The story you are about to read is Part Two of a memoir from a Road Trip From Hell that took place in 2002. It's full of psychic phenomena, odd coincidences, and unexplained paranormal weirdness...Enjoy!
All the hair on my body stood on end. I shuddered in utter disbelief, chills running up my spine. I felt like I was drowning, like my brain was being sucked slowly and loudly out of my skull. In the midst of it all, my thoughts came thick and fast.
How was this even possible…especially after the episode with My Electrical Disturbance? Why the hell hadn’t I paid attention to that damn gas pump? More importantly, how come my apparent clairvoyance had shown me “Chinatown”, and not the part about the police pulling us over? What the fuck?
I started crying hysterically again, and at some point, still in my clothing, fell into a deep, fitful sleep. I awoke suddenly to blinding desert sunlight and the tinny sounds of ranchera music on a cheap radio, floating above the roar of the maid’s vacuum cleaner in the room next door. I took a shower and tried to apply make-up over my tear-swollen eyes. I was gonna need every bit of what was left of my feminine wiles to figure out storing the truck, not to mention getting out of Seligman, considering the fact that I was twelve bucks away from being flat broke.
Grabbing a paper cup full of the brown crayon water that was masquerading as coffee in the lobby, I began trying think coherently about negotiating vehicle storage at the tow yard, not to mention financing my trip back home.
The Chuck Norris guy greeted me brusquely with a grunt as I entered his garage. He rolled out from beneath the chassis, dressed in worn, grease-stained coveralls. Lighting a Marlboro, he repeated his terms, and then asked if my boyfriend had gotten out of jail. I started weeping again, snot dribbling out of my nostrils as I recounted the previous nights events…leaving out the crazy paranormal shit so I wouldn’t sound completely insane.
“Oh, man…please don’t cry!” he begged, his demeanor changing unexpectedly,
“ I just cannot handle seeing a woman crying!”
He pulled out a plastic orange crate, gesturing for me to sit down as he handed me a clean red chamois cloth to wipe my eyes with and a glass of water.
“You seem like a nice person, “ he said earnestly, “ I know you’re really upset…and I’m not sure why your boyfriend is in jail…”
“I’m not either!” I wailed, lips quivering, snot bubbling out of my nostrils like a child, “They wouldn’t tell me!”
He looked me straight in the eyes and told me he would store the truck until James got out of jail, and only charge me five buck a day instead twenty five, but that I had to promise to mail him the cash as soon as I got home. Gratefully agreeing to his terms, I offered to leave my license as collateral, but waved his hand in dismissal. Writing me up a receipt, he said a Greyhound bus came through the town, and let me use the shop phone to make a reservation. The automated voice stated that the bus only came through Seligman every three days; apparently, I’d just missed one. Seligman, known as “The Birthplace of Route 66” is located in Northern Arizona’s Upland Mountains, “conveniently located” exactly 180 miles away from both Phoenix and The Grand Canyon…which was a euphemism for “in the middle of nowhere”.
As I hung up in despair, the tow driver told me I could get a flight from Flagstaff to Phoenix, so I could then fly to LA. I reached my sister, told her the predicament, and she called back after she’d booked the flights for me. Wolfing down the Snickers bar the guy offered me after he called the taxi service, I thanked him gratefully and profusely for his kindness. Things were actually starting to look up!
The “cab” which turned out to be a black 1980’s Cadillac Seville with a burgundy velvet interior, arrived an hour and change later. The sunburned driver was portly in a plaid shirt, Polyester pants and a shocking white comb-over. Holding the door open for me, he told me that the journey to Flagstaff would take roughly two hours. Shaking Chuck Norris’ hand, I stepped into the car’s front seat and we took off.
Neil Diamond was playing softly on the radio as we drove through the barren desert. Thinking of Pa in jail, I felt tears welling up again. Staring out the window at the scrubby landscape, I tried to be as silent as possible, just for the sake of being polite.
An hour or so went by before the cabbie, in a timid voice, ventured,
“Miss? I know this isn’t any of my business, and I don’t know what happened to you, but I hope you’ll be all right… I don’t want to pry… but…”
Taking a measured breath, he continued,
“ I wanted to let you know that… you’re… the most beautiful woman I’ve ever had in my cab. I’m a married man, so I don’t… mean anything by this…but, uh, I want to help, so… this ride is on me”.
I looked over at his sincere face, and burst into tears again, loudly and for real.
“Thank you so much!” I sobbed.
We drove the rest of the way in silence. When he let me out at the Flagstaff Airport he wouldn’t take a tip, just patted me on the arm in a fatherly way and wished me luck. Even though the airport was the size of a postage stamp with only one runway, because the September 11th tragedy had was still a brand new open wound, the security line was a bitch.
As it happened, I had a Starred Ticket, which meant I was singled out for “secondary search”. The extremely thorough agents succeeded in knocking six keys off my brand new laptop. Then they confiscated all the vintage diaper pins inside my bag. Like, sure, I was totally planning to hi-jack the plane by brandishing a diaper pin decorated with a yellow plastic ducky! As they did this, a woman breezed through the line wearing one of those giant American Flag pins made of beads- and twenty or thirty safety pins.
“What about her? “ I asked indignantly. “She’s got tons of safety pins on!”
“Oh, “ the security agent said, “That’s just jewelry!”
With all the security procedures, I barely made my plane, which turned out to be a single-engine eight seater. Five passengers were men, ranging from executives to desert rats, and there was a pair of newly weds who’d obviously been honeymooning at the Grand Canyon. Their affection made me lonely for Pa and their clean-cut appearance made me envious. It was clear that neither of them had never jumped on the hood of a police car like a lunatic, experienced psychic issues involving popular films, or gotten stranded in a surreal one-horse town with no money. I felt immensely sorry for myself and during the bumpy take off, and the crying kicked in again.
I didn’t even notice the incredible turbulence until the flight attendant started doling out barf bags to everyone- handing me my bag along with small package of Kleenex. As we flew directly into a vicious thunderstorm, the plane hurdled up and shot down hundreds of feet like a thrill ride. Shell shocked, I watched with a detached fascination as huge, fake-looking white bolts of lightning practically bounced off the wings. Passengers were heaving loudly and the entire cabin reeked of vomit. The new bride clutched her husband’s hand praying out loud and the pilot yelled frantically into his headset as the flight attendant white-knuckled her seat.
After what seemed like forever, the plane burst out of the storm and into glaring sunlight, making an abrupt descent into Phoenix. Everyone filed off the plane and onto the tarmac like zombies.
Since I had an hour to kill- and had almost died- I found the closest bar right away. Gulping down two shots of vodka in quick succession, I noticed the woman on the stool next to me staring…I’m a fucking wreck. She looked like a Casino Trash Bingo Lady from Laughlin who’d been a stripper in her youth, with her fried blonde hair and sun–damaged skin covered in harsh, cheap make up.
“Been there, done that, got the T-shirt”, she said with a kind, knowing expression crossing her weathered face.
“Your drinks are on me!” she stated firmly, ordering me another shot.
I don’t remember the flight back to LA, or getting home. Immediately I called I called Prescott and learned that Pa had been transferred to The Yavapai County Detention Facility. I Googled the number and called, waiting through a series of automated prompts and recordings before I got a human being. At first, the CO wouldn’t let me talk to him or leave a message, explaining that inmates couldn’t receive messages unless there was a Verified Emergency Situation. After I called back six or seven times in quick succession pretending to be a pregnant spouse, in exasperation the guy finally said he’d give Pa the message and allow him to place a collect call to me.
Half an hour later, I gladly accepted the charges, rejoicing in hearing James’ voice. He sounded good in spite of everything he’d been through: getting shackled with the “4-piece” – the cuffs and chain arrangement usually reserved for serial killers- while sitting in the back of a squad car and then on a bench in Prescott waiting to get processed. He’d gone to jail in ancient, shredded jeans and a T-shirt emblazoned with a ventriloquist dummy that had a bloody Manson X on its forehead and “Puppet Terror” in drippy horror movie letters. He didn’t have a cent on him and was barefoot, so he was booked as an “indigent”. He still hadn’t found out why he was being held or when he’d be released, but he sounded good. I promised to wire cash to be put into his commissary account and we phone-kissed. The call ended far too quickly, but reassured that my lover wasn’t being mistreated; I slept peacefully for just over twenty-four hours.
The next couple of days were filled with calls to his mother (who, not surprisingly, was cautious and suspicious each time we spoke) and cyber-stalking the Yavapai County Detention Center, to the point that I knew how many employees the place had and all about the new prison-wide plumbing system that was being installed.
In a couple more days, Pa finally found out why he was being detained. It turned out that a court summons had erroneously been sent to an address at which he hadn’t lived at for years. Eventually it turned into a bench warrant, and the recent passing of the Patriot Act had qualified any fugitives from justice to be extradited back to the state they’d fled for trial and/or punishment. So Pa was held in custody in Arizona until New Mexico sent for his transport, which would land him in the Metropolitan Detention Center in Albuquerque, until his trail. We’d definitely need a criminal lawyer to unravel this mess, even though it stemmed from a clerical error.
I was at an absolute loss at how to find a competent attorney in another state. There were dozens of them listed, but trying to actually reach one on the phone was impossible. Either the lawyers would be “busy” and I’d be forced speak to a clueless paralegal who didn’t understand the situation and apparently never left a message, or it was suggested I come to New Mexico for a consultation- yeah, right! And then I remembered Mr. V.
I’d known Mr. V for years- he’d gone to school with one of my sisters. Somehow during a boozy party at her place, Mr. V had pegged me as a libertine, and pulled me aside to confidentially ask me for sexual advice regarding his current girlfriend. Evidently, I counseled him quite well, because he began calling me every few months to ask my take on getting a girl to role-play or how to introduce light bondage into a relationship. These calls became regular... like, every time he had a date (and he was dating a lot) but they were clean and clinical as opposed to kinky, I didn’t feel creeped out at all. I was starting to feel like an unpaid sex therapist though. When he called for the third time in one week, wondering about coercing his latest fling into getting spanked, I joked that he would have to repay me someday. Since Mr. V was a former state senator who was currently a lawyer…that time was now.
As luck would have it, Mr. V was happy to reciprocate, hooking me up with a man who was supposed to be the best criminal defense attorney in the Southwest; he even wrote a personal letter of recommendation. The lawyer took the case, but the court date wouldn’t be set until Pa was extradited back to New Mexico.
Meantime, James seemed to be having a fine time in the Detention Center, as detailed in his many letters to me. Along with heartfelt passages about how much he missed me, he wrote descriptions of day-to-day prison life. Apparently, because I was still calling the prison constantly to check on his status, I’d become something of a celebrity among the correctional officers. During the Lights Out rounds, while dragging his baton along the metal bars, one of them had even taken to clandestinely whispering out of the side of his mouth, “Hey! your wife called again!”
His correspondence described all the various inmate cliques: the Mexicans who’d life weights by attaching plastic trash bags full of water to each side of a broomstick, the trannies who offered hair cuts to other inmates from their cell-salons, the Meth freaks and the White Power guys. He wrote about the shitty food- and the people who served it. The prison had separate buildings for men and women in the same compound, and the food-serving trustees worked both sides. For a price, they’d smuggle foil-wrapped notes (hidden under the lid of the meal plastic containers) back and forth between lovers who resided in different cellblocks. One letter of Pa's included pencil rubbings of the tweaker graffiti carved into the metal benches, another was written from the viewpoint of an ET who’d somehow been incarcerated.
Through the grapevine, he learned that many of the inmates believed Yavapai County was shaped like a Pentagram, and that the Sheriff’s office was the very tip of the star. Then there was The Truth Hurts Incident. The only channel the big screen television in the common room ever played was MTV, all day and night. Pa just happened to be watching when my video made its debut. All the convicts were crowded around the TV, whistling and catcalling at the hip-hop hotties shaking their booties. When I swirled onto the screen in my sparkly blue and gold costume and veils, undulating in a “private dance” for Dr. Dre, Pa proudly announced to everyone that I was his girlfriend. Of course they all thought he was joking!
He’d also become the star of a true Big House rags-to-riches story. Because of his artistic talent, he was now rolling in cigarettes, candy bars, Hostess Cakes, postage stamps, and Swiss Miss drink packets…. all paid to him gladly by his fellow inmates. He was doing a roaring business drawing birthday and greeting cards to send to their mothers, wives and baby-mommas. His work was composed of intricate pencil drawings decorated with cherubs, hearts and roses colored in vivid yellows, and reds and greens, using un-cooked Jell-O mix as paint. He even designed a tattoo of a raging bull for somebody, and then watched it get inked into the guy’s skin by hand. I could practically see the headlines: Jailhouse Indigent Makes Good!
On the last day it was possible to extradite James from Yavapai County to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Albuquerque, the New Mexico officers showed up. They’d flown over in a Cessna to bring James back to wait for his trial. Green-faced, one of the cops was so sick and terrified in the tiny plane that Pa wound up holding his hand the entire way.
The jail there was vastly different than in Arizona- Pa was put into General Population, which was basically a huge cage full of crazy people. In comparison, the Yavapai Country Detention center had been a cakewalk. He kept a low profile as he waited for another two weeks for his day in court.
Apparently, Mr. V had done an absolutely bang-up job of finding an attorney. Though the lawyer was hideously expensive, he was, for real, the best criminal defense attorney in the state. He was also the presiding judge’s golf buddy, and had been a mentor to the prosecuting lawyer when he’d been in law school!
A few days after the trial, James returned to Hollywood in his rattletrap pick up truck. He hugged me long and tight and we kissed for eons.
“I brought you a present from jail!”, he said jubilantly, handing me a grocery bag and a tattered paper clipping.
Some guys learn how to crack safes or become bookies when they’re on the inside; others kill their fellow inmates with shanks made from a toothbrush. But Pa had been going through magazines in Albuquerque, looking for recipes. The one he handed me was for Southern Fried chicken, written by Martha Stewart…a good two years before she herself was incarcerated.
“I’m starving,” Pa said, getting out a frying pan.
“Let’s try this!”
As I handed him the contents of the grocery bag, he squeezed me and sighed regretfully,
“ You know, when we were in Kingman, and the gas pump said $9.11? I didn’t think that was a good sign, and I wanted to stay there at the motel…but I didn’t tell you because I thought you’d think I was crazy!”
This story excerpt is from my memoir Showgirl Confidential: My Life Onstage, Backstage And On The Road, published September 2013 by Punk Hostage Press.
To get a signed copy of the book, please visit www.pleasantgehman.com
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