The first chapter of Broken is available as a download: strangereaction.com/broken
The first chapter of Broken is available as a download: strangereaction.com/broken
Amazon and Barnes & Noble bestselling author Michael Essington presents his latest gritty and insightful book Broken. Available now from Essex Digital Media.
“Michael Essington writes like a man on a mission from hell. His memoir evokes the same hard-bitten, hard-earned wisdom that marked departed giants like Jim Carroll and Eddie Little. Unlike them, Essington has survived to tell his harrowing story. Born Frustrated serves up a world of violence and drugs with style and heart. It’s a book had to be lived before it could be written.” —Jerry Stahl, author of Permanent Midnight
“With Broken, Michael Essington graduates from punk rock storyteller to subcultural soothsayer. These modern tales of the less fortunate read like the reverse of Walt Whitman everyman Americana — which is a great thing!”
–Steven Blush, author/filmmaker, American Hardcore, New York Rock
Sometimes in life, you have to stop and take a look at things. When I was growing up in the San Fernando Valley, back in the 1970s and 80s, I rarely saw anyone that was homeless, visibly drunk or high or anyone that was mentally ill. That is until I became involved in the Los Angeles punk scene. While I met people that I am still close with to this day, punk rock introduced me to an underbelly of society. I met drag queens, street kids, dope heads, speed freaks, and other marginal people.
Under the umbrella of punk rock, it wasn’t shocking. We were all creatures on the Island of Misfit Toys. Most people, at that time, hated punk rockers, so most of us were just trying to get by in life; there wasn’t time to hate some six foot five black guy in a blonde wig.
By the time the Aughts came around there were homeless camps in every city and you probably worked with somebody that was on some type of medication to keep them on the straight and narrow.
The stories in this book are told with a bit of humor but understand that I am in no way making fun of anyone that is homeless or struggling with physical of mental issues. It’s the way I lay a story out. I poke fun and holes in everything I talk about, I’m usually my biggest target.
Back in 1982, I met a handful of guys that would turn out to be my best friends for the next few years, Mike, Wes, Tim, and Evan. Mike, Tim, and Evan were into the whole Mod thing that was happening at the time, whereas Wes had a more rockabilly thing going on, and I, of course, was deeply into my punk and Oi.
I met Mike in shop class, and we hit it off, he had just moved here from New York and had a really outgoing, brash attitude. He liked me but didn’t think that I would hang out with him and his friends because they weren’t punk. So, for the next six months or so they would hire me to be security at their parties. They would pay a few bucks or they’d pay me in beer.
Over time all five of us would be inseparable. We’d stay over each other’s house, and one crazy weekend Wes and I would steal his parents sail boat and go to Catalina for the weekend, more on that another time.
One night we all took the bus up to the movies on Van Nuys and Magnolia (I think), and the Mod guys had their parkas filled with weed and beer. So, by the end of the movie, everybody but me was tipsy – so I assumed the role of bodyguard. We now had to walk back to Wes’ place – from Van Nuys and Ventura to Louise and Ventura, one long ass walk. We didn’t bring enough bus money for the return trip. So here we are walking down Ventura at midnight during one of the worst winds that had ever hit the Valley, there are trees in the windows of every other office building we pass, including a few banks.
Midway through our trip Mike and Wes have wandered ahead of us by a block or so when a car-full of Taft High football players pull up along a side of us and yell “What’s up Fags?” As they pop out of their Mustang in an attempt to jump us, I reacted faster than I ever had in a situation like this in my life. I pushed Tim and Evan back, reached into my pocket and placed my keys between my fingers and started throwing haymakers. Two of the guys were on the ground when another yelled, “Bone out he’s got brass-knuckles!”
So, we compose ourselves and figure it’s over. We watch the car and see that it’s creeping up on Wes and Mike, so I yell ahead to warn them, but they’re too twisted to understand. So, Evan finds a shard of glass on the ground, and Tim picks up a 2 by 4 out of the gutter, and I go for my “brass-knuckles.” We catch these guys right as they are opening their car door. Evan kicks the door closed, Tim is jumping on the roof, and I start pulling the driver out of the window.
Wes and Mike are laughing; they have no idea what’s going on. Tim jumps down, and six guys in the car are all yelling to leave. They peel out, and spin into a donut on Ventura and Petit just as a cop car turns the corner, lights come on and they get pulled over. All five of us make it into Page’s coffee shop before the Taft guys can rat us out.
I guess once in a while a cop can come in handy.
– Last One To Die, 2011
I was talking to my friend Jay shortly after I wrote a story about my stay at Camp Wayside, he said something very cool, and he said, “A person with no secrets has no lies.” So, with that in mind here goes another tale of my misspent youth. In 1982, 1983, I was hanging out with a group of guys, there were five of us that went by the “club” name of The Time Square Boys. One of the guys, Mike R. came up with the name, he was from New York (he moved six months prior), and came up with the concept of a club because all the preppie clubs on campus could leave class due to club business, so why not us?
After, about, a month or so one of the club members, Wes, and I met a couple of girls that we would split our time with, half the time with the Time Square Boys, and the other half with the girls. Everybody, except me, loved weed, if I messed with anything, it would be a beer or two.
A funny thing about being a punk during this time, I would say 98% of the world hated you, and members of your own family would be somewhat distant. The people that got close to you sometimes viewed you as a superhero of some sort. I remember when I used to hang out with these guys, and trouble would break out – they would all look over to me as if I could demolish the world. Two of the guys in the Times Square Boys, Tim and Wes were about six feet, two inches. I was five feet, 10 inches, and about one hundred and fifty pounds. I wasn’t big, but any situation, cops, fights or whatever – it was assumed I would handle it.
So, back to the weed situation, the guys, and the addition of the two girls all liked weed. No one knew how to get it. So, it was assumed that I, the guy who hung out with unrespectable people in Hollywood, would know where to get it. Unfortunately, I did. One Christmas, after dinner, my uncle took me to a park in Reseda to score something or other. So, when these chicks asked me to get them weed I said OK. They parked at one end of Balboa Park, and I walked around until I found the people who were trying their hardest not to be noticed. So, after a few minutes, I found some hippie-looking guy, long hair, and a beard, playing chess on a blanket with some hippie girl. I asked them, in my hippest lingo, Hey, do you know where I can score some bud? They ignored me. So, I walked off, while mumbling “F” you guys. Then some chunky burn-out runs up to me and asks if I want sticks, I didn’t know what sticks were, but I played along. Yeah, man, some sticks. He took me back to the hippies, we swapped the money and weed, and I got pissed. I said if you had the weed, why in the fuck did you ignore me? They still said nothing. The chunky burnout tells me, they hold it, and I sell it. There was no way in the world I could have been confused with a narc. I had bleached white hair spiked-up like Colin from GBH.
Anyway, I did these runs for months, after the first one, everyone who wanted the weed was too scared to go with me, they would loan me their cars or whatever. My last “run” was mid-1983. I was loaned a Moped, which belonged to one of the guy’s sisters. During this year or so that I was buying for people, the “dealers” that sold at Balboa Park, back then, were pushed out to Woodley Park, pushed out again, and finally back to Balboa Park. So, I was buzzing down Louise towards Balboa Park. I pull into the parking lot on Balboa, and immediately I see the chunky burnout. He waves me over. Same deal as hundred times before, give him money, he gives me a baggy. As soon as I take the baggy, I hear sirens from the far end of the park, I look over and a cop car that I didn’t see before comes ripping across the park, I take off on the Moped in the opposite direction. The cops are burning out across the park, across the grass, I head down Balboa, right on Burbank, right on Louise, left on Oxnard, left on White Oak, left on Ventura and another left on Louise and into the security gate of my friend Wes’ house. I stayed inside the garage for close to twenty minutes. And when I heard no sirens, I came out. I felt like Kris Kristofferson in Cisco Pike. But in reality, I was an idiot.
Inside the house, I gave everybody his or her weed and explained what happened. It took a good hour for everybody to believe it. They were all . . . “That shit is right out of a movie, man.” No movie, just stupid teenage adrenaline.
– Last One To Die, 2011
My family, on my mom’s side, has been in involved in the church since before I was born. They helped build the churches (known as an Ecclesia), run the churches, and anything else you can think of. The religion is/was called Christadelphian.
It wasn’t a bad religion to grow up in. My great grandmother worked at the “book store.” It really was a little shelf in the corner. And my aunts were Sunday school teachers. Uncles and cousins did the bible readings and handled the collections.
My mother, brother and I went to church together for years. On my dad’s weekends he would drop me, and my brother off, and then pick us up. For a while my uncle Rick went, then he became disillusioned, and stopped going. My family and I went until I hit Junior High, then something happened, and my mom became disillusioned also, so we stopped going. There was some talk of a few members of the Ecclesia who felt divorcees should be ex-communicated from the church. Religion and power mess up a lot of people.
I continued to go sporadically. In High School, I was seeing a girl who attended that church, so I went. I stopped going after her and I broke-up.
In late 1989 I started seeing another girl who was the granddaughter of a Christian preacher, so once again I attended church. But I disliked the fun, bouncy sermons. I felt personal chatter should be left at home, and just give me information right from the bible. That’s how I grew up. So, one Sunday I took the “girl” to my old church and midway through I too was disillusioned. Something changed. I didn’t belong there. The people were different, and I felt like I crashed a private party.
In 1997 when I met my wife, she was a devout Catholic, and I started attending mass with her. I tried to attend on all the holidays and the somewhat required Sunday services.
As a kid growing up in the Christadelphian religion, one of the lessons I remember most was the story of judgment day. In the Catholic religion, you die, and you go to heaven. In the Christadelphian religion you die, you stay dead until you are raised, judged, then you fight Armageddon with Jesus. At that judgment, if you are found unworthy, you go back to being dead.
Isn’t that a bitch?
The part of this story that messed me up was when they told me that you would be quizzed about your actions in life, one-on-one with God. And if you lied to God, the fear in your heart would be so great that your teeth would chatter so hard that they would turn to dust. That never left my head. I knew as a kid that God knew everything, why quiz me? If I was unworthy, leave me dead, and don’t judge me. Not very cool.
– Last One To Die, 2011
I have always loved living in L.A., the good, the bad and the smog; I’ll, probably, always live here. Whether it’s running out of gas in a bad neighborhood or asking a black guy for a jump-start on the day of the Rodney King verdicts, L.A. has always had an interesting adventure for me. Throughout high school, I would venture further and further into L.A for no other reason than to see what’s out there.
My father used to work in City Hall, and back when I was a kid, he took me downtown to the jewelry district. We found an alley to park in, and as we’re leaving the car I hear a real loud ruckus down another alley, as we walk by I see an old man screaming by a dumpster and throwing trash, screaming “And don’t come around here again motherfucker!” I looked up and down the alley . . . there was no one there, I look up at my dad, and he says, “Walk in front of me and keep moving.” I was in shock, I saw a man having a very intense fight with . . . no one, and my dad was unfazed. As the weeks and months went by, the more fascinated I became with the incident. Anyone living in L.A. now is probably unmoved by the incident, with the homeless situation now, this probably happened in your backyard this morning, but in the early to mid ‘70’s this was wild stuff.
Fast-forward twenty years to 1995; I was working the late shift at Kinko’s in their computer department. This guy Todd is bored and calls me at work and says “I want to go somewhere tonight, if you’re up for it, I’ll pick you up from work, and can you sneak out before midnight?” I tell him I’ll get somebody to punch out for me, be here at 10:00 or 10:30 pm. Todd picks me up, and as he backs up, he says, “So, where do we go?” I thought he had a plan, so I say, let’s go to Hollywood, and go to a coffee shop or one of the weird little shops on Melrose. Todd looks a little spooked, and says “it’s late and isn’t there too many weirdo’s out there?” Too funny! I tell him I’d hold his hand, and protect him; little did I know he’d hold me to that.
We get to Hollywood Blvd, and I say let’s go to the International Bookstand. It’s a great newsstand off of Hollywood and Argyle. Todd circles the block once or twice, and finds a place to park. We start walking west towards Argyle, when a guy who looks like Charles Manson, if Manson smoked crack and took steroids, steps in front of me and says “listen brother, we need to talk about Jesus.” I politely, as I can muster at the hour, tell him, no thanks, and maybe another time. Manson instantly grabs me by the arm, and says, “No brother, we’ll talk about Jesus now!” My instant reaction to being grabbed was to throw my arm out, which knocked his arm off of me, and knocked him back and a foot. Manson gives me this glazed look and puts two fingers in his mouth and whistles really, really loud. Instantly 8 or 9 guys who look identical to Manson surround me. All these guys are holding literature geared towards junkies finding Christ, and now they’re circling me, then Manson says, “This fucker doesn’t like Jesus.” They keep closing in, and then coming from a block or two away, I hear “leave my friend alone.” My “friend” Todd was running down the block, but as he was running, became concerned with my well-being and decided to yell at my assailants.
I knew that if need be I could whip a couple of these guys, a few years earlier, I fought super-middleweight around L.A. on the amateur circuit, but I was now surrounded by ten ex-junkies, Jesus loving, Manson freaks. Then I hatched a plan, I started pacing and I remembered a story this Persian girl I once dated told me. She said one time back in Iran she took a cab, and mistakenly sat up front, the cab driver took it as a come on, so he started driving her out of the city, and when she asked where he was taking her, he said to “rape” her. She didn’t know what to do, so she started shaking, he asked her if she was scared, she said, “No, she was excited.” This turned him off, and he stopped the cab, and threw her out.
So, as I paced, I decided to start ranting like I was into this, I started throwing random jabs like I was warming up for a fight, then I said come on, “Let’s do this,” the crowd came in even closer, then I said “Let’s fight, who’s going to go first?” Just like that the crowd of, about, ten starting hemming and hawing, and saying stuff like “Look at the time; I’m supposed to be back at church at 11:30.” Everybody left.
I spent about thirty minutes looking for Todd, I found him in the newsstand reading. I looked at him, wanting to stomp him, and I growled, what happened to you back there? He casually looks up and says, “I didn’t want to get in the way, and you seemed to have everything under control.” Under control, there were ten of them! “Yeah, you’re a good fighter, let’s go eat.”
Todd and I never returned to Hollywood together again.
– Last One To Die, 2011
With Christmas coming up, I started trying to remember my best holiday memory. I’d have to say my best was in December 1969 or 1970, I was three or four years old. How or why I still remember this I have no idea. My folks decided to take me to see Santa, but I was going through this, about, two-year freak-out when it came to costumes. I freaked out every time I saw a clown or Santa or anything like that.
As soon as I came to terms with costumes, I saw the Talking Tina episode of the Twilight Zone. I was right after all; these damn toys can kill you.
Anyway, my folks packed me up and took me to my grandfather’s Carpentry Union for my visit with Santa. Mom and dad thought I would be jazzed to find that my grandfather was the Santa Claus for this occasion. Everything was cool until I saw Santa; I spun on my heels and ran a good two blocks before anyone realized I was gone. As I rounded the first corner, I spotted a sign in front of a pizza joint, I don’t know what you call these signs – they look like upside down V’s. So, I tucked myself in-between the boards and stayed. I saw feet running past me, and people yelling my name, but I stayed hidden and silent for about twenty minutes. Santa, sorry fat man, you’ll have to find another kid to kill – I got you figured out.
As time went by I kept hearing my dad calling for me, and I started getting nervous. Would he be happy once he found me, or would he be pissed that I put him through all this shit? So, I sheepishly came out and announced, “Here I am.” Now, my father, like his father, and I was blessed with a fiery and sometimes insane temper. He was, in his own way happy to find me, but it was more like mumbling behind teeth that were gritting. He swooped me up and explained that Santa was my grandpa, that he was going to surprise me. I was not convinced.
We got back to the Union Hall, waited in line and when we got to “Santa,” my grandpa pulled his beard down and said: “It’s me, Mikey!” I was blown away, how did Santa pull my grandpa into this madness? Grandpa gave me a candy cane, and we went on our way.
My grandpa passed away in 1991, he was a funny guy. He hated everyone except for my brother and me – and of course his wife, my wonderful grandmother.
Once he and my grandmother got too old to live alone they moved in with my aunt. Anyway, my brother and I came by for a visit one weekend and we walked in through the back door, my grandfather didn’t see us. Just as we’re walking into the living room where my grandpa is, our younger cousin Tommy (named after my father) walked up to my grandfather and asked if he would like some water, he’d get it for him. My grandfather, not missing a beat, started swinging his cane and yelled: “Get out of my way you fat fuck!” My brother and I just looked at each other and shook our heads. We went into the living room and asked our grandfather if everything was “OK in here?” And he turned to us and said: “Could you get me some water, they won’t do shit for me here?” For my British readers, my grandfather was a senior citizen version of Lenny McLean. Have a great Holiday!
– Last One To Die, 2011
In 1977, I was in sixth grade; my Mom sat me down and told me the story of my great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother (that’s six greats) Betty Zane.
During the colonial war, the fortress she was in with her father was about to run out of ammunition, her father and everyone else was either injured or engaged in battle, so Zane ran out of the fort a few miles to retrieve ammo that was hidden under the floorboards of a home of one of the soldiers.
Along the way Zane was shot with arrows from the Indians, they were battling, but still ran and brought back the ammo, and they won that battle.
The book was written by my great-uncle, on my mom’s side, Zane Grey. The copy of the book that my mom was showing me was signed by Grey, and had an old news clipping, with a picture of him, talking about his former career as a dentist. It was interesting to me.
I took the book to school as a show and tell project; the teacher was in awe, she started rambling about all his great western novels, asking me if I had read Riders of The Purple Sage or several others. I answered, “Not yet.” I hadn’t read any of his books. When I showed her the autograph, her eyes bugged out and she said I should take the book home, as it was probably worth hundreds of dollars.
I recently found out that Zane Grey gave a fictionalized version of Betty Zane’s life; for years fables and rumors swirled around what happened at the fortress, one account was Betty Zane walked out of the fortress, and the Indians saw that it was a woman and let her go by, but the version we always heard was that she was shot with arrows and still went on. I guess Zane took bits and pieces of these wives’ tales and made his own story. Like anything else, unless you were there, who knows what happened?
It wasn’t until I got older that it sunk in how difficult it is to write something worth reading and even harder to make a living at it. I guess you have to fake it sometimes.
– Last One To Die, 2011
In the beginning of November of 1988, I was twenty-two, I had been thrown out of my place for the umpteenth time and I drove over to my dad’s place to crash, only to have him tell me that wife number two had left Halloween night and hadn’t returned.
Over the next few days, I cleaned out all my stuff from Mom’s and lugged it over to Dad’s. The next few weeks were spent getting used to two half-sisters I didn’t know and a handful of animals that loved to crap right outside my bedroom door, making the morning trips to the bathroom a frickin’ nightmare on my socks.
Thanksgiving morning came around and my Dad said, “Let’s make turkey dinner, just you and me, no women this year.” Sounded great, but neither of us had ever undertaken such a task. Dad went grocery shopping and came home with all the fixings. Now, the cooking. We gutted the turkey and put it on a metal cooking pan, and the damn thing flopped open, spilling the stuffing, we look at each other and let out a “What the?” Then I remember seeing strings on turkeys at the relatives. So, I tell my dad, we need some string to wrap up this loose bird. He runs to the tool shed and brought out some twine, and we tied this ten-pound sucker up and put him in the oven.
Twenty minutes later we opened the oven, and the twine had burnt off. So, we pull the bad-boy out and try to figure out our next move.
My Dad took off for the tool shed again and came back with a hammer and nails, I’m stumped. He told me to hold the turkey, and he started hammering the wings into the body and we spun the bird around a few times, and he kept hammering from every angle. By the time he’s done the bird is sealed tight. We popped the turkey back in and finish cooking.
For the rest of his years, dad would swear it was a great tasting turkey. In his later years, he would buy a Louisiana deep fryer and make restaurant quality turkeys.
Whenever I think of my dad, I think of this Spider-Man comic book I read years ago. In the book Spider-Man goes off saving the universe with Doctor Strange, it happens to be Spider-Man’s birthday and he’s annoyed no one remembers, and that he has to work. They save the world and Doctor Strange said he didn’t forget his birthday and brings back his Uncle Ben from the dead for fifteen minutes. So, Spider-Man is scrambling to figure what he wants to say or do in those fifteen minutes. Makes me think, around the holidays, did I say everything I wanted to say, and what would I do with my fifteen minutes?
Of all my Thanksgivings, that one with my dad was the most memorable.
– Last One To Die, 2011