Blogula Turns Two.

Birthdays blow.

Birthdays blow.

The blogodometer finally kicked over 25,000.  A minor triumph.  Time to put a shot-gun blast through the screen door.  Microwave a can of beans until it explodes.  Throw a bottle of high proof alcohol at the wood burning stove.  Bust up some wooden chairs to feed the bonfire.  Drop in the Mentors tape, and swan dive naked into an empty pool.

And get this party started.

As C.E.O. and acting Operations Manager of T.T.T.F., it warms my cockleshells to have this opportunity to self-congratulate myself.  Since nothing pleases me more than pleasing myself.  Except of course, pleasing others.  Which I would do more of, if it wasn’t so hard.  And I could remember to.

This month at T.T.T.F., we are not only celebrating another arbitrary milestone in spam-driven statistics, but a two-year anniversary, as well. -Pause to let polite applause die down- That’s right, Trudge turned two this September.  And I am proud to announce that the future of Trudging Through The Fire is going to continue hinging on the fickle decision-making process of an alcoholic in recovery.  Which means it’s future is not only uncertain, but as C.E.O. I can assure any stockholders that all their fears are warranted.

I have to go to the board meetings.  So I know.  The people at the top are fucking clueless.  Oracle reading ape-shit thrown against a wall would yield richer intellectual heft than some ideas being tossed around.  The best one being to kill the whole thing.  Just take Ol’ Yeller out to the barn and tap one into the T-Zone.

My God, look at the format.  It hasn’t changed or had an upgrade the whole time.  Why?  Because the people in our Creative Marketing department are playing Grand Theft Auto 5.  Instead of coming up with exciting new ideas, they’re running over hookers in an attempt to flee the police.

It’s criminal what goes on behind the scenes here.  You’ll find more work ethic in an opium den.  And corporate couldn’t care less.  Why should they?  They’ve got their parachutes and are ready to bail at the slightest turbulence.  I’ve never seen such craven, self-seeking leadership.  These dogs are swimming the Volga and Kiev hasn’t even fallen.  And that kind of cut-and-run cowardice runs from the top hat to the toes of this organization.

Only the fact that it is not a success-driven enterprise keeps it afloat.  The whole thing  survives…because it doesn’t need to.

How creepy is that?  It’s Un-American.  Pathogenic.

But you didn’t hear any of this from me.  As C.E.O. I’m supposed to wave the flag and rally the troops.  But then again, I’m supposed to do a lot of things.  Besides elbowing old ladies on my way to the life boat.

Anyway, let us not forget why we’re all gathered here– to celebrate something by now I am so totally over– our Turquoise Silver Jubilee. Twenty-five thousand hits in two years!

Clap…………………………….clap.

And yes, that’s less than the video of the girl having an attack of diarrhea at the hot tub party got in it’s first hour on Youtube.  But we’re not trying to compete with that.  Nothing could.  The fact remains, we now have over a quarter of a hundred thousand hits!

Clap.

Clap.

I’m sorry, but I can’t get excited either.  It all leaves me pretty empty.  And feeling like this project was a complete waste.  A waste of time.  And a bitter disappointment.  Let’s face it, this blog is not going anywhere.  And sometimes I hate doing it.  So to continue would be insane.

Good thing all that doesn’t phase me anymore.  I can eat that bullshit like bucket chicken.  So I’m good.  Good and ready to lead us on to our third year together.  If you will only continue to trust me, I promise to lead us to places more fantastic than any Byronic nightmare.  We will scale heights that leave Olympic gods dizzy, short of breath, and wondering which arm going numb is bad.  We will plumb depths darker than any ex-child actor, and then emerge, not only unrepentant, but cocky and streetwise.

Stories of our journey will be used to frighten children into obedience.

I can think of no greater honor.

And we’ve made some good friends along the way, haven’t we?  Met me some crazy mofos through this blog, friendships I will treasure to my dying days.  And that wasn’t in our Mission Statement.  If there had been one.  No, sometimes you just have to do things, like write a blog, or paint, or practice lap dancing on the couch in the garage, for no good reason at all.  Other than it’s something to do.  And as long as you chasten yourself against the lust of result, the disappointments will be few.  The happy surprises many.

I’m just glad to be writing again, for whatever lack of a reason.  Don’t think I would have had the chance if I kept going like I was.  So that’s reason enough to mark the milestone.  If you’re still hung up on reasons.

So now, I would like to raise a glass and make a toast.  To Reason.  May it be damned for a dog.  Okay, now those of you who can do so with apparent impunity, please drink yourselves into a joyous stupor, and do something insane.

Those of us who can’t drink anymore will be watching.  Maybe getting a little crazy on ourselves over by the coffee.

Just to show you we still got it.

Thanks for reading.  Trudge on.

Marius

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Radio Hindenburg

Beloved Morning Show personalities.

Beloved radio personalities relaxing and eating bread.

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

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

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

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

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

On the radio.

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

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

And not say “fuck” a lot.

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

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

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

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

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

But it only takes one.

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

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

Like the rest of America.

It was humbling.

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

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

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

I joined him in the chorus.

“VIVA LAS VEGAS!”

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

“VIVA LAS VEGAS!”

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

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

Teep!

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

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

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

“…all that time before!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Stop counting, fucker.  Pound!”

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

“Are you guys going to be okay?”

“We’re gonna kill the world!”

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

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

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

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

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

Pip.  Pop.  Fizz.  Glug.

Glug.

It didn’t go well.

Really love a rewind.

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

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

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

Someday.

Not ready just yet.

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

Stand-Up Assassin

How's everybody feeling tonight?

How’s everybody feeling tonight?

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

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

And none of it funny.  At all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nervous laughter.  People still smiling.

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

Much less nervous laughter.  A sea of blank stares.

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

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

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

It's like he can read my mind.

It’s like he can read my mind.

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

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

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

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

Taking the mike off from its stand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I say we kill the messenger.

I say we kill the messenger.

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

Like the motivational speaker caper before this.

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

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

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

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

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

We will no longer tolerate an aggressive Poland.

We will no longer tolerate an aggressive Poland.

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

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

Clench a fist.  Seethe.  Hiss it out.

“Thisssssssss has become…unacceptable!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hold fists out and up like Gigantor.

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

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

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

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

Look down.  Then up.

“And we have come…to destroy!”

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

Tick-tick.  Blam!

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

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

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

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

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

Shit.

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

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

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

He suspected that would happen.  With his luck.

We love the pain.

We love the pain.

Shemp Hair Blues

Another Lithuanian with great hair.

A Lithuanian with great hair

He had taken some old bills, like the ones for his phone, utilities, a few from credit cards, and splattered them with his own blood.  They were nicely matted in brushed aluminum frames.  I’m sure he was trying to make a statement somewhere among all those statements, but I didn’t get it.

did get that this art opening was only serving wine.  And that wine gave me a headache.  Had enough of those already.  Speaking of…

My date went from bloody bill to bloody bill, giving them her full aesthetic attention.  Judging them individually by some measuring stick in her mind, she’d nod at one then move on to the next.  Pause.  Stare.  Scrutinize.  Appear to discern something.  Smile.  Nod.  Move on.

Something about the whole act smelled like rotting baloney.  She was too earnest.  Too intent.  My Fraudulent Pantomime Meter was going off, reading “Total Fake-out.”  She just wanted to be seen appreciating the work.  To look like she gave a flying fuck.

I suspected this because that’s what I was doing.

“Very nice, see how he managed to get a clot over his cable late fee,” I pointed out.  “Pollock directed his splatter, but not this concisely.”

She nodded absently and looked over at the artist.  He was on the other side of the room, drinking a small bottle of sparkling water and talking to three women.  In his early thirties.  Mediterranean good looks.  One of those dark guys who can pull off wearing his hair in greasy dangling locks.  Like Shemp.

Very few guys can pull off that kind of hair.  I always admired the ones that could.  Guys like Gibby Haynes.  And Leo Gorcey.  And Danny Trejo.  And Iggy.

The blessed and lucky.

I always loved Shemp’s hair–the way he would curl it behind his ears after getting his nose clawed with a hammer.  Just one more thing to deal with.   Besides having furniture broken over his head, always having to flip back his greasy hair.  While spitting out splinters.

That says so much.  In other words, it’s all in a day’s work when you’re a gnarly fucker.  It’s important to keep your hair out of your eyes while your head is being pile-driven into a cast iron stove.  So you can see better.

That’s so badass it hurts.

It really hurt.  The fact that this guy had his own show at a prestigious Santa Fe art gallery.  That his work was selling.  That women loved him.  That he wasn’t drunk.  That he would soon be sleeping with my date.  And that he got to have Shemp hair.

It was too much.

I excused myself and went out to my ’73 Olds Omega where five beers were heating up in the August afternoon sun.  I got in the car and lied down on the front seat.  I gassed open a can and shotgunned it down my throat.  Dropped the empty on the floor boards.  Reached under the seat and repeated.

That’ll do.  Save three for later.  I sat up and looked around.  The parking lot was full, but there were no people around.  I wanted to stay there and hide.  I couldn’t bring myself to walk back in.

I lied back down and reached under the seat.  Pop.  Pish.  Gluggity-gluggity-glug.  Thirshhhhhhh-tee!

That one did it.  I recovered my intrepididity and rose up from the car seat.  Resurrection.

Back inside, I saw her talking to him.  No surprise.  Sometimes I just know how things are going to go.  Especially when it’s bad.

I circled the perimeter for a while, looking at his work.  What a bunch of shit.  Anybody could do this.  Sure he does some origami with some of the bills.  Whatever.  You can learn that from a book in the library.  But who has the nerve to present this mess to a gallery director?  Not me.  The gall.  The balls. 

Great.  We’ve established he has bigger balls.  More bile to swallow.  To go with the red dot by the $1,200 piece.

Finally, she waved me over.

Here we go.

She introduced us.  I took his hand, then bent down and kissed his onyx ring.  I don’t know why I did that.  It was just one of those spontaneous things you do while buzzed, then wonder about later.  I meant it as a gag, but here’s where it turned terrible–he received it.  He actually took it with a slight nod, all papal and shit.  Acting like it was appropriate.  What a motherfucker!

She noted the exchange.  Oh shit.  I clicked my heels and bowed, extending the gag.  Hoping to save it.  But the damage was done.  He had diminutized me.

It was clear now that I had to beat this guy’s ass that night.  To negate that awkward little scenario.  Seriously.  Dudes have gotten on the list for less.  I ran through the whole flow chart in my head a few times.  It always came back to beating.  After all, this was a major clowning.  He played me like a wash bucket bass.  In front of her.

He’s already better than me in everything.  That was hard enough to stomach.  Now this.  And I’m not even including the Shemp hair.  That’s just running the shank through all four gears.

Hmm…superior to me in every way.  Not enjoying that fact.   I should fix it.  Let’s see, he’s better than, in all things…ah… except perhaps in a mutual exchange of pain.  I might be able to endure more of that.  I might be better there.  I may best him in the ability to suffer.

Well, we would just have to find out.  We would have to exchange pain.  And before the crowd thins out.

Unfortunately, I lived by a strict warrior code, one that prohibited me from throwing the first punch, unless I could totally get away with it.  But this ran a little deeper.  Sucker-punching the artist at his gala opening is not going to win you any style points.

But successfully defending yourself from an over-sensitive, temperamental, thin-skinned effete, one who was over-reacting to some constructive criticism while being called out for false-flagging Shemp, was something else entirely.  Now that was a chapter I wouldn’t mind having in my bio.  I could see it.

I must make it so.

“Love what you’ve done here.  Instead of wasting money on a shredder from Costco, you used your mail to clean up after your menstruating dog.  And are now getting paid for it.  Fucking brill.  Mastermind caper you got cooking here.  I hope this scam is multi-level marketed, because I want to sign up for the seminars, Shemp.”

Except I didn’t say that.  I just looked at him.  And thought about things.  Wondered if goading him into a fight was the right thing to do.  What if he warranted the hair?  What if he had the holy power?  He looked fit.  The last thing I wanted was to be hitting on some guy’s head with a brick while he straightens his hair.  Plus, you could never get a good grab on that shit to whiplash the neck, something we in the trade called Bull-whipping.

“Don’t make trouble.”

That’s what I heard in my head.  Very clear.  Very loud.  It seemed to come from somewhere else.  Believe me, it didn’t come from me.

What?

Then again, like in case I didn’t get that something else was talking to me, “Don’t make trouble.”

I got it.  Clearly.  I was a little spooked, to be honest.  One time I heard something like that while washing dishes at The Natural Cafe, right before I was going to say something bad to the prep cook about a girl that worked there.  Something said, “Shut up.”  Distinctly.  Enough to make me shut up.  Not fifteen seconds later, that girl came in and hugged the prep cook.

“I’ll see you at home.”

“Okay, love you.”

Oh shit!  I had no idea.  Yeah.  That was close.  Good thing I…alright already, disembodied voice from beyond.  I won’t make trouble.  But don’t blame me if things get really boring.

“I like your work,” I forced out.

“Thanks, I like yours.  I read your column in The Reporter.  It’s some funny shit.”

I couldn’t believe it.  I had a crappy little column in the weekly paper.  I didn’t think anybody read it, much less liked it.  And here was both, in the same dude, and a dude with awesome Shemp hair.

Lightning 180 flip in my attitudey.  Feelings of brotherhoodship and good-fellowing welled up in me.

I couldn’t believe that I had been planning to beat up my only fan.  That would not have been a savvy career move.  Besides, he’s such a cool dude,  liking my writing and shit.   Making all this magnificently insane art, while looking all greasy.  And shit.

He turned out to be a decent yog.  Funny too.  We joked and bantered back and forth for quite a while.  He had a dry sense of humor.  I figured out that whole regally-receiving-the-ring-kiss was just him playing along.  He was just playing it straight.  With a more subtle touch than my inebriated mind could appreciate at the time.

What I did appreciate was that although all these artsy fartsy types were trying to draw away his attention, he would return to our conversation.  He didn’t blow me off to talk to some of the hot, semi-hot, or hot-enough-after-eight-beers women that were trying to glom on to him.  Which included the creature that rode up with me.  That really showed class.

When I invited him out to the Omega for a hot beer, he declined, telling me he was a recovering alcoholic.  Oh wow.  Poor dude.  Now I really wanted him to succeed in art.  Since he basically had nothing left to live for.

We wound up staying there until things wound down.  A bunch of people had decided to go to La Casa Sena for dinner and he invited both of us to join.  No fucking way I could afford that.  I begged off with a lie about having to write.

“I want to go,” she says.

“Go,” I say.

So she went.  She took the upgrade.  It’s not like I couldn’t see it coming.  I have a gift.

I can’t say it didn’t feel bad.  But I wasn’t pissed.  In light of recent events, I was wary of being pissed–being pissed about stuff I probably didn’t understand.  I could give it a rest.  At least until tomorrow.

Anyway, I don’t know if they ever hooked up.  I don’t know what happened to either of them.  To be honest, I can’t even remember the dude’s name.  He was just the guy with Shemp hair.

And he had what I wanted.

Note: None of the people in this story actually exist, including the author and Shemp.  However, any and all accusations of slander and libel will still be reviewed carefully by my attorney.  As I’m sure, by yours, as well.

Thugs Like Us: A Book Review

Thugs Like Us, John Carnell

Thugs Like Us, John Carnell

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

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

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

Indeed.

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

It was even better the second time.

A lot of times it is.

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

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

And a clean line.

Carnell is a master of the clean line.

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

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

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

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

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

And now things are okay.

Win/win.

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

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

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

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

There’s beauty everywhere.  No matter what.

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

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

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

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

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

Mad Lord Thuggington, John Carnell

Abstract Lack of Expression

$1,700.

$1,700.

Edward looked at the canvas he had spent all summer on.  It had four brand new razor slashes across it–a creative addition by his newly-exed girlfriend, Mia.  A real hot-head.  Perpetually pissed and ready to shoot hostages, she finally blew.  Earlier, she had taken all her stuff and left, but not before vandalizing some of his best work.

He fished out a half a butt from the ashtray and lit it.  Easy come, easy go.  The girlfriend, not the painting.  He wasn’t so flippant about that yet.  Fucking oil paint.  Took forever to dry.  He really tried with that one.   Not his usual slap and splash.

It was of a cartoon devil smelling the stocking-clad leg of a fat woman eating a drum stick.  A signature piece.  Now ruined.

Fortunately, he had been suffering loss his whole life.  This stung, but not enough to want to make him change anything.  Except maybe to go back to acrylics.

And keep his fucking mouth shut about Pilates.  That’s what started all this.

He got up and walked to the fridge.  He opened it and counted seven beers left.  He closed it and put on his jacket.  He felt around for the keys in the pocket.  Not there.  Oh man.  He walked over to the window and lifted the blinds.

It was gone.

Walking to the liquor store, he debated calling the cops.  They ask too many questions.  He’d somehow wind up getting arrested.  So he wrote off the car too.  He had paid $1.700 cash for it three years ago.  The last time he sold any work.  All was not lost.  He still had some bolt cutters.  In the morning, he’d take a bus to the junior college and clip himself off a bike until he could figure things out.

He walked into the liquor store.  Devon the Dick was working.  Great.  Not in the mood for his brand of ball-busting.  Not tonight.  Feeling too sensitive.

“Ah, it’s the great arteest!” he greeted.

“Ah, it’s the great liquor store clerk, ” Edward greeted back.

Motherfucker.  At least I’m trying.  Living off the largess of some pretty vulnerable people, but I’m still trying.

Edward put two six packs of Steel Reserve on the counter.  Devon the Dick looked down and smiled.

“Uh-oh! 211 in progress!”

“Yeah, that’s funny.  A half a pint of Dark Eyes.”

“Hey, the good stuff!  You must have sold one of your masterpieces.”

“And Camel light, hard pack, please.”

Why is it that some guys can only communicate by being assholes?   It was always something with this one.  A remark about the shoes.  The gut.  The cheap shit you’re drinking.  Always a jab.  Fucker dying behind the counter of some shit-hole liquor store trying to make me feel like the loser.

He took the bag and started to walk out.  Here it comes.  He could count.  One…two…three.

“Hey, don’t forget us when you’re famous!”

“Yeah, don’t worry.”

You never forget the demons that have tormented you…as you lay in bed at night, chainsawing their heads off.

Edward knew he wasn’t going to make it.  He knew a long time ago.  Way before he blew his art school student loan smoking opium with that coven of performance art lesbians.  A good time, for sure, but not the power career move it felt like at the time.  Eventually, The Academy of Art kicked his can down the road.  He wound up delivering pizzas and eating handfuls of mail-order Tramadol to ween off the poppy.  Then he borrowed more money from his grandmother and moved back home.

He was resigned to languish in obscurity, using the tortured artist bit to cut him slack for his fuck-ups.  Show some stuff in group shows.  Try to bed chicks that go to those.  That would be good enough.  It would have to be.

While he knew he had some talent, he also knew that he lacked the self-promotion skills that move you up the gallery food chain.  He sucked at talking about his work.

“Tell me about this piece, Edward,” some divorcee in a western skirt and concho belt would ask.

“It’s a man licking a dog’s balls,” he’d say, which would be very clever, if it really wasn’t.

For a while, he tried playing the disinterested iconoclast, but it seemed his disinterest was contagious.  The less he acted like he cared about his work, the more people seemed to want to join in.  And not care about it either.

His new plan was to create a body of work while drinking himself to death.  A tragic death would have to help sales.  Trouble was, the older he got, the less tragic his death would be.  It was now a race against time.

He was walking along when he felt his his phone buzz in his pocket.  A text.

“I am telling EVERYBODY about the herpes!!! ;)”

He put the phone back and climbed the stairs to his apartment.  He could hear Narco rap blasting from the neighbor next door, a latino kid, that installed garage door openers.  He was okay.  Always had pretty good weed.  Told him about the volume, but he always claimed to forget.  Good weed will do that.

He went inside, and put the beer in the refrigerator.   He snapped off the cap of the vodka and took a long hit.  It tasted oily.  Dark Eyes.  He opened a beer and sat down on the couch.  He looked at his slashed painting.

The longer he stared, the more he liked it.  It really was a signature piece.  Now.

After his death, it sold for $1.700.

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