St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

I walked outside the Esplanade mall with my sandwich inside a Styrofoam container.  I took a few paces, stopped, carefully placed the container on the ground and proceeded to stomp the shit out of it.  Jumped up and down with both feet.  Many times.  Making sure to totally destroy my pricey and uneaten pastrami sandwich.

My girlfriend at the time watched this display of childishness by a twenty-year old man.  It didn’t phase her.  After all, she was my girlfriend.  She just smiled.

“Well, that fixed everything, ”

By italicizing the “that”, she was clearly implying that that didn’t.  Inferring that stomping on my sandwich didn’t  fix everything.

She was right of course.  She always was.  But fuck that.   What was right didn’t matter.  What mattered was that I was pissed-off.

And had to show the world.

“It did!” I told her, making sure to italicize my “did.”  Letting her know there were two sides to every story.  That sometimes different things are right.

She just nodded along in that “Okey-dokey, Pokey” way.  With overly-agreeing face.  The one caretakers make to indulge their lunatic charges–while waiting for them to swallow their pill.

“It totally fucking did.”

“Oh-kay!”

We had to leg it back to the movie theater where we worked.  She was the box office cashier and I was an usher.  We were late coming back from our lunch break, which was partially a factor in my decision to curb-crush my Pastrami.  And go hungry instead.

We’d always take our breaks together and go to the Mc Donalds next to the theater.  She’d get a chocolate chip cookie and a milk, and I’d get a Big Mac and a shake, That magic combination would guarantee me a time-released queasiness that quelled hunger.  Like clock work.  Big Mac.  Shake.  Nausea.

While I was by no means a fan of feeling sick to my stomach, the price was right, and it was close by,  Cheapness and convenience trumped well-being.

Anyway, this one Saturday afternoon, I decided I had enough feeling nauseous.  I would walk down the mall a little further to the deli restaurant and treat myself to some heartburn instead.  I would cough up the extra five dollars just to remind myself that I was worth it.  Sometimes you just have to be good to yourself.

Yeah.  That’ll be nice.  Get myself a nice pastrami on rye with wedge cut fries.

Because you never know which day will be your last.

Sue got her usual cookie and milk, then followed me to the deli where I put in my order and waited.

And waited.

I look around.  It’s slow.  Half of a half of a dozen people sitting around.  All of them with their food.  I can’t imagine what’s taking so long to make my sandwich.  I watch the minutes of our lunch break tick off of my wristwatch.  Nothing.  At seven minutes left, one of the cooks puts a Styrofoam container under the heat lamp.  But there’s no waitress to pull it down and give it to me.  It sat there for another agonizing five minutes before one finally appeared and responded to my wild flailing and pointing.

“My sandwich!  My sandwich!”

She lazed her ass over and handed it to me.

There was now two minutes left to eat my five dollars-extra sandwich.  What bullshit.  Instead of the special lunch I had anticipated, I’d now be lucky to cram half of it into my mouth before I had to be back.  Sure, I could have eaten half then put the rest in the employee fridge until later.  I could have stuck the sandwich into the pocket of my polyester suit and gnawed on it in a darkened theater.  There were plenty of alternatives.  But I was pissed.  I wasn’t going to get what I wanted.

So stomping was the only solution.

I would make the sandwich pay.  And subsequently myself.  But I didn’t care.  Somebody was going to suffer because of this.

It was old behavior by then.

When I was seven, I would play my dad in checkers.  If I saw he was playing too well, I’d get angry and slap the board up into the air.  Boof.

Well, my dad didn’t approve of these outbursts.  Poor sportsmanship wasn’t tolerated.  Neither were tantrums.  My folks were from The Old Country and didn’t put up with that kind of shit from their kids.  His belt would be slapping me across my ass before the checkers stopped raining.

“I’ll give you something to cry about!”

Good for him, really.  I had it coming.  Sorry enlightened, modern parents, but for me, only the threat of corporal punishment ever made me think twice about misbehaving.  And a lot of times, not even then.  Crown one of your checkers Daddy-O and it’s on.  “In your face old man!”  Boof.

Smack smack.

Couldn’t help myself.  Tantrum trumped everything.

When I was in Kindergarten I used to attend a Saturday school for Lithuanian-American kids.  For Valentine’s Day we had to cut out hearts from red construction paper that we had folded in half.  All we had to do was cut out one curve, then open up the paper to reveal a symmetrical heart shape.  We would paste that on a thing of paper doilies the teacher taped together for us.  In just a few easy steps everyone would have a nice Valentine to buy their mother’s love with.

Everyone, except the spaz who couldn’t cut right.  Couldn’t cut the curve.  I looked around.  Everyone was already pasting their hearts onto the doilies, and I kept opening my paper to find a butterfly or a bow-tie.  But never a heart.

Fucking horse-shit Valentine’s Day.  I hate you.

I decided if I couldn’t have a heart, nobody would.  Swear to God, I remember getting up and going from desk to desk tearing up the other kid’s hearts.  I distinctly made a conscious effort to be as calm about it as possible.  To maximize damage.  Before all their crying set off the alarm.

I’m sure that in itself would’ve set-off a child psychologist’s alarm.   But the way I conned the teacher, when she finally grabbed a hold of me, revealed the criminal prodigy I was.

Right away I turned on the water works.  Nevermind the shit-fit I just threw.   It’s time to feel sorry for me.

“I’m only a wittle kid (blubber blubber) and cutting hearts is too hard for me!”

Worked like a charm.  She melted.  The teacher cut out a heart for me while the other kids remade theirs.  In the meantime, a photographer from the local Lithuanian newspaper had come by and had us all display our work in a group shot.  This picture right here.  No down here.  I’m the demon seed in the front row.  Tantruminus Rex.

St. Valentine's Day Massacre, Lithuanian Saturday School NYC

You can see how pleased I am with myself.  Why shouldn’t I be?  I got what I wanted.  You never worry about how you’re coming off while in a pants-pissing rage.  All you want is someone to give into it.

God forbid they should, because then you really feel like an ass-hole.  Afterwards.  If you’re lucky.  If you don’t, you’re more apt to up your game.  Really start carpet-biting your way through life.  It can be an effective way to climb the rungs.  You may even get everything you want.  Except the one thing you really want.  The respect of your fellow humans.

Oh well.  Whatever.  Right?  I’ll sign up.  Respect is over-rated.  Besides, I’ll have the respect of other tantrum babies.  That right there explains Hitler.  The pissed-off baby man leading a nation of spoilsports and blamers.  Ready to punish the world (but mostly themselves) for losing the first war, by losing another one in an ultimate checkerboard toss.

If you get a powerful enough microscope, you might find the germ of this behavior in our current political situation.  We’ve got some Valentines tearers running amok in our classroom.  And I so get it.

Unfortunately.

I’ve been the underdog.  At my worst, I let my fear and frustration seize me.  Wound up fighting dirty just to win.  At my best, I realized I’d been  out-gunned and stood there quietly while the ref raised the other guy’s arm.  Went back to the gym and trained a little harder.

Instead of bringing my sandwich into the ring.  And stomping on it.

Then crying because I don’t have any Valentines.

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Too Foofy To Fight.

So proud of Louie right now.  He finally went on the attack.  Saw the neighbor’s cat, Boris, strutting through our patio like he owned the place–and pounced.  Just bushwhacked him.  Got his fangs in first.  Really got into some fur.  They went around and around in one of those cartoon cat carnival wheels of clawing.  Screeching and yowling.  Going completely saber tooth savage trying to tear each other apart.  It was hard to call who was up.

But it was Boris who broke-off first.  And ran away.

So victory goes to Louie.

Let’s see, that makes 147 wins for Boris, and Louie with 1.

Hey.  It beats zero.  By a lot.

And every comeback has to start somewhere.

Louie came inside all puffed-up with electricity.  Tail all freaked-out and fat.  Eyes wide-eyed crazy.  Darting back and forth.  Totally amped with EPFP.

Euphoric Post-Fight Psychosis.

Diagnosed it right away.  He probably could use a shot of something hot.  And a bottle of something cold.  And a cocktail waitress leg to hold on to…while he catches his breath.

I went over to congratulate him.

“That was awesome, Lou.  Full-on beast ambush.”

He padded over to his bowl for some water.

“I’ve been telling you about the element of surprise, haven’t I?  Freak them first.  That’s the rule.”

I went and got a can of real tuna.  Tonight called for a celebration.  For the past year, Boris has been tormenting Louie.  We’d hear him crying outside.  You’d get out there and find Louis all cornered and cowering.  Boris swatting at him.  Pretty much at will.

Lori and I would have to chase him away so Louie could make a break for home.   He’d run inside and hide under the bed in a total puss-out panic.

Fancy and afraid.

Fancy and afraid.

I’d feel bad for him.  Could really empathize.  Unfortunately.

Still, I would think, “You’ve got claws, Louie.  Give something back.”

But I’d keep it to myself.  I didn’t want to lay any more shame on him.

Instead, I’d pet him and try to sooth his frightened fur.  Talk to him.  Like a father to his son.  Maybe tell him a heart-warming allegory.

“Dave told me about this time when he was in prison and got clobbered to the floor.  Some black cons who were watching, started shouting at him to get up.  To keep bringing it.  To dig down deep and rally.

‘Get up off that floor, boy!  Don’t you dare stay down!’  they yelled.  ‘Never stay down!’

It worked.  Dave got up.  And then managed to serve up a little something himself.  A little something for his antagonist to chew on.  Something to make a motherfucker think twice.

You see what I’m saying, Louie?  It’s okay to take a few shots.  It’s inevitable.  Just make sure you make a motherfucker think twice.”

He’d be licking at his privates, not paying attention to my heartwarming allegory.

If I didn’t love Louie so much, I could have been a little ashamed of him.  He’s just not as tough as our older cat, Bugsy.

Bugsy is all street.  Gone all day.  All night.  Comes home only to eat and crash.  Has an extensive network of people that feed him throughout the neighborhood.  So he’s got the resources to go a ramblin’.  Already at four months old, he’d be gone for days at a time.  Jesus, I can’t begin to tell you how stressed-out I’d be waiting for him to come home.  All the hand-wringing.  And pacing.

Makes perfect karmic sense.

Anyways, he’s grown up into quite a shiny beast.   Sleek and muscular.  Savvy smart.  Good cat chow charmer.  Knows how to run game on a sucker.  Good fighter, too.  Boris and him have an uneasy truce these days.  They’ve both hurt each other pretty good.  So now Boris doesn’t even mess with Louie if Bugsy is in earshot.

Because Bugsy is a badass.

Louie, on the other hand…

He likes to stay close to home.  Likes to play with his toys.  In the living room.  While the folks watch TV.

Sensitive.  Well-behaved.  Imagination Station crafts type of cat.  Into the fun-for-the-whole-family paradigm.  You know.

Wholesome Boy.

I’d look over at Lori quietly reading on the couch.  Blame her.

He’s just too foofy to be tough.  Too fancy.  His fur puffs around his neck, giving him one of those Sir Walter Raleigh collar deals.  His tail curls up like a fop’s feather.  He looks like he’s wearing a fur coat.  Which I guess he is.  But I mean like a Park Avenue parka.

Like what I used to have to wear to New York City Public School 178.  Oh man.  The rabbit fur coat my uncle brought back from his trip to Switzerland.  I can remember the dread after I opened the box.  I knew what awaited.  I would beg my mom not to make me wear it.

“But it looks like a girl’s coat!”

“It’s expensive!”

“They’re going to kill me.”

Took a lot punches, kicks, and snowballs because of that fucking thing.  Made me too foofy-poofy to fight back.  God, I hated that coat.

But I don’t anymore.  Turns out, that after getting enough humiliating ass-kickings, you stop being so afraid of them.  Then, well…something shifts.  You can detach a little.  Think a little clearer while getting one.  Which helps you come up with good ideas.  On the fly.  Like using common household items to destroy your opponent’s will.  And secure a glorious victory.

Indeed.  Getting your ass kicked, is the first part of learning how to kick some back.  Pretty essential, actually.

So yeah, I owe a lot to that coat.   Although it might have made me into somewhat of an introvert.  And a dreamer.

I’d watch Louie bat a twig across the living room floor in some pretend game he made up.  For hours.  Retreating into his imagination.  Becoming a Dungeons and Dragons type.  The kind that wears costumes at the comic convention.  Some swashbuckling character out of Final Fantasy.

Alright, I’d think, so he’s a dweeb.

Maybe even gay.

What are you gonna do?  Accept it.  Love him to death anyway.  He’s still your cat.  So let him play with his little balls and stuffed dolls.  Let him prance fancy.  As long as he’s having fun, right?  Live and let live.  Not everybody can be a badass.  Being cute is good too.  You and Bugsy will just have to look out for him.  Help protect his sissy ass.  Since that’s just the way he is.  And it’s okay.

To be the one that gets beat up by bullies.

Seething after defeat.

Seething after defeat.

Then out of nowhere…he’d go on these killing sprees.

Mice.  Birds.  Lizards.  A bat.

All left on the kitchen floor.  Headless.

What’s all this?  Maybe he has another side.  A darker, more dangerous one.

One night, while I was watering the planters on the side of the house. I watched him clap a fruit bat straight out the air.  He shot out from his crouch like a surface-to-air missile and smacked his paws together.  Dragged that flying sack of rabies right down.  Real Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom predator of the savannah shit.

Sure surprised me.  Well well.  All that chasing a little ball around didn’t hurt his skills.  That, and the fact that he’d finally been holding his own while sparring with Bugs meant he’s wasn’t a full-blown wanty-paste.  I just wished he’d channel some of that blood lust  to dealing with Boris.  Take on a more daunting opponent.

Then I’d remember that he’s just a kid.  Still learning the score.  Taking his lumps.  On his way up.  And Boris is helping him.

Helping him figure it out.

Figure out that just because he’s a little sensitive, doesn’t mean he has to be a victim.  That you’re never too foofy to fight back.

I think he took a big step tonight.  He finally took it to Boris.  Gave something to make him think twice.  I smiled.

“It would’ve been okay if you lost, Lou.  I’ll always love you.”

I put down the bowl of tuna and watched him eat.

.

Got my lunch and I'm off to my ass-kicking.

Got my lunch and I’m off to my ass-kicking.

Thugs Like Us: A Book Review

Thugs Like Us, John Carnell

Thugs Like Us, John Carnell

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

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

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

Indeed.

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

It was even better the second time.

A lot of times it is.

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

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

And a clean line.

Carnell is a master of the clean line.

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

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

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

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

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

And now things are okay.

Win/win.

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

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

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

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

There’s beauty everywhere.  No matter what.

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

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

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

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

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

Mad Lord Thuggington, John Carnell

One Judo Chop Mother

Black Gi Bitch, Hai-Yah!

“Did you Judo chop him?” she asked, sticking out her bony little hand and chopping at the air with her knuckles bending back.  A real chick chop.

“No, I clapped him on the ear with a glass bar ashtray.  Besides, there’s no chopping in Judo,” I told her, “There’s no judo chop.”

“How do you know?”

“Oh, I know…Judo.  I took it as a kid,” I told her.

“I didn’t know you studied Judo.”

“Yeah, it’s just one more of the wonderful surprises about me that keep unfolding in a cascading cavalcade of wonder.”

She was lucky to be with me.  I wish she could see that.  I took a swig of my beer and finished it.  I got up and got another.

“What color belt did you get?”

“It doesn’t matter, that shit was worthless,” I cracked the beer, sat down on my mattress and put a heel up on the milk crate, “Fighting dirty is the only thing that works.  Trust me.”

Even my occasional reader might deduce by now that my life has had its share of physical encounters.  Some pleasant.  Others not so much.  I piled my plate high with both types, then splashed myself in the face with it all.  What can I say?  I’m a pig beast.  A repentant one, if that counts for anything.  Semi-repentant.

No bad-ass, I.  A more craven and fearful creature you would not find.  So it was especially hilarious that such a coward would find himself in the middle of so many angry and violent physical encounters with other men.  A certain cinematic masterpiece featuring Don Knotts as The Shakiest Gun in The West, comes to mind.

A fearful little bookworm, easily bullied, constantly humiliated, I withdrew deeper into my own terrible mind.  I wanted to avoid people, at all costs.  Summer camps, youth outings, team sports, dances, anywhere my peers gathered filled me with dread.  So many more of you to deal with, or better yet, run from.  Snot-wiping, ball-kicking, name-calling, nose-punching, tangerine-slice-down-on-bench-before-you-sit-down barbarians.

So I met the news that my parents had enrolled me in Judo classes at the Camarillo Community Center with less enthusiasm than perhaps another lad might have.  Sure I wanted to learn how to Judo chop off the heads of my tormentors.  Or kick them so hard in the nuts that they lodge in the throat and choke them.  But, I figured that learning that stuff would require having it done to me.  Or it would just somehow wind up happening to me.  All the time.  That’s how things rolled those days.

I needn’t have worried.  The Judo taught at the Camarillo Community Center was of the “for recreational purposes only” variety.  There was to be no ball-chopping or throat-kicking.   The classes were conducted, more or less safely, by a ringer for Sulu, named Mr. Nishimori.  He worked at the juvenile hall facility, and seemed like a guy who could fuck you up fast.  He was nimble and quick.  He’d announce the flip, then in a blur, the dude he picked to help demo, was flat on his ass.

He did all this in his office clothes.  I’d watch him demonstrate flips in his nylon dress slacks and thin brown socks, a pocket full of change constantly jingling as he’d pivot and spin.  It looked impressive, but weird too.  It was strange seeing him flipping dudes, while in his slacks and brown stinkies, clinking change and keys swinging in his ball pocket.  Some sort of civil servant bad-ass.

The rest of us had to wear Judo Gis.  I never approved of the Judo version, basically a white, heavy cloth pajama.  The Bay City Roller length of the pants, the white color, and generally dorky and harmless look just didn’t imply enough of a martial art threat.  I preferred something a little more sinister.  Something in black, with a more ninja assassin cut.  I would have to wait years, when I started Kenpo Karate, which did feature ball-chopping and throat-kicking, before I got to wear a cool black Gi.

What the fuck.  You play the hand you’re dealt.

We spent a lot of time learning how to forward roll.  It was sort of an aggressive somersault followed by a hard hand slap on the mat.  I didn’t know why it was considered so important, but over and over we would roll and slap.  All the kids waiting in line for our turn to tumble.  Sometimes we even had to Evel Knievel over two crouching classmates.  I just didn’t get it.  How is this going to help me in a fight?

Turns out, learning how to take a tumble was one of the most important things I ever learned.  No fucking way I would have made it through life without the forward roll.

Turns out Marko was taking the same Judo class during that time.  We didn’t know each other back then.  We figured it out one night, years later, when we were drinking at his pad.  Although his ability to safely tumble forward should have been a big clue, I didn’t know he was a fellow former Judo enthusiast.  It was only when I had asked him if he ever heard my story about how I ran into a guy that had pissed his pants in my Judo class 20 years earlier and how I made sure to remind him of it.

“Hold on, dude,” he says, “In Mr. Nishimori’s Judo class?  I remember that.  Mr. Garcia cleaned it up using his foot and a bunch of wadded up paper towels.  I was there!”

Fuck yeah.  That’s why it was so great hanging out with Marko.  Wonderful surprises were always unfolding from him in a cavalcade of cascading wonder.  We figured that it was more than likely we had actually fought against each other.  That did it.  Both of us talked shit about how we must have beat down the other into being our bitch.  What an amazing preamble to our friendship.  I’ll be damned.  The Universe exists.

I asked him if he remembered how Friday nights were.  He nodded.  “They blew dong, dude.”

The worst part of going to Judo was when class landed on Friday night.  Us little kids would have to run a gauntlet of older teen-types that were hanging around The Armadillo, the teen center the city hoped would curb juvenile delinquency–curb it by giving them a headquarters equipped with pool tables, pinball machines, and a bank of pay phones.

Kids would be outside the teen center huffing solvents and smoking joints.  Their long hair parted down the middle, headband optional, shell necklace not.  Marlboro Reds (hardpack only) dangling from their mopey mouths.  The girls reeking of patchouli, had tooled leather purses, and hair ironed straight and flat, then feathered back. They wore flared hip-hugger pants, cork wedgies and eye shadow and assumed a jaded facial expression common among old hookers, and women awaiting execution.  The guys wore surf t-shirts, low-riding 501s, and either leather Wallabees or Waffle-Stomper hiking boots.  All that, along with the same sullen, vacant look that was de regueur at the time.  A sort of pastoral, almost bovine countenance that belied a simple-mindedness, but not without a sense of menace.

Then there was me, in something that looked like a robe cut out for a gingerbread man, with flood pants and flip-flops, trying to flap through the crowd as fast and invisible as possible.  You know, really doing The Hurry.  I had to book it fast before some scary older kid jumped in front of me in a karate stance to clown me in front of his laughing friends.  It was something those dudes just had to do.  It was part of some unwritten social contract in ’70s suburban hooliganism.

Dance nights were the worst.  The  Teen Center would be teeming with these sagging sack, dope-smokers and their whore girlfriends.  The ones I loved more than life itself.  My dad would drive me up to the curb, and I’d pause before opening the door.  I’d do this thing where I would pretend that I was jumping out into a hot LZ, like I had just been choppered out into a rice paddy and now had to make it to the tree line before the mortars sighted in on me.  Really.

“Roger, Wizard 5, we are down.  Time to beat our boots through Cong country. I’m out!”

“I’ll pick you up right here.”

“Roger that, Daddy One-niner, fly this bird back safe.”

Slam the door and hustle.  Quickly, but not too quick.  Can’t just flap out of the bush like a quail.  Just maintain a steady forward movement, eyes locked three feet down in front.  Every step is one closer to safety.  The treeline.  “Though I walk in the shadow of the valley or the valley of the shadow…”

One night, while I was trying to teleport myself through the crowd as an invisible mist, I felt a sharp chop against the back of my neck.  It was one of the loady-stoner hard guys giving me the Hai-Karate bit for the amusement of the other Visigoths waiting in line.  He was just fucking around, but the chop hurt, and scared me into an involuntary cowering.  Everyone laughed.

“Watch out, now, he’ll use some of his Kah-rah-tay on you, Roy!”

“Hai-yah! Motherfucker!” some dude joined in, feinting a chop.

Somebody else yelled out, “Everybody was Kung Fu fighting!”

More laughter.  I stood frozen in fear, my fellow judo enthusiasts breaking right and left, swinging wide to avoid the enemy contact.

The worst was when some chick yelled out, “Hey, leave the little kid alone!  He’s really scared!”

That’s when I started crying.  Before that, I was just scared, but when that chick tried to call off the dogs, because it was so obvious how terrified I was, I lost it.  I was already embarrassed, but now that I was crying, I was really embarrassed, and that made me cry harder.  It was a vicious cycle of suck.

There was also something about the chick being nice, among all that meanness, that got to me.  Mercy always chokes me up.  Even to this day.  If I witness somebody doing something merciful, I crack.  Tight pain in the throat.  Eye’s bulging with sadness sauce.  Heart stroked like a viola.

Being on the receiving end of some of that mercy, sort of made me feel sorry for myself.  Now I was being seen as a crybaby in front of all these cool people.  I ran right out of my flip-flops in my flight towards the judo room.  I found a corner and wiped the snot and tears away.  I had to suck it up, and play like nothing happened.  Hoping nobody would remember this supreme embarrassment. (Irony Alert!)

We spent the rest of the night waltzing around the blue and tan mats with each others lapels in our grip, trying to flip and pin each other, then once more, we took turns rolling forward.  I did so with a little more intensity, a little more drive for achieving some excellence in this rough and tumble forward business.  I even pinned out this taller red-haired kid with freckles and bad breath.  Nut-crackered his neck in the crook of my arm and squeezed.  Okay Red…you…go…down!

(Hang on, I need to drive my search-engine count up)

Yes, a boy with freckles on his face, as opposed to a young woman with sexy freckled breasts.  Freckled breasts. Yes, how about ’em?  Those freckled boobs.  Freckled breasts are a different thing than a freckled face.  Freckled breasts are breasts that are freckled. That’s why they’re called freckled breasts.

(That should do it.  Gotta throw those guys a bone.  Long story.  Google freckled breasts)

Besides learning how to break my fall,  Judo taught me something else.  Something every man should know.  Bitches will fuck you up.

We had girls in our class, and if you thought I had some sort of chip on my shoulder, you should Judo fight a woman, and see what kind of pent-up anger she has to tap into.  These chicks weren’t just trying to throw your ass to the floor, but the ass of every man who had ever bossed, bullied, or belittled them.  Even by nine, most girls already had a death list.

“I read the kite, bro. A la verga, your name is on the list, ese.”

It was nervy doing  Judo with girls.  Any attempts at chivalry on the guy’s part were seen as cheap pandering, you perceiving them as a weaker sex.  They made sure you paid for it.  This was during the 70’s.  Women were starting the revolution without us.  The girls in our class weren’t putting up with any horny horseplay either.  They’d kick your fucking legs out and leg-scissor your throat closed.  Lights out, Romeo.

For the record, I think it’s perfectly fine to underestimate a woman.  You just have to be willing to pay the price.

One Saturday, I was enrolled in one of them Judo Tournamental events.  Big deal.  Lots of people, mostly families.  My dad was there, with his camera.  It was awful.  Usually, I would have been happy to have gotten out of there without crying or pissing my pants.  But that day, I was on a hot streak.  I don’t know what was going on, but I was flipping and pinning dudes left and right.  I kept advancing and racking up points.  I couldn’t believe it.

I beat five guys in a row.  This kind of shit just didn’t happen to me.  From my feverish calculations I was in the running for a trophy.  In fact, all I had to do was take my next opponent to a draw.  In that tourney, the tie went to the runner, and the person who had fought previously would advance.  Hell, I was beating these dudes, and now all I had to do was tie, and I would win a trophy!  I had never won a trophy before.  Not even a lame one for penmanship or posture.  For once, my Dad being there with his camera seemed okay.

Ham on cheese, this was going to be sweet.

Why was I so sure I could tie?  Because I noticed that my next opponent was a girl.  She was a cute, short, slightly chubby, Filipino chick.  She looked like she was nice.  As we stood facing each other before the match, my eyes looked into hers.  “Don’t worry,” they said, “I’ll be gentle.”

We bowed to each other.  The referee yelled “Hajime!”  We grabbed each other by the lapels.  Perhaps I did it a little roguishly, after all, I was the victorious conqueror.  Feeling very Marius the Great, I thought, “What good is war without spoils to ravish?  What good is Victory without a wench and her sweet wine?”

She looked up and smiled.

Hey, I think she like’s me.

She leaned back, put her foot into my solar plexus, then rolled backwards, launching me like a sack of rocks from a Trebuchet.  The successful flip was called.  I lost the match in less than six seconds, to a girl.  Now that was the kind of shit happened to me.  Back to normal.

I went home that night without a trophy, but I did get a new metaphor, one that would repeat itself throughout my life.  Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you.  Smile.  I think she likes me.  Foot in the gut.  On my back, destroyed in utter defeat.  Again and again.

It was my first lesson in an eternal truth.  Bitches will fuck you up.  So proceed with complete reckless abandon.  It will totally be worth it.  I want a trophy!

It’s 1996, and I’m sitting at a red light.  I look over to the other lane and see a dude, I recognize.  Hey, that’s the guy that pissed his pants in Judo class, almost 20 years ago.  I lean over and get him to roll down the window.  “Hey, you’re the guy that pissed his pants in Judo!”  I yell.  I was figuring to blow his mind, you know, that some random guy would remember him and then remind him of a moment he buried deep into the moldy folds of his medulla.  Freak him out that a witness still remembers.  It was a total dick move on my part, one I paid for with enough karmic drunken pants-pissing to let me remind that same guy again, in another life, and still be square.

Anyway, Judo turned out to be somewhat beneficial.  Not as useful as Kenpo, but it got me used to physically mixing it up with other kids, to be a little bit less of a pussy about physical combat, however watered-down the version.  Win, lose, draw, at least I was participating in something.  And if a fight ever went to the ground (and they always do) I would at least have some idea of what to do.  Just roll forward.  Preferably out the front door of the bar and into your car so you could hit the liquor store before they stop selling.

Hai-Yah!  Judo chop, motherfuckers!

Who’s the bitch now?

Gulags and Kitty Cats

Just sitting here digging life.

I’m trying not to get into pacing and hand-wringing mode, but one of my cats, Bugsy, has been gone for a day and a half.  I’m worried that he’s gotten into a fight or been killed by a car.  Big tough guy scared about his kitty cat.  God, if people knew.  They must never know.  I hate this shit.  It’s my karma for what I did to my folks.  I just have to trust his little kitty higher power is looking out, and distract myself as best as I can.

I’m on-line with Dave, and we’re talking about Mikhail Dyomin’s book, The Day is Born of Darkness.  We both get a kick out of thinking about life in the Soviet Prison system.  I don’t know why.  Maybe because it was so brutal, that it makes our regular shitty days seem down right paradisaical.  Not like we need to look in books for examples of brutal living.  We both can draw on our own past experiences.  Dave a lot more than me.  Fucker was not just some dilettante dabbling in brutal, like me, but a clock-punching, licensed journeyman worker at it, most of his whole life.

Anyway, the minute he messaged me something about the book, I was on Amazon getting a collector’s quality copy.  Are you kidding?  Dudes that make playing cards out of pressed bread that they paint with soot and drops of blood.  Oh yeah.  If you’re a connoisseur of misery like Dave and I, you know you can’t beat the Russians.  They are masters of melancholy.  The average Russian store clerk lives a life sadder and more tragic than anything in Bronte, or Celebrity Rehab.  However, throw one them into a Siberian prison, and see what kind of gloom oozes out.  A high-grade, pharmacological-quality depressant.

I read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s, One Day in The Life of Ivan Denisovich, when I was a kid.  I loved transporting myself into a distant Siberian labor camp, and really imagining how awful it must have been.  I used to do that so that when it came time to go to school, I could trudge with the fatal resolve of a Soviet prisoner.  Perhaps stopping by the window to wonder, “How long will the desolation of the endless tundra haunt my dreams?  How long before a fire or friend?  Mocked by the raven, hunted by the wolves, my heart hangs freeze-dried on the barbed wire of 6th grade.”

I get up from the computer and walk outside to see if Bugsy is around.  I don’t go out there and yell “Bugsy! Bugsy! Bugsy!”  It seems too desperate.  I make my girlfriend do that.  Instead, I send telepathic messages that he should get his furry little ass home for some dinner and a nap.  Then I pray to St. Francis to protect him.  Why does he do this to me?  Is he so self-absorbed in Tom-catting around the town, that he can’t even check in and let us know he’s alright?

A bigger cat moved into the neighborhood recently.  A big blonde beast.  I call him Boris.  Boris the Beast.  Bugs and him have gone at it a couple of times now, and once he came home with a tuft of fur missing and a big cut across his nose.  Bugsy is all street cat.  He loves it out there.  I don’t blame him.  That’s where the action is.

Except for a family of raccoons, he’s had the run of the ‘hood all to himself.  Now this cat moves in, and I get the feeling that Bugsy is just looking for trouble with this bigger cat, to prove something.  Prove something to Boris, and prove something to himself.

I don’t know why I think that.

“Do you think he’s okay?” I ask Lori.

“He’s fine,” she says.  I scrutinize the timber in her voice for any hidden anxiety.  She seems confident.  I’ll hang on to that.

I go back on-line, Dave has cut and pasted the lyrics to No River To Take Me Home, by Neurosis.

Digging a hole so I can rest
No tears from no river to take me home
The stones in my way, roots to the core
Of a rising sun falling through
the wind to the soil

As my body leaves me
I cling to a tree in a dream
I’m screaming to you
Whatever comes through me I will be.

Well… that’s kind of downer, I think.  But, I don’t diss a good downer. It’s a good song to sing on the transport train north to the General Dispersion Center, where you get processed, and then sent to your separate time-share gulag resort.  A sad little ditty to croak while the other convicts gnaw on dried crusts of bread, and long for the wheat fields of the Ukraine, their bitter tears turning into frozen stones that roll off their dirty cheeks.

At least, Louie is hanging around close by.  He’s had a big week.  Killed two bats, and two mice in a 72 hour period.  Dave called it a serial-killing spree.  He really got his predator on.  It surprises me, because Louie doesn’t look like a killer.  While Bugsy is scarred, sleek and lean, Louis is puffy and fancy.  He has a tail like one of those feathers in a Musketeer’s cap.  His fur foofs around his neck, giving him a fancy collar like Sir Walter Raleigh.  I always worry that he’ll get picked on by the other cats for looking like a little dandy.  I’m pretty sure this little outburst of violence is him compensating for the fact that he looks like a sissy.

I don’t know why I think that.

I get a Hansen’s Diet Ginger Ale and sit back down at the monitor.  Lori is watching some reality thing about a bunch of Amish kids that leave the rez and head out to New York City.  Hoo boy.  That town tore me a new one, and I was a native New Yorker, and slightly more streetwise then a wide-eyed Amish bumpkin.  I can’t believe the producers are doing this.  Real life Hunger Games.  We have become the modern Romans, enjoying the spectacle of throwing Christians to the lions.  It’s absurd.

“Did you know there are Amish prison gangs?” I ask her.

She just nods.  She thinks I’m fucking with her.

“I’m serious.  Dave said when he was doing time in Pennsylvania, there was Amish dudes there who had been busted for cooking meth.  He says all lot of them started out cultivating weed, but later set up labs because they were more lucrative.  Of course some are going to get busted and go to prison.  Dave said they all hang out together in the joint, and whah-lah!  There’s your Amish prison gang.  Neat huh?”

“Amish.  Were growing pot and making meth.  Isn’t that against their beliefs?”

“Who knows?  Maybe if they don’t use electricity for like grow lights and stuff.  And I’m sure you could set up a meth lab without using demon electricity. You know, cook the dope down on hibachis and shit.”

She shakes her head.  I can tell she doesn’t want to believe it.  She’s got this idealized, cozy-comfy version of Amish people she wants to hang on to.  Doesn’t want to believe they can get fucked up like the rest of us.  Well, I can’t let this go.  Time to riff.

“Oh, what a quaint little store you have here!   What a beautiful hand-carved wooden rocking horse.   Heavens, such a lovely kerosene lamp, and look at these baskets!  The workmanship.  Can I take a look at that butter churner?  Oh, while you’re at it, we’d also like a 1/4 of Purple Buddha Sky and an 8-Ball of White Line Fever.”

She tries not to smile, but I saw.  I turn back to the monitor and don the headphones satisfied.  The Pod shuffles out some Billy Childish.  The Day I Beat My Father Up.

Dave has messaged.  He tells me he’s finished his latest post and want me to check it out.  I click over to WordPress.  I dig his work.  He’s got a lot of gnarly tales.  His blog is called The Sun Burns Cold.  He writes about a lot of stuff, but I especially enjoy the street stories, his adventures in the shooting dens, crash pads, rehabs, insane asylums, squat flops, jails, prisons, and half-way houses he’s gotten to visit.  You know, all the little stops along the happy journey of life.  He’s interspersed that life with seeing some of the most amazing live music, during a truly seminal era.

Dave chronicles that era well.  Boots on the ground reportage.  Intrepid war correspondent, in the middle of the shit.  His matter-of-fact style gives his stories an elegant sadness.  He’s a maniac, but a talented, intelligent, and insightful one.  He may also be a weensy world-weary.

From homeless gutter punk in Seattle to doing an eight year bit for robbery, Dave’s had a rough ride.  The needle and the drink insured he got his share of action and adventure.  Today he’s staying clean and sober, washing dishes in a restaurant, and writing.  Dave can write.  He’s a machine.  He’s up until dawn hammering it out.  It doesn’t matter what kind of bullshit sandwich his day has served him, he writes.  He used to put out a punk rock ‘zine while behind bars.

That tells me something.  Aside from having the talent, it tells me he’s got the disciple to become great.

However, a week doesn’t go by that he doesn’t suddenly decide to quit writing altogether.  Hell, me too.  I think that comes with the turf.  Nothing we write will make a difference.  Nobody is really reading it.  We suck.  Who are we trying to kid?  With everything we’ve revealed about ourselves, we’ll never be able to run for public office or be hired by a successful corporation.

At least that’s something good that’s come out of it.  We take turns talking each other down from the ledge like that.  Two alcoholics talking.

I know he can’t quit writing.  I mean he can quit, but he’s powerless to stay quit.  He’s a writer, regardless of his protests and denials to the contrary.  He actually writes me these missives on all the reasons why he’s not a writer.  Long, eloquent, well-formed treatises why.  They’re very convincing.  And really good writing.  I, on the other hand, can quit anytime I want to.  I just don’t want to… right now.

Okay, I kind of do now.  Seriously.  It just hit me.  Fuck, I’m the middle of this piece.  Okay, as soon as I’m done dealing with this shit, I’ll hang it up.  For good.  It really isn’t worth it.

Anyway, it’s good to have made a bro in Dave.  A fellow escapee from the mutant zoo.  I always look forward from hearing from him.  It doesn’t matter what kind of mood he’s in, because whatever it is, he communicates it well, and we always wind up sharing a laugh.  I enjoy that.  I can cut people all kinds of slack for their moods.  I’ve been known to get moody now and then.  Once or twice.  So I think I understand a little about the human condition.

Not from being one, mind you, but from reading about it in books.

If you are pissed off, I figure you’re going to be pissed off no matter what, at least for a while.  If I run in with pep squad outfit on and start clapping and fist-pumping a cheer to rally you, I’m just going to add myself to that list of things you’re pissed off at.  Fuck that.  I’ll hang outside the blast zone until the rocks and shrapnel pitter pat to a stop.  Then if you need help picking through the rubble for any valuables, I’m around, dig?

Too many people can’t stand to be around somebody that’s feeling bad.  They hurry and try to fix it, and when that doesn’t work, both people just wind up getting pissed at each other.  You have to be able to sit with someone’s misery, hurt, or pain.  Just be there with them.  As much as you might want to squirm out, you sit there and share it with them.  Let it run it’s course.  If you allow them to fully express what’s bothering them, and offer no resistance, or get defensive, they wind up coming up with answers on their own.

The fact that you didn’t run off when things got un-fun speaks volumes for your commitment to the friendship.  Then everybody can cheer.

I hear a scratching at the door.  Oh, you little fucker!  If I wasn’t so happy to see him, I would kill him.  Louie’s happy to see Bugs, too.  He is burying his nose in Bugsy’s ass.   I don’t know what I think about that.  Bugsy heads to the kitchen.  Yeah, yeah, yeah.  I know.  Chow time.

I have to go through this whole big ritualistic production to feed him.  First, I have to get him a clean bowl.  He doesn’t like it when there’s old dry cat food still in the bowl.  It has to be in a clean bowl.  I also have to make a big deal about shaking the bag, and loudly sprinkling the new dry food.  That gets him figure-eighting between my legs.  They I have to open a new can of wet food, making a big deal about popping the lid.  I have to fork the wet food into the dry and mix it, but just a little.  He doesn’t like it too mashed up.  Seriously.

If I leave out any of those steps, or say, just spoon out some wet onto some old dry, he’ll just look at it, then look up at me, and keep looking.  The look says it all.  “So that’s it?  Just shovel out some shit and throw it down?  Like I’m some kind of animal?”  He’ll wind up eating it, but with that neck-rolling, shoulder-shrugging attitude.  Major guilt trip.

Tonight I don’t mind putting a towel over one arm, using the china, the silver, letting him smell the cork.  I’m just happy he’s back.  I watch him and Louie tuck into their bowls with the satisfaction of an indulgent Jewish mother.  He has a new scratch, but he’s okay otherwise.  I feel a big weight lift.  Thanks St. Francis.  Good looking out.

After they eat, I go back to the computer.  I could hear them rough-housing upstairs.  Big fucking racket.  It sounds like they’re dragging a couch down the hall.  Now they’re building shelves.  Big crash.  I think that was the vacuum cleaner coming down the stairs.  Yeah, it was.

“Hey you two! Fucking cool it up there!”

They love to go at it.  Just for fun.  Just fighting each other for the sheer joy of it.

Hmm.

I start reading Dave’s new piece.  It’s a prison one.  My favorite.  This one’s about when he played bass in a band while he was locked up.   That is so punk rock, I can’t stand it.  Life is good.

We never do anything bad.

Creepy Kid

Do not make me use my telekinetic powers.

I was a creepy kid alright.  No doubt about it.  Something was seriously wrong with me.  A dark lad, with different interests.  I had a wild imagination, and sometimes I used it, but more often it used me.

As a young snapper, I loved reading about prisons and leprosy.  When I saw the movie Papillion with my dad, I couldn’t believe my luck.  It had both.  I begged him to buy me the book, which he did.  Now I could read about convicts getting their guts cut opened by other prisoners looking for the diamonds the dead man keestered, and lepers whose fingers came off on the coffee cups they hand you to drink from.  This was heavy shit, and I found it all so much more interesting than the suburban postcard I was living in.

So while other kids were learning to play little league, I was under my sister’s trundle-bed, gnawing on coconut husks, pretending to be doing time in the hole.  I may or may not have leprosy, depending on how miserable I wanted to make-believe to be that day.  Like I said, a dark lad, with different interests.

I get a kick out of kids these days with their vampires and zombies.  More people have had the life sucked out of them in the Colonial French penal system, or for that matter an office job, then by any blood-thirsty vampire.  Statistically, more people have died from having their flesh rot off their bones, right before their very eyes, from common diseases than have had their brains eaten by some zombies stumbling through a mall like sleep-deprived commuters.

Kids, if you want to scare yourself.  Go all the fucking way.  Convince yourself you have cancer, or that someday, because of the bad choices you’ve made, you’ll have to hide knives in your ass just to survive, or sell insurance.  There’s plenty to be scared about right here in the real world.  Unless, you just want to pretend to be scared, and I get that.  Then vampires and zombies are cool.  Sorry for getting all preachy.

As an introverted little imp, I spent a lot of time in my own head, and in the process created a bleak inner landscape.  My family’s stories about life in Europe during World War 2, my own morbid research into historical plagues, wars, and genocide, as well as the ugliness I saw in myself and other people, convinced me I was on the scariest planet in The Universe.

Could I discover everything  that there was to get freaked out and scared about?  I’d sure try my darnedest, Mr. Wizard.

I used to love  reading about paranormal phenomenon, ESP, ghosts, pyramid power, telekinesis, but especially about UFO’s and ancient astronauts.  I would pray for an invasion.  I actually remember praying to Jesus to send UFOs to take over the world.  Double-barreled crazy?  Perhaps, but the way I saw it, we’d be much better off than the way we were running things.

Worst case scenario, they come down and decide to exterminate all of us.  In other words, not really all that bad.  I mean to actually save the planet, I’d make that call.  Just DDT us like some roaches that have taken over a building.  My big hope was to be captured and sent to a comfortable life in one of their zoos, some habitat they’ve surrounded with things they’ve found humans to love.

I’ve been watching the skies since.

Then there was my deal the Devil.  (No, I didn’t actually make any “deal” with him)  I mean my fear of and fascination with him.  I was given his basic profile report by a Catholic upbringing, which also pretty much convinced me I was bound to go to hell and meet him in person.  I used to rehearse the speech I would deliver to him regarding my humane treatment, if only because I had apparently served his will so well while on Earth.  At least that’s what I got out of Catholicism.  That me and The Devil were two peas in a pod.  He loved sin, and by cootchity, so did I.

It was only a matter of time before he would come to claim one of his own.  And when he did, there would be a hot eternity in the old town tonight.

I really got worried after having choice excerpts from the The Exorcist read to me by my friend, Adam Weiss.  He was Jewish and could claim immunity from being possessed.  Good for him.  I wasn’t so lucky.  It seemed like Catholics made easier targets.  After really mulling over the concept of demonic possession, I was convinced I was a prime candidate to host a pea soup spewing party.  It just made perfect sense.

At night, when I felt The Dark Lord getting too close, I’d lay in bed clinging to a rosary, my illustrated children’s bible, or a clear plastic dashboard mount St. Christopher, my eyes and asshole tightened to close off any ports of entry.  When my bed started to shake one morning back in 1971, I actually thought,  “And so it begins…”

I was relieved when my father ran in with half a face of shaving cream yelling about an earthquake.

That, by the way, turned out the most harmless shaking bed I’d ever be in.  I would eventually learn there was something out there more terrifying than the Devil and more devastating than earthquakes, and it all starts with a smile.  That nightmare would begin soon enough.  For now I only had to wrestle with Satan for my soul.  Women were still behind the ropes waiting to get tagged in.

Between preparing myself mentally for a life in prison, begging U.F.O’s to come down, and running from the devil, participating in healthy recreation like running around a baseball diamond, or bouncing a ball around, seemed like a dangerous distraction.  There was just so much to think about and scare yourself with.  Gnarly stuff to mentally prepare yourself for, when it finally happened.

Besides, I sucked at sports.  My father never really taught me that stuff, and I’d get all nervous and blow simple catches.  The more I freaked about it, the more I dropped the ball.  (A very good life metaphor, I might add.)  Team sports are a healthy way to integrate individual personalities to work together harmoniously.  No wonder that got skipped.

Then there was the clothes.  My mother was insane about them.  I was going to be her living fashion doll and she would play dress up with me.  She insisted in dressing me in the latest styles…from West German fashion magazines.  I even remember the name of one of them, Wenz.  Wenz for the wimpiest in wiener wear.  It featured some of the gayest, most dip-shittiest outfits ever designed for children, or rather, der kinder volk, to look their absolute dorkiest and most beat-upable.

Going to school in New York City public schools dressed like Little Lord Fauntleroy, or like a Broadway stage dancer, was bound to magnetize beatings.  Who could resist?  I was like a multicolored spinning and flashing bass lure.  I caught a lot of them.  Then later got some of the West coast version when we moved to California.  The clothes had come with me.  I would beg my mom to let me dress like the other kids, but she never relented.  We played a cat and mouse game for years, with me wearing two pairs of pants over each other before school, or keeping a smuggled T-shirt to change into.

“But mom, the kids pick on me for being dressed like this!”

“They pick on you because they can smell the fear on you,” she’d say, “like dogs can.”

I tell you what though, being exposed to so much physical violence early on did something to me.  Years later, when I was actually earning a living fighting with dudes, there was deep well of rage I could tap into.  I was not just hitting the son of bitch in front of me, but every single one I ever took a beating from.

I remember hitting on this one fucker in Rodeo Nites one night, and he just kept changing from Paul Rodriquez,  to James Rich,  to John Mahoney. I poured it on, and wound up having the other bouncers working that night pull me off.

I could become a vicious motherfucker when it served me.   Took me a lot of deprogramming to undo that guy.

Speaking of deprogramming.  My parents were very Right Wing, as most refugees from a Communist takeover tend to be.   It was explained to me early on, that everything bad that was happening in the world was because of Communists, and their lackey surrogates, the hippies.  They were going to take over the world and ruin our lives.  They didn’t believe in God or taking showers, and would force us not to either.

They were going to do that with drugs.  The hippies would disseminate them among the population, and it would weaken our will to resist a Red invasion of the United States.  In fact, they were doing just that to our soldiers right then, in Viet Nam.  Holy shit.  Add Communists, hippies, and drugs to my list of things to be scared of.  And, perversely, now be suddenly more interested in.

Drugs especially.  I used to read my parent’s Time and Newsweek to look for articles about drugs.  I learned there were all kinds, and that they would do all kinds of different things to you.  Some would make you see things that weren’t there.  Some made you really peppy, and others really sleepy.  I became pretty savvy about drug culture, way before I even partook.

A semi-trailer truck would park in front of The Esplanade shopping center and it would have a display inside of all the different drugs and corresponding paraphernalia in exhibition cases behind glass.  The idea was to educate the public on what to look out for so they could rat out whoever had any of this stuff around.  That wasn’t what happened to me.

I’d stare mesmerized at the hash pipes, syringes with burnt and bent spoons, roach clips, bags of white powder, bags of brown powder, sugar cubes, pills of all colors and shapes.  This was some bad stuff.  Stuff people shouldn’t have.  I wanted to play with all of it.

In fact, I used to pretend play drug dealer.  I think I was in 5th grade, and I would bring in bags of brown sugar, which was Mexican heroin, and bags of white flour, which was French heroin, and thus more expensive.  I’d have to explain all this to the other kids, and then hand out vitamin pills telling them what each one was.  “This one is going to make you jump around a lot.”  “This one is going to make you think that the swing set is a dinosaur.”  And so on, and the kids would have to act out their various “trips.”

So it was no surprise when the world of substance abuse did finally open it’s doors of liquor and medicine cabinets, I pushed through the cafe doors like a little Baudelaire, a lazy, morbid, fearful little dreamer, a loner flaneur, morose and miserable, but now with an avenue of escape.  Here was a remedy for all that ailed me.  A fleeting but sweet relief from having to be me, one of the most miserable bastards I could invent.  A brooding, cathedral gargoyle, hunched over a bong and a 32 oz. malt liquor.

By high school, I was dressing more normal, but the insides were warped beyond straightening.  Somebody was about to grow up to be a crazy person, a total drunken Visigoth on a pillaging rampage through life.

Looking back now, I can see I wasn’t all that bad of a kid.  Just a lot of things made me believe I was, and my reaction to that, ultimately did make me turn a little rotten.  Or maybe I was just destined.  All I know is, I thought it sucked to be me, and to be around me, and I was having to do both. Drinking and drugs gave me a small vacation.  The problem was when I’d get back from my journey, somebody always ransacked the joint.

So I try not to make that mistake these days.  I figure I’m stuck with being me.  I can continue to try to evolve as a person, but hating myself along the way is just going to make me thirsty again.  I try to cut myself a little slack, and in the process, find it easier to do it for others.  Things tend to go better for me that way.  I still believe in crazy things, but these days, they’re nothing that scares me.  If anything, the crazy shit I believe these days helps me make it somehow.

I don’t try to make other people believe what I believe.  All I want other people to believe is that they are okay, the way they are right now.  That they are worthy of love regardless of their weirdness, or the mistakes they’ve made, and that love is stronger than anything, so there’s nothing to really be afraid of.  That’s the only thing I’ll ever mount a soap box for, and hopefully help some creepy kid from having to go through what I did.  That would make everything worth it.

Little Baby Caesar; The Early Crime Years

Go find yourself a boyfriend with a paper route.

When my Dad came back from seeing me for the first time in the hospital nursery, my mom asked what he thought.  His response was, “He looks like Edgar G. Robinson.”  True fact.  My mom said that it wasn’t what a new mother wanted to hear.  But today, we all agree, that I did, and that my dad saw something there.  There’s been some affinity alright.  I always liked Edgar G. Robinson better than J. Edgar Hoover.  Hands down.

As a kid I always rooted for the villain.  They always looked cooler, dressed better, and probably got laid more than the heroes.  I used to watch re-run episodes of Roy Rogers, with my buddy Dean.  I would be secretly rooting against Roy.  Not like I wanted him to get shot or anything, but maybe disarmed and tied up to a Saguaro cactus for Dale to rescue.  I’ve never told anyone this.  Maybe I should have saved it for my fifth step, but hey, too fucking late now.  It’s typed on the screen.  For all to see.

Coyote versus Roadrunner, same thing.  I wanted Acme’s products to work as intended.  Just once.  I pretty much liked Batman, but still wanted the big magnifying glass to burn through the rope and drop his ass into the pool of sharks.  The way I saw it, he wouldn’t be in that jam if he had slept with Catwoman and joined her criminal enterprise.  You turn that stuff down (especially the Julie Newmar version) and you don’t expect to be looking back on it and bumming hard?  I didn’t know back then that he was gay, and what the whole Robin, his young ward thing meant.  Now it all makes sense, but back then I thought there was something seriously wrong with him.

I’d watch old gangster films mesmerized.  I so wanted to have a scarred and cratered face, so I could poke a toothpick out of it.  I’d wear a black fedora and say things like, “It’s time to take a ride, Greasy Mike,” while keeping one hand menacingly in my pocket.  I wanted to shoot pool, grab loot, chase leg, break leg, take shots, dodge shots, skip town, make bail, shake down, rough up, take down, and come up,

I wanted to shoot up a rival’s speak-easy with a Tommy gun from a screeching car, even though I didn’t  know what a speak-easy was.  While other kids wanted to hit a home run to win the World Series, I wanted to make wise-cracks about the detective’s girlfriend while enduring a rubber truncheon interrogation.

My moral compass tended to point South.  Even way back then.

On on a flight back to California from New York, they played the movie, Dillinger.  It was the original, with Warren Oates.  I was so impressed, I decided I wanted to get serious about becoming a criminal.  I actually took an oath.

Years later, I found an entry in a little notebook I made days after I saw the film.  It said “Today I dedicate myself to a life of crime.”  It was signed, in cursive, to prove I really meant it.  “Oh shit,” I thought, “How binding an oath is this?  Can The Masters of Fate hold a nine-year-old to this kind of document?”

Let me tell you, they sure the fuck can.

The first thing I remember stealing was a balsa wood glider.  I loved those things, but they were always breaking on me.  I was never given an allowance and had to pay for my good times off the grandparent’s birthday dole.  Try stretching $30 dollars to last all year, even in 1970 dollars.  It could be done, but things were tight.  Never enough for candy, comics, soda, and toy guns.  Never enough to keep up the lifestyle.  Stealing seemed like a solution.

I carefully scoped the TG& Y and saw where all the clerks were.  I was looking intently at a bag of plastic soldiers I was holding, when I pretended to drop them.  I ducked down, pulled the glider off the rack and slid it up the sleeve of my jacket, picked up the bag of plastic soldiers and continued to act like I was debating the purchase.  Really going for an Oscar, the ponder, the tsk-tsk, the shrug of the shoulders, the aw-shucks of the fist, and then a very obvious putting them back.

So fucking slick.  I walked out holding my mom’s hand with the glider up the same sleeve.  I was covered solid.  The walk out the store was a total rush.  Not getting my 15 cents, goddamn TG & Y.  Who’s the sucker now?

The glider quickly broke, but I wasn’t pissed this time.  No big deal.  I’ll just pop on down to the five and dime and pick up another one, with my five-finger discount.  Ha-ha.  Get it?  Five finger discount?  Because I’m taking it with my hand, for free.

Getting stuff for free really is the best, isn’t it?  I understand these corporations hiding money all over the place from the tax man.  It must be like stealing a glider times 1.2 billion. It’s got a be a rush, and if it is, let me tell you there’s a good chance it’s going to be habit-forming.  Especially if you’ve gotten away with it before.  I know after I hijacked my first balsa wood plane, I resented having to pay 15 cents for one ever again, even when I had enough money.

So I get it.  I understand the corporate mind-set.  Like I said, my moral compass always dipped South.

Know where a guy can score a hot cinnamon toothpick around here?

My first arrest was in 8th grade.  I had been shoplifting for a while, but just as a hobbyist.  A cap gun, some Odd Rod stickers and bubble gum, the little plastic hot dog rings in that used to come in between Oscar Meyer wieners.  Just small time stuff.  One day, after reading a biography of Lucky Luciano from the Camarillo Public Library.  I decided to expand my empire.  In junior high some friends were already making money from boosting beef jerky and cinnamon toothpicks then selling them to the other school kids.  Okay, they had that market cornered, and I didn’t have the firepower to muscle in on their racket.

I had to find something else the kids wanted and were willing to pay retail for.  Cigarettes, beer, nudie magazines and racy paperbacks like The Happy Hooker and The Sensuous Women, rolling papers, No-Doz, condoms, huffing solvents, knives, chewing tobacco, road flares and corncob pipes to smoke Commercial-grade dirt weed.  I would open up a one-stop juvenile delinquency shop.

I got together a crew.  I recruited some buddies from my M.G.M. English class.  My friends Danny and Jimmy were also mentally-gifted bad boys, each a criminal genius in his own right.  It didn’t need any arm-twisting.  There were no bosses.  Each man was an equal partner in The Corporation.  Capital would be divided accordingly.  We would skulk  through Newbury’s, Sav-on Drugs, Builder’s Emporium, and Lucky’s grocery stores for inventory.  We were all working together the day the heat came down.

We had made a pretty good haul that afternoon, and we could have called it quits, but I had to make one more pass at the dirty magazines they kept in the rack behind the cashier’s counter.  The store employees were watching by then.  I got collared by a skinny assistant manager.  He grabbed me by the jacket and the Playboy magazine came flying out.  It landed open on the sidewalk, on a pictorial section that made it clear to every bystander just what kind of magazine this little boy was trying to steal.

I remember looking down and seeing  a huge pair of airbrushed boobs.  Holy Toledo.  Get a load of those.

I didn’t stay transfixed for too long as I was now engaged in wrestling away from some flunky assistant manager.  I started swinging.  He was trying to drag me down to the ground but I kept punching.  I was getting some clear shots into his ribs, windmilling desperately like a cornered tier snitch, but they weren’t having enough effect.  I should’ve taken P.E. more seriously.

I looked up at Danny and Jimmy who were on their bikes looking on in shock.  “Help me!”  I called to them.  They were backing up, shaking their heads.  They looked apologetic.  They rode off.  I never blamed them.  I was a goner.  A bigger guy, the actual manager came out, and they dragged me into the store and into a back room. They shook down all the swag on me.

And what telling swag it was.  This wasn’t some little boy trying to steal a balsa wood glider.  This was a pusher and a porn peddler.  By God, he’s a …a…walking one-stop juvenile delinquency shop!  They called the cops.  My friend Tom’s dad walked by and saw me sitting on the floor behind the counter, sized it up the situation and shook his head.  That felt bad.  The interesting fact is that his son, my friend Tom, would become a lawyer and help me beat my first felony rap many years later.  Ah, the tapestry of life!

Both managers kept me in the back room until the cops came.  A cop finally showed up.  After blubbering like a little bitch, I managed to pull myself together for the hand-cuffed perp walk to the police car.  I was sort of hoping that a girl like Michele Ripley would see it.  She’d see me and know what a tough hood I was, someone she knew better than to get involved with, but just couldn’t help herself.  Because I was all hard, and stuff, and had seen it all.

She’d beat her Keds across the parking lot and beg the cop to let me go.

“Kid,” I’d tell her, “Trust me, you don’t want to get mixed up with the likes of me.”

“But I think with enough of my wholesome love, I could turn you around!”

“See, that’s just it,” I’d break it to her,”Wholesome love is a great start, but it’s just a start, see?  I think you catch my drift.”

The cop would lower my head into the car.  I’d stop and turn at her.

“Look Tootsie Pop, go back to your Honor Roll, Flag Team and toy horse collection.  There’s no future here.”

The cop would close the door, and I’d see a tear forming in her eye.

“I could learn to be naughty!” she’d shout as the squad car pulled out of the parking lot.

I’d nod.  Sure sure, kid.  That’s what they all say.

My mom and dad were totally pissed when they had to pick me up from the police station.

I thought I’d lay low for a while until things cooled off, but I quickly got busted for smoking a lid of  ‘mirsh in a corn cob pipe with Danny in the drainage ditch by my house.  For my fairly strict Lithuanian immigrant parents this was crisis of unimaginable proportions.  What will our community think of us?   What kind of parents could raise such a hooligan?  Such a larcenous villian…and now a drug addict!

The belt came out of the closet.  I could hear the buckle clink down the hall, then my bedroom door opened.  It was time for my ass cheeks to ride the lightning.

After that, I was put on a really short leash with my folks.  Lithuanian lock-down is serious.  My American friends didn’t understand.  My parents lived in D.P. camps during the war. They knew how set up a detention camp.  Under their close supervision, and the persuasive influence of my father’s belt, I reformed a bit.  Compass went magnetic North for a while.  Goofus went Gallant.  My grades got better.  I became a pretty good kid who went back to playing with gliders, but now and then, soaking them in gasoline.  If I was going to do anything bad again, I would just make sure to never get caught.

Then I started high school and began my journey of adolescent angst.  I discovered the magic of mixing alcohol with weed, and the occasional pills discovered in medicine cabinets.  Somehow,  just the right mix removed all traces of angst, fear, pain and self-hatred.  Took me to The Zone.

Trying to stay in The Zone required certain lifestyle adaptations and a host of new acquaintances, wayward pilgrims also seeking The Zone.  The ever elusive, if not mythical, Zone.  The needle spun straight down, and stayed that way for a long time.

My last perp walk was filmed by a news crew.  I had made the big time, and it looked like I was going to go away for a nice bit of it, too.  I hoped Michele Ripley didn’t see it on TV.  That would have sucked.  I had pulled myself together for the walk out of the apartment, but I had just finished crying.  Like a baby.

.

St. Joseph’s Hospital gangster for life.