Professional Pub Pugilist

I'm ready for my shift drink.

The guy had come up behind Marcos and clocked him right in the head.  He was a bull and had good torque.  He smashed Marcos’ glasses right into his face.  Marcos was the head bouncer, and now, on his way down.  All the other guys on our side had their hands full fighting somebody else.  I was the only guy not busy, so it was up to me to deal with this bald, thick-necked side of beef.  He looked up at me and narrowed his eyes.  I was next.  This was one hell of a first night as a bouncer.  It was everything I feared, and soon, much more.

Before I go on, let me clarify that Marcos was not my buddy, Marko.  That’s why they have different names.  If I meant Marko, I would’ve spelled it that way.  Marcos was the actual name of the head bouncer at Chelsea Street Pub, the place I had just been hired at, and was now balls-deep in shit at.  Marko was probably back at the pad getting drunk.  That’s where I would’ve rather been.

Marcos too, now that I think about it.

I didn’t even want the job.  I was semi-employed at the time.   It was winter and I was doing odd jobs for this temperamental Santa Fe artist.  He had just built a huge studio honoring his grandiosity.  The paintings were alright.   I think they worked because they were so big.  Paint anything big enough and it becomes art.

That’s okay, I guess.  It’s American, that’s for sure.  Big house, big paintings, big studio, big ego, big attitude.  An emotional Central European, he would hug me and tell me he loved me like a brother one minute, then yell at me like I was a scrubwoman that knocked over a bucket of shit in his living room the next.  I bit my tongue and took it because I needed his money.  The small amount was keeping me alive, but what he made me eat to get it was upsetting my stomach.

I lived with my sister, Ina, and our friend Keller at the time, and was having trouble making the full rent.  They were spotting me the short and not making a big deal about it, but I felt bad.  When I saw the ad for doorman at this small, live music bar at the mall, I had Keller drive me to fill out an application.  I didn’t think I would get the job, but I wanted to show them I was trying.   On the application, I lied and said that I had worked as a hospital tech at a psych ward.  I figured wrestling down enraged 5150’s would be considered good experience and qualify me for this entry-level bouncer job.

I figured right.  That would have been good experience to have before starting a job as a bouncer.  Except that I hadn’t actually done it.  I came home one day from serving my genius overlord, and Keller told me Chelsea Street called saying I got the job.  I sank a little.  I really didn’t want to keep borrowing money from him and Ina, as they weren’t exactly swimming in it themselves, but being a bouncer seemed kind of gnarly.  What if I got my ass kicked in front of a bunch of laughing people?  What if I got really hurt?  Or really killed?

I grabbed a beer to celebrate my good fortune, and take some of the edge off the terror that was pooling up in my solar plexus.

I wasn’t exactly new to fighting, as my lifestyle choices had assured enough encounters with other drunk angry males equally pissed-off about something.  That shit happened and you dealt with it.  That was different from coming in, punching a time clock, and waiting for it to come to you.  That seemed a little extra asking for it.  But then again, if getting into a fight was inevitable either way, why not make a little money in the meantime?  Thank God for beer.  Drink enough beer and everything becomes clear.  My destiny was unfurling before me.  I could tell the tortured artist to go fuck himself.  I was going to kick ass for a living.

The next night Keller drove me and dropped me off.  “Good luck,” he said.  “Yeah,” I said back, ” It’s a place at the mall, how bad can it be?”

What an idiot.  Chelsea St. was at that time, the premier club for bar brawling, much more so than up the road at Rodeo Nites.  (Taking into account fight breakout frequency on a per capita, of course.)  It didn’t quite rate a gladiator school, but wasn’t a day care either.  People were getting hurt at Chelsea Street.

Parzival the Innocent had just wandered into the dragon’s playground.

They served beer in pitchers and that spelled trouble.  I couldn’t see why.  If I was going to drink a lot of beer, I was going to do it, regardless of the container it came in.  Give me a shell with a hole drilled in it, and I will make your beer disappear.  All of it.

Turns out, the pitcher for semi-normal people is dangerous, because they wind up drinking more, faster.  Their judgement becomes impaired, inhibitions loosened, and whatever has been troubling their soul gets to find full expression in aggressive bad behavior.  Hey, welcome to my world.  At least we were all on familiar territory.

If I had realized just how at home I would become in this territory, I wouldn’t have been so scared going in.  I walked through the bar and found the manager, Rodney, a buffed-out black dude.  Far-out, I thought, it’s good to have a superman soul brother on the team.  At least I knew who to hide behind if I cracked in fear.  He introduced me to the three other guys working with me.

Marcos, was a tall hispanic guy, I immediately pegged as a Tae Kwon Do dude.  There was Larry, a short and squat black guy, and an Indian biker named Alvin.  He’s the ground fighter and that dude is the knife expert, I noted.  Seems I was the token white guy in this superhero comic.  Greetings gentleman, I hope you won’t judge my entire race by any cowardice you should witness me personally display.  I haven’t been issued any superpowers yet, but I’ve been told that I’m a quick study.

Marcos lined out the job.  Someone checked ID’s, someone else took the money, and the two other guys roamed around the place scanning for hot spots.  Start charging cover at nine.  If something happens don’t leave the door, unless the floor guys are getting killed.  Don’t let the boss see you drinking.  Make sure there’s no chairs in the aisle.  If people leave they have to get back in the line, and don’t steal too much money from the door.  He actually put it that way.  Don’t let the boss see you drinking and don’t steal too much money from the door.

So far the rules made sense.  He told me I would start by checking IDs and handed me a plastic flashlight.

“I’d rather use that one, ” I said, pointing to the steel, four battery Maglite he had through a ring around his belt.

“I bet,” he smiled, “The Beast stays with me,” and walked back towards the bar.

I gotta get me one of those.  I want a Beast.

I took my post at the door and started checking IDs.  I was a little uncomfortable.  I could feel all the men in the place sizing me up.  I’m sure many of them figured they could take me, and I’m sure many of them could.  The trick was to not get to the point where they would try, and that was a mindfuck game.  I was pretty comfortable with those.   I wasn’t so sure how comfortable I was with getting a beer bottle across the teeth.  That would take care of Mr. Mindfuck Magician.

Remember, you used to wrestle down psychotics at your last job, I reminded myself.  You can handle this.

It was a busy night, and a few scuffles broke out, but Marcos and Alvin were able to handle them.  Each time, I could feel my adrenal glands squeeze huge blobs of heart-attack gel into my system, and then stop.  Some guy starts yelling at you because you won’t let his jailbait date slide through, and again the blobs start pumping.  Is this going to escalate into a cage match to the death?  Is it time to kill or be killed?  No, they’re leaving.  Chill out.  Jesus.  I was definitely on edge.  The three quarts of beer I drank before coming in had long been evaporated by the stress.

“You look like you could use a beer,” I heard a voice say.  I looked up and saw an unlikely angel in the form of a living dead girl, Anna.  She was a waitresses bedecked in full death-worshipping  punk fetishistic finery: Doc Martins, torn fishnets, arms covered with ghoul-themed tattoos and cutter scars, jeans ripped short above the knees, black Halloween hair sticking out hither and thither, and a pallor rivaling that of any funeral parlor’s showcased corpse.  She applied her eye-liner with a switch blade  and had live black widow spiders for earrings.  She looked over her shoulder, then lowered a Heineken off her tray.

“Drink it in the bathroom.”

You have to know me to know.  How much I needed a beer just then.  How much I loved Heineken.   How much having one delivered to me, in this hour of need, by such a mordantly sexy, punk rock Elvira, free of charge, meant to me.  It gave me faith in an all-knowing and loving God.

I gave Larry the flashlight and ducked into the men’s room.  It was crowded.  The stall was being used.  Fuck it.  I tilted the bottle in front of everyone and drained it in three.   “All righty, back to work,”  I announced.  I dropped the bottle in the trash and went back out.

There’s a point where it all doesn’t matter.  The eviction notice, the search warrant, the bad job, the bad check-up, the lost car keys, the found keys to the lost car, the broken lock, the broken window, the broken heart.  They all sort of blend together in a downward spiraling force that holds your head under the water, but after a single beer, shotgunned down as fast as humanly possible,  you find the renewed strength to hang on and clog the drain just a little longer.  My superpowers were renewed.  I could handle this.

When I got back they gave me the money so Larry could take a break.  Not too much, I told myself, as I started taking cover.  I could feel my shoulders relax.  Things are going to be okay.

Shortly after that little affirmation, the shit hit the fan.  I’m not really sure how it started, but I looked up from giving a guy his change and saw Marcos get clobbered.  Instantly, everybody was kung fu fighting.  It was total fucking chaos and I couldn’t figure out who was who.

In the movies, the sword fighting guys go around the battlefield, slicing and sticking their enemies, left, right, up, down, off a horse, on a ladder.  They seem to know right away who’s supposed to die, and who to save, even though everyone’s armor looks the same.   In real life, it’s a tumble of entwined bodies, friend and foe rotating around a spindle.  The punch you meant for some Pirate Pete biker winds up landing on your buddy’s nose.  The leg you’re gnawing on turns out to be your own.  Nobody’s sitting still for their Sears portrait.

“Sorry, bro, sorry!” you yell to your buddy, then try to land your next one better, and with extra sauce to make up for the fuck up.  It’s a mess.  You can’t over think things, just keep hitting.  Your eyes dilated like a scared cat’s.  Keep hitting.  Everything strobing, fast and slow at the same time.  Mother of God help me!  “Keep hitting.”  I am, Mother!

I wasn’t hitting yet.  I was frozen, looking at El Toro stand over the collapsed tower of Marcos, his bald head glistening with sweat.  When our eyes locked, I knew.  This is it, old boy.  Time to grow some spine.  He started coming towards me and I started backing up.  I reached for my novelty paper weight.

I’m not proud of this, but a few months before, through a mail-order catalogue, I had purchased some brass knuckles.  The catalogue labeled them a “novelty paperweight” so they could legally sell them.  They weren’t even brass, but some cheapo lead alloy that would close up on your fingers after you hit somebody hard, making them difficult to pull off and throw away before the cops showed up.  But, I had yet to discover this fault.  I reached into my pocket, put them on, and stopped backing up.

It was a dirty advantage, and like I said, I’m not proud of it.  I had told myself that in war, the better armed prevails.  This was war, and I really wanted to prevail.

As we closed in on each other, I remember seeing he had a Denver Bronco pony tattooed on his shoulder.  He’s going to regret that someday.  They won’t have Elway forever.

I buried that novelty paperweight in his gut, as hard and many times as possible, my arm pistoning  a pneumatic underhand while my other arm squeezed his taurine skull.  Fuck the Broncos.  He was grabbing at my ears and trying to arch away from the blows, but I kept connecting.  He fell and pulled me down over a table with him.  The film kind of breaks after that.  I can’t remember clearly what happened next.

All I can recollect is a kaleidoscope of images whirling around in no apparent sequence.  Marcos waving The Beast over his head and bringing it down on somebody.  Rodney dragging a kicking guy out the door.  A wet cocktail napkin stuck to someone’s face.  Somebody’s fingers over my eyes.  A girl’s leather purse streaking by.  A sneaker kicking me in the cheek.  Alvin screaming.  A mug of beer teetering on a table.  And, punching-punching-punching.  Very Eisenstein.

I do remember that my fortuitous catalogue purchase helped me scythe the field.  I had the magic touch.  Even my glancing shots were ringing bells.  Bing.  Ding.  Dong!  Howdy doody, Rudy.  I was putting in a good day’s work.  Something out there was keeping me on point, and these ersatz brass knuckles sure add zing to any favorite casserole dish.  Next thing I knew it was over.  Everyone we were fighting either ran off or were dragged away.

Okay, I understand this is a guy thing, but they will appreciate how fucking sweet moments like those are.  You look around and realize, holy shit, we won.  We prevailed.  We met our enemies and smote their bitch asses!  Tables and chairs get put back up, everybody grinning, checking out where we each got nailed.  Puffy lips, swollen hands, perhaps a new tooth arrangement, but feeling joyous and triumphant.

The next best part was Anna bringing us a tray of shots from Rodney.  I figured it was okay to let him see me drink mine, so I tossed it back.  “Ahhhgaah-ha… heeeeze!  Sweet nipples of Venus, that tastes good.”  Warm glow.  Looking around, loving the guys you fought alongside.  Knowing they love you, too.  Girls asking if you’re okay.  The men in the bar acting friendlier.  It’s nice.

After work, there were more free “shift drinks.”  The entire bar staff sat around drinking and laughing as we retold our version of events, with very few matching up exactly.  I don’t know if anybody saw me don the knucks, but nobody said anything.   I don’t think they would’ve cared much.  I made the team.  Marcos was especially appreciative of the vengeance my upper-cuts had delivered to the minotaur.   I made his cheap shot a little more expensive.  Oh well, that’s just what I do… plant pain and reap sorrow.  You know, destroy transgressors and righteously avenge.

Gotta make that rent.

Eventually it was time to go.  Marcos told me to be at work the next night, 8:30 sharp.  No problem.

I had a long walk up Cerrillos Rd. and it was bitter cold, but I felt really good.  I felt like I finally found a job I could hold down, a profession to match my proclivities.  I finally had a place in this world, somewhere a guy like me belonged.  For the next thirteen years, off and on, I would work as a bouncer.  I’d eventually find out that where I belonged was not that great.  It was a stupid and brutal world, but for now it was bad ass.  Perfect.  Hopeful.

So I guess it’s good not to know the future.  It’s better not to know what’s lying in wait.  It’s better not to spend your life bracing for the sucker punches.  They’re going to land regardless, and hurt just as much.  You might as well take them standing up instead of curled up and cringing.  It sure helps if you’re clueless.  I was that night, and that made for a happy walk home.  I remember that clearly.

Rendered harmless for polite society.

Motels and Mai-Tais

Let's get a room.

Every time I watch a Cops episode that takes place in Albuquerque, I see motels that I used to flop at.  The Desert Sands, The Aztec, De Anza Motor Lodge, and that place not too far from Jack’s liquor store, I can’t remember the name.  Let’s call it, The Place with a Lobby that Smells like Curry.  It had a parking lot littered with used syringes that would poke into your shoe when you stepped out of the car.  Shell casings, condom wrappers, and empty crack vials scattered like pinata candy.

Okay.  Hey, it’s only 28 bucks a night.  I hope the pool is clean.  No, there’s no fucking way.  I can imagine what kind of biohazardous broth would be brewing in there.  What’s up with the dudes by the car?  Hang back a bit, and see who they are before you walk by.  Looks like an ex-con convention.  Homey over there is printing some kind of a cannon through his flannel.  Oh, it’s okay.  They’re guests of the motel.  They’ll be right next door.

I checked in once and couldn’t get in.  I worked the key for a while, then gave up and went to see the Singh-meister.  He went up with me and used his master.  He opened the door and explained that the lock had never been the same since the cops broke it in.  I nodded.  Fucking cops.  I wondered which episode.

One night I was standing in the bathroom, taking a whiz.  I looked over to the little window and saw a bullet hole through the glass.  I could see it in the mirror and was able to line up the shot with my head.  A clean kill.  Better then than now, I thought.  I zipped up and ducked down a little to flush.  It started to overflow, so I went back into the room and closed the door.  Too much flushed stash in the plumbing.  Common problem.

I was lying on the bed once, watching the aforementioned Cops television program.  There they were, at the same motel I was at, busting a tranny for drugs.  I knew it was a pre-recorded show, but still had to look out the window.  You really feel like you’re at Ground Zero.

Casey was one of those chicks all too familiar with motel rooms.  Tired and fading fast.  She had a pill problem crowning the rest.  She was an accomplished shoplifter and from what she told me, used to do nails for her friends.  Her old man just got sent back for a violation.  By my calculations, that gave our relationship a built-in expiration date, a sixteen month max.  Perfect really.

We had what I call a stripped down affair.  Just the bare bones.  Expectations and questions were kept to a minimum.  We were both hiding out from our demons, and happened to wind up in the same abandoned shack.  We would pool our meager resources while we could, then when nothing was left, we’d split up, every man for himself.  Just like in the Westerns.  A brief, blurry chapter in our dusty epic saga.

There would be no picking out a jug band for our haystack wedding.  No vacations with the in-laws to Busch Gardens.  No nice lawn furniture.  No noose.

Besides, she wasn’t the marrying type.  I had seen the cracks in her cranium where all the craziness leaked out.  That’s why I hid the heat from her.  She didn’t need to know where the piece was.  Bad enough I knew.  It was a big deal for us when I started leaving my wallet out.  Nothing takes a relationship to the next level like that.  Except telling her where you keep the gun, and we weren’t there yet.

Across from the Desert Sands was The New Chinatown, a restaurant with a torch-lit tiki bar.  It was a stereotypical Trader Vic’s knockoff.   Decorated with fake Polynesian bric-a-brac.  A skinny Hawaiian guy named Freddy played Tiny Bubbles on a Casio keyboard.  It was where we used to go on our date night.  I would imagine we were in some clip joint in Saigon ’67, just digging on the air con, Mai Tais and opium.  Outside the streets were on fire with war, but inside this corny coconut tacky tiki tongo bongo room–things were cool…and silky smooth.

I was always trying to create sanctuaries.  This one had a writhing Asian woman dancing on a small dance floor.  It actually did, but she was a chunky middle-aged waitress who would come up and dance the hula while Freddy turned a dial on his pretend piano.  Hardly prurient fare.  My ideal sanctuary would have something a little more tangy than that.  But this still beat stepping in a punji pit of dirty needles out there in the field.  If safety means cornball, sign me up for cornball.

There was a gentle surreal quality to the place, that made you feel like you were moving through a long summer afternoon nap.  Things are important, and then they aren’t.  And then they are again.  Murky thoughts, bizarre ones, trivial, terrifying, blank ones.  Lots of different ones that cancel each other out and leave you shrugging.  It’s hard to take anything serious in a place like that, except maybe the prices.

We’d sit around and check out the squares on their way to the restaurant.  I would give her my running commentary, impressions I would receive as a psychic empath.

“She scrapbooks, and he cheats on her with her sister.  He also likes model trains and scotch.  This one next to the register, collects shells and has chronic gas.  Her husband recently misplaced the garage door opener.  They have a son in Dallas who works for a bottling company.  He likes teenage girls and Kung Fu movies.”

She’d laugh, and we’d sip at our beers.  Sometimes we’d debate whether to get one of those volcano drinks.  I wasn’t so sure they were such a great deal.

“Jesus, six-fifty?  That’s two of these beers.  Do you think the booze in one of those is worth it?”

“They’re pretty.”

“Can you drink the shit in the middle?  The stuff they light?”

“The Sterno?  You want to drink the Sterno?”

“I don’t think it’s Sterno, I’m pretty sure they use some high-octane grain alcohol to make it burn.”

“Why don’t you just ask them?  Ask if you can drink the Sterno.”

“I just don’t want it to be a gyp.”

“This date is a gyp.”

“Okay, fuck it. You want one?  I’ll get you one.”

“I don’t want one now.”

I’d sit there wishing a VC would throw in a grenade through the window and put us out of our misery.

It wasn’t always bad.  We had our laughs.  One day in our room, we heard the guy next door rocking it to his woman.  He was a real Bronco Billy.  Their headboard was banging against our wall.  We sat there looking at each other amazed, wondering when their bed would give.

“I bet he doesn’t smoke cigarettes,” I said, “His stamina’s pretty good.”

Finally, just when you could hear things were reaching a crescendo, we heard a long, loud fart, then silence.  Oh shit.  We died.  Both absolutely helpless with laughter, but trying to be quiet.  She contained herself enough to pant out, “Just because…he gave up cigarettes…doesn’t mean…he…gave up smoking!”  I nearly peed myself.

One afternoon she left to shoplift from Mervyn’s and never came back.  That was it.  I don’t know if she bailed on me or got busted.  I chose not to investigate.  I decided she saw the light to get clean, and left me for a better life.  She was such a good shoplifter, it’s impossible for me to believe she’d ever get caught.  I think she just got tired of my shit.

Why wouldn’t she?  I was even tired of my shit, and I was biased.

I was paid up until the next day.  I waited as long as I could, then went back up to Santa Fe.  I thought about her for a while after that, and then hardly at all.  Casey.  She was alright.  She never stole a dollar from me, and she liked Iggy.  I hope she made it.  I don’t like thinking about her getting sucked down under, into the propeller.  I regret not buying her that volcano drink.

When I was a kid, motels were as fun as life got.  The color TV was usually better than the one at home.  You could jump on the beds, and there was a Coke machine right down the hall.  A pool with a slide?  Kill me dead, I’ve gone to heaven.  I’ve never had to do homework in a motel room, and we got cereal in those little boxes you ate them in.  You kept the milk in the sink with the ice from the ice machine.  “Gotta get more ice,” you’d say, and if you were like an old friend, stick your bare feet into the bin, just so you could wriggle your little toes in all that slippery cold.  Innocent joy.  A fix I hadn’t had in a long time.

I’d lay there at night, drinking, listening to the sporadic gunshots or neighborhood dogs howl every time the sirens went by.  I’d feel the surrounding bleakness leak under the door with the toilet water.  The landscape matched the man.  Desolate.  Collapsing.  So different from the kid bouncing on the bed.  It took a lot of bad decisions to get there, but only one good one to get me out.  I definitely should have made that left turn, way before Albuquerque.

The Not-So-Great Outdoors

Greetings lost travelers, our camp is just beyond the burning tires.

When I discovered the outdoors, I felt like the pioneers must have.  All new land to run amok in.  The law being slower to catch up with your hijinks means you can let it all hang a little looser.  Start in a land where the law is already a step slow, like in old New Mex, and then really disappear.  You should see what you can get away with.  It’s pretty good.  Bring along some like-minded individuals and decide to only adhere to laws that are convenient, and now you’re talking Utopia to this anarchist.

Camping for me was never about frying up trout in a pan while the coffee brews, a few fake ducks scattered around.  It was about returning to the Great Primal Id.  Pagan barbarians huddling around a fire outside the gates of Rome, gnawing on undercooked turkey legs, waiting for the city to fall.  Invoke the night!  Unleash the wild dogs!  Let them hunt the beasts!  Howl with their joy!  Wave your warhammers and axes in the victory of freedom!  Trample the oppressors in the madness of your fire dance!

Humping in thirty cans of Guinness along with your regular gear kind of sucked though.

If it was any trip with my friend, T-Bone, it was guaranteed to be a serious hump.  I met T-Bone, a French-Canadian/Lithuanian hybrid, when I was washing dishes at The Natural Cafe.  He was the lunch cook.  The first thing I noticed about him was that he had to wear two t-shirts over each other.  Both shirts had so many holes that he had to layer so the various holes would cover.  Only problem was some of the holes intersected, and the sub set, if you will, revealed pale New England skin.  That’s totally punk, I thought, true punk, and an especially gnarly way to show up for work.  I decided right then that I liked him.

We’d hang out at his place, since the 1950’s trailer my sister and I lived in was too small for even one person.  He’d turn me on to good comics, or graphic novels, as well as the latest toe-tappers the crazy kids were listening to those days.  We’d be reading Love and Rockets, or Hate, or my personal favorite, Steven, while listening to The Butthole Surfers.  Drinking beer and yucking it up, we patiently waited for the 80’s to finally die.  It was a good time, and he was a pretty normal cool dude…until you got him outdoors.

T-Bone graduated with a degree in archeology, and after The Natural Cafe gig, got a real job in the profession.  During the day, he’d contentedly catalogue pottery shards, or someone’s bones, with the same meticulous care he catalogued his comics and CD’s.  It was a good fit.  However, this mild-mannered slacker, once freed from the shackles of pedantry, and out in the wide open outdoors, became possessed.  He would get all Indiana Jones on you, and insist on leading forced marches through wilderness hell.  The Chindits fighting through the jungles of Burma comes to mind.

I’m convinced he was some kind of wild-eyed, obsessed explorer in his past life.  Some college professor gone mad from sampling the native plants, on a quest to find the hidden City of The Rainbow Serpent.  He would drag my ass to the farthest point on the topo map, grid Z 98, then back up a squiggly line to A 3.  That way we could see the petroglyphs.

“Seriously dude,” I would tell him, “Just out of sight of the families at the picnic tables would be cool with me.”  Oh no.

“We need to see this ancient Indian pueblo site.  It’s on the top that mesa.”  I follow his finger and see the distant shape of a mountain with its head chopped off, its jagged form illuminated by the surrounding summer lightning.

I’m no Daniel Boone, but I’ve watched enough lightning safety pieces during the local news to know that you need to go the other direction than up high, on flat.  That was like laying yourself on a sacrificial altar of the Lightning Gods and daring their asses to do something about it.

This sort of unproven superstitious rubbish didn’t concern the fevered Colonel leading our expedition.  Despite my most spirited entreaties for caution, the dash was on.   The stubborn goat, appropriately native from a place called Marblehead, kept climbing and I followed, but only partially because of  his intrepid Yankee leadership.

We also had women with us.  Well-scrubbed, hardy ones, mostly of New England and Maine stock.  Thick in thigh, avid outdoors chicks, they all seemed fearless.  And therein was the rub.  I was scared shitless.  I wanted to turn back and head down, but couldn’t bring myself to do it in front of all the hot nature girls.  Instead, I willed my feet forward and turned my thoughts to God.

Lightning, at one point, was flashing under us as we climbed.  “”Is under good?”  I kept asking myself.  We passed by trees that were split and burned from past strikes.  I wondered if straddling the burned crotch of one of those would decrease my odds of getting hit.  It was raining and I could feel the water coat me with extra conductivity juice, just in case all the liquid-filled metal cylinders I had strapped to me weren’t enticing enough bait for a bolt.

I already knew at that point in my life that I was due some kind of avenging blast, from either Nature or God.  Now was a great time for them to tag team me.   Yes, it only made perfect sense that I should go out like this.  I started making small promises.

It got to striking around us pretty good, and not FLASH tick tick tick BOOM, but FLASHBOOM.   The static charge made your ass hole involuntarily contract, although it felt pretty voluntary.  You could taste electricity on your tongue.  Arm hair stiff as brush.  Sweet Jesus, spare me.  Bigger promises.

“Dude, I just don’t know how good an idea this is.”

“We’re almost there.”

Fucking psycho lunatic.  Onward he went, with several pairs of tanned and muscular legs following.  I reached into my pack and cracked another beer, way ahead of my rationing time-table.  Now, I faced another nightmare–running out of beer in the middle of nowhere.  I started muttering mutiny among myself.  Could it be possible that I’m the only sane person in this doomed party?  Wouldn’t that be a fucking cosmic irony?  He’s clearly mad, but what about the women?  I guess it doesn’t matter if they’re crazy or not.  I’m going to be wherever they are anyway.

If it’s on top of Dr. Frankenstein’s satellite dish while he’s working on bringing Jr. to life, so be it.  I resigned myself.  Chicks trump everything, every time.

We finally made the summit.  The rain let up.  There was more time between the flashes and the booms.  Shafts of light started to poke through the clouds.  The vista kicked into Grand Mode.  We jumped into the ruins and began exploring.

“Hey T, I hope I find a tomahawk or a peace pipe or something!”

He looked up at me.  “Yeah.”

I lowered myself into a kiva.  “Or a sack of ceremonial peyote.”  Which I would of course turn over to the cultural authorities, after totally pinching the stash.

You didn’t need psychotropic agents inside those kivas to get a buzz on.  Those places were absolutely soaked with spiritual whammy.  A weird sort of heady reverence seemed to reverberate around the place.  Very different from the one in an average American bowling alley.  I don’t know if it was ghosts or residue atmospheric charge, but my molecules were lit up.  Sacred stuff rocks balls, I thought.

We don’t have enough sacred stuff.  There’s too much Wal-mart stuff, and Chuck E. Cheeze, miniature golf, tractor pull stuff.  It’s sacred alright, but have you seen to who?  Maybe I should start having my own sacred stuff?  I didn’t know what it would look like, or if I could even afford it.  I figured whatever I came up with would be illegal or addictive.  Maybe I could shoplift one of those magic bongos they had at The Amethyst Chalice, New Age bookstore.

The sky closed up again, and the lighting started.  Okay, fuck this, I’m not sticking around for another battering of shock therapy.  The Colonel and the girls can take their chances.   Some of them will come down alive, I’m sure.  I announced my immediate departure and left with little fanfare.  This is only partially pussing out, I told myself, I made it to the top.  Now I’m going back down, where I belong.  They could finish their education.  I am so gone.

More lighting, but now with me skedaddling down the road like a hobo with a stolen chicken.  The knees were steaming from trying to brake my descent, but the flashes and fear bayoneted me forward and faster.  Cowardice?  It seemed like common sense.  Regardless, I let it rip.

“Oh Mammy Mammy!  Oh holy holy!  Holy Mammy of God!”  I slid and scrambled down the trail.  Once my nerve broke, I was a one man rout.  I grabbed at branches  to slow down.  “Lee’s Army is coming!”

I started taking back promises as the trees around me got taller.   I finally made it to the bottom and laid down by a stream next to a culvert.  I later found out it’s one of the most dangerous places to be during a lightning storm, and one I was never warned about during local news shows.  What else was the media holding out on?   For now my ignorance meant bliss, and I pulled out a beer to celebrate it.  Only eighteen left, but what the hell.

The Colonel finally arrived with our store of women.  He was partially satisfied.  There was one more thing he wanted to see.  This would take us to a place so bone dry we wound up having to steal water from someone’s car, but that’s another tale.  That was T-Bone.  He’s had me teetering from dizzying death-drop precipices, freezing to stone Eastern Front-style in snowy wastelands, wading knee-high in streams while lighting struck upriver, or baking on hot coals in a sea of smelting sand, just so we could see something.

I wouldn’t trade any of it.

I got to see things I would never have, not if it had been up to my lazy ass.  I really owe him for that.  I also learned that being in Nature could make you feel better.  It didn’t matter what kind of madness tormented and drove me when I went in, I always drove out a better model.  And, I got to see a lot of sacred stuff.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t bring too much of it back in my pockets.  But eventually I learned what made things that way.  It’s all in the way you look at them, or more accurately, look for it in them.  Today, I start by looking at my coffee like it’s sacred, and then expand what I include, slowly, as the morning opens up.  If I keep paying attention, pretty soon I’m surrounded by sacred stuff, and God becomes something more than a guy to make promises to while being chased by lightning.  The Great Outdoors becomes an inside job.

Cue the banjo music

Just Between You, Me, and The Internet

I was lying in bed thinking about Idi Amin, then for some reason the Ice Capades, when I remembered making an inappropriate remark at someone’s funeral.  I sat up in a cold sweat.  It was just a little observation about an attractive woman walking by the casket, mumbled quietly under my breath, but heard plenty loud by all the wrong people.  It happened over 17 years ago, but if I had a dagger near me, I would have plunged it into my gut and run the gears on myself.  I don’t keep daggers by my bedside just for this reason.

After thirty years of drinking, I have built up quite a stockpile of events that upon remembering late at night, when my psycho-defence mechanisms are off having a cigarette, leave me with a hankering for harakiri.  There seems to be an endless supply of forgotten ones that float up from the froth and flotsam of my consciousness.  Like corpses that have decomposed loose from the tubs of cement their feet have been sunk into before being thrown into the East River, they bob to the surface, ready for examination by criminal investigators.

They are not pretty to look at.  All alcoholics create wreckage in their lives.  For some, it looks like broken tool sheds with knocked-over buckets of curds.  For others it looks more like the smoldering ruins of Stalingrad, with knocked over barrels of bio-hazardous waste–Soviet waste, the kind that kills all life it touches.

You look like someone with keen intuition.  I’ll let you guess which category my shit fits into.

Hey, if I’m going to do anything, it’s going to be big.  Why would I leave fucking up out of the program?  Everyone has a path they must stumble along while learning the lessons of life.  Apparently, I signed up for the Grueling Epic Journey walking tour.  The last ten years of my drinking were a Bataan Death March, except I was thirstier than those dudes.  But, oh what magic memories.  Let’s sit around the slide carousel and take a look at some of the more memorable ones, shall we?  Fuck that.

This blog doesn’t pay.  I can’t divulge my most humiliating moments for nothing.  If I’m going to totally embarrass myself …again, I’m going to need to make enough money doing it to buy a gated hacienda in Belize; somewhere I can hide, and never have to look any of you in the face again.  Armed guards will patrol the grounds with trained Jaguars.  Servant girls armed with blow-guns will sleep curled up around my bed.  That shit isn’t cheap.  Only Oprah can save me now.

“Oh,” you say “But you’ve already written some pretty embarrassing things about yourself, what’s a little more?”

“Oh,” I would say back, “I bet you feel like a big smarty pants right now, but I haven’t even scratched the surface.  There’s a ratings level: A) Okay for public entertainment.  B) Okay for private entertainment.  C) Okay to privately confess to trusted confidant, who will be secretly entertained.  D) Okay to privately keep to yourself while sticking a dagger in your guts.”

You’re asking me to cough up Level D stuff without going through the required security clearance system.  D Level stuff is so secret, I don’t even admit it to myself.  I’m not about to hand it over to The Internet.  That place is populated by some seriously troubled individuals.  You should see some of the sick search terms they Google that eventually lead them to this blog.  It probably says more about my writing than anything, but I’m not going to think about that now.

Let’s just say I don’t yet fully trust this New Age of Information.

Until I can figure out how to erase huge swaths of my past, I’m going to hold some of my cards a little closer to my vest.  I’m still holding out for a time machine.  I know the Nazi’s were working on one.  Maybe we took over the program with their scientists we kidnapped after the war.  That’s what hope looks like to me.

In the meantime, I have to learn to how to accept and assimilate my past in a healthy way.  I like to imagine that I was part of an alien experiment in mutation designed to create a species that will survive the Apocalypse; a creature so used to dealing with miserable bullshit, that the tribulation from the End of Days will seem like just another rough Monday.

While everyone else is wailing and gnashing their teeth, I’ll be eating a breakfast burrito and washing down aspirin with a spicy Clamato.  There’s no money, gas or food?  Hell, I know this.  No need to freak.  Take a nap first, then try to figure it out later.  Maybe go pick through the stuff the looters dropped.

A strange belief system perhaps, but it works for me.  I won’t make fun of the crazy-ass shit you believe to help you cope.  I’m sure some of it is pretty laughable.  No, I know, not to you.

There’s not much to do with shame, but try to get over it.  It’s best to share some of it with a close-mouthed friend, preferably one with a terminal disease.  I figure if we both get a laugh over it, it’s a step towards healing.  (For me at least)  Oh, by terminal disease, I mean alcoholism.  I would share it with another alcoholic in recovery.  That’s what I meant.  Not using a dying person to safely unburden myself, like “Oh, here’s something I was going to take with me to the grave, but since you’re heading that way anyway…”

That would be a very bad thing to do, right?

That was the hardest part for me about getting sober.  Looking at it all, with clear eye-balls.  It made me want to unclear them again quick.  But, that kind of goes against the point?  I felt like the rat that finally got trapped, but with no teeth left to gnaw my leg off with.  So I’d peek at it, feel bad, shake it off as best I could, and keep moving forward.  You have to step lively, because there’s always some little demon dogs still nipping at your heels.  It was a bad time, but not as bad as before, and that’s what keeps you going.

Eventually, I slowed down when I realized nothing had been chasing me for the past 3,200 miles.  Next thing I knew, I had been issued a Citizen-in-Good-Standing Certificate with convenient iron-on patch.  The instructions say to use a warm, dry iron setting.  In small letters it says “Revoked upon request.”

I’ve been a good little boy ever since.  That is, of course, relative to how I was before.  There’s a lot of slack in that rope, but there’s not too much fresh stuff to cringe about. Sure here and there, but nothing that requires a seppuku solution.  I consider that a resounding success.  So what if some memories still give me a little jolt, they’re not going to kill me.  Running from them was.

The only effective way I’ve found to change what’s happened is to change how I think about it. Realizing I had the power to change the narrative of my life was liberating.  Ultimately, I write my story.  Now I just have to figure out how to write about the time I pissed my pants on the subway, and make it seem awesome,  and I’ll sleep a lot better at night.

There's Nothing to Fear