Koz never showed up.
I waited at Heathrow for an hour.
First the stoned-faced customs inspector interrogates me on why I was in England alone, with no hotel room, no idea where I am staying, and just a backpack, all the while sneering at my overalls and disheveled appearance, and then I herd towards the merry-go-round baggage claim, down the ventilation-deprived corridor, around the assembly line of passengers waiting for their overpriced luggage, and cling to the stale yellow walls aiming for the glass exit door.
On the way, I dodge an African family clicking orders at each other, an Indian mother snapping a photo of her “miniature-self” sleeping on the slippery floor, behind a neon-clad woman with a loud New England accent snarling “Bob, where’s my gray Gucci,” slaloming through a herd of dark-skinned men wearing loincloths, limboing beneath a gray haired Japanese man and his surfboard; breaking a Nordic couples embrace and nearly tripping over a pigtailed blond kid tugging a Barbie suitcase. A guide with a red hat and a tall sign written in a foreign scrawl leads a flock of sari-clad women, all of them circling around me, looking in every direction besides forward, somehow making it absolutely mathematically sure that each and every one of them would bounce off me and knock me further from my goal of reaching the door.
Paralyzed by the pungent smell of day-old body odor and blinded by the iridescent rainbow of colors, I calculate the distance between me and the outside world, hold my breath, and jump headfirst into the chill of London. I scan the turn-around for Koz. Instead noticing scattered clouds of people, lightening bolts of baggage, and cumulous clouds of BMW’s.
I drop the 50-pound suitcase off my back and stretch my exhausted body in London, England! The home of Robin Hood, the Beatles, Monty Python, Harry Potter, and Mary Poppins, the grandfathers of the United States, the Mamas and the Papas of the good ole red, white and blue. I scan the turn around for Koz, who is sure to be wearing something eye-catching. In high school, we were quite a pair: him in his retro suits and Dukes of Hazzard T-shirts; me in overalls and combat boots—both with crazy curls, giant eyes, and massive smiles. Everyone called us the quintessential fag and fag-hag. If only they had known that Koz wasn’t out yet.
I dial the Oxford Street Youth Hostel’s number. “—Oxford,” a lazy voice says over the wire.
“Hi, um, I am looking for my friend Koz Chase…he was…”
“Is this Ree-sa?” Her vocal cords sound like they are pinched by a clothespin. “I think there’s a note for you,” I hear a slight rustling of papers, a glass breaking, and a loud whopping, “aw, Fuckin ‘ell! Oh ‘ere it tis…Reesa, come to the hostel, had a late night, we’re in room 219, wake us up. Koz.”
He didn’t forget about me. “Ok, how do I get there?”
“Well you can’t walk now, can you? Take a taxi luv.” And with that she clicks the phone into the receiver, leaving me with an unfamiliar dial tone.
My cockney-accented driver sneers as I open the door, “What you doing mate?” I stare back at the longhaired driver, who is getting in the passenger seat, and tell him that I am getting in his car. “What…you want to drive? Bloody yanks got to think they do things the right way, in England we drive on the left side of the road, which means you sit on the left, isn’t it?” He giggles like a machine gun, and then adds, “You aren’t in America anymore, sweetheart.” And as I climb into the backseat and we round out of Heathrow, I realize that I’m not.
Houses stand like matchsticks, tall and thin, lighting up as we zoom by. Front yards, not big enough to fit slip and slides or basketball hoops are empty. The grayness below the clouds, pushed closer by the sunshine above, makes the driver’s face tighten. He looks like a stoned Snoopy. His taxi seems like it should have a black light and Doors posters hanging from the windows. The interior is covered with candy wrappers and chips. I’m careful to stay on the left side of the backseat, the opposite side of the driver, because it seems like he eats and then throws the garbage behind him. There are crumbs, cereal flakes, teabags, fortune cookies, flyers for parties, ashes, and a pair of very used boxers littering the backseat. He twists a thick finger on the radio, letting the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine whisk through speakers that only work in the front seat.
“You should have been ‘ere two nights ago,” the driver says over the music, turning onto the freeway. “It was sunny as ‘ell and I went on a mad bender. Took loads of charlie, some pills, a few joints, and quite a few pints.”
“What’s ‘charlie’?” I ask, sitting Indian style on the ripped vinyl seat, he obviously wants to chat.
“Coke, mate.” He laughs, “Stopped the acid six months ago when old-Bill, that’s the coppers, found me in my taxi. My feet was where my ass should be, and my ass was where my feet should be, and I was barking, like a dog. I can’t drop no more. When you walk down the street and bark at people for no good reason, its time to slow down, at least for a little while,” he smiles. “—So last night,” he continues, as he swerves in and out of traffic like a racecar driver. “All I wanted was a burger. I was starving. So we went to McDonalds. This janitor was clearing up. I yelled through the glass for him to throw me a burger. Any burger, hot, cold, raw, I didn’t give a fuck. I would have eaten anything, save the warthog that wanted me population paste last night, whoo-hoo!”
This guy reminds me of the deluge of longhairs that used to work on my parents’ farm. The ones that loved to tell stories. They’d spend hours with Ian and me, giving us jumbo Mickey Mouse stuffed animals, painted pictures of mushrooms, chocolate chip cookies that made me bounce off the walls, and someone even brought me a copy of Clockwork Orange—I was eight. Strumming on guitars, making up songs, saying that my parents were lucky, because they had the best of both worlds. Although at that time, I didn’t know what other world my parents had the best of.
“—Oh, yeah,” my driver continues as if he forgot he was talking. “I picked up a garbage can and started whacking the shit out of the window. Until it shattered all over the place.” He shows a large Band-Aid covering his wrist as the taxi almost hits a Mac truck, “me fucking hand went flyyyying through the window, but I didn’t feel a fucking thing.”
My hand screams in pain from holding the “oh shit” handle so tight. Driving on the other side of the road is going to give me a heart attack. Especially as we get off the freeway and circle into the threaded streets, where on each side of the sidewalk, strategically painted on the ground, are directions to Look Left or Look Right.
“—I grabbed me burger from the back and ran. The coppers found me down the street bloody screaming, ‘I didn’t do it, I swear,’ but the janitor was with them and I had to spend the night in the nick.”
“In jail?” I question.
“Happens almost every weekend—drunk and disorderly, fighting, drunk driving…just kidding luv. The coppers know me and send me to my cell to sleep it off. I’m barred from McDonalds now. I’m barred from most places, now that I think about it. Suppose that’s why I drive this shit car. Can’t leave the country, can’t get a real job, can’t do fuckin’ much, but get a laugh from the people I pick up.” He smiles proudly. “But I’m off suspension from me favorite pub in two months.” He rubs his hands together like he’s warming his fingers over a fire, then grabs onto the steering wheel quickly as we swerve onto the other side of the street. “Those birds better get ready for my glossy bob.”
“Glossy bob?” I ask.
“Free for a bob, knob, town hall, balls,” he explains, still babbling. The thing about druggies is that they don’t give a shit about anyone but themselves. It is the highest level of self-absorption on the planet, so when you’re in a conversation with them and tune them out, they really have no clue.
“—Ooh, that’s the center of London.” He is saying, “and that was the Tower of London back there. What a bore. Why’d you come to this fucking town anyways? If I could go somewhere…the fuckin’ coppers made me do a sentence that I got to stay in this fucking city, me whole life. You’d think they want to get rid of me arse. Let me go cause some havoc in Laos or someplace where they need some excitement mate. But no, I got fucking stuck ‘ere, talking to young American girls and wishing I could fuck off with them. You best take advantage of your position mate. You one lucky yank.” Lucky, ha! My parents are in jail for helping guys like him lose more of his brain cells. “—You going at it alone?” The driver chainsaws through my thoughts.
“No, actually, I’m going with these two guys from…”
“I hope they aren’t mincers,” he laughs.
“A butt-packer, a fag, a fairy, a butt-baggy-beefy, uphill gardener, shit-stabber, shirt-lifter, a putt-putt golfer, a puff…”
“As a matter of fact…” I begin, but then think the better of it. He doesn’t seem to like the whole rainbow thing. And suddenly overcome by that up-all-night-blurry-overexcited-clearly-confused-need sleep feeling, I feel my eyes begin to close. I don’t have the heart to tell the driver that I can’t get my eyes to focus on any of the sights he dutifully points out. So I oooh and aaah everything he says, until he conveniently delivers me to the hostel and stops talking.
IanNeskala: That taxi driver does sound like all the weirdos who used to come over—remember that dude John who dad had to kick out that night because he was on some rampage about dogs and fleas and started tearing all the pillow cases off, telling mom to wash everything? Glad you got out of his cab. Talked to mom today. She told me to tell you to have a safe trip.
Jonahhash69: What a nutcase! Love him.