Harley, A Story From Broken


Back in either July or August 1997, I met an older guy who went by the name of Harley. He was an old biker. He looked like the mountain man from The Oak Ridge Boys. Long gray beard, long salt, and pepper hair, it was hard to make out his age, late fifties, early sixties, who knows.

Anyhow, I met Harley within a week of getting to Pitchess Detention Center – East Facility in Castaic, California. He was the second in charge of the “white car.” The head guy was a dude named Red. Red was a shoeshine, so he was never around. He was always buffing the officer’s black boots.

In Red’s absence, Harley oversaw all the day-to-day drama amongst the whites, or as we were called the “Woods.”

Harley was originally sentenced to nine months at Pitchess, but told the judge he wouldn’t be attending any meetings when he was released nor would he pay any fines. So, they gave him an additional nine months, and then asked if he cared to reconsider? He told them to fuck off. He did the entire eighteen months.

Harley wore nothing, but the issued pair of orange pants, maybe some socks. During the prior couple of decades, ole Harl was involved in a serious knife fight that left a massive scar from his belt line up to the center of his chest. Looking at his stomach it made you think of a mountain scape in an old painting, all the lumps, and crevices.

Harley took a liking to me, for whatever reason. I think he liked that I would read. A bulk of the whites that came through there were pretty sucked-up guys that were on meth. Then they would dry out, eat and then turn racist.

I didn’t care for the whole race trip.

Anyway, Harley had one book he was proud of, the M edition of the encyclopedia. That was his pride. He told me after a week that I could read it when I wanted to, and every day, he would come by with some tidbit from the newspaper, one day there was an article about Phil Tayor from Iron Butterfly. Turns out Taylor disappeared in 1995, and one afternoon, while Harley and I were locked away Taylor’s body, was found at the bottom of Decker Canyon. Harley spent a good forty-five minutes telling me he was murdered for his ability to time travel. I listened, walked away and tried to forget the conversation.

A month later, and the bulky white guy in the next dorm was upset about the time I spent around black people. I was a barber, so I was forced to work with one Hispanic guy and one black guy. Then we had to bunk side by side. Anyway, this guy Tommy thought I should have requested a transfer to get away from people of color.

Talked to Harley about it, and he said he would help me move bunks, I said I didn’t want to move. He seemed puzzled, I said these other barbers were cool to me, and Tommy was an asshole.

Harley withdrew his encyclopedia offer, and we rarely talked after that. Harley was deep in the race thing.

#michaelessington #broken





Fourth Grade, An Unpublished Story

Back in 1975, when I was in fourth grade, I engaged in a game of kickball that turned into a “Mike should never be allowed to watch Billy Jack movies.”

I went to school with two of Spencer Milligan’s kids. Milligan was the dad on Land of The Lost. One of the boys was in my grade and the other who I think was named Derek, was a grade younger. This was also around the same time my mom babysat Lisa Bonet. Lisa was also a year younger than me. My mom was semi-responsible for getting Lisa her first acting gig. Bonet’s mom knew my mother was a photographer and asked my mom to do headshots for a Barbie commercial. My mom took the pictures of the eight-year-old Bonet and she landed the commercial.

Back to kickball and Billy Jack. One day at lunch I was playing kickball with a bunch of kids. It was my turn to kick. I sailed the ball down the third base line. Two kids dove to stop it and/or catch it. No luck. I ran around all the base and one kid, I think Derek, was chasing me. I passed home plate. Then Derek yelled, “That doesn’t count, you stepped out of the baseline.”

Rather than doing my usual and fight the kids, I asked to see the ball. They handed it to me and I walked off. If you’re going to cheat, fuck you, I’m leaving. I left.

What I didn’t count on was both Derek and Lisa Bonet chased me, and from either side of me, they tugged on the ball. For whatever reason, I got that Billy Jack scene in my head where he says, “I’m gonna take this right foot, and I’m gonna whop you on that side of your face and you wanna know something? There’s not a damn thing you’re gonna be able to do about it.”

So, the person on the right of me, Derek, got a foot to the stomach, I couldn’t reach his head, and he fell to the ground. Then, Lisa got the other foot to her stomach. She too was on the ground holding her freshly kicked gut.

I ran off with my kickball. Thinking that like Billy Jack there be no consequences (cue One Tin Soldier). I looked back and Lisa and Derek were talking to the yard teacher and pointing at me. Oh fuck.

When the bell rang, and we were summoned back to class, I was called outside. I was told I would have to write standards, stay after school and then expect a phone call to my mother.

When I got home, I went into overdrive. I thought of everything in the world to get my mom out of the house, “We need groceries, I need a book for school, and I need new shoes!” Nothing worked. Then right around 4:30 or 5:00 the phone rang and my mom talked to my teacher Mrs. Forney.

My mom got off the phone and asked/told me: “You kicked a girl in the stomach?” I tried to explain the cheating, I feared for my life and my newly gained ninja skills saved me.

I was grounded. No TV or dessert for a few days. After elementary school, I would completely lose touch with Derek and his brother. Lisa would hang out around my house (no, we never fought again) until the summer after my sixth-grade year. Then she popped up for a year in high school. In that year she never spoke to me. Then she moved to New York to make Cosby and met a guy named Romeo Blue. The rest is history I guess.

#michaelessington #salvation



Homeless?, A Story From Broken


On October 31, 2009, I took my son to breakfast at McDonald’s on Vanowen and Balboa. It was empty, quiet, and the playground was open for him.

As a regular breakfast consumer of McDonald’s I get used to people panhandling. If I eat deeper into Van Nuys, most people bypass me, thinking I don’t know Spanish, so they walk on.

I give change, or they want my coffee cup before it’s thrown away.

On this day, a Sunday, I saw a guy walk in; he looked like the mountain man from The Oak Ridge Boys: a little roughed up, but not dirty. Boots seemed clean. He didn’t seem to order; he placed his travel roll in a booth, and kind of walking around.

At that point my son had finished his food and wanted to play outside. So, we went to play.

After, about, a half an hour my son was done and wanted to head home. Right as I was standing up the bearded Mountain Man came walking into the play area. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a dollar. Before I could hand it over, the Man said I want you to have these. He gave me two coupons for a free cup of coffee, one coupon for a free breakfast sandwich, and a gift card he said: “Might only have forty cents on it, but use it to buy your little one an ice cream.”

I told him I couldn’t accept it he should keep it. Use it for tomorrow’s breakfast.
“You keep it,” he said. “I’m fine.”

I pocketed my dollar, his coupons, and the gift card. Before I could look up, he was making his way out the driveway, pulling his travel roll. I called out to him, “Let me drive you somewhere.”

He said, “No, I’m fine.” He pointed to the bus stop, and said, “There are things I want to see.”

Turned left out of the driveway, and looked at him waiting for the bus, puzzled.

He stood looking up at the sky smiling.

#michaelessington #broken




Salvation by Michael Essington

“With Broken, Essington chronicled the oddities of daily life, not just in Los Angeles, but right outside your door.
Now, with Salvation, he has taken those oddities and buffed them and given us a ray of hope.”
James Frey, author of A Million Little Pieces and My Friend Leonard

When I got into my teens my dad used to say that, I’m paraphrasing here because I’m having trouble remembering the exact wording, but you get the gist:

“Life is like a heartbeat. You have your ups and downs, but when everything is even-keeled – you’re dead. You’ve flatlined.”

I remember thinking that my dad had made this up. That, maybe, he was a modern Socrates. I don’t think he did, but at this point, it doesn’t matter. The point he was trying to make was that nothing stays consistent, we have peaks and valleys and we should expect those.

When I published Broken, on September 21, 2017, I explored the valleys to some length. With Salvation, the book you’re holding in your hands, I’m hoping to relate a few stories about the peaks.

Believe me, they’re real. The peaks happen. Nothing confirms this more than sitting down and having a cigar with a guy who robbed you in order to buy crack, then a year later being invited to a barbeque in his million dollar home.

“Life is like a heartbeat. You have your ups and downs, but when everything is even-keeled – you’re dead. You’ve flatlined.”

Amazon Kindle GoodReads Strange Reaction

#michaelessington #salvation



Caddyshack, An Unpublished Story

I remember reading an article about ten plus years back about how most American men use the movies Caddyshack and The Godfather as a basis in which to bond. The article explained that by trading certain lines back and forth you show you are “one of them.” For example, someone says, “Do you take drugs, Danny?” You would have to reply with: “Every day.” This banter could go on and on depending on how deep you went into this movie. But you get the gist.

It reminded me of an insurance company I worked for during the early nineties, one afternoon I got invited to lunch with a bunch of manager trainees, you know the type — prim and proper at work then at night they become college frat boys — anyway, they discuss this new procedure they’re trying to change and how upper management is trying to stop them, so this guy, Frank, says, “It’s time to go to the mattresses.” I let out a chuckle, and Frank says, “Yeah, Essington knows what I’m talking about,” and he gives me a thumbs-up. I nodded. Now, did I chuckle as part of this “bonding process” over a Godfather quote? No, I stifled a laugh because I always found it funny that certain people equated their job to war or mafia-type violence.

I had a boss, years ago, that had a hardcover edition of the Art of War on his desk, really dude?

Regardless of my intention, Frank and I had bonded because I understood his quote.

The one flaw with this bonding theory is that these movies are so old now that unless you belong to my generation, you won’t get these references. Don’t believe me? Next time you’re at a party yell out, “Hey, did somebody step on a duck?” And watch how everybody looks at you like you’re a leper.

This is why I couldn’t ever date somebody under three years younger than me. All my conversations have pop culture references. And if you don’t get the references, well don’t expect me to sit around and ramble about how nifty those Kardashian broads are, Klunky is my favorite Kardashian though.

I had a young girl send me a friend request a few weeks ago, then she jumps on the chat and told me how much she loved Last One to Die (ah, shucks) and how much she related to it. I thanked her and thought nothing of it. Then later in the conversation, she asked me to watch a video of her band on YouTube. Decent band, but the vocal syncing was off. So, she said, “Did you notice my vocals were out of sync?” So, I gave a smart-ass reply, I said, “It looked like an episode of Lancelot Link.” She replied with a “LOL,” and then, “Who’s he?” This made me scratch my head, “How Old Are You?” She said “20.” OK, fine, whatever, but that leads to my most important question, “If you’re twenty, how is it that you relate to my book? All the places I mention are gone and most of the people are dead.” She replied back, “I just do.”

Fucking kids.

#michaelessington #salvation



Hidden Messages, An Unpublished Story

I had a guy message me last night. He told me he figured out the message in the covers of my three books. Now I know with complete certainty that there is no story or message built into my covers, but I was curious.

So I said, “What message did you find?”

“Well, it’s like this: with Last One To Die you’re a younger guy and you got into some trouble, so the cover shows you in jail or prison doing your time.”

“OK, I can see how that could be seen that way. It was taken at the school across the street from where I was living at the time the book came out.”

“Now, the second book, Life Won’t Wait, you’re a little older and you’ve gotten deeper into the criminal world. The cover is multiple pictures of you on a bulletin board in an FBI office. Like a task force is looking for you.”

“Um, hate to disappoint you. They are all pictures taken by photographer Edward Colver. It’s not every day you get Colver to take snapshots of you, so I tried to figure out a way to use all the pictures he would give me. It was supposed to look more like the results of a photo-shoot, not an FBI investigation.”

“Yeah, OK. The latest book, Born Frustrated, is you coming out of prison like a boss, a Suge Knight, Al Capone type of guy. You beat all the charges and you are a boss man now.”

“Cool concept, but I’m married, so I can’t be a boss man. I’m a broken shell of a man. In reality, what I was doing is this: I went back to the beginning. I shot pictures in front of my place just like I did with Last One To Die. I walked around smoking the last Cuban cigar I got from a cousin and had ten or twelve shots taken. It was supposed to reflect the stripped-down way the book was done, no reviews, no interviews just streamlined stories.”

“So, am I right? Is this how you connected the covers into a story?”

“Well, no. Ah, hell, sure, why not?”

#michaelessington #salvation



Helping Animals, An Unpublished Story

Last night the whole family got together to celebrate my nephew’s twelfth birthday. There were around ten or twelve of us that met up at Claim Jumper in Northridge. God knows how I do with crowds. I find a person I want to talk to and with any luck, it’s over in a corner.

Toward the end of the night my son came and sat down with me and played with his portable 3DS. In case I haven’t mentioned for a while, my son isn’t just smart, he’s super smart. Anyway, he was telling me and my brother-in-law, David, how something on his device works. And David says, “Luke, you’re a genius. You will be a billionaire.” My son, without even looking up, says, “David, I have no desire for financial gain. I want to save animals.”

Now, as a parent, you want your kids to be well off and happy. But the integrity that this eleven-year-old shows makes me proud.

My daughter left to the military in February and my son, hoping to save the world — there are those that may say I didn’t have much to do with shaping them. That might be, but whoever is responsible — the kids are turning out well.

#michaelessington #salvation



Bogie & Bacall, An Unpublished Story

In the mid to late-nineties, I went through a phase where I read anything and everything about the Rat Pack, official biographies, unofficial biographies, books by the children of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.

All the books shared a common story. The story of how the Rat Pack wasn’t originally Frank Sinatra and the boys. The original Rat Pack was Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh and some of their friends. Frank Sinatra got in with the crew and over time it became his. They stated that Sinatra became, somewhat, obsessed with trying to be Bogart, even proposing to Bacall when Bogie passed away.

In Bogart’s later years he was stricken with cancer and could not climb the stairs in their home (his and Bacall’s) and unable to walk or dress.

So to make Bogie feel like a king amongst his peers, once a week Bacall would let the nurses have the day off and she would invite all his “buddies” to come over, Sinatra, Mr. and Mrs. Tony Curtis and anyone else in the inner Bogie circle. Bacall would shower him, shave him, tie his tie and dress him. And then carry him to the dumbwaiter outside their bedroom; lower him to the first floor. She’d go down the stairs, carry him to the couch, light a cigarette for him and have his favorite cocktail on the table next to him. Then over the next twenty minutes everyone would show up. No one knew he was a month from passing away.

What I loved about this story was how much Bacall was willing to do to make Bogie feel like a man and help him keep his dignity. Every man wishes for someone like this in their corner. Rest in Peace Ms. Bacall.

#michaelessington #salvation



Whatcha Gonna Do?, An Unpublished Story

It seems like every TV station has a lineup of reality shows. What’s funny is that most people deny watching them. They’ve become like porn, you know people watch it, but they’ll take it to the grave that they do.

The first reality shows that I remember ever existing were Cops and The Real World. I admit to watching these shows when I was stuck at home sick and I channeled across a marathon of one of these shows. They were like crack. I didn’t like them, but after that first hit, I was selling my appliances for a buck a pop.

One of my favorite episodes of Cops, I remember seeing it twice during the same marathon, was about the local police being called to a house for a domestic disturbance, a father came home liquored up and was threatening to beat up his wife and daughters. The man was a short Hispanic man in a cowboy hat, who was drunk off his ass. The cops show up and when they saw him, they look at each other like, “Really?” He barely came up to their shoulders.

The cops walk in the house and the family is huddled together crying, they go to the back room where the father is and he sees the cops and he starts growling and charges them. They move and he bounces off every flat surface in the room. He gets up, staggers and charges again. And again, they move and he flies into a dresser, knocking it over. Again he tries to stand, still growling, he lunges again, they move and he slams face first into the wall next to the bed. The cops look him over and he has knocked himself out . He jumps up and is ready to lunge again when one of his daughters scream, “Stop you’re killing him!” This is where I started cracking up. The guy is half-dead and the cops never touched him.

Finally, the wife convinces the father to leave with them . Great stuff to watch when you’re sick with a warm bowl of soup.

#michaelessington #salvation



United We Stand, An Unpublished Story

Back in 2008, when Obama was running for president and Prop 8 was on the ballot, I had the naive notion that the country had become more open-minded and wanted to come together.

Obama won and 8 eventually passed, but instead of harmony, everyone seemed more outward with their racism and hate.

The more time that passes I realize people don’t want to unite. Whether it’s Democrat or Republican, we stand divided. Hell, if you can be beaten into a coma at a Dodger game by a couple of esés for liking the Giants, we will not come together, politically as a country.

People thrive on separation, gangs, teams, politics, states, countries, cities and definitely religions. Being united destroys people’s reason to fight and kill. People, if I have learned nothing else in life, unite through their love of hate.

So, next time some sentimental fool posts an image of multi-ethnic babies with a clever tagline like “We aren’t born hateful,” type underneath, “Give ’em a month.”

I’m not suggesting anyone become racist. What I’m saying is there are hoards of people that won’t and can’t be changed. Hell, the fastest growing religion in the world is based on the concept of “Convert or die.” Anyone capable of rational thought is losing.

‪#‎michaelessington ‪#salvation