Essays Craven Rock — August 15, 2011 0:22 — 2 Comments
Cabbie Tells All – Craven Rock
“Did Jerry Springer call you? I gave them your number,” my buddy Herman asked me.
Herman had just gone on the trashy talk show for a segment called I’m Leaving My Family For a Stripper with a dancer that he drives home in his taxi. The whole thing was fabricated: even his “family” didn’t exist. His baby momma was someone else he knew from taxiing around Louisville’s nightlife. Herman has serendipity when it comes to acting and appearing in weird shit. His booming voice can be heard in the B movie Sick Perverts, as a DJ announcing the apocalypse. He was also featured with his bluegrass band, Ponty’s Camper in The Wild and Wonderful Whites, a film exploiting the pill-snorting, welfare-collecting family of the wife-beating, schizophrenic, West Virginia tap dancer Jesco White; a cult figure just as likely to think he’s Elvis as the King himself. This film, coupled with the Jerry Springer episode, makes Herman feel entitled to jokingly call himself “The White Trash King of Louisville”.
Herman is a big, broad-shouldered, cheerful, full-time cabbie whom I hang out with when I go back to Louisville to drive a cab myself. For me it’s a seasonal gig that pays for the time I take off to write. For Herman, it’s a year-round job. He puts a whole lot of time into it, and makes a lot of money; for his own reasons, he seems to get a lot of pleasure out of it. I haven’t known him that long, though. That’s why I found it odd that he would pass my number on to the show rather than someone he’s known for a lengthier amount of time. Maybe it was just that we were seeing a whole lot of each other posted in front of the nightclubs and hotels. Maybe he thought I would be really good at hamming it up, which I find a bit flattering.
At the time, I’d been feeling rather open to life. I had just ridden a train across the country from Seattle to Louisville. I’d hit it off with a beautiful and impish Australian redhead. We’d spent a couple of days hanging out and talking as the train crossed the country. By the time we’d gotten into Illinois we were making out in the dressing room downstairs and heading into Chicago during the worst blizzard in fifty years. All the lines were canceled and magically, we were comped two hotel rooms. We had hot sweet sex, and afterward, we swam in the pool while the storm raged on outside, immediately visible through the wide panorama of tall windows all around.
We parted ways like travelers do, leaving me with a rekindled belief in the moment, my eyes wide open to life and a strong belief in serendipity.
So The Jerry Springer show did call me, and it was all that I could to say, “Yeah, I’ll do it.” After all it was a once in lifetime opportunity, right? It was something I could say I had done.
Janice, the woman from the show, said that I’d get $200 and an all expense paid trip to the studio, including entertainment, food and a hotel room. Hell yeah, I’d do it. But the funny thing is, I thought about it all only in abstractions and aggregates. Free night on the town in a place I’d never been to, free food and a weekend vacation. I thought about being able to say that I was on Jerry Springer. It was all about sucking the marrow out the bones of life, about being ready to do anything, right? I was thinking that this was another once in a lifetime opportunity and I had to just run with it. In retrospect, I never thought about how cool it would be to go on national television. I never really thought about how I would act or appear. It was more the idea of not passing up such an opportunity. The idea of being able to say: “Yes, I did that.”
“So, do you have a girlfriend that would be willing to come on with you?” Janice asked next.
“Yes,” I said quickly, as my mind raced thinking of someone to recruit to be my girlfriend.
“Can I have her number so I can talk to her?” she asked.
“I think it would better if I approached her with the idea first,” I said, “I’ll call her and then call you back with her number.”
I hung up and thought immediately of my friend Rachel. Rachel’s another cab driver who isn’t really a cab driver. She’s an artist who drives for the big conventions when they come to town. She supplements this income by growing her own food and doing whatever odd jobs might come her way. She’s always been a bit wild and adventurous. I knew she’d be awesome on the show and that we’d have a blast running around downtown Stamford, Connecticut. I called her up.
“So, I have something weird to ask you, do you want to be me girlfriend on the Jerry Springer Show?”
“Fuck yeah,” she said without so much as a pause. It was on.
Janice called her and asked to see pictures of her on her Facebook profile. Then she asked a few questions about how long we’d been together and how things were going in the relationship. She asked Rachel if there was someone in my past, like an ex-girlfriend, who might be interested in coming on. Then she called me back.
“I just talked to Rachel and looked at her Facebook profile. I think she’s very pretty. We’d really like to have her on the show. Now for you I also need a picture, one of you showing all of your teeth. I’ll also need a picture of your driver’s license. Can you give that to me right away?”
“Yeah, sure,” I said. I hung up and wondered if having all my teeth would help or hinder my chances of getting on the show. My buddy Jamie and I then tried to figure out how to work the camera on my phone. I had never used it. It was getting close to five and we had to keep hitting the reject button each time Janice called us back to hurry us along. After twenty minutes of dicking around, we got off a couple of photos and emailed them via phone. Then I got in my cab to go to werk. (This is how I spell work done for money, a way of phonetically spelling the disgusted way in which the word is often spat out.)
“I’m going on Jerry, too,” Derrick says smiling his wide canine smile, “the episode is going to be called Two Pregnant Girls and a Jerk. I came up with it myself.” Now Derrick’s getting on the Jerry bandwagon, though, unlike us, his story is the real thing. About six months ago he raw-dogged two girls within a couple of weeks. He also managed to get them both pregnant. Now they are both planning on having these kids. He feels he’s not at all ready to be a dad and has been freaking out. He’s been acting completely self-destructive and nihilistic. He’s been drinking himself into oblivion every night. Last night he set all the furniture in his backyard on fire. I guess I’ve been encouraging it. He’s been my partner in crime forever. I know that these are the last of these times.
Derrick is extremely intelligent. I’d go as far as to call him cunning. But he’s broad and muscular, so he’s often mistaken for a big, dumb oaf. He plays up this stereotype to manipulate people who underestimate him. Derrick is getting to be a pretty established artist, a painter and illustrator. He’s complex. He’s really disciplined in his work, but sometimes he just doesn’t give a fuck and is just ready to live the chaos. He will often fluctuate between these two sides of his personality in a single day. This is just part of the complex dynamic of Derrick.
I watch him roll a quarter over his knuckles as he talks. It disappears into his palm and comes back around on the top of his pointer finger again. He does this without looking, his eyes are on me as he laughingly talks, “I got the girls to agree to do it. And I’m going to use it to promote my art.”
It was dusk. I had just dropped off my last fare of the evening. He seemed cool enough. He was an older man, seemed light-hearted, probably a bit drunk. He gave me fifteen dollars for the short run, a six dollar fare. He bought me a drink at the gas station, too. So, yeah, he seemed cool until I dropped him off around the corner from his place (He was never entirely clear where he actually lived). He got out and paid, leaving me with the fare and fat tip.
“Thanks a lot,” I say, approvingly.
“No problem. I think you are adorable. I’ve still got your number. I’m going to give you a call later,” he said.
“Yeah, if you need a ride,” I said giving him a perplexed glare.
“Do you like making money in other ways,” he asked.
“No, I just drive a cab,” I say not wanting to find out where he was going with the question.
I wasn’t even two miles down the road when I got a text: “want to make another twenty?” Fucking asshole, I thought to myself. Then I shoved the phone back under the visor. Not five minutes later there was another text.
“How about another forty?” It read.
After parking the car I texted, “Fuck off, creep.”
Werking seasonally requires a degree of dedication. In order to make all of your money for the year in a few weeks, you have to be ready to push it, sometimes werking 18 hour shifts and sleeping 6. So when I was awakened by Janice’s repeated calls I was none too happy. But whatever. Jerry! Jerry! Right? I kept hitting reject, until finally I answered the phone.
“Hi, this is Janice from the Jerry Springer Show. I didn’t get your pictures yesterday. We really need them.”
“Well, I sent them. At first we were having trouble with the camera, but you should have them now.” She opened up her email.
“Oh, here they are,” she said. Then she had me answer a questionnaire, which I groggily did.
“Are there currently any felony cases pending against you, or are you on the run from the law?”
“Have you ever been convicted of a felony? It’s OK if you have. I just need to know.”
“No, I haven’t.”
“Have you ever been diagnosed or had any history of schizophrenia or mental illness?”
“No,” I told her. The questions went on for a while. When they were finally done I got up and went to werk.
Rachel and I are posted up in front of the Galt House hotel. While waiting for fares, we try to come up with someone to play my ex-girlfriend on the show. It isn’t easy. We feel weird about recruiting people that we don’t know very well, because we figure we’ll play better off someone that we both knew, but at this point we’ll probably just be down with whoever will go through with it.
We called our friends all over the country. I was rejected by friends I expected would be all about it: too paranoid, too much stage fright. Some of them got all political about it, exploitation and all that. A lot of the craziest, wildest friends that I know have actually settled down at this point. Some of them actually have something to protect, like teaching careers.
Janice alternated between us, pestering both of us about finding somebody. It’s not as easy as you think to find someone who’s going to jump up to be mocked on national TV. Hell, we were hard-pressed to find someone and we were lying.
Eventually we found a few who were willing. It was down to a raggedy, tattoo-faced, crust-punk acquaintance of mine named Betty who lived in New Orleans. She jumped on the phone when I was trying to recruit an old roommate of mine. She was cool and really into it, but I really didn’t know her. She was just a party acquaintance. Then there was Abby, a fat, sassy Kentucky girl whose drunken antics are a bit notorious around town. She’d have been great. But we decided on Sid. She was a tough, punk anarchist girl that ran in our circles, maybe a bit crazy, just like the rest of us, and totally down.
Throughout the day, I was still pissed at the dirtbag from the night before. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been propositioned before, even inappropriately. It’s not a big deal. But it’s one thing to be hit on by someone who’s horny and drunk. It’s another to pull up in your werkplace to pick up some rich, leathery jerk-off and to have him offer you money for sex. As if it wasn’t obvious that you had a job. As if you were just there to service some wealthy prick in every way he felt necessary. As if werking people are just naturally so desperate that they’ll do anything, and for any paltry amount.
I couldn’t shake it. So that evening, I sent him a text that said, “yeah, you’re sorry. Next time call another cab and tell them to take you to Fourth and Ormsby (Louisville’s hustler street) so you can catch another disease and quit soliciting working people, you well-fed fuck!”
“I don’t know who this is, but remove me from your mailing list,” was the reply.
“Fuck off, creep. You know damn well who I am,” I texted back. That was the end of it, at least for the dialogue between us.
That night, after the bars closed, I told Herman the story of the per. I showed him the text. He laughed his hearty laugh, his broad shoulders shaking.
“That’s poetry,” he said of my text. I was rather proud.
“Gimme the number,” he said. I passed it on to him. He started typing, “Just wanted to remind you to make sure that the stiff that you chose for the corpse-fucking ritual tomorrow was of legal age.” Then he sent it off. Herman would continue to send the creep filthy and obscene texts over the next couple of weeks.
During my lunch break, I watch Jerry Springer clips on the internet. I realize it has been years since I actually sat down and watched the show. Though it might not have been necessary I could quite well remember what it was all about. Hell, the last time that I had seen the show was probably before the whistle was blown, exposing it as fake.
I looked at some of the show titles, Baby Mama Meltdown, Trannies Tell All, I’m Your Pimp Not Your Boyfriend. Stuff like that. In every scene there was a Latino, a black person, a redneck, a fat person, trailer trash, queer folks, minorities jumping up to get beat down on national TV. Even the crowd was made up of proletarians with a hard-on for schadenfreude, laughing at the fools brawling all over the stage. Sure, it was clear that most of them were actors just like we would be, but still, I wondered what their motivation was. Were they desperate for attention? Were they fans of the show? Was this going to be their big break? Then I thought about why I was going on the show. Were they going on for the same reasons I was? Because it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? Just to say they did? To have a night on the town on the networks dollar? Serendipity?
It was then that I first thought about it all in relation to myself in a realistic way. I thought about how paranoid I get. How any kind of media exposure at all is gives me Post-traumatic-stress. I wondered what made me think it would be OK for me to expose myself this way on TV when I’m too paranoid to even have a Facebook page. Who was winning this? Were Rachel and myself winning by not passing up such an experience?
I call Rachel up. “I’m getting cold feet,” I say. “Yeah, I am, too,” says Rachel. We talk it over a bit.
“It’s just that it seemed like such a wild opportunity, but you know if we do this there’s no going back. We might have some risk of regret if we don’t do it, but it’s there forever if we do,” Rachel tells me, “I’m just worried about it coming back to haunt me.”
“Yeah, I’m not sure about it anymore either,” I say. Then I tell her that I’m going back to werk. The pre-Derby nights have been slow. I’ll have plenty of time to think it over.
All my friends all over the country knew that I was about to go on. They figure I’ll be awesome on the show, because amongst friends I’m animated and find it easy to make people laugh. I have a bit of a reputation for being the funny, spastic guy. They are all looking forward to it. I don’t want to let anybody down.
“Don’t worry about it, man. I got cold feet too when I was in the hotel room. But then I did it, I had two pretty girls fighting over me on TV and it was totally worth it. Just do it,” Herman tells me. Then he says, “by the way dude, I sent this to the creep,” and begins reading from his text outbox. “’The rapture is coming May 21st God will show mercy on us on that day if we have a live lobster in our anus’.” He texted back, threatening to call the police. So I told him ‘Yes, they need to know this, too.’”
Herman is interrupted by a phone call from one of his regulars and drives off in his taxi.
I call Derrick.
“Are you still going on the show?” I ask.
“No, they were fucking annoying, they wouldn’t leave me alone.”
As I drove around that night, I did some thinking.
I thought about Rachel. How she’s a cabbie but also an imaginative artist and illustrator, a gardener and an evicted live-off-the-land farmer who’s desperately trying to get out of the city. I thought about Sid, a tattooed and rowdy punk girl who works in a bar serving booze to yuppies downtown, meanwhile, she’s finishing up a law degree.
I thought of Herman, a full-time cab driver but also a deep thinker. He’s vastly intelligent. He’s blessed with street smarts as well as book smarts. He’s a mandolin player in a renowned bluegrass band that just happens to not pay the bills. I thought of Derrick, his complex and shrewd, over-stimulated brain. His talent as a painter and his struggle with that over-active mind that leads him to self-destruction. He’s bright and magical, almost childlike at times, but also dark and cynical and quick to brawl.
I thought of myself, a writer who has managed to move a lot of people, but struggling to get by, pulling various gigs for money. We didn’t tell them these things about us. They didn’t ask. We probably wouldn’t have if they had asked.
Nightclubbers and partiers jumped in and out of my cab. The night passed into morning and I took my last plane call. It was about eight AM when I went inside.
My phone rang. It was Janice from the Jerry Springer show.
“I was just wondering if you found anybody to go on the show with you and Rachel?” she asked.
“We decided not to do it.”
“Oh, well I’m disappointed to hear that. Can I ask why?”
“Well, we decided that it would be better for our relationship, our families, our lives and our class if we didn’t exploit ourselves on your TV show.”
It was that simple, the anti-climatic, yet best way to take advantage of a once-in-lifetime opportunity. It was done.
“Well, I can understand that,” she said, “but if you know anybody who wants to go on the show, there’s a two-hundred dollar finder’s fee for you.”
Fuck off, creep.
The answer isn't poetry, but rather language
- Richard Kenney