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.

Advertisements

You Can Never Go Home, If You’re Lost, Que No?

Okay, now what?

Okay, now what?

They say you can’t, but I’m going home.  Back to Santa Fe, the place of my rebirth, death, rebirth, death, and rebirth.  Those are special places.  Places where a lot of shit went down.  Places with fertile fields to sow madness and mirth.  And rocky soil to pull plow through.  Places to choke yourself out in the yoke of toil.  To sweat out Dark Eyes vodka while a jack hammer batters your Juarez dental work loose.

Magic places.  Places to make all your dreams come true.

Santa Fe was one of those places.  Except for the making all my dreams come true part.  Some dreams are just too insane.  Even for New Mexico.

And New Mexico is one weird-ass state.  Totally, Marius Seal of Approval, weird.  I think by now, you’ll understand the magnitude of what my certification means.   This is not some corn-fed, roll-her-eyes-at-Adult Swim, mid-western housewife’s idea of weird.  No.

It’s my version.

So yeah.

New Mexico is weird.  In the best way.  I think it’s the people.  I swear to God, there isn’t a person in that state that isn’t some sort of character.  Funny, crazy, dangerous, dumb, brilliant, beautiful, bizarre, annoying, and delightful.  Name it.  We got ’em all in old New Mex.  The psychos I worked construction with.  The artists I’ve gotten criminally drunk with.  The madmen I fought in bars and parking lots.  The silver spray paint huffing vagrants I learned to ballroom dance in the arroyo with.  The decent cops that showed me leniency.  The friends.  The freaks.  The ladies that taught me to love…

Then there’s the place itself.

The landscape that taught me about God.  And showed me His more artsy side.  The sky actually talks to you out there.  Not always what you want to hear.  But the signal comes in pretty clear.  It’s the wideness.  TV signal doesn’t scramble it’s messages as bad.  Trees, rocks, water, dirt, plants.  All alive.  Also having something to say about it all.  Happy sun.  Stormy clouds.  Celestial snow.  Stars that stare back at you with wonder.

My big regret is that I spent so much of that time drunk.  Sometimes way too.  Certainly to appreciate some of it’s more subtle charms.

Like with a few women too, I guess.  I wish I was more present.   But you can’t be present when you’re deeply involved in shooting holes through furniture.  And trading karate chops with a buddy whose round house kick sends you crashing into a fish aquarium.  So yeah, I chose my career over having any stable romantic relationships.  Didn’t have the capital to invest enough of the emotional currency required to fund one.

What can I say?  I was a driven and ambitious young man.

I wanted to run amok.  As amok as amokably possible.  I needed a place to wait out my exile from the human race.  A desert inhabited by aliens seemed like good place.  To set up my own Area 51.  Run my own test flights.  A little elbow room to get my crazy dance on.

Under the moon.  While the hounds howled.  And a fire illuminated the madness in my eyes.  Grind the edge, until I drop off the rail, and plunge into The Abyss.  Then see what’s left after everything is destroyed.

Alright.  Did that.  Check mark that box.  What’s next?  Probably rehab.  And a slow descent to Earth’s orbit.

Very slow.  No rush there.

But I had to leave.  Hated to.  But had to.

I thought I could wash my sins away in the Pacific Ocean.  But the waters were already saturated.  And working at a strip club wasn’t exactly dry-cleaning my soul.  Should’ve gotten rid of all the guns, too.  I guess I had one more death left in me.

So I tried a different way of living.  One so jack bland, only the most desperate would even attempt to embrace it.  But it was all I had left.  And it turned out to be a lot better than I thought.  As my friend Mad Dog would say, “Ain’t that a kick for sore balls!”

And that’s what sometimes hurts about going home.  The ball-kicking realization of how much I missed out on. And now miss.  Being there and wishing I could have done it all sober.  Seen it all through clearer eyeballs.  But then we’d have nothing to laugh about, would we?  No mischievous hi-jinx to recall.  And if this blogula even existed, it would be insufferably boring.  Recipes for good mulch.  Illustrated core and balance exercises.

Pictures of people standing around in nature.

I shudder to think.

You should too.  You see,  I did it all for you, dear reader.  And it’s okay.  You guys are worth it.

Anyway, it will be good to see my sister and Keller.  Good to see Marko.  And whoever else I’m supposed to see.  Sunday afternoon I’ll be making speed-amends at a table at the Cowgirl Hall of Fame.  Come by if you feel I owe you one.  I’ll try to guess what it’s about.  If I can’t remember, you can remind me, while I gnash my teeth with regret, and embarrass you with an overly dramatic public display of contrition.  And anything else to make things right.  Between us.

Buy you a beer?  You name it.  Even an import.

Because I want things to be good.  Between me and you.  And between me and New Mexico.  I want it to be a good homecoming.  I want to be able to go home.  Just to see if all those fuckers were wrong.

I’ll keep you posted.

Okay, now what?

Okay, now what?

Rita of El Rito

Is that just a mirage?

Is that just a mirage?

“God has a very big heart, but there is one sin he will not forgive! If a woman calls a man to his bed, and he will not go.”

Alexis Zorba

The whole drive up I was sweating the liquor store situation.  Did they have them in El Rito?  Would they all be closed by the time we got there?  That would be a severe drag.  I would be stuck up there with this woman I hardly know, in a place I’d never been, and not have beer to make sure everything was going to be okay.

If I had beer, I could deal with anything.  Without it, it seemed like I couldn’t.  I know.  Nutty.

This situation was made for beer.

I had agreed to spend the night with a woman I hardly knew, which was hardly new, but she was friends with my boss.  So I could see shock-waves if this whole deal got ugly.  It’s not like I could leave her at some Travel Lodge with nothing but a fake name and number.

She used to come into the photography bookstore I worked at.  I was a shipping clerk who packed boxes all day for the mail order part of the business.  She was a photographer and would drive down to Santa Fe to show the owner her latest work.  We never really talked.  I’d smile and say hello, and basically try to keep my distance so she wouldn’t smell the beer coming out of me.

She was cute enough, a curly-haired, skinny little brunette, but she seemed a little prissy–a little too wholesome for my taste.

One day, she just came up and asked me drive up and spend the week-end with her.  Wow.  What do you say?  Yes, of course.  Always.  That’s the Zorba law.  And my law.  Look, if you didn’t like her before, finding out that she likes you, makes you like her now.

Enough for sex?  Cross that Rubicon when it’s time to get the ankles wet.

She picked me up after work to save the wear-and-tear on my Olds Omega.  She told me on the ride up that she had inquired about me to the owner of the bookstore, and that he tried to dissuade her from pursuing anything.

“He said you were a nice guy, but that you were a little… wild.”

I wasn’t too thrilled when I heard this.  I knew what he was trying to telegraph to her.  That whole italicized “wild” shit.  Drunk, he meant.

“Oh did he?  Huh.  Well, that really hurts.”

“Are you?  Too wild?”

“That depends on for what .”

I looked down at my watch.  I’ll tell you what, if there’s no open place to buy beer in this one-horse town you live in, you will see some wild.  Wild desperation.  I should’ve brought a backpack full of beer.  It  just seemed like bad form on a first date sleepover.  What was I thinking?  This is exactly the kind of date you can bring a backpack full of beer to.

It’s a slumber party.

Everybody brings treats.  You get the popcorn and the movie, and I’ll bring eighteen tall-boy cans of Guinness.

Major fuck-up.

Now I had to play Coy Boy and coax out some hard facts.

“So will any stores be open in El Rito?  You know, so we can stop at to get like potato chips and snacks.”

“Oh don’t worry, I have plenty of snacks for us.”

“Great.  That’s great.  Well that’s a load off.”

We drove in silence for a while.

Telephone pole.  Telephone pole.  Telephone pole.

“So do they have…like a convenience store there, or some sort of mom and pop type place?”

“There’s a little family-owned place.  They have some groceries.”

“Groceries and…soda?”

“Yes, and some beer and wine.”

Oh sweet fucking glory!  Holly-Rolly thank you, Mother of All Good Things, for being so merciful to your wretched children!

“That’s cool.”

I took a deep breath.  Wait.  Wait.  Wait.  Look at the passing scenery.  Wait.

“What time do they usually roll up the welcome mat?”

“I’m not sure, around eight or nine, I think.”

It was now 7:30.  There could be a big difference between eight and nine.  I don’t get people like this.  If I lived out in the sticks, I would know what time the place opened and what time it closed–every single day of the year.  I’d know which holidays they observed.  What shift the grandma-who-closes-the-place-whenever-she-needs-a-nap works.  I would have her schedule, and plan accordingly.

All I could do now was will the car forward, faster.  Before the little abuelita’s eyelids get too heavy.  I stared out the window.  What the fuck was I doing here?

The fall sky can make certain parts of Northern New Mexico look extra bleak.   Slate blue with smeared chalky clouds.  Long shadows.  High altitude light illuminating a coyote fence, a crumbling adobe wall, some tires stacked by some siding, a cluster of trailers.  No wonder heroin is so big up here.  If I lived in Truchas or Chupadero, I’d probably pick up a habit.  On top of everything else.

Something to make staring at water dripping into a bucket more fun.

I love New Mexico.  I think it’s one of the most beautiful places on earth.  But there are parts of it that suck.  Not just Albuquerque and the State Penitentiary, either.  Some of the smaller, sadder towns.  They seem to suffer from a crushingly depressive malady.  Big sky fever, is what I call it.  I don’t care if it’s the Russian steppes or Kansas, anytime you have a really wide expanse of sky, melancholy is going to oppress it.  The sheer vastness dwarfs all human activity, and relegates it to the junk pile of eternity.

Telephone pole.  Billboard for Indian Casino.  A dirt field.  Orange filter making everything look extra sad.

Think about death.  Think about it for everyone, especially the people you love.  All dead.  We are all going to be dead.

“You’re awful quiet.”

“Just thinking about death.”

“Oh.”

We rolled into town just in time.  The little mom and pop store that sold beer was still open.  Thank you, my sweet Lord.  Once again, you have delivered me from my own evil.  I got two six packs, hesitated, then got two more.  I didn’t care how it looked.  Fuck bad form.  Good form just leaves you dying of thirst.

When we went back out to the car, I could see her trying to fight down the eyebrow that was trying to raise itself.  Not to fear, darlin’, there’s a new fiesta in the making…as we speak.

All that oppressive melancholy and dread I was experiencing earlier, seemed to have lifted.  Maybe it was the sun finally going down that did it.  Certainly, having two dozen loyal troops, standing by to bodyguard me, made me more intrepid.

Let’s see what kind of weirdness we can cook up with this situation.  New chick.  Always weird.   But you can always make it more weird than that.  That’s kind of your specialty–taking an already weird situation and making that look normal in comparison.

Okay, so maybe at first I was apprehensive that maybe this chick was not my type.  But she obviously likes me.  Isn’t that my type?

Interesting change of attitude.  A radical pivoting of point-of-view.  And I hadn’t fired down a single beer yet.  It’s all about morale.

Regardless of my new-found positive attitude, the date went the way in was supposed to.  It was a disaster.

Not at first, but let’s not forget who was piloting this barge.

We ate cheese and crackers while looking at photos she had taken.  They were pretty good.  At one point we had moved to the couch.  That’s when she told me about the guy that broke her heart.  How she mourned over him for years.  All the pain.  The self-doubt.  The loneliness.  The bitter tears.  The savage loss.

The major boner-kill.

Forget it.  This mission just got scrubbed.  Condition No-Go!  Condition No-Go!  Yes, I was younger then, but old enough to already be haunted by plenty of ghosts.  I wasn’t exactly eager to pig-pile on top of all that pain.  I also didn’t want Rixon’s warning to be right.  I may be a drunk, but I’m not wild. 

Now I had to evade capture.  Duck and dodge.  Play the clock.  Play the gentleman.

What is it about that, that makes women act more horny and wildly available (definitely my type) than they ever would if you had given yourself the green light?  It’s an amazing thing.  Except you can’t fake it.  Playing hard-to-get doesn’t work.  You have to really have sincerely decided not to sleep with them.  Cosmic Irony knows if you’re pretending.  So do the women.

But, decide to do the right thing, and every form of succubus that ever crawled into a bed, seems to take possession.  It’s strange.  I don’t always try to do the right thing, but when I do, everything in Creation will try to get me to stop.  I wound up fooling around a little, then stopped short.  You’ve gone far enough.  Time to balk and back up.  I put it in reverse.

Well, all my back-pedaling started to hurt her feelings.  I could tell when she said, “All you’re back-pedaling is hurting my feelings.”

How do you explain a sudden outbreak of conscience?  I was pounding the pups, just shot-gunning them down, hoping I could impair my judgement long enough to excuse any transgression from my previous vow.  But I couldn’t seem to get there.

I kept seeing a very lonely person.  Someone needing somebody, and knowing that I was the last fucking somebody they needed.  She was getting all hurt that I wasn’t engaging more, and I couldn’t seem to pull away fast enough.  For both our sake’s.

I kicked myself for not buying two more six packs.

She went to bed that night while I stayed up looking through her monographs.

That next morning we had an uncomfortable breakfast at El Farolito.   After that we walked around an empty field for a while.  We came across a dead crow and she took a picture of it.

“Our love,” I said, trying to make a joke, but it fell like doom in a German opera.  By then, it was clear nothing was ever going to happen.  We were just hanging out, killing time–trying to make it seem like it was no big deal.  Like this was all we ever expected.  Just walking around taking pictures of rotting carrion.  Not talking much.  Waiting until it seems it’s been long enough.

Those minutes are murder.  Long, arduous ticks.  You start to envy the dead crow.

Eventually, it was decided it was time.  It was a quiet ride home.  Despite my gallant knight routine, or because of it, she was hurt and angry.  I can’t blame her.  I should have declined her invitation in the first place.  But who does that?

I later heard from the owner that she really hated me from then on.  Actually, I heard that from several people.  She wasn’t shy about broadcasting what a bastard I was.  She didn’t spare the stink-eye either when she came into the bookstore.   Maybe it wasn’t for what I did or didn’t do that week-end.  Maybe it was just for the person she saw.  A drunk unable to cope with painful feelings–his or anyone else’s.  It didn’t matter that I didn’t totally mislead her.

I had misled her enough.

And for that, Uncle Zorba, I know a woman will never forgive you.

Ain’t love crazy?

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.

Showdown At The Worm Saloon

“Hey hey, Babydoll, all you gotta do is call.  I drank a lot of beer, but you know I got a friend, and his name is Alcohol!” Alcohol, by The Butthole Surfers. Continue reading

Wreckage Wreckage Everywhere, Not A Drop To Drink

Time to leave this party town behind.

My television was constantly blaring World War 2 documentaries.  I figured the annihilation of Stalingrad was an appropriate soundtrack to the destruction and chaos around me.  The night before, my friend from Ireland, Dez, had tried to break a Negra Modelo bottle on a table at the Cowgirl Hall of Fame.  He wanted to dramatically punctuate an anti-American diatribe he was delivering.

It was the 4th of July and he was drawing some serious stink-eye from the other patrons, but that just eggs an Irishman on.  They’re all closet demagogues, anyway.  Show me a rabble that needs rousing, and I’ll suggest an Irishman on his 9th beer.  They’ve got charisma.  The accent makes their words carry weight.  It doesn’t take much for a Celt to swing my vote for madness.  They make mayhem seem more lyrical.  Their drunkenness is of the old-timey, hanging-off-the-lampost-singing-Danny Boy variety, sometimes coupled with good-natured bare-knuckled fisticuffs.  It’s charming and lively.

I knew Dez liked America all right, but because he had an attentive audience, he couldn’t resist poking at the wasp’s nest.  He loved when events went “toh-tahlly wide-o,” and bodies started to tumble over each other.  The Irish don’t take fighting too personal.  Some of their best friendships start while two former opponents sit together and cool their black-eye bruises by rolling a nice cold pint across them.

But you weren’t going to get a chance to start up that kind of friendship, if you can’t get people to mix.  A full-on bar brawl is a great way to break the ice.  Dez was going to make sure we’d meet new people.

He was on a roll, getting all Michael Collins on the crowd, but probably using the C-word a lot more.  When he reached the climax of his rant he swung the bottle down hard.  It thunked.  He quickly tried to save the moment and banged the bottle down again, but it remained intact.  He tried one more time to no avail.  Feeling that he was losing his audience, he sat down defeated.  The waitress came by and took away the empty bottle.  We continued to drink, but now more quietly.

The next night, as we drank at my place, he expressed his amazement at not being able to break the bottle.  He picked up another bottle of Negra Modelo and (I swear) barely tapped it on my small table.  This time the bottle exploded showering every square inch of my tiny inefficiency apartment with slivers of brown glass.

“Well bravo, old boy,” I told him. “Just a pinch off in the timing department.”

“Can yah believe that one, eh?  Like some fooking magic trick”

I wasn’t too upset.  The place was already covered with broken glass from when I had gotten locked out and decided to punch out what I thought was a small pane of glass in the back door.  That small pane turned out to be a full door’s worth of glass, carefully disguised behind a faux frame fraudulently dividing it into what appeared to be small individual squares.  The final result of this decorative deception was spectacular. It was also too daunting a mess for the hairbrush and flattened Tecate box I was using as a broom and dustpan, so I just left it.

The average alcoholic learns to tolerate a lot of things normal people wouldn’t stand for.  An entire apartment covered in broken glass was a small thing.  Just ignore it like the bullet hole in the toaster, the deadly mold growing in the bathroom, and the burned taxidermy owl in the oven.  If there’s still a bunch of 16 ouncers hidden in the toilet tank, everything is fine.  Let the Nervous Nellie’s from Squaresville dither in a thither with their brooms sweeping up little spills.

Alcoholics have real problems, problems that can only be cleaned up by direct impact with the Meteor of Oblivion.

A few weeks later, Dez called me.  He was all exited.  He thought a bomb went off in his apartment.  All the windows were blown out from the inside, but he wasn’t sure what happened.  “Protestants?” I asked.  “Ah Jayzus, dere’s no way tah tell.”  When I got there the place looked like a scene from Londonderry during  the 70′s. Every single window, seven in all, were smashed from the inside.  He had been outside working on his van when the place blew up.  Strangely, everything inside was fine.  Not even the bong had been tipped over, and we knew how little it took to spill that bitch.

Never having stuck around long enough at a crime scene to be able to investigate one, we were at a loss while poking around for clues.  If there was anything different, it was the new fresh smell the place had.  Finally, he found a ruptured can of deodorant behind the radiator.  We figured out his cat, Scabby, had knocked over the can on to the radiator where it heated up until it blew. The concussion was enough to force all the windows out of the panes, but not to knock over the bong.  It was an impressive lesson in physics, especially for Scabby, who would not come out from under the couch.

It was late Saturday afternoon by then and felt like it was too late to go to a glass place.  A Santa Fe summer storm was blowing in fast so we decided to get trash bags and tape them up around the frames.  They didn’t have trash bags at Owl Liquors, so we decided to ride out the weather. We sat there drinking beer after beer while the wind and rain blew in from all sides.  The curtains were flapping around like mad ghosts. Occasionally, lightning would illuminate the whole place.  It was very cinematic.  “I feel like we were on a haunted pirate ship,” I announced.  “Aye, aye Cap’n,” Dez mumbled before his chin took a dive into his chest.

The next morning, the carpet was soaked.  The book shelves had crashed down across the glass coffee table, breaking it and the bong it supported.  The art posters were torn and curling up. The stereo was ruined, important court papers soaked in bongwater, and the cat was gone.  None of this was due to the elements.  It was the spontaneous bouts of kickboxing we’d erupt into.

The irony here was that the place had survived an aerosol bomb explosion, and a howling storm, but couldn’t survive us.  We assessed the damage as we looked around for leftover booze.  The damage was considerable, the leftover booze scarce.

We went and bought some windows.  The guy already knew us.  Sliding glass doors, faux-framed glass, and various bathroom mirrors having been replaced by us many times over.  Our way of supporting a local business.  He actually gave us a 10% good customer discount.  A rare break in the business of breaking things.

“Orale! Los Masters of Disaster!” he happily greeted us.

“Hey Manny, we need seven windows,” I told the guy.

“Good party?”

“Sart uv,” Dez said, picking out a splinter of glass from his finger.

The problem for the alcoholic with paying The Piper is the discriminatory loan shark interest rates he seems to charge us.  Our escape from reality seems to cost more.  Unfortunately, as much as it costs in wreckage, both material and emotional, we keep paying.  The vig is big, but the options seem worse.

Until we run out of resources, get incarcerated, or die, we don’t stop.  Healthy people don’t get that.  Why would they?  Hell, even we don’t get it.  At this point, the wreckage was piling up, but I could still drink my way around it.  It would be a little while longer before the big hammers started to come down.

Their shadows now hung over me as I swept the pieces of the bong into a snow shovel with a paper plate.

Dez must be feeling tired.

Little Baby Caesar; The Early Crime Years

Go find yourself a boyfriend with a paper route.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me tell you, they sure the fuck can.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

.

St. Joseph’s Hospital gangster for life.