The Year in Review, Including Ear Hair Trim

"You've got a luxurious ear of hair."

“You’ve got a luxurious ear of hair.”

There’s a joke about Supercuts, but I can’t remember it.  Something about how there’s two kinds of haircuts you can get.  I don’t remember what they were.  I don’t even remember if the joke was funny.

Mind is really going.  Oh well.  Good riddance, actually.

I looked down at the magazines by the bench.  Here’s one.  A Year In Review Edition.

What could be more boring?  Canned media serving up one more helping of stuff they’ve staled to death all year.  Still, every magazine has to feature one.  What are you going to tell me about?  Who won the World Series?  An election?  Tell me about a school shooting?  Storms?  War?

I kind of know about those events.  I’ve managed to stay conscious enough this year to realize what was going on around me.  Hoo-fucking-ray for me.  No, seriously.  That’s big for me.

Let’s see.  Here’s a feature on The Movers and Shakers of 2012.  Riveting stuff.  I can’t believe I didn’t make it this year.  I tossed the magazine aside and watched the barber chick cut a bald guy’s hair.  She was taking forever.  One would think cutting an old bald guy’s hair would be a three minute turn around, but you would be wrong.

Old bald guys actually take longer.  I noticed that most barbers don’t want to just pass some clippers over the head and slap their neck with a towel.  You could do that with a young dude, keeping his head shaved, but not with old bald dudes.  There’s a lot of Kabuki theater involved.  The barber does a lot of pretend clipping with scissors.   Comb, comb, comb, air-clip air-clip.   Comb, comb, comb, air-clip air-clip.

It used to drive me crazy.  Well, crazier.  Clearly, they were trying to make the old guy feel like he was getting his money’s worth.  By spending fifteen minutes in the chair.  Fifteen minutes of my valuable time.

One afternoon, after my guy gave a rather extensive performance, I had to bring it up.  He tied off the bib and asked me what size blade.

“Two,” I told him.

“Summertime, huh?”

“”Yep.”

I waited for him to start cutting.

“So I noticed you have to do a lot of pretend hair-cutting with old bald dudes.  Is that so they don’t feel like they got gypped?”

“Well…it’s actually more than that,” he said, “For a lot of these guys, getting a haircut is the only human contact they get.  So I want to take my time with them.”

I looked at dude.  Did I hear him right?   He didn’t strike me as someone who would concern himself.  Straight guy, shaved head, tattooed neck, ring-through-the-nose regular dude.  Not the touchy-feely, sensitive New Age type.  He was into choppers and the LA Kings.  It surprised me he would reach out like that.  I sat there trying to digest this anomaly.

“That’s kind of sad, when you think about it.”

“Yeah, no shit,” he said, “They already come from a generation that didn’t touch much.  Except maybe for sex.”

“I think sometimes not even then.”

“Ha…yeah…Hard to pull off, but possible, I guess.”

“It is.”

“All I know is that as they get older, there’s even less of that.  So what does that leave them?   An awkward hug now and then?”

“Hmm.  And maybe a pat-down at the airport.”

“Yeah.  Exactly.  So that leaves me.”

He was right.  What really impressed me was that this guy would care enough to do his small bit.  Holding their neck, combing their hair, massaging their scalp.  A hand on the shoulder.  Shit.  I felt like a heel for bitching about it.

Once again, something revealed it’s true nature–something that had bugged me before–and now made me feel like a dick for resenting it.  I hate when that happens.  And trust me, it happens a lot.   Not surprising.   My knee-jerk interpretations of events are nothing but some slapped together immediate impressions stuck in the glue of some unexamined prejudices.  On a foundation of underlying fear.

My summary is usually worth the amount of time it took to come up with it.  Zero flat.

Beth called over to me.  “I’m almost done.”

“I’m good,” I told her, “Take your time.”

I go to Beth now.  As cool as that other barber was, he never got the hang of wrangling my cowlicks.  Not like Beth.  She knows my cowlicks.  She knows how to tame those beasts.

I looked at the pile of magazines.  None of them interested me.  I remembered how in jail I would’ve killed for a scrap of anything to read.  When I got locked up in Redondo Beach jail, they had a huge stack in the cell.  I couldn’t believe my luck.  Good stuff too.  Rolling Stone, Spin, Outdoor, and some hot rod mags with sexy chicks.  It was the quietest, cleanest jail I’ve ever visited.  Dark enough to sleep.  Light enough to read.  Two pillows, two blankets, and the whole cell to myself.  I could clock some hours in a set-up like that.

Of course, I got bailed out fast that time.  It figures.  Thanks anyway, Spike.  Good looking out.

Beth was trimming the old guy’s ear hairs.  Man, that is so gross.  Of course, not getting that done is even more gross.   If I didn’t cut that shit every other day, I’d have grey beards growing out of my ear holes.   That’s the most humbling thing about middle age.   Seeing stuff on yourself that even grosses you out.   A bouquet of nose hairs.   An ugly toe nail.  Bushy eyebrows that could earn you a bandstand seat at a Soviet Military parade.

Just getting gnarlier and gnarlier.  Until the only time anybody touches you is to shave your neck or attach heart monitors to your chest.

Alright, let’s not think about that.

Beth looks cute today.  Dig the knee-high leather boots.  Single mother from Georgia.  She works hard.  Her boy means everything to her.  I don’t think she’s dating.  Might not have the time.  I’m sure it’s logistically difficult for a single mom.  At least for one that cares about her kid.

That’s too bad.  I wish she’d find someone.  Some guy that takes a real liking to her little boy, and does all kinds of father shit with him.

Fishing.  Playing catch.  Camping out.  Mayberry father kind of shit.  Not guilt-tripping you about what a fuck-up you’ve become kind of shit.

I looked back at the pile of magazines.  Kanye and Kim.  Very important.  Can’t not take them away with you…when reviewing the year.  A year’s worth of some of the wildest shit imaginable, and I need to remember those two.  Two of the most forgettable creatures that ever used up air.  Remember them and push out something vital.  Like remembering to pay the cable bill.

I would rather pray to the ancestors of some Borneo headhunters than think about them.

Not to get all Max Von Sydow, but with the bullshit we fill our heads with as a society, it’s a wonder we can find our asses.  Is Snooky pregnant?  Is Hoda leaving?  Whatever happened to Chachi?  Will Bristol ever dance again?  Does Bonk-Bonk love Vagella?  Will Thog call off the wedding?  Will Yuddy Van Rence be killed off in the season finale?

Will Regis rise from the dead?

These are not questions.  These are pork rinds and Tab.  To stuff ourselves with while waiting to die.  Anything to avoid having to really live.  And wonder about important stuff.

Check this out.  We watch Reality TV.  Think about that.  We watch…Reality TV.  I have not mastered Reality, but I’ve seen a lot of it on television.

I get it though.  Confession time.  When Lori was gone one night, I watched two hours worth of Full Throttle Saloon.  There was some stuff I didn’t want to think about, so I zoned out on a bunch of white trash running a biker bar in Sturgis.  (And making more money than God doing it.)  Well,  I just got sucked in.  It was the owner, the dude with the mangy blonde dreads and no chin that I couldn’t stop staring at.  He just freaked me out.

Oh sure, there’s also lots of power-drinking miscreants, sexy scanties dancing around greased-pig poles, and sporadic outbreaks of drunken violence.   It’s basically lifestyle porn for domesticated hell-raisers.  So I lost myself in it for a while.  I let my nagging concerns circle the airport, burning up fuel.  Instead of looking at what I didn’t want to look at, I tried to count how many shots Fajita took, and wondered if Jessie ever banged Angie.  If Michael watched.

Finally, I snapped off the idiot box and faced my demons.  Might as well.  They didn’t seem to be antsy to leave anytime soon.  I’ve learned you can’t out-wait a demon.  And you’ll never outrun them.

The best way to confront them is in a very stern paternal way.  “Look you wicked little fuckers, I made you!  You are the products of my tortured mind and I appreciate what you’re trying to show me.  Now beat it.  Daddy’s got this.”

It seems to work.  Losing myself in other people’s drama doesn’t do it.  I’ve tried.  Even tried to lose myself in my own.

Beth undid the old guy’s bib.  That’s right.  A little powder on the neck.  Rub it in.  I bet he digs that more than if some tattooed dude did it.  Or maybe not.  He gets up to pay.  I stay seated.  I wait until she finishes with him.  Then I let her clean up a bit, and wait until she says she’s ready for me.  I used to hop up right away, because I was so pissed at having to wait.  Now I try not to sweat the barber like that.  I wait until they’re ready.

I also cut my own ear hairs before I go.  So nobody else has to deal with them.

Small improvement.

There’s my year in review.  A bunch of small improvements.  That hopefully add up.  It’s too early to tell.

I put my soda on her counter and sat down.

“Do you want a number two or three today?”

“Number two.  Cut it close, Beth.  I feel like I’m losing my edge.”

Hairstyling by Beth

Hairstyling by Beth

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You’re Not Going To, So Don’t Try

If you’ve made a New Year’s resolution to get in shape this year, as a professional personal trainer, I would like to encourage you…to forget it.  You’re not going to do it.  You are going to fail, just like every year.  How’s that for some refreshing candor and honesty?

Save yourself the anguish of yet another blown New Year’s resolution, and don’t even try.

If you don’t try, you can’t fail.  Or maybe, you just need to try harder.  Yeah.  That one always works.

Let’s face it, if you could have done it, you already would have.  In fact, statistically, you are more likely to be struck by lighting while making love to an albino Indian in a canoe, then you are to keep any New Year’s resolution about getting fit.

One morning, when I lived in Redondo Beach, I walked out on the porch and saw the entire beach covered with running people.  At first, I thought it was some catastrophe.  Everybody running around in a panic.  Then I realized it was New Year’s Day.  My God.  How pathetic.  How predictable.  The next day there was half as many.  By the third day the beach was empty again.  Big surprise.

Every January at the gym, the crowds swarm.  Like the swallows returning to Capistrano, people show up in their new Christmas gift work-out gear, ready to turn over a new leaf.  And every year, they fly away, before the month is over–way, way, way before their three-year, automatic payment withdrawal contract is over.  By February, it was always back to  the same faces you’ve been seeing all year.

I worked at a Gold’s Gym for seven years.  Even though we were signing up new people all the time, you never saw them more than once or twice.  After that, they would just disappear.   The ones that were making a real honest stab at it usually packed it in after three weeks.  Thing was, our shark-efficient sales team had already shock-collared their checking accounts.

We had a slick sales gang.  Ghetto hustlers and ex-con sharpsters.  They called themselves “The Felony Fitness Crew.”   They weren’t about to throw any cold water on your fevered delusions about becoming a Greek statue.  No, sir.  Create Value.  Establish Rapport.  Get Routing Number.

I used to love listening to them laugh and joke after making a big sale.  Lot’s of high-fives while pantomiming prison rape.

“I banged their culo for $89.00 EFT, baby!  Didn’t even use lube, brah-ther!”

“Fitness Starter Pak, bitch!  $499. prepaid year with nutritional counseling, carnal.”

“EEEE-hoh-la-chingada-madre!

Both hands grabbing out to imaginary shoulders and pelvic-thrusting at air ass.

Those guys were a riot.  I miss them.

Anyway, if you have ever joined a gym and didn’t go, don’t feel bad.  Lots of people do that.  You should feel bad for joining a gym though.  Not a lot of people do that.  Letting them into your checking account was a big mistake too.  What the fuck were you thinking?

That you finally had it with the way you looked?  Sure.  I understand.  But apparently, you didn’t hate it enough to really do anything about it.  Or stay doing it.  That’s okay.  I don’t encourage hating the way you look as a motivator.   That only takes you so far, and makes the experience of working out, all the more miserable.  Which everyone will tell you is the key to success.

No, bad body image seems to demand replication in form.  Some kind of cosmic law.  So all your fist-shaking resolve, bold pronouncements and sworn oaths are worthless.

Hate your body, and it will hate you right back.  I can promise you that, on everything that is sacred to me.

I suggest trying to be grateful for whatever body you got stuck with.  Just because it’s not walking the red carpet is no reason to hate it.  Start with being glad it can even walk.  Can you move?   Are you somewhat ambulatory?   Well, that calls for some celebration.  If you were laying in a hospital bed, paralyzed, you’d be wishing you could be your old, flabby, but moving, self.

So being able to move is awesome, but if you’re lazy like me, it’s easy to resent ever having to.  I tend to forget that just moving around is a miracle of mechanics.  Neurons firing, nerves twitching, muscle fiber lengthening and shortening, bones pivoting around.  It’s crazy shit.

Freak out on it.  At first, it’s just enough to get into moving, and maybe…using stuff.  Light weights, slow treadmill, remedial Yoga class, whatever.  Add a spirit of play into it.  Throw a Frisbee around.  Play hopscotch.  Shadow-box to Static X’s Wisconsin Death Trip.  Dance around the room like you’ve come down with St. Vitus.  Anything is better than the years of nothing.  Set the bar low, so you’re sagging ass can easily step over it.  The less you can make it suck, the better.  Eventually, if you stay at it, you will naturally reach out for more challenging forms of play.

People who are active, tend to want to stay that way.

There’s a lot of ways to head-fuck yourself into getting active, but in order to want to stay active, you have to find something you enjoy.  Sometimes that takes time, and may require a few misses.  Don’t make a big deal about it.  Don’t feel bad about not liking something.  All my life, somebody seemed to be trying to make me feel bad for not liking something.

“For crissakes!  That was a classic movie!  One of Orson Wells’ greatest masterpieces!  How could you not like it?” or “It’s cheese cake!  Everybody LOVES cheesecake!”  I just shrug.  If they only knew the truth.  I don’t like most movies.  Period.  And, even though I hate cheese cake, I’ll eat it, because I don’t care about food.  It’s just plug.

Disneyland.  Dinner theater.  Magic shows.  Parades.  Monopoly.  Card games.  Amusement parks.  Christmas morning.  The latest based-on-a-bestseller, breath-taking, Academy-award nominated cinematic thrill-ride.  Chart-topping pop sensation.  Widely-anticipated sequel.  Old family favorite.  Ratings hit.  You name it.

If a lot of people like it, it probably leaves me flat, and does not motivate me to participate.  So I get not being into things.  Especially if they require a modicum of self-propulsion, and you’re a lazy, fat fuck.  That said, there still must be something active that you would like to do.  Even chasing a wayward kite around the beach is a good start.

“I like to waddle down the mall while cramming an ice-cream cone into my pie-hole.  Does that count?”

“Sure it does!  And after your stroke, we can play squeeze the rubber ball!”

And be grateful we can squeeze.

Look, if you can’t find any physical activity, out of the thousands of different ones available, then I strongly suggest you get okay with dying a fat load.  It’s not the worst thing.

In fact, it’s one of the things that makes America great.  We have more people dying because they’re fat than because they starved.  So kick out the Lazy-Boy into recline, and help yourself to another Rice Krispy Treat.  There’s probably a good show on TV.

Just don’t make any New Year’s resolutions about getting into shape.

I’m sick of hearing them.

Says it all.

Says it all.

Some End Of The World This Turned Out To Be.

This party is not over!

This party is not over!

Yeah.  I figured.  Looks like The Void can wait.  Maybe next aeon.  I’m glad I wasn’t banking on this.  You know, using the excuse that the world was going to end to go completely ape-shit.  One final drunken, whore-mongering descent into violent abandon before the place goes up in flames.  That was actually a twenty-year lifestyle choice.  I know that when you finally realize the place isn’t going to go evaporate, you also realize somebody has locked you in a porta-potty and is now bulldozing you down a hill.

Still, I was looking at a pile of bills, wondering if I even needed to pay them.  If the Mayans are right, I would just be throwing money away.  Especially for this one.  Care Dental Credit.  Three grand for a bridge to nowhere.   Well, from back here to this tooth.  Seems like a costly structure to span only that far.  You could build an actual railroad bridge during the Civil War for three grand.  Well, the South could.

Anyway, the minimum monthly payment is not a princely sum, but it’s still not something I wanted to fork over…if the whole shit house went up.

What if I blew it off, and the Mayans meant a symbolic end of the world–like a new consciousness in Man?  Maybe from something like aliens landing– just a massive invasion from the whole Star Wars Cantina crowd.  That would symbolically end one world, sure as shit–but enough to make my credit rating not matter?

I would hope.

“Sorry, I’m mind-melding with Zorgan from Zeta-Articular, and he says there’s a new sheriff in town, and I don’t have to pay shit.”

That’s the best case scenario.

Then there’s the possibility that some calamity hits, killing millions, but not the ones running Care Dental Credit or Mercury Car Insurance.

Anyway, I knew there was a good chance that nothing would happen.  No alien invasion.  No meteor hit.  No major shake-up.  Just the same deal.  An endless parade of  human-created bad.  With complex problems.  Terrorism.  War.  Crime.  Corruption.  Hunger.  Disease.  The Real Housewives series.  With all the things wrong with our society, the worst thing to happen turns out to be…the world not ending.

This is what it’s come down to for me.  I’m pacing the floor and wringing my hands over the world not ending.  Talk about some ass-burning irony.

Especially since I don’t hate life anymore.  Not like I used to.  For a while, that’s all I did.  You could randomly stop me any day or night and ask me what I was doing, and I would tell you, “I’m hating life right now.”   And I’d probably be too busy for idle chit-chat or answering questions about what I was doing.  I had fires to put out, and my ass to save.  My life was all-hands-on-deck emergency.  All the fucking time.

Don’t get me wrong, I am still afflicted with a veritable tennis bracelet of blinding, multi-faceted flaws.  I’m a mixed bag of nuts alright.  It’s a wonder I don’t wander out into traffic or know which shoes go on which feet.

I am still tormented by nightmarish scenes the demons of my imagination conjure–scenes usually played before the mind’s eye of a delirious absinthe drinker or withdrawing morphine addict.  I am flayed by The Whip of a Thousand Fears, beaten about by my own ignorance, stumbling through the alley of life, confused, befuddled, lost.  Trying to find money for the parking meter while a Roman chariot rolls over my little lamb.  Seeing injustice, deceit, greed, and tragedy everywhere.  Either on the news or in my head.  And feeling powerless to do anything about it.

I have to gut-up pain, sorrow, guilt, jealousy, frustration, anger, hopelessness, rage, and regret.

I’m getting the whole modern human experience.  The full dose.  Usually by noon.

But strangely, I’m feeling pretty good.  Seriously.  I’m doing okay.  Even learning to relax a little more.  Been getting into life’s small pleasures.  Finding spiritual wonder in the commonplace.

It’s exciting progress.  So this wouldn’t seem the best time to be hit by a meteor.  I feel like I’m just getting the hang of this living business.  I like having cats and a garden.  I like to paint and write.  I like to box myself in the mirror, with Black Sabbath on the I-Pod.  Just normal stuff.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have my struggles.  I am constantly trying to wrestle myself from the tyranny of consensus reality.  Trying to kick the addictive delusions of duality.  There’s always some new brawl with out-lived thought forms–usually announced by having something smash a glass into my head.  Crotch kick that bullshit paradigm back to a lower dimension.  Throat chop that worry.  Backhand that bitch belief.

Life keeps me on my toes.  But these days I’m back to my fighting weight.  I bob and weave quicker, and my upper-body is stronger.

I’m game for it.  Bring it.  Let’s see what happens.

I don’t think it would be the same if I was still drinking.  Just the calories alone would blow me out.  Destroy this destroyer.  Real quick.

So I guess I have a lot to be grateful for.  Not being a homeless, pants-pissing drunk kicks ass.   Not being constantly ashamed of myself is also pretty tits.  Being an entirely fallible human being, and not having to take it out on anyone, is…well I wouldn’t say priceless, but it’s pretty good.

And still I bitch.  I can’t help it.  I can always find something that does not bring me immense pleasure and delight.  These days it seems there’s one crisis after another.  Planetary disasters.  Financial melt-downs.   Political gridlock.  Environmental poisoning.   Terrorism. (both imported and homegrown)  War.  Epidemics.  Bethany Ever After.   It goes on and on.

I don’t see it changing anything anytime soon.   Unless, something really weird happens.   Something that really blows some minds–on such a universal and collective level, that things could never be the same.  No matter how hard people try.  Something that can’t be spun into insignificance, or trivialized, edged-out, made fun of, discounted, contradicted, covered-up, or buried.  Something that really turns everything on its ass.

Either aliens landing, or the etheric structure of Reality tearing asunder.

Either one would be awesome.

Blessed Deus ex Machina, I beseech your sweeping wings!

I kind of knew something like that wouldn’t happen today.  Even though deep down inside, I wanted it to.  Every year I tell myself the Vikings won’t do well, just to save myself the disappointment.  And they never disappoint me.  They break my heart like clockwork.  Them winning a Super Bowl would feel like the end of the world.

Anyway, I think as an alcoholic in recovery, I’m wary of hearing about the end of the world.  If I got a quarter for every time I thought it was the end of the world, or knew someone who did, I’d have enough money for a cheap suit and a decent bottle of wine.  Sure, it seems like the end of your world (and isn’t that the only one that matters?) but it isn’t the end of the world.

You should be so lucky.

Sitting handcuffed in my living room while a news crew filmed me seemed like the end of the world.  In a way it was.  But that world was a drag.  It would take a while, with some thrilling twists and turns, before I landed on my feet again, but I did land.  Not too worse for wear either.  The end of that world turned out to be the best thing that could’ve happened.

My only hope is that the world follows the same template.  Sorry, but that’s all I got.  I’m hoping that trouble and woe brings people to their senses, and that we finally cry “Uncle,” and start changing.   Hell, it worked for me.   Maybe that’s just the bitter tonic we all have to swallow here.

The good thing is that as a person who believes that stuff like eternity and the infinite exist, I don’t stress too much about things “ending.”

The best part of anything always seems to live on, only to get even better.  Evolution seems to be the game plan.

Out-moded forms fall away.  Stale beliefs, old attitudes, warped ways of perceiving things, all die.  Either through the crucible of pain, or the sanctity of Grace.  Lots of times both.  But the journey continues.

It always does.

I’m glad I mailed those checks.

Nature’s Gnarly Gifts

Merry Christmas, Master.

Merry Christmas, Master.

I was coming down the steps one morning and almost stepped on it.  A dead bird one of the cats dragged in.  I nearly jumped out of my skin.  Did that little dance with the pumping knees and wavy fingers.  You know, The Creepy Crawl.

What’s the deal with these cats?  Their heaping the dead up as gifts?  I mean, it’s a nice gesture and all.  But I don’t  dig dealing with the bodies.  I looked down a little closer to it.  What the …?  It was on some sort of tray.  It was an ink stamp pad, turned upside down.

It was Bugsy’s work.  He had gone up to the den, brought down a ink stamp pad, turned it upside down, then place the dead bird on it.  He went to all that trouble to make a nice presentation.  Frankly, it creeped the fuck out of me.  It looked macabre.  Ghoulish.  Made me think about Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.  Probably not the reaction Bugsy was hoping for.  I felt bad.  Still, it was pretty weird.  Disturbing really.  What kind of kitty cat was I raising here?  Martha Stewart or Manson?

At least this victim was dead.  Half a lizard.  Headless mouse.  Doesn’t matter.  Dust pan, broom, Trader Joe’s paper bag.  Quick crime scene clean-up.  It’s when either him or Louie bring in something that’s still kicking that things start to jump around here.  You won’t see two more worthless people dealing with calamity than my girlfriend and I.  Lot’s of impotent hand-clapping and shouting, taking turns to jump up on the furniture.

Meanwhile, the cats are taking turns to slowly torture another creature to death.  What kind of family is this?  Daddy may be passive-aggressive, but in a very subtle way.  You can’t say I modeled this behavior.

Living here off this little artificial lake there’s been all kinds of opportunity to interact with wildlife.  Mice, ducks, lizards, turtles, possums, racoons and bats, all pay us a visit.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love animals, but there’s something about close proximity to the little critters that  makes me a little uncomfortable.  I’m from New York City.  We have squirrels, pigeons, and rats, and we’ve learned how to pretty much stay out of each others space.

That’s different than turning on the light and seeing a family of racoons in your kitchen making a midnight brunch.  One guy eating cereal out of the box, another one in front of an open refrigerator, peeling off slices of my jalapeno cheese.  Another using a can opener to get into my pork and beans.  All of them looking at me like “What the fuck do you want?”

“Uh excuse me!  I’m very sorry but the kitchen is closed for the evening.”

Nobody seems to care.  Maybe it didn’t register.  They’re looking at me, like I’m merely an irritant.  Almost like they know they could all take me.  Rip me to shreds with their Mutual Of Omaha claws and teeth.  They’re right.  There’s nothing I can do but back up the stairs and close the bedroom door.  They’ll leave when they get full or bored.  You have to just hope they don’t tear the place up too much before they go.  It’s like having a bunch of methed-up bikers crash your place.

My girlfriend called me one night.  This was before I lived with her.  Back when I lived a block away.  Anyway, she was all freaked out.  There was a bat flying around her house.  Makes sense, I thought.  Then I realized she expected me to do something about it.

“Oh.  Okay.”

I hung up, got in the car, and drove the seventeen seconds to her house.  I didn’t know what I was supposed to do to get rid of a flying bat.  But I’m already not digging the visuals.  Seems like it could be something I’m not going to enjoy.  Too bad.  You’re the man.  You have to deal with this.  That’s why God invented you.

I went in and quickly looked around.  I didn’t see any flying bat.  I also didn’t see Lori.  She had barricaded herself in the bathroom.

“I paused Grand Theft Auto 3 for this!” I announced. “Where is it?”

She slowly opened the door.  She peeped her face through the crack.

“It was flying around the kitchen– then it flew upstairs.”

Oh great.  Now it could be anywhere.  Lots of nooks and crannies up there.  She edged a little out of the bathroom and flapped her hand.

“It went up there!  Get rid of it! ”

“Alright alright! Let me come up with a game plan here. Relax!”

I stood at the bottom of the steps and looked up the stairwell.  There it was.  On the ceiling.  Pressed flat.  Looking like one of the gnarliest, ugliest creatures ever invented.  I can’t do justice to how ugly a bat looks in real life, especially when they do the all flat thing.  It’s breathtaking.

“I see him.”

“Where is he?”

“He’s on the ceiling.  All pressed flat.”

She groaned at the thought.

I squinted to see him a little better.  Oh Jesus.  That’s bad.  How can anything like that exist?  On TV they seem at least semi-cute, with their little piggy noses.  That shit doesn’t carry over in real life.  I watched it breathe.  Even that made me sick.

Then it dropped.

Like a Stuka to a Warsaw suburb, it dove straight for me.   It happened so fast.  I had no time.  No time to stop myself from throwing myself to the floor in abject cowardice.  No time to contain the most shrill, scared-little-bitch scream that ever came out of a heterosexual man.   It was coming at me.  And all I could do… was freak.

Now, I’ve talked to some people and they’ve said that the bat might not have been going after me.  Just that that’s how they fly.  All swoopy and shit.  I don’t think it matters at this point.  All I know is one second I was looking at some evil creature with veined wings, the next one, it’s a  foot from my face.  I’m not sure how many people would’ve stood their ground.  Maybe some bat whisperer.

So I manage to peel myself off the floor enough to look around.  I can’t see where he’s gone.  Neither can Lori, because she’s doubled-over laughing.  Ha-ha-ha.  Okay, that’s it.  Laugh it up.  Yes, I screamed like a girl.  Ha-ha-ha.  It’s over.  C’mon.  Not that funny.

Apparently it was.   She was helpless.   I could see her launch into a new fit every time she replayed it.   I really wanted it to fly into her face.  See how she likes it.  I crawled to the phone and called animal control.  They said somebody would be by in 45 minutes.  We camped out in the garage waiting for them.  Lori occasionally busting up out of nowhere.

The damage was done.  She had witnessed me at my most chicken-shit.  All the tough guy stories would always be tainted now–tainted by her memory of me screaming like a little girl while diving to the floor.  Awesome.

The animal control dude went around the house with his lasso-on-a-stick, poking at pillows, and behind curtains.  Nothing.  That’s great.  We look like a bunch of liars, and the thing might still be hiding somewhere, waiting to make a break when The Man leaves.  I swore that there really was a bat, and that he was about to rip my face off and fill the wound with plague.

“Thing came right at me.”

“They sometimes just fly like that.”

We didn’t see anymore of the bat that night.  But that wasn’t the last of them.  The Winter of Bat Terror was only beginning.  We think a family actually moved in.  It seemed like every other evening there would be another one flying around inside the house.  You’d be walking down the hall at night and FLAPAWHAPAFLAPAFLAPA!   They would just bust out of cover like spooked pheasant.  Out from behind the laundry hamper and into your hair.  Holy pant-crapping surprise, Batman!   And every time, the shrill, high-pitched scream would escape as I threw myself to the carpet.

And if Lori witnessed it.  The laughter.  The shame.

I had a girlfriend, Bubbles.  She had a pet bird, name Myra.  If she let it out the cage to fly around the room, it would take every ounce of my male courage to not just drop to the floor and curl up in a ball.  Birds flying around like that, scare me.  I don’t know why it is, but it is.  And that was a pretty little feathered song bird.  Not a furry, fanged, warm-blooded, rabies and plague-carrying sky gargoyle.  So whatever original phobia I had with flapping creatures, it now took off exponentially.

After a while, we did manage to get down a routine.  If one suddenly appeared in the room, swooping back and forth, we would hit the deck.  Lori would cover herself in a blanket on the couch–in a little cocoon of safety.  Meanwhile, I would have to crawl on my stomach to open all the doors and windows.  Eventually, sometimes after an eternity of ducking and dodging , they would fly out.  I’d close the doors and windows.  Check my underwear.

One night I opened the garage door from the kitchen.  FLAPAWHAPAFAPAFLAPA!  Right at my face.  Yeeeeeeeeeee!  I hit the floor.  But this one is not content to just strafe me.  He is on me.  Like stink on shit.  He’s flapping here.  He’s flapping there.  I’m crawling, laughing, crying, screaming and everywhere I turn to get away, it’s inches away from my face.  It’s really trying to make a statement.

Meanwhile, Lori is a mummy on the couch.  She’s all wrapped up and not moving.   I’m almost hysterical.  Part cracking up and part flipping out.  I can’t crawl very fast because I keep rolling up into a squealing pill bug.

–Is this how I would have been on Omaha Beach?  I don’t think it tests well.

I can’t make it to the sliding glass doors.  I’m pinned down by a dive bomber.  It’s taken me almost a minute to crawl twenty feet from the kitchen to the living room.  And this thing is still right there, flapping away, everywhere I turn.

I decide to crash the cocoon.

“Let me in!” I shout, sticking my head under the blanket Lori is hiding in.  She’s got it tucked in underneath her and is holding on to it tight.  I can only get my head under.  It looks like I’m trying to take an old time photo of a locomotive or something.

“Let me in!”

“Get out, get out! You’re going to let it in!” she screams, and then…pushes my face out.

Oh, I see.  So that’s how it’s going to be.  Every man for himself, eh?  I’ll remember that, Missy.  No room at the Inn.

I finally made it to the sliding doors, opened them, and belly crawled out to the patio.  The thing was still inside, now just diving and gliding around the living room while  Lori was trapped on the couch.  Too bad.  Hard to enjoy your television programs all wrapped up in a blanket while a bat flies around you.  Yeah.  I’m sure glad I’m out here in all this wide-openess and having this big area of non-bat flying around me.

I gloated too soon.  Although the sliding glass doors were wide open, there was still a sheer curtain blocking its escape.  I went to move the curtain and the thing flew right into my hand.  Smack!  We were separated only by the flimsiest gauze, so I got a good palm full of the beast.  Enough to discern it’s fuzziness and heft.  Did not enjoy that.  At all.

You would’ve thought I had stuck my hand into a jar of cadaver snot by the way I recoiled in disgust.  My reaction was so violent that I made myself laugh.  Like I was watching a prank, but at my own expense.

“Yeeeeeeeeeeeeech!  I fuckin’ touched it!” I yelled into the house, “It hit my hand through the thing!”

This elicited a piercing scream from the mummy, which made me scream.  It’s a wonder the neighbor’s didn’t call the cops.  It had to sound like an ax murder.

Then just like that, it flew out and was gone.  There was a moment of silence, then we started busting up.  We laughed hard and strong and long.  Whenever we’d recall another moment, a new spasm.  As it turned out, that bat, for all its terrorizing antics, had made our Friday night a memorable laff riot.  Thank you, flying rat.

Shortly after that we found a dead baby bat behind the TV.  We figured that mama bat was trying to protect it, and thus the aggressive nature of her pursuit of my crawling and crying ass.  You see, kids?  It’s all a part of the wonder of Nature.

One evening, I was sitting in the den upstairs slapping some serious genius on canvas.  Just getting my abstract expressionist on.   Lori’s gone for the night.  I’m in my underwear, there’s a World War 2 documentary on, and I am painting one masterpiece after another.  Fuck Warhol and Kostabi, I was a one-man factory.   I toss aside the finished works while announcing their prices.  $1,700  $850.  $600. each, but I’ll let the set go for a grand.  I’m getting very rich that night.  It was now only a matter of connecting with the right buyers.

Then I hear something behind me, scratching.   One of the cats?  I turn around and see a white possum clawing its way down one of Lori’s dresses hanging in the closet.  It’s long rat tail running down the sleeve of the gown.  “Oh shit!”  I blur out the room.  I am gone, Daddy.  I slam the door to the den and go downstairs to call Animal Control.  I am not going to deal with that thing.

I get a recording, basically saying that if this has to do with a lost dog or cat, runaway horse, dead seal, or having a possum in your house, call back during normal business hours.  Shit.  I’ll have to call them in the morning.

In the meantime, I’ll keep the fucker trapped in the den.  I hope he doesn’t shred up my reasonably-priced priceless art work.  The TV was still on, and I didn’t put the caps back on the paint tubes, either.  They’re going to dry up.  Once more, events have conspired to stunt my greatness.  “Well, you always said, ‘Life sucks.’  This is just another example.”

The cats are out so that’s good.  They’re probably with Lori and her girlfriends having margaritas and nachos.   I cracked the door opened and look around, but I couldn’t see it.  Must be playing…dead somewhere.  I closed the door.  I hope it likes the Military Channel, because that’s all it’s going to get to watch tonight.

I went downstairs and turned on the TV.  Marines were blasting out Japanese soldiers out of caves with explosives and flame throwers.  Should I get my .22 and storm the den?  Just take the beast out?  Who am I kidding?  I have no stomach for that.  Bad-ass gangster, can’t even cap a possum.

After a while, I went upstairs to bed.  I was lying there for about twenty minutes when I heard it clawing at the den door.  Scritch-scritch-scratch.  Scratch-scritch-scritch.  Hmm.  Scratch-scritch.  It will stop soon.  Scritch.   Even animals get bored.  Scratch.

See?

Scritch-scratch-scritch-scratch-scratch-scratch…scratch…scritchity scritchity scratch scratch scratch!

Motherfucker!  I can NOT sleep listening to this shit all night!  It sounded a prisoner trying to dig out.  A demon trying to burrow into my soul.  Not the sleepy-time send off I want to have before tripping the light subconscious.  My sleep tends to be fitful enough.  I don’t need the sounds of vermin clawing the walls as a soundtrack.

I have to deal with this.  I need to TCB the scritch-scratch situation.  It’s two in the morning, and I have to evict a colossal rodent squatter from my beatnik art den.  I decided to build a corrida, some rodeo walls to run El Rato Grande through–on his festival-celebrating run out the front door.  I don’t want to chase this thing out of the den, only to have it run into another part of the house and hide.  I don’t want to lose sight of him.  So using couch cushions, ironing boards, pillows, big screen TVs, and suitcases, I rebuilt Hadrian’s Wall.

When I finished with this grand building project,  I reviewed the fortifications like Rommel.  I saw a weakness in the line right away.  The ironing board.  The pointy end created a gap.  A small one, but one a determined sapper with initiative could exploit.  Unacceptable.  I punched a pillow into the hole.  Okay.

Now I needed to bust in and clear the room.  I decided to enter through the second set of doors from the bathroom.  He wouldn’t be expecting that.  Besides the element of surprise, I was armed with a mop and a wicker basket.  The basket to stand in so the fucker couldn’t claw it’s way up my boxers.  When I told this story to my friend, Dave, he laughed.  “Dude! ” he says, “You made a wicker basket Kendo suit. ”

Pretty funny, I have to give him that.  Anyway, fuck him.  I was glad to have the mobile defense.  I could hold on to the handles and hop around the room.  Get close and poke at the possum with the mop.  It will be easy.

Well, this gladiatorial contest was not determined quickly.  For a while, I couldn’t get it to run out the room.  It would just rear up and start hissing and clawing, it’s red rat eyes on fire with hatred, blind rage and fear.  I’ve seen those eyes before.  Usually when I look at the toaster.

The nasty little bastard was scared, and I really didn’t want to hurt him.  I couldn’t go in swinging.  I just wanted to poke him along, down the little maze I spent forty-five minutes building–my two-story Habitrail.  Not such luck.  He wanted to go toe-to-toe with me, trading jabs.  Poke poke.  Hiss hiss.  I’m standing my ground. but so is he.  It had become a battle of wills.  A stalemate.

I need to get more aggressive.  I need to show this marsupial what the most dangerous animal on the planet is all about.   Make him think I’m going to get all Beverly Hillbilly on his ass.  Get some vittles on the pot.  Pick my teeth with his pointy tail.  I had to become the hunter.

I had to leave the basket.

Okay, that’s it.  I really have to sell this.  Here we go.  I hopped out of the hamper with a rebel yell.  “For General Lee, and Granny’s Possum pie.!”  I Picket’s charged him with my mop.  It worked.  His nerve broke and he ran.

I flushed him out of the den, and where did he bolt to first?  That first turn, made with the ironing board.  Right at the gap.  He hit it like a furry football thrown hard into the corner.  The pillow held and he turned.  Still pissed and hissing he took off down the stairs.  The corrida worked.  The possum  zig-zagged through it and ran out the front door.  Just as my master planning planned all along.

Victory!

It was almost three AM, and I was too tired to take down the wall.  I’d deal with it in the morning.  What craziness.

Well, I did it, I thought,  I took care of business and nobody got hurt.  A small success, shot-through with comic misadventure.  Just the type I seem to specialize in.

Lori came home early the next morning, before I took down the improvised bull run.

“What’s all this stuff?”

“You’re not going to believe it,” I told her, “Sit down.”

She laughed and laughed and laughed.  Somehow that made it all worth it.

Anyway, I’m grateful to all the little creatures that have brought so much adventure and merriment into my otherwise routine life.  Animals are awesome.  Even when they scare the fuck out you.

I’m beginning to believe the same thing about life in general.  It’s all how you choose to look at things.  So now I try to thank my cats for all the dead things they bring in to us.  I may not enjoy them, but at least I know their intention was good.  And it really is the thought that counts.  No matter how gnarly those gifts might sometimes be.

Mardi Gras Death Trip ’89 Part 2

There was a small room attached to the back of the Greyhound, where a beautiful Asian woman wearing red silk pajamas had set up a massage table.  The room was dimly lit by candles, sandalwood incense burned, bamboo flute music was piped in from speakers shaped like laughing Buddhas.  “Well this is cool,” I thought, “I dig the black lacquered furniture.  Nice touch.”  I crawled up on the table.

“Happy ending?” she asked.

“Make it the happiest,” I told her.

I took a long thin pipe from her.  A bubbling piece of amber resin smoldered in the tiny bowl.  Opium.  Just the thing for a long bus ride.  The people at Greyhound think of everything.  I thought they banned smoking on buses.  Glad that didn’t apply to hop.

I puffed lazily on the pipe while the girl started to knead the sides of my aching lower back.  The blue smoke rose in expanding spirals.   One of the Buddha speakers smiled at me.  I smiled back.  She found the knot and pressed a bony knuckle into it…hard.  What the fuck?!

I woke up from the pain in my back.  I had returned to reality.  Some happy ending.  I was back on a Greyhound bus, the kind without the opium den massage parlor attached to the back.  I sat hunched forward in my seat, curled like a cooked shrimp, drooling on my lap.  I had been sitting for days, drifting in and out of pot brownie psychosis, and still had hours to go before New Orleans.

Next to me was some Ed Gein-type eating a tomato with salt.  I didn’t know when he showed up.  There was a bible-reading black lady there the last time I checked.  I sort of remember trying to tell her that demons were after me.  She said she would pray for me.  I think I asked her to hurry, before nodding off.

Oh man…okay, whatever.  She’s gone now.  She’s been replaced by the tomato-eating cannibal.  I had been given one strange road dog after another during this whole trip.  People that made me feel like I was the normal one.  I had it with odd-ball characters.  Thank God I was on my way to the Crescent City during Mardi Gras, where everyone is normal.

Those two days trapped on the bus had been a grueling endurance test.  The brownies I had been eating had cleaved a gaping gash in my psyche.  Universal weirdness poured in.  The influx of mind-bending strangeness to process was flooding my psychic septic system.  I simply had too many bizarre impressions inside my head, and no way to walk them off.  That usually spells trouble for me and those around me.

That shit has to come out somewhere.  Why not in my behavior?  What better way to chronicle my dysfunction than with symbolic action?  A chaotic form of Kabuki theater, manifesting the madness within.  It’s what I was born to do.  I just needed some leg room to do it.

When we finally pulled into the station that evening, there were five half-drunk co-eds from the University of Michigan waiting for me.  They cheered when I got off the bus, shrieking like teeny boppers.  Lu put them up to it.  It was meant to embarrass me.  Sorry.  It would take more than that.  I felt strangely at ease among wild adulation.  After one-arm hugging all the girls, I put down my suitcase and planted one on Lu’s pie hole.

“Now we can really get this motherfucker rolling,” she said, scraping, something from the corner of my mouth.

“Indeed,” I said, ” I think we need to launch this juggernaut with a little velocity.  We can start pacing ourselves in the morning.”

I took out the empty pint bottle in my pocket and tipped it to reveal a tiny corner of whiskey.

“Do you think this will be enough?”

“I told you, this excursion includes all-you-can drink.  Don’t worry, as your cruise director, I will take care of your every need.”

With that, she pulled me by the hand, and we were off to the hotel, followed by a posse of giggling girls.

I have had worse moments in my life.

Wading through the streets that night, I could see the party was in full swing.  People were already howling-at-the-moon crazy.  The air was thick and humid, which happens to be my favorite.  I am one of the few people I know that loves humidity.  The more the better.  I want to feel like I’m swimming around in a fish bowl.  Splash my face with it like a pig.

It’s a sexy atmospheric, and good for the pores.  Purge what ails you at the sultry sweat lodge of love.  Lickity leg stickity ickity humidity.  Spackle those cracks and crannies with smeared molten mojo goo.  Gooey times are gooooood.

The girls had gotten a room at a Holiday Inn.  Decent enough, especially when you’re on the bum.  After thirty-eight hours on a Greyhound, a Salvation Army cot starts to look luxurious.  Ooh, horizontal.  So I was psyched for the plush home base of operations, and at no additional financial strain.

Kind of cramped quarters with five girls though.  How are we going to sleep everyone in here, ladies?  Tell you what, I will volunteer myself as planning commissioner.  I’ll help sort this out.  The who sleeps where part.  And stuff.

While I was trying to come up with some sort of rating system to determine the proximity of their sleeping accommodations to mine, logging some initial observations, and then calculating those factors to come up with a workable probability model, Lu came into the room.  She had a gift for me.

Oh yeah.  Don’t forget the primary.  What’s this?

It was a case of beer, but made up of four different six packs.

“Hey look at that!  All of my favorites.  The Guinness, The Heineken,  The Becks, and even The Moosehead!”

“For mornings,” she nodded, “I remembered.”

She had given me a beautiful beer bouquet.  Wow.  I felt my heart explode a little.  She might be the one.  Serious, dude.  This one is a keeper.  Watch yourself around these other women.  Maybe try to behave a little.  Don’t go total Id.

Yeah, I know.  But at the time, I thought I’d try.  I’m not rotten to the core.  Just from that part outwards.

Her friend Maria was an especially spirited little drill-teamer.  Always go for drill team.  Over cheerleaders, for sure.  They try harder.  This one was certainly friendly.  Lots of smiley-look arm-rubby encouragement from her.  Seemed like a team player.  Whip out the slide-rule and plot that vector.

We hung out in the room for a while, doing some warm-up drinking.  We had been joking around when one of the girls laughed so hard she audibly farted.  It sounded like a door slowly creaking open.  A real burner.  You could hear the heat.  Oh man, we were on the floor.  Unfortunately, that’s where the dense gas settled.  That made us laugh even harder, the kind that gives you a side-ache, some of us gagging up bile.

Yeah, this was going to be fun.  Good ice-breaker.  A bottle of vodka made the rounds.  I hit it while I sampled the assorted flavors of beer.

“I think I need to cause some damage,” I announced, dropping the empty bottle of Becks close to the trash can.

“You can start with me,” Lu piped up.

My eyebrow arched.

We hit the street at midnight.  I held Lu’s hand.  Maria locked her arm around mine.  Lu didn’t seem to mind.  I’m telling you, this one is special.   I leaned over and kissed her.  It was Saturday night, and Fat Tuesday was still three nights away.  There was going to be plenty of time to create some magical lack-of memories.

And what memorable black-outs they turned out to be.  I wish I had a grandson.  Someone to bedtime stories about how Grandpop used to bop.  “I could really shwang dat thang, sonny boy.  Before this walker, feeding tubes, and fluid drainage holes blew my game.”

To be honest, Grandpop’s memories are already vague.  Trying to remember that trip has been like grasping at ghosts.  I remember a few specific moments.  Some of them, gentlemanly discretion prevents me from sharing here.  Others are not that entertaining to relate.  Can you see my quandary, dear reader.  There are things I just can’t spill here in print.  Not while any of the survivors are still alive and could happen upon it.  They might feel like I violated a sacred trust.

I know, total cop-out, but I’m still trying to grope my way along the edge between entertaining and downright dirty.  It’s tricky.  Perhaps a modicum of modesty and good taste is what’s called for here.  Let’s just say, it was a complete debauch, and that’s by the standards I was living then.  That should tell you something.  Full on, balls to the wall, sybriatic abandon.  Marius, the modern Roman.  Every bestial appetite gorged, feathered, vomited, and renewed.

I can tell you about how I got chased by a police horse though.  I was with Lu, standing on the edge of a crowd on Bourbon Street, watching a fight between two guys.  I was shouting encouragement to the smaller of the two.  He kept uppercutting and missing.  He needed to take a step in.  He’d connect for a spinning star jackpot.

“Step up little dude!” I kept shouting.

Then the cops showed up.  The ones with horses attached.  I guess this fight’s over.  Okay, whatever, right?

Some cops on foot rush in and grab the two guys that were fighting, while the rest sort of circle the wagons on their horses and face-off against the crowd.  They looked nervous, like being surrounded by a packed crowd was making them bug a little.  The horses and the cops.  They start shouting orders for us to back up, but we had nowhere to back up to.  We had our backs against more crowd.  Nobody was throwing shit or getting involved, we just couldn’t move back.

I don’t know if he was trying to move the crowd, but a cop started charging his horse at us.  Us the crowd, but me directly.  I clearly remember that big horse head coming at me.  Don’t get me wrong. I think horses are cool, beautiful animals, but having one charge right at me… freaked my shit out.  He was a foot away when I dodged left. The horse followed me.  I found myself inside the open circle.  He had chased me from the safety of an anonymous crowd, out into a gladiator ring.  I was now The Guy Running Away From a Cop, and thus a singular arrestable unit.

The other cops started after me.  I’m bobbing, ducking and dodging police horses, with people around me cheering like it’s some convict rodeo shit.  Everywhere I turned to escape a big horse head, another one was coming.  There was at least four cops on horses chasing me in a space not big enough to hold a bake sale.  Very Max Sennett.  I thought I was done for.

Fortunately, my years of practicing not getting grabbed, paid off.  I spun out of a Full Veronica pass and pivoted, and like Manolete, let a beast graze past me. Ole’!  I jumped back to avoid another.  I rolled my ankles and threw my hips.  Ran sideways in a circle.  Did the Limbo, The Swim, The Hurry, The Ice Machine.  I faked and feinted, and basically juked those horses flat-hoofed.  I really don’t know how I did it, but I was pretty fucking amazing.  It has to rank as one of my all-time craziest things to have experienced.

I spotted Lu in the crowd.  She was waving.  “Get the fuck out of there!”

I dove into the crowd and burn-wormed my way deep into the safety of its bowels.  She grabbed a hold of me, and pulled me away.  We zig-zagged through the Mardi Gras mob and kept going until we wound up sitting in Popeye’s Chicken, laughing too hard to eat.

“I thought for sure they had you.  Very impressive little dance performance you gave there, mister.”

“Well, I’m glad my Julliard training paid off.  You know, all of life is a dance.  It pays to keep a little twinkle in your toes.”  I picked up two drum sticks and made them give a little Rockette kick.  “I am so not arrested right now.”

“I’m so glad.”

Good times.  Unfortunately, the next morning I had to board The Dirty Dog for the long ride home.  It was Fat Tuesday, and there was still one last night of partying left, but not for me.  I had to get home to my menial jobs and routine.  Lu and the girls saw me off, and as the bus drove away, I actually wept a little.  Honest to God.  I didn’t want to leave.   I remember thinking, “That was how all of life should be.”  The drinking, fucking, and madness, all blendered up into a smooth and delicious concoction.

There was also something about having to leave before the party was officially over that this alcoholic found particularly distasteful.  All those people having fun without me.  How could they?  I mean, how can they actually have fun without me around to help propel it?  Unless they’re into some lame version of fun.

I reached into the gift bag Lu had given me.  There was a pint of hootch with a twenty-dollar bill rubber-banded around it, a pack of Camels, a Tall Boy of Bud, a can of bean dip with some beef jerky to scoop with, two Valium wrapped in foil, and an interesting Polaroid.  This girl and her gifts.  She could really read your heart.

I didn’t know it then, but that would be the last time I would see Lu.  I’m glad I didn’t know.  I was bummed enough.  My gut told me I’d probably never see her again.  I had that heavy feeling.   I would also miss the girls.  Over the course of those days and nights of unbridled hedonistic pursuit, I had bonded with them.  They were cool chicks.  Not lame fun, at all.  If any of you ever read this, thank you.

I looked around and snapped the cap.  I took a hit and put it away.  This was now just maintenance drinking.  Just trying to ease the crash, which was speeding towards me like a nostril-flared horse head.  I took off the plastic bead necklaces and put them in the gift bag.  It’s official.  The party is over.

A woman packed into a polyester pantsuit that was straining at the seams like sausage casing, sat next to me.  She smelled…how can I put this delicately?  With a very personal odor.  Not so fresh.  Dig?  I turned away towards the window and started to breathe through my mouth.  I could feel a wave of dread wash over me and foam out into swirling depression.

All those towns and cities, all the fellow passengers, ones that I didn’t care much for on the way down, even when I was in a decent mood, were now returning for a repeat performance.  Just so I could perceive them through the lens of alcoholic melancholy.  So I could scrape some soul off on their jagged edges as I crawled back by.  Poisoned.  Sweating.  Nervous.  Soul-sick and sad.  I had little mental defense.

A fat man with terminal diarrhea.  Some ex-cons trying to extort beers from me.  Some gloryholer putting his hand on my leg.  A paranoid conspiracy nut jawing my ear off.  A chick with mossy teeth and butthole breath, telling me all about her adventures in 4-H.

It was brutal.  Every fucking mile of it.

Detoxing on a Greyhound would soon join my all-time shittiest things to have experienced.

Ah, but I was younger and tougher then.  I made it through.  Amazing really.  Making it through all of it.  Nearly three decades of lunacy, and somehow landing softly on a feathered pillow, typing this.  So not drunk.  So not in prison.  So not dead.  Miracle?  Maybe.  I’m one lucky son of a bitch, alright.  A deranged, danger-dodger with a frantic guardian angel.

It sure didn’t hurt to keep a little twinkle in my toes.  Ole’!

How did I get such sexy legs? I should tryout for drill team.

 

I Sold Out To The Mann.

I slammed the door in front of him causing him to run into it with his chocolate shake.  He smashed the cup right into his jacket, and now the ice cream was running down into his pants.  At first, when he looked down, he was sad.  All that delicious treat… ruined, and now soaking into his clothes.

However, by the time he looked up at me, he had already turned his sad into mad.  After all, he was on his way to sneaking into a free movie with his delicious chocolate beverage, when some person stepped in and fuckered it all up.

I was that person.  I was Marius Gustaitis, hired representative of Black Knight Security, sub-contracted to Mann Theaters for twenty dollars an hour (ten of which I would keep before taxes) and your worst nightmare, Mr. Sneak-in-while-other patrons-exit-the-back.

I bet you never figured on running into a petty and pissed-off dry drunk in need of either a program of recovery or a case and a half of ice cold sweating bottles of Heineken.  I bet you never thought when you saw that open door, that a man, strung tighter than a meth addict’s banjo, was watching it intensely, like an animal snare, just waiting for someone to trip it.

Well, you tripped it alright, and now you’re dangling upside down from a tree limb like a Piñata representing everything wrong with his picture.  Is it time to rip your head off and bludgeon your sagging torso with it?  Gosh, I hope so.  That would be swell.  What time is it?

“What the fuck, dude?!” he said, backing off and squaring his shoulders, then flipping his hands out in the universal sign for querying, ” Do you want some of this?”  Ah, the old Come-and-Get-It stance, except his had a coating of cool chocolatey creaminess that took down the threat-level a peg or two.  If he was going to come after me, he would’ve done it a long time ago.  Myself, I wouldn’t be asking a bunch of questions.  You food me, and I go into a red-out.  Just another thing I have.

“No happy show for you.  Only bad times,” I said, the adrenaline taking a toll on my eloquence.  I sound like an angry, Chinatown merchant, I thought.  Buck fever.  You see them in the cross-hairs and the scope starts to shake.  So close.  Don’t scare him off.  Don’t let him see The Crazy.  Calm down.  Goad him back in.

“You should be a good citizen ship,” I told him, “And sail straight, observing all bylaws.”

There I was, a middle-aged man in a suit and tie, with a thimbleful of authority, spouting off some some square do-gooder pablum.  That would have me swinging.  Do it.  Please take a swing.

They never do.  Not when you really want them to.  It never happens.  Never.  He smelled it.  His animal instincts were dialed in.  No, this suit is stuffed with explosives.

“Chocolate shakes are bad for you,” I scolded,” You need sunshine and exercise.”   I even managed my Happy Face with Bright Eyes, but to no avail.  He turned and beat it down the alley.

Alright, that was still semi-okay.  At least I ruined his night.  That’s something.  Nobody was going to have a good time on my watch.

Not if I’m not.

I walked back around to the front of the theater.  Out on the promenade, some long-legged sex bomb clacked by in ice pick heels, swinging a vintage Whiting and Davis purse.  I smiled.  She smiled back.  Dude, she totally wants you.  Or, she will once she finds out you’re a 40 year-old, non-drinking alcoholic, working as a rent-a-cop for a movie theater.

You’ll get some leg tonight, for sure.  That was a woman, right?  I didn’t see any Laryngeal prominence, but her mitts looked a little ping-pong paddley.

I went back inside the theater and took my post towards the back, where I could keep an eye on the patrons coming in and any renegades trying to cross-pollinate theaters.  Not that I cared about Mann Theaters losing out on money, or any kids seeing a movie with a higher rating.  I just didn’t like the idea of anyone thinking they got over on me.  Mine was an ego-based sense of justice.  I was beginning to understand the mind-set of cops and prison guards.

How bleak.  How utterly demoralizing.  This was my reward for giving up beer.  I don’t know if any reward would’ve seemed big enough at that point, ungrateful wretch that I was, but this job sure wasn’t it.

Let me back up.  After rehab, my buddy, Spike, invited me to stay with him in Redondo Beach.  What the hell.  It was hard knocking around Santa Fe sober.  I felt like some alien had invaded my body and was now making me live someone else’s life, somebody who doesn’t stop in at The Cowgirl Hall of Fame for a few pints of Guinness and a frozen Margarita kicker before hitting the liquor store on his way home from work.  It was just too disconcerting.

I took Spike up on his offer and loaded up my internally bleeding Ford Bronco II, and pointed it’s overheating radiator West.  I stretched a cumulus cloud of white smoke across two state lines and stopped when I hit ocean.

Spike was a good bro.  He let me sleep on his couch rent-free until I could afford to pay towards a larger apartment.  He really wanted to see me make it.  Looking back, probably more than I did.

My first job was working for a florist named Gary.  I saw the help wanted sign and walked in.  I told him the whole truth: almost 30 years of drinking, destroying my life, crashing and burning, rehab, now trying to live sober, and looking for a job while surfing a buddy’s couch down the street.  A Fortune 500 resume if he ever heard one.  It turned out that this charming little bald, gay man, was 20 years sober, and I had just aced my interview.

I got along with Gary and the ladies that worked for him.  Because my mom had always been into floral arrangement, I pretty much grew up around it.  I knew how to put together a Japanese Ikibana arrangement by the time I was eleven.  I know.  Pretty gay.  Not that there’s anything wrong with gay.  I just wasn’t, and would’ve rather learned to shoot skeet or drive a tractor by eleven instead.

Now however, being able to spike some pussy willows into a shallow vase, taking care to divide the branches to represent Heaven, Earth, and Man according to Japanese tradition, was winning me big points with my new boss, and his harem of female workers.  Big thanks, Mom.  The ladies and Gary liked my stories and would laugh as I recounted my drunken misadventures while we sat around assembling wedding centerpieces.  They didn’t seem to think less of me because of my past.  At least they didn’t show it, and I really appreciated that.

I wound up picking up another job as well.  I got a job as a bouncer at a strip club in Gardena.  So, during the day I played with flowers with a bunch of giggling gals, and at night, I tussled with drunk and drug-crazed degenerates, and hung out with strippers, at a ghetto flesh joint.  It was a full life to be sure.  I was enjoying the novelty of sobriety.  Stuff like having my boss walk up to me and not having to bend at a 45 degree angle at the ankles to avoid him smelling my breath.  I thought that all my problems were over now that alcohol was out of the picture.

The problem was that the alcoholic was still in the picture, and this one not doing anything to fix what was troubling him so much in the first place.  The novelty of not being drunk eventually wore off, and things began to bug me like before.  But now, I had no release.  So I just gutted it all up and tried to hold my mud as best I could.  If you pressed your ear to the lapel of my suit, you would hear the ticking of the time bomb.

I became a raging square.  I morphed into some kind of uptight Jack Webb, an angry middle-aged white man, resentful of anyone I suspected might be happier or having more fun than me, which when you’re that miserable, is everyone.

I remember when C.C., one of the dancers from the club, took me to Venice Beach one afternoon for lunch.  Instead of enjoying  the company of a pretty stripper on a beach full of freaks, I spent the date sneering at the colorful populace and mumbling epitaphs under my breath.  All the free-wheeling wierditry irritated me.  We’d pass by some rollerskating cosmic troubadour trying to hustle his next forty ounce, and I’d just hate on him.

“Good for you, Ding-Dong Daddy.  Wave your freeloading freak flag high, you bongo-beating, rainbow dong thong-wearing parasite.  Go ahead, use up all the freedom and fun under the warm California sun.  Some of us have to work for a living.”  Yeah, basically jealous. and when you’re  jealous of a lunatic panhandler, your way of life isn’t working for you.  More coffee.  More cigarettes.  More anger.

One of the other bouncers at the club, an ex- Marine named Joe Washington, had gotten a side job with a security company.  He told me this company provided executive security, something I was not entirely unqualified for, since my work credits in Central America would transfer.  Far out.  A jaw-clenching reactionary providing a little muscle to escort self-important paranoidals seemed like a perfect fit.  A God shot.  But there was a catch.

Joe explained, that the only openings the owner had were for providing suit-and-tie security for a few Mann movie theaters in L.A., including the one in Westwood where they held all the big openings.  But, as real body-guarding positions opened up, we’d be first pick.

I met with the owner and told him a little about my qualifying work experience, leaving out the couch-surfing-alcoholic-trying-to-stay-sober stuff.  He hired me and gave me a black t-shirt with a logo of a stylized knight chess piece.  “Dark Knight Security,” it said, “Knows Your Next Move.”  I remember he gave it to me almost ceremonially, like he was handing me an ancestral samurai sword.  I mean it was a quality t-shirt, you know, one of those Beefy Tees, but it was still just a t-shirt.  And a presumptuous one at that .

Regardless, I got a third job in as many months, was building up some savings, and soon enough, would be body-guarding the rich and famous.  That wouldn’t have happened if I was drinking.  I decided to drop the florist gig, so that I could dedicate more time to becoming the baddest sober bad-ass I could.

I ran the beach, biked to Marina Del Rey and back, worked out on my bag, and lifted weights like a convict.  The exercise did me good.  I shed the last of my beer muscles and leaned out.  I got back to my fighting weight.  I looked good in my suit again.  It would only be a matter of time before I was shepherding some rich sheep safely through this wilderness of pain known as Los Angeles, California, a pair of .40 caliber pistols strapped across my bullet proof.  I just had to wait it out at these stupid movie theater posts in the meantime.

What I didn’t know then, was that the meantime, would be the only time.  There were no body-guarding positions with this company.  It was all bullshit.  The owner was an ex-L.A.P.D. cop that had to suddenly resign from the force.  We could never piece together his story why, but Joe and I had our suspicions.  After a while though we did piece together that he was just stringing us along.  The only jobs he had for us were as rent-a-porkers, but in suits and ties instead of the standard Boy Scout/Crossing Guard uniform.

My first night was at the theater over on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica.  I stood in the lobby, trying to front all Secret Service sinister while watching families and couples spill popcorn across the carpet, when it hit me like a bolt.  Oh fuck.  I’ve done this before.  When I was eighteen I got a job working as an usher at a Mann Theater.  It was now over twenty years later, and here I am again back at Mann Theaters, basically doing the same thing, and adjusting for inflation, getting paid the same.

Sure, my suit was better than the polyester, Mid-Western realtor’s jacket and tie they made me wear back then.  But, if that’s all you have to show for twenty years of evolution, a better monkey suit, you’re not setting the world on fire with your ascent up the social ladder, Rocket Boy.  I was right back where I was before my drinking took off.  Back at square Go.  The irony of it all stained my lips and teeth black with it’s bitter berry juice.

I was usually shuffled between two theaters, the one at Third Street Promenade playground of the well-to-do in Santa Monica, and a more run-down one in Culver City, with a lower-income, higher-gang member demographic.  At which one do you suppose I had all the problems?  Think about it.  You got it.

I never had any problems at the Culver City one.  I’m not kidding.  There they would be, Bloods and Crips, watching the same movie together, behaving like good little boys and girls.  I suspect there was a general truce regarding theaters, neither side wanting to fuck up being able to go to the movies in peace.  Sure, there were the usual sneak-in attempts and theater jumpings, but they never gave me a hard time when I caught them.  It was understood we were playing a cat and mouse game and there were no hard feelings.

I even had to empty the whole place one night, in the middle of everyone’s movies, because of a fire alarm.  There was some grouching and irritated questions, but nobody went ballistic.

Meanwhile, back in Santa Monica, I’m squared off and ready to start trading hooks with some dad, wearing a sweater tied around his shoulders and soft leather driving loafers.  He insists on bringing in his leftover spaghetti dinner against the no outside food policy.  He didn’t want to go put it away in his car because…he didn’t want to miss the previews to this Disney movie he was taking his family to.  I swear to you.  I’m not making this up just to create great literature.

I’m thinking, “It’s spaghetti with meat sauce, dude.”  This guy looks like he owns an Audi dealership, and he’s blowing a shit fit over 77 cents worth of food.   If those previews are so precious, I would take the foil tray outside and drop kick it over the sunglasses kiosk across the way.  This guy was willing to risk getting his ass kicked in front of his family over it.

He’s up in my face, seething with rage, white hot spittle foaming in the corners of his mouth.

“It’s the principal!  The principal!” he keeps sputtering.

Everybody in the lobby has stopped to look.  The manager, Mike, is hanging back watching.  I didn’t blame him for not wanting to get involved at this point.  A guy like this one is usually well-lawyered.  They don’t get this bold without knowing they can hang you with a juicy law suit.  Is this his game?  Is he trying to bait me into taking  the first shot?  Interesting role-reversal.  Maybe he thinks a shot is the chops is worth a three week vacation in Vanuatu, including the  jet-ski rental, on-call masseur and helicopter tours.

All this going through my head as he’s screaming at me.  His wife has got the kids, but she’s not trying to pull him back or calm him down.  She must be in on it.  The kids don’t seem to be too freaked out either.  Have you seen Daddy do this before?

“I am going to bring this dinner in with me,” he announces, “I am walking in, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

That’s where he was wrong, of course.  I’m mentally spinning a Lazy Susan of choices.  I recognized that his assholeness should have consequences, but how painful those should be was now being mitigated by the presence of his family, and the possibility of legal repercussions.  This was not stuff I worried about when I was drinking.  But what would be an appropriate response to punish this impudent and petulant little turd?  Just the right amount of pain sprinkled over a generous portion of shame.

That’s when I realized my old behavior wouldn’t serve me.  Sure I could kick out his knees and rub his snout into the rug like a bad doggy, forever scarring his kid’s image of him as Daddy Hero.  And while that would be deeply satisfying and personally gratifying, I might eventually regret it.  Why not play his game instead?

I decided that if he so much as brushed against me on his way to the Disney previews, I would go down like an NFL punter.  Totally take a dive, making sure to hit my head hard on the floor, so hard that I might night be able to recognize relatives or pronounce words with more than once consonant.  “I can’t feel my penis. What’s wrong with me, Doctor?”

We’ll see who winds up jet-skiing in Vanuatu, bitch balls.

“Please don’t make impotent threats. I command you to halt,” I said, holding my hand up, but splaying the fingers slightly to suggest a weak defensive gesture, my wrist bent almost effeminately.  I also used “impotent” on a hunch.  Hot button?  Hoped so.

Unfortunately, I have a bad poker face.  People can read the thoughts going through my head with the ease of a teleprompter.  As soon as I decided I would hit him where it hurt most, namely his Audi dealership, dry-cleaning franchise, or whatever enterprise had shod his hoofs with such elegant supple leather slippers, he started to balk.  His animal instincts were dialed in.

Instead, he looked up.  His rage was gone.  He was now weighing things in his head.  Meanwhile, I’m trying to telepathically implant crazy violent ideas, trying to stave off the sanity I saw leaking in.  C’mon, bust a move motherfucker!  Just shove the flunky theater security lug out of the way on your march towards victory.  Run for the roses.  Trample those that deny you your spaghetti leftovers underfoot, in the fierce day of your pride.

He turned to his wife.

“I’m going to take this out to the car.”

I watched him walk out of the theater, and with him, my hopes for getting out of this stupid job.  They never go for it when you really want them to. They never do.  Never.

There would be no quick fix to my situation.  Alcoholics prefer their fixes quick.  Deus ex Machina, descend upon our wretchedness!   No, I was going to have to learn how to wait.  Maybe things were unfolding at just the right pace.  How could you ever really know?  Except maybe in retrospect.  I resigned myself to think so, if only to delude myself into not being so uptight.  What the hell, right?  You can believe whatever you want.  You might as well believe something that helps you make it through another day with out taking  a drink.  Unless, you don’t want to make it through another day without taking a drink.

In that case, carry on.  You know what you have to do.

I went back to my post and checked my watch.  Two and a half more hours to go.  I looked up and saw two teenagers jump the ropes and run for theater 4.  They looked back at me.  I waved.  Fuck it.  Enjoy yourself, kids.  I’ll do my best, too.

Wishing you a happy show.

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?