Stand-Up Assassin

How's everybody feeling tonight?

How’s everybody feeling tonight?

Danny was an unorthodox comedian alright.  If by unorthodox you mean completely opposite of.

Instead of getting up on stage and making people laugh, he’d go up there and totally bum them out.  Not just by not being funny.  Anybody could do that.  But by bringing out the buried pain and fear in an audience.  By triggering some deep shit.

And none of it funny.  At all.

He’d stand in front of the room and psychically tap into what people in the crowd were going through.  Then just sort of…bring it up.

It was beyond awkward.  Some would cry with sorrow.  Others would rage with regret.  Pull out their hair.  Tear their garments.  A guy in Eire tried to jump to his death from the balcony.   Fractured both ankles to powder instead.  Paramedics carried him off while Danny tried to get the audience to sing rounds of Row Row Row Your Boat.

It’s was a hard act for an agent to sell.  A night of anguish and torment with Danny Dee.  Danny’s gave up trying.  He was now reduced to appearing at various open mikes throughout the country.  Traveling on his own dime.  Using up his savings.  Money made from investments in Mexico.

He didn’t give a fuck.  The way he saw it, if the Mex-adventure did nothing else but bank roll this chestnut, it was worth it.

An unsuspecting crowd of cheapskates, the kind that go to a comedy club for open mike night, would be eagerly anticipating a few cut-rate laffs.  Thrilled to have escaped the cover charge an evening of professionals would cost, the mood is light.  They’re not even chaffing at the two drink minimum.  Feeling uncharacteristically generous they are.  Tonight they’re ready to unwind.  Have a good laugh.

“Hey thank you, very nice.  Thank you, Phoenix Arizona!  Great to be here.  Compared to, say, on life support.  Like someone I know.”

Nervous laughter.  People still smiling.

“Anybody recently have to pull the plug on someone?”

Much less nervous laughter.  A sea of blank stares.

“Which statistically is how most of us are going to leave this earth.  With all those tubes and pumps attached to us.  Making our loved ones go broke by paying someone to wipe our ass.  Until someone finally says ‘Fuck it, they’re costing us too much.  Let them die.'”

No laughter.  Not even the nervous kind.  People turning to each other.

“Is this thing on?  Testing testing.  One-two.  Hot damn Vietnam.  Hey can I get a show of hands of people hiding a dark secret?  Something you would have to kill yourself over if it got out?  An affair?  A costly addiction?  An S.T.D.?  A criminal past?  An unwanted pregnancy?  Any sexual weirdness?  A really embarrassing kink?”

It's like he can read my mind.

It’s like he can read my mind.

No hands go up.  Lots of shifting around in seats.  Grumbling and groaning.

“How about a gnawing need, one that’s not being met by your present life situation?  Anybody have someone standing in the way of their happiness?  Feel like they’re about to lose their job?  Think their bad parenting drove their kids to drugs?  Anybody got a special somebody you suspect doesn’t really love you?  Maybe because you’ve broken their trust forever?  Anyone?”

Quiet.  Very.  Finally, a guy yelling out “Fuck you!”

“Thank you very much.  Put me on that list.”

Taking the mike off from its stand.

“No baby, just kidding.  Love you like a brother.”

Walking over to a pitcher of water.  Carefully pouring himself a glass.  Taking a small sip.  The catcalls starting to come from the dark.  He looks around. Puts the glass down on the stool.

“Hey how about that whole death of loved ones thing?  I guess the best thing about Fukushima is that it won’t be long now before we all join them. ”

Well, you can imagine.  People would get pissed.  Danny had to cut a length of heater hose, fill it with sand, cap the ends off, then wind the whole the thing up in black electrical tape.  He kept The Snake down his pant leg, tucked into his sock, along with his passport and thirty-five hundred dollars.  The improvised black-jack saved his ass in Newark, Ohio one night.  Those people were crazy.  Lot’s of dark secrets.  Lot’s of fear.  He was lucky to get out alive.

Why even do it?  He wasn’t sure.  Besides the obvious rush from standing in front of an angry mob, he figured he was reviving the cathartic tradition of Greek tragedy.  Allowing people to look inside their pain.  To stop running from it.  And instead of a bunch of degenerate Athenians rhyming stuff from behind masks on sticks, he was giving it to them straight.  Looking them in the eyes and telling them like it is.

With nothing but a length of plumping hose to back it up.

I say we kill the messenger.

I say we kill the messenger.

Other than that, he didn’t really know why.  He had learned it was better not to attach too many expectations to any project, be they monetary or philosophical.  That’s the best way to stay motivated, and stave off any disappointment.  Besides, these things seem to have a life of their own.

Like the motivational speaker caper before this.

He had hit the paid speaker circuit with some schtick he had crafted in a motel room one night.  It started with the usual keys to managerial success.  See-learn-grow stuff.  Basic common sense, presented in bullet-points.  After underlining all kinds of nouns and adjectives on a dry-erase, he’d abruptly stop and drop the pen on the carpet.  Then step on it.

“Who are we kidding?  This is all bullshit!” he’d announce, “This is common sense.  And common sense, my friends, has failed us like a traitorous whore.”  That would wake them up.  Just in time to drop some quasi-esoteric pronouncements.  Nothing particularly spell-binding.  Just cryptic and creepy enough to create a strange vibe in the room.

“My friends, the vulture Maat, has come to feed on the carrion of our folly.  Saturn’s scythe is reaping it’s reward.  A Judas and a Jezebel sit among us.”

Having weirded the air, he’d present The Blonde Beast Plan– a full-on Nietzsche National Socialist boot-stomping call to destroy the competition.  Completely over-the-top shit.  Especially for a bunch of fast-food franchise managers.   Which made it all the better really.

He would work them.  Just to see if his oratory chops could coax out the closet fascist.  The one hidden deep inside these sad corporate serfs.  He wanted to see if he could demagog them.

We will no longer tolerate an aggressive Poland.

We will no longer tolerate an aggressive Poland.

First tap into some smoldering resentments.  The stabbed in the back by November Criminals bit.

“Let’s be truthful.  As managers of a Clown in the Box, you receive very little respect.  From society.  From your parents.  From your peers.  Some of your own children ridicule you.  They prefer to tell their friends you’re currently unemployed.  The hours of soul-deadening drudgery keeping them I-podded and padded, repaid with what?  Disrespect?  Dismissal?  Disdain?  It’s disgraceful!”

Clench a fist.  Seethe.  Hiss it out.

“Thisssssssss has become…unacceptable!”

Throw the fist and fling it open.  Like you’re throwing away the Treaty of Versailles.

“Now our competitors-through better customer service and reasonable pricing-are trying to strangle us out of even this meager existence!  To add starvation to our shame!  Not content to piss on our piñatas, they want to ANNIHILATE US!”

Wave hands around wildly.  Okay.  That’s enough.  Calmly place them back on the podium.  Let them sit there like two spiders while you peer around.  Lock eyes with somebody.  Nod at him.  Smile.

“Well they are in for a surprise, aren’t they?”  Big stage wink.  “We have a little clown in the box for them, don’t we?”

Hand spiders jump up.  Start to strangle an imaginary throat.

“When we arise from our ashes!  And smite them with the hammer of our righteous wrath!  When we see the fear in their eyes.  When we laugh at their pleas for mercy! ”

Check to see if anybody is buying it.  Lots of head-nodding.  Okay, good.  Bring it home.

“Your sales will be gargantuan!  Their might will make the gods and Death tremble!  The people of the Earth will realize what a terrifying beast a non-salaried manager can be.  Backs will bend in awe as you pass.  Garlands.  Accolades.  Sweet gentle kisses will peck upon your victorious feet…”

Pause.  Hold it.  A little longer.  Not yet.  Now!  “As they trample on the bones of your vanquished foes!”

Hold fists out and up like Gigantor.

Bigger than big. Taller than tall. Quicker than Quick. Stronger than strong. Redundant as fuck.

Bigger than big. Taller than tall. Quicker than quick. Stronger than strong. Redundant as fuck. Gigantor!

Let the cheering die down a little.  Now quietly.  Measured.

“We are the destroyers.  And we have come to do our will…”

Look down.  Then up.

“And we have come…to destroy!”

Drop into a front horse stance.  Throw two stiff punches.   Strip mall Tae Kwon Do style.  Hold out last punch and await response.

Tick-tick.  Blam!

Pandemonium.  Dudes kicking over banquet chairs.  Tearing off the bunting from the tables.  Throwing the Hydrangea centerpieces across the room.  Howling like Vikings.

They ate this shit up.  It was ridiculous to witness.  The madness.  The blood-lust gurgling up in a bunch of shift managers.  Danny would look at them and think “What the fuck is wrong with you people?  What’s gotten into you?”

Yeah, the whole gag backfired.  Sales actually went up.  He started to get re-invited.  Even the franchise owners wanted to take the course.  It took on a life of it’s own.  He was even starting to make some decent money.  Staying at Embassy Suites instead of Travel Lodge.  Hitting some corporate milf action here and there.  Everything would’ve been groovy, sans the moral dilemma.

Do I ride this gravy train for a little while longer?  Buy myself some concrete bunkered compound in Belize.  See if I can’t get more women involved.  Build a sex cult.  Create a tax-free enchanted kingdom.  Maybe treat myself to some narco bling.  Like a solid gold Kalashnikov encrusted with rubies.  My birth stone.  So pretty.

But at what cost?  A rather generous pie slice of personal integrity and self-respect.  The only two things you can ever really earn or keep.

Shit.

He really tossed the motel sheets over that one.  Finally, one morning, on his way to his complementary breakfast, he made his decision.  He pulled the plug.  Let it die.

Cooked up this comedy bit instead.  There was no way this thing would succeed.  He’d never be tempted to sell out.  Because nobody would ever buy.   It was fail-safe to fail.

The only thing was, that lately, he was starting to see some of the same faces in the audience.  And they all had a weird look in their eyes.

He suspected that would happen.  With his luck.

We love the pain.

We love the pain.

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When Every Day Sucked.

I remember driving home from work one night.  Eight and a half hours without a drink.  The bolts were starting to pop out of the seams.  The matrix of reality, warping and woofing.  Psychosis nudging in.  Fear already camped out.  Making S’mores.

Besides a suspended license, I was driving with two feet.  Why?  Because I had drop foot, which is some form of alcohol-induced neuropathy.  Or at least that’s what the Chinese acupuncturist diagnosed.

But what does a few thousand years of medical wisdom know?  All I know is that it made me unable to lift my right foot.  I can’t move it from the gas to the brake.  Which turns out to be an important driving ability.  And this was an important time in my life, to have good driving ability.  Dig?

My solution was to outsource the job of braking to my left foot, while my dead right one would be in charge of flooring the gas.  I’ll be honest, it’s not the easiest way to drive.  Lot of lurching and sudden stopping involved.   Especially when braking for the Iguanacolussus, an irksome multi-ton ornithopod from the late Cretaceous period that keeps scuttling out into the middle of the road.  And then disappearing.

Anyway, I finally get my beer and I’m almost home.  Whip-lash Larousse just has to cross Cerrillos Rd. and he’ll make it.  Hands trembling.  So close.  To my beer.  To relief.

Then I spot him.  A cop cruising by the other way.  I look up into the rear-view.  Watch his brake lights flash.

Oh fuck no.  Please no.  Of course, yes.  There he goes.  Turning around.  And coming up right behind me.  Oh God.  If he pulls me over for anything I go to jail.  That much is guaranteed.  Just don’t panic.  The most important thing is not to panic.

I look away from the mirror in time to see the light turn red.  I panic.  Mash both feet down.  The gas and the brake together.

Bad move.  In terms of staying under the radar.

My back tires spin in a smoking burnout.  Just lighting it the fuck up.  All N.H.R.A.  Funny car shit.  The chassis tap dances through the red light, and into the middle of the busy intersection, where it comes to rest after I finally picked up my feet from the pedals.  Traffic both ways screeching and skidding to a stop.  Me just sitting there with my eyes shut.  Awaiting impact.

There was one final tire-squealing brake, and then silence.  I had stopped the entire intersection.  Now sat there idling.

I am so going to jail.  I am going to have to detox behind bars.

“Sweet Lord. help me.”

I look up at my rear-view.  I can’t believe it.  He’s gone.  The cop is not there.  Honest to God, he wasn’t even driving away.  He was just…gone.  I don’t know if I hallucinated him being there in the first place, but I know I didn’t hallucinate him not being there.  Because if he really was still there, I’d be in his back seat.

Holy and most merciful Creator!  Thank You for vaporizing that peace officer.  And hopefully to a happier dimension.

I exhale.  My spine puddles around my pants.  I’m hanging on to the steering wheel, when I see myself in the mirror.  My eyes looked like oven-baked marbles.  All cracked from the heat.  Glowing red.  I looked insane.

Even I thought so.

I lift my left foot.  And then press down with my right one.  The car goes forward.  Okay.  We’ve got this.

I crossed Cerrillos and traffic resumed.  I was going to get to those beers.  And everything was going to be okay.  Until tomorrow.

I need a drink.

I need a drink.

I became physically addicted to alcohol around 1995.  The mental component had long been hooked.  But it took a while for the body to catch up.  It made it though.  Hooray!

Previous to this, I had, at times, experienced some ill-effects from consuming liberal amounts of alcohol.  Fire-hosing vomit across stranger’s laps could have been a warning that the quantity of beer I was inhaling wasn’t sitting well.  But once I realized I could carry a chopstick in my back pocket–a black lacquered Chinese one, I figured I’d solved that problem.  Now I could pick and choose where to discreetly dispel any tummy-upsetting froth.

The front entrance of Tom and Lenny’s Shoes, on 63rd Drive, in Rego Park, Queens was a favorite.  I had worked for them once, and felt my treatment there had been unfair.  Perhaps this wasn’t a valid way to protest it, but I just always seemed to feel better after barfing on their doorstep.  And that was good enough for me.

So you see, back then, the repercussions from my drinking, just weren’t bad enough, to even contemplate stopping.  Never mind actually trying to.

Sure, there were the usual hang-overs.  Some of them notably brutal.  But you learned to endure them.  They built character.

The Tuesday morning of a three-day bender, I’d feel a little out of sorts.  A little groggy and nervous about having to operate a vehicle.  Vertigo making the floor roll and buckle.  Eyes blurred from dehydration.  Ice pick in the forehead.   Tainted chowder gurgling in the guts.  Bones hurting and feeling too loose in their sockets.  Sore liver.  Acrid bile percolating in the throat.  Thoughts of suicide.

But it was nothing that a beer and chorizo omelet couldn’t fix.  A tickle of the chopstick, some Gatorade and a breath mint, and I was right as rain.

Then one day, I woke up and noticed my hands were shaking.  What’s this?  That’s so after-school special kind of alcoholism.  So stereo-typical.  So not my Ripley’s Believe it or Not kind of alcoholism.  When talking to friends, I would often cop to being an alcoholic.  “But I’m not one of those…you know…” I’d hold my hands out and make them shake, “I need a drink or I’m going to die kind.  All Ray Malland and shit.”

Well, it was looking like I was becoming all Ray Malland…and shit.

Accompanying the trembling was a rather snappy anxiety, one previously experienced while running from police or watching women take pregnancy tests.  Now it had me teething on a high-voltage power line whenever my beer levels went low.

Fucking great.  I’d sit there frozen in fear.  Too terrified to even twitch.   I’m scared to get up and brush my teeth.  How am I going to manage driving to work on a suspended license, then dealing with the public for eight hours?

It turns out, not very well.

There were moments, when the alcohol was leaving my system, that I thought I would go mad.  Only another Lost Weekender knows what I’m talking about.  It’s a bad dream.  Set-designed by a German expressionist.  The furniture bending at strange angles.  People are talking to you in Swahili or Urdu.  What are they saying?  Am I getting into trouble?  Or are they putting together a lunch order?

“Did someone just say something about Bea Arthur’s vagina?  No?  Never mind…I…”

I don’t know what is going on.

Except that I keep seeing sad angels in my head.  Skull people in concentration camps.  A coughing flower.

My pencil has become sinister and I have to throw it away from me.

As far as possible.

It takes every strand of will-power not to run out into the street flapping your arms.  Sweat pouring from your pits.  Stomach knotted in an icy grip.   Throat dry.  You hear strange organ music coming from the employee fridge.  Spy shadow figures darting around the periphery.  They’re waiting for you.

They can smell your death.

So can you, actually.  There’s a new strange funk that’s clouding out of your pores these days.  Besides, the sour beer smell.  It’s different.  It smells…like decay.  Killing off too many cells at once you are.  That’s kind of unnerving.  I better drink more so I don’t worry about that.

When I started morning maintenance drinking, it wasn’t done in any Cancun spring break, devil-may-care abandon.  It was conscious calculation.  I can’t function without having two or three beers before work.  I’m not drinking to “party down.”  I’m drinking so I don’t see the Devil while trying to make change for a customer.

I have to drink to make it.  Without it, I will fall apart.  Even faster.

I don’t care how much of a dumb-shit, clueless drunk you might be, but when an egg timer gets turned over after every last drink, you realize things.  Like maybe, you’re fucked.

Which is actually good.  To realize.

It’s the most important seed-thought an alcoholic can have.  If they’re going to have any chance.

Fortunately, I had been having that thought a lot.

So things were already good.  And I didn’t even know it.