Little Baby Caesar; The Early Crime Years

Go find yourself a boyfriend with a paper route.

When my Dad came back from seeing me for the first time in the hospital nursery, my mom asked what he thought.  His response was, “He looks like Edgar G. Robinson.”  True fact.  My mom said that it wasn’t what a new mother wanted to hear.  But today, we all agree, that I did, and that my dad saw something there.  There’s been some affinity alright.  I always liked Edgar G. Robinson better than J. Edgar Hoover.  Hands down.

As a kid I always rooted for the villain.  They always looked cooler, dressed better, and probably got laid more than the heroes.  I used to watch re-run episodes of Roy Rogers, with my buddy Dean.  I would be secretly rooting against Roy.  Not like I wanted him to get shot or anything, but maybe disarmed and tied up to a Saguaro cactus for Dale to rescue.  I’ve never told anyone this.  Maybe I should have saved it for my fifth step, but hey, too fucking late now.  It’s typed on the screen.  For all to see.

Coyote versus Roadrunner, same thing.  I wanted Acme’s products to work as intended.  Just once.  I pretty much liked Batman, but still wanted the big magnifying glass to burn through the rope and drop his ass into the pool of sharks.  The way I saw it, he wouldn’t be in that jam if he had slept with Catwoman and joined her criminal enterprise.  You turn that stuff down (especially the Julie Newmar version) and you don’t expect to be looking back on it and bumming hard?  I didn’t know back then that he was gay, and what the whole Robin, his young ward thing meant.  Now it all makes sense, but back then I thought there was something seriously wrong with him.

I’d watch old gangster films mesmerized.  I so wanted to have a scarred and cratered face, so I could poke a toothpick out of it.  I’d wear a black fedora and say things like, “It’s time to take a ride, Greasy Mike,” while keeping one hand menacingly in my pocket.  I wanted to shoot pool, grab loot, chase leg, break leg, take shots, dodge shots, skip town, make bail, shake down, rough up, take down, and come up,

I wanted to shoot up a rival’s speak-easy with a Tommy gun from a screeching car, even though I didn’t  know what a speak-easy was.  While other kids wanted to hit a home run to win the World Series, I wanted to make wise-cracks about the detective’s girlfriend while enduring a rubber truncheon interrogation.

My moral compass tended to point South.  Even way back then.

On on a flight back to California from New York, they played the movie, Dillinger.  It was the original, with Warren Oates.  I was so impressed, I decided I wanted to get serious about becoming a criminal.  I actually took an oath.

Years later, I found an entry in a little notebook I made days after I saw the film.  It said “Today I dedicate myself to a life of crime.”  It was signed, in cursive, to prove I really meant it.  “Oh shit,” I thought, “How binding an oath is this?  Can The Masters of Fate hold a nine-year-old to this kind of document?”

Let me tell you, they sure the fuck can.

The first thing I remember stealing was a balsa wood glider.  I loved those things, but they were always breaking on me.  I was never given an allowance and had to pay for my good times off the grandparent’s birthday dole.  Try stretching $30 dollars to last all year, even in 1970 dollars.  It could be done, but things were tight.  Never enough for candy, comics, soda, and toy guns.  Never enough to keep up the lifestyle.  Stealing seemed like a solution.

I carefully scoped the TG& Y and saw where all the clerks were.  I was looking intently at a bag of plastic soldiers I was holding, when I pretended to drop them.  I ducked down, pulled the glider off the rack and slid it up the sleeve of my jacket, picked up the bag of plastic soldiers and continued to act like I was debating the purchase.  Really going for an Oscar, the ponder, the tsk-tsk, the shrug of the shoulders, the aw-shucks of the fist, and then a very obvious putting them back.

So fucking slick.  I walked out holding my mom’s hand with the glider up the same sleeve.  I was covered solid.  The walk out the store was a total rush.  Not getting my 15 cents, goddamn TG & Y.  Who’s the sucker now?

The glider quickly broke, but I wasn’t pissed this time.  No big deal.  I’ll just pop on down to the five and dime and pick up another one, with my five-finger discount.  Ha-ha.  Get it?  Five finger discount?  Because I’m taking it with my hand, for free.

Getting stuff for free really is the best, isn’t it?  I understand these corporations hiding money all over the place from the tax man.  It must be like stealing a glider times 1.2 billion. It’s got a be a rush, and if it is, let me tell you there’s a good chance it’s going to be habit-forming.  Especially if you’ve gotten away with it before.  I know after I hijacked my first balsa wood plane, I resented having to pay 15 cents for one ever again, even when I had enough money.

So I get it.  I understand the corporate mind-set.  Like I said, my moral compass always dipped South.

Know where a guy can score a hot cinnamon toothpick around here?

My first arrest was in 8th grade.  I had been shoplifting for a while, but just as a hobbyist.  A cap gun, some Odd Rod stickers and bubble gum, the little plastic hot dog rings in that used to come in between Oscar Meyer wieners.  Just small time stuff.  One day, after reading a biography of Lucky Luciano from the Camarillo Public Library.  I decided to expand my empire.  In junior high some friends were already making money from boosting beef jerky and cinnamon toothpicks then selling them to the other school kids.  Okay, they had that market cornered, and I didn’t have the firepower to muscle in on their racket.

I had to find something else the kids wanted and were willing to pay retail for.  Cigarettes, beer, nudie magazines and racy paperbacks like The Happy Hooker and The Sensuous Women, rolling papers, No-Doz, condoms, huffing solvents, knives, chewing tobacco, road flares and corncob pipes to smoke Commercial-grade dirt weed.  I would open up a one-stop juvenile delinquency shop.

I got together a crew.  I recruited some buddies from my M.G.M. English class.  My friends Danny and Jimmy were also mentally-gifted bad boys, each a criminal genius in his own right.  It didn’t need any arm-twisting.  There were no bosses.  Each man was an equal partner in The Corporation.  Capital would be divided accordingly.  We would skulk  through Newbury’s, Sav-on Drugs, Builder’s Emporium, and Lucky’s grocery stores for inventory.  We were all working together the day the heat came down.

We had made a pretty good haul that afternoon, and we could have called it quits, but I had to make one more pass at the dirty magazines they kept in the rack behind the cashier’s counter.  The store employees were watching by then.  I got collared by a skinny assistant manager.  He grabbed me by the jacket and the Playboy magazine came flying out.  It landed open on the sidewalk, on a pictorial section that made it clear to every bystander just what kind of magazine this little boy was trying to steal.

I remember looking down and seeing  a huge pair of airbrushed boobs.  Holy Toledo.  Get a load of those.

I didn’t stay transfixed for too long as I was now engaged in wrestling away from some flunky assistant manager.  I started swinging.  He was trying to drag me down to the ground but I kept punching.  I was getting some clear shots into his ribs, windmilling desperately like a cornered tier snitch, but they weren’t having enough effect.  I should’ve taken P.E. more seriously.

I looked up at Danny and Jimmy who were on their bikes looking on in shock.  “Help me!”  I called to them.  They were backing up, shaking their heads.  They looked apologetic.  They rode off.  I never blamed them.  I was a goner.  A bigger guy, the actual manager came out, and they dragged me into the store and into a back room. They shook down all the swag on me.

And what telling swag it was.  This wasn’t some little boy trying to steal a balsa wood glider.  This was a pusher and a porn peddler.  By God, he’s a …a…walking one-stop juvenile delinquency shop!  They called the cops.  My friend Tom’s dad walked by and saw me sitting on the floor behind the counter, sized it up the situation and shook his head.  That felt bad.  The interesting fact is that his son, my friend Tom, would become a lawyer and help me beat my first felony rap many years later.  Ah, the tapestry of life!

Both managers kept me in the back room until the cops came.  A cop finally showed up.  After blubbering like a little bitch, I managed to pull myself together for the hand-cuffed perp walk to the police car.  I was sort of hoping that a girl like Michele Ripley would see it.  She’d see me and know what a tough hood I was, someone she knew better than to get involved with, but just couldn’t help herself.  Because I was all hard, and stuff, and had seen it all.

She’d beat her Keds across the parking lot and beg the cop to let me go.

“Kid,” I’d tell her, “Trust me, you don’t want to get mixed up with the likes of me.”

“But I think with enough of my wholesome love, I could turn you around!”

“See, that’s just it,” I’d break it to her,”Wholesome love is a great start, but it’s just a start, see?  I think you catch my drift.”

The cop would lower my head into the car.  I’d stop and turn at her.

“Look Tootsie Pop, go back to your Honor Roll, Flag Team and toy horse collection.  There’s no future here.”

The cop would close the door, and I’d see a tear forming in her eye.

“I could learn to be naughty!” she’d shout as the squad car pulled out of the parking lot.

I’d nod.  Sure sure, kid.  That’s what they all say.

My mom and dad were totally pissed when they had to pick me up from the police station.

I thought I’d lay low for a while until things cooled off, but I quickly got busted for smoking a lid of  ‘mirsh in a corn cob pipe with Danny in the drainage ditch by my house.  For my fairly strict Lithuanian immigrant parents this was crisis of unimaginable proportions.  What will our community think of us?   What kind of parents could raise such a hooligan?  Such a larcenous villian…and now a drug addict!

The belt came out of the closet.  I could hear the buckle clink down the hall, then my bedroom door opened.  It was time for my ass cheeks to ride the lightning.

After that, I was put on a really short leash with my folks.  Lithuanian lock-down is serious.  My American friends didn’t understand.  My parents lived in D.P. camps during the war. They knew how set up a detention camp.  Under their close supervision, and the persuasive influence of my father’s belt, I reformed a bit.  Compass went magnetic North for a while.  Goofus went Gallant.  My grades got better.  I became a pretty good kid who went back to playing with gliders, but now and then, soaking them in gasoline.  If I was going to do anything bad again, I would just make sure to never get caught.

Then I started high school and began my journey of adolescent angst.  I discovered the magic of mixing alcohol with weed, and the occasional pills discovered in medicine cabinets.  Somehow,  just the right mix removed all traces of angst, fear, pain and self-hatred.  Took me to The Zone.

Trying to stay in The Zone required certain lifestyle adaptations and a host of new acquaintances, wayward pilgrims also seeking The Zone.  The ever elusive, if not mythical, Zone.  The needle spun straight down, and stayed that way for a long time.

My last perp walk was filmed by a news crew.  I had made the big time, and it looked like I was going to go away for a nice bit of it, too.  I hoped Michele Ripley didn’t see it on TV.  That would have sucked.  I had pulled myself together for the walk out of the apartment, but I had just finished crying.  Like a baby.


St. Joseph’s Hospital gangster for life.

Beautiful writing from a beautiful dude. He captures ghosts, with his keyboard and camera. Check out his work. Highly recommended. No bullshit.

The Sun Burns Cold

So today was my day off of work, and it’s really the only day all week I have an opportunity to go take pictures. Trouble is, I usually like to go up to Scranton or down to Wilkes Barre to take pictures since I’ve pretty much run out of stuff around here to photograph. I’ve taken a lot of photos of stuff in town here, and I’m just like “Nah, I don’t feel like taking a picture of the cannon on Main street for the hundredth time…” So I’ve been trying to find new stuff to take pictures of. I had the idea that I was going to go a junkyard and take photos-there’s a nice old one near the neighborhood where my wife grew up in Pittston, but that’s a little hike down the line. I thought I remembered one down this way near where the strip club is…

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The Toughest Guy I Ever Fought With The Help of Another Guy.

Sorry Kid, but the manager wants you to put your shirt back on.

It was a stupid world, and I belonged there.  Hookers, hit-men, strippers, drug pushers, and porn actors, all have jobs that imply a certain amount of personal baggage.  Being a bouncer kind of implies that something is not right upstairs.  No Jewish mother ever proudly announced “This is my son, Morris.  He’s a bouncer!”  We never had bouncers come to our Career Day in Junior High.  I’ve never seen one Grand Marshal a parade.

I loved it.  Drinking on the job, while not encouraged, wasn’t enough alone to get you fired.  Fighting on the job, while not encouraged, wasn’t enough alone to get you fired.  Leaving your post to grind it out with some tramp in the back seat of her car, while not encouraged…

The bartender, Theresa whistled for me.  I looked over and she pointed to him.  He had his shirt off and was obviously drunk.   He was dancing…by himself.  Just flexing and grinding like a Chippendale’s whore, and blocking the waitress aisle to boot.

I tried to size him up as I walked over.  He seemed to be pretty proud of his physique, and not to sound homo (not that there’s anything wrong with that) but he actually had pretty good reason to be.  He was rip shredded, and in the way that made my gut sink a little with dread.  After bouncing for a while, you could get a pretty good read about what you were up against by the kind of muscles you were encountering.

These were definitely not gym muscles, which are the least scary, and not the kind from convict calisthenics, which are the most scary, but these were scary enough.  These were the kind that came from a lifetime of hard work.  Thick ropes and cables stretching every which way.  I worked construction with guys like this.  Mexican nationals who would run wheelbarrows of wet concrete up a narrow plank ramp, then pour the mud down into the cinder block walls.  130 lbs. soaking wet, and they could pull your head right off your neck.

Man, I hope this doesn’t go wide, I thought.  This could be bad.

This was at a place called “Alley Oops.”  It was in the basement club of some Ramada or Vagabond motel,  I can’t remember which.  I started there when they opened as a cornball, 50’s-themed, fun-time family bar or some such bullshit.  The waitresses were supposed to wear cheerleader outfits, and the DJ had to wear a jail costume while sitting in his behind-bars DJ cage.  Signifying what?  “Jailhouse rock, of course.”

What a stretch.  What a totally stupid idea.  The whole thing.

During my interview for the position they explained what they had envisioned.  A fun, happy place for tired travellers to come to and unwind.  A place to have some wholesome enjoyment while sipping on a cocktail or beer.  This was all the motel manager’s vision.  The D.J. could only play music from the 50’s, 60’s, and only up to a certain date in the 70’s.  Greg, the DJ, told me later that it was the day this guy’s wife died.  I guess that was the day the music died for him.  Sad when you think about it.  Also kind of a strange thing to enforce as policy.  Whatever.

I had just come from working at Chelsea St. Pub, so I figured I was a shoe-in.  I also came highly-recommended by my friend Doug, who was going to be one of the bartenders.  I have to write some stuff about Doug, someday.  He was the first friend I made when I moved to Santa Fe.  There’s a lot to write about Doug, and our adventures.  I could pad out a lot of blog entries with those stories. Okay, sorry, just thinking out loud.

Anyway, I knew the stupid malt shop motif wouldn’t fly.  Not here in the South Side.  We were going to get a rough crowd, including a lot of people 86’d from Chelsea St. and Rodeo Nites, and those scumbags were going to be too busy scoring 8-balls to participate in any twist contest.  No tourist traveler from the motel upstairs was going to venture down into this den of iniquity.  Eventually the 50’s bullshit would fade out, and the club would turn into something entirely different than what this heartbroken widower had hoped for.

That’s what I thought as they were showing me around.  And I was so fucking right.  Because it has been so rare in my life, I can  remember every time that I was.  This was one of them.  Called this bitch from front door to back.

First, Greg stopped wearing the jail house costume, then he started sneaking in modern tune-age.  The waitresses stopped dressing like cheerleaders, and the whole concept just died off.  The type of clientele we were getting convinced the manager that his idea was untenable, especially with obstinate employees, unwilling to fully participate.  He finally let it drop, and Alley Oops became the fucked up place it was meant to be, the premiere club to score coke and a floozy, and maybe participate in a racially-motivated fist fight.

The only remnant of his stupid policy that remained was that on week-ends, the bouncers had to wear tuxedo shirts, with bow ties and cumber buns.  I didn’t like that.  It’s hard to look intimidating in a frilly shirt.  Every week-end somebody would “forget’ his shirt, and be made to either borrow one or go home to get it.  The manager was going to hold his ground here.  Lucky us.

We felt stupid wearing them, but took pains to demonstrate to the crowd we still meant business.  At any new club, or new position, as a bouncer, you have to give the crowd a little demonstration of your abilities, just to make everybody think twice.  Not everyone has to see you wipe the floor with some drunk, because those that do, will tell two friends, and they’ll tell two friends.

But until you did, other guys would wonder if you were just a poseur bitch…and not the good kind, either.   I watched as the other bouncers took their turns.  Some of it was pretty funny.  This chubby Indian kid, Alvin,  squared off on some guy, in a karate stance.  I cringed.  No, please don’t go strip mall Tae Kwan Do.  He did.  He tried to throw one of those Billy Jack spinning wheel kicks, slipped on a cocktail napkin, and landed on his ample ass.

Me and another bouncer grabbed the other guy, dragged him up the stairs, then dumped him in the parking lot.  Alvin’s face stayed red all night.  It wasn’t the most impressive debut.  That fancy karate kick shit gets guys into more trouble than it helps.  Someone like Ron knew that.

Ron was a pork-bellied Hispanic dude who did a few tours in ‘Nam.  He sort of looked like Wolfman Jack or Sam the Sham.  You wouldn’t think he was much of a fighter.  I sure didn’t.  Then I watched him put in some work, and was totally impressed.  His fighting style was minimalist.  He did this thing where he just shot out an open hand deep into the guy’s solar plexus.  A quick, sharp stab. that would send the poor fucker over a table and into a sea of broken glass and booze.

I had never seen this before.  He explained that using a closed fist against someone’s head was just asking to break the small bones in your hand.  That is totally true.

I would watch him approach some out-of-control drunk, and just wait.  When was the belly-bopper going to strike?  It was so quick, and because he would just stand there, and not telegraph it with any body English, it was hard to see it coming.  Even when you were waiting for it.

He was also a very dirty fighter.  He told me he kept his nails long just for ground fighting.  On the floor, under the cover of a cocktail table or somebody else’s body, he could fight like a girl, and win.  I tsk-tsked this.  I’d slip on a pair of knuckles or use a Maglite or push a salt shaker up someone’s nose, but clawing somebody with my nails didn’t seem very lady-like. –Spoiler alert, irony to this bit of snotty superiority coming up very soon in our tale.

I straightened my cumber bun and walked up to the bumping and grinding construction laborer.  “Hey man,” I said conspiratorially out of the side of my mouth,” You may want to put on your shirt before management sees you.  I don’t want them to be dicks and ask you to leave.  You are a fantastic dancer by the way.”

“Fuck you.”

In personal life, I would have instantly been salting his sinuses.  He kind of burned me there.  But, I was working, and had to do this little routine, which involved not throwing the first punch.  Professional restraint.

“I’m sorry, sir, but I think I’m going to need to ask you to leave now.”

“Fuck you.”

This was always an awkward moment.  My first task was to get him out of the club without any fracas, at all.  I have to somehow convince, cajole, or connive him to comply, while watching for any sucker punch he might decide to throw.  I have to remain polite and professional, when  I really want…to sucker punch him, right now, in front of all these legal witnesses.

Just then Big Ron showed up and stood next to him.  I must admit, I was glad to see him and his dirty-fighting manicured nails.

“Let’s go,” he says.  The dude looks at Ron and decides to comply.  See?  That’s command presence.  I didn’t have that.

We walked him through the crowd and then up the stairs.  This is what really sucked about working at Alley Oops, having to throw people out, by throwing them up the stairs.  This guy seemed to be resigned to leave quietly.  He walked all the way up the stairs, but when he got to the top, he spun around and threw a rear kick at me.  What was up with people and their Karatay kicks in this club?  I backed away from the first one.  Then he tried a second one and I ducked that.  Fucker was trying to kick me down a whole flight of stairs!

Ron jumped on him, then I joined, and we all landed on the lobby’s tile floor together.  That’s when I realized what we were up against.  This guy was strong.  Really strong.  The two of us could hardly contain him.  It was like trying to hold down a PCP overdose.  Let’s just say, he didn’t just limit his crazy gyrating to the dance floor.

Ron managed to get him in a head lock, but it was up to me to punish him into submission.   I tried my best.  First, the old-fashioned way, with punches and kicks, but they were having absolutely no effect.  None that I could discern.  It was all Ron could do to keep him in a headlock.  It was like he was trying to wrangle a steer down. He could not choke him out.

At this point, a crowd had gathered around us.  I was getting a little frantic, seeing all my best blows do nothing.  Who was this guy?  Was this all coke and construction work, or some kind of demonic entity that shacked up in brick worker’s body?

This has gone on for too long, I thought, it was time for the monkey to steal a peach.

When I was 14 years-old, I had ordered from the back of a martial arts magazine, a book called “World’s Deadliest Fighting Secrets.”  It was supposed to  explaining how to destroy your enemy with a simple tap here or there on the body, using Dim Mak; The Poison Hand Technique.  It was some sort of ancient Chinese secret, huh, that was rumored to have been used to kill Bruce Lee.

Hell yes, I wanted to learn that.  I got my mom to write a check for $5.50.  I mailed it off and hoped it wasn’t going to be as bad a disappointment as the X-ray Specs.

What I got was a cheaply printed pamphlet by a certain “Count Dante.”  He was, dig this, a beauty salon stylist, as well as a martial arts expert and master of the Poison Hand.  They had a photo of him with his hands gently showcasing some 60’s chick’s hairdo.   The caption read something like, “Hard to believe hands that could create such beauty could kill.”  Yeah, pretty hard to believe, alright.  He looked like Wolfman Jack, or Sam the Sham.

There were drawings with all sorts of supposedly lethal accupressure points on the body, and a time table for what time of the day or night to press on them in order to get the desired deadly effect.  Forget it, I thought,  I could just see me rolling around on the ground with some dude, trying to look through the charts while checking my watch.  I got X-ray specked.

But in the back of the book, he had some pictorial instructions for another kind of fighting.  It had lots of gouging, and scratching and biting.  Really unsportsmanlike conduct.  It upset my 14-year-old sensibilities.  I still believed fighting should be how it was in the movies.  I decided not to adopt Count Dante’s system, but I did manage to remember one technique, because the name cracked me up.

It required grabbing your opponent by the scrotum, giving it a full clock-wise twist, and then a thought-provoking yank.  It was called, “Monkey Steals a Peach.”

Somehow, something (maybe the demon that had shacked up in me) reminded me of this move.   Oh my God, I haven’t thought about Count Dante and his lethal hair styling hands for years!  What was up with the medallion-turtleneck combo he was wearing?  Okay, fuck that for now, you need to steal yourself a peach.

If my right arm and right leg weren’t so tired from punching and kicking, I wouldn’t have done it, but this guy’s amazing strength and ability to absorb punishment left me no choice.  I grabbed and twisted, but left out the yank.  I didn’t need to.  You could see the fight drain from his face.

He called me a bad word, but then started to weaken.  That’s all Ron needed.  He flipped the guy over and proceeded with giving him, what remains to this day, the most brutal smackdown I have ever witnessed.  I’ll spare the details.  It was human ugliness at it’s worst.  Worse than anything in the movies.  I still wince a little thinking about it.

Anyway, Ron stopped punching when the dude stopped moving.  I thought he killed him.  Oh boy.

I was relieved to see that he was still breathing.  The police and an ambulance were on their way.  I remember Ron and I standing over this unconscious guy, his blood splattered all over our white tuxedo shirts,  I looked up and saw some tourists who were checking in.  They were staring at us, completely freaked out.  I tried to reassure them.

“Hello,” I said, “Welcome to The Vagabond.  We hope you enjoy your stay.”  Yeah, come downstairs and listen some oldies music.

Cops and paramedics came.  The ambulance took away our Chippendale’s dancer, and Ron and I took turns answering the cop’s questions.  It was those two first kicks he threw at me, that sealed the deal for them, and they let us go.  I went downstairs, and had Doug slip me a shot.  I drank it in the back room.  I was shaking.

I still don’t know how bad we hurt the guy, but the image of him lying on the floor with his pants twisted up around his knees still haunts me a little.

Wow.  That was pretty fucked up.  I regret the whole thing now.  I know I should have handled it differently, but I was just winging it, and to be honest, pretty scared. All he had to do was put his shirt back on.  Not trying to kick me down a flight of stairs would have also been helpful.  Oh well.

He really was a strong dude, and as tough as they came.  I have to take my hat off to him.  I hope that giving him the title of The Toughest Guy I Ever Fought With The Help of Another Guy is at least making some sort of amends.  And he really was a good dancer.

If You Don’t Die for Long Enough, You Turn Fifty.

I am The Birthday King, I can do anything!

This wasn’t supposed to happen.  Car accident, gun mishap, alcohol poisoning, angry pimp, scorned psycho, jail stabbing, suicide, lethal D.T.s, drug overdose, case of killer clap, throat cut in a Central American jungle, drunken bathtub drowning, liver blow-out, any number of things could have prevented this.  But they didn’t, and now I’m looking at the calendar weird these days.  Looking at 50, right there on the 11th, and I can’t figure out how I feel about it.  Sad?  Happy?  Fearful?  Excited?  Am I full of regret?  Gratitude?  Dread?  Joy?  Shit?

Am I a walking miracle?  The luckiest man on Earth?  Or still an abject failure, a gassed-out bag of lost potential?  I can’t decide.  It goes back and forth so fast.

So, I’ve turned up the dial on the Ponder Machine to 11 these days.

I walked by a van painted with a grim reaper surfing down some exploding volcano or some shit, and thought, “That’s a sign from The Universe.”  But what the fuck it’s supposed to mean is anyone’s guess.  I have some scary ideas though.  Maybe something about death?

I’ve been trying to look at the big picture.  How did I get here?  What really has happened?  Is it time for a new beginning?  Or has the roller coaster made it to its final hill?  What have I learned?  What do I still have to unlearn?  What’s it all about, Alfy?  And please don’t say bitches and money.  Because I had a sneaking feeling it was.

It’s not like I need a milestone birthday as an excuse to get torqued up into a spiritual crisis.  I’m a Vikings fan.  I’ve had some of my deepest heart-to-hearts with The Creator, and came to doubt He was listening.  And if He was, He was still putting the screws to me.  In 1975, God allowed the Hail Mary Pass to be invented and used against the Vikings.  I watched that game as a kid.  It made us lose the playoffs in the most heartbreaking way possible, and it was done to us by my most hated team, Dallas.  Didn’t that say whose side God was on?  As soon as they called it a “Hail Mary” I knew.  Then why did He make me love The Vikings and hate the Cowboys?  Why four Superbowl losses?

Loving Creator, yeah.

Granted, not the test of Lot, but enough to sow a little doubt in this seeker.  Oh that, and all the other gnarly fucking shit that has happened to me in my life.

Along with all the extra pondering, my emotions have been weird too.  I’ve been feeling a little too Lifetime Channel lately.   Having moments of seeing such beauty in something like my two cats wrestling around, that I get all chick weepy over it.  A hormonal, nose-blowing housewife, awash in raw emotion is not my favorite role to play.

What is the role I’m supposed to play in this production anyway?

I prefer a Robert Mitchum calm and self-assured type, if I were to get to pick, with maybe a whiff of George Raft malice.  You know, to keep the really bad girls interested.  Sure it would all be a fraud, except for maybe the malice bit, but isn’t that what being an actor is?  Being a professional phoney?

It’s hard enough for me to pull off any role, but add to that the fact that I don’t know from moment to moment which one I’m going to be cast into.  Responsible citizen?  Loving son?  Faithful friend?  Patient mentor?  (Mentors, Dave.  That’s who I was going to ask you about the other night.  If you ever saw them.  They were seriously fucked up)  I mean, I get cast into having to play all these different parts, and I’m not sure if I’m pulling off any of them off.  I just don’t know.  I don’t like reading my reviews.

I’m pretty sure not being drunk has helped my performance.

My cats seem to like me.  The woman is still talking to me after eight years.  My mom still has me over for lunch.  Things are cool between me and my sister, and me and my buddy, Keller.  Marko still calls.  Dudes still want to hang out.  A little money in the bank.  A car that doesn’t bleed-out oil every third day.  A job that doesn’t make me want to chainsaw my head off.  No torch-bearing mob on the near horizon.  Or warrant working it’s way down the system.

I guess I’m answering my own questions here.  Maybe I am doing okay.  I know I’m lucky.  I made it through some of the most hellacious, death-defying misadventures, and it wasn’t through any good judgement on my part.  I can assure you.  Something was looking out.  Somebody was picking up the Bat Phone.  And for every play-off loss, there have been many more miracle sports moments.  And, when it’s really counted.  When it really was a matter of life and death.  The crucial point spread.

One day, the guy I was working with in Central America, got shot in Nicaragua.  They sent a 16 year-old kid on a bicycle to do it.  (We later heard the police caught him, then tortured and killed him, which I really hope wasn’t true)  Anyway, my partner makes it back to the hotel.  It looks like a small-caliber wound in his pectoral.  Because he was shot at point-blank range, the muzzle-flash had cauterized the wound.  (See Terry? Even getting shot point-blank range can be the best thing to happen to you)  Well, he didn’t want to go to the hospital because he was worried somebody might be waiting there to finish the job.

I had him lie down on the bed while I washed the shit out of his shorts in the bathtub.  I gave him some pain pills and antibiotics.  We ordered twelve beers from room service, and then I sat by the door with a machete while he slept.  I remember sitting up all night, drinking those beers, trying to figure out what the fuck were we going to do.  We were in deep shit.  All I could do was pray.

“God, I know you think I’m a major fuck-up, because I am, and You’re God, and You know everything…but I am going to need You to do me the most serious solid ever.  We are so deep right now, there’s no way I can figure out how to get us out.  If You happen to have any extra miracles lying around,  I’d totally appreciate You sending a couple this way.  I promise I will do my best to not screw up so bad ever again.  And sorry about what happened in Juarez.  Amen.”  Hardly the Prayer of St. Francis, but it was the best I could come up with.

Somehow, we managed to get out of that hotel without anybody finishing the job, then on a plane to Honduras, then El Salvador, then back to Belize, where I got him on a flight to a safe military hospital in Panama.  He lived.  And so did I.  There were a few more snaps from the crocodile’s mouth (once literally) but we made it back.  I came back bat-shit crazy, but I came back.  I somehow managed the unmanageable.   I had to wonder about the prayer.

I was in a cheap motel on Central in Albuquerque one night.  I had a gun in the room.  A nice Beretta 96D, a .40 caliber, double-action.  I really loved that gun.  I eventually lost it to the L.A.P.D. one night in Inglewood, but that’s not important.

I decided to step out and get something to eat.  I started to reach for the gun and something said “Don’t bring the gun.”  Not a voice I could actually hear, but like a clear thought popping up out of nowhere.  The fuck?  Of course, I’m going to bring the gun with me.  Duh.  It’s not going to do me much good under at motel mattress, is it?  Again.  “Don’t bring the gun!”  A little clearer, this time.  But, I won’t feel right without–“Do NOT bring…the GUN!”

I know these weren’t my thoughts, because mine were arguing why I should bring the gun.  This area is super sketchy.  Sure it’s not Mogadishu, but it ain’t Mayberry either.  Lots of other folks are bringing their guns out there.  In fact, this is one of those places that seems like it was invented just for bringing a gun to.  And…this is a fucking awesome gun to bring.

“Don’t…bring…the gun.”

It was so weird that I finally did get spooked.  I started to think.  Dude, remember when you didn’t listen to that voice those last twenty-two thousand times?  How fucked things got?  Maybe this time, because it seems so clear and persistent, you should heed it.

I decided not to bring the gun.

I get out, and head down Central, and start walking to Jack’s Pizza.  A low-rider pulls up slowly along side of me, I see a barrel stick out, and hear a small shot, and feel a burning stinging in my side.  It felt like a small-caliber round, like a .22.   I look down at where I was hit and see a splatter of red on my shirt.  Oh you fuckers!  Time to die.  I reach for the gun that is under my mattress back at the motel.

The low-rider speeds off, un-blasted.  Oh what bullshit.  I run into the first open place, and it’s a porno store.  (And no, they didn’t have my tokens ready for me)

“I just got fucking shot!” I yell to the clerk.

“Oh shit!” he says.

I pull up my bloody shirt.  There’s only an angry red welt.  What the…?   Holy shit.  It was only a paintball.  A red one.

I was glad I left the gun at the motel.  Best idea I ever had.

Then there was the drinking issue.  Little problem.  A little too much.  And all my attempts to reel it in, not seeming to work very well, with consequences piling up faster than traffic on the 405.  Things were getting a little too crazy.  Even for me.

Then one night, while I was trying to hold down a beer to keep away the D.T.s or a seizure, and kept gagging it back up, and then having to swallow that, I caught sight of myself in the mirror, and really saw myself.  And what I saw struck a chord of compassion for that miserable retching wretch looking back at me.  “God, you need to help that guy,” I said out loud, “Nobody deserves to live like that.”

Two days later I wound up in rehab, and have been sober now for 8.5 years.  There have been so many of those strange saves via Deus Ex Machina, always proceeded by some petition for divine intervention, no matter how brief or desperate, that I can’t begin to recount even a tenth of them.  Sure you can write them all off as coincidences.  Last I checked, you are free to think whatever you want.  I’m not out to convince anyone of anything.  Like I mentioned to a friend the other night, people who try to convince me of anything, irritate me.

I just personally felt like if I kept getting a bunch of those kind of “coincidences” and kept writing them off,  at some point, I was crossing the line from healthy skepticism to just being some sort of a stupid, clueless asshole.

And I’ve been one of those long enough to know that that is a tough role.

So, I’ve decided to believe that there’s something out there that has my back.  I can’t prove it, but I can say that believing it (or deluding myself so), tends to make me freak-out less.  It also makes me a more peaceful, happy person, and when I’m like that, more people seem to enjoy being around me.  Over the past fifty years, I’ve made some of the greatest friends any man could hope for, and getting to be around, to have them want to be around, is the best fucking birthday present I could ever get.  Thanks everybody.  And thanks G., good looking out.

The balloon says I’m “special” so it must be so.