Alex Layne

Alex Layne
Springfield, Virginia Straight
November 1982 to January 1985

In November of 1984, I decided I’d been there long enough (just over two years) and was going to get out of there. A wise decision. What helped me to make that decision was how I had started missing my girlfriend again right after hearing the song “Miss You” by The Rolling Stones playing on the car radio while riding to or from the Springfield,Virginia Straight building (with my host brother Randy; his family lived somewhere on the outskirts of Washington,DC, probably in Silver Spring,Maryland.) ”Miss You” is the very first song on the 1978 “Some Girls” album by The Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger mentions “Puerto Rican girls who are just dyin’ to meet you” in it, and my girlfriend was half Puerto Rican. Wanting to see her again finally gave me the impetus to do what I might as well have done already. I met her almost a year before going there when I was a student at the Baltimore School for The Arts during the second half of the 10th grade. She took dance there. She was a few years older than I was. We had sex once or twice, but I never did drugs or drank with her. She was Beautiful and I missed her very badly.

I had been working right down the street from the building washing dishes at some chain restaurant. I had worked at the restaurant for about a month or so before that day. I often played headgames over the alcohol in the glasses that would come back for me to wash. The restaurant where I washed dishes had the word “Fish” in its title and that’s all I remember about it the name of that place. I’m still clueless as to its name. I can recall riding into “the building” that day from my host home in Silver Spring,Maryland or somewhere around Washington, DC. It was early afternoon when I walked to the dish-washing job. There was a bridge over those railroad tracks. That bridge was under Backlick Road. I`m not sure if it had a name. Down the embankment I went; that was it, no turning back now. I followed the tracks in the direction that I figured Baltimore was. As I later discovered by examining a map, I had headed East (toward Alexandria.) I walked for what seemed like a few miles before deciding to venture up from the safety of the railroad tracks. I went to a gas station, looking for a ride. I found some gas station and hitched a ride, ending up in Arlington. After I got out of the car, I remember walking for a while before getting to that bridge that goes into Washington,DC. It was getting dark by then. I had nowhere to go, so I just hung around watching the people on the strip in Georgetown. I walked and walked while thinking about ways to get to Baltimore. Not knowing DC all that well I ended up in a bad neighborhood. Some guy about my age along with punk kid friend approached. The guy my age flashed me his shit-eating grin. It didn’t seem right. It wasn’t. He punched me in the mouth and my lip began to bleed. Being scared of getting my ass kicked further or maybe killed, I reached in my pocket for the check (I had a paycheck on me. Straight allowed you a joint account with your parents; because it was a joint account, I thought I’d have trouble cashing it. I didn’t know any better at age 16 — I had the means to purchase a ticket to Baltimore the whole time, but failed to realize it!) I was ready hand it over, but they ran off. I heard the punk kid mutter something about a knife; I guess they thought I was pulling a knife on them, so they decided to bail on it. I saw an older, more respectable looking black guy on the street. I was still shaken as I recounted to him what had just happened, and that I had split from a drug rehab and needed somewhere to stay to get off the street. I was naively hoping he’d let me hang out at his place just to get off the street. I asked him if I could do that. He said he was having his girl over so he couldn’t put me up, and that I ought to consider going back to my family if I had any. Little did he know about the brainwashing job that Straight had done on my parents and that it wouldn’t have been that simple.

I saw a homeless shelter and went in. It was probably after 8pm or 9pm at night. I think the guy said they would normally take no one after 5:00pm. The shelter was located in an old church. The church was stone and looked old, if not historic. They didn’t want to take me because of what hour it was. Somehow I managed to talk them into letting me spend the night there. I wasn`t given a case manager, but maybe that was because I was admitted later than usual. I don’t remember being asked many questions, either. Don’t recall being given any personal items, or given any chores to do. Not sure if they searched my clothes. It was not a good night. Before going to bed they made you shower, whether you needed one or not.These creepy redneck dudes laughed at my hesitation to strip down and shower with the poor old bastards that were in there. There were probably about 20 people sleeping in there. Tons of snoring. Their snoring was terrible. Just awful. I didn’t sleep, but at least I was off the cold streets of Washington, DC. They got us up at 5 or 6 the next morning. The oatmeal had the consistency of Elmer’s glue (I should have left “paste-like” in.) The coffee was a tasteless brown liquid. So I ate the pasty oatmeal, drank the coffee and started walking around the city.

It was overcast and cold that November day. I wandered onto a college campus somewhere and looked around for anyone who seemed approachable to ask them if they knew anyone headed to Baltimore. I should have just tried to bum enough money for a bus ticket out of there (or cashed the check). I remember going into the Hirschorn Museum and killing several hours there walking around and sleeping on a bench. I stayed until it closed. I approached people on the street and asked them if they knew of somewhere I could stay for a night or if they knew of anyone going to Baltimore that I could ride with; all shots in the dark, no luck. Why did I cop-out when I was 18 when I could have just withdrawn myself? I had already tried. After my dad tried to strangle me during the “interview,” I walked out of the building to the road and my sister talked me into not withdrawing because I would have had no ride to Baltimore that night. I don’t recall what she said to me, but I ended up going back in there. (I remembered most of this after she reminded me of it all years later.)So now I had taken the matter into my own hands and left the “program.” I had just wanted to get to Baltimore. Let the chips fall where they may; I’d find my old friends in a heartbeat, I thought. I walked around DC some more. I walked to the Wilson Center (an all-ages club). It was closed, or had shut down. Any money I got my hands on I spent on food. I ended up walking along with this homeless guy, he told me that he was headed back to a good shelter. When we got near the place, I was hesitant to go in; all the bums were threatening him saying that they were going to roll him for his money. They all seemed very belligerent about it, to say the least. I didn’t want to be associated with this guy; I decided to bail. By that point I had, had enough of homeless shelters anyway. It began to rain. I was getting cold. At that point I gave up and called my mom, telling her I was at the Greyhound bus station in DC. She showed up a while later crying as if she were relieved to see me alive. It was sort of unsettling to see her that emotional. Staff had really done a number on her. We rode together up to Baltimore. I don’t remember what we talked about during that ride.

Before riding back down to Northern Virginia, I agreed to help my mom move some of her things from her old house to her new house, another brick rowhome in Rodgers Forge which was only a few blocks away. I was fine with doing this, as I was in no hurry to go back to Straight. Even though this was only my first copout, I somehow wasn’t afraid to go back there, despite knowing it was a given I’d be back on front row. By this time it had been two years since the group had become my surrogate reality. Clearly, I had developed a case of Stockholm Syndrome. Most of the staff members had entered the doors of Straight after I had; the only staff members I was at all afraid of anymore were the ones who had been there the whole time that I had. And with this copout (and willing return) I figured I’d have a few things to “relate” during the “now” part of the raps. So back I went.

When I got back there, staff member Dean Mistretta started giving me the third degree (as I predicted he would) about how long I was up in Baltimore “lolly-gagging” around, as he put it. In an even tone I informed him of my noble acts of helping my mom move her belongings from one house to another over those past few days. He reluctantly let up about it, and I was led into group, a home that was not a home, but was what I knew.

The fact that I returned willingly probably eased some of the usual confrontation that often happened when a person was brought back. I don’t recall anyone but Dean giving me much flak about having left. Maybe people didn’t blame me too much since I had been on 5th phase for an entire year. Like I was saying, I figured I could use some of what happened to me on the streets of D.C. as raw material for when I stood up to talk in the raps. It seemed to work well because I finished six weeks after my re-intake, thus formally ending my tenure at 5515 Backlick Rd. Maybe they “pushed me through” the program to get me out of there and make the whole thing look better. Or maybe my mom was beginning to run out of money. Anyway I was finally done with the place for good.

Somehow I finished in six weeks. Maybe they “pushed me through” the program to get me out of there and make the whole thing look better. Or maybe my mom was beginning to run out of money. Anyway I was finally done with the place for good.

After I Graduated from Springfield,Virginia Straight in January 1985, things went along as usual with me going to places where I knew no one. I went to protests, lectures, and things like that. Sooner or later I hung out with some old friends. I didn’t get high, but my mom would hear none of it. She threw me out on the spot, not even allowing me to finish doing my laundry. I went to another old friend’s house and dried it there.

My mom kicked me out of the house in February of 1985. Her sole reasoning for doing so was the fact that I had dared to hang out with my old “druggie” friends, the friends that she wanted to rid me of once and for good by removing me from an environment that was, according to Straight, not in my best interest. It didn’t matter that I didn’t get high with them while I was there. Hell, even by Straight’s standards, I had shown a certain amount of restraint in passing up the bowl offered me, but, also by their standards I suppose I should have also left the room immediately in brainwashed fear of “going back to drugs.” The truth is, I don’t recall if I even told her about the bowl being passed around, and I think that just being in their company was enough reason for her to kick me out into the street. (She didn’t care that I had nowhere to go, it was only by good fortune that my good friend Craig and his mom were willing to let me stay there until I could find someplace else to go.) The previous month in January 1985 I had just started the 6th month aftercare that all graduates of Straight are forced to participate in immediately following graduation. However at that point in light of my circumstances I realized I was finally done with Straight. I figured it would be best not to return again. (I didn’t drive, anyway, and couldn’t have gone back for the weekly aftercare raps even if I had wanted to, which I didn`t.)

I stayed there at my friend’s house for a couple of days, and then ended up going to stay with my dad at his apartment to the north of Baltimore. After a couple of weeks there, I managed to find a room in a house where I could move in on 27th and Howard Street. It was a dive, but it didn’t matter… I continued to write MIs through all of this. Eventually I stopped, and tore up the notebook in embarrassment (I didn’t want to be asked about it, because I didn’t know how I’d explain it to anyone.) I never returned to that building or area, but did dream about it from time to time, always glad when I awoke from those dreams.

While I was staying with my dad (which was where I went from Craig’s), my best friend Dan had landed me a room at the old mouse-infested dive on 27th & Howard Street known as the “Mobtown House.” And it was agreed that I would be allowed to pay rent at the end of the month! My father dropped me off on Falls and Coldspring one morning with my garbage bag full of clothes. I walked the mile or two with it down to Charles Village. The residents there at the Mobtown House at the time were Rudy, Tim, “Youseguy,” and a guy from Glen Burnie who worked at Hubcap City. They were cool people.

(Flashing back to when I was still “on my phases” at Straight Inc., I had seen Dan and some of my other old friends jumping off of that small stoop onto their skateboards while I sat in the back seat as my parents, together again at that time, drove me down Howard St. to 295, and then on back to “the building.” I thought to myself what a shame it was that I was going to that warehouse building known as Straight Inc. to stand around the side of group all night for open meeting instead of being able to hang out with my friends whom I had just seen! I tried not to think about it, as entertaining such longings was discouraged by Straight’s savage indoctrination.)

I was still writing MI`s at this point, but was enjoying the freedom of living on my own. I went to the Club Charles and hooked up with a female and we came back to the Mobtown House. She already knew the people who lived there. Baltimore was a smaller city back then, in some ways. It was sometime during this time that I decided to tear up my MI book and be done with it. I was embarrassed of it, and didn’t want to have to explain it to Amy. I was tired of writing them anyway, and figured it was time to stop writing them (though I was still “sober” at this point).

It was also during this time when my electric guitar was returned to me by my good friend and old band-mate, David Rhodes. He had drawn and written a message for me saying “Remember Alex, A Clockwork Orange,” which indicated to me that he “got it” as far as where I had been for the past two years (We had all seen the 1971 film “A Clockwork Orange” at the Charles Cinema in Baltimore a week prior to my being tricked into going to Straight.) My friend Dan gave me a cassette and told me to learn the songs on it so I’d be ready to tour with “Reptile House” as their other guitar player. The tape had the “I Stumble As The Crow Flies” EP as well as other songs they wanted to play on tour… so I pretty much listened to nothing else during that month as I memorized and rehearsed the songs there alone. It wasn’t long after that that they had me attend a practice, and that was that. What did I eat besides Snicker’s bars swiped from the shelves of the nearby 7-11, is what I’d like to know. Anyway, Reptile House did a successful tour of the U.S. during the Summer of 1985; we played mostly small clubs (twenty-some shows I guess), but there were a few larger shows along the way. Our Summer Tour began in Morgantown, West Virginia was the first one, then St. Louis, on to Texas (Austin, Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio), Albuquerque New Mexico, Tucson, Arizona. I think it was after that when we played in Los Angeles then up to Mabuhay Gardens in San Francisco,California and back across: Salt Lake City, Denver (I think), Des Moines, Chicago, Detroit, not sure if we played in Ohio or not, some small town in Pennsylvania (Allentown, I’m pretty sure.) The Tour was a blast and it was one of the best Summers of my entire Life.

The nightmares I experienced showed the freeway bridges south of Baltimore overlapping each other, crazily exaggerated the way things often are in dreams, and there was a feeling of unrest, and the thought that I had forgotten to write my MI and I had just realized it.

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