Whenever I’m about to take off somewhere unfortunate or have just returned from somewhere unfortunate—having been expelled or jailed or found to be engaged in some form of reckless behavior—my mother calls my grandfather, and he takes me for coffee. This call and the subsequent sharing of personal information with my grandfather used to fill me with an uncontrollable rage, but at this point, being by now in my mid-30s, I aspired to disinterest in these exchanges, and being almost destitute, car-less, and, once again, an ungrateful resident of my mother’s home, this outing with grandfather, was, along with getting out to California, something to at least look forward to.
In his Cadillac, en route to coffee, my grandfather preemptively explained that he would not be joining me for coffee as he’d taken his coffee at 6 a.m., at the McDonalds across the street from his office (a large commercial property that he owned outright).
So, seated in a classy breakfast-serving bistro, located within a former bank vault, surrounded by small-minded Kansas City business big shots, my grandfather was about to tell our waitress to bring me coffee, but she spoke first.
“Can I get some coffee for you gentleman?” She asked before my grandfather had a chance to speak. He didn’t appreciate her question and, he was about to tell her as much, but then he remembered his Bible lessons. He remembered that she was, like us all, just flesh and bone, and on this day, at least for her, the flesh was at the controls but her situation, like my own, wasn’t entirely hopeless. That said, God wouldn’t do all the work for her, so he took a softer tone. It wasn’t the time for sharp words. It was time to bear witness, to set a Christ-like example.
“Now honey, I’ve had my coffee so no thank you, but my grandson here, well, he could certainly use a cup.”
He was giving her an opportunity to be of service but he’d only give her one chance. She was certainly testing him. She was, by way of her question, implying that my grandfather was a late sleeper, that he’d just gotten up and this was his first cup of the day.
This assumption could not stand. Her question, according to my grandfather’s tone, exposed the spiritual fragility of her station in life. Clearly, there was no Godly man in her home. Therefore, without this guidance, guidance that had to start in the home, her situation, given her stupidity and general lack of humility, was nearly hopeless. Simply put, her assumption, that a man of obvious means and standing like my grandfather was just now getting around to his first cup of the day, spoke to the lack of real masculine/spiritual leadership in her home. But then, my grandfather was reminded, by way of my presence and way of life thus far, that no home was perfect and that included his own daughter’s.
The waitress brought my coffee and two glasses of water, which my grandfather swiftly rejected, as he’d asked for nothing. He didn’t like women, or anyone weak, inserting themselves into his space uninvited. For him, this waitress’s bold assumption that he needed water, after all the grace and patience he’d shown her, could not go unpunished. She was threatening his authority: an authority that thousands relied on to pay the bills and keep their own homes in order. He, not her, decided what others needed and, according to him, I needed coffee, and I could take my coffee however I wanted. He wouldn’t interfere with that. I was free, at least in that sense, to be my own man.
“You like milk and sugar?”
I didn’t need a damn thing in the coffee, but, clearly, my grandfather figured me to be some kind of pussy given my circumstances.
“This is fine,” I said. I was careful to sound grateful and appreciative of his concern regarding my coffee, but he continued to press me.
“Not even milk? Really?”
I guess I seemed like the type who needed milk, who would insist on it for cooling and nutritional purposes.
“I’m fine with this.” I responded.
After the waitress removed the waters, my grandfather set a yellow legal pad on the table. But before getting to his notes, he told me that he’d received a call from my mother.
The Reason for this Call
Thirty-seven days prior to this, I’d been jailed for jumping out of some bushes, and when I contacted my mother from jail, she forced me, over the telephone, into agreeing to attend a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility. The payment of my bail was contingent upon my agreeing to proceed upon my release to a facility.
When I got out of jail my mother presented me with a list of what she called my “treatment options.” She’d received this list from my former therapist, Dr. Michael J. Lubbers, a very tall Lutheran with many daughters. Upon inspecting this list, I informed my mother that these were not drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers, they were private institutions for the mentally ill, and none of them were in Southern California.
She’d failed to provide me with a list of appropriate treatment options, so I did some research on the internet. I wanted an unfashionable local rehab, a cheap place where I’d be considered eccentric. I could have insisted on a Malibu Rehab, but I didn’t want to appear shallow, so I selected a modest facility called The Last Battle that catered to combat vets. When my mother questioned my choice, I told her that God had chosen it and, for once, I was staying out of His way. She left the room to telephone Dr. Michael J. Lubbers about my decision, and I began packing my duffle.
The First time I saw Alden
The next day, after receiving Lubber’s “okay” and driving into a rural Missouri County, two hours south of Kansas City, we arrived at what appeared to be a prefabricated building on extensive acreage. A small man, outfitted in absurdly oversized camo apparel—formal military hat and classic brassy aviators—stood at attention outside the door to this facility. He didn’t adjust his distant gaze as we approached; with his eyes focused on the horizon, he seemed to have other things on his mind.
My mother, being one of those on-good-terms-with-everyone types, was anxious to exit the vehicle and introduce herself to this focused military man. But I demanded she be on her way. I was trying to come off as “responsible for my own recovery” as I approached this soldier, duffle in hand, and offered him a mild greeting, a subtle nod, then turned and offered the same to my mother before opening the door and entering my new home.
The soldier followed me in. He was right on my tail and I could feel him nodding with approval as he inspected my little bottom. Two late-middle-aged men, dressed entirely in civilian attire, were seated on a filthy sofa watching television. I joined them, but just as I was getting into the programming, the soldier spoke. Apparently, it was time for my intake. I was to report to his office immediately. I rose and followed him down a dimly lit hall.
Within those Private Quarters
Seated before a desk carved from a single piece of highly varnished (high-gloss) wood, in one of those lightweight foldable beach chairs, the soldier’s demeanor lightened. His jaw appeared uncomfortably locked in one of these I’ve seen it all smiles. That’s when I spotted his single pearly white tooth, top-row front. Then he quit smiling. It was time to get down to business. He reached that long, skinny camo-covered arm across the table in my direction, rusty coffee tin in hand. He was offering me a strand of licorice from an old Hills Brothers Coffee tin. I declined his offer, and at this his jaw released and he grinned his real grin. He informed me that this house was built on licorice. I pressed him for details.
His name was Alden T., and, as I suspected, he’d fought in Desert Storm, a military conflict that he referred to as “the sober prom where I got my cherry popped.” I didn’t quite know what he meant by “cherry popped,” and he seemed to sense this. He explained that he was referring to his first “official” kill in the line of duty. He then went on to explain how he’d found himself in “the recovery game.” Alden T. was the owner and operator of The Last Battle.
“After those towers fell, I re-enlisted, but, I guess, He had another plan for my life. So, I figured I’d get my rocks off, one last time, on American Soil, pre-deploy. But I missed that flight to Sand Hell thanks to a little She-Devil in a black Stetson. She offered me a toot of what I took to be Straight China. That kicked off a six-year crank run, which I take responsibility for, but thanks to a Baton Rouge jury, I found my bottom in Angola. I traded it all in, every night, for single strands of red vine black.”
Alden stood and offered me another strand of red vine black from that calcified coffee tin. This time he was less friendly about it. He brought that tin right up to my face. I could smell that licorice, and it was fresh.
“First strand’s on the house,” he said.
But I declined again.
“More for me,” he snapped, with a postured indifference, as he stashed the tin in a drawer. Clearly, Alden was not accustomed to rejection. He’d never seen anybody reject free licorice before.
Then we finally got down to business: the business of recovery. He claimed to care about my sobriety, “more than you’ll ever know.” And because he really cared, he suggested I develop a taste for licorice, be it black or red.
How I Learned about Alden’s Family
Clearly, Alden had done some things for licorice. Things that were, according to Alden, “more than worth it” because they’d got him clean, sober and into the recovery biz. But Alden wasn’t a family man, not in the traditional sense. He never spoke of dependents, at least not of the two-legged variety. He’d purchased a pair of purebreds, but they were still in training. Those Prussian Shepherds were in a three-year Unquestioning Loyalty Program at The K-9 Academy of Texas. Despite their distant location, they were clearly on Alden’s mind. In the middle of our relapse prevention group sessions he often fielded phone calls from the academy director, a Dr. Scott Sasso. For the most part, Alden seemed pleased with the progress of his purebreds. He nodded and grinned that single-tooth grin as Sasso brought him up to speed. When speaking with the doctor, he would refer to a small notebook kept in the breast pocket of his absurdly oversized camo jacket (he had to be hiding something beneath that garment). Over the phone with Scott, he referred to specific “trials” according to a numerical ordering.
A few days into my treatment, in the middle of our group session, Alden, as usual, received a call regarding a specific trial: number 2-389 required each shepherd to bury a loaded 9mm pistol no less than five feet beneath the earth. Miss Ruthie, Alden’s only bitch, had dug too deep a hole for the pistol and was unable to climb out. Sasso knew she was digging too deep and tried to stop her. He blew his silent orange whistle repeatedly but that bitch kept digging until she was stuck in the hole, and Sasso sure as hell wasn’t going down there to get her. Alden responded lightheartedly to this news: “Sounds like that bitch is digging her own grave on my dime. Keep her where she is!”
Alden T. slowly closed his flip phone, pulled an un-holstered semi-automatic 9mm from deep within his oversized camo jacket and released that standard-sized clip. He let the standard clip fall to the floor and replaced it with an oversized high-capacity magazine that was longer than the barrel. It extended out until it nearly doubled the length of the handle. He had that monster Banana Style Clip locked in tight. It curved softly as it emerged from that handle. He flipped the safety, popped a hot one in the chamber (if I had to guess, the ammo capacity was no less than 90 rounds), pulled the hammer back and casually pointed the weapon in my direction, letting his wrist hang loose, just horsing around. Then he spoke to me.
“Hey Mr. Jasper, sounds like I got a little booty-call-action down in Texas that needs tending to.”
Alden’s hand reemerged from the camo coat gun-less. Instead of a pistol he was holding a fresh jumbo-pack of red vine black. He threw it my way and it landed softly in my lap. We both knew what this meant: I’d be in charge while Alden was away.
I figured this new arrangement would enrage the long-term patients and they would beat me as I slept, but nobody seemed to care. The other patients were all men over 60 who prided themselves on their facial hair. My sober brothers all maintained various styles of facial hair, and when they weren’t trimming their whiskers, they were polishing, cleaning and charging their electronic shaving devices.
Like I said, they were too focused on their grooming to resent me, but inadvertently they kept me focused on my ultimate goal. One loser started calling me Mr. Hollywood because I’m very handsome, clean-shaven and often wear black turtleneck sweaters. According to my Last Battle sober brothers, I needed to keep my face hairless and feminine because it was frequently sprayed with male ejaculate. This observation wasn’t mean-spirited, it was framed as a good-natured joke about my appearance, but, at other times it felt like a no-nonsense justification to inflict bodily harm upon me.
I was relieved when Alden returned a few days later. I knew he’d protect me from the others, but only because he wanted to be the first to harm me.
My nickname reminded me of my real dream, but a dream without a plan is just a wish. I figured the trauma I’d endured while residing at The Last Battle would shame my mother into funding my new life in Los Angeles. Additionally, I’d saved her hundreds of thousands of dollars by choosing The Last Battle as opposed to the long term private mental health facilities my former therapist Dr. Michael J. Lubbers had strongly recommended.
A few weeks later, having completed my treatment, I met privately with Alden to receive my post-treatment plan of attack. Alden seemed angry or at least concerned about my chances on the outside.
“You think you gonna go back to that fancy momma,” he muttered under his breath.
I knew better than to respond.
“Your momma’s a good woman. She calls me most nights. She don’t want you coming home quite yet.”
I found it unlikely that my mother would speak with a person like Alden over the phone on a regular basis, but this was troubling to hear. My 30 days were almost up, and I was looking forward to getting out.
“We get some hard cases around here Jasper, but you’re a real doozy. I told that fancy momma of yours that I ran the numbers on your sweet little ass. You got 60 days before you turn up stiff and pickled.”
I wanted to leave Alden’s office, or what he referred to as the situation room, and phone my mother and tell her what a lunatic this Alden was and how he had threatened to rape me if I didn’t eat his licorice. But I remained calm. Alden was enjoying himself; he liked messing with me. He had taken out that old-timey coffee tin and spoke with a single strand of red vine black hanging loose between his single tooth and raw gum. But this time, he didn’t offer me any.
“I’d keep you around for the extended care program, but frankly, your attitude stinks and I don’t have the energy or the staff to address that. But my brother in arms, Lloyd-Z, has got a state licensed, full-charter-lockdown-facility just outside Jackson, Miss. Z’s a real card, one of the last, a real Mississippi Mud-Boy. Anyway, state regulation’s a little looser down there. Plus, Z-Man’s cozy with local law on account of his hardware.”
In that moment, I realized that, without my mother’s assistance, I had no money or options. I regretted not taking my mother up on her offer to hospitalize me long-term at one of the more reputable facilities on Dr. Michael J. Lubbers’ list (having essentially banished me there, Lubbers might have visited, and in time he would have brought his family along for those visits. I’d get to know them all in a very personal way. I’d be vulnerable on account of all the psych- meds; I’d pull back “the curtain” and maybe they’d do the same).
But it was too late for all that. I’d missed my shot at long-term-care and I needed to focus on the future. My being rewarded for choosing this low-cost treatment option with a generous lump-sum payout from my mother with which to fund my spiritually evolved and artistically credible sober existence in Los Angeles was seeming more and more unlikely thanks to Alden. There seemed no escaping Mr. Z’s swampy rehab fortress, but I knew I needed to play it cool. So, rather than get defensive (which I think Alden was expecting), I decided to arouse and then entrap him.
“Well, I appreciate you setting this up, Alden. I’m certainly anxious to get down to Jackson and acquaint myself with this Mr. Z. and his licorice.”
I wasn’t sure why I was employing this tactic, but if Alden had my mother on board with the Mississippi option, my only way out would be to somehow film Alden enjoying me. If I could convince Alden that he was sending a willing piece of untapped man-pussy down south, he might insist on getting that first taste before turning me over to Z-Man. My primary fear, at this point, was contracting something incurable from Alden. I suspected his oversized fatigues concealed an emaciated, lesion-and-track-mark-stricken frame.
My licorice talk had certainly triggered something in Alden. He was side-glaring me, raising and lowering his left eyebrow just above those brassy aviators. Once in possession of footage documenting Alden doing whatever it was that he wanted to do to me over his thickly lacquered, wormy-cottonwood Dixie mafia-style desk, I would immediately send it to my mother, and she would be appalled. She’d pull me out of The Last Battle and quickly fund my Venice Beach-Topanga Craftsman-equestrian-center lifestyle. Thinking about those barely cool SoCal nights was getting me pretty worked up. I was anxious to get to Los Angeles, with or without AIDS or hepatitis or whatever Alden would give me.
I’d never had a man inside me, and I knew that if this anal deflowering went undocumented, if things started to heat up without my iPhone rolling or if my phone somehow fell from its perch, I’d immediately reach back with my aristocratically long arms, into Alden’s camo jacket. I’d gain control of that banana-clipped sidearm. I wouldn’t shoot Alden though; I wouldn’t die as a murderer. But I was getting ahead of myself. At that point, I just needed to distract Alden, to get him out of the room so I could set my recording phone in some discreet nook.
Then it happened.
“I’ll be right back, Jasper. You don’t move.”
Alden quickly exited. I assumed he was injecting his track-marked penis with some rough-cut variety of stimulant, so I went to work. I balanced my camera on a framed photo of the second plane heading straight for the south tower.
I only had a few minutes of memory on the phone, so once Alden returned, we’d have to immediately get down to it. I removed my trousers and underwear, folded them neatly on the desk, and struck a submissive pose over the desk in full view of the camera.
Then my mother entered the room. I’m not sure if Alden was bluffing about Z-Man’s Backwater Mississippi Rehab. Maybe he was just messing with me before I departed. I don’t know because, upon viewing my well-crafted backside, my mother fainted and struck her head on the beach chair. She has subsequently claimed to have no memory of this encounter or the days leading up to it.
After a short trip to the hospital, I was back living in my mother’s stone Tudor, drinking her ancient wines and standing at the end of the driveway waiting for my grandfather to pick me up and take me to coffee.
— Calvin Atwood has written two novels, Banned from Laguna Beach and Banned from Bob’s Island. He also has a collection of short stories called Louis Armstrong Cured my Sex Addiction. You can find more of his writing at Expat, Misery Tourism and Forever Magazine among other places. He lives in New York City.