You Can’t Punch Gas

I decided the other night that I wanted to be more vague.  Really want to cultivate it as a quality.  You can do that you know.  Reinvent yourself. Not just for credit fraud either.  But as an exercise in character building.  Become a different person.  One with new super powers.

Being nebulous as gas is a good one.  To be able to disappear into vacuous vapor.  And leave them swinging at air.

It’s a power I’m only beginning to harness, but it’s already yielded rich rewards.  The power to be vague.  With long periods of silence in between.  Vague and laconic.  Somewhere in that quiet, your next move becomes clear.

It’s an important skeleton key to freeing yourself from the cage of modern life.  No wonder I blew it.  I always tripped myself up with specifics.  Tried to tell the cop too much to prove I wasn’t guilty.  That worked great.

Like a charm.

Fucking specificity.

Always talked myself into a corner–one I could only break out of by clawing like rat set on fire with oil.  Very ungraceful.  Unladylike.  Screeching and scratching my way out of  life’s jams.   It was all so unnecessary.  A fool’s errand.

I should’ve been hiding in the foofy cloud of an ambiguous response.  Don’t try to explain anything.  Just smoke-bomb the room with a big cumulus question mark.

It’s getting yourself out of the most ass-burning trouble with a “Hey, it is what it is,” as your only defense.  And maybe a shoulder shrug.

It is what it is.

How can you argue with that?  Locked in logic.  Universally applicable.  Bullet-deflecting smoothness of surface.  No traction at all for a counter.

It is what it is.  If that is my only assertion during any conflict, short of a shank attack, I will win.  Simply by default.  Because what I claim is true.  Something is what it is.

That leaves them with having to argue that it is what it isn’t.  And that’s a harder row to plow.

Trust me.

It is.

Really amazing what can be achieved with a simple hunch of the shoulders.  And a blank look.  Gotta have that.  Essential.  If you can  toss a pinch of  boredom in that’s even better.  Not like you’re in a chemically-induced stupor, but existentially resigned.  Like apathy.  But more spiritual.

The trick is to become one with the wallpaper behind you.  Blend into nothingness.  Pretty soon people forget you’re there, and then why they were pissed at you.  If the heat gets too much, I’ll disappear into Oneness.  I’m not ashamed to admit it.  I’ll cease fighting everything.

“Maybe.”  “I don’t recall.”  “That might be true.”  “I don’t know.”  “I’m sorry.”

These are not the responses of an obtuse idiot.  These are power words.  Words that open the Gates of Heaven.  And the Door to the Palace of Slack.

These days, I don’t want to fight with anybody.  I just want to be left alone.  To be able to enjoy time with friends.  To eliminate as much drama as my housecleaning skills allow.  I want to Aikido any bullshit right past me.  And move on.

Whether it’s some paranoid fanatic screaming some insane and offensive political diatribe in my face, or somebody accusing me of the most heinous character deficiencies, I  just nod.  Regardless of how pissed I may be, or how much shit I have to throw back in their face.

Go slack.  Give slack.  Get slack.

“You may be right. ”

Put hands in pockets and shrug.

“But I am right!”

“Maybe.”

That’s it.  Don’t say anymore.  Let your eyes slowly roll up white like Lurch, to let them know you’ve left the building.  Stand there like a propped up corpse.  Go mummy on them.  Just be.  Listen  to a distant siren.  A dog bark.  A fly buzz.  A radio from a passing car.

It’s hard to argue with wallpaper.

Eventually they run out of gas and shut up.  And maybe even leave.

Anyway, it’s just another skill set I’m working on in sobriety.  Then there’s total honesty.  That’s the ultimate mind-fuck.  People don’t know how to handle it.  Really freaks them out.

A few years ago when I was personal training at a gym franchise, I came into work at 8 AM for my first client.  I see the owner training a lady.  He’s never there that early.  And he rarely trained people at that point in his career.  So I knew right away.  I was in trouble.

My first time ever.

I go to train my lady and as I’m passing by the owner, he says to me, “I’d like to see you in my office after you’re done with your client.”

“I assume this is about my promotion and raise.”

He just gives me a pained, tight-lipped smile, with nostrils flared and high-tension eyebrows raised in maximum pissed-offness.

Alright.  Whatever.  If I get fired, I’ll be okay.  If I wasn’t going to be okay, it would’ve been long before this.

This is nothing.

I finish with my client and head up the stairs.   I knock on the door and he tells me to come in.  He’s sitting on his leather throne behind a big desk.  I look around.  There’s lots of golden trophy statues of muscley men in Speedos surrounding him.  Plaques and honors of some sort nailed on the walls.  An entire wall of CCTV monitors.

“What time were you supposed to be here today?”

“I thought eight.”

“When was the last time you checked the schedule?”

“I don’t know, maybe three years ago.”

I was serious.  I never looked at the schedule.  I kept track of the appointments without the posted “schedule.”  And unless they threw in a surprise early ringer like they just did, everything went along just fine.   So I told him the truth.  Well, not the whole truth.

“Scratch that, I’ve never checked the schedule.  In the six years that I’ve worked here.”

That was the whole truth.

He just looks at me.  He doesn’t know what to say.

He starts sputtering about how they just signed up this new client for a few grand yesterday and put her with me at 7AM, how she got there and waited for me, and how she finally called him and made him drag his ass down to the club to train her.

Well nobody told me.  I have a cell phone.  Holler at me, bitch.  Make sure I’m dialed in.  Don’t dry-erase it on a greasy piece of yellow plastic curling up behind the microwave in a filthy employee break room after I leave, and expect me to somehow know.  Even if I was Johnny Check-The-Schedule.

Which I am fucking not.

You guys sold her the training after I left for the day, and nobody called me.  This is a major fuck-up on your part, dude.  No way to run a business. You almost lost a big account.  My God.

I bet it hurts, too.  Especially since…well…you pride yourself as being Mr. Business man, and shit.  So losing big accounts is the fucking worst.  I bet you’re a little frightened too.   Frightened and angry.  Like a teen rehab chick.  There there.  Don’t worry.  I’ll cut you some slack… this time.  In fact, I’ll even fall on this sword for you, fraidy cat.

“Well, it looks like I fucked up.”

“Yes! Yes you did! YOU FUCKED UP!”

I nod along.  Agreeing.  My face pleasant and happy that we can agree.  At least we all agree on one thing.  I fucked up.  On the same page there.  Seeing retina to retina.  We all vote “yes.”  I fucked up.  More than once, actually.

“Yep.” I said, “Looks that way.”

“You almost lost us a big account!”

“Wow.  That would’ve been bad.  Sorry.”

“It would’ve cost this club a lot of money!”

“Good thing you came down and trained her,” I said, bending down to re-tie my Converse.

He goes blank.  He can’t process this.  I’m completely at ease.  Frankly, I was looking forward to the early nap I’d get to take if he fired me on the spot, so I wasn’t entirely indifferent.  I was leaning for a certain outcome-but trying to stay neutral.  Trying to stay Zen about it.

I finished tying my sneaker, stood up and pulled my workout pants out of my crotch.  Gave them a little straightening pat.  Okay.  What’s next?  What do we do now?

“Well, like I said before, I’m sorry.  Is there anything else?”  I asked him.

He’s looking at me.  Looking at me.  Looking.

I look back.

Both of us looking at each other.  For a long time.  A pyramid erodes into sand.  Rocks grow.  A galaxy implodes.

I stare at the shafts of morning light illuminating the dancing dust across his desk.

The silence is peaceful.  I let my mind drift.

I picture a red balloon floating through the streets of Paris.  A girl in heels and yoga pants chasing after it.  I contemplate death.  How it’s really  birth.  And how that’s really worse than death.  Then I remember a redheaded kid in third grade whose constantly snotty nose made it look like he carried peas in his nostrils.  God, haven’t thought about him.  I look outside the window.  A bird flies by.  Have to gas up the car before I leave Oxnard.  Grateful for the decent mileage it gets.  Love that car.  Paid for too.  Suzuki Esteem.  Fuck yeah.

I have to scratch my chin.  So I scratch it.  Then go back to looking at each other.

Finally.

“No, that’s it, ” he says, dismissing me with a wave of his hand, “Don’t ever let it happen again.”

I stopped by the door.

“Well, I didn’t want it to happen the first time, boss.  So I can’t really guarantee it won’t happen again.  But I’ll try.”

More looking.

I reach out to shake his hand.  He hesitates, then takes it.  Shakes it.  I smile.  He doesn’t.

Good-bye early nap.  Oh well.

It is what it is.

I go downstairs.  I find out my next client cancelled sick.  The next one is at ten.  Thank you, Universe.  Good looking out for Johnny Honesty.  All is not lost.

I go outside and walk to my car.  It’s parked in the shade under a tree way back in the lot.  I know he’s watching me from one of the monitors.  I take the keys out of my sock and open the door.  I get in.

I’m grateful the rear seat folds down.  It means you can totally stretch out lying down.  Perfect for a nap.  Perfect nap mobile.

Suzuki Esteem.  Fuck yeah.

Fuck Yeah!

Fuck Yeah!

Advertisements

Shemp Hair Blues

Another Lithuanian with great hair.

A Lithuanian with great hair

He had taken some old bills, like the ones for his phone, utilities, a few from credit cards, and splattered them with his own blood.  They were nicely matted in brushed aluminum frames.  I’m sure he was trying to make a statement somewhere among all those statements, but I didn’t get it.

did get that this art opening was only serving wine.  And that wine gave me a headache.  Had enough of those already.  Speaking of…

My date went from bloody bill to bloody bill, giving them her full aesthetic attention.  Judging them individually by some measuring stick in her mind, she’d nod at one then move on to the next.  Pause.  Stare.  Scrutinize.  Appear to discern something.  Smile.  Nod.  Move on.

Something about the whole act smelled like rotting baloney.  She was too earnest.  Too intent.  My Fraudulent Pantomime Meter was going off, reading “Total Fake-out.”  She just wanted to be seen appreciating the work.  To look like she gave a flying fuck.

I suspected this because that’s what I was doing.

“Very nice, see how he managed to get a clot over his cable late fee,” I pointed out.  “Pollock directed his splatter, but not this concisely.”

She nodded absently and looked over at the artist.  He was on the other side of the room, drinking a small bottle of sparkling water and talking to three women.  In his early thirties.  Mediterranean good looks.  One of those dark guys who can pull off wearing his hair in greasy dangling locks.  Like Shemp.

Very few guys can pull off that kind of hair.  I always admired the ones that could.  Guys like Gibby Haynes.  And Leo Gorcey.  And Danny Trejo.  And Iggy.

The blessed and lucky.

I always loved Shemp’s hair–the way he would curl it behind his ears after getting his nose clawed with a hammer.  Just one more thing to deal with.   Besides having furniture broken over his head, always having to flip back his greasy hair.  While spitting out splinters.

That says so much.  In other words, it’s all in a day’s work when you’re a gnarly fucker.  It’s important to keep your hair out of your eyes while your head is being pile-driven into a cast iron stove.  So you can see better.

That’s so badass it hurts.

It really hurt.  The fact that this guy had his own show at a prestigious Santa Fe art gallery.  That his work was selling.  That women loved him.  That he wasn’t drunk.  That he would soon be sleeping with my date.  And that he got to have Shemp hair.

It was too much.

I excused myself and went out to my ’73 Olds Omega where five beers were heating up in the August afternoon sun.  I got in the car and lied down on the front seat.  I gassed open a can and shotgunned it down my throat.  Dropped the empty on the floor boards.  Reached under the seat and repeated.

That’ll do.  Save three for later.  I sat up and looked around.  The parking lot was full, but there were no people around.  I wanted to stay there and hide.  I couldn’t bring myself to walk back in.

I lied back down and reached under the seat.  Pop.  Pish.  Gluggity-gluggity-glug.  Thirshhhhhhh-tee!

That one did it.  I recovered my intrepididity and rose up from the car seat.  Resurrection.

Back inside, I saw her talking to him.  No surprise.  Sometimes I just know how things are going to go.  Especially when it’s bad.

I circled the perimeter for a while, looking at his work.  What a bunch of shit.  Anybody could do this.  Sure he does some origami with some of the bills.  Whatever.  You can learn that from a book in the library.  But who has the nerve to present this mess to a gallery director?  Not me.  The gall.  The balls. 

Great.  We’ve established he has bigger balls.  More bile to swallow.  To go with the red dot by the $1,200 piece.

Finally, she waved me over.

Here we go.

She introduced us.  I took his hand, then bent down and kissed his onyx ring.  I don’t know why I did that.  It was just one of those spontaneous things you do while buzzed, then wonder about later.  I meant it as a gag, but here’s where it turned terrible–he received it.  He actually took it with a slight nod, all papal and shit.  Acting like it was appropriate.  What a motherfucker!

She noted the exchange.  Oh shit.  I clicked my heels and bowed, extending the gag.  Hoping to save it.  But the damage was done.  He had diminutized me.

It was clear now that I had to beat this guy’s ass that night.  To negate that awkward little scenario.  Seriously.  Dudes have gotten on the list for less.  I ran through the whole flow chart in my head a few times.  It always came back to beating.  After all, this was a major clowning.  He played me like a wash bucket bass.  In front of her.

He’s already better than me in everything.  That was hard enough to stomach.  Now this.  And I’m not even including the Shemp hair.  That’s just running the shank through all four gears.

Hmm…superior to me in every way.  Not enjoying that fact.   I should fix it.  Let’s see, he’s better than, in all things…ah… except perhaps in a mutual exchange of pain.  I might be able to endure more of that.  I might be better there.  I may best him in the ability to suffer.

Well, we would just have to find out.  We would have to exchange pain.  And before the crowd thins out.

Unfortunately, I lived by a strict warrior code, one that prohibited me from throwing the first punch, unless I could totally get away with it.  But this ran a little deeper.  Sucker-punching the artist at his gala opening is not going to win you any style points.

But successfully defending yourself from an over-sensitive, temperamental, thin-skinned effete, one who was over-reacting to some constructive criticism while being called out for false-flagging Shemp, was something else entirely.  Now that was a chapter I wouldn’t mind having in my bio.  I could see it.

I must make it so.

“Love what you’ve done here.  Instead of wasting money on a shredder from Costco, you used your mail to clean up after your menstruating dog.  And are now getting paid for it.  Fucking brill.  Mastermind caper you got cooking here.  I hope this scam is multi-level marketed, because I want to sign up for the seminars, Shemp.”

Except I didn’t say that.  I just looked at him.  And thought about things.  Wondered if goading him into a fight was the right thing to do.  What if he warranted the hair?  What if he had the holy power?  He looked fit.  The last thing I wanted was to be hitting on some guy’s head with a brick while he straightens his hair.  Plus, you could never get a good grab on that shit to whiplash the neck, something we in the trade called Bull-whipping.

“Don’t make trouble.”

That’s what I heard in my head.  Very clear.  Very loud.  It seemed to come from somewhere else.  Believe me, it didn’t come from me.

What?

Then again, like in case I didn’t get that something else was talking to me, “Don’t make trouble.”

I got it.  Clearly.  I was a little spooked, to be honest.  One time I heard something like that while washing dishes at The Natural Cafe, right before I was going to say something bad to the prep cook about a girl that worked there.  Something said, “Shut up.”  Distinctly.  Enough to make me shut up.  Not fifteen seconds later, that girl came in and hugged the prep cook.

“I’ll see you at home.”

“Okay, love you.”

Oh shit!  I had no idea.  Yeah.  That was close.  Good thing I…alright already, disembodied voice from beyond.  I won’t make trouble.  But don’t blame me if things get really boring.

“I like your work,” I forced out.

“Thanks, I like yours.  I read your column in The Reporter.  It’s some funny shit.”

I couldn’t believe it.  I had a crappy little column in the weekly paper.  I didn’t think anybody read it, much less liked it.  And here was both, in the same dude, and a dude with awesome Shemp hair.

Lightning 180 flip in my attitudey.  Feelings of brotherhoodship and good-fellowing welled up in me.

I couldn’t believe that I had been planning to beat up my only fan.  That would not have been a savvy career move.  Besides, he’s such a cool dude,  liking my writing and shit.   Making all this magnificently insane art, while looking all greasy.  And shit.

He turned out to be a decent yog.  Funny too.  We joked and bantered back and forth for quite a while.  He had a dry sense of humor.  I figured out that whole regally-receiving-the-ring-kiss was just him playing along.  He was just playing it straight.  With a more subtle touch than my inebriated mind could appreciate at the time.

What I did appreciate was that although all these artsy fartsy types were trying to draw away his attention, he would return to our conversation.  He didn’t blow me off to talk to some of the hot, semi-hot, or hot-enough-after-eight-beers women that were trying to glom on to him.  Which included the creature that rode up with me.  That really showed class.

When I invited him out to the Omega for a hot beer, he declined, telling me he was a recovering alcoholic.  Oh wow.  Poor dude.  Now I really wanted him to succeed in art.  Since he basically had nothing left to live for.

We wound up staying there until things wound down.  A bunch of people had decided to go to La Casa Sena for dinner and he invited both of us to join.  No fucking way I could afford that.  I begged off with a lie about having to write.

“I want to go,” she says.

“Go,” I say.

So she went.  She took the upgrade.  It’s not like I couldn’t see it coming.  I have a gift.

I can’t say it didn’t feel bad.  But I wasn’t pissed.  In light of recent events, I was wary of being pissed–being pissed about stuff I probably didn’t understand.  I could give it a rest.  At least until tomorrow.

Anyway, I don’t know if they ever hooked up.  I don’t know what happened to either of them.  To be honest, I can’t even remember the dude’s name.  He was just the guy with Shemp hair.

And he had what I wanted.

Note: None of the people in this story actually exist, including the author and Shemp.  However, any and all accusations of slander and libel will still be reviewed carefully by my attorney.  As I’m sure, by yours, as well.

Thugs Like Us: A Book Review

Thugs Like Us, John Carnell

Thugs Like Us, John Carnell

I wish I wrote it.  That’s probably the highest compliment another writer can give.  Other than I think God wrote this.  Which maybe with some pantheistic mental gymnastics, I guess I could say.  But why cloud the waters?

When John “Carnage” Carnell sent me his book, I was an easy mark–a drunken tourist stumbling down a dark alley with bills fanning out my bulging wallet.  As a confirmed Anglophile, recovering drunk, semi-reformed nihilistic criminally-inclined maniac, I was a soft-touch for his tale.

“What’s this? A story of a young UK punk’s journey through the world of late 70’s drink, drugs, violence, crime and sex?  Well, that doesn’t sound like something that would interest me.  But, I’ll try to approach it with an open mind.”

Indeed.

I burned through it once quickly.  Then hit it again, this time more slowly–making it last.  I was digging the new friends I was making; Singe, Bill, Flea, Leech, Spiney, Martin, Uggy, Julie, Oily Harry and the Rent-a-riot Crew, Johnny Oldman, Darren the Fat-shit-dog-shagger, Mum and Dad.

It was even better the second time.

A lot of times it is.

And yeah, I’ll hit it again after I recharge a bit.

What makes it so readable?   The clean lines.  Bukowski talked about getting down “the clean line.”  He preferred simple declarative sentences, stripped of all extraneous fluff and frills.  A straight shot to the jaw.  Hemingway, Fante, Vonnegut, a few others, used the simple to capture the complex.  It’s one thing to pull it off in a haiku, but to nail it in the nose, from the speeding car of narrative, takes skill.

And a clean line.

Carnell is a master of the clean line.

For this story he has to be.  As the voice of his protagonist, a working-class “world’s forgotten boy” (the one’s that searching, searching to destroy) with a nagging sensitive side, and even more troublesome fits of visionary insight, Carnell must speak for both beings.  Our hero is a nature boy at heart, who loves birds, and yet can’t help shooting at them with a pellet gun.  He can’t help destroying the things he loves.  Hmm.

The divided self.  The eternal train crash.  The big wave splash.

Jim is a good little boy, one simply overgrown by hooliganistic thughood–a persona required as an adaptation to his environment.  It’s an age-old conflict, hardly unique, but what Carnell does with it is.  His man toils with diverging impulses, surrendering to one or the other, but eventually with a mystic fatalism.  Whether he makes a good decision or a bad decision doesn’t really matter.   Whichever one it was, it was the one required.

How can I explain it?  It’s one thing to ignore certain inner warnings out of drunken foolishness, and it’s another to listen to a deeper voice that says, “Do it.  Things will be bad, but everything will turn out okay anyway.”  It takes a deeper faith not to play hooky from your dharma.  To understand that something from the experience is required.  Regardless of how unpleasant.  As part of a bigger picture.

I know for a fact that if Carnell hadn’t made a shit-load of bad decisions, he wouldn’t have met his wife, and still love of his life, Julie.  Stuff like that really takes the sting out of your fuck-ups.  It does out of mine.  And this one time, I fucked up.

And now things are okay.

Win/win.

Eventually the intuitive mystic and the bat-chain-pulling hell-raiser stop arm-wrestling each other.  And join together in mutual purpose.

But you’re not going to approach that threshold without some internal argument.  Albeit sometimes, a very subtle one–your ultimate decision being made aeons earlier.

Tricky little high-wire act to pull off.  To capture both voices.  And then bring them together.  Synthesize them.  In the written word.

Lolling lapses into purple-trimmed prose are never going to ring true from a lad whose head seems to serve only to break beer glasses and pool cues against.  But in Carnell’s simple, work-a-day blue-collar language, things are described simply as they are, as they happen.  Clouds move across the sky.  The sea sprays.  Birds appear.  People talk.  A fire-extinguisher is thrown through a window.  A pint glass orbits the earth.

There’s beauty everywhere.  No matter what.

He knows how to use words, but he also knows how to use the spaces between those words. In so doing, the mystical and mysterious creep through, unannounced, like flowers through a sidewalk crack. Or the smell of bacon and eggs wafting through a rent-controlled apartment complex.  Without a lot of stress and strain, spiritual beauty is made accessible to every class of citizen, no matter how wretched.

At least to those that take time to pay attention to the spaces.  In between.

It takes a lot of discipline for a writer to leave those spaces.  And trust.  Trust that the reader will meet him on the corner, at the time you both agreed on.  But when that happens, and the deal goes down right, it’s one of the best feelings ever.

I showed up.  I scored.  And it was some good shit.

Thugs Like Us is available through Amazon in “Big Fucking Book” size.  Big enough to smite with, if circumstances warrant, and a masterpiece of sub-culture literature.  Win/win.  http://www.amazon.com/Thugs-Like-Us-John-Carnell/dp/1480203467/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1363331904&sr=8-1&keywords=thugs+like+us   Strongly suggested.  Cult-classic status.
Also check out, Johnny’s blogula  @ http://wordpress.com/#!/read/blog/id/34992392/  It’s a gas, gas, gas.
Mad Lord Thuggington, John Carnell

Mad Lord Thuggington, John Carnell

Red Ink In My Eye

Relaxing the other night, watching some documentaries about Russian prisons, I found myself being grateful.  Grateful the optical mouse worked on my bed sheets.  So I didn’t have to sit up at the desk to click.  That’s such a pain in the ass.

A Russian prisoner is being walked to a cell by four guards and a dog.  He’s handcuffed behind his back.  His legs are shackled.  He has a black cloth bag over his head.  And they have him walking bent over at the waist.  At a right angle.  The don’t fuck around at The Black Dolphin.  That’s the name of this particular prison.  The White Swan is another.  But that one is not as luxurious as the New Age spa this prisoner is enjoying.

“Come, be pampered in blissful sybaritic abandon.  The Black Dolphin, privately nestled between the jet-set playground cities of Novokuybyshevsk, Samara, and Ufa.”

The prisoners are forced to spend the day standing in silence.  Standing.  With a Russian head on their necks, one that makes them think Russian thoughts.   Keep that part in mind.  What a mental and emotional bludgeoning that in itself would be.  What vast endless steppes of melancholy confront that average traveler.  Now throw him into the worst place in Russia (which has a pretty decent collection) and see what kind of misery you can conjure.

These boys distill a potent brew alright.  And I know a thing about moon-shining a mental nightmare.  But they when they tap into that still, the sorrow just fucking flows.  I always say a Russian with a guitar is good for at least two suicides during any picnic.  So when the camera shows two of their prisoners standing in a cell, I always try to picture what’s going through their heads.  What the interior landscape looks like in there.  How those seconds would tick-tock by.

Time that must really crawl when you’re eagerly awaiting a delicious bowl of cabbage water.  Not to mention the fifteen minutes of luxuriating on the sinful comfort of a wooden stool.  Precious minutes.  Oh yeah.  That part totally rocks.  All that… getting to sit.  While eating water.

Best fifteen minutes of the day.  For sure.

It’s brutal fare.  And I need to see this.  A little reality-check.  To get more gratitudinal.  Which is an important tool in my sobriety toolbox that I hardly open.

I reach up for my can of Hansen’s Diet Ginger Ale.  I have to sit up to get at it.  If I put the can on the floor, I always kick it over.  So I have to set it on top of the dresser.  I’d prefer to just be able to turnstile my arm out at the elbow and have one in reach.  But alas, life is exceeding cruel.

I guess, if I dragged in something like a TV tray I could set up a little temporary nightstand, but I refuse.  You start using a TV tray as an end-table and it’s over.  You’ve officially quit the race.  Start picking out battery-heated booties from the Harriet Carter catalog and await your death.  It’s coming on swift wings.

I’ll keep having to reach up a little.  It’s good for me.  Good for the obliques.

Now there’s some dude showing off his tattoos.  A sullen, nicotine-stained woodcarving of The Eternal Mope, he’s pointing out what each piece of creepy Russian iconography means.  The church domes each represent a full conviction served.  It looks like he’s got pretty crowded Kremlin on his chest.  The black cat a burglar.  A beetle means pickpocket.  Stars on his knees mean he will not kneel before any authority.  Cool.  Spider web denotes drug addiction.  A light bulb means he worked in a Uranium mine.  Sorrowful Madonnas.  Orthodox crosses.  Church bells.  Ships.  Barbed wire rosaries.  Dice.  Diamonds.  Skulls.  Angels.

All of it signifying something sad, bad, or both.  Laid out there.  Bared naked.  For all to see.  Every one of your underworld merit badges.  On proud display.

Think of all the talking it would save.  Instead of trying to catch up a new friend with endless stories.  I could take off my clothes and just rotate like a rotisserie chicken a few times and they’d be up to speed.  Need to refer to a time in my life, just lift my shirt and point.  Let them read the codex.

Fuck yeah.

Okay, now I want some tragic Russian prison tattoos.   I want my own illustrated history tattooed in flesh.  I want to be a living billboard of bummer.

But only if I could design my own.  A bear drinking bees instead of honey from a hive.  An onion dripping  juice into a bloodshot eye.  A babushka mother wringing her hands.  A stack of poker chips on each shoulder.  A rabbit plowing a field.  A skull head hand-cuffed to a chainsaw.  A bullet going through a screen door.  A pair of black Converse with wings.  A wizard bong.  X’s on my eyelids.  A Mexican peso on my palm.  A monkey stealing a peach.  Well, one monkey stealing three peaches total.

I could also get 0.24, 0.26, 0.19, and o.o inked on my forearm–my blood alcohol level during arrests resulting in a conviction.  Maybe the ones that I beat on the other arm.

“This flying mushroom on my shoulder means I’m a skilled pilot.  The gnome bathing in the kitchen sink means I can handle the weird.  The salt shaker on my fist means I fight dirty.”

“What does the stiletto heel through the heart mean?”

Silence.  I break down in sobs.  Big rolling heaves.  Some renting of garments.  Hair pulling.  Really uncomfortable to witness.  Finally, wiping away snot, I manage to blubber out, “It means nothing!”  Then more sobbing.  More shirt tearing.  Hair pulling.  Just over the top shit.

“I shouldn’t have asked.  Sorry.”

That would be fun.

Actually, I always thought that if I were to really get my criminal creep on, I would like to tattoo a monocle over my eye.  With the string coming down from it, like the Planter’s Peanut Man.  Just to really keep ’em guessing.

“They called me ‘Professor,'” I’d  tell the cashier at the drive-thru.  Then drive off before getting my food.  But after paying.

Ah, it’s a pipe dream.  I’ll never do it.  I’m just not that into advertising what a fuck up I was.  Except in this blog, that goes out to the world via internet.

Huh.

The tattoos would’ve actually been a better choice.

Oh well.  Gotta take the bad with the bad.  Which is what these lads on the telly seem to being doing…with style.

They’re marched out at six in the morning for exercises.  That’s right, no cup of mocha espresso is going to wake you up like a few scorching lungfuls of Siberian frost.  The interviewed guard explains that the routine is made up of light movements intended to get blood flow into the limbs.  Just the thing after you’ve spent the night hung up with your arms behind your back, on a meat hook.

Just do some tootsie-tappers and wristy twirls.  Under searchlights.  And snow swirls.

Got to hand it to those Ruskies.  They know how to suffer.  Always have.  I think best of all.  Although Keller and my mom have been reading about North Korean prison camps.  They both tell me the No-Kos can give the Russians a run.  Keller said they have something there called a Three Generation Conviction.  In other words, the conviction is handed down through three generations.  Like a gold watch.  Or alcoholism.

Pretty raw deal, but I don’t know.  The Russians take anguish to an art form.  I really do enjoy their mournful songs of loss and regret.  Real soul-achey stuff.  I just can’t picture the North Koreans being as lyrical.  Maybe because they always do pep squad foot-stamp-and chant-stuff during the talent shows.  Running around with banners.  Spelling letters out of people.  Basic totalitarian regime half-time extravaganza shit.  That’s not going to translate well on the cattle car railing you off to work detail.  While everybody inside is fighting over icicles.

(Soda reach.  Sprinkle some trail mix on the chest to eat from.  Neck kind of hurts from watching sideways.   This pillow sucks.)

Okay, I don’t like this part.  Seen it before.  Always kills me.   The dad coming to visit the son.  See, the dad can’t visit too often since he doesn’t drop by Siberia that much.  He can only make the long journey twice a year, to be with his son– for two hours.

The visits only reignite the flame of pain.  But in this case, it’s clearly a pain endured in the name of love.

(Gulp)

They sit huddled in a small reception room nursing a cup of tea.  The son cradles some sort of beef-stick his dad gave him.  He doesn’t seem to care about the nitrates or high sodium.  They smile bravely.  The father is holding his son’s hands.  He has clearly forgiven him.  You can see it by the love in his eyes.  After all the fuck ups, the father still loves him.  Even though it makes it all hurt more.  It’s that kind of love.

(Hard swallow.  Eye-ball juice forming)

Now it’s time to part.  Time for Dad to catch the 5:15 back 2.300 kilometers into the city.  Time to tell the mother, who will never see him again, about her son.  Again and again.  During long winter nights.  To keep the memory of him from fading like a ghost into the forest.

They hug deeply.  Both men have tears.

(Achhh!  Achhhhh-hah!  Ghrrach!  Ahuuurrr!  Fucking pollen count.)

I move the mouse and click.  That’s enough of that.

I lie there for a while thinking.  I want to write my dad an e-mail.  Just to say “hey” and that I’m okay.  And that I love him.  I’m pretty sure he still loves me.  After everything.  More importantly, I want him to know that I do.  I kind of don’t feel like getting up.  Maybe tomorrow.

No.  Now.

It won’t kill me.  But not doing it might.  I sit up and reach for the keyboard.

Fucking Russians.

"This next number I'm going to play is a sad little song."

“This next number I’m going to play is a sad little song.”

Failure As A Viable Option

Stands for so much more than Failure.

Stands for so much more than Failure.

God bless those crazy door-kickers, men for whom failure is not an option.  They’re fighting a war.  They can’t afford to fail.  Not me.  Failure is not only an option, but quite often, a much easier one.  It’s certainly easier than trying not to fail.

So yeah, you probably don’t want me on your night HALO drop team.  I’m the guy who’s so pissed-off about the snack machine taking my change that I forget to pack my chute.

Thank God there’s a difference between hostage rescue and putting out a weekly blog.  Smart of me to seek the latter gig.  Found myself a niche with a lot of slack.  Failure is not going to ruin my week.  Maybe the week-end.  And Monday.  But that’s it.

It was three-thirty Saturday morning and I had finished my little piece.  I read it over and decided I hated it.  “I hate it,” I said out loud.  Like it was a big awaited announcement to wake up my cats with.  They didn’t seem to give a flying fur ball.

Anyway, I didn’t push publish, and went up to bed.  Yes, I had failed, but somehow corn will still genetically mutate in the fields and cyclops children will continue to be born in the Ukraine.

The show will go on.

However, to be very honest,  I was a little pissed.  Pissed at myself mostly, but with a sprinkling of pissed-at-the-world-in-general.  No specific gripe, just a blanket resentment.  Just the sort of blanket you want to snuggle up to as you slide into your dream state.  For a good night of sleep.  After you read a little bit about Mexican prison gangs.

As I drifted off that night, I repeated a little affirmation, “I failed, because that’s what failures do best, and I am the best.”

Nighty-night.

I had a dream I was playing chess with my old film professor, Fred Karetski.  We were on stage in front of an auditorium audience.  When I looked down at the game I noticed my pieces were checkers while old Fred had a combination of chess pieces and what looked like over-sized Monopoly markers.  What the fuck?  I didn’t understand exactly how, but it appeared he had an advantage.  His big pewter shoe probably had more killing power than a red checker.

How exactly do you play this game?  I had no clue.  I didn’t even know if it was my turn.  And was too embarrassed to ask.

The place is pin-drop quiet.

I’m freaking out, but Karetski is just hanging loose, absentmindedly applying and re-applying Chapstick like he always did.  This little display of oral fixation would bug the shit out of me back then and did now. Partly to take the opportunity to vent my spleen, and partly to distract the audience from my obvious ineptitude, I decided to call him out on it.  I’ll save this situation with an inspired diversionary rant.

“You and that bullshit Chapstick, Karetski. Maybe you should give it a rest.  Personally I don’t believe in Chapstick.  I don’t even believe in chapped lips.  I mean I believe they exist, but not that they’re a problem big enough to go to the store and buy a cherry-flavored wax tube to rub around on them.  If chapped lips are such a big problem for you, then you don’t have enough problems.  You need your cities bombed while you feed on vermin.  You want a good way to deal with chapped lips?  Ignore them, and after a while they will un-chap.  They fucking always do, Freddy Boy. So maybe it’s time for you to scrape the protective and soothing emollient from your fat greasy lips…and man up.”

He reaches into his pocket.  Pulls out the stick, pops off the cap, and starts smearing.  He puts the cap back on and smacks his lips.

“Your move,” he says, grinning.

I woke up the next morning more tired than when I went to bed.  Lori was still sleeping.  I tried to walk downstairs while the two cats figure-eighted between my legs in a pre-feeding frenzy of affection.  We looked like a Balinese circus act.

“That’s very cute, you little fuckers.  You’re going to make me break my neck.”

I made it to the kitchen and started the coffee.  Then I opened a can of cat food.  For the cats.

I watched them eat while I waited for the coffee.  I tried to look for the positive.  Let’s see.  I said “I hate it,” instead of “This sucks.”  That means I wasn’t saying the article was bad, just that I thought it was.  That shows a little discernment.

Just speeding your way up the rungs of your spiritual ladder, aren’t you?  I poured myself a large cup.

What else?  Anything else positive I can take away from this experience?

Nope.  All tapped out.  I went outside to water the garden.  I’ve been lax about watering this winter and some of the plants died.  Sorry everybody.  Sorry I neglected you to the point of killing you.  And shit.

All form is transitive.  Without this fact there could be no sorrow.  Well, at least not without fixating on that fact.

I pointed the hose at the two rose bushes for a while.   Then I stood over the gardenias and let it soak.  Watering my Garden of Sorrow.

It’s only a blog, for crissake’s.  Why do you make a big deal about missing a self-imposed deadline?  It’s not like some big sweaty city editor is shouting his scotch breath into your eyeballs for missing it.  So why are you?

Because I’m insane.  We’ve gone over this.

I’ve always wanted to be a writer.  When I can’t write, I can’t be.  And I don’t want to fail at being.  It’s airtight.

I gave the poinsettias a little splash.  They grew too crazy last year.  The leaves were freakishly large.  Land of the Lost large.  They gave Lori the creeps.  Me too, kind of.  Paper plate-sized leaves you picture a Stegosaurus snacking on.   Yeah, that’s enough water for you guys.  I walked the hose over to the other planter.

Everything but the bush with purple leaves was dead.  You couldn’t kill that thing.  Cut it down to the stump twice and it always grew back bushier than before.   I watered it.  A little reward for perseverance.

“Good boy.  Fuck those pansy annuals.  Drink up.”

I put the hose away and went inside.  Lori had come downstairs.

“Hey, how are you?  Did you publish?”

“Nah.  I didn’t like it.”

“Oh.  How are you feeling?”

“I’m alright.  It’ll take more than that to kill me.”

I poured myself another cup of coffee and sat down at the computer.  I re-read the piece.  It was okay.  It needed some smoothing out, but was salvageable.  I might have been a little too hard on it.  It wasn’t a complete failure.

I guess nothing ever is.