The Turf – Tom Gaffney
It was the Turf back then. We called her Fred.
She had a new tattoo that morning. A snake and barbed wire running up the right arm. She was a trendsetter of sorts. She was for me, anyway. A lot of folks have tattoos now. Not a big deal, I remember her and the tattoo.
We would work overtime on Saturdays; get to work at four in the morning. You could pull eight hours of time and a half, go home and head back to bed. Get up and head out for a Saturday night. There might be a dozen of us who would be in there.
Back then, I was the youngest. Sometimes I wouldn’t sleep before I came in. They’d make fun of me and my fresh face, amazed I could do it without help. A fair number of us needed “help,” but I couldn’t get any work done if I was cranked up. Made me feel like my heart was ready to burst, ready to discard the cage I kept it in and just fly away. I generally preferred something that calmed me down.
Oh those days, time flies away. Look at this block now. I wonder if I could still get a Bloody Mary at nine in the morning, sit in the window and watch the preacher and his crew at work out on the corner of Second and Pike.
The Bloody Mary would be strong and the food was barely passable. It was hard to just have two, but you liked the feeling of being out of phase with the world, sitting having a cocktail during your lunch at nine in the morning.
Fred, well she was a hottie, turned plenty of heads, tall and blonde. She had seen more than her share of trouble and seemed to have kept it together. Several of that old crew had their tendencies, but when meth became that much easier to get things got meaner and messier. People certainly got harder to work with.
You might not know the problems of everyone you worked with, but you generally knew Fred’s issues. Two kids, boyfriend round robin, the re-possessed car. But you also got a review of the recent Slayer show, and cookies, generally, at least once a week. She had come from a pretty dysfunctional background, liked to say she had left most of that behind in Yakima.
All in all, I’d say it was Rudy was more her problem than the meth. They both seemed to go together for her. They were on again and off again over a several year period. She always had some drama going on. She kicked him out more than once, so she said. Things got worse: he hit one of the kids so she kicked him out. Then he broke back in and stole her computer. She had the cops on him before he could sell it. He ended up in King County for six months.
He told her, “I’m going to spend my time getting buff and thinking about you, my dear.”
Rudy was always friendly enough when you would meet him. But there was restlessness, a kind of menace. He was not a person you could relax around. Maybe he was always high: face flushed, pupils like little pinpoints. He was not a big guy, but he was someone you realized could and would hurt someone if the matter arose. Violence did not seem that far away.
So, it’s a Saturday, sometime in spring. You can tell it’s going to be a gorgeous day. It kind of already is for being awake at this hour. I manage to make it in by five. I’ve got bills to pay. Need to sock some coin away. We pound away at it until ten and then the network goes down. We cannot connect to the office back east. High and dry. Time to head to the Turf.
It is not the Turf anymore. It was a real dump. But it served drinks, and it was downtown, and it was open on Saturday mornings. And tourists never went in.
A few of us head down there. Bloody Mary’s all around. Hash browns. Fred is telling us about the kids and school, about her new Camaro. She says Rudy is out and she has been keeping him at arm’s reach – though he has been trying to get back together. She says she is done with all that, how life is better now that she isn’t getting high.
We wrap up our drinks, force down our food. Strong drinks. Good to have all that heavy food to absorb the vodka. Time to check if we are going to get any more work done today. I can take it one way or another. Going back to sleep sure sounds good.
We’ve just passed the preacher. He does not even offer us his pamphlets anymore. He recognizes us and perhaps he has not given up on our souls but he has lost the urgency in asking us to sign up. There are a group of ladies joining him this morning. They are getting their voices warmed up. We’re going to have a little singing.
None of us see Rudy until he is right there, appearing from in-between some cars, and standing in front of us on the sidewalk.
“Good morning, Fred. So nice to run into you. Why haven’t you called? I said I’d be thinking of you, and I have.”
“Give me a break,” said Fred, tuning toward her tormentor. “Rudy. I know your number. I’ve got it blocked. I told you we were done.”
She walks right up to him. Looks him in the eye. Has to look down a little if I recall correctly – she’s taller than him. The words get uglier, and just like that he grabs her, pushes her up against a storefront. The scene in front of me has me frozen, rooted. Or maybe the two of them and the reverend are just that much faster than me and my co-workers.
As Rudy grabs her by the throat and pins her to the glass window the reverend steps in, grabs his arm, and shouts at Rudy to get his hands off the lady.
All of it happening so quickly. I’m looking for a cop, lots of folks are yelling and the reverend and Rudy are facing up to square off. The reverend reaches in to wrestle rather than box: he’s bigger and violence is not his interest. Rudy charges, picks the reverend up and just like that throws him backwards, off balance, hitting his head on the ground. A thud I never forget.
Rudy stands over him as he lays there dazed. One of the women from the church group gets him in the face with pepper spray. A lot of pepper spray. A whole lot of nasty ugly words being raised as he thrashes about. And finally, a cop shows up. They are never far from this intersection.
“Goodbye Rudy, you asshole,” Fred shouts.
She joins the group making sure the reverend is alright. Despite the way his head hit the sidewalk he seems to be alright.
Me, I’ve equated stillness, silence and cowardice ever since. Not sure if I should be ashamed of my performance, or lack thereof. It did happen awful quick, I’ll add for my defense.
“You left that job, what, fifteen years ago? Are you ever in touch with Fred?”
“No, not in forever. I think she did straighten up though, at least enough to open up a tattoo shop up in Everett. She sobered up and got into piercing. How do you like that?”
“What made you think of them this afternoon?”
“We just passed Rudy. He was panhandling on the corner. Where the Turf used to be.”