Gramercy, The Journey of Jack Lewis. Chapter 7

Chapter 7  Fun and Games

After Jack was lost in a series of circle trips and junctions to nowhere, he eventually found himself traveling west, crossing the border into Oregon.  He carried on foot during the day, and at night posted himself in the cheapest motels he could find.  There was nothing but hills of grass and highway for miles in any direction he walked.  He passed the occasional truck stop and small town that felt like Northern California and South Central combined.  

Eventually he landed in Eugene, a town that felt like what Sacramento would be if it was pulsating with frat boys and sorority girls.  He eventually came to the University.  He sat in an empty bench in the courtyard of some random building near the edge of campus.  He put his bags next to him, and he pulled out Crime and Punishment.  He had just got to the part after the murder.  Jack was enjoying the book, but he couldn’t understand why the main character committed the murder since he had nothing to gain from it in the first place.  But Jack knew plenty of people in Leavenworth who killed for all kinds of reasons, most were crimes of passion, some were just flat out crazy, a few continued to claim it was self defense, a few did it either out of spite or to get something out of it, Jack had lost count of the people who swore they didn’t do it.  Jack didn’t believe them, nobody did, that’s why they were in jail.

Jack could tell these college students were a lot colder and less open than the ones he met in California.  They looked at him as if he was dirty, crusty and stale.  Which irritated Jack at first but then he caught a glimpse of his reflection in a near by window.  He was, in fact, crusty and dirty.  His hair was so long now that you couldn’t even see his tattoo on the back of his neck.

His beard had grown long and his hair was a weird brownish blond stained from the constant sunlight.  His skin was two shades away from being brown, he decided to clean up.

He still had over a thousand dollars left, but he didn’t want to waste it.  He had recently bought a tent in one of the mini Compton’s on the way here.  He continued to wander to find a spot to set up camp.  As he walked away from the university he passed by a number of fraternities and sororities.  One he could tell was about to host a party.  Jack decided to check it out later, and see if he couldn’t get some beer out of these kids, maybe even a little weed to to kill some time.  Jack was a little tired of reading every night by himself and decided he could use a little company for a night.

After a long debate with himself Jack consented to wasting some money on a motel room for at least tonight and tomorrow.  He cleaned himself up and he trimmed his beard just a little bit, to look a little less scraggly.  He also cleaned his clothes.  When ten-thirty rolled around he decided it was a good hour to go.  He got to the party, there was a small line to get in, and it was $5 at the door for guys to get a cup and drink all night, girls got in for free.  Jack got in and immediately became a wallflower on the stairs. He didn’t mind, he knew he didn’t look as good as back at the California party, but he wished at least one girl would notice him.

Every time he wished someone would come up to him he took a gulp, and after every three gulps he needed a refill.  By the first hour he had six beers.  The next hour he had six more, and he tallied them all on his palm.  Soon a cute redhead caught site of the marks and hollered, “Damn.”

She pointed to his palm, Jack looked at it and chuckled.  All he said was “I’ve been around the block a bit,”  with a coy smile.

The girl smiled back half taking him seriously and half laughing at him.  She extend her hand and said, “I’m Ann.”

Jack knew he had finally hit a home run.  He gently grasped her hand in that overly firm hand shake you give a girl when you’re a guy who has just met her.  “I’m Jack.”

The rest of the night at the party would remain a blur to Jack.  He did remember walking back to his motel with Ann, both stumbling drunk as hell.  The part that wasn’t a blur was when Jack pounded the hell out of that coed for four straight hours.  The part after that was just darkness.  The same was true with Ann.  She had never been pounded to the point of being so sore with pleasure.

Then she asked herself just before she passed out from ecstasy, “Holy crap, did this guy just get out jail or something?” But she didn’t care and had very pleasant drunken blurred dreams.

Jack didn’t dream that night.

Gramercy, The Journey of Jack Lewis. Chapter 5

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Chapter 5  To Liberate and Learn

 

Eventually Jack figured out he was heading North.  It took what seemed like an endless stream of days and nights for Jack to reach Sacramento, and by the time he did he had run out of his cash.  So he had to resort back to shoplifting in order to eat.  He missed the hot showers and food he got from his friends, but he managed to sneak into campsites and public bathrooms and get himself cleaned up enough not to offend passers by.

In Sacramento, it was hot, dusty and uncomfortable.  The city was so hectic and everyone in a car seemed to have personal vendettas against pedestrians and none of the cyclists have a helmet on, because it would mess with their hair that intentionally looks messy.  Jack could tell these people riding on bikes were those upper middle class white kids who liked to pretend they were the victims.

 

Jack over heard one of these fake-ass punks while walking past a coffee shop.  The little guy said, “This is the worst time in history to be a middle class white male.”  Jack immediately punched him in the face.  He collapsed onto the ground in a screaming pile of pain, bellowing about his broken nose, while Jack turned his back and walked away.  The man’s group of friends were still stunned and speechless by what happened as Jack walked off.  Jack simply said, in his emotionless manner, “Suck it up.”

 

Jack walked off, and he wondered how he could get away with doing these things to people in public and not have to deal with a single cop.  This was the second time Jack had committed assault since he got out, and each time he had gotten away with it, Jack wondered why.

 

Soon he could not stop thinking about the police.  He wondered if the police were on his trail, and then he wondered if they visited his friends yet.  They knew his real name, they could give plenty of evidence.  Jack did worry that the cops would throw his friends in jail for aiding a fugitive.  He wondered if they had tried to find his parents yet.  Good luck trying to talk to the dead, Jack thought.  He choose not to worry about it, he especially did not want to think about his parents.  Instead he choose to drink.  It was a long blur of a binge that day.  When nightfall came he slumped in an empty alley somewhere on L street and passed out for the night.

 

He awoke the next day around noon to the clutter and oblivion of the city.  The beat of the government employees’ feet speed walking to the capital.  The click and clank of coffee cups being chugged by hipsters sitting on the patio of the nearby coffee shops.

 

Jack was specifically awoken by a quarter being dropped on his face.  Apparently when people saw him asleep they thought he was a bum and dropped some change next to him.  Jack felt insulted.  He was homeless, but he wasn’t a bum.  But then he realized this was these people’s idea of charity, he knew they meant well, but he also knew it meant pity.  This infuriated Jack.  Jack needed no ones pity, but Jack soon resolved that once again he didn’t care.

 

He walked out of the alley and up a few feet to an artsy fake hipster cafe.  He walked to the front and asked the hipster girl behind the counter what the change could get him.

 

“A small coffee, and a biscotti.  We are giving out free biscotti today,”  replied the girl behind the counter.  She had black hair and a tattoo on her forearm, she reminded him of Alice.  Jack missed her for some reason, he didn’t know why.  Jack rarely misses anyone.

 

Jack sat in the restaurant and nursed his coffee and a tiny piece of stale biscotti as long as he could.  He took full advantage of the free water pitcher.  He sat and watched the other people in scorn.  They all looked at him as if he was just another bum sitting in a free space to get warm.    Apparently, thought Jack, being poor and cold is still frowned upon by people.  Jack wished they were poor and cold, if only for a day, Jack wished they could only know what this feels like.

 

Soon he left the cafe.  He resolved to find a shower somewhere.  He wasn’t going to a shelter though.  He knew those places are full of people trying to get in.  It wasn’t worth it.  He knew it would mean a roof over his head and a square meal but he knew demand was high in that department, and it just wasn’t worth the effort.  “Sad when the help to the needy is indeed no help at all.”  Jack remembered that from a Sunday school his grandma took him to when he was little.  Jack didn’t think about church any more.  He didn’t believe in god any more, not because he was an atheist or anything like that, he just didn’t care.  Like almost everything, Jack just didn’t care anymore.

 

When Jack left the coffee shop at around two, he wandered the town in hopes of finding an open faucet, or something he could use to at least wash his face.  His listless wandering led him to the town’s underside.  He didn’t know how but he went from midtown to some place called Del Paso Heights.  He knew he was in a ghetto when he saw a sign that said.  “This is a gun and drug free zone.”  It wasn’t even next to a school or a church, it was just a sign on the street paid for by the city.  You can also tell a ghetto because they have chain link fences surrounding the entire front yard instead of white picket fences merely separating two lawns.  The lawns here either didn’t exist or had brown bald spots like a green and brown Dalmatian.  The roads in ghettos are horrible too.  Pot holes and cracks that stretch from one end of the block to another.  Jack had discovered that Sacramento had it’s own version of South Central.

 

As the night drew out, more of  the underbelly of the city became exposed.  It wasn’t long until Jack had lost count of the amount of prostitutes that he saw and had made him propositions.

 

He walked past the beacon calls of, “You wanna go out honey?”

 

“You looking for a good time baby?”

 

“Need a date for the night honey?”

 

“Come on sweet cock, everyone needs some tail on a Friday.”

That one was the funniest to Jack, he had been asked by hookers plenty of times and he always ignored them.  But this was the first time one made him laugh out loud, because what hooker would resort to calling a guy, “sweet cock?”  She must either be an amateur or desperate, or both.

 

Apparently someone thought the same thing as Jack, only they didn’t think it was funny.  In fact they were out right pissed.  Behind him Jack could hear some loud guy shouting and the girl screaming and crying.

 

“BITCH!”

*Smack!

“WHAT THE FUCK KINDA LORE IS THAT? “SWEET COCK!”

*Smack!

“YOU GIVE ME ONE MOTHER FUCKING REASON WHY I SHOULDN’T FUCKING KILL YOU, YOU FUCKING UGLY ASS BITCH!?”

Jack just heard the guy go on and on, beating her while the girl was just screaming, “NO DADDY, NO PLEASE I’M SORRY DADDY!”  Jack turned around, the girl’s screams wouldn’t even phase the guy as he brought his hand up for each swooping hit.

 

Jack started having flashbacks to when he was a five year old clutching his teddy bear in his closet.  Trying to plug his ears to the sound of his mom screaming as he heard the smack of his fathers palm on her face.

 

Jack didn’t hesitate.

 

Jack ran up to the guy and clotheslined him as he ran by, the guy hit the back of his head on a fire hydrant and cut himself, deep.  While blood gushed from his skull, the girl took advantage of the moment and hid behind two trash cans.

 

Jack showed the man no mercy.  He knew no one in a ghetto was going to call the police at one in the morning if a cunt like this guy was getting what was coming to him.  He curb-stomped his front teeth to shattered glass, broke half his ribs, and crushed his back foot so bad the guy was destined to be a club-foot the rest of his life.  When he was sure the guy had passed out from the pain, or maybe was even dead, he searched his pockets.  He found little balloons full of heroin, he looked at the girl who was now shaking and crying and putting her hand over her eyes.  The girl was pale and thin, Jack could tell she was a junky.

 

He searched the guy some more and found a huge wad of bills, ranging from small to big.  He counted it out and there was over 5,000 in one wad.  He searched some more and found another wad containing another 5,000.  He took all of the guys gold and silver chains and bracelets, and a real rolex.  He took his clothes too, just to punish the guy further, and he left him in the middle of Del Paso Heights naked, bloody, and unconscious.  As he walked away he could still hear the girl crying behind the trash cans.  Jack still wasn’t used to this thing he called emotion, but now he felt the life altering emotion called pity.  He took pity on the girl and walked back.

He took out the two wads of cash.  He kneeled down to be eye to eye to the girl.  She hesitated to look at him and she still had her arms raised in fear.  She was shaking horribly, and Jack could tell it had been a while since her last hit.

“What’s your name?” He asked as tenderly as he could.  That wasn’t Jack’s strong suit.

 

“Mary,” she said, even her voice was shaking.

 

“How many girls besides you did this guy have working for him?”  he asked.

 

“It’s me and five others,”  she replied slowly trusting him more, but still crouching as far away from him as she could.

 

Jack counted out six thousand of the ten he had taken from the guy, and he slapped it into the girls palm.  “There, a thousand for each of you.  I’m keeping the rest.”  He pointed his finger at her like a father discipling a renegade teenage daughter who was finally scared straight.  “Tell the girls that he got busted, and they need to get out of the business while they have the chance. Give them the money, and then take yours and then leave the girls and wish them luck.  Go to a shelter, or a mission, or fuck I don’t know where just find a place where you can get some help.  Oh, and, DO NOT SPEND THAT MONEY ON SMACK.  CLEAR?”

 

“Crystal,”  replied Mary.  She obviously had experience with men telling her off, she replied without even a second of hesitation.  She knew to respond and respond fast, he had been so kind to her so far, but Mary knew that he could turn at any minute, she wanted to be ready.

 

She had no need to fear, all Jack said next was, “Good. Run along.”  Before Jack could even stand up all the way the girl was already up  to the end of the block.

 

“Damn,” Jack thought to himself.  “The girl can run pretty damn well in heals.”

 

Jack wandered until he was in the area that was sort of in between the ghetto and the suburbs, near some mall on the edge of the heights and some street called Arden.  The area wasn’t the ghetto, but it definitely wasn’t the rich part of the suburbs.  An upper lower middle class place.  He got a cheap room at a Motel Six, and took a long hot shower.  The first one since he had left his friends.  Jack missed them but decided it was best not to think about it.  He decided to watch some TV as he dried.  The only thing on was a bunch of old fuzzy movies and soft-core porn.  Jack left it on some old Joe Pesci movie that he didn’t know the name to.  He laid on the bed and passed out immediately.  He didn’t care if it was in a Motel Six right next to a busy loud street that was only blocks away from hookers.  He was comfortable.

 

 

The next day he woke up around noon.  He walked to the front desk and gave him the cash for another night.  Jack couldn’t believe the schmuck behind the desk took the name he gave, Jack didn’t even believe the name sounded real, but apparently all these people care about is that you pay.  Jack thought he could bring a twelve year old Chinese girl in chains who was screaming rape and this pimple faced fuck behind the bulletproof glass wouldn’t care as long as he either paid for the night in advance or had a credit card.

 

Still, it was funny that the guy actually believed his name was “Lewis Carroll.”

 

Jack had finished the book as he was drifting along the highways.  He loved the book, he thought it was fun and psychedelic, yet it made Jack think in a way he never had before.  Jack couldn’t tell exactly how, but he knew the book changed his thought process for the better.  He wanted to read more, and he decided to buy some more books with his cash. So he walked to the closest book store and he looked at the classics section.  He hadn’t heard of a lot of the books and authors in this section.  Except for the few he had seen as movies that he did not know started as books, like Treasure Island, Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and Sherlock Holmes.  Even Dracula and Frankenstein.  He saw Shakespeare plays he had never even heard of like The Tempest and King John.    He settled on Moby Dick.  It was long so he knew it would kill plenty of time, plus Jack always regretted not reading it when he was supposed to in high school, but he decided that this would make up for it.  He also decided to get one of the Shakespeare’s he was supposed to read but never did.  He settled on Hamlet, he didn’t know much about Shakespeare, but he knew that Shakespeare’s supposedly greatest play was Hamlet.

 

The books didn’t even cost him twenty dollars, he still had thousands.

 

He thought about splurging on a grand meal, but decided against it.  He would make this money last and settled for a few cheap meals at fast food joints to make the money last as long as possible.

 

After a meal of Taco Bell and Motel Six tap water, Jack began to read Hamlet.  He didn’t stop until he finished, it took him all night and well into the next morning, but he was enthralled.  The story was so epic, so intricate and interesting that Jack didn’t want to put it down.  Plus Jack identified with Hamlet.  He couldn’t believe a book written so long ago could be so insightful.  But Jack knew how Hamlet felt when everyone in his world was against him, that was Jack’s world growing up.  His parents were against him, his teachers, his classmates, even his so called “friends” turned against him the minute the cops showed up.  Jack knew how Hamlet felt when he contemplated suicide.  Jack had lost count of the times he wanted to kill himself.  After his first arrest however, Jack learned to stop caring.

 

Jack felt a new excitement he never felt before.  He felt bad for making fun of all those people who told him reading was fun and opened new worlds to people.  Now he could tell they weren’t bullshitting, reading was amazing, he didn’t believe it at the time because he didn’t even know that books like this and Alice in Wonderland existed.

 

He resolved to make up for all the reading he didn’t do in school, or in prison.  He wished he took advantage of the book cart more in jail .  No matter what, he decided to start reading and learning as much as he possibly could.

 

That was it, Jack realized. That’s what these books were doing to him, they were teaching him, for the first time in his life he was actually learning something useful.  It wasn’t how to avoid getting gang raped or how to carve a fake gun.  He was really learning, it felt amazing.  Jack actually began dancing around jumping for joy and with ecstasy over his realization.  He was learning, he was actually learning.  He was the happiest he had been since he was a child.

 

Happy, Jack Lewis, who used to have the nickname “Stone Cold Jack,” was happy.   Jack wasn’t even this happy when he got out of jail the first time.  Jack was now ecstatic.  He almost couldn’t contain himself, his feet stomped so loud the people on the floor beneath him almost called the front desk.

 

Jack couldn’t wait to start reading Moby Dick, but Hamlet had taken out all his energy and his burst of joy had drained what was left of his strength.  Soon he crashed on the bed, but couldn’t sleep because he hadn’t eaten since 8 pm last night,  and it was already 11:30 the next morning.  He walked to Burger King and got a cheap but filling breakfast.  He saw a homeless man begging in front.  The man asked him for some change so he could get a bite.  Jack slipped the man a twenty and left before the man could thank him.  He yelled out, but Jack only acknowledged the man with a wave of his hand.

 

The man was so grateful.  Jack didn’t know it, but he was the first person in a week to give the man any money.

 

Jack went back to his motel room, after paying for a third,and he decided, final night in Sacramento.  He took the chains and jewelry he had taken from the pimp and laid them all on the table.  They consisted of one big gold chain, one thin gold chain, two slim silver chains, two silver bracelets, two gold bracelets, and the rolex.  Jack would cash them in at the nearest pawn shop tomorrow on his way out of town.  Jack also resolved to wash his one set of clothes before he left.  He hadn’t since he left his friends.  He changed into the clothes he stole from the pimp and took his clothes to the nearest laundromat.  He felt like a jackass waiting for his clothes in baggy south-pole pants and a King’s jersey.  Especially since we was now a thin white boy with a beard and growing hair.  He hadn’t realized how much weight he lost until he put on the clothes ,but besides the muscle he had basically made permanent since prison, Jack was starting to become wiry.  He was amazed that his fast food diet wasn’t putting any weight on him though.

 

When his clothes were done.  He went back to his hotel room and slept for his final night.

 

He woke the next morning, and walked out with his bags.  He wandered until he found a pawn shop, he got almost a thousand for the chains and the rolex.  Jack was surprised.  He had to remember this pawn shop, other places didn’t give you that kind of a deal.

 

Jack walked out of Sacramento.   He walked out the city with a sense of  scorn for its people, its elitist structure and nature, and its hot dusty weather.  But he would always remember the city as the place he found himself, the self he actually wanted to be and not the self his world had made him.  He wanted to learn.  That was it.  He just wanted to learn and he was going to do it.  For some reason, he felt he had this city to thank for it.

Gramercy, The Journey of Jack Lewis. Chapter 2

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Chapter 2  Jack’s New Friends

For the first few nights Jack just crashed, tentless, in empty lots and beaches.  He had pinched and saved little bits of money over the years by trading with some of the other prisoners, but it certainly wasn’t much and it certainly wouldn’t last very long.

Eventually Jack decided to move his wandering inland, and he ended up in Los Angeles.  He wandered through East LA, down to Gardena, and even found his way to his old neighborhood in South Central.  Three cop cars drove past him while he was there and they didn’t even look at him.  He wondered how long it took them to get his APB out.

Jack’s wandering eventually led him to a bar.  “The GULP” in Hollywood, it was one of the places where the bohemians and the young of LA came to drink and discuss whomver was the new band on the scene.  Jack overheard the conversations and thought they were mostly rather self important.  

Except for one girl, the one with the Sailor Jerry hula dancer tattooed on her forearm.  She had tan skin and black hair, and she went on about how the state of the will has always been non existent and has only been the illusion of the mind.  Jack didn’t have any clue of what the fuck she was talking about, but he was interested.

But then some jackass who overheard her and who completely misunderstood her point got offended started yelling something about the existence of God and called her “SKANK,” at the top of his lungs.  

When he grabbed the girl by the forearm, Jack did not hesitate to bash his glass against the prick’s head so hard that a shard almost made it through the crack that was made in his skull.

The bar went silent except for the man’s cries of pain.  Blood stained the bar and the floor as the man clenched his burgundy stained palm to his forehead, and Jack had no sign of emotion on his face.  He simply put on his coat, paid his tab, nodded and muttered “Ma’am,” to the girl as if this was a scene out of a John Wayne movie.  He then turned and began to walk out.  As he walked out the girl yelled, “My name is Alice.”

Jack didn’t stop walking or even turn around.  All he said, loud enough for everyone in the bar to hear was, “That’s nice.”

He then walked into the night’s cold wind, stepping over homeless slumps on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  Kermit the Frog was now home to a disturbed Vietnam vet, and Lucille Ball hosted a schizophrenic who thought Ivanhoe and Dr. Faust were his associates.

Jack walked on and he gave what little change he could to every cup that he saw.

Jack had no place to sleep in the city, so he settled for one of those transient hotels on the underside of town.  He got an almost free room there, he lied and said his name was Lewis Jackson.  He slept on the hard mattress and pillow and was thankful to have a roof over his head again.

For a brief moment, he wondered what had become of his old room at his mom’s, and what happened to all of his belongings.  But like usual he didn’t care, he merely shrugged and went to sleep.

The next morning he was awoken by a knock on the door.

Jack had no peep hole so he had to crack the door to find that it wasn’t the police but the girl with the tattoo on her arm.

Jack was annoyed.  “Can I help you?” Jack grunted, drunk on gin and sleep.

She was timid but eventually she found the words.  “I wanted to thank you.  I never thanked you properly and I just wanted to…”

“How did you find where I was?” he interjected.

“I followed you last night…”  She was still timid.  Jack’s tone wasn’t helping her nerves.

“And why didn’t you just thank me last night?  Why wait until the morning?” He interrupted again.

“You seemed like you wanted to be left alone, plus it takes a little while to gather up the courage to thank someone for shoving shards of glass into someone’s face.”

“Fair point.” Jack conceded, “The girl is smart,” he thought, “a little weird but smart.”

“Well, Alice was it? You are welcome, but listen I don’t know if you have any other intentions or anything else you want to say or ask or anything like that.  So, please do it now and then please do me the favor of fucking off.  Don’t take it the wrong way but I’m not the kind of guy a girl like you should be getting involved with in any way shape or form.  You got it?”  He said this with his usual lack of anger, stress, or any other remote emotion.  He simply stated it as a straightforward matter of fact.

She rubbed her arms and conceded that she only wanted to know if there was anything she could do to repay him?

Jack said that he hasn’t had sex since he left prison, so she gave him head, and they had three rolls in the hay.  She left doing something she wasn’t when she arrived, smiling.

Jack felt sorry for the girl as she left, in Jack’s mind anyone who was willing to have sex with someone who would bash another person’s head in must have some serious issues.  Jack was grateful to finally have gotten some tail though.  But he didn’t let it stop him from packing up and moving on to the next town.

Jack went back to his aimless wandering and ended up on the coast, Jack could have sworn he was walking south, but it didn’t matter, a change in venue was a change in venue.

Jack had a problem now though, Jack was out of money.  He could steal some, but until he had cash Jack settled on shoplifting random foods and bottles of water.  He spent his whole childhood shoplifting, and he never got caught, he was practically an expert at it.

He managed to get ten pre wrapped sandwiches, plenty of canned goods, and any bottle of whiskey he could sneak.

After he stocked up on food he wandered about the town, and eventually ended up back on the beach.  There he saw a group of college kids smoking pot and drinking beer.  Jack was in the mood to socialize so he walked up to the group, introduced himself using only his first name and offered some whiskey if they would smoke pot with him.  

The obvious leaders of the group were a long haired thin white hippie in a baja sweatshirt, and a tan black haired kid in a grey Cosby sweater with a hawk-like nose.  The leader of the females of the group was a brown haired Amazonian who had long flowing hair and thin square hipster glasses.  Jack immediately wanted to sleep with her, but for the first time in his life Jack was actually intimidated by this woman.  He didn’t know what it was but she was so beautiful, in a strong way.  

The three did not hesitate to smile and welcome Jack to the group, and invited him to not only enjoy the pot but to also enjoy the marshmallows they were roasting, the fire to keep warm, and they even offered to let him crash at their beach side house that night.

Jack was taken aback by their open friendliness. It was a warmth that Jack hadn’t felt in a long time, not since he was a little kid visiting his grandma who would spoil him with Oreos and Pizza Rolls and tell him how special and imaginative he was.

The atmosphere was so open and welcome, that for the first time since he was a child, Jack genuinely smiled, laughed and had a good time.  Eventually he pointed out to the others “You know you guys never told me your names.”

The others laughed and apologized, and all the three leaders introduced themselves along with the others who seemed more or less to be the followers of the group.  The thin kid with long hair was Kobe, “Not pronounced like the ball player. Not kobie, kobAY.” He giggled like the stoner he was, the tan kid with long hair introduced himself as Alex.  The girl leader of the group was Fiona, and she smiled what Jack thought was the most beautiful smile he had ever seen.

“So where you from?” Alex asked Jack.

“South Central.” Jack replied as he inhaled a joint.

“That’s rough dude,” said Kobe.  Jack could immediately tell that he was the social butterfly of the group, he interjected on any conversation casually and naturally.  Jack wished he had social skills like that, and conceded to himself that if he had gone to college maybe he could have developed them.  But he remembered that no one with criminal records get financial aid, and college like everything else in the US, except air, costs money.

But Jack liked Kobe nonetheless, it was impossible not to like him.

Their conversation went on for a while, and Kobe revealed they were students at Santa Monic College.  Eventually, Fiona joined the conversation by asking, “So where did you do your time?”

The whole group was taken back by the question, except for Jack, he just smiled one of his rare smiles and said,“Smart girl, how’d you know though?”

“You can’t seriously tell me that I’m the first one to point out the bar code tattooed on the back of your neck. Bar code tattoos either means you really like some product and have an odd way of showing it, or you did time and got your number tattooed under a barcode.  It’s a common prison tattoo.”

Jack could not feel stupider.  He had forgotten all about his tattoo, which no one had in fact mentioned.  Jack never saw his tattoo because it was on the back of his neck, and in prison tattoos are so common no one bothers to mention them to each other so you eventually forget you even have one.  Jack just smiled, and replied, “Lampoc, for larceny.  Don’t worry, I’m clean now.”  He felt no need to list his whole record, or the fact he was on the run.  He didn’t want to trouble them with that fact.

Fiona smiled back, “Dude it’s cool.”

Alex added, “Totally,” as he coughed excessively.

“Forgive and forget, that’s what I say.”  Kobe said with his friendly smile.

“Thanks,” said Jack. Jack couldn’t believe it.  Most people in the world would shun him faster than anyone could.  But they didn’t, Jack almost wanted to cry, but managed to stay in high spirits.  They didn’t even withdraw their invitation for him to crash at their place.

When it came time to pack up, Jack helped them and sat in the back seat next to Fiona, whom he always smiled to and who always smiled back.

The house was a simple cottage, with a kitchen and living room and pot plants growing and drying all over, and a whole wall decorated with every kind and color of smoking utensil imaginable.

The minions had dispersed to their homes, and Jack was left with the three leaders in their home.  They circled up in the living room exchanging stories and hitting a vaporizer.

Jack hadn’t smoked pot since his second strike.   By his second hit he was so high he felt like he was floating.  When he passed out  he felt like he was floating even in his dreams, which consisted of Fiona and Alice.