My worst Christmas Eve? The one that made scrubbing shitters on a battleship in the middle of nowhere feel like a holiday cruise? The one that made watching my drunk biker uncle dressed as Santa Clause get hauled off by the cops play like a heart-warming scene out of an after school special? Well, hands down then that would have to be driving around with Jimmy while he was geeked out on some serious hillbilly grade crank.
Of course that wasn’t the original plan. The original plan was to hole up with the Folks down in sunny South Florida sipping hits off a bong and zoning out to the lights blinking off the tree. A fat stack of gifts waiting to be torn apart. A belly full of Mom’s good cooking soaking up the travel fatigue. Drifting from childhood memories fattened with love and sprinkled with nostalgia to the shores of a long, dark sleep. Safe. Warm. Content.
A good plan. A great plan.
Until it fell apart that morning, when I woke up hung-over from a one-night stand and discovered my wallet had been lifted. No wallet meant no ID. No ID meant no ticket. No ticket meant no flight. No flight meant my one-night stand had fucked me both metaphorically and literally in the space of a handful of hours.
Called the folks immediately. Gave them the news up front. Gave it to them wrapped in a half-assed excuse that they were too pissed to even question. Nevertheless they immediately offered to wire me down some money stat. No good though, I’d need an ID to pick it up and even then I’d certainly need one to get on a bus or a train for it to do us any good.
So instead, t’was the night before Christmas and all through the city not a creature was stirring, while us monsters were out roaring…
“Ohhhhh… don’t believe what they say is true!” Jimmy screamed along to the chorus of an old punk song blasting through the crackle of his ride’s last functioning speaker. He punched my shoulder playfully, blazed through a red light in the wilds of Sprawlurbia and shrugged obliviously. “Ohhhhh… their system doesn’t work for you!”
So that was that. A Christmas Eve roll call of Me, Jimmy, some Hillbilly Crank and Anti-Flag’s greatest hits.
But what were my options? Friends? Gone for the holidays like I should’ve been. Girlfriend? The closet thing to a relationship was Lady Lightfingers the night before. Family? None up here in Terminus… none, except Jimmy.
Jimmy, who was the only cat in town who could be bothered to return my call that day (from the last working payphone in Little Five at that). Who immediately asked what the hell I was still doing in Terminus. Who sighed his ‘only you’ laugh when I gave him the answer. Who then proceeded to ask what I was up to then as if he didn’t already know: nothing.
“Right.” He growled in a New York accent that he occasionally slipped in and out of, “Guess that means you’re coming with me then.”
“Sh’yeah” I snorted as if I had a choice. “And where would that be?”
“Same place I go every Christmas Eve.” Jimmy barked a dismissive laugh as if he couldn’t believe I had to ask. “Grandpa 77’s for the Big Feast.”
Now Grandpa 77 might’ve been a little before your time. Hell he was before everyone’s time when you got right down to it. So here’s what I know. Word had it that he was the oldest punk in the Scene. Local scuttlebutt placed him as the first punk to be pulled out of CBGB’s on a stretcher and the last one to piss an anarchy symbol across the walls of the Chelsea Hotel before it shut down. Ask around long enough and you’d hear how he was there in the delivery room to slap a newborn Johnny Rotten in the ass and how Johnny hasn’t stopped wailing since. He supposedly had more ink on his arms than in the pages of the Sunday Times and more war stories than an American Legion meeting.
99% of them being pure bullshit… but you still had to love the old bastard regardless.
Apparently, every Christmas Eve he held this humongous ‘Feast’ for all the gutter punks, hood rats, junkies, runaways and other sundry fuck-ups with nowhere else to call home. And this year, we’d be joining them.
But first thing was first, as Jimmy explained, we would have to pick up a little something-something before we hit the Feast.
We were well into hour four of ‘real quick’ before we were finally on our way. Trying to at least. Jimmy was lost and with each unrecognizable name of the street flashing by us he’d punch the steering wheel with a curse.
I don’t know how it happened but somehow a single pick-up turned into thee drops spread all over the fucking map.
Drop 1: “Who’s this?” Daddy Methead asked dressed in nothing but boxers and a baseball hat. He was basking in front of a wrestling match, sipping on a cold beer and eyeballing me suspiciously. Around him the whole damn Methead Clan had gathered. Mama Methead, Big Darla, Lil’ Darla, Uncle Jay-Jo, and The Twins wailing away somewhere in the kitchen. We’re an hour West of the Perimeter in a place you thought only existed in horror movies or urban legends routines.
“He’s cool.” Jimmy grunted and I offered my hand out to our host. Daddy Methead instead rubbed a scraggly goatee thoughtfully towards the match. The television frame was decorated in silver tinsel, on the screen two steroid induced mooks took turns slapping each other with fold-out chairs. Daddy Methed finally spat into an empty can before grumbling at Jimmy : “What’cha need?”
The whole time the deal went down the family just stared away at the match. Except Big Darla, who blew me kisses on the sly whenever she thought Mama Methead weren’t looking.
When we finally made our way to the car across the gravel driveway, our senses chemically sharpened and, despite my previous suspicions otherwise, our asses rape free – I asked Jimmy if we were finally ready to hit the ‘Feast’.
“What?” Jimmy looked at me baffled, “No man. I gotta pick something up first, remember?”
“I thought this was the pick-up.”
“Shiiiit.” Jimmy snickered unlocking the door to his car, “This’s just to get my head straight for the night. C’mon, you know I haven’t been sleeping well lately. ”
Drop 2: “Who’s this?” T-Dog asked, wearing a big red Santa cap and folding himself into the backseat of the car while eyeballing me suspiciously. Just moments before we rolled into this side street down in East Point. Jimmy pulled to a stop in front of an abandoned parking lot and honked twice before dimming then brightening his headlights three times. Five seconds passed before T-Dog emerged from some bushes in front of a chain link fence, glanced around to make sure the coast was clear and ambled on over.
“He’s cool.” Jimmy grunted once T-Dog settled in and I turned to proffer my hand in greeting.
“What’cha need?” T-Dog asked Jimmy ignoring the hand.
T-Dog fished five plump dime bags out of his pocket and even threw in a pack of skins in the spirit of the holidays. Jimmy peeled him off three twenties and told him to keep the change in the same spirit. T-Dog nodded his thanks, got out of the car, crawled back to the bushes and vanished.
“Alright, roll us up one.” Jimmy ordered, pulling us back out the side street in reverse.
“We on our way now or what?”
“Mannn, where you gotta be that you’re in such a rush?”
“I just assumed…”
“C’mon,” Jimmy shook his head with a roll of his eyes, “This’s just to take the edge off the crank. Don’t worry though. Next stop and then we’ll be on our way, if that’s alright by you Cinderella? ”
Drop 3: “Who’s this?” Zombie Raver droned in monotone, sprawled spaced-out on his couch while his girlfriend Zombie Pixie sat tranced in front of a wide screen first person shooter. Hordes of aliens exploded before vacant eyes as she navigated through one virtual slaughter to the next. Zombie Raver eyeballed me suspiciously from the corner of a rapidly dwindling attention span.
“S’alright.” I giggled, stoned. “I’m cool.”
Zombie Raver and Zombie Pixie broke out of their mutually exclusive reveries to stare at me in unison, then each other, then broke off with Pixie diving back into the game and Raver blinking stupidly up at me – “What’cha need?”
Three sheets of acid and somewhere in the neighborhood of two hundred dollars later we concluded the deal with one of T-Dog’s dime bags. On our way out Jimmy answered the question before I could ask.
“Yeah … we’re on our way. Okay?”
It took us twenty minutes to realize we had no idea how we got to the Zombie pad and another twenty before we had to admit we didn’t know where we were. After pulling into a deserted gas station so Jimmy could reload his nostrils , a rather simple solution to our predicament dawned upon him. We’d simply have to drive even faster, under the belief that if one had enough velocity, the direction would eventually work itself out.
It was a good plan. A great plan… until we ran out of gas a half hour later and had to abandon the car.
“Fuck it.” Jimmy shrugged philosophically emerging from a fresh bump off a stray key along with his ride, “The car was stolen anyway.”
Three hours, several miles and God only knows how many miles later, we hung a right off Moreland marched two blocks down, rounded a corner and immediately scoped the party clear down the road.
It was hard to miss after all, what, with the five squad cars surrounding the place with their sirens lighting up the neighborhood in strobes of festive red and blue.
A scant five houses away from where we stood and there was a Grandpa 77 in the front yard, wrestling away with two uniforms trying to escort him off the front lawn. A small mob of gutter punks were similarly being rounded up but only Grandpa put up any sort of fight. Through the distance I could see him, shirtless beneath an ancient black leather jacket, the last patches of his scalp spiked into twin fins, his pale scarecrow physique and white scruffy beard illuminated in the collective glow of the sirens. Some of the neighbors had stepped out to their porches to watch the commotion in their robes and pajamas.
At one point Grandpa managed to squirm free and he bolted to the edge of the lawn. There he pried free a big FOR $ALE sign out of the dead grass and began waving it menacingly at the closing cops. “Ho-ho-ho, you fuckin’ pigs!” Grandpa screamed moments before being tear gassed, tasered and clubbed into submission.
Such was the last stand of the Ghost of Punk Rock Past.
“We should get out of here.” I muttered in the face of the spectacle.
“You think?” Jimmy blinked stoically before we both slowly turned around and walked away.
We were standing under the awning of a bus stop a healthy distance away, waiting for the rain to break or at least lighten some. We were soaking wet and huffing on a fat roach. On the bench besides us, an old wino had passed out clutching an empty bottle like a teddy bear.
“Great fucking party, Jimmy.” I coughed passing him the roach and craning my head down the block in the paranoid delusion that we might’ve been spotted at the ruckus and tailed.
Jimmy said nothing and hissed a hit through clenched teeth.
“I mean seriously… Best. Fuckin’. Christmas. Ever.”
“Dude.” Jimmy flicked the roach into the gutter and turned to me. “Shut up.”
“What?” I turned right back on him with wounded pride. “ I think I have a right to bitch here…”
“Yeah, well you’ve done nothing else all night. I mean, okay, sure it sucks to be you. Got it. But it wasn’t my fault some bitch ganked your wallet, or that you couldn’t see your folks, or the party got busted, alright? And don’t be thinking I didn’t have friends who were there and are prolly spending their Christmas morning in lock-up instead of standing here smoking out with a buddy right now.”
I went to snap back but nothing came. Instead I turned away from Jimmy and looked down at the crashed out wino. I swallowed back my pride and nodded.
“You’re right, man. You’re absolutely right. So what do you wanna do now?”
I turned back and Jimmy just stood there with his hand folded into a pistol with the finger barrel pointed right at my face. It took me a moment to figure out that there was a white hit of acid on the tip. I looked at the hit and then back at Jimmy, who grinned and un-rolled his tongue to show that he had two hits on there already.
I plucked the hit off his finger tip and stamped it on my own tongue with a shiver.
“Merry Christmas, Mother-Fucker!” Jimmy smiled and punched me on the arm.
“Merry Christmas, Asshole!” I punched him back and we hunkered ourselves deeper into our jackets before venturing off into the rain.
Before being gainfully employed as a mild mannered bureaucrat toiling mindlessly in the bowels of one of Corporate America’s numerous cube farms, Rob Mosca was haunted by dreams of becoming an author. Envisioning a lush life of sleeping in until noon, courting delightfully sordid muses and growing a thick nicotine stained beard, he decided that the recent economic downturn was as good a time as any to quit his steady day job in order to write the Great American Novel. He has had no regrets in pursuing this new occupation save having to subsist on a steady diet of Ramen Noodles, Little Debbie snack cakes and copious amounts of Mad Dog 20/20.
High Midnight is his first novel, an homage to the Midnight Movies he grew up on and the gritty pulp men’s magazines he would peruse in the back of his grandfather’s closet as a child. Currently moonlighting as a night club door man for ‘walking around money,’ he occasionally DJs and frequently blogs under the nom de guerre of Jack Babalon, in his adopted home town of Terminus, Ga.