Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Electric Dress

It takes an unusual woman to sing blues and soul.  She has to be half crazy.  If it’s real blues.  Now I am not talking about “Chain of Fools” and all that silly ass shit.  I’m talking about hard blues.  Chicago. Mississippi.  Memphis.

It is in fact a man’s music for the most part. Dominated by men. Created from men.  There are great women in blues and great writers as well. But in the end it is a man’s game.  And you better be a hell of a man in a woman. There are many that would argue with me on this—but I don’t give a damn.

Now singing blues is the thing that makes me feel most alive.

It’s like putting on an electric dress—the dress has to fit just right.  If it’s too tight I can’t breathe—if it’s too loose the lines of who I am remain unseen.

Singing blues for me is a direct channel to something over the edge—raw and  exotic—even erotic.  I’m talkin’ God here of course.

Singing blues is telling a secret to strangers.  And hoping they will understand. And tellin’ it in a secret language. Only the gifted players know this language of innuendo made up from bent  lines, dark tones, and finally space in the perfect place.

Singing blues is also a great discipline.  It requires great physical strength.  Great timing.  It’s like entering into a boxing ring and getting hit sometimes over and over throughout the night and staying on your feet and inside the curve of the wave. 

Now there are two kinds of musicians in this blues business: the pop artist who sings to “get over” and the artist. The pop artist chooses material so that they “get over.” They watch like a hawk in the rafters for what works for others and they mimic it.  They pick songs that they think will keep them working. They usually pick blues because they can’t make it in another idiom.  They think it’s easy.  They see an opportunity.

And then there is the artist who stays true the language at all times and doesn’t give a damn what appeals to anybody.    The artist sings or plays because they have to remain sane.  It is the cork out of the bottle that’s about to blow up. 

The pop artist is a business person by in large.  And they do fool.  Often.  But it doesn’t matter.

Because artists know one another in the end.  It’s in what you choose—what story you choose to tell—that defines you.  In the end.  And if you can manage to stay in the ring.  With blues it doesn’t matter if you have a trained voice and a huge range if you ain’t got grease.

You see that’s the other thing I didn’t mention: grease.  Grease is soul.  Whether you are a pop artist or an artist in blues the thing that will distinguish you is grease.  You either got it or you ain’t.

I was having a conversation with a well known blues musician the other day—driving along the freeway—talkin’ about other blues musicians and I made a coment sayin’ “He’s a white man.” Now only a Southerner would understand that line.  Hell—only a Southerner would say it.  But my friend understood it completely.  And he agreed.

I’m not talkin’ black or white; I’m talkin’ raw.  I’m talkin edge. Without the edge you have nothing in blues.  Edge has nothing to do with gender or upbringing or color.  It has to do with depth of soul.  You either got it or you don’t.

Blues is raw.  It’s honest.  It’s dirty and nasty and at all times it’s sexy. Blues is about fuck ups and fuckers and fucks.  The great fucks.  And there is no greater joy than getting your lover back by writing a song about him so you can fuck him all over again.   My lovers have not understood the songs I have written about them.  One lover in particular thinks it is a form of revenge.  It is not.  I write the songs to keep him close to me.  It is to revive him.  And to warn him. 

About my pride.

You have to understand the lyrics of the great songs to be a good blues singer.  You have to have those crazy thoughts and feelings in you: how you wanna shoot some man because you love him so much that you can’t stand the idea of him out there riding around town with another woman.   You have to have handled a damn pistol at least once—thought about lifting the pillow out from under his head.  Now I didn't come up with those blues lines—Memphis Minnie did—but I am workin’ on it daily.

And of course underneath all this crazy raw stuff is the humor—like c’mon—would I really lift a pillow out from under his head and place it on his face and fold his arms and shoot him?  Would I?

If you can’t pull that line off get out’a town darling.

Last week I was in my electric dress. I felt the flight.  And I wore nothing under my slinky silk black skirt –only stockings.  And I died my hair jet black.  Everywhere.  And I put my red lips on and I sang my heart out.  The more the songs come to me the better I know I will survive. In the ring.  Because these are now becoming  my songs and my stories.  My town, baby.

My electric dress is like no other.  When I‘m in it it’s like a great lover.  Who carries me up to the heights of a place I can finally “be” in.   Where troubles don’t touch me long.  If the music is right.

It has taken me a long time to put on this electric dress.  I have been afraid of it. I have tried to destroy it.  I have been damned by it.  I have been lost without it.  And finally I believe it will save me.

I have traded in my dress for something that was not me and have had to re-claim it.  It is after all my damned dress built from my own demons.  And it is the only dress that fits me. In my whole life.

The dress is exciting to wear but it has to carry me a ways.  I have to take care of it or it becomes thread bare.

It is not easy to sing from 22 to 27 songs in one night and then do it again the next night. 

It’s funny that I chose in some respects the most difficult musical idiom of all to sing.  Blues.  Because it requires a punch. And a punch can take its toll on the voice.  Especially a woman’s.  For a woman to sing blues well a strong build helps—like a boxer.   If you don’t believe me look at the great singer’s of all time and take a look at their build.  Little Willie John, James Brown, Tina Turner, Big Mama Thornton, Mavis Staples.

I would not want to be in the ring with any of ‘em.

Some would argue that I am crazy. That Blues is made up of simple chords and simple lines that can be half shouted—easy to play and easy to sing.

Now to half shout may be somewhat easy.  But to sing and shout requires skill and muscle.  There is a technique of pushing the sound out through the top of the skull to make it carry.  And to do that you need hard muscle.  And a big nose.  And a huge mouth and big strong shoulders and a thick neck.  And confidence.

And to pull back and just sing quieter notes is even harder.  To pull back from my own personal combustion is for me the hardest thing of all.

It is now only about the challenge of the dress.  To put it on and keep it on.  It’s a black dress—and it clings—but not too tight.  Not too constraining.  It requires stockings and opened toed high heals. To embellish.  It requires a material that will let me sweat.  Drips rolling between my breasts—sweat inside my knees—dripping down into the inside arch of my left foot.  The foot I keep time with.

If you ain’t sweatin’ you ain’t singing.

And it requires more.

It requires a leap of faith.  Not sure where you land but you take the chance to try.  I have stood on stages that looked like the jaws of hell opening up to swallow me.  My hands would shake so hard that I couldn’t hold a glass of wine.  But I would always take the leap.

The other night I had full voice for a last song that lifted me up so high I felt like nothing could ever take me down again. Nothing. Not a broken heart.  Not missing a certain man.  Not being broke. Not being scared shitless over money. Not any of that.

I forgot everything in that last song and just danced into it.  Just moved through it.  Like a great burning flight.  And it was beautiful.  I sang with my entire body.

That rhythm guitar man was driving a beat so perfect in time that I couldn’t help but enter an electric world.  And when the bass and drums kicked in with him all I could think of is “This is SO RIGHT—I’M DIVIN IN!”

Then the horn player hit some punches that were just so delicious I thought I would wet my pans.  If I had any on.

It was a made up thing—a funk in C: “Might Fool Them but You Can’t Fool Me.”  My song from a decade past that no one could ever play right. And that rhythm guitar man took it to an E flat that was gorgeous to behold.  Bodies on the dance floor were just swaying away.  Beautiful.  Waves.  Everybody like grass in the wind.  It worked.

I just hope to God somebody can remember what we did so we can do it again. 

Christ. All we needed were some hits.  I’ll work on those hits. 

I have no idea why I came upon this electric dress except it was meant to save me.  It is my purpose.  It is the one thing that no one can ever take away from me.  Everything else I can lose but not the electric dress.
I can lose love and wild sex, money, THE material world, but the dress gives me all of that and more.

Because it is mine.

Now hit me!  Come on!  Hit me na!   AGHGHGHGHGH!  I need a hit again—that same one—same one….

Cathy Lemons
© December 13 2012

Friday, July 6, 2012

Michael Bari (Part II)

I have always been good in an emergency. I was born into an emergency—my mother—who is mentally ill. She is alive today. And so am I.

I learned to snap into attention at the slightest call—to solve the immediate problem—by remaining calm—always untouched by the blasts the wind blew into my face.  Even when my life was torn up by the roots, as it was throughout my entire childhood, traveling all over the world with my 2 sisters and my beautiful, loving, and crazy mother, some hard place sustained me—some granite stone sunk deep down in my soul weighed me down.

Nothing can break my faith in my belief that life is a strange, mysterious, and beautiful place. A gift. 

But life is not for everyone.

Karin Aradi had been molested by her own father.  Along with her 2 exquisitely beautiful sisters.  She was damaged beyond repair.  The most beautiful girl I had ever seen in my life.  She was vain. So sure of her beauty.  And so unsure of everything else.

Karin and I once sat on Michael Bari’s couch and compared our legs.  We were both wearing short skirts and high heels. She stretched her legs out—and I stretched out mine.  Side by side. To compare. We turned our legs--pointed our toes down into a curve--stretched them from the inside—like dancers do.  They were the same length—our legs—but hers were cut from marble.  Hard, beautiful, elegant lines that wrapped around each muscle in a way to say—god has been here—somewhere here!  LOOK! Perfect.

I knew Karin’s history form Erica Clarke.  Erica was a friend of Karin’s family—they were all from the rich Oakland hills: Belaire.  Karin had been molested by her father from the age of 9 on up.  By the time her mother had stopped it—it was too late—for any of her girls.

Karin had a baby.  When she was 21. From her punk rocker guitar playing boyfriend.  And she struggled to keep it.  And she struggled to keep her faith.  Will love win out?  Or will the need to silence the terrible noise inside your skull prevail.

With Karin the sound must have been deafening.

I got to know Karin from going up to score and seeing her there—in the apartment where I used to live—up at Michael’s Bari’s.   She would sometimes be in the kitchen microwaving up some frozen food.  She rarely had a thing to say.  After a few visits, I began to notice that Michael had stopped folding their bed back up in the living room. I would sometimes see Karin eerily stretched out next to Michael on that bed. Her red thick hair strewn into weeds against the white sheets. Michael. Oblivious. Listening to his radio.  In the corner of the room.

Michael after all had a sweet deal.  He had an old girlfriend that had a sugar daddy—Chinese man—wealthy—owned many buildings downtown—and this man allowed Michael to stash his dope in a “depository” of sorts.  Tucked up somewhere in a safe house about one mile from where the apartment was. All that dope.  Even though this old girlfriend’s Chinese sugar daddy had bought her a car and put her up in a fine apartment, was even sending her school, she remained loyal to Michael.  Even after Karin started to stay there.

One day I called Michael Bari up and asked him to get me well.  I broke my rule. I had done some cocaine the night before and I was a mess.  I needed to get straight. So I could take a shower—so I could comb my hair—so I could put make up on skillfully—on my face.  So I could look at my face.  In the mirror.  And prepare for the horror of turning tricks. The act. Which also required skill.  And resolve. Sometimes I would stare at my beautiful face in the mirror and make myself into a stone. Just to do it. It required imagination.  This work.



“Michael—can you do me a fro..”

“Come on over heah….” He muffled into the receiver.


“Better come ouuahn now, though!”

“Thank you Michael.  Thank you.”

When I arrived Dickey answered the door.  His runner. His bulky body blocked my way.

“I gave Dickey a look like “Don’t fuck with me asshole and I’ll help you”.

He stepped aside.

“Where is he?”

“In there.” He motioned to the bedroom—the same bedroom where I used to sleep.


Dickey pulled me aside and started to whisper.

“He’s got a ton of dope on him and he keeps losing it!  I don’t know where he put it! He’s out of his mind. People are calling.”

“I’ll try and talk to him.”

“Talk will do no good.” He looked at me.

I looked at him back like “Go fuck yourself!”  Then I walked into the bedroom.  Karin was next to him. She had on a red silk robe.  Her white skin underneath—bare—smooth marble.

“Cathy! Come and give me a hug!  Come oouuahn!  Right here!”  He patted his hand on the bed.

I looked at Michael. Tilted my head.

“Come ouuahn and join us!”

He grabbed my arm and pulled me down onto the bed. Karin was on one side—I was on the other.  He tried to give me a hug. I pulled back—then I let him hug me.  I could feel his whiskers.  He had not shaved in days. I rested inside one of his arms. Thinking.

“Now look what a lucky man I am!”

I smiled. I had never seen Michael so relaxed.  Not ever.

Karin snuggled into his chest.

Michael smiled—then dropped his head back.

“Woo … “ he said and shut his eyes.  His mouth opened.  He started to snore.

Then he shook his head awake. Sat up a bit.

And then to my surprise he turned towards me and dropped something down my shirt.

“Woo hoo ….”

I could smell the black tar. My stomach churned.  And then he nodded off again.

I looked at Karin and Karin looked at me.  I let Michael move into his nod—a world of waves.  Warm.  Neither of us moved.

We waited.   

I placed my hand under my shirt so the chunk would not fall out and slowly got up off the bed.

I put my fingers to my lips.  “Shhhhh!”

I opened the door.

Dickey was standing there.

“He put his hand out—palm flat.”

I slid away from him and ran into the bathroom. Shut the door. Locked it.

I could hear the floor boards creaking from Dickey’s weight outside.

A gun in my face may not make me shake, but a chunk of dope the size of a golf ball could.

I pulled the chunk of tar out from my shirt and looked for some way to cut off pieces.  It had to remain round. There was nothing sharp.

So I bit into the huge chunk with my teeth.  Bit off pieces in small circles.  Then I wrapped the stolen chunks in toilet paper. Slivers of shiny resin.

My tongue and mouth became numb.  I felt better.  My stomach churned and then relaxed.  I had my kit in my jacket pocket—always—so I fixed.  I couldn’t find a vein for a long time.

I could hear Dickey creaking outside.

When I finally opened the bathroom door Dickey was there.

“Well?”  He whispered.

I handed him the huge chunk—the golf ball—now a bit smaller.

He smiled at me with admiration, shook his head, turned, and walked right out of the apartment.

I walked right out behind him.

I left Karin there.

This was the lifestyle. It was every man for himself. And it was a man’s game.

I called Michael the very next morning and said I needed to score.

Now he was straight.

“Dickey said you got all that dope. How much dope did I give you?”

“Michael—I gave that dope to Dickey.  Ask him. Ask him to his face.”

Michael said nothing.  Silence.

 “All right.  It’s my fault anyway,”  Michael said.

I knew Michael would read it with his eyes closed.  Dickey was a bad liar. 

I never saw Dickey after that.  I never liked him and I didn’t care.  He used to always open the bedroom door early in the morning just so he could look at my breasts when I was lying on the bed with Charles. 

He was an idiot.

But I had left Karin.  And I did feel bad.  That I had left her without dope.  Our salve for wounds. 

Now Karin was up there alone. In the new tower.  Alone with Michael Bari.

I made frequent visits.  I observed. She began to drop weight.  And her eyes became swollen.  But I could never get near her long enough to talk to her.  Michael was always listening.  Watching.

And then she started to do speed with Michael.

And it was all over.

About a month after Karin moved in with Michael, I saw Erica Clarke on the street.  My corner.  She was often there.  Long, lean, attractive, smooth blonde hair, blue eyes.  Merciful eyes.   Full breasts set wide part.  Nice soft hands.

“I am worried about Karin. You know the mother has the baby now.”


“Now she’s living with him—Erica pointed up the hill.”


“Michael has a gun up there.  Karin says he’s getting really weird.  That he’s making her turn tricks now for the dope.  That he lets her stay sick.  He’s half out of his head. Talks to himself and everything. But then when she turns tricks—he gets mad.  Takes the gun out.  Now Karin says he won’t let her leave.  Won’t let her leave to get well or do anything.  And the phone is dead up there.  The phone….” Her voice trailed off in thought.

“What are you going to do?”

“I’m going up there.” She said it with a matter-of fact certainty.

We both looked up the hill.

The next time I saw Erica Clarke she told me that Karin was going to leave Michael Bari. Go back home to her mother’s.  Any day now she was going to leave Michael Bari and his great fortress of dope.

Then on a pretense to score I went up there. 

Karin was there—she was wandering around the apartment half naked, her small round breasts exposed—strands of her long beautiful red hair sliding over her erect dark nipples.  It made me feel sad.

“Get dressed!” Michael yelped out. 

Karin picked up a shirt off the floor. Held it. Dropped it. 

“I said get dressed! Now!”  Her hair fell forward as she bowed her head.

I tried to get her to look at me.  She just would not look up.

I became angry.  I looked at Michael.  I stared at him hard. Clenched my jaw.

Michael sat down on the couch and lit a cigarette.  Blew some smoke out.  He stared at me right back—his head cocked up to the side.

“Mind your business” he said with those cold fish bowl blue eyes. “Maiiiieeend your business.”

He sold to me.

I left.

Then it happened.

The cops found Karin’s fully clothed but beautiful, young, marble white and perfect body collapsed in front of Michael’s door. Her beautiful face made still. Her full red lips open.  Shot through the chest.  Blood on the floor.  Blood on the door. Spattered. Blood on her vest, her shirt, her throat.  Her lovely young throat.

Those cops caught Michael Bari.  He was going down the back stairs.  About to escape through the basement that led out onto the street.  A cab was even waiting.  He had called it.

They caught him with a small suitcase.  He had taken time to pack.

Michael Bari did only 7 years for killing Karin Aradi.  She was 22 years old.

In California you do about 1/3 of the time.  Michael was out in 3 years.  For taking a young life. 3 years.

The family of Karin Aradi fought hard to put Michael away for a long time.  They failed. He had connections. The stories were all true.

Things came out in the trial.  That Karin was a prostitute.  Erica Clarke testified against Michael Bari.  She told how Karin had been afraid—had been threatened with a gun—had wanted to leave. Could not.  How Erica had seen Karin just the day before her death—how Karin tried to leave—with Erica—but that Michael threatened Erica. And then Karin decided to stay.

You see prostitutes were known as “non humans” in 1989. The laws were not made to protect a 22 year old girl that worked the streets. Not in 1989 and not in 2012. Not yet.

Karin had suffered her entire life at the hands of many.  Her own father.  Her mother who was the silent witness—the mother who feigns innocence—places her hands over her eyes, her ears, her mouth, while the madness moves forward.

All bound up, thick ropes wrapped around chest and arms. The tie off of any arm will do.  Even a hand. A finger.  A toe.  The needle moves in to slow the panic. And takes over.

Karin succumbed to the angel of death because she did not know that the angel is afraid himself. 

The way to subdue death is to not fear it. But to smile into the camera.  Full face.  To dare to let the angel of god take your picture—for just a second.

Hold it.

Karin Aradi is dead. She had red hair. She was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen in my entire life.  I will never forget her.  I am so sorry I left you up there in that terrible place.  Please forgive me.  Karin.

Michael Bari is dead.  One week after his release from prison he overdosed on heroine. Up in a tenderloin single room occupancy hotel.  Alone. Destitute. 

Charles Oranger is dead. Sclerosis of the liver.  I left him in 1990 for a trick. A trick who saved my life. Charles died alone. Destitute. But his loyalty remained.  He would not let me testify against Michael Bari at the trial—of Karin Aradi.  It was the only time I had ever seen Charles strong.

Erica Clarke is dead. She overdosed on valium and vodka sitting on her mother’s couch in their rich Belaire home—high up in the Oakland Hills.  Listening to the Coyote’s howl. Her wide set breasts like scarred pin cushions.

I am alive.  I intend to outlive everyone.

© Cathy Lemons, July 6, 2012

Monday, July 2, 2012

Michael Bari (Part I)

From New York City.  Connected—to “the Corporation.”  His father a soldier.  The word was that Michael Bari had shot his wife.  She was a junkie and it was her or him.  So he chose her. A strange, blonde, tall man—angular—with a cold face and the coldest of blue eyes.  Not handsome.  Not ugly.  Most compelling.

He stayed up in his tower apartment and dealt to all the hard core junkies in the TL. He was at the top of the pyramid. 

And he was always being watched.

When I first met Michael Bari I had just come back from an expensive drug program in Sedona Arizona—a famous one.  Both of my parents had paid for it.  Before I made the journey, I was down to 115 pounds. My normal weight is 136.  I was only able to keep milk down. By the time my mother found me, I was living in a broken down hotel room deep in the Tenderloin—emaciated—addicted to meth amphetamine, cocaine, and heroin.  Turning tricks.  Dying.

So my parents who had long been divorced and hated each other spoke for the first time in 17 years and made an agreement to get me on first a plane, then a helicopter, to take me up into the mountains of Arizona—so I could not get out.  And it worked.

I got clean.  I gained weight. I got my tremendous physical strength back.

But then they sent me to a half way house in Santa Barbara by the sea.  And all the women looked so dead. And even the trees looked dead—grey—shriveled. And I could not swallow AA.  I thought it was a bunch of Calvinistic crap. And I ran. 

When I first saw San Francisco from the sudden hill coming in from the south the whole span of city lights blazed before me—and in a shudder I knew I was gonna fix again.

It was roughly 9:00 p.m. when I got off the Grey Hound bus downtown—with my one suitcase.  I had a very small amount of money—enough to score.

I knew about the hotel where Michael Bari dealt from.  I knew that if I could get in that huge fortress that I could get the best heroin in town.

And so I got in.

And Michael Bari did sell to me.

Because I knew Charles Oranger.

Charles Oranger was charming—he made me laugh—with his stories of his days as a punk rock drummer—stories about his clean cut corporate life—just out of college—stories about his “pretty” girlfriends.  He had in fact just broken up with one: Maria Anna Katarina Lucia Cullici—a junkie and cocaine addict who shot so much coke that she would have convulsions like an epileptic.  She was missing her front tooth—but she would raise her elegant pink long tongue up to cover it—with her hair all pulled back. And she had beautiful hands.  He told me.  Warm brown—soft at the tops of each knuckle—like baked bread— smooth—with long fingers.  She had a tiny perfect little body.  A ballerina.  But she lived with a trick now, a trick who paid for her ballet lessons—and her cocaine.  Charles Oranger would get very bitter when he described the trick—his mouth would drop down in a low scowl. It was unbearable to him.  This thought. To desert your partner for a trick.

Dan.  Dan was his name—the trick.  Charles said Dan started to shoot coke with Maria. And now Dan was about to lose his house and his business.  Because of Maria Anna Katarina Lucia Cullici.

This is what we talked about up in Michael Bari’s tower—in the bathroom—with a glaring light.  Charles sitting on the edge of the sink—me standing.  And we stayed laughing in that bathroom for 3 hours. High.  Our eyes like bright effervescent coals.

Hours later, after I left, the only question Michael Bari had for Charles Oranger was: “How do you make pretty girls laugh?”

Charles Oranger was 49. But he looked like he was in his mid-thirties.  I was 28.  I looked 20.  Junkies are so relaxed in their faces.  But the wounds begin to surface slowly—on the body parts—chunks of flesh come up missing decades later. If it’s junk and only junk—well junkies can live forever. Strangely preserved specimens—untouched by time or for that matter—by anything. 

I liked Charles because he made me laugh and forget.  He saw the irony in everything.  Me coming out of a drug program and shooting up the minute I hit the street.  Because I had nowhere to go. And I was scared as hell and did not want to feel it.  And he made me laugh about that.  And it saved me.

I began to turn ticks again.  After that first fix I was done for.  So I made frequent visits to Michael Bari’s apartment—way high up on the 13th floor.  When you looked out his window you could see the city below—a glare of brilliant lights.  And way out beyond, a deep black space—the sea.

Michael Bari hated women.  But he liked to look at them.  I was not his type.  He was not mine.  I sensed that he “knew” more about me than I did myself.  And he did.

Old junkies that have survived decades are readers of souls.  Within 2 seconds they will know whether you are intelligent—whether you have courage—how well you can hold your mud (sick)—if you will fold to the cops when pinched—and even how long it will take you to fold. And they will know if you have loyalty.  And dignity. The old junkies always could tell whose dignity could be destroyed.

Michael Bari had 2 gofers: Charles Oranger and Dickey Valdez. Dickey was a fattish, bearded man with kinky dark hair cut short. Dickey was his regular runner. Charles was a runner too, but Michael trusted Charles much more than Dickey.  So Charles went for the big dope pick up with Michael.  And Dickey hated Charles for that.

I became a regular. Because of Charles Oranger.  Lemons and Oranger.  It was funny. I’d sit on the couch next to Charles while Michael sat in his big black leather arm chair to our right.  Michael never said much—just observed.  In fact he never took his eyes off me and Charles.  Finally we would disappear into the bathroom so we could laugh and talk without his fish bowl cold eyes watching us. 

Then to my surprise Michael starting turning me on to dope.  He’d dole the dope out like a priest doles out blessings. And I took the blessings and said multiple “Thank you Michaels.”

And then after a few weeks of Charles making me laugh with all his stories —stories I did not realize were well over a decade old—we started to sleep together on the couch after Michael went into his bedroom. 

I began to protect Charles.  I began to realize that he was not strong. But he was strong when it came to loyalty. And so for the loyalty I exchanged my strength.

Then the cops came.

One night I was with the beautiful red haired Karin Aradi and we knocked on Michael’s door.

Karin Aradi was the most beautiful whore in the Tenderloin—even more beautiful than I.  When she walked down the street her long, thick, hennaed hair would flow behind her like strings of red rope—but glossy like.  I can still see her now—looking down from a window—see her wearing all black—her fringe coat fluttering—and walking with those beautiful long legs—pushing a dark baby carriage—her punk rocker guitar playing boyfriend with his short black hair in juxtaposition to his white face—trailing somewhere behind.

Karin and I walked in and the cops opened the door.  

We were pulled in—grabbed by the arms.  Our purses were snatched.  Gone through within seconds.  The contents dumped out onto the floor.

“Please have a seat on the couch.” They said with their eyes.

I remember crossing my stockings.  Feeling the slick material between my legs.

Karin swiveled back on the couch next to me.  Tossed her hair back behind her.

 “Michael you always have pretty girls around. Why’s that?”

Michael smiled. Just a little smile on his thin lips.  Then he lit a cigarette and blew two tresses of white smoke through his fine cut nostrils—into the cop’s faces.

“Answer us Mr. Bari.  Why’s it you always have pretty girls up here?”

No answer.

The cops then said to Karin and I, “Go on and get out of here. We don’t wanna see either of you girls up here again.  If we do?  We’ll take you in.”

So Karin and I got up from the couch and began to pick up our things strewn all over the floor: condoms, cigarettes, compacts ….

The next day I called Charles to ask if Michael was in jail.  Charles said “No.”

You see the word was Michael was in the Federal Witness Protection Program. He had turned on his own family. THAT was the word. And so he never went to jail. Someone would make a call and shut down the bust. No matter how much dope he’d get caught with in his possession.  He would always walk. But they still watched him.  We never really understood why.

Then Michael decided to move up the hill a few streets higher—to a place on Leavenworth and Bush: 1099 Bush St. it was.

And then he asked Charles and Dickey both to move in—and I came with Charles.

We stayed in a bedroom to the side of the living room—a sliding wooden door separating our rooms.  Michael always had on a giant TV.  Or a radio.

There was a shot gun in the corner. In a cardboard box. We paid it no mind.

I could hear Michael sometimes late at night muttering to himself—whispering strange things through the wooden sliding door that served as a partition between our souls as we slept. I could hear him whisper “I’ll kill you!” or he’d say or “I’ll never go back!” In the dark.  He’d spit and hiss the words out.  I asked Charles about it—and he’d shake his handsome face and smile and say, “He’s crazy.”

And so we all lived together.  I’d turn tricks by day and watch TV with Charles sky high in our room by night.

In the morning, when I was sick, I would not ask Michael. I would never ask Michael for anything. Not ever. I would cough, though.  And he would finally yell after about an hour of me coughing.



“Come in heah!”

He’d be sitting up on the couch.  The coffee table before him.  There’d be a spoon and a couple of syringes and some cotton balls.  And even alcohol pads. And a huge dark chunk of black tar heroin the size of a golf ball. Right there. And with his fingers he’d pull off a generous piece.  And hand it to me.

“Thank you Michael.” I’d say.  “I’ll pay you for it later.”  And I often did.

Then came the speed.  Michael started bringing Karin Aradi up to keep him company.  And he’d shoot speed.  And then he started to talk to himself more and more at night.  With or without Karin there.

And I started to worry.

I told Charles we should get a hotel room and get out.

Charles said, “No.”

But I made plans.  I found a good Patel hotel.  The Indian owners thought I was a tourist and gave me one of the best rooms in the house.

But it was too late.

One day Dickey had stirred up some trouble. The word was that Charles was selling out of his own stash.  And Dickey ratted Charles out.

Charles came back from a run one day for Michael and he couldn’t get in with his key.

“Michael. Open up. What are you doing?”

“Get the fuck outta my sight!”

“What the fuck is wruuongah with you? Let me in?

Michael opened up the door. Stuck a pen knife into Charles’s stomach. The pen knife was the size of half a pen. 

But Charles bled—red drops everywhere.

I got a call. Charles is in Saint Francis Emergency—needs exploratory surgery—cut bad.

By now I had my things in the new Patel hotel. 

I went to Charles in the hospital. Then he was transferred to General.  And when I spoke to him on the phone, he’d say, “Bring me some dope.  They don’t take care of me in here.  Bring me some dope.”

And so I did. 

And I got caught. 

They were waiting for me on my second visit.

And the stupid hospital security guards chained me to the wall of San Francisco General Hospital—like some animal.

And when the real cops came, one of them said, “Get her out of those things right now!  What in the hell are you doing?”

And they took me down to 850 Bryant and I was booked for some heavy charges.

I got out on OR (Own Recognizance).  Within 24 hours.  A San Francisco tradition at its best.

And now I was mad as hell. 

I was at another connection’s house—Chuck and Marie’s—and I picked up their phone and called Michael Bari right in front of them both.

Michael answered.

“You are a DEAD MAN!” I said into the receiver.

And then I clicked off.

Chuck and Marie gasped.

Chuck said, “You can’t say a thing like that to Michael Bari. He’ll take you seriously.  You must be fucking crazy!”

I was.

It was 4 months later.

I was walking down Taylor Street towards my Patel hotel.   It was Thanksgiving.  Charles was out of the hospital, but he had stitches up and down—he looked terrible. His drinking had increased.  It made his face swollen.  His hands.

It was freezing cold that night.  I was wearing my short black leather skirt and only a thin jacket.  My hands were so cold I could hardly keep them from shaking when I lit a cigarette.

And no one was out on the streets.


Bleak empty shine everywhere--up and down.  

And then a black Mercedes sidled up to me on the corner—the motor purring ever so softly.

I leaned down to take a look.

It was Michael Bari.

“Get in!”

“Michael—no—I gotta go!”  I started to walk away.  He followed me in the car.

“Get in!” He said it with the “get” high and the “in” low.

“No Michael.” Flat tone.

“Come uuohn!  I LOVE you! Now get in and I’ll get you well.  For Christ’s sake!  I LOVE you.”

The dope beckoned.

Michael Bari took me back up into his Bush Street apartment. And he motioned for me to sit down next to him on the couch.  I started to wonder if he wanted me to give him a blow job.  I was just not prepared for that.  It seemed so odd.

Instead of unzipping his pants, he took out a chunk of black tar from his pocket and unwrapped it—from the plastic baggy.

He watched me.

I would not squirm. 

He watched me closely.

I still did not squirm. 

He could see I was sick.  My eyes were dilated—my vision was even blurred.  But I did not yawn.  I just sat there and said nothing and did nothing.

Finally he said, “Heah!” and handed me a chunk to fix.

“Go in the bathroom theah,” he said motioning with his hand. “Everything you need is in the cabinet.”

I got up as slowly as I dared—grabbed the chunk—and went into the bathroom to fix.

When I came out Michael was sitting at the end of the long couch.

I sat down at the other end.

He said, “You know I’m sorry about Charles.”

“I know,” I said.  I put my head down.


Then he looked over at the cardboard box in the corner, which was at the end of the couch where he was sitting.

He leaned over and picked up the shot gun out of the box—casually.  He sat holding it—handling it like—feeling the weight of it—like it was his friend or something.

“Michael.  What are you doing?”  I said in a soft voice like his mother.

He took a breath in.  Relishing the moment—the seconds.

“Have you ever seen one of these?”  he asked me in a low voice.

He held the big shot gun with both hands.

I stared at him.  Didn’t move.

Then suddenly—like a real expert—he slid back the clip—chooooo—choooo!  I can still hear the metal making that sound: Chooooo—choooo!  In my head. 

“No.  I have never seen one of those.”  I said.

Now Michael pointed the barrel straight into my face. And he held it there—like a camera—waiting for me to smile—like so he could take my picture.

But I did not smile.  And I did not flinch. And I looked bored. And tired. And I was tired. I was soooooooo damn tired.  And so I sat there and looked into the barrel of the gun.

And waited for his move.

Michael put the gun down.

I lit a cigarette. My hand didn’t shake. I held the lighter firm. The flame crept up high.   I lit my long cigarette.  I blew out—two jets of white smoke—close to Mr. Bari’s face.  I didn’t understand it.  Nothing in me shook.  It still doesn’t.

© Cathy Lemons, July 2, 2012