Some Saturday mornings, I drive my neighbor, Tomas, to the methadone clinic.
It is a good deal because he always gives me about seven bucks for gas, but I usually spend that money on Camel straights, since Samantha smokes American Spirits and by the weekend, I am damn tired of their purity and their taste.
So, at seven o'clock, my cell phone rings. It's old school, it flips open, just like the communicators on Star Trek. I like irony and so for a hoot, I have programmed it to sound like a 1950s British telephone.
Sure as shit, it's Tomas. He says his wife, Martine, is visiting relatives in Chama and can I give him a ride. Fine, I say. Samantha is still asleep and I will make her breakfast when I return.
Tomas lives in one of the biggest homes in Ridgecrest. I met him one night when I was walking my dogs at Laurel Circle Park. He was sitting at one benches, watching the cars go by, whistling a song that used to be popular before rocanrol was invented.
He says to me that there are all sorts of trees surrounding his house, and a large lawn, too. Tomas pays to have the yard kept up. He is not too old to do it himself, he says he just never gave a damn about lawn-mowers and hedge-trimmers and so forth. There's also a swimming pool which sets idle most of the year, except for an occasional dragonfly or visiting cousin.
So I get to his house and a carload of middle-aged women are driving up. Their car has a placard on it, advertising the maid service that sent them over to the big house. I smile and say hello. Tomas comes to out of the front door, dressed like he is going to visit the Four Hills Country Club.
After a short drive with the air conditioner going full blast, we pass through the gates of the clinic. Those gates and the surrounding hurricane fence are topped with razor wire. I pull into a parking spot and tell the old man that I will wait. He looks at me bemusedly and winking, climbs out of the passenger side gingerly, ambling toward the clinic doors.
The lot is filled to capacity. At one car, a child of about ten years old swings from the rear door of a gray sedan, playing and singing to himself. At another, three men smoke, speaking in hushed tones and listening to rancheras on the radio. After about ten minutes, a tired looking youth with dreadlocks and dirty blue jeans walks up to my window. I am reading a David Foster Wallace novel and try to ignore him. He is persistent though, and when I finally look up, he holds his hands out to me. He says, "hey, open the window". I shake my head and return to my reading. When I look up again, he has joined the group that is listening to music and smoking; he is on their periphery, dancing and gesticulating wildly.
The clinic has a guard. He looks more like a soldier. He has a utility belt with two guns strapped to it. One is a revolver, the other a semi-automatic. He is wearing a black uniform and also carries handcuffs, mace, a two-way radio and some sort of collapsible truncheon that he swings around and around, like it is toy, showing it off and laughing in the middle of the hot asphalt.
When drivers try to leave the clinic using the front entrance, he raises the device above his head, shaking it like he is possessed by the restless spirit of drought. He waves the stick and menaces the wrong way drivers, grinning toothily. I remind myself to use the proper exit.
After about fifteen minutes, Tomas returns to the car. As we drive off, I ask him why he doesn't go to a regular doctor for the treatment he receives at the clinic. I think he is out of place but he says that he fits in just fine.
He says it is better for him like this. He needs to be reminded of what got him to this point in his life. He relishes the humility. He says that it is more interesting to talk to the other people in line than it is to have any sort of conversation with the folks he knows from his other life.
We head back towards Ridgecrest where it is the end of summer and therefore lush and overgrown, with birds and flowers just about everywhere. Tomas opens his wallet and lays a sawbuck on me and I toss it back at him when I stop in front of his house.