Apocalypse Much Later, Chapter 1.

To The Apocalypse!

I broke through the window and started to reach for the can of beans sitting on a hot plate, when I saw the bare wires.  Hmm.  I followed them up the wall to a marine battery on a shelf.  They wouldn’t leave them bare if they were using it to power the burner.  They would have at least taped them down, but they were dangling loose.

Nasty little trap for the looter?  Was there a clacker ready to spark a surprise?  I should have known.  Nobody showcases a can of beans like that.  Not in the window of an trailer.  Unless it’s rigged to something loud and bright.

“Dude, give me your crutch.”

Marko gimped over and handed it to me.  I pulled off the rubber skid plug and took a hit.

“Sssssweeeet Satan’s asshole, that buuurnsssss!”

Liquid fire scorched its way down.  Artichoke brandy.  Gnarly shit.  We had come across a flipped-over truck full of artichokes.  The driver was dead and didn’t seem to mind us helping ourselves.  We gorged on artichokes for days.  We didn’t want to waste fuel boiling them, so we just ate them raw.  I was crapping out fuzz for weeks.

Anyway, after we got sick of eating tough, spiny leaves and fur, we decided to make shine.  Marko had set up a rig and cooked up a batch of choke-brew.  We used pieces of broken laminated furniture, and bags of dried dog shit we had collected to fire the still.   The final product was a little disappointing in the taste department, but scored high marks in the effect department.  Special effects actually.  We agreed there was a slight hallucinogenic quality to it.  Above and beyond the pinch of Jimsonweed he added.

Some mild, color enhancement.  A pleasant vibratory blur.  Time donuts.  No big deal.  But, a nice little extra.  Who would of thought?

“I intuit the can is rigged.  Probably a load of Jolly Time,” I told him, “You think I should give it a poke?”

Marko peered in.

“They’re using a lot of juice.  Might not mean anything though.  If it does, that plate is pressured, for sure.”

“I think I should give it a poke.”

He uncorked the crutch, took a hit and handed it back.

“Poke it.”

I took the crutch and poked.   As soon as the can rolled off the hot plate, it blew.   I felt the blast flatten my face.  I saw white light.  Then some flashing, lilac shapes that looked like those Christian fish.  That’s all I saw for a while.  What is this?  Why is this?  When I opened my eyes I saw Marko’s screaming face surrounded by white puffy clouds of smoke.  He’s in heaven, I thought.  He made it.

My ears were ringing and I felt something hot in my cheek.  I was holding half a crutch with blue flames dripping off the end.  Marko cupped both hands around his mouth and yelled at me.

“ARE…YOU…ALRIGHT?”

I wasn’t sure, but didn’t want to look like a pussy so I smiled and tried to give him a thumbs up.

That’s when I saw I didn’t have a thumb.

This whole Apocalypse thing was turning out to be a major drag.

Marko and I were much more prepared for Y2K, or what we both now referred to as The Great Disappointment.   Society was supposed to collapse because people’s computers couldn’t go to eleven.  We were psyched.  A world gone mad was right where two dudes like us belonged.

We began to arm ourselves.  Pretty much ten years earlier, but now, we had even more reason to pick up some pieces we felt we needed.  You know, to fill the holes in our collection.  When you catch a gun sickness, there’s never enough.  There’s always one more you need.

Over-under .410 derringer?  Oh hell yes.  Just the last resort back-up my imagination could see myself desperately needing.   Some riverboat card game gone south.  For those times.   The camping survival rifle that folds up in your lunch box.  Check.  These two semi-autos just for flashing in front of the bathroom mirror while playing Taxi Driver.  Check and check.  You looking at me?

They all make sense.  A Japanese carbine that takes ammunition that doesn’t exist anymore?  Of course.  In case you ever run across a surplus.  You’ll have the gun to shoot it.  Blunderbuss?   Trench mortar?  Gatling gun?  The answer is always the same.  Oh hell yes.  After all, you never know.  Pretty soon it’s time for bigger gun safe.

Marko and I built up a pretty good collection.  We had some other supplies, but we didn’t worry too much about that.  We had enough guns and ammo to get more supplies.  We grew up on the Mad Max movies.  We knew how you parlayed power in a society that is reduced to eating it’s dead.  Gone is the glass ceiling that held maniacs like us down.  We’d finally have some room for advancement.

Unfortunately for us, society didn’t collapse in 1999.  Little by little, over the years. we pawned-off our armory for beer money.  By the time the Great Shit Hit, we were caught flat-footed.  We wound up with nothing but a .22 caliber target plinker, and a ceremonial sword that was used for Freemason rituals.  We decided to take turns carrying the gun.  I’d get the pistol on odd days and on even ones, I got stuck with the sword.

It really sucked.  It wasn’t like we had pictured.  In fact, this whole End of the World deal, was not what we were hoping for.  Sure, being able to smash into a vending machine to grab all the tasty cake snacks and gum you can carry is fun.  But you never realize that you might be doing it while a tooth rots in your head, or a cyst, that simple antibiotics could get rid of, is starting to fester.  Making  your underarm smell fetid.

We soaked a rag in some Angostura Bitters from a bottle we scavenged from a looted drug store.  All the other booze had been carried off, but people tend to overlook Angostura Bitters, because they were considered just a drink condiment.  Something  to tap out a few drops of in order to add character and depth to the flavor of certain mixed drinks.  They didn’t think of chugging down three bottles in a row on a vacant stomach.  Or carrying the bottles in a bandolero.  To have them handy during particularly hairy shoot-outs.  To calm the nerves.  They didn’t know how awesome Angostura Bitters could be.

Lucky for us they didn’t.  In fact, that was the luckiest thing to happen to me and Marko since the world really shit the bed.  It’s been pretty much bad luck, unabated, since.  So every time we found a bottle, while rooting around some smashed up grocery or liquor store, was met with great joy.  Great joy over bitters.  Bitter dregs.

I wrapped my hand with the rag and embraced the burn as best I could.  What a waste of 40 percent.  Bitters was a rough buzz, but they did the trick.  Drinking straight bitters was to drinking, what smoking bong tar was to weed.  A head-achy, murky buzz, but a buzz nevertheless.  And, in an extreme emergency, you could put a few drops in to flavor a whiskey sour, or to fight off infection from a blown off thumb.  Pretty versatile shit.

We had carefully gone through the still-smoking trailer.  There was nothing really in there of value, besides the marine battery and a deck of Bettie Page playing cards.  Whoever had been there had moved out and on.  They left the beans under black powder and ball bearings just to be dicks.  I didn’t get that.  I mean, what good is me having a disposable thumb going to do them?  Except to make them feel better they’re not me.  I guess I kind of get that.

Total waste of beans, though.

We hiked up our back packs and continued our trek west, to the sea.  We heard the ocean had turned red, just like the Bible said it would.  There was also talk about bodies of mermaid people washing up on the shores.  We had to check that shit out.  If we could get there without too many more body parts getting blown off, it would be a nice get-away.  Surf and sand.  Fun and sun.  Not to mention barnacles, sea weed and sand dollars to feast on.  Funny how you crave minerals and nucleic acids when you go without them for a few years.  You just crave kelp.

Something to take the edge off the radiation sickness.

We had this dream of one day opening up a seafood shack/trading post, featuring sea-gull on a stick.  Marko would run the bar, and I would put on a nightly show featuring my wry comments and oddball observations on everyday life in hell.   Maybe a woman or two would show up.  Someone we could bribe with our barnacles and bird on a stick.  Use food to buy human comfort.  Maybe someday start a sex cult.

Big dreams alright, but we were still outside Castorville, CA., so they would have to wait.  We had decided to cross the Central Valley of California on our march to the sea.  The abundance of agriculture, even when left untended, would sustain us through the trek.  We would be like The Gleaners in that old French painting.  We’d stuff ourselves vegan with kale and beets.  After that, it was just a matter of plinking-off rodents and birds for protein, and drinking water from the radiators of abandoned cars.  Marko had these PVC pipes packed with charcoal that would filter the water, as he put it, “pretty okay.”  Pretty okay would have to do.

My big invention was the stick sack.  I devised a way to hang a sack off my belt.  I would pick up sticks for firewood, and put them in the sack.  The stick sack.  The one I invented.  So we were both adding our own particular skills and knowledge to this partnership.  This grand endeavor.

“How’s your ankle, bitch?”

“I am very happy about it.”

Marko was using a plank as a crutch.  I could see his boot all swollen out.  He rolled the ankle about a month and a half ago.  Just trucking through a  parking lot of some mall ruins.  Crunch.  It was one of those things that could’ve happened even in normal times.  The problem was in normal times you could lay up a few days until the swelling goes down.  We didn’t have that luxury.  We had to remain moving targets.  Lots of different marauding bands out here.

All kinds of urban street gangs were migrating out to rural environs, and mutating into their own brands of evil.  There were cholos in mule-drawn low-riders that were big into Aztec human sacrifice.  Black gangs into medieval torture.  Escaped prisoners.  Biker gangs. Vigilantes.  Sex-slavers.  All the basic characters of an average Bethesda video game.  Bad eggs.  One and all.

Then there were the Pappy Parkers.  They were the scariest.   Gun nuts.  Survivalists.  Outdoorsmen.  These fiends had been salivating at the thought of society blowing out a colon.  Sound familiar?  They had been preparing for this for a long time.  And they didn’t sell off all their cool shit at Pawn City.  Yeah.  We envied them.   They could pan for gold, fish, trap, and hunt.  They always had huge stockpiles of ammo, supplies and food.  Gas masks.  K-rations.  MRE’s.  Soviet army trench shovels.  Those little pellets you light to heat up a cup of water.  Instead of pieces of tire, like Marko and I used.

Their thing was to take you out with a black powder musket or cross-bow.  They did it for sport, and to  save the real ammo for something more significant.  If they managed to wound you, they’d drag you back to their camp and make you guest of honor at their picnic lynch.  Then have some taxidermist mount you.  With everyone else in line behind him.

Fuck those guys.  I was itching to catch one of them on the clavicle with my 33d Degree Grand Master’s sword.  Bring down the wrath of Jachim and Boaz.  Maybe while he was taking a piss at night.  Outside their circled RV compound.  I’d take all his cool shit.  Get me a Confederate hat or a German helmet.  Goggles.  Cowboy holster.  A real gun.

That was a pipe dream.  We gave those fuckers wide berth.   The best you could hope for was to come across a pile of them after a government gunship torched them into beef jerky.  Pick through the smoldering wreckage for souvenirs.  That’s how I got this compass with a whistle.  It was all there was left.   It was never much of fight between the government and those dudes.  When it comes down to guns you bought from Big 5 sporting goods or a gun show at the fair grounds, against a battery of Hellfire rockets, well…

Being good at paintball and Civil War reenactments, hardly qualifies you as a force to be reckoned with on the modern battlefield.

It gave me a strange comfort  that somebody else had their Apocalypse fantasy turn to shit.  That’s one thing I learned about fantasies.  They can only exist, if you don’t think them through.  You never picture yourself being chop-sawed in half by a hot blade of depleted uranium while your pop gun dangles its cork.  Why would you even entertain that?  It would be a drag.  So having an A-TK M230 chain gun rip up a dirt road, spitting bullets through their crotch, wasn’t what a lot of those dudes were expecting.  Not when they were having their Red Dawn dreams of glory.

Anyway, just because they didn’t pose much of a threat to government forces, didn’t mean they didn’t pose a threat to our sorry, unprepared asses.  We tried to avoid them as best we could.  In fact, later that day, we got caught in a huge open field, and had to lie in a drainage ditch for almost an hour, waiting while one of their long convoys of horse-drawn Winnebagos and Airstreams clopped by.  Probably on their way to find a suitable oasis to set up one of their flea market tented cities.  A place to trade crafts, and establish a new religion.  One that allows marrying children.

They did have women though.  Pale and chubby creatures with floppy freckled breasts.  Women who quilted bandages and crocheted warm camouflage ponchos and lap-warmers.  Women who baked cinnamon rolls and bundt cake for the men.  We could see them working in the kitchens inside the RVs and trailers as they passed.   We could smell their sweet buns.  I quietly rolled over to Marko.

“Hungry?” I whispered.

He smiled and indicated something with a nod.  I looked over and saw a large woman through one of the trailer windows.  The rough road was jostling her around.  Making it all shake and jiggle.

I raised an eyebrow and grinned.   I turned back to Marko and nodded.  Me too.  I rolled over and went back to being invisible…and smelling cinnamon buns.  Funny how you crave dough…after you haven’t had it for a few years.

Night was coming.  We decided to stop and set up camp in a dried river wash.  Marko took a look at my hand.  He said I would probably live long enough to regret more stuff, then washed the wound with the last of our precious bottled water.  He wrapped another bitters-soaked bandage around it.

“Do you want some aspirin?”

My hand hurt like hell, but we only had three  left.

“Nah,” I said, “Let save it in case one of us gets really hurt.””

“That’s what this is for,” he said, pointing the pistol to his head.  “Come on, dude, take one.  I’m serious. ”  He held one out in his hand.

I looked down at it.  A simple aspirin.  Now looking very much like an Morphine drip.  A shot of Demerol.  But only one of three left in the entire universe.  Do you do it?  Or save it, and have something to live for?  The pain is now, but later pain could be worse without it.  Is some less bad now, worth more bad later?  What if he winds up needing it?   The ankle.  I’ll feel like shit.  Jesus, I don’t know.

“We’ll find more, dude, c’mon.”

He was being righteous.  I took it out of his palm.

“I’ll hold on to it.”

We had picked up a few pockets full of Brussels sprouts earlier that day.  We poked them through some car antennas and toasted them over small fire.  We leaned back against some big rocks.  The sky was clear, and the stars were out.  We ate our burned bulbs in silence.

“These things taste like farts,” I told him, “I always thought that about Brussels sprouts.”

“Taste this,” Marko said,  lifting a cheek and gassing one. “See if it tastes like Brussels sprouts.”

He did his evil guffaw.  I always loved hearing that.  I had set him up for it this time.   I knew he’d take the bait.  We stared at the fire.  Really quiet.  No helicopters out tonight.

“You know what I really miss?”

“Hot buttered cinnamon buns, stuffed in mom jeans,” he said, spiking another Brussels sprout on the antenna.

“Besides that.  No, fabric softener.  I  miss fabric softener.”

“Uh-huh.”

“I just started using it a few months before everything went to hell, when I figured out you could pour it into that… thing in that compartment, in the middle of the machine.  I always thought you had to wait for the rinse cycle before you could pour it in.  So I never wanted to deal with that bullshit.”

“What compartment?”

“Uh, in the middle of the thing that spins back and forth.”

“The agitator.”

“Yeah, there’s a place to pour it in, so the softener gets dispersed during the rinse cycle.  You don’t have to stand around and listen for it.”

“No shit.  I didn’t know about that.”

“Yeah.  I had some really fresh-smelling laundry there for a while.  It smelled like how they always talked about in the commercials. ”

“Uh.”

Marko looked tired.  He was barely holding his eyelids up.  I had seen that look before, plenty of times, but this was just out of exhaustion.

“Anyway, I really miss that smell.”

“Uh.”

He lifted his cheek, but nothing came out.  I could see it irritated him to miss the cue.  Great time to ask something like, “Do you miss this smell?” But he whiffed.  One more try.

“The smell was very artificial, but in a pleasant way.” I went on, “The smell of laundry softener is one of those rare, man-created things that didn’t totally blow.”

He didn’t even try that time.  He must be fading.

I didn’t want him going to sleep just yet.  He was my entertainment system.  He was the only person I ever talked to these days, besides myself.  And I was pretty sick of listening to myself.

“Hell, dude, sometimes I even miss standing in line at the D.M.V.  I mean, even though you were surrounded by terrible people, at least they weren’t trying to turn you into a skin drum set, or sell you off into slavery.  They were just awful to look at.  Small distress when I think about it now.  And at least being there meant you had a vehicle to deal with.  Even if it was trying to get it registered with no proof of ownership.  Right?”

He was out.  Cold.

It was back to just me for a while.  I felt my mood dip.  I had nobody to distract me from the pain in my hand.  I tried to watch Mexican television in my head.  I imagined long-legged Latinas jumping around in bathing suits while a guy in a dog costume played the accordion, but I always wound up thinking about gangrene and amputation instead.

I broke down and took the aspirin.  We will find more.  Have faith in things unseen.  I popped it with a hit of bitters.  I punched up my sleeping bag and climbed in.   I looked up at the stars and did what I always did, searched the night sky for UFOs.  I’d lie there and think.  C’mon, dudes.  Get us off this fucking thing.  I want you to teach me about inter-dimensional travel.  I’ll teach you how to make a stick sack.

Most of the time, I just saw the stars, but they were comfort enough.  I was glad they were still there.   Looking exactly as they did when I was a little kid.  They made me feel good back then, and they still did.  Sometimes you have to look to eternity for any sense of stability.  I felt my eyes start to close.

Hope, by Dave Gurz, 2012

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Writer’s Block And Tackle

I got nothing.  I’ve been staring at a blank screen for a while now.  I wish it were metaphoric.  I’d be happier.  Maybe it is, and I will be happier when I realize it.   As it is, up until less than one minute ago, it was literal.  Then I had to start typing something.  Might as well type about not typing.

Okay.  That’s over.  Now what?

I guess I’ll write about what I just wrote.  Attention everyone, I wrote something earlier even though I had nothing to write.  There.  Okay, now just keep going.  One sentence at a time.  It’s got to lead somewhere.  Hopefully fruitful, but at this point, I don’t give a rat’s ass.  As long as I don’t delete all this, it’s a start.  Let’s see if I delete it.

Nope.  No such luck.  Looks like I’m committed now.  Here we go.  I don’t feel good about this.

One of the things I liked about drinking was it helped me get over these stuck points.  Drink enough and you become a fucking genius, and everything you write is brilliant.  Until you read it in the morning.  If you’re lucky, you might be able to salvage a paragraph here or a sentence there.  Sometimes I would go back, into the scrap yard, and weld some loose, working parts together.  I’d come up with something, and label the abomination, “Post-Post Modern Lit.”

Nothing left to do after that, but stand back and see if the hipsters salute it.

Most of the time, those scraps of paper got trampled underfoot,  and were left to sop up beer and broken glass.  They never saw the light of day.

And the reading public was better off.

Regardless, without drinking, I wouldn’t have had even those mutilated parts to cobble together.  I needed something to silence The Voice That Hates Everything, just long enough to get something, anything, down on paper.  There’s actually a window.  You’re drunk enough not to listen to The Critic, but not too drunk to coherently do anything about it.  It’s a sliver of time.  If I hit it just right I could bang out some decent shit before the aperture closed.  And The Moron took over

I once heard of this writer that was an alcoholic.  Yeah, I know.  Crazy shit.  But I trust the source.  If you are one, I don’t need to explain how alcohol can facilitate the creative process.  You guys know.  Get one us drunk, and you are going to witness some original thinking.  Bold even.
Ideas not hemmed in by bullshit like reason or meaning.  Or fear of social rejection.

When your diving board is that springy, you’re bound to get a good bounce.  Where you land, is not as important as how much air you catch.  A belly flop into a drained pool is still better than sitting on a chaise lounge.  It’s certainly a better story to write about.

This one time I belly-flopped into a drained pool.  Okay, not true.  But it seems like something that could have happened.  Can I just write about stuff the could have happened?  I can write a whole story that climaxes with a dive into concrete.  Seems me.

That also seems like too much work for tonight.   Too creative.

I just want this screen to magically fill itself with words.

So far it’s working.

Okay, I shouldn’t have said that.

Now nothing again…

…for longer than you’ll know.

Tunes.  I need tunes.  Time to put some Billy Childish on the old I-Podular unit.  That always help loosen me up a bit.  Some bad-toothed Brit spitting out the words.  Mad Billy.  The Churl of Chatham.  One of Thatcher’s bastard children.  Doesn’t give a flying fuck.  Snarling cur.  Pissed drunk.  Pissed-off.  Grab a face.  Hurl a gob.  Knee a groin.  Rebellion and riot.  Boots and pint glasses smashing into your skull while a bird in white leather blows you a pink lipstick kiss, then jabs a pool cue in your eye.  Action.  Adventure.  Romance.

It’s not working.  I’m not feeling it.

I feel like putting on a Snuggy and watching a cable show about luxury RV’s.  Going through my closet and getting together a pile for St. Vincent DePaul.  Organizing my dumb-bells in the garage, in descending order, by weight.  Anything but writing now.

However, according to the WordPress Word-O-Meter, I’ve got 733 words.  Just a few more, and all this can be over.

Let’s see…this one time, in my past, something really funny happened.  I’m not in the mood to remember any particular instance, or even make one up.  But if I did, hoo-boy!  What laffs we would have.  We’d be pissing our pants.  Imagine how awesome that would be.

That added some words.  Come on.  Dig deep.

Why am I even doing this?  What’s the point?  What’s my motivation?  Not fortune and fame.  Not on WordPress.  Why this compulsion to write, even when I don’t have anything?

My fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Wagner (who was totally hot) was the first person to encourage me to write.  She told me I had talent and that if I applied myself to it, I could go far.  Yep.  Yeppy yep yep.  She was so right.  If I applied myself.

She was my first muse.  Man, I had a crush on her.  I remember holding her hand when I was line monitor.  It was cool, white and chalky.  Holding it gave me intensely weird feelings.  The fact it was attached to a married woman made the medicine even more strange, more potent.  An attraction to females and danger was already reaching out through those cool, white chalkies.  The loving hands of death.

I wound up writing stories just so she would read them.  They always featured me as some sort of heroic force of nature.  I wanted to impress her.  Make her think I was something more than I was.  Working as my own publicist, you might say.  Anyway, she’d give them back with some positive comments and maybe one of her red-inked smiley faces.  Heady shit for a fourth-grader.  It meant she bought the lie, and maybe I had a chance.

It seems that writing was my earliest attempt at seduction.   Good thing I never tried that again.

942 words.  Almost there.  Maybe I’m already there.  I can just end this shit right now.  Kill it.  A little zinger and The End.  Make it a short one.  For a change.

I dunno.  I think it’s going to fart itself out here pretty soon.  Let’s poke it along and see if we can get it to crawl some more.

I had this gig once, writing a weekly column for a local paper in Santa Fe.  They paid forty bucks an article.  The deadline was noon Monday mornings.  I didn’t have a computer those days, so it’s not like I could just press send from the old home office.  Even if I could, there would be no point in sending something that didn’t exist.  I hadn’t spent the week-end working on an article.  I spent the weekend turning the old home office into a den of iniquity.  One filled with enough wretched excess and moral decay to have made Caligula uncomfortable.

Too busy living life to its fullest, baby, to be scribbling bullshit on paper.

On Monday morning, I’d be lying close to death from having lived so fully.  I’d stare up at the ceiling.  What the fuck am I going to write?  I was too poisoned to handle a pen and paper.  I would word-process the column in my head, in between vomiting and sipping canned beer.  Cheap, rancid shit.  Stuff that made you puff sewer gas out of your pores.  I’d be moving paragraphs around in my head.  Trimming sentences.  Inserting jokes.  Sweating and stinking.  Sprawled out on a stained mattress.  Trying really hard to be a genius.

For forty bucks.

Some mornings I wasn’t sure if I was going to live, but I was sure I wasn’t going to miss that deadline.  Or the forty bucks.  I never did.  It was my last vestige of responsibility and I clung to it tenaciously.  I’d get on my stolen bicycle with no seat, and peddle down to The Reporter.  I’d borrow somebody’s computer and bang out what I had in my head, while also trying to hold my alcohol smell in.  Tapping away, taking really shallow breaths.  Not wanting everyone in the office to know what a drunk I was.  Even though that’s what the article was about.  Genius.

Shit, that was hard.  This is easy.  We’re already at 1298 words and I haven’t broken a sweat.

Back then I needed a deadline.  Sometimes I would set up a reading, knowing it would force me to write.  If I didn’t have an ax hovering, I’d blow off the work at the first sign of a stall.  Whereas if I had a performance looming, I’d stick with it, and try to power through.  I had to come up with something.  The reading was in three hours.  And still, I would procrastinate.

I’d be burning it to the last minute.  One time, I actually finished a piece after I took the stage.  Wrote the last words after I sat down on the chair and opened a beer.  I’d have all these papers stuffed into a briefcase, sheets flying out everywhere, and the audience would think it was part of the shtick.  Fine by me.  Let them think this was performance art.  The truth was that I was totally unorganized and flying by the seat of my pished keks.

I wound up losing the part I had just wrote, that same night.  It was amazing.  I finished writing it up there on stage, set it down, and read some older pieces.  Things were rolling along.  Then I decided to lay the fresh one on them.  Hot off the presses this one, kids.  I get halfway through, and realize I can’t find the last sheet.

That’s funny.  I just wrote it.  I’m going through the whole briefcase while the audience waits, but it is gone, gone, gone.  I’m totally baffled.  I mean I didn’t go anywhere.  I was on stage the whole time.  So where could I have misplaced it?  Somewhere between here and here.  When was the last time you saw it?  When I was sitting right here.

Performance art?  Or just train wreck?  I’ll never tell.

I always wanted to see how close I could cut things.  Let me tell you, I could cut them wahfer theen.

There was a place in LA, called Al’s Bar, over by Little Tokyo.  They had an open mike on Thursdays.  Some friends and I would pile in the car and drive south.  We’d take turns going up to do something.  Didn’t much matter what.  It was for our own enjoyment.  The idea that we were up there “performing” something in front of an audience, was a pretty good rush.  But, it was even better if you could push the envelope.  Redefine what constitutes entertainment.  Get esoteric.  Make people wonder about you.  Provoke thought.

Scare the hell out of yourself.

One night, I decided I wanted to try an experiment.  I wanted to see what would come out of me if I had absolutely nothing prepared.  Nothing.  Just get up there and see what rolls out.  I’d create a vacuum in my psyche and hope something would fill it…at the very last minute.  Something interesting was bound to happen.  No matter what.  Maybe I’d even learn something.

I learned something alright.  I learned that I was fucking crazy.

As the evening proceeded, and my turn got closer, I started feeling some apprehension.  Maybe I should have some back-up, in case I can’t come up with anything.

And ruin the integrity of the experiment?  You idiot.  The whole point of this would be destroyed.  You’d be left doing something pointless.  We can’t have that.   Sufficiently penitent, I pushed any ideas away and tried to sit in mental void.  As best I could.

The place was noisy. There were people in the other room talking at the bar and shooting pool.  They weren’t paying attention to what was going on in the little show room.  In the performance space, there were probably thirty or so people.  All watching the terrible spectacle that is an open mike night.  Most of them were on the sign-up list to perform.  So you can imagine how pathetic.  How brutally dreadful.

That night, I couldn’t take comfort in how terrible the other acts before me were.  I didn’t know if my shit would be any better.  After all, I didn’t even know what my shit was.

Just be here.  Don’t think.  Stay present.

I was pretty awake by the time they called my name.  Not really able to anesthetize myself, at even dive bar prices, I was far too sober to enjoy the experience.  I always had stage-fright, but that night it seemed particularly acute.  The Fear had coiled in my gut and was constricting my throat.  Why was I doing this?  Nobody held a gun.  This was all my idea.  Of fun.

Why would I do this to me?

I got up and introduced myself.  I adjusted the mike, and looked down at it.  I stared deep into the meshed metal wire.  I really had nothing.  Nothing.  I clearly remember thinking, “Okay, I’m fucking out of here.”  I just stood there and checked out.  Evaporated.  My soul had left the building, leaving an empty husk staring at the mike.  Silence.  Then…

“I WANT TO FUCK YOUR MOTHER!!!”

I watched myself say it, from about two feet behind and above.  Sort of floating above it all.  Me looking at me.  I wasn’t too thrilled with what I was seeing.  The whole bar had gone pin-drop silent.  The people in the next room stopped talking and shooting pool.  Everyone was staring at me.  I guess that was good.  I had gotten everyone’s attention.  Or at least whatever possessed me did.  Good way to do it.  Although it seemed a little drastic.  No warming up the crowd with some friendly patter and a reminder to tip the waitress and bartender.  No.  Just cut to the chase.  Let everybody know what you would like to do to their mother.

Oh man.

Now I really didn’t know what to say.

Well, I wasn’t about to return into my body.  Not while I had to deal with this telling everyone I wanted to fuck their mother situation.  I decided that whoever yelled out that shit in the first place, could have the mike.  Maybe they can get us out of this, but I wanted no part of it.

It seems the invading spirit had some more things to say, some other pronouncements to make, because I was up there for the entire five-minute allotment.  I can’t remember any of it.  Not even right afterwards.  I had blacked-out.  And not my normal version.  It was strange.  I do remember people laughing.  Then afterwards, people clapping and cheering, and some guy wanting to buy me a beer.  Which I was nice enough to allow.

My friends said I did well, but I didn’t trust them.  I figured they had to say that.  I certainly didn’t want to press the investigation.  I never asked them what I had actually said up there, beyond the fabulous ice-breaker.  I really didn’t want to know.   My scientific investigation was over.  While many questions remained (like what happened)  I was able to come to some firm conclusions.

If you create a vacuum, something will fill it.  Whatever it was, in my case, got some dude to buy me a beer.  That was enough to label the entire experiment a resounding success.  It also helped my stage fright.  I was never as nervous after that night.  Maybe there’s some facing your fears message in there, but I don’t see it.

Oh shit, we’re at 2676 words.  That’s more than enough.  Okay, let’s wrap this fucker up fast.  Uh, yeah, things happened, blah blah, everything turned out cool, blah blah.  Explain some valuable insights.  Some lessons learned.  Maybe some shit about letting go and the creative process, or the entertainment value of demonic possession.  Ask some big questions.  Give few real answers.  Toss in a general observation.  Pair it with a specific absurdity.  Come up with a clever reference to something earlier in the piece, then a pithy popper to cork it.  This bitch is done.

And I had nothing.

Working on my article for Monday.

I’m A Rich Bastard Now.

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I won’t be writing this bullshit blog anymore.  Why?  Because I don’t need to.  I don’t need you.  I don’t even need me.  I’m rich now.  All of a sudden.  Filthy, dirty, stinking, obscenely rich.  I will simply be too busy indulging my degenerate appetites to waste time writing some worthless, free blog.  This was only something to pass the time until I stumbled upon a windfall.  Well, I’ve stumbled… and the wind has fallen.
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Of course, my elation at this turn of events is tempered by the fact that some people I don’t know, but blessed with my last name, had to die in a terrible tragedy.  Someone had to pay the ultimate price to deliver me.  But, like the old saying says, “Whenever a Gustaitis dies, an angel is born.”  Well, I have been reborn.
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Please witness:
Roger Silas Kokou
Attn: Gustaitis,

This is an official legal notice of unclaimed fund left behind by Eng. Jacob A. Gustaitis, a national of your country, contractor by profession who died in a car accident along with his wife and their only daughter.

As the former official/personal attorney of the deceased and witness of fact of this subject matter, I hereby solicit for your immediate response and positive committed efforts to facilitate the transfer of the total amount valued at twenty million, Six hundred thousand U.S.D which he left behind, since you bear the same last name with him thus you are legally authorized to apply. Kindly Respond via my private email for details: cabinetwatdan(AT)yahoo.com or call: 00-228-9-95-27-743.

Regards, Barrister Daniel Wataego (Esq) Lomé-Togo

Can you believe my luck?  I’ve been waiting for something like this.  Deus ex machina, baby.

Twenty million, six hundred thousand dollars.  Even in today’s money, that’s a decent chunk.  I can put the twenty million in a CD, and then coast off the six hundred grand until it matures, in three or six months.  I haven’t decided which.  Is there a tax on getting money from dead people you don’t know?  Seems like there would be.

Well fuck that.  This money is mine, Uncle Sam.  That whole “render unto Caesar” admonition might have applied in olden times, but not in today’s economy.  I don’t care if I have to fly every week to use an ATM in Togo, I’m not letting you touch any of it.  I worked hard during various periods of my life.  When I wasn’t laying around drinking myself into a stupor, I was busting ass at all kinds of brutal and stupid jobs.

Thank you, sweet Lord.  Of course, I’m going to share my good fortune.  I promise to tip generously and hire only struggling young attorneys.  I think You knew that by bequeathing me this ample harvest, I would spread it among my fellow man.  And woman.  One rolled-up hundred-dollar bill at a time.

I don’t know where to begin.  I mean, I don’t want to go apeshit, but there’s been a lot of things I’ve needed that I just couldn’t afford.

Jet Ski with a grape jelly flaked paint job.  Gold-plated gatling gun.  Armored car with 10,000 watt trunk of funk and champagne slushy machine.  Private bowling alley with a stripper pole in the middle of the lane.  Rocket powered hang glider from Acme products.  Things I didn’t know I needed.  Until now.

Indian elephant wearing a poncho made of rubies.

I’m telling you, this really simplifies my life.  No more having to run the rat’s maze.  No more jockeying for position.  No more dealing with the complicated Rube Goldberg machine of social acceptance.  I no longer have to try to earn the approval of my peers.  You see, I don’t need their approval.  I just need the approval of some corrupt Third World bank executive…and I’m golden.

Everyone will hate themselves for not being me, and that’s approval enough.

I always wanted a satin trampoline.  To bounce around on naked while high on nitrous.  And a spider monkey trained to do cute stuff, like the laundry.

Will this change me?  It depends on what you mean by change.  Sure, it will change the way I act towards others, but it won’t change the person inside.  No.  That person is just going to feel a little more free to assert himself.  That’s all.  I’m still going to like what I like, but now will be able to stick my snout into the trough a little deeper.  Or better yet, pay others to stick it in for me.  Create jobs.

I might be getting ahead of myself.  I still have to come up with the $3,700 to release the funds.  This barrister dude,  Mr. Daniel Whataego (What a ego?) has been pretty firm about me coughing up the money before he can proceed.  I told him, “Dude, I will sign anything saying that as soon as I get my millions I will pay back the four grand.”  No dice.  My Sprint bill from talking to this fucker is going to be a whopper, but I can’t stress.  I have to be patient.  I’m sure there’s all kinds of legal bullshit, and probably a greedy official somewhere along the line that needs to be greased.  I know how this shit works.  People are just not going to hand over twenty million dollars.  Until you send them four thousand dollars.

Mine really is a typical American success story.  A son of immigrants wastes 30 years of his life as a dangerous drunk, gets sober, then one day while scrolling through spam featuring male enhancement products, comes across $20.600.000.  It’s Horatio Algers.  It’s the feel good movie of the century.  It’s now my story, an American story.  A story of redemption…and revenge.

Not everyone is going to be happy about my success.  (I’ll make sure of that)  There are a lot of people out there who will resent my millions, and I expect that.  It’s human nature.  I myself was human once, so I know how those miserable creatures roll.  Lot’s of people I know are struggling these days.  They’re going to see me as a soft touch for a handout.   They are in for a rude surprise.   I might have been willing to help them out when I was poor, because that meant I couldn’t give them much.  But now… now my generosity could really hurt.

Them, that is.

Look, I don’t want to rob them of the wonderful journey of self-discovery that financial insecurity and its panic provides.  If I help pay for an operation or make a rent or car payment for them, it’s only going to keep them from looking deep within themselves.  Do you really need a place to live?  Reliable transportation?  A biopsy?  Or is that just stuff our consumer-driven media brainwashed you to believe you need?

Well, the best way to find out, is to not get any of it.  Maybe you’ll discover that a cardboard box, a thumb, or a spoonful of rat poison will suffice as substitute.  You won’t know unless you try.  Try it a bunch.  You don’t have to report to me.  I know that sit-rep.  It seems like only yesterday I was at Ross Dress for Less, looking through the clearance rack.  Which is weird, because it happened today.

I rarely shop for shit.  Except for food.  I’m doing okay, but I’m not big into spending.  I think it’s residual survival instinct.  All those years living hand to mouth.  So anyway, I needed some essentials.  A new pair of those stretchy lycra thermal underwear for under my work-out gear this winter.  They make me look ridiculous.  Like a villain from the old Bat Man show. but that’s why I disguise myself with other clothes on top.  So nobody snaps.

I’d prefer to clothes shop at a thrift store, but not for underwear.  That’s a little too gnarly.  So Ross it is.  It’s hit or miss there.  They have some of the most hideous clothes ever invented, in my size, and some really cool threads, that don’t fit.  Anyway, I’m in luck.  There’s a set in my size.

Decent price, too.  I pull out the top from the box and try it on.  It fits.  Except the neck hole is too tight.  Everything else fine.  Hmm.  I can go next door to Target.  Target, right?  Not Rodeo Drive.  I can probably find a pair with a neck hole that doesn’t choke me.  The difference in price is really not going to make or break me.  But I’ve got this great deal over here, and except for the blocking my airways situation, it’s perfect.

“Fuck it, I’ll stretch the hole,” I decide.  I should be grateful.  There are people out there that don’t even have a hole to stretch.  And I saved enough to buy a twelve pack.

That’s how it is with me.  There’s this feeling that by saving money, there will be more money for beer.  Even though I don’t drink beer anymore.  Old habits die hard.  Back then, if I got, let’s say a traffic ticket, instead of being happy I didn’t get hauled in for D.U.I., I would picture how many imported beers the ticket cost.  Then I’d picture those bottles being smashed, one by one, in a drainage ditch.  Just to drive the pain in harder.

Lose a gas cap?  Six bucks to replace it?  That’s a sixer of Becks.  Forget it.  Stuff a rag in and drive a Molotov cocktail around.  Buy three forties to celebrate your savings.  No need to waste money on an oil change, not when you have to put in a quart every three days.  It changes itself.   Registration due?  Break out the paint set and change the color of the tag.  Proof of Insurance?  Pay the dude at Kinkos to make you one using an old one.

I knew lots of handy cost-cutting ways to stretch the family budget.  Savings enough to buy a Mayan pyramid’s worth of beer.  Instead of a real house.

Unfortunately, drinking on an empty stomach became a common cost-cutter.  My dire financial situations made that one easier and easier to employ.  When you choose to stop eating so you can keep drinking, it’s probably a red flag.  One to whiz right by on your glorious victory lap.  Some kind of end is roaring towards you.  Wave back to the flags.  Won’t be long now before something significant happens.  Will it be getting twenty million dollars?

It’s been hard to change my attitude about money.  Sometimes I think I’m still that bum.  I sure remember where I came from.  If I go to a restaurant, I will really agonize about making a waitress or waiter go back and get something.  I know what a pain in the ass it is to dance to somebody else’s tune.  If I go to a hotel, I have to tidy up the room before the maid comes so she wouldn’t have to work as much.  My mom cleaned motel rooms for a while and it was hard enough when the rooms were neat.

I was on a cruise recently with my girlfriend.  There’s all these Indonesian people serving as crew.  We’ll, I’ve been to Indonesia, and already knew those people are some of the most beautiful souls on the planet.  Happy and good-natured, they always friendly and provide excellent service.  And that’s what bothered me.  They’re such nice people, I didn’t want them to have to do anything for me, and when they did, felt like I had to over-tip and thank them like they saved me life.

If we ordered room service, I would ask the person taking my order, to tell the guy delivering it, that it was no rush.  I had been a room service waiter and knew that whole frantic hurry go-go that came with that gig.  I didn’t want to add to their stress.  If we had to call for something, like more towels, I’d hesitate.  They’re probably really busy now.  I didn’t want them to have to deal with my shit.  Speaking of…

One afternoon, Lori had gone up to one of the top decks.  I figured this was a good time to use the bathroom.  I like to be private about some things, and it’s kind of close quarters, dig?  So now’s a good time.  Well, I finish and push the flush.  Nothing.  Again.  Nothing.  Again.  Nothing.  Again.  Again.  Again.  Again.  Again.  Again…Again.  Nothing.  Oh fuck.  I can’t believe it.  This can’t be happening.

It’s not going away.

You see, I also used to work for a plumbing company, so I know what having to deal with something like this is like.  I remember having to work through somebody else’s problem while they casually popped peanuts and played ping-pong in the next room.   I cannot subject somebody else to it.  Can not.

It was one of those crucible, just-crapped-my-pants moments.  I MUST handle this.  Into action, NOW!

I’ll spare you the details, but I handled it, so to speak.  It was a secret stealth mission.  I felt like I was smuggling enriched Uranium trying to get it out of cabin and properly disposed of.  I left the package on the counter of the health and beauty spa.  Not really, but I dealt with it, so nobody else would ever have to.  I think it shows character.  Rugged individualism.

I dealt with my own shit.

Anyway, when I got back, I was able to finally call the ship’s maintenance guy.  He fixed the toilet.  I tipped him.  Thanked him like he saved my life.  Closed the cabin door and slid along the wall.  I felt like I had aged years.  So much for relaxing cruise.

I don’t know if that part of me would change if I were rich.  I couldn’t pop peanuts and play ping-pong while somebody else was dealing with my mess.  It wouldn’t feel right.  I don’t think it should.  I hope that part of me never goes away.  It’s a slippery slope if it does.  Next stop, total assholedom.  For me at least.  And tons of money wouldn’t solve that problem.

I do have some friends that have done pretty well for themselves and haven’t turned into total assholes.  They haven’t lost their humanity.  They’re still cool to hang out with and would probably help a friend out if they needed it.  That’s encouraging.  Not that I would ever ask.  Like I said, I’m doing okay.

Which reminds me, I have to get a cash advance off my cards to Western Union some money to Mr. Wataego.  He’s expecting it.

Mardi Gras Death Trip ’89 Part 2

There was a small room attached to the back of the Greyhound, where a beautiful Asian woman wearing red silk pajamas had set up a massage table.  The room was dimly lit by candles, sandalwood incense burned, bamboo flute music was piped in from speakers shaped like laughing Buddhas.  “Well this is cool,” I thought, “I dig the black lacquered furniture.  Nice touch.”  I crawled up on the table.

“Happy ending?” she asked.

“Make it the happiest,” I told her.

I took a long thin pipe from her.  A bubbling piece of amber resin smoldered in the tiny bowl.  Opium.  Just the thing for a long bus ride.  The people at Greyhound think of everything.  I thought they banned smoking on buses.  Glad that didn’t apply to hop.

I puffed lazily on the pipe while the girl started to knead the sides of my aching lower back.  The blue smoke rose in expanding spirals.   One of the Buddha speakers smiled at me.  I smiled back.  She found the knot and pressed a bony knuckle into it…hard.  What the fuck?!

I woke up from the pain in my back.  I had returned to reality.  Some happy ending.  I was back on a Greyhound bus, the kind without the opium den massage parlor attached to the back.  I sat hunched forward in my seat, curled like a cooked shrimp, drooling on my lap.  I had been sitting for days, drifting in and out of pot brownie psychosis, and still had hours to go before New Orleans.

Next to me was some Ed Gein-type eating a tomato with salt.  I didn’t know when he showed up.  There was a bible-reading black lady there the last time I checked.  I sort of remember trying to tell her that demons were after me.  She said she would pray for me.  I think I asked her to hurry, before nodding off.

Oh man…okay, whatever.  She’s gone now.  She’s been replaced by the tomato-eating cannibal.  I had been given one strange road dog after another during this whole trip.  People that made me feel like I was the normal one.  I had it with odd-ball characters.  Thank God I was on my way to the Crescent City during Mardi Gras, where everyone is normal.

Those two days trapped on the bus had been a grueling endurance test.  The brownies I had been eating had cleaved a gaping gash in my psyche.  Universal weirdness poured in.  The influx of mind-bending strangeness to process was flooding my psychic septic system.  I simply had too many bizarre impressions inside my head, and no way to walk them off.  That usually spells trouble for me and those around me.

That shit has to come out somewhere.  Why not in my behavior?  What better way to chronicle my dysfunction than with symbolic action?  A chaotic form of Kabuki theater, manifesting the madness within.  It’s what I was born to do.  I just needed some leg room to do it.

When we finally pulled into the station that evening, there were five half-drunk co-eds from the University of Michigan waiting for me.  They cheered when I got off the bus, shrieking like teeny boppers.  Lu put them up to it.  It was meant to embarrass me.  Sorry.  It would take more than that.  I felt strangely at ease among wild adulation.  After one-arm hugging all the girls, I put down my suitcase and planted one on Lu’s pie hole.

“Now we can really get this motherfucker rolling,” she said, scraping, something from the corner of my mouth.

“Indeed,” I said, ” I think we need to launch this juggernaut with a little velocity.  We can start pacing ourselves in the morning.”

I took out the empty pint bottle in my pocket and tipped it to reveal a tiny corner of whiskey.

“Do you think this will be enough?”

“I told you, this excursion includes all-you-can drink.  Don’t worry, as your cruise director, I will take care of your every need.”

With that, she pulled me by the hand, and we were off to the hotel, followed by a posse of giggling girls.

I have had worse moments in my life.

Wading through the streets that night, I could see the party was in full swing.  People were already howling-at-the-moon crazy.  The air was thick and humid, which happens to be my favorite.  I am one of the few people I know that loves humidity.  The more the better.  I want to feel like I’m swimming around in a fish bowl.  Splash my face with it like a pig.

It’s a sexy atmospheric, and good for the pores.  Purge what ails you at the sultry sweat lodge of love.  Lickity leg stickity ickity humidity.  Spackle those cracks and crannies with smeared molten mojo goo.  Gooey times are gooooood.

The girls had gotten a room at a Holiday Inn.  Decent enough, especially when you’re on the bum.  After thirty-eight hours on a Greyhound, a Salvation Army cot starts to look luxurious.  Ooh, horizontal.  So I was psyched for the plush home base of operations, and at no additional financial strain.

Kind of cramped quarters with five girls though.  How are we going to sleep everyone in here, ladies?  Tell you what, I will volunteer myself as planning commissioner.  I’ll help sort this out.  The who sleeps where part.  And stuff.

While I was trying to come up with some sort of rating system to determine the proximity of their sleeping accommodations to mine, logging some initial observations, and then calculating those factors to come up with a workable probability model, Lu came into the room.  She had a gift for me.

Oh yeah.  Don’t forget the primary.  What’s this?

It was a case of beer, but made up of four different six packs.

“Hey look at that!  All of my favorites.  The Guinness, The Heineken,  The Becks, and even The Moosehead!”

“For mornings,” she nodded, “I remembered.”

She had given me a beautiful beer bouquet.  Wow.  I felt my heart explode a little.  She might be the one.  Serious, dude.  This one is a keeper.  Watch yourself around these other women.  Maybe try to behave a little.  Don’t go total Id.

Yeah, I know.  But at the time, I thought I’d try.  I’m not rotten to the core.  Just from that part outwards.

Her friend Maria was an especially spirited little drill-teamer.  Always go for drill team.  Over cheerleaders, for sure.  They try harder.  This one was certainly friendly.  Lots of smiley-look arm-rubby encouragement from her.  Seemed like a team player.  Whip out the slide-rule and plot that vector.

We hung out in the room for a while, doing some warm-up drinking.  We had been joking around when one of the girls laughed so hard she audibly farted.  It sounded like a door slowly creaking open.  A real burner.  You could hear the heat.  Oh man, we were on the floor.  Unfortunately, that’s where the dense gas settled.  That made us laugh even harder, the kind that gives you a side-ache, some of us gagging up bile.

Yeah, this was going to be fun.  Good ice-breaker.  A bottle of vodka made the rounds.  I hit it while I sampled the assorted flavors of beer.

“I think I need to cause some damage,” I announced, dropping the empty bottle of Becks close to the trash can.

“You can start with me,” Lu piped up.

My eyebrow arched.

We hit the street at midnight.  I held Lu’s hand.  Maria locked her arm around mine.  Lu didn’t seem to mind.  I’m telling you, this one is special.   I leaned over and kissed her.  It was Saturday night, and Fat Tuesday was still three nights away.  There was going to be plenty of time to create some magical lack-of memories.

And what memorable black-outs they turned out to be.  I wish I had a grandson.  Someone to bedtime stories about how Grandpop used to bop.  “I could really shwang dat thang, sonny boy.  Before this walker, feeding tubes, and fluid drainage holes blew my game.”

To be honest, Grandpop’s memories are already vague.  Trying to remember that trip has been like grasping at ghosts.  I remember a few specific moments.  Some of them, gentlemanly discretion prevents me from sharing here.  Others are not that entertaining to relate.  Can you see my quandary, dear reader.  There are things I just can’t spill here in print.  Not while any of the survivors are still alive and could happen upon it.  They might feel like I violated a sacred trust.

I know, total cop-out, but I’m still trying to grope my way along the edge between entertaining and downright dirty.  It’s tricky.  Perhaps a modicum of modesty and good taste is what’s called for here.  Let’s just say, it was a complete debauch, and that’s by the standards I was living then.  That should tell you something.  Full on, balls to the wall, sybriatic abandon.  Marius, the modern Roman.  Every bestial appetite gorged, feathered, vomited, and renewed.

I can tell you about how I got chased by a police horse though.  I was with Lu, standing on the edge of a crowd on Bourbon Street, watching a fight between two guys.  I was shouting encouragement to the smaller of the two.  He kept uppercutting and missing.  He needed to take a step in.  He’d connect for a spinning star jackpot.

“Step up little dude!” I kept shouting.

Then the cops showed up.  The ones with horses attached.  I guess this fight’s over.  Okay, whatever, right?

Some cops on foot rush in and grab the two guys that were fighting, while the rest sort of circle the wagons on their horses and face-off against the crowd.  They looked nervous, like being surrounded by a packed crowd was making them bug a little.  The horses and the cops.  They start shouting orders for us to back up, but we had nowhere to back up to.  We had our backs against more crowd.  Nobody was throwing shit or getting involved, we just couldn’t move back.

I don’t know if he was trying to move the crowd, but a cop started charging his horse at us.  Us the crowd, but me directly.  I clearly remember that big horse head coming at me.  Don’t get me wrong. I think horses are cool, beautiful animals, but having one charge right at me… freaked my shit out.  He was a foot away when I dodged left. The horse followed me.  I found myself inside the open circle.  He had chased me from the safety of an anonymous crowd, out into a gladiator ring.  I was now The Guy Running Away From a Cop, and thus a singular arrestable unit.

The other cops started after me.  I’m bobbing, ducking and dodging police horses, with people around me cheering like it’s some convict rodeo shit.  Everywhere I turned to escape a big horse head, another one was coming.  There was at least four cops on horses chasing me in a space not big enough to hold a bake sale.  Very Max Sennett.  I thought I was done for.

Fortunately, my years of practicing not getting grabbed, paid off.  I spun out of a Full Veronica pass and pivoted, and like Manolete, let a beast graze past me. Ole’!  I jumped back to avoid another.  I rolled my ankles and threw my hips.  Ran sideways in a circle.  Did the Limbo, The Swim, The Hurry, The Ice Machine.  I faked and feinted, and basically juked those horses flat-hoofed.  I really don’t know how I did it, but I was pretty fucking amazing.  It has to rank as one of my all-time craziest things to have experienced.

I spotted Lu in the crowd.  She was waving.  “Get the fuck out of there!”

I dove into the crowd and burn-wormed my way deep into the safety of its bowels.  She grabbed a hold of me, and pulled me away.  We zig-zagged through the Mardi Gras mob and kept going until we wound up sitting in Popeye’s Chicken, laughing too hard to eat.

“I thought for sure they had you.  Very impressive little dance performance you gave there, mister.”

“Well, I’m glad my Julliard training paid off.  You know, all of life is a dance.  It pays to keep a little twinkle in your toes.”  I picked up two drum sticks and made them give a little Rockette kick.  “I am so not arrested right now.”

“I’m so glad.”

Good times.  Unfortunately, the next morning I had to board The Dirty Dog for the long ride home.  It was Fat Tuesday, and there was still one last night of partying left, but not for me.  I had to get home to my menial jobs and routine.  Lu and the girls saw me off, and as the bus drove away, I actually wept a little.  Honest to God.  I didn’t want to leave.   I remember thinking, “That was how all of life should be.”  The drinking, fucking, and madness, all blendered up into a smooth and delicious concoction.

There was also something about having to leave before the party was officially over that this alcoholic found particularly distasteful.  All those people having fun without me.  How could they?  I mean, how can they actually have fun without me around to help propel it?  Unless they’re into some lame version of fun.

I reached into the gift bag Lu had given me.  There was a pint of hootch with a twenty-dollar bill rubber-banded around it, a pack of Camels, a Tall Boy of Bud, a can of bean dip with some beef jerky to scoop with, two Valium wrapped in foil, and an interesting Polaroid.  This girl and her gifts.  She could really read your heart.

I didn’t know it then, but that would be the last time I would see Lu.  I’m glad I didn’t know.  I was bummed enough.  My gut told me I’d probably never see her again.  I had that heavy feeling.   I would also miss the girls.  Over the course of those days and nights of unbridled hedonistic pursuit, I had bonded with them.  They were cool chicks.  Not lame fun, at all.  If any of you ever read this, thank you.

I looked around and snapped the cap.  I took a hit and put it away.  This was now just maintenance drinking.  Just trying to ease the crash, which was speeding towards me like a nostril-flared horse head.  I took off the plastic bead necklaces and put them in the gift bag.  It’s official.  The party is over.

A woman packed into a polyester pantsuit that was straining at the seams like sausage casing, sat next to me.  She smelled…how can I put this delicately?  With a very personal odor.  Not so fresh.  Dig?  I turned away towards the window and started to breathe through my mouth.  I could feel a wave of dread wash over me and foam out into swirling depression.

All those towns and cities, all the fellow passengers, ones that I didn’t care much for on the way down, even when I was in a decent mood, were now returning for a repeat performance.  Just so I could perceive them through the lens of alcoholic melancholy.  So I could scrape some soul off on their jagged edges as I crawled back by.  Poisoned.  Sweating.  Nervous.  Soul-sick and sad.  I had little mental defense.

A fat man with terminal diarrhea.  Some ex-cons trying to extort beers from me.  Some gloryholer putting his hand on my leg.  A paranoid conspiracy nut jawing my ear off.  A chick with mossy teeth and butthole breath, telling me all about her adventures in 4-H.

It was brutal.  Every fucking mile of it.

Detoxing on a Greyhound would soon join my all-time shittiest things to have experienced.

Ah, but I was younger and tougher then.  I made it through.  Amazing really.  Making it through all of it.  Nearly three decades of lunacy, and somehow landing softly on a feathered pillow, typing this.  So not drunk.  So not in prison.  So not dead.  Miracle?  Maybe.  I’m one lucky son of a bitch, alright.  A deranged, danger-dodger with a frantic guardian angel.

It sure didn’t hurt to keep a little twinkle in my toes.  Ole’!

How did I get such sexy legs? I should tryout for drill team.