Kevin Ridgeway is a writer currently living in a shady bungalow in Southern California with his girlfriend, menagerie of mangy cats, and old...read more books. He wasn't meant for these times, should have been born a century ago and often daydreams in black and white. When not writing he haunts the local graveyards, bread lines and sends letters off to his imprisoned bank robbing old man, who looks like George Clooney on acid and once took a prison pottery class with Charles Manson. Mr. Ridgeway also enjoys strip Scrabble and is an amateur avocado farmer.
Carlos wandered the grounds of the Stony Creek Rehab Center looking for unfinished cigarette butts in the smoking area ash trays before turning to me. He did this while pulling his shirt up to his neck and playing with his nipples, a nervous tic the counselors were trying to persuade him out of doing. “Gimme your short,” he demanded, which was rehab lingo referring to the rest of the Marlboro I was smoking. A large swath of black smoke hovered over the mountains above us. A huge brush fire had ignited, ironically enough, from someone throwing a cigarette out of a car window. The power at the facility was out and there was a possibility of an evacuation to the suburbs below. “Go away, Carlos,” I said, impatient. Carlos turned to the other patients who all shook their heads no. He had a long, pock marked face that resembled a deflated Michael Myers Halloween mask, accept with brown, Mexican skin “Cold hearted people,” Carlos mumbled before heading toward the dumpsters where he would talk to himself and joust with invisible people until they called out for evening meds.
Carlos was a schizophrenic crack head. I was a bipolar alcoholic - still am to this day. We were both two of around fifty patients at Stony Creek, a drug and alcohol treatment facility nestled in the woods of the Los Angeles mountains. I had been there for about ninety days at that point and was already sick of the daily group therapy sessions, the endless boot-camp style chores and especially the counselors that behaved less like therapists and more like parole officers. I was lucky to have a small core group of friends, most of them high-functioning addicts and alcoholics that got me through the six months I would ultimately spend there. It was my week to cook dinner. I was flipping turkey burgers to feed my fellow maladroit misfits of society when it was called to my attention that there were massive flames breaking out nearby. I went outside and, sure enough, the whole hillside was ablaze, the sky orange as a Sunkist soda bottle. The head counselors stormed our rooms at four the next morning, telling us to pack only a toothbrush and load into the large white vans that normally ferried us to 12-step meetings. We had no idea where they were taking us. All I can remember as we caravanned down the winding roads of the mountains was that our driver was blasting “Rock You Like a Hurricane”, the night sky darker and more bleak than usual.
...read more (2/4)They decided to hold us in a tiny room behind an AA meeting club until they could figure out our temporary lodging. It was a dark, dank room that, after a few hours of being inhabited by dozens of detoxifying addicts sweating out toxins and helpless farts, smelled like a rotting beef carcass. I had recently been elected Rehab Patient Council President, and was told by the rehab staff to keep the patients calm. There is no way of keeping rehab patients calm in a shit cellar. I turned over on the sweat soiled thrift store Spongebob pillow that had been doled out to me and tried, unsuccessfully, to sleep. The next thing we knew, we were being taken to a four-star hotel, complete with swimming pool, catered meals and a large bar adjacent to the lobby. I watched as my fellow drunks and fuck-ups licked their lips at the sight of the neon beer signs and large martini glasses clinking together as we waited to be escorted to the wing of rooms at the hotel that would serve as our temporary rehab facility for the following two weeks. It was at that time that I began to pray that the rehab would burn down and we could all gleefully fly off the wagon at that hotel bar, telling each other our various drunk and drug-fueled adventure stories of our misspent lives whilst getting snookered beyond repair. It was not to be. All I had was a toothbrush, a Ghostbusters t-shirt on my back, tight Wrangler jeans and flip-flops to my name for the duration of our hellish stay in paradise. The other patients and I were weary of being in public. Word got out among the other guests that some crazies from a rehab had set up camp, and there began the long parade of dirty looks wherever we went. Half of the patients had been homeless prior to checking into Stony Creek, so the accommodations were a bit of a culture shock. Many of them were kicked out of the program during our hotel stay for a variety of offenses, including: public intoxication, defecating in the stairwell, skinny dipping in the pool, urinating in the pool, skinny dipping in the pool and urinating in it while publicly intoxicated, and, the most reviled no-no among the counselors, fucking other patients senseless in states of drug-and-alcohol free desperation. ...read more (3/4)I roomed with two obese, slovenly meth-heads who, when finished eating something, simply dropped the remainder onto the floor with a revolting lip-curdling burp. I don’t know how many times I stepped on something in the bathroom, be it a half-finished sandwich covered in mayonnaise or even an entire omelet from room service. Ketchup dripped from the walls of our room like blood, and WWE wrestling played on an endless loop on the television. I always had to call the main desk for fresh towels because all of the towels were suspiciously sticking together, probably from the marathon jack-off sessions they engaged in when not trashing the room or insulting me in Spanish. I was in hell. The bar was becoming more enticing; I could taste that first drop of gin and tonic that I kept talking myself out of nearly every hour we were there. We actually had to endure group therapy sessions during our stay, which mainly consisted of watching one counselor’s worn VHS copy of Sea Biscuit over and over again. At one point, they got so desperate that they went to a local discount store and bought a stack of five dollar Lifetime movies for women, which we had to suffer through for hours each day. I was at the end of my rope. I kept asking if the flames had gotten anywhere near the facility up in the mountains. One day, the head counselor interrupted a group to announce that the flames on the mountain were over seventy five percent contained, and the entire grounds of Stony Creek had been spared. Fuck! The only pleasure I got in those days was swimming in the pool at night, shortly before lights out. I had been flirting with a beautiful woman patient and she would go for a late swim with me. It was my chance to see the amazing contours of her body, drenched in water, which gave me plenty of spank material when I was sleepless and desperate in the wee small hours of the night. The counselors took me aside one day, telling me they were concerned for my well-being and wanted to increase the dosages of my anti-depressant and anti-psychotic. I was not thrilled, and went on a long tirade, threatening to go AWOL from the program. Just as I was packing my bags, which consisted of a plastic bag holding my toothbrush and a t-shirt of a cat hanging by its tail with the phrase “Hang in There, Baby” printed across it (purchased from the gift shop), the head counselor stumbled upon my room and said, “Oh, good, you’re packing—it’s time to head back to the facility!” Double fuck! ...read more (4/4)As we were rounding the hills to my destiny of finishing my stay at Stony Creek Rehab, from which I ultimately became a proud graduate (I still have my diploma tucked away in a drawer in my office with stacks of unused Burger King coupons), I remembered the day we were allowed to attend an on-site church service. It was the closest thing to a daily affirmation I got, mainly because the service was presided over by loud African-American Baptists complete with a gospel choir. The preacher said a lot of things regarding Jesus and the Bible that I didn’t necessarily agree with, but it gave me the faith I needed to carry on through his sheer display of passion and spirit. My life had turned into a bit of a tragic comedy, but I wasn’t dead yet and I would overcome my days in the gutter and my months at Stony Creek. That and the soul food buffet afterwards helped revive me from my coma of self-loathing and dread. As I counted the days toward my graduation, sweeping the bear shit and garbage that had been strewn about in our absence next to the facility’s dumpsters, I thought about the triumph of the human spirit and how it had helped me to survive all of this horror. My heart and my fucked-up being were filled with a strange joy as I shoveled a heaping pile of excrement into the trash. It was at that moment that Carlos appeared and asked me for a cigarette. I pulled two out and lit them both in my mouth, handed him one, and took one long puff of my Marlboro, just as Carlos happily pulled up his shirt and began to pick at and pinch his nipples, the sun slowly setting over us, the smoke from the fires having cleared away.