Thank God For This Toothache.

1.200 bucks?  I'd rather suffer eternally.

1,200 bucks? I’d rather suffer eternally.

It’s been kind of a shitty few weeks here at Trudge Inc.  By that, I mean not my version of Heaven on Earth.  Which I realize is a tall order.  But this version didn’t even come close.  Not to what I’d prefer to orchestrate.  As my version.  Which, although perhaps a little complicated to arrange, wouldn’t cost very much.  Except maybe in hurt feelings.

Anyway, this was something very else.

Some low-grade depression, some ass-kicking physical pain, and a sprinkling of mid-ranged irritants.  All culminating with an ill-timed blow-up with my mom.  The day before her birthday.  Yeah I know.  I’m the worst son ever.  But I don’t want to brag about my ranking.  Fact is we fired at each other at point blank range with armor-piercing rounds.  And that seems to have brought up all these unpleasant feelings.  For both of us.  Go figure.

Ah well.  What’s done is done.  Very cathartic actually.  I’m sure after we spit out the mouthfuls of depleted Uranium dust and rebuild Fallujah, we’ll be just fine.

And maybe when I…(cough-cough)

…get somebody to remove…(urgh)

…this cinder block from my spine.

Better than a mother's love.

Better than a mother’s love.

So as I was nursing my self-inflicted wounds, trying my best not to figure it all out, I remembered the toothache.

A few weeks earlier I got a toothache.  On a Friday of course.  That way I’d have to wait until Monday to make my dentist’s car payment.  But in the meantime I’d get to celebrate a tooth-ache week-end.

And not by soaking and swishing it in scotch.  Or rubbing my gums with Civil War-era Laudanum ointment while crossing the border into Mexico with six hundred dollars of “fun money” and the phone number of a good taxi driver.

No, this would be alternate doses of aspirin and Ibuprofen.  War documentaries.  Ice Cream.  Petting the cats.  Trying not to hate life too much.

At one point it’s hurting like fuck.  I’m thinking about going into the garage, grabbing some pliers and really going Civil War.  Just start humming the Battle Hymn of The Republic while twisting out teeth until the pain stops.  It’s really the only manly way to handle this.  Just makes good horse sense.

Okay, but before I employ plan A, I need see if there are any options.  Need to wrap my head around this.  See if there might be a better solution.  One that doesn’t require vice-grips and Anbesol.  Or something even worse.

Hmm...no expiration date.

Hmm…no expiration date.

I have this thing about mastering my misery.  Having dined on such heaping helpings of it, as an alcoholic, and as a human being, I’ve come to believe that suffering has to have some nutritional value.  There has to be some good from pain.  Otherwise everything I’ve endured, would just be fucked up shit that’s happened to me.

Because life sucks.

And death is probably worse.

Which as a concept, I don’t have a problem with.  It’s just that if I agree with it too much, I’m told, I become a drag to be around.  A real bummer boy.  A Downer Danny.  And I don’t want to be a Downer Danny.  Do you?

Besides, I tend to make bad decisions when I hate life.  That’s why I try to think the opposite of my favorite way and remain somewhat upbeat.  Just so I don’t bring Lori and the cats down too much.  Why should they pay because my tooth hurts?  Even though it only seems fair.

Okay, gratitude is a go-to.  I know being grateful has a positive effect on the personality complex.  Clinical studies have proven that grateful people are less of a pain in the ass to be around.  Gratitude also seems to be some sort of component for successful recovery from various maladies of mind and soul.

I know.  Insane.  That one’s attitude towards something would make any difference.  But apparently so.

But this is a toothache.  Can I be grateful for a toothache?  That’s really getting tin-foil.  That would be some seriously un-hinged Rasputin shit.  The howling of a madman.  Really clawing at the moon there.

That was all I needed to think.

“Thank you, oh merciful Creator, for this pain–this pain that’s radiating up through my jaw and jack-hammering into the top quarter of my skull–making my right eye water.  I don’t know why I should, but I’d like to thank you.  For this most generous gift.  I don’t know what I did to deserve it–I mean I have my suspicions–but thanks.  Anyway.  Amen.”

Yep.  I did it.  I gave thanks for my pain.  I really did.

Not snorting lines of Darvon off the belly of a Tijuana stripper will make a man do crazy shit alright.

Or, so it would seem.

What did I have to lose?  I was fucked anyway.  At least until Monday morning.  I’d consider it an experiment.  Maybe it will help me delineate where the power of gratitude runs into a brick wall.  And the friendly staff at La Farmacia Sureño need to take over.

Say, this is good shit.

Say, this pain annihilator is good shit.

Well, the pain didn’t magically go away.  But it did start to go in and out.  I’d get these small breaks when it would subside.  And I was genuinely grateful for those.  Anything to keep me out of the garage.  Or the liquor aisle.  Or heading south on I- 5.

I kept taking the aspirins and Ibus and rode out the waves of pain as best as I could.  Tried to have fun in spite of.  Tried to not let it ruin my weekend.  Or bring down those around me.

Well, it didn’t, and slowly the time between waves grew.  By Sunday night the pain was gone.  Stayed gone Monday morning.  And since.  No more toothache.

Interesting.  I’ve never had a toothache go away.  Not without having the dentist’s foot push off on my face.  Or had a hole drilled through my wallet.  Never.  I’m sure there’s such a thing as temporary toothache.  I’ve just never had one.

Not one that lasted all weekend.  Then went away.

But I’ve also never made a point of being grateful for having one.

Coincidence?  Maybe.  But a noteworthy one.  So I should forget about it right away.  Which I did.

Except now I remembered it and wondered if I could concoct another pain-relieving coincidence for this shit with my mom.  What if I gave thanks for this pain?  That would be pretty pathetic.  And desperate.

“Thank you, O merciful Creator, for bestowing me with this bounty of painful childhood guilt complexes triggered so effectively by your angelic worker, the mother of my life, the woman that delivered me to this terrifying orb of earth…that I have been cast down upon… for some horrible transgression I’m sure.  Because You, my Eternal Father, know best, that when it comes to being a good son, I’m the worst. ”

I have to admit, thanking for the toothache was easier.  That’s why I think it came first.  To help me ramp up speed for the leap of sanity required to be thankful for all this bullshit now.  But I did it.  I gave thanks–for all the bad feelings I was having.

Now this may be another coincidence, but I woke up the next day feeling better.  Lighter.  Nothing external in the situation had changed.  Just the way I felt about stuff.  Better perspective.   Better attitude.  Still some shrapnel in the guts, but less.  Decidedly.  I felt more waves of peace then I did of dread.  Eventually, things got better between me and my mom, but more importantly, between me and everything else.

Huh.

Okay, let’s write it off to the power of suggestion.  I’ll take it.  Look, I’m an alcoholic trying to stay sober.  I can’t afford to be too picky how that happens.  I have to be ready to go to any lengths not to take that first drink.  If that means kissing the dusty feet of some Voodoo priestess while she blows powdered alligator liver on my head, or mind-gaming my cognitive thinking, if I can “suggest”  myself out of drinking, it’s a miracle.  One I should try to keep repeating.  If that means believing certain crazy things, and then acting on them, I’ll do it.

(To be fair, I was always good at that)

Anyway, that’s how I  “came to believe.”  I fucking had to.  I no longer had the luxury of being cynical.

Trying to connect with some invisible otherness was something I had  to do.  I got to a point in the train wreck when that was all that was left.  I had destroyed all other options.  It was that or die.  You know, Plan A.

So when you grasp that last straw, and it starts to grow into a stalk of wheat, like in the ergot-fueled finale of an Elysian mystery rite, you’re grateful.  And your life is never the same.  Which is a big relief.  And it’s the beginning of a new relationship.  Between you and everything else.

Slowly you start to see.  You start to understand.  No matter how bad something looks or feels, there’s something good behind it.  Something holy.  Some gift.  It might take an aeon or two before you see it.  But you know it’s there.  And that’s all that matters.

Whether it’s having a fucking toothache.

A fight with your mom.

Or being an alcoholic.

It’s good to give thanks.

Before you even know why.

Mrs. Winslow, you're trying to seduce me.

Mrs. Winslow, you’re trying to seduce me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Come Bearing Gas, Mylar and String.

Can't argue with a balloon.

Can’t argue with a balloon.

One of the cool side-effects of quitting booze is the increase of strange coincidences.  At least noticing them.  Some really mind-blowing ones.  Stuff that really gets your attention.  Stuff that makes you think.

Alcoholics in recovery call them “God Shots,” probably because it sounds like “Got shots.”  Jung called it Synchronicity.  Others say it’s just coincidence.

I prefer to call it “The Weird.”

Like I mentioned before, The Weird has followed me around my whole life.  My mom was open to some outside-the-box beliefs, and I think that helped my sister and I be more aware of the possibility that things were…maybe a little weirder than we gave them credit.  We learned early on to pay attention to certain stuff.  Because that’s where it all begins.  Once anything knows it might have an audience, it starts hamming it up.  Really tries to keep your attention.  With some real razzle-dazzle semaphore flagging.

That’s been our experience.  With everything.  Talk nice to something.  It talks back.  Nicely.

These days I’m pretty used to it.  It’s become a normal part of my recovery.  Don’t get me wrong, I still marvel at the show.  It just doesn’t upset the balance of my entire reality when I witness it.  But now and then, things will happen that take my wonder to a new level.  Like this balloon thing that happened a while back.

We have a housekeeper that comes once a week.  It’s nice because it forces you to clean the house, at least once, before she comes.  Anyway, very sweet lady.  Always feel guilty watching her work hard.  Make sure to pay her well and that the toilets are already cleaned.  Okay.

So on some special occasion, I forget what, she brought Lori some flowers and a Mylar balloon.  Okay, whatever.  I have nothing against balloons per se.  As long as they’re not attached to a clown.

Unfortunate association.

Unfortunate association.

But balloons by themselves don’t give me any especially festive feelings either.  No more than, say, looking at a soup ladle or half a bar of soap.  They’re just things that are there.  Things I wouldn’t care if weren’t…there.  Dig?

Very much don’t give a fuck about balloons.  Especially Mylar ones.  (they’re a little tacky)

Well, apparently something out there decided this was no longer a tenable attitude for me to maintain.  That instead of mild disdain, whenever I see a Mylar balloon, I should be filled with mystical reverence–to think of Mylar balloons as a most holy gift.  Nothing less than messengers sent directly from the gods.

And there was a plan for how this disturbing new attitude would evolve.

It started with You’re Special.  The very balloon I’m holding in the picture above.  There he is.  Miss you, brother.  That balloon might have said that you were special (and I’m sure you still are) but let me tell you, that balloon was too.

Miss you, too.

Right back at you, bro.

Right away it managed to free itself from the bouquet, but it didn’t rise all the way up to the ceiling.  Clearly it wasn’t driven by blind ambition.  I liked that.  Instead it free-floated mid-high in our living room.  For six weeks.  And not all around the room.  Just in one area over the couch, equidistant between the floor and the ceiling.  No joke.  This thing just hovered in place.  It never strayed out of a two to three foot radius.

Didn’t go up.  Didn’t droop down.  Doors opening.  Cats jumping around.  Didn’t matter.  Never wandered.  Stayed right there.  Hanging out.

For six weeks.

I think it was after the second week that it started to make me feel weird.  Seeing it.  Always over the couch.  Watching TV with us.  Constantly telling us we were special.  But I didn’t say anything to Lori.  Until after a month.

“I don’t know how to say this, but the balloon-being there all the time-makes me feel weird.  Like it’s somebody else.  Watching TV with us.”

“Oh my God, you too?”

That was good to hear.  At least it was weirding her out as much as me.

“It just floats there saying we’re special.  It’s…I don’t know…”

Oh, I knew.  Sometimes I’d look over at it and a strange feeling would come over me.  The surrounding environment would start to melt into one…thing, of which the balloon was only an outcropping.  Like a captioned cartoon balloon blorping out from the whole, in order to deliver a cheery message.  A loving little reminder from this big one thing.  To us.  That’s the best I can describe it.  It was fleeting but the feeling was that everything really was all one, and it was a nice and loving One.  Wanted us to know it, too.

Then everything would go back to normal.  Back to us just watching TV.  All together.  Acting like nothing happened.

If it happened once I’d say it was my imagination.  But it happened a lot.  More than I’d want to imagine.  I get bored imagining the same thing over and over.  Most guys do.  No, this balloon was trying to get into my head.  He was trying to tell me something.

I may be anthropomorphizing, but he still needs to get off the couch and look for a job.

I may be just anthropomorphizing, and I really appreciate the mystic insights, but you still need to get off the couch and look for a job.

Anyway, after two more weeks, the old boy finally started to deflate, slowly sinking, eventually coming to rest on the couch cushion he had been claiming this whole time.  I was disproportionately saddened.  I actually felt a sense of loss.  Over a tacky Mylar balloon.

Lori too.  Why wouldn’t anyone be sad?  It never bothered anyone.  Kept quiet.  Never complained.  Politely paid attention to your shows.  Always told you how special you were.  Fuck yeah, we were going to miss it.  It was a righteous balloon, bro.

I buried it in one of the planters.  The one I bury the dead animals the cats drag in.

The next week, Lori had a procedure done on her back.  The nice lady housekeeper brought some flowers and… three Mylar balloons.  Oh shit, was Lori happy.  New friends!

Just here to break yours.

Just here to break yours.

Alright, I think.  Here we go.  What now?  What are these three going to be up to?  The last tenant was pretty quiet and I’d like to keep it that way.  What’s the deal with these guys?

A yellow smiley face.  A red heart.  And a Get Well Soon.

Seem alright.  We’ll see.  We untied them and all three floated up to the ceiling.

“The last guy never did that.”

I didn’t know if I liked the whole new floating all the way up to the ceiling thing.  A little too ordinary.  Too predictable.  I couldn’t see getting any mystical impressions from it.

Well, I didn’t need to stress, because in less than one hour, all three would be gone.  Gone.  Gone.  Gone.  Out the door, and from what the nice lady housekeeper said, were last seen under our neighbor’s boat dock.  But not there now.  Now just gone.

So that’s their deal.  Not hover over the same spot on the couch for six weeks.  Very much the opposite of that.  A flee-the-scene crew.

Somehow they all floated under the valance, out the sliding door, then under a dock.  But only for a while.  Once nobody was watching they took off.  Where to?  Who knows?  On their way to Argentina.  In six weeks they can get pretty far.

Lori was totally bummed.  I tried to console her.

“Look, think about how happy they’re going to make some South American kid.  Maybe one that has nothing.  It’s going to bring a smile to some poor little salsa slum dog.  That’s a pretty good thing.  Right?”

“What are you talking about?”

I explained how Mylar being able to hold it’s gas in for a long time, along with a well-timed thermal current, could bring joyous blessings to some poor south-o-the-border urchin.  But I couldn’t sell her on it.  We both did agree that it was probably a corny little lesson in “letting go.”

“If you love something…”

“Stop.  I’ll throw up.”

Yeah, we both knew those balloons weren’t coming back.  Whether they were meant to be hers or not.  Hey, no great tragedy.  Still a little stingy.  Didn’t even get a chance to get to know them.  Hell, I could’ve lived with the floating all the way up to the ceiling.  I just needed some time to get used to it.  They didn’t have to bolt.

Fucking Smiley Face.

Escape threat.

Escape risk.

That was on a Friday.  On Sunday I go over to my mom’s to deliver some library books.  She lives across the little man-made lake from us, and then down about ten houses.  I give her the books and we’re standing in the entry talking.  She’s telling me about how a girlfriend came by but was in too much of a hurry to stay.

“She didn’t even want to take the balloons I had for the kids.”

“What balloons?”

“Those three.  One for each of them.”

I turned around.  Smiley Face.  Red Heart.  And Get Well Soon.

“Somebody tied them to my front door.”

WTF???

Everything started to melt into a single blob.  A blob made out of vibrating and shimmering multicolored fire. “We are you.  You are us.  We are one.”  The grandfather clock chimed.  Right on cue.

So much for not getting any mystical impressions from this gang.

They were the same three escapees alright.  I could pick them out of any line-up.  But who would round them up and tie them to my mom’s front door?  The neighbor on her left was the one who pointed them out when he came over to return a bowl.  “Are you sick?” he asked, pointing to Get Well Soon.  That’s when my mom immediately suspected it was her other neighbor, the one she’d recently had a fight with.

“I thought the bitch was trying to say I was sick in the head by giving me get well balloons.”

Of course, given the vast choices of possibilities, it would have to be a hurtful and negative one.  I get that from her.  We both need to get well.

Thanks, but fuck you.

Thanks, but fuck you.

“I don’t know about that, but I know these fugitives belong to Lori.”

I explained to her what happened.  Even she was impressed.  Tried to imagine what kind of odyssey brought them to her door.  She said they were all dirty and that she had to wipe them down.

“I didn’t understand why Sabrina wouldn’t take them for her kids.”

I did.  Because these three were coming back with me.

I came home, but Lori was out.  I picked a rose from the garden and wrote a little note saying “We’re back!” then tied them to the balloons and waited for her to come home.

While waiting, I thought about this bizarre series of events.  I mean seriously.  What the hell?   The whole thing.  Even if in every step along the way, there was a perfectly normal explanation for how those balloons wound up at my mom’s house, there’s the fact that they wound up at my mom’s house.  At all.

But especially after I was paying extra attention to what these balloons were going to be about.  Because of You’re Special I was open to any more possible weirdness floating our way.  They didn’t disappoint.  Very much the opposite.

I heard the garage door open.  Watched Lori walk in.  Watched her face.  You could see it register.  Smiley Face.  Red Heart.  Get Well Soon. They were back.  Oh the joy!  Oh the crazy mind-fucking mysterious, pants-pissing hilarious, heart-filling joy!

Not so much about the balloons being back.  But what it meant that they were.

What that said about stuff.

All this stuff.

This wonderful stuff.

This holy stuff.

This “They were at my mom’s house!” stuff.

This “No fucking way!” stuff.

This “Yes fucking way!” stuff.

Creeped In Connecticut

Wants you to take her rollerskating.

Wants you to take her rollerskating.

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

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

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

But something about the Connecticut brand.  Really creeps.

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

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

“Listen to the arm-chair exorcist.”

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

“No problem for you.”

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

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

“That’s a weird place, Connecticut.”

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

“Did I tell you about the rollerskating rink?”

“Yes.”

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

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

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

“I love a happy ending,”

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

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

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

Cozy old Danbury.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even remembering it today, gives me the jeebies.

Actual photo

Actual photo

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

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

Yeah.  But in Connecticut.

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

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

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

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

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

Clowns.

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

Then I looked up at the window.

And saw where the organ music was coming from.

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

Police sketch

Police sketch

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

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

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

I skated over to my sister.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And they are consummate professionals.

Boo.

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

.

Product of my imagination

Product of my imagination

Monk and The Meows

Some of Monk's gang

Some of Monk’s gang

My buddy’s heart hurts.  And there’s pretty much nothing I can do.  But keep telling him that I know.  That loving things that die is just the worst.  No. The worst is not loving things.  Loving things that die is second worst.

Still, I hate to seem him go through it.  All because he’s a good person with a big heart.  It doesn’t seem fair.

Monk was always good.  Even when he wasn’t.  When he was bad, it was the best.  The best kind of bad.  My kind.  And even though his bad period lasted shorter than mine, it was stellar while it burned.  Bonded us as brothers.  Of bad.

Today he’s just always good.  With maybe a light sprinkle of bad.  Which is kind of a miracle actually.

Childhood written by Dickens during opium withdrawal.  Dad died when he was two.  Alcoholic mother abandoning the family for weeks at a time.  The kids having to steal to eat.  Foster homes.  Abuse.  Just the fucking ugly worst.  Surely, he would grow up gnarled and thorny.  Somebody should pay for his misfortune.  Why not everyone around him?

Not Monk.  It never turned him ugly.  He endured it all with a quiet dignity.  Like they teach saints to do.  Only nobody taught him.  He just did it.  And has kept doing it.  Ever since.

Who does that?  Statistically he should have become a serial killer.  Instead of a man who goes around like St. Francis, taking care of animals.  I shit you not.  Wild rabbits, squirrels, and birds at home, and a bunch of feral cats living in the industrial complex he works at.  Him and a guy that volunteers at Felines and Friends have caught fourteen of them.  In cat traps.

All the cats get a trip to the vet.  Everybody gets a check up.  Gets spayed or neutered.  The ones with a suitable temperament are put up for adoption.  The ones too Marius, get turned back loose, where Monk continues to care for them.  The original family he adopted lives in the relative safety of a pile of pallets behind chain link.  He feeds them everyday.  Even drives into town on week-ends.  So none of them would have to take any crazy risks to eat.

It beats the shit they serve at The Sally.

It beats the shit they serve at The Sally.

Digs the crazy spats.

Dig the crazy spats.

These feral cats come to him.  Because he’s proven himself a good yegg.  A Square John.  A Stand-up.  They let him pet them.  Let him hang out with them.  Share their silence.  Together they stare at the beauty of the arroyo under big sky.  Everybody all squinty-eyed and wise.  Like they’re posing for an album cover.  He’s family.

And like me, they know they can go to Monk when they’re in trouble.  And that he won’t let them down.

He went to feed them one day, and noticed he hadn’t seen the mom around.  One of the boy cats comes up and starts meowing, then takes off like Lassie.  Monk follows him to a warehouse.  The workers tell him they’d seen a black cat in the back somewhere.  They like having the cats around because of the mice, so nobody tried to get rid of it.

Too scared to dart past the workers, Mom was holed-up in a dark storage area.  Monk called out, and she kept meowing back until he found her.  Let him pick her up and carry her past all the scary people.

They all go home.  Mama’s back.  Big happy reunion.  The whole family making a big furry figure eight around his legs.  Everybody frisky with the joy of life.  Monk the hero, petting with both hands.  Angels in the clouds getting cuted-out by all this.

Home safe in an easily defended fortress.

Home safe in an easily-defended fortress.

No surprise really.  Even back in eighth grade I had been telling him he should be a monk or something.  “You’re one of those spiritual mystics,” I’d tell him.  I wanted to guidance counsel him towards his strengths.  Something about his eyes.  You could picture him walking in the woods.  Drinking maple syrup out of tree branches.  Squirrels on his shoulders dropping nuts in his pockets.  Bees bringing him honey.  Putting it on his beard,  So he can have some later.

Since he just had some maple syrup and probably doesn’t want any honey right now.

A man whose love for creation and it’s creatures is returned ten-fold.  Walking lightly on the leaves, so as not to startle the shy wood nymphs.  Winking at snakes.  Knowing each frog by first name.  Strolling along, cloaked in love.

Yeah, he seemed like that type.  So I told him that’s the field he should pursue.  He should be some kind of holy guy.  Me, I wanted to be something more bad-ass.  Like a heart-broken Legionnaire or a Robin Hood bank robber.  I wanted to be more Noir.  But I never wanted to let that get between us.

I don’t know what Monk wanted.  I never asked him.

Well anyway, it doesn’t matter because he didn’t take my advice.  Instead of becoming a devout monk, bent over some scroll, he went a’Viking.  For a little while, din’t yeh?  Clocked your romper-stomper pillage and plunder time.  I saw it.

Watched him give the Bat Chain a mighty tug, I have.  Hell, he was entitled to some bad behavior.  But even then, if anyone was going to get hurt, Monk made sure it’d be the right people.  Racist skins.  Drunk Frat assholes.  He carefully discerned who truly deserved a running punch in the guts, and who needed a fast fist in the teeth.  And Monk always made sure it was the right people.  He was like that.

The other difference between us was that he knew when to reel it in.  He knew when it was time to grow up.  To wise up.  To finally follow my advice and become some kind of holy dude who treads the Earth doing good deeds and shit.

And now I feel like he’s paying for it.

On his way to work he found one of the little cats run over dead.  Smokey.   Son of Midnight.  Brother to Kung and Fu.

Well, it cut Monk in half.  Even though he tried to prepare himself for the eventuality, it still sliced.  Losing any of them was going to be bad, but finding one of the younger ones hurt to death… it just doesn’t suck worse.  It’s a scientific fact that bigger hearts hurt more.  If he didn’t spend all that love on those cats, his heart wouldn’t be squeezing with so much sorrow right now.  Instead, his love has been paid back with pain.

He should’ve never listened to me.

He wouldn’t have to deal with this if he’d become a mercenary.  Or a drug lord.

Wouldn’t have to deal with all this sadness,  Burying it.  Crying.  Praying.  Shiva in the heart.  Trance of Sorrow soul-ache.  For what?  To love?  Some cats?

Some deal.

I know he doesn’t regret it.  Because he’ll keep riding on, with more arrows stuck in him than St. Sebastian–eyes scanning the horizon for any other orphaned ball of fur that might need his help.   A guy like Monk is ready to pay the price of love.  I know him.  He’ll just keep loving, no matter how bad it hurts.  What the sages call “Faith above Reason.”  Doing the loving thing, no matter what the consequences to your self.

Love no matter what.

That’s not a very reasonable thing to do.

In fact, it’s absurd.

And that is why it’s so kick-in-the-balls bad-ass.  So bat-shit reckless.  It’s so insane, that I have to climb on-board.  It’s Noir as Nuit and just as sweet.  Beyond gnarly.  The ultimate rebellion.  Against a selfish self.  And if not a fatal blow–a real chop to the beast’s throat.  A little something-something to make it think twice.  Before it rears it’s ugly head again.  That’s for sure.  So count me in.  Love no matter what.

This is going to be my craziest stunt yet.

Fucking Monk.  You still got it.

Always did.  Always will.

That’s why you lead the way.

Smokey hiding.

Smokey hiding.

In lieu of flowers, The Temple of Bast has asked that donations to http://www.felinesandfriends.org/ be made in Smokey’s memory.

Fear of Erica Jong

It's nothing a drink will help.

It’s nothing a drink will help.

As the plane approached Albuquerque, it started to buck and roll with turbulence.  It was the kind where the pilot tells the flight attendants to take their seats.  Fucking great.  Wings tipping.  Seats shaking.  Deep drops and soul rolls.   Here and there, some involuntary yelps from passengers.

Once from here, for sure.  It sounded like someone stepped on a puppy.  Couldn’t contain it.  Just slipped out.

It’s not my favorite thing, doing turbulence, not drunk.

There are only a few things that I can say are better done drunk than sober.  The first is, of course, dancing.  Especially if you’re white.  The second is getting arrested.  Tried it both ways, and it was better drunk.  The last thing is bouncing around violently in a tube of aluminum, thousands of feet from the earth.

If I could have my choice, I’d always prefer to do that drunk.  While I know it’s better for me to not be drunk during times like these, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t easier shit-hammered out of my gourd.

I used to walk down the aisle to get to more booze, the plane’s shaking counteracting my stumbling so that I’m stepping straight, and make announcements to my fellow passengers.

“This is a great day to die!”  “We’re all going to die anyway. Let’s fucking get it over with.”  “Death can’t be worse than tomorrow morning!”

Stuff like that.  In my head I was keeping up everyone’s morale.  I wanted my lack of fear to inspire them.  To give them the courage to plunge to their deaths stoically.  Bravely.  Resolutely.  Even joyfully.

You know, shit-faced drunkenly.

If there’s ever a situation that I really can see myself blowing my sobriety, it’s on an airplane that’s going down.  If the cocktail cart starts rolling down the aisle as we plummet, I’d like to say I wouldn’t stick my foot out to stop it.  That I would choose to die sober.  Locked in solemn prayer.  Instead of trying to shot-gun down as many miniatures as possible… before our fiery wreckage scatters across a sewage treatment facility.  Or a field of beets.

But I really can’t.  I can’t be sure I wouldn’t drink.  As an alcoholic, you never can be… too sure.  It’s the nature of the disease.

For now, I was content to sit quietly in my seat.  Asshole, fists and teeth clenched.  Locked in solemn prayer.  First to The Creator.  Then on down the spiritual hierarchy.  I’m going through arch angels, regular angels, Kerubim, avatars, saints, sages, ascended masters, Buddhist holy men, Kabbalistic wise men.

I’m beseeching mercy like a mother.

My girlfriend is gripping my hand numb.  She’s a Christian, so she’s talking to Jesus.  Not a bad call to make.  I’ve dialed that hotline myself.  Quite a few times.  More than this heretic would care to admit.  What can I say?  He comes through, but sometimes I think because his phone is constantly blowing up with requests he gets overworked.  So I prefer to add a whole bunch of other spiritual beings to my emergency Rolodex.  Find somebody with more of a gap in their workload.  Somebody standing around waiting to get a call.  And maybe one who specializes in turbulence.

Like the Enochian Angel of the Element of Air.  He who raises and calms the storms.  He who protects air of Air.  Ardza, may Your holy name reflect the ineffable glory of God through eternity.  Help reveal to us His mercy.  Help calm the storm around us.  Help calm the storm in this humble creature’s mind.  Amen.

I look over to Lori.  She’s got her eye’s closed tight.

“We’re going to be okay,” I tell her.  I pat her white, bloodless hand and smile.

She opens her eyes and tries to stretch her grimace into a happy face.  Fails.  Goes back to talking with The Son of God.  Eyes closed.

I don’t blame her.  I don’t get all hurt if she wants to talk to some other guy.  I’m confidant in our relationship.  Besides, this is Jesus.  So I’m totally cool with her dividing her attention, especially at a time like now.

Another dip.  My guts bang against my throat.  They push out a whistling whimper through my teeth.  Not a yelp.  A whimper.  Big difference.  Then another drop.  A long, deep one.   I pictured the altimeter spinning.

I add Jesus to my list.

“Hey.  It’s me, Marius.  I know we don’t talk too much these days, but I’m always thinking about You.  Remember when I was thirteen and I scared myself into thinking I had a brain tumor and I held my illustrated children’s bible and turned my life over to you?  Well, I never officially took it back.  Even though some of my life choices might have made it seem that way.  Well, out of anybody, you’re the go-to guy for forgiveness, so we should be cool.  Right?  Always dug your message.  Just didn’t, you know, dig all the dogma that barnacled around it.  Anyway, if I do die, could you make sure I go to heaven?  And preferably not a weird part of it, like the Mormon’s version…

…Amen.”

I felt better right away.  Covered all my bases.  I gave my girlfriend another smile.  This time a real one.

What is death but the unknown?  I seem to be hurtling towards that all the time.  The Unknown.  And Death.  The death of something, at least.  In my life and all around me.  Something dies deader than dead.  And then, sure as shit, something else is born.  Usually something new and improved.  In my life, and all around me.

I thought my life was over when I had to quit drinking.  In a way, it was.  That life died.  But I don’t mourn it.

Because I got an upgrade.

It happens in other areas.  Everyday, I see parts of me die off.  Not like parts parts.  Oh God forbid.  I don’t know who would be appropriate to pray to for a certain special part not to die off.  Priapus?   No, I mean parts of my personality.  Parts I don’t mind shit-canning.  The parts that were spawned in fear.  Ugly parts.  Parts that have worn out their welcome.

I try to replace those parts with the ones born out of love.  Nicer parts.  Shinier ones.

That’s the plan at least.  I don’t know how well I’m doing sometimes.  But dude is trying.  I’m willing to go through the complete overhaul.  Whatever it takes.  I want to be a new and improved version.  I have this nagging need to feel that Whoever/Whatever created me, is proud of Their creation.  Cornball shit, I know.  But there it is.  For real.

The engine screamed in reverse as the wheels touched down.  The cabin clattered like crazy then stopped.  We made it.  As we taxied to our terminal I took a deep breath.  Everything was going to be okay.  It always is.  No matter how scared I get.  If I can remember that, I can keep the yelping to a minimum.  Like with this flight.  Only one.  One audible one.  That’s pretty good.  I’m definitely improving.

Yeah.  This was going to be a good trip.  I kissed Lori’s cold hand.  Then waited for the seat belt light to go off.

You Can’t Punch Gas

I decided the other night that I wanted to be more vague.  Really want to cultivate it as a quality.  You can do that you know.  Reinvent yourself. Not just for credit fraud either.  But as an exercise in character building.  Become a different person.  One with new super powers.

Being nebulous as gas is a good one.  To be able to disappear into vacuous vapor.  And leave them swinging at air.

It’s a power I’m only beginning to harness, but it’s already yielded rich rewards.  The power to be vague.  With long periods of silence in between.  Vague and laconic.  Somewhere in that quiet, your next move becomes clear.

It’s an important skeleton key to freeing yourself from the cage of modern life.  No wonder I blew it.  I always tripped myself up with specifics.  Tried to tell the cop too much to prove I wasn’t guilty.  That worked great.

Like a charm.

Fucking specificity.

Always talked myself into a corner–one I could only break out of by clawing like rat set on fire with oil.  Very ungraceful.  Unladylike.  Screeching and scratching my way out of  life’s jams.   It was all so unnecessary.  A fool’s errand.

I should’ve been hiding in the foofy cloud of an ambiguous response.  Don’t try to explain anything.  Just smoke-bomb the room with a big cumulus question mark.

It’s getting yourself out of the most ass-burning trouble with a “Hey, it is what it is,” as your only defense.  And maybe a shoulder shrug.

It is what it is.

How can you argue with that?  Locked in logic.  Universally applicable.  Bullet-deflecting smoothness of surface.  No traction at all for a counter.

It is what it is.  If that is my only assertion during any conflict, short of a shank attack, I will win.  Simply by default.  Because what I claim is true.  Something is what it is.

That leaves them with having to argue that it is what it isn’t.  And that’s a harder row to plow.

Trust me.

It is.

Really amazing what can be achieved with a simple hunch of the shoulders.  And a blank look.  Gotta have that.  Essential.  If you can  toss a pinch of  boredom in that’s even better.  Not like you’re in a chemically-induced stupor, but existentially resigned.  Like apathy.  But more spiritual.

The trick is to become one with the wallpaper behind you.  Blend into nothingness.  Pretty soon people forget you’re there, and then why they were pissed at you.  If the heat gets too much, I’ll disappear into Oneness.  I’m not ashamed to admit it.  I’ll cease fighting everything.

“Maybe.”  “I don’t recall.”  “That might be true.”  “I don’t know.”  “I’m sorry.”

These are not the responses of an obtuse idiot.  These are power words.  Words that open the Gates of Heaven.  And the Door to the Palace of Slack.

These days, I don’t want to fight with anybody.  I just want to be left alone.  To be able to enjoy time with friends.  To eliminate as much drama as my housecleaning skills allow.  I want to Aikido any bullshit right past me.  And move on.

Whether it’s some paranoid fanatic screaming some insane and offensive political diatribe in my face, or somebody accusing me of the most heinous character deficiencies, I  just nod.  Regardless of how pissed I may be, or how much shit I have to throw back in their face.

Go slack.  Give slack.  Get slack.

“You may be right. ”

Put hands in pockets and shrug.

“But I am right!”

“Maybe.”

That’s it.  Don’t say anymore.  Let your eyes slowly roll up white like Lurch, to let them know you’ve left the building.  Stand there like a propped up corpse.  Go mummy on them.  Just be.  Listen  to a distant siren.  A dog bark.  A fly buzz.  A radio from a passing car.

It’s hard to argue with wallpaper.

Eventually they run out of gas and shut up.  And maybe even leave.

Anyway, it’s just another skill set I’m working on in sobriety.  Then there’s total honesty.  That’s the ultimate mind-fuck.  People don’t know how to handle it.  Really freaks them out.

A few years ago when I was personal training at a gym franchise, I came into work at 8 AM for my first client.  I see the owner training a lady.  He’s never there that early.  And he rarely trained people at that point in his career.  So I knew right away.  I was in trouble.

My first time ever.

I go to train my lady and as I’m passing by the owner, he says to me, “I’d like to see you in my office after you’re done with your client.”

“I assume this is about my promotion and raise.”

He just gives me a pained, tight-lipped smile, with nostrils flared and high-tension eyebrows raised in maximum pissed-offness.

Alright.  Whatever.  If I get fired, I’ll be okay.  If I wasn’t going to be okay, it would’ve been long before this.

This is nothing.

I finish with my client and head up the stairs.   I knock on the door and he tells me to come in.  He’s sitting on his leather throne behind a big desk.  I look around.  There’s lots of golden trophy statues of muscley men in Speedos surrounding him.  Plaques and honors of some sort nailed on the walls.  An entire wall of CCTV monitors.

“What time were you supposed to be here today?”

“I thought eight.”

“When was the last time you checked the schedule?”

“I don’t know, maybe three years ago.”

I was serious.  I never looked at the schedule.  I kept track of the appointments without the posted “schedule.”  And unless they threw in a surprise early ringer like they just did, everything went along just fine.   So I told him the truth.  Well, not the whole truth.

“Scratch that, I’ve never checked the schedule.  In the six years that I’ve worked here.”

That was the whole truth.

He just looks at me.  He doesn’t know what to say.

He starts sputtering about how they just signed up this new client for a few grand yesterday and put her with me at 7AM, how she got there and waited for me, and how she finally called him and made him drag his ass down to the club to train her.

Well nobody told me.  I have a cell phone.  Holler at me, bitch.  Make sure I’m dialed in.  Don’t dry-erase it on a greasy piece of yellow plastic curling up behind the microwave in a filthy employee break room after I leave, and expect me to somehow know.  Even if I was Johnny Check-The-Schedule.

Which I am fucking not.

You guys sold her the training after I left for the day, and nobody called me.  This is a major fuck-up on your part, dude.  No way to run a business. You almost lost a big account.  My God.

I bet it hurts, too.  Especially since…well…you pride yourself as being Mr. Business man, and shit.  So losing big accounts is the fucking worst.  I bet you’re a little frightened too.   Frightened and angry.  Like a teen rehab chick.  There there.  Don’t worry.  I’ll cut you some slack… this time.  In fact, I’ll even fall on this sword for you, fraidy cat.

“Well, it looks like I fucked up.”

“Yes! Yes you did! YOU FUCKED UP!”

I nod along.  Agreeing.  My face pleasant and happy that we can agree.  At least we all agree on one thing.  I fucked up.  On the same page there.  Seeing retina to retina.  We all vote “yes.”  I fucked up.  More than once, actually.

“Yep.” I said, “Looks that way.”

“You almost lost us a big account!”

“Wow.  That would’ve been bad.  Sorry.”

“It would’ve cost this club a lot of money!”

“Good thing you came down and trained her,” I said, bending down to re-tie my Converse.

He goes blank.  He can’t process this.  I’m completely at ease.  Frankly, I was looking forward to the early nap I’d get to take if he fired me on the spot, so I wasn’t entirely indifferent.  I was leaning for a certain outcome-but trying to stay neutral.  Trying to stay Zen about it.

I finished tying my sneaker, stood up and pulled my workout pants out of my crotch.  Gave them a little straightening pat.  Okay.  What’s next?  What do we do now?

“Well, like I said before, I’m sorry.  Is there anything else?”  I asked him.

He’s looking at me.  Looking at me.  Looking.

I look back.

Both of us looking at each other.  For a long time.  A pyramid erodes into sand.  Rocks grow.  A galaxy implodes.

I stare at the shafts of morning light illuminating the dancing dust across his desk.

The silence is peaceful.  I let my mind drift.

I picture a red balloon floating through the streets of Paris.  A girl in heels and yoga pants chasing after it.  I contemplate death.  How it’s really  birth.  And how that’s really worse than death.  Then I remember a redheaded kid in third grade whose constantly snotty nose made it look like he carried peas in his nostrils.  God, haven’t thought about him.  I look outside the window.  A bird flies by.  Have to gas up the car before I leave Oxnard.  Grateful for the decent mileage it gets.  Love that car.  Paid for too.  Suzuki Esteem.  Fuck yeah.

I have to scratch my chin.  So I scratch it.  Then go back to looking at each other.

Finally.

“No, that’s it, ” he says, dismissing me with a wave of his hand, “Don’t ever let it happen again.”

I stopped by the door.

“Well, I didn’t want it to happen the first time, boss.  So I can’t really guarantee it won’t happen again.  But I’ll try.”

More looking.

I reach out to shake his hand.  He hesitates, then takes it.  Shakes it.  I smile.  He doesn’t.

Good-bye early nap.  Oh well.

It is what it is.

I go downstairs.  I find out my next client cancelled sick.  The next one is at ten.  Thank you, Universe.  Good looking out for Johnny Honesty.  All is not lost.

I go outside and walk to my car.  It’s parked in the shade under a tree way back in the lot.  I know he’s watching me from one of the monitors.  I take the keys out of my sock and open the door.  I get in.

I’m grateful the rear seat folds down.  It means you can totally stretch out lying down.  Perfect for a nap.  Perfect nap mobile.

Suzuki Esteem.  Fuck yeah.

Fuck Yeah!

Fuck Yeah!

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