Living the American dream, one arrest at a time.

Just another day. I was headed in to work, and due to my impeccable timing, missed the bus. No problem– cabs exist for a reason.

Shortly after calling a driver pulls up to me, smiling.

“Oh, I am very sorry, do you want me to open the trunk for your bag?”

“No, no! I’ve got it, I’m ok.”

He was so cheerful. He had a great big smile on his face, and asked where I was headed. I told him my theater, and he became excited and animated. “Are you a musician!?” No, no. I am not. I told him about my job, and Kamran whipped out his phone.

“I was in a band! Would you like to see?”

The rest that followed simply blew me away.

Kamran came to the United States permanently in 1996, he said. Most of his musical success came in the early to mid 80s.

“It doesn’t look or sound as good as I’d like. It is fifth generation video you’re watching. There! That’s me, on the keyboards!”

We talked shop for a while. He told me of the songs they would play, and how he set up a camera system to show video and the crowd at their shows, “which in Pakistan, nobody really had done that before. We played a kind of music and put on shows that were special. We were number one in my country, can you believe that?”

It’s when I dug a bit deeper that the conversation steered to a darker tone.

“So what made you stop playing?”

“Ah. Well, I was kidnapped…”

He didn’t say anything else about that for a while. We continued along the road, exchanging videos of music and discussing his adoration for playing. Kamran explained how after a while, his band broke up, so he started a solo career.

“I couldn’t sing! I didn’t care. They loved me, on TV. So I wrote a song, made this music, shot a video… all in one day. They put it on the TV. They did love me very much, there.” He dug around in his center console and pulled out a tape.

“This was us! I like to show this to people and play it for them. The memories make me so happy. It’s sad but happy.”

The Arid Zone tape

After a while we came up on my work, but I couldn’t leave it at that. He seemed to dance around the subject of why he came to the US, but I could tell he wanted to approach it. “So… what’s your story then? Why are you here?”

“I came here at first to learn English in 1991. That’s why I come, I wanted to know! I liked it here, too.”

I started unloading my bag, but I had to hear more. I told him I was planning on writing this out, telling his story, even if I only had minimal details. “I’d really love to hear more about what happened to you, if that’s ok.”

“Sure! But it will make you cry.”

“I was so big in Pakistan. I was a model, too! Here!” He shows me TV ads with him selling products, posing for the camera, taking a well timed sip of coffee for the advertisement. It is all very 80s kitsch, and it is awesome for that.

“I had money. So, of course, I was kidnapped. They only wanted money from us. The bad thing, I was dating a woman who had a father involved in the US military or… I think security company from US? And her father sent men to intimidate and hurt the ones that captured me. My father, he told them what a horrible idea. Now I could be killed. He sent me away to the states, afraid for my life. That was in 1996. I lived here, I got my degree, everything was fine. I have degree in business and management, I knew what I was doing. But then…”

He got a bit quieter. My time was running short to make it into work on time. We had long since turned off the meter in the cab, and I hadn’t even paid yet… but I couldn’t leave.

“Then 9/11 happened. I was married by then, but my wife, she didn’t want me anymore. So she reported me as a terrorist. I was taken away by the FBI. She took it all… my house, my money, my life. She left our son in foster care, she never wanted him. After a while they realized I wasn’t a bad man and they let me go, but it was too late. She got everything and now I had a record as being arrested for terrorism. I was never convicted, but it didn’t matter. I can’t get a job except this. I even asked the FBI, please… this is my life, just remove this from my record, it’s ruining everything. But no. even though I am innocent it is still there, and always will be.”

He pulled out his phone and showed me the background image of a smiling, handsome young man.

“My son! This is my baby. It took me two years to find him again in the foster system. Two years to get him back. I told them, this is my son, get your own. This is my baby. They fought me so hard, but he is my boy. I couldn’t lose my baby.”

“I lost everything, but it is good. God does this… how is it? He gives you the world, but then he tests you. He takes it all away from you as a test. And it was good… before I was just too greedy. So much money, money money money. Now, after I had nothing, I can smile. Little things, you know? I am happy, God has been so good to me. I am alive! You just… just stay happy, and realize what you do have.”

I couldn’t stay any longer and I told him as much. I hated to leave, but I had work to do. He gave me his card with his number, and I asked him to turn and smile for the camera for me so that I wouldn’t forget his face or his story.

“Oh, don’t worry. You will never forget.”

I won't forget Kamran.

I won’t forget, Kamran.

In South Florida, you’re always an extra.

IGNORE ME.

“Will Corey Feldman be there?!”

That’s not a question I’ve ever heard before, but screw it. First time for everything. There were models strutting around in very little clothing, and I was helping my friend’s band load in for an odd scene with a little boy and a beer can. People were milling around, often having issues staying out of the way of the film crew. I doubt many people knew how to act during a film shoot, because they certainly liked walking in front of that camera.

We had been invited along to extra in some slasher flick that apparently stars the aforementioned Corey (hopefully not the other one… could get tricky) and some random girls that seemed confused and good at being pretty. They did that job well enough, and the muscle-bound “killer” of the film had some hard-hitting dialogue such as “What… wanna go for a ride?” and … well, that’s it. That’s all I heard him say.

One of the bar girls kept taking off and putting on her jacket, trying to determine which made her boobs look better for the shot. She was hidden behind other people anyway, but that one little possibility of her left breast being in a movie appealed to a deeper part of the brain, it seemed. I took my jacket off because I was warm after moving the equipment, which was taken as an invite to inspect my breasts. I declined.

There was nothing but beer to drink, which I hate, so I sipped on a Monster for a while and smoked more cigarettes than necessary. My friends were hyped up and excited since this was going to be exposure for them, and I was proud. I remember back as they were just getting things together, so this was a nice event for me to witness.

There was an eight year old child with fake tattoos and a cigarette wandering around, preparing for his scene where he hurls a beer can at the band. The director seemed extremely thrilled with his decision to include this scene, and everyone egged the kid on to aim for one band member or another. Kid did manage to peg the singer at one point, so I guess he took it to heart.

I eyed their lights and cameras, trying to get an idea of how it all works for them. I’m the kind of asshole that stares at the equipment during a show, losing track of the show I’m supposed to see or be part of. Bad, but tech-fueled, habit. Despite my lack of an attention span, I did as I was told and stood here or there as needed. Move to the left. No, a little less. Perfect. Ok, now, pretend to rock out. Good! Guys, keep rocking. Guys. GUYS. ROCK OUT, GUYS! … Yeah.

So as the night went on, people kept wandering off without direction as the film crew never told us when they were coming back or if not at all. Eventually about ten of us remained, and even the director stood in the background to fill in some gaps along the way. He was an odd fellow, showing us the poster options for the film and basically calling the location and the people inside the dirty aspects of South Florida, something gritty. I wasn’t sure if he was insulting or not, so I didn’t care much.

Walking. Walking. LOOK INTENSE. Walking...

There was a Bentley rushing out from behind the building numerous times for the shoot, nearly crashing into a friend’s van, then an unsuspecting car that was just trying to leave. They didn’t really have anything blocked off, so nobody knew for sure what was going on. I wandered around, talking shop with some various guys on the set. There wasn’t much else to do at the time.

Now look like bar sluts. GOOD!

I had done extra work before on small-budget flicks, so it was kind of cool to get back into it. There’s always something like this going on somewhere downtown, and that’s one of the beautiful things about my city. What got to me, though, was that some of the other extras with me had no experience and decided they had to ham it up for the camera. They missed the point that nobody is here to see them, and we’re just filler. That’s all. A few people were given dirty looks for trying too hard, and others came dressed as if they were the stars. The people that gained the most notice didn’t do much of anything at all– they just were cool. Acting natural is apparently hard for a lot of people to do, it seems.

It was pretty fun really, and doing the rest of the shoots will be cool too. I just wish more people understood the idea of acting casual in situations like this, not waving your boobs around like a crazed animal.

Then, we started a fire. Because that's normal.

 

Part two of four.

I managed to stumble into another drove of those protesting kids. I got their ideas, their ideals, and their complaints. Sort of. It made sense to me that yeah, we’re being fucked. I get it. But these kids, they survives 9/11, recessions, daddy’s trust fund imploding, media and social barrages and utter failure of the system just so they can stand up against a monster they have no business fighting. They keep taking, and if you don’t give to ‘em, they fight you and expect nothing less than utter support.
This city was full of trash, though. The ground ran slick with despair. Garbage mixed with oil and mud seeped from every alley, maybe even the blood of some unfortunate. It was all here, and I figured I was ready for it. My smaller town didn’t compare, even though we had our own problems.

There was a glimmer of something I had never experienced here, something I couldn’t quite put a finger on. I could almost sense desperation, but that wasn’t right either. These kids gave me a muddled view of it all, and I was trying to extract myself as carefully as I could. I could write ballads about their faked misfortunes.
I had my own problems to deal with. Of course, every homeless shelter was packed with these guys. It didn’t make sense to me– they had homes, parents, probably even cozy apartments. I guess if you’re gonna fight, you have to play the part. By now I had found a little job sweeping up some animal shelter, full of the real victims of society. They couldn’t do anything for the situation they were in at all, and that to me was more tragic than a kid with an iPod wanting more cash.

I was told by some folks not to go out at night alone, especially looking like I do. But, as always, the night screamed at me. I couldn’t resist experiencing such horror and solitude, and I heard the darkness beckoning to me… as always, I fell for it. I was telling my own story to myself on this journey, so I never turned down a chance to throw in some excitement.

I liked to walk alone at night, really. People would usually see a guy like me wandering along and just leave me be. If I was brave enough to do it, I was obviously that which they feared. Worked out in my favor. Sure, some rat-faced bastards tried to prove themselves on me, but I’m no fighter. I’m just in it for the ride.
So, sometime after midnight I heard this girl. She was laughing like a hyena at this late-night cafe place, surrounded by a group of apes in polo shirts. I stopped and watched her for a while– overdone in every way, including her emotions– and wondered what she thought of herself. Did she know she was a fake? Does she even give a damn? After one of the thick-necked jackoffs saw me, I kept walking. If there’s anything to incite a riot in a group of guys like that, it’s glancing at the goods. She’d be railed by no less than three of them by the end of the night, I could guarantee it.

This is where things went a little haywire. I was kind of hoping to just turn around and go back to my filthy little cot next to the fat guy with a drinking problem, but nah. They closed up doors  at one am, and I didn’t think I’d make it back in time. Especially after the black kid with a gun shoved me deep into the recesses of an alleyway, about to make my walk go from a surreal daydream to a nightmare.

My own challenge, part one.

I’ve decided to challenge myself to write a short story, over the course of a few days, to see how well I can wrap it up. Figured it wouldn’t hurt to toss it on here, for the hell of it. Hope it doesn’t suck.


Many years back, when I was a bit younger, I found myself in a strange position. I could go on as usual men did at the time– find a decent job, a more decent wife, and live in the American dream.  Or I could do what I had always wanted… what that was, I hadn’t quite figured out yet. That never mattered to me, though. I just knew my ideas were not that of my fellow man. So while most guys were busy in their early years chasing tail and hunting for the good old dollar, but I spent mine dreaming. I dreamed of a life that I couldn’t even fully imagine, one where I was king of my own destiny. This is how it began and ended, and why I think you need to know.I supposed that now is a good time to note that I not only found this strange life, but is well beyond anything anyone could have expected at all.
There was no great hurrah surrounding it all. I just woke up one day and decided, oh, this is the idea… I get it now. So I left the girl I had promised to marry one day, (she ought to have known better, to be honest) ditched the petty job and shitty apartment. I took off down the road with little more than a pack of smokes and some cash I had saved by not bothering with the expenses most guys craved– loose girls, heavy drugs and expensive liquor. There was plenty of time for that sort of thing later on, I figured, well after I had the rest all sorted out. I never really did get it sorted out, but who cares.

It’s not romantic to wander off as a vagabond, despite what the books tell you. It’s dirty and cruel, rendering you no more than a hobo with a selfish cause. People will look further down on you than you ever thought possible, I found. You’re below most street urchins– at least they got there by some sad circumstance. Tell a guy you need a buck because you’re on a journey and well… doesn’t go over quite as smoothly. They whisper that you’re a nutbag, and possibly rightfully so.

I hadn’t been out tripping balls on the high of escapism for long when I met Paul, this fucked up kid that was wandering the country for kicks too. He had other plans, though, big ones that would never work out. Paul said he was out to screw the government, trying to put it back in the hands of the people. “I’m out to save the world from themselves,” he’d scream. “The American people don’t have a clue what’s going on around them, and I wanna change that.” When he offered to travel with me, I declined. I didn’t need that kind of rhetoric blinding my own tasks ahead of me. Last I saw of him he had donned a ski mask and was probably about to get shot. Kids and Utopian dreams are a ruinous mix.

I had passed over the state line when I got my first whiff of law enforcement. Some fat cop with a grudge decided I would be a good choice for his ego to smack around, so right into a cell I went for loitering. The pigs took my smokes and what little cash I had left, leaving me unable to make so much as a phone call. I didn’t expect much from these guys, so I shut my mouth and waited a couple of days until they gave up and let me go. I had to hitch a ride to a bigger town to find some side work, since they had basically robbed me blind. Can’t win against the cops, though. At least they didn’t beat me senseless. That came much later, and it wasn’t the law doing the roughing.

So here I was, shoveling shit for some pocket change. Nothing special, just cleaning up around a restaurant for some old weirdo with a strange, almost sentient hairpiece. I swear that thing spoke to me, asking for freedom to join his squirrel brothers again. It was an odd week, but I managed to get through it. I took off once I had enough money to float me through a few more cities. Still that voice in my head raged on, “Go get it.” I still had no idea what I was chasing, but it was leaving me exhausted and broken. Homeless folks tried to rob me, the regular sheep tried to pretend I didn’t exist. My shoes had worn through and my clothes looked like shit. I was nearing hopelessness when things got a million times worse.

"Nobody really listens to me…"

He looked weak. Fatigued.

He kept fiddling with his ring finger of his left hand. It had obviously been home to a wedding band for a very long time — the pale skin reflected that much.

“Nobody really listen to me. Even when she died… my family, they don’t do no listening.”

He had deep brown eyes, eyes that spoke of the suffering he’d been through. They were framed by the darkened skin that comes from many sleepless nights and bouts with crying. He was all too familiar with pain at this point.

“She was my life, you know? I met that girl back on the beach, she paid me no mind. It took me a loooong time to get her, hoo man. She was worth waitin’ for. We got married in Louisiana. She was born there…”

He can’t even look at me anymore. Being so brave, trying to hard. He just wants someone to listen, he says. He wrings his wrinkled hands as his face grows dark. He’s lonely and scared now, he tells me.

“We was married for over thirty years. That shit jus’ don’t happen no more. Jus’ don’t happen.”

He glanced around, wary. “My stop is comin’. I jus’ get on here ‘n ride to the store… ride home. Nothin’ left for me to do. She died… and so did I. I jus’ do this because it’s what I do.”

He wouldn’t let me take a picture of his face. He said it was too old, too tired.

He smiled a little as he left the bus. Probably for the first time in a long time. Might even be the last. He told me that he doesn’t expect to make it to winter, nor does he want to.

——

“Take our picture!”

“Hmm?”

“Take our picture! We want our pictures taken. You a photographer?”

“Not really. It’s a hobby…”

“C’mon, here, take it.”

They were overheated and anxious for the bus to arrive. The eldest, standing behind the rest, seemed to have taken on a role as caretaker. They looked to her before really acting or speaking. The one in the center was painfully shy of the camera, and hid for every shot I tried. Before I had a chance to really enagage them in conversation, the bus arrived. I wish I knew where they were going.