Pants On Fire

Our pants. our pants, our pants are on fire.

Our pants. our pants, our pants are on fire.

I watched a politician lie the other night.  I know.  Big surprise.  But I was only watching to see his technique.  Maybe pick up some pointers.  He had the body language down right.  Very relaxed.  No unmanageable ticks.  Or involuntary furtiveness.  Nope.  Clearly at ease with himself.  And his duplicity.

He was up there a long time too.  Long press conference.  Playing the “obviously if I had anything to hide I wouldn’t be all hanging out and jawing with you for this long” ploy.  Know it well.  I also know if you’re not on your A-game that day, it can back-fire.  That’s why defense lawyers always want to keep that shit to a min.

My mom always saw through it.  As a teenager I would always stop by her bedroom after a night of partying.  For a little chat.  To show her how high I wasn’t.  One night she flat-out told me, “I think you come in here and talk to me for a long time so I wouldn’t think you were stoned.”

Oh God.  She just busted me.  A clown squirted chocolate milk out of his eyes.  A laughing tulip licked up some of the drops.  I remembered looking at a Puerto Rican girl’s bra strap on the subway when I was six.  Then I pictured playing ping pong with Pasty Cline.  Heard somebody whisper something about Presbyterians.  The top of my head felt like a lava lamp.  I wondered what ever happened to Checkers and Pogo.  I saw a pyramid.  A vulture.  A lemon.

A soup ladle made out of purple velvet.

“Really? Well that sounds strange to me.  And not because I’m stoned kind of strange.  Which I’m not.  At all.  Just weird because…of the… weirdness…of…it.  And I can’t believe it!                            What you said.      Back then.  And I’m really tired with these allergies in my eyes so I better go to the bed.  Bed.  Not the bed.  Just bed.  I better go to bed is what I meant to say.

Anyway, I was watching this guy lie his balls off.  And I had to admit, he was pretty good.  Lots of apologizing for things.  Just not the things he was being accused of.  But that doesn’t matter, because with lazy listeners it all blends together.  Sprinkle enough apologies around and they think “Hey, he apologized.  What more do you want?”  It’s a way of taking the rap, but while maintaining your innocence.  A tricky dance to pull off.

“I take full responsibility for what happened.  For leading on your sister, to the point where she would feel compelled to write fantasy scenarios in her diary about me and her having sex in a bowling alley parking lot on the Friday night you went up to Santa Barbara.  You are right.  I should not have done that.  That was wrong.  Leading her on like that.  I should have known that once she realized she could never have me, her vivid imagination would erupt in a rebellious tantrum.  There’s simply no excuse for not noticing the level of her sexual attraction towards me.  I should have known that my innocent and innocuous flirtation would unleash a demon of desire.  But I was a fool.  A blind fool.  I should’ve never been nice to her.

But you shouldn’t have read her diary.  With all her fictitious private stuff in it.

So I guess we’re even.”

Tippy tap-tap.

Tap.

That one didn’t work.  Well, it worked getting me hit repeatedly by a screaming woman.  Worked like a charm.

Apparently, she wasn’t a porch swinger when it came to listening.  She listened real hard.  I don’t know if she would’ve hit me any less hard if I just told her the truth.  But I know I wouldn’t have felt as scumbaggy, while I stood there, lungs vibrating from the blows.  Sure, I still would’ve felt like scum.  Just not as baggy.

rx5Oc

I hate to lie.  Not out of any rigorous ethical principals, but because I hate doing anything I’m not good at.  And I don’t think I’m a good liar.  I get too nervous.  Give away a lot of poker tells.  And add way too many details.  Things that trip me up later.

“You said you had to go to visit somebody at ‘the brain unit’ at a hospital in Pasadena.  Which hospital exactly was that?”

“Uh, let’s see…I have to think exactly what the…”

“Because my father is a doctor at Huntington Memorial.  Was it at that one?”

“No, definitely not that one.”

“Memorial has the best neuroscience department in Pasadena.  I thought he might have gotten his cat scan done there.”

“No, I’m drawing a blank on the name.  I mean I know it.  Maybe when I give up trying.  You know how sometimes after that it will just pop up.  I remember it was fairly close to the Rose Bowl.  And I remember I got robbed by the Snicker machine at the cafeteria.  Took 85 cents.  I remember that.  And that they had a so-so brain unit.”

“Is he going to be okay?”

“Who?”

“Your friend.”

“Oh God, I hope so.”

“Well, we missed you at Easter brunch.  The kids really enjoyed the egg hunt. ”

“Oh man, I wish I could’ve been there.  But you know…”

Yeah, they know.  And you know they know.  And it’s a cringe-fest.

I can use the heat from my shame to propel me away!

I can use the heat from my shame to propel me away!

Early on in my sobriety, I used to go over to this old guy’s house to hang out.  He had almost twenty years sober by then.  We’d sit in his living room and chain smoke while he taught me some coping skills–ways to navigate the treacherous seas without a tankard of grog.  He was generous with his time, and was very helpful in securing the sails of my sanity.

One day, the subject of honesty came up.  He said my big problem was with “white” lies.  He said that’s where I should focus.  That was the crux.

He’s crazy, I thought.  Who gives a flying frankfurter about white lies?  That’s just being polite.

I’ve got bigger honesty issues to wrestle with.  All those years as a drunk, lying became second nature.  It became a survival mechanism.  Now I was having trouble disengaging from it.  I was having a real hard time being honest.  Those little white lies I told were just social niceties.  As problems went, they seemed like a low priority target.

We’re standing in a dining room ankle-deep in raw sewage and he wants to put the salad fork on the correct side of the plate.

But he insisted.  I only thought they were harmless.  I had convinced myself that I was lying not to hurt someone’s feelings.  Keep things nice-nice.  But at a deeper level, I was really worried about their disapproval.  I was afraid they wouldn’t like me.

“They’re corrosive.  Every time you tell a white lie, you’re telling yourself it’s not okay to be you.  You’re lying about who you are. ”

It wasn’t a burning bush or flash of light variety of insight, but I did hear a distant gong.

Lying about who I am?  Holy shit.  That doesn’t sound good.  It sounds creepy and insane.  And not in the way I enjoy.

“Instead of making up all kinds of reasons why you can’t do something, just say you’d rather not.  And then leave it at that.”

“Are you serious?”

“Yeah, just say ‘I’d rather not.’ ”

“And leave it at that?”

“Leave it at that.”

This was absolutely nuts.  I remember giggling with glee.  Simple honesty.  What a revolutionary approach to life.  I couldn’t wait to try it out.

I didn’t have to wait long.  I’m not lying.  The next day, one of my personal training clients asked me to come out to Disneyland with her and her family.  Oh boy.  A wholesome activity that I despise, but don’t want to admit to hating, because people will then think/know just how degenerate and jaded I am.

Now was my chance to say “Hey, I hate craft fairs, Renaissance faires, parades, dinner theater, magic shows, puppet shows, circuses, sack races, hot air balloon launches, and any kind of music that’s played from a bandstand.  But I really hate Disneyland.  So I’d rather not.”  And then leave it at that.

I stood there.  Do it.  Just say it’s something you’d rather not.  Then drop it.  Drop it like a hammer.  Strike a blow for being yourself.

“Oh wow!  Would I ever love to! But you said Saturday?  Yeah.  Ah.  I can’t.  I promised a buddy I would go with him to get a cat scan at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena.  They’ve got a great neuroscience department there.  He has epilepsy and they specialize in brain mapping.  And even though epilepsy is not life-threatening per se, he gets nervous about any medical procedure, and since he’s a recovering alcoholic he’s going to need somebody to be there…because none of his friends or family are talking to him yet, you know, him being early in recovery and all,” I said.

And then left it at that.

I went back to my friend and told him about my failure.  He said it was okay.  A lifetime of behavior doesn’t change overnight.  The important thing was that I was becoming aware of my dishonesty.  That, in itself, was an important step.  In the process.  The process of recovery.

Turns out he was crazy.  And right.  The white lies were the crux of my problem.  Not being okay with who I was–was.  That was the hydra head to a  multi-tentacled monster.  But little by little, the more okay I became with who I was, the easier it was to be honest.  And the more honest I was, the more okay I became with who I was.  It was almost like it was some kind of process or something.

So yeah, I’ve come a long way with honesty.  How long?  Well, let’s just say long enough to know I have a long way to go.

I’ll leave it at that.

In Case of Emergency

Punked-Out Punk: Part Three

Oh thank God, they're American-owned!

Oh thank God, they’re “American-owned”

I pulled into the motel parking lot carefully listening for the crunch of syringes and crack vials.  Didn’t hear any.  They must sweep the place.  Classy joint this Comfort Inn.  Can’t see why Expedia only gave it two stars.  Maybe at night it becomes a stable for hookers.  Better get the top floor.  Don’t want to be hearing a bed creak every thirty minutes.  Unless, of course, I’m in it.

I parked the car and went inside the office to register.

A gentleman with a southern Mumbai accent processed my reservation, then directed me to a room on the first floor.  I thanked him and went out to get my bag from the car.

Wow.  Plastic key card.  Free buffet breakfast and WiFi.  Dish TV.  Little refrigerator.  Coffee maker.  Call me the King of Siam.  I was ready to settle for windows without bullet-holes and free local calls.  And I get all this.  The gourmet shit.  The Creator is too good to me.  Spoils me rotten.

I went in.  Nice enough digs.  Didn’t smell too funky.  A dark room.  Always like that.  Especially after I make it darker.

I dragged the blackout curtain across the window.  Unpacked some rags.  Put away the soda and beans.  Checked out the bathroom.  Didn’t get the vibe anybody had ever died in it.  Cool.  That’s worth at least half a star.  I got some ice from the machine and filled the sink.

Still feels a little weird not sticking in a bunch of beers.  But not as weird as waking up in a Mexican jail.  Here, see if you can put in cans of soda instead of beer and somehow still survive.

I did.  And did.

Spent the next twenty minutes trying to figure out the remote for the bullshit Dish TV.  Got to the point where I just started pushing buttons randomly.  That’s what finally worked.  I don’t know why I didn’t just do that right off the bat.  Don’t try to figure it out.  Just keep pushing buttons, baby.  Let mathematical chance work for you.  If you’re not hung up on any particular number–every one is a winner.

Wound up tuning into some football.  Two teams I didn’t give a fuck about.  Perfect.  A stress-free sporting event to kill some time.  I can relax a little before getting my eardrums punctured with punk rock.  I leaned back into my stack of pillows and exhaled.  Exhaled everything.  My previous stress.  My present apprehensions.  My future concerns.  Just gassed them out.

I don’t know what particular meditation technique it is, or from which tradition, but I like to make myself disappear.  It’s easy.  Just let the boundary between self and surroundings blur a bit…and poof.   I cease to be.  At least for a little while.

Now and then, I need to dissolve into the arms of Nuit.  “Oh, holy Eternal Void, I fling myself into Your infinite potential.  My fate to You I trust.  Redeem me, if You must.  But I don’t mind being dust.  Amen.”

Sweet inky oblivion.  It’s very relaxing.  And I’ve learned how to obtain it without a motel bathtub filled with beer.

We're going to need more ice.

As if the TV would be there. I call bullshit.

I woke up– if not entirely redeemed–certainly more refreshed.  I decided to take a shower.  Already talked to Gurz and he said the bands were still on their way to the show.  That meant I had time to stand under the hot water and realize some things.

Like as long you don’t put any expectations on the evening, you can’t be disappointed.  Don’t feel bad if you don’t feel like you’re twenty years old again.  You didn’t feel so great then either.

And even if the music doesn’t somehow erase all your hard-earned wisdom, you can still make bad decisions.  It’s a choice.

And there’s nothing wrong with mellowing.  So what if you’re not the reckless monster you used to be?  Who cares if you don’t pull down the scenery around you in an operatic gotterdammerung anymore, or make a hobby out of endangering the safety of others?  In fact, everyone is pretty okay with it.  You’re really the only hold-out– the only one giving yourself grief.

Huh.  Fucking me.  It’s always something.

Well, that’s where you come in.  You’re going to take care of you.

Me?  Why me?

Since you already have an in with old boy.  You being him and all.  You can put in a good word.  Get you to call the dogs off you.  You know, cool it.

Hmm.  Maybe.  I’ll see what I can do.  But you know me.

I do.  And I know you know you.  And if you’re cool to you, I know you’ll totally be cool.

Yeah, I know.

So we’re cool?

Totally.

Good shower.

I got dressed.  Laced the Martens.  Ate my salami and beans.  And Brazil nuts.  Washed it all down with a can of diet ginger-ale.  Put a key card in my wallet.  One in my sock.  Left the TV on.  Closed the door.

Okay, let’s see if the kids have anything on this old dog.

(to be continued)

Only the Bible survived.

That’s more like it.

Creeped In Connecticut

Wants you to take her rollerskating.

Wants you to take her rollerskating.

Well, I hope everybody enjoyed the annual thinning of the veils.  Frankly, I’m Halloweened-out.  At least from the mainstream version of it.  Pumpkins.  Candy corn.  Miley Cyrus.  Even the hooky-spooky stuff gets old.  I guess it’s because we’re like the Addams family over here.  Ghosts, growlers, gremlins, and Greys don’t phase us.  Every day is Halloween.

The other night Lori and I were watching a paranormal show.   Some homeowners were dealing with a demon in their basement.  In Connecticut.  Of course.

Connecticut has got some bad mojo.  I’m no Nervous Nellie when it comes to the paranormal.  I’ve witnessed my fair share of the unexplained.  No joke.  I don’t know if it’s because I was always open to it, or this unique birthmark, but I’ve been followed around by some freaky shit my whole life.  And I’ve actually enjoyed it.  Seeing a candle light itself has a way of bringing a little mystery back into life.

But something about the Connecticut brand.  Really creeps.

We watched the priest performing the exorcism.  He gets his toupee tugged on.  Stuff starts to fly around.  He feels hot scratches along his back, then gets doubled-over with what appears to be gas pains.  Clutching at his guts, he keeps trying to send the demon back into the bowels of hell.

“Classic back-fire,” I explained, “Didn’t close up his circle and now the little bugger ricocheted into his bowels.”

“Listen to the arm-chair exorcist.”

“Hey, I might not be able to put up shelves, but I think I could perform a pretty damn good exorcism.  The key to successful mediation is to establish rapport.”

“No problem for you.”

“Exactly.  I think my way would work better than this old-school antagonistic approach.  Why piss the thing off?  Just thank it for whatever lesson it came to deliver then politely send it back to Hell to await reassignment.  Look at this poor priest.  He looks like he’s about to crap his pants.”

He kept at it though.  Making the sign of the cross with holy water with one hand while grabbing his cramping pelvis with the other.

“That’s a weird place, Connecticut.”

“Uh-huh.” She rearranged her pillow.  “You told me.”

“Did I tell you about the rollerskating rink?”

“Yes.”

I wished I hadn’t.  It’s a good story.  That’s the trouble with being in a long relationship.  You use up all your good stories.

Finally, in a tornado of dishes and drapes, Latin and lighting, the demon was gone.  Everyone’s relieved.  The terrorized family, the ghost hunters sent in to investigate, and the priest they called in–when they realized this was more that the ghost of Aunt Fanny on their hands– everybody hugging each other, rejoicing and so forth.

But I could have sworn I saw two glowing eyes looking in from the corner of the kitchen window.  Nice.

“I love a happy ending,”

I looked over at Lori.  She was out cold.  Exorcisms make her sleepy.

Hey.  I didn’t tell you guys about how creepy Connecticut is.  Especially the roller rinks.  Hold on let me turn the lights down…

Okay.  My family was close friends with another Lithuanian family back in New York.  They had four kids.  One boy was my age and the girl was my sister’s.  We basically grew up together, so we were sad when they moved to Connecticut, where they eventually built a house in the woods of Danbury, by Candlewood Lake.  You know Danbury, where the first US trial in which demonic possession was used as a defense for murder was held.

Cozy old Danbury.

Anyway, we used to love to go visit them.  They were my funnest friends and I have many happy memories.  But I remember other stuff, too.  Like the woods around their house.  Something really bad dwelled there.  I could feel it.  Something evil.

Keep in mind, I grew up traipsing in the woods and parks of New York and loved nature.  There was nothing creepy about quiet trees.  But walking around those Connecticut trees, I’d see things from the corner of my eye.  Get the feeling that somebody or some thing was watching.  My arm hair was always brush stiff while playing and exploring in those woods.

It didn’t help that they lived next door to a guy that had blown his brains out with a shot gun.  I also remember that we’d run across these abandoned homes.  Old-timey clapboard shacks with the windows busted out, but all the furniture still inside.  Pans still on the stove.  Clothes in the closet.  Even old boxes of cereal in the cupboards.  Where did the people go?

My buddy and I would try to vandalize these old shacks, more than they already were, but one of us would always wind up getting hurt.  On a nail or broken glass.  Something would always abruptly end our fun.  One time while bashing out an un-bashed window, he got stung by a bee as big as a fist.  Right on his thumb.  It swelled up really big.  Our parents debated taking him to the hospital.

One day, while we were standing outside the shot-gun suicide house, talking about what a mess it must have been, a bottle broke between us.  We were only a few feet apart, but neither of us could tell where it came from.  We looked around for any neighborhood kids, but never saw anyone.  We had a wide view through the woods, and never heard any leaves crunching either towards or away.  Besides, it didn’t skip like it had been thrown.  It just exploded.  On the leaves.

Another night, we were sent out to get firewood,  On our way back, I looked up and saw a hooded white face standing about fifty feet away.  Mother of God.  I dropped the wood and blurred through time and space getting to the front door.  My friend hadn’t even seen it and he was climbing on my back trying to get through the door.  So convincing was my panic.

I’ve scared myself with my imagination before.  This was different.  Too much time getting a good look at it.  My eyes actually focused and there it was–a hooded, white mask-like face.

Even remembering it today, gives me the jeebies.

Actual photo

Actual photo

Anyway, all that stuff, as bizarre as it was, didn’t hold a candlewood to the Danbury rollerskating rink.  That remains one of my creepiest memories.  Ever.  Not just mine.  It’s in my sister’s Hall of Fame too.  And there was nothing paranormal about it.  Normal can freak plenty good.

One Saturday afternoon, the parents decided to drop us kids off at the local roller-skating rink.  My sister and I had never been to a roller rink.  We always went ice-skating instead.  Okay, but this should still be fun.  Hooray!  We’re going rollerskating!

Yeah.  But in Connecticut.

As soon as we drove up to the joint I knew it was going to be memorable.

The place was decrepit and dusty.   Looked like it hadn’t been renovated since the forties or fifties.  The people too.  Everybody in the place was dressed like extras from an episode of Green Acres.  Old-fashioned rural clothes.  Coveralls.  Red-checked flannel.  Hats with flaps.  Girls with dresses made out of patterns.  Everybody slowly skating around with blank New England expressions.  Real time-warp vibe.

I remember there was even a gumball machine that dispensed stick pretzels.  How fucked-up is that?

Well, we get our skates and roll into the rink.  I’m looking around.  It’s really dark.  The light has a root-beer amber quality.  There’s just enough of it to avoid bumping into some Ed Gein skating the other way.   Instead of canned pop music, there was a live organ playing some kind of Hokey Pokey funeral dirge.

I skate over to the other end of the rink.  I see a sad pile of old toys arranged around a window.  They’re all the scariest kind.  Monkeys with cymbals.  Homemade dolls.  Ventriloquist dummies.  Crude wooden trains.  Mangy stuffed animals.

Clowns.

All set among sagging tinsel and dim Christmas lights.  And not moved or dusted in thirty years.

Then I looked up at the window.

And saw where the organ music was coming from.

Behind thick, nicotine-stained glass, a hunched man sat playing the organ.  I’ll never forget what the fucker looked like.  Instead of trying to describe him I’ll draw him-

Police sketch

Police sketch

Yeah.  I’ll take a hooded white face.  Any day.  My parents had spent a lot of time trying to convince me that Lurch was not real.  Now it looked like that was just more of their lying bullshit.

Something about him being behind thick glass.  It made it look like he was being kept in a room built especially to safely house him.  So he wouldn’t break out and start eating hillbillies.  Was he some sort of serial-killing musical savant?

The whole scene was disturbing enough, but seeing that ghoul behind glass was the crown jewel.

I skated over to my sister.

“I think you need to roll over to the organ grinder and get a good look.”

She did.  It’s something that stays with her to this day.

And I’m sure she’s grateful to me for it, too.

Anyway, it shows that something doesn’t have to be paranormal to scare.  There are plenty of terrifying things right here in the “real” world.

Like getting drunk and ruining your life.  Nice and normal-like.  And to be honest that scares me more.  More than some Enochian demon growling from under my bed.  Although, that still gives me a good jolt.  You know, when it wakes you out of a dead sleep.

It’s good though.  Reminds me to pray.  When in doubt, shout it out.

Over the years, I’ve experienced so much strangeness, both supernatural and organic, that when it came time to ask an invisible higher power to relieve me of my alcoholism, it didn’t seem so far-fetched.  I already believed there was all kinds of stuff out there.  Some of it good.  Some of it not so.  So unlike some alcoholics coming into recovery, I didn’t balk at praying to stay sober.

Cracks me up.  One guy told me that praying made him feel uncomfortable.  Said he felt stupid doing it.  The guy who pissed his pants at his sister’s wedding.  Drank eleven beers before his probation hearing.  You’d think he’d be comfortable with feeling stupid by now.  He’s not yet.  And still drinking.

No big deal.  That’s where demons come in.  Their main job is to scare everyone back to The Creator.  One way or another.  Everybody finds themselves praying.  They’ll make sure of it.  Turn up the heat until you do.  And the way things are popping off these days, it looks like they’ve brought their A game.

So I don’t think there’s any need to push prayer on anyone.  Suggest it sure, but to get a really sincere one out of somebody, there are experts out there.

And they are consummate professionals.

Boo.

Post-script:  While Googling “Demons in Connecticut” I came across this little tid-bit from the Fortean Times, “Across the state-line, in Fairfield County, Connecticut, an employee at a local radio station told me of druid-like gatherings, at night, in the woods surrounding Candlewood Lake, near Danbury.”

.

Product of my imagination

Product of my imagination

Radio Hindenburg

Beloved Morning Show personalities.

Beloved radio personalities relaxing and eating bread.

For a short time, Marko and I had a late night call-in radio show on KUNM.  A short time because we sucked.  I think it was two shows.  Maybe one.  I don’t know.  I wasn’t there.  The whole thing seems surreal.  Dreamlike.  A dreamlike disaster.

Our friend Kelly was a radio intern at the University of New Mexico.  She offered us the gig.  From 1AM to 5AM, Monday morning.  That’s right. Primetime, baby!

We had never done radio, but after a few beers, decided to expand our undulating horizons.  This might be fun.  Produce a few of our own gag commercials to sprinkle throughout the shift.  Take some calls from any bat-chain pullers,  Pretty much wing it from there with a beer.  What could go wrong?  We were guaranteed to be smash hits.

As long as we didn’t get too crazy.  Too crazy drunk and out-of-control.  On the air.

Okay to be crazy drunk and out-of-control.  Just not too. 

On the radio.

In order to prevent that, we enacted an iron-clad NO DRINKING rule.

No drinking.  Until at least midnight.  So that we wouldn’t be too hammered by one.  Still be able to do radio shit.  Like announce the time.

And not say “fuck” a lot.

It was only the professional thing to do.  It’s a tough business.  Had to be at the top of our game, so we would refrain from drinking until an hour before our shift.  That way we would be less destroyed than normal.  Because we hardly had any time.

It was hard, but we did it.  Had to rent a cheap motel off Central and hole up in it.  Count off the tick-tocks before showtime.

Of course I hated it, but he wasn’t feeling Johnny High-On-Life either.  I felt better seeing him miserable.  Sitting there in a dirty Albuquerque motel.  On a Sunday.  Not drinking.  Nervous about being on the radio.  Nothing to take off the edge.  Except caffeine.  Sugar.  Nicotine.  A few small tablets of Ephedrine.  Snorted whole off knife-point.

Yeah, it was a lot of laughs, until I realized I was in the same predicament.

Cleaning our finger nails.  Sharpening knives.  Tossing cards into the toilet.  Anything to distract ourselves from the gut-sense of doom.  Knowing we were going to be on the radio.  Knowing it would be bad.  Knowing that whatever happened that night, there would be witnesses.  Maybe not too many.

But it only takes one.

Twaz bruttle, bro.  Knowing the seediest Albuquerque had to offer was just a cap-flick away, and having to sit there.  Sit for a while then get up and pace.  Endure a crawling clock.  Murder the minutes.  With cigarettes.  Coca-Cola.  And Elvis.

Viva Las Vegas was on one night.  We sat there and watched the whole stupid thing.  All of it.  Without drinking, we had no options.  Without our brewed propellant, we were reduced to watching some guy in a pantsuit sing.

Like the rest of America.

It was humbling.

At one point, Marko started singing along.  His dad was into The Elvis, so he knew all the words.  Strange enough, but more disconcerting to watch him belt it out.  So earnestly.  With such feeling.  Eyes burning.  Really trying to sell it.  Singing like his whole career depended on it.  Like everything depended on this Elvis impersonation.

I’d never seen him like that.  Dude was David Lynching me.  Laying down a highly-effective creep-out.

What made it scarier was the fact that he was stone cold sober.  So this is what happens.  My God, he was falling apart.  Going full nut-job.  Stark raving mad.

I joined him in the chorus.

“VIVA LAS VEGAS!”

At the top of our lungs.  Like children would go hungry if we didn’t squeeze out every decibel.  And mean every word.

“VIVA LAS VEGAS!”

Sonofabitch we were happy when midnight arrived.  Oh, Holy Hour of Magic, Thou Art Come to slake our forsaken thirst.

I remember waiting outside in the parking lot of the station,  Marko’s beeping Casio our starting gun.

Teep!

Right.  We have one hour to drink enough beer.  Before we go in.  Only one hour.  We have to drink a lot beer.  Really fast.  Before we go in.  Because once we go in, we’ll keep drinking of course.  But we only have an hour, to drink as much beer as we can…before we go in.

“So pound it, mother!  Because we couldn’t drink…”

“A beer every six minutes will still only be ten.”

“…all that time before!”

“Every five minutes will kill twelve.  But these are twenty-fours.”

“And a whole bunch of …Glug-glug-glah…other good…Glug-glug-glah…reasons.”

“We can kill fifteen.  But we’re gonna have to drink pissing. ”

“Don’t waste time doing math…Glug-glug-glooog-gah-glug ghaaach!  Pound!”

A determined individual can get pretty intoxicated, even in an hour.  But two motivated souls, supporting each other with encouragement, can achieve something really amazing.  Something rarely seen.

Gassing the big cans of Heineken straight down the throat.  One after another.  Non-stop.  Like some Indian sadhus showing-off in a beggar’s market.  Trying to get into the record books.  Trying to become eight-armed Hindu beer-drinking deities.  Popping a can with one hand while rolling out an empty to Kelly with the other.  To crunch.  Put in the trunk.  Recycle for cash.  Buy more cans.

“Every one of these is five cents we get.”

“Stop counting, fucker.  Pound!”

Gatling gunning them.  Spitting the casings out on the asphalt .  Kelly stomping on them with her big long legs like she’s dancing for rain.

“Are you guys going to be okay?”

“We’re gonna kill the world!”

Looking back, we would’ve been better off just coming in our regular amount of drunk by 1 AM.  Instead of pulling the elastic band all the way back, on a Sling-shot Sunday.  Then launching the show, after a Blue God Power Hour.

Live and learn, eh?  But at least now we were ready.   Ready to shine.  To radiate our bliss.  To bless the masses with our joy infernal.

Confidence restored?  Check.  Reckless disregard engaged?  Check  More beers in the jackets?  Checkmate.  We were ready.  For everything.  Ready for work.  We went in.

I don’t remember the D.J. we took over from, commending us on our professionalism.  For not drinking since midnight.

Fuck him.  We were plenty drunk now.  Thaaat whole caring about what people think wasss…ssomethinggggggg shhtupit 4 4 4 ofer chumfs an peepols wiff aaaahfukinon’t give-vah rattsaasss!  Mether feck head.  Hitler fecker…head-erhp I benner not say thaaat on a radio.  FC…CIA Nazi policituations an shit.  Wazz up Alqueburque?  Aneee strange stupf in a house? Here putty putty catty.  Gha-ha-ha-ha-ha!

Pip.  Pop.  Fizz.  Glug.

Glug.

It didn’t go well.

Really love a rewind.

Don’t get those on live radio.  Or life.  And since this was both, we were double-fucked.

It was so bad, I hesitated writing this little piece.  That’s right, I didn’t want to revisit it.  Shit was bad enough to scar, even beneath an alcoholic blur.  One of those treats.  What I like to call my “special memories.”  The gut still tightens when I remember certain parts.

Ah, but you guys are like family to me, so what the hell.  I’ll share what happened.

Someday.

Not ready just yet.

But I will tell you, that not remembering to announce the time, wasn’t the worst part.

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.

Train I Ride

The Last Pale Light in the West.

The Last Pale Light in the West.

I looked out from the window.  Watched the passing shacks, sheds, shanties, and week-end torture cabins that dot our great Northwest.  Haunted houses.  Suicide barns.  Junked cars.  Algae-filled kiddie pools.  Crumbling brick buildings.  Rotting timber.  Rusting machinery.  Rusting everything.  Everything rusting and getting overgrown.  Moss.  Mold,  Weeds.  Plants.  You can see the earth trying to digest all this man-made ugliness.  Trying to return all this shit back into molecules it can use.

Lori and I were on our way to Seattle.  We love the Pacific Northwest.  Gloom is good for our complexions.  We flew into Portland, hung out for a few days, then took the train up to see her brother in Wallingford.  I like train travel.  Always preferred it.  Very relaxing.  I like staring at the landscape.  I like it when it’s beautiful.  But I also get a kick out of seeing ugly places.  Always have.  Ever since I was a little kid.  My favorite family vacations were the ones to Tijuana.  After that Las Vegas, which is a different kind of ugly.

Anyway, the best way to enjoy any kind of bleak landscape is from a train speeding away from it.  Barstow.  Gallup.  National City.  29 Palms.  Folsom Prison.  There it is.  And there it goes.  Perfect.  Now make your way to the bar car.  And really make it go away.

Take Amtrak and see America.

Take Amtrak and see America.

Speaking of bar cars.  While we were sitting at the station in Portland, these five business guys clad in Casual Friday climb into our car.  They’re all together.  Going to somewhere to do something.  Where or what I couldn’t give a rat’s ass.  Guys like this are so un-intersting ta me they usually turn invisible after my first glance.

They overhead their little rolly suitcases, sit down, plug in their lap tops, and evaporate into thin air.  Poof.  Gone.

Actually, only three of them.  They were on their way to the bar car before the train was even moving.  The first man up was a porcine chap with a burr haircut and a red face.  Of course him.  Retaining a little water he was.  You don’t just get bloated eyelids…you earn them.  He was the first to hop up.  He also made it easier for the other two to follow.  The Ice Breaker.  Taking point.  God bless you, soldier.

“Hey get me one,” the guy sitting right behind me calls out.  In a pointed way.  Like he knows the score.

Buzz-haired fat guy stops.  He gets the dig.  Decides to take it head on.  Turns to the guy and asks him what he wants.

No answer.

He turns back and opens the sliding door.  The three file out into the next car.  Well played.

“Do you have a lot of work to do?” the guy behind me asks the guy sitting next to him.  I figure it’s to feel him out.  Like maybe unwinding with a cold one in the lounge wouldn’t be the worst idea a man had ever had.

“I’ve always have a lot of work,” the other dude says.  He stays seated.  Uh-oh.  He’s that guy.

Shit, I’m thinking.  He’s blocked in.  Can’t climb over this one to do a little early afternoon drinking.  That’s giving away a lot of leverage in the office power struggle.  Might pull that ace out of his sleeve someday.  Especially now that there’s been talk of downsizing.

Fuck it, dude.  Climb over the corpse.  Leave him to his lap top, while you suck suds and watch hobo jungles roll by.  You hate this job anyway.  Just get drunk in the bar car and hop off at the next stop.  Where ever it is.  Wander around.  Looking for adventure.  And love.

He could max out his cards.  Hock the company computer.  Shack up with some cocktail waitress that only has her kid two days a week.  Get into a fist fight with her ex in the parking lot of a KFC.  Spend the night in jail with him.  Listen to how that woman ruined his life.  Feel guilty he ever made it with her.  Get to experience the awkward handshake when she bails you out and not him.

But it was not to be.  He remained seated.  Starts clacking away at his keyboard.

Not one of my people.  Not like the Ice Breaker.  I bet he’d hop off.  Given the right barometric pressure.  He’d make that run for freedom.

I put on the Bose headphonic system and cued up Ben Nichols on the I-podular.  It helps to listen to good music while appreciating the passing scenery.  It really does.  I take better pictures too.  Sets my imagination free.

Beach front property.

Beach front property.

I watched a dilapidated Victorian house pass by.  A child molester’s ghost lives in the attic.  There was an abandoned mill that used to grind human lives into meaningless gristle.  A trailer where the wife beats the husband.  A tree fort with moldy Playboys.  A once magical place.  Where hope was born.

A decrepit men’s hotel.  Where it died.  In a hot plate fire.

A tin shack.  Bad things happened there.  More then once.

Sad gas station.  Spray-painted boulder.  A pile of tires.  A toxic pond.  A man with a big head standing by the road.  Holding a small stick.

A rusting swing set.   Last swung in 1991.  By a guy who did a lot of meth in Tacoma.  Robbed pizza guys before he got sent up to Walla Walla.  Now doing a fifteen-year bit.  Still remembers the swing.  It was his happiest time.  He knew it would be.  Even back then.  And he was right.  Now he dreams of dying.

I really love travel.

A choice of bridges to jump from.

A choice of bridges to jump from.

We hit a patch of beautiful scenery.  I watched but couldn’t add anything to it.  It spoke for itself.  After a while I took off the headphones.

Lori was under the influence of Sudoku.  Forget trying to talk to her.  I decided to listen to the two guys behind me.  The conscientious employees.

I had to piece things together, but I got that they were all from some company.  One that sells supermarket check-out systems.  Pretty exciting.  Every kid’s dream.  Anyway, their main competitor is NCR, who according to the guy behind me, has been aggressively underbidding them.  They’ve also been offering a very generous service agreement.  One their company can’t match.  NCR is also better at innovation than the company these guys work for.

Why those dirty fucks.  Sounds like you’re on a sinking ship.  Better hit the bar car.

Thank God they still have the Safeway supermarkets contract.  Problem is Safeway doesn’t  keep up a lot of their stores.  They spend a lot on their check-out systems, but don’t spend enough on remodeling.  Some of the fixtures are over thirty years old.  It drives him crazy.

“My wife’s parents tell me they love to shop at Safeway…because there’s nobody there.  Oh God, I think, don’t tell me that!”

The other guy just grunts.  He’s the one who always has work.  Probably doesn’t appreciate all this defeatist talk.  Especially when there’s so much work to do.

The whole thing was depressing beyond anything I could cook up watching rural-industrial blight.

Pretty sweet deal alright.  I had hit the bummer bonus.

These were some unhappy warriors.  Lot’s of sacrifice and no glory.  Or whatever glory there is in paying the daughter’s orthodontist bill on time.  Doing the right thing, as best they can, and still pretty miserable.  Charging the bill.  Charging the hill.  Even when they know it’s going to murder them.  Pretty heroic, actually.  Heroes.  Everyday ones.  Like me.

Because it was pretty heroic of me not to get up and head to the bar car.  And try to drink their misery away.  For them.

The most brutal part was when they all had to get off the train at Tukwila, just before we hit Seattle.  The town was a quarter mile away from the platform.  It didn’t look like much of a town either.  I nudged Lori.  We watched them pull their little suitcases along a path so overgrown with summer weeds, it looked like they where making their way through a rice paddy in the Ia Drang Valley.  The Ice Breaker pulling up the rear.  His suitcase wobbling wildly.

Our train started to pull away.

“Just let them make it to the treeline, God.  Before the Cong get them.”

“What?”

Tukwila, the end of the rainbow.

Tukwila, the end of the rainbow.

It Could Be Worse, And Will Be If You Don’t Stop Crying

Not a bad beer, actually.

Not a bad beer, actually.

Right now I’m drinking a protein shake that I ruined by putting in some sort of green algae superfood powder.  I tried to make it more healthy, but I made it too healthy.  Now it tastes like shit.  Like a chocolate, metal, and grass smoothie.  I can taste every one of the essential whatevers in it.  The traces of Boron.  Copper.  Molybdenum.  Chlorophyll.

Fuck it.  At least I’m not actually eating grass.  I’m not having to eat grass because the Cossacks have burned the crops and raped our cows.  So it technically could be worse.  See how I fixed that?  “It could be worse” is like a magic wand.  Now this shake is delicious!

That’s at the core of my survival mechanism.  “It could be worse.”  Instilled in me from my parents.  And I guess one more thing I should appreciate them for.  I don’t know if it’s a Lithuanian thing.  Seems like it.  I’ll ask some friends.  I’m pretty sure it is.  At least from the war refugee crowd and their off-spring.

It was the closer for any shit storm my family had to go through.  Somebody would say, “It could be worse,” and we’d call it a night.  Clock out.  At least now you could brush your teeth and go to bed.  I imagine it’s a form of gratitude.  At least some distant cousin of it.  It doesn’t work so good in jail.  But sometimes you can use it in a hospital emergency room.  Tie up the evening’s festivities with an “It could be worse.”

“The more you bitch, the more God will give you something to bitch about,” was another of our cozy sayings.   I still stand by it.  It seems to be true.  At least in my personal experience.  I don’t know if it’s some cosmic truth.

Like “Nobody likes a pants-pisser in their bomb shelter.”

As insensitive as that one may sound.  There’s some folk wisdom there, albeit of the rough-hewn and gnarled variety.  Basically, panic begets more panic.  And then nothing gets done.  To fix things.  You have to keep your head and not cave into The Fear.  That’s how they made it through the war in Europe.  That’s how they made it here when they came.  They didn’t shit themselves.

They Didn’t Shit Themselves;  An American Success Story.

Anyway, it’s a tradition I’ve tried to uphold.

It’s a lot easier now that I’m not drinking my weight in beer. You know, deftly navigating my ship, The Rocinante, through the Stormy Seas of Destiny.

And holding my mud.

I’ve actually gotten a little braver without alcohol.  It’s taken some time, and then even more time to see it, but I think I’ve made progress.

It’s not like I’m ready to hold the pass at Thermopylae, but I don’t have to drink a six pack before opening my bills anymore.  Or need to drink eight beers to prime myself for the next beer run.  And now (may the heavens tremble at my might) I can kiss a girl with no beers at all.  I mean for me.  She’d still have to be hammered out of her skull.

So yeah, it’s nice, this whole not being too-drunk-to-deal-with-it-all deal.  And, no matter how terribly I may being dealing with it all, at least I’m not dealing with it drunk.  Because chances are my sober fucking-up would look like water-walking compared to my drunken version.

Of dealing with it all.

It’s an advantage a recovering alcoholic has over the normal person.  No matter what our shortcomings, if we stay sober we always have some golden straw to grasp.  Right?  At least that.  At least I’m still sober.

Have some normal person throw that one out.  See who golf claps him.  Big deal.  Shut up and have a drink.

Of course, there’s always the chance the recovering alcoholic will succumb to his/her fear, and then totally destroy their life in a final drunken death dance.

And that, my friends, is where the normal person regains the advantage.

By not doing that.

When things get tough.

Lucky fuckers.  That’s a good advantage.

However, if I do manage to stay sober, well then…I’ve shaved the house’s dice, haven’t I?  C’mon lucky seven, Daddy needs a new pair of pants.

He’s crapped this pair.

(See what I did there, Pauly?  Craps.  Pair of dice.  Pair of pants.  Nice, huh?  I like it)

I don’t know how many of my readers are in some sort of recovery, most probably only from last night’s barf-a-thon, but it’s one of those things ex-addicts and ex-drunks have to do.  We have to be grateful we’re not fucked up on our choice of magic carpet ride.  You take anything for granted long enough, be it a relationship, a car that runs, or some money in the bank, and chances are that something…is going to slip away.

Sobriety is just one of those things.  If you don’t pay enough attention, she can slink off.  Her high heels clacking away into the night.

I really don’t want to go back to drinking.  So I try to be grateful.

I figure that life can be hard enough just regular.  Look, in my own half-assed, duct-taped way, I try to work a program.  I pray to the Unifying Intelligence That Binds Creation, meditate on the perfection of The Silence, contemplate the goodness of all souls, work to be less selfish, admit when I’m wrong, try to be a good listener, help when I can, surrender when I can’t, lift weights, stay away from grains, and get enough Molybdenum .

Basic stuff.  And for the most part, I live a life filled with a lot of wonder, laughter and joy.

But sometimes… old demons stop by the pad and ask to use the bathroom.  Next thing I know, they’re camped out, ordering pizza and pay-for porn.  They’re not leaving anytime soon. Then I find myself treading shark-filled ocean, trying to keep my lips just above the water line.  I’m barely making it.  Barely.  And I’m not even drinking.

The last thing I need right then is a bowling ball necklace.

Let’s see how I do with crippled critical thinking.  After I impair my judgement.  Enough to tap into some creative problem-solving.  Become a drunken genius.  Now I can save the day with a master stroke.  Employ some bold solutions.   Just the thing for delicate problems.  A sledgehammer.  And the blind faith to use it.

So yeah.  It could be worse.

And if you’re drinking to solve something, all you got to do is keep it up.  And you’ll see.

Because it can always get worse.

And probably will.

So cheers to that.

Sorry for the buzz-kill.  I’m out of here.

–By the way, this fucking shake is growing on me.  It’s got a weird tang to it.  And I appreciate that from a chocolate shake.

.

Stopped crying.

Stopped crying.