Nut Jobs I’ve Known; #147

Mud Shark BluesInterested Gentleman

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I’ve met a few.  Over the years I’ve made the acquaintance of one or two…hundred.  Collected them all.  All brands.  All flavors.  The full spectrum.  Weirdos.  Oddballs.  Freaks.  Colorful crackpots.  Entertaining eccentrics.  Whimsical fruitcakes.  Absent-minded mystics.  Neurotic non-conformists.  Fevered visionaries.  The bat-chain insane.  Deviants.  Sociopaths.  Compulsive liars.  Babbling idiots.  Tortured geniuses.  Paranoid parolees.  Cross-addicted dope fiends.  Chemically-imbalanced cutters.  Klepto-Dipso-Nympho-maniacs.  Bi-polar bulimics.  Dual-diagnosed uni-brows.  Didn’t matter.  If they were haunted or hunted–they swarmed my front door like summer bugs to porch light.

I’m not sure why they sought me out.   Probably felt some sort of affinity or kinship.  Probably sensed I wouldn’t be too judgey.  Probably thought they found safe harbor.

I know I felt compelled to provide it.  I tried to be friendly.  Call it Stray Dog Syndrome, but I’d take them in.  Give them a chance to relax and talk freely.  I figured no matter what Beefheartian parade music they were marching to, or living nightmare they were enduring, they were doing the best they could.  In their own fucked-up way, they were just trying to make it.  Like everybody else.  They deserved a break from the withering blows.  A little breather in between beatings.  They were yearning to breathe free and I would be their Statue of Liberty.

"Looks like Sexy Webster is up early for breakfast duty. Nice! Don't burn my bacon, bro"

Looks like Sexy Webster is up early for breakfast duty. Nice! Don’t burn my bacon, bro

Besides, I knew what it was like to feel different or not understood.  It gets lonely.  Frustrating.  Depressing.  One is more apt to breakout in bad behavior.  Which is different than just flying your freak flag high.  Bad behavior means somebody winds up getting hurt.  And that’s no fun.  Not in the long run at least.  That’s why I did my best to cut them slack.  Made the effort to be respectful.  Tolerant.  Understanding.

But I also hid my wallet and extra beers.  Made sure to stash any medicine or solvents.   Kept the croquet mallet handy.

"Easy there, Sinbad. Watch the bong."

Easy there, Sinbad. Watch the bong.

Things didn’t always go well.  There were the usual misunderstandings, hurt feelings, broken promises, raised voices and violent attempts at physical submission.  But that’s people for you.  Nutty or normal, humans can be dangerous.  Say the wrong thing and you can get a stamp collector to come at you with a letter opener.  Or the onyx statue he brought back from his vacation cruise to Mexico.

Yes sir, a few poorly worded observations and the next thing you know Mr. Mild Mannered is attempting to bludgeon you with it.  15 pounds of Aztec War God head.  Just bringing it down with both hands.  While you cower behind his globe.  Crouching.  Dodging.  Waiting for your chance to tip the mahogany desk on him.

Trust me, angry ape-warrior shit can erupt anywhere.  In a lunatic asylum or a leather-bound library.  Things go down in the real world, baby.  Things you can’t believe.

Especially with the cannons I chose to roll around on deck with.  They were already cocked and tethered rather loosely to the boards.  Even more prone to misfire.  Break a vase.  Put out an eye.  Take off a head.

You learned to watch your step and mind your mouth.  You learned to be a gracious host.  That’s it.  I think hanging out with the emotionally-imbalanced taught me to be more polite.  More attentive to other’s feelings.

"Look Honey, this lovely couple is vending handcrafted souvenirs. Let's be generous."

Look Honey, this lovely couple is vending handcrafted souvenirs. Let’s be generous.

In one rehab,  I had to room with a dweeb in coke-bottle glasses, who as a kid, had stabbed his parents in their sleep.  No bullshit.  He even showed me an old copy of the Newsweek article.  He didn’t kill them.  See?  The article was about the parents suing the shrink that got his med combo wrong.  So it really wasn’t that bad.  And that was years ago.  And he’s better now.  Lots better.  Except for having to come off the massive amount of pharmaceuticals he’d been forging scripts to self-prescribe…

…to dull his desire to kill.

Well, that’s a relief.

Now he was in the bed next to me.  Bug-eyed.  His mole face pale and waxy with Vicodin ooze.  Fidgeting.  Agitated.  Now and then twisting at the crotch of his pajamas.  Telling me bedtime stories.  Stories about things he would like to do.  Stories about what he would love to do again.  Things he knows he shouldn’t do.  But does anyway.  Because it feels so good.  Feels so good to do them anyway.

And because he thinks he has a demon.  One that follows him around.  Everywhere.

Well alrighty then.

Nothing like a cocktail of revenge torture fantasies and disturbing sexual confessions.  Some relaxing thoughts on demonic possession and murder.  And fear.  Before bed.

While trying to kick booze.

Nighty night.

"Dude, I think it's totally normal to want to kill your parents. Chill!"

Dude, I think it’s totally normal to want to kill your parents. Chill!

My new besty.  You bet your ass when he wanted to talk, I’d lend a sympathetic ear.  He terrified me.  I nodded earnestly as he told me his troubles.  Clucked my tongue.   Kicked the carpet.  Periodic pats on the shoulder.  Did my best to keep his spirits up.

“I know, brother, I know.  One day at a time.”

But I also kept a cake knife from the cafeteria under my mattress.  And one eye open.  All night.

Hey, that’s people for you.  Gotta make them like you enough to not want to kill you in your sleep.  Same old dance really.  The Dance of Life.

He never did try to kill me.  So that was good.  I didn’t have to stress too long.  They bounced his ass the minute his insurance balked.  So that was good.

But probably not.

He was one spooky dude.  Clearly a troubled individual.  One I surmised was struggling with impulse control.  Probably in need of some institutionalized assistance.  A Dixie cup full of psych meds.  Some time doing arts and crafts under close supervision.  Special mineral baths.

I tried to convince staff that this gentleman needed to be housed somewhere other than a beach-side rehab.  Maybe somewhere less razor-wire-free.  More Thoraziney.

They didn’t want to hear any of it.  In fact, the folks at administration felt that without insurance, he was as good as cured.  Free to stroll around Laguna Beach.  With all kinds of feelings.  Thoughts.  Desires.  Ideas.

That didn’t seem right.

"Check this place out, dude. They serve Tapas and validate parking.  Looks fun."

Try this place out, dude. They serve tapas and validate parking. Looks fun. You should at least check it out.

I don’t regret being nice to him though.  I really did try to steer his thoughts toward recovery.  Not just out of self-preservation either.  I wanted him to feel better.  If only to defuse any bomb he was building in his brain.  Why not climb in there and see if you can’t stop the ticking?  Clip a few wires.

But then he’d tell me about another “thing” and I’d find myself reeling with revulsion and loathing.  If I had my usual eight to fourteen beers in me I would’ve gone ahead and beat him down.  Just on principle.  Give doctors at the hospital a chance to take a closer look-see.  But this was rehab and the lack of beer allowed me to think my actions through.  Really think about the consequences of striking another patient.

There was jail.  Sure.  But there was also the possibility of coming-to someday, duct-taped to a chair in a basement.  Having to helplessly watch as Mole Man searchs for a blow torch striker.

I decided to apply the love and acceptance thing instead.  Did my best to talk him down.  While maintaining a three-foot safe zone.  And a clear path to the box spring.

Who knows what good it did?  It’s not like I had many answers at that point, coming off my own World Destruction Tour.  But I tried.  Maybe a little harder than usual.

Hopefully,  I bought some time for somebody else out there–some quality time with loved ones– before the calming effects of my loving acceptance wore off.

After that you pretty much have to hope the next person treats him with kind deference, instead of open disdain.  You have to hope some SoCal snotball doesn’t set that mad motherfucker off.

Because brother, you have no idea what kind of hurt that overt eye-roll of yours could cost you.  Not when you roll them at a demon-host like that.  One that doesn’t like you making him feel bad.  One that really likes to feel good.  His kind of good.  And is willing to do whatever it takes to feel that way.  No matter what.

You have no idea.

Yeah, better to be kind to everyone, I say.  As much as you can stand.  And pay special care to those you find odd or strange.  It’s not only the right thing to do.  It’s the best thing.  Because most nut crazies are amazing creatures.  Masterpieces that inspire awe and wonder.  Holy messengers.  You never know what hidden wisdom they might possess.  Or giddy delight they can bestow.

And yes, in some cases,

un-holy wrath deliver.

You really have no idea.

So be nice.

Nighty night.

"Yeah sorry, he was here but they bounced him. You wanna give me your number in case I see him, or just wanna hang out?"

Yeah sorry, he was in here, but they bounced him. You want to  give me your number in case I see him or you just want to hang out?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Ghosts of Christmas Parties Past, Volume 3, “The St.John’s Incident.”

The party was festive enough when I got there.  The place was mostly packed with students from St. John’s College, in Santa Fe.  Classes had ended, and this was a little blow-out before people went home for the holidays.  The music was loud, people were dancing, drinking, and laughing.  Good cheer was in the air that night, but the mood would take a decided turn by the time I had to leave.

I guess if I had been more aware, I would’ve picked up that she was with someone, but I was on a mission to blot out anything even remotely resembling awareness.  I also wanted to find a special friend to celebrate the warmth and joy of the season.  The prospect I had chosen was a busty, bespectacled, little brainiac in a button down sweater.  The combination cat glasses, cardigan, and cleavage is a personal kryptonite for me.  But, when a guy stepped in and told me she was with him, I backed off and apologized.  Even at my worst, I tried to honor The Code.

That should have ended it right there, but he had to give me this shitty smirk.  It said, “Yeah, a proletarian sack of lug-nuts like you wouldn’t even have a chance with a woman like this anyway. You probably haven’t finished a book since Charlotte’s Web, and we Johnnies pride ourselves on the high intellectual caliber of our literacy.”  I might have been projecting, but it sure looked like that kind of smirk.

In Lithuanian, we have a phrase, “Ot snukis, kuris plytos praso!”  It translates roughly to “Now there’s a snout just begging for a brick!”  His was begging for a whole backyard barbecue’s worth.  I looked him over.  He was about my height, a few pounds leaner, more handsome, secure, smug, and self-satisfied.  He was cologned, well-groomed, and nicely coordinated in a wool pullover and pleated slacks.  I suddenly felt ashamed of my work pants and sweatshirt ensemble.

“I’ve never even read Charlotte’s Web,” I told him, “but there’s a lot of other books that I have read, and not just about Stalingrad either.”

“What are you talking about, Duuuude?”

I realized I didn’t know what I was talking about.  I was talking to his previous smirk.  “Nevermind,” I said, “Enjoy having sex with your girlfriend.”

I think he thought I said, “I’d enjoy having sex with your girlfriend,” because he got right up in my face.

“Why don’t you get your drunk ass out of here?” he yelled, poking at my chest, “Before you embarrass yourself anymore!”  I don’t like anybody telling me when I should stop embarrassing myself, but I really don’t like to be poked.  A poke is so demeaning.  Hitting a man in the face is more respectful than poking at him.  He was saying that I was not even worthy of the expenditure a beating would require, that a few forceful thrusts of his finger would be enough to cow me into submission.  Between the smirking and the poking, I could feel my insides tearing up the social contract.

I grabbed his finger and twisted.  He dropped his egg nog.  Over the years, I learned that in a crowded situation like that, you can’t excite the herd too much.  The more people that realize a fight is breaking out, the more will eventually swarm you.  At this point, the guy was going to his knees, but he might’ve been just getting down to the funky beat.  So as I twisted his finger, I acted like I was dancing with him, to sort of camouflage it.  I waved my free hand in the air like I just didn’t care.   Here we all are, just shaking it loose to Oasis.

Anyone who was actually watching wouldn’t have been fooled by my pantomime.  The girl saw what was happening, lunged at me, and began clawing my face.  Now, I had a problem.  Although I had the guy under some control, (it’s not like I could walk him across the floor like a pedigree, but he wasn’t going anywhere) the chick wrapped around my back, shredding my face with her garden rakes, was seriously hampering my dance moves.  I couldn’t seem to shake her off.  We crashed backwards into a Christmas tree.  Now, nobody thought we were dancing.  However, nobody was entering into the fray, just yet.

There’s a pause before other people join in a fight.  It’s only natural to take a moment to size things up and see if you want to add to the merriment.  How long that pause is depends on the crowd.  It doesn’t take long for an Irish bar crowd to rush in.  Country Western folks don’t tend to over think things either.  But these were St. John’s students, and they were going to wax philosophically about cost versus reward, one’s duty to society versus self-preservation, savage warlord glory versus possible ass-kicking and jail time.  They had some heavy things to sort out before joining in.

I had a small window to act.  The she-bitch on my back was the main problem.  I couldn’t get her off of me without hurting her, and the way I saw it, we had something once, before he showed up.  I was getting desperate.  I was alone at this party, with no back-up from buddy boys, and I knew the crowd would eventually come to defend one of their own, especially a boyfriend/girlfriend combo.  There wouldn’t be time to take to the podium and explain the passive-aggressive nature of the poke, or how certain social cues can be misread by the overly sensitive, so I decided to give her my Banshee War Cry.

This is a form of psychological warfare.  Like the rebel yell, or the Japanese Banzai, the war cry is used to demoralize one’s opponent into paralysis.  If done properly, it also makes you look like a total psycho- one that nobody wants to deal with.  But you have to sell it, and in order to do that, you have to sell a piece of your soul’s self-respect.  I turned around, looked right into her face and unleashed the most demonic, possessed-by-a-wraith, crazy-eyed shriek I could summon.  It’s funny when I think about how earlier in the evening, I was hoping  we’d be kissing each other’s naked bodies, and now I was screaming in her face like some tortured mythical monster, and not in a good way.  What a steep trajectory our relationship took.  How fickle the flight of love’s arrow.

She quickly disengaged.  I got up and bolted for the door.  Only when I was clearly in retreat did the crowd finally decide to jump in.  Now, everybody wanted a piece of me.  Saving face at that point was futile, so I ran like a villain in a silent film, out through the yard and down the street.  I was being chased by an angry mob of young intellectuals.  How absolutely, fucking embarrassing.  I really legged it and managed to get away.  I barfed a bit, waited in the bushes until it was safe, got in my car and drove home.  I stayed up a few hours that night feeling weird about things, then passed out.

The Christmas parties I attend now are pretty tepid.  They start early and end early.  Sober people only say things once, so their get-togethers don’t last as long.  The highlight is usually coffee and cake.  That may not be some people’s idea of a party, but that’s what I prefer these days.  My idea of a good holiday party was a brutal experience, an endurance contest that destroyed the victor and vanquished equally.  Peace and goodwill towards men, got trampled under foot in the stampede for kicks and oblivion, and somebody usually got hurt.  Now, I’d rather have cake and coffee, and not get poked or smirked at. Cat glasses still kill me.

Christmas on The Western Front

Jumping Through Hoop Rides

Hello Dad! Hello Mom! Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch Cherry Bomb! Santa Fe, '92

I left The Green Onion, looked around, and couldn’t find my car.  This was hardly new, but this time it really wasn’t where I left it.  Someone stole my car.   She was a ’73 Olds Omega, a beater, with bald tires, bashed-in bumpers, a cracked windshield, coat hanger antenna, cigarette-burned interior, and a body rotting with leprous rust.  Underneath all the shame was a Rocket 350 V-8 that could propel me into or out of trouble quickly.  Her rear-end was light, so she fishtailed in the snow.  I’d drive around all winter with a boxing heavy bag and all my weights in the back to give her traction.  She was a Gulden’s yellowish-brown, so I named her “The Mustard Bitch.”  Except for over-heating all the time, and bleeding a quart of oil every three days, she was a great car.  Now, she was someone else’s great car.  I went back into the bar.

My buddy, Doug, was bartending.  I handed him some needle-nose pliers, and then told him what happened.  He handed me the phone to call the cops, then started pouring me a beer.

“Can you believe someone stole The Mustard Bitch?” I  asked him.  He couldn’t.  ” I’m pissed that someone took her, but flattered that anyone would want her.”  Doug nodded and set the beer down, “No charge.”

I didn’t get it.  Why her?  It’s still grand theft auto, whether it’s a Lexus or a Leper.  It helped that you didn’t need a key to turn the ignition, but how did they know that?  I finished my beer, and Doug poured another one.  He was a good friend.  It would be a while before the cops showed up.

I guess it comes with the lifestyle, but I’ve always had crappy cars.  If they weren’t too bad when I bought them, they seemed to age faster than a president.  I gave them nicknames.  There was The Silver Fish, Shitty Shitty Bang Bang, White Lightning, The Beast, Cherry Bomb, Ol’ Smokey, Creeping Death, Compostula, and a bunch of others that died before I could name them.

My favorite was Cherry Bomb.  She was a red ’61 Ford Falcon, that Marko and I bought for $100.  She was edgy.  She was seatbelt-free.  She also didn’t have a rear window, or a muffler, or wipers, or a backseat (you sat on milk crates).   Somehow, she still managed to turn heads.  Unfortunately, most of those heads belonged to cops.  I had painted on some registration tags, and paid a guy at Kinko’s to forge us some bogus proof of insurance, so that was no problem.

The trouble was the steering.  It was so out of alignment the car would swerve while you held the wheel dead center.  You had to, not so much steer, as counter-swerve.  This made you appear to be driving at a higher blood alcohol level than you really were.  The roar coming out of the muffler-free exhaust made sure to call attention to it, too.   We’d be zigzagging along the street, setting off car alarms as we passed, leaning out to wipe away the rain or snow with our hands, or gripping the dash, yelling “Oh fuck! Oh shit! Oh shit-shit-shit! Oh fuck! Oh Shit! Oh fuck this shit-shit-fuck!”  It was an all-hands-on-deck ride.  We only drove her to the liquor store, and to get to work and back.  It was a lousy date car.

It was closing time and the cops still hadn’t showed up.  I called to let them know I was leaving the scene of the crime, and that they could take my information back at my house.  I thanked Doug for all the free beers, and promised to help him haul his massive album collection the next time he moved.  A waitress named Sarah Jane drove me home.  I waited for a while, then went to bed.  My sister woke me up that night.  “The police are here.  What did you do now?”   I said I was the victim, this time.

I sat at the dining room table and gave the cop my report.  He seemed earnest, but with cop-earnest you never know.

“I know they didn’t get too far,” I told him.

“How do you know that?” he asked.

“You can’t pull the lights on without needle-nose pliers,” I explained, “and I don’t keep any in the car,”

“Where do you keep them?”

“At home. Otherwise I lose them.”

“How do you turn the lights on when you’re not at home?”

“I borrow a pair from Doug.”

“Who’s Doug?”

“The bartender. He’s my friend.”

He started to write something down, then looked up.  “You seem to have been drinking tonight. You didn’t drive home did you?.”

I stared at him.  “No, my car was stolen.”  I got up to get a beer.  “Are you going to be the one heading up this investigation?”

It looked like I was going to have to get another car.  That was okay.  I was used to things coming and going by then.  Cars, jobs, money, places to live, and soul mates all came and went. You couldn’t get too attached.  It would kill you faster than the drinking.

Creeping Death was Volkswagen Sirocco that could take you out pretty fast.  The car had brakes when I bought it, but they disappeared shortly afterwards. At that time, brakes were a luxury I just couldn’t afford.  I relied on my parking brake and psychic intuition.  “Magic 8 Ball, will that light remain green much longer?”  I kept it in first gear, and if necessary, gently tapped parked cars to slow down.  True fact.  That was Creeping Death.

Shitty Shitty Bang Bang was a clattering Chevy Chevette (diesel!) that leaked radiator fluid, regardless of how much Stop-Leak I added.  I quit wasting money on that shit and anti-freeze.  I just added water every other time I drove it.  One morning, I was in a rush to drive this girl home before her parents woke up.  I forgot to add water and overheated on the way home from Pecos.  I walked back and forth a mile or two looking for water.  No luck.  I did have to pee though.  I couldn’t find a container to transfer my fluid, so I whizzed directly into the radiator.  The funny thing was, I felt clever, or at least as clever as you can feel while pissing into a car engine by the side of the road.  It didn’t work.  I abandoned Shitty Shitty by the side of the road, and hitchhiked home.  It was a pain in the ass looking for diesel anyway.

Ol’ Smokey was a Ford Bronco that torched oil.  It spewed dense, cumulus smoke, in power plant-sized clouds.  This became a problem when I moved to Los Angeles.  It seems L.A. motorists are more uptight about air quality.  They would drive up beside me and angrily point at the smoke, as if I didn’t see it.  I would act surprised, and thank them.  “Oh my gosh, time for a valve job!  Do they cost more than a case of beer?”

I was stopped at a light on Lincoln Blvd. in Santa Monica one night, when a cop pulled up behind me.  Here we go, I thought.  I watched in my rearview as the squad car disappeared in the cloud of smoke.  The light changed, and I left him there.  That was a great moment.  My luck held until one day in Hawthorne I finally got pulled over and issued a fix-it ticket.  I drove Ol’ Smokey around for 29 more days, then called the junk yard.

The Mustard Bitch could be one.  She was hot-headed and thirsty, like most women around me then, fast but unreliable.  One October night, she left T-Bone and me stranded at a rest stop at the top of La Bajada.  The car was at the bottom of the hill, along with our extra clothes and mobile party supplies.  It was freezing, with a nice wind driving the cold into all our cracks and crevasses.  We had to take turns warming up inside the men’s restroom. One guy would go in while the other guy waited for the tow truck.  T-Bone was wearing a buckskin cowboy jacket, and I had a black leather biker one.  We looked like half the Village People.  We had no idea what we were in for that night.  Men circled, whispered, and disappeared around us.

“Dude! What the fuck is going on here?” I asked him, “How long does it take these guys to stretch their legs?”  Some of them had been hanging around for almost an hour.

“Everyone is friendly enough,” T-bone noted, “But something weird is going on around here.”   When we figured out what was really going on, we stopped taking turns warming up inside the restroom.  We both stood shivering outside, trying hard to not look like guys who wanted to blow strangers.

The cop finished his report.  I got up and walked him out.  He said that they would do their best.  I knew what that meant.  I always did my best, too.  I told him to watch out for drunks and closed the door.

The next morning, Marko and I went looking for the car ourselves.  We drove around with a baseball bat and some beers.  We saw a lot of cars up on blocks, but no Omega.  We gave up when we ran out of beer.

We were driving home when a smear of mustard caught my eye.  My baby.  She was sitting in a small parking lot.  That funereal “waterfall grille” never looked so beautiful.  I was right, they didn’t get too far.  Not keeping pliers in the car turned out to be genius.  I got in, turned the ignition, and she started.  Good girl.  They stole my leather jacket, a pair of sap gloves, and my David Lindley, “El Rayo” cassette, but I could let that stuff go.  I was resigned to lose everything someday, but I was grateful it wasn’t all at once.  One loss at a time.  I had Marko follow me home.  I was low on gas, and almost out of oil.

h

Have you seen me?

A Pawn in the Pawn Shop of Life

I called my friend, Dave.  “I have a new job, and I get to carry a gun,” I told him.  “Are you working as an armed robber?”  “Sort of. I’m working as a clerk at a pawn shop.”  I could hear him hiss out his bong hit.  “Sounds like a new low.”  I told him that new doesn’t always mean worse. “I get to carry a gun.”

A guy named Blackie offered me the job.  Strange creature that one.  He was bug-eyed, with lots of nervous habits that could drive you crazy if you paid attention to them.  He was a toe-tapping, key-jingling, hair-flattening, shoulder-shrugging, eyes-darting-around mess.  He looked like he just snatched a purse and was now blowing the line-up because he was too coked-up.

I met him at the bar I worked at.  He would show up every Wednesday night, when we featured Pearl beer for a dollar.  It was a total gyp.  Pearl was the worst.  Imagine beer-piss distilled in a dusty church organ, then filtered through hospital laundry.  It had an acrid bouquet of nervous sweat, and a strong lead solder finish.  Even I didn’t drink Pearl. Blackie was on his fifth one when he told me about the position at the pawn shop he worked at.

“Do you know how to use a calculator?” he asked me.  “I think so,” I told him.  “Come by tomorrow and fill out an application.”

I put another check mark on my seedy jobs list.

Being a pawnbroker was okay.  It beat laboring hands down.  I was indoors, and except for lugging TV’s back and forth, didn’t have to exert myself too much.  I also got to wear a gun.  That was the best part.  Give anybody with low self-esteem a gun and watch their self-importance balloon.  I began to understand why cops were the way they were.

Having a gun strapped on just murders your customer service skills.  I’d get to work, still flammable from the night before, put on a holstered .357, and just wait for the first customer to give me shit.

“We don’t take TV’s without the remote,” I’d tell someone. “Why the hell not?” they’d ask.  My hand would lower to my hip.  “Because God told us not to, Shit-pants. You want to go ask him…personally?”  They’d see the gun, call me a faggot, then drag the set back to the car.  Since I wasn’t sold on peaceful acceptance back then, I opted for the next best thing, resigned submission, from the other guy.

When I lived in New York,  I worked for Nat Sherman’s, a fancy tobacconist on 5th Avenue.  I had to bow and scrape, ass-kiss and bootlick the snooty clientele.  I ate their snide comments with a forced smile, and had to strain out some sincerity while doing it.  Wearing a gun was definitely better.  Right away it established who the shot-caller was, and kept the lippy backtalk to a minimum.

Being snotty to the help is the dubious luxury of those who can at least pay their utility bills.  Not so for those not whose luck has been strung so thin it can slice government cheese.  The pawnbroker can be the last hand to reach for before you bounce through the hole in the social safety net.  We were happy to help (at 15% interest and $7.50 minimun charge per transaction) but still some people came in acting like they were the ones doing us a favor.  They saw it as an honor for us to hold on to their holy relics until they broke the bank at some Indian casino.

I remember this one freak who used to come it to pawn his swords and knives.  He had bought them through a catalogue featuring the fantasy bladeware so popular with the socially impotent.  He’d be clad in psuedo-swashbuckler attire, with the ponytail, the puffy shirt, crystal necklace, seventeen earrings, leather pants and fringed buckskin boots.  I named him “Gaylord, the Fantastic.”  The routine always went something like this:

“This is a ‘Knight’s of Zardoz’ special edition, 440 tempered steel, onyx-inlaid, Royal Battle Sword,” he’d inform me.

“The owner says the most I can go on any blade like this is seven bucks,” I’d inform him.

Outraged, Gaylord would go on about how collectable Carl Buckler Signature Blades were, the limited number produced, and the fantasy folklore behind the design.

“Look dude, I don’t care if you pulled it out of a magic dragon’s ass, the most I can go is seven.”

“But I paid 149 dollars for this sword!”

“And you will get seven dollars for it if you choose to pawn it, and ten bucks if you sell it straight out.”

He’d sputter something about the box office records of “Zardoz; The Harkening,” the world-wide following of “The Zardoz Trilogy,” the sheer, cherished collectability of all things Zardoz!

” Why don’t you take it to Zardoz and see if he’ll give you more for it?  Because we have better things to kill evil trolls with around here,” I’d say, tapping on my holster, “than some glorified letter opener for emotionally-stunted geeks.  Now, do you want to pawn or sell?”

“I’d like to pawn it.”

I would hand him a clipboard with a form to fill out.  A magical sword may be a valuable treasure in role-playing games, but it’s worth about a burrito lunch and a beer in the real world.  He never seemed to get that.

People coming in with fake jewelry was always fun.  They were either trying to hoodwink us or had been hoodwinked themselves, but either way there was a lot of ‘splaining to do when the diamond tester didn’t beep or the gold bubbled acid on the scratch test.  Blackie would fuck with people he knew were trying to run him.  He’d test it, see that it was fake, then ask “Would you take $500 for it?”  Their eyes would widen, and trying to contain their excitement say, ” I guess I would.”  He’d hold the piece up to a jeweler’s loop and go, “I bet you would, but I’m seeing it’s a little flawed.  Does $4oo sound okay?”  They’d agree it sounded okay, and then he’d put it on the counter.  “I’m sure it sounds okay, because this is fake shit.  You’re not getting anything for it.”  Whah-whuh-whuh-whaaaaaaah!

Generally, we were kind to the downtrodden, all of us having been trod in that general direction ourselves.  If somebody really beat came in, and set out a bunch of shitty cassettes, a souvenir Las Vegas (New Mexico) ashtray, a broken clock radio, and some plastic coat hangers (stuff they obviously found in a dumpster) we’d reach into our coffee money jar and give them a few bucks.  We figured that crap should be worth at least a 40 ounce malt liquor and a hot dog in the real world.

You’d see some sad things.  One couple would come in on payday every Friday night.  They’d pay back the loan on her wedding ring.  We’d polish it up for them.  He would slip it on her finger, they’d kiss, and we’d all cheer.  Monday morning, he’d be back to pawn it again.  They did this every week.  She only got to wear her wedding ring on week-ends.  Cue the Country Western music…

Some criminal masterminds would try unloading the swag they stole.  Since they needed identification to pawn or sell it, they would soon be caught.  Most of them violated their parole and went back to prison.   One guy got sent back to the penitentiary for pawning a stolen kid’s bike.  I wouldn’t be bragging about that shit when I went back in. It hardly reveals the enterprising Scarface you thought you were when you took it.

What was the most interesting thing I ever saw being brought in to pawn?  Nothing.  There was never anything interesting.  It was all dull, stupid shit.  TV’s, electronics, jewelry and guns were what we were looking for.  Stuff that moved fast in pawn shop resale, and that’s pretty much what we got.  It was numbing in its banality.  To this day if I see an electric drill or a turquoise ring, I barf a little in my mouth.  Nobody ever came in with a Crimean War Pepper-Box derringer, or the cameo brooch Mary Todd Lincoln wore to the theater that fateful night, or antique bottles of narcotic, children’s cough syrups.  That might happen on the cable shows, but not at our little aquarium of bottom-feeders.

Looking back now I wish I wasn’t such a dick.  People never warn you to be nice to people on your way down.  The fact that I could pay my utility bills and got to carry a gun, went to my head.  It wasn’t too long before I couldn’t do either, and I was the one trying to pawn a German Army helmet.  Hey, now that I think of it, that was the most interesting thing I ever saw being brought in to pawn- a German Army helmet.  I got two dollars for it.  They burned my ass and I took it.  I needed it to drink.  I just remembered that I even did a little song and dance to sell it, like Gaylord used to do.

I hate when that happens, when I realize I’m just like the people I make fun of.  I guess it comes with the territory, with being sober.  Oh well, at least the lights are on, the water’s running, and I don’t have to carry a gun.

Don't forget to steal the remote!

Slow Death by Kwik-Labor

Unemployed and loving it.

It would be the last good summer I would have for a long time.  It started when I broke my hand on some guy’s skull in a bar fight.  Since I was working as a bouncer at the time, I was able to collect disability for a month.  That week I also received a windfall check for a thousand dollars.  In my limited world it was like winning the lottery.  I drank imported beer and ate sushi once in a while.  I could fill the tank to half, instead of just-above-red.  I was able to do my laundry in a coin machine, instead of stomping on it while I took a shower.

Not working was very good.  Not having to steal car batteries to take to the recycler for a dollar each because of it was amazing.

That was a happy season, with plenty of wine, women, and bong.  I got to rest and read, even scribble a few words down.  I hiked and camped around northern New Mexico.  I finally got a break from The Toil, and a chance to breathe and look around.  Things looked okay.

It was short-lived.  As the air started to cool, so did my hot luck.  The good times guzzled up my fortune quickly, and soon I was stomping on my clothes in the shower again.  All the leaves were brown and the sky was grey.  Early one cold morning,  I found myself pedaling a bicycle with a leaking front tire to Kwik-Labor.  It was flat by the time I walked the bike up to the office.

I gave my information to a spent piece of mobile home trash with a beehive hair-do and turquoise eye shadow.  I sat down on an orange plastic chair and looked around.  Here was the cream of America’s  temporary labor force: reeking alcoholics, toothless meth addicts, criminals, sociopaths, drifters, bullshit artists, and a host of other assorted nuts and dolts.  I was now one of them and it felt rotten.  “Well they call me the ‘working man’ …I guess that’s what I am.”

We sat around drinking metalic-tasting coffee until we got our job assignments.  The guys with cars got the best jobs.  The rest of us piled into the Kwik-Labor van.  For two dollars out of our day’s pay, we got to be dropped off at the job sites in the most humiliating way possible, short of a squad car, or a bicycle with a flat front tire.

Company’s that needed people to do jobs they didn’t want to run off good workers doing, called Kwik-Labor.  That van would pull up, the doors would open, and human refuse piled out.  We’re here!  Where’s the stuff nobody else wants to do?

I always seemed to end up digging in a hole somewhere.  It was a cosmic metaphor, I’m sure.  Most days, I didn’t mind the pick and shovel.  Digging ditches was mindless, and I had plenty of other things to think about, like how to get out of the hole I had metaphorically dug myself in.  I tried to stay stoic, but some days the hangover, combined with the stubbornness of the rocks, and the proximity of some blathering idiot,  just beat it out of me.  Despair was always tugging on my sleeve, tapping me on the shoulder, poking me in the pelvis with a trombone.

There were men who thrived under the circumstances.  Jim was one of them.  Jim was fucking gnarly.  He looked like a cross between Charles Manson and a pirate, but more tan.  He had a scraggly beard, and two rotten front teeth.  They looked like burnt corks that hung down like twisted fangs.  On his bicep was a tattoo of a green cartoon hand raising a “fuck you” finger, with stuff dripping off the tip, with the words “Fox Hunter,” underneath.

Jim was a drifter from New Hampshire who drove around in a diesel pick-up with an oil drum to store stolen fuel from farm equipment.  He chased floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes looking for work as an equipment operator.  He was a good operator, a hard worker, and immune to misery.  He got hired on permanently with the same company as Marko and me.  Because operating equipment made him higher on the construction food chain, he became our defacto supervisor.  He rode us like circus pigs.  Having to stop to drink water was scowled at.  Taking breaks was “fah fairies.”  He would eyeball a half-inch rise of dirt you didn’t level out and scream, “Yah left a fuckin’ mountain deh, yah numb nuts! Fix that shit! Keep tampin’!”  We would fantasize about killing him with whatever tool we were using at the time.

One day during a snow storm, Marko and I were tying down heating hose to concrete reinforcement mesh, while Jim sat in the backhoe, barking orders.  The two of us had our hustle on.  We were trying to beat the storm.  At one point, Marko was running up the hill with two rolls of 200 foot hose around each arm.  He was trying to jam a piece of cold chicken into his mouth while running.  The weight of the hose around his arm kept pulling the drumstick out of his mouth while he ran.  Jim looked over and yelled at him, “Fuckin’ Mahko! Whah do you think this is? A fuckin’ picnic?”

Some picnic, indeed.  Marko wasn’t spending A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jaffe, he was running up a hill in the snow trying to cram down some  chicken, with Michelin Man arms.  There was nothing picnicky about it.  It was a snapshot of what sucked.  But, in the brutal and desolate inner world of Jim, this was like playing badminton or croquet at a lake park, and he tried to make Marko feel guilty about it.  We never forgot that.

I can’t remember what natural disaster finally lured Jim away, but we were thanking God for it. (I know that’s bad)  There would be other people to endure, other pains in the ass, one replacing the other, in a never-ending conveyor belt of bummers.  That life had a shortage of a lot of things, but not that.  When you drink yourself to lower and lower worlds, the denizens of those realms tend to be unpleasant.  I knew what I had to do in order to move out of the neighborhood, but I kept balking.  I was scared I couldn’t handle it.  But then again, this shit was no fucking picnic either.

Keep Tampin'!

Follow the Bouncing Drunk

Santa Fe, 1994.

I like action and adventure, which is strange given the fact that I’m a craven coward.  Then again, I’m nothing but a walking-talking contradiction.  I find war documentaries soothing.  I want romantic devotion, but fear commitment.  I like being alone, but need people.  I couldn’t stop drinking because I couldn’t handle the life my drinking had created.  On and on.

Any shrink worth a $600 correspondence course degree could see that this need for action and adventure was compensation for the fact that even ordinary life scared the shit out of me.  I kept getting myself involved in scary situations with the belief that I would somehow use up all my scaredness.  After dodging threats to life and limb, I would somehow be able to walk out to the mailbox and face the bills head on.

Working as a bouncer seemed like a perfect job for me, not to mention ironic.  Many nights I had to throw people out for being drunk, knowing full well that I was even drunker.  Ah well, it was no use fretting over such small inconsistencies.  I had many bigger things to loathe about myself.  Besides, The Constitution gives bouncers the right to drink on the job.  It is referred to as the Amber Waves of Brave Amendment.  It was ratified around 1927.

If you’ve seen the movie “Roadhouse,” with Patrick Swayze, I feel sorry for you.  Terrible movie.  It’s also a howler when it comes to its depiction of what being a bouncer is all about.  “Be nice,” Swayze’s character pontificates, “…until it’s time not to be nice.”  Heavy shit, Master.  You mean pretend to be nice until you can set up the cheap shot, or until the cops finally show up.  Here was this dude throwing down martial arts moves on the dance floor, CHONG-HOW!  KUNG-POW!  In reality, you’re beating someone’s head in with a salt shaker while they bite into your groin.  Swayze throws fuckers all over the place, but never into an innocent girl who twists her leg and chips her tooth on the bar rail.  Real bar fighting is rarely trading punches.  It’s rolling around on the floor trying to push an ashtray into someone’s nose while getting your eyes scratched.  It’s messy and ugly, and the fun only starts when someone gets hurt.

I was okay at fighting.  Years of getting picked on had desensitized me to the whole concept.  A few years studying some practical techniques under the mighty Flores Brothers of Oxnard, CA, helped me become a little more pro-active.  Unfortunately, I was never able to delude myself into thinking I was the best.  I knew there were lots of guys out there better at fighting than me.  Would I run into them tonight?  For thirteen years I went to work with that dread.  Thank God for beer.  It does the trick whenever self-delusion is called for.  I can’t get hurt and humiliated tonight, because Zulu War Gods are guiding my every move.  I…am… Iron Boy!  So what if now and then Iron Boy brings his Maglite down on the wrong guy’s skull, or a stiletto heel kicked in his crotch takes away all his super powers?

Besides a few strip clubs in Los Angeles, most of my jobs were in Santa Fe. I worked a lot of different places, with various threat-levels.  Strangely, the scariest place was a tiny little sports lounge at a Ramada Inn. My only shift was Sunday night from 5pm to midnight.  Sounds kind of cozy, no?  Seems like a good starter bar for an apprentice bouncer.  How bad could it be?

The sacking of Rome seemed tranquil compared to the average Sunday night there.  First there was the fact that they featured One Dollar Draft Beers.  Ok, that was pretty much it.  Selling beer for a buck will turn any bar into a gladiator arena.  But, you also couldn’t buy alcohol at the store in New Mexico on Sundays back then, so any low-life that ran out would flock to where they could swill their slosh on the cheap.  Hell, that was why I was there when they offered me the job.

Bikers, drug-dealers, drunks, thugs, sleazoids, gang-bangers, and whores all flocked to the reasonable prices and good-natured sports rivalry we provided.  Occasionally a tourist would wander in from the hotel, look around, put a hand on his wallet or camera, and bolt.  By the time my shift started the natives had been drinking and getting torqued on football since 11am.  I was the only bouncer, and didn’t trust too many of the patrons to back me up.  I would sometimes pay my friend, Marko, in dollar draft beers to come in and sit for a few hours.

I remember one night two guys trying to kill each other by hurling billiard balls.  I don’t know if they both had played Little League or what, but they fast-balled those things at each other with anti-tank velocity.  Balls were slamming into glasses, bouncing off the cigarette machine, chipping out the tile floor, sending shrapnel everywhere.  I remember crouching by a table waiting for the thunder to stop.  Shit was breaking everywhere.  People were screaming and yelling.  I looked over and saw this guy I mentally referred to as “Mexican Harpo” crawling on his elbows and knees like he was on Omaha Beach, except he was smiling, and had two beers in his hands.  Fucker was using the commotion to cover him while he stole beers.  Curly black hair, grinning gold teeth, just giddy with delight, he raised his eyebrows at me as if to say, “Hey! Neat deal, huh?”

Usually I’d agree.  Mayhem delights me, except when by some strange twist of fate, I’m the one in charge of restoring order. I finally grabbed a large cardboard cut-out stand of some Bud-Lite Girls in bikinis, and used it as a shield.  (I didn’t want a nine ball in my right corner pocket)  I approached the two maniacs while barking commands, in my best SWAT Team voice, for them to cease and desist.  The fact that I was hiding behind paper booby girls surely reduced my Command Presence, but I was able to get to a pool cue.  Now with a shield and a lance, I was able to corral one of the dudes out the door. The other guy ran out after him, followed by all their friends.  I cleared the bar out, using the commotion to steal a few beers.

One day as I was getting ready to go to work my sister came up to me and begged me not to go.  She said she had a really bad feeling.  She would even pay for whatever I lost by calling in sick.  I’d been doing this shit for years by then, and she never been like that.  She smelled some kind of bad mojo. That was all I needed and called off.  The next morning on the bus to my day job, I ran into a cook from that bar.  He said I missed a wild night with two knife fights, and later a drive-by shooting.  When I came home later that evening  and walked past the place, I could see two bullet holes through the glass door, right by where I used to stand and check IDs.

There were a lot of close calls, and if Zulu War Gods weren’t exactly guiding my every move, something was looking out for me.  I feel bad that I pushed it.  I’m sorry I put my family through the worry.  I also imagine a very frantic Guardian Angel, all stressed-out about his gig–having to look out after my ass.  But, if I didn’t push it back then, I couldn’t let it all go now.  Now I can just be nice.  Besides, there are better ways to prove you’re a man, like going out to the mail box and facing the bills head on.

Crazy-Ass Sons of Bitches

Marko y Yo, bro.

I was sitting in jail one fine evening, thinking about stuff– mostly jail stuff, but also life stuff.  My thoughts weren’t exactly deep as Dostoevski’s, but they were deep enough to make me feel shitty.  I watched an electrician replace a thermostat in the booking office.  He joked around with a few of the guards, then packed up his tools and left.  Suddenly, I wanted to be an electrician, or anybody else that could leave.

Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again…there was the fact that I refused to heed loud warnings.  My buddy, Marko, deciding not to do something that I proposed should have been plenty loud.  He didn’t buckle under the yoke of reason easily.  So now I was in jail, and Marko was at home, finishing off all of my beers.  That was a bitter, bitter fact, but try getting any sympathy for your troubles in jail.  Anyway, that whole night is another story, for another time.  The main point is that even Marko thought it was a bad idea.

Marko and I never got into bad trouble when we were together.  This was incredible given the fact that we ran Full Bat-Shit Crazy for so long.  We reassured each other that it was okay to push it a little further.  If an idea came to us, well, it was obvious wasn’t it?  We had to answer the call.  We didn’t have much materially, but we could claim an expansive range of experiences.  We could walk like gods if we didn’t stop and ask “Why?”

We met when we were 16 and worked together at Denny’s.  Our bus boy and dishwashing shifts overlapped for an hour every Friday evening.  It didn’t take long to realize how much we had in common.  “Do you like to party?”  ” I’ve been known to.”  So it began.  One day I found a green pill when I was vacuuming.  I brought it back to the Marko who was elbow deep in club sandwich and patty melt remnants.  I asked him what he thought it was.  “There’s only one way to find out,” he said, and popped it into his mouth.  Holy shit.  Marko was the mad scientist and his own monster.  This was a man with an intrepid spirit of investigation and discovery.  He would go places.  That time, however, he only went to sleep, for 45 minutes during his 10 minute break.

Many years later, we continued to work together, mostly as laborers humping a jack hammer and tamper, but also scraping rocks with a pick and shovel.  Hungover like drunk-tank Indians, cursing, sweating, and puking together, we toiled at our version of The American Dream.  The work pretty much sucked year-round. We sweat beer out of our eyeballs in the summer, and ate frozen tuna sandwiches during the winter.  So much shared misery couldn’t help but create a special bond, and some rather anti-social behavior when it came time to “unwind.”

One night we went to Rodeo Nites, a local hay and oats joint.  Neither of us liked Country Western music, but since I worked there part-time as a bouncer, it would be easier to cage free drinks.  It was also a scientific fact that girls who liked Country Western were notorious sluts.  So were we.  Who cares about music anyway when you have so much else in common?  However, that night even the most desperate lady shit-kickers weren’t taking our bait.  That’s what kind of shape we were in.

At one point, Marko was trying to grind it into one of the cocktail waitresses we knew, with his version of The Lambada.  This was hardly appropriate.  Not only had that dance craze died four years earlier, but it wasn’t even Country Western.  Still no reason not to try reviving it with a busy (and slightly pissy) waitress.  Only the fact that I worked there saved us from getting our heads plowed into The Pillar of Shame.  Every bar I worked at had some version of this.  Some pole, wall, or door jam that you would accidentally smash someone into on their way out the door. You saved it for those deserving an extra little treat.  Our antics that night earned us enough for several treats, but my co-workers showed mercy.  Instead, we were asked to “Chill the fuck out,” and given a beer each. We nursed them for awhile, until we got too sleepy and decided to leave.

We walked around for a while looking for his car.  It was hard to find because it was a magical automobile.  It had the power of invisibility.  It was an Oldsmobile his father gave him when he bought a new car.  This was not a Public Enemy 98 Oldsmobile, but a Fuddy Duddy AARP Bonneville, or some shit.  This car said “Driver is a law-abiding, golf pants-wearing Republican, with premium insurance and a healthy fear of God.”  No satanic punk rock stickers on this Citizenmobile.  Nothing that would draw attention to or help witnesses identify.  It would even change color sometimes from blue to green, depending on the light. We once drove from New Mexico to California and back without getting arrested.

We finally found the car and buckled up.  Marko drove towards the exit, but saw it was taped off with yellow caution tape.  We would have to drive to the other exit, which was, oh… about 9 to 11 seconds out of our way.  Fuck that shit!  We had things to do. We were two Renaissance men on the move.  “Don’t fuck around, Dude, just go.” I told him.  “But it’s blocked,” he balked.  “Blocked by what?!  Thin plastic with the words “Caution” all over! Caution is for cowards. Caution is for the slaves that serve.”  I told him that driving through that tape would make us feel like we won a race.  “You want to feel like a winner don’t you?”

He floored it, and we broke through the tape.

He turned on to Cerrillos Rd., one of the main streets through town.  We drove just a few yards before we noticed the sparks.  Huge Roman candles worth of sparks shooting from both sides of the car.  The yellow plastic caution tape had concealed a steel cable behind it.  The cable was attached to two metal poles sunk into 5 gallon drums filled with concrete. These were now being dragged along beside us.  The Olds pulled at the cable caught in the teeth of its grille like a swerving shark, concrete and steel buoys battering its body. It was highly conspicuous.

A cop drove by going the other way.  Fuck.  This was unnerving even when really drunk.  We watched and waited for the u-turn, but it never came.  The cloak of invisibility held.  Just some good citizens taking some buckets of concrete out for a walk.  The car lurched into a gas station.  I remember laughing and laughing as the two of us struggled to pull the cable out.  “Why the fuck do I let you talk me into this kind of shit?” he asked, and then just yanked out the whole grille.  His dad would’ve been so proud to see how strong his son had become.  That made me laugh even more.  It was good to laugh.  It was good to be with good friends. It was good to unwind.