Cuddling Catcus in The Desert of Love

Proceed With Caution

Black Sabbath was playing over the stereo.  On TV, the German 6th Army was surrounded by the Russians, and was freezing to death.  I was drinking a beer and looking at the socks on my feet.  All was well in the world.  The only way it could be better was if there was some female company there to enjoy the perfection of that moment.

There was a knock at my door.  Not a cop knock, or a drunk buddy knock, but a tippy-tap chick knock.  The Universe.  I jumped up and put on some pants.  A lost little girl on her way to Grandmother’s?  Or… just a cop knocking like a chick, to get me to open up.  I paused.  If it is the cops, I’ll just have to pay for the lock anyway.  I slowly opened the door, hoping for a mystery dream date.

It was the biker chick who moved in next door.  It made sense that she’d be the woman The Universe would send.  Great sense of humor, The Universe.

I had already decided I didn’t like her when I overheard her jaw at the two hayseed meth addicts that helped her move.  “Hey Fucker, watch it!  I won that mirror at the fair!”  “Where the fuck is my lighter?  Did you steal my fucking lighter?” “Dalton! I swear if you break that, I’m gonna break your face!”  She was personality-challenged, and she didn’t have the looks to make up for it.  Hopefully she’ll want to drink all my beers, too.

“Got a beer?” she asked, taking off her buckskin jacket and throwing it on the chair that served as my hamper.  She wore a leather vest, revealing a beef jerky-textured cleavage formed by two flattened and freckled breasts.

“Yeah sure,” I said, “But I’m kinda low, I might have to make a run pretty soon, and that’s going to be iffy since my car doesn’t have any brakes.”  This didn’t seem to register.  She stood looking around at my apartment.  She had straight black hair that hung-down like the Land O Lakes Butter maiden.  But unlike the Land O Lakes Butter maiden, who is hot, this woman had rugged features that were probably etched deeper by frequenting smokey and boozy environs.  A harsh life had scoured any softness from her face.  She looked hard.  Prison time and honky-tonk hard.  I don’t generally go for chicks that look tougher than me.

She didn’t waste any time getting under my skin.  “Wow, this place is thrashed! It smells weird in here. Hey turn the music down. What’s this shit you’re watching?”

I looked at her amazed.  Mom, is that you?  I wished the cops had come instead.  I could turn down the Sabbath, they’d run me for warrants, and then leave.  This buzz-kill was going to be a little trickier to get rid of.  I went over and gave a token dial-down on the volume.

“To what do I owe the honor of this occasion?” I asked, getting a beer from the fridge, but not before stashing two in the vegetable drawer.

“Oh, I don’t know. I was bored and I heard the music,” she said, taking the beer.  She flung back her hair and tilted the bottle.  I watched her drain half of it in one pull.  Six ounces in three seconds.  I figured I should just start walking to the store now.

“My name is Toni, but everyone calls me Tehachapi.”  She held out her hand.  I shook it.  It was a firm handshake.  Great.  A cornball handle and a manly mitt.  Sweet deal, all around.

“Well Tony, would you like to have a seat?”  I pulled up a milk crate.  “That’s okay, I’d rather lay down here.”  She flopped on my mattress and started to kick off her boots.  She took out a pack of Marlboro Reds.  They were in a tooled leather purse with beaded suede fringe.  A swap meet purchase, I imagined.  Probably the same vendor that sold her that silver and turquoise lighter holder.  “Do you have an ashtray?” she asked, already lighting up.

“Ah yeah, it’s totally cool to smoke in here,” I assured her.  I handed her an empty bottle to use.

This is so bad, I thought, on so many levels, I don’t know which one I should fixate on.  Maybe I should just focus on the fact there’s some sort of a representation of a woman on my bed.  That has traditionally been considered a good start for me.  Perhaps if I drink a lot of beers, in a very short time, things will somehow improve.  I cracked a fresh one and sat down on the milk crate.  I looked over at the TV and watched troops pull a field artillery piece through the snow.  This was going to be hard.

“My name is…”  Hold it. Real name? Lives next door now. Fake one won’t help. “…Marius.”

“What is it?”


“That’s a weird name.”

“Yep…It sure is.”

I looked over and saw a German soldier running through the rubble.  A sniper bullet caught him and he went down dead.  If it could only be that easy, I thought.  She pointed to my bookshelf.

“Hey, you got Scrabble!  I loved playing that with my Grandma.”

“Yeah well, I don’t really play it anymore.”

“I’m not very good with spelling, but I’m good at coming up with words.”

“That’s hard to pull off,” I said, “That’s really awesome.”

She killed off her beer, and set the bottle down on the floor.  “That was good. Got another?”

Ok, I need to be called away to some emergency.  What kind of emergency happens at 10:30 at night?  Loads, but I can’t think of one right now, not one that would need me hanging around.  I have eight beers left and that was going to be pushing it even flying solo.  Now this thing happens.  Well, I can’t let her lap me.  I slammed my beer and got up and got two more.

She began telling me about herself, but somehow I already knew it.  Alcoholic parents, abusive marriages, kids taken away, some stripping, some prostitution, drugs, county jail, rehab, bartending, carnival gig, transporting meth to Indiana for her biker boyfriend, state prison, rehab again, and now collecting welfare and selling Mary Kay.  It was a depressing saga, and I was fairly immune to those by then.  Her story curb-kicked anything I had resembling a high into shit-smeared bummer.  Oh, and she’d never even been to Tehachapi.

The liquor store was inevitable.  I told the Old Maiden of the Iron Horse to kick up her heels while I rolled on down to the store.

The car really didn’t have brakes.  I had to rely on the parking brake and my psychic hunches about when lights were going to change.  It was a good thing I was an intuitive, or it would’ve been crazy dangerous.  I coasted to a stop at Owl Liquors, but I overshot the drive-thru and had to get out of the car to order from the window.  The ride back was uneventful, except for the car wreck going on in my mind.

“Where the fuck is your remote?” she asked as I walked through the door.  I told her it was a long story, and that reaching up to change the channel was a good ab work-out.  I put the beers in the fridge and added two more to the vegetable drawer.

We drank and she talked some more.  The drunker she got, the flirtier she became.  The flirtier she became, the drunker I needed to get.  I prayed for a deus ex machina to descend from the sky and save me.  I kept bringing up what an early morning I had ahead, but she kept on yammering and beating her eyelids at me.

“Why don’t you come lay down next to me and make yourself more comfortable?  You’re all hunched up,” she says.

My ass had deep x’s imprinted in it from the milk crate, but I wasn’t about to make myself more comfortable.  It seemed like I couldn’t impair my judgement fast enough to keep up with events.

“I like being hunched up,” I told her, “I think I was a cathedral gargoyle in a past life.”  I started to tell her about how my grandmother spilled an entire pint of cognac in her purse at St. Patrick’s Catherdral, but she interupted with, “Hey, do you want to fuck?”

Oh God. Panic in Detroit.  Things around me began to stretch and distort.  The lines in the room started to point upwards at crazy angles, like in German Expressionist set design.  I couldn’t remember the last time I said no to that question.  I didn’t think I knew how.  I was going to have to learn fast.

“Yeah I’d love to except that I don’t have any condoms, and I’m having an outbreak, and I’m a little confused about my sexuality these days, and I don’t want to rush things, and I’m too drunk, and I have a girlfriend.”

“Well then scaredy cat, just come over here and cuddle with me for a while.”

Could this really be happening to me?  I tried to wake myself up.  No, still here.  The problem was I didn’t want to hurt her feelings.  I know.  I’m lame like that.  Was it time to fake a seizure?

“Oh, if there’s one thing I love to do, it’s cuddle,” I said.  I slowly got up.  I wanted to be a fly, or a pencil in a cup, or a ball of dryer lint, anything but me right then.  I laid down next to her.  She burrowed her face into my armpit, and just like that, she was out cold.  The Universe.  Nothing like adding a little drama with a last-minute save.

I looked down at her.  Her face seemed to soften.  I pictured what she looked like as a young girl, back when she had no idea how bad things would get.  That made me feel even more sorry for her.  I found myself feeling bad because I didn’t even want to love her.  But, I wanted somebody to love her, eventually.  Nobody’s life should be non-stop bullshit, and if it is, they should at least have one partner in crime.  Would it kill me to let her pretend for a while?  Clearly I’m not averse to doing things that could kill me.  Besides, I was drunk.  I had the all-purpose excuse already in my back pocket.

I leaned back. I thought about war on the Eastern Front.  That was hard.  This should be easy, well…easier.  You’re just holding another human being.  Fucking relax. I listened to my clock tick for a while, and then remembered the beers in the vegetable drawer.  I wondered if I could get to them without waking her up.  She started to snore as my arm fell asleep.

Liquid Lunch Blues


The Gatorade opened in my lunch box and soaked my tuna sandwich.  I had nothing else to eat and I was hungry.  I ate the sandwich.  I tried to think of it as a bold epicurean experiment, but it’s hard to enjoy your food when every bite makes you want to barf.  It was winter and I had been quietly enduring a hangover while digging a trench for a gas line.  I tried not to be a pussy about hard work, even glorified it at times, but some days you felt every shovelful.  I was gassed out and running on soul fumes.  The fact that my lunch sucked just beat it in harder.

The concrete guys were dining inside their trucks, running the heaters.  I ate my Gatorade on the side of a dirt hill.  I could see all of Santa Fe below me.  A stiff wind was blowing up the slope.  The sky opened up in a yawning chasm of melancholy, trying to suck me in.  I pulled myself out.  I wasn’t in the mood to feel sorry for myself.  Maybe later.

Lunchtime in the world of construction, takes on an almost sacred importance.   You want to stop working and you’re starving.  During lunch you get to stop working and eat.  That’s a significant improvement.  But a lot of times, if you were a bum laborer with a drinking problem, lunch wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be.  I used to count off the minutes in my head waiting for noon, and when it came,  I’d look at my lunch and think  “I was waiting for this?”

If I had the money, I tried to make lunch good.  If you had some apples, chunks of cheese, hard-boiled eggs, bananas, and salami to go with your primary sandwich you could feel okay about lunch.  Wash it down with some soda, bottled water, coffee, or maybe a stray beer from last night, and you actually began to revive.  However, a dead car battery, a traffic ticket, a trip to the clinic, and you were back to a candy bar and a drink from the hose.  When it came down to budgeting any remaining funds between drinking or eating, the choice was clear.

My buddy Marko and I used to pool our money and buy ground beef, refried beans, onions and potatoes.  We’d cook it up in a pot and then slap the slop into tortillas and roll them up.  We’d make twenty of them so we could have two each, Monday through Friday.  That was lunch.  The first couple of days they were okay, but by Wednesday they had congealed into a grey clot wrapped in soggy dough.  We doused them with hoarded Taco Bell hot sauce, which made them swallowable.  After a while they became nothing more than a delivery platform for the hot sauce.  We called them “Plug-aritos,” because that’s all they were, plugs to stopper up the hunger hole.  Taste and texture were not a factor at that point.  Volume was king.  Clogability.

I finished drinking my tuna sandwich.  I was still hungry.  A Plug-arito would’ve been good.  I lit a cigarette and watched the clouds move for a while.  I found myself wishing the boss hadn’t pulled Marko off to another job.  Not just for help with the trench.  It was better to have someone to talk to.  It helped to have another miserable face looking back at you.  You could pretend you were both in Stalingrad and it was the end.

The night before, my friend Samantha had invited me to her office Christmas party.  She worked for a tour company and they were having dinner at Anthony’s On the Delta.  Fancy.  The owner joined us at dinner.  He was a great host.  He made sure nobody wanted for anything.  Salmon, crab, steak, and chicken dishes kept coming, and I kept cramming.  My bottles of beer kept coming too.  The people at the table were in a good mood, and I felt a tad merry as well.  Yeah, that was good.  It was very different.  Very different from now.

I watched a fat guy walk to the Porta-John.  He had a newspaper.  Ok, I thought, that’s off-limits, for sure.  The honey pumper that came around to empty the shitter was days late.  It was getting intense in there.  I was always pissing all over my shoes because I couldn’t bring myself to look down and see the horror.  Now big boy was going to make his contribution.  Fuck that.  I couldn’t risk losing the food I fought so hard to get down.  I couldn’t imagine bringing a paper in with me and just sitting there catching up on the headlines.

The sun ducked behind some clouds.  It got colder.  I decided to make a hand fire.  I gathered some cardboard and pine cones.  I pulled my gloves off and lit it.  It felt nice to toast up the finger bones.  I looked at my watch.  I had seven more minutes to enjoy this.  I went to my hotel room in Mexico.

There was a brunette opening a bottle of beer for me.  Her teeth easily snap the cap off.  She hands the beer to me and takes off her bikini top.  She throws it off the balcony and it sails like a gull, out beyond the sand and into the surf.  She begins to dance and grind to the music coming from the variety show on the TV.  “A la cama, a la cama, a la cama con Porcel!”  The farmacia cough syrup starts to ooze into the base of my skull and I glow with warmth and joyous goodwill toward mankind.  It’s balmy and breezy.  She’s wearing strappy high heels.  The sink and bathtub are filled with ice and beer.  She says she feels like being a bad girl.

Truck doors started to slam.  It was time to get back to work.  I stomped the fire out.  I put my gloves back on and walked back to the trench.  I was about to pick up my pick and shovel, but stopped.  I just stood there looking down at my tools.  I couldn’t pick them up.  I hit a wall.  I could not move.  Strange.  Then I felt a wave of despair rise up in me.  Oh shit.  Tsunami.  There wasn’t any fighting this one.   Everything suddenly looked sad.  Everything around me looked like it knew it was going to die, and was severely bummed out about it.  I hardly expected that having to eat a fish-flavored sports drink sandwich would bring on a trance of Universal Sorrow.  It seemed an excessive reaction, even for me.

I climbed down into the trench so the other workers wouldn’t see me if I started to cry.  That would be murder.  I laid down on my back.  I remember how good it felt being surrounded by dirt that didn’t give a fuck if I drank too much and screwed up my life.  I closed my eyes and just gave up.  I pretended I didn’t exist.

I heard a Ranchera come on over a distant boombox, and a power saw start up.

After a while, I felt better.  I got up and climbed out, and picked up my pick and shovel.  I could see a little red Honda Civic driving up the hill.  It was Marko.  The boss had wanted him to finish out the day helping me.  I was really happy to see his stupid face.  I called him a spoiled Liberace lap-dog.  He said I looked like someone who made love to the dead.

“I am the dead, but I have risen.”

I told him about the Tuna and Gatorade sandwich and he laughed.  He still had an extra piece of chicken and said I could have it.  He reached into his lunch box and handed it to me.  It was a cold drumstick wrapped in greasy wax paper.  It might as well have been Lobster Thermador.

“I have some hot coffee in my Thermos, dude.  Do you want some?” he asked.

“How is it still hot?”

“It’s in a Thermos, you stupid fuck.  That’s what they do.  They keep drinks hot.”

He poured me a small cup.  Sure as shit, there was steam coming off of it.  I’ll be damned.  I somehow thought that only happened on TV.

“I’m going to get one those things.  How much are they?”

“Twenty five bucks for a decent one.”


“Don’t buy one now,” he said, “Christmas is coming.”  He jumped into the trench with his shovel.

As far as I was concerned it was already here.  I finished my chicken and coffee and climbed down with him.

These Plug-aritos are delish!

Count Thugula

Count Thugula, Avenger of The Weak

I punched him square in the face.  It was a solid one.  To this day, I’m still a little proud of it.  It was a right jab and I was wearing leather sap gloves with lead pellets sewn in the fist for extra zing.  He got blinky, staggered a bit, and ran off, slipping along the icy road as he scampered.  I walked back into The Cowgirl and handed the wallet to the little guy who had it stolen.  The bouncer on duty, Ziggy, came up to me. “Dude, that punch-which I didn’t see-was a felony!”  he said, all worry-warty.  I guess the sap gloves bumped it up to a felony assault.  “Stealing a guy’s wallet is also against the law,” I said, “So it’s a wash.”

I went inside and drank the beer the little guy bought me.  He was grateful to get his wallet back, and I was glad for the free beer, and the opportunity to punch a dick in the face.

That was a good night.  I remember that night.  That punch in that guy’s face made it one to remember.  When I imagine all the dump trucks full of nights that I dumped into the landfill of forgetfulness, I think maybe I should’ve punched more faces, just to remember more of my life.

These days, I’m all for peace, love, and understanding.  I like cats and gardening.  Still, there was something about a well-placed punch in the face of somebody who really had it coming, that brought true joy.  I’d like to think I’m over that kind of joy, but I can’t be sure.  We all want satisfaction, and there is something deeply satisfying about serving as a hammer for justice.  It was especially so back then, when I didn’t have any other hobbies or recreational pursuits.

I’m not talking about getting into a fight.  Those were fairly commonplace.  Looking back on those, I know I could have defused many of them with some patience and discipline on my part.  I regret a lot of them.  No, I’m talking about delivering a righteous punch in the face, one that when you look back on it, after years of sobriety, spiritual recovery, and soul-searching personal inventory, you still think  “Yeah, I’d do that one again!”

I was constantly picked on as a little kid.  Either for the Little Lord Fauntleroy clothes my Mom insisted in dressing me in, or the fact that my English not speaking good in talkingness, I walked around with a bull’s-eye over my balls.  I didn’t need a “kick me” sign taped to my back, the directive seemed to be clear enough.  Anyway, something happened along the way.  I mutated, like in any comic book worth it’s paper, into a deranged vigilante.  The scared-of-his-own-shadow, son of Eastern European immigrants, turned into…Count Thugula.  I embraced my shadow, and became a deluded, self-appointed arbiter of justice, what our society labels a “superhero.”  A drunken dangerous one that caused more damage than fixed.

My earliest real-life superhero inspiration came in the unlikely form of a gentle, orphaned waif named Jim Keller.  He became my friend in eighth grade.  Keller endured a brutal childhood.  He suffered the kind of abuse that would have turned lesser men into sociopathic killers.  But he was then, as he remains today, the Buddhist ideal of loving compassion and patience.  Small children flock to him like squirrels to St. Francis.  Everyone’s happy, when the Keller is near.

That didn’t mean that if somebody’s bad karma required an instrument to deliver its repercussions, he wasn’t open to serve.

This skinny little fellow, who looked more like a monk than a thug, packed a punch that delivered the White Light of Realization to drunk frat guys, skinheads, and surf Nazi’s up and down the Gold Coast.  Trust me, none of them suspected that they were about to become so profoundly enlightened by The Buddhist Bomber.

One night up in Santa Barbara, in the college town of Isla Vista, Keller and some friends went to a reggae show.  He had decided to linger outside while the others went in.  His keen intuition told him to hang back for a bit.  Sure enough, right across from him, in the little town park, three skinheads had jumped a solitary traveller. They were beating on the guy pretty good, and having a having a grand time doing it.  “This will not do,” Keller thought to himself.

He hit the first skin while running in.  He jousted the punch into the guy’s gut.  Keller said the air came out of the dude so fast, it actually made an odd little whistle as it rushed through his teeth.  Tweetle-teeeeee!  Ok, that would be awesome.  Jealous of that.  So that guy dropped like a sack of horse shit.  Then as soon as the next guy looked up, Keller pasted his mouth.  He later told me that he was really able to torque his hips on that one and whip it in hard.  Zang-Pow!  That one was wearing braces (I love it, a skin-head with cosmetic dental work) so his lips shredded across the metal.  He grabbed his face and started screaming like a little girl.  That left one more upper-suburban neo-Nazi to go.

Having just watched both of his buddies destroyed in a matter of seconds by some guy that appeared out of nowhere, he decided to run for it.  The other two joined him.  Keller helped the victim up.  The guy couldn’t express his thanks enough.  Our hero wished him a peaceful rest of the evening, then went in to bathe in the good vibrations of the reggae show.  God, I love shit like that.  It was always sweet when Keller clocked someone.  You have to figure, if you manage to piss off an easy-going, peaceful person like Keller, enough to make him want to punch you; you so fucking have it coming.  It’s gonna have a little something extra on it too, because The Universe wants in on the action.

The recipients of my punches were generally in a more gray-zone of deserving it.  If I was really drunk, my aim might be off.  Maybe I took a statement out of context.  Sometimes it seemed inevitable, so I just got it over with.  I don’t do stuff like that anymore.  I’ve really worked on this.  Now I like cats and gardening.

A buddy from New York once told me that while throwing a good punch looks cool, being able to take one earns you even more style points, and an exponentially higher chance of getting laid because of it.   I had just written about this concept in my weekly column on Monday.  That next week-end, it would be put to the test.

I went to my job as a doorman at The Catamount.  Two guys I had thrown out (I can’t remember for what) were outside pissed at me.  One was tall, the other guy short.  Mutt and Jeff.  I was wary of this possible two-on-one situation, but tried to play it cool.  They’re yelling, I’m pretending to yawn–then zip–the short guy dives behind me and makes like an ottoman, and the tall guy pushes me over him.  It was a slick move.  Impressive, really.  They must have practiced it a lot back home at their trailer.

Anyway, I go down and hit my head on the street, and as I’m getting up, the tall one connects with my jaw.  He had wound it up and sent it all the way from Gallup.  He almost knocked my block off.  I saw buzzing blue and green neon parallelograms in a field of purple sparks.  When the buzzing stopped, I realized I was still standing.  I was totally fine.

It was amazing.  I was surprised, but so was the guy that hit me.  He looked concerned.  I would’ve been.  I did my best, but I guess my best wasn’t good enough… for you.  You rarely get a clean shot at the jaw.  It’s never like the movies.  He gave me his Pony-for-Your-Birthday best and I was okay.  Now what do you do?   What kind of brain-dead monster doesn’t go down after that?  I could feel my eye-teeth start to grow.

“I’m going to give this door money to somebody, and when I come back, I’m going to kill both of you,” I calmly informed them.

They started backing up.  I walked into the bar, which had been watching the whole thing through the windows, and gave the cover charge money to one of the cooks.  I felt humiliated.  These guys played me like a piano, and in front of a lot of people.  It didn’t get much worse than that.  It L.I.T. me up. (Lifetime Issue Trigger)  I didn’t know how I was going to deal with these two guys, especially since they already clowned me, but I knew there was a vast reservoir of rage I could tap into.  Marius just got his ass kicked, his demons were going to have to take over.  A calm came over me.  All I had to do was get out of the way, and let this infernal power handle it.  You see, it’s like a spiritual surrender, only opposite.

I went outside but they were gone.  I saw them round the corner up the block.  I wasn’t thrilled about going after them, but felt like I had no choice.  Here we go.  They were up the street, getting into a car.  There was a chick I hadn’t seen before with them.  She started screaming “Oh my God! He’s packing! He’s packing!”  I wasn’t, but I took the cue.  I reached behind me and grabbed the band of my boxer shorts.  They thought the only way I would go after them alone was with a gun.  They hadn’t factored the power of wearing funny clothes as a kid into the equation.

“I told you I would come back to kill you,” I said, walking slowly towards them.  Count Thugula was in full effect.  The chick even seemed to be fumbling with the keys like in the horror flicks.  “Hey man, we’re cool!” one of them yelled.  What a stupid thing to say.  Like if I did have a gun and was going to shoot them, I’d hesitate because one of them told me they “were cool.”  Whatever.  I’ve said stupider things when I was scared.  “Not cool enough to live,” I yelled back.

Finally, she got the door open, they piled in, and drove off as I approached.  It was hardly a satisfying resolution.  Yeah, I wound up scaring them off, but with some phony trick.  It did little to stop the burn.  I didn’t get my punch!  Fucking shit.  I knew this dose of shame would have me sitting up at night for years to come, and I was already a light sleeper.

I walked back to the bar.  I got the door money and sat down on my stool.  A few women who had seen me get hit came up to me.  They asked if I was alright, and I said I was.  I wasn’t feeling libidinous enough to try cashing in on their concern.   There might be some connection between a man’s ego and his penis, but I can’t be sure.  One thing for sure was that I lost my grandfather’s watch that night, probably when I bounced on the street.  I usually took it off, but I wanted to impress one of the waitresses that night.  That went well.  What a life.

I tortured myself that night sitting up on my mattress, pounding beer after beer.  What would people remember more, how the Two Stooges Dick Van Dyked me, or how I took the sledgehammer like Iron Man?  A typical alcoholic concern, anchored deep in reality.  I worried about everything, except what really mattered.  Poor idiot, nobody was going to remember any of that night, except if I ever brought it up.  And why the hell would I ever do that?

The Young Count as Beating Magnet

Chaos Junkie

Burn Baby, Burn!

When that thing went off in my hand, brother, I saw a white light.  That was all I saw.  For a few seconds I freaked.  Is this what death is?  A blank white screen for all eternity?  Then I heard Tom screaming, saw smoke and blood, and felt better.  I wasn’t going to have to face a blank screen, yet.  There was more colorful chaos to witness.

I could only make out what was happening in intermittent glimpses.  My perception seemed to be strobing.   I was blinking back and forth between some vast eternal void and the aftermath of the explosion.  White light to smoke and gore, white light to smoke and gore, and so on.  There was a low-pitched hum in my head, like I had been hit over the skull with a tuning fork the size of a garden rake.  That was a peppy little fuse alright, a real go-getter.  It burned down to the stick, quick as a lick.  Ka-pow!

It was 1979.  Tom and I were teenage delinquents.  We were hanging out at my Dad’s house.  He was away on a business trip so we decided to drink all his scotch.  It was Sunday night and we were bored.  I remembered I had a box of what were essentially quarter sticks of dynamite that I had smuggled from Mexico as a little kid.  Let me tell you, you’ve never sweated a border crossing like an eleven-year-old sitting on a box of junior dynamite in the back of his parent’s car.  To me it was worth it.  These “firecrackers” were so much more dangerous than anything the other kids had, they would elevate my status as a mayhem-maker to royalty.  Even big kids would know I meant business.  They were to serve as a sure-fire cure for boredom for many years.

They certainly cured our boredom that night.  We were inside my Dad’s bedroom, and I was flicking the lighter in one hand, while drunkenly holding the Tijuana TNT in the other.  The lighter was out of gas, so it was totally cool to be doing this.  What wasn’t cool was that a spark from a dead lighter could still ignite a fuse.  My Dad’s roommate, a Vietnam vet, sleeping in the next room, didn’t think that was cool either.  The blast opened up my hand into a hamburger pita.  The lighter turned into shrapnel, and peppered my neck and face.  Blood and bits covered my Dad’s walls and water-bed.  Tom had been blasted instantly sober, the roommate pissed himself, and I wound up in the emergency room.

There is nothing more dangerous than a bored drunk.

It was never enough to just get drunk.  I liked to keep things exciting, and it seemed like destroying things, in whatever manner, a great way to do it.  Admittedly, there were at times… consequences, but if you live in fear of those, you have no business drinking yourself insane.  Shoot things, set them on fire, blow them up, throw them out the window, take an ax to them, run them over with your Mom’s LTD, but for God’s sake, make something pay for the fact that you can’t sit and enjoy a quiet moment.

When I was nine years old, my parents turned me into the Camarillo Fire Department for being a pyro.  They caught me recreating a viking sea burial with my G.I. Joe and a burning raft of popsicle sticks in the toilet.  Joe was on his way to Valhalla when they forced the bathroom door open.  A more enlightened set of parents would have recognized my love of history, appreciation of ritual and custom, and would’ve encouraged me to become a cultural anthropologist.  Instead, they ratted me out as a fire bug.

A fireman sat me down and told me gruesome stories of all the people he saw burned to death as a result of little boys playing with matches.  He took my name down and said that if there was any fire in a five-mile radius of my apartment complex he would come looking for me.  He then gave me a tour of the fire truck and turned me over to my parents.  That really sucked.  I was sufficiently penitent.  I decided to take up shoplifting as a hobby until the heat from this rap cooled.

I liked to create chaos around me to equalize the pressure of the chaos inside me.  Whatever was happening didn’t seem like enough.  Maybe it was from watching westerns as an impressionable child, but no drunken party seemed complete until firearms were discharged into the ceiling.  I remember kissing a girl goodnight after a particularly noisy celebration, the sounds of nearing sirens wailing in the night air, the other partygoers scattering in panic around us.  It was a dramatically romantic way to end the evening.  “Be careful,” she said.  “Put money on my canteen,” I told her as I closed the door.  I thought about her while I hid under my mattress.

Thank God I had my buddy Marko to serve as the voice of reason in my life.  (My friends who know Marko got that last joke)  We were a bad combination.  Together we became a machine that produced, and then acted on, very bad ideas.  Besides having a dangerously extensive knowledge of chemistry, Marko liked guns.  Me too.  What’s not to like about guns?  Especially in the hands of crazy people.

For awhile we lived in his mobile home out in the sticks of Santa Fe.  We drank a lot, and often got bored.  You can imagine the results.  Since we took such a casual approach to firearm safety, we didn’t get too many repeat visitors to the old homestead, especially girls.  Poor us, all lonely, drunk, and armed to the teeth.

On New Year’s Eve, 2000, when our society was about to plunge into Mad Max apocalyptic anarchy because the date on people’s computers couldn’t go that high, Marko and I were excited.  Finally, a society more suited to our talents and abilities.  We saw an opportunity for fast-track advancement.  Once the system collapsed, all rule of law would dissolve in the individual’s desperation to survive.  We had been practicing for this moment all our lives.

For months we had been stockpiling guns and ammo, along with canned tuna and baked beans.  We had a medical kit with bandages and medication for pain. We also had five gallons of medical-grade grain alcohol to tide us over until we could liberate more.  Since we had no goods to barter, we decided to become raiders.  We would run around with guns, taking other people’s stuff, especially their beer.  That was our greatest concern with the breakdown of civilization as we knew it, not being able to get beer.  Since this was already our greatest concern, weren’t too worried about adjusting to a world gone savage.  In the meantime, our ids would have some room to stretch out.

When the ball dropped at midnight, Marko was already passed out on the couch.  I was sitting in a recliner.  I picked up my shotgun, and still sitting, pointed it out the open door and pulled the trigger.  I blew a hole through the screen door I thought was also open.  Marko didn’t even flinch.  “Happy New Year, fucker,” I said, cocking another round. “To a brave new world!”  I yelled, and shot through the previous hole.  This time he rolled over and said something that sounded like “Monkey time,” and was out again.

Y2K turned out to be a big disappointment.  The date on everyone’s computers just went to 2000.  Banks stayed open, police showed up for work, utility bills arrived right on time.  Our hopes for establishing our very own empire based on extortion and white-slavery were dashed.  With the money spent on ammo we could have put ourselves through massage school or learned to sell real estate, but that clearly wasn’t meant to be.  We ate the tuna and beans, drank the grain alcohol, and eventually used up all the supplies in our first aid kit.  The only apocalypse we’d get to participate in was the one of our own creation.  Monkey time?

We felt cheated.  The hippies got to have their Summer of Love.  They had Woodstock before Altamont.  Marko and I never got our Altamont.  We were never going to have our environment adapt to us.  It was the first time I lost all hope.  My earlier adventures in Central America had also taken a lot of steam out my engine by then, and I was getting pretty tired of the noise.  Maybe a little peace and quiet wouldn’t be so bad.

That summer I made my first stab at getting sober.  I went to a rehab, and stopped drinking for a couple of years.  Things quieted down for a bit.  The problem was that I never really fixed what was bothering me.  I never made peace with the quiet.  I figured it was enough to just stay dry, but I was getting restless, and I never did get rid of the guns.  I was flicking the dead lighter in one hand, with dynamite in the other, convinced a spark couldn’t start anything.