It’s that time again.
To set the stage for this adventure, I’ll cast my mind back to a time, oh, about eight years ago. Or nine. Wait a minute, I need to go figure out how long it’s been. Sadly, I’m serious.
Omigod. It’s been over ten years. Maybe closer to eleven or twelve. I’m not really THAT old, am I? This is one of my recent stories!
Ok, enough sadness. I can get depressed later.
At the time of this tale, I’d been out of the Marines for about three years. Due to various circumstances, I was living in a state where I had no real ties. I’d come up to the frozen North to visit with my father and baby brother, who had themselves come up to Minnesota to live and be close to my grandma, and I quit my truck driving job and decided to settle down. I had kinda thought I’d be able to stay with my dad while I found another job, but almost immediately my father took off for Idaho to move in with a woman in another state he had met on the internet (this was in the age of AOL chatroom singles dating, before there really wasn’t much of a world wide web. How things change, eh?)
Anyway, he bailed, my little brother went back to Florida to live with my step-mom, and I had no place to go, and no job. I’d quit my truck driving job pretty much because I was tired of being alone 100% of the time. There is only so much awesomeness you can stand seeing in this world, and saying to yourself, “Boy I wish I had someone to share that with.”
If my father had made his decision to just up and bail a week earlier, I would have kept on trucking and undoubtedly would never have chosen to live in a state with no oceans worth surfing.
Anyway… while I was single, I never worried much about what would happen or where I’d turn up. No matter what, someone will always need dishwashers, so it’s not like I’d starve. It’s only once you are responsible for other peoples’ happiness that the stress builds up.
So I had thought I was gonna have a few months hanging with dad to find a place to stay and a job, but since he found true love, I was suddenly single, homeless and jobless. Yay.
First thing I did was find a flophouse to stay at, and i was way too broke to be picky. In northeast Minneapolis there is an area full of crackhouses, places where the 100 year-old homes have been bought, split up into individual rooms, and the rooms get rented out for about $150 a week. Bathrooms and kitchens are shared. You get a room in the house for $150 cash, paid by the week every Friday.
A very nice room goes for $225 a week. These are 10 year old prices, btw.
So anyway, I got a room, grabbed a Goodwill sofa and dresser, ok, I’m good. Then I went out and looked for a job through the temp agencies, and got one as an engineer very close by, designing and fabricating test cells for commercial jet engines. FAA requires engines be removed from housings and tested periodically, and this company designed and built the test cells, and then supervised the installations.
Sadly, at entry level it didn’t pay very well. And it’s amazing how hard it is to save first, last and security deposit for an apartment when you’re pumping out tons of cash for a room in a crackhouse.
For about 3 months, I lived on cans of vegetables, and the $1 whopper special at Burger King. I could eat vegetables by the can all day long, and my treat was paying $1 for a whopper each day, with extra veggies. Yum. Still, you can get by a LONG time on ramen, eggs, cans of vegetables, and $1 burgers.
So, not a nice neighborhood. My room would periodically be broken into while I was gone, but since I didn’t have anything but some clothes, nothing got taken. I kept all my money in the bank, saving for an apartment.
I just about got enough saved for an apartment, when I got let go at the engineering job. Turned out, they were hiring mostly to prepare for a nice big contract to build a test cell facility in Ireland, and lost the contract. Oh well, bye bye John.
So I had just enough money to live on while I looked for a new job.
The only real thing I remember from this time, was that I had two resolutions. One, I would never, ever, work in a fast food joint. I may have been flat broke, and I didn’t really care what I did short term, but I was pretty firm on that rule. I spent 8 years in the Marines, and I’ll be damned if I would ever, ever, work in fast food. Wash dishes, sure, but work at McDonalds? Never!
The second resolution was that no one in my family would know what the situation was with me until it was straightened out. I don’t know if this is common with other people, but in my family, when nobody hears from you for a few months, they know you’re going through hard times. When everything is peachy, it’s calls and cards, and “Hi? How’s it going?” If your life is in turmoil, you go quiet and run in stealth mode while you deal with it. I do it, my step-mom does it, as far as I know we all do it.
I do remember that Christmas came and I was down to my last bit of savings, and I was looking at being homeless for Christmas because I wasn’t going to have enough to cover the room another week. A very strange feeling, to be living in a Minnesota winter and contemplating being homeless for Christmas.
Finally, I found another job, although one not quite so lofty. The temp agency had an opening for someone that could handle industrial machines. A company that cut blocks of foam down into bed matresses, that kind of thing. So sure, sounds fun, why not?
The place was miles away, but the bus lines ran there, so I got the job, and started working on second shift cutting foam.
Now, the majority of the plant went home after first shift, and second shift consisted of about 6 guys in their early twenties, and an old fart that ran a forklift. And I’m chatting with the shift manager, and it turns out he played D&D. So we’re talking gaming, and the Sandman books by Neil Gaiman that we both admired, and whatnot, and it turns out that he, and all the other guys in the entire plant except the forklift driver, all lived in the same house.
Why right around the corner less than a block and a half from the crackhouse I was living in now. One of the guys’ moms owned the house, she bought a new house near her antique business in Alexandria, and the guy lived there with all his friends, and they all rolled in to work in one beat up old car. The whole shift, including the supervisor, except the forklift driver.
And every single one of ‘em was a gamer.
This is the real world. Crazy shit happens every single day. Who else would end up working at a company where your entire shift lives in the same house, a few blocks from where you live, but you all work miles from the house, and everyone plays D&D?
Well, I get to know these guys, and the one of ‘em says, “Hey, no one’s staying in the basement, you want to come hang out at our place?”
Well sure, why the hell not?
How much does the guy want?
“Eh, how does $100 a month sound?”
Umm… it sounds kinda like freedom, actually.
So I moved in with these guys. Not a one of ‘em was going to college, a couple didn’t graduate high school, they all lived in a house, but it was still in a very bad neghborhood. Although it was more ‘on the edge’ now, a block and a half made a big difference between being in the bad neighborhood and just being next to the bad neghborhood.
These guys had the house, a massive two story job with attic and basement, all decked out into nerdvana. Pooltable converted to hold Warhammer 40k and Warhammer fantasy battles, stereos and video games, and everything. And they had thousands of dollars in fully self-painted miniatures. Every dime these guys made, went into gaming and stuff.
Every gaming console you could imagine was there. First time I ever personally even saw a Playstation 1. Music, movies, comic books, no clean clothes, nothing but junk food, and Sci-Fi TV movie marathons.
You had the supervisor kid that drank nothing but whiskey and smoked cigars, the kid that wanted to be the Joker when he grew up, the kid that was built like a string bean and was doing SEAL exercises from a book he bought and had zero muscle mass, and played his guitar in his room and wanted to be Jimmy Hendrix. And the kid that was younger than everyone, loved GWAR and Natural Born Killers, and was a true asshat and got picked on by everyone.
I call them kids, but they were in their early twenties. They just made me feel OLD, man.
And all of them, I mean every single one, smoked pot, and they grew their own in the basement with their own hydroponic lighting systems and stuff that you could buy at the ‘Brew and Grow’ store. Seriously, grew a ton of their own stuff. Worked harder on growing weed than they ever did at work. And smoked it ALL THE TIME.
I learned a great deal about kids and pot, that’s for sure. Didn’t use it myself, but I’ve never been the kind of person to tell a grown adult what they can or cannot do, so long as they aren’t hurting anyone else. Myself, it’s not like I was a paragon of virtue. I had chewing tobacco and the occasional Guinness. Pot just seemed to be more their kind of thing, frankly. Like, they could have had a life, OR they could just give up, hang out and smoke pot. And they preferred the pot.
These kids were nice, and friendly, but it was pretty sad hanging out there. They were still young and living in the moment, and waiting for the next video game or distraction, but none of them could save money. Money for a game console, sure. I couldn’t quite forget while I was there that none of them had an education, or the ambition to get it, to go much further than they were right now. And they were good guys, so it was pretty depressing to think about it, but they certainly didn’t want to hear any of my BS.
I was there with them in the same house, same job, sure. But I HAD my adventures, I had my education, and I was pretty much just biding my time after a massive life change until I had enough saved for a serious job search… and my own computer.
And that computer is what changed my life, since not only did I find my new job with it eventually, just as planned, but it’s also how I first met Cassie… and her first time meeting me, she did see this house as I’ve described it. I guess this is realistically the story of my last great escapade before meeting and falling in love with Cassie. How about that.
Now, like I said, we worked the second shift. And I had only been out of the Marines about 3 or 4 years. I worked a boring plant job with 6 guys, cutting tons of foam and then sitting idle waiting for the forklift to bring more. Since I couldn’t stand there reading, I did push-ups to relieve the boredom.
So yeah, the life of a bored-ass former Marine with no responsibilities. I’d get up, get cleaned up and pile in the car to go to work, get there and cut foam and do pushups for 8 hours, and then pile in the car to head back for some gaming, tabletop or role playing or video, and some reading. On the weekends… more gaming, and taking the bus downtown to buy more books. A real rough life.
Now, being who I am, and totally not giving a shit about what anyone else might think, I dress in ways that are comfortable to me to work out in, all the time. And you can check Cassie on this one, I’m serious. I still sorta dress how I like in the privacy of our home, and I WILL burn your eyeballs out with my clothes. She keeps me from wearing what I like outside the house, though.
But back then? Oh, I wore whatever I felt like, and often just for the shock value. There are few things I like MORE than watching some close minded twit make assumptions based on my appearance and shutting down.
What do I mean? At that time, my favored style of dress when not at work was a string tank top I used to play volleyball in after surfing, and some electric blue spandex bicycle shorts. I liked the shorts because when running at night in the rain, they didn’t get bogged down in water and chafe. And I like running in the rain. I used to do it a ton on Okinawa, one of the more pleasant areas to run I’ve ever known.
And since spandex shorts don’t have pockets, I carried my wallet and keys and stuff in a cute little fanny pack.
So if you saw me walking around in the summer, well… I’m sure I did not present an especially fearsome image. Although I do have tattoos on my arms, somehow I do not think that ‘butched up’ my appearance very much.
Gack! Dagnabit, on to the meat of the story.
I get home from work one night with the guys, and I’ve got the munchies. I get changed into comfy clothes, it’s about midnight, so I figure I’ll walk the mile or so to Walgreens and grab a microwave pizza or something. I’m wearing spandex shorts, sneakers with no socks, a tank top, headphones and a walkman playing a tape I made of Metallica, and I’ve got my keys, wallet and walkman in my fanny pack around my waist.
I’m sure it must have painted a very pretty picture.
So there I am, strolling along the street, avoiding the sidewalks because, hey! This is Minneapolis, and if it’s not winter, then the roads must be under construction, right? And sure enough, the sidewalks are all ripped up and blocked off with 6 foot long leaning barricades. So fine, I’m walking on the street itself, grooving to King Nothing, it’s well after midnight, and WHAM!
Lights out for a second.
Something nailed me in the back of the head, hard, my headphones went flying, I was a bit disoriented, I hadn’t been bothering to check my six at all, in any way.
I was just too arrogant to worry about my own safety, secure in the belief that no harm could possibly come to me. I mean, it’s Minneapolis, for cripes sake. We’re not exactly talking downtown Miami where I grew up, or LA or Detroit. It’s Minneapolis! It’s like, are you serious? What kind of punks could you possibly have HERE?
So I whirl around, roll across the ground and pivot in a crouch to get some situational awareness, and standing there are four kids, maybe in their eighteens, I dunno, dressed in some kind of white gangsta wanna-be crap. Hats all tilted to the side, I think one of them had one of those shirts showing the Wu-Tang Clan, you know. I do remember one of them had Insane Clown Posse on his shirt, ’cause one of the guys in the house listened to them and had one of their posters.
In short, idiots.
I’m standing there in the grass beside the street, and there are four of them, and they’re spread out in a half circle advancing on me in that “Talking myself up to something” way. And the guy in the middle is talking smack that I’m paying no attention to at all, and he has his right hand held behind his back, all stiff, and he’s talking like he’s gonna cut me. All I could figure was he was trying to make me think he had a knife that he was holding behind him, out of sight.
I just looked at the four of them, checked out the area around me, and decided if he had a knife he’d have it out already, but what kind of gang wouldn’t have SOME kind of weapons? Why all the bullshit hopping around? What the hell’s with the hand behind the back?? And what the fuck did I get hit with, anyway?
About then I noticed that there was a plastic milk crate sitting nearby, where the sidewalk was under construction. So okay, I got smacked upside the head with a plastic milk crate. That’s pretty heroic, right there.
And the whole time, the kids are talking smack, and I honest to god haven’t heard a word they’ve said the whole time, it’s just white noise, “yadda yadda gonna cut you fag, yadda yadda yadda, whatever”. And giggling. I remember giggling coming from someone.
All told, I spent at least 10 seconds just standing there like a dumbass assessing the situation.
But after I glanced around the area, I did what any good Marine would do in an ambush. I counterattacked and fought my way through the center of the enemy line to get behind them.
I grabbed one of the sidewalk barricades that was nearby, a 2″x4″x6′ piece of wood striped with the orange and silver warning tape, shook off the big metal thingie on the end of it that had propped it up at an angle, and proceeded to beat the unholy shit out of them.
I just charged right towards “I’ve got a knife, fear me” boy, nailed him with a solid hit upside the head, and as the rest scattered, I started chasing them up and down the street beating each of them as I ran them down, with this big unwieldy club thing from the barricade.
It was fun. No, it was more than that. It was glorious.
I honestly had a huge amount of fun running ‘em down, nailing their legs, tripping them into the street, smacking them around. The screaming and the shouting… ah, it was priceless. I’m pretty sure I must have had a shit eating grin on my face the whole time.
And I wasn’t even trying to hurt them that much after a while, early on I wanted to eliminate any possibility of a threat from them, but as it became obvious they seriously didn’t really have a knife, they were just trying to shake me down or shake me up or something, I was just amazed… Minneapolis mafia? White street punks in Northeast representing? What the hell kind of lame crap was this?
It was kinda like a game… they wanted to step up, they took the first shot, and they had me outnumbered, so all’s fair if I beat ‘em up, right? I have no idea what they were thinking.
And frankly, I assumed that some of them had to at least have knives. I mean, I grew up in downtown Miami. I, no shit, carried a knife at all times, in 6th – 9th grades. I ran with a gang, and at times I ran FROM gangs, thank you very much. We had knifings frequently, and the year before I was going to go to the high school in Miami, they installed metal detectors and had patrol dogs and cops roaming the halls. My mom pulled me from school and sent me to live with my dad in Boca Raton mainly because of the gang I was involved with and the violence I was neck deep in, and my first year or two in my new High School in the yuppie-ville of Boca Raton was culture shock from heck. A happy new world of kids that were full of angst over who was seen with who at the mall. Just, wtf? Not a single knifing, the entire 3 years I went to high School in Boca Raton. A complete and total change. And I loved it. It was so incredibly relaxing and stress free to live without fear when going to school.
Anyway, I was sure, totally certain, that they had to have real weapons. In what universe do gangs not carry weapons? So, I beat the hell out of them, and when they had all stopped running and fighting back and were all kinda huddled up in different parts of the street and sidewalk, moaning or bitching or whatever, I stopped and looked around… nope, no witnesses to be seen to call the cops. Damn it!
So I did what any decent, law abiding young former Marine would do in a similar situation… I dropped the wood post and jogged the 7 blocks or so to the nearest police station, right on Central Avenue, and reported an attempted mugging. And then I waited, patiently, while they dug up a cop that was willing to go to the scene to check it out. And he gave me a ride, and we headed back up the road.
When we got there, the four guys were gone. Damn it! It couldn’t have been ten minutes!
And the cop is looking at me like I am soooo full of shit, and I’m like, well, they WERE right here, when out of the darkness of one house’s front porch comes this old lady voice… “I was right’chere ossifer, and I seen the whole thang”.
And I’m like, WTF? By the way, I mock that voice all the time. I call cops ‘ossifers’ all the time. It’s one of my defaults. I’ll never forget that woman.
Sitting on a porch, in the dark, drinking beer or whatever it was at 1 in the damn morning during the week, is this little old lady in a old lady robe and a hairnet, sitting on a plastic folding chair.
And she goes on to say that she had watched the whole damn thing, from the start of them standing near a porch in the dark a few houses up the street, to me walking by oblivious, to one of the guys grabbing a milk crate and following me from behind, to him throwing it at my head, to everything that followed. And then she showed me where my damn headset had flown to in the grass when it got knocked off my head.
And I’m just, like, “Geez lady, thanks for like, I dunno… warning me? Or something? I’m glad I was at least able to provide you with some entertainment. You dingbat. And who the hell sits on their porch at 1 in the morning drinking? And why couldn’t you have spoken up and like, called the cops instead of my having to jog to the police station?”
The cop takes a statement from her, from me, and tells me he’ll drive around and see if he finds any kids wearing the clothes I described, and if so he’d call me.
Yeah, right. Sure. Sure you will. I’m still waiting for that call, ossifer. I’m holding my breath here. Can’t you see my face turning blue?
Meanwhile… I’m still hungry. So I go to Walgreens, get whatever the hell it was, and walked back home…
And had to try to explain to a house full of gamers that all lived in the area their whole life that I’d just gotten jumped by and beat the shit out of four local punks.
At first, as you might imagine, the story was met by a lot of “you’re full of shit”.
Then one of the guys asks me what street…
Next thing you know, half the house is laughing their asses off… because the kids that jumped me sometimes bought their pot from the guys I roomed with.
And the end of this story, is that about a month later, I come upstairs to grab something from the fridge, and wander on into the living room to see a gathering of young guys smoking up, a fairly common sight on any weekend… and some of them look kinda familiar, but nothing is ringing any bells…
And then one of the guys on the couch turns around and sees me clearly, dressed as I usually dress… and made a mad panicked dash for the front door. Since they were playing some game at the time, it was chaos and cords and controllers flying, baggie breaking and weed flying everywhere… just utter madness.
After the guy was gone, the story came out.
Apparently, the guys in the house had forgotten all about my little escapade, and some friends of some friends had come over to smoke a little, and, well… nobody had thought to ask them, “Hey do you remember this guy you maybe jumped a while back… he might be living in our basement”.
Poor dumb bastards.