Mardi Gras Death Trip ’89, Part 1

Taking the Greyhound anywhere sucks, but taking it back from anywhere sucks even more.  Especially from Mardi Gras.  One minute, I was sharing a hotel room with five University of Michigan co-eds at ground zero of what has been traditionally known as a rather celebratory event.  A festive little fiesta in Idsville, USA.  The next, I’m on a stinking bus, surrounded by crying babies and newly released convicts, on the slowest way to travel short of rowing there with a canoe paddle on a furniture dolly.  Fate is a fickle bitch alright.

Going down didn’t seem so bad.  I was excited.  I was on a grand adventure.  Besides, going to Mardi Gras in New Orleans is pretty much a pilgrimage every alcoholic needs to take.  For once, your environment will match your internal world.  Now your behavior will be entirely appropriate, no matter how inappropriate.  Especially so with drunken chicks from Ann Arbor.  Drinking it up.  Throwing it down.  Slutting around.  You would be hard-pressed to find more capable party warriors to run with then some wolverine wenches.

I had been running with a pack of wild ones, during the holiest celebration in Alcoholdom.  Those little girls turned out to be quite a wrecking crew.  They were crazy enough for me to sack and pillage with and not get bored.  They kept up their end of the mischief and mayhem.  I was impressed.  They knew how to take full advantage of the generous temporary slack society had granted us.  While they looked like nice, fairly good girls, under the collective spell of Mardi Gras Madness, they blossomed into beasts.

My girlfriend at the time, let’s call her Lu, didn’t change too much during Mardi Gras.  Like me, she always felt Mardi Gras shouldn’t be boxed into just a few days before Lent.  Hey man, Mardi Gras is a state of mind, man.  Man.

Lu was a crazy Albanian chick, from a very strict, traditional household, but she just boogied right out of that noose.   She still had more tackles to break before she hit open field, but she was juking family and relatives left and right.  They had no idea what a hard-drinking Jezebel she had become.  Had them scammed.  A double-life double-agent.

She was also once my ex-girlfriend Patty’s best friend.  Was.

Patty and I had spent a summer together.  She was an odd chick.   She could don her party cap, but her main thing was athletic outdoor activity.  Fucking great.  Mine was humping in a darkened room within arm’s-reach of a beer, while the battle for Stalingrad raged on the TV.  All this hiking, biking, running and jumping wasn’t my prefered pastime.  She had me sucking wind trying to keep up.

She would get up at 4am to bike to the ski basin and back, then wake me up at six to drive her to her waitress job.  That really pissed me off.  Now you don’t want to take the bike.  Listen, why don’t you shave a mile or two off that mountain run, sister, and use it to peddle your ass to work.  You’re interrupting REM sleep, and that’s important when you want to feel your very best.  And maybe if you didn’t eat all that raw cookie dough, you wouldn’t need to exercise so much.

That fall she flew back to Michigan.  We continued through letters and drunken phone calls, but when she came out to visit that winter, I could tell something was wrong.

That whole not having sex with me thing being my first clue.  The way she stiffened up and clenched her jaw when I touched her was another.  Finally, after a few days she came out with it.  She had met someone new at school, and it was over.  Why the fuck did she waste money on a plane ticket when a nineteen cent postcard would’ve done the trick?  I didn’t understand women.  Fortunately, she had brought her best pal, Lu, as I surmised later, for moral support.

Say, I know how to take the sting out of this rejection, and maybe put some of it back into the person rejecting me–I’ll fall in love with her best friend.  I didn’t know women too well, but it seemed like it might be something that wouldn’t go down too well.  It might create some weirdness between them.  Mama some drama.

I did and it did.

Some people need to actually fall in love to fall in love.  They are handicapped by small imaginations and limited ideas about what constitutes love.  I could fall in love faster than you could uncoil a 15 foot garden hose and spray two humping dogs.  So I decided to fall in love with Lu, and the dividends were plentiful.

Hey, check it out, all of sudden I  don’t feel bad about Patty finding someone else.  And now, Patty is all pissed-off because I have.  How awesome is that?  Love does solve everything.

Who needs to get over it and move on with their life now?  C’mon girl, I just did, and it was easy-peasy.  You’re right about Lu being good moral support.  I thought you would be happier for her.

Lu turned out to be a better fit for me than Patty anyway.  She could drink like a longshoreman, and was as horny as a stray cat.  She could also make me laugh, which was big.   Smart.  Cynical.   Wit sharp as a tongue piercing needle.  A canister of napalm sarcasm in her purse, at the ready to flame anyone in need of a good soul-scorching.  She was definitely her own woman.

One morning I woke up next to her and saw a tattoo on her shoulder.  I slowly remembered her getting it the night before.  It was a design she had sketched out right there at the tattoo shop on a whim.  Who does that?  What a crazy bitch…

I shot up out of bed and ran to the mirror in the bathroom.  I slowly pulled back the bandage and exhaled.  Okay.  It was some Japanese writing.  That’s alright.  I can live with that.  I guess I’m going to have to.  I hope it says something cool.

What a crazy bitch.

One thing that both my sister and I dug about Lu was her ability to not only “go there,” but drag you along, kicking and screaming.  She was a natural writer, gifted with a perverse imagination and a sick sense of humor.  She liked to make up stories, intricate and detailed ones, involving you as the protagonist and a course of events that lead you to some horrible and revolting situation.

Well, my sister and I had been playing that game with each other for years, you know, to pass the time when we were bored, so she had a discerning audience.  We both thought she was good.  She knew how to spin a good horror yarn.

The trick was to make each stepping-stone episode along the way as believable as possible.  Extraordinary coincidence was allowed since that happened in real life, and so were certain lapses in normal behavior on the protagonist’s part due to alcohol, since that happened in real life too.

The first part of her story usually involved something really awesome happening to you.  She’d try to get into your head and personalize the story.  She’d have me excitedly accepting an invitation to some celebrity party in the Hollywood Hills.  A literary agent was interested in my work and wanted to talk to me about it at her party.  A party with plenty of Heineken and Hollywood sluts.

That was crucial because it created a tiny desire to believe along.  That’s how she’d lead you through the narrative.  However, as soon as Rip Taylor or Fran Lebowitz, showed up at her fictional party, you knew you would wind up having sex with one or both of them.  It was always due to the collective effects of drugs and drink.  A standard literary device for this game, and I suspect not entirely one born of her imagination.  She would dole it out in detail.  The shame. The disgust.  The need to shower eleven times.   She’d describe it so vividly, it would leave you laughing, and maybe a little traumatized.

So yeah, she was fun.

When she called me from Michigan to tell me she was sending a bus ticket, I took it.  We would rendezvous in New Orléans with four of her girlfriends minus Patty, of course.  As soon as I hung up the phone, I was at the oven cooking up some of my special brownies for the ride.

My brownies were notorious.  I never got the measuring dosage thing down, and always wanted to err on the side of psychosis-inducing overdose, rather than “not high enough.”  I once gave some as a wedding gift to some friends.  The groom ate three of them, when one was pretty much one too much.    I had indicated the proper dosage, but eating dope is tricky.  It takes a little longer to come on, and in the meantime, “these brownies are delicious!”  When they do finally hit, watch out.  Your stomach can absorb more psychotropic agent than your lungs could ever wheeze down.  It’s makes for a wilder Mr. Toad’s ride.

I guess the groom totally freaked.  I wasn’t there but heard all about it afterwards.  So yeah, that didn’t turn out too good.  Maybe a toaster would’ve been a better gift.  I felt bad, but not bad enough to change the recipe.

At least I was baking it in brownies. When I lived in New York, and was even poorer, we grew a bunch of window-sill weed.  It was shit smoke.  All shade leaves and no buds.  If you did smoke enough of it to get high, you were guaranteed a raging headache.  The solution was to pan fry it up in a little butter.  Activate the fat-soluable THC in some hot grease, then spoon the toasted ash into some Haagen Daz Mint Chocolate Chip.  A delicious treat that unlocks portals of perception.  The ones that may have been better left shut.

Well, after a while, we couldn’t afford the ice cream, and then later, the butter.  We wound up toasting up the dried leaves in vegetable oil, and eating the charred sludge by the oily spoonful.  You really had to disciple your gag-reflex.  The process made you buck and rock, with a lot of hand-waving, as you tried to get it down.  It looked like you were trying to jump out of your own skin.  That’s why we called it “Jump.”

You haven’t lived until you’ve OD’d on Jump while riding a clattering E train underground.  The lights flickering like Frankenstein’s laboratory.  Sandpaper mouth.  Eyes bulging bloodshot.  Your heart bass-drumming in your throat.  Knuckles gripping the steel strap so hard your forearm muscles start to cramp and spaz.  Ice water running down your pits and spine.  A vast cosmic ocean roaring through the conch shells that have replaced your ears.  Paranoid fear so thick you can iron a dress shirt on it.  Really an apocalyptic trip.

And just the thing for a boring bus ride through Texas.  Besides being discreet, they would bring me to the edge of sanity, and my mom always said, “You can’t be bored while trying not to lose your mind.”  She was certainly right about that.  The ride through Texas wasn’t boring.  Besides the bombers of Betty Crocker, I was tripping out on all things Texan.

The South has always kind of freaked me, but now travelling through these towns, surrounded by all these rednecks straight out of central casting was too much.  Belt-lapping guts, straw hats, pointy shit-kickers, toothpicks, farmer-tanned arms, grizzled chins spitting out black juice, and that was the chicks.

Remember, Texas is the reason that the president’s dead.

I was already warped from the fun fudge, but now, seeing all these yee-haws and good ol’ boys really spun the merry-go-round.  They sent me spiraling down a wormhole of thoughts and impressions.  Are these people for real?  Is anything for real?  I can’t feel my spleen.  Lot’s of pawn shops here.  My prefered social safety net.  I think I’m having a stroke.  What if I need to ask any of these people for help?  They think the end of the Civil War was just a temporary cease-fire.  If they find out I’m from New York they’ll drag my body from behind a pickup truck during the homecoming parade.  Just being this stoned in Texas is probably a capital offense.  Do not talk to any of them.  They’ll know.  It’s against the law to even make someone suspicious in this state.

I was kind of enjoying the fear fest.  Good brownie.  Texas is not boring.  Major freak show freak-out freak-a-thon.

I took it all in, while hitting off my flask, listening to The Butthole Surfers on my walkman.  The Buttholes and The Motards, and maybe Willy Nelson, were the only things to come out of Texas I could relate to.  I was a stranger in a strange land.  I had no bearings.  I took my cues from the people on the bus, most of them blacks and Hispanics.  As long as they were laughing and joking, I felt like things were okay.

There was no joking around when we pulled up to a roadblock check point.  I don’t know if they were looking for escapees or what, but we could see a bunch of cops waiting to board.  One of them had a dog.

Fuck the dosage schedule.  I crammed three days worth of brownies down my throat.  Now was not the time to worry about dialing in just the right amount of buzz.

The cop with the dog climbed on the bus.  He looked so stereotypical I thought he was wearing a Halloween costume.  The air was crackling.  Everybody looked straight ahead.  I’m sitting there, and know this dog will sniff out the THC coming out of every one of my pumping sweat glands.  Oh Jesus.  Chain gangs.  Microwaved breakfast biscuits for breakfast.  Bologna sandwich and apple for dinner.  Forever.

He walked down the aisle looking at each of the passengers.  When he got to me, I smiled weakly while swallowing the last of the brownie, and forced my eyebrows to look happy and surprised.  Oh what a nice doggy!  The dog sniffed my hand, then continued down the aisle.  He got to the end, turned around and walked back by, then off the bus.  That was it.  They let us go.

The whole bus exhaled in relief.

“Wooo-wee! I thought they was going to pull Darnell off!” someone yelled.

“Shutthefuckupnigger!” someone I imagined was Darnell, yelled back.  Everyone laughed.  Me too.

The driver closed the door and started the bus.  The mood became almost jubilant.  I started to hear beer tops pop.  Maybe we were stuck on this rundown bus, but it sure beat some alternatives.  My gratitude lasted about 17 to 18 seconds.  It atomized with the realization that I now had a bellyful of cooked cannabis to contend with.  My sanity was about to be ripped through like wet toilet paper, by a flaming meteor of burning brownie.

On a Greyhound bus.  Going through Texas.  The longest possible way.

It was now only a matter of time before things got really challenging.  Tickity-tickity-tock.  Maybe this won’t be good.  Maybe this will be too intense.  Not a lot of room to pace around on a bus.  Pacing around is good.  Really want to pace around and wring my hands right now.  Get my fret on.

I finally found what to do with my hands.  Gripping the arm rests in white-knuckle terror seemed like an awesome option.  Let’s do that.

That bus became my rocket.  To the End of Time, and The Final Sacrifice of Man.  But, before all existence ceased, there would be time to day tour the three hundred and thirty-three levels of Hell, then stop at the Insanity Gift Shop.

I was surprised by how tidy and organized Hell was.  All these levels and units.  Your basic prison model.  Makes sense.  Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of chaos and pain, but it was neatly divided in separate containers.  Like your average suburban family.  Man, I was seeing some crazy shit.  Goats and tar.  Dental decay.  People being tortured with plasma instruments.  A bobbing skull that lights the cigar of a leper with perfectly coiffed hair.  A hundred thousand men pulling a huge phallic obelisk through a desert bristling with cactus.  They were being bullwhipped forward by a huge mollusk riding on top of a tricked out 70’s party van.

What does this all mean?  Who’s in charge here?  Why am I feeling so crazy?  I didn’t sign up for this!

My God, Texas is weird.

I returned to Earth just as we crossed over the Louisiana state line.  It would still be a long time before New Orleans…and the real party hadn’t even started yet.

Go Blue!

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Unplugged Thug

I was downloading Kindle for PC when the computer shit the bed.  Two days earlier, I had downloaded updates from Sprint that ruined my phone.  Now this.  I was already a little freaked about getting a virus from going bareback for a week or two after the security expired.  Instead of re-subscribing right away, I thought, fuck it, let’s live on the edge again, if only in this greatly watered-down way.  How about some of that reckless youthful disregard for common sense that created your legend, huh?  Just for old time’s sake.

Hell, I wasn’t going to be downloading midget lesbian porn from Romania.  I was going to be a good cyber-citizen.  I’d stick to WordPress, Facebook, and whatever links on those.  Besides, I didn’t need to be paying some place to protect me from something I’m not even sure exists.  Computer virus.  Until I’ve actually seen one and gone camel toe-to-toe with one, it’s hard to believe it’s real.  Sure, I have heard plenty of anecdotal accounts of it, but same with Big Foot and Chupacabra.

Frankly, I believed in Big Foot and Chupacabra more.  Mostly because I wanted to.

I remember early on in my sobriety I was still living at my mom’s, and was getting re-aquainted with the computer in my room.  I had just joined MySpace and was poking around.  I wound up on some punk rock girl’s page and clicked on her pictures.  Scenes of human gore started flashing on the screen, one after another, with bizarre sound-effects and crazy screaming sounds.  One image in particular stands out.  It looked like a close-up of a hemorrhoids operation.  Anybody who knows how squeamish I am about seeing operation scenes will delight in knowing that shit went into my eyeballs.  Fairly traumatizing enough, but it wasn’t over.

After the strobing gore accompanied by the Bedlam Cacophony Choir, the screen froze on an intricate collage of gay porn.  Not just any gay porn, but some really esoteric stuff, featuring old men in their seventies.  Very graphic.  I don’t think I would have liked it even if I was gay.  Then a loud voice over the speakers repeatedly announced, “Hey everybody! I’m looking at gay porn! Hey everybody! I’m looking at gay porn!”  I couldn’t make it stop until I unplugged the computer.  I’m sure my mom heard that from her bedroom.  What an evil thing to do to someone, I thought.  Well played, punk rock girl.

There was no lasting damage to the computer, but my psyche had some disturbing images burned into its retina.  I didn’t count that as a virus.  It was just another fucked up thing that happened to me, in an already intricate collage.  It wasn’t something to drink over though.  I shrugged it off.

So now, when the subscription expired, I figured eventually I’d subscribe to some security or look for a free computer condom download, some Trojan Horse Trojan…but only when it didn’t seem like too much of a fucking hassle.  That might be never.  Meanwhile, I wasn’t going to take any crazy risks, like clicking on some punk rock girl’s pictures on MySpace, or downloading stuff that says “Warning. Are you sure you want to be downloading this? File found to be potential virus threat.”  Except when Dave dares me to.

I had an expired cert and an antiquated firewall, but I also had a good feeling.  I was an intrepid adventurer paddling up a malarial river while drinking a local remedy through a human skull.

Man, I’ve been through some real shit in my life, what’s a computer virus going to do to me that I can’t handle?  I would find out soon enough.

One night, I’m typing away and the letters start to place themselves randomly within the earlier text.  What’s coming up on the screen looks like it was encoded with an Enigma machine.  It would stop for a while, let me clean up the text, write some more, and then like a venereal wart resistant to Podophyllin, keep coming back.  O h yuo ffffffffukcr! e

That kind of bullshit really slows down the creative process, but this little virus had even more things to demonstrate.  It seemed to be showing off its newfound power and control over my computer.  It started with random highlighting, then began repeating letters, and then spontaneous scrolling.  It was replying when I didn’t ask it to, and leaving the page without my permission.  Was this a virus, demonic possession, or just youthful rebellion?

Ghost cat across the keyboard?

There was only one thing to do in any case.  Pretend it wasn’t happening.  Just keep on keeping on.  Smoke pouring out of the hood?  Turn up the stereo and floor it.  As a drunk, denial was an important survival tool, so it’s still my default go-to fix.  My messages to Dave became something like, “Dud e, thsi thngi is doign some fcukde upshhhhhiiiiiiit  to my keyb or   !!!!”

Dave knew I caught a dose.  He is Mr. Computer, but in a Mad Max way.  Picture a dusty, road-worn, ex-con wearing wi-fi goggles, going giga-geek on a laptop duct-taped to his motorcycle’s sidecar.

His deeply held anarchist principles don’t allow him to pay for anything on the internet, so he deftly circumvents anything that smells like capitalist exploitation, which is pretty much anything that charges money.  He recently put out an e-book, Subterranean Emerald City Blues,  It’s a sharp slice of Seattle street life during the 90’s, that I highly recommend.  A delightful piece of Misery Lit, or rather, Post-Misery Lit.  Neo-Misery?  Anyway, it’s as real as Dave, and that’s pretty fucking real.  If you don’t want to pay the price you set yourself, you should contact him and he’ll be happy to teach you how to steal it.  Knowing him, he would prefer that.  Steal his book even though it doesn’t cost anything.

Anyway, he jumps into action.  I need to download this and upload that.  Run an EOD -13 driver optimizer through my Pre-Dat file digitizer.  I don’t know what the fuck he’s talking about, and instantly get ice picks in the temples when I try to know.  Let’s face it, I’m still a barbarian.  A Russian soldier in some bombed-out Berlin apartment using the toilet as a water fountain.  Tippy-tapping on a computer has only recently become a past-time.

Before that, my hobby was pulling the shower curtains down around me while falling into the bathtub pissing.

Anyway, I tried my best and did what I could, but it was too late.  The little cyber spirochete had burrowed itself into my brain and was eating away at my motor skills.  In the meantime, my screen was erupting in the wildest misbehavior.  I was dealing with what Dr. Vernon Woolf would call “a self-organizing unit of intelligence.”  A holodyne.  This one, primary manifestation of intelligence that it might have been, was already an asshole and pissing me off.  In a few billion years of evolution it would join a fraternity and drive a Corvette.

For now, it had to be content with irritating me like this.  There was a mischievous quality to its hijinks, like it was really just running amok, not oblivious to the displeasure it was causing, but delighting in it.  I’m sure I caught it from one of my motley mob of Facebook friends.  Every one of them could easily have been a carrier.  Scroll through them sometime.  You’ll see.

The screen finally went turned onyx on Thursday night.  All my attempts to revive it failed.  By that I mean, I turned the router off and on a few times, and then unplugged the power strip twice.  When that didn’t work, I said, “Fuck it.”  It deserved to die.  This was what Joseph Campbell would say represented the myth of the hero’s journey, only in this case, instead of retrieving The Golden Fleece, the hero fails, bites the curb, and dies all dead and shit.

Let the dead bury the dead.  I had to move on.

Now what?  I had a phone that had a touchscreen that kept freezing every 15 seconds.  I could still make calls.  I just couldn’t hang up…without taking the battery out.  Forget about doing anything on the internet, unless it’s something that takes less than 14 seconds, like seeing how much e-mail you have to answer but can’t.

The cool thing was that it finally got me and Dave to talk on the phone.  Before this we had only interacted via keyboard.   Now that we were able to talk, we could really trade some stories.  These were tales we held out because they were too involved to type in chat message, and too not-passed-the-statue-of-limitations to blog about.  Dude’s got some good ones.  Me too, I guess.

I broke out my paints and started splattering a canvas while we jawed.  It was great.  I laughed for hours, and wound up with sore abs and a masterpiece of abstract expressionism.  Not a bad deal.

It would take days before I could get the computer back or a new phone from Sprint.  I had to go Yukon and rough it.  I could use this time away from suckling at a social media tit, and really take a look at things.  Maybe even tidy up and reorder some life priorities.  Of course, not without first experiencing withdrawal.

What if someone posts on my wall and I don’t “like” it soon enough?  They’ll think I’m totally stuck-up and start talking shit about me to all the popular girls!

I actually did find myself feeling a little anxious.  I had shit I wanted to do on the computer, and now couldn’t.  I was trying to download Kindle for PC so I could read and review my friend, John Carnell’s book, Thugs Like Us.  It’s a novel based on a true story of crime, drugs and drink set in late 70’s England.  What’s not to love about shit like that?  I wonder if I got the computer clap from it.  It did come with a warning “This book does NOT contain any teenage vampires, dodgy S&M soft porn sequences, witches, dwarves, dragons or indeed any mythical characters whatsoever.  This book does contain nuts.”

John being the main one.  Dude is fucking crazy funny.  Who else writes non-fiction novels?

Speaking of nuts, I was also in the middle of writing a story about spending Mardi Gras with some University of Michigan co-eds when the box went black.  I had just gotten to the part where I had OD’d on brownies on a Greyhound bus in Texas.  Shit.  I was going to miss my deadline for the blogula, and I hated to do that.  Sure, it was an arbitrary, self-imposed one, but forgetting that makes it still matter.  There was also a pile of e-mail I needed to answer, some friend’s blogs I wanted to comment on, and a few reviews I wanted to write.  Hard to thumb out on a phone that freezes every few seconds.

Well, all that stuff is going to have to wait now, isn’t it?   I’ve learned to shift gears pretty quickly these days.  Just another part of being sober.  Things are going to happen, and some you’re just not going to dig.  How you deal with them will determine a large part of whether you can avoid popping the beer can escape hatch.  I have sober friends that can just go existential.  Shit happens.  It’s all meaningless.  Nothing matters.  Why stress?  And I admire that.

I have to go a different route.  I have to tell myself that everything that happens is for the best possible reason, regardless of how it appears to me initially.  Whether I’m deluding myself is entirely unimportant.  The cold hard fact is that when I do, my behavior improves.  I respond in healthier ways, and it becomes easier for me to deal with shit in a more present, measured, and tolerant manner.  If nothing else, I’m not aggravating my initial irritation with the bad repercussions from throwing a tantrum and broodfest.  I also don’t get thirstier for anything stronger than a Hansen’s diet ginger ale.

The really strange thing is that, eventually, I begin to intuit/see/realize how whatever did happen was the best thing to happen.  A new narrative emerges.  I just had to stop being a petulant pissy-pants long enough to let it unfold.

This whole bullshit with the computer and phone, as pissed as I was when it happened, got me talking to Dave on the phone, spending more time with my girlfriend and cats, ruining perfectly good blank canvases again, cleaning and organizing my room, reading some history, pruning down my garden for Fall, staying longer at the gym, working on my jail house shadow boxing, mailing out some packages and post cards to friends, and basically, understanding that my life should be bigger than just the part that lives on the computer screen.  I needed to be reminded of that.

It’s easy to forget real life happens out here, away from the screen.  It’s easy to become a pasty, hunched little troll, growing too fat, lazy, and sheltered to participate in it. Tip-tap.  Click.  Click.  Like.  Share.  Unfriend.  Delete.

Unfortunately, when the real shit hits the fan, you’re not going to be able to click DELETE.  You’ll be too busy trying not to get deleted yourself.  Then you’ll wish you had logged off once in a while to jog around the block and work on your combos, or actually held a loved one, instead of “liking” Enterprise Car Rental and playing Slingo-Bingo for magic tokens.

Still, it was good to get the thing back from the shop, with my cat pictures intact.

Today, everything is fixed, but a little better because it was fucked before.  The Hero’s Journey.

Well okay, I have an epic tale of drunken misadventure to finish, some friend’s work to read, and e-mail to answer.  Then maybe throw some iron around to remember gravity still exists.  BBeBBee Saef out  threrrr ! e!!

Kick your computer to the curb. Your world won’t end.

I Sold Out To The Mann.

I slammed the door in front of him causing him to run into it with his chocolate shake.  He smashed the cup right into his jacket, and now the ice cream was running down into his pants.  At first, when he looked down, he was sad.  All that delicious treat… ruined, and now soaking into his clothes.

However, by the time he looked up at me, he had already turned his sad into mad.  After all, he was on his way to sneaking into a free movie with his delicious chocolate beverage, when some person stepped in and fuckered it all up.

I was that person.  I was Marius Gustaitis, hired representative of Black Knight Security, sub-contracted to Mann Theaters for twenty dollars an hour (ten of which I would keep before taxes) and your worst nightmare, Mr. Sneak-in-while-other patrons-exit-the-back.

I bet you never figured on running into a petty and pissed-off dry drunk in need of either a program of recovery or a case and a half of ice cold sweating bottles of Heineken.  I bet you never thought when you saw that open door, that a man, strung tighter than a meth addict’s banjo, was watching it intensely, like an animal snare, just waiting for someone to trip it.

Well, you tripped it alright, and now you’re dangling upside down from a tree limb like a Piñata representing everything wrong with his picture.  Is it time to rip your head off and bludgeon your sagging torso with it?  Gosh, I hope so.  That would be swell.  What time is it?

“What the fuck, dude?!” he said, backing off and squaring his shoulders, then flipping his hands out in the universal sign for querying, ” Do you want some of this?”  Ah, the old Come-and-Get-It stance, except his had a coating of cool chocolatey creaminess that took down the threat-level a peg or two.  If he was going to come after me, he would’ve done it a long time ago.  Myself, I wouldn’t be asking a bunch of questions.  You food me, and I go into a red-out.  Just another thing I have.

“No happy show for you.  Only bad times,” I said, the adrenaline taking a toll on my eloquence.  I sound like an angry, Chinatown merchant, I thought.  Buck fever.  You see them in the cross-hairs and the scope starts to shake.  So close.  Don’t scare him off.  Don’t let him see The Crazy.  Calm down.  Goad him back in.

“You should be a good citizen ship,” I told him, “And sail straight, observing all bylaws.”

There I was, a middle-aged man in a suit and tie, with a thimbleful of authority, spouting off some some square do-gooder pablum.  That would have me swinging.  Do it.  Please take a swing.

They never do.  Not when you really want them to.  It never happens.  Never.  He smelled it.  His animal instincts were dialed in.  No, this suit is stuffed with explosives.

“Chocolate shakes are bad for you,” I scolded,” You need sunshine and exercise.”   I even managed my Happy Face with Bright Eyes, but to no avail.  He turned and beat it down the alley.

Alright, that was still semi-okay.  At least I ruined his night.  That’s something.  Nobody was going to have a good time on my watch.

Not if I’m not.

I walked back around to the front of the theater.  Out on the promenade, some long-legged sex bomb clacked by in ice pick heels, swinging a vintage Whiting and Davis purse.  I smiled.  She smiled back.  Dude, she totally wants you.  Or, she will once she finds out you’re a 40 year-old, non-drinking alcoholic, working as a rent-a-cop for a movie theater.

You’ll get some leg tonight, for sure.  That was a woman, right?  I didn’t see any Laryngeal prominence, but her mitts looked a little ping-pong paddley.

I went back inside the theater and took my post towards the back, where I could keep an eye on the patrons coming in and any renegades trying to cross-pollinate theaters.  Not that I cared about Mann Theaters losing out on money, or any kids seeing a movie with a higher rating.  I just didn’t like the idea of anyone thinking they got over on me.  Mine was an ego-based sense of justice.  I was beginning to understand the mind-set of cops and prison guards.

How bleak.  How utterly demoralizing.  This was my reward for giving up beer.  I don’t know if any reward would’ve seemed big enough at that point, ungrateful wretch that I was, but this job sure wasn’t it.

Let me back up.  After rehab, my buddy, Spike, invited me to stay with him in Redondo Beach.  What the hell.  It was hard knocking around Santa Fe sober.  I felt like some alien had invaded my body and was now making me live someone else’s life, somebody who doesn’t stop in at The Cowgirl Hall of Fame for a few pints of Guinness and a frozen Margarita kicker before hitting the liquor store on his way home from work.  It was just too disconcerting.

I took Spike up on his offer and loaded up my internally bleeding Ford Bronco II, and pointed it’s overheating radiator West.  I stretched a cumulus cloud of white smoke across two state lines and stopped when I hit ocean.

Spike was a good bro.  He let me sleep on his couch rent-free until I could afford to pay towards a larger apartment.  He really wanted to see me make it.  Looking back, probably more than I did.

My first job was working for a florist named Gary.  I saw the help wanted sign and walked in.  I told him the whole truth: almost 30 years of drinking, destroying my life, crashing and burning, rehab, now trying to live sober, and looking for a job while surfing a buddy’s couch down the street.  A Fortune 500 resume if he ever heard one.  It turned out that this charming little bald, gay man, was 20 years sober, and I had just aced my interview.

I got along with Gary and the ladies that worked for him.  Because my mom had always been into floral arrangement, I pretty much grew up around it.  I knew how to put together a Japanese Ikibana arrangement by the time I was eleven.  I know.  Pretty gay.  Not that there’s anything wrong with gay.  I just wasn’t, and would’ve rather learned to shoot skeet or drive a tractor by eleven instead.

Now however, being able to spike some pussy willows into a shallow vase, taking care to divide the branches to represent Heaven, Earth, and Man according to Japanese tradition, was winning me big points with my new boss, and his harem of female workers.  Big thanks, Mom.  The ladies and Gary liked my stories and would laugh as I recounted my drunken misadventures while we sat around assembling wedding centerpieces.  They didn’t seem to think less of me because of my past.  At least they didn’t show it, and I really appreciated that.

I wound up picking up another job as well.  I got a job as a bouncer at a strip club in Gardena.  So, during the day I played with flowers with a bunch of giggling gals, and at night, I tussled with drunk and drug-crazed degenerates, and hung out with strippers, at a ghetto flesh joint.  It was a full life to be sure.  I was enjoying the novelty of sobriety.  Stuff like having my boss walk up to me and not having to bend at a 45 degree angle at the ankles to avoid him smelling my breath.  I thought that all my problems were over now that alcohol was out of the picture.

The problem was that the alcoholic was still in the picture, and this one not doing anything to fix what was troubling him so much in the first place.  The novelty of not being drunk eventually wore off, and things began to bug me like before.  But now, I had no release.  So I just gutted it all up and tried to hold my mud as best I could.  If you pressed your ear to the lapel of my suit, you would hear the ticking of the time bomb.

I became a raging square.  I morphed into some kind of uptight Jack Webb, an angry middle-aged white man, resentful of anyone I suspected might be happier or having more fun than me, which when you’re that miserable, is everyone.

I remember when C.C., one of the dancers from the club, took me to Venice Beach one afternoon for lunch.  Instead of enjoying  the company of a pretty stripper on a beach full of freaks, I spent the date sneering at the colorful populace and mumbling epitaphs under my breath.  All the free-wheeling wierditry irritated me.  We’d pass by some rollerskating cosmic troubadour trying to hustle his next forty ounce, and I’d just hate on him.

“Good for you, Ding-Dong Daddy.  Wave your freeloading freak flag high, you bongo-beating, rainbow dong thong-wearing parasite.  Go ahead, use up all the freedom and fun under the warm California sun.  Some of us have to work for a living.”  Yeah, basically jealous. and when you’re  jealous of a lunatic panhandler, your way of life isn’t working for you.  More coffee.  More cigarettes.  More anger.

One of the other bouncers at the club, an ex- Marine named Joe Washington, had gotten a side job with a security company.  He told me this company provided executive security, something I was not entirely unqualified for, since my work credits in Central America would transfer.  Far out.  A jaw-clenching reactionary providing a little muscle to escort self-important paranoidals seemed like a perfect fit.  A God shot.  But there was a catch.

Joe explained, that the only openings the owner had were for providing suit-and-tie security for a few Mann movie theaters in L.A., including the one in Westwood where they held all the big openings.  But, as real body-guarding positions opened up, we’d be first pick.

I met with the owner and told him a little about my qualifying work experience, leaving out the couch-surfing-alcoholic-trying-to-stay-sober stuff.  He hired me and gave me a black t-shirt with a logo of a stylized knight chess piece.  “Dark Knight Security,” it said, “Knows Your Next Move.”  I remember he gave it to me almost ceremonially, like he was handing me an ancestral samurai sword.  I mean it was a quality t-shirt, you know, one of those Beefy Tees, but it was still just a t-shirt.  And a presumptuous one at that .

Regardless, I got a third job in as many months, was building up some savings, and soon enough, would be body-guarding the rich and famous.  That wouldn’t have happened if I was drinking.  I decided to drop the florist gig, so that I could dedicate more time to becoming the baddest sober bad-ass I could.

I ran the beach, biked to Marina Del Rey and back, worked out on my bag, and lifted weights like a convict.  The exercise did me good.  I shed the last of my beer muscles and leaned out.  I got back to my fighting weight.  I looked good in my suit again.  It would only be a matter of time before I was shepherding some rich sheep safely through this wilderness of pain known as Los Angeles, California, a pair of .40 caliber pistols strapped across my bullet proof.  I just had to wait it out at these stupid movie theater posts in the meantime.

What I didn’t know then, was that the meantime, would be the only time.  There were no body-guarding positions with this company.  It was all bullshit.  The owner was an ex-L.A.P.D. cop that had to suddenly resign from the force.  We could never piece together his story why, but Joe and I had our suspicions.  After a while though we did piece together that he was just stringing us along.  The only jobs he had for us were as rent-a-porkers, but in suits and ties instead of the standard Boy Scout/Crossing Guard uniform.

My first night was at the theater over on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica.  I stood in the lobby, trying to front all Secret Service sinister while watching families and couples spill popcorn across the carpet, when it hit me like a bolt.  Oh fuck.  I’ve done this before.  When I was eighteen I got a job working as an usher at a Mann Theater.  It was now over twenty years later, and here I am again back at Mann Theaters, basically doing the same thing, and adjusting for inflation, getting paid the same.

Sure, my suit was better than the polyester, Mid-Western realtor’s jacket and tie they made me wear back then.  But, if that’s all you have to show for twenty years of evolution, a better monkey suit, you’re not setting the world on fire with your ascent up the social ladder, Rocket Boy.  I was right back where I was before my drinking took off.  Back at square Go.  The irony of it all stained my lips and teeth black with it’s bitter berry juice.

I was usually shuffled between two theaters, the one at Third Street Promenade playground of the well-to-do in Santa Monica, and a more run-down one in Culver City, with a lower-income, higher-gang member demographic.  At which one do you suppose I had all the problems?  Think about it.  You got it.

I never had any problems at the Culver City one.  I’m not kidding.  There they would be, Bloods and Crips, watching the same movie together, behaving like good little boys and girls.  I suspect there was a general truce regarding theaters, neither side wanting to fuck up being able to go to the movies in peace.  Sure, there were the usual sneak-in attempts and theater jumpings, but they never gave me a hard time when I caught them.  It was understood we were playing a cat and mouse game and there were no hard feelings.

I even had to empty the whole place one night, in the middle of everyone’s movies, because of a fire alarm.  There was some grouching and irritated questions, but nobody went ballistic.

Meanwhile, back in Santa Monica, I’m squared off and ready to start trading hooks with some dad, wearing a sweater tied around his shoulders and soft leather driving loafers.  He insists on bringing in his leftover spaghetti dinner against the no outside food policy.  He didn’t want to go put it away in his car because…he didn’t want to miss the previews to this Disney movie he was taking his family to.  I swear to you.  I’m not making this up just to create great literature.

I’m thinking, “It’s spaghetti with meat sauce, dude.”  This guy looks like he owns an Audi dealership, and he’s blowing a shit fit over 77 cents worth of food.   If those previews are so precious, I would take the foil tray outside and drop kick it over the sunglasses kiosk across the way.  This guy was willing to risk getting his ass kicked in front of his family over it.

He’s up in my face, seething with rage, white hot spittle foaming in the corners of his mouth.

“It’s the principal!  The principal!” he keeps sputtering.

Everybody in the lobby has stopped to look.  The manager, Mike, is hanging back watching.  I didn’t blame him for not wanting to get involved at this point.  A guy like this one is usually well-lawyered.  They don’t get this bold without knowing they can hang you with a juicy law suit.  Is this his game?  Is he trying to bait me into taking  the first shot?  Interesting role-reversal.  Maybe he thinks a shot is the chops is worth a three week vacation in Vanuatu, including the  jet-ski rental, on-call masseur and helicopter tours.

All this going through my head as he’s screaming at me.  His wife has got the kids, but she’s not trying to pull him back or calm him down.  She must be in on it.  The kids don’t seem to be too freaked out either.  Have you seen Daddy do this before?

“I am going to bring this dinner in with me,” he announces, “I am walking in, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

That’s where he was wrong, of course.  I’m mentally spinning a Lazy Susan of choices.  I recognized that his assholeness should have consequences, but how painful those should be was now being mitigated by the presence of his family, and the possibility of legal repercussions.  This was not stuff I worried about when I was drinking.  But what would be an appropriate response to punish this impudent and petulant little turd?  Just the right amount of pain sprinkled over a generous portion of shame.

That’s when I realized my old behavior wouldn’t serve me.  Sure I could kick out his knees and rub his snout into the rug like a bad doggy, forever scarring his kid’s image of him as Daddy Hero.  And while that would be deeply satisfying and personally gratifying, I might eventually regret it.  Why not play his game instead?

I decided that if he so much as brushed against me on his way to the Disney previews, I would go down like an NFL punter.  Totally take a dive, making sure to hit my head hard on the floor, so hard that I might night be able to recognize relatives or pronounce words with more than once consonant.  “I can’t feel my penis. What’s wrong with me, Doctor?”

We’ll see who winds up jet-skiing in Vanuatu, bitch balls.

“Please don’t make impotent threats. I command you to halt,” I said, holding my hand up, but splaying the fingers slightly to suggest a weak defensive gesture, my wrist bent almost effeminately.  I also used “impotent” on a hunch.  Hot button?  Hoped so.

Unfortunately, I have a bad poker face.  People can read the thoughts going through my head with the ease of a teleprompter.  As soon as I decided I would hit him where it hurt most, namely his Audi dealership, dry-cleaning franchise, or whatever enterprise had shod his hoofs with such elegant supple leather slippers, he started to balk.  His animal instincts were dialed in.

Instead, he looked up.  His rage was gone.  He was now weighing things in his head.  Meanwhile, I’m trying to telepathically implant crazy violent ideas, trying to stave off the sanity I saw leaking in.  C’mon, bust a move motherfucker!  Just shove the flunky theater security lug out of the way on your march towards victory.  Run for the roses.  Trample those that deny you your spaghetti leftovers underfoot, in the fierce day of your pride.

He turned to his wife.

“I’m going to take this out to the car.”

I watched him walk out of the theater, and with him, my hopes for getting out of this stupid job.  They never go for it when you really want them to. They never do.  Never.

There would be no quick fix to my situation.  Alcoholics prefer their fixes quick.  Deus ex Machina, descend upon our wretchedness!   No, I was going to have to learn how to wait.  Maybe things were unfolding at just the right pace.  How could you ever really know?  Except maybe in retrospect.  I resigned myself to think so, if only to delude myself into not being so uptight.  What the hell, right?  You can believe whatever you want.  You might as well believe something that helps you make it through another day with out taking  a drink.  Unless, you don’t want to make it through another day without taking a drink.

In that case, carry on.  You know what you have to do.

I went back to my post and checked my watch.  Two and a half more hours to go.  I looked up and saw two teenagers jump the ropes and run for theater 4.  They looked back at me.  I waved.  Fuck it.  Enjoy yourself, kids.  I’ll do my best, too.

Wishing you a happy show.