girl. None of them said a word as Joseph led me to the back bedroom. But they watched. And I prayed that I would never have eyes like them. Yes, prayed. I was scared. In the bedroom was a surprise. This Greenville kingpin was a kid. A mere teenage boy. The first thing that I noticed about him was how incredibly lonely he seemed. That day, and all subsequent interactions with him, he seemed incredibly excited to see me and Joseph. I got the impression that he desperately needed people to talk to who still had most of their brain cells or weren’t incredibly violent, or both. As nice as he appeared, I was always acutely aware that his personality was dominated by a utilitarian survival streak that was waiting in the wings to exercise a coupe on any other impulse that would pose the slightest threat to survival. Even though he was only a teenager, I was scared of him, too.

There were moments when I considered dropping my plan to move to California, and become a full fledged drug dealer. But, my interactions with that kid and his people would always jolt something inside of me and make me realize that I wasn’t made for that life. As long as it was a game, it was cool; when it was real, I was terrified.

During that time, I was also scouring the Scofield Reference Bible that my parents had given me as a high school graduation gift[5]. Now, I wasn’t scouring that Bible because I was interested in learning about God; actually, that’s not true. I was interested in learning about God. But, I wanted to find God’s tricks. His lies. I believed that He was scared of humans; that He knew that we could best Him. I wanted to find out how. And, I was also smugly interested in finding all the apparent contradictions in the Bible. Another friend had introduced me to the Skeptics Annotated Bible, and that became part of the foundation for my belief that God was a celestial despot who ruled by deceit. Although I could no longer intellectually deny the existence of God, I firmly believed that I could beat Him.  

Shortly before moving to California, I met separately with my sisters. I wanted to say goodbye. Both of my sisters had young kids, and it was becoming increasingly difficult for me to hide who and what I was. In fact, years later, one sister told me that whenever I was high around them, her husband would point out to her. So, when I met with them, I told my sisters that I loved them. I tried to explain to them my belief that God was a liar. Both sisters tearfully tried to convince me that God loved me. I told them that I was sorry, and that it was getting harder to hide the kind of person that I was. I told them that I would completely understand if they shielded their kids from me[6], and that I wouldn’t blame them; and that I would always love them. And then I told them goodbye. A week later I was on my way to California, assuming that I would never have any real interaction with either of my sisters again.

[1] Many, many useless pot-fueled conversations.
[2] I would go to sleep with my record player on to help mask the usual “noise” coming through that wall.
[3] Side note (obviously a “side note” since this is a footnote) – we technically didn’t sell drugs out of the apartment. We weren’t that stupid. Cops watch to see unusual foot traffic going in and out of apartment complexes like the one we lived in. Our apartment was our storage facility; we were more like traveling salesmen. But the idiot couple didn’t know that even though we had tried to explain that to them several times. Along with the fact that we had explained to them that they wouldn’t be arrested for our drugs. I didn’t know if that last part was true or not; I didn’t really care.
[4] I didn’t see any flip-charts. If I had, I probably wouldn’t have done it. I was once forced by a friend to sit through an Amway flip chart presentation. He wasn’t my friend for much longer.
[5] They also gave me a luggage set. As an 18 year old h.s. graduate, I wasn’t exactly thrilled about either gift. But, per usual, my parents knew exactly that I would eventually need both.
[6] I want to be clear about this. Not once did either of my sisters give any indication that that’s what they were thinking or planning. The never once made me believe that they viewed me with anything other than love and grace. My statement about shielding their kids from me was mine alone.

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