Not a question I was anticipating.
I’d pulled into the driveway of 923 Oak, a mobile home built into the Arizona foothills, and see two dudes, clad in black from head to toe, sitting in white plastic lawn chairs at the top of the driveway, clearly awaiting my arrival.
I wasn’t entirely surprised. I knew that Thomas, the resident, planned to have a couple friends there. “They also have Oak Street addresses,” he’d told me on the phone, a few days earlier when I confirmed our visit. That seemed like a strange coincidence, but I understood his need for support. A stranger was about to come into his home, ask him a bunch of questions, take photos, and post it on the internet. I didn’t expect that they would be literally waiting for me outside.
Thomas is a 65 year-old retired veteran. During one of our phone calls, when he agreed to meet with me in person, he asked, “Do you like coffee?”
“Well yes …” I answered, surprised by the non-sequitur. Then I realized he was just wondering what to have on hand for our visit.
“What can I bring with me? What do you like to drink?” I asked.
“Well, I like beer.”
“I like beer too. What’s your favorite kind?”
“I like that Bud Light Platinum.”
Taking a deep breath, I gather my bag and the 6-pack of Bud Light Platinum, complete with a little red bow stuck on the side, and walk over to the two guys. The first one rises and sticks out his hand. He is tall and slender, with a scruffy beard, hipster glasses and a black beanie, and sports a well-worn leather biker jacket covered in patches and buttons. His hands are bathed in tattoo ink; every finger boasts a ring. He later asked that I refer to him in writing as “$w1fT.”
Ian introduces himself – a shorter, part edgier and part cleaner-cut version of his counterpart, with nickel-sized spacers in his earlobes.
“We have some questions for you before you go in,” $w1fT says seriously, peering at me through his old-school metal-rimmed glasses. He pulls out a small black notebook, its pages covered in dense hand-written notes.
He is not messing around.
“Have you ever been or are you currently affiliated with an agency?”
I’m not immediately clear on what he means by agency, but I am fairly certain he’s not talking about advertising.
Mentally connecting “agency” with “law enforcement,” I answer no and vaguely wonder if I am walking into a Sons of Anarchy episode.
Then the drug question comes. I look at Ian’s young face, punctuated with red sores, and I remember that bad skin is one effect of heavy meth use. I suddenly feel way out of my element. I don’t even know what meth looks like. Forget about Sons of Anarchy – is this Breaking Bad? These guys seem like nice guys. I’m probably over-reacting.
I pause, processing my internal dialogue, and lie. “No,” belatedly recognizing it’s probably not the answer they wanted.
“Well, I have done pot …” I quickly add, somewhat hopeful that my answer would be met with approval.
“Cool,” Ian nods appreciatively. “We all have our medical cards.”
$w1fT squints at me, then smiles, seemingly satisfied with my answers. “Thomas is inside,” he leans in closer, as though he’s about to betray a confidence. “He’s a little bit chicken-with-his-head-off right now.”
Bless his heart, Thomas is nervous. Any uncertainty from my interrogation fades away.
We are in this together.
Before I publish any photos, I need to have the residents sign a release. Because Thomas is renting, my attorney suggested that I get the landlord’s approval as well. The landlord declined to provide consent. While I am technically free to use any exterior shots taken from the street, I am going to honor his response and not post any photos that clearly identify the home (aside from the house number). You’ll have to use your imagination on this one.
I had a very interesting chat with Thomas, and $w1fT and Ian. Stay tuned for some tidbits of our conversations.
side note: my friend Devon just turned me on to Audra Mae, a fantastic singer/songwriter whose songs frequently appear on “Sons of Anarchy.” Check out her a cappella cover of “Forever Young.”