By Pete Moss
THE COURIER BANDIT (Part III)
(Click here for Part 2 )
Past 3 AM in the Shortstop Bar on Sunset in the Silverlake district of Los Angeles. The bar is officially closed for the night. Just a dozen or so patrons from a private party.
Jane Quiggmann sits and she is not drunk.
Tomorrow is the 1st day of reirement.
Lapidus comes and sits next to Jane.
Lapidus holds out his hand. He is pretty buzzed.
"It was a pleasure," he says.
Jane extends her hand and they shake.
"All those years and only two got away," says Lapidus. "What a record."
"Thanks. Ya know, it's that last one really burns me."
"The Courier Bandit?"
"We'll get him," says Lapidus.
"So whtacha gonna do now?"
"I don't know," says Jane. "Visit my grandkids in Frisco, I guess."
"Yeah, it is," says Jane. She kills her beer and stands. "Thanks for the party everybody."
There's a rousing response.
Jane saunters to the door, stopping to shake hands and slap backs.
Eyeballs leak water.
The barkeep unlocks the front door and lets Jane out into the warm LA night. He closes and relocks the door behind her.
(Click here for part IV of this story.)
FAMILY (Part III)
(Click here for Part 2 )
"So did you see mom again?" I said. It felt funny using that word for someone I never knew. I had no memories of my mother. I had 2 snapshots. In one she was about 6, sitting in front of Christmas tree, looking bored. In the other she was maybe 12. In front of Granny's house on 40th Avenue. Mom had on roller skates.
She looked perplexed by those things on her feet.
Yes, she came around a couple of times. She wouldn't hold you. She seemed determined not to bond with you. But I caught her standing over your crib really early one morning. I swear she was crying. Maybe she thought she couldn't come back. Or was beyond redemption...."
But you would have...."
Of course, ofcourse....Anyway, she missed your 1st birthday. Showed up a week later. She looked haggard. She was only about 20, but she looked 30 if a day. Some caddish looking fellow in a Buick dropped her off. He didn't come in, sat out front in his Buick. Carmen said she was leaving SF, going to New Orleans. I had a strong feeling she was in trouble with the law. She asked for money. I gave her some."
"About a year later I got a postcard from New Orleans. Her handwriting was almost illegible. After that I got postcards from Baltimore and Albany. The last one when you were about 6."
"Over 10 years ago."
"Yes, yes, I know."
"And you never tried to find her since."
"No, I figure she's dead or in jail. Or maybe she did finally settle down and is married to a dentist and lives in a suburb somewhere. Who knows?"
"Why didn't you try to find her?" I asked, it took some effort to keep my tone neutral.
Granny took a minute to answer: "By then I was fully invested in raising you. What if she came back, and you liked her better? What if she took you away to some place on the other side of the country? I mean, yes, she was my daughter. But she was a problem child. Honestly about the only good thing she did was have you. I love you. I couldn't keep on without you."
Granny and I sat for a few minutes. The cold old house creaked and groaned.
"I forgive you Granny." I said.
Granny breathed out. I hadn't realized she was holding her breath.
This conversation happened early in my senior year of High School. I didn't bring it up with Granny again. Though I thought about it allot.
Then it was time to apply for college. I figured I'd stay in SF, go to SF state. Get a degree in something practical like accounting. Granny had other ideas. She was determined I be a writer. I could care less about writing.
In spite of that Granny had me apply to Iowa and a college in Binghampton New York. Both places had good writing programs, said Granny, both programs run by former classmates of hers from the Art Institute. I talked Granny into letting me apply to SF State as a backup.
After Granny wrote to her old classmates I was accepted at both Iowa and Binghampton. I got into SF State as well.
I wound up in Binghampton when I looked it up and discovered it was only about a 100 miles from Albany, my mother's last known address. Granny and I never discussed why I chose Binghampton over Iowa. Granny figured it out, I'm sure, but she kept that to herself.
The program in Binghampton was run by Darcy Roth. While Darcy was loyal to her old alma mater, she clearly had very little memory of ranny.
Darcy had gone from the Art Institute to the MFA program at Stanford. For her thesis she wrote a slim book of stream of conscious prose detailing a single day in the life of a woman in an MFA program at a prestigious college. Darcy Roth's book was a hit within the world of MFA programs, from coast to coast. Darcy Roth was compared to Virginia Wolfe and James Joyce.
However, she didn't load her pockets with stones and walk into a river, or drink herself to death in gloomy Irish pubs.
She parleyed her fame into a solid teaching career, and never wrote another memorable paragraph.
Darcy and I did not hit it off. I tried reading her book and couldn't get past the first 20 pages. I cut her class. Only turned in every other assignment.
I spent most of my time trolling the streets of brokedown and crumbling east coast cities, looking for my mom, Carmen.
The first place I went was Albany. I took the bus.
As usual the bus station was in a seedy part of town. I had no trouble finding a streetwalker.
I had a speech prepared, saying how I was looking for my mother. Naturally the hooker at first thought I was just trying to get a free throw with my pitiful story.
We sat in a booth at a diner. " The last you heard from her was 10 years ago? Far as you know she was in Albany?"
Finally I convinced her. I showed her the picture of my mom wearing roller skates.
"Well.....you have to understand, in hooker time? Ten years is like the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. Don't worry, I'm not insulted you asking me. I know I'm old. At first I thought you were one of these guys who likes older woman. That's why you passed up those two young ones and came to me, now I get it though, they wouldn't possibly remember 10 years ago. Anyway, I can't help you. I wasn't working Albany 10 years ago. I doubt if there's two old girls around who could help you with that."
"Crap," I said.
"Listen honey, most hookers, the only record they leave behind is an arrest record. I was you I'd try the records department down the Hall of Justice. You know what name she was using?"
"No I don't know what name she used. But thanks, that's a good idea."
"You're welcome. You know, you're not a bad looking young fellow. You want to spend an hour with me?"
"That is a tempting offer. But I came all this way, I'd like to get on with what I came to do. No offense."
"Well, here, you take my number, you want to spend an hour you give me a call."
I gave the old girl $20 and went on my way.
That was how I met Dee Tsu. Dee worked in the records department at the Hall of Justice.
I told Dee my story. I had a standard version that I could get through in a couple of minutes. I showed Dee the snapshot of my mom.
Dee came back in minutes with a folder. This was before the internet was anything but science fiction. There was a mug shot of a woman who might have been my mother, looking worn and wary. Her name was listed as Connie Rae McElroy. She had almost the same birthday as my mom, and was supposedly born in Los Angeles."
I pored over the scarce information. Then it was time for Dee to go to lunch. I offered to buy for her, since she'd been helpful.
Over lunch it turned out Dee knew a thing or two about missing parents.
"My grandma was born in Fukian province, in China. It's considered rather backward," said Dee.
"Your granny was a Chinese hillbilly?"
"Basically. She was brought to New York City when she was 13 or 14. Put to work in a Chinatown brothel. She worked 20 years, then they shipped her to Albany when she got old, she went to work pushing a Dim Sum cart at the Gold Dragon. My mom was about 14. After NYC she hated Albany. She moved back to NYC, went to work in the same whorehouse where grandma worked. Except my mom got into hard drugs, heroin, speed. They fired her and she hit the street. Mom went through men and dope and places to stay at a breakneck pace. You held a gun to my head I couldn't tell you half the places we crashed, motel rooms, we lived on a boat, lived in a motorhome, stayed in squats. Finally one morning mom didn't come home. I found out later she OD'd in a shooting gallery and they dumped her body on the street. I was about 5. Went to live with Grandma. Grandma was in the last stages of acute alcoholism, and she smoked about 2 packs a day of Pall Malls. Grandma usually only woke up to drink more booze til she passed back out again. Then one day she didn't wake up. I went into the foster system."
"Oh not at all, what are you kidding? After mom and Granma? I had a my own bed to sleep in, didn't have to sleep on the floor. Got 3 meals a day, who could ask for anything more? Didn't have weird guys trooping through the house all hours. When I was 12 I went to live with the Nicholsons, oh god they were nice. Mr Nicholson was an auto mechanic. He gave me a bicycle, taught me how to ride it, how to fix it if the tires went flat or the chain came off. Mrs Nicholson was a school teacher, she got me into school. I loved school after that. Everything was so orderly, logical, organized."
"Then what happened?"
"The Nicholsons were killed in a car wreck. They hit some ice, went off the road, rolled down an embankment, slammed into a tree. I had about 3 years to go til I was 18, then I'd be termed out of the system, you know. Anyway, I lived in group homes the last three years. Allot of kids would run away, hit the streets, but I stayed in school. Senior year I had Mr. Perkins. He was an older guy, 25. I had such a crush on him. Right before I turned 18 I told him about my problem. I thought maybe he'd let me move in with him."
"Of course not. He wasn't that kind of teacher."
"What kind of teacher was that?"
"One who takes advantage of his students. Even though I know he had a crush on me too. What he did was he got me enrolled at Community College."
"Of course after I got out of the system I did the usual things. I hung out with a bunch of other kids who'd been through it too. We moved around, Motel rooms, crashpads, turned tricks, you know, the usual. But I also stayed in school, got good grades in spite of my nite life. And I got Jane Chestnut for a counseler. She got me into a program that lead to this job at the Department of Records. I got off the street."
"You miss the street? I mean this Records gig must be kind of dull compared to the life right?"
"Not at all. You could think of it as dull, or you could think of it as serene, protected, calm. I love having all that information at my fingers. Thinking about all those peoples and what happened to them."
"I can see how that could be."
Dee looked at me for a minute. "So.....you have a girlfreind?"
"Nothing? A good looking young guy like you? I bet there's a girl who wants to be your girlfriend back at that college you go to."
"I guess, but...."
"Those college girls are so....immature."
Dee looked at me. "Compared to what: college boys? So when's the next time you coming to Albany?"
I looked at Dee and smiled in acknowledgement at the lack of maturity among our peers. "How about next weekend?"
"I'll cook you dinner if you come over to my place."
"What you want me to bring?"
After that I spent most weekends in Albany.
As best as Dee could unearth it. My mom spent about 2 years in Albany. Was arrested three times, for three different things, had two convictions, was sentenced to probation and then got two years on her second conviction.
"Your next step would be the Bereau of Prisons," said Dee.
(Click here for part IV of this story.)